Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (7)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Sold for Endless Rue, by Madeleine E. Robins (from Forge Books, May 14, 2013).

 After a blighted childhood, young Laura finds peace and purpose in the home of a midwife and healer. Later, she enrolls in Salerno's famed medical school - the first in the world to admit women. Laura and her adoptive mother hope that Laura can build a bridge between women's herbal healing and the new science of medicine developing in thirteenth century Italy.

The hardest lessons are those of love; Laura falls hard for a fellow student who abandons her for a wealthy wife. Worse, her mother rejects her as "impure." Shattered, Laura devotes herself to her work, becoming a respected medico. But her heart is still bitter, and when she sees a chance for revenge, she grabs it - and takes for her own Bieta, the newborn daughter of a woman whose husband regularly raided the physician's garden for bitter herbs to satisfy his pregnant wife's cravings.

Determined to protect her adored daughter from the ravages of the world, Laura isolates the young woman in a tower. Bieta, as determined as her mother, escapes, and finds adventure - and love - on the streets of Salerno.

I'm familiar with the author from her Sarah Tolerance novels, interesting little mysteries set in a sort of alternative Regency period. This one sounds very much like a retelling of a fairy tale that isn't as popular with modern authors as some others, so I'm intrigued.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Play of Heresy

by Margaret Frazer.

Actor and spy Joliffe is on his way to Coventry to rejoin his company of traveling players for the annual cycle of Corpus Christi plays when Sebastian, an associate in the Bishop of Winchester's service, tells him that while he's there, he should look into the disappearance of one of Sebastian's regular informers. Sebastian suspects Lollards--religious reformers who believed that the Church was hopelessly corrupt, some of whom had gone so far as armed revolt against the Church and the King only seven years before. Joliffe isn't so ready to see heretics under every rock, but at least that possibility gives him a starting point for some questions, when he isn't busy with rehearsals for the play he's in this year.

I had seen this book on a mystery display in the library where I work a few days ago, which both reminded me that I hadn't read it yet and inspired me to check the author's website for any upcoming books. To my dismay, what I learned was that Gail Lynn Frazer, who started the Dame Frevisse series of medieval mysteries in collaboration with Mary Monica Pulver under the name of Margaret Frazer, passed away at the beginning of February. I am now kind of bummed that there will be no more Joliffe novels, to show us how he gets from this point to the kind of professional spy that we know he becomes by the time of his last appearance in a Frevisse novel, and there will be no more Frevisse novels, to show how she copes with being named the Prioress of her convent of St. Frideswide's.

As far as this novel goes, I thought it was a slight improvement on the last one, where the villain was uncovered offstage. I was interested in all the stuff about the Corpus Christi cycle as well. I just wish I could still look forward to more of them.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (6)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Good Man Friday, by Barbara Hambly (from Severn House, May 1, 2013).

Benjamin January's search for a missing man takes him into a dark world filled with grave robbers and slave stealers. 

New Orleans, 1838.  When Benjamin January suddenly finds that his services playing piano at extravagant balls held by the city's wealthy are no longer required, he ends up agreeing to accompany sugar planter Henri Viellard and his young wife, ChloĆ«, on a mission to Washington to find a missing friend. Plunged into a murky world, it soon becomes clear that while it is very possible the Viellards' friend is dead, his enemies are very much alive - and ready to kill anyone who gets in their way.

I recommend this series all the time at the library where I work. I live in Louisiana, so I figure that local interest ought to be enough to intrigue even readers who don't normally care for mysteries or historical fiction. But the entire series is outstanding historical fiction, and they're excellent mysteries too. Kudos to Severn House for picking up the series after Hambly's previous publisher stopped buying them; I'm very happy to be getting more of them.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Price of the Stars

by Debra Doyle and James MacDonald. First in the Mageworlds series.

Beka Rosselin-Metadi has grown up seeing what it did to her mother to be the last Domina of lost Entibor and wants no part of the position in galactic politics that she stands to inherit; Beka is a starpilot, has been one since she shipped out at the earliest possible moment after her official coming of age, and that's all she wants to be, except maybe a captain in her own right one day. Then her mother is assassinated on the Senate floor, and Beka's father, the Commanding General of the Republic's Space Force, offers her a deal: he'll sell her his own ship, the legendary Warhammer of his privateering youth, and all she has to pay for it is a couple of names. Specifically, the names of whoever was behind her mother's murder.

