1st in a series


The first book in the fantasy series Rogue Angel.

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Publisher: Golden Eagle

Publishing year: 2006

Format: Print

Page count: 346

The book starts with a brief scene in 1430 England where an impassionate young woman is burned at the stake and her sword shatters.

Then we move to the modern-day. Annja Creed is an archeologist. Because it’s not easy to get funding for excavations, she also works for Chasing History’s Monsters, a TV show about mythical beasts around the world. She does her research and narrates her own episodes. This time she’s in France, hunting la Bete, a supposedly werewolf-type creature that killed people in the 1760s. However, she soon finds that someone is shadowing her, and then she is attacked in broad daylight.

She continues her search, heading to the mountains. There she encounters a mysterious older man who calls himself Roux. Her assailants continue to follow her.

The book has multiple POV characters, including the main villain who is ruthless after la Bete because he thinks it will lead him to treasure. A hidden order of monks is also involved.

This was a fun and fast-paced action/adventure. It has a good mix of historical detail and fantasy.

Annja is a good main character who reminds me of Sidney Fox, from the TV show Relic Hunter. She has a lot of skills but unlike many heroines these days, she’s personable and gets along with most people, even though at times she can be a bit too blunt. She knows how to shoot and learned karate from an early age. She’s an orphan who learned to take care of herself.

I also found Roux a fascinating character but I won’t spoil his story here.

The first book in the historical Nottingham series reimagining the myth of Robin Hood. Or rather a deconstruction of the myth.

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Publication year: 2019

Format: Audio

Running time: 25 hours 25 minutes
Narrators: Raphael Corkhill, Marisa Calin

This was far darker than I expected it to be. I guess it can be called realistic but is it really realism when every decision has bad consequences? But I guess it is realistic when everyone thinks they’re doing the right thing, no matter who they hurt or how much.

I was curious to read another reimagining of Robin Hood but unfortunately, this one wasn’t for me. For one thing, three significant POV characters are new: William de Wendenal, Arabel de Burel, and Elena Famwell, Will Scarlett’s lover. They’re solid, flawed characters with dark pasts. But since they’re not part of Robin’s myth I didn’t care for them. For another, it’s very dark. No matter how much the characters strive to do good, all their actions turn out to be wrong.

Set in 1191, King Richard is fighting in the crusades with Robin of Loxley and William de Wendenal as his closest allies. Robin and William even wear the king’s crown from time to time, acting as his body doubles to draw away assassins. But money and weapons don’t flow from England and that hurts the army. When Robin is wounded, he and William are sent to England to retrieve the missing weapons.

Meanwhile in England, the sheriff of Nottingham and his guard captain Lord Guy of Gisborne must collect crippling taxes that the king has ordered to fund the war. Lady Marion Fitzwalter is doing her best to keep the people from starving or rotting in jail because they can’t pay the taxes.

In the forest, a group of outlaws and former street urchins hide out, stealing what they can. Their leader is a huge, older man John Little who tries to keep his people safe. But Marion gives them information and directs their efforts.

The book did have some very interesting reversals. The current sheriff, for example, is trying to do his job and keep the peace. But the king’s demands and the disdain of the local nobles makes it very hard. Even his guard captain Guy thinks the sheriff is weak and ineffectual. Guy himself loathes everyone who breaks the law and does his best to keep his own men safe.

So, everyone thinks they’re doing the right thing, but they’re working against each other, which adds to the grim tone. Everyone also assumed others’ motivations are bad. However, there was some humor, especially in the banter between the characters.

The Robin Hood mythos had quite a few reversals. The biggest one is, of course, right from the start Marion was leading the outlaws and Little John was the field leader. Also, Robin’s attitude toward poor people was very elitist: he thought they were poor because they didn’t work hard enough and when he started to help the poor, it was a political choice. Alan a Dale isn’t a musician at all. Robin often mentions that the outlaws can’t effectively fight against Nottingham’s guard because the outlaws aren’t trained and have poor weapons. Will Scarlet has a different upbringing, I liked him a lot. I won’t spoil the others. Some of them I liked, some I didn’t. It was nice to see more female characters, though.

