Something Lighter than Air

A friend of mine was telling me about their concept for a novel.  It was pretty fascinating and I won’t let it slip.  However, it ended up reminding me of a book I picked up on a recommendation years ago.  This is Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti. The friend who recommended it must’ve picked it up when it was still fairly new, because I had trouble believing that it’s almost ten years old now.  There were some hints in the writing which clued me in and prompted me to check the date, but still.  Time flies when you’re reading all the time.

Clockwork Heart is probably my favorite steampunk novel.  In the city of Ondinium lives Taya Icarus.  And yes, her job is to fly around the city with her ondium wings, carrying messages to and fro.  Though she is capable of carrying much more, as the opening chapter sees her attempt a daring rescue of a mother and child trapped on a crashed funicular.  (The book calls them wireferries, but you may not have read this book.)

The two rescuees are members of the exalted caste – and this caste system bears some resemblance to the one India is known for.  One is born into the caste their previous lives have proven them worthy of, though some movement is permitted.  Each castemember has a tattoo on their face to make their rank obvious: famulates have a circle on their foreheads, lictors a stripe on their cheeks, programmers a spiral on their right cheek, and exalteds a wave on each cheek.  Icarii have no tattoos, and have freedom of the castes as they travel to and fro.  This is worth noting in the case of the exalteds who suffer “ostentatious incapacitation,” wearing masks and cumbersome robes to conceal themselves from lesser beings.  Only icarii are accustomed to seeing the highest rank maskless.

I mentioned that there are programmers in this world, but their computers are far more rudimentary than the one I’m using to type this, or the one you’re using to read it.  These are steam-powered engines that read punch cards, and they are the heart of the city.  It’s not made super clear how they are used, but they are basic computers that can analyze whatever data is input.  The Heart of the city is the Great Engine, a massive piece of machinery with the highest computing power of all.  It lies in the center of a mountain, floating in its hollow chamber.

How can it float?  Remember that ondium I mentioned?  This special metal is lighter than air and more valuable than gold.  It is the material which enables the icarii to fly, when properly counterweighted.  It is one of the city’s greatest resources, the other being her people of course.

It’s a fascinating world, and a decently-written book.  The more I reread analytically, the more questions I raise about things we know in our world and whether or not they’d actually be found in Ondininum, but today I opted to take things at face value.

Also apparently this is a series now.  I believe I need to acquire the newer books and remedy my ignorance of their content.  Maybe I should put those B&N giftcards to good use on this…

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Blitz is a Good Nickname

They key to a good story that involves combat is the gradual increase of severity and scale.  Go up too fast too soon, and you have something akin to Dragonball Z where every single one of the characters is ridiculously overpowered and death is just a minor inconvenience.  Of course, I suspect that if Akira Toriyama had known how long the series would go on, he might not have allowed it to go so far so fast.

This is an element that Lauren has been skillfully controlling.  Sere from the Green has some mysterious figures, mostly one-on-one fights, but nothing super telling in the grand scheme of things.  Through Storm and Night has tougher fights than the first book, but still not super special.  From the Ashes brings in the Grenich Corporation and adds the experiments to the mix with full knowledge – we’d seen them before, but didn’t have a good understanding of what they truly were.  Now, in Haunted by the Keres, the series has moved into the opening skirmishes of war.  The incidents and even the climax of this book may seem big – the biggest battle yet in the series – but when you consider that this is going to be a War of the Worlds in every sense of the word, it’s still just a minor incident in the end.

Where do I even begin?  Here we get some real information about the other worlds.  There are six in total that Lauren deals with on a regular basis, the first and second being Earth and the Meadows, where the guardians live.  Long ago, before the War of the Meadows, other worlds were colonized by various allies of the guardians and shape-shifters.  These groups include the lycanthropes, the vampires, the Seelie Court, and the Mage Orders.  The Seelie court includes a wide variety of creatures from folklore that include, but aren’t limited to elves, dwarves, goblins, pixies, and kelpies. There’s a lot of variety though.  The Mage Orders are sorcerers, enchantresses, etc.  They seem to be descended from guardians in some way, but they don’t have all the same abilities, having chosen to focus on magic instead.

