Review: Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear

I’m getting behind on reviewing the books I’ve been reading. Back on my reading female authors thing, the next one up was Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear.

I wanted to read one of her novels after reading her short story on Tor.com, “The Horrid Glory of it’s Wings” which is a beautiful story. I decided to pick up with this, her newest one, and I have not been disappointed.

The most interesting part was the worldbuilding, from the astrological quirks of the world, to the societal. They sky of this world reflects whoever is ruling the land. Under the psuedo Mongol horde, the sky has countless moons, one for each of the Great Khagan’s heirs, but in Samarkar’s land, there is only one moon. And when the characters come to a land where the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, they go “Oh crap….”

Also interesting and refreshing is the dominance of what North Americans would consider non-normative marriage customs. Among Temur’s tribes, women are very sexually free, even when married, though men may have many wives. And in Samarkar’s land, when a woman marries, she marries all of a man’s brothers.

The world is immersive, and it’s nice to see epic fantasy that’s not set in the done to death western european medieval fantasy world. Have I said that before, that I’m sick and tired of medieval western Europe? I have? Oh, well, there it is again. I really, really am. I’ll put up with it for George R. R. Martin, but I can only handle one of his books a year, and my quota for medieval western european fantasy is shot right there.

But that’s getting me side tracked. I think it’s because I was so impressed that someone somehow made the exiled-prince-destined-to-overthrow-his-evil-usurper-uncle fresh. Because that really is a huge part of the plot. I kept looking at it and thinking “am I really reading this and not rolling my eyes at it?” Funny how a change of setting and some really great worldbuilding to take you away from the familiar can do so much for such a cliche. The societal dynamics put an interesting light on things, especially when characters are not expected to restrict themselves to a single lover, and taking another is not a betrayal of the first. I’m curious to find out if jealousy plays into things later, and how much.

The characters are likable, and I always like strong, active female characters. Samarkar is definitely that, and pushes the story along by the force of her will. Temur, too, treats Samarkar as an equal, and it makes me like him more.

Anyway, it’s a book that was nice to settle down into. It doesn’t move at a breakneck pace, but it’s a comfortable an enjoyable read for those who love epic fantasy, and Bear has an expertise with the English language that drew me into the story all on it’s own.

“Click ‘Like’ on my book on Amazon, and I’ll ‘Like’ yours!”

So somebody posted a link to my Dieselpunk vs Steampunk post yesterday, and suddenly I had literally twenty frelling thousand page loads in a half a day. Reading the comments has been interesting – there was a lot of disagreement, but interesting discussion, and lots of thoughts I’d like to elaborate on in the future. And of course, if you ever write anything, naturally you’re going to be misunderstood by someone. Someone even got upset that I had trashed Waterworld, when I wasn’t at all, I liked that movie. I’m only surprised I didn’t get trashed harder. The great unwashed of the interwebs have not lived up to their reputation for mindless trolling! (Not complaining, mind.)

Anyway, elaborations for another day. On to today’s topic.

I’ve taken to very seldom buying a book off the shelf these days unless I’ve heard it recommended by multiple people, or read at least one review. I don’t have time to waste on stuff that isn’t worth my time, and lately I’ve been wanting to try out new authors, rather than going over the same old authors that I haven’t quite read everything they’ve written yet. So reviews, and things like Goodreads, has been where I’m going to look for new books, and I appreciate the number of resources online, and honest, thoughtful reviews.

Also, I’ve been reviewing books on my own website, and recently, with Blightcross, was, for the first time, asked for a review. I was honoured to be asked, and strove for honesty in my review. If there was something that bothered me in the book, I feel as a reviewer, I’m honour bound to say so in the review. After all, who’s going to take me seriously as a reviewer if I give a glowing review to a shitty book?

I saw this posted on Facebook today:

This is IMPORTANT………..

So Important I am posting this again….

If you are an author OR BUYER on Amazon… please pay attention…

They “recommend” your book to consumers based on two things:
1) Tags
2) Likes and Reviews

You MUST log into Amazon and create either a “real name” or another name and tag your book… meaning categorize it.. for example I tagged mine as chick lit, romance, rock and roll….

Next we ALL MUST go to each other’s books and click the like button…. why.. it is FREE PROMOTION for all of us….

To do that, do NOT like THIS post….

Click the link below and when the book comes up right under the title there will be a like button… click it (you MAY have to log in)

Then PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE… post the link to your book below so we can all reciprocate………….

