The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while. Three of my friends from my undergrad book club had read it, and it was just sitting on my shelf mocking me, and I didn’t want to be left out of any more discussions. FOMO is a great motivator to read, isn’t it?

This book is kind of labeled as steampunk, but that’s not really the focus of it. The steampunk comes in minor details like the airships or the bridge technology. What this book is really about is Maia, a young half-goblin half-elf, who becomes emperor of [LAND] after his father and all of his half-brothers die in a tragic airship accident. What follows is a delicious story of court intrigue and…not much else.

Alright, so I really loved this book, but there is a lot that’s not “good” by any stretch of the imagination. There’s very little conflict aside from Maia’s naivete, having been raised on the outskirts of [LAND] by a distant cousin after his mother, the ex-empress passes away. And what conflict there is, is episodic and easily resolved. You’ll also notice my use of [LAND] because for the life of me, I can’t keep all these four-syllable words and names straight. I mean, I got the names eventually, but I had a hard time figuring out what each jurisdiction (for lack of a better word) was and who related to what. There’s a much-needed glossary in the back. My poor friend listened to the book on audio and didn’t have the appendix, so she had to borrow another friend’s hard copy. Now, even though it’s a bit discombobulating–you really get dunked into the middle of everything, and you know even less about the culture than Maia does–you eventually get the gist of things.

One aspect I really wish Addison had touched upon was the race relations between goblins and elves. You get a vague sense of things, such as people calling Maia a hobgoblin derisively, so you suspect that elves think they’re better than goblins, but that’s about it. The Great Avar, the leader of the goblins, comes to visit Maia in the palace, and there’s no sniggering about the “barbarians” or incredulousness at goblin customs. Heck, the goblins are a black-skinned people, while the elves are pure white! Which is tired and uncreative, but should at least be a touchstone for expecting racism. I dunno, maybe Addison felt like she wasn’t equipped to handle writing a mixed-race person’s experience of race, but maybe she should have made some different choices in her story then. Because, like it or not, she’s suggested that racism and prejudice are a part of elven culture, and she just skims over it. Weird.

So it’s not too deep of a read, but it’s incredibly imaginative, and I really enjoyed it. I love intrigue, and I don’t read it as much as I’d like to. And believe me, after GMing my first Pathfinder campaign–quasi-St. Petersburg intrigue–I know just how much effort needs to go into these things.

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The Ritual by Adam Neville

I was originally at the library looking for House of Small Shadows by Adam Neville, but I found this one instead. It looked like it was going to be that kind of pagan horror that I love, and it was. Spoilers ahead, obviously, but I’ll try to be vague about them.

Ancient forests are something I really like. It’s what attracted me to reading The Trees by Ali Shaw. It’s how I experience divinity. This book is full of amazing imagery, from the weird corpse hanging in the tree in the opening of the book to the abandoned church and standing stones to the stuffed goat in the weird house to the masks the members of Blood Frenzy wear. Just made my heart sing with delight.

I really liked the main character, Luke. I liked his anger, which I always identify with. I sympathized with his station in life, especially compared to his travel companion. I took Luke’s side during that great old fight they all had. I though Luke was justified in being mad at Dom and Phil and I thought he gave up that anger and walked back on his indignation too quickly. He forgave them too quickly for saying all that shit about him. I really don’t care whether Dom and Phil are having a rough time–that’s no excuse to look down on someone who’s living their life in a different way.

The horror aspect was really good. The suspense. I could feel the tension rising when Hutch disappeared, leaving Luke with no one to back him up. I could feel the exhaustion of the characters as they went deeper and deeper into the forest. I found myself wondering what I would do in their position. Toward the end, I found myself burning through the pages trying to see if Luke was going to make it.

I have thoughts about Blood Frenzy, because on the one hand, there are definitely a bunch of bad people in the black metal scene (the fact that they listen to Burzum should clue you in immediately), but they almost seemed like a stereotype–like what pops into your head when you hear the phrase black metal–Satanic, racist, violent. They wore corpse paint all the time, too, which I thought was kind of silly. But I don’t know, maybe I’m just a weeny black metal fan.

