Wednesday, 24 June 2015

#CBR7 12: Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Tho' much is takes, much abides;

On a frozen world far outside of civilised space, Breq is distracted from her self-appointed mission of vengeance by a face from her distant past. Seivarden was the sole survivor of an assassination attempt on the Lord of the Radch a thousand years ago, a period in Breq's past which becomes more and more relevant as the narrative weaves on.

Breq is the last remnant of the troop carrier Justice of Toren, lost to all parts of herself and cast adrift two decades previously. She is not mad, although she was for a time, stuck in one body with only one set of senses to draw on where before she was the ship and the thousands of ancillaries she controlled. She struggles constantly to disguise her nature and her past from those around her, allies and enemies alike, while she unravels her recent and distant pasts and begins to understand the nature of her true enemy.

This book is incredible. The narrative is gently paced and portentous at first, as the world is slowly built up around Breq, but it accelerates constantly and by the end of it I resented every interruption and really had to force myself back into the real world. The characters are wonderful, redolent with flaws and strengths and dreams broken against the terrible machinations of a nearly-unimaginable enemy. The various different cultures examined in the book are all believable and unique - no simple space America, space USSR, space inscrutable Orientals here.

The blurb talks about how if you loved Iain M Banks' Culture novels you'll love this, and there are definitely similarities in the scope and ambition of the galaxy-building, as well as the transhuman and AI elements. But for me, Leckie felt much more like a true inheritor of Ursula K LeGuin, with her intricacies and slow burn and above all, her superb investigation into the nature of gender in society. If you are even the slightest bit interested in the way gender and sex interact with language and thinking, you need to read this book.

If you prefer rollicking space opera, this is going to be a harder read for you. (QQ, puppies, QQ.) But it's still the best Mil-SF I've read since Walter Jon Williams' Dread Empire's Fall series, and it does Leckie a massive disservice to overlook how good the action sequences are, how well she uses physics, and how much care she has taken to make it all visualisable and believable.

5 stars: and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here. Poetry: Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Monday, 15 June 2015

#CBR7 11: New Amsterdam, Elizabeth Bear

I went on holiday last week and prepared my kindle with a bunch of interesting new books, several of which have been recommended by fellow Cannonballers. The first one I read, though, was one I bought a while ago in a Humble ebook bundle: New Amsterdam, by Elizabeth Bear.

More of a collection of short stories than a novel per se, the book contains several mysteries which are investigated and solved by three connected people: the vampire Don Sebastien de Ulloa, the sorcerer Abigail Irene Garrett, and de Ulloa's servant and courtier/courtesan Jack. The mysteries all have a supernatural bent to them, but the very human politics and scandals surrounding them are just as thrilling.

I've read other books by Bear, which I didn't review because I was stuck for a while, and she does non-standard characters well, as well as non-heteronormative romances. This book is no exception: the chemistry between the various different characters is great, and the way Sebastien builds up his small and unique court is a pleasure to watch unfolding. If I had to be a thrall to any fictional vampire, I'd want it to be him. He is a lovely character, and a really good vampire as well, with pleasing amounts of inhuman predator about him.

Abby Irene was my favourite though. She is never anything less than brutally honest with herself, and she takes no prisoners with anyone else either. She is very much in charge of her body and sexuality, and that's rare to see in any female character, let alone one in her middle age. She reminded me a lot of some of Bujold's older heroines, although Bear's style is very different than Bujold's work.

Amazon tells me there are more books in this series. I will definitely be checking them out at some point.
4 stars, highly recommended, would like more sex for fifth star.
Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

My pain is not your entertainment

This post contains spoilers for The Others series by Anne Bishop and references the computer game Guild Wars 2. It also contains descriptions of self-harm and self-harm ideation, and discussion of various mental health conditions. As such, clicking on the jump into the post signifies your consent to reading all of the above, that you will never talk about this or mention it to my mother, and also your understanding that these depictions might distress you. Links are included to various organisations dedicated to helping the survivors and sufferers of the issues discussed. I am turning off comments for this post.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

#CBR7 10: Paper Towns, John Green

I read this at the request of a friend, who had really enjoyed it and wanted me to read it as well. Thanks to Malin (thanks Malin!) I was able to get hold of a copy and read it in an evening. My cheesecake -loving friend really enjoyed it; my own feelings were slightly more mixed.

