2020 action heroine challenge


A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 22, 23, and 24.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1971-1972
Titan publication year: 2006

“The Stone Age Caper” is set in Australia. Modesty is vacationing with her new boyfriend David Collins when her old acquaintance Wu Smith comes by to warn Modesty not to buy anything for a while. Smith and his buddy are doing a heist and don’t want her involved. Meanwhile, Willie riding a camel in a desert. He comes across a wounded, pretty girl who says some people are after her. He takes her to an abandoned village to nurse her back to consciousness. He and Modesty communicate through radio and she decides to fly to him on a small plane. Wu Smith’s associates want her dead.

This story shows its age in dialog when Modesty and Willie are talking about the aboriginal Australians. They’re called “Abo” which would be quite offensive these days. On the other hand, one of the aboriginals in this strip was in Modesty’s criminal Network and clearly Modesty and Willie respect him and his skills. And there’s also a mention that the aboriginals don’t want to mess with the white men no matter what the white men do, because aboriginals know they will be blamed, no matter what. The aboriginals are clearly heroic in the story.

“The Puppet Master” is one of the most intense MB comics. The story starts with a chess game that the bad guys are playing. An elderly doctor Baum analyses the others’ moves. Next, Modesty is driving near Naples when she sees that a car has hit a donkey. She comes out of the car and the men attack her. She fights but one of them manages to inject her with a tranquilizer. She tries to fight but the drug overwhelms her.

Meanwhile, Willie is training Tarrant’s agents, especially a pretty new agent Maude. Tarrant comes in and tells Willie that Modesty’s car has been found; she’s been killed in the crash. They travel to Italy. Her body hasn’t been found abd Willie refuses to believe she’s dead. He remains in Italy to look for her. Tarrant thinks that Modesty’s is dead but he orders Maude to remain with Willie, to comfort and help him but also to learn from him.

The bad guys have, indeed, kidnapped Modesty and they’re brainwashing her to kill Willie.

One of my favorite tropes is the amnesia story line and I love this one. The bad guys try to convince Modesty that they’re her friends and she’s part of their criminal gang. Willie has sworn to kill her. Meanwhile, Willie and Maude are going through the Italian underworld. Maude is a smart and capable agent, but just learning the job. She appears in a couple of later strips, too.

“With Love From Rufus” is a more comedic story. Someone breaks into Modesty’s penthouse. He breaks to her safe which has been modified by Willie, so it’s not easy. However, in the morning she notices the break in and realizes that nothing has been taken and a bouquet of roses has been left in the safe with a note that they’re from Rufus.

Modesty is astonished and charmed. She meets with Scotland Yard’s inspector Brooke. He talks about a new genius jewel thief in London and introduces his young nephew Rufus to Modesty. Rufus is a huge fan of both Modesty and Willie. He gushes over her criminal exploits. When they go to Modesty’s car, three men attack them but Modesty fights them off. In her apartment, Willie has come to a surprise visit and is shocked to learn that the youngster has broken into the safe.

Modesty and Willie try to warn Rufus away from a life of crime, but Rufus is proud of his skills as a burglar and wants Modesty to fence the jewels he’s taken. Modesty is in a terrible position as Brooke’s friend. But when Rufus is kidnapped, the game turns deadly.

Rufus is around twenty but Modesty feels that she’s much older than him. His admiration feels uncomfortable to her but Willie (and the readers) think it’s funny.

All three are very good stories and I enjoyed them a lot.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 19, 20, and 21.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1970-1971
Titan publication year: 2005

This collection starts Romero’s long run as MB artist. All three stories are fun and wacky.

“Willie the Djinn” is set in a small country in the Middle East. The story starts in a casino where sheikh Kadhim Al-Mashaf has played a lot of backgammon against Modesty and he’s lost a lot. He wants to continue playing against her and even Willie can’t hide Modesty from him. Meanwhile, Willie has found a group of dancing girls whose manager has ditched them. When the sheikh offers a job to the girls, they only agree if Willie will come with them as a chaperon. Willie’s of course shocked and Modesty comes along, as well, to make sure Willie behaves.

However, when they’re in the sheikh’s plane, one of the girls finds a bomb which takes down the plane. A coup is in progress and Modesty and the girls land right in the middle of it.

This story has even more sexy girls and male gaze than is usual for Romero’s MB. It’s also got a lot of funny moments right from the start when Modesty is trying to hide from the sheikh’s servant and later when Willie convinces a little girl that he’s a djinn… sadly, without magic.

“The Green Eyed Monster” is set in a small country in South America. Modesty has a new boyfriend, zoologist Gil de Serra. Gil’s very jealous ex-girlfriend comes to chew out Modesty but Modesty tosses her to a pool. However, when the jealous ex, who is the daughter of the local British ambassador, is kidnapped Modesty, Willie, and Gil set out to rescue her from the group of revolutionaries.

This story again shows us that Modesty has compassion even for people who insult her. This story has also several humorous scenes, but they’re set after the half-way point.

While “Death of a Jester” is set in a British castle, O’Donnell manages to bring exoticism to that place, too. One of Tarrant’s British Intelligence operatives was assigned to investigate a group of highly skilled and eccentric former army commandos who are now mercenaries. The operative is killed by a knight on a horse, under the eyes of two very shocked teens. The operative was dressed as a jester.

The mercenaries enjoy dressing up as medieval knights and hunting people in the castle’s park. Modesty and Willie infiltrate them, assuming the roles of bored wealthy people.

The medieval shenanigans are just hilarious.

I throughly enjoyed this collection, as well.

A stand-alone historical fantasy book set in 12th century Egypt.

Publication year: 1989
Format: print
Page count: 260
Publisher: Bantam

This is a book for horse lovers. It’s a fairy tale expanded to a fantasy.

Hasan is the pampered only son of a rich emir and a thoroughly self-centered, gambling, drunken womanizer. He also lives in Egypt in a time when all decent women live in harems. When he finally gambles away his father’s prized mares, his father has had enough and just tells Hasan that he’s going to be sent for a Beduin who will make a man out of Hasan. Hasan escapes. But instead of doing anything useful, he spends the night drinking, womanizing, and spending the last of his money. After he’s robbed and beaten, he staggers to the house of an old man who nurses him back to health. Recovering, Hasan meets the beautiful young woman who has been nursing him and rapes her. She’s the old man’s daughter. The old man turns out to be a magus and he transforms Hasan to a horse, a red stallion. The magus tells Hasan that he will be a slave to a woman and will die in the horse form.

Soon, a girl does buy Hasan the stallion. She’s Zamaniyah who is around 14 but already has a great eye for horses. She’s also the only daughter of Hasan’s father’s mortal enemy. She names Hasan Khamsin and starts to train him together with her father’s horsemaster, a Greek slave.

The POV characters are Hasan/Khamsin, Zamaniyah, and her eunuch slave Jaffar. Because all of Zamaniyah’s brothers have been slain (by Hasan’s father), her father had decided to raise her has a boy and his heir. She’s forbidden to enter harem, where all of her father’s women, including concubines, live and she’s forbidden to wear women’s clothing or makeup or anything that rich women of that time had. Instead, she’s taught to ride, fight, hunt, and care for horses.

The first half of the book is mostly about Zamaniyah training the horse Khamsin. The second half is set during the sultan Salah ad-Din Yusuf’s war campaign and is quite different from the first.

Zamaniyah is a great character. She always obeys her father, even though sometimes she wishes that she could be an ordinary girl. But on the other hand, she enjoys horse and knows that this is the only way she can train and ride them. But when she’s angry, she forgets to be obedient and quiet, so that nobody will notice how strange she is. She takes a liking to Khamsin and uses a gentle “Greek” way to train him as a warhorse. The women scorn her and the men can’t be friends with her, so her only friend is Jaffar, her eunuch slave who is devoted to her. She also befriends one of her father’s concubines who is a captured Frankish woman.

Tarr doesn’t shy away from showing us the Islamic world at the time, which includes (rich) women shut away to harems, slavery, eunuchs, and that woman are chattel to men. Most men don’t accept Zamaniyah but they must respect that it was her father’s choice to raise her as a boy. Also, the book dealt with surprising amount of rape, although not in any titillating way. So, despite Zamaniyah’s age, this is definitely not YA.

I thoroughly enjoyed Zamaniyah and Khamsin was mostly entertaining, too. I mostly enjoyed this story and except for the fantasy bits, I think it’s fairly accurate description of the times.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 13, 14B, and 15,

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1968-1969
Titan publication year: 2005

The title story, Bad Suki, unfortunately shows its age: it’s about hippies who use drugs. Modesty, of course, is against all drugs (except tobacco and alcohol which they both use a lot). Willie saves a teenaged girl from diving to her death. She’s dirty and high. He takes her to Modesty’s place. Modesty bathes her and washes her clothing which the girl, Amanda, doesn’t like. However, Modesty knows that she can’t help her or anyone else who doesn’t want help. So, when Amanda briefly lectures to Modesty and Willie about their too safe lives, Modesty doesn’t say anything. Amanda leaves. But Modesty wants to know more about London’s illegal drug trade. So, she and Willie put on hippie clothes and infiltrate the scene.

The Galley Slaves: Modesty and Willie are on a cruise on a ship which is owned by Modesty’s friend. However, the owner’s friends are terrible snobs and they put down Willie at every opportunity. Ten days later, Modesty can’t stand them any longer. She and Willie simply swim away from the ship to a small island near Tahiti. They have minimal supplies but manage just fine. Willie is building a raft when they suddenly see a Roman style trireme sailing to the island.

The Red Gryphon is set in Venice. Modesty has made a new conquest, a young architect Max who is renovating an old estate for a millionaire. Modesty spots a ragged, eleven or twelve year old boy who who is running from the police. She helps him and gives a meal to him and his best friend. Meanwhile, Max starts to behave in a secretive way, saying that he found something he’s sure Modesty will love but he won’t yet talk about. But that morning, he’s found dead. Modesty must get to the bottom of it.

This story is perhaps the most “usual” of Modesty stories. But the inclusion of the two runaways who live on the streets, stealing and scamming, makes this more personal.

All the stories have great character moments. We already know that Modesty hates drugs and in Bad Suki O’Donnell really digs deep to this side of her. Galley Slaves shows the duo’s unique ethics, concerning the people they used to work with. The duo used to be criminals but even then they were only after money and didn’t hurt people unless they had to. They didn’t and still don’t respect violent criminals or people who exploit or abuse others. In the last story, the two street urchins remind Modesty (and us readers) about her childhood. On the other hand, Modesty and Willie are ruthless to their enemies in this collection.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 4-6.

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Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1964-1965
Titan publication year: 2004

This is a another very good collection of early Modesty adventures.

“Mister Sun” is set during Vietnam War and introduces one recurring character: Weng. The story starts with Weng whose whole family died when he was quite young. Modesty found him starving on the streets and took him under her wing. She’s currently paying for his university studies. However, Weng notices something in a newspaper and then he needs need money desperately. He’s already so indebted to Modesty that he feels that he can’t ask for more. So, he goes to a local crime lord, Mr. Sun. Sun agrees to help him, but for a price. Sun knows his tie to Modesty and he hates her, so he uses Weng to put a trap for Modesty.

Modesty hears that Weng has gone missing and travels to Hong Kong to investigate. When Mr. Sun contacts her, he has a suggestion: he’ll tell her where Weng is but only if Modesty will smuggle eight kilos of heroin for Sun. If she won’t, he’ll kill Weng.

This story features a ruthless and truly evil villain. Sun is one of the biggest crime lords in Hong Kong: he’s responsible for 70% of the city’s drug trafficking. He hates Modesty, because she’s broken up his ring in the past, and wants to break her mind before killing her. He knows how much Modesty hates drugs so forcing her to smuggle it will be his triumph.

This is also the story where we see for the first time a practice fight between Modesty and Willie. They practice as hard as they can: only softening killing or incapacitating blows. This time, as many other times, they use martial arts without weapons.

Despite his progressive views on feminism, O’Donnell does have his drawbacks as well, namely racism and homophobia. This story was written in 1964 and it shows: the Asian characters are very stereotypical, either evil or submissive to white rule.

“The Mind of Mrs Drake” starts with Mrs. Drake who is a psychic; when she touches an object she gets impressions of future or current events happening to the item’s owner. We know right from the start that she’s up to no good because she’s scheming with sinister looking chap called Korzon. She’s worried because a client has written a full confession which presumably would expose her and Korzon. Korzon reassures her that it will be taken care of. Next, Drake does a reading for her client and a little later Korzon kills the client.

Then Modesty enters the story. She’s playing tennis with a beautiful blonde Jeannie. Jeannie is actually Tarrant’s agent, working for British intelligence. Tarrant has sent her to be bait for Mrs. Drake and Jeannie is a bit scared of the job. However, she continues with it. Then Jeannie is kidnapped from her father’s home, right from the living room. Her father is a retired Navy agent and now blind. When Tarrant tells Modesty and Willie what happened, she sets up an appointment with Drake, determined to get Jeannie back.

