January 2009


“But I couldn’t worry about Edwards’s morality. The only person I had to face in the mirror was me. The only moral dilemma I could solve was my own.”

Guilty Pleasures is part of the 2nds challenge and the ebook challenge. This is also the first in the Anita Blake –series.

This is the book that apparently started the urban fantasy –genre in the form that we see it today. I’m a longtime Buffy fan and there are some similarities here. However, there are also significant differences. For example, Buffy has an ensemble cast and has a lot of humor. Anita Blake is pretty much a lone wolf and the book has very little humor and the humor is quite dry and very black. The worlds are also very different. The supernatural is very much in the closet in the Buffy –series while here it’s out in the open and even legal. Also, Buffy in very much a teen series where the main characters are trying to find their own places in the world. Anita is an adult and the tone of the series resembles noir detective stories. The story is told in Blake’s first person voice.

Good: vampires as horror elements, the Church of Eternal Life
No-so-good:-
Bad: –

Anita Blake raises the dead for a living for Animators Inc. Here necromancers are called animators. Because the raising has to be done during the night, she usually works nights. She’s also known as the Executioner among the vampires because she has a license to kill them. However, in order to legally kill a vampire you need to have a kill warrant from the police.

At the start of the story, a newly turned vampire, Willie McCoy, tries to hire Blake but she refuses because she doesn’t work for vampires. Her boss isn’t happy about it. Neither is Willie’s boss.

Shortly, Blake and her friend Catharine go out to celebrate her bachelorette party. Catharine’s friend Monica has chosen the place which turns out to be a vampire strip club called “Guilty Pleasures”. There, Blake sees a very disturbing vampire show. It also seems the she is somewhat immune to the vampires’ hypnotizing powers because she’s an animator. However, Catharine falls under the spell in a very dangerous way. In return to keeping her friend alive, Blake has to agree to play a detective for the master vampire of the city: Nikolaos.

A number of very powerful vampires have been killed and Nikolaos wants Blake to find the culprit. Blake herself is not a detective but luckily her best friend Veronica Sims, Ronnie, is and Blake recruits her to do some investigating as well.

I really like it that here vampires are threatening monsters. Some of the characters obviously find them alluring, as is seen very early in the striptease scene, but Blake can see through it. I’m also fascinated and repulsed by the concept of the Church of Eternal Life where vampires recruit new ones in exchange for, well, eternal life. I can see how people would be tempted to join, especially non-religious people. On the other hand, there are groups such as Humans Against Vampires so not everyone is as fond of them.

I would like to see Blake and Ronnie together more because they have those rare friendships between women. Blake’s vampire-hunting friend, Death, was quite an entertaining and over-the-top-character. It would be interesting to see Blake and Death really on different sides sometimes.

Apparently the vampire Jean-Claude, who owns the strip club, will become a major romantic prospect later. That’s too bad. He seemed very much an Alpha male character. In other words, arrogant ass who thinks he’s gods’ gift to women and can’t take no for an answer. I don’t find these kinds of men appealing even in fiction. Also, he imposes his will on Blake and makes her his servant. I can’t really see any way for Blake to be attracted to him willingly.

To me Anita Blake is pretty clearly horror fantasy. The scene with the wererats early on and the way that Jean-Claude changed Blake without her knowledge or consent make that clear to me.

Oh, and at least this book doesn’t contain romance or sex.

Characters: 7, plot: 7, setting: 7
Overall: a solid 7

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Booking Through Thursday

First. Go read this great article from Time Magazine: Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature. (Well worth reading.)

Second. Stop and think about it for moment. Computers and digital media are changing everything we do these days, whether we realize it or not, and that includes our beloved books.

Third. DISCUSS!

I read more and more books from my computer. I’d love to have an ereader which is: a, DRM-free, b, free from regional restrictions, c, cheap, and d, easy to repair.

I don’t live on the American continent. This seems currently to be an insurmountable problem to ereader producers and even to some ebook sellers.

This time Miles Vorkosigan is in deep trouble. After the events in the previous book, Mirror Dance, he has seizures which is not good when you’re in the military no matter if that military is the space mercenaries or a planet-bound Barrayaran military. Miles is also afraid that if his boss Illyan finds out about the seizures, he is going to be pulled off his space duties and into a desk job in Barrayar. This would end his career as the mercenary admiral Miles Naismith and also his relationship with Commander Elli Quinn. He doesn’t want to give up either. But when he’s in combat again, a seizure starts and he accidentally shoots one of his own men. Fortunately, the man doesn’t die but Miles is left with dark choices. In the end, he decides to lie in his report about the combat and blame space suit malfunction. So, now he has lied to his superiors about his condition.

