Saturday, March 31, 2018

Blow Gabriel Blow

O, given the rather strange chronology that came about when Mercedes Lackey was writing her Valdemar setting, I'm skipping more than a few series to get to Storm Warning. As a quick recap of what the situation is when this starts, Valdermar had been at war with eastern neighbor Hardorn, following the rise of Ancar, who was using his mage power to drain the land and invade his neighbors. Ancar had allied himself with Falconsbane, a mage with a particular vendetta verses the Shin'a'in and the Taledras cultures. Elsbeth, who at the time was heir to the throne, got training in her Mage powers from Darkwind and Firesong of the Hawkbrothers. All of whom ended up in Hardorn, killing Ancar, Falconsbane and Hulda, who had been a spy for the Empire on the other side of Hardorn. the person who's body had been inhabited by Falconsbane (An'desha) got his body backas a reward for helping out. As Ancar died, the Empire invaded.

Toward the end of the war, Valdemar's ancient Enemy, Karse ended up allying with Valdemar to repel Ancar's aggressions.

Which brings us to the start of the Storms trilogy.

We start with Tremane, soon to be Heir to the Imperial throne, whom the current Emporer assigns to finish the takeover of Hardorn. Then we join Ulrich and Karal, Envoy and secretary from Karse on their way to Haven to negotiate a longer peace with Valdemar on behalf of Karse. Karal being one of the major focus characters in this series, spends much of his time relearning things he'd grown up believing about the Hellhorses and Demonriders of Valdemar.

Then we start in with An'desha, who's convinced that Falconsbane still lives within him, causing him fights with his beloved, Firesong. Eventually, Talia introduces Karal and An'desha who become quick friends. Karal also meets Natoli, daughter of the Herald escort he'd had up from Karse. And Altra, the firecat who may or may not be an incarnation of a previous Son of the Sun, but is definitely a living messenger of the Karsite God Vkandis. And Florian, a companion who offers to help Karal adapt to Valdemar.

And then the Mage Storms start. Besides causing bad weather, circles of land begin switching places all over the world. Tremane assumes its coming from Valdemar, and attempts to destroy the alliances formed there, which in turn kills Ulrich. Valdemar, with the help of the Artificers, figure out how to predict the storms and eventually plot a way to form a Breakwater to prevent some of the damage being caused by the storms.

In the end, Karal, who is a channel, becomes the one to cross the Iftel sheildwall to set the breakwater there, although it's book 3 before we find out the whys on that one.

Fun book. I know I say that often, but this series has been on my shelf for several years now, and it remains a smile inducing read.

Monday, March 26, 2018

For Fox Sake

You'll forgive the title of this post.

However, since Lois McMaster Bujold's most recent Penric novella is titled Penric's Fox, it seems rather appropriate.

Anyway, we meet Penric and Desdemona as they fish with the shaman Inglis outside Easthome, the capital of the Weald. A bit of conversation surrounding the way great beasts are raised by the shamans (involving earthworms, which can't be made beasts it turns out) is interrupted by Inspector Oswyl, who has a dead Temple Sorcerer on his hands.

By far the biggest issue (and the reason Penric and Des get dragged in) is the question of where the demon wound up, which ends up being inside a fox vixen who just had a litter. As to the murderer and their motives, that comes about as the narrative unfolds.

Again, I'm loving these small pieces of fiction that Bujold is releasing in her retirement, since I love the setting and I love the characters. That there are paragraphs covering the demon hosting fox and her fluffball pup just makes it even more special.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

It's a small world after alll

I was happy to see Seanan McGuire's new InCrypted volume was being released, even if the library wasn't getting a copy, requiring buying a copy which leads to the more targeted advertising e-mails. Which is neither here nor there.

