2nds challenge 2012


The second book in the series about Jill Kismet, a demon hunter.

Publication year: 2008
Page count: 329
Format: ebook
Publisher: Orbit

I haven’t read the first book in this series but I had no problem following the story.

Jill Kismet is a demon hunter, working together with the police of the city of Santa Luz and the Catholic Church. However, most of the humans don’t know that powerful demons hunt them. Even some of the Church officials don’t really believe that Jill is on their side. After all, the official Church doctrine is that even though they train hunters, the hunters are damned because they deal with demons.

Someone is murdering prostitutes in a gruesome manner and Jill is called on the case. The prostitutes’ eyes and most of their intestines have been carved out. Jill and the police believe that the demon responsible eats them. At the same time, Jill finds out that the local Church has been withholding information from her. One of their seminary students has been infected with a demon and Jill has to exorcise it. Demons shouldn’t be able to get near the seminary students, so Jill is very unhappy with that.

Earlier, in the first book I think, Jill was forced to make a bargain with a powerful hellbreed named Perry. He looks like a human but is not. He runs a local underworld cafe, the Monde Nuit, and makes deals with humans. Apparently, Jill got supernatural strength, speed, and healing ability from the deal. She has a scar on her wrist as a mark of the deal and that scar seems to pulse with sex magic pretty much all the time. She also makes smaller deals with Perry for information and she pays them with hours spent alone with him. She’s very nervous about them beforehand because Perry forces her to do things that she enjoys and yet hates herself for enjoying.

The world is pretty grim, full of prostitutes, pimps, drug users, people who make deals with demons to get a slightly better life. The police are often swamped with cases and faced with supernatural horrors they can’t deal with. Jill and her fellow hunters are their only hope of destroying the monsters. The murder scenes are very gory. The story is told in first person POV.

Before Jill became a demon hunter, she was a street prostitute. Her demon hunter mentor saved her and took her as a lover, too. But that mentor, Mikhail, is dead and Jill has to rely on her own wits and skills to survive. She has a new lover, Saul, who is a were, who can transform into a cougar. He’s very possessive and a good working partner because he already knows a lot about the supernatural world. Their relationship seems solid to me but sometimes Jill wonders why Saul is attracted to her in the first place. Apparently, weres are usually repulsed by hellbreed and the people they make deals with.

All characters curse a lot which actually feels pretty adolescent to me, especially when they’re cursing to terrified victims. Even though Jill acts all tough outside, on the inside, she’s sometimes insecure. While she doesn’t doubt her abilities, she doubts her intellect and her decisions and Saul’s feelings for her. She hates Perry, especially when he shows up to save her in fights.

In addition to Perry and Saul, the secondary characters are police officers, who actually appreciate Jill for doing her work, and pimps and their victims.

I’ve read Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine books before and unfortunately, the main characters seem pretty similar: they’ve both been horribly wounded in the past, both physically and mentally, and seem to be stronger because of that. However, Dante has far more trust issues than Jill.

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The second book of the Outcast Chronicles.

Publication year: 2012
Page count: 509
Format: print
Publisher: Solaris

290 years ago the peace accords were signed between the True-men (whom the T’En call Mieren) and the powerful and long-lived T’Enatuath (whom the humans call the Wyrd). The two races have co-existed in an uneasy peace since then. Sometimes half-bloods (whom the T’En call the Malaunje and the humans call the Wyrd) are born to two True-men parents. According to the accords, the True-men have to give up the half-blood infants to the T’En.

Now, King Charald has broken the accords. His troops have attacked T’En estates and his army besieges the T’En Celestial City. He hates and fears the T’En and is convinced his god, the Warrior, wants him to slaughter them all. He tolerates his half-blooded first born son Sorne only because he thinks that Sorne receives visions from the Warrior. Sorne has realized that his loyalty is wasted on king Charald and has come to sympathized with the T’En. Sorne’s position as King Charald’s adviser is precarious because he is a Malaunje and many of the powerful Barons don’t trust him. Still, Sorne is now actively trying to help the T’En and Malaunje people he comes across and he even tries to warn Imoshen, when possible. However, King Charald is an old man and his health is failing. The Barons are already plotting to secure their own power after the king’s death.