His chief surgeon isn’t convinced that the seizures could be cured but Miles clings to that desperate hope. Until Illyan calls him back to Barrayar, tells him about the falsified report, and gives him a chance to resign. Miles has no chance but to accept the offer. He returns to his family house and broods. All he has even wanted was to be in the military and now his life and his dreams have been crushed.

Memory is the model of character-centered fiction. Miles has to face up to what he has done.

Unfortunately, the first part of the book is quite slow with Miles feeling sorry for himself and seeing some of the old stomping grounds and old acquaintances. On the other hand, by this time most of the characters are familiar and it very nice to visit Gregor, Ivan, Aunt Alys, Duv Galeni, and even the folk at Silvy Vale so long-time readers probably won’t mind the slowness. I didn’t the first few times but it starts to be a bit much on rereads.

When the mystery part starts, the plot starts to move much faster but the mystery isn’t the main thing in this book. The main thing is to face the consequences to you actions and growing up.

“Running is an act of cowardice. Not that cowardice is necessarily bad. As my aunt used to say, “Moderation in all things.””

Part of the 1st in a series challenge.

I was recommended to try out Briggs’ Moon Called urban fantasy. Instead I decided to try out one of her fantasy series. This is a first in a duology which is already quite different. Also, this can be read as a stand alone. The characters are also somewhat unusual even though the setting itself is fairly average.

Wardwick is the heir of Hurog, the keep and the lands around it. Hurog has a proud history but has impoverished in the recent times. When dragons and dwarfs were roaming the countryside, Hurog was a major trading place between humans and dwarfs. But today both dwarfs and dragons have left. However, the people of Hurog are still proud and fierce folk and very loyal to their lord.

Hurog is also a part of a larger alliance called the Five Kingdoms which is ruled by a High King. The current High King is rather a self-serving bastard. Many of the people seem to have magical talent and being a mage or a wizard is a legimate profession no matter is the mage is a king’s advisor or a mercenary. However, the powers of the mages vary wildly.

Good: quirky secondary characters, a twist with dwarfs
Not-so-good: quite generic setting
Bad:

The main character is Wardwick who is a big and strong young man. When he was young, his vicious father beat him often and one time he beat the boy so much that Ward couldn’t speak well after that. The beating also diminished Ward’s magical talents so that now he can only use a little bit of finding magic. Ward was terrified of his father and decided to pretend that he was mentally slow. This worked very well, because now everyone thinks that Ward is mentally challenged. Ward is very protective of his siblings: his sister Ciarra (whom Ward calls Brat) is mute and looks very young for her age and Ward’s younger brother Tosten who ran away a few years ago. However, Ward knew about Tosten’s plans and helped him so that Tosten could be safe. Ward has also gotten a very good education in arms courtesy of Hurog’s excellent arms master Stala who is also Ward’s aunt.

At the start of the book, Ciarra has run to the caves underneath Hurog Keep and Ward follows her. They meet in a huge cave where they find the bones of a dragon and the chains that the dragon has been kept in. This is a huge revelation to Ward because Hurog was supposed to be on a very good terms with dragons. Also, a boy appears and tells Ward that Ward’s father is dying. The boy is Oreg, a former mortal boy who was bound into Hurog to be the lord’s slave. Oreg is sort of the manifestation of the Keep and knows everything that is going on there and can teleport instantly inside it. Most of the former lords have not treated Oreg well but Ward’s sadistic father has been very bad.

Because Ward is yet too young to rule his uncle, Duraugh, is named the keeper of the keep. So even though Ward is nominally the lord, or Hurogmeten, his uncle is the real ruler for a few years. Ward knows that he could have a fight in his hands against Duraugh for the rulership of Hurog which is made worse by that fact that everyone thinks Ward is an idiot.

Soon things take a turn to the worse. The High King’s favorite, Garranon, and his brother come to look for a run away slave from the caves beneath the Keep. However, Hurog has traditionally been a sanctuary for slaves because by old laws, there are no slaves in Hurog. Of course, many of the old lords had only held up that tradition when is suited them. However, Ward is stubborn and refuses to hand over the slave.

Garranon and his brother have another goal in mind, though. They are in Hurog to convince uncle Duraugh to sign Ward into a mental institution and to become the permanent lord of Hurog. Duraugh agrees reluctantly to take over the impoverished keep. However, with the help of Oreg’s magical power, Ward flees together with his sister, the run-away slave and a few men loyal to Ward. Quickly, Ward puts together an ambitious plan: in order to get Hurog back he must become a war hero. So, the small group heads into south where it is rumored that a war will start.