Okay. What I see here is a blatant request from one author to another, to assist them with cheating a system intended to draw readers attention to good quality fiction. The author of this note is not saying, read my book and click like if you liked it. They’re not even actually asking you to read the book.

Seeing things like this leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s the same as the follow-me-on-twitter-and-I’ll-follow-you-and-we’ll-retweet-all-one-another’s-tweets thing. Or the you-buy-my-book-and-I’ll-buy-yours thing, and we’ll make a living that way. Only, this is just a little bit worse, because it’s dishonest at it’s core, both for the author making the request, and the others participating.

I don’t know really what else to say about this, but that I resent having to compete with people doing things like this, rather than doing *real* networking, and *real* review solicitation that I see other authors doing, and when I’m not willing to compromise my own ethics, as minor as this is, to join them. Even if I don’t have a book out yet – I will, and I’m sure I’ll resent it even more when I do.

Review: Blightcross, by C. A. Lang

This was my first ARC, so I was pretty excited to get the l from the publisher, offering a review copy. My little blog is all growed up! And hey, it’s Dieselpunk secondary world fiction, so I was sold on it from the get go.

The cover is very true to the book – the braid, the eye colour and hair colour, the red cravat, the necklace with saphires, all mentioned in the book. The clock tower in the background too. It’s nice to see a cover with a female main character not being over-sexualized, which is doubly appropriate, since there’s no romance in the book. Nice to see an author not trying to shoe-horn it in where it’s not needed.

It’s a very plot driven book, so if you’re a reader who likes a good adventure, this is an Indiana Jones style story. Capra is a Valoii deserter from Mizkov, having abandoned her people and their war against the Ehzeri, and with her military background, she’s a great butt-kicking heroine to center the story around. She’s also found herself in a part of the world where men don’t respect women, and it grates on her terribly. Also, since there’s no romance in the story, she doesn’t suffer from being rescued by the male lead constantly, and ending the story being the trophy girl for the male lead. It reminds me a bit of the Holly Vesper series, by Lloyd Alexander – adventuring heroine without the need for there to be a male love interest to make her interesting.

One thing I really liked was the fact that the plot was well foreshadowed. Things early on in the book matter later, and the hints were subtle, yet the promise was clear. The Archon that Vasi must be sure to keep in check, the giant unseen thing beneath the tarp in the armoury, visible from all over, the Sevari family memorial that the characters don’t have time to check out the first time you see it. All promises that there’s something cool there, and we’ll get to see it later. And then the author follows though on them, and that goes a long way for me, especially when a lot of debut authors forget the foreshadowing.

The other main characters are fairly well developed. There’s Vasi, an Ehzeri, who’s main drive is also not finding someone to fall in love with, but protecting her younger (twit) brother who’s intent on getting himself into the maximum amount of trouble possible. She’s not quite as kick-butt as Capra, but she has more of a quiet, come up from behind kick-assery, being a magic wielder.

Ironically, Lang being a male author, it was more the male characters that I thought could have used a bit more character development, though even there, it’s not that they’re not developed, it’s more that the development doesn’t get in until after the halfway point. Alim, being the exception – an old friend of Capra’s from the military, sent to execute her for desertion, who blames Capra for the death of his wife.

The worldbuilding was fresh. The story takes place in a city built on the oil industry, as mechanization quickly replaces magic in this world. I’ve always been a sucker for worlds where magic and technology are being mixed, so I love the world. Even the oil itself has the background story of being the blood of the fire giants after their legendary figure cast them down into a pit.

The one world building thing that disappointed me though, was the hand cannons, and lack of detail on them. I kept wondering, are they match-lock, wheel-lock, flint lock? The term historically refers to a hand-held version of what looked like a miniature cannon, dating at least 500 years earlier than the time period the rest of the worldbuilding invokes. The weapon in the story was described as having a wooden stock, though and machined barrel, which sounds more like a pistol. There was mention of the long loading time, but little description of how it was loaded and fire, for all that they were used frequently through the story. Nary a mention of cloth or ramrod.

The bit that really made me twitch though, was when a character dropped the shot into the barrel and then the powder.

