Sunday, July 29, 2018

Lore of the tribes

We're back in Werewolf as we tackle Children of Gaia by Richard Lee Byers and Uktena by Stefan Petrucha, packaged again in one volume.

Mainly though, we're exploring the two of the major plot lines in the Tribe Novels, as Cries Havoc seeks the Record Keeper and access to his own memories and Arkady's trip to Malfeas and how it impacts Amy Hundred Voices in Nebraska.

Cries Havoc and the Silver River Pack start us off, having been sent by Antoine Teardrop to go find the Record Keeper. Whom they don't exactly find in this volume, although they do find what they're looking for. While in North Carolina, being stalked by the Bane that ate Cries Havoc's memory in the first place, they follow a glow through the mountains that eventually leads to a Caern dedicated to memory. In here, Cries Havoc finds his memories even as his pack wards off the attacking banes trying to break into the underwater grove.

Then we pick up Amy Hundred Voices as she makes her way to an Uktena meeting in Nebraska after a large failure of her pack in Alaska. That she also possesses a relic that draws Arkady nears as he traverses the Silver Spiral is almost secondary. Mainly, the Elders of her tribe challenge her to find her voice, which ends in a big battle against a bound Nexus Crawler, which Arkady joins in at the very end, trying to steal the bone orb that plays music. He doesn't succeed.

There isn't a heck of a lot of story meat in this one, focusing more on developing characters who may or may not appear later on. It also introduces the up until now shadowy Lore Banes, vulture like spirits that actually eat the spirits of the stories the Garou tell.

So, while not the most exciting book, and indeed Uktena really doesn't add much to the overall plot, it's still readable, a bit like a tub of popcorn during some middle exposition.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Freaking Putanescas...

So, finally finished the slog through Justin Achilli's Giovanni, which while a solid entry into the series, still involves probably my least favorite clan in the entire setting. Because, really, a clan of vampires who are financial masters, organized crime lords, and necromancers is kind of like drunken attempts at making peanut butter cups with mud and sediment.

Anyway, in this one, we're following Chas Giovanni Tello or the mafioso side of the family and Isabel Giovanni, who's a necromancer. Both of whom are looking for Benito (who got kidnapped back in book 1), and getting caught up in plugging plot holes from the previous volumes. On the other hand, it is a decent introduction to the clan that the Giovanni supplanted not long after the Dark Ages, who evidently managed to hide in the Underworld before coming back to take care of the upstarts.

But that happens towards the end of this.

Anyway, we end up in Vegas looking for Benito.

Chas's ghoul buys the farm due to Hunters from that game line.

Isabel gets involved with negotiations with the two major sects about the state of Boston, which Chas screws up by getting a secretary made parts of a concrete bridge.

Isabel tries to convince the Tremere Justicar declare a pogrom on the Ravnos before they get the bright idea to create a new Antediluvian.

Benito dies when Leopold shows up in a bathroom outside Vegas.We find out Benito knows Leopold, but Leopold is quite nuts.

Chas and Isabel track down one of the "Old Clan" in a swamp outside New Orleans. It kills Chas with a wave of its hand, but lets Isabel survive to pass on the witch hunt is coming. Which makes no sense, since the Harbingers of Skulls (aka the Cappadocians) had been going after direct lines, of which Isabel is one, verses Chas, who had no real family connections prior to becoming a vampire. (Although frankly, given he was written like Joe Pesci, I can't complain about his chump death.)

As I said above, it's a solid entry, it's just that I dislike the clan.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

When falling into madness, DIVE!

I'll admit, back when I first read Stewart Wieck's Malkavian, I skipped chapters here and there, mainly due to the nature of one of the narrators. That would be Anatole, the so called Prophet of Gehenna. Given that the weakness of the clan is that they all suffer from some form of insanity, this may explain why this one takes a bit to get through. Particularly since one of the two major narrators is one of Anatole's personality fragments, and it's the one that actually makes sense. 

