Friday, December 30, 2016

Repeating myself

Before I start my review of Kim Harrison's The Operator, let me just say that it marks the 52nd book I've managed to officially finish in 2016. This is not something I've managed to do in quite a while.

Anyway, As I really was kind of "meh" about the first book of Peri, I went into this one with lowered expectations. It came off better than the first book, but it still didn't hook me the way the Hollows did.

Peri is back, and hiding, running a coffee shop in Detroit on top of a mildly radioactive site that covers up her tracking radiation.

Problem being WEFT (the official CIA operation running what was the sanctioned version of OPTI) wants her as does the remnants of OPTI, being run by Bill and financed by Helen. Bill has managed to develop two drugs; one, an accelerent, lets drafters remember both timelines, getting rid of the need for an Anchor. The other prevents the accelerant from causing extreme paranoia and death. The latter is also highly addictive, needing another dose every 24 hours or withdrawal sets in.

There's also a rather unstable and egotistical Drafter named Michael, whom Bill is using to get at Peri. WEFT wants Michael taken down. Michael wants the drugs, that no one will give him. Silas wants to reverse engineer the drugs and free Peri, and make her remember their love. Jack exists both as a real person trying to use Peri, and as a hallucination of hers that acts as her intuition made manifest.

Really, this one is much better written than the first one, but it does have a few shortcomings. Namely, one of the WEFT operative, Harmony, who we come to know and love, vanishes right before the climax along with another major player, leaving us totally in the dark as to their fates. (Given many of the supporting characters from the first one don't reappear in this one, I'm not sure how much faith to have in ever seeing Harmony again.) Also, much of the climax seems to be a bit like an 80's teen movie, with most of the players managing to simultaneously converge in the same spot at just the right time.

On the other hand, since no one is getting memory wiped in this one and the actual Drafting power is used rather sparingly, it's a hell of a lot less confusing as to what's actually going on. By that virtue alone, I'm looking forward to whenever the next one comes out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What a happy allegory!

So, I finished Closer to the Chest, book 3 in Mercedes Lackey's The Herald Spy series. Which is also the 51st book I've finished in 2016, meaning I may end up either speed reading my next selection, or better yet, choose one of the slim volumes off the shelf to end 2016 with 52 books.

Anyway, we're again following Herald Mags in the mushy middle era between the "Modern" Valdemar era where most of the books are set, and some of the ones set much further back in time. (AKA The Last Herald Mage trilogy that I think almost all gay men of my age ended up reading at one point or another.)

Anyway. Mags' wife, Amily, is having issues with being King's Own, since most of the court knew her father in the role. Mags is busy dealing with his own spy ring down in the city surrounding the palace grounds. Early on, we get introduced to the new religion sweeping Haven by storm, the Temple of Sethor the Patriarch, which has some very unsavory scriptures towards women. Also, there's an outbreak of "Poisoned Pen" letters arriving in odd ways to local women who are not behaving in traditional ways. Read as not being submissive housewives, doing things like running a shop, joining a military order....

Anyway, given the ways the laws of Valdemar work, there's a whole novel in here of connecting the dots between Sethor and the vandalism, property destruction, "Poisoned Pen" letters, etc.

Eventually it all comes together, including motive for some of the shadiest goings on.

Heck, it even comes with a discussion between characters about the difference between unsavory religious practices and illegal religious practices, as well as somehow managing to translate modern cyberbullying into a semi medieval setting.

Again, it's Valdemar, so if you've read any of the series, you have a general idea of what you're in store for. This is one of the better entries in the "mushy middle".

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I'm your biggest fan, I'll follow you until you love me

I'm debating what the best comparison for Laura Resnick's Vamparazzi is, a game of Are you a Werewolf? or Murder on the Orient Express. (Which is sadly, book 4 in the Esther Diamond series, but the library doesn't have Unsympathetic Magic, which meant buying it, and it hasn't shown up as of yet.)

Esther, our favorite New York actress, is evidently still on the outs with her ex almost boyfriend, Lopez, after events in said missing volume. She does, however, have a paying gig in a high profile off Broadway show in Greenwich Village based on John William Polidori's The Vampyre, starring against Daemon Ravel, self described Vampire, complete with a spokesgig for Nocturne, red wine based coolers that resemble blood. Playing the tormented protagonist, Aubrey, is Leischneudel Drysdale, who also escorts Esther to the theater most nights to avoid the "Vamparazzi", the legion of "vampires" and "vampire hunters" hanging around outside the theater, all of whom seemed obsessed with Daemon. Rounding out the cast as the nubile ingenue, Ianthe, is Mad Rachel, who tends to spend most of her time off stage yelling as loudly as possible at people on her cell phone backstage. Even during the big seduction scene of Esther's Jane, which is supposed to be the big climax. Backstage, we have Fiona, the icy wardrobe mistress; Bill, the bipolar stage manager; Victor, Daemon's personal assistant; and Tarr, the tabloid reporter attached to Daemon to help publicize Daemon's career.

As we open, approaching Halloween, Esther's covering up the black eye she received the night prior from one of the crazed "Jane"s, a woman who dresses up as Esther's character, along with a multitude of other women obsessed with Daemon, who tend to think being exsanguinated is romantic. (Later on, Esther and the audience get a less...biased...view of the whole vampire arousal.)

However, not that far into the book, the Jane that assaulted Esther is found dead, drained of blood, and in an underground tunnel. Given that she was last seen getting into Daemon's limo the night prior....

What follows is a mixture of good mystery and a hint of farce, as everyone's real motivations get revealed throughout the narrative. It's well written, funny, and very engaging reading.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Thou shall not...

So, in the quest for looking for new stuff to read, I wound up starting Mark Chadbourn's follow up series to Age of Misrule. (Well technically, one of them. There's another series that follows around one of the protagonists from the original series as well).

So, The Devil in Green, book one of The Dark Age, picks up about a year following the events of Always Forever. We start with Mallory and Miller, two gents making their way to Salisbury, home of a Cathedral on one of the major ley lines. (Ok technically, Mallory and Miller start off traveling separately, facing down one of the beasts on the Salisbury plain being their actual meeting, but..) Salisbury is trying to become the Jerusalem of the West, with the remnants of Christian England trying to revive the faith in they new age following The Fall. As such, a call has gone out to create a new Knights Templar, to again protect travelers in this new time. Mallory is terribly cynical, whereas Miller is very faithful to his beliefs.

The Cathedral is overseen by Julian, who's doing a passable job in his old age keeping the various factions within from outright conflict. As Mallory and Miller get settled in to training, they form a bond with Gardener and Daniels, the latter of which we met in Bath during the last trilogy. Daniels is gay, his partner died during the last series. We also have Hipgrave in the mix, which becomes more important when the knights get sent on their first mission.

Outside the cathedral, in their own Celtic pagan protection, are the Travelers,  one of whom, Sophie, Mallory begins to fall in love with during an illicit visit beyond the wall by Mallory and Miller. Sophie, of course, is a witch of Ruth's line from the last series.

Anyway, two major events happen fairly early on that begin to shape the course of the narrative. The first involves the Elite Blues bringing back a Holy Relic (the bones of St. Cuthbert), and a second involves our team of 5 heading out to the plains to find a missing cleric. What they meet in the field is much more harrowing than a missing cleric, more some kind of monster along the lines of the Formori in the first series. Mallory, who's got a bad reputation, winds up being the one sent into danger on the plain ahead of the platoon. After getting his butt kicked, he winds up in the Far Lands, and eventually in Rhiannon's court. However, this Rhiannon doesn't sleep with the other singer and the drummer and spend much of her time twirling and doing cocaine. She does, instead, heal Mallory and pass on a sword with a bunch of consonants in its name and the information that he's one of the 5 Brothers of Dragons that existence has chosen since the last 5 have moved on to new roles. (She does cryptically mention Church, or so we assume.)

He returns from the Far Lands and saves Miller on the plain, reminding us once again that time passes differently in fairieland. Upon returning to the cathedral, to which they along with the other 3 are the only ones returning, they find that the cathedral has new buildings and fortifications that seemingly appeared over night. The ghosts of the previous friars also seemingly have come to join the new areas.

Not long after their return, Julian is murdered, causing some behind the scenes warfare as to whom will now lead the church. Given the long term siege by monsters at the gate, the scarcity of food as winter starts coming in, and the general nature of humans in large numbers, the leadership passes to the Zealot Stefan. Who tends to take a rather medieval view on the tenants of the church, restarting the Inquisition, outlawing sodomy, closing the library, and declaring the dragon is actually the Devil. Speaking of the dragon, it gets slain after the Elite Blues oven the relic box.

We'll skip over much of the more intricate plotting here, and discuss instead appearances by the Green Man (whom in this setting is analogous top the Greek Pan) and The Caretaker, a giant who's home is somehow adjacent to the Cathedral.

The Caretaker is the one who more or less spells out some of what's going on here, mainly the idea that the monster on the pain and now inside the cathedral (kind of like The Thing) is something from outside of existence that hates existence. And that there exist things out that way that are more powerful and starting to notice the world again.

The Green Man (as mentioned above), in this setting is analogous to the Greek Pan, and seems to echo the Hindu/Wiccan idea that there is one great God, and all the other gods are merely facets of it.

I'd also like to mention this book is filled with ugly. The direction the church ends up taking after the death of Julian is painful to read, along the lines of Orwell's Animal Farm. We never do exactly find out what happens to those who early on get declared heretics, but given what happens later, one can only assume the worst. Also, the betrayals hearken back to World War II, in which friends rat out friends to protect themselves. There's a scene where Daniels denies his love for his new partner in the Knights in order to save his own skin that had me quite upset at work when I read it.

It's very dark reading at points, for all that it ends with a much more optimistic tone than anything that's come before. And ultimately, I think that's the point. Hope is a fragile thing that empowers humankind to greater triumphs. Eventually.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Inventive invectives.

So, the past few days, I've been slowly devouring the second book (in order of the way they were written) of Lois McMaster Bujold's World of the Five Gods, Paladin of Souls.

Much like the first book, it's a rich feast, although less broad in its scope than its predecessor.

