Tag Archives: female protagonist

The Word for World is Rainforest: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

9 Feb canopy-full-2


Unar has always been sure that she will one day be the Goddess Audblayin’s bodyguard. In a world where the thirteen Gods and Goddesses of the rainforest whose treetops she lives in die and are reincarnated in the manner of Tibetan Lamas, Unar is certain in her heart that she was meant not just to be a slave, as her parents intended. She wasn’t even meant just to be a gardener for the Goddess of growth and fertility, as she has managed to become. Unar has striven so hard to get to the garden and her current position; she is convinced that she is meant for much more.

With the death of Audblayin, the Goddess’ reincarnation is certain, although the child of course must be found, brought to the Garden and raised properly. Given the nature of deities, though, Audblayin could be reincarnated as a man. As a man, the deity will need a female bodyguard. That’s the rule. Audblayin has to reincarnate as a Man, and the bodyguard he will need has to be Unar. Unar is convinced of this, and it has been her guiding passion for her entire life.  But in the uncertain environment of the Garden without its Goddess,  Unar is forced out of the garden she has lived years in, and even beyond the barrier that separates the Canopy from the world below it.  Unar’s journey is full of dreams of  finding the reincarnated Goddess and returning to the Garden in triumph and restored station. However, her trip down into the understory of the rainforest dredges up her past, her future, and reveals a force that might upset the order of the entire rainforest.

Crossroads of Canopy is the debut novel from Australian Fantasy author Thoraiya Dyer.

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Book Review: Starborn by Lucy Hounsom

19 Jan starborn-small


Kyndra is a seemingly ordinary young woman in a nondescript village in the mountains. Her mother runs an inn, and is a sometimes hard woman, even on the day of Kyndra’s Ceremony. This village does have something unusual in it — an ancient artifact, which, when invoked, will tell you your true name and your future. For decades, as children of the town have come of age, the artifact has guided them to their life and future.  When Kyndra is presented to the artifact in her Ceremony, however, the artifact unexpectedly breaks, setting in motion events that will send Kyndra across the continent, and to her true destiny. An initially traditional seeming epic fantasy protagonist and world evolve into a much more nuanced and complex tale in Lucy Hounsom’s debut epic fantasy novel, Starborn.

starborn-smallYears ago, epic fantasy novels such as Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World began with a pastoral opening reminiscent of Tolkien’s The Shire. The opening of Starborn, and the revelation of secret, unknown power on the part of the protagonist, Kyndra, is reminiscent of classic epic fantasy in the mold of Robert Jordan. As in The Eye of the World, Kyndra is soon swept away from her little village by strangers, who take her into the wider world, to find her destiny and her arcane heritage.  Kyndra is to be brought to Naris, a citadel where her powers, powers that have been mostly out of sight of the world for an entire era, will be tested, measured and taught.

If the novel followed along these lines without variation, Starborn would be a relatively timeworn book in that tradition, well written but not really distinctive.  Shopworn tropes and ideas, any reader who has read a decent helping of Epic Fantasy has seen them before, in authors ranging from Terry Brooks to David Eddings to Sara Douglass to Robert Jordan to Margaret Weis. You, reader, probably have read many such novels, and know their shape well.  The author, however, has ideas far beyond simple emulation of 1980s and ’90s epic fantasy. Kyndra is a young and callow protagonist growing into her power, true. But she is conflicted about herself and her power, often self-centered, complicated in her emotions and feelings, and in general far removed from the generic blank template farm boy that you might expect in a fantasy such as this.

The journey across the landscape is another trope in epic fantasy that the author employs, and then subverts. Rather than simply a hitting-the-sights-across-the-landscape sort of progress long criticized by Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Kyndra’s  journey to Naris is not an easy one, exposing tensions, rifts, and intrigue within and without the denizens of the Citadel. And once Kyndra is there, the very dark underbelly of the citadel, its creators, and the secret of its origins and future, and Kyndra’s part in it, very much break the mold of that traditional epic fantasy. The deeper one gets into the novel, the more the subversion and upending of that surface resemblance to the bog-standard epic fantasy of yore gets upended.

Speaking about Kyndra’s story and the revelations of what is going on the world is difficult to do without being too spoilery, and really, the veils being pulled back on what is going on, and what the author has constructed, is, for me, truly one of the pleasures of the book. Suffice it to say that the world as Hounsom initially depicts, from that little village, is definitely not the entire story of what the world is, and what is happening. Kyndra’s journey in revealing what is going on goes hand in hand with the reader learning at the same time. It braids together wonderfully well, and both leaves the story at a solid ending point and provides a wide opening for the sequel.

Starborn is an interesting, intriguing epic fantasy debut that slowly and inexorably pulls the rug out from the reader’s expectations of a traditional narrative and in so doing creates a memorable protagonist, and story.

Book Review: The Cold Eye by Laura Anne Gilman

12 Jan the-cold-eye-9781481429719_hr


Being the Devil’s Left Hand is not the easiest job that Isobel could have chosen, but she did choose it, fought for it, and has proven herself, so far, to be a solid choice to ride the Territory on the Boss’ behalf. Now that she has some miles done on her circuit, Isobel’s life as the Devil’s Left Hand continues. As before, her partner Gabriel, as per his own agreement with the Devil, continues her training. But even as Isobel is  growing into the role, new dangers are arising, dangers that the two of them may not be equal to face. Dangers great enough perhaps to threaten even the Devil himself.

