Thursday, April 20, 2017

Exorcizamus te, omnis immunde spiritus.

So, in a moment I've been kind of dreading for a while now, particularly since Abracadaver was published in 2014, and Goldzilla has been announced yet not released, I did finish Laura Resnick's most recent Esther Diamond novel.

Picking up right after the ending of The Misfortune Cookie, we start at the end of Chinese New Year with John Chen, the funeral home worker dragging an exhausted Max, Lucky, and Esther back to the mortuary where a recently prepared corpse has just tried to walk out. While this might have lead into a rehash of the zombies in Unsympathetic Magic, it instead focuses on Lopez's partner Quinn, and his oppression by a very old demon. (How old? It speaks pre-Christ Aramaic.)

Given the indie film Esther was working on previously has folded production, Esther is quite pleased that Crime & Punishment: The Dirty Thirty wants her to reprise her role as Jilly C-Note, the bisexual hooker. Also gives her an excuse to sent the show's star, Nolan, to shadow Lopez and Quinn to figure out what the demon is plotting.

While th ebook features much of the same increasingly bizarre situations that make the series so much fun to read, there's a really large fight between Lopez and Esther that's really hard to make it through.

And eventually, we get resolution, sort of rushed, but satisfying none the less.

Unlike other books in the series, this one is not particularly focused on one Manhattan neighborhood. Instead, we're much more focused on the interpersonal relationships of the characters and how the supernatural tends to affect those relationships.

I hope Goldzilla eventually sees release, since I'd really hate to see the series end here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!

Once, again, I find myself tracking down origin materials for a musical I've recently seen. In this case, I saw Cabaret earlier this month, so I started reading Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories, which formed the basis for the play and later movie I Am a Camera, which in turn became Cabaret.  Since I don't run a theater blog, and I leave the movie reviews for my brother Chuck over at The Other Ebert .... (And I'm not sure when or if I'm going to read the source of the musical I saw in New York. Tolstoy might be a bit much.)

The Berlin Stories is actually two novels, The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin, with the former being written in 1935 and the latter in 1939. Both concern the author narrating a fictionalized account of his life in Weimar Republic Berlin. By the end of Goodbye, Der Furher has taken power and is about to become a dictator.Both portray a wonderful vision of the era, even if the author left out a bunch of personal things going on in his own life at the time that were (according to Armistead Maupin's introduction) later revealed more in depth in Isherwood's Christopher and His Kind, which will likely be reserved in the very near future. As it is, tantalizing hints lie in the prose, but written is such vagaries as to get around the censors of the era.

The Last of Mr. Norris concerns our narrator (William Bradshaw, which would be Mr. Isherwood's middle names) as he crosses into German by train, sharing a compartment with the title character, a rather effeminate business man whom the narrator assumes is smuggling silk from Paris into Berlin.

Mr. Norris and Bradshaw become friends over time, with Bradshaw getting involved with the German Communists by proxy. Mr. Norris has issues with his hired help, and also appears to be paying a woman of negotiable virtue (and a friend when not otherwise employed) to dominate him. Over time, we see Norris, who does works for the Communists, get Bradshaw involved with Herr Kuno Pregnitz for a trip to Switzerland to make monetary arrangements which would benefit Mr. Norris. Pregnitz is an older man with a collection of physique magazines and a love of books written for younger men. (It's rather implied that Kuno's gay and has an interest in Bradshaw, but given the time of the writing, nothing is ever spoken aloud.) In Switzerland, Herr Pregnitz meets with Van Hoorn and son, not knowing they're Norris contacts. Kuno flirts shamelessly with the son, who in turn befriends Bradshaw, eventually unleashing his Nazi sympathies to the young British narrator. (Having the benefit of reading this nearly a century later, I can say it's quite disturbing how much the young Dutchman believes the crap.) As it turns out, what's been going on is that Van Hoorn Sr. is with the French Secret Service and trying to use Herr Pregnitz government contacts to get better information than Norris can provide.

Which leads to a confrontation with Norris, who in turn leaves town before either the Police or the Communists or his former employee can get him.  We hear bits from him over a few moths, as the reichstag burns while he is in South America.

