Book Review: Bannerless, Carrie Vaughn

Book Review: Bannerless, Bannerless Saga Book 1, Carrie Vaughn

Bannerlass, Carrie Vaughn

Fiction: Bannerless, Carrie Vaughn

In the dystopian future, being “bannerless” could mean any number of things. Many of them are not good. On the least pejorative side of the meaning, one simply has not yet earned the right to receive a banner. Banners are given when one has earned the right to have a child. Young households, households that have not yet proven they are self-sustaining and able to follow the rules of society, are bannerless until they prove themselves. However, one can also become bannerless by violating society’s rules. Becoming pregnant without a banner can result in an entire household becoming bannerless for years. Other violations can also remove the possibility of a household receiving a banner. Possibly worst of all, if a person is born without a banner, that stigma attaches to him or her for a lifetime–although it was clearly not the baby’s fault. Being bannerless is a difficult burden to bear.

 

Bannerless tells the story of an investigation into a death. A bannerless man died under questionable circumstances. It might have been an accident. It might have been something else. Enid and Tomas are called in to find out.

 

When they arrive in Pasadan, they find a town in disarray. The council is dominated by a bully. Questions arise about other possible violations. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that no one really liked the dead man, and he did not like anyone else. In the midst of this drama, Enid finds a more personal drama at hand: her former lover is now living in Pasadan.

 

Carrie Vaughn walks a fine line with aplomb. Bannerless is a police procedural set in a complex future world. She manages to keep the plot moving while building this world, setting up the foundations and the rules of the Coast Road communities at the same time as she uncovers the clues and reveals the denouement gradually. Enid is a dogged investigator, able to set aside both her complex history with former lover Dak and a personal tragedy that occurs near the end of the investigation in order to find the truth. When she reveals it, the full implications of becoming Bannerless will be revealed to both the characters and the readers.

 

Bannerless is a fascinating book with a complex world and a compelling protagonist. I am glad Carrie Vaughn is continuing to explore this world in her work, and I look forward to reading her next novel.

Bannerlass, Carrie Vaughn

Book Review: Bannerless, Carrie Vaughn

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitvh

Urban Fantasy: Midnight RiotRivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Sometimes we get asked, “How do you pick the books to read/review?” A lot of times it is from other readers and reviewers. Often it is books nominated for different awards. If we like one book by an author, we will seek out others by that same writer. A couple have been from requests by the author herself, or meeting the author at an event. We try to have a strong local angle: local authors and authors coming to local events deserve as much of our support as we can provide. Sometimes, though, it’s as simple as our son coming up to us, shoving a book into our hands, and saying, “You will like this. Read it!” This is how we encountered the gem Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch. If you like urban fantasy with a strong dose of humor and sarcasm, especially with a British touch, then I would love to do the same thing to you: take the book, shove it into your hands, and say, “read this!”

 

Midnight Riot has been described as Harry Potter grows up and joins the fuzz. Not quite sure that captures the book, but it’s not bad. Peter Grant is a beat cop ready to move forward with his career. His hopes for something exciting are dashed, though, when he is assigned to the most boring, dead end position available to cops. Basically, it’s where cops are put so they can’t mess things up for themselves or other cops. Before he starts this new beat, though, he interviews a witness to a strange murder.

 

The witness is a ghost.

 

Not many people can see ghosts, let alone interview them. Not many of those people are cops. This brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who is in charge of a very small unit within the Metropolitan Police Department (better known to Americans as “Scotland Yard”). Actually, the unit has only one human in it, until Nightingale reroutes Grant’s career and makes it a two human department. Nightingale’s department is charged with making sure the paranormal keep the queen’s peace. Sometimes that means brokering a peace deal between the king and queen of the Thames and their offspring. Sometimes that means taking violent action with permanent effect against a pair of vampires who have taken up residence in a house. And sometimes it means chasing down a revenant–a ghost–who has started a new afterlife career as a serial killer.

 

Peter Grant is a delightful protagonist. He is mixed race, with a scientific mind but easily distracted, eager to find the intersection between science and the supernatural. He is an eager apprentice to Nightingale, learning magic and the paranormal denizens of London as he works to solve the mystery behind the one-spirit crime wave haunting his city.

