Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Makes me miss the 80's

A while back, I picked up a friend of mine some Dean R. Koontz at one of the book sales. She read Breathless, handed it back to me, and told me to read it so we can Book Club it.

Here's the problem. As I believe I mentioned, I quit reading Koontz not long after Servants of Twilight since the plots went beyond my suspension of disbelief. Breathless is kind of like that, except it's at least semi readable.

What plot there is is tied up in several sub plots, a few of which never connect to the larger narrative, and all of which end in a big ol's Deus ex Machina, emphasis on the Deus.

Let's see. We have Grady Adams and his Irish Wolfhound Merlin. Then we have Dr. Camilla Rivers, a vet. Then we have Henry Rouvroy and his soon to be dead brother Jimmy and Jimmy's soon to be dead wife Nora. Dr. Lamar Woolsey, a mathematician and chaos theorist who can also beat Vegas odds at the card tables. Tom Bigger, the homeless guy. Then the might as well be nameless serial killer and the lawyer who hires him who show up in about 6 total pages spread in the second half of the book and do next to nothing.

So anyway.

Grady walks the dog, sees visions of white animals frolicking in the glade. Camilla is a vet, who has animals suddenly going into trances and coming out of them content. Henry shows up at his brother's remote farm, kill the brother and his wife, then assumes Jim's identity. Tom has a vision on the beach and walks the California coast.

The white animals break into Grady's house and steal his baked chicken. He invites Camilla over to meet them. Camilla names them Puzzle and Riddle, since they don't fit into any known taxonomy. Claire takes pictures and sends them on to colleagues, who pass it up the food chain, thinking they're lab experiments. This gets Homland security involved, who bring in Woolsey as a consult.That Woolsey is also Grady's best friend's father is just a coincidence.

Henry is convinced his brother and sister-in-law aren't really dead and stalking him.

Tom ends up in a motel where an elderly Jewish couple gets him home.

And somewhere in this, we delve off of plausibility into Intelligent Design, since as the mathematician explains, math doesn't support the theory of evolution.

I mean, it's readable, but it's not anything I'd be inclined to reread ever. It made me long for the days when his plots involved time travelling Nazis, rich old men ripping off H G Wells, or even policemen fighting voodoo.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Hail, Hail, the gang's all here

So, I had originally intended to read something else before starting Enchanter's End Game by David Eddings, which finishes up The Belgariad (mainly because I dislike having back to back posts out of the same series), but I also knew it would be a quicker read than the next volume up before we start the library books.

Anyway, as I stated above, this is the last book of the first quintet. Likely sometime after New Year's, I'll dig up the second quintet and the follow up volumes, but for now, I'm satisfied having read the original stories.

Like the previous volumes, this opens with holy writ from one of the world's religious texts. In this case, we get a passage from The Book of Torak, who frames his narrative with him as the hero. Mind you, the idea is that if his prophecy wins out, this will be the literal truth of the world.

Then we meet up with Silk, Belgarath, and Garion as they cross from Drasnia into Gar Og Nadrak on their way to boundless Mallorea. Which is made more entertaining by the occupying Mallorean Agnaraks conscripting everyone into their army. Eventually, they make it to the land of the Morindim, another godless race. Instead of seeking UL with the Ulgos, these decided to raise demons. Eventually though, they make it to Mallorea and head to Cthol Mishrak where dead Torak lies sleeping.

Then we return to the armies of the west, as they plan a diversionary war to draw the Agnaraks to Mishrak ac Thull. Which works well until the Malloreans and the Murgos arrive at the same time. Polgara, Ce'Nedra, Errand, and Durnik become guests of 'Zakath the Mallorean Emperor who gives them over to the Gromlims for transport to Cthol Mishrak.

Once there, everything comes to a head, and the necessities meet in what's billed as the final battle (well, you know, other than the next quintet...) and we get our happy fantasy ending as just about everyone ends up happily married and healed.

As I complete this, I understand that the overall story is better than the individual books. Becauses, frankly, each book has its own problems, but the story itself is engaging. We'll return to the Bels and Pols soon, I assume, but for now...

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ladies and gentlemen, The Riven Queen!

Again, proving that they're quick reads, I finished Castle of Wizardry by Davis Eddings on lunch today. (And if anyone is missing this particular volume, I seem to have an extra.)