This story clearly illustrates Modesty’s and Willie’s loyalty to any person who they consider their friend. If anything happens to any of them, they’ll walk through fire to set things right again. The ending also shows their kindness. Interestingly enough, Jeannie’s father, Mr. Challon, has a major part late in the story. He’s blind but his other senses have grown stronger to compensate for that and he proves to be very useful in a unusual situation. In later stories, O’Donnell has another blind person who can “see” with their ears.

In “Uncle Happy” Modesty is on a holiday in San Diego diving and harpooning fish. When she harpoons one big seabass, a very cranky underwater photographer, Steve Taylor, yells at her for ruining his photo. Of course, he can’t resist her, and they become lovers. After a few days, they go to Las Vegas. But while they’re playing in one of the casinos, Modesty sees a strange looking man glaring at her new lover. Later, two thugs kidnap Steve intending to murder him. Luckily, Modesty is there to stop it. She has questions to him and Steve has questions about her, but instead of resolving things, Steve leaves.

A couple of days later, Willie arrives. Apparently, one of his previous girlfriends has been murdered and the person responsible is the strange looking man in the casino. The man pretends to be a philanthropist and the press even calls him Uncle Happy. He has a island for disenfranchised kids, mostly girls. Modesty and Willie are determined to find out what’s going on. Steve also shows up.

These were good, early adventures with meticulous plotting and lots of action.

An action/adventure novella set in Toronto in 1920s. The first in a series but can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2012
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 98

Colleen Garman is an clock maker and she also makes other mechanical gadgets. That’s pretty unusual for a young woman in 1920s and her boyfriend isn’t shy about expressing his distaste for her work. However, when Colleen gets a telegram which says that her uncle Roderick has died, she drops everything and hurries to Toronto where he lived and died. There she meets Roderick’s friend Jane who tells her that apparently uncle Roderick had lost his mind before he died. However, Colleen notices strange men who follow her and want to hurt her.

This story has some steampunk elements but is light on Lovecraftian horror. This was a definite plus for me because I’m not a horror reader. Instead, the story’s almost constant action adventure with chases, fights, and shootings. Colleen isn’t a trained fighter and must hold her own in a very surprising and demanding situations. She does it admiringly. Also, she faces a couple of hard choices.

I liked the characters but they weren’t really developed. In fact, we don’t really get to know much about them, just hints of what’s to come. Colleen is a pretty straight forward heroine, an ordinary person called to do extraordinary things. I was intrigued by the idea of Bureau of Investigations reporting directly to US president. They’re a secret organization investigating the cults who are trying to resurrect the elder gods. A great twist on the origins of FBI. However, it wasn’t explored further in this novella.<br

It’s not a deep. But it’s a lot of fun and very entertaining. Currently free on Amazon.

A Buffy book set during early third season.

Publication year: 1999
Format: Print
Page count: 210
Publisher: Pocket Books

Willow is babysitting a toddler, when she starts hearing strange bumps from upstairs. She calls Oz and almost convinces herself that it’s nothing. Meanwhile, Buffy and Giles are hunting vampires. They’re also talking about the latest drama among the Slayerettes: Cordelia is organizing a big spring party in Weatherly park. It’s the same park which in danger of being mowed down and Willow is trying to stop that by organizing a demonstration. So, Cordelia and Willow are at odds with each other.

However, the bumps upstairs turn out to be real. When Willow gets there, to her horror the baby has turned to a monster with wings. The monster tells Willow that she must join the monster and save Weatherly park. Then it attacks. When Xander and Cordelia get there to save Willow, the monster is gone but so is the baby.

It turns out that other babies have disappeared, too, and it’s kept a secret. Even though people are warning Buffy and her friends to stay away, of course they investigate.

This is a quick and entertaining read set during the time when Cordelia dated Xander and Willow dated Oz. No mention of Faith or the Mayor, though. Buffy deals with a lot of vampires with Angel’s help. The fight scenes don’t really add anything to the plot but simulate some episodes rather well. That’s a bit of friction between Cordelia and the other characters, but not a lot and that’s fine with me.

The second book in the Miss Fortune humorous mystery series.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 20 minutes
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell

Fortune Redding is CIA assassin but because there’s now a price on her head, she’s been sent deep undercover to a small town called Sinful in Louisiana. She’s posing as a former beauty queen and a current librarian but she isn’t a reader and she’s never even seen a beauty pageant on TV. In the first book, she became fast friends with the Sinful Ladies Society: Gertie and Ida Belle who were undercover agents during Vietnam. Now, they’re retirees and also solve murders.

