Review: Dune: The Duke of Caladan by Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson

Review: Dune: The Duke of Caladan by Brian Herbert, Kevin J. AndersonDune: The Duke of Caladan by Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Caladan Trilogy #1
Pages: 414
Published by Tor Books on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A legend begins in Dune: The Duke of Caladan, first in The Caladan Trilogy by New York Times bestselling authors Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.
Leto Atreides, Duke of Caladan and father of the Muad’Dib. While all know of his fall and the rise of his son, little is known about the quiet ruler of Caladan and his partner Jessica. Or how a Duke of an inconsequential planet earned an emperor’s favor, the ire of House Harkonnen, and set himself on a collision course with his own death. This is the story.
Through patience and loyalty, Leto serves the Golden Lion Throne. Where others scheme, the Duke of Caladan acts. But Leto’s powerful enemies are starting to feel that he is rising beyond his station, and House Atreides rises too high. With unseen enemies circling, Leto must decide if the twin burdens of duty and honor are worth the price of his life, family, and love.

My Review:

Dune: The Duke of Caladan really should have been titled Dune: The Book of Foreshadowing. Seriously. This book is all the foreshadowing all the time. That’s neither good nor bad, but it is kind of “meh”.

First edition cover

Which it may not be if the original Dune is just something you read but didn’t make that gigantic an impression. But those of us for whom the original is part of our personal canon (see Sarah Gailey’s marvelous feature for an explanation of what that REALLY means) there’s not nearly as much dramatic tension here as there was in the original.

After all, we already know EXACTLY what happens to all of these people – and only one year in their future at that. And even if you don’t already know from either the book or one of the dramatic adaptations, it’s pretty easy to find out. Dune was originally published in 1965 as a two-part serial in Analog magazine It tied for the Hugo and won the FIRST Nebula and was cited as the WORLD’s best-selling science fiction novel in 2003. Synopses and analyses and all kinds of other -ses are readily available pretty much everywhere, including a brief but decent summary on Wikipedia that manages to hit all the high points without nearly conveying just how compelling the damn thing is to read – or at least was when it first came out.

I read it in for the first time in the mid-to-late 1960s, probably not long after I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time, so I was probably 11 or 12, certainly no more than 13, and it was one of the first big science fiction books I ever read, along with Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, and Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land – which I was MUCH too young to completely “grok” at the time. I read them all, including LOTR, more than once, and those readings formed the backbone of my lifelong love affair with Fantasy and Science Fiction – along with a heaping helping of Star Trek.

I think it’s difficult to see from today’s perspective just how influential those books were on a young reader who fell into the genre, because speculative fiction today, to treat fantasy and SF more broadly, is so much more influential – and infinitely more readily available – than it was then. There weren’t nearly so many choices, so discovering something that was just SO GOOD was marvelous and had an outsize influence.

All that to say that the original Dune – not the sequels and prequels and what-have-you – is a book I still remember very fondly – and still remember the high points of even decades after the last time I read it.

So I had hopes that this prequel would bring back some of that intense love I felt for the original OMG half a century ago. (Mind reels!) And it did bring back memories of the original book. Perhaps too many, as those memories cut the legs out from under any dramatic tension in this one.

Escape Rating C+: I loved the original, and this one suffers both in comparison and in the way that my knowledge of the original story turns almost the entirety of this book into foreshadowing of that one instead of feeling compelled to read this one in it’s own right.

Completists will probably love this book. However, while I may usually be a completist it’s just not working for me here. I feel like I already knew enough about what happened at this point in the history, AND it’s really difficult to get into a story knowing when, where, how and why the protagonist will die. And that the death in question isn’t even all that far off.

Even the information that is new to this story, like the plot about the Noble Commonwealth and the Caladan drug, drove me a bit bonkers as I kept expecting one of the Mentats to suggest that there might be a link between the two, but it never happens. Which meant that the “big reveal” wasn’t one to this reader, although it certainly was to entirely too many characters within the story.

But as much as that particular lack of computation felt like a missing piece, overall there were too many pieces, and they repeated too many things I remembered. When I saw the blurb for this book, I was expecting something a lot shorter than what I got. So don’t let the details on Amazon or anywhere else fool you, the Book Depository, and only on the British edition of the book, seems to be the only place that got the correct information. This is NOT a 320 page book. Rather, it just misses being a 420 page book by a hair. Maybe it SHOULD have been a 320 page book. But it isn’t.

Science fiction has been referred to as the “romance of political agency” and this is definitely a book in that mode. It’s all about political chicanery, noble skullduggery, and greed on all sides, with Leto as the one honorable man in the middle of an imperial shitstorm. Readers who are looking for something to either substitute for, whet their appetites for, or tide them over until the next movie version will probably enjoy this. There are plenty of juicy bits.

But it doesn’t live up to the original – or at least not the way that original shines so bright in my memory.

