alternate history


The second book in the alternate history Lady Astronaut duology.

Publication year: 2018
Format: print
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 384 including the historical note and bibliography

This book starts a couple of years after the end of the previous book, Calculating Stars. It’s 1961 and the International Aerospace Coalition has established a moon base where astronauts go regularly, they have Lunette on orbit, and planning the first manned Mars mission. However, the space program has still many obstacles. One of them is funding. While the most radical people on the Earth First movement are considered terrorists, their sentiments are echoed by a lot of powerful people. Elma is one of the pilots ferrying people around on the Moon. Unfortunately, she’s parted from her beloved husband for months at a time while she’s on the Moon.

Elma is again the first-person POV narrator and the Mars mission is the center of the book. Once again, Elma and the other women (especially the non-white women) must fight for their places. Even then, Elma and the other women are mostly seen as a good publicity stunt. However, without modern computer technology, all the computing has to be done by hand and all the computers are women. They do have some mechanical computers but everything must be keyed in by hand so they’re actually slower than a human computer.

Sexism and racism are again addressed and shown. South Africa is a large economic contributor to the IAC and their astronauts are very racist. Elma must also confront her own privileges. Most of the characters from the first book return and we get more insight to some of them. There are a couple of things I had a problem with but they would be considered spoilers.

Also, this isn’t glamourous or easy space travel, but more realistic

Over all, this was a great continuation of the duology and I enjoyed it just as much as the first book. Definitely read the Calculating Stars first.

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A stand-alone fantasy book.

Publication year: 1988
Format: print
Publisher: Baen
Page count: 345

This is apparently Kate Elliott’s first book.

Sanjay Mukerji and Chryse Lissagaray are newly wed. They’re surprised to find a beautiful deck of tarot cards as one of their wedding gifts. They’re even more surprised when the cards transport them to a fantasy land.

Anglia is troubled. The ruler is Regent, Princess Blessa, the aunt to the 15-year old Heir, Princess Georgianna. Also, many of the rich exploit the poor people ruthlessly and many of the poor people are rising up for their rights, because they’re too desperate to do anything else. They also loath the Regent and many assume that she’s going to do anything she can to stay in power. And they’re right: the Regent is a gifted mage and she uses her own deck of tarot cards, her connections, and her ability to manipulate people to get rid of the Heir in a way that she can’t be implicated.

But Chryse and Sanjay have more immediate problems because they’re trying to find a way back to home. However, while fleeing rioters, they stumble upon Julian and his dear old friend Kate. Both are drunk but agree to help the couple. At the Vole house, Chryse and Sanjay meet Lady Trent who takes an interest in them. Lady Trent is Julian’s grandaunt and she knows many people. She advises the couple to seek an appointment with a famous seer. When they finally meet with the seer, she gives them a task: to find her the treasure from the mythical Labyrinth.

But others are also after the treasure. The Regent is one them and another is the infamous Earl of Elen. He’s arrogant, cold, and has a terrible reputation for abusing everyone he can. Another is Professor Farr. He’s an elderly archaeology professor obsessed with the Labyrinth and it’s history.

This is a mystery fantasy and I quite enjoyed it. It’s not a thriller. It does have a lot of characters. Chryse is the main POV character but there a lot of others, such as the Regent and Maretha who is the only daughter of Professor Farr. Earl of Elen demands that Maretha marries him and she has no choice.

This book has a lot of things I really liked. Of course, Chryse and Sanjay are already an established couple and lovely together. Archaeology is another: most of the book is an excavation trip to the ancient city where the Labyrinth is supposed to be. Tarot cards used as magic is a third.

Also, the book has a wonderful wealth of interesting and different women characters. Kate is a tomboy who dresses in men’s clothing and isn’t afraid to say what she means. She’s an aristocrat but has been disinherited by her parents. Lady Trent is in her eighties and has seen a lot of life. Chryse is a musician and a composer. Maretha is devoted to her father. She’s a very capable archaeologist in her own right but is in her father’s shadow. Maretha’s orphan cousin Charity is living with the Farrs. She’s demure but also vain about her looks and we find quite interesting things about her at the end. And of course the Regent who manipulates everyone around her. Basically, where a more common fantasy book would have male characters, we get woman. Which was great.

