Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de BodardThe Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya) by Aliette de Bodard
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction
Series: Universe of Zuya
Pages: 96
Published by Subterranean Press on March 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.

A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow's Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow's Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow's Child with her.

As they dig deep into the victim's past, The Shadow's Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau's own murky past--and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars...

My Review:

The Nebula Awards shortlist came out this week. I was reminded to take a look at it by someone on the Library Journal Committee that picked the best SF and Fantasy for 2018 for their annual wrap-up because four of our picks are on the Nebula shortlist, as well as a couple of titles that ALMOST made it.

Looking at the list, I noticed a book that I picked up a while ago, as it was recommended in the context of being an “out of this world” Sherlock Holmes pastiche. It has been said that every generation reinvents Sherlock Holmes for themselves, and The Tea Master and the Detective definitely qualifies as one of the more inventive futuristic reinventions, right up there with Sara Holmes and Janet Watson of A Study in Honor.

In The Tea Master and the Detective, we have a tale set in this author’s loosely connected Universe of Xuya series. It’s an alternate history universe where China discovered America before Christopher Columbus. That discovery altered the history of the world, as such a momentous change would. China turned outward instead of inward, and seems to have become the dominant power on Earth before humanity reached the stars.

An influence that is still felt at the time of this story, probably taking place somewhere in the alternate 22nd century – if not later. (The series is made up of short stories and novellas, and they have been scattered in publication throughout every magazine currently publishing SF and Fantasy. I wish they were all collected somewhere because I’d like to read them ALL!)

As I have not yet read the series, I came into this story with no previous knowledge – and I absolutely loved it. While the entire history of the universe isn’t explained – and it shouldn’t be – this little gem still feels complete. I just want to know more. (I always want to know more.)

The detective, in this case the mysterious Long Chau, claims to be writing a thesis on the decomposition of bodies in the deep places of space. Places that seem to be both theoretical and real, although a bit more of each of those elements than might be presupposed at first glance.

The thing about the deep places is that they are both real and unreal, and the unreality of those places affects the human mind – to its detriment. Humans usually travel those deep places safely within the bounds of a ship controlled by a “shipmind”. A ship that is self-aware.

What makes this story so interesting is that the “Watson” to Long Chau’s “Holmes” is a damaged shipmind named The Shadow’s Child who is psychologically unable to travel the deep places – so she makes her living brewing teas that help humans survive the unreality of the places she no longer feels able to go.

Long Chau goes to the fringes of the deep places to find a dead body. But what she’s really looking for is a lost soul. Her own. That she also finds the soul of the scarred shipmind forges a unlikely partnership.

One I hope to see again.

Escape Rating A: This is lovely. It combines two ideas that really shouldn’t have much to do with each other, but work together anyway – much as the two protagonists really shouldn’t have much to do with each other.

Shipminds are people. And this society has places for them and recognizes them as people. The Shadow’s Child has to deal with many of the things that anyone else does, including meddling family members and paying the rent. She will also remind readers of Anne McCaffrey’s classic stories of the brainship Helga, The Ship Who Sang.

The Shadow’s Child is the Watson to Long Chau’s Holmes. The pastiche part of this story is fairly subtle – if you’re not interested, it’s not there. If you are interested, the way that Long Chau refers to herself as a “consulting detective”, her endless deductions of what people, including shipminds, are thinking, feeling and doing as well as her constant use of drugs to stimulate her mind are there to remind readers of some of Sherlock Holmes’ habits, both the more and the less savory of them.

The case that they ultimately find themselves on is an investigation that no one wants solved – and it nearly gets them both killed. But along the way they learn to respect if not necessarily trust each other, and we get to explore a fascinating universe that has plenty of stories in it that are worth telling.

I look forward to ferreting out more of this series as soon as possible!

Review: Oria’s Enchantment by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Oria’s Enchantment by Jeffe KennedyOria's Enchantment by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #5
Pages: 166
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on January 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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A Narrow Escape

With her secrets uncovered and her power-mad brother bent on her execution, Princess Oria has no sanctuary left. Her bid to make herself and her new barbarian husband rulers of walled Bára has failed. She and Lonen have no choice but to flee through the leagues of brutal desert between her home and his—certain death for a sorceress, and only a bit slower than the blade.

A Race Against Time

At the mercy of a husband barely more than a stranger, Oria must war with her fears and her desires. Wild desert magic buffets her; her husband’s touch allures and burns. Lonen is pushed to the brink, sure he’s doomed his proud bride and all too aware of the restless, ruthless pursuit that follows…

A Danger Beyond Death…

Can Oria trust a savage warrior, now that her strength has vanished? Can Lonen choose her against the future of his people? Alone together in the wastes, Lonen and Oria must forge a bond based on more than lust and power, or neither will survive the test…

My Review:

This series began back in Lonen’s War with Princess Oria being betrayed by her own brother, an event that echoes down the entire length of the series so far.

In this latest book in the series, events have almost, but not quite, come full circle, as this title is named for Oria, but the events that it encompasses revolve around Prince Lonen’s brother and his betrayal of Lonen.

But a whole lot of things have happened along the way. Oria, the princess-bird freed from her gilded cage, will have to come into the power that she does not even believe she has in order to save both of their kingdoms – and both of themselves, as well.

Lonen has to grasp his duty and his destiny – even if, or especially because – he needs to leave Oria behind in order for her to be able to leap ahead and save them both.

If she survives a testing process directed by dragons. Either she finally masters her power – or they will destroy her before she destroys everything around her – including herself.

Escape Rating B+: Oria’s Enchantment is the fifth book in what was originally listed as a trilogy – and the story isn’t done yet. It’s turning out to be “trilogy times two”. So a Hexology, or a dual-trilogy, or a sextet.

Sextet feels appropriate, as the Sorcerous Moons series, whatever you call it, is a fantasy romance that does some very interesting things with sex and seduction. Lonen and Oria’s marriage begins as a marriage of convenience because her magic will not allow anyone else to touch her skin-to-skin without causing her tremendous pain. That their relationship changes from cautious allyship to a true marriage in spite of that limitation – and just how far and how sensuously they manage to skate the edge of that restriction, has been steamy as well as fascinating.

