AWW2012 #2: The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts

She could hear that laughter again, and for a moment Velody was confused, not sure which dead man was mocking her. Velody now holds the leadership of the Creature Court. The unsteady alliances within the Court are beginning to fracture, as a series of murders and disappearances throw suspicion on one of their own. A shiol finds Aufleur’s many festivals frivolous, until a major one is cancelled. Unease grows. It seems nothing can save the city from a massacre … nothing but the ultimate sacrifice from one of the Creature Kings.

 

 

 

 

The Shattered City is book two of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court trilogy, following on from book one, Power and Majesty. I know that there are some mixed opinions on the covers of the books, but I still think that they’re gorgeous.  Possibly they don’t do a good job of indicating just how blood- and sex-soaked the books can get, but I still think they’re lovely.  These books could easily have been illustrated with scantily-clad women or men (which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, given how gorgeous the characters are) but I’m glad that we get something classier.  Doubly glad that we get Velody dressed, and that the artist chose not to portray her as some stick-thin waif. Returning to Aufleur in this book feels like returning to a home, in a way.  There is less of a sense of Aufleur as a living, breathing entity in this book than in the first, but the city itself is still vivid and real.  Personally, I like the fact that we get to delve deeper into some of the characters and their lives. Despite the fabulous men who populate the Creature Court, the plot of this book, and of the trilogy to date, is shaped very firmly by Velody, our protagonist, and her friends Delphine and Rhian.  Both Delphine and Rhian are more fully formed in this book than the first, as both find their places in the world.  Delphine, in particular, shines, finding strength even as she is tortured by her own shortcomings. I am absolutely and completely in love with all three of the main female characters – Velody, Delphine and Rhian.  Each of them is real and three-dimensional, and even in the depth of pain, they are very, very human.  I think that the humanity that Roberts gives her characters acts very much to ground the more fantastical elements of the world, and make it feel very much like a real place. Roberts has a particular talent for making even the most minor characters live and breathe, which in turn makes the reader empathise with even the most minor of characters.  Her dialogue, as always, remains incredible, with each character given their own unique voice. My only complaint is that things end on somewhat of a cliffhanger, which was slightly irritating the first time I read this book, because the third book was still to be released.  On a reread, it’s much better, since I had the third book ready to go! The Shattered City is now available internationally for Kindle.     Things become clearer, as we delve more into the mythology of Aufleur and the Creature Court, but there’s still much to be learned.

AWW2012 #2: Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts

She almost missed the sight of a naked youth falling out of the sky. He was long and lean and muscled … He was also completely off his face.

A war is being fought in the skies over the city of Aufleur. No one sees the battles. No one knows how close they come to destruction every time the sun sets.

During daylight, all is well, but when nox falls and the sky turns bright, someone has to step up and lead the Creature Court into battle.

Twelve years ago, Garnet kissed Velody and stole her magic. Five years ago, he betrayed Ashiol, and took his powers by force. But now the Creature Court is at a crossroads … they need a Power and Majesty who won′t give up or lose themselves in madness …

 

 

I am a huge fan of Tansy Rayner Roberts, both in respects to her fiction and the work she does outside of fiction (reviewing, podcasting as a member of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia.)  When she announced that she was going to writing her own version of an urban fantasy series, I was pretty excited.  And when I saw the beautiful cover for the first book, Power and Majesty, I was even more so.  Seriously, check out that gorgeous cover!  It reminds me very much of the original covers of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books (which may have been deliberate on the part of the publisher, since I believe that fans of the Black Jewels books would very much enjoy Roberts’ Creature Court trilogy).

I pre-ordered this book before it was released, and have picked up copies of both books two and three (The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts respectively; reviews of both will be forthcoming).  I have read books one and two previously, and have embarked upon a reread before I read the recently released third book.

