2020 mount TBR


The second book in the fantasy series Craft Sequence. It’s a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 347
Publisher: Tor

This is a very different book from the first one. It’s set in a different city with different characters.

Caleb Altemoc is a risk analyst to the Red King Consolidated. His father Temoc is a famous terrorist and Caleb doesn’t want anything to do with him. The Red King Consolidated is responsible for distributing clean water to the city of Dresediel Lex which is in the middle of a desert. It has 16 million people.

When Tzimoth demons are infesting a water reservoir Caleb is sent to check it out in the middle of the night. It’s very unlikely that the demons have come there naturally. One woman flees the scene. She seems to be a cliff runner, just there for the thrill of it. Caleb chases her but can’t catch her. He falls instantly in love/lust; he doesn’t tell his employers about her and instead tries to find her himself.

However, he suspects that his father Temoc is behind the attack. When Caleb returns home, Temoc is waiting for him.

Twenty years ago, the city was supported by human sacrifices to the gods who hunger blood. But then the Craftmen and Craftwomen rose in revolt in God Wars. One of them was a man whose (male) lover was killed as a sacrifice. Now, that man is the King in Red. Craft (magic) has eaten away his flesh and he is essentially a walking skeleton. He has made many, many contracts to support his company and in practice he rules the city. Not only does his company rule water but his Wardens are the police (who ride on flying lizards).

Caleb’s father is the last priest of the old gods. Temoc and the King in Red battled fiercely during the war. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Red King has taken an interest in Caleb. Temoc is hunted and has learned how to keep hiding. He still wants the old ways to return and to him the Craftsmen and -women who rose and killed gods are blasphemers. Still, he loves his son and is interested in what’s going on in his life.

Caleb’s main hobby is gambling. He’s good at it, too. He’s very loyal to the King in Red and loathes his father and the blood-soaked system he represents. I found the gambling fascinating because one of the few deities who are left is the goddess of gambling. When she’s present, the players bet a part of their soul, usually very small part. The winner gets the soulstuff of the others.

The city’s whole economy is based on soulstuff. The people are paid in soulstuff and they pay everything with the pieces of their souls. Indeed, some people are enslaved after death. The company has zombies working for it and I think it was said at some time that the workers had sold his body before they died so this isn’t a case of necromancers robbing the bodies. But otherwise the city feels quite modern: modern professions and corporations with office workers. They even go to ullamal games and support various teams.

While this was an entertaining enough read, I didn’t like it as much as the first book. The magical parts of the city were fascinating and I quite liked the side characters. Teo is Caleb’s best friend. She’s from a wealthy family but loathes her family and wants to get by on her own. She works for the RKC, as well. She’s in her forties. Her girlfriend is an artist. I also found the relationship between the King in Red and Temoc very interesting. The theme of revolution interesting and it’s not used very often in fantasy.

The budding romance between Caleb and the mysterious cliff runner Mal is one of the main features in the story. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for it.

I thought RKC is supposed to be criticism against modern corporations and reading about how they “employ” dead, it does sound rather chilling. And of course some other things we find later on are really troubling. But the King in Red is an immortal so he has far longer view than any corporation where the people in charge think in only four month segments, if that.

An entertaining read but to me not as appealing as the first book.

A stand-alone fantasy book but technically first in the Ile-Rien series.

Publication year: 1993, revised 2006
Format: print
Page count: 314
Publisher: Tor

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Wells’ Murderbot novellas but this was her first book and so quite different in style. I bought it years ago.

This is a tale of betrayal, treason, and death. It’s set in a city reminiscent of 1600s France, rather than the usual Middle-Ages. But it has lots of magic. It also has very complex court with lots of people. It’s a lot of take in. The book has some echoes of the Three Musketeers but has a grimmer atmosphere. It also doesn’t have much humor.

Captain Thomas Boniface is the leader of the Queen’s Guard. Technically, his guard protects the current young Queen Falaise but in reality they’re in the service of the Dowager Queen Ravenna. Thomas is also Ravenna’s long-time ally and lover. Ravenna’s son Roland is the King and he’s in his early twenties. Roland’s dad was a terrible man and a weak King who terrorized his two children. As the result Roland hates his mom and trusts only one man: his cousin Denzil who is a cruel and ruthless manipulator.

The story starts with Thomas leading a group of his men to rescue Dr. Dubell, an elderly sorcerer. He and his group manage to break in and stumble through the magical traps and get Dubell away.

At the same time, a theater troupe gets a new member: Kade who is King Roland’s half-fae elder sister who has always resented her father’s treatment of her. Now, she’s sneaking to the palace. But during the troupe’s act, a golem attacks the court and Kade helps Thomas defeat the creature.

Clearly, the golem is the work of a powerful enemy. Unfortunately, the kingdom of Ile-Rien has lots of them. However, Thomas’ suspicions turn to Urbain Grandier, a rogue sorcerer. But Grandier is mostly likely working with someone or several people inside the court and Thomas has no idea whom he can trust.

Thomas is a solid main character. He clearly loves and trust Ravenna and vice versa. They’re old friends and despite the difference in their ranks, both can be truthful with each other. Neither trusts anyone else. He has served her for twenty years, so he’s older than is usual for most fantasy books, which was great. He clearly knows the court and it’s intrigues and is used to navigating them.

The other major POV character is Kade. When she was a child, Ravenna sent her away from court to a nunnery but she escaped quickly. Kade’s mother is fae and Kade has some fae powers from her. Kade has also studied a bit of human sorcery so she can use both. She’s also very angry woman. Angry at her father for his treatment of her and angry at Ravenna for not helping her. She makes a halfhearted effort to mend her relationship with Roland who clearly loaths her for leaving him alone with their father. She’s a wild card element; the other characters don’t know what to think of her.

Kade is also our window to Queen Falaise who is a timid woman, trying to please the people around her rather than having any power of her own.

Ravenna is really the star of the book: she’s the real leader of the country and has to work around all the male egos around her. In previous years, when Ile-Rien had to go to war, she was the one who led the war and her King stayed at home. We also got a couple of hints that she taught the servants and gentlewomen around her to be smart, ruthless, and survivors. Her biggest flaw seems to be that she can’t trust. Because if she had trusted the new Queen Falaise and taught her, they would’ve been unstoppable.

The fae come to the book pretty late but I really liked them.

However, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and the romance didn’t work for me. This isn’t a quick read: there are so many characters and relationships that you really need to concentrate to read it.

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 fantasy book centering on horses. It was part of the Weird Western Storybundle I bought in 2016.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 160
Publisher: Book View Cafe

Claire Bernardi calls herself a “failed academic”; she has a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies but hasn’t gotten an academic job nor been able to write anything for a while. Instead, she lives on her friend Dorrie’s half-abandoned horse farm in Arizona with two horses, a mule, and cats. She uses her psychic ability to communicate with animals to get a small amount of money. However, even that is dwindling because the owners’ of the animals aren’t happy when she honestly tells them what their animals feel. Claire can also sense all sorts of spirits and can’t live long-term in a town.

But everything changes when Dorrie sends two clients to the ranch. They want Claire to look after their herd of six mares and a stallion. Claire is suspicious because they offer her more money for a month than she should get in a year. But she agrees. Of course, things aren’t as they seem.

This is a lovely story about horses and nature spirits with some mythology thrown in. Claire can sense spirits in the earth, water, and air, all around her. She’s a middle-aged woman which was great. She considers herself a loner but she gets along well with her best friend Dorrie (who is a TV-series writer/creator) and Emma who helps her around the ranch. Claire doesn’t have much confidence in herself or her abilities.

The horses are the stars of the book. Claire has an ancient mare Aziza and a spirited gelding Ricky but the new horses steal the show. Tarr has horses and understands them very well, which shows in the writing. Also, the gorgeous Arizonan desert is very much part of the book.

This isn’t an adventure book. The plot doesn’t really kick in until near the end.

The first book in the fantasy series Long Price Quartet.

Publication year: 2006
Format: Print
Page count: 331
Publisher: TOR

This is book is centered on political scheming. It doesn’t have adventure or fight scenes. Instead, it focuses on characters.