About the story as a whole – the story is a whole. By that I mean that the Sorcerous Moons “series” feels like one long story rather than a series of even slightly separate books. Like the Lord of the Rings, where the story that begins in Fellowship ends in Return of the King. The ending of Fellowship is merely a pause as that book does not tell a complete story in and of itself.

So it is with Sorcerous Moons, This is one story from its beginning in Lonen’s War to what looks like will be its ending in the next book, Lonen’s Reign. So start at the beginning and not anywhere in the middle. The individual books are relatively short – so the compilation of the whole is only a moderately sized tome.

The part of the story that takes place in Oria’s Enchantment is a rise from the “waiting game” that occurred in the previous book in the series, The Forests of Dru. That book felt like the trough of the entire story arc, and now we’re on the rise that leads to the conclusion.

Things finally happen here, although mostly in the second half of the book. The first half is a “road story”, of which there have been many in this series. Lonen and Oria do a LOT of travelling, in order to fix what’s wrong in either one kingdom or another – and to give them time to bond as a marital partnership.

It’s in the second half of this story that events begin to ramp up, as Oria finally takes control of her power and her destiny while Lonen forces himself to do the right thing for the kingdom he never expected to rule.

I can’t wait for what should be the epic conclusion to this series in Lonen’s Reign. Because Lonen and Oria are going to have to make a lot of war to fix everything that’s wrong in both Bara and Dru!

Review: Forged in Blood II by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Forged in Blood II by Lindsay BurokerForged in Blood II (The Emperor's Edge, #7) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #7
Pages: 422
Published by Lindsay Buroker on July 17, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Amaranthe Lokdon survives her reckless plan to destroy the enemy’s weapon-filled super aircraft only to learn that thousands of people perished when it crash landed. Half of her team is missing...or dead. Meanwhile, the fighting in the capital has escalated, the Imperial Barracks have been taken by a pretender, and a deadly new danger threatens the populace. Amaranthe’s hopes of returning Emperor Sespian to the throne and bringing peace to the empire are dwindling by the hour.

To make matters worse, her strongest ally—and closest friend—has been captured and is under a powerful wizard’s control. If she can’t figure out a way to free Sicarius, he may kill them all when next they meet...

My Review:

Forged in Blood I ended at maximum cliffhanger, so I dove into Forged in Blood II the moment I finished it. It’s kind of impossible to stop at that point.

(Fair warning, this review will contain spoilers for Forged in Blood I. It would be equally impossible to talk at all about this book without talking about that book. They are pretty much one story, and everything that happens here is dependent on what happened there. Also, Captain Obvious being very obvious, don’t start the series here!)

Forged in Blood I ended at two parallel points with opposite results. Amaranthe has just crashed the Behemoth and wrecked untold destruction pretty much everywhere. She feels guilty beyond measure at the deaths she feels she is responsible for. And she might share in that responsibility but she certainly isn’t solely responsible – particularly considering that she never had any personal ability to control the airship/spacecraft in the first place.

But she walks away from the wreckage, believing all of her team are dead, only to shortly discover that so far, everyone she truly cares for managed to be someplace else.

On that other hand, Sicarius enters the ruins of the ship and finds what he believes are the remains of Amaranthe’s charred corpse. He believes that everyone he cares about, including Amaranthe and his son Sespian, are all dead in or under the crash. He tries to commit suicide-by-enemy in a grand fashion, only to be captured and mind-slaved by one of the many, many forces that is attempting to take control of the capital.

He doesn’t care – at least not too much. If his would-have-been-lover and his son are both dead, he is not unwilling to kill as many of those responsible for the situation as possible (he is an assassin, after all) before he finds a way to at least get himself killed if not take out the wizard controlling him in the process.

As Forged in Blood II opens, Amaranthe is working on multiple plans – as she always is – to eliminate the alien spaceship before even more nefarious things can be done with it, find a way to get some of their enemies to eliminate each other, and find out what happened to Sicarius and rescue him if necessary.

Sicarius has been given a list of people to kill, and he’s working his way down the list.

I would say that things go pear-shaped at this point, but they have been pear-shaped so long that the pear is starting to rot. This is a series where saying that our heroes jump out of the frying pan and into the fire doesn’t go nearly far enough. The entire series is pretty much fires and frying pans all the way down.

But this book is the end of the main story arc of the ENTIRE Emperor’s Edge series. They have to find the bottom in order for things to come to an appropriate close, and for all of the many, many threads to get tied up in a relatively neat bow.

Not nearly as neat a bow as Amaranthe the cleanliness obsessed would have liked. And the butcher’s bill needs to get paid. But in the midst of absolutely epic chaos, our heroes have to find a resolution that gets all of the many, many opposing forces out of the capitol.

And lets them midwife the birth of the republic that they having been aiming towards for much longer than any of them imagined.

Escape Rating A-: This is so obviously labeled book 2 of 2 that anyone who starts here needs to have their head examined. Just don’t. A part of me is wondering why Forged in Blood wasn’t simply published as one extremely long book – but there’s nothing stopping anyone from reading it that way now that both parts are available.

By this point in this long-running series a reader either loves the characters and the world enough to want to see how it all ends, or they don’t. Obviously, I did.

What made this series work for me was its play on the “five-man band” trope, even as Amaranthe’s little band of outlaws/rebels/revolutionaries grew past the original five. To the point where some of the roles are occupied by two or more members of her band of misfits.

Part of the fun in Forged in Blood II is that Amaranthe runs into someone who is even better at being the “leader” of such a group than she is. It’s both relaxing and unnerving for her to find herself again following someone else’s orders.

That the person whose orders she ends up following is someone who someone in his 60s and clearly still extremely badass is icing on the cake for any readers of a certain age, like moi. It’s always good to see evidence that heroes don’t need to be young to be extremely effective. Age and skill beats youth and stupidity all the damn time, and it’s fun to watch.

I also loved the way that the romance was handled in this series finale. It’s taken a year for Amaranthe to “humanize” the assassin Sicarius to the point where he might be able to have a relationship with anyone, Amaranthe included. At the same time, it was necessary for the events of that year for Amaranthe to have her bright, shiny, law-abiding edges tarnished a bit for her to be able to accept not just the person that Sicarius has become, but also the elements of the weapon that he was made to be that remain. Their romance has been excruciatingly slow-building throughout the series, but it needed to be. And the series couldn’t end without that thread being tied up – even if that tying literally included tying one or both of them to a bed. (Actually I’d pay money for that scene!)

