Review: Magebane by Lee Arthur Chane

Magebane-Actual-Cover-smIn Magebane, the debut novel from Lee Arthur Chane, a tiny magical kingdom is locked off from the rest of the world by a centuries-old impenetrable wall of magic. The mages and their people believe everything outside the barrier is pure wilderness, and for those living outside it, magic has been reduced to myths and legend. As a young aeronaut flies over the barrier from the outside, and parties scheme to bring down the barrier from the inside, both ways of life cannot remain unchanged.

In a meeting of steampunk and magic, Magebane is more about the plots and machinations of the people involved than the whiz-bang-neato potential of the world elements. This is not a bad thing – the steampunk elements are basic, and while the basics of magic are cool, they’re not enough to carry the story. The characters, however, are.

The slowly-unfolding plot gradually reveals layers of intrigue, manipulation, and hidden agendas from the mage side of the world. Various parties are working to bring down the barrier – each for their own diverging purposes – and all are perfectly fine with a healthy dosing of murder, torture, and/or mass slaughter to get there.

In fact, for a story of violence and massive political upheaval, the pacing is almost leisurely. It didn’t drag, just took its time with descriptions and worldbuilding to make sure that each action was in complete, full context to bring the reader along with all possible implications.


So, what’s inside:

  • Schemes upon schemes tied up in other schemes, with very few people to be taken at face value

  • Complex evil characters who are absolutely convinced they’re doing the right thing and that this death/destruction/torture/etc will all be worth it for a higher cause.

  • Steampunk technology, and magic that at times acts suspiciously steampunk-like (swap a few cogs and coals for magic, and leave the rest intact). Both of them get lush descriptions and beautiful execution.

  • A complex social and political system, built on top of a complex magic system, all of which make perfect sense together. The worldbuilding is thorough and well done.


What’s not inside:

  • A fast-paced page turner. This book takes its time, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But if you want a political thriller, this isn’t the speedy read you’re looking for.

  • An unexpected ending. But the path to get to the expected ending is a fun enough read that it doesn’t really matter.

  • A kick-in-the-pants beginning. Chane does a lot of worldbuilding up front, which is a bit slow in the beginning of the book. Some of it, in my opinion, could have waited until a bit later.


TL/DR: A pretty book with that takes its time as evil characters unfold their plans and subterfuge, less about the meeting of steampunk and magic and more about what nasty people with power are scheming to do about it.

488 pages

The Cheapskate’s Guide To SF/F Cons

(This post originally appeared at

Today’s guest post by Effie Seiberg goes through some handy tips on travelling to conventions on a tight budget. It would be easy to extrapolate some of these tips into general travel on a budget, too. Part of why I put out a call for this topic is that beginning in January I’ll be full-time freelance, and paradoxically, this means I’ll need to go to more conventions in a professional capacity. But. You know. With less income. So thanks again to Effie for all of her tips, and I’ll be seeing you around at as many conventions as I can manage in 2014.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so in January I did the exact thing people tell you not to do: I quit the “real world” for a year to write. Writing full time is fantastic, but with no income coming in (and a professional need to go to cons) I had to be very strategic about which I went to, and how. The fear of starving and dying is a great one to promote some frugality, but I still managed to go to FogCon, BayCon, Westercon, WorldCon, and ConVolution. So, here are some tips on keeping the costs way down but still getting your con on.

1) Prioritize.

There are a million awesome cons, and you’ll need to balance how awesome they are with their costs. The most expensive parts are usually the plane tickets and the hotels, so if there are any close to you where one or both of those don’t apply, start there! I’m lucky enough to live nearish to where several local cons were held. I also added WorldCon as my one expensive con, just because it’s so big, has amazing people there, and has the Hugo awards.


2) Keep down the travel costs.

I live in San Francisco, where I’m lucky enough to have several local cons around me. FogCon was in Walnut Creek (an hour away), BayCon in San Jose (an hour away with no traffic, three years away with traffic), WesterCon in Sacramento (90 minutes away with no traffic, until the end of time with traffic), and ConVolution in Burlingame (20 minutes away).

  • Driving: If you can drive or take public transit to your con, it’s probably going to be cheaper than flying. Cons frequently have parking validation for whichever hotel they’re in. At ConVolution, a daily $33 parking pass turned into a daily $10 parking pass. Carpooling with other local buddies is good to split gas and parking costs.
  • Flying: Airfare: If you must fly, set up a fare alert for your route in advance on a site like, and wait a bit. It’ll tell you how the price of those tickets might be changing day by day, so you have an idea of what the cheapest flights really are. You can also use a site like to find cheap seats, but bear in mind that they don’t include some of the smaller, discount airlines like JetBlue or Southwest, so you’ll need to look those up separately.
  • Flying: Everything else: Airports are great ways to squeeze you of your hard-earned dimes. Bring a solid snack to help avoid the temptation of the tiny $7 bag of M&Ms, and pack everything into a carry-on to avoid baggage fees. You can do a whole week’s worth of stuff in a single carry-on, and I say this as a gal who likes her hair products. It takes a bit of tetris-ing, but it can be done.


