Sunday, August 31, 2008

Murder on the Brighton Express by Edward Marston

When the Brighton Express suddenly goes off the rails and collides with another train, the Engine crew of the oncoming train is killed, along with the driver of the Brighton Express and six of the passengers. However, despite the wreckage of both trains, most passengers are only injured, and the fireman of the Brighton Express escapes with only a few injuries, none of them mortal.

The Railway company brings in Robert Colbeck, known as the "Railway Detective", a policeman with a great love of trains who has already solved many crimes that occurred on Railways. And once again, he has the assistance of Sergeant Leeming, an officer firmly of the middle-class, and distrustful of the railways as newfangled and unknown.

But this time, he also has competition, Harvey Ridgeon, the Inspector General of Railways, who believes the entire thing was merely an accident caused by the dead driver when he ran the train too fast. But Colbeck had met the dead driver, Frank Pike, before, on another case, and the man he knew was too careful and cautious to do such a thing. He also determines that the bolts holding the rails down were removed, along with a section of track, and finds a pick-axe that probably did the removing in the bushes nearby. But Ridgeon is adamant, and wishes Colbeck gone and away from the site of the wreck.

Colbert discovers that two men with very unpopular public opinions are on board, one a government official bigoted towards foreigners, the other a former railway executive let go from his post. Both were sharing the compartment directly behind the locomotive, the one likeliest to sustain damage in a railway crash or disaster. But they were not alone, sharing their compartment with a Brighton Clergyman, the Reverend Follis, and two lovers, a married man and his unmarried female lover. The Reverend brings this to Colbeck's attention, but he doesn't excoriate the lovers for it, instead, he looks on them with sympathy, a very unusual position for a clergyman.

As Colbeck investigates the people who might have a grudge against the railroad itself, he also investigates people who might have a grudge against the Lord and the Railway executive. But something about the crime isn't adding up... who would go to such great lengths to kill so many people just to get revenge on one man? And then Ridgeon releases a report to the newspapers that makes Colbeck seem just this side of a crackpot, seeing saboteurs under every bridge and trestle. With this hanging over him, will Colbeck and Leeming be able to catch the killer before he or she kills again?

This book gave us many possible targets for the attack on the train: attack on the railroad, attack on one of the passengers, and so on, but what's unusual about this one is that Robert Colbeck takes so long chasing the wrong trail, and who the actual target of the attack turns out to be. Edward Marston does draw attention (in a very subtle way) to the wrongness of character about this particular person long before you realize who the actual target of the train crash was. And even though we learn who did the deed fairly early on, catching the culprit, let alone finding out who hired him for the purpose, takes far longer... again, not until the end of the book.

I did enjoy the book, as well as the encounters between Colbeck and the woman he loves, Madelaine Andrews, who no longer simply acts as her father's housekeeper, but has a career as a railway artist, drawing railroads in action. Their interactions are warm and wonderful to read, and she helps him out a great deal of the time, though he tends to keep her in the dark about how she is helping him in this novel. However, he did want her unbiased opinion, so it was acceptable as to why he kept her in the dark.

I recommend this series to anyone who loves mysteries, and historical mysteries, or who enjoys railroads and their history. The writing is smart and the dialogue practically snaps as you read it. The story is leavened with just enough romance to leaven the mystery and make it truly great. If you enjoy any or all of these things, give this series a try.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Acheron Parthenopaeus is the leader of the Dark Hunters, but he's not really quite one of them. Born in Ancient Atlantis 11,000 years ago as the offspring of two Atlantean Gods, Archon and Apollymi, he was cursed by the fates with being the ending of all things, making his divine father want to kill him even before he was born. Apollymi saved his life at the cost of being imprisoned herself, but sent her attendant Xiamara to put him into the body of a pregnant queen, to mingle her son'e life force with her own. But for refusing to give up her son, Apollymi was imprisoned, only to be freed when her son was dead.

Apostolos, as his mother named him, was born again as the son of the Queen of Didymos. But from the time of his own birth he was rejected as unnatural by both his human mother and father for his eyes, which were solid silver. The only one who cared for him or showed him any affection was his sister, Ryssa, and she was limited in what she could do because she was only a girl.

When Acheron was only a small child, his father banished him from the palace and the city, sending his unwanted second son to his brother, who lived in Atlantis. Ryssa was relieved that her father could no longer beat and abuse her brother, but when she went for herself to see how he was years later, she found out the awful truth: her brother had been trained as a sex slave, and was beaten if he didn't comply. His ability to eat was predicated on his ability to take in customers and make money. If he couldn't work, he wouldn't eat. Something about him makes people desire him, even his sister, although she never acts on it, unlike the others around him.

Ryssa rescues him and takes him back to Didymos, staying at the summer palace during the winter. But Acheron is abused again and again on the journey. It is only when the two of them are living alone but for the servants that he finally comes to trust Ryssa. But not long after he does, her father finds them living in the palace and has him dragged back to Atlantis again.

More years pass while Acheron is imprisoned, and when Ryssa's uncle finally dies, he is free. Or is he? He knows nothing but the life he's led. He can't even read or write. Instead of returning to the father that hates him (his mother drank herself to death years before), he prefers to do what he has been taught to do. And now that he has become a teenager, his sexual attraction is stronger than ever, making his father hate him even more. He leaves them with nothing to his name but Ryssa's cloak that she throws over him to protect him.

Later, he finally returns to the palace, so burnt out by the life he has led that he is no longer able to care about anything. In return, his father throws him into the dungeons. But when Acheron attempts to take his own life to escape the pain of the life he has, his brother Styxx, whose life his is linked to, falls ill, and his father has him force-fed to save both their lives.

Finally, he just tries to live apart from his family, save Ryssa. She is being prepared for being sacrificed to Apollo, and she needs his help to know what to do. Acheron, still feeling something for his naive sister, helps her, but his looks continue to cause him nothing but pain. When his brother and the rest of the family are making a sacrifice to Apollo, he is refused entry to the temple because of who he is. He runs and takes shelter in the Temple to Artemis, and eats some of the food left for her. Artemis is furious and appears in person to punish him.

But instead of being cringing and supplicant, Acheron would like nothing *better* than to die, which confuses the goddess mightily. Having never met a man like him before, or reacted to one with such inherent sexuality, she finds herself agreeing to become Acheron's friend and sharing a kiss with him that sets her blood ablaze.

Artemis tells Acheron that he must keep their friendship secret. As a virginal goddess, it would ruin her reputation to be seen with him. But love and friendship between a spoiled greek Goddess and a human can never work out. Though Acheron actually does try to be her friend, she, like other women he has known, rejects him once they have had sex. She does come back to him, but she really only likes him when he is acting subservient to her, and Acheron soon finds himself wishing she would leave him alone.

More horrible things happen to him. When his brother is betrothed to an Egyptian princess, she comes on to Acheron in the bath, and when she is discovered with him, she accuses him of almost raping her. Due to his past, she is believed, and his father and brother have him castrated. When Artemis doesn't come to save him, his faith in her as a friend is shattered. But when his sister is slain, along with her child, Apollo's, Acheron's brother Styxx blames him for the deed, saying he did nothing to prevent it. Apollo kills Acheron, which also kills his brother, then finds that children of his own, the Apollites, killed her. He curses them with dying at the same age as Ryssa, 27.

Meanwhile, Acheron travels to the Kingdom of Hades, where he just wants to be left alone. But his death frees his mother, Apollymi, and she is livid with how his human family rejected him, and she takes revenge, not only on his human family, but on the other Atlantean Gods and Goddesses, including the Goddess of Physical Love, who laid her hands on him before he was born, thus "gifting" him with that potent sexual aura. She then goes on to kill everyone in the castle where he lived, and she finds his body, which had been thrown into the sea. Weeping for her child, she plans to take her revenge on the Greek Gods as well, and the entire world.

This throws the Greek Gods into chaos, and they plead with Artemis to bring him back to life to save them from the wrath of Apollymi. She does so, but mixes some of her blood into the Ambrosia that brings him back to life, making him have to feed on her blood to survive. If he does not feed, he turns into a chaotic destroyer of life, perpetually enraged.

For Acheron, this is the last straw, and he curses Artemis, but now he needs her, too. With his resurrection, Apollymi is imprisoned once more, and he cannot meet her without setting her free to destroy the world. However, she does make Acheron a palace to live in, based on the palace he lived in, and she gave him Simi, the daughter of her now-dead friend and attendant Xiamara to care for. Since Simi's Daimon species take a long time to grow up (1 year for every 1,000 years that pass in the human world). This is not a task to take on lightly. But Acheron has other Gods on his side, like Savitar, who can see anyone's future except his own.

Acheron is also persuaded by Artemis to train the Apollites she has resurrected to become Demon Hunters. But for every concession he asks for, she makes him serve time in her bed, making him hate her even more for the way she uses him and his body. He never wants to be used again, but here, Artemis holds all the cards, and he hates it, and her, intensely.

At this point, the book flashes forward to the present day, where Acheron and Artemis have come to the Parthenon to hear a speech given by Dr. Soteria Kofieri, an archaeologist who has devoted her life to the dreams of her father and grandfather: Finding Atlantis. But Acheron is horrified to find that she is on the right track, and has actually discovered one of the diaries of his sister, Ryssa. Because it is written in Atlantean, not Ancient Greek, she hasn't yet been able to decipher it, but Acheron knows he must act fast in order to protect himself. He asks a series of insulting questions and gets everyone in the crowd laughing and calling her a crackpot. Discredited, she leaves, but Artemis doesn't want anyone knowing about Atlantis, either, and that diary could contain the story of how she and Acheron were lovers, which would destroy her reputation.

So, she sets her followers, who destroy and cover up evidence of Atlantis, and tells them to get the diary and kill Soteria. Soteria, meanwhile, is still trying to decipher the diary, and asks for help from an academic friend of hers. He says he can't read it, but he knows someone who might be able to, and sends her to his friend, who turns out to be Ash.

Ash finds himself attracted to Soteria, and when he realizes that someone wants to kill her, he takes her in to protect her. She is as attracted to him as he is to her, but her earlier resentment lingers and so she tries not to show it. But she is intrigued by Ash and his apparently magical relocating tattoo. But when Artemis' assasins fire on them and cause him to crash his bike, he is bereft and uses his powers to bring her back to life. Still badly injured, he gets her to the hospital, where she has surgery to save her life.

