Once upon a time VIII


A stand-alone (urban) fantasy set in Russia.

Publication year: 2007
Format: ebook
Publisher: Prime Books
Pages: 303

Galina is a young woman and she lives in Moscow with her sister and mother. She also suffers from schizophrenia and so her mother doesn’t like her much. They eke out an existence near poverty. Galina works as a translator for a local newspaper. Galina’s sister Masha is pregnant and at the start of the book she gives birth in their bathroom. Afterward, she’s mysteriously gone even though the only way out is a small window high up. A crow sits in the windowsill and Galina tries very hard not to think that it is her sister. But Masha is gone and Galina is afraid to report it. However, when Fyodor, street artist, tells her that he has seen people turning into birds, Galina realizes that it might have happened for real and persuades the artist to help her.

Yakov is a police officer, but he works at a desk and not as a hotshot detective. He lives with his mother who tends the graves of her parents. One day, he sees a man turn into a bird right in front of him. At first he thinks that he’s going crazy but then he’s assigned to investigate disappearances; all over Moscow poor people are vanishing.

Fyodor is a poor, alcoholic, homeless artist who is afraid of gypsies because his mother used to frighten him about them. He knows that reflections of doors can lead to real places. He, Galina, and Yakov step into a door’s reflection and end up in another world. In that world Russian fairy tale characters and real people who have turned into myths come to life. Also, a few disappeared people live there but to her disappointment, Galina doesn’t find her sister. However, she continues the search.

“The Golem and the Jinni” is somewhat similar in structure to this book because they both spend time telling the backstories of new characters shortly after they arrive into the story. However, because “the Secret History of Moscow” is a much shorter book, the stories feel like they take up quite a lot of space in the middle section of the book. I found them fascinating but someone looking for epic fantasy type action would probably be disappointed. The pace of the book changes to quite slow in the middle of the story.

All of the main and the secondary characters feel three dimensional to me; knowing their backstories certainly helped with that. I’m not familiar with the fairy characters but they seemed very interesting.

All of the main characters come from poor backgrounds; they all come from broken homes and are afraid of the gangs. None of them seem to have many friends; Galina especially seems a really lonely character. The book left a very melancholy feel.

This year’s Once Upon a Time event is over.

I managed to read almost all of the books I was planning to:

Read:
1, A. M. Dellamonica: Blue Magic
2, A. Lee Martinez: Too Many Curses
3, Tanya Huff: Blood Bank
4, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Five Diverse Detectives
5, A. Lee Martinez: Monster
6, Terry Pratchett: Night Watch
7, Tanya Huff: Blood Debt

Blue Magic was good but not quite as good as the first book, Indigo Springs, although I freely admit that I should have read Blue Magic as soon as possible. Maybe I will reread them back to back.
Prachett was, of course, as delightful as ever and I had do get my Rusch fix. 🙂 She’s currently working on several books which will finish off the Retrieval Artist series. I’m happily waiting for them. (Another reread seems likely.)

But my favorite thing during this challenge was Robin of Sherwood rewatch. I loved this series back when it came out in 1980s. Luckily, Finnish TV chose to air them quite soon. Happily, the series has aged well and it was a treat to return to these characters. I’m currently rewatching the third season.

Robin of Sherwood: season 1
Robin of Sherwood: season 2

This season has seven episodes, with the two part Swords of Wayland.

Episodes: The Prophecy, The Children of Israel, Lord of the Trees, The Enchantment, The Swords of Wayland 1 and 2, and The Greatest Enemy.

This season has more magic than the previous season, particularly in the Enchantment and the Swords of Wayland. The writing is still very good and otherwise, this season is just as good as the first one. With only seven episodes, there’s no room for filler.

The series starts with Herne’s prophecy about a prisoner close to Robin. First Robin and the Merry Men think that Herne means Little John who is Guy’s prisoner. However, after they free Little John, Robin hears that Prince John has come to Nottingham with a mysterious prisoner.

The sheriff is away from Nottingham and Guy has to entertain the Prince. However, that’s increasingly hard for Guy who has never been a diplomat nor a courtier. Guy also has his own scheme: one of his men has infiltrated the Merry Men. Pretty soon Guy is stripped of his position and thrown in jail. Will and Robin have a conflict over leadership which escalates in the next episode.

In the Children of Israel, the sheriff is back and shows the depths of his cruelty and greed. He owes a significant amount of money to a Jewish man, Joshua de Talmont. The sheriff doesn’t want to pay him back, so he arranges a riot and during it almost all the Jewish people in Nottingham are killed. However, Joshua’s eldest daughter Sarah has caught Guy’s eye and Guy warns them. The family flees
just in time but Guy kidnaps Sarah. He just assumes that Sarah will happily marry him, renouncing her faith and overlooking his part in the riot.

Meanwhile, our heroes are trying to ambush the returning sheriff but they fail and Tuck is hurt. Will lectures Robin about how he will never be more than an outlaw and that they should just keep the money they steal. Will leaves and later he robs the de Talmont family. Robin’s gang asks help from villages for the first time but the villagers are afraid and refuse to help them. This discourages Robin but only momentarily.

However, the rift between Will and Robin is repaired pretty easily. It seems to me that it had more to do with helping the de Talmant family, than with Robin.

In the Lord of the Trees, we see the villagers worshiping Herne. During the time of the Blessing no blood must be shed. Of course, exactly at that time Guy has invited some French mercenaries to Nottingham in order to deal with the outlaws.

The outlaws celebrate the Blessing with villagers of Wickham. Even when Herne is shot with an arrow in full view of everyone, they still keep to the time of the Blessing and even though Herne himself says that he’s “just a man” he clearly has some magical powers. Even Abbot Hugo warns Guy not to underestimate the old gods and when Guy says “they never existed” and storms off, Hugo is clearly disturbed. He has just admitted that as long as the villagers appear to behave like Christians, he doesn’t care whom they actually worship. In the previous season he’s been shown as greedy for land and power, now he’s a heretic in addition to being a hypocrite. Interestingly enough, while witched and sorcerers have magical powers in this series, the priests and monks don’t. Except of course political power.

Speaking of magic, the Enchantment has plenty of it. Lilith is a witch and a follower of sorcerer de Belleme from the first episode of season 1. She’s trying to bring him back to life and so she casts an enchantment over Robin. Because of it, Robin doesn’t recognize his Merry Men or even Marion. When the band realizes what has happened, they have to hunt him down. This is an interesting contrast to the next episode.

The two-parter Swords of Wayland is my favorite of the two seasons. The outlaws travel to Wales to protect a village from a group of horsemen called the Hounds of Lucifer. They organize the villagers to fight back when the horsemen attack and even though the outlaws are victorious, they have to fight against the covenant which is a group of devil worshiping nuns. It sounds cheesy but I think the covenant’s reputation of piety was used very well against our heroes. The covenant’s leader casts a spell over Little John, Tuck, Will, Nasir, and Much, turning them against Robin and Marion.

And the final episode, the Greatest Enemy, where the Sheriff finally gets his revenge against Robin. At the time I was shocked and dismayed by Robin’s death but of course it fits very well with the myth of Robin Hood where Robin’s identity has changed depending on the story and era. This Robin was a peasant from the village of Loxley.

Overall, I really enjoyed this second season too.

A stand-alone humorous fantasy book.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Narrator: Eric Michael Summerer
Running Time: 8 hrs, 37 m

Judy Hynes works the night shift in the local Food Plus Mart. She knows that it’s a dead end job but it’s still a job. Then she sees a yeti eating the ice cream. She doesn’t know what else to do, so she calls Animal Control. To her surprise, they take her seriously and send a guy. A blue guy whose name is Monster and his helper, the live paper gnome named Chester. Judy takes this all in stride and even notices herself that she’s surprisingly calm about the whole thing. Monster tells her about the supernatural world and says that she will forget it very soon. She doubts it but she has forgotten the whole thing next morning and it would have stayed forgotten except that the next day, she has an infestation of trolls. Repeated exposure to the supernatural means that she starts to remember it. And she realizes that she could get a better job in the supernatural world.

Despite his coloring which changes every time he wakes up, Monster is human. He even wallows in self-pity, because he has a crappy job as an animal control agent for crypto-biological animals. His girlfriend Liz is a succubus and the fire has definitely gone out of their relationship but because of the contract Monster signed when he summoned Liz from hell, he can’t break up with her. So, Monster is forced to endure such hard ships as daily sex, picking up Liz’s dry cleaning at inconvenient times, and screaming fits coupled with scorched carpets. The last thing he wants is to have a human tagging along, eager to learn everything. But his van was ruined and he needs Judy to drive him around, so he doesn’t really have a choice. And he’s convinced that something strange happens around Judy.

