The Brass Queen

I am a sucker for a good steampunk novel. However, there are a lot of novels out there I simply slog through (see: Whitechapel Gods) and some I fly through (anything by the amazing Gail Carriger). I tend to like things that have a good sense of humor to them. I have enough anxiety to be getting on with, I don’t want some dour, depressing book as escapism. Elizabeth Chatworth’s The Brass Queen is very Carriger-esque and therefore right in my wheelhouse. Beware spoilers – this book came out in January.

In this world, Queen Victoria is a straight up tyrant. No Parliament. No due process. British Red Coats could kill for the slightest reason and the cops were keen to hang any and all criminals. Miss Constance Haltwhistle is a baron’s daughter and a weapons dealer. Unusual combo for a Victorian woman, but with her father in an alternate dimension, she needed to be able to keep her hall and her people cared for. Unfortunately, being a woman, she couldn’t inherit (yes, this was an actual law during Victorian times, though I’m not sure if that’s different now with British peerage), so she had to get married – quickly. As in, by about three days from the time we’re introduced to her.

Things don’t go smoothly. There are invisible people driving giant exo-suits who break up the party she was husband hunting at – her own (very late) coming out party. There’s a terribly dressed American man and some kidnapping. And let’s not forget the biggest roadblock to her husband hunting – Constance herself. She’s…not quite likeable? She’s a strong, independent woman, which I generally like, but the writer kind of casts her as a bit of a harpy. She doesn’t listen to anyone else’s ideas, even when they’re clearly better than her own. She doesn’t apologize when she does something stupid or insane and people end up getting hurt. Some of it can be blamed for having a mad scientist of a father who never let her leave the family estate, but not all of it.

I’m not a fan of the strong woman = harpy thing. It’s…lazy. I’m also not a fan of the strong woman = psychopath thing (think Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye or Alya from Dune). You can have a strong, complex woman who is not a harpy or a psychopath (Mako Mori in Pacific Rim). I digress.

Miss Haltwhistle has to investigate the kidnapping that ruined her coming out party with the unfortunately dressed American man, JF Trusdale, who isn’t all he seems (natch). They stumble and bumble their way through an investigation, thwart naked and invisible Swedes and and up playing a very violent game of polo with a murderous royal (one of Victoria’s grandsons). This is a fun romp through a very different Victorian England. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book and hope that Constance Haltwhistle will become more of a well rounded female character.

If you’re looking for a bit of light, fun steampunk reading, I recommend picking this up. She’s very much in the vein of Gail Carriger, so if you like her books, you should like The Brass Queen. Rating: A-. Some tropes, especially surrounding the main female character, but overall enjoyable. And before you ask, no, this isn’t a prank/April fool’s joke. This is a legit book. Get it through Amazon or another book provider.

Blood Heir

Hello all! It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted. There’s been a bit of something going on in the world and I just could not get up the desire to post, even though I’ve been reading. I’m sure there are plenty out there that feel the same or worse, but things are starting to get better! Since I just renewed my ownership of Crooked Reviews, I thought it best to post again. Brief mention of spoilers because this book is fairly new, written during the pandemic and just published.

There is always something in me that is a little leery of reading spinoff books from a series I love. Even though it’s the same writer, or same writing team in this case, I’m always worried that it won’t be quite as good as the original series. Usually, I’m proved wrong because I like the writer (or writers) for a reason. I was once again proven wrong with Ilona Andrews’ Blood Heir.

This follows the continuing adventures of Julie Olsen from the Kate Daniels book, roughly a decade or so after the end of Magic Triumphs. Only now she’s Aurelia Ryder. I gotta be honest, I don’t dig that change. I’m not sure why, and it isn’t currently explained, that she changed her name. She’s also the official heir to Erra, who has set up New Shinar around San Diego. She calls her grandmother.

Julie has hardened and changed, physically, mentally and magically since she left Atlanta. She ran afoul of a big bad called Moloch (a name that any scifi fan or bible reader will know – interesting Venn diagram) in Arizona. He carved out her eye and she his, but she put his eye in her head. The psychic/magical backlash put her in a coma that lasted for about 9 months, but to her was several years. She and Erra trained the ever-loving crap out of Julie/Aurelia while in that coma and she came out much more knowledgeable than when she went in. She now also looked like Kate Lennart’s (nee Daniels) biological daughter.

