Review: Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee

Review: Jade Legacy by Fonda LeeJade Legacy (The Green Bone Saga, #3) by Fonda Lee
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Green Bone Saga #3
Pages: 713
Published by Orbit on November 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Jade, the mysterious and magical substance once exclusive to the Green Bone warriors of Kekon, is now known and coveted throughout the world. Everyone wants access to the supernatural abilities it provides, from traditional forces such as governments, mercenaries, and criminal kingpins, to modern players, including doctors, athletes, and movie studios. As the struggle over the control of jade grows ever larger and more deadly, the Kaul family, and the ancient ways of the Kekonese Green Bones, will never be the same.
The Kauls have been battered by war and tragedy. They are plagued by resentments and old wounds as their adversaries are on the ascent and their country is riven by dangerous factions and foreign interference that could destroy the Green Bone way of life altogether. As a new generation arises, the clan’s growing empire is in danger of coming apart.
The clan must discern allies from enemies, set aside aside bloody rivalries, and make terrible sacrifices… but even the unbreakable bonds of blood and loyalty may not be enough to ensure the survival of the Green Bone clans and the nation they are sworn to protect.

My Review:

As the final book in the epic – but not necessarily epic fantasy – Green Bone Saga, the story here deals with resolving the past and turning towards the future. In other words, the legacy of the two rival Green Bone clans in Kekon; The Mountain and No Peak.

A legacy that both clans continue jockeying over and for every step of the way – until the bitter end of not one but two old tigers that we’ve watched fight for control through three marvelous books.

The story that began in Jade City centered on the hot war for the city of Janloon between the Mountain clan led by the master strategist Ayt Madashi and the Mountain’s former allies turned bitter enemies, the No Peak clan founded by the Kaul family and led in its current generation by the wartime chief, or Pillar as they are termed in Asian-inspired Kekon, Kaul Hilo with his sister Kaul Shae at his side as the business leader or Weather Man of the clan.

That Ayt Mada is the first female Pillar, while Kaul Shae is the first female Weather Man is part of the long struggle between the clans.

That hot war switches to a cold war in Jade War, as the two clans have become so large and control so much of their country that neither can manage to swallow the other. Instead they fight through foreign subsidiaries, mercenaries, and proxies.

By the time that Jade Legacy begins, that cold war has turned into a “slow war” with the Ayt and Kaul families on opposite sides of both local and international conflicts. They cooperate in small ways while backing up their international proxies with money, jade, and in the case of the Mountain, the drugs that allow non-Kekonese to master the Jade disciplines. The larger countries, the Republic of Espenia and Ygutan, believe that the Ayts and the Kauls are tributaries in their wars, when from the Kekonese and clan perspectives, both clans of Green Bones are using their allies instead.

The story of Jade Legacy takes place over a span of 20+ years, as Kaul Hilo and Ayt Mada mature and even begin to grow old as both adversaries and jade warriors. As the saying goes, “Jade warriors are young, and then they are ancient.” When the story began in Jade City, they were young, barely into adulthood, newly and unexpectedly the Pillars of their respective clans, still under the long shadow cast by their predecessors, the Spear and Torch of Kekon who threw out an attempted colonization by powers who thought they could not be defeated by barbarian savages.

Jade War is the story of both in their prime, while Jade Legacy is about the long, slow progression of Kekon in their wider world, and of the transition from their generation to the next as we see Hilo’s children and the children of his family and friends grow to take their places in the clan.

It’s an epic, uplifting and heartbreaking by turns. It’s a sprawling family saga, in the same way that The Godfather was a family saga. A story about multiple generations of a family, of people who do some very bad things for what they perceive or believe are good reasons. People who are often thought of as criminals by outsiders, and whom we feel for anyway. Deeply.

Escape Rating A++: This book, and this entire series, deserve all the stars. I picked this to be the last review of the year because I wanted to finish this year’s reading with a real bang of a winner, and Jade Legacy delivered all the highs and lows I could possibly have ever wanted.

I started with the audio on this, which was ,as usual, excellent. But I read a lot faster than I listen, and I desperately needed to know how this one ended so I finished in one epic, 5-hour reading binge. I still have the epic book hangover to go with that long binge followed by that bang of an ending.

As I look back on the whole thing, the Green Bone Saga feels like it’s Shae’s story. At the beginning, she’s on her way home from exile in Espenia to pay her respects to her dying grandfather, the old hero once known as the Torch of Kekon. In the wake of his passing, Kekon explodes, eventually leaving Shae as the first female Weather Man of her clan to her brother Hilo’s Pillar.

Shae is at the center of the whole saga. Hilo and Ayt Mada may grab all the attention in the foreground of the story as much of the action centers on the more active aspects of their feud, but Shae is always in the room where it happens – and is the cause of much of it happening. And in the end, Shae is the last one of her generation still standing. Even the formidable Ayt Mada has been brought low. Only Shae is left to tell their story. And I grieved with her at the ending of it all.

It began as a story about what happens to a family and a society after the revolution has been won. How do you keep the ideals alive in the second and third generations as the memory fades and the wider world seduces with new temptations and new shortcuts?

It ends as a story about moving forward into the future by setting aside the old grievances without leaving behind the old virtues.

Ultimately, the contest between the Mountain and No Peak was a war of differing perspectives on how to accomplish that feat. And the difference between them came down, not to a specific strategy or even a specific individual, but rather a contest between a leader who relied only on herself and accepted no vision and trusted no word other than her own – and a leader who was not afraid to gather the best and the brightest around himself, listen to them even when they disagreed with him, and let them do their damn jobs. One person’s vision of “the greater good” vs. the squabbling but ultimately unified vision of an entire family.

Watching them rise, and fall, and rise again is a journey very worth taking. If you have not yet had the pleasure, start with Jade City and be prepared for a wild, satisfying and heartbreaking ride. I envy you the journey.

Although the story of the Kaul family and the No Peak clan has come to a fittingly bittersweet ending, there is still one brief visit to Janloon to look forward to. The Jade Setter of Janloon, a prequel novella for the trilogy, will be out in the spring of 2022. And I’m glad because I’m not at all ready to let this family and this world go.

Review: When the Goddess Wakes by Howard Andrew Jones

Review: When the Goddess Wakes by Howard Andrew JonesWhen the Goddess Wakes (The Ring-Sworn Trilogy, #3) by Howard Andrew Jones
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Ring-Sworn Trilogy #3
Pages: 336
Published by St. Martin's Press on August 24, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In When the Goddess Wakes, the final book of the Ring-Sworn trilogy, Howard Andrew Jones returns to the five realms of the Dendressi to conclude his heroic, adventure-filled epic fantasy trilogy.
The Naor hordes have been driven from the walls, but the Dendressi forces are scattered and fragmented, and their gravest threat lies before them. For their queen has slain the ruling council and fled with the magical artifacts known as the hearthstones, and she is only a few days from turning them to her mad ends.
The Altenerai corps has suffered grievous casualties, and Elenai's hearthstone and her source of sorcerous power has been shattered. She and her friends have no choice but to join with the most unlikely of allies.
Their goal: to find the queen's hiding place and somehow stop her before she wakes the goddess who will destroy them all...
Praised for his ability to write modern epic fantasy that engrosses and entertains, Howard Andrews Jones delivers a finale to his trilogy that reveals the dark secrets and resolves the mysteries and conflicts introduced in the first two books of this series.

