Book Review: A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly

A Free Man of Color (Benjamin January, Book 1)
by Barbara Hambly

This wasn’t my type of mystery or period piece. I’d have to compare it to Lord John and the Private Matter or something along those lines. It is interesting at first, but it was hard to like most of the characters beyond a few but there are lots and lots of characters to keep track of for the sake of trying to solve the mystery as a reader. And then by the end there are just a few too many “oh, that’s convenient” bits. I also had trouble with judging how much time passed as the story went. Something wasn’t quite right. The author had good intentions, but the execution distracted from them.

Great Scifi/Fantasy available on ebook

Most of my favorite scifi/fantasy isn’t out on ebook yet for whatever reason, but I did troll through and find a few good ones. If you are looking to add some to your Kindle, nook, or iPad (dear, I hate that name) these would be a good start.

This Alien Shore – C.S. Friedman
I really need to reread this one. It is an expansive story just character-wise, but it also interesting in its perspective on humans developing far flung from their origins along with how we’ve adapted to integrating tech into ourselves. A favorite bit is VR where you can load in different worlds that re-skin your environment. I totally would be the kid loading the Indiana Jones type environment and running wild in the halls of the space station.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
This is the book that resurrected reading for me. I was a burned out lit grad looking for work and completely disgusted with my literary prospects. It wasn’t like I could bring Flannery O’Connor back from the dead or any of the other authors I had fallen in love with. I needed to find something new. This was it. On the surface it reads more like a costume drama. A parlor mystery. Heck, the first 90 pages killed more than one potential reader since it focuses on a crotchety old dude and not even Jonathan himself. There are also numerous footnotes that really ought to be read, right? I could get through Faulkner, I could get through 90 pages of old dudes talking about the academic study of dead magic no problem. Only it turns out it was actually interesting to me and then Jonathan shows up and the story doesn’t miss the beat from there on out.

Men at Arms – Terry Pratchett
Satirical (but not mean), funny, and dead serious at times. Discworld is set in a world (flat and resting on the backs of elephants, standing on a giant turtle, floating in space) full of humans, dwarfs, trolls, vampires, werewolves, and other critters. It trips my political, satirical, and relationship triggers (hey, who doesn’t like Carrot/Angua or Vimes/Sybil?) and did I point out that it is British? I’d say start off with Men at Arms. The structure of a good mystery and the Watch will make it easier to enter a world with a million characters and Carrot is one of my favorite characters so what is not to love?

Shades of Grey – Jasper Fforde
Fforde already had home runs with the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crime series so he could have sat back and milked that for a while. But no, he had to go and create another universe to be invested in. Thanks a lot. Shades of Grey feels like an older book than something published this year. There is something 1984-ish about it, but there is also something fresh and new there. As always with these slightly left of center kind of books you have to completely buy into it or you’ll be all “huh, dodo?” I completely bought into this one and could have lived in that world if it were possible. There was just something compelling about both its positives and negatives. There is a puzzle to be figured out but above all there are good characters here you will care about. Even some of the not so nice ones  brought out some tears for me. I just love little humans rising above an unfair universe.

Lilith – George MacDonald (free)
For me this read as a precursor for Jonathan Strange. It is really early fantasy, but I found something in it delightful, creepy, and refreshing. Mirrors you can walk through? Talking birds? A gentleman’s story for sure. If you liked Jonathan Strange you will probably like this too.

Foundation – Isaac Asimov
You’ve not read this? What what? If you like scifi it is essential. It is less adventure and more thinky scifi like I love but we see so little of these days.

Space Cadet – Robert Heinlein
Probably not one of his most well known books (Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers to name a few) but a good romp all the same. There are things about Heinlein, or maybe his time period, that scream gender!fail, but unlike many I completely forgive him of it all and like it anyway.

Heavy Time – C.J.Cherryh
C.J. Cherryh has launched her own website with an ebook store and is selling her back listed fiction for a very reasonable price. I’ve bought two from there and it was a good experience. Heavy Time is part of the Alliance/Union ‘verse, but works well as a stand alone too. The story starts off with two partners out prospecting minerals out in the belt who come across something irregular just outside their cleared flight path. They go investigate and end up getting sucked into something bigger than either were ready for.

The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie
Good in a Stieg Larsson kind of way. It is very bloody and brutal, but for some reason I couldn’t stop reading this series. I’d classify it under crack!fic.