June 2015

Today the topic of Top Ten Tuedays is Top 10 books read so far in 2015.

It was hard to choose the best books. Fortunately, I’ve read a lot of good books this year.

1, Catherynne M. Valente: The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden
I’m currently reading the second book in this duology. They’re wonderful fantasy, inspired by the tales told in the 1001 Nights and they have an unusual structure, tales within tales.

2, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Masterminds
Masterminds ends the eight book series Anniversary Day Saga. I’m a fan of Rusch and she delivers an excellent ending, this time too. In fact, I really enjoyed the books leading to this tone, too.

3, Howard Pyle: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
Robin Hood is one of my favorite folkheroes and Pyle’s lighthearted retelling of the stories are very good.

4, Karen Lowachee: Warchild
A haunting book where the protagonist is orphaned very young and has to endure a lot.

5, Scott E. Tabert: A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk
Another very fun book. A stand-alone alternate history steampunk clearly inspired by the Shakespeare play in the title.

6, Diane Duane: Dark Mirror
My first tie-in book this year! Duane’s Star Trek: the Next Generation book is a chilling (in a good way) journey to the Mirror universe where our familiar heroes aren’t.

7, Terry Pratchett: Witches Abroad
Pratchett’s three witches tackle fairy tales coming alive.

8, Elizabeth Bear: One-Eyed Jack

Set in Las Vegas and it deals with characters who are archtypes from spy movies.

9, MeiLin Miranda: The Machine God
A steampunk book where the main character is a linguist and it’s not centered on violence.

10, Clay and Susan Griffith: The Rift Walker
The second book in the Vampire Empire series was just as much fun as the first one.

Best comics:
While the Excalibur reread was fun, I really enjoyed the Elfquest reread the best.

The second book in the Vampire Empire series.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours, 35 minutes
Publisher: Buzzy Multimedia Publishing
Narrator: James Marsters

The book starts three months after the end of the previous book, Greyfriar.

Prince Gareth of the British Vampire Empire has returned home and is dealing with politics. Unlike all other vampires, Gareth is on the side of the humans and wants to stop his brother from ruling the whole world. Prince Cesare is forming an alliance with other vampire monarchs in order to destroy the Equatorian human empire which holds lands in the warm south. Gareth doesn’t like this alliance but he can’t stop it from forming. Then he hears that his love Princess Adele is in danger and he hurries to her side.

Princess Adele is the heir to the Equatorian Empire and the only hope of uniting her Empire with the American Republic. The American Senator Clark came to Alexandria to marry Adele and thus form a human alliance against the vampires. However, Adele has noticed that Clark is bloodthirsty bore; she doesn’t want to marry him, especially because her heart belongs to the Grayfriar. But she also knows her duty and has reluctantly agreed, even though she’s trying to postpone the wedding as long as she can. When she hears that Clark and her father the Emperor intend to start the war with a strike against the vampire’s food source, she tries to stop it. Killing thousands of humans just to deprive the vampires of food, is deeply wrong to her. But the men insist that it’s the logical way and too soon her wedding day arrives.

But during the wedding, Greyfriar appears and kidnaps Adele. She’s happy to abandon her duty and escapes with him, leaving Clark roaring after them. Adele and Grayfriar travel to Egypt in order to escape the imperial pursuers and in hopes of finding allies. They are also seeking a way to defeat the vampires which doesn’t involve killing a lot of humans.

This was again a fun and quick read, at times almost a melodramatic swashbuckling adventure. Adele and the Grayfriar have now become the romantic couple at the heart of humanity’s survival. The book is fast-paced and has some very interesting twists which I didn’t see coming.

