Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Love in the Sanitorium

 So, Morgan Brice wrote a shared universe story in another shared universe, and the result was the fairly short read that is Haven

We open on Austin, a private detective out of Albany, New York, who is in Saranac Lake near the Adirondacks investigating the closing of the Havenwood Sanitorium on behalf of his grandmother. Seems his great uncle was shipped there as a teen, and Grandma wants to know what happened to him. Austin also has very vague glimpses of the future on occasion, and keeps seeing a man in danger in his visions.

Jaime, who winds up being the man from his visions, lives in the area, working as a temporary head of the local historical society. Jaime can see ghosts, although he can't particularly communicate with them.

The two meet up as the investigations heat up, and Austin finds the Magic Emporium, a strange shop that appears to those in need. In this case, he gets a sheet of paper with a series of numbers on it. (That Jaime's ghosts scratch the word "safe" on a wall will let astute readers know what the numbers are for, although it takes the new lovers time to figure that out on their own.) 

Mind you, some of the locals aren't exactly happy people digging around in the past, leading to investigations of the Sanitorium being marred with rifle shots. We also see contacts between our central characters here and characters from the author's Deadly Curiosities and Badlands series. (Evidentially, Magic Emporium is a shared world thing, where numerous other authors use the ship as a plot device to tell their own stories.)

Anyway, since it is M/M Paranormal romance, it ends on a positive note, with everyone except the bad guys getting a happy ending having resolved the mystery. 

Fun little read.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The stakes are high

 I'm quickly becoming enamored of Grady Hendrix's writing, since everything of his I've read has amused me. The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires is no exception, even if it does have an ugly reminder wound around some of the narrative.

We're in suburban Charleston, South Carolina, starting in the early 90's, with a 3 year time jump halfway through. We open on Patricia Campbell, a stay at home mom of two, who left her nursing career when she married her husband Carter the psychiatrist. When we start, she's joined a women's book club, focused on getting the members to read the classics. As it's her night to host and lead the discussion, Patricia is in trouble due to the fact she's made it all of maybe 2 pages into Cry, the Beloved Country. As it turns out, more than a few of the ladies had similar issues getting into it, much to the displeasure of the leader of the club. This does cause a schism, but a new, unnamed club forms among the ladies who didn't feel like reading about South Africa, but instead prefer reading far more interesting books about things like True Crime. 

As things go on, we meet first Miss Mary, Patricia's mother-in-law, who winds up moving in with Patricia de to her dementia and lack of siblings willing to care for her; Mrs Greene, an African-American lady who comes to help take care of Miss Mary; and new in the neighborhood, James Harris, the nephew of the neighborhood old battle ax. 

We first meet Mr. Harris not long after said battle ax shows up in Patricia's side yard eating trash and biting off Patricia's earlobe. We find he has a skin condition that won't let him stay long in sunlight, and he has a bunch of cash that Patricia helps him invest. We also find out Miss Mary thinks he's the same gent from her childhood who lead to the ruin of several men in her hometown selling rat spit whiskey.  

We also find out that children have started vanishing, committing suicide, etc from Six Mile, the area of town where Mrs. Greene lives. 

Eventually, this leads Patricia to believe that James is a drug dealer, and the ladies of the club go on under that assumption, which leads to their husbands shutting them down. Indeed, Carter puts Patricia on Prozac, which she eventually tries to commit suicide with. 

This leads to the three year time jump, as the nameless book club now includes James and the husbands, and the books have shifted to things like Tom Clancy. James has lead the men into investing in a new condo development in what was Six Mile, and encourages them to take on new roles for more money in their professional lives. (Carter winds up going into private practice and is now doing lectures and selling new psychiatric medications.) 

As time passes on, Patricia figures out (with help from the ghost of Miss Mary and some extra help from Mrs. Greene) that James isn't what he seems, and the book proceeds from there, as we try to figure out what the ladies are going to do about it. 

The book is equal parts humor (like when the unnamed book club has a debate on whether or not the male lead in The Bridges of Madison County is really a serial killer), social commentary (the ladies don't really care about the poor black kids problems, but do start caring when it happens in their back yard [the police are also guilty of this, although some of that is due to the men]), and horror (the title alone should give that away.) It also carries a moral about not messing with certain women who know how to get blood stains out of white carpet. 

