Review: TIMELESS – Gail Carriger

11324166The last book in the Parasol Protectorate series is a good advertisement for the rule about leaving the game while you’re winning: the story is still strong, the characters as entertaining as ever, and many new threads hint at possible developments for the future. Yet Gail Carriger decided to consign Alexia Tarabotti Maccon & Friends to history, so to speak, letting them go to make room for new players. If it was a planned choice to avoid having the characters overstay their welcome, it was indeed a brilliant one, even though I know I will sorely miss these characters and their adventures.

The action starts a couple of years after the birth of Prudence, Alexia and Conall’s daughter and Lord Akeldama’s adopted child: Prudence turned out to be a metanatural, i.e. she can acquire, through touch, the characteristics of a supernatural creature, rendering them mortal once again – only Alexia can reverse the situation, laying hands on her child.  And this is a very spirited child indeed: we first see her as Akeldama and his drones attempt to bathe her against her will, with consequences that are both funny and worrisome – it’s no wonder that many supernaturals wanted her dead even before she was born!

I love what Carriger did with Prudence: children are not easy to handle, either in writing or cinematography, since they can come across as too adult for their years or cloyingly over-cute. Not in this case though: she hardly speaks (“no” being her preferred word, even though she can impart several layers of meaning to it…) and yet one gets the clear impression she’s an acute observer of the world, just like her mother, and that being who she is and living with such a… colorful household, she has a definite advantage over other children, as clearly evident in her dealings with Ivy’s own offspring, who are about the same age but appear less aware of their surroundings.

Alexia’s attitude toward motherhood is also refreshingly unexpected, since she applies a sort of detached, scientific view to child rearing that is not too dissimilar from the way she deals with society in general. The affection, the motherly love and protectiveness are there of course, but they are handled in the usual no-nonsense manner Alexia applies to everyone else and that has the dual benefit of keeping her in character while offering several opportunities for Carriger-style quips – like this, for example: “the infant-inconvenience had shown very little interest in the proper use of utensils, her attitude seeming to be that fingers had come first in her life, so why mess with a good thing?”.

As far as the story is concerned, the Maccons – together with the Tunstell troupe of actors – travel to Egypt at the summons of Matakara, the most ancient vampire Queen, who wants to see young Prudence. The opportunity to study the so-called “God-Breaker Plague” in its place of origin motivates Alexia and family to risk such a journey, one that will nonetheless turn out to be fraught with unsuspected dangers, not to mention serious privations like the lack of decent tea – a fate indeed worse than death. Meanwhile, in London, the Woolsey pack pursues a similar investigation and uncovers interesting and preoccupying details.  The creation of two separate narrative threads imparts a lively pace to the story, and also creates the opportunity to focus on other characters – particularly Professor Lyall and young Biffy – and to answer a few mysteries that have been crafted and slowly developed in the previous books.

Biffy in particular comes to shine in this final chapter of the series: his journey from Lord Akeldama’s favorite drone to a somewhat unwilling werewolf has not been easy, as readers saw in Book 4, but here he has reached a sort of balance, one that allows him to go beyond self-imposed boundaries and make incredible discoveries about himself and his place in the Woolsey Pack. The lost person who went about unsure of his identity has morphed into a very assertive individual, as evident in the course of a crisis brought about (not so surprisingly…) by Felicity Loontwill, Alexia’s mean and spiteful half-sister.  And his association with Professor Lyall – another favorite character of mine – is developed with a wonderful mixture of warmth and authorial affection that further enhances both characters, adding new layers to their psychological makeup. One of the best facets of this book, indeed.

Other well-known players come to the fore here, in a sort of final bow before their audience (and considering the presence of the Tunstell acting troupe, it looks quite fitting): many take unexpected turns that deepen the mystery surrounding them, instead of shedding some light on it – Floote, Alexia’s unflappable butler is a case in point – and the feeling of unfinished business this entails adds to the impression of a story that will still go on, but out of the readers’ sight.  The thread I’m most sad not to see developed is the one concerning Ivy Tunstell: no spoilers here, because it’s something that must be savored directly, but it’s such an unforeseen and amusing twist that it should deserve at least a book of its own. I wonder if this particular narrative thread will be addressed in the new series focusing on a grown-up Prudence: it’s something to set my hopes on…

There’s a quote from a returning Alexia, as she discusses the Egyptian events with Lord Akeldama, that sums perfectly the spirit of these books and this wonderful character: “A new queen, plus five Egyptian vampires and assorted drones? You object to my bringing souvenirs back from Egypt? Everyone brings back souvenirs from their travels abroad, my lord. It is the done thing.”

