Review: Borderline, Mishell Baker

What’s that you say? Somebody wrote a book about creepy fairies and mental health treatments? YES THANK YOU, I DON’T MIND IF I DO.

Borderline has been garnering all the accolades this past year in SFF circles, most recently a well-deserved Nebula nomination. It’s about a filmmaker called Millie who has borderline personality disorder (BPD hereafter) and is a double amputee following a suicide attempt the year before. A mysterious woman named Caryl shows up at her mental hospital and offers her a job with the equally mysterious Arcadia Project. Work with us for a year, says Caryl, and at the end of it we’ll get you a job in Hollywood. Figuring it’s the only way she’ll get back into the movie biz, Millie agrees and is instantly put on a missing persons case — or to be more specific, a missing fairy case, because it turns out the Arcadia Project manages human/fairy relations. Delicately.

Borderline

I was nervous to read this book (despite the fab cover and raves from all sides), partly because depictions of mental health in SFF can be hit or miss for me (with a lotttttt of miss), and partly because borderline people are bad at boundaries and I am made up of ~95% boundaries so I was worried that if the book accurately portrayed BPD, it would put my back up and I would have a hard time enjoying it.

Borderline pooh-poohed all my concerns: It portrayed BPD in a way that was absolutely familiar to me from borderline people I have known, and gave me a ton of insight about what it’s like from the inside if you are self-aware and trying to deal with it, and got into the nitty-gritty details of cognitive behavioral therapy work1 that BPD-havers can do to lessen the impact of their symptoms, and showed how BPD both helps and hurts Millie in her work with the Arcadia Project. What a great fucking book.

The world of the fey that Mishell Baker explores here is wonderfully weird and specific. If the explanations Millie gets from her colleagues at the Arcadia Project occasionally feel like visits from the Exposition Fairy, those moments are quick and well worth the reader’s time (especially given that this is the first book in a planned series). The mystery Millie is assigned to investigate throws out an exactly correct number of clues, red herrings, and conspiracy, leaving behind a satisfying solution and some loose ends for the second book to explore. The last time I enjoyed urban fantasy this much was War for the Oaks.2

My one single gripe is that the character of Gloria bummed me out. She’s a blonde Southern bitch whose polite words have barbs behind them:

“Don’t mind Teo,” said a cloying, high-pitched Southern voice. “He’s a Grouchy Gus.” . . . . She giggled, in that cute way Southern women do instead of punching you in the teeth.

Ha ha yeah totally, we are cloying assholes down here.

Whereas with other characters at the Arcadia Project, Baker gives you a sense of what lies behind their behavior toward Millie, Gloria pretty much seems like she’s being a bitch to be a bitch. (She Does Good at points in the story, but in general she’s pointlessly shitty, passive-aggressive, and insincere to Millie.) The fake-nice blonde Southern lady is a stereotype I’d like a break from, given how closely the fakeness and the blondeness seem to be linked. While individual writers who write this type of antagonist for their heroes to clash with probably don’t intend it this way (it’s clear Baker doesn’t), the uncritical reproduction of this stereotype nevertheless reinforces a dichotomy of honest vs. deceptive gender performance that I do not love.

On the other hand, I am a blonde polite Southern woman who has spent a lot of time around people that think that list of adjectives tells them everything they need to know about me, so maybe I’m just annoyed on behalf of my people. You decide!

Overall though, I absolutely loved this book. Couldn’t put it down, talked about it to everyone, will read the sequel in a hot second when it comes out. I already know it’s going to be one of my favorites of 2017. Thanks so much for Sarah over at The Illustrated Page for putting me on to it!

  1. I love cognitive behavioral therapy so much, and it has helped so many people, and I almost never see it depicted in fiction, so that was awesome.
  2. Aha, says the perceptive reader, you must not read very much urban fantasy. Correct, I do not; it does not often tempt me.

