Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Jacques a dit

OK, I'll admit, the only reason I'd even heard of Becky Albertalli's Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda was due to the movie version coming out soon. (I was blessed with tickets to see a sneak preview a few weeks back. If you want to know, my review of that is here.) I'll do my best to keep comparisons of the two out of here until the end.

We are being narrated to by Simon Spier (rhymes with peer), who's a junior at Creekwood High School in suburban Atlanta. When we first meet Simon, he's explaining how it is he managed to get himself blackmailed by fellow student Martin about his apparent homosexuality. While Simon assures us the being gay part doesn't matter, he's concerned that should Martin release the screenshots of his e-mailed conversations with his pen pal Blue, Blue would be annoyed and quit talking to him. Martin wants Simon to hook him up with transfer student Abby, who recently moved to Creekside from Washington D.C. Abby has mostly integrated herself into Simon's AP nerd clique, although his good friend Leah isn't all that fond of her on occasion, likely due to Nick's infatuation with Abby.

We meet Blue through Simon's eyes, as someone who posted a not on the school's gossip site/Tumblr page, creeksecrets. indeed, conversations between Simon (who signs his as Jacques) and Blue show a friendship growing into a rather ephemeral romance/flirtation as they discuss music, Oreos, family issues, et cetera. Simon spends much of the novel trying to figure out who Blue is in real life, and indeed, one candidate does come out as bisexual later on, even if he isn't actually Blue.

We hear about AP English. We hear about the goings on behind the scenes of the school's production of Oliver. We get minor gossip about Simon's classmates, much of what isn't terribly unusual in my own experience. We meet his Freshman sister and his older sister who's in college.

Not long after Christmas, when Martin finally gets rejected by Abby, a post goes up on the Tumblr supposedly written by Simon that reads like a bathroom wall solicitation for gay sex. Which does set Simon up for a forced "Outing", as he more or less public acknowledges his homosexuality, something he'd really only told Abby about prior to it happening. Then begins the school harassment, as people do some not very nice things, as happens when you come out in high school. (I speak from experience. Although no one ever left dirty jock straps on my locker.)

Nick and Abby drag Simon downtown to a gay restaurant/bar, where an older man mistakes Simon for a college student, gets him drunk then sends him back to his friends when Simon lets it be known he's only 17. (This isn't a Winger song, thankfully.)

Drunk Simon, who found a present from Blue on his locker that morning, (Blue figured out who Simon was fairly quickly), wants to go home and get the shirt, having discovered what happens when you drink a lot after never drinking much previously. Drunk Simon then learns what angry parents are like when you come home drunk at 17. (Thankfully, having never drunk prior to turning 21, I can't really speak to that one.)

Anyway, after the last Matinee of Oliver, Simon send Blue an e-mail saying he'll be at the carnival in town sometime around 7 that evening.  He wears the shirt Blue gave him, finding a note pinned into the hem, with Blue's number. Blue does at last reveal himself, riding the Tilt-A-Whirl with Simon. We get a few chapters after the reveal, showing a couple turning sickeningly infatuated with each other. (Seriously. I needed my insulin towards the end.)

A few things of note here: this story would again be different if Simon weren't from a fairly affluent family, if his family were say, Southern Baptists, if Simon belonged to another minority group.... I can't say how close to contemporary linguistics of modern teenagers (He never calls anyone ratchet or crunk, or whatever kids are saying these days) the narration is. And one of Simon's final thoughts rings true even as an adult. We're all houses with big rooms and tiny windows. On the other hand, when the bullying is going on, even as I was kind of reliving a few horror stories of my own, I wanted very badly to pass on MY words of wisdom. This too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.

As compared to the movie, they tell similar stories, even if the sequences of events and the interpersonal relationships are different. Both ring fairly true on the important stuff though. And honestly, any resource that a young teen can get their hands on is a good thing in my book.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The answer my friend is glittern in the wind

Well, I finished Magic's Price today, thus finishing The Last Herald-Mage cycle by Mercedes Lackey.

We pick up close to 17 years after the middle of the first book, as Vanyel is pretty much tied to Haven since he's essentially King Randi's proxy. Randi's health is failing at an alarming rate, and his King's Own/lifebonded mate Shavri is draining herself to keep him alive.

