Review: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

Review: The City of Brass by S.A. ChakrabortyThe City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy, #1) by S.A. Chakraborty
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Daevabad Trilogy #1
Pages: 528
Published by Harper Voyager on November 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass--a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

My Review:

I picked up The City of Brass because this was the book that its publishers were the most extremely enthused about in my research for the Library Journal SF/Fantasy Spotlight article. Now that I’ve read it, I understand completely. However, as I read The City of Brass, it also kept reminding me of other stories. It just took me awhile to figure out exactly which stories.

There’s certainly an element of The Goblin Emperor in one side of this story, as Prince Ali feels very much like a young prince who stands very much outside the system and whom the power-that-be expect to consume alive at their earliest opportunity. And Nahri is certainly every bit as much a “fish out of water” (as bizarre as that pun becomes in context) as Maia ever was. Possibly even more, as Maia at least knows the court exists, even if he never expects to rule it. For Nahri, Daevabad is a city of out the vague mists of legend, and legends that she doesn’t even believe in.

But Daevabad feels like something out of a twisted, extended version of Scheherazade’s tales of the Thousand and One Arabian Nights. With just a little bit of Persian, Indian and other mythologies thrown in for spice. And bodies. But the story that our heroine Nahri finds herself in the middle of has been going on, not for 1,001 nights, but for for millennia.

The story begins with scam artist Nahri sizing up her next mark. And it ends with Nahri sizing up her next mark. But in between – it’s magic.

At the beginning, Nahri is a con artist, scaping together a living on the streets of 18th century Cairo, trying to blend in. But Nahri has just a little bit of magic, something that she conceals at every turn, because its a gift that will either get her eaten alive, or killed, or possibly both.

Nahri can heal. I don’t mean that she’s a doctor, although she sometimes operates on the fringes of what passed for medicine in her time and place. I mean that she herself heals miraculously. Any wounds that she receives heal themselves in almost the blink of an eye.

But she can also heal others. It takes will and concentration, but she can cure almost anything by visualizing the body the way it should be. It’s a gift. And also a curse, because Nahri does not know how or why she has this gift.

She doesn’t believe in magic, but a lot of people do. So Nahri dabbles, just a bit, in scams that look like magic to others. And that’s what gets her in big, big trouble.

Because instead of “calming the spirit” of an afflicted child, Nahri accidentally calls up an evil spirit, an ifrit, who wants to eat her and her magic before it proceeds to rampage through the streets of Cairo. And in the wake of the ifrit follows a djinn who vowed to serve and protect Nahri’s family over a millennia ago.

But djinn are not exactly what Nahri thinks they are. And neither are ifrit. And most especially, neither is she.

The City of Brass is the opening chapter in Nahri’s journey to discover who and what she is, and where she belongs. And it is absolutely captivating from beginning to cliffhanging end.

Escape Rating A+: At the beginning, I said that The City of Brass reminded me of 2014’s marvelous The Goblin Emperor. While the fantasy settings derive from rather different origins, the flavor at the heart of the story feels the same. They are both stories of outsiders who find themselves thrust into a cut-throat world of high stakes politics, where everyone around them has hidden agendas buried under hidden agendas. And where everyone who surrounds them intends to keep them in the pawn position, subservient to others, lost and alone, and barely one step ahead of being killed by their own ignorance or innocence.

Both stories feature people who are playing a game that they do not initially understand with stakes that are always deadly, not just for themselves, but for anyone around them who gets caught in the crossfire.

And ironically, they are both personages who should have the ultimate power in their universes, but don’t because of circumstances outside of their control. And both of them find themselves subverting the system from within just to survive long enough to figure out their next move.

If they have one.

The story that begins with The City of Brass is both a story of hidden magical kingdoms and the story of two young people who discover that power is much “realer” than belief, and that for those in power, the ends always justify the means.

While the story follows Nahri and her transit from the human world to the kingdoms of the djinn, it is at its heart a very political story. Nahri’s existence has the ability to upset the balance of power between the ruling djinn family and the mixed blood people they exploit at every turn. Every faction plans to take advantage of her presence, whether with her consent or not.

We watch her struggle to make, find and understand her place throughout the story. And then, marvelously, just as this chapter comes to a close, we finally see her grasp the reins of her own destiny, as only she knows how.

I can’t wait to see what happens next in The Kingdom of Copper next year. Nahri is a heroine to watch – and cheer for.

Review: Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire

Review: Hiddensee by Gregory MaguireHiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fairy tales, fantasy, historical fiction, mythology
Pages: 304
Published by William Morrow on October 31st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From the author of the beloved #1 New York Times bestseller Wicked, the magical story of a toymaker, a nutcracker, and a legend remade . . .

Gregory Maguire returns with an inventive novel inspired by a timeless holiday legend, intertwining the story of the famous Nutcracker with the life of the mysterious toy maker named Drosselmeier who carves him.

Hiddensee: An island of white sandy beaches, salt marshes, steep cliffs, and pine forests north of Berlin in the Baltic Sea, an island that is an enchanting bohemian retreat and home to a large artists' colony—a wellspring of inspiration for the Romantic imagination . . .

Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to Wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffmann—the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann's mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier—the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky's fairy tale ballet—who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.

But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults—a fascination with death and the afterlife—and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless? Ultimately, Hiddensee offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress on a dark winter evening, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized, has something precious to share.

My Review:

Hiddensee is about the creation of a myth. Or perhaps it’s a myth itself, and just includes the creation of an entirely different myth.

And it’s a story wrapped around a fairy tale. It begins with the Brothers’ Grimm, off in the distance, collecting folktales for future sanitization into fairy tales. It ends with a fairy tale, the story of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, just in time for this Christmas season.

But mostly Hiddensee is the story of a boy, who begins as a foundling in the midst of a folktale, and who drifts through his long life to become the toymaker who makes the Nutcracker, and gives it to his goddaughter.

Dirk, who is initially just Dirk and not even Dirk Drosselmeyer, spends his early years in a remote woodcutter’s cabin in the Bavarian forest, raised by an “old man” and an “old woman” who he knows are not his parents.

It’s a simple life that comes to an abrupt end, when it is time for the old man to teach the boy the job of woodcutting. Or so it seems. It is possible that either the boy killed the old man by accident, or the old man killed the boy on purpose. But either way, someone was supposed to end up dead.

Instead, young Dirk begins his travels with an adventure. On his way to the nearest village he finds himself caught up in the story of the “Little Lost Forest”, forced to choose between order and chaos, between life as a hermit or life among people, and between the mythological figures of Pan and the Pythia. It’s a decision that colors his entire life – even if he spends most of it never really making a choice of his own.

