The first book in a fantasy series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor
Page count at GoodReads: 400

This world has four alternate realities and only very few people can travel between and even they need tokens, blood, and magic to do it. Kell is one of those few people. He’s an Antari, a member of a magical race, marked by one eye which is black. Only very few Antari are left. Kell was sort of adopted into the royal family; while king Maxim and queen Emira treat him well they don’t consider him quite family. But Rhys, the heir, does think Kell as his brother and vice versa. Because of his abilities, Kell is a messager for his king for the other two worlds.

Kell calls the worlds with different colors. He’s from Red London which has a lot of magic. The country is called Maresh Empire and it’s far larger than Great Britain. Indeed, people who don’t have magic are at distinct disadvantage. Black London is sealed off. It was corrupted by magic and the others don’t want anything to do with it or the people inside. White London is ruled by royal twins, Athos and Astrid Dane. In that world, magic is coveted and bound with tattoos, and those who have the most magic are rulers. So, the twins are the most powerful magicians and sadists. They use their powers to make others their soulless servants. The final world is Grey London where magic is weak and only a few people even know that it’s real. It’s the equivalent of our world and the country is called England and the sovereign is old George III.

It’s forbidden to bring anything from one world to another, with the exception of small tokens that the Antari need to travel between them. However, Kell loves thrills and so he’s agreed to smuggle small items for a few people. His brother Rhys warns him that if he’s caught, the king must punish him.

One day, a desperate woman in White London gives Kell a letter and a small token to take to Gray London. Before Kell can quite make up his mind, the woman is gone, leaving behind the items. Soon, Kell finds out that the token isn’t at all what he thought it would be: it’s a very powerful magical stone from Black London and a lot of people want it, too. Kell must try to survive long enough to take it back where it belongs.

Delilah Bard is an orphan and a thief. She dresses as a man so that she can move easier among the throngs of Grey London. However, when she returns to her base, her “landlord” tries to rape her. She kills him and is forced to return to Ballard, the only man who has been kind to her. She feels that she already owes him too much but has no choice. When she comes across Kell, she robs him and is disappointed to realize that she only got a rock. But Kell tracks her down and when Lila realizes that he’s really from another world, she almost forces him to take her with him, even though the danger is great.

Lila’s trying to save money so that she can escape somewhere better, but her pickings are so small that it’s not likely. Still, she craves for grand adventure and something better and more than being a petty thief. She’s clearly being wounded and she’s used to taking care of herself and not being able to trust anyone.

Kell also longs for thrills but is disgusted with himself that he wants it. He both loves the royal family and feels that he’s not really a part of it.

The only other known Antari is Holland. He serves the twin royals of White London. He’s cold and calculating and we find the reason for that, too.

The London in each world isn’t the same city. They have similarities, of course, but many things are different, especially the people and the “mood” of the city. The larger country is also different and so is the river through each London.

The book takes it’s time showing us the setting before the plot kicks in. While the worlds are complex, the plot isn’t, which is probably a good thing.

While this is the first book in a trilogy, it can be read as a stand-alone.

I really liked the setting and the different moods in the different worlds. The characters are fine. Lila and Kell are the main POV characters but there are lot more, most of them seen just once.

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Today, the topic is Books I LOVED with Fewer than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads.

A surprising number of my favorite books and comics are in this category. I ended up choosing these:

1, Ink and Steel by Elizabeth Bear
Ratings: 691. The third book in the Promethean Age series which has two duologies and one stand-alone book, so far. This book is the first one of the second duology, set in England during the reign of Elizabeth I. However, the duologies can be read in any order. The main characters are William Shakepeare and Christopher Marlowe who get mixed up in the schemes of the fairy court, including Morgan Le Fay.

2, Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock
Ratings: 917. A beautifully haunting fantasy book about former exorcist Lucien who is trying to make amends for his past mistakes.

3, Buried Deep by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Ratings: 747. The fourth book in her wonderful science fiction series, Retrieval Artist. The series has quite alien-feeling aliens and this book focuses on the Disty who inhabit Mars. It’s one of my favorites in the series because we get to see Disty’s culture more and how it’s really different from humans.

4, A Star Shall Fall by Marie Brennan
Ratings: 381. The third book in Brennan’s Onyx Court series. It’s a historical fantasy series with each book set in a different time but in the same place: London. The faerie characters, being immortal, are mostly the same but the humans change. This one starts during the great London fire 1666.