So, we pick up with the escape from Cthol Murgos, as the party rides hard from the soon to be ruins of Cthol Mishrack. As Belgarath is exhausted from his battle, the party rests in Algaria at the only permanent settlement, The Stronghold. (The Algars tend to follow the herds and tend to be nomadic. They basically built the Stronghold to give visiting Murgos a place to attack.)

In Algaria, Belgarion meets his cousin Adara, who's in love with Hetter, the party member who can talk to horses. She ends up accompanying them back to and through Ulgoland to Sendaria, where Polgara and Garion and Ce'Nedra make a field trip back to Faldor's Farm for Garion to see once and for all his hoime is not the farfm. Which is good, since as soon as the reach the Island of the Winds and Riva, Garion is revealled to be Belgarion, the Bearer of the Orb of Aldur, and the Prophecied Child of Light in the upcoming battle against the Child of Dark, Torak.

Almost all of the royalty in the West is there, excluding Porenn of Drasnia (who just had King Rhodar's baby) and Ran Borune of Toledra.

Garion finally gets more information on the prophecies and what's expected of him. To try to save lives, he Silk, and Belgarath leave secretly in the night for Mallorea in hopes of causing the confrontation with Torak before total war breaks out for generations.

As such, Polgara is essentially left in charge of those left behind. And she's unhappy. Ce'Nedra, who as part of the betrothal with Garion (again, a condition of the prophecy), has joint ruling powers in Riva, and uses her charm and wits to join the war party. Mostly, she becomes a figure to gather together the disparate non Alorn races to join the fight against the Agnaraks.

And she does this quite well, learning and having to deal with the fact she's likely leading the armies to their deaths.

By far, it's in this book where the plot actually gets interesting. The secrets are revealed, and it's all heading to a showdown.

The one outstanding problem is one of Fate verses Free Will. As Taiba, the Marag woman and Relg, the Ulgo get closer, the prophecy itself states this is necessary and they have no real choice in the matter. Which is really kind of horrible. There's a line in Mercedes Lackey's Mage Storms trilogy that I find myself reflecting on when reading about Relg and Taiba; the idea that lifebonding (or destined love) is almost like enslavement, and love given freely without that kind of bond isn't a bad thing at all, since you have choices with it.

What we know at the end:
Garion is Belgarion, whom prophecy foretold.
Belgarion must face Torak, the Dragon God of Agnarak.
The child Errand is the only other one who can touch thr Orb of Aldur currently.
Ce'Nedra is fulfilling prophecy on her end by raising an army to keep the three headed East safe.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Smiling faces beautiful places...oh wait, wrong side.

I finished Michael G. Williams's Attempted Immortality this afternoon as I was trying to plot out my next few books, thanks to a combination of the goodreads awards and the library. I say this mainly since I've been reading The Withrow Chronicles interspersed with The Belgariad, and this book is currently the last one published.

Anyway, we open on Roderick and Withrow in a beach town on an island on the North Carolina/South Carolina border searching for the ancients who made a deal with a demon back in the day. They seem to have gathered to raise an ancient the cousins dub The Rhinemaiden, after the singing trollops that start Valhalla in Wagner's Ring Cycle. (For those unfamiliar with it, it's four operas about drunken Norse Gods. Google or YouTube Anna Russell and get the short version.)

Anyway, since it's winter, nobody seems to really be in town other than the ancients, their thralls, the technopagans, and Withrow and Roderick. Well, there is one realtor, but she generally just shows up twice and makes nasty commentary.

Anyway, most of the Asheville vampires end up in Sunset beach to help draw out the elders to stomp them out. We also find out the techopagans have utilized magic to do one of the tricks that was ever popular in Mage: The Ascension, wherein flashlights and car headlights now cast sunlight.

Much is gleaned here, such as an understanding that the Last Gasp isn't the last power a vampire is going to get, and indeed, vampires evolve as they age.  We also keep getting hints that Roderick is more than he appears to be, although what he is has yet to be defined.

There's a lot of cross and double cross, and Ross, last seen making out with Withrow in the back room of a big box store is back negotiating on behalf of the ancients. One should also mention that regardless of whether he's a tulpa or a demon, thanks to Dungeons & Dragons, he's vulnerable to silver.

