The Fairies of Sadieville by Alex Bledsoe: I hate to say good-bye to the Tufa, but this is the way to do it.

I’ve got to stop doing this. I had most of a post written about this book for yesterday, didn’t like it and trashed the whole thing. This isn’t as analytical as I wanted to be, but it does a better job capturing what I felt about the experience, and I think I happier about that than I’d have been with my planned post.

The Fairies of SadievilleThe Fairies of Sadieville

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #6

Kindle Edition, 368 pg.
Tor Books, 2018

Read: May 9 – 11, 2018

For many years [the Tufa] were on the wrong side of the South’s color line, and suffered for it. Their secretive ways and legendary musical aptitude spawned rumor and legend, which in turn prompted more and more withdrawal.

But now the twenty-first century, with its pervasive interconnectedness, pushed against this isolation. More and more Tufa risked the consequences of leaving and sought their way in the world. They all knew they would someday have to come back, since all Tufa were inextricably tied to Needsville. But they also knew that the seclusion of the past was no longer practical. Like it or not, the world now knocked on their door.

Such a depressing thought, but a pretty good summary of the State of the Tufa.

I still remember some of the reactions I had back in 2011 during my first read of The Hum and the Shiver and met the Tufa. There was something otherworldly, ethereal and haunting — and yet, very human, and even fun. It was, in short, magic. I thought the same when I re-read it before the sequel, and maybe it impressed me more that time. Each book since has felt the same — not all have them as successful as the first, but they’ve all had that same core magic.

When it was announced a couple of months ago that this was going to be the final novel in the series I was struck by two thoughts — the first, and strongest, was lament. The second was, “how?” There’s not an overarching narrative that needs tieing up, a goal to meet or anything. Partway through this book, I started to understand how Bledsoe was wrapping things up and concluding the series — and it felt perfect. I should add at this point that I was wrong about what he was doing, and that the reality was better than my guess.

As it’s the final book, all bets are off — the first novel contained many hints about the nature of the Tufa, but the successive books were less and less subtle in that regard, and ended up telling more than the previous. At this point, there’s no hinting, no suggesting — not only that, Bledsoe answers many questions readers have had since the beginning, and probably a few we should’ve had. And he does so in a way that enriches the series and the Tufa, not just something that reveals. There were so many little tidbits that came out that just made me smile or utter a quiet “Ah ha!”

I actually haven’t talked much about the plot yet — how odd. There are a couple of graduate students from a university in Tennessee — one in psychology (would be parapsychology if she could get away with it) and one in English with a focus in folk music as a way to improve his own music (minor spoiler: I spent a few pages waiting for him to be revealed to be a Tufa — nope, just a kindred spirit). These two have come across an old film — silent film old — shot near Needsville, showing a young woman losing her glamour and flying off on wings. There’s no way that it could be silent film quality FX, it’s a woman with wings. This town it was filmed in, Sadiesville, disappeared shortly afterwards. The two want to find this town and explore what happened to it.

Which brings them into contact with the people of Needsville — and the night winds have instructed them to help these two find what they’re looking for, despite the fact that no one in Needsville has a clue about the town. For readers, the idea that Tufa have forgotten anything that happened in their area is pretty astounding the kind of thing that piques your curiosity.

What happens next is wonderful, and horrible, and beautiful — awful in every sense, archaic and otherwise. I loved it and hated it while admiring how Bledsoe played this out. Structurally, tonally, thematically different from the rest (as each book in this series has been), yet undeniably part of the series. I loved seeing friends who’ve been around since The Hum and the Shiver or those as fresh as Gather Her Round just one last time (not that the new characters are slouches. For example, Veronica, our aspiring parapsychologist, is someone I’d hope to see if there was going to be a book 7).

There are a million little touches here — none of which I can talk about without ruining something, that make this good-bye the best installment of this series since The Hum and the Shiver. This is a must for Tufa fans (not that they need me to say it), and one more chance for me to suggest that people who haven’t started the series yet get on it. I don’t believe in actual magic — but Bledsoe’s series make me want to, especially if it looked like this. I hate to say good-bye to this series, but this is the way to do it.

