Sunday, November 9, 2014

Summoned to Tourney (Mercedes Lackey, Ellen Guon)

Rating: 3
Year: 1992
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? In another 10 years...

A Bard (Eric), an elf (Korendil or 'Kory') and their girlfriend Beth have been in San Francisco for a couple of years making rent money as street musicians. This is the perfect way to lie low and avoid the attention of the FBI, which has been looking for them in the wake of some scary stuff in Los Angeles (but that's another book).

Eris has been having nightmares of an apocalyptic series of earthquakes and demonic Nightflyers. It takes a lot of pages for his friends to convince him to talk to someone who can help him figure out what's going on--are they just bad dreams, or are they premonition?

More pages go by before the three venture to the Embarcadero to play for the lunch crowd. Beth gets nabbed by some guys in suits. They take her to their Evil Secret Facility and torture her into panic attacks.

Eric and Kory split up to go looking for Beth. Kory uses his elf-senses and such and goes right to the Evil Secret Facility, where he bluffs his way in...only to end up captured in the same cell holding Beth.

The bad guys torture him, too. Turns out the Evil Secret Facility is a government project run by an evil guy who's working on mind control using psychics and mages.

Eric is almost grabbed by the same suits who got Beth, but uses his music-magic to escape. He even gets their car's tag number. Good boy.

He gets with some friends, puts together a Plan, and they raid the Evil Secret Facility. Here's where Eric turns fucking stupid, evil and psychotic: he uses his music to summon a flock of Nightflyer demons and sends them into the facility to kill bad guys and wreck the joint. He has enough sense to tell them not to kill the three good guys he knows are there, but doesn't give a thought to having condemned everyone else (including innocent victims) in the place to horrible deaths. We're told that he is "sickened" by what he's done, but that doesn't keep him from doing it.

Rescue, rescue, action, action, hooray! and Eric sends the Nightflyers home. Well, he thinks he does. There's one that possessed the evil guy running the Evil Secret Facility. This one is like the Boss Momma Nightflyer and she's looking to make baby Nightflyers and wreck the world in a...Nightflyerpalooza? Nightocalypse? Nightstock?

Conveniently, the Evil Secret "torture the psychics" Facility is right on top of a Legit Good Science Earthquake Research Lab which is conveniently close to a Major Scientific Breakthrough That Could Help Save The World From Bad Earthquakes!

Unfortunately--and also conveniently--this Research Can Also Be Used As A Weapon!

Nightflyer's gonna trigger The Big'un, kill the hell out of people, spawn, and do Total World Domination.

Can Eric the Douchebag fix what he broke?

Bleh. The dialog (and, well, everything else) could use some cleanup and polishing. Seems clumsy/melodramatic, especially when two people are talking in Plot Points where descriptive text would have been better.

Decent concept; I'd like to see how the authors would write it now, compared to then.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bardic Voices I: The Lark and the Wren (Mercedes Lackey)

Rating: 3
Year: 1992
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Maybe, when I forget...

I decided to pop out of the Valdemar stuff again, but I didn't wander far. Mercedes Lackey is crazy prolific in her scribbles.

Rune is a little tavern girl. The 14-year old hates her life. She's stuck working the backwater tavern in a backwater village with her backwater mother, whose only ambition is to lure the tavern owner into marriage so she'll have a cushy (if backwater) life.

Rune wants to be a musician. A Guild Bard, player to queens, singer to kings, writer of songs that make the whole world sing. The villagers come to the tavern to listen to her scratching on her fiddle while they drink beer, but no one thinks much of her or her scratching. To the others in the tavern her music is a distraction from her proper place: doing chores, waiting on the customers, and little more. To the villagers she's a bastard and likely to follow in her mother's slutty, backwater footsteps.

Rune has talent, according to the occasional visiting minstrel. They teach her when they have time, encourage her, and feed her desire to get away from the village. She wants to go to the huge Kingsford Faire, to take the three-day challenge against other musicians and win, taking her place as an apprentice in the Bardic Guild.

--but there's no money for that. Her "pay" at the tavern is room and board, no more.

We're treated to seven pages of Rune considering prostitution or stripping.

Seven. Two of these are her thinking of how filthy and degrading and horrible and slimy and bad and sickening and awful and sinful and disgusting and otherwise not-good the stripping would be, as if that's somehow worse than prostitution.

