August 2010

This is the second book in the epic fantasy trilogy the Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin and continues immediately after the first book ended. In the middle of winter. And we aren’t talking about “oh, we might have a few snowflakes here and there” wimpy winter but a real winter where you have to walk knee-deep in snow and can freeze to death if you don’t know what you’re doing. You know, the kind of winter my native Finland has.

Byren Kingson, now the Kingsheir, is racing towards the Halcyon Abbey. He’s determined to prove his loyalty to his father by leading the famous warrior monks to victory against the invading Merofynian soldiers. On the way, he stumbles upon a Merofynian Power-worker and his party, and decides to kill him and free his child slave.

The third Kingson Fyn is an acolyte in the Halcyon Abbey. The king has send word that he needs the warrior monks and they left. Too late, Fyn realizes that the letter was a fake and the warrior monks have been led into a trap. The abbey is invaded and it’s up to Fyn to lead the young boys to safety through a secret passageway.

The Kingsdaughter Piro’s situation isn’t much easier. Although the 13-year old girl is in the capitol, the new Lord Protector has declared her a traitor and offers a modest sum for her capture. Therefore, she has dressed as a maid and is trying to find a way to free her mother, the Queen, whom the new Lord Protector has imprisoned. Her father King Rolen is sick and possibly under the influence of magic, or Affinity as it’s called here, so unfortunately, he isn’t able to help. To make matters worse, the Merofynians attack the capitol.

This second book is just as well paced and action-packed as the first one, the King’s Bastard. The plot has a lot of twists and turns. There isn’t as much fighting as in the first book but there are chaises, both on horseback and on knee deep snow, escapes, people hiding, eavesdropping, girls dressed as boys, and other fun stuff. There’s also a twist involving the Affinity beasts and I’m interested to see where it’s going. However, there’s no resolution in the book, just like in the first book; all three books seem to be one long story.

Even though the book revolves around war, it’s not really grim or gritty. There isn’t unnecessary gore or fights. On the other hand, there isn’t as much political intrigue as in the first book mainly because the characters are mostly hiding and not in a position to engage in intrigue. This is very likely to change in the next book, though.

We get a glimpse of how magic is handled among the Merofynians. In Rolencia, people with Affinity are forced into a religious, chaste life in the abbeys. This seems not to be the case with Merofynia. The conquering Overlord has an old, noble Power-worker who doesn’t seem to be a monk or a nun. There’s also a blind Seer but she’s only seen briefly.

Throughout the book, the POV characters find out that members of their family are likely to be dead. Byren grieves for them but the other two seem to shrug it off easily. Of course, they don’t have much time to think about it and if it’s repetitive it would get boring. All of them suffer from survivor’s guilt, Byren possibly more than the others.

Byren seems to be the most reflective of the three characters. He doubts his own abilities and constantly waffles about how he should treat his best friend Orrade. He found out in the previous book that Orrade is a lover of men and in Rolencia that’s synonymous to a traitor because in the past there was a conspiracy to overthrow the king. The most famous men in the conspiracy were lovers of men, called Servants of Palos, so now it’s “common knowledge” that they are all traitors. (This is, by the way, a classic scapegoat behavior which is, alas, common to humans everywhere.) On the one hand, Byren still cares about Orrade and considers him a loyal friend but on the other hand, he doesn’t want anyone to think that he’s a lover of men.

Fyn is depressed because he feels that he has let down all of his friends when the abbey fell. He froze during the battle and regrets that.

Piro is mostly concerned with staying alive and free.

Both Byren and Fyn have young children to protect. This is quite different from other epic fantasy where the traveling companions tend to be, if not all warriors, at least adults capable of taking care of themselves.

All of the characters end up in quite different places than where they were at the start and I’m curious to find out how the tale ends.

This time Larissa asks about our Favorite Childhood TV series.

My childhood was in the early 70s in Finland when everyone didn’t have a TV. I’m fairly certain we didn’t get one until I was around 8 or 9.

Anyway, my earliest TV memories were about

1, the Smurfs
2, various Disney characters such as Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, and Tom and Jerry. These were shown here under the name “Pätkis” (Shorties).

There were some Finnish shows as well, but I’m pretty certain none of them were shown outside Finland, such as “Kylli-täti” where Auntie Kylli told a classic fairy tale while drawing the characters on a huge paper.

The story is set in 1915-16 and the First World War is still raging. The narrative is split between Amelia’s first person diary and the manuscript H which Ramses and Nefret have apparently written about their exploits in the third person. There are also some letters.

