Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell

cover art for Traitor's Blade, featuring a dagger stabbed into a blue-toned map that comprises the entire cover. Blood wells up from the place where the blade enters the map. Five gold coins sit in a loose pile in the upper right hand corner.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

TRAITOR'S BLADE has garnered heaps of positive reviews over the last few months; so many that I came to regret declining a review copy from its UK publisher. A swashbuckling fantasy with shades of Alexandre Dumas and K.J. Parker? It sounded like my ├╝ber-book.

I promptly requested it from the library, but before it could so much as wend its way through processing, let alone make it into my greedy hands, the author put me in contact with his Canadian publisher via Twitter. They generously mailed me a copy that very day.

Authors and publishers can be pretty awesome.

I read TRAITOR'S BLADE almost immediately, then sat on it for a while because I didn't know quite what to think. I enjoyed it, but I had several large problems with it and I wasn't sure I wanted to hash them out on here. There's a lot to be said for critical reviews, but I no longer want to dwell on the books that didn't quite work for me1. It's far more fun to highlight books I can rave about.

And let's be honest--it's always more difficult to write a not-entirely-positive review when the book came to you at the author's request.

That considerable reservation aside, I've decided I do want to discuss my issues with TRAITOR'S BLADE, partially because they've stuck with me in the months since I finished it and partially because I haven't seen them mentioned in any of the other reviews I've come across.

So, here we go.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Recipe: Coconut Macaroon Ice Cream

several scoops of white ice cream studded with both pale and dark brown bits. The white part is ice cream; the bits are chopped coconut macaroons. The ice cream sits in a fluted purple serving glass

My friend Kristina is a big ice cream eater. She's forever telling me about some great new flavour she tried, either from the grocery store or at a mall kiosk, and her descriptions never fail to make me salivate.

Unfortunately, Kristina is an American, so she's dining off of an entirely different ice cream spectrum than the one I have access to. My Canadian grocery store has tons of great stuff, yeah--shout out to President's Choice for their tasty and affordable Ice Cream Shoppe range--but it's not the same great stuff.

Thank goodness my ice cream maker frees me from the need to eat solely what I can find in the freezer aisle.

Last summer, Kristina told me about a delectable coconut macaroon ice cream. My grocery store failed to yield anything similar, but within a week I'd developed a recipe and made a batch my own self.

And y'all, it was delicious. You have to try it.

A word of warning: homemade ice cream gets quite a bit harder than the store bought variety as a general rule, and this particular ice cream freezes like nobody's business. (Coconut milk gets solid when you stick it in the freezer. Who knew?) It needs quite a bit of time on the counter before it's ready to scoop.

On the plus side, its solidity makes it the perfect choice for an ice cream cake or other moulded dessert. I'm gonna try that next time I produce a batch.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Music: Seven Songs For Sailors

Friends, I count it a personal victory that I reviewed three books about sailors without devolving into a 3000-word gush-fest centered on my love of ships.

The sea is my very favourite, an obsession we can probably blame on C.S. Lewis. I've read THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER upwards of twenty times, most of those before the age of ten. I welcome any and all fiction in which ships play a prominent role1. I leaped at the chance to learn sailing at a local nature preserve when I was a kid2. I can't pass a harbor without checking to see if there's a tall ship in residence. And you'd better believe I love any museum that pays particular attention to the history of sailing3.

The weird thing is, I'm batshit terrified of deep water4 and have no idea how I'd react if I were ever out of sight of land. While part of me longs to take to the high seas in search of adventure5, it's probably best if I stick to drooling over ships from the safety of dry land.

I also love music that reminds me of the ocean, whether or not it's actually intended to pay homage to that most storied expanse. Here are a few of my favourite songs for sailors.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb

cover art for Ship of Destiny. A dark-haired woman of ambiguous ethnicity stands before a female figurehead in tones of blue. The woman wears a low-cut white dress edged in gold. The figurehead points and stares directly at the viewer.
SHIP OF DESTINY is the third book in the Liveship Traders trilogy. You do not want to read it unless you've already read SHIP OF MAGIC and MAD SHIP. Okay?

If you're looking for further proof that you really should pick this trilogy up, though, let me attempt to provide it for you now.

