keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Dark Reaches
by Kristin Landon
292 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

I picked this up from the library on pure whim. It's pulpish soft SF--fluffy to the max, but more to my taste than equivalently pulpish hard SF. Landon skims over space battles but doesn't shy away from gore (Exhibit A, the captured Cold Minds pilot). I'm vaguely interested in the worldbuilding, though not enough to seek out Landon's other books. The romantic relationship was interesting, not compelling.

Sorry I don't remember anything else... it's been a few months, and it was quite a forgettable tale. Warning for some serious backlog spam up ahead.
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Skin Trade
by Laurell K. Hamilton
486 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Romance

Miracle of miracles, I think Hamilton is becoming increasingly more readable. Her most recent Anita books have had noticeably less sex and more plot. I approve and will be going back to read some of her earliest Anita Blake books if/when I have the time/inclination. I find that it's best to approach Hamilton like an episodic TV show; Anita reminds me of what I imagine Buffy would be like. (Note that I have no actual experience with Buffy.) If you think too hard, it's unrealistic that Anita keeps getting into this much trouble, every single book--but these books are not meant for heavy thinking. I do appreciate Hamilton's overarching plot and the small movements in it.

Not much of Jean-Claude or Nathaniel in this one, though, which is sad to me.
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Diamond Star
by Catherine Asaro
495 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

I didn't realize how starved I was for good fluff; I sped through this newest Asaro in a single night despite its flaws. I'm not a rock fan, so the premise didn't excite me, but I do adore the Skolian Empire world. Diamond Star involves an all-too-predictable addiction arc. I have little sympathy for Del being broke when he can splurge whenever he wants. Del himself treads a thin line between amusing and annoying. I love Asaro for both politics and relationships, but in this particular book, I wanted more space opera and less obstinate romantic misunderstandings. As [ profile] buymeaclue would say (I hope I get this right): less boyfriend, more roller derby.

Still want more books like The Moon's Shadow, about Aristos politics. Especially Jai/Tarquine. Or even about Kelric, who is more interesting when he's not perceived from the POV of a rebellious teenage rock star. Dehya is really interesting too; I'm not so fond of Roca, but her story seems to have come to an end with Eldrinson's (natural) death.
keilexandra: (glomp)
Natural Law: Nature of Desire
by Joey W. Hill
313 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Romance

A dynamic and compelling love story, BDSM-style. Not quite as hard-core as Hill's vampire series, at least physically--this is about Violet breaking down Mac's emotional barriers, fascinating to observe for even the "vanilla" readers. A nebulous contemporary setting works well; Mac's profession--homicide detective--leads to realistic drama and conflict. I just have one question: how did T&K know that Mac was a cop? I'm suspicious of Violet "fingering" him right away, and even moreso of T&K having the same sense as lay(wo)men.

Just beautiful. In between the budding romance is a tense murder mystery, and the two plot threads twine together nicely by the end. For once, I don't mind a domestic happily-ever-after (no babies, thankfully) because, oh, Violet and Mac so deserve each other after all of their mutual suffering. I like Tyler's advice to Violet: it's easy to fall in love in three days, the trick is to stay in love.
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The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom & Their Lover
by Victoria Janssen ([ profile] oracne)
379 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Romance/Historical

The Duchess Camille married for duty; now she endures continual abuse from the duke who controls her and her land. Having yet to produce an heir, instead of hanging around waiting for her husband to kill her, Camille flees with her loyal servants--eunuchs Kaspar and Arno, maid Sylvie, and stableboy/lover Henri--to find refuge with her childhood flame Lord Maxime.