We get 52 pages of "Rune is unhappy and trapped in a hellhole and she hates it here and they hate her and she hates them" before she opens her trap and tells some village boys that she will play for the Skull Hill Ghost to prove that her fiddling is going to make her somebody, someday. She grabs up her fiddle and marches all the way to the dark, forbidding hill in the woods.

The way the book blurb is written--and from the cover art--you'd think this was the Big Finish. Rune the Triumphant, player to Death, defeater of Doom, and all that. Nope.

The ghost comes and they make a deal: she'll play for him all night. If he digs her stuff, she gets to live.

Her digs her stuff, man. He tells her she's amazing and leaves her with a double-handful of silver pennies, remarking that she deserved gold but it'd be harder to explain to other people how this tavern child came to have so much money.

So now she's got money and the rest of a too-thick book stretching out ahead of her. It could have been so much better, but there doesn't seem to be much conflict for Rune, even while she's confronting the ghost. Everything pretty much falls into place for her, just so. Where there is something like a conflict or danger, it's resolved pretty quickly.

Basically, no Runes were seriously injured or killed during the production of this book. Author's pet? Rune is barely--more like minimally--educated, but is often the most articulate voice in the room. She doesn't really carry the "tavern bumpkin" role even in the tavern, which clashes with her upbringing.

The characters--all of them--are pretty straight-cut sketches, nothing really interesting about them. We know what Rune hopes to become, but we don't know much more than that.

The plot goes in a straight line from the Skull Hill Ghost to the city where she finds work, a teacher and lodging all on the same day. At the dramatically appropriate time, her teacher dies of pneumonia (giving the Big Emotional Hit) and she comes down with it herself. It takes the rest of Winter and part of Spring for her to recover--and just in time, the Church representative shows up to tell her that her teacher left her everything, and here's enough money for her to get to the next act in the book.

She hits the Kingsford Faire and enters the competition disguised as a boy: her teacher warned her that there are no girls or women in the Bardic Guild. Her best bet is to play as a boy. If she wins, she can either keep up the deception or reveal herself (so to speak).

She wins, gets the living crap beaten out of her...but fortunately she's rescued by the Free Bards, folks who play music without being part of a Guild or beholden to rich and powerful patrons. Not only that, she meets the love of her life and gets set up for the final act of the book.

Blah. I'll just stop there. I'd like to have seen some more slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune.

This thing's so heavy-handed it must have been typed with a sledgehammer.

There's so much hand-holding I was starting to hope she'd just ask me OUT already.

There's so much hitting over the head I've got a concussion.

EVERY TIME Rune starts thinking, it takes several pages of making goddamn sure we get it. She's not a whore? She's not a stripper? Okay, just say that in a couple of sentences, I'll understand.

On p. 254, she meets Mr. Boyfriend. She sets out with him after the Faire, looking for a place to set up for the winter.

By p. 331, they're still on the road, weeks later. Mr. Boyfriend is being the noble, self-sacrificing older guy who doesn't want to lead Rune on. He's TWICE her age (35!!), it wouldn't work out.

PAGES of this.

Rune wants him, but thinks he's not into her. She's not pretty, she's not interesting...instead of calling her "Lark" the Free Bards should have called her "Mourning Dove." PAGES.

Pages of Very Serious, Deep Introspection! At least it's not "Brightly Burning."

By p. 350, rune finally nails Mr. Boyfriend. Maybe they can shut up, now. All that inner monologue self-torture stuff was audience abuse, just 4 shy of 100 pages. Did Baen tell her they needed a book "about this thick"?

Maybe she started out with only 200, but they forced her to pad it out. "Yeah, make it 488 pages."

They could have titled it, "The Demotivational Reader Edition."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Valdemar 23: Mage Storms 3--Storm Breaking (Mercedes Lackey)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1996
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes.

Three to go.

Team Karal headed a 'way down south to the Dhorisha Plains, all that remains of the great mage Urtho's domain after the Great Cataclysm centuries ago.

They were successful in finding a temporary "fix" for the ever-worsening mage storms that mark the rebound of the Cataclysm. Now, they hope to find something to help counter the Really Really Big Bang The Will Kill Everone And Everything Period coming at the end of this book. This means they're stuck in the middle of the Plains, in the wrecked remains of Urtho's Tower, in the worst winter storms any of them have ever seen.

