Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Marvels Project: The Birth of Superheroes by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting

Dr. Thomas Halloway was a psychiatrist in an old age home when he first encountered his patient, Matt Hawk, who was old and dying. But he had a story to tell, of being taken to the future, and being a superhero there, and of the many other heroes and villains, men and monsters that he encountered.

Dr. Halloway should have recognized the name, for he grew up in a prison, his father one of the guards, and the adventures of "The Two-Gun Kid" were something he'd been familliar with as a young boy. It's only when Matt Hawk dies and leaves Dr. Holloway his old mask and guns that the Doctor remembers, and wonders if the story he's been told, which he had dismissed as a senile fantasy, but at the same time been fascinated by, could really be true.

He starts to realize it is only months later, when Professor Phineas Horton shows off his creation, a synthetic man who bursts into flame at the touch of oxygen. Horton had hoped to create artificial human life, but people are shocked and horrified at his creation, which they consider a monster. He is forced to bury his creation by public opinion, and the synthetic man is buried in a concrete tomb inside a capsule bereft of air.

But this news reaches Germany, as the American secret agencies knew it would. It disheartens them, as the CIA and OSS hoped it would, but it also impels them to try and duplicate the process, or find another one, to make similar creations of their own to fight against America.

As two Americans, former military men,are sent to Germany to meet up with a defecting German scientist, back in America, Professor Horton's creation breaks loose from its supposed tomb and flies off, setting part of New York on fire and creating panic and chaos in the streets. Horton, who is now convinced he is on the cusp living in the age of heroes that Matt Hawk told him about, does his best to help those in the streets and decides to take up the cause of heroism by becoming a masked hero himself.

Meanwhile, the Nazis plant agents into America with the intention of killing off Professor Erskine, the man who is starting a program to make Super Soldiers to fight for America in the war. As the Americans settle on the perfect subject, a sickly artist named Steve Rogers who is too weak and thin to fight in a war he desperately wants to be in, the Germans plan to stop the project the best way they can- assassinating Professor Erskine, while at the same time stealing the formula and the product of his research.

But while their agent makes it into the test and manages to kill Professor Erskine, they don't get the complete formula, which Erskine kept only in his head and never wrote down, and they also don't manage to scotch the test. Instead, the sickly young man who was its test subject, Steve Rogers, becomes the pinnacle of human perfection, and is retained by the Government and military to fight the Nazis as Captain America. But the assassination of Professor Erskine doesn't stop Superhumans from appearing. The Human Torch, helped by its creator, escapes the airless tomb he was held in, and slowly learns to control his powers. When he aids a police detective kidnapped by mobsters, he decides to learn more about humanity by becoming a police officer himself.

And when the undersea ruler, Namor the Sub-Mariner, blaming the Nazis (and the entire surface world, which he believes is all the same thing) for the deaths of his people in bomb-testing by the Germans, he comes to America to take his revenge on the surface-worlders, only to be defeated by the Human Torch. In a moment, the public's opinion of the Torch changes, and he goes from being a menace to being a hero. For Namor, who has never been defeated, it is a bitter pill to swallow, and he will attack again, but hopefully next time, he will learn the difference between those who have killed his people, and the Americans.

But as Thomas Halloway attempts to track down the killers of several costumed crimefighters like himself, he comes into contact with Captain America and they must team up to take down the killers, and the menace of Nazi spies that still lurk inside the USA. But can they do so before the Germans perfect the formula of Professor Erskine and use it to make all their soldiers into Perfect Soldiers like Captain America? And can Cap check the menace of the Nazi Scientist known as the Red Skull before he succeeds in an Ubermensch project of his own?

I really enjoyed this graphic novel. It's been the best one I enjoyed in a long while from Marvel or DC, and it's kind of sad that the writers had to go back into the past to find such wonderful characters. That being said, instead of the graphic novel focussing on just one hero, it tells a history of a lot of heroes, otherwise normal costumed heroes and Superheroes like Captain America and the first Human Torch, but makes each equal in time and coverage, so that you never quite feel like any one hero hogs the entire book.

And the best part is that the narrator, Thomas Halloway, who fights crime as the Angel, was an actual hero from the predecessor to Marvel, Timely Comics, and so are several other of the normal (non-super) costumed heroes mentioned in the book. It's an overview of the early Marvel universe, and is very well-told, weaving several different comic lines and stories into a coherent and well-told narrative. When reading this series, the scattered and sometimes chaotic stories really make sense, and the end of the story wraps well into the beginning, with Holloway's grandson being given his father's writings and some of his possessions by Cap himself, who confirms that the Angel was a real hero.

This is one of the very best series I have ever read put into graphic novel form. I can't overstate how good and satisfying it was to read, and I'd like to see a continuation of the series, perhaps involving other characters from different lines and showing how their stories wove together in the 50's and 60's. Maybe that's too ambitious, but you know a series is good when you are dying to see and read more, and that is definitely how I felt after reading this book. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Beyond the Darkness by Alexandra Ivy

Salvatore Giuliani is the King of the Werewolves, and he's on the trail of a set of weres who don't want to bend under his rule. But while he is chasing them, he discovers the scent of a strange, purebred female running with the Curs. Not just any purebred female, but one of a special set of four he had specially bred to save the Werewolves, which are dying out. The Purebred females can no longer control their shifting during the nights of the full moon, which leads to them spontaneously aborting their pups.

While the purebreds reproduce by breeding, curs are formed when a Were bites a human and infects them with the Werewolf virus. But even the bites of the Curs seem to be losing potency at passing on the virus, and no one seems to be able to find out or figure out why. So Salvatore's scientists worked on the blood of purebred females to create four female babies who were purebreds, but were unable to shift with the moon, enabling them to be the salvation of the Weres, the purebloods at the very least.

Unfortunately, two of the girl babies have been found, but one of them married the Anasso of the Vampires, Styx, and the second, Regan, married Jagr, another vampire. And Regan was sterile, which meant that her loss didn't affect the fate of the Weres. But Salvatore finds himself unconsciously attracted to the female on his radar, Harley.

But Harley, who lived for almost her entire life being tortured by the Imp Curley, has absorbed everything she knows about Werewolf society and its King from Caine, the leader of the curs- and he's convinced her that Salvatore hates her so much that he will kill her on sight. And Salvatore, who tends to be rather arrogant and dictatorial anyhow, finds Harley alternately attracted to him and pulling away when he pisses her off, which is seemingly every five minutes. But as his attraction grows to his destined mate, can he convince Haley that he is on her side and gain her regard and love while tracking down the curs who raised her, and their leader, who apparently also holds her remaining missing sister? And can she find happiness and even love with Salvatore, and will her sisters be able to ease her mind regarding the King of the Werewolves, or will their words and help merely drive them further apart?

I haven't read any of Alexandra Ivy's books before, to my memory, but the cover of "Beyond the Darkness", which is the sixth book in the "Guardians of Eternity" series, did look interesting, so I picked it up. However, there is a lot going on in the book, which made me feel like I had missed out on a great deal by not reading the books that had come before. And despite there being enough information to understand most of the gist of the story, I still often felt I wasn't really behind the eight ball when it came to understanding the bigger picture.

I have to say that I wasn't really attracted to Salvatore, though. He wants Harley as his own, but he often got on my nerves when it came to how he treated her, I felt that he was sometimes an "Alpha male" in all the worst ways. Not enough to be labelled an "Alphole" as some have labelled the trope, but sometimes he skirted close to that edge, which was a turn-off for me. And yes, he rather redeemed himself in the end, but I still felt ambivalent to his character even at the end. The best romance writers can make the reader fall in love with the hero themselves, but I just wasn't feeling the character of Salvatore as someone I would even really be attracted to.

