1st in a series


As I understand it, this book was originally a stand-alone but then Priest was contracted to write two independent sequels. Not surprisingly, it works as a stand-alone. It’s the April book in the Women of Fantasy book club.

Publication year: 2005
Page count: 285
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor

Eden Moore is an orphan. Her mother died in childbirth and she never knew her father. Her mother’s sister Lulu took her in and is raising her. However, Lulu doesn’t talk about the past which is frustrating to Eden. You see, Eden can see ghosts. She sees the ghosts of three women who claim to be her ancestors. But the only thing Eden knows about them is that they were murdered. She doesn’t see them all the time, just when things are stressful or dangerous. However, the three women also protect her. When Eden is eight years old, a crazy gunman comes after her and the ghosts warn about him.

However, when Eden grows older, she wants to know more about her family and past.

The book starts when Eden is very young and in a couple of chapters we follow her into adulthood where the main story takes place.

This is a very atmospheric book about the US South. Eden and Lulu are mixed race women which brings difficulties. I found some people around them unforgivably rude for asking about their race but apparently that’s how some people behave. This has made them both strong women who don’t take crap from anyone. That is good because Eden encounters some hair raising things in the story and her extended family aren’t pleasant people, either. Eden is feisty and sharp tongued; she likes or dislikes people quickly.

The characters feel life-like to me, except perhaps the main villain. Eden’s aunt wants to leave her painful past behind her and so doesn’t talk about it. Lulu and her mother are estranged for fifteen years because they can’t talk to each other. Eden’s grandaunt is white and doesn’t even want to acknowledge her mix raced relatives. The grandaunt is apparently mean to everyone around her. The gunman Malachi thinks that he has a mission from God and kills people for Him. Sadly, all of these people are very plausible.

The horror aspects of the book are probably mild for horror fans but I’m not a horror reader. For me, they were enough as a spice in the book. There wasn’t much gore which was good because I dislike it.

One episode felt a bit disconnected to me: when Eden is 13 she’s sent to a summer camp where she meets another girl who can see ghosts. Then, this girl is never seen again. It establishes that other people can see ghosts, too, but otherwise it was pretty pointless although horrific. The added horror was, of course, that the girls are children and the adults wouldn’t have believed them if the girls had told them about the ghost. However, even at such a young age, they have already learned not talk about it.

The main villain feels a bit cartoon-like to me but he fits well into the atmosphere of the book and the sense of history that surrounds most of the latter half of the book.

It’s a short book and the story is a quick read, especially after the half-way point when the plot picks up. The start of the book is mostly setting up the characters and the atmosphere. I felt that the first half of the book also had more horror elements although maybe they just stood out more to me at the start.

I’ve been intrigued by Priest’s steampunk books and after this one I’m likely to try them when my TBR pile gets smaller.

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I still have one more review to do about the last audiobook I listened to on 2009, but instead I decided to take a look at the reading I did last year.

I managed to read and listen and review 83 books, and read 25 graphic novels (one not reviewed), so 108 in all. It’s around my average. I was a bit surprised to realize that I didn’t read much from my old favorite authors Lois McMaster Bujold (1), Anne Logston (0), Steven Brust (0), and Roger Zelazny (1 + 1 short story). On the other hand, in 2008 I found a new favorite author, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and read this year 6 books from her. Otherwise, I read a lot of new authors and books which were first in the series.

Monthly numbers:
First in a series: 5+6+4+1+1+2+1+3+1+1+3+3
Stand alones: 1+3+1+2+0+3+1+0+1+1+2+0
Later in a series: 5+2+2+2+3+2+2+4+3+4+1

Fantasy:5+7+4+3+2+5+2+6+4+2+2+3
SF:6+3+3+1+2+1+1+0+1+3+3+1
Mystery:2+0+1+1+0+1+1+0+0+1+2+0

I took part in five challenges: 1st in a series, 2nds challenge in 2009, ebook challenge, 9 books for 2009, and comic book challenge 2009. The only one I didn’t complete was the 9 books for 2009 -challenge. I admit that I took a wrong tactic with all of them. I should have started reading the challenge books right at the start of the year. I also made lists beforehand and tried to keep to them too doggedly instead of just growing the lists while reading. I’ve certainly learned my lesson and will take the latter tactic this year. 🙂

I mean to sign up again for a variety of challenges. Also, many of the challenges this year allow the same book to be read for many different challenges, which makes things easier. I’m thinking of joining at least five challenges this year, too. Many of them are the same ones.

