Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Maybe a margarita

For some reason, I keep labeling her as Sharon R Green, even though there is no R in her author name.

Competitions by Sharon Green picks up about where the last one left off, with our 5 main characters about to start their masteries over their element. However, here we get to meet what will become the 5 primary antagonists (eventually). Bron (Fire), Selindi (Air), Homin (Water), Delin, (earth) and Kambil (Spirit). These five are one of the 5 Noble blendings, one plotting to win the competition over the Nobility (and Advisors) hand picked winners. Given all 5 are mildly deranged....

We also get a bit more of Lady Eltrina, who's arranging our primary blending on behalf of the Advisors. Eltrina's motivation in all of this is to take her boss's job and get rid of her husband. That she also has intentions of taking Vallant Ro as her love toy after they lose is of little consequence. Also, the current Seated High in Fire (whom we don't have a name for as of yet) has similar designs on Tamarissa.

Rion, in this book, does manage to briefly find Naran again, for one night of pleasure.

Vallant and Tamarissa spend much of the book fighting over silly things.

Jovvi and Lorand also spend much of the book not speaking.

However, the 5 main characters do start figuring out exactly how badly the deck is stacked against them, since every competition is to gauge how much power they have and how best to control them. The Noble blending, while not given much to do in this book beyond some fairly petty intrigues involving framing their advisor for murder, do manage to give the reader some improtant information the main characters aren't privy to at this time. (Mostly timeline issues, as well as setting up the next book, since the chosen Blending is set to face off against our main characters first when the battles begin.)

Honestly, most of the big payouts are a book or two away, so most of this is setting the stage and filling in the background on what our as of yet Unnamed Empire has been doing for the past 300 years. Still fun. Looking forward to finishing this journey soon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lyric Coding

By the end of Kelly McCullough's Cybermancy, we have a better, if uglier view of his take on the modern Greek pantheon than we did at the end of book 1. However, there are moments of supreme lightness that help keep it from becoming a DC Cinematic Universe tale.

We start with Ravirn on the near bank of the Styx playing Bridge with Mort, Bob, and Dave. Who are Mort, Bob, and Dave? Why, the three heads of the Cerberus. Ravirn is hanging out with them trying to figure out how to pull an Orpheus, freeing Cerice's Web Goblin Shara out of Hades, particularly since Shara still has most of Cerice's dissertation on her hard drive. (I'm sure most grad students would risk more to get theirs back should it wind up on the wrong side of the river.)

Ravirn, who's avoiding using the name Clotho gave him at the end of Book 1, Raven, makes an oath and ends up breaking into Hades to free Shara. Which introduces us to McCullough's tragic heroine, Persephone.

A quick recap for those of you who never studied Greek mythos, or prefer to use Roman Prosperina. Persephone would be Demeter (Goddess of the Earth)'s daughter, the embodiment of Spring. In most tellings,  she picks the wrong flower and gets kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld. Demeter is not happy about this and causes eternal winter until Persephone comes back. Zeus (King of the Gods, lord of the sky, and all around lecher) eventually caves in, but since it's found out Persephone ate a debated number of pomegranate seeds while in Hades, she will remain in Hades that many months of the year, returning to her mother during her off time. Demeter isn't fond of this arrangement and states that while Persephone is down under, nothing will grow. Thus the seasons.

For this particular incarnation, it's 3 seeds. And unlike some retellings, Persephone isn't happy about spending 3 months out of a year in Hades for eternity. Then again, the way it's presented in this narrative, Hades is raping her pretty much non stop the entire time she's in Hades. And beating her. Anyway, she offers to help Ravirn to escape Hades and get Shara out in exchange for favors later to be determined. Problem is that Shara gets lost for a while while being e-mailed out, showing up a few hours later having been redirected through a mysterious server on the way.

And then the entire MWeb starts crashing. Worlds go offline, Cerice defies her great grandma Clotho, the Fury Tisiphone confesses that she has the hots for Ravirn, we sort of meet Zeus.... (We hear him "entertaining" his secretary through a closed door.)

It's a fun book, really taking the world building of book 1 much farther, and not letting Eris steal the entire book. The presentation of the Cerberus is quite humorous, and it's nice to see the Furys grow into more complex characters. By far the only real thing that took some adjustment on my part was the telling of Persephone's myth in here (even if he does point out such a traumatic event would tilt anyone's personality, thus the axial tilt that science claims causes seasons), since most translations don't particularly present it quite the way it's represented in here.

Be warned, while the book is well written, some of the presentations of will likely trigger a few things.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Who wants a mudslide?

Well, thanks to having some time over the weekend, I'm working on playing catch up with my reading schedule. Which did mean getting to start on the other quintet I plan on alternating with the WebMage series.

So, let's begin shall we?