It’s been a fun journey, indeed.  Thank you, Ms. Carriger.

My Rating: 8/10


Tough Traveling: HEISTS/CONS


Tough Traveling is an interesting and thought-provoking meme started by Nathan @ Fantasy Review Barn: each week Nathan chooses a topic from The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Diana Wynn Jones, and challenges everyone to come up with a list of books featuring that trope.

Come join the fun!

This week as we look at HEISTS/CONS

Smash and grabs are not always the best way to illicitly acquire objects in fantasy land. Sometimes these things take planning, a loyal crew, and a little bit of luck. But a good crew can always get the job done.

Just a couple of days before the topic for this week’s meme was revealed, I felt like rewatching a couple of episodes from one of my favorite shows, Firefly.  For those of you who are not familiar with it, it’s an intriguing mix of science fiction and western themes, and as strange as it might sound, it works perfectly. The premise: in the far future, humanity has spread around the galaxy, colonizing many different planets. After a bloody civil war, these worlds have come under the rule of the Alliance – a bureaucratic, paternalistic form of government caring more for the wealthy central planets than for the outward-lying colonies that are often left to fend for themselves.  On this background moves the crew of Serenity, a Firefly-class spaceship manned by a band of rogues who refuse to bow to authority and live on the fringes carrying cargoes (both legal and illegal, but especially the latter) and passengers, while trying to elude the Alliance’s patrols.


Serendipitously enough, the second episode of this short-lives series (thank you, oh myopic tv executives!) focuses on a heist – the title: The Train Job.  Captain Malcom Reynolds and his crew are contacted by crime lord Niska to steal a box from a train, and they are so desperate for income that they are ready to overlook Niska’s reputation for ruthlessness – enhanced by a horrific scene in which he shows our heroes what happens to people who don’t deliver on promises – and to ask no questions about the contents of said box.

What follows is one of the most fun and thrilling sequences in the show: while Reynolds and his XO Zoe travel on the train to offer inside backing, mercenary Jayne – Serenity’s one-man brawn department – is lowered inside the train on a flying cable, hooks the target crate and is reeled back inside the ship with the prize, while on the train all hell breaks loose due to the unforeseen presence of a contingent of Alliance soldiers on the premises.  Forced to remain onboard and stick to their assumed identities, the two find themselves at the train’s destination, the mining town of Paradiso (there’s some fine irony here…), where they discover the nature of the stolen cargo: the planet’s terraforming operations have created the breeding ground for a degenerative disease whose only cure was in the box targeted by Niska.


Captain Reynolds might be walking on the fine diving line between law and crime, but his conscience will not allow him to profit from the suffering of a whole town, so he gives back the goods to the Paradiso settlers and decides to risk Niska’s retribution – which will come in time, but this is another story…. What matters here is the characterization at the basis of the episode and the whole series: the Serenity gang is made of anti-heroes by definition, and yet they do possess enough moral standards that help shape their decisions in the face of difficult choices.

While the train heist is an adventurous caper, liberally dotted with amusing scenes (including the rescue of Reynolds and Zoe by another member of the crew, pretending to be the owner of their indenture contracts) and it fits the classic Western tradition of the train robbery, there are several serious narrative threads that help expand on the future represented by the show and on the psychological makeup of the characters peopling it.

First we have the Alliance, the entity requiring unthinking loyalty from its subjects – some of which give it willingly enough, without considering the deeper ramifications, as shown in the initial bar scene in which the crew ends up in a brawl over Unification Day, the celebration of the Alliance’s victory over the Independents.  The contrast between the highly technological Alliance ships on patrol duty, and the dusty, miserable and hopeless landscape of colonies like Paradiso, shows how the unification of the settled worlds was imposed for purely selfish and political reasons, without a second thought for the well-being of the colonists themselves.

Then there are organizations like Niska’s, thriving on the power vacuum created by the Alliance’s lack of care, and even overlooked by the central authority as long as they don’t interfere with its goals.  In the middle lie the fringe planets, too small and poor to really matter on an economic scale, but still too important for the Alliance’s public face to be allowed any scrap of independence.  This is the background in which the Serenity’s crew moves, taking advantage of the central government’s indifference but at the same time following a sort of moral compass that makes it impossible for them to gain from the misfortunes of others.