Karal spends some time in recovery. The Big Fix at the end of the last book nearly fried him. If not for him, the rest of the team wouldn't have been able to direct the enormous force of one of Urtho's mage-weapons against the incoming storm wave. Now they've got some time (several hundred pages) to find the next one.

We're given a nice little walk-on cameo for Tarma of the "Vows and Honor" trilogy (books 8-10). She's a ghost now, but she still comes in, drops some Shin'a'in proverbs (a running joke in the Valdemar books) on Karal, and winks out.


Over in the Eastern Empire, the most useless people (the 1%!) in the realm are gathered for "Season"--the winter occupation of the wealthy and powerful (and, hence, most useless) wherein they bring their unmarried brats and try to curry favor with those of higher status. Every Mitt Romney, every George Bush, all the other toadies and suck-ups too stupid to go home when the storms started are now stranded in the capital city. Never mind that the Empire is crippled: the storms disrupted everything that depends on magic. The fabulous rich are reduced to using common fire their own food! They have to travel by horse or carriage. WHEELS! Those are for commoners!

Emperor Charliss is spending his energies just shielding against the effects of the storms. The spells that have preserved him over his 150 year reign are failing. Before the storms, Charliss had maybe 20 years before his spells could no longer sustain him. Now, though, he has much less time.

Outlying provinces of the Empire have revolted. With no ability to build magical Portals, there is no way to get troops into position to subdue the rebels. There's also no way go get food quickly into the cities. People are rioting and Charliss' center cannot hold.

Uneasy is the head that wears the crown, dude.

Charliss declares Grand Duke Tremane nameless for  turning against the Empire; in his place, he names Baron Melles the new Heir.

Melles, in true Imperial style, immediately begins maneuvering and politicking and intriguing, seeking out enemies and allies and garnering power.


Back west in Hardorn, Princess Elspeth is leading a small troop of guards and her boyfriend to meet with Grand Duke Tremane. The former Heir to the Valdemaran throne is to be the Envoy to Hardorn. Her boyfriend will speak for some of the other Allies. The guards will, of course, be guards.

On the road to Shonar, now the de-facto capital of Hardorn, she finds surprising, growing support for Tremane. The Hardornens have heard of Tremane's fairness and his real concern for his adopted People. They're not calling him "King" yet, but there are mutters in that direction.


Team Karal's numbers continue to swell over the course of the book. They started out with:

--Altra, a Firecat, a re-born Son of the Sun and representative of Karal's God.
--Florian, a horse-like Companion. Reincarnated Herald.
--Firesong, a Tayledras Healing Adept.
--An'desha, formerly possessed by the evil spirit of a near-immortal mage.
--Silverfox, the "healer" of the team.

They were joined shortly by:
--Lo'isha, a Shin'a'in scholar and shaman.
--Tarm, a Kyree (basically a calf-sized, intelligent wolf) scholar/historian.
--Lyam, Tarm's secretary, a Hertasi (your basic child-sized intelligent lizard).
--Sejanes, Grand Duke Tremane's  chief mage.
--Master Levy, a math/science/engineering teacher from Valdemar.

Lyam and Tarm have brought Need, the spirit of a priestess-warrior ensorcelled into a sword (and with us from Book 8 onward).

Near the end of the book, another five people join the team:

--the ghost of Vanyel, the Last Herald-Mage from books 4-6;
--the ghost of Yfandes, his Companion;
--the ghost of Tylendel/Stefan, his dead boyfriend/reborn boyfriend.


--Trevalen, the ghost of a Shin'a'in shaman who was killed several books ago, but now acts as the Avatar of his Goddess
--Dawnfire, the ghost of a Tayledras scout who was also killed several books ago, and who is also an Avatar of her Goddess.

With all these folks--and the little cameo from Tarma--we have cast members spanning the entire series' history and get to say goodbye to some of them.

No complaints, but the book ended just in time. I'm ready for something non-Valdemar after a months' worth of it in three thick books.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Valdemar 22: Mage Storms 2--Storm Rising (Mercedes Lackey)

Rating: 5
Year: 1995
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? yes.

Book the 22nd with 4 to go before I'm done with the Valdemar books I've compared to the Valdemar books Lackey has added in the last two days.

We pick up shortly after the end of the previous book. Grand Duke Tremane has been forced to consolidate his forces even further in the wake of ever-worsening mage storms which have rendered magic unreliable and near-useless.