Overall, the theme here is that the ancients are just as divided as the ancillae are in terms of who's doing what to whom. Because, as it turns out, almost no one really wanted the Rhinemaiden to wake up. (In OWoD terms, it's a bit like reading about Sabbat Tzimisce trying to take out the Voivodate. Only with less Vicissitude.)

Honestly, I look forward to volume five, the presumed end of this, since I'm curious as to what horrors await our anti heroes in Charlotte, where no one wants to go.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Not quite like Remy LeBeau

I technically finished David Eddings's Magician's Gambit yesterday, but a very long day at work crossed with a lack of sleep meant not updating until now.

So, We pick up with out party leaving Nyssia and heading to Aldur's Vale. (Aldur being the god of Sorcerers.) Unfortunately, due to a bunch of Murgo interference, the party instead rides through the remains of Maragor, where the God Mara eternally weeps over his slain people. (Seems a few millennia ago, the Tolnedrans invaded and slaughtered the Marags wholesale. Whether it was due to an odd quirk of religious cannibalism or the amount of gold that that Marags weren't using lining the streams remains open to debate.) A visit with Mara yields no real results, other than another discussion on prophecy and the dry voice in Garion's head informing Mara that his sorrow is not far from ending.

The trail to the Vale is treacherous out of Maragor and they end up finding the cave where the Gods met to talk during the creation. Garion pulls a new colt back from death in the cave.

More than a few conversations happen in the Vale, most of which involve getting Garion to understand his Sorcery. We find that Polgara talks to the birds, and Ce'Nedra, who is half Dryad, talks to trees. Alder again refers to Garion as Belgarion, and much is made of finding people to fulfill roles as foretold in prophecy. We also get to meet the other Sorcerers who serve Aldur, Beltira and Belkira (twins) and Beldin, the dwarf. Beldin is one who shows affection through insults, which Polgara and Belgarath understand, but most of the rest of the party doesn't at first.

From The Vale, The party enters Ulgoland, Home of the Ulgos. It seems after the creation, the Gods chose their people, leaving at least one group godless. (We meet a few more of these groups later on, although the Dryads technically count.) This particular group petitioned the gods to take them in, but they told them to seek their father UL. Whom a man named Gorim finally found, and persuaded to take his people and the animals unclaimed as his. Since the time when Torak took the orb and cracked the world, they've lived in caves under the ruined city of Proglu. All leaders of the Ulgo have taken the name Gorim after their founder. I should mention that one the way to Proglu, the party encounters a monster whom Belgarath met many eons ago. During the fight, Polgara and Garion manage to bring the spirit of her mother into battle, which makes Belgarath mildly upset.

Anyway, the upshot of the visit to Ulgoland and Proglu winds up being that Ce'Nedra stays with Gorim and a diviner (one who can sense caves and traverse through rock) joins them for the journey into Cthol Murgos. This would be Relg, who's a fundamentalist of the worst sort, who spends much of him time after being told by UL to get his ass out of the cave and help praying and abasing himself. He does however start loosening up after seeing Murgos (particularly their King, Taur Urgos) in action. After silk gets captured, Relg actually drags Silk out of the pit through solid rock to free him. Later, his unique ability becomes both weapon and body disposal.

Any rate, the entire thing comes down to Rak Cthol, where Ctuchick  waits along with the child who bears the orb.

While that particular confrontations comes out predictably, they do discover what may well be one of the last of the Marags in the dungeons. We close on Relg, who seems to think her nakedness is a sin against UL, leading the party back to her for rescue.

What we know by the end:

Garion is actually Belgarion.
All the members of the party have titles as defined by the prophecies.
There are two proecies out heroes are using, while the Agnaraks have one of their own.
This also is the first real mention of the Mrin Codex and the Darine Codex.
The only one vulnerable in Rak Cthol was The Queen of the World (Ce'Nedra), thus why she stayed in Ulgoland.

We'll return for book for in a little while. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Big problems

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne is a real departure from his soon to finish Iron Druid series. Among other things, at over 600 pages, it's his longest published work. It's also high fantasy, coming closer to George R. R. Martin world building than say, Mercedes Lackey.