Paper Towns is a book in three parts, but defining them involves spoiling the story, so I'm going to stick to being vague. All three parts have a different feel to them, and they take roughly a third of the book each - it's well-balanced and the writing keeps moving you forward. The journeys of the main character, both literal and metaphorical, are very detailed and realistic.

I strongly disliked Margo for the first half of the book. She embodies everything I hate about the manic pixie dream girl trope, and I hated Q's fixation on her and his own embodiment of the unhappy nerd stuck in friendzone trope. I really, really hate the friendzone bullshit narrative that nerd subcultures fixate on, and my exhaustion with MPDGs combined with what appeared to be a straight out friendzone bollocks meant that the only reason I got past the first half of the book at all was because I told my friend I would read it, and I didn't want to dismiss something he was so clearly invested in.

Fortunately for me, Green is a far cleverer writer than I gave him credit for to begin with. He explicitly deconstructs Margo's personality and life, exploding the manic pixie myth very effectively. He's less explicit about the friendzone thing, but I think it was less widely talked about when the book was written in 2009, and he still does present a good deconstruction of the ideas around it so he gets thumbs up from me for that.

The secondary characters were less good though. Part of this is the limitations of first-person narrative, combined with a less than completely reliable narrator, and in fact there is one really good scene where one of Q's friends calls him out on his lack of empathy with another member of their circle. In that respect, their flatness can definitely be viewed as a comment of Q's own self-absorption and carelessness. But the relationships his two best friends have are poorly investigated, and one in particular felt really clichéd and unrealistic.

There is a lot in this book for any aspiring teenage student of literature. That sounds more faint praise than I intend it to: the book perfectly exemplifies several literary themes and conceits which regularly feature in literature studies, and the characters are all in high school so it's going to resonate much more with a younger audience than most of the crap - sorry, classics - they make you study in school. That said, I can't bring myself to give the book a 5, because of how long I spent wanting to slap the two main characters upside the head. Which I guess is a feature of not being a teenager any more, something I am permanently grateful for.

4 out of 5, definitely recommended.
Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

#CBR7 9: The Girl WIth All The Gifts, MR Carey

Melanie is one of a small group of children who are educated at an exclusive facility, with highly trained security personnel and top-tier medical experts on hand. Her education is extensive and varied. She is a precocious and brilliant girl, with an inquisitive personality and a great deal of self-control. Her survival instinct is finely honed. This all comes in very useful when she, her favourite teacher, two of the guards and one of the doctors are forced to flee their facility and run for their lives in infested territory.

Infested by what, you say? Well, you know those ants? You've seen the time-lapse. There's an ant, and it gets infected with a fungus, and then it climbs as high as it can and waits until a mushroomy thing grows out of its head, and then the mushroomy thing makes spores go over all the nearby ants? That ant thing. I'm not finding a link. You can google it at your leisure.

Just so we're clear, that has always been my personal fucking nightmare. I don't know why. I have a problem with plants growing where they shouldn't. I freaked the fuck out when I found a clover growing up through the overflow in the sink in my last house, and it was green and normal, do not even get me started on the creepy white no-sunlight plants gah they're awful. I am aware this is firmly on the "Elizabeth being really not normal" side of the ledger, but I get twitchy just thinking about it. (I think this is why beansprouts really bother me as well. Yech.)

Anyway, this is a zombie apocalypse novel without any actual undead, and it is an incredible piece of work. I forswore zombie novels after I spent a year and a half dreaming about zombies courtesy of Max Brooks World War Z, but this one had piqued my interest earlier. (I dreamt about the book last night. Actually, I dreamt about writing this review about the book, and then it sort of segued into the plot of the book. I spent some time in the dream critiquing my own dream version of the story, so it definitely stayed with me. I just hope it stops, I remember my dreams every night courtesy of brain drugs and I am really not joking about the year and a half of zombie dreams thing.)

ANYWAY, the characters are all really well fleshed out and the story is really well-paced; I have a very visual experience when I read, but this was even more like a film than normal. Carey has written a bunch of comics before, and he's clearly learned a thing or two about pacing and dramatic tension. If this doesn't get made into a film at some point, I will be very surprised.

I am mostly very tired of zombies as a trope, vampires have always been more my thing, but The Girl With All The Gifts is a really good addition to the oeuvre, and there's a lot in there for the reader to mull over. Clearly, it stayed with me really very clearly, and I think it would even without the fungus thing. (GAH. Still horrible. Yuck yuck yuck.)