Bravo.

—–

5 Stars

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Not Talking Italics by Russell Day: This Short Story contains enough entertainment value to carry a novel.

Not Talking ItalicsNot Talking Italics

by Russell Day
Series: Slidesmith

Kindle Edition
2018, Fahrenheit Press
Read: May 7, 2018
In a couple of months, I’ll be taking part in a book tour for Russell Day’s debut novel, Needle Song, and I’m really looking forward to that (and am having a hard time not reading it now). But today, we’re going to look at a short story featuring the protagonist of the book, Dr. James Slidesmith. A little something to whet our collective appetities.

I know very little about Slidesmith after reading this short story, and I can’t wait to find out more. Here’s what I do know — 1. He has a PhD in Psychology, and is touchy about those who don’t consider him to be a “real” doctor; 2. He owns and runs a tattoo parlor/shop; 3. he plays poker; 4. He’s very smart; 5. He has the gift of gab.

All five of these are important, but in this short story, that last one is essential. Everything in this is dialogue — no dialogue tags, no narrative, no descriptive passages — just characters talking. Which will involve all that other stuff, but that’s not how the story is told. It takes place in a police interrogation room — you’ve got a Detective Constable, a Detective Sergeant and Dr. Slidesmith talking about an incident at a poker game earlier that night. Things got nasty and two men died, given the small number of people at the game, the Police are looking to quickly identify the killer(s) and wrap this up quickly.

But first they’ve got to get past the silver-tongued Slidesmith. That won’t be easy. He offers a detailed explanation of the night’s events — including doing some educating on Texas Hold-’em, the ins and outs of betting in the game (and how to manipulate betting). There are a couple of characters that we only learn about from questions and answers in the interrogation, and I feel like I ahve a pretty good handle on them, without seeing them speak for themselves. That’s a nice move.

As it’s just dialogue — and well-written dialogue, at that — this is a fast, breezy read (so fast, you might miss a thing or two the first time through). It’s not so much a book that you read, it’s one you hear with your eyes. I’m not certain that makes a lot of sense, but it’s the best way I can put it. These are fast-moving conversations, they have a certain rhythm, a certain feel — and you just want to keep reading more and more of it. This could’ve been twice as long and I don’t think my attention would’ve wavered an iota. Imagine your favorite scene written by Aaron Sorkin, then imagine it changing into an interrogation in a British Police Station — that’s what this story is.

This is good stuff, my friends — better than good. There’s an extent to which the reveal seems “oh, sure, I should’ve seen that coming” — and it wouldn’t surprise me if many readers get there before Day wants you to (I was not one of them) — but it’s so satisfying, so well-executed, I can’t imagine a soul complaining about it. If Needle Song is anything like this, I’m going to have to go down to the superlative store this weekend to stock up before I write anything about it.

Stop whatever you’re doing — including reading this — and click the links at the top of the page to go get this story. You’re welcome.

—–

5 Stars

Dark Queen by Faith Hunter: Jane Yellowrock’s latest has everything — including the kitchen sink.

Dark QueenDark Queen

by Faith Hunter
Series: Jane Yellowrock, #12

eARC, 432 pg.
Ace, 2018
Read: April 23 – 28, 2018

I’ve stopped reading the blurbs for the Jane Yellowrock books, so I had no idea what to expect out of this one when I started it. I spent a couple of days planning on how this was a rumination of/celebration of family disguised as an Urban Fantasy novel. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of action and plot and all the things we have come to expect from a Jane Yellowrock book. But, yeah, family was the overarching theme. But then . . .

But then, Hunter kicks it into high gear and the long-awaited Sangre Duello starts. Which I didn’t expect — I figured we’d get an entire novel (minus an introductory and follow-up chapter, maybe) dedicated to it. Man, am I glad I was wrong — I’m not sure I could’ve handled more of the tension surrounding it than Hunter gave us. Still, everything I’d planned on saying pretty much went out the window.

