Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.

Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is FLYING RIDES

Because honestly? Horses just got boring. (Thanks to author Anne Leonard for the suggestion).

I don’t think that horses are boring. :) But I do enjoy other mounts, too.

Pegasus from Greek mythology is one of the first winged horses. Bellerophon needes a magical bridle to tame him.

The flying horses of the Valkyrie from the Norse mythology. The Valkyrie chose the warriors who entered Valhalla so they had to get quickly to the battle fields.

The two goats which draw Thor’s chariot, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnóstr. They draw it on land and on the sky. They can also be slaughtered and eaten, and they return to life the next day.

Sleipnir is Odin’s eight-legged, flying horse. We saw it briefly in the first Thor film.

Marvel comics has a couple of flying mounts:

Valinor: The Avengers’ Black Knight rides a black, winged horse.

Brightwind: The New Mutants’ Mirage, Danielle Moonstar, was accepted among the Marvel Universe’s Valkyrie and was given a winged white horse.

But some of my favorite flying mounts are dragons, of course:

Temerarie in Naomi Novik’s series has a whole crew instead of just one rider. They have different abilities based on their race.

Ramoth and the other dragons in Pern. They have different personalities and sizes based on their color. Each bond with just one rider.

Dragonlance dragons. Granted, most of them aren’t anyone’s mounts, especially the evil reds and greens, but the good dragons did allow people to ride them.

Tolkien has some other flying mounts:
The giant eagles help Frodo and Sam at the end even though they’re not usually mounts.

The Fell Beasts which the Nazgûls ride.

And finally, a flying broomstick which is a staple of a witch’s image, at least in the Western world, but aren’t very common with fantasy witches. Although, Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, and Magrat Garlick use them.

The first book in the Devices of War series.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook

This book is part of the steampunk bundle I bought last year. However, it doesn’t have much steampunk in it. There’s some technology and a couple of the characters are inventors but I don’t think they use steam tech much. Some of the tech is very interesting and innovative, though. It’s written in first person from Synn’s POV.

In this world, the House of Tarot and their four Queens rule most of the world and they want to conquer the rest of it by subjugating the Great Families who are still fighting back. The Queen of the House of Wands, Nix, is a beautiful and ruthless woman who uses her beauty as a weapon. She also doesn’t hesitate to execute even children if it furthers her goals. She also wants to control as many people with Marks as possible. Marks resemble tattoos but they give their bearers fantastic powers. The powers correspond to the Family or House of the bearer. The Marks appear on children or teens who go through ordeals so Nix’s tactic is to subject some people to terrible things in order for the Marks to appear.

17-year-old Synn El’Aurim is one of the children born to parents whose marriage joined two power-ful Great Families. The Mark of the El’Aurim gives them power of storms and the Mark of the Ino family controls fire. The El’Aurim family lives aboard airships and ride the currents. The Ino family lives on living ships, the letharan which swim in the oceans.

Synn is the only one of the children who doesn’t have a Mark. He feels like he has let down his family and his mother barely tolerates to look at him. But Synn is mostly in the company of his fa-ther and thinks of their airship as his home. He doesn’t even know much about his mother’s people.

Then Queen Nix’s minions, called the Hands, attack. They’ve already destroyed one Family’s leth-ara. The El’Aurim airships try to lure them away from the Ino family. But in the process the airship where Synn and his father are, is captured. Queen Nix is aboard the Hand ship. To Synn’s horror, Nix orders Synn’s father burned for attempted rebellion. Synn tries to help his father but instead, he’s also strapped to a pyre. But Synn doesn’t burn; instead his Mark manifests itself. Unfortunate-ly, a powerful Mark makes him also a powerful tool which Queen Nix wants for herself.

Synn is tortured for what feels like a very long time to him. The Queen uses all sorts of methods, starting with starving and beatings, and when they don’t work she also uses sexual torture. She takes Synn to the legendary Sky City which is a literal flying city. She wants Synn to want to be-long to her but he refuses. Synn is very interested in the sciences so Nix lets him attend the local university, called the Librarium, but only on the condition that he does exactly as she orders. There he manages to befriend a couple of people – and they might even help him escape. But even if they can escape, Nix has no intention of letting Synn go.

