February 2010

My other review in the same issue: Kirsten Imani Kasai’s Ice Song.

It’s a very well written mythical fantasy book and not set in a standard fantasy world.
4 and a half stars.

My latest review: Caleb Fox’s Zadayi Red.

It’s a fantasy book based on old Cherokee myth.
4 and a half stars.

Part of my 2nds, fantasy, and speculative fiction challenges.

The second book in the fantasy YA series.

Eugenides has been skulking around the palace of the Queen of Attolia. He’s the young royal thief in the court of the Queen of Eddis. He has been in and out of the Queen’s residence several times and the Queen is furious. Finally, he’s caught.

Eddis sends an ambassador to Attolia but doesn’t really expect that Attolia would just let Gen go. At most, Eddis hopes that he can die quickly because Attolia has a reputation as a cruel queen. However, after keeping Gen in jail for some time, the Queen of Attolia decides to just cut off his right hand. Afterwards, she returns Gen to his Queen.

Gen is feverish and sick for a long time. When he recovers, he’s depressed and tries his best to just stay in his room, which happens to be also the castle’s library. But his Queen and his father continue to intrude on his misery.

Without his right hand, Gen feels that his life is over. Even the most mundane tasks, such as eating and dressing, are now hard. When he’s forced to appear in public, people walk on eggshells around him, which only makes things harder.

However, when the war between Attolia and Eddis escalates Gen is needed again.

The plot has some very interesting twists and is centered on political intrigue. I have to confess that I didn’t guess at all where it would end up going. Like in the first book, some information is kept from the reader. I found it a bit frustrating especially when it was something that the view point character, Gen, knew well. However, the new info should make rereading interesting.

Most of the noble characters are referred to by their station and not by their names. The kings and queens are referred to by the name of their land (Attolia, Eddis, Sounis) and some of the other characters by their job; the magus, the minister of war, the ambassador… I liked it. It definitely felt different from other fantasy and more history-like.

I continue to enjoy this fantasy world which is based on the ancient cultures (and the geography) of the Mediterranean instead of the tired old pseudo-Middle Ages. One of the myths told in this book is based on the story of Persephone and one of the major goddess is Hepasthia. Also, the countries here feel smaller. The Queen of Eddis knows most of her underlings by names and most of them are related to her by blood of by marriage. Attolia feels a bit larger, though not as large as most fantasy countries.

Even though two of the countries are led by Queens, the culture isn’t woman-friendly. In fact, the Queen of Attolia has had to cultivate a cruel and cold image so that she’s been able to keep her throne. She’s the other view point character in book.

Weirdly enough, this second book felt more like YA because the other characters commented on how young Gen is.

By Millar, Hitch, Currie
Ultimates vol. 1 issues 7-13

Millar turns up the edginess. Here we’re introduced to the black ops Avengers lead by the Black Widow and Hawkeye

Issue 7 still deals with the aftermath of the Hulk rampage and the fight between Jan and Hank. Alas, I thought that the whole domestic violence story was very ham handed. Janet’s former roommate Betty confesses that she knew that Hank was beating Jan and that it had been going on for years. Yet, Betty just thought it wasn’t her business to even say anything. Then it turns out that even though Hank beat up Jan so badly that she ended up in a hospital, the whole thing wasn’t about Jan at all. It was All About the Men, once again. Hank beat Jan because he has an inferiority complex and the beating was a reason for Cap to beat Hank.

The influence of Matrix was quite clear in issue 8 where the black ops Avengers were introduced. The Black Widow and Hawkeye dressed in black leather and shot everyone on site. It was later revealed that the people they killed weren’t humans but I’m not so sure that it made their actions excusable. We also get a glimpse of the Scarlet Witch and the Quicksilver who are, once again, apparently lovers. Then the plot starts to thicken.

The Chitauri are an alien, reptilian shape changer species who have infiltrated human societies for decades. They were the ones responsible for the Nazi super weapon. Apparently, they now have larger bases and are planning a whole scale invasion. The Avengers and the SHIELD soldiers are going to stop them. The Avengers which now consists of Iron Man, Cap, Thor, Hawkeye, and the Black Widow, lead a huge attacking force against the Chitauri’s biggest known base. Their headquarters is left almost empty.

This Black Widow has some unspecified combat enhancements but otherwise she seems to be the same former Russian spy. Hawkeye was a bit incongruous among the other gun toting operatives but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he has kids and a girlfriend. However, they were just mentioned in passing.

This is more like the Avengers action I’m used to. I still don’t think that the Ultimates are different enough from their classic versions and I guess I have to admit that I don’t really care for the grayer characterizations. When I want that, I can watch news or read history. I want something else from my comics.

