Monday, July 31, 2006

The Falling Woman

By Pat Murphy.

Creepy book. It reminds me of Pamela Dean's Tam Lin: a novel about modern day life (archaelogy in this case) with pieces of the supernatural mixed in. Elizabeth Butler, as the back says, is an archaelogist who sees the past... and on a dig in Mexico, she meets a Mayan priestess who can see the future, apparently.

I guess the description above also applies to Nadya, but I think this was a somewhat better book, although it (and Tam Lin) still doesn't appeal to me that much. In other words, I don't think I'll be reading them again.

The narration in this one is first person alternating between Elizabeth and her daughter. I believe I prefer first-person for some reason. It tends to make the story more interesting when a real person is narrating it.

I saw part of the ending coming from a mile away; just about as soon as the Mayan mentions Elizabeth's daughter, story logic demands what will eventually happen.

Not much more to say about these ones. I guess read it if you like heavily realistic sorts of fantasies like Tam Lin and I guess even Nadya, which upon reflection sort of fits in the same category, although set mostly in the 1800s. It's not my cup of tea, though.


By Pat Murphy.

This is the story of a woman who becomes a wolf one night a month trying to find her way.

It's written very heavily and seriously written, with little to no humor (or the humor is so dry I completely failed to see it, which I consider unlikely for me). It doesn't exactly end on a bad note, but it feels sort of unfinished to me. I found myself sympathizing more with Jenny than with the main character, I think. There are several lurid sex scenes (ugh).

Not really recommended. I think the author has potential as a good writer but probably needs to inject some more excitement into her writing. Looking back it's a fairly boring book, although while reading it I had hope for something better to come. My hopes mostly died at the end of part 2.

Kingdom of Cages

By Sarah Zettel.

The characters are interesting and fairly realistic, but the plot is seriously flawed. Certain events are only barely implied to have happened.

A civilization that has space elevators and faster than light travel and even penicillin but not vaccines (Jenner, Pasteur, 1800s, et al) is not convincing. Chena, Teal, Tam, and Dionte are all interesting and rounded in some way, but the author seems to drop the ball later in the book, especially with other characters such as Aleph, who had potential but ended up seeming rather flat. Dionte too showed only hints of goodness--she was perhaps too far gone and too certain of herself to show any more. The ending was somewhat vague and, as I said, only implied the resolution of some important plot points because it isn't clear how the story would have finished if they hadn't been resolved.

Still, I guess I finished the book, and that says something. I'm not sure what, though.

Check out the cover art, it's pretty nice and has only metaphorical applicability to the story.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Children Star (updated)

By Joan Slonczewski.

Wow. I really liked this book. It reminds me of Speaker for the Dead, actually.

The story concerns Prokaryon, a planet full of life inimical to unmodified humans--the environment has a high proportion of arsenic and other variations in chemistry which require extensive (and expensive) nanoengineered changes in physiology to adapt to. As a result, relatively few people have colonized it. The problem is that, although there has been no proof, many suspect the planet has "hidden masters" which are intelligent and may object to the human colonization. The problem is that no one has been able to find them, although the fact that it rains only after nightfall or when fires need to be put out is rather suspicious.

This book is the story of how they are found and how humans react to the first real alien species they've ever encountered. (There are also species like the aquatic Sharers in existence, but they seem to have been derived from humans via bioengineering rather than being completely alien.)

I liked this a lot, but the author doesn't seem to have published any new books recently (since 2000), though there are a few others out by her. They may be worth checking out.

Update: Just a few additional thoughts I had.

Favorite quote: "We're the Dancing People, and we'll dance to the stars!"

'jum has got to be the most interesting character. It's not entirely clear if she's mentally disabled in some way (idiot savant?) or just had a lonely childhood. Another fun quote from her: "What's one plus one?" "A little less than one and a half." Unusually, her strange form of addition doesn't seem to have any significance later in the book, although I certainly expected it to. She is quite delightful when she's not throwing rocks at people--see the dancing quote above! (Or maybe it has to do with the fact that she finally has her own friends.)