However, the book has so flaws, too. I think that Grayfriar’s desire to protect humans is pretty strange. He isn’t human, after all. Also, both Adele and Grayfriar are characterized as good, or great, leaders and tacticians. Yet, when the tactics include each other, they fail. For example, at the start of the book, when he saves a whole town from slaughter at the hands of vampires, Grayfriar’s concerned that he doesn’t do enough for humans. Yet, when he hears that Adele is in danger, he drops everything to help her. He doesn’t give another thought to humans he’s supposed to be protecting. Adele’s powers are growing and she knows that she needs them in order to defend humans from vampires. Her Japanese teacher Mamuru teaches her to use her powers. Yet, when her growing powers start to cause Grayfriar pain, she just blithely decides not to train anymore which could mean that the next time she has to use her powers against the vampires, she could lose and every person dependent on her might die.

The book also had lots of stuff I enjoyed. The people have decided that Adele and Grayfriar are a romantic couple and they write penny dreadfuls and plays about them. They’re hilarious! There were also some delightful twists I didn’t see coming and by the end, the status quo has been changed which I enjoyed a lot. Clark is also an enjoyable antagonist although I can’t help thinking that sacrificing a lot of people is the way that real wars are fought (and won?). Prince Cesare reveals another tactic against the humans which I also liked.

Most of the secondary characters from the first book return and we’re also introduced to a bunch of new characters when Adele and Grayfriar travel to Africa. My favorite secondary characters are Mamuru and Colonel Anhalt who commands Adele’s personal guard. Both have strong convictions and aren’t afraid to stand behind them.

The book doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but the great confrontation between the two empires is clearly coming.

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.
Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is FATHERS

Comes in two types in fantasyland. Either a semi-mystical figure proving impossible to live up to or the overbearing type who doesn’t understand why his daughter doesn’t accept the traditional princess role. He may be tough to get along with but usually does think he has his kids interests in mind.

My list is a bit different: 🙂

Two of the most prominent fathers in the Elfquest comic have pretty much opposite fathering styles:

Bearclaw was a real character. He enjoyed tricking humans, drinking and gambling with the trolls, and hunting. He had a bad temper and he even struck his son Cutter once or twice.

Cutter is a very supportive father. He lets his children be what they are without pressuring them. He’s fiercely protective of his family and tribe but he also knows when he has to let his daughter go and live her own life.

Oberon from Roger Zelazny’s Amber series is very much a mysterious father. He vanished without naming an heir and left his children fighting over the throne of Amber. He has over twelve children, most of them half siblings so the fighting was fierce.

Lord Allandale, the father of William Laurence, is perhaps the epitome of an overbearing father. Nothing Laurence did pleased him. The Earl didn’t approve when his son joined the Navy and he approved even less when Laurence got his dragon Temeraire and joined the Aerial Corps.

Everyone in the steampunk Seattle thinks that Levitictus Blue was an evil genius who was responsible for the destruction of Seattle’s city center and inventing the blight gas that turn people into zombies. However, his son Zeke didn’t believe that and ran away to find any proof that he could to clear his father’s name in Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.

Jesse Dawson is a modern day samurai who tries to save people’s souls from demons. He’s also a loving father and husband who always wants to return to his family in K. A. Stewart’s Devil in the Details. His daughter Annabelle is still very young.

Magneto was the leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and his children were members. He’s manipulated his daughter Wanda a couple of times to join his Brotherhood even after she joined the Avengers.

Speaking of intimidating fathers, Aral Vorkosigan is a very difficult act to follow. Even if his only son Miles didn’t have a lot of physical problems due to a soltoxin attack, Aral is still the greatest general in Barrayar, the Prime Minister who kept the county together until the young Emperor was old enough to ascend to the throne, and later the Viceroy of an entire planet. And an excellent father, to boot.

Zeus fathered a lot of kids but was a very negligent father. In fact, gods in general aren’t terribly good parents.

Pa Kent is one of the most decent humans around. After all, he raised Superman. Even though Superman was technically an orphan, he was raised by pretty great humans.

Edited to add: Rick Castle. Another great dad.

A Discworld novel.
Publication year: 1991
Format: print
Page count: 374
Publisher: Gollanz

Desirata Hollow is a fairy godmother and pretty good at it, too. However, she’s never been good at planning ahead and even though she knows the moment she dies, she isn’t well prepared for it. She leaves her wand and vague instructions to Magrat Garlick in the hopes that the young witch will make a good fairy godmother to at least one young princess, Ella. Desirata also leaves strict instructions for Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax not to interfere, hoping that when they find out, they will help Magrat.

