February 2018

The newest book in the Vlad Taltos series. It’s the 15th.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 and 31 minutes
Narrator: Bernard Setaro Clark

This it the first Vlad Taltos book I’ve listened as an audiobook and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the reader, Clark. Of course, he can’t sound like I imagined the characters sounded like in my head, but I liked his interpretation of them well enough. It took a little while to get used to the breathy voice he used for Loiosh, Vlad’s familiar, but now I think it’s good, easy to distinguish from Vlad’s voice.

Anyway, Vlad is back in Anhdrilankha, the capital of Dragaera, and staying in the Easterners’ part of the city. Then Devera appears behind his door. Devera is… a bit hard to explain. She looks like a little (Dragaeran) girl and she’s the daughter of one of Vlad’s Dragaeran friends. However, she hasn’t been born yet and she has the ability to appear in different times and places. We’ve been seeing little glimpses of her in some of the previous books. So, now she comes to Vlad because she’s in trouble and needs his help. Vlad is glad enough to help her even though he doesn’t really understand the situation, and neither does the reader.

So, Devera takes Vlad (and Loiosh and Loiosh’s mate Roszca) to a manor which seems to have been abandoned. Once inside, Devera disappears and Vlad and the Jheregs are promptly trapped there. They wander around the manor, meeting the master of the place, the servants, and sometimes the soldiers. They can’t get out until Vlad has solved the puzzle of the manor.

While this isn’t the best book in the series, I enjoyed it a lot. It has lots of humor and remarks between Loiosh and Vlad. I also very much enjoyed some elements which would be a huge spoiler to mention.

Vallista gives us tidbits about Vlad’s past and also about the past of the whole Dragaeran Empire and the gods. I also rather enjoyed Vlad’s interactions with the Dragaerans in the house and, er, elsewhere.

But it’s not a starting point to the series at all. You need to know about Vlad and about the world before you can fully enjoy this novel. I recommend starting with the first book, or rather the omnibus of the three first books, the Book of Jhereg.

“It is a truth universally acknowledge that a human assassin in possession of an important mission must be in want of a target.”

A stand-alone book which stars Catwoman and Batman. Not romantically.

Publication year: 1993
Format: print
Publisher: Warner Books
Page count: 196

Catwoman, Selina Kyle, must steal to survive. She doesn’t do it often and usually steals from local drug gangs, but she also has no qualms about it. Sometimes she runs into Batman but avoids him whenever she can. She lives with her cats in a small apartment, but is content in her life.

Rose is a local young woman who returns to meet the nuns who helps her away from a bad situation once. But when the nuns realize that Rose is afraid of cats, the contact Selina thinking that she will have a kitten which will sooth Rose. Unfortunately, when Selina shows up with a kitten, Rose is terrified of it. Selina’s curiosity is gets the better of her and she starts to investigate.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon warns Batman that a group of foreign people are buying and selling heavy armaments in Gotham. Higher ups are interested, and Gordon’s doesn’t want his own men getting caught in the middle. Batman promises to investigate, and the case seems to lead him to a very clever and manipulative man only known as the Connection. Along the way, Batman stumbles upon a man, Eddie Lobb, who collects illegal items made from tiger bones, skins, and other parts. Lobb believes that he will get the powers of a tiger spirit through them.

This story was written before various DC reboots which have changed Selina’s character quite a bit. This Selina isn’t a hero. Still, she definitely cares about not only cats but also wildlife: when she steals a lot of money, she donates most of it to Wilderness Warriors hoping they will do good with it. She doesn’t really care for other people; she’s definitely a loner with a tough past and inability to trust anyone. She doesn’t have any romantic thoughts about Batman; he is the vigilante who should be avoided. She doesn’t own much and prefers to live this way. It was interesting to see her get acquainted with a character who is pretty much the opposite of her and to work with that character. I also rather liked the nuns whose work was portrayed as an army against evil.

Lobb was a good villain for Selina. He’s ruthless and somewhat insane. Unfortunately, he’s just a lackey for the Connection. Even though the book’s description claims that the bat and the cat will team up that doesn’t happen. They almost have two separate storylines.

Collects Birds of Prey issues 62-68.

Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Ed Benes, Alex Lei, Michael Golden, Joe Bennett, Cliff Richards, Ruy Jose, Mike Manley, Scott Hanna

The Black Canary’s martial arts sensei is dying, and she’s travelled to Hong Kong to meet him. However, at his side she finds another former student: Shiva. Shiva is the best assassin in this world, she’s merciless and competent. Dinah doesn’t like her at all. But they both care for the old sensei and so they agree to get to know each other, at least a little However, going out to eat and having a fight with one of the local gangs comes at a terrible price: Cheshire has poisoned and killed their teacher. So, Dinah and Shiva team up to get Cheshire. However, Cheshire reveals that she was set up, that someone else poisoned their sensei. Reluctantly, Dinah and Shiva agree to take Cheshire to Gotham where she will reveal who the real culprit is.

Meanwhile, Oracle is working with the JLA helping them find out where the criminals are holed up. Or trying to: she’s wrong every time. It turns out that her unhackable computers have been hacked. She turns to a group of mysterious computer wizards for help. However, they only advise her to abandon her place. She’s arrested and taken to a secret government facility.

I again enjoyed this comic: it has a lot of elements I enjoy. Both Dinah and Barbara are taken out of their respective comfort zones and yet, they’re able to rise to the challenge with flying colors. Dinah has to deal with both Shiva and Cheshire while Babs is taken away from her computers. Also, there are moments of humor which makes this comic so great. The last issue deals with the aftermath, when the Huntress joins the team. One issue is a flashback to the original Black Canary, Dinah’s mother, and while I’m a bit dubious about how it really fit in with the rest of the story, I enjoyed it a lot.

The villains return mostly from the previous arch. Again, they’re not my favorites but quite appropriate for BoP team. Both Dinah and Barbara dislike Helena and I really, really wish they wouldn’t constantly shame Helena for being sexually active. Also, the art continues to be rather inappropriate for the story. So many buttshots…
But still a very good read.

A stand-alone Batman book where he confronts child abuse.

Publication year: 1995
Format: print
Publisher: Warner Books
Page count: 196 + David Hechler’s essay on Child Sex Tourism

Bruce Wayne is in a charity event for the Gotham Museum. An otherwise dull evening becomes more colorful when a child protective services caseworker Debra Kane confronts a rich woman about the way the rich ignore the roots of evil. According to Debra, child abuse is the reason why people become criminals. Bruce is interested and when Debra offers to take him along with her rounds, he agrees. As Bruce learns about the ways that children are abused right in Gotham, Batman confronts an organized crime ring where children are bought, sold, and abused.

I had no idea what the book was about, so I was rather surprised by the way that real world problems are brought together with an iconic superhero. However, I think that using Batman to highlight this problem was appropriate since some Batman comic stories also discuss why criminals are the way they are. Also, it’s more appropriate for Batman than more powerful, cosmic heroes. However, the theme was very obvious, and some characters clearly preached the author’s POV. Of course, it’s a very important matter, but people expecting a few hours of mindless superhero stories could be disappointed.

Debra Kane is a very dedicated social worker whose only role in the story is to introduce Batman to the subject and highlight it. In this story, Batman has been fighting crime for years alone and is wondering if it will ever end. He’s a bit embittered but still just as dedicated to his work as Debra is to hers. I also found it strange that Batman is called the night-rider rather than his more usual titles, like the dark knight or caped crusader.

Overall, this was an ok story with a very important message.

The third and final book in the Gateways to Alissia fantasy series. I got an eARC from the publisher. Thanks!

Publication year: 2018 February
Format: ebook
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse
Page count: 352 on Goodreads

A small amount of time has passed since the end of the previous book, the Island Deception. The stage magician Quinn Bradley is enjoying his new-found real magical talents and has left the magicians’ island, Enclave, with Jillaine whom Quinn is hoping to get to know a lot better. They’re looking for Jillaine’s father and Jillaine has saved Quinn a couple of times already. Still, she’s keeping him at an arm’s length. But when Quinn stumbles upon a bounty hunter who is looking for him and realizes that he’s got a bounty on his head, Quinn and Jillaine decide they need to find out who is behind it. Jillaine is the daughter of Moric who’s one of the most powerful magicians in Alissia and who doesn’t approve of Quinn’s relationship with her.