Review: Certain Dark Things, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Would anyone here be interested in a compendium of books about mythic beasts by authors of color? Would that be a resource people would enjoy? Or does it already exist somewhere else and I should consult it myself to get All the Book Recs?

Any case, Certain Dark Things is a vampire story set in Mexico City by a Mexican-Canadian writer. In this world, there exist ten known species of vampires, of which we encounter three. The vampire girl Atl and her Doberman Cualli1 are on the run from the Necros vampires who killed her mother and sister. She doesn’t intend to enlist the aid of a street kid called Domingo, at least not for more than one drink, and she certainly doesn’t intend for him to get tangled up with the cops and gangsters and vampires who are chasing her.

Certain Dark Things

Okay, first up, Certain Dark Things is hella violent. There is a non-zero amount of tooth-ripping and face-shoot-offing. If you are a person who cannot handle tooth-ripping face-shoot-offing (which in retrospect I may be that kind of person but it’s too late to learn that lesson now), I may need to direct you to a less gory vampire story. The main vampire searched for Atl is a gross misogynist who fantasizes about doing violent sex things to Atl, which is also not the most fun to read. He does not, however, do any violent sex things to her in practice.

However, if faces getting shot off and silver shards being dug out of bloody human flesh by an unqualified veterinarian are not deal-breakers for you, there’s gold in these here hills. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s world-building is superb, a take on vampires and vampire rivalries that I’ve never seen before. Her Mexico City has long been a haven from vampires, which is why cop Ana Aguirre transferred there, and she’ll go so far as to ally herself with one of the city’s gangs if it means keeping Atl and other vampires from finding a place for themselves in the city. Meanwhile, Atl tells Domingo about her people’s descent from Aztecs and muses over the possibility of living in Brazil, where the native vampires glow in the dark. I was willing to live with some flesh-tearing in order to keep discovering new pockets of this fantasy world.

And now, a question: Which is scarier, vampires with wings who can fly, or vampires who glow in the dark? Or vampires who can shapeshift?

  1. I know that your immediate question is “Does the dog survive?” SPOILERS HERE: Yes, the dog survives. You will hit a certain point in the book where you think “That rat-fink Jenny, this dog is clearly dead!” but I promise you that no, the dog is not dead. The dog survives. END SPOILERS YOU ARE NOW FREE FROM SPOILERS.

Review: Iron Cast, Destiny Soria

Oh friends, I needed this book so much. Iron Cast is a YA alternate history novel about two best friends who can do illegal magic and have fallen in with a gangster club on the eve of Prohibition. I liked it a ton, and it cheered me right the hell up in a week where I was feeling hopeless.

Iron Cast

Ada and Corinne are hemopaths: Corinne can create completely believable illusions by reciting poetry, while Ada can induce strong emotions with her music. They work for the gangster Johnny Dervish of the Cast Iron club, where they perform for crowds of regs (non-hemopaths) at night, carry off cons during the day, and receive shelter from the special forces that hunt hemopaths and carry them off to Havisham Asylum. Until Johnny Dervish is murdered.

If you liked The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, I feel good about recommending Iron Cast to you. At its heart is the friendship between these two girls, the quiet, practical Ada and the fierce, stubborn Corinne. Possibly my favorite thing about Iron Cast is the absolute confidence Corinne and Ada each felt in their friendship. Though they both have love interests, the stories begins and ends with their friendship. They are also both powerful hemopaths — we don’t realize exactly how powerful right at first — and it’s so much fun to see how their trust plays into the ways that they work together to Get Shit Done.

As far as I can tell, Iron Cast is a one-and-done, but I’d love to see more in this world. Soria has a knack for character, such that I’d gladly read a book about virtually any of the supporting characters. Even when we see very little of them, the characters clearly had lives and interests of their own, from the queer shapeshifter who runs a low-budget theater to Corinne’s wealthy brother making a politically advantageous marriage. It was to the point that when I realized how fully Iron Cast was wrapping up its plot, I was kind of disappointed. I wanted sequels, dammit! But I guess companion novels would be okay too.

