Review: The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley by Mercedes Lackey

Review: The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley by Mercedes LackeyThe Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley (Elemental Masters, #16) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: alternate history, fantasy, gaslamp, historical fantasy, steampunk
Series: Elemental Masters #16
Pages: 320
Published by DAW Books on January 11, 2022
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The sixteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series follows sharpshooter Annie Oakley as she tours Europe and discovers untapped powers.
Annie Oakley has always suspected there is something "uncanny" about herself, but has never been able to put a name to it. But when Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show goes on tour through Germany, Bill temporarily hires a new sharpshooter to be part of his "World Wide Congress of Rough Riders": a woman named Giselle, who also happens to be an Elemental Master of Air. Alongside this new performer, Annie discovers that she and her husband, Frank, are not simply master marksman, but also magicians of rare ability.
As they travel and perform, Annie must use her newfound knowledge and rare skill to combat creatures of the night scattered across the countryside, who threaten both the performers and the locals. Annie's got her gun, and it's filled with silver bullets.

My Review:

When I read the first few books in the Elemental Masters series – as they came out back in the early 2000s – I loved these retellings of classic fairy tales set in an alternate, slightly steampunkish late Victorian/early Edwardian era for the way that they mixed a bit of magic with a bit of alternate history to put a fresh face on a tale that was oh-so-familiar.

Now that I’m thinking about this the series is an alternate version of another of Lackey’s alternate ways of telling fairy tales, her Five Hundred Kingdoms series (begin with The Fairy Godmother) where the purpose of the story was to subvert the fairy tale to keep it from subverting someone’s life.

I digress.

I stopped reading the Elemental Masters series after Reserved for the Cat as a consequence of the “so many books, so little time” conundrum that all of us who live in books are faced with so often. But I came back when the series switched from fairy tales to legendary characters with A Study in Sable and the three books that followed (A Scandal in Battersea, The Bartered Brides and The Case of the Spellbound Child) because the legendary character that was introduced and followed in this subseries of the series was none other than Sherlock Holmes.

I can never resist a Holmes pastiche, and these were no exception.

But after following the “World’s Greatest Consulting Detective”, even an alternate version thereof, through an alternate version of Holmes’ London, the series took itself across the pond to the Americas while briefly turning to its roots of retelling fairy tales with Jolene. Which I have yet to read – even though just the title is giving me an earworm of Dolly Parton’s marvelous song – which I’m sure was the intention.

I was, however, all in to read this latest book in the series, The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley, because I was wondering how the author would blend this historical character into this world where magic is hidden just beneath the surface.

It turns out that Annie Oakley herself, the real one, provided her own introduction to this world. As this story opens, we’re with Annie as she is in contracted servitude to a married couple she only refers to as “the Wolves” in her diary. Her real, historical diary.

The Wolves – whose identity has never been conclusively determined – starved her, cheated her, threatened her and physically and mentally abused her at every turn for two years, beginning when Annie was nine years old.

In this story, those two years of hell on earth become Annie’s introduction to the magic of this alternate world. Not just because the people she calls “the Wolves” turn out to be actual wolves – or rather werewolves – but because her desperate escape from the Wolves is facilitated by the magic of this alternate world – both the magic of the fairies AND magic of Annie’s very own.

After that shocking and heartbreaking beginning, the story shifts to Annie Oakley as an adult, the star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, traveling in Europe.

Where she discovers that her childhood rescue by fairies was not the fever dream she tried to convince herself that it was. And that the magic she has hidden from herself all these years is hers to command – if she is willing to learn.

And that she’ll need all the training and assistance that she can get. Because the wolves are still after her.

Escape Rating A-: When I was growing up – back in the Dark Ages – there weren’t nearly enough biographies of women in my elementary school library. Honestly, there weren’t nearly enough, period. While there still aren’t, the situation has improved at least a bit.

Annie Oakley ca. 1903

One of the few that was always available was Annie Oakley. It was easy to find stuff about her, and as someone who read as much of that library as humanly possible, I found what there was. She’s a fascinating person, as a woman in the late 19th and early 20th century who was famous for what she herself DID, and not for who she married, who she killed (I’m looking at you, Lizzie Borden) or who or what she was victimized by. Nor was she famous for her beauty. (I’ve included a picture to let you judge for yourself on that score, but whether you like her looks or not they are not what made her famous.

Her ability to shoot a gun, accurately and at a distance, is what made her famous. It also put food on the table when she was young and her family was broke.

Blending her real history and real talents into this magical story, and keeping reasonably close to what is known about her while expanding it into this created world was fascinating and fun. This was also a terrific story to get new readers into this long running series, as Annie is an adult when she finds out that she has magic, and her training in her newly discovered powers helps the reader get on board with the way that this world works AND is fascinating in its own right.

So this story’s blend of history with magic just plain worked for me – even more than I expected it to. More than enough to make me not miss the Sherlock Holmes of the earlier stories in the series too much.

Obviously, I really enjoyed this particular entry in this long-running series. MORE than enough that I’ll be back the next time the author returns to it. In the meantime, I have plenty of entries in the series that I missed to dip into whenever I’m looking for this blend of magic, myth and history.

Review: Boundaries edited by Mercedes Lackey

Review: Boundaries edited by Mercedes LackeyBoundaries (Tales of Valdemar #15) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Valdemar (Publication order) #53, Tales of Valdemar #15
Pages: 368
Published by DAW Books on December 7, 2021
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This fifteenth anthology of short stories set in the beloved Valdemar universe features tales by debut and established authors and a brand-new story from Lackey herself.
The Heralds of Valdemar are the kingdom's ancient order of protectors. They are drawn from all across the land, from all walks of life, and at all ages--and all are Gifted with abilities beyond those of normal men and women. They are Mindspeakers, FarSeers, Empaths, ForeSeers, Firestarters, FarSpeakers, and more. These inborn talents--combined with training as emissaries, spies, judges, diplomats, scouts, counselors, warriors, and more--make them indispensable to their monarch and realm. Sought and Chosen by mysterious horse-like Companions, they are bonded for life to these telepathic, enigmatic creatures. The Heralds of Valdemar and their Companions ride circuit throughout the kingdom, protecting the peace and, when necessary, defending their land and monarch.

My Review:

After reading – and loving – Beyond, the opening book in the Founding of Valdemar prequel series, I was reminded of just how much I loved this world, and how many stories it still had to tell. So when Boundaries popped up, it seemed like a good time to see if that good feeling about Valdemar still held up.

Because there are so many stories yet to tell in this world, and Boundaries is the fifteenth book of a long-standing series of Tales of Valdemar told by writers who have fallen in love with this well-developed world and have been given the opportunity to explore a bit of it that has piqued their love and interest.

Some collections I dip into and out of in various places within the collection, looking for stories with certain features or certain characters. And not that I don’t love the Firecats, because cats. There’s a long, long ago Valdemar story where two Firecats, at the end of an adventure, have a taste for “field mice on toast” and are planning to go out and hunt for their field mice, admonishing their human on the way out the door that “Toast will be provided!” And isn’t that just cats all over?

The theme of this collection is, just like it says on the label, boundaries, particularly the boundary between Valdemar and Karse. A border that has been a tense place where two countries with conflicting views on just about everything – magic, religion, freedom and opportunity – observe an uneasy peace that is all too often neither easy or peaceful.

Borders are always interesting places, as they are where unlike things and people rub up against each other with interesting, and occasionally even incendiary, results. As it proves in several of the stories in this collection.

Escape Rating B+: Like all collections, some entries are stronger than others. And some work for more people than others. But it was still wonderful to visit Valdemar and its neighbors again, so I’m happy I picked it up.

My favorite story in the collection is “A Time for Prayer” by Kristin Schwengel as it manages to tell a story that both displays the fear in which the hierarchy of the Sunpriests of Karse is held by most people while at the same time showing the service of the priests at the local level to their communities and the surprising flexibility of how that service is performed. Priests are supposed to be men – and only men – in Karse. And yet this is the story of a woman who has been trained by the previous priest in this little village as his acolyte and who, in spite of all the laws and strictures against it, steps fully into his place upon his death. Who, in spite of her fears is not found wanting by her god, no matter what those who believe they speak in his name might believe.

There are also two lovely stories about healers, “Tides of War” by Dylan Birtolo and “Final Consequences” by Elizabeth Vaughan. The first is about a young soldier during and after his first battle (against Karse, of course!) discovering that in spite of what everyone else thinks, both he and his country would be best served if he became a battlefield medic rather than one of their patients.

While “Final Consequences” takes place far from a battlefield, it tells a lovely story about the life of a healer, the demands on their time, the joy of their work, and the way that their service leads to both a full life and just occasionally, a happy ever after. In a setting where not all battles involve obvious bloodshed.

And of course, last but not least for this reader, there’s a cat story. Not a Firecat story, but a cat story. “A Clutter of Cat” by Elisabeth Waters is just an adorable story, not entirely filled with kitten fluff, about a community centered around the ability to Mindspeak animals – and some of the resistance to that gift. Along with some resistance to the cats who are, after all, just being cats.

Review: Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

Review: Noor by Nnedi OkoraforNoor by Nnedi Okorafor
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 224
Published by DAW Books on November 9, 2021
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From Africanfuturist luminary Okorafor comes a new science fiction novel of intense action and thoughtful rumination on biotechnology, destiny, and humanity in a near-future Nigeria.
Anwuli Okwudili prefers to be called AO. To her, these initials have always stood for Artificial Organism. AO has never really felt...natural, and that's putting it lightly. Her parents spent most of the days before she was born praying for her peaceful passing because even in-utero she was wrong. But she lived. Then came the car accident years later that disabled her even further. Yet instead of viewing her strange body the way the world views it, as freakish, unnatural, even the work of the devil, AO embraces all that she is: A woman with a ton of major and necessary body augmentations. And then one day she goes to her local market and everything goes wrong.
Once on the run, she meets a Fulani herdsman named DNA and the race against time across the deserts of Northern Nigeria begins. In a world where all things are streamed, everyone is watching the reckoning of the murderess and the terrorist and the saga of the wicked woman and mad man unfold. This fast-paced, relentless journey of tribe, destiny, body, and the wonderland of technology revels in the fact that the future sometimes isn't so predictable. Expect the unaccepted.

My Review:

Two lost people find themselves, each other and a secret that the biggest corporation in the world hoped would never be found. A secret that the powers-that-be will do anything to protect. As the saying goes, once a can of worms is opened they never go back into the can. Especially when the secret that’s been hidden is as earth-shattering and sand-spewing as this one.

And no, we’re not talking about Arrakis. We’re talking about Earth. A future Earth after an ecological/climatological disaster has created the equivalent of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot in northern Nigeria. A sandstorm of such speed and force that the windpower it generates is powering great cities all over the world.

Even as it eats up and eats away the land that gave it birth.

The Red Eye is the place where people who don’t fit, where those who have nothing left to lose, and those who refuse to be monitored by giant corporations 24/7 take themselves when they have nowhere else to go. Or when they can no longer make themselves pretend that they belong in the world that has left them behind, in one way or another.

This big story, like that big ecological disaster, starts small. With AO and DNA, those two lost people who have each survived a trauma on the very same day. AO, born with multiple birth defects both internal and external, is now part cybernetic. In fact, AO is a lot cybernetic, with two cybernetic legs and one cybernetic arm to replace the nonfunctional limbs she was born with. And with cybernetics in her brain, not because there was anything wrong, but because she wanted the enhanced memory and permanent internet connectivity.

But the more AO looks like the “Autobionic Organism” she had named herself for, the less she is accepted by the people around her. Many object on religious grounds. Some do so out of fear – not that that’s much of a difference. Some find her rejection of traditional appearances and roles for women to be anathema. Many call her an “abomination”.

When the safe space she believes she has carved out for herself suddenly becomes anything but, AO refuses to submit. Instead, she uses her greater strength to not merely subdue her tormentors but to kill the men who expected her to submit to her own execution at their hands.

In the aftermath, AO runs. Away from the towns and towards the desert. Heading away. North. Towards the Red Eye. Driving as far and as fast as she can in an unthinking fugue state. At least until her car runs out of power and she continues on foot towards an unknown but probably brief future.

Where she runs into a herdsman named DNA, who is just as lost and traumatized as she is. Who has also just defended himself with deadly force against a mob that killed his friends and most of his herd of cattle in an act of misplaced revenge against terrorists posing as herdsmen.

Now DNA has been labeled a terrorist, just as AO has been labeled a crazed murderer. Everyone is literally out to get them.

But the context of both of their stories is missing. When they find that context, when they are able to dig down through the layers of propaganda and misinformation that surrounds the most traumatic events in both their lives, they find a deep, dark, deadly secret.

A secret that many people will kill to protect. A secret that brought them together – and is tearing their continent apart while entirely too many people, including both of their families, go complacently about their business.

Just the way the biggest corporation in the world had planned it.

Escape Rating A: One way of looking at Noor is that it is two stories with an interlude in the middle. Another way, and a better metaphor, is that it is a story that winds up like a hurricane or a tornado, pauses in a calm storm’s eye in the middle, and then unwinds quickly in an explosive ending as the storm dissipates.

I listened to Noor through the eye of that storm, and then read the rest because it and I were both so wound up that I couldn’t wait to see which direction all those winds ended up blowing. And the narrator, particularly for that first part, had a wonderful voice that was just perfect for storytelling. She helped me to not just hear, but see and feel that oncoming storm.

