Review: The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Prisoner of Limnos (Penric & Desdemona #6) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #6
Pages: 139
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on October 26th 2017
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In this sequel novella to “Mira’s Last Dance”, Temple sorcerer Penric and the widow Nikys have reached safety in the duchy of Orbas when a secret letter from a friend brings frightening news: Nikys’s mother has been taken hostage by her brother’s enemies at the Cedonian imperial court, and confined in a precarious island sanctuary.

Their own romance still unresolved, Nikys, Penric, and of course Desdemona must infiltrate the hostile country once more, finding along the way that family relationships can be as unexpectedly challenging as any rescue scheme.

My Review:

There’s a famous cartoon by Sidney Harris of two mathematicians standing at a blackboard. On the blackboard, there’s a complicated formula on the left and more complicated formula on the right. In the middle, there’s the text, “THEN A MIRACLE OCCURS”. The caption is one mathematician telling the other, “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.”

The plan that Penric hatches with Nikys to rescue her mother from political imprisonment is a lot like that cartoon, to the point where the need for the miracle in the middle is called out more than once.

Considering that the place where her mother is being held is a sanctuary devoted to worship of the Daughter, and that Penric is a Learned Divine and a Sorcerer in the service of the fifth god, Lord Bastard, a miracle is entirely possible – if not necessarily a good idea to actually count on.

The Prisoner of Limnos picks up immediately after Mira’s Last Dance leaves off. It is necessary to read the Penric and Desdemona series in at least the publication order, but as this is a series of novellas, and they are all excellent, if you like fantasy, particularly of the slightly epic and continually quirky variety, the series is a marvelous and relatively quick read.

But as this one picks up right after the last book, the issues left unresolved at the end of Mira’s Last Dance are still very much unresolved. That issue being Penric’s courtship of Nikys. It’s not that they don’t love each other, because they do, or at least are getting there. The problem is Penric’s demon, Desdemona, and all of the 14 personalities that reside within her, and therefore him.

Nikys is more than happy to be with Penric, but completely unsure about the horde of females who all live in his head. He’s not crazy. Being the rider for a demon is a condition of becoming a sorcerer. (How Penric and Desdemona ‘met’ is in the first book, Penric’s Demon)

But when Nikys discovers that her mother has been imprisoned as a way to bring her brother back to their former home, a country that wrongly accused him of treason and blinded him in punishment, she turns to Penric. Both because she trusts him implicitly, and because she knows he’s the only one who might be capable of pulling this jailbreak off.

After all, he got her and her brother out of the country once, in not dissimilar circumstances. He should be able to do it again.

With a little bit of help from their friends. And a whole lot of help from the gods.

Escape Rating A-: This is a rescue where everything goes right, everything goes wrong, and a seagull goes ‘poof’.

Penric is always flying by the seat of his pants, even when he’s not wearing pants. His god, the Lord Bastard, is the ‘master of all disasters out of season’. In other words, Penric serves an agent of chaos. When you semi-control, and it’s only ever semi, the chaos, you can often visit it upon your enemies instead of yourself. Not that Penric doesn’t pay for the use of his magic in other ways.

This is a story about politics and romance, wrapped around a sometimes daring and often hilarious rescue. Penric never does anything by halves.

The strength of the series is the relationship between Penric and Desdemona. They are bound together in something closer than kinship, and it’s a lifebond. At least for him. When he dies, Desdemona and everything she has learned from him and all her previous riders will be passed to the next sorcerer, or to the nearest person handy who automatically becomes a sorcerer.

Penric is a fascinating character all by himself. He’s someone who has broken completely away from everything he originally intended to be, and has made himself an interesting and useful life as he is. At the same time, he is very independent of mind and always has a slightly quirky outlook on what he sees.

That the author has managed to make Desdemona a separate character, even though she part of Penric, makes this all work. Desdemona is the ultimate big sister, with a snarky outlook built over centuries of living and multiple riders. At the same time, all of her riders have been female, and she is finding the whole ‘love and courtship’ thing every bit as idiotic from the male perspective as she ever did from the female. And she laughs.

While the rescue is screamingly fun, the heart of the story is Nikys’ resolution of her dilemma about Penric and all his “sisters”. She has to decide if loving the man is worth putting up with all of his baggage, even more than occurs in most marriages. And the way its done is both completely sensible and absolutely lovely.

My only complaint about The Prisoner of Limnos is the same one I have about every novella in this series. It’s a novella, meaning it’s too damn short. I love returning to this world, and I always want MORE!

Guest Review: Outsystem by M. D. Cooper

Guest Review: Outsystem by M. D. CooperOutsystem (The Intrepid Saga #1) by M.D. Cooper
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Series: Intrepid Saga #1
Pages: 350
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on July 9th 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Major Richards needs to get out of the Sol System

Demoted by the military and hung out to dry, the media labels her the Butcher of Toro. Despite her soiled record, Tanis still one of the best military counter-insurgency officers in the Terran Space Force.

And they need her to find the terrorists responsible for trying to destroy the GSS Intrepid, a massive interstellar colony ship in the final phases of construction at the Mars Outer Shipyards.

It’ll be her ticket out of the Sol system, but Tanis discovers she is up against more than mercenaries and assassins. Major corporations and governments have a vested interest in ensuring the Intrepid never leaves Sol, ultimately pitting Tanis against factions inside her own military.

