2nd Reading Challenge 2010


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.

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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.

In English translation the name of the book appears to be Twenty Years After. In Finnish, the name of the translation is the Return of the Musketeers. We also have a collected edition of all these later stories and this is the first story in that collection.

D’Artagnan has served as a King’s Musketeer for twenty years and he’s still a lieutenant. He’s bitter and doesn’t have much ambitions anymore. His three friends have all gone their own ways and they haven’t seen each other in almost twenty years.

The current Cardinal, Mazarin, is the Chief Minister and is trying to govern France. The current King is only ten years old and his mother, Anne of Austria, is his regent. Mazarin and Anne are lovers and have married in secret. Mazarin is depicted as a greedy and small minded man who isn’t a worthy successor to the great Richelieu.

D’Artagnan comes into the attention of Mazarin who is trying to find trustworthy men to work for himself. After both de Rochefort, the Musketeers’ previous enemy, and Anne speak for D’Artagnan and his three friends, Mazarin decides to trust them at least for a time and sends D’Artagnan to find his friends and lure them back into service.

The writing style here is as leisurely as in the previous book and this book is really just setting up the story to come. The narrator tells us a lot about the politics of the times and the political climate where young the King is popular and Mazarin is hated because he raises taxes.

At the start of the book, D’Artagnan is described as moving and acting like an automation but once he gets out of Paris and is looking for his friends, he quickly gets back his old, more lively manner. He starts to resent his post as a mere lieutenant and wants to get enough money to buy back his family’s old castle and lands.

The other musketeers have changed somewhat but have still their previous habits; Aramis is now a priest but he still has a mistress, and eats and lives well and Porthos owns several castles but years for his old adventuring days. Athos has changed perhaps the most; he has an adopted son who is the apple of Athos’ eye.

The story doesn’t yet even start properly in this bookbut I enjoyed a more leisurely paced book for a change.

This is the second book in the epic fantasy trilogy the Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin and continues immediately after the first book ended. In the middle of winter. And we aren’t talking about “oh, we might have a few snowflakes here and there” wimpy winter but a real winter where you have to walk knee-deep in snow and can freeze to death if you don’t know what you’re doing. You know, the kind of winter my native Finland has.

Byren Kingson, now the Kingsheir, is racing towards the Halcyon Abbey. He’s determined to prove his loyalty to his father by leading the famous warrior monks to victory against the invading Merofynian soldiers. On the way, he stumbles upon a Merofynian Power-worker and his party, and decides to kill him and free his child slave.

The third Kingson Fyn is an acolyte in the Halcyon Abbey. The king has send word that he needs the warrior monks and they left. Too late, Fyn realizes that the letter was a fake and the warrior monks have been led into a trap. The abbey is invaded and it’s up to Fyn to lead the young boys to safety through a secret passageway.

The Kingsdaughter Piro’s situation isn’t much easier. Although the 13-year old girl is in the capitol, the new Lord Protector has declared her a traitor and offers a modest sum for her capture. Therefore, she has dressed as a maid and is trying to find a way to free her mother, the Queen, whom the new Lord Protector has imprisoned. Her father King Rolen is sick and possibly under the influence of magic, or Affinity as it’s called here, so unfortunately, he isn’t able to help. To make matters worse, the Merofynians attack the capitol.

This second book is just as well paced and action-packed as the first one, the King’s Bastard. The plot has a lot of twists and turns. There isn’t as much fighting as in the first book but there are chaises, both on horseback and on knee deep snow, escapes, people hiding, eavesdropping, girls dressed as boys, and other fun stuff. There’s also a twist involving the Affinity beasts and I’m interested to see where it’s going. However, there’s no resolution in the book, just like in the first book; all three books seem to be one long story.

Even though the book revolves around war, it’s not really grim or gritty. There isn’t unnecessary gore or fights. On the other hand, there isn’t as much political intrigue as in the first book mainly because the characters are mostly hiding and not in a position to engage in intrigue. This is very likely to change in the next book, though.

We get a glimpse of how magic is handled among the Merofynians. In Rolencia, people with Affinity are forced into a religious, chaste life in the abbeys. This seems not to be the case with Merofynia. The conquering Overlord has an old, noble Power-worker who doesn’t seem to be a monk or a nun. There’s also a blind Seer but she’s only seen briefly.

Throughout the book, the POV characters find out that members of their family are likely to be dead. Byren grieves for them but the other two seem to shrug it off easily. Of course, they don’t have much time to think about it and if it’s repetitive it would get boring. All of them suffer from survivor’s guilt, Byren possibly more than the others.

Byren seems to be the most reflective of the three characters. He doubts his own abilities and constantly waffles about how he should treat his best friend Orrade. He found out in the previous book that Orrade is a lover of men and in Rolencia that’s synonymous to a traitor because in the past there was a conspiracy to overthrow the king. The most famous men in the conspiracy were lovers of men, called Servants of Palos, so now it’s “common knowledge” that they are all traitors. (This is, by the way, a classic scapegoat behavior which is, alas, common to humans everywhere.) On the one hand, Byren still cares about Orrade and considers him a loyal friend but on the other hand, he doesn’t want anyone to think that he’s a lover of men.