They might be outlaws, swindlers and smugglers, but when push comes to shove the crew demonstrates time and again that their hearts are in the right place, and that’s enough for the audience to root for them – even when they rob a train….

Screencaps from CAN’T TAKE THE SKY


Review: KAREN MEMORY – Elizabeth Bear

22238181Karen Memery is one of Madame Damnable’s “seamstresses” working out of the Hotel Mon Cherie – in other words, she practices the oldest profession in the world, paying a “sewing tax” to the Rapid City municipality to be allowed this… privilege, a dichotomy that shows the ambivalent attitude of the city’s officials toward prostitution, something to be publicly condemned but privately enjoyed.    One night, the quiet of the after-hours relax at the Hotel is broken by the arrival of two fugitives: Pryia, an Indian girl freshly escaped from the clutches of Peter Bantle, owner of crib brothels where women are treated worse than slaves, and often kept there against their will, and Merry Lee, the bold runner of a sort of Underground Railroad for such unfortunates.

When Bantle and his goons try to take their prisoner back by force they encounter Madam Damnable’s resistance and that of her charges: despite Bantle’s use of a peculiar electrified glove that seems to bend a victim to its user’s will, the girls manage to repel the assailants, thus giving way to open hostilities. What until that moment has been just professional rivalry turns into an all-out war, compounded by Bantle’s design to be elected Mayor, a string of vicious murders targeting streetwalkers and a slowly unfolding plot that also points at a planned takeover from a foreign nation.

The cast is completed by Marshal Bass Reeves, in pursuit of the serial killer across the country, and by his Native American deputy Tomoatooah: they forge an alliance with Madame against Bantle, who might be sheltering the murderer and still holds Pryia’s sister prisoner in his hellish bordello. On the background of this dangerous confrontation lies Rapid City, a Pacific Northwest port and one of the last civilized places before the wilderness of Klondike, where the hopeful swarm in search of riches; the narrative is further enhanced by an interesting array of steampunk gadgetry that goes from automated, steam-powered sewing machines to airships.

What catches the eye of the reader, though, and defines this book, is Karen Memery’s unique voice: the tone is conversational, the attitude is matter-of-fact and the speech pattern is unrefined, but these elements blend into a pleasing, fun and engrossing atmosphere that takes you straight into the story and makes it real.  Far from suffering from a “fallen angel” syndrome, Karen approaches her life with straightforwardness and down-to-Earth wisdom, and sometimes even hints at some sort of professional pride, certainly engendered by Madame’s exacting standards.  At some point she gives an interesting definition of the Hotel’s patrons: They think they want a woman, but what they really want is a flattering looking glass wearing lipstick and telling them what they want to hear – there is no criticism in her words, only the end result of observation and experience, bonded with a good dose of practicality: Karen feels no reason to be judged, so she does not judge others in return, accepting life’s different sides with the same wholesome outlook, no matter what.

It’s worth stressing the fact that the main characters in the book have something in common – they are outsiders: Madame Damnable’s girls for obvious reasons, Marshal Reeves because he’s black and his deputy a Native American, and so on. Yet they don’t act as outcasts because they draw strength and courage from the support they offer each other, and this is one of the traits that make them special and lend the story its main appeal.   The overall feeling is that of a tightly-knit group of people who are as close as family and as such face any challenge or threat that might come their way. This is also reinforced by the awareness that these individuals are defined by their personality, and the way it works within the group’s dynamics, rather than by any outward difference: for example, Bea, one of Karen’s co-workers, is black; Miss Francina is trans-gender and Karen herself is attracted to women rather than men.   What the author managed here is to portray these differences as… non differences: the characters’ diversity is just an integral part of their psychological makeup, the organic and genuine representation of people, and for this very reason it carries a far stronger message than any impassioned preaching could have achieved.

The story itself is a compelling one, piling up difficulties for the characters in a breath-stealing crescendo that often leaves you wondering about their chances for success or survival, but the biggest surprise comes at the end, in the Author’s Note: here Elizabeth Bear reveals that Madam Damnable is loosely based on the figure of Mary Ann Conklin from Seattle, who ran an establishment that was part courthouse and part bordello. On reading this detail I went in search of more information online, and discovered that Ms. Conklin’s nickname of Mother Damnable came from her extensive use of foul language (a trait the fictional Madame shares) and that she could swear fluently in several languages.  In the same way, Merry Lee owes some of her traits to several courageous women who risked everything to help others who were “exploited, enslaved and legislated against”.  Marshal Bass Reeves, on the other hand, was a real, flesh-and-blood person: born a slave in 1838, he became a free man with the abolition of slavery in 1865 and his superior detective skills helped in securing several dangerous criminals to justice.

