May 2018


The third book in the historical superhero series set in 1961 USA. It can be read as a stand-alone but you get more out of it by starting with the first book, Serpent’s Sacrifice.

Publication year: 2018
Format: ebook
Page count: 276

Chronologically, this book goes between books one and two in the Serpent series because it follows Marco Myers, the close friend of Alice Seymore who is the heroine of the two first books. At the end of Serpent’s Sacrifice, Marco and his best friend Lionel left Jet City and Alice. They were looking for a cure for Lionel, but later they parted ways.

Now, Marco is a private detective in Metro City trying to scrape together a living. His aunt Allegra, who owns a gym, helps him from time to time. He also has an assistant Colleen Knight who is a black woman with secrets of her own.

Marco used to be superhero Shadow Master. He can sense others’ emotions and using shadows which come out of him, he can manipulate others’ memories and emotions. Unfortunately, he can only affect bad and hurtful memories, forcing the other person to relive them. He hasn’t used his powers much during the past year. Now he’s plagued by dreams of a boy he doesn’t know. He has only one person left who could lead him to the cure and when he dies in Marco’s arms, he’s at a loss at what to do.

However, a beautiful woman approaches him, telling him that she’s just escaped from a facility where superpowered people are held and experimented on. She can help Marco find the cure if he helps her and the doctor who escaped together with her. Out of options Marco agrees but that means that her enemies are now his, too.

Colleen is the granddaughter of a mafioso boss. Her mother Tina is also a mafioso, but never been able to protect Colleen from her grandfather. Colleen has fire-based powers, but she’s always tried to suppress them and doesn’t control them well. Her brother Andrew is missing and she hasn’t told Marco that she’s trying to find him. When she finds out that Andrew was working in the place that experiments with superhumans, she realizes that he might be a prisoner there, too. And that Andrew likely has secrets of his own.

Colleen doesn’t want anything to do with her family. She fell in love with a woman while she was in collage and she’s hiding her sexuality in addition to her powers. Her grandfather knows her well and knows just how to blackmail her. The only one she loves in her family is her brother. She’s not comfortable with her powers at all and has to learn to use them.

Marco is a sensitive man. He loves Alice but thinks that she loves his best friend Lionel and he’s desperate to find a cure for Lionel. He has to confront quite terrible things from his past in addition to dealing with the people who hate and fear superpowered people.

The story is again quite grim and intense, with lots of people getting hurt and Marco dealing with betrayals. The pace is quick with lots of twists.

I really enjoyed most of the characters. Marco is a tortured hero trying his best to do good. Colleen’s family dynamics were very interesting. Some of the more minor characters had depth, too, such as Tina and Marco’s aunt Allegra. I hope we get to see more of Colleen in the future.

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Top 5 Wednesday is GoodReads group where people discuss different bookish topic each week. This month is a rewind month, a chance for everyone to do topics they haven’t or did long ago.

My third choice is Favorite character Tropes

1, Enemies forced to work together
This is a great troupe when used well. There’s a bigger or different evil and to defeat it, enemies are forced to work together. They’ll snark and snap at each other and there’s probably going to be a betrayal at some point. It’ll highlight their differences and maybe mirror each other. In the end, they might end up hating each other more or perhaps understanding each other more but unwilling to let go of the hatred. Perhaps they’ll find out that for just a lucky chance they might have been on the same side. Or in the case of enemy soldiers, that they aren’t so different after all but they’re still loyal to their own country.
Examples: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold, various comics and tv-shows

2, the hero with the heart of gold (or a knight in a shining armor)
Too often this type of character is written as boring. Often, they need better challenges.
Examples: Prince Valiant (the comic), Aral Vorkosigan by Lois McMaster Bujold

3, former friends/lovers are now arch enemies
Example: Magneto and Xavier by Marvel comics

4, An eclectic group of characters become friends/family
A very common troupe in the fantasy and science fiction. It could be a blood family, too, but those are actually pretty rare.
Examples: Flotsam by R. J. Theodore, the X-Men, Avengers, Firefly, Farscape etc.