Once again, Tricks for Free centers on Antimony Price, the youngest of the Price siblings, who was last seen hitchhiking towards Florida after burning down a carnival that the Covenant of St. George was targeting for a purge. Now, we find her getting a job at Lowryland (a competitor to DisneyWorld) thanks to some HR intervention on behalf of a random encounter with a cheerleader she went to high school with. Thankfully, she's now sharing company owned apartment life with a sylph and a Pliny's Gorgon, with whom she shares some background thanks to her brother Alex's work with Gorgons and with her own Roller Derby days.

Unfortunately, a late night roller skate through the park with Fern (the sylph Roller Derby girl), ends up with them stumbling across a dead stabbing victim, which in turn leads to attention to Annie from the cabal of magic users who run the park. Including a sorcerer who offers to train Annie to keep her from accidentally setting guests on fire or some such.

Which is fine, since control means not having to deal with night fires. Unfortunately, this also leads to such things as finding her magic is missing when unfortunate events start cropping up in her vicinity, like hot fryers exploding on workers, parade floats collapsing and killing guests and workers...

Aunt Mary (a crossroads ghost) ends up bringing in Annie's furi boyfriend Sam to Florida, and Fern ends up getting a Roller Derby jinks involved in what ends up being free for all vs the cabal behind the scenes at Lowryland.

As an added bonus, we get a novella tucked in at the end detailing parts of the journey of Mork and Mindy, the Aeslin mice Annie left in Sam's care with instructions to get them back to Portland, which also details Sam's encounters with Aunt Mary.

Again, a fast moving and fun entry into the series, which again ends with some seeds for whatever is coming next.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Jacques a dit

OK, I'll admit, the only reason I'd even heard of Becky Albertalli's Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda was due to the movie version coming out soon. (I was blessed with tickets to see a sneak preview a few weeks back. If you want to know, my review of that is here.) I'll do my best to keep comparisons of the two out of here until the end.

We are being narrated to by Simon Spier (rhymes with peer), who's a junior at Creekwood High School in suburban Atlanta. When we first meet Simon, he's explaining how it is he managed to get himself blackmailed by fellow student Martin about his apparent homosexuality. While Simon assures us the being gay part doesn't matter, he's concerned that should Martin release the screenshots of his e-mailed conversations with his pen pal Blue, Blue would be annoyed and quit talking to him. Martin wants Simon to hook him up with transfer student Abby, who recently moved to Creekside from Washington D.C. Abby has mostly integrated herself into Simon's AP nerd clique, although his good friend Leah isn't all that fond of her on occasion, likely due to Nick's infatuation with Abby.

We meet Blue through Simon's eyes, as someone who posted a not on the school's gossip site/Tumblr page, creeksecrets. indeed, conversations between Simon (who signs his as Jacques) and Blue show a friendship growing into a rather ephemeral romance/flirtation as they discuss music, Oreos, family issues, et cetera. Simon spends much of the novel trying to figure out who Blue is in real life, and indeed, one candidate does come out as bisexual later on, even if he isn't actually Blue.

We hear about AP English. We hear about the goings on behind the scenes of the school's production of Oliver. We get minor gossip about Simon's classmates, much of what isn't terribly unusual in my own experience. We meet his Freshman sister and his older sister who's in college.

Not long after Christmas, when Martin finally gets rejected by Abby, a post goes up on the Tumblr supposedly written by Simon that reads like a bathroom wall solicitation for gay sex. Which does set Simon up for a forced "Outing", as he more or less public acknowledges his homosexuality, something he'd really only told Abby about prior to it happening. Then begins the school harassment, as people do some not very nice things, as happens when you come out in high school. (I speak from experience. Although no one ever left dirty jock straps on my locker.)

Nick and Abby drag Simon downtown to a gay restaurant/bar, where an older man mistakes Simon for a college student, gets him drunk then sends him back to his friends when Simon lets it be known he's only 17. (This isn't a Winger song, thankfully.)

Drunk Simon, who found a present from Blue on his locker that morning, (Blue figured out who Simon was fairly quickly), wants to go home and get the shirt, having discovered what happens when you drink a lot after never drinking much previously. Drunk Simon then learns what angry parents are like when you come home drunk at 17. (Thankfully, having never drunk prior to turning 21, I can't really speak to that one.)

Anyway, after the last Matinee of Oliver, Simon send Blue an e-mail saying he'll be at the carnival in town sometime around 7 that evening.  He wears the shirt Blue gave him, finding a note pinned into the hem, with Blue's number. Blue does at last reveal himself, riding the Tilt-A-Whirl with Simon. We get a few chapters after the reveal, showing a couple turning sickeningly infatuated with each other. (Seriously. I needed my insulin towards the end.)

A few things of note here: this story would again be different if Simon weren't from a fairly affluent family, if his family were say, Southern Baptists, if Simon belonged to another minority group.... I can't say how close to contemporary linguistics of modern teenagers (He never calls anyone ratchet or crunk, or whatever kids are saying these days) the narration is. And one of Simon's final thoughts rings true even as an adult. We're all houses with big rooms and tiny windows. On the other hand, when the bullying is going on, even as I was kind of reliving a few horror stories of my own, I wanted very badly to pass on MY words of wisdom. This too shall pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.

As compared to the movie, they tell similar stories, even if the sequences of events and the interpersonal relationships are different. Both ring fairly true on the important stuff though. And honestly, any resource that a young teen can get their hands on is a good thing in my book.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The answer my friend is glittern in the wind

Well, I finished Magic's Price today, thus finishing The Last Herald-Mage cycle by Mercedes Lackey.

We pick up close to 17 years after the middle of the first book, as Vanyel is pretty much tied to Haven since he's essentially King Randi's proxy. Randi's health is failing at an alarming rate, and his King's Own/lifebonded mate Shavri is draining herself to keep him alive.

There are so few Herald-mages left in Valdemar, Vanyel ends up working a spell known as the Web, which ultimately links every Herald regardless of Mage gift or no through the Companions. (something that continued through the modern eras of the series.)

Vanyel's nephew, Medren, has a roommate in the Collegium named Stefan, who has a wild talent that relieves pain. Medren hooks up Vanyel with Stefan, who in turn hooks him up with Randi, who can now hold court. Stefan is Shaytch, and wants to jump Vanyels' bones. Vanyel thinks its hero worship. It isn't until a visit home to Forst reach that their sickening lifebond comes to teh fore and they become the Luke and Laura of the Fantasy realm.

Mind you, this comes at a cost, since Vanyel gets attacked at the estate. Which sends Sayvil out to k'Treva to fetch Moondance and Starwind, who reveal their thought that Stefan is actually Tylendal reborn. Something Vanyel realizes towards the end.

Any rate, the Hawkbrothers help Vanyel mend fences with his father, whom Vanyel moves to Haven with his mother.

And then the last three Heral-Mages die, sending Vanyel and Stefan racing north to take out whomever is killing Valdemar's mages.

Which has a semi-tragic ending, although it does explain why Vanyel's ghost is hanging around the Forest of Sorrows until the end of the Mage Storms cycle.

While this is the second best book in the trilogy, I do get annoyed at how much jumping around it does. It takes place over about a year, but it really only has about five scenarios loosely tied together as a narrative, Also, there's a really ugly rape scenario towards the end that's exceptionally ugly to get through.

On the other hand, it gives everyone a sort of happy ending, even if they're all dead.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Dancing with the Shadow Lover

I finished Magic's Promise by Mercedes Lackey last night before bed. While this is not my first time reading it, this is probably the first time I've really enjoyed it most. Which likely has to do with having experienced more of life than previous readings.

We pick up roughly 12 years after the events of the first book, with Vanyel returning from the Karsite border, where Karsite priests have been turning demons loose on the Valdemarian defenders. Elspeth, Queen during the first book, has died, making Randale the current monarch. Vanyel, due to his power, has been covering the work of 5 Heralds, but is due for his Familial visit, which looks to be several months dealing with his parents at Forst Reach. Sayvil agrees to follow behind him a few weeks later, and his sister Liss has her commission not far from the holding.

