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.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

High School and other torments

I may have mentioned some of this while discussing Mercedes Lackey in previous posts. However, here we are with the final stand alone book of her rather underappreciated Diana Tregarde Investigations series, Jinx High. (There are two that precede this one, but Burning Water takes forever to get going, and Children of the Night is set about two decades prior to either of the other two novels, and it also takes too damn long to get going. Both are great once you hit the halfway point, but... Diana also shows up in a short story in the collection Werehunter and in a collection of novellas Trio of Sorcery. I guess there are a few .pdfs out there that collect or rework some of it, but yeah.)

I happened to find a copy at a used book store a while back, and grabbed it, since the series has been out of print for a while. (I guess it did get reprinted a few years back, but trying to find the original series prior to those reprints was like looking for hen's teeth. Unless you felt like paying big money for a used copy online.)

Anyway, we'll return to the drama surround this series here in a minute.

We'll start with Diana herself, a romance writer by trade, who also has access to Guardian powers in time of great need, particularly for protecting innocents. This one would appear to be set in the late 80's, since there is a Dan Quayle reference as well as a "Just Say No" moment. Diana had a group of people she worked with during her time at Harvard known as the Spook Squad. Novels #1 and #3 focus on former members of the Squad calling on Diana because something fairly major needs outside help. In Burning Water, it was an Aztec deity trying to make a return. In this one, Larry, AKA Kosmic Kid, has a kid involved with some seriously wonky stuff.

Deke, the child in question, has a sort of girlfriend named Faye, who's quite adept and pulling people into her web with sex and drugs. Faye's mother is institutionalized prior to the start, after having tried to kill Faye. Something's a bit off with Faye, as we note at the outset that she causes a car accident that leaves physically impossible results. Like one kid dead, no drugs in anyone's systems, and everyone but the dead girl buckled in. None of which was the case before the car hit a tree at 70 miles per hour. That Faye, who was driving, seems to have vanished from the car right prior to the crash, also adds to the mystery.

Diana ends up in Jenks, Oklahoma, (just outside Tulsa), after Larry calls her to tell her he's got the distinct feeling someone is out to get his son. (Larry's wife is in Japan on business and essentially out of contact.) Due to the numer of accidents happening in the area, yuppie haven Jenks' Secondary school has picked up the nickname "Jinx High". Diana comes in to help teach the business of writing on behalf of the Honors English teacher.

We as readers get more of the plot a heck of a lot faster than Diana does, and halfway through, we know that Faye is actually her mother in a bodily switch. Actually, Faye goes back a little over 300 years, switching bodies with her daughters every generation, but ya know...

It eventually all works out in a rather nice climax, some of which has to do with not waking up whatever is sleeping under Tulsa. (Theory being there are no tornadoes in that section of Oklahoma because even the other gods don't want to wake it up.) Also, Tannim, the mage from SERRAted Edge and Bedlam's Bard shows up as a student.

Anyrate, After this one, there were no more Diana Tregarde mysteries. For the curious, there evidently was a bunch of real life drama that inspired the rant linked above, and a later follow up. I was actually kind of surprised when she started cowriting the Bedlam's Bard series in the 2000's that the Guardians started showing up again.

Also of note, the plot resembles a similar one from the first season of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. The book was published first, and based on the rants, didn't sell particularly well. And honestly, the plots go different directions, just using the same or similar plot device.

I'm happy I own this one, even if I prefer her other writing over this particular series. It's still worth checking out, since even at her worst, Lackey's work is more entertaining than many other things. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Asaka, grow me a garden

Finished Laura Resnick's Unsympathetic Magic on lunch today, which was odd, since I read the book that comes directly after this one prior to reading this one. (Long story short. The library didn't have this one, but they did have the next one, so I read book 4 while waiting for Amazon to ship me this one.) Anyway, this lead to a minor issues of sort of knowing some of the events that happen in this book prior to reading it.

