Review: Flask of the Drunken Master by Susan Spann + Giveaway

flask of the drunken master by susan spannFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Shinobi Mystery #3
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Date Released: July 14, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Master ninja Hiro Hattori and his companion Father Mateo are once again pulled into a murder investigation when a rival artisan turns up dead outside of their friend Ginjiro’s sake brewery. They must find the killer before the magistrate executes Ginjiro, seizes the brewery, and renders his family destitute. All the evidence implicates the brewer, yet with Kyoto on alert in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, Ginjiro’s is not the only life at risk.

As tensions rise, Hiro investigates a missing merchant, a vicious debt collector, a moneylender and the victim’s spendthrift son. But when a drunken Buddhist monk insists on helping Hiro and Father Mateo solve the crime, the monk’s bumbling threatens to foil the investigation altogether. With time running out, Hiro once again gambles on a clandestine mission to find the truth. Except that this time, Hiro isn’t the only one with a secret mission to fulfill.

My Review:

claws of the cat by susan spannWhile every bit as captivating as its two predecessors, Claws of the Cat and Blade of the Samurai (enthusiastically reviewed here and here) it also takes off in slightly different direction from those previous two books in this series.

In their earlier adventures, Father Mateo and his bodyguard, the shinobi (read ninja) Hiro found themselves investigating within the halls of power; solving murders at the heart of the shogunate, risking their lives to determine the guilt or innocence of possible killers with their own lives tied to the results of a successful investigation under excruciating time pressure.

In Flask of the Drunken Master, while the crime is still serious, their own lives do not directly hang in the balance. And they are working far from the halls of power. The sake brewer Ginjiro has been accused of murdering his rival Chikao with one of his own sake flasks in the back of his own shop.

It does not help Ginjiro’s case that the two men were heard arguing earlier that evening, to the point of exchanging the kind of threats and insults that always come back to haunt one whenever the other party to the argument turns up dead.

Ginjiro is not a friend of Hiro’s, because samurai cannot be friends with merchants. But Hiro feels that owes Ginjiro a debt of honor. It also seems as if Hiro has an unrequited crush on Ginjiro’s lovely daughter Tomiko, but then, so do half the men in the neighborhood.

Tomiko is certain that her father is not guilty. But of course she would be. Ginjiro seems to be a genuinely good man. But so was the murder victim, Chikao. However, Chikao’s son Kauru is a spoiled, self-centered pig. And I just insulted pigs.

More importantly, Ginjiro does not benefit from Chikao’s murder. None of that seems to matter to the magistrate, who immediately carts Ginjiro to prison to be tortured until he confesses to a crime that he probably did not commit.

Hiro, with Father Mateo’s help, has four days at most to figure out who the real killer is and prove it. In the course of his investigation he turns up all too many people with a motive, but can’t find one who can be proved to have had the opportunity.

Except poor Ginjiro.

As Hiro races the clock to make sure that an innocent man isn’t punished, he is also confronted with the indirect results of his actions in the previous stories. The shogunate is under contention, and Kyoto is under siege by samurai belonging to one of the rival powers. Unfortunately for Hiro and Father Mateo, their housemate has been gun running to too many of the possible contenders.

By the end of the case, Hiro knows that there is a storm coming in to Kyoto that will test his loyalty and his honor. All he can do is watch which way the winds blow.

Escape Rating A: Flask of the Drunken Master was the perfect antidote for the awful book I reviewed yesterday at The Book Pushers. It’s wonderful when karma works its powers for good!

In previous reviews I have compared Hiro and his investigative methods to Brother Cadfael in Ellis Peters’ landmark historical mystery series, and I felt that resemblance even more strongly in this book. Cadfael usually investigated crimes that involved ordinary people, and the case of the brewer Ginjiro and his dead rival was certainly a case of that type.

blade of the samurai by susan spannHiro also solves cases the way that Cadfael does. He has no forensic science except his own knowledge of how dead bodies appear, and how people act, or don’t act, in and especially out of character. He is intelligent and determined. Also occasionally ruthless. He gets to the bottom of the case, even when, as in the cases in Blade of the Samurai, it is very possible that the criminal is a friend or colleague.

As a shinobi, or shadow warrior, Hiro is always an outsider, always an observer, even when he seems to be most at home. He does not completely belong to any group, so he can be a relatively disinterested observer.

