September 20th, 2016


The Family Plot, by Cherie Priest

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

I don’t think a single one of Cherie Priest’s books is My Sort Of Thing, and yet I’ve read almost all of them. Cherie knows paragraph-level pacing like nobody’s business, the sort of thing that makes it easy to read just a little more and just a little more until another hour has gone past and you haven’t started making supper yet.

This one is a haunted house story. In some ways it’s a very classic haunted house story, and in others it’s very modern. Everyone uses their cell phones sensibly, and most of the characters are engaged in a very modern business: salvaging wood, fixtures, and other parts from old houses before they get torn down, to sell them for elevated antique prices. Dahlia Dutton is a recent divorcee, still working through her issues with losing both husband and house in the divorce. She’s working with her cousins and another employee on a job that could make or break the family business. And that job turns out–of course–to be haunted.

Cherie Priest clearly knows a lot about old houses and their bits, and there’s an affection for them that shines on almost every page. She doesn’t shy away from admitting the places where they can be unpleasant, even downright nasty, but the feeling that they’re worth attention comes out and makes the house feel more special than the genre-standard haunted house.

Please consider using our link to buy The Family Plot from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


Vassa in the Night, by Sarah Porter

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

At my house we often complain that urban fantasy is not actually urban, but more sort of vaguely suburban fantasy. Vassa in the Night does not have that problem. In the least. It’s set in a magical all-night convenient store.

Well, not very convenient. Baba Yaga is involved.

Vassa is one of three sisters of highly assorted parentage, grumpy and snarky and not at all sure what she wants out of life other than that this is not it. She has an even grumpier, snarkier magical wooden doll that she keeps secret from even her sisters. And magic is an integral part of her world–no one thinks twice at having to sing an incantation to a convenient store that dances on chicken legs to get it to stop and let a customer in.

Add in a mix of swans, the Night itself, non-human attorneys, and independently functional hands like the worst nightmare of Thing from The Addams Family, and you’ve got a book that is really, really not like your average retold folktale. It’s bloody and strange and headlong, willing to look at the night without flinching but ultimately hopeful. This is the right way to stand out of the teen urban fantasy pack.

Please consider using our link to buy Vassa in the Night from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


Death’s End, by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

Review copy provided by Tor.

I don’t always, or even usually, note who translates a work in translation, but Ken Liu did such a beautiful job with the balance of fluid English prose and not flattening out cultural differences. He also translated the first volume of this trilogy with similar skill, and I was pleased with the translator of the middle volume, Joel Martinsen, as well. I hope that both Ken Liu and Martinsen get further translation jobs, because I would love to have more Chinese SF out there to compare and contrast.

Because of how the publishing industry works, this makes me encourage people to buy and read and talk about this book and the two before it in the series, even though I…didn’t really enjoy it. I respect some of the things it’s doing. It’s a major achievement. But enjoy? No. I can’t say that I did.

Here’s why: this is basically a horror universe, which is not my jam. The universe is not indifferent, it is actively hostile. And not just outside forces in the universe. “Space was like a distorting mirror that magnified the dark side of humanity to the maximum,” is a line in the book that is not really contradicted by anything else in the book. It is, in fact, exemplified by a lot of things in this book. There is more than one discussion of cannibalism in fairly flat affect, so if you’re not down with that, this is not the book for you.

Further, while it has central female characters (unlike the book before it), the degree of sexism and gender essentialism is pretty staggering. Somehow Liu managed to get to 2016 without realizing that “she was a woman, not a warrior,” needs to be preceded with “Dammit, Jim” or omitted completely. (Seriously, can you imagine writing, “he was a man, not a warrior”? No? Then cut it out. “She was a woman, not a” should be finished with “man” or “genderqueer/nonbinary person” if absolutely necessary. Otherwise, in this century and most of the last one we acknowledge that womaning doesn’t interfere with professions, thank you and good night.) Further, there is a whole long riff on feminized men in the middle, culminating in a time jump forward to: “This was another age capable of producing men.”

There is one autistic character who doesn’t ever appear on stage, he is just there to be the source of genius solutions and “tortured by his illness.” Do I even need to? NO JUST DO NOT DO THIS.

So. This is a book that is Stapledonian in scope, the entire age of the solar system available. It is sweeping, it is full of ideas about space travel and the continuation of the human race. It is doing some interesting things. And I want there to be more Chinese SF translated into English, so I really want to encourage people to buy and read and talk about this book. But for weird and substantially external reasons, so I’m pretty conflicted about that.

Please consider using our link to buy Death’s End from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux