2018 pick and mix


The second book in the Tensorate fantasy series of novellas.

Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 211

The first novella followed the childhoods of twins Mokoya and Akeha, and Akeha’s life afterward. This story begins four years after the tragic ending of The Black Tides of Heaven.

Mokoya couldn’t continue her life after that tragedy. She ran from her husband and her life and she joined a ragged band of misfits who are struggling against the tyrannical rule of Mokoya’s mother, the Protector, and also hunting monsters called the naga. Mokoya took with her a large, flying raptor whom she calls Phoenix. She rides it. Mokoya used to be a prophet, working for her ruthless mother. But the tragedy took away her visions. Now, she’s a broken woman who can’t bear the company of her husband or live anywhere familiar.

The band Mokoya joined is led by Adi, an older and very plain spoken woman. They are told that a gigantic naga is approaching the near-by mining city. They also find out that the naga has been magically (or through the Slack as magic is called in this world) altered. Mokoya is hunting the naga alone, against Adi’s commands. When she encounters one naga, she thinks that’s their target and she sets the band against it. However, that naga has a human rider, mysterious and alluring Rider. Mokoya isn’t monogamous and when Rider tempts her, she goes to their bed. (Rider is a non-binary person, using the pronoun “they”.) However, the gigantic naga attacks the city, and soon Mokoya is told that Rider is the one controlling the huge naga. Mokoya isn’t sure what to think.

Mokoya is a broken woman. She’s faced the worse thing that can happen to a parent and it broke her on the inside and outside. She’s reckless and often goes out alone, especially to danger. She can’t accept the tragedy and did something which others don’t approve of. Her husband is patient with her, willing to wait but she can barely look at him.

I really enjoyed the characters in this novella. It has a lot of women which is still pretty rare in fantasy. Blunt-spoken Adi was my favorite. Rider is a mystery, almost an ethereal person, with their own past and goals. The story has also women as bad guys. The world-building is just as delightful as in the first book and we find out a bit more about the Slack and it’s use.

Mokoya’s twin Akeha from the previous book is a significant secondary character. He’s very angry with the world and with their mother. He lives in the mining town, as leader of the local raja’s security forces.

The story deals with grief and grieving, and also with trust. It’s very different from the first book, both structurally and thematically. Like the first novella, it’s also quite different from most other fantasy books that I’ve read.

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A Star Trek: the Next Generation novel.

Publication year: 2003
Format: print
Publisher: Pocket Books
Page count: 262

Enterprise-D has been sent to the planet Thanet. It has only recently developed warp drive and it’s not a member of the Federation. Indeed, it’s dominant culture didn’t recognize species from different worlds until recently. That same culture “knows” that time is cyclical; every five thousand years the culture will be destroyed and then rise again, exactly the same. And a comet is speeding towards Thanet. The Enterprise can easily destroy it. The question is, should it? That will destroy the culture anyway. Starfleet has left the decision to Captain Picard. Things get even more complicated, when Troi senses someone is alive inside the comet.

Also, the holy book of Thanetians tells that false prophets will emerge right before the end of the world. So, the god-king of Thanet doesn’t go to the Enterprise himself but instead sends one of his undersecretaries as an ambassador. While the new ambassador has sometimes been less than pious, he thinks that the Enterprise’s crew are false prophets trying to lure him to heresy.

This is a story of cultures clashing. Federation’s culture is accommodating to others and their beliefs. Unfortunately, the Thanetians’ culture is the opposite. It’s very rigid with seventeen castes and hundreds of sub-castes, rigorous differences between genders and sub-castes. Each sub-caste can eat only specific foods and wear specific clothing. Each sub-caste has only specific vocations open to them. For example, some people are born as beggars or prostitutes and nothing can change that. Yet, all share the belief in the cyclical nature of time and almost everyone is looking forward to the end of the world because that’s how they’ve been brought up. They also have very strict heresy laws and execute people who break them by behavior or speech.

The book has many POV character. In addition to Picard, Troi, and Data, there are several Thanetians. Lieutenant Simon Tarses is another major POV character. He’s ¼ Romulan from the episode “The Drumhead” from the fourth season. He feels like an outsider on the Enterprise and when he meets the Thanetian ambassador’s teenaged daughter, he’s strongly attracted to her. Another new POV character is acting ensign Tormord Engvig who is aboard the Enterprise because he won an essay contest. He hero worships the crew which is rather fun.

The story is heavily focused on Thanetian culture and some of the characters from it. Unfortunately, their culture wasn’t very interesting to me. We find out the history of Thanet and their ancestors’ war. Unfortunately, it also left quite large questions unanswered. The dilemma of if Picard should allow the Thanetians to be destroyed because saving them would bring chaos to the planet, anyway, was actually pretty interesting. However, the population at large aren’t told about the choice; it rests on Picard’s shoulders.

This is a quick read for TNG fans.

The third and final book in the Blackthorn and Grim fantasy series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 16 hours 17 minutes
Narrators: Natalie Gold, Nick Sullivan, Scott Aiello, Susannah Jones

Blackthorn and Grim are former convicts who don’t trust anyone but each other. They’re both deeply wounded people. Slowly, they’ve come to realize that Prince Oran is an honorable man and to trust him a little. They’ve settled living on his lands. Blackthorn is the local wisewoman, a healer, and Grim is her confidant and reliable worker.

Cara is a 15-year old girl who lives with her dad and aunt in Wolf Den. Her dad, Tóla, is a rich and grumpy landowner who guards his privacy jealously. In recent years, Cara has become more insular, preferring the company of birds and nature to humans. She even has difficulty talking with people, even her dad and aunt. One day, her father unexpectedly decides that Cara must learn better behavior and sends her to Prince Oran’s household. Cara doesn’t want to go but she has no choice. The Prince’s wife is concerned about the girl and asks Blackthorn to spend time with her.

Tóla has decided to finish building a Heartwood House. The house was started years ago but was never completed because the main architect, then only one knows how to build it properly, vanished. Now that builder, Bardán, has returned as mysteriously as he vanished, with broken hands. He’s also confused in his mind. Tóla thinks that Bardán’s ambandonement of the project brought ill luck on Tóla’s family and is responsible for Tóla’s wife dying.

However, Bardán can’t build it himself so Tóla hires a man to help: Grim. Tóla demands that Grim can’t tell anyone anything about what he’s doing. Reluctantly, Grim agrees because he’s concerned how Tóla treats Bardán. But as months go by, Grim realizes that something really strange is going on.

Once again, Marillier has created a lush fantasy tale. It’s not fast-paced but lingers with people and places. Grim and Blackthorn are at the heart of the tale. They can’t trust anyone else and when Grim accepts the job and they must be separated every day for months on end, it tears them up inside, although neither wants to show it. Their shared experiences have made them very close and in this book they finally realize that they love each other. Personally, I was somewhat disappointed in such a convenient turn, but it’s understandable and pretty much inevitable.

Once again, the story has very dark elements, such as abuse. Grim and Blackthorn must make difficult decisions. Once again, I quickly thought I knew what was going on and the story takes it’s leisurely time until it unravels the mystery. And once again I liked the characters and the story so much that I didn’t mind. In fact, I was as a little sorry when it ended.

This was a wonderful ending to the lovely series.

The second book in the Expanse science fiction series.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 595 + an excerpt of the next book, Abaddon’s Gate

This book has four POV characters and only James Holden is familiar from the first book, Leviathan Wakes. Holden and his small crew aboard the Rocinante have been working for the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance which the two big powers, Earth and Mars consider a terrorist organization) for a year cleaning out space pirates preying on smaller ships. This has hardened Holden.

However, the story starts with Mei Meng, a four year of girl who lives in Ganymede and is seriously ill; her immune system doesn’t work. Her doctor and a woman who is claiming to be her mother abduct her from daycare. Mei’s father, Praxidike Meng, is a botanist on Ganymede where most of the food for the Outer Planets is produced, inside agricultural domes. Her mother doesn’t live on Ganymede anymore.

Gunnery Sergeant Roberta Draper, Bobbie, is stationed in Ganymede, on the Marsian side of the border. After the tensions created by the Eros incident, the peace between Mars and Earth is tenuous but her Ganymede duty is quiet because who would attack Ganymede? The peace is shattered when a group of Earth soldiers are running towards the Marsian side. However, within moments Bobbie realizes that it’s not an attack; the soldiers are running from a monster. The monster turns out to be so powerful that even the combined weapons of the Earth and Mars marines can’t stop it. Bobbie is the only survivor and to her horror she witnesses Earth and Mars spaceships going to war.

Ganymede is bombarded in the fight and the crops domes are decimated. The population, mostly scientists and their families, are in terrible trouble, starving and fighting amongst themselves. But when Prax realizes that Mei has disappeared (along with her whole group of similarly sick children), his only goal is to find her. Luckily for him, Holden and his crew bring relief food to the station and they agree to help Prax.

