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.