Any Day Now, I Will Definitely Re-Read …

Honestly, I know perfectly well that I say, remarkably often, “I must re-read that!” or “I really want to re-read that!” This is always true and yet it so seldom happens. Far too seldom! I suppose I might say that I experience a velleity regarding re-reading books: I want to, but seldom so strongly that I actually get a book off the shelf (or virtual shelf). The tension between books I would love to re-read and the huge number of new-to-me books on my various TBR piles and the various works in progress I ought to be working on myself, well, it’s tough to pick one thing over another, that’s all.

What I’m actually reading right now:

FINE, you all MADE me read Phoenix Feather by Sherwood Smith. Enough of you pointed to it and said READ THIS that I finally had no choice but to put it on my phone where I’m most likely to read it. Then it sifted up toward the top and now here I am, reading this book. Which I like a lot, so I’m sure you were all correct to keep bringing it up. I’m enjoying the world and the characters and even the backstory handed to the reader in the long prologue. Sherwood Smith makes that work by turning it into a story within a story.

And yes, Elaine T, I get what you mean about Smith being coy about Mouse’s gender in the prologue, but I can’t tell whether that might have annoyed me because I already knew she was a girl.

Anyway, I’m about 30% into this book and definitely enjoying it. I’m looking forward to strong, supportive sibling relationships and other features you all have mentioned in your comments about this series. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t continual tension about what to read after this — the next book in the series, or the next book in McShane’s Tremontane series, or something else, something familiar?

What I want to be re-reading right now:

The Inda series, also by Sherwood Smith, but it’s so long! But really good! So I’m torn. I bet I don’t get to it this year. Yet another year without re-reading this series! It’s terrible, it really is.

Chalice by Robin McKinley. This is a lot more likely to actually wind up on my coffee table this year. It’s so short, it’s practically a novella. Let me see. 280 pp, says Amazon. That’s right in between a novella and a novel. This is really a novella, though, I think, as the line spacing is quite generous. Anyway, my point is, this is a warm, soft, cuddly sort of story. I think that’s true even though some moments are of course high tension. The story itself isn’t. No one can possibly wonder about whether there’s a happy ending. Of course there is.

Illuminae by Kaufman and Kristoff. It’s laughable to call this one warm and fuzzy! It’s exciting and fast-paced and completely over-the-top in several different ways. It’s so much fun, though! And I’ve only read it once. I really want to read it again! One of these days, one of these days …

Freedom’s Gate by Naomi Kritzer. After bringing that up recently, here I am, with this trilogy on my mind. It’s another one I’ve only ever read once, and I loved it so much. But I don’t know that I’ll take time to read it this year.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. I will absolutely for sure read this trilogy again this year, because I’m scheduled to participate in a workshop in July with Ann Leckie. And Sharon Shinn, but I’ve got many of her books practically memorized, whereas I’ve only read the full Ancillary trilogy once.

Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, because this is one that I do not have memorized at all, and various commenters here keep mentioning it in various contexts, and I feel bad that I don’t remember a single thing about it. I expect there’s a castle. And a summer. Anyway, I very definitely want and need to re-read this story.

The Riddlemaster trilogy by McKillip, and, I guess, a lot of her other books. That link goes to the post where I tried to list all her books in order, which was a challenge. Regardless, it’s been a long time since I read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, for example. Honestly, I’m astonished to think how long it’s been. Ages and ages. In the linked post, I said I wanted to re-read that one, and look, it’s been three years or so since I wrote that post and I still haven’t. It’s just terrible how few hours there are in a day.

Island of Ghosts by Gillian Bradshaw, which in fact may be not be only one of my most re-read of Bradshaw’s books, but actually one of my most re-read books of all time. Not sure why that is, but this particular title apparently hit a sweet spot for me. You know, I believe I can see echoes of this book in Tuyo, now that I think of it. I’m not sure I realized that before.

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, largely because I recently received a copy of Ultimate Guide to Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings, which is an extraordinarily thorough reference to every quote, every reference, every historical figure, and every location in the novel. I’m dying to re-read the novel with this companion reference volume on the coffee table so that I can continually refer to it. In particular, it’ll be so cool to know what all those quotes mean!

But! Despite plenty of competition from all the above, the one novel I actually decided that I MUST re-read, and I don’t mean someday, I mean very soon, is Walk on Earth a Stranger. And, I mean, the whole series, of course. The intention to re-read these became urgent enough that I actually tried to find them on my physical library shelves, only to discover, to my delight, that I didn’t buy them in hardcover as I thought, but in ebook form. That’s way better! I immediately loaded Walk on Earth onto my phone.

Now the only question is whether I’ll go for the rest of the Phoenix Feather series first or stop after book one and pick up Walk on Earth instead. I won’t be able to decide till after I finish the first book of the Phoenix Feather, Fledglings.


