Loved this book! It's a fantasy of parallel worlds on a spectrum of magic. Grey London has almost no magic. Red London has magic. White London bleeds magic. And Black London? It succumbed to magic. None of them really resemble our world.
As a reader, I absolutely loved it. There were twists I didn't expect, characters who stayed true to themselves even through insane events, and a beautiful setting. It's also refreshingly non-romantic! Kell, the main character, is a man intent on his duty to his family more than anything. And Lila, also a POV character, is in it for the adventure. They don't "cling" to one another... none of those romancey tropes.
For being what I would call an epic fantasy, this book had surprisingly few characters. As I writer, I found its adherence to fantasy tropes particularly interesting. It had to have kings and queens, and yet in a way it leans into an urban fantasy setting at times.
I was almost thrown from the book at one point when Lila swears "Christ," but then I realized she's from Grey London, which is sort-of our world. It still took a moment of pondering for me to figure out if that was a slip-up.
There were also, interestingly, omniscient scenes on occasion, mixed in with the close-third viewpoints of Kell and Lila.
Huge fan theory spoiler, potentially a spoiler for the next book:
It did a great job of wrapping up plot threads but leaving some loose for a sequel. The descriptions are lush, the writing fantastic, and it's a great read. Check it out!
This book combined one of my least favorite SFF genres, space opera, with one of my least favorite genres in general, romance, and yet I found it a very compelling read. Lois McMaster Bujold is clearly a master storyteller.
If I were suggesting this book to someone, I'm not sure I'd call it a "science fiction romance," as it's often labeled, however. "Romance" brings all of its tropes with it... the chase, the misunderstanding, the angst, the happily ever after, etc. This book isn't really like that. For one thing, the would-be lovers come to respect each other and depend on one another long before they broach the topic of love or even kiss for the first time. In fact, Vorkosigan proposes marriage before they've ever had their first kiss. So it's not the type of romance you'd recommend to most romance readers. It's more of a relationship story.
The structure of the story was also interesting. I think it would've been less jarring to me if its disparate parts had been labeled as Parts:
You have the exploration and capture part, ending in:
Then you have the part where she's back with her people and then:
Then you would have the third and final part,
I love how, unlike other books, we get a chance to not only imagine what live must be like when the characters go their separate ways, but to actually see it, and to see how it is every bit as miserable as they feared.
There were also great scifi ideas in this book, like the uterine replacement canisters, so that war rape victims could give the babies back to the rapists at the conclusion of the war, and the abortion would be on their heads, not the rape victims'. The canisters were designed to allow the fetus to live and be born if chosen.
I also like the nationalities (empires?) and how the different groups had their own distinct cultures and political systems.
Also... for those who are concerned about starting a long series, this book (and indeed I believe every one of her books in this "series") is a STANDALONE. So be not afraid, dear readers!
Of course it wasn't until I got to the author's afterward that I realized I still haven't read about THE Vorkosigan, which is Miles, not Aral! At some point, once I feel that my reading has been diversified enough, I'm sure to pick up a Miles Vorkosigan book.
I loved LLL but hated Red Seas Under Red Skies. It's rare that my husband Dorian loves a book that I don't, but that was the case this time, unfortunately. Maybe it's because I had high expectations, but it was only because I loved LLL that I kept reading at all.
First, every other chapter is set in the past, when the Gentlemen Bastards learn to act. And we already know how all that turns out. It's also the foundation for the strong romantic subplot in this book, which relies heavily on the usual romantic tropes that I dislike so much... Two people who have their heads up their asses but ultimately belong together can't stop tripping over themselves long enough to make their love last.
There are long passages where we're literally just reading a play within the book, which might be fun for thespians, but was uninteresting for me.
Additionally, between chapters there are sometimes real-world quotes or poems or song lyrics, which bumped me out of the world each time.
And finally, we spend about 10% of the book watching Locke wallow in pain, and then refusing to live. Their hatred and fear of the bondsmagi makes sense, but when they realize Sabetha is playing for the other side, they never once wonder what they may have on her that would've compelled her to be the bondsmagi's puppet.
But apparently neither does the author, because while they're warned not to collude, there's no punishment for their continued romance.
This book lacked all the clever thievery and heist themes of LLL. What you have are thieves who aren't thieving, bondsmagi who aren't doing much magic, and the lack of any true antagonist. It just fell flat for me, even the explanation of what Locke really is. It didn't live up to the legacy of The Lies of Locke Lamora.