Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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WorldCon additions to the TBR pile

Of course you know it’s impossible to go to an SFF convention and not come home with books. There are all the book dealers, with new and tempting titles or with $2 used paperbacks in good condition or with rare editions or whatever. Not to mention the free book table where every morning, briefly, you can browse through a dozen or so titles and pick up a couple that look interesting. Yep, impossible not to acquire a handful of new books. More like a generous double-handful.

And in my case, earrings. Fancy earrings are almost equally irresistible.

But back to books. I kinda went on a nostalgia kick because a particular book dealer had a lot of the Heinlein juveniles. I never did have copies of my own; I guess we read those from the library. Honestly, some of the juveniles probably represent Heinlein’s best work. It’s been decades since I read them, so I picked up a good many of them. Let me see . . . okay, these:

Citizen of the Galaxy
Podkayne of Mars
The Star Beast
Farmer in the Sky
Have Space Suit Will Travel

That’s not all the juveniles, but it includes my favorites. I don’t know if I’ll read them again right away, but I know that seeing them on my shelves will make me happy.

And once I got those, when I spotted more children’s books, I let myself be tempted. So I also picked up copies of:

Bedknobs and Broomsticks by Mary Norton
The Phoenix and the Carpet by E Nesbit
The Shadow Guests by Joan Aiken; I’ve never read it, so I’m looking forward to it.
The String in the Harp by Bond
Coraline by Gaiman
and
The Chronicles of Narnia. Somehow I’d lost my copies. Now I have this big omnibus edition, so that’s one problem solved. Plus some time ago I read this interesting book arguing that CS Lewis worked this planetary myth stuff into those books and that is such a cool idea, I want to re-read them and just consider that notion.

However, I didn’t manage to limit myself to nothing but children’s books, mostly because of the free book table but also because I saw a copy of Little, Big by Crowley and that’s been on my radar for such a long time I couldn’t resist.

I thought I’d share the openings of just the books I picked up from the free-book table, though. A couple you will recognize, but some may be new to you. Four of the authors I’ve never heard of; three I definitely have heard of but they’re still new (or relatively new) to me. I will add that my brother picked up entirely different books, including one I thought looked really good: A Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale, in which the Romans discover America and there is conflict between the Romans and the inhabitants of Cahokia. That’s a wonderful setup and I am hoping for a thumb’s up from my brother. I expect to get both a thumbs-up and a copy of the book, probably, because (full disclosure) the author is a client of my agent and hey, if Caitlin loved that book, I bet I will too.

Now, in alphabetical order by author, here we go:

Katherine Arden, The Bear and the Nightinggale

This is an ARC. Looks like the actual book is coming out next January. Pretty cover. It says “a novel” on the front cover, so I surmise it’s being aimed at the mainstream literary market at least as much as SFF readers. It looks like it is a Russian fairy tale or like it draws on a fairy tale tone or background (that’s what caught my attention).

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It was late winter in northern Rus’, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow. The brilliant February landscape had given way to the dreary gray of March, and the household of Pyotr Vladimirovich were all sniffling from the damp and thin from six weeks’ fasting on black bread and fermented cabbage. But no one was thinking of chilblains or runny noses, or even, wistfully, of porridge and roast meats, for Dunya was telling a story.

That’s a nice beginning, isn’t it? Gloomily evocative. Instantly draws you into the setting and shows you the world and the narrator’s feeling about the world.. I like it, even though the phrase “fasting on” makes me pause.

Nancy Baker, Cold Hillside

Looks like this one came out a couple years ago. “…[A] new novel about the price of safety, and the cost of power” it says on the back. “Studded with passages of dark lustre,” it says on the front. It looks like it involves the Fey, not a surprise with that reference to the cold hillside, eh? You presume someone winds up palely loitering or whatever the phrase is. The tag line on the back cover is: “With them, there are no happy endings.” I bet this story is more than a touch dark. Still, it does sound like it might be good, and I can hope that thing about no happy endings is a bit of an exaggeration. Anyway, here’s the first bit:

Tonight, I woke and did not know where I was.

Or rather I knew and was wrong.

When I opened my eyes and lay in the darkness, the sounds I heard were the rush of the water beneath my family’s hut, the air was warm and still, and I could smell sweat and dust and the heavy sweetness of jessamine.

Then the water was nothing but the wind probing the shutters, the warmth of the air was only my breath beneath the blankets, and the perfume was the thin smoke from the braziers that burned on either side of the bed.

I knew where I was then, at home in my bed, in my mountaintop house in Lushan and not in far off Deshiniva. At the realization I wanted to weep – though I still do not know if it was from relief, or homesickness, or merely an old woman’s emotional fragility.

