February 2009

This is the first in the Twelve Houses fantasy series. I was a bit hesitant to get this because it’s often said to be romantic fantasy. I’m glad that I decided to get it because it turned out that to me the romance was a subplot and not the main plot. Also, I’m intrigued by the concept of the series: that the main characters in every book are different but come from the same circle of friends.

Good: characters

Not-so-good: pretty standard setting

Bad: –

Senneth is a very powerful mystic with a mysterious past. She’s also the leader of a team of five people whom the king has sent to investigate rumors of rebellion. Kirra and Donnal are also mystics but their power is mainly the ability to change their shape. Kirra can take on the shape of most animals and to change her human form and clothing. She’s also a noble. Donnal can take on the shapes of animals. He’s a peasant-born and has protected Kirra for a long time. The king has charged Justin and Tayse to protect the three mystics. Tayse and Justin are two of the most elite fighting men in the country; they are the King’s Riders who put their loyal to their King before anything else. The story starts when the group frees a young slave, Cammon, who continues to travel with them. Cammon is also a powerful mystic who is a reader. A reader can see into the souls of other people However, he has never been trained and so Senneth and Kirra start to instruct him. Tayse and Justin don’t trust the mystics and the mystics don’t, of course, like that.

The mood of the people has turned against mystics. While before mystics were at worst just thrown out of their house and family, now they are even killed. The king finds mystics to be very useful and so he’s rather fond of them and employs many of them. The group finds out that a group of priestesses who are devoted to the Pale Mother are encouraging the people to turn against the mystics. The priestesses claim that the mystics are evil and corrupted and will corrupt all other as well. Because the group has four mystics they have to face these attitudes or hide effectively.

The king has heard rumors that some of his nobles are not content and has sent his best mystic to investigate them. Senneth has connections to the nobles as does Kirra so they can approach the nobles who seem to be the most unsatisfied. But the roads are dangerous even to a group like this. They have to learn how to work as a team and to trust each other.

The story is quite character-driven which is somewhat unusual for epic fantasy. While the main plotline is fulfilling the king’s order of probing the loyalties of some of his nobles, the adventures that happen along the way are usually initiated by the characters opinions or attitudes. The main plot isn’t completely solved in this book but the ending isn’t a cliffhanger.

Characters: 7 The characters aren’t really original but they have their own personalities and histories which makes them interesting.

Plot: 6,5 There are quite a few side or subplots which move quite quickly. Still, the main plot is pretty standard fare.

Setting: 7 The setting is quite standard pseudo-medieval country. The only difference is the magic. Each mystic in the group has her or his own distinctive power but apparently the powers are pretty rigidly grouped because Senneth can quickly name Cammon’s power. Senneth herself is a fire mystic who has many powers.

Overall: I liked this book more than I expected. I’ll likely get the next one although I’m not in a hurry to do it. I also really liked the unhurried reader.

I’ll be doing reviews for quite a few first in the series –books because a little while ago they were on sale at Audible.com and I got a bunch of them. I would have gotten more but, alas, some were only available for people living in US. It’s also quicker for me to listen to a book than read it.

This is the first in the Nightside –series which is a fantasy detective series. It’s pretty grim and noir in tone. The reader got the tone very well.

Good: Tone, Nightside
Not-so-good: main characters are pretty bland
Bad: –

John Taylor is a man who has a talent for finding people. While he’s not exactly a private detective, his job often resembles one. So, when a mysterious rich woman comes to his office and wants him to find her daughter, John isn’t surprised. However, he does have his misgivings. Joanna Barrett’s daughter Cathy has apparently run away to the dark side of London, to the Nightside. John was born and raised there so he knows just how unforgiving and hard Nightside is. However, he agrees to take Joanna there to find the teenaged girl.

Nightside is the place where everything weird gathers; demons, demi-gods, people with magical talent. It’s always dark there and newcomers are usually in a lot of danger. However, John is known to most of the denizens and they either leave the two alone or try to kill them.

Both John and Joanna are pretty bland characters especially compared to the odd minor characters and the strange things happening around them. On the other hand, they act as anchor of normalcy to the reader. Especially Joanna is put into the role of the ignorant newcomer and John spends a lot of time telling things to her. But that works because these things have to be explained to the reader as well. Although, I did hope that they would be a bit more quirky themselves.

The story flows well and there are enough twists and turns. There are also some hooks for the next book. Nightside itself is a very intriguing place. Every creature and person we meet there could well have a story of their own. The Sidefellows bar is quite a memorable place on its own. Its owner has been cursed to tend it and can’t leave until one of his blood relatives takes his place (too bad that he’s the last of his line).

