Cherie Priest

Wyrd and Wonder is a month-long celebration of all things fantasy hosted by Lisa, Imyril, and Jorie. The list of daily prompts can be found here.

One of the main reasons of why I love fantasy are the wonderful unreal locations, the more different from my life, the better. I do also read books set in generic Medieval settings or modern urban cities but I always prefer more exotic locations. Oh, and except for Cogman’s series, all of them are complete.

Amber by Roger Zelazny
First seen in “Nine Princes in Amber”. In this universe, there a just two contrasting real worlds: Amber and Chaos. All other worlds are just reflections of them. So, the people of Amber, more specifically the royal family, can walk anywhere in those other worlds, called the Shadows. The Shadows can be, and are, anything: one world is our modern world, the next a Star Wars type science fiction world. Quite a few are far less developed agrarian worlds. And the characters travel to many of these in just one book. First book: “Nine Princes in Amber”

Discworld by Terry Pratchett
Being a whole world (on the back of a turtle) Discworld, too, has many locations. Perhaps my favorite is the city of Ankh-Morpork which is suspiciously similar to London.
It’s a walled city with the river Ankh running through it. And Pratchett says it so much better:
“A city like Ankh-Morpork was only two meals away from chaos at the best of times.”
“It wasn’t that the city was lawless. It had plenty of laws. It just didn’t offer many opportunities not to break them.”
“Throat took a deep breath of the thick city air. Real air. You would have to go a long way to find air that was realer than Ankh-Morpork air. You could tell just by breathing it that other people had been doing the same thing for thousands of years “
Most Discworld books are stand-alones and they can be read in any order. I love the city watch books (first one: “Guards! Guards!”) and the witches books (first one: “Equal Rites”).

Menzoberranzan by R. A. Salvatore
The vast underground city of the drow, or the dark elves, is led by the Matriarchs of the most powerful families who are also high priestesses of the spider goddess Lolth. They are an evil and cruel race whose city is full of schemers and terrible places.
Not all Drizzt books are set in Menzoberranzan but the Dark Elf trilogy is. It follows Drizzt’s childhood and struggle to escape the city: “Homeland”, “Exile”, and “Sojourn”.

Divine Cities series by Robert Jackson Bennett
In Bennett’s series, divine beings literally lived on the Continent. They influence pretty much everything in the lives of their people. They also enslaved the city without a god to defend it, Saypur. However, 75 years go the people of Saypur rebelled and found a way to killed the divinities. They conquered what was left of the Continent after the divinities died. Now, strange this are happening on the continent again. The series focuses on two cities Bulikov in the first and third book and Voortyashtan in the second book. These are cities where natural laws didn’t apply when their patron gods were alive and when they left, things changed dramatically.
The trilogy is “City of Stairs”, “City of Blades”, and “City of Miracles”.

Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman
Somewhat reminiscent of Amber, this universe has many, many alternate worlds. They have different levels of technology and they’re also on different scales in the chaos/order spectrum. In chaotic worlds, magic is possible and might even be more prominent than science. Chaos is personified by the Fae and order by dragons. They’re powerful and hostile to each other and the Librarians try to stay neutral between them. The Librarians can travel from world to world using their Library which seems to exist in the middle of the worlds.
The first book is “Invisible Library”.

Temeraire series by Naomi Novik
In this world, dragons are huge and used for aerial combat instead of any sorts of airplanes. The Napoleonic wars are still going strong with lots of dragons on both sides. In England, the Dragon Corps are scorned not just by the other military branches but especially by civilians. Most people thing that dragons are just animals to be used, even though they can talk and are clearly intelligent. The dragon characters are great! Also, different cultures view dragons very differently. For example, in China dragons are hugely respected and they’re part of society, unlike in England.
The first book is “His Majesty’s Dragon” (or “Temeraire” in UK).

Seattle in the Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest
In this world, Seattle is a walled off-city where only the most desperate people live. The city has been tainted by gas which kills people and animates their bodies. The world around it has also changed, but I really enjoyed the claustrophobic Seattle when our heroine Briar Wilks must descent there, to look for her teenaged son. And added bonus is that Briar is a middle-aged heroine, who are still quite rare in fantasy.
The first book is “Boneshaker”.

