Posted on Mon 07 September 2015

really good books

  • Linda Nagata - Red: The Trials
  • Michael Swanwick - Chasing the Phoenix
  • Terry Pratchett - The Shepherd’s Crown
  • Seanan McGuire - A Red Rose Chain
  • Zen Cho - Sorceror to the Crown
  • Fran Wilde - Updraft

A well-written action scene in print is much better in all respects 1 than the equivalent scene in a movie. Linda Nagata has a flair for writing such scenes, and even better, she populates them with sympathetic characters and strings them together into good stories. The Red: The Trials is the middle volume of her near-future cyberpunk-descended milSF trilogy. It does not read like a middle book, though, ending on satisfactory emotional notes in much the same way as First Light. Still, I’m looking forward to the last book in just a few months.

Aubrey Darger and Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscairn de Plus Precieux - or, Darger and Surplus, the notorious con-men - have merrily laid waste to London, ruined the Russias, and lived well on the wealth of others. In Chasing the Phoenix, they attempt the assault of China. Since this is the post-Collapse future, China is a hundred kingdoms and a hundred thousand villages, more or less ripe for their picking. It would be meet for them to encounter Master Li and Number Ten Ox, but alas they are a thousand years too late. Instead they find themselves advisors to the Hidden Emperor, who intends to re-unite China and marry the Phoenix Bride. Shenanigans ensue.

Terry Pratchett’s final novel, the forty-first of the Discworld, begins with the final days of Granny Weatherwax and ends with progress being made. In between, there’s lots of work for a witch. If you haven’t read the series, you have a lot to discover. If you have, then it’s time to say goodbye to old friends.

Now, Pratchett’s fae folk are nasty pieces of work - and so are the villains of Seanan McGuire’s faerie novels. There are lots of reasonable elves to oppose them, though, including series heroine October Daye. Toby’s perpetual willingness to get involved on the side of what she perceives to be Right, and hang the consequences (or the King, if that’s what is called for) plays out in a more mature way than previous installments. Is this the end? Nay, four more books have already been ordered by the publisher.

More faeries - mostly, if not completely, evil - in Zen Cho’s Sorceror to the Crown, a Victorian urban fantasy with modern subversions. The Sorceror Royal is a manumitted slave, adopted of the previous Sorceror Royal, and widely suspected of having murdered him and his familiar. A chance encounter with a plucky Anglo-Indian orphan leads to the complete overturning of magical society. Warning: contains witticisms and fops.

And last for today: Fran Wilde’s debut novel Updraft, in which invisible giant sky-squid menace the hang-gliding inhabitants of living bone towers far above an impenetrable cloudscape. I have no idea how their ecology or economy works, but the story is a fine thing.


  1. I omit the dimension of sound. A soundtrack and foley can supply information and excitement that do not spontaneously appear in my head. Sometimes it’s better.


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