Monthly Archives: November 2015

One good earl deserves a lover

One good earl deserves a lover / Sarah MacLean

I find myself increasingly reading historical romance. I find myself getting tired of so-called ‘Hard” science fiction which feels more like an exercise in dull determinism than an enjoyable reading experience. I’m also growing a little bored with the endless large-scale melodrama of fantasy and “soft” science fiction. Mystery novels almost invariably end up being too predictable or devoting themselves to defending Status Q.  Ostensibly “Literary” fiction either ends up drowning in angst or featuring “important” statements about social problems that I end up dealing with enough in my daily life that I don’t have the energy to deal with them in fiction. I know other people who feel this way – most of them have gravitated towards YA fiction which is reasonable but it’s an area where I’m frequently overwhelmed and for some reason I’m more comfortable being seen in the Romance section than I am in the YA section.

So in the interest of reading something not inflated by its own self-importance that manages to be at least minimally witty I find myself reading historical romance novels pretty much by default. (It also helps that my spouse is a fan of the genre so they are also readily available and I have a plausible excuse when people see me buying them or checking them out of the library.  As a result of all this Sarah MacLean has become one of my favorite authors. She does a good job of telling an entertaining, frequently hilarious story without whitewashing how horrible living conditions were for the vast majority of the population of Regency England.

This is the second book in the Rules of scoundrels series, a quartet of novels mostly notable for the fact that none of the major characters are leading lights of the ton and none of them have the excess of social capital that usually makes problems go away in these kinds of books.

Brief plot summary

Pippa, sister of the protagonist of the previous volume, is an intellectual young lady with a problem. Her fiancé is notoriously dull and she herself has no idea how a marriage is supposed to “work”. In an effort to learn more about relationships she enlists Cross, one of the four owners of the town’s most notorious hell, the Fallen angel.

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The shadow throne

The shadow throne / Django Wexler

If you come to the second book in the Shadow Campaigns series expecting something along the lines of the first then you’re going to be disappointed.

The shadow throne maintains the general style and tone of the Thousand names but with a drastic change in setting comes a drastic change in the book’s priorities.

Brian McClellan’s Powder mage trilogy gets called “A French Revolution with wizards” (Kirkus) but in McClellan’s work the Revolution is more set dressing. The shadow throne is 1789 Paris in a way that is astounding.

Brief plot summary

Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and Lieutenant Winter Ihernglass have returned to Vordan. The King is dying and the Duke Orlanko is maneuvering himself into power. The Duke has some hold over the Princess Raesinia, who has plots of her own.

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The Belgariad

Pawn of prophecy / David [and Leigh]* Eddings

Pawn of prophecy is the first of the Belgariad, a quintet of fantasy novels that are remarkable in their minimalism.

Like the Dresden files, the Belgariad was written to prove a point. While the Dresden files were written to be an intentionally bad mish-mash of genres, the Belgariad was written to demonstrate that a series can have the most clichéd, cookie-cutter plot possible but still be entertaining as long as the characters are interesting.

It’s mostly successful, to the point where it serves as a useful point of reference for other works of epic fantasy. It’s also personally significant for me which may color this review somewhat.

*Context: Leigh was a coauthor on the books but M. del Rey insisted her name be left off because he thought it would have a negative impact on sales. Books first published after his death properly credit both authors.

Brief plot summary

There’s a mysterious magical artifact that was stolen! A farm boy with a mysterious past finds himself drawn into the quest to retrieve it, accompanied by a grey-bearded sorcerer. Accompanied by several colorful comrades they must travel through many countries, each one with a population mostly defined by a few highly distinctive cultural traits.

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The summoner

The summoner / Gail Z. Martin

The summoner is the first installment of the Chronicles of the necromancer series. It follows the story of Prince Martris Drake who can talk to ghosts. It’s particularly interesting for the way it plays with some of the “classic” fantasy tropes. It’s not dissimilar from the way this works in Mistborn – it’s a fairly straightforward fantasy but some of the normal tropes are reversed. In this case the most obvious inversion is that the titular necromancer is the hero of the story.

Brief plot summary

Prince Martris Drake is the heir to the throne of the kingdom of Margolan. Unfortunately, his vicious brother has other plans. Narrowly escaping the coup, Tris and his companions attempt to gather allies so they can retake the throne of Margolan and prevent his brother’s vampiric advisor from freeing the Obsidian King from his prison.

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