With few friends left, Tanis will need to fight for her life to get outsystem.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Amazon showed me this book at some point, trying to entice me into a Kindle Unlimited subscription; I didn’t buy the subscription, but at 99 cents, the book was a cheap read anyway. When I got to it, I opened it with no expectations at all, other than some geeky sci-fi.

Guest Review by Amy:

It’s the 42nd Century, and Major Tanis Richards is part of a crack counter-insurgency and intel unit, but she’s gotten into trouble; she’s infamous, you see, for some awfulness she did a while back. We’re never told quite what she did, but her fame precedes her. Tanis is ready to leave the Sol system for good, on the greatest colony ship ever built. It’s a new age of colonization, and the Intrepid is the first of its kind: a ship that will carry huge colony ships to another star, then drop them off and return to Earth.  The colonists–and indeed much of the crew–will ride in stasis the whole trip.

Major Richards has gotten a spot on the colony roster; not, we may hope, that her skills as an intel officer will be needed. She’s ready to give up her long career in the military, and just be a colonist, but until Intrepid leaves, she’s in charge of security. And there are villains out there who do not want the mighty ship to ever launch! They quite-rightly see Tanis as the fly in the ointment that will keep them from destroying the giant interstellar vessel.

Escape Rating A+: This is my first foray into author M. D. Cooper’s Aeon 14 universe, and I’m seriously impressed. It’s a rich, solid milleu for the characters’ adventures. While mankind has progressed dramatically in 21 centuries from where we are now, even to having a ring around Mars, we still see the same human problems of greed and hatred, and the same diversity of thought and creativity that we do in our own world. The heroine of our tale, Tanis Richards, is a very, very competent, strong woman, dedicated to her job almost to a fault. She takes her lumps from the villains, but will not be silenced. Her life in the military rings true for anyone who’s been around the military for any length of time (Marines are still Marines, OOOH-RAH!), even down to bureaucratic nonsense getting in the way of the mission. This tale even has a little bit of a love interest, which Tanis must put off for a little bit while all the action happens.

I get it. Hard sci-fi isn’t for everyone, and neither is military fiction. Cooper manages to tell us a hard sci-fi story without swamping us in the details, and tells us a military story without burying us in jargon. Action, good leadership, intrigue, a slight touch of romance–it’s all in here, in a nice pleasant mix. There was one sour note for me: remember how Major Richards is in counter-insurgency and intel? She has to take measures to get some information out of someone–many, many lives are on the line, and she must break them, and quickly. Her methods are…unpleasant. But the scene is mercifully brief, and Richards clearly struggles with the necessity of doing what she does. It’s the only rough patch in what was, for me, a wholeheartedly great read. I’m looking forward to picking up more of M. D. Cooper’s work!

Review: The Women of Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

Review: The Women of Baker Street by Michelle BirkbyThe Women of Baker Street (A Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson Investigation, #2) by Michelle Birkby
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson #2
Pages: 368
Published by Pan Macmillan on February 9th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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As Sherlock and Watson return from the famous Hound of the Baskervilles case, Mrs Hudson and Mary must face their own Hound, in the swirling fog of Victorian London . . .

When Mrs Hudson falls ill, she is taken into a private ward at St Barts hospital. Perhaps it is her over-active imagination, or her penchant for sniffing out secrets, but as she lies in her bed, slowly recovering, she finds herself surrounded by patients who all have some skeletons in their closets. A higher number of deaths than usual seem to occur on this ward. On her very first night, Mrs Hudson believes she witnesses a murder. But was it real, or just smoke and mirrors?

Mary Watson meanwhile has heard about young boys disappearing across London, and is determined to find them and reunite them with their families. As the women's investigations collide in unexpected ways, a gruesome discovery in Regent's Park leads them on to a new, terrifying case.

My Review:

I read The House at Baker Street last weekend, and I loved it so much that when I discovered that the second book in the series was already available in ebook, I immediately grabbed it. Then I discovered that I simply couldn’t wait to read it, so here we are again, returning to Victorian London and 221b Baker Street.

The Women of Baker Street is a direct follow up to The House at Baker Street. Events that occurred in that first book are definitely still resonating by the time this second book opens a few months later. And dogged Inspector Lestrade is still investigating the rather incendiary ending of that first story.

Much to the dismay of both Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock Holmes.

But the story in The Women of Baker Street opens in a decidedly different place, as Martha Hudson is whisked off to St. Bart’s Hospital after collapsing at home. She’s been ill for weeks, and also been successfully concealing her illness from Holmes after his return from Dartmoor, where he was off investigating the legendary Hound of the Baskervilles.

Mrs. Hudson was afraid she had cancer, and just didn’t want to know. In the 19th century, there was no hope of a cure, just suffering and death. But her problems, while serious, were much less desire. An intestinal blockage, fixed with quite survivable surgery followed by bedrest.

That’s not all there is to the case. Dr. Watson takes advantage of both his position at the hospital and Mrs. Hudson’s bent for investigation and installs her in a semi-private women’s ward where odd things have been happening. He’s not convinced that there is really anything going on, but one of the nurses whom he respects is convinced. Of course, he doesn’t believe he’s putting Mrs. Hudson at risk – his concern is to set the nurse’s mind at ease.

