silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I really wanted to like this book. It's about the Library, which is an organization set apart in time and space, which agents that go out into various alternate universes to retrieve books. Sometimes undercover, sometimes timetravelling. Irene is suddenly sent out to retrieve a dangerous item, accompanied by a rookie agent she's never met.


One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction...

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen.

London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself...

(from Amazon's blurb)


But oh my god, I think my doneness with steampunk is getting to me. )
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
Uh, I've just discovered that Blofeld's garden of death exists. It is a garden at Alnwick Castle instead of in Japan, but nevertheless. I...would go visit that garden, actually. But the fact that they've had to put a bench in one part of the garden since people sometimes pass out from the smell of one of the flowers is slightly alarming.

book cover of The Wolf Hunt Anyway! I read The Wolf Hunt, by Gillian Bradshaw. It's based on Bisclavret, one of the twelve famous lays by Marie de France - it's a poem about a man who turns into a werewolf, and he's treacherously betrayed by his wife and trapped in wolf form.

Review under the cut. Spoiler: I loved it )bo
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
Wow, I haven't posted about my reading in forever. In fact there are still books undeleted from my kobo/marked as unread in Calibre cause I'm not even updating my spreadsheet of read books...for shame.

I finished Here Be Dragons. It improved as I went on, and the narrative really narrowed down a lot more after John's death, which was helpful - I don't really like a lot of POV-jumping. I find it hard to care as much when it constantly flips between people. At any rate, I didn't even recognize the Magna Carta when it showed up. Joanna calls it the Runnymede charter, which makes sense. You don't call it the ancien regime when you're in it. John's death also took me rather by surprise. I was reading a non-fiction biography sort of concurrently with Here Be Dragons, but very intermittently, during lunch breaks, and it was going much slower than Here Be Dragons, since it had to describe the warfare and political situations, esp on the continent.

some light discussion )

I also read the End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India's Young, by Somini Sengupta, on recommendation from [livejournal.com profile] wordsofastory. It's a very engaging, well-written and also easy-to-plow-through book, which is really difficult to do. She doesn't shy away from talking about how ugly circumstances and life can be, but she doesn't pity or coddle either, and she does in an incredibly readable way. She takes stories from seven different young people, from all over the country with different ambitions and aspirations, and ties their expectations and hopes back to some of the hopes and promises that came out of independence. She calls them noonday's children - out of the dark, big dreams sometimes, wanting those promises to be fulfilled. And she wrote about inequality, which is something that is very relevant right now. This is an extremely recent book - especially since I'm always late to the party when it comes to reading new stuff - and it was good to see how she incorporated current events in her discussion. Overall extremely good, although I found the last chapter hard to get through - I had to slam the book closed a few times there because it was getting to me. This review is very short because I know next to nothing about India, history or current, and moreover I've had to return my book, but it's very good for someone who doesn't know India well at all.

I read Martha Wells' The Wizard Hunters in an effort to stave off my burning desire to have the next Raksura book. You know how you have books on your e-reader or shelf for ages and ages and are always excited about them when you're sorting through the library (and don't have the time to sit down and read), but when you are actually in a place to read you go, no, I'd rather reread this extremely trashy book for the 48572th time? Anyway, I finally started while I think I was waiting for the train and the opening part hooked me immediately, though when I say what it is it sounds rather horrible. Tremaine's looking for a way to kill herself that would be passed off as an accident - because her city's under siege and she doesn't really have close family anymore and it's not nearly as horrible and sad as it sounds! Oh god. Think Lirael's beginning or something.

some discussion )
silverflight8: text icon: "Go ahead! Panic! Do it now and avoid the June rush!" (Panic!)
I finally finished it. I think my tolerance went up as I read it or it got less melodramatic (after that I no longer trust my judgement); I managed to get through to the end with a minimum of eye rolling.

Though when he started writing his suicide note addressed specifically to Charlotte saying basically "you're the cause of my death" and he thinks he loves her? I was more or less boggling while reading anyway, but that takes the cake. How wrapped up in yourself can you possibly be? Yes, obviously, he is not in a fit mental state, but that's amazing. (And then since he had no intention of immediately killing himself, he was obliged to add amendments to it...I assume, probably uncharitably, to twist the knife a little more. Whatever. Intentional or not, it would twist the knife. These things cannot be called love.)

I did not enjoy reading this. It's not even fun to mock because it's so self-pitying and melodramatic. There's bits where he bathes her hand in tears (I hope it was metaphorical; I am not reading it again to check). This is not how you treat someone you love. The condescension towards anyone of lower standing, perceived to be lesser, etc was constant and irritating, and Werther's naivete about children was grating (it's very much Romanticization - capital R and lower case r really - of childhood, which annoyed me when I first studied Romanticism and still annoys me.) There weren't even enjoyable rhapsodies about the landscape - which I still enjoy - because Werther would immediately have to inject his condescending social commentary or cry about Charlotte and his childhood again.

