March 2012


The third book in the Clockwork Century series.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Kate Reading
Running Time: 13 hrs and 24 minute

Venita “Mercy” Lynch is a nurse in the Robertson war hospital in Virginia. Even though she was born a Southerner, she married a Yankee three years ago. Over two years, her husband has been a soldier in the civil war between the Union and the Confederacy, on the side of the Union. Then Mercy is given the news that her beloved Philip has died in a POW camp and she feels like her world ends. But she’s given only a day to mourn and then she’s back to work: assisting male doctors in surgery, comforting the dying, and cleaning up after the living and the dead.

Then she gets a message that her father is dying in Seattle and he wants to see her. Mercy haven’t seen her father since she was a little girl and he left Mercy and her mother. Still, Mercy feels that it’s her duty to go and she also needs a change. So, she slips quietly away into a dirigible heading North.

The long journey is a dangerous adventure and Mercy’s professional skills are stretched to the limit with wounded men. Other people, both men and women, are also suspicious of her because she travels alone and she has to prove herself time and again.

Dreadnought describes the horrors of war; men who are too badly wounded to live long, men dying suddenly or with agonizing slowness, orphans and widows who are left behind. I’m a pacifist in real life, so Priest is preaching to the choir here. In fact, I was occasionally nauseated by the descriptions. However, throughout it all, Mercy remains a practical, level-headed, no-nonsense heroine who does what has to be done. She’s competent and keeps her cool. I loved her! However, she’s quite reminiscent of both Maria in the previous book and Briar in Boneshaker. (In fact, I’d love to see Maria Boyd and Mercy teaming up!)

The Civil War has been going on for twenty years and the narrator says plainly that the war isn’t about abolition anymore but about defending home. However, only two of the Southern states still practice slavery. The rest have freed their former slaves to work on their own land. The Union people seem to be more racist that the Southerners or at least they make a point not to mingle at all with non-white people.

Some other reviewers mentioned that they found the lack of romance odd. I don’t; she’s just been widowed! Sheesh, it seems pretty odd to me to demand that a woman is somehow required to start a romance just a couple of days after her husband died! True, they spent the last two years apart but that doesn’t mean their feelings cooled off because of it. Mercy doesn’t dwell on her feelings during the journey but she doesn’t seem to be a demonstrative person and so she probably doesn’t want to start crying in front of strangers.

Dreadnought has a huge cast of secondary characters. Partly it’s because they change a couple of times when Mercy continues with her journey. Mercy also travels with several people. Some of them need Mercy’s skills and some are suspicious of her because she’s seen as too Southern. Most are suspicious of each other. Mercy often tries to conceal where she comes from but her way of talking is still revealing. Most of the secondary characters are very territorial which is probably expected after a long war. They range from kids to various adults and a couple of retired elders. I enjoyed most of them. The late Bloody Bill is (Buffalo Bill?) is said to have been a robber along and his underlings, the James’ brothers, still are. I hope we get to know more about them at some point.

There are a couple of mysteries to solve on the way and they tie in with the first book, Boneshaker.

Dreadnought is an enjoyable adventure story if somewhat dark at the times, and a great continuation to the series.

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A fantasy novella.

Publication year: 2008
Format: ebook
Page count: 54
Publisher: WMG Publishing, through Smashwords

Tara Miller was the best troubleshooter with Abracadabra Incorporated. She made quite a lot of money but was burned out so now she’s retired. She bought a small magic shop in France and has struggled to get clients. The shop is finally doing relatively well and Tara decided to splurge on a shopping trip in Paris. In a small shop she senses magic and to her amazement she recognizes a real dragon’s tooth which is on display for the tourists. She knows that she shouldn’t get involved but she just can’t help herself.

Dragon’s Tooth is quite short but manages to introduce interesting characters and a world, and tell a nifty story. There’s quite a bit of humor in the story, too.

