Sunday, 25 August 2019

Reticence by Gail Carriger

Reticence by Gail Carriger is the fourth and final book in the Custard Protocol series. I believe it is also the last book (or novel, more accurately) in the entire parasol universe. (A novella or two might still be forthcoming.) It ties up all the loose ends of the Custard Protocol books and also some unexpected loose ends from the Finishing School books.

Bookish and proper Percival Tunstell finds himself out of his depth when floating cities, spirited plumbing, and soggy biscuits collide in this delightful conclusion the Custard Protocol series.

Percival Tunstell loves that his sister and friends are building themselves a family of misfits aboard their airship, the Spotted Custard. Of course, he'd never admit that he belongs among them.

Percy has always been on the outside - dispassionate, aloof, and hatless.

But accidental spies, a trip to Japan, and one smart and beautiful doctor may have him renegotiating his whole philosophy on life. Except hats.

He's done with hats. Thank you very much.

This was, as per usual for Carriger’s books, a fun read. It’s structured in the romance style of having alternating points of view from the two leads who are obviously going to end up together. Any tension that exists is more from “when” and “how” rather than “if”. So we have half-ish of the story from Percy’s point of view — a well-known character from the series, though I think this is the first time we see inside his head — and half-ish of the story from the point of view of Arsenic, a new character. The book is generally cute and charming with both characters having entertaining quirks which mesh well together.

The slightly odd thing about this book is that a lot of major events happen to other characters (like Rue, who was the protagonist of the first two Custard Protocol books) and are somewhat backgrounded by the Percy- and Arsenic-centred narration. I suppose it works as an epilogue for those characters and it makes sense when considering that those events are not the main plot of this book. But it was sort of odd? And as a consequence the destination that the main plot takes place in — Japan, as noted in the blurb and as can be guessed from the cover — isn't reached until about halfway through the book. The story that takes place there was adequately entertaining, but sort of brief. There wasn't as much space for interacting with a variety of locals as there was in the earlier books (or am I thinking about the Soulless books, rather than the Custard books?)

Anyway, that aside I enjoyed Reticence and I definitely recommend it to fans of Gail Carriger. It probably stands alone a bit more than the earlier books in the series (although definitely contains spoilers for the earlier books). I recommend reading them in order, but I don't think it's absolutely essential in this case, especially if you are generally already familiar with the world. I am a bit sad that there aren't any more books to look forward to, but I see how this series has run its course. I would not be averse to reading more books set in the same universe, but aside from a novella or two I am not expecting any more.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2019, Self-published (outside of North America)
Series: Custard Protocol book 4 of 4
Format read: ePub
Source: Bought from Kobo store

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Winter's Tale by Nike Sulway and Shauna O’Meara

Winter’s Tale by Nike Sulway and illustrated by Shauna O’Meara is an illustrated children’s book; a short novel with pictures, rather than a full-blown picture book. It is currently being Kickstarted by Twelfth Planet Press, making this one of my timeliest reviews ever. This book drew my attention for two reasons: the colourful illustrations and the Tiptree Award-winning writer of the story.

A hare in the moon.

A town with streets that won't stay still.

Hidden worlds hide within these painted walls...

Existing within these hidden worlds, outside of them, and in a world all of their own, is a child called Winter. As a baby, Winter was found in a fruit box; ever since they have been searching for a home and a family.

With an elusive blue hare as a guide, a daring new friend, and a family with their own kind of magic, Winter might finally find a place to call home: a place to belong.

Winter’s Tale is the story of Winter, a founding who has passed through a few families by the time the story starts. Unsurprisingly, Winter doesn’t feel like they belong, especially when they have to move families again. Winter is also agender (my impression from the book was that they were intersex, though that is less clear), but their sense of not belonging stems more from the series of foster families than from this fact.

The whole story has a magical vibe to it and this is especially emphasised when Winter meets their fourth family and learns about the changing landscape their house is found in. Throughout the story Winter keeps catching glimpses of a blue hare, which apparently no one else can see, and this is linked with the magical surroundings and Winter’s quest/desire to find somewhere to belong.

Overall, this was a fun read with very nice illustrations throughout. I think it would appeal to the kind of children that enjoy magical (or partly magical) stories and would work well both read to or by a child. I’m not sure I have any appropriately aged children in my life (my niece is probably a little too old by now), but if I did I would certainly buy this for them.

