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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 fourteenth book in the Amelia Peabody series where she confronts nasty villains armed with her trusty parasol.

Publication year: 2003
Format: Audio
Publisher: Avon

The year 1917 has just started. The First World War is still raging but the Emersons and their entourage are traveling to Egypt. This time they are staying indefinitely because traveling between England and Egypt has become too dangerous. The Emersons are bringing with them their niece Sennia and their butler Gargary. This year, the Emersons have the permission to excavate in Luxor.

They have barely just started to settle into their house when things start to happen. First, Emerson’s half brother makes appearance in disguise and disappears swiftly, enraging Emerson. Then, they hear that tomb robbers have found a new, rich tomb. The Emersons’ old friends, the Vandergelts, managed to buy an object that seems to prove that a Queen’s tomb has indeed been found. Naturally, the Emersons’ want to save the tomb from the robbers.

However, they have to also deal with the fall-out from the problems they had the previous year. Jamala and her villainous brother Jamil return from the previous book. The man threatens to kill Ramses and Jamala is in a bad position. Her father has disowned her because she wants a life of her own and the Vandergelts are training her to become an Egyptologist. Her brother is also in contact with her and she feels that she has to protect him. Yet, she owes loyalty to the Emersons and the Vangerdelts, too. Also, Bertie seems to be smitten with her.

Meanwhile, the Army has again a dangerous mission to Ramses and his wife and parents aren’t happy about it.

Peters is in a fine form here. The book has a lot of humor, adventure, and mysteries. However, the mysteries surrounding the tomb take a back seat to Ramses’ adventures during the middle of the book. The book is again divided between Amelia’s first-person memoirs and document H which Ramses and his wife have written in third person.

The familiar cast of characters includes the Egyptian workers, Sethos, Vandergelts, and Catherine’s son Bertie, who was injured in the war. David and Lia don’t appear. There are some new characters as well, such as the Albions who are an American family who are out to “collect antiques” or rather rob everything they want which, of course, enrages Emerson.

There’s some Victorian double standards which Amelia and Nefret hold up; an (unmarried) woman shouldn’t be alone with a man or she gets what she’s asking for. On the other hand, I’m really surprised that this sort of teaching isn’t included in the Islamic upbringing that Jamala has. Or perhaps in Islamic culture, young women aren’t ever alone with young men, so there no need to tell women not to do it. Anyway, I found Jamala a bit too naïve for her own good but that apparently tended to be the norm with Victorian girls.

Overall, I enjoyed the book a great deal. The Americans were great foils to Emerson and even Ramses’ adventures were quite humorous and preposterous. (For me, his previous efforts in the war were a bit too serious with all the torture and arms dealing.) Also, courtship romance took a back seat to adventure.

I guess I must admit that I did listen to an abridged version.

This is the second part of the time traveling tale which started in Blackout. Please read Blackout first!

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Publisher: Spectra

The three time traveling historians are trapped in World War II. They are all in London and working together so that they could get back into 2050. They are afraid that they are going to change history. The book has also two other story lines: Polly in her previous assignment as an ambulance driver and Michael in a different assignment as part of the war effort to mislead Nazis. The people on future Oxford are also trying to get them out.

The main thing about All Clear (and Blackout) isn’t the plot. It’s not fast paced and concentrating only on exciting things happening. In fact, most of the plot is rather repetitive; characters trying to do something are the contemporaries stopping them, near misses of people they are looking for. I was also a bit confused about Polly’s and Michael’s other assignments which seemed separate from the rest of the plot.

It’s about the people and their lives during the war. About how the historians are going to live alongside them and adjust (or not) to that hard life. It’s about being scared and not knowing what will happen and still doing your best and continuing with your life. About every day heroes and heroines. The book is far more a history than SF.