On the other hand, the world-building was more common. The world has other creatures than humans, such as ogres and fairies, but we saw them only briefly. Mostly, we got street urchins who don’t look like humans. While most of the magic is done through the cards, there are other magical forces in the world, too. The Earl uses them quite casually. In place of great men, we again got women. For example, Shakespeare and Mozart where both women in this world and so were most of the rulers of Anglia. Also, I couldn’t puzzle the religion together: people talked of the Bible but seemed to revere Queen of Heaven who has both a Son and a Daughter. The Daughter is the Queen of the Underworld who is also called the Sinner. Fascinating but not enough details.

The first book in a fantasy series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor
Page count at GoodReads: 400

This world has four alternate realities and only very few people can travel between and even they need tokens, blood, and magic to do it. Kell is one of those few people. He’s an Antari, a member of a magical race, marked by one eye which is black. Only very few Antari are left. Kell was sort of adopted into the royal family; while king Maxim and queen Emira treat him well they don’t consider him quite family. But Rhys, the heir, does think Kell as his brother and vice versa. Because of his abilities, Kell is a messager for his king for the other two worlds.

Kell calls the worlds with different colors. He’s from Red London which has a lot of magic. The country is called Maresh Empire and it’s far larger than Great Britain. Indeed, people who don’t have magic are at distinct disadvantage. Black London is sealed off. It was corrupted by magic and the others don’t want anything to do with it or the people inside. White London is ruled by royal twins, Athos and Astrid Dane. In that world, magic is coveted and bound with tattoos, and those who have the most magic are rulers. So, the twins are the most powerful magicians and sadists. They use their powers to make others their soulless servants. The final world is Grey London where magic is weak and only a few people even know that it’s real. It’s the equivalent of our world and the country is called England and the sovereign is old George III.

It’s forbidden to bring anything from one world to another, with the exception of small tokens that the Antari need to travel between them. However, Kell loves thrills and so he’s agreed to smuggle small items for a few people. His brother Rhys warns him that if he’s caught, the king must punish him.

One day, a desperate woman in White London gives Kell a letter and a small token to take to Gray London. Before Kell can quite make up his mind, the woman is gone, leaving behind the items. Soon, Kell finds out that the token isn’t at all what he thought it would be: it’s a very powerful magical stone from Black London and a lot of people want it, too. Kell must try to survive long enough to take it back where it belongs.

Delilah Bard is an orphan and a thief. She dresses as a man so that she can move easier among the throngs of Grey London. However, when she returns to her base, her “landlord” tries to rape her. She kills him and is forced to return to Ballard, the only man who has been kind to her. She feels that she already owes him too much but has no choice. When she comes across Kell, she robs him and is disappointed to realize that she only got a rock. But Kell tracks her down and when Lila realizes that he’s really from another world, she almost forces him to take her with him, even though the danger is great.

Lila’s trying to save money so that she can escape somewhere better, but her pickings are so small that it’s not likely. Still, she craves for grand adventure and something better and more than being a petty thief. She’s clearly being wounded and she’s used to taking care of herself and not being able to trust anyone.

Kell also longs for thrills but is disgusted with himself that he wants it. He both loves the royal family and feels that he’s not really a part of it.

The only other known Antari is Holland. He serves the twin royals of White London. He’s cold and calculating and we find the reason for that, too.

The London in each world isn’t the same city. They have similarities, of course, but many things are different, especially the people and the “mood” of the city. The larger country is also different and so is the river through each London.

The book takes it’s time showing us the setting before the plot kicks in. While the worlds are complex, the plot isn’t, which is probably a good thing.

While this is the first book in a trilogy, it can be read as a stand-alone.

