All posts by humanitysdarkerside

Bibliophile, small-time activist, ASD, blogger

Hayes, S. (2018) Harriet Walsh: Peace Force

Peace Force is a funny scifi action-comedy about poor Harriet Walsh who finds herself invited to become part of the planet Dismolle’s Peace Force.

As she skimmed the flowery sentences, Harriet realised she had been mistaken. The letter wasn’t a scam or a lottery, and it wasn’t asking for money. No, it seemed to be offering her job … and it wasn’t caring for the elderly.

Harriet was certainly correct in being sceptical of the job offer. Nothing is as she expected when she arrives at the address given. I could never decide if I should feel sorry for Harriet. On one hand, her job with the Peace Force saves her from becoming evicted. On the other hand, there’s Bernie, her senior officer. Bernie and Steve are the only ones working for the Peace Force when Harriet is hired. They serve on a planet whose inhabitants are mainly retirees. There is little crime to be found on the planet. Or at least there was until Harriet arrived at the station.

Peace Force is intended for 14+ audiences according to Amazon and I think that is a fair evaluation. Its comedy is of the farcical and slap-stick variety. The covers aren’t representative of the content although they are representative of the current fashion within scifi covers for female leads. The publishers get a big minus for that. Its blurb is honest and representative of the content.

This is the kind of lighthearted read that is not intended to impress or wow its public but rather divert from whatever life throws at you.

I really enjoyed Peace Force.

 

Harper, T.K. (1990) Wolfwalker, New York: Ballantine.

Cover artist: Edwin Herder

It was dark, and she could not see. She could not hear for the roaring in her ears, and she could not move. Oh, moons of mercy, moons of light… She tried to spit out the panic but choked on grit and fur and dirty blood. Guide me in the darkest night… Struggling, she dragged a breath into her lungs, and then the fright that held her frozen burst and she screamed, the sound suffocating in the black death above her. Keep me safe from evil spirit…….(p.1).

Ember Dione maMarin is one of two main characters whose points of view Harper switches between. She also happens to be my favourite. Defying the patriarchy and traditional roles assigned genders Dion has gone all out by being both Healer and Warrior in addition to a Wolfwalker. She and her twin had just started their Journey before it all went wrong. Wolfwalkers are humans who bond with wolves. Because each of them has to adapt to each other, the human becomes wilder and the wolf less wild. Harper made the bond believable – you will see how.

Wolfwalker is the first of three novels in the Wolfwalker trilogy and was also my introduction to Harper’s authorship. And I loved that journey. A fun fact about Harper is that she has been through many of the same types of extreme sports as Dion has. She has also been a martial arts performer. I would be fair to say that Harper knows what she writes about, and it shows.

It was midday when the four men reined in at the river. The raiders had beaten them to the Phye by hours, and Aranur stook on the baks, his anger growing cold and hard as steel within him: The raiders had had a boat waiting at high tide. (p.48)

Aranur Bentar neDannon is our second main character and male. I’m not certain I ever really warmed up to him. At times he really got on my nerves. This is a man who is used to getting things his way. Most of that has to do with his size, abilities with a weapon, position in society and leadership abilities. Fortunately he is not a bully. Harper did a good job in maintaining their different personalities throughout the story. Obviously, these two will grow into a couple. Thankfully not in an annoying or cloying manner.

Group cohesiveness, individual coping methods and thrills are the main themes of Wolfwalker. While we do get to smile at something every once in a while, for the main part this is a grim story where grief, fear and exhaustion are more common. Harper handles both the lighter and grimmer sides of the novel effortlessly (it seems) and maintains her flow throughout the story. She walks a fine line between just enough and too much well and does that through all three novels. After reading her work, Harper has become one of my favourite authors.

A cry that knots your heartstrings
Is not easily untied (p.10)

Each chapter begins with a poem that foreshadows its contents. When I read the story by myself I skipped over them. It’s one of my failings as a reader. That was not an option when I read the story out loud to my daughter (24). I made her read out loud the chapter headings. Turns out I should have read the poems the first time through. I actually enjoyed them. Oh, well. Better late than never. My daughter also gave Wolfwalker a thumbs up and had me begin the next in line as soon as possible.

