The Pearl Thief

Monday, May 22, 2017


The Pearl Thief
Elizabeth Wein, 2017

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Prequel to Code Name: Verity. Julie is going home for the last summer on her grandparents' land; her grandfather has passed away and the estate is being sold. From the minute she arrives, however, she'll run across danger, adventure, and a deadly mystery.

This was not nearly such an emotional wringer as Code Name: Verity. In context, that's probably for the best.

What this is: a delightful historical mystery about an old Scottish family that is lush with historical detail, social commentary, and somewhat idealized adolescent yearning. I really enjoyed it.

If I didn't find Julie's narration utterly believable and enchanting, I might cast a side-eye at how well the protagonist navigates issues of discrimination, but I think it works. It helps that her attitudes are presented as a mixture of how she was raised and her personal stubbornness and morality, not as something that makes her necessarily special.

She's navigating not only mysterious goings-on around the estate but also the heart of a teenager. Her crush on a visiting scholar is an important part of her personal story, but not as affecting as her blended friendship/flirtation with Ellen, part of a family of travellers who risk being scapegoated for many of the summer's mysteries. [FYI: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottish_Gypsy_and_Traveller_groups]

Elizabeth Wein might still be the best writer of female friendship/love/undefined adoration working today.

Overall, a lovely story with characters you want more of.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

The Broken Kingdoms (Inheritance, Book Two)

Monday, May 15, 2017


The Broken Kingdoms (Inheritance, Book Two)
N. K. Jemisin, 2010

Premise: Ten years after The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Oree Shoth lives in the city of Sky, now called Shadow. The world is full of power, and a blind woman who can see magic would be useful to those who would harm godlings.

While I can't say that this was as perfect and intriguing a book as its predecessor, it is a worthy sequel. With a mostly new cast of characters, Oree's story provides a different perspective (both literal and figurative) on the world than Yeine did. Oree's people's history with the ruling Arameri and the gods means that her alliances are different.

This book has a smaller scope, in some ways; it focuses on Oree's conflict with a reactionary cult that sprang up in the wake of the events of the first book. I would have been happy were the stakes only her life and freedom, but of course, more weighty matters are drawn in by the end.

Oree's ability to see magic means that she is drawn to godlings (the immortal children of the three gods) and others who glow of power. This extends to having an extended liaison with one and sheltering another in her home when he seems to have no friends or purpose.

I loved the cosmic-scale characters in the first book, but I really enjoyed that in this one we got better acquainted with lots of minor godlings and got a better idea of how their magic and lives work.

The narration isn't as fraught with double-meaning as the first, and the "reveal" at the end is meant to be less of a surprise. But something only slightly less amazing than an unbelievably outstanding book is still great.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Barrayar (Vorkosigan Saga)

Monday, May 8, 2017


Barrayar (Vorkosigan Saga)
Lois McMaster Bujold, 1991

Hugo Winner - 1992

Premise: Cordelia came to Barrayar to marry and settle down, but the stress of politics and culture shock is only the beginning.

I think this is the first time I've read this book without also reading its companion, Shards of Honor. The plots are closely tied, despite being released five years apart. More than three books (and multiple short stories) which take place after Barrayar were released in those intervening years.

Starting with Barrayar, I admire the skill with which the characters and the plot are introduced without feeling redundant, even after many re-readings.

Of course I adore this book. Shards of Honor is fun but unpolished in sections. This one is the fullest expression of Cordelia's Betan egalitarianism against Barrayar's provincial, painfully-slowly-evolving patriarchy. It expands on Bothari and gives Droushnakovi and Koudelka (minor characters elsewhere) a spotlight. We meet Emperor Gregor as a child and his mother Kareen. It's packed full of quotable and memorable scenes.

In the afterword to the combined volume, Bujold states outright that this little duology is about parenting. Barrayar, more explicitly than Shards of Honor, deals with pregnancy, both traditional and science-fiction-driven, birth, and the relationships between children and parents. Characters fight against or play out cultural scripts about parenting; the value of specific children in a society still driven by lines of class and heredity is questioned and tested.

It's also a complex and compelling story full of action and humor. If you were reading this series when it came out, you already would know the basic plot beats, because this jumps backward in the internal chronology. Yet I've read it a dozen times and I still enjoy the ride.

That skill, if nothing else, is deserving of a Hugo.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

List of Hugo Award Winners