5, Serpent’s Sacrifice by Trish Heinrich
Ratings: 63. The first book in a superhero trilogy set in 1960s America with a female main character.

6, Demon and the City by Liz Williams
Ratings: 826. The second book in mythical urban fantasy series set in near future China and filled with gods and demons.

7, Christopher Golden: The Lost slayer
Ratings: 816. The omnibus edition of the four books. One of the best Buffy the vampire slayer stories I’ve read.

8, Twin-Bred by Karen Wyle
Ratings: 140. Thoughtful SF about how humans and one alien species could maybe live together.

9, Shadow by Anne Logston
Ratings: 268. Delightful fun fantasy about a free-spirited elfwoman who is also a thief.

10, Ice Song by Kirsten Imani Kasai
Ratings: 187. A beautiful and haunting fantasy book where Sorykah Minuit has a secret that could kill or enslave her: when she’s scared or sad, she involuntarily changes into a man. Sorykah can remember almost nothing about that man’s life and the man doesn’t remember Sorykah. She also has twin babies that she must care for.

The third book in the Expanse series.

Publication year: 2013
Format: print
Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 542 + an excerpt of the next book, Cibola Burn

Abaddon’s Gate starts some months after the ending of the previous book, Caliban’s War. Holden and his crew have a lot of money, even after repairing the Rocinante, and they’re celebrating their good fortune. However, something is disturbing Holden a lot.

Meanwhile, the protomolecule has created a massive ring construct, called the Ring, near the orbit of Uranus. It appears to lead Somewhere Else, perhaps to that part of the universe where the molecule’s alien designers are. Mars and Earth are sending ships to investigate. From Mars they’re most of the military which was left after the previous book but Earth has sent a group of religious leaders, artists, and other civilians together with the military. OPA can’t afford to be left out. So, they’ve done their best to hurriedly change the Nauvoo to a military ship the Behemoth. Nauvoo was the massive ship that was going to be used for colonizing a planet outside the solar system. It’s not built for war and it might fall apart when the massive rail guns are fired the first time. But the Behemoth is joining Mars and Earth fleets at the Ring.

Holden really don’t want to go anywhere near the Ring. He’s looking for any excuse to go the other way. However, Mars has sued him for Rocinante. The only way Holden can keep his ship, which is like a home to him and his crew, is to accept aboard a documentary maker and her crew and head to the Ring. So, that’s what he does.

Like in the previous book, Holden is just one of the four POV characters. Bull, Carlos Baca, is a retired marine who is supposed to be the second-in-command of the Behemoth. But Bull is an Earther, even though he’s spent a lot of time in space, and so a Belter is appointed to that position. Bull becomes the head of security, instead. Bull doesn’t like nor respect captain Ashford whom he thinks isn’t capable of really commanding the ship and he fears that the captain will be a liability if things go wrong. So, he must play political games on the ship. But he owes everything to Fred Johnson so he does his duty as best he can.

Another POV character is Annushka Volovodov, Anna. She’s a Methodist minister to a small congregation on Europa. She’s also married to a woman and they have a child. She’s asked to join Earth’s civilians in the journey to the Ring and after a short hesitation, she accepts. Through her we see a side of the population we haven’t seen before. She loathes violence and tries to prevent it when she can. She also wants to unite the different factions and show them that they have more in common than they think. Her wife and child travel to Earth and Anna misses them a lot.

The final POV is Clarissa Mao, Julia Mao’s sister. She wants to get revenge on Holden by first framing him for a monstrous act and then killing him. She’s very angry and obsessed with her revenge. She doesn’t have as much money as she had before but still enough to get herself a false identity as Melba Koh, a technician, on a ship which is part of the Earth fleet. Her body has been enhanced to a killing machine and so she can, briefly, take out several armed men, as we see in her first chapter. She does sometimes wonder if simply killing Holden is worth the awful things she does.

This story starts with introducing the people. Slowly it gathers momentum until it escalates to the end. None of the POV characters were as compelling to me as Bobbie and Avarasarala in the previous book. In fact, my favorite character was Tilly, Anna’s friend. This book also has quite frank discussion of Christian religion which will probably alienate some readers.

