Reviews

THE ANIMAL CROSSING NEW HORIZON BOOK TAG

I’ve become addicted to these book tags recently, so once I saw this one at Suzy’s Cozy World I decided to try my hand at it: bookish fun is the best kind of fun after all!

Let’s dive in…

 

PAST VILLAGER: Who is a character you found when you were younger that still has a place in your heart?

That might very well be the lady Jessica, from Frank Herbert’s DUNE: where I was always captivated by the concept of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, I loved how she would defy her training and the Sisterhood’s goals out of love for her mate and her son. Given the time in which the original Dune was written, Jessica represents a breakthrough in the depiction of female characters.

This art concept of Lady Jessica comes from Mindofka at Deviantart.

BLATHER’S BLATHERINGS: Recommend a historical fiction book that you think everybody should read.

For this I will need to go back several decades in my reading history and mention the amazing books from Finnish author Mika Waltari, starting with The Egyptian and moving on to The Etruscan and The Roman: although the details of those stories have become quite blurred by time, I remember them as very engrossing reads and as fascinating windows on the depicted cultures.

CELESTE’S WISH: What is a future book release you wish you could read now?

That would be, without doubt, the ninth and final book of The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey: this book has no title yet, nor a publication date, but I’m beyond curious to see how the authors will wrap up this amazing space opera series, although I will be very, very, very sad to bid my farewells to the characters I have come to appreciate and love.

TIMMY & TOMMY: What is your favorite sibling relationship in a book?

Even though they are not related by blood, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, as the only two surviving members of the thieves’ family built by Father Chains, are as close as brothers, not just in spite of their differences but because of them, given that their personalities compensate for each other’s faults. Their ties of brotherhood and the rarely expressed but very strong bond of love between them is one of the best features of their story.

THE EASTER BUNNY: A popular book character that you’re not a big fan of.

I will have to risk the ire of many of my fellow bloggers here but I have to point my finger at Mark Watney from Andy Weir’s The Martian: I found the overall tone in the chronicle of his survival on Mars to be too cheeky and frivolous to really endear the character to me, and while I could understand the need to keep his spirits up in a very dire situation, there was not enough introspection to balance out the flippancy. For once, I found out that the movie was better than the book in this respect…

NOOK’S LOANS: An author you’d give all your money to.

There are several authors on my “automatic buy” list and there are too many of them for me to choose from, so I would find it very difficult to have to play the game of favorites here…

THE SISTERS ABLE: What is your favorite fictional family (found or otherwise)?

This is an easy one: for me THE fictional family is represented by the Fellowship of the Ring – a group of people united by a common goal and becoming closer than family through shared dangers. It’s a theme I encountered often in my reading, but the Fellowship was my very first example and they will always be at the top of my preferences.

IT’S A C+: What is a book trope you don’t like that keeps popping up?

Insta-love and love triangles rate very high in my catalog of tropes that tend to make me run for the hills at high speed, but there is one that annoys me to no end: a main character who looks unassuming and is shortly revealed as gifted with incredible powers, or who transforms from wallflower to hero/heroine practically overnight. What is otherwise labeled as “Mary Sue”…

THE WANDERING CAMEL: What is your favorite book set in a land far away from yours?

I will have to mention Dune again: what could be more fascinating than a world covered in endless deserts and scoured by killer winds, where you have to wear a specially designed suit to reclaim drinking water from your body and where giant worms roam the sands? Dune fired my imagination from the first time I read it, and it still holds a special place in it.

WHAT WOULD DODOS DO?: A fictional land you wish you could fly away to at any moment?

Middle Earth, of course! And the beauty of it is that I actually could do that, since we all know that it’s located in New Zealand… 😉

Reviews

LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS (The First Law #3), by Joe Abercrombie

 

The long buildup created in the first two books of this series finds its amazing epilogue in this third volume, and in keeping with the style and overall mood of the story does not offer readers an upbeat ending – but that hardly matters as the characters’ journey is so compelling that it works just as well.

War and strife come from many fronts toward the Union and its capital Adua, where most of the action takes place: the Northmen, led by ruthless King Bethod, are moving steadily southward and the Union’s army finds it difficult to contain the barbarians’ forward momentum, despite the help from Bethod’s old enemies Dogman and Logen Ninefinger; the Gurkish are marching from the south to lay siege to Adua, where the sudden death of the king adds a further layer of trouble to a political situation in which complex machinations and back stabbing plots go on regardless of the impending danger.

Logen Ninefingers, together with the Dogman and his other comrades, has chosen to help Colonel West and the Union army in the fight against Bethod, his ultimate goal being to exact bloody revenge against the king of the Northmen, once his friend and now his bitter enemy. Jezal dan Luthar has returned to Adua a changed man, one whose greater desire is for a quiet life together with the woman he loves, but he’s unaware that a very different destiny waits for him in the city he calls home. Superior Glokta finds himself enmeshed in a many-layered web of intrigue in which the political maneuverings for the election of the new king are only the tip of the iceberg as he realizes that his very survival might be at stake. And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, seems to be everywhere, his long reach leaving nothing and no one safe from his mysterious goals…

There is so much that happens in this final novel of the First Law trilogy that certainly takes great skill to keep all the narrative threads and character journeys balanced, and Abercrombie manages that with apparent lack of effort as the situation drives inexorably toward the final showdown: the way the author moves between the various points of view and situations makes for a compulsive read that at times turns into oxygen-depriving anxiety, particularly during battle scenes, or a certain very realistic, very bloody duel where the tension almost transforms into physical discomfort.  While the outcome of the various plotlines remains uncertain until the very end and is reached through a series of twists and unexpected surprises, no one truly gets what they wanted or hoped for, as the old maxim about being careful regarding one’s desires shows its accuracy in several circumstances. Truly, no one comes out of this story unscathed, because events either overwhelm them, or change them profoundly, for good or bad: there is less humor in this final installment of the trilogy, even the gallows humor Abercrombie used all throughout the story, which here touches its bleakest moments. And yet it remains just as powerful and fascinating because of the underlying reality of its premise.

