May 2016


The second book in her epic Aztec fantasy series.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 416
Publisher: Angry Robot

Acatl-tzin is the High Priest of the Dead, but in the Aztec society where warriors and the glory of warfare is the most valued, he’s not actually in a powerful position. After all, Mitctlantecuhtli governs over people who have not died in battle or as a sacrifice. Even his two fellow high priests look down on Acatl because the Lord of the Dead doesn’t have much influence and Acatl’s parents were peasants. In addition to doing the rites for the dead, Acatl investigates murders.

When the story starts, the ruler of the Mexica empire, the Revered Speaker Axayacatl-tzin, has just died from wounds in battle. The Reverend Speaker is also the representative of his god on Earth which means that his death weakens the magical protections of the capital and in time star-demons can break through to travel to Earth and start killing people.

But the politically (and religiously) powerful people are far more interested in fighting for earthly power than appointing the next ruler before the protections fail. The just dead ruler had been a respected warrior but his chosen heir, his older brother, is a weak man who has wanted the throne his whole life and schemed to get it. Other men desire the throne, too, and poor Acatl is caught in the middle, trying to warn people about the magical consequences if the next ruler isn’t appointed quickly.

Also, the same day when the Revered Speaker dies, another man is found dead, brutally torn to pieces, right in the royal palace. Acatl is convinced that it’s the work of the star-demons which means that someone is summoning these enemies of humanity right inside the palace. The summonings weaken the buckling protections so Acatl wants to find the sorcerer as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have political clout or diplomatic skills so questioning the most powerful men in the Empire is rather difficult. However, he has a couple of trusted friend he can rely on. One of them is his student Teomitl, the younger brother of the former Revered Speaker.

This is a setting where the gods are very much alive and sometimes even walk among humans. Almost all of them are cruel and hungry for blood; they require blood sacrifices to work magic. I found the explanation for this (near the end) fascinating.

This time we meet the people at the very top of Aztec society – and they’re not nice men. Pretty much all of them scheme and backstab to their heart’s content. (In fact, I felt rather sorry for Axayacatl who seemed like a decent person and had to deal with this lot on a daily basis. Or maybe he fought in wars so often to get away from them?) Also, magical, religious, and political power is intertwined and inseparable. This is quite a dark society and the storyline is also very dark, punctuated by human and animal sacrifice. The Lord of the Dead doesn’t require human sacrifices, though, but Acatl does have to use his own blood for spells and worship.

The Aztec society in this book has just as strong a division between the worlds of men and women as the Greeks did; women don’t participate in public life. I find this curious because I didn’t see similar division between the male and female deities; all seem equally aggressive, cruel, and bloody. But the book has only three named mortal women and I strongly suspect that only one of them (if any) is going to be seen again.

De Bodard has created a fascinating culture. Interesting enough, the book doesn’t have much violence at all but blood rituals are used often. Unfortunately, the omnibus version I’m reading doesn’t have her notes but her website has some background stuff. The mystery is pretty convoluted and because of the unfamiliar setting I don’t think the reader has a chance to solve it before Acatl.

Acatl is mostly comfortable with his life and his position as a humble priest. But now he’s taken far out of his comfort zone and forced to deal with people he comes to despise and distrust. He’s determined to do what he feels is right and to protect the people near him, and also the whole Empire. Teomitl is another honorable character trying to do the right thing, but he can also be arrogant and overconfident. After all, he is a warrior and also part of the emperor’s family. Most of the other characters have their own agendas but because of their high positions they also tend to be rather arrogant.

This is a great continuation to the series. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but it’s clear that the solutions are only temporary. I recommend reading the first book, Servant of the Underworld, first because it introduces the characters and the setting.

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A retelling of the Norse Edda sagas from Loki’s point of view.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 7 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrators: Allan Corduner

“Loki, that’s me. Loki, the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero of this particular tissue of lies.”

Apparently, this is a prequel to a YA series which I haven’t read. So it stands alone.

Loki is clearly telling his story to a modern audience because the book is full of modern, USAian sayings which have sometimes been twisted lightly to fit into Loki’s mouth (nobody in Nine Worlds rather than nobody in the world). While the adventures the gods have are from the Eddas, the voice, the motivations, and sometimes the consequences have been changed to a modern view. The stories start with the forming of the world, before Loki’s time, and end with Raknarök.

Some details have been changed, as well. For example, in the Eddas, Loki is the son of a chaos goddess and the god of the frost giants. But here, Loki forms himself from pure chaos and his true form is wildfire. In the Eddas, Loki was married and divorced several times but here he’s married against his will to a goddess he loathes and then he cheats on her repeatedly. The other deities don’t fare much better. Loki insults them as often as he can and goes out of his way to show how stupid they all are. And everything, in the end, is the fault of Loki’s blood brother, Odin.