By Millar, Hitch, Currie
Ultimates vol. 1 issues 1-6

This is the “edgy” reimagining of Avengers for a more cynical time where there are no heroes, just different kinds of assholes. In case you can’t tell, I’m a fan of the classic Avengers who were quite dysfunctional enough for me, thanks.

The first issue gives us Captain America in 1945. The Nazis have built a super bomb and a small army of soldiers have been sent to destroy it. Captain America and Bucky are among them. This time, Bucky is a reporter and a medic who has been friends with Cap since they were kids. Cap has a fiancée, Gail, waiting for him back home. Unfortunately, the rocket with the bomb is sent to D.C. and Cap jumps aboard intending to destroy the guidance system before it hits its target. He’s blown off the rocket and into water.

In next issue we’re reintroduced to the rest of the team. Bruce Banner has been on a rampage as the Hulk but swears that the Hulk cells are now gone from his body. He’s offered a government funding for his research into the Super-Soldier serum. Unfortunately, he isn’t quite trustworthy so, Hank Pym’s now in charge. This makes Bruce miserable, of course.

Hank has his own problems. He’s supposedly invented the shrinking and growing serums as well as a helmet that can command ants. He seems to be happy enough to play super hero but he and his wife Janet are hiding their own secrets. Neither of them really likes Bruce.

Tony Stark is still the billionaire playboy that he’s always been.

We don’t see Thor until the later issues. Nobody believes that he’s really the Thunder God even though he can command lightning with Mjolnir. He refuses to join the Ultimates who he sees the extension of US army. He’s trying to change the world for the better in his own way. However, he doesn’t really talk but makes almost constant speeches against corporations.

Captain America is, again, found preserved in ice and revived. He has some difficulties adjusting to the modern world when all of his friends are old or dead. Janet helps him try to adjust. I think the most moving moments in the comic happen when Cap visits old Bucky.

And oh yes, the new General Fury; black, wears an eye patch, and looks like Samuel L. Jackson. He’s probably the only “upgrade” that I actually enjoy.

I liked this version a lot at start when it first came out. However, I have more mixed feelings about it today. I didn’t really like the way that Jan and Hank turned out to be around issue 6. Also, now I think that Millar could have deviated more from the Avengers canon; none of the supposed surprises are surprising. Now it just feels like the same old, same old (although with very pretty art). Perhaps surprisingly, I might have enjoyed Ultimates more (at least now) if they had made more radical changes: a different first line-up? Tony having another addiction than booze or some other problem all together? Tony as a woman? Cap not revived but some other super-soldier instead of him? Thor is the only character who is really different and when I first read the comic I really enjoyed it when I didn’t know where his story was going.

The first four comics feel like warming up for bigger things. The first issue has a lot of ordinary human fights in the WW II but the other issues don’t have much fighting at all. They’re about getting the team together, dealing with media and PR, and letting the characters get to know each other. In contrast, the issue 5 is pretty much a big fight scene and issue 6 deals with the aftermath.

Ironically, most the characters seem to get along better than some of the classic Avengers (granted, they are missing both Hawkeye and Namor).

I love Hitch’s art which is gorgeous as ever.

Booking Through Thursday

You may have noticed–the Winter Olympics are going on. Is that affecting your reading time? Have you read any Olympics-themed books? What do you think about the Olympics in general? Here’s your chance to discuss!

No. I don’t have live TV anymore (I refuse to pay hundreds of euros for technology which is inferior to a good, old VCR) so I don’t watch and it doesn’t affect my reading.

This is the third book I’ve read for the to-be-read challenge this year. Also part of my take the challenge, speculative fiction, and fantasy challenges

This is a short little book which was published in 1983. It been said here and there that it’s possible one of the best fantasy books ever. It certainly has its own kind of charm and it’s definitely not epic. Hell, it might even be considered early urban fantasy because it’s set in San Francisco.

Martha Macnamara has come to San Francisco because her daughter has invited her in strangely urgent tones. Liz doesn’t say anything is wrong but Martha can sense it. Unfortunately, the mother and daughter haven’t been really in touch in the recent years. Liz has paid an extravagant room for her mother in a five star hotel but doesn’t tell where she herself lives. But Martha is determined to find her daughter.

However, in the restaurant of the hotel she meets Maynard Long who seems quite mysterious to her. When you look at him in a certain light, he might not even seem fully… human. They have a conversation where each reveals a little about themselves. While Martha is looking for her daughter, Mr. Long is looking for truth which might save him. Mr. Long volunteers to help Martha find Liz and Martha accepts. Liz works in the computer industry and neither Long nor Martha knows anything about it so they must plunge into an unknown world.