Meanwhile, CASE Global’s soldiers Logan and Mendez are trying to find a way to get close to Valteroni Prime who is the ruler of Valteron, one of the biggest countries in this world. The Prime is also Richard Holt, a former CASE Global employee, a very intelligent and charismatic man who has defected to Alissia. The soldiers have an order to assassinate him when they can get close enough. Logan’s orders are getting increasingly violent towards anyone who might stand in the company’s way and he’s very uncomfortable with that. However, the company has taken Logan’s wife and children hostage to guarantee Logan’s continued loyalty. Also, he’s wondering if he can trust Mendez to help him get his family back. But first, they need to steal a Valteroni ship in order to get to Holt.

At the end of the previous book, anthropologist Veena Chaudri was taken captive by a Valteroni admiral. However, she has agreed to join Richard Holt and work against CASE Global. Now, she’s Holt’s ambassador, using her vast knowledge of the world to try to get some allies. Unfortunately, the only people left whom she can persuade to join Holt’s army are people who have been hostile to Valteron for generations.

Still, Holt, and Veena, know that the company will be coming to get him… and to make war in this world where the company’s technology should give them a great advantage. They need to be prepared and the rest of the characters need to choose their side.

A World Awakening is an exciting and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. It has three POV characters (Quinn, Veena, and Logan) who are friends but now are pitted, essentially, against each other. They all have their own problems.

The secondary characters are interesting. I particularly liked Sella, the acerbic magic user whose idea of teaching magic is to put the student in as much danger as possible. The smart mules are also very entertaining and I enjoyed the introduction of the Tukalu warriors. However, I would have wanted to know more about Lieutenant Kiara and her sister.

To me, this book felt less light-hearted because CASE Global considers itself at war with Alissia and tries to take it over through violence. Quinn worries about this. Even Logan is somewhat disturbed because of the orders he gets to just eliminate innocent bystanders. In the previous books, we got hints that the company could be quite ruthless but now it’s clear. Unfortunately, that made some of the ending a bit strange to me. It’s also more focused on fighting than the previous books which makes it less unique than the previous books. (Although I have to admit that fantasy books focusing on naval battles aren’t that common, either.)

Otherwise, I again thoroughly enjoyed this book. The characters and the humor were great, and the ending even had a couple of surprises. It’s an excellent ending which doesn’t leave plot threads hanging.

Booking through Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Today, the topic is Romance freebie.

I’m not really a fan of courtship romances. But I do have favorite couples, although most of the time I like them the most when they are already together rather than at the courtship phase. Today, I’m looking at my favorite couples in comics. Most of them have already been broken up by the publisher but at least I can reread the comics from the time when they were together.

1, Cyclops and Phoenix from Marvel comics
Phoenix is one of my favorite X-Men characters. They just complemented each other so well.

2, Apollo and Midnighter from Authority comic
I love the whole team and these two are the most badass superheroes in a committed relationship.

3, Redlance and Nightfall from Elfquest
Elfquest has lots of interesting couples but these two are my favorite. Nightfall is a hunter, a warrior, an archer while Redlance is a gentle soul, a nurturer who loves peace.

4, Susan and Reed Richards from Marvel
These two are the heart of their team the Fantastic Four. Sometimes they disagree, especially when Reed keeps to himself important information but for the most part, they rely on each other always.

5, Peter Parker and Mary Jane from Marvel
Originally, I was a bit skeptical about them, MJ and Peter just belong together.

6, Nightwing and Starfire from DC
Yep, another older comic couple since they were broken up (by editorial decision) quite a few years ago. Another couple with complemented each other very well.

7, Alana and Marko from Saga comic
Saga follows the trials of Alana and Marko. They’re from different races that are at war with each other.

8, Superman and Lois Lane from DC

9, Meggan and Captain Britain
I loved the Excalibur series in 1990s and they were a large part of it.

10, Mr. Miracle and Big Barda

Collects Birds of Prey issues 56-61.

Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Ed Benes, Alex Lei

Oracle and the Black Canary are going after a CEO who is going to embezzle the funds of his own company and flee the country. Dinah does a nice job scaring him out of it but unfortunately, the man isn’t doing this alone: he’s been blackmailed into it. Savant isn’t happy about Oracle meddling into his affairs. He manages to lure Dinah into a trap. He brakes her legs to make sure that she can’t escape. Then he tries to blackmail Oracle. However, Oracle calls for the Huntress to track down Dinah. Babs isn’t happy about working with Helena, but she not about to let down Dinah.

The second half of the collection deals with the aftermath. Dinah’s legs are in cast and she, too, is confined to a wheelchair, for a while. Barbara tries to fire Dinah and take Huntress as her field agent. Fortunately, Barbara and Dinah manage to talk things through. Also, Dinah kicks ass even in a wheelchair! Meanwhile, the Huntress faces a villainous politician and Savant’s having trouble in jail.

This was a nice beginning for Simone’s collected run. Apparently, DC hasn’t (yet?) collected the previous issues of this volume of Birds of Prey. Dinah and Barbara are clearly good friends, good enough that they tolerate each other’s mistakes and can work past them. They’re both smart and awesome. The only thing I didn’t really care for is the art: way too much cheesecake. I dunno: maybe the editors at DC thought that nobody would buy a comic starring women unless they wear skimpy clothing and have a buttshot on every page…

Still, I’m rather enjoining my BoP reread. Savant is far from my favorite enemy but he’s ok and quite appropriate as an antagonist to the BoP. I did love the way that Babs finally handled him.

The third and final book in the fantasy Divine Cities trilogy. It’s an excellent series and I strongly recommend starting with the first book, the City of Stairs.

Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Publisher: Jo Flecther Books
Page count: 440

City of Miracles starts with one of the bad guys killing Shara Komayd, the former Prime Minister of Saypuri.

13 years have gone by since the end of the previous book, City of Blades. Sigrud has lost his daughter, and his best friend and leader Shara Komayed has sent him away, before he could be arrested and tried for multiple counts of murder. Sigrud has been waiting for Shara to call him back and into action. Instead, he hears that Shara has been assassinated. So, he throws away his job as a logger and sets out to get revenge.

But to do that, he needs information about what Shara was doing and who killed her. He also wants to protect Shara’s adopted daughter Tatyana who has vanished. The more Sigrud finds out, the more he realizes that he doesn’t know about Shara’s final years. Shara has set herself against a powerful and ruthless enemy who has very far reaching goals.

This was a powerful and wonderful ending to a wonderful series. Bennett mixes espionage, mystery, and thriller with magic and divinities. He gives us a lot of new characters along with a couple of familiar ones. We get to see a bit more of Saypuri than in the previous books.

Sigrud has been a significant secondary character in both of the previous books but now we really get into his head and get to know what drives him and makes him unique. He’s a tortured man without a doubt but he’s also determined to do what must be done.

The story has a few twists I didn’t see coming and the ending is just perfect. (And as I greedy reader I’m going to ask ‘What will you write next?’)

Tough travelling feature has moved to the Fantasy Hive.
This month the theme is shapeshifters: “Shapeshifting is frequent among both WERES and MAGIC USERS. The usual form taken is that of a wolf, but lions, eagles, serpents, owls and cats are common too. In all cases the Rule is that the Shapeshifter cannot stay too long in ANIMAL form without actually becoming that animal and losing touch with her/his human thoughts.”
– The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones

Most shapeshifters that I’ve come across can shift into only one form, for example:
Werewolves are probably the most common shapeshifters. For example, Kitty from Carrie Vaughn’s urban fantasy series.

For example, Beorn by J. R. R. Tolkien. He’s suspicious of the twelve dwarves but ends up helping them.

I think that all shapeshifting dragons I’ve come across are in fact dragons who can change into a humanoid form, not the other way around. The Dragonlance universe has several of them and so has the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman.

Most elves can appear to be human so that humans don’t notice them. For example, Toby Daye by Seanan McGuire.