We open following the funeral of the old Provincara, who's firm grip has kept Valenda running through the years. Her daughter, the Dowager Royina Ista, long thought mad, is annoyed to be cooped up in her mother's house, expected to either take her mother's seat or worse be kept away from society as the presumed mad woman everyone thought she was. (Following the lifting of the curse in the last book, Ista's back to semi-normal.)

A chance meeting with a pilgrimage passing through Valenda inspires Ista with the idea of escaping her hereditary prison, a small pilgrimage of her own, under the pretense of praying for her daughter, the Royesse Iselle and her Royce-Consort Bergon to have a son. After imploring Chancellor Cazaril, the Dy Gurda brothers, Foix and Ferda ride down with a small company to accompany the pilgrimage, and a last minute substitution leads to Learned dy Cabon, a priest of the Bastard, to be the spiritual conductor of the event, much to the wailing and gnashing of teeth by those who love Ista and wish to show that love by confining her.

The pilgrimage proceeds fairly normally at first, with Ista riding under an assumed name and a courier named Liss roped into playing Lady-in-Waiting. We meet much of the accompanying party, and like Ista begin to know and love them. Problems begin to arise when a demon possessed bear attacks Ista on the road, only to be slain by Foix. As demons in this setting are prone to doing, the demon hitches a ride with Foix. Not long after, the party runs afoul of a Roknari raiding party out of Jokona. By now Ista has dreamed of a man, while Learned dy Cabon has dreamed of his death in just such an event.

With a bunch of moving around, Ista gets captured while most of the party escapes. Ista does get rescued a province north of where she was captured by Lord Arhys, who's castle, Porifors guards the pass into enemy Jokona.

Problem of course being that things at Porifors aren't exactly as cut and dried as the seem, what with Arhys's demon possessed bride Cattilara, his seemingly ill bastard half-brother Illvin appearing in Ista's dreams, and as we find later on, a dead lord reanimated by one very annoyed demon who wasn't expecting his wife to be quite as strong willed, given that Cattilara is first described by her brother-in-law as the type you could put a candle by one ear and blow it out thorough the other. (That's a paraphrase, and close enough to the original quote.)

Quite a puzzle to unravel, particularly when The Bastard entices Ista into taking on some of his gifts, like second sight. The complex mess gets more interesting as members of the original party return, and Prince Sordso of Jokona shows up with his Regent mother, Joen. Which is about the time we start figuring out how all of this ties in with the fist book, and eventually some very well written moments as the knot becomes untangled.

There are a few passages of breathtaking beauty in these pages, not the least of which involves finding a way to get Arhys free of his theological damnation/sundering, or when Ista finally forgives herself, her husband, and his lover (the lover who also happens to be Arhys's father) for what happened prior to the first book.

To be sure, this is another one I'd recommend to folks, but only after they read The Curse of Chalion.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

An invitation you can't refuse

I was fairly unaware that The Long Cosmos even existed, figuring that given Terry Pratchett died not long before The Long Utopia was released, Lobsang's voyage to the outer realms was the end of it.

However, It seems that Stephen Baxter had enough material to finish the series, and thus we get the voyage of Joshua Valiente one more time. 

There's a lot happening in this one, (not that there isn't in all 5 volumes), Starting with Josh, essentially estranged from his children venturing off into the high meggers in his 70's. Nelson, the Anglican priest, gets a notice from some algorithm of Lobsang that he has a grandson. And everyone on all of the long earths gets an invitation to "Join us". Near as SETI projects can pinpoint it, coming from somewhere near Sagittarius. (Doesn't hurt that even the non human sapient species hear the call.)

The Next end up dragging in normal humans to help build The Thinker, a giant AI encoded in the Invitation.

Josh ends up in serious trouble with injuries and winds up being cared for by Trolls until his son Rob comes to rescue him. Followed almost as quickly by Josh and his troll friend Sancho rescuing Rob on an alternate Earth filled with hydrogen trees.

Nelson goes with Lobsang's adopted son into the simulation where Lobsang is currently hiding after meeting his grandson, who vanishes along with a Traveler that Nelson's family was living on stepped away.

Which eventually means every surviving major character from the series winds up on one of the Pi Earths that houses The Thinker. And eventually, the invitation is answered.

We never do get a more philosophical answer as to what it all means, although Sancho's thoughts on the matter are probably the truest of all of them.

I'm not sorry I read this, but I'm kind of happy it's officially over now.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mmm, lasagna does sound good.

Well, as sort of promised, I did track down the next book in Laura Resnick's Esther Diamond series recently. Due to a bunch of personal stuff, this review is going up a few days late, but ya know, here we go.

Doppelgangster picks up with Esther's stage show being cancelled, requiring her to start working on Mulberry St. in Lower Manhattan at a place called Bella Stella, where the wait staff sings upon customer request. Most of the clientele are Made Men. (For those not in the know, Mulberry St. is in the heart of Little Italy. Try as I could, I never did make it there when I was in New York last week.) This creates conflict with her sort of boyfriend, Detective Lopez, since he's now part of the Organize Crime team with the NYPD.

However, things get off to an ugly start when first she serves Chubby Charlie, then runs into Chubby Charlie again after her shift is over, as he's walking into Bella Stella with no memory at all of having been in there the first time. The next night, he's in again, terrified, having seen his perfect doppio, which to him, means certain death. A prediction that comes true, since he winds up being shot by an impossible bullet in the middle of the entree.

This gets Esther back in with Max and a man named Lucky, and thanks to a play on words, the perfect doubles running around become known as Doppelgansters. (Given the doubles are mostly of mafia folks, it plays well with the original term, doppelganger.)

Things continue to go south throughout the book, as doubles of major characters show up, people die as a prelude to a mob war, and Esther keeps getting threatened with a Material Witness warrant by Lopez's boss. Not that Lopez is happy about Esther running around with the mob, but ya know.... When Evil is running amok, so are Esther and Max.

A fun entry, even if I did figure out one of the parties responsible as well as how the doppios were being created well before the narrative did. Will have top start tracking down more of the series when I get my personal crap better straightened out.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Not quite Riverdance.

I knew when I started reading Gene DeWeese's Lord of the Necropolis, this picture was going to show up in the review.

Mainly because it covers, in the timeline of Ravenloft, the Grand Conjunction as well as the rise of the Necropolis from within the kingdom of Darkon during the Requiem, all from the point of view of Azalin, the lich lord of Darkon.

A quick bit of history for those not versed in Dungeons & Dragons who stumbled in to this. Ravenloft was a campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons that made it possible to have adventures in cheap rip offs/homages of Gothic horror. The realm got its start (and name) from an adventure centered on a vampire named Strahd, and his rather tragic fall from grace. It proved popular enough that Strahd, his castle, and quite a bit of his domain got sucked into the Ethereal Plane and became the linchpin of a new campaign world of tortured Darklords.

A few problems though. Evidently, this one, unlike its predecessor (King of the Dead, also by DeWeese), is considered non-canonical. Second, the very things that made the adventures so much fun to play through are kind of missing in the prose.

See, the first half of the book deals with Azalin going back to Strahd's Barovia prior to its entrance to the mist. (Using a proxy phylactery embedded in a Vistani ally.) Instead of what happened in the modules, we instead get some silliness about Azalin taking the body of the Lieutenant Strahd killed at the time of the cursing.

Then we get into the Requiem. Wherein Azalin finds a machine made of both science and magic, makes a lesser version, which creates the being that would later rule the Domain of Necropolis as Death, as well as managing to disintegrate Azalin when he enters the bigger version.

Honestly, it wasn't as good as I was hoping, but that's long been an issue with the Ravenloft novels... If the Darklord(s) is the focus, it generally isn't a good read. If they aren't in it at all, or left as a minor character, they usually become quite fun to read, in a cheesy pulpy kind of way. (Although what usually makes the Darklords so boring to read is that they're often rehashing a better source material, like Frankenstein or The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Not always true, as Lord Soth's Entrance and Exit to the mists were actually fun to read, even if legions of Dragonlance fans screamed in protest that their favorite scene stealing Death Knight got yanked out of Krynn.[And let's be honest. Soth's creators weren't happy about it, and Soth's curse in the myths really didn't capture the horror of the curse he had on Krynn. /nerd off] I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that Laurell K. Hamilton wrote a Ravenloft novel at one point. I actually have it on the shelf, but...)

It's a readable book. Azalin is a tragic character in many ways. But it made me long for what White Wolf managed to do long after the heyday of D&D novels... make a book that captures both the spirit and the sense of adventure of the game itself.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Savage curses are occasionally answered prayers

Well, given I'm waiting for holds to show up at the library, this has required delving into my bookshelf for more books again.

In this case, I dug out one of my favorite books, Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion. 

As a bit of backstory, I went to an author's signing of this particular volume back in 2000ish thanks to a coworker mentioning it in passing. While I mainly went to get my copy of Ethan of Athos signed, she talked of her mindset while writing Chalion, and eventually, I think I ripped off the Science Fiction Book Club to get a copy.

Chalion as the book opens, is a landlocked kingdom sandwiched between the archipelago of the Roknari; Brajar and Ibra on coasts; with vast Darcatha to the South. As we get bits of the history, we find that the Roknari had long ago conquered the lands, savaging everything as they came south. Eventually, the peoples fought back, driving the Roknari north to the 5 Princedoms of the archipelago. Prior to the start of this story, the Lion of the Roknari, the Golden General managed to unite the princedoms into one nation and began to take back the land. Fonsa the Wise (Roya of Chalion), eventually performed Death Magic to take out the General, killing Fonsa and the General. Thus why Fonsa became posthumously known as Fonsa the Fairly Wise.

As the book opens, we meet Cazaril (which technically is his last name, his full name and title is Castillar Lupe dy Cazaril), who has spent weeks walking from the Ibran coast to Valenda, a town in the Chalionese province of Baocia. Cazaril, nearly broken from years on a Roknari slave galley, seeks work with the Provincara, whom he knew in his youth working as her husband's page. The Provincara is not alone in her home, as her daughter, the former Royina Ista is there, lost in seeming madness, along with the Royesse and Royce of Chalion, Iselle and Teidez.