Until the Christmas night, late in his long and often passive life, when he gives his dying goddaughter the gift of the original Nutcracker. The old toy contains a piece of Pan’s knife – a tiny bit of magic and the start of his own adventures, so long ago.

In the magic of Christmas, or perhaps the magic of the Nutcracker, or even a little bit of both, young Clara witnesses the great battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King – and her life is saved.

Escape Rating C+: I have a ton of mixed feelings about this story. The Nutcracker, of course, is a holiday classic. But I have to confess that I am not as familiar with the story as I might be.

And I’ll also confess that I have never read Wicked, which may not have been the author’s first book, but which is certainly the book that made his reputation for taking stories that everyone knows and giving readers a look behind the curtain to see what happened before the story. Or after it. Or while the more familiar story is going on elsewhere.

Hiddensee certainly fits in that tradition. And readers who either love the story of The Nutcracker, or who are fans of this author’s work, will probably eat this one up with a spoon.

As a story on its own, Hiddensee didn’t quite gel for this reader. Dirk may be the protagonist of the book, but he is a character who has little to no agency in his own life. He doesn’t act. He doesn’t move the action forward. He drifts, and things happen to him and around him. He reacts, and sometimes he doesn’t react very much. Certainly never very forcefully.

But, as little as Dirk takes any control of his own story, the story of what happened to him definitely pulled me along. Each individual chapter felt like a tiny story of its own, and I felt compelled to read from one to the next in spite of the passivity of the hero of the story.

However, I got to the end and wondered if there shouldn’t have been more. The Nutcracker tale itself, while it is the crescendo to the entire tale, also felt a bit tacked on. It’s not Dirk’s story at this point, it’s Clara’s. And there is a certain sense that it was all a dream. Or that it all happened in a dream.

It’s not quite real, which seems true for much of Dirk’s life.

There were so many fascinating ideas that were briefly touched on within the confines of this story. I’d love to have seen more about the Little Lost Forest and the Pan and the Pythia. It felt like there was a terrific myth in there that always hovered just out of reach. Just as it was for Dirk during his life.

Perhaps that was the point. Hiddensee is a haunting tale, but I just expected more.

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Review: Halls of Law by V.M. Escalada

Review: Halls of Law by V.M. EscaladaHalls of Law by V.M. Escalada
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Faraman Prophecy #1
Pages: 496
Published by DAW Books on August 1st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The Faraman Polity was created by the first Luqs, and has been ruled for generations by those of the Luqs bloodline. It is a burgeoning empire maintained by the combined efforts of the standing military force and the Talents of the Halls of Law. While the military preserves and protects, it is the Halls' Talents—those gifted from birth with magical abilities—who serve as the agents and judges of the Law. For no one can successfully lie to a Talent. Not only can they read people by the briefest of physical contacts, but they can also read objects, able to find information about anyone who has ever come into direct contact with that object. Thanks to the Talents and the career military, the Polity has long remained a stable and successful society. But all that is about to change.
Seventeen-year-old Kerida Nast has always wanted a career in the military, just like the rest of her family. So when her Talent is discovered, and she knows she'll have to spend the rest of her life as a psychic for the Halls of Law, Ker isn't happy about it. Anyone entering the Halls must give up all personal connection with the outside world, losing their family and friends permanently. Just as Kerida is beginning to reconcile herself to her new role, the Polity is invaded by strangers from Halia, who begin a systematic campaign of destruction against the Halls, killing every last Talent they can find.
Kerida manages to escape, falling in with Tel Cursar, a young soldier fleeing the battle, which saw the deaths of the royal family. Having no obvious heir to the throne, no new ruler to rally behind, the military leaders will be divided, unable to act quickly enough to save the empire. And with the Halls being burned to the ground, and the Talents slaughtered, the Rule of Law will be shattered.
To avoid the invaders, Kerida and Tel are forced to enter old mining tunnels in a desperate attempt to carry word of the invaders to Halls and military posts that have not yet been attacked. But the tunnels hide a dangerous secret, a long-hidden colony of Feelers—paranormal outcasts shut away from the world for so long they are considered mythical. These traditional enemies of the Halls of Law welcome Kerida, believing she fulfills a Prophecy they were given centuries before by the lost race of griffins. With the help of these new allies, Kerida and Tel stand a chance of outdistancing the invaders and reaching their own troops. However, that is only the start of what will become a frantic mission to learn whether any heir to the throne remains, no matter how distant in the bloodline. Should they discover such a person, they will have to find the heir before the Halian invaders do. For if the Halians capture the future Luqs, it will spell the end of the Faraman Polity and the Rule of Law.

My Review:

If you are looking for a new epic fantasy series to sink your reading teeth into, and where you can get in at the very beginning without having to read through a huge pile of doorstop-sized books, Halls of Law is definitely a winner.

It’s also an epic fantasy for the 21st century, where we have an absolutely marvelous heroine’s journey from the outset, as well as a hero’s journey that looks like it will take us to some fascinating places.

Our point of view character is Kerida Nast. All her life she’s wanted to be a soldier, just like everyone else in her family since pretty much the dawn of time. But unfortunately for Kerida, and it looks like fortunately for the rest of Faraman Polity, Ker is a Talent, definitely with that capital T, and Talents are special.

Ker turns out to be a lot more special than most.

Talents in the Faraman Polity are psychics, born with a gift that seems to be a lot like psychometry. When a Talent touches an object, they can read the entire history of that object, AND, most importantly AND, they can read the current status and even whereabouts of all the people who have been involved with that object. And they can read people the same way.

No one can hide the truth from a Talent. Which has made the Talents, over time, the instruments and enforcers of the rule of law. They are the law.

But in order to be impartial enforcers of the law, Talents are separated from the rest of the Polity. Once their gift is discovered they are taken from their families, not just for training, but for life, and forced to cut all ties to the rest of the world and renounce all titles and inheritances.

Ker finds it a cage, sometimes gilded, sometimes lined with shit. Or at least with encrusted oatmeal. But just as she realizes that she can make a new and good life for herself within the ranks of the Talented, disaster strikes, and she is forced to combine her new abilities with her old skills as a soldier.

And that’s where this utterly marvelous story truly takes wing. On the back of a griffin.

Escape Rating A-: This is a terrific story, but I have to say that it isn’t really anything truly new in the realms of epic fantasy. For those who have read a fair bit in the genre, there are plenty of recognizable tropes. However, those tropes are put together in some unusual ways.