But there a few creatures which can change their shape into more forms:
Various gods and tricksters
Most, if not all, mythologies have shapeshifters. Perhaps the best known is Loki from the Norse myths who goes so far that he even bears a foal when he’s a female horse. Odin is another one who likes to change his shape frequently. So is Zeus and many of the other Greek (and Roman) gods.

He can change into a wolf, a bat, and even mist.

The D&D Druids
They can take the forms of most animals a few times a day (depending on the level). However, I must confess that the only druid character in fiction I can think of is Jaheira from the Baldur’s Gate games. Surely there must be more than that? (yes, I’m currently playing a high-level druid in a table-top campaign :))

Kandra are creatures who can take on the appearance of another, human or animal, by digesting their flesh and bones. They appear in the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson.

In Star Trek: DS9 we have an entire species of beings who can take pretty much any form they want. Odo, of course, is the most prominent such character in the show.

Marvel comics are also pretty full of shapeshifters.
Most of them are superpowered people who change into their powered form and back to their normal selves. For example, the Hulk, She-Hulk, Colossus, or Wolfsbane (Marvel’s werewolf).
However, they also have the Skrulls, a species which can shapeshift to any person.
Perhaps the most known Marvel shapechanger currently is Mystique who can take the form of any person.

The first book in the steampunk/science fiction series Peridot Shift. I got an ARC from the publisher.

Publication year: 2018, in March
Format: ebook, Kindle
Publisher: Parvus Press
Page count: 535 on Goodreads

Talis is the captain of Wind Saber, a small airship with a total crew of four people. To keep her vessel in the air, Talis is sometimes forced to take jobs which are borderline legal, or outright illegal. Like the one that starts the story. One of the few fences Talis trusts offered her a job that looked easy enough. An old ring needed to be retrieved from the wreckage of an airship. Talis agreed to the job even though the payment barely covers for the cost of the equipment needed for diving the wreck. However, she thinks that she can do similar jobs in the future, so the cost is really an investment. Her crew agreed. The only problem is that anything found from wrecks are the property of the Cutter Empire, so they’ll have to be fast and silent.

Unfortunately, only moments after Talis gets the ring, an Imperial warship appears, and its captain is none other than Hankirk with whom Talis had a fling years ago when they were both in the Imperial Academy, and now they loath each other. After a battle, which will no doubt put Wind Sabre on the Imperial most wanted list, the Wind Sabre manages to escape. But when Talis tries to bring the ring to the fence, she and her crew are attacked and later they find the fence murdered. Talis has no idea what’s going on, but she needs to get rid of the ring and with a price that will cover some of her losses.

This was a very enjoyable read. The world-building is good and very interesting. The planet Peridot was destroyed in the past and only the powers of the five gods, the Divine Alchemists, kept the world together as islands of floating lands. The Divine Alchemists recreated the plants, animals, and everything and created five races, each in the image of one of the alchemists. Two of them look pretty much human while the rest are somewhat different. The world has also aliens which use starships to come from different planets. The people of Peridot don’t really know much about them.

In addition to two lift balloons and maneuvering and stunsails, the airships have steam engines, too, to propel them across the skies and between different islands. The planet has been divided into five areas, one for each race. There’s the Cutter Empire and the Bone islands are ruled by a sort of tribal council.

The crew of Wind Saber includes Dug who is a fearsome warrior, the first mate, and Talis’ best friend, Sophie who is the wrench, or mechanic, and Tisker who is the pilot and a former street urchin. They’re quite a close-knit group. They each have their own pasts and personalities. Talis is the only point-of-view character so we naturally get to know her the best. She seems like an experienced captain, very protective of her crew (especially Dug) but not so great at long-time planning. She also has a dry sense of humor. All of the crew are able to defend themselves and can kill people when necessary. I also really enjoyed the deep friendship between Dug and Talis: they’re friends through thick and thin but not lovers.

Besides Talis and Sophie the book has several interesting female characters. But for me the aliens almost steal the show. We get to know a bit more about them, but I’d love to know more. For example, they use pronouns not to identify gender but class, and they have over fifty pronouns. Also, the story doesn’t include romance which I really appreciated because courtship romances are so very common that’s noteworthy to find a book without one.

I’m eagerly waiting for the next book and really hoping that it will be just as good.