Thursday, May 17, 2018

Remind me to take Cornwall off the bucket list

Ishmael Jones and his girlfriend Penny are back at it again in Into the Thinnest of Air by Simon R. Green. While a slim read at 162 pages, it does continue our maybe an alien's story in a fun way that has absolutely nothing to to do with British National Security, the Organization, or really much of Earth shattering import.

Which is a nice change.

Instead, we find Ishmael and Penny invited to a pre-opening dinner of an Inn in Black Rock Towen. Said Inn (The Castle) has a spotty reputation dating back at least to the Victorian era when the Inn was run by Tyrone, who poisoned all of his guests and was later lynched by the locals. Prior to that, the Castle had been built by smugglers as a fortress. In the more modern era, legends abound about the long dead and gone tree appearing in the mist on occasion.

While Penny is the one with the invite, she takes Ishmael along as her "plus one", since the new owners knew her father. The owners won the lottery and are having old friends for dinner. These include the town vicar and his wife, a local reporter, and a woman who has done lots of background research on the castle. However, right before dessert, the wife vanishes into thin air in the kitchen.

What follows is seven people becoming increasingly paranoid, dredging up old tales of interdimensional demons and pacts with the devil as one by one, their numbers vanish into thin air. In the end, only Penny and Ishmael remain standing, left to finally solve the mystery.

Sadly the resolution and the identity of the culprit aren't exactly groundbreaking and original, but it's a solid yarn nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

There really isn't a single nice person in this

So, when I followed the tag to find out the last time I read a book in Richard K. Morgan's A Land Fit For Heroes trilogy, I found out I last posted about it in 2012, and even then it was mentioning the series in relation to another series I was writing about. However, someone in a facebook group posted about the series recently and I found out he'd finally finished it back in 2015.

Which brings us to The Dark Defiles, which has taken me about two weeks to wade through, where every character talks like they're playing golf on a pirate ship. Seriously. I think the ocean they're all sailing on isn't nearly as salty as the dialogue at points. Even the gods/demons/whatever they actually are drop the f bomb every other word or so.

Any rate, the whole series centers on three warriors, veterans of another war, called back in to duty as the dwenda, figures of legend, start re-entering the world. We have Egar, also known as Dragonsbane, from the steppes, who had taken over his clan until his brother and a shaman tried to kill him and take over the clan. We have Archeth, a half-human who's father came from another outside race that helped drive out the dwenda the last time and who currently is the Emperor's advisor. And we have Ringil, who started off in the League, got exiled for taking a male lover, then managed to alienate both major governments by trying to end the slave trade single handedly. Add to it that he was schtupping a dwenda back in book one and now spends a bunch of time in the wounds between the worlds... Oh yeah, and he commands the glyphs that make up the magic in this world.

At the start, the three warriors are well north of both the Empire and the League looking for the body of the Illwrack Changeling, supposedly the dwenda's champion in time long gone. During the course of the search, Ringil gets separated from the other two, who get captured by League privateers, since the Empire has decided to start a war with the League again.

Egar and Archeth wind up getting free when they shipwreck near the fabled city they were also looking for, built by Archeth's people in the Ago.

Ringil uses magic, captures the leader of the privateers (eventually), and starts his own quest to pretty much kill everything that moves.

(That's really simplified, but true enough.)

Eventually, we find out there's not a single nice character in this entire series, and just about every faction has been plotting to serve their own goals rather than what's best for everyone.

The entire series is quite interesting, and has a bunch of Queer representation in its characters.  It's also quite coarse and unrefined. While I kind of doubt I'll ever reread them, I don't regret wading into this series.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Conspiracy!

Not long after starting R. S. Belcher's The Night Dahlia, I had to go look up the previous volume in this series just to refresh my memory on Latham Ballard and his drunken magic.

So, this volume is not quite as conspiracy heave as the previous volume, although a fairly large one looms later on in the book as the mystery coalesces between Where is Crystal vs. How is she related to the previous serial murders that drove Latham out of LA several years ago?

Let's start at the beginning. The first chapter concerns Latham's continuing deal with the Devil, then we get to meet Ankou, a rather large presence in the Fae world who's also quite rich. Ankou's daughter vanished several years ago and no one can figure out where she is, leading Ankou to find her. A few deals are struck, and Latham is off to Greece with Vigil the Knight in tow. In Greece, connections are made, and we end up in the City of Angels, where Latham trained to be a Nightwise and ended up dropping out of the program. (There's a lot of information presented with this, in dribs and drabs. By far the most attention getting to me was that the Nightwise are funded by The Builders, out of the Brotherhood of the Wheel.)

