fantasy


The first book in the fantasy series Spells, Swords & Stealth.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 and 51 minutes
Narrators: Roger Wayne

This book starts with metafiction in a table-top RPG. I’m a long-time table-top role player so I really enjoyed the book.
Four characters, played by four male role players, drop dead suddenly in the tavern of a small village of Maplebark. The players had found some mushrooms on a critical failure roll and made the characters eat them. A couple of NPCs (non-player characters, all the characters in the world which aren’t controlled by the players) think of looting the adventurers but to their horror they find a scroll among the characters’ possessions: a scroll which tells them that a king has commanded the characters to appear before him. Unfortunately, the king is known for his blood-thirsty nature and if he finds out that the characters had died in Maplebark, he’ll send his troops to raze it to the ground and torture to death everyone in it. So, the four NPCs decide to save their loved ones and take on the roles of the adventurers.

Even though the characters names aren’t mentioned in the scroll, their classes are: a barbarian, a paladin, a rogue, and a wizard. So now, the local mayor’s guard Eric, the half-orc tavernkeeper Grumph, Thistle who used to be a minion to adventurers, and the local mayor’s daughter Gabrielle sneak away and try to at least die far enough from their village that the king can’t blame their families. However, they’ve hardly gotten out of Maplebark when the local goblins capture them. Not an auspicious start…

The book starts with a scene with the players and their gamemaster so I was waiting for more of this meta-level writing, but we didn’t get much of it. Most of the book are the exploits of unlikely adventurers. At the start, the NPCs choose their roles and they’re pretty predictable but during their adventures, they develop skills and abilities which are less predictable.

This was a fun book and I recommend it for other role players.

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A stand-alone sf/f book.

Publication year: 1993
Format: print
Publisher: ROC
Page count: 384

Traitors has an sf premise: the book is set is another planet which humans colonized centuries ago and the people know it. However, mostly it reads like fantasy. The countries in this setting are islands so you need to have either a ship or an air-born shuttle to go from one country to the next. All high tech is controlled by one nation, Vorgel, and while other nations can use them, the Vorgellians keep tight reins on the tech so nobody else can build anything high tech, anything from laser pistols to shuttles.

The Kingdom is a place where, at the surface anyway, art and artists are regarded highly. However, the Kingdom has a very cruel and rigid caste system. In it, young children are tested for their level of Talent (in any form of art, such as dance, poetry, or music and also in Magic). Those with A-level Talent are then expected to perform so that their performances bring money to the government. Those without A-level Talent are essentially used for scouting rich targets (in foreign countries) and robbing them. Also, a person can have only one Talent and only one A-level Talent in one family. Of course, the Kingdom don’t admit that they steal to anyone outside. Golga is a neighboring country where all frivolous thing, such as fiction and other arts, are forbidden. Supposedly, the Golgans kill all Kingdom members they get their hands on.

Emilio Diante is an A-level Dance Talent. One day, he comes home and finds his family brutally murdered. He knows that the Queen has done it. So, he stows away on a ship, heading for somewhere else, anywhere else. He’s rather become a slave than stay in the Kingdom. However, a mage aboard notices him and the only place where he can stay is Golga. Diante is sure that he will be killed but instead the ruler of Golga, the Golgoth, gives Diante one chance to prove himself and stay. Diante takes that chance. 15 years later, he’s the head of detectives in the Golga capital and one of the ruler’s most trusted advisors. Then, he finds a badly beaten and burned Kingdom woman near the port. He and his closest friend, a wine merchant, take the woman to heal in a resort where they can hopefully rebuild her broken body. On the island resort Diante meets and falls quickly in love with a stunningly beautiful woman. He suspects that she’s from Kingdom but waves away his concerns. That turns out to be a mistake.

As usual with Rusch, I loved the setting. However, this is one of her earlier books and it shows a little.

The various nations we’re given a glimpse of are fascinating. Apparently, the people who founded them, made them opposites of each other. For example, Golga was once part of the Kingdom but the future Golgans rebelled and when they founded their own country, they forbade anything resembling the Kingdom, namely the arts.

Diante is the only POV character so his opinions color everything. He’s a very serious and duty-focused man. He’s only loyal to the Golgoth who trusts Diante. But few others trust Diante. The wine merchant is his only friend and he’s closed himself off from other people so much that he hasn’t had a romantic relationship until he meets the woman at the resort. Also, when he gives someone his loyalty, he has very hard time letting go.

Sheba, the woman Diante falls for, remains a mystery. We don’t see her reasons for her choices. The other major characters change through the story. The Golgoth is another very duty-bound man who will do anything for betterment of his country. He’s also quite different from his reputation in the Kingdom. The wine merchant starts out like a plot device (urging Diante to do something he normally wouldn’t do: take a vacation) but gets deeper during the story. The same thing happens to the wounded woman.

I rather enjoyed this book but it’s not one of Rusch’s best, even though it has some quite unusual twists which I quite enjoyed and the ending was also somewhat unusual (for fantasy).