Then we start into Goodbye to Berlin, which is narrated by a man named Christopher Isherwood. (Or Herr Isseyvoo, as his landlady Frl. Schroeder  calls him.) It takes the form of a diary (or journal really; nothing is dated and the stories really don't have a particular narrative order to them), discussing Isherwood's various dealings with people in Berlin. This section is where we meet the now famous Sally Bowles, a singer with rather...um...loose standards of morality. (It's kind of funny, she's only in the book for about 30 pages, but she's one of the most memorable parts.) We meet the tenants sharing his boarding house with him, including the prostitute Frl. Kost (who winds up with a Japanese sugar daddy towards the end) and Frl. Mayr, the singing Nazi. We wend our way through him teaching English to students, some poorer than others, and at one point join him in a small attic where he's living with a 5 person family. We meet the Landaurs, a Jewish family who's fate doesn't seem that pleasant by the end. (The patriarch suffers a "heart attack" under the eyes of the Nazis.) We watch as Weimar falls and the Reich rises.

Honestly, it's the end that gets to be the most memorable, as Isherwood talks about the folks watching the atrocities start and throwing up their hands, but not doing anything to stop them.

One of the more striking bits of all of this is discussions on how everyone wound up where they are in the narrative, While this would have been Depression era, the post War era with its Inflation is almost another character in the narrative. It's hard not to feel like you are there in some sections, whether freezing in Otto's parent's kitchen, or listening as the old maids argue over small things in the living room.

Quite frankly, I kind of wish they'd have used either one or both of these for the German perspective in my high school lit class's WWII section rather than the rather horrid novel we read instead.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hard Hearted Hannah

So, since there was a gap between my last finished book and the arrival of my reserves at the library, I had to choose something off the shelf to get me through. Wound up choosing John Berendt's 90's potboiler, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, of which I think I've owned 3 copies at different points. (Kind of like Jewel's Pieces of You album.)

It's been several years since I slipped away from things to go walk historic Savannah with John's narration of the eccentric folks within and the murder that eventually engulfs the entire town. We start with the author, a New York Magazine writer/editor, going on a trip south and eventually moving part time to Savannah, GA.

Within the confines of the city, he meets folks ranging from Emma Kelly (nicknamed by Johnny Mercer as "The Lady of 6,000 Songs") to The Lady Chablis, the Grand Empress of Savannah. Eventually, as he starts moving through the rarefied straights Upper Crust Savannah, he meets Jim Williams, an antiques dealer who lives in Mercer House on one of Savannah's historic squares.

Halfway through the book, Williams gets arrested for Murder, having shot the male hustler sort of in his employ.

The second half of the book concerns the four trials of Mr. Williams and the various personalities involved in said trials. One of whom, Minerva, the Vodou priestess from nearby Beaufort, SC, who gives the book its title. (The graveyard being the Garden, and midnight being the meridian between good magic and evil magic.)

Eventually, Williams gets acquitted, after about 8 years of trials and a change of venue. Then dies of pneumonia quite suddenly in about the same position he would have been in had his hustler friends actually succeeded in shooting him. (Minerva swears and the author sort of agrees that Danny, the dead boy, was angry with Williams and this was his final revenge.)

The book is very entertaining, even as is portrays just about every side to every charcater the author encounters. We hear about Mr. Odem, who's convicetd of forging checks, but charms everyone anyway, Chablis's meltdown at the Black Cotillion, Lee Adler, who is not well liked for his restoration projects downtown, although a thread of anti-semitism exists there as well.

If I had to critisize the book for any one thing in particular, it's that it take half the book before it stops being profile pieces on the people of Savannah and moves into the murder phase, which is also about the only time the narrative has any real sense of linear time.

Like I said, it's a fun read, deserving to be read at a leisurely pace while sipping something mildly alcoholic.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

May you live in interesting times.

