February 2016

Self-contained historical fantasy book set mostly in Alexander the Great’s camp.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 320
Publisher: TOR

Selene is an Amazon warrior and close to the Queen Hippolyta. When the Queen gives birth to a daughter without a soul, almost everyone wants to kill her, except the Queen and Selene. Selene is kin to the Seer, a woman who has given up her own name and become the instrument of the Goddess. Selene also sees visions but she doesn’t want to become the next Seer; she wants to be a warrior and so she stubbornly refuses the calling. When it’s clear that the Queen’s daughter needs a guard, Selene vows to take up that duty. The Queen declares her daughter the heir and in defiance, a group of Amazons leaves.

The daughter remains nameless but everyone starts to call her Etta, which means “that thing”. Etta behaves like an animal, eating when she’s hungry and hunting when she wants to. She never speaks and her eyes are empty, her face devoid of expression. When Selene is near her, she doesn’t get any visions from the Goddess anymore. Selene is the captain of Etta’s guard.

The Amazons who left the queen try to take over the tribe once but fail. Soon afterwards, Etta begins a ride that takes, in the end, several months. Selene, Hippolyta, and a small group of warriors follow Etta who rides relentlessly to Alexander’s camp. Etta wants to be as close to Alexander as she can and the king graciously accepts that. Selene and Etta stay with Alexander and follow him for years.

Despite presence of the conqueror of the then know world, the book isn’t centered on violence. Instead, Selene is finding her own place in the world. She spends a lot of time away from her own people, among the men in Alexander’s camp. She comes from a very different world: among the Amazons, women are hunters and warriors while the men live in villages farming the land and keeping cattle. The women visit the men in spring for a month; so it’s no surprise that they don’t have marriage and women are encouraged to love only other women. Among the Persians women (at least upper-class women) are sequestered away from men and public life and guarded by eunuchs. Greeks also kept women tightly in the home; they weren’t considered really human. Yet, the Amazons are considered a special case and nobody tries to harass them.

I hesitate to call this a coming of age story because it takes place over a decade. It’s grand and epic and a sweeping adventure, it has bittersweet romances which don’t take over the rest of the story. At the center of it the charismatic conqueror with a shining spirit.

I loved this novel; far too few fantasy books are set in the Ancient world. I guessed earlier what would happen but that didn’t diminish the book for me.

Collects Ms. Marvel 1-5.

Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Adrian Alphona

Kamala Khan was born in New Jersey 16 years ago to an immigrant Pakistani family. Her parents are very strict with her while her brother is very religious. Her best friends include another Pakistani girl Nakia and a classmate Bruno who works at a local grocery store. He appears to be secretly in love with her. She a fan of the Avengers, especially Captain Marvel, and plays online a lot. However, Kamala thinks that her life is very boring, if not outright terrible. She’s frustrated with how little her parents seem to trust her and just one to be a normal girl.

Once again her parents forbid her to go to party but this time she sneaks out. At the party, she’s made fun of and she leaves, feeling really down. However, a strange mist envelops New York and Kamala passes out inside the mist. She wakes up to a hallucination of Captain Marvel, Captain America, and Iron Man. When the mist goes away she looks just like Carol Danvers in her Ms. Marvel costume. She also has shape-changing powers which she uses to save a classmate from drowning.

The story focuses on her as a person and a teenager rather than a superhero. She learns how to control her powers and they get her into trouble at first, both at home and in school. She lives with her parents but decides not to tell them about her powers, which further complicates her life. The story has lots of comedy and can be read without much previous knowledge about Marvel characters.

Kamala is a great character. She’s ernest and genuinely wants to help people and have fun with her powers. Unlike most superhero comics, Ms. Marvel isn’t centered on fights.

First in an supernatural series. And yes, I read it because of Gillian Anderson’s name on the cover.

Publication year: 2014
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2015
Translator: Einari Aaltonen
Format: print
Page count: 330
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Like

Caitlin O’Hara is a psychiatrist specializing in young adults with trauma. She’s also a single parent whose young son is deaf. Her best friend Ben is a highly placed interpreter in the United Nations. When Ben asks Caitlin’s urgent help, she agrees. The patient is 16-year-old Maanik, the daughter of Kashmir’s UN ambassador Pawar. Someone tried to kill Pawar and Maanik was close enough to hear the shots. Now, she has started to hallucinate and scratch her arms until she bled. Because the international situation with Kashmir is currently ready to explode, her parents need Maanik to be treated in secret, in their own home. Caitlin agrees because Maanik needs treatment quickly.