Throwing more than a bit of The Handmaid’s Tale into a completely epic fantasy setting gives the story many of its chills, and makes the evil that our good Kerida fights particularly malevolent. Her enemies, the Halia, seem to embody the worst of everything that makes Men’s Rights Activists so foul, while embodying their deep misogyny into an epic fantasy setting and adding a few additional twists to make things that much scarier, and the stakes that much higher for our heroes.

But in the best heroine’s journey tradition, the story follows Kerida as she discovers who she is and what she is capable of. She finds herself at the center of events that will not just hopefully drive out the enemy, but also re-shape her world for the better. If she survives – and succeeds.

An outcome that is never certain. When Halls of Law ends, Ker has merely completed the opening stages of the prophecy that she and her companions must fulfill. And the odds are firmly stacked against them.

I can’t wait to find out happens next!

Reviewer’s Note: V.M. Escalada was billed as a debut author in the material I received for my Library Journal Science Fiction and Fantasy article, Galaxy Quests. I chose to read Halls of Law because the information provided about the book sounded so good, and the book certainly was good. I’m glad I read it. But, and for me this feels like a very big but, V.M. Escalada is not, after all, a debut author. Rather, this is a new pen name for author Violette Malan. I loved her Dhulyn and Parno series, which begins with The Sleeping God. I’m thrilled to have something new by her, I wondered where she went. But a new pen name does not a debut author make, and I feel like I was misled in the materials for that article, and that I, in turn, misled the readers of the article. Next time I’ll do more research.

Review: Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster BujoldPenric's Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #3
Pages: 113
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on August 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
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"Penric's Fox": a Penric & Desdemona novella in the World of the Five Gods. Book 3.

Some eight months after the events of “Penric and the Shaman”, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons.

My Review:

When I saw the announcement earlier this week that there was a new Penric and Desdemona novella, I immediately ran (figuratively, of course) to Amazon to buy a copy, and dropped everything to read it immediately. This series of novellas, set in Lois McMaster Bujold’s World of the Five Gods, are absolutely marvelous treats, every single one. And Penric’s Fox is no exception.

Penric’s Fox, while being the fifth book in the series in publication order, is actually the third book in the series’ internal chronology, taking place, as the blurb says, about eight months after the events in Penric and the Shaman. And it feels like it takes place a few years before the events of Penric’s Mission.

If the above paragraph is a bit confusing, there’s a surefire way to resolve your confusion. Read the series from its marvelous beginning in Penric’s Demon, our first introduction to Penric, his demon Desdemona, and a terrific introduction or re-introduction as the case might be, to the World of the Five Gods.

Penric, with Desdemona’s cooperation and assistance (and occasional snark from the sidelines) becomes a Learned Divine of the White God, Lord Bastard, the “Master of all disasters out of season”. As the series progresses we see Penric, who is a very young man at the beginning of his tale in Penric’s Demon, grow into the change in his fortunes and the unexpected role that has been thrust upon him.

While each of his adventures is a bit different, in this particular story Penric finds himself in the midst of a murder investigation. And for once, in spite of his somewhat infamous bad luck, he is the investigator and not the suspected perpetrator. Although, again because of his infamous bad luck, he very nearly becomes one of the victims.

Penric and his friend, the shaman Inglis, are called to the scene of a murder, as is their friend Oswyl, one of the local investigators. This case needs all of them. The woman who was definitely murdered by the two arrows in her back, was, like Penric, a Learned Divine of the Lord Bastard. So not only is she dead, but her demon is either dispersed, meaning equally dead, or missing, having jumped into the nearest available host, quite possibly but hopefully not the killer.

The demons in this universe carry the accumulated wisdom of all their previous hosts, somewhat like the Trill symbionts in Star Trek. The demons death would be a great loss, equal in many ways to the murder of the human host, and just as tragic.

Inglis the shaman turns out to be necessary to the puzzle because the evidence eventually begins to suggest that the demon jumped into the body of a vixen fox, which may have driven both the demon and the fox more than a bit mad. And of course the local investigator is there to figure out who shot the arrows, murdered the woman, and why.

It’s a tangle, that only gets more tangled as the three investigate. What was the motive for the murder? Learned Divines have no property, and the woman’s jewelry and purse were still on her person. She might have been murdered in the hopes that her demon would jump to her killer, but not when death is delivered from that great a distance. Or the killer may have been after the demon’s death, and the woman was just collateral damage.

Finding out just who, just why, and just how, will take the combined skills and talents of everyone involved – whatever their powers and whoever their protectors.

Escape Rating A-: This is a quick and absolutely marvelous read. The only thing keeping this one from being an A instead of an A- is that it does require previous knowledge of the series. Also, while it is complete within itself, I just plain want more. So there.

There’s a part of me that wants to simply squee at this point, but that’s not terribly useful to anyone else.

One of the things I love about this series, and this is a bit meta, is that the author has created a religious system that is both well thought out and actually seems to work. Religion is usually glossed over in SF and Fantasy, and mostly seems to either incorporate or bash real-world religions and their adherents. The Five Gods in the World of the Five Gods are not myths, they really do real things in this world. It’s a theology that actually functions. And it’s different in some really neat ways, starting from the personification of the Lord Bastard himself.

But the things that make this series work so very well are the characters of Penric and Desdemona themselves. Penric’s perspective is always interesting, frequently humorous, and occasionally more than a bit ass-backward. He’s often the fool who rushes in where those angels fear to tread, but at the same time, he cares so much and tries so hard. Desdemona, in spite of not having a body of her own, truly is a separate character. She acts as a combination of big sister, mother hen, conscience and confessor, in equal portions. Instead of treating the idea of a female demon in a man’s body as a joke, which could have happened and would have spoiled everything, they are truly partners, and it’s wonderful.

It is not necessary to have read the Chalion books, from which the World of the Five Gods derives, to enjoy Penric. If you’ve ever wanted to dip your toes into epic fantasy, or see if the wonderful worlds of Lois McMaster Bujold are your cup of tea, Penric is a great place to start.

