An upper middling urbane fantasy story. The setting is a 1900's alt-London that is ruled over by jerk mages. The magic in the story is semi-Vancian; the mages do not cast spells themselves, rather they use true-names to summon and enslave the djinns/demons who do the magical heavy lifting. So far so nice. The story has two PoV characters; one is a an apprentice summoner and budding jerk, the other is a djinn with a heart of gold (Bartimaeus). Bartimaeus is by far the better character, he has most of the adventures and cleverness and insight and humor. If there's one criticism I'd make of him, it is that he's not *quite* as tricky/self-interested/vengeful as he really should be. Like he's an 8, but he should really be an 11. The summoner, Nathan***, is a sort of moderately talented young republican, and he kicks things off through a misguided quest to revenge a personal slight. On the way they both meet complications and end up facing off against a plot against the jerk government of Great Jerk Britain.
From just the first book, it's unclear where exactly the trilogy is going. The book is fairly clear that most of the mages are terrible people, lacking even the out-sized chutzpah and rhetoric of Vance's mages. But at the same time, 90% of the named characters are mages. So as the reader you are kind of ok with all of the named humans in the story dying. On the other hand, the book is fast paced and inventive enough that you can largely ignore such high level concerns while the plot and world building unfolds. The author consistently picks the right level of pacing and detail and (quality) description. Not to spoil things too much, but I particularly liked the sensory descriptions and inventiveness of the final conflict. Anyway! It's a clever and well crafted start to a series that I would enjoy exploring further. I'd like to see where he takes the series.
Hyena, by Jude Angelini
Another book that doesn't *quite* justify being printed on paper. Hyena is a bunch of extremely short stories about doing drugs, having regrettable sex, and just generally lumpen-proling it up. It's kind of a modern, low quality Bukowski (it turns out the author mentions him as an influence in the Afterword), just without the intelligence, the experience with work, or the ability to convey an actual psychology. E.g. from what I've read of Bukowski, his characters are terrible but there's a genuine and skilled effort to portray their minds and their legitimate complaints and reactions. Another unfavorable comparison would be to my own semi-autobiographical account of my formative years. In any case, this book has been done before and done better. The best you can say about it is that some of the short stories enter the realm of stand up comedy, e.g. they start out sleazy and embarrassing, but just keep pushing that further until they're genuinely funny. It's also extremely fast to read, since the it's a short book with large type and small words. In general though it seems like a long list of terrible life choices by a person who is no longer limited by the finances/circumstances of their upbringing and really could be doing better. He needs Ars Magica in his life, possibly some Twitch streams, and not to be sleeping with yet another person that he doesn't really like.
The Fixed Stars: 37 Emblems of the Perilous Season, by Brian Conn
Another weirdo book, consisting of 36 short stories. In this case the setting is a sort of post-Oryx and Crake world where our civilization has been destroyed and replaced with the seeds of something different, possibly better. The new humans are vegetarians, eschew material goods and buildings and shoes, rely on bio-tech and spores and insects as their primary tools, and in general have an undecided, allusive, open, a-hierarchial, egoless, and extremely community driven approach to the world. They're also prone to literary flights of fancy, incomplete or ambiguous descriptions, and are preyed upon by mutated wasteland monsters that resemble human beings to various degrees. All of this though is really just the start of the oddness of the book. There is also a great deal of structural experimentation. The stories are mostly disconnected from each other but twist and twine about with similar settings and ideas. An early story involves a helical structure in the ground, who's nearly identical branches curve along next to each other without ever quite touching. That seems a decent metaphor for the structure of the novel, as the stories and characters seem like they might be connected but aren't quite. And still, this is just one more part of the oddness. Stories cut off mid-way, ending at about the 70% mark of a normal story. Narrators may or may not be monsters pretending to be human. Chains of narrators may or may not be monsters pretending to he human. There are skewed interpretations of advertising copy, there are skewed re-creations of plays and stories. In general, people speak in a similar way to the translations of freshly discovered tribes, in winding and discursive and repetitive patterns where it is clear that what is written down is really only a partial translation of the true weirdness of how they view the world.
