The second book in the humorous fantasy the Clocktaur War duology.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours 14 minutes
Narrators: Khristine Hvam

This is the second half of the book Clockwork Boys where a forger, a fallen paladin, an assassin, and a scholar are sent on pain of death to find out how to stop the mechanical enemies of their country.

In the beginning of this second book, the our heroes have just reached Anuket City. They must start researching just how to stop the mechanical soldiers. But first, they need warm baths and hot food. Then Slate, the forger, gets to visit her old contacts from whom she fled the city years ago. Learned Edmund also hunting information his own way. However, everyone in the group are keeping secrets from each other.

I loved the new character Ashes Magnus! I enjoyed the Anuket City. I enjoyed the gnoles which are badge-like creatures who do all the scud work in the city where people constantly look down on them and are convinced they spread a disease. The humor worked for me. The story has many, many wonderfully comedic moments.

However, the last hour of the book was the resolution of the romance, after a climatic plot resolution. The book also left some questions wide open. There’s definitely room for an sequel here, perhaps with different characters, although I’d love to see our couple working together.

I enjoyed listening to this and the narrator did an excellent job. But it still think that Learned Edwina would’ve been far funnier than Edmund, even if he did have his moments.

Quotes:
“We’re not all tragic heroes. Someone of us are just tragic.”

“It could,” acknowledged Slate, “but show me a clandestine operation without leaks, and I’ll show you one where everybody involved is dead.”
“We’re a clandestine operation,” said Caliban.

“Shame flitted briefly over Brenner’s face, but found itself in unfamiliar surroundings and didn’t settle.””

“People do the stupidest shit and you want to scream that it’s against their own interests and you never know if they’re playing some deep game you don’t know about or if they’re really just that stupid.”

“Stealing from a library?” said Learned Edmund in horror.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 22, 23, and 24.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1971-1972
Titan publication year: 2006

“The Stone Age Caper” is set in Australia. Modesty is vacationing with her new boyfriend David Collins when her old acquaintance Wu Smith comes by to warn Modesty not to buy anything for a while. Smith and his buddy are doing a heist and don’t want her involved. Meanwhile, Willie riding a camel in a desert. He comes across a wounded, pretty girl who says some people are after her. He takes her to an abandoned village to nurse her back to consciousness. He and Modesty communicate through radio and she decides to fly to him on a small plane. Wu Smith’s associates want her dead.

This story shows its age in dialog when Modesty and Willie are talking about the aboriginal Australians. They’re called “Abo” which would be quite offensive these days. On the other hand, one of the aboriginals in this strip was in Modesty’s criminal Network and clearly Modesty and Willie respect him and his skills. And there’s also a mention that the aboriginals don’t want to mess with the white men no matter what the white men do, because aboriginals know they will be blamed, no matter what. The aboriginals are clearly heroic in the story.

“The Puppet Master” is one of the most intense MB comics. The story starts with a chess game that the bad guys are playing. An elderly doctor Baum analyses the others’ moves. Next, Modesty is driving near Naples when she sees that a car has hit a donkey. She comes out of the car and the men attack her. She fights but one of them manages to inject her with a tranquilizer. She tries to fight but the drug overwhelms her.

Meanwhile, Willie is training Tarrant’s agents, especially a pretty new agent Maude. Tarrant comes in and tells Willie that Modesty’s car has been found; she’s been killed in the crash. They travel to Italy. Her body hasn’t been found abd Willie refuses to believe she’s dead. He remains in Italy to look for her. Tarrant thinks that Modesty’s is dead but he orders Maude to remain with Willie, to comfort and help him but also to learn from him.

The bad guys have, indeed, kidnapped Modesty and they’re brainwashing her to kill Willie.

One of my favorite tropes is the amnesia story line and I love this one. The bad guys try to convince Modesty that they’re her friends and she’s part of their criminal gang. Willie has sworn to kill her. Meanwhile, Willie and Maude are going through the Italian underworld. Maude is a smart and capable agent, but just learning the job. She appears in a couple of later strips, too.

