Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dead If I Do by Tate Hallaway

Garnet, the Wiccan High Priestess who has the Goddess Lilith trapped inside her, is finally getting ready to marry her dream man, the Vampire Sebastian Von Traum. The Vatican Witch hunters are finally off her tail, and she's made her peace with the FBI.

But when she's introducing Sebastian to her folks, who should show up but Sebsatian's ex-wife, Teréza. She curses the two of them and attempts to strangle Sebastian, until Sebastian is forced to banish her. But needless to say, this doesn't give her parents a very good impression of Sebsatian. And when they finally get back to their home, they discover that Sebsatian and Teréza's son Mátyás has been continually releasing his mother from where Sebastian has been trying to lock her up for her own good.

But almost immediately, things start going wrong with the wedding, from the cook making the vegan cake quitting at the bakery, to the wrong bridesmaids dresses arriving, everything is just going wrong, wrong, wrong. And when Garnet gathers her Coven to try and break the curse, she discovers that Sebastian is off in the bushes. Following him by the thread of magic that ties them together, she discovers him in a liplock with Teréza, and while she manages to keep Lilith in check, she's emotionally devastated, even though Sebsatian apologizes.

If he can do this to her so close to her wedding, she wonders, what else doesn't she know about him? Were he and Teréza married? If not, why not? How could he just leave a woman he loved behind, and give his son to others to raise? As she worries over what this means to the future of her relationship, her former boyfriend, another Vampire named Parrish, has also shown up to try and get back into Garnet's good graces- and maybe restart their relationship. Add to that conflicts with her mother over her wedding dress, attacks by Vampire Hunters, and Sebastian and Teréza going missing in the midst of a blinding snowstorm- along with Mátyás, plus having to redo and replan almost the entire wedding at a moment's notice, and Garnet is not a happy camper. But with the help of her parents, friends and coven, can she fix it so that there is a happily ever after for her and Sebastian? Can she get the wedding of her dreams in the midst of a curse?

I love the Garnet books, and have since the first, Tall, Dark and Dead. While some of the bars to the marriage between Sebastian and Garnet were taken care of in the last book, this one removes others and brings back some obstacles to their complete and total happiness, and Garnet is to blame. Even though she faked her own death back before the first book, when she tries to send a dream to her friends so that they know she is getting married and to come to her wedding. she neglects to send it to *just* her friends, and the Vatican once again knows she is alive- which ends up being part of the curse that takes out her chosen wedding location.

She also runs into the problem of realizing how little she really knows about the man she is marrying, and her lack of knowledge is really what runs the risk of stopping the whole marriage dead. Sebastian is over 500 years old, and he's obviously reluctant to talk about what happened between Teréza and himself. But at some point he realizes that he has to in order to regain Garnet's trust. And he really is in love with her, and she with him, so once he tells her the truth, she forgives him his trespasses.

This almost seems like it could be the last book in the series: Garnet is married, Teréza is taken care of, and both of them seem to have found some measure of personal happiness. But even though this title verges more on Chick-Lit rather than romance, I hope I'll see more of Garnet and Sebastian in the future. Recommended.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dark Slayer by Christine Feehan

Ivory Malinov is a dark and beautiful slayer who deals death to any vampire she comes across. With her pack of Carpathian wolves who can either travel in their true forms or as Tattoos upon her skin, she spends her time slaying Vampires and doing research to destroy the man who nearly killed her, Xaviar, a mage who seeks eternal life through the blood of the Carpathians.

Ivory once had five brothers who idolized her as their little sister, but when she was torn apart by Vampires, they betrayed her by joining Xaviar and becoming vampires themselves. Ivory, meanwhile, somehow managed to draw her body back together after healing in the earth for 100 years. But when she rose again, the world had changed, and so had she. Unable to bear the slightest touch of sun on her skin, brutally scarred and emotionally fragile, she kept to the wild places with only the wolves for company.

And there she lives today, although one night, on her way home from killing another vampire, she finds a male Carpathian near the entrance to her lair and her home, and when she goes to check on him, she discovers something that takes her completely aback- this man is her lifemate, destined to be her one and only mate. But he is near death, having been imprisoned and tortured by Xaviar for almost his entire life.

And for Razvan, the man she saves, the worst part for him is that he chose to do it, to give himself up to Xaviar to save his sister and his daughter as well, giving Xaviar a piece of his soul. In return, Xaviar imprisoned him, drank his blood and often took over Razvan's body, using it to perform horrible deeds and letting people think that Razvan had given himself over to be evil. When Xaviar was forced to move Razvan following an attack on his lair by Razvan's daughter Lara and her mate, Razvan took the chance to finally escape and hopes to kill himself so that Xaviar can no longer use him as he has.

But Ivory isn't willing to let him die, not when she has just found her lifemate, and she throws herself into healing him, after knocking him out to ensure that Xaviar will not be able to find her lair through Razvan, and making sure that Razvan gets the blood he so desperately needs to survive. Even though she isn't sure that she wants the complications of a lifemate in her lonely existence, she will only allow him to choose death when he is healed and in his right mind- and once he has regained his strength, he finds himself only wanting to spend eternity with her. If, that is, he can be freed of Xaviar's mental control.

But to truly fight Xaviar, Ivory and Razvan will have to make contact with the other Carpathians, one of whom are sure they can trust either Ivory or Razvan. But they desperately need Ivory's help to defeat the mutated organisms that cause miscarriages in Carpathians or kill the babies when they are small. But can Ivory find the key to destroying the organisms that are killing her own race? And what use will it be to destroy them when Xaviar can only make more? Ivory and Razvan know their is only one solution- taking out Xaviar himself. But that is easier said than done...

Another excellent novel by Christine Feehan. And this one is very unlike her earlier Carpathian novels. Where most of the early books had the men falling in love with human women who were no longer in touch with their heritage, which the man would have to reveal to her and get her to accept. Here, the vibe is very much different. Ivory knows who and what she is, but she just isn't sure that she wants the change to her existence that a lifemate would bring.

Razvan, too, is very different from those "Just this side of asshole Alpha" heroes. He's actually very laid back- willing to support Ivory 100%, but not assuming that because he is male and Carpathian, that he automatically knows best. In fact, he realizes that ivory is a a better fighter and tracker than he is, and he wants to learn from her, and far from telling her what to do all the time, he lets her decide and then backs her up. Both of them are so very very damaged, but he brings fun and joy back into her life, and she enjoys his cool head and calm emotions, while he gets someone who loves him and doesn't fear him at all, or treat him with suspicion. And she knows what he has done, with Xaviar in his body, and yet accepts him for who he is.

Seeing these two damaged souls come together and find true, deep love was wonderful, and I liked that their Alphaness was rather low-key, making them true Alphas, relaxed enough not to be always demanding their own way. It was a refreshing change, and I'm hoping to see more like this in the future. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The King of Thieves by Michael Jecks

Edward II's England is in turmoil. His Queen, Isabella, is in France, in deep negotiations with her brother, the King of France, for Edward's right to keep his French Properties. Edward is to go to France to make obesiance to the French King as his liege lord for his French Lands. But, back in England, Edward is not so sanguine about going. His confidante, Hugh Despenser, is hated by Lords across England for his grasping ways, and Edward's friendship has enabled him to confiscate the lands of others and take them for his own.

Not even Simon Puttock is immune. He finds out that the property he thought was owned by others has been sold out from under him... to Hugh Despencer, and though he wants to stay and keep his family safe, he discovers that he and his friend Baldwin De Furnshill, former knight templar, have been ordered to go to France as part of the Delegation to protect Prince Edward, only thirteen but made Earl and gifted with the King's French Holdings. So it is he who will making an obesiance to the French King, avoiding a dangerous precedent.

But no sooner do they arrive when they get drawn into another murder mystery, this one involving the son of the French Spy deNogaret and his wife, who have been slain in separate incidents in Paris. Luckily, Jean de Poissy, the Procureur of Paris is looking into the crime. But when the Procureur is himself assassinated, Baldwin and Simon will have to step in to free one of their own, the Bishop Walter Stapledon, from accusations of complicity in this awful crime.

But this is no mere usual crime, for it involves the two most dangerous men in Paris, the King of Thieves and his formost assassin, Jaquot. But when the King tries to cheat Jacquot of his money, and the King's latest whore, who is excited by the sight of death, attempts to charm Jaquot into killing the King and taking over his position, the city of Paris is headed for deadly and dangerous times. But can Simon and Baldwin succeed in unmasking the real killer and bring those involved to justice?

Michael Jecks writes some truly twisty and convoluted mysteries, and this one is very much in line with that. With story threads that are both political and criminal, not even the reader knows exactly why DeNogaret and his wife were killed until the end of the book, and even then, it only has something to do with money stolen from the Pope.

More is made of Queen Isabella demanding money of Walter Stapledon, who has been advanced money for Isabella, but only if she agrees to return home to England, and she simply will not return to her husband until Hugh Despenser is gone. And Hugh Despenser is causing more friction between Baldwin, Simon and the other lords who want Despenser gone for good. Who will the friends back? Their king, and Despenser, or the other lords who want Despenser gone?

This is a novel based on Historical fact, but Michael Jecks hasn't chosen to use one of the most prevalent rumors about Edward II and his many male favorites, that Edward was a homosexual- although you can read that into it if you read between the lines. Of Course, Despenser isn't taken care of yet... because history says he lived for a few more years yet. But we can see in this volume that Edward is sowing the seeds of his own destruction with his wife and with Roger Mortimer, who would eventually become her lover and help her overthrow her busband in favor of her son.

This is a well-researched and wonderful book. The characters are getting older, but their allegiances are still to their king. I only wonder how that is going to turn out for them considering what happens to Edward II not too far off in history. But I'll be there to see what happens. Recommended.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Rough Guide to Manga by Jason S. Yadao

Manga can be described as Japanese Comics, a short, if mostly accurate description. Arising from cartoons drawn by Japanese artists, after World War II, comics loomed large in Japan as a cheap form of entertainment, one eagerly consumed by a public desperate for cheap entertainment.

Decades later, and Manga are still wildly popular in Japan, from books for kids to ones aimed at adult men (seinen manga) and adult women. This wide variety of material has led to a rather diverse view of manga, from that of "just Kids stuff", the way most western comics are oriented. To the ultra-racy books filled with alien tentacle beasts, rape, murder and every sort of strange sexual perversion which has made the people of Japan out to be a race of the most vile perverts imagineable.

To break down both images and show what Manga are really like, this guide shows where Manga came from, and the forces that shaped its development. Then, it introduces readers to 50 significant manga- the best of the best, their creators, and other works by the same artist/creator, everything from Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atom or "Mighty Atom") by Osamu Tezuka to newer manga like "Fruits Basket" and "Love Hina", along with a wide range of stories and creators inbetween, with profiles of Manga Producers such as CLAMP and Leiji Matsumoto.

But no discussion of manga can be complete without a discussion of Anime, and so there is a section on that as well, showing some of the problems that haunt those who try to turn their favorite manga into Anime, and what happens when the Anime catches up to the story in the manga.

The rest of the book is devoted to resources about manga, from books and magazines to websites and documentaries, allowing anyone to find out about their favorite series, sequels and so forth.

This is an excellent overview book, filled with lots of information laid out in easy to read chapters and sections, and filled with lots of information about different manga series, even ones you may never have heard of. and that's what it does best, linking different series to a specific artist and showing off what else they have done (though not always- the Creator of Akira never really did anything else of note) and therefore giving you something else to check out.

Though some of the information is out of date (Shojo Beat being mentioned as still in publication when in fact it has stopped publication and subscribers are now being given Shonen Jump instead), most of the information looks to be pretty accurate, so that one quibble aside, I found myself liking and enjoying this book.

I wouldn't necessarily buy it, you understand- it's made for someone newer to the manga scene than I am- most of the information I found here I had seen elsewhere. But for someone new to the manga scene, this book would be just perfect to clue them in about manga and bring them up to speed. Recommended.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Deadpool Classic Volume 2 by Joe Kelly, Pete Woods and various

Deadpool, the "Merc with a Mouth" is back in these classic issues of his own series and the Daredevil Deadpool Annual.

First, Deadpool has returned from his last mission in Antarctica, but people are gunning for him, as usual. Or in this case, his weaponsmater, Weasel. When Weasel is kidnapped from his home and dragged to Nevada, it's up to Deadpool to track him down and save him. But does Weasel want to be saved? And when the finger that Wade lost on his mission to save Weasel shows no signs of growing back, he gets a delivery from his former friend, "Black Tom" Cassidy.

But the delivery is the glove that was attached to the hand that Black Tom cut off him to cure his own disease, and so Deadpool recruits Siryn to go kill her uncle.Instead, his path leads him right back to Dr. Killibrew, who "gifted" Wade with his healing factor in the first place. While Wade wants to kill him right off the bat, Theresa, or Siryn, persuades him to let Killibrew diagnose what's wrong with him.

And it turns out that Wade's Healing Factor was seriously affected by the hit of Gamma Radiation he took in Antarctica. Now, not only has he lost his healing factor, soon his entire body will break down and he'll die from the cancer that was killing him unless he gets a dose of gamma-irradiated blood from the only human who has seemed to survive being irradiated with Gamma Radiation: Bruce Banner, also known as the Hulk.

Not that this is going to be easy, but at least they know where to find the Hulk- he's retreated to and Island in the Florida Keys to be left alone. Needless to say, Wade must get onto the Island, fight the Hulk to a standstill, get some of his blood, and make it off the island, all without benefit of his healing factor. But even if he manages to do all that, will he be able to keep from Killing Killibrew- or will Siryn let him?

Then, we get to see how Deadpool became the man that he is, as an operative named Zoe tries to prevent Deadpool from turning Merc in the past, and turn him into a hero instead. Can she succeed, or is she destined to fail? What would the world be like with Wade Wilson as a hero?

Lastly, when Deadpool is hired to both kill and rescue the same woman from an insane Asylum, he decides to hold off on killing her and prevent her from killing herself- only to discover that she is a villainess named Typhoid Mary, who wanted herself killed so that the split personality she has fought with for so long would not be freed. But when shy Mary turns into Typhoid Mary, she asks for Deadpool's help in going after Daredevil. But as Ivy carves up the men she believes to be responsible for all her problems, Deadpool is trying to help her regain her sanity by helping her... because he feels sorry for her. But some people once lost to insanity, can never find their way back, and Wade may be forced to kill her himself- before she turns on him and decides to kill him as well. Can Wade overcome the beautiful crazy woman?

This was an interesting series of stories, and while I'm not particularly enamored of the main character, he's no better or worse than a lot of the other characters. I hear a lot of people love Deadpool with a kind of almost obsessive love for the character, but for me, he simply isn't one I can remain very interested in for long. Again, this is older Deadpool, when he wasn't yet as childlike or insane as he is portrayed now- he mostly talks to himself in these stories as opposed to breaking the fourth wall.

It's a nice selection of stories about the character. We see glints of almost hero-like behavior at times, but then he falls back into his standard "I'm a merc, I'll do just about anything as long as I'm paid" mindset. But this is belied by Blind Albert, his roommate, who is actually supposed to be his prisoner. He torments her, and she torments him, but they seem otherwise happy together- and both pull fairly mean-spirited pranks on each other. Al substitutes salt for the sugar Wade puts on his breakfast cereal, and he sets her up for fall down the stairs, but neither appear to actively hate each other. It's big brother-big sister levels of picking on each other.

Again, this Deadpool is different from the character we know today, but this collected series of stories gives you insight into his background and how his character developed. It's a decent book, but as Deadpool isn't a favorite of mine, I wouldn't spend money on this collection. If you're not overly enamored with him, either, you might want to get it from the library, as I did. Save you money. Otherwise, if you're a Deadpool lover, you are going to want to get this. Recommended to read, not necessarily to buy.

Black Jack Volume 8 by Osamu Tezuka

Another 14 tales of medical heroics from Osamu Tezuka, himself a former medical student before he gave it all up to write and draw manga, and starring Black Jack, an unlicensed surgeon who charges outrageous prices for his medical care, but is better than any other doctor in the world.

In "What Lurks the Mountain", Black Jack is forced to take shelter with a poor family when his car dies. On the way up the mountain, he sees a vicious-looking dog, and the family he takes shelter with believes their eldest son is turning into a wolf, while Black Jack knows that the boy is suffering from rabies. But when Black Jack goes to talk to the family that owns the Dog, he is attacked and bitten himself! Will he allow himself to be browbeaten by the rich family who owns the dog?

In "Fits", Pinoko decides to redecorate the house, but when Black Jack finds out, he's furious. He tells her to have everything returned and to apologize to the stores. He simply can't afford it. but when Pinoko says she has found a super-duper patient for him- a girl with fits and stomach pains, will Black Jack have to operate, or can he find another way to heal her?

In "A Wrong Diagnosis", Black Jack attends a dinner with former medical school students who now look down on him because of his unlicensed status, but when a cocky up and coming doctor disagrees with the head surgeon about the necessity of operating on a patient with acute abdominal pain, the surgeon asks Black Jack to assist him with the surgery to prove him right. But how will the head surgeon handle himself when he realizes he's made the wrong diagnosis?

"The Tattooed Man" has Black Jack being asked to operate on a man with a full-body tattoo- but the man swears vengeance on Blackjack if his tattooed bodysuit is harmed or scarred in any way. When his son comes to inspect his father's tattoo years later, after he's left it to science, he is determined to fulfill his father's promise. But did Black Jack leave a scar, and if not, how?

"Abnormal Pregnancy" has Black Jack being asked for a donation to an "anti-cockroach" fund set up by an old schoolmate. But when the pregnant maid at the hotel collapses, Black Jack is asked to look into a problem with her pregnancy. The child seems to have mummified inside her body, but when they open her up, the placenta is still attatched, and disappears inside the rocky covering. Can Black Jack save the child *and* the mother? And how will he removed the covering around the fetus without killing it?

In "On the Way", Black Jack is robbed in the Pyrenees and left for dead. Taken in by some villagers, they tend to his wounds and help him. In return for their help, he agrees to help a rich man's son who has fallen ill with Tetanus. But he also accuses the boy of being one of the men who robbed him, which the man angrily denies. When Black Jack is finally able to save him, the man offers him money. Black Jack refuses, only wanting his original payment back. Will he ever get his money back?

"Cold Disdain" has Black Jack being called to operate on a woman with a pulmonary embolism, but while the other surgeon in the room seems to cut Black Jack off at every turn, Black Jack discovers that this is not the woman's first surgery in that exact spot and feels that the vein itself may be causing those embolisms. But will replacing her vein section with a piece of synthetic solve her problems? And will the hospital doctor ever change his mind about Black Jack?

In "A Visit from a Killer", Black Jack is visited by an Assassin who wants to prevent him from saving a tyrannical and despotic ruler who will soon be visiting Japan. So he keeps Black Jack imprisoned inside his own home. But when Pinoko is injured attempting to go for help, will the killer let Black Jack work on her and save her life, or let her die?

"Accident" chronicles the story of a young man who accidentally hits a woman with his truck. He makes every effort to save her, but after the accident that saves her life, she can remember nothing of her life before. This man, Akira, takes her home and looks after her, becoming her boyfriend. All the while, saving up money for another operation she needs. But the night before the operation is about to happen, she is in his apartment alone, and she drops a knife on her foot. Suddenly regaining her memory of her life before the accident, but not rememering anything since, she returns to her real home. Akira, not knowing why she vanished, gets depressed, gambles the money away and becomes a thug... until he is arrested and finds himself in the court of a strangely familliar female judge... who no longer remembers him. Can Black Jack finish the operation and restore her memory?

"One Hour to Death" reintroduces Doctor Kiriko, bringer of death. After buying a drug that causes death very slowly, his bag is stolen by a young boy, who gives the "Medicine" to his sick mother. Can Black Jack and Kiriko track down the thief and save the life of his mother, who simply has a cold?

In "Random Killer", BlackJack is accused of killing a young boy's uncle by slicing him to death. But in reality, he's been trying to find the true culprit. Convincing the boy to come with him, they discover other victims, including animals and trees. What is responsible for the strange deaths and mutlations, and when Black Jack and a Detective fall victim to the killer, can Black Jack save the man's life?