Afterwards, the killers show up again at the hospital, so he takes her to a sanctuary run by Weres to keep her safe. There, they give into the passion they feel for each other, and Soteria learns the truth of who Ash is. But they will still have to deal with Artemis' hunters and a set of Daimons who want to use Soteria to get revenge on Ash. And when Apollymi and Artemis enter the fray, can Soteria survive?

This was another *HUGE* book, over 700 pages, and very hard to read... not in the way that the writing is bad or hard to get into, but in the way that Ash's life is so hard and terrible that it's difficult not to feel depressed over what happens to him. It's made phenomenally clear that Ash was a little boy who only wanted to feel loved by his human parents, but they thought he was a monster and mistreated him horribly, followed by just about every other human who touched his life, save for some young children and a woman who was blind.

And while some fans of the series were wishing that he and Artemis would end up together, she treats him just as badly out of fear, anger and pride. The way she makes him need to feed from her when she brings him back to life was a particularly unforgivable sin against him. His entire life was being taken advantage of, along with abused, and it's sickening and disheartening to see it happen over and over and over again, not only with humans, but with Artemis as well.

Once we get to the modern day, the story gets easier to read, as the series picks up the smart dialogue and wisecracking that we have come to know and love in the Dark Hunter series. Soteria is portrayed as a dogged and determined woman who knows no fear and will do anything to protect those she loves and their dreams. Her ability to stand up to goddesses, Daimons and other assorted people trying to pull her and Ash apart was admirable and allowed her to fight not only for him, but for her right to be with him.

I enjoyed this book a lot, even the parts that made me uncomfortable and sick for Acheron. Maybe even especially those parts, as it's rare that a writer can make me feel so deeply for a character. That being said, this isn't really a single book, but more like two books in one. The first book is very different in tone and pacing from the second, and the only thing they really seem to have in common is the character of Acheron Parthenopaeus. The biggest flaw is that so much that fans wanted to see is glossed over or given short shrift, like Acheron's first meeting with Savitar. We see them becoming friends quickly, but would someone as abused and used as Acheron was trust him that quickly?

If you are a fan of the Dark-Hunter series, you will definitely need to read this book. For those who haven't read it before, you'll want to start with a different book before you read this one, as this isn't the best example of the series for someone who isn't already familliar with the series and some of the other characters.

Kyle's Bed and Breakfast by Greg Fox

When Kyle Graham opens his Bed and Breakfast, he gets his first client within days. Brad Steele, a minor league baseball player, walks in and asks for a room, saying that it's perfect and if Kyle gives him a break on the rent, Brad will act as a general handyman. Kyle has a bad reaction to Brad at first, and tells him it's a *Gay* B&B, whereupon Brad blurts out that he *is* gay, and then suffers a moment of remorse, since he has never told anyone before. But in the end he asks to stay, saying he thinks it would be fun to stay there... without anyone else on his team finding out, of course.

Then Kyle's friend Richard walks in and wonders if Kyle's business is going to make it. But Kyle managed to get his B&B into the Athenian Gay Directory, so business is sure to pick up. Soon after, Lance Powers, a high-powered business director, moves in, followed by Richard and Eduardo, a gay teen kicked out of his house by his parents when they found out he was gay. These become the main characters of the strip, and there is a rotating cast of temporary characters who move in and out of the B&B as the others get on with their lives.

Each of the temporary characters has an effect on the guys, though, from Kyle's temporary team mate Richard Olson, an out gay who gets passed around from Team to Team because of the fact he is gay and isn't ashamed of it, to Father Sean, an Irish priest troubled by his homosexual leanings who came to stay in the B&B for a while to see what he was giving up. He ended up leaving the priesthood, not only for his sexuality, but for other reasons as well, feeling that it wasn't right for him to stay. Or Glenn Mercer, a married man who came out to his wife, and got divorced. He and Kyle end up having Kyle's first sexual relationship in the B&B, but in the end, he goes back to his wife for the sake of his kids.

What I really liked about this series are all the different kinds of gay men you see, from the Stereotypical Club-hopper who seems to have nothing on his mind but scoring (Richard), to the closeted Brad, living in dire fear that his secret will come out and ruin the life he has built for himself, to Kyle himself, an older gay man (30's rather than 20's) who has been through the gay "scene" and knows that isn't what he wants for himself, but instead wants a stable relationship and seems attracted to older guys and guys his age. We even get to see Andrew, a gay man who adopted a child while in a relationship and who is comitted to doing the best for his kid.

This is a fascinating look at a group of men whose only thing in common is their sexual attraction to other men, and the stories of how they live and work with each other. It's a sort of "slice of Life" story, and fascinating and extremely good as you see the ups, downs and sidewayses of the lives of gay men of all kinds. It even shows how some Gay men prey on others, when a French Grifter who charms money out of his lovers moves into the B&B and takes some of the other men there for quite a bit of money before he is caught. Kyle makes sure he pays everyone back by getting him a real job, but the experience is, an experience, for everyone involved.

Not only is this the first collection of "Kyle's B&B" strips, but so far it's the only one. I'd like to see more published at some time in the future. You can also buy a copy by contacting Or go to:

You'll be glad you did!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Superior Saturday by Garth Nix

Ever since Arthur Penhaglian recieved the Minute Key from a dying man and been declared the Chosen One, he has been battling the Immortal Trustees of the Will. He has managed to retrieve 5 of the pieces of the will but now he must go after the two strongest Guardians, Superior Saturday, the oldest thing in existence in the Universe, and supreme sorceress of the House. Luckily, she has her attention more on taking over the Incomparable Gardens and dethroning Lord Sunday.

To facilitate her schemes, she has the lower house destroyed by the forces of Nothing, allowing the trees that support the Gardens to stop growing and enabling her to finally come within reach of her longtime foe. And she isn't alone in this. All the sorcerors in the house save Doctor Scamandros serve her, and with their powers added to hers, she is well-nigh invincible.

Arthur, back in his own world after rescuing a load of Patients with his new friend Leaf from Doctor Friday, gets a call from his brother Eric saying that because of the sleepy plague that Doctor Friday initiated, the military is going to deal with it by setting off a bomb at the East Side hospital, and he needs to take clothing, food and supplies into the basement and stay there while the bomb is set off in approximately ten minutes. Arthur frantically tries to get in touch with Doctor Scamandros, but he cannot be found, so he orders his wand to keep the hospital safe, which it does by freezing time around the hospital. He then returns to the lower house just before it is destroyed by the Nothing.

Use of his powers has another side effect, though. It is slowly turning him into a denizen of the house, and the more he uses them, the faster the effect. Arthur is already noticing how his anger and sense of superiority have grown, and he fears he will continue to act like that if he turns into a Denizen. He finds Doctor Scamandros and talks with him, and then has a conversation with the Old One, the God imprisoned in the basement, while fearing he has become too much of a Denizen for the Old One to stomach him. But no, he still thinks of Arthur as a human, and promises to free him if he gets control of the house.

After that, he visits the Will and convinces her to split herself to take care of the two major problems besetting the house. Then, he must travel to the Upper, Upper portion of the House even though Superior Saturday has blocked it off just to prevent him from getting in. But he is helped by the Raised Rats, who, along with the aid of Doctor Scamandros in turning him temporarily into a Rat, send him through a magical bottle into the upper house along with his friend Suzy Blue, a Piper's Child.

There, Arthur will have to search for the Will and get the wand of Saturday from Superior Saturday. But can he do it without becoming a denizen and being stuck in the house forever? Or will the magic turning him into something else- which has made his hair blonde, his eyes brilliant blue, his teeth shiny and perfect and his blood golden be able to be stopped so that he can be just human, as he always was?

This is not really a long book at all, but it packs a lot of punch into its pages. In fact, the story ends on a cliffhanger, so we cannot know if Arthur really won against Superior Saturday or not. Given that the following book, Lord Sunday, will be coming out, I'll hazard a guess that he does.

The stakes keep getting higher, and Arthur wins this one (if he does) by the very skin of his teeth. I want to read that last book and see what happens, and I hope it comes out soon. This is a great series for kids and teens, and even adults as well, with issues of power, abandonment, fear of losing control of your body (Arthur turning into a Denizen, meaning he will have to leave his family behind forever), and even health and friendship.

I recommend this series, which is by the same writer who gave us the wonderful series Sabriel, Liriel, Abhorsen, Garth Nix. Check it out.

Mage-Guard of Hamor by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Rahl was once a native of Recluce, who declared him a Natural Ordermage and exiled him from their shores, claiming he was too difficult and dangerous to teach after he somehow exploded a black wall near the harbor at Nylan. Before he was exiled and left for the Country of Hamor, he met and fell for a healer named Deybri.

Once in Hamor, he worked for the Nylan Merchant bureau but discovered that his superior was helping to support piracy and rebellion in Hamor with the help of the Jeranyi. When Rahl found out, he helped prevent a huge shipment of Cammabark (an explosive substance) from being taken to the pirates by exploding it, and taking out the ship it was on after defending himself and killing his superior.

Afterwards, he was dosed with an agent that made him forget who he was, and he was sent to a iron-processing plant at Luba. But when the clerks there found he could read and write, he was made a clerk, and then an enumerator, a sort of accountant. It was there, after much trial and error, that he regained his memory and was taken under the wing of Taryl, one of the Mage-Guard of Hamor, who trained him to be a mage-guard. From there, he and Taryl are sent back to Recluce, to Nylan, to tell the people there what happened at the port.

On his return to his home, he is distrusted not only for his previous behavior, but also for joining the Mage-Guard of Hamor. As he explains to the Magisters at Nylan what happened at the Merchant Compound, Taryl tells him to go see Deybri and take her to dinner. Rahl does, and finds that his feelings for her are unchanged. In fact, they have grown and deepened. But they are only able to share the single dinner before Rahl and Taryl must leave.

But Rahl continues to write her as he and Taryl are reassigned to take care of Golyat, the elder brother of the current Emperor of Hamor. He was taken out of the succession for the throne because of his complete unsuitability to rule, but members of the armed forces, and the mage-guard itself have convinced him that he would make a wonderful emperor and he should fight for the throne. So he has taken part of the country for his own and is gathering men and materiel to fight his brother for the throne. Hamor has a larger navy than army, so fighting the war is going to be a struggle.