The known world here has six countries, of which five have kennings from their patron deity at the outset. Five are at peace, with one, Hathrir mostly at detente with the other five. (The Hathrir have the kenning of fire, and are generally larger than the other peoples in the world. Thus one part of the title plague.) 

Since it's part of the series title, a word on the Kennings. Kennings are magics granted by the gods based on a particular element. The elements in question differ a bit from both Western and Eastern elements, as we have Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Plants, and about midway through, Animals. Rumors abound about a Seventh Kenning, but it as of yet remains undefined. Kennings are granted in a fashion where you either get blessed or join the gods. The first we witness, in Forn, involves tree roots sucking seekers into the ground, where they either become blessed or become fertilizer. The others aren't particularly easier sounding, as Air involves throwing one's self off a cliff and Water involves drowning in a tidal pool. Blessings occur in different degrees (as discussed in the book, it seems like most of them have 3 levels), and overusing the power causes the body to age. (This is all more than what the reader is given at the outset, since we more or less jump right in to the book without explanation . We meet our narrator in Brynlon, and he starts relating tales told on Survivor's Field by the bard from Rael.)

See, in Platonic fashion, what we're reading in the journal of Dervan, a recently unemployed historian at the university in Pelemyn. He's good friends with the Pelenaut (leader of the country), who gets him to follow around Fintan and record his stories as well as occasional spycraft.

Finatn's tales give us a view of one of the Hathrir clans sending an invading force into Ghurana Nent to establish a new settlement after a volcano erupts on the old one. This upsets both the Nentians and the Fornians to their south. (Forn is home of the Kenning of Plants. Therefore, the Hathrir burning trees is abominable to them.) In the meantime, what come to be known as Bone Giants start showing up in the East. a single giant winds up in Kauria, where a linguistics expert is brought in to communicate with him.

North of Kauria, invading hordes of Bone Giants arrive on the shores of Brynlon and Rael. The problem being that no one knows really where the giants came from, since the seas are filled with krakens that eat boats since something called The Rift.

And on the Plains of Nent, a young boy discovers the sixth Kenning after being mauled by giants cats.

Fintan tells these stories using his Kenning, which includes a special stone that allows him to take on the appearance of each individual narrating character. And there are a lot of them. Which is good, since it gives us just about everybody's perspective on the simultaneous invasion.

As an added note, two of the narrators are gay men, which was not something I expected in this volume.

It's a good start to however long this series is supposed to go. I'll be interested to see how this progresses, particularly since most of the map remains unexplored.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Be careful what you wish for

Been a busy weekend, but I still managed to finish Michael G. Williams's third book in The Withrow Chronicles, Deal With The Devil. 

Unlike the previous two volumes, this one seems to be setting up a larger metaplot that ties together some of the random events of the previous two volumes in the series, which is a good thing.

 We start by getting introduced to a new real life superhero in Durham, NC, who gets dubbed The Bull's Eye after she gags a burglar with a bag from a particular box store. Then we end up finding Withrow meeting a new supervillain while trying to track down a foreign vampire in Durham. Said villain is in the Duke library breaking open a case containing an antique Blue Devil outfit.

After watching the newly christened El Diablo put on the outfit, Withrow meets Ross, who seems to be a demon. (Whether or not he actually is becomes a topic of debate after the climax of the story, since for Ross to be an actual demon would suggest that hell and by extension heaven is a real place. Withrow's cousin Roderick thinks it's likely demons are actually Tibeten Tulpas summoned into the Western world.)

Ross apparently has a crush on Withrow, as undead passions rise along with demonic one, which culminates in a protracted makeout session ath the local Uberbargains box store.

Along side the hero/villain story, we also have the foreign vampire who's farming two twins who evidently have delicious blood due to some kind of "vitamin" a lab at Duke was using on a few of the athletes. There's a fairly interesting discussion with that, since one of the twins seems to fetishize the blood drinking, although whether or not it started off as consensual is a topic that gets addressed as Withrow prepares to confront Dmitri.

Jennifer is back, and in a larger role this time, as she's working with Duke technopagans to figure out what all is going bump in the night.

As I said, he seems to be building a metaplot for the series, since we finally find out more of the roots of the Transylvanian from Book Two as well as what caused the zombies back in Book One.We're also left questioning how much Withrow can trust Roderick, since Roderick seems to be acting on his own agenda in things.

