2015 women of genre

First in a fantasy alternate history series.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 508
Publisher: Angry Robot

This book is set in an alternate Elizabethan England. In this world, Queen Elizabeth I married Robert Dudley and they had two sons, Robert and Arthur. However, the prince consort has died and the queen has secluded herself in morning. She’s already in her sixties so many people are expecting prince Robert to become the king soon. The most obvious fantasy element are the skraylings, a non-human species from the American continent. By the time of this book, some of them already live in London and elsewhere in Europe and humans loathe them because the skraylings refuse to be converted into Christianity. But some humans get along just fine with them, mostly for business purposes. England has allied with the skraylings, mostly that Spain would not be able to form a strong alliance with them.

Maliverny Catlyn is a down on his luck swordsman. He has few friends but some of his acquaintances might be able to give him some work. However, before he can ask around, he’s dragged before the Lieutenant of the Tower. Mal fears the worst but he’s offered a job as the bodyguard of the first skrayling ambassador to England. Mal has some unhappy history with them and he doesn’t want to work with them. But Sir James Leland insists that the skrayling ambassador specifically asked for Mal so he doesn’t really have a choice. However, he’s happy to get enough money to pay for his brother’s care so he takes the job.

Ned Faulkner is Mal’s good (and only) friend. He does copying jobs for the local theatre groups. He’s also very attracted to Mal, who doesn’t return his feelings, and loves a young male actor, Gabriel Parrish. When Mal takes the job, two mysterious men start to threaten Ned.

Coby is a young girl masquerading as a man. The rest of her family died after they fled a war from Netherlands. Cody doesn’t want to be a prostitute so she dresses as a boy and has a job as a tireman for the theatre company Suffolk’s Men. She doesn’t want to be an actor at all and is happy mending the costumes and running errands for their master Naismith. She knows the skrayling trade language and teaches Mal how to speak it. However, she’s blackmailed into spying on Mal.

They all come entangled with a plot involving the skraylings. Unfortunately, we don’t really get to know much about the skraylings.

As far as I can tell, the period details are correct. Mal’s mother was a Frenchwoman so some people hold that against him. Also, Mal’s a Catholic so he has to live in fear that someone will expose him to the Protestant authorities. Strangely enough, I liked Coby but felt that she was a victim to a few tropes: she’s young enough not to have periods yet and she falls in lust with Mal almost at first glance. She’s also very afraid that people will find out that she’s a girl, even though she’s been working for the troupe for five years already.

I really liked the book and the characters, though.

Oh and both Will Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe are mentioned in the book but neither appears.

This is one of my TBR reads. I bought this very nice looking paperback on a whim.

The first book in the Tide Lords trilogy.

Publication year: 2007
Format: Audio
Running time: 19 hours, 24 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: John Telfer

The series starts with a prolog where a group of humans is under attack from a Tide Lord. The immensely powerful immortal threatens to destroy the humans completely. There’s only one thing that can help future humans fight against the Tide Lords: a tarot deck. One human is sworn in to protect the cards at all cost and tell about their power to humans. He abandons his family and escapes.

The story starts 1000 years later when a criminal is sentenced to death. But instead of the expected beheading, he gets a hanging which upsets him a great deal. Because he’s an immortal and can’t die. He is hanged and his neck is broken but he doesn’t die; instead he heals. He claims to be Cayal the Tide Lord but nobody has believed in Tide Lords for hundreds of years.

The king’s spy master Declan Hawks wants to get to bottom of things and to do so he contacts a childhood friend and talks her into speaking with Cayal.

Arkady Desean is an academic and an expert on the legends of the Crasii (half-human and half-animal species) slaves and so also an expert of the legends about the Tide Lords. Originally, she intends to unmask Cayal as a liar in just a couple of hours of talking about history with him. However, Cayal knows a lot more than Arkady believed and so she visits him for months, getting Cayal to tell her stories about his life and how he became an immortal. Arkady was born a poor doctor’s daughter but she’s now a duchess. Usually, women aren’t allowed to have any sort of careers in this country but Arkady’s husband allows it.

