Tuesday, January 16, 2018

How Burke Got His Groove Back

I'll preface this by warning that I actually know the author, having been at a festival with him and having him as a FB friend. 

Michael Thomas Ford's The Road Home centers on Burke, a professional photographer from Boston, as he recuperates from a serious car accident at his father's farm in upstate Vermont. This is after determining that Burke's ex, Gregg, doesn't have room (or more to the point, Gregg's current doesn't like Burke), and every other Boston option has its own issues, like smoking or cats. Gregg, being a big city gay, isn't exactly thrilled to be trapped in casts on his dominant hand and leg and then shipped off to the farm. Of course, going home comes with its own baggage, as his best friend from high school, Mars (with whom he shared one moment of drunken passion) is the town vet.

Mars, as it turns out, is married and has a 20 year old son, who has the hots for Burke, regardless of the fact that Burke's twice his age. Not long after Burke's father and his new girlfriend give Burke some antique cameras his grandfather owned, Will reminds Burke what happens in the barnyard while taking pictures at a particularly rustic ruin of a farm. (Side note: I hit that particular section while I was at work. And suddenly was getting asked by everyone in the break room why I was blushing.) The farm ruin has its own part to play, as dad's girlfriend, Lucy, gives Burke a book her dead husband wrote about Vermonters in the Civil War. Said book has a picture of two gents and a girl, whom Burke tries to track down.

Tracking them down leads to the next town over, where Sam the librarian helps him dig into the history of the farm and the three people in the picture. Mind you, Sam is also gay, goes to Radical Fairie gatherings, and has never settled down, so it's not a great surprise when later on Burke and Sam start filing each other's card catalogs.

Mind you, there's still Will in the picture, who has a girlfriend (with a purity ring). Who doesn't understand why Burke isn't just thrilled to be his occasional side piece while he lives a heterosexual life in the public eye.

And then there's Burke's father, whom he can barely talk to, and when the conversation does come, the real issue between the father and son is not the one that was particularly expected.

In the end, everything works out, more or less, as these things do, and something close to a happy ending for most of them.

Now, the biggest issue I had reading this came from the fact that, other than my hometown is nowhere near the Green Mountains, much of Burke's reactions toward his cow pastoral matches with how I feel about my old Ohio home in the rolling hills. Well, except I doubt that I'm likely to give up the creature comforts of big city anonymity to move home where anything you do is public knowledge by the time you get home. (Seriously. Much as I enjoyed the story, I spent much of it having nightmares about having to live in my hometown again.)

I'd comment on the role of coincidence and fate in the narrative, but honestly, it's closer to that of The Bridge of San Luis Rey than say the Deus ex Machina of any comic book plot line.

It's also hard not to think of Will as a more pathos ridden Caliban, left without an ending by his own design.

I was amused when, early on, Burke finds a dog eared paperback of a Gordon Merrick novel on his nightstand. While Burke had bought a copy at WaldenBooks back in high school, I found myself thinking back on buying two of his novels at a used book store back in college.

It's a good read, and one that while the melody isn't mine, I've sung the notes on the chords that give it resonance a good many times.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I'll be in Scotland afore ye...

So, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I somehow let one of Simon R. Green's Ishmael Jones mysteries slip through my radar. With Very Important Corpses being finished over lunch, I have now rectified this.

Again, unlike Nightside or Secret Histories or even Ghost Finders, this particular series is a lot less overpowered. I mean, yeah, Ishmael has some unique abilities, but for the most part, he's more like an alien Sherlock Holmes, only with a girlfriend.

In this case, the mysterious Organization sends Ishmael and Penny to Loch Ness and Coronach House to figure out who killed an agent at the meeting of the secretive Baphomet Group. (Said group basically controls the financial world. No real world domination, only money domination.)

Any rate, the agent in question died in a locked room and was dismembered. Indeed, her room was destroyed in the process. The Principles all have their own staff, escorts have been hired in for entertainment, and several security personnel are involved. Ah yes, and the Major Domo, who's much more concerned about the house than the people.

By the big reveal, we're down to 4 Principles left, and while the conclusion involves something paranormal, it's human malice that held the (figurative) gun in the end.

We also get clues the the Organization may not be all that "good" of an entity, and further confirmation that Ishmael and Penny are in the same shared multiverse as his other modern series.

While I enjoy his other series immensely, I hold this one in special regard, since it doesn't go over the top to quite the degree the others do. And honestly, I can't pass up a good cozy, particularly when even with a few gooses, it remains true to the spirit of British cozies.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

We're on the island of Mimbrate Knights....