Taryl is assigned as Overcommander of the Army, due to his former position as one of the Triads of Hamor. The Triads are meant to rule the country along with the Emperor, providing him with assistance and advice, but Taryl was forced from his post and now serves merely in the Mage-Guard.

Unfortunately for Taryl and Rahl, the superior of the army is an arrogant, yet cowardly man who chastises his subordinates for doing their jobs yet losing men, but is hesitant to send his forces to attack the rebels. Rahl is assigned to a scouting company, and uses his order senses to look for traps and keep the other soldiers safe. As they advance closer to the area where Golyat and the rebels are holed up, Rahl finds himself running into more and more traps, some of which he cannot break or defuse without losing some men in his squadron.

For this, he recieves scorn from the army commander, and even Taryl seems not as grateful for what Rahl is doing as he pushes Rahl to keep training his order senses and powers. Every time Rahl thinks he has mastered or got a handle on what Taryl is teaching him, Taryl adds more, along with telling him to keep his shields up so that no one else can tell his true feelings. He won't tell Rahl why, just that it will stand him in good stead later.

Rahl continues to write to Deybri, missing and thinking of her always, posting his letters to her whenever he can. She writes back, and he treasures the letters. Meanwhile Taryl replaces the sub-commander and then the commander, as they fail in cowardice, leaving Taryl in true command of the army. Slowly, the army pushes towards the coast where Golyat is holed up, killing the forces he leaves behind to slow and delay them, often with Rahl's help. Then, when they have made one of the coastal cities held by the rebels, Rahl finds a surprise waiting for him. Deybri! She has left Recluce for love of him and joined the Mage-Guards as a Guard and Healer, both of which Hamor is desperately in need of.

But the final battle is ahead, and two of the Triads, Dhoryk and Fieryn, have come to assist the army, both Chaos Mages. Given their obvious dislike of Taryl and the way they dismiss his efforts so far, can Taryl and Rahl win them over before the end, or is there a different reason for their scorn?

This novel is massive, 619 pages, and it takes a long time to read, but those readers who have read the previous novel by L.E. Modesitt Jr, Natural Ordermage, will enjoy the resumption of Rahl's story from where it left off in the last book. Here, Rahl continues training, and discovers that the Magisters of Recluce were wrong. He *can* be changed, but not in the way they train ordermages. And since they feel that their way is the only way, it's nice to see that they can be wrong, since many of the previous books showed how they were right.

Rahl's story is long but fascinating, and he slowly gains depth, going from a callow youth on Recluce to a strong, confident, gifted leader of men and tremendously powerful Order Mage. By the end of the book, no one in the Mage Guard is unafraid of him, so he must be assigned to a position where he can answer to Taryl, who has been his superior, and unafraid of him, all along. This also allows Rahl and Deybri to finally marry, as one of Rahl's little quirks is that his sperm is super-potent, Any time he lies with a woman, he will make her pregnant, unless she is barren or is already pregnant. Being a woman, I found that kind of a bummer. Why? Think about it. You can never have sex just for fun. You always know you'll get pregnant. Way to kill the mood real fast! Boy, Rahl and Deybri are going to have *lots* of kids! In fact, she's already pregnant with his son at the end of the book.

In any case, if you can't already tell, I liked this book a lot. In fact, I'd like to read more about Rahl at some point. Hopefully without him being turned into a Geriatric through overuse of his powers... In any case, read "Natural Ordermage" first, but read this book. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Darkest Kiss by Keri Arthur

Riley Jensen is a half vampire, half werewolf who has been tapped to be a guardian, one of the supernaturals who keeps other supernatural creatures in line. In the past, she has dated the vampire Quinn, but they broke up over her inability to have just him as her lover. He wanted to be her one and only, but she wanted kids, even though her screwed-up physiology made it unsure if she would ever have kids or not. So they parted ways, but Riley is still feeling lots of things for Quinn.

In "The Darkest Kiss", Riley is assigned to look into the death of a businessman who was also the head of the nonhuman rights league. Not only has the man been killed, but clawed by what looks to be a cat. Looking into Gerard James' background reveals he was squiring around a member of the local rich girls' club better known as the Toorak Trollops. The TT are ex-wives and daughters of local nobs who better themselves by offering themselves as high-class dates, lovers and mistresses to anyone who can afford to keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed. Although they are supposed to be friends, there is subtle game of competition and one-upsmanship amongst them as they compare the men they have caught to the ones the others have, and the one with the highest-status man "wins".

But now the Toorak Trollops seem to be dying along with the men they dated and fought over, but the question is, why? All the killed seem to share is dying in increasingly bloody ways, as well as the cat claw marks somewhere on their bodies. Could the killer be a cat-shifter? Or given the size of some of the cuts, a Tiger-shifter?

Meanwhile, Riley is called in by a wolf-shifter friend of hers to the site of an attack on a friend of his, and is just able to save another friend from being slain in his apartment. However, the apartment building he lives in is infested with vampires, at least 40 of them. This is strange because it seems impossible for young vampires to live together at all, but these vamps are different, living off emotions instead of blood, which apparently allows them to circumvent some of the restrictions that bind blood-drinking vampires.

Riley goes and talks with the leader of this vampire group, a woman named Vincenta Castillo. She was willing to allow whatever tried to kill Ivan, the friend of Riley's club-owning friend Ben Wilson for a payment of money, and because Ivan is undergoing the process of being turned into a vampire, and even if he was killed, he wouldn't die. She's willing to tell Riley what she knows in exchange for a kiss on the lips, which Riley reluctantly allows, but the information doesn't allow Riley to track the man down.

She discusses the case with her twin brother Roan's mate, Liander, who says the man's name sounds familliar, but he doesn't know where from. Then, there is another attack on Ivan, and this time, his head is ripped off, which allows for no resurrection, even that as a vampire. Riley attempts to track the creature that did it, but it gets away from her.

As she continues to try and track down the killer, Riley attends a function where her old ex-boyfriend and lover Quinn is attending, along with a member of the TT she needs to talk to. She and Quinn hook up, but when she goes to talk to the woman, there is something wrong about her, and she discovers that the killer is using the appearance of the TT to get close to the others. The chase leads to the home of the TT, who is found slain. Whoever the killer is, they are becoming more and more unhinged and violent with each murder. Quinn helps Riley interpret the clues and discovers that the killer is a Bakoneko, a demonic cat-like creature. It seems that the creature blames the TT for its mistresses death, and has been slaying not only them, but the men who supported them. But since it can take on any form, how can Riley track it down and kill it?

Meanwhile, Liander has found out why the name of the murderer Riley seeks is familliar... it's the name of someone who was in his class in the 10th grade. But then something bad happened to him and the rest of the class seemed to fall apart, and the kid's parents moved away. Riley does some checking, and everyone who has died in the case was in that class. But when the killer abducts Liander, can Reilly and Quinn help Roan keep it together while they go after the murderer who keeps him hostage? Or will Roan lose his mate, go insane, or lose all will to live and simply give up and die? Or can she and Quinn keep that from happening?

I enjoyed this book a lot. The action and the story whipped along, carrying the reader along with it, and yet there were no mistakes, or bad writing that act as a stopping block to knock you abruptly out of what I was reading. There was also nothing that made me think to myself, "Riley would never do that," or "That's so out of character!"

Keri Arthur continues to improve as a writer, and seeing Riley and Quinn get back together now that she has no hope to have children was nice, as was the fact that they appear to both want to work to rebuild their relationship from the ground up. if this will work for them to actually both be happy together... well, we'll see.

I can't wait to read more of this series, and I am already waiting for the next one with a sense of anticipation. This series is a good read you'll have a hard time putting down. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In Darkness, Death by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

Seikei, a former merchant's son, was adopted by the famous judge, Ooka, who is a samurai as well as a judge, after helping him solve a mystery on the Tokkaido road. Now, Seikei is living with the judge and trying to learn to be a real Samurai, but he has far to go in pursuit of that goal.

When the judge is summoned to the death of the Lord Inaba after a party the night before welcoming him to Edo, the judge suspects a ninja was responsible for the death. But first he must question the servants, and the guards who guarded Lord Inaba. From a lowly servant girl, Seikei and Judge Ooka discover that the ninja left only one thing behind: an origami butterfly, now stained with Lord Inaba's blood.

To trace the paper used to make the butterfly, Judge Ooka and Seikei visit the Paper-maker Ogawa and his daughter, Michiko. While both father and daughter agree that the paper used in the butterfly is made only in temples, its maker is a man named Bakkoro, who lives in the north.

Judge Ooka sends Seikei to visit Bakkoro along with Tatsuno, a ninja who he captured and who he seems to know. Seikei and Tatsuno pretend to be pilgrims making a religious pilgrimmage, but Seikei twists his ankle and they must stop in a small village to see a doctor.

The Doctor, Genkai, helps them, and asks them to carry a message to Lord Inaba, asking him to cut down the taxes on the land of the farmers around them. Two years in a row, the crops have failed due to insect attacks, and yet the Lord is still demanding the same taxes. The farmers and their families are starving and cannot pay their taxes. They tried sending a message to Lord Inaba to that effect, but he returned without nose, ears or lips. Perhaps Seikei, being a Samurai, will have more luck. Seikei writes down their names and complaints, and goes to see the new Lord Inaba. Tatsuno refuses to accompany him, and when Seikei sees the new Lord, he soon learns why.

Yuuto, the new lord, sends his Samurai out to kill the farmers whose names are on the petition, and when Seikei tells him he is on his own, the new Lord has him thrown in the dungeon to rot. But he is rescued by Tatsuno, and the two of them travel to Nara, where Judge Ooka will be meeting Seikei. Along the way, Tatsuno disappears, leaving Seikei with only a small purple-green stone that Tatsuno gave to him earlier.

Seikei returns to the Judge and gives his report. Since the judge asked him to keep a lookout for who might have wanted to kill the old Lord Inaba, Seikei confesses that he wants to kill the new one. To find answers, the judge and Seikei must travel to the Okami mountain shrine to search for the Ninja who has taken refuge on its slopes. But since Seikei has possession of the gofu, a stone that carries the power of the Kami, he must go alone to find out who hired the Ninja to kill Lord Inaba. But can Seikei, so young and mostly untrained, find and convince the Ninja to talk?