So, that gives you at least an idea of what is going on. As literary work that you read for enjoyment, the book just barely works. The author is missing the usual hooks of plot and character, and instead simply tells a series of disconnected and highly experimental stories that frequently cut off before reaching resolution. So this isn't a book that drives you to read it all in one day; for the most part it seems indifferent as to whether you even read the next page or not. Despite the self-indulgent nature of the novel, I can't quite condemn it because the author really is quite good. It takes a great deal of skill to make the communities seem so alien and yet so grounded. His descriptions are often striking, lyrical, and beautiful, and it takes real intelligence to create something so consistently unsettling and skewed without seeming random or wacky or twee. His tremendous talent at writing saves this book, and elevates it from being an unreadable morass. Instead it is just a very slow reading and scenic morass, but not the complete disaster it would have been in hands of someone less skilled.
The Throne of Bones, by Brian McNaughton
This is a book. After that, I'm not quite sure what to say about it. It has just about every content warning out there, and I can count on zero hands the number of people I would recommend it to. There's a fair amount of murder and rape, an occasional cannibalism, frequent necromancy, and a whole lot of having sex with, in, and around corpses. In the book there's this one faction, the Sons of Cludd, who are these ignorant, violent, witch burning hillbilly religious zealots. You know, republicans. At the start of the book they seem terrible and despicable. By the end of the book you're like "yep, that is the correct attitude given the world they are in. They are entirely rational to burn anything that seems weird because it inevitably turns out to be floridly evil." As with _Sufficiently Advanced Magic_, I'm surprised that this book was ever printed on paper much less won any awards.
So, that's the general content of the book. I've already lost all the sanity points I have to lose in this particular domain, so I didn't find the book scary or shocking, just very, very strange. The author's style contributes to this too; he takes a brisk and generally light hearted approach to the stories. There is one line near the end that sums up his voice perfectly:
"He brightened ever so slightly, like a leper with a new hat"
So the writing itself is succinct, creative, light, and playful. And due to this, the book reminds me more of a really fucked up Fritz Leiber, rather than someone heavy and depressive like Laird Barron.
Other notable bits:
- Quodomass and his difficulty with the basic social interactions needed to buy things. The struggle is real.
- The names: Lord Glyphtard, Seithreethra, Glitittia, Filloweela, Dodont, Glocque
Penelopiad, by Marget Atwood
There is a board-game reviewer that I like, and he says that the three most important qualities for a game are "pacing, pacing, and pacing". I don't think this entirely transfers to novels, but it mostly does, and I'd give "pacing" at least one of the top three spots for what makes a readable and enjoyable book. You can forgive a lot of things to a book that doesn't waste your time, that knows what it wants to say and says it. This is such a book, though there's not much to forgive here. Penelopiad is a short, semi-sweet, semi-black, somewhat ambiguous, highly creative re-imagining of the story of Odysseus from the perspective of his wife Penelope. It's quite possibly my favorite Atwood story and certainly the only one that I read in a single day. Atwood covers the obvious ground of how Penelope has a terrible situation in the Odyssey, but also adds in a cloud of other possibilities. She offers alternate versions for the events of Odysseus' journey, a potential relationship between Helen and Odysseus, and a number of different reasons why Penelope's maids might have been killed in the end. There are suggestions, not proofs, of what might have actually happened. The story also has a fair bit of structural creativity as the main narrative is interleaved with a Chorus that explores even more forms and viewpoints on the events. It's Nabakovian, but with the traditional Atwood themes of men's shittiness towards women as well as the ways in which women can be shitty to each other. And then the core of the book of course isn't really about Penelope at all, it's about these 12 nameless slave women who were killed for ambiguous, but guaranteed terrible reasons and then largely overlooked for 2500 years by just about everyone who read the story. It's a worthwhile core to build upon.
Persuasion, by Jane Austen
A poignant reminder of how far technology has brought us; just as 90% of the populace used to be farmers in order to feed the needs of the nation, so to it used to require an entire 200 page book to do the same work that we could do today with an eggplant emoji, or perhaps an impassioned plea to "lemme see that dick". This book is one long "will they, won't they" for two characters as they try to navigate past disasters, current suitors, bad advisors, uncertain feelings, and other sundry problems.
This was the second Jane Austen book that I've read, and my impressions of this one are similar to my impressions of Sense and Sensibility. The book is well written and intricate and has precise character portraits and manipulates relationship slots in the same way that Iris Murdoch does (though at a much slower pace). Despite those positive qualities, it is still deeply, deeply rooted in a time and a set of social codes that are mostly irrelevant to my own. And some of those codes are just bad, like if an Aztec wrote a novel about how to most sensibly and properly and virtuously sacrifice people to the gods. It is a skilled book, but also one that I have trouble truly connecting to except at its best sections. And as with Strange Mountain, it suffered from not having any lasers, dragons, vampires, or visible lesbians.