A good vampire yarn with some intriguing twists.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Dulak

 It took some time, but I finished Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis's The Annotated Legends, which for a while was their last DragonLance book. (Sort of. The Annotated version was released after their return, but the three books annotated in here were the last they wrote in the setting for several years.)

I'll be honest, while I enjoy this trilogy, it doesn't change the fact the themes tend to hold a mirror up to things I'd rather not ponder half the time. 

The trilogy is focused on the relationship between the twins Raistlin and Caramon, who were very prominent in the Chronicles. As Raistlin took on the black robes of evil and became "The Master of Past and Present"at the end of that trilogy, the twins have drifted apart by the start of these, which start roughly two years after, as Caramon, the big warrior has fallen to alcoholism. In the meantime, Raistlin is busy manipulating Crysania, a Cleric of Paladine (who's likely to take over the church when Elistan dies.) Mind you, the twin's half-sister, Kitiara, is busy plotting her own war, which ends up getting the plot going. 

You see, Raistlin's entire plan in this is to take Cryania back 500 or so years to the Cataclysm, then jump her ahead 100 years to a point where she'll be the only cleric in the world. Thus the Queen of Darkness will be weak enough for Raistlin to defeat and take her place as a god. (The trick being the portal to the Plane of the Abyss can only be opened by a powerful mage of evil and a powerful cleric of good.) 

Crysania believes she can redeem Raistlin, which leads her into some of the most hubristic acts a good character can make. And she pays for it, and eventually sees her faults, but it takes 3 books. Caramon spends 3 books getting sober, getting in shape, and eventually becoming his own person. Raistlin spends 3 books reaching the zenith of his power, and then finding out exactly how empty his desire is. Kitiara spends 3 books plotting to help the winner. And Tasslehoff, who ends up back in time against all proscriptions against created races going back, spends 3 books being comic relief, even if he is the force that ends up grounding the rather lofty nature of everyone else's Hero Journeys. (Races created by chaos are not supposed to be allowed to go back in time, since they allow time to be changed. Although, had Tas not gone back, the series would have ended at the end of book 2, since that's when the mountain Zhaman exploded with Raistlin's mentor in it.)(Yes, time travel and paradox play a large role, particularly in the second volume. The third volume shows us first the results of Raistlin's victory, then shows us how they shift it to a more optimal timeline. It's like Back to the Future, without a DeLorean.) 

But yes, the focus on everyone's hubris and personality flaws is painful all the way around, even with a "happy ending". In terms of the Annotations, Ms. Weis doesn't say as much in the book as she did in the Chronicles, while Mr. Hickman expands quite a bit on Campbell and his view of the characters, and how all of this sets up the further revealed cosmology in the next trilogy after the horrible book. Still worth reading.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Shirak

 And we finish the Lost Chronicles with Dragons of The Hourglass Mage, again written by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis. This one concerns Raistlin, the Mage twin of Caramon, whom in the context of this story was last seen in Palanthus prior to appearing in Neraka during the finale. As such, there's a large gap they're covering here. 

Given these were written in the late 00's, Raistlin's fate was well known prior to this, thanks to the trilogy set after the original Chronicles, as well as the War of Souls trilogy. (As I recall, Raistlin didn't play much of a part in the Chaos War that came between Legends and War of Souls. I only ever read that one volume once, and had to remind myself that I think book burning is an abhorrent practice. Maybe I'll try reading it again eventually, since I know they went and fixed the worst of it.)

Anyway, here we have the Gold skinned Mage with pupils like hourglasses changing from Red Robes of Neutrality to the Black Robes of Evil not long after leaving his companions to drown in the Blood Sea. From here, he discovers the endless scheming among the forces of Darkness, including his half-sister Kitiara; Emperor Arakis's witch, Iolanthe; The Nightlord; the Council of Mages, et cetera. As such, most of what Raitlin does in here is to do as a Kender tells him early on, "Change the Darkness". Raistlin knows if Tahkisis wins, he'll have to beg her for scraps, instead of being able to live independently, which is, at this point in the chronology, his entire goal. (That his goal becomes to depose the Gods themselves and take over is a story for the next blog entry, as I'll be starting Legends next.)

