Science fiction and fantasy are my favorite genres, so it’s no surprise that I have a bunch of unread SFF titles on my shelves. Most of them are from library sales and the used bookshop downtown, so I feel like I can take more of a risk with them and try something new. But I have quite a lot of unread SFF titles hanging around, so it’s time to give some of them a try and see if they will be worth the reading.
Quick note: Many of these books have very short first chapters, so instead of just relying on the first six or ten pages, I stop at whatever chapter ends closest to page thirty. If some aspect of a book puts me off of it by then, it’s unlikely I’m going to enjoy the rest of the story.
Dance of Cloaks (Shadowdance #1) by David Dalglish
Thren Felhorn is the greatest assassin ever. With the thieves’ guild under his control, he declared war on the Trifect, an alliance of wealthy nobles. His son, Aaron, has been groomed since birth to follow in Thren’s footsteps. Cool and calculating, Aaron nevertheless risks his own life to save a young woman he has been sent to kill. Having glimpsed a world outside his father’s control, Aaron must risk all if he wants to prevent a massacre and protect everyone he has come to love.
Dust (Jacob’s Ladder #1) by Elizabeth Bear
Perceval is an angel captured and mutilated by the honorless Ariane, princess of House Rule. As she waits for death in captivity, Perceval recognizes the servant, Rien, who has been assigned to care for her. Rien is the lost and neglected sister of Princess Ariane, and she ends up helping Perceval to escape. But on the dying starship they all know as home, Perceval and Rien do not go unnoticed, for in the hub of their derelict world is an entity called Jacob Dust, who knows they will all meet sooner or later.
Deathless (Leningrad Diptych #1) by Catherynne M. Valente
Koschei the Deathless is a major figure in Russian folklore. He is the villain of the stories, but Catherynne M. Valente places him amidst the tumultuous history of Russia in the twentieth century, along with Stalinist house elves, magical quests, and the story of Marya Morevna, a fiery young woman who will become Koschei’s bride and eventual undoing.
Embers of War (Embers of War #1) by Gareth L. Powell
The sentient warship Trouble Dog was built for combat, but after a devastating war, she grows disgusted with her role in genocide and seeks to atone for her role in the war. She struggles in her new role, though, and when she and her new crew are sent on a rescue mission, Trouble Dog finds herself amid a new conflict that could spread across the entire galaxy.
What Did I Think of the Books?
Dance of Cloaks: The writing killed this one for me. The prose is amateurish, with no rhythm or playfulness to it. It’s a rote listing of what the characters are doing, and provides little to no atmosphere or world-building. The word ‘toxin’ showed up so many times in the prologue that I was tempted to count it the way we counted my high school geometry teacher’s use of “um” during class. Prose should immerse the reader in the author’s world, not distract from it.
Dust: The writing failed for me in this one, too. Again, the premise sounds interesting, but the writing was unappealing in the first section. I’ve heard good things about Elizabeth Bear’s books, and I know she has won several awards, but this was not a great introduction to her work.
Deathless: You have to go into a Catherynne M. Valente book knowing that the story is not going to unfold the same way other stories do. Her writing is flowery, and sometimes borders on being overwritten, but if you like playful, lyrical writing, she’s among the best. The prologue is grim and has an ambiguous ending (and the story will probably circle back to it at some point, or why have it?), and the opening chapter shifts entirely to a pleasant domestic scene where we are introduced to the heroine. I enjoyed what I read, and will definitely hang onto this one.
Embers of War: The prologue opens with the battle that causes Trouble Dog’s morality crisis, and then the story skips forward to Trouble Dog and her crew on a rescue mission that’s not going well. They catch a glimpse of some creepy life form, and events carry on from there. I already like the characters and the story so far is intriguing, so I will hang onto this one, too.
Out of the four books I tried, I am going to keep two of them, Deathless and Embers of War. I’m not surprised that I’m keeping a Catherynne M. Valente novel, as I’ve like every of hers that I’ve read, and a reviewer whose tastes are similar to mine gave Embers of War a glowing review. So I’m not surprised by that result. I am surprised that I didn’t enjoy Dance of Cloaks, because everything about it seemed so appealing. I’m actually not surprised that I didn’t like Dust, as I was a little skeptical of it when I picked it up. But I bought it for a whole $.25, so it’s not like I spent a small fortune on a book I didn’t enjoy.
I have one more set of books for this set of Try a Chapter Challenges, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to them. I’d like to finish it up before the end of the year, but we’ll see.