The book has a lot of humorous elements but for me it never got as laugh-out loud funny as the first Martinez book I read, Emperor Mollusk. It’s still a good blend of various fantasy and urban fantasy stuff. The writing doesn’t really have puns, so it’s quite different from Pratchett’s style.

The final book in the Blood series.

Publication year: 1997
Format: print
Page count: 310 in the Blood Books omnibus volume thee
Publisher: Daw

After the events in the previous book, Blood Pact, Vicki has been relearning her life. Henry has moved to Vancouver but they still keep in touch with email and phone. Vicki is staying with Celluci in Toronto.

However, Henry’s normal, well as normal as you can call he as a romance writer and a vampire, is interrupted when he wakes up at sundown and is confronted by a ghost. It can’t hurt him but it can, and does, hurt others around him. When Henry asks it a question and the answer is ”no” or if Henry doesn’t ask it anything, the ghost lets out such a terrible psychic wailing which can cause heart attacks near him. The ghost is a young man whose hands have been cut off.

Quickly, Henry realizes that he needs help from an experienced detective and of course he knows one. Unfortunately, his basic nature won’t allow him and Vicki to coexist in the same city at the same time. So, Henry’s solution is to travel away from Vancouver for the time that Vicki needs to solve the mystery of the ghost. Vicki agrees to help, and she and Celluci drive to Vancouver.

When Vicki and Henry meet each other again, Henry is proved right; it’s very difficult for them to be in the same room without attacking each other. Unfortunately, it turns out that the ghosts travel with Henry so he has to come back. Vicki and Henry have to try to suppress their natures in order to work together and solve the case.

The first half of the book is spent exploring the relationships between Henry, Vicki, and Celluci. Vicki seems to be even more angry all the time than before. She’s also determined that her nature will not rule her, 500 years of tradition be damned.

The mystery plot really kicks in during the latter half of the book. Right from the start, we hear about a supposedly philanthropic millionaire who might be mixed up with organ-legging. When the ghost’s body is found, he’s missing a kidney but he might have been a victim of gang violence because of the missing hands. Vicki also suspects organized crime, so she and Henry go after them, first.

Vicki, Celluci and Henry are all in fine form. It’s an interesting look into how Vicki is coping and a fine end to the series. There are also sad notes, nods to the losses Vicki is going to suffer in the future. Celluci isn’t yet 40 but he already has some gray hairs and Vicki is starting to get far more concerned about him than she ever was before. He’s also not happy about being Vicki’s sidekick.

This is a collection of five novellas/short stories of detectives in various genres. Some of them have no speculative fiction elements. However, since one of the stories has a dragon detective, I’ve adding this to my Once Upon a Time reads. I’ve read two of the stories before.

”Blind” is set in Seavy Village, Oregon and it’s told in a first person POV. Scott didn’t have the happiest of childhoods and he thinks that his brother is wasting his life by living in the small town tied down to his wife and three daughters. Scott moved away as soon as he could and became a millionaire working for Microsoft. But when his brother dies in strange circumstances, Scott returns to the village to find out what has happened. He has to confront his brother’s family and a mystery from his past.

In ”Discovery” Pita Cardenas is a lawyer in a small town and because she’s desperate for work, she takes on a case against the rich and powerful, which means this time a railway company. She has to become a detective in addition to a lawyer in order to win the case.

”Stomping Mad” is set in Los Angeles during a movie SF convention, Jurassic Parkathon. The main character is called Sam Spade of science fiction because he has successfully helped out the police a few times. He is part of the convention’s staff and clearly an SF fan. When something goes wrong, the con’s staff turn to him.

The main character in ”Dragon Slayer” is a dragon. Humans have been killing more and more dragons in the recent years and the dragons have become worried about it. The main character has gone to see all of victims and so when another dragon is found dead, he is consulted even though he is young and insignificant.

The last one is ”Retrieval Artist”, the short story which inspired Rusch to write a whole series in that world. In this story, we meet Miles Flint, a former police officer who is now a Retrieval Artist. In this world humans and aliens are trying to live side by side peacefully but in order to do that, the humans have to follow alien laws which don’t always make sense to humans. A Retrieval Artist hides humans who have broken alien laws. Flint gives his clients new identities but he also charges exorbitant rates and have to know that he’s doing the right thing. That’s not easy.

Rusch is one of my favorite authors so it’s no surprise that I liked all of the stories. The last two were my favorites, though. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like the dragon society and I’d like to see more of it. I love the Retrieval Artist series and this story is a good introduction to it.

The first season ran originally on BBC in 1984. It has six episodes.