“With Love From Rufus” is a more comedic story. Someone breaks into Modesty’s penthouse. He breaks to her safe which has been modified by Willie, so it’s not easy. However, in the morning she notices the break in and realizes that nothing has been taken and a bouquet of roses has been left in the safe with a note that they’re from Rufus.

Modesty is astonished and charmed. She meets with Scotland Yard’s inspector Brooke. He talks about a new genius jewel thief in London and introduces his young nephew Rufus to Modesty. Rufus is a huge fan of both Modesty and Willie. He gushes over her criminal exploits. When they go to Modesty’s car, three men attack them but Modesty fights them off. In her apartment, Willie has come to a surprise visit and is shocked to learn that the youngster has broken into the safe.

Modesty and Willie try to warn Rufus away from a life of crime, but Rufus is proud of his skills as a burglar and wants Modesty to fence the jewels he’s taken. Modesty is in a terrible position as Brooke’s friend. But when Rufus is kidnapped, the game turns deadly.

Rufus is around twenty but Modesty feels that she’s much older than him. His admiration feels uncomfortable to her but Willie (and the readers) think it’s funny.

All three are very good stories and I enjoyed them a lot.

The second book in the fantasy series Craft Sequence. It’s a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 347
Publisher: Tor

This is a very different book from the first one. It’s set in a different city with different characters.

Caleb Altemoc is a risk analyst to the Red King Consolidated. His father Temoc is a famous terrorist and Caleb doesn’t want anything to do with him. The Red King Consolidated is responsible for distributing clean water to the city of Dresediel Lex which is in the middle of a desert. It has 16 million people.

When Tzimoth demons are infesting a water reservoir Caleb is sent to check it out in the middle of the night. It’s very unlikely that the demons have come there naturally. One woman flees the scene. She seems to be a cliff runner, just there for the thrill of it. Caleb chases her but can’t catch her. He falls instantly in love/lust; he doesn’t tell his employers about her and instead tries to find her himself.

However, he suspects that his father Temoc is behind the attack. When Caleb returns home, Temoc is waiting for him.

Twenty years ago, the city was supported by human sacrifices to the gods who hunger blood. But then the Craftmen and Craftwomen rose in revolt in God Wars. One of them was a man whose (male) lover was killed as a sacrifice. Now, that man is the King in Red. Craft (magic) has eaten away his flesh and he is essentially a walking skeleton. He has made many, many contracts to support his company and in practice he rules the city. Not only does his company rule water but his Wardens are the police (who ride on flying lizards).

Caleb’s father is the last priest of the old gods. Temoc and the King in Red battled fiercely during the war. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Red King has taken an interest in Caleb. Temoc is hunted and has learned how to keep hiding. He still wants the old ways to return and to him the Craftsmen and -women who rose and killed gods are blasphemers. Still, he loves his son and is interested in what’s going on in his life.

Caleb’s main hobby is gambling. He’s good at it, too. He’s very loyal to the King in Red and loathes his father and the blood-soaked system he represents. I found the gambling fascinating because one of the few deities who are left is the goddess of gambling. When she’s present, the players bet a part of their soul, usually very small part. The winner gets the soulstuff of the others.

The city’s whole economy is based on soulstuff. The people are paid in soulstuff and they pay everything with the pieces of their souls. Indeed, some people are enslaved after death. The company has zombies working for it and I think it was said at some time that the workers had sold his body before they died so this isn’t a case of necromancers robbing the bodies. But otherwise the city feels quite modern: modern professions and corporations with office workers. They even go to ullamal games and support various teams.

While this was an entertaining enough read, I didn’t like it as much as the first book. The magical parts of the city were fascinating and I quite liked the side characters. Teo is Caleb’s best friend. She’s from a wealthy family but loathes her family and wants to get by on her own. She works for the RKC, as well. She’s in her forties. Her girlfriend is an artist. I also found the relationship between the King in Red and Temoc very interesting. The theme of revolution interesting and it’s not used very often in fantasy.

The budding romance between Caleb and the mysterious cliff runner Mal is one of the main features in the story. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for it.