Realistically, it would not be possible for a series that had this much adventure – including misadventure, in it without a butcher’s bill to be paid by the company. That price that they paid felt right, proper and necessary – and provided a much needed bit of poignancy to the ending.

This was a book where as I got nearer to the end I found myself slowing down. I wanted to find out how it ended, but I didn’t want to leave this world or these people. Lucky for me, the author didn’t either. There are two (so far) books set in this world after the end of Forged in Blood II. I’ll be picking up Republic the next time I have a long flight to read through. It’s 572 pages long – and I’m betting they’re all fantastic!

Review: Forged in Blood I by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Forged in Blood I by Lindsay BurokerForged in Blood I (The Emperor's Edge, #6) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #6
Pages: 378
Published by Lindsay Buroker on May 27, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The emperor has been ousted from the throne, his bloodline in question, and war is descending on the capital. Forge, the nefarious business coalition that has been manipulating the political situation from the beginning, has the ultimate weapon at its disposal.

If it was difficult for a small team of outlaws--or, as Amaranthe has decided they should now be called, rebels--to make a difference before, it's a monumental task now. If she's to return idealistic young Sespian to the throne, earn the exoneration she's sought for so long, and help her closest ally win the respect of the son who detests him, she'll have to employ an unprecedented new scheme...preferably without destroying the city--or herself--in the process.

My Review:

And now I remember why I stopped reading this series back in 2013. Not for any bad reasons, I assure you!

But back then, I raced through the first four books in the series (The Emperor’s Edge, Dark Currents, Deadly Games and Conspiracy), loving every one. I think I was about to pick up book 5, Blood and Betrayal, when I noticed that this book, book 6, was titled Forged in Blood I with the obvious implication that there would be a Forged in Blood II – as there turned out to be. But the titles strongly implied that this book wasn’t exactly complete in and of itself, and I decided that I didn’t want to read this until its second part came out.

Then I ran headlong into the “so many books, so little time” conundrum, and didn’t get the round ‘tuit for several years. I picked up Blood and Betrayal a few weeks ago, got right back into everything, loved it, and decided to read Forged in Blood on the long flight back home from Seattle.

It turns out that I assumed correctly. While Forged in Blood I does come to a logical conclusion, that conclusion is a screaming cliffhanger. I was still in mid-flight (Seattle to Atlanta is a LONG flight) and started in on Forged in Blood II with barely a pause for breath.

What we have here is what looks like the beginning of the end of this terrific saga. The story at this point is careening towards the conclusion of its original quest. Way, way back in The Emperor’s Edge, Corporal Amaranthe Lokdon of the Imperial law enforcers was given the assignment to hunt down the Empire’s most dangerous assassin, Sicarius.

It was intended to be a suicide mission. It certainly turned out to be a suicide mission for her career on the “right” side of the law.

But when she failed to capture Sicarius, she found herself a wanted criminal, at the core of a band of criminals, all of whom have bounties on their heads for crimes they either didn’t commit or acts of self-defense. Not that there isn’t a bit of criminality mixed in there, but for the most part, they aren’t guilty – or at least not guilty of much until they all end up on the run.

With both the assassin and the Emperor in their midst. But then, the Emperor hired them to kidnap him to save his from the so-called advisers who planned to have him assassinate. As a result, the people who wanted him dead are now after the entire gang – as well as the Empire itself.

So Forged in Blood I is the beginning of the end. Start with The Emperor’s Edge and get to know this amazingly awesome – just ask some of them – band of big damn heroes. And end this part of the story on pins and needles, not merely wondering but actively worrying whether all of them will get out of this caper alive.

Escape Rating A-: This is not the end. The, well, let’s call it an interim ending, is a hella cliffie. What makes it so gut-wrenching is that by this point in the series we know and love all of these people, and the way this book ends we fear for all of them in one way or another. It’s terrible, and wonderful, and you won’t be able to keep from diving into part 2 immediately.

At the beginning of the series, we had a band of petty criminals and wrongly accused political victims desperately trying to find a way to survive the many and various attempts on their lives and, most importantly, figure out a way to get pardoned by the Emperor.

Well, most of them want to get pardoned. Sicarius is guilty of every single thing he’s been accused of, and a few hundred more. He was, after all, the previous Emperor’s pet assassin – and he was damn good at his job.

He’s also, unbeknownst to everyone at the beginning, but an open secret by this point, the biological father of the current Emperor. The young and idealistic Emperor is having a difficult time processing it all – but his enemies plan to use the information to keep him from ever taking back his throne.

Because they want to install a puppet emperor and wring the kingdom dry.

There’s a lot of story to unpack by this point. Amaranthe, in particular, still wants a pardon but also wonders if there’s any way back from where this journey has taken her. As a law enforcer, she never believed the excuses of the ends justifying the means, but has discovered that when the ends are her own survival, discussions of means get left by the wayside until afterwards – when the guilt descends.

The young Emperor, Sespian, has been forced to grow up in a hurry while dodging bullets, bombs and even exploding airships. With him, and his idealism, among their party, the purpose of their journey has changed from pardons to revolution. Getting a close up view of just how screwed up the empire is for anyone not in power has inspired them all to invent a new form of government – a Republic. All they have to do is get enough power to push their reforms through – and then be willing to let that power go when they’re done.

Not an easy job. It’s what made the American experiment such a chancy thing at the time. That we have, at least so far, had regularly scheduled and orderly changes of power built into the system. (We’ll see how that goes in the future.)

What makes this series so much fun is the way that the band of misfits manages to work together, both because and in spite of their differences. This is a series where the snark, of which there is a lovely lot, is based on our knowledge of the characters and their knowledge of each other – not on jokes per se. A lot of that humor is gallows humor, because even at the best of time they are only one step out of the frying pan and one jump away from the fire.

This is a series where the worldbuilding has gotten deeper as it goes, as have the chasms that our heroes must leap across in order to stay alive and one step ahead of their many, many pursuers. The pace never lets up – leaving the reader breathless with anxiety and anticipation at the end.