Tremane has pulled the troops off the front lines and brought them to the small town of Shonor. He's got them fortifying both the Imperial encampment and the town to protect everyone from vicious creatures spawned by the storms.

There has been no word from the Emperor or the Empire. No orders to pull back, no support, no rescue. Tremane still half-wonders if the storms and his isolation are a test from the Emperor to see how he handles adversity. Or is it because the Empire has been rendered helpless itself as the storms tear all magic asunder?

He has no way of knowing, but keeping his men and the town safe and preparing them for the coming winter is more important. There's no going back to the Empire unless he marches his men through hostile territory, first east across  Hardorn, then through several Imperial client states.

As the story progresses, he realizes that he's not preparing just for a single winter; he's setting up for a long stay.


Karal has been in Valdemar for a year. With his teacher and boss Ulrich murdered by Tremane's assassin, Karal now represents his home country of Karse in Valdemar. It's painfully clear to him, however, that no one really takes him seriously as an Envoy. He's too young, barely into his twenties. He has no experience in diplomacy. Unlike Ulrich, Karal isn't even a mage, so in his own opinion he's unable to help the Allies to solve the mage storms problem other than to take notes like the secretary he used to be.

He was instrumental in bringing Nerd Power to the mages in the first book--engineers, builders, mathematicians, scientists--scholars and their students who all would otherwise have been left out of the loop by the mages, who never would have thought to ask for a diagram of how the storm waves are interacting, let alone a timeline for when the Big Bang was coming. They've given the Allies an advantage that Tremane and the Empire lack: the ability to measure how the storms interact with the physical world. It soon becomes clear that for the next round of protection that will get us to the end of this book, the magical "breakwater" they set up at the end of the previous book will have to be expanded to include Hardorn.

Karal and An'desha team up to magically search for a contact in Hardorn, someone who can help the Allies in getting the expanded protections together. Their scrying leads them to...Grand Duke Tremane!

All Karal has to do is convince the Queen of Valdemar, his own boss the High Priestess of Karse, and the other allies to make an alliance with the man who ordered the murders of two Envoys and the attempt on two others. But first he must convince himself. Time is ticking: they only have till the end of the novel, just past Midwinter.


As in the first book, we're about 3/4 of the way in before Lackey is done setting up and maneuvering everyone to their places. The story is well-paced and doesn't drag, but by the time I'm done with the trio I won't be wanting more for awhile.


--In this second book, An'desha suddenly has cat eyes, a leftover from his possession by the spirit of an evil, near-immortal mage. When that spirit was destroyed two books ago, An'desha's Goddess gave him his body back, reversing Falconsbane's transformation into a man-cat. In the previous book, however, there's no mention of lasting changes other than white hair and silver eyes, which would be normal anyway for a powerful Adept mage.

--Early in this book, Tremane has his men building a high wall around his camp and the town of Shonor. Yet a few chapters later, he's thinking of how the town has no walls of its own, and how the residents will regret this fact.

--In the first book (and ONLY there), Tremane and the other Imperials refer to the Forty Little Gods; in the second and third, they invoke the Hundred or the Thousand Little Gods. I suppose this could be a proportion thing, with the Forty for less-extreme matters and additional Little Gods tacked on as needed to handle the larger work load. Tremane's gonna need the Thousand.

--In the first book, Tremane is pleased to have functional latrines that convert waste to fertilizer without using magic...but in this book he needs latrines!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Valdemar 21: Mage Storms 1--Storm Warning (Mercedes Lackey)

Rating: 5
Year: 1994
Genre: fantasy
Read again? yes.

After nearly three years of not reading any Valdemar books, I finally dove in. This is the 21st in the set, with 5 to go, not that I'm really bothering to make fun with the countdown anymore. But she is STILL writing them.

I will never be finished. This is the "Hotel California" of reading. And all those new books are going to screw up my book count. This one could be number 43 by the time I'm done writing this sentence--or number 90 by the time you're done reading the review. STOP HER!

This one and its two companions (Companions, get it? Valdemar joke! hahaha) weren't as hard a slog as I'd been expecting. They went by pretty quickly over the last 4 weeks. Reading them and the fat fifth "A Song of Ice and Fire" novel over the last 8 weeks marks the first time since 2010 that I've even felt like reading again since all the medical crap started.

