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41 years old
January 22, 1979

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  1. The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

    Today, 12:31 PM

    The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold


    Lupe dy Cazaril is a former soldier in the army of Chalion. Taken prisoner after a siege, he has been sold into bondage, made a galley-slave and been rescued. Returning to his old home of Valenda, he seeks service with the Provincara dy Baocia. He is made tutor to Iselle, the sister of the heir to the kingdom, a position initially without power or influence. When Iselle and her brother are summoned to the royal court by their brother, the ailing king, Cazaril finds himself in a political nest of vipers, pitted against an old enemy who is very unhappy to see that he has survived, and a curse that may be beyond his abilities to thwart.

    What happens when your life is taken from you and you are left abused, beaten and broken, and then abruptly returned to your former life?

    The Curse of Chalion is a novel about trauma, about a man who has faced serious degradation and danger but lived to tell of it, and afterwards has to find his way back to something approaching normalcy. Unfortunately, whilst this is going on his country is under threat from external enemies and also from internal strife.

    This is a fascinating novel, one that at first glance bears resemblances to Guy Gavriel Kay's classic The Lions of Al-Rassan (particularly the very strong Spanish inspiration) and to George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, particularly the political manoeuvrings within the royal court which start with mild barbed words but soon escalate to intimidation, murder and the threat of civil war. There's also a similarity to Robin Hobb's work, particularly the tight focus on a single character and its exploration of trauma and recovery. But it's also very much a Lois McMaster Bujold novel. Those who have sampled her other work, such as the long-running SF Vorkosigan Saga, will find similarities in the exploration of relationships, tragedy and redemption, although it is written in a different style.

    The book lives and dies by the characterisation of Cazaril, the main protagonist. Although the book is not written in the first person, we spend the entire novel perched on Cazaril's shoulder to the point where it might as well be. Cazaril is a broken man, damaged goods, who tries to piece his life back together by retreating to his childhood home and station as a page to the royal family of Chalion but finds that his gifts and experience elevate him to a new position as a teacher and mentor to the younger members of the family. Cazaril is a refreshing fantasy protagonist; he is not a badass, sword-wielding prodigy or a reluctant youngster nevertheless gifted with vast sorcerous powers, but a middle-aged man who comes into situations he has little control over and has to find a way of negotiating his way through them, for good or ill.

    The secondary cast is a well-drawn and varied lot, and the worldbuilding is impeccable. There's an interesting way of handling magic and the religion and politics of Chalion are drawn in some detail. Bujold's prose, honed at this point by twenty years of experience, is also excellent, evocative without being overwrought and a genuine pleasure to read.

    The Curse of Chalion (*****) is a compelling, richly-detailed fantasy novel with superb, multifaceted characters and a strong sense of direction and purpose. It may just be Bujold's finest novel to date, in an exceptional career. It is available now in the UK and USA. It has a sequel, Paladin of Souls, and a prequel, The Hallowed Hunt.
  2. The Almost Final, Quasi-Definitive Malazan World Map

    04 March 2020 - 09:36 PM

    At last.

    I'm just going go and pass out now.

    Also, globeified!
  3. The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli & Alicia Zaloga

    13 November 2019 - 04:09 PM

    The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli & Alicia Zaloga


    Roger Weathersby was once a promising surgical student but he is now a "resurrectionist," a corpse-stealer who takes the recently interred to medical schools to further the cause of science. One such incident leads Roger to investigate a spate of similar deaths and rumours of a serial killer at work. Roger's investigation sees him framed as the serial killer. It falls to his brother and Sibylla, a princess of the realm, to help clear his name and allow him to find the true murderer.

    The Resurrectionist of Caligo is the joint debut novel by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga. It mixes elements of Gothic fiction, steampunk, Victoriana and outright secondary world fantasy, with moments that recall China Mieville but an atmosphere all of it own.

