skygiants: Jupiter from Jupiter Ascending, floating over the crowd in her space prom gown (space princess)
Not everything I've been reading recently is grim or horrific! Sherwood Smith's Lhind the Thief is a fluffy fantasy romp involving magic and vague politics and more secret royalty than you can shake a stick at.

The protagonist, Lhind, is a orphan thief who gets picked up and carried off by some mysterious individuals one day after accidentally doing some concerningly impressive magic right in front of them. The mysterious individuals make most of a full D&D group, including a bard, a grumpy noble, and a nerdy mage-scribe named Hlanan.

Spoilers for the first third of the book! )

The rest of the book basically just involves Lhind Learning To Trust while consistently saving everybody's lives from various conspiracies with her super magical powers. There's a good magical MacGuffin and an evil magical MacGuffin and some politics around an evil sorcerous kingdom which I had a hard time following, and, again, let me repeat: if you're frustrated with secret royalty, this is absolutely not the book for you. However, if you would like some fun fantasy fluff, it very well might be!
skygiants: Scar from Fullmetal Alchemist looking down at Marcoh (mercy of the fallen)
I already enjoyed Stranger, the first book in Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith's Change series, but I think Hostage, the next book, is even better -- and this even despite the fact that my favorite character Terrible Mean Girl Felicite does not have a POV in this one. I'm sorry, Terrible Mean Girl Felicite! I still love you and am rooting for your self-knowledge and redemption arc in a future book!

Hostage is admittedly starting with an advantage out of the gate. Stranger has to take its time introducing both Ross and the reader to the post-apocalyptic world of Las Anclas, so the action doesn't kick in until about halfway through the book; Hostage ratchets up the tension pretty much from the second or third chapter, when Ross gets kidnapped and carried off to the town of Gold Point, ruled by megalomaniac dictator Voske. So almost immediately you have Ross' attempts to escape, and Voske's attempts to coerce or manipulate him, the attempts by the townsfolk to rescue him, and then the counteracting viewpoint of Voske's daughter Kerry who has a vested interest in exactly the opposite of everything that our other protagonists want, and everything is extremely compelling!

Aside from the pacing, though, I really appreciate the way that Hostage works to further some of the stuff I liked best in Stranger; the series is really committed to showing the complexity that underlies antagonism, and avoiding portrayals of absolute evil. Voske comes closest, but even he's not cartoonish -- and while the way he runs his dictatorship is clearly wrong, and should not be supported, it's a wrong that still allows for most people to have things about their life and community and home that they value. As many dictatorships do. I mean, let's be real; I'm pretty sure everyone reading this post knows what it's like to live under a government that sometimes does terrible things. The point of the hostage exchange in Hostage is that it forces the kids in question to interact with their enemies as human beings, and really shows what that means. But it also forces them to take responsibility for the actions of their community, and shows what that means, too. Which is both a responsible way to write and makes for a really good story.

(Meanwhile, though I missed Felicite's POV, I also continue to love the portrayal of the Wolfe-Preston family in the background -- still antagonists, still kind of terrible, and still just as complicated and committed to their community as always. SO INTERESTING! And I hope someone writes fanfic about the gloriously angsty and super background Bounty Hunter Dude/Sheriff Crow romance. SO FULL OF TROPES I'M INTO, SO HILARIOUSLY 90% OFFSCREEN BECAUSE THE KIDS ARE JUST LIKE 'EW, WE DON'T WANT TO KNOW.')
skygiants: the main cast of Capital Scandal smiling in a black-and-white photo (children of the revolution)
I read an early draft of Stranger, by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith, but that was long enough ago that by the time it came out for real I had forgotten how much I liked it!

Stranger is sent in a post-apocalyptic southern California, but the kind of post-apocalyptic where everyone's had a few generations to get used to the changes and build new towns and economic systems and pay high prices for pre-apocalyptic artifacts that provide fascinating scraps of information on that strange historical era. Also the kind of post-apocalyptic where some people have mutant powers!

The story takes place in the relatively stable town of Las Anclas and focuses on a set of teenagers:

ROSS, a solitary teenaged wanderer with a tragic backstory and severe PTSD, who is found mostly-dead by the (semi)-friendly inhabitants of Las Anclas
MIA, a socially awkward mechanical genius whose father is the town doctor and therefore is the one who is like 'PLEASE DAD can we keep him? :D' when Ross ends up in their spare room
JENNIE, Mia's best friend who has pulled slightly away from her due to being a rising star in the local militia and very competent at everything; also, telekinetic!
YUKI, who was adopted into the town when he was a kid after his own tragic backstory, and is desperate to learn enough skills to GO EXPLORING and GET AWAY
FELICITE, the mayor's pretty daughter, all sweetness and light on the outside and private schemes and jealousy on the inside; the actual worst and also the most interesting to me!