I've never liked woobies and I've never liked frail creatures. (Also I loathe the word woobie.) I've always preferred the hyper-competent people or the Scarlett O'Hara characters. Werther is pretty much the exact type of character I hate.

This is like the least helpful book review ever, but it's been a trying day.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
So in the past few days I've read three Agatha Christie novels (and have downloaded from the library about...let me count...fifteen of her novels?) Oh my god I love them. I had a fairly long dry spell of reading no new books and then all of a sudden I read almost one a day.

GREAT HONKING SPOILERS UNDER CUTS.

I read Cards on the Table first.
Cards on the Table )

Then Death on the Nile:
Death on the Nile )

Then The Hollow:
The Hollow )

I gotta stop because I like being surprised by mystery novels (I never do try too hard to solve them, I glance over the diagrams). So now I am putting a ban on the rest of the Christie novels sitting in my calibre library.

I ALSO just devoured Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant and that's why the Christie reviews are so short, I have to talk about these right now too.

Both novels )
More to come about DWJ I hope.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I read The Sand-Reckoner the other day (the one by Gillian Bradshaw, not the one by Archimedes) and now I have all these feelings about Archimedes and Syracuse and Hieron.

The novel's about Archimedes as he returns from his studies at Alexandria - it begins with him coming home to a city on the verge of war, his father dying, and a sick sense that coming home will mean he must close off the part of him that lives and breathes mathematics, and do work he hates to support his family. Archimedes comes to the attention of Hieron, the king of Syracuse, as an outstanding and remarkable engineer - outstanding because he can devise new, original, and effective machines that work well from the very outset, because he can derive the basic principles from mathematics. With Archimedes is Marcus, his Italian slave, who looks after his absent-minded master despite conflicting loyalties. Marcus denies being Roman - the affiliation is dangerous - and Archimedes is too * and doesn't think it useful to press.

Like Island of Ghosts, which is about troops of Sarmatians - having been sent west as part of their treaty with Rome - settling into Roman Britain, this book is similarly more internal and character-driven. Which isn't to say there isn't external conflict; the book is set during the first Punic Wars (paging [livejournal.com profile] dhampyresa - though it's not really about Rome or Carthage so IDK if you're interested?) and Syracuse is caught between the two. Hieron is trying to avoid having to fight either or both of them at once, but needs siege engines to prevent either from eating his city. But he recognizes that Archimedes is brilliant - and also not an engineer by choice, merely to support his family; he knows Archimedes loved Alexandria and the Museum and Library there, and wrestles with how or if he can keep Archimedes in the service of his beloved city.

More discussion with spoilers )

Generally very recommended! I love Bradshaw's writing, the characters are all great and well-drawn (with human, sympathetic motivations), and is set in Classical antiquity if that's a selling point, though it doesn't rely on you knowing anything about it.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I woke up to schadenfreude the other morning, and by schadenfreude I mean the voting results out of the Hugos. HA!

===========

I finished the last book of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel and I have to make a post about it because the ending. Actually the whole thing made me feel like it was partly a retcon and I hate retcons. (See my objections to the Mistborn book - that third book was practically a giant retcon of the entire series, especially the last scene.)

This is the first actual review I've done in a long time I think. Though I am not synopsising this book, that will stall me out. I recommend the Wikipedia article! It is somewhat spoilery though.

One sentence summary: modern-day twins discover they are subjects of a prophecy, Nicholas Flamel and other immortals battle for control of them and their destiny.

Now: ALL THE SPOILERS )

I have even more things to say but I really need to just post this for now. STAY TUNED. Also, this is not meant to mean I disliked the books; on the contrary I'm still thinking about them (and feeling vaguely empty; I keep thinking that I'll read/listen to the next chapter and then realizing I finished the book...a couple days ago).
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
Somehow I have internet. The technicians aren't even scheduled to be in till Friday, I wonder if it's something to do with having just disconnected only two weeks ago. Anyway, download speed is 1/3 of what it should be but I HAVE INTERNET. Of course it's the weekend so I don't even have time-sensitive email to answer, but hey.

Before the internet reconnected I finished three books in one day (it was a slow day and some of them were half-finished).

I finally took the plunge and started reading A Princess of Mars from the beginning instead of confusedly stumbling about because I'd only read it in very disjointed chunks. See, sometimes having books on your phone for when you have five minutes to spare is a good thing, and sometimes it's a I-don't-know-what-happened thing.