All in all, an extremely fun YA fantasy novel with lots of adventures and lies and female friendships for you to sink your metaphorical teeth into.

Review: Memories of Ash, Intisar Khanani

AT LAST I have read the sequel to the wonderful Sunbolt! Intisar Khanani is a fantasy author who really deserves a good, let’s say, 75% more fame than she is currently receiving, so let’s all get on spreading the word far and wide, okay, team? Read the novella Sunbolt if you haven’t yet, and then get straight on to the superb sequel, Memories of Ash.

Memories of Ash

Our protagonist, Hitomi, is learning magic from the secretive, kindly mage Stormwind, with whom her vampire friend Val left her at the end of Sunbolt. Many of her memories of her former life are gone, and she is focused primarily on cultivating her powers and staying under the radar. All of her peace is shattered when the High Council (led by Hitomi’s old enemy Blackflame) summons Stormwind to stand trial for treason. Though Stormwind accepts her fate, Hitomi is determined to go after her and save her from unjust imprisonment and possible death.

If you are needing (as I am) some straight-ahead fantasy adventure stories, I can’t recommend Intisar Khanani’s work enough. Her worldbuilding here, as in the last book, is superb, everything from the limitations to Hitomi’s look-away charm to the differing societal norms for the desert nomads as opposed to the people of the Mekteb (the school where magicians get trained). Possibly my favorite thing about watching Hitomi travel to so many different locations is that Khanani seems to believe in the fundamental goodness of people. Wherever Hitomi goes and however slim her chances seem of rescuing Stormwind, she always meets people who are kind and good. At a time when the world feels less and less hospitable to strangers, Memories of Ash was a balm.

As with Sunbolt, this book ends in a satisfying way that nevertheless leaves the door open for many more adventures to come. Hitomi finds herself, at one point, in a land that’s been shattered by vicious magics, and she makes a promise to come back someday to try her hand at fixing it. Part of this is my current state of mind, but most of it is Khanani’s gorgeous world- and character-building: I absolutely cannot goddamn wait to see Hitomi throw her considerable energy and talent into healing the whole world.

Review: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

My TBR spreadsheet entry for Kat Howard’s Roses and Rot just said TAM LIN WITH SISTERS, which, I mean, if y’all have been around for a little while, you’ll know that I am about Tam Lin retellings. In this one, sisters Imogen and Marin have won prestigious Melete residencies, which will allow them to work on their art (Imogen writes, Marin dances) with top-of-their-field mentors for a year. This is the first time the two of them have lived in the same place since Imogen fled their abusive mother’s house to attend boarding school as a teenager.

Roses and Rot

At first, Melete seems beautiful and perfect, if perhaps a bit strange in its architecture and atmosphere, but since the reader knows that All Is Not As It Appears, there’s moments when you think, Okay, okay, get going with the creepy shit already. But in general, Howard creates a wonderfully creepy atmosphere of the type that maintains plausible deniability: Artist weirdness, or magic? Deeply sinister signs that the whole shebang is controlled by semi-malevolent dark creatures, or creative people producing art that maybe makes you uncomfortable sometimes?

This makes for a slightly slow beginning, which I find is the nature of Tam Lin stories in general (why?) — lots of going back and forth between Carterhaugh and her father’s house before Janet gets to the fireworks factory — and it’s still satisfying from an emotional perspective to watch Imogen try to figure out who she is as a sister and a writer. When she begins to realize what she will have to sacrifice to save Marin, this emotional groundwork serves us in good stead. Howard made me feel all the emotions around creating art, fighting through imposter syndrome, being a sister, and being a daughter.

Here comes my one minor complaint, and it’s a spoilery one, so strap in: The concern is that Marin’s emotional fragility — born of years of emotional abuse from their mother — will make it impossible to survive her seven years in Faerie and make it out to win her prize of international renown. Imogen, therefore, has to either stop her from winning the Top Artist Prize basically, or — once Marin has won it, because of course — want Marin more than Faerie does.

