The Big Bang Theory Tag

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My friend Jessie, from Jessie Reads Everything, tagged me to do The Big Bang Theory Book Tag, which was created by Terri from Reading by Starlight. It looks like a lot of fun, and I’ve never done one of these before, so I decided to try this one and see how it turned out. It was a lot of fun, and I had to think about some of my choices for quite some time, but in the end, I think I’m happy with all of them.

I’ve only seen the first season of TBBT, and while I found it quite amusing, I didn’t feel the need to watch any more (I’m not much of a TV person. The only other show I’ve seen in the last decade is Game of Thrones.). Regardless, I’m familiar with most of the ideas, either from the first season or seeing the inevitable memes online. Without further ado, here goes!

1. The Fish Night Light

A book that may have been rocking its crazy but was still kind of brilliant.

The-Mirror-Empire-cover

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley is one of those books that has everything and the kitchen sink. Carnivorous trees, brutal blood magic, parallel worlds, satellite magic, societies with 5+ genders, utterly crazy religions, and so on. The book is just overflowing with the crazy ideas, and Kameron mostly manages to pull it off, though it does occasionally have the feeling of a train crashing downhill while you pray that the driver will be able to regain control before you hit the bottom.

2. The Hawking

The author that would be like your equivalent of Physics Genius meets Stephen Hawking.

BrianMcClellan

Brian McClellan. Like Jessie, I was originally going with Sanderson, but I decided that since I’ve already met him, I should use this one for another author. Brian writes some great books, and is a student of the Sanderson. He’s a beekeeper and overall awesome person. I’ve actually gotten to beta read some of his short stories and novellas, and I’m in the acknowledgements of one or two of them, and I’m really, really looking forward to meeting the person behind the books at WorldCon this year.

3. The Euclid Avenue

The book so full of bumps and (plot) holes that it proved annoying to read.

sorcerer

Before you crucify me, hear me out! I had a really hard time coming up with this one. By the time they get through editing and everything else, most books have pretty solid plots, and very few plot holes. I’ve recently been relistening to the Harry Potter series, and they have some plot holes you could fly a broomstick through… How did the Dursleys ever get off that rock? Why would you send students to their dormitories after a troll gets in, when they’re already safe in the great hall, and one of the dormitories is in the dungeon? Perhaps most importantly, did Dumbledore really believe that any of the enchantments on the Stone, except possibly his own, would prevent Voldemort from getting it? They were weak enough for 3 first years to get past, and that’s without any summoning charms or blasting spells or anything that would have made some parts of it much easier.

That’s not to say that I don’t love the books, though. They, and their characters, are utterly amazing. The plot holes just bothered me a little more this time around.

4. The Spock Napkin

The book for which you had low or moderate expectations, and then it was so beyond awesome that you wanted to hug it and love it and shout about it forever.

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The Emperor’s Blades. This was the second ARC I ever received, and I won it in a sweepstakes competition. It was a debut, and I really hadn’t heard anything about the author or the book beforehand, and I’ve had rather iffy results with books I randomly select in the past. But it blew me away, and I am so much in love with this one now that I am pushing it on everyone I know while eagerly anticipating the third volume in the trilogy, THE LAST MORTAL BOND, which I need more than water. (Cover art below because it’s just so frigging amazing.)

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5. The Awkward Fanboy

The book that seems to follow you around the blogosphere, and you know you don’t want to read it but it won’t leave you alone.

Heir of Fire

I read the prequel novellas and the first two books in this series, and I’m the black sheep on these. I didn’t enjoy them very much, but everyone says they get better and they’re always pushing me to read the next one. I will get around to it eventually, as I have a copy, but I’m not expecting it to be a book that I love.

6. The Classified Materials

The book with a spoiler so huge, when anyone asks, you just can’t even say because the spoiler is such a big part of it.

A-Storm-of-Swords

Some weddings and stuff happen in this book. People die, occasionally. So many twists and turns in the second half of this novel, and they’re what make it so interesting, so discussing it without these twists is practically impossible. (And yes, I dismissed several Sanderson novels, especially Hero of Ages and Way of Kings, for this spot because I wanted to keep it at just one book per author on this list.)