Tara is a determined, intelligent, competent woman. She’s been in tight spots before and knows how to take care of herself. She’s also very responsible and wants to protect innocents. In short, she’s just the sort of protagonist I love. In contrast, the other characters are more or less shifty. I loved how Tara didn’t take any bullshit from any of them.

The setting is the modern world with magic and magical creatures. Abracadabra Incorporated has been around for a long time and has evolved with times. Now, it’s a corporation which specializes in magic. The troubleshooters roam around the world looking for unlicensed magic and magic users, and either putting them out of business or making them an offer they can’t refuse. Considering how much talent they should have at their disposal, I was a bit surprised by their current employees.

Short and enjoyable story. Has she written anything else with this world or characters?

The third book in the A Time to… Star Trek: TNG series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 315 plus a short preview of the next book
Publisher: Pocket Books

The Dokaalan are facing disaster: their planet is experiencing a series of earthquakes which are only escalating until they are threatening to destroy the civilization. The Dokaalan have a very limited capability for space travel and while they have a few mining colonies on nearby asteroids, they can’t evacuate their whole race. The people in the colonies can only watch with horror. As a last attempt, they send probes to space, pleading for help.

Decades later, a Vulcan vessel finds one of those probes but concludes that it’s too late to do anything. Earth Admiral Forrest suggests sending the newly commissioned Enterprise of the NX class to investigate but it would take a long time to get to the Dokaalan’s planet in an unexplored region of space and so the Enterprise is sent elsewhere.

A couple of hundred years later, Enterprise-E is in a political hot water and the Federation decides to send Captain Picard to investigate what happened to the Dokaalans and to explore that region. The experienced officers and crew aren’t happy about it but they have to obey.

In the wake of the previous books’ mess, some people think that Picard’s best days are behind him and that he might have succumb under the weight of all the tragedy and torture he has endured during his career. His crew and Admiral Nechayev still support him and he’s still in command of the Enterprise-E. But the Enterprise is sent to essentially a milk run and some of the officers grumble about it. Still, the voyage alone will take almost a month and take them to an unexplored region of space which might be dangerous. However, nobody mentions the possible dangers or rewards of exploration which I found a bit odd considering that ordinarily exploration is Federation’s main thing.

The book has a lot of references to previous events from the First Contact movie and various TNG episodes which was great. Picard is even reading a fictional book about first contact between humans and Vulcans, and thinks that it didn’t go like that. We also get to see a couple of familiar secondary characters: Lieutenant Taurik from engineering and nurse Alyssa Ogawa. Ambassador Worf is thinking of a way to help his former crew mates and the EMH program is needed later in the book. This is very much a fan friendly, or even fan geared, book.

Beverly Crusher has been offered a job as the head of Starfleet Medical and she’s seriously considering taking it. On the other hand, she feels that she can’t abandon Picard before he’s back in the good graces of the Admiralty. Picard himself resents that his crew is under suspicion because they are innocent, and on occasion he doubts his own decisions afterwards, because he knows that the Admiralty is watching him closely. Riker is again thinking about getting his own command and LaForge is resentful to the Admiralty because they took away Data’s emotion chip.

The book starts with a translation from one of the Dokaalans. He lives in a mining colony and is writing a journal about the events during the earthquakes. It’s pretty grim reading. There are short chapters of the journal from time to time throughout the first half of the book.

The pacing is pretty slow and contemplative. This is, by the way, an observation and not a complaint. I really like it when Trek has different types of episodes. One can be a contemplative episode about the nature of humanity or meeting of two different cultures and another can be a spy mission and third an action adventure.

Compared to the first two books, the new characters don’t take over the same way but the pacing is much slower and there isn’t an overall tension in the book until near the end. There are a couple of twists in the book after the half way point and they are all left open for the next book.

This is an interesting contrast to the previous books and the writing style is some what better. However, there’s a lot of repetition which can get tedious.