5, Established couple
Lovers who fight crime together, stay together! I’d love to read more of these but they’re very rare.
Example: Barbary station by R. E. Stearns, Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

Booking through Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Today, the topic is Top 10 bookish worlds I’d love to live in.

Most fantasy world are actually pretty hard to live in, unless you happen to be part of the nobility or other upper class and/or wealthy. Or the main character. And even then, they tend to lack modern conveniences like indoor toilets and showers. Some sci-fi worlds also fall into this category. For example, while I’d love to visit Barsoom I wouldn’t have much of a chance of surviving there long.
Easiest choices are the many urban fantasy worlds which are essentially modern worlds.

1, Star Trek (TNG/DS9)
Holodecks! Food and clothing replicators! Illnesses cured easily! Yep, that’s my kind of world. 😊

2, The world of Two Moons in Elfquest by Richard and Wendy Pini
It’s a primitive world, but if I could be a long-lived or immortal elf, I wouldn’t mind at all.

3, The Invisible Library and its worlds by Genevieve Cogman
I’d love to be a librarian and travel to various alternate worlds. It’s risky but it’s also very rewarding. Alternatively, I could just stay in the library and read… I mean do research for the field agents.

4, Thursday Next’s alternative world by Jasper Fforde
This world also sounds like a lot of fun, especially if I could be a literary detective and actually visit inside various books.

5, Magic Ex Libris world by Jim C. Hines
Another almost like our world except that magic works. This world has magicians who can bring forth items from books. I’d love to be able to do that. Unfortunately, it’s also quite a dangerous job and bystanders can also be in danger.

6, Beta Colony or Earth by Lois McMaster Bujold
They also have advanced tech and great (for me) societies. I’d love to be just an ordinary citizen in either place.

7, The Fusion planets by Karl Gallagher
While the Fusion worlds have problems of the own (like paranoia), for the most part they sound a good place to live.

8, The worlds in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Another quite civilized place which has several planets of aliens and humans living and working together.
9, Earth by Marvel comics

It would be so cool to live in a world with actual superheroes! Especially during a period when bystanders aren’t likely to be killed.

10, Star Wars
Not everyone is involved with Rebellion or smuggling. I think I could do well just living quietly. (Unless I’m able to sense the Force and become a Jedi.)

Collects Marvel’s Star Wars: Princess Leia issues 1-5.

Writer: Mark Weid
Artists: Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson

The comic starts right at the end of A New Hope. Leia has just given a very short eulogy to her own world, Alderaan, and her adoptive parents. One of the fighter pilots, Evaan, who is also from Alderaan, doesn’t like how cold Leia seems. There’s a large price on Leia’s head and the generals wants to keep her safe on the new base. Also, the Empire wants to round out all the surviving Aldraanians. But Leia has a plan of her own: she’s going to travel around and gather all the remaining Alderaanians and take them to someplace safe where they can continue their life style of peace and arts. To do that she needs to sneak off the Rebel base. She recruits the reluctant pilot Evaan and R2-D2.

Some of the Aldraanians are happy to see their princess, but not all. And the Empire is dogging them at every turn.

This was a nice quick read which moves at a decent clip. However, we don’t get any new insight about Leia. Which is fine by me, I enjoy reading about her anyway. But the ending was too abrupt and it’s clear that a mission like this isn’t going to be accomplished in just five issues. The story has a nice subplot about two sisters.

We don’t actually know much about Alderaan through the movies. Just that it’s a peaceful place which doesn’t have any weapons. Yet, Leia is no pacifist: she fights right alongside the others and is clearly trained to use weapons. And since this is a Star Wars comic, there’s a quite a bit of fighting in the story line, in addition to sneaking around.

The Alderaan in this comic is noted for arts. Many of the surviving Aldraanians are peaceful artists. But some of them are far from peaceful and defend themselves aggressively. A few of them are even traitors, so we get quite a variety of Alderaanins in the story. We also get a small glimpse into Leia’s childhood where she was reared to be a hereditary monarch. Her parents are shown as wise and respected, which we already knew from the prequels.

