A short story collection about women who fight, one way or another. Not all of the stories have fighting in them, though. Also, some of the stories include non-hetero characters.

Publication year: 2016
Format: pdf ebook
Page count: 316
Publisher: Evil Girlfriend Press

The collection has three stories with female smiths, which was great; I think I’ve only read about one or two before. The women in these stories are practical and level-headed. They’re warriors who are used to danger. A couple of stories have retired women which was also delightful; they’re also too rare in fantasy. I enjoyed all of the stories.

All of these worlds have equality between sexes and that makes sense. Women and men fight side by side in these armies and women aren’t challenged because of their gender. That was really refreshing. Two stories even have female gladiators. I know that the Roman arenas had female gladiators but they’re hardly ever mentioned.

The stories vary greatly in mood. A couple of them are funny, a few heart-breaking, most are intense and exciting and explore the main character well. Most of them have magic, in one way or another. The most melancholy story is the first one from Judith Tarr.

Attrition by Judith Tarr: The Queen of the Amazons is dead but some of her warriors are still alive, even though they’re surrounded by men who want to take everything from them.

Armor the color of War by David Szarzynski: An abbot comes to Lady Heathwiln asking for her help. But not in her current occupation as a smith but her previous one, as fabled fighter.

No Better Armor, No Heavier Burden by Wunji Lau: Rose hasn’t seen her sons in a long time. But when one of them comes to her for aid, he brings a lot of trouble with him. This story had excellent and very interesting world building and I’d love to see more stories in this fantasy Wild West setting.

The Blood Axe by Mary Pletsch: After decades of fighting Imperial forces, Agrona returns home to her sister and nephew. She’s wondering if the only legacy she’ll leave behind is dead soldiers. But she has a chance to do different things.

First Command by Chris A. Jackson: Camwynn is Lord Fornish’s second squire. Lord Fornish is seriously wounded in battle and before he dies, he appoints Camwynn as the Commander of his troops. Unfortunately, the first squire doesn’t agree. Even in the middle of a war, he challenges Camwynn’s competence.

The Bound Man by Mary Robinette Kowal: Halldór and his men have retrieved the legendary sword of Li Reiko but they’re attacked by bandits. In desperation, Halldór invokes the legendary warrior. And succeeds but in a way he didn’t expect.

Pride and Joy by Eric Landreneau: For ten years, beautiful Regana has been the best gladiatrix in Baygonne. But now scarred warrior Mad Boar is determined to win the prize for herself. And she has very personal reasons for wanting it.

Voice of the Trees by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood: Acoria is a dryad. When her tree tells her that the water in the forest has become tainted, she has to find the source of the sickness.

The Raven and the Swans by Amy Griswold: Carlin killed the Elf Queen’s brother and now is her prisoner. The Queen intends to ransom Carlin. But Carlin’s biggest worry are her sword-brothers who also prisoners and can expect no mercy.

The Family Business by Kristy Griffin Green: Naomi is a smith and her husband works with computers but they’re also grandparents. When their grandchild comes running to Naomi talking about monsters, she knows just what to do.

Stone Woken by Crystal Lynn Hilbert: Hjalli and Kvern are sister-kings for hardy people who live under the mountain. When the World-Eater awakens, Kvern decides to confront it, even if she has to face a fate worse than death.

Serendipity by Steve Bornstein: Cade is a sword-dancer and a bodyguard. One of the mysterious Kin contacts her and offers her a job: to guard him while he performs a ritual in a dragon’s lair. Cade can’t resist a challenge like that.

Ravenblack by Alex C. Renwick: Ravenblack is the lordess of Hounds’ Keep and she has no patience for formalities. When one of the Queen’s Magickers come calling, she’s forced to feast him even though she would rather be with her beloved gryphounds.

King’s Shield: A tale of the World of Ruin by Erik Scott de Bie: Ovelia is the best friend of Lenalin, who is in a political, and unhappy, marriage to Prince Paeter. Ovelia is also a fighter and the daughter of the King’s Shield. When her father is killed defending Lenalin and her infant son, it’s up to Ovelia to protect either the child or her friend.

The Lioness by Anya Penfold: Leodinae, Linnie, is a veteran of undead war and now a gladiator on the Arena. Unfortunately, her family doesn’t approve so she has to keep it a secret, fighting in a helmet that covers her face and with the name Lioness.

The Hero of Ithar by Sarah Hendrix: Twenty years ago, J’Hell saved her country. Now, she lives in a small village happily with her husband. But every year, the village throws her a huge feast, which she hates. However, this year the feast will be a little different

Golden by Todd McCaffrey: Simon is the human mate of a female dragon. Their child is Golden. Unfortunately, Golden would like to be a human girl. Also, Golden and her mother don’t really get along which means that the family has to move often. After one fight, Golden flies away.

