Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Naruto, Volume 45 by Masashi Kishimoto

Sasuke and his team continue to fight the Biju, or host, of the Eight-Tailed Beast, whose true form is that of a massive Ox. Though Sasuke goes down early in the fight, his companion, Jugo, merges his Chakra with Sasuke's and uses his "massage" of Sasuke's Chakra to wake him up. Unfortunately, one of the side effects is that Jugo turns into a child.

Another of Sasuke's team, Suigetsu, tries to hold off the eight-tailed beast, but even though his water-jutsu powers are strong against the Eight-tailed beast's earth Powers, the Eight tailed beast is too strong for him, and he is defeated. However, the break allows Sasuke to call upon the inexhaustible black flames and he defeats the Eight tailed beast spirit without killing it. However, its Biju is barely alive, and the black flames also affect another of his team, Karin.

Elsewhere, Naruto continues training his sage power, assisted by a concoction known as toad oil. Amazingly, he learns even quicker than his former mentor Jiraiya, and with the power of the Nine-tailed beast inside him, as well as the sage power of continuously taking in energy from the outside to power his chakra and Jutsu, he has the kind of recuperative power that literally no one else has.

The Toad sage gives Naruto a copy of the first book that Jiraiya wrote, called "Memoirs of a Gutsy Shinobi". Naruto reads it and remembers his mentor, who he called "The Pervy Sage", and his quest to see that all people lived in Peace. He told Naruto that even if he died with his wish unfulfilled, he wanted Naruto to carry on his quest, and Naruto agreed.

Madara, leader of the Akatsuki, asks Sasuke if he intends to take over protecting the village of Konoha in the place of his brother, but Sasuke feels nothing but rage and hatred towards not only the leaders of the Konoha, who forced Itachi to kill his own family, but all the people of Konoha who benefitted from what Itachi did. He hates them all, and won't rest until they all are dead. This expression of hate and rage so shocks and surprises Madara that he is driven speechless. But something is happening to Sasuke since he called on the Black Flames of Amatseru to defeat the Eight tailed beast spirit, something that causes the world to blur and vibrate around him. Sasuke insists that nothing is wrong.

Lord Raikage is upset by the defeat of the Biju of the Eight-Tailed Beast, his own brother, Killer Bee, and he declares war on the Akatsuki, but his spy watching them is defeated and caught. But when their spy is caught and the messages stop coming, they still don't know where the Akatsuki are hiding. And when the Pains attack the village of Konoha, they use a "divide and conquer" strategy. Tsunade sends for Naruto against the advice of her advisors, and Naruto has mastered sage-level ability. But with traitors in the village wanting to keep Naruto out of the fight, and Naruto secretly practicing to add his sage abilities to attacks he can already use, will he be able to find out about the attack and respond in time to save the village, his friends and fellow Shinobi?

I feel we are definitely coming in on some sort of ending here, though with the amount of fighting in this manga, we still may be 5 or 10 volumes away. I honestly hope not much more than that, because this series has to be the longest I have ever seen or read. So much happens that it's actually getting a bit exhausting to read. Trying to keep track of characters and remembering how they fit into the saga sometimes takes a while, and now we're dealing with not only the Akatsuki, but the Pains and the rest of the Biju as well, and the story doesn't even seem nearly over, as the series is still ongoing in Japan.

What lies ahead for Naruto? I am assuming it will be defeating the Akatsuki and the Pains, and trying to redeem Sasuke from what he has done. That brings up the question of if Sasuke wants to be redeemed, and if he can be, considering his seemingly endless hatred for Konoha and its people. And even if Naruto can forgive Sasuke, can the many others that he has harmed? I don't think so. Not so easily, anyway.

This is an excellent Shonen manga series, and even though it's long and full of battles, the early books were fairly shallow. Now, however, deeper stories are being told, and they are much more enjoyable, even if they are a lot longer and more involved. These stories have a lot more to say and continue to hold my interest. It's still interesting to see where Naruto is going and what will happen. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Farscape: The Beginning of the End of the Beginning by Rockne S. O'Bannon, Keith R. A. DeCandido and Tommy Patterson

John Crichton is an Earth Astronaut pulled across Space when a wormhole opened up in front of the spaceship he was orbiting Earth in. Four years later, he has a child with a former Peacekeeper Officer Aeryn Sun, his wife, and Moya, the ship he inhabits with Aeryn, their child and others,m, along with Pilot, who is linked with the ship, is heading back to Hyneria, since Dominar Rygel, whose cousin overthrew his rule of Hyneria, may be welcomed due to rumbles of discontent with his cousin's rule.

As the ship heads there, Jothee, son of D'Argo. is along for the ride, having taken a leave of absence from the Luxnarian army, comes to John with a problem. He and Chiana, who have hooked up together after the death of his father, have had sex 52 times. In fact, Jothee is feeling a little... overwhelmed by it all. John knows Chiana was in love with D'Argo, and wanted to marry him, but Jothee is feeling quite... oversexed at the moment, and Chiana won't leave him alone. In fact, she soon shows up and drags him off to be again.

John goes to see Aeryn and baby D'Argo, named after their close friend. But John wants to call him Deke for short. John explains that the name belonged to a friend of his father's, one of the original pilots of the Mercury missions. He died six years before John left on his mission. John is carrying a potion from Noranti to calm Deke, who won't seem to stop crying, but it only works for a little while. When he starts crying again, John is going over charts with pilot. Aeryn seeks help from Chiana, but she's otherwise "occupied", and Noranti isn't much help. Only John seems to be able to calm the baby down, and that's giving Aeryn a complex.

But the supposed plot/plan to make Rygel the ruler of Hyneria again is actually a trap, and Rygel's last remaining wife is in on the plot, along with three of Rygel's former high generals. Rygel, Chiana and Jothee are captured, and it's up to John and Aeryn, accompanied by their son Deke, to rescue their friends, and get Rygel back his planet. Can Aeryn feel comfortable with her son when he doesn't seem to feel comfortable around her? Can Rygel move beyond the feeling that he deserves to be the High Dominar to be the kind of leader his people needs? And can John and Aeryn survive another encounter with the killer named Scorpius, who is on the planet for reasons of his own, and advising Rygel's cousin, Bishan? And what is this strange vibration John and Aeryn keep experiencing in the presence of their son?

This was not a series I spent a lot of time watching, because I always seemed to be working when it was on. I did manage to catch it a few times after the beginning, but it seemed that every time I'd managed to watch it, I had gotten further and further behind on the story. But this is a graphic novel (with, lets face it, a long, almost book-like section in the back, that is easy to understand and enjoy. You don't really need to know much about the characters, since it is almost all explained by John Crichton, the main viewpoint character for most of the book.

It's a sure bet that this isn't going to be the only graphic novel released for Farscape, though, as the story sets up two mysteries that aren't yet answered: 1) who is the man in the black cloak with the glowing red eyes who seems to be keeping a watch on Deke, and what does he want? 2) what is that "Time-stutter effect" that Deke seems to be able to produce, and what does it mean for the characters of Farscape? This graphic novel takes place after the Peacekeeper wars movie, and so fits into the timeline there.

I'd definitely recommend this graphic novel to anyone who enjoyed the series, or anyone who even has passing knowledge about it or the characters. It's not necessary to know everything to read it- even without knowledge of the seasons of the show, the story is easy to follow and fun to read. Recommended.

Star Trek: Nero by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurzman, Mike Johnson, Tim Jones and David Messina

So because of the Star Trek: Countdown graphic novel we know that a Romulan from the Future named Nero got sucked into the past to take revenge on Star Fleet after the attempt to save Romulus when its sun went Supernova failed. Nero, the leader of the Romulans who had been helping Spock, blamed him for the death of Romulus and that of his wife and unborn child.

Attempting to take revenge on Spock and the Federation, who Nero feels were also to blame, Nero gets sucked into the past, along with Spock and an experimental Federation ship that was supposed to be used to repair Romulus's native star. But he appeared in the past long before Kirk and the rest of the crew made their first voyage on the Enterprise. So, what was Nero doing all that time that he wasn't taking his revenge on the Federation? Studying martial arts? Navel-gazing? Learning to cook plomeek soup?

This novel explores what happened to Nero during that time. In essence, Nero and his ship appeared in the wrong area of space, and He and his ship are attacked and captured by the Klingons. Trying to find out why he and his crew are in Klingon space, the Klingons overpower him physically and take him to the Prison Planet Rura Penthe, where they torture him and his crew, trying to get him to talk. But even a constant diet of drugs, hard labor, physical and mental torture and being used as a gladiator for the amusement of the Klingons can't get him to open his mouth.

Better yet, his silence, and the diet of drugs open his mind, strengthening the normally weak mental powers possessed by the Romulans to a strength at or above those of the Vulcans. Now he can communicate with his crew without even opening his mouth, and read their mental replies in return. A former member of Starfleet approaches Nero. This man, Clavell, is a star surveyor. He was working on the edges of Klingon space when the Klingons captured him and accused him of being a spy. He knows that Nero is up to something, and he wants in on it.

Nero agrees, silently, one of his crewmen, a man named Axel, speaking for him. Nero wants Clavell to calculate when Spock will enter this universe, since they didn't appear together. Clavell works on the problem and presents Nero with his best solution. Meanwhile, above the planet is Nero's semi-sentient ship, the Narada, powered down and useless. The Klingons want to find out its secrets and use the ship to conquer the Federation, but thus far, they have been stymied. Until the ship abruptly comes to life, and incinerates the two Klingons on board.

Back down on the planet, Koth, the Klingon in charge of the Prison, wants an explanation for why the ship has come to life again. But he's found Clavell's estimates hidden in Nero's cell, and Koth plans to kill Nero. Instead, Nero grabs his weapon and escapes from Koth, creating a jailbreak with the other members of his crew, and Clavell as well. They beam up to the Narada, but it's not responding to their control. Instead, it has picked up something, something strange, at the edge of the Delta Quadrant.

Once they get close enough, Nero can hear ir, too. It's something sentient, something that tries to understand Nero. It scans the ship with bolts of lightning, and members of the crew die, including Clavell. Nero steps into one of the bolts and disappears. The crew doesn't understand where he has gone, but Nero has an encounter with a ship at the heart of the ship, revealing it to be V'ger. In this Universe, it has not yet encountered Kirk, Spock and the others, but Nero uses it to calculate when Spock will appear and grabs Spock and his ship. He has a plan to destroy Vulcan the same way Spock's inaction destroyed Romulus- and he wants Spock to be able only to watch it.

