Provenance (Imperial Radch)

By Ann Leckie

Rating: 4 stars

Taking place in Leckie’s Ancillary universe, the points of connection with the Radch books are pretty limited as this book takes place entirely outside Radch space, although the events that Breq has set off at the end of that trilogy are referenced here, and, in some ways, set many of the events in this book in motion.

Although we’re outside Radch space so gender is acknowledged, Leckie still plays around with it a bit, introducing a third gender (nemen, with pronoun e/em). Never explained, it’s just there, right from the start as a normal part of society, which I quite liked.

The book starts with Ingray Aughskold offworld, doing something very illegal for, it turns out, very boring reasons: she wants to get an edge over her foster-brother for her mother’s approval and possibly be named her heir. I must confess that the “poor rich girl” stuff at the start put me off a bit, as I found it difficult to empathise with Ingray’s motives. But things are, as always, More Complicated Than That and soon there’s a murder of a foreign citizen, and meddling aliens to go along with local politics and I’m finding myself completely swept up in the story, and Ingray’s evolution as a character.

The idea of the prison known as Compassionate Removal (the euphemism made me smile) is intriguing as well. Ingray’s people know nothing about it, and consider people sent there legally dead. The person who returns is reticent to talk about it, but the hints e drops make me want to know more, and also speaks volumes about the society that created it. It’s a nice piece of worldbuilding, not that that’s a surprise, it’s something Leckie is excellent at. Speaking of worldbuilding, another element that I really enjoyed was the universal obsession with “vestiges” on Ingray’s planet. These are souvenirs of events, from a ticket to the space station to the declaration of independence; each family guards their own vestiges, I suppose the physical reminders of their history, jealously, and the idea that some, indeed, many, could be fakes leads to some interesting speculation about what that revelation could mean for the society.

So the book took a little for me to warm to but once I did, I enjoyed it as thoroughly as the Ancillary books.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356506982
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Year of publication: 2017

Myriad Lands: Volume 2: Beyond the Edge

By David R. Stokes

Rating: 3 stars

Like the first volume, this anthology tries to have a diverse set of voices and non-traditional settings, to try and widen the field for everybody. To be honest, I don’t think this volume succeeded as much as its predecessor. I think this may be because this contains stories set in secondary worlds, where there’s not a direct connection to place to help give a sense of setting.

This collection also felt darker than its predecessor, with stories like The Rounds (although that is lightened by its dark humour); Hollow, about the hopeless fight of “whole” men against the “hollow” men; and the, to me, incomprehensible Night Child, which couldn’t seem to make up its mind who its protagonist was and seemed to be lifted directly from some larger work, and felt incomplete to me. Against this, there are some gems including Adrian Tchaikovsky’s The Language of Flowers involving an assassins’ guild with a horticultural bent; Tanith Lee’s I Bring You Forever which was a beautiful read; and (my personal favourite in the collection), God-Daughter by Melissa Mead which is a fun little story about a previously absent father coming into his daughter’s life and a lovely way to close the collection, leaving a smile on my face.

So, to me, not as strong as its predecessor but still a lot of good stories (if many of them too dark for my tastes – although they’re not necessarily all dark in their own right, it’s just that too many in a row starts to wear heavily).

Book details

ISBN: 9781911486084
Publisher: Guardbridge Books

Of Women: In the 21st Century

By Shami Chakrabarti

Rating: 2 stars

Unlike Chakrabarti’s last book, On Liberty, I’m struggling to find a central thesis to this book. It takes as its premise that gender injustice is the greatest human rights abuse on the planet. The eight chapters describe the position of women in different fields of life, including the home, reproductive rights, schooling, conflict, and faith.

I ended up reading the book quite slowly as it felt denser and less engaging than its predecessor and never felt that it had the clarity of thought or of purpose of ‘On Liberty’. The problems that she articulates are all well understood and I didn’t feel that she offered anything new to the discussion, nor do I feel that solutions were offered. I’m not sure that many of the conclusions that she does reach were wildly original – the chapter on faith concludes that change has to come from within faith communities, for example.

Apologies for returning again to her previous book, but I thought ‘On Liberty’ was a great book and, alas, this didn’t live up to it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141985350
Publisher: Penguin

Peril at End House (Hercule Poirot #8)

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 3 stars

A retired Hercule Poirot is on holiday with his faithful friend Captain Hastings when he makes the acquaintance of a young lady whose accidents around the town seem to be more than just accidents.

It seems to me that Christie was having some fun at the expense of M. Poirot in this novel. She pokes sly fun at his vanity and arrogance, but with a fondness that I found quite endearing. Despite his high opinion of himself, he’s often confused and stumped, and more than once is set on the right track by his faithful Hastings.

It was an interesting choice at the end to have Poirot guess that Nick intends to kill herself but to make no move to stop it. He plays fast and loose like this in other books too and it’s a reminder that he’s definitely not the police but a private individual with his own moral code. I sort of hope that the young Mr Vyse who leaves in a hurry at the end is off to go and stop her.

I always gamely try to figure out whodunnit and I rarely get it. This time was no exception. Right up to the end, I had no clue, although once it’s revealed, the clues were all there. There’s a lot of clever misdirection going on that totally threw me.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006138938
Publisher: Fontana
Year of publication: 1932

Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3)

By Becky Chambers

Rating: 5 stars

I think it took me longer to warm up to this book than it’s taken for previous Wayfarer books. There are more PoV characters and fewer aliens (there’s really only one who plays a role in the story) so it takes a while to get into the swing of things. Early on, things felt quite… negative isn’t quite the word that I’m looking for, but several of our PoV characters didn’t enjoy their life in the Fleet, and the book needed to show us that, to show us how the characters would react to it and develop.

Moreso than the other Wayfarer books, this one doesn’t have much of a plot. There are five PoV characters and the book interweaves their lives and uses their eyes to show us the Exodus Fleet, the people who live there and their ways of life. It mixes the old and the young, the incomers and those who feel stifled. We get a sort of alien PoV with the xenopologist who is visiting the Fleet and we get segments of her essays to provide another viewpoint of the Fleet.

I was rather gutted when Sawyer died. I can see how his death was the catalyst for change and moving other stories on, but I felt for him. He was just a kid, and although he didn’t understand the Fleet, he was desperately trying. I so wanted the Silver Lining to be like the Wayfarer and for him to find a life there, and it was heartbreaking when he discovered that it wasn’t to be. And then to be killed by something so random was sad.

By the end, I was, as I had hoped, completely smitten by the book. Like the other Wayfarer books, I suspect it will benefit from a rereading, which, unlike many series, this series definitely gets. It doesn’t take much to make me blub these days, and I found myself welling up an awful lot, at both sad and happy bits, and bits where people showed courage and realised who they were and where they came from. Say it with me: “From the ground, we stand. From our ships, we live. By the stars, we hope.”

Book details

ISBN: 9781473647602
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Year of publication: 2018

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