There are so few Herald-mages left in Valdemar, Vanyel ends up working a spell known as the Web, which ultimately links every Herald regardless of Mage gift or no through the Companions. (something that continued through the modern eras of the series.)

Vanyel's nephew, Medren, has a roommate in the Collegium named Stefan, who has a wild talent that relieves pain. Medren hooks up Vanyel with Stefan, who in turn hooks him up with Randi, who can now hold court. Stefan is Shaytch, and wants to jump Vanyels' bones. Vanyel thinks its hero worship. It isn't until a visit home to Forst reach that their sickening lifebond comes to teh fore and they become the Luke and Laura of the Fantasy realm.

Mind you, this comes at a cost, since Vanyel gets attacked at the estate. Which sends Sayvil out to k'Treva to fetch Moondance and Starwind, who reveal their thought that Stefan is actually Tylendal reborn. Something Vanyel realizes towards the end.

Any rate, the Hawkbrothers help Vanyel mend fences with his father, whom Vanyel moves to Haven with his mother.

And then the last three Heral-Mages die, sending Vanyel and Stefan racing north to take out whomever is killing Valdemar's mages.

Which has a semi-tragic ending, although it does explain why Vanyel's ghost is hanging around the Forest of Sorrows until the end of the Mage Storms cycle.

While this is the second best book in the trilogy, I do get annoyed at how much jumping around it does. It takes place over about a year, but it really only has about five scenarios loosely tied together as a narrative, Also, there's a really ugly rape scenario towards the end that's exceptionally ugly to get through.

On the other hand, it gives everyone a sort of happy ending, even if they're all dead.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Dancing with the Shadow Lover

I finished Magic's Promise by Mercedes Lackey last night before bed. While this is not my first time reading it, this is probably the first time I've really enjoyed it most. Which likely has to do with having experienced more of life than previous readings.

We pick up roughly 12 years after the events of the first book, with Vanyel returning from the Karsite border, where Karsite priests have been turning demons loose on the Valdemarian defenders. Elspeth, Queen during the first book, has died, making Randale the current monarch. Vanyel, due to his power, has been covering the work of 5 Heralds, but is due for his Familial visit, which looks to be several months dealing with his parents at Forst Reach. Sayvil agrees to follow behind him a few weeks later, and his sister Liss has her commission not far from the holding.

Vanyel has been pretty much celibate over the past few years, dating one person until work matters broke them apart. Which doesn't prevent Vanyel's father (and indeed, much of the residents) from assuming Vanyel is after every young boy on the holding. In the mean time, a possible border skirmish on the border near Forst Reach between the Kingdoms of Lineas and Baires is heating up.

Not that it matters, the first big debates upon his arrival involve sheep in the meadows and an ill tempered stallion.

Any rate, one of Vanyel's mother's maids keeps trying to seduce Vanyel, which leads to him sleeping in the stable frequently. Which works out, since it means he's available to hear the distress call coming from the Linean capital of Highjourune, which in turn means rescuing the newly chosen Herald Tashir, who also happens to be the disinherited son of the now dead ruling family. And everyone thinks Tashir did it with mage powers, which are largely frowned upon in Lineas.

Vanyel gates himself and Tashir back to Forst Reach, and Vanyel later goes back across the border posing as a minstrel to gather information.

On the bright side, his diversions do help repair his relationship with Armsmaster Jervis, who ends up becoming his ally. On the downside, the ruling family of Baires has been injecting their own representative into Lineaen politics, in an attepmpt to take the throne and get access to the large heartstone under the capital.

It eventually all works out, and Vanyel pulls off and ending for everyone straight out of a Nolan Batman movie.

As to why I didn't like this book as much as the rest of the trilogy (and still kind of don't) has to do with Vanyel's emotional issues throughout the entire novel. Among other things, Vanyel's fathered 3 children for various reasons, and spends much of his inner monologing trying to figure out if he can reconcile this with being shaych (the Valdemarian term for homosexual). He also spends a bunch of time missing Tylendel and moping about it. Really, it's very very Emo. While this turned me off a much younger reader, I can see now it's actually a fairly accurate representation of the grieving process.