It is fascinating to watch the changes in Hiro’s relationship with Father Mateo. The scene where Hiro realizes that has not respected Father Mateo’s beliefs, and that he owes amends, is excellent and something we could all learn from. Hiro finally realizes that even though he does not and never will believe as Mateo does, he needs to respect Mateo’s beliefs and his sincerity in them.

As each story in this series unfolds, we see more and more into this time and place that was so completely closed from Western eyes, and possibly with good reason. Mateo’s foreignness allows Hiro to pry by proxy into areas and places where the strict rules of his society do not allow, and at the same time gives him an insight to question his beliefs, whether to confirm them or confront them.

This is a partnership and a setting that I will be happy to return to again and again.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

I’m very happy to say that I am able to give away a copy of Flask of the Drunken Master to one lucky U.S. or Canadian commenter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Broken Open by Lauren Dane

broken open by lauren daneFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Hurley Boys #2
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Date Released: December 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Beyond passion. And beyond their control…

Five years ago, Tuesday Eastwood’s life collapsed and left her devastated. After an empty, nomadic existence, she’s finally pieced her life back together in the small Oregon town of Hood River. Now Tuesday has everything sorted out. Just so long as men are kept for sex, and only sex…

Then she met him.

Musician and rancher Ezra Hurley isn’t the man of Tuesday’s dreams. He’s a verboten fantasy—a man tortured by past addictions whose dark charisma and long, lean body promise delicious carnality. But this craving goes far beyond chemistry. It’s primal. It’s insatiable. And it won’t be satisfied until they’re both consumed, body and soul…

My Review:

best kind of trouble by lauren daneI read Broken Open immediately after I finished The Best Kind of Trouble (reviewed here), and I have to say that I liked Open much better than Trouble. The crisis in both stories is precipitated by the guy acting like an idiot, but Ezra’s brand of idiocy in Open felt more organic to the character as he had been through the whole book. Paddy’s moment of complete WTF’ery in Trouble came out of left field (far left field) for this reader, but Ezra had been cruising for that particular brand of bruising throughout the book.

The relationship between Ezra Hurley and Tuesday Eastwood (nee Easton) begins in Trouble. When they meet, everyone can see the heat between them, including Ezra’s brother Paddy and Tuesday’s best-friend and sister-from-another-mother Natalie Clayton. It’s only a matter of time until these two get together.

Tuesday and Ezra are both equally wounded, and their very different wounds were inflicted at the same time. Five years ago, Tuesday lost her young husband to cancer. It’s taken all of those intervening five years to grieve, let go and start moving forward with her life.

Tuesday is not moving “on”. A part of her will always love the late and much-lamented Eric, but she’s still alive and starting to live again. Her late/ex in-laws are abusive pieces of work who want to hold her back for their own emotional gratification, and Tuesday is still in the process of kicking them to the curb. But her life continues, and the new, strong Tuesday is ready to make some changes.

Five years ago, Ezra was a rock and roll star on the road with his brothers, in their successful band Sweet Hollow Ranch. Then Ezra descended into heroin addiction and nearly pissed it all away. A year as an addict, a year in rehab and sober living, and the last few years producing the group’s music and otherwise sticking close to his family ranch. Running the ranch grounds him, and he needs that. Possibly he always will.

But Ezra and Tuesday are both ready to reach out for more than just a series of one-night stands. For both of them, their relationship is a second chance at life, not just love. The longer and hotter they burn for each other, the more they also get entwined in each other’s lives.

It’s not just sex, not that the sex isn’t fantastic. But Ezra and Tuesday fit each other’s broken places in a way that just works.

The problem is that while Tuesday has found happiness and healing in her growing relationship with Ezra, Ezra fears that he is substituting one addiction for another. He keeps walling himself away, fully convinced that Tuesday can do much, much better than a recovering addict and ex-rock star.

Tuesday finally has to tell him to either get over his shit and forgive himself, or just plain go so she can’t get over him. And just like his brother Paddy, Ezra very nearly blows his best chance at happiness by not getting out of his own way.