On one hand, this gets interesting, since it does a deep dive into Raistlin's pact with Fistandantilus, which becomes a major focus of the second book of Legends, pretty much solving a riddle that pops up in that volume. (Sort of. We'll return here next time.) On the other hand, it's still fun in its own right, trying to shed light on characters introduced wholesale into the plot that weren't part of the original story. This volume, moreso than it's immediate predecessor, also feels much more like part of the original, as we follow events we know part of from a different viewpoint, showing us how certain events came to happen. 

I am concerned for my memory though, since I thought this book dived in to the whole "Black Robes restoring the Tower of High Sorcery of Ishtar", but that may be The Dark Disciple trilogy. (It's been years.)

At any rate, it's a good finish to the trilogy that fills in many gaps left by the original trilogy, and really helps express the odd nature of it's main character.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Toade-y

 So, after reading a few reviews, and searching used book sites, I finally got to read Jeff Grubb's Lord Toade. one of the books detailing the lives of minor characters from the DragonLance campaign setting. Unlike some of the others, this one is written in a very very dry and deadpan style, and has the effect of being funny. 

You can see he's quite fetching.
 
 

Toade is an odd one, since it's set AFTER the War of the Lance and after the events in the Legends trilogy. Indeed, it's set after Toade's ignominious death becoming dragon chow thanks to some quick thinking Kender prisoners. Indeed, we open in the Abyss, where in two demons, the Abbot and the Castellan (One thick and short, the other quite tall and skinny), make bets on whether or not an evil person can be noble. (This obviously predates Dragons of the Summer Flame, which brought the concept of Evil Paladins to Krynn.) As such, Toade is sent back to Krynn to be Noble. Or become A Noble as he first thinks. By which he assumes to mean that he should return to his Lordship over that wretched hive of scum and villainy, Flotsam.

Any rate, his first attempt ends poorly, and he comes back again 6 months later. (Killed by a Draconian.) Second attempt (eaten by a swamp dragon) ends just as poorly. Another 6 months, and he gets run over by an abyssal demon. His last attempt, though...

Oh lord. His former second in command who was doing well cooking for a tribe of Kender has taken over Flotsam, and everybody he's interacted with throughout the book wants to overthrow Groag (Toade's old friend.)  (That everyone, from the Necromancer to the Kender to the Scholars to the Gnolls also want to stick a knife in Toade's back as well doesn't matter much.) It's quite amusing how many things Toade is given credit for come back to haunt him in this incarnation, like some erotic Ogre poetics being given as a book of leadership...

At any rate, when we finally reach the very end, our Protagonist does indeed become our Hero. As someone once said, he's back with a joyous malice in his heart and a worse tune being whistled. 

If you can find it, it's a fun read, and an unexpected departure from the generally deadly serious High Fantasy (with occasional lighthearted Kender moments). It's good to be bad.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Toasty

 So, finished Dragons of the Highlord Skies by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis, volume 2 of their Lost Chronicles today on lunch.

The premise, much like book 1, is to go fill in gaps in the narrative from the original Chronicles Trilogy, this time focusing on the women in Tanis's life, Kitiara uth Matar and Laurana. Although honestly, Laurana is not the focus of much of the narrative, beyond the final battle of the book, as her parts are overshadowed by Derek Crownguard, Knight of the Rose. 

It works out, to my mind, since we see what we need from her.

But really, the focus is on Kitiara, whom we meet briefly in Dragons of  Winter Night during Sturm Brightblade's finale. We do see more of her in book 3 and in the legends finale, but really, she's an enigma for much of the series. 

Here, we see her as the commander of the Blue Army, waiting for the order to attack Solamnia. Her commander, Ariakis, has his own ideas, sending her to do busy work, like promoting Lord Toade to Dragon Lord over the Red Wing, trying to get Feal-Thas (the White Dragon Lord) on board with the plot to corrupt Derek with the Dragon Orb, and dealing with Ariakis's witch, Iolanthe. We do cross into familiar territory, as Kitiara was involved in the burning of Tarsis, so we get to see her one encounter with Laurana prior to the battle of the High Clerist's Tower in Palanthus. (Not that Laurana is aware of it.)

In terms of Laurana's story, we finally get more than a poem about how the Orb was recovered from Feal-Thas, including a wonderful use of prisms to melt the defenses around the ice castle. We also get a wonderful bit wherein Laurana finally accepts her destiny with a sacred ax. 