Because King Charald has brought war to the Celestial City, the sisterhoods and brotherhoods of the T’En have to choose a causare, a leader who can negotiate the new accords with the Mieren King. The brotherhoods are always competing against each other for higher stature and even now they can’t unite against a single candidate even though there are nine voting all-fathers to six all-mothers. So, the sisterhoods’ candidate, Imoshen, is elected. Imoshen was raised outside the T’En society and has proven to be very powerful so she has a lot of enemies but fortunately also friends. Causare doesn’t have the power to force anyone to do what she says so Imoshen has to use all of the diplomatic skills and her gift to read other people’s emotions to do her job. At first, King Charald wants the T’En to leave forever from Chalcedonia on ships and the brotherhoods are fiercely against that. Imoshen has to remind them that if they continue to fight, the warriors aren’t the ones who will pay the price but the people on the estates and in the end the Mieren will overwhelm them with sheer numbers. But when Sorne brings word that the king intends to slaughter all of the T’En instead of letting them leave, Imoshen will have to find a way to protect her whole race.

Things inside the brotherhoods aren’t well, either. Tobazim is a young warrior who came to a brotherhood looking for stature and fame. Instead he found a place where the all-father rules with fear and honor has no place in the brotherhood. He and his closest friend will have to be careful and follow orders as well as they can.

In addition to these three, one of the point-of-view characters is King Charald’s high priest, Zabier, who is a tragic character. At a young age, he was thrust into the position of being the Father’s voice, who supposedly saw visions from the god Father. In order to keep his mother and Malaunje sister safe, Zabier had to play along. He had to serve a despotic king before King Charald conquered Chalcedonia and had to do terrible things which he has had to justify to himself. Even though Zabier and Sorne grew up together, Zabier now fears and loathes Sorne because Sorne threatens Zabier’s positions and therefore his family.

Exile also introduces a new family. They don’t live in the Celestial City; in fact the family’s adults were Malaunje lovers who ran away so that they could be together. The Malaunje have five children and their eldest son is a pure T’En whose magical gift is starting to manifest. Unfortunately, there’s no-one to teach him how to control it so the family will have to face a tragic decision: stay and let young Ronnyn’s gift possibly hurt someone or return to the City where the parents will most likely be punished and the family torn apart.

Even though the T’En squabble amongst themselves, most of them want to protect their own and the Malaunje. They also value the lives of their own people more than money or other valuables. When Imoshen realizes that the Mieren might kill her people who are still on the estates, she gives orders to pay for every live T’En and Malaunje who are brought to her. Unfortunately, in their greed the Mieren do atrocities to get as many captives as possible.

The Mieren are shown is a very bad light; there doesn’t seem to be any redeemable characters among them. The vast majority of them seem to be so greedy that they don’t think twice about robbing and killing the Malaunje and are looking forward to looting anything possible from the T’En. They are also rapists and seem to enjoy abusing women. The Mieren women feel like victims to me because they don’t have any legal rights and are so dependent on their abusing men. The queen isn’t exempt. In fact, because she is an important figure, men seem to be more eager to manipulate and abuse her. A word of warning: out of the three female POV characters, two are raped during the book.

The first book on the series, Besieged, was dark in atmosphere but Exile is even darker. The Mieren rape and kill with impunity and families are destroyed because of greed. The plot moved at a relentless pace. Exile covers a much shorter space of time than Besieged because the plot moves quicker.

Exile is an excellent and intense continuation to Besieged. Daniells is once again ruthless to her characters. They have suffered so much that I’m almost hoping for them to get a break in the last book, but that seems unlikely.

Publication year: 2012
Page count: 126
Format: ebook

Wander Home is set in an afterlife. The story centers on Eleanor and her family: her daughter Cassandra, grand-mother Amanda, her parents Sarah and Jack. All her life, Eleanor has been restless, looking for something or someone she can’t find. She desperately wanted a child but even Cassandra wasn’t enough to satisfy Eleanor’s wander lust. Essentially, she abandoned Cassie to her parents and grandparents to raise. Also, Eleanor has never been able to find a man for herself. She was able to find a man for a while but eventually she would leave him. Unfortunately, Cassie’s life was spent waiting for her mother to return. She never did.

