R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Tag: Let’s Talk About

Let’s Talk About: Ganymede by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest is a talented writer. I love her Clockwork Century setting with its alt-history + steampunk + zombies mashup. However, Ganymede was just ok and kinda boring. The characters are great. You have Josephine Early, madam of a high class establishment and spy for the Union, trying to get an experimental submarine out of the New Orleans bayous and into Union hands. And then series regular(?), guest star(?) Andan Cly, a tall dude and airship pilot, also a former pirate.ganymede cover

Great stuff. Great supporting cast. Great central premise. There should be tons of tension to this plot. But none of the “expected spy story” plot beats ever happen. Josephine is afraid that the Confederates and their Texian allies are onto her, but never once does it *actually* happen. Nobody questions her, suspects her, searches her place, nothing like that. Every time she goes out and is doing the “watching her back for tails” type thing, it never manifests into anything.

And then when it comes time to move the Ganymede sub: the book tells the reader that it’s tense, full of danger, that the Texians (that spelling/term bothered me; no idea why) or the Confederates could spot them at any time. But it never happens. They move the sub without a hitch.

Okay I can buy that. That part of the story *was* tense. So to have nothing terrible happen lets the reader breathe a sigh of relief. It also makes them think “Okay, they made it through that. But what about what’s next?” Cool. I’m all on board with that.

Once the Ganymede is put into the Mississippi River, it comes time to sail her to the gulf. The crew decides to make a stop at Barataria Bay to help out some pirates who are putting up one massive fight against the occupying Texians. Cool! This part of the book is going to be the climactic “Final Battle” so to speak. I was fully expecting for something to go wrong as the Ganymede sneaked into the battle and started picking off Texian boats.

Nope. They never once take any hits or anything. There’s no scene with the sub taking on water. Nothing. The entire climax had no tension. The good team blows up some bad guy boats and then moves on. And then the scene Josephine’s been waiting for the entire book–reaching the airship carrier Valiant and turning over the Ganymede to the Union–is *told* to us in a quick little paragraph. So the supposed payoff isn’t even shown to the reader.

Overall, Ganymede (the book, not the underwater craft) felt like a first draft. It took forever for the two main characters to meet up, and then when they finally do, everything goes their way. Lots of things are told to the reader rather than shown. And even a surprising revelation about one of the supporting characters near the end is never explored. It would’ve been so awesome and unexpected to have that be a bigger focus. As it was I just went “Ohhh. Ohhh. Cool. I see what she did there.” and then didn’t really give it another thought because the book ended a few pages later.

It’s clear that there are bigger things happening in the world while the story of Ganymede is taking place, and like I said before, Priest is talented and inventive. I’m going to finish this series–not out of some sense of duty and finishing what I started–but because I genuinely want to. And it’s the fact that the series and previous books, Boneshaker and Dreadnought especially, have been so fun that makes Ganymede such a letdown.

Let’s Talk About: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

I don’t really do book “reviews” per se, but I just finished Kameron Hurley’s latest novel, the epic fantasy The Mirror Empire. Since I have lots of thoughts (and feels too as the kids say) I figured I’d jot them down here in a loose sorta way. There will be some spoilers so read on at your own risk.

1. The Mirror Empire is the first book in the Worldbreaker Saga. Points for having a badass title and series name. This isn’t an in-depth thought. I just like the name.

2. As Justin mentions in his review, the world of The Mirror Empire starts in a state of flux–and flux seems to be the status quo for the world(s). The world of the story is orbited by “satellites” (moons? comets? actual man-made thingies? No clue and probably not important), and these satellites give certain people magical wizard powers. The closest comparison I can think of is the bending powers from Avatar: the Last Airbender. But each satellite also waxes and wanes at irregular intervals, so each wizard faction can gain and lose power at random. This means the worldview for almost every country in the world is based on change. It’s awesome how deep this theme of change permeates the book.

3. However, because everything is in a state of change–satellites, a bad moon rising so to speak, impending civil war, impending invasion (more on this later), it felt a little hard to get everything straight in the book. Plus, being epic fantasy, there are multiple point-of-view characters in The Mirror Empire. Keeping them straight, their allegiances, their friends and families, and even genders straight can be overwhelming at first. (This may also be partially user error as I tend to read right before bed, so sometimes I fall asleep reading)

4. Lots of stuff happens in The Mirror Empire, but at times, it felt like the opposite. It’s the first book in a trilogy (series?) so a lot of the stuff (heady, dare I say world-breaking even) can feel like setup for future books. There’re quite a few threads and by the end of the book it feels like they’re just starting to really tie together. But I get it, you can’t cover everything and you have to end a book somewhere otherwise it becomes a never ending tome.