And, we close on Kitiara escaping Neraka, accused of treason, after promising Takhisis that she would take up Lord Soth's challenge to join the war. Kitiara is a strong female character, and it's good to see her get her due. (She, like Laurana, has issues with being a lovesick ninny at various points in time.) 

Yeah. Again, reading these prior to reading the originals would be bad, but they make for fun reading after.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Rewind

 Having just finished the Chronicles trilogy by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis, I picked up Dragons of Dwarven Depths, Book 1 of the Lost Chronicles. This trilogy was written after most of the rest of the official novels, and really only serves to cover things that got left on the editing room floor in the original trilogy. (Indeed, one of the annotations in the original mentions the finale of this one... So I assume that while they wrote this out, they had old material to go off of to do so.)

We pick up not long after the original trilogy ends, after Goldmoon and Riverwind's marriage. Tanis Half Elven and Flint the dwarf head south of Pax Tharkas to find the legendary home of the mountain dwarves, Thorbardin. The twins, Raistlin and Cameron drag Sturm, the human knight along with them to Skullcap, since Raistlin is convinced the key to the long ago sealed off Thorbardin lies there. 

Of course, this sets off Tika and Tasslehoff, who follow behind the twins and the paladin. 

Sturm finds a helmet in Skullcap that winds up containing a Dwarf ghost who possesses him, this leading everyone to Thorbardin. The refugees they left behind start following the trail blazed as the red dragons start attacking their cave sanctuaries. (It should be noted here that Verminaard, who died in the battle of Pax Tharkas, is now being impersonated by a Draconian who wants to be a Dragon Highlord.)

Anyway, everyone in Thorbardin gets involved in Dwarven politics. Flint and Pike the dwarf together go to quest for the legendary Hammar of Kharas, which Sturm also wants, since it was used to forge the legendary Dragonlances.

Since we all know how this all eventually plays out, the ending is not a particular surprise; it's still a lot of fun to see how the Dwarves react to the return of Reorx and finally getting a tale of what happened in the gaps between books.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Not quite LOTR

 More years ago that I feel like counting, a friend of mine convinced me to read Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis's Dungeons & Dragons tie in series. Mind you, being a geek for a very long time, I was aware of them, but I never got around to reading them. (Frankly, in High School I was much more into Ravenloft than some of the other Fantasy worlds. Although I did enjoy Dark Sun.)

Anyway, I fell in love a decade or so after they were released. 

Then, back in 2004, I happened to meet Ms. Weis at Origins here in Columbus, and she signed a copy of The Annotated Chronicles for me. 

For those not versed in such geek esoterica, DragonLance is/was a D&D setting on the world of Krynn. Basic high fantasy, but unlike other worlds, Dragons played a much bigger role in the world. They also made changes to playable races, such as turning Halflings into Kender, Gnomes into engineers, and of course, Draconians, horribly transformed baby metallic dragons shaped into humanoid forms. 

In the annotations, the original authors and a few developers chime in with the world building they did prior too the novels and the modules that came out of the story. Indeed, they mention a seminar on Tolkien and Campbell as inspirations for the general flow of the novels. 

As this is an omnibus with annotations, let's start with book 1, Dragons of the Autumn Twilight. This gives us some standard D&D tropes, such as all the major characters meeting in an inn. (Minus Kitiara, whom we meet late in book 2. Her shadow is long, however, as she is both Tanis Half Elven's former lover and half sister to Caramon and Raistlin.) In Krynn, the Gods have been gone since the Cataclysm. Into the bar, and a reunion of the characters walk two barbarians with proof of the Gods' return. Adventure ensues.

In book 2, Dragons of the Winter Night, more adventure ensues, as the party splits in twain after the Evil Dragons attack the city of Tarsis. 

In Book 3, Dragons of the Spring Dawning, adventure ensues as the Good dragons return and the party mostly gets back together. 

(This is the short version. The plot is a bit involved to accurately summarize in the space I have.)

Specific plot points still hit all the right notes, as two deaths occur that, while foreshadowed, still are hard to get through, particularly the paladin, who starts off as an unlikable character but becomes a much more engaging character the longer it goes on. The gnomes, with their catapults and nets in place of stairs or elevators remain a fun part. (Indeed, one of the excerpts in the annotations mentions the Gnomes trying to light the entrance to their volcanic home, first by dropping steel into the magma, pouring water from the glacial lake to cool down the hall, then building a big fan to try to clear the steam.) Fizban, the crazed magician, Lord Soth, the scene stealing Death Knight...

