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Tinker by Wen Spencer

2 Aug
I love it when this happens and I hate it when this happens: after finishing Wen Spencer’s Tinker, I knew I’d found another “repeat” author (where you’re immediately interested in any book they write because you trust that the author will entertain you). The bad part? I’ve looked at Spencer’s backlog and nothing else is really grabbing me. Bummer, right? Tinker is the first in the Elfhome series, of which there are three or four now, I believe. So immediately, I should have two more to read, but here’s a secret about me. I rarely like series – it takes A LOT to get me to move on from the original book I fell in love with and allow the characters to change, grow, form new relationships. I know, it’s weird. It’s like, when I find a story I love, I want it to just stay frozen in time forever so I can revisit it without any surprises. Of course, I have exceptions: Both The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series bring me delight in each book. Now that I’m thinking about it, this might just be a problem for me when a) there’s a romantic relationship in the book, and b) when I like the book more because of the characters than for the plot or setting. Yes, I think that’s it. When it’s the author’s voice that I love, or the universe they’ve created (not just in SF/F, but all fiction), or the feelings they evoke, I don’t have that weird, obsessive attachment to the characters remaining unchanged and unspoiled (in my mind). Wow, clearly I don’t like change.

Okay, enough exploration about why I need therapy and on to the book! Tinker centers on Tinker, a brilliant inventor who lives on a salvage lot in Pittsburgh and messes with magical gadgets in her off-time. This alternate Pittsburgh is a part of Elfhome, a magical fairy realm exposed by a portal invented by Tinker’s own father. Whereas magic doesn’t exist in the “regular” world, anyone can encounter it in Elfhome. When an elven lord seeks refuge in her salvage lot from an assassination attempt, Tinker gets pulled into the political machinations and intrigues of the elven court and fairy governmental agencies. There is tons of action, with lots of dramatic escapes, along with a fair amount of romantic flirtation between Tinker and her rescued elven lord, Windwolf. Bits of fantasy and sci-fi intermingle here, and there was just enough of each to keep me fascinated.

The world-building here is extremely intricate and detailed, and I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I got lost. But more in a “man, I need to read more so I can understand this” kind of lost. I just loved the originality of this book – I honestly haven’t read anything quite like it before. The romantic development between Tinker and Windwolf was an obvious treat for me, since I am a sucker for any kind of love story, though there was a potential love triangle situation, which is dreaded and loathed by me at all times. I just….don’t like it. Never have. How can I truly believe that two characters are meant for each other when a third character poses a real appeal? Also, I just really liked spending time with Tinker – she’s not overly smartass in that annoying urban fantasy heroine way, but she does have flaws. Real, human flaws, the kind that make you shake your head at her rather than throw the book across the room in annoyance. Spencer has another series, the Ukiah Oregon series, that’s highly regarded – maybe I should just take a leap of faith and try it?

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Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy

3 Apr
Sara Creasy popped up on my radar months ago after reading someone’s blog (my memory is terrible) praising her to the heavens. Song of Scarabaeus was nominated for some awards in 2010, and I heard that her story was akin to Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax books. Personally, I love me some space operas. I’m not usually a science fiction person, but for some reason when it’s in space, I’m in. Add in some suspense and a touch of romance, and we are good to go!

Edie is a cypherteck, someone who can tap into technology and “see” its code and alter it for her purposes (Creasy does a much better job of explaining this skill). Drafted into service as a child by the Crib empire, a sort of ruling conglomerate that makes the universe a “safer and more hospitable” place, Edie is pretty out of touch with the world around her and her own wants and desires. (The Crib actually reminded me a lot of the Alliance from Firefly, in that it publicly espouses a more civilized, peaceful world for its inhabitants while it simultaneously and ruthlessly takes over “fringe” worlds.) When she is kidnapped by mercenaries wanting to use her skills to aid their mission, Edie is initially defiant but comes to realize that this might be her only way out of the Crib. However, also complicit in her kidnapping is Finn, a slave with a mysterious past. When they are tethered together through cyberlinks in their brains, they must rely on each other to figure out who to trust, how to free themselves, and whose side to fight on.

This book was really fascinating. It was chockablock full of details to ponder. I really loved all the techie stuff, usually SO not my bag, but Creasy has a way of making it sound interesting and understandable. I lie – I spaced out a few times, but that’s because I am a word person, not a number person, and my brain hurts when I try to delve into that stuff too much. But honestly, I couldn’t believe how well Creasy wove the technology into the world-building and plot.

There was also a lot about class and identity in that there is a huge group of subjugated laborers who are essentially slaves. They are treated as less than people, even drugged and dehumanized to the point where they are simply a body providing free labor. It was so, so disturbing to read about, and even characters that seemed to inhabit the “good” side of the moral character line were dismissive and cold toward the serfs. I thought that was a nice touch – slavery was so accepted, so a part of this future culture that there was no clearly defined boundary where people with a conscience hated slavery and evil people accepted it. Much more realistic, if you ask me.

Edie and Finn were great characters. Finn takes a long time to unfold, having been imprisoned, tortured, and humiliated for years – it’s understandable that he doesn’t reveal much of himself. But, as he comes to trust Edie’s skill and she proves herself to be sympathetic to his, well, identity as a human being, their bond grows from reluctant accomplices, to friends, to something a little bit more. Creasy ends with a cliffhanger – not one of those really annoying ones where you’re left unsatisfied. Creasy has a sequel, Children of Scarabaeus, out now and I am all over it so I can find out what happens.