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.