The voice Harris gives to her Loki is pretty much flawless: arrogant, sly, devious, innocent of almost everything. Wonderful. He thinks of himself as an outsider, a scapegoat for the deities. This makes him feel lonely and justifies his actions, to himself at least.

Some of the stories are very funny, some less so. But our humble narrator is always entertaining.

The reader is also great. He has a conversational style which suits the story very well. Unfortunately, he has the habit of lowering his voice every once in a while which made it sometimes hard to hear those parts when I was driving.

A science fiction short story collection. Part of the Women in SF bundle I bought last year.

Publication year: 2012
Format: ebook
Page count: 291

The first collection (Near) contains stories set in the near future and the second one (Far) has stories set in the far future. Many of the stories focus on subtle but effective human relationships. The SF element is integral to the story and it can be a living fur coat or superhero powers. The world-building in every story ranges from great to amazing and I really enjoyed most of the stories.

The near future stories range from cyperpunk to superheroes and to just weird. It’s just amazing how easily she can write in several sub genres. Most stories also have more than one layer. The first one is a great example of multiple layers.

The Mermaids Singing, Each to Each: A few decades ago, a genetic scientist changed some willing people into mermaids. But their kids, the natural born mermaids, are savage creatures who attack humans and eat them. Lulu and the crew salvage ships, or parts of them, from earlier times and survive on the money from them. The crew just has to steer clear of the mermaids. Oh and Lulu used to be female but has changed to gender neutral.

Peaches of Immortality: Four people in high school were already cool and hip and they all went to live their own dreams. Or at least that’s what it looked like to Glen who has always been attracted to one of the cool people but never actually dated her. Then some really strange things start to happen.

Close Your Eyes: Amber is a very successful children’s book author. But she has to support her brother Lewis who is terminally ill and his medication costs a fortune. They live together in a shabby house and start to loath each other. Then Lewis finds a new hobby and for while things starts to look better.

Therapy Buddha: Lyle has just turned 40. He’s a data-seller for corporation and while he’s a loner, he’s not too unhappy with his life. But then the Buddha starts to talk. It’s a toy, really, something that tells koans and uses kitchen psychology questions. But somehow it really affects Lyle.

Ms. Liberty gets a Haircut: A superhero story! Ms. Liberty, X, Dr. Arcane, and Kilroy are looking for some new members for their still nameless group.

10 New Metaphors for Cyberspace: Exactly what the title says.

Memories of Moments, Bright as Falling Stars: The protagonist and his girlfriend Grizz find some unused memory chips and use them so that they can get out of the streets and into a better life. But it’s harder than they thought.

RealFur: The protagonist lives with her brother Larry and sister-in-law Libby. One day, Larry buys her and Libby a RealFur, a long, wearable fur which is alive. Larry is often away, working, and Libby gets more and more attached to her RealFur.

Nor Waving, But Drowining: The protagonist’s husband Emilio decides to join PsyKorps. Emilio isn’t a telepath so he’ll have to undergo surgery for an implant which will make him a telepath. His wife Jamie doesn’t understand the choice, especially because a marriage with a telepath always ends in divorce. But Emilio says that their marriage will last.

Vocobox TM: The Vocobox gives a cat an intelligence augmentation and a voicebox but the only thing Dora’s cat ever says is his own name, Raven. Dora’s children are grown and gone and her husband works long hours.

Long Enough and Just So long: Kayne runs a courier ship between Earth, Moon, Mars, and other places. Her favorite place to stay for a longer time is the Moon where her best friend lives. Together they also salvage “junk” which might turn out to be valuable. One day, they see an emancipated sexbot and become interested in him.

Legends of the Gone: Most of the human race has vanished without a trace and those left behind can’t get children anymore. The survivors live as best they can.

Far
Futures: Flash fiction about possible futures.

Kallakak’s Cousins: Kallakak is a merchant on a space station. He’s in danger of losing his small shop and on top of things, his wife’s idiot cousins come to visit, or rather to stay as he quickly realizes.

Amid the Words of War: This is the tale of a small, insect like alien who works in a humanoid whorehouse.

Timesnip: Victoria has been timesnipped; she has been taken from the past and brought to the future. Or rather she was copied in the past: the original still stays in the past. Now, she works for the timesnip company. Her newest assignment takes her to a society which she loathes.

Angry Rose’s Lament: Paul Rutter is a former addict and a company representative. He owns the company along with other former addicts and their future is depended on the next contract. Paul is negotiating a business contract with an alien species which hasn’t made a contract with humans before. There’s a very good reason for that: they’re brain eaters.

Seeking Nothing: Sean grew up on a very old Testament settlement and now he’s gotten a job outside the planet. He’s going to be working with clones, which are labeled subhumans. He has a hobby which has never been accepted at his home: perfume making. However, that’s exactly the skill he requires in his new job. But the people, the real humans, in the new job shun him.

A Querulous Flute of Bone: Ector is an alien who is so obsessed with one thing that it hasn’t even chosen a gender yet. It is looking for objects which are metaphors for certain emotions. It travels widely in search of the artifacts and even has a rival. Then one day, it finds something better than its quest.

Zeppelin Follies: Adelaine writes code for romance novels. She has an unassuming BodySuit with only one enchantment but still a younger woman with a Kali BodySuit takes an interest in her. Adelaine’s boss is also thinking about selling the business to GE (General Emotions) which means that the coding will be outsourced to Mars and Addie will have to look for a new job.

Space Elevator Music: Flash fiction about space age elevator.

Surrogates: Belinda and Barry have just gotten married. Belinda has an Insanity Chip which makes her see things. She loves it but Barry hates it.

Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain: Tikka is a Minor Propagandist working for the Bureau for Tourism on the planet Procelain. She’s supposed to write things which entice humans to visit the planet. But then a human takes interest in her.

Bus Ride to Mars: Djanga is traveling to Mars. On the way, she overhears the stories of some of her fellow travelers.

My favorites were “Ms. Liberty gets a haircut”, “Kallakak’s Cousins”, “Timesnip”, “Angry Rose’s Lament”, “Amid the Words of War”, and “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain”. They all have strong world-building and most have non-human main characters. Sometimes I could see the way the story would end but that didn’t bother me.

A great read.

The first book in fantasy series.

Publication year: 2014
Format: print
Page count: 372
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

I picked up this book because reviewers said that it was “Three Musketeers with magic”. I was a bit skeptical because I’ve already read and loved a series like that (Steven Brust’s “The Phoenix Guards” and sequels) and too often the attempts to imitate or even reproduce The Three Musketeers don’t really work, for whatever reason. This is a more successful effort.

Falcio val Mond is the First Cantor of the Greatcoats, the traveling magistrates of the late king Paelis. However, the powerful dukes who killed the king have outlawed the Greatcoats and done their best to sully their names, too. Now, the Greatcoats are called Trattari or the tatter-cloaks by most people. Even when they’re working as mercenaries, people insult them and won’t even eat at the same table with them.

Still, Falcio and his two faithful friends Kest and Brasti have managed to get a job as bodyguards to a Lord Caravaner. They think it likely that the lord is going reinstate the Greatcoats to a degree, as legal caravan guards. Unfortunately, the trio botches the job and the lord is assassinated (while the trio is bantering wittily on the other side of a door) and the trio is framed for it. They manage to evade the city guards and find themselves in a marketplace. There, they manage to get a job as a caravan guards and leave the city with the caravan. But they’re going the wrong way and it’s possible that the leader of the caravan is actually the assassin who killed the lord…

Traitor’s Blade has plenty of action and sword play. There are twist and turns and I couldn’t really figure out where the plot was going (that’s a good thing, by the way). The exception was a certain young girl; her secret was pretty obvious. For the most part, this was an enjoyable ride.

I think that Kest, Brasti, and Falcio are loosely based on the Musketeers: Falcio being Athos, Brasti obviously Aramis, and Kest somewhat like Porthos. Falcio is tortured by his past but we mostly find that out from his thoughts since he’s mostly joking or talking about how the common people have rights, too. Brasti is quick to smile, joke, and flirt, even though he doesn’t have much chance with the ladies during this tale. He’s also a superb bowman and not nearly as good with the sword as the other two. Kest is a quiet, serious man and he’s a superb swordsman, always has been.

The concept of Greatcoats is very interesting. They travel around the country, teaching the common folk their rights, by the King’s Laws, and enforcing them, usually by fighting. They teach the laws as songs because songs people remember, but not speeches so much.

This world has gods and saints. We aren’t told much about the gods since the characters swear by the saints. I found this quite interesting and would have loved to know more about them. Except that there are apparently only two female saints. One is a whore and another is Saint Brigit “with a frigid cunt”. Not cool, dude. The male saints’ sexual habits are not told. There’s some “Sisterhood” of women who are healers but mostly they’re whores. Again, not cool.

However, there are a few things with bother me about the world-building. Falcio was a poor peasant before he became a Greatcoat but he started to learn swordplay since he was eight. Surely in a country like this, controlled by Dukes who murder, rape, and use terror to keep their subjects in line, every peasant wants to learn the sword to defend themselves is nothing else? But only Falcio and his best friend Kest apparently did. Also, usually tyrants like that forbid peasants to even own weapons.

Falcio has a couple of chips on his shoulder. One of them is his dead king and the other is his dead wife Aline. Aline was gang raped and murdered by Falcio’s Duke so that Falcio had the incentive to go nuts and show his skills to his future king. Again, not cool, dude. Tailor is pretty much the only female character who shows some originality. (I loved her, by the way.) But the ending shows some promise on this front.

