June 2009

This is part of my ebook and 2nds challenge.

This book continues the tale of USS Titan from the previous book, “Taking Wing” so it contains spoilers for that book. Here Captain Riker and his crew has to again face enormous challenges. He might have an ally in the Romulan Commander Donatra but she can’t really be trusted. We also get a new (to me, at least) race Neyel which is apparently an off-shoot of humans who had to adapt to living in smaller gravity. The Neyel are a warrior race although not all of them agree anymore with the ideology that they have to conquer and enslave other species.

At the end of the previous book, the Titan, her crew, and a handful of Romulan vessels were unexpectedly thrown 200,000 light-years away from Federation. This is, to say the least, alarming to many people in the crew – most of all to Tuvok after his experiences aboard the Voyager. However, the crew must rely on each other in order to save themselves, the Romulans, and the crews of Neyel ships.

The Neyel are in a complicated situation. They are fleeing their own home world because the very space itself seems to be unraveling near the world. However, not all agree that they should even survive the cataclysm. Frane is the leader of a sect called Seekers After Penance who is convinced that the unraveling isn’t a natural phenomenon but a ancient god who has come to punish the Neyel for their crimes against other species. The sect is illegal among the Neyel and the fleet command has dispatched ships to take them into custody. Drech’tor Gherran is the man who was sent to capture them and he manages to imprison the Seekers aboard his ship. Gherran is also Frane’s father. Suddenly, a fleet of Romulan ships attacks them. The Neyel ships are badly damaged but the Titan manages to rescue most the crews. When Captain Riker learns of the Neyel’s plight, he decides to see if there is something he might do for them.

There are a lot of characters in the book and also many plot threads. There is an admiral onboard which aggravates Riker somewhat. Admiral Akaar has also an old conflict with Tuvok. The Neyel have many problems. Donatra is a shaky ally at best of times. There’s also the conflict among the Neyel between the religious sects who are already surrendering to the “god” and those who want to do something to survive. In the end, though, I felt that the problems had far too neat and tidy solutions. The book also felt a bit bogged down because of the many characters and plot threads. However, I did rather enjoy the many non-human species.

Overall: I felt that Taking Wing was a better book with more tension and more familiar characters. But I do like the continuing characters enough that I’ll keep an eye out on when the third ebook in the series becomes available to us non-USAians.

This is part of my 2nds challenge.

Another collection of the charming Lord Darcy –stories set in an alternative universe where magic works and England is a great Empire. This collects four short stories: “The Eyes Have It”, “A Case of Identity”, “The Muddle of the Woad”, and “A Stretch of the Imagination”. All of them are, of course, murder cases among nobility and Lord Darcy investigates them.

The Eyes Have It: A rather notoriously lecherous Count D’Evreux is found shot in his bedroom. There’s no shortage of suspects and it seems that almost anyone could have killed the man; an enraged husband or father, a wronged woman herself, or even some of the houseguests. Laird Duncan and his wife are the guests at the Count’s Castle. The case isn’t easy for Lord Darcy and Master Sean, his trusted sorcerer side kick.

A Case of Identity: The Duke of Normandy himself calls in Lord Darcy when the Marquis of Cherborough goes missing. Apparently, the Marquis has been suffering from mild attacks of amnesia which might make things very difficult indeed. Also, he seemed to have disappeared from a locked castle without a trace.

The Muddle of the Woad: This time, Lord Darcy is enjoying a much needed vacation when the King John IV himself sends his lordship to solve the mystery of the death of the Chief Investigator of Kent. The poor man had been found naked and dyed blue in a coffin which had been made for the elderly Duke of Kent. The coffin had also been in the woodworker’s locked shop. The Duke himself had died on the previous evening. If that wasn’t enough for a mystery, the blue dye points towards a secret cult: the Holy Society of the Secret Albion. Now, the King himself is concerned and Lord Darcy starts to investigate.

A Stretch of the Imagination: the shortest story in the collection where an owner of a publishing house has been found hanged. But Lord Darcy isn’t convinced that it’s suicide. Of course, the owner wasn’t well liked – to say the least.

All of the stories are good and for most of them it’s possible to deduce who did it. The second story is perhaps an exception to this. But most of the time, the clues are there if you can see them.

Lord Darcy isn’t a really colorful character and we know next to nothing about his life outside work, although there are hints that he might not have private life at all. Master Sean O’Lachlann is Darcy’s faithful underling and friend, a Watson and CSI sorcerer in one. Darcy himself doesn’t have the Talent for magic. The rest of the characters vary from story to story and they’re often entertaining enough. I was a bit disappointed that the vast majority of them are males. Here, the women are very clearly mothers, sisters, daughters or wives to the more important male characters.

I find the alternative history aspects fascinating, as usual. There doesn’t seem to be much social change and society has been frozen in the strict, Victorian classes.

Magic is treated as a science and one magical theorist actually complains that the common people as too superstitious to understand the real scientific magic. Sorcerers need licenses and seem to be strictly regulated. The Church has all the healers. Apparently there are witches and hedge mages to whom the common people often go to.

It seems to me that this world doesn’t have any female healers. That might have been refreshing except that healing is tied strongly to the Catholic Church where, of course, only males can be priests. So, what happens to women with the healing Talent? Burned at the stake for being abominations? Although, most likely their Talents just go ignored. Also, Garrett would hardly be the first to have magical Talents segregated by gender. (Which I find rather unimaginative, boring, and unrealistic. And yes, I realize the idiocy of demanding magic to be “realistic”. Still, none of the talents that we know humans to have in reality, are confined to just one gender.)

