Saturday, May 31, 2008

Small Favor by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden is Chicago's only known wizard, because he advertises, literally, in the phone book. But he certainly inhabits a world full of strange and dangerous things, not the least of which are faeries and a group of fallen angels living in the literal 30 pieces of silver that was used to pay off Judas when he betrayed Christ at the last supper.

And those two don't mix well, as Harry finds out to his cost, when the Winter Queen of the Faeries, Mab, asks Harry to repay one of the two favors he owes her by protecting the Archive, who in this incarnation is a small girl named Ivy, from attack by the Denarians (the 30 pieces of silver are Roman Denarii). Who have kidnapped Harry's longtime foe and sometime ally, "Gentleman Johnny" Marcone, who also happens to be a big crime boss.

To help, Harry calls in his friends, including Sergeant Karin Murphy, who has suffered a lot for Harry's sake. She nearly lost her job, was demoted, and her career is in the toilet, all because of him. But she doesn't blame him, because he was trying to help her at the time. And his brother Thomas, who happens to be a White Court Vampire, cursed with living on the emotions of humans, his good friend Michael Carpenter, a holy knight in service to God who bears a sword made from one of the nails that crucified Jesus Christ, and his apprentice, Michael's daughter Molly.

But his foes are equally powerful, perhaps even more so. Certainly, most of the Denarians have shown up for this fight, and the forces of the Summer Queen of the Faeries are opposing Mab, the Winter Queen, meaning that the Summer forces are Harry's opponents, not allies. Added on is that Harry's boss among the wizards seems to be interested in him for more than for his magic ability, and Harry's plate is full to overflowing this time around. But can he and his allies prevail against the impressively overwhelming odds?

I love Harry Dresden, who is a sort of grown-up Harry Potter for adults. Darker in tone than the Harry Potter books, and without HP's "Chosen one" status, Harry Dresden is a deadpan snarker whose mouth often runs away with the sass before his brain can catch up. He's a competent wizard who knows what he's doing, but many things frighten him nearly witless, and as the books show us, he's right to be afraid.

But he's more than just a wizard, Harry has the ability to bring out the humanity in others. As an example, Harry was invaded by one of the Denarians when he grabbed the coin away from one of his friend Michael's children who was about to touch it (which is the way they possess humans). The Denarian in Harry's head was female, and tried for a long time to seduce Harry to the dark side. However, contact with Harry was redeeming the copy of the Denarian in Harry's head, and at one point, she actually sacrificed herself for him to take a "psychic bullet" that would otherwise have killed him. Needless to say, that's unheard of, although Harry doesn't brag about it.

I'm just wild about Harry, and this volume gives me lots of reasons to justify it. A must read, though you'll want to read the others in the series first.

Diabolo Volume 1 by Kei Kusonoki and Kaoru Ohashi

There is a rumor that if you sell your soul to the demon Diabolo, you will gain incredible powers... for a time. But on your 18th birthday, you will go irrevocably insane, able to do nothing but do the demon's bidding.

Ren and Rai know the truth of the rumor, for they sold their souls to Diabolo ten years ago, when they were only seven. They wanted to save their cousin, but things didn't exactly work out like they wanted, because their cousin was found murdered, and they got the blame. Even so, they recieved powers that they still bear today. Ren has the power of ultimate defense, and Rai the power of ultimate offense. The only difference is that now they use their powers to save others from their mistake.

However, they find that some people don't want to be saved, while others simply have no hope at all. Their first case is of a girl who thinks she may be pregnant, and is bothered by strange happenings both at school and in the apartment building in which she lives. People in the building are being murdered, and there is a strange, dark dog who seems tied to the tragedies.

The second story is that of a plain girl named Hiromi, who sells her soul through various cruel acts so that a beautiful girl named Arisa will like her and want to be her friend. Rai and Ren try to warn her away from where she is heading, but the outcome reveals that Hiromi and Arisa aren't so different after all. Can Hiromi save herself from becoming beautifully cruel?

The final story in the volume reveals the backstory of Ren and Rai: how they sold their souls to Diabolo, how their cousin was found dead and they were separated, only to find each other almost ten years later, and how they vowed to save other teenagers from their own fate. But can they do it?

I enjoyed this volume, which sets up a terrible fate for the two protagonists. You know it is going to end badly for them, but really wonder if they will actually be able to save themselves, or kill each other before Diabolo takes them over. The stories, too, are full of pathos. The situations they relate aren't that different from what teenagers everywhere go through, and really hit home because of that.

An intriguing first volume, well worth a look.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Knights of the Silver Dragon #12- Mark of the Yuan-Ti by Kerry Daniel Roberts

Driskoll wants a pet, and is pestering the boys' father, Torin for one. But Torin is troubled by a strange sickness that is pervading the town, and doesn't have the time, energy or effort to devoting to Driskoll's request for a pet. Irritated by his son's constant bothering of him for permission to get a pet, Torin tells Driskoll to clean his office to prove to his father that he is mature enough to care for a pet.

Driskoll starts to clean half-heartedly, but begs for Kellach's help. Kellach freezes the floor of Torin's office with a new spell he's learned, but the slipping and sliding this engenders provides more of a hinderance than a help. Torin lambastes the two boys for turning his office into a playground and denies Driskoll a pet until he can grow up and be mature.

On the way home, the two stop into the Church of St. Cuthbert's to check out the strange sleeping sickness that Torin had been investigating. Much to their surprise, the temple is full of wolves and snakes, including a small, green snake that Driskoll saves from the wolves. To Driskoll, this little snake, that he names Suma, would make the perfect pet. Now, all he has to do is take care of it.

The two beg help of Moyra, who takes the boys to an animal healer so he can check Suma out. She takes them into the old part of Curston, to an animal healer named Selik. Selik says Suma is perfectly healthy and sends the boys home with several clay pots he claims will make a perfect home for the snake. But because Selik cheats Driskoll out of all his money in selling him the pots, Moyra takes a chance to even the score by stealing a book about snakes from Selik.

But during the night, the clay pots are broken, and the only one who could possibly have broken them was Suma. But how could a snake without arms break the clay pots? Overnight, more of the city falls prey to the sleeping sickness, including Zendric, Kellach's mentor. When Driskoll pays a visit to the blacksmith's who sharpened his sword for him, the forge is attacked by a half-man, half bull creature of metal. The creature seems fixated on the brothers, but they manage to give it the slip.

At Zendric's, Kellach discovers his mentor is clutching a slip of paper talking about a creature called an Inevitable, and how they are supposed to use it to do something. Kellach reads the book Moyra stole from Selik and discovers that the tattoo appearing on people's faces indicates that they were bitten by a snake-like creature called a Yuan-Ti. In fact, the design on the walls of Selik's rooms was made by the very same Yuan-Ti, whom Selik is working with for some nefarious purpose.

More and more people are succumbing to the sleeping sickness. Even Moyra and the boys are falling prey to it, but Kellach works out that Driskoll's new pet is himself a Yuan-Ti, and the snake admits it. The city is infested with the Yuan-Ti, who are obeying their ruler and stealing the dreams of the city's residents. When Driskoll saved Suma from the wolves at the temple, however, Suma threw in his lot with them, and is trying to save them from the fate that is befalling the rest of the town. If all the human's dreams are stolen, the humans will die. The leader wants the dreams to bring him the power and creativity of the humans.

But can three children and a single Yuan-Ti prevail over the leader of all the Yuan-Ti when the leader has an entire tribe on his side?

In enjoyed the book, although this seems to be the last one of the series. Unfortunately, it's not the best of the series, not by a long shot, but revisits many of the series tropes, from missing parents and mentor to the kids having to take on a much more powerful enemy by themselves.

Parents will like this series for the fact that the kids act like kids and don't have adult-level reasoning skills, but manage to triumph anyway, along with no objectionable content, either language-wise or content-wise.

Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett

Gregor Eisenhorn is a Inquisitor in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, serving the God-Emperor and protecting his people from the machinations of the fiends that serve chaos, who are always hovering, trying to worm their way into the Empire, even through those who are supposed to serve the Emperor.

Eisenhorn's battles with the ultimate Evils of Chaos and the warp serve as the subjects for three major books (Separately published under the titles of Xenos, Malleus and Hereticus), and two short linking stories that tie the three tales together. In them, Gregor goes from a young and eager Inquisitor who holds himself to the highest, most scrupulous standards of behavior, to someone who is far less scrupulous and aboveboard in his methods of enforcing orthodoxy and overcoming chaos and evil, while still remaining an effective Inquisitor.

Of course, he cannot do it alone. Gregor travels with an entire group of characters who provide him with help and support, from Midas Betancore who acts as his personal pilot, to Aemos, who is a researcher who comes close to being a human data retrieval machine. Along the way, he picks up and loses help at a phenomenal rate, with two female combat experts being blown away from under him right at the beginning of both Xenos and Malleus. The second, Arianrhod, leaves behind her family's saber, Barbarisater, to remember her by, and it is this weapon that is instrumental in the downfall of the Chaos-creature Cherubael later on in the book.

Eisenhorn also takes a great deal of toll on his friends and allies. Ravenor, his student, goes from being a strong and vigorous young man to being paralyzed and disfigured, but went from a secondary character to the main character in another series also written by Dan Abnett.

I love Dan Abnett as a writer. He makes you feel both the wonder and the essential bleakness of the Warhammer future in his writing, but unlike some of the other authors who write books for the "Black Library", he also makes you feel for his characters. In a less-talented writer, Eisenhorn could come off as a cold character who you wouldn't care about at all. But Abnett writes him as a very human character for all his cold attitudes and training, one whom you end up caring about deeply.

Indeed, it's not just Eisenhorn who comes in for this sort of treatment, but all of Dan Abnett's characters, from Eisenhorn to Ravenor, to Ibram Gaunt, or Gaunt's Ghosts.

Dan Abnett remains my favorite writer of all those in the "Black Library", and this huge three-in-one volume provides ample reason as to why.

The Invincible Iron Man: The Many Armors of Iron Man By Various

Iron Man is a singular hero, but he continually revamps his armor, giving himself different powers and abilities, continually testing and refining his armors so that he can take on many different situations.

This book reprints several stories that show different armors that Tony Stark has invented and used in his day. The first is his original set of armor, which he constructs at the behest of a Chinese Warlord when he is captured and dying of shrapnel near his heart. It also tells the previously untold story of how Iron Man encountered James "Rhodey" Rhoades, his personal pilot, when he was seeking to escape Vietnam. Rhoades had been shot down in his helicopter, and he sacrificed the heli's power to re-energize Stark's armor, and later, piloted the helicopter they escaped in.

