Wednesday, January 14, 2015

All the Windwracked Stars

So it's less than a week after I finished By the Mountain Bound and I'm already finished All the Windwracked Stars.  I actually finished reading it last night when I couldn't sleep - rather than wasting my time trying to sleep, I thought I'd be useful.  And the story had really caught me by that point, so I was really eager to finish.

Unfortunately, it didn't start out that way.  The first chapter of All the Windwracked Stars is almost exactly the last chapter of By the Mountain Bound (it's the epic battle between the Children of the Light and the Tarnished).  Once that was finished, All the Windwracked Stars then went into a lot of worldbuilding.  You see, Valdyrgard may be dying thanks to that battle, but it's taking its sweet time about doing it!  Over 2000 years pass, and Muire, last of the Valkyries, is in the last remaining human city.  And it's there that she finds Mingan haunting her city.  For Mingan has found Cathoair, a beautiful boy with the soul of Strifbjorn.

It took until about halfway through the book before I really got hooked with this story.  Eiledon (the last city) is being held together by the Technomancer Thjierry Thorvaldsdottir's power.  It was at the point that you start to realize some of the bad Thjierry has done that the story gets really interesting.  It seems she has been using the swords of the Children of the Light to take power from the rest of the world and funnel it into saving Eiledon - she is literally killing the rest of the world to save this one city.  She's also found a way to infuse the souls of the dead Children of the Light into animal bodies, making them into slaves. And she wants Muire's help or at least cooperation to keep this system in place.

One thing I was struck by, especially during the first half of the book, was that I was glad I'd read By the Mountain Bound first.  By the Mountain Bound gives you the background of a lot of characters who are generally just mentioned in All the Windwracked Stars.  So if you're planning on reading this series, I recommend doing what I did and reading the first two books in reverse order.

Friday, January 9, 2015

By the Mountain Bound

As part of my goal of reading at least 50 List books this year, I decided I would start with some Elizabeth Bear.  I've had her Edda of Burdens series since it came out, but never got around to reading it.  That all changed earlier this week when I started By the Mountain Bound.

By the Mountain Bound is the story of three people: the Warrior, the Wolf, and the Historian.  All three are Children of the Light, beings who survived Ragnarok and sang the new world into being.  The Warrior, Strifbjorn, is an Einherjar and leader of the Children of the Light.  The Wolf is Mingan, the Fenris Wolf remade into an Einherjar.  And the Historian is Muire, least of the Valkyrie. 

I'm going to take a moment to say that the worldbuilding was awesome for this book.  The Children of the Light can take vengeance and share souls through a kiss.  So when a couple is married and they kiss, they share souls (and are sort of forged into one).  I really, really liked this.

So anyway, the Children of the Light have been doing their thing for centuries, waiting for the return of their Lady. What they didn't expect was that she might tear them apart.

That's exactly what happens when Heythe appears.  She is different than the Children of the Light - physically stronger than them, but weaker in other ways.  She claims to be escaping an army of giants and wants the Children of Light to use their gifts to take strength from the mortals.  But doing so is an abomination; it tarnishes their very souls.  And so Strifbjorn and those who still follow him resolve to fight her.

In the middle of all this is the story of Strifbjorn and Mingan.  The Children of the Light are few, and so it is their duty to marry in an effort to conceive children.  But Strifbjorn and Mingan have already shared the kiss.  Their story really made this book, particularly when Heythe enters the picture and wants Mingan for herself.

There was one particular moment in the book, involving Mingan's wolf pack, when my heart felt like it broke for him.  That moment alone showed the power of Bear's writing; I hope I can one day be half as good of a writer as her.

Hilariously, By the Mountain Bound is book 2 in the Edda of Burdens series (although it is a prequel).  I didn't realize it until after I finished reading it.  Luckily Bear assured me on Twitter that the series is meant to be read in any order so I don't have to worry.  With that in mind, I'll be starting book 1, All the Windwracked Stars, tomorrow.  :)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Century of Curling

I agreed to do a book review for a local magazine, and so I read the local book A Century of Curling by the Port Arthur Curling Club (PACC).  A Century of Curling chronicles the history of the PACC from 1887 to 1987.  This is by no means the type of book I normally read, but it was interesting nevertheless.  I don't really have anything to say about it though (which may make writing a review for it a bit tough). i will say that the fun stories and facts were pretty fun, but I had a much harder time with the lists of people.  There are also lots of fun older pictures of curlers curling and renovating the club, so for those alone this book is totally worth glancing through.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Beautiful Darkness

A friend at work recommended this to me.  Well, indirectly.  She wrote a blog post talking about the 2014 comics of the year and listed Fabien Velhmann and Kerascoet's Beautiful Darkness as one of her favourite reads of the year.  So I put it on hold and she left me a note telling me to let her know how it is.  So when I finished reading Paragon Lost, I decided to give Beautiful Darkness a shot, especially since I knew it would be a quick read.

Beautiful Darkness is a strange tale.  It's about a princess named Aurora who lives inside a girl.  Something happens and the girl dies, so Aurora and her people escape and live in the woods.  Aurora takes care of everyone, helping them find food and make shelter.  But over time, you see that her people are taking advantage of her.  And so Aurora sets out on her own, only to be followed by those she left behind.

