Why oh Why

Today I finished one of the books I found at the Newberry Library’s sale over the summer.  I may have mentioned that this is a rather massive sale, featuring hundreds of thousands of books and other media items divided into six variously sized rooms and dozens of categories.  One of those categories is “Judaica” and it is a rather fascinating mixed bag of books, ranging from prayer books to educational books to things that happen to be in Hebrew.  I always poke around just to see what’s available, and this year, among other things, I found The Jewish Book of Why by Alfred J. Kolatch.

As someone who is more knowledgeable than many about my religion, I figured I’d pick it up and see what I could learn.  No harm done.  Of course, when I opened it up to take off the book cover (in such nice condition, I didn’t want to damage it in my work bag), the odor told me this hadn’t been opened much in decades.  Which inspired me to check the publication date.  1981 seemed…less than promising.  But, it wasn’t a super long book, only about three hundred pages, so I should be fine, right?

Well, mostly.

I would not recommend this book to anyone who is trying to learn about Judaism for the first time, as there are a number of concepts and terms that you need some background beyond what’s provided to understand.  I also would not recommend this book for anyone with my level of knowledge or higher.  I feel I learned very little of practical use in today’s world, as many of the questions concern customs I have never heard of before and they sound rather outdated.

It is interesting that, for a book that talks about religion, there is as little religion as possible within these pages.  The questions and answers focus on customs and actions for the most part and the author presents what his research indicates to be the beliefs which prompted such actions and customs.  He actively tries to keep his own opinions out of the book, which is admirable.

One of the things I found annoying was just the fact that the common transliterations have changed over time, and the author favors different spellings from what I prefer.  Transliteration, the act of spelling words in one language from a foreign language that uses a completely different alphabet, is never perfect.  But there are commonly accepted spellings, as well as a widely varied number of acceptable spellings.  So, nobody wins.

One thing that bothered me was when Hebrew or Yiddish words were used and not translated literally.  He keeps referring to the Shulchan Aruch as the Code of Jewish Law but it actually translates to “The Set Table.”  I’m not saying he needs to call it that every time, but to actually translate it literally once would have been nice.  (It’s a document from the 1500s that was written the definitive Jewish law.  Of course, then someone wrote commentary to represent certain regions whose customs were left out…because let’s face, it Judaism is all about commentary.)

This wasn’t a particularly interesting or even good book to read.  I did learn some things, had a few others clarified, but mostly I had no interest whatsoever in what I was reading.  As I mentioned, a lot of the questions answered concerned customs I’ve never heard of before and doubt many people (at least in this country) follow today.  I’ll probably give this book to my dad for Hannukah; he’s old enough that he’s probably more familiar with those obscure customs.  He’s also less educated about our religion than I am, and enjoys learning more about it.  He probably won’t find it as dry as I did either.

I am definitely reading a novel next.  Not sure what, but it will be a real story.

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Convention Time

You may recall that I live in Chicagoland.  Well, today I went to the largest comic book convention in Lake County.  That’s right, it’s Count-i-Con!  For all you people who are unfamiliar with the region, let’s explain it quite simply.  The city of Chicago takes up most of Cook County.  Lake County is just north, between Cook County and Wisconsin.  So, the largest comic book convention in Lake County is, well, not very large.  Only $10 to get in on a Saturday, even after the new $5 parking fee.

I’ve gone the past few years now and seen the price gradually rise, but it’s not overly expensive for what it is yet.  As conventions go, Count-i-Con is mostly a dealer’s room.  There’s some events, like a costume contest, some games and demos, and a couple other things (so I’m told), but most people are only there to shop and see the other people.  The tables range from local stores and artists to those who sell at all sorts of conventions throughout the region.  The items range from brand-new top-of-the-line to vintage and then to handmade.  The art ranges from “aren’t you a little too skilled to be at this dinky little con” to “oh, sweetie, you need to practice.  A lot.”  Regardless, there’s something for everyone in a variety of price ranges.

It’s not the sort of convention I can go to with something specific in mind unless if I want comic books that are at least five years old.  Again, it is primarily a comic book convention and so almost every booth will have a box of back issues for cheap mixed in with everything else.  Today I found some DVDs, some adorable buttons, and a manga volume.  Then, because the owner of my preferred comic shop was so friendly (they had the first booth in the whole place and a great sale on games that my friend took advantage of), we stopped at their brick and mortar store on the way back so I could pick up the new Power Rangers comics.  Again, Count-i-Con is not the place to go for brand-new comics.

I had a lot of fun wandering around, talking to people I know, and seeing the wide variety of costumes.  The best by far was Yondu, from Guardians of the Galaxy.  Complete with angel wings and a lyre.

But this post is about the manga I bought.

It was the very last booth my friend and I visited – in the corner near the entrance and easy to overlook given the mass of people crowded into the Lake County Fairgrounds building.  It was also the first booth I saw that had anything like a decent manga selection; most only had a few volumes.  The prices were…not great until I saw the $10 box with a collection of Rebirth, volumes 1-3.  It was an easy sell.

I first encountered Rebirth years ago in highschool.  One of the librarians happened to be the advisor for the school’s Anime Club and she was working on building the manga collection.  Combine that with a last period study hall that I usually spent in said library, and I read through quite a few of the books on shelf.  Not just the manga, but also Les Miserables (abridged), Anne Rice, and a lot of Year’s Best Science Fiction.  The school had, as I recall, about twelve volumes of Rebirth.

It is, commonly enough for me, a vampire story.  A manhua (manwha? transliteration sucks either way) technically, Rebirth is created by a Korean artist known as Woo.  Deshwitat L. Rudbich is a dark, brooding loner of a protagonist who is abruptly resurrected with a virgin’s blood more than three hundred and fifty years after being sealed away.  Even worse, he may be all that stands between the world and oblivion, thanks to certain events and people in his past.

He is…less than thrilled about this.  Unless if it means he’ll finally get to destroy the person who took everything he loved from him, in which case he’s all in.  The only problem is that, as a vampire, Deshwitat’s power lies in darkness.  His enemy is of the light, and as such Desh is at a real disadvantage.  Now he seeks to wield the power of light as well, in order to finally defeat his enemy.

The school only had so many volumes, but the story was quite obviously far from over.  However, with Tokyopop as a publisher, there seemed to be problems with all the books getting translated into English and to this day I don’t think the series has been officially completed for American audiences.  Several years ago I remember looking it up on a scanlation site and finding more, but the group producing the scanlations had a note up saying they needed help – a translator or a scanner, I think – if the series was ever going to be finished by their team.

It’s a shame, because even when I idly grabbed the first volume off the school library’s shelf I could tell that beneath the fan service, whiny Korean girl, and silly jokes there was a real story to be read.  I always hoped to get the manga, but either there were other books I wanted more, or the volumes I could find were random numbers it made no sense to collect out of order, or they were just too expensive for what they were.

Is Rebirth a great manga?  Definitely not.  It has a host of issues stemming from the author outwards.  But I’m willing to look beneath the surface and put on my nostalgia glasses to enjoy it all over again.

Intimidation

I do not have what is commonly called a “classical” education.  I’ve never read the Iliad or the Odyssey, though I spent a year translating parts of the Aenied.  I’ve never read Le Morte d’Arthur or Bullfinch’s Mythology or The Golden Bough.  I’ve never read Chaucer or Joyce or so very many the authors and books that have influenced the many stories I myself devour.  And I’ve never looked up Tam Lin.

Usually my ignorance isn’t a huge problem.  Even if I’m not getting all the underlying hints and symbology, I can still follow what’s going on.  I know enough to get the basics out of the scene and life moves on.  Today, however, I feel that anyone who hasn’t read even half of the books mentioned within the actual story, not to mention the ones listed in the following essay, will be at something of a disadvantage.

Today was Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones.  I picked this up last year, along with several of the other Jones books I’ve read in the past eleven months, at a convention.  It had occurred to me that I liked Diana Wynne Jones as an author and I should probably make an effort to read more by her.  I’d known enough then to realize what a loss her death had been to the literary world, but the more I read the more I begin to truly understand.

If that wasn’t enough, the introduction to Fire and Hemlock was penned by no less a name than Garth Nix, shortly before she passed.  And he lists it as one of his favorite works by Jones from the time it was first released.  His introduction is no less fascinating than Jones’ own essay following the story: “The Heroic Ideal – A Personal Odyssey.”  Between the two, I was able to fill in enough of the gaps the novel left me.

Fire and Hemlock is the story of Polly Whittacker, who has come to realize she has two sets of memories.  Most of the tale is told in flashbacks as she prods the hidden memories into the light and works to understand them and why they were stolen away.  At first, everything seems harmless and fun, though with a dark undertone lurking in the shadows.  Not too unusual for a story with a ten year old protagonist.  But Polly doesn’t stay ten forever and the book grows more intense as the years pass until we return to the climactic present.

Part of what defines Polly’s joy in life in the earlier years is reading, and there are quite a few notable books name-dropped in those chapters.  As I said, I’ve read very few of those classical works.  In fact, my favorite classical book isn’t even listed once!  (I guess not everyone else loves Les Miserables?)  Anyway, I very much get the impression that, given the way Polly assigns the characters from The Three Musketeers to real-life figures, the various books listed can give a discerning reader clues as to where the story is going.  It makes me wonder if I should give some of these classics a try.

Of course, then I remember a scene from Children of the Night (by Mercedes Lackey of course) where Diana Tregarde is helping some college students get a better background in religion for their roleplaying game.  She pulls out The Golden Bough and describes it as being a rather dense book.  Probably literally as well as figuratively.  Between that fairly vivid recollection and my own experience in school, I am more than a little leery of attempting to read “the classics.”

If you don’t recall, I observed a while back that it might be the poorly-written textbooks students are subjected to that kept me from reading nonfiction for years.  I don’t remember having any particularly bad reactions to nonfiction outside of textbooks and others I needed for projects, but my point stands.  I will say that I have had problems with actual classics that I read for class – which may or may not have influenced my reactions.  I have enjoyed some books that I read in Language Arts and English classes, but most were just…words on pages.  And a few were truly horrendous.  The awful ones, to my mind, include Huckleberry Finn and A Prayer for Owen Meany.  I have never wanted to burn a book quite as badly as I did the latter.

I tried reading Jane Eyre once, but I never could muster the interest to get more than a few pages in.  The same for The Swiss Family Robinson and The House of the Seven Gables.  I’m a bit afraid that if I try one of the other classics that has so influenced my favorite authors, I’ll either won’t be able to read it, or reading it will feel like work, making the whole experience unenjoyable.  Books are my free time, my escapism, my joy and happiness, and I don’t want or need them to be extra assignments, even self-imposed.

Of course, when it comes to books originally written in foreign or older versions of languages, part of what makes or breaks the novel is the translation.  I can manage Shakespeare once I get in the right mindset to translate for myself, but I might not be as partial to Les Miserables if not for the modern translation.  (To be fair, I first read an abridged version from the school library that may have been older than I am.  But when I bought the unabridged version it was the well-translated snark that made it a treat.)  And I know I’d find even the Aeneid less work if I wasn’t doing a poor job of translating it myself.  Though I’m still not keen on Dido whining and moaning for a hundred lines…

I guess what I’ve been trying to say in my rambling way is that the amount of literary history in Fire and Hemlock, a book that theoretically suits ages 12 and up, makes me feel intimidated and inadequately educated.  I could blame the US curriculums which, from what I can see, have been moving further away from these classics.  In my highschool, only the AP class senior year (which I was clearly not in) actually studied English Literature, older works from across the sea.

The point is, nobody ever forced me to read these types of books and as an adult I find myself reluctant and scared to try.  In its own way, Fire and Hemlock is every bit as intimidating as Delusion’s Master.

Tour Time

Sometimes, you can look at the title of a book and just know what kind of ride you’re in for.  When I was in the used bookstore in the basement of Block Thirty-Seven, I spotted Dark Lord of Derkholm on the shelf and knew instantly that this book was going to be somewhat absurd.  After all, it’s by Diana Wynne Jones, and she wouldn’t give something such an obvious title if it wasn’t meant to be over the top.

Needless to say, I was right.

In a fairly standard fantasy world, everyone on this particular continent is united and working together.  In fact, that’s what their contracts stipulate.  After all, everything must be perfect for the tourists.  Mr. Chesney, a man from a world much like our own, runs a profitable business known as Pilgrim Parties.  Tourists from his own world adventure as the Forces of Good and experience a six-week holiday to the extreme as the seek to topple the Dark Lord.  What they don’t know is that most of their experience is staged for their benefit by the residents of the world.