I found all this to be as fascinating as the fictional parts of the book: the need to know more, to dig deeper into areas I knew nothing about, was indeed a bonus. A book that sparks my curiosity, and compels me to look beyond its confines, is a special one and I admire the seamless way in which Bear melded history and fantasy in a cohesive and engaging story.  This is an author I need to keep on my watch list.

My Rating: 8/10


Tough Traveling: DEAD GODS


Tough Traveling is an interesting and thought-provoking meme started by Nathan @ Fantasy Review Barn: each week Nathan chooses a topic from The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Diana Wynn Jones, and challenges everyone to come up with a list of books featuring that trope.

Come join the fun!    

This week we look at DEAD GODS

Fantasyland had gods, right?  And now they are dead.  Dead Gods are not forgotten though, often they are still just influential to the land as they were when living.

There is nothing more terrifying, as far as god-like beings are concerned, than the pantheon envisioned by H.P. Lovecraft: his Old Ones, who ruled the Earth in ancient, forgotten times, and who at present seem to have succumbed to a death-like sleep, never cared for humanity, its destiny or the calamities visited upon mankind.  They are not gods in the strictest sense of the word, but rather extraterrestrial or extra-dimensional beings, often remote, distantly cruel and unfeeling, which makes them even more frightening than actively evil creatures.  Some humans chose to worship them, mistaking them for gods and creating weird and terrifying cults around them: these people wait – and pray – for the Old Ones’ release from their slumber and the advent of a new age of chaos.


The most (in)famous is CTHULHU, a god from a different dimension: a water-bound creature, roughly humanoid but also many-tentacled and greenish in color. Huge and powerful, he’s said to be in telepathic communication with his worshippers/priests even though he’s asleep in the depths of the subterranean city of R’yleth. His followers believe he will one day rise from his slumber and retake the rule of Earth, annihilating everything that’s good and wholesome: only a spell from the Necronomicon, the lost book of dark lore that Lovecraft often quotes, might have the power to stop him.


Another name frequently mentioned in Lovecraftian lore is that of YOG-SOTHOT, the Lurker in the Threshold: appearing like a collection of glowing spheres, he’s said to know and see all, even though he’s confined outside of our space-time continuum. This god’s infinite knowledge lends him a deep wisdom, but humans trying to learn his secrets, to the point they’re ready to sacrifice other people to Yog-Sothot to appease him, never end well. Hardly surprising…


NYARLATHOTEP goes by the moniker “The Crawling Chaos” and is known for his evil disposition and the fact that, unlike his brethren, he still walks the Earth wearing a human being’s appearance.  Deception and manipulation are his preferred tools, as is misdirection: contrary to the other gods, who are supremely indifferent to the fate of the human race, he has an active – if evil – interest in their affairs.


Less known, but not less powerful or dangerous is AZATHOT: his other names are Demon Sultan or Blind Idiot God – this latter probably comes from his un-intentional creation of the universe at whose center he sits, looking like a churning mass of tentacles of enormous size.

With these creatures I needed images that would render justice to H.P. Lovecraft’s imagination, so I turned to Deviantart, a place of rich and amazing creativity.

Cthulhu is a creation of FANTASIO

Yog-Sothot is a creation of CHIVOHIT

Nyarlathotep is a creation of ERKANERTURK

Azathoth is a creation of XLEGENDARIUMX

My thanks to all of them for the beautiful art I found on their pages.


review: THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES – Scott Lynch

2890090When I read and reviewed the second book in this series, Red Seas over Red Skies, I could not hide some disappointment in what I perceived as a slackening of the pace and rhythm after book 1, The Lies of Locke Lamora, one of the best discoveries I made in the recent past.  Well, I am happy to state that with this third installment Scott Lynch has returned to the levels of intensity and reader involvement I enjoyed with the series’ opener.