I’ve gotten ahead of myself. This series (like any that has gone more than 5 books) needs a “Previously . . .” section. Things have changed so much since Jane rode into New Orleans in Skinwalker that it’s almost impossible to remember everything that’s happened. Hunter does do enough in the text to remind you who is who and what they’ve done in the past, so I’m not saying the book is inaccessible. It’d just be nice to have a reminder just where we are in the story without having to re-read eleven novels (not that I have — I’d probably pick up a few more nuances).

The book begins with Leo solidifying his organization. Moving people around, giving promotions, and cleaning house (not as much as he should have, but even someone who’s as politically savvy as Leo isn’t perfect). Part of this is the official recognition and establishment of Clan Yellowrock — which was just so strange. One of the groups that Leo is dealing with is a werewolf pack from the Western part of the US, who are doing some work for him related to the Sangre Duello, who are pretty interesting, and I’d like to see more of them in the future. There’s also a new PsyLED honcho floating around — Rick’s boss and Soul’s underling — and his presence is almost as disruptive to Jane’s world as the European Vampires are.

Then before you know it — there we are, the European Vampires are coming ashore to start the Sangre Duello. Which is basically a series of duels — some to first blood, some to the death (true death, in the case of vampires) — and just about everyone connected to Leo ends up fighting at least once. It is clear from the way this is set up, the way it’s carried out, the way that just about everyone acts during it — that vampires act on a different morality than just about anyone else. Jane has a very hard time with it all, and many readers will, too. That’s good — that means you’re not a monster. I will say that Leo’s psychological games with the EV’s are a lotta fun. If you have much of an emotional attachment to the characters in this series, you will stress out during this part of the book. Not all survive. Not all who do survive do so unscathed. Without saying what happens to him, I didn’t realize how invested I was in Leo Pellissier’s continued existence.

Faith Hunter puts all of her experience, all her skill and talent on display here — and it works. This is really a tour de force for her and it’s just a pleasure to read. On the one hand, I thought the pacing was a bit slow at first and wasn’t sure what she was doing — but at a certain point, I recognized that she knew exactly what she was doing and you needed the slow-burn of a start so that you’d be ready for the almost non-stop action to come. There’s some brave choices she makes here — totally shaking up the series, the status is not quo, as a horrible doctor might say. While that might seem like the kind of thing writers need to do (and it is), it can’t be an easy choice — because no matter what we say, we fans want our comfortable series: where we know that Riker will be Picard’s Number One for far too long, Lisa will be 8, and that one couch at the Central Perk will always be available for Monica’s friends to sit on.

Jane continues to grow and mature, embracing — and even expanding — the emotional ties she has to people in her life, taking on more people to protect and defend. She’s not a loner anymore, and has stopped fighting this reality. It’s great to see. And everything I wanted to say about family is present here, and you’ll know exactly what I was talking about when you read this. And if you’re someone who threatens any of those she’s decided to align herself with? I pity you, because, well, Beast is best hunter, and there’s nothing really that’ll stop Beast/Jane from making you regret that threatening.

If I was a better blogger — or at least one who had better time management, I’d come up with a post just about Eli Younger. I really wish I was that guy — because Eli deserves more attention. As I write this, I remember that Carrie Vaughn gave Cormac a novel to himself (pretty much) — Hunter should consider letting Eli have his own.

This would’ve been a great series finale just as it is. I am so glad that it’s not — Hunter’s got things set up so well for the next couple fo books (at least) that I’m as excited about this series as I’ve ever been. But, Dark Queen could’ve worked as the end. Which is really just to say two things: 1. If you’re looking for a new Urban Fantasy series to start, full of magic, vampires, shape-shifters and more? This series is a great one — but don’t start here, start with Skinwalker. 2. Hunter has tied up a lot of loose ends, a lot of long-going plotlines are resolved (or at least brought to a satisfying resting point), which should satisfy long-term readers. I won’t say that they’ll all be happy about where everything ends up — I’m not — but I will say that it’s nice to have some sense of closure and resolution.