A former beauty queen and an aspiring actress Pansy Arceneaux returns to Sinful. She has lots of skeletons in her closet, because she seems to be in the habit of sleeping with other women’s boyfriends and husbands. She and Fortune get in a very public fight which ends with Fortune threatening to kill her. The next morning, Pansy is found dead and everyone in the small town are convinced that Fortune did it.

Well, everyone except Gertie and Ida Bell who want to help prove Fortune innocent. The handsome deputy sheriff Carter is under of lot of pressure to arrest Fortune even though there’s no actual proof that she did it.

This was a fun, fast-paced adventure with quirky characters and lots and lots of coincidences. Gertie and Ida are very funny. Fortune hasn’t actually done any homework about her supposed cover so I’m not sure how good a spy she actually is. She doesn’t read or watch TV so she’s pretty clueless about lots of ordinary life stuff. It’s not very realistic but it’s lots of fun.

The fifth book, and the second in the second trilogy, in the Roma Nova alternative reality action/thriller series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Print
Page count: 296
Publisher: Pulcheria Press

The book is set at the beginning of 1980s. Roma Nova was founded by refugees from Roman Empire and has thrived during the centuries. However, it’s not a democracy. Power is in the hands of the heads of the twelve families, all women, and the imperatrix who is always a woman.

Aurelia Mitela is in her forties and at the height of her career. She’s the foreign minister and the head of the twelve families who together advice the imperatrix. 13 years ago, she set Caius Tellus to prison in Germany after he assaulted her and killed people. However, now he’s served his sentence and is back. Aurelia tries to fight it, but to her horror, outdated laws let Caius walk. He manages to influence the head of the Tella family and eventually even the impratrix herself to worm his way to the highest levels of government.

At the same time, some people are rioting. Aurelia suspects that Caius is behind it but can’t find any proof. When her 19-year-old daughter is attacked, she takes her and flees to her farm but even that place has been attacked. When riots continue, led by Roman Nationalist movement which calls for return to the “natural” male leadership, the Roman Novan government itself is in danger.

For some readers, the beginning is slower because it’s focused on Aurelia’s personal life, her alienation from her daughter, and fears of Caius. Of course, if you’ve read the previous book (which I recommend) you know just how dangerous Caius is so it’s great foreshadowing. But when the action starts, it’s relentless. It also felt like the darkest book in the series so far.

This was a great book in the series. The characters are great and it’s so rare but wonderful to see a woman over 40 as the main character of an action book. Aurelia is a former special forces Major so she’s more than capable of fighting with both hand-to-hand and weapons.

Aurelia a passionate character; she cares deeply for the people in her life and also for Roma Nova itself. The current ruler Severina is a weak person and therefore a bad ruler but Aurelia tries her best to guide her, even when Severina doesn’t want that guidance. Severina is more than a plausible character and so is Aurelia’s daughter who is becoming increasingly uncomfortable of her mother’s protection.

While the main plot of overthrowing the matriarchal leaders of the nation is very similar to the plot in the second book of the series, Perfiditas, the execution was completely different. The revolutionaries take advantage of the people’s prejudices and ignorance in addition to lazy or corrupt government officials, set in their ways. It’s all frighteningly realistic.

The book ends in a cliffhanger so I’m going to get the next book soon.

A Buffy the Vampire slayer book, set in the third season.

Publication year: 2000
Format: Print
Page count: 178
Publisher: Pocket books

The story starts with a young woman, Heidi, who is chased by two vampire men, twins in fact. They catch her and take her back to their “home”, to their mother who is also a vampire. Together they drink from the girl and kill her.

Buffy and her mom Joyce are in the mall, having a nice day together. Then Buffy realizes that someone is following them. It turns out to be Suz Tompkins, one of the “tough girls” in Sunnydale High. She asks Buffy for help, nearly crying because her best friends have gone missing and she suspects something really bad has happened to them. Heidi’s own mom doesn’t care and the police think that Heidi has just run away or joined a gang.

Buffy agrees to help and the vampire twins arrive in the Bronze. Buffy lures them out. She and Angel attack them. She kills one of them and then their vampire mom arrives just in time to see her kill the other. The vampire mom summons the Greek goddess of revenge, Nemesis, and asks for revenge against Buffy. Nemesis puts Buffy on trial.

This was a fun Buffy story, except she does more contemplation than usual. The Scooby Gang are in character and pretty funny. It has several references to earlier episodes, which I quite enjoyed. Overall, I enjoyed the story.

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