My copy is the 1990 soft-cover edition and 310 pages. Its blurb is one of the few I have read that represents the contents of the story:

A girl and her wolf.

Dion was a healer and a wolfwalker, and the unique telepathic bond that she shared with the wolf Gray Hish sometimes seemed to amplify her sensitivity to her patients. But she never guessed how strong that bond could be, or what kind of power it could wield, until she found herself lost in the wilderness, with angry slavers at her heels and war on the horizon. Suddenly she and her fellow travelers were fighting for their lives in the snowy winter wastes, where the wolves were their only guides, the greatest secret of the ancients their only salvation … and Dion their only hope to survive! (back)

We soon find out that this is a science fiction story placed somewhere on a strange planet. Most of its creatures are strange, deadly and obviously non-Terran. Personally, I’m not sure there are any weak points to the novel – aside from having to buy it used.

Wolfwalker seems intended for mature readers who enjoy grim stories. Harper’s writing expects something of the reader and deals with complex issues.

I loved it. Go buy it. I often use Thriftbooks.

Idehen, J. (2015) Parable of the isms. Twitter.

Source: yuwie

Lisle, H. (2014). Born from Fire. One More Word Books.

“The Truth of We”

“We speak the Truth, and the Truth speaks Us,
We live by the covenants, We abide by the Words.

That none may laugh until All can laugh,
That All sleep on dirt until none sleep on dirt.

Dirt is Our birthright. Hardship is Our glory.
Hardship strengthens Us. Hunger feeds Us.

The Known is All. The new is Willful.
Welcome Pain. Pain is Knowledge. We are WE.

Self is selfish. One is none.
All are All. We are We.

Each flesh belongs to All.
Each thought belongs to All.

Children are duty. All tend All.
Duty is life. Life is dying. Dying is duty.
We die for Duty. We are WE.

Within Each hides Evil. Be All, not Each.
In Aloneness is Willfulness. We will never be Alone.

We share, We do not own.
Property is an abomination.

Beauty is property. Property is crime.
Passion is property. Property is crime.

Love is property. We out love and lovers.
Secrets are property. We out secrets and secret-keepers.

All is Sharing. Sharing is Duty.
We serve Sharing. We are WE.

We speak the Truth, and the Truth speaks Us.
We live by the covenants, We abide by the Words.
The Will of All is all of Will. We are WE.” (Kindle Loc 307-339)

Since 1991 Lisle has published all kinds of writing from writing classes, short stories, poetry, novels (sci-fi & fantasy) and co-written material. I own many of the stories and have enjoyed the ones I have read, including Born From Fire.

Born From Fire is a 102 pages long science fiction novella. It is episode 1 of the Chronicles of Longview serial (i.e. not stand-alone). Its title suits the story well and has both a literal and figurative meaning. Born From Fire does not seem to have a particular age group in mind. There is no recognizable swearing, some violence and no sex. 

DOWN THE DARKNESS, down the line of standing cells, three words rippled urgently and under breath. “Death Circus here!”

In the dark, this criminal had waited long and longer for death to come. This criminal could not lie down, could not sit down—its captors had made certain its cell, and the cells of the others like it, permitted only standing.

With its bandaged knees pressed into one corner, its spine jammed into the other, this criminal drifted in that lightless place, never certain whether it was waking or dreaming. When it ate, it ate maggots. When it dreamed of eating, it dreamed of maggots. When it pissed or shit, it pissed or shit down its legs. When it dreamed, it dreamed of the same. (Kindle loc 37-44)

“It” or We-39R is a member of a People’s Home of Truth and Fairness (PHTF) settlement. These settlements are owned by the PHTF franchise and run by Speakers for We. As long as leaders of the various planets in the Longview universe do not execute their citizens, they may do as they wish with their people. PHTF franchises are the worst places to live for everyone but Speakers. We-39R earned the death penalty for Willfulness. However his death was delayed since executions must be carried out by Death Circuses, i.e. space ships travelling from collection point to collection point buying Class A (at least 30%) and Class B (at least 10%) prisoners.

