Once upon a time VI


I participated in Carl’s Once Upon a Time challenge for reading all things fantasy, mythology, folklore, and fairy tales. I took part in the Neverwhere group read and got a bit of a different view for the book. I’m tempted to read the graphic novel next.

Read:
1, Robin McKinley: Spindle’s End
2, Jennifer Estep: Spider’s Bite
3, Carolyn Crane: Mind Games
4, Barbara Hambly: Dragonsbane
5, Kevin Hearne: Hounded
6, Liz Williams: The Iron Khan
7, Robin McKinley: Sunshine
8, Jack Vance: The Dying Earth
9, Elizabeth A. Lynn: Watchtower
10, Tanya Huff: Blood Price
11, Tanya Huff: Blood Trail
12, Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere
13, Carolyn Crane: Double Cross
14, Karin Lowachee: The Gaslight Dogs

Short stories:
Fritz Leiber: Swords in the Mist
DB Jackson: A Spell of Vengeance

Watched:
Mirror, Mirror

A fantasy Inuit/Wild West book. Despite the name, it’s not steampunk.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 341 plus the author’s interview
Publisher: Orbit

The book ends in a way that makes it clearly the first in a series but there’s no information about a sequel. Hopefully, it will be released at some point. Secondly, I feel that the name is misleading because this is not steampunk. There are guns and a railway in the book but they aren’t steam powered.

Sjennonirk is a young ankago to her people, the Aniw who live in the frozen North. An ankago has with herself, or himself as the previous ankago was Sjennonirk’s father, the spirit of the Dog who is an ancestor to the tribe. The ankago can manifest her Dog physically but during that time her body is helplessly in a trance and she will need another ankago’s help to get the spirit back to her body. The ankago might remember what the spirit did. The ankago also see spirits in their dreams and receive instructions from them.

The Kabliw, the people from the south, have come to the Aniw tribes for years trading and bringing priests who sometimes want to know about the Aniw way of life and teach about their own gods. However, now the Kabliw have brought war and guns. One of the soldiers comes armed to Sjennonirk’s family’s house and Sjennonirk kills him. She’s caught and sent to south on a ship.

However, the book’s true main character is Captain Jannett Fawle. He’s out with his group of soldiers tracking abos who have been attacking nearby settlements. But in the middle of the night, he’s attacked magically by something he doesn’t want to believe in. Then, his father the great General calls him back home. Jannett is not on good terms with his domineering father but has to obey. The General shows him a captured Aniw girl who can bring forth a big silvery wolf. General Fawle commands the girl Sjenn to teach Jannett to do the same. At first Sjenn says that it can’t be done but then, to Jannett’s horror, Sjenn says that Jannett has a spirit inside him, too.

I was looking forward to reading a fantasy set in an Inuit culture but to my mild disappointment, after a few scenes in the North, the book moved firmly to much southern setting. However, I was still interested in the fantasy Wild West and found the world building interesting. Apparently, Fawle’s people have come from another continent and are now battling the local people, called abos, whom the newcomers find savage and impossible to comprehend. Some of the native tribes work with the newcomers and even battle the other tribes, just like the Native Americans did when the Europeans came to America. The locals are said to have witches whom can use magic, but Jannett doesn’t believe that.

The newcomers, the Ciracusans after the first town they settled, seem to be much like the European settlers with stone buildings and tall fences. They have dark skinned people as servants. Their religion is the Church of the Seven Deities and a few of them are mentioned in passing. However, Jannett isn’t a believer and we aren’t told much about them. The Ciracusans also seem to be fighting two wars; one against the local tribes and another against their earlier homeland, Sairland.

The plot was quite slow in the middle of the book and most of it centered around Jannett’s disbelief in any magic, even after he’s witnessed it several times. He’s also very bitter towards his father and distrustful of pretty much anyone who isn’t a brother soldier. He doesn’t want anything to do with Sjenn and is afraid of her Dog. Also, I wasn’t convinced of the General’s plan because what magic we see don’t seem to be very useful in battle.

A major secondary character is Keeley, a native man who has the General’s trust and is ordered to help Sjenn teach Jannett. Keeley is a scout and belongs to tribe which is hostile to the tribes that the Ciracusans are fighting against. Jannett finds it strange that his father can trust a native man. Even the major bad guy, General Fawle, becomes understandable once we know more about the situation. He’s looking for a way to win two wars and is getting desperate.

