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Thursday, February 20, 2020

My Thoughts On. . .

(Nebula Finalist)

Marque of Caine
Set two years after Caine Riordan was relieved of his command – for doing the right thing – our longsuffering protagonist finally receives the message he’s been waiting for: a summons to visit the Dornaani on their home world.
It seems Caine’s hopes of discovering the current location and welfare of his long-lost love, Elena Corcoran, (mother to his seventeen year old son, Connor), has taken a positive step forward at last.
However, there’s no silver lining to the clouds waiting on the horizon. As Caine discovers, time may have passed, but his principles and loyalty ensure he remains a political radioactive hot potato. Bureaucratically instigated obstacles ensure he remains stymied by a frustrating conveyor belt of one step forward, and two steps back red tape. It’s not until Caine takes matters into his own hands that he makes progress . . . if being impeded at every turn and led down countless dead ends can be construed as progress.
And why might this be the case?
The Dornaani culture is crumbling. They may come from a super-sophisticated civilization where technology is so advanced that it makes what human’s possess seem like a primitive sticks & stones society, but they’ve lost the will to create anything new. A malady that has grown steadily more insidious with each passing century. Instead of reaching out to explore and extend their understanding of the universe, the Dornaani are now more content to evade the pressures of real life and immerse themselves within VR sims where their every whim is catered to. Yes, their existence is slowly festering from within.
The thing is, both the planting of the seeds and subsequent cultivation of this spreading rot appears deliberate. Does that mean stagnation is a prelude to something more sinister? And how does that tie in to Caine and Elena?
We find out, in an epically complex tale, where plots within plots weave a textured web of prejudice, racial avarice and duplicity. Little wonder, then, that Caine ends up despairing. Will he ever actually make it home?

Saturday, February 1, 2020

My Rave Review Of. . .

Gideon the Ninth
Born into servitude in the dreariest, most dismal of the great necromantic houses; raised by a coven of wizened old nuns possessing all the warmth of a frozen graves; surrounded by decrepit, unfeeling retainers; harangued by countless skeletons (Don’t forget the skeletons!); and shunned by just about everyone she knows, Gideon Nav hates her life.
The only thing going in her favor is the fact that she’s an accomplished swordswoman. Not that anybody cares. So, she risks everything by launching the latest in a string of daring escape attempts with the aim of running away and joining the military.
Of course, things don’t go as planned, and she is foiled at the last second by her greatest rival, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House, and bone witch extraordinaire, who demands Gideon stay and do the Ninth House one last service – a service that will guarantee Gideon the freedom to pursue her dreams.
The catch? (Because you know, there’s just gotta be one)
A call has been issued by none other than the Emperor – Necrolord Prime and King of the Nine Renewals – for new postulants willing to submit themselves for the position of Lyctor, (all-powerful immortal servants of the everlasting resurrection), to help him fight against the empire’s greatest foes.
Okay . . . but what’s the actual catch?
Well, no necromancer can ascend to lyctorhood without their cavalier – a sword-wielding champion – by their side. For the trials require them to act as one, brain and brawn together, to stand a chance of succeeding. And the Ninth’s cavalier is not only unwilling to accept the challenge, he’s next to useless anyway. Thus Harrowhark’s ultimatum. If Gideon is willing to serve as her sword-hand throughout the trials, she’ll be released from servitude forevermore, with full honors.
You KNOW there’s still a catch, don’t you?
And it’s rather delicious . . . (Don’t worry – NO SPOILERS).
Gideon and Harrowhark end up on a decaying world in a mazelike facility run by ancient wardens. Once there, they are required to complete a baffling series of complex, mind-bending, life-threatening tests, while fending off the murderous shenanigans of the representatives of the other houses. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Gideon also has to contend with her hate/hate relationship with Harrowhark, one based on manipulation and betrayal which has come to blows in the past.
Oh the joy of skeletons in the closet making things more complicated.
And they do – because those skeletons I mentioned are everywhere, and neither woman can hope to survive unless they trust one another enough to cooperate fully.
Do they?
You’ll find out, it what I can honestly say is one of the most subtly appealing stories I’ve read in a long time. That it’s moody, macabre and gothic goes without saying. You only have to get a look at the cover to receive a hint of what’s coming. But it’s what’s inside those dark uncomfortable pages that will haunt you. For it whispers in your ear, enticing you; it spellbinds you to accept the unbalanced and the bizarre as normal; it keeps you on a knife-edge and at a distance, so that when the hooks do eventually sink in, you’ll willingly let yourself be drawn to the other side and immersed in a miscreation of woe.
It’s a grim world the author, Tamsyn Muir has painted. As psychologically draining as it is harsh; as unforgiving as it is hostile. But gritty humor and incisor-sharp dialogue help the narrative along at a bone-jarring pace. And therein lies its balance and appeal.
And the weird thing is, it’s not until the end – during the emotionally charged, action packed, blood & guts climax – that the full power of this story truly hits you.
Wow! I loved it. A movie in the making if ever there was one.