Convergence by Sharon R Green is the first book of The Blending. As this is a fantasy series, we start with a prophecy, detailing the first 5-fold blending defeating the Dreaded 4, as 4 was unbalanced and 5, with the inclusion of Spirit, was able to overthrow the 4. As such, competitions are held every 25 years to seat a new 5 fold Blending. Each ruling Blending will face a challenge during their rule to prove the legitimacy of their reign.

Tamrissa, a Fire talent, lives in the capital of the Empire, Gan Garee. She also narrates this book, even though roughly 4/5ths of it are in 3rd person. Like the other 4, Tamrissa is a potential High talent in her aspect, which means being tested for her abilities. Tamrissa also enters her house up as a residence for for others undergoing testing, mainly because it prevents her house from being taken during legal proceedings. This is important because Tamrissa's parents wish to marry her off again and sell the house as part of her dowry. Her groom is just as bad as her now deceased ex husband, who maliciously abused Tamrissa prior to the start of the book.

Lorand, who's magic is Earth, starts off in a small farming community. Unlike everyone else, his voyage to Gan Garee starts with a friend along for the ride. Hattiel, as defined by the Guild (folks with a blend of all 5 elements but no ability to use them), is likely a Middle talent, but since all Middles must go test for High... Lorand's father essentially disowns him for running off, regardless of what the law declares.

Jovvi, she of Spirit magic, starts off in a Residence, where's she's quite the popular courtesan. While her Madame is not happy to see her go, Jovvi expects to set up her own Residence in Gan Garee after testing ends.

Rion, the Air magician formerly known as Clarion, is the only member of the Nobility present in this grouping. His mother is pretty much Norma Bates, trying to keep her adult son as a child.

Then there's Vallant Ro, Water magic. Vallant is a sailor by trade, and is not happy to leave his business to go inland for testing. He also breaks up with his rather nutty girlfriend before boarding the coach to Gan Garee.

The long and the short of this book is that all 5 wind up passing the initial test and living in Tamrissa's house for the duration of the Competitions. Well, along with Eskin Drowd (Earth), Beldara Lant (Fire), and Pagin Holter (Water). The former two act mainly as petty antagonists to move things forward, Pagin has something of his own spot in the hierarchy.

By the end of Book 1, most of the relationship pairings are fairly well set up, each with their own challenges. Vallant and Tamrissa get off on the wrong foot, fight, reconcile, and fight some more. Jovvi and Lorand have two very different relationship goals. Rion, who loses his virginity about halfway through this book, can't seem to figure out whom he wants, other than the girl from the tavern.

We also know that no one seems to know what happens to applicants who don't get to be seated Highs in their aspects, and that the Nobility seems to have all processes rigged in their favor. The Advisors seem concerned about some hidden passage in the Prophecy about a new Blending.

As first books in a series go, this one does a lot of legwork in setting up what comes later, even if much of the thrust of the overall plot can be inferred from the get go. However, it remains readable and fun.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Queen to Knight Two

Well, thanks to a new work schedule and a lot less free time, it took me nearly a month to finish Lois McMaster Bujold's Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. which really should not be considered a judgement on the novel or the writing, since it winds up being a VERY good book, most just me running low on reading time. (If I miss my 40 book goal for the year, I'll blame this one.)

The title refers to Admiral Oliver Jole and Vicereine Cordelia Vorkosigan, who are on Sergyar, a fairly recently colonized planet in the Barrayarian Empire. (Cordelia is the mother [and heroine of her own set of novels] of Miles Vorkosigan, whom most of the series is about.)

As we join the Admiral and the Vicereine, we hear about the one thing they share intimately: Cordelia's deceased husband, Aral. While the three were never particularly a triad (or thruple, if you feel like annoying a portion of the poly community), both shared a sexual relationship with Aral, who dies some months prior to thie opening of this book. Cordelia and Aral, prior to several novels ago, froze some of their genetic material with the idea of being able to have children later on. (Given the "fun" surrounding Miles birth....) Cordelia plans on having a few daughters via Uterine Replicator, and offers some of Aral's genetic material to Jole so that he could mix his gametes with Aral's to have sons.

Most of the first half of the book centers on Jole's coming to terms with the idea of having sons of his own, as well as a budding romance with Cordelia. (One thing I love about Bujold's writing is that she presents a wide variety of human sexuality, even as the explicit details are never presented.)

In the second half, Jole gets offered a huge promotion that would affect his romance with his lovers ex-wife as well as his own chances at fatherhood. Also, Cordelia's son Miles shows up, trying to figure out what's going on.

There are no epic space battles to be found in here, nor are there that many physical conflicts happening. The conflict here could be be described as middle aged humans trying to find their way through life's forks.

And it works. It works well. And the resolution is beautiful.

Honestly, while the Vorkosigan Saga is not hard sci-fi, it goes well beyond the rather fluffy "space opera" descriptor. One could do much worse than picking up a volume and enjoying the ride.