However, the pattern in this series is that the women’s instincts are much more accurate than the men’s logic. There IS something strange going on in that particular ward. On her very first night, Mrs. Hudson thinks she witnesses a murder. Then she chalks off her experience to pain and medication.

Until it happens again.

The first part of this case is rather quiet. Mrs. Hudson doing what she does best, sitting (or in this case mostly lying) and listening while other people expose their foibles and their secrets. The small ward is a hotbed of gossip, pain and seething resentment, all exposed to her expert’s eye over the long days that the women are all cooped up together in this single room.

When the tide of strange deaths nearly overtakes Mrs. Hudson herself, Watson and Mary whisk her back home, to continue the case, and her recovery, in a less dangerous location. At least it seems less dangerous, until Martha’s case, and the even more tragic situation that Mary has been investigating on her own, collide within the precincts of 221b. With nearly disastrous results.

The game is afoot. Until it very nearly isn’t.

Escape Rating A-: The story in The Women of Baker Street gets off to a much slower start than the previous entry in the series. Mrs. Hudson has turned out to be the prime mover and shaker in these stories, and as this entry begins, she is temporarily down for the count.

And also quite shaken. She is used to being the mistress of herself and her own domain, but as the story begins she is an invalid, stuck in a place not of her choosing and unable to take care of herself. And, of course, she hates it.

Until Dr. Watson presents her with his little bit of investigation. While she’s still not happy with her surroundings, now she has purpose – even if a part of her believes that this case has been invented to keep her at least mentally occupied.

Not that the various denizens of the ward aren’t fascinating. Especially Emma Fordyce, who was once one of the grandes horizontales of her day. She was a celebrated courtesan, lover of the rich, famous and influential, and she has never told any of the secrets that were whispered in her ears. Rumor has it she’s planning to talk.

When she dies unexpectedly, even for someone staying the hospital, it throws suspicion on anyone whose secrets she might have exposed – and on the woman who seems to have been installed in the ward solely to watch her – or to watch over her.

There were plenty of reasons still around who might want Emma Fordyce dead. But once Mrs. Hudson is home and able to take a slightly more dispassionate view of the case – all she runs into are dead ends. Including the buried bodies of a group of young boys who seem to be tied into, not the case of Emma Fordyce, but to a ghost story.

As Holmes discovered on Grimpen Mire – at the heart of all too many ghost stories lies a kernel of very nasty truth. And it is Mrs. Hudson’s dangerous investigation into the nasty truth of the so-called “Pale Boys” that brings them face-to-face with death.

Again.

The two intertwining cases turn out to be intensely chilling – to the point where The Women of Baker Street would make a good Halloween story. The creepy factor is very high, especially when added with the layers of misdirection and manipulation. And the crimes that Martha and Mary find themselves investigating just add to the chills, as does Lestrade’s continued investigation into the remnants of the case from the previous book.

No ice cube got left undribbled down my back by the end.

This is a series where I seriously want more stories, but don’t see any listed on the horizon. Which does not keep me from hoping that the author will return to Mrs. Hudson and Mrs. Watson. Soon, I hope.

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: Death Before Wicket by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Death Before Wicket by Kerry GreenwoodDeath Before Wicket (Phryne Fisher Mystery #10) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #10
Pages: 232
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on July 4th 2017 (first published 1999)
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Phryne Fisher is on holiday. She means to take the train to Sydney (where the harbour bridge is being built), go to a few cricket matches, dine with the Chancellor of the university and perhaps go to the Arts Ball with that celebrated young modernist, Chas Nutall. She has the costume of a lifetime and she s not afraid to use it. When she arrives there, however, her maid Dot finds that her extremely respectable married sister Joan has vanished, leaving her small children to the neglectful care of a resentful husband. She rescues the children, but what has become of Joan, who would never leave her babies? Surely she hasn t run away with a lover, as gossip suggests? Phryne must trawl the nightclubs and bloodtubs of Darlinghurst to find out. And while Phryne is visiting the university, two very pretty young men, Joss and Clarence, ask her to find out who has broken into the Dean s safe and stolen a number of things, including the Dean s wife s garnets and an irreplaceable illuminated book called the Hours of Juana the Mad. An innocent student has been blamed. So there is no rest for the wicked, and Phryne girds up her loins, loads her pearl handled .32 Beretta, and sallies forth to find mayhem, murder, black magic, and perhaps a really good cocktail at the Hotel Australia."

My Review:

I’ve been reading the Phryne Fisher series, in publication order, as time permits. Meaning whenever I either need a comfort read or discover that I’ve otherwise bitten off more book than I have time to chew, as happened this week.

Most of the books in the Phryne Fisher book series were used as inspiration for episodes of the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Death Before Wicket is one of those that were not filmed. (The others, for those keeping score, seem to be Flying Too High, Urn Burial, The Castlemaine Murders, Death by Water, Murder on a A Midsummer Night and Murder and Mendelssohn.)

I’m fairly certain that the reason that Death Before Wicket wasn’t tackled is that while the crime is set in a university, where the academic politics have gotten exceedingly but recognizably vicious, the entire background revolves around cricket, specifically Test matches in Australia in the 1920s. Cricket as a sport seems to be impenetrable to those not brought up loving the thing, which would include most Americans and anyone outside the Commonwealth countries. And I’m not sure about even the Canadians on this score. No pun intended.