I thought RKC is supposed to be criticism against modern corporations and reading about how they “employ” dead, it does sound rather chilling. And of course some other things we find later on are really troubling. But the King in Red is an immortal so he has far longer view than any corporation where the people in charge think in only four month segments, if that.

An entertaining read but to me not as appealing as the first book.

A stand-alone fantasy book but technically first in the Ile-Rien series.

Publication year: 1993, revised 2006
Format: print
Page count: 314
Publisher: Tor

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Wells’ Murderbot novellas but this was her first book and so quite different in style. I bought it years ago.

This is a tale of betrayal, treason, and death. It’s set in a city reminiscent of 1600s France, rather than the usual Middle-Ages. But it has lots of magic. It also has very complex court with lots of people. It’s a lot of take in. The book has some echoes of the Three Musketeers but has a grimmer atmosphere. It also doesn’t have much humor.

Captain Thomas Boniface is the leader of the Queen’s Guard. Technically, his guard protects the current young Queen Falaise but in reality they’re in the service of the Dowager Queen Ravenna. Thomas is also Ravenna’s long-time ally and lover. Ravenna’s son Roland is the King and he’s in his early twenties. Roland’s dad was a terrible man and a weak King who terrorized his two children. As the result Roland hates his mom and trusts only one man: his cousin Denzil who is a cruel and ruthless manipulator.

The story starts with Thomas leading a group of his men to rescue Dr. Dubell, an elderly sorcerer. He and his group manage to break in and stumble through the magical traps and get Dubell away.

At the same time, a theater troupe gets a new member: Kade who is King Roland’s half-fae elder sister who has always resented her father’s treatment of her. Now, she’s sneaking to the palace. But during the troupe’s act, a golem attacks the court and Kade helps Thomas defeat the creature.

Clearly, the golem is the work of a powerful enemy. Unfortunately, the kingdom of Ile-Rien has lots of them. However, Thomas’ suspicions turn to Urbain Grandier, a rogue sorcerer. But Grandier is mostly likely working with someone or several people inside the court and Thomas has no idea whom he can trust.

Thomas is a solid main character. He clearly loves and trust Ravenna and vice versa. They’re old friends and despite the difference in their ranks, both can be truthful with each other. Neither trusts anyone else. He has served her for twenty years, so he’s older than is usual for most fantasy books, which was great. He clearly knows the court and it’s intrigues and is used to navigating them.

The other major POV character is Kade. When she was a child, Ravenna sent her away from court to a nunnery but she escaped quickly. Kade’s mother is fae and Kade has some fae powers from her. Kade has also studied a bit of human sorcery so she can use both. She’s also very angry woman. Angry at her father for his treatment of her and angry at Ravenna for not helping her. She makes a halfhearted effort to mend her relationship with Roland who clearly loaths her for leaving him alone with their father. She’s a wild card element; the other characters don’t know what to think of her.

Kade is also our window to Queen Falaise who is a timid woman, trying to please the people around her rather than having any power of her own.

Ravenna is really the star of the book: she’s the real leader of the country and has to work around all the male egos around her. In previous years, when Ile-Rien had to go to war, she was the one who led the war and her King stayed at home. We also got a couple of hints that she taught the servants and gentlewomen around her to be smart, ruthless, and survivors. Her biggest flaw seems to be that she can’t trust. Because if she had trusted the new Queen Falaise and taught her, they would’ve been unstoppable.

The fae come to the book pretty late but I really liked them.

However, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and the romance didn’t work for me. This isn’t a quick read: there are so many characters and relationships that you really need to concentrate to read it.

Collects the miniseries issues 1-4.

Writer: Rob Williams
Artists: Steve Scott, Nathan Massengill, Bart Sears, Randy Elliott

In 1931, three eminent archaeologists found something incredible in Siberia. Five years later, one of them asks Indy to come and meet with him. Indy arrives, but so do the Nazis. They interrogate Indy roughly but he knows even less than they do. Indy manages to escape and finds the archaeologist. They run but the Nazis shoot the archaeologist. He manages to give Indy a mysterious dark stone full of hieroglyphs and a name: Beresford-Hope. A mysterious woman knocks Indy unconscious and robs the piece.

