2nds Challenge 2009


This is part of my ebook and 2nds challenge.

This book continues the tale of USS Titan from the previous book, “Taking Wing” so it contains spoilers for that book. Here Captain Riker and his crew has to again face enormous challenges. He might have an ally in the Romulan Commander Donatra but she can’t really be trusted. We also get a new (to me, at least) race Neyel which is apparently an off-shoot of humans who had to adapt to living in smaller gravity. The Neyel are a warrior race although not all of them agree anymore with the ideology that they have to conquer and enslave other species.

At the end of the previous book, the Titan, her crew, and a handful of Romulan vessels were unexpectedly thrown 200,000 light-years away from Federation. This is, to say the least, alarming to many people in the crew – most of all to Tuvok after his experiences aboard the Voyager. However, the crew must rely on each other in order to save themselves, the Romulans, and the crews of Neyel ships.

The Neyel are in a complicated situation. They are fleeing their own home world because the very space itself seems to be unraveling near the world. However, not all agree that they should even survive the cataclysm. Frane is the leader of a sect called Seekers After Penance who is convinced that the unraveling isn’t a natural phenomenon but a ancient god who has come to punish the Neyel for their crimes against other species. The sect is illegal among the Neyel and the fleet command has dispatched ships to take them into custody. Drech’tor Gherran is the man who was sent to capture them and he manages to imprison the Seekers aboard his ship. Gherran is also Frane’s father. Suddenly, a fleet of Romulan ships attacks them. The Neyel ships are badly damaged but the Titan manages to rescue most the crews. When Captain Riker learns of the Neyel’s plight, he decides to see if there is something he might do for them.

There are a lot of characters in the book and also many plot threads. There is an admiral onboard which aggravates Riker somewhat. Admiral Akaar has also an old conflict with Tuvok. The Neyel have many problems. Donatra is a shaky ally at best of times. There’s also the conflict among the Neyel between the religious sects who are already surrendering to the “god” and those who want to do something to survive. In the end, though, I felt that the problems had far too neat and tidy solutions. The book also felt a bit bogged down because of the many characters and plot threads. However, I did rather enjoy the many non-human species.

Overall: I felt that Taking Wing was a better book with more tension and more familiar characters. But I do like the continuing characters enough that I’ll keep an eye out on when the third ebook in the series becomes available to us non-USAians.

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This is part of my 2nds challenge.

Another collection of the charming Lord Darcy –stories set in an alternative universe where magic works and England is a great Empire. This collects four short stories: “The Eyes Have It”, “A Case of Identity”, “The Muddle of the Woad”, and “A Stretch of the Imagination”. All of them are, of course, murder cases among nobility and Lord Darcy investigates them.

The Eyes Have It: A rather notoriously lecherous Count D’Evreux is found shot in his bedroom. There’s no shortage of suspects and it seems that almost anyone could have killed the man; an enraged husband or father, a wronged woman herself, or even some of the houseguests. Laird Duncan and his wife are the guests at the Count’s Castle. The case isn’t easy for Lord Darcy and Master Sean, his trusted sorcerer side kick.

A Case of Identity: The Duke of Normandy himself calls in Lord Darcy when the Marquis of Cherborough goes missing. Apparently, the Marquis has been suffering from mild attacks of amnesia which might make things very difficult indeed. Also, he seemed to have disappeared from a locked castle without a trace.

The Muddle of the Woad: This time, Lord Darcy is enjoying a much needed vacation when the King John IV himself sends his lordship to solve the mystery of the death of the Chief Investigator of Kent. The poor man had been found naked and dyed blue in a coffin which had been made for the elderly Duke of Kent. The coffin had also been in the woodworker’s locked shop. The Duke himself had died on the previous evening. If that wasn’t enough for a mystery, the blue dye points towards a secret cult: the Holy Society of the Secret Albion. Now, the King himself is concerned and Lord Darcy starts to investigate.