The first half of the book is a bit slow to start, mostly focusing on setting up the town and the dynamics and the tensions that exist between people who have mutant superpowers and people that don't; eventually there's an external enemy and a climactic battle and some very effective set pieces involving murderous singing mutant crystal trees, but it's the long-term throughlines that are most interesting to me -- that, and the feeling of community, and a lot of interconnected people who know each other very well and are important to each other.

My favorite plotline is Felicité's, because at first Felicité looks like the same Pretty Mean Girl who shows up in a lot of Sherwood Smith's books, but there's layers to her that that girl doesn't usually get. The exploration of her inherited prejudice and how that affects her is INCREDIBLY interesting. Felicité's whole family is set up as antagonists and for good reasons, but they're also real-feeling people who care about each other, and about the town, which is one of the things I like best about the book.

I also love that sympathetic characters often dislike each other or misjudge each other; Yuki's simmering irritation with Ross is ... kind of delightful to me? And all the different kinds of shapes the families and relationships take (not to mention all the people of different races and cultures and sexualities both foregrounded and backgrounded; I don't think any of the protagonists is white.) Although given the fact that the Ross/Jennie/Mia triangle involves mild relationship spoilers? )

And now I get to settle in and wait for the next book like everyone else.
skygiants: C-ko the shadow girl from Revolutionary Girl Utena in prince drag (someday my prince will come)
I kind of can't remember if Sherwood Smith's A Posse of Princesses is hypothetically tied into one of her larger universes or not. It stands perfectly well alone, anyway; one of those charming swashbuckling comedies of manners that involves a bunch of balls and swordfights but the real point is personal growth!

Our Heroine Rhis is the princess of a tiny mountain kingdom who loves BALLADS and ADVENTURE and whose first trip outside the kingdom involves a giant month-long house party in another, bigger kingdom, the point of which is to introduce the prince of said kingdom to ~all the eligible ladies~.

Aside from Rhis, main characters include:

- Prince Lios, who is charming and handsome and clearly having a blast, but seems to spend a lot of time conferring privately with
- Prince Lios' cute scribe, who seems to know massive amounts about foreign languages and diplomacy!

(I called where this was headed from the introduction of these characters, and I do enjoy how it was handled, though I would also have been A-OK with it turning out not that way too.)

- Rhis' new BFF, who like Rhis loves ballads and who also loves boys (but has a boyfriend at home! so she totally can't date any of the cute guys at the party! right? ...right?)
- Lios' sweet foreign cousin who is extremely great at lots of things but extremely bad at speaking the local language
- that warrior princess from the local tribe of horse nomads
- That Beautiful Mean Girl

(Sherwood Smith always has That Beautiful Mean Girl, and I always hope she's going to turn out to have inner depths after a rocky start and it never happens, alas. I did appreciate Lesser Mean Girl who grew out of being a mean girl and into an all-consuming obsession with horses. Well done, Lesser Mean Girl! Make something of your life!)

- that guy who is super into Rhis' new BFF (but she has a boyfriend at home! so she totally can't date any of the cute guys at the party! right? ...right?)
- that guy who's the son of the local troublemaking evil warlord, which obviously was never going to go wrong

So all these people hang out and have courtly drama until something snaps enough that they all get to have swashbuckling chase scenes across the country, and everyone starts growing into themselves and learning important things about their characters, and eventually all turns out well and it's all deeply charming! And Rhis has a romance and that's also very charming!

And then spoilers for the ending which is clearly Making A Point which is valid but which I also think is slightly silly )
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (ooooh)
Danse de la Folie is Sherwood Smith's go at writing a very deliberately traditional and old-fashioned sort of feel-good Regency romance -- the Heyerian kind where everybody is aristocracy and nobody has sex and for the most part everybody is playing politely by the rules.

This book centers around a classic game of Engagement Chicken, which is a thing I discovered in a Heyer book a few years ago. To briefly summarize the rules, Engagement Chicken is a game for four players or more, in which everybody gets engaged to the wrong person and then sits around and stares hard at each other in the face of the rapidly approaching nuptials until somebody finally gives in and breaks their engagement. It seems to have been popular in the Regency and a certain kind of fantasy of manners.