The book has multiple POV characters and each chapter starts with the name of the POV character and where he or she is. The story has quite a few surprises. Even the end has a very surprising twist and is a cliffhanger, not really an ending.

The first book in the Themis SF thriller trilogy.

Publication year: 2016
Finnish publisher: Like
Format: print
Finnish translator: Juha Ahokas

Page count: 351 plus a sample of the next book

The book has an unusual structure: every chapter is either a dialog between two people with no descriptions, just the dialog, or a report. This gives the reader a lot of freedom to imagine the characters and the setting, but it can be tough to read because it is so different. We also never get the name of the person doing the interviews. He seems to have a lot of power and money, but only because he can tap into a vast network of knowledge and can manipulate others well.

Rose was 11 years old when she falls from her new bike into a giant, mechanical hand that glows without an apparent energy source. Nobody knows what to make of the hand. Rose grows up to be a physicist. Years later, she heads a secret project which studies the hand. She realizes that it’s a part of a body and finds a way to locate the other parts. This is the start of the story.

The nameless interviewer picks two US military pilots for the project. The way to find the other parts of the mysterious giant body is to spread radioactive material in the atmosphere so the project needs pilots. Unfortunately, not all of the parts are in uninhabited areas.

Rose and a couple of other people continue to research the parts which start to form a body. But the robot is thousands of years old. How is that possible?

This was a fascinating concept and I enjoyed the novel way it was written, too. Of course, the structure distances the reader from the characters. So, this is a book where the concept and the plot are far more interesting and appealing than the characters. If you can stomach the writing style, try it.

The ending doesn’t give us closure, and the last chapter ends in a huge cliffhanger which raises even more questions.

The first book in a series of murder mysteries set in 15th century Tallinn.

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Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2019

Format: print
Page count: 320

Finnish publisher: Into

Finnish translator: Jouko Vanhanen

Melchior Wakenstede is the Apothecary in Tallinn, Estonia. His father was an apothecary before him. Melchior knows the people and the places of Tallinn. In the 15th century, the town is right on the edge of Christian lands. Indeed, the town and the time period take the center stage. The Dominican monastery, the guilds, and the alehouses are described lovingly, and for me, the mystery came second. The characters are fairly typical for the time and for a detective story, but entertaining enough.

When a Teutonic knight, who was the governor of Gotland, is visiting Tallinn, he gets really drunk and is murdered: his head is cut off with a sword and an old coin is shoved into his mouth. Of course, the town’s notable people are in an uproar. The town’s chief of police is used to petty robberies and so he calls on Melchior to help him. The curious and perceptive Melchior is happy to talk to people and deduce what happened and find the killer.

The book starts with the murder. It has quite a few POV characters and a large cast of characters. The female characters are pretty bland, though, especially Melchior’s wife Keterlyn, who seems to be there just so he can explain things to the reader. The ending is very Agatha Christie -style of gathering people together while Melchior explains what happened.

While Melchior is an educated man, he’s also a product of his times. For example, he thinks that only bloodletting can cure diseases, and he’s also quite religious. Also, he has a mysterious curse that will apparently drive him insane in time. Only his wife can ease the symptoms.

The Finnish translation uses older style words, probably for the atmosphere.

This manga is based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books. He’s quite young in the series.

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Writer: Ryosuke Takeuchi

Artist: Hikaru Miyoshi

This manga makes professor James Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, into, well, if not exactly a hero, at least a man who is a hero in his own eyes.

The first volume has three stories. The first centers on Moriarty’s childhood and sets up his background, the other two are set in a village where the noble landowners have cruelly oppressed

the peasants for generations.

The first story gives us a couple of surprises. It’s set in 1866. Count Moriarty and his wife pretend to be kind-hearted toward the peasants in public but in the privacy of their home, their attitudes are very different. They adopt two orphan boys, commoners, but in their home, the boys must work hard and are abused. The end of the story is quite a twist so I won’t spoil it.

