City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs

It is always a wonderful experience when you begin reading a book that you have not heard about before but where the concept intrigues you enough for you to plunge right in, hoping your bet will pay off. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett was such an experience for me and boy, did it pay off.

If there is a trope that pulls me right into a book it’s the one of a fantasy world where the gods are dead and have left their mark on the world’s history and culture. In the city of Bulikov, which once was the main city from which the gods ruled their lands, the mere mention of the continent’s long history is strictly forbidden after the once slaves Saypuri rose up and defeated the gods with a mysterious weapon built by a mysterious man.

While the Continentals, the ones who were blessed with the gods’ favor, may hardly think about their history, the Saypuri are not bound by such rule. It is with this that the story starts, when Shara Divani arrives in Bulikov to uncover the murderer of her dear teacher Panguy, the world’s foremost expert on Continental history and legacy. In it’s heart, City of Stairs is a mystery novel, but one where the mystery is interwoven with excellent world-building, bone-crushing action and political intrigue that is far more interesting that it has any right to be.

Shara is the perfect character to thrust into the story as she not only is a wicked smart person, having entered Saypuri’s best school early and graduating with the highest marks, but she complements that with an extensive knowledge of Continental history, and with the vast experience in politics and stratagems that spy operatives regularly find themselves in. It also helps that she has partnered herself with a northern giant named Sigrud who provides the muscle, and a very interesting side story that promises to blossom in the following books.

As Shara discovers what Panguy was working on in Bulikov, work that was much reviled by Bulikov’s citizens, who saw it as an affront that a Saypuri had access to their most precious treasures while they had not,  and comes closer to finding out who murdered him and why, she sees with her own eyes that history is written with a faulty pen and what was once truth could be swept away as mere fairytale by a new discovery.

Touching on themes of colonialism, where the once slave masters are overturned by their slaves who now seek to extinguish the Continent’s heritage, while at the same time bringing with them various technological advances, and the value or disvalue of clinging to tradition, in City of Stairs Bennett manages to make his readers juggle with thinking on serious moral issues as well as be excited for one more page-turn to see what happens next in the story. He manages to keep the reader interested in the story’s events, is able to maintain a sense of urgency and mystery that I find to be necessary for those pages to turn themselves quickly, and assembles a cast of characters that are well drawn out and memorable by themselves.

The only pet peeve I had with the book, and it is in no way harmful to the story, is that there is never  any explanation about how it is possible for the Saypuri to have gotten to the level of technological progress where cars and somewhat modern medicine is possible. It is hard to imagine a slave population with that kind of technological level, and the Continental population wouldn’t have any need for it since the gods provided much more than any kind of technology could ever offer.

I will find it criminal if this book doesn’t do well in the market when it launches this September, and I will definitely keep tabs on the next book of this series, which the ending promises will be just as exciting and intriguing as the first one.

★★★★½

 João Eira

Advertisements

The 2014 Hugo Award Winners

The Hugo Awards have been given since 1953, and every year since 1955, by the annual World Science Fiction Convention(the “Worldcon”). The first Worldcon occurred in New York City in 1939, and Worldcons have been held annually since then, except during World War II. This year’s Worldcon, LonCon 3, was held in London, England.

Congratulations to all the 2014 winners and nominees!

BEST NOVEL (1595 ballots)

  • Winner: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
  • Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit)
  • Parasite by Mira Grant (Orbit)
  • Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia (Baen Books)
  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books)

BEST NOVELLA (847 ballots)

  • Winner: “Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
  • The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
  • “The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
  • Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press)
  • “Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013)

BEST NOVELETTE (728 ballots)

  • Winner: “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor.com, 09-2013)
  • “Opera Vita Aeterna” by Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
  • “The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013)
  • “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean Press Magazine, Fall 2013)
  • “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)

BEST SHORT STORY (865 ballots)

  • Winner: “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
  • “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)
  • “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)
  • “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)

Note: category has 4 nominees due to a 5% requirement under Section 3.8.5 of the WSFS constitution.