A Stretch of the Imagination: the shortest story in the collection where an owner of a publishing house has been found hanged. But Lord Darcy isn’t convinced that it’s suicide. Of course, the owner wasn’t well liked – to say the least.

All of the stories are good and for most of them it’s possible to deduce who did it. The second story is perhaps an exception to this. But most of the time, the clues are there if you can see them.

Lord Darcy isn’t a really colorful character and we know next to nothing about his life outside work, although there are hints that he might not have private life at all. Master Sean O’Lachlann is Darcy’s faithful underling and friend, a Watson and CSI sorcerer in one. Darcy himself doesn’t have the Talent for magic. The rest of the characters vary from story to story and they’re often entertaining enough. I was a bit disappointed that the vast majority of them are males. Here, the women are very clearly mothers, sisters, daughters or wives to the more important male characters.

I find the alternative history aspects fascinating, as usual. There doesn’t seem to be much social change and society has been frozen in the strict, Victorian classes.

Magic is treated as a science and one magical theorist actually complains that the common people as too superstitious to understand the real scientific magic. Sorcerers need licenses and seem to be strictly regulated. The Church has all the healers. Apparently there are witches and hedge mages to whom the common people often go to.

It seems to me that this world doesn’t have any female healers. That might have been refreshing except that healing is tied strongly to the Catholic Church where, of course, only males can be priests. So, what happens to women with the healing Talent? Burned at the stake for being abominations? Although, most likely their Talents just go ignored. Also, Garrett would hardly be the first to have magical Talents segregated by gender. (Which I find rather unimaginative, boring, and unrealistic. And yes, I realize the idiocy of demanding magic to be “realistic”. Still, none of the talents that we know humans to have in reality, are confined to just one gender.)

But these are really nitpicks. I’ve enjoyed the Lord Darcy stories and his world, and I’ve already hunted down the third collection. Although there seems to be now a book which collects all the Darcy stories and includes four stories not in the other collections. Predictably, that one’s not available through BookMooch.

By the way, I noticed that many of Garrett’s science fiction stories are available in ebook format but the Lord Darcy stories aren’t. Why is that?

This is part of my ebook challenge and 2nds challenge.

This is the second in the Dante “Danny” Valentine series about a futuristic Necromance bounty hunter. This time she has to deal with the fallout from the previous book.

It’s been a bit less than a year since the end of Working for the Devil. Danny’s life is a mess. Her lover is dead and she’s having a hard time accepting that, her former lover is back and trying to make amends for walking out on her before, her whole body has been changed, her magickal power has increased, and her right hand is ruined. In order to keep herself from thinking things too much, she takes as many bounties as possible so that she can lose herself in the thrill of the chase and capture. Unfortunately, the thrill lasts for a short time.

Danny is now half-demon although she’s not sure what that means exactly. The demon Japhrimel didn’t have the time to tell her much before he died. All Danny knows is that her body is now stronger and faster, and can take much more punishment than before. Her psionic or magickal abilities seem to be stronger as well. Now she has to keep her emotions in check or she will bleed power all around her and disrupt the lives of other people. Her body has also changed outwardly; she now has a golden, perfect skin and her face has also been sculpted into perfection. Because her body heals herself now very quickly, her old scars have also disappeared. Only callouses from sword practice remain.

In between bounties Danny seeks out old writings about demons in order to find out more about her new self. Unfortunately, most of them have been written by Magi who are constantly competing with each other so they are of little help. That, of course, frustrates Danny. She’s also feeling guilty about how she is treating her old lover Jason, Jace, Monroe who follows her loyally to bounty after bounty. At the same time she’s trying to protect him because he’s, after all, only human.

After another dangerous bounty hunt, Danny’s best friend and cop Gabe gets in touch with her. It turns out that someone, or something, is killing psions in Saint City. The newest corpse is an acquaintance of Danny’s; Christabel Moorcock who was also a Necromance like Danny and they went both to the same psion school: Rigger Hall. Rigger Hall was almost literally a hellhole. The sadistic Headmaster was able to run amok and do everything he wanted to the children there. Rigger Hall is also the last place on Earth Danny wants to go back to. However, two of the three corpses had been there. So, Danny has to confront the biggest nightmare in her past.