I laughed, I got angry, I cheered, I fretted, I got awfully close to letting water leak out of my eyes — I loved this book from start to finish.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

5 Stars

Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin

Resurrection MenResurrection Men

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #13

Hardcover, 436 pg.
Little Brown and Company, 2002

Read: Rebruary 26 – 27, 2018

Another ghost in need of justice. Rebus had confessed to her once, after too many late-night drinks in the Oxford Bar, that he saw ghosts. Or didn’t see them so much as sense them. All the cases, the innocent — and not so innocent — victims . . . all those lives turned into CID files . . . They were always more than that to him. He’d seemed to see it as a failing, but Siobhan hadn’t agreed.

We wouldn’t be human if they didn’t get to us, she’d told him. His look had stilled her with its cynicism, as if he were saying that “human” was the one thing they weren’t supposed to be.

Thanks to sickness, a little bit of travel, and general increased busy-ness in my non-blog life, I almost missed my monthly check-in with John Rebus. Thankfully, for my Bookish-OCD, I made it just in time. Even better? This was one of the best in the series.

Rebus’ drinking and displeasure at Gill Templar’s handling of a murder investigation results in him being sent back to school. Literally. There’s a “retraining” course at the Police College for long-serving officers with discipline problems — sort of a last chance before the end of the road. These detectives are pretty similar, they’ve (mostly) been at this for years and aren’t going to change, no matter what happens in the course. Most of them know each other by reputation, Rebus is well-known, apparently — and he knows another classmate by reputation, he’s “the Glasgow Rebus.” After some counseling sessions, and some class lectures, the detectives are given a cold case to work to help learn something about teamwork. A couple of the detectives were associated with the original investigation in Glasgow, and even Rebus brushed up against it in Edinburgh. It’s not so clear how much teamwork is being learned, it’s clear that there are people who know things about the case that aren’t in the files — and they’re not sharing.

There is something about the case that could involve Big Ger, so guess who gets volunteered to talk to him? Rebus is not the only one talking to Cafferty, Siobhan Clarke (now a DS) has a couple of conversations with him. Watching Cafferty try to treat the two of the similarly, with different results, was quite entertaining — Clarke reacts to him differently than Rebus, but she doesn’t take the same angle with him that I think most would. I look forward to seeing the two of them lock horns in the future.

Speaking of Siobhan — never call her Shiv, by the way — once again, she threatened to take over the book for the first half or so. Rebus’ drinking with the other problem police and their cold case just didn’t grab my attention at first. But Siobhan’s dealing with the investigation — without her mentor to bounce ideas off of — and the various and sundry male detectives around her. Some of which work with her just fine, others . . . not so much — at the end of the day, DS Clarke is the one who puts the case together, and in a pretty compelling way. Did I enjoy things a little bit more when Rebus came along to interact with a bit? Yeah, but it wasn’t necessary. I also like the way that Rebus and Templar were the ones (along with Siobhan herself) noticing her doing things like Rebus this time, not just other police. He’s clearly left his stamp on her — for good or ill, the trick is watching her approach things the way he would, but remaining her own person. Which she has so far — and, I bet, will continue to do so.

But this is a Rebus novel, at the end of the day, and he does get the better material — as I mentioned, he interacts with Siobhan some because he and the others come to Edinburgh to follow a pretty shaky lead (mostly, it’s an excuse to get away from the college and drink somewhere else). Around this point, that storyline became more intriguing — and it did end up being the better part of the novel.

No one will ever say that the Rebus novels are a fun romp, but there was something about Rankin’s writing in Resurrection Men that seemed darker than usual — not a darkness because of violence or anything, just in the telling. Everything seemed worse, everything seemed sinister — it’s hard to put my finger on it exactly, but there was something grim going on. Yeah, I laughed a couple of times, smiled more often than that, but overall, the noir in this book was blacker. We see areas of Rebus’ psyche we haven’t seen much of before — ditto for Clarke — we also get some good Rebus/Cafferty backstory.