This is one of the first Robin Hood adaptations I ever saw and it’s still my favorite. It’s an interesting blend of mystical and gritty.

Robin (played by Michael Praed) is from the village of Loxley which the Sheriff of Nottingham (played by Nikolas Grace) destroys in the first episode. He also kills Robin’s father. But this isn’t a tale of revenge. In fact during the show, Robin has several opportunities to kill the Sheriff but he doesn’t. I think mostly it’s because Grace was an excellent actor in his part and they didn’t want to replace him.

In the first two part episode, ”Robin Hood and the Sorcerer”, Robin gathers his band of Merry Men and Marion. He’s also chosen by Herne the Hunter as an agent of light and fights the forces of darkness, represented by Baron de Belleme. The magic in this first episode is mostly visions but Belleme is able to do some sort of telekinesis, as well, and put people under his control. Robin is called Herne’s son and the ”Hooded Man”. The pagan religious element isn’t overwhelming in the series but is present in almost every episode.

The first episode has several classic elements. Robin fights Little John over a river, just as the old tales say. However, in this version, Baron Belleme has bewitched Little John to be his servant and Robin frees John. Another element is the archery contest which Robin wins by shooting an arrow which splits another arrow. He wins the silver arrow which is here a magical artifact.

Much the Miller’s son is Robin’s foster brother and after Guy of Gisbourne kills Much’s father, Much has no choice but to follow Robin as an outlaw. He is the youngest of the group and a little naive. Will Scarlett is found in Nottingham’s dungeons. He’s a hot tempered Saxon who hates the nobility and is the quickest to argue with Robin. Marion is the Sheriff’s ward and Tuck is her confidante. A completely new character is brought in and people liked him so much that in later adaptations, too, the Merry men include a Saracen. Nasier is another of Belleme’s servants. After Robin kills Belleme, Nasir joins forces with the Merry Men. He doesn’t talk much but nobody ever doubts his loyalty. Also, the group seems to be always recruiting more men so most episodes have some extra Merry Men around.

Other episodes:
”The Witch of Elsdon”, ”Seven Poor Knights from Acre”, ”Alan A Dale”, and ”The King’s Fool”.

Right from the start, the series’ main villains, Gisbourne and the Sheriff, are established as very nasty men. They are both bullies with short tempers. The Sheriff also bullies and belittles Gisbourne constantly. They both treat the villagers like, well, like Norman overlords most likely treated the Saxon serfs. The Sheriff is a supreme opportunist who grabs at any chance to make his life easier or make Robin’s life harder, as is seen in the ”Seven Poor Knights from Acre” or ”Allan A Dale”. Gisbourne (played by Robert Addie) is the muscle of the pair and commands the men-at-arms. A third recurring villain is Abbot Huge the Rainault, the Sheriff’s land-greedy brother. I think all three were superbly cast. Also, the camaraderie between the Merry Men is shown in stark contrast to the way that the villains behave towards the people around them and to each other.

The show doesn’t glamorize the outlaws’ life: they literally live in the forest, and people are killed often. In ”Allan A Dale” we are shown how difficult it is for any of the band to have a family or even a lover. Little John is found in the village of Wickham where he has been visiting his lover. Even just seeing the outlaw fleeing from the village is enough for the Sheriff to charge extra taxes from the village.

Oh and I really enjoyed the portrayal of Marion. In the first episode, ”Witch of Elsdon”, the men try to make her just ”a nurse and a cook” and leave her in the camp ”safe” when the men go out to rob the rich, but she won’t have it. She shows them that she’s a valuable member of the group and the writing supports this. So, she’s always in the thick of things. And she’s a terrible cook. 🙂

A strong part of the show’s atmosphere comes from the haunting music which is done by Clannad.

Apparently, the show was quite expensive to make and it was canceled one season sooner than was planned.

I don’t know if it looks dated to someone who is seeing it now for the first time, but it doesn’t to me. I believe it was filmed outdoors in England so the places are authentic. I noticed that they used the same three or four horses everywhere which was a bit distracting.

I think this first season might be the strongest of the show. The writing is good and the stories are highly entertaining. In the first episode, a pretty woman is accused of sorcery and to save her and her husband’s life, she agrees to poison the outlaws. In the second episode, the Merry Men are pitted against the Knights Templar. In the third, the Sheriff is getting married because a large dowry and Robin is persuaded to save the poor, young bride. In the final episode, King Richard returns home and wants to see the famous Wolfshead.

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