Thursday, February 26, 2015

Um, I actually haven't read very much this month

Blogging has taken a back seat to writing this month, which for me is good. (What's not so good: it's taken me all month to write one scene. It's an important scene, but wow, I'm slow.)

I went to New York last week and as always I brought a bunch of new things I wanted to read on my iPod. But sometimes the discomfort of airports and flying and strange hotel rooms makes me turn to comfort books, and I ended up almost completely rereading Sherwood Smith's Inda series. Not in order. I kept searching for favourite scenes, and reading them, and then reading forward, and then deciding I wanted to compare a scene with an earlier scene, so reading the earlier scene, and then going forward from there. It was an odd way to read a book, but it made me appreciate even more her skill at weaving complicated plots with only the most necessary, dramatic scenes; at describing battles and sailing and ship battles so well it feels like you're there; at developing vivid, realistic, wonderful characters. I love Inda passionately (imagine him and Miles Vorkosigan together at a dinner party!); I love all of them: Tau, Jeje, Evred, Fox (she has a supernatural knack for names). I would recognize any of them if they came around a corner. The series is brilliant.

A couple of books on the iPod I did get around to reading this month, as I work my way through my new favourite authors:

Rachel Neumeier's Black Dog: three orphaned teens from Mexico flee to Vermont seeking the help of the formidable Dimilioc clan of werewolves, knowing the Dimiliocs will want Natividad for her Pure magic, but not sure they'll let her brothers live. Loved the characters, loved the scenario, loved the family interactions, the pack interactions, loved the winter setting. Thoroughly enjoyable. Had a satisfying conclusion but I'm looking forward to the next one (I think it's supposed to be coming out soon?)

Andrea K. Host's Champion of the Rose: Soren is chosen, quite against her will, to be the King's Champion. But there hasn't been a king in two hundred years. Then a legitimate heir to the throne shows up, but he really, really doesn't like Soren. Court politics, complicated international relations when the neighbouring country is Fae, interesting explorations of free will, duty, loyalty. I thought there were some wonderful conflicts that were resolved a little too easily, but Soren is a great character and I quite enjoyed this very unique take on the rightful heir storyline.

Also read Kate Milford's Greenglass House, which I really liked. I'll review it on Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman

Where on earth did January go??

Back at the beginning of Jan I mentioned that I had my very own ARC of Shadow Scale. Well, I read it. And I've been trying to figure out how to review it ever since.

First off, this is a sequel, so go read Seraphina first. I promise, you'll love it: dragons, Renaissance-like court, music, assassination plots, did I mention the dragons (really awesome dragons: think Spock with wings). It's close enough to Shadow Scale's publication date that you won't be incredibly frustrated when you finish! (Lot's of amusing GIFs on the Shadow Scale Goodreads page from people who've been waiting for, well, years.)

If you loved Seraphina for the rich world-building and fascinating characters, then prepare to be overwhelmed by Shadow Scale. Seraphina leaves Goredd and travels through not one or two but four different countries, all with different cultures and values and attitudes toward dragons (and half-dragons). (Lots of opportunity to explore prejudice from a bunch of different angles.)

We meet a whole new cast of variously complicated and tortured characters, each of whom could have an entire novel to themselves. Nedouard, the doctor who hides his deformity behind a plague mask; Blanche, living half-wild in the woods protecting herself with magical traps. Jannoula, imprisoned, tortured, and now in a position to get revenge on all those who wronged her.

Hartman plays with the intersection of character and society: what makes us who we are? Given different circumstances, how might we have turned out? Then there's the politics, history and religion of five nations and three races, all of which Hartman develops in overlapping interactions with character. Shadow Scale could easily have been two books long—and maybe should have been. I wonder if all the fan whining about how long the sequel was taking didn't influence Hartman to squish everything into one book. I would willingly have waited another five years for a third book if it would have allowed for more development of, well, all the really cool stuff in this book!

Seraphina is actually the least interesting character in the book, much as I love her, and therein lies my one problem with Shadow Scale: I think Seraphina is the wrong narrator. She has an important role to play, and certainly has her own character arc, but a lot of the action and conflict happens to other characters, so we end up hearing about events that I wish we could have experienced first hand. I would love to have read some parts of the book from Abdo's point of view, and from Eskar's. Jannoula would have been a fascinating narrator. Glisselda and Prince Lucien don't have a huge role in this book, but events at the end would have been interesting from their perspective. I don't often find myself arguing for multiple points of view, but I think Shadow Scale is an example of where it would have really worked.

What will you love about Shadow Scale? All the half-dragons and their stories. Jannoula: not knowing what to make of her. The country of Porphyry. Surprising reveals about, um, stuff that I don't want to be spoilery about! The way everything comes together at the end.

What might disappoint you? Orma is off-stage for almost the entire book. And Kiggs isn't around as much as you (and Seraphina!) might like him to be. It also starts out rather slowly, with a lot of explanation, though you'll find the explain-y bits helpful if it's been a while since you read Seraphina.

My final feelings about the book? Shadow Scale is a satisfying conclusion to Seraphina with a suitably epic scope. I just think there was potential for it to be so much more. There's a rumour she'll be writing more books in this world; I look forward to them with great anticipation!

There's a pastry I can't remember the name of that my husband once brought me home from France: it was like a cinnamon roll, but flaky and buttery like a croissant, except crispy—well, it's not like anything you can get anywhere in North America. Divinely delicious and distinctly French. Shadow Scale is like my husband only bringing one of these home for me.

I almost forgot: Rachel Hartman lives in Vancouver! So this counts as a Canadian read for me (I'm sadly behind in my goal). I love the image John Mutford chose for his February Roundup of Canadian book reviews. Visit his blog to find out about Canadian books of all genres