This is why the world’s inhabitants work together, because if Mr. Chesney is disappointed in his customers’ experience…there will be consequences.  For forty years he’s been the unspoken ruler, but those he extorts and manipulates have had enough.  Which is why those in charge start their own adventure by visiting the Oracles…

You may remember that one of the books I devoured on my vacation last December was The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel.  Published eight years after Dark Lord of Derkholm, I am reasonably certain that today’s novel was the inspiration for the guidebook.  In fact, I am tempted to take a more thorough look at the tongue-in-cheek glossary to see if there are any clues linking it to the Pilgrim Parties.

Well, this is interesting!  The biography included in The Tough Guide says I have it backwards, that the Guide inspired Dark Lord of Derkholm.  There’s a note on the inside back cover that further supports this, saying the Guide was begun in 1994, when Jones was laid up for a time.  And here I see where my mistake came from – my edition of the The Tough Guide was published in 2006, but the first edition came out in 1996, two years before Dark Lord of Derkholm.  In my defense, I was looking the date up on my library database, not the internet as a whole.  Note to self: isfdb.org next time!

Another element to Dark Lord of Derkholm is that of the hero’s journey; the young protagonist setting out and finding their own way through the world.  If Derk, this year’s Dark Lord, is the title character, the person whose viewpoint we see through most often is his son Blade.  After all, it was in searching out a teacher for Blade who didn’t hail from the University (where most wizards are trained) that drew the pair of them into this year’s mess.  (Derk had some…disagreements in his time at the University and doesn’t want his son subjected to the same.)

So in addition to the amazingly well-oiled machine of making the Pilgrim Parties happen, we also get to see Blade and several other youngsters of comparable ages growing up and finding their places in the world.  Sure, some things are predictable, but that’s not a bad thing.  And while I may call this a “fairly standard fantasy world,” there are enough unique elements that I couldn’t fully extrapolate all the causes and effects.  Each world has its own rules, and only the author knows them all.

Dark Lord of Derkholm is a fun adventure, with a lot of smiles, a lot of laughs, and yet still tells a meaningful story and shows a family’s love for each other.  I got my the somewhat ridiculous read I was expecting, but I also got a whole lot more out of it.

Shared Worlds

There must have been something going around in the eighties because I keep encountering shared worlds originally published in that decade.  These include Merovingen Nights, Heroes in Hell, Dragonlance, Thieves’ World, Magic in Ithkar, and now Liavek.  Now, I’ve read more in certain of these series than others, and there are those which I haven’t chosen to (or haven’t wanted to) dip into just yet, so my definitions may be off.  But a shared world, from what I’ve seen, is a common location in which multiple authors tell stories.  Later tales may reference earlier tales and characters may show up in multiple entries, but aside from that, the stories may not have any real relation to each other.

Liavek is one of those series which reads more as an anthology, where each story in the book is the contribution of a different author.  From what I’ve seen in some of this book’s stories in particular, I suspect that, like some of the Valdemar anthologies, later Liavek books will continue several of the tales.  These are the stories that have endings, yes, but chapter endings, not conclusions for the characters.  Of course, the only way to know for sure is to find more Liavek.

This book came to me from a friend who can be described as a “pusher”.  Except, instead of drugs, she pushes books on people.  I admit, I wasn’t certain what to think of Liavek when I found it thrust into my hands, but I left it in my Pile until the time should come to read it.  And one thing I noticed early on was that this wasn’t my first exposure to the city and world of Liavek: I had read “Rikiki and the Wizard” by Patricia C. Wrede years ago.  This book offered me a wider view of the world which has a blue chipmunk for one of its gods.

Lest you think my growing enthusiasm was unwarranted, let me list for you the authors in this particular volume.  Jane Yolen, a different story by Patricia C. Wrede, Nancy Kress, Gene Wolfe, Steven Brust, and Will Shetterly were immediately recognizable. It turns out I’ve had previous experience with Emma Bull, Kara Dalkey,  and Megan Lindholm as well.  And I swear I’ve heard of Pamela Dean before, though I can’t remember the context.  So the only author I had no prior knowledge or experience of was Barry B. Longyear, and he wrote “The Fortune Maker”, one of the strongest stories in the entire book, to the point where it’s no surprise they positioned it last.

Well, last but for the Appendices.  But I don’t usually read deeply into appendices.  If I have questions, I’ll go to the section that will (hopefully) provide answers, but I am not about to invest the time to read the dry facts of worldbuilding in most cases.  I think that makes me more prone to watching special features and extras on my DVDs than I am to read the appendices.  I know I’ve spent more time watching The Lord of the Rings with commentary than I have reading the Appendices there…

Long ramble short, I’m glad that my friend shoved Liavek at me and I shall have to read more of it as it turns up in my book hunts.

Asexuality in Valdemar

Winds of Fury is the last of the Mage Winds trilogy, and it sees our focus shift from the Pelagiris Forest near the Dhorisa Plains back to Valdemar and its environs.  It’s the end of the war with Hardorn, the end of the return of magic to Valdemar, and the prelude to the much more engaging Mage Storms trilogy that has been foreshadowed and hinted at throughout.

This last book is also my least favorite of the Mage Winds trilogy, which says a fair bit considering how unenthusiastic I am towards all three books.  There’s nothing inherently objectionable in it, I just don’t find it interesting.  Especially Elspeth as a character.  She’s just so…bland.

So let’s talk about asexuality in Valdemar books.  Mentioned a few times in this book and in the trilogy as a whole are the Shin’a’in Swordsworn, the Kal’enedral.  These are individuals who dedicate their lives to the Warrior aspect of the Shin’a’in’s four-faced Goddess, giving up all pretense of a “normal” life including sexuality.  And people in the real world call them asexual and, well, they’re not wrong.  But the Swordsworn are “rendered sexless” as Lackey has written.  Their celibacy is a choice and the Goddess has merely made it an easier vow to keep by removing sexual inclinations from Her servants.  I view it as a bit of cheating, and more along the lines of real-world monks and priests who would take (and keep) vows of celibacy.

To my mind, the real asexual character is the one that comes into her own in this trilogy, despite being present in several earlier books.  That is Need, the magic sword that Kerowyn got from her grandmother Kethryveris, passed to Elspeth and then on to Nyara.  Back in Winds of Change, Need shares her own memories of how she became a sword, having once been as human as anyone else.  A mage-smith in a religious order, she herself observed that “she’d never found any man whose attractions outweighed the fascination of combining mage-craft with smithery.”  True, Need is less fond of men in general than of women, but that doesn’t make her any less asexual.  She finds men less interesting than her craft and appears to have no urges or inclinations driving her towards them.

I guess what I’m saying is that, of all the asexual characters in Valdemar, Need best embodies my asexuality.  It’s not a matter of choice, it’s simply something that doesn’t even begin to factor into her thought process.  And then she ends up becoming a sword which makes any further effort along those lines moot.

What I’m trying to say is that asexuality and agender don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.  Need is very strongly female despite her noninterest.  The Swordsworn are rendered asexual and also androgynous, although it may simply be that gender is less an issue with their people in general and similarities can easily confuse outsiders.  You can write whole essays, multiple ones, about nonheteronormative people and sexualities in Lackey’s books, which is no bad thing.

Now, I could go on to reread Mage Storms which would then make me want to reread Owls.  But, I’ve just finished rereading four books (and beta reading a fifth) and I think I just need something new and different at this point.  Especially since, as I’ve mentioned, there’s a library sale this weekend and I hope to add to my Pile.  Meaning I should go stare at it and decide what I’m taking to work tomorrow.

Completionist

Well, I finished Winds of Change.  More because I felt obligated to than because I was caught up in the story.  And I guess I will finish the trilogy because there’s someone in the next section that I’d love to see again.  The rest of it is…a story.

Anyway, Winds of Change finds Elspeth living in K’Sheyna as a Wingsister and getting the mage training she has so desperately needed.  As everyone knows (or should’ve known) Mornelithe Falconsbane survived to cause more trouble, but is overcome once again by a marshalling of power from all sides and a few secrets are revealed.

Oh, and hints are dropped as to the focus of the next trilogy, Mage Storms, but the characters are far too preoccupied with their immediate problems to give any shits about that.

Once again, I tell you that the Mage Winds trilogy is…acceptable.  The books aren’t terribly written, they’re just not nearly Lackey’s best work.  Elspeth as a character tends to rub me (and so many other characters) the wrong way and while Darkwind is better, this is primarily her story, not his.  Oh, and Firesong shows up and fucks with everyone just because he can.  Thank goodness he gets better with age, but that doesn’t make him very likable at this point in time.

Anyway, because Winds of Change left me feeling rather unsatisfied, I figured that was as good as reason as any to finish beta reading Lauren Jankowski’s Haunted by the Keres.  I think it says a lot that my friend’s fourth book is much more engaging than a book by a much more experienced and prolific author, even when it was published in the early nineties.