Yes, I am making progress on Invictus as well. It’s slow, but it’s moving forward. Lately I have just barely been making my 1000-word-per-day minimum, but still, it IS moving forward, and right now that’s fine. I still believe my initial intention to finish a draft by the end of May is totally achievable. I would say there’s about three chapters left, but my guess about that always (always!) turns out to be an underestimation, so let’s say probably from six to eight chapters left. Same thing for wordcount: right now it’s at 124,000 words, and I estimate that it should certainly not go over 140,000 words, which means, sigh, probably at least 160,000. Overwriting is just part of the process.

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14 thoughts on “Any Day Now, I Will Definitely Re-Read …”

  1. I think the Phoenix Feather series improves as it goes on. Smith has some truly beautiful, inspired passages in the book and some of the characters gain in depth and dimension. Plus the story is great!
    I read two of the Sarah Rees Brennan books on someone’s recommendation here and they were very good, but they were filled with tension and betrayal. For a beautiful book filled with tension I’d recommend Jane Harper’s The Lost Man, but you have a lot to read rn. I’m going to back and look at Walk on Earth a Stranger now, I don’t remember it all that well, it looks like I bought it in 2015.

  2. I feel compelled to say, um, not as much betrayal as it seems. Though Seb, yes. Nevertheless. Very much a high, high, high-tension series, that’s for sure!

  3. I still remember the first time I picked up The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. It was my introduction to McKillip, and a fantastic one at that. Pretty sure I devoured the rest of her available work in short order.

    I tried Walk on Earth but couldn’t get past the first chapter. Something about the character. Did you write a review of the series? Oh, I see it. Hmm. I do want to try it again. Maybe. One day.

  4. I REALLY enjoyed The Phoenix Feather series. In the past months I have discovered the Chinese television fantasies that are based on the same magic and world building systems and, although I can go months without watching TV, I got addicted. Started based on a recommendation from a favorite author’s newsletter. I think he said something along the lines of, “I have no idea what’s happening but it’s fascinating and I can’t stop watching.” Absolutely true. I think the translation and the cultural differences twist your head just enough that it creaks open rusty doors in your thought processes and it all becomes a bit obsessive. I highly recommend The Untamed and Nirvana in Fire. I think I really enjoyed The Phoenix Feather series – in addition to the fact that it’s just a really good series – because it explained so much of what I was glossing over in the shows I was watching because I didn’t understand the context.

  5. oh, no don’t watch the Untamed, it mangled the source material horribly: Destroyed the characters, and (according to people who did watch to the end) destroyed their own in-that-particular-universe characterization by the end, too; added a very large tally of plotholes, and the cinematography – camera angles and takes made my eyes hurt. I bounced HARD. Couldn’t watch Nirvana in Fire either, just on the the overall ‘fake’ I got from the episodes I tried to watch. Oh, the Teen adds, according to Chinese speakers the subtitles are an absolute butchery of something beautiful and far too often very free with the easiest meaning of the term whether or not it is the appropriate one. Such as translating something new and hugely important ‘wicked tricks’ instead of ‘heretical path’.

    Watch the animated version which is closer to the original novel and the art is pretty good.
    Or try the audio drama, the closest to the original novel of the adaptataions. The problem with the audio drama is it isn’t dubbed, it’s subtitled so you actually have to sit down and watch, not just listen. I’d say read the novel, but the translation isn’t all that great, and only one volume is out.

    I still can’t get into Phoenix. Maybe in a year or so.

  6. Coming back after dinner and chocolate decadence to apologize to Mary Anderson for being so strongly against something she recommended. I apologize.

    I am amazed I actually like the character and the story. The Teen found it via a fanfiction by a writer she trusted and sent the story my way (Metisket’s One Body Problem on Ao3). We both found the main character interesting, likeable, and very very smart and very kind. Even if he was a necromancer, he had his head on straight and was a good man. So we looked into the source material, bounced hard off both the live action, and the fan translation that was all that was available at the time, so we watched the animation. It was very good. Now an official translation is coming out, but the publisher didn’t pay a pro to do it and is marketing the thing as a gay romance when it’s got mystery, necromancy, war, but more the aftermath, soul sacrifices, magic, horrific deaths and lots of plotting and dirty politics, and at least three major factions at the card table with smaller fry also contributing. the romance is the least of the interest. The English translation is titled Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. It has also been called Founder of … A major beef I have with the live action is they take away that founding of a new branch of magic – or ‘cultivation’ – in that setting, by the main character.

  7. I’ll jump into this conversation with both feet! I adore Nirvana in Fire! The costumes; the characters; the twisty-turny plot that just keeps getting more intense! I started watching it because Sherwood Smith recommended it. The first few episodes are confusing, but once you get everyone straight in your head it’s just a delight! (I can provide helpful notes if anyone wants them!) Subtitles are always an issue, of course; you can never catch all the subtleties of meaning (it was available on two streaming services back when I first watched it, with different subtitles, and I found it both fascinating and extremely helpful to watch scenes in both versions). I will say that they’ve updated the subtitles in the version currently on, and I think they are much better than before. (I don’t recommend the dubbed version, though it is yet a different translation, so might be helpful for comparison purposes.)