Another interesting point is how the sentients (robotic intelligences that have gained their own rights) also participate in the religion of the Spirit Caller brotherhood in the book. They seem to sincerely believe and pray. For that matter, the hidden masters also seem to have a religion, based on the questions they ask Rod (which are quite amusing; he ends up saying "Why are you asking me? I don't have the answers!")

Perhaps the biggest flaw in this book is the question of why Proteus wanted to terraform Prokaryon so badly. Surely there are plenty of uninhabited planets floating around that could be terraformed without destroying an amazing native ecosystem, environment and civilization? Especially if what he really wanted was lanthanide mines--I'm sure they could have been found in asteroids and other unoccupied space debris. I suppose one scene suggests he enjoys the feeling of power (playing God) that owning an occupied planet gives him, but the decision doesn't seem to make very good business sense.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Circle of the Moon

By Barbara Hambly. The sequel to Sisters of the Raven.

Oddly enough, the description on the back of the paperback is even more inaccurate than usual. What it says never happens at all, to my recollection.

I enjoyed this one more than Sisters of the Raven; perhaps because there were fewer characters, or perhaps because most of them were already introduced in the previous book. Many questions were answered. The reason magic changed is also given, although in a form that may only be meaningful to the reader, if that, and I suppose the djinn who gave the answer. Funny!

So we learn more about the characters and magic and other matters that have been hinted at, but on the downside the plot doesn't seem all that cohesive. The conflict is really a set of smaller issues that all end up concerning the people: the king's upcoming trial by ordeal for fitness to hold the throne, the green mist that spreads madness, and the sick children of a faraway people. The obvious romance heavily foreshadowed by book one goes on mostly behind the scenes.

I don't know what to recommend about this one. It's decent, but not really excellent in my mind. However, I may just be tired. It is not as banal as other books I've felt dubious about recommending.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Sisters of the Raven

By Barbara Hambly.

Before trying to read this, I started Icefalcon's Quest, and didn't get past the first few chapters. I was tempted to not finish this book, either.

It might not be that it's particularly badly written, but for some reason I don't have a lot of empathy for the characters. Raeshaldis was the only one I really wanted to see what happened to, and there was a lot of pointless (to me) detail on the way there. I guess the ending wasn't very satisfying, either; not like The Witch Queen unsatisfying, where I hated the ending completely, but really emotionally dead. This book left me not really caring one way or the other.

The story is, for some unspecified reason, in a country that seems sort of like a magical mixture of Egypt and the Far East, the men who have always had the power to do magic are losing their abilities... and women are gaining them. This book takes place after the transition is pretty much complete, and is more about the fallout, political and otherwise. But mostly political.

Raeshaldis is your typical female teenager who isn't content to sit on a shelf and be some man's wife, but it seems like even she isn't characterized very deeply. We learn very little of her past and the pasts of other characters in the book. Much of the plot is driven by going to this place, asking questions, then going somewhere else and asking more questions, which gets sort of tiring after a while. Of course, none of the men who have lost their power are all that eager to train the women in using their own power, and even when they do Raeshaldis and the other sisters of the Raven (so-named because the raven is considered a magical answer) find that the rituals aren't always reliable for them.

Probably not worth reading, but I'm still planning to see if the sequel (Circle of the Moon) is any better.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Skewed Throne

By Joshua Palmatier.

I actually liked this book. Don't let what I'm about to say fool you. I think it was a bit short since I finished it so quickly, but I can't think of much that was blatantly missing from the plot. Questions are raised which will hopefully be answered later in the series.

So the story's about a girl who's grown up starving in the slums of Amenkor. Like many people in her situation do in fiction (I can't speak for reality, but it might be true), she becomes a thief. The thing is, she has a little bit more than just a streetwise upbringing to help her; when she was six years old, she almost drowned in a fountain when she was with her mother, and she began to see the world in a different way, and occasionally anticipate the future just before it happens. Comparisons to Improbable, anyone? I suppose there have been any number of books featuring similar abilities.

