Tag Archives: Book recommendation

Book Recommendation: Too Like The Lightning, by Ada Palmer

LighteningTor Books is proud to launch the first novel in a new political science fiction series, Too Like The Lightning by debut novelist Ada Palmer. Palmer’s unique vision mixes Enlightenment-era philosophy with traditional science fiction speculation to bring to life the year 2454, not a perfect future, but a utopian one, described by a narrator writing in an antiquated form to catalog the birth of a revolution. The result is The Iliad meets I, Claudius mixed with the enthusiasm of The Stars My Destination and Gene Wolfe style world building.

Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer–a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.

And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…

Perfect for fans of Jo Walton, Robert Charles Wilson and Kim Stanley Robinson, Too Like The Lightning is a refreshing change of pace from the current trend of gritty, dystopian novels. Much like Homer telling of heroic deeds and wine dark seas, Mycroft Canner’s narration will draw you into the world of Terra Ignota—a world simmering with gender politics and religious fervor just beneath the surface, on the brink of revolutionary change.

This is unequivocally one of the most audacious and skillful books I have ever read. Enlightenment-era philosophy taken to its Utopia ideals in a future five centuries from now, with the Nation-state being a thing of the past and the entire world in commuting distance. A sprawling cast of people at the highest and lowest reaches of power, dark secrets, miracles, adultery, technological marvels, the sins of the fathers carried by their children, honour, torture. This book has everything.

There are a lot of bad things contained within “everything”.

I was agog with delight while reading the first half of this book. I was enjoying it so much that there was no urgency to finish. It would be there waiting, and I could savour it a chapter or two at a time. Because I was reading an e-arc (thank you, Tor books!) I know exactly when that delight faltered. That was at the 56% percent mark, when I found out who our narrator was. I had known he was a convict, but due to some discussion around the Canner Device, I thought his crime had been privacy related. It was not privacy related.

Spoiler! Highlight to read. Our narrator is a rapist, torturer and mass murderer. He killed 17 people. He “made a list of the worst ways for a human to die and went through it systematically”. /spoiler. So that put a dent in my leisurely perusal. I read straight to the end once that bombshell hit, and from then on it was just one dark reveal after another. The utopian system is on the brink of war, there are no happy marriages, eccentric brothers are trying to commit suicide several times a year, sexual assault is a regular factor of life for the powerless, a priest gives advice on torture, and everyone is a murderer. Basically, when the cover copy said “inspired by enlightenment-era philosophy,” I should have thought harder about actual enlightenment-era philosophy.

The whole thing is masterfully done. A significant part of the joy I took in the first half of the book was how it uses a phrase I thought I understood (European, Humanist, Cousin) and then explains it a chapter later in such a way that makes me re-evaluate everything. Phrases, plots, and characters were introduced in one way and then BOMBSHELL everything you assumed is wrong. The technique continued (oh my word did it continue) in the later part of the book, I just didn’t like the bombs any more. The whole thing is plotted like a chain mail vest.

So yes. I can’t give this less than five stars, because it’s audacious and actually pulls it off. I want to throw it at all my philosopher friends. I just don’t know if I like it.

P.S. As I look at the cover copy again, I make a note to never read anything Tor describes as “dark and gritty”.

Book Recommendation: Julia Vanishes, by Catherine Egan

JuliaJulia has the unusual ability to be…unseen. Not invisible, exactly. Just beyond most people’s senses.

It’s a dangerous trait in a city that has banned all forms of magic and drowns witches in public Cleansings. But it’s a useful trait for a thief and a spy. And Julia has learned—crime pays.

Her latest job is paying very well indeed. Julia is posing as a housemaid in the grand house of Mrs. Och, where an odd assortment of characters live and work: A disgraced professor who keeps forbidden books and sends her to fetch parcels containing bullets, spiders, and poison. An aristocratic houseguest who is locked in the basement each night. And a mysterious young woman with an infant son who is clearly hiding—though from what or whom?

Worse, Julia has a creeping suspicion that there’s a connection between these people and the killer leaving a trail of bodies across the frozen city.

The more she learns, the more she wants to be done with this unnatural job. To go back to the safety of her friends and fellow thieves. But Julia is entangled in a struggle between forces more powerful than she’d ever imagined. Escape will come at a terrible price.

And even a girl who can vanish can’t walk away from her own worst deeds.

I picked this one up cause I got to read a first two chapter sampler. It sounded fun! And it was fun. It was also really, REALLY good. It’s good enough that even though I’m having a really hard time making words happen this month, I had to tell you to read it.

It’s the book about what happens after the revolution, after you do what you need to survive, after you get caught in a no-win situation, and it delves way deeper than I expected into a lot of issues. I kept seeing tropes start to happen, and think “oh I know how this goes down” and then it actually ENGAGED with the issues it brought up.

Everything from romance to religion, from what it means to be a good person to unpretty trauma coping methods, they’re all bashing right through the tropes.

