This third volume in the “Diabolist” series focuses on a family of diabolists – magic workers who draw their power from pact-bound demons. There is, of course, always a catch and always a price. To minimize the danger, diabloists through the centuries have kept meticulous notes on the names, temperaments, and histories of the known demons. Nancy Blackwood is one of a lineage of librarians guarding these and other critical documents. While her sister, Edith, engages in the larger world (in this case, the end of World War II), Nancy lives in a remote British village, along with her Hollywood-obsessed daughter, Jane, and her ward, Jewish refugee Miriam, both student diabolists about to embark upon the “Test” that will lead to full privileges and their own demons. After passing their Tests, each embarks upon perilous paths in violation of the rules: Jane, eager to hide that she has in reality failed her Test, creates a familiar by placing a demonic spirit into her pet cat, but lacks the experience to truly bind it to obedience; and Miriam goes searching for her parents, captives of the Nazis, by taking over the bodies of animals and then people, at a terrible cost to her own spiritual self. What could possibly go wrong?
Tanzer perfectly captures life in a secluded, rambling house in a small British village toward the end of the Second World War, weaving in a story of brash youth, tested friendships, treacherous demons, and consequences. If this is truly the last of the series, I will be sad to see it end.
Creatures of Will and Temper reviewed here.
Creatures of Want and Ruin reviewed here.
|Home Sweet Fridge|
The refrigerator and chest freezer had been without power for three weeks by this time. We hauled the refrigerator on to the back porch and, armed with rubber gloves and doubled trash bags, emptied it. This was a bigger operation than it sounds because we had to take the refrigerator freezer door off in order to fit it through the sliding glass door. The smell, while qualifying as “stench” was not as bad as we’d feared. More “funky” than “rotting carcass.” Most of what was in the fridge was either in glass or plastic containers or vegetables. Our friend up the block, a strict vegan, said hers didn’t smell that bad, more fermented than putrid. Within a short time, the freezer interior was covered with black flies. We left them to their work, freezer door open, and went back to our hotel. When we came back the next day, the smell had largely dissipated and the flies were gone.
The next step was to sanitize and deodorize the refrigerator. Up and down the block, folks were just trashing theirs, but we wanted to at least attempt to salvage ours. My husband did a first pass on the interior with pressure spraying full strength degreaser/cleanser, rinsing with (non potable) water, then wiping it down with dilute bleach. With the doors open, there was no smell, but when we closed the doors and left it for a time, the funky smell returned, albeit not as intense as before.
On social media, neighbors were comparing experiences cleaning their refrigerators. I felt heartened that some had had success. We did some research and found the following resources:Cleaning Your Refrigerator After a Power Outage (University of Florida)
This rich novel, with its “first-rate world-building from a writer gifted with a soaring imagination and good old-fashioned Sense of Wonder” (C.J. Cherryh, back cover) asks the reader to think and think again. Read Collaborators again, if like me, you read the first version. You will be rewarded with a stronger, more nuanced, and a more passionate story. Read the Bonus sections at the end—and experience world-building, and species construction. Take the time mull over gender and power and collaboration. Be prepared to keep reading. This novel is a real page-turner.
I loved this book. Deborah [Ross] has created a full world in which the aliens are truly alien due to their ultimate lack of permanent gender, yet essentially human in terms of their emotional development. Each individual is complex and fascinating, stranded human or Bandar native, and exquisitely real.
The story is fascinating and the plot carries you along. [Ross] is one of those rare authors who can make what is essentially a political story completely about its characters.
Collaborators, my occupation and resistance science fiction novel, was released on October 1.
An intriguing exploration into the consequences of first contact between races when both consider themselves to be "human." The first, the Terran, are the more familiar type, and then we're introduced to those from Chacarre, who are intersexed and, while capable of "polarizing" into either gender, do not always do so. The new race is handled with care and detail and their traditions and beliefs are fascinating and well-drawn.
Deborah wields her usual deft touch when it comes to emotional moments and explores an array of relationships, including the love between mates, the loss of children or those equally loved, and the dangerous attraction between the races.
All in all, Collaborators is an adventurous romp on a world both like and unlike our own and an examination into the sometimes devastating consequences of cultural misunderstandings and the good that can arise when compassion and cooperation come to the fore.
Here's where to order the book (ebook, trade paperback, and hardcover editions):
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, by Alina Boyden (Ace)
I loved the context of this book as much as the story itself. As part of the “Own Voices” movement, the speculative fiction community has examined not only the inclusion of transgender characters but asked who writes about them. This book is the first fantasy novel featuring a transgender character and written by a transgender author to be published by a major house. Alina Boyden sets her tale in a non-Western culture in which transwomen have an established cultural niche. She draws her inspiration from the Indian tradition of hijras, which dates back as far as 3000 years ago, referring to third gender or trans-feminine people. Texts such as the Rigveda, Mahabharata, and Ramayana mention such people in a respectful way, in contrast to the actions of the British Empire in attempting to erase the hijra community entirely. In India, hijras who are assigned male gender at birth sometimes castrate themselves, wear feminine clothing and adopt feminine names, live together in households, relate to each other as female kin (sisters, daughters, etc), and perform at events such as births and weddings.
