Tanya Huff

A stand-alone fantasy book.

Publication year: 1990
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours
Narrators: Bill Hensel

This is a fast-paced and fun fantasy adventure with lots of political and court intrigue.

Ischia, the royal city of Cisali, stands next to a live volcano and not surprisingly, its people’s lives and religion center on the volcano, called the Lady. One magical stone is said to keep the lava from engulfing the city. So, when the stone’s stolen, the king is desperate to get it back. But due to court intrigue, he sends out an unlikely pair:

Darvish is the third prince. He doesn’t have much power and spends his days drinking and carousing with both men and women. This makes him unhappy and he drinks even more to forget it. Also, he’s now ordered into a political marriage to girl he doesn’t know.

Aaron is a thief. He had the misfortune to stumble into Darvish’s bedchamber and get caught. Luckily, Darvish was attracted to him and saved Aaron from tortured to death. However, Aaron grew up in a strict home and he has learned to deny his sexual leanings. He has two ghosts in his mind, talking to him and berating him.

The king suspects that Darvish is plotting to get the throne and therefore sends him out to retrieve the stone. Luckily for the duo, they stumble upon princess Chandra who is a trained wizard. She’s also Darvish’s unwilling fiancée and has no desire to a romantic relationship at all because it will stifle her wizardry. After the death of her mother, she has also become estranged from his father the king.

The trio will have to learn to work together to get the precious stone back.

I really liked the three main characters: each have circumstances and their own inner demons to conquer while on the quest. Aaron is the only one who actually knows a bit about the world: both Darvish and Chandra have led very safe lives and Aaron is their (unwilling) guide to the larger world.

The world isn’t too complex but not too simple, either. A nice, fun story which teases at a male/male romance but the ending might be disappointing for anyone expecting that.

The third book in the Keeper chronicles. This time with two talking cats.

Publication year: 2003
Format: print
Page count: 415
Publisher: Daw

Diana Hanson is a Keeper, person with witch-like powers who guards the world from forces of evil. Today is her last day in high school and she notices a source of evil, an ugly bracelet. Soon enough, she’s Summoned to her first work: Erlking’s Emporium a gift shop in a Kingston mall. It seems that someone is changing the whole mall into an Otherside spot and so trying to take over the world. Otherside is a place where people’s conscious and subconscious desires and fears take physical form. Diana realizes that she needs help from her older sister Claire. Together the sisters, and Diana’s talking cat Sam, head into the Otherside to fight evil right at the source. This means that Claire’s hunky boyfriend and her talking cat Austin stay at the guest house to entertain all comers, including a professor of archeology and his walking mummy.

This was a fun and funny book but not as good as the previous one. Most the elements I enjoyed in the previous books are here such as Austin’s snarkiness, the pop culture references, and jokes. Austin and Dean are fun together, too.

However, I didn’t really get the Australian jokes and at time the story is fractured to too many different places. Unfortunately, the book has lots of new characters whom we don’t really get to know and so it’s hard for me to really care about the budding romance.

If you enjoyed the previous books, I think you’ll enjoy this one too. Unless you don’t like arrogant teenaged Diana, of course.

The second book in a humorous fantasy series.

Publication year: 2001
Format: print
Page count: 416
Publisher: DAW

The book starts a week after the first one ended. Claire Hansen is Keeper who has to close down portals to Hell. Dean McIsaak is a Bystander, a normal human. But they’re in love. However, Claire soon realizes that she doesn’t want to put Dean in danger and just tells him that she’s leaving. And once Claire has made up her mind, nobody can change it.

But apart, they’re both miserable. Claire is so distracted that she’s even a danger to herself. Luckily, her younger sister Diana, who is still a teenager, conspires to get them back together again.

However, the plot kicks in higher gear, when an angel manifests unexpectedly – to a teenaged girl’s bedroom, naked. Enraged father kicks him out and the confused angel realizes that he has now a fully functioning human body, genitals included. Usually, angels are biologically sexless. Additionally, the angel doesn’t have a mission, which is also unusual. Still, he tries to help people around him and doesn’t understand why they don’t like discussing their private lives with strangers. And then there are the… extra bits which seem to have a life all their own.

Meanwhile, a demon manifests as well. Demons are also usually sexless but this demon is the exact opposite of the angel. So, a teenaged girl who’s actually a demon is walking around Canada.

Claire is her stubborn, more-Keeper-than-thou self and Dean is just as polite and cleaning obsessed as in the previous book. Austin, the talking cat, is also a big part of the book. Diana is ten years younger than Claire and they don’t get along well, especially since both think that they’re always right. But in the end, they support each other.

Lots of sex jokes, lots of other humor and sibling rivalry. This was a fun and funny read. It’s set around Christmas. I recommend reading the first book first though.