7. The Jiminy

The book that gets mistaken most often for the wrong genre, and you’re constantly arguing for why it’s this other genre/subgenre.

Sword_of_shannara_hardcover

This one is always classified as straight up fantasy, but, as we find out in the history lessons in the opening chapters, it’s really a far-future earth, in what is really a recovering post-apocalyptic setting. Brooks has gone back and explored this in deep detail in some of his other series, showing us the transition from the earth we know to the world of Shannara, and it’s fascinating. People still insist on calling it straight up fantasy, however.

8. The Adhesive Duck

The book that was all cute and cuddly and then WHAM YOUR FEELS AND OW AND YOUR HEART AND WHAT JUST HAPPENED.

Firefight

Of course there’s Sanderson on this list somewhere… I don’t ship hardly anyone, but I do ship Megan and David, and they are just so cute. Also, I love Mizzy and the new team we’re introduced to, and the setting is just so dang cool… And then there’s the Sanderson avalanche at the end of this that makes me want to cry. So many feels for so many characters. It would be spoilers to say who, but, well, if you’ve read it you know what I mean.

9. The Zazzy

The book that’s got so much personality that it’s just ZAZZY and there’s no other word for it.

This one is just awesome all the way through, and all of the characters are so vibrant. Kell, Lila, Rhy, the Danes… They all have such unique attitudes and they’re so well written, they really imbue the book with their personalities. And that’s not to mention the various Londons, all of which have their own personalities too…

10. The Hot Troll

The book you thought would be beautiful and fabulous and then it turned out to be horrible and gross.

The Warded Man

I’ve not been repulsed by this book in quite a while. I finished reading it this afternoon, and there were several points I wanted to throw it across the room, not because of the agony it caused me through its characters (A la Red Wedding. Everyone chunks their book across the room at that point.), but because it was just so… Yuck. Rape all over the place, combined with a distinct lack of agency by any of the female characters (except maybe the one who is hardly onscreen and then dies), and a series of cultures, each of which disrespect their women more than the last, just really set my teeth on edge. The book itself, without this, probably would have been moderately entertaining, and I’ve heard lots of people who love this series, but the way sex, rape, and female characters in this book were treated really ruined any enjoyment I had. I’ll be reviewing it soon.

11. The Zarnecki

The book with an antagonist so evil/mean/disgusting that you’d drive many hours just to knee him/her in the … well you get it.

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President Snow. I didn’t go for any of the obvious, out-and-out “you kill me or die” villains. They don’t strike the same loathing into me as the quiet, manipulative, political villains, the ones who know exactly what they’re doing, exactly how many people they’re messing up, and have such complete control over the main character’s lives that I just have to shudder to think of them. And President Snow is one of the best examples of this kind of character I’ve ever read. He forces Katniss and Peeta to play along with his games, forces them to smile and pretend there’s nothing wrong, while he destroys their lives and ruins their futures. *shudder*

12. The Train Tour

The book with the development/ending/sunken ship/whatever that proved so upsetting, you contemplated running away forever so you didn’t have to deal with your feels.

Hero of Ages

Okay, so I lied. I did include 2 Sanderson books on this list. Anyone who has reached the end of The Hero of Ages knows what I mean. “I am, unfortunately, the Hero of Ages.”… And if you’re feeling particularly brave, let me know, and I’ll send you some fan-art that’ll leave you sobbing, whether you’ve read the book once or a dozen times.

Book Review: The Mirror Empire

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From Goodreads:

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

Before I launch into my review, just let me say that I love that cover. Richard Anderson has done some amazing art recently, and this one is no exception. Chillingly beautiful.

Books that I rate with four stars tend to fall into two categories. The first is books that were not spectacular in any way, simply enjoyable, straightforward, decently well written books that didn’t do anything wrong. These aren’t books that I’ll get excited about. They’re decent books, something I’d only occasionally recommend that other people pick up and read.

And then there’s the second kind: Those books that were very, very impressive, which blew me away in many ways, but had what I felt were a few fundamental flaws that kept them from being truly awesome. Because I feel that both types represent good books that are recommendable and enjoyable, I put them both in the four star category—none of them are bad enough to warrant only a three-star rating, but they’re not good enough to warrant a five-star rating either. Unfortunately, they also don’t necessarily fit well with each-other.