At first, in the story’s tight focus on AO, it all seems small and personal. AO is different, and she is all too aware of those differences. She, and the reader, are equally aware that one of the ways in which human beings suck is that anyone who is deemed by society to be different gets punished by that society in ways both large and small. AO’s constant awareness of her surroundings and her ongoing attempts to be less threatening and less “herself” in order to carve out a safe space in which to live will sound familiar to anyone who has bucked the way it’s supposed to be in order to be who they really are.

The violence against her is sadly expected and both she and the reader sadly expect it – until it becomes life-threatening and she strikes back.

When she meets DNA and his two steers, GPS and Carpe Diem, he is in the same emotional trauma coming from an entirely different direction. Where AO has embraced the future – perhaps too much – DNA has clung to his people’s past as a nomadic herdsman. That they find themselves in the same situation is ironic and tragic, but not in any way a coincidence.

And that’s where things get interesting. The more that AO and DNA search for answers, the bigger the questions get. The more they find friends and allies, the bigger the forces arrayed against them.

And the less the story is about those two lost people and the more it is about the forces that put them in that situation in the first place. The story expands its tent to encompass colonialism, complacency and exploitation in ways that make the most singular acts have the most global of consequences – and the other way around – in an infinity loop at the heart of the storm.

Review: Brothers of the Wind by Tad Williams

Review: Brothers of the Wind by Tad WilliamsBrothers of the Wind by Tad Williams
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Pages: 272
Published by DAW Books on November 2, 2021
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Set in the New York Times bestselling world of Osten Ard, this short novel continues the saga that inspired a generation of fantasists
Pride often goes before a fall, but sometimes that prideful fall is so catastrophic that it changes history itself.
Among the immortal Sithi of Osten Ard, none are more beloved and admired than the two sons of the ruling family, steady Hakatri and his proud and fiery younger brother Ineluki -- Ineluki, who will one day become the undead Storm King. The younger brother makes a bold, terrible oath that he will destroy deadly Hidohebhi, a terrifying monster, but instead drags his brother with him into a disaster that threatens not just their family but all the Sithi -- and perhaps all of humankind as well.
Set a thousand years before the events of Williams's The Dragonbone Chair, the tale of Ineluki's tragic boast and what it brings is told by Pamon Kes, Hakatri's faithful servant. Kes is not one of the Sithi but a member of the enslaved Changeling race, and his loyalty has never before been tested. Now he must face the terrible black dragon at his master's side, then see his own life changed forever in a mere instant by Ineluki's rash, selfish promise.

My Review:

It’s hard to believe that The Dragonbone Chair was published over 30 years ago. A whole lifetime ago. I read it as it was published, and I remember loving it and waiting impatiently for each book but don’t remember anything about the story. I DO remember attempting to read one of the author’s later series (Otherland) and failing miserably.

But that was a long time ago, and the past is another country, so when this book popped up on Edelweiss I thought, “Why not?” As this is a prequel to Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, the trilogy that began with The Dragonbone Chair, I figured that I didn’t NEED to remember anything at all to get into this one.

And I was right. The writing was as lush and descriptive as I sorta/kinda remembered, but I didn’t need to look up anything about the plot of the original books to get into this one – because none of those events had happened in this world. Not yet anyway.

So the story here stood alone. And thankfully didn’t stand nearly as long as the original trilogy, which I may remember fondly but also remember as doorstop-sized. Each. (Also, don’t worry about the designation of this book in some places as following or being part of the Last King of Osten Ard series. Last King is a sequel to Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and Brothers is a prequel.)

Brothers of the Wind is, as it says right there on the label, a story about brothers and brotherhood. But the brothers are immortal princes in their world, so the family dynamics and family squabbles and sibling rivalries are both neverending and potentially world-shattering in their impacts.

A shattering that is still being felt a thousand years later.

Escape Rating A-: More than anything else, Brothers of the Wind is a story about overweening pride going before a very big fall. And it’s a story about the difference between pride and honor. It’s also, playing into that pride, a story about the braying of privilege and the horrifying results of its exercise.

As I was reading, I found myself wondering if Ineluki was what we would call bipolar or something much too similar. He doesn’t have much of a brain-to-mouth filter, but that reads like a consequence of his overwhelming privilege. When Ineluki has a tantrum, which he does, frequently and often and with terrible consequences, he gets placated and indulged because he’s a prince which makes him powerful in his own right. He doesn’t face the consequences of his actions because everyone, especially his brother Hakatri, cleans up after him. Which just makes Ineluki resent him all the more.

But Ineluki really reads like someone who has a gigantic dose of impostor syndrome. He never seems to feel like he’s equal to his brother Hakatri in the hearts of either their parents or their people. The way that the brothers’ actions play out over the course of the story read very much like the dynamic between Thor and Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and wasn’t that a surprise?

I think it fits though. Hakatri, like Thor, is the golden favorite, the older brother who is beloved by absolutely everyone and seems utterly perfect to everyone he meets. While Ineluki is dark and always trying to make his own mark in a world where it seems like his older brother has already taken all the best bits. Ineluki is a resentful second son who nurses his grudges and his temper like a spoiled child.

A spoiled child whose tantrums remake the face of the world, and not for the better, with consequences that will ring down through the ages in the tolling of funeral bells.

But this isn’t just the story of the two brothers, because the perspective of the story is told by Hakatri’s faithful servant, Pamon Kes. While Brothers of the Wind isn’t quite as epic as The Lord of the Rings, The Dragonbone Chair and the whole of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn definitely are. Which means that this book reads very much as if The Lord of the Rings had been written by Sam Gamgee entirely from his first-person perspective. A perspective that shows that even the compassionate, golden Hakatri took a tremendous amount of advantage of the goodwill and hero worship of an awful lot of people, whether his motives were pure or not.

So Brothers of the Wind can be read on more than one level. It’s a story about brothers who can’t manage to escape the roles that have been ordained for them. It’s certainly a story about a whole lot of pride going before a huge, world-shattering fall. And it’s a fascinating prequel for one of the modern classics of epic fantasy, a story that will take lovers of the original straight back to Osten Ard, and will hopefully carry a new legion of readers off to those faraway shores.

Review: The Scavenger Door by Suzanne Palmer

Review: The Scavenger Door by Suzanne PalmerThe Scavenger Door by Suzanne Palmer
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Finder Chronicles #3
Pages: 464
Published by DAW Books on August 17, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From a Hugo Award-winning author comes the third book in this action-packed sci-fi caper, starring Fergus Ferguson, interstellar repo man and professional finder.
Fergus is back on Earth at last, trying to figure out how to live a normal life. However, it seems the universe has other plans for him. When his cousin sends him off to help out a friend, Fergus accidently stumbles across a piece of an ancient alien artifact that some very powerful people seem to think means the entire solar system is in danger. And since he found it, they're certain it's also his problem to deal with.
With the help of his newfound sister, friends both old and new, and some enemies, too, Fergus needs to find the rest of the artifact and destroy the pieces before anyone can reassemble the original and open a multi-dimensional door between Earth and a vast, implacable, alien swarm of devourers. Problem is, the pieces could be anywhere on Earth, and he's not the only one out searching.