The rest of the story concentrates on three brothers: Albert James, William James, and Lewis James. So it’s not clear who is the machiavellian criminal in Doyle’s books or if, indeed, they all are.

William James Moriarty hates the class system. He’s convinced that the classes are the root of all evil. They divide people so that the nobility loathes and belittles the peasants and in turn, the commoners hate and fear the nobles. He wants to bring down the class system, violently. The other two boys agree with him and together they work for a ”better future”. Starting from the second story, William’s plan is working on the background. Albert James works in the military so William gets military contacts for his plan.

In the second story, set in 1879, the three Moriarty boys move to their country estate that is next to the oppressed village, Durham. The local nobles keep so high rents that the commoners don’t have any hope for a better future, just endless hard work. James decides to help the locals. He has set himself up as a private consultant and he’s also a professor of mathematics at Durham University. The worst of the local nobles is Baron Dublin who openly admits that he keeps the rent high so that he can enjoy his life.

The third story is set half into the university. One of the local barmaids is seen dancing dangerously on the edge of a bridge. She falls and dies. The local papers claim it was a suicide but she was a cheerful, happy person and nobody believes that she killed herself. William James Moriarty starts to investigate and uncovers some of the small but terrible things the local university boys can do because they’re nobles, future decision-makers.

The Moriarty in this comic has quite different motives than the criminal in Doyle’s books. While this Moriarty is also a genius who has a memory palace, he is also eager to help the people he meets.

This was a very interesting beginning to the series. It has also been adapted to an anime but I haven’t seen it.

The first book in the Primordia modern day fantasy (or sci-fi, depending on how you look at it) series.

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Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours 58 minutes
Narrator: Sean Mangan

Ben Cartwright is a former Special Forces soldier who quit after a couple of tours. When his father died suddenly from a heart attack, he returns home to comfort his mom. There, he meets again his high school sweetheart Emma and his other old friends.

While going through his father’s stuff, Ben stumbles on letters between his great-grandfather and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It seems that the men were friends. Ben’s great-grandfather, also called Benjamin, was an explorer and an adventurer. He even died during one of his adventures: looking for a valley full of dinosaurs in Venezuela! He wrote about the search to Doyle who was inspired to write a book called the Lost World.

Ben and his friends decide to search for the hidden plateau. One of his friends is a tech millionaire so it’s easy for him to finance the trip. But first, they need to go to England to find Ben senior’s journal for the clues to find the hidden place.

The modern-day narration, in 2018, is interrupted from time to time by the short adventures of Ben senior in 1908 when he’s running from terrible danger among strange creatures. In addition to the two Bens, the book has several other POV characters, including their adversary who is determined to find the place first.

Our heroes are an usual group for an adventure book. Emma is a rock climbing instructor. She’s in excellent condition and no damsel in distress even though she’s the love interest. Andrea the actress wants to come, too, because she wants to become famous if they find the lost plateau. Dan is the bored millionaire who finances the trip. Steve comes because Andrea is coming. Later, a zoologist joins them. Even though they are in their thirties, luckily none of them have obligations that stop them from leaving in a couple of days’ notice.

This was a fast-paced adventure, once you get past the beginning. The second half of the book is a constant battle for survival against both humans and other enemies. I haven’t read Doyle’s the Lost World, and I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I had read it first. It ends in a cliffhanger.

This a light adventure story and I quite enjoyed it.

A historical murder mystery set in 80 BC in the Roman Republic. Can be read as a stand-alone but it’s the first book in the Roma Sub Rosa mystery series.