We begin far to the east of Valdemar, with Emperor Charliss of the vast Eastern Empire. I don't know who had it first--Lackey or George R. R. Martin--but Charliss sits upon an Iron Throne made up of the weapons of vanquished kings and emperors, same as in "A Song of Ice and Fire"/"Game of Thrones." I'd forgotten this detail, but remember it seeming confusingly familiar when I was reading "Thrones" a decade ago.

Anyhow, Emperor, Iron Throne, bad guy. He's been ruling since he was 30. One hundred and fifty years, his life sustained by magic. But his clock is winding down, the center cannot hold, and he's got maybe 20 years left in him. Time to pick an Heir and get ready to retire.

He has selected Grand Duke Tremane, a boring man of about 30, only a Master mage to Charliss' Adept-class. To prove his worth, all Tremane must do is take what is left of the nation of Hardorn, subdue it, and bring it into the Empire.

Hardorn has had a rough several years. All the way back in Book #16, "Arrow's Fall," Prince Ancar staged a coup in which he murdered the king and most of his Court. He used evil blood magic to enslave any man who could hold a weapon, then used them as arrow-fodder to take control of Hardorn. Then he made war on Hardorn's peaceful neighbor, Valdemar. His campaign drained his country of able-bodied men and mage energy. By the time the Valdemarans and their allies finally got people in place at the end of the 20th book (Winds of Fury) and destroyed Ancar, poor Hardorn had been ravaged past any ability to resist when Charliss had his men invade from the Empire.

They took half of Hardorn without any real first. There were enough Hardornen loyalists to stop them from taking any more than that. Now all Duke Tremane must do is take command of the Imperial forces, subdue the resistance, and take the rest of the country.

There's a snag, though.

The same group of Valdemarans who killed Ancar also left a knife in the Imperial "envoy" to Hardorn (a spy, actually). Charliss takes this as a message from them. A warning? A threat? He doesn't know, but once he has Hardorn, he will be able to put troops on the Valdemar border to find out.

Valdemar itself is overrun with refugees. Though their own military strength has been reduced by long years of war with Hardorn, they could still offer Hardorn material aid, making Imperial assimilation that much more difficult.


Meanwhile, on the Valdemaran border with Karse, we meet our next point-of-view character, Karal. He's a novice, a priest-in-training in the Karsite religion/government. He has been sent north with his master Priest Ulrich, who is to be the Envoy to Valdemar, the first such in centuries.

Until only recently, the two nations had been fighting a war that stretched back several centuries and several novels, all the way back to #5, "Magic's Promise." Everyone on both sides of the border will have to get used to being friends now. To the Karsites, the Heralds of Valdemar and their horsey Companions were White Demons, the baby-eating epitome of evil. To the Valdemarans, the Karsites were murderous land-grabbing demon-summoning child-burners, which is actually what they were thanks to a string of evil religious zealots who turned the Karsite religion into centuries of Inquisition where being a mage got you taken for the Priesthood and having mind-magic got you toasted. The difference between those should be a separate post, I think.

The Karsites suddenly stopped fighting Valdemar when a woman, Solaris, took over as High Priest, Son of the Sun, and the Karsite god Vkandis legitimized it. Vkandis declared the burnings and demon-summoning and all the other evil stuff anathema and He smote and toasted several power-hungry Priests to make His point clear: only Solaris spoke for Him, Stop This Shit Right Now.

Shit stopped and Karse joined Valdemar in their war against Ancar and Hardorn.

Karal and Ulrich are sent north to work out the details of peace and friendship.

Our next point-of-view character is An'desha, whose body was the secondary bad guy in the previous three novels--Winds of Fate, Change, and Fury. His spirit was pushed aside as that of an evil mage moved in and took over to become Mornelithe Falconsbane. This seemingly-immortal spirit dates back to the very first book, some 2,000 years (both in the series timeline and how long it's taken to read them), as the original Big Bad, Ma'ar.

The same little group of Heroic Cast Members who took out Ancar also took out Falconsbane. An'desha was given his body back, but now he's terrified that the evil Falconsbane still lurks within him. He's also troubled by sudden spells in which all sensation vanishes--no light, no sound, all existence put on hold for an eternity that lasts only moments. Thanks to his possession by the Evil One, An'desha has memories that stretch back to the first novel (wish I could remember that far back) and he knows that the spells are nothing of his doing. Something bad is coming and it will take three novels to deal with it.

It takes two-thirds of the novel to get all the main players and relationships ready to go and make things happen.