Sharp as Griffin’s Claw by Rhonda Parrish: A bard sings the story of Abira and Teyat. Abira is a half-elf swordsmith who, together with her imp Teyat, forges the most beautiful weapons imaginable.

A Night in New Veroshtin by Cassandra Rose Clarke: Salima is a soldier is a century long war. But now, she’s told to become an assassin. She loathes is but has little choice.

I enjoyed all of these stories. “No Better Armor, No Heavier Burden” was my favorite and I found the setting fascinating. Hopefully, the author will write more. Of course, I enjoyed “Attrition” which is set in Tarr’s Amazon world. “Voice of the Trees” was surprising and different from the others. I also really enjoyed “The Bound Man” and “Family Business”.

I read the Finnish translation Libri di Lucan arvoitus (The mystery of Libri di Luca). It’s a standalone Danish mystery with supernatural elements: some people have magical powers which are used through reading out loud!

Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2005
Translator: Katriina Huttunen
Format: print
Page count: 439
Publisher of the Finnish translation: WSOY

Jon Campbelli is a very successful defense lawyer in Copenhagen. His father Luca owns a second hand bookstore, Libri di Luca, but they haven’t spoken in years because after Jon’s mother died Luca gave the boy up for adoption. The book starts when Luca dies seemingly of a heart attack and Jon’s life turns upside down. At first, Jon doesn’t want anything to do with the store but he comes to the store anyway. It turns out that the store is a beloved place for a lot of people and they’re afraid the Jon will sell it. Among the people Jon meets is Katherina, a young woman who has sever dyslexia because of car accident, Iversen who helped Luca run the store for many years and whom Jon remembers from his childhood, and a hostile young man called Pew who is also part of the regular bookstore crowd. But soon Jon finds out that his father has been part of a secret organization of readers. People, who have essentially magical powers which manifest through reading.

Meanwhile, Jon’s employer hands him a difficult case: Remer is a powerful businessman whom the police have been investigating for years. However, Remer is difficult to deal with and difficult to even meet. Also, when Jon finally meets him, Remer seems to be more interested in Libri di Luca’s fate than in his own upcoming trial.

This book has a very interesting magic system (it’s the only supernatural element). There are two kinds of magic users, transmitters and receivers, who can influence people when they’re reading and how they perceive the text. The groups are suspicious of each other and generally don’t get along. However, people in both groups liked Luca. The magical reading was fascinating and I would have liked to see more examples of it.

Jon becomes very quickly interested in the magic for someone who is supposedly only interested in his job and who hates fiction (because he’s angry at his father for abandoning him). To me, Katherina was the more complex character; after her accident, her powers had bloomed quickly and she didn’t know what was going on. For a while she thought she was going crazy, hearing voices in her mind (actually people who were reading nearby) until Luca found her and told her what was going on. Apparently, some Lectors do end up insane or drunk, trying to drown out the voices. Before meeting Luca, she learned to keep quiet about the voices and at the start of the book she’s a very quiet person.

Apparently, the book is labeled as a thriller but I think it works much better as a mystery, because there aren’t many chase scenes or running around.

I enjoyed the magic system and the book is a light and quick read.

The fifth book in the historical mystery series about Smokey Dalton.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours and 8 minutes plus an excerpt from the next book.
Narrator: Mirron Willis

It’s 1969 in Chicago and summer vacations at school have just started. Smokey Dalton and his adopted son Jimmy are still on the run from the FBI because Jim saw the person who really killed Dr. King, and now the police are after them. Jimmy’s teacher Grace Kirkland asks Smokey to search for her eldest son, Daniel. He had gotten a scholarship to Yale but she found out that Daniel hasn’t been in Yale for the spring semester. He seems to have vanished.

Smokey knows that he can’t do the investigation from Chicago so he has to drive to New Haven. He decides to take Jimmy with him because it would be unfair to the boy to leave him once again to friends. But Smokey also realizes that he needs someone to take care of Jimmy when needed, so he also takes along Malcom Reyner, a young orphan who works as a short-order cook. Malcom can also talk with students the way that Smokey can’t. At Yale, he encounters both systematic and individual racism but also people who try to fight them. However, the deeper he digs, the more disturbing things he finds. The antiwar movement isn’t just nice.

Smokey and the people around him are very human, both in good and bad. They feel real to me. Of course, I’ve never been to USA nor am I black so I don’t know how real they actually are. The plot moves fast and the conclusion is satisfactory. I did miss some of the secondary characters, such as Laura, but it’s also good to see other parts of USA back then.

The cast of character grows a lot because for the majority of the book Smokey and Jimmy aren’t in Chicago. They constantly meet new people and have to adjust to two new cities. We also get a glimpse into Smokey’s past.

