November 2010

The second book in the Retrievers series.
Some spoilers for the first book, Staying Dead.

Page count: 432
Publication year: 2005
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Luna

Wren is a Talented, or magic-using, Retriever whose job is to retriever stolen or lost objects. Sergei is her partner who usually does the desk jobs; finding work, doing the paper work, and making sure they are paid. They’ve been in business together for ten years but have recently started having feelings for each other.

New York is suffering from a very hot summer which is getting on everyone’s nerves. Added to that is Wren’s and Sergei’s romantic relationship which is, at best, uncertain. They talked about their feelings near the end of the previous job but they’re hesitant to change their existing professional relationship and friendship to a romantic one.

Also, during their previous job they managed to anger the Mage Council who is now making sure that the duo aren’t getting any work. However, in the previous book they agreed to be on retainer for a secret organization called Silence and now Silence has given them a job. Someone has stolen an old, and possibly powerful, manuscript. Unfortunately, the theft happened in Italy and Wren has a phobia about flying. As a Talent Wren controls electricity. However, when she’s afraid she tends to short circuit electronic stuff, such as metal detectors, which makes it difficult for her and Sergei to leave the country.

But they manage to get to Italy where they investigate the site of the theft which is an old monastery. However, Wren notices that the monastery has been built in such a way that it blocks Talent and electricity. Wren and Sergei become convinced that they haven’t been told much about the job at all. Sergei is a former Silence agent and he’s very angry that they’ve been kept in the dark.

The third point-of-view character is Andre Felhim who works for Silence. I got the feeling that he’s a middle manager; he has both underlings and bosses. He’s trying his best to do the job which turns out to be very difficult. He’s also Sergei’s former boss.

In addition to their more immediate job, something else is brewing. Fatae, who are creatures that don’t look like humans, are being attacked and discriminated against. Humans have apparently never gotten really along with the fatae but the tensions are now escalating to violence. Also, some loner magic users are getting fed up with the way that the Council is trying to police them and they are trying to organize the others to rise against the Council.

We’re told more about the magic system in this book which also means that the system gets even more complicated. This slowed the pace somewhat. I didn’t mind; on the contrary I like complex magic systems. We’re also told more about the training of Talents. Each youngster is trained by a teacher who is willing to take him or her as a student. There are no other qualifying terms for the teacher so they can have very individual styles and they don’t teach about everything.

Sergei’s and Wren’s relationship changes somewhat here. They are both used to being independent and doing things their own way, which means that the romance isn’t going to be an easy one. Sergei is the neat and tidy one who drinks tea, while Wren doesn’t care if she has a set of china or individual mugs, and she’s a coffee drinker. I really like this. It makes the relationship realistic.

While the start of the book is set in Italy, the duo soon returns to New York. Wren turned out to be a hero to the Italian lonejacks and I was very amused by the youngsters who tried to impress her.

Because of the several plot lines, the story feels a bit fragmented at places.

The people here aren’t black or white, and there aren’t clear good guys and bad guys.

I aimed for 20 books in the 1st in a series challenge 2010 and I’ve now completed it!

I enjoyed all of the books here, and ended up reading more in quite a few series.

1, Ilona Andrews: Magic Bites
2, Kirsten Imani Kasai: Ice Song
3, Amanda Cross: In the Last Analysis
4, Lisa Shearin: Magic Lost, Trouble Found
5, Ian Rankin: Knots and Crosses
6, Mike Shepard: Kris Longknife: Mutineer
7, Martha Grimes: The Man with a Load of Mischief
8, Elizabeth Bear: Dust
9, Alexander McCall Smith: No 1 Ladies’ detective agency
10, Laura Anne Gilman: Staying Dead
11, Carrie Vaughn: Kitty and the Midnight Hour
12, Marjorie M. Liu: Iron Hunt
13, Rowena Cory Daniells: The King’s Bastard
14, Lori Devoti: Amazon Ink
15, Stacia Kane: Unholy Ghosts
16, Jocelynn Drake: Nightwalker
17, Dana Stabenow: A Cold Day for Murder
18, Zoë Sharp: Killer Instinct
19, L. A. Banks: Minion
20, Barbara Hambly: Immortal Blood

Published in US under the name Those Who Hunt the Night

The first in the horror/fantasy series about former spy James Asher.