The second involves his space armor, which enabled Iron Man to survive and thrive in space. That story involves a Roxxon Company space station which, in using its new Microwave Power Beam, accidentally wipes out an entire town of people and animals. Iron Man must work with Sunturion, an employee of Roxxon, to first protect the station, then to keep it from being destroyed by Roxxon when it is discovered, and finally, to destroy the station when it falls from orbit and nearly wipes out Sarasota, Florida.

Third is the Stealth Armor, which he uses to infiltrate a secret army base in Germany where his girlfriend is being held. But she's there for a mission of her own, to rescue her husband, who she believed dead, from imprisonment and drug-induced torture by the Germans.

Fourth is Tony's Red and Silver Armor, called the Silver Centurion Armor, which he uses to fight Obadiah Stane's Iron Monger armor, itself based on Tony Stark's original Iron Man prototype.

Last is the Deep Sea Armor, which he uses to rescue a cannister of extremely toxic gas from the wreckage of the Titanic.

In addition to the stories, at the end of the Graphic novel, Bob Layton discusses the armor designs and why he likes or doesn't like them, as well as what makes each of the different designs great, and why the current suit of Iron Man armor has gone to a modular, brushed-metal look.

This is a fascinating look at some of the changes Iron Man has undergone during his long career. Not only the stories, but the insights of the artist who drew many of those armors makes this a fascinating look at Iron Man's history and where he might go in the future. Even if you aren't the biggest fan of Iron Man, this is a comic you'll be proud to have in your collection.

The Third Circle by Amanda Quick

Leona Hewitt is a crystal worker, a sensitive who can manipulate crystal energy to heal others. When she attempts to retrieve the Aurora Stone at a fancy house-party given by Lord Delbridge, she encounters the dead body of a woman and very living body of Thaddeus Ware, a skilled psychohypnotist who is on the trail of the same stone.

Thaddeus saves them both when the woman's body is discovered by a man at the party, hypnotizing him to forget them being in the same room, and not remember that he had discovered the body for a half hour. But in the course of retrieving the stone and escaping, Thaddeus is poisoned with a substance that will make him both murderous and suicidal due to visions of unutterable horror. Leona is able to use the stone to bring him out of the visions and return him to sanity, but only just barely, and not before Thaddeus realizes how intensely he desires her.

The next morning, he awakens in an Inn with no Leona in sight. Despite the fact that he only knows her first name, he manages to track her down and finds that she is the close friend of a woman named Caroline Marrick, a woman who can see auras and is about to marry a man who shares her passion for Egyptology, but her leaving will have Leona living alone again. Alone, and lonely.

Leona wishes to keep the crystal they retrieved for herself, believing it belongs to her. It had previously belonged to her mother, and was stolen from her when her mother died. Since then, it has been missing, and as it belonged to her grandmother before her mother, she believes she has the right of ownership. Thaddeus believes it belongs in the hands of the Arcane Society, who can protect it from those trying to steal it, and he believes that Leona is in danger from both the man whose possession they retrieved it from, but from the man who killed the woman they found, who Thaddeus believes was the "Midnight Monster", a serial killer who preys on lower-class prostitutes. Why he would prey on an upper-class mistress, he has no idea, but the thought of Leona falling prey to such a man chills his blood, and he convinces her to stay with him at his family house, even though the Aurora stone has already been stolen back from Leona.

At his house, Leona meets Thaddeus's aunt, who apparently looks down upon her, but when Thaddeus tells her that Aunt Victoria has lost almost everyone who matters to her, she is more charitable towards the woman. Thaddeus also apologizes for his behavior to Leona when he was under the effects of the hallucination poison, as he never would have tried to seduce her if he was in his right mind. She says she understands, but when he reveals that he is still extremely attracted to her, they end up becoming lovers, which although he thinks was done in stealth, the entire household is aware of.

The next morning, Victoria makes him aware of this fact, and unbends enough towards Leona to ask her for help in sleeping. Leona quickly agrees to help and finds out that Victoria has a psychic power of her own: she can tell whether a man and woman are truly suited for one another, or if they are not. As part of helping her with her problems, Leona suggests that Victoria use her powers to help others, and as some people don't appreciate advice unless they pay heavily for it, to charge for her services.

Meanwhile, Lord Delbridge gets the stone back from his hired psykiller, the Midnight Monster. Delbridge only wants the stone because it is his ticket into a secret society called the Society of the Emerald Tablet. If he lost the stone, he would forever be denied access to the society. He has it back now, but without a woman who is able to manipulate the stone, it is useless to the society. They tell him to get a woman who is able to manipulate the stone, and a position in the third circle is his. He sends the Midnight Monster to try and kidnap Leona, but Thaddeus is able to head him off and use his powers to drive off the killer, who jumps from the top of the house they are in and dies.

Thaddeus realizes that Leona has a secret she isn't telling him. She is the descendant of Sybil the Virgin Sorceress, the chief rival of the Arcane Society's Founder. Obviously, she wasn't really a virgin, but she did refuse to surrender her virginity to Sylvester Jones when it became clear that he only wanted her to see if their psychical powers would be passed on to their offspring. She refused to become part of his experiment, and it rankled him. With Leona as her descendant, it is probably true that the stone belongs to her. But she isn't safe yet.

The "Midnight Monster" may be dead, but Delbridge is apparently missing, until they return to his home and find him dead within. Believing the danger to be past, Thaddeus relaxes his vigilance, only to have Leona kidnapped from his very own home.

The Society of the Emerald Tablet still wants Leona, and need her to use the Aurora Stone to open a sealed box that once belonged to Sybil, her ancestress. But there was a warning that a crystal worker powerful enough to open the box could also use the stone to kill, or to "make nightmares become reality". When they try to force Leona to use the stone to open the box, can she take control of the stone to touch its power? Have the Society of the Emerald Tablet taken on more than they can handle? Or will the alchemist responsible for the hallucinatory poison use it on Leona and send her spinning into madness and death?

This was a really excellent mystery and romance, with each thread balanced against the other so that neither felt slighted or overplayed. Despite the fact that not that much lovemaking goes on, you are constantly aware how Thaddeus feels about Leona, and how Leona feels about Thaddeus. Their foes are well-written, with an air of real menace, especially Lancing, the character also known as the "Midnight Monster", whose attitude towards the women he stalks and kills reminds me of Jack the Ripper, right down to seeing the women as whores.

Possibly the only thing worse than a Jack the Ripper would be one with psychic powers, and that's what readers are presented with here. His scenes sent a palpable feeling of cold down my back, giving him a menace that nearly rippled off the page. In contrast, the passion between Leona and Thaddeus was hot and heady, and so real it almost makes you sweat. The contrast between the two is wonderful, and this is a book you should definitely pick up. Another triumph for Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz.

The Rod of Seven Parts by Douglas Niles

The Rod of Seven Parts is one of the famed artifacts in Dungeons and Dragons. The weapon of ultimate, icy Law, it was broken into many pieces after being used in battle against the lover and general of the Queen of Chaos, Miska the Wolf-Spider. It defeated Miska and imprisoned him in the fortress of Law, away from his lover and her fiendish forces. Now, the story of it can finally be told.

A piece of the Rod comes into the possession of Kip Kayle, a halfling adventurer. He finds it during an ill-fated dungeon expedition that kills off every other member of his party except for Saysi, a female halfling that Kip is attracted to, but who he has been unable to express his appreciation and longing for. Possession of that tiny piece of the Rod, starts changing Kip so that even though he is a thief who specializes in "liberating" items of interest, he becomes incredibly truthful and law-abiding.

It is only after he is separated from Saysi and thinks her dead that Kip begins tracking other pieces of the Rod, not really knowing what it is, but able to feel the location of the next piece through some indefinable mystical means. Not only does he find other pieces of the Rod, but companions as well, such as Badswell the Half-Ogre, not the brightest, but strong and loyal, and even finds Saysi again, just in time to meet the magician Parnish, who is aware of the Rod and the need for its magic. Along with the help of the Wind Duke Arquestan, they groom Kip for the position of Champion of Law, a position the little thief never thought he would hold.

But as Kip finds his body changed beyond all recognition by the Rod, will there be any hope for his pursuit of Saysi? Or will the toll of the fight against the forces of Chaos rend them apart forever?

Unlike many Dungeons and Dragons books, this story was never released in soft cover, but was only published in hardback. The book plays with both the characters and the readers, playing with their sense of time, space and history, but is otherwise a rather straightforward adventure story. Like many adventure stories, the romance plot between Kip and Saysi feels slightly forced, but otherwise, the story is strong and entertaining.

If you have a chance to read the story, go for it, but it's a rather expensive indulgence in hardcover. Given a choice, save your money for a softcover version or purchase it second-hand rather than buying it outright for the cover price.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Keepers of the Flame by Robin D. Owens

Twin sisters Elizabeth and Brigid Drystan are both healers. But while Elizabeth struggled her way through medical school, Brigid went around the world, looking for ways to develop the healing powers the twins were born with normally.

Elizabeth has struggled with her healing powers... going through medical school because of her talent, but knowing that she can't allow anyone to know about her arcane powers because they will want to dissect her to figure out how they work. Now, she has gotten the clearest message of all of how "out there" her powers are: her fianceé, another doctor, caught her healing a patient with her inborn powers, and rejected her as a freak.

Brigid comforts her sister, and the two of them attend their parents anniversary party, after which their Mom and Dad are going to Hawaii for a second Honeymoon. But after the party, the two are drawn into Ladrana, and a terrible crisis: Ladrana is the victim of a plague, and their healing powers are needed to combat it.

Neither sister is very happy to be in Ladrana, thinking mostly of the effect on their parents to lose both daughters at once and not knowing where they are. They are partially soothed when the mages reveal they have a device that allows them to see Earth, and allow the sisters to look in on their parents and their apartment while they work to solve the problem of the darkness-borne plague.

Each of the sisters fall in love in Ladrana, Brigid with a townsman, and Elizabeth with a Marshall who is unnaturally attracted to Exotiques. As they work on the plague, Elizabeth finds that it is easiest for her to explain to others what they have learned and techniques for dealing with the alien disease, while Brigid falls victim to the plague itself and must seek to find a way to heal her own body before she falls victim to the same plague affecting Ladrana.