The story starts with a prologue which is set in a cold and cruel school for young boys. It’s also very necessary in order to understand some of the characters and the magic system.

Amat Kyaan is the senior overseer, an accountant of sorts, for one of the large trading houses in the city of Saraykeht. She’s an elderly woman who has dedicated her whole life to her career. When she realizes that her employer is going behind her back with one deal, she makes sure she knows what’s going on. That turns her life upside down.

Liat is Amat’s young apprentice. She’s just seventeen but has ambitions of rising to Amat’s position. Her lover Itani is a common laborer and Liat is worried that his low station will reflect poorly on her. So, when Amat gives Itani a chance to do a small favor for her (and Liat’s) employer, Liat makes sure Itani takes it.

Itani is, indeed, a laborer. He has also a secret and isn’t interested in rising to higher position in life, but wants to please Liat whom he loves.

Maati is a young man who has just come to the city. He’s the apprentice of the poet (the equivalent of magician in this world) and he has spent most of his life in a male-only school learning as much as he can. The court and the politics are all new to him.

Eventually, we also get the POV of Amat’s employer, Marchat Wilsin. Marchat isn’t a native of Saraykeht but a barbarian from the North. His superiors are forcing him to a scheme that makes him loose sleep at night.

All the characters are very deep and I found them interesting, especially Amat because there aren’t many older women in fantasy books and even fewer as POV characters. The culture where the story is set has been inspired by Asian cultures rather than the usual Western Middle-Ages. It’s also a culture based on indentured servitude and downright slavery.

The magic system is unique and can’t really be summed up quickly. Briefly, a poet (the magician) forces an artistic idea to a human form. Then the poet controls the resulting creature and does magic through it. This isn’t easy and many prospective poets fail (and die). The creature, called an andat, develops human feelings and thoughts.

The writing is beautiful, full of great images. It also explores ideas. However, the pacing is pretty slow at times.

The world-building was very interesting and I didn’t mind the slow plot too badly. But I really didn’t care for the love triangle or some of the other stuff that happened later. I guess it’s just too depressing to read right now.

Abraham is half of the writing team of James S. A. Corey who write the Expanse SF series. However, that style is a very different from this book.

The first book in a YA fantasy trilogy, Abhorsen.

Publication year: 1995
Finnish publication year: 2004
Format: Print
Translator: Kaisa Kattelus
Page count: 389
Finnish publisher: WSOY

Sabriel is the only child of Abhorsen, the necromancer whose mission is to put the dead to rest. Because in the Old Kingdom, the dead can’t rest unless someone performs the necessary rites for them. Otherwise, they threaten the living.

But Sabriel has grown up on Anceltierre, on the other side of the Wall. Magic starts to fade the further away you go from the Wall and most people don’t who don’t live near the Wall don’t even believe in magic. Instead, they have technology which in turn doesn’t work in the Old Kingdom. Sabriel has grown in a boarding school. Her father comes to see her a couple of times a year in person; also during full moons he can send his spirit self (dunno what that was in English).

Sabriel is now eighteen and thinking of going to university. She has powers that allows her to sense the dead and see dead spirits. She can also cross over to Death and return. She thinks that going further away from the Wall would make her powers disappear. She’s the only one in her school who has such powers, so she thinks it would be a good thing. The boarding school does teach a little bit of magic, though, but not necromancy.

But then her father sends a dead spirit to her as a messenger. It brings Sabriel a sword and the nine bells which are her father’s tools. She knows that he’s in terrible trouble, maybe even dead. She packs what she can and heads to the Old Kingdom where the dead roam. However, a terrible enemy stalks her.

This was surprisingly intense and fun read. Sabriel is a smart and determined main character. She quickly realizes that there are a lot of things she doesn’t know and she does her best to learn. She’s also compassionate and does her best to help people. We explore the Old Kingdom along with her. There wasn’t much character developed, though.

The magic in this world is pretty complex. There’s Charter magic which is “good” or at least something that respectable people use and then there’s wild magic which includes necromancy. Only Abhorsen and Sabriel use both.

