Monday, March 31, 2008

Sword of Rome by Constance O'Banyon

Adhaniá is the princess of the Bahiri bedouin tribe, sister to the tribe's Sheikh, Lord Ramtat, who is himself married to the sister of Cleopatra. Normally, Adhaniá is a wild and untamable girl, who can ride and shoot with the best of them, but when she enters the Golden Arrow contest, a contest to show the best rider and archer in the Bedouin, and wins it, she angers her brother beyond reason, and he tells her she will never be able to attract a husband. When she later joins a group of dancers to show him that she *will* be able to attract a husband, he finally snaps.

Cleopatra has asked her sister to join her in Rome, where she is living with her lover, Julius Caesar, but Danaë is pregnant again and cannot go. Instead, Ramtat sends Adhaniá there instead, to learn some manners and to grow up. She is aghast and begs to stay, but he is firm. She is upset at missing the birth of Danaë's new child, and fears that her nephew, Julius, will forget her while she is gone, but Ramtat will not be moved.

Marcellus Vallerus, tribune of Rome, had been to the Bahiri tribe to deliver Cleopatra's message, and witnessed both Adhaniá's performance in the Golden Arrow competition and her dance, but he is amazed by her skill and daring. Since he is to guard her until she takes ship to Alexandria, they find themselves thrust together. He says admiring things about her, and she finds herself immensely attracted to him, as he is to her. Just before they are about to part, he asks her for a token, her veil, and she gives it to him. The sight of her face strikes him to the heart, for she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, and he cannot forget her.

Marcellus goes home to Rome, where his stepfather is waiting. Having married his mother an indecently short while after his father was slain, and catching them together just a few days after his father was killed has made Marcellus despise his mother and hate his stepfather. Add to the fact that his new stepfather, Senator Quadatus, is always short of money, having long ago paid his creditors with what his mother inherited from his father, and Quadatus is constantly seeking to ingratiate with his stepson so that he can parlay Marcellus' relationship with Julius Caesar into money for himself, and Marcellus cannot stand to be in his company. Indeed, he can barely be civil to the man.

But Marcellus doesn't know that his mother was forced to marry Quadatus, and that when he caught them together in what he thought was a lover's embrace, it was actually the aftermath of his mother's rape by Quadatus. She also despises her new husband, but cannot tell him the truth for fear that Quadatus will have her son killed. It is how he blackmailed her into marriage in the first place... after having her husband and Marcellus' father killed. Now, Quadatus is embroiled in a plot to kill Caesar, but her son will not believe her, and she doesn't know where to turn.

When Adhaniá arrives in Rome, Marcellus is there to greet her, as part of her official escort. But when Cleopatra hears of the plots to kill her lover, she asks Adhaniá to become a spy and ferret out the truth of the conspiracy, by posing as a dancing girl who can speak no language but her own, and thus evesdropping on the conspirators. But can Adhaniá do these things without losing her innocence? And will Marcellus be able to protect her from the plots of the conspirators? Or will Adhaniá's willingness to help his mother doom them all?

This is a great romance novel, set around the time of Julius Caesar's assassination, and set (mostly) in the city of Rome. As with the best romance novels, the plots and plans surrounding Caesar's assassination help drive along the romance events and the romance adds urgency to the plot. Adhaniá is wild and reckless, but she never does anything stupid merely because it would serve the plot to have her act so. In fact, her only less than intelligent act comes as she tries to save Marcellus' mother when she meets the woman to hear of the plot on Julius Caesar, and even after she is captured, she escapes on her own and makes her way to Rome to try and warn him.

An enjoyable plot, incredible characters, and a romance that will make you glow when you remember it, this is a book to seek out and read. You'll be glad you did!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Wizard Alone by Diane Duane

Nita hasn't yet gotten over her mother's death from cancer, and her sister, Dairene, isn't much better. Nita has been holding the family together since her Dad went to pieces, and just trying to be the responsible one is a huge strain. Her sister has been cutting classes left and right, so much so that their father must speak to the principal about it. Neither girl likes being the one that other kids whisper about, but Nita tries to ignore it while Dairene just cuts school so she doesn't have to hear it.

But today, Nita is tired of dealing with her sister. When she won't get up on time, Nita sends her sister's bed to Pluto and forces her to go to school. That night, she has a dream about a clown that somehow becomes a robot and tries to talk to her. Nita is convinced that it is some alien race trying to contact Dairene for her help. But since their mom died, Dairene has been sleeping so deeply it can be impossible to contact her. Nita simply assumes that the race tried for the next best thing and got her, instead.

Kit, with Nita so tied up in her own problems, has been contacted by one of the Senior wizards and asked to look into a problem with another young wizard on Ordeal. He left on ordeal months ago and is still listed as being on ordeal. It's an unusual situation, as well as somewhat worrying. Carl, the senior, feels that a wizard the same age as Darryl (the wizard on ordeal) might be better able to investigate what is going on.

Kit finds that Darryl is autistic, and that somehow his body is still here, but his mind seems to be missing. Using his dog, Ponch, he is literally able to get into Darryl's head, but finds that it links to a place so far away it is literally almost outside the local group of galaxies. There, the Lone Power has been trying to catch Darryl, but he is giving it the slip, time and time again. Kit and Ponch witness one of these escapes, and the Lone Power's anger and frustration with Darryl. Kit is surprised that any one wizard could do such a thing, but being inside Darryl is more fatiguing than he anticipated, and he cannot stay for very long.

Nita gets a chance to talk to Dairene about her dream, but Dairene tells her it doesn't sound like one of the inorganic species she usually interacts with. It sounds more like a person, singular, with a strange point of view. Nita talks it over with Carl, and decides to do some more studying of her manual. She also makes a lucid dreaming necklace and goes to meet the robot/clown again, only to see that this time it is a suit of knight's armor that strikes her as being fierce and valorous, all at the same time. It tells her it can be in a number of places at once, and when Nita is out of her dreams, she researches what can do that, and finds out that it is a Pillar, one of the people responsible for literally holding up the world and seeing that magic flows properly.

Something clicks in Nita, and she realizes that this person is Darryl, the same wizard that Kit has been trying to help. However, the more people who know about the Pillar, the more dangerous it will be for Darryl. And Darryl cannot be allowed to know what he is, as that would destroy his power by attacking his own sense of who he is. But something bad seems to be happening to Kit, and despite agreeing to leave off for a few days, he is once again drawn back into Darryl, and Nita must go to help both of them, without revealing to Darry what he is, and without letting the Lone Power free.

This was a very interesting book to read. A little depressing, especially at the beginning, when Nita is mired in sadness, grief and self-doubt, but it picks up when Nita slowly gets better over the course of the book. The problem of Darryl is an interesting one, and seeing what reality is like from inside the head of an autistic person is an experience not to be missed.

Additionally, the book is a ripping adventure that will engage and interest readers both young and old. Diane Duane, who pokes fun at adults who have forgotten what it was *really* like to be a child, with all the sadness, anger and fear as well as the fun and good times, but shows that even with those, it's still possible to go on. Not by wiping out the bad, but by letting the good ameliorate it, and shows how to survive grief as well. A wonderful read that may be a little deep at time, but give me deep over shallow, any day!

High Wizardry by Diane Duane

Nita Callahan's sister Dairene is younger than her, smarter than her, and ferociously jealous of the abilities her sister has as a wizatd. When she gets a chance to read her sister's Wizard's manual, she wastes no time at all in taking the oath that every wizard takes, and then she goes to sleep, expecting great things to happen.

The next morning, her new computer, a Macintosh, arrives. Not exactly what she was hoping for, but it's a second best that she will live with for now. Nita and her partner in magic, Christopher or "Kit" Rodriguez, make plans to visit New York City and the Planetarium, but Dairene is pushed on them as Nita and Dairene's parents try to set up the computer.

Dairene has already copied the computer using its own copying facility, and takes it to the Planetarium with her. There, she gives into her greatest fantasies and programs the computer to take her to Mars. But she isn't going to stop there... she's going on a whirlwind tour of the universe, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop her!

Well, except her own inexperience, and lack of knowledge. When the Lone Power, the force behind entropy and death, who tricks new species into accepting entropy and decay for themselves, gets wind of Dairene's ascencion to wizardhood, it sends its forces out to stop her, because the youngest wizards are the most powerful, due to them not knowing what *isn't* possible.

Dairene, in running away, ends up at a small planet composed completely of silicon, where she inadvertantly gives birth to a whole new race, all computer-like in intelligence, and all wizards as well. But as a new race, the Lone Power is once again attracted to where Dairene is. Can she prevent them from falling into the same trap that other races have? And can Nita and Kit save her from her own failings, or will the Lone Power win again?

This book sets Dairene up as a wizard. Just as Nita and Kit have their own specialties in Wizardry (Nita can fix just about anything mechanical, and Kit's specialty is with animals and living things, Dairene's specialty is inorganic, nonhuman intelligences, as is shown when she helps a sentient planet construct many different "children" for itself, each different. Of course, Dairene may be extremely intelligent, but she does run into and make problems for herself, such as on the gate-world of Rhirhath B. She does manage to escape, but she finds out that travelling the universe isn't all like the Star Wars movies that she so loves.

Kids who read this book will identify with Dairene, who is smart, strong and funny. A little arrogant, perhaps, but she does learn humility during the course of the book. Kids also might feel a little sorry for Nita. After having a kid sister who outdid her in every area but magic, now Dairene is a stronger wizard, too. Nita may not like it, but she does accept it, and finding and cleaning up after Dairene isn't without its problems, either.

The ending of the book is fabulous, bringing home the lesson that everyone can change, and the joy of a job well done. I heartily recommend this series for everyone looking for the next great thing after Harry Potter. It may not be the same kind of wizardry, but the stories are top-notch and will carry you along on a thrill ride you won't forget!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Traitor in Williamsburg- A Felicity Mystery

Felicity is an American Girl who lives in Williamsberg Virginia in 1776. Her father is a patriot and a shopkeeper. She is friends with a girl named Elizabeth Cole, and another girl, Fiona McLeod. But when Fiona's father is slandered by being accused of being a loyalist, it's a serious thing, especially when the local Committee of Safety gets involved and wants to try Mr. McLeod in front of it.

When the McLeods are nearly burned out of their home and shop, they are forced to flee, but now the broadsides go after Felicity's father, instead. Felicity and Elizabeth attempt to find who is behind the broadsides, the person who calls himself "Mr. Puller", but have little success.

Felicity's father makes a trip out of town, and as soon as he gets back, he is arrested by Safety Committee on charges of dealing with the British. Now it is up to Felicity to find the man behind the charges and find the evidence that will free her father. But can she do it in time?

