To-be-read-pile challenge

The first in the Egyptian Mysteries series where the main character is the former scribe Huy.

Page count: 176
Publication year: 1991
Format: Print
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Huy is on the verge of disaster. He supported Akhenaten with his whole heart, and he was one of the first people to move to the pharaoh’s new city Akhetaten believing that the pharaoh will bring about a new era of light and justice. Huy was an apprentice scribe in his court.

However, Akhenaten and his follower Smenkhkare are both dead, and the next rulers are bringing back the old ways and the old gods. Some of the former scribes are forbidden to continue in their job. Huy is one of them. He thinks that it’s because he has always curious and so some people saw him as a troublemaker. But the fact is that at 29 years old Huy is a scribe who can’t work as a scribe. His wife divorced him some years back and took their son with her when she moved. Huy has no idea what to do. He sits in his small house in Akhetaten and is slowly starving.

Then a childhood friend appears and encourages Huy to move to the Southern Capital and continue with his life. Amotju has his own reasons: he’s convinced that his rival Rekhmire is trying to kill him and he wants Huy to prove it. Huy is at first reluctant to interfere but has no choice.

Amotju is a wealthy merchant who owns several ships. He was neutral during Akehanten’s reign and is prospering even under the new order. He has a wife, grown children, and concubines. He has also a mistress whom he’s in love with. His mistress Mutnefert has another man who is the high priest Rekhmire. In fact, the widow Mutnefert was Rekhmire’s official mistress before she met Amotju and Munefert needs Rekhmire’s influence to give her, too, some measure of social power. Amotju and Rekhmire appear to be rivals in business as well.

Because Huy is going to be Amotjus’s secret agent, so to speak, they can’t be seen together. So, Amotju arranges Huy to stay with Amotju’s unmarried sister Aset. Aset remembers Huy fondly from the past and Huy is also attracted to her.

Huy sets about to find clues about Rekhmire’s involvement. Instead, he stumbles into a tomb robbery, theft, and even murder. Also, unfortunately for Huy, the Egyptian police force doesn’t like that he’s nosing around their turf.

The setting is done very well. There’s an atmosphere of uneasiness and mild confusion when the people are settling back into their fathers’ ways, and are trying to get any advantage they can get. The book is set into the days between Smenkhkare’s death and before Tutankhmun is declared official king. The new king is just nine years old, so there’ also the question of who are going to be the real rulers.

The Egyptian weather here is very hot and dry. It was a bit amusing when Huy finds cool places a comfort; here it’s -18 Celsius now outside.

Huy is a very convincing character. At first he find the old gods and beliefs contemptible. However, he does care what happens to his Ka and Ba after death, and he worries about his own tomb. If he dies when he’s poor, he will end up in a group tomb without much food for the afterlife.

He’s also curious about many things but not foolhardy. He knows that he has no official position at all, so he must be careful in his investigation. He also care a lot about the people close to him and longs to see his son.

Amotju has currently a marriage of convenience with his wife. She’ a good businesswoman and a housekeeper and has also ambitions she can only realize through her husband. Meanwhile Amotju is falling more and more in love his secret mistress. Huy doesn’t want to come between the spouses.

Even though Amotju is supposed to be rich, we don’t see many servants at his place. Also, we don’t see his children at all. In fact, Aset is the one who orders her servants to do things.

Huy is the main point-of-view character but Amotju, Rekhmire, Mutnefert, and a couple of others are also POV characters briefly.

The plot moves somewhat slow especially at first, but it fits the setting and the characters. While the main plot is tied up at the end, the tensions between various characters are left wide open.

This is an interesting contrast to the Lord Meren series where Tutankhamun is already an established king even though he’s still young.

Page count: 272 (329 in the translation)
Publication year: 2002
Format: Print, translated into Finnish as Maistaja
Publisher: Plume, Penguin Group

In the Finnish edition, the author on the cover is Ugo DiFonte, although the copyright is for Elbling.

According to the prologue someone sent this old manuscript to Elbling who then translated it from 16th century Italian to English and published it. It’s the life story of the peasant Ugo DiFonte who is writing five years after he became the local Duke’s food taster.

Ugo DiFonte starts the tale as a small boy in 1534 Corsoli in Italy. He’s born into a dirt-poor peasant family in the middle of the plague and witnesses his mother’s suicide. His father and older brother treat him badly; he has to do all the most unpleasant work and therefore he tries to go out herding the family’s sheep as often as he can. He’s also deliberately given less food than his brother and his father says that Ugo isn’t his son.