As far as characters go, I realized what a sorrowful one Logen Ninefingers is: a man whose destiny seems to lie in endless fights, both because of the nature of the world he lives in and because of his own nature and that of his… alter ego the Bloody Nine, but still a man with enough powers of introspection to understand that this is not a way of life, even as he acknowledges that there could not be a different one for him, no matter how much he might wish for something different.

He could’ve gone far away, and started new, and been whoever he wanted. But he’d tried that once already, and it had done him no good. The past was always right behind him, breathing on his neck.

There is a fascinating dichotomy in Logen: on the surface he’s the epitome of the savage warrior, a man who looks like a brute and who’s able to launch into mindless killing sprees; on the inside he’s gifted with great powers of understanding, of himself and those around him, that drive the ruthless self-analysis with which he recognizes the limited choices his former life left him: either go on with the endless, brutal struggle for survival, or to give in and accept the death he has been cheating for so long with the “still alive” mantra he recites after each bloody encounter.

Jezal dan Luthar is the character who sees the greatest transformation in the course of the story: he begins as a boorish dandy, interested only in drinking, womanizing and looking fashionable and wishing for glory and recognition. Where he partially adjusts his outlook through danger and hardship, he still retains some of his old flightiness until a massive, unexpected change in life shows him that the prestige and appreciation he craved for are only the outward trappings of duty and responsibility and that he needs to grow into the role that fell on him, or be crushed by it.  Much as I despised the Jezal of old, his capriciousness and shallowness, I was compelled to pity the man he becomes toward the end, because of the price he has to pay for it, something that reminded me of a very impassioned quote from my beloved Babylon 5, where Londo Mollari says: “When we first met I had no power and all the choices I could ever want. And now I have all the power I could ever want and no choices at all. No choice at all.” Tragic indeed…

As usual I left my very favorite individual for last – Sand dan Glokta. This potentially despicable character is instead the most relatable of them all, a man who was broken in body but not in mind and who has learned the fine art of survival in the most terrible of circumstances. Faithful to the dual nature of Abercrombie’s characters, he lives and breathes cynicism while secretly yearning for some of the joy that circumstances denied him, all the while trying to stay afloat in the poisonous atmosphere of Adua’s political circles.

The one good thing about every step being an ordeal. You soon learn how to tread carefully.

Friends are people one pretends to like in order to make life bearable. Men like us have no need of such indulgences. It is our enemies by which we are measured.

And that duality shows ever more clearly in the most dangerous circumstances, when his survival hangs by a thread and he appears ready to finally let go of the burden of his painfully crippled body, yet he welcomes any unexpected reprieve with phlegmatic relief: in a way I’ve come to believe that his continued survival, while certainly due to his ability to navigate the toxic circles he moves in, comes mostly from his apparent lack of fear for death, outwardly considered as a relief.   In a similar way, Glokta’s cynical approach is belied by his kind-hearted interest for the misfortunes of Ardee, his friend Colonel West’s sister, and the way the two of them become close by sharing a penchant for masking their deepest emotions with sarcastically delightful repartees: it’s through those interactions, and the way they affect their shared story, that the author offers the only glimmer of light and hope in the overall grimness of the story – a glimmer that feels both right and well deserved.

I’m glad I have still more books to explore in this world created by Joe Abercrombie, not to mention the upcoming ones in the new Age of Madness series, whose first volume A Little Hatred finally compelled me to read The First Law. This is a harsh, cruel world, granted, but it’s such a compelling one that making the effort to look past the blood and violence to the wonderfully crafted characters that people it becomes no effort at all.

 

My Rating:  

Reviews

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books on My Summer 2020 TBR

 

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point, ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  This week’s topic is:

BOOKS ON MY SUMMER 2020 TBR

This summer I would like to finish some of the series that have resided long on my TBR: these are all series I enjoy, but I tend to get distracted by the “new entries” I find for myself or, more often, thanks to the reviews of my fellow bloggers, so that at times long months elapse between one book in a series and the next one.

So the first part of this TTT dedicated to my summer reading plans is dedicated those series. Starting with:

 

Daniel Abraham: The Spider’s War (The Dagger and the Coin #5)

I have enjoyed this fantasy saga very much, and this is the final book, where the various narrative threads will come to their conclusion. While it’s possible to label this series as classic fantasy, there are a few interesting angles here, most notably the political influence of banks and the pressures they can exert on the power plays.