I liked this book, which is rich with details about Japan in the Feudal Era. Judge Ooka was a real person, and is considered to be something like Japan's Sherlock Holmes, finding and bringing perpetrators to justice even in the most puzzling cases. Though Seikei, his adopted son, is nothing but fiction, the novel brings plenty of detail that will delight readers, from how paper is made to various medicinal treatments in Japan.

Better than that, the mystery is solid and intriguing, although adults and smart kids or teens will figure out who hired the killer partway through the story. I stil recommend this small book as a good mystery for anyone to read. Well done.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs

Continuing the Alpha and Omega story from the "On the Prowl" collection, Anna has travelled north with Charles, the Alpha Wolf she cares for and is coming to love. But her introduction to the Marrok's pack leaves her feeling more like an outsider than ever, despite everyone being welcoming.

One of the Marrok's wolves, a supposedly insane wolf named Asil, tells her he'd be more than happy to take her off of Charles' hands if she ends up being unhappy. Not only is Asil supposedly insane, but his mate was killed long ago, and with the advancing years, he feels as though his sanity is drifting. Before he can go completely insane, he wants Bran, the Marrok, to kill him so that his soul can join that of his mate in the afterlife.

Charles, whose inner wolf has accepted Anna as his mate, finds his control tested. But since he was wounded with silver in the "Alpha and Omega" short story, he's really in no condition to fight Asil. Luckily, Charles' brother Samuel is home, and is trained as a doctor, so he checks Charles' wounds and finds a bit of silver still in one of them, which he removes, allowing Charles to heal faster. Shortly after a funeral for Bran's longtime friend Doc Carter, who was changed into a werewolf but went mad and had to be killed during the change, Charles is sent into the cold north country to track down a rogue wolf who has been killing humans.

Anna won't hear of anything but to go with him, and being Omega, she can't be ordered into staying behind by Charles, since Omegas don't follow orders at all, being outside pack hierarchy. They travel to the area together, only to be attacked by a wolf. When Charles takes off after the werewolf, Anna is confronted by a woman who claims to be a searcher looking for a missing hiker.

But the woman is not really a searcher, but a witch, and this witch has the power to both remain unchanged and unaging, and to command the power of the pack. Not only does she have animals following her, but the spirit of Asil's wife, who she slew and turned into a guardian, a spirit creature who is stronger and faster than even the werewolves. However, her spirit is still that of Asil's wife.

But when Bran comes searching for Asil and Charles and is captured by the Witch, can Charles and Anna take her down before she figures out that with the Marrok under her control, she could control the Werewolves of North America through him? Or will Bran be forced into his berserker mode and kill everyone and everything as his rage at being captured breaks out in a most appalling way?

I liked this book a lot. Patricia Briggs is one of my favorite authors. I've loved her Mercy storied, and now there comes Anna, who is both like and unlike Mercy. But while Mercy is a werecoyote (and not even really a were, but a shapechanger), Anna is a different kind of outsider, an Omega Werewolf. Omegas have both their good points and bad. One, most werewolves cannot even concieve of harming an Omega. Two, Omegas calm down other werewolves, and help them adapt to their powers, so a pack with an Omega in it will have more of its werewolves survive their first change. Three, Omegas do not have to follow the orders of anyone, even an Alpha. And since Alphas are meant to command other werewolves, there is no way to control them.

The drawbacks, of course, are that One, They are outside of the pack hierarchy, so most werewolves who have never met an Omega are terminally confused by them. And two, They are exceedingly rare in the Werewolf population, so most werewolves have never seen, met or heard of one. Even Charles, who is son of the Marrok and right hand to a being who rules over almost the entire werewolf population of North America, has only heard rumors of their existence.

Luckily, one of Anna's Omega qualities makes it simple for her to defeat the witch, although it doesn't seem to be possible until she actually does it. Anna herself is a mass of contradictions. She's a werewolf and should be strong, confident and potent, but her victimization at the hands of her packmates leaves her feeling weak, outcast and much, much thinner than she should be. Charles spends most of the book trying to build her up, but it isn't until she realizes the strength of her position as Omega that she comes to believe in herself.

I liked watching Anna's growth from abused woman struggling against what has been done to her by the people who should have been treasuring her to a stronger, confident woman who knows she can take care of herself. It was wonderful to read, even though it was somewhat cringe-inducing at certain parts for the way she felt about herself and the way in which some characters treated her. I recommend this book highly, and will be recommending it to my friends.

On the Prowl by Patricia Briggs, Eileen Wilks, Karen Chance and Sunny

This is a compilation book of four short stories. The First, Alpha and Omega, is by Patricia Briggs. Anna is an abused wolf who is part of the Chicago pack of wolves. When she calls the Marrok, the leader of the North American werewolves, to report a problem with her pack's leader, Leo, he tells her there is an investigator already on his way.

The investigator is his son, Charles, and Charles discovers that Anna is that rarest of wolves, the Omega. Omegas are outside of pack hierarchy and bring peace, calmness and harmony to the pack... unless they have been dreadfully abused by an insane packmate, as Anna was... with the collusion of Leo, the pack's Alpha. But why would Leo do such a thing to such a precious resource as Anna? And why have all the other female werewolves of the pack disappeared? As Charles investigates, he finds himself falling for Anna. But is she too badly abused to return his affections?

In Inhuman, by Kathleen Wilks, Kat is a witch with the secret gift of telepathy. She is attracted to Nathan, the town sheriff and her running partner. He knows her secret, and she knows very few of his, but she knows that he is more than human. But when a monster from his world shows up, killing gifted members of the population, Kat is blamed, and Nathan finds himself giving up everything to protect her. But to do so, he will also have to tell her all his secrets, and give in to the passion that has been slowly but steadily growing between them.

But when the monster turns out to be more misunderstood than monstrous, he can he and Kat call in favors from Faerie to help it return home? And how will the Huntsman and the Winter Queen react to the loss of one of their favored hounds?

In Buying Trouble by Karen Chance, Claire, a red-headed null works for an auction house. Called in for a high-stakes auction, Claire is utterly shocked to find herself as one of the items up for sale. With her brutal brother Seb bidding on her, as well as one of the Lords of the Fey, Claire feels she has no hope but to become a null bomb, which will lead to her death as her nullifying power is sucked out of her along with her life to construct the thing. But when she and Fey Lord Heidar are sucked into the Fey lands by a misused auction item, will she be able to let go of her fear and distrust of the Fey Lords long enough to escape the Fey tribe who will gladly kill them both?

In the Fey lands, Claire makes a discovery about herself that is both wonderful and shocking. But when she discovers the rune that sent Heidar and her into the Fey lands is a threat to not only the Fey but all she holds dear, she and Heidar must return to the human world to retrieve the rune and deal with the threat to all the Fey peoples. For no matter who holds the rune, danger threatens, along with war. Can Claire and Heidar retrieve the rune from the person she fears and hates the most... her brother, Seb?

Mona Lisa Betwining, by Sunny is the story of Mona Lisa, a half-blood queen of the Monère. She has been called to account for her actions in the death of the Monère Queen Mona Louisa, which she accomplished by sucking out all of her energy and leaving the other woman a shriveled husk which easily fell to the claws of her warrior-protectors. But when Mona Lisa is challenged by another Queen, she must turn to the one protector whose powers frighten her the most, Dontaine, for a solution that allows her to triumph over the other Queen. But to do so, she must face her fears, not only of Dontaine, but also of the power to suck out the energy of others that resides within her.

But can she triumph over the other queen or will the council sentence her to death for her actions, and the power which she doesn't know how to control?

This was a good set of stories, but I didn't enjoy all of them. The first three were the best, but I just wasn't able to get into the Mona Lisa story. The author's writing style is not my cup of tea, and I just have distaste for the character and her harem of men. It also seemed that the Mona Lisa story was about 80% sex. Now, this isn't bad when you are into the characters, but when you aren't, it's just tedious in the extreme.

Of all of them, the Patricia Briggs story was my favorite, and the best, even though the story is a mere introduction to another book that came out recently called "Cry Wolf", which continues Anna and Charles's story. The other three stories are more self-contained, but I hope to read more about Claire, from Karen Chance, as her story and background was interesting.

A somewhat lop-sided volume for me, but with three good stories out of four, I liked this book and would recommend it to others, with a caveat about the "Mona Lisa" story.

People of the Nightland by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear

Once upon a time, the People of the Wolf had escaped a mountain of ice through the help of a spirit called Wolf Dreamer. After they reached safer lands, the people settled down, and reproduced. Eventually, there were so many people that the land could not support them all, and they became two peoples, the Nightlanders, and the Sunpath people. Though they were once one tribe, they no longer consider themselves one, and schisms have racked the people.

Ti-Bish is an outcast, called idiot by his tribe and people, until the night he kills a raven and eats its flesh. Then he is given a dream by Raven Hunter, the supposedly evil brother of Wolf Dreamer, that his people, the Nightlanders, are living in the shadow of an apocalypse that will kill everyone who does not escape through a hole in the ice. Raven Hunter promises Ti-Bish that he will show the Nightlanders how to escape and survive the coming Apocalypse, but his dream is co-opted by a Nightland Elder named Nashat, who uses Ti-Bish's dream to make War on the Sunpath people, wishing to eventually steal their land for the Nightpath people's own. By keeping Ti-Bish isolated from the rest of the tribe, Nashat becomes his mouthpiece and arbiter of what the Guide wants.

The Sunpath people aren't taking this war lying down. Though they were caught off guard by the first years of the war, one war chief named Windwolf has been fighting the Nightland warriors, keeping them off balance, yet hiding himself and his men from their retaliation. But Windwolf is a broken man, still mourning his lost wife and love, Bramble, killed by the Nightland warrior, Karigi.

Kairigi is not only hated by Windwolf for the deed, but also by Keresa, who was once a friend of Bramble's, and still hates him years later for the deed. But she is not the leader of her war party. She follows Kakala, and when they are captured by Windwolf and the people of Lame Bull, both of them will have to make a choice between continuing the conquering ways of their people, or coming together to follow a new vision out of the coming cataclysm.