My Review:

Surprisingly – honestly, extremely surprisingly – the basic premise of The Scavenger Door and the opening of last Friday’s book, Murder in the Dark, turned out to be much more similar than one might expect for all sorts of reasons.

They are both stories about mysterious doors in the space-time continuum that are causing havoc in this galaxy/solar system/planet and need to be closed and kept closed. The person tasked with shutting the damn weird door, in both stories, is someone who appears to be human but sorta/kinda isn’t completely, and in ways that turn out to be relevant to the story.

That is where the similarities end, but it was still strange that when I didn’t get to read the book I wanted to in the moment, which was this one, I ran across something more like it than it should have been.

The Scavenger Door is the third book in the Finder Chronicles, and it’s a story that brings the series full circle from its origins in Finder. Not that Fergus Ferguson goes back to Cernee, more that Cernee comes to him in the persons of Arelyn Harcourt and Mari Vahn. Actually, it seems like everyone Fergus has met, not just in the series but in his entire life, makes an appearance in this story.

Fergus is usually surprised to discover that he’s survived – or gotten by – his latest adventure with a little or a lot of help from the friends he doesn’t quite believe he has or deserves. This time he’s going to need every last one of them.

Because he needs to save not just Earth but the entire Solar System – and possibly further – from what’s on the other side of his particular uncanny door. Before someone else lets them out.

All in a day’s – or week’s, or month’s – work for Fergus Ferguson. Find the pieces, find the door, call in some favors, make some – LOTS – of enemies, save his friends, save the planet, save the solar system.

No pressure, right?

Escape Rating A: This series is great fun and totally awesome. Just don’t start here. It feels like everything has been building towards this point from the first moment we met Fergus in Finder, and the action here picks up right where the second book, Driving the Deep, left off. Fergus is back home in Scotland after running away as a teenager, connecting, and living with, the cousin he remembers as his only childhood friend and the baby sister he never knew he had.

So don’t start here, because this book feels like the payoff for the whole thing. Start with Finder. Also, the audio for this entire series is wonderful. The narrator does a terrific job of conveying Fergus’ universe-weary voice, the entire story is told from Fergus’ first-person perspective. (That the narrator, when he is voicing Fergus’ internal dialog, sounds weirdly like Bill Kurtis from NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! just feels like an extra bit of the chaos that Fergus seems to generate.)

The blurb says that this one, like the rest of the series, is a bit of a caper story. And it has plenty of those elements. But the series has been getting increasingly serious over its course, and this one is way more serious than the first two. Not that there wasn’t plenty of mayhem and gallows humor in both of those, but this one feels even deeper than the oceans of Enceladus in Driving the Deep.

From the very beginning of The Scavenger Door, this one feels like a farewell tour. Like the way that Shepherd touches base with seemingly every person and organization they’ve met or worked with during the course of Mass Effect 3. This book, from very early on in its story, reads like it’s heading towards an ending. Not necessarily Fergus’ own ending, but at least the ending of this particular phase in his life.

In Fergus’ case, it literally feels like he has to make sure this door stays shut in order for the next door in his life to open. Or something like that. Even more of an argument to start the series at the beginning and not here.

The thing that Fergus has found, the thing that kicks off this story, is a door. Or rather, while he’s searching for a flock of lost sheep in Scotland, he finds a tiny piece of a very big door that wants him to find all the other pieces and put its puzzle back together so that it can open and let in creatures that sound like space locusts.

In other words, a very bad idea. But the pieces of this door were scattered over the Earth a decade ago. That’s more than enough time for multiple groups and theories to chase after them in the hopes of uncovering their secret. And, humans being human, the theories that these human groups have are all about mastering this alien technology and conquering the planet. Or someone else’s planet. Or both.

Well, they’re half right. Or, as one of the aliens puts it, “like all such things, there are those who covet the fire and do not understand that it burns.” And isn’t that humanity in a nutshell?

But as high and desperate as the stakes are, what makes this series so much fun, and it is generally a lot of fun, are the characters. It’s not just Fergus and his universe-weary perspective, but also Isla, his previously unknown baby sister, who wants to learn about this brother she’s never met but already knows just how to take the mickey out of him at every turn. It’s all Fergus’ friends on Mars and Luna.

My favorite characters, and the ones who made me chuckle the most, were Ignatio and Whiro, an alien and a self-aware ship, because their running commentary on what Fergus is doing, how far off base he’s getting, how often he’s getting visited by Murphy’s Law, how much he’s flying by the seat of his pants and how desperate the stakes are, are always pointedly funny and provide a fascinating outside perspective on the best and worst of humanity – who happens to be Fergus Ferguson.

So this is an out-of-the-frying-pan into the lava-filled volcano story that rides on the semi-controlled insanity of its protagonist and the circle of amazing people that have been drawn into his chaotic orbit.

This could be the end of Fergus’ adventures – if not the end of Fergus himself. I’ll be very sad if it is, because I’ll miss him and his merry band of crazed adventurers, including his cranky cat Mister Feefs, rather a lot. So I hope the author finds a way to bring him back.

Who knows what he’ll find the next time he hunts down a flock of missing sheep?

Review: The Godstone by Violette Malan

Review: The Godstone by Violette MalanThe Godstone by Violette Malan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Pages: 304
Published by DAW Books on August 3, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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This new epic fantasy series begins a tale of magic and danger, as a healer finds herself pulled deeper into a web of secrets and hazardous magic that could bring about the end of the world as she knows it.
Fenra Lowens has been a working Practitioner, using the magic of healing ever since she graduated from the White Court and left the City to live in the Outer Modes. When one of her patients, Arlyn Albainil, is summoned to the City to execute the final testament of a distant cousin, she agrees to help him. Arlyn suspects the White Court wants to access his cousin's Practitioner's vault. Arlyn can't ignore the summons: he knows the vault holds an artifact so dangerous he can't allow it to be freed.
Fenra quickly figures out that there is no cousin, that Arlyn himself is the missing Practitioner, the legendary Xandra Albainil, rumored to have made a Godstone with which he once almost destroyed the world. Sealing away the Godstone left Arlyn powerless and ill, and he needs Fenra to help him deal with the possibly sentient artifact before someone else finds and uses it.
Along the way they encounter Elvanyn Karamisk, an old friend whom Arlyn once betrayed. Convinced that Arlyn has not changed, and intends to use Fenra to recover the Godstone and with it all his power, Elvanyn joins them to keep Fenra safe and help her destroy the artifact.