 

Aaronovitch shows us a gritty and dark London that lives parallel to the city experienced by most people. It is a London with vampires and water spirits, evil ghosts and a dedicated few humans who can see the larger world hidden behind the facade of normalcy. From Midnight Riot he has gone on to write several more (and continues to add to the adventures of Peter Grant). I am looking forward to reading those ongoing adventures–assuming my son allows me to borrow the books once he is done with them.

 

Also see by the same author:

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes. Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitvh

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: The City of Brass, S.A. Chakraborty

Book Review: The City of Brass, S. A. Chakraborty

The City of Brass, S. A. Chakraborty

 

Fantasy: The City of BrassS.A. Chakraborty

The City of Brass is as lush a story as you will find in modern fantasy. S.A. Chakraborty has somehow managed to create a world that is as magical as Arabian Nights with characters that relate to a very modern mindset. The result is beautiful, rich, and promises much more to come.

 

This debut novel was nominated for both a Locus Award and a World Fantasy Award, and has been recognized by several journals as one of the best books of the year. Filled with characters that are both heroic and flawed, the story follows the lives of two characters who live very different lives. Nahri is a thief and con artist who does not believe in magic. She lives by her wits in Cairo, convincing people that she can heal them in exchange for money. Oddly enough, though she does not believe in magic, she actually can heal people. She can also understand any language she hears. Those two talents come together unexpectedly and horribly when she tries to heal a girl possessed by an ifrit, and finds that she can understand the demon inside the child. This leads to a harrowing confrontation, where she is unexpectedly saved by the appearance of a djinn. He takes her on a long and dangerous journey to the city of Daevebad, where they hope to find answers to the questions raised by her extraordinary talents and her lack of memory.

 

Ali is a prince in Daevebad, torn between his love for his family–especially his older brother, who will someday become king–and his pity for the oppressed in his city. When he tries to help the people of his city, he is unwittingly betraying his father, the king. But when he fulfills his duties to the crown, it often comes at the expense of the most vulnerable within the city. These tensions are not eased by the arrival of the mysterious Nahri and her ancient companion, a historic enemy to the throne returning at perhaps the worst possible time.

 

Chakraborty does a masterful job of creating a world that is filled with terror and wonder, danger and delight. Her descriptions of the desert are compelling and real. The heat and dryness, the contrast with places of oasis, the vast distances (even by air carpet) that separate city from city, all carry echoes of other stories set in the desert yet are uniquely her own. The confrontations with the ifrit are terrifying, truly the stuff of nightmares. You can almost taste the dust of Cairo, feel the heat of the desert, and hear the bazaar of Daevebad. I almost felt like wiping the blood off the desk after reading a fight scene between two of the characters. Love and betrayal and kindness and cruelty are the coin of this realm, and Chakraborty’s characters spend all they have and more to reach their goals.

 

Chakraborty also rejects the temptation to answer every question, leaving much to address in the sequels to come. She lets her characters face temptation and fail. Nahri is human–or is she? Ali is loyal to the crown–or is he? Is Nahri’s rescuer a hero or a monster–or could he be both? These are among the questions that are asked, then answered, then have the answers revealed as inadequate. Without revealing too much, I will say that the characters we meet and think we know at the beginning of the book are very different by the time we reach the end of this story–and I cannot wait until the next book comes out in January. (I have already requested it from our local library, so hopefully I am first on their list when it arrives!)

 

Despite occasional scenes of violence, this is a beautiful adult fantasy that would capture the imagination of younger readers as well. Nahri is as well-crafted a heroine as you are likely to find. Ali is the warrior/scholar that many young men might dream of being. Though neither character is as good–or bad–as they may seem at any given point of the story, both are intriguing and unique and delightful and infuriating and so well written. If you like great stories, if you like beautiful settings, if you like fascinating characters, and if you like really good novels, The City of Brass deserves a place on your shelf.

 

Also see by the same author:

Book Review: The Kingdom of Copper, S.A. Chakraborty

 

The City of Brass, S. A. Chakraborty

Book Review: The City of Brass, S. A. Chakraborty