Thursday, January 30, 2014

This is why AfterMASH lasted maybe 6 episodes.

This promises to be as brief as the book itself was.

After Dead by Charlaine Harris is the wrap up of the OSuthern Vampires, detailing what happened to just about everyone in and around Bon Temps (or from other vampire kingdoms who got mentioned throughout the series.)

I was expecting more in the way of narrative; instead, it's an alphabetical by last (or only name) encyclopedia giving each character usually a sentence to a paragraph detailing how their live progressed after Dead After After. Some of the bigger players (Sookie, Bill, Eric, and Sam) get a page to a page and a half.

As nice as it is to know more of the fates of those who we're leaving behind, I kind of wish this wasn't published, since Dead After After left it so we the readers could make up our own endings. (On the other hand, maybe this will kill some of the Bill/Eric poorly written slashfic out there.)

And a few entries hint that maybe more will be written about those specific characters. Which would be good, since the setting itself is interesting, and following around someone other than Sookie could be fascinating.(Hell, I'd read a one shot following Pam around, just because she's so off the wall.)

As a side note, I'm about half way through my actual book, so that review will hopefully land next week. This is more or less a one off, since it took me about 45 minutes to read while I was doing some other things.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

And we're back in Valdemar.

So, I found out a few months ago that I'd missed the release of Bastion, book 5 in Mercedes Lackey's Collegium Chronicles. A trip to the library remedied that issue, and I'm happy to report that it's a welcome addition to the Valdemar canon.

I'm still unsure if the rumor about this series being her last foray into Valdemar is true or not, or even if this is the last book in the Chronicles. I can see where it could be, since she tied up one of the bigger loose ends left from Redoubt, however, I find myself not wanting it to end here. Then again, characters in Valdemar seem to either die at the end of their story, show up as cameos in other stories, or in Vanyel's case, both. As much as I disliked the Chronicles at the beginning, Mags and Bear and Lena and Amily have grown on me. Particularly after Mags' dialect stopped interfering with the flow of the dialogue.

So, Bastion starts with Mags returning to Haven from his rather arduous trip to Karse courtesy of his old people. Since it becomes increasingly obvious the people his parents came from aren't going to stop trying to kidnap him back to whatever land they come from, a way is found to send all of our protagonists on Circuit concurrently, with the idea of faking Mags' death somewhere along the way to get the Sleepgivers off his back in perpetuity.

Thus Mags goes riding off with Herald Jakyr for his circuit, hitching up later with Lena and her mentor Lita (Head Bard at the Collegium who also has a history with Jakyr) and Bear and Amily, who are spreading around the herbal healing packets Bear started a few books back to help in cases where a Gifted Healer is unavailable (or the herbs can save a Gifted Healer's energy, etc.)

The sextet sets up a hub in The Bastion, a series of caves in the middle of the area of the circuit they're riding. As it turns out, the caves were once part of a Vale used by the Taledras (Hawkbrothers), and the caves were home to the hertasi (lizard folk). The caves were also where the bandits found and killed Mags' parents back before Book 1.

After visiting a few villages and towns as part of the circuit and facing various difficulties with them (one is indifferent, one is in revolt, and one is essentially a model town), the group gets snowed in by a blizzard. Which gives Mags time to go exploring other caves in the system, looking for clues as to the identity of his parents. Where he meets a character I refer to as Deus ex Machina, who more or less solves the riddle of Mags' existence over the course of a chapter. (Seriously. He becomes a much more interesting character after the Great Reveal, but his presence and back story are a bit... shoehorned. Plus he's essentially an Amish Assamite.)

As the book ends, it looks as if all the major plot elements of the series thus far have been resolved one way or another, although I really hope there's another book discussing what happens after. Because, really, there are other stories that I'd love to hear told from this particular period.

Which really is a sign of how much it improved as it went on.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Witch, please.

I'll admit, when I picked up Babayaga by Toby Barlow, I was expecting more about houses dancing on chicken legs and iron hags that what is actually contained within.

What I got instead was a screwy meditation on love and lust set in 1959 Paris. You know, France, not remote Russia, and really not Russian peasants.

We instead start off with Zoya, a young woman whose lover notices that she doesn't seem to age. She takes him for a walk around the Latin Quarter and throws him into a large iron spike hanging above a gate. Seems Zoya and her friend Elga, the more traditional crone are very slow to age witches who have existed for a very long time.

Then we have Will, an advertising executive who also quasi works for the CIA. (a side note towards the end points out that most ex-patriots in France at the time were in one way or another on the Agency dole.) Who ends up enchanted with Zoya after a chance meeting on a Paris train (that doesn't emerge in London rain). But not before Will gets wrapped up with Oliver, a fairly wealthy American ex-pat  who's somehow tied in with other espionage within Paris. We also can't forget Vidot, the police inspector, who spends most of the book as a flea, courtesy of Elga, who he confronts about the murder of Zoya's lover from the start of the book.

Honestly, of all of the characters, including an Orthodox priest who's brother is Elga's rat companion, and a chorus of dead witches who fill the pages with poetry every once in a while, Vidot is the one who gets the largest part of the hero's journey. Using ingenuity, he navigates Paris as a flea, finding his wife is having an affair with an Italian man with a wife of his own, escaping a flea circus, finding Elga, and finally winding up riding around with Will.

Zoya and Elga become much more interesting characters as we explore their back stories. Both were horribly abused, but found each other in the company of other witches. The problem with their journey prior to the contemporary setting is that it reads quite a bit like my English Seminar class of Gender, Language, and Literature syllabus. When Elga recruits a new witch to help her take out Zoya, we get an entire lecture on how men think they have all the power and build statues to their penises with faintly submissive feminine figures to worship around it. And how women actually are more subtle creatures who castrate men when they least expect it. It's really not subtle about this message either.

On the other hand, in the fourth act, as we finally start finding out what the heck is actually going on, and all the plot lines start to coalesce,  the book improves mightily. Not enough to make me ever want to re-read it or pick up any of his other books, but it was satisfying, if a lot silly. Just honestly, it seemed like the over arching themes were literal cuckolding and figurative castration, neither of which makes for something fun to read.