Then, Cassie, Sarah, Jack, and Amanda died in a car accident and Eleanor was even more miserable than before. A few month later, Eleanor died of a heart attack. Her family has been waiting in the afterlife to welcome her. But things aren’t easy, not for Eleanor and not for Cassie.

At the start of the book, Amanda meets Eleanor and shows her around in the afterlife. Eleanor has to accept what has happened to her but she’s anxious about meeting her parents and daughter.

The afterlife is very different from any religious descriptions, at least as far as I know. The people can age themselves how ever they want, even to an age they didn’t reach when they were alive. Cassie died when she was just six years old, but here she can age herself to teenager, to her thirties, and older. When people change their ages, their emotional and intellectual maturity changes, too. So, when Cassie is afraid that her mother is going to leave her again, she changes herself back to a frightened four year old. The people can also visit their own memories or other people’s memories. Since there are people from the whole of human history in this afterlife, there are a lot of places and times to visit. Jack and Sarah traveled all over the world and I loved to visit all of the places with them. The descriptions were vivid.

The people also experience new things and grow here; they aren’t stuck to anything they did or didn’t do while they were alive. For the most part, anyway.

Wyle writes this story without once referring to spirits or souls. Religion is touched on only near the end. The story is centered on Eleanor trying to come to terms with the consequences of her actions. The people around her are very supportive and forgiving; they are trying to help her heal. Cassie has already made friends with other people and has a life of her own, yet of course she’s also trying to understand her mother. There’s a twist in the story, too. Unfortunately, I saw that one coming.

The writing is very clear even though with a setting like this, it would have been easy to lose the reader. I was never lost about which character’s memories I was reading or about whose point-of-view it was experienced from. The writing is just lovely.

The author kindly gave me a review copy.

The seventh book in the “A Time To” Star Trek: TNG series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 341 and an excerpt from the next book
Publisher: Pocket Books

Enterprise-E and three other star ships are on Tezwa, supposedly to keep the peace on a planet torn by terrorists who are lead by the power mad former prime minister Kinchawn. In reality, the Starfleet ships are there to prevent the secrets on the planet to see the light of day. A small group of Federation politicians, who are now the president and his chief of staff, hid powerful new nadion cannons on Tezwa and if that became public knowledge, the Klingons would start a war against the Federation. Unfortunately for said politicians, La Forge and his engineer are already suspicious of their findings.

The military is still loyal to Kinchawn and they are using guerrilla attacks against the Starfleet officers, Federation relief workers, and even against their own people who of the “wrong” ethnic origin. The crew of the Enterprise-E has to fight a desperate battle against the well-armed and numerous guerillas.

This book has lots of graphic scenes of people fighting and dying. Most of the secondary characters introduced in the previous book die gruesomely. To me the relentless violence felt very depressing and unlike most Star Trek books. Also, we’re constantly reminded that Starfleet is crippled by their moral rules of war when confronted by an enemy who doesn’t follow them. I think we already saw that with the Dominion war. The aim is, of course, to show how brutal and pointless war is. Again.

Sadly, the characters also lose their faith in their leaders. Pretty much all of the politicians in the book are corrupt and willing to sacrifice other people’s lives to further their own agenda. If the true goal of the conspiracy is to avert a war with the Klingons, surely president Zife could have gone to Martok on his hands and knees and confessed to being the only one to blame and to subject himself to the Klingon justice system. But no. He had to sacrifice the lives of thousands of people whom he’s supposed to lead and protect. Bah. When are they going to elect Picard or Janeway as president? Surely admirals and star ship captains should be public figures and so someone should suggest it, at least.

A more appropriate name for this book would have been “A Time for War” or “A Time to Kill”. No healing here.

A collection of nine short stories in the Gothic horror genre.

