action heroine


The second book in the five-part Vatta’s War science fiction series.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Running time: 14 hours and 21 minutes
Narrators: Cynthia Holloway

This book starts soon after then first book, “Trading in Danger”. After she was drummed out of military academy, Kylara Vatta, Ky, is now the captain of a small and old trade space ship. She survived her first voyage on it, but not without losses. Ky refuses to return to the arms of her family, the wealthy Vatta who have made their fortune through interstellar trade. Instead, she’s determined to make it on her own, no matter how boring it’s going to be. But then someone tries to rob her ship and she’s attacked in public.

Someone has launched an attack against Vatta Transport Ltd. Their home is bombed killing many of the family members, including some very close to Ky. The attacks also sever interstellar communications, the ansibles. Furthermore, the government of Slotter Key is blaming the Vatta family and so shutting down their resources. Many of the other trading companies also feel that Vatta is to blame and refuse to deal with them.

The surviving family sends one of the own to find Ky and to find out who their enemy is. Ten years ago, Stella made a grievous error and was branded as the family black sheep ever since. She’s the most unlikely person to investigate anything, so she’s sent. However, she’s a determined and level-headed woman. She has already learned to work undercover, as a spy of sorts, and now her skills are put to a test. Her former lover Rafe soon joins her. He’s a lovable rogue with plenty of talents and secrets of his own.

Ky’s familiar cast returns. I enjoyed them more this time around although their attitudes towards Ky don’t change. She hires a couple of new men and while I could see what’s going to happen with (at least) one of them, it was still a nice ride. I also really enjoyed Ky and Stella’s interactions. However, Ky doesn’t really have time to mourn her family and the story has very convenient coincidences.

This was a nice continuation to the series and definitely raises the stakes for Ky and the surviving Vatta family. Now, Ky has to work with no safety net which she had in the first book.

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Collects Marvel’s Star Wars: Princess Leia issues 1-5.

Writer: Mark Weid
Artists: Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson

The comic starts right at the end of A New Hope. Leia has just given a very short eulogy to her own world, Alderaan, and her adoptive parents. One of the fighter pilots, Evaan, who is also from Alderaan, doesn’t like how cold Leia seems. There’s a large price on Leia’s head and the generals wants to keep her safe on the new base. Also, the Empire wants to round out all the surviving Aldraanians. But Leia has a plan of her own: she’s going to travel around and gather all the remaining Alderaanians and take them to someplace safe where they can continue their life style of peace and arts. To do that she needs to sneak off the Rebel base. She recruits the reluctant pilot Evaan and R2-D2.

Some of the Aldraanians are happy to see their princess, but not all. And the Empire is dogging them at every turn.

This was a nice quick read which moves at a decent clip. However, we don’t get any new insight about Leia. Which is fine by me, I enjoy reading about her anyway. But the ending was too abrupt and it’s clear that a mission like this isn’t going to be accomplished in just five issues. The story has a nice subplot about two sisters.

We don’t actually know much about Alderaan through the movies. Just that it’s a peaceful place which doesn’t have any weapons. Yet, Leia is no pacifist: she fights right alongside the others and is clearly trained to use weapons. And since this is a Star Wars comic, there’s a quite a bit of fighting in the story line, in addition to sneaking around.

The Alderaan in this comic is noted for arts. Many of the surviving Aldraanians are peaceful artists. But some of them are far from peaceful and defend themselves aggressively. A few of them are even traitors, so we get quite a variety of Alderaanins in the story. We also get a small glimpse into Leia’s childhood where she was reared to be a hereditary monarch. Her parents are shown as wise and respected, which we already knew from the prequels.

Evaan is the other notable Alderaanian in the comic. As a fighter pilot, she’s clearly no pacifist, either. It was nice to see her development in the story. She starts with reluctantly honoring Leia because of her parents and status. Of course, this being an SW comic, you know that’s not the case at the end.

Oh, I really like Dodsons’ art. It flows smoothly. However, the Dodsons have their own style with faces and Leia doesn’t look much like Carrie Fisher.

The second book in the historical superhero series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 308

The book starts two years after the climatic ending of the first book, Serpent’s Sacrifice. It’s 1962 and Alice lost a lot at the end of the previous book. Her two best friends, and fellow superheroes, have left, her mentor is dying, and Alice herself was crippled. During the two years she’s managed to whip her body back into full mobility but emotionally she’s in a bad place. She’s wracked by guilt because she couldn’t stop her nemesis Phantasm’ horrible scheme, and a lot of innocent people died. She’s also deeply hurt by the way her friends abandoned her and already mourning her mentor. She did inherit a large business and the wealth from her mentor, but she has to pretend to be a clueless heiress during the day. Her friend Rose is part of the civil right movement, but Alice is too obsessed with catching Phantasm to notice it. Alice’s new trainer and secretary Miss Jones is very capable; she even goes undercover to spy on Phantasm and trains Alice mercilessly.

