Sunday, October 22, 2017

Be careful what you wish for

Been a busy weekend, but I still managed to finish Michael G. Williams's third book in The Withrow Chronicles, Deal With The Devil. 

Unlike the previous two volumes, this one seems to be setting up a larger metaplot that ties together some of the random events of the previous two volumes in the series, which is a good thing.

 We start by getting introduced to a new real life superhero in Durham, NC, who gets dubbed The Bull's Eye after she gags a burglar with a bag from a particular box store. Then we end up finding Withrow meeting a new supervillain while trying to track down a foreign vampire in Durham. Said villain is in the Duke library breaking open a case containing an antique Blue Devil outfit.

After watching the newly christened El Diablo put on the outfit, Withrow meets Ross, who seems to be a demon. (Whether or not he actually is becomes a topic of debate after the climax of the story, since for Ross to be an actual demon would suggest that hell and by extension heaven is a real place. Withrow's cousin Roderick thinks it's likely demons are actually Tibeten Tulpas summoned into the Western world.)

Ross apparently has a crush on Withrow, as undead passions rise along with demonic one, which culminates in a protracted makeout session ath the local Uberbargains box store.

Along side the hero/villain story, we also have the foreign vampire who's farming two twins who evidently have delicious blood due to some kind of "vitamin" a lab at Duke was using on a few of the athletes. There's a fairly interesting discussion with that, since one of the twins seems to fetishize the blood drinking, although whether or not it started off as consensual is a topic that gets addressed as Withrow prepares to confront Dmitri.

Jennifer is back, and in a larger role this time, as she's working with Duke technopagans to figure out what all is going bump in the night.

As I said, he seems to be building a metaplot for the series, since we finally find out more of the roots of the Transylvanian from Book Two as well as what caused the zombies back in Book One.We're also left questioning how much Withrow can trust Roderick, since Roderick seems to be acting on his own agenda in things.

I'll be curious as to what surprises Book Four holds within its bound pages.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I Hate That Queen!

So, today we're focusing on David Eddings's second book in The Belgariad, Queen of Sorcery.

When we left our Fellowship, they were leaving Cherek for Arendia. We open on the norther border of Arendia, near the ruins of Vo Wacune, former home of the Wacite Arends, who were exterminated some 2.5 millennia ago. As of now, there are only two factions of Arends left, the Asturians, who speak modern English, and the Mimbrates, who speak like rejects from a Ren Fest. The two sides were united under a king of the Mimbrates and a queen of the Asturians following the war that brought Torak to the West looking for the Orb of Aldur. (Aldur being one of the gods of the series. Aldur has no real people of his own, other than a small grouping of Sorcerers who serve him.)

In the great forests of Asturian influence, we meet Lelldorin, an archer of some renown, who joins the party. Lelldorin is very Arendish, he's part of a larger plot to take out the King and make it look like the southern Tolnedrans did it. He's brave, and prone to getting swept up into things like regicide. However, he's not nearly as bad as the Mimbrate Mandorallen, whom we meet next, who's part of an epic love triangle that's the gossip of the entire kingdom. Seems he and his liege's wife are of similar age and in love, although neither will act on it, since the wife equally loves her husband, as does Mandorallen.

Lelldorin gets poisoned going through Arendia, and is left in the care of Mimbrates. Mandorallen comes along to court, wherein the whole regiscide plot comes apart and the Gromlim priest behind it is exposed. (A word on Torak's people, the Agnaraks. The Nadraks are merchants on the North Eastern side of the continent. The Thulls are considered chattel and live in the middle Eastern section of the continent. The Murgos live in the Southeast, and are a warrior caste. The Gromlims are priests of Torak and also sorcerers of Torak and look quite a bit like Murgos. Then there's the Mallorians, but we really don't meet them until book 5. They live on the other continent.)