Indy and Marcus head to Siberia where Beresford-Hope was last seen.

This was a fast-paced story that held mostly together. The obligatory beautiful woman, who is apparently there just to take her shirt off, is this time a third party who doesn’t have ties to either Indy or the Nazis.

This was a quick and fun short adventure with Indy and Marcus running all over the world. But the ending was bit of a cop-out. For die-hard Indy fans only.

The second book in the Daevabad fantasy trilogy which is inspired by Middle-Eastern folklore.

Publication year: 2019
Format: Audio
Running time: 23 hours 14 minutes
Narrators: Soneela Nankani

The very opening of this book is set right after the ending of the first book, City of Brass. However, the rest of the book is set five years after the end. This is an unusual choice and when I first tried to listen the book, it distracted me too much to really enjoy it. However, once I got over my expectations, I enjoyed it a lot. Also, structurally, this is a very different book from the first one. City of Brass had a lot of exploration because Nahri was first going to Daevabad and then getting to know it. Now, the exploration part is missing. The vast majority of the book is political scheming to set up the explosive final act. This time, the book has three POV characters.

In addition to the various scheming, the book also focuses on characters. The familial relationships between the city’s ruling family are complex. Muhtadhir is the lecherous drunkard and the heir, but he can also be a charming negotiator and is fiercely loyal to his asshole father. His younger brother Ali has been banished but he returns to the city. Ali has rigorous moral standards, based on the daeva version of the Muslim faith, and he doesn’t bend them. Their sister Zaynab is a more sane person. Ali’s and Zaynab’s mother Hatset is the current queen and while she’s confined to the harem, she’s a formidable political figure. Of course, king Ghassan rules them all with an iron fist. He talks a lot that he wants to unite the city but many of the things he does in fact tear it further apart.

The world is lush and richly imagined. In this book, we see ever more tribes and their customs. Various mythical beings are also introduced. Both Nahri and Ali have new magical powers, so there’s even more magic than in the first book.

Daevabad is a city just looking for an excuse to blow up: various daeva tribes scheme against each other and everyone is oppressing the mix blood children of daeva and humans, the shafit. Things are so bad that even though Koran is against owing another Muslim, the more ruthless full-bloods are selling shafit on the streets as slaves. Nahri comes up with her own scheme: to found a hospital for the shafit and everyone else. This could unite the city but is it already too late?

The book ends in a big cliff-hanger and I’m really looking forward to the next book.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 19, 20, and 21.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1970-1971
Titan publication year: 2005

This collection starts Romero’s long run as MB artist. All three stories are fun and wacky.

“Willie the Djinn” is set in a small country in the Middle East. The story starts in a casino where sheikh Kadhim Al-Mashaf has played a lot of backgammon against Modesty and he’s lost a lot. He wants to continue playing against her and even Willie can’t hide Modesty from him. Meanwhile, Willie has found a group of dancing girls whose manager has ditched them. When the sheikh offers a job to the girls, they only agree if Willie will come with them as a chaperon. Willie’s of course shocked and Modesty comes along, as well, to make sure Willie behaves.

However, when they’re in the sheikh’s plane, one of the girls finds a bomb which takes down the plane. A coup is in progress and Modesty and the girls land right in the middle of it.

This story has even more sexy girls and male gaze than is usual for Romero’s MB. It’s also got a lot of funny moments right from the start when Modesty is trying to hide from the sheikh’s servant and later when Willie convinces a little girl that he’s a djinn… sadly, without magic.

“The Green Eyed Monster” is set in a small country in South America. Modesty has a new boyfriend, zoologist Gil de Serra. Gil’s very jealous ex-girlfriend comes to chew out Modesty but Modesty tosses her to a pool. However, when the jealous ex, who is the daughter of the local British ambassador, is kidnapped Modesty, Willie, and Gil set out to rescue her from the group of revolutionaries.

This story again shows us that Modesty has compassion even for people who insult her. This story has also several humorous scenes, but they’re set after the half-way point.