Tremane arrives in Hardorn to find the occupation going even more badly than expected. He is forced to pull his men back to the town of Shonor. Almost as soon as he gives the orders to do so, Tremane is hit with the same "spell" as those An'desha has been experiencing--no light, no sound, all existence on hold for an eternity. He soon learns that the "spell" has affected all the mages and all the magic. The Empire uses magic for everything: transportation, cooking, heating, lighting, building. It has all failed, disrupted by this "mage-storm."

Tremane's advisors tell him that the wave swept out of the northeast, headed southwest and leaving strange circles of disrupted land in its wake.

Imperials are suspicious by nature; it's a given that the man standing next to you is a spy for at least one of your enemies. Your own wife could be on the Emperor's payroll, telling him all your secrets. It's also a given that there are daggers everywhere, always ready should the unwary turn his back. Did the Emperor send this "storm"? Or was it one of Tremane's rivals? Was this a test, an assassination attempt?

Or maybe it was sent by the Valdemarans to further hamper Tremane's mission in Hardorn. He's already convinced that they've been giving aid to the Opposition.

Beset by unseen enemies, Tremane sets some retaliatory plans in motion.


Meanwhile, back in Valdemar, the same wave of disruptive mage energy has rolled past, flattening all the mages, disrupting their spells, and leaving strange circles of disrupted land in its wake. Since Valdemarans don't use the same class of magic as the Imperials do, though, they're back on their feet pretty quickly. Search parties are sent out to inspect those circles. Each one looks like someone dug out of plug of earth several feet across and replaced the plug with something different--a circle of black sand; one of tough, wiry grass in red clay; one of fused black glass that looks blasted by enormous power. There are also transformed or dead animals, but no far. These circles stretch for miles in all directions.

An'desha offers an answer based on those ancient memories of his: this wave was just a small one, a tiny ripple that will build into a repeat of the great Cataclysm that ended the war between Urtho and Ma'ar some two thousand books years ago.

Typically for a Lackey novel (when it's not one of the suck ones), the story moves well. She makes an effort to make people "feel" real, but maybe spends too much time on that. The "mage storm" subplot builds slowly; two-thirds of several hundred pages is a long time for the action to kick in. Not that it drags, but there is an awful lot of getting to know Karal and getting him around to meet everyone who will be instrumental in the next two books.

This first one is mostly about him.


I didn't like the "just so" jumping to conclusions that led Tremane to unleash the assassin/agent in Valdemar. I really didn't like the bad-guy-who-looks-like-a-weasel character who plays the assassin. Beady eyes, obsequious, nervous, and all intended to scream in 90-foot-high neon that HEY!!! THIS IS THE BAD GUY YOU GUYS!! SEE HOW HE LOOKS LIKE ONE?!?!

There's some hammy overacting and Heroic Speeching that are played straight, as if the character is rallying her troops, but it feels clumsy and out-of-character.

This wouldn't be a Mercedes Lackey book without the Big Emotional Hit in the assassination that leaves Ulrich and a supporting character dead and several others injured. Karal becomes the new envoy from Karse. It's telegraphed several pages in advance, with Ulrich telling the young man how proud he is, and how like a son Karal has been to him. At least it wasn't held until later as a death bed declaration, complete with Karal closing his master's eyes and screaming at the sky as the camera looks down upon him. As it is, Ulrich is rendered unconscious in the attack and never wakes up. This keeps our focus on Karal as he first keeps his vigil and subsequently goes looking to get away from the Palace.

The confrontation with the assassin was another bit of just-so convenience, with the bad guy spilling the whole plot in an insane rant designed to let the Valdemarans know that Grand Duke Tremane of the Evil Eastern Empire Sends His Greetings. Crap.

Monday, July 28, 2014

SIF 05: A Dance With Dragons (Martin, George RR)

Rating: 5
Year: 2011
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes.

The long-awaited triumphant conclusion to the epic "A Song of Ice and Fire"!, sorry. It's not over yet. There are still some Starks to kill off.

"Dragons" runs mostly parallel to 2004's "A Feast For Crows" and follows characters who weren't included in that book.

There are 16 Point Of View characters in this 1,040-page wrist-breaker.