Ars Magica, by Tasha Yar
A short and delightful reframing of the life of a historical pope through the lens of an Ars Magica campaign. The author takes the known historical facts and key incidents, and then re-imagines them in the light of magic and spirits.
This book was a huge relief after some of the tomes that I've encountered this year. The author gets right down to things, writing enjoyable/interesting/emotional stories in 3, 10, 20, and 40 page increments. For instance, the start of the book actually tries to get you interested and excited about what's going on within 2-3 pages. This seems like Writing 101, but you would never know it from many of the books I run into. Anyway, within these first 3 pages the protagonist/future pope declares his love for his monk bros, Science, and God, barely rejects a coven of nubile sex witches, and experiences each of the earthly and celestial elements. As a person who loves Mind and Spirit and makes hydralisk spitting noises at the Body, I love this stuff, and it's a great way to start out. The rest of the book continues along similar paths, as our pope meets ever more educated bros, learns math and magic, puts God and magic artifacts before hoes, and tries to contain the cascading damage from the few but significant mistakes he made in using his power. The writing is consistently evocative, brief, and beautiful, and the author gets the "feel" of the setting completely right.
I liked this book, and my only major complaints is that it is only Ars Magica adjacent rather than being full on the Ars Magica RPG. E.g. it explains history in semi-Ars terms, rather than just going full on and exploring the entire life of a mage/coven using historical trappings.
A skillfully written, but also kind of dumb, historical-fantasy-war-adventure.
One the one hand, the author is a good writer, and he has a fast paced and action filled story with descriptive and well done combat and realistic tactics and strategy and such. The author has set his story in a just slightly ahistorical/fantastical version of Ancient Greece and its city states, and the descriptions of the gear and tactics and daily life and tools match up with the best theories we have about what that was all like. And the story is paced well, not too long, with not too many extraneous bits, and with a short but sensible dramatic structure.
On the other hand, the title page of the book has a blurb-recommendation by Steven Erikson, who is the godfather of terrible fantasy door stops. And when you think about it, you can see why Erikson would like the novel. It has this feel of manly men and blood and tragedy for no particular good reason. While the moment to moment writing is fine, there's a lot of open questions about what the story and plot are doing and why they are doing it. E.g. Why set this story in a fantastical version of Greece? Did the science fictional and ahistorical elements really add anything to the story? (no) If you are doing a fantastical story, why hew so closely to these historical plot lines? E.g. why not just write historical fiction, rather than off-by-10% semi-fantasy historical fiction? Were we supposed to be rooting for the majority of the PoV characters? They seemed like kind of dicks in the greater scheme of things and there wasn't any real reason to hope that they would succeed rather than their opponents. Along the same lines, were we supposed to feel bad when bad things happen to them and their people? Or is the story more "milk man gets served milk"? (yes) Did the story need so much rape? As usual the answer is probably not.
So, this was a technically competent historical-fantasy adventure story (a bit like a text version of the movie _Gladiator_, but without the gladiators?) that was lacking in overall direction and meaning.
Pandora's Star by Peter Hamilton
An unfortunate and bloated book. I ended up Benjamin Buttoning this novel. The first part of the novel was boring and dumb (e.g. the sci-fi author failed to fully engage with how his technology would change life, e.g. we still have cars and car dealerships and money in 2400 AD, also he was throwing shade at socialism/any attempt at a non-barbaric society), so I skipped to the end of this 1000 page novel to see how things turned out. And the ending was kind of interesting? So then I reverse-skimmed the thing. And after reverse skimming I can say that the basic problem with the novel is that 2/3's of it is terrible. It involves not fully thinking about how science would change life, dumb characters, and dumb plotlines that go absolutely nowhere. One small example of this would be a visit to a far away colony where some of the inhabitants are waging a guerrilla war against an ethically ambiguous Federation Science outpost there. And the story goes deep into the Scottish-themed clans waging this war, and their techno-equivalents of old medieval weapons, and their buxom Scottish lassies, and it all has this choking air of RenFair about it. And that's like, a 50 page excerpt? And there's plenty more dumb excursions like this, e.g. an interminable police procedural, and an interminable overland hiking trip. I skipped these whenever they came up (they came up a lot) as they did not appear to actually impact or add to the main plot and were certainly not enjoyable to read.