Collects Avengers vol.3 issues 1-4
Publisher: Marvel
Publication date: 2000

I’m a long time Avengers fan and I consider Busiek’s run the latest (last?) great Avengers run. I started reading the Avengers in the late 1980s first with the few Finnish publications of the earlier classics and then subscribing to the comic around issue 300. Bendis was the writer who managed to single handedly end my decades long love affair with the team but maybe it’s time to revisit the New Avengers this year and see if they weren’t as bad as I remember. I have Busiek’s run as single issues and not as the collections.

These issues are pretty much unabashed glorying of the classics which have come before and praise of the Avengers’ spirit. I have no idea how a new reader might feel but I’d guess that they could well feel lost with pretty much every Avenger ever making an appearance in one way or another, and the characters behaving like the long time friends they are. The story starts after the year during which the Marvel mainstream thought that various heroes had been dead (Heroes Reborn) and the Avengers had been disbanded for a while.

Issue 1 “Once an Avenger…” has been divided into several chapters. It starts with Asgardian creatures attacking various Avengers all over the world. Just when the monsters are about to win the fight through sheer numbers, they vanish. Captain America, Wasp, Gian Man, and Iron Man gather to the Avengers Mansion to discuss things. Then Thor staggers in and declares that Midgard is in grave danger. Asgard has been devastated, and the Norn stones and Twilight Sword have been stolen. All Avengers are alerted and 39 of them answer the call. The Norn stones are sensed in different locations and the Avengers split into teams. Captain America’s team heads for the Tintagel castle and confronts the villains: Morgan le Fay and Mordred. Morgan imprisons the Scarlet Witch, and combines the powers of the Witch with the Twilight Sword, and changes the world to her image.

Issue 2 “The Call” is set in Morgan’s world; a pseudo-medieval city where Morgan is the Queen and the Avengers serve her as the Queen’s Vengeance. Meanwhile, the Scarlet Witch is in the Queen dungeon but very much alive and using her powers. She sends a mental call to anyone and everyone. The first to answer the call is Captain America. He snaps out of his role as Yeoman America, the aloof leader of the Queen’s Vengeance, and recruits the next Avenger: Hawkeye. Together, they choose other Avengers to reach out. Not all of them can remember their true selves but few do. During the night, they managed to free the Wasp and Photon but when they try to reach out to Iron Man, he resists their efforts and alerts the others to the “traitors”. Cap makes his final plea and both Quasar and Justice manage to break off the spell. But the others attack the small band. Just as things look bleak for our heroes, Thor returns. He’s also free of the spell and with his help the six other Avengers manage to escape. Meanwhile, Wonder Man appears to return from the dead to answer Wanda’s summons.

In issue 3, “Fata Morgana”, Morgan makes her final mistake and the Avengers unite against her.

I through enjoyed this alternative world. All of the Avengers have different, pseudo-medieval costumes and code names, and Perez does his best to stuff the panels full of the various characters. Still, it doesn’t feel crowded to me. Despite the huge number of characters Busiek focuses on Cap, Hawkeye, and Wanda, while giving others a panel or two. There’s easy camaraderie between most of the characters and a few conflicting personalities, too, mostly Hawkeye and Moonstone. Justice and Firestar are the newcomers. Justice hero worships most the Avengers while Firestar is more level headed but still a bit intimidated by the more experienced heroes. There are also short scenes from media which is mostly interesting, this time around, rather than annoying. It’s to be expected that the world would have an interest in our heroes. Busiek did a lot of tight storytelling but it didn’t fell rushed or cramped.

In the next issue, “Too Many Avengers!” the Avengers are re-established with an official roster and the US government’s support. Cap, Wasp, Giant-Man, Thor, and Iron Man discuss about various members while Hawkeye fumes that he’s left outside. The story starts when a huge group of Avengers is trying to stop Whirlwind from robbing a bank. Unfortunately, the heroes get into each others way, harm property, and Whirlwind escapes causing a media embarrassment to the Avengers. Later, Justice and Firestar decide to go after the villain to prove themselves. Oh, and we’re introduced to the new government liaison, Freeman, who is a fan of Avengers and the very opposite of Gyrich. There’s also reintroduction to the romance conflict between the Vision and the Scarlet Witch, with Wanda pining for Vision while determinately trying not to and Vision not showing his feelings. And a glimpse of Wonder Man.

