October 2012

Publication year: 2008
Page count: 303
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2009
Format: print
Finnish translator: Inka Parpola
Finnish Publisher: Otava
Art: Dave McKean

The man named Jack kills people. He kills a family but the youngest boy, an infant, has gone wandering and manages to escape – to a graveyard. A mysterious man who calls himself the groundskeeper sends the man Jack away while the spirits of the dead decide what to do with the boy. In the end, the Owens adopt him and the mysterious man, Silas, agreed to be his guardian, as the spirits can’t leave the cemetery and can’t even touch the infant. Nobody Owens, Bod, is made an honorary dead and he grows up in the cemetery.

The dead are kind and willing to teach him what they know. Of course, sometimes what they know aren’t current anymore. Bod explores the graveyard, including the oldest grave and the witch’s grave. But he’s also curious about the outside world. After all, even when he was an infant he was always escaping from his parents and exploring the world around him.

Many of the things we take for granted are turned on their head in this book. For example, the dead are almost always kind while the living people Bod meets are often greedy, distrustful or otherwise disagreeable. The Graveyard book feels like a collection of short stories, except for the two last chapters when Bod grows up and meets challenges.

The stories are warmhearted if a bit scary at times and the ending is bittersweet.

McKean’s art helps to build a great atmosphere. Especially on the first page, the art really starts the story.

The second book of the Outcast Chronicles.

Publication year: 2012
Page count: 509
Format: print
Publisher: Solaris

290 years ago the peace accords were signed between the True-men (whom the T’En call Mieren) and the powerful and long-lived T’Enatuath (whom the humans call the Wyrd). The two races have co-existed in an uneasy peace since then. Sometimes half-bloods (whom the T’En call the Malaunje and the humans call the Wyrd) are born to two True-men parents. According to the accords, the True-men have to give up the half-blood infants to the T’En.

Now, King Charald has broken the accords. His troops have attacked T’En estates and his army besieges the T’En Celestial City. He hates and fears the T’En and is convinced his god, the Warrior, wants him to slaughter them all. He tolerates his half-blooded first born son Sorne only because he thinks that Sorne receives visions from the Warrior. Sorne has realized that his loyalty is wasted on king Charald and has come to sympathized with the T’En. Sorne’s position as King Charald’s adviser is precarious because he is a Malaunje and many of the powerful Barons don’t trust him. Still, Sorne is now actively trying to help the T’En and Malaunje people he comes across and he even tries to warn Imoshen, when possible. However, King Charald is an old man and his health is failing. The Barons are already plotting to secure their own power after the king’s death.

Because King Charald has brought war to the Celestial City, the sisterhoods and brotherhoods of the T’En have to choose a causare, a leader who can negotiate the new accords with the Mieren King. The brotherhoods are always competing against each other for higher stature and even now they can’t unite against a single candidate even though there are nine voting all-fathers to six all-mothers. So, the sisterhoods’ candidate, Imoshen, is elected. Imoshen was raised outside the T’En society and has proven to be very powerful so she has a lot of enemies but fortunately also friends. Causare doesn’t have the power to force anyone to do what she says so Imoshen has to use all of the diplomatic skills and her gift to read other people’s emotions to do her job. At first, King Charald wants the T’En to leave forever from Chalcedonia on ships and the brotherhoods are fiercely against that. Imoshen has to remind them that if they continue to fight, the warriors aren’t the ones who will pay the price but the people on the estates and in the end the Mieren will overwhelm them with sheer numbers. But when Sorne brings word that the king intends to slaughter all of the T’En instead of letting them leave, Imoshen will have to find a way to protect her whole race.

Things inside the brotherhoods aren’t well, either. Tobazim is a young warrior who came to a brotherhood looking for stature and fame. Instead he found a place where the all-father rules with fear and honor has no place in the brotherhood. He and his closest friend will have to be careful and follow orders as well as they can.

In addition to these three, one of the point-of-view characters is King Charald’s high priest, Zabier, who is a tragic character. At a young age, he was thrust into the position of being the Father’s voice, who supposedly saw visions from the god Father. In order to keep his mother and Malaunje sister safe, Zabier had to play along. He had to serve a despotic king before King Charald conquered Chalcedonia and had to do terrible things which he has had to justify to himself. Even though Zabier and Sorne grew up together, Zabier now fears and loathes Sorne because Sorne threatens Zabier’s positions and therefore his family.