In "Pinoko Goes West', Black Jack is accused of fraud when he tries to heal a couple's son of Rickets, but when he leaves Pinoko alone to go into hiding, she decides to seek him out, and to distract the detective who is on Black Jack's tail, But will she be able to lead him off the trail while still finding Black Jack herself?

"Swapped" has Black Jack being contacted by a woman who is raising a young boy, her son. But she is being blackmailed by a nurse who saw her switch her child for another because her own son was born ill. She confesses to Black Jack and is arrested for her crime. But Black Jack must come to the trial to clear up the confusion. Is the boy she raised her own son, or not? And how is it possible?

In "Finish", Black Jack is brought in to extend the life of an author who is dying. The author has been writing a novel about a heroic young man fighting against thugs, and everyone in Japan has been following the story. Both he and his doctors want him to survive long enough to finish the story. Can Black Jack do as the author asks? And what will be the outcome of the story?

Another enjoyable collection of stories, which was enlivened for me by the discovery that Osamu Tezuka was studying to be a doctor before he became a mangaka. While some of the stories are a bit outlandish, most of them are very down-to-earth and accessible, deaing from ailments ranging from lockjaw to rabies to cancer.

Here we also get to see that, despite Black Jack's monumental arrogance, the price he pays for living the life he does, and the toll it takes on him. He warns off people who idolize him and want to be with him or be associated with him. He knows he can live with the toll the life he lives takes on him, but he's compassionate enough to want to spare others from having to go through the same experience he has.

I continue to enjoy the Black Jack stories, which never seem to repeat particulars or get old. I really like this series and even though it is old-school in the extreme, I highly recommend it.

B.P.R.D. The Black Goddess by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Guy Davis

Liz Sherman has been kidnapped, and her comrades at the B.P.R.D. have been looking for her. The one clue that they have come up with is that it may be someone once known as Martin Gilfryd who abducted her, now known as Memnan Saa. A man named Lobster Johnson once tried to track down rumors about this man, but when accidents started happening to the people who uncovered information about Memnan Saa, he stopped looking to protect the man remaining to work for him.

Now, while Abe, Johann Kraus and another B.P.R.D. agent track down Lobster Johnson's headquarters in the sewers to look through his files, Kate Corrigan tracks down the ex-FBI man Harold McTell, the only remaining man of Lobster Johnson's agents, to hear it from the man himself. And far from leaving it alone during the war, he kept following Memnan Saa as he moved through Euope. He gives her the directions to the last place he heard of Memnan Saa existing, in a monastery on the China- USSR border.

When they travel there, they discover that Memnan Saa has Liz all right- he's turned her into a weapon against the army of the old ones soon to be knocking on the door to the Monastery. But the monks that Memnan Saa lives with aren't human, although they can take human form- they are Yeti. And when the forces of the Old Ones come to take over the monastery city, the forces of the US Army that accompanied the B.P,R.D. agents must fight with the Yeti against the Forces of the Old Ones.

Meanwhile, inside the city, Memnan Saa tells the agents that only he and his forces can win the Fight with the Old Ones, because all the Kings and Presidents are not cruel enough. They will seek to save everyone, and that way lies madness and death. He tells them of the secret Hyborean Power he has tapped through Liz, the living fire, enabling him to summon dragons to fight the old ones. But when he gets too presumptuous with Liz's power of flame, she turns it against him, speaking in an unknown language, destroying him with her fire.

Meanwhile, as Johann makes his way inside the city, he is overtaken again by the spirit of Lobster Johnson. But why has the spirit shown up now, and what is happening to Johann that he is completely taken over by the body of a dead man? And what role does this spirit have to play in the Apocalyptic war that is coming?

I found this an interesting, intriguing graphic novel in the B.P.R.D. series. Although I confess I didn't really understand a lot of the Old Hyperborean stuff that was going on, I do understand that some sort of Apocalypse is coming that is going to change the fabric of the world in which Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. exist. I am kind of wondering what is happening with Hellboy right now, as it seems incredible that this stuff would be happening and he not decide to take part in it- on the side of his former colleagues. And how does this fit in with Hellboy being Anung an Rama, the doom of the world?

I'm hoping that we see Hellboy coming back to work with the B.P.R.D. at some point in this massive epic story, because I don't think it's in his character to sit something like this out on the sidelines. Yeah, I know he hasn't been part of the B.P.R.D. for some years (in real-time rather than story-time. I'm not sure how long it's been in-story.) and he recently had another graphic novel of his own where he finally settled accounts with Baba Yaga, but where is he in all of this? Some kind of update would be nice.

In short, I am looking forward to the rest of the storyline, with both anticipation and trepidation, as it seems Liz will never really make it back to the B.P.R.D. Whether that means she dies or leaves as Hellboy did, I'm not sure, but her relationship with Abe doesn't look like it will ever be the same. This book is highly recommended, if a bit depressing, and ends on a cliffhanger, so be aware of this before you buy.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Vampire Kisses: The Beginning by Ellen Schreiber

This book, which I received for Christmas. contains the first three "Vampire Kisses" books all together in one volume. I re-read them over Christmas Day. You can find my reviews of the first three books in this series here, here, and here. Have a happy Holiday, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

Rose Drayton lives in the Edge, the borderlands between the world of Faerie known as "The Weird"- a strangely altered version of our own world, and the technology-driven, magic-free world of modern earth, known as "The Broken". Edgers call the Human world "The Broken" because most edgers have magic, and when they leave the Edge and enter our world, they feel pain as their magic leeches away, leaving them feeling broken. Edgers live on the border between the two worlds, liking neither. And if they leave the edge for either world for too long, they either lose their magic permanently in the Broken, or go crazy in the Weird, never wanting to leave.

Rose has had a hard life in the Edge. Both her parents are gone, her father missing, presumed dead, and her mother actually dead. Her father had always been a roamer, and when he left the last time, her mother went a little crazy, seeking solace with her body in an endless series of sexual relationships. That got Rose labelled the daughter of a whore, and left boys her own age thinking she would be as easy as her mother. But Rose wasn't like that at all, and she resented it.

Most Edgers have magic of some sort, and Rose has one of them, known as "Flash". A Flash is a blast of magical power, colored according to its potency. The weakest flashes are red and dark colors, but Rose is unique in that her flash is pure white. Usually, only purebloods from the Weird flash white, so many people assumed that she couldn't be her father's daughter- she must be part fae. It also made her body and her power the most valuable commodity in the Edge, one that just about everyone sought to take advantage of.

Even now, years later, Rose is careful about who she lets get close to her in that fashion. So when a Fae Knight shows up on her doorstep, she assumes he is there to court her for her power, and warns him off. Declan Camarine agrees that he is there to court her, but when he rescues her two brothers who are in her care since her mother died, she feels somewhat beholden to him and lets him stay in her house.

Both of her brothers have powers. One, Jack, is a shape-changer who can become a marsh cat. The other, Georgie, is a weaker boy with the power to bring back the dead, both animal and human. He doesn't like to see anything die- and so he uses his power to bring them back. But he's done it to and for so many things that he is constantly weak and near death himself, for he will not let them return to death. Not even his grandfather, who goes around eating dog brains and must be kept imprisoned in the shed for his own good.

But even as Rose lets Declan stay in her house, something is changing in the Edge. Strange and deadly dog-like creatures are appearing that are attempting to eat the Edgers- although for what reason nobody seems to know. At least Declan is keeping Rose and her brothers safe from them- and she agrees to a challenge to allow Declan to marry her if he succeeds- or for him to go home if he doesn't.

The first task of three that she sets him is to catch Jack in his marshcat form, and the second is to save George from himself and the consequences of using his own power. But then, she discovers that Declan didn't come to the Edge just to marry her, but to save both the Weird and the Edge from a crazy Fae from his world who has been using an artifact to make the strange magic and human-eating beasts- and to destroy the one using it, he needs the help of not only Rose and her brothers, but all the people of the Edge. But can Declan, Rose, and the Edgers take on the crazy-mad fae and win? And is there any hope for a real relationship between Declan and Rose?

I love Ilona Andrews' other series, the Kate Daniels books. Kate and Rose share a lot in common. Both are hard women who have been knocked about quite a bit by life and the intrusion of an otherworldly dimension of magic into where they live. Kate is a bit more kick-ass and centered than Rose, and relies a lot more on guns, whereas while Rose can use a gun, she has her own magic to rely on- and both are soft touches where kids are concerned.

What made this series stand out was the worldbuilding and the outlook, which is resolutely Edger rather than "Normal world". The Edgers get the best and worst of both worlds, and see nothing wrong with preferring a bit of both rather than just magic or just technology. Unlike Kate Daniels, whose world switches from one to the other, The Edgers are comfortable being both and neither. at the same time. I found Edger life, and their worldview to be interesting and fascinating- much like life in a *very* small southern town, but with a difference- and that difference is magic.

It's not easy being an Edger, and moving between the Edge and one of the other two worlds isn't a matter of course. Edgers feel pain when moving into the Broken world, but its even worse for those from the Weird- if they move too quickly, it can cause convulsions and kill them. It's these little touches that made the worlds real for me, and kept me interested and reading. I also liked the characters- both Rose and Declan are real people, with quirks and problems. Neither is perfect- both are tough and can be uncompromising, but find a real affection for each other that slowly grows into love. And it's based on real respect. Rose's ability to flash white has caused her no end of problems- but Declan respects both her strength and how she developed that strength- he finds it admirable instead of being threatened by it, and works to help her grow even stronger. I really enjoyed their relationship and how it grew and deepened during the course of the book.

Part of her attraction to Declan is physical, but she has also never had someone interested in her who isn't threatened by her strength- or attempting to use her power as an excuse to make her a broodmare. Frankly, after all that had happened to her, I was amazed that she was able to fall in love so easily- her first love betrayed her is a very cruel fashion, although he gets his comeuppance during the course of the book (and yes, I smiled when he got it). I really loved this book, and the ending made me smile and gave me a warm glow deep inside (always welcome when it's cold and there's two feet of snow outside). I highly recommend this book. It's a keeper.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Servant of a Dark God by John Brown

Talen lives in a world of magic- but a world where that magic is strictly controlled. The magic, fuelled by the days and years of a person's life, is known as "Fire", and only a precious few, known as Divines, can safely harvest the power and use it to make Weaves- items of woven gold or willow that can be used to give men seemingly limitless power.