 Through happenstance, Cazaril ends up becoming Iselle's Secretary-Tutor, along with her courtier, Betriz. Iselle is the more level headed of Ista's children, with Teidez being an adolescent boy more interested in hunting than statecraft.

Eventually, the current Roya of Chalion, Ista's stepson Orico, summons the siblings and their entourages to the Zangre castle in the capitol city of Cardegoss. It's here we meet the brothers dy Jironal, Martou and Dondo. Martou, currently Orico's Chancellor, was directly responsible for Cazaril's sale to the Roknari slavers following the siege of Gotorget, albeit at his brother's urging.

Much politicing ensues, and eventually, Dondo ends up engaged to marry Iselle, a situation not much loved by anyone other than Dondo. Which is when Caz attempts Death Magic on Dondo. And survives, even as Dondo doesn't. Which is how we find out Caz is now Gods touched, and we find out what the curse in the title refers to, as all of Fonsa's line share the curse brought on by the Golden General's death.

The ride to the end is glorious.

This is one of the few books that I recommend to almost everyone I know. It's that good.

(Side note: I know goodreads lists this as book 2 in the series, with High Hunt listed as book 1 and the Penric novellas as 1.5 and 1.6, but Chalion and its sequel, Paladin of Souls were written first. And honestly, Chalion will give readers a much better grounding in the World of the Five Gods than any of the other volumes, even if they can be read in series chronological order.)

Monday, October 24, 2016

I never said he was a good illusionist...

A while back, I picked up Laura Resnick's Disappearing Nightly at one of the local Half Price Books locations. However, until here recently, I never bothered reading it, which as I found out, was a minor mistake.

We meet Esther, a waitress who currently has an acting gig off-Broadway as a nymphy in Sorcerer!, a show built around a magician. She's understudying for Golly Gee, a pop tart trying to further her career. Problem being, during the show's finale, Golly Gee, disappears in the crystal cage, but vanishes completely from within the confines of the box.

This leads to what are first taken as threatening notes from someone signing only his initials to the letters, which Esther takes to Detective Lopez, the man investigating the vanishing.

However, the notes are actually from Max, a 300 year old Mage, who's supposed to be the occult guardian of the 5 boroughs.

He's concerned because Golly isn't the first woman to actually vanish in recent days during an act and not reappear. In fact, we have the assistants for a drag queen, a condom salesman doing magic as a hobby, a Wall Street broker trying to become a magician, and a Vegas act trying to stage a comeback. (The Vegas guy actually has both his assistant AND his tiger vanish during his act.)

It's a fun read, as Lopez becomes the straight man, love interest, and suspicious third party in Esther's life as the mystery goes on. Max's supervisor in the occult chain of command comes in from Altoona, PA, and plays Wesley Wyndham-Price to Max's Giles. And even in some fairly serious moments, there's quite a bit of humor floating around.

Esther, unlike some heroines in series like this, currently has nothing supernatural about her. (There's evidently more books in the series, so I can't formally say if this continues to be true or not.) She's also culturally Jewish, struggling to pay rent, and uses Ben & Jerry's as therapy for stress. It's kind of nice to read a humorous Urban Fantasy novel that doesn't start off with a main character already one step above normal human, not part of some great occult conspiracy, etc.

So yeah, I'll probably be tracking down more of the series over time.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Last Call for Alcohol

On my lunch today, I finally finished Sharon Green's Destiny, the last book in her The Blending Enthroned trilogy.

I'm happy to have reread the entire eight book series this year, since it remains a perennial favorite of mine, and this, the penultimate volume, doesn't disappoint, even if it does go a bit Ayn Rand towards the end.

We spend much of the book following around Driff and his blending as they try to stop the former Noble Nolls from taking over the city, as well as stopping Honrita Grohl and Holdis Ayl in their attempts to take over everything. In the meantime, Tamrissa and out major blending are trying to stop the invasion of Gracely by a powerful foreign blending.

Again, the conclusion is pretty much forgone in the trilogy, so most of the enjoyment comes from watching how they arrive at the happy ending. Which mainly revolves around the original focus blending learning new ways to integrate and work through personal issues, and the Middle Blending working around the lack of High Talents to keep the government running. (The Highs in the Capitol all went into trances at the end of book 2.)

Really though, when I mentioned Rand above, that has to do more with the conclusion, wherein we find out who has been manipulating events for 8 books, pretty much narrowing possibilities down to a point where the entire series is essentially like leading cows down the chute to the slaughterhouse. While free will does play a part in the narrative, and questions of prevailing moral ambiguity do exist in the strange new world, it does tend to put a damper on the conclusion to know that we were all lead here.

Monday, October 17, 2016

the Eye of, Balor

Well, I finished Mark Chadbourn's Always Forever (book 3 in the Age of Misrule trilogy) today.

Kind of a mixed bag.

Without going into much detail, the ending really irritated me. I mean, I know where he was going with it, but... Plus, a bit of wikipedia will tell you how Balor was defeated the first time around, and that there's a giant pokey stick in the story tends to suggest it's going to do it again.

On the other hand, the heroic journeys of the main 5 characters are rather satisfying. We have Church and Ruth, who hop on board Mannanan Mac Lir's ship to the far lands to find the well of purity, so that Church can purge the taint of the Formorii from himself.

Veitch and Thomas the Rhymer end up questing to find Shavi, who sort of died in the last book. This involves Veitch crossing into the realm of the dead to bring Shavi back.

And Laura, whom we thought died giving birth to Balor, is still kicking, thanks to gifts from the Horned Lord. She winds up getting rescued by the Bone Inspector.

There's a heck of a lot going on, and the party is mostly split until towards the end, as the assault on London comes to a head. Most of it is breathtaking in its verbiage and scope. In particular, there's a scene midway through where Church must descend to awaken the land. His journey and eventual sacrifice in this passage is so marvelously written I was in awe of the narrative.

Death and resurrection are recurring themes throughout. It's quite a bit like reading a novel involving Rory and Amy Pond from Doctor Who, actually.

As I said, though, the ending falls kind of flat. I mean, we finally do get some of the bigger picture, but some of the foreshadowing never comes out at all. (Church gets occasional glimpses of the future and a warning from a future version of himself that never comes to pass.) When the traitor is revealed, the entire plot line that's been dangling for 2 books is resolved in a page and a half.

But, as I said, these sins can be forgiven, particularly with Church's quest to reawaken the land and Tom's vision quest that winds up in the 60's era Whisky-A-G-Go, complete with Jim Morrison.

I guess there's another series or two that follow this one, I'll find them eventually.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Hit puree

Marking my 190th entry on this blog, as well as meeting my 40 books read goal for 2016. (While I do intend to fulfill my original goal of finishing both trilogies I've been alternating between, there's a great murcky question mark over what comes after. I do have several unread books on the shelf, and I'm pretty sure Kim Harrison has a new series starting. We shall see.)

So what book has acquired these landmarks? Why, Deceptions by Sharon Green, sis, m'Lords and M'Ladies! (Why yes, I was at Ren Fest yesterday. Why do you ask?)

As the middle entry in the trilogy, it has the unenviable task of setting up the finale as well as wrapping up loose ends from its predecessor.

Again, our sextet of heroes is abroad in Gracely, only now, the attacks from within the different factions of Gracely's governemnt are matched by an invading force that the blendings in the provinces can't defend again. As such, our heroic group ride out with the Gracelian Assembly's Blendings to try to take on the invading force. Which essentially turns into the Gandestrian Blending explaining the art of war to the Gracelian Assembly, none of whom have any real strategy beyond "Be the hero, and take over the assembly".

In the meantime, some of the former Nobility sent to rebuild Astinda are learning new lessons. Such as, cooperating and learning are paths to citizenship. This also sees the blossoming of love between Kail and Asri. Asri does have a son, but no husband to speak of. Problem being, as we find out later on, both mother and son are likely nulls, people born without any inherent powers, nor guild powered. (Given neither Astinda or Gracely appears to be aware of Sight magic....)

We also have Driff and his lady love Idresia. Driff is a Middle in Earth who also is a damn good healer. Idresia runs his spy network, which is admittedly more above ground with the new government than it was under the Nobility. Idresia manages to reel in Edmin and Issini almost by accident. Edmin, a member of the former nobility, and son of Embisson, who was stabbed towards the end of the first book, is on the run from the Nolls, who's Spirit magic keeps them manipulating people. Issini, a courtesan, happens to be the one sheltering Edmin. As such, the 4 have now joined forces to try to stop in Nolls.

And one last side project, Honrita, who gets magical psychotherapy, winds up getting her switched flipped even further in the process, joining forces with one of the villains in this series.

All in all, it does a good job at expanding on themes and moving the plot along at a good clip.

The problem is, on this umpteenth re-reading, I can't help but notice a few things that never really caught my attention before. First and foremost is that nowhere in here is there any discussion of the provinces of Gandestria. Have the changes in Gan Garee spread outwards, so that those in other cities benefit? Another question that pops up is how justified is the Gandestrian Blending in more or less rearranging Gracely's government to suit their needs? While they don't exactly overthrow the Assembly, they do violate quite a few of Gracely's laws to better position themselves in the war against the invading force. Our author, not quite as bad about it as say, Frank Herbert, seems to go with the idea that the ends justify the means. And it's not like any of the two governments affected by their interference are exactly strewing the main Blending's path with roses and praises. However, their resistance is at best portrayed by minor villains, and at worst, quickly accepted without much question. Which is, sadly, something that happens quite frequently in science fiction and fantasy stories that involve revolution or government upheaval. I'm not saying this distracts or spoils the story, but it does add another layer onto it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Calatin, I am your father

Oh lord, where to begin with this.

Back on track with my original plan, and just finished Mark Chadbourn's second book in his Age of Misrule trilogy, Darkest Hour. Which, given the narrative in this one, is a very appropriate description.

A the end of the first, the 5 Brothers and Sisters of Dragons, plus their guide True Tom the Rhymer, had managed to drive back the Formorii with the help of the 4 wonderous objects. Which of course, the Tuatha de Danaan took back to Tir na Nog with them, after pretty much telling the companions that they weren't worth anything. (Because seriously, both the golden skinned Tuatha de Danaan and the Fomorii, despite the fact they use the Fragile Creatures to accomplish their goals, seem to think of humans as bacteria at best.)

