Friday, November 30, 2012

There are things you don't know about, and things you don't need to know about.

I finished Christina Henry's Black Lament earlier tis evening, and I now find myself waiting for the next book.

This series started with Black Wings, in which we met Maddy, Agent of Death. Maddy has a hereditary position witnessing deaths and escorting souls to the Door to the afterlife. She has a gargoyle house guardian named Beezle who happens to eat everything in site. She has a boss at the Agency (the one who lines up her collections) named JB, who starts off as a sanctimonious prick, but by book 4 is in the running to be a love interest. She has a father, Azazel, who's a Fallen angel who sat at the right hand of Lucifer. She has a great grandfather (quite great) who just happens to be Lucifer Morningstar. Oh yes, we're knee deep in re-imagined Christian Mythology here.

Black Lament is book 4 in the Black Wings series, and picks up pretty much where book 3 left off. Maddy's husband has just died and her Great Grandpappy, Ol' Scrotch is informing her that her husband lives on inside of her...and her baby.

In the last book, which delved into an unholy alliance between the Chicago fairie courts, the vampires, and her father Azazel's Court, a fairly major fairie wound up dead at Maddy's hands. As such, the Fey are mildly pissed with her, and end up sending monsters after her. Which promptly get dispatched, and winds up getting her in hot water with Oberon and Titania. Add on to this some very strange vampire behavior coming out of the last book, and Maddy, now Hound of the Hunt of Lucifer, is using a large sword to cut through the Gordian knot of Immortal politics.

Henry loves to hint around at the plots and counter plots that Maddy is navigating at sword point, suggesting that Maddy is being used as a pawn by several different factions, suggesting that perhaps, despite her good intentions, Maddy is not working for the good of humanity as she likes to think she is. Then again, the road to hell is paved with good intentions...

And this one leaves us with so many new questions. Such as, why are the rebel Fallen working with the vampires? (Part of this is made known at the end, however, the purpose isn't revealed.) Who is Puck, really? (Maddy meets him during her showdown with Titania and Oberon, and it's suggested he's much more than just a fairie. Hell, given the rather pointed conversation between Puck and Lucifer at the end, one wonders if he isn't an aspect of Jehovah. Not bloody likely, given his actions, but still...) And what part does the Agency play in all of this politicking? (Upper management spends most of this book trying to keep Maddy out of Fallen politics, regardless of Agents being kidnapped by players in the current coup.)

The series starts with Black Wings, moves into Black Night, continues in Black Howl, and Black Lament is the newest addition.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Maybe just a little.

WAY back in 1994 (Let's not go there), White Wolf Publishing created a Storytelling game named Mage: The Ascension, set in the World of Darkness along with the games Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: the Apocalypse. While they later added other games, revised, then restarted the system with new setting, most of the games were accompanied by an anthology of short fictions to give people some of the flavor of the setting. (I read the Vampire one, The Beast Within, and wound up buying the core rulebook the next pay period.)

The Mage anthology, Truth Until Paradox (edited by Stewart Wieck) included two awesome stories; one just being a continuation of the previous. Golden Nutmeg, Silver Pear and Grimm Reminders by James A. Moore and Kevin Andrew Murphy centered around one Penelope Drizkowski and her friend Grimm as they fought off an evil mage. Penelope goes by the nom de Goth Penny Dreadful, and gets the best lines in the entire story.

A few years later, she reappeared in World of Darkness: Outcasts as part of a story about Mages that don't fit in with the rest of Mage society. It also expanded on her clique, some of whom like Spooky Pete had appeared in other lines. (Pete showed up in a few Wraith: the Oblivion stories, since he can see the dead.)

And back in 2004, Kevin Andrew Murphy ended up writing a serialized novel titled Penny Dreadful that went up on White Wolf's website.

I didn't know it existed until a friend mentioned it when I was camping last September. And then it took me until today to find a copy, since it only exists in .pdf format. Found here. Since I do have the Nook now, I spent some time learning how to download and open .pdf files on a tablet.

And oh boy am I happy I did.

