I wanted a few of these to be proper reviews, but if that’s the case, we may be waiting till the cows come home. So, SUMMING UP!
Crown of Embers by Rae Carson: Almost all of my reader friends looooved the first book and I…didn’t. But I had enough interest to check out the second, and I’m glad I did. Though I was bothered by the pacing and heavy-handed pointing out of the romance (I don’t object to the pairing, just the “He’s so handsome! But I must not think this! But I do!” which was happening for a longish time), I thought Carson did a fabulous job of deepening Elisa’s character and showing both her weaknesses and strengths as a queen. I do wish that she would be a tad less subtle with her world-building, and I say this as the queen & champion of subtle world-building. There was a line or two that read like these are possibly far in the future settlers on another planet, ala Dragonriders of Pern? But to be honest, I have never liked that aspect of Pern and the strategy in general feels a bit like a cop-out. Or am I totally misreading this? Comment! Tell me! I am confused. (Side note: the UK cover is so much better!.)
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold: IVAN! I love Ivan! Well, really I just love everyone in the extended Vorkosigan/Vorpatril/Vorbarra clan, including Gregor who I may have a massive book crush on (I admit nothing). And it took me a really long time to figure out that Bujold is at least partly playing with the Ivan the Idiot figure from Russian folk tales (I wonder which came first, the name or the character?). Because of course, Ivan is not really an idiot. He’s just not Miles. I liked Captain Vorpatril a lot, and I think it would make an interesting counterpoint to A Civil Campaign. I’ve heard rumors that this may be the last Vorkosigan book. If so, I think I will always re-read the series in terms of internal chronology, because Cryoburn is definitely a stronger ending for the whole thing. Which I think Bujold must realize, since she’s set CV’sA a good few years before Cryoburn. The only odd thing is that there were a number of infodumps–interesting ones, with lots of details about Barrayaran & Cetagandan history that haven’t necessarily appeared before, but infodumps nonetheless. Surely this is not the place to enter the series? Surely anyone trying to will realize this and start at the beginning? Moreover, I’m not sure that I don’t prefer not knowing (triple negative, sorry) all the details, having to do the work of figuring out the different cultures. I don’t need to be told that Russian, Greek, & French are the major ancestral groups of Barrayar; I’ve known that since about book 3. If this is the last book, I almost wonder if she was just dumping in all the bits she knew and hadn’t found a place for but wanted to make part of the canon.
The Curiosities by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff: This was one of those books that made me want to jump up and write a whole bunch of short stories. I think it’s an extremely strong anthology, which comes partly from what it is–a collection of the stories from The Merry Sisters of Fate. The three authors work well together, since they have similar obsessions, if not similar styles. And they are so very good at what they do. In fact, the collection as a whole is so strong that I’m having trouble picking out favorite stories. This does not happen to me with anthologies. My only quibble is that I frequently found the annotations distracting, especially on a first read. I’d like an e-book where the reader can turn the annotations on and off as desired.
Alamut by Judith Tarr: I finished this one last night. I really liked it–Tarr is one of those writers who makes prose seem effortless. And who knew that Crusading knights and fey creatures could play so well together? In fact, this is a lovely bit of historical fantasy, and I do love historical fantasy, especially with a dash of mystery and a lot of strong writing. There’s also a strong romantic plot which I found odd, but also enjoyable in a hard-to-define way. I’ve heard really good things about her Lord of the Two Lands, so I have put a hold on that.