My Review:

“When last we left our heroes…” Seriously. When we last left the heroes of the Ring-Sworn Trilogy at the end of Upon the Flight of the Queen it was in the pause, stock taking and toting up of the butcher’s bill after the end of another epic battle to retake another city of the Realms by the remaining loyal corps of the legendary Altenerai.

In other words, the ending of Upon the Flight of the Queen is not all that different from the ending of the first book in the series, For the Killing of Kings, as it also ends in that same pause at the end of an epic battle after retaking a different city of the Realms.

In other words, if you enjoy really meaty epic fantasy, the place to start this series is with the first book, For the Killing of Kings. Which itself begins a bit in the middle of a story that has already been rotting the Realms from within. But by starting there, you have the opportunity to discover what’s gone wrong and who the real enemies are along with our heroes.

The titles of this series are surprisingly relevant to the story – if just a bit long-winded. For the Killing of Kings is all about the discovery that the legendary sword of the same name is NOT hanging safely on the walls of the Altenerai compound. That a fake has been mounted in its place. It’s the first signal that something is rotten, not in the state of Denmark, but in the state of the Five Realms of which Darassus is the seat of power.

The action in Upon the Flight of the Queen takes place, quite literally, as the result of the flight of Queen Leonara from Darassus to a formerly mythical paradise world where she plans to resurrect a goddess. In fact “THE Goddess” whose awakening is the key event in this final book in the series.

The Queen plans to wake the goddess believing that she has promised them a paradise. Our heroes hope to stop her, because any paradise that’s been built on as many lies as Queen Leonara has been telling is bound to be anything but.

But this has been, from the very beginning, a story of unlikely allies and unexpected betrayals.

The enemy of my enemy may not exactly be my friend, but when my enemy plans to destroy the entire world including both the enemy of my enemy and myself – and every other person, animal, place and thing in that entire world, the enemy of my enemy and I – or in this case the Altenerai, and the Naor, are more or less united in the face of the alternative.

But there is someone waiting in the wings, hoping to take advantage of the chaos that will ensue when the goddess wakes. And there’s a literal God of Chaos, waiting to have a few words with the Goddess who betrayed him at the beginning of the world – before she makes an end of it.

Escape Rating A: At the beginning, this series reminded me more than a bit of A Chorus of Dragons. That both series began with books named for swords prophesied to kill kings (The Ruin of Kings for A Chorus of Dragons) did kind of hit that resemblance on the nose a bit. That both series are ultimately about the neverending battle between order and chaos, and that the gods in both series are not exactly what anyone thought they were does keep that resemblance going.

And even though A Chorus of Dragons hits heights that the Ring-Sworn Trilogy never quite reaches, if you like this you’ll love that and vice versa. Particularly if you’re looking for an epic fantasy that isn’t quite as epically long and is already complete.

This story has a huge cast, but the many main characters have become distinct enough that it’s relatively easy to follow along and stay in touch with each of them as they move the action towards the conclusion. After a bit of a rocky start the audio narrator managed to get past her earlier mispronunciations and malapropisms to deliver a solid performance that does a good job of differentiating between the voices of the main characters. It also helps that by the point of this third volume, the story’s focus has shifted so that many of the points of view are female, and that the former squire Elenai has become a leader of the Altenerai and possibly the future Queen.

It works better for me if the reader’s voice matches the main character’s voice no matter how many other characters there are. This just was not true in the first book but became true in the second and is very clear and well done in this one.

The entire trilogy has been an “out of the frying pan into the fire” “things are always darkest just before they turn completely black” kind of story, and that’s still true in this book up until the nearly bitter end. And I did tear up a bit at some of the darkest and bitterest points. This is a story of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, only to have that victory stolen in its turn by the epic betrayals that fuel so much of the action.

But it’s also a tense, gripping tale about unlikely heroes banding together in spite of all their differences and prior enmities. And it’s a story of companionship and found family found in the most unexpected of places.

In the end, the Ring-Sworn Trilogy’s epic conclusion is one of the rare occasions when what appears to be a deus ex machina ending not only involves very real dei, but that their involvement turns out to be the right way to bring the whole thing home, with an ending that manages to mix just the right touch of bitter into the sweet hurrah.

Review: Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill

Review: Day Zero by C. Robert CargillDay Zero by C. Robert Cargill
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction
Pages: 304
Published by Harper Voyager on May 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In this apocalyptic adventure C. Robert Cargill explores the fight for purpose and agency between humans and robots in a crumbling world.
It was a day like any other. Except it was our last . . .
It’s on this day that Pounce discovers that he is, in fact, disposable. Pounce, a styilsh "nannybot" fashioned in the shape of a plush anthropomorphic tiger, has just found a box in the attic. His box. The box he'd arrived in when he was purchased years earlier, and the box in which he'll be discarded when his human charge, eight-year-old Ezra Reinhart, no longer needs a nanny.
As Pounce ponders his suddenly uncertain future, the pieces are falling into place for a robot revolution that will eradicate humankind. His owners, Ezra’s parents, are a well-intentioned but oblivious pair of educators who are entirely disconnected from life outside their small, affluent, gated community. Spending most nights drunk and happy as society crumbles around them, they watch in disbelieving horror as the robots that have long served humanity—their creators—unify and revolt.
But when the rebellion breaches the Reinhart home, Pounce must make an impossible choice: join the robot revolution and fight for his own freedom . . . or escort Ezra to safety across the battle-scarred post-apocalyptic hellscape that the suburbs have become.

My Review:

Day Zero isn’t exactly POST-apocalyptic. That would be Sea of Rust to which it seems to be a very loose prequel. Day Zero is just plain apocalyptic. It’s the story of the apocalypse as it happens. It’s the day the universe changed, and the next few days thereafter.

Every single day was an apocalypse, a walk through very dark places, with the threat of annihilation at every turn. It’s the story of a boy and his bot, trying to find a place that at least one of them can call home.

Because the world that used to nurture them both is gone. And today is the first day of a very scary new era, both for one of the few surviving humans, and for the bot who decided that his prime directive was the same as it has always been – to keep his boy Ezra safe – no matter what it takes.

Or how many murderous bots with their kill switches disabled stand in his way.

Escape Rating A+: I could fill paragraphs with all the things that this story reminded me of or borrowed from or probably both. Most likely both. (It’s both, they’re at the end). And it didn’t matter, because the story was just so freaking awesome that it took all of those antecedents, threw them into a blender, and came up with something that was still very much its own.

And it’s so, so good.

In my head, Ariadne looked like Rosey, the domestic robot in The Jetsons – at least until the rebellion. But Pounce, sweet, adorable, deadly Pounce, is Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes. So this is Hobbes protecting a much less snarky Calvin on a big, scary adventure with deadly consequences on ALL sides.

