Chunkster Reading Challenge 20011


I thought I would reread for the Chunkster Reading Challenge but I ended up not rereading much at all this year. Still, I had fun with the challenge!

I reached my goal and read six books for the Do These Books Make my Butt Look Big? level:

2 books which are between 450 – 550 pages in length;
Kim Harrison: Fistful of Charms: 518 pages.
Marie Brennan: A Star Shall Fall: 494 pages

Both of these books were continuation to the series. I’ve already read the next book in Brennan’s series. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy Fistful of Charms as much as the previous books and I don’t have any plans to continue with the series currently. Maybe, when I get the TBR lowered.

2 books which are 551 – 750 pages in length;
Bram Stoker: Dracula: the Finnish translation with 607 pages
C. J. Cherryh: Cyteen: 680 pages

Both of these books were great! Cyteen does has a rather depressing atmosphere, though.

2 books which are GREATER than 750 pages in length
Kate Elliott: Traitors’ Gate: 877 pages in the paperback.
Jacqueline Carey: Kushiel’s Scion 943 pages in soft cover

Traitors’ Gate is currently the last book in the series but if Elliott writes more, I’m likely to continue. Scion is the first in a trilogy and I already have the second book which is as enormous as the first one. Ah, to be back in school with long holidays! Sadly, being self-employed doesn’t leave much reading time. It took me about four weeks to read each of these books. Of course, I did listen and read other books at the same time or my blog would have been pretty sparse this year. 🙂 And let’s face it, reading any of these chunksters in a bus would have been a bit difficult.

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A stand alone SF book.
Much to my delight the Finnish library system has four Cherryh books: Cyteen, Downbelow Station, Foreigner, and a fantasy (I think it’s Angel with the Sword).

Publication year: 1988
Format: print
Page count: 680
Publisher: New English Library

The story has several parts which have chapters. The parts are divided by reports or interviews which are, essentially, info dumps about various parts of the universe and the people in it. Luckily, I found them fascinating. The book starts with a description of how humanity spread to the stars first with slower than light vessels and eventually with faster than light crafts. Humanity split into various countries and when distant Earth tried to govern them, there was war.

Cyteen is a colonized planet and the center of commerce for the Union. The planet itself isn’t very hospitable but there are domed cities and space stations where the humans live. At the center of Cyteen is Reseune, a science center which provides all the azi clones. Azis are genetically modified human clones and essentially the worker/slave class. Reseune owns them all and rents them out to others as farmers, soldiers, or anything which is needed. They can also be killed without any repercussions.

Ariane Emory is the old woman who owns Reseune and is also the head of the Cyteen’s Council of Nine. She’s already over hundred and twenty years old. She has a lot of political enemies and is involved with a lot of scheming. The book starts with Cyteen’s ruling body, the Council of Nine gathering and a few of Emory’s enemies are trying to gather dirt about her. They contact Jordan Warrick who is working for Emory but is unhappy with his lot.

When Emory is murdered, the elite people in Reseune and Cyteen are thrown into chaos. Emory has made plans, though, and the administrators follow them: to secretly create a replicate of Emory; a being who isn’t just a clone but whose mind and experiences will be made to match as closely as possible with Emory’s life. They are hoping that they can replicate Emory completely. Emory was a brilliant scientist, a genius and one of the few Specials in existence. Specials are valued so much that the government gives them special privileges.

One of the scientist in Reseune, and a Special, Jordan Warrick, is forced to confess to the murder of Emory. Because he’s a Special, he can’t be convicted or even questioned properly, so instead he’s confined to another city while his “sons”, clone duplicate Justin and azi Grant, are kept in Reseune under close scrutiny. Justin is the secondary POV character in the book. The primary POV is Ariane Emory II when she growing up.

I found this book a fascinating read: here is a society which has been changed because of technological advances. Workers, the azi, are grown for specific needs and bred in tanks. At least some citizens are also bred in tanks and a citizen can have a clone made of himself or herself. Most of the families we see here have significantly older parents and are single parent families. (Of course, we don’t seem much people outside the elite.) Rejuvanative technology has significantly altered life. While it has made lifespans longer, it has made people less fragile in old age. It’s said that people on rejuv don’t have much medical cares until the last couple of years. Except for the side effects of the drug itself. There’s a brief discussion about how this has changed family structures and work life when people can keep on working when they’re 120 years old.

