Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett is the last Discworld book. It's also the concluding volume of Tiffany Aching's story and serves as an epilogue to just about all of the witches that have made an appearance throughout the entire Discworld series.

A shivering of worlds

Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.

This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.

As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.

There will be a reckoning...

This book was sort of sad. Sad because it was the last Discworld book, and indeed the last book Pratchett wrote before he couldn't write any more. (According to the afterword, he had several more books in the works, or at least ideas floating around that will now never be. Which is also quite sad. I need to find an entrance into L-space so I can read those books that never were in our reality.) The Shepherd's Crown is also sad because of some of the events in it, which I don't want to go into too much detail on.

In this book, Tiffany Aching, who has already proved herself as a good witch in the earlier books, has to prove her leadership abilities more than her witching skills. The elves are threatening the Discworld again and it's up to Tiffany to step up and organise the resistance, while becoming more sure of her place in the world.

Although this is a Tiffany book, she is definitely not the only interesting character in it. Nanny Ogg and the more minor witch characters from recent books play a part. Magrat, who we haven't seen much of for several books, plays a key role and it was great to see her at a later stage in her life being awesome and kicking arse.

There was also a new character introduced in this book: Geoffrey, a boy who wants to be a witch. Also, his super-intelligent goat. The symmetry of that story in the last Discworld book and the story of Esk, a girl who wants to be a wizard, in the third Discworld book was not lost on me. I suspect the conclusion of this subplot may have been more developed, given the opportunity, but it wasn't a bad ending.

Tiffany's story had a nice ending though, a nice segue into the next stage of her life. In some ways, nothing much changes for her, but in others everything is different. Really Tiffany has been changing all through the books, it's just more obvious at some points than others. And there will always be Feegles looking out for her.

If you're a fan of Discworld, this isn't a book to miss. I suggest having some tissues ready, though, as endings of all sorts can be sad. If you're unfamiliar with Discworld, then this book does stand alone but I would still recommend at least starting with the first Tiffany Aching book, The Wee Free Men. I am sad that there aren't going to be any more Discworld books, but at least they'll always be available for re-reading. :-(

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2015, Doubleday
Series: Discworld, book the last (41 out of 41) and book 5 of 5 in the Tiffany Aching sequence
Format read: Hardcover
Source: Non-Amazon online book shop

Friday, 27 November 2015

Ms Marvel Vol 4: Last Days by G Willow Wilson

Ms Marvel Vol 4: Last Days written by G Willow Wilson and illustrated by Adrian Alphona is the last volume of the first Kamala Khan run of Ms Marvel. After Secret Wars, as with all Marvel Universe series, the numbering will reset. This volume contains the last four issues of the run, #16–19, and two issues from Amazing Spider-Man (2014): #7 & 8.

When the world is about to end, do you still keep fighting? From the moment, Kamala put on her costume, she's been challenged, but nothing has prepared her for this: the Last Days of the Marvel Universe. Fists up, let's do this, Jersey City. Plus a VERY special guest appearance fans have been clamoring for!

This is a really great volume. The four main issues in Ms Marvel: Last Days tell one continuous story, which was really great to read. I mean, I really enjoying reading longer comic story arcs and find them much more satisfying than one- or two-comic arcs like, for example, were in Volume 3 of Ms Marvel. The story is about the beginning of the apocalypse which, as is often the case with Marvel, is taking place in Manhattan. Kamala and the other residents of Jersey City see something dire happening across the river (I learnt more about NY/USA geography looking this up than I expected) and Kamala tries to help as panic breaks out.

This storyline had some really awesome moments, one of which was Captain Marvel showing up for the middle two issues, and the other of which I don't want to spoil. I enjoyed seeing Kamala fangirl over Carol Danvers and their brief team-up was great. (Although I thought it was a bit odd that Carol's outfit was a greayscale version of her usual suit.) Both Kamala and Carol have little heart-touching moments while saving a minor part of the day (the apocalypse itself is not for Kamala to fix).

I also really loved Kamala's interactions with the regular characters, which were the perfect combination of funny and thoughtful, with Kamala tying up some "what if the world really is ending" loose ends. I would still like to have seen more of Nakia, as I have said of every volume of Ms Marvel, but at least she's acknowledged here. And maybe she'll be more prominent in the next run. One can hope. Also, I continue to love the cute and amusing details in the background of this comic. Much lol. Also, also, "hipster viking".

