It’s that time again when I summarise the speculative fiction reviews people have submitted to the Challenge. We’ve had 23 reviews submitted in total (including YA), which is a reasonably good turn-out. I should also direct readers to Alisa’s (of Twelfth Planet Press) post earlier this month about the Challenge and with a special offer for participants.
There were two science fiction books reviewed this month, although both are more genre blends than pure science fiction. First off, Shaheen reviewed Peacemaker by Marianne De Pierres. She gives it a glowing review, writing:
Wow. Just … wow.
Peacemaker is an exciting and creative narrative that skilfully combines elements of westerns, science fiction, fantasy and crime to create one of the most engaging books you’ll read this year. The book is set in a future Australia unlike any other I’ve read: one where overpopulation has created a mega-city spanning the entire east coast and Australia’s desert is the only natural landscape left.
On a more comical note, I reviewed The Back of the Back of Beyond by Edwina Harvey, a collection of linked short stories. They’re vaguely autobiographical, in a sort of “what if the author had moved to the middle of no where” and also dragons and aliens. It was a very fun, light-hearted read which I highly recommend to anyone looking for a break from more serious books.
All the horror reviewed this month was short fiction (well, if you define “short” as including novellas). Anguli Ma, a novella by Chi Vu was reviewed by Jane Rawson, who enjoyed it, writing:
It made me look at the neighbourhood where I live in a whole other way. It made me look at Australia and the people around me in a whole other way. … And – for the first time in ages – I really felt for a whole bunch of fictional characters, including the bad guys (who are so complicated and creepy).
Continuing with the short fiction theme, I reviewed two Ditmar-shortlisted collections (as part of an attempt to read all the shortlisted fiction in time to vote, which I mostly managed). First there was CAUTION: Contains Small Parts by Kirstyn McDermott, which is the most recent (or second most recent if you’re reading this after the weekend) addition to the Twelve Planets series of female-authored collections being put out by Twelfth Planet Press. It was an excellent read with four varied stories, all of which were creepy and a bit depressing, but they weren’t the kind of horror that makes you sleep with the lights on, or at least, I didn’t think so.
The other collection I reviewed was The Bride Price by Cat Sparks. This was a longer collection, coming in at twelve stories, one of which was a novella. They also spanned a variety of themes, and some could be classed more as science fiction — especially post-technological SF — but I felt the collection was horror overall because a lot of the stories had rather dire endings. By dire I mean the opposite of a happy (or even hopeful) ending; sad is not the right word. Some of the stories were very confronting, especially the opener (and my favourite) featuring a society in which noble women were not allowed to talk, only to sign with their hands.
We had a lot of fantasy reviews this month. Too many, in fact, for me to go into a lot of detail for all of them, but I’ll still mention them all. The two most reviewed authors were Trudi Canavan and Jo Spurrier with three reviews apiece. Of Trudi Canavan’s works, Mark Webb reviewed the second (The Rogue) and third (The Traitor Queen) books in her Traitor Spy Trilogy. He enjoyed both — indeed the entire series. We also had Sean the Bookonaut reviewing Trudi Canavan’s latest release, Thief’s Magic, the first book in a new, unconnected fantasy series. He writes:
Another feature of Canavan’s work is her inclusion of crunchy topics and a variety of characters and cultures. I mentioned before that Tyen’s narrative is one set in an Industrial culture; it has magic driven printing presses and trains that use magic to heat water to generate steam. But there’s both direct and indirect criticism of the Empire’s colonial actions and the growing problem of resource depletion i.e. the magic appears to be running out.
Of the three reviews submitted of Jo Spurrier’s books, two were for the conclusion of her excellent Children of the Black Sun trilogy, North Star Guide Me Home, and one was of the first book, Winter Be My Shield. Leonie Rogers reviewed Winter Be My Shield and writes that she enjoyed it enough to track down the sequels. Folly Gleeson and I reviewed North Star Guide Me Home, the masterful conclusion to the trilogy. In the Newtown Review of Books, Folly Gleeson writes:
This emphasis on cruelty makes the trilogy a challenging read. The sadism is powerfully written and the basic idea that power and transcendence come through pain is not something easy to accept. But of course the whole story of Christianity is based on such a concept, and I was reminded of medieval worshippers whipping themselves, the murder of slaves in Viking burials, and the funerals of Egyptian and Chinese emperors. The humble hair shirt is also a little riff on the idea of pain causing transcendence. So, if the very powerfully described violence and cruelty don’t appal, then the clever and imaginative narrative and the emotional travails of the vibrantly depicted characters will intrigue, for Spurrier holds the complex and fascinating story of the struggle of the Ricalan forces together with a great deal of skill and even offers redemption in the satisfying epilogue.
This was an enthralling read for me. While there is plenty of action and drama this is only part of the story. It’s also about court intrigue, what happens when people are caught up in events outside their control and how they act and react when difficult choices are forced on them.
And Jason adds:
It touches on the danger of judging people by appearance. It objects to gender stereotyping and misogyny. It opposes religious fanaticism and bigotry. Oh yes, this is a Larke book!
And the remaining fantasy authors all garnered one review each. Sticking to the BFF (big fat fantasy) theme, Helen Venn reviewed The Dagger of Dresnia by Satima Flavell, which she enjoyed and is anticipating the sequel. We also had Chris White review Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, a luscious retelling of Rapunzel, which he loved.
Three more Twelfth Planet Press books were also reviewed. There was the novella double Above/Below by Stephanie Campisi and Ben Peek, which Jane Rawson reviewed. And two more of the Twelve Planets: Showtime by Narrelle M Harris and Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan. Jane Rawson continues to be a staunch fan of Lanagan’s after reading Cracklescape and of Showtime, Subversive Reader writes:
Vampires, zombies, ghosts. We all know them. … So, when I opened Showtime, I knew what I was getting into, of course . . . Except these aren’t quite the stories we’re expecting. They respectfully nod at the stories we know, and then twist and turn them around and add some Royal show cakes for good measure.
Finally, on a different note again, Kaetrin reviewed Full Moon Rising by Keri Arthur, the first book in the Riley Jensen series. The version she had was an abridged audiobook, which she didn’t think worked very well, probably because of the abridgement.
I’m Tsana Dolichva and I’ve been reading and enjoying Australian speculative fiction since I first started reading “grown up” books (back before YA was its own genre). More recently, I’ve been blogging my reviews over at the creatively titled Tsana’s Reads. I very irregularly blog about science in science fiction over at the Science Fiction Writers’ Guide to Space. When not reading or writing, I’m probably working towards my PhD in astrophysics.