Spock, for his part, knows he is 125 years in his own past. He thinks to himself that he is at Starfleet Academy, Jim is still alive. But how can he, a single Vulcan with no resources but his knowledge of his own history and the past, manage to stop Nero from fulfilling his fiendish pledge?

Well, this book had lots of stuff going on, but I found it kind of forgettable. Okay, Nero gets a minor power-up and he basically sits around waiting for Spock to show up. He just wants to find out where. Now, admittedly, I didn't see the new Star Trek movie, but I had no investment in Nero's character. Okay, what happens to him in the future is pretty bad, but I knew he was the villain of the new movie, so I felt like, "Why should I care about him?

And, I don't. So this graphic novel, that focuses so strongly on Nero, ended up being a big borefest for me. I was hoping for Spock to show up earlier, and for there to be some sort of more verbal or physical sparring between them than what this story boasted. To put its faults more clearly: too much Nero, not enough Spock. Unless you are really interested in Nero, most of this story is marking time until Spock appears, and he doesn't until very late in the story. I could have done perfectly well without reading this.

So, like I said, unless you need to know where Nero was for the twenty-five years before the film started, from the end of Star Trek: Countdown to the beginning of the movie. you can give three words: In Rura Penthe. And add three more: Then he escaped. Six words sum up this entire volume in a nutshell. But unless you are that interested, it's not worth spending your money on. Read it from the library if you must- it's not worth spending $18 on. Not recommended, unless you are a serious Nero fan with money to burn.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Mislaid Magician or "Ten Years After" by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Ten years ago, Cecily and Kate were two girls who shared a love of corresponding. Caught up in a scandal involving a young mage who had somehow tied himself to a Chocolate Pot, then had it stolen by a rival, he involved his friend in trying to find it. Cacy and Kate helped find the Enchanted Chocolate Pot, and each fell in love with one of the young men, and the men with them. After they were married, they shared honeymoon trips to the continent, where the two couples helped foil a scheme to make a young man King of all of Europe, by investing him with relics of Kingship at ceremonially important King-crowning sights all over Europe.

That scheme was put to an end, and now the two women and their husbands are settled down, both with families of their own. Cecy and James have been sent to try to find a missing German magus who was sent northwards to survey a railroad line. Leaving their children with Kate and Thomas, they set out to find out just what happened to the man, and why he was summoned in the first place.

Meanwhile, Kate and Thomas have their own problems. Kate's cousin Georgina has left her husband and come to them for sanctuary- but neither of them can figure out why she left or what kind of problems in their marriage could make her leave her husband, whom she apparently loves very much. But they are also plagued with another problem- someone is sneaking onto their land- for what reason they cannot determine, and seems to be interested in the stone circle that is part of their family estate. Any attempt to deal with the intruder magically fails, because he can overcome even the heaviest of magical spells laid upon him.

Cecy and James discover what happened to the magus- he was somehow turned into a dog, and has been adopted by a local farmer who thinks him merely lost. But they are unable to change him back into his real human form, and, unfortunately enough, it may have something to do with another magical circle in the north and the ley lines, which are apparently being affected by the path of the local railroad. When the engine passes, it pulls at the ley lines, affecting the amount of magic in them and either taking away some of the magic, or adding more. How this happens, they aren't sure, nor why it is happening. Why should a steam engine have such effects on the magical ley lines, and why has it only started happening now and here?

Meanwhile, Kate and Thomas have one of their sons stolen by a red-haired man, and when they find him again, they also discover a girl who rescued him from his captor while she herself was stolen by the same man. However, she refuses to tell them who her family is or where she came from. All she gives is her name- Drina, which she told to their son. She barely even speaks at all, although it is obvious that she comes from the best breeding. But who is she, and who is the powerfully magicked man who is breaking onto their land, and does it have anything to do with the mystery that Cecy and James are investigating in the north?

I loved "The Enchanted Chocolate Pot" and "The Grand Tour", and this book is the ending of the series at last. Despite that, it provides a wonderful return for the characters who had grabbed my heart and mind in their past appearances. This, like the last two books, is an epistolary novel- that is, it takes the form of letters written back and forth between the two main characters of Cecy and Kate, and occasionally of letters between their husbands, James and Thomas. The letters span the time between February and June. Each letter passes on the news of what the writer has been doing, mostly in written form, but a few of them are in ciphers composed in embroidery stitches.

The best part of the novel is that both Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer have wonderful ears for language. All the characters convincingly populate their era without sounding forced or trite. If you have ever read the original Jane Austen, you will know the kind of era I mean. Thankfully, they do this without resorting to asides like "Dear Reader", since they are writing each other- mostly, the letters are written by the two female characters and are long and sprawling. The menfolk's letters are much more concise and restrained by comparison, generally sticking to the point. In the end, you generally end up preferring the letters written by Cecy and Kate, because you get so much more detail out of them.

I loved the way that they worked some real characters into the story, including Drina herself (I won't reveal who she really is except to say that this is only part of her name. A small part.) I loved the characters and the manners, and even the plot. Although I had an inkling of who was behind it, I did have to wait to see my suspicions confirmed in the book. I'd love to see another mystery involving both sets of characters, but even if they never write another one, it's okay. I loved all three books, and this one especially. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sizzle and Burn by Jayne Ann Krentz

Raine Tallentyre hears voices. No matter where she goes, if she touches where an evil person has touched, she hears their voice in her mind, spilling out the evil of their heart. And if she touches something that belonged to the victim of a crime, she can hear their last moments. She's used her talent to help a local cop solve cold cases, but she doesn't want any of the credit, allowing everyone to think that he alone broke the cases.

Zack Jones, on the other hand, sees visions. When he touches something, he can see its past inside his mind- sometimes as the person who used an object, and sometimes as the person it was used on. A member of the Jones family, he works for his family, investigating things of strange psychic powers, but he also acts in other cases as well. In this case, he is called to Oriana, Washington, to speak with Raine Tallentyre, who has just discovered a woman in the basement of her aunt's house.

Raine's aunt is also a psychic, but no one ever believed her, that she had psychic powers. She raised Raine, who had the same sort of powers her aunt once did, and prejudiced her against the Arcane Society. She raised her niece to not trust the society or have anything to do with them. Now, though, her aunt is dead. She left her house to Raine, and Raine was thinking of selling it. She contacted a Realtor, but when they were walking through the property, she felt the psychic spoor of a predator in her aunt's house, saying he needed to "burn the witch". She tracked it down into the basement, where she discovered a new lock on a locker in the basement. She had the real estate agent call the police, who opened the locker and found a woman inside. The only surprise to Raine is that the woman was still alive.

Because of the case, Raine is being given a lot of attention that she doesn't really want. Yes, she helps her friend, Bradley Mitchell, solve cold cases, but she never wants publicity for her help. She doesn't want her psychic abilities made public, because that would garner her the attention of the Arcane Society- something she definitely doesn't want. But it seems she's gotten it anyway when Zack Jones shows up in town.

She expects to hate him, given that he's not only a member of the Arcane Society, but also that he's a Jones, but when she talks to him, she's amazed to find that they have more in common than she ever dreamed. Not only does his power work in a similar way to her own, but they also share a power level in common, and people's reactions to their power level. Both are extremely high- high enough to be considered freaks, even within the Arcane Society, which is filled with people who have psychic powers and should, theoretically be more open to such things, but even these psychics are uncomfortable around people who are so powerful.

Unluckily for Raine, the man who hid the girl in the basement is a serial killer, and somehow, he's found out who is responsible for his prey going missing, and just like her aunt, this man considers Raine a "witch" who must be dealt with immediately- by killing her if at all possible. But first, he wants her to be completely terrified- so he breaks the teacup that she drank from in the bed and breakfast (each room has its own distinct and unique tea set) and puts a piece of it in the pocket of her robe in her home. When she finds it, Zack touches it and knows that Raine is in danger. He's already attracted to her, and he's not willing to let her fall prey to the killer. If it is at all possible, he is going to save her from the man.

But this isn't the only problem that will trouble Raine. First, her policeman partner, Bradley Mitchell, is up for promotion to chief of Police. He and Raine haven't been as close since he revealed his distaste at sleeping with her when Raine had fallen in love with him and tried to take their relationship to the next level. His reaction hurt her badly. She thought he didn't think of her as a freak, and maybe he didn't when she was helping him out with a case- but when it came to having a personal relationship with her, well, that was very different. Now, Raine finds herself drawn to Zack in many ways, including sexually, and when they find themselves in bed together, it's more than either of them ever dreamed, or even hoped for. But can they have a successful relationship when Raine questions Zack's motives?

Also, a noted true crime author named Niki Plumer is there to write a book on the hero detective that solved so many cold cases and gained such fame for doing so. She wants to follow him on a cold case, showing how he solves it, but Bradley knows that he can't do so without the help of Raine, and has the grace to confess that to Niki. She offers to speak with Raine about the book and tempt her with large amounts of money to work with Bradley for the book's sake. After all, it will make her famous! Of course, that's the last thing that Raine wants, and Niki is surprised and shocked when Raine turns her down cold, and decides to look into her background to see what she can learn about Raine.

Zack, meanwhile, finds that someone is out to kill him as well, and learns from the Arcane Society that Raine's father was kicked out of the society because of his experiments with the Founder's Formula. And Zack Jones's uncle was one of the people responsible for the raid on the laboratory, and had even romanced her aunt. But the raid killed their relationship and made her aunt dislike the Arcane Society- and pass that dislike down to Raine. But with the forces of Nightshade, an organization who would like to perfect and distribute the founder's formula, out after Zack and Raine, they must not only catch the man known as the Bonfire killer, but discover why Nightshade is interested in Raine and her aunt, and discover how her aunt really died. But will what they find change the Arcane Society forever?

This is the third Arcane Society Novel, written after the Amanda Quick title "Second Sight" and "White Lies". One of the things I like about Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz/Jane Castle is that her heroes are all Alphas, but tend not to be assholes who order women around and assume they know what's best for her. Instead, they are strong, confident men who know when they have met the woman who is right for them, and they don't fight it. They are confident enough to accept the woman, and all her skills and talents, and appreciate her for them. For me, that makes them very sexy.

But Raine is just as wonderful and strong as Zack is, and even though she distrusts him because of who he works for, once they are in a relationship, she never uses that as an excuse to evict him from her bed. It's not like they share a bed every night (more often they play endless games of cards to stave off the nightmares that both of them are subject to from the visions they receive (Zack) or the things they hear (Raine)), but Raine is under a lot of pressure in the book, and she doesn't crumble. Far from it. She's still able to look at things with a sense of humor and holds up very well.

