fantasy


The first book in a fantasy series. It’s a murder mystery but can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2019
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 306

This was a fascinating read. It’s set in a fantasy world where magic is taught and not an inborn talent. The world has also technology although it’s somewhat tied to the magic. Using magic is called cyphering. Women rule societies and men are considered too emotional and weak-willed to serve the state, even though that attitude is waning, so the world has reverse sexism. The characters aren’t human. I got the sense that they’re cat-like creatures. (I freely admit this could come from my inordinant fondness for C. J. Cherryh’s hani.) Their faces are muzzles and they have fur but also skin. But they behave mostly in human ways and have very human motivations. Otherwise, of course, it would be hard for us readers to understand them.

Jhee is a middle-aged woman who has been working as a magistrate, a justicar for years. Now, she’s been called to the capital and she’s taking her family with her. Shep is her primary husband, a former soldier, and they’ve been happily married for a long time. Just before they left, Jhee married two others, but more out of sense of duty than any passion. Both new spouses are young and she’s constantly thinking that she’ll get them better spouses, more appropriate for the youngsters’ tempers and ambitions, when they get to the capital. Mirrei’s mother was Jhee’s old friend and Jhee has some sense of duty toward her. Mirrei is a healer but her own health is fragile because she’s suffering from a disease which is becoming increasingly common. Kanto is a handsome young man and he’s interested in fashion and the arts. He’s also a musician and artist. He feels that Jhee favors the other spouses over him. Jhee is somewhat uncomfortable with this new arrangement: she tries to make time to her new spouses and not show too much fondness for Shep.

Their ship hits a coral reef and is wrecked. Fortunately, there’s an abbey nearby and the crew and Jhee’s family are welcomed there.

The abbey’s previous abbess, Saheli, died just a few days before. Apparently, she translated straight to a spiritual plane. Jhee is more distressed when she finds out that three prospectives, young male attendants, have also died: one fell during an earthquake, one died from a disease, and one apparently killed himself. Even though Jhee’s the area’s justiciar, she hasn’t heard about the deaths before. With the ship needing repairs, she starts to investigate.

All the regular staff in the abbey are women and many of them think men are beneath them. Saheli was the one exception so her death is starting to look increasingly suspicious to Jhee. Jhee enjoys reading, but the abbey’s archivist takes an immediate dislike to her. The current abbess, Pyrmo, is apparently a drunkard and soon Jhee suspects her of murder, too. With the locals whispering about the ghostly Mist Abbess, she has her hands full both with the investigation and trying to balance her new, and more complicated, family life.

The abbey is full of strange characters and the more we learn about them, the less spiritual they seem. Lady Bathseba is a retired vizier. She still lives in luxury in the abbey. She’s quite snobbish but seems to know a lot about what’s going on. Then there’s a poetess who pretends to be drunk so that she can snoop around. The others snub her. The abbey’s doctor is also a drunk and the others no longer trust her but go to the herbalist to get medicines. The cast of characters is large and the book would’ve benefited from a list.
Jhee is the major POV character with a couple of chapters from another character’s POVs. It’s not particularly fast-paced but has a solid mystery.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the story. Jhee and her spouses are interesting characters and I also enjoyed most of the supporting cast. The world-building was mostly good, too, without info dumps. However, the magic wasn’t explained much and sometimes I wanted more descriptions of places and people. Jhee’s spouses all have public names and private names. Shep, for example is Dawn Wolf publicly. But none of the other people, male or female, have names that mean something. So I didn’t get the name system. Also, the book could have done with another round of editing. But these are small concerns.

I loved the different culture and I’m definitely reading the next book.

A stand-alone fantasy / steampunk novella.

Publication year: 2019
Format: Print
Page count: 130
Publisher: Tor

The story is set in an alternative 1912 Cairo. Around 1860, djinns were set loose on the world and the world hasn’t been the same. Egypt is now an independent republic and their representatives are about to vote if women should get the vote.

Against this backdrop, senior agent Hamed al-Nasr and his fresh off the academy partner agent Onsi, both from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, are handed a case of the haunted tram car. Hamed is convinced that the culprit isn’t a ghost but an irate djinn. But when Ramses Station’s superintendent refuses to pay for the agents’ services, Hamed and Onsi must come up with something different than the usual exorcism.

This was a charming short book. The background is fascinating and I’d love to read more stories in this world. Happily, I haven’t yet read the first short story, A Dead Djinn in Cairo, so I have that to look forward to. I’m a fan of Amelia Peabody books so one fictional Cairo is somewhat familiar to me. Clark describes the city and the people vividly.