Arkady’s husband Stellan is gay but since that’s punishable with death or exile, he doesn’t want anyone to know that. Arkady knows and that suits her just fine. Arkady and Stellan are friends, though. Stellan has had several lovers through the six years they’ve been married but Arkady apparently hasn’t. Stellan treats his Crasii slaves better than most owners – he even allows them to live in village type communities instead of slave pens. He’s an even tempered man and loyal to his king who is also his cousin.

Jackson Aranville is Stellan’s lover. He’s minor nobility and part of Stellan’s household as a Crasii trainer. He’s very calculating man who only cares about getting an easy living. Apparently, he would sleep with anyone go get what he wants.

Warlock is a canine Crasii and he’s in prison for killing a human (who raped his sister). He is quite young but knows already that as a Crasii his life can’t become much better. However, when Cayal is placed on the cell next to Warlock, Warlock realizes that he doesn’t have to obey Cayal’s orders, like most Crasii.

According to legends, which any well-schooled human will scoff at, the Crasii were created by the Tide Lords to serve the lords as warriors and servants. The Tide lords created the Crasii by blending humans and animals with magic. The world has canine Crasii, who work as servants and are very eager to please their masters, feline Crasii, who are solders, and amphibians who apparently assist with ships and dive for stuff. All of the Crasii are slaves and most people treat them with competent. They can clearly understand speech and they can talk, too, but most humans till call them animals. However, they driven by their instincts far more than humans.

I enjoyed the setting quite a lot but unfortunately, the plot didn’t draw me in. It’s centered on Arkady visiting Cayal in prison where Cayal tells her about his life. So, most of the plot on the first half of the book is trying (and failing) to convince Arkady of something the reader already knows is true. There’s also some court intrigue: Arkady loathes Jackson and Stellan’s young, orphan niece is visiting him. Also, the king’s eldest son invites him to visit Stellan and immediately the naive young nice catches his eye.

The biggest problem with the first half of the book is that we readers know that Cayal is really a Tide Lords so I was left wondering about how dense Arkady and everyone else is. (And yes I realize that it’s the equivalent of finding out that faeries are actually real so of course Arkady couldn’t believe it immediately. But several hundred pages was just too long.) Apparently, they don’t think that healing from a broken neck in just a few days is a remarkable thing. Instead they continued to stubbornly believe that Cayal is a plant from a hostile nation who wants to stir up the local Crasii. Granted, Arkady didn’t see Cayal healing. However, the guards and the warden of the prison saw it with their own eyes and still don’t believe that Cayal is immortal! None of them even mention this healing to Arkady! Arkady even suggests that lopping off a few fingers would disprove Cayal’s claim and still nobody bothers to mention to her that he has already healed from a broken neck!!

Arkady is an academic who only believes what she can see. Unfortunately, this makes her seem like stupid in the eyes of at least this reader. She’ also very compassionate and believe in the rights of everyone, including the Crasii.

To put it bluntly, Cayal is an arrogant asshole and he knows it. It seems that pretty much all immortals are the same. He’s also very, very bored and simply just wants to die, which he can’t do. He wanted to be a convicted murderer because then his head would be cut off and even though his head would grow back, he would forget his previous life completely. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t beheaded. He slowly grows to admire and care for Arkady, which is apparently only the second time in his life and he’s over 8000 years old.

While I liked the world and the Crasii, I doubt I’ll continue with the series.

A stand-alone historical fantasy set in the Roman Republic.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 250
Publisher: Juno

Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Hispallus comes from a powerful and respected family (Scipio) and is a praetor peregrinus of Rome, yet he feels like he hasn’t accomplished much in his life, especially compared to his grandfather Africanus or his cousin who is the consul. He also has secrets which could ruin him. When a young architect Daedalus, his former slave, comes to him to ask for money, he doesn’t have it. But Daedalus threatens to expose Hispallus’ secrets if he doesn’t pay. Hispallus receives only a few days to get a great sum of money. When he hears that Domina Euryale is giving a similar sum of money to anyone who can answer her question, he tries to persuade her to give the money to him instead.