This little mystery is short but sweet, with plenty of red herrings and leads that lead nowhere for readers to follow, from a former suitor for her mother's hand newly moved to Williamsburg, to some of her father's fellow shopkeepers. But Felicity never does anything too fantastic to be believed or something she couldn't have accomplished for a girl of her time and place. A thoroughly enjoyable book with nothing objectionable and an engaging mystery. Bonus historical facts pages in the back that flesh out the story a little, explaining why the Committees of Safety existed, and how they became so powerful.

Naruto: The Movie- Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow

Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura have recieved a very unusual order, to watch a movie before setting out on their latest mission. Naruto is so rambunctious at the screening of "Princess Gale", and gets them thrown out of the movie.

The next day, they are waiting for Kakashi when a woman who looks just like the Princess rides past, being chased by men on horseback. Naruto takes off after her to protect her, and Sakura and Sasuke take out the men chasing her. They soon learn that the woman is actually an actress, Yukie Fujikaze, and the men chasing her were hired extras. Yukie is a well-known actress, but ever since the director of the Princess Gale movie decided he wanted to shoot the sequel in the Kingdom of Snow, she's been trying to run off. The ninja have been hired to be her bodyguards.

Naruto, who has been following her, is getting quite disillusioned with Yukie. She won't sign autographs for her fans, and she is short and abrupt whenever he tries to talk to her. She even goes to a bar in "disguise" (a pair of glasses) and drinks far too much. He tries to convince her to never give up, but she laughs at him. She drinks until she passes out, and the next day, she wakes up on a boat bound for the Kingdom of Snow.

They sail until they find a iceberg, and the director decides to shoot a few scenes on the iceberg. But three ninja from the land of snow attempt to attack Yukie and Kakashi and the others must hold them off. After the complete destruction of the iceberg by Kakashi and the leader of the other ninja. Yukie's manager reveals that she really is a Princess, Koyuki Kazehana, the last Princess of the Snow Kingdom. Her father was overthrown by his own brother, and her manager hoped to use the role of Princess Gale to lure Koyuki back to her kingdom and overthrow the usurper and put her on the throne. But her uncle is waiting for her return. He has his own plans for her.

This was an Animanga, where screen captures are used instead of drawings by the artist. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining story, based back when Naruto was 10 or 11 (The current manga has moved ahead and the characters are now nearly 3 years older). Naruto hasn't changed much at all from his manga incarnation, still one ninja who believes persistence is everything. And in this story, he is proven right once again, as his persistence gets him out of a bad situation, and even turns Yukie/Koyuki's attitude around.

This story fleshed out the Kingdoms around the Kingdom of Fire (where the Shinobi/Ninja of Naruto's village live) a little, and added a bit of backstory to the character of Kakashi, Naruto's teacher. It has everything a fan of Naruto is looking for, filled with lots of fighting, and the character moments that everyone loves. Sasuke gets rather short shrift on this point, as the main characters really push him into the background. Kakashi, Naruto and Sakura get most of the good moments, along with Yukie, of course.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Flaw in the Blood by Stephanie Barron

The death of Prince Albert, the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria, sets her off on a course of mourning and persecuting a solicitor named Patrick Fitzgerald, who, twenty years ago, defended a man accusing of attempting to kill the queen. She summons him to a midnight meeting at Windsor Palace and attempts to make him sign a paper saying he colluded in that long-ago attempt to kill her, but he refuses.

Patrick Fitzgerald is not alone in being persecuted by the Queen and her agents, for with him is his ward, Georgiana Armistead, who is a medical doctor and the daughter of a noted Physician. When the Royal Carriage they are travelling in nearly overturns, Fitzgerald finds a device in the road meant to make them have an accident. But they survive and manage to return to London, where Fitzgerald finds that his law partner and good friend has been attacked and their law offices ransacked.

He goes to find Georgiana, who has been summoned to the bedside of a young prostitute who had recently had an abortion. The abortionist punctured her uterus and left her septicimic. Georgiana saves her with timely surgery, but the girl dies thereafter, and both she and Fitzgerald are forced to flee when men come and attempt to kill them as well. When she returns home to gather a few things, she sees that her home has also been ransacked, and some of her letters stolen, letters from the Prince Consort, where she discussed with him his opinions on public health, sanitation and the like.

She is confused about why anyone should do this, as there was nothing in there to cause dishonor to fall on her or Prince Albert. Fitzgerald concludes that it must have something to do with the Queen and/or the Prince's family. Georgiana shares that the Prince Consort had her examine his youngest son with Victoria, who was a victim of a rare disorder where he cannot stop bleeding. Her father had been interested in such diseases, and been trying to study them. Now, for some reason, Queen Victoria wants to go after the knowledge and wipe it out. But why?

Georgiana and Fitzgerald take refuge on the island of Sheppey, at a place called Stullen, where Fitzgerald's wife lives. She is dying of Syphillis, gotten off one of her numerous lovers when she lived for sensation. Fitzgerald loved her but she wouldn't stop her infidelities, so they have lived apart for many years. They have one son, Thomas, who believes that his mother caught Syphillis from his father's infidelities, and although Fitzgerald tries to tell him the truth, Thomas will not believe it.

They are persued to the island by a man named Stühlen, a former friend of Albert's and a most ruthless predator. He once tried to become Georgiana's lover, but she laughed in his face, which infuriated him. Now that he has her in his sights again, he will not stop his pursuit until he has both her and Fitzgerald. But can they evade him while they solve the Mystery of why Queen Victoria wants this suppressed so badly?

Meanwhile, Victoria's daughter, Alice, being skeptical that her father died of typhoid, tries to unravel the mystery as well, but her mother's strange actions, and dislike of her own daughter, inhibits her investigations. What is really going on in the royal family, and why did Prince Albert die?

This was a very interesting mystery, revolving around an actual historical mystery. If neither Prince Albert's family nor Queen Victoria's family harbored Hemophilia, where did it arise from in Queen Victoria and her children, given that females are carriers of the disease (but do not have it) and only male children develop the disease? This story provides a possibly fictional answer, as well as the same for Prince Albert's death.

I found the book itself a bit hard to get through, what with the multiple viewpoints that constantly changed, seemingly without rhyme or reason. We get inside the head of Queen Victoria, and sometimes other characters, but most of the book is written in third person. The constant switching of viewpoints isn't very successful, in my opinion, as it can be quite jarring at times.

However, the ending is laid out from the beginning, if you can read between the lines, although some of it still remains a surprise at the end. I'd recommend the book, but with caution, as it can be irritating to read at times.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Witch Blood by Anya Bast

Isabelle Novak is a water witch whose sister was slain by a demon raised by a group of warlocks (oath breakers of the Witch laws) named the Duskoff Cabal. Denied justice by the Coven, the group that leads the witches, she has taken matters into her own hand, and disguised herself with hair dye and contacts, then gone out to seduce Stefan Faucheux, the new leader of the Duskoff coven, who she blames for raising the demon in the first place.

She almost has him when the car she and Stephan are in is overwhelmed by members of the coven, who take Stefan captive and put him in the witch prison, Cribben, where no magic can be called on at all. For people with magical powers, this has the eventual effect of driving them insane. Thomas Monahan, leader of the Coven, agrees to let Isabelle in on the hunt for the demon with the coven, seeing as she is an extremely powerful water witch... not to mention extremely beautiful.

Isabelle certainly feels the same about Thomas, a handsome earth witch. Earth and water are inevitably attracted to each other, but can it explain their searing attraction to each other? Their feelings must take a back seat to the facts that the demon the Duskoff cabal raised ten years ago is somehow still around (most demons return to their homes soon after being called) and is killing witches for some malign plan.

Worst is what one of the other witches discovers after digging in the libraries of the witches and warlocks: that witches are the offspring of demons and humans, and that their powers are linked to the demons, being apparently a weaker version of those the demons have. As Isabelle and Thomas start an intense physical relationship, they must also fight the demon, who is stalking them as much as its prey, and find out what he is doing with the stolen power of the witches he has been killing. But when his spell goes awry and they are sucked into the demon world, will they be able to survive and return home intact?

This book is a follow-up to Anya Bast's earlier novel, "Witch Fire", about an air witch who was unaware of her powers being introduced to the coven. The heroine of that book, Mira, makes two small appearances in this novel, which is less a sequel and more a book set in the same universe and with many of the same characters. Despite the many male characters who could serve as sequel bait, her next novel isn't even going to be set amongst the characters of the coven, or involve witches, but vampires. And space-traveling vampires at that!

Anyhow, on to why I liked Witch Blood. It was a story that drew me in, especially when the witches, to their shock, learned that they are part demon. Or Daeamon as the story calls it. It includes a foray into the world of the daeamon themselves, and the revelation that there are witches there as well, and they are more powerful than earth witches, because there is more magic in the demon world (or I thought of it that way).

Much of the story hinged on Isabelle's past, and the character of her mother, who basically sleeps with rich and powerful men, gets bored with them, and moves on. Her two daughters were a burden to her, so she let them be raised by others, and that act alone gives Isabelle more than a bit of trauma. Isabelle and her mother try to learn to get along, but even though they do work together for a bit in the novel, I didn't feel enough to care for her mother, or to care whether or not they ever came to be close with each other.

The sex between Isabelle and Thomas is well written and hot, but the story of tracking the demon drew me more than the romance angle. There is also a bit of plot missing where they reveal how Thomas got back from the Demon world. I assume that will come up in any future sequel.

So, this book had hot, well-written sex, and a well-written plot. The romance was okay, but nothing special. Still better than a lot of other romances. Pick up if Paranormal is your thing.

My Valiant Knight by Hannah Howell

Ainslee of Kengarvey is a most unusual Scottish lady, able to ride, and fight like a man. These are skills she needs to survive considering that her father, the leader of the MacNairn clan, is a treacherous outlaw whose people live in fear of what he will do next. Ainslee's mother is dead, slain in an attack on Kengarvey castle while her daughter was only a few feet away, hidden under and behind some rubble. Her father had fled before the battle, and Ainslee is the last remaining reminder of his shame.

As such, her father set Ronald, a crippled warrior, to see to her raising. This was actually supposed to be a punishment, but Ronald was a better father to Ainslee than her own. It is when the two of them are out riding that they are captured by Gabel de Amalville, an English warrior sent by the King of Scotland to bring down Ainslee's father and her clan. Ainslee is captured because Ronald is wounded and she will not leave him. However, she does wound Gabel's cousin Justice with a well-timed knife throw before she is taken prisoner by Gabel and his men. And then she proves to have better wound-tending skills than anyone in Gabel's party.