The book starts out with Aurelia riding back into Atlanta. She needs to do something to save her mother, but unfortunately that also means she can’t actually see her mother. Because reasons. Because prophetic reasons. It’s a huge convenient plot device that I’ll be honest, kinda bugs me. Kate Lennart spent her life thwarting prophecies and now Aurelia (nee Julie) thinks she can’t help keep herself alive? I call shenanigans.

At any rate, she runs into some members of the Pack who try to shake her down. She gets out of it, but she’s caught the attention of Ascanio of the Bouda clan. She and Ascanio have never gotten along, and she knows he’s up to something, but she doesn’t know what. At this point, she’s not interested at all because it doesn’t have to do with saving Kate from Moloch.

Aurelia gets away from the members of the Pack and sets up house near Unicorn Lane. Unicorn Lane is violently magical, even when the tech is down. It’s a great place to hide near. She also hightails it to the Order because she’s here to solve a murder that has to do with the prophecy and saving Kate. A priest of great renown was murdered by something and Moloch wants that something. If he eats the heart of that something, the prophecy concerning him and Kate will come true.

There’s a lot of this book that is spent with Aurelia going around to the people she used to know as Julie Olsen (Nick Feldman of the Order, Ascanio and some others in the Pack, the People and so on) and spending her time with a “will the or won’t the recognize me”. Spoilers: Some do, some don’t. She also feels like some people haven’t changed for the better. The Pack seems a lot more paranoid, because visiting shapeshifters have 24 hours to present themselves to the Pack, instead of the standard 3 days when she last lived there.

She also picks up a little street thief and ends up claiming responsibility for her. Unlike with her and Kate though, the little thief (Marten – like the varmint) is taking under the wing of the premier thief/assassin for New Shinar. Marten saw what happened to the priest and was a key witness for Julie.

Also on the scene is Derek Gaunt, the werewolf that Kate and Curran practically adopted. Apparently, when Julie left, she was hoping that Derek would follow her. He didn’t and she’s mad. Of course, I’m pretty certain that she never really let on that she liked him. Too much like Kate. At any rate, Derek left Atlanta not too long after Julie and some how and for reasons currently unknown, became a beta in the Icy Fury Pack (Alaska-ish) and changed his name to Darren Argent. He wants to solve the murder too, because he owed the priest for something that happened a while ago.

Naturally, Darren and Aurelia run into each other and recognize each other immediately. Darren pretends not to know Aurelia is Julie for a while, but eventually gets tired of the charade. Together, as they’ve done so many times before (and in various novellas and short stories in the Kate Daniels verse), they solve the murder and kill the creature responsible before Moloch can get his creepy hands on it. Derek eats the heart of the beast, because that’s the part that will allow a prophecy to come true. We don’t know what Derek’s prophecy is, but I’m betting it’s him and Julie/Aurelia finally getting their act together because clearly they are mates.

This was very clearly an introductory book for a new series. There are a lot of things in question and there’s a lot of things that I’m considering whether or not I like. New names of Julie and Derek, for instance. This insistence that Kate can’t know she’s in Atlanta, so naturally she has to stay in Atlanta BECAUSE REASONS. It’s always irritating when there’s a “you have to stay here or you have to do this” but there’s not even a paltry excuse as to why given.

Overall, the writing is Ilona Andrews through and through and, overall, the story is quite good. It made me want to re-read the Kate Daniels series again, so I did. I’m sure there are more books coming out, because Aurelia and Darren (Julie and Derek) have issues they need to work out. And the big bad wasn’t killed/banished. I’m going to call it now: To get rid of the big bad, who regenerates so you can’t kill him (natch), Aurelia is going to swap him for her grandfather in Neig’s private realm somehow. And I kinda hope that doesn’t happen so I’ll be surprised by whatever comes.

It’s a good read, and I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series but I hope it doesn’t become too formulaic. Rating: B+. It’s a little tropey and a little basic, but a fun read and definitely in the Kate Daniels universe style. Recommendation: I’d also read Ilona Andrews’ Innkeeper Chronicles series and The Edge series.

