Hello all! The Gooseberry Bluff post is likely going to be the last post of 2015. I’m off on a vacation (yay!) for the holidays. So whether or not you celebrate, I hope you all have a safe and happy end of the year. I’ll be back in 2016. 😀
I stumbled upon Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic by David J. Schwartz through one of those Amazon Daily deals. I think. I can’t quite remember but it was uber cheap and I was intrigued. I believe that before that, it was one of Amazon’s new book serials, like Indexing. Oh, there’s a follow up to Indexing too, which I’m waiting to get all chapters before reading. I find that though I’ve found two (hopefully three) good books through the serials, it can get confusing reading it one chapter at a time.
At any rate, Gooseberry Bluff was complete when I read it. This is an alternate earth type place where magic is known. The point of turning from our earth and this earth seems to be legendary nutjob, Aleister Crowley. In this world, Crowley brought magic and magical beings into the world view by using demons to end WWII. Interesting take on that, I felt.
Our protagonist is a young agent for the Federal Bureau of Magical Affairs, Joy Wilkins. Joy has a very interesting condition called prosopagnosia. If you don’t want to click the link (just wikipedia, y’all), then let me sum up by saying that she has facial blindness. She can’t recognize herself in the mirror, let alone anyone else. The one plus side she does have is that she can read people’s auras, so she can remember people by that. If she couldn’t, people would probably think that she was rude, forgetful or even faking.
Joy is sent to Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic in Wisconsin to look into demon trafficking, which they think is connected to events called Heartstoppers. Heartstoppers is the massive, unexplained deaths of everyone in a certain mile radius, which varies from attack to attack. The bureau thinks that demons are involved, but they don’t know how. They also think that the trafficking is happening through the community college and may be linked to a missing teacher.
Joy goes in undercover as a teacher taking over for the one who is missing. Its her first real assignment and right from the off, everything goes wrong. Her mentor and supervisor is found dead, her new supervisor is clearly a misogynist who doesn’t trust her (never got a good reason for that other than she’s a woman, which…ugh) and she’s drawn into some screwball local secret society that may or may not be involved with the attacks.
Joy has to save herself, save the town and possibly save the planet while trying to figure out who killed her mentor and who is behind the demon attacks. And while this is clearly a first book, because it’s a little choppy, I thought it was fun enough that I keep hoping for a sequel. The characters are interesting and not what you’d expect. Joy is a young African-American woman with the aforementioned (and rare) disability. There’s a teacher who is cursed, a powerful girl who doesn’t know she’s powerful, a drunken magical duelist and someone/thing who may or may not be a god.
It was a good mix and I enjoyed reading it quite a bit. I’d recommend picking it up if you’re looking for a bit of light reading, which I would recommend to break up the chewiness of the Mistborn trilogy. Rating: A. I also highly recommend checking out the Amazon serials. You subscribe to a book for about $3 and you get a new chapter every couple weeks. You’ll end up with a full length novel for about half the price of most of their books if you just have a little patience.
Since I was terribly disappointed in that steampunk book that I reviewed last week, I thought I’d check out something that’s not part of my usual reading repertoire but which one of my all time favorite authors, Jim Butcher, spoke about at a Q&A I went to. That would be Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy.
I got myself a sample from our friendly neighborhood Amazon.com Kindle store and then I immediately bought the trilogy. Not just Mistborn, the first book, but the whole trilogy. It has the feel of a far, far dystopian future mixed with the more traditional swords & steeds fantasy.
The book revolves around two Mistborn skaa called Vin and Kelsier. Mistborn refers to people who have “supernatural” (in quotes because it isn’t really supernatural, but not everyone has these traits) abilities fueled by the burning of ingested metals (pewter for strength, tin for enhanced senses and up to 8 others). Most people only have the ability to burn one metal (pewter burners are call Thugs, tin burners Tineyes) but those who can burn more than one metal are called Mistborn.
These abilities are supposed to be relegated to the nobility, but Vin and Kelsier are, as mentioned skaa. Skaa are peasants. Well, serfs in the old Russian tradition, really. They have no rights, are worked to the bone and the nobles can take advantage of them in any way they wish. Women can be used in the most vile of ways and must be killed afterwards, lest the aforementioned Mistborn abilities get passed on to a bastard.
Not all nobles are as careful as they should be, so there are a whole slew of skaa who can burn one metal, and a few who are Mistborn. Most of these people are thieves and conmen, which sounds like a bad thing until you realize that they target mostly noble houses. And trust me, in this world, that isn’t a bad thing.
Kelsier is our lead Mistborn and he recruits a bunch of single metal burners (I think there’s a term for these folks, but I can’t remember what it is) and Vin to pull a job. They’re going to bring down the Lord Ruler, the despot who have ruled over them for around a thousand years.
This is a long game, a year or more in the making. Kelsier has a definite plan but it’s also clear that he’s keeping a good portion of that from his fellow thieves. Kelsier gets his fellows to quietly raise a skaa army from those who aren’t already beaten into submission from a thousand years of grueling and intensive labor. It’s a small army.