Ainslee finds that Gabel is a most valorous and gentle knight, and is attracted to him almost immediately. She aorrows over the fact that she will never be able to be his bride, for her own clan is poor and outcaste due to the actions of her father. Too, there is another clan who wants to ally with Gabel and his family, the Frasers. Lady Margaret Fraser and her father have come to Gabel's castle of Bellefleur to marry him to the Lady Margaret, but the MacNairns and the Frasers are bitter enemies, so when Gabel seems to favor Ainslee over Margaret, the lady has her kidnapped and left in the woods far from Bellefleur. Actually, she wanted Ainslee killed, but Ainslee killed one of the men, and the other fled. She manages to make it back to Bellefleur despite a heavy snowstorm, which leads to Gabel throwing both Frasers out of his castle.

Ainslee realizes she has fallen in love with Gabel, and bemoans the fact that she will soon be ransomed back to her abusive father. But does Gabel care for her in that same way, and will be spare her clan when the king asks him to take their lands for his own and kill her father, as well as all the other MacNairns he cares to? Will Lord Fraser, also assigned to the raiding force, strike Ainslee down along with her father and brothers?

This was a rather unusual romance, with a female character who can do all the same activities that the men can and do. Yes, she has the usual romance job of being an excellent healer, but she can fight with a sword and dagger well enough to kill other men when she is being menaced, and manages to get herself rescued by walking miles, barefoot, in the snow. So, not the usual sort of historical romance novel heroine.

I also liked her for the fact that once she had sex with Gabel, there wasn't the typical "Ohmygod, I am no longer a virgin! I am a horrible person who should be killed" kind of attitude from the heroine. In fact, Ainslee is like, "I lost my maidenhead to a man I loved. I know my skills aren't the kind men look for in a wife, so it's unlikely I'll be married off anyway. I'll just enjoy this relationship as it happens." Not quite period, perhaps, but refreshing nonetheless.

Most of the conflict in the novel actually came from the hero, who has a list, in his head, of what he wants his wife to be, and doesn't realize what he has until Ainslee is ransomed by her father, and by outside forces, such as her abusive father (who beats her savagely, twice, within a week of her coming home for disagreeing with him, and the last time, has her tossed in the dungeons to starve to death) and the Frasers who do their level best to try and kill her twice, and try to kill her hound in retaliation when she survives.

I also like that, in the end, Ainslee doesn't wait to be rescued, but escapes on her own, and is only injured in saving Gabel's life. It was rather refreshing to read such an unusual historical romance heroine, and I enjoyed the novel very much.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Dead Perfect by Amanda Ashley

Shannah Davis is dying. She's left home so she won't have to torture her parents or friends with a long, slow, agonizing death. She's wandered aimlessly and come to a small town in Northern California to wait to die. But while she's there, a man strikes her interest. She only sees him after dark, and he's always dressed in all black. She wonders about him and decides to follow him around. To the Post Office where he picks up his mail and up, down and all around town. She never sees him eating. She never sees him during the day. Finally, she packs up her things and camps out across the street from his house, in the woods.

Very soon, she is convinced that the man is a vampire. So, she goes to his door and knocks, accusing him of being a vampire. But when she sees him in the afternoon sunlight, she is convinced she has made a terrible mistake. She apologizes to him, then faints. The man, Ronan, catches her and brings her into his house where she can recover.

Ronan, however, really is a vampire, and he's been wondering why this pale, thin woman with the beautiful blue eyes and ashy skin tone has been following him. When he takes a little of her blood, he can feel she is dying, and decides to help her out by giving her a little of his blood, so she can live a little longer without the symptoms that are killing her.

Shannah, when she wakes up, feels better, but notices that Ronan doesn't have any food in his kitchen, or even pots and pans. She is dubious when Ronan claims to have had pests and had to throw out all of his food, but he convinces her to stay a while, as he is having her clothes cleaned. More food is delivered for her, and while she is exploring the house, she discovers that Ronan is the writer, Eva Black. Recently, his editor and publisher, who he has only contacted via e-mail or snail mail, wants to put a picture of "her" on the back of "her" books, and to do a publicity tour. Since Ronan is a vampire, this is impossible for him, but he tells Shannah that he doesn't want his fans to be turned off by discovering that he is a man. He asks her if she will agree to pretend to be "Eva Black" for the publicity photos and press tour. Though Shannah doesn't think she can do it convincingly, she agrees.

Ronan takes her on a whirlwind shopping tour, picking out a number of outfits for her. He convinces her she will be fine, and whenever she becomes sick again, he gives her more of his blood, and imprints the information she needs to know into her mind. Soon, Ronan realizes he is falling in love with her, and he will never be able to let her go. But though she once thought him to be a vampire and followed him in hopes that he could save her life, Shannah has since given up that thought. Now that she seems to be getting better, can Ronan confess and tell her what he is without her becoming disgusted and rejecting him? If she does, how can he ever let her go?

This was a really enjoyable romance. Ronan saves Shannah and only after living with her for a week or so, realizes he can't live without her sparkle, passion and sense of fun. Shannah goes from believing Ronan is a vampire to thinking he is just a mysterious man, and actively rejects the idea that he is a vampire. Of course, that only digs the hole deeper for him later, when he wants to make her a vampire to save her, and she won't believe he is one.

Still, the speed at which he falls in love with her seems suspiciously short, but then, Ronan, as we learn, hadn't ever really been in love before, not even with the woman he was married to when he was alive. He's also been living the life of a hermit for many years, and when Shannah gets past his studied defenses, he's lost. Shannah, for her part, thought him handsome even before he saved her life (which he does throughout the book over and over and over again... but to be fair, she wouldn't have been in those situations if it wasn't for him in the first place).

Ronan comes across as very attractive. Even though he is a vampire, he doesn't kill people routinely to feed. Indeed, he can live on very little blood, and doesn't kill the people he feeds upon, though he has killed in the past. Part of the conflict of the early part of the book deals with how Ronan will tell Shanna what he is without driving her away from him. The middle and later parts have outside conflict in the form of two vampire hunters out to kill Ronan and save, or possibly kill Shannah, too. It's an enjoyable read, and well worth looking out for.

Howling at the Moon by Karen MacInerny

Sophie Garou is an auditor living in Austin Texas. She works for a reputable accounting firm, has a hot boyfriend who also happens to be a rich attorney, and she is thinking about marrying him. But she also has a little secret. She's a werewolf. Or maybe it's not so little. Oh yeah, and did I mention her mom is a witch?

Actually, Sophie is only half-werewolf, because her mom is completely human. And her mom has a big problem. She was just arrested for poisoning a Congressman named Ted Brewster. How exactly? It seems Ted came to her mother for a Love Potion, to get together with a librarian he was pining for. Sophie's mother gave him the potion, but when he drank it, he keeled over dead. Now Sophie's mom is in jail, and even if Sophie bails her out, her mom is still going to be on trial for murder.

And that isn't the only problem Sophie is having. Someone is leaving packages for her, of wolvesbane, silver bullets and so on, threatening her with exposure as a werewolf at her job. Add to that an assistant who is jealous of Sophie's relationship with Heath, her hunky boyfriend, and who seems to suspect that Sophie is on drugs.

Which she is, but Sophie is actually taking wolvesbane tea to keep from turning into a wolf everytime something turns her on or pisses her off. She's actually gotten down to only having to change four times or so a year. But this year, both her boss and her boyfriend seem to keep scheduling significant dates she cannot miss on the days where she will be *forced* to change.

Yet, to keep her mother out of jail, Sophie and her friend Lindsey, who bears a striking resemblance to Angelina Jolie, decide to investigate Ted Brewster's death to keep Sophie's mom out of jail. Sophie hires her mother a lawyer, but her mother is more interested in the man as a possible suitor, even though Sophie thinks he looks like Danny DeVito and not Brad Pitt. And worse, her mom did an attraction spell that seems to have drawn a werewolf to Sophie.

Sophie has disliked werewolves all her life, especially since her dad, a prominent French werewolf, left them when Sophie was 2 years old. She's feared and avoided them all her life, but when Tom and Lindsay start dating, she is going to have to rethink what it is to be a werewolf... and whether being one is so bad...

This was a book I enjoyed immensely. Sophie is a smart, witty heroine who had me laughing my way through the book and through her various predicaments. Though Sophie is a big, tough werewolf, her problems aren't ones she can just "go fuzzy" to get out of. In fact, when she does turn into a wolf, the situation rarely ends for the better, as she is shot at by Animal Control Officers, forced to hide behind garbage dumpsters where she picks up fleas and so on. She is constantly teetering towards disaster as the book goes on, and it's made quite clear that at some point she will have to tell her boyfriend that she is part werewolf, because he wants to marry her, and any children they have will be werewolves as well.

The book also makes a distinction between "born" werewolves and "Made" werewolves. The former are the most powerful, and the latter can also be "unmade". The images of made werewolves in the book seem to be more doggish than actual wolfish. Of the three that Sophie runs into, one looks like a Poodle, while the other two look like other domestic dogs, only, of course, much, much larger. While the idea of a "werepoodle" doesn't exactly strike fear into most people's hearts, all three want to get Sophie's blood to inject into themselves to make them stronger, which lends them a definite air of menace.

While this might not appeal to everyone's taste, Sophie is a hip, funny werewolf who adventures and misadventures are both funny and suspenseful. I will definitely be picking up the next book in the series.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Strangers in Death by J.D. Robb

Eve Dallas has a positive dislike of murderers, so when she is called out to the murder of Thomas Anders, owner of a sporting goods company, Eve is pumped to catch the killer. But that will be harder than it sounds, because even though she's having hinky feeling about the widow, the Widow, Ava, has a positively airtight alibi for the time of the murder, being on vacation with two close friends at the time, and there is no sign that she ever left the tropical island she was vacationing on.

She's not the only suspect, of course. First, Thomas Anders died in a way that smacks of very kinky sex, so is it possible he could have had a lover? Second, there's his heir, Ben, who thanks to Thomas dying is a whole lot richer. Third, Ben's aide, who is in love with Ben. Could he have killed Thomas to enrich the man he loves, even though Ben doesn't reciprocate his love?

In between the investigation Eve is asked to help on a case gone cold from her old mentor Baxter and his rookie, Trueheart, regarding a man who was killed in a flop by an apparent hooker who cannot be found. The wife, who might be the usual suspect, was at home all evening, mostly trying to call her husband, and is too short and too weak to have caused the wound that killed him.

Charles Monroe, Eve's friend who also happens to be an LC (Licensed Companion) and his lover, Louise, a doctor who works for one of Eve's husband Roarke's charities, appear to be going through a rough spot. Eve doesn't want to have to witness it, but Charles was used as an LC by Thomas Anders' widow Ava, and Eve has to question him about it. More than once.