Those who harvest and use fire but are not Divines are called Sleths, and they are greatly feared- for they steal power rather than being given it, and all men hate and fear them. Worse, these sleths forcibly steal the fire from others, making them killers of men.

At least, that is the commonly accepted wisdom. But unbeknownst to Talen, his father Hogan- known as "Horse" for the time when he used himself as a beast of burden to plow his land, is a hidden user of Fire. But he's not a Sleth, instead he is a member of a secretive group known as the Order.

The Order believes that all the powers that users get from using fire and weave are the province of everyone- not just the Divines and their servants, the Deadmen. And Hogan is one of them, along with Purity, the wife of the Smith known as Sparrow.

So when the county goes on a massive Sleth hunt, Talen and his family, who are Koramite, come under suspicion from the rest of the people, who are Mokkadians. At the beginning of the day, Talen is beaten, and when his father takes him to town to answer to the village headmen, he finds himself also exhibiting strange powers he never seemed to have before.

Sparrow and Purity's children managed to flee before their father was killed, but their mother is a prisoner, securely guarded so as to contain her sleth powers, while she is tortured to learn who is also a sleth. Meanwhile, her daughter, Sugar, and her blind son, Legs, are considered to be no better than sleth themselves, even if they never knew what their mother was.

They take shelter at Hogan's farm, but as they wait for Hogan to return, Talen is the only one who shows Sugar and Legs any enmity. And when he comes back from his own visit to town with strange new powers, he is sure that Sugar and Legs have somehow infected him with their evil.

But while some Sleth are evil, these are not, and Hogan's brother-in-law Argoth is a Mokkadian who has been secretly using his fire to gain powers like a Deadman for years. But when a Master Divine shows up from the people's original homeland, the Order's presence in this new world is jeopardized by those who would keep those sorts of powers for themselves alone- and who are willing to kill members of the Order and call them "Sleths" to Prevent anyone else from following their path.

But even as Talen fights for his life, everyone has much, much more to worry about. For an alien being calling itself "Mother" has emerged from the hinterlands, and she commands a servant named Hunger who was once human. Hunger is made to eat human souls and fire, the bring them back to Mother. But when he actually consumed a human life, he started to remember who and what he was. But even with the new knowledge, he can't fight Mother. And if he can't fight Mother, what hope do the rest of them have?

But Talen has always been special, and his mother gave up her life to give him a chance to live and fulfill a glorious destiny. But is Fighting Hunger and the mother his destiny? If it isn't, what is? And can he fulfill it without getting his famiy- and Sugar and Legs- killed?

I found this an interesting book. The worldbuilding was good and the characterizations excellent. My only problem was with Talen, who is young, and acts younger. In truth, he's more than a bit of an ass. He's so certain that he's right that he acts rather nastily to Sugar and Legs, and I wanted a haul off and smack him more than once. He gets beaten up at the beginning of the book for being smart-mouthed, and while it may have been meant to make us more sympathetic to his character, in a large part, he got what he deserved.

And for a character who ends up being the hero of the book, its a bit uncomfortable to read about someone acting so much of an ass. It's only towards the end of the book that his promise as a hero is fulfilled, but he never seems to apologize to anyone for his asinine behavior. Perhaps its the prerogative of a young man to act like an ass, but it didn't make me like the character much. Nor does he really have to work to master the technique by which he defeats the villain. For him, it's a lucky accident of birth.

There may be a sequel to this book, but if so, I hope Talen is not the star or hero of it. Reading this book, while interesting, was painful due to Talen's lack of heroic qualities for me. Yes, he defeats the big bad, but I found him unlikeable- a mass of youthful testosterone with a smart mouth and arrogant attitude that made me NOT want to cheer him on. The only thing I liked about him was that he did like his family and he treated his friends well. That's not enough good things to hang "heroism" on for me. I'd recommend it for the story, but with cautions that you may not like the hero very much, even by the end of the book.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bloody Kiss, Volume 1 by Kazuko Furumiya

Kiyo Katsuragi is a poor young schoolgirl who has inherited an estate from her grandmother. This felt like a blessing to her because she could sell it and use the money to finance her schooling. But the lawyer who escorts her to the estate deep within the woods tells her that the place is rumored to be haunted, with blood-streaked walls and screams emanating from it late at night.

Unbeknownst to her, her grandmother also had a pair of guests inside the house, two vampires, a young lord named Kuroboshi and his silver-haired servant, Alchu. Her grandmother knew what they were, but apparently didn't care, and when she got ill, left the estate to Kiyo. Both vampires are actually pretty nice, but weak, because they lack a dedicated source of blood, a girl known as a Bride. Without human blood, vampires are weak, living like invalids, but with a source of blood, they become the strong creatures of legend they are known to be.

When Kiyo shows up, both Kuroboshi and Alchu show an interest in her, but while Kiyo isn't about to kick either of them off the estate, she doesn't have any interest in being a Bride, either. She spends her time taking care of the house and trying to cook while also attending school, and finds herself regretting it when Kuroboshi and Alchu show up at school and charm all the other girls without even trying.

But when he needs to protect her, Kuroboshi takes her as his bride and uses the blood he drank from her to keep her safe. But as a special dance is announced at the school, and Kiyo finds herself joining the committee and is tasked to make paper flowers for all the people at school, what will happen when mean girls decide to ruin the flowers she and another girl have spent so much time making. Can Kiyo and Kuroboshi come up with a way to give the school flowers after all?

The book ends with a separate story called "Angel Love Song", when a girl finds an angel fallen from heaven especially for her, can she finally find the help she needs to enter the new band contest and win so she can get her boyfriend back? She may have to overcome more obstacles to find true happiness than she thinks!

I found Bloody Kiss almost too cute. The character designs are cute, with lots of chibi silliness, but in the end, it just wasn't enough. It felt like I'd read this story a hundred times before and knew it by heart, and the repetition did nothing to improve the story or make it interesting. I felt that most of the story elements had been rehashed out of a hundred other different manga, from Peach Girl to Vampire Doll Guilt-Na-Zan, but with nothing really new to lift the story up out of the doldrums and give it a place of its own.

In short, this story feels like the worst sort of re-hash to me. I was actually bored reading it. The only saving grace is that the story is complete in only two volumes, another sign of a paucity of original ideas. I would have preferred to read more of the "Angel Love Song" story than any more of this. And when a book has to tell you "Ooh, the second volume is wonderful!" on the first, it doesn't seem very promising, does it?

Another sign of bad stuff to come is that a major plot point was completely dropped. Originally, Kiyo wants to sell the house, but changes her mind when she discovers the vampires living there. TThe Lawyer, unbeknownst to anyone living in the house, laughs about this because he has already sold the house. This is then dropped completely, although if this turns out to be the "shocking ending" to the series in the second book, my eyes will roll so hard that they will roll right out of my head.

There is nothing to commend this series to a reader of manga. It's all been done before, and done better, an interminable joke with no punch line that bores you as you read it. The only impulse to read the next one is to see if I'm right about the ending, and you wouldn't catch me spending money on this. Not recommended at all.

Tempted by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Kalona, the dangerous immortal Fallen Angel, has been defeated by Zoey and her friends at Maty's Grotto. Zoey sends up a prayer of thanks to her Goddess, but the danger isn't over yet. Zoey holds the reincarnated Spirit of A-ya, the Cherokee spirit maiden who had been used to Imprison Kalona in the earth, and strange as it may seem A-ya, who was made to trap him, is also in love with him. And while the threat of Kalona might be ended for now, he still has Neferet on his side, so he continues to be dangerous.

And Zoey discovers that Kalona can invade her dreams, unless she sleeps with one of her men body to body. Not having sex, mind you, merely with body contact. But other things are also on her mind- for one thing, she feels that Stevie Ray is lying to her about something, but she's not ready to confront her friend. And Stevie Ray is lying to Zoey. One lie involves the Red Fledglings. not all of whom have chosen to be good like Stevie Ray and her followers.

But the other lie is bigger. Stevie Ray discovered the still living Raven Mocker named Rephaim, and he laughed. This made her think he wasn't all bad, and that he should be given a chance to repent. After all, the Raven Mockers are the products of Kalona's raping of Cherokee maidens, and didn't have any say in their own birth. And after all she's done, she's not comfortable with killing- Rephaim or anyone else. She hides him so he can heal and doesn't tell the others, although she isn't so sanguine about what she has done.

Meanwhile, Erik and Heath are fighting over Zoey, and Zoey finds that Eric seems to have undergone a transformation into a Horse's Rear End. She formally denies him as her consort, and takes Heath instead, with Stark acting as her warrior. At the same time, she returns to the House of Night with the other fledglings, Darius and Aphrodite, but the school has changed, because the effects of what Kalona did to the students remain. But not all the other students have turned hateful. Not all of them succumbed to Kalona and Neferet's spiritual poison. Some tried to fight back, and were injured or killed in the Process.

Zoey and her circle do a ritual to heal the injured, or at least lessen their pain, but soon become aware that Kalona and Neferet have gone to Italy to try and get Kalona declared to be Erebus, and Neferet as Nyx. Zoey and the others must go after them to try and stop them- and her dreams sent by Kalona continue, where he tries to sell her on the possibility that he can be redeemed, if she wants him to be. He also lets her see exactly how he came to leave the service of Nyx, and how he fell, which confuses Zoey even more, because Kalona fell in love with Nyx, and she caused him to fall. But Stevie Ray, even more susceptible to the sun than the normal Fledgelings, opts to stay behind- not only to look after the Red Fledglings who follow her and keep them safe, but to keep an eye on the ones who don't... and Rephaim.

But when the Red Fledgelings decide to lure her into a trap and kill her, can she and Rephaim, who is slightly coerced into being part of the trap, survive? And when Zoey and her friends go after Kalona and Neferet, can they save the council from falling under Kalona's influence, or is this one Fight Zoey and her friends won't be able to survive?

