August 2011

Second in the Dark Days fantasy series. It continues right after the end of the first book, “Nightwalker”.

Publication year: 1993
Format: print
Page count: 368
Publisher: Harper Voyager

The six hundred year old vampire and Fire Starter Mira is back. After the battle in London, at the end of the previous book, she, Danaus the vampire hunter, and a young vampire called Tristan travel to Venice where the leaders of the vampires live. The Coven has summoned Mira to answer for what she has done and also to discuss the returned threat of the naturi. Much to her surprise, the Coven has already struck their own bargain. Many of the nightwalkers in Venice want to kill Mira so she has to be constantly on guard against the others of her own race. Those that don’t currently want to kill Mira, want to manipulate or control her and use her as a weapon against the naturi. She has very few allies.

Mira says all the time that she’s a loner and doesn’t want a family. For a loner, she sure has a lot of people around her! In addition to Danaus, who is there just to hunt the naturi, who are a bigger threat to humanity than the vampires, there’s Gabriel, Mira’s human bodyguard, and now Tristan, a young vampire whom Mira promised to rescue from his sadistic maker. Also, Mira acquires another follower, a werewolf, in this book. She has a lot of people to protect not just from the dastardly naturi but also from other nightwalkers. In order to protect them and her own standing, she has to intimidate and fight other vampires, including her own makers. In fact, most of the book concentrates on nightwalker politicking, intimidation, and posturing.

Right at the start, we get to know some more about this world’s nightwalkers and later we find out just what Danaus is. Hopefully, that will be explored more. Mira and Danaus also have a few philosophical talks about just what makes a person evil but Danaus still has no qualms about killing vampires. Apparently, a lot of readers want Danaus and Mira to end up together, but I don’t. I think they are far more interesting as reluctant allies who have agreed to kill each other after they’ve destroyed the naturi together. However, they now have a mental connection to each other and I strongly suspect that the are going to get together no matter what. We also get to know some more about the organization that Danaus works for. I also enjoy their status as reluctant, almost perhaps dependable allies.

We also get to know more about the other supernatural races in this world. I was very intrigued to find out that even though the supernatural elements are in hiding currently, they have a time table for revealing themselves to the world. In order to prepare the humans properly, the werewolves, witches and others own companies that produce propaganda for them, in other words, TV-shows, movies, and books that make the supernatural creatures look cool and good guys to the world at large. That’s hilarious!

Mira has a lot of guilt and regrets from the previous book so she wasn’t as sure of herself and confident as before. However, when she’s in a fight, and there are a lot of fight scenes in this book, she’s focused on fighting. She’s still a very powerful and enjoyable main character.

Oh, and the vampires in this series are evil. They enjoy torture and they create new vampires who are deliberately left powerless so that the older ones can torture the new ones and eventually kill them. There are a few nigtwalkers who have a more philosophical outlook but even they want to manipulate the people around them. In fact, Mira seems to be the only one who doesn’t want to manipulate everyone around her all the time.

A great continuation to the series. My only complaint is that the main plot didn’t advance much.

Writers: Jim Shooter, David Micheliene, Bill Mantlo
Artists: George Pérez, Sal Buscema, David Wenzel, Pablo Marcos, Klaus Janson, Ricardo Villamonte
Publisher: Marvel
Original issues: 167, 168, 170-177

This is one of the old, classic Avengers stories which I really enjoy. It was nine issues long so it took almost a year to publish it originally.

For starters, there’s the classic line-up which changes quite a bit during the long story with older Avengers coming back, and allies showing up, too. The story starts with Iron Man as the leader and at odds with Captain America who doesn’t like Iron Man’s leadership style and thinks that Iron Man doesn’t devote enough time to the Avengers. At this point, nobody knew that Tony Stark is Iron Man so Cap thinks that Iron Man is just a mercenary.