I just finished Part 1 of 8, in which our heroine and her talking cat familiar, Mr. Mistoffeles, wind up at a Vampire bar talking to Oscar Wilde, who now goes by the name Sebastian Melmouth. By far the best parts of the narrative are her asides, usually about the absurdity of the situation. (Like going to the powder room and noticing that she committed a faux pas by using the porcelain toilets, something the female vampires don't do.) By the end of the night, she's singing like Molly Brown and leading vampires in a sing-a-long.

To give you an idea of why I love Penny D- so much, I offer up a quote that sums up her character.

"Honestly, I've looked through The Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden, and while most of the positions involve persimmons, peaches and pomegranates, Jodi was doing a fine job improvising with pepperoni pizza.

"Yes children, the letter for today is P, and that includes Prostitute, Pulchritude, and Passion.

"However, I'd done what I intended, namely to see if Bimbo Yaga was home, and if so, distract her for a little while. I'd succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, 'cause the way Miss Blake was teasing that poor boy, I was certain she meant to earn her free pizza."

Later on, when confronted by Bimbo Yaga, she asks her if  she found a blackened pair of chicken legs in the ashes of the house.

Yes, I love her. She's the kind of character I'd love to meet and go hang at a bar with.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Too little time

Due to the fact I work in retail and the joy of Black Friday, I'm still plugging though Sky Coyote.

However, I did manage to get a Nook Color during my lunch break on Thursday. While I am not updating this blog via the Nook, (All I've done with it so far is charge it and register it, which told me touch screen keyboards and I are going to have issues) it will give me some new avenues in which to find content for this blog. (Because there are several books out there not available other than in e-content that I want to read.)

So, since I'm not reading something new, I figured I'd discuss Jasper Kent's Danilov Quintet, mainly because I was talking about it with a friend of mine at work who happens to love Russian novels. Book 4 is due out early next year, so...

The first book, Twelve, starts as Napoleon invades Russia in 1812. Special military agents (read: spies) Aleksi, Vadim, Maks, and Dmitri end up meeting with 13 mercenaries out of Romania. The leader of the band, Zmyeevich, introduces 12 Oprichinki (The name for an earlier Black ops group in Russian history) who all bear the names of the 12 apostles of the New Testament. Only in Russian, since the book is set mostly in and around Moscow. Anyway, as Aleksei, the main character, begins following around these new Oprichniki around trying to destroy Napoleon's army's morale, he ends up discovering their true secret... they are the voordalak he heard tales of as a child. And then the book gets interesting. I thought Napoleon retreated before hitting Moscow, but I was wrong. Much is made of the game of cat and mouse between Aleksei and the vampires during the occupation, as Aleksi comes to the opinion that nationalism is no excuse for letting such vile creatures exist. And the vampires seem to feel that killing their kind is grounds for execution.

Add into this the very odd relationship between Aleksei and Domnikiia (a Moscow lady of negotiable virtue who keeps Aleksi entertained with his wife Marfa raises their son in Petersburg.) and you have a recipe for one hell of a read.

Book 2, Thirteen Years Later, picks up with Aleksei doing spy work among certain groups concerned about which brother will become Tsar when Aleksandr I dies. (Which in turn sets off the Decemberist Uprising, which is where the book climaxes.) Marfa is still raising their son in Petersburg, although he's military now, and sympathizes with the revolutionaries. Once again, we get involved in the cat an mouse games, as Aleksi goes chasing off after St. Germaine along with the soon to be Tsar Constantine. What he finds involes what the real goal of the Wallachian voordalak really is, and then getting involved in the Decemberist Uprising trying to save his son Dmitry. some of the historical bits get a bit long, but there's some great humor at the assumptions Aleksei keeps making about the nationalities of the English speakers. (Hint: they're Scotsmen, not English.)

Which brings up to Book 3, The Third Section. The title references Tsar Nikolas's secret police, who monitor communications and keep an eye out for revolutionaries. Aleksei is barely in this one, due to the ending of the last one. We instead follow around his son Dmitry in Crimean War and his daughter by Domnikiia, Tamara, who works in Moscow with the Third Section. As the book progresses, the half-siblings eventually get tied together, unaware of their shared father or his exploits in voordalak hunting. All of which leads to a rather prolonged climax as both siblings, the main villain, and Aleksei all meet up and everything gets laid bare.