I love this series. I find it better, smarter, healthier for young women, and more interesting than the Twilight books. Zoey, too, is plagued by men wanting to be with her, from Erik, Stark, Heath, and now Kalona. And even though every one of them might drive her nutso crazy at one point or another, she doesn't allow it to get her down for long or fall into a year's worth of weeping fits. Even when the boy she thought she loved, Erik, starts acting like a jerkass, she kicks him to the curb when she's had enough of him and his jerkassery. And even though she's slightly perturbed by how quickly he runs into another relationship, she is by then dealing with other relationship problems of her own.

This is a book of major ups and downs, and definitely ends on a down note. But although I found the ending sad, it isn't the end of the series, so i have confidence that whatever comes next will result in Zoey and her friends kicking butt and taking names. Lots of conflicts are set up for the road ahead, and books further down the line, from the non-good Red Fledgelings, to Rephaim and Stevie Ray. Is it possible for Rephaim to be redeemed, or will he continue a life of evil, like his father? At this point, it could go either way.

I enjoyed this book a lot, even though the ending was a downer. I am interested in seeing how the conflicts between the characters will be resolved, and how the shocker of an ending will be resolved as well. Does this mean defeat for Zoey and her allies, or something else all together? Are we meant to judge Nyx the way we would any human for the way Kalona was allowed to fall, or did he find a way to lie to Zoey? I want to see these questions answered, and I really want to see what happens. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Science of James Bond by Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg

James Bond may be the world's most famous superspy of the movies, but how much of what appears in the movies is even possible in this world? In the past, we've been treated to a spaceship that swallowed up other space ships, jetpacks, watches with a wide variety of spy stuff stuck inside. Pens that shoot acid, have microdots or homing beacons inside... and not to mention the cars! Fast cars. Classy cars. Cars that become submarines, shoot rockets, or are able to become functionally invisible.

But that begs the question- how much of this stuff is actually possible? This book examines the gadgets and technology of Bond from 20 different movies, from Dr. No to Die Another Day and covers everything from the "Gene Replacement Therapy" in Die Another Day to the various secret bases of the Bond Villains and why some of the plots are more ridiculous by Science standards than thrilling or threatening,.

Just to take one example, in Moonraker, as Hugo Drax is waiting for his laser cannon to destroy another space ship, a space shuttle from the US, Bond, who has been captured, is looking around for a means of distraction and/or escape, when he spots a large black button labelled "Emergency Stop. Do not press unless station secured". He proceeds to press it, causing retrorockets to fire and make the station stop rotating. Everyone is thrown around like tenpins, and Drax is thrown far away, allowing Bond and Holly Goodhead escape in the confusion.

But why would a space station need such an "emergency" button? It's never explained, and in reality, wouldn't be there. It's there because Bond needs a way to escape, and for no other reason. Other movies have the same problems, from impractical plots, like starting a Global nuclear war for pay (Nowhere to hide from the fallout), to stealing all the gold from Fort Knox (too heavy, and where do you put it?).

This book examines most, if not all, the inventions we see Bond using, or which are used on him, from geiger-counter watches, to cars that become underwater submarines. In some cases the results are surprising (Cars that become airplanes do exist, but they tend to resemble planes even when in car form). In other cases, unsurprising (personal jetpacks can be made, but are highly impractical- tending to burn the operator's legs, and though many have claimed to be able to produce them, claims are easy to make. The reality? Not so much.).

I enjoyed this book, which gives an overview of the Bond series, which went from the straight-spy genre with a few unusual cars and guns, to the glam superspy with tons of gadgets from Q branch, in films that are more about thrills than spying. They also tell us why real spies don't use super-special guns and/or tons of gadgets- anonymity. If authorities find a super-special gun left behind at the scene of an assassination- a spy who is known to carry such a weapon is automatically suspect. That's why Bond's preferred weapon through most of the series is a Walther PPK- carried by tons of people, and not automatically suspect as "That's only carried by James Bond!"

Because of the changes to the Bond franchise, Bond has become less of an example of what a real spy is like, and more like a fantasy of what a spy is like. Seemingly well-known and recognized by spies from other spying agencies. A spy, who in real life must remain unseen (Or passed over as uninteresting) and unknown. would find it impossible to do his or her job if they acted like James Bond. However, spies do have access to some real life-equipment that is out of this world... just not applicable to a Bond flick, like the umbrella-gun that fired a capsule filled with ricin that killed Ukrainian defector Gyorgy Markos.

Bond may not have a weapon like that, but this book provides a look at the ones he does have- and why some of the bases used by the Bond villains are silly as well as being impractical (Hugo Drax's space station may be functionally invisible to detection, but all those shuttles docked at it won't be!). Anyone who is interested as to whether the gadgets Bond uses are practical will find this book interesting and amusing. Recommended.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton

Abilgail Adams is the wife of John Adams, one of the leaders of the Sons of Liberty in Colonial Boston. But when she goes to visit her friend Rebecca Malvern, the separated wife of Charles Malvern, an elderly merchant, she has a horrible shock- for a woman is dead in Rebecca's rented house, horribly mutilated and sitting at her Kitchen table.

Whoever the woman is, she is definitely rich, with diamonds in her ears and a silk dress much finer than any normal American woman can claim, especially one of the poor ones like Abigail or Rebecca. Abigail is relieved that the dead body isn't that of her friend, but at the same time, she is concerned. Where is Rebecca? Being careful not to walk in the blood and observing carefully, she determines that Rebecca was injured- possibly hit on the head and imprisoned in one of the upstairs rooms, but she escaped.

Hoping to find her friend, she summons her husband's brother, Sam Adams, to the scene, but he is more worried about a book of ciphers that Rebecca had in her house, labelled "Household accounts", but containing the ciphers used by the Sons of Liberty at their meetings. For Rebecca was Thoroughgoing patriot, who wrote poems and screeds under the name "Cloetia". Indeed, Abigail finds a note in the dead woman's pocket using just that name. But who was she and why was she in Rebecca's house?

That answer comes soon enough. Shortly after Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty sanitize the crime scene, they pretend to "Discover" the body. But in the meantime, Abigail pays a visit to Rebecca's husband to inform him that his wife has disappeared, and a woman has been murdered in her home. At first, he is shocked- it appears he may still care for his wife, but then he blusters and drives Abigail out of his house and physically abuses his negro servant, Scipio, when Scipio promises to send her the location of Rebecca's former maid, whom Abigail hopes Rebecca might have taken refuge with.

But she comes home to redcoats accusing her husband of the crime of murdering the woman, who is revealed to be Perdita Pentyre, a woman married to a rich merchant of Boston, but who was also the lover of Colonel Leslie of the Crown Garrison on Castle Island. And the Captain is certain that John Adams is her killer. But Abigail is infuriated that they would suspect her husband of the deed, and John agrees to sign a bond of good conduct that will fine him 30 pounds in gold if he leaves Boston. The Captain agrees, and the next day. John travels to the island to do just that.

Meanwhile, the Sons of Liberty all search for Rebecca, and a young Deacon named Orion Hazlitt is most anxious for Rebecca to be found alive. He bears tender feelings for her, but his mother feels that any woman who shows an interest in him is a Jezebel, a painted harlot who wants nothing more than to lead him away from righteousness and into sin. But her own obsession with her son, which includes calling hm "My little King" and treating him as if he was her lover and not her son, worry Abigail greatly. Orion seems worried and upset by his mother's behavior and her clinging to him as if he was everything to her world, even as he relies on ever-greater doses of laudanam to control her.

Abigail travels to the place where Rebecca's former maid now lives, only to discover that she hasn't seen Rebecca for years. However, to get there, Abigail and Thaxter, her husband's apprentice in the law, must travel through a small hamlet named Gilead, where the inhabitants are fanatical about their religion, and their priest claims to see the spirits of the devil come to torment him and the town, including the nine daughters of Eve, sinful women who live to trap and bring down righteous men. After a long and tiresome sermon on the topic of the snares that await the righteous, Abigail and Thaxter are given the hospitality of the community, such as it is.

But on the way back to Boston, Abigail and Thaxter come on the British Redcoat Captain Coldstone and his Sergeant, an Irish boy named Muldoon, being attacked by a group of men. Abigail and Thaxter come to the men's rescue, and help Muldoon get Coldstone back onto his horse and back to the closest inn while she and Thaxter ride for Boston. Soon, Coldstone comes to request her help in finding who murdered Perdita Pentyre. He also brings the unwelcome news that she was not the only woman to be slain this way- a hairdresser named Zuleika and a a prostitute were both murdered nearly two years ago, with the same facial and body mutilations. However, after their murders, there were no more like them in Boston-until now.

But who murdered the other two women, and was the murder of Perdita a copycat murder, or a murder by the same person or persons unknown? When she undertakes to solve the murders and find the killer, she will end up putting her own life at risk, because only then will she be able to find the murderer... and her friend.

I liked this book. It's a first in a new series, and the author is a pseudonym of Barbara Hambly, which means she is definitely not a new author. I've read several other of her books, both fantasy/horror and mystery both ("Those Who Hunt The Night" and "A Free Man of Color" being examples of each- but not an exhaustive list by any means), and have enjoyed everything that I have read by her, and now this new book comes along to give me something else of hers to love!

Those who know about Abigail Adams know that, like her husband John and his brother Sam, she could be something of a firebrand in her own way. She vigorously argued for female suffrage during the revolution, and certainly had ideas about women and their place in society that many men of the time must have felt quite threatened by- but her husband apparently didn't, and their relationship was as much on the mental plane as the physical and emotional (He calls her "Philomena" and she calls him "Leander"- names out of classical greek myth- as both were quite learned.

But here, Abigail becomes a detective, and her sharp mind and wit are admirably suited for the task. She is seemingly the only one who wants to find Rebecca for Rebecca, and not for the ciphers she is holding (like Sam Adams and many of the other Sons of Liberty). The true perpetrator is well-hidden in the book, and I suspected more than a few people before the true culprit became clear.