We actually get 3 lunatics in this mix, as both Prince Bennington and The General from Atlanta show up alive and well. And they indeed dance on Anatole's strings, as he has visions of them and provides them with other visions. (It's worth noting that the Malkavians have a special ability in game call the "Malkavian Madness Network" or "Cobweb" that allows them something akin to telepathy. Not quite that, but close enough for horse shoes and hand grenades.) 

So, anyway, Anatole comes to the States from Serbia towards the beginning, following his visions. (He's evidently been following them for some time, as he has the Concorde to himself, having booked the flight years earlier.) All the characters of note seem to have Animal representations in his visions, with the other puppeteers showing up as nightmarish predators. 

This leads first to New York City, then to Atlanta, where he leads the General to a newly returned Victoria Ash and Bennington to the Tremere chantry to get the robe that killed Heracles. With all the pieces in place, Anatole is free to travel to the Catskills where Leopold is still sculpting. (This is after revealing to Victoria that she sired Leopold. Which neither of them remember.) 

Anatole ends up sacrificing himself in the cave, using his own blood to scroll prophecy on the reborn Cathedral of Flesh. In an epilogue, Ramona and Hesha arrive together, wherein Ramona kill her Sire and clanmates stuck in the walls of the cathedral while Hesha takes pictures of and makes copies of Anatole's writings. 

So, upon rereading this, it's better than I remember, and the visions do make more sense, particularly since having read the series before (and reading them closer together), I actually can figure out what the heck he's actually describing. And added bonus is finally seeing Victoria use her combat prowess to take her revenge of Elford, who mutilated her so madly several books ago.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Aware Wolf

I've been waiting for Bone Gnawers/Stargazers to come up in the queue since I started this re-read, mainly because it gives me a chance to share my favorite Werewolf art/Aware Wolf meme.

That would be the cover art for Stargazers, which is actually the second book in the duology, but you know, it's a great picture.

Anyway, we start off with Bone Gnawers by Bill Bridges and Justin Achilli. (The latter is mostly known for his work on Vampire, or his time as Gangrel in the WWE. Most figure the blows to the head he took in the ring explain his take on the entire line. The former is the guy with the credit for developing the entire Werewolf game.) As such, we're following around Carlita (aka Big Sis), a Bone Gnawer from Tampa, Florida, and member of the Silver River pack. The Bone Gnawers are one of the two more urbanized tribes, although unlike the Glass Walker counterparts, they generally are poor, and protect the downtrodden of humanity.

There's a bit of retconning (for those unfamiliar with the term, it's the process in which what was originally released as cannon suddenly gets changed with or without explanation) in her story, since when she was introduced back in Red Talons, she stated that she was there because the original messenger got tied up with something else. Now, we hear about how a Uktena tricked her to put her in a situation where she was forced to go to New York to wind up in the pack. Any rate, The Silver River Pack flies out of New York to Spain for a Werewolf business meeting, followed by traveling to the Hungary/Serbia border in an attempt to stop the Tiza river from feeding Jo'cllath'matric. Which sort of succeeds, although Cries Havoc gets his memories eaten by one of the new banes and even Uktena's deus ex machina appearance can't fully stop the awakening.

In the meantime, Stargazers centers on Antoine Teardrop, the one who prophesied the entire Silver River Pack in the first place. When said pack returns to the Catskills with the comatose Cries Havoc, it is he who sort of figures out how to wake up Cries Havoc. He's also guarding the also comatose Mari Cabrah, and trying to discourage King Albrecht from going to Europe. Anyway, he does manage to wake up Cries Havok, and sends the pack on a quest to find the Record Keeper, who may hold the key to returning ALL of Cries Havoc's memories that got sucked out by the bat bane.