But Eve is no fool, and she's used to trusting her gut. When she figures out who murdered Thomas Anders, she is going to get them. And no matter how tangled the web that led to murder, Eve will untangle it. And she'll get them. You can count on that.

I love Eve Dallas. She's a real kickass heroine who feels for the victims of the crime and is just good enough, and BAD enough, to get her perp. With such a tough gal heroine, it would be hard to find a hero big enough, bad enough, and soft enough to measure up to her, but J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) has got that covered in Roarke, Eve's husband, a former crook who went good, made multibillions and fell for Eve during an investigation. Though he works for the side of good (or at least good capitalism) now, he retains all his old skills at hacking and penetrating computer systems, and he occasionally uses them for Eve's benefit. But since what he's doing is technically illegal, she always has to get the information in other ways afterwards. She just uses what he gets her to prove her suspicions. And did I mention Roarke is drop-dead sexy? Eve certainly knows that, and appreciates it, too.

This is one of the most tangled-web cases Eve has dealt with in a long time, and at the end, readers will feel exactly the satisfaction Eve does when she finally brings in the killers and makes them break, stripping away all the lies so that the ugly truth is revealed at last. It's possible to feel a little sympathy for one of the killers, but not for long as Eve reveals how weak and cowardly they actually were. Eve points out it was possible for the killer to leave the situation they were in, but they apparently never thought of it as an option. As for the other, they are revealed to be such a manipulator that you never feel sorry for them and actually feel righteous satisfaction when Eve finally lays them low.

More of a mystery or thriller than a romance, but with strong romantic elements, any of J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) Eve Dallas mysteries will soothe your craving for a kickass heroine, engaging mystery and wonderful love story. If you've been craving any of those, look here first!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wolf's Blood by Jane Lindskold

Firekeeper, the human raised by the humanly intelligent noble wolves and her companion and love, the noble wolf Blind Seer, have recovered from the disease querinalo which brought such changes to the island of Nexus and her friends. The Meddler, a trickster-like immortal who was given immortality through the loss of his human body, has convinced Firekeeper that she should go in search of the source of querinalo, so that it can be eliminated from the human lands before it can infect the new world.

Firekeeper doesn't need to be persuaded by the Meddler's tricks. She agrees on her own that it would be a good thing to do. But who would make such a thing? Through researches and the memories of those who survived the disease, as well as the diaries of those who survived it many years before, during the first outbreak, they discover a common image in the visions those who became ill experienced: a mountain sheep with golden hooves, diamond horns, and a disconcertingly human laugh at their suffering.

Further research finds that this was a symbol of a sorceror named Virim. Virim had been born in the New World, but was trained for sorcery in the Old. He also felt that humanity should make accomodations with the Noble, or what he called Wise, Beasts, but none of his fellows felt the same. In the end, he left humanity and went west to live with the Wise Beasts. But could he still be alive after so many years?

The attack of querinalo also led to the Nexans closing the gates to both the New and Old Worlds to prevent the spread of the disease. But when Spring comes and the gates to the Old World are not reopened, the Old World nations are severely disrupted by not being able to ship food and various herbal cures for different diseases through the gates. This leads them to come together with the express purpose of going to war on the Nexus islands.

And, on the islands themselves, Tiniel, reft from his link with his sister Isende by the attack of querinalo, sinks into bitterness and despair. Realizing his sister is in love with Derian Carter, he transfers a good deal of hatred and bitterness there, but Derian seems oblivious to Isende's interest. But Tiniel's feelings will give birth to a great betrayal in the future and may spell doom for the Nexus islanders.

This book seems to be the last in the series about Firekeeper and Blind Seer, but the author leaves the door open for a chance of future stories. It does neatly bring to an end the stories of Firekeeper's friends, and the horror that is querinalo, a magical disease that affects those with magical powers or talents and makes them choose between giving up those talents or death. Even those who manage to survive are twisted in some way, either internally or externally. While the disease is not truly gone by the end of the book, it is clear that it will not be such a big problem ever again.

This book not only has a great story, but great characters as well. Though the story is long for a fantasy novel (over 700 pages, not counting the index of the characters at the end), it never feels boring or padded. Firekeeper is an enigma, a human raised by wolves for years, and thus understanding of wolf and noble beast language, but with a human overlay that doesn't cover the wolf she is inside. She becomes more human over the course of the series by wearing human clothing and boots, and learning to wield a human weapon like a bow and arrows, but never becomes completely human, which is very frightening to people who don't know her well. Even though she looks human, she will never be able to love as a human does, as her psychology is too wolf-like. The novel makes it very clear that Firekeeper might seem human, but her thinking is wolf-like, as well as many of her manners, and therefore, the one she loves is also a wolf, her companion, Blind Seer.

The Noble animals who are also characters in the novel are also well-drawn and do not have human outlooks, on life or anything else. This works most interestingly when it comes to portraying the Meddler trying to reason with Firekeeper as a human. He fails, because she is not truly human within. He also must deal with it later, when he takes on a human body to try to make Firekeeper fall in love with him, but she already loves Blind Seer in that way, even though they will never couple nor have cubs together, and he loves her back. This is intolerable to the Meddler, but Firekeeper will not give Blind Seer up to have a relationship with a human just because it is normal or expected.

In any case, this is not a book to simply pick up without reading the previous volumes. It is still somewhat understandable on its own, but it is only with reading the volumes before that all the nuances of the story come alive. Also, many new readers will be driven to distraction by unfamilliar terms (Like marimaimalom) if they have not read the previous books. Otherwise, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Snow Empress by Laura Joh Rowland

Life for Sano Ichiro and his wife Reiko is disrupted when their son, Masahiro, is kidnapped from a festival. After months of searching for him, Sano is told by his enemy and second in command to the Shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, that his son has been taken to Ezogashima, whose Lord has fallen out of contact with the capital. Lord Matsudaira gets Sano to agree to go north and investigate the situation, as it is possible that the local peoples, the Ezo, are once again in revolt.

Sano's wife, Reiko, distraught over Masahiro's kidnapping, goes with him, as does Hirata, who has been taking time off to do martial arts training, but says he can hear Sano calling him. When they get to Ezogashima, their ship is wrecked in a storm, and they meet the native peoples, called "Ezo" or barbarians by the Japanese. The Ezo, after some pleading, take them in and feed them, then give them beds for the night. But the leader says there will be trouble, but will not elaborate.

The next day, they go to Ezogashima, only to be imprisoned by its lord, Lord Matsumae. He is incensed that someone killed his favorite concubine, Tekare, and now her spirit has inhabited him, driving him mad. He threatens to kill Sano so that the tales cannot get back to the Shogun, but Sano bargains to find Tekare's killer so that her spirit can go free, and so that he can find his son. He questions Lord Matsumae about his son, but Matsumae is evasive.

Meanwhile, Reiko is taken to Matsumae's wife, who she questions about her son, but Lady Matsumae claims to know nothing. When Reiko saves an Ezo concubine from the wrath of Lady Matsumae, she also gains a friend, who tells her where her son is imprisoned. Unfortunately the tower is heavily guarded, and Reiko cannot think of how to break in.

Sano begins his investigation, where he finds out that Tekare was a woman who was a user. Taken from her home by a gold merchant, she moved on to Lord Matsumae, who gave her everything, and even valued her over his wife. She used to call herself Empress of the Land of Snow, but she made enemies due to her high position, enemies who would be only too glad to see her dead. The question is, who among them actually did the deed? Sano must find out before Lord Matsumae has him put to death, and still keep a lookout for his son.

This book contained two interesting elementsin the story, including one that I am not sure I have read before in the Sano Ichiro books. In this case, the supernatural power of the dead concubine, Tekare, is real, and her actual spirit actually *is* in the Lord's body, so she is not just an artifact of his madness. That was very unusual for me to read.

The second thing was something cultural that made me want to gag. At one point in the novel, Sano and Reiko think their son is dead, so they decide to throw their lives away in pursuit of the killer, completely forgetting that they have a 1 year old daughter still waiting for them at home. While the characters may have forgotten about her, I sure didn't!

That being said, "The Snow Empress" is an intriguing mystery that occasionally veers too far into supernaturalism, especially at the end. For most of the book, you can think that Lord Matsumae's madness is simply that, and not actual possession by the spirit of a slain woman. The mystery hinges on secrets and hidden feelings on both sides, that of the Ezo/Ainu and that of the Japanese.

The mystery is well plotted, and with many twists and turns that keep the story fresh and interesting. If you're looking for an interesting, well-plotted mystery to keep you turning the pages, this will put you ahead of the curve.

Thunder Moon by Lori Handeland

Grace McDaniel is the Sherriff of Lake Bluff, Georgia, and survivor of last summer's attacks by werewolves. During a bad rainstorm, after she investigates what seems like a fire, Grace's car is struck by another vehicle and she meets a man who says he is a doctor.

The man is just as Cherokee as she is and looks her over. He says her nose may be broken, but otherwise looks fine. When she looks again, he is gone, and the next day, she encounters him again in town, moving into a previously empty storefront with an apartment above. There, she finds out his name, Ian Walker, and he gives her some cream to put on her face, which he says is Rattlesnake Oil. Grace can't believe a real doctor would put serious stock in tribal remedies, but she can't argue with the results of his cream.

All too soon it becomes clear that older people in town and in the woods around are dying. As the number of deaths rises, Grace grows more concerned that something strange and possibly supernatural has come to town. When she demands an autopsy of the latest death, the doctor discovers that the man's heart is missing, and without any incision or sign of how it was removed.

Grace and Ian plunge into a hot physical relationship, but when she finds out that he lied to her about his wife- he says she is gone, but Grace's Deputy finds out he is still married, she breaks it off. But neither of them can stay away from each other, and Ian presses Grace with the fact that she could be a powerful shaman, just like her grandmother was. Finding the creature terrorizing the town is going to involve looking deeply into Cherokee myth and legend, and if Grace doesn't start believing... soon, she and a lot of other people could wind up dead.

I really enjoyed this story. Lori Handeland brought in a new category of myths and legends (Cherokee this time), and thus, threw me for a loop when I thought I knew the nature of the creature (I was thinking "Thunderbird", but that is a whole other culture, apparently) and it turned out to be something completely different.

Just as in the last book, the Jager-Suchers appear, but it is all off-screen, over the phone and suchlike. They can't come to town to help this time because they are being hard-pressed everywhere. This also seems to be the last "Moon" series book, although she may return to it in the future, as her new book, "Any Given Doomsday", stars a different type of character as well as departing from her "Moon" themed titles.