American Demon

American Demon by Kim Harrison (picture courtesy of Amazon)

I had thought that with the the book The Witch with No Name, the Hollows series by Kim Harrison was over. I mean, it seemed pretty darn wrapped up. I guess I was wrong, because American Demon just recently came out, and there appears to be at least one more coming.

Rachel Mariana Morgan is back. Her church is destroyed and she’s living on the boat of an old boyfriend (Kisten, for those who remember the earlier books). She and Trent are actually still together, but her job has suffered and she’s only getting jobs when Trent sends them her way. Ivy is living with undead vampire/girlfriend Nina and they’re back working with the IS.

Demons are living in the world, though only Al and Dali are “out”. And that’s where we learn that some people in Cincinnati are attacking their loved ones over slights that happened years ago. FIB naturally suspects demons and wants Rachel to find out who. Not if demons are responsible, but who. They’re automatically assuming that demon = evil, whereas we’ve kinda found out in this world demon = used car salesman.

I digress. At any rate, Rachel refuses to work the case and finds something else to distract her. A previously unknown demon is demanding to know why the collective (as the demons call themselves) haven’t killed her for dabbling with elf magic (remember – elves and demons consider each other mortal enemies, even if their magic comes from the same fundamental place). Turns out the man, or demon, is Hodin and is Al’s brother.

Hodin was sold to the elves after Al found him dabbling in elf magic. Hodin spent at least a millennium as a slave, being subject to some of the worst magic and tortures the elves ever devised, including the thing that’s terrorizing people. No longer able to avoid it, Rachel gets pulled into the investigation.

The thing in question is some sort of sentient energy being called a baku (very close to the Japanese word baka, which anime fans will recognize as crazy). A host will offer the being space in it’s body/soul in return for the baku doing it’s bidding – going out while it’s enemy or enemies sleep and nibbling away at their souls. If they don’t killed by an act of violence that the baku initiates, then the baku will eventually eat it into a soulless husk.

I kinda feel like it took Rachel too long to figure out she was the target. I mean, come on. She’s always the frickin’ target! You’d think that would be the first thing she thought of! And the obvious choice for bad guy – was the bad guy! I enjoy these books, but while I was reading this one Kim Harrison threw in this bit about how Trent made Rachel less Rachel-y and I was just like…Uh, no he hasn’t!

She may not rush in without thinking, but her thinking muscles don’t appear to have been given much stretch. She’s still a little too naive for someone who has been through as much as she’s been through. And she’s still to fucking self sacrificing for my taste, always trying to get her friends to go away when she needs them most. Are there actually people out there like this? It seems to be more than an actual person would do before learning she could trust her friends and expect them to be there.

Considering I thought the series was over, I was pleasantly surprised to find this one. And it was enjoyable too, but sad at the end. I won’t give spoilers since it’s fairly new, but brace yourselves, if you’re a fan of the series. I feel like Rachel Mariana Morgan has way more room to grow as an actual, fleshed out character, even though this is book 14.

The characters are fun, but not as well rounded as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files characters. I do like the fact that it took a very long time and some growth as characters for Trent and Rachel to get together. I was rooting for them to be a couple, or at the very least kiss, way before they actually did. I think I’m going to have to go back and re-read some of these books to re-familiarize myself with the characters and the world. Still, fun book, fun series. Rating: B

The Other Side of the Night

Image from navyhistory.org

I don’t know what it was the triggered my history nerd lately about shipwrecks, but something did. I’ve read a lot about the RMS Titanic, and I’ve seen a lot of documentaries. I don’t know what it is that catches my mind about shipwrecks, but something does.

So I decided I wanted to learn more about the Carpathia, the ship that single-handedly rescued all the survivors of the RMS Titanic. I had known that she did, but I didn’t know the details. I had known about the Californian, but again very few details. So I found this book The Other Side of the Night by Daniel Allen Butler, who has written at least one other Titanic book (which I may pick up, because Titanic). (And I just discovered that he wrote a book on Rommel, so…there’s my next few weeks)

It’s excellently written. As a historian myself (note: I call myself that because that’s what my degree is in, but I do not have a graduate degree), I’m always a little leery of historical books that don’t make use of copious citations, but he had several appendices and his work previously was vetted by the person who was (until his death) considered the grand marshal of Titanic researchers, Walter Lord (author of A Night To Remember). Butler is a historical writer who is the type of author I wish my undergrad teachers would use. He’s so very far from dry, though I wouldn’t call him funny (if only because disasters aren’t inherently funny).