The main character opens the book in a relationship with a dude who she loves absolutely, but then breaks up with him when he cheats on her. But then he’s not allowed to be totally horrible. He still loves her, and he gets injured trying to help her, and she still loves him; the situation is just complex. When the book starts, there’s a passing mention of superstition being stamped out, and I went “oh, this is a book with a background radiation about how religion is a crock of lies. Okay, I know how this goes down.” But then a few chapters further through the book, I realized that the superstion is being stamped out by an autocratic government, and characters are advocating for freedom of religion. But it isn’t a book about how faith and magic are good, either, because we see people do appalling and terrifying things with magic, both on our side and the enemy (of the moment). The situation is just complex. The main character has seen her

More than anything else, I think this is a book about how things are complicated. Everyone in the book is unpleasant, and also likeable. We left a murderer at the bottom of a pit and I felt sorry for her. The main character is a sneak thief and a kidnapper, and while the book is about her drawing the line in the sand and saying “okay I won’t do ANYTHING for money”, that line is still drawn a bit further out than I’m comfortable with. But I also like her and I see where she’s coming from. It’s REALLY good.

(Read it!)

Book Recommendation: Scorpion Rules, by Erin Bow

Scorpion Rules

“The world is at peace,” said the Utterances. “And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask?”

Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.

Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.

As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.

WHOOOOOOO GOOD GRIEF THIS BOOK. THIS BOOK IS A FREIGHT TRAIN AND YOU ARE SO UNPREPARED. AHHHHHHHHHHH.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way.

*takes a moment to breathe into a paper bag*

Okay. Right. Make the review make sense. I can do that. I can take a stab at that.

*deep breath*

This is a book about a lot of things. It’s about mutually assured destruction, and about no-win situations, and about friendship, and about the things we do to survive, and the things that we do so that other people can survive. It’s about how love will not save you, and about how in the end love will be the only things that saves you. But for me, the thing that stands out the most is just how strongly, how vividly this book serves as an argument against suicide.

Cause everyone within this book is trapped, you see. Everyone is trapped between scarce resources and orbital weapons; between warring states; between their vows and their morals; between the need to keep control and the need to be kind; between scarce resources and growing population; and in some places very literally trapped between a rock and a hard place. There is only one person in this entire book who is not trapped in some way, and they are utterly reprehensible.

One of the things that is hard to express about living with a mental illness is how much it traps you. Your mind presents you a series of terrible options, and this continues on and on, and you end up feeling more and more powerless. You are caught in a vice.

So you have these characters, trapped. Trapped to the point of death, many of them. And then the book explores what that does to you. How you come through it, or don’t. It doesn’t shame its subjects for what they do to survive, but it shows their survival mechanisms for what they are— survival, not living. And it looks steadily at death, and then it embraces life.

This is not an easy book. It took a good five days after reading it before I could think of it without a physical stress response. But oh my word it is a really good book.

Book Recommendation: Archivist Wasp

Wasp

Wasp’s job is simple. Hunt ghosts. And every year she has to fight to remain Archivist. Desperate and alone, she strikes a bargain with the ghost of a supersoldier. She will go with him on his underworld hunt for the long-long ghost of his partner and in exchange she will find out more about his pre-apocalyptic world than any Archivist before her. And there is much to know. After all, Archivists are marked from birth to do the holy work of a goddess. They’re chosen. They’re special. Or so they’ve been told for four hundred years.

Archivist Wasp fears she is not the chosen one, that she won’t survive the trip to the underworld, that the brutal life she has escaped might be better than where she is going. There is only one way to find out.

This is one of the weirder books I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the best.

It works as a revenge story, as a regret story (is that a genre? It should be, and this is its herald), as a dystopian drama, as a coming of age tale, and as a myth of the post-apocalyptic, and it’s the single best deconstruction of the Chosen One mythos that I have ever read. It’s got so much in here about myth, and memory, and love and trust and brutality and UUUUUGH. (This is such a good book.)

Let me back up.

I had seen this story pop up in a bunch of year-end lists, but it sounded really weird so I put it aside. And then I saw it do the rounds again, but it sounded like it wasn’t my type of thing so I kept it aside. And then I saw it do the rounds a THIRD time and I said FINE these people who I trust say it’s touching and amazing and like “symbolically acute” and “insightful” and stuff, and UGH I guess I like after-world stories, I read a cool one with bees once, and this one has a wasp, UGH FINE WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME DO THE THING, BOOK-TERNETS. I HAVE

I did the thing. I have no regrets. Wait, no, that’s not right. I kinda regret that I didn’t read it earlier? But also it’s a really brutal and grim story— which is legitimately not my usual thing— and you kinda have to go so far into the dark that you meet yourself coming to find the light, and I read it at the right time for me. I was already pretty far into the dark, so I didn’t have far to go. Prickly, vicious, wonderful Wasp was who I needed.

This is the story of Wasp, the Archivist of the Goddess Catch-Keep, who hunts ghosts and fights to stay alive in a world which really doesn’t want her around. Her life is brutal, and in her misery she makes a bargain with a ghost she should have killed. It’s a bad bargain, and she knows it is, but it’s her only hope.

Things get worse and things get better.