I couldn’t wait to start Forged in Blood II, and so far it’s every bit as good as the rest of the series. We’ll see for certain in next week’s review!

Review: The Show by John A. Heldt

Review: The Show by John A. HeldtThe Show (Northwest Passage #3) by John A. Heldt
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, time travel, time travel romance
Series: Northwest Passage #3
Pages: 293
Published by John A. Heldt on February 16th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Seattle, 1941. Grace Vandenberg, 21, is having a bad day. Minutes after Pearl Harbor is attacked, she learns that her boyfriend is a time traveler from 2000 who has abandoned her for a future he insists they cannot share. Determined to save their love, she follows him into the new century. But just when happiness is within her grasp, she accidentally enters a second time portal and exits in 1918. Distraught and heartbroken, Grace starts a new life in the age of Woodrow Wilson, silent movies, and the Spanish flu. She meets her parents as young, single adults and befriends a handsome, wounded Army captain just back from the war. In THE SHOW, the sequel to THE MINE, Grace finds love and friendship in the ashes of tragedy as she endures the trial of her life.

My Review:

While The Show is the third book in the author’s Northwest Passage series, it is much more of a direct sequel to The Mine, the awesome first book in the series, than the second book in the series, the marvelous The Journey, turned out to be.

In the Northwest Passage series, at least so far, the protagonists accidentally, or in the case of The Show, accidentally-on-purpose, discover methods of traveling in time. The time travel is complete handwavium – it’s purely a plot device and nothing more. And no more or less believable than the methods used in Outlander.

Not that the time period is the same as Outlander, or even the same from one book in the Northwest Passage series to another. In The Journey, the heroine travels within her own lifetime, and makes changes to her life in the past. Definitely changes for the better from her perspective, but one wonders about the butterfly, its flapping wings, and the effects on the futures of all of the other people who were within her original orbit.

That’s a question that raises its hand and waves vigorously by the end of The Show.

Because both Joel Smith in The Mine and Grace Vandenberg in The Show travel outside of their own lifespans. And then more.

In The Mine, Joel travels from 2000 to the summer of 1941, and leaves on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. He leaves, at least in part, because he knows about WWII and fears that if he finds himself in the Army there is the possibility that he will save someone who should have died, or kill someone who should have lived. He’s worried about that butterfly quite a bit.

But he didn’t worry about it enough not to fall in love back in 1941, and not to leave behind a trail of breadcrumbs that allows someone to follow him to the future. That someone is Grace, the woman he loves and would have married if he had stayed in 1941.

So she comes forward to the future, to him.

It’s all sunshine and roses – not to mention marriage and children, until yet another portal whisks her away from 2002 to 1918. Her journey is just as accidental as Joel’s original trip to the past – but the consequences are even more devastating.

When Joel left 2000 for 1941, he was a young man, fresh out of college, with no dependents and relatively few cares in the world or hostages to fortune. When Grace leaves 2002 for 1918, she’s a wife and mother of two little girls. She leaves everything behind – and can’t figure out how to get back.

Just as Joel did in 1941, Grace manages to make a life back in the past, with relatives that would become hers in the fullness of a time that she has already lived but they haven’t yet experienced.

She has her parents again, this time as contemporaries. She has a front row seat on their courtship. She even manages to fall in love again. It’s not the same, but it’s a life that could be sweet.

And then she discovers that she has one last chance, and it is the last chance, to go back to her real life in 2002 – if she’s willing to leave behind everything she’s found in 1918 to take the chance that this time she can go home.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed The Show, but it doesn’t hold up quite as well as my memory of The Mine – which you really need to read before going to The Show. Nor did it grab at my heartstrings in the way that The Journey did.

I think that one of the reasons this didn’t grab me quite as hard was that the blurb for the book gives the big plot twist away. We know from the opening pages that Grace is going to travel back in time – and it hangs over the story like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Grace’s advent into 2000 was way too easy, and I just wanted the story to get to the interesting – and hard – parts.

Grace’s life in the 21st century also raises questions that Joel’s life in 1941 didn’t. How did Grace and Joel even manage to get married in 2000 without Grace having a birth certificate? How did she get a driver’s license – which she definitely did. It’s a detail that niggles at me.

Joel was rightfully worried in 1941 about what would happen if he turned up at an Army recruiter’s office after Pearl Harbor with no birth certificate or ID of any kind. But in the rush to get bodies in uniform he would have had a way easier time than Grace should have had even in the pre-9-11 21st century.

Grace’s story in 1918 was much more tightly focused on Grace, her dilemma and her once and future family than Joel’s was in The Mine. We don’t see nearly as much of the era in which she finds herself as we did with his story. That may also reflect that Grace, as a young woman, would have had fewer opportunities to engage with the wider world in 1918 than Joel did in 1941. Part of the reason that The Journey got to me so much was that I identified with Michelle’s choices very strongly, while Grace’s don’t resonate with me in the same way.

However, one of Grace’s choices that I did empathize with was her eventual decision to move forward in 1918. A choice that some readers seem to have been appalled by. As far as Grace knows, she’s stuck in the past. She doesn’t believe that she has any hope of returning to 2002. She mourns her life there and misses her husband and children desperately, but she came back to the past already pregnant and needs to make some kind of future for herself and her child.

One final thought about that butterfly flapping its wings. Joel worried about changing the past and thereby changing his future. Grace, on the other hand, when the opportunity arises, rushes to change the past in a way that should prevent the future that gave birth to herself. It’s the ultimate paradox of time travel, and it bothers me that it isn’t addressed in any way.

Then again, this series feels as if its intended as historical fiction mixed with romance and not SF – where the time paradox would get done to death. I’m considering it as much handwavium as the time travel mechanism itself.

And I’ll be back for the next book in the series, The Fire, the next time I need a reading pick-me-up.

Review: Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport

Review: Medusa Uploaded by Emily DevenportMedusa Uploaded (The Medusa Cycle, #1) by Emily Devenport
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Medusa Cycle #1
Pages: 317
Published by Tor Books on May 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Executives control Oichi’s senses, her voice, her life. Until the day they kill her.