From time to time, action moves to another woman who has somehow ended up on Ladrana and is employed as a barmaid/kitchen worker in a small tavern near Ladrana's seashore. Unike most of the Exotiques drawn to Ladrana, she cannot travel far from the sea, and is horribly abused by her owner/employer, who has an unnatural distaste for Exotiques and takes it out on her physically every chance he gets.

Later on, her importance to Ladrana becomes apparent when she gets up the courage to finally leave, and is rescued by Elizabeth's former lover. Former? Well, yes. Stuff happens near the end, leading to a split decision on the part of Elizabeth and Brigid as to whether to stay on Ladrana or return home.

I honestly didn't like this volume of the series as much as the others. I felt the story of Raine, the bargirl/Exotique, somewhat diluted the story of the two sisters, as it took attention away from what was supposedly their story. While I could easily believe what happened to Raine, I felt that she really deserved a book of her own, and thought the way her story was presented with that of the twins squished both stories in a way neither deserved.

I was also a little less enthralled with the decision of Elizabeth, which seemed to come in the blink of an eye, storywise. It seemed to me that Robin Owens was denied the opportunity to write an entire book about Raine's story, and to make it fit into the series as it was going to be written, she had to try to shoehorn it in here, where, on the whole, it wasn't as successful and feels forced. I am still looking forward to the last book, which will apparently tell the tale of an Exotique destined to be the new Singer, but I really wish Raine had gotten her own book, rather than serving as an adjunct in this one.

I'll label this book, "eminently readable, but with a few cautions."

Protector of the Flight by Robin D. Owens

Calli Torcher is a rodeo rider with a problem. A few months ago, she suffered a riding accident that broke her pelvis in three places. She's returned to her father's farm to recuperate, but he's unwilling to support her, and even sells her rodeo stallion, telling her that if she's not going to support the farm with money from her rodeo career, she can act as cook, or she can be disowned, her choice.

Calli is devastated by her father's selling of her rodeo mount, and retreats to her favorite place on the farm, where a huge microcline crystal juts out of the face of a cliff. In it, she has always been able to see flying horses, and she can spend hours here, sleeping on the crystal and dreaming of a land with flying horses. But today, she is actually drawn into that land, Ladrana, to become the ambassador between the Volaran, or the flying horses, and the humans.

Calli, because of her long association with rodeo horses, has the powers of a horse whisperer, and in Ladrana, she can talk with the Volarans through a kind of telepathy. The Volarans have been withdrawing from the fight against the darkness because of how they are being used by humans, and rely on Calli to intercede on their behalf with the humans.

Calli, having achieved her dream of a flying horse, never wants to return home to earth, and goes forward with tying herself to a Ladranan husband to anchor her spirit to the planet of Amee. Although she wants to have children, she tells her new husband that previous injuries on the rodeo circuit have made her unable to have children. Luckily for her, he agrees to adopt children who are orphans, and a pair of them almost literally fall into their laps.

Unluckily, their duties in wartime conspire to keep them apart, so that one is helping the armies fighting the dark, while the other is at their estate, looking after the children. This causes them much grief during the earlier days of their relationship.

But when Calli and her husband Marrec are snapped back to Earth, Calli will have to make peace with her father and his new wife and adopted son while insuring they both return to Amee and Ladrana to pick up the shattered pieces of their new family, as well as accomplishing a duty for the Volarans while she is on earth.

But when the Ladranans use her to scout the place where evil rests in Amee, can she survive the trip?

This was another interesting visit to the land of Ladrana. So far, all the characters who have been drawn to the planet of Amee have been brought there for the concerns of humans (Alexa for the Marshalls, Marian for the Mages), but Calli is the first to be drawn there for concerns that are strictly non-human, i.e. the Volarans. Despite that, Calli's concerns are refreshingly human and ordinary, from wanting to have and find a man who loves her to starting a family of her own, even if they don't share her blood. With the current state of the war in Ladrana, she will certainly have no shortage of orphaned children to adopt and care for.

Readers will share Calli's concern when she is drawn back to earth and the father she would not have minded never seeing again. But because she is forced back to earth, she is able to make peace with her father and his new family, even if his remarrying so quickly angered her. This book was another interesting look at Landrana and the characters we are already familliar with, and how, to quote Robert Burns, "the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley."

Sorceress of Faith by Robin D. Owens

Marian Harasta is a grad student working towards her degree, but held back by her mother, a prominent socialite who witholds Marian's inheritance as a means to control her. Marian is also kept in line by her mother's attitude towards Marian's half-brother, who has epilepsy and is constantly in danger of falling sick and possibly dying.

However, when her mother threatens to withdraw Marian's money if she doesn't attend a benefit her mother is throwing that week, Marian feels she must agree, because her mother offers to give her the rest of her inheritance so she could finish her degree. She also wants to find out what the weather will be like, because Marian has always had the talent for knowing what the weather will be. But instead of going to the benefit, Marian stays home instead to perform a ritual at the behest of her teacher, and is instead drawn into Ladrana.

Marian has been called to Ladrana at the behest of the Mages of Ladrana, who are seeking an exotique of their own, just as the Marshalls had Alexa. There is also a task for Marian to fulfill while she is in Ladrana, but she is immediately attracted to a fellow mage, Jaquar, but also gets the strong sensation that he will be her doom. This causes her to back away from him immediately, but she still cannot help being drawn to him.

Nor can he help being drawn to her, even as he wants to use her to fight against the darkness. A creature of the darkness killed his parents, who were supposedly secure in their village, and Jaquar has a hard time thinking of anything but revenge.

As Marian learns magic, her mentor finds she has a strong affinity for weather-magery, and sends her to study under Jaquar, who also has a talent for this work. Their explosive chemistry leads to them becoming much more than student and mentor, but when Marian is sent into the Darkness by mages allied with Jaquar, Marian has a hard time seeing his actions as anything but a betrayal of her and their relationship.

Can she forgive Jaquar for the actions of his allies? And can she bring her brother back to Ladrana and find healing for him, or is she doomed to failure and death, not only for herself, but her brother as well?

Another really excellent book from Robin D. Owen. This one is a bit more cerebral than the first, and given the specialty of the heroine, that isn't very surprising. This also involves the faerie, the Feycoccu, from the first book, and Marian's pet hamster, Tuck, who gets powers of his own later on.

Marian, unlike Alexa, may be secure in her magical powers, but not so much in her feelings about her looks, and it was nice to see how, even if she doesn't necessarily fit the profile of what is extremely attractive to modern American society, Jaquar doesn't care so much about that and is attracted to her anyway. And her intellectual abilities do come in handy throughout the book, along with Tuck's new talents and abilities.

Reading this book made me feel good. The story was interesting and compelling, and I found myself reading faster, wanting to know what was going to happen next. The story seemed to lift me on a flood of words and ideas that just carried me along through the book. Reading it was almost an ecstatic experience for me, and definitely worth it. I cannot recommend the series highly enough.

Guardian of Honor by Robin D. Owens

Alexa Fitzwalter is a lawyer whose partner and friend recently died. Without her friend Sophie, Alexa isn't sure that she can keep up the Law Office they started together in Denver. So, after the funeral, she takes a visit into the deep woods, troubled by the sounds of bells and chanting she keeps hearing that apparently no one can hear but her.

She is afraid that she is going crazy, that the death of her partner and friend has driven her over the edge. But the trip to the mountains ends with her being drawn into a land called Ladrana, where she is fated to become a Marshall and lead the fight against the darkness trying to invade the land.

But right from the start, the marshalls piss Alexa off by putting her through tests that could have killed her, and by not explaining anything to her. Admittedly, there is the small problem of learning the language of Ladrana, which seems to be an ancient version of French, but Alexa is more pissed that they didn't even try to explain anything to her or even ask her permission to bring her to this land in the first place. And the way they try to tie her to the land by making her choose a mate, again, without any explanation, continues to piss her off.

By the end of her first night in Ladrana, she has recieved the jade baton of Marshall-ship, rescued a man named Bastien from a pool of liquid that burns as it heals you, and defeated a monster all on her own, as well as saved a child from being killed. But she has a specific mission to perform to save Ladrana. Alexa must discover how to revive the barrier that repels the creatures of the dark, as the one that currently protects Ladrana is failing. And she must decide on her own whether to stay or go...

You see, even though she was pulled to Ladrana, she is still tied to earth by virtue of having grown up there. The song of earth still runs in her soul. If she chooses, she could return to her life on earth. But if she happens to fall in love on Ladrana, the choice to return may not be as easy as it looks, and now she seems to be falling in love with Bastien, the man she saved on her first night in the Palace... who just so happens to be the son of the Marshall who is in strongest opposition to calling on her in the first place. Will his love be enough to save her from her enemies? and will she choose Bastien and Ladrana, or will she choose to return to earth and her life there? Will she chose to stay in a land not her own?

I really enjoyed this book, and was unable to stop myself from almost literally tearing through the pages, even though I was in the hospital, half out of my mind on painkillers at the time I was reading it. Alexa may be grieving and confused at the start of the book, but her peppery personality comes through and then some! While many characters might be frightened and confused by what happens to her in the book, Alexa refused to be pushed around or taken for granted. She made her own choices at every turn, often confounding the people who were pushing her to have her do things a certain way.

Even her relationship with Bastien didn't proceed until Alexa was ready and willing to forgive him for his treatment of her after the first night they spent together. I did like the idea that having sex with Bastien enabled Alexa and Bastien to mingle their knowledge. She gained a better understanding of the language, and he a better understanding of her own. I really liked that idea, and while it may have been a necessity for the story, I found it rather amusing.

The only quibble I actually had was that Alexa's finding out how to rebuild the barrier seemed much more of a fortuitous accident than anything she actually worked out for herself. Even though it is built up to, the solution itself seemed to come out of left field for the character and the story both. Other than that, I really enjoyed the book, and am looking forward to reading the final volume of the series, whenever it comes out.

In short, this book is definitely up to the high standards Robin D. Owens set with her Celta novels, and I am definitely willing to read more from her. I just wish she would write faster! :D

Knights of the Silver Dragon #11 Mystery of the Wizard's Tomb by Rachel Plummer

It is Zendric's birthday, and Kellach and Driskoll, along with their friend Moyra, have gone to the Wizard's cemetery to search for a Wizard's Stone, which glows when a wizard touches it.