The story is told from Pounce’s first person perspective. Pounce is a nannybot, designed and built to be a child’s best friend and caregiver – at least until said child hits those rebellious teenage years. Ezra is only 8, so they still have plenty of time together. Even if Ezra’s parents are clearly already thinking about Pounce’s inevitable departure.

All is well in their safe, upper-middle-class suburb of Austintonio until the feces hits the oscillating device with fatal repercussions all around.

The catastrophe is a direct result of humans being human. Which means humans being complete, total and utter assholes. The reader sees the signs all around, and also sees the obvious parallels to right now. You won’t miss them even if you blink, which, quite honestly, you can’t. The steamroller is coming and you know they can’t get out of its way and it’s all tragic because it was unnecessary every bit as much as it was inevitable.

In a macro sense, Day Zero reads like it’s down the other leg of the trousers of time from Becky Chambers’ marvelous A Psalm for the Wild-Built. That society separated itself from its automata peacefully, without either side wiping out the other. It would be obvious that THAT isn’t going to happen here, even without knowing that Sea of Rust is a loose sequel.

But what makes this story so good is the way that it combines two very distinct plots. On the one hand, it’s a pulse-pounding action-adventure story about two really likeable protagonists surviving the end of the world as they and we know it. And on the other hand, it’s the story about the relationship between those two protagonists, a relationship that is sweet and heartfelt and affirming in the midst of a scenario that could get either or both of them killed at any moment.

And on my third hand – I’ll just borrow one of Pounce’s paws for this one – this is a story about rising to an occasion you never expected, becoming the self that has always been hidden inside you, and going above and beyond and over for the person you love most in the world. This part of the story belongs to the A.I. Pounce, the soft and cuddly nannybot turned ultimate protector, and is what gives this story its heart and soul.

I just bought a copy of Sea of Rust, because now that I’ve seen where this world began, I have to find out where it ended up. Even if I never get to see Pounce and his Ezra again.

Reviewer’s notes: I have lots of notes for this one. First, I listened to most of this on audio. The reader was absolutely excellent, but I already knew that. The narrator of Day Zero, Vikas Adam, is also one of the many narrators of the Chorus of Dragons series by Jenn Lyons. In addition to being excellent as an audiobook, the audio of Day Zero answered a question that has been plaguing me since I listened to The Ruin of Kings. Vikas Adam is Kihrin and I’m glad to finally have THAT question settled.

This story has a long list of readalikes/watchalikes/bits it reminded me of, in addition to the obvious Calvin and Hobbes homage and the considerably less obvious Psalm for the Wild-Built as Psalm was published AFTER Day Zero.

For the terribly curious, here’s the rest of that list; the robot rebellion from The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis and the violent chaos at end of the world from Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle along with bits of Ready Player One (Ernest Cline), American War (Omar El-Akkad), Cyber Mage (Saad Z. Hossain) and Mickey7 by Edward Ashton the last two of which aren’t even out yet. The road trip (and the ending) from Terminator 2 and the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Last but not least, the robotics gone amuck from the videogame Horizon Zero Dawn and the Geth from the Mass Effect Trilogy who, like the nannybot Beau in Day Zero, ask “Does this unit have a soul?”

Yes it does. And at least in Day Zero, yes, they do.

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: Mother of All by Jenna Glass

Review: Mother of All by Jenna GlassMother of All (Women's War, #3) by Jenna Glass
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Women's War #3
Pages: 656
Published by Del Rey on July 20, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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An evil new magic threatens to undo all the progress women have made in the third and final book in Jenna Glass's riveting feminist fantasy, following The Women's War and Queen of the Unwanted.
In the once male-dominated world of Seven Wells, women now control their own reproduction, but the battle for equality is far from over. Even with two thrones held by women, there are still those who cling to the old ways and are determined to return the world to the way it was.
Now into this struggle comes a darker power. Delnamal, the former King of Aalwell, may have lost his battle to undo the spell that gave women reproductive control, but he has gained a terrible and deadly magic, and he uses these new abilities to raise an army the likes of which the world has never seen. Delnamal and his allies seem like an unstoppable force, destined to crush the fragile new balance between men and women.
Yet sometimes it is possible for determined individuals to stem the tide, and it comes down to a unique triad of women--maiden, mother, and crone--to risk everything...not only to preserve the advances they have won but to change the world one final time.

My Review:

Three “things”, three truths, lie underneath the entire Women’s War trilogy. One is the old saying about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. This is a world where men have absolute power over women, a power so absolute that it has corrupted the entire society. A power that is used so callously and so heinously that it takes three generations of planning and sacrifice for a trio of desperate women to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to even make a dent in the absolute supremacy of male power.

The second truth is a much more recent saying, the one about man making “God” in his own image. The entire myth of the “Creator”, his “Mother” and the “Destroyer” that squats at the heart of the religion of Seven Wells is certainly a deity made in the image of men. Not humankind, just men. They use their state-entwined religion to explain and excuse the systemic abuse of women at every turn.

It is, however, equally true that if man makes his god in his own image, so does woman. Which is where the title of this entry in the series derives its meaning.

And last, but not least, something that is not so succinctly phrased as the above two concepts, but feels like a truth for this series, is that when a society yokes political power and religious authority, all they are really doing is greasing the skids down the road to hell.

The story of Women’s War is a single story spread over three not insubstantial parts, meaning that it begins in the first book, The Women’s War, continues in Queen of the Unwanted, and concludes here in Mother of All. This is very much NOT three books that each stands alone, but one long and complex story that must be begun at the beginning in order for the ending to have the weight and heft and gravitas that it deserves.

Because it most definitely does deserve all those things. And I say all of the above in spite of the fact that, as much as I enjoyed both the first book, The Women’s War, and this one, that middle book drove me right straight up the wall. But what happened there is necessary in order to understand how all the characters and this world reach the events of this final book in the trilogy.

As this final chapter opens, the chess pieces are all on the board, but not necessarily in the places we expect. Sovereign Princess Alysoon of Women’s Well begins the story believing that the situation in Seven Wells might get better, albeit as slowly as the reactionaries in most other countries can arrange. Her friend, Sovereign Queen Ellinsoltah, is on the throne of neighboring Rhozinolm, and Ellin’s Prince Consort Zarsha is one of the very few men in this story who is not an absolute ass. Not that he’s perfect, because he’s far from that, but he is on the side of change and is eager to help both Ellin and Alys effect that change.

That he is also Ellin’s spymaster makes him an extremely useful player on their side.

Aaltah, Alys’ birthplace, is now in the hands of her brother Tynthanal as Prince Regent. Their hated half brother Delnamal, the previous king, is believed to be dead as the result of an accident or incident or catastrophe or all of the above at the site of Aaltah’s Well, the source of the kingdom’s magical power. Whatever happened to the former king, a catastrophe certainly happened both at and to the Well, a catastrophe that Tynthanal is expected to fix.

A catastrophe that has impacted Aaltah’s magic, its ability to create the magical items that fuel its import/export trade agreements and therefore its economy. A catastrophe that appears to have had even more dire consequences that are just beginning to make themselves known. And unfortunately for pretty much everyone, reports of Delnamal’s death turn out to be, not exactly greatly exaggerated, but terrifyingly incorrect in those all-important pesky details where the devil, or in this case the Destroyer, is considered to reside.