Although I bought this book because I'm acquainted with the author and observed the writing process, the premise is interesting on its own--I adore power-dynamic imbalances. Camille's coldness and Henri's naivete were annoying at first, but they both grew on me. My favorite character, though, was Kaspar--he is so fiercely protective and easy to love. The title is a little misleading: "Their Lover" is I assume Maxime, but he's really only the Duchess's lover, and why didn't the eunuchs deserve title-notoriety? I did enjoy the diversity (of many different kinds, though much of it was thump-on-the-head obvious) and the French-historical-esque setting. The final verdict is mixed--I find it compelling and worth rereading--yet, it doesn't feel truly memorable.
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Swallowing Darkness
by Laurell K. Hamilton
365 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Romance/Fantasy

I'll keep this short. Does Hamilton know how to plot without the mortal-danger trope? There are seriously too many instances of Merry's loved ones on the brink of death but miraculously saved, and no one important (to the reader) dies. Too many miracles, not enough consequences, especially concerning Frost and the other guards. (Although Merry/Doyle/Frost is still a cute threesome.) And is this possibly the end of the series? It ends at a good place and echoes the very first book; but Merry is still pregnant.

Also, only 1.5 sex scenes! That must be some sort of record for Hamilton. But the plot is exceptionally implausible in this book, so it evens out.
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The Mango Season
by Amulya Malladi
229 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Romance

Like My Name Is Sei Shōnagon, Malladi's novel tells a story that I identify with personally. Priya Rao left India at age 20 to study in the U.S., and now she's returning after seven years--to announce her engagement to Nick Collins, an American man. India, her homeland, is overwhelmingly foreign, even the mangoes that she loved so much as a child. And as Priya's parents plot an arranged marriage to a "nice Indian boy" (preferably rich and Telugu Brahmin), Priya's fear of her family's reaction leads inevitably to disaster.

Malladi isn't afraid to deal with conflict--with interracial romance, racism, culture clash, duty, and tradition. Priya is shocked by her family's blatant racism and expectation that despite her rebellious attitude, she will ultimately conform. And she loves them, all of them--her inability to truly stand up to her mother drove me nuts, in fact--but she also loves Nick. The plot revolves fundamentally around Priya's reconciliation of her roles as lover and family, West and East.

In reading, I was constantly struck by the parallels that I drew between traditional Indian and Chinese cultures. Although China has much less emphasis on religion and is, in the modern day, more free regarding arranged marriages, there is definitely pressure to marry a nice Chinese boy and stay home to raise children. The extended family is very important in both cultures--at one point, Priya asks her mother to treat her with respect and receives this answer: "You are too young to gain my respect and you have done nothing so far to gain it....Children respect their parents [and] that is all there is to it" (89). And the scary part is that my parents have told me essentially the same thing. Another moment that echoed strongly:

"Most first-generation Indians in the United States only had friends who were Indians. I had never thought I would be any different. I had started out with only Indian friends but my circle grew as I grew. Now I was in a place where I didn't think in terms of Indian friends and American friends, just friends. I had somewhere down the line stopped looking at skin color. (213)

Ironically, for me it was almost the opposite experience. I grew up in a sheltered and overwhelmingly white environment, so I had no choice but to befriend white kids. And when I moved to a place that did have a critical mass of Asians, I still distinguish mentally between "Chinese friends" and "school friends" (some of the latter are fully assimilated Asian-American, which makes a difference). While Priya and I are different, she is of any novel I have ever read the character most similar to me. I empathize easily with protagonists no matter their heritage, but I was engrossed in Priya's internal conflict with almost painful understanding.

And the end of The Mango Season, which I accidentally spoiled myself for, also lobs a last surprise revelation at the reader that forces a reconsideration of everything preceding. I do so love twist endings. Mulladi has a knack for realism, too--this novel sounds and feels like a memoir, the characters' voices are so real.
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Sex as a Second Language
by Alisa Kwitney
327 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Romance

As a rule, I do not read contemporary romances. I find them easily outdated and boring because I'm not much interested in the contemporary world, and usually the characters can't carry the book by themselves. This was an exception; and ironically, Neil Gaiman gave a cover blurb that I didn't notice until after I checked it out from the library. (Buying a contemporary romance unread is so not happening.) On the shelf, the amusing title caught my eye, and I flipped it open briefly to the middle. When I found that I'd sat there for ten minutes reading, I knew I had to give Kwitney a chance.