Powered children are being born every day and Phantasm and the cabal she works with have nefarious plans for them. They’re kidnapping some of the kids. When a couple of kids disappear from an orphanage Alice is funding, Alice feels responsible and tries to find out what happened to them. At the same time, she’s working to undermine Phantasm’s plans.

Serpent’s Bite is a more violent and darker book than the previous one. Emotionally Alice is in a dark place and some people die despite her best efforts. Also, her friend Lionel seems to be in league with Alice’s nemesis. Rose and Alice’s relationship is also strained.

The characters are well-developed. Alice herself doesn’t have any powers but she has a Kevlar suit and her batons and martial artist’s skills. Rose also make a couple of other gadgets to her. Rose has her own passions, too, she isn’t just a gadget inventor. Uncle Logan and the healer Gerard are also well-drawn.

The story was fast-paced and had some surprises. I really liked most of the book except for the romance elements. However, there were far less romance elements than in the previous book. While the story is mostly told from Alice’s third person point-of-view, there are a couple of short chapters from her nemesis’ POV which told us nicely what the opposition was doing.

I had fun figuring out the references to comics. The mansion where Alice now lives is, of course, a nod to Avengers’ and Xavier’s mansions. Some very familiar names also popped up: Mrs. Frost, Mr. Marsden, Mr. Parker, and of course Uncle Logan. Of course, the whole mentor/student thing is an older troupe than comics and so is going undercover in high society (shades of Zorro here).

I thoroughly enjoyed this second book and recommend the series to any superhero fan.

The first book in a superhero series set in the 1950s US.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 487

The story starts in 1947 when Alice Seymour is 10. She lives with her mom and her abusive father. He’s a former soldier and apparently had traumatic experiences in a war and that’s why he beats his wife. Alice is afraid of him and spends as little time at home as possible. She hangs out with her best friends, Lionel and Marco. They all three also run away from the local bullies. One day, all changes. Alice’s mom is killed in a shoot-out at the diner where she works. Alice’s afraid to go home and instead spends the day with Marco’s family. When her father finally gets her home, he’s furious and starts to beat her. But suddenly, there are voices from nowhere. Then two people, young boys, burst in. One of them has shadows around him. They are able to beat Alice’s father and scare him so much that her father runs away.

Alice’s mother’s sister, Aunt Diana, and her husband Logan take Alice to their home. Alice’s mother didn’t approve of Diana’s lifestyle as a business woman and so Alice doesn’t know Diana. However, aunt Diana and uncle Logan love her and give her a real home where she can read as much as she wants and she’s even able to go to college.

When Alice is 21, in 1959, she’s just graduated with a business degree. Diana owns Atlas bookstore and she also runs various charities. When Aunt Diana is brutally murdered, Alice wants to get to bottom of why and who. She finds out more than she thought possible.

This is the origin story of the Serpent, a costumed vigilante who doesn’t have powers. However, Alice is a trained martial artist and has very durable costume and tranquillizer darts which she calls Serpent’s Bite. She started to train as a martial artist almost as soon as she moved to her aunt’s place because her aunt was a martial arts instructor and Alice never wants to be helpless again. But she gets the costume and advice from another person who used to be a superhero and is now advising Alice.

Alice is a very determined and passionate person. When she comes to live with Diana, she’s determined never to be as helpless as she was in front of her father, and so she starts to train. She’s fierce and wants to protect people. She’s also frustrated by the limits that the society around her put on (wealthy) women. Most girls want to get married and become housewives, and Alice scorns them.

She quickly gets a team around herself. American Steel is stronger and more durable than humans. His partner Shadow Master is able to hear people’s feelings and affect them. They are working as local vigilantes before Alice becomes a hero but later agree to work with her. Also, non-vigilante people help them.

The three of them take down local thugs but also the local drug trade which turns out to be a lot more dangerous than they thought at first. In classic comics style, super powers are given a pseudo-scientific explanation, but of course they’re not really possible.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It a lot of superhero elements and they’re used wonderfully. Because it’s set in the past, it also explores elements of racism and sexism; one of Alice’s friends, Rose, is a black woman and despite the fact that she’s brilliant, she’s not allowed to go to college. Also, Alice’s past isn’t just backstory; it comes to haunt her.

The book had pretty much only one element which I didn’t care for: the love/attraction triangle between Alice and the two male heroes. She’s oblivious to their attraction to her and encourages both of them. The men are best friends but are jealous about Alice. They start out as quite protective of her but end up more or less accepting her into the team.