Together, these other races represent the ancient alliance that fought together against the forces of Chaos in the War of the Meadows.  I wish I had a good idea of how long ago those events took place, but it’s long enough that there aren’t a lot of people who are still alive from those times, despite all these people being immortal.  The common statement is that people’s grandparents or ancestors fought in that War.  And, of course, it’s been long enough that most people have become complacent in peace, allowoing Chaos, now Set, to encroach heavily and undetected.

I want to take a detour with Set being the ultimate villain in these books, especially because he was formerly known as Chaos.  In the book Gatefather, the one that made me give up on Orson Scott Card, we learn that the ultimate villain was and has always been Set.  Except that it’s not actually Set as in the Egyptian god but Satan.  And Danny North is Jesus.  And no, none of this is particularly subtle.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not at all where any of Lauren’s work is going, I just find it interesting that two series that were running relatively parallel releases have this similar villain concept, even if one goes to a religious extreme and the other takes it and makes it her own.  In Lauren’s world, the guardians inspired various mythologies across the planet.  In Card’s…something similar happens, but then we go to this deeper level where his proselytizing is pretty damned obvious.

Anyway, it’s just something that has been running through my brain of late.  And it’s not nearly as bizarre as my space blob mental image.

From there I continued with the very shiny brand-new book, The Dwelling of Ekhidna.  Which has pretty explicitly stated what I’ve suspected for a few books now – that Set owns some guardian on the High Council, possibly more than one.  There’s a couple obvious choices (male guardians are portrayed as very hidebound and I can’t help wondering what demons Lauren’s exorcising there) and at least one less obvious choice.  This book also introduces Eris.  Yes, that’s the name of the goddess of discord and she excels in created it.  Eris also happens to be Passion’s older sister, making her Elektra and Isis’ aunt.

Also Orion and Roan had a screaming match not only in front of the protector leaders, but also the Queen of the Seelie Court.  Inner me is still snickering about this.

The Dwelling of Ekhidna showcases some Grenich experiment series we haven’t seen before, particularly the A-series, which stands for Arachnid.  Yep, they have six arms.  They’re also more individualistic than the regular run of experiments, which makes them more interesting characters, even when they have less screen time.  The part where they practically worship Blitz for her rebellion is quite amusing.

I feel like one of the underlying themes of this book is how disaparate peoples and groups are able to work together to overcome adversity, and I appreciate that.  This is definitely Lauren’s best work yet, even though I still caught a few small editing errors.  I suppose not too many other people are going to notice them…but I did.

The other advantage of having Eris around is that she knows more about magic than any other guardian, and was able to begin explaining some things to the reader that we simply haven’t had a chance to learn yet.  Which is fine, the story is told in a third person limited, so we can only know what the characters know.  And since the Mage Orders refused to go to the summit, Eris is the first magical expert to really start breaking things down for us.  Don’t get me wrong – she is an insanely obnoxious character that I don’t always care to read about.  But she is very well educated and has a certain pride for knowing things no one else does.  She’ll even share that knowledge when it doesn’t put her at a disadvantage.  In some ways she’s the guardian most similar to an experiment, as she always likes a challenge.

It’s a little sad to realize that it will be a while before book six comes out, as Lauren is quite busy reworking Sere from the Green.  I don’t know if she plans to alternate rereleases with new releases, or something else, but I know I’ll keep my eyes peeled for her new books from Snowy Wings Publishing.

A Small Break

I’m not a huge fan of encountering the same themes repeatedly all at once.  It can be wearing, especially with the wrong concepts.  The Shape-Shifter Chronicles involve a shadowy, immortal organization controlling the world from the shadows.  Coincidentally, so does the new Cyborg 009 series on Netflix.  Now, I’m a sucker for Cyborg 009, so as soon as Netflix emailed me to tell me it existed, it was added to my queue, and I’ve been watching an episode here and there.  But it’s not super relaxing or a change of pace when I’m reading something fairly similar.

So I opted to go a different route this morning, and catch up on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #11-12.  Today I didn’t feel like rereading anything older, since last issue was a look back at Billy and his growth as a character and the issue before that was the cliffhanger.  Which I felt I remembered well enough.

Anyway, at the very least, the strange alternate world in which Tommy and Billy find themselves is not being controlled from the shadows.  In fact, the evil is pretty damned obvious and right in front of their faces.  So, there’s that going for it.  We also have the appearance of Saba, the white ranger’s talking sword.  I don’t remember Saba’s voice particularly well offhand, but I suspect it might’ve gotten annoying.  I also don’t remember Saba’s origin on the TV show.  Did the white ranger always have the sword or was it a quest item?  I don’t suppose it really matters now, otherwise I’d actually google it.

