Review – One-Eyed Jack

Cover of One-Eyed Jack by Elizabeth BearOne-Eyed Jack, Elizabeth Bear
Received to review via Netgalley

Originally, when I got this, I intended to read the other books that are loosely in the same series first. I didn’t in the end, and I think that might have impacted my understanding of all the terms and the worldbuilding. It didn’t help that I also don’t know The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or I, Spy fandoms, given that this is very meta-fictional and several of the main characters are essentially based on those works. And then there’s also my lack of knowledge of US history and places; this was the easiest to catch up with, since everyone knows something about Las Vegas, but still.

All the same, it was a lot of fun. Queer all over the place, but not in a way that felt inorganic — actually, I loved Jackie and Stewart, and if you’re telling me we weren’t meant to see wells and wells of subtext between Nikita and Sebastian, I’ll wonder if we read the same book. I loved all the unspoken stuff between them; the way they could communicate with just a look. And despite not catching on very well to the worldbuilding, I did enjoy the setting and the plot. It’s not really a spoiler to tell you that it includes such gems as vampire!Elvis.

Judging from Karen Memory, it’s fairly obvious that this was an earlier work of Bear’s, and her writing isn’t as good. But it’s still plenty of fun.

Rating: 3/5

Who Am I?

It’s been a while since I did any kind of introduction post, and I have quite a lot more followers now, so I thought I’d introduce myself a little! I cobbled these questions together from interesting stuff I found in other introduction posts and memes. If there’s something you want to know, ask!

Name? Nikki.
Age? 26.
Gender? Irrelevant.
Partnered? Yes. Her name is Lisa. She does read books, I promise.
Family? Parents, sister, brother-by-mutual-agreement, grandmother. They also read books.
Background? Welsh, grew up in England.
Politics? Don’t get me started. (Small l liberal, small g green, disenchanted by all current political parties.)
Religion? Unitarian Universalism. Dad’s an atheist, Mum’s a Christian, I’m a melting pot of Christian-like and Buddhist-like beliefs.
Team? Wales (mostly in the rugby), followed by “anybody but the English”.
University? Yep, twice so far. English Literature BA and MA, and I’m a smartypants who got first class honours in the BA.
Job? A bit of everything, freelance. Mostly transcription, ghostwriting, copy. Also a volunteer for the RNIB and on the committee of a community library.
Hobby? Reading, mostly. Also sometimes running, crocheting, gaming, writing.
Earliest memory? Playing with Lego with my Grampy. He taught me how to overlap the bricks to create a stable Lego house. He liked books too.
Ebook or dead tree? Both.
Favourite book at the age of 5? There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, Hazel Edwards.
Favourite book at the age of 10? The Positronic Man, Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg.
Favourite book at the age of 15? The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Favourite book at the age of 20? The Grey King, Susan Cooper.
Favourite book at the age of 25? The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison.
Favourite book you still have to mention? Among Others, Jo Walton.
You’re going on holiday for a week, how many books do you take? At least five, plus my ereader.
What genres will you read? Fantasy, speculative fiction, mystery, historical, alternate history, space opera, steampunk… The list goes on.
What genre won’t you read? At this point, I’m not sure what’s left that I haven’t tried at least once. Family saga?
Do you read non-fiction? Yes, anything that catches my interest. This sometimes produces weird looks at the bookstore or library.
If you were a book, what genre would you like to be? Fantasy. Portal fantasy, probably; I can’t help it, I’d love to end up in a Fionavar or a Middle-earth. Though preferably not at a time of war and destruction. Oh, oh, can I go visit Maia from The Goblin Emperor? Mind you, my manners would probably appal.
What fantasy creature would you like to be? A book hoarding dragon? I’m Welsh, after all.
What book do you wish you had written? The Lord of the Rings. Oh to be as clever and meticulous in creating a world as J.R.R. Tolkien.
Do you have a favourite poem? Sonnet XCIV‘, Pablo Neruda. “If I die, survive me with such sheer force / that you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold”.
What do people say to you in bookshops? “Awesome shirt.” (Truth.) Or “no, come on, put it back, you have enough books.” (Lies.)
Where are you going? Probably the library.
Do you do anything that is not books? No.

Any questions?

And hey, if you want to steal this and use it as a get-to-know-me-post, you’re welcome to.

Review – Karen Memory

Cover of Karen Memory by Elizabeth BearKaren Memory, Elizabeth Bear

I was in such a hurry to read this when it came out that I bought it on release day, started reading and — promptly got distracted, because I’d been reading it at clinic and then I didn’t go to clinic for a few weeks, and lost the thread, etc, etc. So I started it again today, and devoured it all in one go. I love the colloquial narration, which manages to skirt the line between feeling genuine and being annoying really well. I love the casual way characters of all colours and persuasions are a part of the story, and the way Karen describes the world around her, taking some things for granted and explaining others. For those with pet peeves about narrators, I promise there’s a reason for Karen to be telling the story the way she is, though that isn’t made explicit until the end.

Speaking of explicit, you’ve got to admire the way Bear manages to come up with euphemisms so that a story about “soiled doves” isn’t actually explicit at all, and bar some of the language, isn’t more than a PG rating.

When I started reading it, I had no idea it would actually be a lesbian love story, with a happy ending. But Priya and Karen are so darn adorable it’s worth saying up front: they never get beyond some kissing and holding hands, it’s all making eyes and getting fluttery feelings and figuring out how the heck to tell someone you care without making a mess of it. It works really well, without ever being a big crisis or the most important thing about the whole plot.

Which is a point: if you’re reading this for the steampunk, or the LGBT, or the Wild West, and you’re not so interested in the other aspects… it’s probably one to skip. It’s all of those things and a mystery story, but it’s all those things together, and not focusing just on any one thread. In fact, the mystery/thriller aspect is more prominent than the rest; the rest is background, colouring the story and shaping it, but not foregrounded as such.

I’m gonna need a hard copy of this at some point, because I just love the cover art. But my first priority is getting my sister a copy, ’cause I’m pretty sure she’ll love this one.

Rating: 5/5

Stacking the Shelves

Good morning, folks! Shortly after this goes live, I’ll be on the way to Belgium again, whoo. So I’ll be around to check out your posts later than usual. This one is a short one by my usual standards, anyway — just three books to review!

Cover of As Chimney Sweepers by Alan Bradley Cover of One-Eyed Jack by Elizabeth Bear Cover of Sand and Ruin and Gold by Alexis Hall

Yep, that really is it. I’ll be buying a few more books for my Kobo before I set off, but I haven’t picked ’em yet, and I don’t have time to add them later. So they’ll be in next week’s post!