And I'm glad I did. The story starts out a little slowly--I'm interested in Kat, not her two best friends--but becomes compelling as soon as Magnus walks in. Kat and Magnus are both flawed yet attractive. Divorced and jaded single actress mom (turning forty!) + divorced and jaded Icelandic CIA agent = a truly unique romance. Kwitney isn't afraid of portraying her unique heroine (the older hero is perhaps more common) and I found Kat's everyday struggles poignantly realistic. The plot is nothing special, a typical romance line with a Misunderstanding (although plausible) and some questionable points (why couldn't Magnus just talk to Ken Miner on the phone?), but the characters truly distinguish this book from the rest of the genre.

Also, there isn't nearly as much sex as I've found in other romances, the title notwithstanding. A refreshing and surprising change.
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Blood Noir
by Laurell K. Hamilton
340 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Romance/Fantasy

Anita goes to Asheville, North Carolina, with Jason to see his dying father. Complications (i.e. political manuveurings) ensue, both mortal and supernatural. The Mother of All Darkness a.k.a. Mommie Dearest is mightily interested in Anita. Hamilton's books have come to pretty much pure erotica--there is less unnecessary sex here, but it definitely makes itself known. And thankfully, there's also substantive plot development. SPOILERS--Richard gains a version of the ardeur, Anita manages to reclaim her anger from Richard (but not having read the earlier books, I have a hard time believing that she really is this raging), Jason nearly dies...oh yes, Jason's father is magically cured of cancer (Authorial Device, anyone?) and Anita gains another hanger-on, Crispin the young white weretiger.

Essentially, typical LKH. I still prefer her faerie series, but this one's not bad. A quick read, at least.
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Cerulean Sins
by Laurell K. Hamilton
405 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Romance

Incubus Dreams
by Laurell K. Hamilton
658 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Romance

I had originally planned to discuss these two books separately, but I realized that what I have to say--which isn't much--basically applies to both books. I read them very quickly in succession, enjoyed it on a pure fluff level, but can't remember anything about the actual plot content. That should tell you something.

In both novels, I found several careless copyediting errors and choppy prose that could easily have been fixed. The flaws are more visible if you read a lot in one "sitting" (in my case, large chunks of 1000+ hardcover pages over about a day and a half). Notes on character: Anita is so controlling, as well as being an idiot when it comes to Nathaniel. I still <3 Nathaniel, still annoyed at Micah's perfection, still hate Richard's guts. Nothing new. From Wiki-research, apparently Anita is actually--gasp!--celibate in the first four books. Now I'm very curious, because I have yet to read a Hamilton book without gratituous sex. Are her earlier Anita Blake volumes actually urban/paranormal fantasy, rather than very solidly on the romance side?

While my estimation of Hamilton isn't exactly high, I do respect her for her ability to command reader sympathy for her characters. (I just hate Richard because angsty werewolf = BURNING HATRED in my quirky book.) And as fluff romance reading, Hamilton is almost too good--I couldn't put it down while I was in the middle of a book.
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Private Arrangements
by Sherry Thomas
351 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Romance/Historical

I don't normally read category romance--contemporaries are too light compared to my usual fare of secondary-world F/SF, and historicals are extremely hit-and-miss. Private Arrangements is a historical romance that, from cover copy, looks like your typical cliche formula story. In one fundamental way, this is true, but otherwise I have to agree with trusted review sources. This is a good book on its own merits, and for historical romance readers it will likely be exceptional.

Gigi Rowland is the daughter of "new money" and has known her share of shunning by high society. Armed with her beauty, wits, and fortune, she--pushed in no small part by her conniving mother Victoria--is determined to marry a duke. When her first arranged marriage falls through by freak coincidence (the duke in question dies two weeks before the wedding), Gigi falls in love at first sight with her late fiance's heir, Camden. He, however, is courting a sweet, spineless girl named Theodora von Schweppenberg. Various events occur; Gigi and Camden marry, but the day after their wedding, Camden leaves. Cut to the beginning of this novel: Gigi and Camden now live civilly on separate continents, she in high English society, he as an entrepreneur in America. The couple have what society deems a perfect marriage--polite and passionless. However, Gigi files for divorce in order to marry again and Camden returns to Europe to win her back (or at first, to torment her by invoking his long-abandoned conjugal rights).

The plot sounds trite and unoriginal. On the surface, it is. Misunderstandings abound, perhaps a touch too many though they are pulled off well. Gigi and Camden are what made this book work for me; their history of enmity is not without basis, through a series of misunderstandings and decisions made in the heat of the moment. Private Arrangements is a study of consequences, though it is a romance story first and foremost. Thomas writes with quick and comfortable prose, and her timing skills are excellent--the lengthy flashbacks worked unexpectedly well. I ached for Gigi and Camden both.

So what's not to like? Well, several things, some of which aren't entirely the book's fault, but rather the genre's. Gigi and Camden are not the only couple in this novel; I found the side characters either boring and underdeveloped (Freddie) or interesting but distracting from the main story (Victoria and the Duke of Perrin). The latter, in particular, could easily and more realistically have made up an entirely separate novel. The skimmed development required to keep it a subplot also kept me from making any emotional investment in the pairing. Even when the story focuses on Gigi and Camden, certain scenes were unrealistically confessional and subconflicts too easily resolved (the Freddie-arc, for example).

Then there is the ending. Oh, what an ending. If I had not been so emotionally invested in Gigi and Camden, the ending would have made me throw the book across the room (something I've actually yet to do). As it is, I was just irritated. I suppose I misunderstood the author-reader contract in this case, which may stipulate such a saccharine ending. But after all the fresh interpretations of romance cliches, I thought that Thomas would have at least some bittersweetness after such an intense conflict. An HEA is required; however, if all category romance HEAs read like this one, I may never pick up another book in the genre. It is, in a word, disappointing.

I do not regret reading Private Arrangements for the pleasure of indulging in Gigi and Camden's story, right up until the ending. But due to that major flaw, I would not recommend the novel to someone who wasn't already a fan (and familiar with the rules) of romance novels. An unfortunate final verdict, because I truly enjoyed the rest of the book; Thomas is a promising writer, and I'm sad to write such a review on the book's publishing date.
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The Spymaster's Lady
by Joanna Bourne
373 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Romance/Historical

This historical romance was highly praised by several people on my flist, and the espionage angle piqued me. I'm a little late to the party, but I hope this review is still of some use. Annique Villiers, a French spy known as the Fox Cub, is about to be tortured by her own Head of Section. In the same cell is Robert Grey, an English spy of certain repute. The two manage to escape, of course, at which point Grey promptly kidnaps Annique and begins the long process of carrying her off to England (not to mention seducing her in the process). The portrayal of spying is highly realistic, which surprised me--I expect romance novels to be pulpy, and this certainly was not. Annique has a wonderful, authentically French voice that lends color to the narration. The plot includes several unexpected twists, beginning with a spoilerific secret about Annique, then progressing all the way to a tense and satisfying conclusion. While I was spoiled for some of the twists and shocked by others, I found all of the plot development utterly plausible. Characters have convincing motivations and make sensible decisions.

Spoilers )
There are also a few drawbacks to this necessarily imperfect work: I find Annique's innocence (she has never murdered anyone despite being raised in the spy world, and she's still a virgin) a little disbelievable. Leblanc is too 2-D of a villian--he never displays any positive traits. I wished for more development of some of the minor characters, particularly on the antagonist side (e.g. Henri).

Overall though, my summary of The Spymaster's Lady comes to: Annique + Grey = ♥. Strongly enough that I'm looking forward to Bourne's forthcoming novel My Lord and Spymaster, which seems to be an indirect sequel set in the same world. This is a classic historical romance with crossover appeal, exactly the type of light-but-breathless comfort reading that I need sometimes.
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The Mark of the Vampire Queen
by Joey W. Hill
370 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Romance/Fantasy

The second volume of Hill's Vampire Queen series, from the Heat imprint; Jacob is now full servant to Lady Lyssa and thus subject to the dangers of her dehabilitating illness, the Delilah virus. When Lyssa dies, so will Jacob (although, of course, he is working hard to prevent that from happening). The emotional development was very good and the plot was beautifully suspenseful--I couldn't stop reading. Things really pick up once Lyssa and Jacob get to the Council meeting. Debra/Brian continues to be a really cute innocent lab assistant/scientist pairing, and Devin/Daniella are just adorable. The ending was a little neat for my taste; Lyssa's transformation made sense in context but still irked me, and Jacob's was slightly implausible. I would have liked a few permanent consequences, certainly. Also, I'm curious to see how Hill generates conflict in the next book, which comes out Spring 2009, after such a clear-cut HEA. Overall though, this was a satisfactory sequel and I look forward to reading more of Hill's work.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
by Ann Aguirre
312 pages (galley proof)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance
Publication Date: February 26, 2008

I won this ARC in a contest on Dear Author a while ago; when it finally arrived in my mailbox, I read the first few pages and ended up finishing the novel by that night. While it's not a novel I'll reread to savor, it serves well as a breezy SF romance that follows some well-worn tropes--admittedly without a lot of creativity.

How to describe the plot? Episodic, in a word (but not mine). The opening bears a certain resemblance to Firefly: Serenity, and I hear from a reliable source that other SF influences are unmistakable. Sirantha Jax, an unusually long-lived "jumper," is the sole survivor of a spaceship crash that killed several crucial dignitaries and her own pilot-lover. She wakes up in the tender care of the Corps, which is more interested in seeing Sirantha safely locked in the madhouse than her safe recovery. March comes to her rescue one day, breaks her out, and introduces her to his ragtag crew. The adventure proceeds from there in the usual space opera fashion, though I would characterize Grimspace as more "baby space opera"--the plot, while tangled and interesting, never quite achieves the tight unity of true space opera. Side characters are introduced, developed, and then tossed carelessly aside as soon as the gang moves on. The ending was surprising and satisfying--10 pages from the end, I had no idea how Sirantha and March were going to get their HEA--but it still felt like a To Be Continued.

The narration is in first-person present tense, an unusual choice for romance that lent suspenseful immediacy and was aided by Sirantha's crisp voice. I strongly believed in the romance, though I can also see how the love triangle could throw people off. As a not-veteran SF reader, I didn't predict much of the plot and the climax in particular was wonderful. Prose is tight, appropriate for this type of novel--no unnecessary description or flowery phrasing. There was perhaps a bit too much exposition, considering that this really is soft SF with "fuzzy" science/technology, not always gracefully meshed. Loras is annoyingly sacrificial, almost a throwaway plot character; the shinai bond disappointed me by taking the easy, cliche route of development. I also missed Keri, who essentially disappears for the latter half of the book, and too bad 245 didn't play a larger role after all the references to her intelligence. In regards to social commentary, a lot of admirable issues were tackled but not pursued to the fullest: slavery, alien-human racial conflict, sexual orientation, the dangers of monopoly.

Ultimately, Grimspace was a solid--not stunning--but nevertheless worthwhile read. I've talked a lot about its flaws, so I feel obligated to add that I did like the book. It's due to be published in a little over a week, but at least one person has already found it on bookstore shelves. Recommended to fans of Catherine Asaro and the SF-romance genre, who don't mind or haven't yet been overexposed to bordering-on-formulaic tropes.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
by Xiaolu Guo
283 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Literary/Romance

This novel was my version of an impulse buy; I was browsing the new releases shelf in the library and the word "Chinese" caught my eye. I've been trying not to overload with library books, since I have a backlog of borrowed and bought books to work through, but the title was tempting and the author was most definitely a PoC, so I decided to give it a go. And oh, I am so glad that I did.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is classified, at least by my library, as romance on the spine. But it breaks so many romance tropes, and touches on so much more than the usual of that genre, that I think it is foremost a "literary" novel. It is the story of Zhuang Xiao Qiao, nicknamed 'Z', who travels to England to study English for a year. She meets an older English man who couldn't be more different--living always in the present as opposed to the Chinese obsession with the future, flagrantly liberal (an ex-anarchist) where Z comes from a hardworking peasant family in a conservative society. Her lover--never directly named in the novel, instead being addressed as "you"--is also bisexual, and I loved the openness of the novel overall. At one point, some friends discuss transsexual surgery; there is also a scene where Z reads the instructions on a condom package that is simply hilarious.

The prose is unique, employing several conceits that take skill to pull off. I don't have an aversion to the diary style, though I do object to using it as a conceit for no apparent reason; but here it works extremely well. The words live at a meta level, evolving unnoticeably. The point-of-view is unmistakably first person, and yet Z addresses her lover as "you" so often that I think this novel could be used as an example of how to write second person effectively. The POV trick gives the reader a sense of intimacy that couldn't otherwise be achieved, and Z's voice is absolutely authentic. I love how all her verbs are gerunds at first, unconjugated like in Mandarin: "Chinese, we not having grammar. We saying things simple way. No verb-change usage, no tense differences, no gender changes. We bosses of our language. But, English language is boss of English user." [20] Actual Chinese characters are also used in a non-culturally-appropriating way (admittedly perhaps because Guo herself is from China and this is her first novel written directly in English). For instance, on page 142 is a paragraph of coherent, actual Mandarin because Z is so frustrated with English--with England, with life--that she switches to her native langauge. (The English translation, on the facing page in italics, is excellent. I had to get my mother to read the Chinese to me aloud because my character recognition is just that terrible. Interesting fact: they didn't translate the "curse" at the beginning of the Mandarin section. But I digress.) In the first half especially, there were lovely cultural snippets like cheng2 yu3 (e.g. ben4 niao3 xian1 fei1, "the stupid bird flies first"), four letter phrases like mini-poetry with several layers of meaning.

Finally, before I go briefly under spoiler cut: the ending is quiet, resonant, and realistic.

I did have one complaint, and that is about Z's lover. He's never named and we never see him except through Z's broken, emotional English. By the end of the novel, I cared much more about Z than I did about him. Just another way that A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is not a romance story; the focus here is clearly on Z, and the major themes of culture clash and freedom.

I would recommend this novel to many, many people; anyone interested in modern Chinese culture, anyone actively seeking literature written by POC ([personal profile] oyceter and others?), and anyone to whom it appeals from reading this review. (Not formula-romance readers, though.) Go forth and seek it out; I promise, whatever you may think ultimately of the book, it will be worth your time.

ETA: Spoiler cut added.
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Wolf Who Rules
by Wen Spencer
470 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

The sequel to Tinker. I've been in a brain-rut lately and looking desperately for quick, mindless, de-stressing reads, so when Wolf Who Rules unexpectedly came in at the library I decided to move it to the head of the queue. I had trouble being engaged in the beginning, like with Tinker, but once it got started I was happy to let myself be swept along in the romance. (Exhaustion==shallow taste, pour moi.) Windwolf's POV is less interesting than Tinker's, but it did give me a deeper look at elven culture. I like how Spencer developed it along different-than-usual lines, with the oni and tengu and non-white characters. Japanese mythology isn't really my thing in fiction, but it worked here. And urban scifantasy isn't exactly to my taste either, but this worked. Why, I have no idea, and I do apologize for this post being so rambling and opinionated. I'm not up to any sort of meaningful analysis; but, I do want to record my thoughts.

The prose here is still nothing special, but it does its job. I had a few moments of questioning the Tinker/Windwolf relationship because of comments that Windwolf made to himself--why did he fall in love with Tinker? And (SPOILER) I figured out the polygamy hints way before Tinker did, though she's supposed to be the genius. The secondary characters were also memorable, to the point where I perhaps love them more than the hero/heroine--Pony and Stormsong especially.

Recommended to SF-romance fans; if you liked Tinker, this sequel should be satisfying.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
The Ruby Dice
by Catherine Asaro
392 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/SF/Romance

I started reading this on the way back from the library. When I got home, I really really needed to study for midterms. Guess what I did instead? Finished reading The Ruby Dice, of course.

Asaro's Skolian Empire series is huge by now, but she always thoughtfully includes a glossary reference and in-text catchups for new readers. The catchups read as basically infodumps, but I remember how much they helped me the first time and they weren't too hard to skip over. This novel deals with Kelric and Jaibriol III after they become Imperator and Emperor of Eube respectively, nine years after an initial peace attempt--the Paris Accord--fell through. I love F/SF politics, and Asaro is one of the best at mixing complex SF politics with equally complex characters and families (the Valdoria/Skolia/Ruby Dynasty family tree is quite intimidating). Jai and Tarquine have a lovely, laugh-out-loud relationship; I wish Asaro would do another book on just Eube, and I absolutely can't wait for her next one to continue the overall plot arc. This book ends on essentially the climax, which is rare these days; but it leaves you trying to catch your breath, coming down from immersion high, and that feeling is totally worth the lost studying time.

The two trademarks of Asaro's stories are strong characters and excellent worldbuilding--here, she doesn't disappoint on either account. I enjoyed the examples of realistic, slowly growing love (Jai/Tarquine, Kelric/Jeejon) rather than romance's usual love-at-first-sight trope. Most of the characters weren't new to me, other than a gap of several months, but I connected with all of them (oh, Hidaka, I love you so). And I absolutely adore the dynamic and convoluted web of relations (familial, political, etc.). I think The Ruby Dice is Asaro's most dramatic work to date--the plot rushes along, smooth as a a river's torrents (i.e. not very but in a good way). At the very end especially, I almost couldn't handle the suspense. I knew what I logically could expect to happen, but I also knew that the author was daring enough to flip that expectation.

Now for the negatives: Asaro isn't going to win any awards for poetic prose. At times the style is downright pedestrian, though always useful and concise--much like ISC, the Skolian military. I'm not sure how much a new reader will get out of this, simply because I'm coming with knowledge of so much backstory--I've read all of her Skolia novels except one (The Radiant Seas, unavailable at the library and I've never gotten around to purchasing it). As I said before, though, her early exposition passages help greatly with comprehension. Also, don't be put off by the cover, which is ugly as hell--the huge hand looks like radioactive putty and the Quis dice like plastic toys. I guess the publisher is trying to appeal to the romance side of her audience, though the background is also very techy.

This is a wholehearted rec to all SF and romance fans; Asaro writes hard SF romances, and she mixes the genres with quite a lot of experience. The character arc continued by this novel begins with The Last Hawk, then Ascendant Sun and The Moon's Shadow (the last of which is about Jai's ascension to the Carnelian Throne and his marriage to Tarquine). My reviews of most of Asaro's novels are also accessible through tags; be warned that her fantasy romance series for the Luna line is very, very different.
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The Vampire Queen's Servant
by Joey W. Hill
373 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Romance/Fantasy

I've been hedging about this book for a while now. I had two reliable recs, but it went out-of-stock at my local Borders so I used that as an excuse to delay purchasing. It was in-stock at the King of Prussia Borders though, and I had a 30% coupon; so I finally bought it, and I'm so glad I did.

First, I will give the same warning I was given: this romance is intense and BDSM-heavy. Someone said that Lyssa and Jacob's relationship resembles the classic abuse cycle, and in several ways it does. The plot is essentially dom vs. dom conflict with vampires and submission thrown in. But explicitness aside, it really hit home with me. In a way, this is the fucked-up relationship that I've been trying to write, except through gender politics as a fantasy of manners instead of a BDSM romance. The romance is absolutely the main plot, but the world is also well-developed and the emotional aspect is never neglected. Lyssa is truly mecurial, simultaneously brutal and loving, and her interactions with Jacob are fascinating. Hill's vampires are uniquely twisted.

I'm not so fond of the cover, though it's representative. Just seems like the targeted demographic underscores the Hill's tremendous talent. Her prose could use a little more polish (overuse of the word "cognizant," for instance), but POV slides smoothly even mid-scene. And have I mentioned how much I adore her characters? This novel kept me riveted and neglecting everything else until I'd read the last page. The ending is perfect--open for the direct sequel (The Mark of the Vampire Queen, which I will be buying as soon as it comes out), but tying up enough plotlines that I was satisfied.

It's been a while since I found a new author who captured my attention so fully, and I'm ecstatic. If you've kept with Laurell K. Hamilton despite her numerous flaws, and you don't mind BDSM, this is the book for you.


keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)

January 2011



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