As a mystery reader I was a bit surprised when nobody bothered to find out who had killed Emory. Considering the paranoid atmosphere in Reseune, and the whole book, I would have thought that would be a high priority. Instead, Giraurd Nye, Emory’s number two, brokers a deal with Jordan and forces Jordan to confess publicly to a murder he didn’t do.

I’m not entirely sure that I believe that Nye did everything he could to replicate Emory’s childhood. For one thing, it seemed that the technology was somewhat different (the rejuvenatory technology is especially mentioned as being inferior then) and Cyteen seemed to have been a much smaller place, a frontier. While in Ari’s time it’s a bustling hub of trade and government. Surely, that would have brought quite a lot of differences. I’m also highly skeptical about how different the Emories’ mothers’ fates where. Emory’s mother died when she was seven and so Nye decided to simply send away Ari’s mother. For a long time Ari fantasied how her mother would send for her and surely there would have been totally different feelings of abandonment for Ari. Unless here the administration is seen as inevitable and unopposable as death. Emory’s original parents where scientists but I don’t know if they were as wealthy as Ari’s mother. Also, two azi clones were given to Emory when she was eight, Catlin and Florian. They were killed after Emory died. Ari is also given the replicas of the two azi clones.

I found the dynamic between Justin and Grant to be a mirror image of what we’re told of the “normal” human/azi relationship and what Ari has with her nurse azi Nelly. Nelly has been conditioned to take care of infants and babies. She’s gentle and gets nervous easily so Ari has to tone down her own emotional displays so that Nelly won’t get nervous. Ari can’t shout at her or scold her, and when she grows up, Nelly doesn’t quite know what to do with her. In contrast, Justin is a nervous man and relies on Grant to be his emotional rock. Grant is the one who is cool and calm and collected, and he also often calms down Justin and gives him sanity checks when Justin is at his most paranoid. Of course, they both have a right to be angry about how they have been treated. Because of his experience with Emory, Justin is sexually a wreck and can’t even touch other humans, except Grant.

The azi I found to be interesting and creepy. They are clones, bred in a tank and trained by caretakers; most of them have never had a family. (Grant is an exception to this). They’re trained from very young to do the jobs they’ve literally bred to do. If that means that the azi is assigned to a human, then the azi has been conditioned to love and obey that human, called a Supervisor. It seems that often that human and azi become lovers, and that I found creepy; the azi doesn’t have a choice about it. The conditioning seems to be based on rewards and encouragement. However, the azi working in Security, such as Catlin and Florian, are trained pretty brutally since they just three years old. They don’t have a childhood at all which is sad. There seems to be a group of free humans who are called Abolitionists who want to free the azi. Of course, because of the psychological conditioning and because the azi apparently need the “tape” when they are upset, that’s unlikely to happen.

Little Ari is the main POV character. She’s quite a precocious little girl but of course, she’s very bright and often more intelligent that the adults around her. She learns how to manipulate them quite early. But she doesn’t have any real friends and because Emory’s maman died when she as seven, Ari’s mother is suddenly sent away when she’s seven, too, which was enormously cruel thing to do. She has to grow up fast and she learns not to trust people when she’s very young. The older Emory was given two security azi when she was eight, and Ari gets her replicas of Catlin and Florian, too. The two azi seem to be her only real friends and because Ari is their Supervisor, they have no choice but to obey her every word. That’s a lot of power and responsibility to an eight year old. Luckily, Ari takes her duty seriously.

The plot follows Ari from when she’s very young to adulthood and beyond. She isn’t told about her special standing at first. At the same time, Justin and Grant are trying to do their jobs and live quietly, hoping that one day they can be reunited with their father Jordan. Unfortunately, the administration is very suspicious of them. There are other POV characters but most of them are seen only briefly. There’s a lot of scheming and plotting, a lot. Pretty much everything seems to have political repercussions. The other focus is are the “tapes” which are used to condition the azi to their life and skills. There’s a lot of talk about how complex they can be and how they will affect the next generation.