Sjennonirk is an interesting heroine but unfortunately for much of the book she’s imprisoned and when the Dog is out and roaming, she’s unconscious. Still, she struggles to find out whom she can trust, if anyone, and to please the General so much that he allows her to return home. She yearns for wide open spaces and finds the jails horrible. She even finds the houses, where the Ciracusans live in, too confining and the clothes too lights and strange. But she tries her best.

The end feels like a set up of for the next book and doesn’t really resolve things. The mood of the book is quite somber. Both Sjenn and Jannett feel trapped by their circumstances and they can’t really trust anyone. The book’s theme of conquest and colonization is also quite dark.

This is a collection of six fantasy short stories. Part of the Lean Times in Lankhmar collection.

Publication year: 1996, 1947-1968 for the stories
Format: print
Page count: 143
Publisher: White Wolf Publishing

The third collection that chronicles Fafhrd’s and the Grey Mouser’s further adventures.

In “The Cloud of Hate” (1963) the worshipers at the Temple of Hates manage to conjure a mist which is the Hate given physical form. The mist billows around Lankhmar looking for suitable people to kill or corrupt. Then it meets our adventurous duo, down on their luck.

At the start of “Lean Times in Lankhmar” (1959) the twain are separated because of lack of money. There are several amusing theories why this happened but none of them are confirmed. The Mouser ends up as an enforcer to Pulg who extorts money from small time priests while Fafhrd gets a religious awakening and becomes the only acolyte of Issek of the Jug. Fafhrd uses his skills as a skald to invent interesting adventures to the minor god and lots of people start to follow Issek’s pacifist ways. Of course, that means conflict with Pulg and his chief enforcer.

“Their Mistress, the Sea” (1968) is a very short story, only a couple of pages, where the duo recuperate from their previous adventures by doing a spot of pirating.

In “When the Sea-King’s Away” (1960) Fafhrd and the Mouser have been on the sea for a long time when Fafhrd starts to babble about the Sea-King’s wives and concubines who are lonely and looking for mortal lovers when the King himself is away. At first the Mouser thinks that his northern companion has lost his mind because of too long in the sun but then a passageway into the sea opens underneath their boat. The Mouser is hesitant to enter it but Fafhrd descends, looking for women and treasures. The Mouser has no choice but to follow his friend.

“The Wrong Branch” (1968): After their underwater adventure, the friends are convinced that the Sea-King has put a curse on them and they decide to consult Ningauble of the Seven Eyes for a cure. However, they find themselves in a whole new world: the Ancient Earth.

“Adept’s Gambit” (1947): The duo are quite at home in the new world, in Tyre. However, they are plagued by a new curse: when Fafhrd kisses a girl, she’s transformed into a sow. At first Fafhrd suspects the Mouser is playing a horrible prank. But then almost all of the girls the Mouser kisses are turned into slugs and they decided to consult Ningauble. The Gossiper of Gods tells them, after beating around the bush, that an adept is targeting them, and in order to fight the adept the duo will need various items. While lots of modern writers would have made an entire book out of each item, Leiber takes just a funny paragraph or two, and then the actual adventure begins. The story starts out funny but soon feels more like horror. The Elder Gods are mentioned a couple of times.
All of these stories are funny with lots of witty but long sentences. When the Sea-King’s Away especially has great descriptions. The second story makes fun of religions.

I found it a bit strange that Leiber brought the duo to Earth but then didn’t involve them in any historical or mythic stuff. There are a few references to myths created by deeds they had done, for example, Fafhrd and the Mouser supposedly defended a city against Alexander the Great, but they were actually a bit frustrating to me. I’d have preferred to read that story!

Still, the stories are funny and entertaining, especially the second one which pits Fafhrd and the Mouser against each other, sort of. And makes a point about the gods in Lankhmar and the gods of Lankhmar (you just don’t piss off the latter).

The second book in the Disillusionists super hero trilogy.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Rebecca Wiscoky
Running Time: 10 hrs and 19 minutes

Justine Jones is a hypochondriac but thanks to Sterling Packard she can now project her fears into other people (this is called a zing). Packard is the handsome leader of the Disillusionists, a group of neurotics whom Packard has given the ability can project their fears into other people. Packard chooses villains who have hurt other people as the targets. Justine is still not happy about twisting other people’s minds that way but she has grown to accept it when the targets are hurting other people.