Page count: 306
Publication year: 1988
Format: Print
Publisher: Unwin paperbacks

James Asher is a former British spy. He used to travel around the world searching information and killing people for the betterment of UK. Finally, he was disgusted with his work and retired from the Service. Now he’s Philology don in Oxford and married to his youthful love Lydia.

It’s 1907 and Asher has lived a quiet life for seven years. One night he comes home and finds his household, including his wife, sleeping unnaturally. The cause is a vampire. Don Simon Ysidro wants Asher to work for him and if he doesn’t the vampire is going to kill his wife. Asher has no choice but to agree but he decides that he’s going to secretly gather information that will help him kill the vampire.

Ysidro tells Asher that there are several vampires in London and someone is killing them. So far, four vampires have been exposed to sunlight in their own, safe hiding places. However, Ysidro is very reluctant to tell Asher much about the killed vampires which is very frustrating to Asher. Slowly, he managed to find out more about the vampires, their habits, and even their physiology and powers. Unfortunately, Ysidro is the only vampire who wants Asher to investigate the case. The others, including the Master Vampire of London, would rather kill him. And of course, it’s quite possible that even if Asher manages to find the killer, the vampires aren’t going allow him to live with what he knows about them.

Asher is a very interesting character. He’s a scholar of linguistics and folk tales so he notes the speech patterns and accents of people around him. At the same time, he uses his skills as a spy and does his best find out everything he can about the vampires. One of his best assets in this is his wife Lydia. I loved the fact that the first thing he did was to tell her what is going on and she promptly becomes the main researcher.

He’s main goal, of course, is to keep Lydia safe but he starts to feel sort of comradely towards Ysidro. At the same time, he notices how unhuman all the vampires are: their stillness, paleness, how even Ysidro constantly thinks about what he should and should not tell to Asher. In the end, Asher can’t know if he can trust Ysidro.

Lydia is the second point-of-view character although she only gets a few, short POV scenes. Even though at the start of the story she seems like a victim or a plot device, she turns out to be a more interesting character. She’s a research doctor and once she realizes that vampires are real, she starts to research them from a medical point-of-view. She’s meticulous and determined which isn’t really a surprise because she had to battle her own father in order to get into Oxford university and become a doctor. I really liked how Asher and Lydia just matter-of-factly trusted each other to be cool and smart.

Now these are vampires I really enjoy reading about! They are monsters who feed on humans so that they can continue to live. Ysidro explains that they also need to kill humans or their minds become slow and dull, and they will become so careless that people will find them and kill them. Also, the blood must be fresh so it can be stored. They can also affect the minds of humans and control humans so that killing them isn’t a problem.

The vampires are helpless during the day because they are unconscious. In a bit of a twist, silver burns them. Asher didn’t try crucifixes so I don’t know if they would be effective. However, Asher researches vampire stories and points out that vampires appear in folk tales before Christianity.

Some of the vampires kill poor people off the streets while others want to “play with their food” and become close to their victims first. The killed vampires are the latter variety, and Asher and Lydia research their habits. They are mostly women vampires who lure rich men and get money off them before killing them. This is a chilling reminder that these vampires don’t think like humans and don’t have human emotions anymore.

The plot centers around two mysteries: who is the killer of vampires and what the vampires are in this world. Ysidro makes an off-hand comment that fairies aren’t real so apparently there aren’t other supernatural creatures about. There’s a lot of tension in the plot but not a lot of violence. Still, the plot moves at a brisk pace.

Booking Through Thursday

It’s Thanksgiving in the U.S. of A. so …
What authors and books are you most thankful for?