But soon, Martha is kidnapped and Long is frantic to find her. Unfortunately, there aren’t many clues.

The book starts almost deceptively mildly compared to the almost frantic ending.

Even though the book starts with Martha, Mr. Long is the real view point character with whom we spent the most time. Martha is a very optimistic person who finds beauty in almost anything. She’s also a musician which is an unusual occupation for a fantasy character. Both she and her daughter are intelligent and independent women. Unfortunately, they are also the only women in the book and end up being victims and pawns in the hands of males.

Mr. Long is an interesting character. He’s a historian, a scholar, and a linguist. In the first conversation between him and Martha, he tells her the continuation of the tale of the Thomas the Rhymer.

Neat little book but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected to.

The ninth Amelia Peabody book is set in the year 1903. Ramses is 15 and Nefret 18. This part has been put together from “letters, fragments of journal entries by persons as yet unknown and bits and pieces of manuscript ditto” which were found in a “moldering old mansion”. Most of the story is still from Amelia’s private journal but short excerpts from another manuscript (called H) have been inserted. The Editor doesn’t know who the writer of the H is but guesses that he’s Ramses or his confidante. The H is written in third person and describes the things that Ramses, Nefret, and David are doing behind Amelia’s back. The writer describes the unvoiced feelings of both Ramses and Nefret but takes so much notice of Nefret’s appearance that it’s probably written by a male.

The story isn’t disjointed at all and the other viewpoint is very interesting way to expand the story and the world. Of course, teenagers aren’t going to tell everything to their parents so it was a good choice to include another pov. It’s also quite entertaining to see Amelia with other peoples’ eyes.
Emersons are back in Egypt. Ramses and his best friend David have spent six months with Sheikh Mohammad who wanted to teach them all the skills that a grown Bedouin man should have: riding, shooting, and leading other men (and possibly sex). They return with exquisite horses which were a gift from the Sheikh. To her mother’s horror, Ramses has also a moustache. Nefret has started to study medicine.
Soon, a young American girl, Dolly, takes a fancy to Ramses and flirts outrageously with him every chance she gets. Both Amelia and Nefret resent her. Dolly’s father wants to talk about something with Amelia but they are always interrupted. Then, Amelia hears that the girl might be in danger; her companions have taken ill suddenly or had accidents. Even though Dolly seems to be quite spoiled and selfish, Amelia doesn’t want to leave her in danger.

Meanwhile, Emerson has not been given a permission to search for new tombs so the Emersons will have to work on the known tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Nobody is really happy with that but at least they will be near old friends. However, while they are getting in a carriage, someone slips a mysterious piece of paper to Emerson’s pocket: “Stay away from tomb Twenty-A”.

Soon, Ramses receives a letter from an old friend, Enid Fraser. She and her husband are in Egypt and she wants to meet Ramses again. Her letter reminds Ramses of a promise he made to her which makes Amelia suspicious. She decides to meet Enid and Donald. When they meet, Enid is looks older and tired. The couple is traveling with Mrs. Whitney-Jones who seems to be very familiar with Donald. Amelia has to help Enid, of course.

Despite all of these distractions, poor Emerson is trying his best to continue with his work his loyal Abdullah at his side.

The mysteries are quite enjoyable. The three threads are interwoven skillfully and the Emersons even manage to do some excavations between detecting. The Emersons are in fine form again and the book has many familiar secondary characters. Cyrus Vandergelt is again a staunch ally to the Emersons and I suspect one of the new characters will become a recurring one.

However, there’s one bit where I had to stop and think if I’ll continue with the book, or indeed with the series, anymore:
“[Amelia] could not help laughing: “You were right about her, of course. She wants, not only a husband, but one who will beat her when she needs it.””

Really, Amelia? So, now women will need to be beaten? I don’t consider spousal abuse to be funny. This also seems very much out of character for Amelia who at least says she supports independence for women. (On the other hand, she does show contempt for women who are not like her.)

However, there was a short exchange after that where the woman Amelia was speaking with says that she was a victim of domestic abuse. So, maybe there was some point here. I still think it was a horrid thing to say.

Otherwise, I liked this one a lot. I already have the next one as an audiobook.

Booking Through Thursday

How can you encourage a non-reading child to read? What about a teen-ager? Would you require books to be read in the hopes that they would enjoy them once they got into them, or offer incentives, or just suggest interesting books? If you do offer incentives and suggestions and that doesn’t work, would you then require a certain amount of reading? At what point do you just accept that your child is a non-reader?