In the end, this book was not quite a success for me. It was a nice read, but the hero didn't attract me, and I felt that his arrogance and need to be in command often triumphed over the building of his character as a figure I was supposed to be attracted to, and for a romance, that's a failure. On the other hand, i did enjoy the way that Alexandra Ivy wrote the story and her storytelling, which means I'd still pick up another book by her in the future. In fact, I might decide to pick up the first book in the series and read this one again after reading the others to see if that improved my perception of the characters and story. Right now, not recommended, but I am willing to change my mind on this.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bayou Moon by Illona Andrews

William is a changeling. Nobody trusts changelings, and in the Kingdom of Louisiana, they are simply killed out of hand. But in the neighboring realm of Adrianglian, they are taken from their families and raised in Orphanages that are just this side of abuse. Most go straight into the military after they leave the orphanage, just as William did. Now he lives in the Broken, our world without magic, and spends his time between the Broken, the Weird, that world of magic, and the Edge, that place that is both and neither.

Summoned back to Adrianglian to track down a demented Weird noble named Spider who killed an entire group of Changelings and is now tracking down a magical weapon that could cause the Louisianans to gain the upper hand in the war that is ongoing between the two realms, he is sent by the Mirror, the head of the Adrianglian spy service, to track down Spider and to finally kill him- and to get whatever he is after for Adrianglian.

Cerise Mar is an Edger, the daughter of a scientist and his wife from the Weird who settled in the Edge after they were banished. Now, their family is in an on-again, off again feud with the Sheerile family, and her parents have both disappeared. When she goes out riding to find them, the Sheerile brothers claim that her parents sold them part of the Mar family property, and show her a signed deed to "prove" it. Only she knows that her parents would never have done something like that. The Sheeriles also let slip that the Hand, a group of Louisianan enforcers, is in the area, and wanted to speak with her parents, which fills Cerise with dread.

With her parents gone, she is in charge of the family, and she must enter the weird to find her Uncle who is the only one who has a copy of the deed granting her family ownership. And when she comes back, she must put an end to the feud once and for all, by either killing the Sheeriles or killing her own family in the process. And find her parents one way or another.

Unbeknownst to Cerise, her mother has been taken by the Hand operatives, including Spider, and is being turned into an assassin by them as they break her with torture and graft her with a tree for the weird. But on her way home, she meets with William and forms a connection with him as they fight the swamp and the creatures in it to return to the Edge. But when William gets involved with the family, can he ferret out a traitor within their ranks and find Spider and his operatives before they find and kill him? And can Cerise find some sort of happy ending with William, who she has come to care for? Or will the Hand and the Sheeriles grind her family down to dust?

This book is a sequel to the previous Edge novel "On the Edge" and while the Mar family is definitely more combative and more possessed of magic than the Drayton family, I found this book a little more engaging because of the many characters within it. It's sort of the Hatfields and the McCoys writ large, and with magic in the mix as well. Because of that, I did feel some distaste for all the feuding. The origin of the feud seemed just as stupid as any real feud, and there was little right in the past on either side. It's only in the latest round of "who done who wrong' that I felt sympathy for the Mar family at all.

Cerise is one of the few people in her family who come off at all well. She's the one who has held everything together. She's the one who balances the books and finds money to send the kids to school and to have money for books and clothes. So when her parents go missing, it's natural that she takes over in all aspects of the family, even though some want to reject her being in control simply because she's a woman- she's already looking out for everyone, and adding more to her job is something she'll shoulder the burden of.

William, even though he's got a large third person subjective role in the story, is a bit more of a cipher. Yes, his wants and desires are straightforward. but because of his upbringing, he's still something of a cipher. We sort of get hints of what he can do, but it isn't until near the end that we see all his talents in full swing. He does come off better than most of the Mar family, or the Sheeriles, for that matter. Most of the other characters are eccentric at best and repulsive at worst.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy this novel, although I wasn't sure where the Mars and Sheeriles fit into the Edge of the last book, and I did really want to know. How big is the Edge, and where does it extend? It's sometimes hard to put your mind around because its not really explained. I recommend this book regardless as another look at the Edge from a much different perspective. Well-told and mostly enjoyable. Recommended.

