August 2011

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.

Booking Through Thursday
It’s National Book Week. The rules: Grab the closest book to you. Go to page 56. Copy the 5th sentence as your status.

(We’ve done something similar to this before, but it’s always fun, so … why not?)

An acutely arid spell followed, lasting for some three hundred years, during which time the desiccated wasteland that is now visible formed.
Ancient Mysteries by James and Thorpe

My, that sounds dry. 🙂

The third book in the Phryne Fisher mystery series set in the 1920s Australia.

Publication year: 1992
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrator: Stephanie Daniel
Running Time: 4 hrs and 48 minutes

This time Phyrne and her loyal maid Dot are on the train on their way to Ballarat. However, Phryne wakes up to the strong smell of chloroform. She opens all the windows and stops the train, just in time or the children on the train might have died. Eunice Henderson has burns on her face from the chloroform and her elderly mother has disappeared. During the night, the elderly Mrs. Henderson is found brutally murdered and the local police ask for Phryne to help with the case. Also, Phryne is asked to solve the mystery of a young girl who has lost her memory. The girl was on the train with a ticket but nothing to identify her. Phryne starts to solve both cases.

The most likely suspect is Eunice whose mother verbally abuses her. However, Eunice could have killed her far more easily.

Once again, the light writing style and humorous characters deal with pretty heavy subjects. In addition to murder, there’s the systematic exploitation of young and vulnerable girls. Phyrne finds out that the mystery girl, whom Phryne starts to call Jane, has been abused and Phyrne becomes quite protective. There are also dysfunctional families in the book.

Most of the familiar cast returns. Dot and the Butlers are, of course, present and the formidable Doctor McMillan makes an appearance. Bert is again invaluable during investigation among the lower classes. There are also a lot of new characters: Phryne gets a new, young lover, and gets on well with the local university students. Sargent Wallace has no problem working with Phryne.

Each chapter starts with a short excerpt from Alice through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. The characters read it, too, and because there’s a mystery to solve, the quotations feel quite apt.

This book is just as entertaining as the previous ones. Phryne is as forceful as ever.

The Audible version has a short conversation with Greenwood and Daniel after the book. They discuss various aspects about the books which was really interesting.

The twelveth book in one of my favorite fantasy series. Excellent!

Publication year: 2010
Page count: 319
Format: print
Publisher: TOR

”A stupid person can make only certain, limited types of errors; the mistakes open to a cleaver fellow are far broader. But to the one who knows how smart he is compared to everyone else, the possibilities for true idiocy are boundless.”

Vlad Taltos is minding his own business, being on the run from the House and criminal organization of Jhereg. Three thugs try to rob him, unsuccessfully, and Vlad celebrates his new wealth in a nearby tavern. There, he hears that one of his closest friends, Aliera e’Kieron, has been arrested by the Empire for the crime of practicing Elder Sorcery. Vlad knows that it’s utter foolishness for him to return to the capital Dragaera City. Nevertheless, he’s in the next boat to the capital.

Once there, he very carefully tries to keep only to the areas where the Jhereg aren’t likely to attack him; the Imperial Palace and Castle Black. He finds out that Aliera doesn’t want an advocate and isn’t interested in defending herself. The punishment for her crime is death, so Vlad is somewhat confused. He also knows that the Empress has known for years that Aliera practices Elder Sorcery, so he strongly suspects that something else is going on. Something big enough that forces the Empress to arrest one of her friends. A stubborn, quick-tempered friend who can hold a grudge forever.

I was very glad indeed to see Vlad return to his old stomping grounds and to his old friends. Aliera, Morrolan, Sethra, Kiera, Kragar, Daymar, and even Cawti are back. Along the way, there are also new characters because Vlad is forced to spend most of the time inside the Imperial Palace where he doesn’t know anyone. Aliera’s lawyer Perisil is also a major character.

The Imperial Palace is a vast and surreal place. At one point, after Vlad has gotten lost, he finds out that there’s a whole town inside the palace. The place houses hundreds if not thousands of Dragaerans; officials, messengers, jailers, prisoners, cooks, cleaners, courtiers, innkeepers etc. It has endless, ostensibly decorated hallways, long and short corridors, and stairways.

The plot starts with a court case so we find out somethings about the Dragaeran justice system, at least for the high nobles; we’ve already found out quite a lot about how it works for those on the lowest rungs of the society. Such as Jhereg and the humans. Justice for the high-ups seems to be just as much dependent on who you are and who you know, as to the lower rungs.

I was delighted to see the old friends after too long time. They all are pretty much the same as I remembered them. There are, however, some mysterious references to things which have happened to Vlad after the previous book, such as him getting an Dragaeran lover! I hope the stories will be told at some point. There are also two scenes where Vlad visits his ex-wife Cawti and their son. I got the feeling that if the Jhereg weren’t after Vlad, he and Cawti may try again. Certainly, it didn’t look like Cawti had remarried or was living with anyone.

Each chapter starts with a short excerpt related to the legal prosecution such as a witness statement or letter. Some of them are quite funny. Of course, Vlad and Loiosh are in their old form, cracking jokes and being sarcastic or ironic pretty much all the time.

The plot is not heavy on violence. Most of it is Vlad finding out facts and rumors, and sorting them out to a coherent whole; so the plot centers on intrigue. He gets beat up once and is hurting several days later, because he can’t use magic to heal himself.

Pretty much every fantasy book today seems to have flashy magic, so it was refreshingly familiar to return to Dragaera where magic is psionic and pretty much undetectable:

[Morrolan] ”got up and walked out, so I missed seeing the powerful sorcerer doing his powerful sorcery, which would have involved him closing his eyes and then, I don’t know, maybe taking a deep breath or something.”

I really loved this book; it’s like returning to old friends and seeing how they are today.

If you haven’t read the series before, I recommend starting with the Book of Jhereg, which an omnibus of the three first books. I think starting with this one would be confusing because very few things or people are explained. However, the plot is self-contained, so plot-wise it can be read as a stand-alone.

Booking Through Thursday

What’s the last book you were really EXCITED to read?

And, were you excited about it in advance? Or did the excitement bloom while you were reading it?

Are there any books you’re excited about right NOW?

An excellent timing. 🙂 About a week ago I got my book haul from Book Depositary, so I now have a lot of unread books from some of my favorite authors and in series that I really want to continue with.

The last book I was excited about, which I’ve finished, was Bear’s All the Windwracked stars. I loved her Promethean Age books and really liked Dust so I was excited about it before I started reading. And I did love it; it’s intense.

These days, I tend to be far more excited about new books from familiar authors rather than new to me authors.

Right now I’m excited about the book I’m reading and going to read next: “Iorich” and “Tiassa” from Steven Brust, one of my favorite fantasy authors and one of my favorite series ever. I’m also eagerly anticipating reading other books, such as Jocelynn Drake’s Dayhunter and some Mirror Universe books, set in the Star Trek universe.

Naturally, I just got a huge work load to the rest of this week and to next week, too.

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