4 stars: clever and compelling, this book doesn't quite meet my criteria for 5 stars but it's a very close thing. Highly recommended.

Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

#CBR7 8: The Martian, Andy Weir

I am so far behind on reviewing that I've started to forget what I've read, although I recall a three day Courtney Milan marathon so Malin and Mrs Julien will be happy when I get round to reviewing them. First though, the best SF novel I've read since Anathem.

Mark Watney is one sixth of the third manned mission to Mars, and it turns out that third time is not, in fact, the charm: during evacuation six days into the mission, he is left behind, presumed dead. Fortunately, he's dead clever, not dead dead, and he diaries his struggles to survive on our inhospitable and barren neighbour. His diary entries are interspersed with the activities of the many people who work to rescue him, once they realise he's alive.

"What must it be like?... He's stuck out there. He thinks he's totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man's psychology?"
Log Entry: Sol 61. How come Aquaman can control whales? They're mammals! Makes no sense.

I had to take a little break after reading that last part, until I could breathe again and I'd stopped tearing up with laughter, and it's by no means the only funny bit, just the one I remember the most. Watney was a wonderful character, his humour and sarcasm his only real defence against crushing despair, and the supporting cast is really well fleshed out and pleasingly varied. The pace is relentless and the plot is gripping, with all of the setbacks and disasters and triumphs one would hope for and expect in an action novel.

The science in the book is superb, with enough technical detail for me to be all nerd happy, but enough narrative explanation for it to make sense to someone without a general scientific grounding. (I think. I have one, so it's hard to tell. But the bits I didn't know all made sense so I'm presuming the rest of it does too.) Watney's survival never feels guaranteed either, which is quite a feat.

The humanity of the book is its real tour-de-force though, as the reader empathises with Watney's first-person diary entries, whilst watching the practical and ethical concerns of the team on Earth unfold. This dual narrative keeps reminding the reader of the wider concerns beyond just the survival of one man. I always cheered for him, but it made me think hard about what might happen in the real world, and what arguments would be used.

5 out of 5. This book shines as bright as Jupiter in the night sky, and has a heart as big as the Great Red Spot. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I'm even going to recommend it to my dad, that's how much I love it.

Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

CBR7 7: The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black

I have given up thinking about reviewing the other two books in the Bishop series, because I think they might end up increasingly hysterical rants and no-one seems to agree with me, and I am moving on the the excellent and reliable Holly Black again.

Hazel and Ben live in Fairfold, a small tourist-trap town with a bunch of fairies living in the forest nearby. Once, they were as close as two siblings could be, but their relationship has fractured over the years as the weight of secrets and misunderstandings lies heavily on it. In a glade in the forest, a horned prince lies sleeping in a glass box, as he has done for generations. One day, the box is shattered, and he is gone. As the pair begin to resume their old roles, they quickly find out that they are running out of time, because the monster at the heart of the forest is on the move, and is hungry for the town.

Ben is a great main character - desperately romantic, cursed/blessed with fairy magic which he struggles with on a daily basis, and deeply in love with the idea of the horned prince. His journey is lovely to watch unfold, and it's easy to read as both an analogy for the trials of any gifted child, and as an analogy for coming to terms with one's sexuality.

Hazel, though, is inspired. She is complicated, makes bad decisions for bad reasons, and occasionally bad decisions for good reasons, and is a true Knight Errant in the old Romantic style. The gender reversal of the pair is mentioned briefly in the book, but it never feels strained or pushed. Hazel is jealous, and angry at herself for that jealousy, and lives her life with the terrible intensity of a person who tries to feel something, anything to make her forget the weight of the truths she is hiding from everyone. Her journey is hard to watch. It is painful and spiky and everything that I remember late adolescence being. It is beautiful.

There are many themes investigated in the book, and I suspect that everyone who reads it will take different things away. For me, it was family, the sacrifices we make for our siblings, the obliviousness of our parents, the intense bond that develops and sometimes sours. It was the weight of expectation versus the weight of one's own heart. There's a lot more in there that I could English Lit about, but I'm not going to, because I want another cup of tea and I didn't make any notes, and because you should read this and find them out for yourself. Also, I want to play more Pillars of Eternity there I said it I hope you are happy now.

