Category Archives: 52 Books in 52 Weeks

52 books / 52 weeks – The Nowhere Hunt

Review – The Nowhere Hunt, Jo Clayton

A keeper? Ugh, no

And it started so well.

This week’s project for 52 Books in 52 Weeks was The Nowhere Hunt (Book Six of the Diadem), by Jo Clayton – a prolific science fiction author back in the eighties and nineties.

But Back In The Day, I loved her Skeen Trilogy – Skeen’s Leap; Skeen’s Return; and, to a lesser degree, Skeen’s Search – the adventures of an interstellar adventurer who gets herself stranded on a strange world which may not be exactly in our universe. So I bought a lot of other Claytons, including this one, and I’m finally reading it.

As I say, it begins well. A dying intelligent insect makes a pathetic plea for help, and Aleytys – the series’ heroine – agrees to take on a complex rescue mission. We’re solidly enmeshed in the tropes of habitual interstellar travel, multiple intelligent species interacting, and competent, daring women, all of which I enjoy.

Then suddenly we’re in a confusing story about primitive people who don’t seem to be exactly human on a hallucinogenic world, seen through the bloodthirsty eyes of their young oracle Roha. Eventually Aleytys turns up on the same planet and things become more understandable, but by that time I no longer cared. Roha’s tribe harasses mysterious demons from Outside, getting many of their brave warriors killed by “demons” in the process. Aleytys is captured by a bloodthirsty criminal and endures a forced march to the insects’ wrecked starship, getting many of the subordinate criminals killed by Roha’s tribe on the way. The insects endure a forced march back to base . . .and so on.

It was all very boring.

Why? I think the split focus was a major problem; I never understood the Primitive Natives well enough to empathize with their goals, and they kept pulling my attention away from Aleytys and her goals. Maybe Clayton was still learning her way back in 1981.

52 books, 52 weeks – Hawkspar

Review – Hawkspar by Holly Lisle

A keeper? Oh, yes

Hawkspar is a mostly marvellous fantasy story. Very early on, we learn that the nameless heroine (Hawkspar is a title, a job, not a name) is in terrible danger, and has been plotting for years to escape. Not just to escape by herself, but to rescue a mob of endangered little girls at the same time. This is a take-charge main character.

Meanwhile, we meet the hero. Aaran, a sailor with specialized magic skills, is in the midst of a mission to capture a slave ship and free the victims when he picks up a message from a threatened young slave girl. Could it be his kidnapped little sister, who he has sworn to find? He’s going to do whatever he has to do in order to locate and save the girl sending the message – the heroine, of course.

The story is told in chapters alternating between their points of view. No, the shifts aren’t confusing, partly because “Hawkspar’s” story is told in the first person and Aaran’s chapters are in the third person. And telling the story in this way isn’t just an arbitrary trick to help the reader. To protect other people, Hawkspar needs to fight her way uphill against internal dangers even though she knows winning the fight will destroy her. Aaran moves much more in the external world, and his life has taken him to a much wider range of places and experiences than Hawkspar has known.

Aaran arrives just at the right time to help in Hawkspar’s escape plan – which is a nearly total success, only to make it work she has been forced to let her eyes be replaced by magic stones that give her oracular powers (and are going to kill her). Still, it’s a triumphant climax, right? Well, yes…except that there’s still a complicated political mess, and Aaran’s far from his sort-of-safe home waters, and it’s only page 188 of a 594-page book.

What I really liked about Hawkspar is that Holly Lisle realizes that life’s always more complicated than it looks, and she spends most of the story dealing with the complicated aftereffects of Hawkspar’s escape, moral, physical, emotional, and political. No, what I really liked about Hawkspar was the multitude of characters, and the different places they go to. No, I liked the way that every time things seemed to be calming down, an even harder problem popped up. No, I liked – no, I liked – no, I just plain liked the book.

Flaws? Toward the end, the story did flag a bit, mostly because one of the conflicting countries seemed way too pure-hearted to believe. And the very end of the story involved direct divine intervention; but the fantasy world Lisle spent 600 pages creating is the kind of place where it’s not that strange for one of the gods to just say “Oh, enough is enough, let me handle this.” Also, some key situations are grisly and gory, but mercifully Lisle leaves most of the horrors to our imaginations instead of giving us a guided tour.

I liked it. I’ll read it again.

52 books / 52 weeks – Kiffe-Kiffe Tomorrow

Review – Kiffe-Kiffe Tomorrow
by Faiza Guene

A Keeper? Okay story, but probably not

It’s hard to be fourteen years old. It’s hard to be poor. It’s hard to be an immigrant, different in culture and religion and looks from the country where you live. Doria has to deal with all of this, and with the fact that her father has walked out on her and her mother to go back to Morocco and marry a second, younger wife.

As the book cover, and eventually the story, explain, “Kiffe-Kiffe Tomorrow” is an Arabic/French pun…more or less “same-old, same-old good stuff coming”. It’s a quiet little story that follows Doria (and her stoic, hard-working, ambitious mom) through the next year and a bit as they cope with life in their Paris housing project. Things happen – Mom gets a horrible job, a boy Doria grew up with goes to jail, Mom and Doria realize that now that Doria’s dad is in Morocco they can go to the local street fair if they want to, the housing project superintendent’s wife finds Doria a babysitting job, Doria gets her first kiss from the ugly, earnest boy who’s been tutoring her, Mom loses her job and is able to enroll in a welfare program to learn to read French, Doria flunks out of high school and is sent to beautician training….and eventually Doria turns sixteen and decides that her life is going pretty well, thank you. (Readers might disagree – she’s still very poor, many of the kids she knows are becoming drug dealers or thieves, she has to face ongoing discrimination, and what happens if Dad decides to come back to Paris and drag Doria and Mom home to Morocco to live with Wife #2 and her baby? But at least Doria gets a fragile moment of satisfaction.)

I enjoyed Kiffe-Kiffe Tomorrow as it went along, but I don’t think it’s a keeper for me. Why? The big problem, I think, is that Doria is too passive for a central character. Things happen to her, not because of her. Still, it might have more appeal to readers in their teens who are closer to Doria’s emotional switchbacks.