This was a pretty fast read and Synn grows a lot during the story; he’s quite immature at the start. It was also a lot darker than I expected; the torture is pretty gruesome even though it isn’t terribly graphic. After the torture, Nix has a mental link to Synn and he has to constantly struggle against it. We’re also introduced to Varik who was Nix’s previous victim. Varik is totally devoted to Nix and constantly reminds Synn that he will belong to her.

The world building is fascinating and very detailed. At the beginning there’s a short chapter detail-ing the history of the planet but after that, the author doesn’t explain much.

Synn has a circle of friends whom he can rely on: Joshua who is also a young inventor, Joshua’s gen-tle sister Keeley, and Synn’s old friend Haji. Sometimes they argue but most of the times they watch out for each other. Joshua and Keeley lost their families because Queen Nix burned them before the siblings’ eyes when they were just children. The only reason they are still alive is because they mani-fested Marks which Nix has a use for.

Queen Nix is a ruthless and conniving woman. She burns people alive and kidnaps children. She justifies it saying that she wants to keep her House safe but she clearly also enjoys torture.

The Marks reminded me very much of super powers. Synn is even taught to use his Mark in a way that very much brought to mind young superheroes training. At first each Mark seemed to have just one way to use it, but thankfully the characters started to use them in more versatile way. I very much enjoyed the Marks and Synn’s circle of friends.

There were a couple of time jumps where the author just glossed over what had happened during a couple of months. Also, the chapter headings give too much away IMHO.

The book ends in a cliffhanger.

A Hercule Poirot mystery.
Publication year: 1963
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 CDs
Narrator: Pekka Autiovuori
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1957
Publisher of the Finnish translation: WSOY
Finnish translator: Eero Ahmavaara

Archeologist Dr. Leidner and his team are working in an archeological site near Hassanieh, the ancient Mesopotamia. However, the archeologist’s beautiful, new wife Louise is acting increasingly nervously and he hires a nurse to keep his wife company. The nurse in question is Amy Leatheran and she’s the first person narrator of the story.

When Amy comes to the site, she soon notices the strange atmosphere; everyone seems nervous and are snapping at each other. Then Mrs. Leidner confesses to her that she has gotten threatening letters from her first husband who supposedly died 15 years ago. Amy suspects that Dr. Leidner thinks that Louise herself has written the letters. Then, Mrs. Leidner is murdered and Hercule Poirot is called to the site.

Strangers were not seen on the site before the murder so that indicates that the murderer is someone from the team. The team includes a lot of people and they are all suspects. Mrs. Leidner was a controversial character who raised powerful emotions in both women and men so it’s starting to look like almost anyone of them could be the murderer.

Despite being set on an archeological dig, the story doesn’t include much information about archeology. Also, local people are also minimally included as servants. All significant characters are European.

I felt like there were a lot of characters this time and I sometimes had difficulty keeping them apart. The three young men especially seemed like they blended together. However, it could be that I just didn’t pay enough attention.

The mystery was complicated, as usual. My main suspect sifted a couple of times during the story and I wasn’t able to guess how it was done. Amy was a fun narrator, especially because she didn’t like Poirot at first and found him funny looking. She also constantly though of him as a foreigner.

A fun, easy to read mystery.

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.

Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is MIDDLE AGED HEROES

This hero stuff is usually a young person’s game. And, occasionally, a grizzled old veteran can get involved. It is a true rarity for someone to join the good fight for Fantasyland living in that in between ground.

Middle-aged protagonists are indeed rare but I’ve read a few. Of course, with elves, vampires, and other long-lived or immortal characters it’s pretty much impossible to know their age. Is Corwin in the Amber series middle-aged? He’s lived for centuries but he still has the cockiness or even arrogance that I’ve come to associate with youth.

Ista from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls is a middle-age heroine. She’s a widow with a grown child and has spent many years confined, because people thought that she’s insane.