I liked this book more than the first one because it has more coherent plot and because the unsatisfied sexual tension goes away pretty quickly. And because of the angel and the demon, who become increasingly human during the story. The angel particularly has problems with his unexpected maleness.

“The constant low levels of sharp-edged irritation would have poked multiple holes through the fabric of the universe had government officiousness not cancelled it out by denying that anything was possible outside their very narrow parameters. As a result, most border crossings between U.S, and Canada were so metaphysically stable, unnatural phenomenon had to cross them just like everyone else – although it wasn’t always easy for them to find a photo ID.
Later, they’d swap stories about how custom official had no sense of humor, how someone – or possibly something – had been strip searched for no good reason, and how they’d triumphantly smuggled through half a dozen toaster ovens, duty-free.”

The first in a humorous fantasy series.

Publication year: 1998
Format: print
Page count: 331
Publisher: DAW

Claire Hansen is a Keeper, a person who sorts out magical accidents. Usually, that means that she’s magically summoned to a place where a pit to Hell has opened and then she seals it and moves on to the next site. But this time, things aren’t as straight-forward. When she stumbles into the Elysian Fields Guest House in the middle of a thunder storm tired, drained and head aching, she doesn’t at first realize that she’s in the house where she was summoned to. In the morning, she finds out to her horror that she’s now the owner of the run down little place. The hotel has an opening to Hell in the basement but it has been closed temporarily. Apparently, two Keepers were needed to close it down, and in one of the rooms one Keeper is sleeping in suspended animation, as she has been for about 50 years. Claire needs to figure out just what she has to do here. Additionally, the hotel comes with a young and very nice handyman Dean who is distractingly gorgeous and the most trustworthy person in the world. The attic also has the ghost of a man who has died over a hundred years ago. The hotel attracts only a few customers but they’re quite strange. The nosey old woman next door doesn’t make things easier, either.

Claire has a cat companion Austin. He can talk and does so quite a lot. Sometimes he’s helpful, sometimes snide but mostly he wants to be fed, and preferably not the geriatric kibble the vet has assigned to him. Austin is, after all, already 17 years old.

This was a fun and funny, light read. It’s not really an adventure story, though. More like a comedy with heavy romantic elements. Claire and Dean are dancing around each other the whole book. Dean comes from Newfoundland, and he’s very polite, loves to cook and clean. He’s also very decent fellow who is immediately attracted to Claire. Claire has been a Keeper all her life, meaning that she’s always got magical powers and she knows a lot of things which normal mortals don’t. She’s determined, or rather stubborn, and she’s used to doing things by herself and moving from place to place. When she’s faced with the very real possibility that she might have to stay in the guest house for years, she doesn’t take it well. She’s also never really considered a long-term relationship, so she quickly dismisses Dean as too young for her. Of course, the Hell pit in the basement is quick to send her all kinds of temptations so perhaps is smart no to start anything right next to it. I just though it was a very weak excuse.

This book also contains a love triangle, or at least a triangle of unsatisfied sexual tensions. But it might be the nicest love triangle I’ve ever read about. The ghost in the attic is Jacques, a French sailor, and he’s also immediately attracted to Claire. As a Keeper, she can give him a body and that’s what he asks her for, in between hitting on her. Dean, of course, doesn’t like it but is mostly really polite about it. Things never escalate to an obnoxious level.

The neighbor Mrs. Abrams is another quite funny character. She has orange hair, doesn’t remember Claire’s name, and has the tendency to barge in whenever she wants to. She also has a Doberman called Baby.

The different guests are also very funny. I also loved the pop culture references, especially to Star Trek: The Next Generation.

However, the book doesn’t have a coherent plot. Different things just happen. The characters don’t really change, either.

Technically the second book in the series, but doesn’t have any of the first book’s characters.

Publication year: 1995
Format: print
Page count: 416
Publisher: Daw

Vree and Bannon are sister and brother. They’re also the best assassins in the Havakeen Empire’s army. When the Emperor needs to get rid of rebel leaders or traitors, the generals send Vree and Bannon. But when they’re sent to kill rebelling Governor Aralt, something goes wrong. Vree discovers Bannon in an old man’s body – Aralt’s body. It seems impossible but Vree knows her brother. Aralt is dying and the only way to save Bannon’s spirit is for his consciousness to leap into Vree’s body. Vree allows it and together they agree to go after Bannon’s body which is now occupied by Aralt’s spirit. Unfortunately, that makes them deserters and if someone in the army realizes that Vree and Bannon have “deserted their duty”, assassins will be on their tail.

Meanwhile, two bards from Shkoder are invited guests in the capital. There are no bards in the Halvakeen and the nature spirits, the kigh, are alien to them. However, the two bards realize that kigh are terrified of being captured. The bards have no idea what is going on but investigate. Also, the youngest royal prince has a crush on one the bards, Karlene, and she tries to convince him that she isn’t the right person for him.