 

John Gwynne: Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #4)
John Gwynne: Wrath (The Faithful and the Fallen #5)

I discovered John Gwynne’s work when I read the first book of his new saga Of Blood and Bone, and I was immediately enthralled by his world where demonic and angelic creatures fight a long-standing, bitter conflict, so that I felt compelled to learn more about the story’s background through the previous series set some time before the current one. The titles of the two remaining books promise an engaging read, indeed…

 

Joe Abercrombie: Best Served Cold (First Law World #4)
Joe Abercrombie: Red Country (First Law World #5)
Joe Abercrombie: The Heroes (First Law World #6)

Another case of ex post facto back-tracking: the First Law trilogy had been languishing on my TBR for a long time, and it took the publication of his new novel, A Little Hatred, to finally drive me to read the series that brought him to fame. Now that I have finished the first three books I intend to continue with the volumes that are set in this same harsh and brutal, but totally fascinating world.  Best Served Cold will be a re-read, but it’s been so long since I discovered it, that I’m certain it will feel like something new.

 

Alongside the series that I want to finish, there are those that are still ongoing and whose new books I need to read as soon as I can because they portray engrossing stories that caught my attention from page one. And for these I’m changing genre from Fantasy to Science Fiction:

 

Gareth Powell: Light of Impossible Stars (Embers of War #3)

The adventures of sentient ship Trouble Dog and its crew should come to a close with this third novel in a series that rapidly gained a high place in my preferences. The previous book ended with a cliffhanger showing the galaxy on the brink of another devastating war, this time not between opposing factions but against a fleet of ships bent on eradicating all conflicts by extermination. To say that I’m impatient to learn what will happen would be a massive understatement…

 

W. Michael Gear: Unreconciled (Donovan #4)

This amazing series focusing on the colonization of a very hostile alien world is one of the best space operas I remember reading, and I’m very happy that the originally predicted 3 books have now gained a fourth installment and – hopefully – a few more after this one. There is so much to explore about Donovan and its colonists, not to mention the dreadful consequences of the space-translation technology that often results in ships being completely lost or facing nightmarish journeys.

 

And last but not least two new entries:

 

Harry Turtledove: Bombs Away (The Hot War #1)

I have wanted to read one of Harry Turtledove’s alternate history works for a long time, and when I saw the mention of this one I was immediately intrigued: the premise is that of the dreadful consequences of a nuclear war between the superpowers emerging at the end of World War II.  Probably not the most uplifting kind of story I could have picked, but still it’s worth taking a look at.

 

Michael Connelly: The Black Echo (Harry Bosch #1)

A definite change from my usual stomping grounds…

I have been thinking for a while about exploring new territory, and mystery is indeed the genre that most appeals to me besides fantasy and SF. By happy coincidence I have discovered on Amazon Video the TV show Bosch, inspired by the long-standing series written by Michael Connelly, widely acclaimed as one of the best authors of crime fiction: my enthusiasm for the TV show – so far the best procedural I have encountered in my “travels” – compelled me to buy Connelly’s first novel portraying his character, an unconventional, headstrong detective with a dark past. I’m curious to see where this foray away from dragons and aliens will lead me 🙂

 

And what are you planning to read this summer?

Reviews

THE OBSIDIAN TOWER (Rooks and Ruin #1), by Melissa Caruso

 

I received this novel from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

Having greatly enjoyed Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire trilogy, I was quite eager to sample her new work, and also curious to see her world from the point of view of the Raverran Serene Empire’s adversaries from previous books. Where the magic present in Raverra is controlled by placing jesses – i.e. restraining bracelets – on people endowed with magical powers, in Vaskandar mages are free to exert their powers, and the strongest among them rule over the realms to which they are intimately connected, engaging in endless strife for supremacy with their neighbors.  In Swords and Fire, looking at Vaskandar through Raverran eyes, this country seemed to pose a constant threat: military aggression against diplomacy; undisciplined magic against tight control of powers; authoritarian rule against the compromise of politics.  The Obsidian Tower looks on Vaskandar from the inside, and shows us that it’s indeed all a matter of perspective…

For four thousand years, the castle of Gloaminguard stood as protection over a magically sealed black tower: the family’s lore stresses emphatically that its door must remain closed at all costs. Ryx is the latest descendant of the family holding Gloaminguard, appointed warden of the castle by her grandmother, a powerful Witch Lord called the Lady of Owls. Ryx is however burdened by the impossibility of wielding her magic: in a family of vivomancers, mages with the ability to interact with the flora and fauna of their territories, the young woman is cursed by a killing touch – every living thing that comes into close contact with her is doomed to wither and die. As Gloaminguard is getting ready to host a meeting between Raverran and Vaskandran emissaries for the peaceful solution of a controversy, one of the envoys tries to circumvent the tower’s safeguards and is accidentally killed by Ryx as she tries to stop the ill-advised attempt of her guest.

Faced with the intricate task of juggling the consequences of the accident, the volatile political situation and the survival of her grandmother’s realm, Ryx finds herself enmeshed in a progressively dangerous game in which every new discovery leads to unexpected pitfalls and impossible choices, as the old menace from the newly-awakened Tower looms closer and threatens to plunge the whole world in a maelstrom of destruction.

