2nd Reading Challenge 2010

In the the 2nds Reading Challenge 2010 I aimed again for the Obsessed level with 20 read books and I’ve just completed the challenge!

1, Jim Butcher: Fool Moon
2, Michelle West: Hunter’s Death
3, Cherryh: Chanur’s Venture
4, Kristine Smith: Rules of Conflict
5, Megan Whelan Turner: The Queen of Attolia
6, Kate Elliott: Shadow Gate
7, Ilona Andrews: Magic Burns
8, Stacia Kane: Unholy Magic
9, Rowena Cory Daniells: The Uncrowned King
10, Elizabeth Bear: Hell and Earth
11, Alexandre Dumas, père: Vingt ans après
12, Lisa Shearin: Armed and Magical
13, Liz Williams: the Demon and the City
14, Elaine Cunningham: The Floodgate
15, Connie Willis: All Clear
16, Marie Brennan: In Ashes Lie
17, Rachel Caine: Heat Stroke
18, Walter Greatshell: Xombies: Apocalypticon
19, Laura Anne Gilman: Curse the Dark
20, Lloyd Alexander: The El Dorado Adventure

Now I’ve only got two challenges to complete: the historical fiction and graphic novels challenges.

The second book in the Vesper Holly adventure series.

Page count: 164
Publication year: 1988
Format: Print
Publisher: Dell Publishing

The El Dorado Adventure starts a year after the previous book, the Illyrian Adventure. Vesper is now seventeen and just as bright and eager for adventure as before. She lives in Philadelphia with her guardians Professor Brinton Garrett and his wife Mary.

Vesper finds out that she owns a volcano and the surrounding lands in the small country of El Dorado, which was before a part of Spain. Then Alain de Rouchefort sends her a telegram that he needs to talk about that property immediately. He’s even paid for the journey. Soon, Vesper and Brinnie are on the way to Puerto Palmas. There, she comes fast friends with a people Brinne finds more than a little suspicious: a pair of identical twins, Smiler and Slider, who work on old steamship. Captain Blaizer O’Hare is an especially suspicious character and Brinnie is convinced that he’s a unscrupulous smuggler. Blaizer has also a talking parrot Adelita.

Blaizer tells Vesper and Brinnie that de Rouchefort is trying to build a canal which will drown out a local native tribe, the Chirians. The canal would go straight through Vesper’s lands. She, of course, will not allow that to happen.

This a short and entertaining adventure story filled with kidnappings, daring escapes, and running around in the jungle. However, most people turn out not to be what they seem to be at the first glance. It’s also full of what I would call endearing feminism where it’s enough to point out that sexism is silly, most people accept it, and they move on.

“What are you saying?”… “Are you asking men to do women’s work?”
“If they do it”, said Vesper,”it won’t be women’s work anymore. It will be everybody’s.”

If only that would work in the real world.

The story is written in first person. The storyteller is Brinnie who calls Vesper “dear girl” all the time and tries his best to protect her. He’s very much Watson to Vesper’s Holmes. Except that Vesper has actual human feelings.

This was nice, short, and funny, and exactly what I needed.

The second book in the Retrievers series.
Some spoilers for the first book, Staying Dead.

Page count: 432
Publication year: 2005
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Luna

Wren is a Talented, or magic-using, Retriever whose job is to retriever stolen or lost objects. Sergei is her partner who usually does the desk jobs; finding work, doing the paper work, and making sure they are paid. They’ve been in business together for ten years but have recently started having feelings for each other.

New York is suffering from a very hot summer which is getting on everyone’s nerves. Added to that is Wren’s and Sergei’s romantic relationship which is, at best, uncertain. They talked about their feelings near the end of the previous job but they’re hesitant to change their existing professional relationship and friendship to a romantic one.

Also, during their previous job they managed to anger the Mage Council who is now making sure that the duo aren’t getting any work. However, in the previous book they agreed to be on retainer for a secret organization called Silence and now Silence has given them a job. Someone has stolen an old, and possibly powerful, manuscript. Unfortunately, the theft happened in Italy and Wren has a phobia about flying. As a Talent Wren controls electricity. However, when she’s afraid she tends to short circuit electronic stuff, such as metal detectors, which makes it difficult for her and Sergei to leave the country.

But they manage to get to Italy where they investigate the site of the theft which is an old monastery. However, Wren notices that the monastery has been built in such a way that it blocks Talent and electricity. Wren and Sergei become convinced that they haven’t been told much about the job at all. Sergei is a former Silence agent and he’s very angry that they’ve been kept in the dark.