All of my favorites, of course, just like last year. Lois McMaster Bujolds, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Neil Gaiman, Steven Brust, Elizabeth Peters, Naomi Novik…

This year I discovered Cherryh and Kirsten Imani Kasai so I’m thankful for them.

My newest review: Walter Greatshell’s Xombies: Apocalypticon

Horror sf, 4 starts out of 5.

By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin

My first love among the superhero comics were the X-Men. I started with the Finnish edition, of course, in the middle of Claremont and John Romita Jr.’s run back when there was just one X-Men comic even in US: the Uncanny X-Men. To this day, I like JRJR’s art a lot.

I read the comics in this collection in the Finnish edition in black and white in a publication called Ihmesarja which reprints classic Marvel tales about Spider-Man, X-Men, and Fantastic Four. I also own a (regularly colored) collection of the Dark Phoenix Saga in English.

This hefty tome collects Uncanny X-Men #120-144 and some mighty classic tales.

The collection starts in the middle of a long storyline where Jean and Hank have been separated from the rest of the X-Men and in fact the duo thinks that they are dead. Similarly, the rest of the group thinks that Jean and Hank are dead. The X-Men consists of Cyclops (as the team leader), Storm, Colossus, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Banshee who lost his powers in the previous issue. They have made a long journey from the Savage Land to Japan. They are currently trying to get back to US.

However, their plane is forced to land to Canada where the Alpha Flight wants Wolverine back – no matter if he wants to return or not. Of course, the X-Men aren’t going to stand for that. First they try to lose themselves among the people of Calgary but end up fighting the Alpha Flight anyway for a couple of issues.

The next issue is a quieter one. The group has managed to return to the X-Mansion where Colossus trains and angst about his uselessness. Cyclops is dating Colleen Wing and Storm returns to Harlem where she apparently spent her first years. We also get a brief glimpse of Professor Xavier, who is in a far away galaxy with his beloved Lilandra, and Jean in Scotland where she encounters a strange man.

The next couple of issues are action-packed when Spider-Man, the X-Men, and their dates are kidnapped into Arcade’s Murderworld. Colossus is brainwashed into attacking his friends.

The next issue’s again more of a breather and develops upcoming plots. Dr. Moira MacTaggert is testing Jean’s new powers, Magneto is musing about his life, and the X-Men and the Beast are finally reunited, and the X-Men learn that the Beast and Jean are alive. The issue end ominously. Scott phones the Muir Island, Lorna Dane answers but then she screams and the call is cut off.

The next three issues deal with the reality-warping Proteus.

And then the Dark Phoenix Saga gets into high gear. We’re also introduced to Dazzler and Kitty Pryde.

Then it’s the aftermath of the previous story. Scott recaps his life with the X-Men and Jean, and leaves the group.

In the next issue Angel has rejoined X-Men and is throwing off their fighting skills. Kitty is the newest member and and she’s settling into her new life. Wolverine and Nightcrawler visit Canada and try to clear up Wolverine’s status there. Instead, they meet Wendigo.

In the next issue Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Shaman, Snowbird, and the Guardian battle Wendigo.

Then it’s time for another classic tale: Days of Future Past which is a basis for an alternative future where all super beings are either dead or in concentration camps.

Next up is Kitty Pryde vs. a “Demon” where she proves to herself that she can be an X-Man.

The final story seems to center around Cyclops but it wasn’t published in Finland, so I haven’t read it.

I really, really liked this collection. Days of the Future Past and the Dark Phoenix Saga are two of my favorite X-Men comics ever, and the Proteus story is very good, too. The intervening stories aren’t too bad, either.

This collection introduces Kitty Pryde who’s one of my favorite characters (depending on the writer, though). She’s one of the few women geniuses in comics, and IMHO undervalued. Here, she’s younger and more insecure than in later stories which I find adorable. She’s also a good balance to the experienced superheroes who take the Danger Room, aliens, and interstellar travel for granted.