I really liked the setting and the different moods in the different worlds. The characters are fine. Lila and Kell are the main POV characters but there are lot more, most of them seen just once.

The third and final book in the Blackthorn and Grim fantasy series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 16 hours 17 minutes
Narrators: Natalie Gold, Nick Sullivan, Scott Aiello, Susannah Jones

Blackthorn and Grim are former convicts who don’t trust anyone but each other. They’re both deeply wounded people. Slowly, they’ve come to realize that Prince Oran is an honorable man and to trust him a little. They’ve settled living on his lands. Blackthorn is the local wisewoman, a healer, and Grim is her confidant and reliable worker.

Cara is a 15-year old girl who lives with her dad and aunt in Wolf Den. Her dad, Tóla, is a rich and grumpy landowner who guards his privacy jealously. In recent years, Cara has become more insular, preferring the company of birds and nature to humans. She even has difficulty talking with people, even her dad and aunt. One day, her father unexpectedly decides that Cara must learn better behavior and sends her to Prince Oran’s household. Cara doesn’t want to go but she has no choice. The Prince’s wife is concerned about the girl and asks Blackthorn to spend time with her.

Tóla has decided to finish building a Heartwood House. The house was started years ago but was never completed because the main architect, then only one knows how to build it properly, vanished. Now that builder, Bardán, has returned as mysteriously as he vanished, with broken hands. He’s also confused in his mind. Tóla thinks that Bardán’s ambandonement of the project brought ill luck on Tóla’s family and is responsible for Tóla’s wife dying.

However, Bardán can’t build it himself so Tóla hires a man to help: Grim. Tóla demands that Grim can’t tell anyone anything about what he’s doing. Reluctantly, Grim agrees because he’s concerned how Tóla treats Bardán. But as months go by, Grim realizes that something really strange is going on.

Once again, Marillier has created a lush fantasy tale. It’s not fast-paced but lingers with people and places. Grim and Blackthorn are at the heart of the tale. They can’t trust anyone else and when Grim accepts the job and they must be separated every day for months on end, it tears them up inside, although neither wants to show it. Their shared experiences have made them very close and in this book they finally realize that they love each other. Personally, I was somewhat disappointed in such a convenient turn, but it’s understandable and pretty much inevitable.

Once again, the story has very dark elements, such as abuse. Grim and Blackthorn must make difficult decisions. Once again, I quickly thought I knew what was going on and the story takes it’s leisurely time until it unravels the mystery. And once again I liked the characters and the story so much that I didn’t mind. In fact, I was as a little sorry when it ended.

This was a wonderful ending to the lovely series.

The second book in the fantasy series Blackthorn and Grim.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 15 hours 54 minutes
Narrators: Natalie Gold, Nick Sullivan, Susannah Jones

Blackthorn and Grim are former convicts. Blackthorn made a deal with a fae to get out of prison and is still bound by her promise to help everyone who asks for her help and not to go to after Mathuin for seven years. Mathuin is the cruel ruler who killed Blackthorn’s family and put her behind bars.

They both have difficult pasts and don’t want to reveal them to anyone, including each other. They’re not lovers but they can’t trust anyone else. For now, they’ve settled in Dalriada with the local prince and his new wife as their allies or perhaps even their friends. However, one day lady Geiléis rides to the prince and asks desperately for help. It seems that a monster lives near her lands, in the Tower of Thorns, behind an impenetrable wall of thorns. The monster can’t leave the tower and its howls drive everyone to depression and madness because they’re forced to relive their most depressing memories again and again. The prince asks Blackthorn’s thoughts and reluctantly she agrees to travel to lady Geiléis’ lands and try to get rid of the monster. Grim goes with her, even though he has lots of reservations about the whole thing.

Also, a childhood friend of Blackthorn’s appears. She thought Flannan was dead, too, but it turns out that he’s a traveling scholar and had been away when Blackthorn’s family died. She’s more than happy to see him but he has a new plan to bring down Mathuin. She wants badly to do that, but it would break her word to the fae. Flannan is going to a monastery near lady Geiléis’ lands and so they travel together. The more Blackthorn hears about his plans to go against Mathuin, the more she wants to help. Soon, she intends to follow Flannan south and help him bring down Mathuin.