Some of the best parts of the book are Abigail's ruminations on the role of women in her culture and society as she lives her life and attempts to solve the murder of Perdita Pentyre, as well as doing the same for colored servants/slaves that she meets in town. There's one scene that might make some readers uncomfortable- when she meets her husband and other "Sons of Liberty" masquerading as "Red Indians" shortly before the Boston Tea Party. The group exhibit all the depth of hackneyed and stereotyped Movie Indians, who can only say the word, "Ugh!" Yeah, that's how I felt, too. "Ugh!" indeed. But thankfully, that is only one tiny scene in a book that is just amazingly good.

Anyone who enjoys Historical mysteries or mysteries with a female detective will want to pick up and read this book. It's occasionally disturbing and/or wince-inducing, but there are few writers who can compete with Barbara Hambly when it comes to characterization and detail in writing. This new series is a delight, and one I am very much looking forward to reading the sequels to. Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man's Smile by Gyles Brandreth

Oscar Wilde is in his late 20's when he goes to the United States for a lecture tour. While he is there, he meets a man named Eddie Garstrang, who saves Oscar from being taken (along with his wallet) by two rogues and confidence-men. Oscar spends a few days with Garstrang, who is an excellent shot and makes his living playing poker and other card games for money.

Along the way, Oscar has a black manservant who was hired for him by the same people who arranged for his lecture tour, a man named W.M. Traquair. Traquair acts as Oscar's manservant all throughout his travels in America, and when it is time for Oscar to return home, he runs into another series of acquaintances, Edmond LaGrange, a famous French Actor, who is traveling with his theatre company back to Paris. With him are his mother, Liselotte, known as Maman, and his leading lady, Gabrielle de la Tourbillion.

Oscar recommends Traquair as LaGrange's new dresser, the former one having died in America, and accompanies them onto the ship to London and Paris, where he discovers another old acquaintance, Eddie Garstrang, who LaGrange won at cards. Literally! When Garstrang couldn't pay his gambling debts, LaGrange hired him to play cards with himself and some of his other actors and actresses in the company. And so he does.

Liselotte La Grange is roundly disliked by most of the actors, but they will not say so to her face. Her companion, an old French Poodle named Marie Antoinette, is spoiled by her mistress and creates messes wherever she goes, not to mention drooling and clouds of potent flatulence. But when Oscar is ready to disembark in England, her dead body is discovered in his steamer trunk, suffocated to death in dirt from one of the plant pots. Maman assumes Oscar to have done it, but while Oscar despised the beast, he didn't kill it. And how stupid would it have been for him to hide the dead animal in his own trunk? Oscar soon persuades the Police to see it his way, and recovers the books that he originally had in his trunk and goes home.

But when he is invited to Paris by LaGrange, he decides to go. There, he meets a young American named Robert Sherard, and the two quickly become fast friends. So, when Oscar decides to go see LaGrange, Sherard comes with him. Oscar, though, has been troubled by the death of Marie Antoinette, the Poodle. Even though Maman has replaced the dead dog with another poodle, this one named the Princesse de Lamballe- the best friend and handmaiden of Marie Antoinette, Oscar is sure that what happened to the dog was out and out murder. But who would do such a thing?

Though it has been several months since they last met, Oscar is happy to be reunited with Traquair, who is quite depressed in being in a country where he doesn't speak the language. Oscar attempts to help tutor him, but meets with little success. Then, one day, Traquair is discovered dead in his room, an apparent victim of suicide, having inhaled gas from the gas-jet. LaGrange grieves that he didn't take Traquair's homesickness seriously enough, that it obviously led to Traquair committing suicide rather than continue to remain in a place which he couldn't understand people's words.

Robert Sherard is prevailed upon to be LaGrange's new dresser, but at the same time, Oscar asks him to keep an eye on the troupe, and the main actors, including LaGrange's son and daughter by his first wife:Agnés and Bernard. As Oscar has Washington Traquair cremated and takes his ashes to the American Consulate in London to be sent home and buried in America, events take a stranger turn at the theatre. First, it seems that Agnés has gone mad, breaking down every time she shows up to rehearse. The only one who can seem to console her is her father.

Robert Sherard has fallen in love with Gabrielle de la Tourbillon, and persues her, even though Eddie Garstrang feels much the same. But LaGrange, who is not only the head of the company but also her lover, says he doesn't mind if both of them have time with her and have affairs with her. He understands and doesn't mind. Meanwhile, Agnés says she has fallen in love with an older man and is happy, but she still seems troubled. So when she disappears, even though her father says not to worry, she has done this before, Oscar and Robert Sherard worry very much.

They do eventually find her, in a rest home, but shortly after she returns to the company for another performance in Hamlet, she seemingly kills herself by drowning in a small fountain pond. By now, Oscar is severely worried for both the company and her brother- who soon after commits suicide by burning himself to death in his coach. It seems someone has a grudge against the LaGrange family. But who could it be? One of the other actors in the company? A rival theatre company?

As Oscar races to protect Edmond LaGrange, he must find the true identity of the murderer before an innocent man dies, and before a murderous plot can come to complete fruition. But can Oscar, dilettante and asthete, have any hope of solving such horrible crimes?

I like these books, and I feel it captures the spirit of Oscar Wilde and the spirit of the age in which he lived. Oscar is an asthete, but true to his works, he is also a keen observer of humans, and uses this to seek out the answer to the mystery. I found this mystery to be disturbing in some ways- mainly in what some of the characters get up to and some of the intimate connections they make during the story.

Yes, this is the gilded age, and drugs, drinking and sex are everywhere. But I didn't find them half as disturbing as some other aspects of the story- and this isn't delving into half of the things which were allowed and seen as just fine back in those days. Oscar Wilde's proclivities aren't delved into during the story- he's quite in love with the woman who will become his wife, and turns down all invitations to "play" sexually. But most of Oscar Wilde's interesting character is explored less than that of the other characters in the story. Oscar's character only really comes through in the almost parenthetical first chapter, when it talks about his visit to America, but which almost sounds cribbed from a history book or a biography of Wilde.

I liked this novel for a razor-sharp portrayal of Wilde, and the knotty, thorny mystery it presents for us, as well as the portrayals of the other characters, which seem just as sharp and real as Wilde himself, and just as suited to the milleu. Highly recommended.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

October Daye is a changeling and also a knight, serving the Duke of the Shadowed Hills as his knight-errant. Set to find the Duke's Duchess and their child, Toby finds the man resposible, Simon Torquill, and trails him to Golden Gate Park. But the trail is a trap, and Toby is turned into a goldfish in one of the ponds. There, she lives, forgetting all about the man she loves and her own daughter, for the next fourteen years.

Fourteen years later, the glamour that has been laid on her is broken, and she stumbles out of the pond, coughing up water, completely naked, her mind still hazy, not knowing how long she has been there. Both lives, as a human and a changeling, shattered, Toby is rejected by her boyfriend and daughter, unable to explain where she has been for the last fourteen years. Shunning Faery as it has done this to her, she takes a job where no one will care about her- as a checker in a Supermarket.

But Faery won't just let her lie. Tybalt, the King of the Cats, continues to torment her, but Toby tries to shut out the world... until Evening Winterrose, a Countess, pulls her back in. Cursed by Winterrose to find and bring her murderer to justice, Toby has no choice but to return to the world that nearly killed her.

Part of this involves returning to "Home" a fief run by Devin, who first took Toby in when she ran away from the Court and its scorn of her as a half-breed. Devin used her, and she used him back, finally escaping home to become Knight-Errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills. That inspires a reverence for her at Home that Toby has a hard time dealing with. She's not done anything to be anyone's hero, ad her shattered life makes her even more uncomfortable with it.

It also means returning to Court, to inform the Queen that Evening Winterrose is dead. But the Queen, at first disdaining Toby, becomes downright crazy when Toby informs her why she is there. The Queen doesn't want to hear that Winterrose is dead, and her reaction to the news is extreme- so extreme that Toby has to wonder why The Queen is reacting so strongly.

And finally, it means to returning to her liege, the Duke of Shadowed Hills, his wife and daughter. They were recovered while Toby was living as a fish in the pond, and while the Duke and his wife don't blame her for what happened to her, their daughter most definitely does. And Toby discovers that her one-time Romantic interest, Connor O'Dell, a Selkie, has married the Duke's daughter, Raysel, and more disturbingly, is still interested in Toby. and she is still interested in him.

But Evening may have been killed for a powerful artifact that was in her keeping, a dowry- box belonging to the first children of Oberon and Titania. Rumor says that it can turn changelings human or make them into full fae of their parent's kind. Toby merely touches it, and her powers increase. Frightened of the choice she could force herself to make, she hides it with the person least likely to do as she asks, and continues to seek whoever killed Evening Winterrose.

But the killer killed her with iron, deadly to a fae, so that means the killer is almost certainly fae him or herself. With seemingly legions of killers on trail, seeking to make her as dead as Evening Winterrose, Toby must find the killer before Winterrose's curse catches up with her and kills her. But more than just Toby's life is at stake, and unless she can root out a hidden killer, Powers could be unleashed that could change the Fae world forever...

I found this an interesting take on the world of the Faeries, and Changelings as well. Changelings are sort of the second-class citizens of the faery world to most pure-blood fae, and very few treat them differently. Changelings can only pass in the human world by using glamours, spells that hide their fae traits and make them look human. Toby is one of the few lucky ones, blessed with attracting the notice of a pureblood Duke who didn't have the usual prejudice against Changelings, and then him knighting her.

At the beginning of the Modern-day portion of this book, Toby is fed up with Faery and never wants to go back. It took the human world from her twice, and she doesn't want to give it a third chance. But her human life is drab and bereft of purpose compared to the life she had before, and when she's dragged back into the fae world kicking and screaming, it seems one thousand times better compared to the life she is living as a human. Without her memories of the fae world, readers have a hard time seeing why she chooses to avoid it.

And yet, the world of the fae is pretty much a lie. Toby sees that very clearly. It's all based on glamour and seeming. Very little in it seems real or true. Half the time seems to be spent hiding what you are or what you feel, especially in the courts, and for a changeling, you receive scorn and sarcasm as your portion from the other fae. It's rather like being a slave in the south, and you can never be free because of your genes.