Butler gives us the history of the Carpathia (Cunard Line) and the Californian (Leyland Line), two ships massively smaller than the Titanic and what you might call work horses. While comfortable, you didn’t take them for the glamour like you would the Titanic, Olympic or later on the SS United States and Andrea Doria. They were more intimate vessels, and also used mainly for hauling cargo.

He gives us good backgrounds on the captains of the vessels, Arthur Rostron (Carpathia) and Stanley Lord (Californian). He laid out what the night was like for those ships and men, as well as including some bits of the Titanic as well because obviously those ships would not be well known without her. There’s a very good case in the book for Stanley Lord being a very self-serving man and a terrible captain. If he had the guts to respond to the Titanic’s distress flares (which the Californian saw), then more lives may have been saved that night. Not all of them, as there still weren’t enough lifeboats for everyone, but more.

If you’re looking for something that might be different than your usual fare. If you’re looking for a bit of history to explore. If you’ve always been fascinated by the Titanic (like me), then I can’t recommend this book enough. Very well written, very well thought out. Rating: A.

Regency and Zombies

Courtesy of www.tillywallace.com

Okay, so I’ve blown through a bunch of books lately and since I’m trying to at least get one post a week, I’m going to go with something a little earlier in history than Victorian Era. Not by much though. I just read a series of Regency era fiction (1811-1820ish).

Tilly Wallace has written a current triology, soon to be a quartet, of books she’s called Manners and Monsters. These books – Manners and Monsters, Galvanism and Ghouls and Gossip and Gorgons – all take place around the same time that Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein and Lord Byron was holding sway in clubs and parlors.

In this world, magic exists alongside all of the typical thinking of the era – women being “the weaker sex”, Scotland (among other places) was “barbaric” and let us not forget that no one was particularly fond of the French because of Napoleon. The books follow Hannah Miles, the daughter of England’s only female mage in history (Duchess Seraphina Miles) and noted surgeon Sir Hugh Miles. Lady Miles and Sir Hugh both fought the French and Napoleon not that long ago, as did the “romantic” lead for Hannah, Viscount Wycliff.

The books start out with Hannah and her father trying to find a cure for what they’re calling the French Affliction. No, that’s not an STD . A French mage somehow cursed a powder that would kill a person, but keep them mobile. Oh yeah, and hungry for braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains. Yup, this powder zombie-fies people.

There are a number of interesting twists on the zombies in this series. 1) The Afflicted, as they are known, keep their wits about them. That is, they are sentient and keep their personalities and powers (if any). They just have a desire for brains. 2) Because the French in these stories cursed a face powder and a bunch of high society ladies became Afflicted, then an effort was made to feed them brains but in a socially acceptable manner. People who at the time would rob graves to sell to medical schools turned their hands to making was is euphemistically called pickled cauliflower for the ton. There is also serious research (which Sir Hugh Miles, among others, does) on curing them. 3) If one of the Afflicted actually goes feral, so to speak, and eats brains directly from a person, that person will rise again to be the stereotypical zombie – so measures are taken in the case that happens and the afflicted is jailed in a zombie proof place called the Repository of Forgotten Things.

I’m not generally one for zombie books of any sort. I had to do the audio book of World War Z by Max Brooks because the thought of reading it just made me go ugh. And not a “ew that’s gross” but more like a “man, that sounds boring” way. Side note: Pick up the Complete Edition audio version of World War Z. The voice cast is amazing.

Miss Miles assists her father in his research and is thus no blushing society violet. In the first book, Manners and Monsters, she crosses paths with Viscount Wycliff when there appears to be a murder by one of the Afflicted at a society event that they both happen to be attending. They’re thrown into an investigation together, though Wycliff is rather of the opinion that women are worthless and tedious (sadly, not an uncommon opinion during the Regency era. Or even these days, by some).

Together, they track down the killers and save the day, so to speak. In the following book, Galvanism and Ghouls, they’re trying to track down a serial killer who may or may not be making Frankensteinian monsters. Though no one uses the name Frankenstein at all. Events in that book lead to Sir Hugh being arrested as a suspect (spoiler: He didn’t do it) and shed light on the fact that Hannah and her mother are in a very tenuous situation.

