Marion Deeds

On FanLit’s staff since March 2011

MARION DEEDS iis retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within.

Her favorite fantasy authors include John Crowley, Catherynne Valente, China Mieville, Felix Gilman, Kate Griffin and Ursula LeGuin. High fantasy, sword and sorcery, new weird, urban; it doesn’t matter, she likes it all. Reading Andre Norton as a child inspired her to write herself. She prefers books with complex, accessible characters, beautiful language, and something new to the genre — but she’s also willing to kick back with a good urban fantasy now and then. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

Half a Crown: The most optimistic, but weakest, book of the trilogy

Half a Crown by Jo Walton

(Warning: may contain spoilers of the two previous books.)

In the foreword to Half a Crown, Jo Walton says that she is by nature an optimistic person and that’s why she wrote the SMALL CHANGE series (which she refers to as Still Life with Fascists). Half a Crown, the final book in the trilogy, is admittedly more optimistic that the first two. Sadly, in several ways it’s the weakest of the three, although still worth reading.

The final book is set in 1960, more than ten years into the repressive fascist regime of Prime Minister Mark Normanby. Peter Carmichael is now the head of the Watch, Britain’s Gestapo. Within the Watch, Carmichael and his lieutenant Jacobson, the agency’s “model Jew,” run the clandestine Inner Watch, an underground railroad that sends Jews and other people deemed ... Read More

Ha’Penny: How do you make a difference in a dictatorship?

Ha’Penny by Jo Walton(May contain spoilers for the previous book, Farthing.)

Ha’Penny is the second book in Jo Walton’s dark alternate history series SMALL CHANGE. The “small change” that created this world is the refusal of America to get involved in the war in Europe, in 1941. From that small “counterfactual” sprang a world where, by 1949, Europe is largely under the control of Hitler, who is at war with Stalin for the rest. Britain negotiated a “peace with honor” with Germany and has now fully embraced fascism. Many Brits know about the death camps in Europe, but they don’t care. Jews in Britain have their freedoms and rights limited daily, and the newspapers and radios screech about terror attacks from Jews or Bolsheviks.

Like Farthing, Ha’Penny alternates narration bet... Read More

Farthing: A country-house murder mystery in a dark alternate timeline

Farthing by Jo Walton

At first glance, it seems like Farthing, Book One in Jo Walton’s SMALL CHANGE trilogy, could have been written by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers or Elizabeth George. At a house party in the home of an aristocratic British family, a guest is found dead, his body staged to throw suspicion on another guest specifically. Soon clouds of secrets, lies, betrayals and adulteries fill the air. Peter Carmichael, the Scotland Yard Inspector sent to investigate, must fight his way through those clouds, dealing with aristocratic privilege and interference from his own higher-ups, if he is to reveal the truth.

There’s nothing science-fictional about that, you might think, except for one small change. In the world of Farthing, America did not enter World War II. Britain and Germany met in 1941 and agreed to a treaty — “peace with ... Read More

Morningside Fall: A good book for gamers

Morningside Fall by Jay Posey

(Warning; May contain spoilers of the earlier book, Three.)

Before I sat down to write my review of Morningside Fall, the second book in Jay Posey’s LEGENDS OF THE DUSKWALKER series, I had to go back and re-read my review of book one, called Three. I enjoyed Three, but I had a lot of the same problems that I had with Morningside Fall, and I have to say I was less satisfied with this second volume.

When Morningside Fall opens, eight-year-old Wren has been made Governor of the city of Morningside. He has vanquished the villain through high-tech stuff (Wren is basically a Magical Child). His mother, Cass, who was killed, had been r... Read More

Horrible Monday: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

When I read Terry Weyna’s review of Broken Monsters last year, I knew I had to get this book. Lauren Beukes’s earlier horror novel, The Shining Girls, was compelling and original, and Broken Monsters does not disappoint. More than a terrifying horror novel, it’s a study of ... Read More

Ship of Fools: This dated award winner still has some influence

Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo

Richard Paul Russo published Ship of Fools in 2001 and it won the Philip K Dick Award for that year. I read it when it came out but only remembered two or three scenes from it (powerful scenes, though, I should say). The re-read surprised me and maybe disappointed me slightly. One thing seems clear. In 2001 Russo was playing with concepts that would show up in later writers’ work with regularity in the intervening fourteen years; the “generation ship” and the idea of  a social and economic underclass is addressed by Brenda Cooper in her YA series RUBY’S SONG, and more pointedly in the graphic novel and movie Snowpiercer. I think Russo even influenced Joss Whedon, because ... Read More

Edge: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

I don’t usually include photos of a book I’m reviewing, except for the cover, but part of the charm of Murakami’s odd little novella, The Strange Library, is its exquisite packaging. The book is published by Borzoi Books, an imprint of Knopf well known for unusual packaging, and they had a lot of fun with this one.

The Strange Library opens like a stenographer’s pad, at first. And then you turn the first page and you’re reading a conventional western book. Well, kind... Read More

The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth

The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth

Beautiful artwork makes up for a derivative story, but some “homage” should be acknowledged

Middle grade readers who like The Amulet will probably enjoy Greg Ruth’s graphic novel adventure, The Lost Boy, published by Scholastic. This is a conventional tale, enlivened with beautiful black and white artwork that looks like it’s done in pencil. I have to admit that the cover immediately sucked me in.