For examples of books I’ve read and reviewed in the past, Ancillary Justice falls into the first category, while Elantris is firmly in the second. Ancillary Justice has an interesting set-up, but a fairly slow plot and only a handful of really cool moments. Nothing that gets me incredibly excited. Elantris has a few characterization issues, and the plot feels a little slow, but the ending is a succession of gut-punch mind blowing moments that leave you in awe. They both fell into the four-star category for me.

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley does too, and it falls firmly into the second category. I loved this book, and it’s one that I wish I could give a five-star review to. (Perhaps that’s the distinction? The first category is books that I felt deserved a four-star, the second category is books I felt should get five, but couldn’t quite bring myself to give it to them.)

The Mirror Empire is one of the few books I’ve ever read that can truly rival Sanderson for its world-building awesomeness. The world is full of brilliant ideas, many of which I’ve never seen done before. In most fantasy stories, default mounts are typically horses or the equivalent creature, occasionally magical. You’ll often see dragons used as well. But Hurley has placed her characters on quite a variety of dogs and bears. Yes, you read that right, her characters travel around and charge into battle on the backs of massive bears—something I’ve only ever seen done in His Dark Materials, and it’s totally awesome.

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How can you not want to do this?

 

Her warriors also wield a variety of tree based weapons, some of which retract into their bodies. These are not your traditional fantasy swords, though they often function much the same way. There’s sentient trees lurking around, and an unhealthy helping of blood magic, too. The central conceit of the novel, which I won’t give away here, is one that I’ve seen done before, but never this well. The world-building is incredibly creative and, sometimes, brutal. I love it.

And unlike most authors, Hurley doesn’t restrict her world-building to just the physical aspects of the world. The cultures we encounter in Mirror Empire are so creatively and strangely built that I guarantee that you haven’t seen anything like them before. Ever. Her ideas of societal roles and positions are interesting, but her treatment of genders and gender roles is very unique. I lost count of exactly how many genders there are, but I’m pretty sure that there was a culture with our two, a culture with three, and another with at least five. They all make sense, and there are characters who are each of them. And they are not token characters, either. They inhabit several of the main roles of the book, and there’s one (viewpoint) character whose physical sex changes several times through the book, and who does not fit into any of the diverse boxes that Hurley has built—an interesting take on the issues that society faces today. The roles are, I believe, meant to be a social commentary in part, but they’re far more than that. They are ingrained and built into the culture, and they play pivotal roles in the novel. Hurley knew what she was doing when she built these cultures, and it shows.

And the book doesn’t allow itself to be distracted by them, either. The plot of the novel—which I can’t say much about without spoiling things, drives constantly forward. The pacing never lets up, though the many POVs and occasional rapid switches gave me whiplash at some points. The ending is properly climactic, bringing together several of the character’s threads, and taking all of them in new and interesting directions. It also made the world seem much bigger than I had realized at first, and I’m really excited for the next entry in the trilogy, Empire Ascendant.

While the plot itself was always interesting, the changes and confusion I experienced through the novel—especially in remembering who all of the widespread (across 2 continents) characters were—was one of my main complaints about it. The whole novel feels rough and powerful, like a train that Hurley barely has control over. I think I would have enjoyed it more if the final product had been a little more polished and smooth. Perhaps this is because in epic fantasy, I’m used to the characters starting out in a single place, so that the reader has time to get to know them before they’re scattered as widely as they are here.

But don’t let that deter you! The Mirror Empire is excellent, and it’s the first in the trilogy. I hope that the second novel, with hopefully many of the confusing world elements already explained, will flow more smoothly, and really reach all of its potential.

I’m already predicting nominations and awards for The Mirror Empire next year, though probably not as many as Ancillary Justice won this year. I’m not sure where exactly it’ll land yet, but it’s definitely in my top five novels of the year. I reluctantly give it four of five stars, and wish I could do more. If you’re hungering for really awesome world-building, damaged, unique, and distinctive characters, and you’re willing to hang on for the ride, I would highly recommend that you pick up The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. I know that I’m heading out to find myself copies of her other books while I eagerly await Empire Ascendant.

Links:

Kameron Hurley

Amazon

Goodreads