One of our favorite things at LTB is talking about books. On occasion, we do that face-to-face. If you missed it last week, you can still watch and participate with us while we talk about Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. We’re talking character development, story development, grand themes of family and community, and of course TEA! Feel free to comment below with your thoughts on the book so you can join in on our discussions!
By Jacob P. Torres
Spoilers abound in this review of Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach.
Cover Description: “Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.
In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.”
This blog has been long in need of a revamp. Doing things solo can only get you so far and I’ve been fortunate enough in life to have friends who share my love of books and who, more specifically, love science fiction and fantasy. So, the TL;DR of this post is: I have a partner now and the site is revamping! <queue applause>
Who is this new dude?
Jacob Torres and I have been friends for almost a decade. We’ve been through ups and downs and have many things in common, but one of the biggest highlights of our friendship has been our shared love of all things geeky and most things bookish. I’m so glad to welcome him. But, I’ll let him introduce himself.
Hi, folks of the internet! Like Bree said, I’m Jacob and I have a lifelong love of all things SciFi, Fantasy, and in between. Be it Movies, TV, Games (Video and Board), or most of all books. I’m happy Bree and I have decided to start doing this together so I can have an outlet for some of the many thoughts I have on the genre. I’m also a big tea nut. Hence this new branding is a match made in heaven. You can find more about me if you need more in our refurbished “Who Are We” section. Now back to Bree!
What are we going to see now?
First and foremost, you’ll see that the name of the blog has changed. About three years ago, Jacob and I started joking that we’d have a tea and bookshop filled with cats as a retirement plan. That plan is still underway, but we decided a while ago to call it “Low Tea Books” — because who needs classy when you can just have tea, cats, and books, right? We’ve kept the name and started early with this blog.
It’s been a long week, made longer by world events.
Needless to say, I turned to my books to keep me company while I’ve been riding out the storm. Books don’t want to talk about the merits of Trump v. Clinton, at least, not in explicit terms.
Yet, a different kind of electoral strife hits the bookternet at the end of the year: awards season.
The past three or four years in particular have had a lot of upheaval in the bookish world. In particular, the Sad Puppies’ impact on science fiction fandom has been controversial. But, all of the upset, the fighting over popular opinion versus panel awards, the debates over cannon, and the push for more diversity in publishing have left us wanting more and talking more. To me this has always been the upside of these “culture wars.”
That being said, it’s easy to be disappointed.
I woke up this morning to a flurry of messages. The Goodreads Choice Award finalists have been announced. After the initial shock of “Wow. This is a lot of stuff I haven’t read” and the following “These are not the best in XYZ category,” I think it’s worth while to revisit the idea of awards and their merit.
The Goodreads Choice Awards get the same general complaint every year: the books are too populist and not representative of the really great works in their genres or categories.
I’m inclined to feel the same way. Because of the open-forum nature of the Goodreads Awards and the ways that the awards nominees are selected, they wind up being much more of a “what was the best airport read of the year?” kind of award.
There’s a time and place for this, but it falls into all of the weaknesses of the publishing industry. Underrepresentation; promoting lighter reads over those that make you think; difficulty in getting recognition for works that are truly fantastic, but don’t get the same marketing budget.
I don’t know that there’s a way around this unless Goodreads users really start using the write in.
Bright Point! Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution was a write-in and has made it to the final round!
On the Brightside, there are hundreds of other awards that strive to be inclusive and promote more obscure or substantive works. It’s why we have genre awards. So, bummer, but we can all take this for what it is: an algorithm meant to promote increased amazon purchasing.
I’ll wait for the Booktubesff Awards instead.
I won’t mince words; I wasn’t a fan of Everfair. I wanted to be, but wasn’t.
I got my copy in the mail and was so excited. I was ready to drop everything and start reading. I often have this feeling, but was spurred on by the promise of something truly spectacular and very rarely seen in western publishing. The idea of a well executed literary fantasy set in a steampunk version of Congo was like a big piece of cake staring me down. I may have actually squealed a bit.
I want to be very clear when talking about this, because for as much as I have my criticisms, Shawl is very clearly good at her craft. She’s eloquent and considered. Even having disliked the book, I came away with a positive impression of hers. I would chalk my struggles up to some of the construction elements rather than saying that her writing isn’t worth the read. You should pick it up and give her a try, at the very least, read some of her short work.