    I also really enjoyed Nirvana in Fire 2, which is about the next generation of characters.

    (I bought my subscription because I didn’t want to watch ads for all 54 episodes of Nirvana in Fire, and after trying a few more Chinese dramas I then discovered Korean dramas. Haven’t gotten out of that rabbit hole yet!)

    I’ve been trying to get into Untamed, but have so far found the main characters annoying, though I understand they’re supposed to grow on me. But friends were reading another novel by the same author, Heaven Official’s Blessing (also has an animated adaptation on Netflix), and I’m enjoying it so far (I’ve only read Book 1 out of 5, and I’m just starting to understand what’s going on.) It’s very funny. (And very much a gay romance!)

    I can see bouncing off the first book of Phoenix Feather, because it has a more middle-grade feel. The succeeding books get deeper and more complex and intense and I liked them better.

  8. Well, this turned into an interesting look at different vehement responses to the shows in question. I’m quite curious about Nirvana in Fire now.

    I’m not having any trouble re bouncing off Phoenix Feather: Fledglings. It does have a MG feel, I suppose, but I’m enjoying it and also looking forward to where the series goes.

  9. Rachel, if you do choose to watch Nirvana in Fire please let us know—there are some non-spoiler character guides that help keep the cast straight in early episodes, when they introduce a LOT of characters and you don’t quite know how everything connects. Especially since some people have up to 3 names or titles.

    Nirvana in Fire is the show that got me and my wife together, so I’ll always be fond of it — but it’s a VERY good show on its own, with a twisty plot and fascinating characters. It’s something of a “Count of Monte Cristo” type plot, with a disguised schemer attempting to right the wrongs of 13 years ago by taking down corrupt officials and assisting a disfavored Prince to the throne—but there’s much less focus on personal revenge and more on clearing the names of beloved family & comrades who were wrongly accused of treason. And there are just some brilliant wonderful female characters who do SO much, both within & without the roles society assigns to them.

  10. Elaine – And now I want to find the animated version that you mentioned. Was it if Untamed or Nirvana in Fire? Thanks for coming back and explaining your response a bit more.
    Yes, even as I was watching it I was aware that the translations were horrible. Frequently reminded me of the sometimes very puzzling assembly instructions you get for things made in China. But at the same time I found myself fleshing out the story in my own mind, probably in ways that were totally divergent from the show Felt like when I used to read Grimm’s fairy tales as a kid. They were not exactly character studies or filled with detailed descriptions of the action. But I imagined entire worlds and people from the very basic sketches I read. So yes, they are not perfect. But I still found them gripping. Though I would recommend watching on the Viki app. I’ve found their translations feel more organic – even though I have no idea if that’s actually true!

  11. Elaine, the animated version of The Untamed is available on Youtube under the same title as the original novel (Mo Dao Zu Shi). You can get the English subs on the official Tencent channel here:

    (Note: the translations are still sometimes wonky. And the characterization goes WAY askew in the third season. But the cultivation battles & necromancy in the donghua are so, so much better.)

  12. Argh, so sorry, I meant that last comment for Mary Anderson! Who was also responding to Elaine…

  13. Mary A, it was of Mo Dao Zu Shi, and the Teen liked it enough to make me watch and I liked it, too. A lot. You can’t buy the whole thing, which is really aggravating. We eventually found that you could (past tense, couldn’t last I checked) buy DVDs of the first two seasons from Amazon (USA) and did so.

    So.. we originally streamed it off of, which has the first two seasons . We got part way through, decided to pay for it and bought the DVDs to watch in comfort on the TV instead of in the office on the smaller computer screens. As Mary Beth says you can also watch on the official channel, which I believe gives you one episode free, then you have to pay. I poked at it months ago, and don’t recall.

    If you want different English subtitles, we watched season 3 of Mo Dao Zu Shi on a site in Cyrillic (based in Poland, I think) , Don’t know who did the subtitles, but it was clearly not the people who did the ones on the DVD. And sometimes those differences bring out interesting subtleties. you cannot buy season 3 at all, except to stream from Tencent, as far as I can tell and I look periodically.

  14. Yes, the battles in the donghua (Chinese animation) are very good. I had a long comment with links to various places to watch things that went to moderation, BTW. Could it be fished out if it seems appropriate?
    With the live action, every thing I hear about the characters and how they are handled makes them come across as wimpier, less worthy of respect, including the wrong doing being more obvious but the characters’ reactions not being adjusted to match … And the plot was changed with the addition of a quest for the magical mcguffins that is totally invented for the show.

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