BEST RELATED WORK (752 ballots)

  • Winner: We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)
  • Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It Edited by Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damien Thomas (Mad Norwegian Press)
  • Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary by Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London)
  • Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fictionby Jeff VanderMeer, with Jeremy Zerfoss (Abrams Image)
  • Writing Excuses Season 8 by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, Jordan Sanderson

BEST GRAPHIC STORY (552 ballots)

  • Winner: Time by Randall Munroe (XKCD)
  • Girl Genius Vol 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who” Written by Paul Cornell, Illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
  • The Meathouse Man Adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and Illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
  • Saga Vol 2 Written by Brian K. Vaughn, Illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics )

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION (LONG FORM) (995 ballots)

  • Winner: Gravity Written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón; Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
  • Frozen Screenplay by Jennifer Lee; Directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt; Directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; Lionsgate)
  • Iron Man 3 Screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black; Directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)
  • Pacific Rim Screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro; Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION (SHORT FORM) (760 ballots)

  • Winner: Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere” Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss; Directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment)
  • An Adventure in Space and Time Written by Mark Gatiss; Directed by Terry McDonough (BBC Television)
  • Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC)
  • Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC)
  • The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot Written & Directed by Peter Davison (BBC Television)
  • Orphan Black: “Variations under Domestication” Written by Will Pascoe; Directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space/BBC America)

Note: category has 6 nominees due to a tie for 5th place.

BEST EDITOR – SHORT FORM (656 ballots)

  • Winner: Ellen Datlow
  • John Joseph Adams
  • Neil Clarke
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Sheila Williams

BEST EDITOR – LONG FORM (632 ballots)

  • Winner: Ginjer Buchanan
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Lee Harris
  • Toni Weisskopf

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST (624 ballots)

  • Winner: Julie Dillon
  • Galen Dara
  • Daniel Dos Santos
  • John Harris
  • John Picacio
  • Fiona Staples

Note: category has 6 nominees due to a tie for 5th place.

BEST SEMIPROZINE (411 ballots)

  • Winner: Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton and Stefan Rudnicki
  • Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
  • Interzone edited by Andy Cox
  • Strange Horizons edited by Niall Harrison, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Sonya Taaffe, Abigail Nussbaum, Rebecca Cross, Anaea Lay and Shane Gavin

BEST FANZINE (478 ballots)

  • Winner: A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher
  • The Book Smugglers edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
  • Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond
  • Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Lynda E. Rucker, Pete Young, Colin Harris and Helen J. Montgomery
  • Pornokitsch edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin

BEST FANCAST (396 ballots)

  • Winner: SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester
  • The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Doctor Who: Verity! Deborah Stanish, Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Lynne M. Thomas and Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show, Shaun Duke, Jen Zink, Julia Rios, Paul Weimer, David Annandale, Mike Underwood and Stina Leicht
  • Tea and Jeopardy, Emma Newman
  • The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond

Note: category has 7 nominees due to a tie for 5th place.

BEST FAN WRITER (521 ballots)

  • Winner: Kameron Hurley
  • Liz Bourke
  • Foz Meadows
  • Abigail Nussbaum
  • Mark Oshiro

BEST FAN ARTIST (316 ballots)

  • Winner: Sarah Webb
  • Brad W. Foster
  • Mandie Manzano
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Steve Stiles

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER (767 ballots)

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

  • Winner: Sofia Samatar *
  • Wesley Chu
  • Max Gladstone *
  • Ramez Naam *
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew

*Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

downloadTitle: Mistborn (Mistborn Trilogy #1)

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Format: Mass market paperback, 657 pages

If there is one thing I love in books is a kickass female protagonist. And thank God (or the Lord Ruler) for Brandon Sanderson.  But lets not get ahead of ourselves.

Lord Ruler rules the Final Empire, a tyrant who has enslaved the Skaa and controls its population by fear. In this world some noblemen, called mistings, have the power to use metals as a source of power. For example, some are able to use brass to soothe the others emotions, whereas others are able to riot emotions using zinc. Then there are the mistborns, the ones who can control all of the 10 allomantic metals, the most powerful of all.

The storyline follows two characters, both mistborns: Kelsier and Vin. Kelsier is a middle-aged man who has experienced a lot of suffering in the hands of the Lord Ruler and therefore seeks revenge. Vin is a badass 16 year-old half-breed, who doesn’t rely on any man. And oh Lord how I love kickass female protagonists. She is a character that experiences a great deal of development throughout the book, thanks to the environment and the circumstances where she is found. The same also happens to Kelsier, though not so notably, but you can feel during the book some changes on his personality and actions, which I believe shows that Sanderson knows how to develop his characters.

Both Vin and Kelsier, with the help of a crew of mistings, have the mission to dethrone the Lord Ruler and free the skaa from their enslavement. I’m not going to tell you much more about the plot, because I don’t want to spoil it for you. What I can tell you is some of the reasons why I absolutely loved this book. First of all, Sanderson has the ability to introduce you to a very well-constructed world without blasting you with information in the first chapters. He builds his world without trying to overwhelm you with is writing, and you feel like the information flows so naturally through the descriptions and the characters that you don’t even feel that it is not your own world.