My Review:

This is a first. I’ve never read a blurb for a book that managed to reveal too much AND say too little at the same time. It doesn’t really do a good job of describing or teasing the book at all, but still manages to reveal the thing that if it were in a review would be labelled a spoiler. ARRGGGHHH!

So, this wasn’t quite what I was expecting, except in that this is an author I really enjoy (start her Dhulyn and Parno series with The Sleeping God or her more recent book, Halls of Law, written under V.M. Escalada but it’s still her.) So I was expecting a good reading time – and I certainly got that – I just didn’t get it quite the way I started out thinking I would.

This is one of those stories where it feels like you’re dropped in the middle. Which can be a good thing, because it makes the world and the characters seem fully formed from the very beginning. On the other hand, because no one is getting introduced to this world or coming of age in this story we don’t get the explanations that help ground readers into a new world.

It’s more like an immersive language course. The language, after all, already exists and is fully formed when the student begins the class. The newbie is then in a sink or swim situation to get up to speed as soon as possible.

So it is in The Godstone. As the story begins, we’re in a small village out in the hinterlands somewhere. Far from the capital, which is just how both Arlyn Albainil and Fenra Lowens like it. Arlyn is a world-renowned furniture maker, and Fenra is the village healer. Arlyn is also Fenra’s long-term patient, as he suffers from what we would call periodic bouts of severe depression.

Both characters are well into adulthood when we meet them, even if Arlyn is a whole lot further into adulthood than anyone – including his healer – could possibly imagine. They are who they are going to be. What makes them interesting is that they are not exactly who they appear to be, and especially not precisely who they have told each other they are.

The Godstone is an adventure story. And a quest. And a story about being forced to dismantle a comfortable persona in order to do what desperately needs to be done.

Which just so happens to turn out to be saving the world.

Escape Rating A-: This turned out to be an absorbing little world, and a surprisingly compelling story, in spite of the fact that I a)knew way too much from the blurb going in and b)went down a rabbit hole of my own making and couldn’t get myself out. Only to eventually realize that the rabbit hole was not quite as much of a wild goose chase as I originally thought.

And that many of my assumptions about the way that things work here, based on what they remind me of, may be considerably more off-base that rabbit hole that sorta/kinda wasn’t.

The story at first seems straightforward enough, in a sense, because it’s obvious to Arlyn from the very beginning that there are some seriously screwy political shenanigans going on in the capital that someone wants to entangle him in. So even though the political shenanigans themselves are more convoluted and dangerous than first appears – because of course they are – that initial framework itself is easy to understand.

Arlyn knows that his summons to the capital is not exactly on the up and up because he’s being summoned as the nearest relative of a powerful practitioner (read as magic-user). He knows it’s not legit because he himself is the supposedly dead practitioner he’s been pretending to be the relative of for, let’s say, lo these many years.

Fenra, who is the local practitioner in their remote village, assumes its not totally legit because the rise of political shenanigans in the capital was the reason she decided to set up her practice in a remote village in the first place. Paraphrasing Shakespeare a bit, because this story made me borrow bits from pretty much everywhere – It’s Denmark, and the state of the place is rotten and getting rottener by the year. Fenra doesn’t want her patient getting caught up in someone else’s game of political or magical one-upmanship, whoever and whatever it might be.

The exact nature of Arlyn’s illness – or at least how he became ill – is suddenly and perpetually relevant. Arlyn has periodic bouts of what appears to be a deep depression. Fenra is able to level him out so he can be functional – and also not waste away into nothingness – but she can’t cure him.

What makes Arlyn’s illness so fascinating, and what turns out to be the central puzzle of the whole story, is how he got that way. Once upon a time, the practitioner he used to be created an artifact that could literally destroy the world. He couldn’t destroy the artifact or at least not without potentially doing the thing he didn’t want to do in the first place, i.e. destroying the world that he himself was living on, so he locked it away where it could never be found. Except, of course, it has been, hence the original not-exactly-legit summons.

Arlyn thought that when he locked away the artifact, the Godstone, he lost his power in the locking away. Instead, he split himself in two, kind of like the episodes of Star Trek where Captain Kirk splits into good and evil twins. So there are two Arlyns, and both of them are telling their bits of the story in the first person, as are Fenra and Arlyn’s long-lost – seriously lost – friend, Elvanyn.

I found myself following the story by using equivalences. The Modes, the different neighborhoods, or counties or villages, seemed to be like the Shards of Marie Brennan’s Driftwood. Not quite, but close enough. Political skullduggery is it’s own mess, but the forms it takes tend to be similar, and so it seems here. Arlyn’s personality split echoes that Star Trek scenario, as what he’s divided into are a half with knowledge but no power, and one with power but no knowledge. Arlyn is actually a fairly decent person, while his other half, Xandra, has all of his power and all the arrogance that goes with it, but none of Arlyn’s wisdom or empathy to temper it.

Arlyn was a bit of a puzzle because his name echoes a character in, of all things, Final Fantasy XV. I kept mentally equating Arlyn Arbainil with Ardyn Izunia. Then I thought I’d fallen down a rabbit hole, then I decided that there was more carryover than I first thought, and not just because both characters are considerably older than they appear. Also much more of a psychological mess than they first appear. And while Arlyn is not as nasty as Ardyn, his long-buried counterpart, Xandra, certainly is.

So there’s a lot to process in this one. I enjoyed the hell out of it, even the times I was a bit confused. The round-robin of first-person narratives got a bit confusing with both Arlyn and the other Arlyn telling their parts of the story under the same name, but they were so opposite to each other that it didn’t take too long to get back on track.

There are still so many things about this world I don’t know, things that occasionally got a bit in my way but never for long. I loved that the other two voices were so distinct, and that Fenra was keeping just as many secrets as Arlyn – even if hers were not nearly as world-shattering. Although, come to think of it, they could be if this turns out to be the first book in a series after all. The Godstone didn’t end in a way that felt like it led to more adventures in this world, but it could.

I certainly had a more than good enough reading time that I’d sign up for the sequel – right this minute if I knew where to sign!

Review: Beyond by Mercedes Lackey

Review: Beyond by Mercedes LackeyBeyond (The Founding of Valdemar #1) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: The Founding of Valdemar #1, Valdemar (Publication order) #46, Valdemar (Chronological) #4
Pages: 384
Published by DAW Books on June 15, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The long-awaited founding of Valdemar comes to life in this new series from a New York Times bestselling author and beloved fantasist
This series from a New York Times bestselling author explores the long-awaited tale of an era crucial to Valdemar's history--the original founding of the nation itself by the legendary Baron Valdemar.

My Review:

Time flies whether you’re having fun or not. Come to think of it, that kind of applies in the story, too, as there are certainly times when Kordas Valdemar is not having any fun at all, but time is flying because he and his duchy have way, way, way too much to do to get the hell out of, not exactly Dodge, but out of the corrupt Eastern Empire before it either wipes them out or topples from within under the weight of its own corruption.