The Obsidian Tower is a thoroughly captivating read, where the constantly raising stakes keep increasing the pressure, which at times becomes unbearable, because we see the situation unfold from Ryx’s point of view, so that the concatenation of events and the discoveries she makes along the way put her in an untenable position better described as “damned if I do, damned if I don’t”, and make the possible outcome quite unpredictable. Ryx is a brilliantly designed character, one that makes it easy to root for her: a mysterious childhood illness caused her blossoming vivomancy powers to deteriorate, turning into a life-sucking force that prevents her from any contact with living creatures – only a powerful mage, preparing for the onslaught of her magic, can survive her touch and so Ryx grew up in physical isolation, feared by everyone and needing to be on constant alert against any kind of proximity.

The sympathy Ryx engenders in the readers does not come from compassion for her plight, but from admiration for her inner strength and for her will to still be an effective member of her family despite the lethal handicap she suffers.  As the situation in Gloaminguard becomes more and more complicated, she draws from the well of strength and wisdom she built over the years and shows her worth as a balancing element despite the opposing political plays of the two nations and the unhelpful interference from some of her family members.  The only moments when she succumbs to wistfulness are those in which she observes the interactions between the members of the Rookery – a sort of super partes agency dealing with magical phenomena – and sees the easy camaraderie, the subliminal understanding born of shared experiences, and realizes how empty and bleak her existence has been, but still she refuses to let such feelings dominate her.

As for the Rookery, they represent the lighter side of the story: a combination of magical investigators and spies wielding gadgets that would be the envy of 007, they are a team composed by disparate individuals whose peculiarities contribute to the success of the group. We have a leader who is both bookish and action-oriented; a science enthusiast saddled with a terrible past; an infiltration agent gifted by a delightfully roguish personality; and a warrior who at times needs to be told that her sword is not necessarily the only answer.  The Rookery’s easy acceptance of Ryx, despite the danger she poses, is a breath of fresh air not only for the young woman herself, but for the reader as well, because it’s painful to see how she’s feared and shunned even by people who saw her grow up and seem unable to avoid the automatic warding sign they make at her passage.  Since the series’ title mentions Rooks, it is my strong hope that I will see much more of the Rookery’s antics in the next books.

Story-wise this novel is the intriguing introduction to a further exploration of the world created by Melissa Caruso: much as I enjoyed visiting Raverra and its Venice Republic-like world of politics and compromise, this glimpse of Vaskandar is even more appealing thanks to the unruly quality of its magic, the constant warfare (declared or not) between realms and the fascinating concept of connection between mages and their territory, so that nature itself, when necessary, can intervene over humans, either helping or hindering them. Or worse – there is a scene in The Obsidian Tower, involving a mad Witch Lord and thorny bushes, that had me wincing in sympathetic pain…

On this background are set interesting issues as friendship and trust, responsibility and duty, all rolled up with enigmatic prophecies from the past which can still have impact on the present – and probably the future, since this story is only at its beginning. And with such a strong beginning, we can only predict that the best is still to come.

 
 
My Rating:

 

Reviews

The Book Character Quarantine Tag

 

With many thanks to Ola from Re-enchantment of the World for tagging me, I have decided to sprinkle some much-needed humor on the health crisis still gripping our world on the heels of the Covid-19 spread. It’s been a harrowing time for us all, and for many it’s still a heavy concern, so if these memes help bringing a little smile to brighten the darkness, they are very welcome indeed…

And here we go: the tag requires me to name 5 or more of my favorite book characters and imagine what they would be doing if they were quarantined with us in the real world. I chose three characters from fantasy and three from science fiction. Perfect balance 😉

 

TYRION LANNISTER (from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire)

Oh, he’s one of the people who would suffer less from being locked down at home, provided he had enough wine and enough ladies willing to share his bedchamber – at the start of the story, at least, Tyrion used to be quite the ladies’ man after all!

 

FIELD MARSHAL TAMAS (from Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage)

I think he would pace back and forth like a caged lion, perusing maps and devising strategies so as not to be caught  off-guard once the quarantine was lifted. And of course driving his aides-de-camp crazy, with the sole exception of Colonel Olem, who would observe the Field Marshal’s antics through the smoke of his endless cigarettes.

 

SAND DAN GLOKTA (from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy)

Here is another character who would enjoy being cooped up at home and therefore not having to submit himself to the daily torture of stairs: as he observed more than once, the people of power he had to visit in the course of his duties always lived far above ground, and with his crippling infirmities, poor Glokta’s hate of stairs became quite legendary.

 

   

KIVA LAGOS (from John Scalzi’s Interdependency)

No doubt: she would swear, profusely and with great richness of expletives, about home lockdown, upset at the idea of the new dastardly schemes concocted by House Nohamapetan, which would certainly find a way to circumvent the rules and broker alliances behind her back.

 

MURDERBOT (from Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries)

Probably Murderbot would be exempt from self-isolation, since its organic parts would not suffer from contact with the virus. Just as probably it would be recruited by its human not-friends for the daily errands they would not be able to perform, and be deprived of some of its series-watching time. Which would be profoundly irritating, no doubt about it.

 

MILES VORKOSIGAN (from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga)

A confined Miles is a dangerous Miles, because his hyperactive mind needs to be applied to active duties, and being unable to move around he would certainly find new and more insane ideas to relieve his boredom. Someone should find some convoluted puzzle to unravel to keep him occupied and out of mischief…

 

 

So, who would you choose to observe during lockdown? Everyone’s invited: share the fun!