Domina Euryale is a mysterious and very rich foreign woman who has come to Rome to get an answer to her riddle: how can stone be brought to life. Euryale is always veiled, claiming infirmity or disfigurement. Every servant and slave in her household is either blind or has very poor eyesight.

Daedalus is a young man whose father, a slave, was part of Hispallus’ household and he is convinced that Hispallus is to blame for Daedalus’ father’s death. Daedalus had befriended Hispallus’ drunkard son and is looking for a way to avenge himself on Hispallus.

Sevisus is a young slave in Euryale’s household. He works hard and he’s very interested in books. His mistress’ old maidservant taught him how to read. He runs around Rome doing errands for his mistress, such as talking to an astrologer and an alchemist who are working to find an answer to Euryale.

As far as I can tell, this is an excellent portrayal of the Roman Republic, including festivals and the Roman mistrust of anyone or anything foreign. The characters are interesting and don’t have too modern mindsets. The plot doesn’t bring much surprises but it also avoids clichés.

I very much enjoyed this historical fantasy and I’m hoping that I can find Dalkey’s other books.

Stand-alone historical fantasy about Alexander the Great.

Publication year: 1993
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours, 40 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: John McLain

Meriamon is the daughter of the last Pharaoh (Nectanebo II) and also a Priestess. Egypt is under the yoke of the Persians and so the Egyptian gods have sent Meriamon to Alexander the Great to plead for him to come to Egypt and rule it. Meriamon has a shadow, a protector, and she literally talks to the gods. She arrives to Alexander’s camp right after the battle of Issus and becomes a doctor of sorts. Alexander is fascinated by her and talks with her quite frequently. He also assigned one of his companions as her bodyguard. Nikos has been wounded in battle and fears that he’ll lose his arm. He’s very unhappy when he has to guard a woman.

Alexander’s generals are very concerned with the succession. He has no male heir and he’s not mar-ried so the generals increasingly ask him to get married. And Meriamon is a daughter of a king, even though she’s a foreigner.

In this book Alexander is shown as a god-like figure whom his men worship and he’s really the cen-ter of the novel. They would do anything for him and follow him gladly. Haphaistion is shown as his soulmate, far more than just a lover, although later he’s referred to as a “friend” which was a bit strange to me. Other prominent characters are General Ptolemy, a hetaera called Thais, and a cat Sekhmet.

As far as I know the book is very well researched and accurate, except for the fantasy parts of course. This is a world where gods talk to some people and prophets can be real. Meriamon is an independent woman because she’s part of the Egyptian royalty and the Hellenes don’t like that.

I very much enjoyed the characters and the setting but it’s a romance which I don’t really care for. I also didn’t care for the reader whose voice was strangely flat all the time. I’m now tempted to get it as a print book.

A historical fantasy set in 1876 USA.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 387
Publisher: Ballantine

Emily Edwards is a Witch in a remote village called the Lost Pine. Her mother died when she was still a very small child and she was raised by the local Warlock whom she calls Pap. Pap has gone blind and so Emily has taken over the family business of making charms and small spells as well as gathering herbs and making potions. However, most people are starting to buy from a big company Baugh’s Patent Magics and the winters are getting leaner so Emily decides that the best way to secure any kind of future for her and Pap, is for her to marry a wealthy man. Fortunately for her, she has grown up with Dag Hansen who is altogether a decent man. So, she casts a love spell on him. Unfortunately, it goes terribly wrong.

The next evening in the dance the local drunk soothsayer tells everyone that Emily has done some bad magic and that the Corpse Switch has failed. The Corpse Switch is a device which (sort of) controls the zombies which are working in the local mine. They’ve never failed before so nobody believes that it could fail now. However, Emily goes to check it and is joined by Dreadnought Stanton, an uppity Warlock from the East who has come to educate the local yokels about modern sorcery.

But the Switch has failed. Emily and Stanton have to defend themselves against zombies and in the fray Emily ends up grasping a strange, large stone. It sticks inside her hand. Stanton knows that it’s a very powerful magical item, called the Evening Star. It’s formed from a mineral which can store magic, so Emily can’t do any spells as long as the stone is imbedded into her hand. She’s desperate to get it out so Stanton offers to take her to San Francisco where is the closest branch office of Dr. Mirabilis’ Magical Institute. Stanton has the Jefferies Chair there, so he’s sure that the Institute will help Emily and also pay her handsomely for the stone. Emily doesn’t have a choice, so she agrees. But soon they’re running from powerful enemies.