Review: Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. Anderson

Review: Death Warmed Over by Kevin J. AndersonDeath Warmed Over (Dan Shamble, Zombie PI, #1) by Kevin J. Anderson
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Dan Shamble Zombie PI #1
Pages: 309
Published by Kensington on August 28th 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

"A darkly funny, wonderfully original detective tale."--Kelley Armstrong
Single Dead Detective Seeks Clue
Ever since the Big Uneasy unleashed vampires, werewolves, and other undead denizens on the world, it's been hell being a detective--especially for zombie P.I. Dan Chambeaux. Taking on the creepiest of cases in the Unnatural Quarter with a human lawyer for a partner and a ghost for a girlfriend, Chambeaux redefines "dead on arrival." But just because he was murdered doesn't mean he'd leave his clients in the lurch. Besides, zombies are so good at lurching.
Now he's back from the dead and back in business--with a caseload that's downright unnatural. A resurrected mummy is suing the museum that put him on display. Two witches, victims of a curse gone terribly wrong, seek restitution from a publisher for not using "spell check" on its magical tomes. And he's got to figure out a very personal question--Who killed him?
For Dan Chambeaux, it's all in a day's work. (Still, does everybody have to call him "Shamble"?) Funny, fresh, and irresistible, this cadaverous caper puts the P.I. in R.I.P. . ..with a vengeance.
"Wickedly funny, deviously twisted and enormously satisfying. This is a big juicy bite of zombie goodness. Two decaying thumbs up!"--Jonathan Maberry
"Anderson has become the literary equivalent of Quentin Tarantino in the fantasy adventure genre."--The Daily Rotation
"An unpredictable walk on the weird side. Prepare to be entertained." --Charlaine Harris

My Review:

After reading, and rolling on the floor laughing over the short story Eye of Newt in the Shadowed Souls collection, I just couldn’t resist diving into the rest of the series. And I’m glad I stopped resisting.

Death Warmed Over is the first book in the Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series, and it both sends up and inhabits the noir detective genre at the same time. This story sets up the series, and it does it in the classic in media res convention, where the action has already begun and it is up to our hero to bring us up to speed on all that action.

At this point in Dan’s life, and the life of his world, the “Big Uneasy” is ten years in the past. Adjustments have been made, although there is still plenty to be worked out.

Ten years ago, a bizarre and hopefully unique event occurred, where the planets were just in the right (or wrong) positions, and a virgin cut her finger over an original copy of the Necronomicon, resulting in an extreme rearrangement of the powers of the universe. Specifically, the dead came back to life. Or unlife as the case may be.

There were so many zombies rising from their graves, ghosts returning to their haunts, and vampires coming out of their coffins that even the monsters who had been hiding in plain sight for centuries (hello vampires! and werewolves) decided that it was time to show the world who, and what, they truly were.

Dan Chambeaux was making a decent living as a private investigator in the Unnatural Quarter when, as so often happens to noir-ish private eyes, he got a little too close to some seriously nasty truth, and somebody shot him. Right between the eyes.

In the old days, before the Big Uneasy, that would have been the end of the case. But things are different now. People in general have about a 1 in 75 chance of becoming zombies, but the odds are much more likely (let’s not get into better and worse) for murder victims, along with suicides. A few days after his funeral, Dan clawed his way out of his grave and went right back to work on his own case. Along with all the other cases still on his desk – including that of the murder of his girlfriend, who was now a ghost as well as his office manager.

So Dan, along with his ghost girlfriend Sheyenne and his human business partner Robin Deyer, are on the case. Actually several cases, as Robin is a lawyer with a soft spot for nearly lost causes and a mania for taking precedent setting cases in the fields of undead law.

As Dan always says, “the cases don’t solve themselves”. But while he is helping Robin with a werewolf divorce case and a mummy suing the museum that owns his sarcophagus for his freedom, he is also looking into the operations of a bigoted “Humans First” group while dodging the smarmy sales pitch of an persistent adman selling “necroceuticals” meant to spruce up the undead.

When all the cases, new and old, converge, Dan finds himself at the wrong end of a gun. Again. But this time he has everything to gain and much, much less to lose. After all, you can only die once.

Escape Rating A-: While Death Warmed Over isn’t quite the laugh riot that was Eye of Newt, I didn’t expect it to be. It does, however, retain a marvelous undercurrent of gallows humor that can sustain a series. I certainly intend to find out.

The concept of a newly undead detective investigating his own death has been done before, and even done before with an urban fantasy/noir detective. If you are curious about a vampire version, hunt for a copy of P.N. Elrod’s  Bloodlist. The setting is real-world Prohibition Chicago, and Jack Fleming is a much more hardened gumshoe than Dan Shamble, but the concept is definitely there.

Back to Dan Shamble…

Part of the fun of this series is the very well-done world-building. The author has taken our world and shaken it up in a whole lot of ways that are both funny and serious at the same time. People, it turns out, are still people, whether they are dead or alive or something in the middle. Working out ways for the monsters among us to coexist creates a lot of opportunity for both humor and social commentary.

There are also a lot of sly jokes centering around the horror genre and its convention. That the new publisher of spellbooks is Howard Phillips Publishing, and that their motto is, “We love our craft” is a joke that makes the reader smile if they get it, but if they don’t, it doesn’t stop the story from still being funny in the right spots.

