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Cartomancy by Mary Gentle
A collection of short stories with very varied themes and settings but which have one thing in common : they almost all feature a female warrior or soldier character. ♥
"The Logistics of Carthage" is a novella set in the same world as my favourite novel by this writer, the Book of Ash. Set in a slightly altered version of our middle age where Carthage is still a big power, and set some time before the series, it talks about the day to day life of a band of mercenaries, amongst which is a women, with some consideration about the way women fighters get erased from (the official) History, through the refusal of the local people to bury one female soldier, and another of the female soldiers insisting for them to do that. It's a very interesting story, though oddly paced and not quite conclusive; and a pretty interesting addendum to the Book of Ash.
"Kitsune" is relatively short and straight forward paranormal/horror romance story between a woman who practice kendo and a female kitsune. Some time ago I had a discussion with [livejournal.com profile] apapazukamori about the complete absence of lesbian relationship as the main romance of the story in Fantasy, so I had this in mind when I read this short story as a cool example of just that. On the other hand, I was a little ill at ease with the treatment of Japanese culture which seemed to be to very shallow.
"The Road to Jerusalem" is another story with a uchronic treatment of History, giving us a modern day warfare where the knights Templar are involved; and revolving around the trial of a woman templar soldier for possible war crimes. It's an interesting look at the nastiness of war; confusions and petty power plays between factions involved at all scales and soldier's life. A solid story.
"Orc's Drift" is a short and silly story in the same style as Grunts!, that's to say high fantasy parody; and it's not a very funny one at that.
"The Tarot Dice" is a atmosphere story about revolutionaries, conspiracies and forbidden oracular tools. It's very prettily written and evocative, but left me quite confused as far as what the fuck is going on in terms of plot. So I have mixed feelings about it.
"The Harvest of Wolves" is set in a distopic future of the UK and is a huit clot conversation between an old woman who still dreams of forbidden freedoms and cynically comments on the present and the young man charged with monitoring her. While not the strongest story of this kind I've ever seen, it had an appealing brand of cynical twist at the end that made it work.
"Anukazi's Daughter" is a fantasy story about a female warrior and the betrayals she makes in order to be recognised as one. Thematically, I'd compare it to Abercrombie's First Law trilogy, it's an interesting look at what the usage of violence makes of us. One of the best story of the collection.
"What God Abandoned" is set in the Renaissance during a siege of Prague and features (among other things) a young Descartes and considerations about Rosicrucians. It also shows that relationships aren't always easy for genderbending metapmorphs. This made me feel like there was a setting worth exploring more; but I didn't care that much about the story as such.
"The Pits Beneath the World" is a pretty classic Social/Anthropological Science Fiction. Well done but of the been-there-read-that many times already.
"Cast A Long Shadow" is a nice horror story about a divorced mother having to deal with the creepy things her son is doing, with a help of a female friend. Gentle describes it as a comic book story, and I agree it sort of felt like a Sandman short stories in places. It's not a great story, but it does some nice stylistic things.
"A Sun in the Attic" is set in a steampunk-ish world, slightly uchronic, revolving around intrigues and the question of forbidding sciences that can have dangerous results. I didn't think it did a very good job at exploring those themes, but my favourite thing about this story is that the main characters are a polygamous family of one female head of the family and her two husbands who are brothers.
"A Shadow Under The Sea" is set in the same world as Anukazi's Daughter, and deals with similar themes of betrayal, but putting the character at a higher social position. It's almost as good as Anukazi's Daughter.
"Human Waste" is a short story of horror SF, and it does what it was meant to do very well, that is to say slap you in the face. It's kind of darkly funny, but it will make you feel bad for thinking so.

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
This is a take on the Mahabharata through the women's eyes, and in particular Draupadi who married five husbands and was the cause of the war that put an end to the third age of man.
Knowing next to nothing about Hindu mythology, I can't really provide much of a commentary on what kind of spin it gives to the original material; but a a story I can say I really, really loved it. From the beautiful and woven writing to the characters and the stories within stories storytelling and the drama of the war and the texture of the world. I was swept in and mesmerised and loved every minutes of it.

The Nightwatch by Sergei Lukyanenko
Urban fantasy were the forces of the Light and the forces of the Dark have made a peace agreement, and the Light magicians of the Night Watch try to fight against the Dark ones of the Day Watch while keeping the peace.
There are three tied in stories in this book, and all three are pretty good, solid read, although I found the third one slightly less good than the other (nothing much really happened). If you accept the manicheist setting, this is a pretty fun exploration of it, with solid world building and good plotting. Nothing very deep or mind breaking, but nicely entertaining with a few interesting characters. I'll probably try to read the sequels soon.

February 2016

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