Following that farewell, Teardrop does have another vision that leads him elsewhere in the Umbra (you can tell the developer is writing, since he uses the same poetic language in the book that the rule books uses), where he comes across the knowledge of the Silver Thread. Thinking the knowledge of this path through the madness that encases the Wyrm should go to Albrecht, he follows another path that winds up leading him to the disgraced Arkady. The two work together briefly to open the path to the Silver Spiral, thus setting up Arkady's end game later on.

While the series has a few more plot holes than I remember and more than a few silly moments that you can almost hear dice rolling in the background, it still remains fun to read. It's also interesting to read the in game explanation for why the Stargazers left the Garou Nation for the Eastern Beast Courts, rather than the whole "Well, we needed ways to tie in our Eastern line to the more popular Western line, and we already removed the Gangrel from the Camarilla, so we need to have someone leave in Werewolf Revised..."

Thursday, July 12, 2018

And you thought your mother-in-law was bad

That title is a bit off, since she redeems herself in the end, but given that Thetis storms through the pages of Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles as an almost second antagonist.

For those not versed in such esoterica, Thetis is, of course, the mother of Achilles, Aristos Achaion, Best of the Greeks, and a major player in the Trojan War. She's a sea nymph, who married Peleus, and tried to make her son immortal. That she did not succeed should be obvious. Indeed, it was their wedding that Eris crashed and threw the apple into.

Then there's Achilles himself, raised in Phthia, who won't die unless Hector does.

And how his world changes when Patrocles arrives as a foster in Peleus's kingdom following some rather unpleasant events in his father, Menoitius's, kingdom. (Namely, accidentally killing a Noble's son, and not having the presence of mind to claim self defense and prevent the outcry for a blood price.) Of course, that exile comes a bit after the journey to Sparta in a failed attempt to betroth himself to Helen. (Menoitius's idea.) Wily Odysseus, suggests allowing Helen to choose her own husband (Menelaus), and making all the suitors present pledge to defend her honor.

We'll return to that promise much later, since both Patrocles and Achilles swore that oath.

Anyway, Achilles ends up naming Patrocles his companion, much to his mother's chagrin. Their friendship blossoms, and they end up becoming lovers while studying warcraft and medicine with Chiron the centaur (who previous students included Heracles.) During that period, Paris of Troy comes to Sparta and elopes with Helen, courtesy of Aphrodite.

Achilles, or more to the point, Thetis, has no desire to involve himself in avenging the cuckold Menelaus. Thetis spirits Achilles off to Scyros, where he's disguised as one of Lycomedes's foster girls. There's a lot of drama on Scyros, as Thetis has married Achilles off to Deidamia, who in turn is now bearing Neoptolemus (or Pyrrhus) in her womb. Mind you, Deidamia is quite put out when Patrocles shows up and Achilles declares him to be his husband. Eventually, to save her reputation, Deidamia is sent off to have her child, which is of course when Odysseus and Diomedes show up. They reveal the ruse of Achilles and wind up convincing both Patrocles and Achilles to honor their oath to Helen and join the forces of the Greeks in a short little war with Anatolian Troy to get back Meneleus's wife. 

For those familiar with Homer's Illiad, you know about how well this turns out. However, with this being told in narration by Patrocles, we get much more of the human side of the war and much less of the divine interference. Not that the Gods don't play their parts, (we indeed see Athena on the battlefield once, and Apollo shows up a few times), but we're much more involved in the reasons Achilles walks away from Agamemnon and causes the rout of the Greeks in the tenth year of the siege. We also meet Briseis, who becomes a fuller character than she is in Homer, and the reason for her lamentations after Patrocles dies become clearer. (Among other things, Achilles uses his place as  Aristos Achaion to save her and other girls caught in the siege from bed slavery to the other Greeks. This is mainly Patrocles's influence.) 