Dazzler is also introduced here and even though she’s much underused later, I like her sound-to-light powers and her artistic character. Too bad that she never had a career as an international pop singer. People might like mutants more, now.

Storm starts her career as the leader of the X-Men which changes her drastically, later. Here she’s still the weather goddess who doesn’t kill but she’s already very protective of Kitty.

The X-Men are a small, close-knit group here and they don’t even actively search for other mutants nor encounter them very often. Beast is the exception, being a member of the Avengers. The contrast to the current day expanding X-Family is huge. When I pick up a new X-Men comic, I feel like I don’t know half of the characters there, which is not a good feeling after I’ve read the comic over two decades.

I have to say that I didn’t really buy the plot that the X-Men thought that Beast and Jean are dead. For a few weeks or months, sure, maybe. But Beast is an active Avenger. Surely he must have been on the news? On the other hand, if he was dead wouldn’t the media start asking where he is? The X-Men traveled for several months. Surely, one of them would have watched news? Also, Colleen knew the whole time that Jean isn’t dead. It was mentioned a couple of time that she and Scott talked a lot. Didn’t they talk about Jean even once? A passing mention? “Jean was looking good when I last saw her. She’s coping well.” “Jean? But she’s dead!”

Otherwise, I loved the collection to bits. Maybe it’s just nostalgia.

This time TOP 5 Sundays at Larissa’s Bookish Life is about Favorite Vampires and Shifters.

I took a different tactic than some of the other people who answered this. 🙂

Favorite vampires was a bit tricky to cut down to just five but here goes:

1, Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Possibly the coolest vampire ever. I actually prefer him when he’s not in a relationship with Buffy because of the awful mess it was back in season 6.

2, Marius de Romanus from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles
I really loved the old Roman vampire. (Of course, his name doesn’t follow the Roman naming tradition.)

3, Lestat from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles
I’m almost tempted to call him a classic although he’s a bit too young to be that.

4, Mira from the Dark Days series
She’s a very entertaining point-of-view character.

5, Ivy Tamwood from Kim Harrison’s Hollows
Poor Ivy has been treated badly from time to time.

My list of favorite werekinds is shorter:

1, Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
He and Willow were cute together, and he was an interesting character in his own right.

2, Mercy Thompson from Patricia Briggs’ UF series
She’s a car mechanic and an independent woman. Yet, she isn’t so angry and snarky that she would alienate everyone around her.

The first in the Vampire Huntress Legend series.

Page count: 286
Publication year: 2003
Format: Print
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Some of the reviews on the book and on Banks’ site compare Minion to Buffy and Fangoria magazine writes: “MINION is arguably superior to the Buffy franchise…while Banks relies on an established vampire-slayer mythos for part of her story, she is also wildly creative and invents a totally new and refreshing milieu. Its social hierarchy and politics are fascinating, and the author’s reinterpretation of the seven levels of hell is brilliant.

As a Buffy fan I couldn’t resist this, of course. Is Minion funnier than Buffy? Does it feature a more sympathetic circle of friends? More interesting villains or secondary characters?

Well, the answer is mostly “no, it’s different”. For example, Minion doesn’t have much humor. Everything is deadly and serious all the time. The main character Damali does hunt with six other characters and they all seem to be close friends, but they are all adults so there’s no “growing up together” aspect. And it’s hardly fair to compare seven years worth of characters to one book.

Damali Richards was born to a preacher and his wife in New Orleans. Unfortunately, shortly after her birth, a vampire seduced and killed her father. Her mother didn’t understand the situation and tried to out them. Instead, she is killed. Fifteen years later Damali is in the foster care system and singing her heart out in clubs. Marlene is a Guardian whose job was supposed to be to keep Damali safe. Marlene failed in her job which she regrets bitterly and has been looking for Damali ever since. Now she has finally found Damali.