-- and as a sidenote, if you have other fictional examples of games of Engagement Chicken, please share them because I still kind of want to populate a TVTropes page for this!

ANYWAY. Normally Engagement Chicken is a thing that annoys me, but here it doesn't bother me, mostly due to the fact that Player A's engagement and subsequent engagement-breaking have as much to do with social anxieties and her expectations of happiness in self-sufficiency as they do with pining after Player B.

I also enjoy the other heroine, a would-be writer of silly Gothics (I always like would-be writers of silly Gothics), and the friendship between the two of them, and the cheerfully non-evil stepmother and half-sisters. Overall it was a nice soothing Regency brain-bath, as it was designed to be, and my only actual quibble is the fact that I don't think we really needed to have That Mean Girl From High School -- who is sort of a stock Sherwood Smith character, and if we're going to have her I always want at least a little sympathy and development for her, and this is not the book for that.
skygiants: Kozue from Revolutionary Girl Utena, in black rose gear, holding her sword (salute)
If you are craving Ruritanian romance -- you know, "gosh! I thought I was just an ordinary person but I am secretly royalty in this weird little kingdom I've never heard of? Awesome! BRING ON THE HIJINKS, SCHEMING AND SWORDFIGHTS," then Sherwood Smith's Coronets and Steel is probably a book that will fulfill every single one of your needs.

I personally picked it up because [personal profile] rachelmanija promised me hot masked dance scenes, and my knowledge of Sherwood Smith promised me intelligent worldbuilding, and both of these were certainly delivered.

Our Heroine is Aurelia Kim Atelier, a UCLA student on a trip to Vienna to do research into her family history. Kim's hobbies include:
- fencing
- dancing
- cracking herself up by dropping obscure references into the middle of conversations
- jumping out of high-speed vehicles and fleeing away into the niiiiiight

All of this comes in handy for hot masked dance scenes, not to mention lit-nerd banter and action-filled escapes. Basically Coronets and Steel is pure id adventure, and it's thoroughly enjoyable.

It also did a good job of making me feel much older and more mature than I really am, because I spent a lot of the book wishing that Kim had HIRED ME as a sensible older companion/governess type before she headed off on her adventures. Since this was not possible, I spent a lot of time screaming "NOOOOOOOOO!" into the pages, like so:

KIM: Sure, I see no problems with impersonating foreign royalty for a week because this hot guy asked me to. It will be an adventure! Knowing nothing about politics is no problem.
BECCA: KIM. NO. WE DO NOT ILLEGALLY IMPERSONATE PEOPLE WITHOUT A VERY GOOD REASON.
KIM: Okay, then how about I go to this small, isolated foreign country, with no reliable source of communication, without telling anybody about my change in plans or providing emergency contact information for my friends and family -
BECCA: AURELIA KIM ATELIER YOU GO EMAIL YOUR MOTHER AND LEAVE HER YOUR EMERGENCY CONTACT INFORMATION RIGHT NOW
KIM: - and then I'll happily tell this dashing-but-possibly-wicked long-lost cousin of mine that a.) my existence might disinherit his family and b.) nobody knows where I am or what I am doing!
BECCA:

I like Kim fine! (Though my favorite character was actually Ruri.) I would be happy to hang out with her, except that then probably most of the book would not have happened, because I would have done my best to STOP HER from making 80% of the decisions she makes.

. . . but she's great at dancing! And swordfighting! IT'S OKAY KIM. You may have a long way to go before you max out your common sense stats, but your skillset is perfectly designed for a Ruritanian romance.

In other news, I suddenly have a powerful urge to reread The Prisoner of Zenda.
skygiants: (wife of bath)
Title: The Host Club's Refreshing Interdimensional Tour!
Characters: The entire host club, plus assorted special guests
Word Count: 3351
Summary: Does what it says on the label, guys. In other news, this is quite possibly the silliest thing I have ever written.

Nobody will own up to having made the terrible decision to show Tamaki a science-fiction film, which is probably wise, since, whoever that person was, Kyouya seems quite likely to have them quietly assassinated as soon as their identity is revealed. )
skygiants: Kurai from Angel Sanctuary, giving the finger, with text 'are you there, God?  It's me, Kurai' (unprodigal)
Back to Top Fives - [livejournal.com profile] ojuzu asked me for my top five non-heteronormative characters. She also specifically excluded Utena characters from the running, which does make narrowing the list easier, given that pretty much every Utena character would count for this. Still hard, though!

