Friday, December 26, 2014

Hags to riches

So, I finished Jaqueline Carey's Poison Fruit on the way into work this morning. Sadly, according to the library newsletter, this is the last of a trilogy. Sadder still is that it probably should have been at least two books, since the first half is a much different narrative from the second half.

This is not to say it's not a good book, but it is a bit of a disjointed transition from the quest to banish the night hag to a lawsuit designed to bring war to Little Niflheim.

We start with our protagonist, Daisy, learning that her sort of love interest, the Outcast Stefan, is headed back to Poland to take care of old business in his old domain. Which leaves room for her probably-not-gonna-happen flirtation with Cody Fairfax, the werewolf.

Unfortunately, this mainly comes up during a search for a Night Hag, which may or may not be real. (Since this is Pemkowet, Michigan, she is real; however, it is mentioned that there is a syndrome of people having realistic nightmares about hags sitting on their chest and suffocating them.) The Hag starts by attacking an unbalanced man recently returned from a war zone,  moves on to a seven year old, and winds up killing an old woman in a nursing home. The search on how to find her leads to an abandoned campground, where they meet the bogle Skrrzzzt who tells them the way to get rid of the Unseelie Hag (And therefor not particularly under the rule of the Oak King is to tie a piece of her hair around her neck. However, this requires Daisy to have a nightmare bad enough to draw the Hag to her.

So, being a good demon spawn, Daisy hits up her ex,. Sinclair, to curse her. This has the desired effect, and it also reveals Daisy's darkest fear: accepting her birthright and ending the world. More to the point, doing that and enjoying it.

After the Night Hag is resolved, we get a small interlude as Stefen returns and asks a favor of her as Hel's Liaison. Which is to kill a friend of his. This interlude is probably the best written section of the book, bringing up discussions on euthanasia, the downsides of immortality when one has a degenerative disease, and a bit of Talmudic thought to boot.

Then, we get into the second half, which really should have been a book of its own.

Our dear friend from the last book, the lawyer Dufreyne, is back, and buying up properties encroaching on Hel's domain. He's also quite busy suing Pemkowet over the Halloween adventures the past year. Turns out he's also Hellspawn, only he long ago accepted his birthright. (Then again, his was a planned pregnancy.) As he's working under the auspices of Elysian Fields, inc., it becomes fairly obvious a figure from the Greek Underworld is trying to muscle in on Hel's territory.And given his birthright includes powers of persuasion, it gets mighty ridiculous what happens as this part of the story progresses.

As I stated at the outset, this section would probably be better as a standalone book, instead of being layered in at the end of the Night Hag adventure. As the lawsuit storyline starts around Thanksgiving and ends in early February, there would have been much more room to explore what all was going on here, from Lurine the lamia's kiss, to the burgeoning relationship with Stefen, and it would have given much more room to fully flesh out the Greek underworld figure trying to muscle in on Hel's territory.  (Since I'm not in the mood for spoilers, let's just say the presentation of said figure is kind of flat until the end of the war. There's a heck of a lot that could have and should have been done with this presentation.)

There's also the end of the war, which I kind of had figured out the basics of long before the armies meet. It seems really rushed, and the epilogue discussing the aftermath again reiterates there are still stories to tell here. I'm kind of hoping that Ms. Carey writes more in this setting, since the writing is fresh and funny in several places, while being poignant and touching in other places. As it is, it reminded me a bit of Spider-Man 3, where two very different plots got shoehorned together due to a fight between the studio and the director. Thankfully, there's no My chemical Spider-Man moment in here, but the thought remains.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Why we wish young Anakin was part of this...

As part of a push to get back into series I've reviewed on here previously, but missed that installments have come out since I last read them, I managed to get Taken in by Benedict Jacka's third book in the Alex Verus novels. (The first two are here and here.)

Now, I'll admit, I'm noticing that much of the British urban fantasy I read falls into a cheeky hardboiled mode, and Alex Verus is much in a similar vein. We have a Femme Fatale introduced early on in Crystal, who wants Alex to work security at the White Stone tournament at Fountain Reach. The former being a mage tournament wherein they can all magic the poop out of each other with no real harm coming to either participant in the duel, and the latter being a strongly warded house with a permanent shroud effect.

We have Alex's apprentice Luna (who's technically an adept, sort of), who's classmates Anne (Life magick) and Variam (fire magick) are apprenticed to an ancient rakasha (Indian tiger demon). We also have Morden and Onyx making an appearance, as once again, Onyx gets assigned to help Alex solve the mystery of the vanishing apprentices. Because apprentices of both the Light Mages and the Dark mages are vanishing, and non of the more grey magicks (time, divination, space) seem to be able to break the shrouds that surround each vanishing.