I read what became the first book in the very long running Valdemar series, Arrows of the Queen, when it first came out back in 1987. My initial paperback copies crumbled to dust long ago, but I still have the Science Fiction Book Club hardcover omnibus edition of that original trilogy. It feels like that was a lifetime ago and very far away.

I remember the series fondly, because at the time it was published there wasn’t much like it at the time. It was female-centered, it was a heroine’s journey, the worldbuilding was deep and fascinating and felt like a place that one would want to live. It all just worked and I loved the whole thing and seem to have read the first 30 books or so before it fell under the wheels of “so many books, so little time”.

So it had been a long time since I traveled to Valdemar, but remembered it so fondly, that when the eARC for Beyond popped up I was, well, beyond interested. I love foundational stories anyway, and here was a foundational story for a world I still sorta/kinda knew. That it was set at a time in that world’s history that hadn’t really been touched on before meant that I could pick back up here and not feel the compulsion to go back and read the 15 or so books in the series that I missed before reading this one.

Not that I might not take a look at them afterwards! But events later don’t usually impact events before – and Beyond was certainly before pretty much everything else.

So here we are, in the far past, before Arrows of the Queen or Magic’s Pawn, and, as it turns out, headed beyond the borders of the Eastern Empire that Valdemar and his people came from. This story is the story of the leave-taking, and very much the story of why they left.

And it’s a doozy. If you have fond memories of Valdemar, as I very much did, Beyond is a fantastic way to go back. If you’ve never been, it’s a terrific time, and place, to start.

Escape Rating A-: One of the things that I remember from my previous reading is that, in spite of more than a few crises along the way, Valdemar as a place felt livable. Like Pern and Celta and Harmony but surprisingly few other fantasy (or fantasy-ish) realms, the world seems to be functional. Not that humans aren’t more than occasionally idiots – because we are – but the foundations seem to be solid and the place seems to work, more or less, most of the time.

The story in Beyond is the beginning of the story of why Valdemar mostly works. The Eastern Empire is the horrible warning of what happens when bad follows worse in endless succession for centuries. At the point we meet Kordas Valdemar, it’s not a matter of if the empire will fall, its when – and how much collateral damage that fall will do.

What we have, in a way, is kind of a fix-it fic. Not that Kordas can “fix” the empire, because it is way too late, the corruption is much too thorough. There have been too many generations trained and “nurtured” in the belief that all the corruption is the way that things are supposed to be.

Rather, this is the story of a whole bunch of people from all walks of life who have said, “enough” and have the means and the method to find a way out. Beyond is the story of a PLAN, definitely all caps on plan, and the implementation of that plan. It’s about the last coming together, of the getting of all the ducks in their rows, and of all the things and people and events that conspire to make it happen AND that get in the way.

And I loved the two-steps forward, one-step back of the whole thing. The meticulous organization running headlong into the desperate measures. And I especially loved the people making it happen in spite of the odds and the risks and the strong possibility that it will all go pear-shaped.

Which it kind of does, but in the best way possible.

So if you enjoy watching a plan coming together, if you like watching people work hard and sweat much in order to bring off the work of decades, if you don’t mind just a bit of villain monologuing and love a story of unlikely heroes, Beyond is a delight.

Especially if you’ve never been to Valdemar or are, as I was, looking for an excuse to go back.

The one thing I missed in Beyond that was part of the magic of the original series are the magical, fascinating, horse like Companions. I kept waiting for them to appear because they were such a marvelous part of the original stories. There are beautiful and intelligent horses, because that’s what Valdemar-as-a-duchy was famous for, but no Companions – at least not yet.

Therefore, it made me very, very happy to learn that Beyond is the first book in The Founding of Valdemar trilogy. The Companions are coming, and I can’t wait for them to get here!

Review: Driving the Deep by Suzanne Palmer

Review: Driving the Deep by Suzanne PalmerDriving the Deep (Finder Chronicles, #2) by Suzanne Palmer
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Finder Chronicles #2
Pages: 432
Published by DAW Books on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From a Hugo Award-winning author comes the second book in this action-packed sci-fi caper, starring Fergus Ferguson, interstellar repo man and professional finder.
As a professional finder, Fergus Ferguson is hired to locate missing objects and steal them back. But it is rarely so simple, especially after his latest job in Cernee. He's been recovering from that experience in the company of friends, the Shipmakers of Pluto, experts at crafting top-of-the-line AI spaceships.
The Shipmakers have convinced Fergus to finally deal with unfinished business he's been avoiding for half his life: Earth. Fergus hasn't been back to his homeworld since he was fifteen, when he stole his cousin's motorcycle and ran away. It was his first theft, and nothing he's stolen since has been anywhere near so easy, or weighed so heavily on his conscience. Many years and many jobs later, Fergus reluctantly agrees that now is the time to return the motorcycle and face his family.
Unfortunately, someone has gotten to the motorcycle before him. And before he can figure out where it went and why the storage unit that held it is now filled with priceless, stolen art, the Shipyard is attacked. His friends are missing, presumably kidnapped.
Accompanied by an untrustworthy detective who suspects Fergus is the art thief and the sole friend who escaped the attack, Fergus must follow the tenuous clues to locate and save his friends. The trail leads them to Enceladus, where Fergus plans to go undercover to the research stations that lie beneath the moon's thick ice sheet deep in a dark, oppressive ocean.
But all movement and personnel are watched, and the limited ways through the thick ice of the moon's surface are dangerous and highly monitored. Even if Fergus can manage to find proof that his friends are there and alive, getting out again is going to be a lot more complicated than he bargained for.

My Review:

Fergus Ferguson has a gift, and not just the one that he thinks he has, his ability to put the pieces together to find things – and people – that are missing. Fergus’ more important gift is the gift of making friends wherever he goes – no matter how dangerous the situation or unlikely the friendship might be. Or how incredibly difficult the mess he makes may be to get out of.

Because Fergus Ferguson is every bit as good at making his life into a mess as he is at finding his way out of the mess he’s just made.

But this particular mess is going to be a bigger challenge than average – even for him. His friends from the Shipyards at Pluto are all missing, presumed dead. Or possibly missing, presumed kidnapped. Except for the one who isn’t dead, but is suspected of having caused the kidnapping and/or death of the others. Except she didn’t, but someone is trying awfully hard to make it look that way, in order to make everyone look the other way from whatever really happened.

Meanwhile, Fergus is stuck, deep under the ice on Enceladus, Saturn’s ice-covered moon. After all, it’s easy to hide things in a cold and dark place that damn few people want to go to in the first place. Especially dirty deeds being done, not exactly dirt cheap. Possibly on the public’s dime – or whatever passes for currency by Fergus’ time.

All Fergus has to do is figure out if his friends are down there, where they’re being held if they are, why they were kidnapped in the first place – and, of course, rescue them. Without getting them all killed.