The book ends in a cliffhanger.

The third and final book in the series about Greek gods in modern times.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 16 and 30 minutes
Narrator: Jordanna Max Brodsky and Robert Petkoff

The book begins six months after the end of the previous book, Winter of the Gods, which parted our heroes. Selene, the goddess Artemis’ modern form, is looking for her father Zeus. The king of the gods is almost powerless and enfeebled. He was kidnapped by the enemy who was revealed in the previous book. He wants to bring about an age of humanity by killing all the remaining Greek deities, so Selene’s whole extended family is in danger. The enemy’s also a Pater Patrum to a Mithraist cult so his has a lot of fanatical underlings to help him, but Selene isn’t alone, either. Flint (the modern-day Hephaestus) is with her. He apparently has been long in love with her but while she has been thinking that she should move on from Theo and form a relationship with Flint, she hasn’t been able to do so and doesn’t really want to, either. Flint is able to help Selene with both weapons and equipment and also with planning.

Her former lover Theo thinks that Selene is dead, just like Selene wanted. She thought he would soon fall for a human and lead a happy human life, safe from immortal enemies. Instead, his experiences with the supernatural has made him think that he can bring Selene back from the dead. Unfortunately, that will mean his own death but he’s planning to keep that brief. Scooter, or Hermes, is helping him despite knowing that Selene is alive. Also, Theo’s best friend Ruth is reluctantly helping him.

Selene’s quest takes her and her allies from the sewers of the Vatican to modern Greece. I really enjoyed the descriptions of the places and all the mythology and science which were part of the story. I’d love to visit those places someday.

Throughout the whole series it was also fascinating to see how Brodsky had modernized the deities and made them, well, more palatable to a modern audience, Artemis herself especially. Selene muses a few times who she was different during the ancient times but doesn’t really want to return to that older self. She seems quite content to be the protector of women rather then a goddess who demands human sacrifices. The other goddesses and gods, too, are modernized and humanized in ways I rather enjoyed.

I greatly enjoyed Theo’s circle of scientist friends: Ruth, Gabrielle, and Minh Lo. The new goddesses in the book are also a delight.

Unfortunately, I really didn’t like how Selene treated Theo in the previous book and their relationship isn’t much better in this one. In the previous book, Theo wanted a relationship with Selene and pursued her even though she was cold and uncaring towards him. Now, Selene misses Theo and wants him back. I think she thinks more about him now than ever when they were together. It’s too much drama for me especially when paired with Flint, or Hephaestus’ unrequited love for Selene. She and the other deities don’t really have powers anymore, either.

This was an enjoyable end to the series. The ending especially was fast-paced and the book surprised me a couple of times.

The second book in the alternate world thriller Roma Nova series. I strongly recommend reading the first book, Inceptio, first because the characters and their relationships are introduced there.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 and 54 minutes
Narrator: Caitlin Thorburn

Perfiditas starts seven years after the end of Inceptio. Karen Brown is now a Roma Nova citizen and has fully embraced her life as a member of the highly politically powerful Mitela family, as Carina Mitela. She’s also a captain in Roma Nova’s elite military force, the Praetorian Guard Special Forces (PGSF). She’s also married to Conrad(us) and they have three kids. Their life is complicated by the fact that Conrad is Carina’s boss in work but otherwise as a member of the Mitela family, Carina is Conrad’s social superior. Conrad has also other children from his previous union with none other than the Imperatrix herself.

Someone shows Carina’s emergency token to the Guard and when Carina hurries to meet her, for her surprise she finds out Mossia who is extremely worried about an employee, Aidan, whom she’s also been sleeping with. Aidan has apparently left her leaving behind a strange note. Both Mossia and Aidan are behaving very strangely, and Carina starts to investigate Aidan. The clue leads her on the trail of a plot to overthrow the Nova Roman way of life. Meanwhile, Conrad has just been promoted to legate and the boss of the whole PGSF. This makes him a target for the conspirators, too.

Most of the book centers on a plot to overthrow the matriarchal leaders of the Roma Nova. They also threaten the Imperatrix’s and Conrad’s children. A couple of PGSF members are apparently part of the plot: one tries to stab Carina and another frames her. Carina realizes that she has far better chance of catching the plotters when she returns to her previous role as an underworld figure Pulcheria. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know whom she can trust so she doesn’t tell anyone at the PGSF. From the guards’ point-of-view, she has really turned traitor and while some of the criminal contacts still trust her, some are very suspicious.

The end of the book deals with the aftermath of Carina’s decisions. They threaten not only her career and professional relationships but her marriage and her family, as well.