The minor characters in this book are also well-drawn, from Raine's goth girl shop assistant to Bradley himself, who could have been a complete caricature and jerk in the hands of a lesser writer. Instead, he's a normal guy- a bit thoughtless and clueless when it comes to personal relationships, but that's a fault of many guys. Underneath it all, he's decent, just not right for Raine. I also loved Raine's adopted uncles, who helped her aunt Tally raise her. They are funny and very well-drawn, to the point where you probably won't even notice or care that they are gay- Krentz resisted the urge to make them flaming or stereotypical as well, to which I can only say, "Yay!" because in the past, in romance novels, being gay made you TEH EBIL.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It was a genuinely refreshing take on romance, and on the Arcane Society. I also liked Zack, and the way that he and Raine interacted, and how quickly they connected with one another. Not in a sexual way, although that happens quite quickly as well, but how they understood each other and what each other went through because of their structurally similar, if in kind different talents. I think I enjoyed this more than any other book save for Fired Up. It was that good. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Amaryllis by Jayne Castle

On the colony world of St. Helens, many people have psychic powers, but unless they team up with another person, using them is hard, if not downright impossible. The people who are Prisms enable others to use their psychic powers, but because they aren't used that often, some Prisms go into academia, while others hire themselves out from temporary agencies.

Amaryllis Lark is a very high-level prism, and she has recently left academia to take a job for the prestigious firm of Psynergy, Inc. Lucas Trent, the man in charge of Lodestar Exploration, wants to hire her to use his talent to find out who in his company has been stealing from him. It's not something he particularly wants to do, as he views all his employees as friends, but he also wants to save his company from whoever has been betraying him. He's frustrated that he must tell Miss Lark why he is employing her before he gets her cooperation.

Eventually, he tells her why he needs her services, and she agrees to be his Prism. Far from the icy demeanor she portrayed when she was questioning him about why he needed her services, Amaryllis is a little bit in awe of him- he's literally famous as a man who made his fortune by finding extremely rare minerals in the Western Islands, and when he and his partner were attacked by pirates, he fought back against them and won, even as the Pirates killed his partner and his wife. He took his partner's wife into his company to give her a job, the least he could do for her, but he thinks that she is the one who is betraying him and the company- and that a rare hypno-talent is making her do it.

Amaryllis scoffs politely at the idea. knowing any such talent using his skills in so unscrupulous a manner would need an equally unscrupulous prism working with him to pull it off. But while it is very unlikely, it is just within the realm of possible, so she goes with him to a dinner where the woman will be, then Amaryllis follows her when she ducks back into some hallways- only for the woman to attack her. Lucas comes to her rescue, and the woman confesses all. Not only did his deceased partner's wife sell him out, she did it cheerfully and happily- because she believes he killed her husband and used the excuse of the pirate attack to cover his tracks.

Lucas is taken aback by the accusation, and he lets her go. To Amaryllis, he confesses the truth- that both his partner and wife betrayed him to the Pirates, and with each other. The two of them had gone to a far island alone to be together, and betray him in ways both financial and sexual. But instead of paying them off and letting his partner take over the business, the Pirates had killed them both to avoid having to pay for the information they were selling. Lucas arrived too late to save them- and fought and killed the pirates, then tried to cover-up what had really happened for the sake of their families, and in his partner's case. his wife.

His partner's family also blames him for her death, all except her brother, who wants to take a job with Lucas and Lodestar Explorations. Lucas would gladly have him, but Dillon's parents are completely opposed to the idea, and Lucas doesn't want to cause any more problems with his family, so he has turned Dillon down, repeatedly, while Dillon tries to persude him otherwise.

Amaryllis has a past of her own, though- she left academia because she was in love with a man named Gifford, a fellow academic. She believed they had the perfect rapport and relationship- until she walked in on him making love with his secretary on his desk. That is when she fled academia for the world of business, never wanting to see him again. But she has another secret- when she acts as a Prism for Lucas, she feels things, and an attraction for him, that she has never experienced before- an amazing attraction that is nearly orgasmic in potency. Being an academic, she has never even heard of his phenomena.

But while they were at the dinner, they discovered another source of psychic power. A local politician has a power to do with Charisma, and he's been using it to get people to vote for him, and to get and increase donations on his behalf. He's so powerful with his "talent", that he's been burning out the prisms who have been working for him. And who has been supplying them? Amaryllis's old ex-fiancé, who desperately wants her to leave Psynergy and work for him.

But something else is happening- because Amaryllis' old boss, Professor Landreth, has died, but there is something suspicious about the death that makes Amaryllis want to look into it and learn the truth. Professor Landreth was making a study of unusual talents, but his death is very... strange, and Amaryllis needs Lucas' help to keep her safe. On top of all that, she finds herself attracted to Lucas. and he is equally attracted to her. But her family wants to have a special matchmaking agency find her a husband- one that is right for her in every way. She once was looking forward to this, but now that she is involved with Lucas, it has suddenly lost its appeal. But without the agency's experts, how can she find the right man for her and her high level talent?

Could Lucas be the right man for her, and can he save her- and himself, from someone who seems to want the both of them dead? Who wants them dead, and why? Can they find out who killed Professor Landreth, and what the politician and Amaryllis' ex-fiancé have to do with the case?

I was predisposed to like this book a lot, but in the end, I was more disappointed with it than enthralled. For one thing, even though this series was written first, it has a great deal in common with Jayne Ann Krentz's "Harmony" series. For me, that was a plus. I have loved the Harmony books ever since I read the first one, "After Dark" several years ago. The combination of alien ruins that glow green, people with psychic talents and stories of love and adventure really thrill me. I was looking forward to more of the same from this series- okay, without the alien ruins that glowed green, because I knew those were unique to Harmony.

This book is the first in a series of three books, all with Flower names- Amaryllis, Orchid and Zinnia. Similar to the Harmony books, St. Helens is a colony world that was settled when the Curtain between Earth and the stars was opened. For a long time, humans could travel easily back and forth over the hundreds of years between the stars because of the curtain which acted like a rift or warp between the stars. But then the curtain closed, cutting off contact, and the colony worlds had to grow on their own without input from Earth. Like Harmony, the citizens of St. Helena need something to facilitate their psychic powers being used. On Harmony, that something is the alien crystal- on St. Helens, it's other humans who are Prisms.

Perhaps its just me, but I found the whole Psychic powers of St. Helens just not as interesting as the Alien crystals on Harmony. Perhaps it is the mystery that they interject into the atmosphere. but I didn't find this book as compelling as Ms. Castle's Harmony stories. It felt like it was missing something. And Amaryllis, to me, was a character I found hard to believe. She's so prissy and uptight, she has to have it spelled out for her when Lucas hints at why his wife was with his partner out in the islands together. Her first thought is "Fishing together!" Which is comical, but how can someone be that naive in their middle to late 20's, really?

Academia isn't just ivory tower people- it has a nasty undercurrent much of the time as professors and graduate students battle for funding and whatnot. I found it hard to believe that someone that naive could have been successful in academia. Now, the blurb on the back of the book implies that she is a psychic detective- that's simply not true. She's a professional prism- a full spectrum one, true, but she's not a detective, much less a psychic one. She stumbles into the murder of her professor, and she finds clues by almost literally falling over them- a detective she is not.

The heat level is also absent from the sex scenes, and from Lucas's character. He's set up to be Amaryllis's opposite, but his emotions are towards the cooler side of the spectrum. For someone who lets it all hang out, who can be crude and brazen, he sometimes comes off as not emotional enough, and the descriptions for alien things are missing. You can figure out what cofftea is, but what does it taste like, smell like, etc? We're left to wonder as not a single bit of it is ever described. Is it like Chai? Does it just have lots of caffeine in it and have a fruity taste? I want to know!

It's not too bad a book for the time it was written, but compared to the Harmony books, it really does come off as less. Less descriptive, less well-nuanced, less interesting. Perhaps I've been spoiled by reading her later Harmony books, but I didn't find this book nearly as well written or compelling. still, it's interesting to read as the "Road to Harmony". Recommended, but with caveats.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fired Up by Jayne Ann Krentz

Back in the seventeenth century, the Jones family and the Winters families share parapsychic powers in common. But when they tried to augment their psychic gifts, each turned to a different method in which to do so. The head of the Jones family, Sylvester, used Chemistry in his search for the ultimate means of enhancing his gifts, but the head of the Winters family, Nicholas, turned to his own specialty- engineering. He built a lamp with strange powers, enhancing it through means of stones he created.

But something went wrong with both methods- Sylvester Jones's formula caused madness, and the lamp belonging to the Winters caused an unusual twist in their DNA, on that also slowly drove them mad. But Winters found a powerful wielder of Dreamlight to help him work the lamp and save himself, after which he created another stone, and wrote a prophecy for his own descendants with certain claims about the lamp. Without the lamp and a dreamlight wielder, they would suffer blackouts and slowly grow insane.

In the modern day, Jack Winters is the scion of the Winters family, and the latest to inherit the family curse. Already he's suffered major blackouts where he cannot remember what happened. The last time, he has hazy memories of saving a woman from someone attacking her. He needs to find a dreamlight wielder to use the lamp- but first he needs to find the lamp, as it is missing from his family home.

He turns to Chloe Harper, who is both a dreamlight wielder and a Private investigator, and asks her to help him find the lamp, then use it to save his life. She is willing to take on his case, even if his family's name isn't exactly well-liked in the Arcane Society. He wonders how she can find the lamp, which was apparently either stolen from his home or lost in the move his parents made when he was young.

But Chloe finds that the lamp is among the possessions of Drake Stone, a washed-up rocker that now makes a living doing three shows a night in Las Vegas. But before they can get there to retrieve it, Chloe and Jack must deal with fall-out from an earlier case of hers.

Chloe is so used to having bad luck in love that she decided to have an affair with one of the local professors in college. She already knew that he had an affair with one female student every semester- a different student. But somehow her plan went awry when he became more insistent about talking about her personality problems and inability to commit- as if he didn't have any. She's now decided on celibacy as a valid option.

But the student he had a romance with last semester is stalking him, not realizing his pattern, and he's relying on Claire to catch her stalking him. But when Claire goes to see him, she brings Jack along... and suddenly must deal with a house fire when the student decides that if she can't have him, nobody can, and sets the house on fire. Claire and Jack must work together to knock her out and get the professor out of his house, and afterwards, she realizes how attracted she is to him, and he to her.