Malcolm is eager to get away from his current job but he is will to work hard to achieve what he wants to. There’s rising racial tensions in Chicago and Smokey feels threatened by it; he’s looking for a safer place where he and Jimmy might live. Jimmy is delighted to follow Smokey, at first, but once again he wants to do more than Smokey allows him to do.

Another excellent addition to the series.

A standalone alternate history book set in a secondary fantasy world which was inspired by the Byzantine Empire and the lives of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora.

Publication year: 2016
Format: epub ebook
Page count: 464
Publisher: Book View Café

I received this book in exchange for my honest review.
The book has mostly two narrators: Marcus and Simonis. Simonis is born to a poor bear keeper and Marcus’s uncle is wealthy. They both live in Visant, the City of Gold but experience it quite differently.

When Simonis is five years old, her father Batzas comes to the great city of Visant with his family because he has gotten a job as assistant bear keeper to one of the leading charioteer groups, the White Jewel. The city is huge and somewhat intimidating to the small family but Batzas is ambitious and willing to work hard and he dreams about bettering his life.

However, within a year Simonis’ father is dead and Simonis herself has found out how utterly dependent she and her family are on the benevolence of the rich and powerful. She resents that fiercely. When she catches the eye of a scarred soldier who has a network of spies, dancers and courtesans, Simonis eagerly agrees to work for him. When she’s 12, she’s already an accomplished dancer and starts her training as a courtesan. She’s determined to make a better life for herself in the only way she can.

Marcus is the son of a farmer who can read and, he reads a lot. His mother’s brother, Leontes, has risen high in the hierarchy of Visant: he’s the leader of the palace guard and now a count. He and his wife have no children so he sends for Marcus with the assumption that he will adopt the boy as his own heir. At age 15, Marcus leaves the life he’s always known and goes to Visant. He’s well cared for but because of his poorer upbringing, he makes few friends and is often humiliated. However, Leontes keeps his word and adopts him. Marcus takes a new name suitable for a Patrician: Maxentius. He works hard but some of the men in the palace don’t like his success.

This city and the surrounding countries are strongly inspired by the Byzantine Empire. In Visant, women don’t participate in public life: they’re essentially property, owned by a husband or a father. As part of the very lowest class of people, Simonis is actually freer to make her own decisions even if her options are very limited. As a courtesan, she has the chance of getting some wealth even though she can’t choose her clients. She’s also very loyal to her friends.

There’s a mention of a religious schism between the followers of the One God in Visant and in another city, Rhakotis. It appears that the religious orthodoxy practiced in Visant is, at least partly, responsible for women’s low position in society. In this world, there are also other cultures and other religions.

Marcus is pretty much on the other end of the spectrum: he becomes embroiled in court intrigue almost against his will. He’s also honest which is not a good trait in the court. Emperor Valerian is old and everyone is expecting him to name a successor, but he doesn’t have any children. He does have three nephews, generals, and other men willing to take on the imperial diadem.

The book is full of adventure and it’s very entertaining. It’s split in three parts and the latter half of the book has a couple of other narrators but mostly Simonis and Maxentius. The world-building is deep and the characters are complex. I enjoyed it a lot.

Collects Rat Queens issues 1-5.

Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Artist: Roc Upchurch

This was loads of fun! I’m a long-time pen and paper RPG player and this hit all the spots for me.

The setting is fantasy and the characters are “Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric, and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief”. Yup, an adventuring party with a pretty standard characters. Except that these swearing and booze drinking women are anything but standard in modern comics. They could be usual in a gaming group, though.

So, four adventuring groups are looking for work and in the meantime they get drunk and destroy pubs and other places in their brawls. Perhaps not surprisingly, the mayor and other citizens are concerned about the situation. Every group is given a quest which takes them out of the city of Palisade. The Rat Queens aren’t too happy about their quest which is to clear out goblins from a cave but at least it’s not toilet cleaning which one of the groups gets.

At the cave, our heroes are attacked by an assassin and a giant. Some of the four are hurt badly but they manage to all survive. But soon they find out that the other adventurer groups were also attacked and some of them weren’t as lucky. Also, the quests were just a way to lure them to the assassins. So, who is trying to kill them all and why?

The comic starts in the middle of things and doesn’t bother to explain anything or introduce anyone. However, people who have gamed (or read I guess) fantasy will have expectations. Some will be turned on their ear. The stories have lots of funny moments and dialog. However, they focus on fighting and not so much on character development. But before the end, each main character has gotten her own personality and a few quirks, too.

Highly recommended for people familiar with fantasy and not bothered by lots of swearing.

Collects Amazing X-Men issues 13-19, Annual 1.