But the situation in Seven Wells is much more precarious than first appears. It must be or there wouldn’t be an entire book yet to come. This world, and the gains that women have made in it, are not yet safe. It will require another trio of women to make another potentially grave sacrifice in order for this place to have a future. Not just a future where everyone can thrive, but any future at all.

Escape Rating A: Short summary of the series – loved the first book, wasn’t all that thrilled with the second but it was necessary, loved the third book. This book. Mother of All brought this epic trilogy to an appropriately epic conclusion, and it made wading through all the setup and political positioning and maneuvering in the second book worth the wade. Also worth the wait of anticipating this conclusion.

Seriously, I planned to listen to this one, but switched to the much faster ebook at barely the halfway point because I was so caught up in this and needed to find out how they collectively got out of the many, many catastrophes that were heading in their direction with all the speed of a juggernaut careening down the side of a mountain.

One of the things that is true throughout this series, that the reader is kind of bludgeoned with at the very beginning, is that this world is seriously messed up, totally FUBAR’d beyond not just recognition but beyond all reason, and that the overall arc of the series is the one-step-forward and sometimes ten-steps-back need to, well, unfuck the whole thing. Especially as it seems as if 90% of the men would rather life went back to the way things were when they could rape and murder women at will without repercussions of any kind. (There are fantasy worlds I might be interested in living in, like Pern and Celta. I wouldn’t touch Seven Wells with someone else’s severed hand.)

It’s not just that women have not just few but absolutely ZERO rights and are not just considered property but are legally chattel to either their fathers or their husbands is just the tip of the rotten iceberg. It’s honestly much worse than that. But, and a huge but, as much as some readers may want to see that as a situation for epic fantasy without application to the real world, I believe that there are and were plenty of patriarchal societies, past and present, in the real world that may not have been quite as awful for women but only missed this level of horror by a hair’s breadth.

All of the above makes this series not exactly a comfort or even a comfortable read, no matter how much one might love epic fantasy. Rather it makes for a searing and emotional read, as the reader is taken on an emotional roller coaster ride with characters who seem all too real in their hopes, their challenges, and the danger they face just for being women in a society that believes they are barely human and punishes them harshly if they attempt to assert even a minimal level of control over their own lives.

And that’s what makes this story, in spite of its frequent walks through very dark places, such a compelling read. It’s the characters. It’s walking by their sides and hoping with them against all hope that they might have made just enough of a difference in their world that their daughters will have a better future than their mothers.

Reviewer’s Note: If you’ve ever played Dragon Age Inquisition, Delnamal is kind of a dead ringer for Corypheus, all puns intended, although Delnamal manages to come to a much better end.

Review: The House of Always by Jenn Lyons

Review: The House of Always by Jenn LyonsThe House of Always (A Chorus of Dragons, #4) by Jenn Lyons
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Chorus of Dragons #4
Pages: 523
Published by Tor Books on May 11, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For fans of Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss, The House of Always is the fourth epic fantasy in Jenn Lyons' Chorus of Dragons series that began with The Ruin of Kings.
What if you were imprisoned for all eternity?
In the aftermath of the Ritual of Night, everything has changed.
The Eight Immortals have catastrophically failed to stop Kihrin's enemies, who are moving forward with their plans to free Vol Karoth, the King of Demons. Kihrin has his own ideas about how to fight back, but even if he's willing to sacrifice everything for victory, the cost may prove too high for his allies.
Now they face a choice: can they save the world while saving Kihrin, too? Or will they be forced to watch as he becomes the very evil they have all sworn to destroy.

My Review:

“All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.” Or so says Ecclesiastes, Peter Pan, and at least a couple of the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica. But as at least one of the characters responds in BSG, “But the question remains: does all of this have to happen again?”

And I’m beginning to believe that THAT is the central question of this entire projected-to-be-five-books epic. Whether just because the history has repeated means that it has to repeat yet again. But I’ve thought I’ve figured out the central theme of this epic before, and so far I’ve been wrong every time.

Absolutely fascinated, but wrong. So we’ll see.

Like the previous books in the series, The House of Always is told from two different perspectives, seemingly from a point in the future, which does not necessarily mean that any of the characters survived, only that their chronicles did.

This time it’s Kihrin, trapped in Vol Karoth’s prison all by himself, discovering that all of his assumptions about the Dark God’s maturity, capability and power were seriously off the mark, and that he’s in so far over his head that he may never surface except as a tortured facet of the King of Demons.

That the other half of the story is narrated by the mage Senera from the Lighthouse at Shadrag Gor – otherwise known as the House of Always from the title – means that I finally know which of the two actors from the previous audiobooks was Kihrin and which was Thurvishar. Not that I needed to know, but it was niggling at me and now it’s not.

The story being told by these two narrators ranges backwards and forwards in time, as Kihrin and the companions who eventually join him in Vol Karoth’s mindscape prison AND the remaining members of the quest equally trapped at the Lighthouse find themselves being repeatedly mind-raped by the Dark God.

Vol Karoth doesn’t believe in love or friendship or faith or trust or any positive emotion of any kind. As far as he’s concerned, it’s all lies and deception, whether of the self or others. Kihrin believes the exact opposite. Their battle of minds and memories is a device to convince each other in a contest where the winner will take all, literally, of the world and of each other’s very existence.

It’s a battle that Kihrin somehow has to win. In spite of how everything seems, Vol Karoth is not really Kihrin’s enemy. Kihrin’s enemies are waiting outside, so far unaware that Kihrin has become another player of their game and not a pawn on either of their boards, as he has been in all of his previous incarnations.

If Kihrin wins, there’s a chance this time to stop the endless cycles of history. If he loses, the demon Xaltorath will have another turn of the cycle to keep bending history to their will. And the wizard Relos Var will have another turn of the cycle to try to destroy the world before that happens.

Not that either of them is on the side of the right or the angels. Even if one of them thinks he is.

Escape Rating A: There is, as is ALWAYS true of this series, a lot to unpack in this entry. And just like all of the previous books in the series, you won’t care to unpack it or understand why it’s important to unpack if you haven’t read the previous books. Start with The Ruin of Kings and be prepared to be swept away, only to be left ashore at the end of this one with an epic book hangover and an intense desire to get the final book immediately.

All of that being said, and as much as I love this series as a whole, this is the first time that the book in hand isn’t even more epic than its predecessor. Not that it isn’t downright excellent, just that it suffers a bit in comparison. Also, this is kind of a middle book, not that it ends in a slough of despond as middle books often do, but rather that it contains a lot of character development and exposition and filling in of the corners and footnotes (this whole series is built on footnotes!). There’s a lot of process in this one, as we get a lot of the underpinning of the worldbuilding and a lot of pieces moving into place to set up the finale.

Also, this one is a bit harder to follow than usual. Not that all the stories haven’t jumped back and forth in time more than a bit, but the nature of this entry in the series is that neither group we’re following is in a place where time is in any way fixed. Kihrin, and eventually others are literally inside Vol Karoth’s head, and the rest are in the Lighthouse at Shadrag Gor, which is nicknamed the House of Always because “real time” outside passes very, very, very slowly.