Soon after, they fly to Vegas and retrieve the Lamp from Drake Stone. The twist in Jack's DNA allows him to use two different parapsychic powers, and he hopes that Claire can use her dreamlight talents to take away the second talent and stop him from getting a third, which would be sure to drive him insane. Claire is certainly able to manipulate the lamp, and she works to fix what is wrong with Jack, but he is startled to find that it doesn't remove the second power, it merely stabilizes it.

Claire, on the other hand, is of the opinion that his new power isn't really a second power, but a more mature, powerful form of his first power- and that the third power, which he had all along by virtue of his heritage, is to use the lamp as a weapon.

But someone is out after both Jack and Claire, and won't stop until they are imprisoned. But as Claire is kidnapped by these new, dangerous foes, she discovers a secret that she and Jack share, and which can set those imprisoned by the formula originally developed by Sylvester Jones free from their dependence on it. But when she is injected with the formula, can she save herself from its mind-twisting effect? And can she save Jack from those who would exploit him and his connection with the lamp?

I picked up this book at the same time I picked up "Running Hot" and "White Lies". Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle/Amanda Quick has moved to tying her Arcane Society series together more explicitly, and now with this book, part of her new "Dreamlight" Trilogy, she shows us how the other half lives. Sylvester Jones and Nicholas Winters started out as friends, but were soon estranged for each other. Each, however, contributed something lasting in their researches.

Sylvester Jones had his potion/elixir, which was a pretty epic failure. Yes, it increases psychic powers, but it also eventually drives you mad. And so much of his research was known, that others today still try to recreate and improve the formula, creating a constant threat that the detective agency started by one of Sylvester's descendants and his wife, must track down and deal with.

Nicholas Winters, by contrast, had something that was just as much of an epic failure, but at least it only affects his descendants. Still, sucks to be them. You could easily spend time arguing which made the worse failure, but at least in Winters' defense, his failure affects less people. And there's another pretty hefty price in that a high-level Dreamlight Talent has to help a Winters or they die.

But this book in particular makes me question some of the claimed side effects- the blackouts may come from another source, and Claire thinks that the second talent Jack manifested was merely an outgrowth of one he already had.

This book brings up a lot of questions for me, considering that now the Arcane Society history stretches from the 1800s to the far future of Harmony. And while this new book and the future Harmony book focusses on the Winters family, it also brings up the question for me- given the fact that they have discovered a cure for the madness inflicted by the person not taking the elixir any longer, have they managed to wipe it out in the future? Or will we find that the elixir is still a danger, not only on Harmony, but elsewhere as well?

I'd be interested in seeing this be answered in the future third book in the trilogy, because it ties up so much that is germane to both this series and the Amanda Quick Historical Arcane Society books.

I have to say that while I enjoyed the previous modern-day Arcane Society books, this one was my favorite of all. And not just because it so explicitly ties the three series together. I liked seeing the problems of the Winters family, since all the characters so far have been inclined to the side of the Jones family. I especially liked that the families may have found a way to bury the hatchet in the modern day, and liked speculating on what that means for Harmony.

The couple in this one is also very good, and I liked the way they interacted, and the way Claire's dreamlight talent worked as it was described. The subtle tension racheted up throughout the story as to who wanted Jack, and later, Claire. And I have to say, I liked what happened to the villains. It's nice to see that some people in Nightshade are finally wising up, even if it's against the rules of the organization.

Not only did I love this book, but I think it is the best book in the modern-day Arcane Society series so far. I was a little concerned that what is the middle story in terms of timeline was written first, but I can also see the reasons for that- we hear rumors about the past of the lamp, and then we find out the truth. I am also looking forward to the portion of the story set on Harmony. I think this book has re-invigorated the series. Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Running Hot by Jayne Ann Krentz

Luther Malone is an ex-cop and a part-time operative for Jones and Jones. He's reluctant to work for them, because the last job he did resulted in him getting shot, badly enough that he still walks with a cane, even though it's been months. In fact, it's likely he will always need a cane. He's taken up a secondary profession, bartending, working with two other ex- J&J operatives, Petra, and her husband, Wayne, owners of the Dark Rainbow bar.

Like them, Luther has paranormal powers. He's an aura reader, but he can push his aura onto others, temporarily controlling them. But it takes a lot of energy and usually leaves him feeling exhausted after he uses his power. But because he's no longer a cop, and the bartending work doesn't pay much, he still does occasional work for J&J. But after his last job ended so badly, he's not sure if he wants to work for them any more, even if it means being even poorer than he is.

So, when the head of J&J, Fallon Jones, contacts Luther with a new job he needs Luther's assistance on, Luther considers whether or not to turn him down. But Petra thinks he should take it, an intuition from her paranormal side, so he does. He's assigned to a surveillance job with fellow J&J agent Grace Renquist. Grace is from Eclipse Bay, Oregon, where she works as a librarian for the J&J archives.

She is also an Aura Talent, and Grace isn't her real name. She's hiding a secret- that she was Martin Crocker's executive assistant before he died in a "boating accident" on his private island. The truth was that he was selling arms illegally, having made a deal with a set of very bad men, and he was intending to kill her and dispose of her body, thinking he didn't need her any more. But when he tried using his new talents on her to kill her, she was able to turn his talent back on him, saving her life and allowing her to escape. However, she had to adopt a whole new identity to avoid being blamed for Crocker's death, and her body was sensitized by causing his death, giving her a bad shock whenever she touches someone else. For this reason, she dresses in long-sleeved shirts and wears gloves to avoid having anyone touch her- it hurts when someone does so.

When Luther hears that Grace is a librarian, he gets an image of her as a gray-haired old lady, but when he meets her, he's cheered by her youth and beauty, even if he finds it weird that she's wearing so much cloth and gloves on her hands. He invites her to change for the islands, but she turns him down. He's attracted to her, which concerns him a little, as lately, he's been neglecting that area of his life, and it might impact their job together. She does take off her gloves for the final plane ride, and discovers that they are meant to act as a married couple while on the mission, under the name of Carstairs.

But as soon as they check into the hotel where they are to begin their surveillance, they run into a strong Hunter Talent who, most assuredly, is not native to the islands. Who is he and why is he there? Does he have anything to do with their mission? Luther uses his talents to ensure he and Grace don't attract the notice of the Hunter, and Grace discovers that touching Luther doesn't hurt her. She wonders if her side-effect has worn off, or if Luther is simply special. but the clear indication that someone is after their target worries the both of them. It's not just the hunter, but Grace interrupts someone dressed like a maid waiting in their target's room, about to kill the real maid- and this female killer can use her voice to kill.

Grace runs her off, but it's obvious that this surveillance mission has gone south when their target begins meeting others with paranormal powers, and each of his associates is guarded by a hunter or hunters without a full complement of hunter-type abilities- which is strange, since just about all hunters have the full complement of hunter abilities- is it possible that these hunters weren't born with their powers, but received them from a version of the Arcane Society founder's formula? They hope not, since, the formula drives others insane even as it expands their powers.

It soon becomes clear that their target is also a user, and there is something in his aura that Grace can pick up on. The other men their target is meeting are the same, and Grace and Luther quickly discover that their target is part of a distribution network for the formula. But the woman who Grace interrupted in the act of trying to kill the maid and lie in wait for the man they are watching comes back to finish the job, and now she wants to kill Grace as well.

Luther and Grace are forced to take shelter in Waikiki, with Luther at his house. Having become lovers, she finds herself growing closer not only to him, but to his bosses, who are really more like his family. But can Grace and Luther survive the attacks on her and bring down the woman who killed their target? And can they find a forever love when their lives are under attack, and both hold so many secrets?

I liked this book a lot. I liked the way each character was set up, the secrets they were keeping, and even the villains. The female assassin was extremely scary in her thoughts and actions., enough that it gave me some chills. Yeah, she's crazy, but is it a part of her personality, a function of how her power works, or something else? Or even some of all three?

Like I've said before, I don't usually like modern-day romances, but this series combines the best of romance with paranormal powers, action, suspense and mystery. You are almost certain to find something to like in the story. And although there are quite a few characters in the story, it never gets confusing or where you are unsure of what is going on. I also enjoyed the descriptions during the lovemaking of how Luther and Grace's powers meshed, and how he accepted her when she confessed who she really was... many authors would have turned it into a "how could you have lied to me" and used it to drive the characters apart for a while. Ms. Krentz never gives into that impulse, and I commend her for it.

This was a wonderful continuation of the Arcane Society story into the modern day. The two characters, Grace and Luther are wonderful together and mesh very well. (and not just when they make love). I can't wait to read more of this amazing series. Recommended.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

White Lies by Jayne Ann Krentz

Claire Lancaster is a highly gifted Psychic, a level 10 parasensitive who can tell when people are telling her the truth- or not telling her the truth. She is highly unusual because most parasensitive lie detectors go crazy from constantly hearing people's lies, and feeling that everyone around them is deceptive in some way. But because of the way she was raised by her mother, Claire has an intriguingly unusual approach to her talent, and rates them on her own scale, right from "white lie" to full-on evil "Ultraviolet".

She is also the illegitimate daughter of Archer Glazebrook, himself a high-level talent, and was raised by her mother knowing who her real father was, but not wanting to break up her father's seemingly perfect family. When she decided to contact her half sister, Elizabeth, six months ago, her sister told her an incredible tale- that her husband, Brad, who seemed so perfect, a golden boy whom everyone loved, was actually evil and planning to kill her. Nobody else believed her, but Claire did.

Unfortunately, when Claire went to confront Brad one night, she walked in on his dead body instead. The cops seemed to think that she was his murderess, but Claire wasn't. She assumed he was killed in a robbery gone wrong. Even though the cops soon dropped their investigation because she was Archer Glazebrook's daughter, the other townsfolk in Stone Canyon generally assumed she did it, including Brad's mother, who was upset that Claire got away with murder. She put out the idea that Claire had been trying to steal Brad away from his wife, having a torrid affair with him, and when he wouldn't leave his wife for her, killed him.

But the fallout for Claire was severe, even though she went home from Stone Canyon and back to her normal life. Somehow, the whispers about her followed her home. Her fiancé left her, and she was fired from her job. And no matter who she tried to get a job with, despite her sterling record as a manager of a charitable group, also turned her down. Now, with her savings nearly gone, she's come to give her father a proposal.

