Thursday, January 25, 2018

Everyone must get "stoned"

On the advice of a friend, I checked out S. L. Farrell's first volume in his The Cloudmages series. Which is not a decision I regret.

We start Holder of Lightning on the Knobtop hill with Jenna and her obstinate goat. As it happens, she's in the right place at the right time to pick up Lamh Shabhala, AKA the first stone. (There are accents on the vowels, but I'm being lazy here. Given the entire book is based on Ireland, feel free to add in your own accents on every vowel.) Getting the stone is particularly fortuitous, given that the night she finds the plain stone is the night the Mage Lights start in the sky.

This causes issues, as the stone she bears is supposed to awaken the other stones of power, with Lamh Shabhala being the First and most powerful of the Cloch na thintri, which of course means several people who aren't poor goat herders from backwaters want that stone. Mind you, the kingdom/duchy of the Tuatha that Jenna lives in finds her first and leads her and her mother Maeve to Lar Bhaile, the capital of their kingdom in the company of Paidraic Mac Ard. Mac Ard is a noble, and bears a cloch mor (greater stone of power), though it hasn't awakened yet. He's also in love with Maeve by the time things get going in full gear and the stones waken.

So, let's see.... Just about everyone but Jenna wants the stone. During a quick trip to Doire Coill, we meet members of the race of man whom the Tuatha replaced. We also meet the ghost of one of the old holders, who helps Jenna to realize she can call on the spirits of every previous holder.

So, eventually, Jenna kills the queen, which is justified since Cinna was trying to use proxies to kill her. This sets off Mac Ard and Jenna's possible fiance. Jenna, left with no real choice, runs off with Ennis to the White Keep in the far Northwest of Inish Thuide. Where again, almost everyone wants the stone.

In the end, we get a war. We also get more politics than Party convention. (I'm really seriously condensing down things here, mainly because to get to far into th eplot details would spoil a heck of a lot of surprises.)

Any rate, there are at least two more books in the series, although I have no idea if they follow Jenna or not, since the blurbs in the book claim this is multi-generational, and I'm not sure if that refers to Jenna's descendants or two the ancestors in the stone.

While it does share much in common with Tolkien, it's hard to find fantasy that doesn't borrow from Middle Earth on occasion. The plot, once it gets going, is well paced, and the Machiavellian politicking is engaging. I will return here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

How Burke Got His Groove Back

I'll preface this by warning that I actually know the author, having been at a festival with him and having him as a FB friend. 

Michael Thomas Ford's The Road Home centers on Burke, a professional photographer from Boston, as he recuperates from a serious car accident at his father's farm in upstate Vermont. This is after determining that Burke's ex, Gregg, doesn't have room (or more to the point, Gregg's current doesn't like Burke), and every other Boston option has its own issues, like smoking or cats. Gregg, being a big city gay, isn't exactly thrilled to be trapped in casts on his dominant hand and leg and then shipped off to the farm. Of course, going home comes with its own baggage, as his best friend from high school, Mars (with whom he shared one moment of drunken passion) is the town vet.

Mars, as it turns out, is married and has a 20 year old son, who has the hots for Burke, regardless of the fact that Burke's twice his age. Not long after Burke's father and his new girlfriend give Burke some antique cameras his grandfather owned, Will reminds Burke what happens in the barnyard while taking pictures at a particularly rustic ruin of a farm. (Side note: I hit that particular section while I was at work. And suddenly was getting asked by everyone in the break room why I was blushing.) The farm ruin has its own part to play, as dad's girlfriend, Lucy, gives Burke a book her dead husband wrote about Vermonters in the Civil War. Said book has a picture of two gents and a girl, whom Burke tries to track down.

Tracking them down leads to the next town over, where Sam the librarian helps him dig into the history of the farm and the three people in the picture. Mind you, Sam is also gay, goes to Radical Fairie gatherings, and has never settled down, so it's not a great surprise when later on Burke and Sam start filing each other's card catalogs.

Mind you, there's still Will in the picture, who has a girlfriend (with a purity ring). Who doesn't understand why Burke isn't just thrilled to be his occasional side piece while he lives a heterosexual life in the public eye.

And then there's Burke's father, whom he can barely talk to, and when the conversation does come, the real issue between the father and son is not the one that was particularly expected.

In the end, everything works out, more or less, as these things do, and something close to a happy ending for most of them.

Now, the biggest issue I had reading this came from the fact that, other than my hometown is nowhere near the Green Mountains, much of Burke's reactions toward his cow pastoral matches with how I feel about my old Ohio home in the rolling hills. Well, except I doubt that I'm likely to give up the creature comforts of big city anonymity to move home where anything you do is public knowledge by the time you get home. (Seriously. Much as I enjoyed the story, I spent much of it having nightmares about having to live in my hometown again.)

I'd comment on the role of coincidence and fate in the narrative, but honestly, it's closer to that of The Bridge of San Luis Rey than say the Deus ex Machina of any comic book plot line.

It's also hard not to think of Will as a more pathos ridden Caliban, left without an ending by his own design.

I was amused when, early on, Burke finds a dog eared paperback of a Gordon Merrick novel on his nightstand. While Burke had bought a copy at WaldenBooks back in high school, I found myself thinking back on buying two of his novels at a used book store back in college.

