Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge 2010


I took part in Book Chick City’s Speculative Fiction Challenge. I aimed for obsessed with 24 read books and actually managed to do that some months back.

1, Kristine Smith: Rules of Conflict
2, R. A. MacAvoy: Tea with the Black Dragon
3, Ilona Andrews: Magic Bites
4, Julie Czerneda: To Trade the Stars
5, Jim Butcher: Fool Moon
6, Kate Elliott: Shadow Gate
7, Elizabeth Bear: Hell and Earth
8, Marjorie Liu: The Iron Hunt
9, Steven Brust: Brokedown Palace
10, Lisa Shearin: Magic Lost, Trouble Found
11, Carrie Vaughn: Kitty and the Midnight Hour
12, Michelle West: Hunter’s Death
13, Paul DiFilippo: The Steampunk Trilogy
14, C. J. Cherryh: Chanur’s Venture
15, Roger Zelazny: Isle of the Dead
16, Steven Brust: Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grill
17, Roger Zelazny: Roadmarks
18, C. J. Cherryh: The Kif Strike Back
19, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, ed.: The Faery Reel: Tales From the Twilight Realm
20, C. L. Moore: Jirel of Joiry
21, Kristine Smith: Law of Survival
22, Rachel Caine: Heat Stroke
23, Naomi Novik: Victory of Eagles
24, Sharon Shinn: Dark Moon Defender

I really enjoyed this challenge and I even won a book from Book Chick City’s monthly prize drawings!

I ended up reading more fantasy than SF which is usual for me. I intend to continue with the urban fantasy series by Liu, Shearin, Caine, and Vaughn, and Cherryh is one my new favorite authors. On the other hand, Shinn and MacAvoy turned up not to be my cup of tea and I didn’t like Zelazny’s other books nearly as much as I like the Amber books. I really, really need more books by Bear!

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The first in the Vampire Huntress Legend series.


Page count: 286
Publication year: 2003
Format: Print
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Some of the reviews on the book and on Banks’ site compare Minion to Buffy and Fangoria magazine writes: “MINION is arguably superior to the Buffy franchise…while Banks relies on an established vampire-slayer mythos for part of her story, she is also wildly creative and invents a totally new and refreshing milieu. Its social hierarchy and politics are fascinating, and the author’s reinterpretation of the seven levels of hell is brilliant.

As a Buffy fan I couldn’t resist this, of course. Is Minion funnier than Buffy? Does it feature a more sympathetic circle of friends? More interesting villains or secondary characters?

Well, the answer is mostly “no, it’s different”. For example, Minion doesn’t have much humor. Everything is deadly and serious all the time. The main character Damali does hunt with six other characters and they all seem to be close friends, but they are all adults so there’s no “growing up together” aspect. And it’s hardly fair to compare seven years worth of characters to one book.

Damali Richards was born to a preacher and his wife in New Orleans. Unfortunately, shortly after her birth, a vampire seduced and killed her father. Her mother didn’t understand the situation and tried to out them. Instead, she is killed. Fifteen years later Damali is in the foster care system and singing her heart out in clubs. Marlene is a Guardian whose job was supposed to be to keep Damali safe. Marlene failed in her job which she regrets bitterly and has been looking for Damali ever since. Now she has finally found Damali.

The main story starts near Damali’s twenty first birthday. She knows that she’s one in the ancient line of vampire hunters called Neteru and her closest friends are Guardians whose job is to watch her back. Damali and her Guardians are in the same band, and their record company is called the Warriors of the Light. All Damali wants to do is sing but her duty is to be the Neteru and fight the creatures of the dark: vampires, demons, and even evil humans.

The team is already in a bad place: some of the less experienced members have been killed recently. The latest one was Dee Dee who was turned into a vampire. Then a group of strange vampires attacks them, and Damali is convinced that something extraordinary is happening. She is also nearing the day when her powers manifest fully, so her enemies are trying to either kill her or seduce her to their side.