Thoughts )

I'm not sure if I want to read the next book; it was a fairly fun romp, but I don't really feel any attachment to any of the characters. Though, I do love books that take place on our solar system's planets where they're habitable, current astronomy be damned (or unknown at the time)--even things like Bradbury's Venus and rain story for all that it's horrifying (are there any Bradbury stories where children are nice/good?), I think it's so cool. I just wish I liked the characters more--felt for them more.
silverflight8: text icon: "Go ahead! Panic! Do it now and avoid the June rush!" (Panic!)
cover: arched domes and pyramids rising in distance, foreground people in colourful clothing This book was so bad. I read it all the way through because I wanted to figure out what was going on and partly because the worldbuilding premise and finally, because if a book is terrible and I'm 50% through I might as well finish it and pick it apart.

I really really wanted to like this book. Here is the back cover, but its premise can be summed up in the following words--"alternate-universe nineteenth-century Egyptian empire with spies and terrorist Otto von Bismark."

Lord Scott Oken, a prince of Albion, and Professor-Prince Mikel Mabruke live in a world where the sun never set on the Egyptian Empire. In the year 1877 of Our Lord Julius Caesar, Pharaoh Djoser-George governs a sprawling realm that spans Europe, Africa, and much of Asia. When the European terrorist Otto von Bismarck touches off an international conspiracy, Scott and Mik are charged with exposing the plot against the Empire.

Their adventure takes them from the sands of Memphis to a lush New World, home of the Incan Tawantinsuyu, a rival empire across the glittering Atlantic Ocean. Encompassing Quetzal airships, operas, blood sacrifice and high diplomacy, Ramona Wheeler's Three Princes is a richly imagined, cinematic vision of a modern Egyptian Empire.


This is such a cool premise and setting but it's botched because plotting was a mess, characterization painful and writing abysmal.

I did not like this book )

I am so bitterly disappointed. I love speculative fiction and I love alternate history--to describe this book as up my alley cannot describe how excited I was to read this--and it was just horrible on so many fronts. It was so bad that it lowered my opinion of Tor, who published this. It wasn't entertainingly bad, it was incompetent. Complete, sheer incompetence. I expected so, so much better.
silverflight8: Barcode with silverflight8 on top and userid underneath (Barcode)
This year I wrote one fic for Queen's Thief (Megan Whalen Turner), Rooftop Sneaking for morganstern, 1,500 words, about Eugenides teaching Eddis how to sneak around her palace.

I already recced my fic but I want to rec it again: Kushiel's Keys, by vibishan, 8,000 words, a what-if AU if Morwen succeeded in getting a child from Imriel and what would happen. Very very cool to see what might have been - lots of callbacks to the books' real chronology but also a lot of inventiveness that makes the AU great.

--

Stats about my novel reading in 2014!

brief rundown with mini-reviews of my favourite books this year )
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
cover of Island of Ghosts, simple picture of Roman cavalryman on rearing horse
Island of Ghosts, Gillian Bradshaw

I swapped ebooks with [livejournal.com profile] weekend, who very kindly sent me a copy of Island of Ghosts. (We were talking about Gillian Bradshaw's Arthurian books, which are Hawk of May, Kingdom of Summer, and In Winter's Shadow. All of you should read these books! They are my favourite retellings of the Arthurian mythology. More historical and less fantasy, and they follow Sir Gawain, and completely heartbreaking by the end.)

Island of Ghosts is about three companies of defeated Sarmatians who are marched to Britain to form part of the Roman forces in the second century AD. The protagonist, Ariantes, is the scepter-holder of his company who struggles to make his new life in northern Britain.

A lot of his struggle is that all of them, the men he commands--and his peers, Gatalan and Arshak, both nobility--deeply distrust and feel contemptuous towards the Romans. Their customs are almost completely alien to each other. The Romans see the Sarmatians as barbarians, citing their custom of cutting and keeping enemies' scalps, their nomadic civilization, the various acts of war. The Sarmatians, who are now minorities in this new land, are unwilling to assimilate, afraid of losing their identities. The Sarmatians don't like the bread that are the Romans' staples; they refuse to sleep in the barracks indoors; they are all cavalry, no infantry at all, and value their horses enormously; they do not share a religion; they are horrified with the Romans' custom of burning their dead, believing it to destroy the soul. The novel begins with the Sarmatians nearly mutinying when they are told they have to go to Britain by ship: they are convinced the Romans are tricking them and that there is no land beyond the water, and they've been marched there to be killed.