Esther, our actress narrator, is filming a guest role on The Dirty Thirty, a spin off of her world's Law & Order. In her case, this means she's filming around Mount Morris in Harlem while dressed as a bisexual junkie hooker getting pumped for information from a dirty cop. Her mother is thrilled. Sadly, the gentleman she's filming with gets sick in the middle of filming, and Esther tries following the crew to a place advertising the best fried chicken in Harlem. (Much is made over this, since it seems most restaurants in the neighborhood advertise that they have the best fried chicken in Harlem.)

Since it is Esther, instead of finding the fried chicken place, she instead runs across a black guy with a rapier, demonic gargoyles, and a sick man with a severed hand which isn't bleeding. Understandably freaked out, she tries to get help, which ends up with her getting arrested for solicitation, but not before the gargoyles grab her purse.

Lopez, her ex almost lover bails her out, but Esther gets Max involved in trying to figure out what's going on, which ends up involving a complex plot involving a Bokor, zombies, and half the Petro aspects of the Vodoun pantheon. Oh yes, and a rather large boa constrictor named Napoleon.

Now, while I've never set foot in a hounfour (the ritual space of Vodou, and honestly, I haven't lived anywhere where such a thing would be open for the curious), my love of horror movies did lead me down some rather strange research paths at various point. What she presents here seems to follow most of that research, although as is pointed out, New Orleans Vodou and Haitian Vodou  might share commonalities, but they do have different foci. Plus, given the number of syncretic traditions floating around the Caribbean (all of which are oral traditions), there's a lot to work with. And her presentation of Lopez becoming a cheval (horse, possessed by a loa) for Ogoun reflects some of what I've seen places. (Don't ask. I'd hate to lie.)

(Also, for casual readers, the title is a play on the term sympathetic magic, or the idea that something that belongs to a person [fingernail clipping, hair, etc] forms a link to that person, which can then be used to influence that person. AKA, the magic used in making 'voodoo dolls' or poppets.)

Honestly though, this is a fun and quick read and a welcome break from dystopian societies.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Moon grows dimmer and the tide's low ebb

So, a few months back, someone bought me tickets to see Kander & Ebb's Kiss of the Spider Woman at a local theater. I'd seen the movie several years ago, but I'd never read the book that inspired both.

And the book is a whole different beast than either adaption.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Kiss centers around two inmates in an Argentine prison. Molina, a rather feminine gay man, spends much of his time telling stories of movies he loves to his cellmate, Valentin, a political prisoner being held for Communist activities against the not Communist Argentine government of the 1970s.

Over time, they become friends and eventually lovers, although Valentin remains unaware that Molina has been promised parole if he can get names or contact information out of Valentin. Towards the end, Molina does indeed get paroled, but he never does give up Valentin. Mind you, when he does indeed contact Valentin's friends, he winds up getting killed by said friends while being arrested by government. Valentin obviously knows about this at the end, since as he's in the infirmary being treated for 3rd degree burns and being hooked on morphine to eventually make him talk, he stream of consciousness creates his own fantasy island with his beloved Marta, the bourgeois woman he loves, even if she doesn't particularly return that love due to the nature of their cause.

Did I mention this isn't exactly a happy story?

It took me a while to get into the novel. Most of it is written as dialogue between the two main characters, with only a dash to denote a change of speaker. Like

-Eat the rice paste, it will make you feel better
-No, not unless you finish the movie you started last night.

While that is not an actual quote, it does give you an idea, and accurately sums up much of the early conversation. The non dialog consists of reports from the Warden's office or a report of Molina's activities after parole, or some really long footnotes discussing psychological causes of homosexuality.

Speaking of, for me a reader in 2017, there is a bit of a question as to whether or not Molina is actually gay. While he is indeed male, he identifies as a woman at various points in his dialog. However, having known a few older gay men who do the same thing, it could be that this is again a function of gay culture in the era.