Hamed is an experienced agent and while he at first resents his new partner, he quickly realizes how necessary it is for Onsi to get more field experience. Onsi is also a useful agent and not just there to wonder what’s going on. Both are very rational agents, used to dealing with magical beings.

The suffragette side plot runs parallel to the main plot and introduces us to many colorful female characters. Novella length was perfect for the story.

A Buffy the Vampire slayer book, set in the third season.

Publication year: 2000
Format: Print
Page count: 178
Publisher: Pocket books

The story starts with a young woman, Heidi, who is chased by two vampire men, twins in fact. They catch her and take her back to their “home”, to their mother who is also a vampire. Together they drink from the girl and kill her.

Buffy and her mom Joyce are in the mall, having a nice day together. Then Buffy realizes that someone is following them. It turns out to be Suz Tompkins, one of the “tough girls” in Sunnydale High. She asks Buffy for help, nearly crying because her best friends have gone missing and she suspects something really bad has happened to them. Heidi’s own mom doesn’t care and the police think that Heidi has just run away or joined a gang.

Buffy agrees to help and the vampire twins arrive in the Bronze. Buffy lures them out. She and Angel attack them. She kills one of them and then their vampire mom arrives just in time to see her kill the other. The vampire mom summons the Greek goddess of revenge, Nemesis, and asks for revenge against Buffy. Nemesis puts Buffy on trial.

This was a fun Buffy story, except she does more contemplation than usual. The Scooby Gang are in character and pretty funny. It has several references to earlier episodes, which I quite enjoyed. Overall, I enjoyed the story.

A short story collection which has stories from multiple genres including fantasy, science fiction, and history.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: WMG Publishing

For a collection with the name “No Humans Allowed” this one sure had a lot of humans. 🙂 None of them were the main character, but in most stories many, if not all, secondary characters were human.

About half of the stories in this collection are fantasy and six are science fiction. Some have no supernatural elements except for intelligent non-human creatures (or other things) which don’t communicate with humans in any special way.

“In the Beginnings” by Annie Reed: This is a very cosmic story of a universe coming into being, seeing other life blossom and evolve.

“At His Heels a Stone” by Lee Allred: This story is set in the dawn of human age. The POV character is a huge boulder. It has endured ice age and is worshiped by the plants and animals around it as the king of everything it sees. Then Man came and is determined to move it.

“In the Empire of Underpants” by Robert T. Jeschonek: Before their disappearance, humans created many artificial intelligences. They even put AI into their underwear. One courageous pair of underpants is searching for any information about where the humans have gone.

“The Sound of Salvation” by Leslie Claire Walker: This is lovely short story with a very inhuman main character.

“Goblin in Love” by Anthea Sharp: Crik Nobshins is a young goblin, a redcap who is supposed to eat meat raw and enjoy violence for its own sake. But Crik is a different goblin and he must keep that a secret from the rest of his riot. Especially he must keep a secret that he loves a luminous and pure lady of the waters.

“Slime and Crime” by Michèle Laframboise: The main character of this story is a garden snail who has had an unfortunate accident which makes some other snails look down on them. They’re also a detective, doing their best to keep order in the snail community.

“Always Listening” by Louisa Swann: A very small sphere is looking a home or at least anyone else in the vastness of space. She has been built to calm and sooth others and the long, lonely journey after an accident separated her from her mother ship, has been trying.

“Here I Will Dance” by Stefon Mears: One of the most inhuman stories in the collection, it’s set in a forest.

“Rats at Sea” by Brenda Carre: Willy Topper is a white rat. When his ship HMS Rubicon is attacked by the loathsome French frigate, Willy wants to rescue his lady love who lives in a cage.

“Sense and Sentientability” by Lisa Silverthorne: Ottotwo is one of three robots (or androids). Three scientists are working to give them real intelligence. Ottotwo learns a lot.

“When a Good Fox Goes to War” by Kim May: The narrator of this story is a kitsune, a fox spirit. One Japanese lord captures the kitsune and tries to make it take sides in a war. But nobody commands a kitsune.

“The Game of Time” by Felicia Fredlund: The main character in this story is the gods’ Book of Time. When the gods make a mistake part of the book’s power goes to humans and give some of them powers beyond what they should have.

