The Cobbler’s Boy- Elizabeth Bear and Katherine Addison

Image result for cobbler's boy elizabeth bearThis is a really fun murder mystery/adventure set in 16th-century Canterbury as a 15 year old Christopher Marlowe, the future playwright, struggles to build a future beyond what his abusive father (the cobbler of the title) envisions for him. Oh, and someone’s just murdered the older scholar friend who gave him a window into a new world.

Enter Tom Watson (a real historical figure, though used fictitiously) who is also trying to solve the murder. Unfortunately, this puts both Kit and Watson in grave danger. Meanwhile, Kit is experiencing a secret first love with another boy and negotiating his relationships with his mother and younger sisters, all excellently characterized. Throw in a mysterious Greek book, a couple of murder attempts, and an archbishop, and you have a great mystery/coming of age tale.

This features the same historical main character as Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age books Ink and Steel and others, but stands alone and is straight-up historical fiction rather than historical fantasy as those are. Still, if you’d like more of Marlowe’s fictional adventures after this, check those out!

Spoilery quibbles below:

My two quibbles with this book–one, the religious conflicts that drive the murder plot could have been more fleshed out, and two, toward the end Kit does something SO STUPID-failing to ask for help from someone who’s shown himself helpful when he’s in over his head-that I almost couldn’t believe it. This is explained as a result of his father’s abuse, but I wish that decision and its motives had been more fleshed out as well…but this is an excellent read

Five October Releases I Can’t Wait For!

Fall is here, bringing with it Halloween, pumpkin spice, and some of this year’s most highly anticipated book releases! From the new Philip Pullman novel in the world of His Dark Materials to the 40th anniversary Star Wars anthology to the latest YA from John Green, October is going to be a busy month for publishing.

This list includes both those eagerly-awaited titles and ones that are less well known, but no less exciting!

51wsvwg-otl-_sx331_bo1204203200_1. A Skinful of Shadows – Frances Hardinge

Having heard great things about The Lie Tree and Fly By Night, I’ve been keeping an eye on Hardinge’s releases, waiting for the one that will really grab me. This English Civil War fantasy, featuring a girl on the run from scheming relatives and ghostly possession across war-torn 17th century England, may just be it!

Out October 17th.

51yjlk890rl-_sx329_bo1204203200_2. Turtles All the Way Down – John Green

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I have OCD. I didn’t know that children’s books megastar John Green, author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, suffered from the same condition. Now he’s drawing on that experience for the story of Aza, who is “living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts”–but it’s also got a reclusive billionaire and Star Wars fanfiction.

Out October 10th.

from-a-certain-point-of-view-cover3. From a Certain Point of View
Elizabeth Wein and many, many others

Speaking of Star Wars fic, this collection of forty stories set during A New Hope–each from a different character’s perspective–celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the classic space adventure. I’m especially looking forward to the short story by Elizabeth Wein (of Code Name Verity fame–I’ve reviewed her The Pearl Thief and The Winter Prince here and here). It looks like will be written from the perspective of one of Leia’s captors, but I don’t know anything more.

Out October 3rd.

51agvobnv1l-_sx328_bo1204203200_4. The Stone in the Skull – Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear is another favorite writer of mine, and she returns from a year-long sabbatical with The Stone in the Skull, set in the India analogue of her Eternal Sky universe (I reviewed Shattered Pillars from the previous Eternal Sky trilogy here). In addition to the setting and author, this book also has its characters going for it, particularly the Dead Man, a bodyguard whose charge has died. Here’s an excerpt, in which the Dead Man gives some (possibly hypocritical) advice:
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Out October 10th.

61f7blrxqil-_sy344_bo1204203200_5. The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage – Philip Pullman

And finally, the long-awaited “equel” to Pullman’s bestselling trilogy–The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. Taking place when protagonist Lyra was only a baby, this start to a new trilogy will deal with the massive flood referenced in the other books. Hopefully the time period means we’ll see more of Lyra’s parents, a magnetic and ruthless couple with a love-hate relationship.

Out October 19th.

Karen Memory Release Day

Elizabeth Bear’s steampunk lesbian adventure story, Karen Memory, goes on sale today. Here’s a link roundup.

Excerpt here.

Bear’s post in John Scalzi’s The Big Idea series.

Liz Bourke and Brit Mandelo review it at I particularly like this quote that Liz pulled out:

“Priya looked up at me through all those bruises, and I thought filly a third time. I could see in her eyes what I saw in some of my daddy’s Spanish mustang ponies. You’d never break this one. You’d never even bend her. She’d die like Joan of Arc first, and spit blood on you through a smile.”

NPR review here.

Buy the book!

Five Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2015

1. Karen Memory – Elizabeth Bear
This one comes out next week. The way I’ve been selling it to my friends is two words: steampunk lesbians. It’s set in the Wild West, with an Indian love interest (that’s Indian from India, not American Indian) and is in first person with a voice that’s been getting raves in early reviews. Bear’s one of my favorite authors and I’ll be picking this one up as soon as it’s out.