Another question I was left with was whether or not Valentin truly loved Molina. I think, maybe yes, but not as wholly as Molina might have wished. More than anything, I think Molina showed Valentin that maybe people can be more important than the cause.

Oh, and of note here, since none of the adaptions particularly keeps the movies in the book, two of them wind up being bad horror movies. One involving the woman dealing with her new husband's zombie wife, and the other (which starts off the book) involving a woman who believe that if she were to kiss a man, she'd turn into a panther and eat him. That's kind of important, since not long before Molina's parole, Valentin tells Molina that Molina isn't a panther woman, but rather a spider woman, her kisses drawing men into her web like flies. It's actually a rather touching moment, for all of its oddness.

Am I happy I read this? Yeah. It's heavy reading, and a reminder that even in hell, there remains hope of redemption and ways to escape, even if only mentally in the worst situations.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Every Man a King, but no one wears a crown

So, with recent events in the US, I thought it might be wise to finally read Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, since it, along with Orwell, seems to occasionally crop up in various conversations.

So, where do we start with this?


How about some background? Lewis wrote this in 1935, which would have been 2ish years into FDR's presidency, and not that far into the rising Nazi era in Europe. It was also the Great Depression in the US. (We're kind of skipping a heck of a lot of human history with that summation, but for the sake of setting the scene, this should work.)

We open in Vermont during the election cycle of 1936. Doremus Jessup edits the Fort Beulah paper, and is attending the monthly rotary meeting. The speakers that night are retired Brigadier General Edgeways and the anti-suffrage DAR woman Mrs. Gimmitch. (Note to some readers here, particularly mom, if she clicks the link. Lewis obviously didn't have a high opinion of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The character's description uses her DAR status as shorthand for a longer diatribe about a type of woman who campaigned against women's suffrage, tried to find ways in the great war to keep the Doughboys from frequenting French cafes and meeting women of international morals, and generally being a conservative gadfly.) Edgeways expresses his belief that the horrors of poverty could be remedied with a strong domestic military (echoing the isolationism of the era) that defends the US borders from invasion by foreign powers. Gimmitch spends most of her time attacking the Unitarian minister's wife, who tends to be a little more liberal than anyone else in the room.

The one things both speakers seem to agree on is that Buzz Windrip should be the next President of the USA. Windrip (who's home state is never mentioned, but is implied to be somewhere southern-midwestish) is running against FDR for the Democratic nomination of 1936 against the rather milquetoast Trowbridge in the Republican Party. Windrip is supported in this by his Legion of Forgotten Men, the workers feeling they aren't getting their fair share, the vets returned home with none of the benefits they were promised, the downtrodden, et cetera. Windrip gets a boost from a syndicated Father Prang (here analogous with Father Coughlin, another Depression era potstirrer), who believes Windrip will lead America back to Jesus and prosperity. Windrip himself is an analogue of The Kingfish himself, Huey Long. Windrip runs on a platform saying that men under him will get $5000 a year (I don't have the math handy to figure out how much that winds up being in 2016 money, so we'll just claim it's quite a bit) and he'll redistribute the wealth from the rich so that everyone can prosper. Of Windrip's supporters in the microcosm of Fort Beulah, Vermont, his biggest one is Shad Ledue, who works as the rather lazy handyman for the Jessup family. Not that Shad is alone in his support, several of the middle class citizens like his promises of sticking it the 5% who own most of the wealth in America. (What little bit there is in this period.)

Eventually, as the Conventions roll around, Windrip gets introduced last to the convention floor, arriving in a parade of military, poor, and disaffected youth worthy of P. T. Barnum. It takes several rounds of balloting before he eventually gets named the Democratic party nominee of 1936.