If you have time to spare, they're well worth reading. I will admit to having Wikipedia open while reading them, since I honestly didn't know every much about the periods in which they are set.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wait, what?

This may be another case of me being behind the rest of society, but I'm now in Book 2 of Kage Baker's Company novels, Sky Coyote.

I think it's best to explain the premise of these before getting deep into the plot. Basically, in the 24th century, Zeus Inc discovers time travel. And the numerous complications with it. You can only go back in time and you can only return to the present that you left. You can take stuff back in time, but not bring things back from the past. You can't change recorded history. Which makes it rough to make a profit.

Which is why Zeus Inc changed its name to Dr. Zeus Inc, using another failed project, immortality. See, immortality can only be conveyed before the end of puberty. And it's quite expensive. Therefore the middle aged rich men who could afford it can't get it. By combining projects, Dr. Zeus sent folks back in time to make people who wouldn't be missed immortal to collect and preserve things outside of recorded history until they can be revealed in the 24th century. Dr. Zeus makes a huge profit, several beings gain immortality, everyone's happy. Well, sort of.

In Book 1, The Garden of Iden, we meet Mendoza and watch her transformation from mortal to immortal following a slight encounter with the Inquisition. Mendoza becomes a Grade 6 Botanist within the company, and gets assigned to Elizabethan England. (Ok, technically on the cups of that era. Mendoza winds up accompanying Prince Phillip's entourage to England as he prepares to marry Mary.) She falls in love with Nicholas, who has a dark past. (Heaven forbid! He was a libertine. Now he's a Lutheran in a period when Mary's trying to stamp out Anglicans and other heretical non Roman Catholic heresy.) Their love, much like two lovers in Verona a few years later, is about as successful and long lived as Mary's reign in England.

Book 2 picks up towards Winter Solstice in 1699 CE. We join Joseph the facilitator (and also the one who saved Mendoza from the loving arms of the Inquisition) as he checks in to New World One, one of The Company's outposts in South America. Wherein we find out about his past in what was to become the Basque region of the Pyrenees. However, New World One is a Mayan city with 24th century technology and humans who think the guy in charge is Kukulkan. On New Year's, said Administrator holds a fin de sicile mourning the soon to come destruction of the indigenous folks by conquistadors. On New Year's Day, 1700, Joseph and Mendoza leave for what will one day be California.

The California base is very sterile and run by 24th century mortals, who tend to view the cyborgs as something to be feared or ignored. Somehow less than human, really. All of which is a bit beside the point, since Joseph's real purpose is to save the Chumash tribe for preservation and release in the 24th century. (I might be misremembering here, but all I could think of was Buffy: the Vampire Slayer's Season 4 Thanksgiving episode when I read the tribe's name.) The Chumash religion focuses on anthropomorphic a\sky gods, of whom Sky Coyote is the one who deals with humans. The Chumash are also fairly advanced, having a sea shell based monetary system and trade with neighboring tribes, organized labor, etc. Joseph gets some prosthetic work done and takes on the role of Sky Coyote, here to save the Chumash people from the Sun's white men in big canoes who will kill the Chumash.

We have a few themes floating around in here. Neolithic Chumash society has a lot in common with late 20th Century American society, what with business versus labor concerns. The Scientists, the priests, the astronomers, and the shaman all want to argue about what Sky Coyote actually means when he says something, much the way contemporary humans debate religious dialog. Also, a tribe further south is now monotheistic, and convincing other tribes that their god is the real one, and Sky Coyote is actually a being who fell out of favor and therefore fell from grace.

Meanwhile, back at the California base, conflict is stirring between the cyborgs and the future humans. One of the more interesting passages concerns Lopez discussing how the cyborgs appreciate the culture that came before the 24th century (technically future culture at this point), versus the future humans who ignore the foundations of their culture and instead play games all day and worry about hurting abalones that the cyborgs want to eat for dinner. Also, one of the human admins would rather save the monotheistic tribe rather than the Chumash, because the monotheistic tribe's values seem to line up better with his, at least on a superficial level.