I read this after a post at the regularly brilliant blog remarked (not the first to do so, either) that it reads like a Star Wars sequel. There are a lot of superficial similarities; the late Perada Rosselin and her husband Jos Metadi do sound a lot like another couple I've heard of where she was surviving royalty from a destroyed planet, a resistance leader, war hero and stateswoman, and he was a rather disreputable "free trader," with a battered but famously fast starship, who became a war hero and general after taking up with her. 

But Beka is her own person and this story is its own thing, and a very fun ride it is. I have some reservations about Beka's body count--she leaves a trail of dead bodies and missing persons across five star systems, starting by faking her own death to get out from under the price on her head--but I'm interested enough in the characters and the intrigue to hunt up the rest of the series.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (5)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's a thing I'm looking forward to: Without a Summer, by Mary Robinette Kowal (from Tor Books, April 2, 2013).

Jane and David Vincent, master glamourists, go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane's family, but quickly turn restless. The year is unseasonably cold. No one wants to be outside and Mr. Ellsworth is concerned by the harvest, since a bad one may imperil Jane's sister Melody's dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of eligible bachelors. When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent family in London, they decide to take it, and take Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good and her marriage prospects - and mood - will be brighter in London. Once there, talk is of nothing but the crop failures caused by the cold and increased unemployment of the coldmongers, which have provoked riots in several cities to the north. With each passing day, it's more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, none of which really helps Melody's chances for romance. It's not long before Jane and Vincent realize that in addition to getting Melody to the church on time, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of international proportions.

This is a favorite series of mine; the two previous installments were both lovely examples of what's best described as "Fantasy of manners." They've got that Regency setting that I like so much, and the author goes to some trouble to avoid anachronistic language. I have some issues with this cover; the lady is too pretty to be Jane, and the gentleman is a lot younger than I pictured Vincent.  I suppose it might be Melody, whose face is her fortune. In any event, compared to, say, urban fantasy covers featuring women in back-breaking poses, this is hardly objectionable at all. And it doesn't affect how much I'm looking forward to the book, which is "a lot."

Friday, March 8, 2013

Monstrous Regiment

by Terry Pratchett.

It's been several months since Polly Perks heard from her brother Paul, gone for a soldier, and she's used to getting him out of trouble; so she cuts off her hair and puts on some of Paul's old clothes, and the next morning a young man called Oliver Perks enlists in the Borogravian Army. She's put a lot of thought into how to maintain the imposture, but it soon becomes clear that she's not fooling everybody; on the other hand, before too long, some of her fellow recruits aren't fooling Polly, either.

I talked my book club into reading this one after they'd shot down two other sf/f titles I'd suggested. (Even then they had to pick an alternative for people who couldn't get into the Discworld; reality is a crutch for people who can't handle fantasy novels.) I have a feeling they may not let me pick the book again for a while, since at least one other member has already told me she gave up after 50 pages.

Another friend remarked that this one isn't Sir Terry's best, but I enjoyed it all the same. It covers pretty much every reason ever mentioned in a ballad for a girl disguising herself as a man to join the military. I also really like the title; inside the story, Polly's squad is referred to a couple of times as the "monstrous regiment" because the recruits include a troll and a vampire, but of course the phrase is also a callback to the famous polemical work of 1558, John Knox's "First blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women." He was using "monstruous regiment" to mean "unnatural government," and the whole thing was about how no woman should ever rule over men. So that connotation is appropriate to the Discworld book as well, and I'm looking forward to seeing if any of my book club ladies got that; assuming any of them finished the book.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (4)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. So here's something I'm very much looking forward to: River of Stars, by Guy Gavriel Kay (from Roc, April 2, 2013).

Ren Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life - in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later - and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles towards the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.

Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor - and alienates women at the court. But when her father's life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.

In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.

There's not much that makes me happier than a new book by Guy Gavriel Kay. I think he's one of the finest prose stylists writing fantasy today; his books are beautiful, and nearly always make me cry. I'm also endlessly fascinated by the way he builds his fantasy worlds on historical societies; the previous novel in this series, if you can call it that when there's 400 years between one story and the next, was based loosely on Tang Dynasty China, and this one evidently takes up with the Song Dynasty. I confidently predict I'm going to think it's fabulous.