Review )

Final verdict: do recommend! 8/10

NOTE: My classics history is very poor. (I'm really only good for medieval history, I'm afraid.) I think I have missed a lot regarding all the ranks (eg: how do legates and tribunes differ?) Clearly more reading is in order.

--

According to my kobo e-reader, which I have been using since mid-March, I have logged a total time of 389 hours and completed 53 novels on it. I'm a bit stunned. The kobo counts books as finished when you read cover to absolute end and does not count re-reads, halfway through, marked as read, etc titles. I'm sure the actual number of hours is a little smaller (sometimes I left it on while charging) but not by more than 10 hours. That's a lot of time I've spent reading, considering everything, and also there were the months of May/June when I was abroad and didn't bring it at all. I...yeah. You know what probably took up the most time? Les Misérables. God, there were so many hours burned on that book.

Also interesting are sometimes the page statistics. I'm currently reading Fragments du Passé which is a Dear Canada book from the perspective of a Holocaust survivor: they're books for young girls published by Scholastic. They're epistolary novels which are set in different points in Canada's history. When I was in elementary and junior high school I read a lot of them--there was that traumatizing one about the filles-du-roi (see, her husband dies of this poisoned mushroom and she screams and raves before accepting he's dead, and then she has to survive the Maritime winter by herself--terrifying, have you seen what the weather is like in the Maritimes?, she barely makes it--AND give birth by herself in the spring) and there's one about the Spanish influenza which introduced me to the prayer "if I should die before I wake" (atheist household so I never encountered this; I still think this is a horrifying prayer to teach kids), the one about immigration to the Prairies, the one about the Loyalists, the one about the War of 1812, I think I read the Plains of Abraham one too, probably more I'm forgetting. I grew out of them but man, I read a lot of them...they cover a lot of geographical ground and time and probably taught me more Canadian history than I ever learned in class. Anyway, I saw this one in the ebook library of the public library and decided to try one. My French isn't strong enough to take on the books I really want to read--they're just too long--so I decided to pick up this one. See: fondness for this series. Anyway, what I was going to say before I went on this long tangent--someday I should really put together a post about the Dear Canada books--is that usually the pages per minute count is 5-8 pages per minute, but it's all the way down to 1 on these. I only just realized Terry is not, in fact, a boy, twelve pages in. I don't know how I missed that.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
(well, I composed this entry back in October, so I might as well post it before it becomes December, good grief. November is a month that is exhaustingly busy. Hello, flist, my old friends! I've come to talk to you again.)

I've been looking at yuletide letters and it makes me laugh/cry that both letters for Shades of Grey both start with "I don't think hiatus will ever end" and that's why they're requesting fic. If I'd known Fforde was a serial WIP author, I'd have...well, I'd probably have still read the book, because concepts like colour hierarchy are catnip, but I would have known going in!

JASPER FFORDE, PLEASE.

--

In other news I read Peter Watts' Blindsight which I've had a copy of forever and had actually assumed was a self-pubbed book, which is possibly why I left it for so long (it was available free, the cover is, well) but it was really good.

It's a first encounter with aliens book, with a crew of five sent out to investigate. Narrated by Siri Keaton, who is there to record and interpret events, the crew is led by a vampire with faster-than-human reflexes and thought, and who can solve problems intuitively that humans can't. There is the Gang, a multiple personality/disassociative identity, all of whom are linguists; Isaac Szpindel, a biologist; and Amanda Bates, a military commander. All of them, including Siri, have been extensively modified. In his youth Siri had brain surgery to remove seizures, Szpindel barely has fine motor skills because he's almost more machine than human.

It was a really packed book with a lot going on, told out of sequence. There's Earth, which apparently is a post-scarcity world, and where people have chosen to be uploaded into Heaven, which appears to be a virtual reality, which says something about how far into the future it's set. Then one day "Fireflies" happens, which is like a massive meteor-shower canvassing every square inch of the earth, and Earth concludes it's some alien intelligence that has just taken a photograph of the planet. They send out Theseus, crewed by vampire Sarasti, to investigate.

Review! Spoilers. )

I am going to cut the review short here because I'll never finish if I go on, because I could talk about the post-scarcity economy (I admit I am having so much trouble trying to imagine a post-scarcity world), the idea of Heaven (download brain into virtual world), the various professions onboard the Theseus, the Theseus controlling reveal, the vampires angle, Keaton's terrible difficulty with relating to humans, how human society has changed, the biology parts (this was the coolest part and I definitely need to read more of Watts), the game theory (that was fun to encounter! I wonder if you can apply our human-centric payoffs to model alien behaviour? IS our model with its assumptions robust enough to deal with this? Does the preceding mean I have spent too much time studying game theory?), AND MANY OTHER THINGS, but basically I recommend this book, a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. Especially if you like SF. Then again, if you like SF and you are not completely out of the loop like me you've probably a) read it or b) heard about it and decided not to. But in case you do want to, it is up for download legally on his website under a non-commercial license. In epub, pdf, HTML directly on the site. 10/10
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
(this review has taken FOREVER to write. I finished reading this August 27 and it's now October.)

cover of Firethorn, a woman with red hair and haunted green eyes looking up
Sire Galan has forbidden his servant and lover Firethorn to follow him to war, but she disobeys. When the army of Corymb sets sail for Incus, she is aboard a ship of the fleet, gambling on Galan's welcome.

