fantasy


The fourth and final book in the series Magic Ex Libris where magic comes from books.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 44 minutes
Narrator: David DeVries

About a year ago, Libriomancer Isaac Vainio told the world that magic exists. He was hoping for a future where he and the other Libriomancers can help and heal people openly but instead they face a lot of suspicions and fear. Still, Isaac was able to found New Millennium, a research facility for all things magical. But the US authorities want everything researched thoroughly which frustrates Isaac and sometimes the people he wants to help. Especially when the person he wants to help is his young niece.

But another group of supernatural people want a war with the normal people and they’re attacking politicians who are against magic. Soon, Isaac and his friends are also in the crosshairs.

I’ve really enjoyed this series and was somewhat saddened to see it end. But it ends on a high note which is always good. I loved the new, and old, gadgets and magics Isaac and his friends use. And I really like his endless optimism in seeing how much good magic can do.

The ending is also open enough that there’s a chance Mr. Hines will write more stories in this world.

The first book in the fantasy series Divine Cities.

Publication year: 2014
Format: print
Page count: 452
Publisher: Broadway Books

Bulikov and Saypur: two cities which inhabitants hate each other with passion but which are linked by the past, present, and mostly likely by the future as well.

Bulikov was, and still is, the center city of the Continent, a place where six gods lived and influenced the lives of every human there. Once, they warred against each other but then they suddenly formed a peace and started to expand from the Continent. They conquered and enslaved Saypur. Saypur is rich in minerals and other natural wealth and the Continentals forced the Saypuris to work. The city of Bulikov was the prosperous center of the world.

But 75 years ago the balance of power changed dramatically: a heroic figure rose amongst the Saypuri and invented technology which killed the gods. Because the gods had literally changed reality in the Continent, it suffered greatly when “normal” reality returned. Now, Saypur rules and the Continent is poor, ignorant, and mostly illiterate as well. Also, the Saypuri laws make it illegal for the Continentals to know their own history, especially concerning the gods, and to evoke the gods in any way. So, the Saypuri and the Continentals continue to hate each other. Bulikov is now partly a ruin and filled with desperate, poor people.

Shara Thivani from Saypur arrives to Bulikov to find out who has murdered her dear and respected friend Dr. Efrem Pangyui. Pangyui was a historian passionately interested in the Continent and especially in the gods. Shara suspects at first that the locals have killed him but the further she digs the more she finds unexpected clues. She’s a trusted operative (meaning: spy) for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which deals with Continental matters, especially with the remnants the gods have left behind: items, even creatures which shouldn’t exist. She is also something of a historian, like Pangyui but she has to be loyal to Saypur and not to truth or facts. Yet, it seems that even the minister of Foreign Affairs, who is Shara’s aunt, doesn’t trust her anymore.

Lots of people have praised this book and I wasn’t disappointed. The world-building is exquisite and integral to the characters and the plot. Shara is a great character and so is her “secretary” the Northern barbarian Sigrud. He’s a one-eyed giant of few words but very decisive action. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Bulikov governor Turyin Mulaghesh, who was a colonel before she was sent to exile in Bulikov where she has to enforce policies she doesn’t care for. Granted, the characters aren’t very complex but I liked them.

The story isn’t set in a typical fantasy landscape of horses and chosen ones, but in a more modern city where cars and firearms are typical, at least for the wealthier people, and photography is the new hot thing. Yet, some magic still works, too.

Excellent book and I’ll be diving into the sequel shortly.

Set in 1878 in Rapid City in Washington State, it’s a steampunk Western detective story.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 351
Publisher: TOR

Let’s get something out of the way: Karen Memory is a prostitute and she lives in a brothel. She’s also around 17 and not the youngest girl there. She’s also smart and loyal and cares for the other girls. But she prefers to work in Madame Damnable’s brothel to working in a factory, which was at the time dangerous and very dirty.

The book is Karen’s journal and so written in first person and with a dialect.

There are (at least) two main brothels in Rapid City. Hôtel Mon Cherie is run by Madame Damnable who doesn’t allow the girls to drink too much and keeps her place clean. The girls are like family to each other. Also, one of them was born a man. The girls also gather around at evenings, after the clients have gone, and read different sorts of books.

Then there’s Peter Bantle’s place where the girls are kept prisoners, underfed, and beaten. Unfortunately, Bantle is quite influential. One Chinese woman, Merry Lee, tries and sometimes succeeds in freeing Bantle’s girls.

The story starts when Merry Lee comes into Mon Cherie shot and supported by one of Bantle’s escaped slaves. Bantle follows with his goons but Karen and a couple of the other girls and Madame manage to send them away. But a war starts between the two brothels.