Windrip, unsurprisingly, gets elected. FDR, much like Teddy, formed his own Party, the Jeffersonians which unsurprisingly failed to get him reelected. Windrip's political rivals either get ambassadorships to out of the way places, or in his main opponent's case, exiled to his ranch in Wyoming. The Legion of Forgotten Men, in turn, become the Minute Men, who, in turn take over as the official military of the US. Windrip, with some rather large strong arming (like having the Minute Men arrest uncooperative congressmen and senators, dissolving the Supreme Court), passes a series of bills that help get his 15 points into being the law of the land. Most of it falls under Martial Law provisions, suspending most of the Constitution, but includes some rather special provisions like making sure Congress can't do anything without his approval, praising the Jewish population while robbing them blind, stripping women of any right beyond keeping house and having babies, and making sure African Americans are awarded only for being good little Negroes. (It's really ugly. However, it's presented much like a pill to a dog wrapped in flowery peanut butter.)

Windrip's Secretary of State, Sarason, takes on many hats in the administration, essentially running everything under Windrip's benevolent guidance. The US eventually gets redistributed as 8 states, new labor laws make sure quite a few people wind up in a labor camp, and eventually Concentration Camps spring up for dissenters who dare speak against the Corpo government.

Trowbridge, the Republican nominee, ends up in Canada running the resistance from there. Jessup winds up in trouble with the law for writing rather anti-Windrip editorials, thereby getting a new supervisor at the paper. The Underground Railroad starts up again, helping smuggle (or given that Prohibition was newly ended around the time of this being written) or bootlegging humans into Canada.

To skip over quite a bit, Jessup eventually ends up in a Concentration Camp for "Being a communist" (which he isn't), his one daughter winds up killing a member of the government by crashing her plane into his, his other daughter runs the local resistance chapter, his son becomes a true believer in the new government.

Jessup eventually does escape into Canada, then comes back the the US via Minnesota long after Windrip gets exiled to France, Sarason gets killed by the new dictator Haik, and the press and Corpos start trying to engineer a war with Mexico.

Many of the references are a bit dated for a modern reader; when's the last time William Randolph Hearst was a major topic of conversation? When's the last time we were particularly worried about communists undermining American values? *cough*

On a personal note, Lewis doesn't seem to particularly hate the homosexuals of the era, while none are major players in the main plot, a few do get shipped off to the camps, while another one gets killed after deposing Windrip. (To be fair, Sarason is analogous with Rohm, who met a similar fate on the Night of Long Knives.)  Also, the morality of Jessup is a bit different, he's having an affair with the local barkeep, and his one daughter even goes as far to encourage the affair.

There's quite a bit of philosophizing in here, from the contention that those most responsible for Fascism's arrival in the US is due to people not dissenting loud enough, pointedly discussing how dictators both reactionary (Mussolini, Hitler) and Radical (Lenin, Stalin) aren't better than their counterparts on the other side of the aisle, and pointing out one revolution that strips rights tends to lead to a counterrevolution where the rights remain stripped for similar reasons. 

Lewis also uses sarcasm the way friends of mine use Nutealla. Which is to say slathered libreally over almost everything, dripping juicily off of each morsel.

Ultimately, Lewis offers no real answers on how to dig out of the hole once one is buried, figuring it's up to us to be creative and find our own solutions, or, better yet, speak up, dissent, and avoid being buried in the first place.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Words come crashing in, into my little world

I was mildly unaware that Mercedes Lackey and a new coauthor Cody Martin had dusted off the SERRAted Edge novels, which share a world with her Bedlam's Bard and Diana Tregard mysteries.

Not that Silence is particularly connected to anything that has come previously in any of the series other than a loose thread of Elves who came through the Fairegrove Industries Gate from Fairieland. And even that doesn't come into play until about the last third of the book.

We start with Staci, a teenager who's been living in New York City prior to the start, suddenly thrust into the sleepy Maine hamlet of Silence after her father remarries and the wicked stepmother inspires the father to send Staci to live with her mother. Staci's mom really doesn't have it going on, being a waitress and alcoholic who's also kind of the town trollop. Silence is, as almost everyone describes it, stuck in the 50's. No internet, no cell phone towers, and no real entertainment options other than the bookstore cum coffee shop owned by kindly Tim.