Chief inspector Chen series by Liz Williams
While this series is set in the future, it has plenty of fantasy elements. Chen is a police officer in Singapore Three and he gets all the cases which have any supernatural elements. Soon enough, he gets a new partner Zhu Irsh, who is a demon from Chinese Hell. The case takes Chen to Hell. Even though most people don’t seem to really believe it, human souls (or at least the souls which lived and died in the Chinese culture because there are hints that European afterlife is somewhat different) go the Heaven or Hell according to how well the surviving members of the family have dealt with the Celestial and the Hellish bureaucracy. If the right permits are signed and offerings made, a soul should go to Heaven. However, it’s also possible to get special visas for a living human to visit Hell. Chen has one so that he can investigate cases.
The first book is “Snake Agent”.

Of course I must end this piece with one of the most weirdly wonderful fantasy worlds ever:
Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Full whimsy and delight, with a dash of more darker tones, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is deservedly a classic.

Oh dear, reminiscing about all this wonderful series, I now want to reread all of them. And I have such a huge stack of TBR books waiting.

The final book in the Clockwork Century series (at least so far).

Publication year: 2013
Format: print
Page count: 366
Publisher: TOR

This is the book where the ongoing Civil War in US comes to a head. The Union and the Confederate states have been in war for 20 long years. Texas is almost an independent state and boasts the best technology in the south.

Gideon Bardsley is a former slave and now an inventor. He’s invented and built a thinking machine called the Fiddlehead. However, some people are very threatened by the machine because men are sent to destroy it and kill him. Gideon manages to survive and most of his machine survives, too. He also manages to save most of the calculations his machine has done for the not-so-simple question of who will win this war. He seeks shelter with his patron, the former president Abraham Lincoln. He shows the Fiddlehead’s results to Lincoln. The results are frightening: neither North nor South will win because the rotters will kill everyone. Now, Gideon and his friends will have to find out who is trying to sabotage his work and also to convince people that not only are the rumors about the rotters real but they are a terrible threat.

Maria “Belle” Boyd is a former spy and now works for the Pinkerton’s detective agency, in Chicago. However, she’s nearly broke and miserable in the cold city so when Pinkerton himself gives her a mission which will take her back to the south, she’s happy to do so even though the client in none other than the former president Abraham Lincoln himself. Lincoln sends her to south, to find the evidence that proves Gideon’s machine is correct.

This is an alternate history where Lincoln survived the attack at the theatre but he’s confined to an electrical wheel chair. He’s still an educated and smart man (to say the least) and very respected by most people. The Union’s current president is Ulysses Grant, but he’s an old man who feels that he can’t trust the men closest to him, including the ministers. He drinks too much, too. But when Lincoln confronts him with the Fiddlehead’s evidence, Grant starts to really see the machinations around him and decides to stop them.

This is a more political book that than any of the previous ones, but is has no less action and adventure. Maria was introduced in the novella “Clementine” but the other POV characters are new. She’s a no-nonsense, capable woman who has acquired many un-ladylike skills in her years as a spy for the Confederacy. She uses society’s rules when they serve her and ditches them when they don’t. Gideon is brilliant but abrasive. He has little patience with politics or scheming.

Fiddlehead is a good final book. It ties up the underlying plotlines about the war and the rotters satisfyingly. However, we see only a few of the familiar characters from the previous books, so their fates are still left open. But Priest has already written another novella set in this world (Jacaranda) so we might see more of Mercy Lynch, Briar Wilkes, and the others in the future.

The fourth book in the Clockwork Century series (including the novellas).

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 366
Publisher: Tor

Rector Sherman has just turned eighteen and the orphanage where he’s grown up will have to kick him out. He doesn’t really know what to do because he doesn’t have many useful skills. So far, he’s mainly conned people out of their money, sold drug called sap, and also used sap himself. He’s also haunted by a ghost of a kid he sent to die. However, that kid wasn’t using sap; Rector helped him get inside the walled city of Seattle. With nothing else to do, on the eve of his birthday, he collects his meager belongings, steals food from the orphanage, and heads to Seattle. He has some notion that he’ll be able to talk straight with the people who make the sap and take a bigger cut – if he survives the Blight gas and the walking rotters.