Reviews

REAL NEAT BLOG AWARD

While I love tag posts, particularly those that help me know my fellow bloggers better, my record in fulfilling them once I am tagged is far from stellar. I hoped to be able to fit this one into my Wyrd and Wonder 2020 schedule, but as usual I’m traveling on the path of good intentions – and we all know where that leads…

Anyway, with many thanks to Lashaan at Bookidote for calling me to task 😉 , here are the answers to the questions he posed:

 

1. IF YOU COULD DO SOMETHING BETTER THAN YOU’RE ALREADY DOING RIGHT NOW, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

That’s a tough one for a first question, when I still need to warm up… 😀

Jokes aside, I would like to be able to be more productive in my blogging activities, so that I could prepare some non-review posts in advance and participate in more book-related memes as many of my fellow bloggers do. For now, I will keep on enjoying theirs…

 

2. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THIS NEW DECADE (2020-2029) TO BRING TO YOUR LIFE?

Some traveling to new places – which right now sounds more like a fanciful wish than anything else: there are a few destinations that I’ve been thinking about along with my friends, like touring Australia (and New Zealand as well, why not? The Tolkien fan in me would like to see the place that became Middle Earth in our collective imagination). Hopefully one of these dream holidays might turn into reality.    

 

3. IS THERE A SEQUEL TO SOMETHING THAT YOU LOOK FORWARD TO?

**Looking meaningfully in the direction of Mister George R. R. Martin**

Enough said…

 

4. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE STORIES IN ANY MEDIUM (COMICS, BOOKS, SHOWS, MOVIES, VIDEO GAMES, ETC.)?

This might call for a long list, so I will try to keep it down to a maximum of three in any category – except for comics, which I don’t read, and video games, that are well beyond any ability of mine. And of course I will stay within the confines of SFF, otherwise this would turn into a *massive* list…

SF Books: The Expanse, The Vorkosigan Saga, Dune

Fantasy Books: The Lord of the Rings (of course… 😉 ), The First Law trilogy, anything by John Gwynne

Tv Shows: Babylon 5 (which I love to quote at the drop of a hat), Farscape, Firefly

Movies (the ones I always rewatch when the opportunity arises): Alien(s), the LOTR Trilogy, Galaxy Quest.

 

5. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR LEAST FAVOURITES STORIES IN ANY MEDIUM (COMICS, BOOKS, SHOWS, MOVIES, VIDEO GAMES, ETC.)?

Well, let’s say that I don’t enjoy reading or watching stories where characters are cardboard cutouts, plots cliché and predictable and where the readers’ or watchers’ intelligence is insulted.

 

6. WHAT DOES BLOGGING BRING TO YOUR LIFE?

The opportunity of sharing thoughts and recommendations with like-minded people, to see unexplored angles in the stories I’ve read – either those I loved and those I didn’t, because a widely different point of view can be as illuminating as one which agrees with mine. Oh, and of course an ever-growing, totally unmanageable TBR – but who’s complaining?

 

7. IF THERE’S SOMETHING YOU COULD CHANGE OF THE WORLD, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I would like to do away with the extreme polarization that seems to affect every field of social interaction nowadays, and to poison any kind of discussion, no matter the subject at hand.

 

8. WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU COULD EAT RIGHT NOW?

Mango-flavored ice cream.

 

9. IF THERE WAS ONE MYTHOLOGICAL CREATURE THAT COULD EVER EXIST IN THE WORLD, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I’ve always been fascinated by the fabled inhabitant of Loch Ness…

 

10. DO YOU THINK THERE’S A CURE FOR STUPIDITY?

Sadly, while I enjoy speculative fiction, I know there are limits to what I’m able believe… 😉

 

 

Ok, that was fun! If you enjoyed this tag, please feel free to join in – the more the merrier!

Reviews

DREADFUL COMPANY (Dr. Greta Helsing #2), by Vivian Shaw – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in Vivan Shaw’s Urban Fantasy series, and did not wait long to add this second volume to my reading queue: Dreadful Company proved to be an even faster and more entertaining read, adding further depth to the characters I already knew and presenting a few new ones that spiced up the mix in a very interesting way.

The story opens with Greta traveling to Paris for a symposium of supernatural medicine in the company of her vampire friend Lord Ruthven. What could have been a pleasant, if slightly boring, diversion from her work in London becomes first a puzzle when Greta finds not one but two weird critters in her room – beings that are magically summoned rather than being born – and then turns into a harrowing experience as she is kidnapped by a local vampire coven whose ruler, the dangerously capricious Corvin, intends to use her as bait to exact vengeance on Ruthven, with whom he clashed, and lost, in the past.

The situation is further complicated by some weird ghostly manifestations pointing toward a lessening of the barrier between the mundane plane and the afterworld, which require the summoning of two licensed psychopomps and the intervention of a demonic overseer in the person of Greta’s special friend Fastitocalon, who had been recuperating his health in Hell.  As it becomes clear that the critters found by Dr. Helsing and the vampire coven are tied into these “reality hiccups”, the guardian of Paris, werewolf St. Germain, joins forces with Ruthven, Varney and the rest of Greta’s friends in what turns into a mixed rescue & restoration enterprise that kept me turning the pages with highly amused enthusiasm.

