About andreart2013

After thirty plus years of military service, I now reside in rural Hanover County, VA. I write historical and speculative fiction and paint and teach watercolor painting.

Book Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

(Four Stars)

“We were shackled and splintered and separated; the Many Mothers could not teach their daughter the Stories. Without stories there is no past, no future, no We. There is death. There is Nothing, a night without moon or stars.”

An extraordinarily original, well-told story. Bolander took two unrelated historical events and related them. It’s that simple. The voices of Topsy and Regan are especially good.

“It’s amazing I can breathe with my foot lodged in my windpipe the way it is.”

Sadly, the real Topsy was murdered in a publicity stunt by Thomas Edison to demonstrate Continue reading

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Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novil (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novil

(Four Stars)

“For a moment I felt her a sister, our lives in the hands of others. She wasn’t likely to have any more choices in the matter than I did.”

Well-constructed fairy tale. Three female protagonists, two of whom had such similar voices that the reader occasionally must seek clues elsewhere. Interesting supporting cast, with enough humanity and inhumanity to compel and thrill.

“I had not known I was strong enough to do any of these things until they were over and I had done them.”

Draws deeply on Russian and Jewish cultures, but tells her own tale. Intricate plot, occasionally overlapping and backtracking to the point that the reader must puzzle out whose view point the story, always first person, is being told from.

“But it was all the same choice, every time. The choice between the one death and all the little ones.”

2019 Best Novel Hugo Award finalist

Book Review: Age of Legend by Michael J. Sullivan (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Age of Legend (Legends of the First Empire #4) by Michael J. Sullivan

(Four Stars)

“Suri sat alone with a sword across her lap, staring at what most would call a dragon, but which the onetime mystic of Dahl Rhen saw as a fragment of her broken heart.”

The opening of a monumental work of epic fantasy. As Sullivan explains in his Author’s Note, this book opens a trilogy similar to the three volumes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The comparison is both apt and misleading. Apt because the struggle described is both intimate and cosmic, and misleading because his is a very different world than Middle Earth, reflecting the difference between Tolkien’s nineteenth century worldview and Sullivan’s twenty-first century. Legend lacks the cosmic clash of good versus evil but has more depth of many characters.

“Crazy was only crazy … until it happened.”

To draw the reader deep into the inner conflicts and manifest the misunderstandings, Sullivan tells the story from inside the consciousness of a dozen different characters. It’s confusing, but worth the effort. He manages to give different voices–certainly inner dialogue–to many of them. Still, the reader must work to stay engaged and clear on whose head is the current viewpoint.

“Things that were obvious in the confines of the heart often failed to translate well when expressed through the inadequate filter of language.”

Read and heed the Author’s Note. Potential readers should not start this volume without having previously read Sullivan’s Age of Myth, Age of Swords, and Age of War. He also explains why this book ends so abruptly and promises the subsequent volumes will become available soon. Hope so.

“Sometimes our need to believe blinds us to reality, and sometimes seeing reality blinds us to what we need to believe.”

(Appreciate the link to the high-resolution online map. Maps, especially in ereader versions, are often unreadable.)

“Now that I knew where the legend came from and the truth behind the tales, I can see why we were taught what we were. But we had it wrong. So very wrong. Truth, I learned, is so much more terrifying than myth.”

Book Review: “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinkser (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinkser

(Four Stars)

“Would you like to learn real magic?” The boy snorts. “There’s no such thing.”

Excellent short story. As with the best of any genre, it is compact and forceful. Little fluff; lots of misdirection.

“The Guild is for magicians who feel the need to compete with each other. The Palace trains magicians who feel compelled to compete against themselves.” It’s perhaps the truest thing I’ll ever tell him.

Read it at one sitting; it’s short enough. Let yourself go to the power and flow of the narrator. It increases the final impact.

“Is magic only a trick I haven’t figured out yet?”

(2019 Hugo Short Story Award finalist. Published in Lightspeed magazine. January 2018)

Book Review: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

(Four Stars)

“Why ought I care about this time, these humans in particular? When I know all are doomed to end no matter what, and shortly, from my point of view.”

Excellent story despite being told in second person. That awkward point of view masked the identity of addressed character, even though hints started on the first page. Second person introduces many difficult phrases, as the narrator tells the addressed their thoughts and motives.

“But any god might be made more powerful with the right offering. And one of the best offerings–as any Iradani knows–is a human sacrifice. Even better if that sacrifice is voluntary and self-committed, just as the Raven’s Lease is.”

