I’ve had a veritable avalanche of NG books for May and June, and still haven’t reviewed even half of them 😉 I’m getting there, though, and July and August seem much calmer (or I got wiser, and don’t request every shiny new book I think might be good ;)). The Witness for the Dead, however, had been sent to me by the publisher – so many thanks to Tor Books for this opportunity! The new Addison’s book hits the shelves today, so it’s only fitting that my review follows.
I’ve read The Goblin Emperorages ago and while I enjoyed it, I also had a few choice words to say about the things that I felt didn’t work so well. Ah, those were the days when my tongue was very sharp indeed and my tolerance much lower than it is today 😉
Having read Addison’s The Angel of the Crows more recently (and finding that book so bad that I only wrote a short GR review for it) I approached The Witness for the Dead with certain trepidation. I needn’t have worried, however. If jumping straight into the highly regulated and intricate world of elves’ and goblins’ steam-powered fin de siecle is what you were waiting for, The Witness for the Dead delivers it in spades.
I’ve known Marjorie Liu as the author of Monstress, a dark fantasy graphic novel series with the wonderful art by Sana Takeda. I liked Monstress well enough to request Liu’s short stories collection from NG the moment I saw it there – just look at this cover! In hindsight, I might’ve been better served by gathering more intel on Liu’s work of fiction first. That’s not to say that the collection is irredeemably bad; most stories are inherently readable and subtly creepy in Liu’s trademark Monstress way, and there are a couple that are actually all right. As for the rest, however, ah – best see for yourself, below.
As usual, I offer here a short summary of each story, each scored separately, with an overall rating at the end.
Sympathy for the Bones 7/10
A nicely creepy voodoo (here called hoodoo) story, with dolls and gris-gris and the possession of one’s soul. The sewing aspect was what’s really drawn me to the story, and the spin on the usual witch-and-her-victim trope was interesting. In Liu’s stories men have no agency – and while in this one it made perfect sense, the issue of male agency clearly delineated in the conclusion in a wonderfully perverse way, the whole idea quickly turned into a tired, overused schtick in other stories.
Title: Shadow & Claw (Omnibus edition containing The Shadow of the Torturer & The Claw of the Conciliator)
Series: The Book of the New Sun #1 – #2
I don’t think I’ll be offering any new insight in this review – Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun has already been analyzed to death since its original publication date. Hailed as a masterpiece and having won numerous awards, The Book of the New Sun remains one of the key SF works over 40 years after its conception. I’m very content that I had finally gotten the chance to acquaint myself with this series. Both The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator are indeed worth reading, and I hope to get my hands on the rest of the series sooner than later. Was it however such profoundly intellectually challenging experience I dared to hope? Alas, not entirely. And the responsibility for this turn of events lies as much in me as in the books themselves.
Confession time: as a kid, I was never into manga. Sure, I watched an the odd anime episode, from Tōshō Daimos to Captain Tsubasa (though the last was hard to endure, watching that football roll through the whole episode was sleep-inducing and I don’t think I ever watched a whole episode, really ;)), but I hadn’t taken to it at all. If all you had to judge Japanese art was Sailor Moon, well – I’m pretty sure you can understand my total lack of interest back then.
But fast forward to 2021, and voila! In April and May have devoured all 42 volumes of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z and was so happy with it that now I’m looking for a nice edition to buy myself a treat 😀 And because I reviewed all the DB volumes on GR, I decided to take inspiration from Lashaan and post them here on the blog as well. What’s so cool about DB, I hear you ask? Well, a whole lot of stuff, really: the whimsy, the humour, the fantastical imagination of the author, the absolute mastery of simplicity in art (which, man, I have read some other mangas since DB, and none of them come close to Toriyama’s art), and, of course, the main protagonist Goku. While the whole idea for DB and its little hero is rooted in the Chinese legends of Monkey King (and you can check out my review of Liu’s take on this mischievous trickster here), Toriyama took it in such fantastic, unexpected directions, deftly mixing Western and Eastern popculture with mythology and martial arts ethos. And that last element was what surprised me the most, I must say: Toriyama’s depiction of martial arts, and martial artists’ ethos, is amazingly deep, even if delivered in an offhand, funny way. I actually think it’s the best that I had read. Hats off!
It’s been some time since we did a TAG! And there is one that caught our attention earlier this month, when it appeared on Bookforager. Get to know the Fantasy Reader – sounds like a great post to finish the Wyrd & Wonder month with. So, here it is!
What is the first fantasy novel you read?
Ola: The Lord of the Rings. I was seven when I read the whole trilogy – it was a copy borrowed from my older brother’s friend. Right after I finished it I went to the bookstore and with my saved pocket money bought my own copy, which then I instantly proceeded to reread. And here we are! 😀
Piotrek: I want to say Hobbit, and it’s likely the truth. My first & favourite short story collection is Joan Aiken’s Room Full of Leaves and Other Stories, but Hobbit is the novel I received as a gift from a cousin some time early during my primary school years and it was my gateway into fantasy. What can I say? This is a wonderful book, accessible to the youngest readers, sucking them into the wonderful world of wyrd & wonder! It enchanted me and I never looked back 🙂
If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?
