A novella in the Five Gods/ Chalion universe. Sequel to “Penric and the Demon”.
Format: Kindle e-book

I enjoyed “Penric and the Demon” a lot and was delighted to see a sequel. It’s not absolutely necessary to read “Penric and the Demon” first because things are explained but I think reading it will increase your enjoyment.

Penric and the Shaman is another lovely piece of fantasy from Bujold and it’s self-contained. However, for a novella length, it has a lot of POV characters: three.

Inglis kin Wolfcliff is the first character we meet. He’s wounded and mistaken for dead but soon he’s rescued by suspicious country people. Inglis is grateful but his life is a mess. He doesn’t really know how to get out of the mess and is just trying to survive.

Penric is minor nobility but more importantly he’s now a divine (a priest) in the Bastard’s order and also a sorcerer because he has a demon inside him. They live and work in the Princess-Archdivine’s court. That demon has had ten previous “riders” or hosts, all of them women. Penric calls the demon Desdemona and they seem to have a very good relationship, except that Penric enjoys reading, translating, and other scholarly duties at the court and Desdemona is bored by them. When a man from the Father’s order come for help, Desdemona is eager to leave and Penric is pretty much just as curious.

Oswyl, a Locator in the Father’s Order, tracking a shaman who has murdered a young man. At least, Oswyl is convinced that the shaman has stolen the man’s soul and possibly murdered him as well. He’s not impressed with Penric who seems way too young to be able to help him but the Princess-Archdivine sends Penric, and so Oswyl has to be content with him.

Many things are not as they first seem. I was already familiar with Penric but I was surprised that four years had gone by since the first novella. Penric has learned and matured to his powers. We also get to see more of the world and the powers of a shaman. However, Penric isn’t really the main character. Inglis and Oswyl are the ones who have to confront their fears and assumptions.

The writing is as beautiful as usual and I enjoyed it a lot.

Today, the topic for Top Ten Tuesdays is All about Romance.

I’m not a romance reader. Rather I have a soft spot for established couples, especially ones who adventure together and stay together. Unfortunately, that seems to be rare.

1, Nightfall and Redlance from Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini
Elfquest has lots of cute couples (and a couple of triads, too). I could fill the whole list with just them.  In this couple, the woman Nightfall is the fierce warrior and hunter while her (male) lifemate Redlance is a gentle plant-shaper. I love some other couples, too, such as Wolfriders’ hotheaded young (male) chief Cutter and the far older, gentle (female) healer Leetah. Moonshade and Strongbow are both hunters and warriors.

2, Prince Valiant and Queen Aleta from Prince Valiant by Hal Foster
Another comic book couple. I actually found their courtship somewhat disturbing and far prefer their adventurous life together where they can always rely on each other.

3, Robin Hood and Maid Marian/Marion
Surprising number of stories, especially those aimed at the young readers, leave out their romance completely. My favorite version comes from the 1980s Robin of Sherwood TV-show from BBC. They marry in the pilot episode and Marion becomes an integral part of the group.

4, Phédre and Jocelyn from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series.
Another couple where I didn’t really care for the courtship but really enjoyed them as a solid couple who can rely on each other no matter what. Phédre is a diplomat and a courtesan while Jocelyn is a warrior priest.

5, Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan by Lois McMaster Bujold
I just love how Aral and Cordelia work together, supporting each other.

6, Raine Benares and Mychael (or Tam) by Lisa Shearin
I usually loath love triangles: they manage to bring the worst out of everyone involved and it’s often obvious who the contested person is going to end with. For some reason this triangle really worked for me. Both Mychael and Tam are actually pretty interesting characters (I’d love to read a book or novella or anything with just one of them as the main character) and I enjoyed the other characters, too. I didn’t really care whom Raine ended up with because either way it would be interesting. Sadly, she didn’t choose until the penultimate book (IIRC) so I didn’t really get to see the couple in action. Fighting demons, I mean, obviously.

7, Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson by Elizabeth Peters
Amelia and Emerson often snark at each other and sometimes have even a bet going on about whom will solve the case first. They are archeologists in the late Victorian era who stumble upon murder mysteries with alarming frequency.