In the book Gifted Hands by brilliant surgeon Ben Carson, one of the things that turned his life around was his mother’s requirement that he and his brother read books and write book reports for her. That approach worked with him, but I have been afraid to try it. My children don’t need to “turn their lives around,” but they would gain so much from reading and I think they would enjoy it so much if they would just stop telling themselves, “I just don’t like to read.”

I don’t have an answer to that. These days books compete with many, many other forms of entertainment and the other forms are often easier to enjoy, take less time, and more people are likely to have seen the same TV-show or movie so it’s easier to discuss them with others. Also, you have accept that even if you can encourage someone to read, they aren’t necessarily going to like the same books as you do.

But I’m strongly against forcing people, especially kids, into reading. I would never, ever make it a chore. You can’t force other people to enjoy what you enjoy. Similarly, you can’t make other people dislike things that you dislike. On the other hand, it’s very, very easy to make other people hate what you enjoy by constantly trying to shove it down their throats especially with “I know it’s going to be good for you” attitude. And by the way, some people just don’t like to read. There’s nothing wrong with that. (And Carson’s mom was very lucky; her sons could have been, for example, dyslexic.)

Edit: other people have reminded me that young people read a lot these days: text messages, forums, fanfiction etc. Also, here in Finland people have to read subtitles all the time.

I’m relistening this book and realized that I haven’t written a review of it yet. However, the Curse of Chalion is difficult book to review because anything I say won’t do justice to it. It’s a very good book; go and read it.

Even though CoC is often said to be epic fantasy, it doesn’t really feel like that to me: it centers on political intrigue, it doesn’t have violence porn, and it has only one viewpoint character who is in his mid-thirties. The magic is also quite understated. Oh and it doesn’t have a map. The last one seems to really irritate many fantasy readers.

The main character of the book is Cazaril; a former nobleman and soldier who is finally coming back to Chalion. He was a commander of a fortress in a war that Chalion lost and later a galley slave. Now he’s looking for some peace and quite and perhaps employment in the house of a Dowager Provincara. When Caz was a boy, he was one the pages in the castle but he doesn’t really expect anyone to remember him. However, the Provincara does remember and welcomes him into her home.

The Provincara’s household has quite high-born people: the Dowager Royina (queen) Ista and her two children: Teidez, who is the heir to Chalion’s throne, and his older sister Iselle. They are the grandchildren of the Provincara. Shortly, the Provincara makes Caz Iselle’s secretary-tutor. He teaches Iselle and her companion Beatriz languages and geography as well as some common sense. Iselle herself is brave, strong willed, and willing to do almost anything for the good of Chalion.

However, it becomes apparent that someone had betrayed Caz into servitude. His name should have been on the list of officers to be ransomed after the fall of the fortress but someone had deliberately left it off. Caz is content to be alive and unnoticed, however. Summer goes by lazily and Caz recovers slowly. But then the Roya (the king) of Chalion sends a summons for Teidez and Iselle to come to the court. Caz will have to follow Iselle and enter the world of dangerous politics. Many powerful lords will want Iselle as their own pawn in power games and Caz will also have his own enemies to deal with.

Cazaril is very much an atypical fantasy hero. He’s suffered terribly and as a consequence he’s very humble and loyal to people who are kind to him. He has also a lot of common sense which younger characters tend to lack. I found his attitude towards soldering to be very refreshing; he doesn’t view it as a noble profession but pretty much butchering. Because of the punishment he endured as a slave, he has problems with his back.

I also liked a lot many of the secondary characters. Caz’s best friend Palliard is, ironically, a character who would have been the main character in a more standard fantasy book (and married Iselle at the end). He’s the handsome, athletic nobleman-soldier although he’s not in his teens anymore. He’s fiercely loyal to Caz.

Umegat is also a great character. He appears first as the groom of the Roya’s menagerie but turns out to be quite a bit more. He has a great sense of humor.

Chalion is loosely based on medieval Spain but the gods and the religion make is quite different from history. This world has five gods: the Father, the Mother, the Sister, the Brother, and the Bastard. They all have their own priesthoods, feast days, holy days, and even colors. However, they can’t usually affect people directly even though they can affect animals and send dreams. Different cultures also view the gods a bit differently.

The characters discuss some of Chalion’s history but that’s directly relevant to the story and it’s not long-ago history, which is so common in fantasy, but the events of previous generation. This is also a refreshing change.

The book is a stand alone. The next book, the Paladin of Souls, takes place in Chalion but with different characters. Paladin’s main character, Ista, is a minor character in CoC.

For some reason quite a few Amazon reviewers feel compelled to compare CoC (unfavorably) with Martin’s series. I have no clue why because the only thing common to them is that they are set in a medieval fantasy setting. CoC is neither gritty nor military non-stop violence nor rape fantasy.

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