Not unlike what happened in Strange Practice, Greta often cedes the limelight to the other players and while this might look somewhat odd, it also allows them to gain more substance and provides a welcome balance to the story. Still, the distressing situation in which she finds herself here puts Greta’s personality into sharper focus and we see how it’s made out of equal measures of kindness, dedication and common sense: being a prisoner does not exempt her from being a doctor first and foremost, so that she has no reservations in treating one of her captors’ wounds, or in feeling deep pity for the youngest member of the coven once she realizes that the girl has been turned without permission and then left to her own devices to face the transformation into a vampire.  If I wrote, in my review of the first book, that Greta looked less substantial than the other characters, I have come to understand that her reserved attitude hides a core of strength and cleverness that comes to light when need arises, and which in this particular circumstance leads her to take matters in her own hands without waiting for rescue to come her way.

It is of course interesting to see Lord Ruthven shaken out of his usual aplomb as he realizes that Greta is in danger at the hands of an old adversary, or to witness the blossoming closeness between Varney and the doctor – while not a fan of romantic entanglements, I’m quite curious to see how this vampire/human relationship will progress – but this time around I truly enjoyed getting to know the new characters on the scene. The overseer of the Parisian supernatural population, Alceste St. Germain, is one of my favorites: a werewolf with a penchant for historical studies, he’s gruff but hospitable – I loved seeing how he turned his house into a command center for the rescuers without batting an eyelash; the two psychopomps are a source for tongue-in-cheek humor and oblique references to horror and gothic themes, their names also an indication of the main facets of their personality – where Gervase Brightside was fun, Crepusculus Dammerung was downright hilarious.

The vampire Grisaille is an interesting study of the bloodsucker mentality from a different perspective than that offered so far by Ruthven and Varney, while the other members of the coven – particularly their vile leader Corvin – manage to appear dangerous and ludicrous at the same time: lacking the kind of moral foundations at the roots of Ruthven’s psychological makeup, for example, they seem more inclined to follow a behavioral template taken from folklore and so tend to dress with flamboyant bad taste and cover themselves with body glitter, in a pathetic – if weirdly entertaining – imitation of a certain vampire saga. Still, they are nonetheless dangerous: partly in fear and partly in devotion of their leader, they prey on hapless humans that are drained and discarded as nothing more than… food rations, and the scenes of their blood-and-drugs orgies represent the more serious and shocking side of the story.

To balance these dreadful narrative elements there are the delightful callbacks to several gothic myths, mainly that of the Phantom of the Opera, one of my all-time favorites, and the appearance of these furry critters, summoned from a different plane of reality, who are unabashedly cute and offer a few rays of light in the darkest sections of the story, without forgetting the intangible entity that Greta summons at some point and can become visible only while covered in cloth – try to imagine a helpful, cuddly ghost as an improbable but precious ally…

At the end of this second novel in the series much has changed for the main characters and they seem destined to walk some different paths than the ones they were traveling when we met them for the first time: given the entertaining mix of adventure, drama and humor that’s typical of these books I know I can look forward to the next one with great anticipation.

 

My Rating:

 

Image by Tanantachai Sirival @ 123RF.com

Reviews

BOOK TAGS: MY FANTASY BUCKET LIST for WYRD & WONDER 2020

Image by Tanantachai Sirival @ 123RF.com

 

We can always count on our fellow bloggers for inspiration on tags and memes to spice up our posts for this yearly fantasy extravaganza, and this one felt just perfect for me: it was originally posted by Imyril, who in turn was inspired by Dragons and Zombies and Little Book Owl.  Thank you all!

And now for the delightful prompts: I’ve decided to keep to the fantasy world that was my first love and is still the place where I left my heart – JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Every time I re-read the LOTR, The Hobbit or The Silmarillion, it feels like coming home, so I guess that a part of me still dwells there…

 

A fictional world that you would like to tour

One of the joys of reading Tolkien’s works is to look at the maps and follow the characters’ journeys across the land, so a tour of Middle Earth’s most famous locations sounds perfect – well, maybe I would leave Mordor out of the itinerary…. From the Lonely Mountain to the plains of Rohan, with a side visit to Lothlorien; from the ancient realm of Gondor to the safe haven of Rivendell and finally to the Shire, where my long travels would end in the comfortable (and well provided!) Hobbit villages.  I would not mind a visit to the mines of Moria as well, but I would need to be sure that it was not in the middle of the Orc season….

A specific place that you would like to visit

Given that the Elves are famous for their love of knowledge and music and everything gifted with beauty, a sojourn in Rivendell would be perfect: just think, from a book-lover point of view, what Elrond’s library might look like, and what cultural and historical treasures one might find there!

A character that you would like to meet

Gandalf, no doubt about it. The old wizard’s character is such an intriguing mix of wisdom, humor, cunning and gentleness, that a conversation with him would be nothing short of fascinating. And given that with him there is more, much more than meets the eye, I would like to try and inquire about his past and the events, both terrible and wondrous, that he witnessed.

An event you would like to witness

This was a difficult choice: there are so many amazing moments in Tolkien’s legendarium that would be worth a visit, but after some thought I decided for the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum, because with hindsight it’s clear this is one of the pivotal moments in the history of Middle Earth, and one whose consequences would be far-reaching.