This was a wonderful book, written in a very lush and evocative manner. It draws on many fairy tales, as can be seen from lady Geiléis’ chapters where she tells us the tale of young lady Lily and the young man she met in a mysterious tower. The fae of this world are very much from the fairy tales; mysterious, sometimes cruel, and they have their own rules.

This was an excellent continuation to the series. This time we find out more about Grim’s tortured past. He’s fixated on Blackthorn as the person who can keep him grounded and the only person he can truly trust. He’s taciturn and other people consider him stupid and slow. Blackthorn herself is torn between wanting to keep her word to the fae and wanting to see justice done on Mathuin. She’s a determined and passionate woman who has been deeply hurt and is now suspicious of everyone, except Grim. When she realizes that she must keep her plan of leaving with Flannan secret from Grim, she feels very guilty and tries to reason to herself that Grim will be better off without her. This puts a lot of strain on Grim’s and Blackthorn’s friendship.

The book has three POV characters: lady Geiléis, Blackthorn, and Grim. The audio book has a different reader for each and that worked very well.

The first book in the fantasy series Thieves of Fate.

Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Publisher: Pyr
Page count: 366

This isn’t the ordinary fantasy world set in pseudo Medieval or Renaissance setting. It’s got two other sentient races but it’s far more technologically advanced than usual fantasy worlds. Most people use guns, not swords. All sorts of mechanical contraptions are become more frequent, at least for the wealthier people.

But what really sets this world apart is its religious philosophy. The Theosophy declares that God and Reason are one. Science and religion are one. God is a scientist, and some believe that life is an experiment. The Reverend Doctors are scientists. There’s no magic as such and the book has only one magical element.

This is a very dark world. Poor people are living on the streets and if you take a loan and can’t pay it, you’re thrown into prison and most likely die there. If you have enough money or right connections, you can do any crime you want. The police are corrupt. Some reviews said the world is Dickensian and that’s a good description.

The story has a lot of POV characters and some of them just disappear before the end. One of those was my favorite character and while I really enjoyed the beginning of the story, I was less enthusiastic with the ending. I found the characters sufficient different from each other that I had no problems following who was who.

Rowena Downshire is thirteen and working as a messenger girl for Ivor who handles both legal and illegal post. Ivor’s got a nasty temper and he feeds and pays the kids who works for him as little as possible. Rowena’s mother is in debtors’ prison and she’s trying to earn enough for both keeping fees and for buying her out. When Ivor’s best messenger girl goes missing, Rowena is sent in her place to Reverend Chalmers’ home with important letters. After receiving the letters, Chalmers sends her to the notorious Alchemist. Unfortunately, a lot of people want the book Rowena is now carrying and she’s robbed of the book.

Rare is a thief. She’s been a thief for most of her young life. While she’s been with her master (and lover) at the start of her career, she’s more independent now. She gets some (or most/all?) of her info from her lover Anselm and uses for her own gain. She’s pretty ruthless and when she gets wind of a prize that many people want, she thinks that she can get it first and sell it to the highest bidder.

Anselm Meteron is a retired thief and now owns several legal places in the city. Rare is his primary mistress and while she infuriates her, he’s very fond of her. When the chief inspector of the city, who is in Anselm’s payroll, comes over and acts strangely, Anselm realizes something is wrong.

Reverend Doctor Phillip Chalmers is doing important and controversial work with a book that he thinks will change the dominant religion in the world. He’s also nervous because he knows that not everyone will be pleased with that. When the delivery girl finally brings the letters from his partner, he panics and sends the book to the Alchemist. Just in time, because he’s attacked and imprisoned.