But I’ll refrain from ranting, because that was a relatively small thing, and overall I liked the book and it’s themes. There’s the background environmental theme, with the chemical output of the refinery, of labour, and treatment of workers and women. I was particularly intrigued when I realized that the Valoii and the Ehzeri are an allegory for Israel and Palestine, and was impressed with the delicate handling of the emotions of that conflict. It’s an allegory that could so very easily be done very badly, but the author didn’t demonize either side. Instead, he presented characters on both sides of the conflict, and made their feelings towards the conflict, and towards one another feel real as individuals, treating them like people, not stereotypes, and not representations of all of their people. Neither side’s characters were presented as “bad guys”, and I think it was respectfully handled.

It ended with a couple loose ends, but I took that to be hooks for the next book. Where things will go from here, I don’t know, but there are some secrets in Capra’s past that haven’t been told yet. I will definitely be looking out for the next book, whenever that comes out.

Review: Incarnate, by Jodi Meadows

I picked this book because the premise intrigued me. A world where everyone is reincarnated perpetually, and suddenly a new soul, Ana, is born, replacing an old one, and Ana sets out to find out why. I thought it was a neat idea and wanted to know how the author was going to play with it.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed with it. The writing itself was decent, and there was nothing really wrong with the story for what it is, but I went into the book wanting to know the explanation for why everyone is reincarnated – expecting the story to be about that, only to find that it was about eighty percent romance, and the premise that drew me into the story was reserved mostly for worldbuilding and the climax.

The worldbuilding was cool, I only wish there was more of it. I liked how there was some of the traditional fantasy props, like the dragons and centaurs and sylph, alongside a technologically advanced civilization. It made sense that they would be technologically advanced, since they do get reincarnated indefinitely, and have all the time in the world to pursue a project. The culture and practices of the people definitely reflected the fact that the people have infinite time to accomplish things, but also were very much set in their ways, without being a culture full of elf-like imperious wisdom where everyone is as rational as a vulcan. Longevity in this world doesn’t preclude mischievousness or passion.

On the other hand, while being a believable cast, they are, by and large, black and white. You can tell the black hats from the white hats from the first time you see them, and no one surprised me later. But not only that, it also seemed like most of the characters were run through the filter of whether or not Ana thinks they’re a threat to her relationship with Sam, and I felt through the whole thing that there was more importance put on that than on whether or not they were going to stop her from trying to find out the truth about her origins. Which, of course, was what was most important to me.

The romance itself – I’m no connoisseur of romance, but I thought it was ok for what it was. It’s a guy-rescues-helpless-girl romance, and that’s a hard sell for me, but I understand it appeals to others more, so I’m quite possibly just not the target audience for this book.

I was also a little frustrated by the lack of progress in the main premise – the search for Ana’s origins. There was some, but I had expected far more by the end of the book. We don’t get to understand what happened any more than at the beginning, only learn who was behind it.

And then there’s Soul Night. It was mentioned several times, characters wondering aloud what would happen on Soul night, but when Ana asks what it is, she’s brushed off, and it was terribly obvious that the author has something regarding Soul Night planned for the next book and was slipping in a hook. If Ana knew what it was, and just didn’t bother explaining in the narrative, that would be fine, I could accept that it was being saved for later book when it became relevant, but in dialogue, the brush off seemed so artificial.

But the book is really not as bad as I’m making it sound – I think young women who love a good romance would definitely enjoy the book, and it’s a good debut novel, overall.

Tor/Forge going DRM free

I don’t normally post more than once in a day, but there’s been some pretty huge news in publishing today. I heard talk about it being a possibility – Amazon is all about trying to eliminate the middle man, and I keep thinking, wait, isn’t Amazon the middle man?

Cory Doctorow, an activist for copyright law has some thoughts:
http://boingboing.net/2012/04/24/tor-books-goes-completely-drm.html

And so does John Scalzi, who’s published by Tor and directly affected by it:
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/04/24/torforge-to-go-drm-free-by-july-immediate-\
thoughts/

As a customer, and an e-reader owner, I think this is great. From the beginning, my biggest reservation in buying an e-reader has been that I didn’t want to be pigeon holed into a single reader, and not be able to share a book with my husband. I mean, if I buy a paperback, I read it, then my husband reads it – that’s legal – but if my husband buys a Nook and I have a Sony e-reader, I can’t put that book on his e-reader. We’d have to buy another copy, and if they’re charging just as much for an e-book as a paperback, that’s just unreasonable, imho.

As an author, I think it’s cool too – my own future potential customers will get more bang for their buck – there’s no reason to pay the same for a different format if you don’t get the same rights over it. I understand charging the same for an e-book as a paperback – there are fixed costs of editing and formatting that go into both a paper book and an e-book, and my understanding is that the cost of producing the two isn’t that significantly different. But if the customer doesn’t get the same value from the end product, that’s not right.

