Review: Witch World by Andre Norton

Series: The Estcarp Cycle #1
Published by: Gollancz
ISBN: 0575039957
ISBN 13: 9780575039957
Published: 1968
Pages: 224
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

This starts as a master of intrigue. A marked man, Simon, who is or once was very capable, and once honest and a Corporal, is on the run. He expects death at every turn, and yet is still darkly witty when prompted. Having been tricked into falling on the wrong side of the law he has had to leave his old life behind him, and has so far managed to beat off those who come after him… but he finds himself following someone expensively dangerous who says he can be of some assistance – and that assistance has to do with Simon’s Cornish heritage.

This reminds me hugely of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon for various reasons (though Estcarp Cycle came first, of course) as well as the many many other ‘MC gets transported to a magical land by various means and has to struggle on’ books out there. The general interactions at the start of the book, the light worldbuilding, and leaving the reader to make their own inferring makes this a strong book as it keeps you paying attention. The fact women are those who have magic is always a favourite of mine – turning often weaker characters who just gather herbs or sit and worry a force to be reckoned with.

Overall though, the intrigue from the start kind of set me off to expect an entirely different book, and this was a mainly plot driven piece rather than by character or worldbuilding as is my preference. This is an interesting book to read for its time, and to enjoy the genre as it once was, but overall it wasn’t as for me as I’d previously hoped.

Review: Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon

Series: Deed of Paksenarrion #1
Published by: Orbit
ISBN 13: 9781405530422
Published: 1988
Pages: 512
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

This book was absolutely what I needed at the time. I’ve fallen behind in my reading challenge currently, and short stories weren’t working for me. This I couldn’t put down. We have the usual offspring doesn’t want to be a farmer so goes off to join the army trope, but in this the characters feel so utterly real you love every minute of it. The joining of the Duke’s troops is interesting in its attention to detail, and though they do a load of walking, it makes the landscape seem real, harsh, and every bit real. This book does what movies now do for us – provide us the rich landscape that words don’t often capture – this does, and doesn’t get bogged down in it.

Paks, the main character, is lucky (and possibly God blessed if we keep reading?) and through grit and determination she earns herself a good name through her training, loyalty, and what she inspires in others. This book isn’t gentle in what we see or who we lose through the pages, and though there is one triggering scene it made me see just how well a certain subject can be handled and now I’m all the more judgey of other books that don’t pull it off half as well.

At times Moon throws us into action. There’s one chapter end where the next our beloved Paks wakes in a cell worrying about what’s about to happen to her next, and you learn the previous night through back story – it makes you worry for her all the more as you piece it together, and learn with the reaction of others just how good her chances are.

The Duke in this is both remote and yet utterly human. He has his failings, and there’s many countless people separating a lowly new recruit and the Duke himself, but through damn good writing we get to know him here and there, and I look forward to seeing more of him.

Basically, I want to finish writing this review so I can go back to reading the next one.

Review: Outpost by F.T. McKinstry

Series: The Fylking #1
Published by: self-published
ISBN: 1516998626
ISBN 13: 9781516998623
Published: November 2015
Pages: 351
Format reviewed: ePub for SPFBB 2016
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

This was read for the final round of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016 hosted by Mark Lawrence, more of which can be read here.

Broken into three main POV characters, we start off with Arcamel, a warden, who can see invisible (to others) creatures. This makes the start interesting as we immediately learn that the creatures aren’t necessarily good or bad – they’re tricky, which is always a winner for me. We also have Othin, a ranger, and Melisandre, who at first seems like a herbalist and craftswoman (yay, knitting!) but its her journey of discovery and coming into power that drives much of the novel. Which is good, as I’m mighty tired of women being there just as healers.

Through action and hardship they all join each other – Arcamel having cast away his familiars, Othin having to turn away from his employer, and Melisandre cast from her village for her unfathomable powers. Along with some background characters we have a very enjoyable book if you like to read for character rather than plot – not that this lacks for plot at all, only that it’s history, world-building, magic-system, and character-heavy.

