BooksOfTheMoon

Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2)

By Ann Leckie

Rating: 5 stars

Breq is the last body remaining to an AI that used to be Justice of Toren, a starship with hundreds of ‘ancillary’ human bodies. All that was destroyed and Breq vowed to kill Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch, but has instead found herself made a Fleet Captain, put in command of the Mercy of Kalr and sent to secure a star system as part of an outbreak of civil war.

I loved this book as much as, or possibly more than, its predecessor, Ancillary Justice. That was, in essence, a fairly straightforward military space opera/revenge story. This book keeps the military flavour, but adds deeper political overtones, as Breq has to navigate local system politics, use but not abuse her new power and try and keep an eye on the greater civil war breaking out in the Empire.

One thing that I loved about this book was the fact that the heroine is working for the Emperor. It’s clear that, like all empires, really terrible things have been done in forging it (not least the creation of ancillaries themselves) and Breq is seriously questioning it (something that she couldn’t do as Justice of Toren) and growing as a person at the same time.

The supporting cast are mostly in shadow here. Seivarden returns from the previous book, but spends most of it on the Mercy of Kalr, away from the action. In her place is Lieutenant Tisarwat, a young officer foist upon Breq before the start of her mission.

The convention of being gender-blind continues here, with all characters referred to as ‘she’. I like this because it forces you to confront your own prejudices; for example, in my head the magistrate and tea grower (both positions of power) were male. No reason for this, but they were, before I realised what I was doing. But the gender politics are very much in the background. This is a solid space opera, with a lot of depth to it, and I really look forward to the next (final?) book in the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356502410
Publisher: Orbit UK (Little, Brown Book Group)

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1)

By Ann Leckie

Rating: 5 stars

The soldier who goes by the name of Breq is in the final stages of plotting revenge when she comes across Seivarden Vendaai, lying naked and dying in the snow. Why she stops to help him is something even she doesn’t know, but he becomes entangled in her own life and the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance.

I really rather loved this book. Breq is something more and something less than human. Her body was once human, but killed and reanimated. Her intelligence is artificial, being the last remaining component of the starship Justice of Toren, trying to make sense of and work with a single body rather than the resources of thousands of its ‘ancillaries’.

Although Breq (or Justice of Toren) is very much the hero of the piece, the book never shies away from the fact that it was a military ship involved in the invasion and subjugation of many civilisations and planets. It’s done terrible things in its time, but in some ways this is a redemption story as well, with Breq trying, in her own way, to make up for her own past actions.

Breq is also a fascinating protagonist. Being part of an AI with multiple bodies, we get a first person narrative, but from multiple points of view, which gives us both the intimacy of a first person narrator, but also the traditional omniscient narrative, as Justice of Toren is seeing all these things at the same time.

At first in the book, I felt a bit thrown off-balance and it took a while to work out why. It was because all the characters that Breq met seemed to be female. It took a while for this to sink in. If they had been male I wouldn’t have even noticed. As far as I’m concerned, this is a good thing – it makes me aware that despite my best efforts, I still have in-built preconceptions, and helps me to try and break through them. In fact, in the story, it’s more interesting than that. The language that Breq thinks in doesn’t make distinction between genders, and the pronoun that she uses is ‘she’ for everyone (and finds it difficult to tell the difference between genders, as the outward signs vary so much between cultures).

Come to think of it, I have no idea if Breq is male or female. She’s referred to as ‘she’ by other characters, but I, think, always in the Radch language, so it’s entirely possible that she’s actually male.

The world-building in the story is really good as well. The civilisation of the Radch, to which JoT belongs, has been expanding for a millennium and eventually met its match with an alien species, and is forced to sue for peace. The Lord of the Radch has, like the ancillaries, thousands of bodies, spread through many star systems, so can always be personally present as the ultimate form of law and justice, meaning that the ‘centre of power’ is always fairly near by, rather than being some distant Rome, and that mind across multiple bodies is played in interesting ways.

So an awful lot in there to think about and digest, but also a really fun space opera with a twist. One of the reasons that I read this book when I did is that it was published in 2013 and I get to nominate and vote in the 2014 Hugo awards. From all I heard, this might be a contender for nomination. From my point of view, it most definitely is.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356502403
Publisher: Orbit UK (Little, Brown Book Group)
Year of publication: 2013

The Folk Tales of Scotland: The Well at the World’s End and Other Stories

By Norah Montgomerie, William Montgomerie

Rating: 3 stars

This was an interesting collection of folk- and fairy-tales from across Scotland. Most of them are very short, only a few pages each, which hardly leaves any space for characterisation or plot development. There’s a lot of repetition within stories as well – the power of three crops up again and again where the hero must do things three times to get the effect. I imagine this works better in the oral tradition than written down. There are also variations on well-known stories (including Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin) and lots of very traditional roles (princess offered in marriage as a prize for the hero recurs often).