Best lists:

The Booking through Thursday’s previous post went through the new reads but I just have to add these.

The Best Nostalgic Read: John Byrne’s Fantastic Four run. Without a doubt.

Best Short Story Collection: Datlow and Windling: Coyote Road. This was a hard choice between this and the fantasy pirate collection.

The last one of my 1st in the series challenge! Huray! This is the first in a duology of books. I already have the second book.

Stephen is a young orphan boy who has joined a gang of thieves so that he can survive. One night he’s so hungry that he tries to steal from a Lord of the land: Lord Elseth. However, the attempt fails and Lord Elseth sends two of his hounds to chase after Stephen. The boy is terrified and is caught. Lord Elseth carries him away. Stephen thinks that something terrible is going to happen to him.

Instead, he’s clothed and fed. He meets Lord Elseth’s son Gilliam and it is dislike at first sight. Later he finds out that the Lord wants him to become Gilliam’s Huntbrother. Stephen doesn’t want to lose the better life he’s gained and when he has to swear the oath, at the tender age of five, he lies. However, later he grows to understand his role and life-to-be as the brother of a Hunter.

Through the years, Gilliam and Stephen learn to trust each other and even love each other like brothers. They are taught together even though Stephen is the scholarly of them while Gilliam thinks of nothing more than the hounds and the hunt. However, the servants of the dark god are making their plans and the two young men are going play a big role in them even though the boys don’t know that yet. The boys seem to have even a couple of allies: the seer Evayne e’Nolan who travels through time and the former assassin Kallindros.

In this world the Hunters are the Hunter God’s chosen ones. The men receive strength, speed, endurance, and a hunting trance during which they have a mental bond with their own pack of hounds. They also get a Huntbrother who is a normal human male except that a Huntbrother and his Hunter have a mental bond; they can see through each other’s eyes and feel what the other feels. Huntbrother’s job is to ground the Hunter who might become inhuman without the brother’s influence. Hunters are always noble males and Huntbrothers are common males.

The Hunters and Huntbrothers have also a grimmer duty: once a year they must gather for the Sacred Hunt during which one of the Hunters or Huntbrothers must die in order to satisfy the bloodthirsty Hunter God. This is the only way to keep the balance of power between the humans and the Hunter God. This is the fate that Stephen is terrified of and he’s convinced that he’s going to die during his first Sacred Hunt (at the tender age of 15).

My main problem with this book is the same as with many, many (fantasy) books; males are the cool people who do all the cool stuff, and women are the uncool people who will have to do all the uncool stuff men are too cool to do. I don’t want to be one of the uncool people. 😦 Here the difference is even more pronounced because only men can be born to be hunters (the cool people) and women are completely excluded from ever being as cool.

While it’s the job of the Hunters to keep the people fed and to risk death during the Sacred Hunt, their women are the ones who do most, if not all, of the ruling. The Ladies sit in judgment of grievances and keep the noble households running. This might be considered cool except that most of the women are described as airheads who think mostly about their clothing. Also, the ruling part is never shown in the story.

Evayne is one of the few female characters and one might think of her as cool. Alas, she’s the complete opposite of the Hunters. The Hunters’ power is control. They must be in control of their own instincts and their pack of hunting dogs. Evayne is not in control of her powers; she has no control over where she travels in the past or future. She’s often frustrated at how she’s lead to places she doesn’t want to go. When she comes back to the world after walking the future paths, she’s disoriented and doesn’t know where she is. Also, she can’t tell other people what she knows. All this makes her seem quite weak compared to the Hunters.