See, the Afflicted may be tolerated in society, but they are not considered actual people. They are not allowed to marry because they are dead and cannot provide heirs. They’re not allowed to inherit. They are considered non-entities. High society men who had been married to an afflicted were free to remarry without the stigma of divorce because, of course, their wives were considered dead.

We also learn that Hannah, sadly, is Afflicted herself. She, however, is a special case. Her mother, the most powerful mage in England, froze Hannah in time. She is stuck in a moment between heartbeats so long as her mother’s spell lasts. It is fine enough a spell that it fools quite a bit of folks, including Viscount Wycliff, whom we learn was bitten by and turned into a hellhound (a la Cerberus of Greek myth).

In Gossip and Gorgons, we find Hannah and Wycliff married – to protect both Hannah and her mother, should anything happen to Sir Hugh. This makes Wycliff Sir Hugh’s heir in the eyes of the law, which would keep the money and land with them rather than some distant relation that might not be so kind and understanding.

The newlyweds are invited to a week long house party by a distant noble who doesn’t get to London much. They know from the off that they are there as the entertainment, that the hostess wishes them to create scenes so that she gets her jollies off and people will flock to her in the future.

Naturally, murder occurs and the two newlyweds have to investigate. This is the book where Hannah finally figures out that her husband is a hellhound and Wycliff realizes that Hannah isn’t your ordinary woman. You can clearly see that what started as a marriage of convenience and protection is starting to move into something more.

The fourth book is upcoming and I will definitely reading. Author Tilly Wallace takes great pains to keep this as authentically Regency as possible, when you’re dealing with magic and zombies. There’s period costume, period thoughts and period tech. If you enjoy historical fantasy, then you’ll probably enjoy this. Rating: B+

Victorian Addams Family? Yes, please!

Okay, I was just looking for something new to read, when I saw these two book covers and had to take a look. These are the first two (for there does seem to be more on the way. Charlotte E. English appears to be very prodigious) of the House of Werth series. The best way I can describe them is Victorian Addams Family. Yes, really.

The series revolves around Augusta “Gussie” Werth, as we’re introduced to her in Wyrde and Wayward. I have mentally pronounced that first word “weird” and not “word”, but I could be wrong. The Wyrde, in this case, is some sort of supernatural happening that occurs to people in general in this world, but to the Werth family more than most. And they embrace it lovingly, very much like the Addams Family.

Gussie, as we are introduced, is the only Werth in living memory to not get a Wyrde on her third birthday, when Werths traditionally get Wyrded. Examples of Wyrdes are her aunt who can control ice (and occasionally turns into an ice statue), her cousin who is a vampire who eats only rabbits (It just wouldn’t be done to savage the lovely, pale neck of some delicate lady) and her great, great uncle Sylvester who haunts a cathedral grotesque.

The action starts off when Gussie gets kidnapped by an old friend of her aunt (and, as per some sort of tradition with steampunk/Victorian writers, both of her parents are quite dead and her sister married off already) and whisked away to the sumptuous and slightly sinister Starminster, home of Lord Maundevyle (yes, the unmarried Lord Maundevyle) and his weird ass family. Much to his chagrin, because he had no idea that they had kidnapped the poor girl. They, too, are very Addams like, only they haven’t been Wyrded in ages.

Which brings us to why they kidnapped Gussie. Unbeknownest to her, she is not un-Wyrded. Her Wyrde is the bring on the Wyrde in those who have only a dormant Wyrde. Think of it kind of like Magneto’s contraption in X-Men, only without the unfortunate watery collapse. That being said, in the middle of a ball, she accidentally turns poor Lord Maundevyle into a dragon.

Surprised and not the least bit put out, Lord Maundevyle escapes, carrying Gussie away with him and to…a cave. Yes, I know, dragons, virgins and caves. All very cliche, but I think deliberately so here.

When Gussie figures out it was she who triggered the change, she grows very upset with her Aunt Werth, whom apparently long suspected Gussie’s hidden Wyrde, but never spoke to her about it. It takes a long time and an old family ritual, but eventually Lord Maundevyle learns to control his bedragoned state and switch between that and his human.