An executive clan gives the order to shoot Oichi out of an airlock on suspicion of being an insurgent. A sentient AI, a Medusa unit, rescues Oichi and begins to teach her the truth—the Executives are not who they think they are. Oichi, officially dead and now bonded to the Medusa unit, sees a chance to make a better life for everyone on board.

As she sets things right one assassination at a time, Oichi becomes the very insurgent the Executives feared, and in the process uncovers the shocking truth behind the generation starship that is their home.

My Review:

If The Forever Watch by David Ramirez, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein and The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells got together in a line marriage of the kind that Heinlein posited on Moon, the child they produced would be Medusa Uploaded.

A child that will absolutely stun you in speechless gibbering as well as afflict you with a terribly terrific case of book hangover.

This is also one of those stories where you reach the end, and, just like the main character, discover that none of the things that you thought you knew at the beginning are remotely as they appeared to be. Hence the being stunned.

I started out thinking of The Forever Watch because both take place on generation ships. In both stories, the population of the ship has left homeworld, which may or may not be Earth, in search of a new planet.

But whatever dreams of utopia the builders had at the beginning, those dreams have been long subverted by the time the story opens.

Our point of view character in Medusa Uploaded is Oichi Angelis, and she sees herself as a Worm. In fact, she sees almost all of the population of the Olympia as Worms. Most people are, like Oichi, members of the Servant class who are programmed by the Executives not merely to serve their every whim but also to see and hear only what the Executives allow them to.

Oichi has broken her programming. Much like Murderbot, she has illicit caches of forbidden entertainment stored in her brain, and that subversive data is how she keeps herself sane – at least until one scared and spoiled Executive arranges for Oichi’s execution. Because anyone in the Executive class can. Because victimizing someone else lets them feel less like a victim themselves.

But when Oichi is literally shoved out an airlock, she is saved. Not by a deux ex machina, but by an actual machine – and that’s when her journey really begins.

Because Oichi, with the help of Medusa, sets out to enact a revolution. She pushes people around like pawns in order to bring about a rebellion where the Executive class can be overthrown and the Worms can finally have an equal voice on the ship. It’s not just that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but that Oichi becomes the one who decides which are which.

Along the way, Oichi becomes an even more efficient killing machine than Murderbot ever was.

Oichi thinks she is running her own deadly show – only to discover that she’s been part of someone else’s game all along.

Escape Rating A+: First, I need to send a HUGE thank you to the person who recommended both The Last Sun and Medusa Uploaded, because both books have been absolutely stellar.

Above, I cited three books that Medusa Uploaded really, really reminded me of. The Forever Watch feels fairly obvious, as both are stories about generation ships in mid-journey, where one of the functionaries/passengers discovers that things have gone really, really wrong – and makes the mistake of trying to fix those things. These are also both stories where most of the assumptions that the protagonists make, and that we as readers follow along with, turn out not to be true – with catastrophic results.

Murderbot may feel like a strange choice, or like I’m just trying to get on the Murderbot bandwagon – not that Murderbot wouldn’t be utterly appalled that it even has a bandwagon. But at the very beginning of both stories we have a first-person protagonist who is aware that they are supposed to be programmed into certain behaviors and that they have subverted their programming. They both spend much of the story pretending to be what everyone around them believes they are while secretly exploring a database of forbidden entertainment. Entertainment which just adds to the subversive nature of their performance.

And last but definitely not least, the SF classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. (Which is still quite readable!) Both Moon and Medusa are stories where the downtrodden masses are forced to remain downtrodden due to structural inequities built into the systems that keep them virtually enslaved. And in both stories they rise up anyway, using the technology that is supposed to keep them under the thumb of the ruling class. Both stories also feature machines-as-people who integrate with the revolutionaries. (The scene at the end of Moon where Manny discovers that Mike is dead still makes me cry.)

Back to the list I began earlier…

Second, I confess that Medusa Uploaded is one of the few times where I’ve been so completely into a book that I experienced the approach/avoidance conflict of desperately wanting to know how it ended while simultaneously not wanting to finish and be forced to step out of this world.

I’m really glad that there’s a second book in the cycle (Medusa in the Graveyard), and extra happy that I already have the eARC. This is one that just isn’t going to wait!

Review: The Last Sun by K.D. Edwards

Review: The Last Sun by K.D. EdwardsThe Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence, #1) by K.D. Edwards
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Tarot Sequence #1
Pages: 363
Published by Pyr on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment's missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home.

With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam's relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune's Court. In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family's death and the torments of his past?

My Review:

As I read The Last Sun, it kept teasing me with all the books it reminded me of – including one that I can’t quite remember. It’s on the tip of my tongue? The edge of my fingers? The corner of my mind? I can’t quite find the right metaphor – or the book – and it’s driving me bananas!

But while I was going bananas, I was also enjoying the hell out of The Last Sun – so much so that I kept wondering what took me so long. This is urban fantasy, just the way I like it. Or at least one of the ways I like it.

First of all, there’s the whole Atlantis crossed with Amber thing going on. Rune St. John, the last scion of the Sun Court, is a descendant of Atlantis. Yes, that Atlantis. This foundation on which this urban fantasy world rests is that Atlantis was real, and that its people – at least some of them – managed to escape its destruction.

Which doesn’t seem to be all that long ago. The Atlantis World War is still within living memory. Admittedly, the living memory of the extremely long-lived Atlanteans. But there are some in Rune’s generation who were born on the homeland, even if they don’t remember it all that well.

I also threw in Amber – specifically Roger Zelazny’s Amber – not for its hypothesis of Amber as the “one true world” but for its use of the Trumps of the Major Arcana of the Tarot. The difference seems to be that in Amber the Trumps take on the aspect of the princes of Amber, where in The Last Sun the princes – and their entire courts – take on the aspect of the Trumps.

But the worlds are certainly equally as cutthroat and Machiavellian, and the courts are equally as decadent. Rune is the last Sun because his family was wiped out by a raid sanctioned and carried out by all of the other Houses. We meet Rune and his companion/bodyguard Brand as they are part of another sanctioned raid, this time conducted against the House of The Lovers.

You’ll need to check Wikipedia or something for a brief rundown of the Major Arcana of the Tarot – because it matters – a lot – in this story.