Then there’s Vision and the Scarlet Witch as a married couple. The Beast is also on the team as well as Wonder Man who is very insecure about himself. Thor is the resident powerhouse. Yellowjacket and the Wasp also return as active members in the third issue. Later, Hercules, the Black Widow, Quicksilver, and Hawkeye return, too. That’s quite a lot of Avengers and yet, the story didn’t feel crowded for me, at least. Of course, various Avengers disappear for a while during the story.

Another classic element is the inclusion of allies. Right at the start, the Guardians of the Galaxy appear and the plot starts with their quest to protect the past of one of their own, young Vance Astrovik. At the same time, they are also protecting the future history by preventing the past from changing. Most of the time, they’re in the background, though.

A couple of other allies appear too: Captain Marvel, the Kree warrior, and Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers. Mar-Vell actually doesn’t get much screen time; he appears when the mysterious, cosmic villain does something. On the other hand, Ms. Marvel is right in the thick of battle and she challenges some of the sexist notions some of the Avengers have. She also talks about how she’s her own woman in a way that feels a bit dated now. Wonder Man is quite taken with her and he marvels (heh) at the way that Ms. Marvel goes into a fist fight. Of course, her powers demand that. Wonder Man’s attitude seems quite dated, too, because surely super powers themselves should be non-gendered.

The plot centers on a mysterious and very powerful enemy, who calls himself Michael, who works behind the scenes and actively prevents the Avengers from detecting him. Most of the time, the Avengers deal with either their own problems or with fall-out from Michael’s plotting. In the first issue the main team investigates a giant space ship which has appeared on Earth’s orbit while Janet, Hank, and Nighthawk deal with attackers during Janet’s fashion show. Later they deal with such dire villains as Henry Peter Gyrich, Jocasta, Ultron himself, and Tyrak. However, just so the readers don’t forget about the main threat we get a scene with the big baddie almost every issue.

Another classic element is Avengers’ squabble with the US government. The government, in the person of Gyrich, decides that the Avengers aren’t guarding their secrets well enough and revoke their security clearance so that the super heroes can’t use anymore their Quinjets, communicators, or their contacts with the SHIELD which makes their work a lot harder. It also leads to hilarious scenes of the heroes running around streets and ordinary people wanting to either offer them a job or just gawking at them. At one point Iron Man even commandeers a bus!

The Avengers have a few mysteries to solve before they can finally confront the big baddie. However, the ending is ambiguous and shows that the heroes might have not known everything they should have about the situation.

This is a very enjoyable old fashioned Avengers action. Pretty much my only complaint is that it’s sexist and it appears that the almost omnipotent Michael chose his “mate” purely for looks because in later issues, after choosing his mate and making her powerful too, he get to really know her personality. That seemed a bit strange. And the fact that the main baddies are in shorts and t-shirts.

A week ago Sunday (yes, I’m a week late but I have two excuses: 1, I was offline on vacation most of this week and 2, this weekend I moved with the help of my wonderful family!) Ellie Garratt had Star Trek as We Know It Blogfest. After reading many of the great entries, I wanted to share my own Star Trek highlights over the years. Now, my default Trek series is the Next Generation. Before watching TNG I might have seen some of the movies but not the original show and I still haven’t seen more than a few episodes of it. I’ve also only seen a few episodes of Enterprise; the ones on the Borg collection and Alternative Universes collection.

Favorite main characters
1, Jadzia Dax
She’s one of my favorite female characters ever. She’s brave, unflappable, intelligent, competent, and has a way of living her life to the fullest. She’s interested in other cultures and explores them quite thoroughly. She plays Tongo with the Ferengi and goes on the quest with Klingons.

2, Data
For a long time, Data was my favorite SF character ever. He’s got great strength and other abilities but he hasn’t got emotions, doesn’t get humor (I don’t often get Trek humor, either), and has trouble fitting in at first. I also really enjoyed Data’s and Geordi’s friendship because they seemed like such opposites in character.