On to book 3.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Down in a hole, losing my soul

I seem to be hitting the greatest hits of the 90's with my titles lately.

Anyrate, as I mentioned, the library actually has hard copies of Lois McMaster Bujold's Penric and Desdemona novels, which lead me to Penric's Mission. Which much like the last volume takes place a bit later in the timeline than the previous volume. As in his previous employer is deceased, and he's now working under a different government official.

So, we join Penric on board a ship pulling into the port city of Patos in Cedonia, on a mission of recruiting a general who's allegedly up for defecting due to dissatisfaction with the Cedonian government. Unfortunately, Penric gets detained and tossed into an oubliette for espionage.

In the mean time, we meet the widow Nykis, who's "twin" brother Adelis (Same father, different mother, both born on the same day. Adelis is the legitimate twin and heir to his father.) happens to be the general Penric seeks. Unfortunately Adelis has also been imprisoned for treason. Nykis tries to help him escape, but he feels that he should be allowed to plea his case and have the Father of Winter show the truth of his claim. The administrator who's arrested both Penric and Adelis disagrees, and has Adelis blinded with boiling vinegar prior to releasing him to his sister's care.

Not long after, they decided to execute Penric by filling his cell with water to drown him. Penric uses his sorcery to condence parts of the water into ice long enough to escape.

Penric and Desdemona track down the siblings and manage to cure Adelis's eyes, which when the government manages to come check on him, leads to a chase across the countryside on horseback. A minor attraction blossoms between Penric and Nykis, although given the novella ends abruptly, I have no idea how that's going to work out.

It's, as always, a good read. Bujold's writing here is one of her best, where one feels a bit like one is savoring a gourmet meal of words served up with savory sauces at a Michelin starred restaurant.I can only hope the next one becomes available soon.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Lover is crying 'cause the other won't stay

It's been a while since I picked up Mercedes Lackey's Last Herald-Mage trilogy, and it wound up in my bag on my way out the door.

I'd forgotten how, much like with The Neverending Story, I spend much of the journey wishing certain events would have a different outcome, then end up in tears when the don't.

 See, in Magic's Pawn, we meet the legendary Vanyel Ashkevron, who existed quite some time before the primary timeline of the Valedemar setting. (The original trilogy posited that no mages exist within Valdemar, and this trilogy ends up explaining why, as well as setting up events later in the main timeline.) Vanyel is somewhat of a peacock, vain and fey on the Ashkevron estate of Forst Reach. Being firstborn, he stands to become the holder when his father retires, but that holds no appeal to him. Indeed, he wants to be a bard.

Withen, Van's father ends up getting so upset with Vanyel that he exiles him to the capital of Haven to be raised by Sayvil, Withen's sister, who is a Herald-Mage. Sayvil's a bit of a battle axe, but she also gives Vanyel a chance to stand on his own without his father trying to press him into an image of himself. Vanyel, in the meantime, has learned to use indifference as a shield against everything.

One of Sayvil's pupils, Tylendel, who's also shay'a'chern (a Hawkbrother term that essentially means gay), ends up being the one who helps Vanyel reach out from behind the wall of indifference. Vanyel and Tyendel become lovers and enjoy a fairly torrid secret romance. (Van is trying to keep this secret from his father until he reaches the age of majority, when Daddy can't call him back and ship him off to a cloistered order, since as Heir and and not being a Herald, he has no legal protection until 18 from his father's whims.) As part of their cover for what's really going on, they pretend in public to hate each other, which tends to make Vanyel's instructors hate him, as well as attract the attention of Wester Leshara, who's family is feuding with Tylendel's family. As much as Sayvil tries to keep Tylendel out of the feud, Tylendel's twin Staven keeps trying to draw him in. We find out in a later conversation that 'Lendel and Staven share a bond to the point they can essentially merge mindw with each other.