Anyway, you have your typical “dark version of the world we know and love in which our heroes find themselves pursued by the authority and landing in the lap of the rebellion.”  I am interested to see where it goes from here because, although this has been done before, the series has been enjoyable thus far and I don’t see why that quality would deteriorate.

Then there’s the little Bulk & Skull comics that have been at the end of every issue to date.  They’re cute, drawn in a more cartoony style, and show…Bulk & Skull being Bulk & Skull.  A nice bit of levity.  However, at the end of issue 12, there’s an actual “The End” for this short.  It makes me wonder if they’ll find a new bit to put in there next issue, or if they’ll simply use those extra pages for more story, for bonuses, or for ads.  (I sincerely hope it’s not ads.  That would be disappointing.)  It was a cute story overall, and Bulk & Skull even get what they want out of it…somehow.

Evil Space Blobs

When Lauren talks about the Shape-Shifter Chronicles, she always mentions Blitz.  But, of course, there is no character by that name in the first two books.  Only here, in From the Ashes, do we finally get to meet the infamous woman.

If you can really call her that.  Blitz has a female body, but she is a Grenich Corporation experiment.  Brainwashed, modified, enhanced, she has no memory of her life before the Corporation, few emotions, and has been trained to be a living weapon.  A super soldier in truth.

Of course, you can make some guesses about her previous life.  After all, this is the third book in a series.  And you’ll probably be right.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the buildup that goes into the big reveal.

With every entry into her series, Lauren’s work has improved measurably.  There are still errors associated with self-publishing in From the Ashes, but again, there’s a number of reasons why it’s easy to tell a self-published book from a bigger company’s product.  Each book is eassier to immerse myself into (barring the aforementioned errors) and the story becomes more captivating as we dive deeper into the world Lauren’s created.

As the reader begins to grasp the scope of the war to come, I find myself thinking of the Grenich Corporation, Set’s shadowy organization created to ultimately help him rule the world, as a virus.  Sort of.  My mental image is actually of this glowing blue space blob sitting on top of planet Earth, insinuating its tentacles just underneath the globe’s crust, where they spread and split and generally weave their way through everything.  Over time they’ll drain the life force from the world, and then Set’s blob will squeeze and the planet will turn to debris.  At least, that’s how my mental image goes.  And if it sounds weird to you, I will blame the talking trees living on mitochondria.  Because visuals don’t have to make sense when strange otherworldly powers are in play!

It’s also interesting to get a look at Lauren’s reading list.  Several classic books are listed, including The Counte of Monte Cristo and Farenheit 451.  I personally wouldn’t use a specific title in my own writing if I hadn’t read it already, so I’m assuming Lauren would do the same.  I’d also guess that she either read or saw (or both) V for Vendetta, as there’s a scene in From the Ashes that strongly resonates to Evey in the rain, after V frees her from her mental and physical prison.

I’m trying very hard to stay away from spoilers because I think everyone should read Lauren Jankowski’s books if it’s up their alley.  Though I completely understand if you’d want to wait for the rerelease of the first one at least.  I promise, they get better.

Rising Action

I’m going to skip over the issues that arise from self-publishing, namely needing another editing run and awkward widows and orphans on various pages.  Suffice to say, when this series is reprinted, those should be remedied.

I finished Sere from the Green in a single day because it’s short, just over two hundred pages.  I finished Through Storm and Night in one day because while it’s not much longer than the first book, the action does begin to pick up.  Lauren introduced us to a mystery in the opening chapter of her first book, and has yet to reveal all the answers.  Our main characters get a bit more development, and we add a few more locations and wrinkles to the world and plot.  Still rising action though.

Mostly I’m looking forward to the next book, where we get to the character that Lauren always talks about.  But that can wait a bit while I reflect on book two.  Book one brought us Isis, who thought she was an ordinary human until the night she photographed a body that disappeared.  Since then she’s learned that she is one of only two shape-shifter/guardian hybrids, the other being the identical twin sister she never knew she had.  Their mother is Passion, one of the emotional guardians, and their father an assassin shape-shifter whose body vanished years ago.  Surprisingly, not the first time a shape-shifter’s body vanished either, something that’s brought up in Through Storm and Night.