3, Jean-Luc Picard
Ah, the philosopher captain! Picard is the essence of a diplomat. He’s also got interests beyond Starfleet: archeology, reading, other cultures. He inspires great loyalty from his crew and tries to always think of them first.

4, Kira Nerys
The stubborn former resistance fighter starts out as almost an antagonist to the Starfleet crew but she quickly becomes part of the crew. She has a murkier past than any of the other officers and that makes her really stand out. The writers also used her past a lot.

5, Odo
He has also a very different background which was reveled during the show. He resembles a bit of Data because he’s also an outsider but while the other crew members came to trust him, I don’t think he ever became part of the crew the way that Data did. He’s also pretty tortured character who even got his greatest wish and it turned out very badly.

6, Kathryn Janeway
In many ways, her job was a lot harder than the other captains’. Her ship is cut off from Starfleet and in unexplored space, so she’s on her own. She has to be rock hard to give guidance and hope to her crew. Yet, we saw her softer side when she took to the holodeck to paint with DaVinci, for example.

7, Chakotay
He’s sort of the rock that Janeway can lean on, to give her sanity checks. Yet, they can disagree, too. Sadly, when Seven came on board, Chakotay was pushed to the sidelines.

8, Seven of Nine
If only her wardrobe would have matched her personality! Seven reminds me a lot of both Data and Jadzia. Like Jadzia, she’s resourceful and skillful, and like Data she’s trying to find her own place among humanity.

9, Benjamin Sisko
Another great leader who has the added burden of being a single father.

10, Quark
As a Ferengi, Quark has a different world view and values than most of the Starfleet crew. I enjoyed his and Odo’s rivalry.

Best Supporting Characters
1, Lwaxana Troi
Deanna’s aging mother could have been portrayed in extremely sexist fashion; in fact I find the character concept almost offensive. However, Majel Barrett brought such humor into the character that she’s a delight in very episode she’s in. It’s also great she sometimes shows casually just how competent she is in her profession.

2, Guinan
The bartender whose powers remain quite mysterious.

3, Ro Laren
The rebellious Bajoran who brought more fire into the episodes where she appeared. She also got to go out with a bang.

4, Rom
A great engineer who was often clumsy and clueless.

5, Garak
The irrepressible spy/tailor.

Best enemies
1, Q
Need I say more? I greatly enjoyed DeLancie’s performance as the wisecracking alien. Even though Q puts down humans all the time, he’s clearly fascinated by them (or perhaps by Picard more specifically?).

2, Gul Dukat
Possibly the most complex Trek character ever. He starts out as a clear cut villain but turns out have a lot more nuances. He even helps the DS9 crew a few times.

3, the Borg
Relentless. They want to technology and your body, and you can’t reason with them. They will assimilate you and use your knowledge against your own people.

4, The Dominion
The Vorta, the Jem-hadar, and Founders were a great enemy. Pretty much as unstoppable as the Borg in their own way, but the individuals could have more humanity (so to speak).

5, The Obsidian Order
The scheming spy masters of Cardassia.

Most underused characters
1, Deanna Troi
Just think what could have been done with her if the writers had written even half as much about Betazoids as they did with Klingons! I consider her best episode to be “The Face of the Enemy” where she’s kidnapped and forced to impersonate a Romulan.

2, Tasha Yar

3, Beverly Crusher
We got to know a bit more about her life outside duty but she didn’t have many focusing episodes. She didn’t seem to have hooks built into her character the same way as the Doctor of Voyager or even Dr. Bashier had. Why couldn’t Crusher have played a spy or a cowboy on the holodeck?

4, Kes
Because the writers told us about her short life span, I felt that we were cheated when she just left and didn’t stay for the decline.

A modern day international thriller which is apparently the second book in the series but can be read as a stand alone.

Page count: 188 pages in the pdf.
Format: ebook, a pdf.