Book the second, Wyrde and Wicked follows closely on the heels of the first and concerns Gussie and her family (and the occasionally dragoned Lord Maundevyle) tracking some very demonic books, one of which belongs to her family. Shenanigans are rife on the ground, including dragon sized créme anglaise, raising the occasional dead family member and talk of engagements.

I can’t impress upon you enough: If you like steampunk/Victorian novels and the Addams Family, you will probably love this series. I’m still trying to make up my mind on whether or not I actually like the character of Gussie though. I feel she’s a bit of an idiot. There’s something to be said for dashing off where angels fear to tread, but it feels like she learns nothing at all.

That said, I will be reading the rest of the books when they’re released. I did so enjoy them. They’re quick reads too, so if you need something a little on the lighter side given the current atmosphere, I’d pick these up. Rating: B+. Not quite up to Gail Carriger’s humorous steampunk writing, but enjoyable all the same.

Custard and a spot of tea

Reticence

For those of you who have read Gail Carriger’s Custard Protocol series before, this is the final book in the series, Reticence. We rejoin the crew of the Spotted Custard just as Quesnel and Rue are getting hitched. Rue is, at this point, very pregnant. About ready to pop, in fact, and Primrose will not allow the Spotted Custard to lift off from London without an actual doctor on board.

The problem is, every doctor they’ve interviewed so far has come over very old fashioned, and the crew of the Spotted Custard are very much…not. Then comes the unlikely named Dr. Arsenic Ruthven. Keen followers of Ms. Carriger’s delightful steampunk series and their various novellas might at this point recognize that last name. Arsenic is the daughter of Preshea (from the Finishing School series) and the lovely Scottish investigator Mr. Ruthven. Naturally, a poisoner named her daughter after a poison. 🙂 That tickled my fancy.

Arsenic isn’t much like, nor does she much like, her mother. Classic case of mothers and daughters not getting along. Arsenic, in her case, went as far from her mother as possible and became a doctor (a very rare thing in Victorian times). And it just so happened that she not only impressed Prim and Rue, but managed to fluster Percy as well. Win-win as far as Rue is concerned.

So Dr. Ruthven joins the crew and they head off to Egypt to see Rue’s mother and father, who had retired there a few books ago when Lord Maccon started losing his marbles, as happens with very old alpha werewolves. After a spot of tea with the parents, they’re off to Japan. There is, apparently, a new species of supernatural afoot there that several parties are interested in. Not to mention a missing intelligencer.

Along the way, Percy finds himself sharing not only his cat (Footnote) with Dr. Ruthven, but his library of all things. Imagine! Upon arriving in Japan, they discovered to their delight, the floating city of Edo (Tokyo) – here called the Paper City. This was the only place, in this universe, that non-Japanese people were allowed.

By this time, Percy was quite set on wooing Dr. Ruthven, but was at a loss as to how. The floating city, however, had to take precedence, as did the sickness of the consort of the man who ran the city, Lord Ryuunosuke. The officials of the Paper City were particularly keen to have Dr. Ruthven consult because she was, after all, a she. Lord Ryuunosuke wouldn’t allow male doctors to see to his consort. Indeed, the officials seemed not to want to allow any man off the ship.

Seeing as how the Spotted Custard couldn’t afford to lose the dear doctor only a few scant months after her hiring, they had Percy pretend to be her husband and insist on accompanying her. Propriety being what it was, they agreed, which was just as well because Percy was one of two people on board who could actually speak Japanese. Even still, he’s not actually allowed in the same room as Lady Sakura.

Some fast talking from Dr.Ruthven manages to get Lady Sakura out of the silver infused room she’s in and over to the swoon room (such a great name) in the Spotted Custard. Unfortunately, things go awry shortly thereafter, as things are wont to do with Rue’s crew (Heh, Rue’s crew) and Percy and Dr. Ruthven fall out of the Custard and the Paper City straight down to Tokyo.

After a staggeringly messy and dangerous adventure on the ground, Percy and Dr. Ruthven are reunited with the Custard and are well on their way to wooing. Things in Tokyo will never be the same.

I love the inter-connectivity between Gail Carriger’s novels, and yet you could still read any one of them and get the feel of her universe. She’s one of my favorite authors and I can’t wait to get whatever novel, novella or short story she has out next. I highly recommend that you give her a read. And a follow! She’s on Twitter and she’ll often times post a lot of Victorian couture and food.

