Collects Mockingbird: S.H.I.E.L.D 50th anniversary 1, Mockingbird issues 1-5

Writer: Chelsea Cain
Artist: Joëlle Jones, Kate Niemczyk

I was somewhat familiar with Mockingbird (Bobbi Morse) from her days as a member of the Avengers, when she was married to Hawkeye. When she joined the cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I was happy because Marvel can’t have too many awesome action heroines.

However, I didn’t really know what to expect from her own comic. Happily, it turned out to be good, with a mix of humor and action.

Bobbi is a scientist, a biochemist. She’s also a spy and a superhero because of super-soldier formula. So, she doesn’t have She-Hulk or Captain Marvel type powers. Instead, she’s faster, stronger, and more durable than usual humans. Which is good, because we need all types of heroines. Now, it’s easy to compare her to the Black Widow who is also a spy and superheroine but Bobbi is more a scientist and has a better sense of humor. Also, her super-power formula makes her paranoid and insomniac. That’s why the S.H.I.E.L.D. is monitoring her health constantly and she has to go to checkups every week.

In the 50th anniversary issue Bobbi finds out that her mentor has been killed and solves her murder. In her own series, she saves a teenaged girl who has weird new powers from police snipers, rescues her current boyfriend Lance Hunter from the Hellfire Club, her former husband Hawkeye from T.I.M. (former A.I.M.) ‘s underwater lab, and she also finds out what lurks in the S.H.I.E.L.D. medical facility. And she does it with style and sarcasm.

I enjoyed this collection a lot and I’m definitely continuing with the series. Please don’t cancel it, Marvel!

The first book in an SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 52 minutes
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

Captain Kel Cheris is a young infantry captain in service to the galactic Hexarchate. She finds a way to win in a difficult situation but it’s disgraced for it, because she used an unorthodox, almost heretical, methods. Right at the start we see the Kel in action, using formations which are the most important strategy elements. Afterwards, Cheris thinks that she’s going to be dismissed but instead she’s invited to a group which is thinking of ways to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles which the heretics have taken. Apparently, the only way to storm it is a siege and it should be led by general Shuos Jedao who hasn’t been defeated in battle yet. Except that Jedao died three hundred years ago, after murdering his whole army. But the Hexarchate have preserved his mind digitally and it’s possible to download it to the mind of a volunteer. Cheris volunteers. The general isn’t what she expected. He’s mostly rational, or at least pretends to be, but he’s of course very manipulative.

The Fortress is tactically very important. If Cheris and Jedao can’t get it back, their whole society might collapse.

This was not an easy to book to get into. The reader is thrown in the middle of a battle into a very complex society and the author doesn’t explain much. Also, Cheris isn’t the only POV character. Most likely, the different POVs are differentiated better in the print book, but sometimes in the audio book they aren’t so clear when my attention wanders. There are also stuff, especially the physics and mathematics, which I didn’t get. I need to relisten the whole thing before getting the next book. Or maybe read it as a print book. The unfamiliar names were also tough in audio.

But once I got over the huge learning curve, the book was fascinating. I really enjoyed both Cheris and Jedao and their conversations were great. The siege is quite slow but I didn’t mind that. Cheris has seen raised from a child to be obedient, loyal, and conform. Jedao is from a time before Kel soldiers were raised like that. Yeah, their first names are also the name of the social group they belong to.

The Hexarchate is also a fascinating society despite being a very oppressive one, too. It’s based on a calendar which everyone has to follow, including feast days and remembrance days with different rituals, like ritual torture of prisoners or private meditation. The calendar makes possible to use what is called “exotic physics” which are used as weapons and can also affect local environment. If a certain number of the people don’t follow the calendar, the exotic physics don’t work. So, these people, called heretics, are persecuted mercilessly.

Men and women serve in the military without any comment. None of them are really described much, neither are the ships (called moths) or the fortresses, nor, indeed much at all.

The third book in the Star Trek: TNG Double Helix series.

Publication year: 1999
Format: print
Page count: 293 + an excerpt of the next book, Quarantine.
Publisher: Pocket Books

This time the TNG crew only appears in a couple of chapters and the main character is new character: Eric Stiles. Both Spock and McCoy appear.

The story starts several years before TNG series. Ensign Eric Stiles is the leader of a Starfleet security services special squad. They’re going in planet PojjanPiraKot where the population wants all aliens out. Federation embassy is the last one to be evacuated and Stiles’ group has to get them out. Unfortunately, the who group is full of ensigns on their first mission and things go wrong. Stiles is captured and imprisoned for years. His only companion is another alien prisoner: Romulan scientist Zevon. They keep each other alive and develop a deep friendship.

Years later, the Romulan Star Empire is in an uproar. They’re attacking Federation ships and the Romulans claim they’re just renegade captains. However, the engineered virus has struck again. This time the victims are the Romulan empress and all her blood relatives. And the Romulans are accusing the Federation.