But these are really nitpicks. I’ve enjoyed the Lord Darcy stories and his world, and I’ve already hunted down the third collection. Although there seems to be now a book which collects all the Darcy stories and includes four stories not in the other collections. Predictably, that one’s not available through BookMooch.

By the way, I noticed that many of Garrett’s science fiction stories are available in ebook format but the Lord Darcy stories aren’t. Why is that?

Here’s my latest review: Lee Denning’s Monkey Trap.

It’s a near future SF and I gave it four stars from five.

Booking Through Thursday

I saw this over at Shelley’s, and thought it sounded like a great question for all of you:

“This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”

If you mean books which I’m going to remember my whole life, the most obvious answer is, of course, the books I read as a child: Nancy Drew, The Black Stallion books, Enid Blyton’s various series.
I also loved Robin Hood and the kids’ tales about king Arthur and his knights.
Then there is Zelazny’s Amber -series when I was reading only epic fantasy and was starting to wear out of it. It was like a light bulb went off on my head: oh, fantasy can be *anything*.
Not fifteen but those come first to mind.

This is part of my 9 books challenge . I’ve always liked McKillip’s writing style and this book is no exception. It’s lyrical tale about a wizard woman, her adopted son, mythical beasts, and how hard it is to live in the human world.

Sybel comes from a line of wizards who live alone on the Eld Mountain except for the unfortunate women they lure to themselves through magic. Her mother died after giving birth to her and her only companions have been her father Ogam, an old woman called Maelga, and a collection of mythical beasts. She doesn’t care for other humans at all and is not used to dealing with them.

However, some time after her father died a young man comes to her door with a baby. He claims that the baby is kin to Sybel and also a bastard. He asks Sybel to take care of the boy. Reluctantly, Sybel agrees.

For twelve years Tamlorn lives freely on Eld Mountain. Then one day, the same man comes back to Sybel and tries to convince her to let Tamlorn return. It turns out, that Tamlorn isn’t really a bastard at all but a king’s son and many people would like to use Tamlorn in their own plots and plans. However, Sybel doesn’t want Tamlorn to be used and refuses. But eventually, Tamlorn wants to know about his father and in the end both Sybel and Tam have to deal with the human world.

Once again, McKillip turns fantasy traditions on their ear. Many writers would have (and have when they use the most common trope where a farm boy is the long lost heir) taken Tam as the main character: a twelve-year-old boy who is the rightful heir to a kingdom which has strong enemies. But this is Sybel’s story. While Tam is, of course, a significant character because Sybel loves him like a son, she is still the only view point character who makes all her own decisions and have to face the consequences.

The magic in this world is different from many fantasy books. Basically, Sybel has mind powers: she can call animals and humans to her even from a long distance as long as she knows their name. She can also wipe out memories and presumably influence people’s minds in other ways. Her most prominent power, however, is her ability to mentally control the mythical creatures she has. She can talk with them silently and they must obey her. The creatures aren’t animals as such, though. They talk coherently in their minds and the Boar even talks out loud in riddles.

The mythical creatures are very interesting bunch: the Black Swan of Tirlith, Boar Cyrin who sings and talks in riddles in a sweet voice, the Dragon Gyld, the Lyon Gules, the black Cat Moriah, and the Falcon Ter. Ter is the one we see most often because he’s Tamlorn’s companion and protector. All of the creatures seem quite well-behaved although we are told that they long for the time when their names will be remembered and spoken of again. The Dragon even does something about it. Through out the book, Sybel tries to call to her Liralen which is a huge, white bird.

As is usual to McKillip, the characters face hard choices which have no easy answers.

This is the newest addition to the Retrieval Artist series of SF novels. It’s again more human centric book without much of the fascinating aliens at all. It also continues many storylines from previous books so it’s not a good place to start the series.

Once again, the book has many view point characters. One of them is the protagonist from the previous books: Miles Flint, a former police officer and a current Retrieval Artist. This time he has to deal with a murder investigation close at hand and with a very personal fall out from the previous book.

He got a lot of very interesting information a few books ago and has decided to use it. He and his lawyer Maxine Van Alen have hired a reporter to make a series of documents against the very powerful law firm Wagner, Stuart, and Xendor. The reporter is Ky Bowles who has now a chance to get back her career after her previous, and disastrous, blunders. They are all aware that the law firm, and possibly a lot of other people as well, aren’t going to like her reports and so Flint has hired bodyguards for her.

Unfortunately, they aren’t enough. She and another victim are murdered while in the very exclusive, and supposedly safe, ground of a Hunting Club. Once again, Flint is a suspect although clearly not the only one.

The officer who is called to the murder scene is no other than Bartholomew Nyquist, a veteran cop who has just recovered after a brutal attack at the end of the previous book. His first case after sick leave is turning out to be quite complicated. Not only is Bowles a famous reporter and so the media will be watching his work intently but it turns out that the bodyguard firm who was hired to watch over Bowles is weirdly paranoid and also their chief have been murdered on the very same day as Bowles.

Readers of the previous books are also treated with a glimpse of Nicole De Ricci who seems now quite comfortable with her job as the Chief of Security for all the Moon Domes. She and Nyquist have also an ongoing romance which is a bit awkward because of their jobs.

The characters are again excellently drawn and the setting in the Moon of the future is as compelling as before. I enjoyed the mystery, too.

However, the characters seem to be settling down more than before and so it felt a bit less satisfying to me than the previous books. I was also quite interested in Bowles and it was perhaps a bit disappointing to see her end so badly. On the other hand, her murder was definitely a surprise and was an excellent hook for Flint. We also get a glimpse of Justinian Wagner who has plagued Flint for a few books.

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