So, we begin Laura Resnick's The Misfortune Cookie in the week after Christmas, as she's busy cursing herself for consummating her relationship with Connor Lopez, who has yet to call her after the events. So, given her restaurant job is off again at the moment due to the number of art majors home from college for the holidays and her lack of auditions due to the holidays, she's not very happy. Stella, her employer at the restaurant, calls her to ask if she'd like a New Year's Eve shift. Which starts with Esther turning over a new leaf, vowing to forget about Lopez. Who promptly arrives right after midnight to bust Stella for money laundering. One small fight with Lopez during the bust lands Esther in jail for assaulting an officer, as well as letting their secrets out of the bag in front of the Gambello Family and most of the Mafia investigating squad of the NYPD.

Her friend Lucky, the Gambello hit man, manages to escape the bust and goes undercover in Chinatown, living with family friends at a funeral home that serves Italian funerals on one side and Chinese funerals on the other. He contacts Esther and Max after the mysterious death of Benny Yee, a fairly high up member of one of the Tongs.

Seems Benny got a cursed fortune cookie that caused, well misfortune.

While investigating at the funeral, Esther manages to land a role in John Lee's indie movie, which gets her deeper into the Chinatown mystery.

Eventually, towards the climax, Lopez gets a Misfortune cookie, Esther and Max solve the mystery, and the climax comes during the Chinese New Year parade.

It's an enjoyable volume, filled with bits of history about the formation of New York's Chinatown and its gradual expansion across Canal Street into Little Italy. I'm also a bit sad, since after the next volume, there isn't anymore currently in the series.

Good, if quick read, that left me craving dumplings.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

I sense a motif in my reading

Seanan McGuire returned to her InCryptid series with Magic for Nothing. Which I have now finished, sitting in the backyard enjoying 70 degree weather.

Unlike the previous five volumes, this one doesn't center on Alex or Verity, instead we're following around their youngest sister, Antimony Price. You know, the one who build traps for fun.

We pick up not long after the conclusion of Chaos Choreography, with Verity killing a snake god on live TV then declaring war on the Covenant of St. George.

Which winds up causing issues for Antimony, who gets pulled out of Roller Derby practice to be given her marching orders. As the one in the bloodline who looks least like the rest of the family, she gets sent to England to be recruited to join the Covenant and find out what their plans are for the Price-Healey family.

Which she eventually does, giving us probably the clearest picture of another sect of monster hunters since Alex's trip down under. (Given the covenant has been kind of a Boogeyman since the outset, this has been kind of necessary, particularly given their only other antagonistic appearance back in Book 2.)

Antimony goes undercover as Timpani Brown, lately of the Black Family Carnival, who were taken out by Apraxis Wasps. She does eventually get into the Covenant, where we get a better picture of the Covenant and their European ideas on Monsters, regardless of intelligence, needing to die to protect humanity. And Antimony, and we as readers, get to see them as humans instead of cardboard bad guys.

At the end of her training, Antimony gets sent to infiltrate the The Spenser and Smith Family Carnival, currently in Madison, Wisconsin, to figure out whether or not the Carnival is somehow involved in the mysterious disappearances of some of the local boys.

Antimony ends up growing close to the half Monkeyboy Sam, grandson of the owner. All of which comes crashing down in the final few chapters as the Covenant comes in to Purge the Carnival.

It's really well written, and Antimony makes a good character, better than the occasional references thrown out in previous books. While a few of the twists were expected, the way they came around were not only mostly natural, but unexpected in the forms they took, which is an added bonus. That she manages to add in bits of surreal humor in really serious passages helps quite a bit as well. (Case in point, as the action approaches the climax, Antimony drops in on the Carnival's resident Wadjet [males are giant cobras, females are fairly human looking], only to observe one of the males on the bed watching NetFlix on a tablet. The mental pictures she provides of a giant cobra using a stylus between its coils is perfection.)

I'll admit, while I was amused by this series from the start, other than a plot trigger in book 2, I'm happy the series has come this far and look very much forward to book 7, which will evidently also center on Antimony.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Yaaaassss, Queen!

It was with some trepidation that I picked up Mark Chadbourne's The Queen of Sinister (book two of The Dark Age), mainly since I found out that I misread Goodreads' listings, since evidently the third trilogy was written after the second, not mixed the way I thought. (To be fair, they're bibliography of him is all screwed up.)