That bond becomes important when Leshara hires an outland mage to take out Staven, sending 'Lendel into rather large backlash sickness. 'Lendel plots revenge from his sickbed, getting Van to get forbidden spell books from Sayvil's shelves. On Sovven Night, 'Lendel gates himself and Van to the Leshara esate and unleashes unholy creatures on the party at the estate. 'Lendel's Companion, Gala ride through and repudiates her Chosen, buying time for Sayvil and most of the senior Heralds time to get through the gate and end the attack. Gala dies, and as they try to stabilize 'Lendel back on the Haven side of the gate, 'Lendel instead jumps off a very high building. As the gate collapses, the energy goes back through Vanyel, buring open several channels that pretty much give him access to all the Gifts that Heralds have, including the Magic Gift. And he gets Chosen by Yfandes. Not that any of this matters, since between the backlash and the sheer emotional pain of losing his Lifebonded lover, Vanyel isn't in good shape. Indeed, he sneaks out to go say goodbye to Tylendel's corpse and then tries to join 'Lendel in eternal slumber.

After much debate and a rather one sided confrontation  between Vanyel and Withen, Sayvil ends up taking Vanyel West to k'Vala Vale, home of some Hawkbrothers she knows, in hopes that the brothers can heal and train Vanyel. That Moondance and  Starwind are lifebonded shay'a'chern doesn't hurt.

They do manage to get Vanyel a bit further along, but it takes an attack on a village nearby by Colddrakes and another village that's been taken over by the mage Krebain to get Vanyel to where he needs to be.

I kind of wish I had found this series earlier in life (I was loaned this trilogy back in 1998, and eventually ended up reading the entire series in fits and starts), since Vanyel's start here really resonated with me and my own inner drama during first love. Mine wasn't nearly as tragic as his, but it does tap in to that entire feeling of needing to hide who you are lest you be outcast.That it can affect me even now is a testement to how powerful Vanyel's tale is.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Who knew demons cure lice and fleas?

Recently I found out the lirbary finally got hard copies of Lois McMaster Bujold's Penric novellas, and I was quite ecstatic to be able to read more of the series set in her World of the Five Gods.

So, here we have Penric and the Shaman, in which Penric and his demon, Desdemona, get tapped to go help a Temple Locator to find a rogue shaman suspected of murdering a friend of the shaman. Penric has advanced since the first story, now a Learned in the Bastard's Order. The Father's Locator, Orwyl, doesn't quite know what to make of him, since Penric and Desdemona's conversations tend to be....odd to listen to.

The rogue shaman, Inglis, on the other hand, has run aground in the mountain valleys and damaged his leg. He does find himself among dogs that are on their way to becoming Great Beasts. The shaman who had been breeding the dogs died in a rock slide a few weeks prior.

Eventually, the plots meet up, and we get the full story of why Inglis is bleeding himself and why everyone was called together by the parsimonious Gods.

Given this is a novella, it's a short read, but I love this setting, and I love Ms. Bujold's writing. I also love the reconciliation between the dead mountaineer and his God. May we all be so blessed as to be able to greet divinity with a smile and a sense of humor.

Much love.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Torak's Wife

So, it took me a bit logner to get through Polgara the Sorceress than previous volumes in the David Eddings series, but she's also a longer read and I was on vacation for five days in there. (DC. There were Pandas.)

As Ce'Nedra complained at the end of Belgarath, the preseries story was unfinished, since Polgara has a story of her own. The Riven Queen and Garion go east to the vale and enlist Poledra to get Polgara to write out her story. Which she does eventually.

Much like Belgarath, Polgara tends to litter her narrative with the occasional aside poking fun at fictional readers of her manuscript. Which helps to lighten up the occasionally dark narrative.

By far the biggest change with Pol is that Polgara is aware that Poledra lived past her birth, as Poledra remains in contact with her throughout her life. Polgara, being a twin, loses her other half at 16 when Beldara marries Riva. Beldara manages to get Polgara out of her awkward and unkempt stage prior to marriage, although Beldaran's eventual death marks the start of deaths that will haunt her through the narrative.

We see much of her learning through her eyes and get the other half of the story told in her father's book, including that her mother was also instructing her. Until she eventually winds up in war torn Arendia to end the civil war, however temporarily. Mind you, she more or less bullies the three Duchies into behaving themselves and gets given her own Duchy, Erat, as a reward. Vo Wacune falls and so does her almost lover Ontrose with it. While Ontrose's death is very hard on her, it doesn't stop her from her duty as Duchess, helping the refugee Wacites settle in to Erat as it becomes Sendaria and destroying the Asturian raiders. She convinces one of the Tonedran Emporers to get a king in Sendaria, and thus her land becomes an independent nation.