The story starts in England where the Emersons are fretting about the war which is not only killing young men but also making in harder to travel to Egypt. They try to leave one of their newest additions to the family, the six-year old girl Sennia, to England but don’t succeed. Their butler Gargary also manages to smuggle himself on board the ship to Egypt.

In Cairo, the Emersons encounter an old acquaintance, the journalist Miss Minton who somewhat resembles Amelia. Miss Minton is determined to get useful information out of the Emersons. Then, Ramses is attacked. His parents and Nefret want to protect him. So, when they hear about outrageous archeological thefts in Luxor, Ramses and Nefret take the leisurely boat ride there. Shortly after the young couple leaves, Amelia and Emerson find a fresh corpse from their dig.

As usual, the characters and the setting are entertaining. Unfortunately, the book didn’t really bring anything new to the series. Indeed, the return of one particular character was sort of a disappointment to me. Even though the character is witty and charming (like the rest of the cast), I was hoping for someone new to replace them or perhaps a new direction entirely. Much of the book is also based on romance; Amelia and Emerson, of course, the newlyweds Nefret and Ramses, and in addition not one but two other romantic pairs. In the end, there wasn’t much room for mystery which didn’t pick up until near the end.

There were a couple of new characters: Jamala and her brother Jamil. They are part of Abdullah’s extended family. Jamala is a bright and ambitious Muslim girl who is trying to escape her usual fate. I certainly hope she succeeds. Of course, since she’s already caught the interest of Nefret and Amelia, I’d be very surprised if she didn’t. Her brother was disappointingly predictable.

Again, a treat for those looking for romance and familiar characters and places.

Also, please, don’t start reading the series with this book!

Booking Through Thursday

If you’re not enjoying a book, will you stop mid-way? Or do you push through to the end? What makes you decide to stop?

First of all, I avoid genres I know I don’t like such as horror and romance. Then, I do research for books that sound interesting; I read blog reviews and check out the Amazon stars and reviews. Here, even a negative review can be informative. Sometimes a reviewer was expecting something else or they might just have different tastes from mine. (An urban fantasy without a romance?? That’s very much for me!) I also tend to read sample pages when they are available. So, these days it’s actually pretty rare for me to get a book that I can’t finish.

But yeah, I’ll give the book about 100 pages or so to entertain me enough to finish. Yup, that even applies for door-stopper epic fantasy.

I’ll stop reading if I’m bored, if I’m wishing I would be reading something else instead, if there are scenes that trigger my yuck-reflex, such as people eating their own shit (clearly Banks traumatized me ;)), if it’s too predictable or formulaic, or if the setting doesn’t make any sense (5,000 years goes by and everything is the same: culture, customs, language, even the goddamn ruling bloodline!).

These can’t be very rigorous rules, though, since I tend to finish a lot of books.

The second book in the Downside Ghosts series.

Chess Putnam continues her career as a Debunker for the Church of Real Truth. She interviews people who claim that a ghost is haunting their home and either banishes the ghost or finds out that the people are lying. She’s also a drug addict which she hides from the Church. She lives in the Downside which is the area where the poor people live.

The story starts with Chess undercover. She’s trying to expose an illegal séance but something goes horribly wrong and she’s poisoned. Luckily, her backup is near and she gets the antidote in time. Then, Terrible shows up with another task for her. Terrible is the enforcer for Chess’ drug dealer, Bump, but Chess and Terrible have become friends and are also attracted to each other. So, Chess really has no choice but to start investigating the murders of Bump’s prostitutes. The other whores are convinced that a ghost is killing them.

Meanwhile, Chess gets a new assignment from the Church: a TV and movie star has reported a haunting in his house. Chess finds out that a gruesome triple murder took place in the house and feels odd things there, too. But something doesn’t feel right.

The plot moves again in a brisk pace and we get to see some new places and people in Triumph City. The upper class, in the form of the TV star Pyle and the people around him, live in an almost different world from the dangerous and seedy Downside. We also see the spirit prison where the Church imprisons the souls of the evildoers. They torture the souls and blast them with heat so it’s a pretty hellish place even though the official line is that hell doesn’t exist.

Chess’ addiction has been dealt with in the previous book but here it’s finally shown in the full awfulness. She’s a broken woman to begin with and here she’s brought to a new level of low. And yet, I can help but to root for her and hope she can somehow change her life and get rid of the drugs, although that doesn’t look likely.

Chess has two men in her life even though she tries to convince herself that she’s better off alone and not trusting anyone. One of them is Terrible, Bump’s enforcer, and the other is Lex, who works for a rival drug dealer and supplier Chess with free drugs. She has sex with Lex because he doesn’t demand anything from her. Still, she has to constantly be on her guard with both of them and lies to both of them. This can’t, of course, end well. This triangle is a bigger part of the story in this second book than in the first one, and it’s also well paced and integrated into the whole story.

