Recommendations

I’ve gotten a few questions lately, from people who got e-readers for the holidays or need books to read on the plane trip back home or whatever, about what I recommend for books. Below, therefore, are some of my long-term favorites. There are probably a lot of authors and books that just don’t come to mind right now–my brain, post-holidays, is making gentle whirring noises but not doing a whole lot else–so please feel free to suggest others. I myself am always on the lookout for new stuff, though I like happy endings and nothing too brain-breaking. (I would particularly like recs for authors of color, since I realize this list is wicked Caucasian.)

Robin McKinley. Really, anything by Robin McKinley ever. My personal favorites are The Hero and the Crown for heroic questy goodness, Rose Daughter for a cool romantic plot and some really engaging domestic details, and Sunshine for amazing modern fantasy with a world just enough off from ours, but she’s a pretty sure bet for an engaging story every time. I’m a little hesitant about reading the Pegasus series, due to my own “um, ick” reaction to some of the themes I’ve heard are involved, but she’s good enough that I’ll probably get over it.

Terry Pratchett. If you’re not keen on puns or direct parody, which I understand, skip the first few books. I personally recommend starting with either the Tiffany Aching series (Wee Free Men and onward), Witches Abroad, or Reaper Man. The Guards series is really great too, and I personally like Men at Arms pretty well, but I’ve heard mixed reactions on that one because some parts of it are still in the high-frequency-puns stage.

S.M. Sterling, in specific Dies the Fire and its sequels. Sterling does a really interesting job of describing how different cultures evolve and create myths, and creates a very vivid picture of the new world. (Also a rather sensual one, in a non-sexual way: I always want to have a snack when reading the series, because the descriptions of either food or not having food are compelling.) He seems to always create at least one major female character who bugs me big time (shut up, Signe, and you too, Mathilda) but I can overlook that.

Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel/Naamah books. First of all, to get it out of the way: yes, there’s a fair amount of sex in all of them, which Carey does well. What keeps drawing me in, though–especially since the main romance in the first three books made me roll my eyes more than not–is the world-building, and the way that each country has its own magic and pantheon of gods. It’s a fun look at an alternate world. Carey’s other series didn’t grab me, but I’m not big on villain’s-perspective fiction, so it may work for someone else.

Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. Another alternate history–I like the genre, though I usually want some supernatural or at least vaguely science-fictionish element involved. Novik’s dragons seem to fit more in the second category at the moment, since I’ve never seen anything blatantly magical in the series, but who knows? They’re also very engaging characters, with a distinct nonhuman outlook on things. Plus, the female characters in the series are largely badass and all well-rounded, which is always a plus for me.

Stephen King. Not that everyone hasn’t heard of the man, but as long as I’m putting in recommendations, why not? I myself started out with IT and still love it, but it’s *really* dated where gay characters are concerned, and there’s a scene at the end that a lot of people, justifiably, find really off-putting. As a first-time reader, I’d pick up either Different Seasons or Four Past Midnight, novella collections that have a fair amount of variety.

Clive Barker, as long as we’re doing horror. Lyrical and extremely disturbing: I will not read his stuff after 10 PM. The Great and Secret Show and Everville, particularly, contain interesting meditations on the theme of dreams and stories and The Human Condition, which is about as close as I get to being serious.

Diane Duane, the Young Wizards series. Duane is one of the rare authors who can actually write poetry as part of her fantasy novels, and it shows in her prose, too. She’s got enough of a scientific background to incorporate physics into her magic well–or at least well enough for this English major. 😉 There are eight novels out in this series, and I love every one of them.

Mercedes Lackey is excellent mind candy, particularly when she gets away from writing about teenagers with self-esteem problems. (Or if you care about teenagers with self-esteem problems, which I did back when I was twelve.) If the talking white ponies put you off–you are not alone there–I’d go for the Victorian magical wonkiness of the Elemental Masters series or the just plain weirdness of the Bardic Magic stuff.

At the risk of seeming biased, since I read both their blogs regularly, I enthusiastically recommend Susanna Fraser and Rose Lerner to anyone who likes romance novels, or thinks they might. Fraser’s The Sergeant’s Lady is an incredibly engaging story, set largely on or near the front lines of a war, with an amazingly sweet hero and a sensible, tough heroine. Lerner’s In For a Penny is a highly original Regency romance, with characters I admire and adore. These are the first books from both authors, and I can’t wait to see more!