This issue had a classic feeling. It’s very much a cool down story from the previous three issues but the Avengers have had the occasional roster shake up/ establishment issues before. There’s bickering between various characters and most of the characters leave pretty quickly leaving just the “new” core team.

Overall, this was a great beginning for Busiek’s run and a great sampler of his style through out: classic characters and conflicts mixed with some new characters. Busiek also created immediately conflict inside the team. Carol Danvers came back to the Avengers with the code name Warbird. What she didn’t tell her fellow team members was that her power levels have decreased: she can’t access the powers of Binary anymore. Personally, I was a bit disappointed by yet another depowering of a powerful woman. There are hints that she a problem with alcohol and she’s also quick to anger. Hawkeye feels that he’s being sidelined and is at odds with Cap from the start. And then there are Vision and the Scarlet Witch. The Vision/Wanda soap opera especially almost feels like rehashing of old material but I’ll take that any day over “gray” heroes. The “new” team isn’t really new but very much a classic one.

The upcoming movie made me read this one.

Publication year: 2008
Format: print
Finnish translator: Helene Butzow
Page count: 335
Publisher of the Finnish translation: WSOY

Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 where the main industry is coal production. Like all the other men, her father worked in the coal mines but he was also a great singer and a woodsman who could hunt and knew all the edible plants. Unfortunately, he died in a mining accident years ago and it fell on young Katniss to support her mother and younger sister. Now 16 year old Katniss hunts in the nearby forest and is in danger of being killed if the local authorities decide to interfere. So far, they’ve liked the rabbit meat and strawberries too much to care. She hunts with his best friend Gale whose father has also died and who supports several younger siblings. Life is tough but somehow manageable.

It’s time for the Harvest, when two kids between 12 and 18 are randomly chosen to journey into the Capitol and take part in the Hunger game. The game has two participants, a boy and a girl, from each of the 12 Districts and only one of them will survive the brutal game which will be performed in front of cameras for all to see. The wealthier Districts train their candidates, call tributes, to survive the game but District 12 is too poor for that. Only once has candidate from District 12 won.

During the lottery, the unthinkable happens: Katniss’ younger sister is chosen and Katniss volunteers so that Prim doesn’t have to die. She barely knows the other District 12 tribute who is the baker’s son Peeta. They have no choice but to step into the train which will take them to Capitol. Peeta and Katniss have two helpers: Haymitch who is the only tribute from District 12 to win and Effie Trinket from Capital who will teach the two youngsters to perform in front of cameras. Unfortunately, Haymitch is a drunk and Effie seems to be pretty ineffective.

A big part, perhaps the biggest part, of the game isn’t surviving on the arena itself. Before the teenagers are put on the arena to kill each other for viewers’ pleasure, they have to perform for the audience. They have to try to interest rich people enough that they will aid the tributes during the game. This means short interviews and a parade in various costumes. For the viewers, it’s very much a game and nobody seems to care that the contestants are actually dying. The arena is an artificial construct and the game admins control every aspect of it.

The book has excellent pacing; I was barely able to put it down during a stressful work week. The characters are engaging. Katniss might seem brutal at times but she has to be in order to survive. She has to take advantage of every opportunity, every slight edge. Yet, she’s human and can’t help but to be moved by others’ struggles. She has an edge because she’s already an excellent hunter and is used to supporting herself in the wild. She has a temper which she’s learned to keep in check but it also drives her forward in a situation where others might break down. She’s a fighter and she’s learned not to trust anyone. In contrast it was interesting to see that Peeta isn’t a fighter, really. He’s baker’s son and his strengths lie elsewhere.

I was a bit surprised when it turned out that the part set in the arena wasn’t just brutal fighting all the time. There’s that, too, characters dying and killing, but mostly it’s focused on survival: hiding and finding food and water. This was a pleasant surprise.