When she shows up, she's completely unexpected, and is met by a business associate of her father, a man known as Jake Salter. Jake, too, is a high-level talent, and like Claire, an exotic. But he generally doesn't let on what he really is because exotic, in the Arcane Society, is often a more polite word for "Freak". Their meeting strikes sparks in both of them, but neither shows it for the moment.

Archer tries to get her to stay with the rest of the family at his ranch, but Claire declines. She doesn't really think of Archer as her father in any but a biological way, and she knows her presence irritates his wife, Myra, because Claire is evidence that Archer cheated on her at least once. Claire is adamant that she is only going to stay a few days, and that she will be staying in one of the hotels near the airport.

Jake convinces her to eat and drink something, but their conversation is interrupted by Valerie Shipley, Brad's mother, who definitely blames Claire for killing Brad. She's turned to drink since her wonderful (to her) son was killed, and when she sees Clare being accepted by the others, throws her drink in Claire's face and ends up pushing her into the pool. Claire refuses to get angry, saying that Valerie has a right to be angry. Even though she didn't kill Brad, she was seeking to discredit him, and her actions may have led to Brad's death.

But when Jake takes her to her car so she can drive back to her hotel after her soaking (Valerie is escorted away by her husband), she finds that Valerie has left her another present- her car's front windshield has been smashed with a rock. Jake then drives her to her hotel, where he discovers that she's lied about where she's staying, a little run-down motel that's only a step or two up from a no-tell motel. He tries to convince her to stay somewhere else, but literally, this is all she can afford, after losing her job and not finding a new one in six months time. The savings she'd built up to open her own firm are now going to support her, and she's fast running out of money.

At the hotel, she and Jake give into their sudden passion for each other with a kiss, but are interrupted by the man from the front desk- a midwestern couple who saw her letting Jake into her room think that she is a prostitute. She and Jake part, but she will have to return to the house in the morning to pick up her damaged rental. Jake tells her he will pick her up, but she refuses to let herself be commanded by him- she'll do it herself.

The next day, her half-sister Elizabeth shows up to drive her, and take her to a spa to relax. Claire is relaxing in a jacuzzi in a jungle room when someone attempts to stave her head in with a dumbell. Luckily, Claire escapes injury and gives chase to her attacker, only to lose her when Claire stops to put on a robe to cover her naked body before leaving the room. Strangely, though, the manager of the spa refuses to believe Claire when Claire tells her what happened. Claire has her suspicions that Valerie was her attacker once again, and follows her to her home, where she sees Valerie's car with a white spa towel on the front seat. But when she goes to confront the older woman, she finds her dead, face-down in her pool.

Once again at the scene of another crime, Claire is looked at even more closely now, and she knows to clear her name, she is going to have to find who really killed not only Valerie, but Brad as well, since Brad's death started everything. And Jake, whose house she is now staying in and who she has become lovers with, insists that she accepts his help. But he's more powerful than he is letting on, and his talent is also something he's not telling others. And his mission is to look into someone who may be manufacturing the Formula developed by the Arcane Society- something which awakens tremendous power in the user, but also leads to insanity and maybe even death.

But does the one case have something to do with the other, and can Claire clear her name and get back a life she nearly lost by being involved in Brad Shipley's murder. But with so many people covering up for each other and trying to get the investigation quashed because they think someone they love and honor is to blame for the murders, can Claire and Jake untangle the twisted web and find who is really behind it all? Or will Claire be imprisoned for a crime she didn't commit? Just because you can detect lies doesn't mean you can see people's motives for lying, or for muddying the waters. Can Claire finally connect with her father in a way more than acknowledging him as her biological parent? Or will her father be the one to blame?

I don't usually get into modern day romances. Oh, give me a historical and I'm all over it like white on rice, but modern day romances, unless they are urban fantasy or involve some kind of supernatural creature, just don't do it for me. That's why I was so surprised to find myself liking this series. Okay, I guess you can say that someone with psychic powers (which is really kind of what all these talents are) could be seen as another kind of supernatural creature, but I d still didn't think that would win me over- witness my reaction to Nora Roberts' Morrigan's Cross series.

But Amanda Quick writes extremely well, and I found myself getting into the series even though it was set in the modern day. Admittedly, this may be because it's a continuation of another of her series I enjoy in her Historicals by Amanda Quick, the Arcane Society, which takes many of the characters from then and brings their descendants in for us to fall in love with snd see fall in love themselves. In this case, we have an insular community- Stone Canyon, who is dominated by the Glazebrook family and their gifts and employees.

The main murder in this volume, involves the very unlikeable character of Valerie Shipley, who blames Claire for her son's murder. We find out, in the course of the novel that it is Valerie who has been systematically destroying Claire's life. She made the call to Claire's Fiancé and told him that Claire had been having an affair with her son, and Valerie who got her fired from her job by making an anonymous call to her employers accusing her of murder. And using the same tale, she's been keeping anyone else from hiring her. She also wants Claire dead more than anything- and tries to kill her twice. This made her so unlikeable to me that I actually was happy when she showed up dead. Finding the killer meant something to me because it would clear Claire's name than just to find who killed Valerie and Brad.

I really enjoyed this book, far more than I thought I would when I first read it. I did try to read the books in order (at least, in the modern day series), as I had already read the Amanda Quick ones. This is a good series, as the Arcane Society actually spans three series now, as well as three of Krentz's pen names, from Amanda Quick to Jayne Ann Krentz to Jayne Castle (The Harmony series, which she has just explicitly tied into the Arcane Society series, and will further with the third book of the upcoming Dreamlight series). I love this series and will continue to read it. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The DaVinci Cod by Chris Riddell

The DaVinci Cod is a book of cover pictures for books that were never written, a slim volume filled with pictures in Chris Riddell's style. It's a fairly clear style, with pictures ranging from the merely ordinary to the wildly fantastical. From "To Grill a Mockingbird" to "The Screwtape Lettuce" to "The Wizard of Odd".

I prefer to call this book "Books from another universe, slightly askew from ours". Most of the "books" are the same with a word changed or substituted. Everything from "The Ragged-Trousered Philatelists" to "Muddlemarch" to "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Umpire".

Riddell not only is an illustrator, but in his home country of England is a political cartoonist, as well as a novelist for children, with his "Ottoline" series, as well as being co-author and illustrator of "The Edge" series, the "Barnaby Grimes" series, "Far Flung Adventures" and so on.

Most of the books parodied within will be familiar to anyone who went to school, reads a great deal, or has studied the classics of literature (Muddlemarch, Wuthering Tights, Spaniel Deronda, A Mouse for Mr. Biswas. The Prime of Miss Aberdeen Angus, The Apes of Wrath, The Satanic Nurses), while others might not be as familiar (The Ragged-Trousered Philatelists, The Water Adolescents), Still others combine two or more books in one (Tess of the Baskervilles).

I loved this book and got lots of laughs out of the pictures in it, which are ones he did for the Literary Review. Not all of the ones published there made it into this book, but the ones that did are completely hilarious. I liked his takes on Charles Dickens, "The New Curiousity Shop", "Large Dorrit", and "Oliver Bust", and the ones that parodied popular movies, like "Heart of Dorkness", "2001- A Space Quiet Night In", "The World According to Carp", "To Grill a Mockingbird" and "The Catcher in the Fly"- all of which are also books, I know.

The book is small, and the illustrations are limited one to a page- all done in the thin-line style which characterizes his work. He's not above using images of the authors in his work, a parody of Oscar Wilde in "The Importance of Being Earless", modern-day figures "Sadam Bede" (which doesn't need to be explained) and even a Gregory Peck-like character using Barbecue sauce in "To Grill a Mockingbird". He's sure to draw a giggle, even if you don't necessarily know the work in question.

I liked this book a lot. Yes, there weren't many words, but the titles and the illustrations kept pulling me back in again and again to look at the book. I hope there's a follow-up to this one, because I've seen illustrations that aren't in the book, like "Hot Comfort Farm" and "The Forsyte Aga" among others. Even if it means looking at "The Naked and the Fed" again. Highly recommended, especially if you need a laugh.

A Case of Blind Fear by Martin Powell and Seppo Makinen

Sherlock Holmes is busy in London, tracking down a spate of strange occurrences, from the theft of strange chemicals from a chemist's supply shop, which sent the owner into the madhouse from what he saw, to the taking over of Moriarty's organization by his second in command, Colonel Sebastian Moran, who is meeting with a young man named Norton.

Moran wants something that Norton's wife had, but she has escaped him. Moran isn't pleased, and tells Norton that unless he comes back with what Moran wants, he will die. Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes is adding to his "VR" on his wall when he recieves a telegram to go to Ipping. He asks Hrs. Hudson to send a telegram to Watson, asking him to meet Holmes at the Station, but Watson never arrives, which isn't like him. Holmes is troubled.

Meanwhile, a blind vagrant is killed and his only possessions, a begging cup and his clothes, are stolen from him. While in Ipping, Holmes investigates the death of an innkeeper, who died trying to evict a strangely bandaged tenant. Although the room was full of people, they saw him fall down as if he could get no air, and he simply died. But the tenant had disappeared. Holmes goes to see the dead body and finds he died of strangulation, with someone's bare hands.

On Holmes' return to London, he goes to see Watson, who claims he is busy with a sick patient. When Holmes tries to come in, Watson says he is tired of being Holmes' stooge and sends him away. But he isn't busy with a sick patient. He talks with his wife, who asks who was at the door, and Watson says just a peddler, who he sent away. She says she heard Holmes's voice, but he tells her she was mistaken. Then, he goes into a room with a strange, bandaged man, and calls him "Griffin", telling him this must end soon. But Griffin has no intention of ending it any time soon. He claims a new age is dawning.

Meanwhile, back at his rooms, Mrs. Watson tells Holmes that a young man is there to see him. But it's no man, it's Irene Adler, made to look like a man. She tells Holmes that the safety of England is at stake, he must help her... and collapses. But someone is on her trail. As soon as she changes back into women's clothing, she is shot at in Holmes's rooms, and they must take refuge in Mycroft Holmes' club.

Meanwhile, Back at Watson's House, Watson's wife, Mary, is growing less and less inclined to treat their lodger well, especially when she enters his room to talk with him and cannot find him, hearing only the sound of his breathing. After that, she is terrified of him and sends a letter to the paper, presumably for Mycroft Holmes speaking of purchasing things from him, but really intended as a covert message to Holmes, who decodes it and realizes he must come to her rescue.