Anyway, I needn't have worried, since the first book of the 3rd trilogy really doesn't give away much of the plot of the second, focused on the past the way it is. This is not to say a brief passage in this one doesn't play a part in that book, but....

The Queen of Sinister follows around Caitlin Shepherd, who's village is hit by the plague. Being a nurse, Caitlin is in the heart of it, trying to provide palliative care to the dying. Which also means she's ignoring both her husband and child. Who aren't happy about it. Caitlin has a friend, Mary, whom I think showed up in the first trilogy, but I could be wrong. Mary's a retired psychiatric nurse and witch.

Since there wouldn't be much of a plot here without it, Mary does a seeing for Caitlin, and whatever comes through names Caitlin a Sister of Dragons. After Caitlin gets home, she finds her husband and son plague ridden and dying. Understandably upset, she goes slightly mad, waking up on their graves to a crow pecking at her.

In the mean time, Mary gets a visit from Crowther, who bears a mask that once belonged to the Mad God. Who was told to lead Caitlin to the Summerlands to find the cure for the plague. Which he does, eventually, after picking up Mahalia and Carlton and Matt. Mahalia and Carlton are a package deal, although Carlton is mute. Mostly. Matt is looking to cross to find the Grey Lands and his dead family.

They're also being pursued by what they know as the Whisperers, but what the Tuatha de Dannon refer to as the Lament Brood.

Not long before they cross, it comes out that Caitlin is not alone in her head. Four other personalities are in there, including one whom the others fear and keep from surfacing. About the midpoint, we find out about her.

Mary, in the mean time, takes on a quest of her own to help Caitlin from the Fixed Lands, all while being pursued by the Jigsaw Man. Which leads her to the find The God, who in turn asks her to find the missing Goddess.

Caitlin's party winds up first in Lugh's court (Lugh remaining neutral in the current conflicts) where they meet Jack (not church, but Jack), who spent time in the Court of the Final Word. Given the Lament Brood surrounds the court, Lugh threatens to turn the crew over to them, which in turn leads to the escaping.

As the journey to the House of Pain, and as Mary looks to find and return the Goddess, much happens. Carlton dies, which somehow drops Caitlin in Birmingham. Wherein she meets Thackary and Harvey. The former ends up getting kidnapped by the local Negan, who has a captive Formori. Caitlin finds him, find the Formori, and lets out the final personality, whom we find out is actually the Morrigan.

It's a long quest, but eventually everyone winds up at the House of Pain, except Mary, who does indeed find and bring back the goddess after more than a few misadventures. (I will say his recitation of all of the aspects of the Gorgon is amusing.)

There's a heck of a lot of symbology thrown in here, some of which I remember in the book I read out of order, like the Void in the House of Pain. More than a few characters make the "wrong" decision at the wrong time, although all of the external entities keep saying all choices are part of a greater plan.

I will also add in here that, since most of the plot lines center around the feminine, it also centers around what some groups would consider "the Female Mysteries".  Which, I imagine each reader would be inclined to make up their own mind as to whether or not the male author portrayed correctly.

Honestly, it's a good read, even if the timeline is a bit confusing quite often.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Not as it was advertised.

So, after sitting through 8 hours of ABC's When We Rise, which while good, also had a whole host of issues, I decided to take some advice and read the source material, or at least part of it, When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones.

Which, one would think based on the cover blurbs, had more to do with the history of gay liberation and less of being Cleve's memoir. It's really a bit of both, although some of the problems inherent in the movie version aren't present in the prose. But, since this is a book review, and not a picking at the 80's cereal commercial disguised as a story about gay rights, let's get back to the book. I'll do my best to keep the movie out of this, particularly since of the two other focus people in the movie, one gets one mention in the book, and the other is never mentioned at all.