A quick look at the library catalog suggests a few more books in the series, while Wikipedia reveals the author died a while back. Which is sad, since It's really quite fascinating reading, if a bit slow in the outset. 

Friday, November 16, 2012


The Lightning Thief was much better than it had any right to be.

I'll admit, I checked it out on a whim, having been bombarded at work by advertisements for the new book in the series that follows the series this one starts, but I was impressed.

Having avoided the movie, the hype surrounding the books, etc, I wasn't sure what to expect. One of the first things I noticed was the book was published via Hyperion, a Disney company. While that's usually a a good sign, I still remember the cinematic abortion that was Hercules. (For those who can't tell yet, I'm a Greek mythology nut. Disney's retelling of Hercules [or Heracles if one wants to be CORRECT], was so far off the story that I found myself vowing to never watch a Disney film again. Not that I kept that vow... And the funny part is that I had no issues with Disney's version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Mind you, trying to make a book with one whole heck of a lot of rapine and a dead heroine at the end into a children's movie must have been one heck of a challenge...)

Then I started reading the book. At first, my mind cynically wrote it off as a Harry Potter knock off. I mean, while Percy's life is not nearly as miserable as Harry's prior to Hogwarts, there is an amount of similarity there. Abusive home life, trouble at school... Things do take a different tack when Percy's math teacher turns out to literally be a harpy and attacks him on a field trip. (I could only wish my field trips were that exciting.)

His Latin teacher throws him a pen that becomes a sword, and all of a sudden, we're off to another world. Sort of. First, we have to go back to Manhattan to meet Percy's loving mother and his horribly abusive step-father. (Unlike Harry, Percy's mother is still alive. His father, however, is notably absent.) His mom ends up taking him out on Long Island to get away from the horrible step father, where in they get attacked by the minotaur. less than 50 pages in and we've already had two fairly major "monsters" from the Greek mythos show up.

Percy manages to defeat the minotaur, barely. In the process, he loses his mother and consciousness. Which is when we enter Camp Half-Blood, sort of a summer camp for demigods. The camp is run by Chiron (who passes for human by sitting in a wheel chair) and Dionysus (on punishment detail for chasing too many nymphs. And very glossed over, since this is Young Adult.)

As the book continues, we find out Poseidon is Percy's father, and that Zeus's Thunderbolt has been stolen. Zeus blames Poseidon, Poseidon thinks it was probably Hades, and Percy ends up going on a quest with Annabelle (daughter of Athena) and Grover (a satyr) to Los Angeles to enter the underworld to get the thunderbolt back.

Along the way, the meet several more monsters, a few gods, and generally try to become heroes who survive their legend.

I've really enjoyed it. About the time they started the quest is about the time I stopped comparing it to Rowling. I did have a few quibbles with the book though.

Chief among them: Athena was chaste, so I can't see her having half-breed children. (Seriously, the book mentions that most of the Olympian females were chaste; I realize having Athena be Annabelle's mother helps the plot along, but still...)

Another part that had me quibbling involves a fight with the Chimera on the St. Louis Arch's observation deck. Percy finds up falling out of the arch and landing in the Mississippi. For anyone who's ever been to the Arch, you understand this goes well beyond improbable in the manner in which the fall is described. Because there's still a lot of park, embankment, road, and levee before you hit water. Also, given Poseidon has dominion over the sea, I can't see him having much influence over polluted fresh water.

I also had a minor umbrage with how Hades was presented at the outset. Riordan made up for this when Percy and his entourage actually hit the underworld. (Mind you, I had similar issues with Hercules on this as well. Yeah, Hades has issues. but he's generally not quite the horrible god he gets portrayed as in modern takes on the mythology. I honestly think modern Western thought hates him because of what he represents.)

Yeah, I'm late getting on the bandwagon. But if The Lightning Thief is any indication, the series should be fun reading and an interesting take on ancient civilization.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do graphic novels count?

I think they do. While I won't chronicle comic strip compilations here, I think I will add when I'm reading graphic novels.

So, with that in mind, I just finished Bill Willingham's Fables: Super Team and Fables: Inherit the Wind.