The first in a humorous fairytale series aimed at younger readers.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Running time: 6 hours and 9 minutes
Narrator: L. J. Ganser

The parents of Sabrina and Daphne Grimm vanished without a trace about a year and a half ago. The orphanage has sent them to a couple of families who turned out to be rotten. Now, an elderly woman has sent for them, claiming to be their grandmother. However, Sabrina knows that they don’t have any living relatives, their father said so. So, 11-year-old Sabrina is determined to keep her guard up and escape with her younger sister as soon as possible.

But Granny Grimm seems like a cheerful person willing to feed them very well, even though she is somewhat odd at first. But soon Sabrina starts to think the Granny’s insane. For one thing, she thinks that giants are real and that she’s some kind of detective. Sabrina is more determined than ever to be the voice of reason in this madness.

Then there’s Mr. Canis, a tall and thin old man who helps take care of the strange house Grandma Grimm lives in.

In this book, fairy tales are real, or at least some version of them. Fairytale characters (called Everafters) are also real but they’re confined to one town. The Grimm family is kind of sheriff types to them. Magic is also real. The characters aren’t just confined to fairytales, though. However, most of the Everafters are pretty unpleasant characters, even those who should be nice. For example, Mayor Charming continually verbally abuses everyone around him, unless he’s fishing for votes. Also, this book is quite reminiscent of the Fables comics. The foster care system is presented as pretty much a criminal system where children are abused, more or less systematically.

It takes a long time for Sabrina to accept that people aren’t lying to her and at first she tries to furiously deny it all, like, you know, a sane modern person would do. I liked her stubborn streak a lot. She’s also determined to protect Daphne and be “strong” for her, which is a lot of responsibility for a girl who is almost twelve.

Daphne accepts everything far quicker, too, quickly in Sabrina’s opinion. Daphne has a lot sweeter personality than her sister.

This is a fun and funny book. Unfortunately, there are some glaring holes in the background. But this is apparently the first in a series of books, so maybe they’ll be explained at some point.

Quotes:
“New York City is a place where everyone lived on top of each other, and that was exactly how Sabrina liked it. Living out in the middle of nowhere was dangerous and suspicious.”

The second book in the series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 15 hours and 23 minutes
Narrator: Jordanna Max Brosky and Robert Petkoff

It’s Christmas time and three months has gone by since the end of the previous book. Theo and Selene are still together and their relationship is pretty much the same; Selene struggling with her feelings and keeping Theo at an arm’s length away.

Selene isn’t a fan of Christmas, indeed, she loathes it. Fortunately, there are some women in distress whom she can help instead of beating up Christmas tree sellers. But soon, the police calls her and Theo to a grisly murder scene and they have so much investigative work on their hands that they almost forget the upcoming holiday, especially when they realize that the murdered man was a former Greek god.
And when a man in a winged cap attacks Selene, she realizes that her extended family is in danger.

Selene DiSilva is Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunt and the protector of the innocent. She’s remained chaste and alone for hundreds, thousands of years. It’s hard for her to be in a relationship and she doesn’t take Theo into account of her plans at all when he’s somewhere else. She’s fierce and fiercely independent. She’s also a shitty girlfriend and I’m not talking about sex or the lack of it, but her complete lack of consideration for Theo and his feelings. I began to wonder why he puts up with her. Granted, the book actually addresses this which is great.

Theo is the same nerdy ancient history professor. He does research and also gets to be pretty heroic. He’s very accommodating of Selene and her standoffishness but fortunately, he does have his limits, too. He also has two female friends whom I enjoyed a lot.

This time we get to see more of Selene’s celestial family. Her twin is a rock star and they have a strained relationship at best. Many other (former) gods appear, too. I really enjoyed them.

The book is mostly told from the POV of Selene or Theo. There are also some shorter chapters from the POV of one of the conspirators. This structure worked well. The audiobook has two narrators and they change according to the POV.

The book has a couple of things I don’t really care for, such as jealously and the female friend who turns out to be in love with her male friend. Also, I’m not a fan of bickering couples. But overall I really enjoyed this second book, too. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger, exactly, but I’m very excited for the next book.

A fantasy book set in near future.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 319

Six-year old Patricia Delfine finds a wounded little bird and it talks to her. It leads her to a Tree who tell her that she’s a witch and gives her a riddle. She can’t answer it and even soon forgets its wording but it haunts her. She can’t find the Tree again no matter how much she searches it nor can she do anything magical. She’s shunned at school, no matter what she does, and her demanding parents blame her for everything.

Laurence Armstead is a nerdy little boy who manages to build two second time machine watch. He loves science and wants to go and see a space rocket launch. But his absent-minded parents don’t allow him to go. So, he steals some money and goes by himself. There he meets scientists and can touch a real rocket until his parents take him away.