And now my mother is telling me that I have to get dressed and see more relatives. More books to come, hopefully–and please recommend your favorites as well.

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Dragon Age: Finished, For Now (Spoiler-Tastic)

Would have been finished a week ago, except that I’m a giant wimp when it comes to NPCs, and kept re-loading until I could keep the darkspawn from killing any of my volunteer army guys–which is kind of a task, since said army guys are bent on running directly into the Vortex O’ Fiery Death that I just put up–and then re-loading again to keep the Archdemon from munching on the named NPC. Then one of my friends pointed out that said NPC just gets knocked unconscious if he falls, since he’s in the final cutscene, and I blithely let him get eaten while I fired ballista bolts all over the place. Good times.

Good game, generally speaking. The AI on my side was supremely dumb, but I’ve never played a game where it *wasn’t*: over the years, I’ve got used to either “oh my GOD do not charge the–great, now you’re dead, are you happy?” or “would you for the love of God come over here and KILL THIS THING BEFORE IT EATS MY FAAAAAAACE–great, now I’m dead, are you happy?” so there we are. Besides, plenty of people have already discussed the gameplay and general plot, so I’ll move on to the two ostensible blog subjects.

Occult Stuff: Handled well, I think. It’s always tough to do this in RPGs–adventure games have a pretty decent chance of keeping magic or spirituality as a mysterious and otherworldly force, but in CRPGs it often ends up being just a form of artillery with a longer loading sequence. A lot of the combat magic still is, don’t get me wrong–although they did tweak the secondary effects nicely so that, for example, fire and ice spells had some differences even when you were just facing regular guys–but there’s a pretty coherent worldview around both mages and magic, and parts of the game you get to access only if you’re a mage. The “Fade”, a sort-of-dreamscape otherworld inhabited by both benign and malevolent spirits, is well done; so are the spirits themselves, when they show up. Not a lot of concrete connection to RL occult practices–it is, after all, a fantasy world–although the Fade and its spirits seem vaguely shamanistic.

The Grey Warden magic stuff is actually more intriguing: the use of blood as a sympathetic-magic connection that gives you powers to fight a specific sort of enemy (or kills you, but hey) and the drawbacks that come with it all make sense and are also narratively compelling. (I feel like Loghain could have done more with that, actually, in his smear campaign: these guys have the Darkspawn in their heads, all the time, so can we really trust them? Really?) Likewise, the soul-hopping Archdemon thing and the HOLY SHIT EW Broodmother worked for me.

As I write this, I realize that there’s actually an interesting transformation theme running through the game–the Wardens, the Darkspawn, the golems, Morrigan/Flemeth/bleh, the werewolves–which I might English major all over at some point soon.

Romance: Yay!

No, seriously. I liked the variety of options available, I liked that heroic bisexuals–heroic *male* bisexuals, holy crap!–exist in this game, I liked the dialogue options I ran into and, as I mentioned elsewhere, the fact that I can get away from the thing where a woman can’t be in charge of her love interest.

Also, nobody in this game falls into the tropes I hate. No Love Makes You Stupid/Evil/Crazy among either the PC base or the sympathetic NPCs. None! It’s so awesome. (Excessive Patriotism Makes You Evil and Crazy, on the other hand…yes, apparently. Or Excessive Hatred of the Not!French, at least.) Furthermore, as far as I can tell, people deal with jealousy by…talking about it. And being reasonable if you break up with them. Hurt, but reasonable. It’s like a breath of fresh air in the Jennifer-Aniston-character-perfumed room that is the current media landscape, and it makes me a happy, happy Izzy.

Not that I’d mind a Tenchi Muyo-style harem option, BioWare. Juuuust saying. On the subject, though, I do like that I can settle down happily into being Alistair’s mistress, and also send him off to sleep with Morrigan and sire the Hopefully Not Antichrist without flipping out about it myself. He comes back, we both live, we’re all good–though, since I also made him king, I do seem to have a habit of sending the boy off to strange women’s beds in order to produce one sort of child or another, and the pattern is creeping me out a little now.

Oh well. Life in Ye Olde Mutant-Haunted Kingdom, I guess.

I’ll play through it again soon, in order to check out the Zevran arc and how things work when I’m a warrior. For the moment, though, I’m for Shadow Hearts and the PS2 room. (Also, Mike from Slacktivist recommended Gog.com, where I was able to buy Baldur’s Gate honestly and download it, because I’m willing to pay for things, but it’s the twenty-first century and I want my instant gratification.)