Room to grow into| Review of The House of Shattered Wings

House of Shattered Wings - coverTitle: The House of Shattered Wings

Author: Aliette de Bodard

Publisher: Orion

Publication Date: 20 August 2015

Length: Novel (402 pages)

Format I read: audiobook

Rating: 3.5/5


Synopsis

In a ruined Paris, fallen angels live together in rival Houses – each vying for power in the crumbling, poisonous city that was brought down by their own war. The fighting has given way to politics but the threat to life is still very real. Angels are hunted for their magical essence, the house leaders scheme and plot in elaborately polite power-games, and the dark deeds of the past will not lie quietly in their graves.

House Silverspires stands tremulous. Its magic is ailing; the founder, Morningstar, has been missing for years; and now a murderous presence, seemingly darkness and malevolence incarnate, stalks them inside their own walls.

Of the many characters whose lives revolve around Silverspires, three become central to the struggle against the darkness: a human alchemist addicted to forbidden and deeply taboo drugs that are killing her, a newly fallen angel with immense power combined with innocent naivety, and the man from Annam whose powers and anger toward the angelic houses are alien to the fallen.


Thoughts

Whilst always enjoyable and readable this book never really gripped me in the way I wanted and expected. The story itself is intriguing and clever – a grand tale of murder, politics, and revenge. And yet for all that bigness it somehow felt small and a bit underdeveloped.

Another reviewer very aptly put it that this is an ‘aftermath story’. It tells us what happened after the fall, and after the war, and after the disappearance of a great leader. It’s a bold move for any writer to make and not one that I think was necessarily pulled off to best effect in this book.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a story that expands beyond its frames. A story that suggests that more happens after the last page is turned, that life was going on in the background of every line, just around the corner. But you do need the present moment of the story to hold my attention at least as much as the elements going on out of sight. It needs to fit inside hole that’s been cut out of the bigger picture and I can’t say that this always did. There was too much gap between the story we were told and the story outside it. Maybe there will be more to fill out the gaps in the future but for now it’s like a kid with clothes too big for them: there’s potential for them to grow into them over time but the excess fabric is going to trip them up.

On a positive note I thought that the character of Philippe – his experiences and interactions with the angelic houses during and after the war – did a phenomenal job of demonstrating how the structures of power – race, class, wealth, etc – are often unseen and continue to be upheld by those who benefit from them. Sometimes it’s easier to face a hard truth through fiction, and Isabel and Philippe’s argument about the necessity of the continued existence of angelic houses prompted some serious reflection.

Clever, beautiful, and big in scope this book is very much worth reading but offered me more story than it could give

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – 3.5 stars.

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It hurts so good… | Review of The Traitor Baru Cormorant

traitorbarucormorantTitle: The Traitor Baru Cormorant (some editions published as The Traitor in the UK)

Author: Seth Dickinson

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 15 September 2015

Length: Novel (400 pages)

Format I read: ebook

Note: I requested and received this book for free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.


The short version: Clever, cunning, and dark as hell. Do not fuck with Baru Cormorant.

The long version:

This book hurt me in two ways. The first was a familiar pain so let’s just get it out there: queer characters die tragically. FFS, again?

The other pain, well, some people pay for that kind of thing.

How do you fight the system? That’s really the question this book asks. How do you fight a culture that broke you into pieces and reshaped you in their mould? Is it possible? What do we lose when we hide a part of ourselves? What do we gain with power? So many questions and, really, so few answers. Like the best stories The Traitor tells a story but doesn’t tie it up too neatly. It leaves you thinking, puzzling over its horrible philosophy lesson.

Baru Cormorant is the perfect hero. Or antihero. It’s hard to tell. I sympathise, I ache for her pain, I want to scream at the trap she’s been put in by an empire of heartless masks but, DAMN ME, is she a dark-hearted sociopath.

Why? I was screaming that at her in my head as I read. Why the fuck are you doing this? But you can’t reason with revenge. Everything must bow down before revenge – not love, not loyalty, not family, or self can be allowed to take precendence.

There is nothing here but pain. And you will suffer it beautifully in this book. The slow twist of the plot will wrack you, , the sweet sting of the emotion will flay you, and the betrayals will hurt you. And yet you will turn the page for more.

You kinky motherfucker.

Morticia Addams - Again

 


 

The Traitor Baru Cormorant – 4 stars

 

Baking cake, talking books (Book Cake Tag)

In today’s video I’m baking a book cake!

The idea is to pick books that fit characteristics assigned to each ingredient. I took it a bit further and decided to bake some real cake whilst talking about the books. So if you want to see the baking you’re going to have watch the video. If you just want to read about my book picks and/or see the recipe then skip over the video and keep reading (recipe at the end)!

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/ARJ3hWK9r5M


Flour: Slow to start but that really picked up later!

A confederacy of duncesA Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is a literary fiction novel that I found really baffling and hard to read at first but then rapidly got sucked in to the wonderous whirlpool of ridiculous horror that is Ignatius J. Reilly’s life and thoughts. It’s a tragicomic tale of wrathful, slothful, ranting behemoth of a man that is truly artful in the telling.