Review: Assassin’s Price by L.E. Modesitt Jr + Author Q&A + Giveaway

Review: Assassin’s Price by L.E. Modesitt Jr + Author Q&A + GiveawayAssassin's Price (Imager Portfolio, #11) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Imager Portfolio #11
Pages: 512
Published by Tor Books on July 25th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Assassin's Price is the eleventh book in the bestselling, epic fantasy series the Imager Portfolio by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. and the third book in a story arc which began with Madness in Solidar and Treachery's Tools.
Six years have passed since the failed uprising of the High Holders, and the man behind the conspiracy is where the rex and Maitre Alastar can keep an eye on him.
Charyn has come of age and desperately wants to learn more so he can become an effective rex after his father but he s kept at a distance by the rex. So Charyn sets out to educate himself circumspectly.
When Jarolian privateers disrupt Solidar s shipping, someone attempts to kill Charyn s younger brother as an act of protest. Threatening notes following in the wake of acts of violence against the rex and his family, demanding action build more ships or expect someone to die.
The Imager Portfolio#1 Imager / #2 Imager s Challenge / #3 Imager s Intrigue / #4 Scholar / #5 Princeps / #6 Imager s Battalion / #7 Antiagon Fire / #8 Rex Regis / #9 Madness in Solidar / #10 Treachery s Tools / #11 Assassin s Price (forthcoming)
Other series by this author: The Saga of RecluceThe Corean ChroniclesThe Spellsong CycleThe Ghost BooksThe Ecolitan Matter
"

My Review:

After two book failures, I gave into temptation and picked up Assassin’s Price about a month before I’m scheduled to review it. And I’m very glad I did. Just like all of the books in the Imager Portfolio (starting points are Imager, Scholar or Madness in Solidar) this one sucked me in and didn’t let go until the very end.

And now, as usual, I’m stuck waiting a year until the next one comes out. Because this story definitely isn’t over. Thank goodness.

Assassin’s Price takes place six years after the equally marvelous Treachery’s Tools, but this entry in the series switches perspectives, and that’s part of what makes it work so well.

At the end of Treachery’s Tools, Maitre Alastar had decisively ended the threat to the Collegium and to the rule of Rex Lorien. But six years is a long time, especially in politics, and people forget. Sometimes willfully.

But this isn’t Alastar’s story. Nor is it Rex Lorien’s. Just as with all of the previous books in this series, this is a story about coming into power, and specifically about the coming into power of someone who has already come of age.

Rex Lorien’s oldest son Charyn will be Rex someday, but that day is not supposed to be yet. He’s a young man in waiting for an event that he hopes will not come soon, because they only way he becomes Rex is when his father dies. And in spite of Rex Lorien’s authoritarian grip on the Regial household, he is doing the very best he can in surprisingly limited circumstances, and he really does love his family – and vice versa. This just isn’t a family where those emotions get expressed all that often.

But Charyn is old enough that playing the self-indulgent and over-indulged prince has begun to pall. He needs purpose. And as much as he doesn’t want to be Rex anytime soon, he is tired of being left out of all decisions and barred from any information about the state of the kingdom he will someday inherit.

So he starts cultivating his own sources, and in a direction from which his somewhat paranoid father is unlikely to feel threatened. And he hopes to learn things that seem to be outside the grasp of entirely too many people. One of the realities of life in Solidar is that the world is changing, not that that isn’t true everywhere all the time. But Charyn lives at a time when the power of the nobility, the major landholders, is slowly fading, while the power of the factors, the merchants and business interests, is very much on the rise.

Charyn gets himself a seat on the Solidaran equivalent of the Mercantile Exchange. It gives him the perfect opportunity to learn what factors do, and what they don’t. This knowledge becomes critical when an anonymous assassin begins threatening the Regial family and their holdings in protest of the Rex’ slow build up of a naval fleet to protect shipping interests. The anonymous assassin represents himself (herself, itself) as being one of the factors.

But as the outer tendrils of the plot come to light, it becomes clear that whoever or whatever is behind the threats has been planning their campaign for months if not years – and that they have sources within the Regial palace itself.

The Rex is dead, long live the Rex. Suddenly Charyn is the one on the very hot Regial seat, trying to work with councilors and advisers who seem to be certain that they don’t have to pay any attention to what he says or does, because they believe he’s not going to live all that long.

Charyn races to uncover the plot by any means necessary, before it takes his life and plunges his country into chaos.

Escape Rating A-: The first quarter of this book, while interesting, was not the stuff of high drama. In the beginning, we see Charyn learning, trying to discover a purpose and a way of keeping himself intellectually engaged. Also his father, Rex Lorien, doesn’t exactly show himself in the best light. He’s paranoid and very authoritarian in ways that grate. But like the old joke, you’re not paranoid if someone really is out to get you, and someone really was out to get him. It turns out that he’s not a bad man, just frustrated and overwhelmed. And then dead.

The pace really picks up when Charyn unexpectedly becomes Rex. Once he takes center stage, the story clips along at breakneck pace. Although relatively little time elapses, Charyn is under siege and under threat from the moment he becomes Rex. His realization that his councilors don’t care what concessions they grant him is because they are all certain he will be assassinated in short order is chilling.

And yet, he builds allies and keeps trying, not necessarily to win them over to his side, but to convince them that he’s going to live more than long enough for being on his side to matter. It’s an uphill battle, but a fascinating one.

Rex Regis by L E Modesitt JrAlthough this is part of the Imager Portfolio, the imagers themselves do not feature greatly in it. In this story, the imagers are doing what their founder, Quaeryt envisioned, not being a power themselves but keeping the balance between all the factions, between the Rex, the high holders and the factors. And as Quaeryt envisioned and Alastar exemplified, the way they do that best is by keeping good Rexes alive and functioning.

But speaking of Quaeryt (and I believe that the character pictured on the cover of Rex Regis IS Quaeryt and not the Rex), the hero of the middle five books in this series from Scholar to Rex Regis, it was good to hear him spoken of again, and to have his legacy recognized. Tying this present story back to some of his (and his redoubtable wife Vaelora’s) actions was a very nice touch and a way of setting this piece of the story into proper sequence. For readers who start with Madness in Solidar, knowing who Quaeryt was and what he did isn’t necessary to enjoy this part of the story, but the books are marvelous for anyone who loves politically charged epic fantasy.

This is a series that, as a whole, manages to do an excellent job of making political machinations endlessly fascinating. In this world, politics is always war conducted by other means, and it’s always a race to see if the hero, in this case Charyn, can manage to outmaneuver his enemies before that always impending war breaks out.

But speaking of the war, once things get settled within Solidar, it looks like Charyn will have some external enemies to deal with. And I can hardly wait.