Publication year: 1914
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2012
Format: print
Finnish translator: Inkeri Koskinen
Page count: 201
Finnish Publisher: Tammi

The stories:

“Dracula’s Guest”
“The Judge’s House”
“The Squaw”
“The Secret of the Growing Gold”
“A Gipsy Prophecy”
“The Coming of Abel Behenna”
“The Burial of the Rats”
“A Dream of Red Hands”
“Crooken Sands”

The first story is supposedly an extract from the manuscript of Dracula. Some sites disclaim it but a note from Stoker’s wife is included here. The narrator’s name isn’t mentioned but he seems to be Jonathan Harker who has a misadventure on his way to Dracula’s castle.

All of the stories are horror or mystery and most of them have supernatural elements, although in a few stories they are explained away. A few of them also have romantic elements. Most of the stories worked for me although some of them have comedic elements which I suspect are not intentional; for example in “The Judge’s House” the main character is warned that drinking too much strong tea will affect his nerves badly.

The story “Squaw” has an eccentric American who reminds me of Quincey Morris in the novel Dracula. Many of the stories underline the nature of Englishmen as brave, adventurous, and loyal but also as vain and stubborn. Unfortunately, the women are a far cry from Mina Harker; mostly they are delicate flowers who are quick to faint or have a hysteric fit. Some of the stories have first person narrator and some are told in the third person. However, in every story the main character is a British male.

The stories are old fashioned horror, without much splatter or violence. They rely more on atmosphere and psychological effects.

The Finnish translation has the translator’s introduction about Stoker’s life and influences. That was fascinating to read about.

The fifth book in the “A Time To” Star Trek: TNG series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 279 and an excerpt from the next book
Publisher: Pocket Books

The story continues right from the previous book, A Time to Love.

Enterprise-E and her crew are on planet Delta Sigma IV where two species, the Bader and the Dorset, have lived in peace for decades and now have become aggressive towards both each other and Starfleet personnel on the planet. The people are rioting and fighting, and Picard sends his security people to try to pacify the situation but the Starfleet personnel are vastly outnumbered. Also, the Bader and Dorset are not used to aggressive behavior and so they don’t have effective local police forces.

Doctor Crusher has found out that the reason why the two aggressive people have been living so peacefully side-by-side, is that a plant life on the planet is drugging them; subduing their violent tendencies and also their creativity. Crusher is working on a cure and wondering if she has a right to change a whole species. She’s also (still) thinking about leaving the Enterprise and taking position as the head of Starfleet Medical again.

Kyle Riker, Will’s father, has been on the planet but disappeared when the violence started. Will searched for him during the previous book and has now found him. However, Kyle doesn’t have answers for his son. Kyle is determined to find the man who started the violence and he also wants to solve the whole problem himself. He convinces Will to join him. Will is pondering about his own life, a possible promotion and his possible future with Troi.

In addition to the regular crew, Engineer Anh Hoang is significant POV character. She’s struggling to continue with her life after her family died in the Dominion War.

Unfortunately, the plot depends on people not using standard Starfleet technology and behaving otherwise stupidly. Kyle has a way to block Enterprise’s sensors from tracking himself and Will. Security personnel constantly rush into burning buildings to look for people rather than use tricorders and transporters. They also engage in hand-to-hand combat rather than use phasers. There’s a lot of repetition and the two books could have easily cut down to one. Kyle’s actions also don’t make sense. He’s supposed to be a tactician and yet he thinks that he can alone solve problems that the whole Enterprise crew can’t.

Unfortunately, the Bader and Dorset weren’t very sympathetic and so their problem isn’t engaging. They blame Federation constantly, even when a crowd of them can see that the people bombing the hospital are they own people and not the Starfleet security officers who are trying to *rescue* people from the burning hospital. Maybe their intelligence and cognitive abilities were over ridden by the aggression, or something. Their leaders are a joke who don’t get anything done and about halfway through the book I was ready to leave them to their fate.

(The repetition actually worked in my favor this time because I had a very stressful time at work when I was reading this and had trouble concentrating.)

The second book in a duology of dark SF books. The first is Darkland.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 292
Publisher: TOR

Bloodmind has four point-of-view characters who are all written in the first person. They are all women and on different planets. I think Vali is in her thirties but the other two are much older. So, I’d call this book quite a rarity among SF.