When I left Locke and Jean in the previous book they were in a tight situation, with Locke slowly succumbing to an insidious poison for which no cure was available, and Jean desperately trying to find the means to save his friend. Republic of Thieves opens on such a note and progresses forward, seeing the two in deep debt to Khartain’s Bondsmagi and at the same time involved in the kind of convoluted schemes they are masters of and enjoy playing.   The story alternates between the present, where Locke and Jean need to bring, by any means necessary, a political faction to victory in Bondsmagi-controlled Khartain, and the past, where the story of the Gentlemen Bastards is explored in further depth. This constant switching from present to past imparts the novel with a constant acceleration that makes page-turning quite compulsory, and it also better showcases the mental and emotional arc of the characters – not to mention the added bonus of seeing again the late and lamented Sanza brothers in all their irreverent glory, and to add more interesting details to Father Chain’s personality and his creation of the Bastards’ swindler family.

The most important feature of the story, however, and the most expected one, is the appearance of the mysterious Sabetha, the woman we saw Locke pining for since day one: a former student of Father Chains and member of the Gentlemen Bastards, not to mention Locke’s love interest, she’s been mentioned often in the first two books and now she finally comes onstage in the flesh.  Sabetha is a complicated person: wily, resourceful, a true and successful daughter of Camorr’s underworld, she’s also clearly still searching for something – be it fulfillment or even a definition of self – and she actively refuses to be fitted into any mold, and that’s what makes her such an effective player in the games of deceit and power, especially once she’s pitted in Khartain’s political arena against Locke and Jean.   There are a few interesting flashback conversations between her and Locke, where she expresses her sense of isolation from the little family built by Father Chains: not just because of her nature as the only female in an otherwise male group, but because she feels no one paid her her dues. Sabetha holds a high sense of her own worth, and resents the fact that no one ever chose to give her the same unthinking loyalty the others always showed to Locke; she even seems jealous of the strong brotherhood bond tying Locke and Jean. And yet it all looks like an act at times, and the fact that part of those flash-backs involve the Gentlemen Bastards working as actors, in the play that gives the book its title, might very well be a clue: more often than not this act, if that’s what it is, keeps Locke off-balance and tips the scales in Sabetha’s favor. At the end of the day, however, Sabetha feels quite unsatisfactory as a character and love interest: yes, she’s something of a mirror image for Locke – and that might partly explain his infatuation for her, since there is much of himself in her and Locke is supremely self-centered – but what we knew of her, what we expected, was mostly built on Locke’s fond memories and his expectations, and the real thing falls a little short of the mark, just as Locke fails to win her lasting affection by trying too hard to prove himself to her.

The character that truly shines here, and continues to shine throughout, is that of Jean Tannen: his friendship with Locke, his brotherly dedication to him even in spite of Locke’s petulant wishes, makes Jean a wonderful person to read about. It was clear from the previous books, but here he gains substance and depth: he’s always on Locke’s side, always supporting even when Locke himself has given up hope and the will to fight, even when he launches into schemes they have little or not chance of winning; he’s the silent shoulder that offers Locke the firm ground he needs, and more often than not takes the fall for his friend’s miscalculations. He’s not flamboyant or flashy or outspoken – the perfect foil for Locke in this regards – and yet I gained the impression he’s definitely the better man. As one character remarks to a very young Jean “They sort of look to you to hold them together when there’s trouble, don’t they?”: this is the role he accepts and makes his own from a very early stage and this is the role he grows into, the responsible man who grounds the flighty children. Much as the adult Locke still sports a few childish quirks and inclinations, Jean is and always has been a man, reliable in his steadfastness, enjoyable in his humor, depth and solidity.

Bondsmage Patience is another remarkable figure: web-weaver, schemer and player of pawns, she is a sort of dark deus-ex-machina who pops up at the more unexpected moments and with the most unexpected revelations, like Locke’s true origins – if what she reveals can be taken as truth, of course, since I can’t forget an intriguing sentence she offers to the Gentlemen Bastards:  Before I was Archedama Patience, I was called Seamstress. Not because I enjoy needlework, but because I tailor to fit.” Given her nature of supreme manipulator and – more important – given her family affiliations, the so-called unveiling of Locke’s past might just as well be a means to unbalance him, or a subtle way to obtain revenge. How to otherwise explain her parting words, before she disappears into thin air?   And that’s part of your punishment. Go forth now and live, Locke Lamora. Live, uncertain.”   This ambiguity also creates the best background for the unsettling events at the end of the book that introduce what will probably be the subject of the next one: a dark twist that holds great promise for the future of the series.