So while the mystery that Phryne has to solve is as much fun as ever, the background, including her reason (or excuse) for traveling from her Melbourne residence to Sydney, may leave some readers more than a bit puzzled. Including this one. I skimmed over the cricket games. As many times as I’ve seen cricket in the background of plenty of mysteries and dramas set in England, I have no clue how the game works, or why.

But as lost as I was amongst the cricket fans, the academic parts of this mystery were as convoluted as ever. The politics at the University of Sydney were as vicious as anything Kissinger intended with his famous quote, “Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.” At this University, that viciousness leads to theft, disgrace, kidnapping, embezzlement and eventually, murder.

Someone broke into the Bursar’s safe and made off with a whole bunch of items, none of which seem to be worth all that much. The books were stolen – not the library’s books, but the college’s account books, and the poor bursar is so befuddled that he can’t recreate them. And of course there’s an audit coming. A rather pretty Book of Hours is missing, as are the professors’ exam books for the upcoming finals. At a college, that’s probably the prize worth stealing. Except that there are two other items missing. One is rather small potatoes, a set of garnet jewelry belonging to the Dean’s wife. Garnets are semi-precious, fairly common, and generally not worth a whole lot in the grand scheme of thievery.

But the prize among the missing items is a bit of papyrus from ancient Egypt, that just might contain the secret to where Cheops is really buried, since the poor pharaoh is not in his magnificent pyramid. Or it might contain the text of a potent Egyptian curse, the possibilities of which have the local occult community positively salivating. Translating the text might be the key to which professor gets his research funded. Or it might be all of the above.

It is up to Phryne to sort through all those tempting and treacherous possibilities, before someone loses their career or their life. And it’s a near-run thing, but Phryne, as always, is up for the job.

Escape Rating B-: There are lots of reviewers who will say that this is one of Phryne’s adventures that can be given a miss, unless one is either a real fan or a terrible completist. As I’m certainly the latter, and possibly the former, I picked this one up in its proper order. I’m not sorry in the least, but I found the academic setting of the mystery to be perhaps unintentionally hilarious. Academia in the 21st century is not quite as it was in the 1920s, but some of underlying insanity isn’t all that different either. Enough similar that I found enough bits reminiscent to carry me through. If you are looking to start Phryne’s series, do not, on any account, start here. Start with Cocaine Blues. There’s a reason that the TV series also opened with that one, as it introduces everyone and everything.

But speaking of Cocaine Blues, I did miss Phryne’s regular cast of irregulars. This story is set in Sydney, not Melbourne. While it was fun to watch Phryne navigate a new place and gather a new, albeit temporary, set of friends, allies and lovers, I missed her usual gang, particularly in this mystery, Bert and Cec. As did Phryne.

On the other hand, Dot, left to soldier on as Phryne’s only trusted aide in this adventure, did have her chances to operate solo a bit and to shine.

Part of the solution to the mystery involved a certain amount of involvement in the local occult community, particularly its less savory denizens. In order to get to the bottom of the morass, Phryne herself has to deal with and perpetrate a certain amount of mumbo-jumbo, some of which went a bit over the top. Belief is, as Phryne herself says, a powerful thing. That she manipulates others’ belief in the supernatural in order to find the solution is not surprising, but that she herself nearly trips over into it felt a bit unnatural for her character.

One final note. While the Phryne Fisher series is set in the 1920s, the first book was published in 1989 and the series is still ongoing. While the settings feel true to their time and place, Phryne’s attitudes feel singular for her own time, and perhaps owe more to the time in which they were written rather than their setting. This has been true across all the books so far, and also in Death Before Wicket. One part of obscuring the mystery involves a professor who is being blackmailed because of his homosexuality. Phryne does not care who anyone has sex with, and neither do at least some of the faculty. But if it ever becomes public, the scandal will at best ruin the man, and possibly land him in prison. As much as I prefer Phryne’s attitude of acceptance, and her tolerance in this and many other things, I wonder how true her attitude would have been, even to a woman in her singular position. Which doesn’t change the fact that I love Phryne and will happily read any and all of her adventures.

I’m looking forward to going Away with the Fairies, the next time I need a reading break!

Review: Urn Burial by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Urn Burial by Kerry GreenwoodUrn Burial (Phryne Fisher, #8) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #8
Pages: 187
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on April 1st 2007
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The redoubtable Phryne Fisher is holidaying at Cave House, a Gothic mansion in the heart of Australias Victorian mountain country. But the peaceful surroundings mask danger. Her host is receiving death threats, lethal traps are set without explanation, and the parlour maid is found strangled to death. What with the reappearance of mysterious funerary urns, a pair of young lovers, an extremely eccentric swagman, an angry outcast heir, and the luscious Lin Chung, Phrynes attention has definitely been caught. Her search for answers takes her deep into the dungeons of the house and into the limestone Buchan caves. What will she find this time?

My Review:

I bounced hard off the book I intended to read for today. It was so dark and twisted it was literally giving me nightmares. So I switched to a murder mystery, where evil always gets its just desserts – and I don’t have to wade through the disgusting course of its mind in the process.