Exile also introduces a new family. They don’t live in the Celestial City; in fact the family’s adults were Malaunje lovers who ran away so that they could be together. The Malaunje have five children and their eldest son is a pure T’En whose magical gift is starting to manifest. Unfortunately, there’s no-one to teach him how to control it so the family will have to face a tragic decision: stay and let young Ronnyn’s gift possibly hurt someone or return to the City where the parents will most likely be punished and the family torn apart.

Even though the T’En squabble amongst themselves, most of them want to protect their own and the Malaunje. They also value the lives of their own people more than money or other valuables. When Imoshen realizes that the Mieren might kill her people who are still on the estates, she gives orders to pay for every live T’En and Malaunje who are brought to her. Unfortunately, in their greed the Mieren do atrocities to get as many captives as possible.

The Mieren are shown is a very bad light; there doesn’t seem to be any redeemable characters among them. The vast majority of them seem to be so greedy that they don’t think twice about robbing and killing the Malaunje and are looking forward to looting anything possible from the T’En. They are also rapists and seem to enjoy abusing women. The Mieren women feel like victims to me because they don’t have any legal rights and are so dependent on their abusing men. The queen isn’t exempt. In fact, because she is an important figure, men seem to be more eager to manipulate and abuse her. A word of warning: out of the three female POV characters, two are raped during the book.

The first book on the series, Besieged, was dark in atmosphere but Exile is even darker. The Mieren rape and kill with impunity and families are destroyed because of greed. The plot moved at a relentless pace. Exile covers a much shorter space of time than Besieged because the plot moves quicker.

Exile is an excellent and intense continuation to Besieged. Daniells is once again ruthless to her characters. They have suffered so much that I’m almost hoping for them to get a break in the last book, but that seems unlikely.

Book Beginnings at Rose City Reader

Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

“Asher loved her, but she was not his to love. They were both half-bloods.”
Exile by Rowena Cory Daniells

This sounds like a romance book but it’s not. It’s epic fantasy set in a secondary world. It’s the second book in the series but these characters are new. Daniells has romance as one element in her books so these are most likely a set of desperate lovers who are going to give problems to the primary characters. And nothing is guaranteed for secondary characters so my instinct is not to get too attached.

Booking Through Thursday

The flip side of last week’s …

Are there any good books that you read IN SPITE OF the cover and ended up wondering what on earth the artist and publisher were thinking to pair up a cover that so badly represented a perfectly good book?

And … if you didn’t like the cover, what made you pick up the book? The author? Assigned reading from school? A recommendation from a friend?

Yes. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy and they are known for their cheesy or right down terrible covers.

Urban fantasy is especially bad about this. I didn’t pick up Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking until I’ve read a lot of favorable mentions about it and it appeared on a lot of “Best of UF lists”. Other UF tend to be as bad with a half-naked women in the covers promising the reader “action”. And I don’t mean fighting or adventuring. However, some of these books don’t even have sex scenes. Talk about false advertising.

On the science fiction side, Lois McMaster Bujold has suffered from inordinate number of book covers ranging form bad to horrible. However, her first omnibus, Cordelia’s Honor, didn’t have a bad cover, just a bit odd and it was strongly recommended. I’m really glad I read it because she’s been one of my favorite authors for years.

The first of the City Watch books.

Publication year: 1989
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2001
Format: print
Finnish translator: Maija Sinkkonen
Page count: 334
Finnish Publisher: Karisto

Ankh-Morpork’s City Guard is in a bad way; Captain Vimes has only two underlings and he drinks constantly. It’s not wonder when criminals are doing their criminal work legally and all the three watchmen are allowed to do is ring their bell and call that everything is alright.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Carrot Ironfoundersson doesn’t know that. He was raised by dwarfs but on his sixteenth birthday he’s told that he wasn’t born a dwarf but was found as a child from the woods. Carrot’s parents have decided that it would be better for Carrot to return to his kind. They write to the Patrician of Ankh-Morpok to ask that Carrot be allowed to join the illustrious City Guard. He’s accepted. Carrot is used to doing what he’s told and even though he’s sad to leave the only life he’s known so far, he heads towards Ankh-Morpok, reading his book of the city’s laws so that he could be well prepared. After he arrests the leader of the Thieves Guild, Captain Vimes tries to make him more adapted to the life in the city.