The themes of the book is power and its use, and who you can trust. Sadly, the answer to the latter seems to be only those who have been conditioned to love you. The first Emory has recorded lessons for young Ari about a lot of thing and we seem some of them. Ari also wonders how much she can be herself and distinct from her predecessor.

The book starts slowly and rather confusingly throwing the reader right in the middle of politics. I had the disadvantage that I haven’t read any other books set in this world so there might be some back story to the politics which I’m missing.

There are a lot of characters in the book and pretty much all of them seem to be miserable even if they are rich and powerful. The atmosphere is very dark and paranoid.

The first book in the second trilogy set in Carey’s fantasy world.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 943
Publisher: Warner Books

Imriel nĂł Montrève de la Courcel is the third person in line for the throne of Terre D’Ange. He’s also a thirteen year old boy who has experienced awful things and is trying to cope as best he can. He’s enjoying his time on the Montrève country side as Phèdre’s and Joscelin´s adopted son but his mother casts a long shadow on his life. Imriel’s mother, Melisande Shahrizai, is a master manipulator and one of the most famous traitors of Terre D’Ange. Imriel is trying very hard to be “good”; the opposite of his mother. He’s trying to keep his impulses in check, his sometimes sharp tongue included, and he tries to treat everyone kindly. But he has a lot of baggage: he was kidnapped and kept as slave before he was sold to a place of unspeakable evil. He saw and did things which could have broken anyone. Phèdre and Joscelin saved him.

The book starts with the news of Melisande’s escape. The Montrève household moves to the capital to discuss matters with the queen and prepare themselves against possible revenge. Imriel moves to the capital, too, and has to deal with the courtly life which he clearly despises. The Queen and her husband, the King of Alba, have two daughters. Sidoine, the elder, is destined to rule Terre D’Ange but some nobles don’t like the fact that she’s half-blooded on her father’s side and are trying to promote Imriel as the next king of Terre D’Ange because he’s “pure-blooded” D’Angeline. Sidonie’s younger sister Alais is still a child and Imriel loves her dearly as a sister.

Also, Imriel’s blood relatives want to get to know him. He was reared as a peasant so he never knew his family in the House Shahrizai. He’s afraid of them and doesn’t trust them at all.

Carey’s writing style is as lush and beautiful as ever but the subject matter is quite different. The story centers on Imriel’s inner struggles when he’s growing up and spans quite a few years. In a way, he tries to repay PhĂ©dre and Joscelin for rescuing and adopting him, and he also tries to be the opposite of his mother. He’s afraid of himself and he’s trying to suppress his darker side. This affects his sexuality too; he’s very uncomfortable with it at first. He wrestles with his own feelings and is often quite self-absorbed and brooding, which is understandable at his age and with his past.

Later in the book there are people plotting and scheming around Imriel and he’s always trying to catch up to it. He also makes great friends and some enemies. The book has a few sex scene which are integral to character development or the plot or both, but there’s no BDSM elements like in the previous books.

It’s been quite a while since I read the first trilogy and there are lot of reference to the events in the first three books. This is also understandable because PhĂ©dre and Joscelin are legendary figures, and so their exploits are told often. Some might be frustrated with the repetition but it fits Carey’s style.

I love PhĂ©dre and Joscelin, and it was great to see them alive and happy, and it was also great to see other characters from the previous books: queen Ysandra and her husband Drustan, for example. In fact, I got a yearning to read the first trilogy again. I didn’t like Imriel nearly as much as any of the familiar characters, though. In fact, I liked some of the new secondary characters more than him. Eamonn, the Prince of Dalriada, is a cheerful and carefree warrior who wants to learn and discusses philosophy just as eagerly as battle techniques. He and Imriel duel when they first meet but later become as close as brothers. Later in the book we meet Lucius who seems like another carefree nobleman fob on the outside but turns out to be quite a tormented man. I also rather liked Alais who, at the start of the book, is just a young girl who wants a puppy and grows into an adolescent who has to start worrying about her future far too young. Sidonie is a cool and collected young woman even when she’s just fourteen but I suspect that’s just a front that she has to keep up because she’s the Dauphine. I would have liked to see more of Brigitte, the Skaldi girl who is studying in the university in Tiberium. She’s opinionated, stubborn, and fierce.