But wait, there's more! The Mistress who rules the city from the Skewed Throne is slowly losing control, making decisions that range from uselessness to outright maliciousness. Spoilerishness: As it turns out, the throne has voices of its own, harvested souls from every ruler who's sat on it. Insert comparisons to the wall in First Rider's Call and Gene Wolfe again, please. (Wow, he turns up everywhere, doesn't he? There are actually at least of a couple parallels here, now that I think about it.)

Throughout the book, Varis seems railroaded along with no real decisions of her own, controlled by her fears and perhaps subtle prescience. At the end she seems almost the same; she's gained a superficial ability to hide what she's feeling, but I don't think she's really accepted any of it. It remains to be seen whether she matures into someone with control over her own life, although she certainly has it over others with her dagger. Other characters are also perhaps a bit of a mystery. The Mistress of the city is barely developed at all, but apparently figures at least some in the next book, from snooping on the author's LiveJournal. Erick's attitude towards Varis is also hard to figure out, not to mention how he found her again with perfect timing in the city proper. And there is always the White Fire to consider: although it didn't change anything visibly, it has left an invisible stamp on Varis and perhaps other parts of the city. What is it? Where did it come from? And why did it (apparently) choose her?

Worth a read, I think. Keep an eye out for The Cracked Throne in November. (And The Fugitives of Chaos! I object to so many books I want coming out at the end of the semester, but maybe that means they'll be in libraries by the time I have time to read them... And lest I get prideful, there is always the possibility that I will never have the chance to do so.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Witch Queen

By Jan Siegel. Alternatively titled Witch's Honor.

I don't think I knew that there was another book to the series when I read The Dragon Charmer.

Somehow this is a dark (but morbidly humorous at times) mix of modern and ancient fantasy. The ending may break your heart (I suspect it's the reason the average score on Amazon is so low), but as I just saw pointed out in another blog it makes sense as one of the only things Fern could do to reclaim her honor.

Fern is a desparately unhappy heroine in both the second and third books of this trilogy (I haven't read Prospero's Children); she does what she thinks she needs to, but she never really accepts being a witch. And she has very poor luck with boyfriends. On the other hand, it is possible to have a little sympathy for Morgus, because as evil as she is, she really is clueless and hopeless in the modern world... but only a little: she repeatedly ignores (reluctant!) warnings that Fern is a danger to her.

I don't know whether to recommend this series or not. Despite a bit of humor, the core of the story is dark with only "artificial light" at the end, foreshadowed by the telling and poetic "prayer" at the beginning of the book. Fern makes her own way without God and, I fear, that is a grave mistake. I highly doubt the author will relent in a sequel. I guess the best purpose of this book is to serve as a warning: this is what happens in a world and a life without a savior.

*** Update: SPOILERS. I will come straight out and say it: Fern kills herself, either figuratively or literally, by drinking the waters of Lethe (cf. the ending of The Orphans of Chaos and the storyteller in Earth Logic, and imagine Fern sitting around in limbo waiting for her body to die.) The ending implies but doesn't quite say that she dies physically as well, leaving an empty room. If not, she apparently loses 14 years of memories... maybe things will turn out differently the second time she grows up, or not. Her solution is not merciful or forgiving, but only meaningless oblivion. I am writing this to get it out of my head.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Fire in the Mist by Holly Lisle. A young shepherdess turns out to have extreme magical talent and ends up fighting a 400 year old evil menace. Okay, I guess, although you tend to expect her to get into trouble with her attitude and nothing terribly bad ever happens to her. There are two more books that I haven't read since they aren't in any of the libraries around here (this one is readable online.)

Mairelon the Magician and Magician's Ward by Patricia C. Wrede. Two kind of cliched semi-historical fantasies. The most interesting part is the history, probably. The ending of Magician's Ward is obvious almost from the beginning, what with the forced romance.