The third point-of-view character is Andre Felhim who works for Silence. I got the feeling that he’s a middle manager; he has both underlings and bosses. He’s trying his best to do the job which turns out to be very difficult. He’s also Sergei’s former boss.

In addition to their more immediate job, something else is brewing. Fatae, who are creatures that don’t look like humans, are being attacked and discriminated against. Humans have apparently never gotten really along with the fatae but the tensions are now escalating to violence. Also, some loner magic users are getting fed up with the way that the Council is trying to police them and they are trying to organize the others to rise against the Council.

We’re told more about the magic system in this book which also means that the system gets even more complicated. This slowed the pace somewhat. I didn’t mind; on the contrary I like complex magic systems. We’re also told more about the training of Talents. Each youngster is trained by a teacher who is willing to take him or her as a student. There are no other qualifying terms for the teacher so they can have very individual styles and they don’t teach about everything.

Sergei’s and Wren’s relationship changes somewhat here. They are both used to being independent and doing things their own way, which means that the romance isn’t going to be an easy one. Sergei is the neat and tidy one who drinks tea, while Wren doesn’t care if she has a set of china or individual mugs, and she’s a coffee drinker. I really like this. It makes the relationship realistic.

While the start of the book is set in Italy, the duo soon returns to New York. Wren turned out to be a hero to the Italian lonejacks and I was very amused by the youngsters who tried to impress her.

Because of the several plot lines, the story feels a bit fragmented at places.

The people here aren’t black or white, and there aren’t clear good guys and bad guys.

My newest review: Walter Greatshell’s Xombies: Apocalypticon

Horror sf, 4 starts out of 5.

The second book in the Weather Wardens series.
Lots of spoilers for the first book, Ill Wind.

Page count: 352
Publication year: 2004
Format: Ebook
Publisher: ROC

The former Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin is getting used to her new life as a Djinn. It isn’t easy but at least her boyfriend is there to help her out. David is a very old and very powerful Djinn but his decision to make Joanne a Djinn made him very unpopular and also weakened him significantly. In addition, Joanne is drawing on his power to stay alive, so he’s weakening all the time. Of course, he hasn’t told that to Joanne.

Soon, the most powerful Djinn in existence wants to meet with Jo. Jonathan tells Jo a few facts about her life and gives her a week to control her powers or both she and David will die. Of course, Joanna is determined to learn things fast. Jonathan assigns her a teacher, Patrick, who is the only other human who has ever survived becoming a Djinn. Joanne starts to learn the ugly truths about herself and both her and David’s probable future. However, she doesn’t have much time to muse on things because she finds out that something weird is happening on the aetheric plane that could threaten the whole Earth. And as if that isn’t enough, David’s past has come back to haunt both him and Jo.

The book starts slowly with Jo and David happily having sex and Jo trying to control her new powers. Then they attend Joanne’s funeral where we meet the surviving characters from the previous book and one sinister character from David’s past. However, when things start to happen, the pace becomes very quick. The book has some closure but it ends in a cliffhanger.

This time we learn more about the Djinn: their powers, history, and hierarchy. It also raises some questions about if it’s right to essentially enslave other people who have their own moral code and history; after all, the Djinn has to do anything the human commands. When a human get his or her hands on a bottle with a Djinn and commands him or her to do something, the Djinn draws power from the person who commands him or her. The Djinn is only as powerful as the potential of the human. However, the Djinn have their own power as well which they seem to use the rest of the time.

A couple of new characters are introduced in Heat Stroke. Jonathan is the leader of the Djinn because he has the most power. He seemed to be a good leader; he cares about his people but he’s not afraid to draw the line and might even kill to keep things in order. (Unfortunately, the name conjured up an image of Buffy’s Jonathan which was a bad, bad thing.) He has also a sense of humor.

Patrick is Joanne’s new instructor. Unfortunately, I found him quite immature. If he’s lived for hundreds of years I would have expected him to have had enough sex that he didn’t need to focus on it all the time anymore. His method of teaching Jo is through battle. He has a Ifreet whose job is to attack Jo when she’s trying to learn something. Patrick comes across as pretty coarse at first but he does have a few other sides to him as we learn later.

We also get a new femme fatale character who was quite chilling. She tries to constantly seduce the most powerful males around her and uses them ruthlessly.

Heat Stroke is a solid continuation to the series and I’m likely to continue with the series.

This is the second part of the time traveling tale which started in Blackout. Please read Blackout first!

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Spectra

The three time traveling historians are trapped in World War II. They are all in London and working together so that they could get back into 2050. They are afraid that they are going to change history. The book has also two other story lines: Polly in her previous assignment as an ambulance driver and Michael in a different assignment as part of the war effort to mislead Nazis. The people on future Oxford are also trying to get them out.