First off, the book doesn’t end just in a cliffhanger, it just ends without any resolution. I felt like it was a longer story cut in two, or more, parts.

Unfortunately, the book starts with a bout of homophobia when the preacher’s wife notices her husband and the vampire. There are no non-straight characters in the book. Even the vampires are strictly straight; a male master vampire uses a seductive voice and posture for women and an authoritative for men. There’s also a virgin/whore dichotomy going on. Damali is the main good gal and she’s a virgin. Marlene preaches that everyone needs to be pure. The bad guys and gals have lots and lots of sex, and use seduction.

Most of the cast here is non-white which was a very interesting change of pace. They use a bit of slang but I didn’t find it hard to follow.

Damali is pretty standard reluctant heroine: she would like to live a normal life and sometimes she escapes her Guardians to hang out with her normal friends. Yet, at the same time she doesn’t have much nostalgia to her own previous and apparently poor life, and she doesn’t want to get pregnant and get trapped with a man and a poor job, as some of her friends seem to have done. She’s also frustrated with how much the Guardians protect her. When her powers increase, this frustrates her even more. She had a boyfriend of sorts before Marlene found her. Carlos is now a drug dealer and owns some clubs. She has sexual fantasies about him while intellectually knowing that they can’t be together.

Marlene is perhaps the most complex character in the book. She’s a seer and the team researcher (I couldn’t help but to compare her to Giles) but we don’t actually see her researching; she just tells the results. She also keeps secrets from Damali and the whole team which is a plot element I really don’t like. She keeps waiting for Damali to be mature enough to handle the secrets. However, as part of the team she goes out and fights so it’s possible she could die before she wants to spill the beans.

Marlene berates herself for letting Damali go to the foster care system and not finding her sooner. At the same time, she blames Damali for taking so many years off Marlene’s own life because she had to first look for Damali and then protect her. She’s fiercely protective of Damali and tries to do her best. One of her fellow Guardians is her partner.

All of the Guardians have special powers of their own; Marlene is a seer and two of the others are sniffers who track the dark creatures by scent.

Damali and Marlene are the only women in the seven person group. Unfortunately, most of the others remain quite faceless, such as J.L. who is only mentioned every now and then. Jose is the Guardian whose lover Dee Dee was made into a vampire and he’s most defined by his grief and sickness that the vampires inflict on him. (Granted, that is a reversal of a traditionally female role.) Shabazz is Marlene’s partner but argues with her quite a lot.

Rider is the only white man in the group. He’s briefly the point-of-view character and we get to know him a bit. Carlos is another character who had some depth to him. He’s ambitious and impatient, and something of a misogynist who only uses women for his own pleasure.

The most obvious difference to the Buffy world is religion: all of these people are very religious and Marlene tries to keep them from swearing and being “pure in thought and deed”.

The fights are fast paced but there were some slower parts, too, mostly around Damali when she was having sexual fantasies or hanging out with her friends. Even though the story starts with a fight between Damali’s team and the group of vampire/demons, and they later talk about how weird the vamps were, nobody researchers it further.

The background was interesting. The Neteru was created as a weapon against the dark creatures by the twelve tribes. I think this refers to the twelve Jewish tribes? Yet, majority of the Guardians in the book are if not Catholic, at least traditionally Christian. I wonder if the change is explained in the later books. After all, these are very religious people who use not just their personal faiths but things like holy water and blessed earth to literally fight vampires. However, there’s a passing mention that there are a lot more Guardians in the world and they come from all races and religions.

I also liked the reason why the group is a band: music, and other arts, can reach people across all barriers. Unfortunately, this idea wasn’t explored more and there were no scenes of the group performing.

The main point-of-view character is Damali but there are others, too: mostly Marlene and Carlos. There are smaller glimpses of the bad guys, too. Unfortunately, in a couple of scenes the POV shifts in the middle of a scene and from one paragraph to the next. There’s also a few “as you know, Bob” discussions for the benefit of the reader.