Escape Rating B+: A part of me wants to say that this is a “sex into love” story, but that isn’t quite right. Although Ezra and Tuesday’s relationship starts out with a lot of hot sex, that isn’t what really begins things. They have explosive chemistry from their very first meeting, and for a while they both resist it for very different reasons. At the same time, they keep running into each other because his brother is in a relationship with her BFF/house mate. They can’t avoid each other.

They are both realistically gun-shy of a relationship. Tuesday’s not sure she’s ready to open her heart again, and Ezra doesn’t think he deserves to be happy. So they ease into it slowly, using hot sex as a kind of emotional lubricant. Eventually they find themselves in so deep that there is no option but to admit that they love each other.

But while Tuesday has reached a place of healing where she is sure what she wants, Ezra backslides. He has a definite problem finding the line between doing things that feel good and doing things that feel too good. It’s part of how he got hooked. He’s afraid, realistically so, that he might have substituted an addiction to Tuesday for his addiction to heroin.

He also thinks he’ll be making up for his horrible mistakes to his family for the rest of his life. He doesn’t see, or can’t see, that he really has redeemed himself in their eyes. He feels as if his actions were unforgivable. But he is so unlike Natalie’s dad in Trouble. Her father is an addict who never sincerely owns his own actions, so he can’t get out of the trap of addiction.

Ezra maybe owns his actions a bit too much. He also, like Tuesday, needs to move forward from his past.

Ezra is very firmly in the mold of romance heroes who decide for their heroines that the woman can do much better than himself, and tries to asshole his way out of the picture. Of course it doesn’t work. Tuesday calls him on his shit. She knows she will survive if he leaves, but she’d rather he crowbar his head out of his ass and move forward with her. But she is willing to walk away if he won’t, and that felt right.

Part of the crisis in this story revolves around the parents of Tuesday’s late husband. They are slime. They alienated Eric while he was alive, and now want Tuesday to wallow in guilt because he’s dead. There is also a big dose of racism in their hatred of Tuesday. It was marvelous watching her stand up to them, and Tuesday’s mother reveals herself as a kick-ass heroine in her own right. Every daughter should have a mother like Diana Easton in her corner.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Terrans by Jean Johnson

terrans by jean johnsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction
Series: First Salik War #1
Length: 464 pages
Publisher: Ace
Date Released: July 28, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Jean Johnson’s first novel in an explosive new science fiction trilogy set in the world of the national bestselling Theirs Not to Reason Why series—set two-hundred years earlier, at the dawn of the First Salik War…

Born into a political family and gifted with psychic abilities, Jacaranda MacKenzie has served as a border-watcher and even spent time as a representative on the United Planets Council. Now she just wants to spend her days in peace and quiet as a translator—but the universe has other plans…

Humans have long known that they would encounter more alien species, and while those with precognitive abilities agree a terrible war is coming, they do not agree on who will save humanity—a psychic soldier or a politician.

But Jackie is both.

After she is pressured into rejoining the Space Force to forestall the impending calamity, Jackie makes an unsettling discovery. Their new enemy, the Salik, seem to be rather familiar with fighting Humans—as if their war against humanity had already begun…

My Review:

I picked Terrans up at lunch Thursday, and became so absorbed that I felt compelled to finish it. Compelled as in read until 4 am, get up and finish immediately. That kind of compelled. I couldn’t put it down, and almost didn’t go to sleep.

soldiers duty mediumFor anyone who has read Johnson’s Those Not to Reason Why series (start with A Soldier’s Duty (reviewed here) and start NOW!) this book is a prequel series. In her Those Not series the Terran United Planets are in the middle of a devastating and centuries long war. In The Terrans, we see the beginning of that conflict, and it will keep space opera and military SF fans on the edge of their seats.

I’m including military SF fans, even though The Terrans is not strictly a war story. This is a first contact story. It’s a different version of first contact, where the humans discover that they are on both sides of the contact, and that their various branches have more to offer each other, and more mess to get involved in, than anyone expected.

The ship Aloha 9 meets the V’Dan for the first time. And to paraphrase Walt Kelly in Pogo, “we have met the aliens, and they are us”. Because the V’Dan are definitely an unexpected offshoot of the human race. 10,000 of their, and our, years ago, a religious figure scooped their ancestors from Earth and deposited them on V’Dan.