The book is page-turner. Caitlin is a sympathetic if quite cerebral main character who at first tries to keep professional detachment from Maanik but soon becomes personally involved. She also travels other countries to talk with people who apparently have similar symptoms. Ben is mostly a good friend to her; they have inside jokes and understand each other’s worries and concerns. Maanik’s parents love her very much but her father is the chief negotiator in a volatile situation and is torn between his duty and his daughter. Overall they’re a good cast.

I had some trouble with the plot, though. The book started with quite interesting stuff but descended into New Age babble (Caitlin even thinks that this all seems to her like New Age nonsense!) which mixes voodoo with Norse mythology and some tantalizing hints about the past (I’d have been happy with just the latter). Also, I couldn’t see how she made some of the connections between patients and other events. For one thing, the patients’ symptoms were really different from each other: one patient had sent himself on fire, another had one episode only, and the third was rarely lucid. Yes, there were similarities too but she’s had had to study each case to notice them and we didn’t see her studying them much at all. We also get glimpses of a secret organization (the Group) who is researching and stealing mysterious artifacts. There’s also an obligatory romance which didn’t really add anything.

Maanik’s situation is resolved surprisingly tidily but there are a lot of things which are left wide open.0

Oh and at least the Finnish covers didn’t have any indication that this is the first in a series; I found that out in Goodreads. I think that’s a disservice to the reader because it builds wrong expectations.

A Modesty Blaise adventure.
Publication year: 1973
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1997
Translator: Jussi Nousiainen
Format: print
Page count: 251
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Otava

Sir Gerald Tarrant is in France for a conference and is looking forward to spending a couple of days with Modesty afterwards. But on his way to Modesty, his car is stopped and his driver forces him out. A strange blond man, Mr. Sexton, and a couple of fake nuns kidnap him. They also fake Tarrant’s death. They could have gotten away with it, too, except that a former pilot, Henry Quinn, has been nearby hiking and fell the previous day. He hurt himself and couldn’t leave, so he witnesses most of it. But he has a concussion and passes out.

When Modesty is later searching the area, she finds Quinn and gets him to safety. This includes overcoming three thugs who had been sent to silence Quinn. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know what he knows and just leaves him to a hospital. Meanwhile, Willie’s girlfriend Lady Janet Gilliam has a problem: someone is blackmailing her sister. Willie and Modesty agree to look into her problem.

This is mostly a highly entertaining thriller. However, the main plot doesn’t kick in until around half-way when Modesty finds out that Sir Gerald is still alive. Personally, I liked the events leading up to it. But I didn’t like Quinn. Quite frankly, he was an asshole. When Modesty saves him (several times) that’s apparently too much for his male ego and he gets mad at her. This is apparently excused by some traumatic events he’s lived through before. Still, Modesty remains patient with him, almost saintly. Otherwise, I enjoyed the book a lot. I even enjoyed the plot twist which saddled Modesty and Willie with several people to protect. One of the best in the series so far. I’ve also read the story as a comic.

A couple of great book bundles are available:

Women in Fantasy which is curated by Kristine Rusch and has 5 books for minimum of 5 dollars and 10 books for minimum of 15 dollars, among them Rusch, Judith Tarr, Laura Anne Gilman, and one Fiction River short story collection. 6 days left to buy

Storybundle has two others bundles, too: Gaming books and True Crime.

Meanwhile Humble Bundle has a group of Sci-Fi classics (Males in Sci-fi?) including Zelazny, Asimov, and Bester. (Personally I wouldn’t call Betancourt’s Amber prequels classics.) 12 days left to buy.

A fairy tale for all ages.

Publication year: 2011
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2013
Translator: Sarianna Silvonen
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Format: print
Page count: 339
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Gummerus

September is a 12-year-old girl and she lives in Omaha with her mother who is an engineer. Her fa-ther is away because he’s a soldier. One day, Green Wind invites September to Fairyland and she accepts. She rides Green Wind’s leopard to Fairyland where she will find new friends but also strange adventures.

This is a delightful, highly imaginative, and charming tale but it could be at times rather scary for young readers. Still, I think it’s well worth a read. It has a narrator who remains nameless but who is eager to please the reader.