This is all fine. Howard then goes for another twist of the knife, making a rule that if Imogen does stop the Faerie ritual from proceeding, all the fame and talent will come to her, instead of to Marin. Thus there’s no way for Imogen to do this thing without it appearing to be for selfish reasons; I.e., without it appearing to confirm the jealousy their mother has for years been assuring Marin that Imogen feels. After the ritual, though, Marin sees that it was all for her own good, and she and Imogen are fine.

Both of these things felt facile to me in a way that the rest of the book doesn’t. Howard grapples frequently with the scars — physical and emotional — the girls’ mother’s abuse has left on them, and it’s done with great respect and deftness. The thing about Imogen maybe getting all the glory doesn’t make plot sense and feels thrown in, plus even when Imogen makes that tough decision, there aren’t any repercussions for her relationship with Marin. Granted that I am a noted aftermath junkie, but I’d have liked to have seen some hard consequences for Imogen’s decision, and perhaps an ending where she and Marin have to rebuilt their trust.

As I said, it’s a minor complaint, and overall I thought this book was terrific, putting me in mind of Elizabeth Hand at her best and spookiest. Much recommended for the fall season!

Review: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is about two dueling magicians dueling it out in a circus setting. The, uh, the circus happens at night. It’s a night circus. What happened is that there were these two cranky old dudes wanting to see who was smarter, and they each took a protegee, and when the protegees grew up they were to engage in a Massive Magic Battle until one of them won. The consequences for the loser were not stated directly but were strongly implied to be Dire. Celia works as an illusionist at the circus that Marco (kind of) runs. They are competitors but WILL THEY FALL IN LOVE?

(Is it spoiling anything to say that yes, they obviously will?)

In case I haven’t said it recently, I am a plot girl. I am a plot girl down to the ground. After that I am a character girl, and in absolute last place am I a settings girl. I can appreciate settings, but that’s not what I’m reading the book for, you know? A setting is for stuff to happen in, and characters are for stuff to happen to. The Night Circus is not a plot book, or if it is then I failed at reading it because I can’t even remember what happened at the end. It is not a character book, because none of the characters seemed to have actual personalities, just things they were able to contribute to the circus. It’s a setting book, y’all. That is not the way to my heart.

And look, I’m not having a go at Erin Morgenstern. Plots are hard! Complicated plots that stretch over many years are even harder. You have to be attentive to all the details and mindful of what everybody’s doing and what everybody wants, and that is challenging, and we are not all J. K. Rowling. Who I know is not the champion writer of all the world, what with the adverbs and the caps locks of rage, but she wrote damn good characters who participated in a damn good plot in a damn good setting.

(You know how sometimes you don’t even realize you are feeling defensive but all of a sudden out of nowhere you’re twenty words into a heated defense of someone or something that nobody is attacking, and then you’re like, Wait, I should stop this before it gets weird? So you stop? But secretly you want to keep on defending whatever it was you were defending, because you’ve sort of built up a head of steam about it? To the point where you want to get up on your soapbox and be like, The gift of plotting is undervalued in this world!, even though this has nothing to do with whatever you were talking about before you started feeling defensive? And you can’t quite let it go so you find a way to say it anyway? You know how that sometimes happens?)

I should say that Erin Morgenstern is aces at setting. Most times if a book appears to be a setting book, I will put it gently down and never return. The Night Circus kept me interested in spite of the slow-moving plot and the underdeveloped characters, because the descriptions of the circus are fantastic. They are evocative and cool and endlessly creative. You could imagine dozens of other stories happening in the circus setting (like, if Erin Morgenstern ever gets it into her head to write a story about the Reveurs, I would be all over that), and that was enough to keep my attention. Plus the circus reminded me of the very cool play I saw with Teresa in May. I later discovered that Erin Morgenstern drew inspiration from the people who originated Sleep No More, and that made me feel clever.

