Plus-One by Barbara Hambly is a novelette in her Windrose series; I had been hoarding a couple of it for a while, as it’s from my favorite of her various fantasy series. Joanna and Antryg are attending a martial arts conference in Las Vegas at a hotel which has had a number of mysterious deaths, which Antryg suspects have a magical cause. This turns out to be the case, surprising me not at all. Aside from the fantasy element, the plot is essentially a mystery, even including the moral judgement aspect of mystery stories. I found it satisfying, if brief.
A Promise of Spring by Mary Balogh is one of her Regency romances; this author is known for pushing the envelope of that sub-genre by having sex be a part of the story. While not being particularly explicit, she doesn’t skip or gloss over when the characters have sex, or how they’re having it, and how that changes as their relationship changes. This author wrote a prostitute heroine, and another who was a paid mistress, and a number of marriages of convenience. Grace Howard had a youthful fling with her first love that resulted in a son, who later drowned as a child. The first love refused to marry her and in fact married someone else, for money. Grace ends up keeping house for her youngest brother, a rector, until he dies unexpectedly. Her brother’s best friend, Peregrine, then asks her to marry him. Perry is not sure he’s in love with her, but he admires her a great deal; meanwhile, Grace considers herself dead inside. Slowly, Perry brings her back to life and love again, and helps her to reconnect with her remaining family. Unfortunately for me, there’s also a large chunk of plot devoted to Alphahole First Love, whose rich wife died in childbirth, and who now wants to seduce Grace away from Perry. I found him tiresome, and the amount of inner turmoil devoted to dealing with him excessive. I did, however, like that the resolution of the problem involved Perry allowing Grace to make her own decision, and Grace then mustering up her courage to do so and get closure.
The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C. M. Waggoner is a delightful secondary world fantasy with bonus cross-class lesbian romance and found family. Dellaria, a fire witch, scrabbles and scrapes for rent money while also trying to take care of her mother, who had her as a teenager and is now an addict. Delly’s whole life changes when she takes a job guarding a rich woman, and meets other women with magic, including Winn, a half-troll who is large, jolly, and very rich. The first chapter felt a little slow to me, but once Delly meets the others, it was off to the races. I loved little worldbuilding touches like the West Lesicourt dialect that Delly, her mother, and her friend Elo speak together, or the way same-gender romance was not an issue but cross-class romance could be problematic. It was a lot of fun. Content warning for an upsetting death midway through, in the course of a murder attempt; it’s upsetting for the characters as well, in a way I found realistic.
The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas is first in a trilogy. I confess I am currently a bit burnt out on Young Adult as a genre. Though I admired many elements of the worldbuilding, I felt there were too many ideas for the length of the story. It’s secondary world fantasy in which there are realms where magic is common alongside “non-mage” realms; we see nineteenth century Eton College as well as a little of a magical realm. A fair amount of the story takes place inside of a magic book that holds different fairy tale testing grounds and libraries hosting ancestral characters who can answer certain questions. Iolanthe is a powerful elemental mage (I had thoughts of Avatar: the Last Airbender) who ends up hiding out at Eton while disguised as a popular boy who’s excellent at cricket; Titus is ruler of his magical realm, but his realm is under the thumb of Atlantis, its all-powerful leader The Bane, and the terrifying mind-mage The Inquisitor; he’s been sent to Eton to prevent him from getting the usual magical education, but has managed to become very skilled anyway. Titus needs to protect Iolanthe and use her to take down the Bane. I didn’t get a real feel for the boundaries of magic in this world, which seemed very far-ranging, and thus had a hard time believing in the magic, if that makes sense. There’s something to be said for Anything is Possible, but Anything meant I never felt any worry that the characters were going to bump up against their limits and possibly fail. I also didn’t get a true sense of the Bane’s power, only The Inquisitor’s, which is shown vividly, but seems to be overcome too easily. Also, I found the romantic elements between protagonists Iolanthe and Titus uninspiring; I think I would have enjoyed it more if they’d been either more adversarial throughout, or more of a non-romantic team. I felt their characters were not nearly as complex as I’ve come to expect from Thomas’ work, possibly because there was a lot of frantic moving from action scene to action scene, from magical idea to magical idea.
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer was my TBR Challenge book for the month.
Roger Zelazny by F. Brett Cox is from the “Modern Masters of Science Fiction” series and gives what I think is an accurate overview of an author who was one of my top favorites for many years. I remember when Zelazny died in 1995; however, I had failed to remember that his age at the time was 58, which, twenty-six years later, seems far, far too young.
This description of Today We Choose Faces cogently describes Zelazny’s style:
The novel’s frantic, one-trapdoor-after-another narrative, with transitions frequently driven by explosive violence and one key sequence represented in eccentric typography, also recalls Alfred Bester, while both the narrative pacing and the underlying tale of libertarian revolt against oppressive social engineering evoke the work of A. E. van Vogt. To these classic genre influences Zelazny added his signature thematic and formal concerns: the twentieth-century man caught in the far future who struggles to negotiate its systems, violence as a means of political resistance; experimentation with narrative structure, playful puns (the names of all the clones are variations on the name of Angelo di Negri, “Black Angel”), literary allusiveness both classic and modern (the narrator quotes William Blake and references Thomas Wolfe, and the story as a whole, in the view of one critic, evokes both Dante and Milton), and the occasional three-hundred-word sentence.
The book closes with a Zelazny interview; I found this statement by him to be extremely interesting: “What I am trying to say is that I operate under a continuing need to experiment, and the nature of the experimenting requires that at least part of the time I write from weakness.” I will take these words to heart.
Yale Needs Women: How the First Group of Girls Rewrote the Rules of an Ivy League Giant by Anne Gardiner Perkins is splendid. It’s intersectional and informative. The author did substantial research as well as interviewing several people; the slow progress of Yale going fully coed is shown through the experiences of the students she interviewed, discussions among the administration, and enough information about what was going on in the rest of the country and at other colleges and universities to put everything into context. The book begins with 1969. I thought she did a particularly excellent job tying these specific events into the early days of “second wave” feminism and showing how feminist aims were sometimes aided by other civil rights movements of the time, and sometimes treated as though they were completely separate. For example, the president of Yale at the time had been forward-looking in recruiting more Black, Jewish, and working class male students, but could not seem to comprehend how admitting women could similarly be a benefit to the university.
The Changeling by Annerb is a Hogwarts Alternate Universe in which protagonist Ginny Weasley is sorted into Slytherin and has to learn how to navigate the complex social currents there. I liked it because she’s not in the shadow of other characters, and the mentors she finds and the students she mentors are essentially original characters. The author has also added in a secret society among the Slytherin girls that adds some interesting angles to House culture. Ginny has her own problems while also dealing with the events of books; I really liked the focus on what was happening in the castle, with the students, while Harry, Ron, and Hermione were off-stage hunting horcruxes; the story lays excellent groundwork for a future Ginny/Harry romance that I could actually believe. There’s a lengthy sequel series exploring that relationship.