However, I didn’t care for the romance which seems obligatory, at best, and I also don’t care for plots where the people close to the MC simply don’t tell her stuff. Abhorsen wasn’t just careless, he was stupid to keep his daughter in the dark. The POV jumps were distracting, at times. Sabriel was the main POV character but sometimes we got small passages from other characters’ POV.

Overall, I liked this and will get the next one when the libraries open.

A Buffy the Vampire Slayer book set late in the third season.

Publication year: 1999
Format: Print
Page count: 289
Publisher: Pocket Books

Buffy’s world is falling apart. Her mother Joyce has met a very nice man and is dating him.

Also, Giles seems more absentminded than before. He promised to look after Oz’s wolf form but delegated it to Angel instead. When Buffy storms off to his apartment, she finds out that he’s with a new, beautiful teacher.

At the same time, Buffy’s old friend Pike from Hemery High (from the movie) comes to Sunnydale. He’s evasive at first but confesses that a stone demon is hunting him. The demon can change any living flesh to stone. While Pike knows about vampires and demons, he fights them only when hasn’t got another choice. He’s asking Buffy for help.

Buffy’s friends try to convince her that her mom dating is completely normal, at least when the man in question seems to be completely normal. Still, it’s hard for Buffy. Of course, Buffy has her own love life to worry about when Pike comes to make trouble for her and Angel.

Giles’ absentmindedness continues so much that Buffy and the others really start to worry about him. They keep a close eye on him and, indeed, something sinister is happening to him.

This was a pretty enjoyable book otherwise but I really didn’t care for the Pike/Buffy/Angel triangle. We know that Buffy can’t choose Pike because he’s not in the show, so it’s really pointless. The stone demon was a pretty average monster of the week. The Giles story line also had something I thought couldn’t be canon at all but it was resolved at the end.

The characters are well done, of course. Golden is usually one of the best Buffy writers.

The fourth book in the Expanse SF series.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Print
Page count: 583 + an excerpt from the next book
Publisher: Orbit

Two years has gone from the end of the previous book. The Ring is now a gateway to space which apparently has thousands unexplored planets. Humanity has send some probes. But one desperate Belter ship has gone through the Ring and the people have settled on one of the planets, mining precious lithium which they’re hoping to sell. However, the Royal Charter Energy has gotten permission from the UN to mine there. They’re coming to evict the people they’re calling “squatters.” The journey has taken 18 months so the Belters have had ample time to establish their colony which they call First Landing. However, the planet is teeming with alien plants and animals, none of them edible by humans so life isn’t exactly easy for them.

The RCE ship, the Edward Israel, has called and made a contract with some of the colonists to construct a landing pad for them. But a group of the colonists don’t want the RCE to land and take away their planet. So, they’ve gathered explosives from the mining operation and when the book starts, they’re driving to the pad and setting the charges.

The book has four POVs. Holden is the only character whose POV we’ve read before. Basia Merton is one of the colonists. He’s from Ganymede and his son was one of the sick kids that the scientists kidnapped and experimented with. He carries a lot of guilt for abandoning his son Katoa. He took his two remaining kids and wife and left the station believing that Katoa was dead.

Dimitri Havelock is aboard the Edward Israel. He’s one of the security officers there. He’s from Earth but has worked all over the solar system, including Ceres station. He used to be Miller’s partner and was briefly seen in the first book.

Doctor Elvi Okoye is one of the RCE’s scientist and she’s been itching to get to a whole new alien planet. From the beginning, she resents the squatters (as she thinks of the colonists the whole time) because they’ve contaminated the planet rather than building a habitat and leaving the rest of the plant pristine. She’s in the first shuttle that comes down and is blown up.

After the colonists blow up the first shuttle, Avasarala sends Holden to negotiate between the two groups and the keep peace as much as he can. Everybody knows him and he has no stake on either side, so she says that he’s the perfect UN negotiator. Holden doesn’t like it but wants to do his best to keep the peace.

The situation starts really tense and only escalates. RCE’s security chief Murtry brings a team down and the sight of armed RCE guards only makes the colonists more fearful and willing make bad decision after another. The colonists from Ganymede have already lost their homes once and aren’t willing to lose anything anymore. And yes, the planet itself has some surprises, too.