Staci, who early on ends up meeting two couples in the bookstore, ends up getting a dial up connection to the internet and "blackmailing" her father after finding out that the stepmother had stolen a few outfits and jewelry during the packing. This allows her to at least order clothing via catalog, given the thrift store isn't a particularly good option.

On her initial exploration of Silence, she runs across Dylan, a biker guy who helps her get oriented in town. The waitress at the cafe helps spell out the setting, noting that almost every industry in town is owned by the Blackthornes up on the hill.

Along with Tim, we meet Jake, Seth, Riley, and Wanda at the bookstore. While the foursome are paired off, they welcome Staci with open arms and introduce her to the wonderful world of tabletop RPGs. They also drag Staci out to teen night at the local Methodist church, which is when Staci meets Sean Blackthorne, who invites her up to the estate.

To skip over a bunch of plot building, Sean and his family are unseelie elves. Dylan is seelie, but out on a mission to destroy the unseelie after they killed his cousin. The Blackthornes have some adverse plans for Silence, which it falls upon Staci and her friends to stop.

It's good to be back in the shared universe again. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the elvensteeds that appear as vehicles. I enjoyed the geek references sprinkled throughout the text. I really enjoyed goth girl Wanda sitting down with Staci and pointing out that Sean's courtship is a bit like Edward courting Bella, and that it's really not healthy.

The bad part is that the ending is very rushed. Very very rushed. There's an entire chapter that's essentially an 80's training montage before the confrontation with the unseelie. Staci never confronts Sean directly, essentially letting Dylan (the "good one") do it by proxy. And lord, the climax passes and we get a whole page of resolution.

Honestly, I'm hoping this is a prelude to more, since the characters deserve a better story to inhabit, as well as some exploration of the mysterious backstory of Tim, the kindly bookstore owner.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Repeating myself

Before I start my review of Kim Harrison's The Operator, let me just say that it marks the 52nd book I've managed to officially finish in 2016. This is not something I've managed to do in quite a while.

Anyway, As I really was kind of "meh" about the first book of Peri, I went into this one with lowered expectations. It came off better than the first book, but it still didn't hook me the way the Hollows did.

Peri is back, and hiding, running a coffee shop in Detroit on top of a mildly radioactive site that covers up her tracking radiation.

Problem being WEFT (the official CIA operation running what was the sanctioned version of OPTI) wants her as does the remnants of OPTI, being run by Bill and financed by Helen. Bill has managed to develop two drugs; one, an accelerent, lets drafters remember both timelines, getting rid of the need for an Anchor. The other prevents the accelerant from causing extreme paranoia and death. The latter is also highly addictive, needing another dose every 24 hours or withdrawal sets in.

There's also a rather unstable and egotistical Drafter named Michael, whom Bill is using to get at Peri. WEFT wants Michael taken down. Michael wants the drugs, that no one will give him. Silas wants to reverse engineer the drugs and free Peri, and make her remember their love. Jack exists both as a real person trying to use Peri, and as a hallucination of hers that acts as her intuition made manifest.

Really, this one is much better written than the first one, but it does have a few shortcomings. Namely, one of the WEFT operative, Harmony, who we come to know and love, vanishes right before the climax along with another major player, leaving us totally in the dark as to their fates. (Given many of the supporting characters from the first one don't reappear in this one, I'm not sure how much faith to have in ever seeing Harmony again.) Also, much of the climax seems to be a bit like an 80's teen movie, with most of the players managing to simultaneously converge in the same spot at just the right time.

On the other hand, since no one is getting memory wiped in this one and the actual Drafting power is used rather sparingly, it's a hell of a lot less confusing as to what's actually going on. By that virtue alone, I'm looking forward to whenever the next one comes out.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What a happy allegory!

So, I finished Closer to the Chest, book 3 in Mercedes Lackey's The Herald Spy series. Which is also the 51st book I've finished in 2016, meaning I may end up either speed reading my next selection, or better yet, choose one of the slim volumes off the shelf to end 2016 with 52 books.

