Sort of a review of Star Wars Aftermath

It’s hard for me to review this one. This is for two reasons:

  1. I’ve been an active participant in online debate surrounding the campaign against Chuck Wendig and am thus biased.
  2. My usual choices in Science Fiction lean more toward big-idea books rather than action-adventures; when I want the latter I usually go to various subgenres of fantasy. As such, I’m less well equipped to do a fair review of a book which is an action-adventure science fiction. That being said, if you replace the blasters and light sabres with arrows and swords, this book cleaves closer to Fantasy tropes quite a bit, so this is a much smaller concern.

Having considered these two points a few disclaimers.

The part that isn’t really a review

I think the concerted campaign to give one-star reviews to Chuck Wendig was shitty. Like a-grade shitty. I don’t care whether the motivation was because there were three gay characters in the book or whether it was because Admiral Thrawn was NOT in the book. When you’re handing out a shit sandwich, it doesn’t matter what type of shit it’s made with. It’s still shit.

Because my opinion of licensed fiction is very low, as in, I think most licensed fiction is the literary equivalent of the rice pablum that we fed our daughter as her first food: lacking in any flavour, texture or quality that might offend anybody in the slightest, I was disinclined to buy Wendig’s new book despite being a fan of his.

I assumed, oh, that’s nice, that author I like did a Star Wars book. That’ll give him some financial breathing room to keep writing awesome Mookie Pearl and Miriam Black novels. Maybe I’ll read it someday.


<move on>

If it weren’t for the way these gamergaters of Star Wars (more on that momentarily) who call themselves the Bring Back Legends movement I probably would not have bought it.

But I did. And I really liked it. More than any other licensed book I’ve ever read. And what’s more, I’m strongly motivated to tell other people how good it was. I gave it a five-star review on Kobo, and I told friends and family to read this book.

So thanks BBL. Good job advertising Wendig’s book for him.

BBL is just like Gamergate, and the Sad Puppies

It doesn’t matter whether they have the same political motives. That’s largely irrelevant. You can be an asshole of an entitled fan whether your sense of entitlement has to do with women in video games, whether Larry Correia deserves a Hugo or whether Disney should continue publishing the Star Wars Extended Universe. The second you start thinking your emotional capital investment as a fan makes your preferred status quo important enough to steamroller over other fans you’re in Gamergate territory.

Some examples:

Sea Lioning in comments: Arguing at length that people who don’t want to discuss your issue are in the wrong because you are, “being polite.” You aren’t. You’re jumping up in other people’s conversations to shout your opinion. It doesn’t matter if you start by shouting please and end with shouting thank you.

“Social Media Campaigns:” The so-called raids that BBL engage in aren’t some sort of SM enabled letter writing campaign. They’re spam. They pop into facebook pages for Del Rey and Disney when new products are announced to shut down any conversation other than, “give us what we demand.”

Targeting high-profile detractors: Whether it’s sending threats to Anita Sarkeesian, writing hateful “parodies” accusing John Scalzi of various misdeeds or one-starring Chuck Wendig’s book what differs is the severity. What is the same is the fact that you’ve got a group going, “I recognize that person, they disagree with my position. I will bring them low.”

And of course in all these examples we have a group acting like they’re owed something. The gamergaters are owed video games wherein they can be as ghastly as they want. The Sad Puppies are owed Hugos denied them by us evil SJWs. The BBL team are owed more Zahn books, and Admiral Thrawn in the movies or on the cartoons.

It’s ultimately about entitlement. The bad behaviour, whether it manifests as threats against the security of the person, spurious police calls, or campaigns to harm sales of a product, is the way in which these groups forward the claim that they’re entitled to certain things, to permissiveness toward behaviours, to whatever.

The number of times I’ve heard from BBL, “we tried writing letters to Disney but they just sent a form letter back saying no. This is the only way we can be heard,” it boggles the mind.

Because, of course, they were heard. And Disney told them no.

They just refused to accept that. Just like Gamergate refused to accept that game critics might be critical of gaming culture. Just like the Sad Puppies refused to accept that their favourite authors wrote books that most fans didn’t want to give Hugo awards to.

They’re the same.

The part that is a review

I’m going to do this a bit differently, addressing prose, characters (use thereof and characterization) and plot (use thereof and interconnectivity with the greater brand) separately. You’ll note I’m going to not dwell on theme as much as I usually would. That’s because the message of this book is very simple: war is hell and messes up everybody’s shit. Wendig deals with that well. But it doesn’t need as much picking apart to get at than The Dark Forest did.