8, Willow and Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
My favorite couple on the show

9, Apollo and the Midnighter from the Authority comics
No matter how much the writers try to break them apart, they’ve come back. So far.

10, Reed and Susan Richards from Fantastic Four
Superhero comics have lots of romances but unfortunately, they usually end when the writer leaves or until the company decides to separate the characters or kills off one of them. Or retcons the romance away (why yes I’m still bitter about Peter and Mary Jane, Marvel). Reed and Susan is the only exception I know. But even with them both have been “dead” and come back a couple of time and often Reed hides things from Susan and the rest of the team. Still, generally they can rely on each other.

The third book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 358
Publisher: Pan Books

The Burning Page opens shortly after the end of the Masked City. Irene and her apprentice Kai have been kept busy with various assignments in various worlds. In fact, the story starts when they’ve already got their newest book, the Daughter of Porthos by Dumas, and are trying to escape a high-order alternate world were the order comes from a totalitarian society. The portal to the interdimensional library is in an abandoned building and unfortunately it doesn’t work: when Irene tries to open it, the door bursts into flames. Fortunately, they have another way to get off that world and return to the world where Irene is the Librarian-in-Residence. It’s just far more noticeable.

Back in the alternate world where Irene usually lives, her close associate, and a possible romantic interest, Peregrine Vale was previously infected by chaos and has sunk into near suicidal depression. Irene is very worried about him. She knows a couple of possible cures but thinks that they can do more harm than good. She doesn’t really have time to think about them because, somebody is trying to kill her (and/or Kai) and the Library itself is under attack.

The ending of Masked City had consequences to Irene: she’s now on probation and given out the least appealing retrieval jobs. Also, the attention of a dragon king can be negative, at least for her.

This time we get to see more of the inner workings of the Library and meet other Librarians, but under emergency of course. There’s also some inner-Library politicking going on and Irene strongly dislikes that. We also get to see two new alternate worlds, both high-order worlds. I really enjoyed the second one and would love to see it again.

The pace is once again very quick: Irene has hardly a minute to breathe or recover from one emergency until the next. Couple of familiar characters return from the previous books and some earlier plot lines are tied up so I recommend reading them before this one.

This was another great book in this series. I thoroughly enjoyed the alternate worlds and Irene with her growing confidence in herself.

The second book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 339 + secrets from the library and the author’s interview
Publisher: TOR

Irene is a junior librarian in the interdimensional Library. Her task is to retrieve books which are considered rare or otherwise special. She usually travels to various alternate realities to get them but currently she’s been stationed (as a Librarian-in-Residence) into a one specific world where she has a cover identity as Irene Winters. She also has an apprentice, the very handsome and proper Kai, and a (mostly) dependable friend Peregrine Vale, an extraordinary private detective. Vale sort of knows about the Library but has never visited there. Irene can also use the Language, which allows her to command inanimate objects and sometimes confuse people, too, for a short period of time.

Irene and Kai are in the middle of retrieving Bram Stoker’s La Sorciere from an auction, right under the nose of a Russian agent. But then, Kai is kidnapped. He’s Irene’s friend as well as responsibility, so she and Vale will do anything to rescue him. But first, they must find out who is behind the kidnapping. Irene suspects the Fae and they are a formidable enemy.

The Masked City was a very enjoyable read for me and I’m diving into the next book, The Burning Page. Irene has grown into her own and she’s more confident of herself and her place in the Library. Apparently, several months have gone by after the previous book, the Invisible Library, so she and Kai have grown closer and become friends.

In this book, Irene and Kai are dragged in the middle of conflict between order and chaos. The Fae represent the chaos and they are very good enemies in a book about books because they see the world as a stage – or a book: “[the Fae] receive their nourishment from their emotional interactions with humans, feeding off us in this way. And they perceive everyone other than themselves, both humans and indeed other Fae, as mere participants – fulfilling background roles – in their own personal stories. And here we have an interesting feedback loop. The more dramatic they can make their personal stories (for example, playing the role of a villain, rogue or hero) the more power a Fae can gain. And the more powerful they are, the more stereotypical this role-playing behavior becomes.” (From the Student Librarian’s Handbook)

On the side of the order are the dragons who can control the weather and earth. They think that they’re the most powerful beings and therefore born to rule. The Library isn’t allied with either because either extreme seems to be bad for the humans who must live on those worlds.