In fairness, there is 1/3 of the novel which is decent-to-good. This 1/3 is the part of the novel that involves space, aliens, and first contact logic. I liked many of the alien races the author created, and how they have their own alien motivations and tech paths and history and way of thinking. In particular I appreciated how so many of the aliens are these just singular things or societies that are not trying to expand or paint the map in their color. Many of them are significantly older than humanity, and so there are questions about their true history and past interactions with each other and their relations to the super-structures that litter the book. Anyway, I've read the reviews for the sequel to this book, and apparently the author takes his bloviation to an even higher level in the sequel. It is a shame; there is a decent 500 page novel struggling to work its way out of this 2000 page series.
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Owen Butler
A series of sharp and well crafted short stories about South Vietnamese people coming to America. Some of the stories are humorous, some are melancholy, some are peaceful, and a surprising number involve the death of small animals. The pattern for the best of these stories is ~20 pages of somewhat innocuous setup followed by an unexpectedly emotional climax. I enjoyed them, though they suffered somewhat from not having any lasers, dragons, vampires, or lesbians. I was also a bit weirded out by the fact that the PoV characters are all South Vietnamese and somewhat exoticized, while the author's a white dude. Is this cultural appropriation? And by wondering so, have I become the thing I fear?
Edit: Nevermind! I was listening to an interview with a veteran-writer who was a 2nd-generation Vietnamese American, and he A) highly recommended this book and B) gave the author a waiver for not being Vietnamese.
The Vampire Genevieve by Jack Yeovil
Another shockingly competent genre fantasy entry. In this case, I feel like what happened was that a marketing guy came up with the idea "let's publish an enormous story cycle about a sexy, 16 year old looking vampire in the WarHammer universe", an idea that is almost guaranteed to be terrible. And then they passed that mandate off to the author, and the author proceeded to write a series of stories that did their best to avoid said vampire. Genevieve is usually no more than one out of an ensemble of characters, and in one story she literally just drops in to say "hi" to the main characters and then disappears for the rest of the narrative. And where Genevieve does show up and take part, she is usually not one of the leading lights and instead is a sort of affectless or "cold" space in the narrative. It's not that she is written badly, it's more that she suffers from a 600 year bout of ennui and is rarely as fully involved in the events as the other characters are.
So, some examples. Perhaps the first 300 pages are about plays-within-plays-within-plays, and delve surprisingly deep into the running of a theater company in a world of murderous magic and mutation. One of the real main characters of the story cycle, Detlef the writer/producer, is introduced and has an on-again-off-again thing with Genevieve. The author also builds up a number of characters, events, and locations that transfer from story to story, so that over the course of the 700 pages you gradually come to recognize different bars, nobles, city-factions, etc. Several events that are mentioned in passing in one story (e.g. a serial killer or civil unrest) are explored fully in other stories, as other members of the ensemble deal with them. And the long lived nature of Mrs G. allows for checking in on different characters at different portions of their lives. I liked this aspect, and particularly how it allowed some parts of the story to be told in reverse chronological order. What else do we have. There is a unicorn hunt, which makes the wise choice of making the unicorn gigantic, an absolute unit. There are some stories of other vampires, in particular Genevieve's 1200 year old grandmother. There are a couple of hunt-the-serial killer cases, which mix elements of Jack the Ripper, Basic Instinct, and Dirty Harry. Many of the stories are surprisingly and viscerally gory, even for WarHammer. The later stories are also have a lot more variance; in some of them the author seems to be taking his task progressively less seriously, like a GM at the end of an unraveling D and D campaign. Others have these weird injections psycho-sexual Ghost Busters II goo, particularly the Unicorn and the Jack the Ripper story. I don't know if I object to these, I would need to read and understand the author better before doing that, but I am sure some people would object to them. It's certainly not what I expected going into these stories. None of it is remotely canon for WarHammer. The author even pokes some gentle fun at some of the other WarHammer series at several points (e.g. they track down Gotrek and Felix at a bar, where it was mentioned 200 pages earlier that it was the city's main gay bar). Anyway! If you'd like some WarHammer stories by a skilled author who doesn't take his mission statement or genre-world or task entirely seriously, this is a good place to go.