Urn Burial is the 8th book in the Phryne Fisher historical mystery series by Kerry Greenwood, following immediately after Ruddy Gore. While some events that occurred specifically in both Ruddy Gore and Blood and Circuses do have a slight impact on events, most notably that the nature of the circumstances in both those cases have led Phryne to be willing to attend a country house party far from home, it is not necessary to have read the previous entries in the series to enjoy Urn Burial.

On that other hand, those whose only familiarity with Miss Fisher comes from the TV series may find themselves put off just a bit. Most of the characters in the TV show mirror their counterparts in the books, but there are two notable exceptions. Jack in the books, while a good and intelligent cop, is nothing like Jack in the TV series, being a happily married middle-aged man in the books who likes working with Phryne but has no other relationship with her, nor should he. And Lin Chung, who Phryne meets In Ruddy Gore, is only a one-time dalliance in the TV series, but in the books is her frequent paramour.

Unlike much of the book series, Urn Burial has not been re-released with new covers in the wake of the popularity of the TV series, and those two differences are probably the key.

But I turn to Phryne when I get disgusted with whatever I intended to read. I always enjoy the books, and love the dip back into Phryne’s world alongside her intelligent and intense personality. And Urn Burial was no exception.

This is a country house party mystery. There’s a bit of irony there, as by the time that Urn Burial takes place, the country house party scene has become passe even in its English home, while in Australia there never was such a scene. And there was certainly never such a setting as Cave House. It is described as the kind of amalgamation of weird architectural features that hurts both the eye and the aesthetic sense, with secret passages going in every direction. And it is remote enough that it is regularly cut off from the main road, whenever the river rises too high – or in the case of this story, just high enough.

Like all country house mysteries, this one has attracted more than it’s share of quirky characters, not limited to the host, hostess, Phryne and Lin. And as so often happens in Phryne’s cases, if not in mysteries in general, in spite of the relatively small number of guests and servants, and the isolation, there are not one but three perpetrators operating within the confines of Cave House. It is up to Phryne to sort out exactly who has done what before anyone else winds up dead.

Escape Rating B+: While Phryne is often not very comfortable for those around her, for me she has become a comfort read, and so it proved here. I had a great time with Urn Burial, in spite of the death threats as well as the actual deaths. In the end, Phryne always serves justice. And I needed that rather badly.

The story is both typical for Phryne and atypical for the country house mystery it pokes at. And poke it certainly does. Phryne finds a clue in a copy of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first Hercule Poirot mystery and the exemplar of the country house mystery.

Another, more tongue-in-cheek poke at the mystery forms created by Dame Agatha Christie was embodied in one of the members of the house party. An elderly lady, knitting quietly in a corner, occasionally inserting a cogent comment adroitly and exactly when and where needed, named Miss Mary Mead. St. Mary Mead was the village where Miss Jane Marple resided, when she was not visiting some friend or relation and solving a crime – usually by sitting in the corner, knitting, and listening with both ears wide open. Miss Mary Mead is Jane Marple in every detail, with one exception. At the end, when all the secrets are revealed, Mary Mead has no problem admitting that she really is a private detective, which Marple never does.

The case here is as convoluted as anything Phryne has ever encountered. It seems to be about inheritances, about fathers and sons and providing, or not, for the next generation. And definitely about taking what one feels one is owed. But in the middle of that, there’s a case of bullying and abuse that threatens everyone in its path, and muddies the waters and motives of all the guests.

Watching Phryne tease out who did what to whom, and why, is always a treat.

Guest Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Harland Sanders

Guest Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Harland SandersTender Wings of Desire by Harland Sanders
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 96
Published by Amazon Digital Services on May 2, 2017
Amazon
Goodreads

When Lady Madeline Parker runs away from Parker Manor and a loveless betrothal, she finally feels like she is in control of her life. But what happens when she realizes she can’t control how she feels? When she finds herself swept into the arms of Harland, a handsome sailor with a mysterious past, Madeline realizes she must choose between a life of order and a man of passion. Can love overcome lies? What happens in the embrace of destiny, on the Tender Wings of Desire?

When this book was released last week, I was in a fowl, er, foul mood. I couldn’t pinpoint eggs-actly why that was so, I’d just been in a funk for a few weeks. This book brought up nuggets of inspiration that I really didn’t know I had waiting in the wings. So, let’s get right to it.

Guest Review by Amy:

To be fair to this work, we really need to spend some time on this cover image; like most historical romances, the cover art has little-to-nothing to do with the actual content of the book, and here we have an extreme case: Harland Sanders (1890-1980), in his later white-haired years, yet still obviously muscular, carrying a woman wearing “mom jeans” circa 1980s…on the cover of a Regency novel, circa 1811-1820. The art itself was so amusing when it popped up on my Kindle that I had to show my husband, who also laughed himself into a fit. The masterstroke, for both of us, was having her holding a piece of chicken (in her right hand). Let’s not forget the white linen suit with the sleeves cut off–showing off those breathtakingly muscular arms on the…er…handsome Colonel.

Fortunately, perhaps, for us all, the content of the book just doesn’t give us that image of Sanders. What it does deliver is a sharp lampooning of Every. Regency. Ever. Written. I was telling my best friend about this book the morning after reading it, and I likened it to The Rocky Horror Picture Show: campy on its own, but crammed full of inside jokes and jabs at the thing it is lampooning, just as RHPS is full of jabs at the classic cinema. If you don’t understand those jabs, it’s hilarious, but if you do, it’s even funnier.