Quick Q&A with author L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Marlene: So often, epic fantasy is the realm of coming of age stories, where the destined hero or heroine comes of age and into their destiny during the course of the story. The Imager Portfolio is different in that regard. None of the heroes, not Rhenn, not Quaeryt, certainly not Alastar or even Charyn feel like destined heroes. They’re just the right person at the right time. And, this part has always fascinated me, these are explicitly not coming of age stories. All the heroes are adults at the beginning of their adventures. Possibly relatively young adults, but not “young adults” as the term is generally meant. They are grown ups who already have a life mapped out for themselves when their circumstances change and they are suddenly thrust into power they did not expect. So the stories are coming into power stories that are explicitly not coming of age stories. How did that come about? Was that a conscious decision, or did things just evolve that way over the course of the series? 

Lee: I’d have to say that the first three books about Rhenn came about in the way they did as a combination of autobiographical factors and an underlying philosophy/concern of mine, in that I’m not much of a believer in “destiny from birth.” That’s because my own life, and the lives of many other people I’ve known, took radically different paths from what anyone could have predicted. When I was truly a young adult, I very much wanted to be painter and a poet. I even had a painting place in a small scholastic art competition, but the plain fact is that while I have excellent gross motor control, my fine motor control is a bit shaky, perhaps from a mild case of polio as a child, and I realized that my artistic conceptions were far beyond my physical capabilities. Then there was the fact that when I graduated from college, my family-endorsed semi-career plan, similar in a way to what Rhenn’s family planned for him, to go to law school and join my father’s law firm, ran into an immediate and absolute roadblock. There was a war in Vietnam in progress, and rather than let the government decide my fate, I went through Navy OCS and emerged a very green ensign, assigned to small amphibious craft, a duty I detested so much that I volunteered for flight training in the middle of a war, a rash decision definitely not calculated to maximize survival. In short, I never got back to the “family plan” because my Navy experience as a search and rescue pilot made me realize several things, but especially that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Yet later on, ironically, in my nearly twenty years in Washington, virtually all the political and consulting jobs I held were the type of positions usually held by lawyers. That might be one reason why I’m a great believer in irony.

All of those experiences also conveyed to me the fact that no sane person ever sets out to be a hero, but that some people do amazing deeds, when required by their place in life and their background. There’s definitely some of me in each of the main protagonists in the Imager Portfolio. So… the summary of this long answer is that the structure was planned, but heavily influenced by autobiographical experiences of various sorts.

Marlene: Now that I’ve finished Assassin’s Price, I’m waiting breathlessly for the next one. Any idea what it and it’s title will be? And when?

Lee: I’m currently working on the sequel to Assassin’s Price, which also features Charyn, but since I’m only about halfway through, I’m not ready to say much yet, but that means, if I finish on schedule, it won’t be available until late in 2018 or sometime in 2019. And so far I haven’t settled on a title. In the meantime, there are two new Recluce books on the way, The Mongrel Mage, coming out this October, and its immediate sequel, Outcasts of Order, scheduled for release next June.

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

I absolutely adore this series, so I am very happy indeed that, thanks to Tor Books, I am able to give away one copy of Assassin’s Price to a lucky US/Canadian commenter.

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Review: The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

Review: The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. FlynnThe Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, time travel
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Perennial on May 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Perfect for fans of Jane Austen, this engrossing debut novel offers an unusual twist on the legacy of one of the world's most celebrated and beloved authors: two researchers from the future are sent back in time to meet Jane and recover a suspected unpublished novel.
London, 1815: Two travelers—Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane—arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem, but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters—a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team from the future to “go back,” their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.
Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common besides the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry.
But diagnosing Jane’s fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the continuous convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile the woman she is with the proper lady nineteenth-century society expects her to be. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history intact and exactly as they found it…however heartbreaking that may prove.
 
 

My Review:

It’s a very big butterfly, and it is impossible to keep it from flapping its wings for an entire year.

The problem with time travel is that it is incredibly difficult to spend any time at all in the past and not change something – possibly even something significant. But that’s the dilemma that faces researchers Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane. Their job, which they have chosen to accept, is to go back to the England of 1815 and quite seriously meddle with the life of Jane Austen – but leave no trace of their meddling.

This is truly an impossible mission. And so it proves. But the story isn’t in what Rachel and Liam change about Jane Austen, it’s what changes about themselves in the process.

Time travel always involves a bit of handwavium. In this case, it’s a scientific process that sends them back to a specific place and time, armed with the knowledge (and the money) that it is hoped are necessary to inveigle their way into Jane Austen’s circle, her life, and wherever she stashed her unpublished manuscript. Oh, and by the way, discover what mysterious ailment killed her.

That last bit is Rachel’s job. In her own time (possibly the late 21st or early 22nd century), Rachel is a doctor. But in 1815, all she can be is Liam’s spinster sister, while he pretends to be the doctor. Lucky for both of them if not for Jane, medicine was not all that far advanced. As a well educated man, with a little bit of coaching from Rachel, Liam can fake it. And he does. While Liam is faking being a well-to-do doctor and man about town, Rachel has the much harder task of pretending to be a woman of the early 19th century, shy, retiring, unambitious and unintelligent. She is not very good at it, and wonders just how smart women managed not to go completely insane.

In spite of many, many roadblocks, both expected and otherwise, Rachel and Liam do manage to accomplish their task. Mostly. Only to discover that it wasn’t quite what they thought it was. And now that they are back in their own time, neither are they.

Escape Rating A-: For anyone who enjoys time travel stories, this one is an absolute treat. It will also remind some readers of Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog. There is a bit of that sense of madcap adventure, but not too much, as well as the difficulty of determining what about the past can be meddled with and what can’t. At the same time, the stakes don’t feel too high, or the situation too dire, as it was in Willis’ Doomsday Book.

In some ways, the task before Rachel and Liam seems like a fool’s errand, or an absolutely impossibly unresolvable conflict. To get close enough to the somewhat reclusive Jane Austen to have access to a document she kept well-hidden without affecting the lives of anyone around her is improbable from the outset. It seems impossible to get that close and not change something, and also not to leave evidence of themselves somewhere in the Austen family correspondence.

It is also beyond imagining to live an entire year of one’s life in the circumstances that Rachel and Liam insert themselves into without their coming out of it changed, whether the world they left behind (ahead?) changes or not. And so it proves. And that’s a big part of what I can’t stop thinking about.

The world is what the world is because of what has happened before we came into it. While we may discover documentation of history that we did not previously know, the moving finger has already writ that history, and the effects of whatever happened have already been built into our world. If there are effects of discovering the formerly hidden information (the recent discovery of Richard III’s body comes to mind) that discovery doesn’t change anything written or believed or assumed about Richard III in the past. Shakespeare still used him as the epitome of evil. Future biographies will be affected, but past ones won’t re-write themselves.