By far the biggest problem with the book, particularly for those of us coming in expecting a history lesson, is that the first 100+ pages are life in San Francisco and (briefly) Maricopa county, Arizona, prior to much of anything gay rights related. Cleve arrives in 1971, two years after Stonewall, but again, nothing is really happening, beyond him joining a few college groups that really don't do much of anything. We hear about Cleve doing drugs, we hear of Cleve cruising the city (and later Europe) in search of sex. Or searching for sex and drugs. Or generally not doing much of anything but being a gay hippie in 70's San Francisco, Germany, Turkey, etc. I mean, eventually, he sort of ties in some of what I was actually reading this for, discussing a gay rights near riot in Barcelona. Which also seems to be about the only point in the first half when he thinks of being gay as anything that doesn't involve his penis or anus. (I'm not trying to slut shame him here. I'm merely stating that going in looking for stories of the revolution and finding Jackie Collins is not what I was expecting. Not to mention, it gets a bit dull reading about how many men he woke up next to with his face buried in their chest hair.) This doesn't exactly change much in later chapters, as we hear of him skipping a speech in Austin because he met a hot guy in line for a water fountain.

Anyway, things do start to improve after Harvey Milk's election and inauguration (which Cleve skipped because he was in bed with his barista.) It's about this point where Mr. Jones actually starts to get involved in the community. Admittedly, some of the references he throws in are well before my awareness started (he discusses Rev. Jim Jones and the People's Temple a few places, as well as some guy fasting to death in Northern Ireland), but it's fascinating hearing first hand perspective on life in San Francisco during that period. (Mr. Jones goes a bit more in depth than say, Armistead Maupin in Tales of the City.) We hear about the campaign to stop Anita Bryant, and the defeat of the Briggs Initiative. We hear about Milk's plan to try to stop something akin to the Watts riots from happening in San Francisco. (Which basically amounted to keep em marching until they're too tired to riot.) This works out fairly well until Dan White gets convicted on Manslaughter charges, which in turn sets off the White Night riots.

Eventually, we move into GRID and AIDS. While Randy Shilts' ...And the Band Played On is a better book on the subject (and I'll add in here that when I got to college there was a bit of a joke that every gay man got handed a copy as soon as they came out), it also has a larger focus. Cleve here gives us a much more personal view of life when the obits are 3 pages long every day; you make friends, they die, you make new friends, then they die. (On a side note, there's a poster mentioned that a gentleman made with pictures of his KS lesions to warn other gay men what to look for under the heading "Gay Cancer?" (I tried a Google Image Search to find it, but trust and believe me that googling Gay Cancer is not a good idea.)

Soon enough, we get into Mr. Jones's big claim to fame, the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt. And unlike the movie, Mr. Jones goes more in depth about his mildly adversarial relationship with Larry Kramer, who founded ACT UP. (Kramer tells Jones he should burn the quilt. Jones tells Kramer only if Kramer rolls himself up in it first.)

And on and on, we learn of Jones being one of the first to get the new cocktail that lets him survive AIDS.

And we move into the making of Dustin Lance Black and Gus Van Sant's version of Milk. While most of the narrative from this point on tends to get shamelessly name droppy, there are a few funny bits within, like his unsaid comment to Sean Penn about being married to Madonna and not knowing much about gay culture.

Much of Jones' involvement in big developments ends with the repeal of Prop 8 and the striking down of DOMA at the Supreme Court, with the last chapter reflecting on Obergefell vs Hodges.

All things said and done, there are quite a few gems and a good story within the pages. Problem would be the amount of chaff one has to sort through to get to the wheat. I really wish they had been more honest with the advertising on the cover, so I didn't go in expecting things to start off as more than Mr. Jones being everything the Daughters of Bilitis accused gay men of being at the outset.I can also say that after reading this, I can more firmly point the finger of blame at my issues with the movie being due to people other than the author of 1/3 of the source material. Mr. Jones comes off as a bit too self-absorbed to worry about the Boomer vs. Millennial crap that seems to be all the rage.

Also, I'm a bit sad that the best quote in the book is not something the author wrote himself, but rather a line by Harry Hay that better sums up one of the divides in gay culture, about how gay people must decide for ourselves if we're like the rest of society except for what goes on in the bedroom, or if we're different from the rest of society except for what goes on in the bedroom.