We have a bit of a retcon during the introduction, written in this case by a very minor character from the first book, who helped them find one of the sacred objects, who passes on that Laura and Church have become something of an item.

Anyway, early on, Ruth gets kidnapped, and one of her fingers gets left pointing the way.

So, Church, Laura, Tom, Veitch, and Shavi head to Edinburgh, having been given the deadline to stop the rebirth of Balor by Lughnasadh (AKA August 1st) and hopefully rescue Ruth in the process. Ruth, who's being held prisoner by Calatin and his Formor faction, is slowly being tutored in magic by her owl familiar. Well, until Calatin forces her to swallow the Heart of Shadows, thus impregnating her with Balor.

In the meantime, after advice from a bunch of dead Celts, who also pass on that someone in the group is or will be a traitor, Church and Tom go forth to awaken the Well of Fire, Laura and Shavi go to free Maponus, and Veitch goes to rescue Ruth. While this does have the desired effect of rescuing ruth AND destroying the Formorii stronghold, it does free Maponus (who went insane prior to imprisonment) who does manage to drive off the Calleach Bheur, but then he's on the rampage, along with a few dragons who'd been sleeping in the well.

Which of course leads to a merry chase to safety in some form. We find out Jack's Tuatha de Danaan patron is Niamh, who makes him promise to break off relations with Laura and love her. In return, she'll take care of Maponus.

Once all is made clear as to what's going on in Ruth's belly, the group splits again. Church, Laura, and Ruth stay in a holy place hopefully unseen by Formorii, while Shavi heads south to find Herne/Cernunnos in hopes he can save Ruth. Tom and Veitch head north to ask for help from Tom's old "patron", The Queen of Elfland. (According to wiki, she's synonymous with Mab, which makes sense in terms of her court.)

Needless to say, much like any middle chapter in a trilogy, things don't exactly end well in this book, although we're given a glimpse of hope at the end. Yes, Balor is awake, but he won't end the world until Samhaine, so there are ways to proceed. Of course, that means freeing everyone from various predicaments left unresolved at the end.

This installment deals with some very dark themes in places, like Shavi's ex-boyfriend's ghost coming every night to tell him horrible things as payment for help earlier in the book. On the othe rhand, there are wonders to be found here as well, like Cerridwyn restoring forest primeval to Scotland, the Oak Men, and Princess Diana's locket restoring hope.

With one of the overarching themes so far being one of balance, it makes sense that wonder and terror coexist so well in this series. And even the terrors are wonders of their own, as the Dragons destroy, they are magnificent creatures to behold.

I'm really looking forward to the last book in this series now, even if I'm jokingly wondering what will be the Sarlacc pit on Tattoine moment in the finale.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

When did Dick York join Sea Witch?

So, my cunning plan to switch between trilogies got interrupted by the arrival of Seanan McGuire's Once Broken Faith. Which is fine, because there's always room in my life for the Changeling from Hell. Add into it a novella tacked on the end, centered around the Current Queen of the Kingdom of Mists, Arden Windermere, and you have a happy James.

Anyway, having been present for the discovery of the cure for Elfshot at the end of the previous novel (thus sparing Purebloods from 100 years of sleep and outright killing Changelings), October (Toby for short) is dragged in to a Conclave as High King Sollys arrives in San Francisco to oversee the debate on whether or not the cure should be available or not.

Because this is the Nobility, and because this is Pureblood, everything gets tied up in politics. Which does make life interesting. This being October Daye, though, things go haywire when the King of Angels (a Candela) winds up dead, with his merry dancers broken on the floor of the dining room. Not long after, Dianda, Mermaid Queen of Saltmist, winds up getting elfshot. Given everyone is locked in the know, it becomes almost like Agatha Christie, as Toby tries to figure out who murdered whom.

There's a lot going on in here, and the mystery's solution is almost a deus ex machina. However, the side drama gets really interesting, particularly given The Luidaeg giving Toby some of her blood, allowing a brief glimpse of Maeve. This is also the first book in the series to really mention unseelie vs seelie courts, back when the Divided Courts particularly were divided by seasons. Mind you, Titania's children almost always seem to wind up being villains, while one of Maeve's is by far the most interesting support character in the entire series. We also find out that Quentin (aka Sollys's son) is now dating Dianda's son Dean, adding another layer of fun to the proceedings.

The novella that follows involves Arden waking her long sleeping brother, only to find that the False Queen added a little something to the Elfshot that makes her seek out The Luidaeg. This also gives us a bigger glimpse at the burden the Sea Witch bears courtesy of Titania.

It's a good read, as usual. And McGuire gets props for not following other Urban Fantasyists' paths that wind up either repeating plot lines or descending into supernatural smut. (Not that this is a problem, but one series in particular occasionally gets unreadable since the smut distracts from the narrative.)

So yeah. Looking forward to the next one. As usual.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Back to the Blender

So, the original goal was to do what I did previously with The Blending and WebMage, only with The Blending Enthroned and Age of Misrule, as both are trilogies. This will still be happening, even if the next October Daye showed up.

Anyway,  Intrigues by Sharon Green starts not long after The Blending ended, with the Chosen Six (Tamrissa, Lorand, Jovvi, Vallant, Rion, and Naran) awaiting the seating ceremony.

After much ado, including finding out about a faction of the Guild that wants to bring back the Nobility, people wanting to become the NEW Nobility, and just about everyone hates Naran, since her ability to see the future in glimpses makes people uncomfortable.

However, once they do get seated, we start into the subplots.

First, we meet the Nobility headed West into Astinda, as part of the reparations the Cshosen Six paid to keep the invading army from destroying the Empire. Some of the former nobles get it faster than others, as they see the destruction their poor life choices brought to Astinda. Others remain just as convinced of their inherent rightness by virtue of birth and don't get the point.

Then we meet the Nolls and what's left of the Ruhls, former nobility hiding in the countryside. Both have their own plots to take back the Empire, some of which falls apart as they head back to Gan Garee. The female Ruhl, a Spirit magic user, is busy manipulating everyone.

Then we have the training classes, which introduce people learning to live under the new system.

And of course, as the book progresses, and the army coming West from the invasion of Gracely comes into the picture, we meet Antri Lorimon, who is the fairly virtuous and noble woman in Gracely's assembly as she navigates several plots to take control of the assembly. Given the Six wind up in Gracely (which had more or less used magic to convince the army that they were succeeding in overrunning the country), it's going to be an interesting series.

Having read this before, I know how everything comes out, but I'd forgotten how much better the writing was this time around, other than GRRM levels of subplots.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Widdershins and widdershins

I actually finished Mark Chadbourn's World's End (book one in the Age of Misrule trilogy) a few days ago, but as I was out in the wilderness and not inclined to try to post a review from a phone....

We start, as with most heroic yarns, with the oblivious Church out for a walk while he laments the much earlier death of his love. Which takes up a few pages before he sees a pale woman washing an object in the Thames. Upon closer inspection, it would appear that said woman was washing Church's severed head. We then meet ruth, a lawyer, who winds up meeting church not long after, as they both confront a larger than average man busy killing another man under a bridge.

What follows from here is much like an RPG campaign, as they get thrown into a quest by a woman who evidently lives under the hills to use a lantern called the wayfinder to find a stone, a spear, a sword, and a cauldron.

This also includes no one seemingly knowing that strange things are afoot until a dragon attacks the M4, the Erl King leads the Wild Hunt through Southern England, and suddenly witch magick starts working better than normal.

We meet Veitch, who killed a man; Laura, a cynic; Shavi, the pansexual Easterner; and Tom, who can never lie and seems to have a much better idea than everyone else as to what's actually going on.

I was quite fortunate in my place of camping to have people more familiar with Celtic lore to help me make sense of some of the things going on, since honestly, I'm more familiar with the Christianized stories being discussed here, like Excalibur and the Holy Grail. Which do come up, since the overall theme seems to be one of the objects being something that no story could ever hold the whole truth of.

Another thing I learned in this book was what Formori actually are. (For those of you who have played in the Classic World of Darkness setting, you likely know the word from there. I didn't realize the root was in beings of darkness in Celtic lore.)

While it ends on a kind of down note, the first quest being completed but not in a happy way, I look forward to finishing the series over time as the books come in.

(I'm still recovering from camping, this review is not up to my usual snuff.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lock the doors, turn out the lights

So, I finished Simon R. Green's newest Ishmael Jones today, Dead Man Walking, while on lunch.

Much like the first one, there's no real connection to the bigger shared world he's created in his other series, just a maybe alien working for a nebulous organization known as "The Organization", and once again, said alien, Ishmael Jones, is solving a cozy.

In this case, Ishmael and his new girlfriend/partner Penny, are sent to the remote Ringstone Lodge, just south of Hadrian's Wall. The lodge is mostly a fortress, designed for off the record interrogations and the like.

The current guest of honor at the Lodge is one Frank Parker, someone who left the origanization to work for the opposition, and now wants to come back. Ishmael's job is to determine if Parker is who he says he is before a deal can be made. (Parker has had extensive identity corrections.)

The lodge is full of mostly unscrupulous characters, from the hired outside security to the dating interrogaters. Only two folks seem above reproach, MacKay, on loan from the ministry of defense and the only one with a master key, and the chief of electronic surveillance, Martin. 

Strange things are afoot at Ringstone Lodge. About half the characters, except for Ishmael, are convinced the place is haunted, likely by the witch buried in the family plot on the grounds. Hauntings straight of of Shirley Jackson abound, with phantom knocking and footsteps echoing down the halls at various intervals.

And then Parker winds up dead inside his locked cell.

From there is goes on in typical cozy fashion, as bodies appear then disappear, and the suspect get narrowed down.