Prose style

Wendig works in present tense throughout the book. He writes in short chapters and his chapters frequently end in a cliffhangery way. I am certainly not going to throw stones. While I write in past tense (I’m just not good enough to sustain present tense beyond short story length) I also use short chapters with frequent cliffhangers. Why? Because for action adventure it works.

Among the detractors who actually read the book, this is probably where Wendig loses people the most. Because in a lot of licensed work authorial voice is as invisible as possible. I understand why: distinctive flair interferes with brand adherence. Generally that’s a bad thing for a franchise.

But Disney has learned this isn’t always the case (see Guardians of the Galaxy) and evidently they gave Wendig the freedom to write, well, a Wendig book. This is very good. And it turns this book from a typical pew pew starships tie-in novel into an interesting work of art.


Wendig populates this book with a bunch of characters who aren’t major players in the movies. There are a few standard bearers here. Fans of Wedge Antilles will… well some will love this book and others may have reason to flip tables. But he’s got a major role. Han Solo and Chewbacca have a cameo. Leia shows up as a hologram and Mon Mothma pops up in a few chapters. But there’s no Jedi at all.

And that’s just fine.

The story works by living in some of Star Wars’ best spaces – the dirty back alleys and underworld dives. It’s populated by veterans of the war who were broken by it. Interestingly three of the protagonists (four if you include Wedge) were at the Battle of Endor, each separately, and the things that happened there affect each of their arcs in unique ways: war may break everybody but everybody breaks differently.

From a franchise perspective, playing with unknowns also affords Wendig to tell a story with a big theme, without bumping into the limits undoubtedly imposed on him by Disney.


Structurally the book follows a rescue / heist model that Wendig is comfortable with. It’s also a structure that works very well for Star Wars, existing as it does on the periphery between science fiction and fantasy.

It’s a pulpy story, full of sudden reversals and unexpected changes of fortune. And it’s a book in which people can die. Wendig lets us see the blood and viscera that Lucas’ PG requirements left off-screen for much of the original trilogy.

I guess what I’m saying is that this is a Star Wars story in the best possible way: concentrating on a small collection of neer-do-wells and rogues as they stumble into something bigger than them and pull through by a combination of luck and talent.

Wrapping up

Since we’re approaching TL;DR here’s everything in a nutshell:

  1. I’m a fan of Wendig who hasn’t ever read Zahn, make of that what you will
  2. The people who are trying to burn down Wendig’s book are jerks who smell like gamergating sad puppies
  3. It’s obviously a star wars book
  4. It’s a really good star wars story
  5. It doesn’t matter that Luke Skywalker isn’t in it
  6. Buy it.
  7. No seriously buy it.
  8. Right now.
  9. Stop what you’re doing and buy this book.
  10. Then read it.

Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu – Making battle kites cool

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu is many things: a retelling of the fall of the Qin dynasty and the Chu-Han Contention which followed (an incredibly exciting historical period often overshadowed by the Three Kingdoms period which, together with the Chu-Han Contention bookended the Han dynasty); a thoughtful exploration of morality and governance; and a ripping good secondary world fantasy with strange innovations (battle kites) and interesting characters.

I’m excited to see that this is book one of a planned series and am VERY curious as to whether Liu will follow the story of Kuni Garu or whether he’ll jump forward to some of the other notable periods of excitement that peppered this time period.

This story focuses mostly on the lives of two men born after the rise of the first imperial dynasty of the former Tiro states – a confederation of island nations centered around one very large island which share a common culture and history.

An emperor, Mapidéré overthrew the squabbling kingdoms and established a dynasty largely out of a sense of grievance at how his nation was treated compared to the others. He quickly begins pushing forward grand engineering schemes, standardizes the alphabet, weights and measures and then begins questing for immortality, ignoring how his empire is crumbling around him.

While on tour he falls ill and dies and his ministers conspire to have his heir killed and replaced with his younger son, a child who is easily distracted by the power hungry prime minister and the scheming chatelaine. Rebellions arise quickly, and two people: the capricious but sincere Kuni Garu and the noble absolutist Mata Zyndu come to the fore-front of the rebellion. As they fight against imperial authority they begin to see each other as brothers. But Zyndu is uncomfortable with Garu’s often dishonorable tactics, while Garu is disturbed by Zyndu’s brutality.

