Saturday, 18 November 2017

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold is the latest book in my re-read of the Vorkosigan saga. It comes chronologically after Mirror Dance and before Komarr. I had remembered this as "the Illyan book", but of course, it's still mostly another Miles book, focussing on a transitionary period in Miles's life (and also in Simon Illyan's life).

Miles hits 30... Thirty hits back.

Miles turns 30, and--though he isn't slowing down just yet--he is starting to lose interest in the game of Wall: the one where he tries to climb the wall, fails, gets up, and tries again. Having finally reached a point in his life where he can look back and realize that he has managed to prove his courage and competence, he can move on to bigger and better things.

This book follows Miles on a more internal journey than usual. Although there is some excitement in it, there is less action and fewer daring rescues. In fact Miles spends a lot of the book coming to terms with the fact that all his adventures have caught up with him, medically speaking. After having spent so long overcoming his disadvantages though sheer determination, the abrupt realisation that he can’t will his way past his latest problem is not a shock he deals with well. But, Miles being
Miles and also the protagonist, events conspire to push him in a new and interesting direction.

As I hinted in my introduction, this is also a book that features Simon Illyan quite prominently. Previously he appeared in Miles’s life mostly as a slightly distant authority figure — despite having known Miles since birth, their professional relationship was mostly very professional (avoiding mild treason notwithstanding). But now we get to learn more about Illyan’s job and it’s demands. And we see that Miles is actually one of the closest people to him. And of course, it’s useful to have Miles on your side if something goes wrong.

The other character we get to see more of in this book (not for the first time) is Ivan. He provides an amusing side plot and counter to some of Miles’s darker moments. And of course, he gets dragged into Miles’s plans.

This book is clever and, even though I remembered most of the ending, it stood up well upon rereading. It’s a thoughtful book and, while parts of it are very difficult for Miles, it wasn’t as difficult for readers, compared with its immediate prequel, Mirror Dance, for example. Because it’s such a transitionary book, I don’t think I’d recommend it as a stand-alone, but it works very well in the broader context of the series and as a marker of this turning point in Miles’s life. And, as (almost) always, it made me excited to read the next book in the series.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: Baen, 1996
Series: Vorkosigan Saga, chronologically after Mirror Dance and before Komarr
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Baen several years ago

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Unmagical Boy Story by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Unmagical Boy Story by Tansy Rayner Roberts is the second novella in the Belladonna University series. It chronologically follows Fake Geek Girl and precedes The Bromancers, although I read and both of those novellas first. They're all relatively self-contained and reading them out of order only really leads to mild character development spoilers and spoilers regarding the introduction of new characters.

One magical university, divided between the Colleges of the Real and Unreal. One pub. One indie band. A lot of drunk witches on a Friday night. One shattered friendship, due to be repaired. One Practical Mythology paper which really has to be finished by Monday... Oh, and trolls. Let’s see who survives Friday night drinks!

This is a fluffy story about a grumpy post-grad which touches on some deeper issues. Viola Vale come from a rich upper-class family who are, and consort with, important decision-makers in the magical world. And of course they look down on non-magical people. The story is about Viola coming to terms with one of her best friends (also from an upper-crusty family) having been in a magical accident that stripped him of his power. It's a story of learning understanding and acceptance and Viola's journey is quite pronounced. She goes from wanting to fix her, now unmagical friend, Chauv, to accepting him as the person he now is.

The other, slightly less significant, story of acceptance is Viola's slow-building tolerance for Chauv's new friends, flatmates and girlfriend, who are basically the Fake Geek Girl gang. She goes from generalised distain for people she sees as beneath her to grudging acceptance (but not of the music), and something approaching respect for Sage and Hebe.

