Tag Archives: female protagonist

Book Review: Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman

30 Mar

 

In an alternate 1850s era, the British Empire is flourishing as vitally as it did in our timeline, but from different base causes. Instead of the power of the Industrial Revolution providing the motive power for Monarch and country, the Royal Society of Esoteric Arts provides the competitive advantage for Great Britain to stand astride the world. But this society of magicians is a merciless one, taking every person with magical talent, whether they like it or not. Charlotte Gunn seeks to aid her family from financial disaster that her father is in by making sure that her brother’s talents are seen and compensated for. Oh, and in so doing, hiding her own deep, dark secret from the Royal Society: Charlotte, you see, is a mage too.

Charlotte, and her world, come to life in the Tor.com novella Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman. Continue reading

Retro Childhood Review: Firebrat

22 Mar

“It will only be for a month, Molly.”

“Why me?” she wailed, forgetting her vow of silence. “Why not Betty? She’s older.”

“Because I think you’ll do a better job than Betty. You’re the reader in this family. The storyteller… Your grandma’s getting awfully forgetful, Molly. Ever since Grandpa died, she’s been living in the past — she tells the same stories over and over. She needs someone who’ll talk to her and help her organize the shop. You know — keep her in touch with the present.”

Silence.

“Molly, you’re the one who doesn’t mind a little mess.” He waved his hand at her room. “You’re the lover of mysteries.”

“What’s the big mystery about taking care of Grandma?”

“Making people well is always a mystery,” said her father sadly.

I will forever be indebted to a family that both placed an importance on reading and not only understood how much I loved science fiction and fantasy, but encouraged it with gifts. For my eleventh birthday, my aunt and uncle sent me Firebrat, by Nancy Willard, with illustrations by David Wiesner. I don’t know how they decided on this particular book, but the whimsical cover of fish flying through a forest, showing a young girl and a young boy, with the girl in the lead probably had something to do with it. And where I have read and discarded a hundred other fantastical children’s books, Firebrat has kept its place firmly ensconced on every bookshelf that I have ever owned. Continue reading

Book Review: The Masked City, By Genevieve Cogman

2 Mar

 

Universe-traversing Librarian Irene Adler and her assistant the dragon prince  Kai return in The Masked City, second in The Invisible Library series following the titular volume in the series. After settling themselves in the Quasi Victorian world of airships, Fey nobles and derring-do, Irene’s life is, if not precisely stable and uneventful, at least predictable. Find rare books for the library in this alternate London, dodge machinations of local villains, spar with her bête noire, and get into adventure after adventure. Routine, right? Continue reading

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

9 Feb

 

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.

Continue reading

Book Review: Starborn by Lucy Hounsom

19 Jan

 

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.

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