Adrian Tchaikovsky, Bear Head (2021)

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Bear Head

Format: E-book

Pages: 400

Series: Dogs of War #2

Tchaikovsky became one of my favourite authors of fantasy after I read his amazing, and still not well-known enough (read it if you haven’t yet!) Shadows of the Apt. His Children of Time proved that he can easily deliver interesting, thought-provoking, emotional SF as well, and I’ve read enough of his short stories to know he can be a pro at writing these, too. In short, he’s a very well-rounded, very talented author, with unwavering focus on emotional development and a firm if understated ethical foundation. He has a knack for tackling difficult, often traumatic topics with tact and sensitivity, never going for cheap thrills or gratuitous exploitation. All in all, he’s one of the very few authors I keep constantly on my radar. Granted, there were a few a bit concerning reviews of his couple of books along the way that I haven’t gotten around to read, and I’m not certain I will – the sequel of Children of Time, Children of Ruin, springs to mind. But generally, with Tchaikovsky, I knew what to expect. Now, after reading Bear Head, I’m not so sure anymore. If anything, I’d venture an opinion that he had become the victim of his own success: writing too many books in too short a time, and none of the projects getting enough attention and polish and love to become a truly outstanding work, on par with Shadows of the Apt.

Because Bear Head is the worst of Tchaikovsky’s books I’ve read so far. It’s by no means bad; it’s still very engaging, well-written, fast-paced page-turner tackling ambitious problems in an interesting, thought-provoking way. Yet it also feels underdeveloped, rushed, and – surprisingly for Tchaikovsky – not entirely thought through. It has a more “paint-by-the-numbers” feel than the usual impression of a thoughtful creative work. It’s also, maybe most importantly, more of a political statement than a SF novel. Ah, all SF novels are political statements of one kind or another, I think we’d all agree on this. It’s just that in this case Bear Head veils itself in a very thin layer of science, indeed – and whatever there is, serves as a focus for the very concrete, very clearly defined “now,” in contrast to the previous concerns with more abstract ideas like “human nature” or “future,” which used to be the crux of his Children of Time, for example.

Lots of big words here, I know, and lots of harsh accusations. Let’s get down to the tangibles, then.

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The Worst of 2020

Oh, 2020. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… And here we’ll focus on the worst 😉 Or, to be more fair, just on the most disappointing for us personally, for as you will see, most of the works mentioned below enjoyed quite a lot of acclaim and following.

To be true to our title, we should probably start and stop this post at COVID-19, the wellspring of our woes (though there are a few hopeful signs along the way, from the evidence of effective and efficient trust-based cooperation above the national level to the human-caused limitation of greenhouse gases emissions). But as this is predominantly a book blog, with a small but significant addition of comics, TV series and movies, we feel we need to elaborate a bit and avoid easy finger-pointing.

As in the previous summary post, we wanted to divide our choices into a few categories: Fiction, Non-fiction, Comics, TV Series; but as Non-fiction this year proved to be a major hit without any misses (YAY!), we’ll omit this category.

Ola’s Worst of 2020 in Fiction

Here the choices are easy, at least for me – though for many might seem quite controversial, as some of these books seem to have become fan favorites ;). But what can I say? By now you really shouldn’t be surprised by any of this 😛 So without further ado, here it is:

R. F. Kuang, The Poppy War (2018)

That’s the only book on this list that I wrote a review of; I felt this instant favorite of the bookish community deserved a critique, and whether I achieved the goal of making it measured and not just scathing, it’s for you to judge. So let me just quote the crux of my review here:

Nanking Massacre was a truly horrible event, an atrocity for which there can be no excuse. The world should learn more about it, so that it stops being a footnote in history books. But using it in a fantasy book as a plot device designed to further the main character’s evolution into a vessel for a demonic/demigod entity and as a rationale for her own acts of genocide seems beyond bad taste.

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Re-Enchanted 2020

Piotrek: Wow! We made it through another year! The blog, that is, but the world as well, even if not in a great shape. Re-Enchantment did splendidly though, thanks mostly to Ola’s efforts, as I’ve been an infrequent contributor, certainly in the second half. And yet 2020 was quite good for me as far as reading goes, and not for the same reasons many people read more. Quite a bit of my reading used to be done in during commute, so working from home I had to change my habits just to keep up. And keep up I did, with a 102 GoodReads titles, as of December 14, and 32,281 pages – versus 81 titles and 30,233 in 2019.

Piotrek: How will we do in 2021? I’m not into divination, but I plan get better in time-management and create more posts. Still not as many as Ola, probably 😉 Apart from that, I’m not even making too many plans about my reading next year, we’ll see how it goes. One thing that seems probable – I might finally get a Kindle, and admit I cannot have all the books on my shelves.

Ola: I’ve absolutely no idea what 2021 will bring – but, as humans tend to (and that’s the main reason they largely cling to life as a species) I hope it will be better than 2020. What a year that was! A Chinese proverb – or rather a curse – come to life, and survived. So many aspects of our lives changed (hopefully temporarily) for worse, but we know all about them and there’s no need to bring these up again. I’d prefer to focus on positives instead :). 2020 was a great reading and blogging year for us here at Re-Enchantment, with many records broken and equally many firsts achieved. I signed up for NetGalley (and while this was a rather mixed bag for me reading-wise, as my reviews can attest) it was at the same time a very interesting learning experience and one I’ll be happy to continue. I also signed up for Goodreads, and I’m glad to say it’s going pretty well. Maintaining old bookish friendships and making new acquaintances is always a big positive for me, so in that respect GR serves as a valuable extension of our blog. And while I kept my stats anyway, in a customised Excel spreadsheet, it is indeed nice to have all the books read in a year presented in a pleasing infographic ;).