My Rating: 8/10


Heartless – Gail Carriger

heartlessShould anyone wonder if there’s something that can ever stop Alexia Tarabotti Maccon, the answer is in this book: nothing. Not even the advanced stages of pregnancy. Despite the increased girth and some limitations imposed by the “infant inconvenience” on her mobility, Alexia manages to waddle her way through a series of events with the same spirit and the same boldness we’ve come to know and love. There’s indeed a sentence that represents that attitude in a nutshell: she waddles fiercely – and others must move, hastily, out of her way.

This fourth volume in the Parasol Protectorate series starts with another attempt on Alexia’s life perpetrated by vampires, who are quite worried about the abilities of the child she carries, a rare hybrid of supernatural and soulless.  The scheme (carried out with zombie porcupines, in pure Carriger style) fails only because the would-be vampire killer, who holds a quite civil conversation with his intended victim (propriety must be observed at all times, after all!), learns of the solution implemented by the Maccons to ensure their child’s safety: adoption by none other than Lord Akeldama, Alexia’s long-time vampire friend and master of elegance and fashion.

To keep the family united, despite the unusual arrangement, Alexia and her husband are forced to live in Akeldama’s own house, even though they publicly buy the mansion next door to keep up appearances: the cohabitation of vampires and werewolves presents of course logistical problems, as well as some aesthetic ones, since Conall Maccon is Akeldama’s polar opposite in matters of style, considering that “his perfectly tailored evening jacket draped about massive shoulders with a degree of reluctance, as if it were well aware that it was worn under sufferance”.  To make matters worse, Alexia’s sister Felicity comes to live with them, having been evicted from home due to her sympathies for the suffragette movement; young Biffy is adapting badly to his status as a newly-minted werewolf, since he pines for his former master Akeldama; and a ghost is desperately trying to warn Alexia about an impending attempt on the Queen’s life.

All these elements – and others I will not mention because readers should encounter, and enjoy them, on their own –  contribute to one of the best stories in this series: the humor I’ve become accustomed to is there and comes both from situations and from witty repartees, and the mystery Alexia must solve is a complex one that takes her down unexpected avenues and equally unexpected discoveries. Lovers of steampunk gadgetry will have a field day with Heartless, because contraptions big and small are featured along the way, together with the now-famous parasol and its almost inexhaustible cache of surprises.

But there is more, much more, since we learn a few intriguing details about characters we know: some are welcome ones, like Ivy’s matter-of-fact acceptance of Alexia’s nature, or rather the revelation that she had always known and never mentioned it to avoid causing embarrassment to her friend. Ivy Tunstell already manifested herself as much more than the airhead she appears to be, yet here she comes to the fore not only as a shrewd observer of people, but as a staunch and reliable friend, and it’s a joy to get this glimpse of her true nature. In a sense, she’s as much Alexia’s Beta as Professor Lyall is to Conall Maccon, and Lyall is indeed another character who gets some interesting moments in the spotlight, as we learn more about the past of the Woolsey pack, the Professor’s involvement in Conall’s rise to Alpha status and Lyall’s reasons behind its facilitation – reasons that tie with Alexia’s own past.  I’ve always had a particular interest in Lyall because I felt there was more behind his self-effacing attitude, and I’m quite happy with the revelations we were given here, not only for the peek into the past they afforded, but also because I enjoyed quite a bit the seamless blend of fun and drama that Carriger was able to effect with this part of the story.

Much as this series is fun-oriented, the occasional sidestep into more serious territory comes across quite well, and shows the author’s ability in changing the tune of her story without losing the overall “flavor”. The fact that this more somber duty is carried on Lyall’s shoulders makes the choice just perfect, given the earnestness of the character, the past losses he must deal with and the way he faces them: “Things are never good when immortals fall in love. Mortals end up dead, one way or another, and we are left alone again. Why do you think the pack is so important? (…) It is not simply a vehicle for safety; it is a vehicle for sanity, to stave off the loneliness.” If I liked the Beta before, now he’s now one of my favorite characters in the story.

Felicity Loontwill, on the other hand, becomes something more than the acidic half-sister who enjoys throwing vitriolic quips at Alexia, even though the proximity with Lord Akeldama offers some interesting possibilities, as Alexia herself considers at some point: “Felicity should not be overexposed to Lord Akeldama, on the basis of cattiness alone. If left together for too long, the two of them might actually take over the civilized world, through sheer application of snide remarks.” Felicity’s reasons for pestering Alexia hold much darker overtones and lead to a big surprise, even though those choices still remain in perfect synch with her personality and disposition, while still managing to put the girl’s self-centeredness and ultimate vapidity into sharp focus.