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Twelfth Grade Kills by Heather Brewer

Vladimir Tod is a vampire, and the only vampire who was born of a woman rather than created with a bite. This makes him rather special in vampire society, and there is a prophecy about a vampire being born and who is known as the Pravus. But the impact of the Pravus is debated. He is supposed to either rule the vampires or to take over the humans and rule them as a despot.

Vlad is still off-balance from the results of his last year. He drank from the vampire known as Dorian, who may have been mad, but who was the keeper of the prophecy of the Pravus. Dorian saved Vlad from a stake wielded by his supposed friend Joss, a vampire slayer, and was dying anyway. Dorian begged Vlad to drink his blood, the only way he would know the truth of the Prophecy of the Pravus for himself. In the aftermath of drinking Dorian's blood, Vlad nearly beat Joss to death and was only stopped by the appearance of his father, who told him not to kill the boy. Then, his father disappeared.

Now, Vlad tries to stay by Joss's side with his friend and Drudge, Henry, as they wait for the paramedics to arrive. Henry wants Vlad to flee and avoid lots of hard questions, but no one seems to suspect that Vlad had anything to do with Joss's injuries. But at the hospital, Joss's mother tells Vlad to stay away from her son, and Vlad agrees. But as soon as he arrives home, he gets two shocking pieces of information. First of all, Slayers are in town and they want Vlad dead. Vlad knocks out two Slayers disguised as cops who attack him in an alley. But the sight of them in Bathory makes him cautious.

Second comes from Em, a member of the vampire council. First comes the shocking news that D'Ablo is dead. Killed by someone unknown. Second is a summons from the council for Vlad to pay for his father's crimes. To wit: falling in love with a human woman and sharing the secret of vampire existence with her. Em promises Vlad that he will be put on trial for his father's crimes, and she will take pleasure in executing him for them. Vlad tells her that he has seen his father... alive. Em is momentarily taken aback by this news and tells Vlad that he has until the end of the year to bring his father in. Either his father, Tomas, will pay for his crimes, or Vlad will.

Vlad immediately sets off in search of Tomas, without any luck whatsoever. He also tells Ottis about his father's reappearance, and Ottis doesn't necessarily believe Vlad. He thinks that Tomas was a vision that came from Vlad drinking Dorian's blood. And it seems that Vlad has inherited some of Dorian's seeing abilities, but that is nothing compared to the sensation when Tomas reappears, and Ottis sees him as well.

Tomas, it seems, survived the fire long ago, as he had gone to Elysium to spy on it. Even though he was banished from Elysium and the presence of other vampires, his hunger for their society made him spy on them, and to break into their libraries to read what books they had on the Pravus. When he left to do so that day, it meant he was out of the house when whoever it was broke in and set the fire, killing Vladimir's mother. He doesn't know whose body it was that was taken for his own, nor what really happened. By the time he returned, his wife was dead, and the fire was already burning out of control. He hid out of fear, and in hopes that Vlad would not be blamed for his crimes. Obviously, that hope has come to naught, so he plans to stick around to be tried himself and take the burden off of Vlad. It's the only thing he can do for his son now.

Meanwhile, Vlad returns to school for his senior yeat, and, having given up Snow, the girl he loves, he's very much alone. Joss comes to him to tell Vlad he's sorry, and that he didn't have a choice about attacking him. The society of Slayers gave him an ultimatum. Either he kills Vlad or the Slayers will wipe the entire population of the town from the face of the earth. Everyone, humans included. And considering that Slayers train to fight vampires, against humans, the humans would be completely outclassed. Joss hopes to get Vlad to agree to let Joss kill him, because Joss knows that there is no way he could kill Vlad on his own. And he doesn't want his own family to be killed. Joss only has to the end of the year- that's because to kill everyone in town, it will take all the Slayers in the world, and it takes time for all of them to gather.