Take a Thief by Mercedes Lackey. A young boy (11 or 12) ends up surviving on the streets as a thief, mentored along with a gang of other boys by an old soldier until the tenement where they live burns down and the boy decides to get revenge. He winds up stealing what he thinks is an ordinary horse and ends up as one of the queen's (magical) heralds. I started this last night and didn't really want to finish it this morning because it seemed too commonplace, not to mention the little quirks of Oddly Capitalized language getting on my nerves. It might have seemed a little bit more serious if the author wasn't so free with her capitals. A sort of cute story, I guess, although really it's effect is to make me want to find out more about the world of Valdemar (there seem to be 15 or 20 books set in this world), and more especially wonder how the system of heralds and companions got set up. Things like this should have a story behind them, right? There also wasn't much detail about the sorts of magical gifts that people might have.

The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint. An interesting little Newford tale. It isn't just the cover artist, Imogene really does turn blue about halfway through. When her mother moves to Newford with Imogene and her brother Jared, Imogene tries to fit in at school but quickly attracts attention from the school ghost, a gang of fairies gone wrong, and some things called soul eaters. Sort of a light read, but I guess it's entertaining enough. We also see a slightly sinister side to Christy Riddell, who in the adult books seems like he can do no wrong.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Eyes of the Calculor

By Sean McMullen. Third book of the Greatwinter Trilogy.

I only realized this was a third book after I started it, but it is fairly entertaining by itself, even if somewhat confusing. Amazon reviews suggest the confusion is only partly helped by knowing what came before.

This is one of those post-apocalyptic/nuclear winter sorts of books, but there's a big difference: people seem remarkably well educated as to what went on two thousand years ago before the so-called Greatwinter that resulted in a ban on (certain types of) fueled engines. As such, these people are not exactly averse to technology as such and have thought up many clever ways to get things done without using such engines, including a horse-powered electrical computer. Unfortunately, as this book begins, an orbital band around Earth, known as Mirrorsun, decides to destroy most such electrical machines via something resembling an EMP (shielded ones deep underground or in Faraday cages are not affected), so the development of that idea is sort of derailed. I guess we have a good idea where it might have ended up anyway from modern experience.

This book is entertaining, but also quite confusing at points and very casual about sex. What happens to Velesti doesn't seem quite right but it doesn't seem clearly wrong either.

Have a quote:
"What is your friend's name?"
"Frelle Velesti Dis--"
"She's telling the truth!" exclaimed Fras Shadowmouse. "That is our proof."
"How so?" asked the mayor.
"If you are ever unlucky enough to be helped by Velesti Disore, Fras Mayor, you will know."

Saturday, July 15, 2006


By Tad Williams. In four volumes.

I'd say this saga has been about 3000 pages in the reading. There are two major problems with this story:

The author doesn't, apparently, know how to be concise. 3000 pages is way too long. Couldn't he have taken out some of the detail? Please?

The science of about 50 years in the future is not very convincing. People are using palm readers as security (from what I've heard it's possible to fool fingerprint scanners now with about 15 minutes and some Jello), you can hack any system just as long as you're fast enough to get in before it throws you out, and VR rigs involving harnesses, hearing plugs and goggles can apparently hypnotize you into feel like you are in reality instead of the system and you can't disconnect. And also that you can die from what happens to you online.

There's another thing I don't like which is probably also a flaw: the author leaves the answers to almost all the questions raised (at least the big ones) to about the last 300 pages of the fourth volume. I mostly slogged through volumes two and three because I was afraid I would miss something, but I apparently could have skipped to near the end of the fourth volume and not missed too much. I would suggest that the author could at least have provided hints and clues about some of the answers (perhaps he did, and I wasn't smart enough to notice them).

Most of the threads (even ones I had forgotten) were wrapped up pretty well in the ending, although a couple questions were left unanswered. The ethical questions about the existence of the virtual life forms, one of the more interesting parts of the book to me, are never really considered in great depth. Most of them never even know and even if they're told, they seem to filter the information out as inconsistent within the simulation. Odd, huh? The Stone Girl (Vol. 4) is really likeable, too, and well characterized as a child.