4 / 5 stars

First published: October 2019, Twelfth Planet Press
Series: No
Format read: Hardcover ARC
Source: Publisher
Disclaimer: I work with Twelfth Planet Press but was not involved in the production of this book

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman was shortlisted for the inaugural YA Hugo award, to be awarded at the World Science Fiction Convention this weekend. That was the main reason I read it. Tess of the Road is a spin-off of a YA series that I was aware of, but which didn’t grab my attention (I think, based on what I now know, this was because the marketing and cover gave the wrong impression of the book). I started all the Hugo-nominated YA books but one, and Tess of the Road was the only one that interested me enough to keep reading (though I might come back to one or two of the others later).

In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can’t make a scene at your sister’s wedding and break a relative’s nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journey across the Southlands, alone and pretending to be a boy.

Where Tess is headed is a mystery, even to her. So when she runs into an old friend, it’s a stroke of luck. This friend is a quigutl—a subspecies of dragon—who gives her both a purpose and protection on the road. But Tess is guarding a troubling secret. Her tumultuous past is a heavy burden to carry, and the memories she’s tried to forget threaten to expose her to the world in more ways than one.

Tess is a teen in a world that expects people like her to be getting married and thinking of having babies. Because her family has fallen on hard times, she has spent the past couple of years working towards getting her twin sister a wealthy husband. Even though Tess is technically the older twin, scandalous events from her past have lead her family to pretend that honour falls on the other twin. This past and the way in which it was slowly explained throughout the book is what first grabbed my attention. What kept my attention was the world building and the interesting non-human races that feature.

As can be guessed from the title, Tess breaks free from the expectations of society and sets out on the road. She has a series of adventures, which make up the story and are tied together by a quest her (non-human) companion/childhood friend is undertaking. Throughout the book, we see Tess grow. She starts off as an alcoholic, but through walking and manual labour and a few other key events comes to confront and come to terms with her past.

As I said, I enjoyed this book, particularly the world building. It was on the long side and I felt it dragged a bit in the middle, exacerbating it’s length, however, it overall held my attention well, especially the opening chunk and the ending. The end made me think there might be a sequel, though I wasn’t sure if that would be the case until the very end. I would be interested in reading it. Also, having read this spin off, I am certainly considering going back to the original series about Seraphina, Tess’s sister, at some point. I recommend this book to fans of YA, coming of age stories and particularly the kind of YA which does not involve saving the world.

4 / 5 stars

First published: Random House, 2018
Series: Same world as the Seraphina series and the first book of a new series
Format read: eARC
Source: Hugo voter packet

Friday, 9 August 2019

Rebuilding Tomorrow and Worldcon

Things have been a little quiet around here, as you might have noticed. Chances are they are going to continue being quiet for a little while longer because I'm working on an exciting new project.

In 2016, I edited an anthology with Holly Kench called Defying Doomsday. The theme of that anthology was post/apocalyptic stories featuring disabled and chronically ill protagonists. Defying Doomsday did well, picking up several award short-listings and even winning a Ditmar for best collection. Now I am working on a follow-up anthology.

Rebuilding Tomorrow will also focus on disabled and/or chronically ill protagonists and it will still have a somewhat post-apocalyptic theme. But! Rather than focussing on survival in the immediate aftermath of an apocalypse like Defying Doomsday did, the stories in Rebuilding Tomorrow will be set a significant time after whatever apocalyptic disaster. These will be stories that show society getting back on its feet and people moving past subsistence-level existence into a new, sustainable world, even though it’s one that has been irrevocably changed by an apocalypse.

The team at Twelfth Planet Press will be running a Kickstarter for Rebuilding Tomorrow in October and the anthology itself will be out mid-2020, definitely in time to have a book party at CoNZealand, next year's World Science Fiction Convention.

And if you're planning to attend this year's Worldcon in Dublin, I will be there, spending a large portion of my time at the Twelfth Planet Press Dealer's table (booth 98). Come stop by if you're going to be in Dublin! We will of course be selling Defying Doomsday and other Twelfth Planet Press books and you can grab a nifty bookmark (as pictured on the right) or a swish Rebuilding Tomorrow ribbon for your con badge.

Will I see you there?