It's a readable book, and I'd be inclined to suggest it to folks looking for an introduction to the movement, followed by other sources that cover more or more in depth the topics within. Then again, the author has also sort of avoided something that Harvey Milk suffers from, which is that his memory is really influenced more by the people that knew him than by his own words and deeds.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Christmas in April

It was a bit out of season to be reading Laura Resnick's Polterheist, since it's set in and around Manhattan at Christmas, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the further misadventures of poor Esther Diamond.

With shifts at Bella Stella down due to the number of college kids on break and no auditions on the horizon, Esther is forced to take a job at Fenster & Co., a large department store famous for its elaborate Christmas displays. As Dreidel, the Hanukkah Elf. Along for the ride are her ex, Jeff (known as Diversity Santa), and Satsy (Drag Queen Santa). We open a few days before Christmas, as various seasonal employees have gone missing along with their costumes.

The first sign that Evil is afoot in the store comes fairly early on as first Satsy gets attacked by a demonic laugh that burns off his Santa suit in the Employee freight elevator, followed closely by Esther getting attacked by a talking tree she sings duets with. Which instead of nice things like "Deck the Halls" instead starts talking about wanting her flesh and blood.

Which is about the time her sort of almost ex-boyfriend Detective Connor Lopez walks into the store. Who's investigating truck hijacking that the media seems to think is related to an old feud between the Fenster family and the Gambello family. Which is about the point Lucky Gambello shows up, since it's not the Gambellos. We also meet all the dysfunctional Fensters, including Elspeth, who knows Dreidel from her stint in The Vampyre.

Any rate, it's about halfway through the book before Max and Nelli show up. Thinking what ever is going on at Fenster's is a Poltergeist, Esther sneaks in Lucky and Max as the elves Sugarplum and Belsnickel. (Max poses as a Blind Elf, which allows him to disguise Nelli as the seeing eye reindeer.)

Which leads in to Esther being attacked by Karaoke Bear the next day at work. Trying to save a customer from the really animated singing bear, she manages to make the saving look like assault. Sadly, Carlos, the customer turns out to be Lopez's father. His wife beats Esther with her purse. Which is a unique way to meet the parents.

Any rate, the last act unfolds, and everything gets resolved in the normal manner.

Followed by a really surprising development that I'm sure will be revisited in Misfortune Cookie.

Overall, the book is a very funny and well written piece, although the reveal and resolution aren't particularly a surprise. There's a distinct lack of red herrings throughout the central narrative. On the othe rhand, Lopen and Esther are actually talking about events from previous books and sharing perspective finally, so that's a good thing.

While not the best book in the series, I can think of worse additions to series fiction by other authors.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Why is it always Spiders?

If this comes off a bit odd, understand I'm listening to When We Rise as I'm typing. I really need to get the book of it and soon.

Anyway, either I misread Goodreads listing, or I didn't, since Mark Chadbourn's Jack of Ravens seems to be set after-ish The Dark Age. Although it's more of a direct sequel to Age of Misrule. And since it involves quantum flux and time travel, it takes some time to figure out what the heck is actually going on.

See, we start with Jack Church in the Bronze Age, where he landed at the end of  Age of Misrule. Only problem is that he now has a spider on him that seems to be leeching his memories. It eventually comes off, but he no longer has any real memory of the events of the previous series, other than that he loves Ruth. Somewhere along the line, he and 4 others among the Celtic tribe he lives amongst wake up the Pendragon Spirit and become the Brothers of Dragons. Again.

And then they die. Except Jack, who made the mistake of eating and drinking Niamh's food and drink that wasn't given freely and without obligation. Which means he's in the Far Lands on and off through the book, when not dealing with what's known as The Army of Ten Billion Spiders.

The goal is to collect the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons before the 5 who are part of the Void can claim them. (All of whom are dead members of Church's pentads. Lead by Veitch. Who doesn't seem to have let death slow him down.) We also have The Libertine, who's the semi-human face of the anti-life.

We go forward through time, with scenes set throughout the eras, including a trip to Elizabethan England, where we run into William Swyfte, the main character in the Swords of Albion series. Who helps Chruch and company try to recover the Anubis Box and the Crystal Skull from the Spanish Salazar.