The Kreutzer Sonata/The Death of Ivan Ilych
This was a quick re-read to see if there were any useful thoughts or impulses-to-thoughts for me in Kreutzer Sonata, a book that I remembered as being fairly out there. The answer turns out to be "no". The best you can say about it is that it is so far to the right in gender relations that it sometimes has an overflow error and comes back around to the far left.
On a brighter note, I do still love Ivan Ilych, a comfort book that I first read as a kid and which reconfirms the wisdom of not having excess furniture or possessions. That's not exactly the point of the book, but it is a very good point.
Lincoln in the Bardo
An unfortunate litany of heresies. This book is filled with mistakes, misconceptions, blindnesses, willful blindnesses, incorrect thoughts and perceptions, and just generalized wonky ontologies. It can't have anything but an evil effect on the uneducated reader, doing nothing but leading them away from the truth and right thinking.
While the author is skilled and I enjoyed some of the vignettes, the whole thing is crippled by being attached to a semi-standard and straight faced version of Christian mythology, with all its logical and psychological problems. Like, why are you punishing these things that you created? As a programmer I've never felt the urge to punish any of the programs I've made. I've never felt the urge to punish an errant Roomba. Once you understand the system, the obvious thing to do is to fix its faults rather than condemning it to Roomba hell or Roomba limbo. It reminds me of this whole Rosko's Basilisk thing; people of a lower order of intelligence and understanding leap to this idea that "oh yes those who wronged me must be punished", while once you reach a certain (minor) level of understanding that sort of thought becomes completely alien and you are more like "uh, just fix the F'ing mistake that's causing the problem?". And then from there we can move on to all the other head shaking issues with the mythology of the book. Reading the spiritual system he has set up is like reading and comprehending some horribly F'd up program architecture. It's like that scene at the end of Burn After Reading, where you are just grasping your fore-head trying to puzzle out how they could have made things so confused.
And of course you know why it is so confused, because at some point it was useful for someone for it to be confused. You can't get where you want to go through the real numbers, so you take a leap into the imaginary domain, jaunt through there for a bit, and then transition back to the rational numbers once you are at the location you want. It's similar to the _ScrewTape Letters_, though of course the list of things that get you damned/saved are different between the two books. Lol. And while in a generalized sense I can appreciate this sort of Cugel-like clever trickery played on people, this particular brand of bull shit has been pushed at me so often that I grew extremely tired of it, decades ago. And then also you feel bad for people like Mrs Lincoln, who were lied to about the world and then couldn't handle the truth when it came around. And I could go on and on in this vein; suffice to say that there are plenty of criticisms to be made about Christian mythology and how it is deployed in the world.
If you had removed the metaphysics I would have been fine with this book. If you had placed the book in a Grayhawk graveyard I would have been fine with this book. If you had emphasized the alienness of the metaphysics (e.g. Darkness Visible) I would have been fine with the book. If you had given the mythology an interesting twist (e.g. Protomen) I would have been delighted with the book. As is though it just reminds me of another aspect of my personality that has been shaped, pearl like, as push-back against an irritant foisted on me during childhood.
Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames
I listen to a fair number of podcasts by professional game reviewers, and one of their inside jokes and bete-noires is the word "fun". "Fun" is a word that people turn to very naturally, and yet it doesn't convey much information beyond the fact that you liked the thing. E.g. if a game is "fun", that doesn't tell you why the reviewer liked the thing; was it the graphics, the controls, the lore, the story, the core gameplay, the explosions, the upgrades, the community, etc. etc. etc.?
Anyway, this book was really fun. The author consistently sets up interesting, humorous, dangerous, witty, snappy, and simply well-written adventure situations for his band of heroes as they trek across civilization and the Wyld in order to rescue one of their kids from a horde of monsters. It's like having a really great DM and party recount their cleverest and most enjoyable encounters. Much of the Monster Manual makes an appearance in this book, and the author is clearly a huge fan of D&D and its tropes. The five main heroes and their relationships are also fleshed out surprisingly well, e.g. to a degree and with an intelligence way beyond what would be required to just tell an adventure story, but not to the point where it becomes burdensome or the main focus of the novel. If there is one slight criticism I would make of the story is that the author is a little too protective of his characters, and I think the story would be better if they had a little less plot armor. Oh, and there were a few too many pop culture references. Still! If you'd like to read an exciting, funny, and clever fantasy adventure story you can't do better than this. It is very beer and pretzels, but it is the absolute best beer and pretzels.
