Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Feeding Pop Rocks to a fire spider

A few years ago, two series started around the same time, although subsequent volumes haven't exactly been synchronized. The first one I ran across was Jim C. Hines's Magic ex Libris and the second was Jacqueline Carey's Agent of Hel. Both first volumes were a little rocky, but lots and lots of fun. Then came volumes 2, when Agent of Hel came out ahead, mainly because Libris got a little too serious in parts, leading to a few tonal issues. And now, having finished Jim C. Hines' 3rd volume, Unbound, he's back in the lead in this not very real competition. (Seriously, I love both series. And my issues with book 3 in Hel are on here on the tag.)

Now, thanks to following Hines' blog, I came in forewarned that about the first third of Unbound would be concerned with Issac's depression following Gutenberg destroying his ability to do magic at the end of Codex Born. And it does tend to be rough reading until things pick up a bit. Jeneta, Issac's former student is evidently possessed by an alien intelligence that caused her to board a plane for parts unknown at the end of the last volume. Issac can't do magic and has been kicked from the Porters. Bi Wei, of the Oriental version of the Porters, has revealed the existence of both the Porters and Magic by making a note appear in every copy of A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin. (I have to wonder how many people ended up checking their copy to see if life imitated art there.) Issac's in danger of losing his job at the Copper River Library.

About the only stable thing in his life is his girlfriend Lena, the dryad drawn from The Nymphs of Neptune, and her girlfriend Nidhi. Bound and determined to help find Jeneta and fix everything despite losing nearly everything, Issac goes to see a siren hypnotherapist. (Here we get our first real laugh as the siren's song is described as something akin to a suicidal whale song sung by Stevie Nicks.) Here, we get the name of the commanding force behind the Devourers of the last book, Meridiana.

Meridiana, it seems, has a convoluted back story involving being brought back from death by a pope, only to try to take over the world with an army of hungry ghosts. By hooking up with a black market Ramanga, Issac winds up first in space then in Rome with a bit of vampire blood that allows him to communicate with said Pope's ghost. It's here in Rome where we find out Meridiana, through Jeneta's magic, is turning her army of ghosts into monsters. We also meet Ponce de Leon, who in turn drags Johannes Gutenberg back into the picture .

The interactions between Ponce and Johannes are some of the best parts of the book. Passages arguing security versus freedom entwine with the revelation that Gutenberg has been writing Harry Potter fan fiction. And we also get Issac trying to solve Gerbert d'Aurillac's puzzle of where he hid the celestial sphere holding Meridiana's soul.

Interspersed withing the text are passages from things contemporaneous with the main narrative, as the existence of magic becomes widely known. Things like coaches being suspended for allegedly using magic for the team, Issac's brother's nastygram about how Issac could have used magic to save his nephew's limbs....

It's a much more fun volume than the last book, more in tune with Jim Butcher's Dresden Files sense of style. (Tio be fair, Issac is a lot less hard boiled than Dresden is. Although I could totally see Issac yelling "Parkour!" while navigating the gates of Hades.)

Honestly, one of the best reads I've had in a while.