This is character driven and so I should love it. However parts drag here and there simply because some parts felt rushed and others dragged with slight info-dumping, nothing a determined line editor couldn’t vastly improve. A few parts meander slightly which made it a little too easy to put down in places, but we’re rewarded with a decent ending. A few parts were vastly American which threw me out of the story completely (nothing is more annoying than their penchant for ‘could care less’, which makes no sense…) which is a shame, as it reminds you you’re not actually in some other world at all.

The romance in this book is slight and well-handled, feeling like one of the more realistic elements of the book. They didn’t exaggerate or wax poetically about their misfortunes, and you’re left really hoping that things come out alright for them.

Overall this is a decent self-published book, but it needs work in places to be considered beyond that. There’s a triggering scene which I felt could have used some work (though I’m possibly a harsh critic on this topic at the moment. And I’m just reading The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon which is handling it the best I’ve ever seen, so…) and overall… this would have to be my second favourite book read for this challenge.

Review: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Published by: W. W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 0393609391
ISBN 13: 9780393609394
Published: May 2017
Pages: 144
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

This is everything it says on the tin. As a bit of background – I haven’t yet read any of Tyson’s other books. My science background is limited to high school science classes that weren’t even as advanced as physics/bio/chem, though we did have a few good sessions on forensics… I have a friend who is an astrophysicist and I read some science fiction books… and that’s it. So keeping all that in mind – I was able to not only understand this book, but enjoy it. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, from what we already know of his excellent shows and cameos on tv, has a way of spinning massive theories into something you can understand over a cup of tea and half your attention.

It is utterly amazing how the universe works – he explains something so utterly cosmic and then says ‘a trillionth of a second has passed since the beginning’, which is just mind blowing.

It’s a short book at 140 or so pages, and the chapters are short, which makes it a book you can pick up and put down when you have the mental space to breathe around it and absorb – for me, at least, with my previously mentioned lack of scientific background. Because it’s so short it’s a little hard to review – though that could also be because it’s hard to share the amazing things you learn in this book without basically copy-pasting entire sections.

I can say it’s fast-paced, well worded, easily accessible, and I highly recommend.

Review: Troubadour by Isolde Martyn

troubadourimPublished by: Harlequin MIRA
ISBN 13: 9781489220370
Published: March 2017
Pages: 448
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

Set in the time of the Crusades a young hairbraider to the Queen finds herself through crazy random happenstances that land her in Southern France and in the arms of a Lord who thought her beautiful in Court, but their differences in linage meant they could never be together. He then thinks her dead for refusing her King’s advances, and he moves on with life. Thanks to her likeness to a Lady travelling to marry him to strengthen armies and political alliances, who is slain before their party arrives in the Lord’s castle, Adela takes her place almost by accident and limited fluency with languages and though she means to tell him she’s Adela rather than Lady Alys it keeps getting delayed over and over.

At almost 450 pages we see almost unbelievable instances of events, but on paper it flows and holds you tight so you can’t put the book down at all. If you listed the plot down in dot points it would seem unbelievable, but thanks to excellent characters and sturdy language, Martyn leaves you only wanting more. We have romance, battles, and clever characters trying to stay alive and on top. The Lord Richart isn’t easily swayed one way or another, even when Adela is involved, and we see a believable lord in a time where he’s probably had to avoid many attempts on his life by the time he is 18 – his healthy paranoia was what really set him apart for me – he thought for himself, which was refreshing to see.

Adela was an excellent protagonist – she’s utterly human and compassionate for even those who wrong her, and she is believably intelligent for the time, and good at using it when necessary. I only now want another book to see how she copes with this new chapter in her life – even if it were just a novella – please, Martyn?

There is no better way to learn history than reading an excellent piece of historical fiction. I haven’t come across Martyn’s books until now, but now I’m certainly one the hunt for more.

For further information, the publisher website is excellent.