Oh, and let’s not forget that guardian/shape-shifter relationships are taboo because of an ancient tragedy.  Our immortal guardians and shape-shifters aren’t the only nonhumans in this world either, though we haven’t much to do with the others as of yet.  Mostly they’re mentioned to exist and sometimes hang out at certain clubs.

THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Okay so, there is one more thing I want to talk about.  Namely the “Fred must Die” rule of writing.  This one may have lost some impact since George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire started getting big, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still important.  Killing off your main character is a sure way to get a rise out of an invested reader.  Not to mention that death carries a lot of symbology in addition to the emotional impact.  I mentioned the disappearing bodies, so you can bet that most, if not all of those, were not quite as dead as they seemed,and someone wanted them for nefarious and sinister purposes.  But that does lend itself to the symbolic return and ressurrection.

I put this under spoiler warnings because, well, it’s practically the climax of the book.  And yet it’s still an essential part of the story, so I can’t not talk about it.  There’s an anime from the nineties or early 2000s called YuYu Hakusho and in the first episode, the main character gets hit by a car and dies.  So the first part of the series is about him earning his way back to life.  But nothing would’ve happened at all if he’d just died and done nothing.  He wouldn’t have been able to see spirits, wouldn’t have become a Spirit Detective, wouldn’t have entered a crazyass tournament, wouldn’t have died again and become a demon, etc.  I don’t care if I just spoiled several of the major points of the series, I still enjoy it as a good shonen anime, even if there are a LOT of tournament-type things.  My point is that none of it works if Yusuke doesn’t die in the first episode.

I’m going to cut this short now so I can start the third book where things really start catching my attention.  Then again, I am such a sucker for tormenting characters.

Impending Doom

You may remember that, back in September, I discovered Beauty by Robin McKinley, just sitting on a used bookstore shelf and picked it up, no questions asked.  Ever since then, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for more Robin McKinley books in the wild, but for some reason they just haven’t shown up.  Until now, of course.  I managed to find one at the con last weekend.  But not at the couple booths selling used books, oh no.  This was at the booth with the brand new books (the only one, RIP Larry Smith).

The book is Dragonhaven, published in 2007, and it’s a very different take on dragons than I’ve seen in a long time.  It takes place in our own modern time but, of course, in this world there are real dragons.  There’s also a lot of not-real dragons, large lizards that people call dragons but are really not at all dragons, whether by lack of flying or fire-breathing or who knows what.  There’s a lot of technical things in the book relating to that.

And yet, this book is mostly written as stream of consciousness by the main character.  It does make things a bit difficult to read, especially as there aren’t nearly as many breaks as in a more standard narrative, but not too bad.  Especially since I’m sure this falls into the young adult category, and not just because the main character is not-quite-fifteen when everything starts happening.

In the world of Dragonhaven, Jake Mendoza lives at Smokehill, a national park and zoo.  The zoo consists of those not-dragons mentioned earlier, the real dragons having been let out in some crazy incident long ago and gone to ground in the park’s massive area.  There is a fence of some kind around the entire perimeter that keeps both dragons in and excessive people out.  Obviously there’s a gate, and they clearly let people in to gawk at the zoo, but it’s no easy thing to just “get in.”

Which doesn’t explain how the poacher got in.  Yes, the story truly starts when Jake sees a real life dragon for the first time…and it’s dying.  At least it already killed the poacher.  Dragons are an endangered species after all, and they’re only alive in national parks and reserves like Smokehill – though no one really knows how many there are or aren’t.

Overall, this was a rather fascinating read.  As I said, it’s quite unlike most of the other dragon books I’ve read, though there are certain tropes (not all pertaining to dragons) that are sprinkled throughout.  The only thing some readers might find problematic is the stream of consciousness writing style, especially when Jake meanders off on some tangent.

THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
So, the biggest trope Dragonhaven falls into is “a boy and his __.”  What else would you expect when the dying dragon is a new mother and only one of her offspring has survived?  Obviously it’s up to Jake to raise the creature and you can forgive the narrative for being a bit oddly-focused when you take that into account.