Justine’s newest target is Ezmerelda, a woman who can invade other people’s dreams and make them do things while sleepwalking. Years ago before she was unofficially imprisoned, she made other people into cannibals. Justine has to touch Ez in order to zing her and now Ez has a channel to Justine’s dreams. And Packard’s. However, Justine isn’t convinced that Ez was behind the cannibal attacks and wants to be sure that she’s guilty.

At the same time, three people are shooting highcaps, the people with super powers. Even the highcaps don’t know each other so Packard and the city’s new mayor Otto Sanchez are very interested in stopping the shooters. The trio (called Dorks because the mayor doesn’t want the press giving them cool names: I loved that!) have some way to shield themselves against the highcaps’ powers.

The Disillusionists have their work cut out for them but then Justine suspects that something else is also going on. The plot is quick with a lot of twists and the ending is a real surprise and promises interesting and dramatic things for the last book.

Unfortunately, Justine’s love life is still rather confused. Previously, she was hesitating between two men, Packard and Otto, and chose Otto. However, she’s still very much attracted to Packard and her new relationship with Otto isn’t on solid ground. She makes the mistake of not telling crucial things to Otto and she angsts about it. This is my least favorite aspect of the series. Packard can read psychology and he profiles other people quickly. However, Justine is convinced that he’s wrong about her. In the previous book Packard lied to her and manipulated her coldly, and Justine can’t trust him.

On the other hand, Otto is committed to keeping Midcity’s population safe. He’s also a hypochondriac and his fear is the same as Justine’s. Otto seems quite heroic compared to Packard but they share a dark history. In the previously book Otto was the police chief and he has been elected mayor since then.

The Disillusionists squad is just as entertaining as before. They are all neurotic and that of course colors everything they do and say. They often go undercover to meet their targets and zing them with a fear. This creates great comedic moments. For example, Justine pretends to be a nurse and she can push her fear of diseases into the targets. During the book, the group has to make interesting moral choices. Simon, one of the neurotics, calls the team “reverse emotional vampires”, which amuses me greatly.

The book is written in first person and present tense.

Publication year: 1996
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1998
Finnish translator: Mika Kivimäki
Format: print
Page count: 315
Finnish publisher: Otava

First off, I really don’t care for the Finnish cover. The only thing that interested me in the cover was Gaiman’s name (I was already reading Sandman at the time).

Richard Mayhew is mostly an ordinary man; he lives in London in a small apartment, has a job he doesn’t love but doesn’t hate either, and he has a fiancée, Jessica, with a glamorous job. However, he has an unexpected side too: he sees the homeless as people and wants to help them. In fact, this trait gets him into trouble. He and Jessica are on their way to an important meeting when Richard sees a wounded girl on the street and insists on helping her. Jessica walks away in a huff; she gives money to charities and that should be enough. Richard takes the girl to his apartment.

However, Door is no ordinary girl. She’s from London Below and two eccentric murderers are tracking her. Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandermar have killed Door’s whole family and coming to her next. Door tries to keep Richard out of trouble but doesn’t succeed.

Through his random act of kindness, Richard gets mixed up in the bizarre world of the London Below where the people who fall down the society’s cracks live as best they can. It’s full of wonders and adventure but also a place for misery and betrayals. People and places aren’t what they appear to be at first glance. The people living in the London Above don’t know about this other London and indeed often don’t even see the homeless and the sick around them.

London Below works on a barter system with items and favors, and Richard has very little to barter. In fact, he has difficulties in believing what is happening right before him. Yet, he tries to help as best he can.

Neverwhere is full of strange and eccentric characters and places. Gaiman took London’s place names and made them more literal places or people. Old Bailey is an old man who lives on the roofs with his birds and the Earl’s Court is literally a court that the Earl keeps.

Even though many of the people living in London Below are desperately poor and live in awful conditions, the book has a lot of humor, charming characters, and wondrous little moments.

The second book in the Blood series.

Publication year: 1992
Format: print
Page count: 281 in the Blood Books, volume 1
Publisher: DAW

Vampire Henry Fitzroy asks Vicki Nelson to help him in a professional capacity. Two members of the Heerkens family in London (Canada) have been shot dead and they can’t go to the police because they have a secret: they are werewolves. The members have been shot in wolf form. Vicki is astonished at first but accepts the situation quickly and agrees to help the family. She and Henry drive to the small town and to the Heerkens’ sheep farm where they meet the rest of the family. The two wers had been killed at night from a long range so the shooter has to be extremely good.

