The Agency, by Ally O’Brien
What a snarky, raunchy, sharp romp of a book. It’s the story of a woman who works in a big London agency. Her biggest client is a somewhat dotty old lady who writes brick-thick environmentalist children’s books starring pandas, but her favorite client is a starving, strung-out SF author whose mind-blowing book is sinking without a ripple. The story begins with the mysterious and sordid death of the agency’s head honcho, giving our heroine the opportunity to run off with her clients and start her own agency… except that she’s made a number of enemies, doing those cutthroat deals for her clients, and oh yes, her personal life is a disaster of such epic proportions that the resulting mushroom cloud might take out half the city.
Tess, as we eventually learn, has done plenty to earn those enemies. Still, you can’t help but root for her, since she’s surrounded by people with even fewer moral qualms. Some of the plot threads wrapped up exactly as I expected them to and others zigged when I thought they’d zag, so I was tolerably intrigued right up to the last few pages.
The first couple of pages are a fair indication of how the rest goes, so if the tone turns you off, there’s no point in going on. If you’re amused, however, I do recommend it.
Beguilement (The Sharing Knife v.1), by Lois McMaster Bujold
I lovedlovedloved Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, but found The Curse of Chalion sadly flat. I was reluctant to try this, another fantasy series. However, people kept assuring me I’d like it (along with the sequels to Chalion), so last night when none of my other half-finished books appealed to me, I pulled this off the shelf.
So glad I did. It reminds me of Sharon Shinn’s Archangel a lot, partly because the setting is not your standard pseudo-Europe, and partly because the story is almost entirely a romance shrouded as fantasy. I loved the fact that, except for the saving-the-world part, we got to see magic used in lots of small ways, some of them downright domestic.
I also love that Bujold does not scrimp on the mud-and-maintenance aspects of pre-modern societies. These people haul their own water and spend significant amounts of time caring for their horses, their clothing, and their gear. They spin their own thread and weave their own cloth before they can even start sewing their own clothes; they do not get hot baths by snapping their fingers, and do not neglect the milking even on their wedding day. We do not see a whole lot of old people, and we hear of a good number of people having died of illness or injury. Nor do you see a vast ruling class running around without visible means of support — in fact, at one point the hero offers some pretty snide thoughts on the veracity of legends describing such improbable creatures.
I suspect that, much like Archangel, I could push this book on just about any fantasy reader (man, woman, young, old) and it’d win them over. I lack the energy to be pushy, so here: consider yourself pushed! Me, I’ll be waiting at the library doors when they open tomorrow, because I need the next book now.