The Sunpath woman Skimmer and her daughter Ashes have their own destinies to follow. Skimmer blames Ti-Bish for the death of her husband and the near deaths of her and her daughter in a Nightland slave camp, when the warriors slaughtered all the women and children there on Nashat's orders. She only escaped by playing dead and hiding under the other dead bodies. Skimmer has a plan of her own, to kill the Guide, Ti-Bish, and stop the war against the Sunpath people. But when she surrenders herself to the Nightpath warriors to save the Lame Bull people, will she be able to go through with her plan?

Back in the lands of the Lame Bull people, the leader's grandson, Silvertip, has been hearing the voice of the Wolf Bundle calling to him. But to become a dreamer and save all the peoples, he must first die, and that scares him beyond anything he has ever known. Can he bow to the demands of power and find the beloved of Raven Hunter, with whom he is fated to lead both their peoples into the new world they will find past the cataclysm?

I enjoyed this book, as the Gears make their paleolithic world come alive. The story is framed by two paleoarchaeologists discovering the remains of those killed in the cataclysm, and wondering how anybody could have survived such a disaster. Once we are into the story, we are subsumed into the fears, hopes and desires of the main protagonists, and also with those who stand against them as enemies. Nashat, especially, as he is using Ti-Bish's vision as an excuse to slaughter the Sunpath people and take their more fertile lands for the Nightland people. But he also hopes to wipe out the people of the Lame Bull, and the Buffalo and South Wind people, too. He will then declare the Guide's vision to be changed, and take over all the lands, with himself as arbiter and interpreter of the guide's wishes.

Ti-Bish, meanwhile, spends most of his time in isolation, and so doesn't know the slaughter and brutality being comitted in his name. But his vision of the coming cataclysm is true, even if he, himself, will not live to see it happen. The way the story immerses you in the problems and personalities of the people is wonderful, and the story just flies along, carrying you with it. This book took me about a day to read, but it was a most enjoyable experience.

The Empire of Fear by Brian Stableford

This alternate universe tale is set in the 17th century of an England that is much changed from the England we knew. During the Crusades, King Richard of England did more than bring home debts with him, he also brought home a case of vampirism, and being homosexual, quickly passed it around to his circle of lovers, who passed it on to still more nobles. Now, 500 years later, the lives of ordinary humans are worth little, and Europe has come to a virtual standstill in progress, since the vampires who rule the countries don't like or want things to change.

Into this world comes Edmund Cordery, a scholar who is part of a cabal of ordinary humans who want to overthrow the vampires and return humans to their former equal and superior state. But when his tainted blood kills King Edward's mistress, he is put to death, and he passes on his mission to his son, Noell. To complete this mission, he and his compatriots, including a monk named Quintus, a pirate named Langoisse and his mistress Leilah, must track down the source of the vampires and learn their secrets, a trip that will take them through Europe, the Holy Land, and finally to darkest Africa. Because in this world, where both Attila the Hun and the Pope are vampires, the condition is not passed on through a bite on the neck. In fact, its manner of transmission is one of the very secrets that Edmund and his party must uncover.

But the story doesn't end there. Once they have discovered the source of vampirism, the question becomes, can the companions keep from seizing the information and power for themselves, and thereby become the very thing they hate and tried to fight in the first place? But Noell Cordery gets both more and less out of the trip than he was searching for... he cannot become a vampire because he is somehow immune to the condition and therefore becomes no more than a powerless adjunct to his companions, who have no such immunities, whereas before he was the one leading the expedition.

The epilogue of the book carries us forward another three hundred years, to modern times, where the fight against the vampires continues, and a member of the expedition takes on another role to a crippled human who has a surprising link to Noell Cordery...

This is not a sparkling, gripping, fast-paced tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It's slow. It grinds. It's academic and scholarly in the worst of ways, with all that implies. It's not even really about Vampirism, but about ideas, and their transmission and how it is blocked by the people in power. Vampirism is only the framing device that sets the tale on its way.

Even though lots of action-y things are happening in the story, like wars and sieges and conflict and duels, the writer writes them all in the same slow, pedantic, boring way. I mean some of the battles are actually turgid! The story is not only set in the 17th century, it seems to be written in the same literary style as that era, which is very creaking and ponderous to modern sensibilites. However, if you can stick with it past the boring and dull parts, and god knows they abound in this book, a light goes on in your mind as the impact of the story comes to you.

I recommend this book despite the fact that it can easily be used in lieu of sleeping pills for wired caffeine drinkers, but for the ideas rather than the story and framing device (Vampires). Anne Rice lovers need not apply, and you will not find these vampires to be typical vampires. So, be warned.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Full Metal Panic Volume 01 by Shouji Gatou and Retsu Tateo

Kaname Chidori is your typical high school student: beautiful, popular and confident. But according to a terrorist group, she possesses the powers of people known as "The Whispered" and they are therefore out to kidnap her and bring her mysterious abilities on their side.

To prevent this possibility, the anti-terrorist organization known as MITHRIL assigns Kaname a protector; the Japaneae teenager trained in the terrorist camps of Afghanistan, Sosuke Sagara. He's young enough to pass for a high-school student, and possesses enough weapons training and know-how to be the perfect protector for her. Well, it looks that way on paper, at least.

Because Sosuke was trained in Afghanistan and in a camp which trained freedom fighters, he doesn't know the slightest thing about Japanese culture or how to fit in to a typical Japanese high school. Kaname is assigned to show him around the school, but his penchant for bursting in on her when she's half-dressed, or when he goes around blowing up the school shoe cabinet because someone might have tampered with Kaname's shoes quickly gets on her nerves.

But when she ditches Sosuke to meet an admirer whose admiration turns to rage when she politely lets him down, she is attacked by other men who think she believes she is too good for them. Here, she regrets ditching Sosuke, but is saved from the men by... none other than Sosuke, firing a gun filled with rubber riot-suppression bullets. But because she has told him off for following him around, he leaves once he has rescued her, citing her not wanting to see him. The next day, she hands him a bento box she made herself and says she won't mind seeing him today, all in thanks for his rescue.

After this, they get thrown together more often, and do work for the headmaster that has Sosuke facing off against a veritable army of ne'er do wells and gang members. Sosuke only escapes through his usual lightning-fast reflexes and the application of quantities of high explosives.

Finally, when Sosuke pisses off the gym teacher by firing a gun during lunch, the teacher decides to get back at him by sabotaging the lunch when Sosuke and Kaname are assigned to make and guard it. He doesn't count on Sosuke's military ordinance when it comes to protecting the buns that are due to be served at lunch, and the score ends up at Sosuke 3, Gym Teacher 0 before the gym teacher resigns from the stress.

And then, worried by more reports of danger to Kaname, MITHRIL assigns another officer, the smooth ladies' man Kurz, to protect Kaname along with Sosuke. But can they get along together without completely pissing her off and causing her to reject both of them?

I like this series, and I am glad I read it before I picked up its more comedic cousin, Full Metal Panic Overload, as I like the more serious story better. Make no mistake, there is still plenty of comedy in the series, mostly around the fish-out-of -water Sosuke's attempts to fit into Kaname's High School, but it's more restrained.

Kaname comes off pretty well, being a mostly level-headed young woman who has something of an explosive temper where Sosuke is concerned, but who can see that he is protecting her, and does his duty, even if he's extremely gung-ho and over the top about it. Sosuke is waay out of his depth in Japanese High School, and tends to overdo the military solutions to problems he encounters, but you do start to feel something for him, especially when you see the hurt he feels when he is sure that Kaname hates him.

This leads to Kaname eventually coming to care for Sosuke deeply later in the series, but for now we can see that he does care about her. If he didn't care, he wouldn't give a fig that she didn't like him, he'd still do his duty. That he's worried about the possibility presages a romantic relationship somewhere further down the line, but given that Sosuke at this point wouldn't know an emotional response if it walked up, introduced itself to him and whacked his brains out with the 2 ton comedy hammer, he has a lot further to go to make him ready for a relationship than she does.

I've read the first 8 books of this series, and want to look up the other series to acquire, but reading this book again brought back the things I liked about the books: the mystery of who and what the whispered are, the relationship between Sosuke and Kaname, and the relationships between Sosuke and his fellow officers in Mithril. I look forward to getting and re-reading the other books in the series.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tsubasa Character Guide by Clamp

For those already interested in the Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle story, there is available this volume, which explores in more detail the main characters, some of the side characters, the worlds and the stories in the first 9 to 10 volumes of the series. Also included are pictures of the merchandise available in Japan at the time of this volume's release, and an extensive "Fan's Corner", with the results of various polls and questions asked of the fans, interviews with members of CLAMP, creators of the series, and a series of unanswered questions that may impact the story later in the series, such as "Why doesn't Fai use his magic?" and "What is the real reason Tomoko sent Kurogane on this journey?" Some, of course, have been answered, such as "Who are the vampires that Seishiro is chasing?" and "What is the secret power of Sakura's?"

The book ends up with drawings of the characters- from their first tentative incarnations to their finished looks that were incorporated into the manga, and a series of sample pages (with dialogue in English) of a rough-drawn version of the manga from the very first volume, with Syaoran and Sakura visiting the newly uncovered ruins in the Kingdom of Clow and Sakura's memories becoming feathers and being ripped away.

This book is packed with stuff, although some of it seemed less than interesting to me, such as the poll questions, like "Which couple do you think is the cutest?", since all the answers seemed to be taken from the Japanese fans, and not American fans. American fans and American Manga Magazines in particular don't seem to do these sorts of polls, but maybe the American fans don't do it because the magazines don't. In any case, it just added to the Fluff content of the book. Now, I don't mind fluff, as you can see from some of my other reviews, but I thought these particular bits of fluff were particularly pointless and not really needed.

Mostly, the book was worth the money, except for the large parts of fan poll results in the back. Also, the merchandise section was repeated in color images and then in black and white. I felt the B&W merchandise, since it's exactly the same as the color section, could be excised without losing anything, but obviously I wasn't consulted on that. ::Grin.::

So, in short, I think this could have been a shorter, lighter book without losing anything too interesting, as it is, there is a high fluff to solid material content. YMMV, of course.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Vampire Doll Guilt-Na-Zan Volume 5

Guilt-Na-Zan was a vampire, imprisoned in an iron cross hundreds of years ago by a famous ancestor of Kyoji. Kyoji, in need of a servant for the house, resurrected the vampire's spirit inside of a doll of wax, which he brought to life with his occult knowledge. Now, Guilt-Na-Zan acts as a menial servant to Kyoji and his sister, Tonae, and can only regain his former vampire body by drinking a tiny bit of Tonae's blood.