The end of the book focused heavily of Carlos whom I unfortunately didn’t care for at all.

All in all, this was quite a different take on a vampire slayer than Buffy.

The second book in the Weather Wardens series.
Lots of spoilers for the first book, Ill Wind.

Page count: 352
Publication year: 2004
Format: Ebook
Publisher: ROC

The former Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin is getting used to her new life as a Djinn. It isn’t easy but at least her boyfriend is there to help her out. David is a very old and very powerful Djinn but his decision to make Joanne a Djinn made him very unpopular and also weakened him significantly. In addition, Joanne is drawing on his power to stay alive, so he’s weakening all the time. Of course, he hasn’t told that to Joanne.

Soon, the most powerful Djinn in existence wants to meet with Jo. Jonathan tells Jo a few facts about her life and gives her a week to control her powers or both she and David will die. Of course, Joanna is determined to learn things fast. Jonathan assigns her a teacher, Patrick, who is the only other human who has ever survived becoming a Djinn. Joanne starts to learn the ugly truths about herself and both her and David’s probable future. However, she doesn’t have much time to muse on things because she finds out that something weird is happening on the aetheric plane that could threaten the whole Earth. And as if that isn’t enough, David’s past has come back to haunt both him and Jo.

The book starts slowly with Jo and David happily having sex and Jo trying to control her new powers. Then they attend Joanne’s funeral where we meet the surviving characters from the previous book and one sinister character from David’s past. However, when things start to happen, the pace becomes very quick. The book has some closure but it ends in a cliffhanger.

This time we learn more about the Djinn: their powers, history, and hierarchy. It also raises some questions about if it’s right to essentially enslave other people who have their own moral code and history; after all, the Djinn has to do anything the human commands. When a human get his or her hands on a bottle with a Djinn and commands him or her to do something, the Djinn draws power from the person who commands him or her. The Djinn is only as powerful as the potential of the human. However, the Djinn have their own power as well which they seem to use the rest of the time.

A couple of new characters are introduced in Heat Stroke. Jonathan is the leader of the Djinn because he has the most power. He seemed to be a good leader; he cares about his people but he’s not afraid to draw the line and might even kill to keep things in order. (Unfortunately, the name conjured up an image of Buffy’s Jonathan which was a bad, bad thing.) He has also a sense of humor.

Patrick is Joanne’s new instructor. Unfortunately, I found him quite immature. If he’s lived for hundreds of years I would have expected him to have had enough sex that he didn’t need to focus on it all the time anymore. His method of teaching Jo is through battle. He has a Ifreet whose job is to attack Jo when she’s trying to learn something. Patrick comes across as pretty coarse at first but he does have a few other sides to him as we learn later.

We also get a new femme fatale character who was quite chilling. She tries to constantly seduce the most powerful males around her and uses them ruthlessly.

Heat Stroke is a solid continuation to the series and I’m likely to continue with the series.

The third in the Jani Kilian SF series.

Once again Jani’s past is coming to haunt her and not just as survivor’s guilt. She works now for the Commonwealth military as a document analyst. Someone has made a white paper about Jani’s past which suggests that Jani is a security risk. Colonel Niall Pierce warns Jani about it but there isn’t much she could do about it. Niall also tells Jani about a document in the hands of the Earth military which seems to indicate that Nema has forged an important document. Nema is the religious leader of the alien idomeni and Jani’s previous mentor and close friend. Nema is also humanity’s most vocal defender among the idomeni leaders. Jani is convinced that someone is trying to frame Nema and damage humanish/idomeni relations.