After that adventure, she becomes the guardian of the Rivan line, as she fishes the heir, Geran, out of the bay and takes him back to her estate in Sendaria. We hear of her moving around with the heirs and making them vanish into obscurity until Torak's invasion of the West. The heir at the time goes into hiding in Algaria, while Pol and Belgarath get the forces running at Vo Mimbre. We hear of how she and Poledra combine into one particular owl to spy on Torak and Zedar during the siege. And how it was Poledra who helped her resist Torak's proposal on the third day.

We hear of the heir's mental subjugation to Chamdar and subsequent exposure to Chamdar's thoughts, and the later move into Cherek. Finally, the century of the Godslayer arrives and Polgara can finally move back to Sendaria. Which is probably the saddest chapter in the entire book as we learn of the fates of Garion's grandparents and the eventual fire that takes out his parents. And we hear of the move to Faldor's farm and Polgara's eventual acknowledgement of her love for her father.

Polgara is quite a bit more intimate than Belgarath. This is likely because Polgara is younger than Belgarath, and she's much more involved in the day to day history of the world than Belgarath is. It's a wonderful ending to the series, and a reminder of sacrifices made to bring about the changes we need in the world.

Friday, February 9, 2018

I knew Oregon was bad....

I found out a while back that Seanan McGuire had written a novel based on an RPG game and my interest was piqued. While I've never played DeadLands, I know enough people who have to have a very general idea of the setting, and hey, it's Ms. McGuire, who's writing I enjoy.

My lack of familiarity of with the setting was a bit of an issue for a few bits in Boneyard, although I caught the gist of the timeline changes. (The biggest one was that in this setting Deseret never became Utah and became a sovereign nation.)

Anyway, the plot mainly concerns Annie Pearl, Mistress of Oddities at the Blackstone Family Circus. Her daughter, Adelaide, is mute, but learned to sign from a Sioux who traveled with the circus. Annie has a past hidden in the City of Salt Lake, but no one in the circus is aware of it. Indeed, when we join the circus, they're traveling from Idaho to Oregon for what promises to be the last show of the season in a settlement known as The Clearing. Set into a bowl, The Clearing has a bit of a reputation, as most acts come out with full coffers, but rumor holds that about one in four acts that go through have problems.

And this being a novel, Blackstone is one of the tours that has issues.

Chief among those issues are the monsters that sweep out of the woods and kidnap several members of the circus. Not that Annie is there for this, since Adelaide wandered off into the woods on her own earlier. However, Annie gets joined in her search for her daughter by one of the circus roustabouts, Martin, who's girlfriend Sophia wound up being kidnapped by the monsters. Out in the woods, Annie's pet Lynx, Tranquility (a gift from her ex husband), protects them during an attack long enough to get Martin and Annie to the door of Hal, once one of The Clearing, now a hermit in the woods. And his story is a doozy.

Seems that the woods are filled with spirits of hunger that possess people and fill them with the urge to eat people. (Because People who eat people are the loneliest people...) AKA they become Wendigo. Hal's wife and daughter became Wendigo after he got hurt in the woods.

Adelaide, on the other hand, a few adventures later, is found amongst the wolf like things that also haunt the woods.

And then there's Annie's still current husband, Michael, who comes to Oregon from Deseret to take back his daughter for the benefit of their other daughter. (This is another place the setting needed a bit. Seems there's a bit of Steampunk in the world, since the wagons are steam powered.) His employer, Dr. Hellestromme, seems to like Michael's work.

In the end, one of the scenes I expected is played out, although not in a way I predicted it, and we again deal with one of the themes of golem creation: sometimes, man is the monster, particularly when the monsters are just filling their role in the world.

While the book is really readable, there are a few bits where you can hear the dice rolling in the background. And a bit more exposition on setting would have helped. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Torak's Teeth

As I had stated previously, I came back and finished Belgarath the Sorcerer by David Eddings, having had a small break in the TBR pile.