Unfortunately, I felt that some of the things near ending were very convenient, even a cop-out. But I’ve heard enough about the series that I guessed something like that was coming. However, there’s also no hard choices for Katniss during the game and that was a bigger disappointment.

The book has a lot of social commentary. The Hunger game is, of course, a critique of the current day reality TV and also a commentary on the way that the viewers distance themselves from what they see on TV, no matter if they’re watching fiction or a report from real war. There’s also a deep divide between the rich people in Capitol and the District people who die of hunger if they are hurt or too old to work. The District people are forbidden to hunt or forage in the woods around them. (Frankly, I found it unlikely that only two people would be illegal hunters; surely there must have been many more doing it.) Even in the Districts there’s a divide between the merchants who are seen as well off and the poor laborers. This all shows how corrupt the people in power are.

The book ends with an uncertain future for our heroes but not really in a cliffhanger unless you’re a romance reader.

Booking Through Thursday

Which non-series book would you most like to read the sequel to? Do you have any wishes for what might happen in it?

I read a lot of series but a couple of books comes to mind.

Robin McKinley’s Blue Sword has great characters and a world which is a bit different from the usual fantasy worlds. After following Harry through her adolescence to adulthood, I’d love to see some further adventures for her. The same with McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown.

The second book in the Clockwork Century series. Or rather a novella.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Dina Perlman, Victor Bevine
Running Time: 5 hrs and 46 minute

Pirate captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey’s ship has been stolen and he and his small crew are chasing it in a smaller aircraft. Hainey swears bloody vengeance on the Free Crow’s stealer, red-headed Felton Brink, who has had the temerity to rename the craft Clementine and is using it as a legal transport. Hainey has only two crewmen, Lemar and Symian, who are loyal only to him. Hainey is is an escaped slave and a notorious pirate. He carries the Rattler, a huge gun which a smaller man can’t even carry, and he uses it when he has to.

Maria Isabella Boyd is a former Southern spy. Unfortunately, this has made her famous and so she isn’t able to get any more work. She’s also in her forties, a widow, and a divorcée so she accepts any work she can get. In this case, she’s hired by the Pinkerton detective agency. Maria is the first woman the agency has hired and so she has a lot of prove. Her first mission is to make sure that Clementine gets safely to her destination. Captain Hainey is known to chaise the ship and Pinkerton lets Maria decide what to do about the pirate; kill him, capture him, or let him go free.

The book is set during the war between the Union and the Confederacy but in this world the war has been going on for 20 years. The characters are from Confederacy and have worked for it. Maria especially loathes the Union and working for it but she’s a realist. And she’s a woman at a time when it’s still not really proper for a white woman to work, especially when she’s at an age when she should be at home popping out kids. Even though the pirate crew, all black men, are able to move more freely in the Union, they still face a lot of racism.

Considering the books shortness, it’s quite verbose with various descriptions and it could have been easily cut down further.

Captain Hainey starts off as a sort of rogue but seems to be decent enough. Unfortunately, his bloodthirsty reputation is well deserved. The only thing he cares about is getting his ship back and he will do anything to get it.

Maria is loyal to the Confederacy and resents the Union. She spends a lot of time justifying her new job which felt unnecessary to me. She’s manipulative and especially skillful at manipulating men, but of course she has to be. At the start of the story, it’s well established that she isn’t beautiful which is great compared to all the “flawless skin” beauties running around pretty much every genre. Unfortunately, some men were rather rude about it. However, for a long-time spy she trusts people quickly and we never hear her thoughts about slavery even though Hainey is a former slave.

The novella contains a lot of action scenes especially later in the book and there isn’t even a hint of romance in it (great!). However, some things, and people, where a bit too convenient.

Perlman narrates the chapters which are from the point-of-view of Maria and Bevine narrates the chapters which are from the point-of-view of Hainey. They narrate together only when these two characters are in the same chapter and the Perlman narrates only Maria’s dialog and Beive Hainey’s dialog. This worked for me fine.

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