But in the meantime, Irene reveals that Moran and his men are after the letters that the Prince of Bohemia wrote her. They intend to Blackmail him, but she will not give them up. Yes, she lied about burning them, but she wanted to keep them for financial security just in case something happened. Now, her husband is being blackmailed to give Moran the letters to keep quiet indiscretions of his own, and he's turned against her. But can the brothers Holmes keep her safe while Holmes defeats the plot against the Prince, who, it turns out, is returning to London? And can Holmes catch a man who is completely invisible, after he has attacked and brutalized Watson's wife? For Watson and this man have a surprising link, but can that link survive so brutal an attack on the woman Watson loves, and how can he confess all to the friend he has lied to?

This graphic novel combines the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and H.G. Wells' Griffin from the Invisible Man. Watson here takes the place of Dr. Kemp in the book, and the action moves from Sussex to London. Since we can't necessarily see into Griffin's head here, it's less obvious when he descends into pure madness after being more or less a megalomaniac (he has an over-inflated sense of his worth throughout most of the story, and eventually decides that Watson's wife should belong to him- because he can do it, a sure sign he's passed the tipping point, but exactly when before that it comes is unknown.

I like the way the writer mixed the two stories, Griffin and the story of Moran. The author hits all the high points of the story- the murder of the blind man, Griffin dressing in the clothes of the policeman, the incident in the Inn. Eventually, the two stories collide when Griffin decides he should take over Moran's life, position and possessions, but by then, Holmes is already on Griffin's trail. The story ends much as the original story does, with the added coda of Watson and his wife, and Holmes letting Irene Adler go, with a present from him to her. It was a very nice ending, and I would have loved to see more.

There is another book set after this one, a combined novel in which Holmes takes on the Phantom of the Opera and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and now that I have read this one, I am ordering the next. Sadly, there isn't anything after that. But I like the artwork here, which give Holmes a definite canon look, right down to the (sigh) deerstalker hat, which I've already ranted about way too much.

I liked this story a lot, which had Holmes being much better able to deal with the spectre of an Invisible Man after having had such a near-mental breakdown after being shown that vampires were real in the previous "Scarlet in Gaslight", which I read when I lived in Florida 15 or so years ago. There is a lot to like in the story, and the way H.G. Wells' story was adapted to the time and place of Sherlock Holmes was simply brilliant. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pleasure of a Dark Prince by Kresley Cole

Lucia is a Valkyrie known as the Huntress. A Warrior who follows the Goddess Skathi, and who wears the bow of her goddess and has near-mythical archery skills. Lucia was given these things back when she was young, and dying in Skathi's temple, dragged there by her sister Regin after an unnamed tragedy. The goddess healed her when Lucia promised that she would take on all the attributes of the Skathians, the followers of the Goddess, which included to be forever chaste and celibate and pure. There are some additional drawbacks to Lucia's skill- if she actually misses her target, she feels incredible pain- also inflicted on her by the goddess, who fears that there is darkness inside Lucia.

Fast-forward to today, and Lucia is part of the Lore, creatures out of myth and legend who live alongside humans in the human world but hide who and what they are from the humans. She is chasing a pair of goblins, and they flee to a football game being fought between the Lykae, and their Prince, Garreth MacRieve, and demons. Garreth catches sight of Lucia and immediately falls for her- he knows she is meant to be his mate.

Garreth has his own problems to deal with. For a long time, he was King of his people, due to the disappearance of his brother, Lachlain, and probable death. Garreth decided to move the clan from Scotland to elsewhere, and chose America, due to a lack of vampires here. He's been lucky with lots of whiskey, song and free-flowing women, and he's tired of easy conquests who come after him simply because he's the King of the Lykae. He wants someone who will give him a bit of a challenge. Little does he know how soon he will come to rue that remark.

Because Lucia is certainly attracted to him, but she can't have any kind of sex with him without losing her archery skills. And with the Dark God Cromm Cruach about to rise once more in the world, she has to keep her skills- because she is the only one who can kill him.

But when their encounter turns sexy, and she allows him to taste her, he's thoroughly entranced, and won't give up chasing her. Knowing she can't, or won't, have penetrative sex, he still wants her and hounds her for more, even when he is captured by her fellow Valkyries at Val Hall, and she can't resist him either, even though she's certain she isn't his mate.

But when they both end up in Brazil on a strange boat, looking for the Rio Labyrinto along with a drunken captain, a group of scientists each looking for their own particular "holy grail" and another strange Lorean who won't divulge who or what he is or why he is there, things are going to get hot between them.

Lucia is on the trail of a Dieumort, a weapon that can permanently kill a god, to release the torment of Cromm Cruach from her life. As he gets closer and closer to rising, Lucia starts having more horrible nightmares. But can Garreth claim his mate, find out her terrible secret of why she is having nightmares and why she became a Skathian, *and* survive the horrors of the Rio Labyrinto without dying? And if they can do that, can they also survive the rising of Cromm Cruach?

I really enjoyed this book. The feelings and the passion between Lucia and Garreth are explosive, and their lovemaking scenes are very, very hot. But I like the way they interact in the scenes where they aren't going at it hot and heavy- he respects her archery skill, and even if she despises Lykae as brutal animals, she also thinks he is very, very hot.

One of the better parts of this book is the setting for most of it- the Amazon. Cole describes it in such real and immediate terms that it becomes a character in and of itself- beautiful, vast, uknowable, and able to kill in seconds. The River and jungle of the Amazon become something to be fought against and something to triumph over.

We are also introduced to a character as strange as some of the Loreans, but who is human, just... very strange. Where their Abilities come from their race, this character's come from a curse- which cannot be undone. It made for an interesting twist and mystery.

I liked this book a lot, and I am interested in reading more about the Loreans. I am hoping to read more about the good vampires next, but I'd read just about anything from Kresley Cole. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Walking Dead by C.E. Murphy

Joanne Walker is a cop, but she is also a shaman. Ever since her powers awakened late last year, she has been troubled by a number of strange incidents, and she's fought a God and lost her spirit guide, Coyote. Although she resisted them at first, she has become used to them, and now even accepts them. But she hopes that now she'll be able to settle down into something approaching a normal life.

It's before Halloween, but Joanne and her friend and fencing teacher, Phoebe are throwing a Halloween dress up party for her friends and colleagues in the Police Force. Joanne has given in to Phoebe's requests and worn a Xena, Warrior Princess, costume to the party. The sign of the success of the party is that everyone is at the party, not only Joanne's boyfriend and former co-worker Edward (who she and everyone call Thor because of his resemblance to the Norse God), but her captain as well.

But at the party, something unusual happens. The dancers are attacked by a gray, mist-like goop, and it's up to Joanne and her partner, Billy to prevent the goop, which is composed of souls, from killing the people at the party. Joanne helps to get rid of some of them by opening a door to the afterlife in her chest. Most of the souls flee to it and escape, but a larger clot of souls blocks off the light, preventing any others from finding peace.

Billy and Joanne clean up from the party, and accompanied by Billy's wife Mel and their Captain. Morrison, they return to Joanne's house to investigate her inner garden, the place inside of herself that powers her Shamanic abilities. In there, they find some of the souls, and most of them are of children. The eldest soul is a fourteen year old girl, and she tells them that they are "sown" souls. It takes some more questioning, but they find out she means Sowen- all were killed around Samhain, 50 years apart. Once again, they try to offer the souls rest and peace, but these would rather have vengeance on their killer, and they are willing to do anything, even take over Billy, to do it.

Joanne is able to free Billy from the spirits, and she feels all right, but she's determined to find out who killed these children and bring him or her to justice. The problem is that the spirits are so old, she has very little chance of succeeding, and who can kill children over so many years without dying themselves?

The next day, Joanne and Billy are called to the scene of a murder and disappearance at a museum in Seattle, and it turns out what has been stolen is Matholwch's cauldron, famous for bringing back the dead in Irish Myth. Not that they actually know it is Matholwch's cauldron, but it's big enough to be, even if it's made of iron-banded wood rather than iron. The two security guards who were in the museum are also in danger- one is dead, although Billy interrogates him anyhow, being as how he can see and talk to the dead, but the other security Guard is missing.

Correlating when and where the cauldron was stolen makes it the same time of night that the party was disrupted by ghosts. Joanne attempts to try and track the cauldron with her shaman sight, and knows that the thing is evil. It leaves behind spiritual stains like black tar, and when she looks out over the city, she can see black propogating everywhere. It's even worse when she persuades Thor to take her to the Space Needle on a date and the black appears to be growing.

Some investigation shows that the blackness is a mist hanging over the city's graveyards, hanging over the graves. And if it touches the grave, the dead body inside awakens, but Holy Water can prevent the body inside from coming back... as long as it permeates the grave before the sun goes down. Joanne gets her partner to persuade a group of priests to bless the water in the sprinkler systems in each graveyard and set them off, but she's interrupted by an old friend, Suzanne Quinley, who tells her that she's been having visions about Joanne, in which Joanne dies.

When the dead come to life, Joanne and Suzanne must fight them off, which leads to the return of Herne and the Wild Hunt, and a trip to the other world, which is drained of magic and possibly dying because of the events in "Coyote Dreams" (the third book in the series). Can Joanne free her soul of its magical rider, save the otherworld and then save her own from the plague of the risen dead, and find who is behind the theft of the cauldron and why, all without dying like Suzanne forsaw? If she can't, she may have a lot more unpleasantness to deal with!

I really enjoyed the Walker Papers, the first three volumes (Urban Shaman, Thunderbird Falls, Coyote Dreams) and now this one. Joanne has really grown as a character. In fact, she's grown so used to her shamanic powers that she's actually trying to have real life again, complete with a boyfriend, Thor. But as much as she protests, readers can tell that she has more than a sneaking attraction to none other than her boss, Captain Morrison- and as she's already comfortable with using him to sound her spirit drum, I can fully see them ending up together in some way in the future- because like it or not, he's already in a fairly intimate position with her, given that she's not even comfortable with boyfriend Thor using the same drum...

This book, given the title, seems like it would be mostly about fighting the zombie horde. Yeah, they appear a couple of times, but the focus of the book isn't on the dead, it's on the living, and on the theft of the cauldron, and the magical chaos it is causing. Joanne has two solid suspects soon after the theft, but she has to figure out which one of them actually did it- the director of the museum, or the anthropologist who knows so much about it, and to figure out why they wanted it- obviously, it's not just aquisitiveness. Do they want to sell it on the black magic black market, or is there another reason to want something so obviously used for evil?