Back on Earth, Chrisjen Avarasarala is a United Nations politician in an unassuming position but with a lot of behind the scenes power. She’s in her seventies so she knows quite a lot about politics and people. She’s also ruthless in her goal to keep the world safe for her grandchildren to grow up in. That’s surprising difficult with scheming powerful people and saber-rattling military men all around her. She swears a lot and often seems to work on pure adrenaline and tea. She quickly enlists Bobbie to help avert the war between Mars and Earth.

This is a very good continuation to Leviathan Wakes. I really enjoyed all the new POV characters: Prax’s single minded dedication to finding his daughter, Avarasala’s ruthless politicking, and Bobbie wrestling with her PTSD from the battle with the monster and her discomfort about being employed by her nation’s enemy, Earth. Holden’s struggle with his conscience rather pales in comparison. However, I rather like his romance.

However, the other characters are rather one-note. The bad guys are psychotic or so greedy that they can’t see straight. Some characters are, of course, incompetent while very few are actually good at their jobs. Especially the military leaders all around seem to just want any excuse to shoot at each other.

The action scenes are quick but the politicking scenes are just as important, if not more so. The alien virus is still definitely a threat.

I enjoyed this book as much as Leviathan wakes, if not more, and it ends in a jaw-dropping cliffhanger. However, this is definitely a sequel; you need to read Leviathan wakes first.

The first novella is the Tensorate fantasy series. It has a companion novella The Red Threads of Fortune.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: TOR

The novella follows 35 years in the life of Akeha, one of twin children born to the Protector, who is the tyrant ruler of the Protectorate. They’re the youngest of her children. The story begins when Sung, the High Abbott of the Grand Monastery, comes to the Protector to collect a reward he was promised: one of the Protector’s children as a novice. Sung has his eye on the youngest of the Protector’s children, but instead he’s confronted by twin newborns. While the Protector is merciless, she always keeps her word. So, Sung gets two new novices instead of just one. However, the monastery can accept children only when they’re six years old.

Six years later, the twins Akeha and Mokoya arrive to the monastery. Both are upset because they’re taken away from their home. Even then, Akeha is the serious one and Mokoya expresses feelings far more freely. They are both too young to have chosen a gender or sex, so they’re both called “they”.

When the twins are nine, it’s become clear that Mokoya has the gift (or curse, depending) of seeing into the future. When their mother Protector hears about it, she wants Mokoya sent back to her. However, Akeha overhears this and the twins run away. One of them almost dies. After that, the Abbott sends both of them back.

I quite enjoyed the twins, but the world-building was particularly great. It has a magic system based on most of the traditional elements (fire, water, earth) with the addition of forest and metal. They’re used quite creatively; earth for example controls gravity and water motion. Magic is called the Slack and using it is slackcraft. We don’t actually see much of the society at large, because the twins grow up in the monastery and then later Akeha moves around quite a lot. But what we saw was fascinating. The most striking is perhaps that children are born without gender or biological sex. When they decide if they want to be male or female, doctors apparently change them biologically. We don’t hear more than that about it. Akeha and Mokoya make a pact that they won’t choose, but they were five when they did that and eventually Mokoya chooses a gender. Akeha is shocked because they haven’t even thought about it, despite being in the court since they were nine years old. Apparently, the Protector (their mother) didn’t consider Akeha a pawn in the marriage market.

Akeha is the main character of the novella. They are a serious and contemplative person. But when they are determined to do something, nothing stands in their way. They can also be jealous and perhaps a little too quick to kill when violence is needed.

At the beginning, Mokoya is a significant character, too, but then their lives go in different directions, Mokoya is left behind. Their relationship as children is shown in much more detail than any other relationship. Perhaps that’s why the latter part of the story felt a little rushed to me. The people important to Akeha then were not given enough time to really matter to me. Otherwise, I loved this novella and I was happy to see that the Finnish library system has the companion story.

The first book in a Robin Hood retelling (or rather a reinterpretation) with a gay Robin.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 17 hours 22 minutes
Narrators: Ross Pendleton

This retelling is set during the time of king Richard the Lionheart (1185 to be exact), as usual, but otherwise it’s somewhat different from the others I’ve read because we don’t really see any of the Merry Men because this story begins when Robin is quite young, before he was an outlaw. His parents and sister Marion are significant characters.

The Normans have established themselves as the lords of England and have brought their Christianity, as well. The local Saxons have their own customs and their religion of the Horned God (also called Hunter, Cernunnos) and the Lady (also called the Maiden). The Church is trying to, of course, stamp out the old religion.