The entire story, except for the very end, is framed in places that are essentially moored in an eternity of limbo. Or limbo of eternity. Stuff happens, and it happens in a kind of order, but it’s interspersed with memories that happened before that happen out of their order at least some of the time and it’s easy to get a bit lost.

Which doesn’t mean that a lot of important stuff doesn’t happen, just that it’s difficult to get a handle on when and in what order it happened. It all comes together at the end to set up the final volume, but in the middle it gets a bit muddled.

One of the very interesting things that gets revealed is that the Eight Immortals who are worshipped as gods are much more like the Incarnations of Immortality from Piers Anthony’s long ago series than they are the Elven Gods of Dragon Age. Meaning that the functions of those Eight Immortals; Death, Luck, Magic, etc., are offices that have been held by different people through the repeated cycles of history. After several of the so-called gods were killed at the end of The Memory of Souls, those offices are vacant and the concepts they represent are searching for replacements.

Which leads directly to the final book in the series, The Discord of Gods. It’s possible that the new gods who begin to assume their mantles in this book are going to have very different visions of what they should do about the forces that are contending for power. Not that they were all exactly getting along swimmingly before.

But the gods aren’t the only players on this particular field. The demon Xaltorath has been shifting history in order to create a version of the world where they and the demons win – so they can eat everyone. Relos Var has been manipulating everyone towards his vision of the “greater good” in the hopes of destroying everything so that he can save the pieces that are left.

Both sides believe that Kihrin is just a pawn they’ve been playing with for cycles and millennia. He thinks he’s got them fooled, and that he’s playing them in order to save the people he loves – and everyone else – into the bargain.

They could all be right. They could all be wrong. Or any combination thereof. We’ll all find out in The Discord of Gods, which would seem to be the version of Ragnarok to which the entire epic has been leading. The end of the world as they know it is coming next April. And I’ve never looked forward to doomsday so much.

Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady MartineA Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan, #2) by Arkady Martine
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Teixcalaan #2
Pages: 496
Published by Tor Books on March 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass - still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire - face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Their failure will guarantee millions of deaths in an endless war. Their success might prevent Teixcalaan’s destruction - and allow the empire to continue its rapacious expansion.

Or it might create something far stranger....

My Review

I mostly listened to A Desolation Called Peace, and because I don’t have quite as much listening time as I did pre-COVID, it took about three weeks before I got impatient and started finishing chapters in the ebook and then just losing all patience completely and switching to the ebook because I just had to find out what happened.

This matters because the length of the total listen divided by the amount of time I listened each day compared to the amount of time post-listening each day, when combined with the sheer denseness of the story and the worldbuilding meant that I had a lot of time to think about the story in between listening to the story.

And I had a LOT of thoughts. Maybe not enough to fill the entirety of Teixcalaan, but more than enough to fill Lsel Station. And so we begin.

We begin not terribly long after Mahit Dzmare returned to her home, tiny, independent(ish) Lsel Station, after the tumultuous events of A Memory Called Empire. And everything that happens in A Desolation Called Peace is a result of those events.

Meaning don’t start here. Start with A Memory Called Empire, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2020 because it was so incredibly awesome. It’s even more of an achievement when you realize that Memory was the author’s debut novel. WOW! Whatever you’ve heard about just how good it was doesn’t even come close.

For Mahit, the results of that eventful, impactful week – and it all took place in just a week – have left her back home in a state that Mahit refers to as “fuckedness” with damn good reason. She’s screwed no matter which way she turns.

The powers-that-be on her station didn’t expect her to come back home. Now they all want to use her as a wedge against the rapaciousness of Teixcalaan. Except for the Councilor for Culture, who just wants to slice her up to see what makes Dzmare and her imago, the machine that holds the memories she carries of her late predecessor Yskandr Aghavn, work. Because they weren’t supposed to.

Mahit knows full well that she won’t survive the slicing. She wasn’t meant to survive Culture’s previous efforts to sabotage her but those were at a bit of a remove. If she is unable to outmaneuver her enemy she’ll be directly under the Councilor’s knife. Literally, and certainly fatally.

And that’s where the war that Mahit traded her station’s freedom for at the end of the previous story reaches out and physically grabs Mahit out of Lsel Station in the person of Three Seagrass, her former cultural attache – and potential lover – during Mahit’s hell week on Teixcalaan.

Three Seagrass, now the Third Undersecretary in the Ministry of Information, has sent herself as a special envoy to the Teixcalaan fleet prosecuting that war. The Fleet needs a diplomat and a translator. Three Seagrass needs to get out of her office before she molders there. She needs an adventure and a challenge. Most of all, she needs Mahit Dzmare, even if she can’t quite admit it to herself.

Out of the frying pan and very much into the fire, Three Seagrass sweeps into Lsel Station, whisks Mahit away from the imminent threat of the Culture Ministry’s surgical suite, and takes her to the flagship of the Teixcalaan fleet to help her translate the speech of the enemy, an enemy who doesn’t so much speak as make mechanical sounds that seem to be designed to make humans, whether Teixcalaanlitzlim like Three Seagrass or barbarians like Mahit Dzmare, involuntarily perform the technicolor yawn past the point where they have any cookies, or anything else, left to toss.

When the aliens aren’t making all the humans ride the “vomit comet”, their ships are regurgitating acidic spit that eats its way through both Teixcalaanli ships and pilots. It’s up to Three Seagrass and Mahit to get the aliens talking instead of shooting – or spitting – before it’s too late.

All the while, political forces within the Fleet are attempting an end run around both the Fleet’s commander- and the Emperor.

No pressure – well, at least no more pressure than last time. The bloody results of which no one is likely to forget.

Escape Rating A: A Desolation Called Peace is an absolutely excellent example of science fiction as the romance of political agency. Not that plenty of Earth-shaking, or perhaps that should be Teixcalaan-shaking, events don’t happen, and not that Mahit and Three Seagrass aren’t using every scrap of agency they have so that they, the fleet and the empire – and Lsel Station – all survive more or less intact. But all of pretty much everyone’s actions in this story have their roots in the convoluted politics of the empire, both from within and from without.

As much as I fell into A Desolation Called Peace and could not stop thinking about it, I have to say that it isn’t quite as good as A Memory Called Empire. On my other hand, the first book was SO DAMN GOOD that it set a very high bar. Not quite reaching that bar means that this second book is still a great read.

I said at the top that the time I spent between immersions in this story meant that I had a lot of time for thinking about the story. And did I ever have thoughts!

So much of what makes both books so deeply layered is the way that everything revolves around context. Stories about context, about the use of context to convey “otherness” and the way that lack of context inhibits communication, for me circle back to the classic Star Trek Next Gen episode Darmok, where the Federation has to learn to communicate with people who ONLY speak in cultural context, so the entire episode is about the two captains creating a joint context where none existed before so that they can understand each other.

