Saturday, May 23, 2015

Non-Smoking, please

I was a bit concerned when I picked up Kelly McCullough's sort of most recent Fallen Blade novel, Drawn Blades, mainly because it's book 5 in the series, and his other series, WebMage, ended after 5 novels.

Thankfully, as we find out after this one ends, there is indeed a 6th one that evidently got released this month.

None of which is helpful here, beyond letting readers know that Aral's adventures will continue.


We rejoin Aral in the city of Tien not long after the end of the last book;s tales of government restructuring. To that end, Aral is back again sitting at his favorite bar (although he's now sober) when a smokey ghost forms from the tavern fire, looking nothing so much like Siri, one of the other blades who's nickname was Mythkiller. Siri's avatar performs a pantomime ceremony of handfasting, leaving Aral with a rather interesting ring made of smoke on the 3rd finger of his left hand.

After an attack by a mythic beast and some assistance from Aral's librarian contact and his familiar, contact is made with Siri through smoke again, and the end result Faran and Aral are off to The Sylvani Empire. Which is an adventure in and of itself, since in quite possibly the most unique way of gaining travel speed, they wind up traveling by Dukoth as far south as the Wall. (Note here: The Dukoth are a race of First Ones who are more or less Elemental Earth. Aral's smoke ring gets their attention, and the need to speed Aral and Faran across the land.) Along the way, we learn more of the First Ones, races created by the gods prior to humans. Seems the First Ones rebelled again being slaves to the gods, and there was a war in Heaven. The gods won. As such, most of the First Ones live behind the Wall that separates the Empire from the human lands. Mind you, a few of the First Ones rose to a level near Godhood and were punished to be buried and never dying. One of the Buried Ones was dealt with by Siri before these novels began, thus her title of Mythkiller.

However, due to magical principles and a dead goddess, when we finally meet Siri in the flesh, we find out her smoky nature is due to her becoming part of the binding holding The Smoldering Flame in his burial. Namara, before she died, helped keep his influence over Siri in check, but after the Emperor of Heaven killed Namara, the binding weakened a bit, giving Siri and her Shade some smoke overlap.

Not longer after the touching reunion and consummation of wedding vows as part of the deeper magics, Kelos enters the picture, making for a Namara's disciples reunion from Hell. Kelos is working to find a key that will resurrect a god before the Son of Heaven finds it, and before one of the Buried Ones finds it and tries to use it.

There's much going on in this book, including filling in much of the metaphysics of the world. things like the true nature of the blades Namara gave her acolytes, the nature of the Son of Heaven and his end goals, and the rather fractured relationship between Kelos and Aral and Kelos and Siri.

I reserved the new one this evening, and I look forward to seeing where this goes next. McCullough may miss a few dangling plot threads (like the attack by the mythic beast that never really gets explained), but his world building is nothing less than spectacular.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Go ahead and make the scene all day, but tomorrow there'll be hell to pay

It took a while to warm up to Ofir Touché Gafla's The World of the End, but by the end, I was sort of in love with it.

We start by meeting Ben Mendelssohn, a fairly recently widowed man in Tel Aviv, who throws a party for his now deceased wife Marian on her birthday. The night ends with fireworks, after which his friends come back in to find Ben has shot himself in the head to be with Marian.

Ben becomes aware again in a white room being provided an orientation on how to deal with the afterlife along with a multitude of folks who died on the same day he did. This covers how to entertain one's self in the afterlife, what jobs are available, the lack of any kind of trade or commerce, the idea of Vie-deo (where one can watch one's life played back), and a general overview of how housing is assigned to souls. There's also an explanation of the fancy neck gadget one presses buttons on to make phone calls, sleep, etc. If one punches the 3 button 7 times, one also can sleep eternally.

What Ben does not find after exiting the orientation is his wife waiting on him. He does meet a wheelchair bound Belgian who tells him of his love, whom he (the Belgian) waits on every day as the doors open. The Belgian does give him contact information for the Mad Hop, one of the Other World's private investigators.

In the mean time, we get wrapped into life in the world of the living, where people tangentially related to Ben keep winding up in comas under the care of Ann, who spends most of her nursing career getting people to provide euthanasia to their spouse or loved one, with the goal of retiring after 100 deaths. Ann used to watch Ben working out in the window of a gym and fell in love.  Adam, a game programmer and celibate pedophile thinks she was staring at him and asks her out. Adam;s brother, Shafar, is an actor with his own connection to Miriam.

We also meet two very passionate people who love Salman Rushdie and meet in Tel Aviv for the first time. Problem being that Yonathan has a heart attack and goes into a coma before he can meet his lady love, Marian.

Ben's search for Marian in the Other world keeps getting nowhere, although we do meet his entire family and get a bizarre explanation of his family's death curse courtesy of the Aliases. (Aliases would be the souls of children never born. They, like the Charlatans (people who are in comas or between worlds), are among the only people who wear clothes in the Other World.

Eventually, this all gets wrapped up and we finally towards the end find out how all of these disparate plot lines tie together.

While the book was originally written in Hebrew, the copyright on the English translation is by the author himself. While this is good, since it better preserves the flow of the narrative and allows the word play to stay intact. On the down side, some of the idiomatic phrases don't translate well, making a few passages a bit rough to read. There's also the entire subtext of Rushdie, which largely flew over my head. (Honestly, I tried reading The Satanic Verses about 25 years ago and couldn't get into it. YMMV.)

But honestly, it was probably one of the better books I've read this year, and his vision of the afterlife is rife with some very interesting ideas and some very vivid mental pictures.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Return of the master

So, I finished Benedict Jacka's Hidden on the way into work today.

Much like Simon R. Green's work these days, there isn't much material here to really review without getting spoiler heavy, sadly. Which is bad, since this book delves deeper into themes about the differences between Dark Mages and Light Mages, and the grey area Alex operates in.

But basically, Ann, the life mage gets kidnapped early on after dropping out of the Light Apprentice program. This sucks in the usual cast to figure out where she is and why she was kidnapped.

When they finally get that far, it ends up being Alex on his own entering a Shadow Realm owned by Ann's former master, Sagash. Which also allows for the first current time appearance of Alex's former Dark master, Richard. Whom, it seems, has returned from where ever it was he vanished off to before the series started. Richard, who offers a deal that both Ann and Alex refuse.

However, we also learn of Ann's training under sagash and why it is she's such a pacifist.

It's a fun read and addition to the series, although much of it seems to exist mainly to beef up plot lines down the road.