5 stars: will play with the fairies in the wood again. (When I've stopped playing PoE.)
Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

CBR7 6: Written In Red, Anne Bishop

Page count: 512, time taken: 4 hours

Driven by visions, Meg Corbyn flees her captors and ends up stumbling into a job as a Human Liaison in an Others enclave in Lakeside. She quickly finds acceptance from the shape-shifting inhabitants, except from Simon Wolfgard, leader of the Courtyard, and his father. Fortunately, Meg manages to help Simon's nephew through the worst of his severe PTSD, and Simon quickly becomes a fan. Which is useful when Meg's past catches up to her.

Good things about this book: the shape-shifting stuff is really cool. The mythology of the world is interesting, well thought-out and explained, and the non-human characters actually feel like non-humans, instead of excuses to have a lot of wild sex and growling. (There is a lot of growling though. Some tropes are too stubborn to die.) I found the Sanguinati particularly interesting, because I love me some vampires and these were good ones.

Other good things: the supporting cast were all really well characterised, and the villains of the novel were great. The pacing was good, and the book was long enough that the plot never felt too rushed, allowing things to develop in a reasonable amount of time. (That particularly is rare to see in urban fantasy, in my experience.)

Okay but slightly heavy-handed thing: moralisation about humanity being the true monsters. (More on this in my as-yet-unwritten reviews of the next books.) This is another trope of the genre, and it's a worthy message to try to get across, but it was not done with any great degree of subtlety.

Bad bits of the book: Meg was a magical special unique snowflake who made everyone love her instantly (with one or two exceptions) and she was precious and beloved and must be guarded and protected at all costs. I started calling her Meg Sue in my head pretty quickly. Even the parts where she fucks up, she does it in a really adorable and trying-to-help way which meant people forgave her really quickly.

Bit of the book which made me genuinely unhappy: there are repeated, graphic descriptions of self-harm which I personally found hit me far too close for comfort. There was also zero warning about it. (Granted, Meg being cassandra sangue, a blood prophet, is mentioned in the blurb a lot. That's really not the same as a content warning though.)

Here are some numbers for you. 1 in 5 women in the US has self-harmed. 1 in 7 men in the US has self-harmed. Think about those numbers for a short while. That's a lot of people. Whoever you are, you almost certainly know someone who uses or used self-harm as a means of coping. Of survival. I am one of those people. I know many others. The use and depiction of self-harm in this novel, and especially the sequels, made me uncomfortable in many, many ways.

The story was still pretty good though. If it had a content warning, I would happily give it 4 stars. But it doesn't. So it gets 3, and a caveat: do not read this series if you are particularly sensitive to descriptions of self-harm, or are at risk of using self-harm as a means of coping or control. I would be very wary about recommending it to any teenager without first discussing the issues.

Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.

Monday, 16 March 2015

CBR7 5: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black

Page count 448, time taken 3.5hours, number of blue nails 3*.
Tana is a big damn goth who finds herself in the wrong party at the wrong time. Several times. I think she might be cursed. She finds herself travelling to Coldtown in the company of a vampire and her infected ex-boyfriend, and quarantines herself with them. She meets a bunch of other big damn goths, some of whom are more terrible than others, and makes friends. She also makes questionable decisions about the security of her belongings, seriously girl if you are wearing big boots there is plenty of space in them for small object, pieces of paper etc, I know, I had oxblood Doc Martens too. At least she uses the Secret Hidden Woman Pockets** a couple of times, so bonus points for that.

This is a great vampire story, and a reasonable YA coming-of-age/accepting-responsibility story. It is much better than a lot of the urban fantasy I've read, given that there's only one monster type, and the idea of Coldtowns as being quarantine zones is a good one. The story is very well paced, with a sense of urgency imparted in various different ways. The male romantic lead is suitably damaged and brooding for my big damn goth soul, and Tana is really great as a protagonist, being both strong and self-reliant and flawed and emotionally vulnerable.

It's been years since I read Queen of the Damned, which this book draws on pretty heavily, and in those years social media has gone from some people having terrible Geocities pages through to Twitter being the best source of news and social activism currently around. Black weaves blogging into her narrative, and the plot revolves around the media presentation of vampires, both traditional media and new media forms. This will undoubtedly date the book in another decade's time - no-one can predict what the next internet craze will be, and if they tell you they can they're lying - but right now the book is up-to-date and a pretty accurate representation of how the technologically literate use the various different forms of communication available.