Even though the majority of the chapters focus on Ward (in first person) there are a few chapters that deal with court intrigue and have several third person point-of-view characters. I felt that this worked well. It was necessary for the plot but also showed a larger world around Ward and gave depth to other characters, too

Ward himself is a somewhat quirky character: he has pretended to be stupid so long that doing so is his default mode even when he wants to appear smart. Otherwise he’s pretty average: strong, good swordsman, has a quiet sense of humor, loyal, brave etc. Although he also confesses that he likes killing people in battle and that scares him.

The secondary characters are even more quirky. Ciarra is a quick witted, mute girl who uses a simple sign language that only a few can read. Axiel was taken prisoner in a war and became Ward’s father’s body servant. When he’s drunk, he claims that he’s the son of a dwarven king. And tortured Oreg. He was born a bastard and the only use his sire had for him was to bind him to the keep. The former slave turns out to be a mage.

I rather liked the cast of characters. The plot wasn’t a typical epic fantasy although it did have a lot of fight scenes. The setting was pretty average. Human characters and a Middle Age –feel. However, this time it’s the dwarfs who have disappeared instead of the elves. There also a nice twist near the end.

Characters: 7, 5 (the secondary characters are more quirky than Ward), Setting: 6, Plot: 7
Overall: 7

I noticed some time back the site Book View Cafe. It has a collection of various authors’ works for free. Most of the stuff is short stories and novellas but there are books too such as Vonda McIntyres’ The Moon and the Stars, Susan Wright’s Slave Trade, Sue Lange’s Textile Planet, Jennifer Stevenson’s Brass Bed, and Sarah Zettel’s In Camelot’s Shadow. You can also read the first three chapters of other books. They have works from the genres of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, horror, young adult, humor, speculative fiction, and romance.

I have to applaud the writers for daring to put up their works for free and I hope it will be a very successful venture.

I will be reviewing some of them later on.

“He was pale, of course; hey, he was dead, if you believed the old tales. The politically correct theory, the one the vamps themselves publicly backed, had it that this guy was the victim of a virus that left him apparently dead for a couple of days and thereafter allergic to sunlight, silver, and garlic. The details depended on which newspaper you read. They were all full of vampire stuff these days.”

I added this also to my ebook challenge read. This is the first in the Sookie Stackhouse -series which I’ve heard called alternatively urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, horror, and paranormal mystery. I would actually call this one a paranormal romance because the plot in the first book is the relationship between Sookie and her vampire. So, I was again the wrong reader for this one.

Good: –
Not-so-good: not really original but very much average
Bad: vampires as romantic

Sookie Stackhouse is a young waitress who lives in a small town with her grandmother. She also the ability to hear other people’s thoughts. Because she can’t be open about it, she calls the ability her disability and other people just call her weird or mad. Vampires interest her but she hasn’t met any until the start of the book where her first vampire steps into the bar she works in.

Sookie finds out that she can’t hear the vampire’s thoughts which she finds soothing because around people she has to always concentrate to keep the thoughts of other people out of her mind. However, she also finds out that in the bar there is couple, Denise and Mack Rattray, who drain vampires’ blood and sell it. Of course, Sookie becomes worried. When the Rattrays and the vampire, who is called Bill, leave Sookie follows them.

The Rattrays have subdued Bill and are draining his blood so Sookie attacks the couple and drives them away. Soon enough, Sookie is seeing Bill often and even her grandmother is interested in hearing about Bill’s experiences during the civil war. But then one of the local young women is killed. She was known to frequent a vampire bar in a bigger town.

Sookie is very much a girl-next-door protagonist; she’s curious and friendly, loyal and cares deeply about the people in her life. The only thing she isn’t open about is her mind-reading ability but most people know about that, too.

The setting is the modern day US south where the vampires have just come out in the open and have been accepted as citizens although not everyone are thrilled about it. There are vampire bars where some mortals go to get bitten by vampires. On the other hand, other people seem to have no problem killing vampires. This is quite similar to Hamilton’s Anita Blake -series’ setting (I’ve just started the first book) and I was a bit disappointed by the similarity.

Some vampires don’t pretend to be human but act as they please. However, they are cast in the villain role here. Bill is seen as the romantic, old fashioned hero although even he reveals his inhuman side when provoked.

The story flows well and there’s nothing really to disruptive in it. If you like romance, you’ll probably like this one. The characters have some depth but they don’t really have quirks to separate them from all the other characters around. The plot seemed very light-weight to me, because I’d like something more in the plot than just a romance.

My biggest problem is that I consider vampires to be soulless, blood sucking murderers who might appear charming and suave but to whom humans are always just one thing: food. So, I really have a hard time picturing them as romantic anything.

Characters: 5, Setting: 5, Plot 4.
Overall: 4

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