But the mystery of who killed Evening Winterrose, and why, is excellent. Through her hunt for the killer, Toby must make peace with her being a Changeling. And its quite telling that no matter how much she seems to hate being stuck in her half life, being neither fish nor fowl, so to speak, when the time comes and she's holding the dowry box in her hands- she doesn't choose to change who she is to one or the other. By the end of the book, she seems to have come to peace with who she is, and is ready to take up her duties in the changeling world again.

I really liked this book. The story is fast-paced and engaging, drawing you into Toby's world and making you root for her as she struggles against villains and obstacles on her path to the goal. She's suspicious and mostly sarcastic, but you don't like her any less for it. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Bloodhound Files: Dying Bites by D. D. Barant

Jace Valcheck is a profiler for the FBI until a strange dream one night catapults her into a strange alternate world where people like her, Full Blooded Humans, are in the minority. Because the world has been taken over by Vampires and werewolves, as well as Golems.

Jace is already a rather peppery-tempered person, but discovering that humans are in the minority throws her and makes her even more nasty and sarcastic to the man who is going to be her boss, a vampire named David Cassius. It turns out that they need her because of her human knowledge of insanity. Because there are so few humans, this world never got the kind of knowledge that our world has of diseased and troubled minds. And because of advances in artificial blood, there is very little murder.

But now someone has gone out of their way to kill both a vampire and a Lyke in extremely disturbing ways. Lost on their own, the supernaturals of this world need Jace's help to catch whoever is doing it. But Jace isn't exactly a strong fit with this world- not only is she one of a very few humans, but she has to drink a special powdered mix or she could die because of the disconnect between our own dimension and the one she inhabits now.

But even as she interacts with her co-workers, Eisfanger the vampire CSI and Charlie Aleph, the golem, she has an innate attraction to the man who is also her boss- but she's also attracted to the hunky Lyke doctor Peter Adams, who helped her while she was in the hospital.

The first crime scene was the death of a Lykae, torn apart on the silver daggers of an iron maiden he was forced into before the moon rose. The second was a female vampire who bled out in the medical room of a former concentration camp. A camp, Jace learns, that only held humans- for when the Japanese Emperor decided to rid Japan of humans, the humans weren't given a chance- convert or be killed. Forcibly infected with either Lycanthropy or turned into vampires, they had no choice.

This information horrifies Jace, and she confronts her boss, only to find out that her suspicion is true: Humans aren't rare because they died or killed each other off, but because the Supernaturals: Vampires and Lykae- were the ones who thinned their numbers so badly. This makes Jace disinclined to help the people who brought her here, but nearly dying because she'd stopped taking her medicine brings her back to her original job. She's signed a contract. She can't leave until the killer is caught.

Worse, she finds that the person doing the killings is really a Human, and that the kill sites all have to do with exterminations or forcible conversions of humans. And the killer, a man named Aristotle Stoker, has a grudge against the other Supernaturals because of how they have nearly wiped out the humans, and Jace is starting to feel conflicted, because she's not all that happy with it herself. But as her team travels to Alaska following Jace's hunch about Stoker's whereabouts, Stoker is already making plans to reach her- and to persuade her to join his side.

But can Jace seriously consider coming down on the side of someone who is a serial killer, if not a serial killer of humans? Will Stoker be able to persuade her that her cause is just and righteous? Or will her attraction to the Supernaturals, along with her inherent humanity keep her on the path to bringing him down? Who will Jace choose, and who will she choose to destroy?

Jace is another kick-ass action gal- when did that come to mean snarly and suspicious and sarcastic? It's as if these women were anything but, it would call their kick-ass cred into question. I'm starting to get sick of feeling like my action hero heroines all came from a "one size fits all" mold. Especially in this case, where Jace supposedly works for the FBI- because I have a feeling that even as a Profiler, she'd not be getting away with that crap on her job, no matter how good she was. Hasn't she even heard of professionalism?

Okay, yeah, she's in a new reality, and maybe that could just be bringing out the true personality buried behind the professionalism. But I doubt it. She never thinks that okay, I have to put on my professional face now. It's just all bitchy all the time from her. This issue kept kicking me right out of the story every time she descended into it.

The rest of the story I really enjoyed, The world-building, the enjoyable characters, and the magic- all made me give a little leap of joy inside. It was interesting and engrossing, both the world and people in it. We don't get to see much of straight humans, since they apparently all live in protected places, so we don't get to see how many of them feel about their situation. The ones we do see are damn mad about it and want to kill the monsters responsible- but how representative are they of all humans?

Even with the heroine's unprofessional attitude knocking me out of the story every few pages, I still ended up enjoying the story. I just wish that Jace wasn't always acting so unprofessionally. It would have made me like her, and the story, much better. Recommended.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Time for Eternity by Susan Squires

Frankie Suchet is a vampire with a tremendous chip on her shoulder. Back when she was turned into a vampire during the Reign of Terror in Paria, it was by a nobleman named Henri Foucault. But soon after turning her, he left her, and never came back. She can only assume that it was because despite her love for and attraction to him, he didn't really care about her.

In the modern day, she works at the Oxygen Bar, but when a female vampire comes in late one night, Frankie can't help but notice that she deeply loves the man who turned her. Feeling angry and strangely jealous, she responds when the woman strikes up a conversation with her, and discovers that Henri, whom she always meant to track down and confront one day, is already dead. Feeling nothing but sorrow, she asks when he died, and finds out that he died during the reign of terror- probably shortly after he made her.

This does nothing to ease her resentment, nor her wish that she had never been infected with the Companion, a virus that changes humans into vampires. So when the woman, Donna Poliziano, tells her that she knows where a time machine constructed by Leonardo DaVinci, is hidden, she decides to use it and go back in time and change her fate.

When she arrives in Paris in the 1780's, she lands near to where she first actually met Henri, but meeting the eyes of her human self, Francoise Suchet, she disappears and is drawn into her younger self's consciousness.

Francoise has long been in love with the haughty Duc, but she never thought she would meet him- until the day the elderly employer she has been companion to is confronted by the mob and her home set afire. The mob drags the woman to the Bastille, and it is only Henri who saves Francoise from the same fate. Instead, he takes her into his home, claiming her as his ward.

Henri doesn't need this complication in his life. He's busy smuggling aristocrats and other unfortunates away from the mob and off to England to save their lives, while pretending to be a smuggler and pleasure-seeker as a cover. But when he looks into Francoise's eyes and sees the mixture of innocence and knowledge in them, he cannot stop himself from attempting to save her.

As for Francoise, she is in love with him, but she believes that he wants to debauch her- that's why he has taken her into his home. Part of her- a very large part, doesn't trust him, believing the public face he presents to everyone is who he truly is. But as she attempts to save herself from him, and save her elderly employer, she slowly comes to realize that he is much, much more than the public face he presents to the world- and that regardless of his services to the new rulers of France, those in power, especially Madame Croute, the lover of Robespierre, who wants to have the trappings and position of the nobility, despite never having been born to them.

But Francoise is troubled by urges deep inside her telling her to hate Henri, and to kill him by cutting off his head. Why would part of her want to do such a thing? Is she going mad? But all her glimpses of Henri's noble side only make her fall more deeply in love with him, and when he saves her former employer from dying in the Bastille, she is lost. Only to find that Frankie still lives inside her, and shares her feelings for Henri.

She knows that Henri is supposed to die. But can Frankie and Francoise work together to save the man they love, or is Henri's fate fixed in stone? And does Henri love Francoise as much as she loves him? And even if she does manage to save him, what will happen to her self as Frankie? Will she obliterate herself by trying to change history?

Wow. This was a pretty amazing novel. Going from Frankie, who hated Henri so much to Francoise, who still loved him, was interesting. Only here, we get to see Henri's side of the story- the one that even Frankie/Francoise never knew- how and why he is attracted to her, and the sadness he feels about himself and his fate. He attempted to marry once, but the girl killed herself rather than be tied to a monster like him. Now he feels that no innocent would ever be able to love him. So like Frankie, he carries his own share of scars.

But once they are back together, she still finds herself attracted to him. Because Frankie is just vague impulses in Francoise's mind, she probes to find out more about him, as she never did the first time she knew him, and discovers things that slowly change her mind- and Frankie's about the kind of man Henri is, and whether or not she could love him.

Reading this is like a chance to rediscover a love you never knew you had- and remember good times you never knew you lost. I found it inspiring and uplifting to read, and very enjoyable as well. Recommended.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style by Tim Gunn and Kate Moloney

Tim Gunn is familiar to many as Style Mentor on Bravo's "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style" and Lifetime's "Project Runway". A dapper man invariably clad in a black suit and gray tie, he's perhaps most famous for telling designers on Project Runway to "Make it work!". But even before he became the icon that he is , he was a chair at Parson's School of Design.

Tim is no stranger to struggling with fashion and having a sense of style. Back when he was an instructor at Parsons, all he wore was gray. Gray suits, gray ties... he had three colors in his wardrobe: Gray, Grayer and Grayest. And then one day he took a good, long look at himself and noticed he looked like a little, dried-up stick of a man and asked himself. "Is this the image I want to project? Is this who I want to be?"

The answer was no, so he immediately went out and added color to his wardrobe with the addition of black, and then other color. But what about someone who has no idea what style they have, or what style they want to be? What if you are addicted to following the latest fashion trends slavishly?

That's what this book is for. Tim takes you through the entire gamut of dressing yourself, from paring down your closet to only what looks good on you and makes you feel fabulous, and then shopping for just enough to give you a multitude of fashion choices without ruining your budget or overstuffing your closet. But to ensure that everything you buy looks good on you, no matter where you shop, from the vintage store to Bloomingdales, make sure what you buy fits you. If your usual size rides up or is too tight, don't be afraid of going up a size.

A size is, after all, just a number. What's more important is the way the clothes look and feel on you. if the number bothers you, just cut it off! Sizes change from year to year and decade to decade anyway. What is a size three today may have been a 12 or 14 in the 1950's, so it doesn't pay to obsess about the size numbers.

But what kind of style fits you best? And is it possible to be comfortable without hoodies and sweatpants? Yes, it is possible, and Tim Gunn also gives advice on finding a style icon to emulate, how to pack and the modern day essentials beyond the "Little black dress" and how to update the signature piece of jewelry without resorting to the string of pearls. Get started on a fabulous, classically fashionable new you without dipping into expensive fads that may not look so good on you.