As far as big complicated philosophical thoughts go, the story is a reasonable investigation into the nature of illness and addiction, and the way that people respond to it as both sufferers and the healthy people who have to deal with them. Whilst vampire imagery always revolves around sex and self-harm, both of those topics are handled really lightly, as appropriate to the age of the target audience, whilst being pretty nuanced. There is also a really interesting minor character whose interactions with Tana are thought-provoking in many ways.

The only things I can really fault the book on are (1) it ended and (2) not enough corsetry and black lace. So, 5 out  of 5, would recommend and will probably read again. With candles and wine as red as blood. And some Type O Negative in the background.

* I have Reynaud's disease so my fingers get very cold very quickly, and eventually turn blue. Normally this bothers me, but I have to say, it kind of added to the description of turning Cold. It was like a multi-sensory experience for me. I appreciate that that's weird though.
** Her bra. I stash my phone there too. Also small change. NB: if using your bra as a place to put small change, remember that metal heats up to skin temperature so it's very easy to forget you put anything in there until you take it off and then you have a reverse 5p printed on your boob for a while.

Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.

Monday, 9 February 2015

CBR7 4: Say Yes to the Marquess

Length: 390 pages, time taken: 3 hours

Clio Whitmore is tired of waiting for her fiancé to come back to the country and marry her, and now she finally has the means to create a life for herself, she wants her engagement dissolved. Rafe Brandon, the erstwhile groom's brother, has the legal power to do so, but instead of giving her what she wants, he tries to persuade her into going ahead. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that kissing her in the rain and groping her in the bedroom are not, in fact, good ways to persuade someone to marry your brother. Can this twisted mess of family and honour be untangled satisfactorily, or will they be trapped in lives they never asked for?

I was inspired to get this after reading Mrs Julien's excellent review of it, and I am very glad I did. This book is funny, sexy, and assured, and has the right balance of following the tropes of the genre whilst still making the plot surprising and enjoyable to read. if you read this, you are in very safe hands, and I will keep my eye out for more Dare the next time I feel the need for a historical romance book-blankie. (That's pretty much how I think of books like this, being wrapped in a warm blanket with a cup of hot chocolate and a few candles. It's not complicated, but sometimes, you need it.)

Given the long and impressive comments Mrs Julien got, anything that I could have niggled about has mostly been answered already. The only thing I was less happy with was Piers Brandon, who was much better as an off-camera neglectful arse than he was as an on-camera SPOILERS REDACTED character in the story. I would have preferred either a better explanation and more exposition, or him being a less sympathetic character. Then again, he's clearly being set up for a book of his own, as is Clio's sister Phoebe, so I can understand the decision to both make him sympathetic and not give huge amounts of exposition - that will come in his own novel.

4.5 stars: practically perfect, sweet as cake and warm as a winter fireplace.
Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.

CBR7 3: Once Upon A Rose

Length: 300 pages in the print edition
Time taken: 3 hours

Layla DuBois inherits a house in a valley in the South of France, and goes there to recharge her creative batteries. Unfortunately, the valley already has an owner, Matt Rosier, and he is not happy that "his" property has been stolen. can this beauty tame the beast?

Taking most of its elements from the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast, OUaR is a well-written and enjoyable spin on a familiar story. The details are vivid and loving rendered - I had a very clear image of the location and could almost smell the air at times - and the writing is engrossing and fast-paced.

Too fast for me. I do not like romances which take place over the course of a couple of weeks. I was far more interested in Matt's cousins than I was in him, and I found Layla the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to be as annoying as I find all Manic Pixie Dream Girls. There were a lot of things in the book which really worked for me - Layla felt like a real musician to me, the creative process was realistic and well-drawn, and I do always like seeing what can be done with fairytale elements. But if it's a choice between this and either of Robin McKinley's excellent retellings, I'll take McKinley any day.

I am very interested in seeing what other tales Florand uses to inspire the rest of the series - Sleeping Beauty will almost certainly be one of them, being also heavily redolent with rose imagery - but I really hope she branches out a little bit further than just the well-known Disney type tales. I think though that Florand made the wrong decision by taking so many elements of Beauty and the Beast. It's not a straight retelling, it's more a variation on a theme, but there's too much in there for me to forget about the original fairytale, and I much prefer the original.

I can see this working much better for readers who aren't me though. I don't regret the purchase, but I'll be careful in who I recommend it to.