Fyn is depressed because he feels that he has let down all of his friends when the abbey fell. He froze during the battle and regrets that.

Piro is mostly concerned with staying alive and free.

Both Byren and Fyn have young children to protect. This is quite different from other epic fantasy where the traveling companions tend to be, if not all warriors, at least adults capable of taking care of themselves.

All of the characters end up in quite different places than where they were at the start and I’m curious to find out how the tale ends.

The second book in the Downside Ghosts series.

Chess Putnam continues her career as a Debunker for the Church of Real Truth. She interviews people who claim that a ghost is haunting their home and either banishes the ghost or finds out that the people are lying. She’s also a drug addict which she hides from the Church. She lives in the Downside which is the area where the poor people live.

The story starts with Chess undercover. She’s trying to expose an illegal séance but something goes horribly wrong and she’s poisoned. Luckily, her backup is near and she gets the antidote in time. Then, Terrible shows up with another task for her. Terrible is the enforcer for Chess’ drug dealer, Bump, but Chess and Terrible have become friends and are also attracted to each other. So, Chess really has no choice but to start investigating the murders of Bump’s prostitutes. The other whores are convinced that a ghost is killing them.

Meanwhile, Chess gets a new assignment from the Church: a TV and movie star has reported a haunting in his house. Chess finds out that a gruesome triple murder took place in the house and feels odd things there, too. But something doesn’t feel right.

The plot moves again in a brisk pace and we get to see some new places and people in Triumph City. The upper class, in the form of the TV star Pyle and the people around him, live in an almost different world from the dangerous and seedy Downside. We also see the spirit prison where the Church imprisons the souls of the evildoers. They torture the souls and blast them with heat so it’s a pretty hellish place even though the official line is that hell doesn’t exist.

Chess’ addiction has been dealt with in the previous book but here it’s finally shown in the full awfulness. She’s a broken woman to begin with and here she’s brought to a new level of low. And yet, I can help but to root for her and hope she can somehow change her life and get rid of the drugs, although that doesn’t look likely.

Chess has two men in her life even though she tries to convince herself that she’s better off alone and not trusting anyone. One of them is Terrible, Bump’s enforcer, and the other is Lex, who works for a rival drug dealer and supplier Chess with free drugs. She has sex with Lex because he doesn’t demand anything from her. Still, she has to constantly be on her guard with both of them and lies to both of them. This can’t, of course, end well. This triangle is a bigger part of the story in this second book than in the first one, and it’s also well paced and integrated into the whole story.

We found out some new sides about Terrible which make him more sympathetic character. Chess’ abusive youth is also explored in more depth.

I’m completely addicted to these books and will gladly indulge in the next one.

This is by no means a light read: it’s gruesome and gut wrenching but definitely worth it.

The second book in the Kate Daniels UF series which is set in alternate reality Atlanta.

At the end of the previous book Kate got a new, steady job at the Order of the Merciful Aid. They put security of humanity above the security of any one person.

Kate gets a new assignment from her old contact at the Mercenary Guild which should have been simple if not easy: they were to retrieve an arsonist with a salamander which tosses fireballs. However, a mysterious person kills the arsonist with a crossbow bolt. Then the shooter vanishes.

Then the Shapeshifter Pack contacts her. Someone has stolen their maps. Someone who uses a crossbow and disappears into thin air. The Pack wants Kate to get the maps back. She agrees and starts to investigate at the scene of the robbery. There she finds 13-years-old Julie whose mother is an amateur witch and her whole coven has disappeared. Kate takes in the young girl while she looks for her mother, too.

On top of everything else, the magic and technology flares are coming in alarming frequency. When the magic flare is up, most of technology doesn’t work and vice versa. The frequent shifts are very disturbing and can cause some weird things.

The stakes are really upped this time. I’d be willing to call this book epic urban fantasy.

This time, a lot of things were explained. The magic waves are explained here as humanity’s influence. Before humans were influential, magic reigned. During Bronze Age, technology gained the upper hand. For some reason, magic shifted into power again some thirty years ago.

There are also some more hints about Kate’s background. Apparently, her sire was someone very hated and powerful but she wasn’t raised by him.

Unfortunately, I don’t really care for Kate’s romantic interests. The leader of the Pack, Curran, is apparently one and yet he treats Kate like shit. I wouldn’t give him a second glance. The other is apparently Bran who threatens openly to kill Kate. Funny thing, but I don’t consider death threats to be aphrodisiacs nor sexual harassment to be funny. I pretty much thought Bran was insufferable anyway.

I did like most of the characters. The Order employs many women and it was great to see them interact. Most UF books have only one female character and the rest are males. Andrea was especially delightful: a competent knight who has a secret.

I did have a facepalm moment with the book. One of the shapeshifter pack is a Hyena pack. Apparently, hyenas have female alphas and in the pack females and pups eat before the males, so Andrews made the hyenas dress and look androgynously and be sexually kinky. I fail to see how these are associated with each other.

You can read the first chapter for free at the authors’ website: http://kate.ilona-andrews.com/novels/magic-burns/

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