Rating: A+. Percy is one of my favorite characters, probably because I identify with his social awkwardness and bookishness.

Been a while

I realized, recently that it’s been a long, long time since I posted a review to my blog. I haven’t stopped reading, but life has kind of gotten in the way, as it tends to do. During the current climate, I’ve been working from home more often than not and I’ve decided that I’m going to get back into my reviews. I, for one, could use the distraction. Full review post to follow, but I thought I’d start with one of my favorite authors: Gail Carriger. If you’re still around after the inadvertent year long break…I thank you and hope you’re staying safe and healthy.

 

Wayward Pines

Wayward Pines by Blake Crouch

I picked up the first book of the Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch, Pines, because it was $1.99 on Amazon and I was looking for something new to read. I’d remembered hearing about the series on TV and how it was inspired by Twin Peaks, which I liked (no, I’m not that old, I watched it on Netflix). Beware, if you read further, there will be SPOILERS for the whole trilogy.

At first, it was kinda Twin Peaks-ish. A weird town with weird people that are clearly hiding something. I was edging toward disappointment, thinking this was going to be another “he thinks he’s alive but he’s really dead” sort of story when Crouch dropped a whammy of a twist on me. Main character Ethan Burke, a Secret Service agent out of Seattle, wasn’t dead. No, he and everyone else had simply (“simply”) been put in suspended animation by a nut job named David Pilcher and had woken up almost 2000 years ahead of present time.

Pilcher, a scientist has discovered that the human genome was “corrupted” (news flash: duh. Everyone’s got some sort of weird mutation. Whether or not that actually impacts your life is another story. Generally the answer is no) and that within 30 generations, humans as we know them would be extinct. Again, duh. It’s called evolution. That’s why we’re no longer neanderthals. I’m not knocking Crouch’s writing, just the character’s feeling like he had to “save” humanity by kidnapping (yes, kidnapping) about 1400 people and putting them in suspended animation.

Ethan works out that something is terribly wrong with the town of Wayward Pines, ID, where he wakes up after thinking he was in a car accident. After some fights, some time in their “hospital” and help from another townie who knows at least something of what’s going on, Ethan escapes. What he found when he gets out of the town, horrifies him. They’re surrounded by what Pilcher and his hired goons call abbies, for abnormal. Every one of which would gladly eat him for breakfast.

Holy crap. It was so good, I had to go out and buy the second novel, Wayward, immediately. I blew through that one too. In this one, Ethan has been made the sheriff and reunited with the wife and child he thought died 2000 years ago. It’s an uneasy moment, both in the town and in the Burke home. Teresa and Ben, the wife and child, have lived in Wayward Pines for 5 years without Ethan. They have to get used to being a family again when you’re never alone.

Not only that, but when new Sheriff Ethan Burke is called in to investigate a number of people dubbed “Wanderers” (people who remove their tracking chips), he knows there’s the very real possibility that he’ll end up being ordered to kill one of his old friends from Before, another Secret Service agent named Kate who was kidnapped before him. The investigation takes some wild turns and it lead Ethan to a fateful choice: Kill his old friend and partner or tell everyone in the town what’s really going on. SPOILER: he tells everyone in town what’s really going on.

That leads into book three, The Last Town. This book uses a different style of narrative than the previous books, alternating between people to focus on (i.e. – one chapter focuses on Ethan, one on Teresa, etc) and on past versus present. Pilcher, unhappy with what Ethan did, opens up the protective electrified fence that surrounds Wayward Pines and allows 500 abbies in. They slaughter most of the townspeople, but Ethan and about one hundred others escape. Not unscathed, but at least alive

Ethan makes it up to the mountain where Pilcher lives with the people he hired 2000 years ago, people who really believe in his cause. Let’s face it, Pilcher is a cult leader, one who’s about to get his comeuppance. Ethan gets the grunts on his side and effectively takes over Wayward Pines. The grunts, most of whom have weapons training, clear out the abbies in the town and get the fence up and running. From there, they have to decide if they’re going to 1) leave the town and try to make it in the world of the abbies (a suicide mission at best), 2) stay in the town and starve to death within 4 years or 3) go back into suspended animation and hope to wake up in the future.

