[books] Recent reading

I’ve read three books recently that I wanted to take a moment to comment on. Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein, (Roc, October, 2012), and two Charles Stross books, Saturn’s ChildrenPowells | BN ] and The Fuller MemorandumPowells | BN ].

Daughter of the Sword was sent to me in bound manuscript form as a candidate for blurb. I really enjoyed it, and provided a pull quote which Roc may or may not be using. It’s a book with an interesting structure, two entwined narratives that contrast significantly. One is the story of a Tokyo cop, the only female detective-sergeant on the force, chasing a strange series of murders, coping with her sister’s disappearance, and battling the institutional sexism of a police force where most women either are meter maids or coffee girls. The other thread skips through Japanese history from the Mongol invasions through WWII, chronicling the story of a set of swords forged by one of the great masters of that art. There are curses and possessions, mixing a very light-handed fantasy element with police procedural and a journey through Japanese culture. Some wonderfully lateral views of a pair of common Western storytelling tropes not so often bound together. This story was a bit off my most usual pleasure reading path, and I’m glad I took it.

Saturn’s Children is billed on the cover as a space opera, but I’m not sure I’d call it that. The conceit at the heart of the book is profound and fascinating — that the human race died out but its intelligent servants have carried on without their masters, for the most part barely noticing the change. Frea, nearly the last of a series of courtesan-androids who are all bereft of purpose in the absence of human lovers, is at first pulled, then pushes herself, through a string of events and conspiracies that provides a set-piece tour of the solar system, from Mercury to Eris. And this book is funny. There are some real howlers of bad puns and jokes, as well as a great deal of more subtle humor. Stross’ tongue is firmly in his cheek even as he covers deadly serious issues of identity, independence and the notion of what it means to be free.

The Fuller Memorandum is not the first Laundry novel, but it’s the first one I read. (Selection was limited the day I walked into the bookstore — normally I begin a series at the beginning.) That being said, it worked just fine as a freestanding book. I’d been a little skeptical of the premise of the Laundry novels, about a secretive arm of the British intelligence community charged with battling the occult and very specifically working to prevent a return of the Elder Gods. Stross pulls it off, beautifully, with his trademark fractally encysting conspiracies and mordant wit. Highly recommended, and now I need to go round up the rest of the Laundry novels.