Lady Madeline Parker is old enough to marry–though, as the book points out, we modern people would not think so. She considers herself a bit of an ugly duckling, of course, though she and her younger sister Victoria both have “the same pale, dewy skin, the same bright green eyes and heart-shaped faces.” Madeline’s hair is dark brown and in unruly curls, while Victoria has long, blonde hair. Madeline’s other problem is that she’s really not interested in marrying, certainly not merely for position, as her parents are working to arrange. If she’s to marry, she wants it to be for love, and only then after she’s had a while to roam about and see the world.

For her groom-to-be’s part, he’s quite a dashing gent: Reginald Lewis, the Duke of Sainsbury. He’s not terribly older than Madeline, which she’s grateful for, but he just doesn’t move her. Little sister Victoria claims he “looks like a fairy-tale prince,” of course, but Madeline isn’t impressed. He’s nice enough, and not ugly, but nothing about him grabs her attention or her interest. “He looks like a vanilla biscuit,” she asserts privately to her sister. Her older brother, Oxford student Winston, is the only person who really gets her, it seems.

Ugly Duckling Who Isn’t, Girl Wants To Break The Pattern, Arranged Marriage, Troublesome Younger Sibling, Wise Older Brother…the only Regency trope we’re missing is the dashing rake who actually does win her affections, at this point.

Madeline must, of course, run away. On the night before her wedding. So, she does. She and her horse, cleverly named Persephone, spend one uncomfortable night in a forest, then one night in a run-down inn, and end up by the sea. Please take note: when you live on an island, all directions will lead you to the sea sooner or later.

She finds a small fishing town. She rides into town, bold as brass, hitches her horse outside a tavern, and strolls in, asking for a job. The head barkeep is, as she surely must be, a non-local; a redheaded, dark-eyed Irish lass named “Caoimhe”. Please don’t ask me how to pronounce it, for I haven’t a clue. But ponder the worldly-wise Caoimhe a moment – how many Irish redheads do you know with dark eyes? Yeah, me either. When asked, she tells Madeline where she wound up: the village is named Mistle-Thrush-by-the-Sea. I kid you not.

The tavern itself, The Admiral’s Arms, is described two different ways in the course of about a page and a half. Madeline enters “a dim place, lit only by the occasional lantern or two, with wooden tables and a fireplace that was currently bare,” but a couple of hours later, as she is learning her job, she’s enjoying a spectacular view, which the tavern exploited “for all it was worth by installing giant windows that showed a view of the harbor and the sea beyond.” This and other glaring continuity errors are peppered throughout, and they just add to the fun.

On her first night there, Madeline must of course meet…Harland Sanders. The most handsome man she’d ever seen, naturally. He was “tall, dressed like a sailor,” with light and fair hair, “framing his head in airy curls, and the eyes that stared back and her were almost the exact color of the sea.” Oh, please! This younger avatar of the famously-curmudgeonish Sanders is, of course, Not Who He Appears To Be (yet another great trope). I won’t spoil it by giving you the ending, but serious readers of Regencies could write the rest of this tale easily. At only 96 pages, this tale moves fast, and the utterly-predictable denouement comes at you like a runaway locomotive.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this. YUM Brands, the owner of KFC, is releasing this novella as a marketing gimmick, not even as a serious work. There are a number of breathtaking flaws, like the continuity errors I pointed out, the needless wealth of outdated adjectives, and the tired old tropes–but were these errors deliberate? When I look at the piece as a whole, I can’t help but wonder. Will it win a “Pullet-zer” prize? Not a chance. But it was cheep…er, cheap – you’ll shell out at most a dollar for this ebook – and to me, it was a fun, silly read, and a mood-booster that I just didn’t see coming. Don’t take it too seriously; it’s way too campy for that. But if campy is your thing – Tender Wings of Desire might be a sleeper hit for you. Chick lit? Absolutely. But worth crossing the road for, in my opinion.

Escape Rating: Extra Crispy

Editor’s Note: When this book showed up on my Facebook feed I was too chicken to read it, so Amy graciously leapt into the breach. Or bucket. I’m very glad she did. I expected the hilarious yet thoughtful review, but had no idea it would also snap her out of a reading slump. And I’m so grateful that Amy was willing to go where no wings have flown before, so that the rest of us don’t have to. I am also grateful that the rating for this one was NOT spicy, because my mind still won’t go there.

For anyone dying of curiosity, this is a real book, and KFC, admittedly with tongue firmly in cheek, released it for a real reason – Mothers’ Day is one of their busiest days of the year. There seem to be nearly 400,000 families who think that the easiest way to give a hard working mother (and they are all hard-working) a night off is to pick up a bucket of chicken from KFC. And I bet there will be even more this year, as people who can’t believe this is a real thing go to KFC to discover if this is a real thing. Which it is, this weekend, free with every $20 Fill-Up Meal. Or for 99 cents at Amazon.

Me, I’m still back at OMG I’m too chicken to read this. Thanks Amy!