Two overlapping stories, starting at different times, build toward a climax when the story lines converge. Good world and character building with few anachronisms. I especially liked the development of Eolo, who is neither a weapon expert nor a genius but possesses more common sense than anyone else. Excellent pacing.

“Yes, they trained me as though I were a dog, with attention and treats and constant praise. But I trained them as well.”

Leckie managed a new take on the SF/F cliché: “I don’t know if you realized you were holding your breath.” (That sentence also hints at the verbal gymnastic second-person narrative forces.) Also a few old saws like, “Gods are, as a rule, more easily able to help those who have already made their own efforts.” (Ben Franklin said it better.)

“The ancient gods are, I have been told, difficult to kill.”

Book Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya) by Aliette de Bodard

(Four Stars)

“I’m a consulting detective.”

Well, we know who the detective is, despite the camouflage, but who–or what–is the tea master? You know, but you don’t know. Discovery is half the fun.

“You haven’t told me what you need to find in deep spaces.” “A corpse.”

Excellent story, if not tight enough. Used “Watson” as the point of view narrator, of course. Good character development, though we fell we known them already.

“You’re completely traumatised, but showing no other sign of damage.” “I. Am. Not. Traumatised.”

(2019 Hugo Award Novella finalist. Published March 31st 2018 by Subterranean Press)

“I don’t understand why you bother,” The Shadow’s Child said. “No one is going to pay you anything for this.” This time Long Chau did smile, and it seemed to illuminate her entire face. “Why? Because I can.”

Book Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

(Three Stars)

“In Space Everyone Can Hear You Sing.”

Great–almost obvious in hindsight–concept, from the title pun, to the obvious rip-off of Hitchhiker’s Guide, through the also inevitable, but brilliant dénouement (even though Valente telegraphs her punchline). Excellent cultural references to give the story and characters immediacy.

“This was a joke, a very unfunny joke, and whether he was the setup or the punchline, he’d no idea. Humanity was doomed.”

Theoretically better than Hitchhiker’s Guide, but Valente gets lost along the way–and takes the reader with her. Totally silly, as expected, but Continue reading

Movie Review: Tolkien, directed by Dome Karukoski (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: Tolkien, directed by Dome Karukoski

(Four Stars)

“Where you follow the rhythms of language, I have to tell you, Mr. Tolkien, I’ve never come across anything like it.”

This movie will bomb. Too intellectual and idea driven, like Tolkien’s stories. Little to no action. Solid performances by a cast of unknowns.

“No … you deserve magic.”

Having read much by and about Tolkien, I can attest that this accurately represents the formative years of the greatest story teller of the twentieth century, despite the Tolkien Estate disavowing the film. In fact, reviewing Tolkien’s biography reveals Karukoski et al. took many liberties with fact, hence my labeling this as historical fiction

“There are cakes.”

Like Disney’s treatment of Madeleine L’Engle’s  A Wrinkle in Time, all reference to Tolkien’s faith was excised. Tolkien wrote, “We have come from God and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed, only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man ascribe to the state of perfection that he knew before the fall.”

“In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit.”

Book Review: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien

(Five Stars)

Obviously written more as a children’s tale, it introduces–but is not quite up to the wonder of–The Lord of the Rings as told by the mature Tolkien.

After sixth reading: this is the book that sucked me into the world of high fantasy literature all those years ago. “Roads,” indeed, “go ever ever on.”

“One morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green ….”

After at least the seventh reading: I have read this and LOTR at least once a decade since the 1960s. Each time I find something new. Each time I marvel that Tolkien told so much with so few words. The story propels you along even as it invites you to relax for tea with the author. Amazing. (I greatly prefer this to the movies.)

“If ever you are passing my way,” said Bilbo, “don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at anytime!”

Book Review: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djéli Clark (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djéli Clark

(Four Stars)

“For the blacksmith understood what masters had chosen to forget: when you make a man or woman a slave you enslave yourself in turn.”

Excellent speculative historical fiction. Since the root–that George Washington bought the teeth of nine slaves as his own rotted away–this might have made an excellent historical fiction. The speculative musings–while fun–are so over-the-top that they dull the edge on what would be righteous indignation over the behavior of our first president.

“… from the ramparts English mages hurled volleys of emerald fireballs that could melt through iron.”

The storytelling is compact and fast moving. Clark makes his points and Continue reading