3) Keep down the lodging costs.

This is the second large cost of any con, and is often the biggest. If you’re relatively close by, drive back and forth and avoid it altogether. Yes, it’s a pain to drive 90 minutes home when you’ve already gone to several parties, but you’ve just saved $170 by doing so. If you must use a hotel room, you have several options.

  • Find it cheap: the con will have a discounted rate at the preferred hotel. That’s great, but there may be even better deals nearby. For WorldCon, the con hotel was about 30% more expensive than the hotel I found, and my hotel was closer to the conference center where everything was held. Look on sites like and to see what’s around. You can also try for cheap rooms, but they’ll usually be a bit farther away from where the action is.
  • Split the costs: roomies are great! If you have a friend from a writing group, a fan board, a costuming club, or whatever, share a room to split the cost. As a bonus, you’ll have someone to talk to late at night.
  • Crashing in a room: your mileage may vary on this one. As a female I’m disinclined to do this unless I know the people very very well. But that said, if you do know people who have a room and don’t mind you crashing there, you can usually get a cot from the main desk (at Westercon it was $15/night) which you can roll into the room. If there isn’t room for one, you can DIY it by asking for a lot of extra pillows and blankets, and build up your own little nest in a corner. You’ll get weird looks at about the 5th extra pillow, but it’s worth it. Lay a line of pillows down to make a makeshift mattress, then a blanket on them to roughly keep them together, and then you plus a blanket and another pillow go on top of that.


3) Frugal food.

At a con, you’re running from place to place with barely any time to get anywhere, so scouting out a cheap place to eat isn’t always an option. Hotels know this, and charge exorbitant amounts for what is often really bad food (thanks, $6 coffee swill that’s been sitting in the bottom of the coffeemaker all night).

  • Bring your own: Yeah, I’m the person with granola bars and fruit in my bag. They don’t take up a lot of room, and you can quell your munchies quickly. If you’ve driven, you have a whole trunkful of space to put food to bring with. Nuts and granola bars have protein to keep you sated, fruits and veggies have fiber to fill you up, and most of them don’t need refrigeration. (Protip: do not leave your fruits in a very hot car all day. Apples might survive, but softer fruits like cherries will ferment and stink. I tell you this from experience.) Bring some cookies and such to share, too!
  • The con suite: The Secret Masters of Fandom at one point decided that cons should give out food, and hooray for them. Con suites usually have light snacks like fruits and veggies and cheeses and chips, plus coffee. They ask that you don’t just use the suite for your three squares a day, but you can wander in and grab what you need. Especially free coffee. Did I mention the coffee?
  • But everyone’s going to a restaurant: Yeah, sometimes this is what’s going to need to happen. If your favorite author invites you to join and you get starry-eyed at the mere mention of their name, you’re going. You can either go nuts and suck up the cost, or you can fill up on other food prior (your own, the con suite) and just order something light. You’ll still get to go, and a single appetizer won’t set you nearly as far back.
  • Drinks: This may be the hardest one on the list. You can of course bring your own, but then you’re that sad person drinking alone in their room. Most parties will just give you alcohol, so start with those and get your drink on. If you’re going to barcon (you know, where people have their own little con at the bar), you can always order a ginger ale instead, which is far cheaper. Especially since you still have your buzz from the parties.


4) The Dealer’s Room, the Art Show

Oh dear god, the dealer’s room. Where merchants specifically attuned to your needs and interests bring out their wares and spread them in front of you appealingly. And then the art show, where you find everything your walls have been missing. A few good ways to keep to your budget:

  • The “Little Luggage” Technique: Only buy what you can fit in your existing, tiny luggage. And you’re already squashing a fair amount of stuff into just a carry-on.
  • The “Cash Only” Technique: Set a budget in advance, and put it in cash in your wallet. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. No plastic.
  • The “Gifts Only” Technique: If you can justify it as a gift for someone, great. Nothing for you though. Those are too easy to justify. The enormous broadsword is awesome, but would your brother really appreciate it enough for you to spend the cash? Nah, he’s not that cultured.


5) Happy Tech

I don’t know about you, but I need my devices happy and healthy for a good con experience. I take my laptop for taking notes, my phone for following what’s going on on Twitter, and a veritable rat’s nest of cables.

  • Connectivity: The rule is that the nicer the hotel, the more they’ll charge for wifi. Different hotels will give you differing amounts of connectivity, but most will have free wifi in the lobby. Hang out there when you can, when you need your internet time. If you have an unlocked phone, or a plan with tethering, you can make internet happen through your phone instead (this is what I tend to use). Do be aware that if you’re going through your phone, you may need to pay attention to how much data you’re using. You don’t want to hit your limit and get throttled. And finally, you can avoid all of this if you go phone-only for everything and not even bother with a laptop or tablet. Unless you’re in a black hole or the bowels of the San Antonio Conference Center, a few bars will do the trick.
  • Power: Not exactly a frugal trick, but keeping your devices charged keeps them usable, which sometimes tells you when someone has an extra case of beer/cupcakes/whatever that they need help getting rid of. Bring a power strip, and you’ll be everyone’s new best friend.

