Books read, early December

Liz Duffy Adams and Delia Sherman, Joel Derfner, and Karen Lord, Tremontaine Season 3, Episodes 7-9. Discussed elsewhere.

Ann Leckie, Provenance. I enjoyed this mightily. It had questions of identity and belonging and a spot of murder here and there, it had aliens and drones and families with complicated emotional politics interacting with larger world/worlds politics. It is set in the same universe as the Ancillary books but is a very, very different reading experience, which makes me so happy, because it feels like Ann has not let herself get pigeonholed early, hurrah, I love to see range. And I love questions of forgery and provenance and authenticity. Mooooooore.

Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, eds., Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet Issue 36. This was full of stories that were beautifully done but did not individually grab me. I’m glad I read the whole issue–there wasn’t a bit of it I was sorry I read–but I’m not finding myself wanting to talk about the individual stories now that I’m done with them.

Margaret Mahy, The Haunting. Very short children’s book that is substantially about magic family politics. Barney has a very curious vision when his great-uncle dies; he and his sisters have to untangle their family history as a result. Hard to find, reasonably fun, not earthshaking. A lot of things are treated very matter-of-factly for such a short span: the kids have a stepmother they adore, one of the sisters is fat and enjoys swimming and has no time for people who try to fat-shame her, and probably several others I’m forgetting because the tone is so straightforward about human variation.

Robin McKinley, A Knot in the Grain. Reread. I think this one is somewhat stronger than A Door in the Hedge, less formulaic, more of McKinley learning to strike out on her own. The title story is interesting to me because it feels so dated and doesn’t have much of a plot and yet feels so emotionally strong that I loved reading it anyway, each time. It points out that stories are not a matter of doing the right things on a checklist, they’re a matter of hitting chords with a reader. Which we all know, and yet…having an example turn up again is never a bad thing.

Sarah Rees Brennan, In Other Lands. This book took a lot of risks, and I think only some of them paid off. The narrator was deliberately annoying–he was the sort of teenage smart kid who blunders all over other people’s emotions in an attempt to prove himself the smartest person in the room for the vast majority of the book. I think most readers will have had a high school friend who was like him (and if you can’t see who it was…). He was often a useful commentary on portal fantasy–there were lots of places where he was completely right–but he was allowed to be annoying in very realistic ways that were sometimes incredibly tedious to read about. And I think one of the reasons for that is that the deliberately annoying narrator risk got combined with another, which is: I understand that this book was originally written on tumblr, and that’s cool, it’s just that it looks to me like it did not get edited down significantly from its tumblr form. So the pacing is not tight. It rambles and saunters and meanders through the years of its characters’ schooling. There is a mermaid on the cover; the mermaids are purely hypothetical for most of the book. So are the harpies. I like a leisurely pace of book, with the right voice. I can deal with a grating voice, with the right pace of book. The combination made this one a pretty tough sell. Also–I’m having a hard time seeing how the relationship messages are going to get through to the people who need them, rather than the people like me, who are the aunts of the people who need them and see them coming from hundreds of pages off. It made me laugh in spots. I’m not sorry I read it. But what an odd set of choices, in some ways.

Rebecca Spang, Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution. Fascinating weird book about monetary policy and money as physical objects and all the stuff floating around those ideas. Lots of politics–Spang explicitly has no time for the people who think that economics can be separated out from politics–and lots of concern for what actual people were actually doing. There is a huge focus on how people made change in both senses of that: how alterations to the system were accomplished, but also how people who wanted to pay a certain amount and had large money got small money back in return, because this was a serious problem. HOLY CRUD were these people messed up. The investments they had…well. We certainly are messed up differently now! Fascinating, definitely recommended especially for SFF writers who want to look at how a time that sort of looks familiarish can be really, REALLY different in a lot of particulars.

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