Piotrek: It’s not an easy question. Some of my favourite authors write stories where horrible, horrible things happen to the protagonists. Maybe Guy Gavriel Kay? He creates wonderful worlds and usually delivers a happy ending without too many casualties…
Ola: Hmmm. Pratchett, I think. Discworld is a fabulous place, and I’m sure I’d fit right in ;). As much as I love dark stories, I would not want to become a part of them, be it a hero or an onlooker or the hapless victim of friendly fire ;). Happily ever after trope is the one I insist on when my personal life is at stake 😀
What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that turned into a huge revelation?
Ola: Revelations, huh? I’d say I’m too old to get revelations from fantasy books 😉 but it wouldn’t be entirely true. My revelation, and one that will last much longer than just this year, is the discovery of Dragon Ball manga (I know, I’m stretching the definition a bit, but that’s my answer :P). Seriously, I never expected to love it at all, let alone as much as I do. Some of original DB volumes are among the best books I’ve read this year, and the whole series (well, maybe except the Cell arc) is an instant pick-me-up for me! 😀
Piotrek: I haven’t read that much fantasy this year, yet. But Gardens of the Moon, finally fully read, turned out to be better than I remembered from my first failed attempts. I’m a bit late to this party, but yay to Malazan Book of the Fallen!
What is your favourite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?
Piotrek: Favourite? That must be either High Fantasy, or Military Fantasy, judging by what occupies all my all time favourite lists. If I had to choose one, it would be high fantasy, the source of it all.
But what subgenre is the most neglected by me as a reader? Romantic Fantasy, most likely…
Ola: Genres and subgenres… Not a fan :P. If I had to choose, I’d opt for military fantasy (Cook, Tchaikovsky) or science fantasy a la Zelazny, with lots of mythology thrown in the mix. Romance in any form gets an instant NO from me, so if there’s something like Paranormal Romance/Romance Fantasy that would be the ultimate no-read subgenre for me. Also, YA. Please, no YA, fantasy or other…
Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?
Ola: I don’t have any auto-buy authors. I rarely buy books at all – only those I really really love and I’m certain I’m going to reread one day. I don’t think I have complete works of any one author, to be honest. I prefer to borrow books – then, if the book is less than stellar, I don’t have a problem of it taking shelf space. And if it’s good enough for me to want to have it – well, welcome aboard, there’s still space on the shelves! 😀 Besides, everyone writes a weaker book from time to time, even the best of the authors, and I wouldn’t want to own these anyway. But I do buy whole series that I love (especially when I know they’re finished) – Discworld, Shadows of the Apt, Black Company, Malazan Book of the Fallen, Fitz and Fool… 😀
Piotrek: Not really, no. Used to be Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he writes new stuff faster than I’m able to read it. He’s still one of my favourite contemporary writers though!
How do you typically find fantasy recommendations?
Piotrek: In my seventh year of blogging it really is mostly fellow bloggers, definitely. Thank you, guys!!
Ola: I second Piotrek’s answer! Thanks, all!!!
What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?
Ola: Well, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Abercrombie’s The Wisdom of Crowds (out in September) and Barker’s The Bone Ship’s Wake (September, too) – both the final installments in what’s shaping up to be very good trilogies. The review for Abercrombie’s The Trouble with Peace is here, and the reviews for the Barker’s earlier books are here, if you’re interested: The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships.
Piotrek: Hard to say. With my TBR as long as it is, I mostly read series already finished, and books published years ago. I don’t want to insert a GRRM joke here, as these stopped being funny years ago 😉
What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?
Piotrek: The one that fantasy is somehow not proper literature, that including fantastical elements somehow makes it less serious. This silly superstition still lingers among some close minded people, and I would like to see it vanished forever 🙂 There was a short post about it early in blog’s history…
Ola: Again, I second that. How come Shakespeare can be rightly considered a titan of world literature, but modern authors implementing the same fantastical elements can only be “fantasy authors”?
If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?
Piotrek: I’d ask some questions first. My answer would depend on person’s age, interests, favourite non-fantasy books… it might be Hobbit, Harry Potter or one of the Discworld books, or something dark and bloody, like the Black Company series.
Ola: Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for all! Well, mostly maybe for mythology/anthropology lovers ;). Tolkien’s Hobbit for those adventurous at heart. And for those young and delighting in creepy, maybe Meggitt-Phillips’s The Beast and the Bethany would be a good place to start, or Roald Dahl’s books, even before Harry Potter.
What’s the site that you like to visit for reviews, author interviews and all things fantasy?
Piotrek: Apart from blogs? Tor is the last one I regularly visit…
Ola: Blogs, and sometimes Tor. I do visit magazines websites, but I mostly read SF short stories, rarely fantasy.
Well, this was fun! We’re not tagging anyone but if you’d like to give it a go, be our guest! 😉