Politics are a huge part of the book, especially in the latter half. People are doing stupid things because of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of other people, fear of what other people would do or will do, fear of losing face.

Personally, I would have loved it if this book would have explored the aliens and the places beyond the Ring but that didn’t happen here. It’s focused on humans and what they’re doing. Mostly squabbling and then shooting at each other.

Quotes:
“Violence is what people do when they run out of good ideas. It’s attractive because it’s simple, it’s direct, it’s almost always available as an option. When you can’t think of a good rebuttal for your opponent’s argument, you can always punch them in the face.”

“They’d made a plan, and so far everything was more or less going the way they’d hoped. The thought left Holden increasingly terrified.”

Top 5 Wednesday is GoodReads group where people discuss different bookish topic each week. Today the topic is Top 5 Independent Ladies.

–Favorite leading ladies who aren’t distracted from getting shit done by their love interest (they can still have a romance subplot – this is going to be subjective based on what you think would be ~too much~).

Many, many of the leading ladies I’ve read aren’t too caught up in romance. It was quite difficult to choose just five.

1, General Turyin Mulaghesh by Robert Jackson Bennett in City of Blades
Turyin is a middle-aged career military woman and a governor of a conquered city when we first meet her in the City of Stairs. In the City of Blades she’s the main character and travels to the City of Blades to do some investigating or rather spying. No romance.

2, Ista by Lois McMaster Bujold in Paladin of Souls
Ista is a middle-aged woman whose daughter already has a family of her own. Ista doesn’t want to just lay down and die; instead she goes on a pilgrimage which turns into high adventure. And she gets rewarded with a man (not the other way around).

3, Irene de Winters by Genevieve Cogman in the Invisible Library
Irene is a junior librarian in the Library which exists between worlds. She travels to alternate worlds and steals, er, rescues books. She also gets entangled with fae and dragon politics and while she has two love interests, she doesn’t let them get in the way.

4, Phryne Fisher by Kerry Greenwood in Cocaine Blues
Phryne is a flapper, living in 1920s Australia. She lives by herself, well, with her maid Dot and a couple of other servants. She’s independent and stubborn and the first lady detective in Melbourne. She has a romance in almost every book but they don’t stop her from investigating and solving various crimes.

5, Pyanfar Chanur by C. J. Cherryh in Pride of Chanur
Pyanfar is the captain of her clan’s starship, crewed by her female kin. She’s married but her people’s tradition says that the females go out and the males stay at home.

Honorary mentions to Joanna Baldwin by Rachel Caine in the Ill Wind, Mira by Jocelynne Drake in the Nightwalker, Alice Seymour by Trish Heinrich in Serpent’s Sacrifice, Vicky Nelson by Tanya Huff in Blood Price, Amelia Peabody by Elizabeth Peters in Crocodile on the Sandbank, Cordelia Naismith by Lois McMaster Bujold in Cordelia’s Honor, The Boss by Kristine Kathryn Rusch in Diving to the Wreck, Mitchie Long by Karl Gallagher in Torchship, Ky Vatta by Elizabeth Moon in Trading in Danger, Jenny Casey by Elizabeth Bear in Hammered, and Samarkar-la by Elizabeth Bear in Range of Ghosts.

Collecting the Siege prologue, Siege: The Cabal, Siege #1-4, and Avengers: The Way Things Are.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Lucio Parrillo, Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, Jim Cheung

This is what the Norman Osborn Avengers were headed towards: the final confrontation between them and the real Avengers. Let’s face it, we all knew that it would end like this.

Asgard has fallen to Earth and Osborn is increasingly paranoid about it. The cabal of supervillains he has gathered isn’t helping his paranoia. Rather, Loki is feeding it. After the Cabal has a falling out, Osborn contacts the President (of USA) and just tells him that Asgard is a security risk and must be destroyed. The President forbids him but Osborn leads his faux-Avengers, H. A. M. M. E. R. and the initiative against Asgard’s forces, anyway. They beat down Thor first on live TV. Of course, Cap and his allies come to battle it out.

Osborn’s biggest gun is the Sentry who shows his real dark side. Ares even turns against Osborn but Osborn commands Sentry to kill Ares. A few other characters are killed, too, but I’m not sure if any of them stay dead. Loki, at least, is back.