This book worked as both a hot romance and a thriller-type novel, with both threads woven in believably, with the tension ramping up the action both in the romance and the mystery of what creature is doing this and who he or she is, to the point that it is hard to stop reading and put down the book for just about anything.

If you're looking for a paranormal romance that combines romance, mystery and thriller, this is definitely a good book to try. It will keep you on the edge of your seat even as you thrill to the hot loving between Grace and Ian. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Silent Night Anthology

The Silent Night Anthology contains four stories that either happen at or around Christmas, or have Christmas themes.

The First is "A Berry Merry Christmas" by Claire Cross, that sends elf Holly Berry from Santa Claus's workshop at the north pole to the house of a bachelor who adopted his brother's daughter when her parents were killed at a fire on Christmas Eve. In order to keep his niece from having nightmares, he's forbidden the celebration of Christmas in his home. Now, Holly has arrived to bring some Christmas cheer in the form of opening Drew Sinclair's heart to a new love, Katherine O'Neill. But how can she do that when Drew is in danger of falling in love with her... and she cannot resist him, or his niece, either?

Next is "The Unexpected Gift" by Dee Holmes. Sarah McKay is preparing for another Christmas with her son, when her son finds what he thinks is a dead man in the front yard. The man isn't dead, but he is dead drunk, and she knows him, Zach Danforth, the man who she loved, but wouldn't marry her. She gave him up to marry another man, and is now divorced from that same man. Zach, a hard-driving photojournalist, has burned out and quit his job. Does he still have another chance with the woman he never gave up loving?

Third is "Christmas Promises" by Susan Plunkett. Jake Rimsa shows up at Marne York's house at the behest of his sister to take her to the annual Christmas Party, but the call from the hospital of a severely battered sends them into the mean streets to find a missing child, and hopefully arrest the woman's ex-husband, who sent her to the hospital. But Jake also wants to find out why Marne, whom he loved and wanted to marry, cut off all contact between them while he was away serving in Operation Desert Storm. Can he reignite the passion that has apparently died between them?

Lastly, "Midnight in Death" by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts). Shortly after Christmas, Eve Dallas must pursue an escaped serial killer who has a passion for testing the bodies of his victims to their limits. When he was caught, he changed his plans to doing the same to the people who caught and tried him, torturing them until they break and then dumping the bodies in public places. Since Eve is on his list, can she catch him before he gets to her, or anyone else she loves?

The first three stories in the book are pretty standard love stories, and the one I most enjoyed was "A Berry Merry Christmas", which made me wholly believe that the two characters were falling in love, especially as they met for the first time in the story. The other characters already had a history, so it was easier to evoke feelings of love and passion for the writers.

Nora Roberts' story stands out in that it is the least "Romance-like" of all the stories. In every other story in the collection, characters falling in love is one of the prominent themes of the story. In the Eve Dallas tale, she and her husband Roarke are already married, and still in love, so the story focusses all on the murder investigation and catching the serial killer, leaving a very different feel in your mind after reading it. It almost doesn't belong with the rest, except for the story happening just after Christmas. Really, this story belonged more in a mystery or thriller collection than a romance collection.

If you read this collection for a romance angle, the J.D. Robb story will feel intrusive and not very romantic. Likewise, those readers who pick it up for the Eve Dallas story may not find the other stories as enjoyable (well, except for the Susan Plunkett story, which is a mystery of sorts). While this doesn't feel like a very well-put together collection, each of the stories is enjoyable in different ways. But a cohesive collection it is not. Frankly, the idea of writing a Christmas-themed or timed story is not enough to hold this collection together on its own. Readers, be warned.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Chobits, Volume 1

Hideki Motosuwa is a 19 year old trying to pass the entrance exams to enter college. He has a job working in a restaurant, but he's perpetually broke, and his family isn't very well-off, either. What he really wants is a Persocom, a computer in the form of a man or a woman. Unfortunately, given his financial situation, he won't be able to afford one any time soon, and it seems that he's one of the very few who can't afford one.

Persocoms are very popular. In fact, people who have them seem to spend more time with their Persocoms than they do with other flesh and blood humans. The only way to tell a Persocom apart from a human is by their ears, which look like truncated cones, and which are a series of ports that humans can use to access the data inside the persocom. While male models do exist, most persocoms are actually nubile-looking females. There also exist smaller persocoms, about baby-doll size, that are laptops and even smaller ones that are PDAs, although few of those are modeled on humans.

One night, Hideki is on his way home, bewailing his lack of a persocom, and he finds one, all wrapped up, left on top of some sacks of garbage. At first thinking that he's found a dead body, he freaks out, only to realize that it is a persocom by the ears.

Gladly making off with his prize, he takes her home, and then tries to figure out where her activation button is. Eventually, he finds it... right between her legs, which squicks him out a good deal. He then plugs her in and finds that she has no software, making her useless... or does it? She can only say one thing, "Chi!," which he soon gives her as her name. He calls on a friend from cram school for help, but Chi crashes his friend's laptop persocom, Plum. His friend is upset about this, but gives Hideki the name of a boy who seems to know more about constructing his own persocoms than anyone, and sends Hideki to see him.

Once again, Chi wreaks havoc among the off-the-shelf Persocoms, and the boy tells Hideki that Chi may be a "Chobits", a Persocom with an AI capable of thinking on its own and learning in the same way. So far, Chobits are only the stuff of urban legends, and he promises to look into it and find out more for Hideki.

Hideki, with Chi living with him, is afraid that people will think he's a pervert because all the clothing Chi owns (given to him by his landlady due to his usual shortage of cash) are all clothes with a high fetish value, like a schoolgirl outfit or maid outfit. And given that Chi has no sense of body modesty and she was nearly falling out of the first set of clothing he could find (his own, which were much too big for her), he constantly finds himself embarrassed around Chi.

This series is amazing, taking something that some people worry about (people spending more time with their computers than other humans) and adding to it by having the computers be nubile young women. Although not in this volume, but in later ones, it is implied that male users even use their persocoms to have sex with (if you could call it sex and not masturbation with an object, considering that persocoms don't really qualify as another person). Chi, of course, is immune from that considering where her on/off switch is located. More than that, Hideki treats Chi as he would a human girl (or as a child sometime, because she is learning as she continues to operate), and not simply as a computer.

The author adds to the creepyness factor by having a storybook which describes humanities obsession with persocoms without naming what it is talking about. In which the narrator, who looks like the bunny PDA possessed by one of the characters in the manga, talks about a city with no people, for all the people inside with "them".

So, what is a Chobits? We have yet to find out, but the beginning is intriguing, and speaks to humanity's obsession with our tools, in this case, computers.

Manxome Foe by John Ringo and Travis S. Taylor

When America first discovered that there were aliens, the aliens told them of another set of aliens named the Dreen, who were an implacable threat. With the aid of a black-box hyperdrive from the aliens, the humans remade a submarine into a spaceship named the Vorpal Sword and took it into space to help their alien friends.

The mission was a success, but it came at a high cost. Seven out of every eight marines on the ship died in various conflicts, along with most of the scientists. One set of attacking Aliens, the Mrrr, turned out to be slaves of the Dreen, and were taken out. The humans also found a way to close the gates to the Dreen worlds, by detonating a nuclear bomb on one side of the gate.

Now refitted, the Vorpal Sword is returning to space to investigate an attack on a world that archaeologists were investigating. There was a gate there, but if the Dreen are on the planet, opening it from the earth side would be foolishly suicidal, so instead the Vorpal Sword is given the task of going to the world.

Along for the ride are Marine Eric Bergstresser, who actually managed to survive their last trip and feels he may be falling in love with a girl from back home, William Weaver, PH.D. in Science and the only man who has come close to understanding the nature of the hyperdrive on the Vorpal Sword, along with a host of new officers, NCO's and marines who will have to adjust to and survive their trip back into space.

The Ship must not only survive the trip to the planet, but the encounter with a new species and a fight against the Dreen once again, this time against the biggest ship they have ever encountered, a Dreen Dreadnought.

I really enjoyed this book, being a sucker for military-style SF that started with David Weber and the Honor Harrington books. In fact, John Ringo has been David Weber's co-writer on a number of books, and I picked up this book solely for that reason. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed with this book the way I was by "Sister Time", another book that John Ringo wrote.

The Dreen are pretty scary as a race, and when we finally see the inside of their ships, they are just as scary, with some kind of fungus that they use to control various points inside the ship and weaponry that seems as much grown as built. Plus, the fact that they vastly outnumber the population of any one planet, and they are much, much more advanced than Earth technology maks it clear that we, as a species, have our work cut out for us when we are trying to survive. The only thing that has saved the earth so far is that the Dreen don't know where Earth is located, and, luckily, they have not yet been able to backtrack the Vorpal Sword or any other information humans have taken out into the stars with them. Based on what happened on the planet the Sword was dispatched to, however, that may change in the future.

If you're on the lookout for a good military SF book, "Manxome Foe" does not disappoint.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles: Book 1- The Nixie's Song by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black

Nicholas, or Nick, Vargas is upset. His mom died long ago, and his dad recently remarried, saddling him with a stepsister named Laurie. When they moved into a new house together, Nick lost his old room and now has to share one with his brother, Justin, who snores very loudly. Nick's old room went to his new stepsister, and Nick thinks she's a weirdo. After all, she's into unicorns and fairies and everything in her room seems to be covered in glitter, have unicorns or fairies on it, or some combination of all three.

Worst of all, his father wants him to get along with Laurie, so he feels compelled to go outside with her and explore. Laurie tells him she's looking for fairies or a four leaf clover. Nick quickly gets bored with this, but actually does find a four-leaf clover. At first, he thinks of giving it to Laurie, but decides that he needs the luck and keeps it for himself before abandoning her and returning to the house when it starts to rain, to play video games.

Later, the rain gets heavier, and the power goes out. Nick spots a body lying in the grass, and, feeling afraid that it might be his new stepsister, goes out to investigate. But it's not Laurie. It's a mermaid, and the only reason he can see it is because of the four-leaf clover he found. He and Laurie take the mermaid's still-living body to the pond and dump it in, but he gets in trouble for using his father's wheelbarrow to move the body, and blames Laurie for it.

Soon, Nick is caught up in the Mermaid's demands to find her sisters, and dealing with a fire-breathing giant that he accidentally awakened. Can they find some way to deal with the giant before it burns down the entire building development around them?

A follow-up to the original five Spiderwick books, this does a good job of expanding the franchise and moving the action from the northeast to the southeast, in this case, Florida, and introducing new foes and fairies for the protagonists to encounter. The authors also fall prey to the temptation to write themselves into the book, although what help they give the protagonists is... well, you'll have to read for yourself to answer that one.

