Review: Frontier Magic Trilogy by Patricia Wrede

Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles is one of my favorite comfort reads. I discovered this YA quartet in middle school and read and re-read it obsessively. I loved the fractured fairy tale humor, the engaging protagonists, and especially the physicality of its system of magic–I could imagine how it would feel to use magic in Wrede’s world. I’ve enjoyed other Wrede books tremendously, especially the Mairelon the Magician books and Sorcery and Cecelia (co-written with Caroline Stevermer), but none quite lived up to the Enchanted Forest Chronicles for me. I think it’s always hard to replicate the experience of encountering just the right book at just the right time.

All of that brings me to Wrede’s Frontier Magic trilogy: Thirteenth Child, Beyond the Great Barrier, and The Far West. These YA charmers are quick reads and contain some truly marvelous worldbuilding in an alternate-universe version of the nineteenth-century United States. But I finished the trilogy a bit disappointed by the pacing and characterization, two things that Wrede usually excels at.

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Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

So this year’s Hugo award nominations are out, and apparently they’re a wee bit controversial. (Long story short: there was a concerted effort to nominate works on a particular list. The list was compiled by folks who think last year’s Hugos nominated too many women and people of color ignored “real” sci-fi and fantasy in favor of weird literary stuff that no one really likes.)

I’m bummed that the Hugos are so immersed in drama this year, largely because it makes me sad when certain groups interpret the celebration of diverse, challenging, and imaginative works of SFF as a direct attack on them personally. But I’m also sad because the Best Novel nominations happen to include one of the best books I’ve read in the past several years: Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor.

Maia is the fourth son of the Emperor of the Elflands, arguably the most powerful man in his world. However, Maia has never been a pampered royal child. Maia’s mother Chenelo was a goblin princess whom the Emperor was forced to marry for political reasons, and Maia and Chenelo were exiled from the Utheileneise Court long ago. After Chenelo’s death Maia’s care was signed over to a disgraced courtier named Setheris, who despised his half-goblin charge and made sure Maia knew it.

Then one night news comes from the Emperor’s court. Maia’s father and three elder brothers have died in an airship crash, and Maia is now the Emperor.

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What’s so good about bad books?

Last week I found myself contemplating the world of Kindle publishing via two very different sources. The first was the astonishing Tumblr Kindle Cover Disasters, which you should all visit as soon as you get home from work, since I guarantee you will laugh out loud at a pitch and volume that makes it clear you’re not getting any work done. (Hats off, Max Wood. Hats off.)

The second was a Slate article by Katy Waldeman titled “Which Bad Novel is Perfect for You?”  Waldeman’s piece focused on the Kindle Scout program, which allows Amazon buyers to vote for their favorite 5,000 word excerpts of unpublished novels. Amazon then considers the top vote-getters for publication.

Waldeman argues that the Kindle Scout program is practically designed to select and publish a specific type of books: namely, bad books. Books that

sail across that fine line between being pleasurable despite their badness and being pleasurable because of their badness. … If a guilty pleasure is an occasional, delicious bag of potato chips, these books are a nacho tower fluorescent with cheap cheese, unappetizing, weirdly compelling, “so bad it’s good.” You don’t feel guilty enjoying it in spite of its flaws. Rather, you feel some mix of superior and delighted as you devour it on account of its flaws.

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Sir Terry Pratchett (1948-2015)

Like most devoted readers of fantasy, I was stunned and saddened to learn that Terry Pratchett passed away last week at the age of 66. Pratchett always seemed to be one of those authors who would be just as delightful in person as he was through the pages of his books. To quote many other Pratchett fans, how could you not admire someone who wore this t-shirt to conventions? (See right.)

Others have already written much more eloquently than I could about Pratchett’s extraordinary literary output, the incisive wit of his writing, and the way he used the mad Discworld to make our own world seem equally ridiculous and magical in turn. But I spent much of last week re-reading Discworld favorites and looking up favorite Pratchett quotes, and I couldn’t resist sharing some of them here in celebration of an author whose voice I already miss.

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Review: Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

First, I would like to say that I am omitting the cover image from this review on purpose. I put this cover and this cover on my blog, but I draw the line at this one. I have SOME pride.

Nevada Baylor* is a private investigator running her family’s detective agency following the death of her father. Nevada has a handy magical ability: she can sense when people are lying. In a world where other people can use their magic to levitate, throw heavy objects, or light things on fire, however, Nevada knows her limits. She sticks to cases that won’t get her killed — at least, she tries to. But at the beginning of the book Nevada is strong-armed into tracking down Adam Pierce, a powerful magic user with a penchant for burning things to the ground when he doesn’t get his way. In order to accomplish this task, Nevada reluctantly allies herself with Connor “Mad” Rogan, a former soldier and reputed war criminal who wants to find Pierce for his own reasons.

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Review: The Grendel Affair by Lisa Shearin

Few action-adventure protagonists are harder to pull off than the Everygal heroine — the average, relatable, usually-slightly-klutzy woman who somehow finds herself in the middle of scary or world-shattering events. You know the type. She’s just a normal girl who happens to stumble into an apocalypse every once in a while — and fortunately the hot supernatural guys who are lusting after her are there to bail her out. Everygal klutziness/incompetence usually has me grinding my teeth in exasperation and wishing Everygal would turn the book over to the much-more-interesting supporting cast. I don’t need all of my books to feature ass-kicking main characters, but if it’s an action-adventure novel I have to believe that the protagonist is someone who could and should be in dangerous situations.*

Which is why I love Mackenna Fraser, the main character in Lisa Shearin’s The Grendel Affair. Mac works for an organization called Supernatural Protection and Investigations, or SPI for short. SPI’s mission is keeping the existence of supernatural forces and monsters off the radar of the average citizen (think a less authoritarian version of the Men in Black). Most of Mac’s colleagues have backgrounds in law enforcement and can discharge a staggering variety of weapons.

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Review: Lock In by John Scalzi

Five months have passed since my last review — yikes! The semester can really wreak havoc with those of us on academic schedules. But, on the bright side, I now have a fairly significant backlog of books that I can review for this blog. First up is an unreserved rave for John Scalzi’s Lock In.

The short version of my review is that if you like smart, imaginative science fiction, you should buy this book immediately. I knew almost nothing about the book’s plot when I began reading but I was drawn into Lock In’s world from the very first page. Scalzi handles his exposition masterfully; information about this alt-universe version of the United States is revealed at just the right pace,* and without making the reader feel as if she’s drowning in unfamiliar terms. So if you’re game for a great sci-fi novel and you don’t mind going in blind, just take my word for it: this book is awesome and you should read it.

If you’d like to read a few minor spoilers before deciding if Lock In is for you, follow me past the jump.

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