book recs

May. 12th, 2013 08:49 am
purplekitte: (Saberlion)
[personal profile] purplekitte
If you like Warhammer 40k novels, you may also like:

Second Apocalypse by R. Scott Bakker

It’s grimdark. It has a lot in common with 40k. Like, you can imagine this is all taking place on some terrible feudal daemon-world somewhere in the Eye of Terror and everything then makes sense, or even as a fantasy AU of 40k (as opposed to Warhammer Fantasy Battle, which is a slightly different matter). Or possibly I didn’t enough sleep summer before last, at which point everything seems like it makes sense and everything I’m reading and writing at the same time blends together into a strange composite mass.

I have this whole mental classification system that I’ve never been able to explain to anyone, but the short of it is: it’s biggest difference from Black Library stuff is this is one of those series with a lot of sex. Medieval grittiness, sex, rape, prostitution, graphic violence, torture, strong language, sexism, racism, etc., much more than you would find in even one of the higher-rated 40k books. At the same time, really long philosophical meanderings that are actually integral to the plot and the setting.

If you had problems with Song of Ice and Fire, then don’t read this, but otherwise do.

Edda of Burdens by Elizabeth Bear

I will copy the review I first read of All the Windwracked Stars by rassaku on lj rather than babble on my own:

“It kicks off with the aftermath of the Battle of Ragnarok, aka THE END OF THE WORLD -- the protagonist is a valkyrie named Muire who broke and ran before the final battle that killed everyone else, and is now all kinds of fucked up about it. And since the world doesn't quite end with Ragnarok, but continues to circle the drain for the next few centuries, she has a long time to carry that survivor's guilt.

This is a gorgeously atmospheric book. Bear's world-building is superb and puts me in mind of the same vibrant post-apocalypticism that Emma Bull uses in Finder and Bone Dance, societies that feel extraordinarily lived-in. And vibrant may seem like an odd word to apply to the last decaying city in a world that's all but dead, but that's exactly what it is -- it's home to these characters, and to all the other people who are still living and loving and dying with all the intensity that people do.

Oh yeah, and the villain? Is sex on legs and has raging chemistry with everyone. I was actually unaware of the gay content when I picked up the book, so that was a nice surprise.”

The other two books in the trilogy are very good too. By the Mountain Bound is a prequel to the first book and is everything you would look for in a Horus Heresy book while pulling at your hair and yelling “Stop fucking up and having a start of darkness that is so very obvious and avoidable and go be with your true love!”

The Sea Thy Mistress is definitely the weakest book, I think because it spends a lot of time jumping around and checking up again on characters who aren’t doing anything important at the moment but will be important later, because it covers a long period of time. It’s not bad, though, and wraps everything up. The first two books can technically be read in either order (I recommend publication over chronological), but this one definitely requires having read both of them.

There are numerous romantic subplots, but the relationship the book’s really about is between father and son, and you don’t see that very often. Cathoair is allowed to be a parent and a person, and Cathmar is allowed to be a teenager in a way that feels realistic, without being a perfect saint persecuted by parents/villagers who “don’t understand him” or being condemned as a horrible person.

Also by Elizabeth Bear, co-authored with Sarah Monette, is the Iskryne series. Just in case you liked the Space Wolves books, modern or 30k era, but really wished your wolf Vikings had more Pern-esque psychic-bond-animals and gay sex. Okay, I was thinking that even if no one else was. ...There was also a plot, I swear.

The Sundering duology by Jacqueline Carey

This series gets a lot of flack for “attacking” Tolkien, which I don’t think it deserves. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s affectionate to its source material. Effort went into this, like knowing your Silmarillion, not just the main trilogy, enriches the experience of this. I love Tolkien, and I don’t see that should make one unable to enjoy this series too for itself.

It is basically Lord of the Rings, only “what if the bad guys were just misunderstood and had bad publicity, while the good guys were a bunch of hypocritical, racist, tyrannical assholes”. That’s the story it’s trying to tell. It deviates as necessary from Tolkien parallels as necessary to tell that story. It’s not saying Tolkien’s world is that way, it’s different story starting from that premise. That story is one worth reading.

Fair warning going in, it has the sort of ending you would expect from a Heresy novel. Not just can nobody catch a break from the world, most people also have their own tragic flaws totally screwing themselves over. All my feels.

Age of Unreason by Greg Keyes

Rather than inventing physics, Isaac Newton invents alchemy.

It’s got lots of cool steampunk/magitek stuff, wars, intrigues, Chaos daemon-y stuff going on. And a young Benjamin Franklin is the main character.