Evaan is the other notable Alderaanian in the comic. As a fighter pilot, she’s clearly no pacifist, either. It was nice to see her development in the story. She starts with reluctantly honoring Leia because of her parents and status. Of course, this being an SW comic, you know that’s not the case at the end.

Oh, I really like Dodsons’ art. It flows smoothly. However, the Dodsons have their own style with faces and Leia doesn’t look much like Carrie Fisher.

The sequel to “Penric’s Mission” and “Mira’s Last Dance”. A fantasy novella. I recommend starting with the first novella “Penric’s Demon” to get the most out of the novella series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 5 hours and 25 minutes
Narrators: Grover Gardner

Penric is a sorcerer in the Bastard’s Order and therefore carrying a chaos demon inside him. He’s also a scholar and a healer, using the demon’s abilities for the healing. He named his demon Desdemona. Des has had 12 previous hosts, both animal and human, but Penric is the first male host. Penric is supposed to return to the temple where he is stationed but has put it off because he has romantic interest towards Nikys Khatai. She’s the widow of a general and the sister of another general. Penric wants to stay near her but is running out of excuses.

Nikys receives a letter which tells her that her mother is kept a prisoner in a Daughter’s House in Limnos. Because of political repercussions, Nikys wants to rescue her quietly. Penric happily volunteers and they set out for another mutual adventure. However, the letter could be a trap.

This is quite a gentle and heart-warming fantasy novella, like a cozy mystery but without the murder (or other crime). The characters are great, as usual for Bujold. There were some tense moments, but I didn’t think the characters were never in any serious danger. Which was fine, for a change. There are a lot of various disguises, daring escapes, and sneaking around.

The story has two POV characters: Penric and Nikys. While Pen is quite a gentle and understanding man, he’s also very powerful because of his demon. But having the demon does have its drawbacks, too, and several of the previous hosts have their own personalities which come to the surface from time to time. Nikys is a very practical and loyal woman. She’s falling for Pen but the thought that he has another person, or rather several people, really, inside him all the time, gives her pause. However, she does seem to take Pen for granted: right at the start she doesn’t even bother to ask him if he’s going to help, just assumes it.

We’re also introduced to a group of new characters. The letter was sent by a woman Nikys’ brother courted before he was declared a traitor. She’s apparently still waiting for him. She and her household agree to help Nikys even with such a questionable and dangerous mission as a prison break. While the Daughter’s House is a temple and not a dreary dungeon, it does have a loyal and dedicated staff. I also really enjoyed several of the new characters, especially Ikos and Bosha, and I’d loved to see more of them.

Overall this was a great continuation and I’m looking forward to seeing Penric and Nikys adventuring as a couple.

The first book in the Blackthorn and Grim fantasy series. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 17 hours and 44 minutes
Narrators: Scott Aiello, Natalie Gold, Nick Sullivan

This story has three POV characters and so it has three narrators. Each reads the chapter which is written in the POV of his or her character. I really liked this technique.

The story starts with Blackthorn, although she’s a nameless prisoner in a terrible prison. She tells us that she rose against the local ruler, who was raping women and then discarding them, and so she was locked up. However, she’s endured and is waiting for her one chance to talk in front of the council and tell everyone what happened. But one of the jailers tells her that she’s going to be murdered before that can happen. However, she’s brought in front of a strange, a fey calling himself Conmael. She’s suspicious and sullen. When Conmael offers her a chance to freedom but at a cost, she’s hesitant. Conmael demands seven years of service from her. During that time, she will stay in another country, Dalriada, and help everyone who asks for help, and those who need it but won’t, or can’t, ask. She will be a healer and a wisewoman. She will also put aside her need for revenge during the seven years. That need has sustained her through her terrible year in prison, so it’s not easy. Finally, she accepts.

Grim is another inmate, a huge and strong man. He’s latched on to Blackthorn who is his life line even though they don’t really know each other. Nor are they friends. But when chance comes, in the form of a prison break, he tries to help other inmates and follows Blackthorn. They travel together to Dalriada and there Grim works for the local people and lives with Blackthorn (but not romantically).