Most of the characters are very good. However, I thought that the main time travelers Polly, Michael, and Aileen weren’t as convincing as the contemporaries. The trio was constantly worried that they had done something to alter the events and change the history. Yet, even after they realized that they can’t get back, none of them missed home: parents, siblings, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, conveniences from their time. They were more worried about the contemporary people they have only just met. Granted, the contemporary people were in grave and immediate danger. But even after they started to think that nobody came to get them because history was changed and Oxford was destroyed, it seemed that the Oxford they thought about was more an idea or abstract place rather than a real place where they lived and had families. The only exception to this is Polly thinking about Colin who had promised to rescue her if she was in trouble but that only highlighted to me that even she didn’t miss her parents or pets or anything else.

I was also frustrated that the trio concentrated on keep things from each other. Polly had been in the VE day during a previous assignment and so that meant that she had to get out before VE day or she would die. However, instead of coming clean and then focusing on finding a way out, she did her best to keep it a secret as long as she could. Also, when she found out things that she thought were discrepancies in history, she again tried to keep them a secret. Because she didn’t want to worry the others! Similarly, she and Michael tried to keep things from Aileen because it’s her first assignment and they didn’t want to worry her! Argh! They are all supposed to be professionals and grown-ups, and so shouldn’t mollycoddle each other. Keeping secrets actively prevented them from finding out the answers they needed. Didn’t they have any training for emergency like this? Also, they don’t write any notes or interview people or do anything else you’d expect a historian to do.

The contemporary characters were wonderful! I enjoyed almost all of them. They had their own lives, worries, agendas, and goals, and did their own things without thinking about how they might inconvenienced a time traveler who was just trying to get away for a while and check if her drop is working. The atmosphere is probably also near authentic. The people gathering to underground shelters during bombing and still making plans for Saturday night.

I don’t know much about WWII so I was interested to read about it. I have no idea if this book would interest someone who knows a lot about it.

By the way, the theory that the historians supposedly can’t affect history never convinced me. After all, they rent apartments and have jobs that the contemporaries then can’t have. Most of all, they interact with people around them and that can be a huge influence.

The second book in her historical fantasy series about the Onyx Hall: the faerie court underneath London. Set in 1639-1666.

The book starts with the start of the great fire of London. However, after just a few pages, the scene shifts back to the year 1639 and in the middle of English intrigue; the middle class is clamoring for a Parliament which King Charles I is reluctant to give. Sir Antony Ware is one of the people who wants to put some checks and balances to the King. Antony is also the Prince Consort to the Faerie Queen Lune. She isn’t interested in democracy and she’s very reluctant to meddle in the affairs of mortals. However, if England will have a Parliament, she wants her own representative there.

Meanwhile, Lune’s enemies are becoming bolder. She’s forced to send one of her trusted knights into exile as a spy. In Lune’s own Onyx Court, the courtiers are dividing into two camps: those that follow Lune’s lead and either leave the humans alone or treat them with kindness, and those that still would like to keep the old ways of terrorizing and using the mortals. Also, even though Onyx Hall’s previous Queen Invidiana is dead, she casts a long shadow. Lune doesn’t want to be like her and increasingly she thinks about what the previous Queen would have done and then does stubbornly the opposite.

From the dates it looks like the book covers a lot of years and that’s true. However, the years go by fast. Mostly, there are short scenes set in various years. Sometimes they are during the same day, for example September 3rd 1666, the day the London fire started. But most times there’s only a scene or two during the same day or the same year. Then there are years when no scenes happen. For example, the nine years that Oliver Cromwell was in power has only a handful of scenes; mostly, we hear afterwords what happened to the characters.

However, the story isn’t disjointed. If anything, it distills the required story elements during those years and makes them clearer. To me, it also made the story more faery like. Mortals age, change, and die while the faeries continue.

The book doesn’t have chapters. Instead, each scene starts with the place and the date.

Even though the name of the book and the blurb at the back concentrate on only the London fire, that is quite a small part of the book. The majority is set in the years before it. However, the scenes during the fire are intense and imaginative. Also, Lune has already another Consort in 1666.

This book isn’t alternate history to me because it doesn’t change the historical events; they remain the same. Indeed, the human history seems to influence the events in the fae court.