It is just possible that the ancestor in question was actually Ia from Theirs Not playing with time and space, but we don’t know and it doesn’t actually matter at this point. But it is interesting speculation.

We meet the V’Dan because the last remaining members of a V’Dan warship are imprisoned by the Salik, who intended to eat them for dinner. I do mean eat for dinner and not have them over for dinner. The Salik, as established in Those Not, are cannibals who prefer that their food be live, sentient and struggling.

The rescue goes off without too many hitches, because the Terrans’ Ambassador for anyone they might meet is aboard the Aloha 9. Jackie MacKenzie is psi, and is telepathic, xenopathic and capable of telekinesis. She can not only read enough of the Salik thoughts to be positive about their dietary practices, but she can communicate with the surviving V’Dan captain well enough to enlist his aid in freeing his crew.

And that’s where the fun begins.

Captain Le’ith of the V’Dan is also psi, but very untrained. His rapport with Jackie from the instant they meet helps his crew adjust, and gives Jackie a far greater insight into the V’Dan than anyone might have expected.

It is not all smooth sailing. There is a psi-hating bigot among the Terran crew, and an equally xenophobic and obstinate civilian power-grabber on the V’Dan side. Neither of these idjits can see past the nose on their unreasonably prejudiced faces.

There is also a cultural roadblock. The V’Dan show that they are mature adults by developing a pattern of colors and spots during late puberty. It’s a virus that has become part of their DNA. They consider any V’Dan without those marks to be children. We Terran humans are the progenitors of the V’Dan people, but we don’t have those marks. The cultural misunderstandings abound, and have the potential to derail any possible alliance.

That’s if the surprising relationship between the captain and the ambassador doesn’t send everything to hell out an airlock first.

Escape Rating A+: The Terrans is both a very political story and a very personal one. Jackie Mackenzie, as an ambassador, former councilor (think senator), and re-instated military officer, provides the reader a way into the way that Earth works in the 23rd century. She’s been a politician, a civil servant, and a middle-ranking warrior. She’s seen a lot and done a lot. She is also a high-ranked, in the capability sense, psi, so she is able to show the reader how psi powers are used, regulated and received in a world that knows that some people are weapons.

What they don’t know is why psi powers suddenly started manifesting in the previous two centuries. The have the capability of measuring them, but they don’t know how they were created in the first place.

While I have my suspicions because I read the first series, I don’t know. And the capacity to guess or not has no bearing on enjoying this book without having read Those Not. But again, why would you?

A lot of this story revolves around the politics and procedures surrounding first contact. There is a lot of security and medical procedures. We have to be exposed to each others’ bugs and find ways to prevent epidemics on both sides. There is clear evidence that we’ve learned from our history.

But the big issues are political. And even though politics and process can be tedious, in this book they simply are not. The future world that the author has envisioned is one that mostly works, while at the same time it provides commentary on what has been learned from our history and ways that things could be done better. People have mostly gotten better, if only because they have learned from our deadly mistakes.

By introducing the V’Dan to our world, it gives the author a plausible and excellently used reason to explain 23rd century Earth to them, and therefore to us as well.

But as the story progresses, it also becomes a story about individuals. Not just Jackie and Le’ith, but also both crews and a few of the civil servants (politician is a pejorative term) who get close to the center of their storm.

One of the things I enjoyed very much is that, in spite of the way that Terran humans appear to the V’Dan, both Jackie and Le’ith are well into adulthood. They are both in their mid-30s, and have significant life-experience under their belts. So while they will lead a universe altering change for their peoples, this is NOT a coming of age story. And I’m glad of it. I found Jackie to be a woman I could both identify with and aspire to.

I’ve never made a secret of having loved the entire first series from beginning to end, as well as Johnson’s fantasy series and even her fanfiction. If you have any interest in space opera and/or epic science fiction, Theirs Not to Reason Why and The Salik War are well worth losing yourself in.

Vdan by jean johnsonThe second book of the Salik War, The V’Dan, is scheduled for release in January 2016. I will be haunting NetGalley until it appears.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-26-15

Sunday Post

I finally have some giveaways coming up this week. It’s been kind of a long dry spell. Even some of the tours I’ve hosted haven’t had giveaways attached, which is a real pity. There have been some good books on those tours that it would have been great to share.