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Publisher: Minotaur books

Publication year: 1991
Format: print

Page count: 380

Gordianus is called the Finder because he’s an investigator. He’s a Roman citizen but hasn’t inherited wealth, so must work for his living. A young slave comes to him early in the morning, asking him to go and meet with the slave’s master, Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Gordianus has never heard of the young man who is just starting his career as an orator and a lawyer. So after dallying in his house for a while, curing his hangover, Gordianus and the slave, Tiro, head to Cicero’s house. Cicero has just accepted his first law case, involving a suspected patricide. Gordianus isn’t too keen to get mixed in such a case but he needs the money so he takes the case.

He inspects the place where the father was killed, interviews different kinds of people, walks up and down Rome itself, and even makes a short trip to the countryside. The case turns out to be quite a bit more complex than he thought at first.

The book has excellent descriptions of Rome and the culture at the time. Slaves are more numerous than free men. While the wealthy take shelter from the hot sun, the slaves toil away, doing all the real work. Saylor doesn’t sweep away the slavery but has ”good” owners and also the ones who berate and beat their slaves whenever they want. We also get to know that slaves can testify at court, but only under torture. Gordianus himself owns a half-Egyptian female slave, Bethesda, and he sleeps with her several times. She’s depicted as pretty headstrong woman so I guess Saylor implies that the sex is consensual on her part, too. But since she’s a slave, she can’t choose.

The mystery itself is pretty complicated and forces Gordianus to go around and meet all sorts of people, showcasing Rome and its people, both poor and rich. Gordianus lives near the Subura, the slums, and he goes through it several times.

I mostly enjoyed this one and enjoyed the historical detail, although the writing style is pretty dry. Interestingly enough, the mystery is based on Cicero’s first real case.

The first book in a science fantasy trilogy but can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publication year: 1926
Format: print
Page count: 175
Publisher: Tandem

To my surprise, I found an unread Burroughs book from my shelves. It has quite an elaborate backstory, especially for such a slim book.

As is usual for ERB, the story starts with the writer as the narrator and he meets the main character of the main story. This time Burroughs gives us future history which alone would have been enough for most SF writers. The book is set in 1960s when a terrible decades-long war has finally ended. Humanity turns to the stars. They receive a radio transmission from Mars, from Barsoom. Humanity sends spaceships to Mars in order to meet with the people of Helium. Also, the main narrator of the story, Julian, knows the future because he’s already lived it. He can remember his descendants’ future history because he’s reborn to the future.

Julian is the captain of the second spaceship. However, his bitter rival Orthis is also aboard. Orthis sabotages the ship and it goes to the Moon instead. But Julian and the others find that the Moon isn’t a barren place. Instead, beneath the Moon’s crust is a world with not just atmosphere but people. After our heroes explore this world a little, savage, centaur-like people capture Julian and Orthis.

As usual for ERB, this story has lots of adventure with strange creatures and alien landscapes. It’s quite enjoyable if you can ignore the blatant classism. (The descendants of nobility are good and heroic, the descendants of lower classes are the bad guys without a shred of decency.)

Structurally, the Moon Maid is very similar to the Princess of Mars. Julian is unexpectedly thrust to an alien and savage world, he explores the exotic places and people, and he falls in love with the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Like John Carter, Julian is a heroic fighting man; even though he prefers firearms, he’s also a good swordsman.

The Moon races are strange. The centaur-like people (No-Vads) are nomads yet they live in villages which are never described. They’re carnivores but they can’t eat the few animals, so they hunt and eat other tribes and also the one other intelligent race, which looks like humans. The “humans” on this world are remnants of a great civilization. They have two cities which are at war with each other.

The book has surprisingly little description. I would have liked quite a bit more. I was also rather uncomfortable with intelligent races eating each other.

Otherwise this was quite an enjoyable old science fantasy book.

The first book in the Dani Silver Comic Thriller series.

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Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 255

Dani Silver is one of the children of Leroy Logan who is one of the greatest con artists ever. But Leroy is getting older and Dani thinks she can do a long con, a complicated con scheme, all on her own. We get a teaser of Dani gathering her crew to swindle a lot of money.