As far as piracy – DRM is a joke. DRM has never stopped piracy, it’s too easy to strip. If people are going to pirate, they will pirate, and a bit of software isn’t going to stop them. That, and not having DRM on your work doesn’t invalidate your copyright. There are those who’s defense of DRM consists of “I want to make sure people really know that they shouldn’t be stealing my work.”

They know. That defense is assuming that people downloading illegal content don’t know that they’re doing something illegal, or they do, but the message hasn’t been made clear enough. I think it’s dangerous to start implying that an author who’s work is not protected by DRM has less of a claim on the copyright than one who’s work is DRM’d. Because it absolutely is. It’s equally illegal to share copyrighted material whether it’s DRM protected or not, and Tor has made it clear that they will be going after violators just the same as they always have.

Because DRM isn’t about piracy. It’s about locking customers into a reader made by a particular middle man provider, so that they can’t go buy books from someone else. Tor/Forge doesn’t make e-readers, so they have no vested interest in forcing customers to buy products locked into a particular device. They just want to sell books.

So I’m hoping to see this become a trend.

Book Review: Mechanique: a Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve Valentine

I glanced over the nebula award nominees for this year to see if anything piqued my interest, and saw this one. Steampunk, set in a post apocalyptic setting – I was sold. It’s a circus of undead performers, enhanced with hollow bones for the acrobats to make them light as birds, a human trapeze, a strong man with a steel spine, and his brother saved from fever with mechanical lungs. Once there was a man with wings, like a bird, until he fell.

I went into it not knowing what to expect, so I’m not sure what I expected. It’s very experimental, style wise (literary, some might say). The Steampunk is more a veneer over the top, an aesthetic choice, which I love. Genre wise, I would call it magic realism, because there is magic, but the way magic works is never explained, but used in more of a free-form way.

The story made me think of Peter S. Beagle or Neil Gaiman. I don’t think I’ve read anything so subtly creepy since The Innkeeper’s Song. It’s about beauty and love and death, and the writing itself is beautiful too.

I normally find things this experimental to be annoying, but I think that’s often because “literary” authors sometimes think that the writing is everything, and they don’t have to have a story to tell. Miss Valentine has a story to tell. She doesn’t tell it in chronological order, and the point of view is all over the place, running from first to third person and not skipping second person, and yet, the confusion at first didn’t bother me. It was obvious fairly quickly that it was told out of order.

Also, I liked the scene openings she had sometimes, the ones that start with “This is what happens when (insert framing phrase to tell me where she’s jumping into the story.)” It was as unsubtle as a slap in the face, maybe, butso much less annoying than the author using dates to tell you when something’s taking place. I can’t stand that, I can’t keep track of the numbers in the dates, so they might as well not be there. This? This was effective and efficient.

Overall, I loved it, it was beautiful.

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Ok, so people kept saying, here and there and everywhere, omg, you should read The Hunger Games. So many places, I heard the same recommendation. I had my new e-reader and found the entire trilogy for $17. So I read it.

And holy crap, they were right.

I read it in about three days, which, for me, is about my record. I think my record is two days, and that was for a much shorter novel. Granted, two of those days were stressed out, what can I do to distract myself because there’s nothing I can do days, but still, it was very much what I needed to distract myself in those days.

I won’t make this too long, because I think there are a crap-ton of reviews of this particular novel already out there, but there’s one main point I’ll address. The main criticism – possibly the only criticism I’ve seen for this book, has been that the ending was too predictable. And you know what? That’s valid. I looked at the end of part two, and thought, you know, I can only think of one way that this could end and the end be satisfying. And I was pretty well right. There were details, I didn’t know exactly the circumstances the ending was going to come into, but the main plot twist at the end, that was no surprise to me.

On the other had, it *was* the only way that I could see this story ending that would be satisfying. And I always think, if you build up towards something you either have to satisfy the reader, or come up with something better. In this case, it was satisfy the reader. But the storytelling, the crafting of the story, was what kept me reading. What’s going to happen next? Who’s going to die next? How is the Katniss going to survive all of this?

There are those who say “there are no original stories, only original story telling.” I have to agree with this. Avatar, the movie, hell that’s not original in the least, but it’s still a really awesome movie. The Hunger Games, maybe it’s a tad predictable, for an experienced reader, but it’s well spun. Plot is not everything in a story, but sometimes the journey is. Sometimes it’s what the author does to make it all real that makes all the difference.