And especially without drawing the notice of “the Bastards Above”.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I loved the first book in the Finder Chronicles. That book is named basically for Fergus, and it’s just called Finder. And it’s awesome.

Both books, in fact, are an absolute treat to listen to, as the entire story so far is told from Fergus’ first person perspective, and the narrator does an excellent job of capturing Fergus’ wry, self-deprecating and universe-weary tone.

Howsomever, as often happens, I listened to the first half of this one and read the second, because I just couldn’t wait to find out how Fergus got himself out of the mess this time. Because it’s a doozy.

This feels like a story about closure, and perversely about opening. There’s that saying that when one door closes, another one opens. For Fergus, it feels a bit like he has to close that first door before he can let himself open the second one. Fergus ran away from home on Earth in his late teens, just after his dad committed suicide by drowning. An act that certainly comes back to haunt Fergus in the deeps under the ice of Enceladus.

But this story begins with Fergus going back to Earth for the first time in two decades, because there’s that door behind him that he needs to close. When he left he stole his cousin’s motorcycle. And it’s time for him to go back and take care of that debt, because looking back is keeping him from moving forward.

No plan of Fergus’ ever seems to survive contact with, well, Fergus, so his plan to get the motorcycle out of the storage locker he’s been paying for all these years turns up, not the motorcycle, but a whole bunch of stolen paintings that seem to be the ill-gotten gains from a museum robbery not unlike the real-life Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft in Boston in 1990.

Uncovering the paintings uncovers an undercover cop looking for the thieves. An obsessed man who is convinced that Fergus was one of the thieves he’s been hunting for years. Of course, his plans don’t survive Fergus either, and eventually, after a lot of misunderstandings and a few bouts of fisticuffs, they both end up trying to free Fergus’ friends.

But all of that turns out to be setup, as fascinating as it generally was. The story is really Fergus’ story, all alone in the dark of Enceladus, desperately hanging on to hope and trying to come up with a plan, in the face of the endless night and the unrelenting dark under the water.

In the end, with the help of new friends and old, including the stray cat Mister Feefs, Fergus manages to find the heart of this mystery. After all, while Fergus’ own plans never survive contact with Fergus – neither do anybody else’s.

Review: The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes Lackey

Review: The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes LackeyThe Case of the Spellbound Child (Elemental Masters, #14) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #14
Pages: 320
Published by DAW Books on December 3, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The fourteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series continues the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate 20th-century England.

While Sherlock is still officially dead, John and Mary Watson and Nan Killian and Sarah Lyon-White are taking up some of his case-load--and some for Lord Alderscroft, the Wizard of London.

Lord Alderscroft asks them to go to Dartmoor to track down a rumor of evil magic brewing there. Not more than four hours later, a poor cottager, also from Dartmoor, arrives seeking their help. His wife, in a fit of rage over the children spilling and spoiling their only food for dinner that night, sent them out on the moors to forage for something to eat. This is not the first time she has done this, and the children are moor-wise and unlikely to get into difficulties. But this time they did not come back, and in fact, their tracks abruptly stopped "as if them Pharisees took'd 'em." The man begs them to come help.

They would have said no, but there's the assignment for Alderscroft. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

But the deadly bogs are not the only mires on Dartmoor.

My Review:

I actually read this a couple of weeks ago, while I was in the middle of listening to The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl followed by Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage. I was on a Sherlock Holmes kick and looking for stories that were at least Holmes-adjacent, as both Mesmerizing Girl and Spellbound Child turned out to be.

In other words, unlike Mycroft and Sherlock, which is definitely Holmesian all the way even if it is still focused more on the older brother than the younger, both the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club and the Elemental Masters are series that I got into for Holmes but stayed in for everybody else.

Which is a good thing, because Spellbound Child, like last month’s Mesmerizing Girl, is all about the everybody else and only tangentially about Holmes. At least in Spellbound Child Sherlock isn’t in need of rescue along with some of that everybody else.

This story is part of the author’s Elemental Masters series. In this series, the world is an alternate version of our own history, it’s just a version in which magic works but is mostly hidden and strictly controlled by its practitioners – especially those who are masters of their particular elements.

The series began with The Fire Rose back in 1995 – a story that I read at the time but have no recollection of beyond the concept. I kept up with the first few books in the series, but then dropped it for a long time, until A Scandal in Battersea caught my attention two years ago, not for its fantasy but for its screamingly obvious Sherlockian elements. And have continued with the series ever since, even stepping back one book to A Study in Sable, where the entire current cast of characters was introduced.

The above should give heart to any readers who have not read the whole series. I do think starting with A Study in Sable would be beneficial to becoming acquainted with the current cast and situation. And all Holmes pastiche series seem to start with a play on the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, as this one does.

However, Holmes is not an elemental master – at least not unless someone declares logic to be a form of elemental magic. He is, rather, a skeptic. In spite of his friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson, being an elemental master himself, as is Watson’s wife Mary. It is an interesting take on their long-term friendship and collaboration, as Holmes has his sphere in which he is an acknowledged expert, but Watson also has his. And there are times when logic must defer to magic, no matter how much Holmes may scoff. He does not believe, but he has seen. And there have been multiple occasions where magic is the only answer left after he has eliminated the impossible.

This story takes place during Holmes’ hiatus after Reichenbach Falls, so his presence is very much on the QT, as that saying goes. He’s part of the story but neither the integral or central part, and that’s as it should be.

Because this is a case that is intimately steeped in magic. And in a peculiar way, it hearkens back to the original premise of this series, that of retelling fairy tales in a new and magical world.

The child who is missing, and spellbound, turns out to be a surprisingly rational and logical version of Gretel. Making her also missing, also spellbound, but ot nearly as mature or rational or logical little brother Hansel. (This is a series where the females often get top billing and solve the case – and so it proves here.)

It is up to non-magical but highly practical Gretel, really Helen Byerly, to figure out just how the extremely wicked witch was ensorcelling ALL the children, and escape to find help. Help in the form of Dr. John Watson, his wife Mary, Spirit Master Sarah Lyon-White and psychic Nan Killian, along with their foster daughter Suki and their highly intelligent birds Grey and Neville, sent to the “wilds” of Dartmoor by the Wizard of London to determine why so many children have gone missing in recent years – and why so little is being done about it.

While this case doesn’t wind up at Baskerville Hall – as I fully admit I was more than half expecting – it has every bit as as many twists, turns and surprises as Holmes’ and Watson’s more famous visit to the moor.

Escape Rating B+: If you look carefully at the background image in the book cover, you’ll recognize the silhouette of the famous detective, complete with pipe and just the suggestion of a deerstalker cap. It does lead one to believe that there will be more of Holmes than actually occurs in this case. On the other hand, there’s plenty of Watson, or rather, Watsons in this one, as the Wizard of London has tasked the Watsons with a case that he finds more important than the locals seem to.