Writers: James Tynion IV, Chris Yost, Monty Nero
Artists: Jorge Jiménez, Carlo Barberi, Iban Coello, Walden Wong, Jorge Fornes, Kris Anka, Salvator Larroca

The first issue is a one-shot where one of the students at the Jean Grey school is missing. He’s gone on a date for the first time but chickened out. Then he runs into Lady Mastermind who uses his insecurities against him. Nightcrawler and Northstar investigate and perhaps get to know each other a little better.

Next up is an Axis crossover, where good guys are bad and bad guys are good. In this case, Nightcrawler has gone to Germany and he’s after the blood of the priest who taught fear and hate to his parish and therefore is partly responsible for the attitudes of the men who first tried to kill Kurt when he was a child. Mystique is going after Kurt, to stop him from murdering anyone. This was a nice flip.

Then the five-part Juggernaut story starts. The gem which gives the Juggernaut his (or her) power has returned to Earth. It calls for specific strong and violent people but also the former hosts can hear the call. One of them is Colossus who is now at the Jean Grey school. He sees a dream about the gem and tells about it to Storm. He expects to be part of the team which will go after the gem. Instead, he’s told that he can’t be trusted and he needs to stay put. Storm, Nightcrawler, Firestar, Marvel girl, Rockslide, and Iceman go after the gem… and find a large, angry demon guarding it. Some other people are coming for the gem, too, and they’re not nice. Several fights break out, of course. Colossus persuades Pixie to teleport him there, too, and the X-Men might need him against the demon, Man-Killer, Crossbones, and Jinn.

This story arch has surprisingly lot of humor, especially near the end. I still don’t care for the bickering much but I liked the way the X-Men didn’t just rush off into a fight. I particularly don’t like the way that they constantly put down Rockslide – feels like bullying to me and coming from people who are supposed to be very inclusive it’s very distasteful. However, it was great that Firestar got to shine, again. She might be new to the X-Men but she’s an Avenger and pretty experienced one, too. In this story, we get to know Colossus a bit better. The poor guy has gone through a lot of changes and he seems to be regretting some of them. Apparently, he’s sleeping with Domino, now. When did that happen?? Cain Marko also gets a little bit of character development and then it, apparently, goes away.

The annual is a one-shot exploring Ororo’s past. It turns out that she still has family: cousins and aunts. One of them has been kidnapped by a new supervillain who has murdered other people. Storm, Wolverine, Firestar, the Beast, and Nightcrawler fly to Africa to investigate. The story is about revenge and it’s pretty forgettable except that we get to see Storm in full fury which is always awesome.

Collects Amazing X-Men issues 7-12.

Writers: Kathryn Immonen, Craig Kyle, Christ Yost
Artists: Kris Anka, Juan Vlansco, Ed McGuinness. Mark Farmer, Carlo Barberi, Iban Costello, Walden Wong, Marc Deering

The first issue is a one-shot where Iceman and Firestar meet up unexpectedly with Spider-Man who has an alien baby with him. At first, Angelica and Bobby don’t know it’s an alien and try to defend it from Spidey. It’s supposed to be funny but didn’t really work for me and the plot doesn’t really make sense, either.

The Wendigo storyline takes the rest of the collection. Apparently, Wolverine has lost his healing factor and that’s why Storm has ordered him to stay at the school. However, when he wants to go to Canada, he goes to Canada. Unfortunately for him, a human body is ground into food and that starts a Wendigo curse which spreads over Canada because the Wendigos infect people with their touch!

Mac (Guardian of Alpha Flight) has gone missing and Heather and Logan are looking for him – going right into the small town where almost everyone has been turned into a Wendigo. The X-Men (Storm, Northstar, Nightcrawler, Marvel Girl, Colossus, Firestar, Iceman, and Rockslide) follow but not before the Wendigos have spread into several towns and now there are thousands of them. One of the X-Men turns into a Wendigo! Then Alpha Flight comes to help.

This was pretty intense storyline, even though I didn’t believe for a moment that the scratched X-Man would stay a Wendigo. Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America are glimpsed fighting the Wendigos at the USA/Canada border, trying to save the Canadians who have turned and protect other people from them. Meanwhile, the magic users who should be able to turn the monsters back to humans are shown to be incapacitated so the heroes need another way to stop the curse.

We don’t get much in the way of character development. In fact, while this could be a fun adventure, it’s pretty forgettable. Northstar doesn’t appear happy to see his sister and former teammates, but he did mellow out a little because of a little girl he saved several times. Then again, he and Aurora snipped at each other previously, too, so I guess it’s in character

On the other hand, I didn’t really care for the humor; the characters mostly bickered like teenagers. Also, it was really strange how Rockslide just suddenly popped up from Blackbird’s toilet during the third issue. It felt like the writers suddenly realized that they needed him and just yanked him there. Weird, because he didn’t do much until near the end. For such a supposedly epic storyline (and epic ending!) I’m pretty sure none of the characters will ever refer to it again.

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