It’s brought up a couple times that dragons might be *gasp* intelligent.  Before it turns out that yes, they are indeed intelligent and sort of telepathic.  And before you start screaming about how that’s been done before, relax.  Jake himself mentions having a shelf of fantasy books with that very idea.  We all know which famous series he’s referring to that may or may not be Dragonriders of Pern.

The interesting part of this telepathy is that McKinley really gets into questioning our preconceptions.  In most books, telepathy is speaking mind to mind with words.  But the dragons here don’t have words we can easily recognize.  And while you can use pictures, it’s not quite enough detail for an unspoken language that also includes distance and texture and other information in a single “word.”  It’s no wonder that Jake refers to dragon communication as the Headache.

Near the end is, of course, the inevitable point when Jake must let Lois go back to the dragons, without him.  (Yes, he names the dragon Lois.  He likes the name.)  But it’s not her death, and it’s not the end of their relationship, merely the end of her dependency on him.  Instead, it’s part of the dawn of a grand new era of communication between the two species, now going into a second generation.  It’s always a nice, positive note when books end with births.  Not that ending on deaths isn’t meaningful as well, but that’s not always a positive thing.
OKAY, END OF SPOILERS.

I probably could have finished Dragonhaven if I’d stayed up late last night (and then later writing this post), but as I’m still running a sleep deficit from the con, I opted to be good and go to bed.  Combine that with my next choice being on the short side and it’s no surprise that there’s two books in this post.

I’ve mentioned having some authors as friends, and there is no point to these words if I haven’t read their books.  So I’d like to introduce you all to the work of Lauren Jankowski, a feminist aromantic asexual author whom I had the good fortune to meet at a con much like the one last weekend.  You can check out her website here for more information on that.  She’s also the mastermind behind Asexual Artists, a blog that has featured more than 500 ace artists in so many different fields as a way to raise asexual visibility.  (Yes, I’m on there too.)

Her Shape Shifter Chronicles recently released its fifth installment, and I’ve just reread the first book as part of getting to it.  My first response upon rereading Sere from the Green…I am so glad she’s reworking this book.  I’ve touched upon this before, when I was discussing Michelle Sagara West’s Into the Dark Lands and how that author chose not to change her first book for its reprint.  I remember back when I first read Sere from the Green I didn’t want to write a review because I’d be compelled to honesty and I didn’t want to hurt my friend’s feelings.  So instead I complained about page 183 and the orphan word at the top of the page.  Self-publishing at its worst.

There are so very many points of “first book syndrome” in this one.  Lauren told me that one of the changes will be the addition of a lot of the description we’re currently lacking in.  Really, I think she’s finding it theraputic to purge a lot of the issues that were going on behind the scenes while she was writing, and more power to her.  Some of the aspects I hope she takes note of include: properly spelled typos (wrong words), sentences that are missing a necessary word, switching viewpoint characters without a break, and generally adding a few more slow scenes to give the reader a break from running around action scene to action scene.

Also there are a number of oddly constructed sentences that strike me as the author trying to show off her vocabulary or trying to write different types of sentences.  While it’s important not to repeat yourself, if you end one chapter with the heroine escaping in a mini cooper, the next chapter should probably start with “The mini cooper” instead of “A mini cooper” because there’s only been one mentioned.  It’s the sort of thing that reeks of trying too hard to be an Artiste.  I remember in school they always wanted us to avoid the word “said” in our writing.  Now, it’s true that a skilled writer will have multiple words in their repertoire which are far more descriptive than “said.”  But it’s also true that probably one third to one half of your speech denotations will be “said” because you don’t NEED to use those fancy descriptors all the time, because your readers will get tired of it, and because your readers can speedread “said” more easily than all those other terms.

As for the story itself, Sere from the Green is an origin story, the start of a hero’s journey, a Chosen One story, and more.  Lauren’s creation of the Meadows, the guardians, and the shape-shifters is an interesting amalgmation of commonly-known mythology and legend into something new an different.  I personally read it as fantasy, but I think these books might be more properly classed as thrillers, given what I remember.

Of course, from what I recall, the first book is just a gradual incline.  It’s the second book that starts dropping real bombs.

Acceptably Ongoing

Today I finished Tempest, the newest Valdemar anthology.  It’s a…mixed bag, to say the least.  There are twenty-two stories crammed into this book, and they run the gamut, though at least there’s no Scooby-Doo ripoff this time.  (That was awful.)

