Kristen at Fantasy Cafe is hosting Women in SF&F Month 2017. The posts in previous years have been great and it’s wonderful to see that so many people, men and women, are again celebrating women writers.

A new Phryne Fisher mystery.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours and 22 minutes
Narrator: Stephanie Daniel

Orchestral director Hugh Tregennis has been murdered, with a stack of musical notes stuffed down his throat. Inspector Jack Robinson is looking for Phryne’s help because the policeman knows nothing about singers. Phryne agrees to help. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Tregennis was universally hated and nearly anyone in the choir could have killed him. Phryne promptly joins the choir and goes undercover.

Phryne has also some more personal troubles. Mathematician Rupert Sheffield is giving a lecture about the art of deduction and out of sheer curiosity Phryne attends. Rupert turns out to be very handsome but very rude and downright insufferably arrogant. But Phryne’s dear friend John Wilson is Rupert’s aide and head over heels in love with him. Rupert doesn’t seem to even notice poor John’s devotion and Phryne decides to educate Rupert.

This one somewhat rewrites Phyrne’s experiences as an ambulance driver in WWI. In a previous book (Murder in Montparnasse), we’re told about Phryne’s first love, after WWI. But apparently, Phryne had a fling with John Wilson just before her first love who was a famous Parisian painter. John was a young doctor who did his best to keep his patients alive. While he’s mostly gay, during the war both he and Phryne hook up, just to feel alive in the middle of death. They parted on good terms and quickly fall into bed together.

This was another somewhat unlikely story, but very entertaining. The familiar cast is back and the new characters are good, too. Most of Phryne’s time is spent in the choir, practicing along with the others. Some of the choir members are large personalities and very entertaining.

Is it April already? Well, Hugo eligibility reading is over and I’m waiting to see which works will make it to the lists. I ended up reading quite a lot of comics in March and even reviewed some of them. Mockingbird vol. 1 was my favorite comic this month.

1, Mockingbird vol. 1: I can explain
2, Star Trek: Deep Space 9: The Maquis
3, Silk vol. 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon
4, Silk vol. 1: Sinister
5, Batman/Tarzan: Claws of the Cat-Woman

Challenges: Pick&Mix: 13 (out of 20), Graphic novels: 7 (out of 24)
So many of the comics could be put on the action heroine challenge, so I upgraded the challenge from 10 to 15 works. Currently I’ve read 8 books with an action heroine lead.

I also read and reviewed 5 books and a novella last month. I really liked all of them:

1, Yoon Ha Yee: Ninefox Gambit
2, Ada Palmer: Too Like the Lighting
3, Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric’s Mission
4, Elizabeth Bear: Karen Memory
5, Robert Jackson Bennett: City of Stairs
6, Jim C. Hines: Revisionary

Best of the month: It’s hard to choose a favorite. Revisionary is the last book in a series I’ve enjoyed a lot. Three books, from Yee, Palmer, and Bennett, are first books in their series. And Penric’s Mission is a lovely, wonderful Bujold fantasy story. Bear’s standalone Western steampunk book is also great. But I’m going with Penric’s Mission.

April: I’m currently reading Kerry Greenwood’s newest Phryne Fisher mystery. Well, actually it came out a few years ago and I didn’t realize until now. I’m also reading City of Blades, Bennett’s next book and then I’ll be reading the rest of the Leigh Brackett books I have.

Collects issues 1-4. Elseworlds comics.

Writer: Ron Marz
Artists: Igor Kordey
Publisher: DC, Titan comics

Bruce Wayne is opening a new wing to the Gotham Museum of Natural History and to fill it up he has also funded an expedition to Africa. Finnegan Dent has brought all sorts of interesting stuff to the Thomas and Martha Wayne wing from Africa. At the wing’s opening, Bruce meets Lord Greystoke.

At night, Catwoman breaks into the Museum and steals some pieces. Both Batman and Tarzan confront her. She reveals herself to be a priestess of Sakhmet, princess Khefretari from a secret African city of Mamnon. She’s only trying to get back pieces which was stolen from her city. It quickly turns out that Dent is a rogue and thief rather than an archeologist and he wants more of the secret city’s treasures. Tarzan and Batman want to protect Khefretari’s people and confront Dent. So, the trio travels to Africa and travel to Mamnon.

This isn’t Earth shatteringly good but it’s a quick read. As an Elseworlds comic, none of the other familiar Batman characters appear and Batman even says that he doesn’t any partners, so no Robin in this universe. Marz teases us a little with the name Dent and what happens to him later.

This isn’t the environmentalist Tarzan I remember reading about in comics in my youth (in Finland. I have no idea where they originally came out.) but a more violent man who has no qualms about killing animals or humans to survive. Batman is sternly against killing and chastises Tarzan a couple of times. Even though they’re somewhat similar, being both orphans, they have quite different worldviews.

Sadly, I didn’t care for the art at all.