Product Review: Sony E-reader

I got a sony e-reader for christmas. It’s awesome.

As I’ve said before, this isn’t something I could afford for myself, so I’m still on the fence about e-books taking over the market, but I think the market is still developing, and the prices for the readers will come down, and more second-hand ones will be available.

That said, I do really like it. It’s red. All the other readers out there are shades of grey or black, and red to be different is awesome.

I wasn’t so concerned about the reading experience being book like, as long as it didn’t give me a headache. Scrolling through something on a computer is annoying, and it’s hard to find your place, and you can’t leave a bookmark – so I hate trying to read on the computer. But once I started using the e-reader, it was even a bit eerie how much like a book the screen looks. It’s not bright, not hard to read or anything, and the print is very sharp, even when it’s super small, it’s legible, though, of course, the print size is adjustable. There’s apparently a performance sacrifice to changing the print size, but I didn’t notice.

It’s the lightest one on the market so far, and that part is really nice too. I’m not that interested in a touch pad, because that would be too big to stuff in a small shoulderbag, the way one stuffs a paperback in a purse, but this is just the right size to fit anywhere a paperback will go.

The page turns are mostly quick, though, while it does support .txt files, and .pdf files, it slows down quite badly, especially with long ones, to the point that it froze up. A little googling told me the most popular e-pub management software seems to be calibre, so I downloaded that, and anything I want to put on my reader, I just convert it quick to e-pub format and it’s fine.

I found Calibre really easy to use – fairly intuitive for someone who knows computers, and would probably not be difficult to learn for someone who wasn’t.

One of the major things I wanted it for was to make notes on it, and I’ve been a little disappointed in that functionality, to be honest. The actual creation of notes, that was fine, the screen is sensitive and the stylus is a nice size. The problem was when I synchronized it with my computer, it duplicated the notes, about 50 times each, until I couldn’t add any new notes without cleaning it up because the number of notes had hit max. Now, this could have something to do with the fact that I used a website to created that particular e-pub file, instead of Calibre – I hadn’t discovered Calibre yet, or it could be something to do with the original file – no idea. It just happened. I’ll see if it happens with other files, and decide if the function’s pooched then.

That said, I really like it; it’s quickly become one of now three pieces of electronics I carry with me everywhere (the other two being my phone and my mp3 player.) It’s nice to have all my electronic books available anytime I want, and not have to decide whether I’m going to take the book I’m reading for enjoyment to work with me today or the one I’m critiquing. Last time I critiqued a novel, I had it printed out in a three ring binder – the e-reader made that oh so much more convenient to carry around. It’ll be nice when I go to revise my own novels later, especially if I can get the note-taking working properly.

Why I Have Never Bought a Self Published Book

I’ve been busy with the revision, but a discussion on a forum I watch has brought up some thoughts.

I have never been able to bring myself to buy a self published book. It’s not because I don’t think that there are good books out there – I’m sure there are. I’m sure there are authors out there who are just too adventurous or unorthodox for traditional publishers to take a chance on them, or some other reason they’ve chosen to self publish rather than go the traditional route.

Self publishing doesn’t mean someone’s a bad writer, but it does mean that there’s been no quality control involved in the publication of the book aside from what is under the author’s control. There’s been no one read over it and decide that yes, this is good enough that it won’t ruin our reputation if we publish it, aside from the author. The reader has no guarantee that the author can string two sentences together. Or for that matter, that it’s not a recipe for chili copied and pasted three hundred times.

Again, a self-pubbed book might be a great book, and I think the odds have been getting a little better, that it will be decent, in light of the fact that more authors are getting frustrated with the traditional publishing world, and self-pubbing rather that waste their time with trying to sell to the traditional publishers. The bigger publishers have become less and less willing to take a chance on something (which is why they ended up going wtf when small press book “The Windup Girl” won the Hugo and the Nebula a few years ago.) But it’s that lack of some minimal quality assurance that is the reason I have yet to purchase a self published book.

Apparently there seems to be some people who think that books that are only available in e-book format, are the same thing as self published books. E-pubbed books may be self published, but not necessarily – there’s lots of small presses out there that are taking advantage of the e-book to get books out there. As far as I’m aware, self-pubbed books are not eligible to even be nominated for the hugo awards, but e-pubbed books are. In my mind, that’s a huge jump, but the main thing is that there’s been an editor who’s agreed to put their reputation on the line by putting their brand on that book.