We start with a very short prologue picking up right after The Seeress of Kell, with the Gods leaving after Polgara's motherhood became official. A conversation between Garion, Durnik, and Belgarath begins a plot to get Belgarath to write down his story, which covers most of the history of the world until Garion's birth.

And what a story it is. This volume clocks in longer than any of the other installments in the series, but it also covers a heck of a lot of ground. We hear about Torak taking Aldur's Orb, then using it to crack the world and the punishment he gets for using it so. We hear of the journey to Mallorea to retrieve the orb, and the split that turns Aloria into Cherek, Drasnia, Algaria, and Riva. We hear of Belgarath's descent into grief and madness following the supposed death of Poledra while he was getting the Orb and setting up Riva.

We have the birth of Polgara and Beldaran, and Pol's hatred of her father. We see Beldaran get married to Riva and start the line that would produce Garion in time. Then comes the writing of the prophecies.

Along the way, we find Belgarath getting directions from his Necessity and Polgara getting her own instruction and usually not telling Belgarath. Eventually Pol winds up in Arendia and gains a Duchy in Vo Wacune. Her father gets quite annoyed with her. Eventually Vo Wacune falls and Pol spends a few centuries being annoyed with her father. Then comes the murder of the Riven King, and Polgara's caretaking of the Riven line.

That falls apart a few times, although none so long as when Torak wakes up and invades Drasnia on his was to the Battle of Vo Mimbre, leaving the Heir at the Algarian Stronghold while Torak invades and decimates the West. That eventually gets settled by Brand exposing Torak to the Orb and poking a stick through his eye....

And then we wait for the birth of the Godslayer, and the sadness that is the deaths of Garion's Grandparents and parents.

We see the companions in their early years, and we end with Ce'Nedra deciding she needs to hear Polgara's story. Which will be later, since I had a few books show up.

It's a good, if involved read, filling in many of the gaps from the first two pentads.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Everyone must get "stoned"

On the advice of a friend, I checked out S. L. Farrell's first volume in his The Cloudmages series. Which is not a decision I regret.

We start Holder of Lightning on the Knobtop hill with Jenna and her obstinate goat. As it happens, she's in the right place at the right time to pick up Lamh Shabhala, AKA the first stone. (There are accents on the vowels, but I'm being lazy here. Given the entire book is based on Ireland, feel free to add in your own accents on every vowel.) Getting the stone is particularly fortuitous, given that the night she finds the plain stone is the night the Mage Lights start in the sky.

This causes issues, as the stone she bears is supposed to awaken the other stones of power, with Lamh Shabhala being the First and most powerful of the Cloch na thintri, which of course means several people who aren't poor goat herders from backwaters want that stone. Mind you, the kingdom/duchy of the Tuatha that Jenna lives in finds her first and leads her and her mother Maeve to Lar Bhaile, the capital of their kingdom in the company of Paidraic Mac Ard. Mac Ard is a noble, and bears a cloch mor (greater stone of power), though it hasn't awakened yet. He's also in love with Maeve by the time things get going in full gear and the stones waken.

So, let's see.... Just about everyone but Jenna wants the stone. During a quick trip to Doire Coill, we meet members of the race of man whom the Tuatha replaced. We also meet the ghost of one of the old holders, who helps Jenna to realize she can call on the spirits of every previous holder.

So, eventually, Jenna kills the queen, which is justified since Cinna was trying to use proxies to kill her. This sets off Mac Ard and Jenna's possible fiance. Jenna, left with no real choice, runs off with Ennis to the White Keep in the far Northwest of Inish Thuide. Where again, almost everyone wants the stone.

In the end, we get a war. We also get more politics than Party convention. (I'm really seriously condensing down things here, mainly because to get to far into th eplot details would spoil a heck of a lot of surprises.)

Any rate, there are at least two more books in the series, although I have no idea if they follow Jenna or not, since the blurbs in the book claim this is multi-generational, and I'm not sure if that refers to Jenna's descendants or two the ancestors in the stone.

While it does share much in common with Tolkien, it's hard to find fantasy that doesn't borrow from Middle Earth on occasion. The plot, once it gets going, is well paced, and the Machiavellian politicking is engaging. I will return here.