But the gods are as apt to meddle with the schemes of a lowborn mudwoman as the best-laid plans of her betters. The searing touch of Wildfire leaves Firethorn shattered, haunted, estranged from herself, and set apat from others.

She feels cursed, but others see her as blessed. Whores come to her for healing, and soldiers search her every utterance for hidden prophecies. Is she a charlatan or a true seer? Even Firethorn cannot answer that question. And Galan is wary of what Wildfire has made of her.

Synopsis from the book jacket.


This is the sequel of Firethorn, where the protagonist Firethorn, a mudwoman who fled the Kingswood manor, follows Sire Galan as he marches to war. There the armies of King Thyrse assemble, waiting for favourable winds and omens to depart.

Now in Wildfire the armies have decamped, and Firethorn is following in their wake. At sea, the ship encounters a huge storm and Firethorn is struck by a bolt of lightning. It nearly kills her, and when she recovers somewhat she discovers she has severe aphasia and can't read. When they land, they find that the vanguard has already successfully conquered the city of Lanx. Galan takes her in, but without being able to speak coherently she's not capable of doing things she used to. Without literacy she can't read the godsigns when she throws bones to divine; with her memory and voice shattered she can't act as a healer. Powerful men like the Crux and the priests of Rift alternatively use her confused words as an oracle, or suspect she's lying and a spy.

After Firethorn gets separated from Galan - she stays behind to help her friend Mai, another sheath, in childbirth - she is captured by the enemy, King Corvus. Corvus decides to take a risky mountain pass during winter after weeks of harassment from Queenmother Caelum's troops, and nearly kills his army doing so. They pass into Lambeth and Firethorn is sold as a bondswoman, then becomes one of the unclean, and then finally a whore-celebrant.

This review got very meandering because the book was so long and meandering itself, and does have spoilers. And some gruesome bits. )

I don't know how to recommend this book. It was very engrossing but also kind of painful to slog through (and to review, as you can see; the book was rambly and so the review is all over the place too.) I initially picked up Firethorn thinking it'd be a book on peasants in a medieval setting and I did not get that. I've been suckered into them, though, so I'll be checking once in awhile to see if there's ever any news about a third book. Wildfire is most definitely incomplete. 7/10
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I'm apparently on a re-read kick, and I have too many to review in the same way I did Mistborn (words! words everywhere!) so here's a quick thing:

The Sky is Falling, Looking at the Moon and The Lights Go On Again by Kit Pearson

The novels are about Norah and Gavin, two siblings who are sent to Canada as war guests as the Blitz ramps up in England. I'm struggling to think of a good descriptor of the books that involve plot, but the core of the books is really the emotional journeys that Norah and Gavin go through. They move into the house of Florence Ogilvie and Norah immediately has personality conflicts with Aunt Florence.

One thing I think Pearson did really well was portray unusual grief/emotions. Norah is young but she's twelve or so, and she doesn't want to leave England. She's angry with her parents for sending them away, afraid for them, ashamed of running away, angry she's being put in charge of her younger brother, resentful that he can't help being afraid and distressed himself. She's not happy with being put with the Ogilvies and she's not fitting into her new school. It's an ugly combination of emotions that nevertheless feels really honest.

There's also Gavin in The Lights Go On Again Major spoilers )It gets resolved and I love their grandfather, but I thought that his anger mixed with guilt towards him and Norah, too, was really honest.

Also I learned that Pearson is gay! That is pretty cool. I read her books when I was a kid and never looked at author bios (nor do I think they would have mentioned it). She's also from Alberta!

The Secrets of the Jedi by Jude Watson

Ahh, yes, my Star Wars obsession. When I say I love Star Wars what I actually mean is "the Prequel EU books" and Jude Watson is at least 50% responsible for this. I think the only post-RotJ books I've read is Zahn's Thrawn trilogy (which is really good, I get why people keep trying to sneak it into yuletide).