Hmm. I sort of hope the whole story isn’t suffused with regret and sorrow. If it is, I expect it’ll be a DNF for me, unless the prose is just irresistibly gorgeous. Okay, moving on:

Dave Bara, Impulse

And now for something completely different. This is obviously a space opera. Space ships all over the cover. This is book one of a series, I see. This one came out in 2015, so I bet the series is not complete. It may have something of a YA plotline, it looks like, because the protagonist is clearly a young guy just starting out in his career. And then disaster intervenes and so on. Let’s take a look:

The long walk down the hallway to my father’s office at the Admiralty had never seemed so endless. The only other time I had been here was three years ago, when I’d been told the news that my older brother Derrick had been killed in action. It was not a pleasant memory.

I pulled myself together one last time, hoping I looked presentable in my Quantar Royal Navy uniform. I hadn’t even taken the time to shave. My father’s message, when it had come, had been short and to the point: Get here. Now.

Yep, shaving notwithstanding, this sure looks like it’s going to have something of a YA feel to it. Pulling himself together! This is a kid, all right. I imagine he’s going to get bad news again, but either way, I’m sure excitement and adventure are in store. I don’t think the writing particularly stands out, but sure, I’d go on a bit and see how the story develops.

Pierce Brown, Red Rising

I know, I know, this is one party to which I’m very late indeed. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this series. Here’s the opening – skipping the one-page prologue, this is chapter one:

The first thing you should know about me is I am my father’s son. And when they came for him, I did as he asked. I did not cry. Not when the Society televised the arrest. Not when the Golds tried him. Not when the Greys hanged him. Mother hit me for that. My brother Kieran was supposed to be the stoic one. He was the elder, I the younger. I was supposed to cry. Instead, Kieran bawled like a girl when Little Eo tucked a haemanthus into Father’s left workboot and ran back to her own father’s table. My sister Leanna murmured a lament beside me. I just watched and thought it a shame that he died dancing but without his dancing shoes.

On Mars there is not much gravity. So you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.

Well, that’s quite a start. I sure see why this one took off. Who could resist turning the page after that? I mean, as long as you’re not too tired of horrible brutal dystopian settings, which this clearly is.

Check out those short sentences. Did you notice that? Interesting technique here, as Brown demonstrates how to establish a distinctive voice right up front. It’s almost like a hardboiled kind of voice. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it recently. Yes, I can see why this trilogy’s gotten so much attention.

All right, next is:

Daniel A Rabuzzi, The Indigo Pheasant

What a great title! Unfortunately, there is no indigo pheasant on the cover, which actually shows hippocampi in earth tones. This strikes me as strange.

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Also, I note that this is book two of a series. That’s unfortunate, and I can say from experience it’ll push this book down my TBR pile. Sorry, but look, publishers and authors, if you’re going to put a book on the free table, the first book of a series is a much, much better choice than the second.

The first book was The Choir Boats, incidentally.

Anyway, here is the first bit of The Indigo Pheasant

“Blood,” said Maggie. “I can see no other way, Mama – it needs blood to make it work properly.”

Maggie emptied the afternoon ashes in the bin at the bottom of the garden behind the Sedgewick’s house on Archer Street by Pineapple Court. She listened to the bells tolling the end of the Lesser Feast of the Vicissitudes on a chilly day in May of 1816.

“Mama,” she said to the growing shadows on the wall. For over a year, ever since the great singing with the white girl and the brown girl that brought the ship out of Silence, Maggie had been designing a machine in her head.

“I wish there was another way, I do,” she thought. “Why blood? I fear it, I don’t want it so. But I can taste it in my mind. Aceldama in the busic, blood on the tonal fields.”

In some ways I like this. In some ways I want to quibble with the stylistic choices of the author. I want to know something about the setting, yes, but all that “on Archer Street by Pineapple Court” and “May of 1816” seems a little heavy-handed. And I have other quibbles. Still, this girl is designing machines in her head. That is super-cool and I may give this book a try sooner rather than later.

Okay, last one, and the only one where I’ve read other books by the author:

Michelle Sagara (West), Silence

I know Michelle Saraga West has written lots of books. I sort of liked a couple of hers I read, but not enough to immediately start picking up her backlist, though I have several of her books on my radar because some of you here keep recommending them. So when I saw her name on a free book, I grabbed it, particularly because it’s book one of a series. Seriously, that’s way better than book two. Plus there’s a dog on the cover! That’s definitely a plus.

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Here’s how it starts:

Everything happens at night.

The world changes, the shadows grow, there’s secrecy and privacy in dark places. First kiss, at night, by the monkey bars and the old swings that the children and their parents have vacated; second, longer kiss by bike stands, swirl of dust around feet in the dry summer air. Awkward words, like secrets just waiting to be broken, the struggle to find the right ones, the heady fear of exposure – what if, what if – the joy when the words are returned. Love, in the parkette, while the moon waxes and the clouds pass.

Promises, at night. Not first promise – those are so old they can’t be remembered – but new promises, sharp and biting; they almost hurt to say, but it’s a good hurt. Dreams, at night, before sleep, and dreams during sleep.