Vampire Earth by E. E. Knight

A couple decades ago, Earth was conquered by vampiric extra-dimensional aliens. A couple out-numbered, out-gunned free-zones are still fighting back and trying to get by. It’s a nice military action series with post-apocalyptic and fantasy elements.

Way of the Wolf reads just like a Space Marine origin book, like say Space Wolf. In general, it’s more like what you’d find in an Imperial Guard series. It’s not grimdark, but most books not being dead at the end is as much the victory as whatever tactical accomplishments the characters managed.

A Song of Ice and Fire by G. R. R. Martin

If you haven’t heard of this series, you have been living under a rock for the last couple years, and it is beyond me to help you. I’m sure there are much cleverer explanations on the internet about why you should read this series than I could think of. From tumblr I get the impression everyone in this fandom also blogs about Game of Thrones, so I’m not even sure why this is on this rec list.

Ilium/Olympos by Dan Simmons

My 40k analogy for this duology will be: Did you ever wish you could read a book where remembrancers were the main characters, instead of annoying distractions who didn’t really accomplish anything important while much more interesting things were going on with the actual central characters? This is comparatively that book. There are characters who start out well-informed and badass too, but everyone gets to be cool at some point and all the numerous, seemingly totally unrelated plotline eventually tie together.

It is also incredibly dated to string theory turn-of-phrase as of 2003-2005, but maybe I’m the only one who noticed that sort of thing. It helps to have a deep knowledge of Homer and Shakespeare as well, along with various other classical works, but just pay attention to the seemingly-irrelevant discussions of literature by space robots and you should be able to get by.

Age of Discovery by Michael Stackpole

Admittedly, of all the recs on this list, this is the one with the least direct 40k parallels. It’s still really good and I think would appeal. Wars, wandering swordsmen, recovering post-apocalyptic setting, expansionist fantasy-China discovering America, cartography as a superpower--in general mundane skills made magic, obstructive and short-sighted bureaucrats, rogue gods, political intrigue, consistent and plot-important numeric symbology, random murders of main characters.

Acts of Caine by Matthew Woodring Stover

This series is similar to A Song of Ice and Fire and Second Apocalypse in graphic content level, so yeah, previous warning apply. Unlike those, this is not a large-scale epic with a huge cast. The world does change a lot, but this series ultimately centres around a single main character, not an ensemble cast, and everything else is just the collateral damage of him getting the things he wants.

Blade of Tyshalle is probably my favourite book ever if I had to choose one. Not only is the plot extraordinary, but the writing itself is amazing. I quote this book incessantly. When Stover goes off on a philosophical or introspective meander, it will be the most amazingly worded and insightful thing ever. (On that note, whatever you thought of the movie, read his novelization of Star Wars Episode III. omg)

Laundry Files by Charles Stross

The Laundry fires are a mixture of Lovecraftian horror, Cold War spy novel, and techno-thriller. They’re simultaneously dark and comedic, so if you like the tone of Ciaphas Cain, these are for you.

Succession duology by Scott Westerfeld

This series was first described to me as “my head-canon for the Future”, that nebulous thing out there that presumably takes place in space. There are magical elements, but for the most part it’s hard sci-fi and a lot of the conflicts are around mechanical, physics difficulties caused by space. The technology is great and is my head-canon for the future too. The characters and world-building are also really fascinating and top-notch. The main romance is actually the least interesting part of it. I know I draw on this series for tech or world-building inspiration all the time, and it has a bunch of really quotable lines too that I have definitely taken advantage of in mid-argument before.

The works of Barbara Tuchman

In the non-fiction corner, anyone wanting to write about historical military narrative or historical narrative in general should have to read Tuchman’s works. Or anyone who just wants to get some glimpse about how history isn’t just a bunch of dates of battles and occasional famous people that you have to memorise in school for the test, but a web of interconnected popular belief, religious belief, finance, contradictory beliefs, personality conflicts, family ties, previous wars, and everything all at once. History isn’t disconnect; it’s a tapestry. Why do people fight? Why do they make really terrible plans leading to their horrible defeat or WWI?

You know how a lot of bad fantasy novels pick and choose some random medieval institutions for scenery, but the world-building’s really shallow and nothing really interacts with each other, and meanwhile there’re all these modern institutions and beliefs alongside that everyone takes for granted but someone don’t effect the setting either? That is because they have not read A Distant Mirror. (Also, seriously, the book could practically be a lost Song of Ice and Fire novel.)
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