But really? I’m a plot girl. Plot’s where my heart’s at. I will read Beau Geste, in all its spectacular cracked-out lunacy, a hundred times before I die, and I will never look at The Night Circus again.

Review: The Magician King, Lev Grossman

I will be honest and say that when Viking contacted me to offer me an early copy of The Magician King (thanks, Viking!) (FTC, take note), and I said yes, that was about the extent of the effort I was willing to put forth to acquire the sequel to The Magicians. Had I not received it in the post, I would most likely have seen The Magician King on the shelf at the library a few months from now, and checked it out then. I liked The Magicians, but I did not want to marry The Magicians (a maneuver that in any case would defy legality, even in a tolerantish state like New York). I never warmed to Quentin, the protagonist, and I thought the plot was unevenly distributed throughout the book.

Having said that, I must have been in just the right mood for The Magician King, because I went through it like a hot knife through butter. I kept glancing up for subway stops, glancing back down at the book, and being shocked at how far into it I was after what felt like a very short reading time. Perhaps it was because the references to Narnia were rarer (I still maintain that Quentin’s version of the world can not have the Narnia books as well as the fictional Fillory ones), but I found this book to be something closer than its predecessor to what I would imagine grown-up Narnia to be. It didn’t have quite the safe-and-home feeling that Narnia gives me, but it was like — it felt more viably like someone else’s tribute to Narnia than The Magicians did. I don’t know how to explain what I’m trying to say here so I’m going to move on to plot summary, which will of necessity include some spoilers for The Magicians.

Our protagonist Quentin Coldwater, as ennui-ridden as ever, is a king of Fillory, ruling alongside Eliot and Janet, with Julia around there too, being all weird. He gets a bug in his ear to go off on a quest, and almost at once — to his intense chagrin — he is thrown back into the real world. Meanwhile, in alternating chapter flashbacks, we find out what’s been going on with Julia in the years that Quentin spent ennui-ing all over Brakebills. If you were upset that we didn’t find out what happened with Julia (I was), fear no more, you will find out now.

I spent the bulk of The Magician King feeling slightly grumbly. I have a bias in favor of retaining my first impressions. I was all, “Oh, you may be moving along at a brisk pace, Grossman sequel, but it is not because I love you! Your two narratives are poorly integrated! Your protagonist is still a jerk! I still remember all the stuff that pissed me off about The Magicians!” But as I hit about the two-thirds mark, these complaints began to be answered one by one. The Magician King turned into a coherent whole and what is more, it made a coherent whole out of The Magicians! Which I feel is just what a sequel ought to do. (Only I wanted some movement on the Alice front, and it was not forthcoming.)

In short, The Magicians had a better story for my Narnia/Harry Potter-loving little heart, but The Magician King is a better piece of storytelling. Quentin — not to spoil things for you, but y’all, Quentin kinda grows up. I might just go out and buy a paperback copy of The Magicians someday now. The things I liked about it are still true, and the things I didn’t like about it are handled (almost all of them) by The Magician King.

And now, the obligatory Oscar Wilde nitpick about something that matters absolutely zero and can be easily explained away but irritated me nonetheless because I don’t think the explanations that would be offered in its defense would actually be true:

Brakebills was for Marquis of Queensberry types. Murs was more your stone-cold street-fighting man.

NO. NO to this. NO.

I comprehend perfectly the point of this passage. The Queensberry Rules govern fair play in boxing and suggest, in general, the ideals of fighting like a gentleman. The phrasing of this sentence links Brakebills to the landed gentry while also evoking the cultural metonym of the Queensberry Rules. If it weren’t so dismayingly wrong it would be a tidy bit of shorthand. It’s just — it’s just — God, it’s just wrong. The Marquess of Queensberry was as stone-cold as any character in The Magician King, and significantly more mentally unstable (yes! and I say that having not forgotten all the moderately-to-very mentally unstable characters in this book). I can scarcely imagine anybody who fought less like a gentleman than the Marquess of Queensberry. The Marquess of Queensberry fought like a street urchin. An antisemitic homophobic street urchin. The Marquess of Queensberry wasn’t a Queensberry Rules type. Is all I’m saying. He fought dirty. I’m just saying.