Tyrion Lannister has fled Westeros after killing his father. The old man had it coming:
--having convinced the dwarf that his wife had been nothing more than a whore; it turns out she had legitimately loved Tyrion. This is what got his father killed--when Tyrion asked him where Tysha was, Lord Tywin told him, "wherever whores go."
--he claims he would have saved Tyrion from execution after blame for King Joffrey's murder fell upon him;

Tyron makes his way across the Narrow Sea to the city of Pentos. He ultimately joins a band of people headed for the city of Meereen, hoping to meet with Daenerys Targaryen. They hope to convince her to return to Westeros to take the Iron Throne as the rightful Queen.

Things don't work out for Tyrion. He gets taken captive and sold into slavery as part of a novelty dwarf-jousting act--but he does end up in a slavers' camp right outside of Meereen, so that part worked for him.

Meanwhile, in the northern reaches of Westeros, Jon Snow is learning how to be the commander of the Night's Watch. His men and supplies are stretched too thin and winter is coming. The Others and their walking dead troops are coming and there's no way the Watch can stop them, even with the great Wall blocking their path.

Jon knows the only way to fight the Others is to make peace with the Wildlings, long the enemy of the Watch, and bring them through the Wall to help his men staff its castles.

Meanwhile again, Daenerys Targaryen is trying to keep her own realm together. One of her three dragons has gone from eating sheep to children. Then he goes missing when she tries to pen the dragons to protect her people.

She holds Meereen by slender threads. Thousands of former slaves are loyal to her, but their former masters are scheming to take the city back. Other slave cities have answered their calls and have sent ships and troops to lay siege to the city.

All roads seem to be leading to Meereen. There are at least four men who want to marry Daenerys, but only one she really wants.

Another meanwhile! Cersei Lannister, the manipulative mother of dead King Joffrey, has been imprisoned in the Great Sept. The only way out is to confess her sins, and being Cersei she confesses only enough to get herself out of there. She denies having slept with her twin brother Jaime, having borne him three children, and engineering the death of her husband King Robert. She's lying, but she'll stand trial somewhere in the 6th book.

There are at least 12 more "meanwhiles," but this is a good stopping point. For being such a thick book, "Dragons" left me wanting more. I put off reading it for nearly three years because of its length and because the last time I read the first four novels it took me 6 months to get through them. That was in 2010, just after my medical troubles started. Between that and wasting time on the Internet, I don't feel like reading nearly as much as I used to. This one only took 6 days!

One thing that amused me was Martin's nicknames. EVERYONE has a nickname.

Jon Snow? The Bastard. He is, though--his father got an unnamed woman pregnant.
Tyrion Lannister? The Imp or Halfman. He's a dwarf.
Ser Gregor Clegane? The Mountain That Rides. Dude's really big.
Jaime Lannister? Kingslayer. He killed Mad King Aerys, who came by his own nickname honestly, too.

There are tons more. Even people you only encounter as some background guy on page 860 and never again. Barristan the Bold, Dolorous Edd, the Knight of Flowers, the Blackfish, the Sword of the Morning, the Hound. If you don't have a nickname, you're just not cool.

This is why the 6th book isn't out yet, and why it took 7 years for Martin to finish the 5th. He was coming up with nicknames.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cornelius Murphy 02: Raiders of the Lost Car Park (Robert Rankin)

Rating: 4
Year: 1994
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Comedy
Read Again? Yes

The Stuff of Legends continues right where the first book left off!

Cornelius and his half-pint friend Tuppe have a plan: they will modify an ocarina to add the special notes that will open the Forbidden Zones scattered around town. Then they'll open them one by one and liberate the loot hidden therein!

To this end, Cornelius shoplifts an ocarina and a young woman from a music shop. The trio hijacks an ice cream truck, which gains them a place to store loot and a PA system to boost the ocarina's signal.

In the meantime, one Inspectre Hovis is hoping to solve the Crime of the Century. This would involve the theft of a sizable quantity of diamonds years before which suddenly turned up scattered all over the road. His prime suspect is a cab driver who claims that he was minding his own business when a train--a TRAIN!--came barreling out of a solid wall and scattered those very diamonds all over the street. This really did happen, at the end of the first book.

In the meantime again, Team Cornelius open one of the Zones and find a wonderous car designed by The Man Himself, Hugo Artemis Solon Saturnicus Reginald Arthur Rune, master of the unpaid bill, guru of gurus, reinventor of the ocarina, hater of Bud Abbott.