A sport/activity you would like to try

Not being very much sports-inclined, this answer might present some problems, particularly because I can’t recall any kind of sport activity ever being mentioned for Middle Earth – that is, unless one takes into consideration the “ramparts shield surfing” we saw a certain Elf practice at Helm’s Deep… 😉

(Although I’m not certain the Professor would have approved)

A weapon you would like to wield

Gandalf’s staff. It’s not exactly a weapon, but it turns out to be very useful in many circumstances as a powerful light or a fire starter, but particularly in Moria when our beloved wizard faces the Balrog with that oh-so-powerful “You cannot pass!!”.

An item you would like to use

The leaf-shaped pins Galadriel gives the Fellowship to tie their cloaks: as with all Elven-made objects they are a thing of beauty and carry with them the gracefulness of those who crafted them.

 

 

Your turn now… 😀

Reviews

FOUNDRYSIDE (Founders #1), by Robert Jackson Bennett – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

 

While I’ve been aware of this novel, and of its success among my fellow bloggers, for quite some time, I did not manage to add it to my reading queue until I started seeing several posts of people looking forward to its sequel, at which point I decided it was high time for me to download Foundryside on my e-reader. What I found, once I started this long-delayed reading experience, was a compelling story filled with memorable characters, and a very intriguing, very peculiar world.

Tevanne is a city split in two wildly different halves: on one side there are the campos, the walled enclaves where the four ruling merchant companies and their operatives dwell in security and comfort; on the other the commons, the slums where the rest of the population ekes a meager existence threatened by poor living conditions and rampant crime.  Sancia Grado is a skillful thief gifted with some uncanny abilities, and as we meet her she’s in the middle of a risky but lucrative heist that will get her the money she desperately needs to remove the metal plate implanted in her head, the one that allows her to “commune” with inanimate objects but also inhibits any normal human contact.

The theft is successful, but there are some details in the whole operation that Sancia finds suspicious, and so she decides, against all common sense, to take a look into the box she stole – a choice with unforeseen and dangerous consequences, but also one leading her toward an unexpected path that will gain her a weird but precious friend as she finds herself enmeshed in a long-planned strategy for upheaval and dominance.

The most striking element in Foundryside is the magic system permeating this world: it was discovered long ago that through scriving – i.e. the engraving of simple or complex symbols upon any given object – it was possible to change the properties of matter and the way it interacts with reality.  In other words, a well-conceived scriving could for example convince a piece of wood that it possesses the softness of clay, thus making it easier to carve it in the desired shape. Applied to any substance or item, scriving turns this apparently low-tech society, which seems loosely based on 16th Century Europe, into a more modern world, with driverless carriages needing no dray animals, arrows that behave like ballistic missiles, floating self-powered lights and so on.

What’s fascinating about scriving is that it does not alter the fundamental attributes of things, it just “persuades” them to accept a change in perception and therefore to perform beyond the limits of their nature: more than once I was reminded of the lines of code that build a computer program and lead the machine to execute certain tasks, and in this parallel resides the distinctive feeling of modernity that permeates this world, lending it a steampunk quality that sets it aside from other works in the genre, and maybe places it in a genre of its own. Another intriguing angle of this premise is that a scriver can ‘fool’ objects, which in turn would lead to the assumption that inanimate objects possess a sort of awareness of their existence and function – either normal or modified – which can be detected as some kind of inner, obsessive monologue that at times can be quite disturbing…

There is an exception to this, however, and it’s Clef: I’m thorn between the desire to talk at length about the joys of this character and the need to refrain from spoilers, and I reluctantly have to take the latter road, because Clef and his delightful interactions with Sancia are indeed the highlights of this story and should be enjoyed as the surprise they are.  I want to share one thought, however: having read Foundryside shortly after The Book of Koli I could not avoid making comparisons between Clef and Monono, and even though I’m aware it’s like comparing apples and oranges I can’t avoid thinking that my enjoyment of her personality must have prepared the way for my appreciation of Clef and his tongue-in-cheek peculiar brand of humor.

Back to Sancia, she is an intriguing, multilayered character: on the surface she appears like your classic street urchin, hustling a living as a thief in the dilapidated section of Tevanne, but as we get to know her better we learn of her past as a slave on the far-off plantation islands and of her ghastly experience as the subject of medical experiments that awarded her the talent to learn the inner workings of anything she touches, but also the related curse of being unable to be physically close to anyone. Sancia’s condition gives loneliness a whole new shade of meaning, and if she appears to have adapted to it, it’s easy to perceive her burning desire for normality, for the kind of life she has been denied since birth, just as it’s easy to cheer for her as we witness her daring exploits and her stunning transformation.

On the other side of the social scale we find another interesting character, Gregor Dandolo, scion of one of the dominant merchant families: in theory he has everything – power, money, prestige, but there is something deep inside him that makes him strive for justice in a city where this word is almost unknown. Once we get to know him better we learn of a tragic event in his past that might be shaping his present attitude, but it’s only toward the end that the truth about that past is revealed, and it’s far worse than humanly imaginable…  Previous tragedies might be the link subconsciously connecting him to Sancia despite their profound differences, because they are both deeply damaged people, but in the end I’m glad this connection was not explored through the conventional path of emotional entanglement, leaving room for something different that I hope will offer some compelling narrative threads in the next book.

If Sancia’s journey is the focus of the story, there is ample space for other characters as well, and the other two that shine here are those of master scriver Orso Ignacio and of his unflappable assistant Berenice: his scathing, irritable disposition and his appearance as a foul-tempered mad scientist offer the perfect foil for Berenice’s unruffled, almost amused approach to her employer’s tantrums, which coupled with her endless supply of scrived devices for any foreseeable necessity makes her a delightful addition to the whole cast.