At the age of fourteen, Ugo leaves his home. His brother refuses to give him even a few sheep to start his own flock. Soon, he sees a girl for the first time and promptly falls in love with her. Elisabetta’s father hires Ugo to his farm in exchange for food and lodging. After a few years, Ugo and Elisabetta get married. She becomes pregnant and dies giving birth to Miranda.

Ugo and Miranda are desperately poor but still manage to be happy until a famine during which they didn’t eat anything for days. Then Corsoli’s Duke Federico Bassillione DiVinelli’s hunting party gallops through Ugo’s small garden. The Duke almost kills Ugo but instead an old hunter says that Ugo can take Lucca’s place. Ugo is desperate to save his eleven years old daughter and he agrees without knowing what Lucca’s job was.

Ugo and Miranda are taken to the Duke’s palace and there Ugo is shown his job rather brutally. On the courtyard he watches when the Duke cuts off a man’s tongue. Later, he finds out that the unfortunate man was Lucca, the previous food taster. Then he tries to refuse the job but it’s too late. The Duke forces him to taste the food. After that, he and Miranda are part of the court.

The court is small and there’s not much intrigue going on. The Duke is married but prefers to use whores and his wife resents that, of course. However, the food taster is rather seen as the Duke’s dog and not in a position to further his own lot in life. One young man, Tommaso, works in the kitchen. He promises to be Ugo’s eyes and ears there in exchange of a marriage contract with Miranda. Reluctantly Ugo agrees to marry her to Tommaso when she’s fifteen. Ugo is hoping that many things will change during the years and that he wouldn’t have to honor their arrangement.

Ugo tries his best to raise his daughter, and succeeds almost too well: she starts to resent him, their poverty, and her lowly position as the food taster’s daughter. She grows more beautiful every day and many young men are wooing her.

Ugo adapts quickly to his new life at court. The change from a starving peasant to a food taster is staggering. However, even though he can now taste magnificent foods he can’t enjoy them because he’s constantly afraid of being poisoned.

Ugo is also a very religious man. He prays almost constantly guidance from God and every event is apparently a message from Him. On the other hand, he curses a lot.

Some words here and there have been left in Italian (I presume, I don’t know any Italian) which is an interesting stylistic choice. Some are the curse words Ugo uses more often such as potta (which unfortunately means a bed pan in Finnish). Some I presume to be other words such as contadino and castello. This is hardly ever done in Finnish because we have a lot of translated works and the idea is to make them as idiomatically Finnish as possible. Only a few books are translated into English each year. I presume that the effect here is to bring attention to the presumed translated status of the book.

There a huge difference between the starving peasants, and the Duke and his court who seem to be eating several different kinds of meat on every meal. When Ugo goes to the court and is forced to taste veal as his first food, he remembers that before that he’s only eaten meat twice before in his life.

Ugo makes a point to describe foods offered at feasts. While some of them sound delicious, there are also foods I wouldn’t eat (calf’s brains, for example). However, he provides a list of ingredients to a serving only a few times. After all, he’s not a cook. His main worry is if he’s going to survive the meal or not, and that Miranda should have a good life.

The characters here are very human. The Duke is sometimes cruel and kills people who annoy him. Yet, he’s been raised to do that. He has no idea how the peasants truly live. Most of the people around him are trying to please him and therefore either survive or get more for themselves. Only one of them seems to care about the peasants, and only because if they tax the peasants too much, they will die and who will then pay for the upper classes meals?

Most of the people who we see here in the Duke’s court are not nobles themselves. There’s an astronomer, the fool, the cook, the scribe and so on. In fact, we see more about the lives of the servants than the upper class. Ugo isn’t really interested in mingling with the upper class. Even his romantic interest is a servant.

Ugo isn’t paid as such. Apparently, he works for food and board. He knows that he’s poor and without the duke he would be nothing. There’s no other job or profession he could go to.

There’s no adventure or mystery to solve here. Just Ugo writing down things that he finds worth telling about. Near the end the writing style changes when Ugo is writing things down every evening. This makes the story more immediate and was a good way to end the story.

The second book in the Vesper Holly adventure series.