Upon rereading, I’ve found myself even more in love with the world of the Creature Court than before.  Roberts’ worldbuilding is subtle but extremely powerful.  There are no rambling, florid descriptions of the city of Aufleur, and yet the city lives and breathes and completely real.  It is almost a character itself, as the daylight people celebrate a seemingly never-ending cycle of festivals (one gets the impression that all the work done by the people in the city is undertaken only to sustain these festivals) and during the nox (night), a different kind of people come out – the Creature Court themselves, shapeshifters who fight a war unseen by the people of the day.

We are introduced to both worlds through Velody, a girl who has come to Aufleur with the ambition of becoming a dressmaker.  She secures her apprenticeship and is well on track to the career she desires when, abruptly, the Creature Court intervenes in her life.

Velody is an amazing protagonist – she grows and discovers her strengths, but never loses her essential humanity and practicality.  She manages to balance two lives, but never loses sight of the fact that she needs and wants to work.  She also never evolves/devolves (depending on your point of view) into the typical heroine seen in a lot of urban fantasy – we see her developing some harsher edges, but there’s no hard talking or butt-kicking in a physical sense.

Velody’s friends Delphine and Rhian are also fascinating characters – they are both well-defined, and one gets the impression that this book has only just barely begun to explore them.  They are both strong in their own ways – and both highlight the many different kinds of strength that can be had.  Nurturing is strength, as is the ability to conquer one’s fears when needed.

The Creature Court itself is made up from an array of characters, all of them at turns witty, frightening and fragile.  One of the fascinating thing Roberts has done with her shapeshifters is considering pure mass – a human body can transform into a flock of birds, several cats or dozens of mice.  Their magic is unique – they have abilities other than the simple ability to shapeshift (including, for those powerful enough, the seriously disturbing chimera form).  As with some of the exploration of character, there is a definite impression that the magic system is just barely explored here, and there is much to be learned still about the Creature Court and the city of Aufleur.

Roberts has an exceptionally deft hand when it comes to dialogue, and her characters really live when they are speaking.  Some will also appreciate the detailed descriptions of dresses (which makes sense, since Velody is a dressmaker).   There is a good balance of quieter, more introspective moments with scenes that are pure, hectic action, with the pacing guaranteed to keep you turning pages once you’re hooked into the story.  There is also a decent amount of sex and violence, should these be issues you wish to stay away from.

One other thing I have to note is the thought that’s gone into a lot of the plotting.  There’s the aforementioned mass of shapeshifters, but there are also other nice little details – like a character actually noting that his arm would get tired holding a sword to someone’s throat for a long period of time, and adjusting accordingly.  Velody also takes into account what she will be doing when she dresses, so we don’t get to see her running around on rooftops in high heels.  It’s all very refreshing, and gives the book a feeling of realness.

I set down this book and immediately picked up the second to read.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this series to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy or dark fantasy like Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books and Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books.

The Creature Court books are available in Australian bookstores and have recently been released on the Kindle.  You can purchase the Kindle version of Power and Majesty at Amazon.

 

Not-a-review: Mark Chadbourn’s Age of Misrule, Dark Age and Kingdom of the Serpent

I’m not usually a reader to become intrigued about a book based on the cover alone.  This series is the exception – one of the blogs I follow posted an image of the cover of World’s End, the first book of Mark Chadbourn’s Age of Misrule trilogy, and I was immediately drawn in.  Reading more about the trilogy and the two that follow on, and I was hooked.

As an aside, if you get a chance, check out the covers for the other US rereleases – they’re all as gorgeous as this one.  If I was Mark Chadbourn, I would be so stoked with the cover art.  Unfortunately, my books are a mixture of UK and US releases, based on what was available when I was searching out the books.  I’m sorely tempted to rebuy them all in the US covers, to be honest.

Anyway.  The covers are gorgeous, right?  And the subject matter is so up my alley – technology fails around the world, and all of the figures from fantasy and myth come back into the real world.  These books are set mostly in Britain, so it’s the Celtic gods we mostly see (though later books reveal that the gods of other countries also come back), as well as dragons.  Some of the imagery of the gods and fantasy creatures is amazingly breathtaking, and it would be very easy to imagine this series as a whole becoming a very successful television series.