As you read this, we are probably on our way to my mom’s in Cincy. One of the reasons we moved back east was so that visiting family would be a more reasonable trip, and that is turning out to be the case. Air travel used to be fun. Now it is mostly annoying. Driving takes longer but seems less hassle when it’s feasible. There’s such a trade-off between living near a big airport and living near a relatively small one.

The lines in Gainesville, Tallahassee and even Anchorage were relatively short. But getting anywhere involved at least one extra hop, and sometimes two. Also it was reasonable to live not horribly far from the airport. From Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta you can get almost anywhere on a nonstop flight, but getting to the airport is a major pain, the lines for everything take forever and parking costs the earth.

On the other hand, Atlanta had an Ice Cream Festival on Saturday which tasted wonderful.

C’est la vie.

mechanical by ian tregillisBlog Recap:

B+ Review: Ether & Elephants by Cindy Spencer Pape
B Review: The Best Kind of Trouble by Lauren Dane
B+ Review: Wings in the Dark by Michael Murphy
A Review: The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis
A- Review: Liesmith by Alis Franklin
Stacking the Shelves (145)

 

 

 

flask of the drunken master by susan spannComing Next Week:

The Terrans by Jean Johnson (review)
Broken Open by Lauren Dane (review)
Flask of the Drunken Master by Susan Spann (blog tour review)
Deadly Lover by Charlee Allden (review)
Hot Point by M.L. Buchman (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (145)

Stacking the Shelves

Another quiet week here in the shelf-stacking room. And looking at the list, it seems to have been Lauren Dane week. I love her books, but I didn’t expect to be grabbing them all at once.

Today was very odd. Edelweiss was down for part of today (Friday) and it was surprisingly upsetting not being able to check regularly for new books. I try not to take everything I see, but the inability to even check threw off my routine.

Speaking of routine, I ended up buying Daring because I’m reviewing the next book in the series, Fearless, for a tour in a couple of weeks. I have Charming, and now I need to review it before I get to Fearless. But I remember not picking up Daring when it was available  on NetGalley because I already had so much and hadn’t gotten to Charming yet. But I can’t make myself read Fearless without reading the first two books, so I ended up buying Daring after all. Reading compulsions are so annoying.

For Review:
Back to You (Hurley Boys #3) by Lauren Dane
The Empire Ascendant (Worldbreaker Saga #2) by Kameron Hurley
Falling Under (Ink & Chrome #2) by Lauren Dane
Sloe Ride (Sinners #4) by Rhys Ford

Purchased from Amazon:
Daring (Pax Arcana #2) by Elliott James
Sway (Delicious #1) by Lauren Dane

Review: Liesmith by Alis Franklin

liesmith by alis franklinFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Wyrd #1
Length: 308 pages
Publisher: Hydra
Date Released: October 7, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Working in low-level IT support for a company that’s the toast of the tech world, Sigmund Sussman finds himself content, if not particularly inspired. As compensation for telling people to restart their computer a few times a day, Sigmund earns enough disposable income to gorge on comics and has plenty of free time to devote to his gaming group.

Then in walks the new guy with the unpronounceable last name who immediately becomes IT’s most popular team member. Lain Laufeyjarson is charming and good-looking, with a story for any occasion; shy, awkward Sigmund is none of those things, which is why he finds it odd when Lain flirts with him. But Lain seems cool, even if he’s a little different—though Sigmund never suspects just how different he could be. After all, who would expect a Norse god to be doing server reboots?

As Sigmund gets to know his mysterious new boyfriend, fate—in the form of an ancient force known as the Wyrd—begins to reveal the threads that weave their lives together. Sigmund doesn’t have the first clue where this adventure will take him, but as Lain says, only fools mess with the Wyrd. Why? Because the Wyrd messes back.

My Review:

For the first third of the book, I was afraid it was going to turn out to be a two-man grift. And it almost was, but not exactly the same two men and definitely not the same grift.

The above could be considered a spoiler for Neil Gaiman’s awesome American Gods, but it doesn’t begin to explain the complexity of the story in Liesmith.

However, the Liesmith in this title, and Low-Key Lyesmith in American Gods are the same Loki, for qualified definitions of “same” and possibly even of Loki.