Cut for images, as per usual. )

Also as per usual: if you want to chime in with your own favorite, please do!
skygiants: Azula from Avatar: the Last Airbender with her hands on Mai and Ty Lee's shoulders (team hardcore)
Yo, epic fantasy authors. I'm real happy for you, and I'mma let you finish (uh, sorry, George R. R. Martin, I swear that was not a dig) but Sherwood Smith has already written one of the best epic fantasies of all time. OF ALL TIME.

- okay, this may seem a fulsome statement, but I'm actually serious. The Inda quartet (starting with Inda and ending with Treason's Shore, which I just finished after holding off for a year until I had time to devour all four at a go) is gigantic brick fantasy done right, or at least done in a way that engages with all the stuff that I find most interesting.

Ostensibly, the series is an epic about the titular Inda, sweetheart and trategic genius, who undergoes lots of adventures, strategically swashbuckles, fights pirates, becomes the accidental focus of a highly complex love polygon, saves his kingdom several times and a few other kingdoms to boot, and makes a number of extremely dramatic moral choices. And all of this is awesome! But Inda himself isn't what makes the series stand out for me.

What the books really do amazingly well is portray, above all, culture in flux. This isn't an epic about defeating evil, although evil does exist and does need to be defeated; it's an epic about compromise, about understanding different mindsets, about dealing with inevitable cultural change. It's about the small political and personal necessities that end up altering the way the world works. I was impressed with the complexity and depth of the worldbuilding in the books from the beginning, when all we see is Inda's Marlovan culture (I was actually dorking out straight from the beginning during a discussion of the two different languages used by the Marlovans and their different uses), and I was even more impressed as the scope broadened to show us more of the completely different cultures encompassed by the world, but when, in the second book, I realized that Sherwood Smith was actually showing the long-term cultural consequences of the things that happened in the first book - that's when I fell in love.

It's not just the culture-building! Cut for lengthy raving about everything else in the books. )

Caveats: as mentioned, the books really are bricks, there are are an epic ton of characters (most of whom have multiple names to boot), and you kind of have to devour them in a gulp or you will never remember what all the plot developments were. Also - I am sorry, Inda, you really are a sweetheart, but I sometimes have problems taking your angst seriously when peeing dogs send you off into a stoic fit of woe. Also also, Sherwood Smith has a terrible habit of KILLING OFF MY FAVORITES, but I mostly forgive her for this because she never kills a character lightly, and because everything is so amazing.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (land beyond dreams)
Some quick booklogging catchup today:

The King's Shield, the third book in the Inda series that I have been reading, I actually finished a while ago but have not got around to logging until now! Anyways, the series continues to be awesome. This installment was mostly centered around The Big War that's been building for the last two; now that all the characters are grown up there is also some ridiculous love polygon-age, but this does not frustrate me as it might because a.) it is so hilariously convoluted and multi-angled it really just entertains me, b.) it continues to take a back seat to politics and fighting and cultural norms, just as it ought, and c.) all the characters involved are allowed to be competent and sympathetic and non-villainized. So really if you're going to do a love polygon involving at least seven people (who at one point get a hilariously awkward dinner party scene together, too) then this is the way to do it! The other thing that very much impressed me about the book was the Tragically Noble Last Stand of an all-female group of castle defenders, just for the welcome proof that yes, it is possible to write female character death in a way that is awesome and non-exploitative and not All About The Men. I kind of want to print out that bit and wave it in people's faces when they fail to understand this.

I also almost-finished Sharon Shinn's Reader and Raelynx a while ago and then had to give it back to the library, so I only read the last twenty pages yesterday. Shinn is a total guilty pleasure for me; the Twelve Houses series has a pretty shaky mythology but interesting politics, and also I kind of enjoy the love stories even when they're ridiculous. Unfortunately, I was completely not won over by the love interest in this particular book, and I spent the whole time rooting for the protagonist to get together with her scowly and mysterious stepmother instead. However, I continue to be terribly amused by Shinn's occasional tendency to have grown-ups find a ridiculously easy solution to the main couple's problems while they're busy angsting, which was especially notable in this one when spoilers! )