I did have some issues with the books, most of which are character based.  All too much of the time the main characters come across as feeling more like stereotypes – there is effort made at rounding them out (usually in the form of tragedies that shape them), but it often feels like too little against the grandiose backdrop of the storyline.

The females also get pretty short shrift of things.  I found it frustrating that they were clearly delineated as powerful characters, but they never really ended up feeling like they grew into that power.  None of the characters ever really seemed to grasp the enormity of what was going on, and too often sank into petty squabbles.  Which, sure, are going to happen, but when the world is ending and you’re supposed to be one of these amazing powerful people who are supposed to save it, you should rise about that, right?  Hell, this is fiction, after all.

That said, I found the characters interesting enough to keep on reading for nine books.  I still found myself frustrated with them many times – there are places where they all act out of character, and there are a couple of completely meaningless deaths and acts of violence against the characters (women especially, who very much end up being damsels in distress a lot of the time – though, to be fair, they do their own share of saving others as well).

I feel like Chadbourn has really made an effort to try to make all the characters feel human – flawed, making bad decisions, and all of it.  Which makes them feel more real in one sense, but also makes them frustrating as heroic characters.

The whole series feels very much like it’s been written as a script, rather than a series of novels.  This does allow for some amazing visuals, but it does at times, feel like there’s far too much reliance on showing and not telling.  That said, telling the story instead of showing it isn’t the be all and end all of everything, but it does tend to make characters feel more like cardboard cutouts than real people.  And yes, I know that I’m pretty much contradicting myself here, but this series kind of lends itself to contradiction.

If you love Celtic myth and dystopic fiction, likely you’ll find enough (as I did) to keep you reading this series.  I will most probably come back to this for a reread at some time in the future when I don’t have a wall of books to be read.  And I do think it could make an amazing television series, if the characters were worked on a little more.  Some people might find the characters too frustrating for words, and find that they want to toss the books against the wall.

For all of my complaints, the characters made enough impact on me that I find myself thinking about them a lot, even while I want to slap the lot of them upside the head 😉  I can definitely recommend giving this series a go, just don’t blame me if you throw the book against the wall 😉

How to be sick

How to Be Sick by Toni Bernhard

 

Here’s a thing: coming up in March it will be ten years since I first fell ill.  At first, we thought it was a simple flu.  And then I ended up with severe post-viral fatigue.  And then everything else – the headaches, the joint pain, the sleep disturbances.  Cue two years of struggling through, with the eventual diagnosis of lupus/rheumatoid arthritis (depending on who you’re talking to; for me, the treatment is the same) and fibromyalgia.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a decade.  This illness was part of the reason that I didn’t pursue a career in science.  This illness put me on a disability pension after I finished my PhD.  This illness has limited my life, but thankfully, has been treated well enough that I’ve been able to put my life back together, albeit not in the fashion I always thought I’d live.  Despite it, I have continued to write, and run a household.  Thanks to the support of my husband and family, I’ve been able to have a son.

And yet.  Despite all of this, despite getting the right treatment, despite therapy, despite everything, I’ve still found in myself a lot of anger about being ill in the first place.  This book is the  first thing that I’ve discovered that has given me some peace with that illness.

I owe a great debt to an online friend who pointed me towards this book (as well as the facebook group that was created to help people work through the book).  I am not a Buddhist, and I thought at first that would be a problem with working through the book and implementing work from it.  And yet, I didn’t ever find that to be a problem,  Bernhard’s style is so open and easy to read, integrating some of her own Buddhist practice in easy ways to help find some peace.  I’ve found myself incorporating several of the practices into my life since finishing it, and have found that they’ve given me a lot of peace.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is dealing with a chronic illness, or to anyone supporting someone with a chronic illness.  I don’t believe that anyone should stop fighting to find a way past illness, but there is a lot of peace in acceptance of it at the worst times.