As the old empire crumbles, so to does their friendship.

Before I get any farther a warning, things will get a bit obliquely spoilery. So, if you know about the history of early Imperial China, or if you read the wikipedia links I posted at the top please consider yourself warned.

The Grace of Kings as historical fiction

It’s very easy to identify the historical counterparts to many of the key players in the novel very early on. Kuni Garu is identifiable as Liu Bang the moment he joins the rebellion, as one of the most enduring establishing myths of the Han is played out on the page. With Garu marked as a stand in for the Han founder, it becomes clear that Mata Zyndu is playing the role of Xiang Yu.

This lends a certain air of inevitability to the story. If Ken Liu had decided to unambiguously set the story in China as opposed to the Tiro States, if he’d removed the Crubens and the airships from the story (and all of these things are delightful, but the story could exist without them) this book would be a straight-up historical fiction, and an exceptional one. Garu as Liu Bang does an exemplary job bringing life to an incredibly complex figure: a commoner who became emperor, a man who reformed many of the excesses of his predecessors but who betrayed his friends, a king who is celebrated historically despite an acknowledged streak of low cunning that would have, in another time, made him not much more than a bandit. Likewise the tragedy of Xiang Yu, who was peerless in battle, but who always made the wrong decision off the field, is rendered beautifully through Zyndu.

Most of the key historical moments of the Chu-Han Contention are explored and dramatized throughout the story, while the blank spaces of historic lives: the loves, fears, hopes and frustrations are filled in with deft skill.

This makes it even more interesting that Liu chose to make a fantasy story instead of writing a history.

The Grace of Kings as morality tale

The issue of ethics is what divides Zyndu and Garu throughout the story. They have vastly divergent opinions on the right way to govern a state, the right way to act in  a war, the right way to deal with enemies, the right way to reward followers, they even differ on what constitutes loyalty, and under what circumstances loyalty is owed.

Zyndu is generally brutal to prisoners, but late in the book, when a general with substantial personal valor opposes him, he treats the general and his followers with a surprising level of respect, because they faced him in a straightforward test of arms. Even though the general fell to him, he still respected him.

On the other hand, Zyndu cannot seem to forgive Garu for having succeeded in taking the imperial city without substantial loss of life or harm to civilians because he did so through trickery.

Kuni Garu spends the entire book worrying about whether or not he is being a good person as well as a good ruler. It’s made very clear that he wants to protect the populace. Garu is horrified by the human cost both of bad rulership and of war. It’s likewise very clear that he’s an ambitious man who wants to forward his own rise from street rat to emperor. In order to achieve his objective he’s willing to betray friends, use spies, lie, kill, and put his own family’s life on the line repeatedly.

Eventually the book decides that the ethics of a ruler must be, due to the very nature of ruling a state, different from the ethics of a single person. The book is ambivalent about whether Kuni Garu is really a good man. It is more clear that he is a good ruler; and suggests that in the span of history that is what will be remembered.

I suspect one of the reasons Liu chose to make this story into a fantasy was so that he could have the freedom to explore these issues without being entirely bound both to historical record and to the extensive body of commentary on the rule of the Han founder that has arisen over the last two thousand years.

The Grace of Kings as fantasy

But there’s another thing that sets The Grace of Kings apart from historical fiction. I’ve previously argued that Sanguo Yanyi was a fantasy novel, or at least the precursor to one, because of the introduction of supernatural elements such as the omens that foretell the death of Dian Wei and the deification of Guan Yu.

And this is another arena that Liu is having a lot of fun with. The pantheon of gods that preside over the Tiro states are a living, breathing and vibrant part of the world. They are constantly meddling with the lives of the mortals, and the book explores an important question: if there’s a god on every side of a conflict, do they cancel out?

Much like Kuni Garu’s goodness the answer is ambivalent. What is made clear is that humans will always be free to interpret design manifestations to benefit themselves, and that ultimately people are the guides of their own fates, even if they can be tempted or pushed by gods. Luan Zya’s divine book won’t tell him anything he doesn’t already know, and Mata Zyndu’s decision to sacrifice soldiers en-masse to one capricious god is something he must own, along with the consequences of that act.