However, the plot is very slow compared to the previous books. Imriel’s growth pains aren’t as interesting as PhĂ©dre’s and Joscelin´s adventures. However, the latter third of the book is quite intense and there are heartbreaking moments in it, too.

I really enjoyed the latter half of the book which is set in Tiberium, this universe’s Rome. Imriel enrolls into university and studies under Master Piero who takes his class outside the university lecture halls and into the real world, and is of course thought to be mad by the other professors. Tiberium is quite close to the old Rome in culture; women can’t inherit, submissive gays are barely tolerated, women have to monogamous instead of taking on lovers openly, like in Terre D’Ange. Imriel seems to fit in quickly, though. Of course, as a man the restrictions don’t really apply to him. And of course, I prefer the Terre D’Ange culture where all forms of consensual love are sacred and nobody is made to feel shame or guilt for what they may desire.

I enjoyed the book but not as much as the previous ones.

My newest review: Marie Brennan’s A Star Shall Fall.

Great historical fantasy and the third book in the Onyx Court series.

494 pages so I’m adding this book to my Chunkster challenge.

The fourth book in the Hollows Urban Fantasy series. I bought this one first and didn’t know that it’s a part of a series. I really like the book titles which all allude to Westerns. The stories don’t resemble them, though.

Publication year: 2006
Page count: 528
Format: print
Publisher: HarperTorch

Rachel Morgan is again in trouble. She became part of David’s pack in order to get cheaper health care but right at the start another Werewolf alpha challenges her. Rachel has to fight her surprised and weaponless while six other alphas back up Rachel’s challenger. Rachel manages to win but only barely and she knows that she has pissed off several Werewolves. So, she searches for a way to defend herself in the future – and finds one in a demon curse. The curse allows her to change herself into a wolf but takes a toll on her soul. Rachel convinces herself that she will only do it once.

Jenks is still angry to Rachel and doesn’t want to talk to her. However, when Jenks’ wife Matalina tells Rachel that Rachel’s former boyfriend Nick has convinced Jenks’ oldest son Jax to leave with Nick and help him steal something, Rachel realizes that she has to help Jax – and at the same time Nick. Nick and Jax are out of town and as a small pixie Jenks can’t go after them. Rachel manages to convince Jenks to work with her again and together they go after the thieving duo. However, Nick is in a lot more trouble than Rachel could have imagined.

In order for Jenks to travel to another city, Rachel uses a demon curse (just this once!) to make him six foot tall. Jenks turns out to be a really handsome young man and Rachel drools over him several times. However, we also find out the real reason why Jenks has distanced himself from his previous partners. It turns out that he’s actually quite old and he’s worried that his skills are going to deteriorate soon.

Ivy and Rachel’s relationship seems to come to a turning point. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really change anything as they are both just as angsty about each other as before, if not more so. Poor Ivy has to also do a pretty bad thing to bail out Rachel and she seems to be more messed up than before. Rachel is now with the vampire Kisten but she still has feelings for Nick and Nick wants her back, so there’s also lots of angst about them. She’s also increasingly confused about Ivy and insists that she’s strictly hetero while wanting to ”filling in the emotional void” inside Ivy. So, the soap opera content is high. The unresolved plot thread is Kalamach doesn’t continue. Also, Ivy and Jenks call Nick “crap for brains” and constantly threaten to mutilate or kill him. I think he deserved it but it got old quickly.

After being angry with Rachel for a long time, Jenks starts to quickly trust her again and becomes extremely loyal to her. He’s also very effective fighter even though his size has changed drastically. We also get to see the more savage side of the pixie up close and personal. Even though we’ve been told about the bloody fights between pixies and fairies, it didn’t really feel real to me, or supposed wild fighting between four inch people felt even humorous, until Jenks kicks werewolf ass with just a lead pipe.