Friday, January 17, 2020

My Thoughts On. . .

Under the Pendulum Sun
They say, “A picture paints a thousand words.”
Well, the imagery incorporated within Jeannette Ng’s outstanding masterpiece, “Under the Pendulum Sun”, creates an infinite landscape, delightful to behold:
Catherine Helstone’s brother disappeared while on a missionary expedition to Arcadia, the fabled land of the magical fae. Concerned for his welfare, she sets out on a hazardous journey, determined to uncover the truth.
But some truths are best left hidden.
And the fae themselves might not lead the fairytale existence that everyone imagines they do.
Arcadia is an ever evolving conjugation of breathtaking confusion and mind-warping wonder, you see. Its very existence is a constant flux, where breath-on-the-back-of-the-neck, glimpsed-out-of-the-corner-of-one-eye occurrences fill your every waking moment, just as often as taking a walk, or getting dressed. The people and creatures that inhabit this realm are the stuff of both dream and nightmare. Nothing is as it appears to be.
That’s what our heroine has to contend with.
And it’s not until Catherine appreciates that she has to let go of her preconceived notions and beliefs that she’ll be able to grasp the significance of what she needs to do to solve the mystery or her brother’s disappearance, and that of Arcadia itself. But doing so will change her life forever.
Bravo to Jeannette Ng. Under the Pendulum Sun, is an evocative fusion of hedonistic repression encompassed within the closeted strictures of the Victorian era. It's also a powerfully intimate story about the dangers of forbidden fruit, and how easily such things might entangle you if you but dare to take a bite.

Friday, January 3, 2020

My End of Year/New Year Thoughts on. . .

The Dragon Engine
Five war heroes and longtime friends set out on a quest to the Karamakkos Mountains in search of the Five Havens, long-abandoned dwarf cities of yesteryear that fables say still contain untold wealth, and treasures possessing uncanny powers.

The thing is, old wives tales change with the telling, and you can’t put faith in outdated stories that might be founded, more on wishful thinking than on a modicum of truth.

Shaky foundations don’t stop our intrepid five, though, who learn to their cost how quickly drunken promises and fiery resolve can turn to ash. Not long after they set out, their quest turns into a litany of anguish and misadventure, and their lives are changes forever.

Do they live to tell the tale?

This is the first Andy Remic book I’ve read . . . and it won’t be the last!
Filled with lusty deeds; heroic drinking and feasting; villainous scumbags you’ll want to throttle the life from; bone crunching, bloodthirsty battles; adult humor; and language ripe enough to make a drill sergeant blush, it’s like a night out in the filthiest dive on the wrong side of town with your Viking and Klingon buddies.

A frothing tankard of mead, and a well-worn battleaxe of a tale that will give you a definite hankering for carnage on a truly epic scale.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

My Thought's On. . .

The Poppy War
I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. And by a lot, I mean over forty books a year on average. It’s not only because I love the genre, either – which I do. I treat each journey into an author’s imagination as a treasure hunt, you see. It’s as if I’m panning for gold in mineral laden sediment that’s become a little choked in recent decades. (Avid readers will know what I mean). But it’s worth the effort, because every now and then, I uncover a 24-carat nugget that stands out from all the other gems. And “The Poppy War” by R. F. Kuang is one of them.

Fang – Rin – Runin is a war orphan. A girl forced upon a merchant family from a poor province in a society where class and station mean everything. As you can imagine, Rin in looked upon as a burden that the Fang’s want to offload as soon as possible.