The main thing about All Clear (and Blackout) isn’t the plot. It’s not fast paced and concentrating only on exciting things happening. In fact, most of the plot is rather repetitive; characters trying to do something are the contemporaries stopping them, near misses of people they are looking for. I was also a bit confused about Polly’s and Michael’s other assignments which seemed separate from the rest of the plot.

It’s about the people and their lives during the war. About how the historians are going to live alongside them and adjust (or not) to that hard life. It’s about being scared and not knowing what will happen and still doing your best and continuing with your life. About every day heroes and heroines. The book is far more a history than SF.

Most of the characters are very good. However, I thought that the main time travelers Polly, Michael, and Aileen weren’t as convincing as the contemporaries. The trio was constantly worried that they had done something to alter the events and change the history. Yet, even after they realized that they can’t get back, none of them missed home: parents, siblings, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, conveniences from their time. They were more worried about the contemporary people they have only just met. Granted, the contemporary people were in grave and immediate danger. But even after they started to think that nobody came to get them because history was changed and Oxford was destroyed, it seemed that the Oxford they thought about was more an idea or abstract place rather than a real place where they lived and had families. The only exception to this is Polly thinking about Colin who had promised to rescue her if she was in trouble but that only highlighted to me that even she didn’t miss her parents or pets or anything else.

I was also frustrated that the trio concentrated on keep things from each other. Polly had been in the VE day during a previous assignment and so that meant that she had to get out before VE day or she would die. However, instead of coming clean and then focusing on finding a way out, she did her best to keep it a secret as long as she could. Also, when she found out things that she thought were discrepancies in history, she again tried to keep them a secret. Because she didn’t want to worry the others! Similarly, she and Michael tried to keep things from Aileen because it’s her first assignment and they didn’t want to worry her! Argh! They are all supposed to be professionals and grown-ups, and so shouldn’t mollycoddle each other. Keeping secrets actively prevented them from finding out the answers they needed. Didn’t they have any training for emergency like this? Also, they don’t write any notes or interview people or do anything else you’d expect a historian to do.

The contemporary characters were wonderful! I enjoyed almost all of them. They had their own lives, worries, agendas, and goals, and did their own things without thinking about how they might inconvenienced a time traveler who was just trying to get away for a while and check if her drop is working. The atmosphere is probably also near authentic. The people gathering to underground shelters during bombing and still making plans for Saturday night.

I don’t know much about WWII so I was interested to read about it. I have no idea if this book would interest someone who knows a lot about it.

By the way, the theory that the historians supposedly can’t affect history never convinced me. After all, they rent apartments and have jobs that the contemporaries then can’t have. Most of all, they interact with people around them and that can be a huge influence.

The second book in her historical fantasy series about the Onyx Hall: the faerie court underneath London. Set in 1639-1666.

The book starts with the start of the great fire of London. However, after just a few pages, the scene shifts back to the year 1639 and in the middle of English intrigue; the middle class is clamoring for a Parliament which King Charles I is reluctant to give. Sir Antony Ware is one of the people who wants to put some checks and balances to the King. Antony is also the Prince Consort to the Faerie Queen Lune. She isn’t interested in democracy and she’s very reluctant to meddle in the affairs of mortals. However, if England will have a Parliament, she wants her own representative there.

Meanwhile, Lune’s enemies are becoming bolder. She’s forced to send one of her trusted knights into exile as a spy. In Lune’s own Onyx Court, the courtiers are dividing into two camps: those that follow Lune’s lead and either leave the humans alone or treat them with kindness, and those that still would like to keep the old ways of terrorizing and using the mortals. Also, even though Onyx Hall’s previous Queen Invidiana is dead, she casts a long shadow. Lune doesn’t want to be like her and increasingly she thinks about what the previous Queen would have done and then does stubbornly the opposite.

From the dates it looks like the book covers a lot of years and that’s true. However, the years go by fast. Mostly, there are short scenes set in various years. Sometimes they are during the same day, for example September 3rd 1666, the day the London fire started. But most times there’s only a scene or two during the same day or the same year. Then there are years when no scenes happen. For example, the nine years that Oliver Cromwell was in power has only a handful of scenes; mostly, we hear afterwords what happened to the characters.

However, the story isn’t disjointed. If anything, it distills the required story elements during those years and makes them clearer. To me, it also made the story more faery like. Mortals age, change, and die while the faeries continue.

The book doesn’t have chapters. Instead, each scene starts with the place and the date.