Vali Hallsdottir is on her home planet Muspell and her story starts right after Darkland ended. She’s just returned to the headquarters of Skald, the intelligence organization she works for. She’s a assassin for Skald. Someone has just brutally killed Idhunn, Vali’s closest friend and the leader of Skald. Then a Darkland organization called the Morrighanu conquers the Skald’s headquarters. Along with everyone else, Vali is taken prisoner. The Morrighanu probe her mind, essentially mind torturing her. With the help of the selk, Vali escapes. The selk take her to Darkland where the selk want Vali to team up with another Darklander whom we saw in the previous book. The Darklander has his own reasons for helping Vali but doesn’t tell them just yet. Vali agrees, reluctantly.

On Mondhile, an old warrior woman feels that she’s near death and so she leaves her clan for the wilderness. She’s hoping that she will find her long lost sister before she dies and she’s also visiting the Moon Moor. When she was young, she went to the Moon Moor and found a strange, high-tech cave underneath it. The Mondhile clans don’t know much technology and the clans ofter fight each other.

One point-of-view characters simply refers to herself as “I” and the chapter headings don’t give any clue to her identity. She thinks herself as a weapon.

On Nhem, men have genetically engineered their women to not be sentient. However, some women manage to awaken and escape their brutal live. They live away from the male dominated cities, in a small colony called the Edge and from time to time, other women manage to escape and travel there. Sedra is the oldest woman living there and the others treat her as their unofficial leader. She’s starting to feel her age because she can’t do anymore some of the things she used to do.

About four hundred women live in the old city. They don’t know who built it or why the builders left but the city is full of images which might depict tall women, and the current settlers call them the goddesses. They don’t have much technology or medicines and the land isn’t fertile, so living is hard.

The Nhemish women are all short, dark haired and dark eyed. One day, a woman with fair skin and hair comes to them. She has made the same dangerous trek as all the others. Sedra briefly fears that she might be a spy but she is still welcomed to the community.

The conditions that the women used to live in are horrific. Perhaps it’s just good that they can’t remember most of their lives before they became sentient and were able to escape. One woman tells that she remembers that the man of the house (called a House Father) killed his slave woman (you can hardly call her a wife) over a broken cup and the woman’s sons dragged her body out laughing. Some years back it was forbidden by law to give girl children names; now they are named for example Boy-Next-Time and Luck-To-Come. Frankly, if the whole book had been about Nhem I don’t think I could have finished it.

On the other hand, I was fascinated by the concept of people who are sentient only part of the time. With the women in Nhem, some of them can become sentient at some point but were apparently born without it. We get a couple of descriptions of awakening sentience and it doesn’t seem to be something the women themselves do. The women are illiterate and also don’t understand language that the men speak.

On Mondhile, things are somewhat similar. Children are born without sentiense and they are left in the wilderness to fend for themselves at six months old. Around 14, they become sentient by coming near a village and the village’s technological defences somehow trigger it. Also, the Mondhile people have an ability called the bloodmind during which they lose their sentience again for a brief time. This can happen in battle but happens also during a yearly event called the masque. Most of the people don’t have any control over it.

The third example is on planet Muspell. The selk, a sea dwelling people/animals, are sentient only part of the year.

I’m not sure I buy sentience being just an ability that can be turned on and off but it’s a fascinating thought. I’m also not sure that I buy that the women of Nhem can do household chores well without self-awareness. Cooking, for example, would have to be pretty basic and mending clothing would also require knowing what you’re doing. To be fair, what we see women doing is scrubbing floors, serving food, carrying things, and being prostituted.

The atmosphere of the book is somewhat different from the previous book, Darkland, which was a more intimate story of Vali confronting her past and Ruen confronting his present. In Bloodmind, on the other hand, the focus is on the future of several groups of peoples.

The pacing is quick, as is usual with Williams, with chapters alternating between pov characters. But Vali still has time to wonder about the motives of the other characters, not to mention her ancient ancestors who started this genetic experimentation.

The ending is somewhat depressing, for me at least.

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