However, things aren’t that easy. The people of Seattle have divided strongly into groups which don’t really care for each other. The Chinese men, who don’t speak much English, the Doornails who oppose the Stationers. The Stationers are mostly the drug makers and more dangerous bandits. Also, Rector finds out that something else than the walking dead is stalking humans.

Rector isn’t a pleasant POV character and not just because he’s an addict. He’s also always looking to profit himself at the expense of others. He’s also lazy and the only ambition his has is his next fix. And yet, the moral choices he has to make are quite easy and it’s strangely easy for him to get rid of his addiction. There are a few mentions later on that he’s thinking about the next fix but that’s it.

I also didn’t really care for the Inexplicable and was more interested in the other storyline but Rector was more a sideliner in that. However, most of the rest of the cast return and I really enjoy them. It was also interesting to see them from another POV, especially with such a self-centered character and Rector.

Clearly my least favorite of the series but I’m looking forward to the next book.

First in an urban fantasy series starring a vampire thief.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Narrator: Natalie Ross
Running Time: 11 hrs, 13 m

Raylene Pendle is a thief and a vampire. She’s also rich and takes on pilfering jobs purely out of need for excitement. And she gets even more than she wants when Ian Stott contacts her. Ian wants to hire her to steal some papers; he even knows where they are. Ian is a vampire, too, but he’s blind. He claims that the US government had kidnapped him and done experiments on him, especially on his eyes. He knows a doctor in Canada who might be able to help him, but he needs the papers to know what was done to him. Curious and disturbed Raylene agrees to take the case. She’s also (not surprisingly) attracted to Ian.

Then her warehouse is broken into. Even though Raylene thinks of herself as a loner, she has started to protect two homeless kids. Pepper who is eight years old and her older brother Domino. They ”live” in the warehouse. Pepper calls Raylene for help and she races to the warehouse. There she overpowers a ninjalike intruder and kills him. The intruder has a business card which points Raylene to a mysterious park our club run by a man known as ”Major”.

The book has a very chatty style, like Raylene is telling her tale to you over a drink, but there’s no framing story to support that. Raylene herself is around a hundred years old and thinks of herself as a loner; she doesn’t care for any of the vampire houses because of the internal politics. She claims to have some problems with modern technology but she uses phones and internet easily. Because of her job as a thief she also lives off the grid, so she doesn’t have any friends, just a few contacts and of course the two homeless kids. Raylene calls them her security system, which is cute. Pepper clearly adores Raylene while Domino shows nothing but scorn for her.

Raylene is a very human vampire, definitely of the kind where undead aren’t monsters but just different. She’s fast and strong and has minor ”paranormal” abilities. There are a couple of scenes were she feeds from a human and thinks that it’s better than sex, but she only needs to feed about once a month and she doesn’t think of humans as prey.

I thought that the most interesting character in the book was a former Navy SEAL who is also a drag queen. However, he appears around half-way of the book. Ian is the obvious love interest; cultured and intelligent but also vulnerable. Ian has also a ghoul; a human devoted to a vampire. Raylene calls him a seeing eye ghoul and doesn’t care for him at all.

Overall, this was entertaining enough but not as interesting to me as Priest’s Clockwork books.

The fourth story in the Clockwork Century series.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Edoardo Ballerini
Running Time: 12 hrs and 9 minutes

Josephine Early runs a bordello house in New Orleans. She, and all of her girls, are of mixed race and she knows very well how precarious her position is. Not surprisingly, she supports the Union. However, for years now New Orleans has been a occupied city. The city was first conquered by the Union because of the port and the river but then it was reconquered by Texas which is still occupying it. The locals don’t like the Texans at all but few can do anything about the situation. Josephine if one of those few.

She’s a spy for the Union and she’s involved in other plots, as well. Her brother runs with the local pirates and her pet project is the Ganymede, a war ship that sails underwater. However, she needs a crew she can rely on and who are brave enough to sail the Ganymede. The previous crews drowned. Her last chance is an old lover whom she hasn’t seen in ten years: Andan Cly. And then there’s the zombie problem.