Where it would be difficult to categorize Foundryside in the genre, because of its unique blend of diverse narrative themes, it’s easy to acknowledge its intriguing analysis of subjects like power and the way it affects those who wield it; or freedom and survival and how the latter becomes meaningless without the former; or again the limits in the research and application of science, and which kind of ethics should be observed. I enjoyed very much how the novel started as a run-of-the-mill heist and then transformed into an exciting race against time and human greed while the world was subjected to profound changes, and if at times the explanations about the workings of the magic/science of scriving became a little too intrusive, it still turned out into a stunning reading experience that I hope to replicate with the next book.

 

My Rating:

Reviews

LOCKE & KEY – Season 1 (spoiler-free review) – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

 

Even with a lot of time on one’s hands – and recently we all have more of it than we thought possible – it’s not easy to find interesting shows or movies on the various streaming services: partly because the so-called algorithms that should learn from the users’ choices are far from perfect, and partly because the blurbs for any given offering are rarely worded in an appealing way. For these reasons I might have missed this show, based on a series of graphic novels created by Gabriel Rodriguez and Joe Hill, if not for the mention of a fellow blogger (thanks Lashaan!!), which prompted me to learn more and to take a look at this intriguing and entertaining series.

In short, after the murder of Rendell Locke his widow Nina and their three children – Tyler, Kinsey and Bode – move back to Rendell’s old hometown of Matheson and relocate in the family home, an old mansion called Keyhouse.  If younger Bode is entranced by the big house and the possibility to explore it, the teenaged Tyler and Kinsey are far less sanguine about being uprooted from everything familiar: on top of the trauma for their father’s death they are starting over in a new school and have to deal with the dynamics of a small town and the gossipy hints of a past involving Rendell and his friends – events that no one seems inclined to openly talk about.  Still, these problems go on the back burner once Bode starts finding some strangely-shaped keys all over the house, keys that exhibit weird properties and set in motion unsettling and even scary events that will require all of their wits to be handled.

Where at first this show looked like your classic teen drama, something that almost drove me to stop watching there and then, it soon became clear that there was much more to it and that’s when I became invested in the story and was able to sit down and enjoy the ride. The first element that drew my attention was the house itself and I have to compliment the show’s creators for bestowing on the Keyhouse set a fascinating blend of haunted house and treasure trove and giving it its own personality, almost turning it into a character. I was fascinated by the mystery of the appearing keys that seemed to become visible only when it was the time to manifest themselves and I was strongly reminded of those online “hidden object” games where you have to find a certain number of items, some of them plainly visible while others are disguised in the background and require a sort of… viewing gymnastics to be found.

The keys that the Locke siblings find are hidden in a similar way, and they reveal themselves slowly, masked by other items of furniture or decoration, which gives the story its game-like quality, where each new level brings the players closer to the goal.  These keys also offer the first elements of dread in the story, because where some of them are used in the conventional way, others are inserted in the body of the person wielding them, and if there is no evidence of pain in such act, it does nonetheless elicit a shiver of apprehension in the watchers: you don’t need blood and gore to experience body horror, after all…  Visuals – eerie, disturbing and sometimes downright ghastly visuals – are one of the best elements of this series, establishing its overall tone that goes from the purely magical to the dreamlike, and to the totally chilling as well.

The characters form an interesting mix, starting from the two older kids, Tyler and Kelsey, who have to deal with many difficult emotions on top of the natural transition toward adulthood: they are often at odds with each other but at the same time it’s easy to see the bonds of love and care underlying the surface animosity; I like the way they have to be more adult and responsible than their age warrants because their mother seems absent at times (and along the way we see the reason why), and they feel the need to protect her from further worries. Nina is indeed a character that annoyed me at times: if I could sympathize with her pain for the tragic loss of her husband, I could not condone her obliviousness to what was going on literally under her nose, or the fact that she often left her children to fend for themselves while she was out searching for clues on her late husbands’ past.  Bode is portrayed as a smart child, and I liked the mix of innocence and wisdom he projects, but at times he’s too… perfect, for want of a better word – not “childlike” enough, and that seems contrived rather than natural, but I want to reserve my judgement for now. And then there is Dodge, the supernatural villain of the story, trying with every means to gather all the keys in the house for some as-yet-unrevealed purpose: the actress portraying her possesses a great interpretative range and moves from friendly to deadly with terrifying speed, while appearing to have the time of her life as she’s doing it.

The story alternates between the present and the flashbacks to the past, slowly uncovering the events that changed the life of Rendell Locke – and ultimately must have driven him to leave his home – and that brought on his early demise: in the end I thought I saw some sort of parallel between what happened to him and his circle of friends and what the three siblings, and their newfound friends, are facing in the present, which lays the foundations for what will probably be the continuation of the story. Still, the mystery and the uncanny situations that involve the Locke family, while important, don’t overshadow the themes of coming-of-age and dealing with loss that are at the roots of the story, together with the strengthening under pressure of the family bonds that acts as its core subject.

This first season of Locke & Key might not be perfect, but it’s an intriguing beginning which will surely drive me to see how the story progresses in the next seasons.

 

 

My Rating:

 

Image by Tanantachai Sirival @ 123RF.com