Monthly Archives: December 2017

Archer’s Goon

Title: Archer’s Goon

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Howard’s ordinary life is turned upside-down when he comes home from school one day to find the Goon sitting in his kitchen. The Goon claims he’s from Archer and wants Howard’s father to give him two thousand words. But the words are only the beginning. Howard’s town is ruled by seven siblings who want nothing more than to be released from their confinement here so they can take over the world . . .

This is probably my favorite Diana Wynne Jones book (tied with Dark Lord of Derkholm). I love the way she can take the ordinary bits of life and twist them around into a hysterical adventure. Howard’s home is under siege by marching bands. Road construction crews are sent to pester his family specifically. Buses are run by someone who lives 400 years ago and that’s why they’re frequently off-schedule.

And interwoven in all that, the sheer humanity. Howard’s father, Quentin, is passive until he gets his hackles up, and then nothing in heaven or earth can shake him (although many people try). Howard has a little sister Awful, who earned her nickname, yet somehow avoids being completely unlikable. And Howard himself is caught in the middle of all this drama and tries to uncover the truth—and discovers way more than he bargained for.

Basically, it’s nonstop fun. My favorite part is the chase near the end where the various siblings are being called upon to work against each other. Howard is trying desperately to figure things out, but he’s starting to see where this is going to lead, and it’s something he doesn’t want to be true, even if it were somehow possible.

Overall, this is a great introduction to Diana Wynne Jones if you’ve never read her before. It stands alone and isn’t very long, but it’s packed full of laughs. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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Winter of Ice and Iron

Title: Winter of Ice and Iron

Author: Rachel Neumeier

When the Mad King invades, Kehera finds herself a pawn in a struggle between nations and their Immanent Powers. Innisth is a minor lord determined to keep his land under his control, and is searching for the best way to deflect his king’s attention so he can be left to rule his lands as he sees fit. The two of them may be the only ones able to stop the world from plunging into chaos during the four days of winter when the Unfortunate Gods are strongest. . .

First, a content warning: although the acts happen offscreen, the book does contain numerous instances of rape (of both men and women), abuse, and Innisth has a homosexual relationship with one of his staff. If I had known this going in, I might have passed on the book, because I really don’t like reading stories with rape or abuse, no matter how obliquely they’re portrayed.

For me the magic system was the most interesting part of the book. Each country has become so largely because of the Immanent Powers that are tied to the land in that location. The strength of the Immanent determines if it’s subordinated to some other or ruling others, which is how the four main countries formed. But it’s not like the people know all that much about Immanent Powers and how they work—there’s a very strong prohibition against experimenting with them thanks to one major and a couple of minor disasters spawned from bad things the Immanents did when humans got creative. And of course, as much as humans may want more power, if their Immanent decides to ascend to godhood, even the best of them cause disasters and leave the land empty for a time.

On the flip side, it is puzzling that the Powers have no concept of equivalent relationships. It’s all about dominance and subordination.

The book did feel a bit long to me. There are a lot of longer descriptive passages, and I wasn’t always a fan of when the story would cut away from the main two to show some of what the more minor characters were doing. It felt like it took a long time for Kehera and Innisth to meet. Once they do, Kehera–who was able to go along with the idea of being married off to a maniac on the slim chance she could be rescued, and to keep her country from being destroyed–balks at the idea of a similar sort of alliance with Innisth. Even though she agrees with all of his reasons.

It’s not her protest I minded so much as what she did next. In a moment where she totally loses her head, she causes a disaster within Innisth’s household. That was one of two moments I really didn’t care for in the book. Innisth did need people to stand up to him and challenge him in a nice way (those not trying to take over his country), but that was a cruel–and more importantly, really stupid–way to do it. Now she’s really angered the guy that needs to help save her country.

Another thing I really disliked was Innisth telling his new wife, right after they get married, that he has no intention of giving up his homosexual lover. This fits his character. What bothers me is that his wife is totally fine with the fact he’s going to be sharing his attentions with someone else. She’s started to care for him, and regardless of whether she agrees with his decision or not, I can’t believe she wouldn’t feel at least a little slighted or rejected or jealous that he’s basically told her she won’t be allowed his full loyalty.