Like much of urban fantasy, The Last Sun is an exploration of this alternate contemporary Earth wrapped around a mystery and suffused with magic.

Rune Saint John operates as a private enquiry agent, sometime detective, sometime bodyguard, barely keeping his head above water financially – and every other way. His mentor/benefactor, The Tower (see what I mean about the Major Arcana?) hires him to find out what happened to Addam Saint Nicholas, one of the heirs of Justice. Addam has disappeared, but no one seems to be looking for him – not even his mother.

But then, Justice isn’t about protection. It’s about retribution. If something has happened to him, his mother will avenge him. Which is rather cold comfort – if you’re the person who isn’t dead, at least not dead yet.

The case, of course, is much more than it initially seems. The deeper that Rune digs into Addam’s family, friends and especially business associates, the more it seems that there’s something rotten at the heart.

Not Addam’s heart, but somebody’s heart. The question is who? Or, as Rune initially believes, what? When he discovers the what, he learns that too many things that were believed to be myths really aren’t. And everyone who believes that Rune isn’t anything but an example of a failed house learns that he is much more than he appears to be. Whether Rune manages to absorb that lesson for himself has yet to be seen.

Escape Rating A: I was just planning to read a couple more chapters last night. Instead, I lost all track of time and space and finished the book just before 3 in the morning. And WOW what a wild ride.

I found the initial premise interesting, but once I got really into the case, I was sucked in and stayed sucked.

Urban fantasy often rests on its portrayal of flawed, scarred protagonists who are as much antiheroes as they are heroes. Rune certainly fits right in beside the best of them. Something about Rune reminds me of the early Harry Dresden, and it’s not just that fire is the go-to spell for both of them.

Harry also begins his story at the thin edge of survival. He’s also been abused, and he’s also certainly been a victim. He has the capacity for great power, but he’s denigrated and underestimated at every turn – until he finally comes into his own. He’s also mostly unlucky in love. As is Rune, but with a difference. While Harry’s rather salacious male gaze of women starts to wear for many readers, Rune isn’t interested in women. All of his generally frustrated sexual attention is focused on men.

He’s just not mentally healthy enough to really get into a relationship with anyone at this stage of his journey. And the reasons for his shaky mental health are awful in their causes and reasonable in their results. In this, Rune reminds me an awful lot of Kai Gracen in Black Dog Blues.

But what makes Rune such an interesting character to follow is that he’s both an insider and an outsider at the same time. As the last scion of the Sun Court, he is literally the embodiment of that aspect of the Major Arcana – or he will be once he grows into his power. The Arcana are the highest of the high in New Atlantis – and in the rest of the world. If he lives long enough, Rune will be one of the great powers of his world.

But his house is impoverished and in disgrace. Rune himself is gossip-rag fodder at every turn. And he’s sunk so low that he actually has to work for a living – something that no scion of the Arcana is supposed to do. Or at least not supposed to HAVE to do.

So he’s seen the top, and he’s now on the bottom. But with his background and his legacy, he’s not really a part of either world.

And his life has made him all too aware of how often the ones who are closest to you are the ones who strike you down – usually from behind. Which makes him both an object lesson on how the mighty can fall and the messenger of the bad news that someone else has been betrayed by their nearest and dearest.

As Addam Saint Nicholas discovers. Once he’s found. And that’s just the beginning of the adventure.

The only good thing about having waited to read this book is that I have a much shorter wait for book 2 in the series. The Hanged Man is scheduled to come out in September. There are 22 cards in the Major Arcana, and if there’s a book for each of them, and the books are as good as this first one, I will be one very happy reader!

Review: Death Shall Come by Simon R. Green

Review: Death Shall Come by Simon R. GreenDeath Shall Come by Simon R. Green
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #4
Pages: 185
Published by Severn House Publishers on September 1, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Ishmael Jones is faced with a dead body and a missing mummy in this highly entertaining, genre-blending mystery.

Death shall come on swift wings to whoever desecrates this tomb ...

Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been summoned to remote Cardavan House, home of the world's largest private collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, for the unveiling of George Cardavan's latest acquisition: a bone fide Egyptian mummy.

When a bloodstained body is discovered beside the empty sarcophagus, Ishmael is dismissive of the theory that the mummy's curse is to blame. Instead he sets out to uncover the human killer responsible. But how can Ishmael explain the strange, shuffling footsteps that creep along the corridors? Who is playing games with them ... and why?

My Review:

One of the overall themes that runs through the Ishmael Jones series is misdirection. The villain(s) at least so far, use myths, legends and primal fears to direct their potential victims (and sometimes Ishmael) away from themselves and towards pretty much anything else.

Sort of like the way I am currently misdirecting the kitten from all the interesting things on top of my desk that she can break by putting her battery-operated toy on the floor and hoping it distracts her from knocking my tea over and chewing my phone.

By the way, it’s not working on the cat. And it usually doesn’t work on Ishmael Jones, either.

In previous books in this series, the creepy misdirection has either been ghosts (The Dark Side of the Road and Dead Man Walking) or family monsters like the Hound of the Baskervilles (Very Important Corpses).

Having explored two branches of horror that Ishmael absolutely does not believe in, the phantom of misdirection is Death Shall Come isn’t a phantom – it’s a mummy!

Penny Belcourt, Ishmael’s human partner, loves mummy stories. Actually, so does Ishmael, but he prefers the Karloff classics and she liked the Brendan Fraser romantics. Both recognize that reanimated corpses do not walk among us – not even among the looted and stolen collection of Egyptian artifacts at Cardavan House.

Which does not mean that someone isn’t perfectly willing to exploit the fear of that possibility for their own evil ends. The question, as always, is who is the monster among them. What kind of monster are they?

And can Ishmael and Penny stop them before it’s too late?

Escape Rating B+: I pick up this series whenever I feel that my snark-o-meter needs filling – because this author’s work is always snarktastic to the max.

Ishmael Jones is one of the Men in Black. He’s also one of the aliens that the Men in Black usually monitor, but in this particular case, the organization that he works for – oh so cryptically named “The Organization” – does not know, at least as far as Ishmael knows, that he is not exactly from around here.