Vanyel has been pretty much celibate over the past few years, dating one person until work matters broke them apart. Which doesn't prevent Vanyel's father (and indeed, much of the residents) from assuming Vanyel is after every young boy on the holding. In the mean time, a possible border skirmish on the border near Forst Reach between the Kingdoms of Lineas and Baires is heating up.

Not that it matters, the first big debates upon his arrival involve sheep in the meadows and an ill tempered stallion.

Any rate, one of Vanyel's mother's maids keeps trying to seduce Vanyel, which leads to him sleeping in the stable frequently. Which works out, since it means he's available to hear the distress call coming from the Linean capital of Highjourune, which in turn means rescuing the newly chosen Herald Tashir, who also happens to be the disinherited son of the now dead ruling family. And everyone thinks Tashir did it with mage powers, which are largely frowned upon in Lineas.

Vanyel gates himself and Tashir back to Forst Reach, and Vanyel later goes back across the border posing as a minstrel to gather information.

On the bright side, his diversions do help repair his relationship with Armsmaster Jervis, who ends up becoming his ally. On the downside, the ruling family of Baires has been injecting their own representative into Lineaen politics, in an attepmpt to take the throne and get access to the large heartstone under the capital.

It eventually all works out, and Vanyel pulls off and ending for everyone straight out of a Nolan Batman movie.

As to why I didn't like this book as much as the rest of the trilogy (and still kind of don't) has to do with Vanyel's emotional issues throughout the entire novel. Among other things, Vanyel's fathered 3 children for various reasons, and spends much of his inner monologing trying to figure out if he can reconcile this with being shaych (the Valdemarian term for homosexual). He also spends a bunch of time missing Tylendel and moping about it. Really, it's very very Emo. While this turned me off a much younger reader, I can see now it's actually a fairly accurate representation of the grieving process.

On to book 3.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Down in a hole, losing my soul

I seem to be hitting the greatest hits of the 90's with my titles lately.

Anyrate, as I mentioned, the library actually has hard copies of Lois McMaster Bujold's Penric and Desdemona novels, which lead me to Penric's Mission. Which much like the last volume takes place a bit later in the timeline than the previous volume. As in his previous employer is deceased, and he's now working under a different government official.

So, we join Penric on board a ship pulling into the port city of Patos in Cedonia, on a mission of recruiting a general who's allegedly up for defecting due to dissatisfaction with the Cedonian government. Unfortunately, Penric gets detained and tossed into an oubliette for espionage.

In the mean time, we meet the widow Nykis, who's "twin" brother Adelis (Same father, different mother, both born on the same day. Adelis is the legitimate twin and heir to his father.) happens to be the general Penric seeks. Unfortunately Adelis has also been imprisoned for treason. Nykis tries to help him escape, but he feels that he should be allowed to plea his case and have the Father of Winter show the truth of his claim. The administrator who's arrested both Penric and Adelis disagrees, and has Adelis blinded with boiling vinegar prior to releasing him to his sister's care.

Not long after, they decided to execute Penric by filling his cell with water to drown him. Penric uses his sorcery to condence parts of the water into ice long enough to escape.

Penric and Desdemona track down the siblings and manage to cure Adelis's eyes, which when the government manages to come check on him, leads to a chase across the countryside on horseback. A minor attraction blossoms between Penric and Nykis, although given the novella ends abruptly, I have no idea how that's going to work out.

It's, as always, a good read. Bujold's writing here is one of her best, where one feels a bit like one is savoring a gourmet meal of words served up with savory sauces at a Michelin starred restaurant.I can only hope the next one becomes available soon.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Lover is crying 'cause the other won't stay

It's been a while since I picked up Mercedes Lackey's Last Herald-Mage trilogy, and it wound up in my bag on my way out the door.

