Mar. 31st, 2017

juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Harbinger of the Storm (Obsidian and Blood Book 2)
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Published: Angry Robot, 2012 (2011)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 210,345
Text Number: 640
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Acatl investigates the murder of a councilman whose death imperils the election of the city's next leader. As a murder mystery, this is better than Servant of the Underworld—clues and politics are nicely entangled, and the mystery is more solvable. The scale is as grand as in the first book, and the setting is broader. Once again, the protagonist experiences significant character growth. Unfortunately, these elements don't always make for a compelling narrative—a lot of time is simply spent in transit—but the overall effort is solid, and it's a testament to Bodard's technical skill that the reader can keep track of so many names and characters despite the unfamiliarity of the Aztec setting. But Bodard's artistic skill still leaves me wanting: her descriptions are predominantly visual, and as such I found them flat and inaccessible when they needed to be what sells the magic and scale. Occasionally, there's a fantastic image or turn of phrase (and I came to Bodard's long fiction because I loved her short story "Immersion"—I think its shifts between second and third person bring the language to life); visually-inclined readers may have better luck, and Bodard has potential regardless—and there's even more in the setting. But this series just isn't working out for me, so it's time to put it down.


Title: The Forbidden Wish
Author: Jessica Khoury
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Published: Tantor Audio, 2016
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 365
Total Page Count: 210,710
Text Number: 641
Read Because: mentioned on "YA Books about PoC by PoC," audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An Aladdin retelling focusing on a female jinni named Zahra. Zahra's point of view is a strong starting premise. It emphasizes magic, and while Khoury's voice isn't robust enough to be truly transporting, the imagery and abilities are creative. It also emphasizes the fantastic female characters, and there are many: the princess is even better than the protagonist, and the narrative is frequently addressed to a long-dead queen—an engaging technique that ties nicely to the main plot, and fails only because the story of Zahra and the queen is more interesting than the story of Zahra and Aladdin. Their relationship is a predictable and obtrusively saccharine romance, meant to be the emotional core of the book. The rest of the plot is also predictable, largely due to overdrawn antagonists, so there's not much to counterbalance the romance. There's plenty of potential here, in the premise and the setting; with a more evocative voice and the willingness to defy genre convention, it could work. But the book as it is unexpectedly boring.


Title: Elysium: or, The World After
Author: Jennifer Marie Brissett
Narrator: Jamye Méri Grant
Published: Skyboat Media, 2015 (2014)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 210
Total Page Count: 210,920
Text Number: 642
Read Because: mentioned in Nisi Shawl's "A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction," audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review:
A pair of iterated entities experience the downfall of human civilization. This is an ambitious, fluid narrative, reinventing its core characters in different dynamics and settings and points in time. The concrete reality of their identities is unimportant; their various selves represent the human condition within the events of the plot. I admire this willingness to forgo structure and conventional characterization, and despite its strangeness this is a swift read, setting mundane sorrows against increasingly diverse (and, eventually, excessively numerous) speculative concepts, united by an eerie tone.

But the many interesting questions this narrative raises—what forms an identity or a relationship? what part of a person persists when their consciousness is iterated and their setting changed? how is personhood effected by body, gender, orientation? what is an artificial intelligence's relationship with, and how is it changed by, their programming, the society that created them, and their personal experience?—go almost entirely unaddressed. There's not enough throughline, no uniting identity—except for the reoccurring names and events, these characters could be unrelated. I'm in love with the book this could have been; the book it is unsuccessful, but I'd still love to see more stories like it, with unconventional narratives and diverse casts* and similar but better-explored themes.

(The aliens are pretty great, though.)

* Caveat: despite that the entities experience multiple genders and orientations, the treatment of transgendered individuals is awful.

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