To distinguish between the vampire form and his new form, he is called Guilt-Na or Guilt-Na-Chan in his tiny girl wax-body form, and his full name in his male vampire form. Along with Tonae and Kyoji, Guilt-Na shares a house with Vincent, Guilt-Na-Zan's servant, a somewhat dim-witted bat who is nonetheless completely loyal to his former master, but has a hard time being threatening, menacing or scary. Another character, Dune, is a demon who absorbed negative emotions, who had hunted Guilt-Na-Zan, but has now become a teacher at the school where Tonae attends.

In this volume, Guilt-Na must take Tonae's place when Kyoji senses a new threat to her at the school. One of the girls, Moegi, has been acting strange, and when Dune collapses, he realizes that Moegi is the cause. She has a fallen Shinigami attatched to her, and the Shinigami, for some reason, is seeking Guilt-Na-Zan. But while Guilt-Na, Kyoji and Tonae seek to know why this fallen Shinigami is looking for Guilt-Na-Zan, Dune realizes that he knows the being, and it is he who must save the Shinigami from his fallen state, which he got into by helping Moegi to live and grow strong when she was sickly as a child. For interfering in the life of another, even though it was a good act, the Shinigami fell. But can Dune help his former friend to regain his Shinigami status?

This was an intriguing volume, but flawed in many ways. By getting away from the former storyline of the manga and introducing so many new characters, the story is weakening itself. Perhaps it is just me, but the manga just seems to be marking time. I am more interested in the status of Guilt-Na-Zan and his interactions with Tonae and Kyoji than in the other characters being introduced. In short, the story is fluff without substance, and I find myself not appreciating it any more. I may read the other volumes, but it is going to be hard to convince myself into buying them when the story is "Ooh! Look! Another shiny character!" I am hoping this gets better soon and doesn't become a jump the shark moment.

Dorling Kindersley Transformers- The Ultimate Guide by Simon Furman

Most people will remember the Transformers from the Toy line and Saturday Morning Cartoon that eventually became the big budget movie from Michael Bay. But there was more than one series of the Transformers, and the big-budget, live-action movie wasn't the first attempt to revive the franchise, and the series has seen the change of characters from both the Autobot and Decepticon side. Megatron, for example, went from a gun to a tank and several other changes,including becoming an actual planet at one point, while Optimus Prime remained essentially the same, going from being a semi-truck to a more complicated semi-truck, and has died and been rebuilt or revived more than once.

The greatest changes were to Hot Rod, who went from a simple autobot to the leader known as Rodimus Prime after Optimus Prime died the first time and was given the spark of Leadership by Optimus.

And then of course there were the Beast Wars Transformers, who may or may not have had something to do with the regular transformers line, and whose "Optimus Primal" merely adopted that name in a homage to the original Optimus Prime (understanding the timelines is involved here otherwise, it is massively confusing, and even then, I am still not sure I get it).

Each iteration and season is covered in exhaustive detail, such as when the Beast Wars Maximals and Predacons became the Transmetals and/or Fuzors. Also covered are the American and English versions of the comic, and the Dreamwave Comic series.

If you liked the Transformers movie by Michael Bay and want to learn more about the 1980's cartoon series and toys that led to this becoming a comic, you can do no better than this book. Or if you just wanted to relive the toys you played with as a young sprog, the same goes here. This book, of large page size, but small page numbers, will go far to bringing back memories of that series and time, and let you remember the storylines in both comics and Tv series and movies as well.

The DK (Dorling Kindersley) series of books are always chock-full of information, and this is no exception. For a book that gives both an exhaustive overview and many, many details, this book shines as an example of how to do it. And for making you remember your youth, you can't beat it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle Volume 18 by CLAMP

Now that Sakura has returned with the payment for the water, Yuuho tells her the true story of who stole her memories and the man behind the double of Syaoran. It is the story of Fei-Wang Reed, who stole Sakura's memories precisely to scatter them across many universes. For if he could induce her to travel to them to retrieve them, her body would be a repository for the memories of the worlds she had travelled to, allowing him to travel there himself, which would otherwise take much more magical power than he has.

Not only did he manipulate the fate of Sakura and the false Syaoran, but he manipulated events around Fai and Kurogane, as well. He was the one who killed Kurogane's parents and instilled in him a lust to be the best so that he could find the one who killed his parents and beat the person responsible. And as for Fai, he manipulated events so that Fai would wish to leave his world and make the journey. But if they refuse to do Fei-Wang Reed's bidding, he would be foiled.

But Sakura wishes to travel on. All of them do. Sakura wishes to return Syaoran's heart to him, and the others to have their revenge on the man who has put them in this situation, or because they wish to protect Sakura. And so they continue on. Sakura leaves one of her memory-feathers behind to protect the only pure source of water in the world, and the inhabitants make an effort to clean up so that when she is successful, she can return one day and reclaim the memories in that feather.

The next world they travel to is named Infinity, and in it, there are a series of competitions of a chess-like game for a prize of money. Sakura enters them into the competition, but the Mafia control the game, and will do anything to ensure that Sakura fails to win, including cheating via magical or poisoned weapons.

Because it is her will that allows the others, her "pieces" to compete, if they can break her will, she will become much less effective at the game, and her pieces will fall to opposing players. But why is she risking so much to enter the competition, and what will happen when Fai's dreaded King awakes at last from his enchanted sleep?

I found this a fascinating volume, although it seemed more of a transitional story than a complete work. There are plenty of transitions here: from the world of ruined Tokyo to the World of Infinity, the transition of the quest of Syaoran to restore the memory of Sakura to the Quest of Sakura to restore the heart of the false Syaoran, and the start of the quest to deny the wishes of the man behind it all, Fei-Wang Reed.

In addition to all these external transitions, the characters make some as well. Fai has both lost an eye and become a vampire, and must deal with the additional needs this places upon him. Kurogane has become the only human that Fai can drink from, and Sakura must change from being a mere background player to being a leader. The true Syaoran, too, must find a way to fit himself into the group, knowing that the loss of his false clone is weighing heavily on the others.

And yet, this has only ramped up my interest in the series, and I want to read the following volumes even more now. Things have come so far, and there is so far still to go. I want to be there for the full ride.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Is It a Date or Just Coffee? by Mo Brownsey

Most heterosexual couples find it easy to tell a date from a non-date, and apparently, so do homosexual men. But homosexual women can have a hard time deciding if what they are on is a date, or just coffee.

Well, comedian and Lesbian Mo Brownsey is here to come to your aid with this book, subtitled "the gay girl's guide to dating, sex and romance". Included in her discussion of love, romance, sex and relationships are amusing lists that are also true, such as "The ten things you don't want to hear on a first date", one of which being the words "restraining order" in any context...

First, of course, you must consider whether you are really ready to date, and Mo includes a quiz in the front of the book for determining just that. Once there, she goes over the pitfalls, pratfalls and disasters of dating other girls. One being that unless you live in a major city and go to different bars a lot, you are going to run into the exes or exes of exes of people you have already dated. And yes, they will talk about you. Since there are so few lesbians (somewhere around 5% of the population, according to her) lesbians run into this problem most frequently.

And there are other pitfalls on the road ahead. Dating inside or outside your own age bracket, Long Distance Dating... and so on. And that doesn't even cover having to decide if you are butch, butchy, femme, femme-y or somewhere in between. (Although according to a friend of mine who is a lesbian, that isn't so much of a concern any more.)

This was an interesting look at dating from a point of view of a lesbian. Though not inclined that way myself (I am entirely too interested in men to be either lesbian or bisexual), this was a cute, funny book that seems to cover the ground well, and provided tons of laughs, to boot. In addition to discussing things in a third-person kind of way, Mo Brownsley brings a lot of her own dating history to the table, and reveals all in the way you'd tell your girlfriends after one-too-many drinks at a party in your own place.

So, while I'm completely ignorant of what it's like to be a lesbian, I really can recommend this book as at least something funny that imparts wisdom along with laughter. Yes, I'd recommend it, for the funny at least.

One Piece Volume 18: Ace Arrives by Eiichiro Oda

On the way to Alabasta, Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates are starving. Not only did they eat up all of the food Sanji had put on board to feed them in the party for Tony Tony Chopper, but then he ate all the bait they were using to catch fish.

However, they soon pick up a floater, Mr. Two, Bon Clay, who has eaten the Clone-Clone fruit and is able to imitate anyone perfectly with a simple wave of his hand. As he waits for his own band of pirates to pick him up, he does a little show for them, imitating them with the powers given to him by the Clone-Clone Devil Fruit. It is only as he is leaving that they discover that he is Mr. 2. And thanks to his powers, he can be any of them, as his powers last forever. And, as Vivi reveals, one of the faces he showed them was that of her father, the King. If he impersonated the King, he could do untold amounts of damage.

On their journey they also see the ships of Baroque Works heading for Alabasta, crewed by the underlings of the top agents. But Zolo says to forget them, and remember the bigger picture. They don't need to fight all of Baroque works, just their top agents. He also comes up with an idea to tell each other apart if Mr. Two should impersonate them. They each tie strips of cloth to their forearms so they will be able to tell if they are the "real ones".

They tie up at the dock, and Luffy goes running off to find some food. Meanwhile, the man who wanted to see him, Portgaz D. Ace, has attracted the attention of the local law by passing out in his food at a restauant/bar. He was so still, the owner thought he was dead, having eaten a strawberry spider, a piece of local wildlife that doesn't kill you for a few days, and then you keel over suddenly. But Ace isn't dead, he was merely sleeping. Ace is confronted by a man named Captain Smoker, but their confrontation is interrupted by Luffy, who eats up a lot of food at the restaurant. When he, too, is confronted by Smoker, who he has fought before, he runs off. Ace recognizes Luffy and follows.