Because of her past close dealings with the alien idomeni, Jani has become something of an adviser to the government diplomats concerning the idomeni. However, nobody seems to appreciate her efforts. The leading diplomat Anais Ulanova is determined to work with the idomeni in her own way. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really understand the aliens. To the idomeni falsehood and hiding one’s feelings are an anathema but Anais doesn’t believe that. She doesn’t trust the aliens, or Jani, and continues to work in her customary way, spinning half-truths, expecting to be betrayed at any point, and working towards her own goals.

Jani sees the train wreck ahead and tries to warn everyone away from it. When she’s repeatedly ignored, she has no choice but to make her objections in public which earns her even more enemies. Then her parents send word that they are coming to Chicago to see her. Jani is convinced that they will be in danger and tries her best to keep them safe. This will also be the first time they will physically see each other in twenty years and Jani is a bit nervous about that.

This book felt somewhat longer than the previous books and the pace of the story wasn’t as quick as before. The main plot is still political intrigue and Jani has to play the detective and find out just who her enemies are while dodging handgun fire and assassins. Also, in addition to her parents, two of her oldest friends come to Chicago and try to help her.

Jani’s relationship with her bed partner Lucien is different from a normal romance. (I can’t really call them lovers and definitely not partners.) They are both damaged people who are convinced that they can’t have normal relationships, and they don’t trust each other. Jani knows that Lucien’s past, and physical and mental augments make is impossible for him to feel love anymore. While he can be caring and loyal, he is mostly looking after his own interests. He’s also attracted to the idomeni and as a human/idomeni hybrid, Jani feels that he is attracted to her because she is a “freak”, as she calls herself. Jani is also convinced that no normal man could ever want her. So in the end she feels alone and that she can’t really trust anyone.

Many of the diplomatic people are pretty self-centered here, almost to the point of ignoring reality for what they would want it to be. They ignore Jani’s advice and are convinced that they know better. Anais Ulanova, Lucien’s previous boss, is a prime example of this. I almost felt like they are liability to the Commonwealth and should be fired.

There are some very interesting developments for idomeni in this book. Shai, the leader of Earth’s embassy and Nema are clearly at odds here. While Nema advocates for closer ties between the two species, and is convinced that Jani’s hybridization will be the way of the future, Shai wants to keep the relations as they are or even to lessen them. The leader of the idomeni species himself, and by extension most of the born-sect idomeni, want isolation from the humanish. Then there are the Haárin, who are the outcast idomeni and who have the most contact with humanity. They want to settle on human planets and have closer ties between the species. I was actually mostly more interested in the idomeni happenings that Jani’s.

Jani’s hybrid body is still acting up. There are only specific foods she can eat; no lactose and lots of spice. Her joints hurt and she doesn’t heal as quickly as she should have with her augments. Her eyes have also changed to look like idomeni eyes and she hides them behind contact lenses, or films. She’s taller and her fingers and toes are longer and more slender. It’s interesting to see just how idomeni-like she will in end up being.

I really enjoyed most of the secondary characters here. The mysterious Niall: what does he really want and is he really trustworthy? Jani’s old friends Steve and Angevin whom Jani tries to keep out of the loop for their own protection. Of course, they don’t appreciate that and are furious about it. Angevin redecorates Jani’s apartment. John Shroud, the doctor who orchestrated Jani’s hybridization and who is in love with her, just waiting her to choose him. And of course Jani’s bewildered parents from the frontier. Nema who is devoted to his own vision of the future which has been supposedly given to him by his gods. The Haárin who irritate both humans and the idomeni.

The atmosphere in the books is darker than in many other space opera stories. Jani has good reasons to be paranoid and she has very few friends. There are no easy answers and endings are rarely happy.

Please don’t start the series with this book!

I’m a big fan of the Vorkosigan series, so when I spotted Cryoburn at Audible I shouted in joy and downloaded it. It was absolutely wonderful that it was available to us non-USAians so quickly! (I’m still waiting for Tongues of Serpents…)

First things first: pretty much all of the elements I most enjoy in this series are present: writing style, humor, and characters. The plot is a bit too convenient in parts, though.

