Saturday, May 05, 2012

2012, Part 6

Intruder by C. J. Cherryh takes Bren Cameron, the only human who spends all his life in the court of the Atevi, an alien race that shares the planet the Atevi call home. Humans are relegated to the island of Mospheira, and Bren is the only human allowed off the island. Bren serves the Atevi Lord Tabini as negotiator between humans and Atevi. Lately, though, he has been working for the Dowager Ilisidi, who is negotiating peace with the Maschigi clan that recently was blamed in the attack on Ilisidi's estate. Tabini is unhappy that Bren is working for someone else, but the gain in power outweighs that consideration for now as Bren finalizes the deal. But trouble is brewing in the Assassin's Guild, the same group that provides all nobles with bodyguards. But someone is using the deal between Ilisidi and Machigi to foment trouble among Tabini's court, and wants to use Bren in the original role of his station- a mediator between two Atevi. Unfortunately, the survival rates of the negotiators who attempted this feat were not high at all. As well, Tabini's young son, Cajeiri, is growing up and coming into his own. But with a chance to make his mark and become a man is also the chance to make more mistakes- and graver ones. Will Bren, Cajeiri, Ilisidi and Tabini survive the coming unrest in the Atevi court? I love this series because of the truly alien ways of the Atevi. They may superficially resemble humans, but their mindset and attitudes are anything but human, and I really enjoy that, and Bren is both the odd man out in Atevi society and a highly placed member within it, bringing the understanding of both races towards the other side to ever-higher peaks. The political and physical danger Bren is placed in during the events of each novel makes them amazingly satisfying to read, and I highly recommend this series, which only seems to get better and better with each book.

Black Jack, Volume 13 by Osamu Tezuka collects fourteen stories starring the renegade surgeon, Black Jack, from a elite swimmer whose body is slowly failing him to a star gymnast whose gangrenous arm threatens his future career, and his life, to operating on an alien, to discovering the limits of his own skills and genius, Black Jack must deal with both his patients and the limitations of practicing medicine in Japan. He doesn't always come out on top, and he can be kind of a dick to people depending on whether they appeal to his sympathy or not, and he charges people the most when he thinks they need to be punished, but will often operate for free if he thinks the person he is operating on deserves it... or he'll get payment from someone else who he blames for the situation. I liked this volume, but then, I always do. These books manage to make surgery look well, kind of interesting and also kind of disgusting, but more interesting than disgusting. Black Jack may be kind of a kind of a dick, but he can also be kind and compassionate. I like this series a lot. Recommended.

Demon Lover by Juliet Dark- When Callie McFay is approached by a small college in upstate New York to be their writing teacher, she is entranced by the idea. She is famous for writing a book on Demon Lovers, those from folklore whose outcome of a romance with a woman is always the death of the woman. But she hasn't had a good idea for a book since, and she hopes the relative quiet of the small, upstate town of Fairwick, New York will be conducive to her writing. She loves the town and falls in love with one of the houses there, Honeysuckle House, once owned by reknowned writer Dahlia LaMott, who wrote Gothic Literature, another love of Callie. So when she gets the job and moves into the House, she discovers an unpublished manuscript by Dahlia among the papers left in the house. She also starts having intensely erotic dreams that she thinks are indicative of the manuscript that is consuming all her free time. But when the dreams turn out to be much, much more than dreams, will Callie find the strength to get rid of her own Demon Lover, and what hidden depths of power lie in Callie and her past? This book is the first in a series set around Fairwick Collge, a college full of strange teachers and stranger people, and the secrets here lie thick on the ground. I fell in love with the book for the quirky characters and the challenge that Callie faces, not to mention the secrets in her own past that are hidden from her (let's just say that her last name is more than just suggestive), and that I sort of wasn't expecting the twist that happened partway into the story. Other books will apparently be about other teachers at the college, and the book sets up the story of the college surprisingly well. Highly recommended.