This is the value of brand, in my opinion. Not just the money put into formatting the book and finding an artist to do cover art, and whatever else goes into a book. It’s the same as I tell my customers at work at the day job (internet tech support) – buy Toshiba or Asus if possible, if you’re looking for a good machine that will last, but whatever you do, dear lord, don’t buy a Dell, you’ll be sending it back for repairs before the warranty is out. What a publisher, even a small press offers me, as a reader, is that guarantee of quality, and if I read one book by them and like it, then there’s the promise of similar quality in other books by the same press. That’s valuable, and as a reader, I’m willing to pay more for that, or, for that matter, willing to pay at all.

See, as a reader, that editor is doing me a service aside from the formatting and commissioning a cover artist, and whatever else is involved in putting out an e-book, and that’s possibly more valuable to me than any of the rest. That editor is going through hundreds of manuscripts and picking out the ones that he or she thinks are worth anyone’s time. My time is valuable to me; with the writing I do, most of the time I spend reading is time I could be spending writing, so I’m loathe to waste it on a book that’s not worth reading. And I don’t want to spend hours and hours reading to find out that the ending sucks. I don’t care if it’s free, if I’ve wasted my time not enjoying a book, I’m pissed. It’s not even about the money, it’s about my time. I’ll do that for another writer, if I’m critiquing their work, but the point of that is to get it ready for publication, I’m not reading for enjoyment then. And sure, I’m willing to pay more for that service – for an editor to read sluch for me so I don’t have to sift through hundreds of self published books and go over reviews hoping that the reviews aren’t just posts from the author’s friends and family patting them on the head.

So that’s my reservations as a reader. Next week I’ll do up a post on my reservations as a writer.

Book Review: Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor

This is one that caught my eye a long time ago, I think though a blog, and I’ve been meaning to read it. The setting intrigued me, and the book has not disappointed. I bought it  from the Sony Reader Store over my uncle’s wifi, because I was amused at the convenience of being able to buy a book with my new e-reader without having to go home and hook it up to a computer, even to set it up. So, I got it on Christmas Day, when I got the reader, and finished it exactly a week later, on new year’s eve, at a party, huddled in a corner, going OMG there’s only 20 pages left, I can’t stop! Best book I’ve read since The Windup Girl.

What follows may be triggering – the setting is post apocalyptic africa, where the genocides and other activities related to genocides in africa have not stopped. Given that, I should not have to explain what sort of topics this review may contain that may be triggery.

Ok, that’s out of the way.

The story centers around the genocide of an entire people, and how rape is used as a weapon to destroy their spirit. It’s a heartbreaking story, but inspiring, because the main character is so driven. I was interested to see non-erocentric fantasy, and it’s a rich and ugly world that these characters live in. A world where a woman can scream for help to a crowd of onlookers as she’s dragged into an alley to be raped, and the onlookers stand there and watch. They are different people than we are. When Onyesonwu sets out to find her biological father who raped her mother, to stop his bringing his soldiers to rape her people, her mother doesn’t try to stop her, doesn’t try to make her stay home to protect her. No, she looks at her daughter and says, when you find him, kill him.

After some of the recent blog posts complaining about authors dealing with rape poorly, it was good to see it treated as it should be. The author never refers to it as sex, and doesn’t shy away from using the word rape to describe it.

The main character herself is sympathetic, and yet never wallows in sorrow, or if she does, the narrative doesn’t dwell on it. She’s a woman of action, and doesn’t allow herself to indulge in self pity, however lousy her lot. She fights to change it, and I find that the most engaging of character traits.

Onyesonwu also has a relationship with a young man, and it’s a rare one – a healthy one. It’s not that there is never any conflict between the two – not at all, there’s plenty of angst. It’s just not angst that tears them apart. They may argue passionately, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need each other, or that they aren’t right for each other. It’s refreshing to see such a believable couple.

As for the main conflict, nothing is black and white there. As I said, it’s an ugly world, and an ugly war. There can be no victor in such a war. Neither side is innocent, and the story goes into child soldiers, even.

And it will take a miracle to stop it. That’s the sad thing. Much as I liked the book, it makes me sad to think that even in fiction, the author couldn’t find a way to end such atrocities without resorting to magic, which is something that we can’t hope for in real life.

It’s a book that really goes there. It’s very dark, but it’s beautifully written, and paced precisely. I feel like I’ve learned something about being human, that I’m ashamed to know.