The Longview is the biggest and most expensive Death Circus. It has the best salaries, the most extensive training for its crew and even offers investment incentives. More Class B prisoners are bought by them than by other circuses and it sells the fewest prisoners, yet it makes more money than any other Death Circus. 

Crew members begin as Provisional Crew Three Green. Once a person is hired on, they become Crew Three Green and advance up through Crews Two and One. Each crew is colour-graded from Green to Blue to Silver to Gold.

Born from Fire is told from three points of view, i.e. We-39R, Kagen (Crew Three Gold) and Melie’s (Crew Two Gold). The first half of the novella switches between We-39R and Kagen, the second switches between Kagen and Melie. Lisle handles the transitions well. The greatest differences lie between We-39R and the other two, however I do not think I could mistake Kagen for Melie (or vice versa). Since we see so much less from Melie’s perspective, she is less well-defined than the other two. All three are easy to sympathize with and their worldviews and reactions are believable. Our antagonist is less easily spotted. There is Mash, of course, but he is not the main one. That spot goes to the meta-entity that the Pact Worlds make up.

Freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences is a theme that runs through the entire serial. Anything that might lead to the slave conditions of the PHTF worlds is seen as something to fight against. At the end of my Kindle copy Lisle explains how she built a model of The Longview on Minecraft before writing about it. I appreciate her geekiness and as a reader I get to enjoy her dedication to detail when she takes us through parts of the ship. Both the world-building and plot are interesting, well written, detailed and dark. I liked Born From Fire and recommend it.

Saintcrow, L. (2016). Cormorant Run. New York: Orbit.

Cover design by Lauren Panepinto. Cover illustration by Kirbi Fagan.

STRUGOVSKY: All we can say for certain is that one night, eighty-six years ago, there were strange lights in the skies of many countries. Aurora borealis, perhaps. Then, the Event, at a very specific time….

… Rifts, are actually tears in a fabric we cannot adequately measure. It is not Einstein’s spacetime, it is not Hawking’s and Velikov’s layer cake, it is not the Ptolemaic bubbles of earth and air. When we know what fabric is being so roughly torn, we may begin to reclaim those parts of the Earth’s surface. (Kindle Loc. 125-135).

When rift bubbles appeared the world fell apart. Whole cities disappeared. If a bubble landed in a city, what was inside (even moving things) was lost to the rest of the world. People on the outside could only see a slow-moving opalescent sheen. Railroad tracks could run right through the rift-walls but what happened to the tracks on the inside no one but rifters knew.  Most of the people (military/researchers) who went inside to see what had happened disappeared, probably dead.

Rifters are people of high intelligence who survive running the rift bubbles but come out changed. Either a wanna-be rifter learns how to be still, to quickly analyse their environment, to plan and execute quickly, to test the ground for stability, to be patience, or they died. They developed an acute sense of smell and hearing. Addicted to rifting and different from non-rifters, most of them are underestimated.

The gleaming inside the shattered leav was skeletons, turned into some sort of alloy. It took two weeks of patient work by teams in magsuits to free them from the tangle, and they were carted away to the depths of the Institute. Someone did a hush-hush paper on them—the bones were alloy, where the ligaments were all high-carbon flex with an odd crystalline pattern all over. (Kindle loc 194-196).

Institutes were set up outside the bubbles filled with people wanting to study them. Most of the researchers who went inside never returned. Then the Crash happened. Eventually kill-zones and garrisons were set up outside the bubbles to keep the things inside from coming out and the curious from entering.

There, at the very edge of her vision, a shimmering. Light bouncing in weird ways, and the space inside her empty-aching like a pulled tooth. (Kindle Loc 233-234).