Vlad can't agree to let Joss kill him, but he can't let everyone in town die, either. And then there is Eddie Poe, the guy who wanted to become somebody by exposing Vlad's secret to the world. Now, he has plenty of evidence to throw Vlad to the wolves, but he's changed what he wants. Now he wants Vlad to turn him into a vampire, or he'll screw Vlad over by exposing his secret to everyone. Unfortunately for Eddie, Vlad doesn't really care any more. With an entire society of Slayers coming to kill him, how much worse could his life get?

But Vlad, who must struggle to forgive his father for abandoning both him and his mother, must soon struggle with a last minute defection by someone he loves dearly. And when the cost is a toll in lives and people he loves, Vlad must come to terms with a battle that could result in the death of everyone he cares for. Is the Pravus a savior or a tyrant, and what choices must Vlad make on his way to discovering the truth? Will everyone he loved desert him, or will he find his own way to be what he must, the Pravus?

This book takes the conflicts and problems of the last four books and ramps them all up to eleven. No longer does Vlad have to worry about being outed or being rejected by his friends. He's pretty much out there and most people have some idea of what he is. But all his bad decisions are coming home to roost and with the kick in the pants that it's not just his own life he is putting at risk any more. Now, it's Ottis and Nelly, Joss and Henry and everyone in town who could die if Vlad fails or turns into a petty tyrant.

I have to admit, that even though I am a pretty suspicious person, I never saw the betrayal of Vlad coming until it nearly happened, and that was quite a trick to pull off. It's not a pretty ending- there is enough death to satisfy any kind of tragedy-lover, and even though the ending was fairly happy overall, it ended up being rather bittersweet. Vlad has picked himself up and gone on with his life, but an echo of tragedy hangs over his life. And I also wanted to see exactly how he will live out his own version of being the Pravus- the ending made me curious to see what he will do with the job/position.

I have found this series quite wonderful and enjoyable. Only one thing sort of nags me about the ending- it seems like the toll in characters was mostly female when it came to real deaths. Vlad's mother really perished, and there were several others it would spoil the ending to name, but it seems to have been largely a female tragedy rather than a balanced one (i.e. more women died than men, even if there was a last-minute save for one of them), and I feel vaguely disappointed because of that. But still, I have no qualms about recommending this book, and this series, most highly. Overall, it is a taut, well-told story that makes you care in some way about all of the characters. Very Highly Recommended.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Keep the Change by Steve Dublanica

Steve Dublanica wrote the highly successful book called "Waiter Rant", about the trials and tribulations he experienced in his life as a waiter. Originally, the stories were posted on his blog, which featured his restaurant under a made-up name, which eventually morphed into a book. Since much of his book revolved around the tips waiters do or do not get, people assumed that Dublanica was some sort of Guru of tipping and knew how much people should tip for every job and every profession under the sun.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. So to bolster his deficiencies in his knowledge, he set off on a trek across America, looking into the sorts of jobs and professions that people tip for to see how much is a usual tip and how much the people in that profession would like to be tipped. And in the course of his travels, he not only fills the gaps in his own knowledge, but comes to some very interesting conclusions about the origins of tipping and why some professions are tipped and others are not.

And that is because a profession where, traditionally, tips have never been given is very resistant to the introduction of tipping. Prostitution, for example, is something where men, even if their experience was something wonderful and beyond the norm, are not going to tip the woman who gave it to them. That's because, traditionally, it's not something you tip for. On the other hand, houses where men are sexually abused by women (S&M, Bondage and Domination and so on) usually do, because they are much newer and therefore are not seen as something you can get away with not tipping for. One thing I found most unusual here are "Marking fees". You can be into Sadism as much as you like, but if you pay for it in a house and want to leave marks, you have to pay a marking fee. The worse the damage you want to leave, the more you have to pay for it (presumably so that the girl can recover and make up for the lost time you are costing her).