Cogman uses a lot of tropes in this book and plays around with them which was fun. Also, for a lot of the book Irene can’t rely on anyone else but her own skills. The powerful Fae Lord Silver could be an ally but only when it suits him and on his own terms, which Irene might not be able to agree on. The stakes are very high and even if Irene succeeds, it’s quite likely that she’ll have some very nasty enemies afterwards.

There are also tantalizing hints about what sort of trouble Irene and Kai got into during those months after the end of the previous book and they sound very interesting: “the time they’d had to run a con game on a visiting Kazakhstan warlord with a Silk Road travelogue”. Perhaps a short story?

“The perfect Librarian is calm, cool, collected, intelligent, multilingual, a crack shot, a martial artist, an Olympic-level runner (at both the sprint and marathon), a good swimmer, an expert thief, and a genius con artist. They can steal a dozen books from a top-security strongbox in the morning, discuss literature all afternoon, have dinner with the cream of society in the evening, and then stay up until midnight dancing, before stealing some more interesting tomes at three a.m. That’s what a perfect Librarian would do. In practice, most Librarians would rather spend their time reading a good book.”

A sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. SF book.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 365
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

This is not a direct sequel but takes up the tale of Wayfarer’s artificial intelligence, Lovelace. About half of the story belongs to Jane 23, a clone girl on a different planet.

Lovelace has now a synthetic body kit and she’s having trouble adjusting to it. Because it’s illegal for AIs to have bodies, she and the people around her are constantly in danger and she has to hide herself. She was put into the body (or kit as she calls it) after a system reboot so she doesn’t remember deciding to go into a body. A single body is a very limited place; she’s used to running a whole spaceship, “seeing” with sensors both inside and out, being in constant communication with other computers. Now, she has very limited senses and no internal link access. She also has programs which make it hard to interact with people, such as 100% honesty and whenever she’s asked a direct question, she has to answer it. No wonder she has all sorts of difficulty. Fortunately, she has two people to help her: Pepper and Blue. They’re very patient and understanding with her because they know very well what’s it like, trying to fit into a society you weren’t born in. Pepper’s a great mechanic and Blue’s an artist.

Lovelace is actually the name of the AI series, so she has to come up with a new name: Sidra. Her tale is rather a quiet one, when she tries to adjust to her new circumstances. She even thinks of her body as “the kit”. “The kit sighed.” “She swung the kit’s head around.”

In this world, AIs have emotions. There’s never a question of if Lovelace’s feelings are real. Other ship AIs have feelings, also. But we also see low-level AIs which don’t (presumably) have feelings and only limited intelligence: AIs from which people buy tickets or who instruct people or are characters in games. Lovelace is uncomfortable with them.

The other half of the book follows the story of Jane 23, who was created to work in a factory alongside with dozens of other clones. They’re fed and only educated enough to do the work. They know nothing of planets and have never even see the sky outside. The younger girls clean junk and the older girls fix them. Jane is very good at fixing things. They’re overseen by robots who are called Mothers. All the Janes are ten years old when the story starts. There are other girls, apparently one batch per year.

One day, there’s an accident at the factory and Jane 23 has a chance to get away. She hesitates at first, but quickly takes her chance, together with her bunkmate, Jane 64. Unfortunately, Jane 64 is caught by the Mothers and apparently killed. Fortunately, Jane 23 finds a loyal ally: a small shuttle with an AI, Owl. Together, Jane 23 and Owl try to survive and perhaps one day even leave the planet behind.