Secrets of the Jedi is about Obi-Wan and Siri's relationship. Watson also wrote Jedi Apprentice (about young Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon) and Jedi Quest (about Obi-Wan and Anakin) and The Secrets of the Jedi tie into Jedi Apprentice; this book ties into the Jedi Apprentice series. Obi-Wan and Siri, along with their respective masters, are assigned to escort a talented young boy named Talesan Fry to Coruscant after he discovers the plot of a group of bounty hunters. They're partly successful even though the Padawans get separated from their Masters halfway through, but Tal's parents are killed. Years later, when the galaxy is consumed by the Clone Wars, the Temple is informed that Tal, now a successful businessman, has created a perfect codebreaker and is offering the Republic the first bid.

Being Jedi, love is forbidden, and the book has an interesting treatment of it. In one of the Jedi Apprentice books Obi-Wan actually left the Jedi Order once; he felt that the Temple was not helping the civil war on Melida/Daan enough and refused to go back to Coruscant, staying to help. Spoilers for how they handle it )

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

Dragon Rider )

Snakecharm by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Snakecharm )

Hawk of May by Gillian Bradshaw

Hawk of May )

Airborn and Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel

Airborn )

Among Others

Among Others )

--

I'm working on Conspiracy of Kings by Turner and enjoying it a lot so far, though I'm having some trouble with the different perspectives. I think I've reread the previous three books altogether too many times already and I understand them really well now, but there is a lot here I'm skimming--the political bits for one. Sophos is growing up though! Awww.

This post took long enough that I finished a book while writing it. I wish I was faster!
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
These books were like a rollercoaster. I started yelling near the end ("WHAT!! WHAT!!") I also read them one after another so I'm not going to even try to do a book-by-book review, just a giant one for all three books. And the review kind of exploded on me. It's really long.

SO! These books!

They're all 500-700 pages by my e-reader and oh my god, I haven't had this level of can't-put-it-down for such a long time. They were magnetic.

cover of The Final Empire, with a young woman dressed in a mistcloak looking downThe first book follows Vin, a young skaa thief who is attached to a crew scaming noblemen and obligators. In Luthadel, the capital, the skaa live and work in terrible conditions, subjugated by the nobility and the Lord Ruler. Vin has survived thus far because she makes herself small and unnoticed, but also because the crew leaders have--consciously or unconsciously--picked up on her ability to make scams go better when she's around.

When she meets Kelsier, a man bent on creating a skaa rebellion, she finds out what that ability is Allomancy. She's a Mistborn, someone who can ingest different types of metal and then burn them to increase herstrength, see better, affect others' emotions, telekinetically pull and push metal, etc. Mistings--who can burn one type of metal--are fairly rare, and Mistborn, who can burn all ten, even rarer. Kelsier introduces her to his crew and starts training her both in Allomancy and to infiltrate the nobility.

Their rebellion is operated directly under the noses of the Lord Ruler, and there is the ever-present danger of his Inquisitors and the Steel Ministry. Supernaturally powerful and fast, they are the priests of the Lord Ruler and seek out and kill half-skaa Allomancers. There are the obligators, who witness every transaction of the nobility and are the bureaucracy of the Lord Ruler. And there is the power of the nobility, who "rent" the skaa for plantation work but essentially act as the owners of skaa.

The Final Empire )

The Well of Ascension )

The Hero of Ages )

The books as a whole--general impressions, thematically interesting points, etc - warning though, these books have significant twists that are discussed under the cut )

They were really good books. But I'm going to go read a nice, relaxing, fluffy novel next.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I inhaled The Queen of Attolia today. I haven't read much fiction for awhile 1 but today I actually had time and so I sat down in a two-hour chunk of free time, nearly lost my mind about halfway through the book, and finished it.

The Queen of Attolia is the sequel to The Thief and even the summary spoils the previous novel, so I'm going to cut the whole thing. Brief thoughts: I thought it started rather slowly--not in terms of pacing/action but as in interesting/funny writing and compelling action--but when it got going, it really went. I do recommend both The Thief and The Queen of Attolia!

Review of The Queen of Attolia under the cut! )

1 I thought about it and I think it's because in my system of mental accounting (to borrow the concept), "reading accounts" are fungible. Or rather, "time spent reading different genres" is fungible. So if I read stuff for not-pleasure (work, etc) then it gets classified under the general "reading" which is a leisure category, which means I have filled up my quota for the leisure spent and so stuff like "reading fiction" i.e. actual fun is pushed off because I have already used up my Reading Time. I don't actually differentiate, I guess. And that's my ten minutes of dorkiness for today.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
Freakonomics is a book exploring questions about society with the tools of microeconomics and statistics. It's a book full of interesting questions--why did crime fall in the 1990's? can we detect cheating by teachers in standardized testing? do real estate agents try harder with their own houses? why do drug dealers live with their mothers if they're making riches?--which are asked with some economics framing and some very clever experiment set-ups. The thing with research into these fields is that they're impossible, either because of ethics or sheer impossibility, to control variables the same way you might an inorganic chemistry experiment. But Levitt uses opportunities in different data ingeniously to extract data. For instance, Chicago's public school system created a lottery assignation of spots in different schools in the city--this is the sort of thing a researcher can only dream of, to randomly be able to place subjects in different "treatments" i.e. schools (without regard for socio-economic status and similar factors that might be the reason for attendance at a particular school) and thereby tease out differences in education. This is what they call randomized controlled trial, by the way.