Page count: 164
Publication year: 1988
Format: Print
Publisher: Dell Publishing

The El Dorado Adventure starts a year after the previous book, the Illyrian Adventure. Vesper is now seventeen and just as bright and eager for adventure as before. She lives in Philadelphia with her guardians Professor Brinton Garrett and his wife Mary.

Vesper finds out that she owns a volcano and the surrounding lands in the small country of El Dorado, which was before a part of Spain. Then Alain de Rouchefort sends her a telegram that he needs to talk about that property immediately. He’s even paid for the journey. Soon, Vesper and Brinnie are on the way to Puerto Palmas. There, she comes fast friends with a people Brinne finds more than a little suspicious: a pair of identical twins, Smiler and Slider, who work on old steamship. Captain Blaizer O’Hare is an especially suspicious character and Brinnie is convinced that he’s a unscrupulous smuggler. Blaizer has also a talking parrot Adelita.

Blaizer tells Vesper and Brinnie that de Rouchefort is trying to build a canal which will drown out a local native tribe, the Chirians. The canal would go straight through Vesper’s lands. She, of course, will not allow that to happen.

This a short and entertaining adventure story filled with kidnappings, daring escapes, and running around in the jungle. However, most people turn out not to be what they seem to be at the first glance. It’s also full of what I would call endearing feminism where it’s enough to point out that sexism is silly, most people accept it, and they move on.

“What are you saying?”… “Are you asking men to do women’s work?”
“If they do it”, said Vesper,”it won’t be women’s work anymore. It will be everybody’s.”

If only that would work in the real world.

The story is written in first person. The storyteller is Brinnie who calls Vesper “dear girl” all the time and tries his best to protect her. He’s very much Watson to Vesper’s Holmes. Except that Vesper has actual human feelings.

This was nice, short, and funny, and exactly what I needed.

Published in US under the name Those Who Hunt the Night

The first in the horror/fantasy series about former spy James Asher.

Page count: 306
Publication year: 1988
Format: Print
Publisher: Unwin paperbacks

James Asher is a former British spy. He used to travel around the world searching information and killing people for the betterment of UK. Finally, he was disgusted with his work and retired from the Service. Now he’s Philology don in Oxford and married to his youthful love Lydia.

It’s 1907 and Asher has lived a quiet life for seven years. One night he comes home and finds his household, including his wife, sleeping unnaturally. The cause is a vampire. Don Simon Ysidro wants Asher to work for him and if he doesn’t the vampire is going to kill his wife. Asher has no choice but to agree but he decides that he’s going to secretly gather information that will help him kill the vampire.

Ysidro tells Asher that there are several vampires in London and someone is killing them. So far, four vampires have been exposed to sunlight in their own, safe hiding places. However, Ysidro is very reluctant to tell Asher much about the killed vampires which is very frustrating to Asher. Slowly, he managed to find out more about the vampires, their habits, and even their physiology and powers. Unfortunately, Ysidro is the only vampire who wants Asher to investigate the case. The others, including the Master Vampire of London, would rather kill him. And of course, it’s quite possible that even if Asher manages to find the killer, the vampires aren’t going allow him to live with what he knows about them.

Asher is a very interesting character. He’s a scholar of linguistics and folk tales so he notes the speech patterns and accents of people around him. At the same time, he uses his skills as a spy and does his best find out everything he can about the vampires. One of his best assets in this is his wife Lydia. I loved the fact that the first thing he did was to tell her what is going on and she promptly becomes the main researcher.

He’s main goal, of course, is to keep Lydia safe but he starts to feel sort of comradely towards Ysidro. At the same time, he notices how unhuman all the vampires are: their stillness, paleness, how even Ysidro constantly thinks about what he should and should not tell to Asher. In the end, Asher can’t know if he can trust Ysidro.

Lydia is the second point-of-view character although she only gets a few, short POV scenes. Even though at the start of the story she seems like a victim or a plot device, she turns out to be a more interesting character. She’s a research doctor and once she realizes that vampires are real, she starts to research them from a medical point-of-view. She’s meticulous and determined which isn’t really a surprise because she had to battle her own father in order to get into Oxford university and become a doctor. I really liked how Asher and Lydia just matter-of-factly trusted each other to be cool and smart.

Now these are vampires I really enjoy reading about! They are monsters who feed on humans so that they can continue to live. Ysidro explains that they also need to kill humans or their minds become slow and dull, and they will become so careless that people will find them and kill them. Also, the blood must be fresh so it can be stored. They can also affect the minds of humans and control humans so that killing them isn’t a problem.