Of course, it's not every day that the town of Curston gets to celebrate the birthday of the town wizard, so there is a big celebration planned for Zendric's birthday. Royma, Moyra's mother, has even been paid to bake a tremendous cake for the celebration. Moyra isn't exactly looking forward to it, because her mother is a rather indifferent baker (aka she stinks). But when the cake arrives, even Moyra is impressed with the job her mother did. And the cake is wonderful. Perfect... except that after taking a bite, Zendric forgets everything, including his name and all his spells. And since the power of one's spells define who you are as a wizard, somehow the cake has rendered him powerless!

Needless to say, this throws the citizens of town for quite a loop. Zendric is the ultimate protector of the town, and if he has suddenly gone powerless, the town is doomed, as Kellach is too young and doesn't know anywhere near what Zendric knows in the way of spells to take over his place. And the merchants of the town are angry at having to shut down for a day for the birthday in the first place.

Besides Royma's cake, the Knights have one other lead in what might have happened to Zendric's memory. A mysterious girl dressed in red and black who showed up at Zendric's birthday feast. But who is this girl and what does she have to do with Zendric's missing memory? Could the secret be hiding in the wizard's graveyard, along with the girl? To get back Zendric's memory, the Knights may have to overcome the worst evil in the world, a lich! But how can they do this without the wisdom of their mentor, Zendric?

A most enjoyable adventure for the Knights. Unlike some adventure stories for kids, the readers are given all the information they need to solve the mystery along with the Knights, and the characters are portrayed as having normal kid abilities rather than superhuman reasoning or supernatural luck. For kids who enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons, this series of books will provide them with lots of wonderful ideas and stories for their own adventures.

I highly recommend this series for kids and parents alike. There's lots to enjoy here, and no inappropriate ideas or materials to make parents nervous.

The Knights of the Silver Dragon #10 Curse of the Lost Grove by Denise R. Graham

Zendric, Moyra, Kellach and Driskoll travel to the town of ValSages so Zendric can attend a wizard's conclave. While Zendric is meeting with his fellow wizards, the kids will be staying at the Inn of the Lost Grove, owned by Zendric's old friend Quiglye.

But the Inn is having severe problems keeping customers and workers. Entire teams of workers have been lost as they struggled to construct the Inn, and treats prepared by the Inn's chef keep going missing. Being the youngest patrons in the place, the three Knights are accused of the thefts and problems by the Inn's security staff, and must seek to clear their own names and reputations. Their only clue is the last remaining worker who didn't somehow disappear with the others, who happens to be deaf. Could his deafness have saved him from whatever made the other workers disappear?

As well, there is a thief operating at the Inn. and not only the Knights get the blame for his or her actions, but Kellach's clockwork dragon familliar, Lochinvar or Locky. Now they must not only save themselves and the other workers from the problems at the Inn, but Locky as well!

This was a very enjoyable book, for both the situations presented in the story, and the characters introduced. Most amusing is the fate of the Inn and the thief who the Knights catch, a fate that amuses the fey who have been causing most of the troubles in the book from the beginning. The eventual end of the story is a triumph that manages to be humorous and entertaining as well as a fantastic adventure. Kids and adults alike will enjoy this adventure, a worthy successor to the "Knights of the Silver Dragon" line.

John Constantine: Hellblazer- Joyride by Andy Diggle and Leonardo Manco

John Constantine is the premiere magician of the DC Universe, but his history is long and checkered, not to mention he's a magnificent bastard who tends to take as high a toll on his friends as he does his enemies. Sometimes even higher.

But now it's Constantine's chance to return to his roots, but first he has to do a job for a con whose daughter was killed. The Con wants revenge on the man who killed her, and a killer believes it's Constantine who did the deed. So he takes John down to the tidewater, where the spirits of those killed will return to take revenge upon the killer, but Constantine turns the tables on the man, revealing him to be the killer and sending both killer and killed onto their final reward... not all of which is "all rainbows and cherubs".

Then it is back to the scene of Constantine's darkest memory, his incarceration at Ravenscar Asylum for the insane. Now it has been turned into a hotel/casino, but Constantine has to reclaim something he lost there, something that was taken away from him when his sanity was returned; his confidence in himself. But to do that, he will have to deal with and face up to what he left behind... and it isn't all good.

Following that, Constantine gets drawn into the problems in an area of Britain called Hunger Hill. When a husband and wife are preyed upon by a street gang, causing the death of their baby daughter, the husband is seduced into taking his revenge on the street gang, who are having their own problems. The youngest member, whose actions killed the girl, doesn't remember the actions that led up to the little girl dying, and it is spooking him badly. Worse, he killed the little girl in a car accident, but he doesn't even know how to drive!

The council member who has "saved" the man and his wife from their dangerous neighborhood is in these problems up to his neck. Can he have actually caused them for some sinister purpose of his own? The husband calls on Constantine for help, but even Constantine, with his new/old confidence back, may be unable to do anything to help the man. But it does leave Constantine with a new enemy, one he will have to take care of in the future...

For a graphic novel that is supposed to be the return of the Old Constantine, I couldn't really tell the difference between the supposedly Old Constantine, and the usual New Constantine. The difference being that he is really feeling the confidence he usually affects, this time, I suppose. Really? I didn't see any difference.

The stories do shine, with the first one being the most affecting, to me. We are set up to believe that the Con, Pearly's daughter, was an innocent killed because of who her father was. But the truth isn't that easy or palatable. (Is it ever, in a Constantine story?) And when she gets taken to her earthly reward, even the other dead people react. As one says, "Damn, Constantine, that was cold!"

Of course, he's just nearly been killed himself, so he's not exactly in the best of moods, but it's really no different than he acts later on in the book when he regains his confidence and arrogance.

Make no mistake, I enjoyed the graphic novel, but it's rather a pedestrian, middle of the road Constantine GN, no better and no worse than many of his other novels. YMMV, of course, and you may want to read this before you decide to buy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pumpkin Scissors, Volume 1 by Ryotaro Iwanaga

Pumpkin Scissors #1 tells the story of Imperial Army State Section III, once part of the fighting in the war between the Empire and the Republic of Frost, who now seek to repair the damage the countryside and the people sustained during the conflict.

In this volume, the Pumpkin Scissors are sent to a small village, where some soldiers with a tank are hiding out, using the tank to threaten the villagers into giving them free food and other supplies. A mysterious young man, a soldier himself, sits in the village's inn/tavern and asks one of the local women about the situation. She tells him what is going on, and when the Pumpkin Scissors come to the village to deal with the crew of the tank, he goes along to help them.

Much to the surprise of his fellow soldiers. he bears a gun which is incredibly effective against tanks and enables them to take out the tank with only a few shots. Afterwards, he asks to join them.

Meanwhile, one of the Pumpkin Scissors are sent to a refugee camp set up in a water treatment facility, which was underground and therefore safer for people to live near. Now that the war is over, however, the people no longer trust the empire and don't want to move. It takes a near-tragedy, and the noble leader of the Pumpkin Scissors squad working alongside the peasants who make up the community to rescue a trapped boy, to make the people trust them and try to go back to their old villages, or to even try to work with the former army to rebuild the country. But can the noble woman in charge of the squad deal with her "noblesse oblige" attitude? Or does it insult the people she means to be working with?

I really enjoy this series, which is a military series of a different sort. Instead of being based around war and fighting, this is based on the idea of cleaning up after the war nd helping the people displaced and dispossessed by the conflict. It definitely has a different feel than other war and military-based stories. The characters are distinct, and the ongoing mystery of the former anti-tank battalion member who wishes to atone for his actions during the war by joining in the rebuilding adds a note of mystery, as there seems to be no such battalion. Or is there?

If you are looking for something a little unusual, this is definitely a series to look for, as it provides a wonderful story, along with mystery and great characters.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle by David Michelinie, Bob Layton and John Romita, Jr.

Tony Stark seems to have it all, he's the owner and CEo of an electronics and arms and armor manufacturing company, he has a different, beautiful woman on his arm every night, and he's also the hero known as Iron Man who poses as bodyguard to none other than Tony Stark. But he's not without his problems, as this cautionary tale shows.

It all begins with a secret group plotting to take over the Iron Man armor. They have managed to somehow bypass the coating that Stark put on the armor so that it cannot be controlled from afar. So far, all the group has done is test some of the systems, such as making the repeller boots fire at an inopportune moment, sending the armor on a wild ride throughout the sky. But they have bigger plans, and Tony is unaware of them.

On a flight over the Atlantic, Tony is musing over his problems with Nick Fury, and drinking martinis when the plane is hit by a flying tank. He quickly scrambles into his armor and manages to save the plane, but finds US Special Forces ships steaming to the rescue. The Commanding Officer says they were on top secret maneuvers in the area, and when Iron Man asks if they know anything about a flying tank, the man asks him to speak with his commander.

He says that there is a small island out in the middle of the ocean, too small to show up on any maps, that is used to bury radioactive waste. When they went to put a new shipment on the island, they discovered a man farming there, who wouldn't leave and attacked them when they tried to reason with him about the danger. Just when they were about to eject the man from the island, Prince Namor showed up and attacked the soldiers, leading to the flying tank incident. The commander asks Iron Man to help them deal with this "problem".

When Namor and Iron Man fight, the company messing with the armor strikes again, opening up the armor to the elements, which leads to Tony nearly drowning, as he is underwater at the time. Luckily, Namor saves him from death, but they discover that the supposed army men are lying about the island, and team up to deal with them. Unfortunately, the men behind these supposed "Navy" men decide that if they can't have the island, no one will, and proceed to blow it to smithereens, depriving the old man of both a place to live and his wife's grave.

When Tony acts as a bodyguard to a visiting dignitary, the shadowy company strikes again, setting off his hand repulsor, blowing the man apart. Tony has to deal with the fallout of himself being a murderer, as well as the shadowy company taking over his armor. He deals with it by diving into a bottle, which only creates more problems with him and for him. Can he track down the perpetrators of the problems befalling his armor and beat the spectre of the bottle without completely alienating the people around him?

This is a compilation of several disparate stories from several Iron Man comics, but while I enjoyed much of the story, the fact that this is combined from several different story lines shows. I also found that the compressed time lapse of Tony Stark dealing with his retreat into a bottle to be too neat a way of dealing with his problems. Literally, in several pages, he goes from being a drunk to being able to not drink in dealing with his problems. I found the wrap-up a little *too* neat, although his problems did continue. It seemed too pat a wrap-up to what is really a serious problem, and for me, was unsuccessful on that point.