Unfortunately, the characters aren’t remarkable. The historical characters are pretty bland but I guess that can’t be avoided. The Prince Consort Antony is perhaps the most interesting, in addition to Lune herself and a couple of other faeries. Antony and Lune don’t have a romance nor is their relationship a sexual one. Antony is in charge of human side of the Court; he reminds Lune of what she could do on behalf of the humans of London, and keeps Lune grounded, so to speak. Together, they can use the magical powers of the Hall.

Antony is married to Kate and loves her deeply. He is distressed that he must keep the fae a secret to her and their children. Lune is still grieving for her first Prince. Antony is a doctor and wants to constantly work for the betterment of humanity.

Lune has had to made some tough decisions are a Queen and she will have to make more of them in this story. Many fae resent her for having such close ties to mortals and some fae rulers would even gladly destroy her. One of her guiding ideas is that she will not rule the same way as the previous Queen did. She’s willing to plot and work in underhanded way, when it’s necessary. But at the same time, she cares about her courtiers and does her best for them.

The other two distinguished characters are Irrith, an Irish fae more wild than the courtiers, and Sir Cerenel, the loyal knight who is sent into exile very much against his will.

For me the lure here are the excellent historical details and the pairing of the fae history and the human history, more than characters.

The plot starts out slowly but gathers up steam as decisions are made that will have consequences. It centers on political intrigue instead of violence.

You can read the prologue at the author’s site.

The second book in the Counselors and Kings series set in Halruaa in the Forgotten Realms setting.

After the events in the first book, the Magehound, the main characters Matteo and Tizigone have gone their separate ways. Matteo has returned to the Jordaini School with his best friend Andris who is now translucent because of the evens on the Swamp. Even though the charges against Andris have been dropped, Andris himself in convinced that he should have been put to death because he’s guilty of treason. The duo wants to interrogate the elven Magehound Kiva who managed to recruit Andris into to her army and into treason. However, Andris gets his hands on books which reveal dangerous secrets about the origins of the Jordaini school and about Kiva. So, he decides to interrogate her alone.

Matteo follows his friend but when he reaches the temple where Kiva was imprisoned, he learns that she had escaped and Andis pursued her to the Mhair jungles. Matteo and his two Jordaini friends continue to follow Kiva and Andris. Unfortunately, they lose the trail and Matteo is called back to his job as the Queen’s counselor.

Meanwhile the former street urchin and thief Tzigone is trying to adjust to her new life as a wizard’s apprentice. However, the many rules of a wizard’s life chafe her. She’s also trying to find out everything she can about her mother, Keturah, who was a mighty wizard. Luckily, she already has many of the skills she’s going to need: the arts of disguise and thieving.

Kiva and Andris meet in the middle of the jungle. Andris tells her that they have a common enemy: a group of conniving wizards called the Cabal. If Kiva will destroy them, Andris will work for her once again. The Magehound agrees and contacts the local wild elves. She’s going to have to persuade the distrustful elves to help her destroy an old enemy.

As is typical for a FR novel, most of the characters are clearly evil or good. Matteo is very clearly Lawful Good and very uncomfortable with all of the scheming going around him. The enemies are evil: the ancient and powerful wizard Akhlaur, who lives now in Water’s elemental level, the scheming Lord Mayor who is trying to overthrow the King, and the Crinti. The Crinti are a cruel half-drow race who seem to exist merely as Kiva’s minions.

Tizigone is a more ambiguous character. As an orphaned street urchin she must feed herself any way she can, mostly doing minor thieving and cons. There’s also an innocence to her; she doesn’t expect people to be evil.

The story concentrates on plotting and questing. The wizards and Kiva are plotting to get what they each want and Tizigone is sneaking around. Also, she’s looking for information about her mother while Matteo is looking for information about his father whom he never knew. There are also a few fight scenes but except for the ending, they almost feel like forced additions; rolled from an random encounter table.

Cunningham tells an interesting tale even if it has many familiar elements. The plot moves along briskly and the characters are entertaining.

An excerpt is at the author’s site.

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!

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