While it is an engaging read, the identity of the murderer is fairly obvious although the motive isn't. Not quite sure his solution on how to murder someone in a locked room is an improvement over the old "use a rope to do and undo the latch", but it is what it is. And it does provide a pleasant change of pace from his usual chutzpah.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Because the night belongs to us

It took me some time to get in the spirit of Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor, a novel set in the world of their eponymous podcast. Having never listened to said podcast (full confession, my mind wanders when listening to things; it's one reason I don't do audiobooks), I started off having no idea about the setting. only that more than a few friends of mine really like the podcast.

Night Vale is a desert town that seemingly isn't particularly connected to the rest of the world. It comes off a bit like Stephen King and Garrison Keillor collaborating, creating the Derry Home Companion. 

The story for the novel centers on two disparate women, Jackie and Diane, only one of whom is an American kid doing the best that she can. That would be Jackie, who's been 19 going on centuries. She runs the local pawn shop, giving people $11 for anything they pawn. Mercedes, tears, and to get the ball rolling, a piece of paper that says "KING CITY". Said paper is pawned by a gentleman in a tan suit whom she can't seem to remember after he leaves with his ticket and $11. Nor can she seem to drop said piece of paper. no matter what she does, it keeps returning to her hand. Also, she can't seem to write anything other than KING CITY after accepting the pawn.

Diane, on the other hand, is doing the best she can to raise her son Josh, who besides being a moody teenager, spends most of his time changing shape. Her world gets disturbed when Josh's father Troy starts appearing again in town in several different jobs and locations. She also can't seem to figure out what happened to a coworker of hers, a man in a tan suit named Evan, whom no one seems to remember.

It takes roughly 6/10ths of the books before these stories overlap and join finally. Even the bizarre Voice of Night vale sections narrated by the radio host Cecil can't overcome the lack of decent pacing to get there. Not even Cecil's boyfriend, the scientist, can overcome that. It dragged until they meet up.

However, when the two storylines to meet up, the book becomes very very good, and suddenly becomes the book that goes with me for the second half of lunch, rather than going back in the bag. From the cthonic librarians (whom we only ever see the occasional tentacle), to the city council of Night Vale (who remains a background player), it gets intriguing. Even if the resolution is tied up in plastic flamingoes that send people to different dimensions.

Maybe I would have liked this more if I was familiar with the podcast, but as a novel, it was very uneven.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Dost thou wish to live deliciously?

I started The Scar-Crow Men by Mark Chadbourn under the mistaken impression it was the first book in a series he titled Swords of Albion. Seems I was incorrect, that this was book two in the series, which may explain why it took me several chapters to get fully immersed in this rather amusing book of spycraft in Elizabethan England.

Before I first met our protagonist, one Will Swyfte, we first meet Christopher Marlowe, on the run from a hunter who seems to know him of old. We meet one of Marlowe's boys, who is given direct instruction to deliver a note of some import to his close friend Will Swyfte, "The Greatest Spy in England".

We encounter Swyfte at the opening of Marlowe's new play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, which is being performed at one of the few theaters open due to the plague sweeping across London. (For those of you not familiar, Marlowe's version predates both the Goethe version, as well as the operatic version. Marlowe's does not have a happy ending. Also of note, the book is set in 1593, Marlowe's is listed as first being published in 1604.) During the play, we first learn that Sir Walsingham, former spymaster is dead and the dwarf Sir Robert Cecil currently is running operations, even as another member of the Privy Council, Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, tries to run off the old master's rings. During the performance, we see cionfrontations between the two groups, even as a killer in a devil mask stalks Master Swyfte in the auditorium. The killer fails in his attempt, partly due to to the intervention of one Irish Spy, Meg, and partially due to a devil appearing during the sequence when the actor playing Faust is summoning Mephistopheles. This devil, however, takes the form of Jenny, Swyfte's long lost true love, long ago taken Underhill by the Unseelie Court.

Oh yes, let me bring them up, since they're the primary antagonists in this. The Unseelie Court are trying to get rid of defenses on England put in place by Dr. John Dee. Who somehow managed to help capture one of the high family and lock it in the Tower.

Marlowe is found dead, stabbed, apparently in a dispute over gambling debts. Swyfte senses a rat, since Marlowe was about to be brought before the Privy council on Charges of treason due to his professed Atheism. (A note on this: they finally explain that this is considered a crime in Anglican  circles more so than Catholicism because Atheism suggests Jesus was a bastard born to a whore.)

Oh lord, so much plot, and no gunpowder. Just treason.

Swyfte, who gets declared a traitor to the Crown about halfway through, seeks out Dr. Dee, who points out the Devil in the form of Jenny has become his personal Mephistopheles. Something we sort of found out during Swyfte's visit to Saint Mary of Bethlehem's hospital. (Modern readers likely know it better as Bedlam.) Here Swyfte meets the basis for Marlowe's Faust, who supposedly is possessed by the Devil and destroyed a town in the Shire.

We also meet the soon to be crowned King of France, Henry of Navarre, who invites the Unseelie to dinner in order to form an alliance with them. It is here we learn bits about the Scar-Crow Men, who are... I guess the best way to describe them would be adult Changelings. Of the old meaning. Animated bodies that replace a real human.

Quite a bit happens, as Swyfte's closest allies try to find the Man in the Devil mask who's ritually killing off Walsingham's old spy ring, as Swyfte tries to find the secrets Marlowe cyphered into his play, that eventually lead Swyfte and Red Meg to France, after being hunted by Xanthus, an Unseelie hunter who's brother Swyfte killed previously. We meet Henry again, we see the monestary at Reims, we break into Notre Dame.

We wind up back at Nonsuch for the finale, wherein all the plots get resolved.

On the positive, with a few exceptions, Chadbourn has seemingly done his research into the era, which gives it the feel of authenticity as we deal with plague in the streets, several cabals of spies and occult organizations, and two very different supernatural antagonists. Also, while not using current idiom, the language is NOT Elizabethan, making it easier for the contemporary reader to follow along.

On the negative, Red Meg, who is by far one of the most interesting supporting characters in the book, complete with an intriguing backstory and wholly unique motivations, gets a bad case of the Heaving Bosoms outside of Notre Dame. While he later redeems her, that one particular chapter is tonally off from everything before and after it, and it shook me out of the story.  

All in all, while I wish I had read the first book first, this was a very good read, and one that had me digging through websites to get more information on the real characters interspersed among the fictitious ones.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Well, that was fast

I called in sick today, and in between passing out in bed, I managed to finish Lois McMaster Bujold's novella, Penric's Demon, set in the World of the Five Gods. I sadly haven't re-read the three novels that precede this particular tale since I started this blog, but that may change before too terribly long, particularly if I can procure a copy of the follow up to this volume, Penric and the Shaman.

A bit of summation of the setting, since a new reader to the world could theoretically pick up on some of it, but it would miss the rich tapestry of the world. Basically, Most of the nations in this setting recognize Five Gods, The Daughter of Spring, The Mother of Summer, The Son of Autumn, The Father of Winter, and the Bastard, God of all things out of season. In the archipelago of Roknari, they consider the Bastard a demon and not a God, leading to what most characters think of as the Quadrene Heresy. It also means things The Bastard rules are outlawed behaviors in the archipelago.

The previous three volumues in the series focused on the ways the gods work in the setting, as well as introducing Shamanism in cold Darcatha. Shamanism in this world merges the soul of a human with that of an animal, and must be undone for one of the 5 to claim the soul.

Anyway, this one is set in what seems to be the small kingdom of the Weald and literally starts about the place most books would place chapter 5 or 6. Poor Lord Penric (literally poor as his Barony of Jurold was left mostly bankrupt by Penric's father) is on the way to his arranged marriage with a nobleman's daughter when he stops to assist Learned Ruchia, a sorcerer of the Bastard who had the misfortune to have a heart attack in front of Penric's horse. (Temple sorcerers are those who are possessed by a demon, but have equal or greater footing in the arrangement than the demon.)

As such, as Ruchia dies, the demon she's hosting jumps into Penric, who's not been properly prepared for such a thing. Nor, when the demon starts talking, is he prepared for a demon whose personalities are all female. (Demons take on the traits of the people they've possessed. As such, this one has Ruchia and several predecessors including a courtesan, a lioness and a doe incorporated into the whole.) This leads to some rather amusing situations, as Penric is an adolescent, and also doesn't quite understand a certain bathhouse when he makes it to Martensbridge, where Learned Ruchia was originally traveling.

As such, we watch as he slowly becomes an accidental sorcerer, naming the demon Desdemona, as well as acknowledging her 12 other parts. We read, intrigued, as he gets pulled into small amounts of spy craft and trapped by one who would be a friend.

And in the end, we find him pleading with The Bastard for the life of Desdemona.

I love this setting immensely, and would highly recommend it (starting with The Curse of Chalion) to anyone who enjoys intelligent, well written fantasy that understands pacing.

The Poisoner's Garden

A few notes before I start talking about Simon R. Green's Dr. DOA. The main library finally reopened, and I had the opportunity Monday to finally go explore beyond the first floor, which lead to some new additions to the TBR pile. You'll find out more about them as I finish them, although one looks to be book 2 in a series, although unlike the other 2 series by the author I saw, this one wasn't numbered, suggesting that skipping a volume shouldn't have any real bearing on understanding the plot. (I did put a request in on Book 1 of one of his other series, the one which initially caught my eye.)

Also, the main library now as a large observation area in the reading room, meaning you can read while looking out at the Deaf School Topiary park.

 Anyway, back to our favorite cheeky Drood, as he navigates the shadows of England again.  We start with Eddie and Molly being summoned before the Matriarch again, this time to investigate on Cassandra Inc, a new organization selling information on future events to interested buyers. As this might interfere with the Drood family's own aims and ends, Eddie and Molly get sent off to find out where their information is coming from. When this gets wrapped up, and we've received a bit of foreshadowing from the source of the predictions, Eddie and Molly return to Drood Hall, where Eddie passes out and gets transferred to the ICU in the infirmary.

Seems our hero has somehow gotten poisoned by the supposedly Urban Legend, Dr. DOA. As the family can't figure out what it is, or how the Dr. managed to get through stringent security in the first place, and the only reason Eddie is still alive has to do with the Strange Matter Torc, Eddie and Molly set off on a quest to find Dr. DOA and/or a cure. What follows is fairly standard for the Shadowed world, with visits to the Wulfshead Club, a place where life energy is transferred from donors to those seeking to prolong their life, and even a remote mountain base that's home to the Drood offshoot Survivors. 