If you like Iron Man, you will definitely want to have this graphic novel. But for people like me, who really don't care too much about the character, this is forgettable and you can do without it in your collection. It's not even a particularly enjoyable read, and I didn't find myself rooting for the character to overcome his problems. So, a big "enh" on the reading scale.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The World of King Arthur by Christopher Snyder

This book examines the many parts of the Arthurian myth, from Arthur the possible real leader of men during Britain's Dark Ages, the real kingdoms and wars of Dark Ages Britain, and several possible ages that might have held "the Real King Arthur". However, Snyder shows us why these possible, hopeful Arthurs all fail to have real substance, and then traces the mythical Arthur, from the earliest stories to later compilations of the tales.

Snyder shows how the idea of Arthur grew from a Bronze-Age warlord to the Christian warrior and near-perfect knight he is in later tales. How both Guinevere and Lancelot entered the picture, and tales of other famous knights and places became attatched to the Arthurian places and names.

Most amazing is how the idea of Arthur nearly died out and was resurrected by the romanticists of later ages to become the most famous and popular myth and tale of times and ages past.

This is a large book with lots of information, enlivened with many pictures, reproductions and illustrations from medieval texts and various artwork of the times. If you don't believe in Arthur, but enjoy the story, or even if you want to believe, this is the book for you. Although the author comes down pretty strongly on the side of "no historical Arthur", you are free to decide for yourself when and where he might have existed, if he existed at all.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Sharing Knife Book 3: Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold

When Dag Redwing and Fawn Bluefield met, fell in love and married, they knew there was a place out there for them. But with Dag being a Lakewalker, and having the use of magic, and Fawn being a Farmer, both sets of kin were willing to take them in. But others of their own kind have made trouble for them, unwilling to believe that a Lakewalker and a Farmer could be equal enough to marry. But Dag and Fawn's marriage bands have magic in them and are as well-made as those of any two Lakewalkers, but those of Dag's camp would rather deny that than admit they could be wrong.

Now, with Dag's camp closed to them, and they being unwilling to stay with Fawn's family because of the trouble that Dag's being a Lakewalker brings, they must find a new home for themselves, somewhere far from all the trouble and strife that their marriage has caused to their kin.

Dag takes Fawn's name and decides to fulfill a promise he made to her, to bring her to the sea. But getting there isn't going to be so easy, since one of Fawn's brothers, a troublemaker called Whit, is coming along for the ride. Or at least as far as to sell his father's horses. Whit, however, decides that he definitely wants to go see the ocean for himself, especially when Dag and Fawn sign on with a woman named Boss Berry to take her flatboat down the river. Whit is deeply attracted to Berry, which Fawn distrusts, because this isn't the first time Whit has fallen in love at first sight.

But Berry is on a mission of her own, seeking her father and fianceé, who vanished on a flatboat trip down the river the year before. Her father constructs flatboats, and flots them down to the sea himself, then returns to build another one the following year. Last year, he took Berry's husband-to-be with him, and now neither has been seen since.

Along the way, Dag and Fawn pick up other lost lambs on their way down the river: a pair of Lakewalkers who accidentally destroyed a sharing knife in a fight with townsmen, a boy Dag healed who has now become beguiled by him, and is a danger to himself as he does stupid and painful things to gain more healing from Dag, and a wrecked boat builder looking for lost boats of his own on the river.

But Dag is at the heart of a mystery. His powers seem to be growing, and he could be either a healer or a knife-maker. But with him abandoning his people for not accepting Fawn, he is on his own when it comes to puzzling out his powers and unravelling mysteries that have plagued both Lakewalkers and Farmers since the two first met. Can he solve it in time before the river that took Berry's father and fianceé takes all their lives?

I really enjoyed this book. Dag and Fawn are intelligent characters who don't always know everything, but usually think to ask. Cut off from both sets of their kin, their relationship deepens, and I hope that future volumes in this series take both characters back north to their peoples, both of whom are fascinating in their own way. We also get to see more of different lakewalker camps other than the one Dag came from, and the farmers continuing apprehension towards the Lakewalkers. Even with Dag doing his best to explain things correctly, it is shown how misinformation travels faster and more completely than truth.

Aside from all the character and puzzle aspects of Fawn and Dag's search and journey, the book also includes the mystery of the disappearing vessels, and the ultimate fate of Boss Berry's father and fianceé. The mystery adds a great deal to the book, making it a splendidly woven tale that comes to a surprising and shocking conclusion. This is a book you won't want to put down until you have finished it and you'll find youself unwilling to put it down so you can do just that.

Highly recommended. They don't come much better than this.

Draw Your Own Manga- Honing your Style by Haruna Nagatomo

In the last book in the "Draw Your Own Manga" series, Haruno Nagatomo discusses what the conventions are of different kinds of manga series, from supernatural to shonen-ai and action manga. The book also shows the different ways of showing actions, such as jumping, skipping, chasing, arriving, and so on, illustrated with pages from actual manga such as Devilman by Go Nagai, Ah! My Goddess by Kosuke Fujishima and so on.

The book also has an interview with the artist Monkey Punch, writer and illustrator of Lupin III (although he says he prefers to be called by his real name, Kazuhiko Kato). In this extensive interview, he covers how he came up with his style, what influenced him, and how he recieved his pen name. The longest section tells of how he came to be a manga artist in the first place, which started with him drawing pretty much all his life, and publishing his own manga magazine when he was 27, along with other artists. He happened to get lucky because he drew the cover of the final issue, which they sent to publishers all over the country.

Most of the book is devoted to the actual drawing and getting the artist thinking about what they are going to draw. If their story is set in a school, what does the school look like on the outside? What do the various classrooms look like? What do the uniforms look like, and how do the summer and winter uniforms differ? What kinds of personal items do the characters carry, and so on.

This is an excellent book for teaching want to be manga artists how to succeed in their work, giving them things to think about in terms of the style that they are going to be drawing in. But... the story side isn't covered at all, so this book is more for manga artists than manga writers, and the whole story aspect isn't given much coverage. I'd have liked to see some kind of coverage of the writing aspects given some time, but that didn't happen here.

So, this book is good for artists, but not so much for writers.

Good Masters, Sweet Ladies- Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz

"Good Masters, Sweet Ladies" is a Newbury medal winning book that explores the lives of people in a medieval village, or in this case, a village attatched to a lordly manor.

Most of the book is written in blank verse, and is meant to be read as a actor reads a script. Indeed, one of the pieces, Mariot and Maud, daughters of the glassblower, is meant to be read in two voices at the same time.

The book offers a fascinating peek into the world of children many hundreds of years ago, and is a good start to pique reader's curiousity and get them started reading other books that probe deeper into the lives of a few characters.

This is a book that shows the lives of medieval children and teenagers, pointing out how they were constrained in a way children aren't today (girls forced to marry at extremely young ages, forced to marry someone they may never have met before, or someone their father told them to marry, etc. Even boys generally didn't have a choice in whom they married, especially if they were noble. Their parents would set up the arrangements for them, and often they didn't meet their bride until a few days before the marriage was to take place.

Other pages in the book offer details that the readings do not. On falconry, for example, or pilgrimmages or on why farmers rested the fields for a year.

A fascinating, if short look, into the lives of medieval teens and children.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Knights of the Silver Dragon: Book 8- The Silver Spell by Anjali Bannerjee

Zendric is teaching Kellach more spells when Driskoll comes tearing into the Mage's tower, telling his brother that he has seen their mother, Jourdain, dancing and singing in the marketplace, and that Moyra has seen her, too! But he lost her in the crowd, and Moyra swears that the woman had brown hair.

When they go back, the woman is long gone, but Locky, Kellach's clockwork dragon familliar, brings them a note from their mother, telling them to come to the Skinned Cat in the worst part of Curston to see her. Moyra agrees to come along, just to keep them safe, and from any folly.

When they get to the tavern, they don't see any woman resembling Jourdain, but they do find Moyra's mother Royma and her father. Royma is dancing and singing, and the men around her can't look away. The three Knights search the tavern, but leave when a fight breaks out over Royma's affections. However, as they slip away, they see a woman in a blue cloak that matches the one Jordain had promised to wear, walking away from the inn. The boys and Moyra chase her on a summoned horse and finally catch up to her, where she tells them she is very glad to see them and hugs them close.

They take her home, waking their father, who forgets all about punishing his sons when he catches sight of his missing-no-more wife. The next day, he takes the day off to go shopping with her, revelling in having his Jourdain home once more. Kellach notices that Jourdain seems to be scared of showing her face, asking them to put away the silver mirror that stands in the hall and wearing her cloak mostly over her face. She says she doesn't want to see how much older she's become since she was away.

When Kellach, Driskoll and Torin ask her where she has been, she tells them that in the battle, she was attacked by a succubus named Nahemah, and in defeating her, was hit on the head. She passed out and when she woke, she no longer remembered anything. She wandered into the woods, and was found by a tribe of secluded elves, who helped her. She only started regaining her memory recently, but she knew she had to return to Curston.

Kellach and Moyra notice that much of the town seems to be under a spell, men and women shuffling about almost like zombies, or not going about any business at all. As time passes the problem grows worse, and soon Driskoll, too, is falling victim to it. Adding to that is Moyra's mother, who claims never to have been in the Skinned Cat at all, and Kellach and Moyra are convinced that Nahemah has returned to town to finish the job she started on Jourdain. But can they retrieve the amber amulet that might drive the succubus away without the help of Driskoll? And can they drive off a succubus as she seeks a spell to make herself immortal as well as magically powerful?

I read this book after the "Prophecy of Dragons" duet, so I already knew what happened in this book, but the story is well-written, letting the suspense rise slowly, then quickening to the ending as the Knights discover the truth. The story threads are interwoven well, though any adult is going to know the true source of the trouble in town, and many of the intelligent teen readers are as well. So, while it isn't wholly successful as a mystery, it still is a well-written book that could have used a few red herrings to make it more successful.

The Wizard of London by Mercedes Lackey

When Sarah Jane Lytton came to England from Africa to go to the Harton School of Boys and Girls, she never dreamed that she would be learning not only math and spelling, but how to use her psychic powers as well. And she would also gain a friend, the street-girl Nan, whom she helped rescue from the brothel-men her own mother sold her to for money for liquor.