As I said with my last update, I'm finishing up David Eddings's The Mallorean, which means we're now discussing the penultimate volume, The Seeress of Kell

Now, we basically spend most of our time here in 3 different locations leading up to the climax. We start (eventually) in Kell, home of the Dals. It is here where Cyradis does finally join the party.

It's also in Kell where Belgarath at last learns their final destination is Korim, what used to be mountains before Torak cracked the world in antiquity. Zandramas gets this information via mind control of Ce'Nedra. However, Zandramas has to deal with the arrival of Agachak from Cthol Murgos, who's Agnarak king of choice in the boy king of Mishrak ac Thull.

Anyway, the next stop on the grand tour is Perivor, inhabited by shipwrecked Arends from Vo Mimbre who've long since interbred with the Dals. Zandramas's second, Naradas, is already there and controlling the king. He keeps delaying the party, but ends up getting some bad soup.

And then it's off to the Turim Reef, where the final choice is made after a bunch of fighting and revealing all the missing pieces.

Whne the choice is made, we're treated to an epilogue not quite as long as the one in Stephen King's The Stand when Stu and Tom head back to Boulder. Since all parties (and people left behind earlier) all wind up on Perivor, everyone gets to discuss peace with almost all the world's leaders present and a new God of Agnarak presiding.

Everyone ends up getting a happy ending of sorts, Ce'Nedra has another baby, and Polgara has twins.

In the meantime, there are a few plot holes you can drive a truck through. The biggest one is that Beldin, who's not supposed to be one in the final choosing, is allowed to go because Zandramas used a being from outside this universe. However, when confronting said outsider, Cyradis mentions that the confrontation makes sense of a prophecy of the Dals. Second, Cyradis makes a comment on the way to Korim that suggests Zandrmas's fate is going to be the same regardless of the choice, yet after the choice, it's told to Garion that had the choice gone the other way, his would have been that new fate.

Plot holes and a bunch of misogyny aside (because Eddings can't keep his mouth shut when discussing pregnancy), the book does wind up being a fairly solid ending to the series, even if two subsequent prequels end up trying harder to fix the plot holes from both series.

So yeah. Good fantasy series, even with the flaws.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Travel by map, it's faster

Rather than starting the one off I still have from the library, I'm going to push through and finish The Mallorean before taking care of other business.

Which brings us to Sorceress of Darshiva.

We find out early on that I was wrong about Cyradis joining the party this early. Seems she was a heretofore never seen mostly solid projection, something Poledra does later in the book.

Mostly though, we spend the book in far eastern Mallorea, in the Melcene Empire area. Which leads Belgarath to find an unadulterated copy of the Ashabine Oracles, a sorcerer without training, and a relative of Zakath whom Zandramas crowns as an Emperor of Mallorea.We also find out that only in Kell can the party find out where the Place That Is No More is.

In the mean time, Urvon and Zandramas and their respective Demon Lords are fighting their way across Darshiva and Peldane, with Zandramas utilizing elephant cavalry. Zakath catches up with the party and winds up joining after some interference from Cyradis.

At this point in the series, one can't help but feel like the author is using the old Indiana Jones method of using an arrow on a map to move people along, with mosquito stops everyone on the map.

What we know at the end:

-The companions from the original quintet are plotting to join the new party, even as the Alorn negotiate with Urgit to distract Zakath's forces.

- Zandramas has one more Agnarak to defeat before she's unopposed in her quest to be the Child of Dark with the new God of Agnarak.

-Poledra and Zandramas are destined to have a meeting at some point that won't end well.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Three books in and we finally hit the titled continent.

It's snowing, and lying in bed finishing book 3 of The Mallorean sounded like a great idea this morning. Mind you, I should be shoveling the front walk instead of dealing with Demon Lord of Karanda, but...

Any rate, we pick up right where we left off, with the current party being captured by the Mallorean Army and being taken to Zakath.

Who turns out not to be a bad sort, if you like mildly tyrannical rulers with a human side.

Seems his entire motivation for being in Cthol Murgos is to wipe the line of Taur Urgas from the face of the planet. Given Urgit, the current king, is only half Murgo, and Urgas was not the father, this complicates Zakath's plans a bit. However, the Mallorean Gromlims are in revolt and raising demons in the middle eastern part of the continent, Zakath is forced to return to Mal Zeth to try to retain control of the Empire. Which is composed of the Mallorean Agnaraks, the Melcene Empire, the Dals, and the Karands. The Melcenes are bureaucrats, the Karands are converted demon worshipers, the Dals are mystics, and the Agnaraks are Agnaraks.

Anyway.

Zandramas tries to possess Ce'Nedra, and that doesn't end well. Someone tries to poison Zakath, and they save him. Zakath won't let the party leave until his army returns, prompting an escape amidst a plague that overtakes Mal Zeth.