The structure of this novel is the real star — it was just perfect — we get a couple of mysteries to watch our detectives solve, plus a couple of other things go on. It even seems like Rankin doles out the information in an unusual way, only telling us what we need to know when we need to know it — there are times when we’re more in the dark than Rebus because he’s hiding the information from his fellow Last-Chancers and us (what does that say about Rankin’s readers?), but it works — this isn’t a case of a mystery writer cheating, it’s a deliberate attempt to build suspense. Complex without being complicated, brilliantly plotted but not in a way that feels totally organic. At a certain point, the way that all the storylines end up seem inevitable (even when you’re still not sure who the various killers are going to be), yet you’re surprised when the inevitable happens. But along the way, each step in the stories, each reveal, each development catches you off guard. Just fantastic structure to the book.

I thought it was strange that Rankin started this one off (I’m guessing for the American edition only) with a little description of the Scottish Police’s organization and rankings, which was nice (but most readers can figure it out on their own). Also included was a list of the cast of characters — organized by storyline. That was helpful, too. Unnecessary, but very nice. I’m not sure why these were used, but I’ll take them.

This one checked almost every one of my boxes — at least once, and never didn’t hold my interest. Rankin clearly knows what he’s doing and you should read this one — and the twelve before it.

—–

5 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

Beneath the Sugar SkyBeneath the Sugar Sky

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #3

Hardcover, 174 pg.
Tor Books, 2018

Read: January 11, 2018

Children have always tumbled down rabbit holes, fallen through mirrors, been swept away by unseasonal floods or carried off by tornadoes. Children have always traveled, and because they are young and bright and full of contradictions, they haven’t always restricted their travel to the possible. Adulthood brings limitations like gravity and linear space and the idea that bedtime is a real thing, and not an artificially imposed curfew. Adults can still tumble down rabbit holes and into enchanted wardrobes, but it happens less and less with every year they live. Maybe this is a natural consequence of living in a world where being careful is a necessary survival trait, where logic wears away the potential for something bigger and better than the obvious. Childhood melts, and flights of fancy are replaced by rules. Tornados kill people: they don’t carry them off to magical worlds. Talking foxes are a sign of fever, not guides sent to start some grand adventure.

But children, ah, children. Children follow the foxes, and open the wardrobes, and peek beneath the bridge. Children climb the walls and fall down the wells and run the razor’s edge of possibility until sometimes, just sometimes, the possible surrenders and shows them the way to go home.

So begins Beneath the Sugar Sky, the third installment of McGuire’s Wayward Children series. If you’d asked me why I was excited about this book before reading it, I could’ve given you a list of reasons — but I’d forgotten just how magical the books are. By the time I got to “ah, children” not only did I remember the magic, I was under its spell.

Sometime after the events of Every Heart a Doorway, two residents of Eleanor West’s Home are down at the pond (they returned from water-worlds, and this is the best they can get), when a naked girl lands in the pond (falling from apparently nowhere), demanding to see her mother, or at the very least, someone in charge. It turns out that this girl is Sumi’s daughter — the problem there is that Sumi died during Every Heart, so she didn’t get to mature a bit, go back to her world, defeat the evil Queen, get married and have Rini. Now, the Timeline is catching up to her, and faster than you can say Marty McFly, Rini is starting to disappear, finger by finger, limb by limb. This doesn’t sit well with her, as you can imagine.

I like existing. I’m not ready to unexist just because of stupid causality. I didn’t invite stupid causality to my birthday party, it doesn’t get to give me any presents.

So, four of the residents set off on a quest to bring Sumi back to life. This takes them across the U. S., into one of the worlds of the dead, and all around Sumi/Rini’s nonsense world. There’s heroism, mystery, sacrifice, triumph and cleverness all around, without which none of this would work, but with it all — and a healthy dose of magic — it’s a plan so crazy that it just might work.

