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.

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