After a life self-indulgent idleness and never-ending study Ignatius suddenly finds himself in the awful position of need to get that most dreadful of things – a job. His (mis)adventures are filled with the beautifully-drawn oddities of New Orleans life and Ignatius is the man you will LOVE to hate; selfish, domineering, and deluded, tragic and comic and larger than life.


Margarine: a rich plot!

His Dark MaterialsHis Dark Materials by Philip Pullman is a a fantasy trilogy like no other. It’s a rich, detailed and marvellously imagined story set across parallel worlds. Epic in scale it combines spellbinding adventure and beautiful writing to create one of the most enduring stories I’ve ever read. 

It tells the tale of Lila and Will, two children in very different versions of Oxford who each find themselves caught up in a web of deception and danger as the old powers of religion and science clash across the multi-verse. It  features armoured polar bears, magical objects, arctic prisons, dying angels, witches and daemons. And to top it off it’s also an audacious and profound re-imagining of Milton’s Paradise Lost. How can you resist?

If you are thinking of reading it soon then why not join me? I’ll be taking part in a readalong of these books in December. It’s being led by author and booktuber, Jen Campbell, along with Holly from the YouTube channel Library at the Edge of the World.

JOIN US…..? 😡

never join - star wars gif

Damn you Skywalker


 

Eggs – assumed it was bad but actually enjoyable!

Goblin Emperor coverI was really reluctant to pick up The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison despite the fact that I heard nothing but glowing reviews for it. I’d be bouncing off a lot of epic fantasy at the time, I think I was a bit done with a lot of the genre tropes and somehow I just felt like this just wasn’t going to be my cup of tea.

HOW WRONG I WAS!

It’s the story of a young prince who very unexpectedly becomes emperor of the elvish kingdom despite being exiled and despised by his father and three elder brothers thanks to his half-goblin heritage. This is heartwarming, a tale of learning and finding your place and voice and people who understand you. That whilst there is turmoil and horror there is kindness and friendship and loyalty. It’s a truly lovely story, well written & well executed with characters I came to love. Enchanting, delightful and totally unexpected.


 

Sugar – a sweet story!

Making of a MarchionessThe Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett tells the story of thirty-something Emily who lives alone, humbly and happily, in a tiny apartment and on a meager income. She’s the one that everyone counts on but no one notices iuntil, in true Cinderella-like glory, she meets the a Marquis and he falls in love with her – just as she is. Plus then there’s a whole murder mystery section and our new Marchioness turns out to be a stone-cold badass! (You may think I am kidding at this point but I am so not. It’s half love story, half deadly intrigue!)

It’s the sweetest, most adorably lovely love story in the world. If you’ve ever read A Little Princess then think of that but for adults. Because it’s literally that – same author!


Icing – everything you enjoy in a book

Ancillary JusticeThere is no other book I could pick. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is my all-time favourite book for a reason. It’s part epic space opera, part intimately written tale of grief and loss. And part adventure, part domestic, part ode to song, part everything.

Broken down to it’s simplest plot it is the story of a warship trapped in a human body and her search for revenge. Formerly the vast troop carrier, Justice of Toren, now simply Breq – a grieving ancillary who we follow as she seeks for a weapon that can destroy her master.  Along the way we learn of her past life and the haunting events that led up to destructive present.

I’m really bad a writing a synopsis of this book. It is beautiful and haunting and clever. It has dramatic and adventure, gorgeous writing, and will make you question the concept of gender to boot.


 

Sprinkles – a pick me up!

darling buds of mayThe Pop Larkin Chronicles by H.E. Bates are a series of novels which started with The Darling Buds of May. They are a gorgeous romping masterpiece about the joys of living, of love, laughter, family, sex, food, fun and friendship. It starts with the Larkin family arriving home at their idyllic farmstead to find a young man waiting in the yard. He’s the tax inspector and has a few questions for Pop. Instead of answers, Charley-boy soon finds himself one of the family enjoying endless delicious dinners, drinks, sunshine, and life with beautiful Mariette.

It is a joyous series and cannot fail to transport you away from even the greyest days and into the warm fields of an English summer evening.

 


Cherry on top – favourite book of the year

Female Man book coverThe Female Man by Joanna Russ is one of the great classics of science fiction and earlier this year it blew my tiny mind.

It tells us of four women living in parallel worlds, each with a different gender landscape. When they begin to travel to each other’s worlds each woman’s preconceptions on gender and what it means to be a woman are challenged.

Written in the 1970s you see the gender roles of the time and marvel at their strange and awful imbalance. And then it becomes achingly familiar and fills you with a rage that we’re still, STILL, dealing with this shit forty years later. The writing is unbelievably good, like freaking genius levels good. It burns like lines of fire in my heart, good. READ ITTTTTTTTTT.