As for the Spider-Man issues, these were much better than I expected. They fall much earlier in continuity than the Last Days storyline, and like the SHIELD issue in the previous volume, they involve a bit of "an exciting day in the life" of Kamala while in someone else's book. I love how adorable Kamala is when she's in fangirl mode. And, bonus, we get to see Silk choosing her new costume. Also, there's a nice side plot for one of the henchmen, which was both unexpected and amusing. One of the better "other issue" inclusions in a trade that I've come across.

I really loved this volume and the entire series. I highly recommend it to all fans of superheroes, particularly if the YA aspect appeals. If the YA aspect doesn't appeal, it's still a great series for readers of all comics. As always, I am looking forward to more Ms Marvel in the future, even though it will be a bit of a wait for the next trade. If you haven't read any Ms Marvel yet, now is a pretty good time to go back to the start and read the entire first run (or "season" as I saw someone on goodreads refer to it) in one go.

5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2015, Marvel
Series: Ms Marvel (Kamala Khan) Vol 4 of 4, the last volume of the current run with, after this one, the numbers resetting. But with the same creators.
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Real life physical book shop *gasp*

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Thor Vol 2: Who Holds the Hammer? by Jason Aaron

Thor Vol 2: Who Holds the Hammer? is the second volume of collected issues in the pre-Secret Wars Thor run. The direct sequel to Thor: The Goddess of Thunder, more or less. This is another painfully volume padded out with extra material because of the Secret Wars deadline. It contains issues 6 to 8 of the comic sandwiched between the Thor Annual 2015 and a somewhat spoilerily titled What If? comic from 1978.

Who is Thor? That's the question on everyone's lips. Most especially Prince Odinson of Asgard. This volume, he starts to narrow down the list of suspects. Meanwhile, tensions continue to flare between the All-Mother and All-Father, Malekith forges his most dangerous pact yet, and Thor prepares to face her greatest challenge!

The Thor Annual issue contained three short stories by different creators. The first is set in the far future (with a disappointingly male Thor) and is an amusing enough story, also featuring super-old-Thor's granddaughters. The second story is the best and the main reason I was at all interested in the annual. Noelle Stevenson (from Nimona and Lumberjanes) tells a story of a couple of Odinson's friends trying to trick the new Thor into proving she isn't up to the job. Obviously, they fail spectacularly. The last story was pretty meh. It involved the former Thor, drinking and Loki's shenanigans. The art was also a bit too exaggerated for my liking.

The three issues of actual on-going Thor story were good, albeit brief. The biggest highlight was the reveal of new Thor's identity at the end. The ongoing search by Odinson for the new Thor could have gotten a bit old, but had a really fun resolution when he realised what he'd actually done was make a list of awesome Marvel Universe women. Cue cameos from all my favourite characters. And, of course, it more or less tied off a story arc, although not that finally. Definitely worth a read to follow the continuing story of Thor, although the bad guys aren't really my favourite (dark elves don't especially interest me).

And finally we have the 1978 What If? #10. I wish someone had told old school comics creators about showing instead of telling. They are so tedious to read with their unnecessary thought-bubble narration of what's drawn in the freaking panel. Sigh. I mean the old school art and unsubtle colours are one thing, but it's the text that really makes it unpleasant to read. It's also several (? or at least one) retcons old, so the story being rewritten bears no resemblance to the back story of modern day Thor (especially not if your starting reference point is the movies). Not to mention, the full title of this issue and its inclusion in this volume is a freaking spoiler, which I do not approve of. I understand why they wanted to pad out this volume and I approve of them doing so, but that doesn't mean I'm going to suddenly start enjoying old comics.

I'm not sure whether or how to recommend this volume. I definitely wouldn't suggest buying the hard cover (which is the only US paper edition that currently exists). The Annual wasn't bad, though, for two out of three stories, so if you're into Thor, it's one to consider. I am tempted to suggest just buying the individual issues, though, because I'm pretty sure three issues are going to be cheaper the whole volume, and really, they're the important part. I don't regret buying Who Holds the Hammer?, but if you're into digital comics and don't have strong feelings about how things look on your physical book shelves, just get the main 3 issues and maybe the annual.