The vampires are helpless during the day because they are unconscious. In a bit of a twist, silver burns them. Asher didn’t try crucifixes so I don’t know if they would be effective. However, Asher researches vampire stories and points out that vampires appear in folk tales before Christianity.

Some of the vampires kill poor people off the streets while others want to “play with their food” and become close to their victims first. The killed vampires are the latter variety, and Asher and Lydia research their habits. They are mostly women vampires who lure rich men and get money off them before killing them. This is a chilling reminder that these vampires don’t think like humans and don’t have human emotions anymore.

The plot centers around two mysteries: who is the killer of vampires and what the vampires are in this world. Ysidro makes an off-hand comment that fairies aren’t real so apparently there aren’t other supernatural creatures about. There’s a lot of tension in the plot but not a lot of violence. Still, the plot moves at a brisk pace.

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!

This book has been almost five years in my to-be-read pile. To my surprise it turned out to be a short story collection. The stories were written in the 1930s. The stories have been reprinted in “Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams“ and “Black God’s Kiss “.

The stories all have the same main character Jirel of Joiry who is a red headed warrior woman with yellow eyes. She’s described as very fierce woman whose fury and hate burns brightly. When she has given her word, she will do anything to keep it. She’s the military leader of the land of Joiry and the loyalty of her men is very important to her. Apparently, she’s also the only warrior woman in her country, or this fantasy world for that matter. All her followers are males. There’s no mention of who is the ruler of Joiry so it’s possible that she’s the Queen. However, she’s referred to as the Lady of Joiry and not as the ruler.

The fantasy land of Joiry is a medieval country and it even has Catholic priests and religion.

In the “Black God’s Kiss” Guillaume has conquered Joiry. He sexually molests Jirel who vows to destroy him. In order to find a suitable weapon, she descends to Hell.

“Black God’s Shadow” is a continuation to the previous story. The man Jirel killed haunts her in her dreams. She feels guilty and again takes the journey to Hell but this time her goal is to free his soul.

In “Jirel Meets Magic”, Jirel hunts the wizard Giraud who has killed some of her men. However, the wizard has fled through a magic window into another world. Jirel follows him.

In “The Dark Land” Jirel is wounded in battle and is near death. However, at the moment of death, a supernatural creature takes her away in order to make her his queen. Jirel, of course, doesn’t like that.

In “Hellsgarde” Jirel has to enter a keep which has been abandoned for centuries except for the ghost of the murdered man. She encounters a weird and alarming court in the keep.

The stories have been written in the spirit of sword and sorcery genre and reminded me of Conan. However, in most of the stories Jirel is sexually assaulted and even though she is a warrior, she’s always helpless to resist. In fact, in two of the stories she’s rescued in the end. I didn’t like that and I doubt that Conan, for example, will have to be rescued in his stories. Unfortunately, there’s also a confusion between a would-be rapist and a lover. In the first story, Guillame forcibly kisses Jirel and at first she hates him, but in the end she realizes that she loves Guillame. Later, he’s referred to as her lover even though the sexual assault in the only physical contact between them.

Jirel is a single-minded character. Once she has a goal in mind she will do everything in her power to get it. As a warrior woman, she’s the precursor to the modern warrior women such as Xena and even Buffy. As such, she has a great historical impact.

This is a short story collection about fairies. It also has Windling’s introduction about fairies’ literary history and further reading lists of novels, short stories, collections, and reference books.

The fairies in these stories are the more classical ones; the mischievous and downright nasty beasties who have their own agendas which humans don’t know and, perhaps, can’t understand.

I liked all of the stories but these I liked the best:

Gregory Frost: Tengu Mountain: young and proud Ando travels to his aunt Sakura’s hut on the mountain. It takes him a while to notice the strange happenings around him.

Kelly Link: the Faery Handbag: Genevive’s grandmother Zofia brought her faery handbag with her when she came to America from Baldeziwurlekistan which doesn’t exist anymore. Zofie tells many tales about her countries and the handbag.

Holly Black: the Night Market: an elf has put a curse on Tomasa’s sister and she has become very ill. Unfortunately, the elf refuses to cure her and so Tomasa must go to the infamous faery Night Market to find the cure.