I will recommend this to everyone who loves fantasy, especially to those who love epic fantasy. This book is full of adventure, intrigue and mystery, and it makes you question a lot about the responsibility that comes with power, and how it can overtake you.

“but you can’t kill me. I represent that thing that you’re never able to kill, no matter how hard you try. I am hope”

P.S.: For those who have already read this book, don’t you just want to be a keeper? Even more than a mistborn?

 

★★★★★

Rita Viegas

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

The Magician's LandIn every a reader’s lifetime there will be a handful of books that are so hated by him that the mere remembrance of it resurfaces all those strong feelings. The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman wasn’t one of them, but the earlier book in the Magicians trilogy, The Magician King, certainly was.

You can imagine then the apprehension in my mind as I started reading Grossman’s conclusion to the story of Quentin Coldwater and the world of Fillory. Truthfully, I approached this book not because I expected to enjoy the final ride of these characters and world I had come to know, but because I wanted to feel vindicated that my hatred for the previous book was warranted and I could let it live inside of me in peace.

That was the mindset I approached the book with, but it certainly wasn’t the one that I came out with after a day of nearly uninterrupted reading. For you see, I ended up loving The Magician’s Land.

As the conclusion of the Magicians trilogy, The Magician’s Land picks up some time after the final events of the previous book, with Quentin having been banished from the world of Fillory by the ram-god Ember and now having to continue his life without being able to visit the kingdom he grew up loving and once ruled as a king. Approaching 30, Quentin takes up teaching at Brakebills, where he early on finally uncovers what his discipline – a magical especialty unique to each magician not unlike a fingerprint – is. There he meets Plum, a student, whose mischief  expels Quentin from his teaching stint and pulls him back to the world he had just learned to let go of.

This time however we are not dealing with the same Quentin that, as a king in Fillory, rides out into the wilderness looking for an adventure because he has not yet found the panacea of his life’s problems that he thought magic wouldbe, and afterwards Fillory.

Some plot points are contrived and too convenient – such as Quentin coming upon a loose page of a book that flies straight into his hand by chance that fittingly contains a powerful spell that he will need later on, – Grossman is able to create a much more exciting and tight plot in this book than his previous ones. In a way, the plot in The Magician’s Land is more of a continuation of the events of the first book, The Magicians, than it is of the second one, and it is all the better for it.

The prose certainly is much more developed and rich than before, especially compared with the second book, and the juvenile style reminiscent of the leetspeak of the internet that I found so appalling in the second book is toned down and replaced by a more affecting style that, perhaps not intentionally, reflects the maturing that Quentin has experienced since then.

It makes me wonder whether I should go back to the second book and give it one more chance. The Magician Land made me stay up at night to finish just one more chapter, continuously, and at the end it had the powerful effect that left me wanting to hunker down with a copy of each book and read every single one continuously in one long gulp. It had the most amazing epic battle that I have read in recent years, and the most beautiful and poignant moment towards the end that I believe will stay with me for a long time.

While I am not of the opinion that the various neuroses that plague almost all of the characters in the trilogy makes them, by themselves, realistic and, whatever that is, relatable, and while I certainly don’t believe that books should reflect the fatelessness of real life – for that I already have real life thank you very much, – in the The Magician’s Land, and the Magicians trilogy, Lev Grossman has created something that will become part of the conversation around the various tropes and expectations that serve as cornerstones of genre fiction.

In a way, the whole theme of Grossman’s trilogy can be summed up in the following conversation between Plum and Quentin, and with which I end this review of the book:

“What do you think magic is for?”

“I dunno. Don’t answer a question with a question.”

“I used to think about this a lot,” Quentin said. “I mean, it’s not obvious like it is in books. It’s trickier. In books there’s always somebody standing by ready to say hey, the world’s in danger, evil’s on the rise, but if you’re really quick and take the ring and put it in that volcano over there everything will be fine.
“But in real life that guy never turns up. He’s never there. He’s busy handing out advice in the next universe over. In our world no one ever knows what to do, and everyone’s just as clueless and full of crap as everyone else, and you have to figure it all out by yourself. And even after you’ve figured it out and done it, you’ll never know whether you were right or wrong. you’ll never know if you put the right in the right volcano, or if things might have gone better if you hadn’t. There’s no answers in the back of the book.”

★★★★★

 João Eira