and my spam promises me a 'Massage from International Monetary Fund Unit London'. I guess the economic crisis is really calling for desperate measures.
Obligatory Monty Python reference: "And now, a massage from the Swedish Prime Minister."
Anyway, yes, I have been reading. Stacking up the recently-read, I saw that I had still managed to knock off a few books through the revision blitz, in part because I can't revise on my lunch hour or while waiting in lines. Add to that more intensive reading last week, and it makes a stack I'm at least not ashamed of.
The Cup of the World, by John Dickinson, Random House 2007. Phaedra, only child of the Warden of Trant, refuses all suitors, both for fear of dying in childbirth and for love of a man she has met only in dreams. When the king's son courts her, her dream-lover comes to take her away, and proves to be the mysterious and ill-famed lord of the province across the inland sea. Her elopement is the trigger for war, and she hardly knows who to trust, who will betray her, or who she must betray next.
Not an ordinary fantasy. The world setup is nothing unusual - a continent with an inland sea, ringed with provinces & city-states, unstable politics and a king holding on by the fingernails. But the rulers came in ships, and there were aboriginal people, so there's a conflict rarely examined. The hillmen (shades of Kipling perhaps?) have a mythology involving a Great Mother, quite different from the near-Christianity of Phaedra's people. Phaedra is not an entirely sympathetic character, somewhat cold and self-centred (also only 15 in the first chapter) but with an inner core of toughness and endurance. What really stands out is how much of the story is what happens at home while the battles and raids and treaties are happening elsewhere, and how much of the intrigue and discovery is Phaedra's story and coming of age.
Thirteen Orphans, by Jane Lindskold, Tor 2008. I really like the premise of this - that when the first emperor of China 'burned the books and buried the scholars', he unknowingly created another world, the Lands of Smoke and Sacrifice, an alt-China. I admit to some disappointment that the story takes place in our world, where the characters' ancestors (the Thirteen Orphans) fled after dynastic overthrow in the Lands. Within a couple-three generations of assimilation, the descendants mostly believe the the history of how the Twelve protected the Thirteenth (true heir of the overthrown dynasty) and how they were exiled to be delusions or bedtime stories. But the Lands are once again in turmoil, and about to spill over into our world again.
Perhaps it is my increasing age, but I was more interested in the older characters, Pearl and Des (whose full name is the wonderful Desperate Lee, because of a birth certificate misunderstanding) than in the younger Brenda, discovering some unexpected powers as she takes on the role of the zodiac Rat. I was also made a bit uncomfortable by Brenda's nemesis from the Lands, a slinky sexpot who seems like a Dragon Lady in training - I really hope she's humanised in the sequels.
I tell you, it's hard to read big thick books when coming off a revision high. My cutting goggles are still on, and I keep asking 'does this scene need to be here?'
Which brings me to The Apocalypse Door, by James D. Macdonald, Tor 2009. In which there may not even be a superfluous syllable, let alone scene. This moves at a dead run, with black humour gasped out here and there. Not what you'd read for lyrical description or introspective character development--the main character does have a crisis of faith, but he has to keep running while he has it. It's great fun, but I wouldn't describe it as a romp, because there's an edge of seriousness throughout, not so much because of the threatened apocalypse (which is almost a staple of urban fantasy: Buffy stalled it at least once a month) as the questions of faith and purpose that move the characters.
I also read The Confessions of Peter Crossman, ordered from Lulu.com, three stories of the Knight Templar special agent and his rival and occasional sidekick, Sister Mary Magdalene, leather-clad assassin and Bride of Christ. A nice warm-up for the Apocalypse Door.
Oh, and I wrangled around with pdf and jpgs and put together my three alt-Europe 3-day novellas to make a single volume on Lulu. Not public, but so I can have a convenient hard copy. After I've seen my first copy and discovered whether the cover or anything needs fixing, I can share the url for private ordering, which is $8 US for pbk, or free download.
I titled it Threefold, in case anyone wondered.