Meanwhile, Sanji and the others have stocked up on food and outfits for the desert. Nami and Vivi are dressed like dancers, and the men are dressed like thieves. Chopper isn't too happy, as the perfumes of Alabasta are overwhelming his sensitive nose. But they are surprised when Luffy inadvertantly leads Smoker to the rest of the crew. But Luffy and the others are saved by Ace, who turns out to be Luffy's older brother, now a member of Whitebeard's crew. He also ate a devil fruit, and has fire-based powers from the flame-flame fruit.

After asking after Luffy and fighting the navy men chasing them, Ace gives Luffy a blank piece of paper and tells him to hold onto it... someday, it will lead Luffy to him. Luffy thanks him and has Vivi sew the paper into the band of his hat. Meanwhile, the top agents of Baroque works meet at the Spiders Cafe, which, unbeknownst to them, is owned by Ms. Doublefinger, the partner of Mr. 1. Tonight, they will all finally meet their boss, Mr. Zero, whom none of them have met before.

Luffy and the rest travel to Luba, a formerly thriving town in the desert dried up by an overuse of rain powder elsewhere. The rain has to come from somewhere, so when the powder was dumped in the capital, the rest of the country became a desert. They are in Luba to meet the head of the rebels, a man named Kozo. But on the way there, their food supplies are stolen by Evil Herons, and they are attacked by a desert dragon. Luffy defeats it, and they eat it. But Luffy eats some crazy cactus along with his dragon meat, and goes wild until Chopper sedates him.

They walk into Luba and meet the last inhabitant, Toh Toh, who just so happens to be Kozo's father, and Vivi's old friend. Vivi relives her meeting with Kozo, and Toh Toh tells her that the rebels have moved to Katorea. Vivi wants to stop the rebels, but after a night spent in Yuba, Luffy refuses to go on. Why contact the rebels? Why not just fight Baroque Works? If they do that, all the problems they caused in Alabasta will be over. The others think that despite Luffy being a fool, he has a point. So they abandon their mission to talk to the rebels and go after Baroque Works instead.

And at the meeting of Baroque works, Mr. Two Bon Clay realizes he knows the Straw Hat Pirates that are endangering Baroque Works' mission, and he says he will take care of them. Mr Three disputes that, but pisses off the leader, Mr. Zero, who drains most of the water from his body and drops him into an Aquarium for the Bananagators to feed on, which are huge 100'+ long alligators. Soon though, the Straw Hat Pirates will cease to be a problem...

This book was a little darker, but still mainly fluff and humor. And still amusing. The Straw Hat Pirates seem to spend as much time arguing with each other as they do fighting enemies or tracking down Baroque Works. But even most of Baroque Works are humor fodder, and the names... As you can tell, the men are named after numbers, but the women are named after holidays. (Ms. Doublefingers being 1/1 or New Year's Day). I am still interested and still reading, although this book wasn't as comic as the one before.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

One Piece Volume 17: Hiriluk's Cherry Blossoms by Eiichiro Oda

The fight at the castle on Drum Island continues, and the former King of Drum Island, Wapol, wants his castle back. As Luffy mocks them, Wapol becomes incensed and vows to destroy the Straw Hat Pirate Gang.

As Luffy goes for warm clothes, Tony Tony Chopper, the blue-nosed reindeer, asks Sanji about Luffy. Sanji tells him that Luffy is a monster, a rubber man, and Tony Tony Chopper, who also thinks of himself as a monster, is inspired to fight Hiriluk in the name of Luffy and Tony Tony's mentor, Dr. Hiriluk. But one of Wapol's men fires hairballs at Sanji that stick to him like glue. Even Tony Tony can't pull them off, but before Kuromarimo can do so, Luffy comes back and Sanji fires him at Wapol. Wapol's men come to his aid, but Wapol is even more angry now. He decides to unleash the power of the Munch Munch Factory.

What is the power of the Munch Munch Factory? Simple. Anything Wapol can eat or consume, he can make his body into. And as he has eaten cannons, a bomb and a house today, he turns himself house-shaped, with cannons for arms. He then eats his men and combines them into one, Cheesmarimo! He then fires on the pirate flag flying from the top of the castle, saying it is undignified and ruins the look of the castle. But Luffy won't let him get away with defiling the pirate flag, and the battle is joined.

Meanwhile, back in the village, Dalton's life is saved by an army of doctors formerly imprisoned on Wapol's ship. Usopp agrees to carry Dalton to the castle on his back, but he's too weak, so Zolo carries him instead. Meanwhile, Wapol tells Tony Tony that he's a freak who has no friends, but Luffy disagrees. *He* is Tony Tony's friend. Wapol fires on Luffy, but since Luffy is made of rubber, he's only dinged a little.

Tony Tony eats a rumble ball. As a Devil fruit eater himself, he is normally limited to three changes in form. With the aid of the rumble balls, however, he has seven, and he takes down Chessmarimo in only three minutes, as long as the rumble ball lasts. In the ensuing chaos, however, Wapol has gotten inside the castle, where Nami is recovering from her fever.

Luffy follows him, and an enormous fight ensues that ends with Luffy Gum Gum Bazookaing Wapol so far and fast across the sky that he resembles no more than a speck. Then the others arrive at the castle, and when Usopp sees Tony Tony, he thinks the blue-nosed reindeer is a monster, so Tony Tony hides and won't come out despite Luffy doing his best to recruit Tony Tony. Finally, as they are getting ready to leave, Tony Tony approaches Dr. Kureha, and says he made his decision- he is going with them to be a pirate. But Dr. Kureha refuses to let him go, which only makes Tony Tony more determined. Eventually, he flees the castle in reindeer form, and brings the others down the mountain on his sleigh.

Then it turns out that Dr. Kureha only drove him off because she hates sentimental goodbyes. As a farewell to the pirates, she shoots a special powder into the air that will turn the snowflakes pink, making them look like cherry blossom petals. As the pirates sail away, they are treated to the beautiful sight, and Luffy throws a party to welcome Tony Tony to the crew. But one of the doctor's men reveals that Luffy is being searched for by a man in black named Ace, and that if Luffy wanted to see him, he should go to Alabasta in ten days, and the man, whose name is Ace, will be waiting for him.

Meanwhile, in Nanohana, Sir Crocodile, one of the seven lords of the sea and the leader of Baroque works, saves Alabasta from another pirate gang set to plunder. Though Sir Crocodile is really a pirate himself, he masquerades as Lord who hates pirates and fights them, gaining the people's love. But he is also Mr. Zero, who is the president of Baroque works, and his vice-president is his associate, Mrs. All Sunday. He has also indebted the king, Nefeltari Cobra, Princess Vivi's father and the King of Alabasta, to him. And since the goal of Baroque Works is the takeover of Alabasta, soon all the agents will be coming together. Luffy wants to fight him, so they make for Alabasta as quickly as they can.

I like this series. It's fluff, but it's *entertaining* fluff. You can never take Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates too seriously, even in the middle of a fight or because of their sad backgrounds. Luffy spends a lot of his time acting like an idiot and indulging in the favorite pasttime of many comedic manga characters: eating and drinking. Even the battle scenes aren't very intense because of the very comedic-ness of the saga.

But it does make me smile and chuckle, so I will continue to read it... it's just not worth buying the books at $10 a pop. I'll simply read it from my library, for free. If you like comedic manga with an overarching storyline and aren't satisfied by one page gags, this might be your speed. Liking pirates is a plus, although it helps to forget that pirates generally preyed on the helpless, as Luffy's targets seem to be other pirates, most often. In fact, to read this book, it helps to discard a lot of your previous ideas about pirates, but the resulting laughter is well worth the trouble.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Shaman King Volume 17 by Hiroyuki Takei

Yoh shares with the others on his team the story of Hao and why Hao has come back now. He also reveals that Hao is the strongest Shaman at the fight and will definitely win. Yoh is still going to fight him, however, because what comes after the Shaman fight will make the difference.

But as soon as he is finished and leaves, Tao Ren, Joco and Horohoro are attacked by a mysterious man in a mask who turns out to be... Yoh's Dad? He offers the trio the knowledge of a technique that could increase their power exponentially... but first they must fight. Tao Ren refuses to ask for the technique. Instead, he tells Mikihisa Asakura that he will take the technique from his dead body, or while they are fighting.

And indeed, he does manage to learn the technique (Ultra Senju Ryakketsu) despite being smashed down by Mikihisa quite a few times. He isn't able to defeat Mikihisa, but he does pass out afterwards. Mikihisa's battle might have disqualified him for participation in the Shaman fight, as the time for him to come and fight in the ring is now. But when Joco, Horohoro and Tao Ren are attacked by the Tecolote team, who are now fighting for Hao. Mikihisa is willing to forfeit the match to save them, but they tell him to go. Tao Ren is confident that he can beat La Tecolote, who have already been defeated by Yoh's team.

But the Tecolote team have been empowered by Hao, and as they fight, they reveal to Joco and Horohoro the power of numbers: as people grow up, they accept the limits on their power, but while they are young, determination can do much. So even if their Mana is only 2,000 and Hao's is over 10,000, it is still possible that they could win, simply if they believe in themselves. But they are shocked, and are about to fall when Yoh steps in. But can he beat the entire Tecolote team by himself? And can Mikihisa's team defeat the Mariachi team and advance?

This was an unusual volume. It still has lots of fighting, but the idea that young children are stronger precisely because they *don't* know their limits was not a new one to me, as it also comes out in the "Young Wizards" series by Diane Duane. It also mixed in the idea that we accept, over time, what people tell us about ourselves. If someone keeps telling you that you are worthless, you will eventually come to believe it.

Strange as it was for all the fighting, I actually liked this volume of the manga, which was more about believing in yourself to be able to pass what you think are your limits, in the way that most people don't think they will be able to do something or get through something until they actually live through it or do it. Yes, there was fighting, but it was about more than that. And it made me want to pick up the next volume, also. Amazing.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

To Wed a Wicked Prince by Jane Feather

Livia Lacey is one of three spinsters who shared a house together in Cavendish Square. The house was bequeathed to her by her relative, Sophia Lacey. She lived their with her friends Nell and Aurelia. When Nell got married, she left Livia and Aurelia to live together while she went off to the wilds of Scotland to honeymoon with her new husband and children.