2. The Shadow Cabinet – Maureen Johnson
Book two of The Shades of London ended on a major cliffhanger– how will Johnson resolve it? Though I only skimmed The Madness Underneath, I really liked The Name of the Star and am curious to see where this series goes.

3. Black Dove, White Raven – Elizabeth Wein
I had some issues with Code Name Verity and skipped Rose Under Fire due to the implausibility of the premise, but Wein did write the absolutely lovely The Winter Prince and I love that her latest is set during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, a lesser-known but fascinating and disturbing time period.

4. Until the Beginning – Amy Plum
In this sequel to After the End, the final book in the duology, Juno and Mike find Juno’s people, who have been kidnapped due to their discovery of a drug that prevents aging. Juno is such a great character, naive after being raised isolated in the Alaskan wilderness but fiercely competent as a result of the same circumstances.

5. The Traitor Baru Cormorant – Seth Dickinson
Disclaimer: I know the author. But you want to read this book– it’s a heartrending lesbian love story, a brutal exploration of the effects of imperialism, a great secondary-world fantasy, and much more. Much love for the cover art; the crumbling mask refers both to the Empire of Masks which conquers Baru’s home and to the question of Baru’s own identity as she navigates a sea of intrigue.

Shattered Pillars – Elizabeth Bear

Before I discuss this books specifically, I want to give some context. Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite contemporary authors, and I’ve read and loved many of her books, including two of her previous fantasy series, The Edda of Burdens and The Promethean Age. Shattered Pillars is book two of a trilogy, The Eternal Sky, book three of which comes out next year.

I bought book one, Range of Ghosts, on the strength of Bear’s previous writing. It garnered an unusual amount of acclaim, but I just couldn’t get into it. Literally couldn’t get past the first page, and nothing I saw skimming through really interested me. I was disappointed that this book, which seemed to be getting the most attention of anything the author had written, just didn’t interest me.

However, after reading a preview chapter of Shattered Pillars, featuring the coronation of one of the characters as queen of a deathly kingdom, I decided to buy it, and read it without reading book one.

Some of the same problems remained- main characters Timur and Samarkar, particularly Samarkar, just don’t interest me as much as they did most reviewers. Unlike previous protagonists of Bear’s books, I didn’t feel an emotional connection with them and felt I was learning more about their world than their characters. Also, where the first book lost me with long journeys, this one sometimes bored me with repeated assassination attempts (a hazard of basing the villains on the historical Assassin cult) that came to nothing and weren’t really suspenseful. After the umpteenth time our heroes fended off attackers who far outnumbered them, I was annoyed, though a reveal at the end provides an interesting explanation of why they always escaped.

However, there was a lot to like and enough to make me eager to read book three next year. Number one is Edene, made queen of the poisonous, abandoned realm of Erem as she flees her kidnappers. Wandering into a place where time loses its meaning and where life is nocturnal as the sun kills, she becomes a strong fairy-tale queen, clothed in “‘armor,’ she said, ‘and flame.'” But it remains unclear how much of this was intended by her kidnappers. Edene and Erem are what makes this book stand out, magic-and-plot-wise, from other epic fantasies.

The Asian-inspired setting has been much remarked on as something unusual in the field of epic fantasy, but much less remarked on is the fact that the Central-Asian-equivalent hero, Timur, is half-African-equivalent, a bold choice. This is also very much a book that remembers that the Middle East is a part of Asia. Though I generally prefer less obvious real-world inspiration in secondary-world fantasy, Bear has clearly done a lot of research to create a world with a vivid geography and material culture. I’m not the target audience for the focus on material culture or long descriptions generally, but it’s definitely an important and well-done component. Some of her twists on our world are interesting, such as an Islam-equivalent that reveres a female God and prophet but is still used by many to justify misogyny. However, I hope that in either book one or book three there are more Rahazeen (one of the sects of that religion) who are not Assassin-equivalents, as the subtext is weird given real-world sectarianism. I am pretty confident that this will happen in one of the other two books.

The writing is beautiful, and if sometimes the copyediting was sloppy or the author was too clearly straining for an unusual or unique sentence (the word “lofted” popped up over and over again), it made the many descriptive passages a pleasure to read, in contrast to many other writers. Her style is especially well suited to describing the eerie realm of Erem, the uninhabited Shattered Pillars of the title, or the citadel of the Assassin-equivalents.

Finally, while I didn’t find Timur and Samarkar’s thread that interesting until near the end, a subplot involving a plague and political intrigue in Samarkar’s home city, involving a different set of characters, definitely gripped me. It catered more toward my own narrative preferences (more plagues and politics, fewer hit men). The point of view of the twins Saadet and Shahruz, antagonists to our heroes, are also included, and Saadet was the only character besides Edene whom I was really invested in. I liked the way these subplots and the Erem subplot were threaded throughout the book and how everything came to a head at the end, promising a packed and fascinating book three.

I can’t wait to see how everything ties up in book three, especially with Edene and the mysteries of Erem, as well as how the twins’ plotline resolves, but I don’t know if I’ll try to finish book one until I’ve seen how the trilogy ends.