All it all, this was a fun, short and relaxing read with enough depth to properly address the more serious issues that it raised. I enjoyed it and I recommend it to all fans of Roberts' writing and to fans of humorous or lighthearted fantasy and geek culture. I look forward to more instalments in the series.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, self-published via Patreon
Series: Belladonna University, novella 2 (after Fake Geek Girl, before The Bromancers)
Format read: ePub
Source: The author's Patreon
Disclaimer: Although the author is a friend, I have endeavoured to give an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Penric's Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold is the third Penric novella that I’ve read, after Penric's Demon and Penric and the Shaman. I haven’t read any of the novels set in the same world. I mistakenly thought Penric’s Mission was chronologically third in the Penric series and then was very confused when it was set about ten years after the previous Penric novella I’d read. Turns out it was the third to be published, not the third chronologically. Whoops! Bujold’s non-chronological writing strikes again!

Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Bastard’s Order, travels across the sea to sunlit Cedonia on his first covert diplomatic mission, to attempt to secure the services of a disaffected Cedonian general for the Duke of Adria. However, nothing is as it seems: Penric is betrayed and thrown into a dungeon, and worse follows for the general and his kin. Penric’s narrow escapes and adventures — including his interest in a young widow — are told with Bujold’s remarkable energy, wit and humor. Once again, Bujold has created unforgettable characters and a wondrous, often dangerous world of intrigue and sorcery. Third novella in the Penric and Desdemona series.

Aside from my confusion as to what number book I was reading, I mostly enjoyed Penric’s Mission. I didn’t love it, though, and it’s probably my least favourite Penric book so far. It felt like it was bridging two parts of Penric’s life, but without much knowledge of the earlier part, I suspect some of the significance was lost on me. Last time I encountered Penric, he was still new. Now, ten years later, not only does he better know what he’s doing, but he’s coming from a bunch of history unfamiliar to me. We get some reminiscences which do explain how Penric got to where he was at the start of the story, but they come later in the story. I felt like more context at the start would have been helpful (and maybe would have existed if I read a chronologically earlier book first).

Penric’s Mission follows Penric while he’s been instructed to recruit a general who had been corresponding with the duke Penric is currently working for. But as soon as Penric arrives in the city, he’s arrested and, it turns out, the general has been arrested too. The questions of who betrayed Penric and why are less pressing than his immediate survival. By the time we find out the answers, they don’t seem that relevant anymore. I didn’t feel there was a very satisfying answer to “why is any of this happening?” especially since we learned Penric’s motivations so late in the story.

None of which is to say I didn’t enjoy the book, just that it could have been more enjoyable. I still fully intend to keep reading Penric stories and I especially hope we can fill in some more of the ten years that got skipped between this novella and the last.

I actually don’t think this novella is a terrible place to start reading Penric, for all that I said above. A new reader coming to it wouldn’t have much less information than I did and is likely to be less frustrated by time jumps they know nothing about. The story does not rely on any prior knowledge to work as a stand-alone. The only reason I’d particularly suggest starting with the earlier books is because I liked them more, but otherwise I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Penric’s Mission to fans of fantasy who are looking for a shorter read.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, self-published (my edition: November 2017, Subterranean Press)
Series: Penric and Desdemona, #3 in publication order of 6ish so far
Format read: eARC (PDF)
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, 2 November 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 31 to 40

If you've been following me on twitter and/or my #ReadShortStories tweeting, you might have noticed that I have a tendency to do these things in bursts. I am the kind of person who finds it much harder to do something every single day — even if it's something small — than to do more of it in a catch-up (or work ahead) lump.

Anyway, here are stories 31 to 40. A mixed bag from a variety of sources. My favourite stories in this batch were "Cat Pictures Please" by Naomi Kritzer — highly recommended for fans of Murderbot and last batch's "Fandom for Robots" — "Foxfire, Foxfire" — a fantasy/mythology mecha war story — and "God Product" and "An Abundance of Fish" — both excellent flash stories.


