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READING THE TBR, DAY 301: The Pillars of the World (2001) by Anne Bishop

You know how some writers just have their thing?  Anne Bishop’s thing is Super Special Women being oppressed by Evil Men, and beloved of two competing saviours, one stalwart and kind, the other arrogant and often mean.

Bingley vs. Darcy, basically. But there’s magic.

In this iteration of Bishopian lore, the Super Special Woman is Ari, a young witch left to work her wonders for the aid of an ungrateful town. The Evil Men are legion, the evillest being a witch-killing Inquisitor who enriches himself even as he indulges in the darkest of misogyny. The two competing saviours are the valiant and put-upon Neall and the problematic, often disdainful fae lord Lucien, who spends most of his time in the enchanted lands of Tir Alainn, but occasionally visits Ari to take advantage — take full advantage — of an odd free love practice adopted by the local fiefdom for a month every summer, for some reason. It’s like The Purge, but for sex. 

This is the first of a trilogy, and I can’t say for sure I’m going to essay the remaining two installments, especially since I have a terrible feeling that fae lady Dianna, selfish and entitled and just THE WORST, is not going to die. And I really want her to die.

But maybe I’ll dive back into this magical world someday, because there are definitely times when I find myself in an Anne Bishop-y kind of mood — where I know pretty much all the elements of the story, and just need to see how she’s going to put them together this time.

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TBR DAY 301: The Pillars of the World (Tir Alainn #1) by Anne Bishop
GENRE: Romantic Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2001
TIME ON THE TBR: ~8 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur Melbourne.
KEEP: Eh. Probably not.

READING THE TBR, DAY 253: The Tyrant’s Tomb (2019) by Rick Riordan

The god Apollo, exiled to Earth and mortality by his angry father — unreasonably angry, by the way; it’s not like Apollo’s particular crime was worse than any committed by any of the Pantheon, including Zeus himself — has spent the past three books coming to terms with his new circumstances. Instead of his usual irresistible form, he is now caged within the body of lumpy and pimply teen Lester Papadopolous; instead of near-omnipotence, he is now only sporadically graced with a mere shadow of his former powers; and instead of inspiring awe and adoration he now has to constantly put up with mouthy kids rolling their eyes and him and calling him names. 

And they know he’s Apollo.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Rick Riordan mythology-infused adventure if there was not a quest, and, moreover, a quest with an arbitrary timeline placed upon it. In this one, those dead Roman emperors — because this series is mostly set in the Olympian gods’ Roman aspects — are still causing havoc, and also there are zombies, you guys.

It’s silly, it’s fun, it’s just a good godly time, and even after all these books — there are, like, twenty of these mythos-infused YA outings, among his various series — Riordan can still make me catch my breath as easily as he puts a smile on my face with his increasingly outlandish adventures.

What’s that? I’m a grown-up? Yeah? So?   

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TBR DAY 270: The Tyrant’s Tomb (The Trials of Apollo #4) by Rick Riordan
GENRE: YA Fantasy, Greek Mythology, Retelling
PUBLISHED: 2019
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 weeks.  
PURCHASED FROM: Readings Carlton.
KEEP: Of course.

READING THE TBR, DAY 216: An Easy Death (2018) by Charlaine Harris

I have a somewhat complicated relationship with Charlaine Harris. For a long time — a decade, really — I was devoted to her Sookie Stackhouse stories, eschewing the television version entirely because it diverged far too much from the prosaic-meets-fantastical first person narration she gave her main character (Sookie was always painstakingly describing her household chores before heading off to meet with vampires and almost die again and again). I also enjoyed her necromancing, and step-sibling romancing, Harper Connolly books, and even the muddle that was Midnight Crossroads, with its array of supernatural creatures with SECRETS, people. SO MANY SECRETS.

But given that I hated the ending she gave to the Sookie saga, and in fact had been souring on that series long before it at last came to an end after the ill-fated Book 13, I wasn’t too sure I’d ever embark on another series with her ever again. But then this landed in my “Recommendations for You” panel on Amazon (that algorithm knows me so well; too well; better than anyone actually alive, possibly), and of course I had to buy it. Because it was Charlaine Harris and a gun-toting badass in the lawless lands of an alternate America, and how could I resist?

I’m so glad I didn’t.