I'll be curious as to what surprises Book Four holds within its bound pages.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I Hate That Queen!

So, today we're focusing on David Eddings's second book in The Belgariad, Queen of Sorcery.

When we left our Fellowship, they were leaving Cherek for Arendia. We open on the norther border of Arendia, near the ruins of Vo Wacune, former home of the Wacite Arends, who were exterminated some 2.5 millennia ago. As of now, there are only two factions of Arends left, the Asturians, who speak modern English, and the Mimbrates, who speak like rejects from a Ren Fest. The two sides were united under a king of the Mimbrates and a queen of the Asturians following the war that brought Torak to the West looking for the Orb of Aldur. (Aldur being one of the gods of the series. Aldur has no real people of his own, other than a small grouping of Sorcerers who serve him.)

In the great forests of Asturian influence, we meet Lelldorin, an archer of some renown, who joins the party. Lelldorin is very Arendish, he's part of a larger plot to take out the King and make it look like the southern Tolnedrans did it. He's brave, and prone to getting swept up into things like regicide. However, he's not nearly as bad as the Mimbrate Mandorallen, whom we meet next, who's part of an epic love triangle that's the gossip of the entire kingdom. Seems he and his liege's wife are of similar age and in love, although neither will act on it, since the wife equally loves her husband, as does Mandorallen.

Lelldorin gets poisoned going through Arendia, and is left in the care of Mimbrates. Mandorallen comes along to court, wherein the whole regiscide plot comes apart and the Gromlim priest behind it is exposed. (A word on Torak's people, the Agnaraks. The Nadraks are merchants on the North Eastern side of the continent. The Thulls are considered chattel and live in the middle Eastern section of the continent. The Murgos live in the Southeast, and are a warrior caste. The Gromlims are priests of Torak and also sorcerers of Torak and look quite a bit like Murgos. Then there's the Mallorians, but we really don't meet them until book 5. They live on the other continent.)

Anyway, from Arendia, the fellowship travels further south into Tolnedra, currently undergoing a rather expensive and poisonous attempt at regime change. Seems the current emperor, Ran Borune, is not far from death and has no male heir. Therefore, the other great families are trying to get their own candidates in position to take the throne by bribery and poison. We hear of Maragor to the East, where the Tolnedrans massacred the Marags over the sin of cannibalism and the large amount of unused gold in the rivers of Maragor. A monastery sits on the border to try to calm the ghosts who haunt any who venture into Maragor.

The party gets waylaid early on by a Nyssian, seeking to bring Garion, Polgara, and Belgarath before his queen, Eternal Salmissra.

While visiting Ran Borune, we meet Ce'Nedra, his daughter, who's unhappy about being confined to the palace, as well as a clause in the Accords of Vo Mimbre that states she must go to the hall of the Rivan King on her 16th birthday. Since there hasn't been a Rivan King in several centuries, she finds it humiliating.

After leaving on not so great terms, the party continues south, joined by the disguised princess. The ruse is revealed in short order, and Ce'Nedra joins the party, mainly existing here to argue with Garion.

One of the current front runners for the throne catches up with the party, and the Gromlim running him turns out to be the one who killed Garion's parents. This opens Garion to becoming a sorcerer in his own right, who promptly kills the Gromlim.

Anyway, as the enter the Dryad territory, they get waylaid again by mudmen that happen to be animated by snakes serving Salmissra. Once dispatched, they visit the Dryads, who tell Ce'Nedra she can't stay with them.

And so, we wind up in Nyssia, with Belgarath and Silk taking the journey south through the jungle and the rest going by boat to Ssith Tor. It's here we see the wretched hive of scum and villany that is Nyssia. Due to the nature of the jungle, most of the Nyssians have addictions to any number of psychotropic herbs and berries. Slavers run in and out of port. The Nyssians were evidently behind the long ago assassination of the Rivan King, so the Alorns aren't happy to be there. Eventually, Salmissra manages to kidnap Garion, not long after he and Polgara have a really bad fight. Salmissra is surrounded by her eunuchs and her snakes. She essentially drugs Garion into submission, although the nondissociative voice in his brain keeps him rational.