We eventualy wind up in one of Molly's old lairs from her days as a supernatural terrorist, where we solve on of the side mysteries in this one; namely, who's been sending various friends and enemies to fight Eddie while pretty much repeating the same script?

Eventually, Eddie and Molly confront Dr. DOA in the least likely place, and we get left with a cliffhanger on par with the one at the end of From Hell With Love.

As I say when I review one of these, if you've read one, you know what you're getting in to. If you haven't, and your curiousity is aroused, try one. They're all fairly short reads, and there are worse ways to spend your time.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Wild women of Borneo!

A quick note before we start delving into book 11 of Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen trilogy. I had reason to visit the USAF Museum. Worth a visit if you're in Ohio. But related to this review of Blood in the Water, the section on WW II has a large map of the Eastern Pacific, which really helped me get a better grip on the locations in the series.

Much like GRRM had done with his last two books, we get brief glimpses of the war in the American continents, while focusing mostly on India and Madagascar and adventures therein for this volume.  Which is good, since it means we get more on Captain Reddy and the scene stealing Dennis Silva, but once again, we also get to see Matt's wife get taken hostage yet again. This time by the League of Tripoli, who try to engineer a bit of misdirection involving giving over one of their advanced ships to General of the Sea Kurokawa.

This is after they sink the Republic of Real People's Amerika, which admittedly does try to ram the boat that shouldn't be there to begin with.

In India, Grik General Halik, if not becoming quite an ally of the alliance, does manage to rout the Grik coming via Persia on his way out, with a little assistance from the alliance trying to get him out of India.

Silva, our favorite psycho, is chasing up central Madagascar with Chack, where they meet the Lemurian ancestors (both good and bad) and wind up fiding out where the Grik are crossing the straights from Central Africa.

Task Force Alden provides the major battle of the book, running into Kurokawa's new air and naval forces, leading to more deaths and sinkings.

Like previous volumes, this is fast paced and exciting, even if it does feel like it's been going on longer than US involvement in World War II. Looks like next year's book will likely pick up with Shinya's army in South America and the New United States that they've finally found.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The wheel turns, the temple restored, the invisible hand

Well, I'm home from a weekend of camping, which lead to an evening of sitting on the deck of a rented camper finishing R. S. Belcher's latest novel, The Brotherhood of the Wheel.

Now, earlier on this week, I had posted that this one was a bit like a cross between Seanan McGuire and Simon R. Green. After finishing it, I think we can add Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Clive Barker's Books of the Art to that list. This is not to say it's not an original and exhilarating read, but more to say it's one of those that left me hungry to read other books I felt echoing through the prose while waiting for Mr. Belcher to release a new one eventually. (On the bright side, a quick perusal of goodreads shows he's got a third Golgotha coming, and a follow up to Nightwise in the works. Hopefully Jimmie also gets a sequel.)

So, here we go. Jesse James Aussapile is a long distance trucker with his own rig. He also operates as a Knight in the Brotherhood of the Wheel. Which is... well... shorthand for being part of one of the three branches left of the Knights Templar after the dissolution a few millennia ago. (The others, The Benefactors and The  Builders have their own foci. We'll come back here in a sec.) The Brethren are kind of a loose alliance of folks who patrol the roads trying to keep people safe from BAD things. The Builders are the knowledge gatherers, and The Benefactors the influence peddlers. We meet Jimmie outside St. Louis as he helps stop a highway serial killer who thinks of himself as the Marquis. (He read 120 Days of Sodom, skipping the philosophical bits.)

Jimmie has a 14 year old daughter and a pregnant wife who know very little of his side job that doesn't pay much of anything.

We meet Heck, who rides with the Blue Jocks, a Motorcycle club his mom and adoptive dad work with. Heck's stepfather has died when we meet him, leaving his mother to tell him to seek out Uncle Jimmie and become his squire.

We have Lovina, an investigator out of New Orleans, investigating a series of missing children. Who gets confronted by Black Eyed Kids. Who are pretty much what they sound like, children and teens with black eyes staring out from under hoodies, who knock on doors and tell people to join them. No one knows what happens to thos who take them up on their offer.

Eventually, we also get Max, a Builder, who comes out to help figure out what's up with all the mysteries.

Also, in the mix, although a separate story line until about 2/3 of the way through, we have the town of Four Houses, somewhere in Kansas near the geographical center of the US. Except no one knows where the heck it actually is. We enter Four Houses with 4 teenagers on their way to a party, who get run off the road by a guy on a motorcycle who's helmet is like that of a Japanese Oni. The Scode brothers tow them to town, wherein one girl dies by Black Eyed Children, two get captured, and one Ava, finds shelter with the town crone, a former M15 operative taking care of her dementia ridden husband.

Lest I forget, another subplot in here revolves around two missing adults, one of whom is on good terms with George Norse, who runs a late night AM radio show exploring the supernatural as well as a TV show.

There's a heck of a lot of metaphysical theory in here. Some of it, the idea of the US highway and interstate system being physical representations of Ley Lines (or long xian, dragon lines), I'm familiar with. While I won't comment on the validity of the theory, I think anyone who's live anywhere along I70 can confirm the thing is a weather line. Others, like the idea of the 3 feminine principle embodied in Maiden, Mother, and Crone and the male principle embodied in The Horned Lord are also represented by the Tetragramaton, I wasn't. His timeline is a bit off on some stuff, since he mentions reports of Shadow People not showing up until the 90's.....

Like his other three published books, this one delights in peeling back a layer of objective reality and giving us a peek at some alternate realities that exist behind the curtain. And, like the other three, the conclusion leaves me, the reader, wanting more.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Here I thought Butcher was writing himself into a corner...

Somewhere during the great library remodel, I managed to miss Benedict Jacka's new Alex Verus novel, Burned. Thankfully, that has now been remedied.

We start this installment off with Alex, independent Divination Mage, finding out that one of his enemies of the Light Council, has managed to get a quorum together of the Senior Council long enough to pass a death sentence on Alex. However, as the vote is 3-1, with 3 votes out of town for the Christmas holiday, Alex gets a week reprieve before the edict goes into effect. During that week, he's free to get at least 2 other votes against the edict, which would cancel out the edict. However, as the order states he and his dependents would be fair game, this means it also affects Luna, Variam, and Anne.

As such, large amounts of the book are spent trying to free the three from death by association, with arrangements trying to be made to get Anne and Varium under a different mentor and getting Luna Journeyman status (rare, since she's an Adept, technically.)

In the meantime, Alex, trying to secure the votes, winds up joining the Keepers on a mission in Syria to prevent his former mentor from retrieving an artifact from a bubble dimension that only opens during specific astrological events.

Metaplot wise, we find out more about why Chalice (the Dark Mage training Luna) is in England, the political divides in the Light council, and bits and pieces of what the Dark Mages are trying to accomplish.

While, as always, a fun read, the ending sets up what promises to be a very angsty continuation eventually. I'll be waiting with bells on.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I knew retail was hell, but this is ridiculous

I wasn't expecting Grady Hendrix's Horrorstör to be quite as fast of a read as it was, but here I am posting about it a few days after starting it.

We start with Amy, who works in the Home Office section of the Cuyahoga County (That's Cleveland for all you non-Ohio folks) Orsk store. What is Orsk? I'm so glad you asked! It's basically IKEA, only American owned, and therefore even cheaper! (Seriously, there's much in the way of discussion on the psychology of the setup of the store, it's basically IKEA without the horse meat meatballs.) Amy had transferred over from the Youngstown Orsk prior to the start of this, and wants to transfer back, given how unhappy she is at at Cuyahoga County Orsk. Much of this is due to her dislike of Basil, the Deputy Manager. Basil is the one who's swallowed the Kool Aid, quoting from the founder's book, following the policies to the letter of the law, and generally being what amounts to a Paladin in the service of Orsk.

Amy is also drowning in student loan debt, having been forced to drop out due to her mother's remarriage screwing up her benefit package. She's behind on rent, and scared of moving back in with her mother.

When we first meet Basil, he indeed chews out Amy for having her phone out on the floor. That it had gone off with one of the mysterious texts that employees keep getting while in the store (Unknown number, and the text reads "help".) And then Amy gets summoned for a closed door meeting with Basil, which she assumes is to fire her. She's greeted by Ruth Ann, the cashier whom everyone in the store loves for her friendly demeanor. Both think they're getting fired, but it turns out Basil wants them both to join him for a special project. It seems that some of the stranger occurrences around the store (poop stained couches, damaged merchandise, etc.) are suspected to be vandalism happening after close. Since Orsk doesn't employ an overnight staff, Basil wants Amy and Ruth Ann to join him that evening for a double overtime, paid in cash shift to see if they can't figure out what's going on, prior to a visit from corporate. During the meeting, we find out that Amy failed her assessment for promotion, which Basil, who as much as he may not like Amy, wants her to retake the test, since he feels she's management material. He also bribes her with approving her transfer back to Youngstown.

Fast forward, and the three are locked in to Orsk overnight, although Amy keeps visiting the bathroom out of nerves and a desire to get away from Basil. She notices some new graffiti on the walls when she's in there. Graffiti that seems to expand upon each visit. When Basil goes off on his own to patrol, Ruth Ann and Amy decide to go together rather than be alone in the creepy store. They run into employees Trinity and Matt, who gummed up the Employee entrance to do a ghost hunt in the store. The entire proposal they have is comedy gold and lends some levity into later events. Basil, who's having a conniption fit about the two extras, gets even more annoyed when they find Carl, a homeless guy, has been living in the store at night. Carl claims he hasn't been behind the vandalism, since he's much more interested in having a happy sort of home. Mind you, they also find out the graffiti is now covering the entire women's bathroom in notes about years served and talking about the Beehive.

