Wednesday, 27 January 2016

CBR8 2: Once Upon A Marquess, Courtney Milan

Seriously, "once upon a Marquess" has literally zero to do with the plot except that the male lead is a Marquess. I can't imagine that Milan had anything to do with it unless she was off her tits. Given that she self-publishes, it can't have been pressure from the publishers. I am a fan of Milan specifically, and I have fond feelings for romance in general, but the naming convention is total sexist bullshit that infantilises the readers and detracts from the genre. Am I right? I'm right.

Judith Worth and Christian Trent had a History, but Circumstances mean that Judith turns to Christian for help protecting her remaining family. Judith is the second of five Worth children and is the sole guardian and protector of the youngest two; the eldest son is presumed dead, and the middle daughter left Judith after their father and brother were tried and convicted of treason. Judith has to keep her remaining family together and happy while resisting the pull of the past. Christian, meanwhile, is torn between the honesty that his honour demands, and the narrative that is demanded by his loved ones.

So far, so predictable, as far as set-ups go. Will Judith and Christian get back together? Will the youngest Worth boy get over his year of torment at Eton? Will the clearly on the autism spectrum Worth daughter continue to be a comedy interlude slash signifier of the purity of Judith's character or will she experience true growth? Is the eldest brother really dead or has he been secretly you know what, actually, let's just go with this book is mostly predictable in its entirety, but that's not a bad thing.

What makes Milan stand out as a writer is her social commentary, not her plotting, and in Milan's defence there it should be pointed out that I am pretty cynical about romance plots generally (I prefer it as a sub-plot) and, unfortunately, whenever I read a book with the intention of reviewing it I bring the full force of my cynicism to bear. It's sort of the force of a strong gale, not a hurricane or El Nino driven snowstorm or Arctic whatever. I'm British. Our cynicism, like our weather, is constant but relatively mild.

The social commentary in Once Upon A Marquess is as good as I expected, and more philosophical than I anticipated - which in retrospect was my error; anyone as astute as Milan at under-the-radar social justice commentary can obviously do the same with moral philosophy 101. She seems to be expanding her repertoire, and I look forward to finding out how that progresses. I would like it if she was less narrow with her representations of life-as-neuratypical, but the fact that she has any representations of it at all is still awesome.

4 stars: I'm looking forward to the rest of the series and will read this again. Half a point removed for slightly ableist representation of the sister, another half a point for the OCD representation; half a point regained for good addict/addiction representation, and another half a point for not starting the sex scene with cunnilingus. (It annoys me as a trope, okay? It's the cookie-cutter aspect of sex scenes that bothers me rather than any one particular aspect.)

Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.

Friday, 15 January 2016

CBR8 1: A Rose Red Chain, Seanan McGuire

So, a new year and a new Cannonball. A Rose-Red Chain, by Seanan McGuire, the ninth book in the October Daye series. Also, warning: this review will contain spoilers for the rest of the series, which I have not reviewed, on account of having read most of them before starting to review books for the purposes of Posterity, Comedy, and Fucking Cancer (But Not Like That Where Has Your Mind Gone You Filthy Animal).

October is newly engaged to the lovely Tybalt, my favourite man-who-is-also-a-cat (which really isn't a descriptor I ever thought I would write, good to know all those English Lit courses were in fact for nothing), and they have just started to plan their wedding when Toby - through shenanigans - is sent to be the ambassador to the northern Kingdom of Silences, which has just declared war on the Kingdom of Mists. She has to stop the war, and preferably also survive.

I'm a huge McGuire fan, she's an incredible writer who has the perfect amount of black humour, terrible puns, scorching hot sexytimes, and rapid-fire action for my tastes. This book feels like one of the weaker ones in the series though, which I think is probably a combination of the winding up of the series (sob), and the relative absence of the Luideag from the story, because she's my favourite. Sarcasm and a tragic back story does it for me every time.

That said, my standards for McGuire are really high at this point, and she handles Toby's power-creep really well - Toby angsts about her nature, confronts various moral dilemmas regarding the usage of her powers and resolves them in a pleasing fashion, and while the villains of the story are powerful enough to be a threat and a challenge to Toby, they're not subject to the same power-creep, which is really nice - they're a challenge because they're clever and careful and powerful, and Toby's victory is more to do with her allies and friends than it is her own special snowflake-ness. In that respect, McGuire is both fighting the tropes as well as satisfying them, which is a hard line to walk for any author, especially in paranormal-urban-romance-fantasy, which is really trope-tastic. (I have Thoughts about the nature of the genre, actually, but I'll save that for another time. I think it deserves its own post.)

My main complaint, really, is the speed of book. The pacing was weird in places, really slow in some parts and then so fast it was almost blink-and-you-miss-it in others, and the ending was much more abrupt than I expect from a Toby book, usually there's more deconstruction and winding-down of the plot after the big bad is gone. I don't know if that's because McGuire is doing about twelve other things and got distracted by the siren song of another novel, or her editor was phoning it in that week, or if it was a deliberate choice and the next book will pick up immediately in the aftermath, but it left me a little wrong-footed.

Still, this is still a damn good book, and an excellent addition to the series. Don't start with it, obviously, start with the first one ffs, but this is one that fans of the series are going to want to read and won't be disappointed by.

4/5: when I read again, I'm going to add in my own Luideag commentary and it will be awesome. "Really, Toby? Really? JUST BURN IT. What, none of you can make fire? I dunno, kids these days, what was Dad thinking." Etc.

Crossposted to Cannonball Read here.