Bess is Ivor’s former delivery girl. Now, she’s a courtesan for smallduke Regenzi and he’s young and handsome and doesn’t want anything too difficult. She’s happy to be in a place which feels much safer to her. However, when Regenzi goes to buy something from the Alchemist, that mysterious old man warns Bess that her companion is far more dangerous than she could have guessed.

These are just the POV characters at start of the book. A couple of more are added later.
The two other sentient races in this world are quite clearly not human. The aigamuxa (aiga) are very strong and they’ve been used as slaves before. Their eyes are on their heels and their heads are eyeless. They usually travel by swinging from trees, like apes. The lanyani are tree-like creatures which are used as servants by some richer people. We don’t get much info about the lanyani but the aiga don’t care for humans. However, the human nations have trampled their habitats so some of them no choice but to live in cities. They can be aggressive and use brute strength in combat. While I love weird creatures (Barsoom’s kaldane and rykors!), I’m afraid the aigas’ lack of sight made them some what ridiculous as a credible threat.

The story has lots of mysteries and some are left for the rest of the series. I liked the beginning and the atmosphere of the book a lot. Most of the characters are also interesting, but my favorite character disappears too quickly. Many fantasy books shy away from religion, so it was interesting to see it explored at length here. And I loved the revelations about Anselm and the Alchemist so I won’t spoil them here.

Still, the ending was a bit too predictable and I couldn’t take the aiga as a threat. Almost every time I kept wondering how can they see to do that. It seems to me that they must have some other way to either see or sense their surroundings pretty well.

Still, I enjoyed the book and intend to pick up the next in the series.

I won this book from Books, Bones, and Buffy blog some months back.

The prequel book to a steampunk fantasy series the Guild Chronicles.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: Claymore Ulfberht & Xiphos LLC
Page count: 292 at GoodReads

Frederick “Dolly” Williamson is a detective at Scotland Yard, in Victorian London. When sir Francis Chilton, one of the senior partners in a highly influential bank, is found dried to a husk in his own house, Dolly is sent to investigate. He calls in Rose Caldwell, a former nun who has lots of skills and knowledge of the occult. Unfortunately, she’s also considered a witch by the public as well as Dolly’s colleagues and boss. However, Rose’s alchemical devices and magical talent turn out to be invaluable in the occult mystery. Another man is found similarly murdered, and the Home office hoists upon Dolly two French occultists who claim to know who is responsible and want to help in her capture. However, they have their own goals.

This story is set in quite a complex world with both steampunk devices and alchemical/magical devices. The occultists have variety of powers, able to take over another person’s mind, project themselves to astral plane, and even use devices to prolong their lives, but with the expense of another’s life essence. Rose can also summon angels to help her. But mostly she constructs and uses various magical devices. Some can see what magical events have happened in the past, others protect against spells.

While most people don’t know that magic really works, Dolly has had previous experience with them and knows that magic and magical threats are real. He works as best he can in the ordinary world and in the magical world. However, he’s not keeping the magic a secret nor is anyone expecting him to do so. Most people just don’t believe it. Dolly is a diligent detective and questions, as best he can, the wealthy and influential people affected by this case.

While Rose is a former nun, she didn’t quit because she lost faith. Quite the contrary: she was excommunicated because she dared to learn about the magic and use it. She’s very much out of her luck in this story, barely making enough money to rent a small apartment and drinking everything else. She has some quite interesting friends.

The cast is quite large. In addition to the people connected directly to the case such as the French Necronist guild members, we meet Chinese gangsters, Haitian Voodoo practitioners, London’s own occultists, and workers’ rights activists. The story has many POV characters, as well, even though Dolly and Rose are the main characters. A few characters aren’t directly related to the case, so I presume they play a large role in the series and so are introduced to us already.

While the main mystery is solved, this is obviously the first in series book. The ending opens up a couple of plot threads for the series.

This was an interesting read and a very imaginative setting. Rose was definitely my favorite character and the most distinct one, except for the murderer. I also really enjoyed the idea of the French necronists guild and that was expanded well near the end.

However, the book had a lot of minor errors with spelling, dialog tags, and more.

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