Everything, always, happens at night.

Oh, now, I like this a lot. So hauntingly atmospheric. Angsty romance is so not for me, and yet I really find this a compelling beginning. In fact, I like this way too much to venture further into the book right now, with the rest of one revision waiting and a short story to finish and then another revision before I can take a significant break.

Did I mention my agent got comments back to me about my space opera superfast so we could talk about it when we got together during WorldCon? Well, she did, and thus I have another moderately urgent revision waiting as soon as I’ve finished the truly urgent revision, because she really wants to send that out. Which is great, but the point is, no compelling hauntingly atmospheric books just yet, even if they do have dogs on the cover. I don’t dare go on with Red Rising either. Those MG and YA books I just picked up may actually be juuust about right.

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11 Comments WorldCon additions to the TBR pile

  1. Maureen E

    “thin from six weeks’ fasting on black bread and fermented cabbage.”

    Oh, this is a pretty accurate way to talk about Orthodox Lenten fasts! I wouldn’t have even given it a second thought. If it helps to parse it, the fasting is more directly connected to the six weeks–ie the length of Lent–than to the “on black bread and fermented cabbage”.

    (NOT, I hasten to add, that I only eat black bread and fermented cabbage during fasting periods, but since these are Russian peasants in late winter who can’t eat meat or dairy, it sounds right.)

  2. Rachel

    Well, if the phrase sounds right to you, I’ll assume it’s fine. To me, “feasting on” sounds normal and “fasting on” sounds odd.

  3. Elaine T

    Fasting on, does sound odd, even though I parsed it correctly. It’s not a common phrasing in our society.

    That Bear & Nightingale looks promising, but I’ll wait till I can get a sample. I do tend to like Russian tale retellings, or Russian-tale-flavored stories.

    Strictly speaking the Sagara is not a romance. The series title is Queen of the Dead which may give a clue to the reason for the atmosphere. It isn’t dystopian, either. Even though loss exists so does friendship, family, and hope.

    I’d managed to overlook the fuss about Red Rising . I do like the voice, and the last line quoted which reinforces the hanging, which might have gotten lost in the list above.

    I was considering recommending my SF reading husband try Bara’s IMPULSE, but then looked at the reviews. I think the physics errors would put him off.

    I wonder what you’ll think of the Heinlein juveniles now? I bounced hard off TSB when I tried to reread it a few years back. Have Spacesuit has held up, though. Haven’t tried the others.

    I remember that Joan Aiken novel fondly. It’s less extravagant than some of hers, but packed a quiet punch. At least for me.

    Surprised to see Nancy Bond’s String in the Harp on the free table, didn’t it get the Newbery? I picked it up ages ago when it was new and liked it, reread it some years ago and it held up. Never saw much else from her, or liked what I did find, but that was good. Nesbit also holds up, of course.

  4. Rachel

    Whoops, Elaine, I must have phrased something badly. None of the kids’ books were on the free table. String in the Harp was one of the ones I bought.

    I hope I still enjoy The Star Beast; it was one of my favorites when I was just starting to read SFF. Because a beast!

    Physics is not my best thing, so I may not notice the physics errors. But I can see I’d better avoid reviews or else they will probably be glaringly obvious.

  5. Rachel D.

    Personally, I really, really liked Michelle Sagara’s book Silence. Some of the characters were awesome. And as Elaine T mentioned above, it’s more about “friendship, family, and hope” than romance or any dystopian theme.

    I also tried her Chronicles of Elantra series (Cast in Shadow) and ended up finishing it, but with little interest in reading the sequels.

  6. Elaine T

    My mistake. Can I plead distraction due to being on the phone with the specialist Vets up in Davis trying to get our critter in? (now in a hotel room waiting to hear whether the scan shows anything. Being near(ish) top vet school, good. Bad – that it’s needed.)

    Rachel D, I am more interested in Elantra than it seems you are, but I get it. The main character starts off awfully limited and takes too many books to show growth. I am interested in spite of my frustration you might say. I do hope the author has an overall arc in mind. Last time I poked around her website it wasn’t clear if she did.

  7. Rachel

    Good luck with your critter, Elaine! I have an ongoing specialist type of issue, too, though right now I’m just waiting to see how the situation unfolds. :-(

  8. Linda S

    Here’s another vote for Silence. I originally picked it up because of a really intriguing “Big Idea” post Sagara wrote for Scalzi’s blog: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/18/the-big-idea-michelle-sagara/. To be honest, I could have lived without the angsty teen romance, but the friendships and family relationships were very nicely done. I seem to recall that I didn’t like the second book in the series quite as much, but it’s been a while since I read it.

  9. Rachel

    Glad to see several upvotes for Silence. I really liked that beginning a lot, so hopefully I’ll get to it soon. (Soon-ish).

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