Eventually, everything works out, as Salmissra's plot is revealed and Polgara fulfills a long ago promise to another incarnation of the Queen.

Silk and Belgarath make it soon after, and the party book ends with the party headed to the Vale of Aldur.

What we know by the end of this book:

The Orb of Aldur was stolen by a former disciple of Aldur named Belzedar, and no one is sure how he did it.

Garion's full name is Belgarion, although he's not happy about it, since it means his life is changing.

The Gromlims seem to be bound and determined to stir up trouble in the west since the time of prophecy is upon them.

This is the book where the adverbs start becoming problematic.

Still, other than the overreaching plot becoming more obvious to readers, it remains a solid entry in the series.

Monday, October 16, 2017

No bread pudding this time

So, I finished Michael G. Williams's second book in The Withrow Chronicles today, and found it to be a nice change from the first.

Tooth & Claw picks up some time after Perishables, as Withrow is investigating the murder of the last person who knew him in life. (Ok, we actually pick up in 195* as Clyde, the friend, is investigating the murder of a couple of locals by what everyone assumes was a Songcatcher.) The murder goes unsolved, and Clyde goes up the murder site every year on the anniversary to ponder his failure. Withrow usually joins him.

Except this year, when Withrow finds Clyde exsanguinated in the same spot the old body had been found.

Withrow's biological cousin, who also got turned into a vampire is visiting from Seattle and helps Withrow track down the murderer. That Rodrick has his own agenda is a story in and of itself.

Much of the book delves into the world of vampires in this setting, and the concept of "The Last Gasp", wherein after the last person who knew you in life dies, and you murder someone, you gain a power of some kind. Like flight or making mushrooms dance.

Jennifer from the last book is in here, briefly, as a Paranormal investigator. And a new character, a lesbian detective named H'Diane (and her girlfriend LaVonde) is introduced, as Withrow tries to cultivate her as a police contact. The thing is that there's a touch of Hoodoo up in the hills, and an old witchwoman gives LaVonde a talisman for H'Diane that protects her from vampires.

Unlike Perishables, the book is one complete story, and there are no post apocalytic recipes to be found, which was a lot less distracting. Really, about the only real issue I had was with the printer formatting, wherein there's a line break at the end of every paragraph, which works well on a blog, but drives me nuts in print.

Good read.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Here we go again

Part 2 of the twofer.

I thought another series might keep me from posting about the same series for multiple entries. On the way out the door, I grabbed Pawn of Prophecy, Book 1 of David Eddings's The Belgariad. Which I promptly finished sitting out back with the dog.

Ok. Long time readers have probably heard me kvetch about how badly the author needs a thesaurus. I still think he does, although his choice of adverbs is not quite as bad early on.

Anyway, we start on Faldor's Farm, in the rather remote kingdom of Sendaria. We meet Garion, who's been raised at the feet of the head cook, his Aunt Pol. Garion grows into a teenager over 50 pages, and we hear a few of the stories of this world. Anmes the God Kal Torak, who took Aldur's orb and cracked the world.

Eventually, the people of Torak make their way to the farm, and that starts the adventure rolling, as Pol and Mister Wolf, the itinerant storyteller grab Garion and join the Alorns (Silk and Barak. Silk is a Drasnian, Barak is a Cherek. The kingdom of Belor's people were split in 4 years before this begins.) They're also joined by the smith Durnik, who lived on the farm with Pol and Garion.

Long story short, we, by the end of the volume, know that Mister Wolf is actually Belgarath, a sorcerer of legend; making aunt Pol Polgara, his also Sorceress daughter. Garion is now known to be a relative of the pair. We also know that there are Gromlins, priests of Kal Torak seeking them out. We know something of value has been stolen. The Alorns are mobilizing for war, and the party is headed to Gondor Arendia, where the folks are high on nobility and low on intelligence.

Re-reading reminded me how much I love the character Silk, who's part of the major occupation of Drasnia, the secret service. AKA he spies. He also gets some of the best lines throughout both series.

Honestly, the writing is about like reading some of the interactions in the old Sega CD game Lunar: the Silver Star, where the characters honestly care about each other, but also have no issues smart talking to each other. It's kind of charming, really.

A fun read, even if it's not the most original series out there. Also, you can get a thesaurus and replace repeated adverbs in your own edition.