Andan Cly is thinking about settling down. He’s almost respectable now; running supplies to the underground city of Seattle instead of pirating. He’s also met a spirited woman who is another reason to settle down. He agrees to make a supply run for the city’s de facto ruler, Jaychoo (spelling?), and others when he receives a telegram from Josephine and decides to go to New Orleans to see her, perhaps for the last time.

I was a bit hesitant to get this book because of the many mixed reviews around. However, Ganymede was just as fun as the previous books and I was glad I bought it. The story has a mix of old and new characters. While the story starts in New Orleans with new characters, it moves quickly to Seattle, where we meet most of Boneshaker’s cast and Mercy from the previous book. This was great. We also get information about the giant machines which keep the air in the underground city breathable; they’re old and haven’t been repaired or serviced for a long time. I will be hugely surprised if Priest doesn’t follow this up in some next book.

The zombies have spread from Seattle to the rest of the US even though most folks don’t yet believe they exist. Cly and his small crew know about them, so they have no problem fighting the rotters.

Unfortunately, the story had some problems as well. There’s a continuity mistake with Cly and Mercy. They appear to meet for the first time in this book.. except that Cly flew Mercy to Seattle in Dreadnought. I was also left wondering why the underwater ship didn’t have any sailors in the crew. I also thought that Cly agreed to sail the Ganymede a bit too easily considering that the previous crews had all died. I also liked Kate Reading’s narration a lot better than Ballerini’s. I would have preferred it if he hadn’t tried to make female voices. Unfortunately, he apparently didn’t know anything about Angeline or about Lucy O’Gunning because their voices are pretty similar to the prostitutes. (In Boneshaker it was established that Angeline has a damaged throat so she doesn’t sound like a “normal” woman.)

The characters are again great. Josephine is a resourceful woman in the early forties (yes, forties!). She carries a gun and is fully aware of the dangers in all of her professions. She’s also very protective of her underlings and her brother, and she passionately wants Texas out of her city. Her ladies are all practical and have their own quirks.

Cly is equally protective of his crew and he’s also a very capable man. He thinks a bit about his former life with Josephine but thankfully doesn’t angst about it. One of his crewmen is out of Seattle for the first time and Cly acts as a sort of mentor and father figure to him.

This was more uneven than the previous stories but I’m eagerly waiting for the next book.

The third book in the Clockwork Century series.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Kate Reading
Running Time: 13 hrs and 24 minute

Venita “Mercy” Lynch is a nurse in the Robertson war hospital in Virginia. Even though she was born a Southerner, she married a Yankee three years ago. Over two years, her husband has been a soldier in the civil war between the Union and the Confederacy, on the side of the Union. Then Mercy is given the news that her beloved Philip has died in a POW camp and she feels like her world ends. But she’s given only a day to mourn and then she’s back to work: assisting male doctors in surgery, comforting the dying, and cleaning up after the living and the dead.

Then she gets a message that her father is dying in Seattle and he wants to see her. Mercy haven’t seen her father since she was a little girl and he left Mercy and her mother. Still, Mercy feels that it’s her duty to go and she also needs a change. So, she slips quietly away into a dirigible heading North.

The long journey is a dangerous adventure and Mercy’s professional skills are stretched to the limit with wounded men. Other people, both men and women, are also suspicious of her because she travels alone and she has to prove herself time and again.

Dreadnought describes the horrors of war; men who are too badly wounded to live long, men dying suddenly or with agonizing slowness, orphans and widows who are left behind. I’m a pacifist in real life, so Priest is preaching to the choir here. In fact, I was occasionally nauseated by the descriptions. However, throughout it all, Mercy remains a practical, level-headed, no-nonsense heroine who does what has to be done. She’s competent and keeps her cool. I loved her! However, she’s quite reminiscent of both Maria in the previous book and Briar in Boneshaker. (In fact, I’d love to see Maria Boyd and Mercy teaming up!)

The Civil War has been going on for twenty years and the narrator says plainly that the war isn’t about abolition anymore but about defending home. However, only two of the Southern states still practice slavery. The rest have freed their former slaves to work on their own land. The Union people seem to be more racist that the Southerners or at least they make a point not to mingle at all with non-white people.

