Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: A Variety

I really haven’t been reading much this year, relatively speaking. Except for re-reads; I’m definitely re-reading more books this spring than new-to-me books. This is partly – mostly – because I’m working on stuff of my own, which always puts a damper on reading new-to-me fiction.

Nevertheless, in the last few weeks, I have managed to read a few new-to-me titles. So:

1. Murderbot: “Artificial Condition,” by Martha Wells.

I didn’t necessarily expect to love the second novella as much of the first (“All Systems Red”), because the first one set a high bar. It just won the Nebula,in fact and a well-deserved win that was, too. But I was hoping the second would make it over that bar. Well, I was very pleased because I think the second novella was just about as good as the first. I feared it would be hard to match the secondary characters from the first novella, but I really loved ART, and I liked the human characters as well.

Favorite detail with ART: When the ship started playing the Sanctuary Moon soundtrack when Murderbot was upset. What a nice touch.

Favorite detail with a human character: When Tapan says it was her fault and the Murderbot says it wasn’t and she says, “I kinda think it was.” Great exchange. Also, though the Murderbot is inclined to blame itself for things, Tapan is right. It was totally her fault. I like how she didn’t let it talk her out of that.

Can’t wait for the third novella. I don’t think it’s a super-long wait; I believe it’s coming out in August.

2. A Thousand Nights by EK Johnston.

My favorite kind of secondary world: tons of Arabic flavor, but not based on any historical Arabia, so Johnston could do crazy things with the metaphysics and significantly tweak the culture and so on. The smallgods are original, for example, and so is the balance between the Skeptics and the Priests. And, the demons, though I believe they’re meant to evoke djinn. There’s a smokeless fire kind of magic associated with the demon that has Lo-Melkhiior, for example.

The story has less emphasis on storytelling than I expected. Also, the plot covers nothing like a thousand nights. What was it, three months or so from start to finish? This is mostly a quiet story, rather slow paced. I like the quieter part of the story better than the fast-paced climactic battle, in fact, although when the protagonist creates all those creatures at the end, that’s pretty snazzy.

The writing is beautiful and rather unusual. The emphasis is so strongly on family that the first-person narrator never, or almost never, refers to family members by name – it’s always “my sister,” “my father,” “the sister of my mother.” That, and a formal manner of speech, do as much as the descriptive passages about the setting to give this story an exotic feel.

3. The 3,000-Mile Garden.

This is nonfiction. It’s collected letters exchanged between the American food writer Leslie Land and the English nature photographer Roger Phillips. The letters are very strongly focused on gardening and cooking, so just my kind of thing.

4. Frederica by Georgette Heyer.

Not my favorite Heyer … I believe that would be CotillionFalse Colors. But I liked it very much from the moment Frederica appeared. Teenage boys are rather unusual in Heyer’s books, and though the romance was okay, my favorite part of this one – by a mile – was the developing relationship between Frederica’s brothers and Alverstroke.

4. Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle.

The raven saw it first.

His dark eye scraped the horizon, scouring the earth for movement in the lengthening shadows. The shadows crawled across the scrub and the sage, wrapping around lodgepole pines and flickering through bits of grass. A hot breeze ruffled the raven’s feathers, pulling him higher over the land. He sensed something old, something malevolent sliding under the fences and over the rocks . . .

The ravens are pretty neat in this one. Very strange magic all over the place, much of it creepy and disturbing. Alchemy, sure, but other, weirder stuff too. Though the alchemy is certainly weird and disturbing enough all by itself. This story is right on the edge between fantasy and horror … if you have read it, which side of the line do you think it comes down on? The writing is very good, which is crucial for building the creepy atmosphere.

The main protagonist, Petra Dee, is a geologist, so from time to time we get to see neat science-y stuff. Best thing about Petra: the way she refuses to let bad things happen without trying to interfere. Worst thing about Petra: my God, woman, when your father whispers from the spirit world Don’t Go, you might give a little more thought to Plan B and Plan C. Walking into a trap is never admirable unless you have seriously thought ahead about how to deal with that trap in some effective way.

Other comments: The coyote does not in any way resemble a coyote, other than physically. It is your standard fictional idealized-dog-that-we-are-calling-a-wolf, except of course that it’s supposedly a coyote. It has only the merest trace of coyote behavior appended over the dog behavior. I feel compelled to mention here, as no doubt I have before, that neither coyotes nor wolves have the same instincts or show the same behaviors as dogs. They just don’t.

However, as Sig is explicitly a spirit coyote rather than a normal coyote, I guess that’s more or less all right. I mean, the ravens are not exactly normal ravens, and I liked them fine, so I am trying to exercise the same tolerance for the coyote.

Also, my favorite secondary protagonist winds up in an unenviable condition at the end, but since this is the first book of a series, I imagine his situation most likely improves in the second book. There is reasonable closure in this book, so that’s good.

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3 Comments Recent Reading: A Variety

  1. Kootch

    Re Artificial Condition – how about the scene with ART, Murderbot and Tapan watching episodes of Sanctuary Moon? I hope ART becomes a recurring character.

  2. Lace

    Jennifer Kloester’s biography of Georgette Heyer gives some context to Frederica. If I remember the gist right, Heyer’s son and only child married a woman with sons not long before Heyer wrote Frederica. The book stands out for its child characters precisely because she had children in her life during the writing, in a way that hadn’t been true through most of her Regency writing. (I also had never bothered to figure out/look up that her early career was mostly historicals and mysteries, with the Regencies coming later.)

  3. Rachel

    I too would be happy if Art turned out to be a continuing character. Also, I would like to know more about the university that own that ship!

    Lace, interesting details about Heyer! Thanks for mentioning that about her background.

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