The tone is very dark, hopeless, and noir. The strangeness of Nightside only adds to that. Nobody is happy and the story can’t have a happy ending.

Setting: fascinating, horrifying, creepy.
Characters: the minor characters are more intriguing than the main ones.
Plot: moves along briskly.

Overall: mightily entertaining in small doses. I’m looking forward to the next one.

This is a short story available for free at Book View Café’s fantasy section.

Rather surprisingly, the story is set in the Old West which isn’t a usual fantasy setting. It’s also one of the better stories about dealing with the Devil.

Bill “Silky” McGregor is a gambler. In fact, he’s so good the people say that he’s got the Devil’s own luck. The people just don’t know how literally right they are. One day two Cheyenne braves come to Bill and ask him to drive out the White Man’s Devil. One of the Cheyenne has summoned him so that he can drive out the white people from Cheyenne lands. In exchange the old brave would show Bill a place where there’s a lot of silver. But Bill doesn’t trust them and just says that he will think about it.

In the saloon Bill encounters Nick Scratch himself who says the Bill shouldn’t even think about driving him away and that Bill’s soul already belongs to him. The Devil also confirms that Bill’s luck at the faro –game indeed comes from the Devil himself. In addition he says that Bill’s best friend Ned will die that evening.

Bill is, of course, shaken, and he tries to run away from the town with Ned. Unfortunately, things aren’t that easy to solve. Standing-in-the-West, the angry young brave who had summoned the Devil in the first place, appears with a rifle and the will to murder all the white men. Luckily, the trickster god Wihio also wants to free his people from the Devil’s influence.

I really like the Westerners as a fantasy setting and I feel that it isn’t used enough. Here we see the collision of two different legends and two different cultures. Bill is a character who doesn’t believed in anything he can’t see, at least until now. The Cheyenne know about the supernatural and try to work within the supernatural laws by seeking out a white man trickster to drive out the white man’s Devil.

The story is well written and engaging.

Booking Through Thursday

Have you ever been put off an author’s books after reading a biography of them? Or the reverse – a biography has made you love an author more?

Apparently I’m weird because I don’t read biographies. Also, the vast majority of the authors I read don’t have biographies written about them (as far as I know). Usually, I’m not really interested in the lives of the authors because it’s none of my business what they do. I don’t much care to read interviews, either unless they have some insight into the books. Since I don’t live in the US I don’t really have any opportunities to meet them, either.

However, there are a few things that can make me stop reading an author. Homophobia, racism, misogyny… that sort of things. I don’t want to give money to that sort of people.

It’s always, of course, heartwarming to hear that an author is a kind, wonderful, charitable individual. That just doesn’t make their books any better or worse.

The third book in the Retrieval Artist –series turns up the stakes even more than the previous ones. There are also more plots and more point-of-view characters than the previous ones so the pacing feels more urgent as well. But at the same time it’s not messy or hard to follow. Also, much to my delight I found out that the series is easily available at Audible.com which is great because the first three books are out of print and hard to get.

Good: pacing, plot, characters
Not-so-good: –
Bad: –

Like the first two books, Consequences starts with a short flash about a crime being committed; presumably the crime that’s going to be solved this time or a crime that is intimated related to the crime(s) being investigated. Then we see one of the main characters, Miles Flint, at the end of one of his assignments. He has done his job and found one of the Disappeared, Carolyn Lahiri, who is meeting her parents for the first time in decades. Both Flint and Carolyn are nervous about the meeting although probably because of different reasons.

Then the scene jumps back six months when Doctor and Judge Lahiri are meeting with Flint because they want to hire him to Retrieve their daughter. Carolyn fought on an alien planet, Etae, in a war. Even tough her side won, she has been a wanted criminal for a long time. Now, at last, she has been pardoned and her parents want her back. However, Flint isn’t as trusting that all is what it seems to be. But when he finds out that Judge Lahiri has already started to trace her on his own, Flint agrees to the job so that Carolyn can at least be warned. Obviously, he finds her and she agrees a bit reluctantly to meet with her parents.

After the events in the previous book, Noelle DeRicci has been promoted to one of the assistant Chiefs of Detectives and she has grown to like her new position. The one drawback is that it’s purely a desk job. So, when her boss Gumiela assigned a case to her, DeRicci knew that it might have some political aspects. The case is the murder of three people: Judge and Doctor Lahiri and an unidentified woman. DeRicci goes to work with the customary no-nonsense attitude. Unfortunately, the case yield little leads until they find a video of a man coming into the apartment. The man bears a striking resemblance to Miles Flint. Flint refuses to help DeRicci but he starts to investigate the matter on his own. The two former partners seem to be on an inevitable collation course.