The book is divided up into two parts: the forest and the old house with the black metal band. I don’t know how well I thought these two sections went together. The forest took more of a back seat for most of the second half than I would have liked, but I suspected there would be something like that when I was only halfway through the book and all but Luke were dead. The cast of characters was also completely different in either part of the book, except for Luke, which further distanced the two parts from one another. I think that’s probably my greatest critique of it.

I really really liked this book, and would recommend it.

“Would You Rather Book” Tag!

I snatched these questions from Sincerely, a Book Nerd because I thought doing a tag post might be fun.

1. Rather read only a series or stand-alone books?
Before I started reading those Anita Blake novels, I hadn’t started a series in a long time, which probably says something about my reading habits. I think I would rather read stand-alone books simply for the variety. I tend to focus on stories rather than characters or worlds, though I do appreciate them.

 2. Rather read a book whose main character is male or female?
Female. Because.

 3. Rather shop only at Barnes & Noble (or other actual bookstore) or Amazon?
Brick and mortar, full stop. Instant gratification, and all that. And serendipity.

 4. Rather all books become movies or tv shows?
TV, I guess. I don’t know that I want all books to become film in the first place, though. Speaking for “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” I do think the TV series accomplishes a lot more than the movie (though I’d kill for that movie’s overall aesthetic).

 5. Rather read 5 pages per day or read 5 books per week?
Of course, I’d rather read five books per week, but I wonder if I would be able to remember anything I read. As it stands, I actually do tend to read only five pages a day.

 6. Rather be a professional book reviewer or an author?
An author. I’ve been writing for years and like it a lot. As you can tell from the nature of my review posts, I don’t actually think too hard about writing reviews. At least, not reviews that anyone would find useful.

 7.  Rather only read the same 20 books over and over or get to read a new book every 6 months?
Same 20 books over and over. Really good books, you can find something new in them every time. Or you can look at them through a different lens every time.

 8. Rather be a librarian or own a book store?
Well, I only got my masters for one of those things, so I’m gonna have to say librarian. But that’s because I like information and the organization of it. Owning a book store could be really fun, though.

9. Rather only read your favorite genre or your favorite author?
Favorite genre. Again, I love variety.

 10. Rather only read physical books or eBooks?
Physical books. Although I did just finish reading my second ebook ever. It was Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I absolutely loved reading it. I might even do a post on it later.

Henry Franks by Peter Adam Salomon

This was one of the books that my boss got me from ALA last year. I wasn’t actually expecting him to get me anything. I just asked in passing whether he could get me some horror books because I was jealous–one of these days I’ll get to go–but I didn’t expect him to send me five! But I came into work one day and there was this big old package on my desk. I duly wrote him a thank-you note.

Henry Franks is a YA horror novel, and one I really really liked. I loved the background of the oppressive Georgia summers, and I loved the secrecy and the way the author let slip that all was Not Right. Henry, the main character, has amnesia, which makes life really confusing and lonely for him. He’s also plagued by reoccurring dreams in which he has a daughter. And what the heck is up with his dad? His only real friend is his next door neighbor Justine.

So, I kind of got a good idea of what was going on when I realized that most of the characters had names of characters in Frankenstein. But that didn’t spoil anything because it made me want to read on and figure out just how Frankenstein plays into all this. I was not disappointed. I won’t say more than that, probably.

I enjoyed his relationship with Justine. He takes notice of her bare skin and her bra strap, but it doesn’t feel unsafe, you know? Henry never acts like a gross teenage boy, and Justine has a life and presence outside of her relationship and friendship with Henry. And that’s the thing too–they were willing to be friends. Justine’s parents didn’t want her dating anyone, so even after they share a kiss, they agree that they can be friends with one another, too. I also like how Justine gets along with everyone. Bobby the football player talks with her, and she’s relatively popular. It just really isn’t an issue though that she’s hanging out with Henry. But really, school isn’t even that much of a focus point in this story.