Adam of Loxley is the local lord’s gamekeeper and he’s also the Horned Lord’s representative in the mortal world while his wife is the representative of the Lady. His wife, Elunet, is a wise woman and a healer. However, the Horned Lord has already chosen his next representative: Adam’s teenaged son Rob who is also called Hob-Robyn by his mother.

Rob has quite a temper and he makes no secret that he’s attracted to other men. He’s proud and it’s sometimes difficult for him to act as a humble Saxon. He’s also disdainful of the new religion. His elder sister Marion is somewhat less stubborn and calmer.

The local lord is the Earl of Huntingdon. He has three sons but loves the youngest the best. Gamelyn is more of a scholar than a fighter but has learned to use the sword as well. His eldest brother is a brutal teacher. Gamelyn wants to become a scholar and the only way to do that is to become a monk. However, when his horse throws him and Rob finds him, his destiny becomes something quite different.

The young men are at odds as first, especially because Rob despised Normans and the casual brutality they inflict on the peasants, like him. However, he can’t deny that he’s attracted to the red-headed young lord. Gamelyn, for his part, is a devout Catholic and that means that love between men is an abomination to him.

Rob and Gamelyn make quite a cute pair but the moment Gamelyn is away from Rob, he’s overcome with shame and remorse. I’m also not quite sure why Rob is attracted to him in the first place. Gamelyn wants to be a dutiful son to his elderly father and wants to be a scholar. When he’s attracted to Rob, his whole identity is called to question.

This retelling is heavily bound in myths and the struggle between religions as well as the romance between Rob and Gamelyn. Sometimes Rob’s Horned Lord speaks to him in his mind. The Lady also speaks to Marion. There’s also an old druid who apparently sees the future. The Christians don’t seem to have any magic but the only Christian whose POV we get is Gamelyn.

The cultures are described well, through the characters. Both sides are convinced that they’re right and they demonize the other. The Christians revile the pagans as amoral like animals and the Saxons think that the Christian god is a hypocrite talking of love and yet it’s alright to hurt the Saxons and deny same-sex love.

The book ends in a very dark cliffhanger.

The second book in a duology of books set in the Flash/Arrow tv-show universe. It’s also a crossover between the Flash and Arrow tv-shows this time focusing on team Arrow.

Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Publisher: Titan books
Page count: 409

The second book in the Flash and Arrow crossover starts immediately after the end of the first book, the Haunting of Barry Allen. I think it’s set during fourth season of Arrow because team Arrow is Oliver, Felicity, Digg, and Thea as Speedy. Oliver is in relationship with Felicia and she’s the CEO of Palmer Technologies.

Barry, the Flash, is experiencing blurring when he’s afraid or stressed out and it’s getting worse. He blurs (becomes motionless and insubstantial while hallucinating about his elder self and about Zoom as Wells) more often even though Oliver has taught him mediation which previously worked to keep the blurs under control. They’re happening because of otherworldly plasma is multiplying in his blood stream. However, there might be a way to save him. One of Queen Consolidates’ previous employees worked on a wat to open stable wormholes. Since the plasma came (apparently) to Barry’s blood stream during the wormhole incident (at the end of season 1), Cisco and Felicity think they can cure Barry with the machine. But the inventor is dead. Now the heroes must find his work and use it to cure Barry. However, other people want the research, too.

As a secondary plot, we get to see Oliver and Thea before Oliver goes to the island. Oliver has a Croatan friend Ghasi who gets into fights often. Oliver’s other friends don’t really like him and Thea downright despises him, but Oliver stays by his friend. In present time, Ghasi wants the research as well and is a cunning opponent. In the flashbacks we also get to see characters from the first season, such as Oliver’s parents and Tommy Merlyn.

The main POV character is Oliver but we also get small glimpses from the POVs of Felicity and Barry.

This was just as a delightful read as the first book in the series: if you liked it, you’re most likely going to like this as well unless you don’t like Oliver. This being an Arrow book, it’s centered on Team Arrow. In fact, the story switches very quickly to Star City. Barry and later Cisco joins them, but the rest of the team Flash don’t really show. This was my big disappointment: I like the Flash show much more than Arrow. However, I don’t think this book was as depressing as the Arrow show usually is: nobody left a relationship, died, or messed up their friendship. In fact, it’s quite upbeat for an Arrow episode. It was also great to see John and Lyla kicking ass together because the show doesn’t give them enough action scenes together.

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