3.5 stars: better than average but let me cold.
Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

CBR7 2: Trade Me, Courtney Milan

Pages: 280 in PB although I read the Kindle vcrsion
Time taken: ~3 hours (does anyone actually time these? I read about 100 pages per hour or the average book, I just guess based on that.)
Tina Chen has a loving but disorganised family, a job in a library, two majors, and a room-mate. Blake Reynolds has a loving but asshole father, a job at a high-tech company, one major, and $1.4billion (US). An argument over food-stamps and the reality of living in poverty in the US leads Blake to offer Tina to swap lives for the rest of the semester: she deals with the product launch he's supposed to be working on, and he lives her life, working minimum-wage jobs, sending money home, and living in squalor. There is indeniable chemistry between them, but can two people who come from such opposite worlds really be compatible?
Spoiler alert: dur, of course they can, this is a romance novel. We do not read these because we wish our hearts shattered into tiny pieces. Milan has made her career out of writing thoughtful, strong heroines hooking up with thoughtful, flawed heroes, while adding enough social commentary to satisfy my Social Justice Elementalist heart (if you don't know what that means, good for you, it's for the best right now), and this fits right in, albeit with fewer descriptions of clothes, which I personally missed. I like purple prose. It makes me happy. I like fabrics. (Also corsets. Big goth right here.)
I've seen this described as New Adult, which I guess it is, given the relative youth of the protagonists and smexy times combination. It certainly annoyed me less than the YA stuff I read last year and neglected to review - apparently I like my heroines to be either out of their teens, or on an obvious Hero's Journey/Coming Of Age type thing, which I suppose makes me either terribly boring or nearly 33 and hence very tired of teenagers. Or both. I can only take introspection so far.
What the book does really, really well is the thing I am going to term SPOILERS REDACTED. If you want more thoughts, go through the jump. Otherwise, read the Cannonball Read review.

Friday, 30 January 2015

CBR7 1: The Bees, Laline Paull

Page count: 344, I read the UK paperback edition
Time taken: probably four hours

This book is really hard to summarise. It's a close third-person narrative about a honeybee, Flora 717. It's a classic hero(ine)'s journey. It's an investigation into the idea of free-will and determinism. It's a novel about upheaval in a rigid caste-based state, drawing from classic dystopian literature. It's a love story. It's a survival story. It's about the consequences of climate change in the insect world. It's a nuanced and sophisticated discussion about the nature of motherhood and family. It is all of these things, and none of them, because I don't think there has ever been another book like it, and it is on the sharp edge of art.

I picked this up because (1) I was in Waterstones for a diary in the post New Year sale and I always check to see if there are books because I read like it's a food-group or something (2) it was yellow and shiny which caught my eye, I am like a shallow cover-judging magpie that way and (3) I read the first couple of pages and was hooked. I read it in great gulps, totally absorbed in the narrative (which, given that I got Dragon Age Inquisition for Christmas and have sunk around 250 hours of play into it this month, should be understood to be a Huge Thing), and I loved it.

I'm sure there are flaws. Certainly, if you're not familiar with tropes of dystopian fiction you'll have a harder time with it (not that it is fully a dystopia, but it has elements), and if you don't like reading anything about alien forms of life then you'll almost certainly not get it at all, but there was nothing that I can point my finger to and say "this is a flaw" or "this bit did not work for me". Okay, I am a big giant nerd who likes to feel clever and be challenged, so realistically anything slightly pretentious and/or high-concept appeal to me a lot more than it should.

And it is high-concept. The narrative takes you into the mind of a worker bee, through the various different jobs she has, dealing with various different sisters and other insects. The detail is rich and complicated as the honey Flora 717 works to make, and the world-building is incredible. The bees are at once alien and familiar, which is rare to find even in high-SF. The book was clearly a labour of love on the part of the author, and I like bees a lot more than I did before I read it, which is a real achievement given that I am hardcore phobic of wasps. (In person. I am less bothered about wasps which are not able to get to me.)

This is a beautiful, compelling, deeply strange and triumphant novel, and I recommend it to everyone unless you are the type of phobic that gets bothered by descriptions of insects, spiders, and grubs, in which case, I apologise for using the title to make an Eddie Izzard reference instead of warning you, and kudos for making it to the end of the review. (Although actually Paull manages to make bee larvae cute, which is a note-worthy achievement in and of itself.)

Five stars: intoxicating as mead, without the hangover the next day.

(Cross-posted to the Cannonball Read page here)