This time we see Danny’s sensei who is a mysterious old man who is probably not a human after all. I continue to enjoy the friendship and loyalty Gabriele and Danny have for each other. Often despite Danny’s attitude.

Still, it’s fairly obvious that the world here is a patchwork of cool things and a lot is left unexplained. For example, if there is a Christian Hell and demons why is the other side full of pagan gods? The demons are ruled by Lucifer so they are pretty clearly from Christian mythology. Many pagan religions have their own underworlds and demon-like beings that aren’t seen here. If demons are a lot of stronger, faster, and endurable than humans, why aren’t they running Earth? Although, maybe they are, just behind the scenes. I also found it ludicrous that Jace would be carrying around assassins’ weapons in full view. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of being an assassin?

This series is built on “what is cool” and unfortunately it shows from time to time. But if you like that, it’s fairly entertaining. Oh, and it contains a lot of swearing.

Overall: at the end of the book Danny is in a place where she starts to get interesting to me. I will most likely continue the series but after I’ve lowered my to-read-pile a bit more.

This is part of my 2nds challenge.

Thomas the Rhymer is based on the ballad of the same name and is the life story of Thomas who is first a wandering minstrel who is then seduced by the Queen of Elfland and spends seven years in her court. Then he has to live with the consequences.

The book has four parts and each has a different, first person point-of-view narrator. The first part is told by Gavin who is an elderly sheep herder. He lives with his wife in a cottage outside any villages and Thomas happens to ask a place to stay for a while. The young man is sick and the couple nurses him back to health. He grows fond of the old couple and returns from time to time to tell about his travels and to play his songs. Here he also meets Elspeth, a girl from the neighboring farm. In due course, the youngsters fall in love but Thomas isn’t ready to stay in any one place for too long. And then, one time he stays away for a very long time.

The second part is told by Thomas himself; about the way he met the Queen and about his time in the Faerie Court which isn’t a friendly place to a human. The third part is narrated by Gavin’s wife Meg and the third by Elspeth.

I’ve heard people complain that despite the first person POV, the characters are all pretty distant. I felt that the narrators weren’t distant to my tastes but I can see how other people might feel differently. After all, they are indeed narrators; they are telling the story to the reader rather than allowing the reader access right into their thoughts. That’s why the secondary characters might feel rather cold, too. We never see what the narrator really thinks about them but just what s/he tells us. I rather liked Gavin, Elspeth, and Meg but Thomas felt more distant. I guess partly because the Elfland Court and the people there aren’t human so they can’t be described that way, either.

The Court had a definite impact on Thomas but I felt that he didn’t impact them or the Queen in the end. But I guess it’s to be expected that the little mortal can’t change much, or anything, in an immortal court.

The parts of the story that where set on Earth were well described and vivid. Unfortunately, Elfland didn’t feel as vivid to me.

Overall: I’d certainly recommend this to anyone who wants more thoughtful fantasy or fairy tale fantasy.

“But I couldn’t worry about Edwards’s morality. The only person I had to face in the mirror was me. The only moral dilemma I could solve was my own.”

Guilty Pleasures is part of the 2nds challenge and the ebook challenge. This is also the first in the Anita Blake –series.

This is the book that apparently started the urban fantasy –genre in the form that we see it today. I’m a longtime Buffy fan and there are some similarities here. However, there are also significant differences. For example, Buffy has an ensemble cast and has a lot of humor. Anita Blake is pretty much a lone wolf and the book has very little humor and the humor is quite dry and very black. The worlds are also very different. The supernatural is very much in the closet in the Buffy –series while here it’s out in the open and even legal. Also, Buffy in very much a teen series where the main characters are trying to find their own places in the world. Anita is an adult and the tone of the series resembles noir detective stories. The story is told in Blake’s first person voice.