Nate Castle has just moved to a new house in a new town, a town filled with tree-lined streets and very curious birds. While he is exploring the house he finds a 1960s-vintage tape recorder hidden i... Read More

The Queen of the Tearling: A book I enjoyed in spite of the problems

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Imagine this as the plot for a fantasy novel: After the Queen’s death nearly twenty years ago, a weak regent has been ruling the kingdom. A group of corrupt guards come up with a plan to depose the regent and install a figurehead queen they control. They search the kingdom and find the least-qualified-for-queenship girl possible; a bumpkin raised in complete isolation who is educated in “the classics” but knows or understands nothing about current events, basic economics or politics. The guards scoop her up to be their puppet, but they don’t know that their bumpkin is under the influence of a powerful magical artifact. Once the reach the capital, the girl, influenced by the artifact, does things that destabilize this badly weakened country even further. To their horror, the guards discover that they can’t control their puppet, who is now installed as a legitimate ruler.

This Read More

The Revolutions: 1890s London? Imaginary Mars? Well, why not?

The Revolutions by Felix Gilman

Felix Gilman is an excellent stylist and amazing fantasist, and someone hardly anyone seems to be reading. This baffles me. Tor has given his latest book The Revolutions a nice treatment with a clever, themed cover and everything. Gilman once again shows off his imagination and his style in this odd and captivating book.

The book is kind of like a marbled cake; two somewhat different stories swirled together… or maybe three. In an 1894 England very much like ours, a devastating storm opens the book, does incredible damage, destroys a strange device called The Engine, and leads to the meeting of Arthur Shaw and Josephine Bradman, the two main characters. Arthur and Josephine take to each other and strike up a courtship, even though the magazine where Arthur wrote has gone out of business, and his debts are mounting. Josephine is well educated and has some ... Read More

Horrible Monday: Jacaranda by Cherie Priest

Jacaranda by Cherie Priest

Jacaranda is a horror novella set in Cheris Priest’s CLOCKWORK CENTURY universe. This story, set after the end of the USA’s long civil war, is a shivery tale that focuses on supernatural evil rather than the sap-infected zombies of the series.

Priest brings three characters to the Texan island of Galveston, to investigate a long string of strange deaths at the cursed Jacaranda Hotel. Horatio Korman is a Texas Ranger, a smart, clever investigator. Father Juan Quinteros Rios is a Catholic priest with a dark past and a supernatural gift. Sister Eileen Callahan, who has sent for the other two, has experience with the supernatural, and a secret of her own. Father Rios and Korman arrive via ferry just before a savage hurricane isolates the island and traps the three, along with several other guests, in the strange hotel.

Readers who are familiar wit... Read More

The Peripheral: Here’s how a writer builds worlds

The Peripheral by William Gibson

The other night I went into the new Target store in town. I rarely go to Target. It was surreal. Target had everything — bedding, furniture, electronics, auto parts, food. For a giddy moment I felt like I had transported into a bizarre near-future universe where one multinational corporation controlled all the goods to all the people. (I mean, you could live in a Target, for, like, a week, if you had to.) It was scary.

This is why I love William Gibson. I have that vague impulse, then go get my gift cards and move on; he creates the Hefty Mart. Hefty Mart provides nearly everything in the near-future world inhabited by Flynne Fisher in Gibson’s most recent book, The Peripheral. Pharma Jon is the pharmaceutical company with the monopoly on the meds Flynne’s mother needs, and Forever Fab will meet all your 3D printing needs. And those aren’t even main players in the ... Read More

Station Eleven: A literary post-apocalyptic novel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, is a book you need to read. In a market cluttered with variations of the apocalypse and post-apocalyptic life, this one is the deepest and the quietest; the most poetic and the most literary in the best sense of that word. Yes, it’s a quiet, poetic literary “After the End of Everything” novel.

Station Eleven stretches out, backward and forwards in the story’s timeline, like an intricate spider web, and the enter of this delicate but strong narrative is Arthur Leander, actor and former superstar. Arthur had a huge movie career when he was younger. Now fifty-one, he feels his fame waning. At a performance of an unusually-staged King Lear, Arthur suffers a heart attack and dies. This happens in the first five pages of the book.

By dying, Arthur escapes that terror and pa... Read More

Codex Born: Structural problems marred my enjoyment

Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

Codex Born is the second book in Jim C. Hines’s MAGIC EX LIBRIS series, featuring the libriomancer Isaac Vainio. In the first book we learned about Hines’s delightful magical system in which gifted people can materialize objects out of books — mostly famous or well-beloved books. In the first book, Libriomancer, part of the pleasure was watching Hines name-check classic science fiction and fantasy books, and that joy continues in Codex Born.

This book also takes some time to develop the character of Lena Greenwood, a dryad who isn’t a real dryad. Each chapter opens with a section in Lena’s point of view, giving us scenes from her past. It’s helpful, and humanizes someone who was basically a magical sidekick in book one. These sections take the form of journal entries, and one of them, a poem, is lov... Read More

The Stress of Her Regard: The minority report; I just didn’t like this book.

The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers

Tim Powers published The Stress of her Regard in 1989. It was nominated for a world Fantasy Award in 1990. It did not win, but it won a Mythopoeic Award that same year. For many people, this is their favorite Tim Powers novel, and they describe it with words like “seductive” and “immersive.”

I fully understand that I am in the minority here, but I didn’t like it.

There are several things to admire about this book. There are some things I liked. Then there are things I disliked, and finally, there is one thing I hated. I will try to cover my points in that order.

What I admired:  The creation of the mysterious, attractive and deadly creatures who have fed on us throughout history is brilliant. If Powers gives them too many names; the lamia, “Lilith’s children,” succubae, muse, nephalim, a... Read More

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