While “Death of a Jester” is set in a British castle, O’Donnell manages to bring exoticism to that place, too. One of Tarrant’s British Intelligence operatives was assigned to investigate a group of highly skilled and eccentric former army commandos who are now mercenaries. The operative is killed by a knight on a horse, under the eyes of two very shocked teens. The operative was dressed as a jester.

The mercenaries enjoy dressing up as medieval knights and hunting people in the castle’s park. Modesty and Willie infiltrate them, assuming the roles of bored wealthy people.

The medieval shenanigans are just hilarious.

I throughly enjoyed this collection, as well.

A stand-alone historical fantasy book set in 12th century Egypt.

Publication year: 1989
Format: print
Page count: 260
Publisher: Bantam

This is a book for horse lovers. It’s a fairy tale expanded to a fantasy.

Hasan is the pampered only son of a rich emir and a thoroughly self-centered, gambling, drunken womanizer. He also lives in Egypt in a time when all decent women live in harems. When he finally gambles away his father’s prized mares, his father has had enough and just tells Hasan that he’s going to be sent for a Beduin who will make a man out of Hasan. Hasan escapes. But instead of doing anything useful, he spends the night drinking, womanizing, and spending the last of his money. After he’s robbed and beaten, he staggers to the house of an old man who nurses him back to health. Recovering, Hasan meets the beautiful young woman who has been nursing him and rapes her. She’s the old man’s daughter. The old man turns out to be a magus and he transforms Hasan to a horse, a red stallion. The magus tells Hasan that he will be a slave to a woman and will die in the horse form.

Soon, a girl does buy Hasan the stallion. She’s Zamaniyah who is around 14 but already has a great eye for horses. She’s also the only daughter of Hasan’s father’s mortal enemy. She names Hasan Khamsin and starts to train him together with her father’s horsemaster, a Greek slave.

The POV characters are Hasan/Khamsin, Zamaniyah, and her eunuch slave Jaffar. Because all of Zamaniyah’s brothers have been slain (by Hasan’s father), her father had decided to raise her has a boy and his heir. She’s forbidden to enter harem, where all of her father’s women, including concubines, live and she’s forbidden to wear women’s clothing or makeup or anything that rich women of that time had. Instead, she’s taught to ride, fight, hunt, and care for horses.

The first half of the book is mostly about Zamaniyah training the horse Khamsin. The second half is set during the sultan Salah ad-Din Yusuf’s war campaign and is quite different from the first.

Zamaniyah is a great character. She always obeys her father, even though sometimes she wishes that she could be an ordinary girl. But on the other hand, she enjoys horse and knows that this is the only way she can train and ride them. But when she’s angry, she forgets to be obedient and quiet, so that nobody will notice how strange she is. She takes a liking to Khamsin and uses a gentle “Greek” way to train him as a warhorse. The women scorn her and the men can’t be friends with her, so her only friend is Jaffar, her eunuch slave who is devoted to her. She also befriends one of her father’s concubines who is a captured Frankish woman.

Tarr doesn’t shy away from showing us the Islamic world at the time, which includes (rich) women shut away to harems, slavery, eunuchs, and that woman are chattel to men. Most men don’t accept Zamaniyah but they must respect that it was her father’s choice to raise her as a boy. Also, the book dealt with surprising amount of rape, although not in any titillating way. So, despite Zamaniyah’s age, this is definitely not YA.

I thoroughly enjoyed Zamaniyah and Khamsin was mostly entertaining, too. I mostly enjoyed this story and except for the fantasy bits, I think it’s fairly accurate description of the times.

Bone is a black and white fantasy comic about three cousins called Bone. They all look rather strange, but humanoid, and they don’t wear much clothing. Fone only wears gloves, Phoney wears a shirt with a star, and Smiley wears a vest. Fone Bone is the main hero: a dependable and decent man. Phoncible “Phoney” is the opposite of Fone: a ruthless and opportunistic business man/cheater. Smiley is an easy-going man but thoughtless and Phoney can often drag him into helping in his newest scheme.