One of the style oddities is the presence of a "Foreword" and "Afterword" in each book that I think should really be "Prologues" and "Epilogues." "Foreword", I think, implies more of an editorial note that is not part of the story's narrative.

I think the biggest problem with this story is its ridiculous length, but if you can slog through 3000 pages the author tells a fairly interesting tale.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Otherland: City of Golden Shadows

By Tad Williams.

This is volume one of four, so I'm not sure I have much to say about the story as a whole, although each volume is ridiculously long. This story is probably 2000+ pages long, which I think is a little bit ridiculous.

In case I don't end up liking it at the end, let me say that this volume, the beginning, has successfully caught my attention. The story almost isn't even science fiction at all: it's set only a little bit in the future and the centerpiece of the story is the virtual reality (VR) network. The problem is, even with only audiovisual headsets (i.e., nothing actually connected directly to your nervous system), people seem to be getting lost inside so that they can't get out. This attracts the attention of Renie and several others when their loved ones (in her case, her little brother Stephen) go into comas for no visible reason.

At the beginning, it seems like there are a lot of characters, but by the end they all seem to have their place. So far I like Christabel a lot, since she's just a little girl on a military base with an old man who eats soap. (I laughed at that point; soap? Why? An unanswered mystery, so far, but I expect there to be something very significant about it later...) The old man, Mr. Sellars, seems kindly enough, if it weren't for the sentence on the cover flap implying that he might have a secret agenda of his own.

My one big quibble: Near the beginning, Renie and a friend get stuck in a VR place using harnesses and headsets. If they can feel the equipment used in the VR world, why can't she just lift off the headset instead of having to enter a disconnect command from inside, which the system refuses to recognize? I find the suggested theory of subliminal hypnosis lacking in credibility. She ends up letting herself panic intentionally so that her heart rate will go outside safe parameters and trigger a dead man's switch on the system, which works.

I may delete this and/or write more when I finish the series.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Inkheart and Inkspell

By Cornelia Funke.

These are pretty good books. I think I read both of them yesterday, and they're both over 500 pages. They're the kind of book where you want to find out what happens next.

Inkheart introduces 12-year-old Meggie and her father, Mo, who never reads aloud to her. Her mother is gone. (Reminescent of the parents in The Dubious Hills, where "gone" also means something ambiguous.) When a creepy man named Dustfinger shows up at their house one night, she winds up in an adventure straight out of a storybook: villains, thieves, fairies and more show up before the end. You see, the reason Mo doesn't like to read aloud is that on a fateful day 9 years before, he read three characters out of a story... and Meggie's mother was sucked in to replace them.

Inkheart is a more stand-alone book than Inkspell, which demands a sequel. In Inkspell, Meggie reads herself into Fenoglio's book (thought to be impossible before she does it) and winds up in a world where there are bigger villains than Capricorn. The resulting story ends right after certain events signaling new things to come, but I didn't find it to be a terribly bad cliff-hanger (perhaps because I was forewarned).

Each chapter in both books begins with a quotation, from books like Watership Down or The Princess Bride, along with others I haven't heard of like The Secret of Platform 13. A lot of them are rather pertinent to the contents of their respective chapters. Inkheart has interesting details about bookbinding and related things (Mo, Meggie, and Elinor (Mo's aunt) all love books), but Inkspell turns into more of a magical adventure. The characters in the Inkworld, despite starting from words on paper, turn out to be lifelike and interesting, taking the story in a direction other than what Fenoglio planned.

I'm looking forward to Inkdawn, the third installment.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Dark Mirror

By Juliet Marillier. Book one of the Bridei Chronicles.

I think my focus in reading these may have changed from reading some of Martin LaBar's reviews (here and here, among others), and definitely from reading The Heavenly Man.