Fables, for those not into comics, is an imprint of DC Comics Vertigo line, dealing with characters who more or less walked right out of the story books of our childhood. Only its more like Sondheim's semi-gawdawful Into the Woods musical, where, after the narrator dies, the stories have to find their own path.

These two are actually much later in the series, long after the Adversary (basically, an evil ruler who invaded most of the homelands of the fables) has been defeated and a new adversary (Mr. Dark, more or less the personification of night and all things hidden within the dark) has risen.

In Super Team, Pinocchio is trying to form the fables into a super team to defeat Mr. Dark, who has more or less taken over Manhattan at this point in the story. His theory is that Superheroes always win their battles, and by tapping into that trope, they should be able to take down Mr. Dark. Of course, the fact that they rip off Marvel Comics in doing so just adds to the silliness. (Really, Ozma of Oz doing her best Scarlet Witch was the highlight.) Very well drawn series, and the book is as high quality as everything that has come before.

Inherit the Wind picks up with what happens after the battle with Mr. Dark. Sadly, I can't discuss the plot here without spoiling everything that happened in Super Team. So what I can say is that the new characters introduced are interesting in their own right (Personifications of the East, West, and South winds), and that the odd version of A Christmas Carol featuring Rose Red (Snow White's sister) at the end of the book was fabulous.

I know graphic novels are not for everyone, but Fables, much like Sandman (or pretty much everything else in the Vertigo line) is a very well crafted story with a bunch of picture enhancements. Start at the beginning (Fables: Legends in Exile) and be prepared to see your childhood favorites in a whole new light. (For that matter, grab a copy of Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes. It's Neil Gaimen, it's like buttah.)

Just started Rick Riordan's  The Lightning Thief this morning, but not far enough in to really comment as of yet. Look for it next.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How many Norsemen does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Five. One to hold the bulb, and four to drink until the room spins.

So, I'm reading Jacqueline Carey's Dark Currents, book 1 in her Agent of Hel series. For those not versed in such esoterica, Hel is one of the Norse Aesir; specifically, she watches over souls not taken to Valhalla. (As a note, Aesir is the plural of Ass, which really explains the Norse Pantheon.)(And Ass translates as god, but I really hate the Norse pantheon, so I'll stick with the vernacular translation.)

This one centers on Daisy, born of a rather interesting night of Ouija summoning a demon and part time incubus. As such, Daisy has a tail and a slight anger management problem. However, as Daisy and her mom live in Pemkowet, Michigan, this is much less of an issue that it may seem at first.  Most books in the genere go one of two ways. At least one major supernatural race is out of the closet (The Hollows, Southern Vampires, Anita Blake) or none of them are (Night Tracker, Blood Ties). In this, some cities (In this case, Pemkowet) have a more or less semi-aware human populace while most folks not under the influence of the Underworld (In this case, Hel actually grew Yggdrasil II in a sand dune on the coast of Lake Michigan and the underworld she inhabits is the remains of an old Dutch city that got buried in the sands.)

As the book starts, Daisy and her best friend are watching an open air concert. By the end of the evening, She and her best friend will be fighting because Jennifer has been flirting with Cody, whom Daisy has had a crush on since elementary school. However, as Cody is a werewolf, Daisy knows the all too human Jennifer won't have much luck in the relationship department. All of which gets interrupted a few pages later, as 4AM rolls around and Daisy gets called out to a crime scene.

You see, Daisy works as an Agent of Hel. Since Hel doesn't get out much, it falls to Daisy to represent the goddess in crimes that are perpetrated by and against the "eldritch community". (Basically, she's kind of like Fox Mulder, if Fox worked for the aliens as well as the FBI.) (I would also mention that while I love the word eldritch, it means green.) And since a young frat boy was fount floating face up in a fresh water river after drowning in sea salt...

As the investigations continue, we meet Daisy's second possible love interest and suspect, a ghoul named Stefan, new to Michigan by way of Poland. Stefan owns the Wheelhouse, a local ghoul bar. (For the sake of clarity here, Ghouls in this universe are more or less emotional vampires. Immortal, but feed on strong emotions rather than blood.) Stefan is working on getting the ghoul motorcycle gang out of the meth business.