The questions are treated in an economics way, by which I mean there's discussion of common concepts in economics (incentives, etc). But the questions themselves are rather a departure from most economics texts--for one, they're not macro! (I feel macroeconomics--you know, GDP, unemployment, monetary policy, exchange rates--has practically dominated the field, and the perception of the field, for a long time. Then again, what do I know?) The book's written in a very non-technical manner. If you look very closely Levitt and Dubner actually talk about multiple regressions and dummy variables when discussing methodology, but for the most part the technical part about statistics and economic theory are completely elided.

For me, the most interesting part of the book wasn't necessarily the conclusions that Levitt reached or the anecdotes, though both were excellent, but instead the way Levitt got them. Designing experiments to test hypotheses is sometimes really hard, and Levitt extracts meaningful data from larger pools (e.g. government records on whatever) to make sense of it. I really love experimental economics and the elegance of these experiments are amazing and fascinating.

However: the reason why this review has languished since June 2013--Levitt's conclusion regarding abortion and crime rates came under criticism. Not from random pro-choice people but rather pretty respected economists like ones who work at the Boston Fed. Here is a link to the paper that Foote and Goetz wrote: http://www.bostonfed.org/economic/wp/wp2005/wp0515.pdf It's been ages and I've still not read that stupid thing so I have been holding off posting this review but really, enough is enough and it's clogging up my desktop (purposefully, I mean, I put documents on my desktop when I want them to be done ASAP because it drives me mad to have a cluttered virtual desktop. But less about me.) So grain of salt, as with every economics paper you ever read.

(Reinhart and Rogoff, anyone?)



Finally, I would like to quote a part of the Q&A that is appended to my version of the book, which made me laugh:
Tell us about the criticisms you have received from traditional/academic colleagues over Freakonomics--J Plain.

Levitt's academic colleagues tend to react in one of two ways. The majority of economists thought about it like economists: the success of Freakonomics probably increased the number of students wanting to take economics courses, and since the supply of economics teachers is fixed in the short run, the wages of academic economists should rise. That makes economists happy. A second group of economists decided that if Levitt could write a book that people would read, surely they could too. So there has been a flurry of "popular" books by economists--some good, some not so good. And then, inevitably, there are a handful of economists who feel that he violated the secret handshake of economics by showing the outside world that what economists do really isn't that hard or complex. They will never forgive him.


supply of economics teachers fixed in the short run, it's like the most basic essence of economics distilled into one sentence. I'm laugh-crying into my fingers at this paragraph.
silverflight8: bee on rose  (Default)
cover, white with silver lines and little paint-by-numbers written in. Some of the cover are coloured in, and there are two swans poking about. Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey is a humorous satirical dystopian novel revolving around the ability to perceive colour.

It follows Eddie Russett, who has been sent out into the Outer Fringes to learn humility. Head Office has set him the task of conducting a chair census (to make sure chair density hasn't dropped below regulatory requirements). Eddie can see red, and is therefore socially and economically above the Greys (who can't see any colour) and below all the other colours--Purples and down; this is a society not only divided but graded on colour-perception. He is courting Constance Oxblood, a much Redder girl, to thereby win back some of the ground his ancestors lost. And Eddie is travelling with his father, a Swatchman taking up a temporary position also in the Outer Fringes.

Eddie is pretty easy-going, curious, and honestly rather naive. He tried to implement a new queuing system in his hometown Jade-Under-Lime (and gets quashed there by the regulations) but he continues probing when in East Carmine, raising the ire of officials. The world of Chromaticia is regulated by merits and demerits, and if you accumulate enough demerits you're sent to Reboot. As he blunders around East Carmine he keeps coming into contact with Jane, a Grey whose sardonic (and violent) personality are completely unlike anyone else he's met.