Of course, the three witches are soon riding their broomsticks to the distant Genua with the intension of preventing Ella from marrying the prince. On the way, they realize that someone is making fairy tales to come literally true which isn’t a good thing at all. And more horrifyingly, they encounter foreign foods and customs which infuriate Granny especially. Also, Magrat is able to use the wand to change anything into pumpkins.

Witches abroad focuses on the nature of stories and how they affect people and vice versa. Granny also encounters someone from her past. They also muse about happy endings and how they can’t be forced on people from outside. The story is woven around the Cinderella story but if not inverted, at least turned sideways. Lots of other fairy tales make an appearance, too.

About half of the book is the witches’ journey to Genua and it had some of the funniest scenes in any Discworld book I’ve yet read; Granny taking revenge on some card sharks and Greebo, Nanny’s cat, eating a vampire while the witches are oblivious to the whole thing.

Witches are my favorite Discworld characters and they’re in fine form in this book.

“Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.”

“The wages of sin is death but so is the salary of virtue, and at least the evil get to go home early on Fridays.”

“The Yen Buddhists are the richest religious sect in the universe. They hold that the accumulation of money is a great evil and a burden to the soul. They therefore, regardless of personal hazard, see it as their unpleasant duty to acquire as much as possible in order to reduce the risk to innocent people.”

“And the people from the city – not the ones who lived in the big white mansions and went to balls in fine coaches, but the other ones. They were the ones that stories are never about. Stories are not, on the whole, interested in swineherds who remain swineherds and poor and humble shoemakers whose destiny is to die slightly poorer and much humbler.

These people were the ones who made the magical kingdom work, who cooked its meals and swept its floors and carted its nightly soil and were its faces in the crowd and whose wishes and dreams, undemanding as they were, were of no consequence. The invisibles.”

Collects Elfquest 11-15

Writers: Wendy and Richard Pini
Artist: Wendy Pini
Publishing year: 1988
Publisher: Father Tree Press

The comic has a continuous storyline, so spoilers for the previous collections.

Cutter, the chief of Wolfriders, have been reunited with his family but most of his small tribe has been captured. They’re held inside the Blue Mountain where another tribe of strange, tall elves lives. All their lives the Wolfriders have fought against humans but now to their amazement they notice that the humans near Blue Mountain worship the elves inside. Cutter is determined to free his tribe, of course.

The new elves call themselves Gliders and they have gigantic bond birds. Strongbow shot one of them for food and that’s why they enslaved the tribe. The Wolfriders are given a way to make amends but can they trust the new elves? Because among them is Winnowill, the evil elf that Savah warned Cutter about. She and the other Gliders call themselves the High Ones, the ancestors of all elves but can that be true?

In this story we get to know more about the Wolfriders’ origins and about the mysterious High Ones.

These stories are darker than the previous ones. Characters are tortured and face the consequences of that. There’s more violence than in the previous collection. We also see the dark side of recognition. In the first collection Cutter recognized Leetah and she resisted him because he was a stranger and in her eyes a savage who brought to Leetah and her village permanent change which she didn’t want. But in time, she was able to overcome her objections and fell in love with him. But here we see the power of recognition as the purely biological drive that it is; a method to select a male and a female whose offspring would be the most talented and powerful among elves. That drive doesn’t care if the two are in any way compatible with each other or already in relationship with someone else, and it brings a lot of anguish in this case when one young Wolfrider recognizes a Glider. No romance is possible between them, just a biological need.

The collection also ends in a cliffhanger.

Elfquest is one of my favorite fantasy series and it’s a pleasure to reread it. It’s just as visceral and wonderful as I remembered.

The complete collection also includes art from the original issues and the bridge pages from Marvel reprints which are all done by Wendy Pini.