  1. Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer — Another delightful robot story, this time one who only wants cat pictures and, to a lesser extent, to help people. I can see why it won the Hugo and Locus Awards and got shortlisted for a Nebula. Source: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/kritzer_01_15/
  2. Application for the Delegation of First Contact: Questionnaire, Part B by Kathrin Köhler — A mildly amusing construct which raises some very valid points but did not really grip me due to the non-standard form of the story. Source: http://thebooksmugglers.com/2015/05/application-for-the-delegation-of-first-contact-questionnaire-part-b-by-kathrin-kohler.html
  3. The Future of Hunger in the Age of Programmable Matter by Sam J. Miller — An interesting story. It took me a little while to get into because the opening was hard to follow in between the narrator’s interjections, but I’m glad I pushed through because it went to a lot of unexpected places (I don’t want to spoil the plot though). It made me think a lot about the construction of stories and narratives, and how several different ideas can fit together. Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/10/18/the-future-of-hunger-in-the-age-of-programmable-matter/
  4. Foxfire, Foxfire by Yoon Ha Lee — A very enjoyable story set in an alternate reality Korea during a war fought with something like human-piloted mechs amid a supernatural backdrop. The main character is a gumiho (nine-tailed fox) who is close to eating enough humans to remain human. Her last kill does not turn out to be as straightforward as she planned. Source: http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/foxfire-foxfire/
  5. The Ordinary Woman and the Unquiet Emperor by Catherynne M Valente — Another very short story is the “nevertheless, she persisted” series on tor.com. It didn’t especially do it for me and seemed a bit too much of a shaggy dog story (I can see how that was by design, but meh). Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/the-ordinary-woman-and-the-unquiet-emperor-catherynne-valente/
  6. God Product by Alyssa Wong — Excellent, arresting flash, the best so far in Tor.com's “nevertheless, she persisted” series. Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/god-product-alyssa-wong/
  7. An Abundance of Fish by S. Qiouyi Lu — which was lovely and heartbreaking and contained fish. A story of love and loss. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/an-abundance-of-fish/
  8. Astronaut by Maria Dahvana Headley — which was very short and very touching and realer than I initially realised. Another in Tor.com's “nevertheless, she persisted” series. Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/astronaut-maria-dahvana-headley/
  9. Anabasis by Amal El-Mohtar — was well-written but didn’t really do it for me. Another in Tor.com's “nevertheless, she persisted” series. Source: https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/anabasis-amal-el-mohtar/
  10. Heart of Straw by Seanan McGuire — a Halloween story about trick of treating and the magic of the night. It was both less and more creepy than I expected, but very heartfelt, either way. Source: Seanan McGuire's Patreon.


I really should read more stories from the paper anthologies on my shelves (since that was part of my original aim), but reading electronically is so much easier...


Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Mirror Dance - The Vorkosigan Saga Project

Mirror Dance is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Brothers in Arms and before Memory and contains a major spoiler for Brothers in Arms (don’t read on if you don’t want to be spoiled!). In Mirror Dance the story is split between Miles’s point of view and that of his brother, Mark. This is the first time there have been multiple points of view in a Vorkosigan Saga book.


You can read Tsana’s review of Mirror Dance here and Katharine’s review here.





Tsana: Well. That was one of the least funny and light-hearted installments in the Vorkosigan Saga so far. Still a compelling read, but it did nothing to cheer me up while I was reading (I made the mistake of marathoning a depressing TV show at the same time, so that was a bleak few days)...


Katharine: That’s almost putting it lightly. My personal review of the book was brief, because there’s not a lot to be said without spoilers (at least for a previous book) and it was just too full on. It’s important to mention that it dealt with it all so well - we’ll get into it more as we go, of course, but for how triggering it could be for anyone who’s suffered any type of trauma, I thought the way the characters reacted and handled it was incredibly positive.


Tsana: Ultimately it was a heavy book that dealt with some heavy topics. But those themes were kind of unavoidable given Mark’s past. This is really the book where we, not only get to know Mark, but also get to see him grow and start to come into his own. But Mark had a traumatic childhood and young adulthood, so there’s no escaping negative stuff. Throwing Mark into the mix with Miles and the kinds of dangerous shenanigans he usually gets up to and disaster is bound to strike. Although this is hardly the first time the Vorkosigan stories have gone to dark places.