In a way, Joanne's quest for normality ends. She and Thor break up over the course of the book, and the supernatural intervenes in her life, bringing her back to the otherworld inhabited by Herne and the Wild Hunt, proving she still has connections to that world. And, of course, her mentor, Coyote, is still missing, and Joanne feels his lack in her spirit life, but she still goes on.

This was an excellent book, and it still is an excellent series. I loved reading the story, which was gripping, and yet managed to raise my sympathy for the villain in a good way. Make no mistake, he needed to go down. He was lied to and mislead, yes, and he was in emotional pain, but he made the wrong choice and killed people, stole and caused chaos because of a single-minded desire. This was a marvelous adventure, and i loved it. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hands of Flame by C. E. Murphy

The Five Old Races are at war, and Margrit Knight is at the center of it. In this case, she is even the cause of it. When Malik tried to kill her in a fight at Janx's underworld club, the House of Cards, Margrit brought him down with a water gun filled with salt water, the one thing that could prevent him from turning into a whirlwind. and then Alban killed him. Now the humans, and a force of Selkies and Djinn are fighting over Janx's territory, and Alban has been imprisoned in iron chains by Biali, who is also summoning a convocation of Gargoyles to put him on trial.

But with morning, both have turned into statues on top of a building, and Margrit must find a way to get them down off the top of the building before the Super decides to remove them with a sledgehammer, which would mean the death of both Gargoyles.

Margrit is attempting to save him, but Alban doesn't want to be saved. He'd rather be condemned for his crimes, because he has killed two other members of the five races. First Ausra, and now Malik, But the feeling of chains in his flesh drives him mad, and he fights against them unceasingly, leading to him being imprisoned in the tunnels used by Grace O'Malley and her street kids. With the chains literally embedded in his flesh, he cannot take human form and cannot fly, and it's hard for him to do anything but fight.

Grace succeeds in calming down Alban, and after that, Margrit is allowed to visit. She does her best to stay with him and be calm, but when she isn't with him, she searches as best she can for a way to save him. At the same time, she needs to broker a peace between the Selkie and the Djinn. With Malik deadm none of the Selkies know how to run the underworld, and because of that, humans are fighting them for Janx's empire, and both sides are dying. Cara is injured and in the hospital and she asks Margrit to take her place in the negotiations.

Margrit proposes letting the Djinn head the group that takes over Janx's criminal empire. Some of the Selkies know business, but they aren't badass enough to run the criminal empire. Malik would have been the perfect choice to head the new empire, as he was one of Janx's lieutenants and knew the business, plus he had underworld cred. But with him dead, and the Selkies in charge, the underworld is dying. So she proposes the Djinn, who are badass, take over. The Djinn are fine with this, but they want something more: the name of Malik's killer. Margrit promises they will have it, if they agree, and they do. She promises to tell them after the trial of Alban.

Meanwhile Chelsea Huo, a woman who knows a lot about the Old Races, gives her some advice that could win Alban's trial for her. She thinks she will have more time to prepare, but she only has a night- and Grace manages to free the chains Alban is imprisoned in, leaving him free. But he won't flee- he wants to go through with the trial. Grace helps Margrit prepare, then takes her to the trial.

Alban declines to defend himself in the trial of three- strengrh, Wisdom and Compassion, as judged by the Gargoyles of Boston, so Margrit steps in and declares herself his second and steps in to battle Biali on his behalf. Alban says he doesn't want Margrit to fight for him, but it is too late, and he's already ducked out. Biali, however, doesn't want to fight Margrit, someone he respects, and he doesn't enjoy fighting someone who isn't in his league, so he nominates Grace to fight for him. She agrees, and the two women go at it.

But Margrit has a hidden advantage- she was given a sip of Eliseo Daisani's blood almost three months ago, and if gives her extremely fast healing. She can actually feel herself healing as she fights, and that gives her an unfair advantage, so she throws the fight in favor of Grace. The second battle is one of wisdom, and involves a game of chess. moving the pieces requires accessing Gragoyle memory, but when Grace tries, she meets a mermaid (with a dolphin tail rather than a fish tail) who takes her down under the water. Far down.

Margrit calls it "The Heart of the World", and there she meets a tremendous Sea Serpent with eyes many times larger than she is. It's so big, its tail wraps around the world and ends near its head. She offers it the pawn she is holding and it eats the pawn, then caresses her with its tongue. When she comes back to herself, she is dripping wet, which is very unexpected. The pawn she had in her hand is gone. The others ask her what happened, and when she tells them, they say she has seen Ourobouros, and is basically extremely blessed. So, she wins that contest as well.

The last contest is compassion, and the Gargoyle council asks why she threw the fight and why she is defending Alban for killing another of the five old races. She replies in both cases that it was the right thing to do, and when the council asks permission to look inside her memories, she gives it. But unlike Gargoyle memories, human memories are vivid and chaotic, and they get to see a blurring journey through her youth and then her life.

But the Gargoyles and onlookers get to see more than just proof that Alban was in the right. The Djinn see who was really responsible for Malik's death, and they aren't happy. But even worse is Janx and Eliseo Dasani, who learn that the woman they both loved, whom they thought dead in the fire of London, was saved by Alban, and worse, that she was pregnant. Now, to keep the peace, Margrit will have to stay alive and track down Sarah's children, even while the Djinn are trying to kill her for causing the Death of Malik. And Janx makes his last "favor" known to Margrit- she will have to bring down Eliseo Daisani's financial empire in the bargain. But can a merely human woman, even one with a Gargoyle on her side, be able to accomplish these things and still survive?

Wow. This third book was action-packed, and a lot happened. This book really showed up the imbalance between her personal life and her work life. She is still sort of working at Legal Aid, but she won't be working there for much longer, and her life with the Five Old Races is taking up much more of her time. So much so that at times she barely even seems to be working. But her professional life is in disarray, so what about her personal life? Well, also in disarray. Alban is on trial for his life, and even though she took a break from their relationship for a while, she is still in love with him.

But her friends Cameron and Cole must be told about her relationship with Alban, and Cole actually already knows and has rejected Alban as inhuman. Will Cam feel the same way, and how can Margrit live with it if both her best friends reject her? And what about her parents? They objected to her dating Tony because he wasn't black. How will they feel about her loving Alban, who is literally white? And how can they have a relationship when Margrit might not even survive the next few days.

I loved this book because we learned so much about the representatives of the five Old Races- secrets about them that you would never expect. But I won't even hint at them here to avoid spoiling the plot and the ending. This book does have a happy ending, but there has been enough change that a follow-up series is a definite possibility. And if there is I will definitely be looking forward to it. Margrit is a kick-ass heroine, but by the end, you can't exactly say she's much of a "normal" human, she is more extraordinary. And there will be a sequel- the ending indicates this.

I loved this series, and I can't wait to read more. I loved the unusual way C.E. Murphy characterizes the different races. So different from usual fantasy tropes, and I really loved it. The addition of the romance between Alban and Margrit was only the sauce on top of an already awesome dish. Highly recommended.

House of Cards by C.E. Murphy

Margrit Knight is a Legal Aid Lawyer who loves running in the park. Once, when she did that, she was pursued by some very bad men and chased into the street where she was hit by a car, Luckily, her protector rescued her, a gargoyle named Alban Korund. Though it took her some time to accept Alban for who he was, eventually, she did. And then more than to accept him. She fell in love with him. But someone was hunting Alban, and thought to hurt Alban through her. To find out who wanted to kill her, Margrit was introduced to some of the other Old races. Janx, a crimelord who was also a dragon. Malik, a Djinn in his employ and Eliseo Daisani, a ruthless businessman who was also a vampire.

Margrit and Alban faced down Ausra, another gargoyle who thought that Alban was her father and yet had abandoned her. But in truth, she was half-human, and because her mother had died birthing her, she received all her mother's memories the moment she was born, twisting her mind and driving her insane. Another gargoyle, formerly Alban's friend, and now his rival, looked after her but never told her the truth of her parentage. When Ausra tried to kill Margrit, Alban leapt to her defense, and was forced to kill Ausra. But killing another of the five races is forbidden to the Gargiyles, in fact, to any of the races, because of their low numbers, so Alban could be under sentence of death if anyone finds out- especially his rival, Biali.

One of the other races that Margrit stumbled onto during this adventure was Cara, a Selkie. Cara was endangered by Janx's gang and she left her sealskin with Margrit for safekeeping. She fled, and Grit couldn't find her again, no matter how hard she tried. At the end of the last book Alban decided to keep apart from Margrit because of Ausra's death, and she's been trying to contact him, but he stays determinedly away. But Grit's friend and boyfriend Tony becomes part of a security detail for a Hawaiian businessman named Kaimana Kaaiai, and with it comes the perks of going to a number of functions as his date. And Margrit can't help but attend, even though Janx has told her he's calling in one of the favors she owes him.

After the dinner party she attends, Kaimana wants to meet with her, and Janx tells her that someone has been killing off his people- he wants her to find out who is setting assassins on his people and stop them, even though she is just a human. And he believes Malik to be next on the list, so he wants her to protect him. Unfortunately for her, Malik is not a nice guy, and he doesn't want or need a mere human watching over him. And with his Djinn ability to become a whirlwind, she isn't able to follow him when he runs, so he can lose her any time he wants to.

Her frustration with Malik adds a blot to her life, but her meeting with Kaimana brings someone back into her life that she had been worried about: Cara. It turns out that Kaimana is also a Selkie, and he and his people are not vanished from the earth as the other five races had thought. But far from being a lesser people, they want to be accepted as one of the major races, for they are now one of the most populous. They ask Margrit to approach the other people of the five races for them, because for her success in dealing with those races, she has become known as "the negotiator". Just having a name is very good for her, because she is held in high esteem, and she agrees to try.

She also asks how they become the most populous of the races, and they tell her it was by interbreeding with humans. As long as the half-breed has even half of the blood of their parent race, they have all their powers and abilities. Any lower, and the powers begin to fade as they become more and more human. But they will also need to do away with the law that says that the other races shouldn't breed with humans. And Margrit agrees with that, as well. It doesn't seem fair to let the races, to let the magic in the world, fade simply because half-breeds are considered lesser.