After all, it’s obvious to him fairly early on that someone is kidnapping children with magical talent. While all that the locals notice is that the missing children are “not their kind” meaning either poor or members of the Travelers, and are therefore beneath society’s notice.

Everyone involved, the Watsons, Nan and Sarah, as well as Holmes (and the reader) are fairly incensed by that attitude and determined to do what they can to get to the bottom of it.

I found the case to be an intriguing one, as the perspective switches from the imprisoned children to the search for them and back again. In spite of the magic involved, the search is actually fairly straightforward, even if some of the means and methods are otherworldly. What tugs at the heart in this story is the plight of those children, trapped by chains of both metal and fear to serve as magical “batteries” for a hedge wizard who would be a bully with or without magic.

The character who really shines in this story is the non-magical but eminently practical and oh-so-brave Helen Byerly. She’s trapped with the others, chained by magic she doesn’t understand, and yet she still finds a way to improve conditions for everyone she takes under her care – and reasons her way to an escape that has a chance of freeing them all. The story may focus on the Watsons and the other masters and magic users, but Helen is the real hero of the tale.

And I always love seeing a smart girl participate in her own rescue!

Review: Finder by Suzanne Palmer

Review: Finder by Suzanne PalmerFinder by Suzanne Palmer
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Finder Chronicles #1
Pages: 391
Published by DAW Books on April 2, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From Hugo Award-winning debut author Suzanne Palmer comes an action-packed sci-fi caper starring Fergus Ferguson, interstellar repo man and professional finder

Fergus Ferguson has been called a lot of names: thief, con artist, repo man. He prefers the term finder.

His latest job should be simple. Find the spacecraft Venetia's Sword and steal it back from Arum Gilger, ex-nobleman turned power-hungry trade boss. He'll slip in, decode the ship's compromised AI security, and get out of town, Sword in hand.

Fergus locates both Gilger and the ship in the farthest corner of human-inhabited space, a gas-giant-harvesting colony called Cernee. But Fergus' arrival at the colony is anything but simple. A cable car explosion launches Cernee into civil war, and Fergus must ally with Gilger's enemies to navigate a field of space mines and a small army of hostile mercenaries. What was supposed to be a routine job evolves into negotiating a power struggle between factions. Even worse, Fergus has become increasingly--and inconveniently--invested in the lives of the locals.

It doesn't help that a dangerous alien species thought mythical prove unsettlingly real, and their ominous triangle ships keep following Fergus around.

Foolhardy. Eccentric. Reckless. Whatever he's called, Fergus will need all the help he can get to take back the Sword and maybe save Cernee from destruction in the process.

My Review:

June is Audiobook Month, and Finder is one of those books that I picked up in audio and couldn’t wait to get into it. It’s one of those wild ride, thrill-a-minute stories that kept me sitting in my car in all sorts of places, just so I could hear just a bit more of whatever it was that Fergus managed to get himself into this time. Every time.

In the end I finished up with the book-book, or rather the ebook, because I just couldn’t start anything else until I discovered if/how Fergus finally managed to get himself out of both frying pan AND fire – and complete his self-imposed mission – without racking up too much more collateral damage along the way.

This is also a fantastic space opera, but not of the conquering star empires variety, which is cool and neat and different.

Fergus is the finder of the title. He’s kind of a repo man, but not exactly. He doesn’t repossess something because someone has missed a payment or ten. He finds things, big expensive things, that have been stolen and returns them to their rightful owners.

He’s at the ass-end of human-inhabited space, a collection of small-to-middling sized habitats strung out on power cables, named Cernee. The big thing he’s come to collect is a ship. Arum Gilger stole it from the shipbuilders, using an equally stolen ID, and the shipbuilders want it back. And it turns out that the locals are generally happy to help Fergus – up to a point – because they don’t like Gilger having that ship.

Fergus thinks the job is going to be easy. Get in, find the ship, steal the ship, fly it home to the Pluto shipyards, collect his pay. Get another job. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Instead, Fergus gets caught in the middle of a civil war. Arum Gilger wants to take over Cernee, and pretty much everyone and everything stands in his way. (Hence the reason that the locals are willing to help Fergus steal back the ship and get it the hell out of their space.) Especially the family Vahn, living on a remote habitat called “The Wheels”. It shouldn’t be Fergus’ business, but Gilger fires the opening salvo in his little war at the cable car that Fergus is sharing with “Mother” Vahn, and Fergus’ job has suddenly become personal.

Being nearly killed just for being in the same cable car as a seemingly inoffensive old lady is plenty of reason to get scared, to get angry, and to get to the bottom of everything that’s wrong in Cernee.

At least until everything that’s wrong in Cernee, including the mysterious alien ships that watch, and wait, and scare everyone three-quarters to death, decide that Fergus is their “true North” and all their ships start pointing towards him – wherever he goes, whatever he does – all the time.

Fergus may be the Finder, but something much bigger and much, much scarier has suddenly found him.

Escape Rating A-: First of all, this is one of those stories that naturally lends itself to audio. The story is told in Fergus’ first-person perspective, so hearing it in his voice from inside his head works well. The narrator does an excellent job of capturing Fergus’ world-weary (maybe that should be universe-weary), slightly deadpan voice. Fergus isn’t someone who gets really excited – because he’s been there and done that and is much too busy running away from the things that reach deeply into his emotions.

This doesn’t mean that the people around Fergus don’t get plenty excited, because the adventures that Fergus drags them into are generally frightening to the point of being downright life-threatening. Following Fergus is like being on one of those amusement park rides that barrels toward the edge of its track, to the point where you think the car is going to stop and you’re going to be thrown out of it, only to sharply turn – extremely sharply and very suddenly – and throw you against the sides as it madly careens towards the next near-disaster. (This ride in my childhood amusement park was the Wild Mouse, but yours undoubtedly had one too. They all did!)

Finder is very much one of those “out of the frying pan into the fire” stories. Fergus seems to be both a trouble and chaos magnet. They say that no plan survives contact with the enemy. It seems like no plan survives contact with Fergus, not even Fergus’ own plans. And yet, they generally manage to work in the end – for select definitons of “generally”, “work” and especially “end”. Either he has the devil’s own luck, as they say, or Cernee is connected to the Discworld, where “million-to-one” shots always come in.

There’s something about the way this story works, or perhaps in Fergus’ universe-weary voice, that reminds me of John Scalzi’s space operas. Especially The Android’s Dream, but generally the Old Man’s War universe. Fergus and John Perry would have plenty to talk about. That there’s a brief part of Finder that echoes Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is totally fitting, considering the number of reviews that label Old Man’s War as Heinleinesque.

I digress just a bit, but not completely, as I think that Scalzi’s readers will also like Finder – very much. This one certainly did!