The setting was great! The magic is detailed and convincing. Most people accept magic as part of society and use it just as cheerfully as scientific gadgets today. But there is one sect of religious people who abhor magic and are trying to turn the people against witches and warlocks. The magic users are split into three groups: animancers, who practice Emily’s type of “earthern, small” magic, credomancers who use belief, and sacrimangers who require human blood to do magic. The split is most prominent in the big cities and Emily doesn’t even know about the other two before Stanton tells her. Unfortunately, this being a historical story, all of the men in the story treat women condescendingly at best and with outright misogyny at worst. In addition the (male) warlocks all seem to think that (female) witches are pretty much whores.

Emily is a great heroine; she’s duty-bound to help poor Dag and that’s why she want get to Frisco as soon as possible. Stanton has two large horses so they ride there even though Emily doesn’t know how to ride. She’s smart and determined and she wants to learn. She also owns up to her mistakes and wants to correct them, when it’s possible. However, she looks down on all easterners and thinks that the Native Americans are all savages.

Stanton is pretty much the polar opposite: he knows everything and isn’t afraid to tell it, often. He scorns Emily’s lack of schooling and rubs her face in it with every opportunity. However, he also knows several languages and is friendly with the local Native Americans while Emily just fears them and doesn’t know anything about them. He also keeps a lot of secrets from her.

Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the romance because Stanton doesn’t respect Emily and he’s downright disrespectful to her all the time; he calls her uncivilized and stupid. Also, the romance was very low-key. I also thought that it was strange that Emily didn’t really think about the stone in her right hand. It must have made things like eating very difficult. It’s mentioned a couple of times that dressing and undressing was difficult, but that’s it.

The book doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but it’s clearly a first in the series. While the immediate problems are solved, there are larger difficulties still to come.

SF book set in a world with superpowered people.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours, 54 minutes
Publisher: Buzzy Multimedia Publishing
Narrator: Noah Michael Levine

Eli Cardale and Victor Vale are roommates in Lockland University. They’re both loners and brilliant. Victor arrives at the school first and he really doesn’t want a roommate; he’s already been able to get rid of two of them before Eli arrives and is assigned as Victor’s roommate. At first, Victor considers finding a way to get Eli packing, too, but Eli starts to interest him more and more. They become best friends even though Eli gets the girl Victor is interested in.

For his final work, Eli decides to examine the EOs, as the Extraordinary people are called. For most people, EOs are urban legends, talked about but never seen. They have powers, some flashy but most subdued. Eli has a theory that near death experience can change a person into EO. Eli and Victor test the theory in secret.

Ten years later, Victor has just busted out of jail, with his cell mate Mitch. They have been joined by a 12-year-old girl Sidney and they’re digging up a corpse from a cemetery. Victor is determined to get revenge on his former best friend Eli by killing him.

The book chapters alternate between past and present. It’s also split into two parts: “Water, Blood, and Thicker Things” and “An Extraordinary Day”. Each chapter’s headline tells when it fits into the timeline. Victor and Sydney are the main POV characters.

This book is very similar to the darker superhero comics and the Watchmen movie. (But it doesn’t have a lot of violence nor does it have sex, so not that kind of “mature” comics. ) It examines the darks sides inside every person. People doing bad things for bad reasons and good things for bad reasons.

Victor is the only child of two famous therapists and he hates them. They don’t have any time for him, just sending him from school to school. Eli doesn’t talk much about his parents at all. They both love science and learning and they’re very ambitious.

Eli has a sidekick whom I found more interesting than Eli himself. Victor has a small group of people surrounding him. I liked his friend Mitch the most; he’s not what he seems at first glance. Sydney was also a great character.

I love superheroes so I liked this one a lot. When I loved the dark heroes and anti-heroes a lot more, I would have loved this book. But these days it’s a bit too dark for me to fully love it. Especially the university part of the book almost felt like reading about young Doctor Doom and his just as proud roommate. (Neither of them really remind me of Reed.) Perhaps the constantly repeated name Victor helped with the mental image.