Review: The Librarians and the Lost Lamp by Greg Cox

Review: The Librarians and the Lost Lamp by Greg CoxThe Librarians and The Lost Lamp (The Librarians #1) by Greg Cox
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: media tie-in, urban fantasy
Series: The Librarians #1
Pages: 286
Published by Tor Books on October 11th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Librarians is one of the biggest new hits on cable. Spinning off from a popular series of TV-movies, the TNT series begins its second season this Fall. The Librarians and the Lost Lamp is the first in a series of thrilling all-new adventures that will delight fans of the TV series and movies.
For thousands of years, the Librarians have secretly protected the world The Librarians from dangerous magical relics and knowledge, including everything from Pandora’s Box to King Arthur’s sword.
Ten years ago, Flynn Carson was the only living Librarian. When the ancient criminal organization known as the Forty steals the oldest known copy of The Arabian Nights by Scheherazade, Flynn is called in to investigate. Fearing that the Forty is after Aladdin's fabled Lamp, Flynn must race to find it before the Lamp's powerful and malevolent djinn is unleashed upon the world.
Today, a new team of inexperienced Librarians, along with Eve Baird, their tough-as-nails Guardian, is investigating an uncanny mystery in Las Vegas when the quest for the Lamp begins anew . . . and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

My Review:

Because this is the start of National Library Week, I was looking for at least one book this week with some kind of library theme. When the much more serious book I originally planned on turned out to be a little too serious, I went for the much more fun option.

The Librarians, the TV series, is always fun. And after having watched it, I’ll admit that it gives saying, “I’m the Librarian” just a bit more of kick whenever I introduce myself in certain work situations.

But being an ordinary librarian isn’t near as much of a thrill as being one of THE Librarians, and that’s probably a good thing.

Our more adventurous, and fictional, counterparts are having a much more dangerous time than we are. Not that most of us don’t secretly envy them in one way or another. The seemingly unlimited resources, if nothing else.

The Librarians in this series work for a presumably mythical Library whose mission is to keep the rest of us from finding out that magic really exists, and that all too many of the legends and fables that we believe are purely fiction are in fact based in fact – and fairly dangerous fact at that.

In this particular case, the legend that is being turned on its head is the legend of Aladdin’s lamp, and the genie contained therein, as well as the legend of Scheherazade and the 1,001 Arabian Nights, along with a very specific story among those 1,001 nights, that of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

In the world of the Librarians, nothing is ever quite as it seems. And no great magic ever comes without an equally great price. It’s the paying of that price that the Library attempts to prevent, usually by locking up the magical artifact involved.

The story in The Librarians and the Lost Lamp switches between two different occasions when the Library (and those Forty Thieves) went after the lamp and the djinn imprisoned within, with rather tumultuous results.

In 2006, when Flynn Carsen was the solo librarian, and before the catastrophic events of 2014 that caused the Library to recruit three additional Librarians and their Guardian, a researcher in Baghdad discovered the earliest known copy of the 1,001 Nights. Both the Library and the Forty Thieves criminal organization hoped that the manuscript contained clues to the location of Aladdin’s lost lamp and its djinn. The Library wanted the lamp locked up for everyone’s safety, and the Forty wanted the djinn to grant their wish for power and wealth. The djinn, of course, had a somewhat different agenda.

No one came out of that particular encounter with exactly what they wanted. So in 2016, when the lamp resurfaces, both the Library and the Forty chase after it again, with even messier results than the last time.

In 2006, the lamp was in the middle of an empty desert. In 2016, it turns up in Las Vegas. The chaos that ensues is absolutely epic, and a complete blast of fun and adventure from beginning to end.

Escape Rating B: For anyone who loves the series, The Librarians and the Lost Lamp reads like a terrific episode. And for fans, that’s a great thing. I’m not certain how it would read to anyone not familiar. So consider this one a book for those in the know.

That being said, not all media tie-in books do justice by their source material, either because they mess with the canonical timeline or by just not sounding or feeling like part of their original. Or by not being true to the characters. That’s not the case here. The characters are all very true to their TV counterparts, and this feels like a slightly-longer-than-an-hour episode of the series, complete with the series’ hallmarks of adventure, teamwork and madcap humor.

Again, if you love it, that’s good.

The series itself is out of the urban fantasy tradition, mixed with a whole lot of myths and legends. The place where it plays off of urban fantasy is in that concept that magic is real, and that for some reason most of us don’t see it, no matter how much we want to. In this version of the world, it’s the Library, and the many Librarians who have served it (and usually died) who have kept magic from leaking out everywhere.

The way that the Librarians, in this particular case Cassandra, resolve the dilemma of the djinn who plans to break out of his lamp and burn the world (no pressure!) fits well with the way the Librarians generally work, and with Cassie’s personality and methods in particular. However, it will also feel familiar to anyone who remembers the I of Newton episode of the 1985 revival of The Twilight Zone, or the Joe Haldeman story the episode was based on. Clearly, methods of dealing with the Devil on your doorstep apply equally well to angry djinn.

I had a lot of fun reading this, enough so that I’m looking forward to the author’s next contribution to the series, in The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase. And to going back a rewatching the show!

p.s. I read most of this on a flight from Cincinnati to Atlanta. Wait, what was that? Is that a gremlin on the wing?