The main plot starts fast-paced but slows considerably once Ivy shows up. Unfortunately, there’s little character development. Rachel is still doing stupid mistakes; somehow she assumes that demon curses aren’t black magic and she still doesn’t know much about vampires even tough she lives with one and is dating another. She’s also again keeping secrets from her partner and walking around with a vampire bite.

The book has as much humor as the previous books; the people in the small town aren’t used to Interlanders and they are really racists towards Jenks and Rachel. However, the duo get their revenge. As pixie, Jenks has to constantly do something and that’s amplified when he’s so large. The local ladies are also very attracted to him. And of course, Rachel has her humorous lines.

Publication year: 2009
Page count: 877
Format: print, paperback
Publisher: Tor

The third book in the Crossroads series which concludes the first trilogy. The next book in the series will apparently be a stand-alone.

The series continues from where the Shadow Gate ended. Most of the POV characters are seen again and we get a few new POV characters as well. The Hundred are under an attack by a brutal army from the north. The army is led by legendary Guardians who can see into the hearts and mind of people. They can’t be killed. They used to administer justice on city or town councils but most of them seem to be corrupted now.

The Reeve Joss is trying his best to unite the Reeves against the invaders. However, one Reeve hall wants to return to their past role which is as police, and not as soldiers. Some, especially young, Reeves are eager to help the milia fight the invaders, but they aren’t trained as soldiers and their eagles are predators which can’t be trained to co-operate as well as horses. He’s also concerned about how much power the Quin Captain Anji is getting. If Anji defeats the invaders, his army will be the only on in the Hundred…

Joss’ love Reeve Marit was killed twenty years ago and Joss can’t get over her. Marit was raised from the dead by one of the Guardian cloaks and she’s now a Guardian. She was amazed that some of the other Guardians have been corrupted but she’s also trying to find a way to fight the corrupted ones.

Mai is the clever and beautiful merchant’s wife whom Anji bought as his wife. Mai has turned out to be a huge asset to his military husband; she has focused on trade and finding local wives to the Quin soldiers whom Anji leads. The Quin are exiled from their homeland so they have to settle in the Hundred. Their customs are different from the Hundred folk but Mai has done her best to settle things. She is well-respected in the town of Olossi where the Quin fought a branch of the invading army and won. Now the Quin are preparing to march against overwhelming odds in order to defeat the invaders.

The former slave Keshad and a Ri Amarath man Eliar are in the Sirniakan Empire, which in upheaval because their Emperor has been murdered. The repercussions might reach the Hundred.

We also get two new POVs. One of them is a religious figure in an occupied city and through him we get to see how people survive when the occupying army starves, rapes, and abuses them after theft. The conquered people are treated brutally. Another new character is a strange counterpoint to the atrocities that we the invaders doing; he’s a commander in the invading army. He employs women, doesn’t allow his troops to abuse prisoners, and resents the commanding Guardians for their ineptitude. This is the first time that we see a decent (if you can call a man who kills other humans for living a decent man) man in the Star of Life army.

Despite the multiple POV characters, there are two major characters whose POV we don’t see: Anji and the hierodule/assassin Zubaidit. So, we don’t really know intimately their motivations and plans. One of them did surprise me a lot.

The plot moves along quicker than in the previous books. There are some surprising twists in it, too. One of the main themes is still culture clash. The Quin have different outlook in life and they’re showing any sign of changing to blend into the local culture. Most of the difference are in sexual practices and gender roles; Quin don’t approve women soldiers, or even female Reeves, or homosexuality or anything else than monogamy for women. On the other hand, mothers have lots of influence over their sons and daughters, but in the Hundred the clans, the family, have also a lot of power over individuals. If anything, it seems that the Quin are changing the young Hundred men to be like the Quin. I’m certainly interested to see how things will progress in the future.

The end ties up most of the plot threads but leaves the future (culture blending) wide open.