Good: vampires as horror elements, the Church of Eternal Life
No-so-good:-
Bad: –

Anita Blake raises the dead for a living for Animators Inc. Here necromancers are called animators. Because the raising has to be done during the night, she usually works nights. She’s also known as the Executioner among the vampires because she has a license to kill them. However, in order to legally kill a vampire you need to have a kill warrant from the police.

At the start of the story, a newly turned vampire, Willie McCoy, tries to hire Blake but she refuses because she doesn’t work for vampires. Her boss isn’t happy about it. Neither is Willie’s boss.

Shortly, Blake and her friend Catharine go out to celebrate her bachelorette party. Catharine’s friend Monica has chosen the place which turns out to be a vampire strip club called “Guilty Pleasures”. There, Blake sees a very disturbing vampire show. It also seems the she is somewhat immune to the vampires’ hypnotizing powers because she’s an animator. However, Catharine falls under the spell in a very dangerous way. In return to keeping her friend alive, Blake has to agree to play a detective for the master vampire of the city: Nikolaos.

A number of very powerful vampires have been killed and Nikolaos wants Blake to find the culprit. Blake herself is not a detective but luckily her best friend Veronica Sims, Ronnie, is and Blake recruits her to do some investigating as well.

I really like it that here vampires are threatening monsters. Some of the characters obviously find them alluring, as is seen very early in the striptease scene, but Blake can see through it. I’m also fascinated and repulsed by the concept of the Church of Eternal Life where vampires recruit new ones in exchange for, well, eternal life. I can see how people would be tempted to join, especially non-religious people. On the other hand, there are groups such as Humans Against Vampires so not everyone is as fond of them.

I would like to see Blake and Ronnie together more because they have those rare friendships between women. Blake’s vampire-hunting friend, Death, was quite an entertaining and over-the-top-character. It would be interesting to see Blake and Death really on different sides sometimes.

Apparently the vampire Jean-Claude, who owns the strip club, will become a major romantic prospect later. That’s too bad. He seemed very much an Alpha male character. In other words, arrogant ass who thinks he’s gods’ gift to women and can’t take no for an answer. I don’t find these kinds of men appealing even in fiction. Also, he imposes his will on Blake and makes her his servant. I can’t really see any way for Blake to be attracted to him willingly.

To me Anita Blake is pretty clearly horror fantasy. The scene with the wererats early on and the way that Jean-Claude changed Blake without her knowledge or consent make that clear to me.

Oh, and at least this book doesn’t contain romance or sex.

Characters: 7, plot: 7, setting: 7
Overall: a solid 7

Good: Characters, tight writing, Kirin’s abilities, pacing
Not-so good: I want more setting, some modern assumptions put into a pre-industrial setting, too short!
Bad: –

Despite the name and the cover, this is a fantasy book. I would call it dark fantasy with elements of horror in it. This is part of my 2nds challenge and the ebook challenge.

I really liked the first book in this series, Blood Magic, which was just intense. This is somewhat less fast paced but that suits the story. Also, you don’t have to read the first book in order to make sense of this one which is always good.

Kirin is a scout in the Imperial Army which is increasingly desperately fighting the Mor. The Mor are alien beings who live below ground. Every once in a while they come to the surface in large masses and try to wipe out humankind. Kirin has lost her lover and many friends to the Mor.

She also has a secret which could get her killed: she’s a necromancer who can create undead things out of dead bodies. She calls them her sweetlings and before she considered them sort of her children. However, after she had a child, she swore that she would never use her powers again. She can also see the souls of the newly dead which uses the souls to create her undead. She also has the soul of her dead twin sister inside her. The sister makes comments with a voice only Kirin can hear.

Kirin and her friend Lia, who is a lighting mage, are on their way to the Imperial City where Lia’s father lives and where the war effort is being coordinated. Lia’s father is a high noble and also the leader of the elemental mages. During the journey through bitter winter, Kirin and Lia become lovers.