Asje Rajtnik (Rat) died as a result of not being listened to.  QR-715 takes exception to such stupidity and punishes it accordingly. After the attempt, the result was a “shoot on sight” order. However, greed is not always sensible and, one year later, 33-year old Tatiana Pajari, better known as “Svinga” or “Svin”, is taken from solitary in Guan prison to QR-715. Her two year stay in solitary darkness has left her underweight, sickly pale and traumatized. Svin has been a rifter since she was 16 and Kopeland wants because she was apprenticed to Rat. From the first moment in the leav I liked her and that like grew during the story. She is clearly a traumatized person who is making the best of this situation she suspects she is not intended to survive.

Kommandant Kopeland is a frustrated person. He is stuck as top of a local governmental installation and knows he will not advance. Being close to QR-715 tends to make people afraid and bored over time. Plus he is a bully. Combined with his boredom and his fears he becomes obsessed with acquiring the Cormorant and sees it as a way out. So, he has Svin brought to him.

QR-715 is our third main character. Its size makes it unique and full of weird fauna and flora. Geography moves around, gravity and mass changes and time is difficult to nail down. One moment you might die if you step off a ledge, the next you’ll be fine. As we get to know it, QR-715 feels intelligent and alive. And weird, really weird.

Saintcrow’s POV moved between various actors in the story.  Svin, Kopeland and QR-715 were the characters that were brought to life. The rest functioned more as supporting characters. At certain points the many POV’s hiccuped the flow of the story.

There are foot-notes that explain terminology. In my Kindle edition I pressed the highlighted sign and a definition popped up. In the paper edition, it looks like the footnotes are at the bottom of the page. Foot-notes work well for me and seldom mess up the flow, but they might a problem for others. General editing seemed fine. Saintcrow fed us information about the history of the Event and how the world turned out in bits and pieces throughout the story. That is my preferred method of getting to know the landscape.

I really liked Cormorant Run. Most of the people in it were just people. Blind, stupid, thoughtful, afraid, greedy, eager, sociopathic, kind and vengeful. You know, people. What it is not, is a story with a “happy ending”. Saintcrow seldom does those. While reading it, I sometimes felt the way I do when I read some of Philip Dick’s stories – “huh?”. I recommend this story to people who like science fiction weirdness. There is plenty of violence and swearing but Zero romance (YEAH!!!!).


Reviews:

Grey, Z., 1937. Majesty’s Rancho. New York, New York Sunday News.

Reblogging my review:

When “Majesty’s Rancho” was first published, in New York Sunday News, 26th September 1937, Zane Grey was 65 years old. It’s prequel, The Light of Western Stars, was published 24 years earlier. I mention this, because I believe it has an impact on the end result of “Majesty’s Rancho“. Later publishings were in hardcover in 1938 by Harper & Brothers, in 1942 as an Armed Services Edition and in 1949 by Zane Grey Western Books.

I had to pull back several times while reading “Majesty’s Rancho” and writing this review because I kept on being hit by a sense of “Huh?” and “Say what?”. One reason was the way Madge/Majesty was treated in the story. Grey did not like a female protagonist who might be perceived as possibly stronger than the male protagonist (Pauly, T.H., 2014). By the time he had finished with Madeline in The Light of Western Stars, Grey had found his recipe for breaking such women down and he used that recipe for what it was worth in “Majesty’s Rancho“. He was apparently not alone in not wanting that. Reviewers and the blurb all seem to agree that she needed taking down a few notches.

One of the reasons I felt this way, was because all the main protagonists and the antagonist blamed Madge for their own behavior. Madge blamed Madge for how she behaved, Uhl (antagonist) blamed Madge for how he behaved towards her, Rollie blamed Madge for how he treated her, Lance blamed Madge for how he behaved towards her and Gene blamed Madge for how he and Lance treated her. Talk about internalizing and externalizing blame in stereotypically gendered ways. The only people who did not blame Madge for their own behaviors were Ren Starr and Nels. These two men were voices of reason throughout the story.