Sarah also gets back her African friend Grey, an African Gray parrot, and Nan gets Neville, a Raven from amongst those at the Tower of London. Those will be vital in saving them when the two of them are locked into a house with an evil elemental bound to it. But in the confusion, Nan discovers her own power as a Warrior of Light, the same as Memsab and Sahib Horton and their three friends. Sarah Jane earlier discovered her powers as a natural medium, putting her in danger from too many grieving quality wanting to contact their loved ones again and again.

But who could have wanted the two little girls dead? The Hartons and the girls won't be able to find out until the entire school goes to the countryside for the summer and Isabelle Harton encounters an old friend, David Alderscroft, now a rising young fire mage and called "The Wizard of London". David's mentor, Cordelia, is an air mage with enough of a touch of fire that she can mentor and tutor him.

But unknown by all, Cordelia has sold her soul to the creatures of Negative Fire, or Elemental Cold, and wants to take over David's body and life for her own. The only possible way to save him involves them all, not to mention a spirit of the Fey named Puck. Can they save David from himself and the twisted mentorship of Cordelia before it's too late?

I always enjoy Mercedes Lackey's books, and this time I feel she did a wonderful job in portraying the main character's powers, which had nothing to do with elementals, but rather psychical powers. I found the powers to be realisticly portrayed, both in terms of effect and cost on the person using them. Because this novel fills out the Universe of the Elemental Masters, I found it one of the best I've read recently.

Try this book, and go on to read the rest of the series if you haven't already. You'll be more than amply repaid for the effort.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Action Philosophers Giant Size Thing #1 by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey

This comic covers the life, backgrounds and philosophies of 9 different philosophers: Plato, Bodhidarma, Nietsche, Thomas Jefferson, St. Augustine, Ayn Rand, Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, and Joseph Campbell... as a comic, positing each of them as superheroes.

You will laugh and learn what they were really talking about when Plato shows his intellectual and physical wrestling moves out on those who would savage his mentor, Socrates, thrill to Nietsche's Ubermensch and Bodhidarma's cool Kung Fu philosophy... And then go on to the sexy Philosophers: Thomas Jefferson, who was having affairs with his own slaves, then completely ignored them when it came to granting them the freedom he spoke about, St. Augustine, who was quite the party boy in his youth, and Ayn Rand, who had an affair with one of her supporters, and they explained it to their spouses that this was because they were "intellectual equals", but all that hit a rut when Ayn caught him in bed with a third woman...

And then the self-help guys: Freud, Jung (his onetime friend and then long-time rival and Joseph Campbell, who explained the myths from every culture in terms of a hero journey that every one of us faces in our lives.

This is a graphic novel that seems rather paradoxical, but actually does a service for students, in laying out not only the philosophies of various philosophers, but their lives in a way that is easy for students to read and understand. It also makes the lives and philosophies interesting in a way that reading the dry words in books by Ayn Rand, Freud and Jung doesn't. Just like "Manga Shakespeare", putting these words in graphic novel format adds to their clarity and can aid students in understanding not just the how of a philosophy but the why of the philosopher. I highly recommend this series, since there will be more forthcoming.

Blame it on the Rain by Laura Lee

Every day, we encounter the weather, but do you know that weather has actually changed history? more than just something we encounter every day, weather has profound effects on the movements of men, armies and ships under sail, and this book sets out to prove it, with examples that range from Noah's supposed flood, the storm that helped the Greeks sink the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, to several invasions of Russia that failed because of the utter cold that came on the invading troops during the Russian winters, and winds that helped spread the radiation of both the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the many, many nuclear tests that followed.

Reading "Blame It On the Rain", it's possible to see that ignoring the weather, and the weather of a place you are trying to conquer, leads to the worst sort of folly. This is shown over and over in the better that 50 examples from around the world. Over four examples are given of the folly of invading Russia. But even Russia wasn't immune to folly when it tried to invade Finland, and ran into the same sort of problems.

The examples given in this book are sobering, and sometimes, amusing, but always enlightening. For example, did you know the sky in Edward Munch's "The Scream" was based on an actual sky he saw in Europe after the eruption of Krakatau (aka Krakatoa)? That JFK might have lost the election for President if it had been sunny in the US on Election day? That there is a volcano under Yellowstone park that could erupt at any time, and without warning?

This is a wonderful book that covers the subject matter in a way that makes it immediately accessible and fascinating. The chapters are short, but pack in enough information to intrigue, explain and enlighten. A fascinating book and highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Knights of the Silver Dragon: Revelations Part 2- The Dragons Revealed by Matt Forbeck

Evil has overtaken Curston, with Demons from the Abyss running loose in town. Kendric has returned, but rejects Kellach as his student when Kellach blames him for not freeing his mother, Jourdain, from the Abyss, earlier. He is also disheartened by his own inability to deal with Lexos, despite the fact that Lexos is older and more powerful than he.

Kellach, devastated by Zendric's rejection, quits the Knights of the Silver Dragon and seems determined to wait out the fight in his home. Driskoll and Moyra try to get him to come with them, but eventually leave him to sulk and go out to do what they can on their own.

Jourdain, after making sure that her family is all right, has gone out to fight the demons. Most of the town has gathered in a place called "The Great Circle", where silvery veins run through the rock and a protective circle is warded into the very ground. Because of the power there, the Demons cannot attack anyone in the circle. But not everyone has made it there.

Driskoll goes to find Latislav, the chief Cleric in charge of the temple of Cuthbert, and convinces him to try and help fight the demons. However, Latislav is a traitor who is actually working with Lexos to destroy the town, and he does his best to undermine the town's efforts to fight. Kendric, meanwhile, is gathering spell ingredients to try and summon the town's winged allies to the fight, but he must also work with Jourdain to close the seal. Only then will the Demons be able to be defeated, as they cannot get more demons from the abyss to join them. Zendric prepares to close the seal, giving Kellach his pspers so he can cast the spell to raside the town's allies, and this time, he casts the spell on the Abyss side, with Jourdain casting it from the Dungeons of Doom. Before the seal can completely set, she tosses him something, and then he is gone into the Abyss.

Zellach, Driskoll and Moyra hurry back to town to cast the spell, and fail. Then Gryphyll arrives to tell them that they are missing one ingredient: the tears of a silver dragon. Can Driskoll tell a story sad enough to make the dragon cry? And who are these mysterious allies, anyhow?

More secrets of Curston are revealed, and the town changes forever as the missing Knights return from the Abyss. I did enjoy this book, but it did leave me with some questions. For one, Kellach doesn't know how or where his mother disappeared, and doesn't seem to have that many memories of her. But if she disappeared when he was 9, he should remember her just fine. It seems that the *many* writers of these books had different ideas about the backgrounds of Zellach and Driskoll, and what they felt or knew about their mother's disappearance. I know it allows the story to be more mysterious if he doesn't know, but it just ended up making him seem to have memory problems... not a good thing for a wizard.

Also the story seems to follow Book #8 in the continuity, but no mention of Jourdain is in the current following books. Again, Revelations seems to be some kind of alternate continuity that doesn't affect the other books.

Because of these sorts of concerns, I can't really say that I would recommend this two-part series to others. Others may call me nit-picky, but I just want the storylines to make sense. Is that so much to ask?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Knights of the Silver Dragon: Revelations Part 1- Prophecy of the Dragons by Matt Forbeck

Five years ago, treasure hunters destroyed a seal located in the Dungeons of Doom. The original Knights of the Silver Dragon managed to reseal it, but at a cost. Many of the Knights went into the Abyss, as the seal had to be sealed from both ends to work. One of those Knights was Kellach and Driskoll's mother, Jourdain, and neither she nor any of the other Knights ever returned.

Recently, the seal has been failing, as something went wrong with the original remaking of the seal, allowing evil to start leaking through the cracks. Now, the entire seal is about to fail, and something must be done or evil creatures from the Abyss will overrun the town of Curston.

The Current Knights are summoned to a meeting of the important people in town, who are deciding what to do about the imminent breaking of the seal. To remake it properly will require the key originally used to create the seal, which Kendric originally broke into three pieces to hide it from anyone seeing to use it to break the seal. But Lexos, thought imprisoned at the end of "The Hidden Dragon" returns. Now, he wants revenge on the whole town, and he manages to use magic to imprison Kendric. He says he will find the key.

Kellach, Driskoll and Moyra attempt to find the key before he does, and manage to find two of the parts, one of which is stolen by Lexos. They travel to the Dungeon of Doom to try and protect the seal, and the goblins who once ruled the area have been taken over by Hobgoblins, stronger, more powerful creatures. The Hobgoblin ruler sentences the three to sacrifice to the seal, which the Hobgoblins have taken to worshipping as a God. They descend to the seal and Lexos appears, killing some Hobgoblins and goblins. He takes the pieces to the Key from the Knights, and finds the third piece in the wings of Kellach's clockwork Dragon familliar, Locky. He uses them to break the seal and allow the demons from the Abyss to invade the town, despite the efforts of the three Knights and Kellach and Driskoll's father, Torin, once a Knight of the Silver Dragon himself.

But there is another surprise after the demons. The original Knights of the Silver Dragon that entered the Abyss have mostly survived, including Jourdain, and they return to Curston to help fight the demons. But can they prevail against the might of the Abyss and the evil of Lexos?

This series lives up to its subtitle of "Revelations", as many secrets of the town and the people in it are revealed. The series builds the tension from the revelation of the source of the town's troubles and its coming failure, to betrayal within the town itself. The tension continues to build and build and culminates the with opening of the seal, it then drops a bit with the arrival of Jourdain and the others, and then builds again as the Knights go back to Curston to defend their homes and the people.

I really enjoyed this novel, and the secrets revealed about Curston. Will the Knights be able to prevail over the Demons from the Abyss? You'll have to read the next novel to find out!

And Less Than Kind by Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis

Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Princess of England, has survived plots by Vidal Dhu, ruler of the Dark Sidhe, who wishes to have her killed because she will bring a long reign of peace, prosperity and happiness to England. Vidal would rather her sister Mary rule, because of the division, unhappiness and pain it would bring, that being the kind of energies that he and his court feed on.

Currently, King Edward, Elizabeth and Mary's sister, is on the throne, but he is sick and not long for this world. Northumberland, the regent for Edward while he is a child, wants to have someone he can control on the throne, which would be not Mary because she is too Catholic and England is now Protestant, and not Elizabeth because she is too intelligent and will not be ruled by him. So he schemes to have both sisters cut out of the succession and a girl of his choosing, Lady Jane Grey, to be put on the throne.