Eventually, Agamemnon kidnaps the wrong girl (a priestess of Apollo) and refuses to ransom her to her father, who is a priest of Apollo. Plague breaks out among the Greeks, and Agamemnon, in his hubris, refuses to do penance to fix it. Achilles leads his army off the field in protest, which leads to Thetis petitioning Zeus to change the balance. The Trojans break through the walls and start firing ships. Patrocles, sick of seeing people he knows die, convinces Achilles to let him don his armor and lead the Myrmidons onto the field. He winds up helping the Greeks drive the Trojans back to the city, but winds up getting killed by Hector. Not that it matters, Patrocles's restless spirit remains to narrate the end game, as Achilles mourns Patrocles, takes on the River god, then kills Hector and drags his body behind his chariot. Eventually Paris takes out Achilles with an arrow aimed with help from Apollo. Achilles's son Neoptolemus shows up, dictates how his father should be buried, complains about Achilles's ashes being mixed with Patrocles's ashes, and demands that Achilles's marker bear only his father's name, condemning Patrocles to restless spirithood. 

At the end, Patrocles does gets his name added to the marker after telling the entire story to a mourning observer. Adn the final paragraph actually made me cry.

Thankfully, there are a few appendices added on to the end, complete with some fairly helpful refreshers on who all these people are, since Greek myth tends to name drop frequently. 

One thing I really enjoyed in this was that by putting it in human time frame, one gets a better sense of the depth of time involved in the myths, since they talk of Heracles being born a generation or two before where we are now, showing how the legends grew. Generally speaking, most of books containing the myth tends to run them together where this doesn't really come through. 

While it's been a while since I last delved into Homer, it seems to follow pretty well. It's well written, certainly towering over other such retelling (like The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley). And it's fairly obvious that this author has a love of Classics that matches my own.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

When paths diverge, which do you follow?

I was originally going to title this with the anglicized version of the shahada, since our signature character, Fatima, recites it several times during the course of Gherbod Fleming's Assamite, but then I figured it really doesn't have that much to do with the actual plot.

Or does it?

the Assamite clan is one that underwent several revisions as the different editions were published, and indeed, got hit again with the most recent (and likely the one getting ready to be published next month), going from a middle eastern clan of assassin vampires to a much more diverse clan with three different castes, cursed by the Tremere, and with the majority of the membership fighting to keep true to Islamic faith adapted to vampirism verses the older Path of Blood morality that is one of the hallmarks of the clan. Indeed, in the larger plot prior to this series, one of the oldest awakened, broke the Tremere curse on the clan, and started judging members of the clan based on whether or not he felt their faith was more in Allah or Haqim the founder.

It's into this situation we first meet Fatima, the first female Assamite, who's been active since the Dark Ages. Fatima is training a new generation, when she gets handed the assignment to take out her sort of girlfirend's sire as well as a reminder that Lucita (her sort of girlfriend) also is on the list of elimination. The Sire, Cardinal Monçada, nominally of the Sabbat, but honestly with one of the most twisted versions of Catholic heresy ruling his view of unlife in Madrid.

So, along the way to Madrid, we see Fatima dropping by DC to talk with the Greek Assamite (the one Vykos transformed into a copy of her ghoul back in Tzimisce), who she gives permission to kill Vykos. Then she heads up to Hartford to meet Lucita, to inform her of her plans. Lucita isn't exactly happy, since she has every inclination to beat Fatima to the punch and kill Monçada first.

Eventually, we end up in Madrid proper, where we find out Fatima's sire is up and active, and indeed, working on bringing in the Sabbat Assamites back into the main clan. Problem being, Lucita chooses the same time to come home for a visit. Which leads to a scene of vampiric sapphism, wherein Fatima and Lucita form a whirlpool, essentially drinking each other's blood while involved in other activities.

Anyway, Fatima does eventually descend into Monçada's lair, while Lucita is already inside. Eventually, Monçada's own guardian betrays him due to confusion, allowing Fatima the kill shot. We end with her letting Lucita loose in the night, while Fatima faces questions on her loyalty from her underlings for allowing Lucita to survive.