Vicki starts to investigate the neighbors and everyone else who lives nearby and has the skills and the chance to make the shots. One of them is a cop. The pack’s leader has an adult son who is the only one of the pack who works among humans. Colin is a cop in the London police department and his partner Barry Wu is an Olympic shooter. There are also birdwatchers and other people running around in the woods near the farm. The closest neighbor is a religious vegetarian. Vicki doesn’t have much to go on but she’s determined to find the murderer.

Vicki and Henry start the book dancing around each other. They’re attracted to each other but haven’t yet slept together. Then, Vicki’s long-time lover Michael Celluci shows up. He’s almost burning with jealousy and has run background checks on Henry. He found suspicious gaps in Henry’s life and decides to drive to London and confront Vicki with them. What follows is a lot of alpha male posturing. Unfortunately, I don’t care for that and Mike comes across as a possessive asshole. He and Vicki also snarl at each other instead of talking so Vicki almost as much a jackass. Henry is his charming self but most of the book is set during the day, so he doesn’t appear much.

I really enjoyed the wer. For Huff’s wer, shape changing is as natural as breathing and they do it almost as often and whenever they please. This results in a six-year-old running around first in boy form and then in his fur form which was amusing. The wers also say that humans smell weird so they aren’t attracted to humans. The wer keep to themselves as much as possible. Clothing restricts the change to they try to keep as little of it as possible but have to learn to keep them on for school. Some neighbors think that they are nudists. The females also come to heat instead of following the human mating pattern. Huff has modeled the pack closely to wolf packs; there are both a male and a female alpha who run the pack, and they are the only breeding pair. It seems that many births are twins and even triplets are mentioned. The wers also follow their instincts more than humans usually do. I found their pack dynamics interesting and more wolf like than is usual for urban fantasy.

The first book had several horror elements in it, but this one is clearly a mystery, not a horror book. A great second book for the series and to me it was better than the first book.

The first book in the Blood series.

Publication year: 1991
Format: print
Page count: 272 in the Blood Books, volume 1
Publisher: DAW

Victoria “Vicky” Nelson is a former cop and now a private investigator. She loved her job as a homicide detective and was in a tumultuous relationship with her fellow cop Mike Celluci. However, she has an eye disease called reginitis pigmentosa which has already destroyed her night vision and peripheral vision, and caused nearsightedness. In time, she might go blind. The disease forced her to leave her job. She still knows people in the force, though, which comes in handy.

A murderer is stalking Toronto and the papers have dubbed him (or her) a vampire because the victims have been found with their throats torn and blood drained. Vicky stumbles into the latest killing in a subway but manages only to catch a glimpse of the killer, and she doesn’t trust her failing eyes. Later, the first victim’s young girlfriend, Coreen, wants to hire Vicky to catch the murderer. Coreen is convinced that the killer is a real vampire. Vicky hesitates but takes the case.

Henry Fitzroy is a vampire hiding among humanity. He’s convinced that the killer is a newly made vampire who isn’t being taught properly and he wants to find both the new vampire and his (or her) maker. Of course, his detective work is limited to nights.

Henry is the bastard son of Henry VIII, over 450 years old, and we get see flashback from his long life. I really enjoyed them. Henry remembers most of them because something in the present reminds him about the past (similar to the Highlander series). He’s a romance writer and there are brief snatches of his current work.

The Blood books were written twenty years ago, before the big surge in the vampire paranormal romance books. Huff manages to make Henry a sympathetic protagonist but not a glittering romance hero. While Henry requires human blood to survive, he doesn’t have to kill to get it. In fact, he seems to enjoy gently biting his partner in the middle of sex and drinking a little so that she (or he as it’s hinted in a small scene that Henry’s bisexual, though he seems to prefer women) doesn’t even notice. Also, Henry is a Catholic and religious items and places don’t bother him.

Vicki is an independent woman who isn’t afraid to use violence when she has to. She’s also a skilled investigator and uses her connections to the police. She feels like she has to prove to herself and everyone else that she can still do her job. This makes her forceful, angry, and driven.

The third major POV character is Norman Birdwell, a student at the local York University. He doesn’t have any friends and feels that the others just laugh at him (which they do). He’s out to get respect for himself. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very interesting character but of course he’s very realistic.

The plot is a pretty basic mystery with engaging characters. I enjoyed Vicki and Henry, and the fact that they both already had lovers and weren’t just waiting to meet each other. I was less impressed by the relationship Vicki and Mike had; they screamed at each other and then fell to bed.

A fun, quick read.

Next Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers