Wednesday, April 29, 2015

That's a lot of cardio

I actually finished Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs a few days ago, but I was on vacation and trying to type a review on a tablet didn't seem like the best idea ever.

There's a heck of a lot going on in here, and much of the setting details get dumped early on.

Basically, in this world, there is a continent that once upon a time enslaved the island nation of Saypur. However, a man known as the Kaj rose up and slew the gods of the continent, and the roles sort of reversed. Saypur now controls the continent and enforces strict rules about what people are and are not allowed to study under the Worldly Regulations. The theory being that the less the continentals are allowed to display of their now deceased gods, the less they'll attempt to subjugate Saypur again. The continent is still divided into districts based on the Gods that one built them, with Bulikov at the center of it all. Bulikov, once the Seat of the world, remains fairly backwards as compared to other districts. We hear of the Blink, when all the godly miracles  vanished, causing much of the continent to contract, and The Plague Years when plagues prevented by the divinities suddenly came roaring back.

As we start forth in this world, we get an idea of how this system works in a trial setting as a Continental merchant defends himself in court against charges of violating the Worldly Regulations by putting a symbol of one of the dead divinities on his door. His trial is interrupted with the news of the murder of Dr. Efrem Pangyui by persons unknown. Dr. Pangyui, of course, being a Saypuri historian with unfettered access to the histories of the divines and their miraculous objects.

Into this hornet's nest walks Shara and her secretary Sigrud. Shara is a descendant of the Kaj, and in service to the Saupuri Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Which is to say, she's a spy. Sigrud, on the other hand comes from a nation that has descended into piracy and lawlessness following the coup of their king.

Shara starts her investigation by getting back involved with an ex-schoolmate of hers, a Bulikovian City Father named Vohannes Votrov who's currently trying to modernize Bulikov, against the wishes of the Restorationists, who want everything back the way it was. Shara and vo have a bit of history together, given they were romantically involved in school, although his interest lay in his own gender for the most part. Vo also wants Saypur to stop oppressing the continent and to invest in it. What follows delves into the relationships between nations, the nature of the divinities, and one whole heck of a lot of fun as some miracles still work, what's left of the divine makes its presence known, and a beast with Hell for its stomach makes an appearance.

Ultimately, the author tips his hand a few chapters early with the solution to one of the major mysteries, but the big one at the center is well hidden until the very end. The cast is well drawn, and as motives become clear, it becomes amusing at how muddy the waters really are in this world.

Much of the book is written in present tense, which becomes less noticeable as the book picks up steam.

I think Goodreads lists at least one more in this series, which I'll have to find before too long. It's well worth picking up if you're into some grnd mystery hiding in a whodunit.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Up time, downtime, and in m'lady's chamber

So, given the last book in Kage Baker's The Company series was more or less an anthology that filled in narrative gaps from previous volumes, it was interesting picking up The Machine's Child and picking up from where The Graveyard Game as well as The Life of the World to Come left off. Which is to say Facilitator Joseph is regenerating his "Father", the enforcer Budu, last seen hacked to pieces by Victor in 1906 San Francisco; Mendoza is being dismantled somewhere in prehistory; and Alec, the third and final incarnation of Project Adonai, living with the other two incarnations living in his head. All three incarnations of course being Mendoza's lovers. (This would be Nicholas Harpool, last seen burning at the stake in The Garden of Iden, and Edward Bell-Fairfax, last seen being shot to death towards the end of Mendoza in Hollywood.)

There's a lot going on, including a few seemingly unrelated stories concerning a non-immortal cyborg back in 500,000 BCE dealing with office politics near The Silence in 2355 CE, as well as Facilitator Suleyman gathering Immortals near and revealing the facility Mendoza had been held captive in. He also marks a spot 2 years from The Silence towards the end, when all the operatives are given a special emblem of service.

But that's neither here nor there. Most of the book is focused on Alec learning to live in his head with the rather disparate personalities of his prior incarnations. His AI, The Captain. helps the three of them go back in time to save Mendoza from Operations Research, currently headed by Marco, one of the old Neanderthal enforcers. Using the same poison used on Budu, he does get what's left of Mendoza out, which leads into the parallel regenerations of Mendoza and Budu.

Budu is dealing with a slightly off kilter Joseph, who's obsessed with finding Mendoza and Alec. Which, given Alec can move through time, and after experimenting with Mendoza's chrome radiation, finding they can move past the point where she got sent back into prehistory....

There's a lot of time jumping going on. Joseph and Alec meet about 2/3 of the way through, leading to more than a few revelations.

We also have Alec chasing after his DNA so that The Captain can make him immortal as well, and Alec and Mendoza  going through time dropping off literal time bombs, set to go off when The Silence happens.

It's kind of jumbled in places, and the ending asks more questions than it really answers. But, after reading so much series fiction, it's kind of nice to find serial fiction, where everything is building off of everything that came before. Although no one as of yet has figured out about Homo sapiens umbratilis, nor has anyone found Literature Specialist Lewis, he's still being discussed, since they assume Dr. Zeus took him out. Which, well, sort of.

Anyway, I'll be returning to this sooner or later, since I'm really enjoying the series, and I'm really wondering how finished it was when the author died. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Going to a dark place.

Benedict Jacka decided to expand quite a bit on Alex Verus's back story in Chosen. See, we knew from prior outings that Alex started out as an apprentice to the Dark Mage Richard Drake, but we enevr really heard much about it, beyond the occasional hint here and there.

We start with Alex living what passes for the normal life of a Divination Mage with his apprentice Luna, and two other apprentice mages looking for a mentor whom we met in the last book in service to a rakasha. (That would be Varian and Anne.)

Anne, who's a Life Mage, senses someone spying. After more than a bit of chase and spying, we find out 6 Adepts (basically one trick mages) are out to get Alex based on one's vendetta due to something Alex did in his past.

Given that there's a bunch of stuff Alex doesn't know about the situation, we cross into a subplot wherein Alex winds up in "Elsewhere", sort of an Astral/Umbral/Ethereal Plane. It's here where we meet Shireen again, one of the other three apprentices Alex studied under Richard with. Shireen ends up giving Alex a tour of Rachel's (now Deleo, another apprentice of Richard's. The fourth, Tobruk was killed by alex before the series began.) memories concerning the events in question. Namely, kidnapping the girl who's brother is now stalking Alex, convinced he killed her.

Ugh. It's well written stuff, but it goes much darker than this series has gone before. I mean, yeah, Dark mage carries its own connotations of evil and such, but it's really quite a bit like reading how Lucas SHOULD have handled Anakin's transition to Sith Lord.

Without going into graphic detail, dealing with themes on when murder is justified is not something I really expect out of these types of books. I mean, yeah, the series is kind of Magic noir, but....

Anyway, Yeah, kind of glad I came back to this series now.