Rose Hill's Writing Grove

A Fantasy author in the Twin Cities

Book Review – The Last Sun

TW: discussions of rape

 

Image result for the last sun

 

I won The Last Sun by K D Edwards in the same Twitter contest where I got The Glamour Thieves.  After the sexiness of The Glamour Thieves and this being another urban fantasy, I was expecting a similar heat level. That was not the case. I liked the book overall, but I’m also not entirely sure what to make of it.  Let me break it down for you.

I loved the banter in this.  Love, love, love. The snark of the main character, the interplay of him with his teammates, the careful political phrasing, it was all wonderful. I appreciated that at the first opportunity, the main character took it upon himself to correct some misconceptions within his team. He communicated the issue he was having with his love interest, and said interest listened and backed off. Overall, it was great to see adults actually talking about their problems, even with the standard “I have been traumatized and don’t want to talk about my issues” going on.

I immediately liked the main character. Rune is exactly the sort of snarky violent asshole that really appeals to me. And he is protective of his people and those who need his help in a way that makes him super sympathetic.

The story seems to be set in a World of Bi, which I immediately adore. All of the flirting and romance is M/M, which is a little weird for a World of Bi, but I’m fine with M/M romance so I’m not complaining. Honestly, though, the whole story felt a bit like a sausage fest. The only female characters were bit players.

I liked Addam as a character. He is a super sweet love interest and has the best line in the whole novel (“I needed this to be the memory you remember, from tonight”).  I think it’s adorable that he calls the Rune “Hero.”  But honestly, he doesn’t seem well matched to Rune. He’s too bright and positive for our violent protagonist, which makes me think this is a relationship that can only end badly. And, I have to admit, he’s not the person I was expecting or hoping would be the love interest. (I wanted that to be Rune’s Companion, Brand, since that is literally the same set-up I have in my novel, down to “Companion” as a capitalized phrasing.)  Despite that, he is a cinnamon roll and I love him.

The plot was quick and immediately drew me in. All solid there. Except for the first chapter, interestingly, which I kept expecting to connect to the plot but really seemed to be just introduction to the world and characters. (In looking at the preview for the sequel, it seems to be a set-up to that, so it may well be related to a larger story arc.)

The world, however…  I just don’t really buy it. The names of these theoretically non-human people (I think? Humans are used both as an Other and as an Us, so I genuinely have no idea if the Atlanteans are human, which is another worldbuilding problem) are extremely Christian, they all use Christian swears and the Tarot the courts are based off of are all the classic medieval ones (so again, Christian). Now, that’s all fine (if not what I enjoy in my Fantasy).  But then the people call themselves Atlanteans. They’re supposed to be modern refugees from Atlantis.

The destruction of Atlantic was recounted as a mythic/historical event in Plato’s time.  That’s way pre-Christian.

If you shut your brain off, the internal consistency of the world mostly works. But the Atlantean/Tarot aspect really didn’t work for me, and it was pulling me out of the story the whole time.

Now that ‘mostly‘. What does it mean to say someone is “almost pure-blooded fae” after you just killed the rest of their family? Does that mean the grandmother you just confronted was also part fae? Are fae different from Atlanteans? Are Atlanteans human? Why does that question only get more confusing the further the novel continues? The questions continue…

And finally we get to the trigger warning of this post.

Rune’s rape as a teenager gets referenced a lot in this book. Definitely more so than I was expecting. Now, the author doesn’t spring it on you. It’s referenced obliquely in the prologue, comes up in increasingly direct methods as the story goes on, until in the end we get first a flashback to it and then one of the rapists taunting Rune with what he did to him. It’s taken seriously at all times and the horror and damage of what was done to him doesn’t get downplayed. But it is still really rough reading those parts and I would not recommend it if that is one of your triggers.  It’s also strongly implied that a child Rune adopts in the first chapter was sexually abused by his family for years. (The plot of the sequel seems to focus on that child and potential forced marriage/sexual slavery, so clearly this topic is not going away.)

Overall, I did enjoy this book. It was a lot of fun.  I’d be interested in reading the next one because I want to see Rune grow and claim his power and see what happens with Addam. (Also, I totally ship Max and Quinn and want that to be a thing.)  I would not, however, recommend it to people for whom rape and sexual violence are triggers.