4 / 5 stars

First published: July 2015, Marvel (my edition UK paperback since the US editions are only hardcover so far)
Series: Thor 2014 Vol 2 of 2 (to be followed by Mighty Thor 2015) 
Format read: Trade paperback
Source: Forbidden Planet, London

Friday, 20 November 2015

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie is the third and final book in the Imperial Radch trilogy. You can read my reviews of the first two books, Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword, at those links.

For a moment, things seem to be under control for the soldier known as Breq. Then a search of Atheok Station's slums turns up someone who shouldn't exist - someone who might be an ancillary from a ship that's been hiding beyond the empire's reach for three thousand years. Meanwhile, a messenger from the alien and mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq's enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai - ruler of an empire at war with itself.

Anaander is heavily armed and extremely unhappy with Breq. She could take her ship and crew and flee, but that would leave everyone at Athoek in terrible danger. Breq has a desperate plan. The odds aren't good, but that's never stopped her before.

When everyone was making a fuss about the pronouns in Ancillary Justice (in the main language there is only one gender and it is translated into English as "she") and decrying it as a feminist text, I was wondering what book they had read. The book I read did not have strong feminist themes and was mainly about colonialism. I have to admit I didn't think very much about themes in Ancillary Sword, but this final volume, Ancillary Mercy, deals very interestingly with ideas of sentience and personhood, particularly when it comes to AIs. Perhaps not a surprising development given the main character and first person narrator is/was a ship. But it is interesting that many of the questions raised took so long to come to the fore. Reading this book, I was thinking "yes, this makes perfect sense given what we know" and then being baffled when other characters didn't agree with me/Breq and friends.

Another strength of Ancillary Mercy comes from the very fact that it is the third book in the series. We know the key characters well, we already care about them and there aren't a huge number of new characters to have to remember. Leckie deals well with the character stuff, not letting the story be completely taken over by action and external events (something I have had issues with in other SF books). My favourite parts were small interactions between often minor characters, like the soldiers' protective feelings towards their lieutenants and Breq. As well as characterisation, the universe is very well developed. Leckie makes us care about tea sets! Plural!

Ancillary Mercy was a great conclusion to the series and I had trouble putting it down. I enjoyed it more than Ancillary Sword, which I gave 5 stars to already. They're not wildly different books (Ancillary Justice, which sets everything up and has a lot of flashbacks is the most different in structure to the other two) and I think Ancillary Mercy was my favourite mainly because the comic relief characters were funnier. Which is kind of an odd thing to say since this is hardly a comedy, but it is what distinguished Ancillary Mercy for me. (Although of the three I find Ancillary Justice the most iconic).

I highly recommend this series to all fans of space opera and hard SF. It's really excellent and showcases Leckie's writing talents and worldbuilding skills. This concluding volume was great and although it didn't tie up everything — the series ended up showing us a self-contained slice of a very large conflict — it was still satisfying. A must read! (But start with the first book.)

5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2015, Tor
Series: Imperial Radch book 3 of 3
Format read: ePub
Source: Google Play

Friday, 6 November 2015

Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter

Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter is a novella released as part of's new novella line. It's set in the same world as The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings and Sourdough and Other Stories, two collections that have either won awards or been shortlisted. However, that doesn't mean you have to have read anything else to enjoy this book. Of Sorrow and Such stands quite nicely alone.

Mistress Gideon is a witch. The locals of Edda's Meadow, if they suspect it of her, say nary a word-Gideon has been good to them, and it's always better to keep on her good side. Just in case.

When a foolish young shapeshifter goes against the wishes of her pack, and gets herself very publicly caught, the authorities find it impossible to deny the existence of the supernatural in their midst any longer; Gideon and her like are captured, bound for torture and a fiery end.

Should Gideon give up her sisters in return for a quick death? Or can she turn the situation to her advantage?