That’s not the case in Rachel and Liam’s world. When the past changes, everything between then and their now re-writes itself. In that world, history is a shared delusion, just like paper money. It is so because we all believe it is so, and not because the piece of paper has an intrinsic value. In their world, history changes and everything adapts around it. That particular aspect reminds me more of The Eyre Affair than time-travel. Change the source and everything that derives from the source shifts to match – no matter how disruptive those shifts might be.

There’s also an attitude that it is possible to change the past and know, more or less, what the effects will be. I end up wondering about that. While there are some cases in their history that seem like there’s nowhere to go but up, how can one be certain? One of the short stories in John Scalzi’s Miniatures deals with this theme, as does Elleander Morning by Jerry Yulsman, a book I read long ago and have never been able to forget.

One part of the story that seems all-too-real and heartbreaking concerns the relationship between Rachel and Liam and the changes wrought both to themselves and to their past by their actions in 1815. We are the sum total of our experiences. The child, and everything that happens to that child, makes the man, or the woman. But they go back in time and experience a year together that does not happen for anyone else. They are both forced to play a part, and of necessity become some of that part in order to survive. At the same time, they are aware, and they are the only people aware, of the nature and the sheer magnitude of the lies that they are living.

But when they come back, the world they return to is not the same. They may be the sum total of their experiences, but the world they return to produced different versions of them than the ones they actually are. How does a person reconcile that? Is it better to remember, or is it better to conform and be, as a consequence, comfortable? And how does one decide which reality to accept, and which to reject?

This is the question that continues to haunt me, long after I closed the final page.

Review: Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold + Giveaway

Review: Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold + GiveawayMira's Last Dance (Penric and Desdemona #4) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #4
Pages: 87
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on February 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
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In this sequel to the novella “Penric’s Mission”, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas. In the town of Sosie the fugitive party encounters unexpected delays, and even more unexpected opportunities and hazards, as the courtesan Mira of Adria, one of the ten dead women whose imprints make up the personality of the chaos demon Desdemona, comes to the fore with her own special expertise.

Fourth novella in the “Penric and Desdemona” series.

My Review:

Mira’s last dance is very nearly Penric’s undoing, and not in any of the ways that the reader, Penric, or his current companions might have originally thought.

Penric, as introduced in Penric’s Demon, is a Learned Divine of the Bastard’s Order. Lord Bastard is the “master of all disasters out of season” and one of the five gods who are worshiped in this world. While the Father, the Son, the Mother, the Daughter and the Bastard may be deities, do not mistake them for either theoretical or hands off types. They are real in this world, they can manifest to their worshipers (and sometimes to their doubters) and they perform real acts in and on the world.

Penric started on the road to becoming the man he is now by the agency of one of those unexpected disasters. One day on the road, ten years ago, he encountered a dying old woman far from any other assistance. When the old woman died, Penric was the only one around. And he found himself the host to Learned Ruchia’s chaos demon, making him suddenly both a Divine of the Lord Bastard, and a practicing sorcerer who needed a lot of practice.

His life has never been the same, but it certainly has been an adventure. Penric’s current circumstances are no different.

Mira’s Last Dance (the book) takes up immediately where Penric’s Mission, thoroughly off the rails, left off. Penric, along with the exiled General Adelis and Adelis’ widowed sister Nikys, are on their way from Cedonia to the neighboring country of Orban. They rightfully fear that agents of Cedonia are hot on their trail.

Penric’s original mission to whisk Adelis away from Cedonia to Adria has gone completely bust. Penric, his patron and Adelis were all in the midst of someone else’s machinations, and not to their benefit.

And poor Penric has fallen in love with Nikys. Nikys is caught in the middle between finally doing something that she wants to do, and continuing to do her duty by following and caring for, Adelis. Penric thinks he’s still trying to convince at least Nikys if not Adelis to change course for Adria. Mostly he’s trying to convince himself.

In the middle of all this mess the very motley trio is forced to go to ground in the small town of Sosie. Even more unfortunately, the only place that Penric can convince to take them in is a whorehouse with a very bad case of lice.

That’s where Mira comes in. And Desdemona. Desdemona is Penric’s chaos demon. Up until Penric, all of Desdemona’s 12 hosts have been female, although the lioness and mare don’t contribute much to Penric and Desdemona’s internal, and often heated, discussions. But one of those 10 women was Mira, a famous courtesan over a century ago. And when Penric needs to disguise all of them to get them out of town, it’s Mira the courtesan who comes to his rescue.

Leading him right into the arms of the general of the local military garrison, who can’t take no for an answer. And Nikys can’t decide whether she can live with what Penric has done to captivate the general – whatever that might be.

Penric may be in love with Nikys, and Nikys may be in love with Penric, but she just isn’t sure can live with him and all 12 of the voices in his head – or the things they drive him to do.

Escape Rating A-: My one complaint about this series is that each of the stories is just too short. I’m always left wanting more, and knowing it will be months before I get any.

As much as I enjoy Penric as a character, and I do very much, part of the fascination with this series is the number of very interesting issues that it manages to scoop up as it goes. This series is one of the very few in fantasy that deals with its internal theology without being preachy or judgmental. And while being very entertaining and still exploring complex questions of morality. Again, without being preachy in the slightest.

This particular entry in the series also delves a bit into both gender identity and people’s perceptions of it. Penric is, without a doubt, a cisgender (as we would term it today), heterosexual male. But the 10 discernible voices in his head, his demon, are or were all female. When he needs to play the part of the female courtesan, he lets them not just help him, but take over and direct his actions. Not because he can’t bear to play the woman, but because he just doesn’t know how.

We never do discover exactly how he kept that general entertained, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is everyone else’s reactions to Penric’s actions. And while Adelis feels the expected shudders at Penric’s expertise in pretending to be a woman, it’s Nikys reactions that matter to the story. And those reactions are quite interestingly nuanced.

Because the novellas in this series are short, it is easy to read them from the beginning. It’s also necessary, as the stories layer on top of one another, making the world, and Penric’s perspective of it, more complex as it goes.

Also, unlike the first two books in this series, Penric’s Demon and Penric and the Shaman, the story in Mira’s Last Dance as well as Penric’s Mission which immediately preceded it, are not complete in themselves. Mira’s Last Dance comes to a reasonable break, but it doesn’t really feel like an ending. The action has paused, but there is so obviously more to come. I hope it comes soon.