From there, it's off to Ashaba with the jester Feldegast joining the procession. We find out the identity of the demon lord Mengha, who's actually an old friend of the party. We find out what role Margravine Liselle (aka Velvet) is to play in the proceedings.

We also find out more about who Nahaz is, why he's protecting Urvon, and why he wants the Sardion. And then the voyage East, where we leave off with the discovery of an underwater grotto where the Sardion once rested.

As silly and drawn out as the first two books were, this one gets the plot rolling quickly and gets us headed faster to The Place That Is No More.

What we know at the end:

-Nahaz the Demon Lord is driving the Disciple Urvon insane so he can be the bearer of the Sardion and Master of the Universe.

-Velvet hasn't been quite honest in why she joined up with the party, regardless of the role of prophecy.

-Beldin the dwarf likes resurrecting antique dialects just to annoy Belgarath.

-Cyradis the seer now travels in the flesh with the party.

-Poledra is evidently a bigger part of this.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Once and Future King

It seems fitting that as 2017 sputters out its last days, I finally finished the Battle of Existence versus The Void contained within Destroyer of Worlds, the last book of Kingdom of the Serpent and finale of the 9 book cycle that started back in The Age of Misrule.

Which means we're back with Jack Church and his 5 Brothers and Sisters of Dragons, as well as what remains of the 5 from The Dark Age trilogy. The Void is starting to fill its essence into The Burning Man in the Far Lands. The Army of 10 Billion Spiders gathers around it. The Tuatha de Dannon and gods of several pantheons gather to appose, joined with The Army of Dragons.

In the meantime, Church is dealing with the revelation that at some point, he will become The Libertarian and everyone is dealing with Niamh's betrayal.

At the outset, Mallory and Caitlin undergo a ritual to enter the Grim Lands to find the Extinction Shears (with Hal in the Pathfinder Lantern), while Virginia Dare leads Church's group to the enemy's fortress along with the two keys, Jack (not Church, the one with the Wish Hex in his chest from Queen of Sinister) and Miller (Mallory's friend from the Knights Templar)

There's a heck of a lot of betrayal, angst and redemption leading up to the final battle, including a trip through the Winterlands where the remains of the Drakusa once existed before the human pantheons came about. Callow, from The Age of Misrule, makes an appearance again.

We find out what the caraprix actually are.

And we get several answers to questions from throughout the entire sequence.

But as for the Ragnarok itself, we do get chapters of the Gods fighting against the Void's army in their own colorful Charge of the Light Brigade.

And in the end, the question of whether or not this very long form fairy tale has a happy ending is really in the eyes of the reader.

While I have enjoyed this series immensely, I must say that the epilogue seems to suggest that the finale we've just read doesn't matter in the end.

I will also say the I understand probably more than I want to some of the conversations about the call of the void  and the lure of the mundane spell, wherein contentment replaces joy and the desire to become more.

Honestly, when I set out to read these last year, I was expecting something else. What I got was something different but well worth the time investment.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Two books in and we're still on the same continent

So, I managed to finish David Eddings's King of the Murgos before taking mom to see Star Wars this evening.

Now as I mentioned in the review of book 1, this series has a darker tone than the original, as well as a few moments wherein Ce'Nedra, the girl who raised an army and invaded Mishrak ac Thull, turns into a bigger ninny than Laurana in Dragons of the Spring Dawning. Which is to say, grief excuses so much. Letting her become a shrinking violet is not among them.

We jump in not long after the end of the first book, with Garion, Belgarath, Polgara, Ce'Nedra, Errand, and Silk heading south towards Nyssia on the trail of Zandramas, with a stop in Proglu to meet with UL. UL reveals Errand's real name is Eriond. Literally, this is the only reason they stopped in Ulgoland.

A stop in Tolnedra reveals Bethra, a mercenary spy currently working for Drasnian intelligence is found murdered. This sends Silk a little over the edge and gets Velvet into the party.

In Nyssia, they gain Sadi, the former Chief Eunuch of Salmissra, who;s currently on the outs with the serpent queen. Sadi disguises everyone as slavers to cross into Cthol Murgos. They get hired by the Dagashi to escort an assassin to kill off Kal Zakath. And wine up in palace intrigue with the current king of the Murgos, Urgit, as well as Asharak, the head of the western church of Torak.

Any rate, by the end of the book, we're still not to Mallorea.

What we know by the end:
-Eriond is a lot more than he seems, although we still don't know the extent of it.
-Zandramas's next stop is Torak's house in Ashaba.
-The Dals end up betraying the party to the Malloreans.
-It would seem Silk's father had kids no one knew about.