    I hadn't heard of the novel prior to randomly wandering into the book's launch party at the Dublin WorldCon in August, and was intrigued enough by the premise to pick the book up. It's proven to be an unexpected delight, a compelling novel with one of the most standard plots you can imagine - an innocent (but not flawless) protagonist framed for a crime he didn't commit, with him and his colleagues trying to clear his name - but set in a vivid and interesting world.

    The book engages with a variety of themes across its length. Class struggle is a key point: the rich and powerful get the best medical attention and the best protection whilst the poor are left to suffer and die without acknowledgement. Class responsibility also comes into play: the nobles of the country of Myrcina (of which Caligo is the capital) are shocking arrogant and feel they have no obligations to their servants, whilst the neighbouring empire of Khalishkha has a very different attitude. Myrcina is also sexist and backwards, again whilst Khalishkha appears to be more enlightened.

    The novel is told entirely from two POVs. Roger is a surprisingly unsympathetic protagonist. He is arrogant, overconfident, embittered and has enough chips on his solider to open a restaurant. He is also intelligent and principled, and his real plight is powerfully realised in the prose. The authors take a risk making Roger an at times difficult-to-like lead character, but it gives him a more discernible personality and also creates a more interesting arc for character change and growth.

    Sibylla is an altogether more interesting protagonist with more agency, despite her station (as several steps removed from the throne) and gender working against her in this world. Watching Sibylla negotiate delicate matters of state and international diplomacy is fun, as she has a lot more charm, wit and finesse than Roger, whose approach is often more of a bull in a china shop.

    The book also features some pretty good worldbuilding. Caligo is depicted in all its glory, a city of dimly lit cobbled streets, back-alley gangs and eerie mausoleums, as well as colourful palaces and dingy gaols. The wider world is also described in more detail than expected, with plenty of references to historical events and personages. As a result, the book feels part of a larger tapestry, one that the ending suggests we will get to see more of (a sequel is implied, but not necessary).

    The Resurrectionist of Caligo (****) is a superb debut novel, well-written and compelling with fascinating characters and worldbuilding. If it has a weakness, it's that one of the two protagonists can be a little grating and the book can't quite avoid a couple of cliches along the way. But the prose is great, the pacing brisk and the storytelling accomplished. The book is available now in the UK and USA.
  4. Gods of Jade & Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

    05 November 2019 - 08:10 PM

    Gods of Jade & Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


    Mexico, 1927. Casiopeia Tun lives in her uncle's house, where she is treated as little better than a servant. She is demeaned and belittled by everyone, especially her cousin Martín. Casiopeia's fortunes abruptly change when she finds a trunk in her uncle's bedroom which is actually the prison of a powerful being: the Mayan God of the Dead Hun-Kamé. Casiopeia is unwillingly roped into becoming the god's guide and mortal helper as he seeks to find the body parts and treasures removed by his usurper brother...who now sets Martín on Casiopeia's trail.

    Gods of Jade and Shadow is the fourth novel by Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a heady period fairy tale which embraces Mayan mythology, the Jazz Age of the 1920s United States and Mexico and combines them into a richly compelling adventure.

    The novel is effectively a road trip: Casiopeia gets to flee her abusive home, which is good, but only because she's been roped into helping a manipulative and dark god into helping him reclaim his throne, which is less good. As the story unfolds, the link between Casiopeia and Hun-Kamé becomes more pronounced, causing the god to become more human and less infallible, but also more capable of appreciating the beauty of the mortal world.

    As well as the road trip element, the story is also one about family: Casiopeia despises and hates her family, but it's also the only world she's ever known. Hun-Kamé was betrayed by his brother and yearns for blood and vengeance, even though it will only perpetuate the cycle of hatred that has led to this impasse. The novel does a great job of contrasting the development of the two characters as they grow from their shared experiences, even the one of them who is an immortal.

    The book reminded me somewhat of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, although in this case the novel benefits from a much tighter focus on a much smaller cast and on the Mayan mythology alone (and only being around half as long). The interaction of gods and mortals in the almost-modern world is intriguing and there's a galaxy of vivid supporting characters, humans, gods and demons alike, such as the amusingly mischievous Loray (who it feels could get his own spin-off book).