The Road of Danger by David Drake- Captain Daniel Leary's father is Highly placed in his planet's government, and Daniel's distaste for his father's political maneuvering made him enter the Space Service, where he steadfastly refuses to be used for propoganda for his father or the government. In fact, he's gotten something of a reputation as a loose cannon, but unlike many other military officers, he gets things done. Part of that is due to his friend and Shipmate, Adele Mundy, a woman who is an expert at cracking computer systems as well as a spy. When Daniel is assigned to Admiral Cox, a man attempting to head off a coup in a remote area of the galaxy, Cox, who distrusts Daniel for his parentage, decides to get Daniel, his ship and his crew, out of his hair by sending them off to deal with piracy in another part of the cluster. But, as Daniel and Adele are discovering, the piracy may have more to do with the possible coup than first thought, and the man the Alliance seeks to bring home, the putative leader of the Rebellion, may not be its leader any longer. Can Daniel deal decisively with the pirates and rescue the "Rebel Leader", *and* deal with the Coup in a way that won't piss off the Admiral or leave him open to retaliation when his actions become known? I really enjoy this series, which mixes militaty fiction with spying and a sort of "Phule's Company" vibe along with the dedicated crew from Honor Harrington novels. Only in this case, the crew of the Princess Cecile, aka the Sissy, are more regular Navy than Phule's company, which was all misfits. And Daniel Leary has a lot in common with Honor Harrington, but his story isn't always so deadly serious as David Weber's works. I liked this story because of the mixup of characters (like Adele's servant Tovera, who is a psychopath, and Daniel's servant Hogg, who is Lugg to Daniel Leary's Campion, and yet effective nonetheless. I love the mix of military battle with spy derring do, and the way Daniel Leary and Adele Mundy work and work together. A wonderful series and a wonderful book. Recommended.

Mystery in the Minster by Susannah Gregory- The college of Michaelhouse in Cambridge is a good one, but chronically short of funds. So when the legacy of a former Archbishop of York becomes known to the college, it will be a welcome, and much needed source of funds for the college. The only sticking point is that there is another group in York who say that the property is theirs, and thus, the scholars of Michaelhouse must go to York to defend their claim to the property in the law courts. With them travel Matthew Bartholemew, a teacher of medicine, and his friend and religion teacher, the friar Brother Michael, known for his skills at oration- and at the table. But the death of Archbishop William Zouche is called into question over whether his death is natural or murder. And his legacy, a chapel which is supposed to have been built in his name, and for which a large sum of money was set aside, is unfinished, the money gone who knows where. Add to that a city in turmoil over the actions of what are seen as French spies, and the possibility of a house of French Friars who are supposed to be just those spies, has the city in an uproar. As the prospect of riots and rebellion grow ever larger in York, Matthew and Michael must unravel these plots, secure the property for their college, and somehow make it out of the city alive before the froth of riot and mob rule can boil over into outright violence. I love this series, which makes Matthew the only enlightened physician in England. Unlike other physicians, he is not convinced that Astrology must be consulted to cure patients, and his cures actually work. Which makes him suspect in the eyes of other physicians, and yet, his knowledge of anatomy and clear thinking make him perfect to investigate mysteries and help out Brother Michael when it comes to sudden death. This book introduces a whole new cast of characters and constantly plays with our assumptions and expectations of the various characters we do meet. An intriguing entry in the series and a fantastic read. Highly recommended.

With Fate Conspire by Marie Brennan- It is now the 1800's, and Onyx Hall still survives, though with the increasing destruction of the old wall around London, Onyx Hall has become more strained and smaller, with whole sections of the palace missing. Dead Rick, once a Knight at the Palace, lives a disreputable life as a bullyboy for a faerie slaver, keeping the human slaves in line and chasing down escapees, a task he hates and resents, but he seems to have no choice- his "owner" has taken away part of Dead Rick's memory, and keeps crystals with the memories in his room. If Dead Rick should ever disobey him, he will destroy one of the crystals, and the memories therein, forever. But there is hope for Dead Rick. Even as Onyx Hall is once again threatened with dissolution with the construction of a Railway line through the heart of London, and of Onyx Hall itself, a group of fae are gathering to prevent it, and apparently, Dead Rick and his memories may be the key to saving Onyx Hall- and a human woman seeking her lost childhood friend and a group of scholars investigating the links between magic and science may also factor into the needs of the group. But can the new Consort of Queen Lune stop Onyx Hall's dissolution? Or will the Hall fade away entirely from London and the world? I'd previously read the other volumes in this series, and I honestly thought the series was done with the last one, but now it seems that it will continue to go on. Once again, it seems like this might be the last book in the series, but perhaps not. This story pulled me in right away- what with the tale of Dead Rick and his efforts to escape virtual enslavement, the story of Lune's slow dissolution with the ending of Onyx Hall, and the tale of the possibly, last Human Prince of Onyx Hall kept me enthralled throughout. Enjoyable, and with an ending I didn't really expect. Recommended.