I don’t want to talk too much about the characters apart from what I’ve already said (which is essentially nothing). In addition to Rini — we have a nice mix of new to us and returning friends — with one character that’s new to the Home as well as to us. I absolutely enjoyed getting the bonus time with the returning characters, the new (to us) characters were exactly the kind of kids you hope to find in these books. Also, some of the revelations about some secondary characters serve to explain a lot about the way this particular multiverse came to be and it’s pretty cool. So, basically, the character material in this novella is almost perfect.

I wasn’t as taken with Down Among the Sticks and Bones as I was with Every HeartEvery Heart was a wonderful mix of tragedy and violence with a sense of play (especially in the ideas and words) — there was hope throughout the book, even when it was dark for everyone and there was little reason for it. Down Among was about dashed hope and tragedy in a world of tragedy, dashed hopes and violence; yes, there as a little play with the language, and some moments of triumph, but they were all overshadowed. Which was fine, it was the story that needed to be told, and I’m not complaining, but Beneath the Sugar Sky was more of a return to the tone of Every Heart, so I liked it more than Down Among — I think it was a better book, too, but I could be wrong about it. I just know it was easier to like. There’s definitely tragedy, there are hard choices to be made — and I did say something about sacrifice — but there’s a strand of hope throughout that makes it so much easier to carry on.

One thing that has been on display throughout this series is a sense of play, a sense of fair tale worlds and logic reflected in the language McGuire uses — you’ve seen bits of it already above, just one more and I’ll call it good:

There was a door there, tall and imposing, the sort of door that belonged on a cathedral or a palace; the sort of door that said “keep out” far more loudly than it would ever dream of saying “come in.”

You know exactly what that door looks like, and you have a great sense of the environment around it, too. Just from that one sentence. McGuire has a great sense of style on display in the Toby Daye and InCryptid books, which is turned up in the Indexed serials, but is probably best seen in these books — capturing the feel of preternatural worlds has pushed her to unleash all of her pent-up linguistic magic. Even if I disliked the characters and stories she’s telling in this series, I think the language would bring me back.

I’m obviously a pretty big Seanan McGuire fan — just a quick glance at the archives will tell you that. But I’m willing to bet that even if I wasn’t predisposed to like her work, this series would’ve made me one — Beneath the Sugar Sky is a slice of literary perfection and I can’t encourage you enough to try it.

—–

5 Stars

Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick

I’d fully intended on getting this up earlier in the week, but it provoked enough thought that I had to sit on it a bit. Hopefully that comes through.

Briefly Maiden
Briefly Maiden

by Jacqueline Chadwick
Series: Ali Dalglish, #2

Kindle Edition, 317 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017

Read: November 30 – December 1, 2017


Vancouver Island’s Integrated Major Incident Squad has been called out again, and Ali Dalglish is brought along to consult — she’s official now, after the success of the case in In the Still, she got her credentials transferred to her new country. So she can help Inspector Rey Cuzzocrea with his profile of the murderer and get paid for it (which is probably useful after the recent disintegration of her marriage).

There’s a series of murders (not a serial killer, technically) in the perfectly pleasant little city of Cedar River (at least for most of the residents). They’re gruesome, clearly motivated by anger, with a sexual component. Ali and Cuzzocrea quickly note evidence of a pedophilia ring associated with the deaths. Which adds a level of complexity and tragedy to the crime — and makes it difficult to care much about the victims. While no one on the VIIMIS wants to help the killer with their campaign, they want to catch her(?) to help her recover from what they think must’ve happened to her(?). The obstacles standing in their way are not the typical or expected kind, and make this difficult case even more difficult.

As before, Ali is brilliant — not just when it comes to criminology, she’s just smart — she’s witty, she’s a font of trivia, and has a vocabulary that you just want to bask in (and borrow!). [Note: I’m not referring to her “blue”/”adult”/”4-letter” vocabulary, which is enough to put off some readers] Her emotional life is a mess, she’s in a slightly better place after the breakup of her marriage, but not that much. There’s some decent character growth at work here, too. She’s just such a great character I don’t think I can do her justice here.