Dominic Gray is a former Marine and a Jujitsu Master. After a strange case, he quit the Marines and now he works for Viktor Rader who is an expert of cults and cult like behavior. Together they investigate cases where cults are involved. This is their first case together.

Gray meets a prospective client in Manhattan. Al-Miri, the client, wants Gray to investigate a theft from his company. The company researched aging. Gray is at first sceptical about the case but decides to take it when he sees a strange medallion that Al-Miri wears. During his investigation, he meets Veronica Brown, a beautiful and driven investigative journalist. Veronica is instantly intrigued by Gray who is less than thrilled by the idea that a journalist would investigate his doings. It seems that Al-Miri’s company might have found a way to extend life significantly, which interests a lot of people.

Another storyline follows Jax, the mercenary who delivered the stolen liquid forward.

The book is very fast-paced with short chapters and several action scenes. The point-of-view characters also change quickly from Gray to Veronica to the villains. Jax’s chapters felt a bit disconnected from the others because his connection to the rest of the plot seemed pretty slim until near the end. The plot moves quickly from Egypt to US to Bulgaria and back to Egypt, and I enjoyed the international feel of the book. People even speak other languages the English! The places are also described well, although economically, and there’s a different feel to the busy New York and to the lazy afternoon in Venezuela.

The cult in the book has ties to Egyptian mythology which I enjoyed a lot. Several characters also glimpse a threatening figure wrapped in bandages lurking around.

The book has several point-of-view characters but Gray is clearly the main character, and Jax and Veronica are the main supporting characters. All three are surprisingly complex for a thriller. Gray has mental baggage from the previous book where he apparently fell in love and lost the woman. She’s still around but was so shocked by the events that she doesn’t want to continue a relationship with Gray. Gray had an awful childhood with a sickly mother and an abusive father, but he’s turned all the pain he had to endure into a strength and has a great need to protect others. He’s reluctant to use weapons and prefers unarmed combat. At times, he loathes that he has to use violence, but when it’s necessary, he kills without remorse. During his childhood and teen aged years, Gray was taught a variety of martial arts and mental disciplines.

He’s attracted to Veronica but he still has feelings for his previous girlfriend.

In contrast, Jax is a mercenary. He seems to care only about money and women. When people come after him, his only instinct is to survive at any cost. He’s from a poor background and he doesn’t want to return to poverty, instead he wants to enjoy life to the fullest.

Veronica is a driven, self-employed investigative journalist. She’s gorgeous (as is alway the case in books like these) and she knows how to use her looks to her advantage. Later, we find out that she believes that her days are numbered and she wants to hold on to what she has. She has an instinct for juicy stories and Gray immediately intrigues her.

There’s a whole cast of other characters. The villains belong to a cult and they don’t care who they hurt to get what they want. Gray’s partner Viktor is a Sherlock Holmes like figure: he’s brilliant in his own field, and he uses opium and absinthe to escape the boredom of his life.

Author’s website:

My newest review: Walter Greatshell’s Xombies: Apocalypso.

The third book in the horror/satire series. I rather like the series and gave this one four stars from five.

Booking Through Thursday

Sometimes I feel like the only person I know who finds reading history fascinating. It’s so full of amazing-yet-true stories of people driven to the edge and how they reacted to it. I keep telling friends that a good history book (as opposed to some of those textbooks in school that are all lists and dates) does everything a good novel does–it grips you with real characters doing amazing things.

Am I REALLY the only person who feels this way? When is the last time you read a history book? Historical biography? You know, something that took place in the past but was REAL.

I have a Minor in General History, so no, you’re definitely not alone. 🙂 I also remember enjoying those history textbooks in school. My problem is mainly that I don’t really care about military history and the vast majority of historical writing seems to be about war.

However, in recent years I’ve read pretty much exclusively fiction, including historical fiction. I would like to get back to the history Venice book at some point.

Would someone like to recommend a good history book? I’m mostly interested in Ancient times: Greece, Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, Japan… and Renaissance. But not European Middle Ages, thanks.