I quite enjoyed Kallandros. He’s a former assassin and current bard. The assassins are a close-knit brotherhood (again, the cool assassins are all male…) and he had to betray them in order to get out. He’s tormented by his decision and afraid that one day he must confront his assassin brothers in battle. At the same time, he controls his emotions very tightly except when he sings. Frankly, I found him to be far more interesting than the other characters.

This is very much a growing up story. At the start of the book Stephen and Gilliam are five and at the end in their twenties. They have to overcome their fears and their first dislike of each other. In the end, they come to love each other like brothers. Or perhaps more? When one of them has a crush on a woman, the other is clearly jealous. I’m rather surprised if none of the “brothers” turn out to be lovers.

I liked the book enough to read the second part of the duology.

One of the books in my first in a series-challenge.

The newest Rusch book! This seems to be the first in a new science fiction series about a space ship wreck diver. The main character is a woman in her forties. Her name is never given but the others call her Boss. The book is almost a collection of three novellas; however, each of the stories starts where the previous one ends.

Boss dives old wrecks because she’s interested in the past. To her, an undived, old space ship is a mystery she can’t ignore. So, when she finds a ship which is old enough that it shouldn’t exist at all at the place where she found it, she gathers together a team who can explore it. The ship she found is all a Dignity Vessel from old Earth. According to legends it could travel through time but at a terrible cost. The technology to build Dignity Vessels was lost and Earth’s military has tried for a long time to rebuild it. It seems the Boss has found something that a lot of people are looking for.

In the second story, a woman hires Boss to look for a legendary place called the Room of Lost Souls. Boss knows that it exists because she has been it, as a child. She also lost both of her parents to the Room – her mother stepped into it and vanished while her dad devoted his life looking for her mom. Boss is reluctant at first to look for the place but in the end she has to agree. The mysterious woman tells Boss that she has a way into the Room.

The third story continues straight from the second one.

Boss is an interesting woman and quite an unusual character. She’s a woman in her forties who prefers to live and work alone. Her only family is her estranged father that’s the way she prefers to be. There’s no romance in the book. She’s a professional and very good at her job. On the other hand, she cares for her crew and has extensive safety procedures in place.

Her crew members are also professional who are focused on the job and staying alive on the job. Wreck diving is a dangerous job; not just because of the vacuum of space but because there can be a lot of unexpected things in the wreck.

Among her first crew is a team of father and son who can work almost instinctively together. There’s also a lesbian couple who also seem to be in their forties. Others work alone or in temporary crews, like Boss. None of them are beginners.

The setting has no aliens, so far, so it’s different from Rusch’s previous SF work. Instead, humans are the only ones populating space. They seem to have been in space for a long time and there has been a bitter war in the recent past.

The story is told in first person and present tense. It’s quite straight forward; there are no romances and very little other personnel problems. It’s a mystery story although the mysteries change through out the story.

This is the first in the historical mystery series set in the Roman Republic. It’s also part of my 1st in a series –challenge and 9 books for 2009 –challenge.

Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger has been recently elected to the Commission of Twenty Six which essentially makes him the chief of the police in his own district and apparently the only investigator. So, when a man is found strangled in his district, Decius’ duty is to investigate the death. The victim turns out to be a former gladiator who had since been freed. During the same morning another murder victim is found: this time a foreigner, a Greek importer of wine. However, the Greek was suspected of being a spy as well and so it’s made it clear to Decius that second case should be investigated very quietly. The Greek’s records have been sealed so Decius suspects that the reputation of someone much higher in the Roman hierarchy is at stake. Still, he does his best to investigate both deaths because it’s his duty. Things take an uglier turn when he is attacked in his house.

The book is written from the point-of-view of an older Decius who writes his memoirs. Often, Decius refers to things to come during his lifetime. This might annoy some people and jar the reader out of the story. On the other hand, it gives nice historical perspective. If the book had been longer, it might have annoyed me, but it’s okay in a relatively short book.

Roberts gives about equal consideration to characters and the historical setting. Decius goes about his daily routine pondering about the case which gives Roberts an excuse to show us the life of a middle-class Roman. Decius’ father is the Urban Praetor for the year and his family is well respected. So, Decius meets with quite a few historically important people such as Caius Julius Caesar, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Titus Annius Milo, and Publius Claudius Pulcher. I don’t think it was required to put them all in the book but they were handled well.