Fated by Benedict Jacka- Alex Verus is a magician. In specific, a diviner. Because his magic means he can't easily defend himself, and is useless in a straight-on fight, most magicians look down upon him. But when a friend of his with a curse comes to him with an unusual artifact she found, she and Daniel become the target of both light and dark magicians looking for a magical artifact that can manipulate luck and fate itself. But as Alex is drawn back into his past as apprentice, and then slave to dark magicians, can he keep himself and his friend and now apprentice safe from the other black magicians, or will Alex's own tendencies towards Dark magic win out over his determination to keep himself apart from both sides? This is the first book in a new series, but it feels like it takes place somewhere in the middle. The world is well-explained without feeling overly earnest or infodump-y, and the character of Alex and his friends made me feel like this series will have a lot in common with Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series, and it feels awesome in all the same ways. Highly recommended.

A Hundred Words for Hate- A Remy Chandler novel by Thomas E. Sniegoski- Remy Chandler is a human private investigator, but almost no one knows about his past as an angel of God named Remiel, who left heaven after the war with Satan and his fallen angels, but went to live among the humans on earth. For a long time, he managed to forget who he once was, but a near-apocalypse and the death of his wife have made him reluctantly bring back his angelic nature when it is needed. And when the place known as "The Garden of Eden" returns from its long sojourn in the void, having split off from earth millennia ago, Remiel isn't the only one in search of it. But two of the interested parties, the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve, each blaming each other's ancestor for the fall from grace and the garden, come to blows over it, and Remiel is caught in the middle. But the garden isn't all that is returning. Something from long ago was also imprisoned in the garden, infecting it with evil, an evil that could infect and destroy the entire earth. Can Remy convince the last living son of Adam to work with a contentious daughter of Eve to save the garden and the earth from destruction? I like this series a lot, what with the drawing on all sorts of biblical legends and stories of angels that most seem to have forgotten these days. The action is good, and Remy is distinct and human from the angel Remiel, who is more arrogant and reserved, but each is also the other deep down inside. I liked the mix of supernatural and human action, and Remy's dog, Marlowe, adds a note of innocence and love for his owner to the proceedings as well as pure "being a dog"-ness. If you like your fantasy with a modern day and biblical twist, this is the series for you. Highly recommended.

Renfield: Slave of Dracula by Barbara Hambly- this is Dracula retold in novel form from the perspective of R. M. Renfield, inhabitant of John Seward's Insane Asylum, who somehow knows of Dracula, his coming and his arrival in England. The story is told not only from Renfield's perspective, but from Seward's as well, with other letters from the main characters in Dracula. Also important in the story are Dracula's wives, in particular, Nomie, the blonde female vampire, who becomes as enthralled with Renfield as he is enthralled with her, and leads to a surprising ending to the tale. I know this book was possibly intended to make Renfield someone sympathetic to the readers, but his insanity and life-consumption made it hard for me to ever think of him as a sympathetic character. Despite the fact that his wife's family never accepted him as a fit husband for their daughter, and did their level best to try and do away with him, I never found him sympathetic enough to root for him or want him to live and triumph over his adversities. So the ending, as did the novel, just got a big "Meh" from me. Not recommended, but nothing objectionable, just not really all that interesting.