This series is a wonderful follow-up to the original, and any readers who enjoyed the first will find just as much to enjoy here and more. A recommended read.

The Sisters Grimm- Magic and Other Misdemeanors by Michael Buckley

Sabrina and Daphne have retrieved their parents, but they remain locked in an ensorcelled sleep, and no one seems to be able to wake them. Granny Relda beings over all the Everafters who have been under some sort of enchantment to ask them for ideas on how to wake up her son and his bride, but though they discuss it, nothing seems to work and they run out of ideas.

The next morning, Baba Yaga comes back to accuse Sabrina of stealing her wand. Sabrina certainly didn't do any such thing, but Relda calms her down by telling her that they will investigate into who really stole her wand. Baba Yaga eventually agrees, but seems little mollified.

She isn't the only witch or sorceress who has had things go missing, and Relda and the girls need to investigate them all. But the new mayor of Ferryport Landing, Mrs. Heart, the former Queen of Hearts, is decidedly against humans, especially the Grimms, and comes up with a scheme to evict them all from town by jacking up their property taxes to $150,000. When Relda is able to get the money, Mrs. Heart and the new sherriff, the Sherriff of Nottingham, jack it up an additional $300,000 dollars and tell them the money is due in two days.

One of the items stolen is a clock that can control time, and it is causing timeslips around the town, letting people, creatures and items into town from different periods in history. Stumbling through one such crack in time, Sabrina and Daphne find themselves 15 years into the future and a town that is ruined and deserted. Can they find the thief and cause that horrible future not to come to pass? Possibly, but they will need the help of the past and the future to find out!

This was an entertaining story and almost completely unexpected in the direction it took. The future looks fairly grim for the Grimms (no pun intended) and for the town itself, but thanks to Sabrina's change of heart in the last book and her deciding to accept her role in the Grimm family, Sabrina is no longer whining and complaining her way through each book.

Even though this book is written for school-age kids, adults who still appreciate fairy-tales will still find it a short, but entertaining read.

To Hell and Back by Lilith Saintcrow

Dante Valentine is a necromance, a special type of Psion that can cross the barriers of death and contact the spirits of the dead. A few years ago, she accepted a job from Lucifer, to retrieve something for him, and was given a shadow, a fallen demon named Tierce Japhrimel. Danny and Japh came to care for each other deeply, and he made her his Hedaira, which gave her some of his power and made her physically tougher and more powerful. Mentally, however, she remains the same.

Much happened to Danny. She found out her friend Doreen had borne a child, but the child was part demon. It was to be used by the government for experimentation. Both Lucifer and the Hegemony government wanted the child, a girl named Eve, for her ability to procreate. Since Lucifer controls his demons ability to procreate, granting it only to whom he pleases, Eve was a threat to his power.

Now, only a few years later, Eve has grown to adulthood, and begun rebelling against Lucifer. Danny and Japh have tried to stay out of the conflict as much as possible, but because Japh is an extremely powerful demon, and used to be Lucifer's Right Hand and Assassin, both sides have come courting him and Danny.

As "To Hell and Back" starts, Danny has been released from Hell after having been kidnapped to and tortured there. She's a mess, and despite her being part demon thanks to Japh, she is extremely fucked up physically. Japh has been searching for her, going after and attacking anyone who might know anything about where Danny is, and he's extremely angry to boot. When one of his agents finds her, he's finally angry enough to rebel on his own against Lucifer, which requires a very special knife that was created by Fallen Demons and their Hedairas for just such an occasion. It can kill any demon, including Satan himself, and only someone who is human or mostly human (like a Hedaira) can wield it. He takes Danny in search of the two halves of it, keeping her close to ensure Lucifer cannot take her again.

But both Lucifer and Eve have been waiting for this to happen. Who will Danny trust enough to side with? And is either even worthy of her trust? Or for that matter, is Japh, who won't tell her anything and apparently only tells her lies? One thing is for sure, no matter who wins, great changes are coming to Danny Valentine's world.

This was a great book and makes a great ending to the series. The book teases readers about the nature of the Fallen Demons and their Hedaira, but due to the nature of demons themselves, we can't trust any answers we are given, since, as the book tells us, it is in the nature of demons to lie. And they all lie. Danny herself falls victims to many lies in the book, and in fact, many of the lies lead her to make dangerously destructive mistakes. And this time, the outcome affects not only her and Japh and those who depend on her, it will affect her entire world.

Lilith Saintcrow has a wonderfully creative mind, and it's on full display here. The psions of this world are more like witches and wizards than actual psychics. Necromancers have traditionally been wizards who deal with raising and making people or things undead. Magi do spells. But She introduces Skinlins, who work with plants and plant DNA, Sedayeen, healers who are bound to complete pacifism because they feel the pain of others, Animones, who heal and connect with Animals, Sexwitches, who raise power through the act of sex, and others. In addition to the standard Nichtvren (Vampires) and werecains (lycanthropes), there are Koboldings, Goblin-like creatures, Swanhilds, avian-like creatures with hollow bones and poison flesh. And among humans, Sk8's, which are tribes of teenagers who live on the streets riding slicboards or skateboards that run on anti-gravity. Her future universe is gritty and more than a little distopian, especially with what is revealed in this last book, though the author herself declines to categorize her world.

Dante herself could come off a bit Mary-Sueish except for the fact that she is extremely abrasive and more than a little mentally fragile, even though she has access to Japh's power physically. Yes, she's strong and can come back from just about anything, more or less, her mind is much weaker and can be cracked fairly easily. Sometimes, such as when she is savaging her friends or allies with her tongue, she can be very hard to like, and it's a wonder than anyone stays around her. But then, given that she would lay down her life for her friends, and she can't resist anyone who really needs her lets you know why she has such good friends in the first place.

This series isn't for everyone, and may not be to your taste, but it's worth giving it a try to see such a huge, detailed, and believable world. Dante Valentine may be an acquired taste, but once you acquire it, it's hard to stop wanting more.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Victory Conditions by Elizabeth Moon

The Vattas were once a powerful trading family based on a planet called Slotter's Key. They were wealthy and respected and in one day, all of that changed. Enemies attacked the Vattas at their homes and trading offices across the galaxy. Governments were suddenly deaf to the Vatta's cries for help and aid. Most of the Vatta family died, and it fell to the backs of three strong women in the Vatta family to fight to try and regain their place in the world.

First was Kylara Vatta, who had recently been kicked out of the Space Navy due to being squarely in the center of a political mess, she had been given captaincy of a small trading ship that also carried letter of Marque from Slotter's Key, enabling her to act as a privateer, should it become necessary. She managed to live through several assassination attempts and retrieve a better, more heavily armed ship from her outlaw Uncle, Osman Vatta. Her attempts to keep her own ship and the ships of other merchants safe from attackers and pirates has gathered her a tidy little force of her own, now looking for the men behind the attacks on the Vattas.

Second is her cousin, Stella Vatta. Daughter of Osman, but raised by other members of the family after he stole a ship from Slotter's Key and left his wife and daughter behind, Stella has grown up as a ne'er do well daughter, untrusted and thought foolish by the rest of the family. First sent to Kylara with a shipment of fruitcakes from their Aunt Grace that contained not only a small fortune in diamonds and Ky's father's implant with control codes Ky needed. Stella rescued Toby, a teenaged cousin of hers, from a world where he thought his parents killed. A brilliant engineer and computer tech, Toby has helped Stella start up the Vatta's business offices again, and get shipping contracts going.

Grace Vatta is Stella and Ky's aunt, the former head of security for the Vattas. She survived the assassination attempts and helped keep the women and children who survived alive. Though she looks like a harmless old lady, she is anything but, and helped overthrow the President of Slotter's Key, who had been blackmailed into helping bring down the Vattas. Now on the Council that runs Slotter Key, she is helping coordinate the hunt for Gammis Turek, the ruthless space pirate who was behind the attack.

But all is not well. Rafe Dunbarger, Stella's former flame and head of the ISC, is having problems with the company his father used to run. The former second-in-command was in league with Gammis Turek and was jealous of Rafe as well, causing his father to kick him out, virtually penniless. With Rafe's father out of commission due to a brain aneyurism, and the second in command finally gotten rid of, Rafe is now in charge of ISC, only to find that their spaceforce is in tatters due to poor maintenance and the embezzlement of funds meant to maintain it, and the board wants to blame the Vattas for the entire thing and Gammis Turek as well.

Unfortunately for them all, Gammis Turek has many more tricks up his sleeve, and there is a long way for them to go before he can be taken down. With his spies everywhere, even the corridors of ISC itself, can the five of them keep the Vatta family together, and take down Gammis Turek before more people die?

This book marks the end of the stories of the Vatta family, and especially Kylara Vatta. Still, the one thing that stands out about this story is how it is the women who end up pulling the bacon out of the fire, by taking command. Now, I'm generally a feminist-leaning person anyway, but it was definitely a breath of fresh air to see women being the ones doing most of the work getting the galaxy in order. Although Kylara's position in command finally takes its toll, requiring her to go in for some psychiatric help, the women in general in this book are portrayed as being as strong, and in many cases, far stronger (as well as more devious, honorable, charming and intelligent) than the men. But every character gets their own chance to shine and to help bring events to a resolution.

The best part of Elizabeth Moon's novels is that it is impossible to be bored when you are reading them. Even when the action isn't tense in the middle of a battle, or in some high-stakes political or business meeting, your attention is still engaged and active, so that even Ky's time in Psych is interesting and not dull or boring, as it might be with a lesser writer. And while her characters are strong, they are not without their flaws, either. And they can also make mistakes, mistakes that can end up costing them. Nor are some characters more interesting than others. No matter who is at the forefront currently, you will find yourself still interested in reading and seeing what is going on, and what will come next. And even if the story ends here, you can still imagine what will occur for them in the future, and still want to know.

The story and these characters may end here, but I hope she revisits this remarkable family at some point in the future, so we can see them again, or get to know the next generation.

Next up: "To Hell and Back" by Lilith Saintcrow, the last in the Dante Valentine series of novels.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Undead- The Haunted Lands Book 2 by Reggie Lee Byers

The country of Thay in the Forgotten Realms has long been ruled by the Red Wizards, masters of Magic. But they are not kindly overloards, being more concerned with their own power and the mastering of all sorts of magic. Each school of magic has a seat on the council and the heads of the schools are called Zulkirs.

Recently, one of the Zulkirs, Szass Tam, the Zulkir of the school of necromancy, and an undead creature called a Lich (who better to head a school dealing with magics that control the dead?) broke with the rest of the council to try and take over the entire country of Thay. For ten years now, the war has raged, and the rest of the council is slowly losing the fight.