What they do know is that he has secrets to keep – and so do they. So when his boss asks him to come to the remote family pile and pretend to be an Egyptologist, Ishmael goes along with the game. His Colonel will “owe him one” and Ishmael knows that someday he’ll need to collect.

The setup is very reminiscent of an English country house mystery, as are all of the books in the series so far. But this isn’t cozy, it’s way more like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Ishmael can’t prevent all of the deaths, but he can try to keep the numbers from reducing to that “none”.

Sometimes he’s more successful than others.

Part of the fun of the series is the way that the standard horror tropes get turned on their heads. Ishmael does not believe in the supernatural – but that doesn’t mean that the people he is attempting to protect don’t. They get spooked pretty easily, and he usually spends a fair bit of time trying to keep them together for their own good – and he usually fails. He also usually has something snarky to say about it.

Early in the series, I said that Ishmael reminds me of Captain Jack Harkness in the Doctor Who and Torchwood series(es) . And that’s still true. Both in the sense of their immortality and in the sense that they both have holes in their memories, and that sometimes things that no one wants to meet jump out at them from one of those holes.

In the end, that’s what flips this series from mystery/horror to science fiction. Mummies don’t walk, but strange, weird and dangerous things do fall out of the sky. Ishmael should know – after all, he’s one of them.

Read this series with the lights on, and not right before bedtime. I made the mistake of reading this right before I went to sleep, and it gave me really, really weird dreams. But not scary enough to scare me off from coming back Into the Thinnest of Air the next time my snark-o-meter needs a re-charge.

Review: Zachary’s Christmas by M.L. Buchman

Review: Zachary’s Christmas by M.L. BuchmanZachary's Christmas (Night Stalkers White House #4) by M L Buchman
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Night Stalkers White House #4
Pages: 184
Published by Buchman Bookworks on December 23, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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-a Night Stalkers White House Christmas romance- NAME: Zachary Thomas JOB: Vice President of the United States FAMILY: A distant two-star general and a self-involved Olympic swimming coach NAME: Melanie Anne Darlington JOB: She hasn't a clue FAMILY: White House Chief of Staff and a powerful Southern legacy Zack's political career thrives-his star shines brightly. The only thing missing? Someone to share it with. Anne's brother embraces the White House career he was born to do. Unfortunately, Anne's own future shines as clearly as a snow globe blizzard on a dark winter's night. This holiday season, each day opens a new window to the vista of their future in Zachary's Christmas.

My Review:

There may not be an actual half-life for reading holiday stories after the season, but for me it feels like anytime after Twelfth Night (January 5) is pushing something. Or just gives me a sense of trying to get one last lick of a candy cane that has dwindled down to nothing – at least until the next fall.

So when I received Zachary’s Christmas from the publisher over the New Year’s weekend in exchange for my usual honest review, it seemed like the time to review this was NOW, especially since this is an older holiday title (albeit one I had not read) from one of my favorite authors.

And it’s short – and this was a day when I needed a short book to review. I fell way too far down the Harry Potter fanfic rabbit hole this holiday. My bad – but it was fun.

About Zachary’s Christmas…

In the fictional universe created in the author’s absolutely awesome Night Stalkers military romance series, Peter Matthews is the current liberal president of the U.S. And yes, I wish this aspect of the series were real. I wish it very, very much.

Moving right along…

Zachary Thomas is Matthews’ Vice-President, and looks to be the next nominee for President from their party. It’s Matthews’ second term, so that talk is timely. But one of the interesting things about Zach Thomas is that he is single, never married, and has still managed to have a successful and scandal-free political career.

Into this walks Anne Darlington, whose brother happens to be the current White House Chief of Staff. Anne comes to DC in chilly December to visit her brother, because she’s at a kind of personal crossroads. She’s been the very successful manager of their family’s ranching and restaurant business back in Tennessee, but she’s discovered that it isn’t for her. She’s good at it, but she doesn’t love it. The job, that it. She loves the ranch just fine but doesn’t want to live there.

Her brother Daniel, on the other hand, lives for the ranch and can’t wait for his White House career to be over so that he can go back and run the place. But that’s his dream for later, because right now he’s doing good and important work and doesn’t want to leave it until the job is done.

(Whether helping to clean things up in Washington DC is a job that is EVER done is an entirely separate question not within the scope of either this book, this series or this review.)

Zach meets Anne in her brother’s office and the chemistry between them is instant. Not just the sexual sparks, of which there are plenty, but the intellectual challenge. They meet on multiple levels, and it’s special for both of them.

So special that Zach asks Anne out that evening to hear the holiday concert at the National Botanical Gardens. And these two people start to open up to each other, reaching out towards each other out of their separate loneliness. That type of painful loneliness that happens when you’re busy and surrounded by people all the time, but where you can’t let anyone in and no one really sees the real you.

Their whirlwind affair gives Zach all the time he needs, and it isn’t much, to figure out that Anne is the one woman for him. But between his work and his increasing happiness, he doesn’t see – and Anne doesn’t show or tell him – the problems that brought her to DC in the first place.

So while he thinks they’re on a path to happy ever after, Anne fears that she’s on a path where she becomes an adjunct of someone powerful but not a person with her own purpose – and that’s just the fate she came to DC to escape.

Whether they can find a way for both their needs to get met is anyone’s guess. But there are plenty of people pushing both idiots in the right direction.

Escape Rating B: There were lots of things that I really liked about this story, and one that felt just a bit incomplete or unfinished – hence the B rating.

The setup was a whole lot of fun. President Peter Matthews has been a tertiary character in several books in the previous series, Night Stalkers and its followup series – plural. He is the childhood friend of Emily Beale, the heroine of the first Night Stalkers book, but it is not necessary to have read any of the previous books in any of the previous series (Night Stalkers, Henderson’s Ranch, Night Stalkers White House, White House Protection Force, etc.) I’ve read most of the Night Stalkers but little of the others so far and still got right into Zachary’s Christmas. Not that this one doesn’t make me WANT to go back and read some of the others that I’ve missed!

I liked the romance between Zach and Anne. It was definitely a fast whirlwind, but it worked for this story. I also felt for Anne and just how bowled over she was by the constant presence of both the Secret Service and the Press. Her family is wealthy and powerful, so she’s used to being in public and giving speeches and having people watch her. But the DC goldfish bowl still feels intimidating to her – understandably so.