Meanwhile, the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night wants to take over the city, to repay all slights (real or imagined) to the members. Their Supreme Grand Master is sometimes almost baffled by the stupidity of the others. Still, they are determined to summon a dragon to burn the city down so that the King of Ankh-Morpok would come, slay the dragon, and make the city more just. The Supreme Grand Master even has a suitable man for the job. To their own astonishment, they succeed. However, things don’t go quite the way that the secret brotherhood wanted.

The City Guard has quite interesting characters. Captain Vimes is cynical and very depressed about his job and life. Sergeant Colon is “one of nature’s sergeants”; he tries to avoid all exertion but is dependable. He’s married and his wife works during the day and Colon works nights. This is said to be the reason for their happiness. Corporeal “Nobby” Nobbs is very untidy and about as tall as a dwarf. He smokes constantly and there’s a veritable graveyard of tobacco stumps behind his ear. He and Colon have strange discussions which are sometimes philosophical. All of these three know that they are considered scum of the city. Carrot is completely different, not only in looks, since he’s over six feet tall and muscular, but also in attitude. Carrot’s enthusiasm and naivete inspires Captain Vimes in the end when it’s up to the City Guard to protect their city.

Lady Sybil Ramkin is a significant secondary character. She’s one of the high old nobility and very eccentric (I think she’s gentle parody of the British aristocracy). She breeds swamp dragons and the dragons are pretty much everything to her. Still, when things get tough, she’s quite level-headed and sensible. And in defiance to the fantasy traditions of small and young and delicate little princesses, Lady Ramkin is big, fat, middle-aged, and tends to wear rubber boots.

Along the way Pratchett makes wry observations about dwarven culture, the nature of libraries, and the nature of humans. Oh and the discussions near the end about how one chance in a million will always succeed is priceless!

One of my favorite Discworld books.

“People who are rather more than six feet tall and nearly as broad across the shoulders often have uneventful journeys. People jump out at them from behind rocks then say things like, “Oh. Sorry. I thought you were someone else.””

“Thunder rolled. … It rolled a six.”

“The three rules of the Librarians of Time and Space are: 1) Silence; 2) Books must be returned no later than the date last shown; and 3) Do not interfere with the nature of causality.”

“If there was anything that depressed him more than his own cynicism, it was that quite often it still wasn’t as cynical as real life.”

Sanctuary’s first season has just 13 episodes and I think that’s a good thing; there’s less need for filler. During the first season every episode furthers the long storyline. Every episode has the episode-specific plot and the longer story on the background. However, the longer plot line isn’t resolved during this season. Instead, the season ends with a cliffhanger.

Sanctuary is literally a sanctuary to everything abnormal – both to animals and humans. The place is run by Doctor Helen Magnus and her daughter Ashley. They have two people helping them: the big guy, whose name isn’t mentioned, who is a general assistant and their computer and security expert Henry Foss. The series starts when Magnus recruits a psychologist and a former police profiler Will Zimmerman as her protégé so we see things from Will’s point-of-view when he’s brought into a world he didn’t know before. However, Will quickly accepts the fact that some people are born with a genetic defects which makes them abnormal. The abnormals are born with physical deformities and/or with powers. Magnus wants to help them and study them. So, while the crew (Helen Magnus, Ashley, and Will) sometimes hunt down people or animals, they aren’t trying to kill the abnormals but to help them. The rest of the world doesn’t know about the abnormals and a couple of plot line develop around keeping them a secret.

In the third episode, we’re introduced to the main villain of the series: the Cabal. They are a group of powerful people with a lot of resources. They are interested in capturing abnormals for their own ends which are, of course, evil.

The highlight of the show for me was Helen Magnus’ background. She’s 150-years old and in a couple of episodes there are scenes set into her history. She’s part of “the Five”, a group of four men and Helen who were eager to experiment in the name of science. Some of the others are rather well known people and I enjoyed seeing them in the show. Another thing I enjoyed was Will as the newbie because usually women are the newbie characters. However, Will adjusted quickly to the situation and started being a dependable part of the team.

On the other hand, I didn’t really care for Druitt. He starts out as a antagonist and I probably would have preferred him to stay that way. While I enjoyed the fifth episode “Kush” the outcome was pretty predictable. Same with “Requiem”. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t have original plot lines but recycles stuff I’ve already seen before.

A quirky little show and I will get the next season, too.

Chapters 7-8
Every Man Jack
Leavings and Partings

In the seventh chapter Bod is now fourteen. He has to confront the organization which murdered his family. Silas has been away for a few months and the ghosts are afraid that he’s not going to return. Therefore Bod has to deal with everything. I was really impressed that Bod didn’t kill anyone (because revenge killing seem to be very common in fantasy these days) but he did send them to horrible fates.