Other professions that people don't tip for or tip too little for are things like shoeshines, drinks from bartenders and cab rides. And in Las Vegas, he goes to the strip club known as the Peppermint Hippo for a straight talk with strippers about what kinds of tips they accept, and why the club will ferry you to their door in a limo and consider it cheaper than having you take a cab there (because cab drivers must get kickbacks from the club for every guy they take there, whereas the house-owned limo is free to the club, saving them $30 for every patron).

And it's not just that tipping people makes you seem generous, tips can also make sure you are seen quicker by a mechanic or hair stylist, ensure the maid doesn't rat you out for smoking in a non-smoking room, changes your sheets every day, or that your mechanic or stylist doesn't do a half-assed job or your waiter or waitress doesn't "accidentally" dump a drink or tray of food on you, which can happen if you are a nasty enough piece of work and push your luck,

In the end, though, Dublanica realized that he didn't have to go around the world to discover what each profession wanted to be tipped. He came up with a simple formula that anybody could use at any time. Ask the person who is providing you with the service. Ask them what they want to be tipped. If you don't know and are unsure, ask. That way you can't go wrong.

But even before he gets to that gem of advice, Dublanica's book is sure to amuse, entertain and inform. With his interviews of a cross-section of people who perform various services to other people and society, you'll meet a wide variety of people in all professions and all sorts of work, and marvel at a pair of junkies who tipped a cabbie more than all the people with the big, important jobs who rode in his cab that night. Dublanica excels at showing the true faces of the people he is showcasing, and admits where he falls down in his own tipping behaviors, and resolves to do better.

Once again, a fascinating book from Steve Dublanica on a behavior we all do. We all tip, but many experience anxiety over just how much to tip and who deserves our tips from us, but by reading this book, we can all learn how the right way. Recommended highly.

James May's LEGO House

As a child, James May loved LEGO bricks, and he wondered, 'if one had enough bricks, could you build an entire house out of LEGO and have it stand?' In 2009, he found the answer, as he and the BBC came together with the LEGO company to build a two-story house out of LEGO and see if it was possible to build a free-standing two story house of LEGO bricks.

The bricks used to build the house were not standard LEGO bricks. These were larger versions of the same bricks one can buy in any toy store. And it wasn't just slapping bricks together willy-milly. This house had designers and everything in it, from the toaster in the kitchen to the bed in the bedroom, was constructed completely out of LEGO, even down to the slippers on the bed. And then James May got to stay in it for a single night, after throwing a housewarming party with real wine drunk out of LEGO goblets.

This book shows the construction of the house, from the planning stage to the construction itself, and the setbacks and problems that developed. For one thing, the house was constructed in a grape orchard, but the lawyers for the project insisted that the house have supports of known construction materials, like wood, because the actual strength of Lego is unknown. To get around this, the wooden supports were completely enclosed in LEGO, but none of the bricks actually rested on them. And to build the house, even with the much larger LEGO bricks they were using, still took over 3 milliion individual bricks. And the house was constructed so that the bricks ran in parallel colors, creating a house with a bold, striped look.

Even the windows were LEGO- clear bricks for the main windows and transparent colored bricks for an upstairs window. The pictures in the book are wonderful, showing the house under construction, and several shots of the areas in the finished house, like the coffee table made to look like a British Flag. Apparently, the house itself only took several days to construct, but preparing for construction, including making the concrete-like blocks used to construct the outside of the house, took a lot longer, as well as building a LEGO chair that could support the weight of a human man. And it had working taps and a working shower, with hot and cold running water. Amazing.

Though the book is short, it's also a fun look at a building material that many people only think can be used to create things in miniature. James May is also fairly well known as a presenter of the BBC series "Top Gear". And although it's not covered in the book, I was rather saddened to hear that the house was torn down later that year when the BBC LEGO Park refused to take it. For a short book, it's full of wonderful pictures and you will constantly be amazed at what LEGO bricks can be used to build.