Also, a new marshal is in town following a man who murders prostitutes gruesomely. Marshal Bass Reeves is black and he isn’t going to get much help from the locals, except from Karen and her friends.

I really enjoyed this tale a lot. I did have difficulty with the language sometimes, though. I also really enjoyed the side characters and the references to earlier steampunk books, such as to Jules Verne’s books.

The third Penric novella in the Five Gods/ Chalion universe. Ends abruptly in almost a cliffhanger.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Kindle e-book

This time Penric is on a secret mission in Cedonia, a new city for us readers. His new master, Duke of Adria, thought he would make a good secret agent and has sent him to offer a job to one of Cedonia’s generals, Adelis Arisaydia. Unfortunately, things go wrong almost at the start and Penric is imprisoned. Fortunately, he is a sorcerer in the Bastard ’s order and his demon could help him escape. Also, the papers he’s carrying get into the wrong hands. As a consequence, the young general Adelis Arisaydia loses his career and more.

The other POV character in the story is Nikys Khatai who general Arisaydia’s widowed sister. In fact, Adelis has been imprisoned for treason even though he is so loyal to his country. Nikys trys to make him escape imprisonment with her, but he refuses, willing to trust his superiors. Unfortunately, that trust is betrayed.

The paths of Nikys and Penric cross and Penric is quickly attracted to Nikys. But Penric realizes that the secret papers he carried put Adelis in danger in the first place, so he can’t say anything to her about his attraction. Also, he feels very guilty about the pain he’s caused to Adelis and decides to do something about it.

This story is set ten years after the first “Penric and the Demon” novella. Penric and Desdemona are comfortable with each other and used to working together. Penric is very confident in his many roles as a healer, a divine (a priest), and a sorcerer. Desdemona is the one of the pair who wants more excitement in their life. She’s also very protective of him; if he dies, she has to leap into the nearest host without much choice whom or what animal she’ll get.

Nikys is a young widow and very close to her stubborn and proud brother. She’s the more level-headed and practical of the two. But I guess Adelis is used to achieving anything he wants and trusting in his own skills and strength. When he’s suddenly helpless it’s very hard for him to trust anyone else than Nikys.

I enjoyed this story a lot, too. It’s gentler tale without emotional wringer, unlike some of her earlier stories. Which is good! Not every tale has to be brutal! And I like her writing style and the characters are great. Nikys and Adelis are very well drawn characters.

The only complaint I have is the abrupt ending. Almost nothing is resolved and the characters are left in a precarious position, if not in an outright cliffhanger. But the next tale, Mira’s Last Dance, is already out.

A novella in the Five Gods/ Chalion universe. Sequel to “Penric and the Demon”.
Format: Kindle e-book

I enjoyed “Penric and the Demon” a lot and was delighted to see a sequel. It’s not absolutely necessary to read “Penric and the Demon” first because things are explained but I think reading it will increase your enjoyment.

Penric and the Shaman is another lovely piece of fantasy from Bujold and it’s self-contained. However, for a novella length, it has a lot of POV characters: three.

Inglis kin Wolfcliff is the first character we meet. He’s wounded and mistaken for dead but soon he’s rescued by suspicious country people. Inglis is grateful but his life is a mess. He doesn’t really know how to get out of the mess and is just trying to survive.

Penric is minor nobility but more importantly he’s now a divine (a priest) in the Bastard’s order and also a sorcerer because he has a demon inside him. They live and work in the Princess-Archdivine’s court. That demon has had ten previous “riders” or hosts, all of them women. Penric calls the demon Desdemona and they seem to have a very good relationship, except that Penric enjoys reading, translating, and other scholarly duties at the court and Desdemona is bored by them. When a man from the Father’s order come for help, Desdemona is eager to leave and Penric is pretty much just as curious.

Oswyl, a Locator in the Father’s Order, tracking a shaman who has murdered a young man. At least, Oswyl is convinced that the shaman has stolen the man’s soul and possibly murdered him as well. He’s not impressed with Penric who seems way too young to be able to help him but the Princess-Archdivine sends Penric, and so Oswyl has to be content with him.

Many things are not as they first seem. I was already familiar with Penric but I was surprised that four years had gone by since the first novella. Penric has learned and matured to his powers. We also get to see more of the world and the powers of a shaman. However, Penric isn’t really the main character. Inglis and Oswyl are the ones who have to confront their fears and assumptions.

The writing is as beautiful as usual and I enjoyed it a lot.