The story itself follows a group of missionaries and refugees living in a section of the Congo set aside to become a land called Everfair. One part safe have, one part socialist republic, the book follows a family from Britain that is trying to lead Everfair in their vision, occasionally with the help of the black population, and, more often, without the input or significant leadership of the black population. The family deals with death, abandonment, interracial marriage, and sexual orientation all the while.
My problems with the story were compounding.
The story format jumps between characters and timelines. So, you can go from following one character in 1810 to another totally different character in 1823 all in a matter of four or five pages. For me, this was confusing and left the story without a cohesive feel.
The plot was meandering and unfocused. Rather than having a clear end-point, it paused every few pages to talk about tangents or give unnecessary context. This was all without really adding to an overarching arc that would have given that cohesion the story desperately needed.
The characters were tough for me. They could have been very interesting, but not enough time ever seemed to be spent on them. We’d stop in on them every once in a while. But in the mean time, there were so many other characters to visit and so many other shifts in timelines and ages that keeping track was a challenge.
The story is clearly well researched and Shawl clearly spent a good deal of time thinking it through. Her writing is very atmospheric, but I didn’t find the style to be cohesive enough to compensate for the meandering plot. It was a promising story, but didn’t deliver for me. I’ll have to check in with Shawl’s next work instead.
Where to start?
First off, I’m about to get spoilery. So, if you don’t like to be spoiled. I suggest you watch my video about Split Worlds #1-3 and then go read them. They’re that lovely kind of bubble gum fun you only really get in certain sub-genres of SFF. I liked them. I suspect you will as well.
In the fourth book of the series, we pick up with Cathy and Will as Duke and Duchess. They’ve started their rise to power, and Cathy has decided to use it to liberate the women of the Nether, like you do. But, it’s not that easy and, of course, she’s upsetting a lot of people and making many many enemies. She still doesn’t know what Will’s been doing behind her back or that their Patron is threatening to kill her if Will doesn’t get a bun in that oven.
I have two major problems with this book. (1) The plot is suffering some middle-book syndrome and doesn’t seem to be coming together, and (2) it’s been so long since the first three were out that getting back into the world and writing feels disjointed. Since there were rights, publishing, and reprint issues, I can’t really blame anyone for (2), so I’ll busy myself with the more substantial issue.
We’ll talk about the storylines one at a time, shall we?
Max and the Gargoyle
So, Max is slowly putting together an Arbiter’s office from scratch and trying to figure out what’s going on in the Nether. Since dead wizards keep showing up and he can’t go to the existing Arbiters, he’s left leading a hodgepodge crew of mortals and trying to keep the sorcerers’ disappearances under wraps.
It’s one of those situations where I know that this plot is going to wind up going somewhere, but for now, it feels stalled. There are a few things that Max uncovers regarding the Nether that are used to save the day, but that point is tangential to Max himself and, frankly, is feels like a convenient way to solve a problem.
That being said, we get to find out about some of Max’s past, which I find really exciting. The mystery is starting to come together, if only through magic internet use and the Gargoyle’s persistence, but it feels like one step closer to Max and his Gargoyle becoming one entity again.
Sam’s now Lord Iron and set on trying to do some good. He’s up against a possibly losing battle (Max helps him figure out the underlying problems here), and of course, he’s sad about Cathy seeming to be happy with Will.
Let’s all say it: BUT I’M A NICE GUY!
Lord Iron is all set up to get serious, but that won’t be until next book, so we’re waiting.
Cathy and Will
Oh, Will and Cathy. That’s a hot mess, intentionally so.
Cathy is starting to try and influence the court. Will is trying to knock her up. Neither is a good communicator.
Let’s not forget Will’s creepy tendencies. Those are still around.
It’s coming to a head, though. Only so long you can drug your wife into loving you before that backfires.
It’s a middle book and it feels like one. The action is a little laggy, and what action there is takes up time that we’re using because of the needed set up. I’m ready for book 5. This one, while enjoyable, was a bit lackluster for me. Too much organizing pieces of the puzzle, not enough putting them together.