New York to Dallas: An In Death Novel by J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts)- When Eve Dallas was a raw beat cop, she discovered a serial rapist and kidnapper as she went door to door canvassing for witnesses to a murder. Now, years later, the man who she locked up for kidnapping and raping multiple young women has escaped from jail and gone to Texas to go after one of the girls who escaped his clutches the first time, and it's up to Eve to help catch him once again. But as she has changed with the years, and with her marriage and her moving on from the horror that made up her young life, so has the man she is chasing, but his changes haven't been for the better. And this time, he is working with another woman who has a surprising connection to Eve's past life, and can Eve overcome her feelings of having failed to put a monster back in his cage, this time for good? I always love the Eve Dallas books, and this is one of the ones that examines Eve's past as much as the criminal and his crimes, because Eve has a connection both to the killer, and the one who has been helping him get ready for a new spate of crimes. I wish I can say the connection Eve shares with the helper was surprising, but I wasn't that surprised that the person turned out to be an utter shit. What can I say? The only good people in Eve's life are the ones she made as an adult, and the ones she has now. But she doesn't let it get her down, and I love her for it. Highly recommended.

Gate 7 by Clamp- Chikahito Takamoto is Japanese, but has always wanted to visit the fabled shrines of Kyoto. But when he travels there on a class trip, he stumbles into a mystical battle between a girl named Hana and her comrades and some evil supernatural entities. Before he can leave, he is struck by both sides and seems completely immune to their powers, which leads Hana and her fellow compatriots to conclude that they just cannot let him go- and neither can they wipe his memories because of his immunity to their powers. But Takamoto isn't sure that signing up for a war against supernatural creatures is what he wants to do for the rest of his life! Can Hana and her friends get Takamoto on their side by showing him how they fight for humanity, or will they be forced to kill him to prevent their own secrets from getting out? Whatever they do, it's a sure bet that their opponents won't be nearly as gentle or patient with Takamoto! This is another series from Clamp in the vein of XXXHolic, with a kid who has special powers who somehow falls in with a group that allows him to use those special powers to the advantage of himself and others. Bookish and bespectacled, Takamoto seems unsuited for all the battling, but his knowledge gives him an edge, as well as the advantage of being "Not". Intriguing, and I am looking forward to seeing more of where this series goes. And it's less "stretchy-long, drawn-out characters" than some of Clamp's later works. Recommended.

The Legion of Superheroes Archives, Volume 13 by various- The Legion goes after a being named Pulsar Stargrave, but he manages to defeat the entire Legion- until Brainiac 5 agrees to work for him to retrieve a mystic artifact. Meanwhile, Wildfire leads the Legion and hires a tracker named Dawnstar to trace a gang of pirates who have been attacking Federation shipping. But why, and who do they work for? Then, the secret of Pulsar Stargrave is revealed, and the Legion must work together to defeat him. After that, one of the leaders of the world, a man named Deregon, is gathering an army and the Legion must infiltrate his organization to find out why. And when he is unmasked, another Legionnaire gives his life to save the world, and the Legionnaires come together to avenge his death and find his killer. But has Deregon fled to the world of his masters, or will they find him elsewhere? Finally, the Fatal Five return and must be dealt with, and tensions rise in the Legion as one of the Legion finds the people of their world branded as possible traitors to the League of Worlds. But will the Legionnaire quit the Legion when their comrades don't feel the same way? This was a good collection, but sometimes I got the feeling that the stories are not being told in chronological order, when the Legion member who died is alive and well in the very next story! Admittedly, they didn't appear again afterwards, but it was kind of puzzling, because it isn't mentioned as being a past story, either. And that story and the story where the Legionnaire dies is very similar in the threat to the Legion and Earth, and each is foiled in somewhat the same way. But if you love the original Legion, as I do, and you still enjoy the old stories, this volume is wonderful and extremely engaging to read. Highly recommended.