Again, the actual mystery goes plaid over time, with cameos by Charles Manson, evil Buddhists half human crash carts, a few really seedy and one mildly classy sex clubs...drugs, alcohol...

Really though, much of the book is the gradual redemption of Latham from his own demons. And boy does he have a few. But really, exploring previous interpersonal relationships he had in LA when he was sure he was a good guy and how he started down the road he's been on and the start of climbing out of the hole his life is when everyone is telling him he can't is an interesting story hiding behind some very strange narrative points.

I look forward to returning to him whenever that time comes.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Schlieffen vs Élan and the long dig

Digging into Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August is a bit like getting cross examined. She's constantly bringing up everyone's strengths and failings and presenting them to you as both witness and jury.

Starting with the 1910 funeral of Edward VII, we see how interbred early 20th century European royalty actually is, and how cut off Germany feels from its European contemporaries. ( I mean, the war that ended up uniting the Germans into Germany was roughly 30 years earlier and had ended in a march on Paris that rather annoyed the French.)  From there, we see the Triple Alliance form, with German, Austria-Hungary, and Italy form a mutual defense pact, while the Triple Entente sort of united Russia, Britain, and France. (When war actually breaks out, Italy refuses to join what become the Central Powers because Austria-Hungary started things with aggression. Russia mobilizes, but really doesn't do much beyond failing to properly do much of anything other than fail in invading Germany. They did rather well in other fronts, before signing a separate peace after the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar in 1917...)

Anyway, Tuchman is mostly concerned with Germany, France, and Britain, with a bit about the invasions of Luxembourg and Belgium discussed as the various war machines gear up in August 1914, following whatever plan their military had mapped out in the period between wars. In Germany's case, that would be the Schlieffen Plan, which concentrated mostly on sweeping through Belgium and enveloping France from the North. For France, that would be Plan 17, which wasn't so much a plan as much as it was "We will take back Alsace-Lorraine and head to Berlin with élan et outré with a side of cran!"

Britain, on the other hand, really didn't want to get involved. Indeed, they spend most of August complaining, and it takes a heck of a lot of complaining to get their two Armies into the Battle of the Marne.

Anyway, since most of this is available in a more concise format elsewhere, Germany gets within 40 miles of Paris before a few factors end up allowing the Allies to make a stand that ends in 4 years of wet trenches, mustard gas, and nothing happening on the Western Front. (Indeed. if you have insomnia, allow me to suggest All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, which by the time the narrator dies, you'll swear you already did 100 pages ago.) 

What makes Tuchman a more fascinating read than the surveys of The Great War is her ability to dig in to the personalities commanding all the belligerents in the conflict, from the Kaiser, to Sir John French (who wants France to leave him a path to the channel to escape), to Papa Joffre who ends up doing what ends up being the right thing by firing the one general who actually sees the conflict as it is, rather than through Nationalistic ideals that got the whole thing started. 

Heck, we even get a chapter on Woodrow Wilson and why the Americans didn't enter until 1917, which, unlike the isolationism and adherence to the Monroe Doctrine that delayed entry into the sequel, instead involved Wilson's desire to play peacemaker, British blockades of the continent creating similar issues to the ones that set off the War of 1812 (which we tend to gloss over the fact Britain was a bit busy with Napoleon at the time), and a much less integrated German ethnicity in the States that rallied against joining the allies at the outset. (This was a bit odd for me, since the late 20th century seems to have fulfilled the Melting Pot to the degree that we judge based on skin color more than where our families immigrated from.) 

Was it worth reading? Yes. It's a must read for anyone looking for information on the bigger belligerents in World War I. If you're wanting to know about the entire war, though, there are better resources out there that go more in depth into everything else going on and the other fronts of the conflict.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Southern Murder

I don't know that I've read any of Charlaine Harris's Aurora Teagarden series prior to picking up Sleep Like a Baby, but if it's any indication, I might have to start searching for the rest of the series.

We open with Aurora Teagarden trying to comfort her new baby while coming down with the flu and her husband Robin getting ready to leave for a convention. The illness means calling in some extra help in Virginia, a babysitter they'd used previously after Sophie was born. Her half brother Philip is also around to help, although since he's much younger and in high school, his ability to help is somewhat limited.

This arrangement works well enough until the night Virginia vanishes and while searching for her, Philip and Roe find a dead body in the back yard. A dead body who used to be one of Robin's stalkers, who also previously tried to kill Roe.