But when she meets up with Alban again, she tells him that Janx still wants her to repay the favors she owes him, and what she must do. He gets angry on her behalf, and still not wanting to interact with her, goes to Janx to offer his own services in keeping Maiik alive. Margrit, for her part, since, Janx believes it is his rival Daisani Eliseo's killers at work, goes to Eliseo to tell him if it's his assassins killing Janx's employees, to please back off. Eliseo is rather stunned at how confident Margrit is able to be, and since his executive assistant was killed off in the last book, offers Margrit the job- at three times the salary she makes now. He also offers to keep her safe from Janx.

Margrit refuses the job, but as her current troubles continue to weigh upon her, she keeps the job in mind. She's always wanted to make the world better, but with Daisani's wealth, she could do more of that than in her current job as a Legal Aid Lawyer. But even her mother warns her away from taking the job. She knows Daisani, and knows that something about him isn't right. It isn't until Margrit's Legal Aid boss is murdered that her mother tells her how she came to know Eliseo. Once, Rebecca, Grit's mother, and her boss, worked together for the same agency. Eliseo was one of their biggest clients, and he tested them both, giving them information that would make them millions in insider trading. Her mother refused to use the information, but Grit's boss wasn't so honest. And so Rebecca left to open her own company, an honest one. Eventually, her boss retired from finance and became the Head of Legal Aid. but he kept the money.

Grit's relationship with the Older races makes her invite them to a meeting with Kaimana one night in Central Park. But her boyfriend, Tony, a cop, sees her heading off with a group of people, Janx and Daisani among them, and asks her what she is doing. Tired of pussyfooting around the truth, she tells him, but he doesn't believe her. And when he sees how she looks at Alban, he breaks up with her. It hurts, but in a way she's relieved because she didn't want to hate him. At the meeting, the five races vote to accept the Selkies and drop the prohibition about mating with humans, but not the laws that seep humans from realizing they exist.

In the end, Margrit decides to accept Eliseo Daisani's offer of employment, and at the Halloween Ball he gives, she reconnects with Alban, leading to a bout of lovemaking in the skies. But when Alban flies her home (quite literally), her housemate, Cole, sees him, and his fear and anger make him reject Alban... and want to reject Grit for loving him and making love to him. Margrit tries to persuade him that she and Alban are like black and white, still people, but looking different, but Cole rejects that... he's not even human! This causes her much pain, as she wanted her roommates to like Alban as much as she does, but, they agree to table the discussion for a while.

And Malik is also a problem. He and the Djinn no longer wish to serve Janx, and they have banded together to unseat Janx and take over his criminal empire. But as the chaos of the criminal infighting threatens to spill over and bring in the merely human gangs, can Margrit somehow broker a peace between the warring factions, and keep her family safe as they are doing it? Or will she and Alban be forced to kill another of the five races to keep the peace, no matter the outcome? Is there any way for the merely human Margrit to bring peace before the whole city becomes unsettled?

Wow, another great book from C.E. Murphy. I'd enjoyed "Heart of Stone" and the introduction to the races, but it seems as though we're going to learn a lot more about the races and what makes them tick. So far, our impressions of the Djinn are mean bastards who don't seem to care if they kill humans, Dragons are utterly inhuman but can pretend to be really well, vampires hide what they are from everyone. But they can go out in daytime and don't seem to drink blood- even their teeth are straight and white, like human teeth. And Gargoyles are very strong, and have long memories which they only share with each other, although others can ask the gargoyles what they know, and the Gargoyles may share it, if they are so inclined. But Alban, being an exile by choice, shares nothing.

It's been a long time since I read the first book in this series, and i have to admit, I'd forgotten a lot of what happened in the interim. But the different races, and the fact that a fragile human was attempting to negotiate among them )in more ways than one) was a wonderful hook, and the races, and Margrit and Alban, are a great draw for the story. I liked the relationship between Alban and Margrit in the first book, and in this one, she openly admits she loves him, and he acknowledges that he returns that emotion. Getting involved with her has made him get involved with humans once again, and he's a better man for it. His people can't continue to live in the past with the way things were. They must change, evolve and grow.

The book ends on quite a cliffhanger, and I was glad I had the third book nearby to be read, as reading this without the third book would have driven me insane to find out what happened. As it is, it's the perfect middle book- answering some of the questions left at the end of the first book, yet raising more. This series is quite unusual and delicious to read. You get sucked in from the first page and can't stop until you are done. Highly recommended.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Reawakened by Jeri Smith-Ready

Rhia's people are still fighting the Descendants/Illionders, but things are going badly for her people. The Illionders have become an occupying force in her homeland, and her people refuse to acknowledge the power the soldiers hold over them. Some, like Rhia's brother Lycas, have become freedom fighters, setting traps for the Illionders and doing everything in their power to fight the enemy. Others merely try to live their lives under the strictures the Illionders have placed on them.

Nilik, Rhia and Marek's son, has gone on his Bestowing. to find the animal spirit that will guide his life, when Lycas returns to see Rhia, Lycas is a Wolverine, and when Nilik returns, it transpires that he has also been accepted by Wolverine. Since everyone expected him to be a Raven Child, this is quite a shock, but Nilik wants to go to Velekos to fight with his uncle. Especially when he finds out that Lania, the girl he was interested in, was killed by Descendant soldiers, for which they have received a mere slap on the wrist.

But Rhia won't let him go to Velekos because of a vision she had when Nilik was born, that he would die in Velekos. By this time, she and Marek also have another child, a daughter named Jula, a Mockingbird. a Trial for any mother, but especially so for Rhia, since Mockingbirds and Crows often fight. She and her daughter are always fighting, with Jula sniping at her mother and not respecting her. Rhia makes Lycas promise that, after he leaves, if Nilik follows him, he will send Nilik back, and Lycas agrees, asking her to choose a password if she changes her mind. She does, but Jula guesses the password and passes it on to her brother to help him do what he wishes.

Meanwhile, Lycas's daughter, Sura, must leave her home when the Descendants outlaw anyone with third-level powers. They take her mother captive, but she is able to escaoe through a hidden tunnel and makes her way to Kalindon, where she meets a snake named Dravek. Sura has never had a bestowing, but feels that she is also a snake. Two people of the same animal aspect are not supposed to be with each other, but she and Dravek feel an attraction to and for each other that passes all bounds of what is normal and what is allowed.

Worse yet, Dravek is getting married to Kara, a woman who is a wolf. Not many people trusted him, but she has fallen in love with him. She offers to let him out of his promise to marry her, but he doesn't want to want Sura and doesn't accept her offer. He sets her on her bestowing, and at the same time, asks Snake for a message- is he meabt to have Sura, or is he misreading the situation? But there is no response from Snake, so he distances himself from Sura as much as he is able. But he still has to mentor her, and their closeness continually evokes thoughts of sex. Their powers, when they touch each other, are explosive.

And when they dance together, as they do at Kara and Dravek's wedding, the fire burns white-hot. But none of the other people in the village are snake, so none of them have a clue for what it means. Kara and Dravek go off to mate, Sura is propositioned by Etarek, another warrior in the village- but it's a very strange proposition. He wants them to have a baby together. Not out of love, but so that his father can communicate mentally with the other elder of his animal. Sura flatly turns him down.

Meanwhile, Kara and Dravek travel to another city for Dravek to meet with another Snake, Vara. Because Dravek won't be around to tutor her, Sura and Etarek go with him and his new bride so that they will also have more people to protect each other. But Kara soon learns that Dravek doesn't love her with the same intensity, causing a fracture in their relationship. Sura has become persuaded to Etarek's plan and lays with him all along on the journey.

Rhia, in search of Nilik, gets captured by Descendants. She expects to be tortured, but she isn't. Instead, the commander treats her well. But she is placed next to Sura's mother, Mali, in the cells, and Mali, who is of the Wasp, is just about unkillable. So he has to come up with a different way to torture her. He's placed her in a cell too small for her, and feeds her only rotting meat and swill. Rhia tries to help her, but Mali refuses to be helped. And then the Commander decides to use Rhia to help question and torture his prisoners, because he knows she can tell when someone is dead or about to die... like Lycas's second in command, Sirin, who the Commander wants to kill. Rhia tells him Sirin is dead when he really isn't, and Sirin lives. But he blames Rhia for collaborating with the enemy.

Rhia is eventually freed by Marek, her husband, and her daughter Jula, who impersonate soldiers, and have her "executed", but she isn't able to prevent Nilik's death, and worse awaits her people. Some of the totems are dying, like Bear and Wolverine. So many Descendants have come into the lands of Rhia's people, and so much blood has been spilled to try and drive them out that the spirits of war and vengeance are weakening- almost fatally so. When Lycas is nearly killed in battle, he has a meeting with Wolverine that drives this point home, and he tries to imprison the Descendants without killing them.

But if Nilik isn't the one who will be Raven-aspected, who will it be? Can Rhis and her people drive out the Descendants without killing them or spilling so much blood that they kill off their own totems? Is there any way to win the war without Rhia's people losing who they were? And what event will win the war without killing the spirits of both Rhia's people and the descendants?

This was a tension-fraught third and final book in the series about Rhia. The last time we saw her, she was a young mother who had to reclaim her child, Nilik, when he was stolen from her. Now, it's almost 20 years later, and her children are about to become mothers and fathers in their own right. But Nilik wasn't Raven-born, he was Wolverine, and I tried to think of how he could be both. In a way, I was right, but about the wrong person. I thought that Rhia would gain her third-stage power, bring Nilik back from the dead, and he would be Raven born then.

And yes, I was wrong. He dies and is never brought back. Someone else is the Raven born, but becomes one through an act of rebirth when his Animal abandons him. At the end of the book, Rhia's people become the Reawakened. There are hints that this has happened before, but not very often. And the Animal Spirits must also become reawakened to lead Rhia's people into the future.

To be sure, I didn't forsee how the book would end, but I did enjoy it a lot. I enjoyed the stories of the battles, and how the spirits changed how powers were given. Before, it was when children or grandchildren were born, but with the battles against the Descendants/Illionders, that was too easily perverted when young men and women decided to have children, no matter the cost for doing so, that they didn't love or really want. We see the costs of doing so firsthand. Sura has a child and loses her short term memory for well over a year, and Dravek accidentally erases a year of Kara's memories in a moment of pique. And so it is changed forever.

I liked this book. It was the liking of seeing a story I was deeply invested in finally end and seeing what happened to characters I enjoyed reading about, along with getting to know and feel for an entirely new crop of characters. Even though it had been a long time since I had read about them, reading the words brought them all back to me once more. This is a story you are bound to love. Recommended.