The bad guys are frustrated because they’re denied political influence because of the gender and have decided to take over. However, the majority of the male characters in the book don’t feel that way, thankfully. This was a nice reversal of the trope of an entire gender rising up against the other. The plot is mostly fast paced with schemes and counterschemes following each other very quickly. In fact, I found them a bit confusing although that could be because I listened an audio book and didn’t concentrate on it fully. Politics also play a big part.

I was disappointed with Conrad. I expected him to trust Carina and support her fully. Instead, he’s suspicious of her motives and character. Indeed, it felt to me that he doesn’t really know her even after seven years together. At times, it felt to me that he (and some other officers) were more concerned with following regulations than getting the bad guys. In fact, Carina’s long-time friend Flavius (who was part of the same criminal organization as Pulcheria and now is also a PGSF officer) was the one who supported and helped Carina fully. He accompanied her back to the criminal world and faces the same charges as her. This actually perfectly fits their characters in the first book and creates more tension to Carina’s life, so I understand why Morton chose to write that.

Carina herself is an excellent character and action heroine. She’s smart and flexible in her thinking and isn’t afraid to bend the rules and take chances when needed. This is something that Conrad doesn’t do well and can sour their relationship.

Still, this was a very good continuation to the series and I’m definitely reading the next book, Successio.

A military thriller set in the near future.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: Lulu Publishing Services
Page count: 442 in GoodReads

Sarah Dharmawan is a highly competent police officer in the Indonesia police and also a member of Densus-88, Indonesia’s special forces counter-terrorism squad. She comes from a family of military officers.

At the start of the story Sarah is assigned to Britain to help bring down one of the largest drug Cartels in the world. There’s evidence that the Cartel has a drug lab in Indonesia even though it’s headed by Irish and British people. Sarah joins a group of people who come from all sorts of British and Irish police and military branches. They’re all used to working in secret and are highly competent and skilled. But their enemies are equally formidable.

The Cartel is made up of former soldiers, some of them even special forces soldiers. They also have one member who loves torturing men and women. A short time ago, they kidnapped one of the anti-terrorist group members and tortured her to death. They’re also not against killing or maiming innocent people to get what they want. Their favorite tactic is to snatch someone and torture them for information (or for fun…). That means that Sarah and her colleagues must be always vigilant and ready to defend themselves at all times.

But life isn’t just work for Sarah. Among her new colleagues is a man who both irritates and intrigues her.

The story is set in 2026 but I don’t think it has any actual science fiction elements. In 2020, Britain reduced the size of their armed forces a lot and that’s why many of the former soldiers have had to look employment elsewhere, including criminal circles.

Sarah is a highly competent action heroine. She’s proficient in firearms and unarmed combat and is in extremely good shape. She’s also a quick learner and a good leader. She speaks six languages and is extremely beautiful. She’s also a fitness model and men almost swoon when they see her. She’s always eager to learn new things and when she realizes that she’s made a mistake, she willingly admits it and learns better. As a policewoman she hates criminals and when she has to, she kills to defend herself and the people close to her. She’s ambitious and passionate at her work and is always working to excel at it. She’s also a mix-race character: her father is Indonesian and mother Spanish/English.

The book is written in present tense which heightens the tension, especially in combat scenes. It’s also written in third person omniscient point of view which felt a little strange at first to me. In this POV, the narrator can access any character’s thoughts and even give hints about what’s going to happen in the future. It’s not very common these days, so it was good to read something a bit different for a change. The vocabulary has a lot of military acronyms and British slang. Fortunately, there’s a glossary at the end.

The books stars with the bad guys torturing a woman to death. One of the bad guys really likes torture so there a couple of more torture scenes. The fights scenes are furious, and a lot of people get killed in this book. I was a bit surprised at first that Sarah’s colleagues execute their enemies after a fight, instead of getting them alive for questioning. But this book is really about war against drug dealers.

I really liked Sarah. She has a younger sister and older brother. I loved her relationship with them because very often action heroines are only children and even orphans. The other team members also grew on me quickly, as I love competent characters.

Some readers have said that the beginning is slow. It’s true that the first five chapters concentrate on setting the characters, the conflict, and the setting. However, this also means that when the fight scenes arrive, they’re furious and the stakes are high. I much more prefer that than reading a book where a fight scene (or any scene) is there just because a formula demanded it. When the fighting does start, the tension level doesn’t really ease off until the end. The book has also a very strong romantic element.

While the focus on tactics and guns certainly gave the book realism, I was sometimes a bit frustrated with them because I’m not a military person at all and it felt a bit too much. I also thought that the author, and the characters, focused a bit too much on Sarah’s looks. Otherwise, this was quite an enjoyable read with highly competent characters.

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