Katharine: All very true. So basically, it’s been two years since Mark has had anything to do with Miles—


Tsana: OK, sorry but I’m going to interrupt here. It really bothered me how it says it’s two years later but it’s really more like three or four. Mark was 18 in Brothers in Arms and now he’s 22. Miles was 24 and now he’s 28. Minor continuity errors are annoying when you’re paying closer attention than usual because you’re going to be dissecting the story later. (But really, Bujold does a pretty good job, especially since these two books were published five years apart.)


Katharine: I have to admit I just flicked through as I was sure it was four years, however there’s countless references (mostly at the start) stating two. Which makes a little more sense as to how far Mark has come so far (ie, not very) but ...that’s about it.


So really, it’s been about four years since Mark has had anything to do with Miles, the Dendarii - anyone. Miles has been splitting his life between being his Vor self and as Admiral Naismith, and it’s now that Mark makes a grab for getting his revenge on Jackson’s Whole. To do this, he’s going to pretend to be Miles once again, take the Dendarii, and hopefully free a whole lot of kids and burn their business to the ground.


Tsana: Yes, Mark seems to have flittered around not doing much and living off Miles’s money (that he gave him at the end of Brothers in Arms) until now, when he decides to mount a clone rescue. Amusingly, an idea first put into his head by Miles, not long before they parted ways. At this stage, it looks like Mark wants to be a better Miles — a better hero. Freeing clone kids is more heroic than undermining the Cetagandans, right?


Katharine: Especially with the mentions of how Miles had the chance to do exactly what Mark wants to, and decided to pass it up… it looks like Mark is going to fight the good fight. He manages it for a while - calls the ship to come get him, fobs off the reasons as to where Quinn is, manages to win Bel to his way of thinking (not hard, as Bel says how glad it is they’re finally righting this), and then…


Tsana: Well Bel isn’t fooled for very long. There was a moment when Mark worries that Bel’s onto him and then relaxes when Bel continues on as normal, but that was totally the moment when Bel became sure that Mark was Mark rather than Miles. I think Mark’s biggest mistake in dealing with Miles’s people is underestimating how much Miles cares about him. Those closest to Miles have presumably spent the past two-to-four years hearing him worry about his brother so when Mark, disguised as Miles, refers to himself as the “clone”, it’s a huge red flag. But Bel, as you said, goes along with it because they believe in the mission. But Mark isn’t Miles and his plans don’t go anywhere near as smoothly… Especially not once Miles is on their tail.


Katharine: Bel quickly takes control once Mark’s decision making and tactical experience is shown to be pretty subpar when it comes to mounting an attack and directing units of people. Mark has somehow forgotten what it was like to be a clone in that very facility, and is shocked when the clones don’t sing their praises and escape with them gleefully. They fight back, they manage to run and hide back with their captors, and the delays cost them the valuable time they were counting on to get out safely. They get pinned down, thankfully just around the time Miles has figured out what the hell has happened (when the Dendarii haven’t waited for him, and he’s had to make his own way following them, almost a week behind), meaning Big Brother Miles is here to save the day.


Tsana: Not that Mark wants him to save the day, exactly. But Mark wasn’t prepared for the pressures and requisite snap-decision making in combat, so he does want someone else to take over and fix it (so long as he still gets credit for the rescue).


Miles jumps into the fray but with fewer resources than usual. He has borrowed armour, because Mark stole his, and doesn’t have his control helmet to get a proper overview of the situation. It… doesn’t end well.


Should we have already put up spoiler shields?


Katharine: Probably. Beep beep boop!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang is the companion novella to The Red Threads of Fortune, with the two novellas having been released simultaneously. I happened to read The Red Threads of Fortune first, not for any particularly informed reason — I think I happened to have seen more marketing for that one when I made my preorder. This review will contain a lot of comparisons between the two novellas but I will try to avoid spoiling the other.