"They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, thought I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin." (Jeremiah 32:35)

Not many authors seem bold enough to make one of their main characters a cold-blooded murderer. This is absolutely the most horrifying of Marillier's books, and since she says in the author's note that she devised the religion herself, there seems to be no good reason to include such an abomination in her story, much less have the focal point of the whole series (assuming "The Bridei Chronicles" is an accurate predictor) participate in it.

The people in this book have hardened their hearts against God. A major part of the story is about how the kingdom has split because of the Christian influence coming into the south; the chieftans of the north refused to recognize a king who abandoned their pagan faith. In the book, men died in battle only to retrieve a standing stone, a gesture that is depicted as valiant and greatly symbolic in the book even though the stone is in effect a worthless idol. (Someone can probably quibble here that they don't actually worship the stone, but...)

The characters struck me as being paragons of their type; each one is exceptional in whatever he does: Broichan, the perfect druid; Donal, the perfect warrior; Faolan, the perfect spy, etc. Even Tuala, though I found myself sympathetic with her, seems to be the perfect student, although she is led astray by the interference of the so-called "Good Folk."

The scenes with the two "Good Folk" are another source of irritation to me; I think they could have just as easily been left out for the reader to imagine, or not. Having two characters who seem to be almost omniscient in a way drop hints before the story is revealed made them even less likeable than they already were. The scary part is, they barely seem to understand humans and act like the whole thing is just a game.

A well-written book, despite the perhaps confusing nature of the genealogies, but you could easily find a better story.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Heavenly Man: The remarkable true story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun

By Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway.

This book contains an amazing testimony. Anything I say won't be the same as what you'll get out of reading the book, so go read it.

That said, here are some of the things I "got" out of it: (the hard part is doing, not saying, right?)

We are all sinners and God uses us only because of his grace and mercy, not because he needs us.

For God to use you fully, you must follow him boldly and without reservation.

It is both possible and necessary to be joyful without possessions ("where your treasure is, there your heart will be also") and in prison. Yun dislikes the so-called "prosperity gospel"; the point of God's will is not for you to have a large bank account! In the end, it's worthless! His story really shows how far you can go for Jesus without money (which is very, very far indeed). Jesus's warnings against trusting in wealth and material possessions are familiar to us ("It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved"), but I don't think we actually take them to heart in America. For me, they have been more like a piece of knowledge that I believe with my head but not with my actions.

Yun also memorized many scriptures, including the gospels of Matthew and John. This seems to be a natural desire of someone who is hungry for God, which shames me. His whole account is filled with scripture references and quotations. Most of the time that he was in prison, his memory was all that he had.

Yun was not ever ashamed of the gospel. He testified constantly, even in the courtroom at his trial. Near the end of the book when a prison guard asked him what he was doing while he was baptizing some prisoners, he shouted "I know what I am doing! I am a servant of the Most High God!" The guard was speechless.

I'm sure later I will have more to say, but this is all for now. I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


By Juliet Marillier. This is the sequel to Wolfskin.

This book is so much better than Wolfskin that I have to wonder if I judged the former unfairly. Admittedly, I did not exactly suffer through the emotional anguish of the main characters since I sort of skipped to the end, but said ending was good and surprising enough to make me go back and read the rest of the book. This is the story of Thorvald's quest for his father, Somerled, but it turns out to be about a lot more than just Somerled when his childhood friend Creidhe stows away on Thorvald's boat and they are stranded in the middle of a terrible and tragic war.

One of the things that caught my attention in this book was the way prophecy and visions are treated in it and other books. I think there have been seers in all the books I've read by Juliet Marillier, and their visions are constantly treated with care, not to be shared in their entirety with others, but only at the discretion of the seer. Who knows if knowledge of the vision will only bring about the disastrous fate foreseen? And after all, seers may be misled into seeing only what they want to happen. This brought to mind (finally! after five books by her) the false prophets in the Bible whose dreams were made up by men, and the true ones who I doubt were concerned at all about holding back God's words. Jonah is the obvious counterexample, and he was afraid that God would have mercy on Jonah's enemies!