The three cousins are driven out of their home time Boneville when Phoney’s latest scheme goes wrong. They’re wandering in a desert and are separated when a huge cloud of locusts attack. After the attack, we follow Fone who is increasingly desperate to find water. Luckily, Fone finds the Valley. Two large rat creatures try to eat him but he manages to escape and he sees a red dragon. In the end, he make a few friends among the talking animals and must spend the winter. Then, he find a human looking girl Thorn and immediately falls in love with her. Thorn lives with her eccentric grandmother and cows in a small hut in the forest. She welcomes Fone and agrees to help him find his cousins. But the rat creatures and their leaders really want to get their hands on the Bone cousins.

Bone is a mixture of comic scenes and fantasy. The Valley seems to have medieval type (lack of) tech: the locals don’t use money but barter and they use horses and cows instead of motorized vehicles. Also, the Valley seems to be the only place which has the rat creatures and dragon. Fone’s favorite book is Moby Dick and he brought comics with him. But we don’t really know much about Boneville.

The fantasy parts in the book can be quite dark at times, which is a sharp contrast between the cute talking animals and the funny parts. However, for me, that’s part of the charm. But I still don’t really care for the romance.

The comic has several endearing and eccentric characters. Thorn’s grandmother is one: she runs fo 20 kilometers a day for fun and competes in the cow races. She clearly knows more than she’s telling to Thorn and Fone. There are also the two rat creatures. While the rest of their species are clearly a Horde of Evil, the two we keep meeting are the bumbling fools of the pack.

I read this comic when it was first released here in Finland in the 1990s. The reread is proving to be just as enjoyable as the first read.

Part of the Wyrd and Wonder month.

I’m a reader and I love books about books. Not just Giles and the gang reading books to find out how to defeat the big bad or Morpheus talking with Lucien in Dream’s library (as delightful as those scenes are) but books playing a bigger part in the story. So far, I’ve found three such fantasy series:

The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman
This series has many, many parallel worlds. They’re all joined by the Library and the Librarians can travel from one world to the next… by using mortal libraries! The Librarians also steal, ahem, acquire certain books.

The worlds influence and are influenced by two powerful groups: the dragons, representing order, and the fae who are chaos. The worlds themselves run from steampunk worlds to medieval worlds to our current technology, and more. The more chaotic a world is, the more likely it is that it has magic. This is a series with both dragons and fae and lots of books!

Irene Adler is the main character and POV character. She starts as a junior Librarian who is assigned her first trainee, Kai. Irene is used to working alone and she doesn’t want a trainee tagging at her heels. Irene’s main duty is the acquire books.

Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
This is an alternative universe where the people are very enthusiastic about art, especially literature, to the point that people change their names to classical poets and instead of door-to-door missionaries, they have the Baconists who go door-to-door and try to convince people that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Thursday herself is a literature detective; she goes after stolen books.

She’s sent to Swindon where the SO-5 office has two officers who specialize on Shakespeare related crimes: “They keep an eye on forgery, illegal dealing and overtly free thespian interpretations. The actor with them was Graham Huxtable. He was putting on a felonious one-man performance of Twelfth Night.”

Thursday’s uncle has invented the Prose Portal through which a real person is able to actually enter in books. In this case, Jane Eyre.

Magic Ex Libris series by Jim C. Hines
This series is set in modern times but it has wizards who can pull objects out of books. The main character Isaac Vainio is such a libriomancer. However, the wizards can only pull out objects which are small enough to come out of a book, so no X-Wings or Enterprise but Excalibur and fasta-penta qualify! The books also need enough readers before magic happens, so the wizards can’t just write their own books. And ebooks don’t count.

The wizards are an organization which has been secretly protecting humans from vampires and other baddies for centuries. Johannes Gutenberg founded them and he is still alive and running them. Isaac himself works as a librarian in small town library. He’s also an SFF fan and wears a long brown coat because of Captain Mal Reynolds! And he has a pet fire spider Smudge.

I know that Rachel Caine has the Great Library series but I haven’t started it yet.
Any other similar series?