Unless Szass Tam's army, the army of the other mages must eat, sleep and rest. and when the warriors fall dead, Szass Tam can merely add the fallen to his own army in the form of zombies, skeletons, wraiths or some other form of undead. Nevertheless, the other mages have a chance to trap Szass Tam's undead army near the Keep of Sorrows, but it is a trap set up by Szass Tam himself and a cataclysm occurs when the Goddess of Magic, Mystra, dies, setting off a magical cataclysm across the land. Since Mystra's job is to hold together the Weave, the intertwining threads of magic that give magic its shape and force, magic immediately starts failing, and magic already existing goes wild, exploding across the land in surges and sparks of blue lightning.

It does have the effect of freeing the vampire Tammith from the control of Szass Tam. Tammith was once human, but was experimented on by Szass Tam's comrade Xingax, who made her what she is today. Though Tammith believes that she is no longer human, and doesn't have human emotions, when she meets up again with Bareris, the man she once loved, now a bard fighting against Szass Tam with the rest of the council, how long will her empty words last? And will they even be able to survive the war with Szass Tam against the rest of the Kingdom?

This novel straddles the line between Fantasy Role-Playing and Horror. Defeat for the council means a land where the dead outnumber the living, and the living will be sacrificed to the needs of the dead. At this point, there has been so much fighting for so long, that the dead in the country outweigh the living. But it is also the tale of the no-longer living and the living joining forces to defeat Szass Tam. Griffon-riders Aoth and Bareris, the undead Ghost Mirror, and Tammith herself, all choose to fight Szass Tam and aid the living against the undead. But with the odds so stacked against them, how can they prevail?

This book sets up the sequel and the final book in the trilogy, Unholy, and it promises to be quite different from the open fighting in Undead. At this point, it's hard to hold out any hope for the survivors to wrest control away from the victors. But then again, you never know...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter- The First Death

Anita Blake started out as a great character, and I really loved the books by Laurell Hamilton, but lately she has become a pale shadow of herself, more concerned with having sex with everything male around her, and acquiring shiny new powers everytime she screws somebody or something new. I'll admit that her latest book, The Harlequin, had some of the kind of character development that Anita Blake was formerly known for, but even though I still read the series, I wonder where the formerly independent character who took no shit has gone. Well, she's still around, but you're going to have to look at graphic novels now to find her.

"The First Death" tells the previously untold story of the scars on Anita's arms that she recieved on a hunt with Manny Rodriguez, her mentor as a Vampire and Supernatural Hunter.

Anita is called to the scene of a homicide by Dolph Storr, who wants her opinion on the corpse. It is that of a child, and Anita is sickened by the crime to the point that she throws up. This gets her some ribbing by Zerbrowski, another detective, but she is able to determine that they are being watched by a vampire. This is Adam, who the cops take into custody to ask some questions, despite his probably not being the vampire who killed the child.

Anita seeks out information at Dead Dave's. Dead Dave was a cop who became a vampire, and was forced off the force. He opened a bar instead, and still funnels Anita information. Anita asks about the place where Adam works, Guilty Pleasures, and about its owner, Jean-Claude. She learns that Jean-Claude is on the outs with the Prince of the City, Nikolaos, over something. Sex, Power, or perhaps something else, no one knows.

Later, Anita and Dolph visit the club. Anita won't look Jean-Claude in the eye, because she knows that is how Vampires take you over and control you, but he nearly does so with just the power of his voice. When he tries to have her look in his eyes, Anita gets pissed off and nearly bolts, but eventually ends up listening while Dolph questions Jean-Claude. From questioning others at the Club, he finds out that while Adam and Jean-Claude were working on the nights of the murders, another vampire always seemed to have a "sudden emergency" on those nights.

That night, there is another murder of a young child, and Anita gets called to the scene and prevents the mother from seeing her slain child, holding her while they both cry. Anita hates the vampire who is capable of doing such things, and Dolph makes sure she is present when they question Sean, the possible murderer, for anything she can learn from him. But when Sean finds out who she is, he goes Apeshit and tries to attack her for being the Executioner. Anita smashes him in the face with her cross bracelet, burning his face, and tells him she could execute him right now, but he and her crosses will get up close and personal if he doesn't tell her where the other bodies are buried.

Sean confesses that he and his "Kiss" or group of vampires, have slain many people and buried their bodies in a field, but that they have never killed kids, which he maintains is "sick". When she tries to get him to tell her where his "kiss" is living, he tells her, then once again freaks out, and she has to kill him when he attacks her. The police will take out the vampires, but Anita knows that his master possessed Sean at the end, and the vampires are already forwarned and will vanish. Dolph protests that cops need warrants, but Anita says as a vampire hunter, she already has the warrants she needs.

She calls on Manny, and they enter the house of the Kiss, only to find it already deserted. They bless the empty coffins with holy water, and find a dead human victim strung up in the house. They call in the police for that, and Anita goes to her main job, Re-Animators, Inc. Waiting there for her is Edward, under the guise of a man wanting a relative raised in a dispute over the family farm. Edward is a killer, a former assassin who found hunting humans too easy and moved on to supernaturals, as they posed more of a challenge. He threatens Anita to get information from her, but she refuses, and flees the office to go to a Zombie-raising job. Afterwards, Edward approaches her again, refusing to apologize for what he said in the office, but acknowledging that he made a mistake in dealing with her. Once again, he asks her for information and says quite matter-of-factly that he will torture her to get it. She asks him for time, and he gives her until the next afternoon to contact him. He also tells her his nickname among the Vampires. If Anita's is "The Executioner", his is "Death". Anita complains to herself that Edward even has a cooler nickname than her.

Meanwhile, the police have caught one of the vampires on Sean's list, but he collapsed at Daybreak. Anita stakes and beheads the vampire, then overhears a man telling a policeman that his wife, one of the victims, loved him and was about to leave her vampire lover. Since Sandra James worked in Real Estate, it is possible that they are staying in one of her properties. She gives Edward the information, and he finds out where the properties are in exchange for her and Manny investigating them.

On the third house, they hit paydirt and find the vampires, or at least their human servants. They force the people to show them the basement, but Manny is taken prisoner, and Anita surrenders to prevent them from killing him. They are both tortured, and Anita is branded with a cross on her arm. She passes out, and when she awakens, the vampires are awake. They decide to hunt her, and give her a little head start, but instead, she prepares to fight. She is caught and nearly killed by one of the vampires, who she takes out with a bottle of holy water after Edward shows up. Between them, they take down the rogues and set the house on fire, rescuing a gravely-injured Manny. When they hear sirens, Edward says he must leave, and to tell the police that she and Manny saved themselves before Manny collapsed. Anita agrees, and he leaves.

Upon leaving the hospital, Edward shows up and wants to have Anita join his hunt, but she has a hunt of her own, with the cops. Edward expresses diappointment and leaves.

This graphic novel had everything I enjoyed about classic Anita Blake: her attitude, her friends, and her more limited powers. It was refreshing to read about the old Anita once more, and I enjoyed the story immensely. The rest of the book after the story contains a guide to the book "Guilty Pleasures": the people, much of the story (including the ending), and the guide to Anita's world. This is a really kicking graphic novel and I'm looking forward to reading others set in the early Anita Blake world.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Wizard's Daughter by Catherine Coulter

Rosalind de la Fontaine doesn't know where she really came from, or her name, or even how old she really is. Her "uncle", Ryder Sherbrooke rescued her when she was beaten nearly to death, although there was something unusual about how he found her. It seems he was led to her by a strange voice and quality of light. When she was rescued, she was nearly dead, and at first, they despaired of her life, but she was given copious medical attention and rallied, and was eventually adopted into the family alongside the Sherbrooke's real son Grayson. She didn't speak for six months, and then she only sang a verse to a song which seems to enchant everyone who hears it.

In 1835, the Sherbrookes give her a season in London. She is now a young woman with red hair that puts Titian's color to shame, and bright blue eyes. At one of the balls, she meets Nicolas Vail, the Earl of Mountjoy, newly returned from Macau. Common wisdom says he is penniless and has come seeking a rcih heiress. But Rosalinde doesn't have that much money. Nicolas is charmed by Rosalind and asks to accompany her to a local fair. During the fair, her brother Grayson purchases a rare volume, The Rules of the Pale, from a book vendor who promptly disappears from his place, and, more slowly, from the memories of the merchants nearby.

When the time comes to read the book, it seems to be written in an impenetrable code... that only Rosalind can read. Why? No one is sure, least of all, Rosalind. And she can read it as easily as reading English. Nicolas is amazed, not the least of which because his grandfather has a copy of the same book. And his grandfather had a reputation as a wizard. Or being mad, which some assume is the same thing. Nicholas listens as Rosalind reads the book, while Grayson transcribes her words. The story tells of a 16th century wizard named Sarimund, who visited a place outside our world and time. Rosalind views it as an allegory, although she has had dreams about a character mentioned in the book, Rennat, the wizard of the east. The last part of the book, although it seems to be in the same code, is utterly impenetrable to Rosalind, and she cannot say why.

Rosalind has fallen in love with Nicolas, but his family, namely, his stepmother and two stepbrothers, hates and resents him. His father, stirred by his stepmother's resentment, cut him off penniless when he was only a child, and concieved a real, lasting hatred for him. His two older step-brothers, Richard and Lancelot, were raised with hatred for him as practically their mother's milk. Now that Nicolas is fixing on Rosalind as a wife (and threatening their position by engendering an heir), they first attempt to warn her off, which Rosalind deflects easily, and then attempt to kidnap her, but instead get the wrong girl, Grayson's date. When they realize they have the wrong one, they send her back, but Lorelai is no fainting miss, and she sees part of the crest on the coach door, which allows Nicolas to discover who had her kidnapped. He goes to visit his brothers and pounds some sense into Richard, the oldest, telling him that if he tries such a stunt again, Nicolas will kill him, and Lance, too.

Due to the threat of the kidnapping, Nicolas and Rosalind's wedding is moved up, and he invites his stepmother and stepbrothers to the wedding. His stepmother and older two stepbrothers are surly and drink too much when they attend, but his youngest stepbrother, Aubrey, a scholar at Oxford, has no animus towards Nicholas, and is merry and happy, much to the distaste of his mother and older brothers. In addition, Aubrey has the same coloring as Rosalind, which seems unusual in his family.

