Friday, February 08, 2013

[Lisa's Take] The Black Sun's Daughter Book 1: Unclean Spirits by M.L.N. Hanover

It is no secret that in the last 2 or 3 years I have becoming a huge fangirl of Daniel Abraham.  My top 5 list in 2012 and 2010 both included books by him, and he only missed the 2011 list because of fierce competition.  Hell, my 2012 list actually contained 2 entries by him: one for his fantasy work on The Dagger and Coin, and one for his Sci-fi collaboration with Ty Frank (written as James S. A. Corey).  I was tepid on the first book of Abraham's I read (A Shadow in Summer) – looking back, my mini-review is fairly positive, but I remember being put off by some of the in-character childish rashness of the young protagonists.  In spite of a bumpy start, by the end of the Long Price Quartet I was thoroughly hooked.  With the addition of Dagger&Coin and The Expanse… yes, I’ve become a slavering fan, rabid for more books.

So you can imagine that I was duly horrified to learn that Abraham has a 3rd pen name: M.L.N. Hanover. And that he uses that pen name to write *gulp* trashy-looking urban fantasy.  You know – the type that has midriff-baring, flowing-haired beauties with tramp-stamps on the cover.  To say that I was mortified by this discovery is pretty apt.

I put this black mark against one of my favorite authors out of my mind for the better part of a year.  But with every work of Abraham’s I read, I craved more.  Faced with a 6 month period during which nothing from The Expanse or Dagger&Coin would be released… I caved and picked up Unclean Spirits, the first in his series of Urban Fantasy.  I bought it for my kindle, because science forbid anyone see my with a cover that looks like that.

I read Unclean Spirits cover-to-cover in less than a day.  It chagrins me a little to say it, but I enjoyed it. Quite a bit.  It’s not stunningly amazing like this more current works – it lacks polish with the flow of the language, especially – but the pacing was great, the characters were solid and endearing, and the plot engaging.  At first I felt like the supernatural elements of the world were a little forced, but once I got into the flow of the novel it worked for me. 

As for the protagonist: she’s a feminist, she’s an atheist, she’s unashamed of her competence and her sexuality, and she’s all around awesome.  Hanover (Abraham?) writes women well, and lays out some greatly controversial issues as just the bare, real facts – no, there’s not a god, yes, women are equal to men, and yes, you can be young and inexperienced but still smart and competent.  I loved it.

I’m going to stop writing here; I’m afraid if I go on I’ll get going on a lengthy rant about the idiotic marketing decisions made in regards to book covers.  It disgusts me to know that such good writing is hidden behind such a trashy cover.  I know if I was put off by it, then hundreds of other fantasy fans probably are as well, and it’s not fair to the author or his work.  No, really, I’m stopping now.

Bottom line: if you like Abraham and need something to tide you over, this is a pretty enjoyable read.  It definitely falls into the category of “candy” but I’m happy to keep popping skittles until I have another Dagger & Coin novel.  It looks like Abraham is still releasing books in this series, so maybe the more current ones will be even better!

[Lisa's Take] The Rise of Random City by Felix Gilman

After doing a lot of slacking with regards to reading last year, I’ve been working on getting myself back into gear this year.  To that end I’ve been eschewing TV and devouring books instead.  After a re-read of Lies of Locke Lamora, I felt invigorated and ready to recommit.  Woo!  (I exaggerate: a re-read of one of my favorite books was nice, but a trip to and from India totaling almost 60 hours of travel time, played a big role in forcing me to read.  Heh.)

Now, with that preface out of the way:

Maaaan, The Rise of Ransom City was a serious disappointment. I mean really.  The Half-Made World was one of my favorite books of last year – I loved the world, I loved the characters (even the unlovable ones) and I loved Gilman’s writing style.  I even made my “book shriek” noise when I saw the sequel on the shelf at Barnes & Noble; my excitement was that great.

So what went wrong with Ransom City?  To be honest, Gilman did his job a little too well.  Ransom City is told from the point of view of Harry Ransom, something of a mad scientist.  The format of the book is such that Harry is writing his memoirs in the form of a journal or letters, which an acquaintance of his then recovers, compiles, edits, and publishes (with a few revisions and footnotes).  Gilman manages to make Ransom’s character incredibly real… and therein lies the problem.  Ransom is young, ignorant of the world, egotistical, boastful, and generally not a very likable man.  Gilman captures that and portrays it masterfully, using Ransom’s memoirs to paint a vivid picture of a supremely dislikable man.  Ransom made me gnash my teeth and have deep frustration building in my gut – I took no pleasure in reading about his exploits, because his personality infuriated me so much.

It’s true, through the course of the book Ransom grows and starts to become an ever-so-slightly better person,  but it was nigh impossible for me to shake the negative impression I had of him.  It was with great relief that I finished the last page of the book and could put him out of my head.

I suppose that’s the bulk of it: Gilman did his job as a writer too well and made his protagonist too believably dislikable.  That was rough.  But there was another factor in why Ransom City was a disappointment.  When it comes down to it, the sequel didn’t live up to the excellence of the predecessor.  I didn’t get enough of what I wanted: weird west alternate history with altercations between The Gun and The Line and awesome spaghetti-western-style shootouts.  For all that Ransom meddled in the magic of the land, we the readers got few deep glimpses of the opposing forces set up in the first novel.  In a phrase: needz moar stand-offs.

So yeah.  Ransom City disappointed me.  That said, I will still be eagerly awaiting book three, with high hopes that we’ll get back to the excellence of the first book.