He himself manages to start a war between the noble houses by using his Mistborn abilities to attack them in their keeps. Since only nobles are supposed to be Mistborn, they all think that the others are attacking them. Its almost beautiful how well Kelsier plays them.
While doing that, he trains Vin, who had been a young and female street urchin who was just trying to survive and not be raped. Vin transforms from a suspicious, rather mousy kid to a suspicious, talented Mistborn who can act well enough to infiltrate the nobility as a part of their long term plan.
This book was really, really good. I’m not usually one for the more traditional sort of fantasy. I like my Harry Dresdens and my Jane Yellowrocks with their screw you attitudes, cars and destructive tendencies. 😀 That said, this book was amazing and I will definitely be reading the other two books. I’ll have to take a break in between however because as good as this book is, it is a long and chewy read.
I can’t recommend this enough, especially because I didn’t see the ending a mile away as I tend to do with a lot of books and movies. I like a writer who can keep me guessing, or who can at least write well enough so that if I do see the end coming, I’ll still be happy I read the book.
Sanderson does a great job with the characters, showing them grow and change over the time of the book. His world building could have been a little better, but I think that in the context of the book (meaning the Lord Ruler essentially writing history), it works well. I’ll be interested to see where the next two books go. Rating: A+
Because so many of my usual authors don’t have any new releases at the moment and I’ve ploughed through the ones that are new, I have been searching for new books to read and I stumbled upon a “steampunk” vampire novel called Kiss of Steel by Bec McMaster.
At first, I was favorable to this story. It features a young woman, Honoria Todd, faced with the murder of her father (mother is…dead? I guess? Never mentioned so I assume childbirth after the youngest kid) leaving her and her younger brother and sister destitute. She tries to keep up appearances by getting a job teaching young ladies some sort of finishing school (I guess? Again, not really clear) while living in the Whitechapel area of London. History fans will note that this is where Jack the Ripper prowled in Victorian times. It’s a favorite go-to place of writers wanting to put their characters in dangerous situations (read: trope-tastic).
This Whitechapel, however is protected by what McMaster calls “blue-bloods” after the very old belief that nobility had that their blood was blue in color (peasants blood was red) and therefore they were more distinguished etc, etc, etc. And indeed only nobles and the king (Albert, I think?) are blue-bloods. Blue-bloods are vamps of a sort. They drink blood, are stronger, the usual vamp characteristics. However, in this world, vampires are what blue-bloods become after the virus that creates them completely overwhelms them (they even have viral counts to see how close they are-anyone seeing the not-so-subtle allusion to HIV?).
In particular, one blue-blood named Blade runs Whitechapel. He was accidentally turned into a blue-blood by one of the nobles after months of torture. The very same blue-blood that murdered Honoria’s father (duh-duh-DUUUUUUUUUUUUH!), though neither realize that until the end.
Honoria starts out promisingly strong in the face of what she has to deal with (a fairly useless sister and an infected brother). Then about halfway through we get the sex. And after that, it’s almost nothing but. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I don’t mind sex scenes in books. Quite the opposite. But you don’t need to spend half the book having sex. The second half of the book had almost no plot, it was just porn. If that’s what you want, advertise it as erotica and not steampunk.
And speaking of steampunk, this was supposed to be and it failed. There are a handful of brief mentions of little toys the brother has that hit some steampunk buzz words but you get none of the fantastic imaginings of most steampunk authors. I haven’t been able to make a dent in Cherie Priest’s work but she does steampunk tech well. So does Gail Carriger and numerable others. Steampunk is Victorian sci-fi. There was no sci-fi in this book, just Victorian.
Honoria quickly backs out of all her ideals that she held so dear at the beginning of the book. She’s a damsel in distress waiting for the big, bad vamp to rescue her. And at some point, her father gave her some sort of vaccine against the virus that makes blue-bloods that makes her special? I have a question mark here because while the vaccine was mentioned a few times as the reason that her father was murdered, this little tid-bit of a working vaccine wasn’t mentioned until suddenly some half-brother was like “oh yeah, she was totally vaccinated”. What the actual fuck? That’s a HUGE plot point. You wouldn’t think to mention that earlier? Or at all?
I paid something like three-four bucks for this book. It was too much. I actually want my money back. It’s poorly thought out and has some massive plot holes. I only finished it because I hate to leave things half done, especially when it comes to books. Luckily, thanks to my favorite author, I’ve moved on to a triology by one of his favorites that is much, much more promising.
Bottom line, if you like steampunk, skip this. If you’re looking for a cheesy erotica story, have at it but that isn’t what I was looking for. I don’t like giving bad ratings or reviews if I can avoid it but I did not like this book. Rating: D.
And if anyone knows of some good steampunk, please, please, please let me know. I’m not into Cherie Priest and I’ve already read all of Gail Carriger’s books and Whitechapel Gods (did not really enjoy. Took a lot to finish that too).