The plot is quite simple; we’ve never really given good red herrings or even a major suspect.

Overall: I liked Roberts’ style and will continue with the series. Audible has the first two in the series and hopefully they will continue with the later books.

Edited to add: This book doesn’t contain romance. Frankly, I find this to be very refreshing because currently almost every book seems to have a courtship romance in them.

Part of my 1st in a series –challenge and the first in the Chanur –series.

Pyanfar Chanur is the captain of the merchant space ship the Pride of Chanur. The last thing she needs is a stowaway on her ship; a creature whose species is unknown to her. However, the naked-hided, blunt-fingered, blunt-toothed creature is alone and afraid, and Pyanfar decides to take it with her. That’s, of course, when the trouble starts. The Kif demand that the creature should be returned to them and accuse Pyanfar of theft. She doesn’t like their immediately hostile attitude and leaves from the Meetpoint Station as soon as she can. That’s when the Kif start to fire on her ship but hit another ship docked on the station.

Pyanfar and the crew are people from an alien species called the hani who seem to be close to lions in both appearance and behavior. Her crew is all related to her; they are her nieces and cousins. The hani have all-female crews because they don’t let their males leave the planet. Pyanfar herself has grown children although they are at the home planet. There are many hani clans, some who hate the Chanur clan and some who are allies or neutral to the Chanur. The hani culture is quite different from humans but we got only a brief glimpse of them is this short novel.

This universe has a lot of other alien species. Some of them, such as the mahendo’sat, seem to be traders and so want to keep good relations with their neighboring species. On the other hand, the Knnn seem to be so strange that no one else understands them at all. The merchant species seem to some what understand each others’ languages and there’s also a translation program which can be programmed with the meanings of words so that it can produce a rudimentary translation. (Of course, this relies on each word in each language having only one possible meaning…)

The characters are well developed. Pyanfar has a crew of six women plus the newcomer who is called the Outsider. While the more experienced crew members aren’t very distinct from each other, there’s Hilfy who is Pyanfar’s young niece and on her first voyage. She’s eager to explore the universe and to prove herself. There’s also Goldtooth who is the captain of a mahendo’sat ship and looking for new opportunities to trade. The bad guy, of sorts, is more prideful and full of the need to keep his status than really evil.

The plot is fast-paced and the story focuses most on characters and not really on technology. Also, unlike in most space opera Cherryh uses time lag with communication and the various ships’ sensors don’t seem to be powerful at all. A ship seems to be more likely to be located by the communication going back and forth from and to it than just generally scanning space (like Enterprise does).

I have the omnibus which contains the first three books in the series, so I will continue with this series.

Part of my 1st in a series –challenge.

This is the first, and so far the only, book in the historical mystery series centered on Niccolò Zuliani, a Venetian explorer and merchant.

He had to flee Venice after some pretty severe accusations and ended up in Crimea where he tried to drink himself to oblivion. However, the family Friar Alberoni hires him as a bodyguard and drags him into a long journey. The destination is no less than fabled Xanadu himself. Niccolò thinks that he can get himself a fortune there and agrees to go along. The Friar has a completely different agenda which Niccolò finds out far too late. However, when they finally reach Kublai Khan’s Xanadu, they find themselves involved in a murder case.

The story is told in the first person although it starts with a brief glimpse of the murderer in the third person right after the murder. After that, Niccolò takes over. He’s quite self-absorbed but entertaining enough. He’s always looking for his own advantage and is often drunk. He pines for his lost Katarina whom he left in Venice but gladly beds any willing woman. He learns the rudimentaries of the Mongol language quickly during the journey to Xanadu but has to resort to interpreters a few times.

Morson focuses on the characters and the plot and not so much in the setting. Niccolò is there to tell the readers how exotic and different the Mongol culture is compared to his “civilized” Venice. In addition to many Chinese and Mongolian characters, there’s a merchant from Genoa with whom Niccolò has a fierce rivalry and an Arab doctor.

Overall: entertaining but not great.

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