We're also following Daisy's mom's Loteria card reading, which so far has been quite literal, and dealing with her Lamia godmother's attempts to get the undines and maiads to talk about what they saw when the frat boy was thrown in the water. (The Lamia, Lurine, is a famous B movie actress who married an old man and inherited his fortune when he died. She's also comic relief. Not a page goes by without a boob joke in one of her scenes.)

As of now, we're knee deep in investigating a Frat alumni and what the hell he means about being a Master of the Universe, and wondering who did kill the boy and why he had fish scales under his nails.

It's a good read, even if I do have a few quibbles. Mainly the one gay character, a guy who owns a magic shop and has purses dropping out his mouth every time he talks.

Also, this makes the third series I've read that's for some reason decided to introduce the Norse pantheon, and the second to specifically bring Hel into the fold. Wondering if Norse is becoming the new Native American in these things, or if it's more akin to Greece's mystical obsession with Egypt back in the Hellenic age. (Oh! It came from Egypt! It much be mystical!)

And I will finish this by thanking the author for not invoking Thor in her mythology. What little I actually know of Norse (I'm much more familiar with Greek, Sumerian, and Egyptian mythology) suggests that Thor is nothing like his Marvel Comics persona. In fact, he comes off as 20 pounds of manure in a 10 pound bag. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I think I found my new superpower...

Due to the fact I can't renew it and it's due back on the 14th, Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines jumped to the head of my reading list. Book 1 in his new Magic Ex Libris, series, I was originally expecting at best a Mary Sue (Mary Ellen, Sue Ellen...whatever the term is. Maybe not Sue Ellen, that kind of character is the one that shows up and demands the deed to your oil field.) story, wherein the author was more or less writing himself into the story. At worst...

And then I started reading. My initial reaction to the start Issac's story was one of jealousy. Issac, out narrator is a libriomancer, a magician who can literally reach into a book and grab something out, as long as the object is big enough to fit through the book. (Examples so far include a disruptor ray, a lightsaber, the winged sandals of Hermes, a sonic screwdriver...) The jealousy directed not only at the ability, but also that I wrote a very similar power into characters about 20 years ago. Then again, I bet that most avid readers wish for very similar powers most of the time.

I digress.

Issac, much like the characters mentioned in my last post, is another one who has fallen from grace. A member of a secret magical organization, Die Zwelf Portenaere, Issac was on the fast track for a research position when he screwed up his field work. As such, he starts the book as a cataloger on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, not allowed to use magic except in cases of emergency. (A bit of background here on DZP. It's revealed early on that Johannes Gutenberg founded the order after discovering libriomancy. The magic works on a couple of ideas, mainly that there are multiple copies of the same edition of a book, and that as people read said book, their belief in the story fuels the magic inside.) Mostly, what Issac does is keep a database of what kind of things could be pulled from the books he catalogs. His specialty is Science Fiction and Fantasy, which leads to much name dropping in the narrative. (More side notes.  I remain amused at how he's getting around trademarks and copyright on a few items. There's enough description to let you know what it is he just pulled without ever naming it. Second, I'm glad he has a small bibliography at the end, because a few of these I want to read now.) Should something be in the book that should be locked (for instance, the miniature black hole from David Brin's Earth or the weapons grade rabies from a book created for this narrative), Gutenberg will "lock" the text to prevent anyone (especially awakening libriomancers) from grabbing something really bad out of a book.

Well, after getting attacked by "Sparklers" (vampire species Sanguinious Meyerii, caused by people getting vampirism from Twilight novels) and being saved by a hamadryad, we find out that not only are vampires of several species attacking libriomancers and the other types of magicians in DZP, but Gutenberg and his immortal automatons have gone missing. Lots of investigation and visiting a vampire nest in Detroit later, we're suspecting that Gutenberg himself is behind the war between the factions (the vampires are saying they were attacked first), particularly since a few locked books are suddenly semi-unlocked. To a point where Issac just violated a whole bunch of rules of magic by more or less trying to enter a book that has its lock ripped out to try to find the person who destroyed the lock. This was a bad idea. However, the person who ripped the lock out seems to be suffering from what the psychiatrists libriomancer being held by the vampire nest in Detroit describes as a cross between Dissociative Identity Disorder and possession. Namely, the bad guy just identified himself as about 5 different people, including Moriarty, Norman Bates, and Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

I love his shameless name dropping, and I love the powers on display here. Although I honestly think Issac would be well served by pulling Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden's trench coat out of a book at this point.