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What's more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother's Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother's twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?

Black Tides of Heaven follows Akeha, the twin of Mokoya, who was the protagonist in Red Threads of Heaven. As well as following the other twin, it is also set much earlier in time, following the twins (always from Akeha's point of view) from childhood until their thirties. While Red Threads had a lot of physical/geographical world building that drew me into the world and made me want to learn more, Black Tides had a lot more social world building. We got a more thorough explanation of the attitudes towards and treatment of gender, which was only hinted at and encountered obliquely in 
Red Threads.

The social treatment of gender was very interesting, actually. Children, when born, are treated gender neutrally until they choose their gender when they feel ready. At that point it is usual, but not compulsory, to visit doctors to have the chosen gender biologically assigned. My impression was that it was something like puberty being delayed until desired, but aspects of magic were involved.

The story itself was presented in widely spaced chunks of time, showing us significant events at different stages of Akeha's life. As the "spare" twin (next to his sister, the Prophet), he has a very different set of issues and worries in life. We also learn about some events that are important backstory in Red Threads but from Akeha's point of view. I'm a bit torn as to which is the "best" reading order for these two novellas. Black Tides is the stronger volume, in my opinion, and packs more of an emotional punch. Being set earlier in time, it's also a logical choice for reading first. However, I didn't feel that reading them in the reverse order ruined the story or anything like that. They work when read in either order.

I recommend The Black Tides of Heaven to anyone who enjoyed Red Threads of Fortune and to fans of fantasy more generally. Especially to anyone looking for fantasy books that explore gender in interesting ways. I gather that there will be another pair of novellas in this world coming out next year, and I am planning to pick those up when they do.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2017, Tor.com
Series: Tensorate, book 1 of two book ones
Format read: ePub eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 27 October 2017

The Bromancers by Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Bromancers by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a novella set in the Fake Geek Girl universe. I had previously read (or, well, listened to) the short story “Fake Geek Girl” on her Sheep Might Fly podcast and chose to read The Bromancers because I was in the mood for something light. I didn't realise that there was another short story chronologically before The Bromancers, "Unmagical Boy Story", but The Bromancers made perfect sense without it, albeit I was probably lacking some background on a few of the characters in The Bromancers.

Our favourite witchy rock band, Fake Geek Girl, are road-tripping to a magical music festival in a wi-fi free zone on the same weekend that the season finale of their favourite TV show drops. Can they avoid spoilers? Can Hebe, Holly, Juniper & Sage camp in tents for three days without murdering each other? Can coffee really fix EVERYTHING including missing band members, messy relationship drama and obsessive fan shenanigans?

Friendship is magic, but if you pile too much friendship on top of too much magic over one weekend, the results are bound to be explosive.

The Bromancers follows the band members of Fake Geek Girl and their friends as they go camping at a music festival. There are shenanigans, hijinks, a bit of danger and a portion of relationship drama. The title comes from a TV show the friends are highly invested in, the season finale of which just happens to coincide with the no-wifi music festival. There's a lot of cute fan-related bonding thrown into the mix.

Each chapter of The Bromancers follows a different character as they worry about the things important to them, allowing us to learn more about them. This method of storytelling also allows the reader to see various characters from the points of view of other characters, which makes for interesting juxtaposition. Overall, I would call this a cosy contemporary fantasy story.


