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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Quick Take on 3 Recent Orbit Books, Lilith Saintcrow, Philip Palmer and John Fultz (by Liviu Suciu)

As I already have a pretty much full schedule of reviews to be done for the next 2-3 months - though of course anything unexpected that blows my mind will get the "gold treatment" here - I will present a quick take on 3 recent Orbit novels, though you may see a different take and a full review from Mihir on Seven Princes if he is not as underwhelmed as I was.


The Hedgewitch Queen by Lilith Saintcrow was billed as a sort of "Kushiel" lite - namely without the explicitness which while quite common in mainstream fiction today, is still a bit unheard of in the sff genre which clings to conservative/puritan expression modes all too often. From the map, subject and first person narration the novel lived to this expectation and the great first line:

"If not for a muddy skirt, I would have been dead like all the rest. Dead—or worse, perhaps."

kept me interested despite a noticeable slowing down in the first few chapters. The novel picks then up and has a great ending that kept me hooked for the second installment. The blurb below is reasonably accurate and the novel is a quite entertaining fantasy with a mixture of secondary world and alt-Earth world building. If it expands its universe and scope which for now are still a bit narrow and far from the rich tapestry of the Jacqueline Carey novels, I see a great future for this series.

"Vianne di Rocancheil has been largely content to play the gawky provincial. As lady in waiting at the Court of Arquitaine, she studies her books, watches for intrigue, and shepherds her foolhardy Princesse safely through the glittering whirl. Court is a sometimes-unpleasant waltz, especially for the unwary, but Vianne treads its measured steps well.

Unfortunately, the dance has changed. Treachery is afoot in gilded and velvet halls. A sorcerous conspiracy is unleashed, with blood, death, and warfare close behind. Her Princesse murdered and her own life in jeopardy, Vianne must flee, carrying the fate of her land with her--the Great Seal of Arquitaine, awake after its long sleep. Invasion threatens, civil war looms, and the conspiracy hunts for Vianne di Rocancheil, to kill or to use her against all she holds dear.

A life of dances, intrigues, and fashion has not prepared her for this. Nor has it prepared her for Tristan d'Arcenne, Captain of the King's Guard and player in the most dangerous games conspiracy can devise. Yet to save her country and avenge her Princesse, Vianne will become what she must, say what she should, and do whatever is required.

A Queen can do no less."


Artemis by Philip Palmer is a sort of sequel to his wonderful debut Debatable Spaces. In small doses, I greatly enjoy Philip Palmer's cinematic style prose and ultra-violent sf, while his fractured prose brings a change from the genre conservativeness I talked about above also. But here it lies also the problem with his books, namely that all too often there is an element of artificiality, of "this is a Matrix like game" that tends to take away the enjoyment a little.

Artemis was a page turner for most of its length and while I felt the book did not cohere well enough - maybe it tried too hard to tie up too many loose ends and lots of stuff that came as "big revelations" felt forced imho - I would still recommend it for the great "kick butt and take no prisoners" heroine of the title and the sense of closure it brings to the Debatable Spaces action too. Here is the blurb:

"Artemis McIvor is a thief, a con-artist, and a stone cold killer. And she's been on a crime-spree for, well, for years. The galactic government has collapsed and the universe was hers for the taking.

But when the cops finally catch up with her, they give Artemis a choice. Suffer in prison for the rest of her very long life, or join a crew of criminals, murderers, and traitors on a desperate mission to save humanity against an all-consuming threat.

Now, Artemis has to figure out how to be a good guy without forgetting who she really is."


As mentioned above there is a chance that Seven Princes by John Fultz will see a proper review here, but I felt remiss not to express my huge disappointment about this book which I felt was a big step down in quality from the usually good to superb novels Orbit publishes. A just by the numbers fantasy with mediocre writing, I basically browsed through after reading the first five pages and feeling "why do I waste my time with this??". Still, I persevered and read more ahead and more, hoping to get a "hook" to interest me. I even read the ending and it was as bland and as boring as the rest. Here is the blurb:

"It is an Age of Legends.
Under the watchful eye of the Giants, the kingdoms of Men rose to power. Now, the Giant-King has slain the last of the Serpents and ushered in an era of untold peace and prosperity. Where a fire-blackened desert once stood, golden cities flourish in verdant fields.

It is an Age of Heroes.

But the realms of Man face a new threat-- an ancient sorcerer slaughters the rightful King of Yaskatha before the unbelieving eyes of his son, young Prince D'zan. With the Giant-King lost to a mysterious doom, it seems that no one has the power to stop the coming storm."

It is an age of War


RobB said...

I've got two of those three, tried one and didn't continue since my experience was very similar to yours. I'm finding this to be the case with other readers.

The other book I do have and plan to read since I really enjoyed his previous book.

Joel said...

The blurb for Seven Princes sounds so generic it could easily be a parody, right down to the apostrophe in the prince's name.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I bought the Palmer one and started it but realized that I'm going to need to wait until I'm in the proper frame of mind for that style of writing. Right now it was a bit too jarring when my desires were leaning towards a different type of science fiction. Love the cover though and I do want to read and enjoy the book. Fingers crossed.

Liviu said...

As Seven princes go, I expect there will be people who will like it but sadly not me and it seems not others from "our blogging/sffworld' circle either

As Philip Palmer goes, i utterly agree that his style is very aggressive, in your face and cinematic so it needs the proper mood - I tend to like it in smaller doses as mentioned

Anonymous said...

Well, it wasn't until I read this that I realized how important good publicity is. I had every intention of reading Seven Princes until I read this post. Now, I've decided to avoid wasting my money.

Anonymous said...

I rarely don't finish a book, yet this one contained so many cliches and lacked any sense of time or place I completely lost any investment I had in it. The characters almost magically travel across the entire continent in a few pages, the princess learns an entire system of magic in two pages and the stock characters are given one or two individual characteristics to make them stand out, which is a complete failure. As a fan of the genre, I read reviews and read this book due to certain sites good reviews and was rather intensely disappointed.


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