Booking Through Thursday

You’ve just had a long, hard, exhausting day, and all you want to do is curl up with something light, fun, easy, fluffy, distracting, and entertaining.

What book do you pick up?

After a really hard day, I can’t concentrate enough anymore to read (as a translator and a factual text reviewer, I read for a living) so often enough I play around with Facebook games and listen an audiobook. One of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books (historical fantasy) or a Lois McMaster Bujold book (science fiction) or Seanan McGuire’s urban fantasy books. Or I will watch light comedy like Frasier.

Today, in the Top Ten Tuesdays the topic is Freebie. The participants can choose whatever topic they want.

I decided to do something entirely frivolous and so:

Top Ten Vampires

1, Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

2, Dracula by Bram Stoker

3, Bloodstorm from the alternate universe comic Mutant X
This is an alternate universe were Storm was changed into a vampire by Dracula. Slowly, we learn some pretty horrific things about her. I found her character fascinating.

4, Marius de Romanus by Anne Rice
It was the first vampire series I read…

5, Lestat by Anne Rice

6, Mira by Jocelynn Drake
She’s powerful and isn’t afraid to flaunt it.

7, Simon Ysidro by Barbara Hambley

8, Selene from the movie Underworld
The plot was crap but I liked the character.

9, Ivy Tamwood by Kim Harrison

10, The vampires from the book I am Legend
In the book, the vampires are pretty horrific. Alright, they were pretty horrific in the movie, too.

The explosive end to Whedon’s run on X-Men!

Writer: Joss Whedon
Artists: John Cassady and Laura Martin
Collects Astonishing X-Men vol.3 #19-24 and Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1
Publisher: Marvel
Publication date: 2008

X-Men and S.W.O.R.D.’s Agent’s Brand’s troops are on their way to the alien Breakworld in order to either save the world or kill it. Brand is advocating destroying Breakworld while the X-Men, not surprisingly, aren’t. After their space ship is destroyed, they land on the Breakworld in several teams. The soldiers (and Lockheed) are supposed to get captured, and do so while Brand and the X-Men set about to learn more about the prophecy, according to which Colossus is going to destroy Breakworld and all its people, and find a way not to destroy Breakworld. Along the way, we get to know a bit more about the aliens and their brutal warrior culture. Oh, and Agent Brand turns out to have a quite a few secrets.

I would have wanted to know more about Breakworld. Perhaps an entire issue devoted to them would have fleshed out them and their factions. Now, they’re left a bit shallow. Powerlord Kruun seems to be the absolute ruler of his species and yet he treats them brutally. Compassion is seen not only as weak but as almost sinful and he organizes fights to the death between his own warriors. (I guess they don’t have any significant outside threats?) Aghanne leads a rival underground faction. They have people who can predict the future and have made the prophecy about Colossus. Which is literally carved into stone.

There are a few plots withing plots and some of them turn out to be ruses, which makes the characters, well, less like idiots, which is a good thing.

Despite the subject matter, prophecy and the possibility of mass murder, there are witty exchanges between characters which lighten the mood quite a lot. I especially enjoyed the banter between Wolverine and the new member Armor.

The lack of repercussions did bug me. Emma, for one. An unknown telepath declares that Nova has left Emma’s head and all is forgiven? Really? No repercussions? Same with Brand. She advocates murder and kidnaps people and all is sunshine and puppies?

I was also a bit dubious about how quickly Kitty and Peter got together again. After all, they face danger and death on pretty much regular basis. So, first Kitty says that she needs time and after one fight she’s back with Peter? Of course, logically thinking that had to happen because of the ending.

Otherwise, this was a good ride. Sci-fi action! Colossus has to ponder his morals. Cyclops gets to shine as a leader even without his powers. We got Star Wars cameo and I really enjoyed the parody of how Earth’s heroes thought they had averted yet another end of the Earth but that was just a magical defense. Heh.