“The Scent of Murder” by Angela Penrose: A science fiction murder mystery story where human has been murdered in their own starship on a planet far away from Earth. Thinker for Useful Ideas Yazvoras has been assigned the duty of investigating the death. However, human diplomats demand that the ship and the investigation be given to them the next day, so Yazvoras must work quickly.

“Still-Waking Sleep” by Dayle A. Dermatis: Juliet was created to bewitch a certain boy and bring down one of the most prominent families of the city. She was created without emotions and only the knowledge which is required for her to perform her duty. But something unexpected happens.

“Inhabiting Sweetie” by Dale Hartley Emery: Dje’Eru is one of many ambassadors from their own plant, sent to open communications with humans. However, they must inhabit a human body to do so and they can’t do it for long.

“The Legend of Anlahn” by Eric Kent Edstrom: The Force of One Thousand has gathered to defend a mountain pass from the enemy. The enemy are other craskin and the two armies are fighting for the ultimate honor of defending their homeland from encroachers. Anlahn is one of the smallest of his pack but he realizes that the craskins can’t continue to fight among themselves. He knows what he must do, even if it means further shame to himself.

“Sheath Hopes” by Thea Hutcheson: Shukano is out mining. He’s short on survival obligations and he really needs to find a slit and treasures inside it. Treasures he could sell and as soon as possible. Mining is dangerous work but the rewards could be more than he expected.

“We, The Ocean” by Alexandra Brandt: The sea is full of intelligent species. One is a hive or a group mind of near immortal creatures whom men in the past thought of as women, tempting the men. But modern humans don’t pay attention to sea creatures. Instead they litter and pollute and poison the oceans. Among the hive mind, one of them wants to do something and is severed from the hive mind. They go to observe the humans.

I must admit that some of the stories were different than what I was expecting. I thought it would have alien or fantasy species cultures, perhaps first contact with humans, similar to Cherryh’s Chanur books or Elfquest. The collection has four such tales, “Goblin in Love”, “The Scent of Murder”, “The Legend of Anlahn”, and “Sheath Hopes” except with not species we’re familiar with, except for the goblins. Out of the science fiction stories, three deal with AI characters, “Empire of Underpants”, “Always Listening”, and “Sense and Sentientability”, one is murder mystery set in an alien world “Scent of Murder”, one is set entirely in an alien world “Sheath Hopes”, and one is a first contact story “Inhabiting Sweetie”. A couple of the stories have animals which have their own human-like societies and customs. “Slimes and Crimes” is a police procedural while in “Rats at Sea” rats adventure during the age of sail. Both are really fun.

My only complaint is that very few of these stories have a really alien POV. The rats and snails have very human motivations and even the boulder dreams of vengeance against the upstart humans. “The Sound of Salvation” and “Here I Will Dance” succeed best in that respect. Of course, if all the stories were that alien, the collection would be much harder to read.

My favorites, in addition to “the Scent of Murder” were two of the most inhuman stories “The Sound of Salvation” and “Here I will Dance”. But I didn’t dislike any of the stories.

Collects issues 1 and 2 of the miniseries.

Writer: M. M. Chan
Artists: Joe Benitez, Martin Montiel

I was a little disappointed when I realized that this collection has only two issues and the cover gallery. This means that the plot must be very straightforward, which it is.

The story starts with a kidnapped little boy. The child is strapped on a table and next to him is a childlike automaton. They both have wires running to their heads. Someone pushes a rolled piece of paper into the mouth of the automaton.

Then we return to Lady Mechanika and the young Winifred, Fred, as she’s called. Fred has noticed an interesting article about murdered young boys who have been the subjects of mechanical experiments. The lady and her right-hand man inventor Lewis go to investigate. Near the crime scene they’re attacked by street toughs but they give up after one punch from the lady. At the crime scene the mechanical gadgets bring to the lady’s mind her own life. She doesn’t know who did her mechanical augments or why. She remembers very little of it but thinks that this case could be related to her past. However, they are interrupted by detective inspector Singh. It seems that nobody else is interested in the murders of poor boys but Singh is investigating them. He joins forces with the lady and Lewis to find out who is responsible.

This story is very different in tone compared to the previous one. This one is focused on solving the murder mystery and because of the limited page count it’s done very quickly. However, I rather enjoyed it and I also liked Singh a lot. He seems to be more complex character than the others and I’m hoping we’ll be seeing him again.

The art is again lovely, if focused too much on the lady’s breasts which are on display in a very non-Victorian way. Otherwise, it has a wonderful steampunk feeling with lots of gears and gyros.