 

Recipe: Vegan Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

Cakes

Ingredients – cake

    • 1 cup soymilk
    • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar ( or white vinegar)
    • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup roughly chopped Oreos (chop and then measure)
    • 1/3 cup cocoa powder ( Dutch processed or regular)
    • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. Line muffin pan with baking cups (paper or foil).
  3. Whisk together soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside to curdle. Add sugar, oil, and vanilla to the soy mixture and beat until frothy.
  4. In a separate bowl, stir together the remaining dry ingredients.
  5. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture in two batches beating until smooth, with no large lumps remaining.
  6. Pour the batter into prepared baking cups, filling them to three quarters full.
  7. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of one of the cupcakes comes out clean.
  8. Transfer cupcakes to cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Ingredients – decoration

  • 1/2 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
  • 1/2 cup nonhydrogenated margarine
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted if clumpy
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup plain soy milk or soy creamer
  • 8 Oreos, finely chopped
  • More Oreos for decoration

Instructions

  1. Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for about 3 more minutes.
  2. Add the vanilla and soy milk, and beat for another 5 to 7 minutes until fluffy.
  3. Finely chop about 6 Oreos and mix into the frosting.
  4. Frost the cupcakes generously, sprinkle with remaining Oreo crumbs, top with half a cookie.

What I Read – October 2015

Hello lovely humans, today I’m going to be talking about all the things I read in October which I am still failing to believe is already over. Like the hell, when did that happen? As ever you can watch the video or skip ahead to read a text version.

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/adx2Dd2yakI

In October I finished three books and two graphic novels which doesn’t sound like much but I’ve been rather ill for the last half of the month so I’m quite pleased with it. If you don’t follow me on twitter you may not already know that I’ve had labyrinthitis for about two weeks. It was entirely not fun but I seem to be all better so Awoohoo.


Goblin Emperor cover

First of my reads was The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. This is a fantasy book about a young prince who very unexpectedly becomes emperor of the elvish kingdom despite being exiled and despised by his father and three elder brothers thanks to his half-goblin heritage.

It follows him from the discovery of his new position into the first few months of his reign as he come to terms with the memory of a father who didn’t love him, a government that doesn’t believe in him, and court of nobles about as easy to understand or trust as a nest of snakes.
I’ve become so used to fantasy books that are all violence and betrayal and general awfulness. Even when there’s romance or triumph in the end the main thrust is always a protagonist at odds with everyone, misunderstood or downtrodden or alone. And I kept expecting that and it never happened. This is heartwarming, a tale of learning and finding your place and voice and people who understand you. That whilst there is turmoil and horror there is kindness and friendship and loyalty. It’s a truly lovely story, well written & well executed with characters I came to love. Enchanting, delightful and totally unexpected.


 

Lock In by ScalziThen came Lock In by John Scalzi, a total change of pace to a fast-reading detective story set in a future where a percentage of the population are locked in their bodies because of a disease but are able to operate in the world by using future neural technologies that allow them to control other human bodies, with agreement, or human shaped robots knowns as threeps.
Our protagonist is a Haden starting his first day as an FBI agent and he’s thrown into a mystery that starts with a murder where the suspect claims to have been under the control of another and then gets way more complicated and dangerous when the murder starts linking to a much wider plot of corporate intrigue and somebody hacking the neural technology to take control of people’s minds.
Like all of Scalzi’s books this was a fun read, his writing is consistently good and damn readable. It’s a simple classic detective story with ideas about internet security and privacy and personal integrity and control all woven into a great future concept. It’s not going to blow you away with its complex literary ideas but that is so not the point. It’s damn good at what it wants to be.


 

Ancillary MercyAnd then, and then, oh my goodness, then came Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. This is third and final book in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series and I am both happy and sad to have read it. It’s really impossible to tell you any of the plot without totally ruining the first book but I will tell you that it was a wonderful ending to the series. As a whole they have blown me away.

Leckie has a way of creating characters and worlds that you come to know intimately and that reach far beyond the story that takes place on the pages. It was a relatively neat ending which was not necessarily what I expected but worked in that there was clearly more to come that we won’t ever see.

And that’s the magic of these books – there’s a huge universe of cultures and politics and ideas and people that we learn about and are inspired by and it’s just a taster of the many stories in that universe, it’s a beginning, even though this is the end. Goddamn it’s like Harry Potter all over again. I can’t cope.

Mourning the book

If you want to get schooled in elegant writing that can confront social and ethical issues with grace, and give you all the emotions about spaceships then read these books immediately.


 

Saga Vol. 5And the first of my two graphic novels was Saga Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples – the continuing epic which continues to be epic. The art is still lovely, still inspires moments of laugh out loud holy shit am I glad I’m not reading this in public like I did that one time because ohmygod that’s a big picture of a….lizard. I still really like it but I can’t deal with having my stories broken up so much. I need to know what happens.


 

 

Sex CriminalsAnd then for continued not to be read in public enjoyment there was Sex Criminal Volume 1 by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky. This is the story of a young woman for whom time stops after she orgasms. And then one day she meets a man for whom the same thing happens and they decided to use this amazing superpower to rob banks. Because of course. It is witty and clever and so so funny. The creators have obviously just taken these ideas of what you might do in that situation and when that situation might come up and it’s just cringingly, hilariously awful and yet amazing and sweet. Definitely worth a read – if you’re over 18.


 

And that’s it, that’s all she read! Thanks for reading.