The planet, called New Terra by UN and RCE but Ilus by the colonists, is months outside contact with the rest of the human civilization, essentially a new frontier. Holden points out that this place has thousands unexplored planets and humans are fighting over the first planet they came across.

Yes exactly and exactly why the situation and some of the escalations felt strange to me. RCE’s interest is two-fold: first the big lithium mine and secondly to show everyone that they’re in control here. To me, neither of those are worth a single human life. How do they know that the next planet won’t have an even bigger deposit? They don’t. They haven’t even bothered to look. So yeah, especially when things escalated out of control, I felt that the characters needed to step back and really consider what they’re doing.

For the most part I enjoyed the book. However, I wanted to know more about this first alien world that we see in the series. Elvi was at least trying to explore it. I’d love to see more of the worlds beyond the Ring but at least based on the last chapter and the blurb of the next book, that’s not going to happen. Sad.

The characters were ok. However, Elvi is the only female POV and she develops a teenager’s crush on Holden. I didn’t care for that and later she has a very strange and quick change of heart. What? It almost felt like the writers were sick of it and just ended it. Basia is guilt ridden over leaving his son behind and blowing up the landing pad. His daughter wants to go back and enter university and Basia doesn’t want her to go. Havelock is left in charge of Edward Israel’s security. On the bad guys front, I think the main escalator was a sociopath who had found just the right place to do what he wants to. His minions were also very linear thinkers.

The theme of the book is clearly frontier and how people fight over it. If and when humanity actually goes to space, I really hope we don’t end up killing each other over the first scraps we find.

The first book in the contemporary cozy mystery series Whispering Pines.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 284
Publisher: Brown Bag Books

This series is set in a very small and quirky town of Whispering Pines in Wisconsin.

Jayne O’Shea is twenty-six and a former homicide detective. She and her West Highland White Terrier Meeka have come to Whispering Pines because her grandmother passed away recently and she needs to make her Gran’s house ready because her parents want to sell it. However, she’s also looking for some peace and quiet after she quit the job she loved because of traumatic events and broke up with her fiance.

But when she arrives to her Gran’s huge house, it has been vandalized. Also, Meeka finds a dead body in the backyard. It’s the body of a young woman whom Jayne doesn’t know. She calls the local sheriff.

Jayne doesn’t want to get involved; she wants to relax and find a new direction for her life. But when the sheriff doesn’t seem at all interested in investigating the murder of the tourist, Jayne investigates with Meeka. The local people are a very strange set. Many of them loved Jayne’s Gran and are also welcoming to her, at least to her face. But many are also suspicious of outsiders because Whispering Pines is a very insular community. Many are practicing Wiccans who face ridicule and prejudices outside the town. Most are misfits who don’t fit any anywhere else.

Sheriff Brighton is slow to investigate an outsider’s death and his deputy Reed, who is also the sheriff’s nephew, is hostile to Jayne from the start. One man claims that he can see when death is approaching a person. Then there’s the local witch shoppe’s owner who seems to be the only person who really welcomes Jayne.

And then there’s Tripp, a young man who arrived to town a short while ago. He likes it there, but nobody wants to hire him. Jayne needs someone to clear out her Gran’s house and she enjoys his company, so she considers hiring him.

I enjoyed the writing style which is in the first person. Jayne makes short observations of every person she meets which was a good way to introduce them. The book has a large cast of characters but many of them felt distinct for me. I especially enjoyed the budding friendship between Jayne and Morgan, the witch shop owner.

Meeka is a former cadaver and drug dog but she has been trained to assist Jayne’s emotional problems. They go almost everywhere together. Jayne herself has a lot of problems. She feels that she can’t trust herself because of past decisions which turned out badly. Her mother is a business woman who disapproved of Jayne’s career and now is trying to control her.

The mystery is a twisty one. The ending was a bit abrupt and I couldn’t really buy the murderer’s motives. However, otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the quirky characters so I will continue with the series. While the murder is solved, the rest of the mysteries remain unresolved.

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.

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