I seem to recall thinking the first time reading that this was an ok book, other than the relationship between Lucita and Fatima. While I still feel that their relationship is a bit overdone (both clans would consider such mortal passions from such elder vampires to be really strange), honestly, it's a really good read, filling in a bunch of gaps as to what's actually going on within the Assamite clan during this period. Also, the sheer audacity of taking out a longtime antagonist in the setting in such a spectacular way lends it an extra bit of momentum.

There will be a slight pause in these rereads, as something finally showed up at the library.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Bloody tricksters

So, When I finished Kathleen Ryan's Ravnos this afternoon, I found myself using unkind words towards the publisher, since I either forgot what happened when these were originally published, or missed a misprint somewhere, since Lasombra insisted that Ravnos was next at the end, but it seems in actuality, Assamite was published between the two volumes. And there's an awfully big spoiler for the events of Assamite in the discussion of the series following the text. So the clan of chicanery and trickery and illusions fooled me again.

Not that this particularly affects Ravnos, since it's almost a companion volume to Setite, also by the same author. In this case, we're following the gypsy Khalil Ravana, whom Hesha shipped off to Chicago from Calcutta towards the end of his book. In terms of the metaplot the Ravnos Clan founder woke up and was destroyed somewhere during the course of Setite, driving all of the survivors into a madness causing them to attack each other on site. Which seems to have passed by the time we catch up with Khalil getting off the luggage carousel at O'Hare.

Khalil, it seems, does have a surviving Ravnos Methuselah living in his head, one Hazimel, who's eye got this entire series started. Hazimel isn't exactly impressed with Khalil, and indeed, some of the terms he uses are unflattering to the extreme. Hazimel does manage to use Khalil to get Hesha headed back to the Eye. Which doesn't work well, since Hesha, who had the eye, ends up losing it again to Leopold in New York City in front of St. John the Divine.

He does save Liz, Hesha's childe who was chained to greet the sun at the end of Setite, but he's trying to use her and the Gangrel Ramona to track down Hesha and the eye on behalf of the voice in his head. Said voice knows where Hesha is, but can't exactly pinpoint him. (Hesha, after being attacked by Leopold with the eye, winds up as a guest with the Nosferatu under the city.) Let's see, Khalil manages to double cross the Sabbat AND the Camarilla, and winds up escaping back to Chicago without Hesha, Ramona, or Liz. Barely. And still with Hazimel in his head. On the other hand, Liz's sort of friend Kitteridge, is suggested to have been Imbued; that is, been gifted with powers in the Hunter line of games.

Not a bad book, although I will admit I'm amused that even if Khalil winds up ahead in several of his games, he's also failed quite miserably in others. This is one of the better ones in the series.

Now, the better question is how to proceed, since I had a book come in at the library today. I'll likely go back and read Assamite then continue into the Song of Achilles after that.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

I saw a werewolf at Trader Vic's...

So, as part two of the two-or-three-fer, I offer up the third compendium in the Werewolf Tribe Novels, Red Talons by Philippe Boulle and Fianna by Eric Griffin.

Red Talons are a tribe that all come from Lupine stock. None of them particularly like humans, and indeed, go out of their way to avoid or punish them. Storm Eye is no exception here, although her backstory makes her a lot more sympathetic than I would have expected. Having returned to the pack of her birth, she finds that she no longer fits in among regular wolves. Indeed, she winds up using her brother to do something she feels is right, and is rightly ostracized for it by her tribe. She seeks out her father, and winds up going to the Sept of Anvil Klaiven for the meeting that set off the Tribe Novels. (Most of this is told in flashbacks as the rest of the story progresses.) Anyway, after the events of the last volume, Karin Jarlsdottir sends Mephi back to New York with Mari, and sends Storm Eye with Cries Havok to meet up with Antoine in the Catskills. Storm Eye isn't exactly fond of metis (the entire tribe considers them anathema), so she tends to view her task as one of humiliation.