Eric Stiles is a well-drawn character. At the start, he’s a nervous ensign, determined to look good in front of his hero, Spock, who is at the embassy. Then he grows up fast and becomes even a heroic figure but without realizing himself. He carries a lot of guilt around, too.

This is a good look at the less explored side of Star Trek, the less glorified work. Unfortunately, I really wanted to read a book with the familiar TNG cast and this wasn’t it.

Both Spock and McCoy are very distinctive.

A novella in the Five Gods/ Chalion universe. Sequel to “Penric and the Demon”.
Format: Kindle e-book

I enjoyed “Penric and the Demon” a lot and was delighted to see a sequel. It’s not absolutely necessary to read “Penric and the Demon” first because things are explained but I think reading it will increase your enjoyment.

Penric and the Shaman is another lovely piece of fantasy from Bujold and it’s self-contained. However, for a novella length, it has a lot of POV characters: three.

Inglis kin Wolfcliff is the first character we meet. He’s wounded and mistaken for dead but soon he’s rescued by suspicious country people. Inglis is grateful but his life is a mess. He doesn’t really know how to get out of the mess and is just trying to survive.

Penric is minor nobility but more importantly he’s now a divine (a priest) in the Bastard’s order and also a sorcerer because he has a demon inside him. They live and work in the Princess-Archdivine’s court. That demon has had ten previous “riders” or hosts, all of them women. Penric calls the demon Desdemona and they seem to have a very good relationship, except that Penric enjoys reading, translating, and other scholarly duties at the court and Desdemona is bored by them. When a man from the Father’s order come for help, Desdemona is eager to leave and Penric is pretty much just as curious.

Oswyl, a Locator in the Father’s Order, tracking a shaman who has murdered a young man. At least, Oswyl is convinced that the shaman has stolen the man’s soul and possibly murdered him as well. He’s not impressed with Penric who seems way too young to be able to help him but the Princess-Archdivine sends Penric, and so Oswyl has to be content with him.

Many things are not as they first seem. I was already familiar with Penric but I was surprised that four years had gone by since the first novella. Penric has learned and matured to his powers. We also get to see more of the world and the powers of a shaman. However, Penric isn’t really the main character. Inglis and Oswyl are the ones who have to confront their fears and assumptions.

The writing is as beautiful as usual and I enjoyed it a lot.

Today, the topic for Top Ten Tuesdays is All about Romance.

I’m not a romance reader. Rather I have a soft spot for established couples, especially ones who adventure together and stay together. Unfortunately, that seems to be rare.

1, Nightfall and Redlance from Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini
Elfquest has lots of cute couples (and a couple of triads, too). I could fill the whole list with just them.  In this couple, the woman Nightfall is the fierce warrior and hunter while her (male) lifemate Redlance is a gentle plant-shaper. I love some other couples, too, such as Wolfriders’ hotheaded young (male) chief Cutter and the far older, gentle (female) healer Leetah. Moonshade and Strongbow are both hunters and warriors.

2, Prince Valiant and Queen Aleta from Prince Valiant by Hal Foster
Another comic book couple. I actually found their courtship somewhat disturbing and far prefer their adventurous life together where they can always rely on each other.

3, Robin Hood and Maid Marian/Marion
Surprising number of stories, especially those aimed at the young readers, leave out their romance completely. My favorite version comes from the 1980s Robin of Sherwood TV-show from BBC. They marry in the pilot episode and Marion becomes an integral part of the group.

4, Phédre and Jocelyn from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series.
Another couple where I didn’t really care for the courtship but really enjoyed them as a solid couple who can rely on each other no matter what. Phédre is a diplomat and a courtesan while Jocelyn is a warrior priest.

5, Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan by Lois McMaster Bujold
I just love how Aral and Cordelia work together, supporting each other.

6, Raine Benares and Mychael (or Tam) by Lisa Shearin
I usually loath love triangles: they manage to bring the worst out of everyone involved and it’s often obvious who the contested person is going to end with. For some reason this triangle really worked for me. Both Mychael and Tam are actually pretty interesting characters (I’d love to read a book or novella or anything with just one of them as the main character) and I enjoyed the other characters, too. I didn’t really care whom Raine ended up with because either way it would be interesting. Sadly, she didn’t choose until the penultimate book (IIRC) so I didn’t really get to see the couple in action. Fighting demons, I mean, obviously.

7, Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson by Elizabeth Peters
Amelia and Emerson often snark at each other and sometimes have even a bet going on about whom will solve the case first. They are archeologists in the late Victorian era who stumble upon murder mysteries with alarming frequency.

8, Willow and Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
My favorite couple on the show

9, Apollo and the Midnighter from the Authority comics
No matter how much the writers try to break them apart, they’ve come back. So far.

10, Reed and Susan Richards from Fantastic Four
Superhero comics have lots of romances but unfortunately, they usually end when the writer leaves or until the company decides to separate the characters or kills off one of them. Or retcons the romance away (why yes I’m still bitter about Peter and Mary Jane, Marvel). Reed and Susan is the only exception I know. But even with them both have been “dead” and come back a couple of time and often Reed hides things from Susan and the rest of the team. Still, generally they can rely on each other.

