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[personal profile] schneefink
Reviews for a few books I read recently, mostly on vacation.

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett
This one I read a few months ago. In contrast with Black Wolves and The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I finished shortly before that, I especially noted how quickly I got invested in the story. Colonial politics, hints of a complicated history and worldbuilding, a murder mystery, and potentially interesting characters show up very soon. All of these elements are developed in cool ways and I enjoyed the story a lot. I really liked Shara & Sigrud in particular, and the "no side is blameless" complex historical background. Mulaghesh and her thwarted dream to retire on a beach was also fun. I even got to like Vohannes, and his dying speech to Kolkan telling him to go fuck himself so Shara could get away was great.
One thing that puzzled me about the world: Saypur felt the lack of their own Divinity very strongly, and at first I thought that meant every other nation had their own. The Continent had six, but what about other nations? The only one we even hear about are the Dreylings, and we don't hear about their Divinity.
I felt a bit let down by the very end, the part after the final battle, and at first I wasn't even sure why: it felt too good to be true, but when I thought back actually almost all of the developments were foreshadowed/hinted at. I think it's because it felt too neat: too many threads tied off too quickly. Not only Kolkan, Jukos is also dead, and we also know where Olvos is. Mulaghesh will see to it that Bulikov doesn't spiral out of control, Sigrud will go and be king of the Dreylings on his own, and Shara forced her aunt Vinya to resign and will dismantle the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and improve the relations between Saypur and the Continent. Of course it won't be that easy, but it was almost presented that way. One of the things I was disappointed by was how seemingly easily Shara and Sigrud split: it kind of makes sense, they've moved toward a point where they need each other much less, but they travelled together for approximately ten years! I wanted it to be more emotional. /nitpicking
The neat ending to book 1 makes a bit more sense considering that book 2 focuses on a different main character several years later.

City of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett
Mulaghesh! Drawn into being active again by Shara and Shara has further plans for her, no retirement for her. But she manages to fend off the end of the world, very well done. I love how she did it, that she just told all of the undead soldiers that they're inadequate. Her whole backstory, which I loved, built up to that very nicely. I also like that we see her and her former commander react to the same events so differently. The Yellow Marsh was brutal, yes – but it's not like you can't see where they came from, and how it spiraled, and she really was just a teenage girl.
I liked the reveal who'd been doing the ritual – definitely never suspected her – and what happened to the missing agent (so close!) and what happened to the inventor and city builder Thinadeshi and what the metal was etc., it all worked very nicely.
Signe :( I liked her. Such a stupid death. I wasn't surprised Sigrud snapped. According to the author's blog the third book, "City of Miracles", will be centered on Sigrud; I'm not sure how much I'm looking forward to that, it has the potential to be too tragic for me to enjoy.

The Fifth Season, by N.K.Jemisin
Holy shit this was dark. I didn't expect that. The worldbuilding – brainwashing and breeding programs and node maintainers and and and – and the plot, with Uche and Coru both dead and Nassun missing, oh and a thousand years of darkness looming ahead. I got to the point where Syen and 'Baster and Innon were living together on Meov, with Coru, and almost wanted to stop reading because I knew it would end terribly. (I loved their relationship a lot.) Orogenes are powerful, stone-eaters are something to be wary of, but Guardians are just creepy.
I sort of tried not to like Damaya/Syenite/Syen/Essun too much on purpose, because empathizing with characters that hurt so much is not fun. (Her husband killed her son and kidnapped her daughter. She killed her own son to save him from a fate worse than death. And she never completely shook off the brainwashing.)
I wonder what they'll do about the missing moon!
Apart from how dark it was this was a very good book – look here for a more enthusiastic (and also completely accurate) rec by [personal profile] calvinahobbes. I'm cautiously looking forward to the next one.

The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories, by Ian Watson and Ian Whates (Ed.)
I picked this up at a booksale, and it was fun. Some very entertaining ideas, like the one where the Mongols make a treaty with the Native American Haudenosaunee ("The Sleeping Serpent", Pamela Sargent), or the one where a soldier refuses to drop the bomb on Hiroshima ("The Lucky Strike", Kim Stanley Robinson), or the one where black people weren't allowed to fight in the American Civil War and the war ends very differently ("Hush My Mouth" by Suzette Hayden Elgin.) These were also my favorite stories. The first is obviously a huge deviation, the second one is really just one step taken to the left, and at first I thought the third one is also a big jump to take but then at a museum I read that black soldier actually almost weren't allowed to fight, for extremely stupid condescending reasons. The more you know.
Unfortunately I found many stories in the collection considerably less engaging than these, and I'm not sure how much one would enjoy the anthology if not already interested in the genre.
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