Even though the name of the book and the blurb at the back concentrate on only the London fire, that is quite a small part of the book. The majority is set in the years before it. However, the scenes during the fire are intense and imaginative. Also, Lune has already another Consort in 1666.

This book isn’t alternate history to me because it doesn’t change the historical events; they remain the same. Indeed, the human history seems to influence the events in the fae court.

Unfortunately, the characters aren’t remarkable. The historical characters are pretty bland but I guess that can’t be avoided. The Prince Consort Antony is perhaps the most interesting, in addition to Lune herself and a couple of other faeries. Antony and Lune don’t have a romance nor is their relationship a sexual one. Antony is in charge of human side of the Court; he reminds Lune of what she could do on behalf of the humans of London, and keeps Lune grounded, so to speak. Together, they can use the magical powers of the Hall.

Antony is married to Kate and loves her deeply. He is distressed that he must keep the fae a secret to her and their children. Lune is still grieving for her first Prince. Antony is a doctor and wants to constantly work for the betterment of humanity.

Lune has had to made some tough decisions are a Queen and she will have to make more of them in this story. Many fae resent her for having such close ties to mortals and some fae rulers would even gladly destroy her. One of her guiding ideas is that she will not rule the same way as the previous Queen did. She’s willing to plot and work in underhanded way, when it’s necessary. But at the same time, she cares about her courtiers and does her best for them.

The other two distinguished characters are Irrith, an Irish fae more wild than the courtiers, and Sir Cerenel, the loyal knight who is sent into exile very much against his will.

For me the lure here are the excellent historical details and the pairing of the fae history and the human history, more than characters.

The plot starts out slowly but gathers up steam as decisions are made that will have consequences. It centers on political intrigue instead of violence.

You can read the prologue at the author’s site.

The second book in the Counselors and Kings series set in Halruaa in the Forgotten Realms setting.

After the events in the first book, the Magehound, the main characters Matteo and Tizigone have gone their separate ways. Matteo has returned to the Jordaini School with his best friend Andris who is now translucent because of the evens on the Swamp. Even though the charges against Andris have been dropped, Andris himself in convinced that he should have been put to death because he’s guilty of treason. The duo wants to interrogate the elven Magehound Kiva who managed to recruit Andris into to her army and into treason. However, Andris gets his hands on books which reveal dangerous secrets about the origins of the Jordaini school and about Kiva. So, he decides to interrogate her alone.

Matteo follows his friend but when he reaches the temple where Kiva was imprisoned, he learns that she had escaped and Andis pursued her to the Mhair jungles. Matteo and his two Jordaini friends continue to follow Kiva and Andris. Unfortunately, they lose the trail and Matteo is called back to his job as the Queen’s counselor.

Meanwhile the former street urchin and thief Tzigone is trying to adjust to her new life as a wizard’s apprentice. However, the many rules of a wizard’s life chafe her. She’s also trying to find out everything she can about her mother, Keturah, who was a mighty wizard. Luckily, she already has many of the skills she’s going to need: the arts of disguise and thieving.

Kiva and Andris meet in the middle of the jungle. Andris tells her that they have a common enemy: a group of conniving wizards called the Cabal. If Kiva will destroy them, Andris will work for her once again. The Magehound agrees and contacts the local wild elves. She’s going to have to persuade the distrustful elves to help her destroy an old enemy.

As is typical for a FR novel, most of the characters are clearly evil or good. Matteo is very clearly Lawful Good and very uncomfortable with all of the scheming going around him. The enemies are evil: the ancient and powerful wizard Akhlaur, who lives now in Water’s elemental level, the scheming Lord Mayor who is trying to overthrow the King, and the Crinti. The Crinti are a cruel half-drow race who seem to exist merely as Kiva’s minions.

Tizigone is a more ambiguous character. As an orphaned street urchin she must feed herself any way she can, mostly doing minor thieving and cons. There’s also an innocence to her; she doesn’t expect people to be evil.

The story concentrates on plotting and questing. The wizards and Kiva are plotting to get what they each want and Tizigone is sneaking around. Also, she’s looking for information about her mother while Matteo is looking for information about his father whom he never knew. There are also a few fight scenes but except for the ending, they almost feel like forced additions; rolled from an random encounter table.

Cunningham tells an interesting tale even if it has many familiar elements. The plot moves along briskly and the characters are entertaining.

An excerpt is at the author’s site.

The second in the Detective Inspector Chen series.

After the events in the first book, the demon Seneschal Zhu Irzh has been moved from Hell’s Vice section to Singapore Three’s police force. Detective Inspector Chen and his wife are on a well-deserved vacation in Hawaii. When an unidentified young woman’s body turns up, Zhu Irzh is assigned to the case. However, when the police finds out that the woman is the rich celebrity Deveth Sardai, the demon is taken off the case, unofficially. But Zhu Irzh is interested and continues his own investigation especially after he meets the seductive Jhai Tserai, the murdered woman friend, a canny business woman, and a suspect in the case.