    The book unfolds with verve and grace: at 330 pages it doesn't hang around and the story is related at a clip. At times I felt the book was too fast: the page count doesn't quite allow the author to fully explore the characters and their moral situations they find themselves in and also relate all the necessary mythology-building. Again, it feels like more could be done with this world, although the author sounds reluctant to embark on a sequel.

    Gods of Jade and Shadow (****) is a enjoyable, gripping novel with a strong, small cast of characters and which unfolds with skill and pace. It is let down a little by being slightly too short and not perhaps being able to fully explore all the elements of the story and worldbuilding, but it's still a fun, compelling read.
  5. The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

    27 October 2019 - 03:03 PM

    The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley


    The Big Six - the mega-corporations that rule Earth - are at war with the colonists on Mars, who have rebelled and unleashed a horrendous attack on Earth that has devastated an entire city. Thousands of the young and dispossessed are recruited into the corporate armies and transported by FTL to Mars and other places on Earth to fight the enemy. But for one recruit, Dietz, the war they are fighting is not the same as everyone else. The jumps send Dietz backwards and forwards through the conflict at random, but the question is if they can change the future and stop the war?

    If there's one constant about science fiction, it's the acknowledgement that in the future people will still have to go to war and fight wars of varying degrees of pointlessness. The weapons and technology may change but the horror and loss will remain the same. SF has a fertile backlog of novels which have looked at war through the prism of new technology: Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (1959), Harry Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965), Joe Haldeman's The Forever War (1974), Hiroshi Sakurazaka's All You Need is Kill (2004, filmed in 2014 as Edge of Tomorrow) and John Scalzi's Old Man's War (2005) are among the most notable. Each takes a different approach - Harrison's is satirical, Haldeman's is tragic - to the same basic idea of people fighting and dying for causes both noble and foolish.

    The Light Brigade is Kameron Hurley's contribution to this subgenre. It is her second stand-alone SF novel (after the fine The Stars Are Legion) and the first which moves away from seeking out brand new ideas and settings to adopting a more classic SF approach.

    The result is an unbounded triumph. The Last Brigade is Hurley's finest novel to date, a fast-moving, intelligent science fiction war story that reflects on the pointlessness of war, the evils of unflinching jingoism and the cynicism of corporate culture. It's also a remarkable character piece, all the more remarkable because the book hides a lot about its protagonist, peeling back the layers one light-jump at a time as we learn more about them and the war as they are experiencing it.

    As with her previous work, this is a book that feels angry, with the characters trapped in situations beyond their control and trying to find a way out. Dietz is resourceful, courageous and occasionally hot-headed (although not as much as some of Hurley's previous protagonists) and as bewildered as the reader at what is going on, and it's interesting to see the character putting the pieces together at the same time the reader does. The reader comes to understand the story even as Dietz does, and also understands their own nature.

    The book is fast-paced, with a relentless pace, but which also breaks up the action into distinct episodes as Dietz finds themselves in a new time period and has to work out how events in this time period are relating to those previously experienced. The book asks some interesting questions about control and volition and the first half of the novel can feel a little passive, as Dietz is reactive to events, but this changes in the second half as Dietz is grounded in several of the time periods and is able to spend months at a time working on ideas to see if the future (or the past) can be changed. The result is that the book is thoughtful and action-packed by turns, with a strong ending that succeeds in making sense of all that came before.

    The Light Brigade (*****) is a superlative SF novel of science and war and Kameron Hurley's finest novel to date. The book is available now in the UK and USA.



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    05 Mar 2020 - 09:29
    Sorry, missed your birthday this year. Hope it was a good one.
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    22 Jan 2019 - 11:51
    Dun dun dunnnnn ...
    Have a good one.
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    22 Jan 2018 - 08:24
    Same as below. Better make it a good one because it's 40 next year.
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    22 Jan 2010 - 15:32
    Happy Birthday, now go out and get wrecked :)
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