Nels: “Wal, I have. An’ I’m gamblin’ on her, Gene. Wild as a young filly, shore she was. But good as gold an’ as true as steel. When she was heah last I had some jars, you bet. I had to figger oot thet times had changed since you an’ me ran after girls. We’ve stayed right in one spot, Gene, an’ this old world has moved on.”…………………………………..

The rest of the review can be read on Zanegreyandme.com

Pratchett, T. (1990). Moving Pictures. London: Victor Gollanz

Reblog of my review of Terry Pratchett’s “Moving Pictures” from 1990.

Trust is a valuable commodity. To whom do I give my trust? The entertainment industry? News media? Scientific research? Pratchett’s Moving Pictures is a biting and funny social commentary about the impact and influence media can have on us.

About thirty miles Turnwise of Ankh-Morpork the surf boomed on the wind-blown, seagrass-waving, sand-dune-covered spit of land where the Circle Sea met the Rim Ocean.

The hill itself was visible for miles. It wasn’t very high, but lay amongst the dunes like an upturned boat or a very unlucky whale, and was covered in scrub trees. No rain fell here, if it could possibly avoid it. Although the wind sculpted the dunes around it, the low summit of the hill remained in an everlasting, ringing calm.

Nothing but the sand had changed here in hundreds of years. (p.10)

@Josh Kirby

Moving Pictures is the 10th novel in the Discworld bibliography and was published in 1990 (my paperback edition is 333 pages). Its cover was illustrated by Josh Kirby. His illustration is spot on with regards to both the spirit and letter of the story. Our narrator is omniscient and, therefore, knows and shares details from important places and people. One of Pratchett’s techniques is Footnotes. They aren’t essential to the story-line, but they do add to the narrative-believability. Chapter headings are non-existent. At first, that might be confusing but you soon get used to it. There are 17 non-English translations of the story and the novel has been dissected by scholars from some of those countries.

‘Oh, yes. Yes. Yes,’ breathed Soll. ‘What a picture! Pure kinema!’

‘A giant woman carrying a screaming ape up a tall building,’ sighed Dibbler. ‘And we’re not even having to pay wages!’ (p.300)

Making fun of the movie industry begins on the dedication page with Pratchett’s “Thank you speech” and continues throughout the story. Names (e.g. “Silverfish“), titles (e.g. “Last Keeper of the Door“) and places (e.g. “Holy Wood“) are from novels and films (e.g. “Gone with the Wind” + “King Kong” = “Blown Away”) that span the period that started with the Phantasmagoria shows of the 1790’s up through the one-reel Celluloid film from the late 1800‘s that developed into the silent movies of the early 1900‘s ending with the movies 1980‘s.

Many of the characters in this story are like people I know. Main characters are Theda Withel (Ginger/Delores del Syn), Victor Tugelbend (Victor Marachismo), Cut-My-Own-Throat Dibbler (Dibbler), Gaspode The Talking Dog (Gaspode), the Alchemist’s Guild, the Wizards of Unseen University, the Librarian, Holy Wood and Ankh-Morpork.

Our story begins and ends with Holy Wood. From the description above, it seems an idyllic place yet all Keepers of the Door have maintained a 3-times-a-day set of rituals to prevent an apocalypse. When Death puts a stop to the priestly line, whatever was kept back by the chanting begins to seep out……

The rest of the review is at TerryPratchettAndMe

Ronald, M. (2011). Soul Hunt. New York: Eos.

Artist Ron Sipley

As the last installation of this trilogy, Soul Hunt completes our look into life Evie Scelan and the choices she makes to keep people away from the part of herself that she fears. How people see us and the way we view ourselves might not coincide. Evie’s inability to accept her odd talent as intrinsic and of worth has kept her trying to hide it, and indeed from herself. In Soul Hunt this battle comes to a conclusion.