Some other reviewers mentioned that they found the lack of romance odd. I don’t; she’s just been widowed! Sheesh, it seems pretty odd to me to demand that a woman is somehow required to start a romance just a couple of days after her husband died! True, they spent the last two years apart but that doesn’t mean their feelings cooled off because of it. Mercy doesn’t dwell on her feelings during the journey but she doesn’t seem to be a demonstrative person and so she probably doesn’t want to start crying in front of strangers.

Dreadnought has a huge cast of secondary characters. Partly it’s because they change a couple of times when Mercy continues with her journey. Mercy also travels with several people. Some of them need Mercy’s skills and some are suspicious of her because she’s seen as too Southern. Most are suspicious of each other. Mercy often tries to conceal where she comes from but her way of talking is still revealing. Most of the secondary characters are very territorial which is probably expected after a long war. They range from kids to various adults and a couple of retired elders. I enjoyed most of them. The late Bloody Bill is (Buffalo Bill?) is said to have been a robber along and his underlings, the James’ brothers, still are. I hope we get to know more about them at some point.

There are a couple of mysteries to solve on the way and they tie in with the first book, Boneshaker.

Dreadnought is an enjoyable adventure story if somewhat dark at the times, and a great continuation to the series.

The second book in the Clockwork Century series. Or rather a novella.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Dina Perlman, Victor Bevine
Running Time: 5 hrs and 46 minute

Pirate captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey’s ship has been stolen and he and his small crew are chasing it in a smaller aircraft. Hainey swears bloody vengeance on the Free Crow’s stealer, red-headed Felton Brink, who has had the temerity to rename the craft Clementine and is using it as a legal transport. Hainey has only two crewmen, Lemar and Symian, who are loyal only to him. Hainey is is an escaped slave and a notorious pirate. He carries the Rattler, a huge gun which a smaller man can’t even carry, and he uses it when he has to.

Maria Isabella Boyd is a former Southern spy. Unfortunately, this has made her famous and so she isn’t able to get any more work. She’s also in her forties, a widow, and a divorcée so she accepts any work she can get. In this case, she’s hired by the Pinkerton detective agency. Maria is the first woman the agency has hired and so she has a lot of prove. Her first mission is to make sure that Clementine gets safely to her destination. Captain Hainey is known to chaise the ship and Pinkerton lets Maria decide what to do about the pirate; kill him, capture him, or let him go free.

The book is set during the war between the Union and the Confederacy but in this world the war has been going on for 20 years. The characters are from Confederacy and have worked for it. Maria especially loathes the Union and working for it but she’s a realist. And she’s a woman at a time when it’s still not really proper for a white woman to work, especially when she’s at an age when she should be at home popping out kids. Even though the pirate crew, all black men, are able to move more freely in the Union, they still face a lot of racism.

Considering the books shortness, it’s quite verbose with various descriptions and it could have been easily cut down further.

Captain Hainey starts off as a sort of rogue but seems to be decent enough. Unfortunately, his bloodthirsty reputation is well deserved. The only thing he cares about is getting his ship back and he will do anything to get it.

Maria is loyal to the Confederacy and resents the Union. She spends a lot of time justifying her new job which felt unnecessary to me. She’s manipulative and especially skillful at manipulating men, but of course she has to be. At the start of the story, it’s well established that she isn’t beautiful which is great compared to all the “flawless skin” beauties running around pretty much every genre. Unfortunately, some men were rather rude about it. However, for a long-time spy she trusts people quickly and we never hear her thoughts about slavery even though Hainey is a former slave.

The novella contains a lot of action scenes especially later in the book and there isn’t even a hint of romance in it (great!). However, some things, and people, where a bit too convenient.

Perlman narrates the chapters which are from the point-of-view of Maria and Bevine narrates the chapters which are from the point-of-view of Hainey. They narrate together only when these two characters are in the same chapter and the Perlman narrates only Maria’s dialog and Beive Hainey’s dialog. This worked for me fine.

