As I may have mentioned elsewhere, I have an appreciation for creatures with tentacles. Anyone who’s known me long enough also knows that I’m not above cooing over a boogly-eyed octopus, or squid, or cuttlefish – especially if it’s soft and plushy and comes in pastel colours. It’s a very weird definition of cute, I know, but it appeals to me regardless.
Despite their tentacled nature, however, jellyfish have never struck me as cute. “Cute” is not the right word, but “beautiful” certainly is. Typing “jellyfish video” into a Google search will pull up several videos like this one, which showcase the ethereal beauty of jellyfish swimming. There is something hypnotic about the way they move through the water, trailing translucent tentacles behind them like tulle streamers, or shreds of elaborate antique lace. Watching them is an exercise in tranquility: tracing their slow movement through the water with one’s eyes can be extremely calming, as can timing one’s breathing to the pulsing of their bells.
This is a review for the third book in a series, and may contain spoilers for the previous books. Please make sure to read the previous books before reading this review.
I love a good doorstopper. Not everyone has the patience for them, to be sure, but I enjoy them immensely. In the years since I first immersed myself in Tolkien’s trilogy (which technically can be considered a doorstopper cut into three parts), I have found myself happily getting lost in other, very long stories. Not all of them have been speculative fiction (the Tale of Genji is a literary classic: the first novel ever written), but since epic stories are generally more accepted in fantasy, many of my favourite doorstopper tomes have been in that genre. This is not entirely surprising; after all, fantasy – especially secondary-world epic fantasy – requires a fair amount of world-building.
One of the best examples of this currently in publication is Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive: a truly epic tale with a projected ten books in the series. Oathbringer is the third book in that series, and continues where the first two books, Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, left off.
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.