Which quickly makes Robin a suspect, even though he's been in Tennessee.

Anyway, as the book progresses and we hear about several auxiliary characters, we do eventually find out what happened to Virginia and who killed the stalker.

It's a well written read. While it may not be Dame Agatha levels, Miss Christie also was much more interested in the mechanics than the emotions. Given this is series mystery, the emotional bonds help give this some oomph.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Stone Fruit Blues

I recently checked out André Aciman's Call Me By Your Name after seeing the movie. Mainly because I enjoyed the movie, and was curious as to how the source material functioned.

The book is narrated by Elio, a young man living in Italy with his expat parents. His father is a professor of of some kind, who always has summer residents come in to work on things related to Italian projects. When the book starts, th enew residency has started with Oliver, who teaches at Columbia as a grad student moving in while he works on his books about philosophy and getting it translated into Italian.

We learn more about Elio than we ever do about Oliver, which again makes sense, since it's all told from Elio's narration. Which also means we have to deal with Elio's adolescent angst and random fantasy throughout. We observe the games Elio plays trying to draw affection from Oliver, and we see Elio as he flirts with Marzia.

Quite frankly, Elio seems to be very fluid in his expression of sexuality and awakening, although it would appear most of his attraction is for Oliver, given how often he sneaks in to Oliver's room and plays with his wardrobe.

When the two finally consummate their relationship, it appears to be very near the end of Oliver's 6 week residency and after a lot of apprehension on the older Oliver's part. They wind up going to Rome together before Oliver flies back to the states, which leads to new situations and more awakenings from Elio.

In the end, we find out that Oliver is marrying a woman in the states, although Elio tracks him down twice later in life to reconnect.

It's an engaging read, even if parts of it are quite difficult to get through, due to reawakening old angsts long forgotten in the mists of past regrets. Or for that matter, some of Elio's experiments, none of which I will go into in this space. However, if you saw the movie, there are two scenes that stick out and are indeed in the novel with a bunch of extra emotion in them.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

This is the end, my only friend the end

A day late on this one (had some dental work yesterday and wasn't up to much of anything), but I did finally finish Scourged, the final book in Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles. 

Again, we're following three major characters,  Atticus, Granuaile, and Owen as Ragnarok begins. Well, actually, before Hel and Loki emerge, we first have to clean up a few dangling plot threads, like Granuaile finishing taking out the vampires of Poland before being shipped off to Taiwan to fight the Yama Kings along side Sun Wukong, and Owen putting out fires (literally) as different events as the elementals call to him.

Atticus himself first takes care of the World Serpent off Ireland's coast, the heads to Sweden where Loki and Hel are supposed to emerge. And they do. And we get a fairly decent fight between all the Western pantheons vs the armies of Niflheim.

I'll say again, while he captures the spirit of most of the Norse pantheon, his big bad, Loki falls flat. Also, by spending most of Ragnarok focused on plots to take out Hel, one gets the impression that we're missing something bigger and grander in scale.

On the other hand, it didn't end as I thought it would, which was a nice surprise.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Stormy Weather...

So, as promised, I finished Mercedes Lackey's Storm Breaking, the final book in her Mage Storms trilogy.

Most of the book centers on a few places of power, from Elsbeth and Darkwind with Tremane in Shonar, to Braon Melles and Emperor Charlis in Jokona, as well as the group stuck in the basement of Urtho's Tower in the Dhorsia Plains.

Basically, the group in Shonar gets Tremane to accept the Earth Binding, a "primitive" magic that binds him to his current kingdom. Which is good, since it allows him to sense the Mage Storms as the come, locate Nodes that could go bad during the storm, as well as having the added effect of getting Iftel to drop its shield wall and send Envoys to Hardorn, which winds up being the one really big reveal in the book. Indeed, Solaris's reaction to the envoys is priceless.

In Jokona, Tremane former rival Melles is appointed Heir, and starts making moves to control what parts of the Empire aren't already in revolt after the complete failure of magic during the storms. Melles is mainly using the rather horrible philosophy that people value safety over freedom. In the process, Melles also finds out that Emperor Charlis really did stab Tremane in the back after sending him to Hardorn, which Melles uses as part of a campaign to get the Army under his control.

In the tower, pretty much every not quite deity (Avatars of the Goddess, representatives of Vkandis, Companions, Vanyel, Stefan, and Yfandes' ghosts, the Mage sword Need) shows up for the finale, Most of which requires Altra the firecat to use his Jumping ability to go fetch a few of them.