Both Mary and Elizabeth are living far from court, and Elizabeth is prevented from contacting Edward or seeing him. Elizabeth's protector and lover, Dennoriel of the Bright Sidhe, tells her not to go to Edward's sickbed for fear of her being imprisoned or killed by Northumberland. Elizabeth is saddened by this because she dearly loves her brother, but accedes to Denoriel's wish. When Northumberland does summon Elizabeth, Denno is sure it is a trap and holds her back from going. Mary almost falls victim to the same snare, because she wants to convert her brother back to Catholicism on his deathbed, but news that Northumberland's men are on their way to capture or kill her makes her flee with a few of her guards and ladies, and when Edward dies, she manages to come back and seize the throne from Lady Jane Grey, who eventually dies for treason.

Now Mary is queen, and Elizabeth must be doubly careful, for Mary has a little affection for Elizabeth, but believes her sister is a witch or enchantress. As well, Mary hates Elizabeth for the sake of their mothers. Anne Boleyn's marriage to Henry VIII made Mary into a bastard when her mother's marriage was declared invalid. That Elizabeth suffered the same fate after Anne Boleyn was beheaded and Henry married Jane Seymour moves her not a bit. In fact, Mary is jealous of Elizabeth's good looks and charisma, and her ability to attract people and devoted followers seemingly without effort.

Elizabeth is eventually invited to court solely so that Mary can keep an eye on her, but seeing how Elizabeth interacts with the other courtiers irks Mary to no end. Vidal Dhu, unable to attack Elizabeth directly by Oberon's decree, resolves to kill her by other means, and makes two men of the court into his spies and mouthpieces, constantly telling Mary that the only way she will sit secure on her throne is if Elizabeth is killed so she cannot act as a figurehead for a rebellion in her favor. Mary resists these whispers, alternately keeping Elizabeth close and sending her away.

Meanwhile, Underhill, Elizabeth runs into other problems. Since most humans Underhill are slaves, other Sidhe want to buy her from Denoriel for their own. One fat Sidhe in particular takes exception to the way Elizabeth fights back against the idea of his owning her, with her own magic, and she manages to freeze him. Before he can be taken care of, he disappears, and it is one of Vidal Dhu's spies that frees him and gets him to work on their behalf by promising him Elizabeth as a slave.

Elizabeth's cousin, Harry, hs been trying to clean out an evil-infested domain called Alhambra deep in faerie with several elder Sidhe looking for something to do with their time. By killing all the evil creatures several times over and doing the same with the constructs the evil had possessed, they manage to weaken and weary it to the point where most of the domain is free.

But Vidal Dhu, hearing reports of this evil, wants to recruit it to his side. He sends a weak Dark Sidhe to try and make a pact with it, but the spy manages to get possessed by it instead. It abandons Alhambra to live inside the spy, and Vidal finds it to be powerful, but rather simple in its evil. Vidal, once imprisoned by intelligent mists inside another domain, escaped by learning to control his anger. He was once like the Evil, but now finds it rather... simple, compared to his own way of reasoning and doing.

With Mary on the throne, the Dark court becomes more powerful than that of the Light, as the dark absorbs the sadness, hatred and discontent that Mary's reign is producing. Evil Sidhe and evil monsters roam Underhill, kidnapping humans and killing others in various domains. Elizabeth offers to use herself as bait, but neither Harry nor Denoriel will hear of it, even when she finds that one of the mischief makers is the fat Sidhe who attempted to capture her at a place called Furhold.

Meanwhile, in the human realm, Mary is negotiating to marry Prince Phillip of Spain, because they are both Catholic and because she wishes to honor her Spanish heritage. She also thinks that if she can birth a child, it would automatically remove Elizabeth from the succession, as any child of hers would take the throne before Elizabeth. After her marriage, she does seem to become pregnant, but in the end, she is not, and her body was only responding to her fervent desire for a child.

Elizabeth is recalled to court, and Prince Phillip is much taken with her, to Mary's displeasure. But he suggests to her that she must show Elizabeth only forgiveness and love, and all her problems will be over. Mary accedes to his wishes, even though she finds it very hard, but she really cannot bring herself to be successful at doing so, still hating Elizabeth inside.

When Phillip is recalled to the continent to fight, Mary sends him all the money and men she can. but he is ultimately unsuccessful, and she has nearly beggared the Kingdom for him, which causes more discontent and unhappiness. Mary is suprised and disheartened when she realizes how much the people hate her for what she has done, and that causes her to dislike Elizabeth all the more. A Catholic bishop spends a great deal of his time trying to get Elizabeth to confess that she is stirring up rebels against her sister, but Elizabeth denies it and manages to make it seem that the Bishop is being most cruel to her. Eventually, Mary's handmaiden Rhoslyn, another Sidhe who had been keeping Mary safe, gets the Bishop to remove the ring Vidal Dhu gave him, whereupon he becomes much less inimical to Elizabeth.

Finally, as Mary becomes older and less likely to bear children, Vidal Dhu convinces the Evil to impregnate Mary and possess her child, so that it may rule the country after she is gone and keep England mired in misery and grief. As Mary's personality begins to change, Rhoslyn must try to save her and the country from the fate about to be imposed on it. Can Elizabeth keep both England *and* Underhill safe from the forces trying to destroy them?

This is a very long book (over 600 pages), and covers years of time in the history of England. The real historical characters and the characters of the Sidhe who interact with them are intimately entwined so that the entire story seems real, even the parts that take place Underhill. The utter realness of the book makes you feel that this could be a true history, a true story, even if you know it isn't. The book is also incredibly compelling. You'll be hesitant to put it down because you'll want to know what happens next, even if you know your history of the time, as I do.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and the feeling of reality despite many of the characters being faeries or nonhumans. Elizabeth's love of live and zest for living, suppressed in the human world, come alive Underhill, both making her friends and enemies. But she has magic to aid her and allies dedicated to making sure she lives and comes to the throne. It is this magic that saves her from an assassin sent by Vidal Dhu (through intermediaries) so that he can remove her from the succession.

And although Elizabeth might have loved her sister, by the end, she can only feel pity for her, because her sister has beggared the realm, got good English men killed, and made the people unhappy and unsettled, all because of her faults and hatreds. Elizabeth also learns several lessons from Mary, although they are generally what not to do. She also gains a hatred of marriage and childbearing from the events of this novel.

I highly recommend this book, though you might want to read the rest of the series first, they being "This Sceptr'd Isle", "Ill Met by Moonlight" and "By Slanderous Tongues". This is a wonderful series and a wonderful book.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Knights of the Silver Dragon Book 7- The Hidden Dragon

Kellach and Driskoll are at Kendric's when Moyra breaks in and interrupts them. Her mother has been arrested for theft. When they go to see their Dad about it, he seems to react strangely to them, and doesn't want to discuss the situation.

It turns out that the amulet belonged to a former prisoner called Lexos, the same Lexos who was a magistrate in the town but seemed to go crazy and tried to kill the Knights and Zendric as well. For his crimes, he was imprisoned, but now Toric has set him free. While not agreeing with their father's decision, they do get to visit Moyra's mother in jail, and she says she found the amulet (which is silver with some sort of big bird on it) while digging in the garden. She liked it and stuck it in her pocket so it wouldn't get dirty or scratched and was completely surprised when she was accused of stealing it by the town watch.

Now, the amulet is in the town treasury, guarded by strong walls and the guardsmen themselves. The Knights find Moyra's father, Breddo, who reveals that he is the true thief, and that he buried the amulet in the garden. Kendric also knows of the amulet. It isn't a bird on it, but a Silver Dragon, and it has a history. A Silver Dragon made it to calm anyone who saw it, but the calmness is actually a minor hypnotic effect. This would explain Torin's change of personality on this point.

Of course, they can't let the amulet go to Lexos, so they must steal it and make a copy to give to Lexos. Then, they must return the actual Amulet to the Silver Dragon who made it.

They do manage to get the amulet, and Kendric makes a copy, intending to return it to Lexos in the morning. But Moyra knows her mother will be executed shortly, and that night, she takes the fake amulet to make Lexos go to the guard and withdraw his accusation against her mother. Kellach and Driskoll follow her and, unable to convince her to wait, follow along to keep her safe. Lexos agrees to withdraw the accusation in return for the amulet, but imprisons Moyra and Driskoll so that they won't cheat him. He puts them in a small chamber underneath the house and bars the door so that they won't get away, then goes off with Kellach to the Guard Headquarters.

Moyra and Driskoll are unable to escape on their own, but do manage it with the help of a strange creature named Gryphyll. They leave the house and find Kellach, who gave Lexos the fake amulet after he withdrew his charge against Moyra's mother, and return to Kendric, who tells them it is Kellach's duty to return the real amulet to the Silver Dragon who made it.

Although the Silver Dragons have hid themselves for many years now, it is also a duty for a Knight of the Silver Dragon to meet a Silver dragon as a test of their valor and determination. Telling their father that they will be staying with Kendric, the three Knights set off for a nearby mountain where the Silver Dragons once laired. They discover that they are being followed, but the follower is Gryphyll, who asks to come along with them. Moyra and Driskoll, owing the strange little being, convince Kellach to let him come along.

But they are also being followed by Lexos, who wants the real amulet back, having discovered the fake. Can the three Knights find the real Dragon in time, and fight off Lexos, who is both older and more powerful than they?

This was a solid adventure, with danger to Moyra's parents, and the risk of going against the town guardsmen as well as the evil and demented Lexos. Lexos has fought them before, so it's not just that the Knights have the real amulet and he wants it back, but that he wants revenge on them for past defeats. And he isn't going to be satisfied with just spanking their asses and making them cry, he wants to totally defeat them, make them acknowledge their defeat, and kill them.

Lexos definitely comes off as both evil and relentless, which is pretty scary, as he is definitely more powerful than the much younger Knights. While the story wasn't as interesting as the Dagger of Doom, it was still enjoyable and will bring delight to readers.

Knights of the Silver Dragon #6- The Dagger of Doom by Kerry Daniel Roberts

Driskoll is helping the local bard, an extremely obese human named Oswald, remove the evil magic from a bunch of scrolls recovered from the ruins near Curston, but he can't help but try to look at them, even if the scrolls could be cursed and visit some bad magical effects on him. One scroll in particular catches his eye, one that has a dagger drawn on it. To Driskoll's horror, the dagger has Kellach's name on it!