Given the Umbral storm raging as they try to leave, the Glass Walker Julia steps in and gets the 3 of them out of Scandinavia, also annoying Storm Eye, since Julia tends to use Weaver tolls to escape the Wyrm. this also leads to the three escaping to London, and taking the Concorde across the pond. (Much of Storm Eye's time in human form is played for laughs. Which does help leaven the mood, although honestly in invokes pity for her as well.) In New York, They meet up with the Bone Gnawer Carlita (aka Big Sis), who's supposed to help get them up river to the Catskills. However, first oin the City itself, and later up the road, they get attacked by a Black Spiral Dancer and his Fomori friends. Including one wyrm wolf who keeps going after Storm Eye. The four wolves end up being joined by John North Wind's Son of the Wendigo, who was sent to escort them to Antoine. A final attack happens that winds up with the group pulled into the Umbra by the totem spirit Uktena, a powerful spirit who's technically the totem of the tribe of the same name. It is Uktena who winds up forming them as a pack, the prophesied Silver River Pack. Which none of them are particularly thrilled about, but ultimately, it's Storm Eye who points out it's easier to swim with the current than to try to fight it. And with her new pack and Alpha status within, she is redeemed by her tribe.

Then we start Fianna, and we meet Stuart Stalks The Truth, the only one to speak up on behalf of the supposed traitor Arkady at Anvil Klaiven. As such, he and Arkady's packmate Victor set off to find the truth. It doesn't go well, as the place that the knockerwyrm came from that was redeemed by Dawntreader is shrouded in mist and the Gauntlet between the worlds is non-existent. Indeed, the remains of the pack that was guarding the place sort of remain, but they're basically crawling flesh bags.

Eventually, Stuart finds his way to the guardian, whom we know little of. (We know she's from Appalachia, and she sold her soul for eternal youth. In an attempt to get her soul back, she's guarding the cave Stuart is trying to explore.) He ends up besting her, and descending down the troat of the wyrm guarding the cave. There in the base, he finds Arkady, who's already destroyed 2 of the 3 glyphs on the wall, mainly because they reflect badly on the Silver Fang tribe. On the other hand, it's Stuart who suggests that Arkady can take the fight to the Wyrm in Malfeas by finding and traveling the Silver Spiral, which lies in opposition to the Black Spiral and might provide a path that won't corrupt Arkady any further.

As I've said before the Tribe novels have a much more conventional time line, while we keep returning to the initial meeting that set off the events, each story is a forward progress, and there's a lot less backtracking to the stories.

Fun books.

Darkness imprisoning me

Tonight will be a two-fer, or ever a three-fer, since the second entry is one of the 2-in-1 Tribe Novels.

Anyway, we'll start with Lasombra, by Richard E. Dansky. Lasombra could probably best be described as Venture with religion. Both tend to be highly organized, and the Sabbat's organization is largely based on internal Lasombra convention, including church titles and structures. Lasombra cast no reflection, and control the shadows, literally able to call shadows to come fights for them.  Our signature character here, who honestly is playing second fiddle to Sabbat internal politics and some Camarilla politics as well is on Lucita, Childe of Cardinal Monçada of Madrid. Lucita, who's been around since at least the Dark Ages, has more or less declared herself independent of sect and clan, preferring to work as an assassin for hire for the highest bidder, avoiding major consequences due to her Sire's intervention.

Anyway, her Sire has sent his Templar, Tully, to try to keep Lucita from taking out one of the triumvirate of Archbishops currently plotting in DC. Whom her target is among the three, along with who is employing her remains a mystery until the end.

Most of the politicking involves trying to figure out who Monçada is actually supporting in this, trying to figure out who the traitor in the Camarilla is, who in the Camarilla employed Lucita, the actual fall of Buffalo and later Hartford. Oh yeah, and the mention of our Assamite friend who shows up in more detail later, Fatima.

In the end, the Sabbat has eaten up more of New England, but one of the three archbishops is dead. And Lucita is planning a visit to Madrid to see her Sire. (I think we return to that in a few books.)