I loved this book. Tim Gunn's writing voice is just like his speaking voice, and I could hear his voice in my head as I was reading this book. His book reminded me that fashion is not monolithic, and there is plenty of room for all- but that Tim Gunn has a definite inclination to the classic and clean end of the spectrum, as you can see very well in his own mode of dress.

But even if you like different things, there is still plenty to love in this book- which gives you all the little secrets of fashion to make your life easier- from packing for travel to what to keep out of the closet full of clothes you have undoubtedly amassed, and how to find a style icon to steal ideas from and adopt into your own style.

This book outlines how to set your own style and keep your wardrobe down to the necessary basics to avoid overwhelming both budget and closet (especially necessary if you live in a big city like New York, LA or Washington D.C.). While you might not agree with him at every step, his advice is invaluable for living stylishly. Recommended.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century- 1910 by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neil

In 1910, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is headed by Mina Murray, and Thomas Carnacki, A.J. Raffles, Alan Quatermain and Orlando, a figure who shifts from male to female and back over time or is a hermaphrodite- it's hard to tell.

Carnacki is dreaming of a sinister cult bringing forth a special child, and a special stone- a moonstone and a moon child. He also dreams of a young woman swimming naked under the moon. He awakens in his bed with a shout.

That girl is Janni, the daughter of Captain Nemo. He wishes her to take over his place as head of the crew of the Nautilus, as he is dying, but she does not wish to do so. Instead, she swims out to a passing boat in the moonlight...

Back in England, Carnacki awakes from the dream and warns the other members of the League. But he's recognized one of the men from his dream- who seems oddly familliar, and Carnacki says he's an occultist, so he, Mina, Alan and Orlando go to an occultist gathering to look for the man Simon Iff while Raffles steals his file from the club.

Meanwhile, Janni arrives in London and takes a job in a low-class dive as a waitress. On his island, her father dies, and passes on the Nautilus and his legacy to her through his second-in-command, Ishmael. He tracks her to London and offers her the Nautilus and command of it and the men aboard her, but she says she doesn't want it. To do that, she must be a fanatic, and she isn't a fanatic.

As Mina and her team track down Simon Iff, Janni is assaulted in the tavern and raped by several of the patrons there who are infuriated by her refusal to make extra money by catering to their sexual needs, and she determines on a bloody revenge to assuage her pain and anger. And when Mina and her group track down Iff and his disciples, he says he has no idea what Carnacki's dream is about, and he is patently telling the truth. But after they leave, he is intrigued by the idea. What has the fledgling League set in motion, and where will it end?

This is a comic both like and unlike the other league comics- for one thing, it's a much shorter story in this graphic novel. But this is only the first of three planned series under this title, and the next one is set to take place in the 1960's or so I hear.

This takes place between the second League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book and the stand-alone 'Black Dossier'. Since BD was only published in America, some of the information given in that series is recapped here. Such as, the man that Mina is with is given out to be the Son of Allan/Alan Quatermain, but he is actually Alan Quatermain himself, who bathed with Mina in the pool of Ayesha/She and brought back to the prime of his life, and made immortal. Mina is now also immortal. We also get to meet Orlando again, the person who switches between male and female gender slowly over time (or at least that's how I read it).

But here we also get to see the introduction of new characters, from Jack MacHeath (descendant of "Mack the Knife" who is also "Jack the Ripper"), and Janni, Captain Nemo's daughter and the source of the song "Pirate Jenny" (at least, according to this universe).

This does tell a self-contained tale about the Whitechapel Ripper, along with the two continuing stories, and in the back of the book are some vignettes in which how Mina and Allan becane immortal, in which Mina encounters the frozen body of Moriarty, her one-time foe, floating in space, and another story in which it is implied that Orlando is O, from "The Story of O."

The story wasn't that long, but it sets the seeds for the story yet to come, filling it out with a story of Jack the Ripper/Mack the Knife. I can't wait to see what happens next- but I hear that by the third and last installment, The League will be down to one person- Orlando, who will be a soldier in a war. I'm not sure if I'll like it, but it Will be interesting. Recommended.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Batman: Gotham After Dark by Steve Niles and Kelley Jones

Bruce Wayne has only been Batman for a few years when he comes up against a dangerous new villain named Midnight. Midnight is out to do the same job as Batman, but in a more violent and bloody way.

Batman's first clue as to this new villain is when he finds many of his usual Rogues gallery committing unusual crimes. Unusual in that they are stealing mystical objects- the Hand of Glory. This makes no sense. Why would madmen do something so out of line with their kind of madness?

Batman is working with Gordon, and a new face, April Clarkson, a Lieutenant in the Gotham P.D. At first Batman is angry at her for taking credit for his catches of the villains he's caught, and she's angry at him for making the Police Department look like fools, but as they work together, they quickly warm up to each other, until Batman/Bruce wonders if he might have met his soul mate. After all, they are both having to live up to the image of their fathers- hers was a hero cop killed by the criminals he was taking out, and his was the Saintly surgeon gunned down in an alley

But as each of Batman's former foes assault the city, all working for their "Master", Midnight, Batman comes to question whether he is really doing the city any good with his nightly patrols, and whether Midnight's way is better. But as Midnight takes out April Clarkson, Batman must also solve a series of crimes pulled off by Midnight himself and discover Midnight's real identity before Midnight turns Gotham City into a true hell on earth.

This long story makes a very thick graphic novel, and the ending "surprise" to Midnight's true identity didn't actually come as much of a surprise. I had my suspicions with this new character showing up in the comic, but as a villain, Midnight makes a very effective foe/foil for Batman. Both have ideas to end crime, but they go about it in completely different ways.

Batman may turn himself into a vigilante, but never resorts to crime, the way Midnight does. Nor does he egg on other villains to make the situation worse before he makes it better, as Midnight does. And neither does he murder the people who is supposed to be protecting. An enjoyable story, with lots of action and quite a bit of detection. Recommended.

Black Dragon Codex by R. D. Henham

Satia is a sneak-thief who is always lying, about herself and others. Septimus is a young black dragon who wants to buy a certain artifact, Gilean's Cup, for his hoard of magic and money. But when Septimus is betrayed by a young human he thought was on his side, he changes back into dragon form in his rage and proceeds to lay waste to the town.

Satia hears the commotion and goes to investigate, only to be snatched up by Septimus and carried off by him. If he can't have the Cup, he can at least have a snack... But when he brings Satia back to the lair he shares with his mother, the lair is under attack by a Wizard and Dragonlord named Thordane, and his two small red dragon, along with a horde of Draconians. Using Magic, the wizard imprisons Septimus' mother, along with turning Septimus into a small human boy.

Bereft of magic, Septimus tries to order Satia to help him save his mother, but she refuses. When they are attacked by Draconians, and he asks for her help, she agrees, discovering for herself the power of the draconians, and the changes that occur after they die. she finds the changed Septimus an arrogant companion, but she realizes how truly lost he feels without her mother.

The Dragonlord takes Septimus's mother, Nox, from her home back to his fortress, where he intends to force her to do his bidding. But she refuses, even when he claims to have Septimus in bondage. Septimus reveals to Satia that his mother did not work with the Highlords, nor did she work with the Priests of the Goddess Takhisis to turn the good dragon eggs into Draconians. Perhaps she failed her Goddess by doing so, but she didn't feel it right.

Now, Thordane has taken her to his fortress, built on the ruins of a city once belonging to the formerly beautiful Ogres, before their race fell, doomed by their arrogance, the Irda. Supposedly, the Irda had a treasure concealed below the city, and the Ogres who live there still seek it, forcing the Goblins to dig for the treasure. Nor are they alone, for a fallen Solamnic knight also labors there, named Mosango, and he has befriended the goblin workers. The armor that Thordane wears once belonged to Mosango, who lost it when he fell into a drunken stupor after his squire died.

Once Mosango learns that Septimus is a dragon, he assumes that he is a good Dragon, and eagerly joins their cause. He leads them to a Goblin Shaman named Gneech, but Satia loses Septimus's favor and friendship when her lies about herself up to that point are revealed to be just that... lies. But Gneech points out that despite her lies, she has already tried to save Septimus, so even though she may be a liar, she is valorous.

One of the treasures that the Ogres seek is a sword of Kingship over the Ogres, and to save themselves, Satia and the others agree to seek this sword for an Ogre named Zargut, who detests Thordane. But the sword may be hidden in a deep tunnel filled with traps that none of the Ogres nor goblins are able to disarm. Can Satia get the others to the treasure without getting them killed? And if they find the sword, can she and the others free Nox from Thordane, and redeem Mosango's honor?

Another excellent Dragon Codex book from R. D. Henham. The Chromatic Dragons are usually portrayed as being unredeemably evil, but even Evil Dragons can be honorable and live up to their promises. And evil dragons aren't all alike- even Evil dragons may not choose to do an evil act because they don't care about those things. This nicely points out that evil isn't always predictable, not even evil foes like dragons.

And even though Septimus and his mother may be evil, Septimus still loves his mother, and there is affection between them on both sides- so evil can know love. Now, Satia, on the other hand, is a liar, and she knows it. But she almost can't seem to help herself when she lies. but even though she's a liar and the viewpoint character, she never really comes off as unsympathetic, especially because of the kinds of lies she tells. She's an orphan, with no family, and she tells lies about who her father is. at first she claims that her father is a Prince, so that Septimus will hopefully not kill her and see her as valuable instead.

She continues lying until it all breaks down when she's told too many lies about herself. And that's when the story takes off, because she doesn't need to lie to be valued for herself and her skills. But even though she continues to lie to everyone and herself earlier, she's able to admit they are lies. I liked this story as a wonderful adventure and for showing that Evil is complex, not simple black and white. And that evil isn't so much what you are, but what you do.

This is an excellent book that any kids in the 4th to 6th grades (and maybe even older than that) would like. Younger kids, unless they have advanced reading skills, may find the story too advanced for them, with language that may occasionally be confusing. Kids who like Dungeons and Dragons, and kids that have read or seen the Dragonlance books will find this story, and the other Dragon Codex books, the most interesting. Highly recommended.