On the way, Kirin and Lia encounter a troop of soldiers fighting Mor. Lia and Kirin help them but afterwards Kirin gets a shock: she can see the souls of the dead Mor! The souls seem to hate and fear the humans – or maybe just Kirin. But she gets no answers from the mute souls.

Together the couple and the soldiers continue to the Imperial City which is under siege by the Mor. They manage to get inside. The city is quite a wonder to country-born Kirin. However, she has to constantly be on her guard against all others. Lia introduces her at court to scheming nobles which makes Kirin even more uncomfortable. At least, Kirin has her job as one of the City’s archers. However, then Kirin sees something on the streets of the city which reminds her of her sweetlings. Maybe she isn’t as unique as she thought she was?

Nights of Sin is mostly very quick paced and at the same time it’s very much a character centered tale. Kirin tries to adjust to life at court, has to reevaluate everything she knows about herself, and fight the deadly Mor at the same time. Kirin is a very strong character but she also has obvious vulnerabilities. In contrast, Lia has never had to hide her abilities as a lighting mage. She is used to a softer existence than Kirin. They make a very cute couple.

I mentioned in the no-so-good section that Cook puts some modern assumptions into his setting. One of them is that thin=rich and good. However, this can only happen when the poor have abundance to eat, when the food they eat is fattening (=lots of meat, cream, sugar…), and when they have desk jobs (=no manual labor). This is actually very rare in pre-industrial societies. Abundant food production just isn’t possible when whole towns starve after a poor harvest. In these societies, fat is the sign of wealth. (See! I told you I’m a settings freak!) However, this isn’t told in so many words but rather implied.

Another is that Kirin is the only female soldier we see and yet she doesn’t have to really prove herself. I find it a bit hard to believe that a society which is in the middle of a desperate war, has the luxury of turning down half of their potential fighting force. Sure, the vast majority of women are probably untrained but so are the majority of males. In fact, we even see some young men at the start of their training. The exclusion of women is even more galling when the Mor are known for killing everyone, including women and children. Then again there are women among the mages but I suspect that all of the mages are nobles or at least rich and the vast majority of women don’t have that luxury. Or the talent, for that matter. But these are really nitpicks.

This time we get a bit more information about the Mor which is welcome. Because Kirin is a necromancer, the book has some horror elements. Usually, I don’t care for horror but once again I was so engrossed with the story that they didn’t bother me (or maybe I’ve played so much table top role playing games that I don’t think of undead as horror). Fast-paced, engrossing, excellent!

Characters: 9, setting: 6 (on rather sparse info), plot 7, fun & excitement 9,5
Overall: 9,5

I decided to take part in this challenge, too. The rules can be seen here.

1. Anyone can join. You don’t need to have a blog to participate.

2. Read 12 books by authors that you have only read once. It doesn’t have to be a series.

3. You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009. Don’t start reading until January.

4. You may list your chosen books any time during the year. Change the list if needed.

My list:

Sharon Shinn: the Thirteenth House (Another second in the series.)
To Say Nothing of the Dog or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last
Garrett: Murder and Magic (I’ve read Too Many Magicans from him before.)
Naomi Novik: Throne of Jade (Second in the series.)
Kim Harrion: the Good, the Bad, and the Undead (Second in the series again.)
Cook: Nights of Sin (This is Cook’s second book and I rather enjoyed reading Blood Magic.)
Ellen Kushner: Thomas the Rhymer (I’ve only read Swordspoint from her.)
Lilith Saintcrow: A dead man rising (Second in the series)
Julie E. Czerneda: Ties of Power (second in a series)
Martin A. Mangel: Star Trek: Titan: Red King (Another second in the series)
Laurel K. Hamilton: Guilty Pleasures (I’ve only read the first in the Merry Gentry series from her.)
Kage Baker: Sky Coyote (Another second in the series.)

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