It would have been very easy to make this a story about Ali, the brilliant psychologist helping out a bunch of cops who are fairly clueless (yet high-ranking and successful). But Chadwick doesn’t do that. The members of the Squad are capable — more than capable — and while they needed the perspective and expertise brought by Ali, there’s a good chance they’d have eventually put a lot of the pieces together on their own. For example, Superintendent Shaw would be easy to depict as a stuffed-shirt, unimaginative, by-the-book, and blind to anything that isn’t obvious — and most writers would depict him that way (I can’t help but think of Irwin Maurice Fletcher’s editor, Frank Jaffe, frequently when Shaw shows up) — but at one point he actually puts things together that no one else on the Squad did (most readers will be faster than him, but we have better information). Ali’s not blind to this either — yeah, she has an ego about her own expertise, but she is ready (if not always eager) to acknowledge when her teammates do good to work.

There were a few mis-steps, but when you’re doing so much right, you can afford a few of those. The one that I don’t understand is how little her friend/neighbor, Marlene, was used. Yes, her contribution was essential, but if Marlene had stayed home, Chadwick could’ve found another way to get those results. If you’re going to bring her along — use her. Her brief appearances were fun or pivotal, but there just weren’t enough.

I’ve spent some time over the last week trying to describe Chadwick’s writing style, because it’s so specific and so original. At one point, I decided that “aggressive” was the best adjective — it’s in-your-face, it grabs you by the scruff of your neck and shoves your nose into the text, daring you to even consider your Real Life responsibilities (family, eating, work, etc.) so it can smack the back of your head like Leroy Gibbs. But it’s also inviting, enticing, so you’re sucked in and love it — you want to wallow in the experience, desperate to find out what happens while not wanting to walk away from reading book for the foreseeable future. She’s entertaining and fun while writing about some of the most depraved and horrible things you’ve ever read — while never making the depravity or horror into anything other than evil and wrong.

Briefly Maiden is not a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts — but when the sum of its parts is so great, it can seem to be. If it was just Ali’s acerbic brilliance and skewed (skewering?) sensibilities pushing this story, it’d be something I’d tell you to read. Chadwick’s style is something to behold, no matter the subject. If it was just the heart-breaking and horrifying crime story, I’d give this a high commendation. If it was just for the inevitable but shocking conclusion, I’d say this was well worth your time and money. If it was just Ali’s vocabulary, you’d be smarter for having read it (I learned a few terms/words, and I bet you will, too). You put all that together, plus a few other points I should’ve made and didn’t (for whatever reason), and Briefly Maiden is one of the most effective (and affective) novels I’ve read this year. Stop reading this and go grab it — and In the Still, if you haven’t read that yet.

—–

5 Stars

Artemis by Andy Weir

ArtemisArtemis

by Andy Weir

Hardcover, 305 pg.
Crown Publishing Group (NY), 2017

Read: November 16, 2017

“You all right? You look kind of pale.”

I was about ready to puke. Lying to Dad transported me back to my teen years. And let me tell you: there’s no one I hate more than teenage Jazz Bashara. That stupid bitch made every bad decision that a stupid bitch could make. She’s responsible for where I am today.

“I’m fine. Just a little tired.”

We’ll get back to older-than-teenaged Jazz Bashara in a minute, I just wanted to start with that . . .

Can you imagine the pressure that Andy Weir was under following the success of The Martian? Just knowing that whatever he put out would be compared to that phenomenon would cripple most people. Proving that he has the Right/Write Stuff, he was able to put the pressure aside and give us Artemis. I’d like to say I’m not going to compare the two, but why lie to you?