Anyway, from Arendia, the fellowship travels further south into Tolnedra, currently undergoing a rather expensive and poisonous attempt at regime change. Seems the current emperor, Ran Borune, is not far from death and has no male heir. Therefore, the other great families are trying to get their own candidates in position to take the throne by bribery and poison. We hear of Maragor to the East, where the Tolnedrans massacred the Marags over the sin of cannibalism and the large amount of unused gold in the rivers of Maragor. A monastery sits on the border to try to calm the ghosts who haunt any who venture into Maragor.

The party gets waylaid early on by a Nyssian, seeking to bring Garion, Polgara, and Belgarath before his queen, Eternal Salmissra.

While visiting Ran Borune, we meet Ce'Nedra, his daughter, who's unhappy about being confined to the palace, as well as a clause in the Accords of Vo Mimbre that states she must go to the hall of the Rivan King on her 16th birthday. Since there hasn't been a Rivan King in several centuries, she finds it humiliating.

After leaving on not so great terms, the party continues south, joined by the disguised princess. The ruse is revealed in short order, and Ce'Nedra joins the party, mainly existing here to argue with Garion.

One of the current front runners for the throne catches up with the party, and the Gromlim running him turns out to be the one who killed Garion's parents. This opens Garion to becoming a sorcerer in his own right, who promptly kills the Gromlim.

Anyway, as the enter the Dryad territory, they get waylaid again by mudmen that happen to be animated by snakes serving Salmissra. Once dispatched, they visit the Dryads, who tell Ce'Nedra she can't stay with them.

And so, we wind up in Nyssia, with Belgarath and Silk taking the journey south through the jungle and the rest going by boat to Ssith Tor. It's here we see the wretched hive of scum and villany that is Nyssia. Due to the nature of the jungle, most of the Nyssians have addictions to any number of psychotropic herbs and berries. Slavers run in and out of port. The Nyssians were evidently behind the long ago assassination of the Rivan King, so the Alorns aren't happy to be there. Eventually, Salmissra manages to kidnap Garion, not long after he and Polgara have a really bad fight. Salmissra is surrounded by her eunuchs and her snakes. She essentially drugs Garion into submission, although the nondissociative voice in his brain keeps him rational.

Eventually, everything works out, as Salmissra's plot is revealed and Polgara fulfills a long ago promise to another incarnation of the Queen.

Silk and Belgarath make it soon after, and the party book ends with the party headed to the Vale of Aldur.

What we know by the end of this book:

The Orb of Aldur was stolen by a former disciple of Aldur named Belzedar, and no one is sure how he did it.

Garion's full name is Belgarion, although he's not happy about it, since it means his life is changing.

The Gromlims seem to be bound and determined to stir up trouble in the west since the time of prophecy is upon them.

This is the book where the adverbs start becoming problematic.

Still, other than the overreaching plot becoming more obvious to readers, it remains a solid entry in the series.

Monday, October 16, 2017

No bread pudding this time

So, I finished Michael G. Williams's second book in The Withrow Chronicles today, and found it to be a nice change from the first.

Tooth & Claw picks up some time after Perishables, as Withrow is investigating the murder of the last person who knew him in life. (Ok, we actually pick up in 195* as Clyde, the friend, is investigating the murder of a couple of locals by what everyone assumes was a Songcatcher.) The murder goes unsolved, and Clyde goes up the murder site every year on the anniversary to ponder his failure. Withrow usually joins him.

Except this year, when Withrow finds Clyde exsanguinated in the same spot the old body had been found.

Withrow's biological cousin, who also got turned into a vampire is visiting from Seattle and helps Withrow track down the murderer. That Rodrick has his own agenda is a story in and of itself.

Much of the book delves into the world of vampires in this setting, and the concept of "The Last Gasp", wherein after the last person who knew you in life dies, and you murder someone, you gain a power of some kind. Like flight or making mushrooms dance.