So there you go. You can get pretty cheap with cons and still get to go to a bunch while avoiding the whole “starving and dying” thing. Have fun!

Review: Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

republicofthievesFor the uninitiated: Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series is like a higher-stakes game of Ocean’s 11, but in a Venetian-style fantasy world. Like all good con stories, the reader is strung along, just trying to figure out how the thieves will manage their impossible plan. A nice bonus for the series is that it can lay claim to actually having all the wit and cleverness that Ocean’s 11 only thinks it has.

The Republic of Thieves is the long-awaited third installment of the escapades of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen: rogues, thieves, and clever wise-ass bastards. It picks up shortly after Red Seas Under Red Skies leaves off, though is enough of a self-encapsulated book that a new reader could pick it up cold and still have a rolicking good time.

So, what’s inside:

  • Twisted clever schemes upon schemes tied up in other schemes
  • Fantastic quotes like “[The never-fail universal apology is:] I was badly misinformed, I deeply regret the error, go fuck yourself with this bag of money.”
  • Biting satire on political systems and the theater, which in many ways are more like each other than not
  • A touchingly awkward and somewhat-broken romance
  • Spooky-weird mind-melding magi

What’s not inside:

  • A heist or con as clever as any of the multilayered ones in the first two books. That’s OK though, since for once the bigger emphasis was on the characters themselves, who actually spent time telling the truth. (To each other, not to their marks. We can’t have that.)
  • As satisfying an aha-moment as in the end of the first two books. But that’s also OK though, because Republic of Thieves opens more questions than it closes – ones that Lynch has been quietly seeding though the first two books.
  • A timeline for when book 4, The Thorn of Emberlain is coming, because even though I just spent a roughly ten-hour block reading this book, I want the next one already. (Sorry, picky reader gripe.)

************HERE THERE BE SPOILERS************

In The Republic of Thieves, we finally meet the mysterious Sabetha. And hot damn, was she a woman worth waiting for. Her relationship with Locke is explored in two layered stories: one of their past (from how they met, to the tormented beginnings of their relationship) and one of their present, where they are reunited as adversaries, pitted against each other in rigging an election. They play a game of wits as they try to out-maneuver each other, both for the election and to seize control of their relationship.

The two narratives of past and present intertwine beautifully. Lynch does a great job of showing the anguish and elation of confused teenage love, and then showing how so much of that mess remains in adults. In this, it feels like a much more emotionally-mature book than The Lies of Locke Lamora or Red Seas Under Red Skies. It’s a good thing too, because if it weren’t for these fantastic character explorations (the pair’s flirting/fighting makes for the best scenes in the book, and Sabetha nearly always plays Locke like a fiddle), it would be a let-down from the con side.

In the current storyline, the bondsmagi, Locke’s sworn enemies, are the only ones who can save him from his poisoning from book 2. They save his life in exchange for his services in rigging their local election. So here comes a slew of electioneering cons, but few of them are more serious or complex than ones we could easily see happening today. Create a mole in the other organization, or have one in yours? Seen it. Be so obnoxious while campaigning for the opposition that you annoy people into joining your side? Seen it. There’s a laundry list of straightforward mini-efforts like this, and one of Lynch’s strengths is writing the incredibly convoluted cons. There is one multi-step con that leads to the election outcome as a draw, which includes a clever money-laundering scheme. But it’s not nearly as complex as we know Lynch can write.

In the flashback storyline, the young Gentleman Bastards crew of thieves is sent to apprentice at a theater troupe. Here too, the cons are fairly simple, although that’s to be expected from young and inexperienced thieves. Straightforward “whoops we killed the evil nobleman and need to not get caught while putting on a play” schemes are comic, but are excusably so. And at the same time, we readers are treated to the entertaining equivalent of Shakespearean theater in Lynch’s world, so there’s plenty else going on.

But since the emphasis of the story is the exploration of Locke and Sabetha’s relationship, with the cons more as a backdrop (for all that they take up the bulk of the book), that is all fine. The Republic of Thieves shows us a more human side of Locke, behind the wise-ass bravado and pluck. As we get to know how truly and honestly he loves Sabetha, to the point where he makes himself more vulnerable to her than we’ve ever seen him before (and this includes him lying near death poisoned, or near death in a barrel of pee, or any number of other near-death experiences), it looks like the richer and more multifaceted character is being set up for something much much bigger in book 4. Whisperings about his ties to the magi in his distant and forgotten past, whether true or not, make this reader eager to get to the next book already.

************END OF SPOILERS************

TL/DR: Another awesome book from an awesome author. Fast paced and snarky, but tones down a bit of the heist cleverness from books 1 and 2 (though there’s still plenty of it) to make room for a more emotional and human story as Locke and Sabetha’s relationship is finally explored.

609 pages

~ Reviewed by Effie Seiberg