Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday Library Post, 8/28/2012

I've transitioned the blog to access my G+ profile, which shouldn't affect anything that you guys see (unless you're on G+ also, in which case, there will be a concurrent post of some sort when I post here), but which seems actually to make my life a micron or so easier. Also, according to my stat counter, I had a huuuuuge jump in traffic around the middle of August, for no discernible reason - like, thousands of new viewers. I don't know where you all came from, but the stats say you never really went away again, so, hi. Glad you're here. Archives are on the right, the tag cloud is on the left, and the archives are really more accessible.

One thing which seems to have resulted in traffic is a search for updates on Terri Windling's health, so I poked around, and Magik 4 Terri reported a successful fund raising back in January. So I would assume that Ms. Windling's health is as good as can be expected, all things considered.

Ok. Three books this week:

K.E. Mills - Witches Incorporated

The second of Mills' Rogue Agent series (not to be confused with the Rogue Angel series, which this is so much better than), a series of light fantasy in - well, I want to call it steampunk, because it's vaguely Victorian and there are airships. But it's not steampunk, because the machinery is powered by magic, rather than steam. And it's not really magicpunk, either - although the witches do use magic to challenge the societal status quo, especially the role of women in a Victorian society. Still, I'm not comfortable calling it -punk anything. So. It's a Victorian setting. Machinery is operated by magic. Mages form a critical portion of society, especially the civil service. Gerald, the hero of book one (and the Rogue Agent of the series title) has been recruited as a spy. His plot is the secondary plot, however, as Reg, Melisandre, and Bibby take center stage with their magical investigations agency, Witches Incorporated.

The tone of the novel is light - WI investigates the illegal use of magic to win a baking contest, for instance. That being said, I wouldn't call the book comedic - the material is too serious for that. Gerald wrestles with the responsibility his power entails, there is a short musing on the use of magical torture, and lots and lots of discussion of gender roles in society. So, the tone is light, but the material is dense. Some readers may well feel that this pairing is a little off-putting - even disrespectful, perhaps. It didn't bother me, though.

The pace is a little slow at the beginning, but it picks up towards the end of the book. The book has a solid resolution, while leaving enough material to finish the trilogy - Mills has pulled off an almost perfect middle book, in that you don't need to have read book 1, and there is no feeling that book 2 is incomplete. I think the fact that she shifts her primary characters helps a great deal with this.

I should also note that this was another Orbit publication - I really do like what they're printing right now!

Dave Duncan - When the Saints

Sequel to Speak to the Devil. Duncan picks up moments after the first book ends. The Magnus brothers are still besieged, magic is still in play, skull-duggery and politics are still taking place, the love is still triangular in nature - good stuff. Duncan, as usual, surprises by engaging in some very neat twists. In particular, as I was about midway through the book, it looked like the problems facing our heroes had largely been resolved, and I said to myself "what's the whole rest of this book about, then?" And that was when it became clear that the problems facing our heroes were much much larger than an invading army with a powerful new weapon. And, shortly thereafter, the book went from good to great, as is often the case with Duncan's writing.

If you like politics, especially the dark behind the scenes wheeling and dealing type, with a medieval/magical flavor, then this book is absolutely for you. (Although, you'll want to read the first book first - I think you could possibly skip it, but I wouldn't advise it) Duncan layers his political plots nicely, from the familial at the bottom, up through the politics of a small kingdom, and out into the broader political realm of Catholic dominated Europe, prior to the Reformation. As an interesting sideline, we also get a taste of politics among the secret conclave of mages. Lovely lovely stuff, all power and betrayal, and venal manipulators manipulating for their own gain, like they do.

Two complaints - Duncan's world building is great, but it felt a little tacked on in places. The magical society uses a lot of falconry metaphors - Duncan provides a glossary - but these metaphors (and the society itself) seem to appear from nowhere. Some hint in the first book would have been nice (possibly impossible on Duncan's part, but nice). Second, I wanted maps! There's a little historical note, but no maps.

Clearly, there will be a third novel, both because Duncan writes trilogies (he really knows how to work the form, in fact) and because there are many many loose ends that demand tying up. However, this book does have a solid and satisfying ending, and you won't feel cheated.

Baratunde Thurston - How to Be Black

I heard Thurston talk on NPR about this book, so when I saw it, I had to grab it. Thurston is a very funny man, formerly with the Onion, and professionally black. That is to say, Thurston trades on his racial identity for humor, and he does it very well.

This book is roughly 1/3 autobiography, 1/3 tongue in cheek advice book, and 1/3 stand-up comedy routine. Thurston has a small panel of blackness, including three black men, three black women, and one white guy from Toronto. They are all, also, very funny. Thurston's point (and it's a good point!) is that there is no one way to experience being black in the United States in the 21st century. More importantly, this shouldn't really need to be stated. And yet, popular culture (and society in general) tries to create the impression that there is only one way to "be black," one monolithic black experience. Thurston addresses this idea head on, has a lot of fun doing it, and weaves a somewhat poignant tale of a young black man growing up and becoming Baratunde Thurston. It's a good book, you should read it, even though it isn't February.