I'd forgotten how, much like with The Neverending Story, I spend much of the journey wishing certain events would have a different outcome, then end up in tears when the don't.

 See, in Magic's Pawn, we meet the legendary Vanyel Ashkevron, who existed quite some time before the primary timeline of the Valedemar setting. (The original trilogy posited that no mages exist within Valdemar, and this trilogy ends up explaining why, as well as setting up events later in the main timeline.) Vanyel is somewhat of a peacock, vain and fey on the Ashkevron estate of Forst Reach. Being firstborn, he stands to become the holder when his father retires, but that holds no appeal to him. Indeed, he wants to be a bard.

Withen, Van's father ends up getting so upset with Vanyel that he exiles him to the capital of Haven to be raised by Sayvil, Withen's sister, who is a Herald-Mage. Sayvil's a bit of a battle axe, but she also gives Vanyel a chance to stand on his own without his father trying to press him into an image of himself. Vanyel, in the meantime, has learned to use indifference as a shield against everything.

One of Sayvil's pupils, Tylendel, who's also shay'a'chern (a Hawkbrother term that essentially means gay), ends up being the one who helps Vanyel reach out from behind the wall of indifference. Vanyel and Tyendel become lovers and enjoy a fairly torrid secret romance. (Van is trying to keep this secret from his father until he reaches the age of majority, when Daddy can't call him back and ship him off to a cloistered order, since as Heir and and not being a Herald, he has no legal protection until 18 from his father's whims.) As part of their cover for what's really going on, they pretend in public to hate each other, which tends to make Vanyel's instructors hate him, as well as attract the attention of Wester Leshara, who's family is feuding with Tylendel's family. As much as Sayvil tries to keep Tylendel out of the feud, Tylendel's twin Staven keeps trying to draw him in. We find out in a later conversation that 'Lendel and Staven share a bond to the point they can essentially merge mindw with each other.

That bond becomes important when Leshara hires an outland mage to take out Staven, sending 'Lendel into rather large backlash sickness. 'Lendel plots revenge from his sickbed, getting Van to get forbidden spell books from Sayvil's shelves. On Sovven Night, 'Lendel gates himself and Van to the Leshara esate and unleashes unholy creatures on the party at the estate. 'Lendel's Companion, Gala ride through and repudiates her Chosen, buying time for Sayvil and most of the senior Heralds time to get through the gate and end the attack. Gala dies, and as they try to stabilize 'Lendel back on the Haven side of the gate, 'Lendel instead jumps off a very high building. As the gate collapses, the energy goes back through Vanyel, buring open several channels that pretty much give him access to all the Gifts that Heralds have, including the Magic Gift. And he gets Chosen by Yfandes. Not that any of this matters, since between the backlash and the sheer emotional pain of losing his Lifebonded lover, Vanyel isn't in good shape. Indeed, he sneaks out to go say goodbye to Tylendel's corpse and then tries to join 'Lendel in eternal slumber.

After much debate and a rather one sided confrontation  between Vanyel and Withen, Sayvil ends up taking Vanyel West to k'Vala Vale, home of some Hawkbrothers she knows, in hopes that the brothers can heal and train Vanyel. That Moondance and  Starwind are lifebonded shay'a'chern doesn't hurt.

They do manage to get Vanyel a bit further along, but it takes an attack on a village nearby by Colddrakes and another village that's been taken over by the mage Krebain to get Vanyel to where he needs to be.

I kind of wish I had found this series earlier in life (I was loaned this trilogy back in 1998, and eventually ended up reading the entire series in fits and starts), since Vanyel's start here really resonated with me and my own inner drama during first love. Mine wasn't nearly as tragic as his, but it does tap in to that entire feeling of needing to hide who you are lest you be outcast.That it can affect me even now is a testement to how powerful Vanyel's tale is.