Jane’s part of the book is focused on survival. The shuttle isn’t in any condition to fly and Jane has to fix a lot of systems. Fortunately, this part of the planet is a junkyard of everything the wealthier people throw away. But it’s also huge. And there are genetically engineered dogs which try to kill anyone entering the junkyard. Food and water are in limited supply. Just survival is a huge task to a ten-year-old but Owl does her best to teach and guide the girl.

I enjoyed Jane’s part of the book more but both were enjoyable. However, this isn’t an adventure book and it’s quite different from the first in the series. The stories are liked thematically. Even though Jane’s and Lovelace (Sidra)’s situations are very different, they’re both people created by others for a specific purpose. They’re both looking for a new purpose, beyond just surviving. The galactic law doesn’t recognize Sidra as a person and the law on the planet where Pepper was created also didn’t recognize her as person, either. (I don’t think it was said clearly if galactic law recognizes a clone as person.) They were both tools.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The aliens were great, too.

The third book in the Magic Ex Libris urban fantasy series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours and 41 minutes
Narrator: David DeVries

In Unbound Isaac is trying to correct things that went wrong in the previous book, Codex Born. He’s in a very bad place, emotionally and perhaps financially as well. The people around him fear that he’s becoming depressed which makes him reckless not only with his own life and wellbeing but with the people he cares about.

The Libriomancers have concealed the existence of magic from the ordinary people for centuries. Now, the secret is out and many people are scared. Each chapter has a short section taken from internet discussions, radio shows, newspaper articles and comments, etc. They all concern the presence of magic. Some people are scared, some supportive, some pleading for magical help. I really enjoyed them. Since the book is told in first person from Isaac’s point-of-view, they really helped show lots of people’s attitudes towards magic and what is happening in the wider world.

Meanwhile, the threat of a ghost army is still present and Isaac and his friends must try to find some way to stop them and also to get back a teenaged girl they’ve kidnapped. Without the backing of the Libriomancer organization this is not easy and Isaac has to rely on his personal contacts.

I enjoyed this book a lot and it’s a great addition to the series. Isaac’s still a huge SF and F nerd and I loved all the references to books. Their enemy has even managed to slip their letter (which starts the book) into one of G. R. R. Martin’s books which was a hoot.

The plot was mostly fast-paced but most of the book is spent on the run, hiding in hotel rooms. I also felt that the secondary characters were often more interesting than Isaac himself.

I’m going to try this round-up thing and see how it goes.

Both Andrea’s Vintage SF month and Carl’s Sci-fi Experience ended at the end of January. I read 4 books for the Vintage not-a-challenge and for the Experience I read 11 books and two comics. Once again, both events were very enjoyable. I’m already looking forward to them again!

Challenges: Pick&Mix: 4 books, Author! Author!: 2 books, Graphic novel: 2.

Books reviewed with a link to my review:
1, John Gregory Betancourt: Infection Star trek: TNG
2, Isaac Asimov: End of Eternity Star trek: TNG
3, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Vectors
4, Leigh Brackett: The Sword of Rhiannon
5, Leigh Brackett: The Ginger Star
6, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: the Falls
7, Leigh Brackett ed.: The Best of Planet Stories #1
8, Emmi Itäranta: The Weaver/ The City of Woven Streets

I ended up reviewing 8 books in January so that was a very good start. Of course, the Leigh Brackett books were shorter than modern ones. Reading four much older books was an interesting experience. With Asimov’s End of Eternity I ended up so frustrated when he could think of Earth millions of years in the future, but not a single society were women would be actual human beings who matter rather than ornaments and sex objects. Brackett had a few more women, at least. But, as is usual in pulp, all her characters have very tightly defined roles. Then reading (or listening rather) Rusch’s Falls where women were space ship captains, police, and engineers was a relief. So, I don’t know how much “classics” I’m going to read in the future. Fortunately, I liked the Planet stories a lot.

I’ll certainly finish Brackett’s series later when I get through the books I might nominate for a Hugo. (This year I’m going to the Worldcon for the first time and I’m already excited!) So, the next month and a half I’ll be reading much newer stuff.

Best of the month: Fortunately, I liked most of the books I read in January so it’s hard to choose a favorite but I’m going with Rusch’s Falls.