March 21, 2017
Posted by mervih under fantasy
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The first book in the fantasy series Divine Cities.
Publication year: 2014
Page count: 452
Publisher: Broadway Books
Bulikov and Saypur: two cities which inhabitants hate each other with passion but which are linked by the past, present, and mostly likely by the future as well.
Bulikov was, and still is, the center city of the Continent, a place where six gods lived and influenced the lives of every human there. Once, they warred against each other but then they suddenly formed a peace and started to expand from the Continent. They conquered and enslaved Saypur. Saypur is rich in minerals and other natural wealth and the Continentals forced the Saypuris to work. The city of Bulikov was the prosperous center of the world.
But 75 years ago the balance of power changed dramatically: a heroic figure rose amongst the Saypuri and invented technology which killed the gods. Because the gods had literally changed reality in the Continent, it suffered greatly when “normal” reality returned. Now, Saypur rules and the Continent is poor, ignorant, and mostly illiterate as well. Also, the Saypuri laws make it illegal for the Continentals to know their own history, especially concerning the gods, and to evoke the gods in any way. So, the Saypuri and the Continentals continue to hate each other. Bulikov is now partly a ruin and filled with desperate, poor people.
Shara Thivani from Saypur arrives to Bulikov to find out who has murdered her dear and respected friend Dr. Efrem Pangyui. Pangyui was a historian passionately interested in the Continent and especially in the gods. Shara suspects at first that the locals have killed him but the further she digs the more she finds unexpected clues. She’s a trusted operative (meaning: spy) for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which deals with Continental matters, especially with the remnants the gods have left behind: items, even creatures which shouldn’t exist. She is also something of a historian, like Pangyui but she has to be loyal to Saypur and not to truth or facts. Yet, it seems that even the minister of Foreign Affairs, who is Shara’s aunt, doesn’t trust her anymore.
Lots of people have praised this book and I wasn’t disappointed. The world-building is exquisite and integral to the characters and the plot. Shara is a great character and so is her “secretary” the Northern barbarian Sigrud. He’s a one-eyed giant of few words but very decisive action. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Bulikov governor Turyin Mulaghesh, who was a colonel before she was sent to exile in Bulikov where she has to enforce policies she doesn’t care for. Granted, the characters aren’t very complex but I liked them.
The story isn’t set in a typical fantasy landscape of horses and chosen ones, but in a more modern city where cars and firearms are typical, at least for the wealthier people, and photography is the new hot thing. Yet, some magic still works, too.
Excellent book and I’ll be diving into the sequel shortly.
March 18, 2017
Set in 1878 in Rapid City in Washington State, it’s a steampunk Western detective story.
Publication year: 2015
Page count: 351
Let’s get something out of the way: Karen Memory is a prostitute and she lives in a brothel. She’s also around 17 and not the youngest girl there. She’s also smart and loyal and cares for the other girls. But she prefers to work in Madame Damnable’s brothel to working in a factory, which was at the time dangerous and very dirty.
The book is Karen’s journal and so written in first person and with a dialect.
There are (at least) two main brothels in Rapid City. Hôtel Mon Cherie is run by Madame Damnable who doesn’t allow the girls to drink too much and keeps her place clean. The girls are like family to each other. Also, one of them was born a man. The girls also gather around at evenings, after the clients have gone, and read different sorts of books.
Then there’s Peter Bantle’s place where the girls are kept prisoners, underfed, and beaten. Unfortunately, Bantle is quite influential. One Chinese woman, Merry Lee, tries and sometimes succeeds in freeing Bantle’s girls.
The story starts when Merry Lee comes into Mon Cherie shot and supported by one of Bantle’s escaped slaves. Bantle follows with his goons but Karen and a couple of the other girls and Madame manage to send them away. But a war starts between the two brothels.
Also, a new marshal is in town following a man who murders prostitutes gruesomely. Marshal Bass Reeves is black and he isn’t going to get much help from the locals, except from Karen and her friends.
I really enjoyed this tale a lot. I did have difficulty with the language sometimes, though. I also really enjoyed the side characters and the references to earlier steampunk books, such as to Jules Verne’s books.
March 12, 2017
The third Penric novella in the Five Gods/ Chalion universe. Ends abruptly in almost a cliffhanger.
Publication year: 2017
Format: Kindle e-book
This time Penric is on a secret mission in Cedonia, a new city for us readers. His new master, Duke of Adria, thought he would make a good secret agent and has sent him to offer a job to one of Cedonia’s generals, Adelis Arisaydia. Unfortunately, things go wrong almost at the start and Penric is imprisoned. Fortunately, he is a sorcerer in the Bastard ’s order and his demon could help him escape. Also, the papers he’s carrying get into the wrong hands. As a consequence, the young general Adelis Arisaydia loses his career and more.