I’m also confident that the one X-Man who has to sacrifice a lot, comes back, sooner or later.

The thirteenth book in one of my favorite fantasy series.

Publication year: 2011
Page count: 336
Format: print
Publisher: TOR

“Is this going to work?”
I considered that: “Almost certainly, probably, there’s a good chance, perhaps, and I very much hope so, depending on which part of it we’re discussing. Your end, almost certainly.”

Tiassa has three stories with different narrators. They are bound together by the hunt for a silver tiassa jewelery which is supposed to have mysterious powers. The book has several characters from the Khaavren Romances.

However, the book starts with a short prologue narrated in the first person by Vlad who is visiting Sethra Lavode, the Enchantress of the Dzur Mountain. Vlad tells Sethra how he got hold of a silver tiassa.

The Silver Tiassa part start with a short prologue narrated in the first person, in a rather breathless pace, by a young girl whom I strongly suspect is the mysterious Devera. She has the silver tiassa which one of the gods made, and is looking for someone to hold onto it for a while. Naturally, she turns to uncle Vlad. Most of Silver Tiassa is narrated by Vlad in the first person. It’s set in an earlier time when Vlad was engaged to Cawti. He’s setting up a heist with two non-Jhereg people who are familiar to those who have read the the Viscount of Adrilankha novels. The male person calls himself the Blue Fox which Vlad mocks mercilessly, although mostly in his thoughts.

Then we move on Whitecrest, where each chapter is written in the POV of a different character, in third person. The time moves several years forward: Vlad is on the run from the Jhereg and his son is a few years old. The court wizard has noticed that there’s a threat of Jenoine invasion and the Empress and her closest advisors are doing everything they can to stop it. Apparently, a silver tiassa should have the powers to prevent it.

Then there’s an interlude which tells a lot of Devera’s origin, or rather conforms some speculation about her.

The last part, Special Tasks, is written by Paarfi and centers on the Guard Captain Khaavren who turns out to be also the leader of the Empress’ Special Task force. Vlad has been beaten up and because he has an imperial title, Khaavren tries to find out as much as he can about Vlad’s situation.

Paarfi’s style is very distinctive: “We should note that the Khaavren of two hundred years before would have ridden a horse rather than a carriage; but we also note that the Khaavren of two hundred years before was younger; and younger, we should add, by the amount of two hundred years.”

There’s also an epilogue with current time from Vlad’s POV.

Well, well. This isn’t a light read. Each story is set in a different point in time with different narrators as well and that can be jarring, to say the least. However, I through enjoyed it. I have only two criticisms: 1, more Morrolan, please, and 2, the overall plot doesn’t seem to advance much. However, in the first story we get to see Kragar and Cawti which was great. I also greatly enjoy heist stories and it was very interesting to see it set up. I really enjoyed the little bits we got about Devera who has been a mystery for far too long.

In the second story we got to see Cawti’s POV for the first time and that was a treat. I also enjoyed the Khaavren romances so I’m familiar with Paarfi’s writing style and got several chuckles out of it. I’ve also enjoyed the characters in the Khaavren books so it was a real treat to see them again. (Hmm. I have a hankering to reread the books.)

However, for people who haven’t read the Khaavren books or, dare I say it? don’t like them, Tiassa is mostly likely a very frustrating book.

This time we got a lot of insight into how other people see Vlad. He’s an Easterner but also holds an Imperial Title, which is quite confusing to some Dragaerans. We also get to see a bit of the racism between Dragaerans and Easterners which we don’t really see much because Vlad’s Dragaeran friends don’t talk so, at least around him. Khaavren tells his underling in all earnestness to treat an Easterner like a Dragaeran; in other words like a human. Clearly, he doesn’t think much of Easterners.

I found it very interesting that the House of Tiassa makes such rigid boundaries with the performance of music: compositional music is okay but performing social music is not acceptable.

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