On a personal note, I'm trying to make this blog look prettier than it does now. I seem to have not inherited the fabulous allele when I got the gay gene, which is making the process more difficult. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What happens when the journey ends?

I'm almost done with Kelly McCullough's Broken Blade, Book 1 in his new Fallen Blade series.

The premise is fairly straightforward, narrated by one Aral Kingslayer, who has long since stopped using his moniker, preferring instead to work as a "shadowjack". His Holy Order fell several years back, and his goddess was killed by "the new gods"; the Son of Heaven now runs the government. Thankfully, Aral still has Triss, his shadow familiar. Triss, who exists as Aral's shadow, mostly hides as Aral's shadow, occasionally taking his "normal" shape of draconic shape.

Into his life of drunken forgetfulness walks Maylien, a girl dressed as a servant who wants Aral to do courier work for her. The price is more than generous, but the hob doesn't turn out quite as Aral imagined. Mainly because the Baroness Marchon, upon who's balcony he is to deliver the message, is having a clandestine meeting with Devin, another of the "Blades" whom Aral worked with in his Holy Order. Devin, it seems, has sold out his temple after the fall, becoming an assassin for hire. (The order killed people who were in need of their next turn on the wheel of karma, not murder for hire.)

Somehow, this set up begins awakening the old Aral, particularly after finding out that Maylien is the Baroness's elder sister and should have the barony, being tortured by people who know something about controlling shadow familiars, etc. It's less the hero's journey, and more an exploration of what happens after the hero returns home and find the world isn't what he left in the first place.

I've discussed McCullough's past series before (his WebMage pentad, concerning an alternate Earth wherein the universe runs on a computer based on Greek mythology. It's quite imaginitive and I loved all five books), and there are a few series I can point you towards that discuss what happens when Campbell ends and the hero continues to exist.

There is, of course, Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis's Dragonlance Legends trilogy, which while mostly being about time travel in a fantasy world, also shows this trope of what happens when a hero (Caramon) returns from heroing and can't get his life back together. By the end of Legends, Caramon has finally fixed his life and his relationship with his brother Raistlin. Well, sort of. For those of you who have never read the Dragonlance Chronicles or Legends, let's just say that Caramon and Raistlin don't have issues as much as they have volumes. Even if they are derivative of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (which isn't surprising, since he more or less set the groundwork for most modern fantasy. Not to mention, Frodo also finds he can't really go home again.), they remain good reads in their own right.

There is also Richard K. Morgan's A Land Fit for Heroes, which starts with The Steel Remains. I'm not sure how to describe this series. I started reading it because Ringil, one of the three major protagonists, is gay. The alien half-human is also bi, and hooked on a marijuana type drug. The third, a horseman from the outlands, has issues with his tribe forcing him out. The series is interesting, but very graphic, and every character tends to swear like a sailor on a golf course. There's also the rather graphic description of Ringil's boyfriend's public execution for being gay. However. there's an awful lot of densely packed plot involving another alien race making their return to Ringil's world and potentially enslaving the humans. Mind you, this provides motivation for the three war heroes (all three served in a previous war before the series starts fighting along side the rest of humanity against dragons and lizard armies. After the lizards were defeated, humanity returned to their warring states and leagues.) to get back together eventually, but in the mean time, we get a look at three lives of old war heroes more or less put out to pasture by the people they saved.

While the hero after the journey isn't quite a full cliche yet, the possibilities remain interesting, particularly juxtaposed again more modern and real issues of people returning from war and trying to reenter society. For most, they can do it; for others, it's it quite difficult. But no one returns unchanged, and I think that's why stories in this vein remain facinating.