The setting is a planet called Kibou-Daini where the most notable industry is cryotechnology. The wealthiest people freeze themselves when they’re near death or if they have life-threatening diseases.

The book starts with Miles in trouble, as usual (yay!). He’s been drugged and kidnapped (by the way, shouldn’t this be adultnapped?) but the kidnappers used the wrong drug. It made Miles violent and he managed to fight off the kidnappers. Then he promptly got lost in the vast and cold Cryocombs. Tired, hungry, bare-footed, and hallucinating, he manages to find a way out and a street kid Jin kindly agrees to help him. Meanwhile his loyal Armsman Roic has been kidnapped and is trying to escape.

When I realized that Roic is one of the three point-of-view characters, I shouted in joy again (unfortunately, for my neighbors). The long-suffering Armsman is a great character, a sort of Watson to Miles’ hyperactive Holmes. Roic is also the one who reminds Miles to eat, sleep, and keep tabs on his seizures, so he’s almost a nanny. 😉

While we get glimpses of familiar figures, such as Ekaterin, most of the characters here are new. Doctor Raven Durona has apparently been in one of the earlier books but I didn’t remember him. I liked him a lot here; he’s calm and professional and follows Miles’ antics with an ironic view. The rest are new.

The third point-of-view character, in addition to Roic and Miles, is a local street kid Jin Sato who is almost twelve. He has a lots of animals that he takes care of, including rats, chickens, a hawk, and a three-legged cat. He’s passionately interested in all animals and ran away from his foster home in order to keep his creatures. He also has a younger sister Mina.

The long-suffering Consul Vorlynkin led the Barrayaran consulate before Miles showed up and outranked him. Vorlynkin has only been on the planet for two years but knows quite a lot about the local customs. His aide is Lieutenant Johannes (Finnish name, yay!) who is mostly bewildered.

On the surface, the book is a funny adventure tale but underneath Bujold tackles questions about life and death. The people of Kibou-Daini fear death so much that some of them elect to be frozen while young, or youngish, in the hope of getting a better future. Some of the older frozen people have been revived only to realize that they are no longer wanted in the current time. Some also die during the freezing procedure and can die during the revival. This is a grim view which urges people to live now instead of hoping for something better at some other time.

The biggest difference to some of the previous books, such as Mirror Dance and A Civil Campaign, is that Miles has no personal stakes here. He or his family are not in real danger. Of course, that is to be expected; he’s there doing a job and not trying to find himself or woo a wife. He has a family and wants to keep them out of harm’s way.

Unfortunately, I found some plot elements to be very, very convenient, including Jin’s place in the larger plot. I also wasn’t convinced that Miles had any legal right to investigate matters in another government. However, it seemed to me that Miles realized this, too.

Overall I’m still happy with the story and it’s been a long time since a book has made me cry.

The second in the Detective Inspector Chen series.

After the events in the first book, the demon Seneschal Zhu Irzh has been moved from Hell’s Vice section to Singapore Three’s police force. Detective Inspector Chen and his wife are on a well-deserved vacation in Hawaii. When an unidentified young woman’s body turns up, Zhu Irzh is assigned to the case. However, when the police finds out that the woman is the rich celebrity Deveth Sardai, the demon is taken off the case, unofficially. But Zhu Irzh is interested and continues his own investigation especially after he meets the seductive Jhai Tserai, the murdered woman friend, a canny business woman, and a suspect in the case.

Deveth’s girlfriend Robin Yuan works in a lab. Her job is to do tests on a demon who is a captive in the lab. Robin comes from a very poor family and is grateful for her good job. However, she’s starting to feel very sorry for the demon. Then she catches really bad cold and in her delirious state she sets the experiment free.

Dowser Paravang Roche is having a really bad week. A demon police officer cancels his Feng Shui license and his dead mother keeps calling from Hell asking why he isn’t married yet. Then the demon makes him work for free and during the job, the demon attacks Paravang! Naturally, the dowser wants to return the demon back to Hell.

