Dragon and Forest

It was somewhat inevitable that after I got the Enchanted Forest on my mind, I would have to reread the series.  And given that these books are a little over 200 pages apiece, it’s not at all difficult to do so.  Perfect for that bit of light rereading while I work on a side project.  I cannot even begin to guess how many times I’ve read these books, but the covers haven’t fallen off yet.  (I have to say “yet” because I’m starting to worry about them when I put the cover on or take it off.)  There’s still pencil underlining some text from when I did a project in gradeschool.  We were told to illustrate a fictional character, and I chose Kazul.

But let’s talk story.  Dealing with Dragons introduces us to Cimorene, a rather improper Princess.  Unsatisfied with her incredibly normal life, she runs away from home and finds herself attached to the dragon Kazul.  It’s a status point, to have a princess to cook and clean for a dragon, and very different from living in a palace.  Not only are there the normal chores, but there’s treasure to be polished and sorted, a library to catalogue…all sorts of things.

Oh, and the knights that show up periodically, insisting on fighting the dragon that they might rescue the princess.

It sounds a bit boring and simple for a story, but I assure you, this was one of my earliest exposures towards a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards fairy tales.  The first chapter in Dealing with Dragons is titled “In Which Cimorene Refuses to be Proper and Has a Conversation with a Frog” and I think it gives you a good idea as to how the book will go.  Admittedly, Patricia C. Wrede’s chapter titles aren’t quite as sharp as Rick Riordan’s…but these books are also more than thirty books older.  Times change, and so do writing styles.

I also finished Searching for Dragons, the second book of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.  The main character this time is Mendabar, the King of the Enchanted Forest, and the time is about a year after the conclusion of the first book.  Mendabar has noticed some problems in his kingdom and the obvious solution is to talk to the King of the Dragons.  There’s just one problem: the King of Dragons is missing.  It’s up to Cimorene and Mendabar to take up the search before things go from bad to worse.

I do love these books.  They’re simple and easy, yes, but thoroughly enjoyable time after time.  You can tell by the Scholastic mark on them that they are clearly meant for children, but just like young adult books that shouldn’t keep older readers away.  It’s no wonder that I picked up later books such as Thirteenth Child or Snow White and Rose Red when I saw Wrede’s name on them; with an introduction like the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, I could never forget her ability to enthrall me.

Long Ago in a Bookstore Not-So-Far Away…

Once upon a time many years ago, my mother bought me a book.

I feel like I have a lot of stories and blog posts that start this way.

That doesn’t make them any less true – my mom often brought home books that she thought I would enjoy.  And, oftentimes, she was right.  One of those books was Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, the first book (chronologically) in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.  I grew to love this series, and so one day at the bookstore I happened to notice a fifth mass market paperback by Point Fantasy sitting next to the four I knew.  It was simply titled Book of Enchantments and had the same author.  A line at the top of the cover said “Cast a spell – any spell.”  I couldn’t wait to get it home.

To my great surprise, this wasn’t a novel.  Instead, I found a collection of mostly unrelated short stories.  This mattered very little considering how wonderful I found them all to be, even the notes from Wrede at the end of the book about how each tale came about.  In short, the Book of Enchantments was the very first anthology I ever bought.  I assure you that all ten stories are worth your time and money, but I’m only going to talk about my favorites.

“Roses by Moonlight” always struck a chord with me as I saw Adrian, standing on the driveway avoiding her sister, smoking even though she didn’t care for it.  The struggle she has with her younger sibling, whether or not it’s reciprocated, has always resonated with my own identical sibling.  Sure, maybe things don’t always work out perfectly for my sister, but they often seem to, just like for Adrian’s.  The rest of the story concept is pure fantasy, but this portrayal of two sisters gets me in the gut every time.  You think Frozen did a good job?  You’ve never read “Roses by Moonlight.”

Possibly even more powerful is “Stronger than Time,” and not just because of the name.  This story is like the fading perfume of a loved one who has passed, and routinely makes me pause on the verge of tears.  The basic idea is “what if Sleeping Beauty’s prince never came?”, leading to an abandoned tower, choked by thorns, avoided by all.  And yet, that is only the story’s beginning…

Lastly, of my favorites, is “Cruel Sisters.”  This is based on the old song “The Twa Sisters” in which two sisters love the same man, who forsakes the elder for the younger.  The younger then drowns under suspicious circumstances.  Then a harper comes along with a fabulous instrument made from her bones and strung from her hair.  The harp plays itself, naming the sister as the murderer.  It’s an old song, but what’s interesting is that the tale is told by a lesser-known middle sister, who watched from the sidelines.

The most informative portion of the book, as I mentioned, is the “Notes from the Author” wherein Wrede recalls where she found the inspiration for all the stories.  She also explains how, upon finishing up the anthology, she submitted it to the editor, who told her something was missing.

This something happened to be a chocolate cake recipe.

That’s right, there’s a recipe for Quick After-Battle Triple Chocolate Cake in this book.  I have made it, and it’s pretty damned good.  Whatever else Patricia C. Wrede may be, she is an excellent baker.

I also read The Grownup by Gillian Flynn today.  This little book was the bonus in one of my Book of the Month boxes.  They always do something like that, whether it’s a box of “After Book Mints” or a ribbon or a coloring book or whatever.  The box has three items then; the book I chose, a bookmark with a synopsis of the judge’s reasons for choosing it, and a bonus item of some kind.

The Grownup is not meant to be a comfortable story.  The protagonist starts out explaining that she gave handjobs, professionally, for three years.  Unless if the reader knew what to expect, this cannot do anything but make them uncomfortable.  And that’s before we get to the main portion of the story.  Is it a ghost story?  A mystery?  A bizarre slice-of-life tale?  I honestly couldn’t tell you.

Did I like it?  That is…a difficult question.  I have read stories about whores and prostitutes and not instantly disliked them for their profession.  The Grownup is definitely well-written and eerily plausible.  But I don’t think I can honestly say I liked it.

Will I keep it?  I don’t think so.  It’s not just that the book made me uncomfortable, or that it has multiple potential endings, like the movie Clue.  I found the protagonist to be likable, but the rest of the characters were…not.  I also feel like maybe some of the  action could have used more development, that some things happened very quickly at the end.  I just…didn’t really enjoy reading things once we moved a bit away from the protagonist’s daily life.  I’m not even sure I’m glad I read it.

I think, at this point in time, I should look at more rereads, and maybe more shorter reads.  I could go back and read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, or maybe something else along those lines.  I do have a whole library to choose from after all.

I am the Target

Have you ever picked up a book and just known that whatever target audience the author was envisioning, it was you?  You precisely, with your age, your background, your history, your knowledge.  And it’s not from the sections you usually visit in the bookstore, not fantasy or science fiction, not a graphic novel either.  Just plain old regular fiction.

When I was touring several bookstores the other weekend, we stopped at Unabridged, in Boystown.  (Let me tell you, I had no idea that there really were enough LGBT works published to fill a quarter of the store.)  While browsing around, I happened by an endcap of recommended books, by employees, I think?  I wasn’t paying that much attention.  What caught my eye was a white book with fluorescent yellow rectangles filling up the front, meant to represent books on shelves.  Scrawled on top of that image were the words Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  I’d never heard of it, or the author Robin Sloan, but it was definitely an intriguing title.  A glance at the back says the store is “curious” and I scent a mystery to be solved in one of my favorite environments.  I had to buy the book.

Upon opening it up yesterday, I first began to understand how exquisitely this book was meant for me.  Clay Jannon, the protagonist writing in first person, is a designer and in the first chapter he discusses fonts and drops terms like AIGA.  I too am a designer, with a strong understanding of fonts, and I was a member of AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Artists, for about six years.  It looks good on your resume, among other things, and gives you access to tools and discounts that are quite useful.  Oh, and he’s played Dungeons & Dragons in the past.

Now, I may not know much about coding, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to render a 3D model of anything, but aside from that and things like gender, there’s a striking number of similarities between myself and Clay.  This means that I was smiling almost as soon as I started reading.

The plot begins with an unemployed Clay getting some exercise and happening upon a small, old bookstore looking to hire.  He gets the job and the graveyard shift, since it is a 24-Hour Bookstore.  And that’s when he starts to notice some of the more unusual aspects of the store.  Between boredom and curiosity, he embarks on a life-changing journey, of which Mr. Penumbra’s is merely the gateway.

Now, because I tend not to read a lot of general fiction or nonfiction, it’s a real treat for me to enjoy a book that gets current technology right.  We all text and chat and so much more every day, yet oftentimes when these things are portrayed in media (books, movies, and tv shows) they’re forced and not at all genuine.  I was reading a webcomic a while back and stopped dead at one page, immediately sending it to a friend because I had never seen such a realistic text conversation in media before.  It had the right mix of speed and awkwardness to sound like real people.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore uses far more than just text messages, of course, but every bit of technology felt correct in its usage and context.

I will probably have to keep Robin Sloan in mind for the future, because this was a well-balanced and well-paced mystery/adventure story by someone who has a similar background to me.  I did pick up on a lot of the foreshadowing, but not in a “oh no, not this again” way.  More of a “wait a minute…I get it!”  The victory of solving the puzzle, not the resignation of something that was too easy to even consider a puzzle.  My only disappointment is that I had hoped that a side character would turn out to be someone important.  Oh well, you can’t have everything.

At least my bookshelf has a brand new prize that I am super thrilled to have read.

Conquering England

Conquest is the sequel to Unicorn & Dragon by Lynn Abbey.  It picks up some months after the first book ended and moves from Hafwynder Manor to Torworden, the Norman encampment and stronghold of Stephen’s uncle, Lord Beauleyas.  The latter is far more militarily-minded than the former, having few resident servants, most of whom choose to live in a nearby village that is not directly under Beauleyas’ eye.  The Normans still see England as the place where they are, not yet the place where they live.

What does still live in England, however, are the old Cymric gods, and Alison is their priestess.  However, Alison is still herself, willful and unwilling to surrender anything.  This can make life rather interesting when one is her adopted sister, like Wildecent.

As I reflect on Conquest, I still fight against the same emotions that I had after Unicorn & Dragon.  These books feel old.  I feel like I wasn’t invested…yet I read through them quickly.  But I still put them down often and thought of other things.  One of the plot points I predicted near the beginning came true…but in a more…Arthurian manner, which I did not expect.  The book concludes before William arrives, which is also interesting.

I think I enjoyed Conquest more, of the two, because it has more fantastical elements.  On the other hand, if I didn’t like Alison in the first book, my dislike is exacerbated in this book because there is even less holding her back.  In the end, I have to ask if the pros outweigh the cons…and I have to answer that I don’t actually know.  I think I will keep the books for now, but I don’t know at this point if I’ll ever have the desire to reread them.

I do, however, have the desire to reread “Holly and Iron.”  And since it’s only a short story, it’s easy enough to finish in well under an hour.  Like Lynn Abbey’s books, Garth Nix’s short story starts with two sisters, one fair and English (or Inglish as this one has it), the other dark and Norman.  However in this case, they truly are sisters, the daughters of King Harold.  The elder Inglish by his first wife, the younger Norman by his second wife.

One main difference betweeen the two races in this story isn’t simply that the Normans are invaders, but that the two groups have very different magics.  Inglish magic is of living things, holly, rowan and oak.  The Normans are ironmasters of stone and metal.  And Robin, the younger sister, has inherited both.  Not just from her father King Harold, but also from her grandfather, King William.

It’s not long as short stories go, but it’s memorable and always enjoyable to revisit.

An Old Book

Today I finished Unicorn & Dragon by Lynn Abbey.  This was one of the books from the other weekend, and one I’d never heard of until it came off the shelf.  The style of this oversized paperback is old, with Celtic feel to the font and the characters wearing jewelry that I would term “ancient.”  Perhaps not as old as what the Pharoahs wore, but old enough when you turn your focus to the British Isles.

Set in England in the days before William conquered, the story revolves around two sisters, Alison and Wildecent, whose father is a Saxon lord.  This is after the Saxons and even the Vikings had raided and then settled the land, mixing with those who had come before.  Now the Normans are encroaching, and William is biding his time on the Continent.

Alison is the younger sister by a few months, blonde and Saxon, with an ancestry going back not only to invaders but also to the ancient Cymric peoples.  Her legacy from those ancestors is her magic, her ability to read and influence the thoughts of others, a skill she trains among others under her aunt Ygurna.  She is the apple of her father’s eye, gregarious and outgoing, and unused to meeting opposition aside from her father’s commands.

Wildecent is dark and shy, nearsighted and without magic.  She is also not truly related to Alison at all, being an orphan who was sent by her parents to Hafwynder Manor to keep her safe from whatever tragedy struck their own castle.  Her origins are unknown, though a clue arises when a Norman youth reaches their gates late one night, collapsing off his horse.  When he awakens next and speaks French, Wildecent recalls the meanings of some of his words.

I am not truly certain how I feel about this book.  It feels old, even though by my standards it isn’t, not really.  Published in 1987, it’s from a time period that I generally enjoy reading (mid-eighties to early 2000s tends to be my favorite) and I’m not opposed to historical fantasy.  Emphasis on the historical, because I can almost feel the research that went into creating a believable environment for the era.  (We’re talking about a thousand years ago.  I think he became William the Conqueror in 1096?)  Yet something about Abbey’s attention to detail, or maybe it’s her writing style, just makes this book feel…dated.

I think one of the most similar feeling books I’ve read was Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  This is…not a good comparison.  I read that book more because it is one of the defining pieces of fantasy and Arthurian lore.  I don’t really think I can say I enjoyed it.  Bradley’s writing for me is generally dry and feels old – not surprising, given when she was writing.  I don’t recall actively hating that book, but I wasn’t at all interested in keeping it.

I haven’t yet decided if I’m keeping Unicorn & Dragon.

The characters aren’t bad for this “type” of book – a book that seems to be more about the setting and time period than the individuals – but again, they don’t seem to be the focus.  The story is interesting; you don’t see a lot of stories (in America) looking at William the Conqueror’s time.  But on the other hand…that hurts this book.  I have a short story that is a much more fantastical take on the time period and it is an amazing piece of fiction.  That’s “Holly and Iron” by Garth Nix, found in the anthology Wizards as well in his own collection To Hold the Bridge.

I’m working through the sequel to Unicorn & Dragon, and will make a final decision about the pair after I’m done with both.

How Many Plan(et)s?

So maybe the million plans are actually just a single plan.  I’d heard something to that effect, but reading it written out plainly is a bit different.  The gap between rumor and fact.  Today I finished Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson.  You remember, the man with a million plans who writes bricks.

Sanderson starts out this book explaining that all his series (the adult ones at least, I’ve not read any of those for younger audiences) are connected.  They, as a whole, are the Cosmere.  Based on the diagrams shown, I suppose the Cosmere is a universe and the worlds we know, such as MistbornElantris, etc. are all planets in different solar systems.  This is a mindblowing concept, especially when I consider how different all of his magic systems are from each other.

And yet.

And yet metal seems to play a key role in many of these systems.  Or light.  Or both?  It’s been a while since I reread a number of these books, and not just because I’m patiently waiting for the new entry in the Stormlight Archive.  I am not properly prepared to do any in-depth analysis of the different magic systems, so I’ll stop myself there.

Instead, I will point out that this is not the first time I’ve seen authors connect seemingly disparate books.  C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe falls into that category when you realize some of the truly bizarre stories that are considered part of it.  A lot of Barbara Hambly’s books are different universes connected across the Void.  Or there’s most of Anne McCaffrey’s work which is part of the Federated Sentient Planets – and yes, this literally encompasses a ton of her series including Brainships, Dinosaur Planet, Planet Pirates, Crystal Singer…even Pern!  I discussed this earlier with my dad (it being Father’s Day after all) and he pointed out Isaac Asimov connecting his Foundation and Robots series (though my dad thinks he did not originally plan to do that when he first started writing them).

Arcanum Unbounded is divided into six sections, each one devoted to a different solar system.  The last four systems have only a single story each, which makes sense.  The second section has three, but is also the best-known, and thus the one Sanderson’s invested the most published time in.  However it’s the first that contains two very different magic systems.

In fact, after reading through the Preface and introduction to the Selish System, as it’s called, I immediately had to decide whether or not I was going to reread as I went through this book.  Then I realized what a stupid question that was.  How on earth could I refuse an opportunity to reread “The Emperor’s Soul?” I won’t bore you with that, as I’ve already done a more detailed post on it before.  Suffice to say, it is probably my favorite of all novellas.

It seems that “The Emperor’s Soul” shares a solar system (or maybe even a planet?) with Elantris an older, single book.  From what I’ve seen on his website, Sanderson does intend to add to that story at some point in the future.  I could doublecheck his rough dates, but it’s enough to know that there will be more.  For the time being, the only addition is “The Hope of Elantris,” a short story that takes place during the novel’s climax.  Frankly, I found the background of the story more interesting than the story itself.  Sanderson says that his wife, who he was then dating, had a student who did a fabulous book report on the book Elantris.  The student, of course, had no idea that the teacher knew the author.  Sanderson was so impressed and touched by the amount of effort and love the student had put in, that he wrote this story and named the main character after the kid.  It even seems that the original copy of the book report ended up as a wedding present.  Really cute and sweet all around.

The second section, the Scadrian System, is the one that made me laugh when I saw the solar system diagram.  It’s not often that you see a planet with two different orbits.  That’s how I knew it was Mistborn.  Here we find three different stories.  The first, “The Eleventh Metal,” serves as a prequel to the original trilogy.  It takes brash Kelsier and puts him in the role of student in the months after his escape from the Pits of Hasthin.  I’d probably care more if I actually liked Kelsier as a person.

The second story here is absolutely hilarious.  Entitled “Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Episodes Twenty-Eight Through Thirty,” it is the storied bragging of a man who has far too much luck and money to pair with his below average wit.  If you’ve read The Alloy of Law, which is the world of Mistborn in their equivalent of our Gilded Age, you may have noticed the newspapers that periodically take up some pages of the book.  Allomancer Jak’s adventures are serialized there, to the sensation and entertainment of the paper’s subscribers.  I’ll bet they pay him by the word, too.

Last is “Mistborn: Secret History,” and it is by far the most fascinating of the three.  It’s not something you could really guess at, like “The Eleventh Metal,” and it’s utterly serious, unlike “Allomancer Jak.”  “Secret History” starts to actually explore the concept of the Cosmere in a way that Sanderson hasn’t openly done before, to my knowledge.  I also had an “I see what you did there” moment as I realized why the Scadrian System isn’t the first part of this book.

Third is the Taldain System.  This is the most bizarre solar system I have ever seen committed to paper.  It’s a kind of binary system with a single planet between the two stars.  One of those is normal, but the other is a dwarf with a particulate ring that further diffuses what light it may cast.  The result is that half of Taldain is always under sun and the other half is always dark.  “White Sand” is a story from the dayside, and was apparently released as a graphic novel.  I should probably track this down so that I can read it in color one day.  On the other hand, the original draft is also included as a more normal story, written instead of illustrated.  I think both work fairly well, but the latter does have more detail.  That’s no bad thing though, a graphic novel should show its readers, not tell them.

The only story for the Threnodite System is the only other tale I’d previously encountered from this collection: “Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell.”  It is still creepy and probably my least favorite of the entire book.

Afterwards comes the Drominad System with its story “Sixth of the Dusk.”  Sanderson mentions his fascination with Polynesian cultures, one that the world has come to share of late.  After all, what else could have inspired Disney’s Moana?  I don’t think it’s a bad thing as long as it’s tastefully done, and not appropriation.  I thought it was a great short story, regardless of its context within the Cosmere.

Last is the one that I’m sure helped to sell the book.  The Rosharan System is, of course, home to the Stormlight Archive, the epic series that Sanderson will likely be writing for the rest of his life.  Don’t believe me?  The existing books are both over 1200 pages, and I would guess that the overall story is meant to be at least five or six books long.  But that story is just a single arc, or an era, or an epoch of what Sanderson intends for the world as a whole.  So when you start to figure out how many very long books it takes for him to tell this story, and consider that Stormlight books will probably only come out every three or more years…yeah.  That will be the rest of his life.

It might be faster if not for the million other books and series he writes, but where would be the fun in that?  My impression of the man is that he needs a break from a world, and so goes to work on another for a time.  Or several others.  It’s not a bad way to do it.

Anyway, the story here is called “Edgedancer” and features Lift.  She is a former street-thief who now finds herself one of the most influential people in the world…if they don’t look askance at her loose definitions of ownership, among other things.  She’s one of the youngest characters glanced at in the bricks of the Stormlight Archive, but thrives on having a story all to herself.  Sanderson also hints that she’ll be more important later, and I see no reason to disbelieve him.

I’ll definitely have to get myself a copy of Arcanum Unbounded once it’s available in paperback.  Aside from “Shadows for Silence…” which I already knew I didn’t care for, I enjoyed everything I read.  Some of the stories were definitely outstanding and I’m glad I had a chance to find them.  I’m also pleased that I had already found and devoured the applicable books for those worlds which had been previously published.  In fact, the only thing I’ve read from Sanderson that was left out is Warbreaker.  Like Elantris, I know that’s one he intends to revisit, but I guess the time hasn’t yet come.

Mixed Thoughts

Today I finished the anthology Oceans of Magic.  It’s from DAW, which inspired me to take a look at my many anthologies.  I knew all the Fantastic anthologies came from DAW, but surprisingly, so did most of my others – not including collections of a single author or the Valdemar anthologies.  Oh sure, I have anthologies from Ace and Tor and Firebird, plus even less well-known publishers, but DAW is the big one.  It seems, from what I have on my shelves, that DAW is the publisher who is giving the most competition to the Year’s Best collections.

By the way, I tend not to read the Year’s Best collections.  I read through a few of them back in highschool and, to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed.  Oh sure, there’d be one here and one there I liked, and even some I remember to this day, but nothing spectacular to make those books worth owning.

I thought Oceans of Magic might end up in that group.  I started it yesterday and, frankly, I wasn’t thrilled.  The book is divided into three sections: Voyages in History, Magical Maritime, and Deities and the Deep Blue Sea.  Whoever came up with this layout should be shot.  The first section, Voyages in History, are all exceedingly weak stories that are more strongly based on real world events.  The best stories are in the second and third sections, but I would not at all say that there’s a lot of great stuff here.  I am keeping the book chiefly for “The Colossus of Mahrass” by Mel Odom, which is long enough to be a novella, encompassing almost a third of the book.

The editors, frankly, should’ve placed that story last, and structured the rest as is normal for an anthology: a strong start, interweave strong and weak in the middle, and a strong end.  Admittedly, “Ocean’s Eleven” by Mike Resnick and Tom Gerencer isn’t a terrible story to end on.  It’s just utterly ridiculous in a way no other tale in the whole book is, which creates a weird contrast as an ending note.  This is the first book I have with Brian M. Thomsen’s name on it, and I wonder if I should blame him for the failure to catch my interest until halfway through the book.  As for his partner-in-crime Martin H. Greenberg, he worked on Fate Fantastic, so I have to narrow my eyes and ask how this got published.

I understand the idea of grouping related stories together, but because this is already a themed anthology, I think that this segmentation weakened a book that wasn’t particularly strong to begin with.  I truly wasn’t going to keep it at all until I found myself utterly engrossed in Odom’s story.  There are a few others that are decent, but only the one that really swayed me.

I bought the anthology because it is an anthology with an intriguing title and had a few authors whose names I recognized; Tanya Huff, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Fiona Patton, Rosemary Edgehill, and Mike Resnick.  And, what a surprise, these are the stronger stories in the book.  I guess it’s just a disappointment that in what is supposed to be a curated set of stories, there’s a lot of mediocrity.

In other news, I went to a library book sale today!  Yes, my new library district had it and of course I had to go.  I only found one book, but a small pile of CDs.  However, I found information which is the best part of all: my library has a book sale four times a year.  This is just the second one!  I think next time I might choose the pay the nonmember fee to go on Friday night, since my new book and CDs cost me a whole $7.  $5 isn’t much to pay for getting in when there’s a better selection.  The array was fairly decent even first thing Saturday morning, it just didn’t have a lot of what I was looking for.  I am trying to be better about not pidgeonholing myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to pick up everything in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror/occult section.  I have standards, and I try to choose things that will be worth my time.  Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t, but I will continue to try.

On a semi-related note, when I went to several bookstores last weekend, I also stopped in a comic book shop!  They had the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers 2017 Annual and I finally got around to reading it today.  I have to say, it is far superior to last year’s.  I enjoyed all five stories, and had no issues with any of the art.  I’m not even certain I could pick a favorite, nor do I really want to.  The one that fills in backstory this time features Finster, Rita’s monster maker…but there’s also one where Scorpina takes a day off that is highly amusing.  All in all, I’m quite pleased with this comic book and look forward to the next issue of the regular series.

As for what’s next, I have a library book due on Thursday, and two other people have placed holds in the meantime.  So I should probably take care of that before it’s due.

Something New

On my bookstore adventure last weekend, I tried to expand my horizons a bit by looking not only in my standard fantasy and young adult sections, but also the horror section.  After all, Barbara Hambly’s vampire books belong there.  And, lo and behold, I found another book with her name on it in the horror section, one I’d never heard of before.  This was Magic Time by Marc Scott Zicree and Barbara Hambly.

I didn’t even read the synopsis before collecting it.

As I started the book yesterday, there were two main thoughts in my head.  Firstly, that books with a well-known coauthor may or may not have much from said big name inside.  After all, my fear of the Piers Anthony and Mercedes Lackey book proved to be unfounded, as Anthony had only contributed some ideas and edits.  Most of the work was Lackey’s, which everyone knows I love.  Mostly.  Secondly, that so far, this book didn’t seem very horrific.

Frankly, I would classify Magic Time as fantasy, not horror.  Even the quote on the cover does this.  “The best new dose of magic to hit the world of fantasy literature in a long time,” says Orson Scott Card.  A quick amazon search for Marc Scott Zicree shows me that yes, he probably does do work in horror, just like Hambly.  But I don’t see it here.  And I am quite positive, now that I’ve finished the book, that Hambly didn’t do much for the story itself.  That’s not a problem given that the book itself is good, I’m just pointing out that her name is probably just to help it sell and acknowledge that she probably helped out behind the scenes.

Magic Time is also the first book in a series.  I suspected as much by the halfway point – it seems like the first quarter or third of the book is introducing characters, many of whom are red shirts.  That is to say, many of whom die before the book is out.  And while we see the characters consolidating as the story goes on, they’re not all in the same place by the time it ends.  But I should back up a bit.

This is an apocalypse book.  The world as we know it comes to a screeching halt at 9:15 am Eastern Daylight Time when everything more advanced than muscle-powered gears suddenly stops dead.  Also there are earthquakes and storms to make it even more fun with planes falling out of the sky.  In the wake of this event, later referred to as the Change, some people are also Changed.  Some turn into monsters of myth or nightmare.  Others display strange powers.  Those who don’t change outwardly seem to become more of the people they were meant to be.  I sometimes think of those who physically change, because they feel good about the changes.  It could be an alteration to their actual thought patterns, but I suspect that deep down these people wanted to be something other than human, and the Change made it happen with or without their consent.

The Change seems to have been triggered by a scientific study called the Source somewhere in the Dakotas.  They’ve been funneling government funding for years, but their motive as a whole is unclear.  Aside from the usual, being power.  One of the scientists is hoping that the Source will be able to bring healing into the world, allowing him to help his twin brother who has been on life support since a car crash.  The brother is in their mother’s house in West Virginia.

From New York City, there are two directions indicated as being related to whatever caused the Change, one west, and one south.  West is the big bad, but south is a lot closer, and so it’s there that the climax of this book happens.  Again, making it very obvious that there was more to come, without even needing the excerpt from book two.

According to amazon, there’s also a book three, and you can bet they’re both on my wishlist now.  I have no idea when I’ll get around to acquiring them, but it’s going to happen.

This is a different take on the apocalypse than I’ve read before, if only because it’s so instantaneously overwhelming, and not only does it take out technology, but it stays out afterwards.  No electricity, no batteries, no guns even.  I’ve also not seen the three groups of humans before as a result of the apocalypse: transformed, empowered, and normal.

Don’t get me wrong, Magic Time isn’t perfect.  I think there are way too many characters given a chapter or two before dying, and the chapters aren’t broken up very well as far as indicating a shift in viewpoint.  There’s even a scene or two where it starts out from one person’s perspective, then shifts to another person in the same room.  Rookie author mistakes, really.  Hopefully the next books in the series show improvement.

Buying Books

Beauty and the Werewolf is the last of the books in the Five Hundred Kingdoms at present, as well as being one of the shorest reads.  It is, of course, every bit as predictable as it seems, to the point where I start asking myself about halfway through why the main character just can’t figure out who the very obvious villain is.

The cover of the book shows a lovely woman wearing a red, hooded cloak next to a howling wolf.  And yet, the basis of the story is not one but three of our traditional Western European fairy tales; Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Beauty and the Beast.  The protagonist, Isabella Beauchamps, happens to have a stepmother and stepsisters, but none of the three are anywhere near as detestable as you might fear in the world of the Tradition.  She goes to visit Granny, an old wisewoman who lives in the woods and, on her way home, is bitten by a wolf.

This, of course, leads into the Beauty and the Beast portion of the tale (the majority of the book) wherein Bella is confined for three months just in case she too becomes a werewolf.  You can’t blame people for taking precautions.

Honestly, there’s not much else to say about this story without giving away major plot points.  I remember the first time I read it was a weekend, so I’d picked it up with the intent of spending most of my day reading.  Imagine my surprise and shock when I was done in about three hours!  I don’t usually time how long it takes me to read a book, but to finish 329 pages in just three hours means that this is wholly fluff, with nothing I have to exert any effort to understand.  This is different from reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in about five and a half hours, because in that situation I was captivated and enthralled and refusing to go online until I’d finished the last page.  IE, I wanted to read it as fast as I could, but not so fast that I couldn’t keep track of details.  When I reread that same book last year, I took my time and thus spent more than five and a half hours on it.

I have to admit, I am excited to have a nice Pile of books to choose from for tomorrow.  I haven’t quite decided which one it will be, but I think I’ve made good selections that I won’t regret.  Unfortunately, I’m still missing a book one and a book two from unrelated sets, but I’m not desperate enough with either of them to resort to the amazon marketplace yet.  It’s far more fun to find the books in person, not to mention that there’s no question about the quality in that case.  When you buy it in person, what you see is what you get.  With the internet…well…let me show you.

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When I was in the process of collecting C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe, I did order some books from online.  At that time, I did not go to used bookstores nearly as often as I do now, so it was either amazon or wait several years.  So, I ordered myself a copy of Forty Thousand in Gehenna for 1¢, plus $3 shipping.  I received the copy on the right.

Now, it just so happened that this package arrived during a convention.  One of the conventions I can sleep in my own bed for, they’re so close.  Which means that when I was in the dealer’s room the next day and saw a much less damaged copy of the same book for less than my shipping fees…there was no question as to what I was going to do.  I bought the better copy, and gave the worse one away to another congoer.  As I recall, he insisted on paying me the penny the book had cost.  Not that it really mattered one way or the other.

It’s true, I could pay up when I buy books online, get the more expensive ones that are guaranteed to be near-pristine, but frankly, most of the books I buy used are like this: old enough that they shouldn’t cost more than $2 before shipping.  As long as the book isn’t falling to pieces, highlighted, or otherwise written in, I’ll generally be okay with it.  Frankly, I wouldn’t have had much of a problem with the first copy of Forty Thousand in Gehenna if I hadn’t seen a better one for the right price the next day.  Believe me, I do not often buy books twice and it usually is by accident.  Other books I’ve intentionally bought twice (for myself) include the Harry Potter series, Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh, and The Dark Hand of Magic by Barbara Hambly. And the second copy of that last book just happened to be in an old omnibus titled The Unschooled Wizard.  If I’d found the omnibus first, I never would’ve bought the mass market paperback.

Well, this blog post got a bit off-topic.  I suppose I’ll just have to leave you in suspense as to what my next selection will be.

Stories Everywhere

Of all the stories of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, The Sleeping Beauty is probably the most epic.  I know, epic and fairy tale aren’t usually in the same sentence.  Epic and romance aren’t except in cases like Romeo and Juliet.  And, frankly, this series tends to be more down-to-earth even at its wildest.  So when I say “epic,” I mean that I cannot even begin to count the number of fairy tales that are named, referred to, hinted at, or otherwise indicated in this book.

There’s the obvious ones, of course.  Sleeping Beauty is in the title, Snow White shows up early on.  But then things get strange when you throw in the tale of Siegfried and the Ring Cycle.  Gods in general muddle things up, and I am not nearly as familiar with the Norse as I am with others.  In fact, this particular book is where I picked up a lot of what I know about Norse mythology outside the gods!

The two primary characters in The Sleeping Beauty are Godmother Lily and Prince Siegfried.  Lily is rather different from the Godmothers we’ve encountered before because not only is she half Fae, but she is responsible for only one Kingdom.  She was born and raised to this task though, because Eltaria possesses mines of silver, gold, and gemstones and several greedy neighbors.  Thus, Lily has been Eltaria’s Godmother for some three hundred years already, and it seems to be a neverending trial.

So when she’s trying to get the Princess Rosamund back to the Palace where she belongs, and two stray Princes show up each hoping to win her for themselves, it’s just the beginning of a story that will surely satisfy the Tradition for years to come.

Of course, another interesting bit about The Sleeping Beauty is that, of all the tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, it alone has a sequel.  “A Tangled Web” is one of the three novellas in Harvest Moon, which I touched on a while back when rereading “Cast in Moonlight” as a prequel to Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra.  This is one of the two other entries in the book, and the only other one I’m likely to reread.

As you might have guessed from his presence outside the Norse-like kingdoms, Siegfried does not wake the maiden sleeping in a ring of fire.  That falls to a different man, who marries her quite happily.  “A Tangled Web” finds the two relaxing in a Grecian region…when a god drives a chariot up out of the earth and kidnaps the Valkyrie.

I have to say, I feel like this is the most PG rated retelling of Olympian myth I’ve seen since Disney’s Hercules.  They don’t even use the words “balls” or “penis” or “genitals.”  It is probably the most times I’ve ever seen the word “goolies” used in a single piece of writing.  It’s also a much kinder rendition of the Greek gods than I’ve seen…probably kinder than they deserve.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading about mythology almost as much as I do fairy tales, but there’s a lot of fucked up shit in it, and I will happily swear to emphasize how messed up it gets.

In the end, this is a nice novella that brings about a bit more closure to characters from The Sleeping Beauty, being only about a third as long as the normal books.  It also allows Lackey to go into further detail on how you can have both the Tradition and gods in the same world.  There’s one more entry in this series, and then I can dive into some of my new books.  Well, new to me.  Only two of them are actually new, and one of those is a Book of the Month selection that just arrived today.