So. About Foxmask, I have to say that it is a pleasure to see the characters grow and change as the book progresses. The ending is relatively happy, despite some of the (inexplicable) wrongs that occurred and can never be put right.

It would probably help if you read Wolfskin before this even if I didn't think it was a good; it may explain some useful background information, even if it's not strictly necessary.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Centurion's Empire

By Sean McMullen.

Novel concept, flawed execution. The concept is that certain Romans (as in, the Roman Empire) discovered a way to successfully freeze and revive human beings, effectively allowing time travel into the future. However, the prose is often confusing and incoherent, mixing up the names of characters and making hard to understand jumps from event to event and conclusion to conclusion. Neither are the characters particularly compelling, especially since most of them are insane and/or die.

My advice would be that this isn't worth reading.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


By Juliet Marillier.

This is the fourth book I've read by her, and I may be beginning to notice some patterns:

The Christian priests who believe that we're all God's children and that every religion leads to the same peace in the end.

The perfect romance between the main character(s) and their beloved (Sorcha and Red, Liadan and Bran, Fainne and Darragh, Eyvind and Nessa... I bet if I read Foxmask there will be another perfectly set up pair there, too).

The pivotal moment of decision halfway through. (Seen previously in at least Fainne's story.)

One wonders how historically accurate these Christian priests are. Were all missionaries so willing to adopt or at least accept the religion of the people they visited?

So. This book is mostly about Eyvind the Wolfskin, an elite Norse warrior in the service of Thor. He ends up going along with a mission to peacefully colonize "Orkneyjar", a set of islands somewhere. (Sorry, I don't know where Orkney is.) Unfortunately, tragedy strikes. How tragic.

This is probably a good book; it is at least a fairly smooth and somewhat interesting read, once I got past the first few pages. However, I guess I would tend to agree with other reviewers (hopefully this isn't caused by bias from reading the reviews before the book) that it isn't as good as the Sevenwaters trilogy. The promiscuous (well? but "not that promiscuous", if there is such a thing) sexuality somewhat cheapens it, I think. Eyvind has to make some decisions that are difficult for him (he repeatedly claims that he's not very smart) but maybe not so much for anyone who is reading the book, losing some sympathy value. (How many of us are Norse berserkers?)

Ehhh... maybe not worth reading. I'm not sure I trust my judgment in this case, though: you may want to seek other opinions.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Ithanalin's Restoration

By Lawrence Watt-Evans. Part of a larger series, but the story stands by itself.

Short, clean and a bit whimsical. This book definitely had potential to be rather funny, but I only laughed at a couple of places, so it could have been better.

Kilisha, 17 year old apprentice to the wizard Ithanalin, ends up having to hunt down animated furniture when her master is accidentally split into pieces which animate said furniture. She's fairly impetuous and everyone but her seems to realize it and get a little nervous when she's around. The magic system is pretty trite and unconvincing, and Kilisha's antics don't quite live up to the humor they promise.

Moontide and Magic Rise

By Sean Russell. A duology consisting of World Without End and Sea Without a Shore.

This duology takes place about 40 years after The River Into Darkness, although it was written first.

It seems to me this is the other side of the story: even though some of the individual lives from The River Into Darkness ended in tragedy, this pair of books is fairly effective at depicting magic as dangerous and better left unknown and unused. I think I may have finished it due to muleheadedness rather than a particularly compelling narrative, but it's still decently written, even if there is little magic. Some of the details (what the Countess knows, for example) don't seem to quite match up with the prequel, but all-in-all it meshes fairly well with the later work.

You want a summary? Tristam Flattery, whose great-uncle Erasmus (a central character in The River Into Darkness) was reputed to be a mage, is summoned to the capital to try to revive Kingsfoil, a plant which, while surrounded with incredible secrecy and miraculous healing powers, may have another purpose. (If you've read The River Into Darkness you know what it is.) When he fails to make any progress, he is sent on a voyage to the island in the tropics where the plant was originally found to try to find more. Unfortunately, there seems to be plans surrounding the voyage that involve more than just keeping the ancient King alive by procuring more of the plant's seed.