Patricia’s parents forbid her to go to the woods and Laurence’s parents keep sending him to nature camps against his wishes. They’re bullied at school and everyone blames them. Reluctantly at first, they team up against the world. Even though they’re very different, they feel that they can sort of rely on each other. Until Patricia manages to do real magic which scares Laurence.

Life takes them to very different places. Years later, they meet again. This time, they’re working at cross-purposes. Humanity is destroying Earth and they both are determined to do something about it. But very different things.

I liked most of this book a lot, especially the start. The school bullies rang a bit too true to me. I also really enjoyed the assassin who was surreal. One of the best things was Patricia and Laurence’s friendship. They really are very different. Patricia loves nature and she wants to use her natural powers to save it, not just humanity. Laurence loves technology and can build amazing things even at a young age. He wants to use technology to save humanity. They have different circles of friends and they both have things they can’t reveal to each other. Unfortunately, things don’t stay that way.

The characters are very human: they aren’t just good or bad but various shades of gray, doing what they think is right. They’re also very vulnerable.

Unfortunately, for me it lost a lot of its rareness near the end, which was really frustrating. I also didn’t like that all adults in child Laurence and Patricia’s are toxic, including, especially their parents. In the end, I wanted to like it more than I did.

The second book in her Five Hundred Kingdoms fantasy/fairy tale retelling series.

Publication year: 2006
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours and 32 minutes
Narrator: Gabra Zackman

Princess Andromeda is the only child of Queen Cassiopeia of Acadia. The king died several years ago. The ambitious and extremely beautiful Cassiopeia rules the country with the help of her adviser Solon. Andromeda, Andie, is 19 but is still considered a child without responsibilities. This frustrates her because she would like nothing more than her mother’s approval. Unfortunately, Andie is plain and her eyesight is so bad the she needs oculars which disappoint her vain mother even more.

However, Andie is very smart and a scholar. When she’s able to prove to Solon that she can research well enough to be useful, Cassiopeia finally starts to treat her as an adult. Andie even finds out that in recent years there have been strange weather patterns along the coast and more shipwrecks than usual. But Andie doesn’t have long to enjoy her new status because a dragon appears in Acadia, for the first time in known history. Andie researches ways to get rid of it but the only thing she finds out is Tradition: the dragon eats a virgin girl every week until a champion arrives to slay it. The queen sends for a champion and meanwhile a virgin girl is sacrificed every week.

But weeks go by and no champion arrives until Andie herself is tied to the stake. Then suddenly a champion appears. He rescues her but doesn’t manage to kill the dragon which just flies away. Andie can’t return home and she persuades the knight to take her with him, which he does but only as long as she won’t be a burden.

This is another enjoyable twist on fairy tales. It’s a mix of St. George, misfit princess tales, and even a dash of Robin Hood. Andie isn’t a traditional princess: she’s plain and bookish but smart and loyal to a fault. She enjoys the company of ordinary guards more than nobility. She knows all about the Tradition and how it tries to change people and things into storylines and so she also knows ways to try to subvert it. Such as it tries to make maidens fall in love with men who rescue them. I was delighted with how this was subverted.

While this book has a romance (it’s a Luna imprint after all) it’s very much down-played. I enjoyed this story almost as much as the first one and especially enjoyed the dragons and the characters who showed up after the half-way point.

The next book, Fortune’s Fool, is apparently based on the Little Mermaid. I’m actually not very familiar with it so I think I’m going to reread it first.

A stand-alone fantasy/horror novella.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 143

Professor Vellitti Boe is a history professor at the Ulthar Women’s Collage. She used to be a traveler, going to remote places either alone or with companions. When she became older, she settled on Ulthar. But then one of the students goes missing and Vellitt has to take up her pack again and try to find the student before she goes to the waking world.

The missing student Clarie Jurat is not only stunningly beautiful but very smart. She’s also the daughter of man who could shut down the school if she isn’t found, so after some hesitation, the dean allows Vellitt to leave to a dangerous journey. Apparently Clarie has met a man from the waking world and become so in love with him and his world, that she’s left with him to go to the nearest gate to the waking world. Vellitt isn’t as young as she used to be but she soon recovers her love of traveling, despite the dangers of ghuls, ghasts, and other people. A small black cat comes along with her.

Apparently, this novella is based on Lovecraft’s stories, which I didn’t know when I started to read it. It’s part of the Hugo package. I haven’t read much of Lovecraft’s stories but I’ve played Arkham Horror and watched the few movies and even a play based on the stories, so I’m fairly familiar with them. I’m not a horror reader but the horror elements are mild enough that I didn’t cringe.

I enjoyed the story a lot. Vellitt is a great main character and I wouldn’t mind reading more about her. She’s fiercely independent and wants to stay that way. She’s smart and experienced. The Dreamlands are, of course, a fascinating place with strange creatures and the constant threat of gods destroying any place or person who has offended them in some way. But to her, the waking world is the strange place. I thoroughly enjoyed that reversal and the ending.

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