I had Lana del Rey’s “Summer Bummer” going through my head when I started this book, and that really set a good stage for the rest of the story. Just in case you wanna give it a try.

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

I’ve been slowly reading more science fiction as the years go. I took a Women in Science Fiction class with Jane Donawerth at UMD the summer between freshman and sophomore year, and that opened my eyes to some really excellent fiction. Then, beyond reading Frankenstein every year until I knew it backwards and forwards (not really), I didn’t really read much sci-fi until the year I worked at the used book warehouse. That was a terrible job, but I did find a lot of fascinating obscure books. I found a copy of David Weber’s A Beautiful Friendship, with its cover depicting a cute teenage girl and an even cuter cat-like alien. Fantastic book. Since then, I’ve been giving sci-fi more of a chance, especially because I’ve found that sci-fi is the perfect setting to play with social norms. No matter what the Sad Puppies may say (I had the pleasure of explaining to my old housemate why Chuck Tingle was Hugo-nominated).

At first blush, Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi is everything a social commentary science fiction space opera should be. The majority of the characters are black or brown, the main character, Alana, has dreadlocks and an auto-immune disease, I’m pretty sure everyone is at least bisexual in this universe (nice!), and the story itself very polyamory-friendly. The future the liberals want, you might snobbishly call it, if you wanted to ignore the fact that these kinds of people actually exist! In real life! Whenever I read a story like this, the only way I can describe it is “refreshing.”

Anyway, so the main point is I really liked this book, though I wish there had been more action. I actually just wish the book had been longer. The romance felt a little lackluster. Either not developed enough or not enough chemistry, either way, I think that could have been written better. I also just don’t jive with polyamory (tried it once, just not for me). Though the philosophy is incredibly lovely. I liked the idea of the Transliminal folks, and how they go through different realities and colonizing them. Would have liked more of that. I think a more thorough exploration of spirit guides would have been nice as well. But the characters are awesome.

Some comparisons could be made to Firefly I guess, but I certainly won’t be making them.

Asunder by David Gaider

Let me tell y’all about Dragon Age and how I’m obsessed with those games. For better or for worse. I have played hundreds of hours on each of the three games, I love the characters, I’m a downright nerd about the lore, the culture, the geography. I solely write Dragon Age fanfiction. Need I go on?

Asunder is the third tie-in novel for the Dragon Age games, taking place between the events of Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age: Inquisition. And if you don’t know anything about mage-templar politics and Thedas, I can’t really help you there. But anyway, it’s about Rhys, Evangeline, and Cole–a mage, a templar, and a ???–and the discovery that they make that the Rite of Tranquility, a ritual that severs a mage’s connection to the Fade, therefore rendering them dreamless and emotionless and desireless, can be reversed. This discovery is something the Seekers of Truth don’t want being common knowledge because it would further rile up the mages who are already riled up from the Kirkwall Chantry explosion.

So, this book was really fun. According to my housemate, these books are relatively unique in that the writers of the games actually write the books. David Gaider was the head writer for the Dragon Age games, and therefore his books fit really well into the canon. As opposed to, say, the Mass Effect novels, which I hear are dreadful. Gaider writes pretty well, and I loved how he described places and seeing how they differed in my head from in the game. I could hear Wynne’s and Shale’s voices in my heads as they spoke, and I of course loved the politics and finding out the context behind events and characters in Inquisition. Especially the vote for mages’ independence. I am staunchly pro-mage.

I think the books do a better job of exploring the facets of each gray issue than the games do. In Asunder, for instance, the Libertarians, the Aequitarians, and the Loyalists are all given a voice, and it doesn’t feel like the book is trying to tell you who you should side with. Too much, anyway. I feel like it acknowledges the abuses the templars can inflict on the mages a lot more clearly and sympathetically than the games can. Especially in Dragon Age 2, since there’s so much flavor text that you may not even stumble upon, therefore understand that yes, it really is that bad. By the end of the book, I actually found myself sympathetic toward Evangeline, simply because she was the only templar who seemed reasonable in the book. Will wonders never cease?

I think I wanted it to be darker, though.