At the same time, a group of Earth Alliance diplomats are preparing to meet in secret a representative of a world which has recently gone through bitter warfare and is known for using terrorist tactics. The world is called Etae. The representative herself, Anatolya Döbryn, was the leader of the former rebel group who overthrew the previous government. Many consider her a very dangerous terrorist who should be on trial for crimes against humanity. However, all she cares about are her people and getting aid to them. Almost at any cost.

The book has deep themes that match the name Consequences. Here, many people have to face to consequences of the previous actions and the hatred or malice they have caused. What would you do to get revenge and is it really possible to get over past actions? DeRicci and Flint also reap the consequences of their actions in the previous books.

Consequences also breaks up the pattern of previous books where DeRicci and Flint worked together. To see them at odds is at the same time heartbreaking and exciting.

Setting is again carefully thought-out and just enough information is given about it. The high tech don’t get in the way of detective work which I find to be really impressive because it would be an easy way to fall into. Characters are excellent. They have their own motivations and plans which intersect each other believably. Also, the characters don’t have to know each other in order to have definite consequences in each others lives. I like that a lot because sometimes I just have a hard time believing that villain X who just happens to be the MC’s long-lost half step-brother has meticulously plotted out all of the hardships that the main character encounters….

Overall: a definite reread and I’m really looking forward to the next in the series.

I guess I should confess that I read this book mostly because of the movie. I liked the movie and especially the dog (I used to have a German Shepard). Well, the book is very different. The movie makers took just the idea of the last man among the vampires and ran with that.

Good: vampires are scary!, pacing, structure
No-so-good: –
Bad: –

Robert Neville is the last human on Earth. As far as he knows, all the other humans have been transformed into blood-sucking vampires. He lives alone in his house which he has reinforced with wood. He also has lots of garlic put around the house in order to discourage the vampires really wanting to break in. Every night the vampires come to try to lure him out of the house. They are led by Neville’s former best friend.

However, his mind has started to slowly decay because all he can do is to try to survive day after day. Both his wife and daughter have died horribly. He is doing his best to try to remain sane but it’s hard. He drinks and smokes a lot, watches movies, and reads

During the day, Neville goes around fixing thing that the vampires have broken, burning the bodies of the few vampires that the others have drained during the night, getting supplies he needs, and going into nearby houses to kill the comatose vampires there.

There are two kinds of vampires: those who had died and come back, and those that are still living but changed. All of them require blood and are afraid of crosses and garlic.

Matheson has created here a very evocative setting in a very short book. He focuses completely on Neville and what happens to him. Neville is desperate and even thinks about killing himself a few times. The short periods of hope just illuminate the hopelessness.

The vampires are very clearly just after blood. There’s nothing romantic or sexy about them. In other words, just my kind of vampires! 🙂

Excellent book.

Jolley, Krach, and Benefiel

This is part of my comic book challenge 2009.

This is a pretty standard JLA action with a religious twist. First, various JLA members save some ordinary people’s lives and then the some of people decide to start worshiping the heroes. They set up what seems to me an isolated facility where mostly young people are brought to worship the gods of earth and sky, in other words the JLA. The church is lead by three business men and a new superhuman Sister Glory.

Meanwhile a large, disk shaped machine threatens a city in Switzerland where peace talks are underway. The machine has on it the Green Lantern’s emblem. Green Lantern, who is the only JLA member at first to be on the scene, fights the machine. However, when his power ring’s construct touches the machine, it blows up. Inside were people…

Soon, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash appear to make sense of the whole thing. But they are attacked by more machines which have the emblems of the heroes. The communication connections around the world are disrupted and even J’onn’s telepathy won’t work. Then, a fake Superman makes a speech about how the world leaders have failed to bring peace and so the JLA will be taking over. As long as all humans worship the JLA as the true gods, everyone will live peacefully. The machines are JLA war wheels which are punishing those who refuse to obey. Of course, the world’s governments aren’t going to agree to that.

Gods and monsters is a fun romp although it would have had material for a far long story. This is a short one-shot. I’m rather surprised that the canon DC universe doesn’t have hero churches because I can easily see why saved people might want to start worshipping super powered heroes. If not as gods then at least as angels of sorts.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really like the art. It felt much exaggerated and cartoon- like although for once the super-powered women were drawn with actual muscles!

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