OH BY THE WAY. It turns out? That the Marquess of Queensberry is related by marriage to Osama bin Laden. It’s true. His great-great-grandson had a bin Laden nephew as an in-law (the former head, as it happens, of the bin Laden Corporation). As you may imagine, this news fills my heart with inexpressible joy. From now on when I am having a kankkarankka paiva, I will remember this information and be of good cheer.

Again, The Magician King was sent to me for review by Viking. It comes out the day after tomorrow, the ninth of August.

Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin

I hate reviewing sequels. Once I have reviewed the original volume in a series, I have a hard time motivating myself to review the subsequent ones, even if I really, really liked them. Patrick Ness was an exception to this, probably because his books were so insanely good and rich and full of themes to see and tell, and because I so desperately wanted you all to trot out and read them tomorrow. Which some of you did, so goody, mission accomplished. I will not gush quite that much about the first two books in N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, but I may gush a little.

The premise of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is that there was a war between the three original gods of the world, culminating in the imprisonment of all gods but one, Itempas, by the ruling Arameri family. Yeine, estranged half-blood granddaughter of the current Arameri king, is summoned to the Arameri ruling place, called Sky, to be named as a potential heir to the throne. She becomes unwillingly enmeshed in the plans of frightened mortals and imprisoned gods, and there is all sorts of plot-thickening and god-on-mortal sexy time.

(Sometimes I start a plot synopsis sentence with really good intentions, where I am all “unwillingly enmeshed” and “imprisoned gods”. But then I don’t know where to go with it because I’m afraid of giving too much away to the spoiler-hating crowd, whom I try to respect but whose parameters for spoilers are never quite clear to me, so it all falls apart in the second half of the sentence. Hereafter I shall call this phenomenon a duned sentence. This is clever on several levels, which I will enumerate for you so that you can praise me in the comments. First, it is a reference to Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune, which is awesome until about halfway through and then becomes desperately lame (I decided on a camping trip a few years ago, and then I read Sunshine instead). Second, the analogy to Dune continues to work even if you push at it a little bit, which my analogies don’t always do (like, if I continued to press on after my plot synopsis sentences had already fallen apart, things would just get worse and worse but I’d be committed by then and unable to stop and neither would my heirs) (shut up, it works). Third, it is a pun because it sounds like “doomed”. Fourth, I thought of it on the spot without giving it any thought at all. That doesn’t make it funnier, but it makes me feel good about myself. I like it when my immediate response is exactly what I would want my measured response to be.)

I can’t describe the plot of The Broken Kingdoms very well without getting into spoilers for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, so I will just say that it is set in the same world, but has a very different setting and protagonist. Blind artist Oree Shoth is scraping a living in a touristy area of the Kingdoms, until she takes in a dying man with strange abilities. Meanwhile someone has begun killing gods, and the powers that be are none too happy about it.

The narrative voice in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was the first thing I liked about it, lo these many years ago (or, like, maybe a year and a half ago) when its first chapter was promotionally published online. Yeine is brave and angry and muddled, and she keeps interrupting herself to explain things that need explaining. The reason this works instead of becoming annoying is that she also interrupts herself with seeming non sequitors. My toes? I was kept on them. I feared that Jemisin would not be able to recreate the feat in The Broken Kingdoms — that Oree would be too much like Yeine — but I shouldn’t have worried. The narratives are structurally similar, with the asides, but the narrators are such different people, with different perspectives and backgrounds, that it doesn’t matter.