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

For the final day of my Blogo-Birthday week, I am giving away a copy of the complete (so far) Penric and Desdemona series to one lucky commenter. This series is ebook only, so the prize will come from either Amazon, or B&N. I have followers all over, so if you have a way to accept an ebook gift from one of those etailers, you are welcome to enter. And thank you for celebrating my Blogo-Birthday with me!

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Review: The Island Deception by Dan Koboldt + Giveaway

Review: The Island Deception by Dan Koboldt + GiveawayThe Island Deception by Dan Koboldt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy, portal fantasy
Series: Gateways to Alissia #2
Pages: 352
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. But what happens after you step through a portal to another world, well…
For stage magician Quinn Bradley, he thought his time in Alissia was over. He’d done his job for the mysterious company CASE Global Enterprises, and now his name is finally on the marquee of one of the biggest Vegas casinos. And yet, for all the accolades, he definitely feels something is missing. He can create the most amazing illusions on Earth, but he’s also tasted true power. Real magic.
He misses it.
Luckily—or not—CASE Global is not done with him, and they want him to go back. The first time, he was tasked with finding a missing researcher. Now, though, he has another task:
Help take Richard Holt down.
It’s impossible to be in Vegas and not be a gambler. And while Quinn might not like his odds—a wyvern nearly ate him the last time he was in Alissia—if he plays his cards right, he might be able to aid his friends.

I loved last year’s The Rogue Retrieval, and when I finished it I found myself desperately hoping for a sequel that did not appear to be on the horizon. So when the author contacted me to request a review of that sequel I was hoping for but not expecting, I was all in.

Then I looked at the publication date and realized that introducing others to this world would make a perfect Blogo-Birthday giveaway, and the author and publisher graciously agreed. So first you’ll read a bit about what I loved about The Island Deception and the marvelous world of Alissia, and then you’ll have a chance to win a paperback of The Rogue Retrieval or ebooks of both The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception.

But first, my review…

The series title gives just a bit away. The Island Deception is the second book in the Gateways to Alissia, and that’s what this series is, gateway or portal fantasy. There is a gateway, or portal, between our post-industrial, non-magical world and pristine Alissia, which is seems to be just pre-industrial, (our 1600s or 1700s) and definitely magical.

Not just magical in the sense that everyone who travels through the gateway falls in love with the place and wants to stay, but also magical in the sense that magic works.

That’s where our hero comes in. Or came in for The Rogue Retrieval. Quinn Bradley is a stage magician in our world, who discovers in Alissia that the part he has been playing as a magician is surprisingly real. He may be a very late bloomer, but it looks like he might be a real mage. At least on Alissia.

He’s determined to get back there and find out. So when he gets called back to the gateway, this time he’s more than happy to go.

And CASE Global still needs him, because that rogue agent his group was supposed to retrieve in the the first book is still out there, and is gathering power at an astonishing rate. CASE Global’s original concern was that Richard Holt would reveal the existence of advanced technology, and contaminate the world they were studying.

Now it looks like he’s planning to do much more than that. It looks very like he has seized political control in Alissia for the express purpose of preventing CASE Global (and their competitor Raptor Tech) from using their advanced tech to take over Alissia and milk its resources for their own ends.

Or just fight over it until there’s nothing left to save. It doesn’t seem to matter to either of them. But it matters to Richard Holt quite a lot. And, as it turns out, to Quinn Bradley as well.

It looks like it’s time for everyone to decide whether someone else’s bad ends justify their own participation in horrible means, and figure out where their true loyalties lay.

Before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A-: I gave The Rogue Retrieval a B+, because as much as I really enjoyed the ride, the antecedents felt just a bit too clear for me to push it into the A’s. The Island Deception has done a much better job of melding its predecessors into a thing of its own. If you like any of what came before, you’ll like this too, but it also feels more like its own “whole” and not just the sum of its parts.

There’s still a lot of S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador in Alissia, but there are also significant differences. The high-tech world, our world, finds the less developed world in a much more primitive state than happens in Alissia. And the presence of people from the high-tech world is much more exploitative from the outset. It ends up being a place where exiles from our world go to practice deliberately exploitative forms of governance that have been overtly consigned to not the dustbin of history, but the garbage dumpster of history, here. Things like slavery. And apartheid. And the complete subjugation of women, natives, non-Christians and pretty much anyone with brown skin. Or any other color of skin than white.

Alissia, at least for most of our interaction with it, has been left alone to continue its native development, while it gets studied in depth by our world. That appears to be about to change, and could have been predicted to change from the very beginning, but it hasn’t happened yet, and could still be prevented.

The parallels between Alissia and L.E. Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio are much clearer in this book, particularly between the magician’s island on Alissia, The Enclave, and the Imager Collegium as portrayed in the latest Imager trilogy, beginning with Madness in Solidar. Alastor’s dilemma at the Collegium is very much the same as that of the head of The Enclave in Alissia. How does one provide a safe haven for a small but powerful population of magic users in a world where they are vastly outnumbered by mundanes who often fear or envy their powers? Is alliance with the powers that be safer than strict neutrality? And if so, what happens when the powers that be change their course? There are no easy answers, and Quinn Bradley finds himself caught in the middle between his desire to learn magic and his desire to protect his friends and comrades on both sides of the gateway.

Although there are other members of the team, the story rests on Quinn. Even though there are points where the action follows others and he is not present, it is his perspective that we return to, and his character that we know best – at least to the degree that Quinn knows himself. Quinn himself is a bit of a rogue, always sure that his glib tongue can get him out of any trouble. It’s only when both his glibness and his technology fail him that he is able to finally reach inside himself and find out what he is really made of.

But if you like your heroes touched with a spark (or snark) of anti-hero, Quinn is a gem. Whether he’s real or paste is anybody’s guess – sometimes even his own. I can’t wait to discover how Quinn’s adventure plays out (hopefully in The World Awakening next year), whichever side he decides he’s on.

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

And now for that giveaway. Dan and Harper Voyager are letting me give away the winner’s choice of a paperback of The Rogue Retrieval or ebook copies of both The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception (Island isn’t out in paperback yet!). So it’s your choice whether you want to whet your appetite with that paperback or get caught up on all the action in Alissia with ebooks of both. Enjoy the ride!

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Review: Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster BujoldPenric's Mission (Penric and Desdemona #3) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #3
Pages: 145
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on November 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

In his thirtieth year, Penric fell in love with light…

Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Bastard’s Order, travels across the sea to sunlit Cedonia on his first covert diplomatic mission, to attempt to secure the services of a disaffected Cedonian general for the Duke of Adria. However, nothing is as it seems: Penric is betrayed and thrown into a dungeon, and worse follows for the general and his kin. Penric’s narrow escapes and adventures — including his interest in a young widow — are told with Bujold’s remarkable energy, wit and humor. Once again, Bujold has created unforgettable characters and a wondrous, often dangerous world of intrigue and sorcery. Third novella in the Penric and Desdemona series.