Interestingly enough, this book has a lot of similarities with “Black and White” by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge published in 2009. Both books have alternating parts in past and present, characters who used to be best friends and are now arch-enemies, and one of the characters is “good” and the other “evil”. But in “Black and White” the main characters are women and not as arrogant as these two guys. The worlds are quite different, though, since in “Black and White” superheroes are media stars. And the characters in “Vicious” are more cynical.

The first part in a fantasy duology.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 485
Publisher: Bantam Spectra

A young girl has been abandoned to live alone in the palace gardens. People, including her parents, believe that she’s a demon because she has a strange birth mark: the flesh around her eyes and her eyelids are deep indigo-black. Then one of the Sultan’s small sons meets her in the garden and she tells him that the dark birth mark is actually very dense writing and she starts to tell the boy the stories.

The book is split into the book of the Steppe and the book of the Sea. Each one has a different framing story and in each one, there are stories within the stories. In the book of the Steppe, a young Prince has left the Palace in search of adventure. He stumbles upon a cottage and since he’s hungry, he kills one of the geese. That’s, of course, a terrible mistake. The old woman who lives in the cottage turns out to be… not what you’d expect. Each person the prince meets has a story to tell and often that storyteller also tells the tale of another person, or other five people. In the second book, a young orphan girl has to weave nets for a living. It’s cold work and to keep her company an older woman, also a net-waver tells Snow her story and another stories, as well. Those are the starting points of the books. The stories are interconnected.

The book has talking bears, griffins, and pirates. It has horse gods and living stars. Lovely tales and horrifying tales. Many myths and archetypal characters are turned inside out.

The book is illustrated by Michael Kaluta and the pictures are a great complement to the stories.

Absolutely wonderful read.

A stand-alone (urban) fantasy set in Russia.

Publication year: 2007
Format: ebook
Publisher: Prime Books
Pages: 303

Galina is a young woman and she lives in Moscow with her sister and mother. She also suffers from schizophrenia and so her mother doesn’t like her much. They eke out an existence near poverty. Galina works as a translator for a local newspaper. Galina’s sister Masha is pregnant and at the start of the book she gives birth in their bathroom. Afterward, she’s mysteriously gone even though the only way out is a small window high up. A crow sits in the windowsill and Galina tries very hard not to think that it is her sister. But Masha is gone and Galina is afraid to report it. However, when Fyodor, street artist, tells her that he has seen people turning into birds, Galina realizes that it might have happened for real and persuades the artist to help her.

Yakov is a police officer, but he works at a desk and not as a hotshot detective. He lives with his mother who tends the graves of her parents. One day, he sees a man turn into a bird right in front of him. At first he thinks that he’s going crazy but then he’s assigned to investigate disappearances; all over Moscow poor people are vanishing.

Fyodor is a poor, alcoholic, homeless artist who is afraid of gypsies because his mother used to frighten him about them. He knows that reflections of doors can lead to real places. He, Galina, and Yakov step into a door’s reflection and end up in another world. In that world Russian fairy tale characters and real people who have turned into myths come to life. Also, a few disappeared people live there but to her disappointment, Galina doesn’t find her sister. However, she continues the search.

“The Golem and the Jinni” is somewhat similar in structure to this book because they both spend time telling the backstories of new characters shortly after they arrive into the story. However, because “the Secret History of Moscow” is a much shorter book, the stories feel like they take up quite a lot of space in the middle section of the book. I found them fascinating but someone looking for epic fantasy type action would probably be disappointed. The pace of the book changes to quite slow in the middle of the story.

All of the main and the secondary characters feel three dimensional to me; knowing their backstories certainly helped with that. I’m not familiar with the fairy characters but they seemed very interesting.

All of the main characters come from poor backgrounds; they all come from broken homes and are afraid of the gangs. None of them seem to have many friends; Galina especially seems a really lonely character. The book left a very melancholy feel.