Somewhere in here, we find out Cuyahoga County Orsk is built on a swamp that used to be The Cuyahoga Panopticon run by Warden Josiah Worth, who basically ran it like an asylum. When Basil goes off to wait for the cops that Amy called that Basil wants to cancel, Trinity decides holding a seance is EXACTLY the kind of footage her new Ghost Hunting show needs. To add to the really poor decision making, Matt convinces everyone to handcuff themselves together in the circle. And well, given the nature of the narrative, let's just say the seance works better than expected.

The rest of the book is basically standard haunted house boilerplate, what with fake doors in the shop opening onto new/old worlds, everyone getting split up and tortured at various points, teh sales display floor randomly rearranging itself.....

While the ending leaves a bit to be desired, the book, despite its decided lack of originality, is a fun and amusing read. The actual physical book is presented as an Orsk catalog, with each chapter named after a variety of furniture available in Orsk. Or sort of. Post seance, the pictures and descriptions change a bit, as we learn Norwegian terms for torture devices. It's a bit like the original Silent Hill game on PlayStation, when you cross from the abandoned town into...someplace else.

Honestly, I went into this expecting something along the lines of Ramsey Campbell's The Overnight. What I got was a derivative hodgepodge that works almost in spite of itself. Well worth checking out.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The adventures of SPACE JESUS in the alternate future!

So, as a few folks probably know, I finished the last book reviewed on here a few days prior to my reserves showing up at the library, which forced me to dig around my shelves to find something I hadn't read before. Which ended up being Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, which I must have picked up at a book sale at some point. (I thought maybe it was Dad's copy, but the printing date of this edition was 1981, so I'm doubting it.)

Anyway, I know people who love this book, and I know several people who's reviews are unprintable here in what I maintain as PG-space.

I'm kind of coming down between the two factions and giving it a "Meh".

For those who haven't read it, it basically follows the life of one Michael Valentine Smith, born of an affair between two people on a mission to Mars. The crew all died (and it's hinted the wife of the father had something do with that, since she wasn't the mother), except for the baby, who was raised by Martians.

Mike comes back with the second journey to Mars, who arrive 25 years after the voyage Mike was born on. Something about WWIII causing a real dent in space exploration. There's a whole bunch of political rambling about how Mike is the sole owner of Mars under the laws of the World government, which leads to Mike being locked up in a hospital. Thankfully, Nurse Jill and her sort of beau Ben (who's a journalist), manage to break him out after becoming a Water Brother with Michael. (Sharing water becomes a major theme throughout the book. Given the scarcity of water on Mars, it takes on a mythological significance to share the water of life.) Jill manages to sneak Mike out of the hospital after Ben gets vanished, and gets him to an old lawyer's house. Jubal, an attorney and curmudgeon, takes Mike in, and more or less raises him while negotiating with the Secretary General of the world government to keep Mike safe.

Mike eventually goes out to learn to be human while applying Martian principles to the experience. He takes Jill with him. The do the Carnival circuit. They meet Patty, who's a Fosterite, a sect that's basically televangelists who don't care about sin, as long as you sin using church approved materials to do so. She recognizes Mike as a Holy Man.

Skip ahead a bit, and Mike starts a church with him at the head. (I'm sure people who've read the book will quibble with that statement, but for the sake of writing this, it's true as far as it goes.) Everyone we've met through the course of the book winds up in the Nest, the 9th circle of water brothers. Those that Grok.

And in the end, because this is space Jesus, he gets his own version of the Passion, and in what I assume was supposed to shock readers in 1961 (or see who actually groked the meaning), Jubal and Duke eat part of his remains to complete the groking.

Now, as I mentioned above, this was written in 1961, so it predates the Sexual Revolution  by a few years, so I imagine people were downright SHOCKED and APPALLED by Mike's rather libertine lifestyle. Whereas people who grew up after the Sexual Revolution are SHOCKED and APPALLED by the rather large amount of sexism that drips off the page. (Jill makes a comment I see quoted in most of the negative reviews about how 9 times out of 10, a woman who gets raped did something to encourage it. There's also quite a bit about a woman's role at various points.) However, even within the confines they're placed in, the women are actually better written as characters than I had expected. They're liberated enough to do as the please, even if most of the time, that involves finding their pleasure with a man.

Also, unlike say, Dan Simmons, Heinlein has no qualms with Islam. (Had he lived longer, that might have changed... by all accounts, he started off quite liberal and drifted quite right over time. While much of his philosophy here leans libertarian, he did advocate military service as a social duty to gain rights.) This gets amusing to keep in mind, since the Nest is mostly a communal society, even if Mike does recognize in the end that human nature will destroy such arrangements on a global scale.

Oddly enough, though, the book reminded me the most of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, up until Mike's grokking of the human condition at the end. Well, that, and Mike dying, instead of using his virility to break free of the chains of leeches on his right to copulate with Dagmar.... While the end results of both philosophies differ, both share a libertine approach to relationships. However, unlike Rand, Mike goes Eastern with saying that we are all God. Not a separate entity, but a spark we all share. And, of course, Mike can grok and express where his philosophy fails in the end. Heaven forbid John Galt do similar.

I will also admit that I found myself laughing early on as Madame Vesant, astrologer, counseled the Secretary General's wife based on star charts, realizing that Heinlein predicted Nancy Regan's relationship with Joan Quigleyabout 20 years before it happened. Then again, he predicted hippies about 7 years early.

In the end, I'm reminded of a line from one of my favorite musicals: "Nothing you have said is Revelation." I've run across much of this under different auspices and from earlier sources. However, its influence on modern Science Fiction can't be denied. And it's not hard to see how it has influenced my friends who read it earlier in life than I did. So, "Meh".

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The pitcher now lies empty

So, as I have now finished Sharon Green's Prophecy, the last book in The Blending quintet, I can put in a few reserves at the library. Which I have, they just haven't come in yet.

Anyway, We're again dealing with the heroic 5 (Jovvi, Lorand, Rion, Vallant, and Tamrissa) and their friend Naran as they return to Gan Garee from the Western edges of the Empire, and the Evil 5, (Bron, Selendi, Delin, Homin, and Kambil) as they struggle to maintain a grip on running the Empire.

Starting with the bad 5, the power struggle between Kambil and Delin is much at the forefront again, particularly after al of them but Delin get poisoned as part of a Nobility blackmail scheme. Which allows Delin to show that he's shaken off the control Kambil had him under. Both use heavy handed techniques that continue to destroy any chance they had at keeping the five fold throne.

The Heroic 5, on the other hand, start off in Lorand's hometown of Widdertown, explaining about the pursuing Astindian army, coming to raze Gan Garee in their wake. Along the way, Lorand makes peace with his father, the guild of the talentless lets us know more about who they are and what they do, and Naran finally reveals HER heretofore unknown talent of Sight. Which means she's now able to make it a sixfold blending.

The guild members have no magic of their own, but can tell range and power levels on others. They've also been mostly plotting to bring the Heroic 5 to the throne, since they match the description in The Prophecies. For the most part. A minority think keeping the Nobles in power would be a grand idea, but we really don't get much about them here. (They get more of a role in the follow up trilogy.)

By the time the confrontation with the Evil 5 comes around, it's actually quite anti-climactic The 5 confront the 5 and various hostages. It's not until after that (as Rion takes over narration duties temporarily) that the real climax plays out, as the Astindian Blending come within reach of Gan Garee and the Heroic 6 must make their stand. The resolution they come up with is both proper and Draconian, ultimately setting the stage for the follow up trilogy, particular since this ends with some contradictory information about the 300 year old prophecies.

It's been fun re-reading this series, and I have the follow ups coming eventually. (The problem with buying used via Amazon is that shipping can be anywhere between 7-21 days.)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Necessity and Nemesis

Here at the end of WebMage, we have SpellCrash, and what, the first time around, I was surprised to see as an ending to the story.

We start with Ravirn returning from his sojourn into the Norse MythOS (aka MimnirNet) minus Tisiphone but bearing Fenris. Necessity, on the other hand, is still having serious issues, having basically had the Goddess Computer's version of a stroke with aphasia issues. As such, Shara, the little WebGoblin who took over Persephone's role in the Olympian OS has become the voice of Necessity, doing her best to run things until a reboot can be arranged. To help in this, Tisiphone is replaced by the Fury of Ice, Cerice. Whom neither Megara nor Alecto is very happy with.

In fact, Megara is busy being lead around by what she feels is the TRUE Voice of Necessity and a spinerette named Delé. Which puts her at odds with Alecto, who, while not liking Cerice, still listens to Shara.

Whatever voice is leading Megara is also quite interested in killing Ravirn, which leads to quite a few notable chases throughout.

However, most of the plot revolves around the idea of Necessity's power as Fate of the Gods being up for grabs when the reboot happens, thus leaving the 4 major pole powers in the pantheoverse doing what they can to get in line to take over. (Thus Zeus, Hades, Fate, and Eris become major players in the stakes, not to mention the "Voice of Necessity".)

It's a very dense book for being only about 300 pages. One almost wishes he had spread this over 2 books to further develop some of the plots that get the short shrift by the end. I mean, there's a lot going on in this Greek Ragnarok, and not everything gets fully explored by the end. But, he didn't. Which doesn't make it any less a fabulous read, just a rougher one that what could have been.

Unrelated, the main library re-opens tomorrow, which means I can start reserving books again. Shoudl the last book of the Blending not take as long as it takes for reserves to show up, there are a few one offs I can add in to keep occupied.

Monday, June 20, 2016

I'm running out of blended drinks

In good news, Saturday sees the reopening of the Columbus Metropolitan Library's Main Branch, which means I'll actually be able to start looking for volumes I'm not plucking off my personal shelf again. (Well, except I'll likely be picking up the 3 volume continuance of The Blending from Amazon before too long. My last copies went out when I was still using Which is a great service that people with an interest should totally check out.)

However, since that day of glory and renewal hasn't occurred yet, Let me tell you about Betrayals by Sharon Green,  book four of The Blending. 

At the outset, Tamrissa is being held by the current seated High in Fire, who wishes to hopefully breed powerful children from her womb. Rion is in the tender care of his mother. Vallant, who'd due to be shipped off with Jovvi and Lorand, is instead side tracked as a love slave to Lady Eltrina for a few days.