Also, underneath the witty banter and adventure, the world is grim. All of the people in power are cruel and evil. Most people are willingly following the cruel dukes and their evil lieutenants. Even those powerless people who are victims seem happy to blame the Greatcoats for everything. Even when Falcio and his friends try to help people, they get scorn in return. Frankly, I’m a bit puzzled why the former Greatcoats haven’t left. Clearly, this blighted land isn’t the whole world. They could have gone to somewhere better and served another, more just king. And yes, Falcio apparently has some quest from his dead king to complete but he doesn’t know what or where. This all just underlines the characters’ desperate position.

But otherwise, this was highly entertaining book.

The second hardcover collection.
Writer and artist: Harold Foster
Publisher: Fantagraphics


The second collection starts with action when King Arthur’s knights battle the invading Saxons. The king follows Prince Valiant’s plan and because it works flawlessly, Arthur knights Valiant, starting the prince’s career as a knight errant. But first Valiant brings to his father a plan to get back his throne on Thule. Val, his father, and their twenty loyal soldiers return secretly to Thule and get to work.

After winning back the throne, Valiant settles a few disputes but quickly grows bored with the peaceful country. His father forbids his only son and heir to leave but Val leaves anyway, heading towards Europe looking for adventure. Soon, he hears that Rome has fallen to the Huns. In fact, the Huns have conquered almost all of Europe: only one proud castle remains and Val hurries to defend Anderkrag and its merry lord Camoran.

This time, King Arthur’s court doesn’t play much of a role at all. Valiant goes to the continental Europe and fights against the Huns. Later, he’s joined by Sir Tristam and Sir Gawain and they adventure together for a while. Again, the collection ends in a cliffhanger: Val in a small boat headed towards a storm.

During this time, Foster drew small, very detailed pictures on the four corners of the page: two on opposed ends of the headline and two near the end of the page. The pictures (called stamps even though I doubt they could have actually been used as stamps) depict various characters or gears such as saddles or stirrups. They showcase Foster’s eye for detail and research.

Val grows a bit. Some of his recklessness fades when he leads a group of men against the Huns and have to keep them fed and trained. But he’s still rather eager to kill and fights with a smile. This time, the Huns are just a pack of enemies to fight and not individuals at all.

Luckily, I can just dive into the next one (I bought used the first six collections at the same time).

This turned out to be the first in a fantasy series where the Greek deities walk in modern times.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 15 hours and 28 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrators: Jordanna Max Brodsky and Robert Petkoff

Selene DiSilva protects women from the abusive males around them. She’s also the goddess Artemis who has rather declined in power during the centuries. She’s very aloof and has learned not to form friendships with mortals, so she lives with just her dog Hippolyta. When she finds the body of a murdered young woman in an ancient Greek religious garments, she decides to find her murderer. In the seventies, she used to be a police officer but had to give that up when she didn’t age, so she can’t be much around the police anymore. She isn’t even an official private detective even though she pretends to be. The Greeks didn’t practice human sacrifice and Selene is furious that someone has perverted their old rites.

Classics professor Theo Schultz is the former lover of the murdered women, Helen. Even though Helen has been engaged to another man for six months or so, Theo and Helen have still stayed friends. Her murder troubles him greatly and he, too, wants to find out what happened to her. Reluctantly, Selene realizes that she needs him and together they investigate.

I enjoyed this book for the most part. I really enjoyed the Greek gods and the Elusinian mysteries parts of the book as well as both of the main characters. Theo is a pop culture and classics nerd. At one time he mentions that he had talked about the similarities between Han Solo and Achilles for an hour. I would have loved to hear that apparently the other characters weren’t interested. He makes references to sci-fi and fantasy books and movies. As far as I can tell, he really knows a lot about the Ancient world and the myths. Of course, he thinks that the ancient gods aren’t real and never were. He’s quick to smile but also to anger. Selene is pretty much his opposite: a loner who doesn’t read nor go to movies. She frowns a lot and doesn’t really have a sense of humor. She’s had only one romantic partner in her life but I thought even that was strange for the Virgin Goddess. She also has her own moral code as the protector of women and children. They’re the two POV characters.

Some of the most powerful and best known Greek gods are still alive and kicking, although they’ve greatly weakened. Artemis’ twin Apollo is a rock musician and a minor celebrity while Hermes is a movie mogul. But some have faded away and the still existing deities fear that they will fade away, too, unless they find some way to boost their awareness. Nike is apparently doing well…

Unfortunately, while I liked the two characters, I didn’t really care for their romance. I also felt the ending was too neat.

Apparently there are now a lot of books with Greek deities in modern times. Are there any which aren’t YA or romance?

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