manifesta: (Lily/James)
I turn 21 today! Woohoo! So in honor of my birthday: a happy post!

I recently finished re-reading the Glasswrights series by Mindy L. Klasky. I have so much love for this series, y'all. I don't even know.

Okay, okay, maybe I do.

cover of the glasswrights' apprenticecover of the glasswrights' progresscover of glasswrights' journeymancover of glasswrights' testcover of the glasswrights' test
"If you want to be safe... mind your caste. In a kingdom where all is measured by birthright, moving up in society is almost impossible. Which is why young Rani Trader's merchant family sacrifices nearly everything to buy their daughter an apprenticeship in the Glasswrights' Guild - where honor and glory will be within her reach.

But being in the wrong place at the wrong time places Rani in the middle of a terrible conspiracy that leaves the Royal Prince dead - and her guild torn asunder. Branded a traitor, she slinks through the city streets, changing her identity to avoid being caught. And as Rani rises from the city slums to the royal household, she uncovers an elusive brotherhood whose deadly venom reaches out to stain the heart of her guild, the heart of her family - and the heart of her king...." #

Rani is strong, independent, and crafty. She's a negotiater by birth, a guildsman by profession, and a noble by association. She works with what she has and she tries to do her best, but she's also flawed, and screws up in big ways. In every book she's forced to make difficult, terrible choices that don't end with everything working out okay.

It's this theme of choices that I really love. This isn't a super dense, hugely detail-oriented epic fantasy, but it brings out some of epic fantasy's best qualities because the gambles and sacrifices she makes, that she must make. She pushes her own story forward, even when she's a lost child on the streets of Moren, wanted for murder and despised by the Guild that she left to die. And these aren't black and white choices with which she eventually makes her peace, either; they're neither wrong nor right, and she wrestles with them throughout the rest of the series.

Another wonderful facet is the healthy perspective on women's sexuality. Rani is involved in more than one relationship throughout the series and her opinions on sex and the opinions of those around her are all positive. It's incredible seeing a woman's sexuality and sexual relationships acknowledged as both worthwhile and fulfilling in a novel that is firmly a fantasy (rather than a romance). The men she becomes involved with are flawed, for sure, but refreshingly normal.  They're more than aware (and comfortable with the fact) that Rani is a self-assured, capable woman, and they don't overshadow her or attempt to save the day.

It's an incredible, incredible series, and the cover art is gorgeous. Don't miss it.

The Glasswrights' Apprentice at Barnes & Noble. More reviews at Goodreads.
manifesta: (Saving the World)
A quick thank you to all those who posted some love on [personal profile] petra's Be Excellent to Each Other meme. I really appreciated all your comments about my work here at [personal profile] manifesta, especially considering how burnt out I've been feeling lately. <3 I'm hoping to join in with some more love of my own soon, too.

There's been some discussion recently regarding the presence of women fantasy writers over at [ profile] xicanti's journal. Apparently the general consensus seems to be that female authors are not nearly as prevelant in secondary world/epic fantasy as much as contemporary, urban, or romantic fantasy. I find this interesting, because my bookcases are filled with female fantasy writers.

Some examples include Anne Bishop, Melanie Rawn (who, to me, defines the term 'epic fantasy'), Holly Lisle, Mindy L. Klasky, Trudi Canavan, Jacqueline Carey, Amanda Downum, Violette Malan (currently reading), Sara Douglass, Elizabeth Haydon, Sherwood Smith, Tamora Pierce, and more. Women have been incredibly influential in the evolution of the genre. Margaret Weis and Laura Hickman were two out of the three leading authors of Dragonlance. And what about Mercedes Lackey? So to quote [ profile] xicanti: "It’s not that women are producing little in the way of quality fantasy--it’s just that they get less press."

Indeed. I do think that there is an underrepresentation of women in epic fantasy in comparison to male authors, but female fantasy authors are not unicorns.
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A quick recap: I'm giving away 2 books for [community profile] three_weeks_for_dw (aka 3W4D). 2 winning participants will get to choose from a selection of books that I'll be analyzing over the course of the 3 weeks (though really now it's closer to 2 weeks... oops). Chosen books will range from romance to fantasy to YA. Here is the introductory post and giveaway rules, and all giveaway-related posts will be filed under the book giveaway and three weeks for dreamwidth tags.

First up: The Drowning City by Amanda Downum.

Genre: Political fantasy
Release date: September 2009

Downum has a lush writing style full of description. Her setting draws on South Asian culture, placing The Drowning City, and the quickly flooding city of Symir, apart from other European/Victorian political fantasies. I'll admit up front that as a White American still working on deconstructing my own privilege, the finer points that distinguish between what is the appropriation of a culture and what is not still elude me at times. I've scoured the web trying to find reviews that mention any form of cultural appropriation within the book and found none. If there is, it is beyond my current ability to identify. If anyone who has read the book feels comfortable chiming in, I would appreciate it. I suppose you could say this is my "I think it's okay, but I acknowledge that I may not be seeing everything I should be" warning flag.

While courts and royalty are mentioned, they do not seem to play a primary role; the focus is on lower-class characters, the mercenaries, activists, and of course Isyllt, a necromancy/spy sent to fund Symir's revolutionaries. What I like about TDC is its use of subterfuge as a plot device and the edgier character archetypes. Isyllt knows she's being sent to secretly topple a city as well as its government to the advantage of her own benefactor and she doesn't shy away from that. She also doesn't hold any illusions that a revolution will occur without a high price, but at the same time is willing to do what needs to be done. I think this mental neutrality comes in part from her personality and her role as a necromancer (which I suppose could interconnected). The closer she gets to the revolutionaries, the more she feels the conflict and the consequences, illustrating a form of character growth that challenges her previous ways of thinking. 
I get the feeling that she's a little jaded, and while her reasons for being so are fleshed out, they are explained in a seemingly random infodump and then for the most part dropped. This made her seem a little whiny in the beginning, which is a startling trait to see in a necromancer.

I also wish she would use her necromancy skills more frequently, but the fact that she doesn't renders it all that more significant when she does. Her reluctance also forces her to base her choices on what she can and can't do without the aid of magic--choices that she sometimes, with bitter humor, later regrets. Her flaws are apparent, and she's far from perfect; you could perhaps even say that she's a little fucked up. There's a brief sex scene with a character who may or may not be on her side (but it's consensual, so woohoo!). I appreciated their casual simplicity, a no-strings approach that's outlawed in romances and doesn't make frequent appearances in fantasy. Downum didn't try to force an emotional relationship that wasn't there while still making it relevant and meaningful.

Two secondary characters and Isyllt's bodyguards, Adam and Xinai, have some of my favorite moments. Xinai is decidely badass, a competent, merciless assassin. But she is also a native to Symir, and when she comes home, she's welcomed by a bloody reunion that shakes her world up again. It takes all her strength to confront her past and her future, to sacrifice parts of herself to support her family and the survival of her culture. Adam and Xinai have some of the sexiest, endearing interactions in the book, and I really hope they show up again in the forthcoming sequel, The Bone Palace.

Want to win The Drowning City? Hang around until May 13th, when I open a post for entries (and don't forget to read the rules!).


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