But it’s interesting to read older versions of some of these traditional stories to see how they’ve evolved over time and where there are seeds for other stories. It’s also nice (if somewhat surprising) to see several stories featuring Finn McCool, who’s more closely associated with Irish mythology.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841586946
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Year of publication: 1956

The Clyde: Mapping the River

By John N. Moore

Rating: 3 stars

Like its predecessor, Glasgow: Mapping the City, this book is meticulously researched and does exactly what it says on the tin. It consists of various maps of and around the river Clyde, providing different insights to the river valley and firth. The maps are organised by theme, with early historical maps of the river coming first, followed by sections on navigating and improving the channel, military-related maps, agricultural and commercial maps, those indicating the bridging and fording of the river, tourism and leisure, and finally, mapping around the towns along the Clyde.

Obviously, I’m most interested in those maps that focus on Glasgow (and there’s some overlap with the previous book in that regard) and the maps from elsewhere along the river, especially the military ones (which tended to be quite technical) were less interesting. There’s also less scope for interesting sociological maps in this book, although it still manages to include maps relating to sewage disposal (I didn’t know that for many years, waste would be loaded on to barges in the Clyde and driven out to be disposed of out where the firth meets the sea) and the orchards of Lanarkshire.

There’s no skimping on the physical artefact either. Although slightly too large to hold comfortably, the large pages mean lots of detail in the glossy full-colour maps. I’d recommend having a magnifying glass to hand as well, to zoom in on the detail as you’re poring over the immaculate reproductions.

So not as personally interesting to me as its predecessor, but still an excellent resource on the cartography of Clydesdale and the firth of Clyde.

Book details

ISBN: 9781780274829
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Year of publication: 2017

The Raven Tower

By Ann Leckie

Rating: 4 stars

The country of Iraden has been protected by the god known as The Raven for centuries. Now war is coming to Iraden, the Raven’s Lease is dying and the Lease’s Heir returns to the capital to take his place. Alongside him comes his aide, Eolo, and their world will crumble and change around them.

This is a really interesting book. It’s told in a strange combination of the first and second person. I’m not normally a fan of the use of the second person, but because of the way the narrative is being told here, it’s not immediately the reader that is the “you”, but the narrator telling a story in the present tense to Eolo. It’s interesting and clever and I find it works. I also really like the narrator and their story – they are a god, one of many that roam this world. The magic system of the world is really interesting as well: the gods have magic in that they can only speak the truth. If they say something that wasn’t true before, their words will make it so (if they have the power, otherwise it could kill them).

The narrator weaves their own story with that of Eolo and his master; and, I must confess, that I found the epic story of gods across the ages more interesting than petty power-broking and politicking in the present. At least, until the two stories started to converge.

Because it’s Ann Leckie and it’s expected to be mentioned, there is some playing with gender, although it’s limited to Eolo being a trans man, and being pretty universally accepted as such.

I certainly enjoyed the book (I must confess I still don’t understand the implications of the turning of the stone) and would welcome an expansion of the universe, although it seems that the story here is pretty self-contained and complete.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356507026
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2019

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition 2

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

After losing her first love Yugo, Alita abandons her old life and throws herself into the sport of motorball, rising up the ranks pretty quickly. She challenges the reigning champion, Jasugun, to a match, and in the course of that, she learns more about her past.

I didn’t find Alita hugely likeable in this volume. After the fairly bubbly personality from volume one, she goes full emo here, as she abandons Ido (even ignoring him when he comes looking for her), wanting to forget her loss. Ido finds new family with the trusting young woman Shumira and her brother, who he helps when he has seizures.

I’ve mostly never felt that the characters in this series are sexualised. Even when Alita isn’t wearing clothes, she’s very clearly more machine than person, and the images (to me) don’t feel sexual. Which is why a full-frontal nude scene of Shumira in the shower felt so out of place. As well as feeling unnecessary, it felt entirely gratuitous and not required for the plot at all.

Some of the action scenes are still difficult to follow, and I thought it got confusing towards the end. I’m still not entirely sure how the fight between Alita and Jasugun played out. But there was some tantalising back-story in there, and the art does remain pretty, quite distinctive and very evocative.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632365996
Publisher: Kodansha America, Inc

Battle Angel Alita Deluxe Edition Volume 1

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 4 stars

While searching the Scrapyard in which he lives for cybernetic parts, Dr Ido finds the dormant, but still-living, head and torso of a young woman. He carries her home and installs her in a new cyborg body. The woman has lost her memory, so Ido names her Alita and she sets about learning more about the world that she finds herself, and the uncanny martial arts ability that she seems to have, even if she has no other memories.

I encountered Alita first in the form of the Hollywood film which I enjoyed enough to look for the manga it was based on. That led me to the beautiful box set of hard backs of which this is volume 1. The plot of the film more or less mirrors this first volume, with mysterious references to the leader of Zalem taken out. The art is very pretty and I really enjoyed the few colour pages at the start of each chapter (although those seemed to peter out towards the end). In saying that, though, sometimes, it isn’t always easy to follow the direction of an action sequence. And it’s very violent. When the only death that matters is brain death, the body is disposable, and treated as such, leading to various kinds of dismemberment, removal of spinal cords and worse.

We get almost nothing of Alita’s history before she falls into the Scrapyard in this volume. I assume that’s still to come. We also only get a tiny hint of Ido’s history. I look forward to finding out more about both.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632365989
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Year of publication: 1990

The March North

By Graydon Saunders

Rating: 3 stars

I got this book recommended to me by a friend as the opposite of grimdark fantasy. I enjoyed quite a lot of it, but I did have some trouble with it at times. For a start, I understand the book was self-published, which is all very well, but I do feel like the author could have done with an editor at times; many passages felt obtuse and I had to read them several times before I had a decent idea of what they meant. Something else that I found grating was the deliberate refusal to provide genders for characters. I have no problem with this in principle, but please use constructs like “they/them” or one of the other sets of adjectives. Repeatedly using the characters’ names in a sentence to avoid he/she just felt clunky. It also didn’t help that Saunders is very fond of archaic or jargonistic language. I’m really glad that I was reading on a Kindle, so I could consult the built-in dictionary (which I found myself doing more frequently than I would have liked). Expanding one’s vocabulary is all very well, but it did start to feel like hard work at times.

Speaking of hard work, Saunders really throws you in at the deep end and leaves you to sink or swim. There’s no hand-holding going on here. We start with a military man of some kind expecting (sorcerous) visitors to his area and rapidly go on from there to repealing a military invasion from another country. What the Commonweal is, what a Standard-Captain is, or the focus, or the Shape of Peace are things you’re left to figure out for yourself. There’s no harm in making the reader work for their story, but this, combined with the editing issues I mention above mean that it took a while for me to get through this book. I still don’t know if I’ll go on to the others in the series.

But despite that, my friend was right: I did enjoy the shape of this story, in which an egalitarian, democratic nation exists in the midst of its more traditional fantasy neighbours. Where extremely powerful (basically immortal) sorcerers, who used to behave like Dark Lords in the past, agree to bind themselves into the nation for the greater good. In a world filling up with strongmen and “leaders” whose only goal in power is to stay in power, it’s good to have examples to look up to.

Book details

ISBN: 9780993712609
Publisher: Tall Woods Books
Year of publication: 2014

The Secret Chapter (The Invisible Library #6)

By Genevieve Cogman

Rating: 5 stars

The world in which Irene grew up is in danger of turning towards chaos, and she must retrieve a book from another world to stabilise it. However, that book is owned by a Fae who demands that she steal a painting for him in exchange for the book. Irene and Kai now have to work as part of a larger team to steal the painting, as long as they don’t kill each other first.

I do love a good heist story, so I enjoyed the painting theft. It involved a classic trope of collecting experts in different fields together who don’t trust each other and watch them in a delicate balance of collaboration and betrayal to achieve the objective. Great fun to read.

For me, the stakes were lessened a bit, because this is really the first time that we’ve really heard Irene talking in any great detail about this world where she went to school, so we aren’t as invested in it as she is. But that’s more than made up for by the story of the painting, and the secret that it hides. And we do also get to meet Irene’s parents and discover just how dysfunctional a family they are, while still loving each other dearly.

Cogman is great at writing action scenes. The chase with the dragon is fantastic, and she obviously has a lot of fun writing Fae who are within their strong archetypes. Mr Nemo is a fantastic character, something between information broker and Bond villain (complete with Island lair) and the other members of the gang have their own charms. I’d love to see more of Ernst, in particular.

The hints thrown in here about dragon back-story, and the setup for the future at the end has me excitedly looking forward to the next book. Almost no Vale in this book, but that’s about the only negative I’ve got.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529000573
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 2019

Powered by WordPress