Jhai Tserai owns a very big company. She has also lots of secrets. For one thing, she isn’t human and non-humans aren’t allowed to own property in Singapore Three. She has to take medication to keep her non-humans side in check. Unfortunately, that means that even though she can seduce practically anyone, she can’t enjoy sex. She also made a deal with Hell which includes doing experiments on certain non-human subjects to make a virus. Now, one of her formerly competent underlings has managed to let the experiment loose into the city.

The demon Zhu Irzh is the main character in the book and Chen doesn’t appear until around halfway. However, the demon is a very entertaining character. He isn’t “good”; he’s always looking for his own gain. He doesn’t have fixed loyalties, not even to Hell. In fact, he might be more loyal to Chen than Hell.

The other characters are also entertaining although I felt that Paravang was a bit detached from the overall story. However, his tragicomedic story brought more humor to the book. Robin struggles mightily with her conscience; she tries to convince herself that the experiment is evil and so she can continue to, in essence, torture him. But she doesn’t really buy it.

For me, the setting overshadows the characters. The Chinese mythology, the afterlives, demons, gods, and goddesses are so different from the other settings available in SF or fantasy that I pay a lot of attention to them. The Night Harbor, an afterlife between Hell and Heaven, is a chilling place, and some souls can be forgotten there. Heaven isn’t just or even kind place, and Hell seems to be very much same as Earth.

The chapters were very short, usually just two or three pages, and the point-of-views changed quickly. The plot moves along quickly and the stakes turn up to be very high.

The second book in the Raine Benares fantasy series.

Raine Benares is a seeker who finds lost objects and people. However, in the previous book she was bonded with the soul eating stone Saghred which gives her a lot of magical abilities and enemies to go with it. Some want Raine and the stone as their own weapons, and others want to protect people from Raine. Neither is really a good deal for Raine herself.

Raine wants to get rid of the stone and in hopes of doing that she traveled to the Isle of Mid which is home for a lot of powerful wizards. She’s given her own bodyguards and the leader of the Guardians has also taken a special interest in her. When spellsinger students are kidnapped, Raine wants to help, too.

The plot moves along briskly and the narrative style is light and humorous. There’s also some politicking among the most powerful mages. We get to know more about the relations between the races, how the Saghred works, and how vulnerable pretty much everyone, who isn’t stinking rich, are in this world. Being a powerful mage seems to be an especially vulnerable position because the people with more money and political power will want to use him or her for their own benefit.

Most of the supporting cast from the first book returns. The young Piaras is auditioning for a place as a student. He also gets first hand experience of how the more politically powerful people treat a handsome and talented youngster. There’s some talk that training a mage costs a lot of money. Weirdly, nobody mentions money when Piaras’ training starts so he seems to be so talented that he’s an exception.

Raine’s cousin, the pirate captain Phaelan, is also on the island protecting Raine. Mychael is the leader of the Guardians so he’s on his home turf. He tries his best to protect Raine from all her enemies. He and Raine also flirt a lot. Tam is seen more briefly and he has as much secrets as before.

Unfortunately, the book contains one of my pet peeves: Raine is the only significant female character in the book and, even worse, she’s the only competent female character in the book. The few girls are all kidnap victims. No wonder all the eligible males are after Raine: she’s the only game in town.

I also couldn’t help but wonder why all the Guardians are male. Is there some specific duty that only male police officers can do? None of the other professions seem to be as sex segregated. There are human and elf Guardians so race is also not a limiting factor.

One of Raine’s previous enemies ended up in the Saghred but that doesn’t stop him from speaking directly into Raine’s mind and barging into her dreams. However, he is the only one of the imprisioned souls to make appearance. Specifically, I expected Raine’s father to show up, too, but he didn’t.

Overall, I did enjoy the book and will likely continue with the series.

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