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Book Review – The Glamour Thieves

The Glamour Thieves by Don Allmon is one of the most delightful books I’ve read in a while. It has a sort of fantasy-cyberpunk feel to it, a bit of Bright meets Mercedes Lackey’s SERRAted Edge series.  With lots of queer inter-species sex thrown in, to make everything better.

The story is mostly told through JT’s POV, an orc former car thief, with occasional glimpses into Austin’s POV, an elf who is an ex-fwb who drags JT back into trouble on the wrong side of the law.  We also get a few snippets of Buzz, a human hacker who JT has an old crush on, during the climax.  JT is the perfect combination of shy, horny, and kinky to make me fall in love with him.  He’s easy to sympathize with.  Austin could very easily be obnoxious to the point of unlikable, but I found him endearing.  I’d hate him if he were a real person, but when it comes to fictional characters, I love that brand of asshole.  None of the other characters stood out quite so vibrantly, including Buzz, but none of them fell truly flat, either.  It was simply clear that this wasn’t their story and there wasn’t room for anything else.

At 46k words, The Glamour Thieves is more novella than novel, which works perfect for a quick read.  On the other hand, I felt like the story had pieces missing (namely, any subplots whatsoever), but that might just be because I’m not used to the novella format. I have a great love for convoluted epic fantasy, so it throws me a little to read a straight (ha) story all the way through with no detours or complications. Like, other than the climax (and you have to expect things to go wrong at the climax), there was only one place where things didn’t go perfectly according to plan.  Like, I know half the plot was focused on the sexual tension here, but it still felt really easy.  I would have love to have seen this more drawn out, but then this would have crept into novel length, and if a novella is your target, then keeping it simple works.  This may just be a happy reader wanting more of the story.

I have to admit, this may be the first time I’ve ever actually enjoyed a love triangle. Maybe because it’s the first time it’s an explicitly queer one?  Or maybe it’s because both love interests are give their pros and cons and treated like real people?  Either way, I loved it.  And I loved that it was resolved not with the death that I was afraid of as we built up to the climax, but with two of the characters simply continuing their lives in different directions. That sounds oddly drama free for a novel, but it was truly refreshing.

I also loved the worldbuilding in this. It was familiar enough to the US to be vaguely recognizable, but there were enough hints of the way things had twisted and the larger weirder world that I adored it.  It truly felt like stepping into the world.  There were no infodumps, or at least none that stood out to me.  We were simply there with the characters, as we should be.

For 46k, there were a lot of sex scenes in this.  Well-written ones too, nothing that made me cringe or roll my eyes at the biology, or even get bored and skim forward.  Now, I write erotica so this was right up my alley, but if explicit M/M sex isn’t your thing, maybe give this a pass.  I even appreciated that condoms came up–and got insisted on.  (Once, at the end, but that’s still better than most of what I read.)

My one real critique of this is that I felt like JT let Buzz’s fantasy racism go too easily–especially since it was directed at him. Buzz calls him an animal an a cannibal and is consistently afraid of JT throughout the novella, and JT basically lets it slide.  I find that hard to believe.  Like, even if he let it go on the outside, most of the novel was in JT’s head, and some sort of rant or resentment should have come up there.  The fact that it didn’t felt hollow–but no doubt necessary for that leg of the love triangle to play out.

Overall, I enjoyed this quite a bit.  I was smiling and laughing reading most of it, from the banter of the characters and the characters’ inner thoughts.  And it ended with a blatant Star Wars reference, which I absolutely adore.

Recommended for: Fans of sexy urban fantasy, fans of sexy cyberpunk, anyone looking for M/M in the fantasy genre, anyone who is looking for an orc/elf relationship as much as I am, anyone looking for a quick, fun, sexy read

Book Review: Dreams of the Golden Age

Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn is the sequel to After the Golden Age.  It’s told in alternating POVs: Celia, our protagonist from the first book, now twenty years older; and Anna, her teenage daughter.