Cazaril from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion starts the book as a broken man; he’s a former nobleman who has just recently released from slavery and starting his life again.

Aidan McAllister from Carol Berg’s Song of the Beast. He was a superb singer and musician but has spent the last 20 years in jail, beaten regularly without even knowing why. He’s just been released when the book starts.

Lucien Negru in Teresa Frohock’s Miserere has been a virtual prisoner of his twin sister for 16 years. Lucien escapes his sister’s stronghold at the start of the story.

Briar Wilks from Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker. Granted, we aren’t told her age directly but she does have a 17-year-old son. She’s the widow of the most hated man is Seattle and raises her son alone.

Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. He’s a dùnedain who live longer than normal humans but I believe he’s middle-aged by his own race’s standards. His beloved Arwen isn’t a youngster, either, but she’s an elf.

Gimli from Lord of the Rings. At least according to Wikipedia Gimli is 139 years during the Fellowship of the Ring and dwarf can live about 250 years so he’s sort of around middle-aged.

And of course two of my favorite characters ever: Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor. Middle-aged characters who dare to have a romance and then are an integral part of the Miles Vorkosigan series. And a new Cordelia book is coming out in February! (http://www.tor.com/2015/03/20/lois-mcmaster-bujold-new-cordelia-vorkosigan-novel-gentleman-jole-and-the-red-queen/)

The first book in the SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2010
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 440
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Gummerus
Finnish translator: Antti Autio

Jean de Flambeur is a master thief and a con man. However, something went wrong and now he’s in jail. He’s in a dilemma jail where he and his fellow inmates are forced to play games with their lives over and over again. It messes with their memories and tries to train them to become obedient citizens. Luckily, Mieli is there to break him out. However, Mieli and her unknown master want something from Jean in return.

Mieli has never met Jean and already hates him, but she’s been ordered to break him out and so she’s spent significant time to get herself into that jail and search for him there. She’s an Oortian soldier and has a sentient starship, Perhonen. She needs something from Jean’s past but it’s something he has forgotten so he needs to return to his past. Literally. They go to Mars and to the moving city of Oubliette. There, Jean will have to confront his past and the person he used to be – or try to escape. However, escape is hard because Jean’s body has been constructed by Perhonen and Mieli has complete control over it.

Mieli dislikes this mission but she has no choice but to complete it. She’s determined to keep the thief on a short leash and get what she needs. She longs to return home, to the customs she grow up with instead of dealing with foreigners all the time. Luckily, her ship is a great comfort to her and a close friend, too.

In Oubliette, a young man is gaining fame as a detective. It’s actually very unusual occupation, or hobby, in the advanced society but Isidor Beautrelet enjoys it thoroughly and has the support of the local law enforcers, the tzaddiks. Also, he’s in trouble with his girlfriend who’s from another society, the zokus who spend their whole life playing various games.

This was quite a ride! The book is set in technologically very advanced societies where minds are saved on computer memory and bodies are built. And it’s not explained. You just have to pick them all up as you go along.

The book has three POVs: Jean, Mieli, and Isidore. Jean’s part is in 1st person and the others 3rd.

Oubliette is a city focused on the mind; people are able to share memories but only when all concerned allow it. The city has an external memory (exomemory) which everyone can access and it records everything happening in public places. People have private memories which they can share with others, or not. Death is also not permanent when people can be downloaded to other bodies. Oubliette’s society is constructed around time: people have a limited amount of time which they can spend in human bodies (called nobles). When someone’s time is up, he or she “dies” for a short time and is transferred to another body, which is designed for some sort of work: construction, guarding, serving etc. They are called the Quiet because they often can’t talk in those bodies. And the city’s police force wears masks, fly, do amazing things with technology, and have secret identities. One of them is called the Gentleman another the Futurist, for example.

