This is the eighth book in a series. While this review is spoiler-free for the book itself, it might contain spoilers for the other books in the series. To avoid getting spoiled, please do not read this review without having first read the other books in the series.
Trigger warnings for this novel may be found at the very bottom of this review.
I think it is safe to say that nowadays, politics is more like a circus than anything else, and we all have front-row seats whether we like it or not. I certainly feel that way, watching an erstwhile mayor-turned-president attempt to use brutish small-town tactics on a national level, while his sycophantic followers praise him to high heavens and use his influence to forward their own agendas. This, while on the other side of the Pacific, an equally incompetent president helms the most powerful (and therefore most dangerous) country in the world, whose actions and words alternately threaten total political collapse or World War III – and sometimes, both at once.
Against this backdrop of troubled (and troubling) politics and world events, the Elder Gods loom larger than ever. Though these powerful denizens of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos have always been popular in speculative fiction, they have recently become popular enough that they are surfacing in more mainstream consciousness. On one hand, there is a growing movement in SFF that attempts to deconstruct Lovecraft’s oeuvre by casting a wary and hairy eye on his racism and classism, both of which are deeply embedded in the bones of the Mythos itself. More and more, SFF authors – especially those from minority backgrounds – are beginning to realise that Lovecraft’s disgusting politics cannot be allowed to go unchallenged, and many of them have found excellent and fascinating ways to address those politics via stories ranging from short stories to immersive novels, along with essays and reportage across various forms of media.
I enjoy a good love story. It’s what drives me to read (and write) fanfic, and why I return, time and time again, to romance novels. Of course, I cannot say for sure that the stories I, myself, write are any good, but I can say with confidence what kinds of love stories I do and don’t like. In general, I am amenable to all sorts of tropes and clichés, but what I do require is a certain level of believability. That level can be quite flexible, since I do not always expect complete and total adherence to lifelike verisimilitude, but I do expect that a story can, at the very least, convince me of the authenticity of the feelings on display. Happy endings are appreciated, of course, but they are not an absolute requirement; if the story is such that a happy ending would not be believable, then I am likely to be dissatisfied with the story in question if it tries to give me a happy ending when a tragic one strikes me as more appropriate. Similarly, I am not entirely opposed to the love-at-first-sight cliche, but I do expect any writer making use of it to, at the very least, use it well.
Unfortunately, finding a good love story has not been easy as of late. To be sure, young adult books (YA being what currently appears to be the most popular genre) tell a great many love stories, but an enormous chunk of them don’t read as very convincing. More often than not they feel trite and hurried, relying entirely too much on cliches in place of showing genuine, actual feeling. That is, after all, the hard part of writing a love story: convincing the reader that what the characters are feeling is authentic. (This is also why I do not often show the fanfic I write to other people; what I write feels authentic to me as the writer, but I cannot guarantee that it will feel the same way to others. But since I write such stories for my own personal pleasure and not for an audience, I am content to keep them squirrelled away for my own fun.)
Alternate history has always fascinated me. I suppose this should come as no surprise, since anyone who reads my blog can easily see that I enjoy both historical fiction and science fiction, but based on my reviews for the former, plus my reviews of nonfiction history-focused books, some might assume that I hold history sacred: something that cannot be touched, cannot be manipulated, no matter what. The truth, however, is that I enjoy a good tale of alternate history – enough that a good friend and I have engaged in it before, building an alternate reality of the Borgias and Renaissance Italy. And besides, as the host of the podcast Hardcore History often says, very few historians can resist playing around with “what if?” questions, though most of them are disciplined enough not to let such speculation spill into the more academic corners of their lives.
Despite this interest, however, I I do not often pick up alternate history stories, mostly because very few of them really interest me enough to want to spend money and time on them. Most of the time, I pass over alternate history novels because a lot of them don’t engage with a historical period I’m interested in reading about. I see plenty of alternate histories based around the Industrial Revolution and onwards, but those periods hold very little interest for me except under certain specific circumstances. On the other hand, I would happily spend money and time on an alternate history of Renaissance Italy, or of the ancient world, but those tend to be few and far between, or are sufficiently obscure that I do not really encounter them at the usual places I go to for books.
This review is based on an ARC given to me by the publisher, Angry Robot Books. This does not in any way affect my review.
This novel is slated for release on November 7, 2017.
I have a confession to make: I came late – very late – to the Firefly bandwagon. When the series first came out in 2002 I was deeply involved in other fandoms, but even when its popularity resurged after Serenity was released, I took a long while to finally make my way to it. When I did, though, it was immediately clear to me why it had the following it did, and why it continues to be popular today, long after the series ended and the movie was released. While the concept and storyline are certainly quite good, it’s the characters that really explain why the series caught on as it did and remains, to this day, much-beloved in SFF circles. To be sure, they are not without their problems (mostly because the show was cut far too short for any solid character development to happen), but for the most part, the Serenity’s wisecracking, somewhat amoral, internally-broken, but intensely loyal found family was – is – the franchise’s beating heart.
Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for a story (not specifically sci-fi) that plays with similar themes, and I’ve been lucky to find it, to a greater or lesser degree, elsewhere: for example, in Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series, and in Foz Meadows’ Manifold Worlds duology, as well as in Bioware’s Mass Effect video games. It’s a quality I always look out for, because while there is nothing wrong with romantic relationships, I have a great appreciation for stories that focus on platonic and filial relationships – especially if it’s about building one’s own family, instead of relying exclusively on one’s blood relations.
Trigger warnings for this book can be found at the very bottom of this review.
More and more these days, people are choosing not to have children. People may marry, it is true, but just because people are married does not necessarily mean they want to have children. I can point to my own cousin as an example; she and her husband have been married for more than five years now, and neither of them has any plans to have children. The idea of having kids, at least for them, is more a nebulous idea: maybe they will, but more likely they won’t. When asked, they often cite cost of living; it’s expensive raising a child in the United States, even though both of them are financially well-off and are in stable careers. There are likely other reasons, of course, but that is the one they give out the most to my aunt and uncle – most likely because it is the reason that is easiest for my aunt and uncle to swallow. I suspect that my cousin and her husband have decided to opt out of having children for a few other reasons than simply the financial aspect, but I cannot ask them the question without lacking delicadeza.
But it is hard to blame people for opting out of parenthood – not least because being a parent means being in a constant state of fear. For a person with a uterus, that fear starts from the moment they find out they are pregnant, and subsequently decide to keep the foetus. Pregnancy is immensely taxing on the body, to say nothing of the financial strain it can cause. And then, provided that the baby comes into the world relatively healthy, the new parents must now ask themselves how they can keep their child not only safe, but become a healthy, happy, well-adjusted individual. These fears are further fuelled by the Internet and social media, where Facebook and celebrity endorsements inundate parents with things they are doing wrong and how this book or toy or baby carrier or whole new parenting ideology can help them raise a better, faster, stronger child (apologies to Daft Punk).