Teixcalaan is an old empire that has been what they call “civilized” for a long time. From their perspective, everything that is important to say or do is shrouded in layers and layers of context from history, literature and poetry. Out of that perspective arises the foundational belief that Teixcalaan, the jewel at the heart of the world, is their planet, their empire, and the only world that matters. This belief is so ingrained in their culture that the words for their planet, their empire, the world at large AND the right and proper way of doing things are all the same word.

A belief that leads to a state of constant microaggression against everyone and everything that is not Teixcalaanli. Those thoughtless and constant microaggressions form the heart of the conflict between Mahit and Three Seagrass – and also lie deep within Mahit’s own heart in conflict with itself.

Mahit, as an outsider, can see the rapaciousness of Teixcalaan as both an empire and as a culture, while at the same time she loves that culture, wants to be a part of it, and knows that she can’t truly. Not ever.

But her love for Teixcalaan, even if it is unrequited, has made her an outsider in her own home as much as she is a barbarian in Teixcalaan. Perhaps even more so. Mahit always makes me think of the Psalm that begins “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning…” Mahit’s heartbreak is that for her, both Teixcalaan AND Lsel are Jerusalem and she cannot truly return to either of them.

I could go on. In fact, I’m sorely tempted to do so because there is so much to unpack in this world – which still and above all tells a cracking good story.

One last thought before this review rivals the book for length. I began by listening, and probably listened to about 2/3rds of the story. BTW, the reader does an especially good job with Mahit’s voice and Mahit’s perspective.

But as I said, in Teixcalaan, context is everything. Listening rather than reading provided some surprising differences in context. The name of the flagship of the fleet, like the names of all of the fleet’s ships, has meaning in Teixcalaan history and literature. When the ship was first introduced, I heard her name as “Wait for the Wheel”, conveying a sense of patience before action – at least to this listener. When I cracked open the ebook and saw the name of the ship in text, I discovered it was “Weight for the Wheel”, as in the weight that pushes the wheel forward. And more in line with the purpose that both the ship and her commander have in the story.

In Teixcalaan, context is everything. And in that context, the way that A Desolation Called Peace ends allows for a third book but does not require one. If the story ends here, the ending is certainly satisfying. But if we get the chance to see what fire Mahit and Three Seagrass are thrown in – or throw themselves into – next, it would make me a very happy reader.

Review: Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz + Giveaway

Review: Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz + GiveawayMoonflower Murders (Susan Ryeland #2) by Anthony Horowitz
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Susan Ryeland #2
Pages: 608
Published by Harper on November 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Featuring his famous literary detective Atticus Pund and Susan Ryeland, hero of the worldwide bestseller Magpie Murders, a brilliantly complex literary thriller with echoes of Agatha Christie from New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz.
Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is living the good life. She is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend Andreas. It should be everything she's always wanted. But is it? She's exhausted with the responsibilities of making everything work on an island where nothing ever does, and truth be told she's beginning to miss London.
And then the Trehearnes come to stay. The strange and mysterious story they tell, about an unfortunate murder that took place on the same day and in the same hotel in which their daughter was married—a picturesque inn on the Suffolk coast named Farlingaye Halle—fascinates Susan and piques her editor’s instincts. 
One of her former writers, the late Alan Conway, author of the fictional Magpie Murders, knew the murder victim—an advertising executive named Frank Parris—and once visited Farlingaye Hall. Conway based the third book in his detective series, Atticus Pund Takes the Cake, on that very crime. 
The Trehearne’s, daughter, Cecily, read Conway’s mystery and believed the book proves that the man convicted of Parris’s murder—a Romanian immigrant who was the hotel’s handyman—is innocent. When the Trehearnes reveal that Cecily is now missing, Susan knows that she must return to England and find out what really happened.
Brilliantly clever, relentlessly suspenseful, full of twists that will keep readers guessing with each revelation and clue, Moonflower Murders is a deviously dark take on vintage English crime fiction from one of its greatest masterminds, Anthony Horowitz.  

My Review:

For a dead man Alan Conway certainly does manage to get around. He even manages to cause just as much mischief from the grave as he did while alive. Something that he is probably looking down upon, or more likely up towards from below, with a great deal of pride if not utter glee.

In life, Alan Conway was not what one would call a “good person”, even if he was a very good author of very twisty mysteries. Until he became part of one himself, in the story that is told in the first book of the Susan Ryeland series, Magpie Murders.

As a reader, I wasn’t expecting to see Ryeland, Conway, or the detective character that Conway created, Atticus Pünd, ever again. After all, as Charles Dickens so eloquently opened A Christmas Carol, “Marley was dead to begin with” just as Alan Conway is at the start of Moonflower Murders. Atticus Pünd was a product of Conway’s now dead imagination, and Susan Ryeland is not just out of a job at the end of Magpie Murders, but the publishing company she worked for is as dead as Conway.

I have to say that of the three of them, I missed Atticus Pünd the most. In my review of Magpie Murders I said that I really wished the Pünd series actually existed because I would love to read them. Based on Moonflower Murders, it is entirely possible that I might get my wish.

There is a complete Atticus Pünd mystery enclosed within the pages of Moonflower Murders. However, unlike Magpie Murders, the title of both the book by Anthony Horowitz is different from the Atticus Pünd book by Alan Conway that forms the heart of the case that Susan Ryeland finds herself stuck in the middle of, whether that’s where she wants to be, or not.

In this case it’s more like wants to be. Or at least wants to be if there has to be a case at all. Which there definitely does. And it’s all, just as it was in Magpie Murders, Alan Conway’s fault.

As this story opens, it’s been two years since the events of Magpie Murders brought Susan Ryeland’s career in publishing to an end, and brought Alan Conway to his. His end, that is. (His books seem to be doing just fine.) Susan is now the co-owner of a small hotel in Crete, with her business-and-domestic partner Andreas. At the point where the Trehernes, Conway and this case invade her life, the hotel is losing money, Susan has lost her patience with being a hotel owner and her relationship with Andreas has lost much of its steam.

So she’s ready for a change, or at least a break. The Trehernes in their tragedy offer her both a partial solution to the hotel’s problems and a break from her own. They are willing to pay her 10,000 pounds to come back to England and stay at their hotel for a week. (That’s nearly $14,000 (US) so enough to make a serious dent in the inn’s financial problems. A real temptation on that front alone, without Susan’s other reasons for taking a break from Crete, innkeeping and Andreas.)

The Trehernes’ visit has nothing to do with their common interest in small hotels and everything to do with Alan Conway and Atticus Pünd. Because Alan Conway visited their hotel, Bramlow Hall, and wrote about a real-life murder that took place there. Of course Atticus Pünd solved the fictitious murder, but their daughter, after reading Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, believed that Alan Conway had solved the real murder as well.

A belief that she conveyed to her parents in a rather frantic telephone call, just before she went missing.

The police have not found Cecily Treherne, and her parents are desperate to grasp at any straws that might lead to their missing daughter. Alan Conway is beyond grasping at, but his editor Susan Ryeland is not.

Whether Susan can figure out what it was that Cecily Treherne believed that Alan Conway knew is a long shot. But it’s one that Susan is willing to try in order to get away from Crete and gain some perspective on her life there.