Which doesn't go well. Mind you, we also meet Dr. John Dee, who passes on a bunch of information on Gnostic thought. Which gets echoed in the 1960's by Timothy Leary. (Who's not dead, he's only sleeping.)

Somewhere in here, we meet The Puck, who's again given a shadowy backstory.

There's a lot to process in here, since the Army of Ten Billion Spiders is working through time to negate the events of The Dark Age. Which really screws with the chronology, since Laura, Ruth, and Shavi never unite. Or at least don't try to unite until towards the end, even with Jack sending messages through time. And the involvement of the Seeliegh Court. And yet another explanation of the term Croatan.

It's a good read, even as it switches around much of the narrative from the prior trilogy. And we even get treated to a scene involoving Loki being corrupted by Spiders during th eBlitz. That alone made it interesting.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Hollow Beginning

I was lucky enough to be at the top of the reserve list when Kim Harrison's prequel to The Hollows hit, meaning I'm one of the many who have now experienced The Turn.

For those who have never read The Hollows, this is likely not the place to start reading it, as the only human viewpoint character doesn't really get exposed to the Inderlanders until about 2/3 of the way through, which would likely confuse newbies trying to figure out what's going on with all the supernatural races running around.

Anyway, The Turn is set well before Dead Witch Walking, in the mid 1960's. We start with the graduation from Harvard of Dr. Trisk Cambri and Dr. Trenton Kalamak. Both are Elves, and both hate each other. (Trent is the last of his line, whereas Trisk is a "Dark Elf" with hardier genetics.) We learn that Elves in the 1960's either work in genetics or security, trying to fix the genetic curse leveled on them by the Demons and protecting their own masquerade.

Trisk and Trent used a similar doctoral thesis, in her case using viruses to insert genetic repairs, while he relied on bacterium. They also hate each other. Trisk is further hampered by the Elven predjudices of th etime mirroring that of the Human population, wherein a woman is going to wind up shuffling papers in a lab for old men. `

Trisk ends up on the West Coast working in a Human lab, the idea being that any major genetic discoveries can be passed on to the Elven Enclave. (There's a bit of alternate history here, since one point revolves around developing bioweapons that don't kill after a really ugly Cuban bio crisis.) Trisk develops the T4 Angel Tomato, which is a miracle crop able to grow in almost any environment. Her partner at the lab, Dr. Plank, develops a virus designed to make people sick for 24 hours rather than kill them.

As it turns out, other Inderland species have an interest in the research, leading to a Vampire supervisor and a Witch investor. Who in turn (along with the Were [Colonel Wolfe] and Sa'han Ulbrine) send Kal in to double check her research. Kal is accompanied by his Pixy friend Orchid, who is nowhere near as salty as Jenks in in the original series. (It should be noted here than Quen, who plays a large role in the main series is also in this one, having been hired by the Kalamaks as security. He's a friend of Trisk, and shows up intermittently in the proceedings.)

When Trisk finds out Kal is coming, assuming the worst (he's going to steal her research), she summons a demon of her grandmother's acquaintance, Algaliarept.

Anyway, to condense down a whole heck of a lot of plot, Trent in a fit of professional jealousy, modifies Plank's virus and makes it able to be hosted by the T4 Angel tomatoes. Which has the accidental side effect of making tomatoes toxic, starting off a world wide plague that eventually kills off 25% of the human population. Which starts off some unforeseen consequences, like the complete obliteration of Detroit following the breaking of the Silence by Witches and Vampires.

Eventually, we wind up in Cincinnati, wherein we see the set up of how the main series begins, but not before we come to realize there really isn't a single nice person in the book. Understandable and relatable, yes. But not a single one of them other than possibly Dr. Plank is motivated by anything other than self interest. From Trisk wanting her name on her own work, to Kal trying to bring glory to his family, to Saladan trying to make money on everything to Piscary starting his power play that eventually causes some mid series drama later on....

This is a really fun read for fans of the main series, as people we sort of know show up throughout the course of this volume. On the other hand, given how involved the main series got over 13 volumes, I ended up pulling up the character list on wikipedia to help me figure out who some of the people were with familiar names.