Regenesis by Julia Ecklar follows the career of a human woman working for an organization named Noah's Ark, an organization dedicated to saving and propogating Earth species of all kinds, and other animals as well. In the first story, she must track down a supposed tiger hunting humans on the world of New Dallas. But the truth is far, far stranger than that. Then, she is lured to a planet to see a supposedly extinct species of bear being sold by an alien race known as the Mazhet. But when the colony governor manipulates her into stealing the bears, can she ensure that they are left alone to evolve on their own. Next, Rahel, her assistant and a Noah's Ark lawyer are brought to a world where a wealthy businessman owns a resort extolling the natural beauty and native animals of the planet. But a species of jellyfish seems to be dying off, and no one knows the cause. Can Rahel discover what is killing the jellyfish, and is a green group responsible? Finally, on a distant alien space station, Rahel meets with a trader selling all sorts of rare and extinct animals to make a deal to buy her stock. But when she is presented with a human boy whose ancestors split off from Earth humans seven hundred and fifty thousand years ago, she must discover where he came from and keep him safe when an alien race decides humans are too damaged to live. This was an unusual book, with an unusual heroine. Rahel Tovin isn't sympathetic or nice, but yet she is compelling as an advocate for all sorts of animals, of species both Terran and not. She hates other humans, and has a hard time getting along with them, but she's a sucker for all sorts of animals. This book was written because the author is devoted to animal welfare and 10% of the profits of the book went to supporting an animal charity in California. Not an easy read, but interesting. Recommended.

Highland Groom by Hannah Howell- Diarmot MacEnroy is about to marry a fellow lord's daughter to have a mother for his children when a red-haired woman bearing two sons breaks into the ceremony to tell everyone that she is already his wife, and these are his sons. Diarmot, who was beaten nearly to death almost a year before, has no memory of Ilsa Campbell or their supposed hand-fasting, but his near-wife's father is outraged, and takes his daughter home. Ilsa's seven brothers also persuade Diarmot to keep Ilsa with him, but given that his supposed hand-fasting to her came just before he nearly died from a beating, he suspects that either she or her brothers had something to do with it. He is also hurting from the actions of his first wife, a woman who slept with everyone and everything, exulting in her power to take men in their weakness. She died trying to get rid of a babe that was not Diarmot's, and he is still convinced that women cannot be trusted. But Ilsa loves Diarmot enough to fight for their marriage and love, and her brothers and Diarmot's own are out to find who was behind the attack on him and his near-death. But when it becomes clear that someone might go after Ilsa or Diarmot's children to hurt him, can they find who was behind the attack and repair their relationship before it dies completely? I liked this book because the danger to Diarmot and Ilsa came from outside their relationship, but it's Diarmot's suspicion of Ilsa and her family that eventually causes the biggest rift between them, and one which only he can repair. An unusual story for a romance novel, but more than interesting in its own way. Recommended.

A Precious Jewel by Mary Balogh- When his usual prostitute is busy with someone else, Gerald Stapleton is persuaded by the madam to try another one of her women. Priscilla Wentworth was driven off by her brother's family when her parents died, and her old governess had become a procuress that Priss ended up working for to support herself. Her willingness to do exactly what Gerald Stapleton wants in bed makes him want her as no other woman, and he takes her from the house to set her up at his estate in the country as his mistress for as long as he wants her. But Priss is no ordinary courtesan or demimonde, and Gerald, whose inability to deal with women is legendary, finds himself losing his head over Priss, who has fallen in love with him. But when she discovers she has become pregnant by him, she leaves, and Gerald must wonder why his life now feels so empty and no other woman can satisfy him as Priss once did. Can he find her and overcome his fear of women and true intimacy to woo her as she should be wooed? Gods, I wanted to slap both of these characters silly. Priss falls in love with Gerald, but would rather leave him rather than fight for him when she thinks he no longer wants her, and Gerald is so afraid of intimacy with a real woman that he cannot even tell Priss that he wants her to stay with him. Both of them made my palm itch and reading this book was no pleasure. Even the ending, which finally brought the two together, just made me angry. Avoid this one if you hate heroes and heroines who deal with life in passive-aggressive ways. You will not enjoy it. It is the antithesis of Romance, and the hero feels patronizing, while the heroine seems spineless. Just ugh.

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