The main story starts near Damali’s twenty first birthday. She knows that she’s one in the ancient line of vampire hunters called Neteru and her closest friends are Guardians whose job is to watch her back. Damali and her Guardians are in the same band, and their record company is called the Warriors of the Light. All Damali wants to do is sing but her duty is to be the Neteru and fight the creatures of the dark: vampires, demons, and even evil humans.

The team is already in a bad place: some of the less experienced members have been killed recently. The latest one was Dee Dee who was turned into a vampire. Then a group of strange vampires attacks them, and Damali is convinced that something extraordinary is happening. She is also nearing the day when her powers manifest fully, so her enemies are trying to either kill her or seduce her to their side.

First off, the book doesn’t end just in a cliffhanger, it just ends without any resolution. I felt like it was a longer story cut in two, or more, parts.

Unfortunately, the book starts with a bout of homophobia when the preacher’s wife notices her husband and the vampire. There are no non-straight characters in the book. Even the vampires are strictly straight; a male master vampire uses a seductive voice and posture for women and an authoritative for men. There’s also a virgin/whore dichotomy going on. Damali is the main good gal and she’s a virgin. Marlene preaches that everyone needs to be pure. The bad guys and gals have lots and lots of sex, and use seduction.

Most of the cast here is non-white which was a very interesting change of pace. They use a bit of slang but I didn’t find it hard to follow.

Damali is pretty standard reluctant heroine: she would like to live a normal life and sometimes she escapes her Guardians to hang out with her normal friends. Yet, at the same time she doesn’t have much nostalgia to her own previous and apparently poor life, and she doesn’t want to get pregnant and get trapped with a man and a poor job, as some of her friends seem to have done. She’s also frustrated with how much the Guardians protect her. When her powers increase, this frustrates her even more. She had a boyfriend of sorts before Marlene found her. Carlos is now a drug dealer and owns some clubs. She has sexual fantasies about him while intellectually knowing that they can’t be together.

Marlene is perhaps the most complex character in the book. She’s a seer and the team researcher (I couldn’t help but to compare her to Giles) but we don’t actually see her researching; she just tells the results. She also keeps secrets from Damali and the whole team which is a plot element I really don’t like. She keeps waiting for Damali to be mature enough to handle the secrets. However, as part of the team she goes out and fights so it’s possible she could die before she wants to spill the beans.

Marlene berates herself for letting Damali go to the foster care system and not finding her sooner. At the same time, she blames Damali for taking so many years off Marlene’s own life because she had to first look for Damali and then protect her. She’s fiercely protective of Damali and tries to do her best. One of her fellow Guardians is her partner.

All of the Guardians have special powers of their own; Marlene is a seer and two of the others are sniffers who track the dark creatures by scent.

Damali and Marlene are the only women in the seven person group. Unfortunately, most of the others remain quite faceless, such as J.L. who is only mentioned every now and then. Jose is the Guardian whose lover Dee Dee was made into a vampire and he’s most defined by his grief and sickness that the vampires inflict on him. (Granted, that is a reversal of a traditionally female role.) Shabazz is Marlene’s partner but argues with her quite a lot.

Rider is the only white man in the group. He’s briefly the point-of-view character and we get to know him a bit. Carlos is another character who had some depth to him. He’s ambitious and impatient, and something of a misogynist who only uses women for his own pleasure.

The most obvious difference to the Buffy world is religion: all of these people are very religious and Marlene tries to keep them from swearing and being “pure in thought and deed”.

The fights are fast paced but there were some slower parts, too, mostly around Damali when she was having sexual fantasies or hanging out with her friends. Even though the story starts with a fight between Damali’s team and the group of vampire/demons, and they later talk about how weird the vamps were, nobody researchers it further.

The background was interesting. The Neteru was created as a weapon against the dark creatures by the twelve tribes. I think this refers to the twelve Jewish tribes? Yet, majority of the Guardians in the book are if not Catholic, at least traditionally Christian. I wonder if the change is explained in the later books. After all, these are very religious people who use not just their personal faiths but things like holy water and blessed earth to literally fight vampires. However, there’s a passing mention that there are a lot more Guardians in the world and they come from all races and religions.