In the mean time, the new Seated Five (who haven't yet been seated due to the Advisors rightfully being convinced that they had something to do with a bunch of murders), again begin murdering those who get in the way of their rise to power. Mind you, Delin is supposedly under control, thanks to Kambil's spirit magic and some Puredan later on, but there's still quite a bit of murdering people in the process. Delin, who's figuring out ways around his enforced conditioning, blames Kambil for most of their problems. Kambil, unsurprisingly, blames Delin. What the murders do manage to accomplish is much of the day to day running of the empire falling apart, since the people who actually do things or knew who was doing them, are dead.

In the meantime, Naran, Rion's girl, manages to meet up with Tamrissa as she breaks free of her captivity. Tamrissa's captor lets slip a few plot points that clear up the end of the last book, namely that the Advisors slipped Hilsom Powder (which cuts off access to elemental magic) into the blending's undergarments to ensure the win on the part of the noble blending.

Tamrissa and Naran break out Rion and Vallant, who in turn meet up with Alsin. Alsin had been keeping an eye out for Lorand's friend Hat, who vanished off the face of the planet. Alsin runs an underground organization devoted to proving the Nobility is breaking the law and using that information to wrest the power from them. Alsin is able to get information to help find out where Jovvi and Lorand vanished off to.

Very long story short, by the end of this one, we have a much better idea of how corrupt the Nobility actually is and what it is they've been doing. We find out what's happened to the Highs shipped out of Gan Garee following the testing. And we know that one of the countries the Empire has been trying to annex is suddenly fighting back.

This particular volume is probably one of the strongest in the series, even if the fighting between Vallant and Tamrissa has become a central plot point for a LOOOONG time. There's also a heck of a lot of rape going on in here, both figurative and literal.

Looking forward to finishing the series here in the near future.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

More consonants than Wheel of Fortune

So, as we begin Kelly McCullough's MythOS, our favorite trickster Ravirn is busy trying to break into the central mainframe of Necessity again, trying to fix the universe's mainframe. When he ends up stuck in a room full of abacuses, along  with his sort of girlfriend Tisiphone (who's still quite irked with him), something happens, landing Ravirn, Melchior, and Tisiphone in Prince Edward Island. Well, PEI, but not in a universe ruled by the Greek Pantheon. On the other hand, we also find out where Allhan wound up when Shara's clone in Necessity moved her someplace safe.

Mainly because she manages to save Melchior and Ravirn from a rather tense encounter with a guy named Loki. (Tisiphone gets really mad after arrival, flies off, and gets attacked by a large wolf chasing the moon.) Loki is walking a large poodle who spits up a hand. Said hand becomes Laginn, sort of a Norse Thing. Said hand is also remarkably annoyed with its previous owner, Tyr.

Through the course of the book, we meet Odin, but before we get that far, we meet Odin's birds, Huginn and Muginn (Thought and Memory). These two summon Ravirn to Odin in Valhalla, whereupon Ravirn gets named "Intuition/Impulse". Through heavy use of the Skuld (who also does a bit of foreshadowing for the last book), we learn about the Norse MythOS, forever trapped in one march toward Ragnarok. Seems the entire OS's main processor is the Head of Mimir, and Odin's eye in Mimir's Well lets him know everything. Except for what is up with Ravirn. Ravirn can't be seen by Odin's other eye, the one sacrificed for knowledge.

There's a rather large amount of things going on throughout this, including some wonderful asides on every character's part. We have Fenrir, who seems to be the only honest character; Hati, who appears as a rather absentminded fox at one point; Loki, trying to save his family from Odin's tyranny; and Odin, who's trying to find a way to stop Ragnarok. Oh yes, and at one point, we even meet Jormungand, who spends most of his time reading at the bottom of the sea.

Add to this Allhan dying due to the difference in the quality of Primal chaos in the Norse realms and Tisiphone getting might annoyed to find bits of a Fury that didn't exist coming through from teh Greek MythOS, and you have quite a tale.

While I love the Iron Druid Chronicles, Kevin Hearne's depictions of some of the Norse pantheon don't quite jibe with how they're normally presented. To his credit, McCullough does stick closer to the Eddas, and even gives a better idea of WHY the gods act the way they do. (On the other hand, Thor comes across as semi-nice in this book, which generally isn't normal.) Still not quite as much fun as Neil Gaimen's veersion of the Norse, but hey...

Even if I'm not a huge fan of Norse mythology, that didn't particularly affect my love of this particular volume. That, and now, on re-reading, can see how much this sets up the fifth and final volume, I remain in love.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Oh wow, now we know where the series title came from!

Been on a reading roll recently, mainly thanks to nice weather and some medicine that I can't take for a few hours after getting home. As such, I managed to cruise through Challenges, the third book in Sharon Green's The Blending, in record time.

Basically, as the middle book in the quintet, we hit some of the meat of the plot here. Our heroic 5 and the Nobility 5 learn to Blend and eventually face off in the Competitions to determine the Ruling 5 of the Empire.

On the Heroic side, this five walk a tightrope figuring out how to keep the Testing Authority from breaking them up, while also facing down personal issues. Again, everyone gets a lesson in how rigged the system is, as Lorand watched his friend Hat compete for the Seated High position in Earth Magic and as a mysterious source reveals to them the key to freeing themselves from the control drug the Nobility used to prevent them from winning.

On the Nobility side, lots of murder, as Delin, the Earth Magic user, keeps seeing himself prepare to murder people he hates, only to pass out as the event happens. Not that the people he thinks he killed aren't killed, he just doesn't remember doing it. The Noble 5 are now under suspicion for a few murders plus a suicide of their former advisor. As such, they provide the keying phrase to out main 5, knowing they'd pass it on to the other 4 Common Blendings, with the idea that the Commoners can take out the other Noble Blendings, leaving them to gain the support of the Advisors.

Speaking of the Commoners, they get trained to Blend twice. The first is supposedly a Noble, the second truly is Nobility.

Most of it goes the way you'd expect, until the very end, which leaves us hanging, waiting for Book 4.

Blending, by the way, links all 5 aspects, and can then become one entity that's a nonphysical entity that's an amalgam of the 5.

Fun book, and very good at planting the hooks to get the story moving again.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Wrong universe, Ghost Rider

I managed to finish off Kelly McCullough's CodeSpell a bit quicker than I had ioriginally anticipated, but on the other hand, it's the only one in the series I couldn't remember any details about. It was almost like reading it for the first time.

Again, we're following around Ravirn/Raven as he's navigating some rather fractious politics among the Greek Pantheon. In this case, we start on Olympus at a party hosted by Zeus celebrating the return of eternal summer thanks to the hard won freedom of Persephone at the end of the last book. Mind you, no one knows what happened to Shara or the Web Troll Ahllan. That Necessity is also working rather spasmodically recovering from Persephone's virus isn't helping much either.

However, the real shock happens at Zeus's garden party, where Ravirn runs into his dear friend Dairn, whom we last saw dying while being shoved into a fairie ring. It seems that Dairn has merged with everyone's favorite spirit of vengeance, Nemesis. Nemesis has been missing in action for a few millennia after Necessity got annoyed that she had her own ideas on how to perform her job. which lead to the creation of Tisiphone, Alecto, and Meagara, the Furies.

Clotho reclaims Cerise at the party to work on Fate's attempts to repair the mWeb, which leads to more than a few relationship kinks with Ravirn. That Tisiphone, who hasn't known a man in about 1,600 years or so has taken an interest in Ravirn, doesn't really help this situation. (To be frank, Alecto isn't all that pleased either.)

Most of the plot revolves around Nemesis trying to kill Ravirn, or later on, kill her mother, Necessity.

We also get to finally meet Zeus and Athena, as well as the muse Thalia, who's actually Ravirn's paternal grandmother. We also find out fairly quickly that Cerberus cheats at Poker.

Really, this is quite possibly the breeziest read in the entire series, since it's honestly one really big race to figure out how to reconnect everything with Necessity, something not even the Furies can do. There's also the question of where the heck Nemesis has been for several millennia and why she's suddenly back in the picture. Ravirn also begins an affair with Tisiphone, she of the flames, which also gives a rather strange vibe to the proceedings.

It's a wonderful entry, and the overall presentations of both Zeus and Athena are fairly true to the myths.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Burning Times

So, as I was finishing up my last book, one of my coworkers handed me a paperback she'd just finished, insisting I read it. That wound up being Silent Killer by Beverly Barton, which bills itself as a romantic thriller. Which is to say it's a soapy romance novel with a very good mystery going on between the romances.

We start with one Cathy Cantrell enjoying a lazy afternoon with her pastor husband when the doorbell rings. Mark, the husband, answers, and promptly gets covered in gasoline and set on fire. Which is really one heck of a way to start a book off.

And since this is a mystery, Mark isn't the only man of the cloth to get lit throughout the narrative by whom the Police in northern Alabama refer to as the Fire and Brimstone Killer.

Into this mix we add Jackson Perdue, a former Dunmore resident moving home to take care of his parents' house, which is sister can't sell. Jack, a retired Army Ranger with scarring from being both a POW and being near an explosion has a bit of a past with the widow Cantrell, who herself is returning to Dunmore following a year of intensive therapy following a nervous breakdown.

Let's see. We get a few insights into the killer's motives, as occasionally they narrate what they plan to do next. Mostly it's some of the more violent bible verses, punishing the hypocritical men of God with God's fire, etc.

By far the biggest issue I had here was the sheer number of characters floating around. Cathy has a son, Seth. Seth has several friends, some from different families. Half the small town seems to be involved in running a church of some kind of another. Everyone is drinking decaf coffee and sweet tea. There's also a subplot involving Jack's sister Maleah, who evidently is the focus of the previous 9 books in this series, that has absolutely nothing to do with preachers spontaneously combusting. 

On the other hand, the mystery is well written, the clues add up in the end, and there are enough Red Herrings to fill a season of Scooby Doo. Kind of sad, when the killer is at last revealled, I was in the right family, but had pegged the wrong member. I also had guessed at one of the major plot twists in the romance, although that reveal actually was quite emotional.

It was a good read, but I feel as though I missed something in not reading any of the previous 9 novels.