Sure enough, the moment Rin reaches fourteen years of age, the Fang’s arrange a marriage for her. She is to wed a man twice divorced and three times her age. Little wonder, then, that Rin rebels. The Keju – an annual national test to find the brightest students in the Nikara Empire – is approaching. Rin takes matters into her own hands. She’s a bright girl with a good mind, and through some artful maneuvering, manages to secure private tuition.

The trouble is, when Rin aces the exams, she finds her success is merely illusory, like fools gold. Why? Entry into Sinegard – the Empire’s most prestigious military school – doesn’t guarantee her troubles are over. Far from it. They’ve only just begun!

Prejudice, bitter rivalry, narcissism – from classmates and instructors alike, make Rin’s life a living hell. But this dark-skinned peasant girl with a strange accent from the south has one thing going in her favor. She’s not a quitter. And when she discovers she is one of only a few people in existence who can summon the power of the gods, well . . . events take quite a turn.
Alas, the gods are unpredictable. Vast in scope. Insanely passionate and impossibly cold and aloof. And when their majesty is brought to bear upon insignificant little humans, the results can be – and often are – catastrophic. Rin witnesses this firsthand when the Mugen Federation declares war upon Nikara.

Far from helping her take control of her own life, Rin finds her future thrown into jeopardy when an avenging god seeks to use her as its conduit onto the mortal plane.
As to how that goes, exactly, you’ll have to find out for yourselves. But in summation:

“The Poppy War” is a fantastically mystical story, operatic in scale, personal in its appeal, and one of the most entertaining, thoroughly satisfying journeys you will ever take through the pages of a book.
Prepare to have your perceptions altered.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

This Weeks Review Of. . .

After the events that almost tore their family apart in Australia, life has changed for the better as far as Rebecca Hope-Patko and her husband, Lord Justyn are concerned. They’ve brought Eric and his new sister, Harmony, home to New Jersey, and opened their very own dinner theater – the Ange du Palais. Not only that, but Rebecca has taken firmer control of her personal affairs. She’s learned to look after herself, and volunteered her services and her home to a covert underground railway that helps women and their children escape life-threatening situations.
All starts well. The children are happy; Rebecca receives her first assignment, helping an abused mother and child flee a violent home; and the Hope-Patkos launch their new venture with their very own production of “Ghost Bride” based on the animated adventure – Corpse Bride.
Alas, the specter of past trials and tribulations continue to haunt them. There are skeletons in the closet – and in all sorts of other places they shouldn’t be, come to that. And soon, it becomes obvious that someone’s out to sabotage their every effort. No wonder everyone is spooked, for they don’t stand a ghost of a chance of finding out who is responsible unless they pick through the bones of all the little clues left along the way to put this latest whodunit to rest.

It’s always been a treat to return to the ever evolving world of Lord Justyn and Rebecca. I’ve followed them from the very beginning, and love the way their creator, Laura DeLuca, molds their lives around the theme of popular musicals. It creates an environment you can immediately relate to, and helps you involve yourself in the Hope-Patkos’ struggles as they become embroiled in their latest murder mystery. Very clever . . . and lots of fun!
Christmas is coming. Why not treat yourself and take a peek into something that’s bound to leave you feeling both festive and reanimated for the New Year?

Saturday, December 7, 2019

My Thought's On. . .

The War Within
Twenty years have passed since the events recorded in Seventh Decimate. Prince – Now King – Bifalt of Belleger is now married to Queen Estie of Amika, forging an uneasy alliance in order that the two nations can work together for a war they can ill afford to fight. Alas, the Last Repository – the greatest library of arcane knowledge in existence – has to be protected at all coasts. Or so the Magisters say.
At this stage, the enemy is still unknown. However, that enemy must be great indeed if the protectors of the Repository fear their coming. So, despite the fragile peace, Belleger and Amika work hard in preparation. Existing defenses are expanded; new ones built and fortified; old alliances strengthened as best they can. Even so, a damaging rift still exists: that between Bifalt and Estie, one that might be exploited if the missionary priests of the Great God Rile have anything to do with it.
How do they fare when the enemy arrives at last, revealing a command of the decimates unlike anything seen before?
Only time will tell, but in true Stephen Donaldson style, every step of the way will be described in graphic detail, revealing a depth of narrative and skill that will involve you from the moment you turn the first page. Outstanding work from the master of speculative fiction.