In the end, a Second Cataclysm  is prevented, but not without cost on everyone's parts.

Out of all of her Valdemar series, this is likely the best of the "Modern" setting she wrote. Not that the rest are inferior products, but more that she had a better grasp on the world she created and how to narrat eit by this point.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The answer is blowin' in the wind

In an effort to finish the series before moving on to new fare, I finished Mercedes Lackey's Storm Rising yesterday on lunch and started into the last book in the trilogy.

Rising is exceptionally angsty, as Karal is dealing with being an exceptionally young envoy whom nobody really respects and Firesong is busy being overly dramatic as he begins to figure out he and An'desha aren't lifebonded mates.

In Karal's case, he actually manages to almost get a Shin'a'in blood feud declared on him after coming down on the opposite side of Jarim, the current Shin'a'in envoy. While this does eventually work itself out, it's really ugly, sending Karal to the Ekele of Firesong and An'desha to recover.

Firesong, on the other hand, once he realizes how badly he and An'desha are splintering, decides to make a soul holder the way Ma'ar did back in prehistory. (Indeed, this is how Ma'ar ended up possessing An'desha.)

Then there's Termane in Hardorn, cut off from the Eastern Empire. He slowly begins to integrate the town of Shonar with the Imperial garrison, becoming a better leader in the process.

Indeed, during Solaris's state visit, some scrying between Karal, An'desha, and Natoli reval him to be the one the Allies need to talk to about alliance, since the next solution will likely involve Hardorn. Which means both Karal and Solaris finding ways to get past Tremane's execution of their friend and mentor.

Ultimately, we end up in the Dhorsia Plains, at the melted tower of Urtho, in hopes of finding a weaopn that can counteract at least one set of ripples in the reverse cataclysm. And it is here that more than a few differences get worked out before book two ends.

By far the one things that sticks out in this book is Firesong's reactions to a relationship ending. One gets the distinct impression Firesong is used to being in control of his relationships, and not used to the gradual drift that separates him from An'desha. Something that many people understand all to well.

On to the next.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Blow Gabriel Blow

O, given the rather strange chronology that came about when Mercedes Lackey was writing her Valdemar setting, I'm skipping more than a few series to get to Storm Warning. As a quick recap of what the situation is when this starts, Valdermar had been at war with eastern neighbor Hardorn, following the rise of Ancar, who was using his mage power to drain the land and invade his neighbors. Ancar had allied himself with Falconsbane, a mage with a particular vendetta verses the Shin'a'in and the Taledras cultures. Elsbeth, who at the time was heir to the throne, got training in her Mage powers from Darkwind and Firesong of the Hawkbrothers. All of whom ended up in Hardorn, killing Ancar, Falconsbane and Hulda, who had been a spy for the Empire on the other side of Hardorn. the person who's body had been inhabited by Falconsbane (An'desha) got his body backas a reward for helping out. As Ancar died, the Empire invaded.

Toward the end of the war, Valdemar's ancient Enemy, Karse ended up allying with Valdemar to repel Ancar's aggressions.

Which brings us to the start of the Storms trilogy.

We start with Tremane, soon to be Heir to the Imperial throne, whom the current Emporer assigns to finish the takeover of Hardorn. Then we join Ulrich and Karal, Envoy and secretary from Karse on their way to Haven to negotiate a longer peace with Valdemar on behalf of Karse. Karal being one of the major focus characters in this series, spends much of his time relearning things he'd grown up believing about the Hellhorses and Demonriders of Valdemar.

Then we start in with An'desha, who's convinced that Falconsbane still lives within him, causing him fights with his beloved, Firesong. Eventually, Talia introduces Karal and An'desha who become quick friends. Karal also meets Natoli, daughter of the Herald escort he'd had up from Karse. And Altra, the firecat who may or may not be an incarnation of a previous Son of the Sun, but is definitely a living messenger of the Karsite God Vkandis. And Florian, a companion who offers to help Karal adapt to Valdemar.

And then the Mage Storms start. Besides causing bad weather, circles of land begin switching places all over the world. Tremane assumes its coming from Valdemar, and attempts to destroy the alliances formed there, which in turn kills Ulrich. Valdemar, with the help of the Artificers, figure out how to predict the storms and eventually plot a way to form a Breakwater to prevent some of the damage being caused by the storms.

In the end, Karal, who is a channel, becomes the one to cross the Iftel sheildwall to set the breakwater there, although it's book 3 before we find out the whys on that one.

Fun book. I know I say that often, but this series has been on my shelf for several years now, and it remains a smile inducing read.