A visit to Anne and Variam's patron as well as a mysterious text message winds up propelling Alex to Fountain Reach as well as entering Luna in the White Stone tournament.

Yeah, there's a mystery here, although I had much of the actual mystery figured out not long into the investigation. There are a few twists that I missed that come up towards the end that make it more satisfying.

Yes, I rather like this series. It fills a middle place between Simon R. Green's really overpowered protagonists and Paul Cornell's fairly human protagonists. While Alex has powers, they don't particularly lend themselves well to combat. This allows the action to focus more on cleverness in getting around obstacles. The only real issue here is that the use of divination to find the correct path gets a bit silly, as looking at multiple futures to eavesdrop on conversations probably would not really work as well as it does in the series. But honestly, with disbelief suspended this far, that's a minor quibble.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Deeper down the rabbit hole

Since it seems that my December is Fairy Tale month for me, I finally finished Indexing by Seanan McGuire. (Keep in mind I'm also reading the latest Fables compilation, Camelot.) (I also thinks this gets me current on Ms. McGuire, so maybe she'll quit taking up so much space on this blog for a while.) (And that's not a complaint. I enjoy her writing.)

Anyway, before really getting into the book, let me see if I can't summarize the world a bit. Throughout time, different narratives try to influence reality as we know it, usually taking theform of fairy tales. In modern times, more than a few examples of modern folklore (urban legends) creep in as well. A government organization uses the ATI (Aarne-Thompson Index) to figure out which narrative is infecting a person and work to stop it before it tries to reach a "Happily ever after". Because Snow Whites generally don't survive long in Glass coffins, and Sleeping Beauties tend to wake up after 100 years and die of old age.

Our main narrator through most of the book is one Henrietta Marchen, whose mother was a Sleeping Beauty who gave birth to a Rose Red and a Snow White. Henry is the Snow White of the pair, with black hair, pale skin, and red lips. Unlike Disney's version, this Snow White is rather hard boiled. She's the Field Team leader over a team that includes a Wicked Stepsister (Sloane), a Cobbler (with no elves)(Jeff, who works as the archivist), and a man who's sister got sucked into the narrative and wound up finding the bureau trying to figure out what happened (Andy). In the first chapter, they end up activating a Pied Piper (Demi) to wake up a Sleeping Beauty who they think was a Snow White at the outset. (In this case, the narrative used a variable to make the enchanted sleep happen via virus. The Pied Piper (or in this case flutist) treats the virii as vermin and pipes them out.

As the book progresses, we get deeper and deeper into the narratives and variations, particularly when we find the big bad out about halfway in (Mother Goose, who can stretch narratives to suit her needs, although too much stretching can cause them to snap).

There are notes at both the beginning and end about how Indexing started off as a short story that then developed into a Kindle Serial Novel, that in turn can now be had as a full novel in digital and paperback. This process shows, particularly early on, since the chapters are a bit disjointed, and it doesn't really start gelling as a connected narrative of its own until about the time Mother Goose shows up halfway through. (It could technically be argued that without a Mother Goose to collect the tales in one volume, they remained disjointed, but...) (Really, to use a metaphor that most of my readers won't particularly understand, the difference between the first half and the second half is a bit like the difference between Season 1 of Babylon 5 and Season 2 of Babylon 5. The disjointed nature also sets up the fantastic and much more complete second half.)  There's also a small issue with Henry's brother showing up towards the end, then vanishing from the book entirely while the climax happens, even though he's supposedly still in the damn location where the finale happens.

On the other hand, McGuire's use of GLBT folks is refreshing in fantasy. Andy has a husband, and also gets stuck in a version of "The Frog Prince" at one point. Henry's brother started off as her sister, and is terrified that if the narrative decides he's going to be activated as rose Red, he'll lose the life he worked so hard to build. And there's a Little Mermaid who might have been a Beast who inspired a Facebook status from me. (In a nutshell, his parents died in a car accident that left his little sister in a wheelchair, but able to swim. It left him disfigured. He got miraculous plastic surgery that also destroyed his larynx. His prince rejected him for being mute and therefore a "cripple".)

Another very bright spot in all of this is towards the end when Henry's narrative goes active, poison and all, and we go from Fairy Tale into Joseph Campbell. While not quite as in depth as Campbell goes, it's still a fairly good summary of the monomyth, giving readers who haven't jumped feet first into Campbell enough to go on to make sense of it all.

While this may not be her best work (it's narrative reminded me quite a bit of her Sparrow Hill Road), it's not anything near a bad read at all. Well worth picking up and spending some night reliving childhood memories in an adult setting.