Like I said, it gets complicated. For one thing, gods have erratic memories because they are made out of our myths and legends. When there are multiple versions of the same legend, the deity in the stories often has as much difficulty remembering exactly what he or she did or didn’t do as we do. Which is certainly a factor in the events in this book.

In myth, Loki was condemned for his part in the murder of the sun god Baldr to be chained to a rock with the entrails of one of his sons while a snake dripped poison into his eyes.. His wife Sigyn condemned herself to stand over him with a bowl to catch the poison. When he escapes, he is supposed to kill and be killed by other gods at Ragnarok, and then the world is supposed to end.

In this version, many people believe Loki cheated his fate, because, well, that’s what Loki does. In all of his manifestations, Loki is a trickster god. But Loki didn’t cheat, at least not then. Instead, the moment he escapes his loving wife conks him on the head and takes his place in the godly army, wearing his armor and pretending to be him.

Destiny is cheated, the world doesn’t end, and Loki wakes up to discover what his wife has done. That’s where things get interesting.

Because Loki sets up a huge dot.com in the middle of the Australian Outback, and sets himself up in his own exile. He’s had enough of gods and monsters and being both, and decides to just lay low and live out as many lifetimes as he can.

Then Sigmund walks into his life, and hell, also Hel, appear on earth, along with all the rest of the gods and monsters that Loki has spent the last several decades trying to avoid by submerging himself in the person of Travis Carter Hall, CEO of Lokabrenna Inc.

Baldr is back from the dead and out to get the god who connived at his death, and he doesn’t care how many civilians he has to destroy in order to make that happen. Geeky Sigmund discovers that he is the reincarnation of Loki’s lost wife Sigyn.

And Ragnarok is back on. The world is going to end after all, just so Baldr can punish his killer.

Except that nothing is as it seems. Or possibly ever was.

Escape Rating A-: A lot of Liesmith is urban fantasy of the horror school. If you’ve ever seen someone play Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, the horror has that pulpy feel to it. It’s creepy and mucky and invades the “real” world in a way that almost breaks the fourth wall and certainly makes the characters wonder whether they have finally lost their grip on sanity. It grabs the reader enough that you get scared for them.

One of the other major threads of this story is Fate, generally referred to as the Wyrd in the book. The Wyrd seems to be the place that births gods and monsters and legends out of human beliefs and human stories. It also tries very hard to force the people stuck in the story to go down the same path every single iteration, where the characters, when they are aware, desperately attempt to find a way to create a happy, or at least a less awful, ending this time than they did the last time.

References to how this works are rather similar to the Mercedes Lackey’s stories of the Five Hundred Kingdoms. If you are meant to be Cinderella, the very universe itself will do its level best to force you to live out her story, even if you have no desire to be rescued by a prince, thank you very much. Fate can be a very cruel bitch, especially when you attempt to thwart her.

In the middle of all of this myth making and myth-breaking is a sweet and geeky romance between a man who used to be a god and a man who carries the soul of the god’s dead wife. Sigmund Sussman is an adorkable geek who works in IT support at Lokabrenna Inc. Loki falls so hard for the guy that he creates an entire new persona, Lain Laufeyjarson, just for the chance to get to know Sigmund better. And not just because Sigmund used to be Sigyn, but because there is something in the sweet, shy genius that draws the person Loki has become, as well as the god he used to be.

This part shouldn’t work. It’s a fascinating twist on the fated mate trope, and there is a huge difference in the power dynamic. For one thing, while it isn’t difficult to see what Sigmund sees in Loki, no matter which persona is at the fore, it is difficult at first to figure out what Loki sees in Sigmund besides Sigyn.

And while Sigmund seems a bit too naive about love, sex and even sometimes adulthood, it is his genuine goodness, and also his genuine dorkiness, that finally save the day. And the gods. And possibly even the future as we think we know it.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis

mechanical by ian tregillisFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction, alternate history
Series: Alchemy Wars #1
Length: 440 pages
Publisher: Orbit Books
Date Released: March 10, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

My name is Jax.

That is the name granted to me by my human masters.

I am a clakker: a mechanical man, powered by alchemy. Armies of my kind have conquered the world – and made the Brasswork Throne the sole superpower.

I am a faithful servant. I am the ultimate fighting machine. I am endowed with great strength and boundless stamina.

But I am beholden to the wishes of my human masters.