The first book in a steampunk/horror series.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Inc.
Narrators: Wil Wheton and Kate Reading
Running Time: 13 hrs and 42 minutes

Briar Wilks is the daughter of a hero and the widow of an evil genius. Levitictus Blue designed the Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine to drill through the Alaskan ice but things went really wrong, and now everyone thinks he’s responsible for the destruction of Seattle’s city center and the formation of blight gas which kills humans and turns them into rotters. Meanwhile Briar’s father Maynard Wilks, a prison guard, helped the prisoners during the disaster at the cost of his own life. When the people had fled the city, they built a wall around it and live now on the outskirts of the former city.

Briar and her son Ezekiel, Zeke, have been living on the outskirts of Seattle since Seattle was closed down. Briar is grimly determined to keep them both alive and works long hours at the factory to do just that. She even changed her last name back to Wilks but that hasn’t stopped people from harassing her and her son. However, she hasn’t told much about the past to her son because it’s too painful to her. Zeke’s friends are convinced that both Zeke’s grandfather and father are innocents caught up in events. Zeke is tired of being bullied because of his family and he decides to head into the walled city of Seattle to find proof of their innocence.

An underground tunnel leads to the city but just when Zeke has gone inside, an earthquake collapses the tunnel. Briar is frantic to have her son back. She packs her meager gear and heads to the city after she begs a ride in an airship. Everyone knows that nobody can live in the city for very long because of the blight gas and the rotters. However, there’s actually a couple of small communities in Seattle, and Briar and Zeke will have to survive them, too.

This is a fast-paced adventure story with quirky characters. Briar is actually grimly determined to find her son and to survive anything in Seattle. She brought a gun against the rotters and a gas mask against the blight. I feel that she’ very similar to Sarah Connor in her determination to find her son alive and to protect him. Zeke is equally determined to survive and to find proof about his father’s innocence. He thinks that the Russians pay Levi Blue to start his machine too soon.

I really enjoyed the secondary characters. The people inside Seattle have lived there for a long time; they’re tough and used to fighting both the blight and the gas. In many ways, they remind me of American settlers, or at least their romanticized version in many fictions. Some of them made a point about how few women there are in side the walled city and we only see two women, in addition to Briar, in the book. They are both quite memorable. Lucy O’Gunning is the mistress of a bar called “Maynard’s”. She’s lost her arm and has a strong mechanical arm instead. Then there’s Princess Angeline, an old Native American woman whom the locals respect and fear a little. She’s very handy with knives and a gun.

The other secondary characters are also interesting. The book has two shady airship crews. Clyde, the huge captain of Naamah Darling (is this a reference to Carey’s books?) and his motley crew. In fact, I’d like to read more about them. Then there’s the mysterious Doctor Minnericht who seems to be a tyrant ruling Seattle with his inventions. Nobody has seen what he looks like because he always wears his mask.

The Chinese have their own group. One of the locals hates them and even kills one of them but the others seems to get along with the Chinese more or less well. I found them quite puzzling. The other characters tell us that there are only adult Chinese men in Seattle, except for a few teenage boys. They tend the machines which make the air in some places in Seattle breathable. Yet, they don’t seems to charge anything for it. So, why would they stay, away from their families? (Come to think of it, Briar seems to be the only character in the book with a family.)

However, I had a bit of a problem with the others, too. Most of them seem reasonable people and it’s apparently possible to leave the city. Yet, they stay. Why? Surely, they could have found a better life for themselves than running away from rotters for decades. I can understand those who stay to make a profit from the drug business (yep, people have found a way to make the blight into a drug). However, what good is money, if you can’t spend it? Surely the criminals should have been coming and going once they’ve earned enough. And if they have to spend several decades earning money here, surely, there are better places to earn money? And what about the rest? Are there really no better place for them? There is a civil war going on but clearly the war effort doesn’t draft/employ everyone or the captains of the dirigibles wouldn’t be around. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more about the world around Seattle in the next books.

Still, I enjoyed the book and I’m looking forward to the next ones.

Oh, and even though there are both male and female characters in the book, there’s no romance. This is definitely a plus on my book, because it’s seems that it’s increasingly difficult to find a book without the obligatory romance.