I really enjoyed the characters, especially the wyvern “A through L” who thinks his father is a li-brary. He is named after the encyclopedia entries he read and knows by heart.

“Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

“When you are born,” the golem said softly, “your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk, and crusty things, and dirt, and fear, and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you’re half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living. So every once in awhile, you have to scrub it up and get the works going, or else you’ll never be brave again.”

“Shoes are funny beasts. You think they’re just clothes, but really, they’re alive. They want things. Fancy ones with gems want to go to balls, big boots want to go to work, slippers want to dance. Or sleep. Shoes make the path you’re on. Change your shoes, change your path.”

“When little ones say they want to go home, they almost never mean it. They mean they are tired of this particular game and would like to start another.”

“It is true that novelists are shameless and obey no decent law, and they are not to be trusted on any account, but some Mysteries even they must honor.”

The first book in the Rust & Relics series. It’s a sci-fi adventure book.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours and 5 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Nola Zandry

The main character, Delia, became an archelogy student partly because of Indiana Jones and I bought the book because of the same reason. While it wasn’t as good as the first or third Indy movie, it was entertaining enough.

Delia and her best friend Simon have a small firm and are trying to keep it floating. Simon has invented an app which helps them locate sites which could have archeological stuff to loot and sell. This time they’re in a cave in Arizona. But instead of anything to sell, they stumble onto a dead body. After getting out of the cave, they see that their expensive equipment has been stolen and only a couple of bikers are nearby.

After Delia and Simon have told the police about the body, they find out that a monster is killing people. And the strange bikers seem to be always on the scene when someone is killed.

This was marked as an urban fantasy book but it has sci-fi elements instead of magic.

Delia and Simon have known each other a long time. Simon is very geeky computer genius who talks about Star Trek (original series) episodes and some other sf and fantasy series all the time. He’s also very impulsive and a Native American. Delia’s family comes from Greece. She loves languages in addition to history. Her old friend Artemis, or Temi, is looking for a job and because she’s gorgeous Simon hires her even though they can’t afford it. Temi used to be a professional tennis player but after an accident she’s fallen into hard times. While Simon is very attracted to her, there isn’t time for anything to develop. (I’m not a romance reader so that was actually a relief to me.)

Overall this was fun and quick to listen. My main irritation was that for supposedly self-employed, and poor, people Delia and Simon were clueless about what’s lawful and what’s not. They also acted younger than their supposed ages. Their motivations are pretty whimsical. Also, unfortunately I didn’t like the reader. Her voice is breathy and sexy all the time so the action scenes felt a bit silly.

I really enjoyed the sci-fi twist, when it was revealed, tough.

Collects FF 18-23

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Nick Dragotta, Steve Epting, Chris Sotomayor, Chris Peter, Andé Araújo

Volume 4 collects a lot of one-shots. In the first issue, the FF kids are minded by Johnny. They get to have their first field trip – to the Negative Zone. But there’s trouble brewing and as the current monarch, Johnny has to tend to it.

In the next issue, the FF go to Wakanda in a companion piece to the two-issue Wakandan arch in the Fantastic Four. While Reed and Susan confront the magical part of Wakanda, the kids are riding around and having fun, until they come face-to-face with the infamous Hyena tribe.

The next couple of issues tie up dangling plotlines with Inhumans, and Johnny.

Then, it’s the little clone Bentley versus his “dad”, the adult Wizard. Wizard is convinced that his clones can never be anything else than little copies of him, destined to be an evil madman. Is he right and Bentley’s destiny is already written?

In the final issue, we return to adult Valerie and Franklin. In a bittersweet story they have to say goodbye to their family.

These issues tie up the Hickman run very nicely but they’re not essential to the storylines, unless of course the reader is interested in knowing what happened to Annihilus in the end or what happened with the Inhumans. However, they’re an entertaining bunch and less disjointed than the Fantastic Four volume 6.

The Future Foundation was a great idea and for the most part is was well written. There were a lot of kids, and adults, but most of them got a scene or two in every issue. The group had quite an interesting mix of kids. The most annoying one was Bentley and even he felt (still) adorable with his anger and assumed evilness. But Valerie started to creep me out more than a little bit. She’s only three years old and already reading, writing, and doing calculations better than Reed. She doesn’t really have a childhood; she’s like a small adult and is just frustrated when her parents tell her what she can’t do. Otherwise, I really liked Val and Franklin’s relationship. Overall, this was a good read and companion comic to Fantastic Four.