I am a slave. But I shall be free.

My Review:

There were two things running through my head as I read The Mechanical. The first was that the institution of slavery, any kind of slavery, in its desire to dehumanize the slaves, mostly succeeds in dehumanizing the masters.

This is certainly true in this story, even through the “slaves” in this particular alternate history are clockwork machines. If their owners thought that the assemblages of metal and gears and alchemy were things rather than people, it could almost be excusable. The clakkers really are just animated collections of things. They also happen to be people, as long as your definition of “people” encompasses the possession of free will rather than simply an origin in biological instead of mechanical processes.

Although the question of what is free will definitely comes into play here, with catastrophic results.

But this world that the author has created, an alternate 1926 in which the Dutch rule the world because they possess the alchemical secrets to make and bind clakkers, reminds me also of the future that Captain Picard posited in the Star Trek Next Gen episode The Measure of a Man. For those not familiar, this is the episode where a scientist tries to take possession of Lieutenant Commander Data by asserting that Data is just a machine, and therefore the property of Starfleet to do with as it wills, including disassemble him to see what makes him tick. Picard successfully defends Data’s personhood, in a moving speech where he raises the possibility of an army of slave-Data’s doing all of Starfleet’s dirty work, unwillingly condemned to centuries of servitude.

The Mechanical in effect puts that future in a much earlier time frame, but the arguments are the same. It is the mechanical man, the clakker Jax who demonstrates the full depth of humanity’s inhumanity to this new form of sentient life.

This story is an alternative history, and an action/adventure type quest that starts out in an attempt to save the clakker’s, and to preserve the French government in exile, who are effectively the Rebel Alliance fighting a long defeat.

Not a single one of the obvious to me antecedents kept me from enjoying the book in front of me. Then again, I love the antecedents.

The Mechanical is the first book in the author’s Alchemy Wars, so a chunk of this story is setting up the background for those wars, as seen through the eyes of the clakker Jax, the French intelligence agent Berenice, and the poor, unfortunate former French spy and eventual Dutch assassin, Visser.

We see the world in 1926, more than a century after scientist Christiaan Huygens melded alchemy to clockwork and created the first Clakker. Due to clakker-power, the Dutch control the world.

There is also a strong resemblance between the clakkers and golems, legendary creatures of Jewish folklore who are created out of clay and alchemy.

But the world created by the invention of the clakkers is a very different 1926 than the one we know. In ways that made this reader wonder if a later theme of the series will be that the creation of a permanent underclass to do all the hard work has not been good for the creativity and advancement of humankind. But we’re not there yet.

Instead, we see the setup of a great world-spanning war, as the Dutch are on the brink of expanding their control over the entirety of North America, and the French intelligence service is working in secret to stay alive, even if it means creating or suborning a clakker service of their very own.

And in the middle of it all is Jax, one lone servitor clakker who has accidentally found his free will, and is willing to do anything to keep it, even allying with the French and inserting himself into his very own heart of darkness.

Escape Rating A: This is a big book, and I suspect it is just the opening salvo in what will become a very big series. It takes a lot of set up to get this universe going, but it feels like all the setup is absolutely crucial for understanding how this world came about and the herculean effort it will take to push it into a different track.

One of the fascinating parts of the story is that the clakker Jax is much more human than the human intelligence officer Berenice. In spite of the terrible things that happen to her, Berenice is an unsympathetic character and her people are often disgusting. The only redeeming thing about the French court-in-exile is that it exists in opposition to the Dutch, who are even worse. (Back to my comment at the beginning about slave holding removing the humanity of the masters more than that of the slaves.)

Just as in Star Trek Next Gen, there are times when Jax is the most compassionately and understandably human of all the focus characters. He certainly feels more guilt than they do when he makes a mistake.

While the movement and counter-movement of empires is the force behind the big events in the story, it is Jax’ description of the intense pain of conflicting orders, or geasa, and the ways in which his people have found solidarity amidst their suffering that both warms the soul and chills the heart. It makes them fully “people” in a story where the humans so often are not. We can see that this is exactly what would happen. And we fear that it is all too much like what did happen in our real history.

rising by ian tregillisBook 2 of this series, The Rising, can’t come soon enough for this reader. I await it eagerly with anticipatory chills.

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