Dalriada’s Crown Prince Oran needs to make a political marriage. He’s known that all his life but still dreams about a love match. When he starts to exchange letters with Lady Flidais he becomes convinced that she can be the girl of his dreams: gentle, compassionate, and intelligent. She also shows that she, too, has been brought up to serve the people instead of using power for her own benefit. But when the lady’s group arrives, she’s not at all as Oran imagined her to be: she snaps at even her own people, seduces Oran, and even her own dog seems to hate her. Oran can’t help but to feel that something is terribly wrong. Maybe the new local wisewoman Blackthorn can help?

This is a lush fantasy book. The world-building is intricate. It’s not an epic fantasy; it’s not based on fighting at all. Instead, people are the center of this novel. Both Blackthorn and Grim are wounded and flawed characters. They can barely tolerate the company of other people. But they’re also used to working for their bread. Oran has been reared to serve justice as best he can and he’s a very down-to-earth royalty. He doesn’t enjoy the noble pastimes of hunting or gaming. He much rather reads old tales.

Grim and Blackthorn are suspicious of other people, especially of people in power.

This was another long book and it took quite a while until Oran approaches Blackthorn. I knew (or thought I knew) what had happened to the lady, but I didn’t grow impatient with the story. Marillier builds the characters meticulously and also revealed the world, bit by bit. We didn’t much see the fey but I like what I saw. In this world, they’re tricksters with a lot of magical power and humans don’t trust them.

The book has quite obvious themes: corrupt people using their powers over others, most of them are men but women are just as capable of using power, if usually differently. The way that people will close their eyes and not see obvious bad things around them, when they don’t like the people to whom these bad things happen.

While I liked most of the book, it does have some rather questionable stuff about (female) sexuality.

The book doesn’t end in a cliffhanger and can be read as stand-alone.

Collects BoP issues 109-112, 118.

Writer: Tony Bedard
Artist: Nicola Scott, Doug Hazlewood, Jason Orfalas, David Cole

This collects Bedard’s first issues. It’s a collection of stand-alone stories.

In the first issue, Barbara and Dinah talk about the Green Arrow. Oliver has proposed to Dinah and Babs is trying to stop Dinah from making a huge mistake.
Meanwhile, Big Barda is learning to play… Pokemon! In a far more serious note, the Death of New Gods event starts to roll along, and the first casualty is Knockout. We see her with her girlfriend and then she’s dead.

The second issue focuses on Helena. The Huntress is working while Oracle is trying to persuade her to take another, very urgent job. This creates a very familiar contrast where Helena and Barbara talk about various things (in this case, about other members of the BoP and why they aren’t suitable for the job) while Helena takes down a group of men who have hijacked a school bus.

In the third issue the Calculator reappears. He goes to a computer con looking for info that will tell him who Oracle is. Barbara is at the came con with her own mission.

In the next issue, the Death of New Gods continues and this time Big Barda has died. The team goes to her funeral while Lady Blackhawk gives her own wake in a bar. However, two of Calculator’s goons are after her and she ends up hijacking a taxi (sort of) and driving almost across the country.

The final issue is 118 which appeared originally after the next collection (Metropolis or Dust) and it shows. Oracle and her team are now in California instead of Metropolis and apparently Misfit has been missing for a while. Also, a new character Black Alice appears and she already hates Misfit. In this story, they’re both captives in a fight ring which is lead by a metahuman who has some serious help from Darkseid’s minions. Granny Goodness has drugged Misfit and the other fighters so that they won’t use their powers to escape but to fight each other. Fortunately, Black Alice’s own medication seems to be working against the drug.

Unfortunately, she hates Misfit but has to convince her to use her teleporting powers to escape.

These are ok stories but nothing special. I don’t think I’ve ever read the Death of New Gods story so it’s pretty baffling to see the characters murdered, especially since I rather enjoyed Mr. Miracle in Big Barda in JLA and Birds. Still, I think Bedard has a good handle on the characters. Especially the interplay between Helena and Barbara in the second issue was great.

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