The Cold Eye is the second Devil’s West novel by Laura Anne Gilman, following Silver On the Road. Continue reading

Book Review: The High Ground by Melinda Snodgrass

5 Jan highgroundfoil_2


Her Imperial Highness Mercedes Adalina Saturinia Inez de Arango, the Infanta, the eldest daughter of the Emperor of the Solar League, has a problem. She’s a woman. Her father, the Emperor, has managed, like English King Henry VIII centuries ago, to wind up with no male children to name as heir. The conventions and expectations of his society make naming a female heir a dicey proposition, especially because the Heir is expected to attend and graduate The High Ground, the “star fleet academy” of the Empire. The High Ground, however, has never had female cadets before, and so the attendance of the Infanta is a change too far for many.

Thracius Ransom Belamor, to his chagrin called Tracy by everyone, has a different problem. In the aristocratic, near feudal world of the Solar League, being from the middle class and unconnected to the noble Fortune Five Hundred families means that his scholarship to the High Ground is a poor billet indeed. In social circles far beyond his normal station, even aptitude and hard work may be far short of what Tracy needs to survive, much less succeed, at the Naval academy.  The High Ground is the first in the Imperials series by Melinda Snodgrass, and tells the story of Tracy and Mercedes’ attendance at the titular High Ground. Continue reading

Book Review: Breath of Earth by Beth Cato

24 Nov 27213224


In an alternate early 20th-century world where Japan and the US have created a powerful alliance, a secret geomancer struggles to protect herself and the city she loves from forces seeking to shake San Francisco to pieces in Breath of Earth, the first in a new alternate history fantasy series by Beth Cato.

In the alternate world that Cato depicts, there is magic in the world, and the primary form of magic are those magicians who are sensitive to the movements of the earth. These geomancers not only can keep San Francisco tectonically stable, but can channel the bled off energy into a mineral, kermanite, whereupon that energy can be discharged to do work, to power vehicles and other things in the same way that a battery can. Thus, kermanite is an extremely potent strategic resource, and its acquisition and control is part of the reason for the Japan-US alliance. Even better, the novel shows the clear costs and dangers of geomancers. It’s a potent form of magic, but one that can cause not only destruction around the user, but actively be harmful for their health. There are also social costs to being a geomancer, a theme that Cato has explored previously in the Clockwork Dagger series.

27213224The novel also feels familiar to me as a reader of Cato’s previous series in that it features two recurring elements, things that the author seems intent on exploring. The first is having a strong, focused female character who not only has agency and power, but also has power even beyond what she knows or thinks at first. Both characters also have family backgrounds that are murky, and often have to hide those powers. There is a clear line from Octavia Leander in the Clockwork novels to Ingrid, here in Breath of Earth. Ingrid’s story adds notes and explorations of racism and cultural issues to the sexism that both Ingrid and Octavia deal with in their respective worlds.

Like in the Clockwork series, the central focus on her main character works extremely well; Ingrid’s story is thoughtful, and engaging. Trapped in a white man’s world and a white man’s profession, Ingrid’s struggle against racism and sexism is poignant and nuanced. Her own attitudes and feelings toward the Chinese minority in San Francisco, despised by nearly everyone, provide a mirror on our own world, today, and are a bracing look at our past. Beyond such weighty concerns, the novel loads up its airship of a story with loads of breezy and fun and Ingrid’s relentless run down in her mission keeps the novel going and her story and character flying along.  I particularly liked the dynamic Ingrid has with her mentor, Sagaguchi; and their relationship, which drives much of the novel, was a highlight of the book.

The other major recurring element in both sets of works is airships. It is now clear to me as a reader that Cato really likes airships. Airships, airships are cool. While the Clockwork series gives us much more extended time on and around airships than, sadly, Breath of Earth does, I was quite pleased and not surprised to learn that this alternate world, as is almost a cliche and marker in alternate histories, featured airships of its own, using the aforementioned mineral to power them.

A couple of things that are mentioned in the background of the history of this world did not work for me.  For instance. while the idea of Romans with airships is a very cool idea, I couldn’t quite square that in my head given the state of metal and woodcraft available at the time in our history. And if there were airships, then, even with a lack of kerminite, I think technology in that field would be far more advanced in the early 20th century than it is as depicted in the book.

Aside from that quibble, I found the early 20th-century California and world that Cato depicted to be fascinatingly plausible. I was reminded, although with a more equitable power sharing, of the Japanese-influenced California of the Man in the High Castle series. The excesses of the concept of Manifest Destiny are something that Americans don’t like to really think about. Channeling that into an alliance with Japan to dominate the Pacific felt disturbingly believable to me. Although there are hints here and there in the text, I found myself wondering just what other changes there were in the world beyond those seen, or mentioned.

And yes, the novel takes place in the days before the famous 1906 Earthquake in our own world. If and how the Earthquake will unfold in this timeline is a constant tension throughout the novel, a “doom clock” that, in addition to Ingrid’s story, draws the reader forward through the novel in an engaging way.

Like The Clockwork Dagger, Breath of Earth is an extremely engaging and promising start to a series whose potential I hope will continue and be fulfilled in subsequent volumes in the series.

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