(Spoilers may follow.)

I'm not sure I would have chosen to read this if I hadn't found out it was part of the same story as The River Into Darkness. I am still not happy with the ending of that story: it seems possible that Anna Fielding (whose name is not even mentioned here) could have been persuaded to desist her efforts. It is also interesting that the visions of the future seen are not the same in both duologies: The River Into Darkness presents a vision of atomic holocaust, while Moontide and Magic Rise presents a slightly less drastic vision of the horrors of urbanization and the industrial age. One is left to wonder if the worse horror was invented by the mages for the purpose of encouraging cooperation with their purpose (the extinction of magic) or if it was merely left unrecorded, too horrible to say.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Od Magic

By Patricia McKillip.

A superbly told story with a lot of humour (maybe it's only on the re-reading); the downside, I guess, is that the threads in the end are tied up so neatly there is not much to speculate about. It's a little self-contained chunk of story.

For those who want to know, the story starts out with Brenden Vetch, who is invited by Od to garden at her school of magic in the city of Kelior to the south. "Look for the door under the shoe", she says. Only when he arrives at the school does he find out that no one there has heard or seen Od for 19 years.

The other thread is the traveling magician Tyramin, who has also come to Kelior. Is his mysterious magic real or merely illusion? No one seems to know where to find him or who he is; surely he can't be the same Tyramin the princess's great-grandmother remembers! When the gardener disappears into the city's Twilight Quarter, the king's suspicions about uncontrolled magic just about boil over... something has to give.

I actually find Tyramin a more sympathetic character than Brenden. He is exactly what he appears to be even though no one sees it. (There is nothing more to say without spoiling it.)

There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments of humor, such as when Brenden flowers (literally) while he's trying to imagine what kind of land a cactus he finds in his garden is from, or when Sulys's great grandmother says things she supposedly meant only to think.

The labyrinth beneath Od's school, students who ask too many questions, a gardener with more magic than he knows what to do with, an unruly princess, and everything come together to form a wonderful, neat, happy tale. (Wow, I'm gushing.) Still, as I said, it ends so neatly there isn't too much to wonder about in it. It at least gives the illusion that everything is explained or not worth explaining. The magician's daughter and the grandmother are the most memorable characters; I barely remembered the rest when I came back to start rereading it.


By Shari S. Tepper.

I almost didn't read this one; my sister got it out when I asked for Robin McKinley's Beauty about a month ago, but I finally decided to give it a chance.

I wasn't going to read it because the back (paperback edition) makes it pretty obvious that it has a heavy environmental agenda, but it started out deceptively good. When Beauty manages to sidestep the curse, though, things start to go wrong, and eventually the Agenda bludgeons you over the head with a monstrous vision of the future and a hell powered by mankind's imagination (extremely similar in execution to the one in Streiker's Morning Sun, where novelists get to live out their novels. I wonder if one of them got the idea from the other and said, Ooh! Poetic justice! It's too good to pass up!). She also runs roughshod through several other Disney fairy tales (as opposed to traditional fairy tales; Beauty visits the future, not to give too much away, and ends up seeing the Disney versions before living through the real thing).

This is written in the first person as a series of journal entries, but Carabosse (the evil fairy) manages to insert her own comments throughout about the first half, apparently before Beauty writes more and without Beauty realizing it.

The author does a good job keeping you in suspense about Carabosse and the rest for a while: their own comments seem to indicate that they have good intentions in mind, but the side of the story Beauty sees is different. I was a little disappointed when that element of suspense was resolved a little before halfway through.

Probably not worth reading, but just good enough for me to keep going in hopes that the ending would redeem it. Unfortunately, it may be a little like Child of the Prophecy in that way: the ending sets up a sort of myth that goes into perpetua, without a real strong resolution. (I have my doubts about "perpetua" as grammar, anybody know?)