I had minimal suggestions for this last rerelease, which is quite pleasing.  Unlike the Mage Winds books where I found an entire page that said “K’Treva” where it clearly was talking about “K’Sheyna.”  The two Clans are not at all the same, as any reader of Valdemar can tell.

I will have to decide whether or not to reread The Dwelling of Ekhidna to follow up on the first four books that I’ve gone through in the past few months.  It would make sense, after all.  Then again, I’ve been doing a nice amount of rereading lately, and that doesn’t make my Pile any smaller.  Especially since there’s a library sale next weekend…

As you know, I am super excited that Lauren’s having her first four books rereleased with fabulous new cover art.  It’s an honor and a pleasure to have been able to help her out with this major event and I cannot wait to get shiny new copies of the lot.  I am so happy that she has this opportunity to revisit her books and make them all that they could be.

Now I guess I’ll go back to Winds of Fury.  Sigh.  At least the book isn’t terribly long.  Just under 430 pages.  Darn me for wanting to reread certain scenes but being unable to put the book down once they’re done.

Where the Wind Blows

As mentioned, I opted to continue the story of Valdemar chronologically from the end of By the Sword into Winds of Fate.  In many ways, the Mage Winds trilogy is the lead-in to the climax of the timeline’s present.  For the past six hundred years or so, Valdemar has been relatively isolated from its neighbors.  Oh, it still interacts and trades with the other countries around it, but this is the time of the barrier, which not only prevents mages from being comfortable in Valdemar but also prevents the whole populace from understanding that the Heralds’ mind-magic is not the only kind of magic in the world.

By the Sword and Winds of Fate see that barrier beginning to break down, and just in time.  Ancar of Hardon, a mage himself, is bringing all that he can to bear against Valdemar with the intent of crushing the neighboring country beneath his heel.  There are precious few immigrants who have the proper understanding to even begin conceptualizing defenses, and what Valdemar truly needs is a powerful and skilled mage to teach them what they have long forgotten.

This is Elspeth’s quest, then.  And it seems everyone and everything is intent on helping her complete it.  Which is when the Heir shows her first real flashes of being an interesting character: by rebelling against her planned Destiny and Fate.

Her path leads her to the lands of the Tayledras clan K’Sheyna, on the edge of the Dhorisa Plains, where that poor clan is dealing with their own troubles.  Perhaps an outsider’s perspective can be of aid…if they can rouse themselves enough to appreciate and accept it.

At this point in time, more than a decade after I first read these books, it’s hard to reread Winds of Fate without seeing it in the greater context of the series as a whole. Again, this is likely because I don’t find Elspeth nearly as fascinating a character as Kerowyn, or the story as riveting as Lavan Firestorm’s.  I found myself reminiscing about Firesong laughing his ass off at Darian not seeing the use of magic, even though Firesong won’t be introduced until next book and Darian not for another five (chronologically).  I thought about An’desha, who doesn’t appear until two books from now.  I thought about the Bardic Voices series which has no relation whatsoever to Valdemar save that they are both by Lackey and utilize magic through music.

With all of that going against it, you might be surprised to know that I’m going to follow it up with Winds of Change.  At this time, I cannot say for certain if I will finish the trilogy, but I have to admit that Winds of Fate ends on a wee bit of a cliffhanger and I like some of the elements in the second book enough to want to reread them.  Not to mention that I intend to spend some time tonight working through Haunted by the Keres in order to meet my deadline.  Have time, will read, after all.

One of Many

Well, I had intended to choose a book that would take me more than a day to read.  But I had forgotten just how thoroughly engrossing Kerowyn’s story is.  So today I finished Mercedes Lackey’s By the Sword, a Valdemar standalone.  However, this book only stands alone if you consider that it was not published as part of any trilogy or other set.  It is intricately tied into the “present” end of the timeline.

Vows and Honor is the set of books featuring Tarma and Kethry, your not-quite-stereotypical sword and sorceress pair.  Some of their adventures laid the groundwork for present-day Valdemar and Rethwellen, but their story isn’t quite part of that whole “present-day” set.  That tie-in is left to Kethry’s granddaughter Kerowyn.  Among other things, Kero is the next wielder of Need, the strange magical sword that once granted the mage Kethryveris a swordmaster’s skill.  But Kero’s not at all magically inclined.  Which means she gets the other half of Need’s offering – invulnerability to magic.  Oh, plus Healing.  Because…obviously?