The novel starts off very humorously and that was a really refreshing change from usual post-apocalyptic literature. But as it went on, the absurdity and humour started becoming more and more horrifying as you realized what was actually going on. Eddie is really very naive, but no more than many of his peers really, something that the Head Office tries to ensure. For me, the explanation of Mildew was what really made me realize just frightening Eddie's world was. I'm pretty burnt out on apocalyptic/dystopias in general, but Fforde eases you into it and I was seduced by the colour-based worldbuilding. Unlike most apocalyptic stories, this one is set so far into the future that the characters don't really care what the apocalyptic event was--it's just something that happened.

I really liked this book. More details and spoilers under the cut )

Recommended if you like dystopias or humorous writing mixed with satire or you like colour-based worldbuilding. I could go on for a couple thousand words on the worldbuilding on this one. 10/10
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
cover image--blue tinged, man with ships in the background
An island nation has vanished. Men of honor and magic have died unnatural deaths. Slaves flee in terror. . . . Are the Silent Gods beginning to speak? Or is another force at work?

Jerzy, Vineart apprentice and former slave, was sent by his master to investigate strange happenings in the Lands Vin--and found himself the target of betrayal. Now he must set out on his own journey, to find the source of the foul taint that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear. By Jerzy’s side are Ao, who lives for commerce and the art of the deal; Mahault, stoic, and wise, risking death in flight from her homeland; and Kaïnam, once Named-Heir of an island Principality whose father has fallen into a magic-tangled madness that endangers them all.

These four companions will travel far from the earth and the soul of the vine, sailing along coastlines aflame with fear, confronting sea creatures summoned by darkness, and following winds imbued with malice. Their journey will take them to the very limits of the Sin Washer’s reach…and into a battle for the soul of the Vin Lands. For two millennia one commandment has kept the Lands Vin in order: Those of magic shall hold no power over men. Those of power shall hold no magic. Now that law has given way….


The second novel of the Vineart War, it follows Jerzy, Ao, and Mahault as they escape from Aleppan. Jerzy, accused of breaking Sin Washer's commands by both Washers and lay lords, flees overseas as he tries to carry out his master's instruction: find what the taint is coming from. The narrative switches between Jerzy's point of view to the antagonist's, giving us finally a glimpse of who is on the other end.

It is fascinating to see the progression of Jerzy's powers. In the first book he is only beginning to understand and improve his abilities with the wine. His time away from The Berengia and the necessary self-reliance he needs in Aleppan change him. Away from Malech, he discovers his quiet magic--the ability to use magic without having to ingest a drop of spellwine at all. I also enjoyed the fact that Ao and Mahault (and a fourth character, introduced earlier in Flesh and Fire) had motivations of their own, although they ultimately choose to follow Jerzy.

This novel, while I enjoyed the extra information about the quiet magic, kind of suffered from middle-of-the-trilogy symptom, whereby you kind of have to give us information and action to fill up room but can't rush towards a conclusion. I think that's why Jerzy is jerked from one place to another--out to sea, then back to House Malech, then out again, then back, and then out again. (Then back.) In a way it's another symptom of how Jerzy isn't really in control of things--he's being pushed around by the antagonist, and he is honestly one of the more aware characters; the other Vinearts are being silently taken out, and the ears of the lords are being poisoned by aids (think Wormtongue). It makes for frustrating reading as they're dragged around the map though.

Spoilers. )

In conclusion: I thought this book had more weaknesses than the first, but it was still quite good and if you liked the first, definitely pick up this one. 9/10
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
cover of The Merchant of Dreams, a young man/woman holding lantern and pistol in a dark Elizabethan alleyBack cover:
Exiled from the court of Queen Elizabeth for accusing a powerful nobleman of treason, swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn has been living in France with his young valet Coby Hendricks for the past year.

But Mal harbours a darker secret: he and his twin brother share a soul that once belonged to a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.

When Mal’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck in the Mediterranean proves reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice – and a conflict of loyalties that will place him and his friends in greater danger than ever.


Mal is asked by an ailing Walsingham to spy in Venice on the skraylings, because England is concerned that an alliance with Venice might mean less profit for them, who need it. Mal and his friend Ned travel to Venice, while his valet Coby, his twin brother Sandy, and Ned's partner Gabriel stay in England. Things go awry, however, and all of them end up in Venice. While Mal and Ned try to find out what the skraylings are doing, and meddling with high society there, Coby and Sandy escape pursuit by fleeing to Venice.

Perhaps it is because I picked up the second book, and I was missing a lot of information, but I couldn't figure out what "guisers"--major antagonists--were, till about the last sixty pages. In general, the parts about the skraylings, Mal's problems, his brother's problems, were all little explained. And it made caring about their struggles hard.

Some more thoughts, some spoilers )

It was all right, neither bad nor good. I'm not picking up any of the books in the series. 6/10

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