Oswald tells Driskoll that the dagger is a magical item known as the Dagger of Doom. Two brothers, Cor and Adrian, lived in Curston when it was still called Promise. Cor grew up to become a Knight, and Adrian, a mage. Cor became a Knight of the Silver Dragon, and Adrian did not, and the rejection festered inside him. When Cor realized Adrian's feelings, he presented his brother with the magical dagger. Adrian looked on the dagger as a present out of pity and grew to hate his brother more. He flew into a rage and stabbed his brother with the dagger and fled. Cor's friend, a local monster named a mantlehorn, found Cor and pulled the dagger from his breast. Everyone could see his name blazoned on the blade. The mantlehorn took Cor away and buried him with the dagger. From then on, the Dagger became known as a device that caused strife between brothers and would cause one to kill the other.

Driskoll is shaken by the story, and hurries home to tell Kellach of his vision. Along the way, he runs into Moyra and she shows him Kellach's new secret: there is a girl he is interested in and seems to be trying to woo. When Driskoll tells Kellach the story of the dagger and tries to warn him, Kellach dismisses his concerns.

They find their Dad distracted. Someone is attempting to build a castle near Curston. Actually, rebuild would be a better word. But there is no Castle near Curston, is there? They actually find a ruined castle that is protected by magic to be invisible unless you find it in a specific way. While they are checking out the ruins, Driskoll and Kellach end up in a pit, and Kellach thinks Driskoll tipped him into the pit deliberately. They manage to make up and get out together, but before they leave, they find an old man named Hadrian, who is the one rebuilding the castle. Also, someone throws a Dagger at Kellach, a knight dressed in armor that seems to be made of shards of mirrors. The dagger is the same one as pictured on the scroll, and Kellach once again thinks that Driskoll is the one who threw the dagger.

The next day, the boys anger their father by returning to the site of the castle, which he thinks is dangerous. The overseer, a man named Scraper, offers their father, Torin, a task to keep them occupied. Help rebuild the keep for a few days. Torin agrees, and Driskoll learns from the Dwarven stonemasons that they have been looking for the Dagger to destroy it, because of its evil reputation.

Kellach, who has been working with Hadrian, returns and shows Driskoll how the knife can cut through stone like a hot knife through butter. Later, Driskoll goes back to Oswald to try to learn more about the knife, but he has been poisoned by some ale that was sold to him by a man in a black cloak... a man who they know as Scraper.

Driskoll and Moyra try to enlist the aid of Kellach, who still thinks that Driskoll is behind all the attacks and strangeness they have been experiencing the past few days. Driskoll tries to decipher the runes on the mirror blade and comes up with Evil Renwo. Seeing that the girl Kellach has been trying to impress is Willeona Renwood, he and Moyra think that she has something to do with the dagger.

But when they return to Promise castle to confront Scraper and Willeona, Driskoll and Kellach are attacked by the mirrored knight. Everytime they argue or accuse one another of doing something bad, the Mirror Knight gets stronger. Can they put aside their arguments long enough to defeat the Knight, or one of them is forced to kill the other?

I like all of the Knights of the Silver Dragon Stories, but I found this one to be the best so far. While there was an external enemy, the Mirrored Knight, most of the conflict in the story was between the two brothers, in the way that sibling conflicts can sometimes get out of hand. The mystery at the story's heart was extremely well done, and left even me guessing as to the eventual outcome and the real villain.

The story also ramped up the tension with the arguments and bad feeling between the brothers. Every time they argued or got angry with one another, readers have to wonder, "is this because of the dagger or a normal sibling disagreement?" As I said, I consider this the best book so far, as it is very mature in the nature of the mystery and the final solution. If you only read one book from this series, let this one be it!

Kampung Boy by Lat

This semi-autobiographical comic shows the main character, Mat, from the time he was born until he left to go to boarding school. Lat shows what it was like to grow up in a tin-mining kampung in Malaysia, from learning Islam from the local Muslim school to his first days in secular school, where he excelled at drawing, but was lousy in Math.

It shows his friendships with the local fisher boys, and his relationships with his mother, father, and siblings. Basically, a boy's account of his own life, giving us a glimpse of a very different life and culture.

The drawing style of Kampung Boy seems a little crude at first, and takes a bit of getting used to, but the artwork is full of expression and insight into the people around the main character, and the character himself.

The story ends on a sad note, with Mat passing the exam to attend boarding school, and realizing, as if for the first time, how much he will miss the village and everyone around him.

I enjoyed this book, which is the work of an artist from Southeast Asia who is already quite famous there. The story is deceptively simple and draws you in, so that you find yourself identifying with the main character. I certainly hope that there will be more of this series published, as I look forward to reading more, and seeing what happens next.

The Art of Discworld by Terry Pratchett and Paul Kidby

I haven't read all that many of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. Mainly, I suspect, because it's hard to get attatched to the kind of humor that goes on in the books. I remember reading "The Color of Magic" with the characters of Rincewind and Twoflower and just feeling "eh" about the book. Since then, I have read "Nightwatch", which was better, but still just okay with, and have enjoyed "The Wee Free Men" and "Hat Full of Sky". Maybe it's time to re-read some of the older Discworld books and see if my taste for them has changed.

This book collects the art of Discworld into one book, with portraits of many of the main characters who have enlivened the books over the years, from Rincewind and Twoflower to the College of Magic, Death and his family, and the witches of the Downs, Nanny Ogg, Esme Weatherwax, Tiffany Aching, Esme's sister Lilith, Magrat and Agnes Nitt. And then there are the Nac MacFeegle, the wee free men, little blue fairies who speak a little too much like stereotypical highlanders, and are fond of drinking, fighting and more drinking.

They also have the most interesting names, such as my favorite, "Not-as-big-as-medium-sized-Jock-but-bigger-than-wee-Jock-Jock", which gives you some idea of their names.

Still, for anyone who wants to see what the characters they have been reading about and always imagined in their head really look like, this is the perfect book to read. You will come back to it over and over and over again, looking at the four horsemen of the Apocalypse and the one who left before they got famous. Discworld itself, a giant disc carried on the back of four truly enormous elephants, who are standing on the shell of a much larger turtie.

Highly recommended, for the art, if not Terry Pratchett's recollections that accompany all the art.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

When the Tide Rises by David Drake

Commander Daniel Leary is the son of a senator of the Republic of Cinnabar. He and his father do not get along or agree, so Daniel didn't follow his father into politics, instead going into the RCN, the space navy. Along the way, he picked up a fellow noble, Adele Mundy, who was ekeing out life as a librarian, to run his computers, because she is a prodigy with computers. Adele was also a spy, but because the owes her life to Daniel Leary, she uses all the information she can to support and help him, and has a bodyguard of her own named Tovera, who is an assassin who sees nothing wrong with killing people.

Daniel Leary's mentor and superior, Admiral Anston, has recently retired from the service after suffering a heart attack, and his replacement, Vocaine, has taken a decided dislike to anyone that Anston favored, presumably to make his own imprint on the office. Since Leary is out of favor, that probably means he won't be getting any sort of good assignment for him or his crew.

Luckily, he is assigned to help a minor world fight off the attacks of the alliance. Pelosi has no navy of its own, and is getting antsy, as it isn't far from a world the Alliance is blockading, Diamondia in the Jewel system. His first task is to get or capture more ships for Pelosi, so that the world has a chance to defend itself from the alliance. Leary is allowed to take his ship, the Princess Cecilia, better known as the Sissy, on this mission, but he will have no backup, and only the crew he had before.

Commander Leary knows better than to complain, and he ships for Pelosi, stopping at Diamondia on the way, where the Admiral in charge, Admiral James, complains to Leary that he is undersupplied and under-reinforced. He can manage to hold off the Alliance for only a short while, and if they increase the number of ships blockading the planet, he can only hold them for a few short weeks, perhaps a month. Leary would like to help him, but he has a mission of his own.

Arriving on Pelosi, Leary nearly has a ship named after him, but manages to avert it, which would be seen as the basest sort of pride and arrogance among the other officers of the RCN. The Generalissima and her advisors assure Daniel Leary that they are behind them all the way, but are secretly trading with the Alliance behind the back of the RCN. Leary decides to put a stop to it by attacking the outpost where the meetings are taking place and confiscates the ships of the merchanters doing the illegal trading, selling them as prizes and to enlarge the fleet of Pelosi.

He then frees the colony of Skye from an overlord partial to the Alliance and helps the people there declare their independence and ensures they will stay free, all after he is abandoned by the Pelosian ships. On his return to Pelosi, he is put under arrest and told that Pelosi doesn't need the kind of trouble he is making for them.

But with Adele Mundy's help, he kidnaps the Pelosian head of the navy and takes him on a raid at a nearby Alliance shipping yard, where he makes off with 20 ships, and returns the Pelosian ship to the head of the navy, warning them that war... real war, is coming to them, and to keep that in mind.

Then, with his prizes in tow and once more in command of the Sissy, he returns to Diamondia, where he comes up with a plan to help Admiral James to draw off part of the Alliance force, and end the blockade of the planet. But no plan long survives contact with the enemy. Can Leary battle the odds and come out ahead once more?

I like this series, and enjoy the way that both Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy grow and mature with each book. Daniel has gone from an eager kid to a polished commander and leader of men, and Adele Mundy from someone who was dead inside and rarely had a human emotion to someone who takes pleasure in the accomplishments in the successes of her assistant. She even reaches out to another crewman who needs Commander Leary, and whom he needs in return.

Of course, its not just the human elements that make this series so worth reading. The battles, both naval and political that attract me to this series. I don't really understand politics, so I don't do very well at writing them, and I am hopeless at writing stuff that rings true militarily, but David Drake gets them both exactly right. Every scene rings so true to life that you would swear it had actually happened somewhere, even down to the space battles.

He also gets the feeling of military life right, the endless hours of waiting, the rules which seem mindless and irritating, and the kind of fighting spirit that men in the service feel for and with one another. And since I have never been in the service, I can only guess if he is actually right, but again, it *feels* right. And since David Drake is a Veteran of Vietnam, I am sure it *is* right to his experience.

I often enjoy military-themed SF, and David Drake is one of the best at writing it. Any series of his is not to be missed.