Down Texoma way, at just nineteen, “Gunnie” Lizbeth Rose is a dependable and determined hired gun, trusted to get travellers to where they are going across the bandit-plagued expanses of nothingness between New America, the Holy Russian Empire and the various other divisions that make up the landmass once known as the USA. After a particularly lethal run in with some desperadoes, Lizbeth finds herself without a crew, and so agrees to take some Grigoris — Russian magicians, like with real magic and all, because of Rasputin — across the land to seek out the one man whose blood may help cure the Tsar.

When I tell you that our Gunnie’s own blood might also have some skin in that game, it won’t be much of a surprise, nor will the fact that she and one of the searching magicians get naked together pretty speedily, but what is a surprise is how action packed and well-wrought this adventuresome and perilous tale of survival is, as will the fact that Gunnie’s voice, while eerily similar to Sookie’s (it is uncertain whether Harris can ever give her first person heroine an entirely different one), is nevertheless eminently engaging, even when she is… well, painstakingly describing her household chores before heading off to meet with vampires wizards and almost die again and again. 

For all its similarities to Harris’s biggest success, however, I read this through in one breathless sitting, and will very happily embark upon the sequel as soon as I can get my hands on it. I just hope the story doesn’t drag out over thirteen books and in the end, Gunnie ends up settling down with, like, her neighborhood dry cleaner or something. 

Not again, Harris! Not again.

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TBR DAY 216: An Easy Death (Gunnie Rose #1) by Charlaine Harris
GENRE: Fantasy, Alternate History
PUBLISHED: 2018
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 210: Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) by Diana Wynne Jones

It is among my greatest shames that I do not like Studio Ghibli films. From Princess Mononoke to Ponyo to Porco Rosso, these Japanese animated features are considered masterpieces of the anime art, but for all that I have been steadily exploring that fertile playground over the past few years (hi, Tristan, my partner in weekly anime nights!), I still have not been able to work up the least enthusiasm for these .

Howl’s Moving Castle is yet another Ghibli film that I abhor, written and directed by the much-vaunted Hayao Miyazaki — in fact, I hate it so much I have never managed to get to the end of it, despite trying multiple times. So when I saw the book upon which it is (it turns out, loosely) based, I belatedly realized there was a way to find out what happened in the end without inflicting any more of that histrionic nonsense upon myself.

Told with great simplicity and no little wit, this very fairy tale-esque adventure sees a lovely young girl magicked into an old woman and forced to infiltrate a crotchety wizard’s ambulatory home in order to, perhaps, have the spell undone. We treat with family and friendship and not judging books by covers and abuse of power, and yes, there is a moving castle, which is kind of a dilapidated Hogwarts on chicken legs.

I really wish I hadn’t seen the anime so I could have imagined all of that for myself. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 171: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1986
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Already Read Bookshop, North Fitzroy.
KEEP: No, I’ll pass this on to an interested child of some kind.

READING THE TBR, DAY 197: Which Which? (1979) by Eva Ibbotson

After reading Eva Ibbotson’s wholly delightful historical romance The Countess Below Stairs, I thought it was time that I explored the children’s tales for which she is so famous. Justly, as it turns out — because Which Witch? is just a whole lot of buoyant silly wonderment.

In this world, there is dark magic and there is light, and the ancient and venerable — but very good looking — dark wizard Arriman the Aweful, frustrated by the tardiness of the prophesied heir to his throne, decides to take a wife from among the worst witches in the land. Clearly, he must procreate!

Competition is joined, and hags from across the area attempt to prove themselves worthy of this most desirable of life partners. Among them is the beautiful Belladonna, whose greatest shame is that she seems to be a good witch who makes flowers bloom rather than decay, and can heal rather than curse, but she loves Arriman to distraction (for no clear reason) and so is determined to win his hand, if not his heart.

Helping her is an orphan boy, a worm and Arriman’s much-smitten assistant, while her biggest rival has a necklace made of human teeth and also there is a ghost who was formerly fond of murdering his wives on the slightest pretext, or none at all. This is a book for kids, but it doesn’t always act like one, and has no compunction about throwing in some very Dark concepts, along with all the humour and silliness, of which there is much. 

This is just a really comical, entertaining romp, not just for kids but for anyone with a bent toward sly wit and utter ridiculousness. I am now very much looking forward to diving into the other Ibbotson kids’ books I have held onto for so, so long. Can’t wait to see what wackiness I encounter next.