Deveth’s girlfriend Robin Yuan works in a lab. Her job is to do tests on a demon who is a captive in the lab. Robin comes from a very poor family and is grateful for her good job. However, she’s starting to feel very sorry for the demon. Then she catches really bad cold and in her delirious state she sets the experiment free.

Dowser Paravang Roche is having a really bad week. A demon police officer cancels his Feng Shui license and his dead mother keeps calling from Hell asking why he isn’t married yet. Then the demon makes him work for free and during the job, the demon attacks Paravang! Naturally, the dowser wants to return the demon back to Hell.

Jhai Tserai owns a very big company. She has also lots of secrets. For one thing, she isn’t human and non-humans aren’t allowed to own property in Singapore Three. She has to take medication to keep her non-humans side in check. Unfortunately, that means that even though she can seduce practically anyone, she can’t enjoy sex. She also made a deal with Hell which includes doing experiments on certain non-human subjects to make a virus. Now, one of her formerly competent underlings has managed to let the experiment loose into the city.

The demon Zhu Irzh is the main character in the book and Chen doesn’t appear until around halfway. However, the demon is a very entertaining character. He isn’t “good”; he’s always looking for his own gain. He doesn’t have fixed loyalties, not even to Hell. In fact, he might be more loyal to Chen than Hell.

The other characters are also entertaining although I felt that Paravang was a bit detached from the overall story. However, his tragicomedic story brought more humor to the book. Robin struggles mightily with her conscience; she tries to convince herself that the experiment is evil and so she can continue to, in essence, torture him. But she doesn’t really buy it.

For me, the setting overshadows the characters. The Chinese mythology, the afterlives, demons, gods, and goddesses are so different from the other settings available in SF or fantasy that I pay a lot of attention to them. The Night Harbor, an afterlife between Hell and Heaven, is a chilling place, and some souls can be forgotten there. Heaven isn’t just or even kind place, and Hell seems to be very much same as Earth.

The chapters were very short, usually just two or three pages, and the point-of-views changed quickly. The plot moves along quickly and the stakes turn up to be very high.

The second book in the Raine Benares fantasy series.

Raine Benares is a seeker who finds lost objects and people. However, in the previous book she was bonded with the soul eating stone Saghred which gives her a lot of magical abilities and enemies to go with it. Some want Raine and the stone as their own weapons, and others want to protect people from Raine. Neither is really a good deal for Raine herself.

Raine wants to get rid of the stone and in hopes of doing that she traveled to the Isle of Mid which is home for a lot of powerful wizards. She’s given her own bodyguards and the leader of the Guardians has also taken a special interest in her. When spellsinger students are kidnapped, Raine wants to help, too.

The plot moves along briskly and the narrative style is light and humorous. There’s also some politicking among the most powerful mages. We get to know more about the relations between the races, how the Saghred works, and how vulnerable pretty much everyone, who isn’t stinking rich, are in this world. Being a powerful mage seems to be an especially vulnerable position because the people with more money and political power will want to use him or her for their own benefit.

Most of the supporting cast from the first book returns. The young Piaras is auditioning for a place as a student. He also gets first hand experience of how the more politically powerful people treat a handsome and talented youngster. There’s some talk that training a mage costs a lot of money. Weirdly, nobody mentions money when Piaras’ training starts so he seems to be so talented that he’s an exception.

Raine’s cousin, the pirate captain Phaelan, is also on the island protecting Raine. Mychael is the leader of the Guardians so he’s on his home turf. He tries his best to protect Raine from all her enemies. He and Raine also flirt a lot. Tam is seen more briefly and he has as much secrets as before.

Unfortunately, the book contains one of my pet peeves: Raine is the only significant female character in the book and, even worse, she’s the only competent female character in the book. The few girls are all kidnap victims. No wonder all the eligible males are after Raine: she’s the only game in town.

I also couldn’t help but wonder why all the Guardians are male. Is there some specific duty that only male police officers can do? None of the other professions seem to be as sex segregated. There are human and elf Guardians so race is also not a limiting factor.

One of Raine’s previous enemies ended up in the Saghred but that doesn’t stop him from speaking directly into Raine’s mind and barging into her dreams. However, he is the only one of the imprisioned souls to make appearance. Specifically, I expected Raine’s father to show up, too, but he didn’t.

Overall, I did enjoy the book and will likely continue with the series.

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