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Reviews: Books

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Wise’s collection of fantastic (most often futuristic or steam-punkish) short stories is best read in individual bites so that the effect and implications of each piece has time to settle. Many of them focus on the use of language--either as a theme of the story or simply in its presentation. Pain, damage, and disability are strong through-lines. And queerness is an assumed given in most of the pieces. These are not comfortable stories; they’re often angry and many feature characters who can’t easily be framed as likeable.

I needed something fun and fluffy and light and a quick read. Burgis’s YA magical Regency novel Kat, Incorrigible perfectly hit the spot. Having recently been on a panel discussion about Regency fantasy at Worldcon, I’ve been thinking about the role that magic plays in this sub-genre. It can either be an analog of social rank and privilege, or a forbidden underlayer, or in rarer cases, a subverting force that acts openly across the formal structures of society. But that’s a discussion for a different time and place.

Everyone and their cousin is using the relationships and themes of Sherlock Holmes as inspiration for characters in decidedly non-English non-Edwardian non-mimetic settings these days. Some of them are doing it very well--sometimes so well that the Holmesian framework is almost unnecessary as an underpinning for the story.

This is a pleasant (well, maybe wrong word, see futher...) side-story in the Vorkosigan universe focusing on collaborations between Ekaterin and bioengineer Enrique looking for genetically engineered mitigations for the toxic waste site that forms part of Miles’ inheritance. It’s also about the persistance of ingrained prejudices and the ways in which ignorance (on all sides) enables unprivileged people to fall through the cracks in an otherwise progressive society.

I’m coming to the conclusion that when at all possible I should read episodically-written stories in the fashion intended rather than consuming them as if a continuous novel. I loved this portal fantasy of an over-protected girl granted her heart’s desire: to go on adventures. And what adventures! A quest with a mystery and an over-arching peril that turns out to be very different from what all the story tropes set you up to believe. But the reading felt a bit jerky, as each chapter resolves to a stopping point, sometimes in an artificial-feeling way. That’s my only complaint, though.

Set in the same universe as Leckie’s Ancillary novels, but with a very different viewpoint character and different stakes. I’m not entirely sure whether to call it a “standalone” (a philosophical question I recently discussed on twitter) given that Provenance benefits heavily from background knowledge from the Ancillary trilogy, but the plot is self-contained and the central characters have no overlap.

This collection wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, so I’m trying to evaluate it for what it is rather than what I thought it would be. For the most part, it’s a collection of “why I like Georgette Heyer” essays--studies of a favorite book or motif, reminiscences of the context of reading, that sort of thing. A few of the essays are more in line with what I thought I was getting: analytical scholarly studies of Heyer’s work.

Originally created as a series of blog posts, this fictional memoir of a Regency-era courtesan is a light-hearted (though occasionally serious) exploration of the social and material world of the demi-monde and the parts of society they intersect with. The author is quite knowledgeable about her subject and draws in a diverse cast (including historically-situated queer characters, which is always a plus for me). Although there are some over-arching plotlines, it’s probably best read in the same episodic fashion it was created.

I am frustrated in my desire to love this series. I love the concept (all the sff/fantasy/gothic novels of the 19th century were true in the same universe) and I love the characters (the daughters or female creations of the men in all those novels come together in a found family and have adventures). But this is the second book in the series in which I found the plot thin and the narrative style ponderous and somewhat bloated.

What I knew about this book going in was that it concerned a young woman and a mechanical chess-playing automaton in the early 19th century. I expected intrigues and hoaxes and--given that I bought it though a lesbian book distributor--some amount of queer identity. What I didn’t expect was a dark psychological thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat right up to the end. This is not a fluffy, feel-good comfort read. It’s a gripping adventure and mystery that left me both satisfied and emotionally wrung out.

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