This is a family tale.  After the Golden Age also was, since it was about the non-powered daughter of superhero parents.  But this, this dives deeper into it.  Celia not only has to deal with her own plotline, but having two teenage daughters and all the drama that carries with it.  Anna is dealing with a superhero plot of her own, while navigating the complicated relationship between a teenage daughter and her overbearing mother.  The family relationships are part and parcel of story.

One of the things I love about this duology is that it takes a superhero story and makes it extremely personal.  You don’t get the grandeur or epic battles of other superhero stories.  You get the pettiness, the rivalry, the inadequacy, the fear–because these are human beings we’re talking about.  Their lives, and the lives of their friends and family, are at risk.  Vaughn does an excellent job making you feel that.  This is what I loved about the first book.  It’s just as prevalent here.

And, in contrast to some short stories I’ve read recent, Anna really feels like a young woman.  She has that nervousness, the need to prove herself, the rivalry with friends, the conflict over her crushes.  And Celia felt like a woman in her prime.  These are beautifully characterized and believable people.

I highly recommend both these novels, but if you’re going to read them, start with After the Golden Age.  There’s enough context that I think it’s important to read that one first.

Recommended for: Fans of urban fantasy, fans of superheroes, fans of family drama in fantasy settings

Anthology Submissions

A random collection of anthology calls I think look interesting.

UNLOCKING THE MAGIC
Theme: mental illness in Fantasy
Deadline: November 1, 2018
Payment: $300 flat rate + royalties
Word Count: 3k – 6k

CRASH CODE
Theme: Dark/horror sci-fi
Deadline: October 1, 2018
Payment: $0.03/word
Word Count: 1.5k – 7k

ROSALIND’S SIBLINGS
Theme: Spec-fic scientists of gender minorities
Deadline: November 1, 2018
Payment: 0.08 pounds /word
Word Count: 500 – 7.5k

LIFE AFTER ALL
Theme: Post-apoc queer romance
Deadline: September 30, 2018
Payment: $150 flat rate
Word Count: 8k – 15k

Book Review – The Lies of Locke Lamora

The first time I read this book, some years ago, I was not a huge fan of it.  It reminded me very much of a heist movie, wherein a scene would begin with a wide panning shot of scenery before zooming in on the character.  In text, this meant a lot of description that I skipped.

This time, I read it properly and I like it a lot more.

This is possibly the most tightly-plotted 700+ page book I’ve ever read.  The initial plot we’re introduced to is plenty complicated on its own, as any confidence heist story should be, but then more and more complications are added.  But the way Lynch adds these in are smooth.  He lets the reader get a feel for the stakes of the current plot before adding a new complication.  And each time a new complication is introduced, its effect on the original plot is made clear.  I, as the reader, never got lost following the action because it was cleanly spaced out and explained.

Those descriptive passages that I skimmed the first read through?  They not only serve to explain some bit of worldbuilding, but also to enhance the “oh shit” moment in either the chapter that just happened or the one that comes next.  Each and every one serves to advance the plot.

Locke Lamora is the sort of anti-hero protagonist who falls into the “make him interesting rather than likable” category, and Lynch pulls that off supremely well.  The prologue is all backstory (which continues in “Interludes” throughout the novel, which is one of the most interesting formats I’ve ever seen), but it serves to make Lamora fascinating while he’s still a child.  We want to know what he did and how to get this 6/7-year-old boy marked for death.  Competence?  Holy hells, check.  Proactivity?  Yup, he’s clear right there too.  Sympathy?  Well, that comes later in the novel, once the death toll starts rising.  I wouldn’t call Lamora likeable–I generally try to avoid con men and compulsive liars–but he’s sure as hell interesting from the very first paragraph.

And even more than Locke being interesting, his interactions with the other members of his gang are fun.  More so when he’s an adult than when he’s a kid, but still.  The banter between the members of his gang is delightful.  They feel like a family.

I mentioned above the weird formatting?  Let me get into that a minute.  The prologue, as I mentioned, is backstory. One person is trying to sell him to another, or he’ll have to kill child!Lamora.  It immediately sets up tension, interest in an MC we haven’t met yet, and a whole lot of worldbuilding.  The numbered chapters follow Locke and his gang as adults.  The “Interludes” follow Locke as a child and all the trouble he gets into.  I have never seen backstory used like this, and it is superbly well done.  Every piece of backstory, as I mentioned above, serves to enhance the current plot–while also unravelling the mystery of what Locke did as a kid to get him this reputation.  If you want to look at how to weave backstory in, read this book.  If you want to look at how to weave worldbuilding in, read this book.