It's a good read, and one that while the melody isn't mine, I've sung the notes on the chords that give it resonance a good many times.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I'll be in Scotland afore ye...

So, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I somehow let one of Simon R. Green's Ishmael Jones mysteries slip through my radar. With Very Important Corpses being finished over lunch, I have now rectified this.

Again, unlike Nightside or Secret Histories or even Ghost Finders, this particular series is a lot less overpowered. I mean, yeah, Ishmael has some unique abilities, but for the most part, he's more like an alien Sherlock Holmes, only with a girlfriend.

In this case, the mysterious Organization sends Ishmael and Penny to Loch Ness and Coronach House to figure out who killed an agent at the meeting of the secretive Baphomet Group. (Said group basically controls the financial world. No real world domination, only money domination.)

Any rate, the agent in question died in a locked room and was dismembered. Indeed, her room was destroyed in the process. The Principles all have their own staff, escorts have been hired in for entertainment, and several security personnel are involved. Ah yes, and the Major Domo, who's much more concerned about the house than the people.

By the big reveal, we're down to 4 Principles left, and while the conclusion involves something paranormal, it's human malice that held the (figurative) gun in the end.

We also get clues the the Organization may not be all that "good" of an entity, and further confirmation that Ishmael and Penny are in the same shared multiverse as his other modern series.

While I enjoy his other series immensely, I hold this one in special regard, since it doesn't go over the top to quite the degree the others do. And honestly, I can't pass up a good cozy, particularly when even with a few gooses, it remains true to the spirit of British cozies.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

We're on the island of Mimbrate Knights....

As I said with my last update, I'm finishing up David Eddings's The Mallorean, which means we're now discussing the penultimate volume, The Seeress of Kell

Now, we basically spend most of our time here in 3 different locations leading up to the climax. We start (eventually) in Kell, home of the Dals. It is here where Cyradis does finally join the party.

It's also in Kell where Belgarath at last learns their final destination is Korim, what used to be mountains before Torak cracked the world in antiquity. Zandramas gets this information via mind control of Ce'Nedra. However, Zandramas has to deal with the arrival of Agachak from Cthol Murgos, who's Agnarak king of choice in the boy king of Mishrak ac Thull.

Anyway, the next stop on the grand tour is Perivor, inhabited by shipwrecked Arends from Vo Mimbre who've long since interbred with the Dals. Zandramas's second, Naradas, is already there and controlling the king. He keeps delaying the party, but ends up getting some bad soup.

And then it's off to the Turim Reef, where the final choice is made after a bunch of fighting and revealing all the missing pieces.

Whne the choice is made, we're treated to an epilogue not quite as long as the one in Stephen King's The Stand when Stu and Tom head back to Boulder. Since all parties (and people left behind earlier) all wind up on Perivor, everyone gets to discuss peace with almost all the world's leaders present and a new God of Agnarak presiding.

Everyone ends up getting a happy ending of sorts, Ce'Nedra has another baby, and Polgara has twins.

In the meantime, there are a few plot holes you can drive a truck through. The biggest one is that Beldin, who's not supposed to be one in the final choosing, is allowed to go because Zandramas used a being from outside this universe. However, when confronting said outsider, Cyradis mentions that the confrontation makes sense of a prophecy of the Dals. Second, Cyradis makes a comment on the way to Korim that suggests Zandrmas's fate is going to be the same regardless of the choice, yet after the choice, it's told to Garion that had the choice gone the other way, his would have been that new fate.

Plot holes and a bunch of misogyny aside (because Eddings can't keep his mouth shut when discussing pregnancy), the book does wind up being a fairly solid ending to the series, even if two subsequent prequels end up trying harder to fix the plot holes from both series.

So yeah. Good fantasy series, even with the flaws.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Travel by map, it's faster

Rather than starting the one off I still have from the library, I'm going to push through and finish The Mallorean before taking care of other business.

Which brings us to Sorceress of Darshiva.

We find out early on that I was wrong about Cyradis joining the party this early. Seems she was a heretofore never seen mostly solid projection, something Poledra does later in the book.

Mostly though, we spend the book in far eastern Mallorea, in the Melcene Empire area. Which leads Belgarath to find an unadulterated copy of the Ashabine Oracles, a sorcerer without training, and a relative of Zakath whom Zandramas crowns as an Emperor of Mallorea.We also find out that only in Kell can the party find out where the Place That Is No More is.

In the mean time, Urvon and Zandramas and their respective Demon Lords are fighting their way across Darshiva and Peldane, with Zandramas utilizing elephant cavalry. Zakath catches up with the party and winds up joining after some interference from Cyradis.

At this point in the series, one can't help but feel like the author is using the old Indiana Jones method of using an arrow on a map to move people along, with mosquito stops everyone on the map.

What we know at the end:

-The companions from the original quintet are plotting to join the new party, even as the Alorn negotiate with Urgit to distract Zakath's forces.

- Zandramas has one more Agnarak to defeat before she's unopposed in her quest to be the Child of Dark with the new God of Agnarak.

-Poledra and Zandramas are destined to have a meeting at some point that won't end well.