Hiromi Goto: Foxwife: Yumeko has been called unlucky all her life and the others in her village shun her and her family of her heartmother and cronemother. One day, she falls into the swamp while fishing and finds herself in another world.

Les Trois Mousquetaires in the original French. I read the Finnish translation which has almost a thousand pages and illustrations by Maurice Leloir.

I’m more familiar with the various movies and the cartoon than the book. Given how distorted the movie versions of books usually are (at least the ones I’ve seen), I was a bit surprised how well the movies usually capture the personalities of the four main characters. The plots, however, are often shortened or changed although I seem to recall that the most usual plot is the three musketeers plus one racing from Paris to London in order to retrieve something precious to the French queen. This is, in fact, the second plot in the book. I assume that people know enough about the book, so there are going to be spoilers.

At the start of the book, the protagonist D’Artagnan is described as a hot-headed young man who is just looking for an excuse for a duel. When he meets the three musketeers one by one that’s exactly what he does – insults them in a seemingly small way and arranges a duel with each of them on the same day. However, once the four fight together against the group of the Cardinal Richelieu’s men, D’Artagnan and the musketeers aren’t as quick to take insult. Or if they are, that’s not significant to the plot and it’s not shown. However, later, when he returns from London, the narrator describes him as man who is cautious by nature and this characteristic is attached to him throughout the rest of the book.

The other musketeers keep their personalities throughout the book, though. Athos is the silent strong type (sorry, couldn’t resist :)). He rarely smiles. He’s even taught a sign language to his servant Grimaud so that he doesn’t have to talk with the servant. He’s had one tragic encounter with one woman in his past and so he hates and mistrusts all women everywhere. Aramis is a dandy and a poet. He would like to be a priest except that he likes women more. Porthos is a hard drinking and loud man who thinks slowly but occasionally gets good ideas. All of them are very good swordsmen and eager to fight. At the start of the book, it’s made clear that these names are just covers for their real identities, and that they are really high-born nobles.

The concept of honor that the musketeers have here is somewhat different than in the movies and certainly different than in the cartoon. For one thing, except for Athos, they all have affairs with married women and this doesn’t go against their honor, or the honor of the ladies, either. They have all sworn allegiance to the King but at the same time, they have an on-going feud against the Cardinal’s men who also serve the King. In duels they are, in essence, murdering faithful Frenchmen. Also, D’Artagnan essentially seduced Mylady’s young maid and abused her trust thoroughly, and yet he didn’t see it as dishonorable.

Mylady is the most significant female character in the book. She’s very beautiful, merciless, and devious; in other words, an excellent antagonist. In fact, even though the Cardinal is perceived as the main antagonist, he’s seen rarely and in more the instigator of plots. Mylady is is one of his henchmen (henchwoman?) and during the latter part of the book we get to see her point of view. Still, I was left wondering what made her so evil. Near the end, when the tale of her escape from the monastery during her teenage years, is told, I wondered if this was the whole tale or perhaps the monk whom she escaped with didn’t coerce her or at least take a more active part than mere seduced sap.

I was expecting D’Artagnan’s mistress, Constance, to be a significant character but she wasn’t seen much. She’s kidnapped (for the second time) pretty early on, around page 350 and don’t appear until very near the end. She wasn’t even a real plot device because for the majority of the book she isn’t seen at all. D’Artagnan thinks about her a couple of times but promptly gets on with his life. Because the book is centered on adventure, this might seem reasonable but when D’Artagnan professes his undying love for her near the end, I can’t help put think of him as a hypocrite. After all, since Constance and D’Artagnan had last seen each other, D’Artagnan has fallen in love with Mylady (and been passionately jealous of her supposed other lovers) and seduced the poor maid. Poor Constance!

Constance’s husband (yup, she was married) was described to be pretty despicable fellow; a money grubbing merchant who had the audacity to charge D’Artagnan rent! The landlord was also a coward and became the Cardinal’s spy.

Then again, pretty much all merchants and tavern owners were depicted as greedy cowards, and the nobles who tried to get away without paying for their meal or room, were just getting their due. I guess that was the attitude at the times. Of course, plenty of people to day, too, think that they are entitled to free things.

Even though it took me almost two months to read the book, it was well worth it. It was fascinatingly different from modern times and I might even call it a more alien culture than what I’ve seen in most of the science fiction and fantasy I’ve read. I might even look up the sequels. I’ve already borrowed the first sequel from the library.

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