What I'm reading: Joel Shepherd, Petrodor. Part II of A Trial of Blood and Steel. I had picked up the first volume of this series, Sasha, on a whim, I don't recall why. It looks like a fairly rote fantasy series, with battles and elves and a young heroine who is unusually gifted in the martial arts, and who happens to be a princess. But the world-building is very strong: complicated politically, religiously, and ethnically. The elves are inhuman but not very magical, and they do not understand how human societies work, often to their peril. The lead is an immature hothead who gets herself into far more trouble than she should be able to survive--but who appears to be learning from her mistakes. The politics are very well conveyed, and brutally dangerous. And after a somewhat rocky start in book 1, this book is passing the Bechdel test with flying colors. Shepherd is pretty clearly someone with a solid grounding in martial arts, as the battle scenes are vivid and precise. And there's even an ongoing subtextual conversation about what it means to be a Strong Woman Character.
If you're in the mood for a fairly traditional fantasy (it does have a mostly western/European cultural structure) with realistic, complicated politics and no sexual violence driving the plot or characterizations, I would recommend this.
What I just read: Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal. I enjoyed the first well enough to pick up the second. But I can't say I thought they were awesome, merely fairly enjoyable. They're basically Austen with a gloss of magic, and far less precise & nuanced characterization. The heroine is well-drawn, as an unattractive woman of good family who develops her artistic skills (including magical glamour) as a means of making herself a marriageable prospect; but her sister is shown to be spiteful, jealous, and self-absorbed, and their affection for one another is not believable. Still, I liked the way Kowal opened out the world in the second novel, and perhaps she continues to do so in the third, and I found the heroine's reactions to some of the events of the 2nd novel reassuringly complicated.
What I will read next: probably the next of the Shepherd novels, if I like the way this one ends. If not, The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway, which got such a stellar review I bought it immediately. Oh the dangers of online book reviews with embedded Amazon links!
Crossposted from DW, where there are comments; comment here or there.