I spent the first third or so of the book thinking that maybe, in the future, I should pick a story, read up on the previous installments in the earlier anthologies, and then read this newest entry.  There are a lot of returning authors and characters.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I felt it more with Tempest than I have in the past.  I suppose it’s because this time I had the impression that I was expected to recognize the characters and remember what I’d previously read.  In the past, I’d be reading and think “huh, this name sounds familiar, and the character reminds me of something in a previous anthology.”  Then I’d dig through the books until I discovered that yes, this was indeed a further story with the previously established character.  In this case, I was pleased to have realized the connection.

Sometimes the linked stories were more obvious.  I’ve mentioned the stories by Kate Paulk and Sarah Hoyt, featuring Jem and Ree.  When one of your main characters is a Changechild and this is the only set of stories set in the Eastern Empire, they tend to be more memorable than most.  As such, when I noticed these authors in subsequent books, I was always happy to read another installment in their tale, up through its logical conclusion.  I also appreciate that I haven’t seen any further stories since that logical conclusion.  Frankly, that’s one of the ways to ruin a good ending: making unnecessary sequels and additions.

I suppose that’s why I wasn’t too thrilled by the story “Transmutation,” back in Crossroads.  My goodness, that was published back in 2005, over a decade ago!  I felt that the story of Darian and his friends had reached a logical conclusion in Owlknight, and well they certainly lived on, they had grown into who they were meant to be and no longer needed to be main characters.  And as neat as gryphons are, I never found Kelvren to be that interesting a person.  Of course, as I was looking up this particular short story, I have to wonder if another reason why I was less than thrilled is because Larry Dixon wrote this on his own, without his wife’s help.  (In case you didn’t know, Larry Dixon and Mercedes Lackey are married.)

Anyway, the final tale in Tempest is “Ripples and Cracks,” the direct sequel to “Transmutation” and written by both Dixon and Lackey.  It is probably the most technical piece of writing I have ever found in this series, outside of The Valdemar Companion.  The most technical that is actually part of a story then.  Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely fascinating to learn something about gryphonic anatomy, but the fact that I didn’t have much investment in the story to start didn’t help.  Nor the whole part where Kelvren expects to find a hero’s welcome when he returns home and instead is treated like a living bomb.  There is a brief comparison of Tayledras and Valdemaran mindsets, wherein Valdemaran is your typical person who thinks anything outside their experience must be awful and bad (sound familiar to anyone in this country?) and the Tayledras are much more accepting and idealized.

No, I don’t think that the Tayledras are immune to the feelings the Valdemarans are experiencing.  I will grant that they are far less likely to feel that way about magic simply because it is magic.  It’s got to do more than simply exist to make the Tayledras nervous.

“Ripples and Cracks” also ended on an obvious cliffhanger, so there will definitely be at least one story in this group at some point in the future.  Maybe less than ten years from now, but who knows.  I am cautiously intrigued by this proposed continuation, not the least of which because Firesong will be returning as a key character.  I don’t always like Firesong as a person (especially in the early Mage Storms books when he’s being a selfish ass), but he’s certainly not boring to read about.

There weren’t too many standouts in this book as I recall.  There were, as I said, a lot of tales with recurring characters.  But there were also several new ones.  The three I remember enjoying the most are “Medley” by Jessica Schlenker & Michael Z. Williamson, “In Name Only” by Kristin Schwengel, and “Girl Without the Gifts” by Janny Wurts.  “Medley” does follow “A Fire in the Grass” from Crucible, but still stands on its own without the previous tale.  It shows Heralds as being humans…as one man unexpectedly meets the results of a one night stand.

“In Name Only” takes us to a region that is not usually explored in these anthologies, that of the Haighlei Empire, through the lens of their White Gryphon allies.  I enjoyed that it was different in that respect, as well as well-written.  I’d say “Girl Without Gifts” may be the best of the lot for its blind protagonist who is not suicidal.  (Sorry Tanya Huff, but I do not get your mine/cave fetish.)

I don’t know if it was coincidental or intended, but I noted at least three stories here seemed to involve Highjorune and the long-incorporated lands of Lineas and Baires.  These were only featured in the main series in Magic’s Promise, the second entry in The Last Herald-Mage trilogy.  Admittedly, they were fairly central to the plot, but never really came up again in the novels.  There were also a lot of stories in and relating to Karse this time, which is not unusual but still noteworthy.