I recommend The Bromancers to fans of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ work, especially her more light hearted fiction. I suggest reading the short story “Fake Geek Girl” (or listening to it for free on the Sheep Might Fly podcast) for a bit of context before The Bromancers, but it’s not essential. I am planning to read the short story I accidentally skipped, “Unmagical Boy Story”, soon.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2017, Self-Published
Series: Belladonna U, story 3
Format read: ePub
Source: Tansy Rayner Roberts' Patreon
Disclaimer: Although Tansy is a friend, I have endeavoured to give an unbiased review
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

100 Short Story Challenge: Stories 21 to 30

After reading a glut of short stories thanks to Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho, I slowed down a bit in my challenge and have only just pushed up my story talley to the next multiple of ten. Most of these listed below are still from Spirits Abroad (for which you can read the full and more detailed review here), but the list is bulked out with a few other stories too. I would like to particularly draw your attention to "Fandom for Robots" by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, which was positively delightful.


  1. The Perseverance of Angela's Past Life by Zen Cho — Sort of a sequel/companion story to the previous, focussing on Prudence’s best friend Angela. Unlike Prudence, Angela is very sensitive to magic and close proximity to a dragon caused some of her issues to physically manifest. Another amusing story. I would be more than happy to read a novel set in this time period of this world. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  2. The Earth Spirit’s Favourite Anecdote by Zen Cho — the story of finding a hole in the forest and dealing with a forest spirit, told by an earth spirit. Not my favourite story in this collection. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  3. Liyana by Zen Cho — a depressing but really fascinating story. A class of folklore idea that I don’t think I’ve come across before. But also, more than metaphorically about women’s sacrifice for the family. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  4. The Four Generations of Chang E by Zen Cho — A story about being the child of immigrants and fitting in or not. Also aliens on the moon. And from the authors notes, some mythological subtext that went over my head. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  5. The Many Deaths is Hang Jebat by Zen Cho — was a bit confusing and I was a bit lost as to where it was going until I read the author’s notes and saw that it was based on mythology I had no knowledge of. The summary in the author’s notes made yet a bit clearer and I can now see what the author was trying to do, but the story doesn’t work that well on its own. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  6. From A to Z in the Book of Changes by Seanan McGuire — More a collection of flash pieces or drabbles inspired by words (one for each letter of the alphabet) than a traditional short story. They are sort of tied together at the end and range from mildly amusing to creepy. Source: Seanan McGuire’s Patreon
  7. The Fish Bowl by Zen Cho — a dawning horror story about the pressure to do well in school and a concerning bargain with a magic fish. Harrowing. I quite liked the story, but I wanted a bit more from the end than we got, I think. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  8. Balik Kampung by Zen Cho — a story about a ghost returning to earth for the Hungry Ghost Festival and, in the course of events, finding out how she died. A good story to end the collection on. Some humour, some sadness. Source: Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
  9. Our Faces, Radiant Sisters, Our Faces Full of Light! by Kameron Hurley — a very short story about persistence for the greater good in the face of certain death and monsters. Source: Nevertheless , She Persisted series on Tor.com https://www.tor.com/2017/03/08/our-faces-radiant-sisters-our-faces-full-of-light-kameron-hurley/
  10. Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad — An adorable story about the world’s only sentient robot who was created in the 1950s and now lives in a museum. One day, someone recommends and anime to him and things spiral out from there. Such an adorable and fun read. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/fandom-for-robots/ 

My plan for the next few shorts is to read more random stories freely available online (having already added a bunch to Pocket).

Monday, 23 October 2017

Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold is the latest instalment in my chronological read-through of the Vorkosigan Saga. It follows on chronologically from Brothers in Arms, dealing with the ramifications of some of the events in that earlier book. As a result, this review contains major spoilers for Brothers in Arms (and so does the blurb). You have been warned.

Mark Vorkosigan is the cloned "twin" of Lord Miles Vorkosigan, born six years after Miles and raised by a psychopathic madman for nefarious political purposes. That's old news, however, conveyed in the prequel Brothers in Arms. Now, in Mirror Dance, Mark still has no identity of his own and no place to call home. One thing he does know: He must free the young clones from the sinister "orphanage" he left behind years ago, on Jackson's Whole. Pretending to be his twin, Admiral of the Dendarii Mercenaries, he just might be able to pull it off. But at what cost? And is Miles his brother's keeper?

