December 5, 2017

October/November Reading Recap

It's time to catch up with a double batch of reviews! Over the last two months, I read some excellent science fiction and fantasy, and also some other books.

AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS by Rivers Solomon: Aster is a skilled healer and scientist from the lowdecks of the ship Matilda, which fled the Great Lifehouse 300 years ago and has traveled through space ever since. Life is never easy for lowdeckers, with imposed shifts on the field decks and frequent abuse from guards and overseers. Following a rash of unexplained blackouts, harsh energy rationing has made lowdeck conditions even worse, while the upperdeckers continue to enjoy their many comforts. For Aster, the blackouts also resurface questions about her mother, who committed suicide during the last series of ship-wide power outages, on the day Aster was born. When political events reveal information that appears connected to her mother, Aster begins searching for answers about her mother's life and death, and what she discovers has huge implications for Matilda.

I have been recommending AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS since I started reading, and my enthusiasm only increased as I got farther into the book. This engrossing, intense novel contains so many pieces that excite me. The world of the generation ship is intricate and often unexpected, and I only wish the story allowed room for Solomon to share even more of the tantalizing cultural elements they created. But the plot had to keep moving, and it's a great one, with secrets and power struggles and a mystery involving science. Every character is a complicated individual, and I cared deeply for Aster, her friends, and all the wonderful fierce inhabitants of the lowdecks.

Solomon's debut is ambitious and satisfying, and I look forward to their future novels!

PROVENANCE by Ann Leckie: Ingray was adopted into a rich, politically powerful family, but she grew up knowing her brother was their mother's favorite and would be named heir. Still, she can't stop hoping to win favor, so she's traveled to a distant system and spent all her money on a wild plan that may impress her scheme-loving mother, or at least humiliate her obnoxious brother. When Ingray's plot immediately goes wrong, she's forced to return to her home planet with nothing besides a reluctant co-conspirator and an even more far-fetched scheme. It might have worked, too, if not for those meddling aliens -- plus some unanticipated police involvement and an interplanetary dispute over historical relics.

PROVENANCE is a exciting, twisty story, as gripping when the characters are undertaking tense exploits as when they're facing off over long-held resentments. I loved these nuanced, messy characters and their complex family dynamics and friendships. As always, Leckie has built a fascinating world where numerous cultures come into contact and don't understand each other, which is sometimes funny and sometimes thought-provoking. The story explores identity, social customs, power, justice, and gender, all in the course of a plot that speeds right along.

This novel takes place in the same universe as Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy, and some political activity in the background is a result of events in the trilogy, but it's not necessary to know about (or remember) those to understand this standalone book.

THE OBELISK GATE by N.K. Jemisin picks up Essun's story where THE FIFTH SEASON leaves her, coping with the implications of the continent-shattering disaster that's destroyed the Stillness. There's a chance Essun can make the world right again, but first she's going to have to learn a lot more about her orogenic powers and discover the skills of others who may be able to help.

I was happy to return to the world of this trilogy (nice place to read about, wouldn't want to live there!), spend time with the characters I'd grown attached to, and meet new ones. This installment includes a lot of great, exciting developments, with a good mix of tense action and quiet character moments. Many of the story's mysteries start becoming clearer as Essun gains knowledge and power, but there's still much I'm eager to find out about, and I'm curious to see how tightly the various pieces will connect by the end of the final book.