The first book in an urban fantasy series.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 325
Publisher: ROC

Alex Craft is a grave witch, a witch who can speak with the dead, see souls, raise shades, and also see into the world of the dead. With her grave sight she sees the world as a decayed and crumbling place. She has a consulting business, Tongues for the Dead, but it’s not doing well. In fact, her newest client has a heart attack right after Alex raises the client’s father’s shade and his widow wants to arrest Alex for causing the death. Fortunately, Alex has a lot of friends in the police and the matter is cleared quickly, but she doesn’t get paid.

In this world, the Fae were the ones who “came out of the closet” for normal humans and dragged witches along. Alex lives in Nekros City where a lot of witches live, too. However, despite that, or because of it, a political party called Humans First has gotten a lot of support. Alex’s father is in politics and also in the Humans First party. They haven’t spoken after Alex left in a huff when she was 18. She also has a younger sister who works for their father. Alex’s sister Casey calls her and wants her help: the Governor has died and Casey wants to be sure that magic wasn’t involved. Alex is reluctant but desperate for clients so she agrees.

In the morgue, Alex notices a persistent ghost and odd tattoos on Governor Coleman’s body. Nobody else sees the tattoos, even though the coroner is famous for her ability to find magic. Alex also tries to raise a murdered woman’s shade, as a favor for her cop friend in exchange for seeing the Governor’s body. A shade a collection of the dead person’s memories and doesn’t have will or goals. However, this time the shade screams and attacks Alex. The shade even wounds her, which shouldn’t be possible. To add to the confusion, the lead detective in Coleman’s case shows up and throws Alex and her cop friend out.

On the steps of the police station, someone shoots at Alex. However, she’s shoved out of the way and the bullet hits her cop friend instead. She wants to find out who did it and is also mixed up in Coleman’s murder case.

Alex is a very typical urban fantasy heroine: she lives alone, except for her dog, and is against any sort of romantic entanglements. But she has a good circle of friends. The coroner Tamara is her best friend and Caleb is her friend and landlord. He’s also fae.

For most of her life, Alex has been able to see the spirits of the dead and also Death: a young looking man who collects the souls of the dying. She even has a friendship of sorts with Death. Because she’s able to see and hear people whom others don’t see, she can come off as strange sometimes.

Even though Alex is nominally a private investigator, she usually just raises shades and isn’t used to doing actual investigation. The story is fast-paced with quick twists and drew me in. I even liked the chemistry between Alex and her major love interest, which isn’t usual for me.

Alex’s powers come with a price: after she uses the grave sight her regular eyesight goes really bad or she’s even blind for a while.

A stand-alone cyperpunk book.

Publication year: 1987
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 351
Publisher: Avain
Finnish translator: Matti Rosvall

The story is set in a future when humans have learned to manipulate minds directly. They seem to do it mostly for fun and some get money out of it, too. There are several kinds of manipulations from direct mind-to-mind contact to deliberately getting a psychosis. People who do that are called Mindplayers.

Allison Haas, Allie, is a young woman who does Mindplaying without legal permission. Then her friend Jerry Wirerammer brings her a new kind of madcap and Allie uses it. For a short while she goes insane and the effect is so strong that Jerry has to take her to a legal establishment to clear her head. Unfortunately, that means that the police know what they’re doing and they’re both arrested. The Brain Police and offer Allie a deal: identity erasing or becoming one of the Brain Police. Reluctantly, she agrees to go into policing and is put into training.

To me, Allie seems very unsatisfied with her life; to the point that she voluntarily uses mind altering and psychosis-inducing stuff. She’s a very lonely person and Jerry is pretty much her only friend. She doesn’t look favorably on legal Mindplaying but uses illegal techniques quite a lot. She has a hard time adjusting to the training and gets only a few friends.

The world was fascinating. When people are doing mindplaying, the devices are connected to the optical nerve. The natural eyes can’t stand that for long and so most people have replaced their eyes with artificial ones, which are also easier to remove for mindplaying. For some reason the pulling eye out was very icky to me.

The book deals with identity questions. Can there be more than one person in one mind? How much is left of you if you share your mind with someone else? How much is identity based on memories? These are all interesting questions.

Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with Allie at all. She does grow and mature a lot during the book, though.

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