I also liked the reason why the group is a band: music, and other arts, can reach people across all barriers. Unfortunately, this idea wasn’t explored more and there were no scenes of the group performing.

The main point-of-view character is Damali but there are others, too: mostly Marlene and Carlos. There are smaller glimpses of the bad guys, too. Unfortunately, in a couple of scenes the POV shifts in the middle of a scene and from one paragraph to the next. There’s also a few “as you know, Bob” discussions for the benefit of the reader.

The end of the book focused heavily of Carlos whom I unfortunately didn’t care for at all.

All in all, this was quite a different take on a vampire slayer than Buffy.

Booking Through Thursday

Who would you rather borrow from? Your library? Or a Friend?

(Or don’t your friends trust you to return their books?)

And, DO you return books you borrow?

Either. Depends on the friend’s books. However, vast majority of the time, I borrow from the library because it gives me a return deadline. Otherwise, the books might languish unread for years on my shelves.

Yes, of course I return books. Why wouldn’t I?

The second book in the Weather Wardens series.
Lots of spoilers for the first book, Ill Wind.

Page count: 352
Publication year: 2004
Format: Ebook
Publisher: ROC

The former Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin is getting used to her new life as a Djinn. It isn’t easy but at least her boyfriend is there to help her out. David is a very old and very powerful Djinn but his decision to make Joanne a Djinn made him very unpopular and also weakened him significantly. In addition, Joanne is drawing on his power to stay alive, so he’s weakening all the time. Of course, he hasn’t told that to Joanne.

Soon, the most powerful Djinn in existence wants to meet with Jo. Jonathan tells Jo a few facts about her life and gives her a week to control her powers or both she and David will die. Of course, Joanna is determined to learn things fast. Jonathan assigns her a teacher, Patrick, who is the only other human who has ever survived becoming a Djinn. Joanne starts to learn the ugly truths about herself and both her and David’s probable future. However, she doesn’t have much time to muse on things because she finds out that something weird is happening on the aetheric plane that could threaten the whole Earth. And as if that isn’t enough, David’s past has come back to haunt both him and Jo.

The book starts slowly with Jo and David happily having sex and Jo trying to control her new powers. Then they attend Joanne’s funeral where we meet the surviving characters from the previous book and one sinister character from David’s past. However, when things start to happen, the pace becomes very quick. The book has some closure but it ends in a cliffhanger.

This time we learn more about the Djinn: their powers, history, and hierarchy. It also raises some questions about if it’s right to essentially enslave other people who have their own moral code and history; after all, the Djinn has to do anything the human commands. When a human get his or her hands on a bottle with a Djinn and commands him or her to do something, the Djinn draws power from the person who commands him or her. The Djinn is only as powerful as the potential of the human. However, the Djinn have their own power as well which they seem to use the rest of the time.

A couple of new characters are introduced in Heat Stroke. Jonathan is the leader of the Djinn because he has the most power. He seemed to be a good leader; he cares about his people but he’s not afraid to draw the line and might even kill to keep things in order. (Unfortunately, the name conjured up an image of Buffy’s Jonathan which was a bad, bad thing.) He has also a sense of humor.

Patrick is Joanne’s new instructor. Unfortunately, I found him quite immature. If he’s lived for hundreds of years I would have expected him to have had enough sex that he didn’t need to focus on it all the time anymore. His method of teaching Jo is through battle. He has a Ifreet whose job is to attack Jo when she’s trying to learn something. Patrick comes across as pretty coarse at first but he does have a few other sides to him as we learn later.

We also get a new femme fatale character who was quite chilling. She tries to constantly seduce the most powerful males around her and uses them ruthlessly.

Heat Stroke is a solid continuation to the series and I’m likely to continue with the series.

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