Publication year: 1897
Format: Print, a Finnish translation
Page count: 607 which includes a small notes section which has explanations about some of the places, people, and references in the book, plus a “Short History of the Vampire” by the translator.
The translation’s publisher: Otava
Translator: Jarkko Laine
Publication year of the translation: 1977, reprinted in 2010

The book is written in diary entries, letters, newspaper clippings, telegrams, and other notes, as no doubt most people know. It works surprisingly well. At the start, the various people writing their journals have no idea that anyone else is going to read the entries. So, they are quite personal. But even later, when they write the journal specifically to leave them to posterity, they don’t seem stunted or edited. Some entries contain dialog which, apparently, is today considered very fake in journal entries, but it didn’t bother me.

I’m going to assume that most people are familiar with the tale so there will be some spoilers.

The book starts with young solicitor Jonathan Harker who is traveling to Transylvania to meet a reclusive count Dracula who is a client at the firm where Jonathan works. The local people seem fearful and the coachman sent to fetch Jonathan is very strange. However, the count is friendly and very curious about England and the English customs. But increasingly, Jonathan senses that something just isn’t right.

The scene shifts to England, where young Lucy Westernra writes to her best friend Mina Murray who is Jonathan’s fiancee. They gossip about men and marriage proposals. Then doctor Seward writes about his strange patient Renfield.

The events build slowly, especially in England after the rather intense last entries in Jonathan’s diary. This lull from Jonathan’s diary to the pretty frivolous letters between Mina and Lucy really stopped the momentum and changed the tone. However, with Lucy’s declining condition and even later, after Mina is bitten, the pace picks up again. I read this over 3-4 weeks and even after 11 hour workday I just had to pick up the book again and read, even if it was just a few pages.

It’s interesting to note that the only character who dies at the end didn’t keep a diary and we didn’t get to know him very well. All of the core characters, Van Helsing, Seward, Lord Godalming, and Morris, and later the Harkers, become great friends and rely on each other through all the horror. I had no idea that Seward, Godalming, and Morris where friends before the book started; they had been in the Wild West and saved each others’ lives several times. Yet, they welcomed the Harkers into their tight circle. There were surprisingly little sexism towards Lucy and Mina. (I was listening Cook’s Black Company and Stephenson’s Quicksilver at the same time… and Dracula was the book that treated women characters with the most respect…) The men did try to exclude Mina at one time but that turned out to be really bad idea.

Dracula has some pretty impressive powers: he controls wolves, rats, bats, moths and fog, and can turn into them as well, although only at night. He has also some Transylvanian gypsies as sidekicks. He’s very strong and can walking in daylight. However, he didn’t really do much with his powers. When he finds out that the group of five men and one woman is after him, instead of using his powers against them, he flees. Van Helsing says that Dracula has a “child-brain” and so it would seem. It takes a long time for anything new to occur to him and instead he does what he knows has worked for him in the past. I also didn’t find him particularly sexy. At the start in the castle, he’s described as an old man with white hair and mustache. Later, when he becomes younger, he isn’t described much at all. All of the vampiric sex powers are given to the women; the three nameless vampire women in Castle Dracula are described as lewd and wanton, and so is Lucy later.

The characters are very religious. They pray, and talk and write about God a lot. This is in striking contrast to the modern vampire hunters who usually aren’t part of any religion and don’t seem to have personal faith, either. Also, in modern books vampires and demons are often result of a disease or members of (super)natural species. The supernatural is also often part of the natural world and not a result of any divine meddling. So, I guess it makes sense that when demons and angels are just people from another dimension or people with different inborn talents, the people who hunt them don’t turn to religion.

I’ve seen only a couple of Dracula movies but clearly they’ve made a larger impression on me than I realized. I kept seeing Anthony Hopkins as van Helsing (down to his facial expressions and how he sat in some scenes) and Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker but Christopher Lee as Dracula. I didn’t even remember seeing the film with Lee!

I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to read this book without knowing anything about vampires or at least not knowing that this book is about vampires. However, the helpful “Short history” made it clear that the myth of vampire has been alive and well (so to speak) for a long time before Stoker, so perhaps Dracula’s identity was clear to Stoker’s contemporaries, too. Stoker did apparently invent the “aren’t seen in mirrors” and “don’t have shadows” things, though.

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