The other POV character in the story is Nikys Khatai who general Arisaydia’s widowed sister. In fact, Adelis has been imprisoned for treason even though he is so loyal to his country. Nikys trys to make him escape imprisonment with her, but he refuses, willing to trust his superiors. Unfortunately, that trust is betrayed.
The paths of Nikys and Penric cross and Penric is quickly attracted to Nikys. But Penric realizes that the secret papers he carried put Adelis in danger in the first place, so he can’t say anything to her about his attraction. Also, he feels very guilty about the pain he’s caused to Adelis and decides to do something about it.
This story is set ten years after the first “Penric and the Demon” novella. Penric and Desdemona are comfortable with each other and used to working together. Penric is very confident in his many roles as a healer, a divine (a priest), and a sorcerer. Desdemona is the one of the pair who wants more excitement in their life. She’s also very protective of him; if he dies, she has to leap into the nearest host without much choice whom or what animal she’ll get.
Nikys is a young widow and very close to her stubborn and proud brother. She’s the more level-headed and practical of the two. But I guess Adelis is used to achieving anything he wants and trusting in his own skills and strength. When he’s suddenly helpless it’s very hard for him to trust anyone else than Nikys.
I enjoyed this story a lot, too. It’s gentler tale without emotional wringer, unlike some of her earlier stories. Which is good! Not every tale has to be brutal! And I like her writing style and the characters are great. Nikys and Adelis are very well drawn characters.
The only complaint I have is the abrupt ending. Almost nothing is resolved and the characters are left in a precarious position, if not in an outright cliffhanger. But the next tale, Mira’s Last Dance, is already out.
March 10, 2017
Collects Silk issues 1-6 and Amazing Spider-Man 1.
Writer: Robbie Thompson
Artist: Stacey Lee, Tana Ford, Veronica Fish
Cindy Moon’s life has changed quite a bit after the events in Secret Wars. For one thing, she’s now a criminal and working with the Black Cat! The Cat’s goon squad is fighting the Goblin King’s army (Goblin Nation) and stealing high-tech gear. Of course, it’s a front: Silk is actually undercover working for Mockingbird and S.H.I.E.L.D. But in order to infiltrate the Cat’s organization, Silk has to smear her own reputation – and during the day, she has to work at her day job, where people are wondering what is up with New York’s newest heroine. Also, Peter Parker shows up! Cameos by Mockingbird and Spider-Woman.
Killer Shrike is Cat’s right hand and he doesn’t trust or like Silk which causes her some problems. Also, Cindy is seeing a therapist to work out her issues and trying to help her brother recover. Her brother is apparently a former member of the Goblin Nation and he’s recovering from a brain injury. She’s still looking for her parents.
This was a good continuation to volume 0. Silk’s starting to be her own kind of hero instead of just a female Spider-Man. On the other hand, a weird guy with electricity powers has to safe her a couple of times. But Silk is new and she’s still learning. Black Cat’s return to villainhood is still a very strange idea to me, but it seems that Silk and the Cat are in danger of bonding, so that will no doubt lead to more interesting (in the Chinese sense) times for her.
I’m not a fan of the changing artists.
March 8, 2017
The first book in an SF series. Which isn’t mentioned on the book, by the way.
Publication year: 2016
Page count: 432
This book is very difficult to review and it wasn’t an easy read, either. It’s complex, very wordy, full of interesting ideas, and frustrating. Mostly it’s written in first person in a deliberately archaic manner by an unreliable narrator who keeps secrets from the reader and more than occasionally addresses the reader directly. It’s also not just influenced by great philosophical and theological thinker but their ideas are talked about in the book, at length. If those are to your taste, you might want to pick it up.
The reader is dropped in the middle of things at first without explanation. But later things are explained, perhaps more than absolutely necessary. The main POV character is a Mycroft Canner, a convict who is now a Servicer, doing penance for his crimes by owning nothing and giving service. In his case, he knows the most important people in this society and while serving them, he gets mixed up in their business, of course. These people aren’t very likable but I guess powerful people rarely are.
The most fascinating, and best, part of the book to me is the society. It’s set in 25th century, during a time when the people of Earth (and on the Moon, yay!) no longer have nation-states. Instead, they have Hives, classes based on what they’re interested in. For example, the Cousins are the care-takers of people. If that’s your passion, you can join the Cousins, no matter where you live. The Utopians are the most advanced scientists who are currently mostly occupied trying to travel to Mars. The Masons, the biggest Hive, are the lawyers and administrators. There are also the Hiveless. Each Hive follows their own laws but there are some laws which are universal. Each Hive also has a different method to choose their leaders. For example, the Masons have an emperor who chooses his follower but the Cousins have a democracy, and the Humanists can vote for anyone they want, not just a guy from a premade list. (Somewhat disappointingly to me, they still choose to vote most for the rich, handsome celebrity who is voted into office time and again.)