Jennifer from the last book is in here, briefly, as a Paranormal investigator. And a new character, a lesbian detective named H'Diane (and her girlfriend LaVonde) is introduced, as Withrow tries to cultivate her as a police contact. The thing is that there's a touch of Hoodoo up in the hills, and an old witchwoman gives LaVonde a talisman for H'Diane that protects her from vampires.

Unlike Perishables, the book is one complete story, and there are no post apocalytic recipes to be found, which was a lot less distracting. Really, about the only real issue I had was with the printer formatting, wherein there's a line break at the end of every paragraph, which works well on a blog, but drives me nuts in print.

Good read.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Here we go again

Part 2 of the twofer.

I thought another series might keep me from posting about the same series for multiple entries. On the way out the door, I grabbed Pawn of Prophecy, Book 1 of David Eddings's The Belgariad. Which I promptly finished sitting out back with the dog.

Ok. Long time readers have probably heard me kvetch about how badly the author needs a thesaurus. I still think he does, although his choice of adverbs is not quite as bad early on.

Anyway, we start on Faldor's Farm, in the rather remote kingdom of Sendaria. We meet Garion, who's been raised at the feet of the head cook, his Aunt Pol. Garion grows into a teenager over 50 pages, and we hear a few of the stories of this world. Anmes the God Kal Torak, who took Aldur's orb and cracked the world.

Eventually, the people of Torak make their way to the farm, and that starts the adventure rolling, as Pol and Mister Wolf, the itinerant storyteller grab Garion and join the Alorns (Silk and Barak. Silk is a Drasnian, Barak is a Cherek. The kingdom of Belor's people were split in 4 years before this begins.) They're also joined by the smith Durnik, who lived on the farm with Pol and Garion.

Long story short, we, by the end of the volume, know that Mister Wolf is actually Belgarath, a sorcerer of legend; making aunt Pol Polgara, his also Sorceress daughter. Garion is now known to be a relative of the pair. We also know that there are Gromlins, priests of Kal Torak seeking them out. We know something of value has been stolen. The Alorns are mobilizing for war, and the party is headed to Gondor Arendia, where the folks are high on nobility and low on intelligence.

Re-reading reminded me how much I love the character Silk, who's part of the major occupation of Drasnia, the secret service. AKA he spies. He also gets some of the best lines throughout both series.

Honestly, the writing is about like reading some of the interactions in the old Sega CD game Lunar: the Silver Star, where the characters honestly care about each other, but also have no issues smart talking to each other. It's kind of charming, really.

A fun read, even if it's not the most original series out there. Also, you can get a thesaurus and replace repeated adverbs in your own edition.

Bread Pudding made with Twinkies?

This is part one of a twofer, since I managed to not only finish one book today, but then managed to finish the other book I had on me.

Anyway, I recently won an auction and got the 4 books that currently make up The Withrow Chronicles by Michael G. Williams. The first book, Perishables, spends two of three sections narrated by Withrow, a fairly young vampire in North Carolina, who in the third act meets the narrator of the second act, Jennifer.

Withrow lives in a HOA supervised community. He's at the HOA Spring meeting actually, when the zombie attacks happen. While it's implied the zombies only break out in the Research Triangle, it still doesn't change that there's no room in hell and the dead are walking the Earth and causing traffic backups in the community.

Then we meet Jennifer, who's a computer supervisor at a Baptist college up in the mountains. Where there are several cemeteries. This leads to the entire student body pulling a Lord of the Flies style maneuver, with the baseball team raiding the food supply.

In the third act, Jennifer is working at a new dead end job in retail on Black Friday, at the store where Withrow is standing in line for a Blu-Ray player. A particular customer, who's preaching at her phone that Jesus better help her get a TV for her son, gets trampled, releases a Soviet era nerve agent that manages to turn her and the guy trying to help her up into zombies. These zombies also happen to be the variety that move fast and can transmit the zombie plague via bite. Also, they share a hive mind.

At the end of each chapter, we get recipes for some strange concoction that was mentioned in the preceding prose. Ambrosia salad, snack cake bread pudding, and icebox cake. Thankfully not included is the recipe for jellied beef.

