Sharon Shinn, Mystic and Rider: It’s been a while since I read a Shinn book; this one had a lot of plot and a subsidiary romance between a mystic—a person with magical powers, here to control fire—and a King’s Rider, a soldier assigned to guard her. Senneth is a mysterious emissary from the king, sent to poke around the country and figure out whether the king is in danger; along with Rider Tayse, she assembles certain other companions and they investigate the religious, anti-mystic fervor sweeping half the country. I quite enjoyed it.
Andrea Berthot, The Heartless City: Free review copy; I was interested in the idea of retelling the Jekyll & Hyde story. London is quarantined as a result of the crisis brought about by Dr. Jeckyll’s invention, which has spread in tablet form to transform so many Londoners into monsters that the city has been shut off from the rest of the country. A privileged young man, experimenting with a serum to quell his feelings, instead turns himself into an empath, and then falls in love with a girl whose own unusual abilities might save them all—if they can only survive his father and the Lord Mayor. Wrapped up a bit too swiftly and neatly, but I liked the attempt to breathe new life into the Hyde mythology.
G.A. Aiken, Dragon on Top: Novella about a dragon warrior who spends some of her time in human form, who’s been dumped in humiliating fashion. Fresh from drowning her sorrows in drink, her queen sends her on a mission to protect a diplomat who’s been pining after her from afar for years. She thinks the diplomat is a weakling who despises her for being so violent, though really he’s turned on by her scars and also has a mighty flame of his own. The explicit sex scenes are human-form. I didn’t really get the social structure, because “slut” and “whore” are thrown around as insults, and our heroine thinks of her father as a bad person because he’s a slut, but casual sex seems otherwise ok. Maybe if you really like dragons who can turn into humans.
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy: I am so sad the trilogy is over. Breq/Justice of Toren deals with increasingly complicated system politics, encounters a few other ships and raises the question of what rights an AI should have—especially one that wants to use ancillaries, which is to say destroy existing people, and deals with the alien representative who might be able to kill them all. It’s a busy time for Breq, is what I’m saying, though she remains polite even to those who are trying to harm her. While it didn’t leave me with the rush of the first book, that’s understandable, given that the end is the beginning of a lot more work for everyone willing to pitch in.
Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome, ed. Stephen Jones: Basically what it says on the tin. Old Grimm stories, translated and not Disneyfied, bracketing new Grimm-inspired stories by authors including Neil Gaiman, Michael Marshall Smith, Tanith Lee, and Brian Hodge. Robert Shearman’s take on Hansel and Gretel was quite creepy, and the volume ends with a bang with John Ajvide Linqvist’s story of a household spirit who will ensure a family’s prosperity … for a small price.
Terry Pratchett, The Shepherd’s Crown: Cue gross sobbing. The last Tiffany Aching novel, in which Granny Weatherwax passes on as gently as she ever could, the elves take their chance to return, and Tiffany Aching runs herself ragged trying to protect her people and figure out what she can do instead of taking Granny Weatherwax’s place. I didn’t quite get what the cheery young male witch was doing, wandering around making everyone like him, but I’ll take what I can get.
Daryl Gregory, The Devil’s Alphabet: Pax, the preacher’s son, returns from the town he fled many years ago when one of his best childhood friends dies—apparently by suicide. Most of the people in the town were struck by a mysterious malady that converted them into argos (giant, mantislike beings), betas (red-skinned, hairless, and asexually reproducing), and charlies (short, extremely fat, and—in the case of mature males—producing a substance with narcotic effects, at least on other charlies). This last part incorporates a short story of Gregory’s, but changes it as well. There’s a lot of body horror, especially regarding the way that the charlie men produce the “vintage.” Pax is not a hero; he’s often cowardly, something of a drug addict, and in the end his story is about making compromises—including with corruption and violence—in order to preserve the possibility of a different though not necessarily better world.
Scott Snyder et al., Batman: Endgame: The Joker returns for one last orgy of destruction, in which he attempts to take down all Gotham (and claims to be eternal). It’s very hard to do a huge Batman/Joker confrontation in a world that also has The Killing Joke, but by the end, I thought this was a decent attempt to deal with their mirroring and death wishes—Joker’s externalized, Batman’s internalized. The creepiest moment: an entire hospital newborn ward filled with babies with the Joker virus.