The book has an intriguing concept with Vree and Bannon in the same body. They’re always been close but quite soon this much closeness becomes too much. They’re both determined to get Bannon’s body back but soon they’re forced to work with the body stealer. Enemies forced to work together is a troupe I’ve always enjoyed and I really liked it here, too. However, I didn’t care for the romance aspect at all but it didn’t overwhelm the story. Also, there’s an incestuous vibe with the siblings and I didn’t care for that, either. Vree is apparently sexually attracted to her brother and Bannon wants to keep Vree dependent on her. So, not the healthiest relationship to begin with.

In this book, too, Huff uses a lot of quick point-of-view shifts but they weren’t as disorienting as in the first book. Karlene is a bard in her thirties: she’s inquisitive like all bards and determined to do her duty. We get to know the backstory of the body stealer and I suppose we should sympathize with him. But I don’t. Because he usually kills the spirit of the person whose body he takes over. He left Bannon alive only because his former body was poisoned and dying.

While Havakeen isn’t the same place culturally as Shkoder, bisexuality and same-sex partners are just as approved here as in the first book. Women in the army or as guards are also completely normal. They have several apparently competing religions but we’re not told much about them. Bannon and Vree follow the goddess of war, Jiir, but they aren’t ardent followers, more out of necessity.

Once again we have a lot of point-of-view characters. The actual bad guy is surprisingly sympathetic and at the same time chilling and creepy, which was great. He and Karlene were my favorites in this book.

The ending isn’t a cliffhanger but it leaves a lot of things open. I don’t have the next book, though.

A fantasy book with a bard as the main character. It’s technically first in a series but the next book has different characters and is set in a different country.

Publication year: 1994
Format: print
Page count: 410
Publisher: Daw

This series is set in a world where magic is done through the Kigh. The Kigh are essentially nature spirits and by asking them (Singing) to do something the bards can affect earth, air, water, and fire. Yup, the bards do magic; there’s no mentions of wizards or other magic users. You have to be born with the ability to see the Kigh. Most of the bards seem to see only one kind of Kigh, some see two kinds. The rarest are the people who see all four kinds. You can only Sing to Kigh you can see.

Annice was born as the youngest of King Mikus’ children but she was also born with the gift to Sing to all four Kigh. The King of Shkoder and his heir wanted to marry (called joining in this world and also same-sex couples can join) her for political reasons but the headstrong Annice found a way to force his father the king to promise her to the Bardic Hall instead. However, after the old King’s death the new King Theron, Annice’s brother, proclaimed that in order to become a bard Annice had to cut all ties to the royal family and she would be a traitor to the crown if she joined or had a child without first getting the King’s permission. Annice was 14 and eager to become a bard so she agreed.

Ten years later, Annice finds out that she’s pregnant. She loves her life wandering around the country and having casual sex with both men and women. She even has a steady girlfriend Stasya, who is also a bard. She’s never thought about having kids but when she’s confronted with the pregnancy, she realizes that she wants the child. The kid’s father is very handsome but otherwise arrogant, pigheaded, opinionated etc. so Annice decides not to even tell him and raise the kid with Stasya and the other bards. She also intends to keep the kid a secret from the king.

However, the kid’s father, Pjerin, is a duc in a distant but strategically important mountain keep, guarding a pass between Shkoder and the hostile Cemandia. Pjerin is very proud of the place and content to keep it as it is, but others aren’t. People close to Pjerin scheme to get him out of way so that they can cement an alliance with Cemandia and get rich on the profits. They frame him as a traitor and soon Pjerin is dragged to the capital in chains and Annice has to decide what she’s going to do.

This was lots of fun. Annice and Pjerin are so much alike that they get on each other’s nerves all the time; there’s no romance really between them. In fact, there’s no sex scenes in the book. I really liked most of the characters, and the world and the magic system were great.

However, the plot could have been resolved very soon if Annice could have just gotten over the hurt and anger she had towards Theron. So, the plot really sprang up from the characters and their past. Some people seem to hate that, but this time it fit. However, it did take away the tension somewhat. Huff also does a lot of POV shifts very quickly. It took me a while to get used to them. Often enough I don’t care for bickering characters but this time I liked them. I think this is the second time I’ve read a book where the main character is heavily pregnant most of the time. (Cordelia was pregnant with Miles in Barrayar.)

I really enjoyed the world building. Shkoder is a land where traveling bards bring news from one end of the country to the other. They’re also part of the justice system because they can use Command which compels the person to tell the truth. Also, in Shkoder, same-sex relationships are the equal of opposite-sex relationships: both raise kids and are completely normal. Bisexuality is also normal.

I love bards and would like to read more books with bards as main characters but they seem to be rather rare. The next book apparently has a brother and sister assassins as the main characters.

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.

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