The third book in the children’s fantasy trilogy about young troll Rollo.

Publication year: 2003
Format: Print
Page count: 170
Publisher: Atom

In the previous book, Troll Queen, the young troll Ludicra who has suddenly found Rollo to be very appealing and even lovable, left the troll town Bonespittle in search of Rollo and to become his queen. Ludicra and her band of trolls, ogres, and gnomes found Rollo. Now they’re at the bottom of the Great Chasm and trying to get back to Bonespittle through old tunnels. However, an old enemy returns in the tunnels. The enemy also has trollnapped Rollo’s father and mentor. He tries to force Rollo and his small band to surrender. But Rollo remembers a tale he heard about an old troll’s treasure. Rollo promises to give the treasure to the enemy in exchange for the hostages.

Rollo and his band withdraw to the Chasm and confer. The elves seem to know where the treasure is so Ludicra wants to ask them. But shortly, Rollo and his best friend Filbum are separated from the group, again. Ludicra and her band continue the search for the treasure.

This was a good ending to the series. The animosity that trolls and elves have for each other comes to a head and is resolved. The ending has a twist I didn’t see coming and in an adult book it would have been ludicrous, but it felt kind of fitting here. A few dragons even make brief appearances.

The first book in the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club historical fantasy series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 13 hours 39 minute
Narrator: Kate Reading

I very much wanted to adore this book. I liked it and will probably continue with the series but it has a writing style which no doubt will make it almost unreadable to some people. You see, the characters critique the book while it’s written. This sounds like a cute or even charming style, and it is, at first. But ultimately, it robs the book of any tension. We know that the characters will not only survive the fight scene, they all become such good friends that they feel free to give snarky comments while reading the (presumably) first draft. I don’t actually think that most readers open a book just to see how high the body count will be (unless that’s part of the genre of the book, of course) but it takes away even the illusion of tension. Similarly, when we meet the characters who are commenting (and we do meet most of them along the story) again we know immediately that they’ll become good friends. These interruptions also constantly remind the reader that she, or he, is reading a story, preventing any sort of immersion in it. They happen all the time. All the time.

So, the book’s major selling point are the characters and their relationships. Luckily, I really liked them. I also adored the idea of the book.

Mary Jekyll’s mother has just died. Her father died years ago and left them almost penniless. First thing after the funeral, Mary must fire her staff. But since the housekeeper Mrs Poole is critiquing the manuscript we know that at least she will stay with Mary. Mary finds out that her mother has an account on another bank, paying to a “Hyde”. Mary knows that her father’s former friend and murderer Mr. Hyde died some years ago but now she realizes that he might be alive, after all. That’s significant because there’s a reward for information about Hyde. Since Victorian London offers poor and very poor choices to a penniless, orphan girl, she wants to get that reward. So, she goes to UK’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes to get help. He and Watson agree to help, out of civic duty, if nothing else. Mary and Watson go the Magdalene Society (for fallen women and unwanted girls) where Hyde is supposed to be. But instead of Mr. Hyde, they find 14 year old Diana Hyde. She’s abrasive and scornful of the nuns so the Society doesn’t want to keep her anymore, so they foist her on Mary.

Mary also gets some letters that were addressed to her father and using the clues in them, she finds out that there’s a secret society in London that is doing something horrible. With the help of Holmes and Watson, Mary and her friends start to unravel the mystery. Holmes is also trying to solve horrible murders in Whitechapel. Could Hyde be responsible?

I adored the idea of this book. The daughters (and other creations) of famous male literary figures coming together and having adventures as friends. Some of them view themselves as “monsters” who don’t have really a place in society, especially in the Victorian era.

They’re all very practical women. Most of them must be, to survive. Mary has taken over the household money because her mother had been seriously ill for years. Diana lived practically on the streets for some years. Catherine Moreau had to keep a level head to survive on Moreau’s island and later to simply support herself alone. The other two had similar circumstances. They all express their frustration with the limits that the Victorian culture puts on women. Yet, the book has a lot of humor, too. For once, Sherlock and Watson are clearly both the sidekicks to these colorful women.

I had a lot of fun listening this book and Kate Reading’s narration was as wonderful as ever.

The book has lots of quotable parts.
“No wonder men did not want women to wear bloomers. What could women accomplish if they did not have to continually mind their skirts, keep them from dragging in the mud or getting trampled on the steps of an omnibus? If they had pockets! With pockets, women could conquer the world!”

Next Page »