I got over 120 titles under my belt this year, mixing up a healthy amount of non-fiction (10%) and fiction (11%) into my usual genre and comic book reading. And I’m hoping to add a book or two to the list on my upcoming vacation :). As we did last year, this year we’ll have a separate post covering our best and worst reads of the year (and maybe some TV series too, though sadly not many movies ;)) too. In this one, we’ll focus a bit more on our blog stats.

In 2020, Re-Enchanted nearly doubled the last year’s stats when it comes to the number of visits (a whooping 15k), the number of comments (over 2.5k) and the number of likes (over 2.3k). We also had 10 more posts, 57 to date, than last year. As we drifted slowly toward longer posts, mainly reviews and a few fun tags, judging by the number of comments we seem to have found our sweet spot. The blogging friendships we made all over the world continue, and this year we cherish even more of them with new bloggers finding our blog and us finding theirs. Our number of followers almost doubled – thanks everyone! 🙂 But the 2020 wouldn’t be itself if it weren’t turbulent in every aspect of life, and so even our exceedingly bookish blog couldn’t stay apolitical as Polish politics barged uninvited into our lives.

Our most popular post in terms of views was Ola’s glowing review of Neal Asher’s The Line of Polity, garnering well above 300 views. It’s this year’s post, which is worth noting as the next two are comparative oldies: Ola’s scathing review of Ernest Cline’s Armada and the last year’s Re-E blockbuster, Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master, which were both written back in 2016. The most popular posts are garnering more and more views through search engines, which is very encouraging as we keep building our repository of quirky, detailed, lengthy reviews ;).

We’ve also beat the 50 likes boundary this year. Our most popular posts in terms of likes were Piotrek’s Vacation Post, closely followed by Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas, Marie Brennan’s Driftwood, our lonely tag in this review-dominated field, Favorite books in five words, and Daniel Polansky’s The Seventh Perfection. As for the comments section, our most commented post was the review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic (again), a highly enjoyable tribute to the Gothick tradition with a delightful fungal twist ;). With 76 comments it maintained its one-digit lead over Madeline Miller’s Circe and Brian McClellan’s Blood of Empire.

We have taken part in one concerted bookish effort this year, Wyrd and Wonder. It was a great adventure, and an unparalleled output for us with 7 posts in a month, but with so many things going on around us we weren’t able to celebrate any more similar events. Maybe next year 😉

Piotrek: I quess it was a year when people would get excited by even a mention of vacations 😉 I’m so happy I managed to squeeze that in between all the lockdowns… I have to admit I did not suffer too much in this troubled year.

It’s been a very good year for the blog, no doubt. Apart from the editor monstrosity WordPress forced on its users – we all still hate that with a passion, it goes without saying. But here we’re allowing ourselves a well-deserved celebration, so we’re not going to spoil the mood :). And next week we intend to go deeper into our best of/worst of lists for 2020 🙂

Elizabeth Schaefer (ed.), From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back (2020)

Author: Elizabeth Schaefer (ed.), multiple authors

Title: From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back

Format: E-book

Pages: 544

Series: Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View #2

From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back is a collection of 40 short stories commissioned for the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back memorable debut in an era long gone. It’s a second such venture, after a collection of stories centered around New Hope met with fans’ enthusiasm and quite solid approval – and we all know what a rowdy and unruly and spoiled bunch SW fans usually are 😉.

I haven’t read the first collection, but buoyed by the fond recollections of the Anderson’s anthology Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina and seeing as The Empire Strikes Back remains my favorite SW movie of all times (not that it had any real competition recently), I decided to give this one a chance. There is a solid representation from well-known authors, such as Martha Wells and Django Wexler to Seth Dickinson, Catherynne M. Valente and S.A. Chakraborty, as well as a whole slew of authors completely new to me. This collection, apart from the strong nostalgia factor and a big dose of curiosity topped by healthy mistrust of anything SW-Disney 😉, represented a chance for me to check out some new names and their writing chops.

However, as simple listing of the authors and their stories’ titles has taken me nearly 300 words, I decided to review them in a slightly different than usual mode: as with short stories collections, I will give each story a rating – but this time, I will endeavor to describe every story in 5 words or more (well, usually more, as you’ll see). So, without further ado, here we go:

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Olivier Barde-Cabuçon, The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths (2020)

Author: Olivier Barde-Cabuçon

Title: The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths

Format: E-book

Pages: 384

Series: The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths #1

The Inspector of Strange and Unexplained Deaths, from now on TISUD for the sake of me finishing this review this year and you ever reading it in full, is the first instalment in a 7-book series, a recipient of a Prix Sang d’encre for 2012, and the only Barde-Cabuçon book currently translated to English. Published by Pushkin Vertigo imprint in their series of non-English mysteries and crime novels, it had earlier existed on the market under a probably less sellable but more faithful to the original title, Casanova and a Faceless Woman. So, if you’ve read Casanova, TISUD is not a sequel, but the same exact book, just republished 😉. Ooof. Since this book is about mysterious, mistaken and hidden identities, the whole affair with the English title is simply delightfully ironic.

TISUD is a historical crime novel, and a very peculiar one at that. It takes place in 1759 in decadent Paris, somewhere between the shiny halls of Versailles ruled by debauched Louis XV and his cohorts, and the dirty, dangerous hovels of Parisian suburbs inhabited by the desperate poor. The social climate is the most compelling character in this novel, as the general population of Paris is seething with resentment, misery and anger, and seems on a brink of revolution, while the decadent elites seem oblivious to both the inequity and the inherent risks (and since it’s historical fiction, TISUD gets this part to a t).

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