The main event of the book, however, is the birth of Alexia’s child: not surprisingly it happens in a moment of maximum confusion and upheaval, in the midst of a heated battle. There’s an image I feel the need to share about this scene, because it showcases perfectly Carriger’s way with words as she describes the werewolves storming out of Woolsey Castle: “They poured out the lower doors and windows of the castle, howling to the skies. They evolved into a kind of cohesive moving liquid, flowing down the hillside as one silvered blob, like mercury on a scientist’s palm.”  It’s a strong image, and one that managed to make me forget for a moment all that was going on.

Not for long, though, because of the big surprise that comes with the revelation of the child’s abilities. Little Prudence (so named because it’s something she will need, considering her parentage and the environment she will live in) can take on the supernatural characteristics of those she comes into contact with: I have an inkling of where this will lead the story, mostly thank to THESE REVIEWS of Gail Carriger’s first book in her new series, but still I know it will be quite a fun journey of discovery.

My Rating: 8/10


Tough Traveling: MOMS


Tough Traveling is an interesting and thought-provoking meme started by Nathan @ Fantasy Review Barn: each week Nathan chooses a topic from The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Diana Wynn Jones, and challenges everyone to come up with a list of books featuring that trope.

Come join the fun!

This week we talk about MOMS

Everyone has a mother. Including people in fantasyland. Just in time to be slightly early for Mother’s Day.

This time I’m going to pick my examples from the screen – no books will be harmed in the process…

Star Trek gave several examples of mothers in the course of its distinguished career, and one of the very first is Amanda, Spock’s mother: she is a remarkable lady indeed, what with being able to live on a planet where her human emotions are anathema and having to accept the decades-long rift between her husband and her son. If it had been me, I would have bashed both of their hard Vulcan heads against each other and hammered some sense into them…

The original series offers us a very unusual kind of mother with the Horta, a silicon-based creature that’s mistaken for a dangerous monster only because she attacks the miners who are threatening her large cache of eggs, the future generation of her species. Dr. Beverly Crusher, from the Next Generation, is a mother both in the strictest sense of the word and in a more general meaning, being tasked with the crew’s health and well-being. On the other hand, Lwaxana Troi is the kind of parent everyone dreads: strong-willed, unashamedly meddlesome and bound to speak her mind at the drop of a hat – that is, when she is not picking yours through telepathy!

In the movie Aliens we see two formidable mothers square off against each other: on one side there’s Ellen Ripley, the heroine of the first movie, a woman who can battle her fears and go straight down to the monsters’ dens to retrieve the child she’s grown attached to.  Even though young Newt is not strictly her daughter, Ripley fights for her facing the Alien Queen: this monstrous creature defends her eggs with a mother’s courage, and even though the metamorphs have been depicted by the movies as dangerous, predatory critters that use people as incubators, it’s impossible not to understand the Queen’s scream of impotent rage when Ripley destroys her nest and torches everything both in self-defense and vengeance.

Motherhood can be a curse as well, as Xhalax Sun from Farscape learns at her own expense: having conceived her daughter Aeryn through an unsanctioned liaison, she has to decide between the life of her child or that of her lover, and therefore is forced to kill the latter to regain her superiors’ trust.  The long, hard way back has scarred her in body and mind, and when she meets her daughter again she’s so full of anger and self-loathing that all she wants is to exact some payback on her offspring.  When Aeryn Sun becomes a mother herself she goes on a totally different path, though: the fierceness learned as a warrior goes toward the protection of her child, both when it’s almost removed from her because of its precious DNA and when the boy is born, in the midst of a heated battle.  Fighting enemies even during the pain of labor (because, as she herself says, shooting makes her feel better) she proceeds to help herself and her friends out of a tight situation by wielding a gun with one hand and holding on to her baby with the other.  Give her a prize for Best Fighter Mom Ever!