A lot of this particular story revolves around the human desire to look better, smell better and generally buy into the cosmetics and pharmaceuticals industry in a way that probably hurts all of our wallets in the real world. It’s also an impulse that seems to transcend death, as all of the undead are just as interested in covering up that graveyard aroma as the rest of us are about the smell of sweat. But following the money isn’t enough to solve this case.

In the end, the story rises (or possibly falls, but not for this reader) on whether or not the reader likes Dan’s “voice”, because it is his story. It is told from his perspective, and it is first-person singular, so inside his head and with his running commentary. We only see what Dan sees, and we only know what Dan knows. As he’s only been a zombie for a month, he’s still learning how his new world works, and so are we.

And it’s one hell of a fun ride.

Review: Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes

Review: Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. HughesShadowed Souls by Kerrie L. Hughes, Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, Kevin J. Anderson, Rob Thurman, Tanya Huff, Kat Richardson, Anton Strout, Lucy A. Snyder, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Erik Scott de Bie
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 352
Published by Roc on November 1st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this dark and gritty collection—featuring short stories from Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, Kevin J. Anderson, and Rob Thurman—nothing is as simple as black and white, light and dark, good and evil..
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what makes it so easy to cross the line.

In #1 New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher’s Cold Case, Molly Carpenter—Harry Dresden’s apprentice-turned-Winter Lady—must collect a tribute from a remote Fae colony and discovers that even if you’re a good girl, sometimes you have to be bad...
New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire’s Sleepover finds half-succubus Elsie Harrington kidnapped by a group of desperate teenage boys. Not for anything “weird.” They just need her to rescue a little girl from the boogeyman. No biggie.
In New York Times bestselling Kevin J. Anderson’s Eye of Newt, Zombie P.I. Dan Shamble’s latest client is a panicky lizard missing an eye who thinks someone wants him dead. But the truth is that someone only wants him for a very special dinner...
And New York Times bestselling author Rob Thurman’s infernally heroic Caliban Leandros takes a trip down memory lane as he deals wih some overdue—and nightmarish—vengeance involving some quite nasty
Impossible Monsters
.
ALSO INCLUDES STORIES BYTanya Huff * Kat Richardson * Jim C. Hines * Anton Strout * Lucy A. Snyder * Kristine Kathryn Rusch * Erik Scott de Bie *
From the Trade Paperback edition.

My Review:

Shadowed Souls seemed like an absolutely perfect book to review for Halloween. This is a collection of slightly creepy, slightly spooky urban fantasy stories where all the heroes are anti- and all of the action is conducted in the darker shades of gray. And by gray I mean cases where the heroes commit acts that may seem villainous, or at least questionable, in order to prevent an even greater evil.

These are stories where the ends actually do justify the means, as long as you like your means on the dark and grim side of the equation.

Most story collections have hits and misses. It’s the nature of the beast. That’s not true in this case. All of the stories in Shadowed Souls are at least very good, and many rise to excellent, sometimes hauntingly so.

While I liked every story in this collection, there are a few that stood out from the ghostly crowd.

Tanya Huff’s If Wishes Were is a return to the world of her Vicki Nelson series, 20 years after the end of Blood Debt. Victoria Nelson has been a vampire for 20 years, and looks permanently in her mid-30s. But the man who keeps Vicki tied to her humanity, Mike Cellucci, is now pushing 60. Vicki is forced to face the inevitable future, that the man she loves will die, possibly of his current injuries, but certainly in what will, to her, seem like a short and painful 20 or 30 years. Even if Mike were willing to become a vampire, it is no solution. If he changes, they will be forced to part. If he dies, they will be forced to part. When a villain tempts Vicki with a third choice, she has to decide just how much she is willing to sacrifice to retain what’s left of her humanity – along with what’s left of her heart.

This story is haunting and bittersweet, and resonates both with Vicki’s particular situation, and for anyone who has faced the inevitable loss of a loved one.

Sales. Force. by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is definitely a story from the dark side of the house. Like If Wishes Were, this is also a story about love and loss. And not just the loss of love but also the loss of humanity. The revenge in this story is served icy cold. Even as the reader shivers with that cold, one is left with the feeling that it wasn’t enough. That as dark as this ending is, nothing would be enough. Read it and weep.

In all of the deep and dark and serious in this collection, there is one ray of light. Definitely call it gallows humor. Eye of Newt by Kevin J. Anderson is a short story set in his Dan Shamble series, and it is laugh out loud, read out loud to your partner, funny. In this definitely urban fantasy series, where the private investigator is a zombie, his girlfriend is a ghost, and nearly every name is a pun, the author manages to set up both a mystery and a riotous send up of TV cooking shows at the same time. You will laugh until your sides ache. And want more of the series.

Escape Rating A: I don’t DO this for collections. There are always at least a couple of stories that fail for me. But not this time. The stories are all different. Except for Eye of Newt, they all reside creepily in the neighborhood of dark urban fantasy. And they are all at the least compelling, if not absolutely enthralling.

Read this one with the lights on, and have a scary good time.

Happy Halloween!