As the world-building goes, I was very impressed. Not because we saw a wide variety of the eponymous kingdoms — we didn’t, really, in either book — but because Jemisin wove world-building and character-building together so seamlessly. Yeine is an outsider, and the strangeness of Sky contributes to her feelings of being an exile and outcast. When Jemisin describes Sky, she describes how it touches Yeine, makes her life easier or harder. The same goes for the backstory about the gods: it’s relevant because the gods are all up in Yeine’s business, untrustworthy and wanting things from her. You won’t find out what their behavior means for Yeine until you know a bit more about the world of the book, so you have an emotional stake in finding out the backstory.

Plus, I liked the gods. It’s always fun when the gods and the mortals start interacting all over the place.

The plot of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was, I felt, stronger than the plot of The Broken Kingdoms. With the latter, I started feeling a bit the way people seemed to feel about the seventh Harry Potter book: she’s in jeopardy, she’s been saved, she’s back with the bad guys, she figures out a way to get free, the gods are doing this, the gods are doing that. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms knew all the steps between Point A (Yeine’s arrival in Sky) and Point B (not telling), whereas The Broken Kingdoms sometimes felt like it was killing time and pages until we could hit the conclusion. The plot of The Broken Kingdoms was more interesting to me in theory, but not paid out nearly as well. Minor gripe. I am interested to see how the third book compares.

I have another minor gripe, but it’s mad spoilery, so I will spare you. Instead I’ll tell you that in the first draft of this post, far from inventing the world’s most ever brilliant word that works on so many levels, I made a joke about waiting a hundred thousand years for my hold on The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to come in at the library, and then mysteriously The Broken Kingdoms was just checked in at the library with no problem, leading me to believe the hold system was broken. Don’t judge.

Search here and here for other people’s reviews.

Review: A Star Shall Fall, Marie Brennan

I could swear I wrote this review already. I wonder if I dreamed it. I frequently have vivid, detailed dreams where I do things that need to get done, which I think is my subconscious’s way of trying to keep me asleep. One day last month I dreamed I checked my email and we had a snow day and I could sleep in (but we didn’t really) (fortunately, I didn’t fall for this). Today when I woke up all sickly and went back to sleep feeling like I was going to die, I dreamed that I had texted and facebook-messaged the people I was supposed to have brunch with, to tell them I wasn’t going to be able to make it. In my dream I felt so crappy and nauseated I kept making typos when I was writing the messages.

A Star Shall Fall will probably contain some spoilers for Midnight Never Come. Also presumably for the second book, In Ashes Lie, but I don’t know because I haven’t read it. Darn library.

So after I read and enjoyed Midnight Never Come, I went to the library and signally failed to find In Ashes Lie, the second book in the series. On the other hand, I don’t care at all about the seventeenth century, so I didn’t mind so much skipping on to A Star Shall Fall. Set in the world of Midnight Never Come, A Star Shall Fall focuses on the mid-1700s Prince of the Stone, Michael Deven, who is trying (along with the rest of the Onyx Court) to find out a way of destroying the scary-scary dragon that is coming back to kill everyone.

The Good Stuff

Irrith, the country fairy who comes to court to help sort out the dragon problem, is an excellent character. I liked her because she kept bucking my expectations of what fairy characters are like. She isn’t a good liar, she isn’t icy elegance all the time, she didn’t like court politics, and she didn’t (here’s a spoiler) fall wildly in love with the human character just because they spent a lot of time together. When (a really huge spoiler right here) (why don’t we just assume this whole review is spoilers? I can’t talk about what I liked without spoilers) Michael Deven sacrifices himself for the fairy court at the end, Irrith is sad but not in a, like, time for fairy suicide way. She was close with him, she was sorry she didn’t love him enough to save him, and that was that. I liked it.

Marie Brennan incorporated the 1752 calendar change into her plot! A plot point hinged on the changing of the calendar. Marie Brennan, you are my hero.

The Royal Society of London features in the book. Granted, they do not do much with the fairies, but it was nice to see them doing their royal society thing. I should read that Bill Bryson book. I love the notion of a bunch of smart dudes getting together to talk about Knowledge.