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TBR DAY 197: Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1979
TIME ON THE TBR: 15 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 193: Rise of a Merchant Prince (1995) by Raymond E. Feist

So far, these Feist (occasionally in conjunction with Janny Wurts) Riftwar Cycle books — of which this is the tenth — have been pretty inoffensive High Fantasy, employing several popular tropes and an often fairly simplistic writing style, but adventuresome and intriguing enough to make me happy enough to keep reading.

This one is so, so terrible, I kind of want to quit reading this series forever — which upsets me, because I have more than ten more of these things on my TBR, and have cared for them for way too long.

The problem here is in our… er… protagonist? Anti-hero?… Roo, whom we first met in the first book of this sub-series, Shadow of a Dark Queen. Best friend of that book’s hero, Erik, he was always an aspiring businessman, but in this book he reveals him to be the most venal and vicious creep of a jerk of a main character outside of Patrick Bateman and Humbert Humbert, and I hated every moment I spent in his company.

Look, I get it. Feist was clearly trying something new here, maybe in response to people making comments like “employing several popular tropes and an often fairly simplistic writing style” about his books. But boy did he fail, and the last half of the book, in which Roo betrays his wife when he’s seduced by a (predictable) spy for the Serpent Queen — oh yeah, the invasion is still imminent, but it takes a backseat to the so-fascinating vagaries of shipping wine and dealing with the Midkaemian version of the Mob — is just awful.

If I do return to this series, it is going to take a long, long time before I can rid my mouth of the bad taste of this one.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 193: Rise of a Merchant Prince (Serpent War Saga #2) by Raymond E. Feist
GENRE: Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 1995
TIME ON THE TBR: 15 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: I’d really rather not, but it’s part of a series, so…

READING THE TBR, DAY 183: Shadow and Bone (2012) by Leigh Bardugo

Having read this book, I have to now wonder if I really genuinely disliked Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, or whether I just don’t like Fantasy novels set against a Russian backdrop. Because here is another one of those, and here is another one I just really didn’t like at all.

So, are these books the problem , or am I just really cross about Tsarist-style feudalism?

Here, Russia is known as Ravka, and the aristocracy is represented by mages, the majority of whom are very firmly Slytherin house, and happy about it. Joining their ranks is Unlikely Heroine Alina, an orphan whose secret, dormant powers may just save the land from the ravening Shadow Fold, where be monsters. If she can learn how to use them. But Alina is being manipulated by dark forces within Ravka’s leadership, and, of course, her so-handsome and courageous best-friend, fellow orphan Mal (who disappears for much of the book) is unjustly angry with her, just because she wears dresses now, or something.

Honestly, I don’t think it was the totalitarian Tsarism of it all, but this book itself. I just couldn’t connect with Alina, found her incessant who me?-ing frustrating, and thought that the obvious secret villain was so damned obvious he might as well have been twirling a black mustache throughout. I’m not entirely sure he wasn’t. 

So I really didn’t like Uprooted on its own… lack of merits either, then. Right. Good. That’s what I thought.

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TBR DAY 183: Shadow and Bone (Shadow and Bone #1) by Leigh Bardugo
GENRE: Fantasy, YA, YA Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2012
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Dymocks.
KEEP: Nope.

READING THE TBR, DAY 177: A Plague of Giants (2017) by Kevin Hearne

Right up until it’s fiercely unsatisfying conclusion — the ninth novel in the series, 2018’s Scourged — I really loved Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, so when he released this, the first novel in a whole new series, and in the midst of awaiting the final adventures of Atticus, Granuaile and co., of course I snapped it up right away. 

I started in on it then, at first excited—then questioning, but still hopeful—then thoroughly confused—then frustrated—then I was done.

This is a weird book. And I needed a break.

Two years later, at last I returned to its bizarre pages, and I tried. I really, really did. I tried so long and so hard that I actually got a headache. This book is over 600 pages, and today I got 150 pages in. But then I just had to call it. 

Turns out I really dislike this book. I dislike its way too many shifting perspectives, its convoluted time shifts, and more than anything, I dislike how utterly boring it is. How does one make giants boring? Make magic boring? I don’t know, but it seems like Hearne is capable of exactly that magic trick.

So I am giving up. Giving in. And I don’t even feel the least bit bad about it.