One such is this novel’s protagonist, Razia Khan, born as the Crown Prince of one of many small kingdoms in this alternate pre-British India, including training with the magical feathered dragons called zahhaks, which are a rare and powerful military asset. Now she works as a skilled dancer and courtesan, working and living in a tightly knit household, a dera, ruled by an insatiably greedy madam. In addition, she’s a thief whose booty supplements their income. After being engaged to provide entertainment for a wealthy merchant, she falls in love with the handsome prince of Bikampur and gains his affection in return. But all is not well, for her very life is at risk should her father learn of her whereabouts, a bully from her tormented childhood appears at court and recognizes her . . . and war is brewing. Razia’s training and natural aptitude make her a genius at the use of dragons in military strategy, and her sound advice brings her the esteem of her prince’s father.
The style and pacing of the story invites the reader to savor this world and its culture. The enumeration of settings and details, including jewelry and clothing, and the beat-by-beat descriptions of action and interactions, which are then repeated, create a slow spiraling effect. All of this is interwoven with Razia’s own internal monologues, so that we are able to experience her world and her personal history through gradually evolving lenses. At first, I questioned the slow pace and repetition, but as I noticed how the descriptions – what Razia notices and the context in which she places it – reflected and embodied Razia’s own personal growth, I found it highly evocative and satisfying. Small details, like the conversation between Razia, who chose castration as a gift, and a eunuch who had to come to terms with the involuntary loss, evoked a much larger world of consent, choices, and power.
Razia begins the story terrified of discovery, uneasy about stealing but so grateful to her madam that she feels she has no choice, and pathetically desperate for love. As she comes to accept being valued, she discovers her own courage – a trait she believed she lacked because she had been told – and beaten – so many times as a child for being unmasculine. She doesn’t take the easy way out, whether it’s accepting the likelihood of betrayal to her father, and subsequent assassination, or the risk of losing Arjuna’s love by telling him the truth about her thieving, standing up to those who once bullied her, or always, always remaining true to herself as a transgender woman. It would have been so easy for the story to follow the typical Romance tropes based on misunderstandings so easily cleared up by a single conversation, and Stealing Thunder avoids them all. By the end, I not only cheered Razia’s commitment to a genuine life, I had a greater understanding of how she has managed to find empowerment within the superficially submissive, dependent role of a hijra courtesan.
Collaborators takes a path into territory explored by Ursula K. Le Guin in her The Left Hand of Darkness novel as Ross's novel examines human-alien contact where the alien race has some markedly different characteristics. High on the list is that their sexual identity can ride in neutral with on-demand excursions into either of the two primary genders, so either partner in a pair can ultimately become pregnant.
Ross is a first-rate world builder. The aliens' customs, religion, sexuality, housing, cities, and politics are all fully fleshed out, giving the world a quite strong lived-in ambiance. But while the trappings of their lives, and some aspects of their core existence, are significantly different from what we're used to, they share the elements of life that would allow a species to flourish and dominate; they experience love, loyalty, pride, ambition, self-sacrifice, and empathy.
Along with those qualities come a few of the downsides; two countries vie for superiority, and some of the struggle comes from greed and the quest for power. The team from Earth tries to repair a starship while simultaneously their efforts to deal with an alien culture create a situation rife with misunderstandings.
Collaborators is an intriguing book that demands a thoughtful read and then pays back that effort with maximum interest because it's a compelling, engaging story about people Ross makes us care deeply about, whatever form they take.I missed Collaborators by Deborah J. Ross (then Deborah Wheeler) when it was originally published in 2013, but I'm grateful to have read the 2020 revised edition, which includes a map and appendices that illuminate the genesis and evolution of this acclaimed novel.
Here's where to order the book (ebook, trade paperback, and hardcover editions):
Kobo (and other ebook retailers)
The Four Profound Weaves: A carpet of wind, a carpet of sand, a carpet of song, and a carpet of bones. Change, wanderlust, hope, and death.
Poised on the brink of war, the people of the planet Bandar are stunned by the arrival of a disabled Terran space ship. But the Terrans are even less prepared to understand the politics, gender fluidity, or mob reflexes of the natives. The Terran captain uses increasing force as the only way to ensure desperately needed repairs. Hoping to bring enlightened human values to the natives, a young scientist's intervention leads to disaster.
After a vicious assault, a pregnant native becomes radicalized. A failed poet sees the Terran occupation as a way to gain the recognition he craves. A widow whose farm is bombed using Terran weaponry journeys to the capital in search of help and ends up facing a firing squad. And a reporter becomes the voice of the resistance, determined to take back his world from the invaders...
As violence escalates, the fate of both peoples rests with those who have suffered the most. Can they find a way to forgiveness . . . and peace?
James Tiptree, Jr. Award 2014 Long List
Advance Praise for Collaborators
A compelling tale of political intrigue, and well-meaning intentions creating disastrous tragedies. … and a romantic and intellectually sexy gender discussion wrapped up in a compelling novel. — J. M. Frey, Lambda Literary Award reviews
The alien biology and first-contact dynamics are handled unusually deftly; the narrative polyphony weaves complex melodies and harmonies. [The] world is effortlessly immersive and teems with fully realized characters. — Starship Reckless
Collaborators takes the familiar plot of "first contact" and makes something new of it. Its evocation of an alien species and culture is both fascinating and enlightening, and [Ross] uses that culture to draw parallels and contrasts to our own human behavior which are sobering and yet also hopeful. Do yourself a favor and read it! — Kate Elliott
Collaborators tells a story that resonates deeply with our own history, yet at the same time evokes a culture and people unlike any on Earth. [It] is not only a rousing good story, it is also the kind of thoughtful fiction that offers new insights with each reading. — Catherine Asaro