Anyway, we're again following Herald Mags in the mushy middle era between the "Modern" Valdemar era where most of the books are set, and some of the ones set much further back in time. (AKA The Last Herald Mage trilogy that I think almost all gay men of my age ended up reading at one point or another.)

Anyway. Mags' wife, Amily, is having issues with being King's Own, since most of the court knew her father in the role. Mags is busy dealing with his own spy ring down in the city surrounding the palace grounds. Early on, we get introduced to the new religion sweeping Haven by storm, the Temple of Sethor the Patriarch, which has some very unsavory scriptures towards women. Also, there's an outbreak of "Poisoned Pen" letters arriving in odd ways to local women who are not behaving in traditional ways. Read as not being submissive housewives, doing things like running a shop, joining a military order....

Anyway, given the ways the laws of Valdemar work, there's a whole novel in here of connecting the dots between Sethor and the vandalism, property destruction, "Poisoned Pen" letters, etc.

Eventually it all comes together, including motive for some of the shadiest goings on.

Heck, it even comes with a discussion between characters about the difference between unsavory religious practices and illegal religious practices, as well as somehow managing to translate modern cyberbullying into a semi medieval setting.

Again, it's Valdemar, so if you've read any of the series, you have a general idea of what you're in store for. This is one of the better entries in the "mushy middle".

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I'm your biggest fan, I'll follow you until you love me

I'm debating what the best comparison for Laura Resnick's Vamparazzi is, a game of Are you a Werewolf? or Murder on the Orient Express. (Which is sadly, book 4 in the Esther Diamond series, but the library doesn't have Unsympathetic Magic, which meant buying it, and it hasn't shown up as of yet.)

Esther, our favorite New York actress, is evidently still on the outs with her ex almost boyfriend, Lopez, after events in said missing volume. She does, however, have a paying gig in a high profile off Broadway show in Greenwich Village based on John William Polidori's The Vampyre, starring against Daemon Ravel, self described Vampire, complete with a spokesgig for Nocturne, red wine based coolers that resemble blood. Playing the tormented protagonist, Aubrey, is Leischneudel Drysdale, who also escorts Esther to the theater most nights to avoid the "Vamparazzi", the legion of "vampires" and "vampire hunters" hanging around outside the theater, all of whom seemed obsessed with Daemon. Rounding out the cast as the nubile ingenue, Ianthe, is Mad Rachel, who tends to spend most of her time off stage yelling as loudly as possible at people on her cell phone backstage. Even during the big seduction scene of Esther's Jane, which is supposed to be the big climax. Backstage, we have Fiona, the icy wardrobe mistress; Bill, the bipolar stage manager; Victor, Daemon's personal assistant; and Tarr, the tabloid reporter attached to Daemon to help publicize Daemon's career.

As we open, approaching Halloween, Esther's covering up the black eye she received the night prior from one of the crazed "Jane"s, a woman who dresses up as Esther's character, along with a multitude of other women obsessed with Daemon, who tend to think being exsanguinated is romantic. (Later on, Esther and the audience get a less...biased...view of the whole vampire arousal.)

However, not that far into the book, the Jane that assaulted Esther is found dead, drained of blood, and in an underground tunnel. Given that she was last seen getting into Daemon's limo the night prior....

What follows is a mixture of good mystery and a hint of farce, as everyone's real motivations get revealed throughout the narrative. It's well written, funny, and very engaging reading.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Thou shall not...

So, in the quest for looking for new stuff to read, I wound up starting Mark Chadbourn's follow up series to Age of Misrule. (Well technically, one of them. There's another series that follows around one of the protagonists from the original series as well).