What can I say?  Tempest is another Valdemar anthology and it didn’t have anything in it that I despised.  I’ll have to think on what to start tomorrow, as I have five new books from this weekend.  Plus the comic books I bought earlier and the rest of the Pile.  So many choices!

Catching Up

Yesterday, having taken a half day at work in order to be ready for this weekend’s convention, I opted to stop at the comic book shop on my way home.  It’d been some time since I was last there, and I knew there’d be at least two or three issues for me to pick up.  In fact, I found four.  Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers 11-12 and Pink 5-6.  I haven’t read the MMPR ones yet, but I figured why not finish up the Pink miniseries whiel I have a chance?  There’s not much I want from the con for a few hours yet, so I can take the time now, as my body wouldn’t let me sleep any longer.  (I went to bed around 1am, that’s fairly early for a con.  I left before midnight.)

So today I reread Pink 3 and finished off the miniseries.  It was…fine.  Everything was wrapping up in issue 5, which seemed good until I remembered that it was a six issue miniseries.  So of course we had to work in not only Kim and her retired power rangers, but also the current team, off fighting Rita and Zedd.  That part felt a bit forced and unnecessary, but I can’t say that they didn’t do some build up to it.  It simply seemed like it had less to do with the story.

Admittedly, the heart of the story, beyond people in bright spandex fighting monsters, is about Kim’s acceptance of her place in the world as a former power ranger.  She can’t just go on with her life pretending it never happened, but she is retired from active service.  She needs to come to terms with both parts of her life.

On an unrelated note, Kim totally reminds me of Kim Possible on the cover of issue six and I cannot unsee it.  It’s probably the lighting making her hair reddish combined with the black jacket, but still, it’s there?  Not that this is a bad thing, Kim Possible was a great action show with a female protagonist and I remember it fondly.  If I saw DVDs for sale I’d be tempted to buy them.  If the price was good.

pink6

I know there’s a Justice League/Power Rangers series out soon, if not already.  I glanced around the shop yesterday for it, but didn’t notice it.  Probably for the best.  It’s cheaper to collect these things in trade anyway.  I did see the first two issues of the new Green Lantern / Star Trek crossover, but since I have the first of those in trade, I will be patient and wait so that the whole series can be shelved together.

I make no promises on how often the posts will be this weekend.  I am currently working on a book – an anthology as that meshes better with cons in general – but I can’t even promise I’ll finish it Sunday when the con is over.  So, we’ll see.  Maybe Sunday I’ll read up to current on MMPR.

Word Choice

I mentioned, after finishing Into the Dark Lands, that The Sundered is filled with raw power that a reader cannot help to feel emotion.  I still say this after finishing Chains of Darkness, Chains of Light, the fourth and final book in the series.  It’s a rush, and one that may last the rest of the day if I’m lucky.

Our party makes its way to the new capital of the Empire, a place that was once the heart of one of the Lines of Light, the location of the second of Lernan’s Eyes.  Also known as the Gifting or the Wound of the Enemy, depending on your allegiance.  It is, as you might guess, Erin’s mission to reach this well and cleanse it, as the first was cleansed back in Children of the Blood.  So it’s no surprise that after the forces of Malthan conquered these lands, they moved their capital for fullest effect on their new, unwilling citizens.  The Gifting lies beneath the highest Dark Church in the land, where the Greater Cabal sits and generally rules the Empire.  Except, of course, on those occasions when the Lord of the Empire makes his will known.

Stefanos has a rough time this book.  For an immortal being of darkness who never cared much for humanity, he began to ape their customs to please his Sara.  Of course, given time, such pretense becomes habit and he became Lord Darclan, whose slaves are among the most loyal in the Empire.  Then the rug was pulled out from under his feet and Stefanos simply wasn’t accustomed to dealing with the type of emotions he found himself assaulted by.  You can argue that he is not sane for a large portion of this book.

Of course, it all comes together in a great big grand finale in the Church, at the Gifting, with all our major players together again.  (Except for Hildy, the merchant who helped our heroes get from point B to point C.  She doesn’t do this fighting thing, her dear boys do it for her.)  This scene is also where I can really point out how much Michelle Sagara West has grown as an author over the years because, to be honest, it’s a bit difficult to get a sense of the battle.  I have trouble keeping track of all the characters, and several of them seem to get shafted of screen time though they must be participating in some way.