We found out some new sides about Terrible which make him more sympathetic character. Chess’ abusive youth is also explored in more depth.

I’m completely addicted to these books and will gladly indulge in the next one.

This is by no means a light read: it’s gruesome and gut wrenching but definitely worth it.

My newest review is Dora Machado’s Stonewiser: the Heart of the Stone which turned out to be an excellent fantasy.

4 1/2 stars from 5

One of the Liaden universe books.

This book is part of the Dragon Variation Omnibus, Pilot’s Choice, and Phase Change Collection.

This is an SF romance and I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys both genres.

Aelliana Caylon clan Mizel is a math teacher and this is her growing up story. She lives under the watchful eye of her abusive brother Ran Eld who is the nadelm (second in command) of the clan. Even though the small clan lives in the same house, the others don’t seem to understand just how violent Rad Eld is towards Aelliana. She has learned to be meek and submissive to him. The only time she’s in her own element is at the school where she teaches navigation to Scouts. However, lately she has started to talk back a little to her brother and even challenged him on business matters.

One night she’s lured out of her lonely day by Scout pupils who take her drinking and gambling. She manages to win a working Jump ship by using mathematics during a card game. (I suspect that it’s not that easy or all people involved in mathematics would be wealthy.) Now she has a way to escape her brutal brother and confined life! Aelliana isn’t a pilot but she’s determined to achieve that. She just has to be quick because if Ran Eld finds out about the ship, Ride the Luck, he would demand the ship for himself. Aelliana soon finds out that she’s actually quite famous among the Scouts because she revised the navigational charts some years back. The Scouts have to rely on the charts for their lives and so are happy to help her. She learns to feel enjoyment and joy again when surrounded by such supportive people but always the threat of her brother lurks on the back of her brain.

The book’s second main character, or perhaps the most prominent secondary character, is Daav yos’Phelium the Delm of the clan Korval, one of the most influential people on the planet. Daav has reluctantly agreed to contract-marry Samiv tel’Izak in order to have an heir. They don’t really know each other but Daav tries to treat Samiv like a fellow pilot. However, he finds her cold and greedy. In desperation, he seeks out temporary employment with his old master’s shipyard and meets a certain meek math teacher.

There are other point-of-view characters also but they are introduced rather later in the book. Samiv is one of them and she turns out to be a bit different when you start to know her.

I really enjoyed reading about Daav who has a quirky sense of humor and who isn’t an arrogant asshole as many leading men in fantasy tend to be. He becomes Aelliana’s co-pilot and accepts that as matter of course; he doesn’t insist that he be the main pilot because he’s much more experienced or the delm of the Korval clan or because he’s male. He’s gracious to those around him and he even tries to befriend Samiv.

I also really enjoyed the secondary characters; Jon dea’Court as the gruff and grumpy but fair shipyard owner, and the merry band of Scouts. I wondered if Aelliana’s mother, the delm, really didn’t know what was going on in her own family or was she so busy with something else to see it.

Unfortunately, I pretty much knew that as soon as Daav entered Aelliana’s life, her troubles were over, so there wasn’t much tension for me. I just waited to see when Daav would click his fingers and give Ran Eld his comeuppance. Actually, things didn’t turn out quite that way but (once again) I found out that I’m just not satisfied with “just” a romance as the main plot.

There’s also an interesting subplot which continues from the previous book. In Local Custom, Anne found out that the Terran and Liaden languages have a common root and in this book some of the Liaden are quite outraged by such a suggestion. Anne and Rand Eld have cameos here, which was nice.

Oh, I forgot to mention how much I adore that the Liaden language has different tones: Adult-to-Adult, Comrade-to-Comrade, Adult-to-Delm of a different Clan, Superior-to-Inferior. Wonderful! They tell so much about the mood and intentions of the characters involved. They also tell about the character’s self-image and how he or she is used to being addressed and interact with others.

By the way, the cover that I saw on Amazon is definitely white washed: pretty much everyone in the book are Liaden and so golden skinned. The couple on the cover is clearly white (not to mention that the man doesn’t look like Daav at all. At all!!). The cover on the ebook that I have (the Dragon Variation) has also a white couple in it. In the previous book, Local Custom, the main couple was also non-white: the man a golden-skinned Liad and the woman a brown-skinned Terran. So, unless the couple in the last omnibus book is white, the Dragon Variation has also a white washed cover.

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