The pantheon of gods that occupy this story are not the deities of Chinese myth. They aren’t the Buddhist kings of hell, nor do they bear much resemblance to the vast panoply of gods that occupy the Taoist cosmology. But they are also some of Liu’s best inventions. I enjoyed the battle kites, airships and mechanical crubens, but the story could have progressed just the same without them.

But without the gods of the Tiro states it would be a very different story, and the ideas they inject play beautifully off the exploration of ethics that occupies The Grace of Kings as a morality tale. By taking the bare events of the Chu-Han Contention and then weaving a story around them in a secondary fantasy world, Liu has managed to make a historical fiction into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Even though the fate of Mata Zyndu will be evident to an informed reader very early on, the question of how he gets there, within himself is open to question. As the story explores both the question of whether this noble, honorable, brutal, vulnerable man is good or not, and as it explores whether he is the captain of his fate or a victim of divine intervention it manages to make that doom into more than a clever retelling of history.

Final Thought

I rarely review a book if I don’t think it’s worth reading, and this is no exception. Though somewhat weighty at around 620 pages, this is definitely one worth reading.

Ken Liu has a deft command of language, history and the humanity that underpins all of his characters. I admit, I’m biased, secondary fantasy stories derived from Chinese sources are literally my favorite things to read, and they’re damn rare. But beyond my personal preferences, this is just a good book.

Furthermore, it’s a book that shows the value of fantasy. Because this didn’t have to be a fantasy, it’s so grounded in a deep appreciation of history that it could have easily been a historical fiction instead. But it is improved for being one.

Haxan – Weird(ish) West

There’s a lot of cross-pollination between Science Fiction and Western. Both are genres about boundaries: the border between settled and wild, the boundary between right and wrong action, the boundaries between nations (as the United States pushed aggressively westward, absorbing New France, pushing Mexico south and driving the indigenous nations before them in one of the most infamous, and and infamously un-discussed, genocides of human history).

The mythology that sprang up around the great colonial push westward is thus one about these boundary conditions, how boundaries change and how boundaries change people. In addition, the characters in westerns are frontierspeople, and their life is defined by exiting the familiar and colonizing the unknown.

Science Fiction deals with much of the same psychic content. Especially in the case of space exploration fiction, but also in stories like Starfish, or even Ancillary Justice characters find themselves thrust out of the familiar (be that the comfort of being one body of many networked to an AI, their remembered time or dry land) and sent to colonize the unfamiliar (a deep sea rift, the future, an existence as an individual) knowing  that they can never return unchanged.

Justice of Toren / Breq can never go back to being a vast AI ship mind. Seivarden cannot return to her past. Lenie Clarke does return to dry land, but what comes back isn’t really what went in. And like the history from which the western genre sprang, these colonizations of the wild are often highly destructive, especially to the people or creatures who already lived in those places.

With so much shared conceptual space, it’s not surprising that weird west is a thing that exists. And I’ve got to say, it’s one of those genres I really should read more often than I do. I like weird west. I even liked Wild Wild West – giant steampunk spider and all. It’s not a short hop from science fiction to weird, and it takes an even lighter touch to tint the already mythological ground of the wild west with a weird brush.

But a lot of weird west jumps up and down on its weirdness: spell slinging cowboys, monsters, demons, zombies, giant robot spiders whatever, just throw it all at the wall and sees what sticks.

This can be very entertaining. But it’s not very subtle.

Haxan is a subtle book.

It’s fully possible to read the book without any supernatural or unnatural context at all. The things that happen in the story are grounded in the grit and mythological realism of the western genre so thoroughly that there’s no actual need to say, “It’s western, BUT…”

However you can also read Haxan as a story about an immortal warrior, summoned from somewhere nameless to fight for order in a town that might exist at the behest of a psychic settler from a vastly distant elsewhere.

And that reading would be just as valid as the gritty mythological realist one. This is a story that assumes a Navajo understanding of the spirit world is at least equally valid to a surface reading. This is a story that takes the romantic ideal of the quickdraw gunslinger and simultaneously roots it in the dust and death of all-to-real gun violence while simultaneously cranking the mythic resonance of the act of the duel to 11.

This is a story where coyotes encroach on a town because the land is dry and they’re thirsty. But also because the town must be isolated so that its lone guardian can stand against What Must Be Faced.