Still, there is the final resolution to which the entire series has been building from the very first, from when the Lady of Elliath dared to part the veils of time and set her feet on the road that could see Light triumph over Darkness, the only possible road.  It comes down to that which cannot be predicted, only felt.

I don’t know if you’re picking it up, but I love these books.  I’ve not had them for very long in the grand scheme of things, but I’ve read the entire series twice now and know I’ll continue to return to it time and time again.  There are problems, of course, these are a writer’s very first books, but the power and emotion that can only barely be contained by the pages are undeniable.

It seems this was the first time Michelle Sagara West improperly used the term “Pyrrhic” in a purely fantastical world but it wasn’t the last.  I think she’s gotten past that now, which I do appreciate.  It’s simply jarring to find a word that cannot possibly have the same meaning in a book where it couldn’t have happened.  Of course, now I have to think about words like “vandalized” and “mausoleum,” but since those aren’t capitalized, do I really?  Word origins are something of a fascinating subject for me and the etymology project I had to do in Latin I was a ton of fun, but I should focus on the subject.  It’s understood that any book we read containing other languages is translated into a legible form for the audience.  Thus the vocabulary we see is what we know, not what would actually be used.  So it’s perfectly acceptable to use the word “vandalized” which is an internalized portion of the English language and no longer specifically refers to the Vandals sacking Rome.  But “Pyrrhic” still specifically refers to Pyrrhus of Epirus fighting the Romans at Heraclea.  Hell, when I play 7 Wonders with friends and Helicarnassus comes up, I say that we should thank King Mausolus for it.  Then they look at me blankly and I get to pull out my art history minor and explain that the word “mausoleum” comes from the elaborate tomb made for Mausolus.  I suppose that “mausoleum” is more acceptable than “Pyrrhic” because the word has become disassociated from its original meaning in common context, and now that factoid is one people can show off to their friends who aren’t likely to know it.

Long story short: words are fun, The Sundered is epic, and I’m not quite certain what book to start next considering I have another convention this weekend.

Here Comes the Walking

After the understandable confusion a reader may suffer in Children of the Blood due to the timeskip and the slow return of memory, Lady of Mercy picks up right where book two left off.  It’s in this third book that the structure begins to resemble a more standard Hero’s Journey, with a bit of the Prophecied Chosen One thrown in as well.  Not that either of these were missing from the first two books, but it’s much easier to see when, well, most of the book consists of the characters traveling from point A to point B.

We still have Erin and Darin from the previous book, but now we add the mysterious Robert – a thief and skilled killer, and Trethar – an old mage whose power does not derive from blood.  I may not have mentioned this before, but the power (magic, whatever) we’re accustomed to is that drawn from the Light and Dark Hearts.  The Sundered – immortal servants of one or the other of the Hearts, born when the two first touched in the eons before time – have interbred with humans and produced the Lines.  These halfbloods can wield the power of their parents, though its strength is much diluted in them, and it is only truly effective upon the enemy of those parents.  So, the Bright Heart’s name is Lernan and the Lines of Light were Lernari, while the Dark Heart Malthan’s tools are the Malanthi.

The war between Light and Dark has ended at this point, with the fall of Culverne, last of the Lernari Lines, in the beginning of Children of the Blood.  But that’s only five years before the start of Lady of Mercy, and the Empire’s hold is not yet unquestioned.  For our heroes, it’s the start of their true battle.

Books one and two of The Sundered exist to set the stage.  Into the Dark Lands explains the world and creates the history to while all else will refer.  Children of the Blood becomes the immediate past which is still alive and well and influencing people.  Now the real conflict can begin in Lady of Mercy.  I suppose you can view this and Chains of Darkness, Chains of Light as two halves of a whole.  The end of book three is the mid-season climax, or where Hollywood decided to end the first movie of the two they inexplicably decided to split a book into.  Or you could make an argument for the first standing alone and the other three being something of a trilogy.  Then again, it’s not as if the stories are totally separate, considering that there are consistent characters throughout and in the end there is a single Chosen One…ugh, this analysis is getting too complex.

Essentially, there is a great deal of rising action in Lady of Mercy and while it does have its own climax, it is a minor victory in the scheme of what remains to be accomplished.