This is the end of Marvel’s grimmer age. The next stage is Heroic Age where the Avengers (and other teams) are reborn as more heroic characters. I’m not a fan of grim heroes and liked the lighter Heroic Age more.

The final story in this trade is set before the Siege. In it, ice giant Ymir had beaten Thor and New York is in danger of being buried under snow, in May. Spider-Man calls in the real Avengers but Osborn’s Avengers also show up. They and the real Avengers must team up to retrieve the Twilight Sword from the ice giants.

The Siege event itself doesn’t introduce the characters at all; the assumption is that the reader has been following the storyline and so knows at least most of them. But the final story somewhat introduces the central characters and the conflict between them so it was strange to but it at the back.

While the event has a lot of characters, it focuses on Osborn and to some extent Steve Rogers, which makes it clearer than many other events. Especially if you read the last story first, so that you get to know (or are reminded of) the characters a little first.

Overall, this was a good ending to the conflict with a hopeful future for the heroes.

The first book in fantasy series the Dragon Seed.

Publication year: 2019
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 194

Benzel is a nine-year old boy who lives in the village of Heatherbloom with his family. When his pet rabbit runs away, Benzel chases it and then hears when the berserkers attacks the village. He hides, like his parents have taught him. His mother also told him that he should go to the neighboring village if something happens. Obediently, he walks to his aunt in the next village but the berserkers have destroyed it, too. The only one left alive is a toddler, a little girl, and together they travel to the next village where another aunt lives. There, they finally find sanctuary.

One berserker boy notices Benzel but leaves him alone because Benzel reminds the boy of his brother. Benzel doesn’t notice the boy or know that the boy saved his life.

12 years later Benzel and the girl, whom he named Snip, live with his uncle and aunt. However, Benzel wants revenge: he wants to kill all berserkers. When a wandering dragonslayer finds the body of a local merchant, Benzel takes his chance and goes with the dragonslayer to trade in the nearby port city in the hopes of finding information abut the berserkers. The only one who is able to tell him something is an alchemist. The alchemist summons… someone or something. And that presence makes an offer to Benzel. It will help Benzel murder all berserkers if Benzel will sacrifice his first-born child to it and return the worship of gods among the Northlanders. Young Benzel doesn’t want any children and so he agrees to the bargain. However, before he can go and search for the berserkers, he has other duties which will take some years.

In this culture dragons are considered animals but very dangerous. They’re big and their bite has poison which can’t be cured. That’s why dragonslayers patrol the villages and when one of them dies, another must be appointed and the training and selection takes time.

The berserkers are humans. They sail to villages killing everyone, raping the women and taking everything they can. However, they have become rarer in recent years.

The book also has a subplot set in another country which isn’t resolved here.

This is a story about life spent, or perhaps even wasted, on revenge. Benzel wants to kill every berserker alive but he can’t find them. Yet, his anger and hate doesn’t let him rest or give up on that goal. He abandons the sister he found and his other family for years to chase the berserkers. The story follows him from a child to middle-age but concentrates on a few specific events. In that way, the structure is a bit different than most fantasy books, which I found refreshing. However, sometimes we just hear about events that happened to him but don’t know the specifics. Also, revenge is a very common motive in heroic characters in fantasy but here the writer questions the validity of revenge which I also found very refreshing.

Top 5 Wednesday is GoodReads group where people discuss different bookish topic each week. Today the topic is Top 5 Nostalgic Ships
— Discuss the first fictional couples you ever got butterflies over, or couples you used to be really into when you were younger.

These are my most nostalgic couples from comics:

1, Cutter and Leetah from Elfquest
The hotheaded young chief of the Wolfriders and his gentle healer lifemate, who is much older, sound like a cliche these days, but they’re excellent together.

2, Cyclops and Phoenix from X-Men
You know, before Scott lost his mind. The graphic novel ”The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix” where Jean and Scott are transported to a bleak future to raise Nathan together is exactly how I always think of them.

3, Reed and Susan Richards from Fantastic Four
Still going strong after all these years. Even though Reed sometimes keeps secrets from Susan, most of the time they support each other very well.

4, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson-Parker
Married Spider-Man worked really well for me.

5, Meggan and Brian Braddock from Claremont and Davis’ Excalibur
They had quite a rocky road but were often really great together.