And I didn’t care for how the ending treated Innisth. Tirovay seems to be advocating for himself the exact thing he doesn’t want Innisth to do, but it’s okay because he’s not Innisth.

Anyway, overall it was not a story I would read again. I rate this book Neutral.

Waking (Clockwork Twist #1)

Title: Waking

Author: Emily Thompson

Series: Clockwork Twist #1

Twist is a clockmaker living in London, and perfectly happy with his life. When a woman hires him to fix a clockwork princess straight out of fairy tales, he’s reluctant to abandon his home, but determined to fix the girl. Because Twist has a Sight: he can see what’s wrong with anything he touches. So he’s sure he can do it. But pirates and other hazards threaten him . . .

I mostly loved this. Twist is so much fun. He’s grumpy about having left home, very vocal about being anti-people, and single-minded about helping the clockwork princess. I was particularly amused at how Arabel’s attempts to flirt die against his determination not to engage with her. And he’s got the crew pegged, when he rails at them about how they treat Jonas, because he’s not afraid to call out the ways they misinterpret or mistreat him.

The other really interesting thing about Twist is how his Sight has basically destroyed his life. He sees how things are broken when he touches them (or they touch him). This includes people. But whereas a machine has obvious ways to get fixed, people aren’t nearly so easy. That would be bad enough, but even machines can impart enough personality to basically take Twist over for a short while. It’s strong enough that he keeps a pocket watch with his own thoughts locked inside simply to remember what his own self is actually like.

Twist isn’t the only one with a Sight, either. The magic system isn’t explored a lot in this book, but Sights appear to be a rare but decently understood phenomenon. The Sights aren’t the only magical part of this steampunk world, either. Various creatures such as vampires, kitsune, and jinn also exist. (Props for having a male kitsune, too.)

The story never gets bogged down in one place. In some ways it barrels forward almost too fast, because I’d like to see a little more into some of the places, or get a better overview of the world and the magic in it, but on the other hand I appreciated that it never stopped anywhere long enough to get boring. (Also Twist’s bitter tirades on pirates, pirates everywhere, had me laughing hard. He has a definite grudge.)

The one thing I wasn’t so fond of was the obvious romantic overtones to the relationship between Twist and Jonas. Twist ends up falling in love with the clockwork girl, which made a second romance unnecessary. And it annoyed me because I thought Jonas and Twist would be great friends, but instead the story jumps straight to a more romantic angle, which makes some of their interactions a lot more awkward than they would be otherwise.

Overall, this was a fun little story, and I’m hoping the series drops the extra relationship as an unneeded distraction and goes with a more friendship angle (probably a futile hope, but whatever). I rate this book Recommended.

The Blue Sword (Damar #1)

Title: The Blue Sword

Author: Robin McKinley

Series: Damar #1

When Harry’s parents die, she’s sent to the frontiers of Homeland, to Damar, to live with a family who has agreed to take her in. But as grateful as Harry is for the home, it’s also a place where she’s expected to rein in the “excesses” her own parents permitted. Being ladylike doesn’t suit her at all. Then the Hill folk native to the area, a people bearing a strange power, carry her off, and suddenly everything changes . . .

I was always more fond of The Hero and the Crown, but plot-wise The Blue Sword does feel like the stronger story. I liked that the whole “abducted by handsome barbarians” trope is somewhat turned around by the fact that Harry can’t help noticing she’s more like a problem to these people (or at least some of them). They don’t know exactly why the magic wants her, and even when they figure it out, there’s still the matter of her not actually being one of the Hillfolk.

Because Corlath, the Hillfolk King, is more concerned about saving his country (and by extension the rest of the human lands) from the weird creatures of the North. Those inhuman assailants are pressing hard again against the border, and this time they’ve got a leader who can organize them enough to be a serious threat. He doesn’t want to deal with the Homelanders. Especially since they refuse to believe him about the nature of the threat.

All in all this is an interesting book, though not my favorite McKinley. I rate this book Recommended.