Books 2012: 117-120
117-118. Stina Leicht, Of Blood and Honey
and And Blue Skies From Pain
. Night Shade Books, 2011 and 2012.
Reviewed for Strange Horizons. Folks, read Martin McGrath's review here
: I'm not really going to be any kinder. Leicht's understanding of the Northern Ireland in which she sets her books is fundamentally flawed by its uncritical acceptance of nationalist hagiography, lack of attachment to the existing physical and psychological landscape, and has a classic deployment of the Refrigerator Woman trope. Set somewhere else, they'd be decent urban fantasy: set where they are, the flaws are rather too glaring for me to forgive.
119. D.B. Jackson, Thieftaker
. Tor, 2012.
August 1765, Boston. Ethan Kaille is a conjurer and a former mutineer who makes his living catching petty thieves around the wharves of Boston. When he's hired by Abner Benson, a wealthy merchant, to investigate the death of his daughter (and the theft of her brooch) in the aftermath of the riots that destroyed the residence of Governor Thomas Hutchinson, he finds himself entangled in a dangerous rivalry with fellow thieftaker Sephira Pryce - a figure who, though female, resembles London's infamous Jonathan Wild in her control of the city's criminal underclass - and the politics of colonial resistance. Oh, not to mention the fact he runs up against a really powerful, really nasty other conjurer whose actions regularly cause Kaille to suffer serious physical discomfort.
It really is an interesting novel, and its historical underpinnings are complicated by the introduction of illegal, covert magic into the world-building, which is both well-built as a system, and incorporated well into the theological framework of the 18th century world. It feels like really good second-world fantasy: I don't know Boston or the mores of colonial America well enough to judge whether Jackson got it right, but it's certainly good, and pleasantly innovative. Jackson's voice is solid, and while Kaille spends a lot of time getting beaten up and lead down blind alleys, for the most part Thieftaker
maintains its pace and tension very well.
Despite the fact, of course, that thieftakers as such didn't really operate in the colonies. That's a London and the Home Counties type of activity.
Characterisation is also solid for the most part, but it's here Jackson is weakest, with characters' motivations not always seeming to arise organically from what has gone before, rather than suiting authorial direction. Still, it's reasonably good, and there exist at least three named female characters with speaking parts, all of whom have existences which do not revolve around the main character. It gets a Basic Feminism Pass, but, alas, a Diversity Fail: it's a white, straight book, which is hardly unusual for a novel set in that time and place but still somewhat disappointing. It has sufficient overlap with the themes and mood of Barbara Hambly/Hamilton's (historical) Abigail Adams mysteries that it should appeal to the same sort of people, and while I'm not wildly enthusiastic about it - it did not hit as many of my narrative kinks as I would've liked - I do recommend it for fans of historical mysteries with magic in.
120. Robin Silverman, Lemon Reef
. Bold Strokes Books, 2012.
Something of meditation on lesbian love and loss, with forays into domestic violence and murder. Betrayal, heartbreak, love blood and rhetoric. Not really my sort of book, since it's a bit on the literary side for me - nothing explodes, and the derring-do is more on the quietly wrenching side - but it is a solid, competent book, that hangs together until its conclusion.
Recommended, if you're on the tragi-comic side.