Collects Elfquest 5-10.

Writers: Wendy and Richard Pini
Artist: Wendy Pini
Publishing year: 1988
Publisher: Father Tree Press

Seven turns of seasons have gone by since the Wolfrider tribe’s holt was burned down. The elves and their wolf companions have found a new home at the Sorrow’s End with another elf tribe, the Sun folk. They are a peaceful people who had only one hunter among them until the Wolfriders came there. The leader of the small Wolfrider tribe, Cutter, has even found a family. But then the peace is shattered: humans have come!

The human group is small, but they still hate the elves. Cutter lets the three half-starved humans leave unharmed but he realizes that the Sorrow’s End isn’t safe anymore. There are more humans in the world that he realized before and it’s likely that the elves must defend themselves against the humans at some point. Cutter also starts to wonder if there are more elven tribes in the world. In the end, he decides to leave and look for any other elves. He tries to leave alone but his best friend Skywise and their wolves Nightrunner and Starjumper come with him.

First, they return to the troll caves which are deserted. They morn over their burned holt but they’re attacked and captured by two trolls who are after Cutter’s sword. They claim that the sword holds the key to finding a treasure. Apparently, another troll tribe attacked and killed the other trolls. Cutter is more convinced than ever that there are more elf tribes in the world. Meanwhile, back in the Sorrow’s End some strange and terrible power has taken over the tribe’s best magic user, Savah. That power threatens Cutter and Skywise, as well. So Cutter’s lifemate Leetah has to decide if she will follow Cutter and try to find him. She has lived her whole life in the peaceful village so the decision is hard, even when the Wolfriders will come with her.

Most of this collection focuses on Cutter and Skywise. While Skywise is often seen as the dreamer of the tribe, this time it’s Cutter who dreams so big that others doubt him. Still, Skywise has absolute faith in him and follows his friend pretty much everywhere he leads. Most of the Wolfriders follow their chief because they love him, not because they think that he’s infallible. Cutter is also one of the youngest of his tribe and he seems to the chief because his father Bearclaw was the chief before him. But the Wolfriders aren’t meek followers; they can and will challenge their chief if they think he’s in the wrong.

Not all humans we see in this story are a bad. The elf duo also has to examine their assumptions about humans; even though they’ve gotten their ideas from long and bitter experience, they have to confront the fact that not all humans are the same. Humans killed Skywise’s mother only hours after he was born, so he has very difficult time accepting that. We also get hints about what other elves might be like and the collection ends with a cliffhanger.

But other elves also get their moments in the sun. Leetah wrestles with her fears. She’s Cutter’s lifemate and the Sun Folk’s healer. She’s lived her whole life in the village and she’s secure and comfortable there. But when she’s confronted with the choice to leave and look for Cutter, it terrifies her which is, of course, understandable. Strongbow is the Wolfrider’s best archer who sends (uses telepathy) instead of speaking. He dislikes the Sun folk as soft and weak, and hates humans. He even challenges Cutter when the chief decides to spare the humans. Cutter and Leetah’s small cubs almost steal the show: Ember is already a tomboy and a Wolfrider through and through while her brother Suntop is a quieter boy whose magical powers are already budding. Ember’s wolfcub is adorable!

The plot doesn’t move in such a quick speed as in the first collection, which is good because we now have the chance to explore the world and the characters better.

What I really like in this story is that the time move forward and the people change with it. This is even clearer in the later stories where children grow up and humans form their communities. The Wolfriders are clearly not Tolkien elves: they’re smaller than humans and live with wolves, bonding with them. The wolves are animals and not supernaturally intelligent or anything else supernatural. The Wolfriders are very aware of the natural cycles of the year as well as life and death. They’re all hunters who eat their meat raw. At the same time, they love, respect, and cherish every member of their tribe. Not everyone is a warrior and thankfully not everyone has to be. The Sun folk as similarly small in stature but very gentle people. They are farmers who live in the same village pretty much their whole lives. Their dwellings are small and simple compared to the Middle-Earth elves. While the Wolfriders have had to live their lives quietly in the forest, the Sun folk haven’t had enemies to hide from. They are loud and party loudly, too.