This book is a must-read with an amazing story and an amazing creation at the end of it. Although James didn't think the bed was too bad to sleep in at the beginning of the night, he'd completely changed his view by the end of it. His only concession was a non-Lego blanket to sleep under. This book is full of fun and will appeal to just about anyone with a slightly zany view of life or a love or appreciation of LEGO bricks. Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire is a young woman who lives in the Dells. Her father, an advisor to the old King, had the Grace to control everyone's mind, and used it to lead the old King down unsavory paths and turn him into a monster. It's not certain how bad the King was before her father started in on him, but after his influence was assured, the King became much, much worse. Even Fire's birth came about because of her father's influence, when he and the King raped two women on the same night. Fire was the result, and her father only kept her because she inherited the same grace that he possessed.

But Fire doesn't have the same cold heart as her father does. Since she encountered him only infrequently, and was mainly raised by her father's servants, she grew up with a much more centered attitude, and despite her father trying to make him into a smaller, female copy of himself, she grew to hate and despise the way he treated people, and except when he was trying to "teach" her to be like him, she didn't exert herself to use her Grace the way he did.

Now that her father is dead, killed by the very dangerous animals that he kept for his own amusement, Fire has fallen into a relationship with the local lord, Archer, who is possessive of her for her great beauty. And with the bad old King also dead, the country seems to be on an even keel. But the old lords who hated the old King are even upset that his son has come to the throne and are stirring up rebellion against him. But when Fire is discovered by Roen and Brigan, the King's half brothers, she must travel out of her comfort zone of the country and go to the Capital because of her father. And she is shocked to discover that Brigan, a man she is afraid of, is immune to her Grace, and is ready to kill her to protect the country.

But Fire can't hate Brigan, no matter how much she would like to, and on the way to the capital, he slowly revises his opinion of Fire as well, and both come to care for each other, enough that she ends her relationship with Lord Archer and sends him home. But the King would like her to use her gift to question the rebels opposed to his rule to make them find out who is behind the rebellion and what they plan. Can Fire use her gift and not become as bad as her father was, using people for his pleasure? And can the King and his family keep Fire safe as the rebellion comes to a head and Brigan must leave the capitol to fight?

And meanwhile, in the north, someone else with the Grace to control people's thoughts is biding his time, and he means to capture Fire. But why does he want her, and what is he going to do with her? And when Fire heads north to find Archer, who has disappeared in the aftermath of the rebellion, can Fire rescue him, or will she even be able to rescue herself?

This book is a companion, and something of a prequel to Kristin Cashore's previous book, "Graceling". Fire has one of the more powerful Graces, being able to read and influence the minds of others, but in a way, she is almost afraid of her own grace, because of her father's previous bad example, and how he raised her. She seems to fear that because of her father, that no one will be able to love and accept her, and she also fears coming to the attention of people for the same reason: out of fear of rejection.

At the beginning of the novel, she is in a relationship of convenience with Archer. She has affection for him, yes, and she does love him, but at the same time, it isn't love in the same way that she comes to love Brigan. During the course of the story she has to come to realize that not only is she worthy of Brigan's love, but her own essential morality will result in her actions taking during the rebellion being given accolades by the people of the capital, who come to know her, despite her strange, beautiful graced looks.

None of the characters of the original book, Graceling, show up here, except in small, incidental ways, and the beginning of the book seemed to have no bearing on the plot at all up until the last third of the book, which seemed slightly awkward for most of the book, as I kept wondering, "What did the beginning have to do with Fire and Fire's life and troubles?", but when that (seemingly) dropped thread is picked up again, it all became clear. Until that point, I thought the boy might have grown up to be Fire's father. I was wrong, but be assured that the beginning is important and relevant to the plot.

I ended up enjoying this book a lot, and while the ending brings out surprises of its own, I found Fire's story to be even more interesting and enjoyable than Katsa's. This book is a more mature and even deeper work than Graceling, and I'd recommend them both- and I am very interested in seeing what sort of story Kristin Cashore comes up with next, even if it isn't set in this world. She is an author to watch! Highly recommended.