Last but not least, I continue in my quest to read everything Kage Baker ever wrote with her short-story-and-novella collection, Dark Mondays. I was not blown away by any of the stories in this collection (though I expect the Lovecraft fans on my flist would really enjoy the one about Great Ones rising from a fast-food restaurant), but I really enjoyed the novella, The Maid on the Shore, which was all about Henry Morgan and an awesomely bizarre Motley Crew of pirates including a berserker Protestant reverend and his 'cousins' 'Bob' and 'Dick' (HAHAHAHA), a pair of badass trappers who are also gay lovers, and a terribly sarcastic English lord involved in a conspiracy involving boots. What is not to love?
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (at the library!)
About a year ago I read Sherwood Smith's Inda, and even though I was not officially booklogging then I may have blogged about it anyways - I can't remember - because I was super-impressed by it. I read Sherwood Smith's Wren books and Crown Duel when I was growing up and enjoyed them in a moderate fashion, but with Inda she really steps up her game. The most prominent aspect of the book is the worldbuilding; there is an incredible amount of detail on the militaristic society and the culture in which the story begins (they speak two languages! And there's specific meaning and relevance based on whatever language they use at a specific time!) and then once you're settled into that, the story moves into a whole broader world with about ten more different cultures with completely different cultures and languages and perspectives on each other. Also there is complex political machination, and pretty good characterization, and subtle family dynamics (and some not-so-subtle, but) and a secret conspiracy of badass women and even though occasionally I laughed at the main character's mad skills and bouts of emo basically I ate it the whole thing up with a spoon.

Anyways, recently I came into library possession of the sequel, The Fox, and picked it up and read the first ten pages and could not remember who anyone was. So I went back and reread Inda, which took a while, and then . . . realized my copy of The Fox had fallen out of my bag on the subway. So I bought a new copy! . . . and then lost that copy in Boston. So I went to the library, some kind person having restored the lost library copy to its proper place, and picked up the library copy again, and third time apparently was the charm, because I have finally finished it! And after all that my review is probably going to be pretty anti-climactic because I don't want to spoil anything for people who might read it, but in short, I was not in the least disappointed. I also continued to be very much impressed by how much Sherwood Smith is willing to change the game around in the middle through important character deaths (seriously important; we are not talking Cedric Diggory here) and political turnover. Also there are lesbian pirates! Though I did want a little less wacky piratical hijinks and a little more Marlovan politics, because I find the Marlovan society to be the most fun part. Anyways, now I am eagerly waiting for my library copy of the third one to appear; consider this an enthusiastic rec if you love excellent worldbuilding and don't mind a cast of 200.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (land beyond dreams)
There is a Theme for the books I read during the second half of my spring break - basically, all I really wanted was to indulge myself in lots of comfort reading with happy endings. So that is what I did!

I bought Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel for my trip because I had recently read and loved her Inda for its fabulous worldbuilding and I had heard that Crown Duel was set in the future of the same universe. (I had also read it many years before, but I really did not remember a thing about it.) Originally published as two books, Crown Duel tells the story of very provincial noblewoman Meliara, who in the first half is involved in a rebellion against the corrupt king with her brother, and in the second half finds herself trying to fit in at the court of the new king amidst lots of wacky intrigue. There weren't many surprises in the book, but I cut anyways. )

After this, I had run out of books purchased for the trip, so I went to check out my local library's Georgette Heyer section and picked up Venetia. I didn't like this one quite as much as the other Heyers I've read so far - not that it's not a well-written and fun book, because it is, but I think that after being thoroughly immersed in Jane Eyretasticness, Lord Damerel, Angsty Reformed Rake, kind of just seemed like a less interesting Rochester. Also, I think this one felt more explicitly romance-focused to me than the other two I've read, which both had a bunch of interesting side plots. I do really like the way Heyer sets up older sister-younger brother relationships, though.

The last proper vacation book I finished (well, flight home book) was Judith Merkle Riley's A Vision of Light, which I had also read before, but, again, so many years ago I didn't remember it. I should say first off that Judith Merkle Riley is total comfort reading for me. I know exactly what I will get if I pick up one of her books: an interesting and well-researched historical setting, an independent female character doing something weird but mostly plausible to support herself, some vague possibly-supernatural interference, and a grumpy and confused male character who learns to appreciate the female character's weirdness and independence, all of which combine for reads that may not be great per se but are very enjoyable. My favorite of hers is The Oracle Glass, which has the most flawed heroine doing the weirdest thing (pretending to be an old lady who looks young because she drank out of the fountain of youth!) among the weirdest people (a gang of crazy satanic poisoners in the court of the king of France; most weird because they are all historical characters!) with the weirdest boyfriend (grumpy pamphleteering ex-galley-slave card shark!). A Vision of Light, set in the medieval era, is also a lot of fun, if not that awesomely bizarre. )

Apparently this is the first one in a trilogy; I will definitely be looking for the rest. (But if you've never heard of Judith Merkle Riley, and you decide you want to read one of her books, start with The Oracle Glass. Because it is awesome.)

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