Gah. I know the last 3 books are more fun, but I'd forgotten how badly the first two drag.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Death be not proud

I forget what drew me to check out Seanan McGuire's Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, but it wound up being pretty good for being a particularly slim volume.

So, the story concerns Jenna, who died in the 70's, not long after her sister Patty died. As a ghost, Jenna ran off to New York City from Mill Hollow, Kentucky, to try to find her sister. Now in the modern age, Jenna works as both a barista and a suicide prevention councilor on a phone line. She has a rent controlled apartment owned by a long dead Jewish landlady and a collection of elderly cats.

Ghosts in this setting have the ability to give and take time. The terminology gets a bit confusing, but essentially amounts to say, taking a few years off of one person making them younger then giving them to another person, making them older. When a ghost starts approaching the age they should have died at, a red flag appears to them and they have the choice of stealing time or going on to what awaits. (Ghosts are just as clueless about the afterlife as the living.)

Jenna tends to give youth in increments of how much time she gave to people on the suicide line. (Like a waitress whom she takes 47 minutes from after keeping a caller on the line for 47 minutes.)

Jenna tends to hang out at a cafeteria after work, which is how she knows Brenda, a Corn Witch; and Sophie, a Rat Witch.

Eventually this leads to the realization that Jenna and her landlady are the only two ghosts left in New York City, and her one ghost friend Danny (who like me if I were a ghost in New York City, works at Midtown comics) has fled.

This leads to a road trip to find out what's going on, and an exploration of some of the other ghost myths floating around. (Mainly one about covering mirrors to keep the dead from getting trapped when they die.)

It's really a bittersweet read, with the theme being one of homecoming. It may be short, but it packs a mean left hook.

Friday, December 15, 2017

To there and back again

I hadn't intended on starting David Eddings's The Mallorean quite so soon, but at the end of the last book, I grabbed Guardians of the West off the shelf as insurance of having something to read at work.

Any rate, it's done begun now, and I'll have to work in the subsequent volumes around the stuff I have from the library.

So, we begin not long after the ending of Enchanter's End Game with Belgarath, Polgara, Durnik, and Errand returning to Aldur's Vale to begin life anew after the death of Torak. We find that Errand is a bit more than he appears, although we really don't get clues beyond his seeming omniscience about some things. Much like Garion as a child, he gets to meet projections of people who will later on become important in the story. In this case, Cyradis, the Seeress of Kell; and Zandramas, the new Child of Dark.

Then we return to Garion, adjusting to life as King of Riva. Which is really dull for a while, even with the Deus ex machina plot hook tucked in here, wherein Errand and Garion wake in the night and walk in to th ethrone room to see the Orb of Aldur turn red and a voice cry out "Beware Zandramas!"

Followed by another hundred pages of nothing happening beyond an overly long epilogue  to the first series.

Finally, though, C'Nedra gets knocked up, has an heir, and then the plot actually starts moving. Let's see, we have someone trying to get Ce'Nedra to kill Prince Geran while she's asleep. Which brings Poledra back in the picture, even if she's not really there. Then we have the killing of the Rivan Warder, which almost starts a war between Cherek and Riva. While they mop up that, Geran gets kidnapped, leading to another cleaning up of the Alorn Bear Cult, this time in North Eastern Drasnia. Garion finds out how to read a hidden passage in the Mrin Codex, and hey, we're questing again.

By far, the fact that nothing of major interest happening for a few hundred pages is the biggest problem with this introduction. Once it gets going, it takes on a much darker tone than the Belgariad, which hopefully bodes well for the rest of the series. (It does, although we'll return to issues present in The Mallorean as we get through the next volumes eventually.)

So, What we know so far:

-Garion is now a man, and so are his old compatriots.
-Dryads have strange reproductive practices.
-One of Torak's old Acolytes is still alive and living in Mallorea somewhere.
-One of the companions in this series will die by the end.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Imhotep!

So, it seems I missed a book in Simon R. Green's Ishmael Jones series, but given these are stand alones much like Agatha Christie, not a big deal.

Any rate, Death Shall Come involves Ishmael and Penny joining the Colonel (also known as Stuart) at his in-laws estate where George Cardavan is unveiling his latest acquisition, the mummy of Cleopatra the First. The entire family will be there, from George's mother and in dementia father, his trophy wife, his kids and their spouses. And his resident Egyptologist, Dr. Rose. 

The mummy, of course, comes with a curse.

So when George shows up dead in a locked room with a missing mummy, you can bet everyone is thinking Boris Karloff walks among them.

And indeed, there are more than a few bodies that show up along the way, but, as is common for this series, The curse of the mummy has nothing to do with a supernatural curse. But we do get a glimpse at who Ishmael may have been before he became Ishmael. Which is in and of itself interesting.

Good locked room mystery, with an unusual solution.