SHIP OF DESTINY brings the series to a close in a satisfying manner indeed, with kidnappings, dragons, and epic sea battles galore. Hobb continually moves the story forward, upping her game with each scene as she slides everything into alignment with almost effortless grace. The first time I read it, I considered it the sort of conclusion that seems as though it couldn't have happened any other way, even though you know the author is pulling the strings in the background. I didn't find it quite so smooth this time through, but it's still an excellent ending that resolves many things whilst giving the characters more to strive for as their lives extend beyond the story.

Each of the characters earns their ending. Not everyone gets a happily-ever-after, or even something with shades of same--Hobb is far too good to make it that easy--but each character's resolution is the direct result of their choices, their emotional journey, and the growth they've accomplished (or failed to achieve) over the last couple thousand pages. They're in different places now than they were when they began. Everything they've experienced has left its mark and helped shape them into people who fit with the new world they seek to forge.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: Mad Ship by Robin Hobb

cover art for Mad Ship, featuring a pale-skinned, dark-haired young woman looking wistfully to one side. She's wearing a full-sleeved white shirt and a leather vest. Behind her, a bare-chested male figurehead with brown skin and long, dark hair hovers against a green backdrop with a ship's rigging dimly visible.
As I've told you before, I often enjoy Hobb's middle books even more than her series openers. This one is no exception.

It's also most definitely a middle book. The action picks up soon after SHIP OF MAGIC leaves off, and there's little in the way of recap. Don't read it unless you've already read the first book, okay? Don't do that to yourself.

Hobb continues to explore the themes she introduced in the first volume, most notably the horrors of slavery and the need for people to stand against it. The Tattooed folk of Bingtown have a larger voice in this installment, and many of the other characters are forced to confront the role they've played in human subjugation. There's a substantial difference between disapproving of slavery and actually doing something to end it; likewise, with acknowledging the Tattooed are people and actually treating them as such. The characters with privilege have a lot of unpacking to do.

The additional focus on slavery also brings the liveships' situation into clearer focus. As the book rolls along, it's clear that the "oh, liveships are a member of the family and happy to serve" excuse doesn't entirely fly, especially once the secret of their genesis comes to light.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

cover art for Ship of Magic, featuring a pale skinned man wearing a kerchief and carrying a sword arrayed against a background of ships' sails
You know that thing where you really, really love something, so you really, really want to talk about it, but your mind veers off in twenty-nine directions at one and you never end up squeezing the words out?

Yeah. That's pretty well the case here.

I'll never write it if I try to impose more than a modicum of organization on my thoughts, so this post is simply me reacting to something I love. I can promise you plenty of enthusiasm and a lack of spoilers, but I can't guarantee anything resembling a standard review or a definitive conclusion beyond, "I love this."

Okay? Okay.

Let's begin with a summary-type thing, though, so you've at least got a grounding before we head into Memory-gushes-for-thirteen-hundred-words. SHIP OF MAGIC is the first book in the Liveship Traders trilogy, which takes place in the same world as the Farseer trilogy but some distance to the south and several years later. There's one overlapping character and the occasional reference to what happened at the end of ASSASSIN'S QUEST, but you don't strictly need to read the other series first. This one stands alone.

(Except the overlapping character is way more exciting if you've already met them so you can be like, "Is that...? I think that's...! It is! It is!" Which is always fun. Also, not something I'll really delve into here because I'd like you to experience it for yourself.)

These books flow more in the standard epic fantasy vein than the Farseer books did. Hobb presents the reader with a large cast of characters, each of whom has their own substantial stake in the game. Almost everyone gets a shot as a POV character (in third person, as opposed to Fitz's first), and their personal struggles feed into the larger concerns their societies face.

Althea Vestrit serves as our window into the story. She's always expected to inherit Vivacia, her family's liveship--a sentient vessel imbued with ancestral memories as well as a unique personality--and is shocked when her father instead leaves the ship to Althea's elder sister and her husband in a bid to keep the family's flagging fortune together. Her quest to prove her worth as a sailor and regain Vivacia impacts each of the other characters in turn.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Fiction: "Princess No More" in Daily Science Fiction

I have a new fairy tale up at DAILY SCIENCE FICTION.

"Princess No More" is the speediest thing I've ever written. I was lounging around one afternoon, thinking about the prevalence of evil queens in the fairy tale tradition, when I had an Idea. I drafted the story that evening, revised it the next morning, and sent it off to DSF less than twenty-four hours after it popped into my head.

They bought it, and it's now available for your reading pleasure.

Or displeasure. As is usually the case with my stories, it's not entirely nice.

And since it's flash (ie, fiction of under 1000 words), I shall say no more than that.