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
Goodreads

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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi + Giveaway

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi + GiveawayThe Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, Wil Wheaton
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Interdependency #1
Pages: 334
Published by Audible Studios, Tor Books on March 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new
universe.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

My Review:

My first thought upon finishing The Collapsing Empire was “Oh…My…GOD

The second was that rolling your eyes while driving is a really bad idea, especially if you do it OFTEN. Actually I had that though much earlier in the book, when I was doing a LOT of eye rolling. The ending is far from an eye roll situation, but the advice still stands.

So i’m back to the Oh My God reaction, which I’m still hearing in Wil Wheaton’s voice as the reader of The Collapsing Empire. Which I listened to, pretty much everywhere, sometimes rolling my eyes, often smiling or even outright laughing, from the surprising beginning to the even more astonishing end.

Which isn’t really an end, because it’s obvious that this is just the beginning of a much bigger story, which I hope we get Real Soon Now, but don’t actually expect for a year or more.

So what was it?

The title both does and doesn’t give it away The Empire, in this case the human empire that calls itself the Interdependency, is about to collapse. Not due to warfare or anything so prosaic, but because, well, science. The interstellar network that keeps the far-flung reaches of the Interdependency interdependent is on the verge of an unstoppable collapse.. So what we have at the moment is the story of the maneuvering and machinations as what passes for the powers that be, or that hope to be the powers that become, jockey for position (and survival) in the suddenly onrushing future.

And humans being humans, while some panic there are a whole lot of people who remain so invested in the status quo that they are unwilling to act because any actions upset their positions now, and they hope, very much against hope, that the predictions are wrong. Not because they really believe in their heart of hearts that they ARE wrong, but because they want them to be wrong so very badly.

Any resemblance between the Interdependency and 21st century America is probably intended – but agreeing or disagreeing with that statement doesn’t change the sheer rushing “WOW” of the story.

That story of the empire that’s about to collapse is primarily told through the eyes of four very, very different people (not that the side characters aren’t themselves quite fascinating). But as things wind up, and as the empire begins to wind down, we get our view of the impending fall mostly from these four, or people who surround them.

The first is Ghreni Nohamapeton, the most frequent source of my eye-rolling. Ghreni is a slippery manipulative little bastard, but he is about to be hoist on his own petard. Or possibly not. He thinks he knows what’s coming, and of course, he doesn’t. Or does he?

Kiva Lagos may possibly be the most profane character it has ever been my pleasure to encounter, in literature or out of it. And her constant, continuous cursing sounds a bit much in an audiobook, but perfectly fits her character. Kiva is also manipulative as hell, and mercenary into the bargain. But somewhere between the hells, damns and f-bombs, there’s a heart. Or at least the desire to one-up Ghreni that provides some of the same functionality.

Marce Claremont is about to be the bearer of very bad tidings – if he can survive being the chew toy between Ghreni and Kiva long enough to deliver his message. And even though he knows that the delivery of it means that he really, really can’t go home again. Ever.

And finally we have Cardenia Wu, the recent and very reluctant Emperox of the Interdependency. A woman who is about to experience the very extreme end of that old saying, “be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.” As a great man once said, “Some gifts come at just too high a price.” And that’s true whether you have to dance with the devil to get them, or just roll dice with fate.

Escape Rating A: I listened to this, and also have the ebook. I expected to switch between, but in the end just couldn’t tear myself away from Wil Wheaton’s marvelous reading. He does a terrific job with all of the voices, and adds even more fun to a book that was already fantastic.

But I need that ebook to look up all the names. It seems as if none of them are spelled quite the way they sound. And the ship’s names are an exercise in absurdity from beginning to end. (This aspect may be an homage to the late Iain Banks’ Culture series). But the first ship we meet is the “Tell Me Another One” which is this reader’s general response to Scalzi’s work. I want him to tell me another one, as soon as possible. But also, and as usual, everyone’s leg is getting pulled more than a bit, and not from the same direction.

Lots of things in this story made me smile, quite often ruefully. The scenario is painful, and as this book closes we know that the situation in general is only going to get worse, and possibly not get better. But for the individuals, life is going on. And the characters exhibit all of the sarcasm that this author is known for.

Some of it has the ring of gallows humor to it, and that’s also right. No one is likely to come out of this unscathed by the end, and that’s obvious to the reader from the beginning, even if not to the characters.

This is also a story of merchant empires and political skullduggery. And yes, there is plenty of commentary on that aspect to chew on for a long time, quite possibly until the next book in the series. Like so much of Scalzi’s work, The Collapsing Empire makes the reader laugh, and it makes the reader think, quite often at the same time.

Ghreni and Kiva both represent different ways in which the current systems of the Interdependency have been taken to their extreme limit. But Marce and Cardenia are the characters that we sympathize with. They are both operating against impossible odds, and we like them and want them to succeed. Whether they will or not is left to the subsequent books in this series.

And I really, really, really can’t wait to see what happens next.

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

Because this is part of my annual Blogo-Birthday celebration, I want to share the love. And the books. John Scalzi is one of my favorite authors, and I hope he’ll become one of yours too. To that end, I’m giving away one copy of any of Scalzi’s works, (up to $20) to one lucky commenter on this post. This giveaway includes The Collapsing Empire, but if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of Scalzi, Old Man’s War is probably the best place to begin.

a Rafflecopter giveaway