Kerowyn is a strong, positive role model in many ways, and leads a fascinating life before she ever enters Valdemar.  This change in location is a part of the war with Hardorn, which lands Kero in the thick of the series, becoming one of the many ongoing characters.  She’s not a main character after By the Sword, of course, but she’d tell you that adventures are for the young.  Her book chronicles her adventures, and while she’s happy to comment and advise later main characters, Kero no longer needs the spotlight.

I’m not sure what it is about Kerowyn that makes By the Sword so thoroughly engrossing.  Because I had only seventy pages to go this morning when I left for work, I opted to be lazy and grab the next book chronologically – Winds of Fate.  In this book, we switch over to Princess Elspeth for the main character and, well, she’s not nearly as relatable to me.  Maybe she’s still a bit spoiled, maybe she’s just less emotionally mature.  Whatever it is, I strongly prefer Kero.

Either way, it’s a classic tale of Valdemar that I haven’t reread in far too long.

More than Complaints

It can be very obvious when one finds a self-published or indie published book.  In this case, the cover was cut poorly, with the text far too close to the top edge.  The font choice is poor, being meant for the display of the front cover and not the body copy of the back, and all the text is pixelated, making it even more difficult to read.  The publisher’s logo, Sky Warrior Books, is badly designed and looks even more pixelated than the text.  And this is just the cover.  Inside, there are strange line breaks, some coming perilously close to the edge of the page, spacing that makes little sense, and just a host of questionable decisions in design and editing.

It’s a shame, given that this book is coauthored by Irene Radford, an author who has written a number of traditionally published books.  Here she writes with Bob Brown (who has the most generic name I’ve encountered in a while) on a science fiction story titled The Lost Enforcer.  The quality of the copy is also a shame, because this book is trying so hard to be so many things and not quite hitting all its marks.

As I said, it’s science fiction.  We have the Enforcer himself, Jakai del Qwint (and oh gods, self-publishing, I just noticed his name is spelled wrong on the back cover) pursuing the galactic criminal Dorno Ban Sant into Earth’s solar system.  Both ships are destroyed and time passes.  Through a series of different characters, the reader is updated to the modern (2013) day.  This includes a college student backpacking in the Cascade Mountains, a news anchor in New York City, a former Green Beret working for the FBI in Washington state, Dorno Ban Sant as head of a Middle Eastern country and a galactic Observation base on Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons.  So, The Lost Enforcer is hoping to offer a sci-fi epic, a military “unite against the common enemy” epic, and a romance.

And it’s less than 340 pages long.

You can imagine that my hopes were not especially high for this book.  I was hoping to enjoy it on the strength of Irene Radford, but the more I came to see of it, the more I was concerned.  You don’t want to try to do too much with a limited amound of space.  It can make things seem rushed, with details being lost in favor of multiple viewpoints and the like.  “Show, don’t tell” is a wise maxim, but I almost wonder if the book could have used a little more telling and a little less showing.

Overall, it’s not a bad book.  I’ve read better, of course, but I’ve also read a lot that’s so much worse.  I think there are too many viewpoints, but most of the secondary and tertiary ones serve some purpose.  The odd spacing choices throughout the book are more annoying than the unnecessary viewpoints.  At least the authors here do a much better job at keeping the sections limited to a single character’s thought processes, and writing in third person certainly helps keep the reader from being confused.

It’s a good example of a book that improves on complaints I’ve had recently, while bringing a host of others to light.  Still, there’s a solid story inside and it was a much lighter fare after yesterday’s Tanith Lee overload.

I say lighter fare and we’re talking about potential nuclear war in the Middle East and an uncomfortable amount of references to “the Jews” instead of Israelis.  So, maybe that’s not quite the phrase I meant.  Perhaps “an easier read” is what I should say.  Because there’s no doubt that this is far simpler than Delusion’s Master.  After all, I was able to read 340 pages in a single day, easily, instead of suffering to get through the majority of 206 pages.

I’ll be keeping The Lost Enforcer, and with no qualms or reservations.  It’s more than good enough to be guaranteed a spot on my shelves.  And without further ado, I should go put it away so that I can begin to ponder tomorrow’s book.