Hoover has a beautiful talent for description, and the town of Haxan and surrounds is powerfully realized. But it’s not just the ability to see, taste and smell the world that gives this book power, it’s the author’s ability to infuse those descriptions with a sense of doom in the old Scandinavian sense of the word.

Haxan is the first western I’ve read in a very long time, and it hit just the right note of weirdness without going all to tentacles and mechanical spiders. And if this is indicative of the state of the genre, perhaps I should read more.

Retro Review: Consider Phlebas

I first heard of Iain M. Banks when the Hydrogen Sonata was released in 2012. I know, I know, I was a few decades late to the game there. Anyway, I read the glowing reviews of the Hydrogen Sonata and thought, “perhaps I should read this guy.” Then I took a look at the length of the Culture series, 10 novels of weighty length and said, “maybe later.”

Fast-forward two and a half years and a Culture book finally came up to the top of my TBR pile. Thus me posting this review nearly thirty years too late. (Also, being fair, Consider Phlebas would have been a challenging read for me at age eight. I didn’t even start on Asimov until I was about 11 or 12.)

Ok, enough with apologia, I read this book and I have thoughts! Thoughts and opinions! Fair warning, this review will include spoilers. I know, shock, spoilers for a 28 year old novel.

Life at the edge of utopia

I do want to like Consider Phlebas, and I will probably read other Culture books in the future, and the way it explores ideas of utopia is key to that. The universe of Consider Phlebas is one at war. On one side, a giant species of tripedal religious fanatics and on the other a vast network of human-like and post-human (but interestingly, not Earthling) species and subspecies who have formed what is effectively a post-scarcity communist utopia.

The tripeds believe that it’s their relgious and moral duty to subjugate lesser species, while the utopians of the Culture have been engaging in a much gentler form of subjugation, contacting younger species and occasionally manipulating their development in order to increase the likelihood that these species will see the light of AI mitigated utopia.

I find it very interesting that Banks makes it evident immediately that there is a moral grey zone here. Our first encounter with the Culture is a diplomat who has detected and outed a spy serving the tripedal Idirans. He’s going to be executed in a truly vulgar and awful manner, and she makes a half-hearted attempt to commute his sentence.

But when his spymaster comes to rescue him, she’s found to be bristling with weapons and seems to be every bit as much of a spy as he was. She turns out to be an inveterate survivor, and in the later scene handily manipulates this same spy, and the team of mercenaries he’s managed to wrestle control over into accomplishing her goals for her while she stands back and watches.

By the time the story ends it becomes very clear that she could have wrestled control of the spy’s team and his vessel away from him at any time, but chose instead to provide a finger on the scales, reserving her hidden capacity for violence until the most opportune moment.

By contrast, the theocratic Idirans are booming, loud, overt, petulantly destructive and strangely impatient for a species Banks makes such a point of repeatedly reminding the audience is effectively immortal.

And this gets to where Consider Phlebas falls down worst – its treatment of religion.

Religion’s Bad, Mmmkay

Parts of Consider Phlebas come across as a castigation of religion every bit as severe as His Dark Materials.

This point is driven home with jackhammer subtlety during an episode in which the protagonist, the Idiran-serving spy from the beginning has become stranded in a freshwater ocean on a three-million kilometer diameter ring shaped space habitat due to be demolished as part of the war.

For some reason the administration of this satellite have allowed a cult of cannibals, ruled over the most cartoonishly “monstrous because he’s fat” character since Baron Harkonnen who somehow has convinced all of these people to murder any passers-by or each other in an orgy religiously motivated self-degradation.

Meanwhile a Culture shuttle with an artificial intelligence sits there, blithely ignorant to what’s going on literally right next to it. Apparently the AI which is tasked with flying the ship doesn’t bother switching on external cameras when it’s on the ground.

The takeaway from the misadeventure is that religion brings people to make irrational and destructive choices that harm both themselves and everybody around them.

Later, we encounter two Idirans whose names I’ve chosen to forget in favour of calling them Dumb and Dumber. These two collossal assholes have managed to sneak onto a world which is believed to hold a highly advanced AI belonging to the Culture. The protagonist of the story has been sent, by the Idirans, to recover this AI and bring it in for interrogation.

However the Idirans, woefully ill-equipped to complete their mission have decided, against all logic, that it’d be better to destroy the AI and lose its intel. Furthermore, when the spy turns up, claiming to be working for them and with a Culture agent rather obviously his prisoner, they decide, for religious reasons, nope, gonna just kill everybody instead.