They soon find themselves in Rune's very presence. He has a plan to enter the Forbidden Zones and destroy them utterly, to reveal the beings who lurk within and secretly control the lives of humanity!

At the same time, there is to be an enormous rock festival headlined by Gandhi's Hairdryer, Prince Charles meets an interesting young woman, the Queen is an alien, and the very forces of the underworld whom Rune wishes to reveal are working to keep him from succeeding!

I'd have liked this book more if I hadn't taken so long--several months--to read it. I kept putting it aside and forgetting it. No fault of Rankin's, just me doing other things and ending up too tired to read.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

RIP: Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)

Mr. Leonard had a stroke three weeks ago and has died of complications from that.


If he's not my favorite author he's near the top.

His IMDb page is here.

His Wikipedia entry is here.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cornelius Murphy 01: The Book of Ultimate Truths (Robert Rankin)

Rating: 5
Year: 1993
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Comedy
Read Again? Yes!

Young Cornelius Murphy is the Stuff of Epics. Destined for Greatness. No one is more aware of this than he.

Actually, he seems to be the only one aware of this fact: the world doesn't care.

There's a Mr. Yarrow (the youth Employment Officer) at his school who is desperate to see the young Murphy gainfully employed before his final school year is done. He's tried and failed seven times to get the wretched boy into a job.

Mechanic? "Too delicate."
Merchant Seaman?
Minicab Driver? "Too well-spoken."
Monumental Mason? "Too tall."
Motorcycle Messenger?
Marriage Counselor? "Too sophisticated."
Male Model? "Too rugged."

He tries again. Mime Artiste.

Nope. "Too well-endowed."

Cornelius does finally get a job, but not via Mr. Yarrow. One Arthur Kobold hires him to travel into the wilds of Scotland to find and purchase the effects of the heroic and mystical Hugo Artemis Solon Saturnicus Reginald Arthur Rune, master of the unpaid bill, guru of gurus, reinventor of the ocarina, hater of Bud Abbott.

Among these effects is a manuscript for Rune's greatest work, The Book of Ultimate Truths. Kobold wants to reprint the magnificent opus.

Cornelius travels into the vast reaches of untamed Scotland, finding himself pursued by a Campbell, who is also after the manuscript.

The simple "go to the auction, win the bid for some old junk no one wants, and bring it back" isn't as simple and uneventful as Cornelius expected it to be. He faces an enormous riot, a shootout in a monastery, and a bunch of naked Wiccans ("It's a genuine religion, you know.").

As he travels, Cornelius reads a copy of The Book, learning of the perils of C11 H17 NO3 (mescaline) in soaps, tea, and cola (Rune ran a profitable soap, tea, and cola concession off this fearmongering); the secret lives of Biro ballpoint pens (and why they vanish when you need one); and the truth of why there's always two screws left over when you reassemble a toaster or radio, and how this delayed the scheduled beginning of World War Two by three years (Rune learned this secret in India, acting as Gandhi's spiritual advisor).

Rankin's writing is rich, engaging and wickedly funny. There's no drag, aside from a mincing Gandhi in disguise as Rune's wife. Hell of a ride.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Raylan 04: Raylan (Elmore Leonard)

Rating: 5
Year: 2011
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes.

Raylan's got a warrant for Angel Arenas, a marijuana dealer. He finds Angel in a hotel bathtub full of ice water, near death, and shy a pair of kidneys.

Once he gets Angel to talk, Raylan learns that the dealer was meeting with a couple of men. He figures the guys drugged their mark, cut him open, nipped the kidneys. But Angel refuses to ID them.

Doctors at the hospital say the job looks professional. The incisions were stapled up.

The kidney-nappers send their victim a fax: $100,000 to get his guts back. As a show of good faith they've taken the liberty of dropping the purloined  pieces at Angel's hospital, ready to reinstall.

But if he doesn't produce the cash, they'll repossess them. Angel has one week.

The plot breaks up into several threads from here: the hunt for the pair of small-timers who waylaid Angel; a young woman who's insanely good at poker and who might be part of a trio of drug addicts who rob banks; and the people running the kidney-theft ring. Harlan County is very busy.

A lot of this book has made its way into the TV series "Justified," but not quite as-written. The kidney-theft and bank robber arcs are part of the show's third season and get tweaked to fit the show's plotline. It's got me wondering whether the poker champ will show up for the 5th season.

Good book, more meaty and satisfying than "Fire in the Hole."