Soul of Fire by Laura Anne Gilman

Soul of Fire is the second in Laura Anne Gilman’s Portals duology, following Heart of Briar. In that previous volume, Janet, discovering her lover has been kidnapped by elves, forges an unlikely alliance with supernatural creatures to find a way into elfland and, in the best traditions of Tam Lin, win him back.

This accomplished, there still remains a greater threat–why have the elves been so active, and with a time limit on a truce running out, can Janet and her friends find a way to keep them from their voracious predations on humanity? And can they even figure out *why* the elves have stepped up their hunger to take mortals back with them?

Some of the characters feel less well used than what I would like, but its a more than satisfactory conclusion to the duology. The novel worked extremely well for me as an airplane read, an excellent diversion and diversement in the harried life of airplane travel. Gilman’s work transported me to a whole different set of problems and characters for a while, and kept my mind off of the chaos around me. That counts for a lot.

There is no giant magic reset button at the end of the story, though, and Gilman takes some care in looking at, and deconstructing some of the tropes of urban fantasy and romance alike in finishing off the two book series. Every time I read a Laura Anne Gilman novel, I get the sense that I haven’t read enough Laura Anne Gilman novels. Soul of Fire continues that tradition.

Records/Milestones from my London trip

My proper travel posts (and pictures) are still in the works, but some records/milestones from my trip:

–Longest flight ever: Chicago to London
–Second Trip to London and first for 23 years
–First Worldcon
–First Hugo Award ceremony
–Furthest East ever traveled: Excel Center, London
–First Trip to England where I left the city limits (Bath, Salisbury, Stonehenge)

My Loncon3 schedule

My Loncon3 schedule

Not with a Bang, but with a Metaphor
Thursday 12:00 – 13:30, Capital Suite 2 (ExCeL)
From Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ to McCarthy’s ‘The Road’, apocalyptic and dystopian futures are a perennial favourite with writers who might be labelled ‘mainstream’ or ‘literary’. Why do such scenarios have an appeal that goes beyond a genre readership? What does a non-genre apocalypse have to offer that a science fictional one might not, and vice versa? Do we all share broadly similar nightmares, regardless of what ratio of science to sensibility we prefer?

That’s it. One panel. WhodoyathinkIam? (And of course, the Hugo Ceremony. Because Hugo Nominee!)
Its likely though, you will see me in the company of the Skiffy and Fanty crew there at the con as well–Shaun, Mike and Julia. We’ll be around. We are going to be doing interviews. Come meet me. I’m shy, but friendly.
My dear friend Felicia will also be around. She’s much more gregarious than I am, and wants to meet all the lovely SF people I talk to. Don’t disappoint her, okay? Come say hi.

Traitor’s Blade, by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor’s Blade, by Sebastien de Castell, contains some of the virtues of Musketeer fiction. High paced action and adventure rule the first portion of the story of a disgraced set of swordsman of justice for a King who has been killed, replaced by a set of squabbling Dukes who would rather rule their petty little fiefdoms with an iron fist rather than offer justice. Falcio and his companions have become outlaws, swords for hire, dreaming of better days. The first act also shows us how Falcio got on his path in the first place.
The book misses, however, a good bet with a very questionable structure choice. Midway through the book, the action focuses on Falcio, alone, and someone he has sworn to protect. The novel completely abandons the fresh banter and interplay that is one of the best things about Musketeer fiction, and replaces it with a base-under-siege sort of storyline. I felt cheated by this. When I read Musketeer fiction, I want fast paced action and adventure. As said above, Traitor’s Blade has those in spades. I also though want that Musketeer dynamic, and Traitor’s Blade takes that away from me, the reader and replaces it with something lesser. Similarly, the movie The Musketeer, often having D’Artagnan go solo, completely gets this wrong as well.
However, ‘fridging’ a female character to provide motivation to the protagonist to go on his life path is more than just lazy writing, its a perpetuation of a very tired and sexist trope. There were any number of ways to get Falcio to meet the king and resurrect the Greatcoats. To do it this way helped set the book on the wrong foot for me early on, and the book never recovered. There is also a brief encounter between Falcio and another female character in that second act that was frankly offensive to me.
The denouement of the book is a muddled mess as well. The already murky motivations of the antagonists compounds with a lot of coincidence and hand waving. Worse, while the first part of the book reveled in swordplay, and the second, while questionable structurally, at least provided some action beats, the third act has the wheels go off entirely. A crucial fight scene in the end of the book is not described at all. The big battle at the end is a wet firecracker. The book feels like an imperfect but entertaining first act, and then loses its way as soon as Falcio goes off on his own.