The annotations also talk about when the novels catch up with the game materials and contain a few author confessions where they discuss how they would have written a few scenes differently. There's also a revelation about how much of the set up of the return of the Gods was based on the foundations of the Mormon church.

So, on the off chance you like fantasy and D&D and haven't read these, start with the originals, then read the annotated version, since there be spoilers in the side texts.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Wrapping up

 In what looks to be the end of the 11 book Megs cycle, Mercedes Lackey has given us Spy, Spy Again, book 3 of The Family Spies. This one follows the youngest sons of Megs' and the Royal Families sons as they end up adventuring across Karse. sort of.

We open on Tory and Prince Kyril as they explore their oddly twinned Farsight gifts that allow them to see members of their families, wherever they may be. Then we switch to Meg's cousin Bey's daughter Sira, who takes care of Karsite incursions into territory close to the Sleepgivers' Mountain. Eventually, Sira gets careless, and gets taken by Karsite priests. Which sets off alarms on the part of Kyril and Tory, who gets a brief glimpse of it. Bey sends his son to Valdemar to call in the Life Debt owed by Megs, and sweetens the pot by making Valdemar untargetable by the Sleepgivers in perpetuity. 

With a bunch of negotiating, Kyril and Tory end up helping track Sira into a Southern Karse prison, while Sira learns to break medallions used by ancient Sleepgivers to bind Afreet (various elementals) to help them. This becomes bittersweet, as much of the focus is on the relationship between Tory and Kyril, as Kyril is in love with Sira, and she with him, and Tory must learn to live with the loss of his best friend who is also Mage gifted and therefore not likely to be able to live in Valdemar after that awakens. 

While this hews closely to the tropes long ingrained in a Lackey novel, it remains entertaining reading, and again showcases her love of character. I look forward to her new trilogy, which will evidently finally tell the tale of the Founding.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Smoke em if you got em

 So, there's a trilogy that follows Tanya Huff's Blood Books that follows around Henry's project Tony in Vancouver. (This was actually how I got introduced, wince I found book one in the library, and then introduced to the earlier books.) Now available in omnibus, the Smoke trilogy follows Tony around as he starts working for a Vancouver Television show, a syndicated number about a vampire detective.

In Smoke and Shadows, Tony starts off as a Production Assistant. Problem being his coworkers keep getting possessed by living shadows being sent through a gate in the sound stage. Including Tony at one point, although Henry manages to help out with that. We find out that the special effects coordinator is actually a Wizard from another dimension, and the shadows are seeking her. We also get to see the was Henry and Tony's relationship has evolved, as Tony is not that thrilled that Henry still views Tony as a possession. On the other hand, Tony winds up becoming a Wizard in training by the end, so it kind of gives him a counterbalance.

In Smoke and Mirrors, Tony and the production of Darkest Night get trapped in a Haunted House by one particularly vengeful ghost and several repeating phantoms that try to get people to participate in an ongoing murder/suicide pattern that feeds the big bad in the basement. Henry and Tony's boss wind up working together on the outside to get information inside to Tony, since the boss's daughters are inside as well. (One of them would be me as a kid in the same situation: wanting to see the ghosts, complaining the house is boring because the walls don't bleed...) 

In Smoke and Ashes, Tony and Stunt Lady/Demon Gate Leah get wrapped up in a Demonic Convergence around Vancouver. This gets fun as Tony's wards are made with cherry cough syrup that changes to cherries when triggered. As things proceed, the cast and crew of Darkest Night, who have spent the past few books getting possessed by ghosts and shadows, are ready to fight back. We get to see Tony and Henry's relationship eventually resolve itself better, as Tony is dealing with jealousy over Henry's relationship with Tony's boss. We also see Tony finally work out his feelings for the costar of the show, who seems to want to make out with Tony every time he becomes possessed.

This trilogy is much more lighthearted than the Blood books, and there are several moments of the production crew laughing at the horrible cliches and dialogue that are part and parcel of the proceedings. It's good to see Tony grow into an adult and realize what he wants. And it remains fun reading.