This novella is about an older woman living alone with a teenage adopted daughter, who dispenses herbal medicine to the residents of her village. It's mostly women that come to her or people with urgent problems who can't wait for the "real" (i.e. male) doctor's next visit. There is a lot of social commentary on how women are treated patriarchal societies when they don't have any power. And also how they're treated when they do, inconveniently, dare to have power. Because the main character, Patience, is a witch and spends a lot of her time looking out for both disadvantaged women and fellow witches. She's not a nice person, but she is a practical one, which is part of her charm. I quite liked her and her philosophy of doing what was needed. I haven't read Sourdough and Other Stories, yet, so this was my first introduction to her.

Of Sorrow and Such starts off by setting the scene, which can make it feel a bit slow, but Slatter's writing is so lovely that it's a consistently very readable story. It does pick up in the second half, however, and I had difficulty putting it down at that point (despite my desperate need for sleep).

I quite enjoyed this novella and it definitely makes me want to get around to Sourdough sooner rather than later (not sure that will be possible, alas). I highly recommend this story to fans of Slatter's other stories and to fans of fantasy generally. It's a little bit dark, but it's definitely not horror.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2015, (available from ebook shops rather than on their website)
Series: Set in the same world as The Bitterwood Bible and Sourdough and Other Stories, but stands alone fine
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Dangerous by Shannon Hale

Dangerous by Shannon Hale is a YA science fiction book and the first I've read by the author. I picked it up a while ago (I think it was as part of my "let's read all the books with disabled protagonists" thing in the lead up to Defying Doomsday). I finally got around to reading it, partly because I was in the mood for some YA, and partly because of the recent announcement that she'll be writing Captain Marvel and Squirrel Girl tie in novels. I figured I should make sure her writing was all right before getting too excited.

Maisie ‘Danger’ Brown needs excitement. When she wins a harmless-sounding competition to go to astronaut boot camp, that’s exactly what she gets . . . But she never imagined it would feature stumbling into a terrifying plot that kills her friends and might just kill her too. Now there’s no going back. Maisie has to live by her middle name if she wants to survive – and she’ll need to be equally courageous to untangle the romance in her life too. A clever, suspenseful thriller-adventure by New York Times bestselling author and master storyteller Shannon Hale.

The thing that stood out for me most, reading Dangerous, was how not formulaic it was. For whatever reason, I was expecting a fairly formulaic read set in space about a girl with no arm. It wasn't set in space either, except very briefly. It was about a girl with no hand on one of her arms, so that part was right, although note how it's not mentioned in the blurb while the space bit is. No wonder I was surprised. Actually, the only expected element of this book was the part with the world being saved. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.

Maisie is a smart teenager whose two scientist parents have decided to home-school her. (And hence she has one friend, a fellow home-school-ee.) She enters a competition on the back of a cereal box to go to astronaut boot camp and wins a spot. I always enjoy female protagonists that are into science and Maisie definitely doesn't disappoint on that front.

In terms of plot, I was surprised that the astronaut boot camp was over pretty quickly and was just a set up for the next phase of the novel. Even more surprising was that the next phase was also fairly transient. (I realise these statements are vague, but I'm trying to avoid spoilers.) The story does not take the most direct route to get to the end, which kept me wondering what would happen next until more than half way through (at which point the saving the world part became more obvious).

I liked the romantic story line in Dangerous for a few reasons. First it was absolutely not the main part of the story, second, it wasn't a love triangle, despite how it first may have appeared. Most importantly, Maisie prioritises saving the world and the safety of her family over any boys she may or may not have feelings for. She's also not too blindly trusting, especially once she has reason to be suspicious, which I appreciated.

Oh and I should mention the science. There was only one physics thing the author got wrong that bothered me (the space elevator trip did not take them high enough to be weightless, they would have felt a diminished gravitational pull the entire time). Which did bother me but didn't make me angry, just disappointed. It's at the level of physics knowledge that the characters themselves should've had, which is the most irritating part. But everything else was fine or at least hand-wavingly explained away by alien magic.

I quite enjoyed Dangerous and I am definitely interested in reading more books by Shannon Hale. I'm not sure all her books are for me — for example, I'll stick with the movie of Austenland and probably won't bother with the books for younger readers, but I am definitely up for Captain Marvel and Squirrel Girl. Marvel tie-ins aside, I will definitely be keeping an eye out for any future books from Hale that align with my interests. I definitely recommend Dangerous to all fans of YA science fiction.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, Bloomsbury
Series: No.
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from iBooks