Irrational, self-harming, destructive.

Dumb forces the mercenaries to keep him as a prisoner and promises to be a bad one, despite repeat assurances from the spy that he’ll be brought home alive and successful in his mission, if he just cooperates.

Instead he makes two escape attempts, killing people each time.

Dumber decides to kill everybody, including himself, with a giant fusion powered armored train. Because religion. Yeah!

The good, the bad and the ugly

It’s interesting that Banks could manage so successfully to, with only a few characters create a nuanced, interesting view on what impact a post-scarcity technologically mitigated utopia would have on the universe, while failing so wholly to provide the same nuance about religious civilizations occupying the same milieu. On one hand the Culture, its agents, and the mercenaries who occupy its periphery are crafted with loving detail. These are intricate characters with complex inner lives beautifully rendered.

Even the stock tropes (the reluctant spy who must One Last Job during which he discovers camaraderie with his enemies, the smart-ass robot who is too useful to be discarded for his attitude, the decadent space casino, the mystery world)  are done with the loving detail of pinhead’s puzzle box.

And then the Eaters and the Idirans stomp all over chewing scenery and being cartoonishly evil because their religions tell them to. And it makes for a jarring juxtaposition.

I understand this is one of Banks’ early works, and the things he does with the Culture are interesting enough that I’ll probably pick up another of the books in that series in time. It’s fine to be critical of religion in fiction. I am very fond of Pullman. But to treat most characters with such delicacy and then to have a bunch of stock religious zealots crash the party (literally) makes for a disconnect in tone and structure which wounds an otherwise engaging read.

Fighting ourselves – The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

It’s good to see speculative fiction authors playing with gender as a concept within their work. It’s been far too long that The Left Hand of Darkness has been the touchstone for fiction on that topic.

And if the way in which The Mirror Empire explores concepts of gender, gender expression and sexuality were the main thing this book offered I’d still give it a heart-felt recommendation based on that alone.

But it does so much more. And as a result, Kameron Hurley has not just written an eminently recommendable book; she’s also set a very high bar for other books I read this year to reach.

So what is The Mirror Empire? Set in at least two iterations of a world where people draw power from arcane satellites, it’s a fantasy novel full of enough recognizable tropes to allow a reader to feel comfortable. But watch out, it’s a trap! Hurley seems to delight in balancing these tropes with subversions of themselves.

The utopian semi-pacifists who comprise half of the protagonists of the story? They might also be the villains. The genocidal general, seemingly blind to her own monstrosity through her love for her monarch? She might execute a face-heel turn. Or will she?

This book establishes two of many possible worlds, and they are grinding closer and closer together as the portentous Oma rises in the sky, heralding catastrophic change. People blessed with Oma’s power can sometimes open gates between these worlds, and anyone whose double is dead in one world can cross into it.

The first of these worlds is a fantasy continent divided between three main nations. One, a nation of escaped slaves, is egalitarian and isolationist. The other two are various forms of slave state and both are very warlike.

But, as time goes by it becomes increasingly clear that the utopians haven’t always been peace loving, and may have only become slaves as a result of a failed campaign of aggression against their neighbors. Meanwhile, in the other world, they never lost, but their world is dying.

Ultimately this story focuses around a girl from the other world – Lilia. Fearing how her people would use her, her mother sends her away from the dying world and she grows up hidden and unremarked, a servant in a temple.

But as Oma rises, and the need for the newly powerful people who can channel its power becomes pressing, people begin looking for Lilia, wanting to use her for their own various ends.

Nobody stops to consider that she might have her own objectives, and an implacable will to achieve them.

Hurley uses multiple close perspective characters effectively to hide details from the audience, allowing us to learn about her rich world as it unfolds. She’s demonstrated the ability to efficiently build worlds in the Bel Dame Apocrypha and she’s only become more effective at doing so as time goes by.

She also has a talent for injecting humanity into her characters such that you can uncomfortably find yourself actively rooting for monstrous people because you understand both what led them to monstrosity and that what makes them broken doesn’t necessarily make them wrong, all the time.

Bottom line, if you want a fantasy novel that understands its tropes well and applies them deftly enough to subvert them surprisingly, a story with exceptional world building and complex characters, a book that says something interesting about the nature of self, you would be well advised to read this book.