Short story collection where the idea was to give writers pulp titles and for them to write a non-pulp story based on the title they chose. I loved that idea. The stories cover different genres. Not all of them are SF/F.

Format: ebook
Page count: 237
Publisher: WMG Publishing

“The Revolt of the Philosophers of Fomalhaul” by Phaeda Weldon. Aaron to ordered to kill a child but he struggles with the order and finds out something terrible is happening.

“Marvelous Contrivance of the Heart” by Cat Rambo. Mike builds the most intricate and life-like dioramas. His wife hates the “dollhouses”.

“The Flower of the Tabernacle” by Annie Reed. A young woman appears to have taken her own life in a Catholic church but a determined cop investigates.

“Lost in the Tarnished Cube” by Thomas K. Carpenter. Mage Vance has bought, at long last, a wizard’s tower to himself. Unfortunately, the loan he had to take has stricter terms than he initially thought.

“Crypt of the Metal Ghouls” by Angela Penrose. A group of teens work as salvagers in the ruins of former civilization. They enter into a Ghoul house and find out how it got its name.

“The Imperfect Otter Empire” by Dayle A. Dermatis. Alyse has just lost her fiancée and her job. She’s always adored otters so she goes to the otter exhibit to wonder what she’s going to do next.

“The Unknowable Mansion of the Night” by Sandra M. Odell. In a cyberpunk society where people without constant access are called deadheads, Willy Shakes is one of the deadheads but he also has a reputation as dependable worker. Cecil B. de Millionaire hires Willy to do a job.

“The Portal of Wrong Love” by Dean Wesley Smith. A Poker Boy adventure where couples are disappearing.

“Sacred Poet from the Future” by Kelly Cairo. The main character helps a new employee in her grandfather’s firm and strange things happen.

“Swamp of the Prehistoric Clan” by Christy Fifield. Real estate developers think that the old residents are at their mercy, but some of the “fossils” decide to fight back.

“The Magnificent Citadel” by Rebecca M. Senese. Charlotte has a chance to pay back to her bully at school but is it worth it?

“Night of the Dancing Champions” by Kristine Katheryn Rusch. In 1941 Gertie was the jitterbug champion. Years later, the champions are recognized once again and Gertie relives her glory days.

“The Delicatessen from Beyond the Monolith” by Lisa Silverthorne. Chance is a cop who wakes up every night from an awful nightmare where he kills his partner Boone. Chance, and other cops, have started to think Boone is dirty. And for some reason the local deli owner keeps giving Chance wrong sandwiches.

“Prism of the Crab Gods” by Kelly Washington. Miles isn’t what his father wanted him to be, everyone says he’s slow and he only cares about counting; so his dad beats him and the others in their family, too. Miles prays that his best friends, the crab gods, will help his family.

“The Gleaming Crater” by Thea Hutcheson. Even though Janos is a mage, he feels that his life is going nowhere. But when he gets a vision from a goddess and meets a strange mage, who seems to be part of the vision, he is swept into a grand adventure.

Some of the stories are quiet and “mundane” (without any SF or fantasy elements), many are exciting, and one of them is even epic. My favorites were “the Revolt”, “Lost in the Tarnished Cube”, and “Crypt of the Metal Ghouls”. The cyberpunk story has some interesting elements but the whole plugging your brain to a computer squicks me out too much.

Collects FF 12-17

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Juan Bobilo, Marcelo Sosa, Nick Dragotta, Steve Epting, Chris Sotomayor, Paul Mounts

The first four issues happen at the same time as the Fantastic Four “Forever” story and we finally get to know what “All hope lies in Doom” means. Also, the fate of the Reeds from the other dimensions is revealed.

Issue 16 is the aftermath of the big fight and the revelations about Franklin. Valerie has to also face the music for all the things she’s done behind her parents’ backs.

Then Johnny moves in with Peter. After returning from the dead, Johnny feels that he needs a change and so he becomes Peter’s roommate. Peter isn’t thrilled, to say it mildly.

This is an excellent companion volume to the “Forever” trade. It’s not absolutely necessary but it has a pay-off to the multiple Reeds storyline and the Doom story, too. I enjoyed following the FF kids and the Johnny/Peter issue is quite funny.

Next Page »