This trilogy is captivating from beginning to end. I blasted through about nine hundred total pages in two and a half days. That’s a record even for me. The writing is superb and the suspense will leave you at the edge of your seat. Crouch knows how to leverage the cliffhanger, but also knows when to wrap something up. Amazing writing. I highly recommend the series, which is now on sale for Kindle at $1.99 per book. Go out and get it now!. Rating: A++

That’s a wrap

Screenshot_20180823-151710Hooboy. I legit almost cried last night reading the afterword on Simon R. Green’s Nightfall. A few years ago or so, Simon was diagnosed with diabetes (or so I heard), which raised some concerns for him about not being able to finish his outstanding series (at the time: Ghost Finders, the Secret Histories and The nightside). This latest book, Nightfall, wraps up both the Secret Histories and the Nightside into one glorious riot of snark. WARNING: Here be spoilers!

The Nightside is necessary. The only place in the world where you truly have freedom of choice. Want to sell your soul? There’s people for that. Can’t fit in with polite society? The Nightside is the place for you. It’s always 3am, the hour of the wolf, and the Authorities only nominally have control of the place.

For as long as anyone could remember, it has always occupied the same space. It’s borders have never changed, not since Lilith – John Taylor’s biblical myth mother – set them down before the age of man began. And no one wants it to expand, not even those in the Nightside. They like where they are and it doesn’t need to change. So when the Street of the Gods suddenly empties of every god (or wannabe god), John Taylor knows something big is on the way. So of course, he’s the one saddled with finding out what and how to stop it.

The Droods have always run things in the regular world, if you believe them. And there’s really no reason not to. They’ve saved the world several times over and keep in line those who would destroy it and those they just don’t like. Run by the Matriarch, the Droods stand for humanity, whether Humanity wants them to or not. When the Nightside’s borders expand without warning, the Droods decide it’s time to take care of the place, just like they’ve always wanted.

Trouble is, no one wants them to do it. Every group they reach out to (the London Knights, the Soulhunters, the Carnacki Institute) tells them to shove off. The Nightside can handle this issue themselves and you really don’t want to invade the place. The Nightside has fought a lot of wars in their time, including against heaven and hell and a biblical myth. They’ve always come out on top.

So what happens when two groups who believe they’re in the right and have never lost a fight go up against each other? Invasion. War. Death. Kind of the usual for both the Droods and the Nightside. The only people who can stop the Droods from tearing down the Nightside are John Taylor and Suzie Shooter, now very pregnant and armed with strange matter bullets. They’re not alone this time though. The Authorities, the Oblivion brothers, Ms. Fate, Alex Morrisey and all your usual Nightside favorites are in the fight to protect their home.

On the other side, Eddie Drood and Molly Metcalf are trying to knock sense into people. Sometimes quite literally. There are pacts laid down by ancient Drood family members and Nightside representatives that shouldn’t be violated, but the Matriarch and the Sergeant at Arms aren’t listening. They’re determined to wipe the Nightside off the map. The problem is, as much as Eddie dislikes the place, he realizes that it serves a purpose. And Molly has spent a lot of time there, has many friends there. She can’t stand by and let the Droods ruin the one truly Drood free place on the planet.

Together, the four of them have to stop the fighting and figure out a fix before everyone dies. But in order to do that, they have to figure out why the borders expanded in the first place and who is behind it. If they figure that out, they might just have a chance to stop the slaughter of not only Eddie’s family, but what passes for innocents in the Nightside.

This book did a beautiful job of wrapping up both the Secret Histories novels and the Nightside novels. I’ve absolutely adored reading both of these series. And while both of them have had quite a few novels each, I’m still saddened to see them come to an end. I still have a few questions I would love to see answered some day, but realize that likely won’t happen. Who are the new New Authorities, now that the New Authorities were whittled down to just Julien Advent? What is the name of John and Susie’s daughter? Do Cathy Barrett (the new Ms. Fate) and Alex stay together? How does Eddie like being the new Walker? Does he actually listen to the New New Authorities?

Simon R. Green is one of my all time favorite writers and I haven’t read a book of his that I haven’t devoured. I hope he has many more years of writing left in him and suggest that if you need a fix, pick up his Ishmael Jones books. And if you haven’t read them yet, the Twilight of the Empire, Deathstalker and Forest Kingdom books are absolute musts. Rating: A+