Following the great violence in the Church War, organized religions is illegal and even talking about religious ideas in groups of more than three is illegal. However, each person is assigned a sensayer, a priest and a philosopher, with whom they can talk about religious ideas. Sensayer is trained to know all religions, history, and philosophy. Also, biological sexuality has been suppressed. Even though English is still the universal language (but not the only one, people speak French, Japanese, Latin, and other languages) he and she are forbidden because they are too sexually titillating and explicit. So, they is used as a singular. Except that Mycroft uses he and she because he uses archaic language. But he doesn’t use them as a biological differentiator but according to the female and male personality traits of the person he’s describing. Clothing it also gender neutral. Fascinating stuff! (and yeah, I’m a Finn and we don’t use gendered pronouns so it’s not a new idea to me but very interesting to see in English which is so very centered on gender. What about languages with female, male, and neuter pronoun? Would the neuter be used there?)
Oh, the plot. We are introduced to Bridger, a 13-year-old boy who can make things come alive with a touch. More a fantasy concept than scifi. Mycroft and some of his friends are trying very hard to keep Bridger a secret from everyone else and especially from the very powerful people. Also, there’s a burglary which involves a list of names and that becomes more and more important.
I also loved the concept of bash’ which has substituted a family. Essentially, it’s a group of people (usually 2-8 adults) living together and kids are raised in these bash’es. But the adults aren’t all necessarily involved with each other – they can be just very good friends or even siblings. But they could be parents and grandparents, too. Oh, and people from different Hives can live in the same bash’.
Unfortunately, no book is without some flaws. This one felt too long and I wasn’t really interested in all of revelations, especially later in the book. And the setting is much more interesting that the plots. It also doesn’t have a proper ending, just an end.
March 7, 2017
Collects Silk issues 1-7 (2015).
Writer: Robbie Thompson
Artist: Stacey Lee
Cindy Moon was bitten by the same radioactive spider as Peter Parker but instead of becoming a superhero then, she had to go in isolation to protect her family and everyone else from the Inheritors. But now she’s out of the bunker and a superhero Silk. Only, after ten years of isolation, it’s not easy to try to blend into the modern world. Also, her family seems to have disappeared. She has almost the same powers as Peter except that she generates webbing from her fingertips.
Cindy is interning with the legendary J. Jonah Jameson at Fact Channel and looking for her family. At night, she’s Silk and fighting Black Cat’s gang of goons. Clearly, Cindy starts as a female Spider-Man. Her miniseries is fun and fast-paced but she also deals with some heavier issues and she thinks about her family a lot. Spider-Man (Peter) and Fantastic Four guest-star. The final issue ends when the Secret Wars begin.
I think the series is aimed at a younger crowd, but I liked it. I used to read the Finnish edition of Spider-Man for many years, including Spider-Man 2099 and Ultimate, until Marvel’s decision to just do away with Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage finally alienated me from Spidey. I think that Silk is a fine addition to the Spidey-family. But if you’re looking for a unique hero, Silk is probably not for you.
The art is more simplified than usual for superhero comics but it fit the story well.
March 6, 2017
I had only a sporadic internet connection in February, apparently thanks to my Windows 10. The “feature” has already continued in March. 😦
Challenges: Pick&Mix: 7, none of the others. I read a bunch of comics but didn’t really have much to say about them.
1, Jim C. Hines: Unbound
2, Becky Chambers: A Closed and Common Orbit
3, Genevieve Cogman: The Masked City
4, Genevieve Cogman: The Burning Page
5, Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric and the Shaman
6, Diane Carey: Red Sector
I’m continuing my Hugo reading (couple of more books to go still). I ended up reading five books and a handful of novellas and short stories.
I thoroughly enjoyed Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona novellas “Penric and the Shaman” and “Penric’s Mission” even though the latter ended very abruptly.
I enjoyed all of the books I read. The biggest disappointment was the Star Trek: TNG book “Red Sector” because I was looking forward to spending time Picard and his crew but they ended up showing in only a couple of chapters and the main character was a new character. Otherwise the book was good.
Becky Chambers’ “A Closed and Common Orbit” was quite different from her first book but I enjoyed it almost as much. Genevieve Cogman’s “The Masked City” and “The Burning Page” continued the series well, giving Irene and Kai wild rides across alternate dimensions. Jim Hines’ “Unbound” was another very good entry to his Libriomancy series and I’m already listening the next (and final) book in his series. Perhaps the best one was Chambers’ book.
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