Excellent collection of stories but the next two are my favorites!

The complete collection also includes art from the original issues and the bridge pages from Marvel reprints which are all done by Wendy Pini.

A stand-alone book set in the Promethean Age series.

Publication year: 2014
Format: print
Page count: 332
Publisher: Prime

One-Eyed Jack is the personification (Genus Loci) of Las Vegas, or rather one of the two personifications. The other one is his partner and lover Stewart, also known as the Suicide King. They’re in trouble because the personifications of Los Angeles (Goddess and Angel) are trying to kill them and to tie Las Vegas to L. A. Then Stewart vanishes and Jack panics. He conjures up the ghost of John Henry to help him. But two John Henrys show up.

In San Diego a vampire finds a way to get rid of his mistress and then he heads to Las Vegas as well. Why? He looks a lot like the King of Rock and Roll and Las Vegas is familiar ground to him. Meanwhile, back in 1964 two spies known as the American and the Russian are on the run from the Assassin. They’re somewhere in Manhattan when they hear that the Assassin has left for Las Vegas. Of course they follow him.

In this book, Bear plays around with media ghosts. They are characters familiar from various TV shows and movies (and books, I guess, too), and have become archtypes in the minds of (Western) people. The spies are from the year 1964 and they’re not named. They are all very recognizable and behave like their archtypes. While being media ghosts gives them some powers, on the other hand they’re also limited to what they can do; the genre powers and limits them. I’m fairly familiar with them and enjoyed them quite a lot. There are also some legendary ghosts from history. But the current day legends shape them, as well. On the other hand, the genus locii were real people before they died in the city they’re now tied to. Apparently, their lives somehow reflected the idea of the city and that’s why they’re now tied to it.

One-Eyed Jack is part spy story and part vampire story. It also has a smidgen of Western in it. It’s chock full of famous characters and I had a blast reading about them but I don’t think it’s fair to spoil them in a review.

The book has a lot of point-of-view characters, two of them in first person, the rest in third person. However, there’s low chance of getting confused because every (short) chapter has a heading which indicates the POV character. Jack and the undead, named Tribute, are the first person POV characters and they’re quite different from each other.

This is quite different from the other Promethean Age books. I think it’s readable without reading the other books, though, because the magical aspects as explained.

Collects Elfquest 1-5

Writers: Wendy and Richard Pini
Artist: Wendy Pini
Publishing year: 1993
Publisher: Father Tree Press

Elfquest is one of the first, if not the first, fantasy comic I ever read. Only this first collection was published in Finnish back then and I had to wait for many years until I found the next issues in English. Some years back a lot of the comic was published here in Finland in small, black and white issues. I still have the color printings but the soft covers are starting to fall apart. The Pinis have started to publish the Final Quest and I’m hoping that I’ll have enough money to get the collected editions as they come out. Also, an Elfquest adventure game was published this year. We’ve played it and it prompted a reread.

This first collection introduces us to the world of Two Moons and the small Wolfrider tribe of elves. In just a couple of pages, the Pinis show us how the elves literally fell from the sky to this world but were immediately attacked by the fearful humans. That hostility continues through the whole series. Fire and Flight starts with the humans who have captured one of the Wolfriders. The elves’ young chief Cutter and his friends rescue the prisoner and in retaliation the humans burn the forest where they all live. The tribe flees the flames to the troll’s underground home. But they aren’t welcome there and have to find a new home. The trolls trick them into a passageway which ends to a desert and the elves have no choice but to try to cross it. They’ve lived in a forest their whole lives so a desert is an alien environment to their and their wolves.

The Wolfrider tribe has only 17 members and all of them are individuals. That isn’t yet so clear in the first collection which is focused on the chief Cutter and his best friend Skywise (and later Leetah). In fact, in these first issues the tribe seems at first to have very clear gender lines: men hunt and protect, and women stay in their holt. However, this changes later and rather dramatically, and even in this first collection Woodlock is a male who stays back at Father Tree with the women of the tribe. I love pretty much all of the characters and they change and grow and the series continue. The next collections also bring a lot of new characters to the tale.