The third book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 358
Publisher: Pan Books

The Burning Page opens shortly after the end of the Masked City. Irene and her apprentice Kai have been kept busy with various assignments in various worlds. In fact, the story starts when they’ve already got their newest book, the Daughter of Porthos by Dumas, and are trying to escape a high-order alternate world were the order comes from a totalitarian society. The portal to the interdimensional library is in an abandoned building and unfortunately it doesn’t work: when Irene tries to open it, the door bursts into flames. Fortunately, they have another way to get off that world and return to the world where Irene is the Librarian-in-Residence. It’s just far more noticeable.

Back in the alternate world where Irene usually lives, her close associate, and a possible romantic interest, Peregrine Vale was previously infected by chaos and has sunk into near suicidal depression. Irene is very worried about him. She knows a couple of possible cures but thinks that they can do more harm than good. She doesn’t really have time to think about them because, somebody is trying to kill her (and/or Kai) and the Library itself is under attack.

The ending of Masked City had consequences to Irene: she’s now on probation and given out the least appealing retrieval jobs. Also, the attention of a dragon king can be negative, at least for her.

This time we get to see more of the inner workings of the Library and meet other Librarians, but under emergency of course. There’s also some inner-Library politicking going on and Irene strongly dislikes that. We also get to see two new alternate worlds, both high-order worlds. I really enjoyed the second one and would love to see it again.

The pace is once again very quick: Irene has hardly a minute to breathe or recover from one emergency until the next. Couple of familiar characters return from the previous books and some earlier plot lines are tied up so I recommend reading them before this one.

This was another great book in this series. I thoroughly enjoyed the alternate worlds and Irene with her growing confidence in herself.

The second book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 339 + secrets from the library and the author’s interview
Publisher: TOR

Irene is a junior librarian in the interdimensional Library. Her task is to retrieve books which are considered rare or otherwise special. She usually travels to various alternate realities to get them but currently she’s been stationed (as a Librarian-in-Residence) into a one specific world where she has a cover identity as Irene Winters. She also has an apprentice, the very handsome and proper Kai, and a (mostly) dependable friend Peregrine Vale, an extraordinary private detective. Vale sort of knows about the Library but has never visited there. Irene can also use the Language, which allows her to command inanimate objects and sometimes confuse people, too, for a short period of time.

Irene and Kai are in the middle of retrieving Bram Stoker’s La Sorciere from an auction, right under the nose of a Russian agent. But then, Kai is kidnapped. He’s Irene’s friend as well as responsibility, so she and Vale will do anything to rescue him. But first, they must find out who is behind the kidnapping. Irene suspects the Fae and they are a formidable enemy.

The Masked City was a very enjoyable read for me and I’m diving into the next book, The Burning Page. Irene has grown into her own and she’s more confident of herself and her place in the Library. Apparently, several months have gone by after the previous book, the Invisible Library, so she and Kai have grown closer and become friends.

In this book, Irene and Kai are dragged in the middle of conflict between order and chaos. The Fae represent the chaos and they are very good enemies in a book about books because they see the world as a stage – or a book: “[the Fae] receive their nourishment from their emotional interactions with humans, feeding off us in this way. And they perceive everyone other than themselves, both humans and indeed other Fae, as mere participants – fulfilling background roles – in their own personal stories. And here we have an interesting feedback loop. The more dramatic they can make their personal stories (for example, playing the role of a villain, rogue or hero) the more power a Fae can gain. And the more powerful they are, the more stereotypical this role-playing behavior becomes.” (From the Student Librarian’s Handbook)

On the side of the order are the dragons who can control the weather and earth. They think that they’re the most powerful beings and therefore born to rule. The Library isn’t allied with either because either extreme seems to be bad for the humans who must live on those worlds.

Cogman uses a lot of tropes in this book and plays around with them which was fun. Also, for a lot of the book Irene can’t rely on anyone else but her own skills. The powerful Fae Lord Silver could be an ally but only when it suits him and on his own terms, which Irene might not be able to agree on. The stakes are very high and even if Irene succeeds, it’s quite likely that she’ll have some very nasty enemies afterwards.

There are also tantalizing hints about what sort of trouble Irene and Kai got into during those months after the end of the previous book and they sound very interesting: “the time they’d had to run a con game on a visiting Kazakhstan warlord with a Silk Road travelogue”. Perhaps a short story?

“The perfect Librarian is calm, cool, collected, intelligent, multilingual, a crack shot, a martial artist, an Olympic-level runner (at both the sprint and marathon), a good swimmer, an expert thief, and a genius con artist. They can steal a dozen books from a top-security strongbox in the morning, discuss literature all afternoon, have dinner with the cream of society in the evening, and then stay up until midnight dancing, before stealing some more interesting tomes at three a.m. That’s what a perfect Librarian would do. In practice, most Librarians would rather spend their time reading a good book.”

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