Artemis is the first city on the Moon — made up of 5 domes with levels of living quarters under the surface (by the way, we get some nifty maps in the front of the city and its environs), a small city (for now) that’s primarily a tourist destination. There’s a great pseudo-currency set up to handle things, and a history and raison d’être for Artemis — just part of the wonderful job of world-building that Weir did. Papers should be written about how well he did here, by people who have more time than me. Not only did Weir do a great job of building this world, but he introduces it very well — showing us what he created while introducing us to Jazz Bashara, so we get to know them together. A lot of Hard SF comes across as slow, ponderous, and unapproachable — Weir manages to avoid all that and actually entertains.

It’s not as essential to like Jazz as it was Mark Watney to enjoy this book, but it’s close. She’s a young woman of Saudi descent who grew up on Artemis, and rebelled against the high hopes that her father and teachers had for her and became a petty criminal. Primarily Jazz is a smuggler — getting those creature comforts for residents of the Moon that just can’t get past Artemisian security. She’s crafty, wily, angry, and uses profanity in an incredibly creative way (we don’t have to endure most of that, we’re just treated to the occasional profane neologism, e.g., “fusamitch”). I think you can still think she’s an annoying little twit who should be arrested and enjoy the book — but it’s so much easier to just like her.

Once we meet Jazz and are treated to some pretty cool world-building, Artemis stops being so much a SF novel and focuses on being a Heist/Caper/Thriller (in a hard SF setting). One of Jazz’s regular customers approaches her with a job that she can’t turn down — it’ll make her rich, allow her to pay off all her debt and leave her with a lot of money. She almost has to take the job. Being a heist/caper novel, you know things will get off to a good start and then things will go horribly awry. That’s exactly what happens. The fun is watching things go awry and then watch her (and her eventual allies) react.

Artemis is a pretty small city and it doesn’t take too long for word to spread that she was behind the Big Thing (even if she denies it every chance she gets). The company she tried to interfere with is not the kind of group you want to interfere with, they’re not really that concerned with things like “criminal law” when it comes to protecting their investments. Nor it doesn’t matter if the small law enforcement force is small — so small there’s only one man — if that one man starts investigating you the instant something wrong happens. The list of “the usual suspects” doesn’t necessarily begin and end with Jazz, but she’s sure a large component of that list.

So Jazz is on the run from her victims, the fuzz, and she’s still needs to finish the job. Meanwhile the body count starts to get higher and the pressure is mounting. We’re told that young Jazz had a lot of potential — she might even technically be a genius — and in watching her think on her feet, adapting to the catastrophes that keep befalling her and her schemes we get to see just why that was said about her. I don’t think it’s wrong to see shades of Slippery Jim diGriz here (but she’s not nearly as experienced, or as devoted to crime, as The Stainless Steel Rat).

There are other characters, this isn’t just the Jazz show — she interacts with other people (allies, enemies, antagonists, potential victims, friends — a father that I’m not sure what group he belongs in) — again, compare to Watney. This is done really well — there’s a spark to all of them, they’re all well-rounded and fleshed-out. The emotions are real and relatable, the setting might be as alien as you can get for most of us — but at the end of the day, people are people and we all want pretty much the same things.

One thing we all know that Andy Weir does well is the science. And I’m not just talking about the big things like how to construct a lunar city or how to power it, etc. There’s all the little touches, like:

Lunar dust is extremely bad to breathe. It’s made of teeny, tiny rocks, and there’s been no weather to smooth them out. Each mote is a spiky, barbed nightmare just waiting to tear up your lungs. You’re better off smoking a pack of asbestos cigarettes than breathing that shit.

or the 4-second lag time for Internet traffic to route down to Earth and back before you get your search results., or the efforts of Jazz’s bartender friend to successfully reconstitute whiskey.

I feel like I could keep going (I’ve only used half of my notes at this point), but my point’s been made, why belabor it? This SF/Thriller/Heist with a lot of heart and a lot of laughs is not just a great follow-up to The Martian, but a great read period. One of my favorites of the year, and I’m already looking forward to rereading it soon.

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5 Stars