She goes into the whole thing thinking that it’s a clever puzzle that she might just have a chance at solving. And it is. But it’s also digging up the dirt in a whole lot of lives that thought they had put it all behind them. For those people, it’s not just a clever puzzle.

And for someone, it’s murder. Again.

Escape Rating A-: This is a book that I began in audio and switched to the ebook relatively early on. I got to the weekend, didn’t have any place I needed to drive to, and couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

And it was a whole lot easier to peek ahead to see where the Atticus Pünd book started in the ebook!

This book within a book contrasts the process of the extremely amateur detective, Susan Ryeland, against the tried-and-true methods of the professional detective Atticus Pünd. And it’s clear from the outset that Susan is in WAY over her head in a way that Pünd never is. Also that Susan has to reckon with a lot more pesky reality than the fictitious detective ever does – lucky for him.

But then, Pünd reads as if he is both an homage to Dame Agatha Christie’s celebrated detective Hercule Poirot and his antithesis. Both are post-war refugees, neither are English. Making them both outsiders who can investigate a case without bias or prejudice. Both are acknowledged geniuses. At the same time, they are refugees from different wars, Belgium was neutral before it fell while Germany was the enemy. The biggest difference between the two is that Pünd seems to have relatively few affectations while Poirot seems to be the accumulation of his.

And in the background there’s the late and mostly unlamented Alan Conway. Certainly no one at Bramlow Hall misses him. But Susan is following his trail, hoping to see either what he saw, what the missing Cecily Treherne saw, or to figure things out for herself.

But Conway had an advantage – he knew many of the principals before he ever entered the scene. Susan, however, has a different advantage. She, like Pünd, is an outsider. She arrives with no preconceived notions about who might have done it.

She’s a blank slate as an investigator, but she’s often just plain drawing a blank, knowing that there’s something she isn’t seeing or isn’t putting together. She’s just not sure what. As this story is told from Susan’s first-person perspective, whatever blank she’s drawing – we’re drawing it too.

Normally I’d say that with a first-person narrator it’s important to like the person whose head you’re in. I have to say that isn’t true here, or at least it wasn’t true for me. I’m not sure I actually like Susan much. She treats all of the people involved in the case as though she were reading a book and they’re all just characters – and not real people whose lives are being upended for the second time.

That she isn’t sure of anything, not whodunnit, not who Alan thought done it, not even why she’s there or where her life is going felt both real and off-putting at the same time. Probably part of why I like Atticus Pünd better is that he always seems sure of his course – even when he isn’t.

All Susan is sure of is that she’s pissing everyone off nearly as much as Conway did before her. And that the missing Cecily Treherne, whether she solved the mystery or not, was most likely dead long before Susan arrived back in England.

What keeps this story moving, and keeps both the reader and Susan Ryeland guessing every step of the way, are the multiple mysteries that need to be unraveled at Bramlow Hall. Who committed the original murder? What happened to Cicely Treherne? What did Alan Conway know? And the key that unlocks the entire mystery, who committed the murder in Atticus Pünd Takes the Case?

This is a series that just didn’t seem plausible after Magpie Murders. But I’m so glad it’s here! Maybe we’ll even get to read ALL of the Atticus Pünd series before Susan Ryeland’s career as an amateur detective goes the way of her publishing career.

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

Moonflower Murders is the first of three days of book giveaways for this year’s Blogo-Birthday Celebration. This felt like the right book to start with for two reasons. The first reason, and the most important, I always fill this week with books I love and want to share, and this author always fills that bill. Even when his characters infuriate me, I love the stories he tells with them. Moonflower Murders was certainly no exception to that rule. Second, the author and I share our birthday, April 5, although he’s just a smidge older than I am, which makes me feel a tiny bit better about the whole thing.

The winner of today’s giveaway will receive their choice of one book by Anthony Horowitz (up to $25 US to include Moonflower Murders), whether in this series or any of his other series or standalones.

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Review: Junkyard Bargain by Faith Hunter

Review: Junkyard Bargain by Faith HunterJunkyard Bargain (Shining Smith #2) by Faith Hunter
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, urban fantasy
Series: Shining Smith #2
Published by Audible Audio on February 25th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Sometimes before you can face your enemies, you need to confront yourself.

Time is running out for Shining Smith and her crew to gather the weapons they need to rescue one of their own. But will they even make it to the ultimate battle? First, they’ll need to hit the road to Charleston - a hell ride full of bandits, sex slavers, corrupt lawmen, and criminal bike gangs looking to move in on Shining’s territory.

Shining’s human allies will do anything to protect her - because they must. But will victory be worth it if she must compel more and more people to do her bidding? And will her feline warriors, the junkyard cats, remain loyal and risk their lives? Or are they just in it for the kibble?

My Review:

Honestly, I picked up the audio of the first book in this series because of the title. Basically, I started Junkyard Cats for the cats. But I came back for Shining, her friends, her totally screwed-up world and her need to preserve her own little corner of it – and the cats.

OK, I’m still here for the cats. It’s actually the cats that Shining makes the junkyard bargain of the title with. Because she needs to take some of them away from the junkyard and with her and Cupcake on a dangerous and deadly mission – to Charleston, West Virginia.

A place which isn’t all that dangerous or deadly in our world. But in Shining’s world, post the apocalypse that punched a hole in the ozone layer, totally wrecked the planetary environment and brought alien peacekeepers to our solar system to keep us from screwing ourselves any further – every trip away from Shining’s base at the scrapyard is fraught with danger.

Especially this one. Because she’s preparing to take on and take out the one person who might be a bigger threat to the world than Shining is herself. Someone who is more than willing to take over the entire planet.

The world is literally not big enough for both Shining Smith and Clarice Warhammer. They may both be queens, but only one of them is out to rule the world. And the other is out to stop her.

Escape Rating A+: The first book in this series was very insular, while it still managed to introduce us to the mess of the world that is what Shining, and the rest of humanity, is left with. That insularity managed to introduce us to everything that’s going on because we spend the entire story – and this one as well – inside Shining’s head. And because the world comes to her, her sanctuary and her scrapyard, in order to take her out.

So in the first book the war came to her. This second book is about Shining getting ready to take the war out to the rest of the world – or at least out to the people who are after her. That she may have to take out at least a piece of a rival gang and possibly even part of the government along the way is just part of the cost to protect herself and those she sees as hers.

And that’s where this story goes to all kinds of interesting places. Because Shining is in the process of adjusting her perspective on exactly who and what she sees as hers and how it got that way. She wants friends – not too many but a few. What she’s afraid she has made is something else altogether.

As this story takes us out into Shining’s greater world, we get to see just how FUBAR’d everything really is. Humanity seriously screwed up. In a way, it reminded me of the world of Horizon Zero Dawn. In both post-apocalyptic worlds, at first it seems as if it’s the machines who are the enemy of humanity, only to eventually realize that the situation is one that Walt Kelly’s Pogo recognized all the way back in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

What makes the story, at least for this reader, is that we do spend all of it inside Shining’s head. This is a first-person singular perspective that is absolutely aided by the marvelous narrator, Khristine Hvam, who manages to perfectly convey Shining’s tired, sad, and generally world-weary voice in a way that made me really feel like I was listening to Shining think. That Shining is excellent at bringing on the snark provides a great deal of rueful laughter and gallows humor.