When the story starts, she has just run out of her fiance Nick (who apparently wasn’t a nice guy at all) and swindled him for little over a million dollars. With it, she buys a house from a small town. But she really wants to do her own cons with her own crew. Dani meets her next door neigbor, a young woman whose husband is hitting her, and Dani decides to help her,

– by swindling the abusive husband.

Then Dani returns to New Orlans, to start her life as the head of her own group of con men and women.

The story had a bit of a slow start but when things get going, it’s like a roller coaster ride. Dani is not a perfect person, in fact she makes rather big mistakes at the start. She also constantly doubts herself and her skills of actually doing the con she set out to do. She knows her crew already but they’ve always worked for her dad and don’t respect her. Dani also has a lot to prove to her dad.

The humor in the book was very much in the silly side, sometimes even distracting from the main plot. For example, Sammy is a hacker but he prefers to do his work in a firm, which he doesn’t work for, hacking himself in at first and then doing the actual work in their office. Funny, but could also be very bad for the job.

Dani is the main first person narrator but we get a few short scenes from other characters’ point-of-views. Unfortunately, the book has some editing errors and some of the humor didn’t really work for me. Still, I enjoyed it.

This was a light-hearted fun read, similar to many con artist movies.

Currently the first book in the Sabel Security thriller series.

Publication year: 2015
Publisher: Machined Media
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 365

Jacob Sterne is an Army veteran. Now, he’s employed by Sabel Security, an international security organization. He has some problems, though. He hears the voice of Mercury, the Roman god of messages in his head. Mercury usually warns him about danger but sometimes he just makes snarky comments about how soft Jacob is, unlike tough old Romans in the good old days. Jacob knows that Mercury is most likely a reaction to trauma but they still banter. He also has problems with women: he wants to sleep with all of them.

Pia Sabel is a former Olympic level soccer player. Now she’s a multimillionaire and runs the security company. She has her own problems because she saw her parents murdered when she was very young. Her adoptive father owned the security company, among other firms, and gave it to her. She’s headstrong and used to getting her own way. But she also wants to do what’s right, no matter if that’s cutting off body parts from rapists or tracking down corporation which are trying to poison millions of people. Jacob is in love with her but considers her way out of his league.

The story begins in Borneo where Pia Sabel is building a school. But she and her team manages to get on the nerves of the local tough guys and they must leave quickly. On the road, Pia meets a young girl who is carrying her sick younger brother. Pia insists that they stop to help, even though Jacob is against it. The team finds a place they think is a hurriedly built hospital full of local sick people. But the place has guards with guns and the medics are too nervous. Jacob steals three vials. Jacob, Pia, and the team are forced out and to leave the girl and her brother behind. Later, they hear that everyone in that camp are dead. Worse, someone tipped off the media that Pia and her company were there.

Pia is determined to find out who killed the people and why. Also, killers are determined to get back the vials Jacob took.

This is a fast-paced story with lots of violence but the plot is surprisingly complex. Sabel Security seems to employ almost exclusively former soldiers so they also swear like soldiers. The hunt for the bad guys takes Jacob all over the world. However, it does have a couple of gruesome torture scenes. And a lot of people are shot. Sabel Security actually uses dart guns with tranquilizers but their enemies don’t and Jacob and the others change to regular weapons when needed and when Pia isn’t around.

Jacob is a first person narrator for most of the book, but there are two other POV characters in third person. One of them is one of the bad guys so we get a pretty good picture of how they operate and bit about why. Still the full explanation for the reasons of all this came as a surprise to me in the end.

Surprisingly many of the secondary characters are women, in addition to Pia. Two of them are actually Jacob’s ex-girlfriends and he isn’t very comfortable working with them, at first.  Many of the women are former soldiers who are just as good in a fight as Jacob and the other men.

This was like a summer action flick with lots of action and some humor. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters but it was entertaining.

While the book is labeled as the first in the series, there are references to past events. In fact, near the end one plot point is dependent on them.  Apparently, this is the third book about these characters. The first two books are now called Sabel Origins series. But that’s a pretty minor point.

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