I don’t even know what to call the world of this book.  The whole thief-infested city of Camorr is built on and around these alien structures.  There’s magic, but true sorcery is extremely rare.  There’s the tech and clothing level I’d expect out of steampunk or gaslamp, but there’s no steam or gas.  Instead, nearly everything runs on fascinating uses of alchemy and these alien structures that can’t be destroyed.  (Which really makes you wonder–what happened to the one that is destroyed?)

Overall, I would highly recommend this book, especially if you’re righting ne’er-do-well protagonists.  My only caveats are: there are a lot of casual gay slurs throughout the book, which was a lot more off-putting to me the second time I read it (being more immersed in the queer community now than I was back then); if you’re not a fan of swearing in books, this is not the book for you.

Recommended for: fans of rogue characters, fans of heist movies, fans of high-stake action, fans of unusual worlds, writers wanting to examine a unique structure

Book Review – Harbinger of the Storm

This is the sequel to Servant of the Underworld, which I reviewed hereHarbinger of the Storm continued the first’s standard of correctly-written polytheism that matters to both the characters and world.  I realize this is historical fantasy and the gods referenced aren’t even mine, but I have never felt so acknowledged as a Pagan reader.  It’s wonderful.  If you want to know how to write polytheism correctly in fantasy, read this series (Obsidian and Blood).

Anyways…

Like the first, this book purports to be a mystery novel.  And there is a murder being solved, don’t get me wrong.  But as a lover of political fantasy, I felt like this was political fantasy at its finest.

The king is dead and the throne does not go straight to the heir. The council must vote between a number of worthy candidates.  And, in true political fashion, everyone has their own agenda and their own favorite.  This being fantasy, magic is part of the way they put forth those agendas and the use of dangerous magic is part of the mystery our hero must solve.

The stakes have definitely increased in this book.  Servant of the Underworld focused on saving his brother’s life amidst inter-temple drama.  In Harbinger of the Storm, all of humanity is threatened is threatened by the politicking.  Our hero is constantly racing the clock to protect the Fifth World.  And I like Acatl even more now than I did in the first book–he’s lost some of his family baggage and is more sure of himself and his role as a priest in a bellicose culture.

New characters are introduced, old characters take on new roles, and even beloved favorites are not safe from death.

Highly recommended.

 

 

Recommended for: Fans of the first book, those who want non-Western fantasy, fans of mysteries, worldbuilders, fans of high-stakes fantasy

Book Review: Dark Currents

Jacqueline Carey is one of my favorite authors.  I adore her Terre d’Ange novels and I enjoyed her Banewrecker duology.  This is Carey’s second Urban Fantasy (UF) series, but the first I’ve read, and I expected to enjoy it.

I didn’t.

I think my unfondness of it is pretty specific to me.  With a series called “Agent of Hel” (as in, the Norse goddess Hel, not the Christian hell) and the polytheism of Moirin in the Naamah trilogy, I was really looking forward to a modern Pagan lead in UF.  Instead, it’s Yet Another Christian Protagonist.

Really?  You can’t have a modern polytheist being the one to serve a Pagan deity?  Really?

*deep sigh*

To be clear, this is not a problem with the book, this is a problem with my expectations.  I was hoping for some recognition, some acknowledgement that people like me exist in more than just a mocking reference.  UF is the natural place for modern Pagans to show up.  We’re here.  We exist.  We are intimately familiar with these gods you keep referencing.  And yet, time and time again, it’s Christian protagonist after Christian protagonist.*  It’s Christian cosmology being seen as stronger/more important in every iteration, with every author.

I’m just so tired of this.

My religious complaints aside, as UF goes, it’s pretty good.  The action is steady, that pace takes a reasonable toll on the main character, she has a healthy relationship with her mother and her best friend.  Three different romantic leads are presented, but she doesn’t jump into anything with any of them, choosing to focus on the issue at hand like a reasonable person.  I enjoyed the character dynamics.  I enjoyed the little town full of magical creatures.  I liked the twist of how the main character won in the climactic battle.