Livia meets Prince Alexander Prokov at a party when he tips her dancing partner into the fountain, and claims the man's dance in his place. Livia is somewhat swept off her feet by the charming and forceful Prince, and his zest for life disarms her. Even though he is given to overextravagant gestures towards her, she finds him more compelling than anything else.

As for Alex, he is struck by Livia the moment he sees her. But he has something on his mind in addition to romance. For Alex is a spy, in England on behalf of Russia, with whom England is at war, and he needs a wife who is well-connected at court so that he can keep the Tsar apprised of what is going on there. But as he pulls out all the stops in his pursuit of a woman who he finds very personally appealing as well as necessary, he finds himself baffled when she finds his gifts much too extravangant and turns them down.

Alex is flabbergasted at the thought of a woman who *isn't* flattered to be given massive amounts of flowers, a beautiful, spirited horse, or jewelry. But he wants her, and he'll do anything to get her. But when he finally asks her to marry him, she is conflicted, but agrees.

After they are married, however, she quickly finds that his confident and autocratic ways become more overbearing than loving. He won't allow her to meet his Russian friends, and he snaps at her when she comes in without knocking. Also, they have moved into her house, but she finds out that it was really never hers. Her relative that she inherited it from was only given the house in her own lifetime, and she never had the right to pass it on to Livia. When she finds out that Alex kept this a secret from her because he didn't want her to feel obligated towards him, she ends up loving him more. But Alex's other secret could imperil more than their marriage, it could imperil both their lives!

But when the Russian secret police kidnap Alex to take him back to Russia, it will be up to Livia to get him back and make sure she wants to stay married to him for the rest of their lives.

I had a hard time liking Alex at first, as the way he so coldly plans out his method for wooing her made me dislike him a lot. He had already selected her ahead of time, and he planned and mounted his campaign like that of a military campaign. The fact that he didn't even care about Livia's feelings annoyed me and made me think of him as a user. I had a hard time giving up that image of him, and after the marriage, even when it's clear he loves her, he's still manipulating her. As a result, I never felt he deserved the heroine. I felt she deserved better, even if they loved each other.

The book was otherwise okay. The writing was clear and easy to read, and the characters were memorable, but I could never get behind the romance with Alex because of the whole "lying to her, over and over" thing. Normally, I love Jane Feather's romances, but this one just didn't appeal to me at all.

Star Wars Legacy, Volume 3: Claws of the Dragon by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema

Cade Skywalker returns to Coruscant, having taken some more training at the Jedi temple, and with his old Masters. His job this time is to infiltrate the Sith Temple, built on the site of the former Jedi temple. There, he goes to try and free his comrades, Jariah Syn and Delilah Blue, both captives of the Sith. The Sith want to turn Cade to the Dark Side, and having a descendant of the hated Luke Skywalker on their side would be a tremendous boost in power, and prestige.

To save his former comrades, Cade is forced to heal them from infected Yuuzhan Vong coral seeds, and when he proves capable of doing so, he is offered entry into the Dark Side Sith, especially when Darth Krayt reveals to him that he is using the Dark Side to heal, tapping into his anger and rage. Darth Krayt also reveals to Cade that he, himself, was once a Jedi and knows that Cade is going through and revealing. As he tells Cade how he went from being a Jedi to a mercenary, and then to a Sith, Cade's friends and enemies are working to get him out of his imprisonment in the temple.

Syn and Blue are trying to get support from Coruscant's underworld, but are having little luck. The Imperials Grand Moff Venn and his lover Nyna Calixte are concerned about the Sith having too much power, and with Cade Skywalker in their hands, no longer needing Venn or Nyna. So, Venn hires Morrigan Corrde, unknown to all as Cade's mother, to break Cade out of Sith control.

Morrigan asks for several bugs she can use to infiltrate the temple... actual bugs, as it turns out, crafted in the shaping plants of the Yuuzhan Vong, and she joins up with Syn and Blue, revealing her connection to their friend to help allay their suspicions. For her plan to succeed, they must work together, and have patience. But neither Syn nor Blue is any great one for patience, and if they move too quickly, their plans will come to naught. The conspirators nearly come to blows before they can work out their differences.

Meanwhile, in the Sith temple, Dark Krayt and the other Sith teach Cade. But unlike the Jedi temple, their teaching is as much about backstabbing and treachery as the Dark Side of the Force. Darth Krayt reveals to one of his subordinates exactly why he wants Cade as a Sith, even though he knows Cade is just shamming right now: he is dying, and he needs Cade to heal him. But when he reveals this to Cade, Cade says he cannot heal Darth Krayt just yet. The way he sees injuries are as red lines, and when he untangles the lines, the person is healed. But Krayt's red lines are too tangled for him to know how to undo... yet.

Krayt tries to get Cade to work around it, but Cade is simply unable to, but when Cade later tries to escape, Darth Krayt attempts to send Cade firmly to the Dark Side by having him kill one of the last of the Jedi. Cade doesn't want to kill anyone. He's had enough of people dying because of him. But when Krayt tries to force him, the Sith ends up killing the Jedi himself. Cade is enraged, but recieves a vision of his father, Kol, telling him that which heals can also break.

Krayt has Cade's father's lightsaber encased in transparisteel as a trophy and a tribute to the Jedi whom Krayt slew. Cade's touch shatters the block of transparisteel and frees the lightsaber, fighting against the Sith, He resists the Dark Side because they *want* him to give into it, and he begins an escape that ties into the plans of his friends and his mother. But when he is trapped in the Jedi temple with only a drop of thousands of feet as an escape, will Cade sacrifice himself to keep the Sith from killing him? And can his friends save him from the drop and bring him home?

As the book ends, Nyna and Venn talk over how best to explain them pulling their Imperial Fighters away from the action at the temple, and we get to see a very personal reason why Nyna didn't want Cade to fall victim to the Sith. What does this mean for Cade, and his mother, Morrigan Corrde. What connection does Nyna Calixte have to their family? And will she save them or betray them in the end?

I liked this book. Cade is not what you'd think of as a hero. He's much too self-absorbed and self-pitying, blaming problems he made for himself as being due to his famous bloodline. But he's not a bad guy and it was so very interesting pretending to be a Sith while planning to spike them all in the end. It's as if he's a force for pure chaos that cannot be controlled unless he chooses to be controlled, and even then, he has a plan to get revenge on those who would force him to follow a path he hasn't chosen to follow on his own.

I cheered for Cade at the end, when he was fighting the Sith, even if I couldn't cheer for him through the earlier parts of the book. Since we aren't privy to his inner thoughts, we must take him at face value when he pretends to be joining the Sith, and that was a somewhat uncomfortable part of the book to read, as we can't tell whether or not he means it, except when the other Sith say he is trying to decieve them... and failing. I was also afraid that the ploys the Sith were using to try and control him would be successful.

This is a great graphic novel, and the very uncertainty about Cade and his motivations is what makes it so great to read. It keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what is going on with him and if the Sith have enough guile to truly turn him. Not only did I like it, I am eagerly waiting to see more!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

World War Hulk: Front Line by Jenkins, Bachs, Martinbrough and David

This graphic novel collects two stories of World War Hulk, a short piece called "Worldbreaker", where the Hulk and his warband are travelling back to Earth on their mission to take vengeance on those who hurt their world and destroyed the Hulk's wife, Caiera and their child. The Hulk's fury threatens to overwhelm him, and he nearly destroys one of them while battling the phantoms of those who took his life away from him. It is up to one of his bonded to calm him down and present a plan to take vengeance on the heroes of the Earth and Black Bolt of the Inhumans. Meanwhile, on Earth, Doc Samson tries to convince Jennifer Banner, Bruce's cousin, lawyer and formerly known as the She-Hulk, to support the heroes who want to banish or find another way to deal with the Hulk once again. But she thinks Bruce has been badly served by the other heroes, and has no intention of helping them throw him away once more. At the end, some connection lets her know that Bruce, now the Hulk, is coming, and he is pissed.

The rest of the Story involves two reporters, Ben Urich and Sally Floyd, and their efforts to start their own paper in defiance of their former boss, J. Jonah Jameson. They quickly gain critical acclaim for their stories, but it isn't until they are given a ton of money in the middle of the night from a man in the shadows that they are able to make a truly successful go of their paper.

Then, the Hulk returns from outer space, and both Ben and Sally are on the ground, covering the story while trying to remain alive and unharmed in the chaos that follows. They are there for the first appearance of the ship, and for much of the chaos that follows. But even though they are reporters following a story, they are also human beings, and are affected by what happens. Both of them try to get their loved ones out of the city when it is evacuated, and neither of them gets much sleep. Sally, an alcoholic, starts to drink again, and meet J. Jonah Jameson in a bar, where he taunts her about the paper and her status.

Meanwhile, Homicide Detective Danny Grantville, Sally's lover, tries to solve the murder of one of the aliens, an AI named Arch-E5912. What he doesn't realize, is that, in agreeing to track down the murderer, he has agreed to give up his life, along with an alien named Korg, who is working with him and will be his partner, if the killer cannot be found. Can he find the killer and save himself?

And Sally must decide what is more important... drinking, or her job. But an argument with her partner, Ben, leads her to a stunning realization about who and what is behind the money they were given to buy their newspaper. But can she level with Ben about the truth?

I liked this graphic novel, which was a nice "slice of life" from characters who weren't Superheroes, and yet had to deal with the fallout of World War Hulk. Seeing the heroes fight for the people, some of whom wanted nothing to do with them, was awesome, as the "adoring crowds of normals cheering the superheroes" gets rather old very quickly. But because we got to see a lot of this in the "World War Hulk" storyline, we didn't get up close and personal with Hulk forcing the Superheroes to fight each other, or many of the battles at all. Instead, we see what happens around the edges of the fighting, and what happens to the people who now have to rebuild their lives and homes in the aftermath.

A great book showing what it would really be like to live in Manhattan during the events of World War Hulk. But given the amount of carnage the city goes through like this on a regular basis, I'm surprised that certain areas, like "Hell's Kitchen", where Daredevil patrols, haven't been bulldozed in the name of urban renewal, and that the city looks as much like the real New York as it still does. Do they rebuild everything to look exactly the same? How can they, when so much of New York is old buildings?

In any case, I recommend this book for a good, if saddening and conflicted read.