Bourne, by Jeff VanderMeer
Puts the "new" and the "weird" into "New Weird". Bourne is an imaginative delight. At various times this story reminded me of Perdido Street Station, Nabokov, Pit People, The Road, The Thing, Oryx and Crake, On My Way to Paradise, Princess Maker, and of course Annihilation/Control. It is a feast of ideas, relations, word play, and creation. The basic story is of a waste-land scavenger who comes across an advanced piece of biotech, and proceeds to raise the biotech up from an Aliens-type egg sac to its full, protean, end stage glory. This rearing and relationship and its ambiguity is the heart of the story, and really its strongest part.
The last 20% or so of the books talks more about people, which are boring, and less about the relationship between Mom and Beast. I would have been fine with just the first 80%, but whatever, it is not bad, the last 20% is more like _Acceptance_, a gentle let down after a crazy story.
I hope Scalzi is happy with his vast piles of cash. If Scalzi cared at all about writing great stories, Bourne would make him cry himself to sleep each night.
Collapsing Empire, by Scalzi
Yep, this is Scalzi. I read about 60 pages near the front, and then skimmed another 40 pages near the end. It's pretty Scalzi.
Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire
Well, this was better than the last book in the series. The cover art is nice, the book is long enough for things to actually happen, and some of the things were neat. Still, the book has disappointments. It is too simple, it promotes poor ideas about diet and health, and it's not the first or the best book about a world of confection based weapons.
Sufficiently Advanced Magic
I felt bad for the tree that died to bring me this book, and in general it felt weird to see this sort of writing on paper rather than on a computer screen. Sufficiently Advanced Magic is somewhere way down on the Geek Hierarchy, the extremely guilty pleasure of reading the 1-for-1 novelization of an RPG campaign/adventure. I think I first started down this dark path in elementary school, reading Dragon Lance (in which they at least made a little effort to "novelize" the game session), and then continued down the path during the AOL days by reading this really neat necromancer campaign, and then later on it college with a Houston group/writers that were doing something similar and publishing it to the web. But for the most part that was all online, something indulged in behind pulled curtains and closed doors. This book on the other hand is completely out there and open and is just pages of print of the author telling you about his character and planning his stats bonuses and telling you the game mechanics of his world and people's mana and HP values and fighting monsters and summoning Final Fantasy style beasts to attack the monsters so on. It suffers from being too generic (e.g. includes every standard fantasy element) and too safe (e.g. the world is for the most part a standard MMO, with the usual hit points and mana bars and levels and such). The world does have occasional interesting elements, but it suffers from pulling in too many fantastic elements and details without sufficient pay off. The book is also absurdly long, and for the most part it doesn't work. The main character (author?) is mildly autistic, and doesn't have that much to him besides an obsessive focus on min-maxing. The book only really rises above this near the end, where they at least have an interesting situation/extended combat that pulls the book from its previous 400 page mire. In general though I feel like the author took something like this and decided to print it out on actual paper. It's like seeing a printed email, it weirds me out.
Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
I was taking a trip and looking for something to listen to on the way. A web search for "best audio books" turned up this book (the recommendation was from before the monstrous acts for which Aziz is now famous), and I decided to check it out. The audio book is short, light, and mildly amusing but did not have much new information. It's essentially a book long version of one of the OkCupid data analysis blog posts, and it just reviews/skims the common wisdom on how dating/marriage has changed over the last ~100 years. I wish Aziz had spent more times examining dating in other countries (Japan, France, etc.) as that was the most interesting part of the audio book for me.
Red Sister, Mark Lawrence
Harry Potter meets Blood Sport. Alternatively, Name of the Wind without the sex, engineering, or economics. The story reads quickly and is generally likeable and well put together (e.g. there an appropriate number of Checkov's Guns and they go off at appropriate times). The protagonist goes to magic school, has magic classes, has magic fist fights, deals with corrupt aristos, deals with plots and threats to the school, etc. There is also some sci-fi world building, which while fine does not appear to be necessary. I'm ok with just saying "a wizard did it"; you don't really need to set the story on a fallen colony on another planet and provide genetic engineering reasons for different blood line abilities. I did enjoy this world's version of Vance's the Tand, I did enjoy the "minor" magical talents, and I did enjoy some of the school mates (Arabelle, Zole, Hessa).