When Kiera Cameron (Continuum), a 2077 City Protective Services officer, is sent back in time to what is our present, all she can think of is going back to her time, and her family: not so much, in my opinion, to a shifty and philandering husband, but to her young son, the only person she focuses on when the going gets though.  Highly trained and enhanced with biotech, Kiera is an interesting blend of professional efficiency and understandable weakness, especially where her son is concerned: two of her most prized possessions are a piece of the time device that sent her back and a toy soldier given to her by her son, to keep her safe, and I’ve always thought that the toy is the most important one to her.

And lastly I’m going out on a limb and postulating that Person of Interest can be labeled as sci-fi: if a supercomputer, a machine that spies on you every hour of every day and gives out social security numbers of potential victims or perpetrators is not science fiction… well, can I get away with it just this once?  That said, Detective Joss Carter is not just a good police officer, both strong and compassionate, but she’s also a great single mom.  Juggling a difficult, dangerous career and the hard tasks required by parenting is not at all simple, but Carter does it in an apparent effortless way, giving her teenage son a good role model. And apart from that, she’s just plain awesome…



The Broken Kingdoms – N.K. Jemisin

7904453One of the surprises awaiting me in this book was the jump in time and characters from book one, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: it’s been ten years since the upheaval brought on by Yeine, and the world has more or less settled into its new tracks, even though unrest still simmers under the surface. And the focus of the story is on a new character, Oree, a blind artist who can nonetheless acquire a sight of sort because she can perceive magic.

Oree, by her own definition, is “plagued by gods”: she has been the lover of Madding, one of the godlings peopling the city and moving among mortals, and she has taken into her home an odd one she calls Shiny because of his ability to glow at sunrise. Shiny is a strange, dark and brooding creature, who seeks death in many ways – only to be resurrected from it every time – and who never speaks. A mystery, a puzzle to be solved: and Oree’s innate curiosity is such that she can’t pass up this kind of challenge.   When the murdered and desecrated body of a godling is found in an alley, an event that should have been next to impossible and is only the first in a long chain of killings, Oree finds herself enmeshed in a spiral of conspiracies and wars between the two worlds – that mortals’ and the gods’ – and discovers something unexpected and terrible about her origins.

The tale is told from Oree’s viewpoint (much as it was done with Yeine in the first book, and with a surprise right at the end (even though it’s a different kind of surprise): Oree’s voice is quite peculiar, witty and self-deprecating at times, but always bringing her inner strength to the fore, even when she finds herself at the center of events well over her head. There’s a core of toughness in Oree that does not come only from dealing with her disability – and dealing very well with it, at that – but also from a soundness of spirit that reveals itself in the most unlikely moments. Despite that, she comes across as less empowered than Yeine was, or maybe it all depends on the background of the story, more focused on the life of mortals and common citizens and less interested in the political intrigue and back-stabbing plots that stood at the basis of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

This factor brought me to enjoy The Broken Kingdoms a little less than it should have: I loved the book, no question about that, yet I had this nagging sensation that something was missing. Much as Yeine did in the previous story, Oree must unravel a mystery and at the same time worry about her own survival, and she does that mostly thanks to people who care about her: you can see how she touches their lives in a way that compels them to act in this fashion. The relationship – never truly ended – with the godling Madding is a good example of that, and their interactions poignant and believable. The difficult rapport with Shiny, and its evolution once his real identity is brought to the fore, feels equally real and makes for quite interesting developments. Yet the sense of urgency, of clear and present danger that seemed to hound Yeine at every twist and turn of the story, here is somewhat diluted: the reason for the conspiracy that’s causing so many godlings’ deaths appeared too convoluted and the villains at the root of it all sometimes sported a mustache-twirling attitude that I found a little out of place in this kind of story and in a writing level such as Jemisin’s.

I believe my main contention with this story was the abundance of magic: the magic spill-off of so many godlings walking the city’s streets is what allows Oree to see, after a fashion, and that is an interesting twist that allows her to be both helpless and autonomous at the same time. But there was, in my opinion, too much magic going around, too many possibilities for deus-ex-machina interventions that somewhat robbed this story of its potential for drama.

Granted, the magic in this world represents power, and it’s woven inexorably into its tapestry, and yet it was more subtly represented in the first book of this trilogy, becoming just one of the players instead of being one of the main characters.

Despite this minor disturbances, I fully enjoyed this tale about power and love, betrayal and forgiveness, greed and heroism: Jemisin has a way of enmeshing her readers into the world she crafts and keeping them there, and this one delivers on its promises. It will be quite interesting to see how the trilogy will end in the third and final book.

My Rating: 7,5/10