My Review:

This third novella in Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona series, itself a spinoff of her World of the Five Gods series (A.K.A. Chalion) is just as much fun as the first two books, Penric’s Demon and Penric and the Shaman. If you are looking for a a deft fantasy that comes in a smaller than a doorstop package, Penric is a fascinating hero and this series is terrific.

Penric is actually Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Lord Bastard, the “master of all disasters out of season. And Penric’s mission in this story, and quite often his life in general, seems to consist of one unexpected disaster after another. It makes for a very wild and entertaining ride.

Penric thinks that he’s on a mission to discover if one of Cedonia’s greatest generals is willing to move to Adria and take up work for the Duke there. He wouldn’t be turning his coat in any way, Cedonia and Adria are not currently enemies, he would just be switching employers.

But Adelis has more enemies than even he believed, and Penric is being used. Even more so than usual. His arrival in Cedonia is all part of someone else’s plan to frame Adelis for treason and get both of them out of the picture. What happens to Penric is just collateral damage. But no one knows what Penric really is, that particular lack of attention on the part of those who are now both of their enemies is going to result in a nasty shock for someone – hopefully a lot of someones.

First Penric has to get Adelis, his sister Nikys, and himself out of the hole that has inconveniently dug for them, by making things very, very inconvenient for someone else. And by doing something that has never been done before – curing the blindness that was cruelly thrust upon Adelis to get him out of the way and make him pay for the plots that he wasn’t even a part of.

Yet. But he certainly is now.

All Penric has to do is get them all out of the country even though Adelis doesn’t trust him at all. And Nikys has come to trust him entirely too much. And vice-versa.

Escape Rating A: I loved the Chalion series, and this “extension” by Penric has been an absolutely treat from beginning to hopefully not end. The fourth book, Mira’s Last Dance, has just come out, and I truly hope this series continues.

You really do need to read all of Penric to get the full flavor of Penric’s life with his demon Desdemona. While each book is short, they layer on one another, getting deeper and deeper into Penric’s life and the way the world works with each outing. However, you don’t need to read the Chalion series to love Penric. But it’s awesome epic fantasy, so why wouldn’t you?

The story revolves around Penric and his demon Desdemona. If you like Penric’s character, the series is awesome because Penric is a lot of fun. Although his official title is “Learned Penric”, he sometimes answers to “Learned Fool” and it’s a pretty accurate description. Penric is always the fool that rushes in where angels or other beings rightfully fear to tread. So far, he always gets himself out again, if only by the skin of his, or even Desdemona’s, teeth. And generally by spreading a lot of chaos in his wake, and onto the local populations of vermin of all types – occasionally including humans.

Penric is terrific at not taking himself too seriously most of the time, and then just taking himself seriously enough. And while magic often gets him out of the scrapes he gets himself into, it’s never killing magic. Penric is constrained by his faith and his care for Desdemona not to use his magic to kill. His theology is well-articulated and absolutely fascinating, and it does work. If he kills using his magic, Desdemona will be stripped from him and sent back to the chaos from which she sprang. She would die, he would be excommunicated, and let’s just say it would be bad juju all the way around. Listening to Penric explain all of this to the general Adelis gives the reader a whole lot of insight into how it all works – and when it doesn’t.

He actually likes Desdemona. Most of the time, he doesn’t mind sharing his head with her. Occasionally she’s like an older sister he can’t get rid of, but he appreciates her and her 200 years of experience and power. Theirs is a symbiosis that works well. And even though they share Penric’s body, both characters are clearly delineated and different.

The story, as all of Penric’s stories so far, are about Penric solving a problem that he never expected to be dropped into. In this case, he’s not only solving his problem, but also Adelis and Nikys’ problems as well. And falling in love. Where that’s going to take him next should be another great story. And it’s a good thing that the next story is already out, because this one doesn’t so much end as stop, leaving the reader breathless for what comes next.

Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Review: Norse Mythology by Neil GaimanNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, mythology
Pages: 293
Published by W. W. Norton & Company on February 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.
Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.
In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, son of a giant, blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.
Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman, difficult with his beard and huge appetite, to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir, the most sagacious of gods, is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.
Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

My Review:

Neil Gaiman’s retelling of the Norse myths should be required reading for anyone whose primary visions of Odin, Thor and Loki, derived primarily from Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, just as the author’s once were.

Thor wasn’t half that bright, and Loki wasn’t nearly so handsome, although he was every bit as tricksy, and as compelling.

On the one hand, these stories of ancient gods from a world long gone seem like they might have little relevance for the 21st century. At the same time, there’s Marvel Comics, which mined these myths for pure gold. As has every fantasy writer of the 20th and 21st centuries, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Neil Gaiman himself.

These are the stories on which so much of modern literature (and TV and movies) are based, along with opera and many other forms of storytelling. These are the stories behind the stories.

Or at least what’s left of them. What we have, what the author has here to work with, are the written records of what was an oral tradition – stories told around the fire during the very long nights of almost endless winter, passed from skald to skald and mouth to ear, until they were finally compiled into the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda in the 13th century, long after the Viking Age whose tales they tell.

At least in this rendition, what we have is a loose connection of short stories, that the author has strung together, like pearls on a string, into an episodic narrative from the beginnings of Yggdrasil to the end at Ragnarok.

And while they no longer invoke the awe that they once did, the Norse gods are still fantastic.

Escape Rating B+: This collection, or retelling, or reintroduction to the Norse myths should become a classic, right alongside Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. It makes what often seemed like a conflicting collection of tales into a somewhat coherent whole, admittedly a whole like a slice of Swiss cheese, where some parts are missing, deliberately or otherwise.

But readers looking for Neil Gaiman’s particular voice in this collection will only find hints and snippets of it. These aren’t his stories, and that shows. But they are, undoubtedly, the inspiration for many of his best.

If you read American Gods and instantly recognized Mr. Wednesday, then you have already been exposed to these foundational tales, but this version is still definitely worth a read. If you didn’t see through Mr. Wednesday’s rather thin disguise, then you need to read this book before you dive into the upcoming series.

Ian McShane Starring As Mr. Wednesday In 'American Gods' TV Series
Ian McShane Starring As Mr. Wednesday In ‘American Gods’ TV Series