Mirror Empire map

5. Hurley some really cool stuff with gender/gender roles in this book. So there’s an assassin that can change their biological sex at will or basically at will. So that character embodies the theme of change in the book. One culture has five different genders each with their own pronouns and an individual gets to decide how they view themselves and which gender they want to be referred as. Cool stuff!

5b. But it goes further than that. One of the cultures, Dorinah, is a matriarchy. So one of the POV characters is a high ranking general. Basically take all of the stereotypes you see male characters think about women in fantasy books (and elsewhere too!) and then flip them around. When you read a passage about this general catcalling a man and then thinking “Well, he just got upset because he doesn’t have a sense of humor,” it’s biting. It hits home because I’ve seen it in real life and on the internet. Women don’t have senses of humor; they’re too sensitive; can’t they just see that men are trying to compliment them? The Dorinah culture in The Mirror Empire flips this all around and man it makes for some caustic satire.

5c. That’s not to say that we’re supposed to read the general as 100% in the right. Or that readers shouldn’t criticize her actions or the actions of her nation. Hurley’s writing makes it clear that we’re supposed to engage all of this critically.

6. Rideable bears. With forked tongues, big-ass claws, and cat-like eyes. Seriously. Rideable bears. Read this book.

7. Alternate universes. That’s one of The Mirror Empire’s big hooks. It’s like Fringe meets epic fantasy meets plant-punk or something. It’s awesome but also a bit confusing. At times I couldn’t remember who was from what universe, and it’s mentioned in an off-hand way that there are more than two universes out there. So when people in World A mention invaders, I think they’re talking about World B. But then I swear people in World B mentioned invaders. Are they being invaded too? And really their invasion of World A is just another word for retreat? Cool stuff, a bit confusing, and I think it will be explored even more in future books.The Mirror Empire cover

8. The characters, especially the POV ones, didn’t quite grab me as much as those in Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha series. I get it though. As a writer you don’t want to just create the same main character over and over again. I appreciate that there’s a wide variety of personality types on display here, and all the characters have agency in their own way. Still, and this is just personal stuff (YMMW), I didn’t feel a huge connection to any of them. I think I cared about Lilia the most and probably Roh the least. I’d love to see more of Taigan too.

9. You can’t help but use the word “ambitious” to describe The Mirror Empire. It’s sprawling, but also personal at the same time. Occasionally the number of concepts thrown at you can be overwhelming, and for me, the characters didn’t quite hit the mark. But seriously, what else is like this on the market right now? I honestly can’t tell you. Despite a few flaws, you have to applaud Hurley’s ambition and the way she throws the reader into the deep end of everything. But unlike the Malazan books, I was never too lost that I gave up. In fact, I finished The Mirror Empire pretty damn quickly. The only bad thing about devouring it so fast is that I have a longer wait until book two comes out.

10. The Mirror Empire, her previous Bel Dame novels, plus her nonfiction collection, We Have Always Fought, only cement in my mind that Hurley is a writer to watch and one I want to learn from.

Let’s Talk About: The Lord of the Rings: War in the North

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North

A “Quick Hits” style post today. I got The Lord of the Rings: War in the North from GameFly the other day, so let’s talk about it.

I’m only in the first chapter so these are more impressions than an actual review or anything like that.

First off the story: I get what the developers are trying to do–show a tale that runs parallel to the events of The Lord of the Rings (the movies specifically). The point is to emphasize that the war against Sauron was bigger and involved more of Middle Earth than people imagined. So therefore the developers invented some characters and said this is how they fought in the north, in the former Numenaran kingdom of Arnor. Apparently by keeping Sauron distracted in the north, they helped the Fellowship accomplish their mission.

So basically these guys are the Rogue Squadron on Hoth to the Fellowship’s transports and Millennium Falcon–fighting to buy time.

Problem is the characters are all boring. Maybe this is just a limitation of the source material, or the fault could be with me. I’m not 16 anymore (haven’t been for a while), and I don’t find the setting/story anywhere near as interesting.

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North gameplay

Plus it’s disconcerting to hear British accents everywhere and then the Dwarf main character sounds American. Kinda strange.

So you have three side characters, problem is none of them are interesting either. Again this could be a limitation of the setting: the “good guys” all have to be super good and noble and bland, while the “bad guys” embody evil (though they’re not too evil. Sauron’s supposed to be the really evil guy).

That’s really all I have about The Lord of the Rings: War in the North. It’s bland like plain toast. The art style does nothing special. Lots of brown and grey during the first few levels. Plus within the first couple of hours there were three or four turret sections. That’s kind of ridiculous in a game with supposedly medieval technology. Also boring. Needless to say, I shipped it back to GameFly with no misgivings.

© 2019 R.S. Hunter

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