This is a great introduction to the story and the characters. It moves quickly and it’s easy for this reader at least to immerse herself into the story. Pini’s art isn’t yet as sophisticated as it will be but it’s already very detailed and unique in style. Each elf is easy to distinguish even in crowd scenes. The style difference is very easy to see in the reprints with pages that Pini has added later. Sadly, I don’t have them (yet).

While on the surface this is a quest fantasy, already the first issues deal with such themes as trust, racism, and loss. Also, the theme of choice versus instinct is clear in the latter half of the issues.

Elfquest is one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read and it starts strongly.

Tough Travelling hosted by Fantasy Review Barn.
Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is ORPHANS

No one in Fantasyland amounts to anything if they still have both parents. Rule number one. Thanks to Stephanie for the suggestion (and let us all be surprised together that it isn’t in the Tough Guide).

Books and comics are full of orphans, but most of the time being an orphan is significant when the character is either young or had some significant trauma related to the death. Also, I think that angsting over parent’s death is a more modern idea. For example, John Carter has no memory of his childhood or parents but he doesn’t brood over it. Adult characters in general are often orphans but it’s not thought of as anything significant.

Garion from Eddings’ fantasy series Belgarion. It’s been decades when I read Eddings’ work last but I think that Garion didn’t dwell on losing his parents. But he didn’t know his heritage because he was an orphan.

Carrot Ironfoundersson is an orphan but was raised by dwarves. It’s strongly hinted that Carrot is in fact the heir to Ankh-Moprok’s throne, but wisely he hasn’t taken it.

Batman is perhaps the most famous orphan; his parents were killed in front of his eyes and he dedicated his life to stopping criminals.

Spider-Man’s parents died when he was young and he was raised by his aunt and uncle. And then his uncle dies because Peter Parker chooses not to be a hero.

Magneto’s parents died in the Nazi concentration camps.

Vlad Taltos from Steven Brust’s series. Vlad’s mother died when he was very young and his father managed to buy Vlad into the Jhereg family before he died. Vlad’s grandfather is still around and a great influence, though.

Ista from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls became an orphan at the start of the book when her mother dies. Ista herself is middle aged and a grandmother but a parent’s death is always hard, but especially when you’ve been under a curse half your life and your mother has been taking care of you.

Cinderella and Snow White
: in both cases the mother died and after the girl’s father married another woman, he died as well, leaving the orphaned girl to the mercies of her step-mother (and step-sisters).

The first part in a fantasy duology.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 485
Publisher: Bantam Spectra

A young girl has been abandoned to live alone in the palace gardens. People, including her parents, believe that she’s a demon because she has a strange birth mark: the flesh around her eyes and her eyelids are deep indigo-black. Then one of the Sultan’s small sons meets her in the garden and she tells him that the dark birth mark is actually very dense writing and she starts to tell the boy the stories.

The book is split into the book of the Steppe and the book of the Sea. Each one has a different framing story and in each one, there are stories within the stories. In the book of the Steppe, a young Prince has left the Palace in search of adventure. He stumbles upon a cottage and since he’s hungry, he kills one of the geese. That’s, of course, a terrible mistake. The old woman who lives in the cottage turns out to be… not what you’d expect. Each person the prince meets has a story to tell and often that storyteller also tells the tale of another person, or other five people. In the second book, a young orphan girl has to weave nets for a living. It’s cold work and to keep her company an older woman, also a net-waver tells Snow her story and another stories, as well. Those are the starting points of the books. The stories are interconnected.

The book has talking bears, griffins, and pirates. It has horse gods and living stars. Lovely tales and horrifying tales. Many myths and archetypal characters are turned inside out.

The book is illustrated by Michael Kaluta and the pictures are a great complement to the stories.

Absolutely wonderful read.

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