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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Book Riff - Buffalo Soldier and Within the Sanctuary of Wings


This has been a slow first quarter for reading, hasn't it? But here's two that I finished a few days ago, both in one week! Having the maintenance men cutting off power two days in a row was incredibly annoying, but it forced time for reading--because what else was I gonna do, right??

SO!

Buffalo Soldier is one of the many Tor mini-novels that are probably my favorite thing to come to publishing in a long time...except I didn't love this one as much as I wanted to, or as much as I've loved other ones in the imprint. Which makes me sad, and I hope there's more books in the same world so it'll maybe make up for what it felt like this one was lacking.

The back cover:
Having stumbled onto a plot within his homeland of Jamaica, former espionage agent, Desmond Coke, finds himself caught between warring religious and political factions, all vying for control of a mysterious boy named Lij Tafari.
Wanting the boy to have a chance to live a free life, Desmond assumes responsibility for him and they flee. But a dogged enemy agent remains ever on their heels, desperate to obtain the secrets held within Lij for her employer alone.
Assassins, intrigue, and steammen stand between Desmond and Lij as they search for a place to call home in a North America that could have been.
Buffalo Soldier is a steampunk adventure from Maurice Broaddus.
Which sounds like an awesome thing, right? And the worldbuilding and visuals are actually pretty great. It's a world where England's imperialism was blocked by advanced steampunk and borderline-solarpunk tech in the people who were taken over and wiped out in our world, so it's very different from how actual history turned out. There's some very cool stories told by the characters inside it, and everything looks really cool in the mind's eye.

But it's also strangely light on emotional connection and character motivation. Everyone's just doing things, and it's hard to say why, especially when they're just coming in and out of the story like chess pieces.

It feels like it's setting up for something else, or like it's a test run for a full-length novel that hasn't been finished yet. Both would be awesome: a series of other stories in this world might make characters work better in it, and / or a full-length novel would give them space to really inhabit the world instead of just moving around in front of it.

I give it a three out of five, because it has stuff steampunk as a genre needs: diversity, anti-imperialism, other points of view, and actual sooty fallout from a world powered by steam, but it's hard to care about people you never really get to know.

PROS:
CONS:
Mostly non-white characters
Great diversity
Cayt could be a super-kick-ass chick if we get to know her more
Awesome worldbuilding
Really neat tech
Realistic side-effects of steampower
Lij is such a cool idea
Vague motivations almost across the board
Vague timing--feels like Victorian, but makes modern references?
Feels unfinished
Not enough character development, but a lot of characters
Lots of talking instead of acting
Lots of telling instead of showing
Feels like it either started too late and that's why it's expositioning too much, or too early and that's why it doesn't feel whole

AND

Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the last Lady Trent novel, five of five, and dudes, I'm so sad to see her done telling her tale.

The cover text:
Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the conclusion to Marie Brennan's thrilling Lady Trent Memoirs
After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent--dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.
And yet--after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia--the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure--scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland's enemies--and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings.
I liked this one so much more.

Also Tor, which has been such a fantastic place to find good fantasy the last few years. Honestly, like 70% of the new books I read are from them, and Isabella, Lady Trent, is one of my fav fictional ladies. She's a scientist who takes no crap and is braver than I could ever be, and she gets to watch half a century of her world's history unfolding. It's a world kind of like ours during the top of the English Empire, but it's different enough that she can tell about a world much more poetic than ours, where smart ladies get to prove themselves right, things that would be romantisization in hour world are accurate--and more realistic--than we'd know, and science and rationality always win out. That last one is especially great reading while the Science Marches were going on.

I'm going to miss the constant cavalcade of new kinds of dragons that make actual biological sense. The wonderful and healthy relationship she has with her princely husband Suhail. Her many travels around a big and vibrant world that manages to be exotic and fascinating without being othering or rude to the actual cultures they're based on. And her matter-of-fact but clever telling of her tale. But also, it's a good last volume in a series, where everything comes together for a really neat payoff, and she gets to finally get the acclaim she's deserved since the first book. May all our biographies come out as well!

PROS:
CONS:
Lady Trent!
Dragons!
Basically all the characters
Awesome payoff, emotionally and plot-ally
The worldbuilding is phenomenal
Science ftw
Adventure-scientists like in old pulps but so much neater
Draconeans!
There's plenty of space to keep telling stories in this world (nudge nudge)
Mews are the new firelizards

It's the last in the series
I only own the last two

Here's my reading notebook pages for these two:


Not super-fancy, but I'm still figuring out how I'm gonna do these pages.

What books have you guys read recently? What was the best part of them, the thing you'd tell people to make them want to read? Let's talk in the comments!

My actual reviews are here:

GET THEM HERE:

- Affiliate links in those books!


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