I finished reading Beautiful Darkness in an hour or two.  And when I was done, I was left wondering what I actually THOUGHT about it.  Part of me wanted to reread it, to see if I got something else out of it a second time.  But the other part of me doesn't want to because there's a lot of other books I'd like to be reading.  Even now, several hours later, I'm still not really sure.  The artwork is beautiful.  But the story itself is deeply disturbing.  From the dead little girl Aurora's people came out of, who remains a fixture of the setting as she slowly rots, to the macabre ending where Aurora reminded me of the witch from Hansel and Gretel, I just don't know.  I didn't dislike it, but I don't think I really liked it either.  I guess I'll sleep on it before giving it a rating on Goodreads.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Paragon Lost

I read Dave Duncan's King's Blades trilogy many years ago and really, really liked them.  Over time, I acquired book five in the series (Impossible Odds) without realizing it was book five.  So when I went to read it, I decided to read book four first, which luckily the library had.  Apparently I didn't have to because books four, five, and six are standalone stories which can be read in any order.  But once I had my hands on Paragon Lost, I decided to read these three in order anyway.

Paragon Lost is the story of the disgraced Blade Beaumont.  Beaumont has been working as a fencing instructor at Gossip's Corner, an inn.  The Blade's Grand Master discreetly pays him a visit, telling him that a Blade has been stolen and Beaumont is the only one who can get him back.

At this point, the narrative goes back to the past, showing what led to Beaumont's disgrace.  Beau and two other Blades, Arkell and Oak, were given to the King's trusted friend Lord Wassail for a secretive and dangerous mission.  They were to travel across the world to Skyrria to bring back the new queen of Chivial.  Unfortunately the new queen is the sister-in-law of the autocrat of Skyrria, Czar Igor.  Igor is a mad ruler, given to kill people on a whim.  And Igor wants to know the secret of how the Blades are bound because he wants to make his own. And he may not let the four leave his country without giving him that secret.

Unfortunately, Paragon Lost wasn't as good as the original trilogy, at least as I remember them.  I had a really hard time getting into Paragon Lost, rereading a couple of early pages several times.  It was only after I realized that the Grand Master who had come to call on Beau was the same Durendal from the previous trilogy that I became a bit intrigued.  It still took about halfway through the story before I really felt like I was getting into it.  And once the story of what happened to Beau in the past sort of ended, the remainder of the book was just ok.  Hopefully the remaining two will be a bit better!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In Real Life

I don't really remember what attracted me to In Real Life, the new graphic novel by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang.  I've read some stuff by Cory Doctorow and liked it, so when In Real Life finally showed up at the library, I was more than happy to read it.

In Real Life is the story of Anda, a girl who falls in love with the new MMORPG Coarsegold Online.  Her mother lets her play under the stipulation that she only hang out with girls her age, something relatively easy because of the guild Anda has joined.  But one of her new friends, Lucy aka Sarge, talks Anda into killing gold farmers for real world money.  Anda agrees and life is good until she meets Raymond, a gold farmer from China.  Raymond is the first gold farmer to actually talk to her.  And so she starts to learn about his life and the horrid conditions under which he lives (he farms gold for hours every day, and is suffering from a back injury but doesn't have a doctor or coverage to get it treated).  Things come to a head when Anda's mother discovers the money coming into her Paypal account and Sarge discovers Anda's friendship with a gold farmer.

In Real Life was a really interesting story about economics, video games, and bullying (sort of).  It was also a really interesting look at how we take our lives here in the West for granted (and what it's like elsewhere in the world).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Krampus: the Yule Lord

Back in 2009, I read Brom's The Child Thief.  I absolutely loved it and wanted to get a hold of more books by him.  A few years later, I stumbled upon Krampus: the Yule Lord.  I've been meaning to read it, but just never got around to it.  But when I realized I had both an article and book review due for work, I decided that Krampus was the perfect compliment to my article on Santa Claus.

Krampus is the story of the Yule Lord.  He was imprisoned by Santa Claus five hundred years ago.  With the help of his Belsnickels, demonic-looking people he has chained to his will, he is finally ready to break free.  All he needs is Santa's magical sack.

Jesse Walker has the misfortune of observing the Belsnickels make their grab for the sack, which falls into his trailer.  When he discovers the sack's magic, he thinks his money trouble is over.  But both Santa and the Belsnickels are after him.  And when the Belsnickels find him first, he gets caught up with Krampus and his ancient feud with Santa. 

I had a hard time getting into Krampus; it took until about half-way through the book before I started really caring about what was going on.  But make no mistake: after the initial set-up, this book gets awesome!  The Yule Lord is Loki's grandson, and Santa Claus is actually Baldr.  Their feud was really interesting, seeming to be started from a difference in both opinion and viewpoint.  The Belsnickels were really interesting people, being made up of Native Americans from 400 years ago, a surveyor from the turn of the century, and Isabel, a woman with the heart of a lion.  Krampus was a really fun but dark romp through Christmas traditions.