The book has a lot of fascinating concepts and at times they overshadow the characters. Also, even though humans have learned to upload their consciousness to memory and they download it to created/cloned/built bodies (some of them aren’t humans, but tools), the way they interact with each other haven’t changed. They still talk about the ugly/pretty divide, play games, are sexually jealous etc. Also, how can children look like their parents or siblings look like each other when they’re all in constructed bodies? They can look like anything, right? The world building is fascinating but it doesn’t seem to impact the people much, especially considering that everyone seems to be pretty much immortal.

Still, an enjoyable read, if somewhat confusing at first. It seems that the next books aren’t set in Mars so I’m looking forward to what other worlds are like.

The final book in the Vampire Empire series.

Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Running time: 14 hours, 49 minutes
Publisher: Buzzy Multimedia Publishing
Narrator: James Masters

The book starts about a year after the start of the series.

Empress Adele has started a war against the vicious vampire clans of the north. Her trusted men stand with her: Anhault who has been promoted to the commander of the Empire’s armed forces and her consort the mysterious Greyfriar. At the start of the book, the men are leading the assault against vampires and their whole group is pinned down in France. But Adele comes there personally and uses her geomancy powers to strike the vampires down. However, the humans are losing the war and the best way to win it, is for Adele to use her powers again and again. Unfortunately, that weakens her too much. Also, she has to deal with her ministers who have more ambition than her.

Soon, they hear that the vampire prince Cesare has killed his own father the king and wants to become the king. He also wants to lead an assault against the humans so Adele and Greyfriar don’t want him as king. There’s one obvious choice but that would separate the two.

Adele has grown into a leader. However, her compassionate side sometimes tries to overwhelm the Empress who must do tough choices for the survival of her people. Essentially, she has the power to kill a lot of vampires but she starts to think that some vampires might not be evil so she doesn’t want to kill them. The problem is that we’ve only seen one non-evil vampire; the rest want to slaughter humans and drink their blood. Peaceful co-existence isn’t really possible between predators and prey.

Greyfriar was an interesting character at first but after falling in love with Adele he hasn’t changed at all. He’s absolutely loyal to her. He would like to save his people but he knows that it’s not possible, really.

This book has more large-scale battles than the previous ones. It’s also more focused on romance than the first book. Despite having some intrigue, it has lot of action, too. Oh, and no sex scenes.

This time, we also hear about how these vampire reproduce; no, they’re not undead and humans can’t be made into vampires. However, that myth is still alive and some humans have bought into it.

The ending ties up all the smaller plotlines but the fate of the world is still undecided. I was also a little disappointed that the Grayfriar’s true identity wasn’t revealed to the people at large.

Collects Fantastic Four #520-524


Writer: Mark Waid
Artists: Mike Wieringo, Karl Kesel

In the previous volume Reed switched the powers of Susan and Johnny, in order to save Susan’s life. The aliens who attacked in the previous volume came to Earth to destroy Susan because of her powers. The aliens had found a way to hide entire fertile, inhabited world from Galactus but they realized that the Invisible Woman’s powers would be able to reveal them. By secretly switching the sibling’s powers Reed hoped to get enough time to do something about the situation. However, as soon as the aliens leave, Galactus arrives and kidnaps Johnny (now the Invisible Man?).

Of course, the FF want to rescue him. In order to do that, Reed contacts Quasar who can track Johnny (and Galactus) and transport the team quickly enough to him. Meanwhile, Galactus has sent out Johnny to seek the next planet. He’s trying to delay Galactus and perhaps even find allies against him. He’s also trying to get used to her sister’s powers. However, Galactus has given Johnny also the power cosmic which all of his Heralds have so Johnny is much more powerful than Susan ever was and he also has another, expanded power.

This was a very enjoyable cosmic ride. We get to know far more about Galactus. Susan and Johnny get to explore each other’s powers which was neat. She came to appreciate her brother more and we see that Johnny really looks up to her. Susan struggles to control the fire power which has to be used differently than her own; essentially it’s always “on” and she has to try to consciously keep down heat coming from her. I’d have loved it if their powers had been switch for far longer.

The last issue in the collection is also fun. The FF’s powers have left them and are possessing random people around NYC. The powerless team chases them and Ben has to make a major (if predictable) decision.

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