Michael Deven’s search for a wife. As the oldest son in a well-born but impoverished family, Michael has to marry rich in order to provide for his three younger sisters. He doesn’t want to do this, naturally enough, as he is in love with the fairy queen, Lune, and he hates the idea of lying to his wife. It would have been easy for him to reconcile himself to his conscience and marry some nothing character, but instead he marries a cool, clever woman and tells her everything. Yay for honesty! Delphia was an excellent character and I’d have liked to see more of her. I hope the next Onyx Court book at least talks about her Legacy.

Bad Stuff

I hated, hated, hated that Michael Deven was in love with the fairy queen. Really, Michael Deven? You’re in love with the achingly beautiful, radiantly good moon Queen? HOW ORIGINAL. I couldn’t become interested in him as a character because I wanted to smack him and make him fall in love with his interesting, intelligent wife.

Although some of the ideas the fairies came up with for defeating the dragon were clever, some of them didn’t make any sense. I don’t mind an author inventing her own rules for her own magic world, but it frustrated me that a character would stop dead and have a stroke of intuition, and it didn’t make any sense to me. On the other hand, this could just be me being dumb.

Wow, I had a lot of thoughts. This just goes to show that I was in the mood for books in a series, where you have more than one book to think over. A sign that I should reread Harry Potter again.

Review: Midnight Never Come, Marie Brennan

Occasionally, when I am planning meals on the weekend, I get depressed from meal-planning and take a break to do book-planning. Book-planning consists of me combing through my TBR list and making a shortlist of books to read next. I find this relaxing. I start by making a list of categories of books (gender-issues nonfiction, something in translation, fantasy, kids’ book), depending on what I am in the mood for, and then pick things from my TBR list to fit my criteria. When I did this last weekend, my list was this:

something in translation
something from Africa
something zany
something fantasyish that Memory loved

Midnight Never Come is the something fantasyish that Memory loved. By choice I’d have gone with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms for this category, but I am still fourth on the holds list for that, so I substituted Midnight Never Come. This is a testament to my trust in Memory’s fantasy taste, because ordinarily I do not like books about fairies (or faerie). I am over fairies. They think they’re so damn clever. I feel like if you’re going to act like you’re as terrifying as fairies in stories act like they are, you shouldn’t have gossamer wings. JUST A THOUGHT. The only fairy-type book I like in the whole world is The Moorchild. And Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, also. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not my favorite Shakespeare, and I don’t much care for the fairies in Sandman. So.

Long ago, at her coronation, Elizabeth I struck a bargain with the queen of faerie, a bargain that somehow helps both of them stay on their thrones. Now, thirty years later, mortal Michael Deven (on staff with my boy Sir Francis Walsingham) and Lune, fallen from favor in the viciously political faerie court of Queen Invidiana, are beginning to discover secrets about the bargain, and the intertwining of the faerie and mortal court.

(Yes, the wicked faerie queen is called Invidiana. Deal.)

I really, really enjoyed the parts of the book that dealt with Elizabethan history. Marie Brennan had obviously done her homework, but she didn’t do the thing of inserting tons of unnecessary information just to show how well-informed she was (unlike some historical fantasy writers that I am reading right now). I loved almost everything set in the mortal world, except I didn’t care much for Michael Deven. And indeed I wasn’t altogether in love with Lune. The world of the book, the intertwining of the mortal and faerie spheres, drew me in,¬† but the characters did not. Fortunately it’s the world that continues in the sequels, not the characters.

I was excited to read the sequels to Midnight Never Come, and glad I had bothered getting A Star Shall Fall from the library at the same time that I got Midnight Never Come. In Ashes Lie, the second book in the Onyx Court series, claimed to be in at the library but wasn’t. So I skipped it. Don’t judge. I asked Memory if it was okay first.

Other reviews:

Stella Matutina
Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review
Fantasy Book Critic
Grasping for the Wind
The Book Swede

Tell me if I missed yours!