While I understood her hesitation about throwing herself to the wolves of the Press, the part of the story that felt incomplete was the depth of her self-doubt. She initially turns down Zach’s proposal because she fears being lost in his shadow. But she doesn’t ever talk to him about the issue, nor does she ever explain what brought her to DC in the first place. While I felt for her dilemma, my feeling for her had way more to do with me projecting my feelings onto her than her actually articulating them.

Also, she doubts herself constantly and continually minimizes her own capabilities and her own accomplishments. While we all have self doubt (as women we generally have buckets of it) hers don’t seem founded. They’re not rooted in anything and they are of a depth that just begs for there to have been a root cause – which just isn’t there.

But those minor reservations aside, I still had a terrific time on my visit to the Matthews’ White House, peeking in on this lovely romance. I look forward to going back for more.

Review: Blood and Betrayal by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Blood and Betrayal by Lindsay BurokerBlood and Betrayal (The Emperor's Edge, #5) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #5
Pages: 374
Published by Lindsay Buroker on December 3, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The last thing Maldynado Montichelu—former aristocrat and current ladies' man—ever wanted was to be left in charge. After all, the team just blew up a train, crashed a dirigible, and kidnapped the emperor. It's kind of an important time.

But, with Amaranthe captured by the nefarious Forge coalition, and Sicarius off to find her, the team is lacking in leaders. Also, Sicarius has made it clear that Maldynado’s life may be forfeit should anything happen to the emperor while he’s gone.

To make matters worse, Forge’s cutthroats are after Sespian, and the young emperor believes Maldynado's loyalties are suspect. As if it’s his fault that his older brother is working with the coalition to usurp the throne. If Maldynado can’t figure out how to earn the emperor’s trust quickly, Sespian will go off to confront their powerful enemies on his own.

Meanwhile, Amaranthe must find a way to escape from the coalition’s newest ally, Master Interrogator Pike, a man who plans to pull all of the secrets from her head, one way or another…

Blood and Betrayal is the fifth novel in The Emperor’s Edge series.

My Review:

Welcome to this week’s second entry in the “long time no see” series. Otherwise known as the “ how big a fool I was to stop reading this” series.

Back in 2013 I started the Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker, and fell headlong into her blend of fantasy, steampunk and SF. I also fell in love with her endlessly snarky five-man band of characters – even though the band eventually encompassed more than five characters, male or otherwise.

For a series that is set in a fantasy world that has elements of both steampunk and “pure” SF, the group dynamics of Amaranth Lokdon’s crew have the feel of the best sword-and-sorcery, you know the type where the hero and his sidekick slice and snark their way through a world that seems to be out to get them at every turn.

Amaranthe’s gang certainly is paranoid, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t out to get them. As is certainly shown in this fifth entry in the series, Blood and Betrayal. And yes, there’s plenty of both within the pages of this thrill-a-minute story.

When last we left our heroes, five years ago and at the end of Conspiracy, Amaranthe had just been thrown out of the dirigible the gang had commandeered. In mid-flight. Of course.

As Blood and Betrayal opens, the gang is kind of in the same position that Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are in at the opening of The Two Towers – minus the death of Boromir (or his equivalent).

The remaining members of Amaranthe’s merry band of tricksters all want to find her and rescue her. But they are already in the middle of a mission to pretend to kidnap the young Emperor Sespian and uncover the plot to overthrow him – along with figuring out all of the other plans being hatched by the dangerous and mysterious group calling themselves Forge.

Sicarius, Amaranthe’s second-in-command, pet assassin and possible future lover, finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. He desperately needs to rescue Amaranthe. He equally desperately needs to keep the young Emperor safe – because unbeknownst to everyone except himself and Amaranthe, Emperor Sespian is his son.

And someone needs to lead the remaining members of the crew – because it’s dubious whether they’re remotely capable of leading themselves anywhere except into yet another disaster. But in order to save Amaranthe he’ll have to trust them anyway – with not just their own continued existence, but with the life of the son he doesn’t dare acknowledge.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire, out of the torture chamber and into a subterranean sub rosa meeting to overthrow the empire. With deadly alien machines chasing them every step of the way.

It’s all in a day’s work – at least until the ocean crashes in.

Escape Rating A: It’s been 5 years since I read the previous book in this series, but as soon as I started this one (admittedly after re-reading my reviews of the previous four) I fell right back into this world and was just as caught up in the interpersonal dynamics of this terrifically odd assortment of people as I was back then.

Not that I’m planning to wait another five years to read the next books in the series. I was reminded of just how much I loved this gang and now that I’m back I can’t wait to keep going. I will say that now that I’m listening to books more again I really wish that the next books had been recorded (the first five have been) so that I could listen while I drive and workout. The level of snarkitude of these folks would make this a perfect series to distract me on the treadmill.

The heart of this series is the character of Amaranthe Lokdon herself. As one of the members of her crew puts it, Amaranthe is the glue that holds the group together. None of them would have ever had much to do with one another, but over the course of the series they have run into her and gotten themselves stuck both to her and to each other.

This particular entry in the series has the challenge of keeping Amaranthe’s “glue” front and center while she herself is a tortured captive elsewhere and Sicarius is tracking her captors so that he can rescue her – if he can get there in time.

With Amaranthe and Sicarius out of the immediate picture, the perspective on the remaining gang’s part of the story shifts to Maldynado the disowned nobleman whose family just might be behind the conspiracy to overthrow the empire. Not that Maldynado knows anything about what they’re doing – they disowned him years ago.

With his reputation as a fop – a reputation he encourages at every turn – Maldynado finds it difficult to take charge of anything. His actions in this story give him a surprising chance to step out from Amaranthe’s comfortable shadow to stand in the light for a change – a position from which he generally gets shot at. A not uncommon scenario for everyone in Amaranthe’s orbit!

This is a story that takes its turns into dark places – and into the backgrounds of more of its characters in ways that explore what brought them to these circumstances. At the same time, it’s a roller coaster ride of a story that never lets up until the train – in this case the steamroller – pulls into a sharp breaking stop at the end of the ride.

But the fun’s not over yet. There’s more to come in Forged in Blood. There’s no way I’m waiting five more years to see what happens next!