The chapter is almost as much about Scarlett as it’s about Bod. Scartlett’s parents divorced and Scarlett’s mother brings them back to Bod’s city. We see Scarlett’s life; she’s a pretty normal self centered teenager. On retrospect, it was obvious that Mr. Frost was Jack but while reading it, I assumed Jack to be a high-paid assassin with weird powers and someone like that wouldn’t have time to stake out just one place.

I also really liked the small snippets about Silas’ and Miss Lupescus’ quest.

The Jacks turn out to be stranger than I thought. Great! And a great chapter!

Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for the final chapter. Bod didn’t choose to leave, he was, essentially, booted out when his skills and powers just fade, when he ages. Silas finally shows a lot of classic vampire traits: he doesn’t have a reflection in a mirror and he sleeps on home soil when he’s away from home – and the cemetery isn’t his home. That last one was a surprise.

Overall, I liked the book a lot but the last chapter soured it a bit.

My newest review: K. A. Stewart: Devil in the Details.

Now this is urban fantasy I like! The main character is a modern day samurai and he’s happily married.

Booking Through Thursday

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but there’s no question that it can make a difference!

What book(s) have your favorite covers? Something that’s perfect for the story, the tone, the colors, the mood…

And did you pick up the book BECAUSE of the cover? Or were you going to read it anyway, and the cover was just serendipitous?

These days I do most of my book shopping on-line so I’m not as influenced by covers as I used to be when shopping in bookstores. Now, I tend to choose the books I buy because of an author I already know or because I’ve read interesting reviews about it or because it’s about a topic I’m interested in. In fact, sometimes I have to buy an interesting book despite the cover.

Covers actually influence me lot more in libraries.

The first in a mystery series starring amateur detective China Bayles.

Publication year: 1992
Page count: 306
Format: print
Publisher: Berkley

China Bayles owns the Thyme and Seasons Herb Shop in Pecan Springs. About two years ago, she was a highly successful attorney but she got fed up with the high pressure life, quit and bought the shop. She enjoys the peace and her friends. She’s just started to make some money out of the shop.

One of her friends, Jo, is dying of cancer but she’s still a prominent woman in town and vigorously opposing a plan to build an airport near the town. Then, she’s dies. At first it looks like Jo has killed herself but Jo’s daughter and China’s best friend Ruby are insisting that she could do that. China is drawn into investigating her friends life and the various people who gather for her funeral.

I thought this whole books was rather charming. The characters are quirky but not too weird. China herself knows what she wants and doesn’t bow to anyone. Even when her lover wants a more permanent relationship, China doesn’t give into to his pressure. By the way, the relationship between China and her boyfriend is a definite plus. McQuaid is former cop and current teaches at the local university, he’s divorced with a kid. No teenage romance here! Bubba Harris, the town’s chief of police, looks like a hick but he seems to know what he’s doing. Ruby, of course, is one of them most eccentric character. She’s also left a hectic life before quitting it, and her unsatisfying marriage, to run a New Age shop next to China’s herb shop. She’s convinced that Jo couldn’t have killed herself and is determined to find out who murdered her.

Jo’s daughter Meredith is in town on vacation from her hectic life. However, Jo and Meredith have estranged to the point that Meredith is bitter to her mother for pushing her away. Apparently, Jo’s marriage was an unhappy one and Meredith feels that Jo took care of her out of duty instead of love.

One of the themes of the book are the relationships between mothers and daughters. China has a difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother and Meredith was estranged from her mother. China thinks: “But is wasn’t just her alcoholism that made my mother unknowable. It was the nearly overwhelming idea of mother, a woman who was me and yet-not-me, from whom I had somehow, by some complicated and tricky maneuver, to separate myself. I wondered whether any of us ever really knew out mothers, yet whether we could ever be successful in knowing ourselves apart from them.”

Often it’s very hard to see our own parents as just people.

It’s interesting that in the middle of reading this book, I finished another short book which also dealt with mothers and daughters: Karen Wyle’s Wander Home. That book is set in an afterlife where people, family members included, are very supportive of each other. That’s not always the case in real life, though. In both books, women outnumber the male characters and that’s always refreshing.

I’ll probably continue with this series at some point. Some Amazon comments say that the writer’s other series are better and now I’m tempted to try one of them.

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