I remembered this wasn't a very cheerful book, which at least helped me manage my expectations, even if I didn't entirely remember the order of certain events. The book tells part of the story in alternating chapters from Mark's and Miles's points of view, at times focussing in on the brother with the most pertinent/pressing storyline. We get to know Mark a lot better as he gets to know himself. Finally free of his creators and captors, no longer forced to imitate Miles, he spends some time working out what's important to him, and then working it out again and again as things go awry.

Unlike many of its prequels and sequels, Mirror Dance isn't very cheerful or funny. There were maybe two finny scenes in the whole book, and the first one came a significant portion of the way in. Do not pick this up looking for a light and fun read. This book has some horrible bits, with serious torture, much worse than anything we saw in earlier books, although partly along the lines of what was hinted at earlier with regards to Jackson's Whole and especially House Bharaputra. That's not to say that it's not a good book — it absolutely is — but it's cerebral and deals with psychological issues and, well, Mark isn't as much of a quipper as Miles is.

I definitely recommend this book to fans of the Vorkosigan Saga and Bujold generally, just be warned that it's darker and less humorous than many of the earlier books. I wouldn't choose it as a book to cheer up with. That said, it delves into some really interesting issues and is definitely worth a read. Mirror Dance is also a terrible place to start reading the Vorkosigan books and I strongly recommend reading Brothers in Arms (at least!) first.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: Baen, 1994
Series: Vorkosigan Saga, chronologically after Brothers in Arms and before Memory
Format read: ePub as part of the Miles Errant omnibus
Source: Purchased from Baen several years ago

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Illustrated Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling and Jim Kay

The Illustrated Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban written by JK Rowling and illustrated by Jim Kay is the third illustrated Harry Potter edition to be released yearly by Bloomsbury. I reviewed the illustrated Philosopher's Stone, but didn't write a proper review of Chamber of SecretsThis review will contain spoilers, because if you haven't read Harry Potter in the last twenty years you probably don't care (and probably aren't reading this review).

An extraordinary creative achievement by an extraordinary talent, Jim Kay’s inspired reimagining of J.K. Rowling’s classic series has captured a devoted following worldwide. This stunning new fully illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban brings more breathtaking scenes and unforgettable characters – including Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Professor Trelawney. With paint, pencil and pixels, Kay conjures the wizarding world as we have never seen it before. Fizzing with magic and brimming with humour, this full-colour edition will captivate fans and new readers alike as Harry, now in his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, faces Dementors, death omens and – of course – danger.

I really enjoyed the illustrations (and story, of course) in this book. I wasn't as into the illustrated Chamber of Secrets because I felt like there were too many boring blank pages. This was not a problem in Prisoner of Azkaban which had a lot more minor illustrations between the bigger full- and half-page ones. For example, each chapter has a themed background that was used on the otherwise blank pages — things like forest or tablecloth or wallpaper. Nothing to distract from the text, but adding a bit more interest. There were also several illustrations that covered the bottom third of a double page spread, which were nice. And the pages on which each chapter started were illustrated in detail, with something emblematic of the events within the chapter. I really liked the detail.

Probably the most frequently illustrated character was Scabbers, who appeared several times by himself as well as part of other illustrations. Crookshanks and Sirius/the "Grim" came up a few times too. But I think my favourite illustration in the whole book was a very detailed background illustration of a Quidditch match.

I enjoyed revisiting the story of Harry Potter and experiencing the world with the new illustrations. I highly recommend the illustrated editions to fans of Harry Potter, especially those looking for a reason to reread a Harry Potter book a year. I look forward to Goblet of Fire, although I do worry about how thick and heavy it will be since Prisoner of Azkaban is already significantly heaver than Philosopher's Stone.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 1999 Bloomsbury, but 2017 for the illustrated edition
Series:b Harry Potter book 3 of 7
Format read: Hardcover
Source: Amazon, to my shame.