When Nicolas and Rosalind head to his manor house, they find that the spirit of Nicholas' grandfather has inhabited the place, singing in the library, and it has chased off a good deal of the house's workers, who find it very uncanny indeed. Rosalind and Nicholas enjoy their wedding night greatly, and the next few days are spent settling in. Nicholas finds his grandfather's copy of The Rules of the Pale, but it is different from the one Grayson purchased, and seems not as long. In the course of investigating the house, and the ghost, they find that the Ghost is not Nicolas's grandfather after all, but Jared Vail, sea captain and progenitor of the Vail line. He sings them the first two verses of a song, which verse that Rosalind sang so long ago completes.

While they convince the servants to return to the house, Rosalind starts translating the version of The Rules of the Pale owned by Nicholas's grandfather. It is different, very different, and almost seems to be another book entirely, speaking of the witches and Wizards that make the Pale their home, as well as the treachery of Epona, the wizard Sarimund was chosen to sleep with and engender a child with. He stayed with her for six days, and then chose to leave. But in the real world, only a single night seems to have passed. There is more in the book, but the pages seem stuck together, unable to be parted.

More mundane concerns begin to press them at this point. First, Rosalind finds out that Nicholas dreamed of her long before they met, and he was told she was his debt that he had to pay. Rosalind thinks that Nicholas married her only for that reason, and convinces herself that he doesn't really love her. She tries to spend the night apart from him, only to have a vision of Sarimund, which catapults her into perfect whiteness. Nicholas breaks into the room where she is sleeping and finds her all white, even her hair, holding a jeweled dagger which drips white blood. When he wakes her, however, she slowly recovers, and the white blood disappears from the dagger.

She hadn't had the dagger before she went to bed, it being locked in a case downstairs, and so it somehow came to her. More frightening is her vision, in which Sarimund told her he would see her soon. He also told her the rest of the book would unlock for her now, and it does, but they are interrupted by the arrival of his stepmother and stepbrothers, with the news that Richard had a dream of Rosalind cutting his heart out in a pagan-style sacrifice, and that he should get rid of her before she kills him. Nicholas disdains to do this, but his acceptance of Richard's dream does much to redeem him in Richard's eyes.

Finally, Nicholas and Rosalind realize that she has been being groomed all her life for one task, and it is Nicholas' job to help and support her. When they are taken bodily to the Pale, will they be able to survive and get the job done, despite having never wielded any sort of magic before?

I found this book hard to get into at the beginning, because the language spoken by the characters seemed strangely... stilted. But as I continued to read, the story came out and grabbed me. The longer I read, the easier it was for me to ignore the stiltedness of the language and simply read for the plot. Neither of the characters really grabbed me, it was more the plot that kept me reading. Nicholas is standard Romancelandia hero and Rosalind is more or less a straight Romancelandia heroine, with nothing that really stood out in their characterization to make me think any different. Of course, there are the usual family troubles from one side, and the "big misunderstanding" to keep them apart, although in this case, it thankfully didn't last very long. I was curious as to why Nicholas didn't simply tell her that he had fallen in love with her anyway when she accused him of marrying her for the debt.

In any case, the idea of both Nicholas and Rosalind being magicians is more interesting than the characters themselves, at least to me. Now, I admit I am slightly turned off by Catherine Coulter because I read her first novel, "Devil's Embrace" and it was so unsexy and morally disgusting to me that I wanted to go out and permanently geld the hero and pay for the heroine to get a brain implanted in her skull, as the one God gave her wasn't working. Reading "The Wizard's Daughter" has only very slightly improved my opinion of her.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Edge Chronicles #9 Clash of the Sky Galleons

Quint Verginix is a knight academic at the great Academy of Sanctaphrax. His father, Wind Jackal, is a Sky Pirate, or a ship master of one of the great sky-ships. Quint has been taken from Sanctaphrax by his father to in search of his father's greatest enemy, Turbot Smeal.

At one time, Turbot Smeal worked for his father as a quartermaster, but when Turbot would have sold a rescued crew of slaves to another set of slavers, for a hefty profit, Wind Jackal and his quartermaster parted ways. But Turbot Smeal had his revenge by firing much of the city of Undertown, a fire which claimed the life of Quint's mother and four brothers, as well as much of the city. Turbot Smeal was supposedly burned to death in the same conflagration, but now he has returned, and apparently he wants revenge on Wind Jackal. And Wind Jackal wants the company of his son, Quint.

But Quint doesn't come alone on this journey, he is accompanied by his close friend Maris Pallitax, the daughter of Wind Jackal's best friend, the former headmaster of Sanctaphrax. Also along for the ride is the crew of Wind Jackal's sky ship, the Galerider: Filbus Queep the Quartermaster, Spillins, the ancient oakelf lookout for the ship, Ratbit, a mobgnome, Steg Jambles, the harpooner, Tem Barkwater, Sagbutt, the fierce goblin brawn and warrior, and their pilot, The Stone Pilot, an ever-silent woman who almost never removes the black rones and point-shaped tall hood of her profession.

On the journey, they also meet another young sky pirate named Thaw Daggerslash, who seems to be constantly near them when they go in search of Turbot Smeal. Thaw wants nothing more than to command his own sky ship, but with a lack of money, he can only buy himself a mere canoe compared to the Galerider. But he aims high, wanting to inscribe his name on the tables at the Tarry Vine tavern next to the other famous Sky Pirates.

As Quint, Maris and Wind Jackal fulfill the Galerider's shipping contracts, they find Thaw again at the great Shrike Slave Market, where Thaw has sold his only crew-mate, an Albino Banderbear, into slavery. Claiming that it was done by an unscrupulous crewmate, Thaw prevails upon Wind Jackal to free the Banderbear, which he buys back with a crate of candles from Undertown. Then, Wind Jackal takes the two into his crew to replace losses of the crew he has had, and when he pursues Turbot Smeal onto an abandoned and overgrown wreck of a Sky Galleon, Smeal stabs Wind Jackal, then is killed by Thaw.

After Wind Jackal's funeral, a new captain must be elected on the ship. Since there are two qualified for the position, Thaw and Quint, the crew must select between them by giving their choice shryke teeth. Whoever gets the most teeth in 36 hours will be the new captain. Quint gets the tooth from Spillins right away, as the Oakelf can see Thaw's aura and it is the worst he has ever seen. Quint also gets one from Tem Barkwater, who is fed up with the unkind jokes Thaw has made about him being a former slave. Thaw gets one from Duggin, to whom he promises his Sky barge, and another. With the vote tied at two each, Thaw picks the tooth from the Stone Pilot's robe and drops it overboard. When the time comes to vote, the lone deciding vote falls to Maris. When she sees the look of gloating on his face as the Stone Pilot frantically searches for her tooth, she hands her tooth to Quint. Thaw is devastated, but tries not to show it, and the next morning he is gone.

Quint delivers the last cargo, a load of bloodoak timber, and hears that the merchants of Undertown are going to get rid of the Sky Pirates and found their own fleet. Quint warns the other Sky pirates, and takes three of his fellow Sky-Knights into his crew to replace those that have gone missing. And then it is on to the Wilderness Lair, where the Sky Pirates have regrouped to plan what they will do next. When the merchants take the battle to them, the Sky Pirates fight back, until the merchants bring out their secret weapon, a massive Sky battleship bearing the largest flight rock ever grown. With it, the battleship is faster and more maneuverable than any Sky Pirate ship, and it's up to Quint and his crew to somehow defeat it and save the day.

This is a great series, and even if the focus of the stories leaps around in time from character to character, the whole is pretty amazing. Both the writer. Paul Stewart, and the artist, Chris Riddell come up with some ugly, amazing and flat-out outlandish designs for the other races Quint and the rest of the characters meet. This also carries over into the designs of natural animals and trees in the illustrations that are scattered throughout the books. Even the main race, respresented by Quint, Maris and Quint's father, aren't really human but bear more of a resemblance to elves, with pointed ears and snub noses.

This book may not be to everyone's taste, but as an example of Juvenile Fantasy, it's hard to beat.

I also got a chance to read some more manga today. Pantheon High #2, Trigun #12, Zatch Bell #17 and Tsubasa: Resevoir Chronicle #16.

In Trigun, the ships from earth have arrived, with two plants on board. One of them is taken over by Knives, but Vash forces a showdown with his brother. It all comes down to; Will Vash be able to shoot to kill his brother? And we also get to see the origin of Legato Bluesummers and why he is so devoted to Knives.

In Pantheon High, The school is now safe, and the gods have defeated the godlings who took over the school. But the other students are still in enchanted sleep, and two of the four godlings who defended the school, Griffin and Grace were devoured by Jorgmunder the World Serpent and got taken to the afterlife.

Since Griffin is the son of Hades, this is no big for him. As the son of the God of the Dead, this is where he belongs, right? Grace, on the other hand, got her hand mangled and due to a bite from Idun's golden apples, lies on the brink of life and death. She is taken to Valhalla by the Valkyries, but they break out and have to make their way home by travelling through the afterlives of various pantheons.

Meanwhile the other two remaining students, Aziza, daughter of the Sun-God Ra and Yukio, son of the Japanese luck Goddess Benten, are sent to rival school Gilgamesh High until the other students can be revived. Gilgamesh High is attended by the children of the Aztec, Hindu, Mesopotamian and Pacific Island Gods. Yukio is recruited for the Tlachtli team by Khetan, son of a Goddess of Bad Luck. But when the other students are revived, Yukio is challenged to a Tlachtli match according to the ancient rites, which means the losing team will be sacrificed to the Gods of the winning team. How fast can Yukio learn the game?

Meanwhile, someone is stealing the God's symbols of power, without which, the Gods are mostly powerless. It's now up to Aziza, Yukio, Katya, the daughter of Bastet and Joanna, daughter of Isis, to find out who has been stealing them and find them and bring them back before the evil gods can overpower the good ones. Due to the timely return of Grace and Griffin, and Yukip managing to end the Tlachtli match in a draw, the crisis is averted. But can they defeat Headmaster Prometheus, who seems to be behind the whole thing?

In Tsubasa, the group has come to Tokyo, but the return of Syaoran brings forward some hard truths about his origins, and a surprising betrayal from within the team. Can Sakura bring Syaoran back to himself before he kills everyone else? And what will this mean to Clow Reed, sorceror and not-so-nice-guy to whom Sakura is his inheritor and Syaoran his spiritual successor. When Syaoran has his soul drained away, what can be left?

And in Zatch Bell, the fight against the Mamudo from 1000 years ago is nearing its end. Zatch and the others face off against Demolt, the guardian of stone and strongest of the 1000 year old Mamudo. Sherry and her Mamudo Brago must face the manipulative Mamudo Zofia and his partner, Sherry's old friend Koko, who has apparently turned evil and become a partner to Zofis. Can Sherry keep her heart and strength of purpose when Koko reveals their entire friendship was based on a lie?