The fourth and final book in the series Magic Ex Libris where magic comes from books.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 44 minutes
Narrator: David DeVries

About a year ago, Libriomancer Isaac Vainio told the world that magic exists. He was hoping for a future where he and the other Libriomancers can help and heal people openly but instead they face a lot of suspicions and fear. Still, Isaac was able to found New Millennium, a research facility for all things magical. But the US authorities want everything researched thoroughly which frustrates Isaac and sometimes the people he wants to help. Especially when the person he wants to help is his young niece.

But another group of supernatural people want a war with the normal people and they’re attacking politicians who are against magic. Soon, Isaac and his friends are also in the crosshairs.

I’ve really enjoyed this series and was somewhat saddened to see it end. But it ends on a high note which is always good. I loved the new, and old, gadgets and magics Isaac and his friends use. And I really like his endless optimism in seeing how much good magic can do.

The ending is also open enough that there’s a chance Mr. Hines will write more stories in this world.

The first book in the fantasy series Divine Cities.

Publication year: 2014
Format: print
Page count: 452
Publisher: Broadway Books

Bulikov and Saypur: two cities which inhabitants hate each other with passion but which are linked by the past, present, and mostly likely by the future as well.

Bulikov was, and still is, the center city of the Continent, a place where six gods lived and influenced the lives of every human there. Once, they warred against each other but then they suddenly formed a peace and started to expand from the Continent. They conquered and enslaved Saypur. Saypur is rich in minerals and other natural wealth and the Continentals forced the Saypuris to work. The city of Bulikov was the prosperous center of the world.

But 75 years ago the balance of power changed dramatically: a heroic figure rose amongst the Saypuri and invented technology which killed the gods. Because the gods had literally changed reality in the Continent, it suffered greatly when “normal” reality returned. Now, Saypur rules and the Continent is poor, ignorant, and mostly illiterate as well. Also, the Saypuri laws make it illegal for the Continentals to know their own history, especially concerning the gods, and to evoke the gods in any way. So, the Saypuri and the Continentals continue to hate each other. Bulikov is now partly a ruin and filled with desperate, poor people.

Shara Thivani from Saypur arrives to Bulikov to find out who has murdered her dear and respected friend Dr. Efrem Pangyui. Pangyui was a historian passionately interested in the Continent and especially in the gods. Shara suspects at first that the locals have killed him but the further she digs the more she finds unexpected clues. She’s a trusted operative (meaning: spy) for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which deals with Continental matters, especially with the remnants the gods have left behind: items, even creatures which shouldn’t exist. She is also something of a historian, like Pangyui but she has to be loyal to Saypur and not to truth or facts. Yet, it seems that even the minister of Foreign Affairs, who is Shara’s aunt, doesn’t trust her anymore.

Lots of people have praised this book and I wasn’t disappointed. The world-building is exquisite and integral to the characters and the plot. Shara is a great character and so is her “secretary” the Northern barbarian Sigrud. He’s a one-eyed giant of few words but very decisive action. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Bulikov governor Turyin Mulaghesh, who was a colonel before she was sent to exile in Bulikov where she has to enforce policies she doesn’t care for. Granted, the characters aren’t very complex but I liked them.

The story isn’t set in a typical fantasy landscape of horses and chosen ones, but in a more modern city where cars and firearms are typical, at least for the wealthier people, and photography is the new hot thing. Yet, some magic still works, too.

Excellent book and I’ll be diving into the sequel shortly.

Set in 1878 in Rapid City in Washington State, it’s a steampunk Western detective story.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 351
Publisher: TOR

Let’s get something out of the way: Karen Memory is a prostitute and she lives in a brothel. She’s also around 17 and not the youngest girl there. She’s also smart and loyal and cares for the other girls. But she prefers to work in Madame Damnable’s brothel to working in a factory, which was at the time dangerous and very dirty.

The book is Karen’s journal and so written in first person and with a dialect.

There are (at least) two main brothels in Rapid City. Hôtel Mon Cherie is run by Madame Damnable who doesn’t allow the girls to drink too much and keeps her place clean. The girls are like family to each other. Also, one of them was born a man. The girls also gather around at evenings, after the clients have gone, and read different sorts of books.

Then there’s Peter Bantle’s place where the girls are kept prisoners, underfed, and beaten. Unfortunately, Bantle is quite influential. One Chinese woman, Merry Lee, tries and sometimes succeeds in freeing Bantle’s girls.

The story starts when Merry Lee comes into Mon Cherie shot and supported by one of Bantle’s escaped slaves. Bantle follows with his goons but Karen and a couple of the other girls and Madame manage to send them away. But a war starts between the two brothels.

Also, a new marshal is in town following a man who murders prostitutes gruesomely. Marshal Bass Reeves is black and he isn’t going to get much help from the locals, except from Karen and her friends.

I really enjoyed this tale a lot. I did have difficulty with the language sometimes, though. I also really enjoyed the side characters and the references to earlier steampunk books, such as to Jules Verne’s books.