It's a wonderfully silly read, and his commentary about people's actions on Black Friday were too true to be truly funny.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Acts of contrition

So, I recently found a book I last read back in high school that I remembered really liking. What I found out is that what I enjoyed as a child kind of terrifies me as an adult.

The book, Penance, by Rick R. Reed, concerns teenage hustlers living on the streets of Chicago, and how one, Jimmy, winds up setting off a pedophile serial killer. Jimmy is hustling, when he gets picked up by Dwight, who thinks that only through pain can street trash be redeemed. That the pain he's giving helps him get his jollies is another matter entirely. Jimmy manages to make a break from it when Dwight's wife comes home a few days early. This inspires the wife to take thier daughter and leave Dwight.

This of course sets Dwight over the edge, who in turn builds a torture dungeon in his basement. Said basement is soon filled with Jimmy's friends, while Dwight stalks Jimmy.

Jimmy, in the meantime is aided and also antagonistic with Father Richard, a priest who's also a pedophile. Difference being Richard is is SAA and doing his best to fight the urges, and unlike Dwight, isn't blaming the hustlers for his issues.

While the book still remains entertaining, things I found titillating at 15 when I last read this are now a heck of a lot more terrifying at 41.

Which is another discussion, since it makes me wonder which other books I read at that age range would inspire a different reaction in me now. Stephen King's IT comes directly to mind, since I was around the age of the boys at the beginning when I first read it, and spent much of my time thinking how cool it would be to be attacked by Universal Monsters.

Also, Penance was one of the Dell Abyss imprint book, of which not that many were published. However, as I was reading through the titles at the back of the paperback, I was amused at how many books released in the line still line my shelves from authors like Poppy Z. Bright and Kathe Koja. I think Nancy A. Collins may have had a title or two under the heading. As I recall, the line was based on Nietzsche's line about the Abyss staring back into you, and was supposed to feature stories less about supernatural monsters and more the horrors of humanity. Quite frankly their success with taht was hit or miss, but most of the books in the line I did wind up enjoying.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

For Puck's sake...

So, evidently back in 2010, I started and never finished Chris Adrian's The Great Night, and bothered to mention it on Facebook. So, I requested it again and finally finished it on lunch today. And remembered why I never finished it 7 years ago.

It's an interesting concept but a really terrible execution of the premise.

Let me explain. It's billed as a retelling of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and insofar as Titania and Puck being characters, it does have that in common with the original. There is a troupe of actors in the park on Midsummer Night, although they're rehearsing a musical version of Soylent Green to guilt the mayor of San Francisco into quitting his program of killing the homeless for food. And instead of 4 young lovers, we have 3 people with some commonalities trapped within Buena Vista Park as the fairies run free.

As the set up, it's Midsummer. Titania is missing Oberon, who vanished following a rather bad fight years prior. She decides to free Puck from his bondage, and he goes all beastly and starts trying to kill everyone, saving the Queen for last.

In the meantime, we have the actors (as mentioned above) running around, and three people who got lost on their way to a party in the neighborhood. Henry, the gay pediatrician who's lover just delivered a Taylor Swift breakup to him; Will, who's ex is supposed to be at the party he was trying to get to; and Molly, who dropped out of Chaplain training to become a clerk.

We spend much time in their heads, reliving their pasts and eventually find the connection between the three of them. We also learn slowly about why Titania got so mad with Oberon, dealing with a mortal boy who died of leukemia during his time as a changeling Underhill.

Oh yes, mortality is one of the biggest underlying themes in a book about mostly immortal beings. And not very subtly handled either. From Molly's ex's suicide to Henry's missing youth, to Will's inability to relate to women... To Titania eventually accepting that even the immortal can die and Puck realizing his own role in the shenanigans.

Honestly, save yourself the trouble of suffering through reading this and go read Shakespeare in the original Klingon instead.