The third book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 358
Publisher: Pan Books

The Burning Page opens shortly after the end of the Masked City. Irene and her apprentice Kai have been kept busy with various assignments in various worlds. In fact, the story starts when they’ve already got their newest book, the Daughter of Porthos by Dumas, and are trying to escape a high-order alternate world were the order comes from a totalitarian society. The portal to the interdimensional library is in an abandoned building and unfortunately it doesn’t work: when Irene tries to open it, the door bursts into flames. Fortunately, they have another way to get off that world and return to the world where Irene is the Librarian-in-Residence. It’s just far more noticeable.

Back in the alternate world where Irene usually lives, her close associate, and a possible romantic interest, Peregrine Vale was previously infected by chaos and has sunk into near suicidal depression. Irene is very worried about him. She knows a couple of possible cures but thinks that they can do more harm than good. She doesn’t really have time to think about them because, somebody is trying to kill her (and/or Kai) and the Library itself is under attack.

The ending of Masked City had consequences to Irene: she’s now on probation and given out the least appealing retrieval jobs. Also, the attention of a dragon king can be negative, at least for her.

This time we get to see more of the inner workings of the Library and meet other Librarians, but under emergency of course. There’s also some inner-Library politicking going on and Irene strongly dislikes that. We also get to see two new alternate worlds, both high-order worlds. I really enjoyed the second one and would love to see it again.

The pace is once again very quick: Irene has hardly a minute to breathe or recover from one emergency until the next. Couple of familiar characters return from the previous books and some earlier plot lines are tied up so I recommend reading them before this one.

This was another great book in this series. I thoroughly enjoyed the alternate worlds and Irene with her growing confidence in herself.

The second book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: print
Page count: 339 + secrets from the library and the author’s interview
Publisher: TOR

Irene is a junior librarian in the interdimensional Library. Her task is to retrieve books which are considered rare or otherwise special. She usually travels to various alternate realities to get them but currently she’s been stationed (as a Librarian-in-Residence) into a one specific world where she has a cover identity as Irene Winters. She also has an apprentice, the very handsome and proper Kai, and a (mostly) dependable friend Peregrine Vale, an extraordinary private detective. Vale sort of knows about the Library but has never visited there. Irene can also use the Language, which allows her to command inanimate objects and sometimes confuse people, too, for a short period of time.

Irene and Kai are in the middle of retrieving Bram Stoker’s La Sorciere from an auction, right under the nose of a Russian agent. But then, Kai is kidnapped. He’s Irene’s friend as well as responsibility, so she and Vale will do anything to rescue him. But first, they must find out who is behind the kidnapping. Irene suspects the Fae and they are a formidable enemy.

The Masked City was a very enjoyable read for me and I’m diving into the next book, The Burning Page. Irene has grown into her own and she’s more confident of herself and her place in the Library. Apparently, several months have gone by after the previous book, the Invisible Library, so she and Kai have grown closer and become friends.

In this book, Irene and Kai are dragged in the middle of conflict between order and chaos. The Fae represent the chaos and they are very good enemies in a book about books because they see the world as a stage – or a book: “[the Fae] receive their nourishment from their emotional interactions with humans, feeding off us in this way. And they perceive everyone other than themselves, both humans and indeed other Fae, as mere participants – fulfilling background roles – in their own personal stories. And here we have an interesting feedback loop. The more dramatic they can make their personal stories (for example, playing the role of a villain, rogue or hero) the more power a Fae can gain. And the more powerful they are, the more stereotypical this role-playing behavior becomes.” (From the Student Librarian’s Handbook)

On the side of the order are the dragons who can control the weather and earth. They think that they’re the most powerful beings and therefore born to rule. The Library isn’t allied with either because either extreme seems to be bad for the humans who must live on those worlds.

Cogman uses a lot of tropes in this book and plays around with them which was fun. Also, for a lot of the book Irene can’t rely on anyone else but her own skills. The powerful Fae Lord Silver could be an ally but only when it suits him and on his own terms, which Irene might not be able to agree on. The stakes are very high and even if Irene succeeds, it’s quite likely that she’ll have some very nasty enemies afterwards.

There are also tantalizing hints about what sort of trouble Irene and Kai got into during those months after the end of the previous book and they sound very interesting: “the time they’d had to run a con game on a visiting Kazakhstan warlord with a Silk Road travelogue”. Perhaps a short story?

“The perfect Librarian is calm, cool, collected, intelligent, multilingual, a crack shot, a martial artist, an Olympic-level runner (at both the sprint and marathon), a good swimmer, an expert thief, and a genius con artist. They can steal a dozen books from a top-security strongbox in the morning, discuss literature all afternoon, have dinner with the cream of society in the evening, and then stay up until midnight dancing, before stealing some more interesting tomes at three a.m. That’s what a perfect Librarian would do. In practice, most Librarians would rather spend their time reading a good book.”