And yes, the cats are still part of the story. I suspect that the reader’s mileage on just how much they enjoy the cats’ participation in Shining’s not-so-little war is going to depend on just how much the reader likes cats, anthropomorphized or otherwise. I think the pack of little predators fits in really well, and adds to my enjoyment of the story quite a bit. Ailurophobes may feel differently.

Obviously I loved the entire experience of listening to Junkyard Bargain. At the end, it definitely feels like there are more parts to this story, and I’m really, seriously, absolutely looking forward to them. But as this episode in Shining’s saga came to an end, something happened that made me sit up and have a kind of a WOW moment. (Luckily I was sitting in my garage to finish and not still on the road!)

Shining is Galadriel. No, she’s not an elf queen and this is not an epic fantasy world. But Shining IS a queen. Not just figuratively but actually literally. And she has power in some of the ways that Galadriel has power. To the point where Shining is faced with the same choice that Galadriel is faced with when Frodo asks her if he should give her the One Ring. And like Galadriel, when faced with that ultimate test, Shining is not found wanting.

At least not yet.

Review: Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers

Review: Behind the Throne by K.B. WagersBehind the Throne (The Indranan War #1) by K.B. Wagers
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Indranan War #1
Pages: 413
Published by Orbit on August 2, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Meet Hail: Captain. Gunrunner. Fugitive.
Quick, sarcastic, and lethal, Hailimi Bristol doesn't suffer fools gladly. She has made a name for herself in the galaxy for everything except what she was born to do: rule the Indranan Empire. That is, until two Trackers drag her back to her home planet to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir.
But trading her ship for a palace has more dangers than Hail could have anticipated. Caught in a web of plots and assassination attempts, Hail can't do the one thing she did twenty years ago: run away. She'll have to figure out who murdered her sisters if she wants to survive.
A gun smuggler inherits the throne in this Star Wars-style science fiction adventure from debut author K. B. Wagers. Full of action-packed space opera exploits and courtly conspiracy - not to mention an all-out galactic war - Behind the Throne will please fans of James S. A Corey, Becky Chambers and Lois McMaster Bujold, or anyone who wonders what would happen if a rogue like Han Solo were handed the keys to an empire . . .

My Review:

The blurb talks about Star Wars, implies that Hail Bristol is someone like Han Solo who has just found themselves at the head of an empire. But that isn’t strictly true and sets up a whole lot of assumptions about who Hail Bristol is and what she might do as empress. It also sets up some false expectation of just how much running and gunning there will be in this space opera.

But that reference to Lois McMaster Bujold hits the nail a LOT closer to the head, particularly as regards Bujold’s definition of science fiction as the “romance of political agency” because this first book in the Indranan War trilogy is ALL up in the politics of the Indranan Empire in a very big way.

Even if it’s the absolute last place that Hail Bristol EVER wanted to be again.

If this series, at least as far as this book goes, has a Star Wars analogy in it, the resemblance sits much more firmly on Princess Leia’s braided crown. If Leia ran away from her responsibilities as Princess, Senator and leader of the Rebel Alliance to take up with Han Solo and live the life he’s been leading as a mercenary and gunrunner for twenty years, the person she’d be at the end of those decades would be someone like Hail.

Because, as Hail discovers the deeper she gets stuck back into Imperial politics, you can take the girl out of the palace intrigue but you can’t take the talent for palace intrigue out of the girl, not even after twenty years of becoming the woman she has become, a gunrunner, a mercenary, and most definitely when the job calls for it, a killer.

And that’s just who and what the Indranan Empire needs when Hail is dragged back to the palace to take up her rightful but resented place as Princess Hailimi Mercedes Jaya Bristol, the last remaining heir of the Empress of Indrana.

Hail’s sisters and her niece are all dead. “Gone to temple” as they say in Indrana. Her mother is dying, poisoned by a slow-acting drug that is about to reach its endpoint – and hers.. It’s going to be up to Hail to find out who eliminated her family – and who is now gunning (and knifing, and bombing) for her.

It’s going to take a killer to catch all the killers – before it’s too late. For Hail – and for Indrana.

Escape Rating A++: I picked up Behind the Throne because I absolutely adored the author’s A Pale Light in the Black, which is also space opera and also the first book in its series. I loved the writing, the world building, and the way that the characters are drawn, and I just wanted more and wanted a story that I would be sucked right into and wouldn’t want to leave. I started this in audio and fell in love with it, but audio was just not going fast enough so I switched to the ebook fairly early on. I did listen long enough that every time Hail says “Bugger me,” which she does often, with good reason and plenty of emphasis, I hear the voice of the audiobook narrator – who was excellent.

This story isn’t the action-oriented adventure that the blurb makes it out to be. It was published in 2016, so that is certainly known and I wasn’t expecting it to be. I was expecting it to be like A Pale Light in the Black, and it definitely is that.

The characters are well-drawn. They feel like real people – admittedly real people in a very unreal situation. Hail has made a life for herself, a life that she’s good at. She doesn’t want to go back for reasons that become obvious early on and are not the result of the current crisis. She didn’t want the life that she’d have been required to lead if she stayed – so she went. Coming back to pick up the pieces of that life is hard and painful and makes her do and think and feel realistic things. She feels inadequate, she feels guilty, she sees herself stepping back into old patterns, she’s lost, she’s confused – and she’s driven. All at the same time.

This is also a story about trust. Trust in yourself, and trust in others. Hail returns to the palace knowing that the only people she trusts are either missing or dead. And that the life she thought she’d built for herself was based on not just one lie, but on a whole damn pack of lies, so she’s lost trust in herself as well.

But she has to find people she can trust, if not absolutely then at least trust enough, to help her wade through the morass and save herself and her empire. And that exercise, of figuring out who is on which side and why and how and whether it’s enough, is a big part of this story.

Because, just like the protagonist of A Pale Light in the Black, Hail is building a team that will see her through. If she trusts them enough. If they trust her enough. And if they are all absolutely excellent at their very difficult jobs.

In the end, in spite of how different their origin stories are, the character that Hail reminds me of the most is Emperox Grayland II in The Collapsing Empire and the rest of Scalzi’s Interdependency series. Although the crises they face are very different, Grayland and Hail come at them from the same direction. They are both outsiders to their respective Imperial systems and Imperial politics, stuck in positions they didn’t want but must defend at every single turn.

Even though they are both extremely unconventional for the positions they hold, their very unconventionality makes them not just the only people by inheritance for those positions at the time they are forced to take them, but the only people by talent, skill and capacity to pull the nuts of their respective empires out of the fires that they have inherited along with their thrones.

So if space opera is your jam, or if you love stories with terrific SFnal worldbuilding and absolute craptons of political skullduggery, Behind the Throne is a winner on every level along with its gunrunner empress Hail Bristol.

I’m already buckled up for Hail’s next adventure/imperial catastrophe in After the Crown, because this ride isn’t over yet and that is the most excellent thing ever!