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TBR DAY 177: A Plague of Giants (Seven Kennings #1) by Kevin Hearne
GENRE: Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2017
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur Melbourne
KEEP: Nope.

READING THE TBR, DAY 159: Wild Magic (1992) by Tamora Pierce

I hate when this happens.

I read Wild Magic, a novel featuring many of the tropes that I love, and I really enjoyed it. Assured by the almighty Google that it was the first novel in the Immortals series (as emblazoned on its cover) it details the exploits of young Daine, a teenage animal mage of uncertain parentage, who enters the Kingdom of Tortall and becomes embroiled in various battles against the darkness that seeks to invade its peaceful lands. Before long she gets herself a couple of mentors, an audience with King, and a reputation for extraordinary talent, and it was all fairly forgettable, but still enjoyable, YA Fantasy fun.   

But then, just now, I have learned that this is not the first novel in the Tortall series. It is the first in the Immortals quartet, but a whole other quartet, Song of the Lioness, came out several years before it, and I just… I just hate this. I hate that I have not read this series in publication order. It tarnishes the entire experience for me, and really, how hard is it to list other titles in a series inside your book, publishers? It’s not hard! And if you’re going to put “The Immortals Book I” on the cover, then at least include “A Tale of Tortall” or something, as well. 

Sigh.

So now my feelings about this book are tinged with regret, and its not fair, but I don’t even know when I will be able to return to Daine’s antics now. Should I go find and read the Lioness series first? Probably. Yes, I think I will have to.

Dammit.

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TBR DAY 143: Wild Magic (Immortals #1) by Tamora Pierce
GENRE: Fantasy, YA
PUBLISHED: 1992
TIME ON THE TBR: ~12 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Borders.
KEEP: Maybe.

READING THE TBR, DAY 146: Warbreaker (2009) by Brandon Sanderson

This book so, so, so long for me to get into it. And it particularly confused me as I read, because I felt like I knew the world in which it lay, or at least kind of did, but I was certain I’d not read this book before, and it was most assuredly a standalone novel.

After a few chapters I realized that it reminded me of other Sanderson works, specifically the two novellas he wrote based on the iOS video game Infinity Blade. Not having played the game, I have no idea how much of its mythology is manufactured by Sanderson in those stories, but it was certainly disconcerting to me, for a while at least, that so much of the book felt so familiar.

Once I got past that feeling I then had to contend with just how slow everything was, and how generally confusing. But eventually, painstakingly, the world began to captivate, and by about the 30% mark I was inhaling it, swept away on a current of magic and mayhem.

It is a tale of politics and magic and people coming back from the dead. In a divided kingdom, long-ago taken over by the “gods” who are those returned to life after death (for no discernible reason, so it must be because they are divine), two princesses and daughters of the One True King become embroiled in the difficult politics of a capital city, the gods who rule it and the priests who actually rule it. Eldest princess Vivenna has the hardest road, and learns the most, while Siri (this book predates the iPhone assistant; it was actually self-published on-line by Sanderson, one chapter at a time, in 2006) goes from much-despised sacrificial youngster to revolutionary queen with a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome.

One of the things I liked best about this book is the magic system, which is all colour-based, and while I don’t really understand it, I don’t need to, because it’s magic and that is all I need to know, as long it is consistent. (Which, here, it is.) There is also one particular pair — two “gods” of this odd earthly pantheon — whose banter is top-notch, and that really added to my enjoyment of the book, as well.

Warbreaker is far from my favourite Sanderson novel, and may actually be one of his worst, but when you’re dealing with a writer of his calibre, his worst outstrips most people’s bests by a long, long way.

Incidentally, my copy bears the legend “A Sci-Fi Essential Book”, which is weird, since a) it’s pretty obviously a Fantasy, and b) it’s not.

The reasons for this? a) Sanderson has long contended that all his works take place on different planets in the same universe, or “Cosmere”, and thus are inherently SF even if they are very much just F in their presentation; and b) it refers not to science fiction at large but to the then-Sci-Fi Channel, since between 2005 and 2010, the channel had a weird cross-promotion thing with Tor Books, which included this puzzling branding.

The more you know! 

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TBR DAY 146: Warbreaker  by Brandon Sanderson
GENRE: Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2009
TIME ON THE TBR: 10 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur, Melbourne.
KEEP: Yes…