So, The Devil in Green, book one of The Dark Age, picks up about a year following the events of Always Forever. We start with Mallory and Miller, two gents making their way to Salisbury, home of a Cathedral on one of the major ley lines. (Ok technically, Mallory and Miller start off traveling separately, facing down one of the beasts on the Salisbury plain being their actual meeting, but..) Salisbury is trying to become the Jerusalem of the West, with the remnants of Christian England trying to revive the faith in they new age following The Fall. As such, a call has gone out to create a new Knights Templar, to again protect travelers in this new time. Mallory is terribly cynical, whereas Miller is very faithful to his beliefs.

The Cathedral is overseen by Julian, who's doing a passable job in his old age keeping the various factions within from outright conflict. As Mallory and Miller get settled in to training, they form a bond with Gardener and Daniels, the latter of which we met in Bath during the last trilogy. Daniels is gay, his partner died during the last series. We also have Hipgrave in the mix, which becomes more important when the knights get sent on their first mission.

Outside the cathedral, in their own Celtic pagan protection, are the Travelers,  one of whom, Sophie, Mallory begins to fall in love with during an illicit visit beyond the wall by Mallory and Miller. Sophie, of course, is a witch of Ruth's line from the last series.

Anyway, two major events happen fairly early on that begin to shape the course of the narrative. The first involves the Elite Blues bringing back a Holy Relic (the bones of St. Cuthbert), and a second involves our team of 5 heading out to the plains to find a missing cleric. What they meet in the field is much more harrowing than a missing cleric, more some kind of monster along the lines of the Formori in the first series. Mallory, who's got a bad reputation, winds up being the one sent into danger on the plain ahead of the platoon. After getting his butt kicked, he winds up in the Far Lands, and eventually in Rhiannon's court. However, this Rhiannon doesn't sleep with the other singer and the drummer and spend much of her time twirling and doing cocaine. She does, instead, heal Mallory and pass on a sword with a bunch of consonants in its name and the information that he's one of the 5 Brothers of Dragons that existence has chosen since the last 5 have moved on to new roles. (She does cryptically mention Church, or so we assume.)

He returns from the Far Lands and saves Miller on the plain, reminding us once again that time passes differently in fairieland. Upon returning to the cathedral, to which they along with the other 3 are the only ones returning, they find that the cathedral has new buildings and fortifications that seemingly appeared over night. The ghosts of the previous friars also seemingly have come to join the new areas.

Not long after their return, Julian is murdered, causing some behind the scenes warfare as to whom will now lead the church. Given the long term siege by monsters at the gate, the scarcity of food as winter starts coming in, and the general nature of humans in large numbers, the leadership passes to the Zealot Stefan. Who tends to take a rather medieval view on the tenants of the church, restarting the Inquisition, outlawing sodomy, closing the library, and declaring the dragon is actually the Devil. Speaking of the dragon, it gets slain after the Elite Blues oven the relic box.

We'll skip over much of the more intricate plotting here, and discuss instead appearances by the Green Man (whom in this setting is analogous top the Greek Pan) and The Caretaker, a giant who's home is somehow adjacent to the Cathedral.

The Caretaker is the one who more or less spells out some of what's going on here, mainly the idea that the monster on the pain and now inside the cathedral (kind of like The Thing) is something from outside of existence that hates existence. And that there exist things out that way that are more powerful and starting to notice the world again.

The Green Man (as mentioned above), in this setting is analogous to the Greek Pan, and seems to echo the Hindu/Wiccan idea that there is one great God, and all the other gods are merely facets of it.

I'd also like to mention this book is filled with ugly. The direction the church ends up taking after the death of Julian is painful to read, along the lines of Orwell's Animal Farm. We never do exactly find out what happens to those who early on get declared heretics, but given what happens later, one can only assume the worst. Also, the betrayals hearken back to World War II, in which friends rat out friends to protect themselves. There's a scene where Daniels denies his love for his new partner in the Knights in order to save his own skin that had me quite upset at work when I read it.

It's very dark reading at points, for all that it ends with a much more optimistic tone than anything that's come before. And ultimately, I think that's the point. Hope is a fragile thing that empowers humankind to greater triumphs. Eventually.