If you enjoy UF and you’re not a Pagan like me who is tired of being erased in UF, read it.  I think you’ll really enjoy it.  I will not be continuing the series, but honestly this stands up as a solid UF recommendation for others.

I’ll take my chances with the Santitos duology and the newly released Starless.

Recommended for: Fans of UF, readers who want to see a happy/healthy/functioning mother/daughter relationship, readers who want to see female friendships and friends hanging out, a femme hero in UF

 

* – So far as I’ve read, the only Pagan-ish main character in UF that I’ve read was Dante Valentine, written by Lilith Saintcrow.  That was more henotheism than proper polytheism, but it was still something.  I wouldn’t recommend that series for other reasons, but that’s an example of a Pagan-ish character in a UF-ish (more like near-future magitek) setting among the sea of Yet Another Christian Protagonists.

Book Review – Servant of the Underworld

People have been telling me to read Servant of the Underworld since I published my very first short story, “Rain Child.”  The reason for this is abundantly clear–both are set within the priesthoods of fantasy Tenochtitlan.

Anyone familiar with my blog is probably well aware of my complaints about religion in fantasy–particularly the shoddy way polytheism is typically displayed.  This hits none of those problems.  It treats polytheism in a serious way, one that is true to the characters and affects every part of their lives.  You see daily rituals, larger rituals, prayers, sacrifices, offerings, all treated as perfectly normal and acceptable.  This is religion in fantasy written right.

The ease with which de Bodard immersed us in Tenochtitlan was stunning. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know every word, because the meaning is made clear and explained in the book.  For those who want further reference, there’s an appendix of terms in the back as well.

You know what else is in the back?  A list of related reading–research books about Tenochtitlan.  I’m definitely going to pick up at least two of those.  Now, maybe I just don’t read enough historical fantasy to know if this is a common thing, but I definitely loved that inclusion.  And to be honest, this is the first historical fantasy novel I think I’ve ever been interested in.  The non-Western setting was wonderfully refreshing and superbly researched.

Now, I’ve raved a fair bit about this book without going into the plot or characters, but that’s because Servant of the Underworld reminds me of what I love best about fantasy–a beautifully constructed world to immerse yourself in.  But that’s not to say that the plot or characters weren’t enjoyable.  Acatl’s desire for a peaceful life, thwarted by murder and political drama, is very relatable.  Mihmatini is a wonderfully competent little sister who has grown up without her brother’s notice.  The ever-growing mystery kept me guessing all the way to the end.  The tension stays high enough to keep you turning the pages and picking it back up.  But what I loved the most was the beautiful worldbuilding.

Recommended for: People who want non-Western fantasy, fans of mysteries, someone looking for a new voice in fantasy, worldbuilders

LIKE A SPELL: AIR Out Now!

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Hello all!

Just as a reminder, my short story “Jailbreak” will be coming out in LIKE A SPELL: WATER.  While you’re waiting for that, Circlet Press has released the third of this four part anthology series, LIKE A SPELL: AIR.

AIR features F/M pairings, so if the F/F or M/M books weren’t to your taste, this might suit you better.

Keep an eye out for the announcement of my piece in the next few months!  An omnibus will also be coming out later this year, if you want to wait and get all of them together.

Circlet Press Updates

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A couple of updates from my publisher that should be putting out my story “Jailbreak” here in the next couple of months.  Keep an eye out for an announcement about the release of LIKE A SPELL: WATER.

In the meantime, LIKE A SPELL: FIRE has been released!  The second anthology of the quartet, this is all M/M erotica.

Circlet Press has also announced calls for two new anthologies.  Since they came out far enough after my listing for anthology calls, I decided to just post them here.

THE ROMANTIC ACE
Theme: Asexual romance
Deadline: April 15th, 2018
Payment: $25 flat rate
Word Count: 2.5K – 8.5K

SAFE, SANE, CONSENTACLE
Theme: Tentacle porn
Deadline: March 31st, 2018
Payment: $25 flat rate
Word Count: 2,5K – 8.5K