Credit: NPS.gov

All of this meant that on this particular Halloween, instead of threading my way back to Mercury Courier for another job on my beat-up loaner bike (the replacement ever since a curse-riddled jackass had turned my old bike into aluminum salad), I needed to stop for a moment’s rest. Not that it helped much; even the salt tang of the harbor couldn’t quite cut through the day’s murk. I locked up my bike by the Boston Aquarium, made my way through a screaming gaggle of kids on their way to see the seals, and damn near collapsed out on the end of the dock.

Since we last met her in Wild Hunt, Evie has been exhausted. Resting, eating or living healthy has not had an effect. In fact, her exhaustion seems to be getting worse. So much so, that even her nose begins failing her. Her exhaustion is so intense she is no longer capable of comprehending how bad things are. In fact, Evie is tired enough that she no longer cares about how her beloved Red Sox are doing or about her self-imposed responsibilities. Her friends suspect something is seriously amiss.

… “For the love of all, what is wrong with you, Evie? You seemed okay for a while, you were finally getting some from your skinny-butt guy, you’d faced down worse things than I like to think about, but then it just … you just drained away. It’s like you’re a bad recording of yourself.”

The three novels that make up the Evie Scelan trilogy are Spiral Hunt, Wild Hunt and Soul Hunt and may be found on used and new-book sites like Thriftbooks and Amazon. They can also be found in various e-book versions (e.g. Kindle and Kobo). My version is paperback. Soul Hunt is about 300 pages long. Artwork for all three covers is by Ron Sipley and I’m pleased by the way they look. Fortunately they are not representative of the under-dressed female protagonist typical of that and this cover-era. Content-wise, Soul Hunt should fall within US explicit safe zones for most ages. Soul Hunt, like the other two novels, is an Urban Fantasy Mystery. Ronald succeeded well with her stated goals for Soul Hunt:

I wanted to explore the consequences of the bargain Evie had made, I wanted to put her in a place where all her options were gone, and I wanted to explore the nature of dread. (MR)

The author likes a bit of complexity to her mysteries and her way of letting the problems that are brought to Evie meet and divert through the story adds to the fun. Mysteries that need solving are whatever terrified Tessie (seamancer), Deke’s (pyromancer) Roger, Sarah’s (hedgewitch) neighbourhood watch, Nate’s shapechanger curse, the cause of Evie’s declining health, and Evie’s midwinter date.

Moving on from Mystery to Urban, Soul Hunt introduces us to the wetter parts of Boston and their history: Fort Point Channel (Deke’s house), Georges Island (customers), Little Brewster Island, Gallops Island, Nix’s Mate, Lovells Island, and Quabbin Reservoir (spooky). Recognizing the scenes in this novel was simple when I encountered the above links and saw the above video. Getting to research the veracity of Ronald’s writing has been (as usual) the best part of writing these three reviews. Ronald certainly seems to know her bits of Boston and delight in manipulating them.

I found him down by the waterfront, on the footbridge across Fort Point Channel. I locked up my bike by the courthouse and started across, whistling through my teeth, waving once he saw me.

They’d done their best to spiff up this part of the city – luxury hotels, new construction, a fragment of a park – but fragments of the old waterfront remained. Namely one big house out in the middle of the channel itself, on decaying pilings like dead man’s fingers …

As we continue to the Fantasy part of the genre, we discover that Ronald has added to her Celtic mythology with some Greek.  Like much of Greek mythology, the version created in Soul Hunt is extremely unpleasant. However, without it  Soul Hunt would have been much poorer. One of our antagonists is drawn from the story of the Gorgon and the Graeae and what a nasty antagonist this is. Finally, there is the usual Boston Fiana magic. In Soul Hunt Ronald explains some of the odder details. Many of the Fiana (e.g. Deke) of Boston use soul loci to fuel their spells. Shadow-hunters steal another person’s shadow while adepts such as Byron Chatterji use a principle called “severance and return”. Most of our usual crew are magical, although their magic has other sources and does not rely on bits of soul to work.

A great part of Soul Hunt is about the friendship between our main characters. Ronald has done an excellent job in fleshing out most of them, and the way they interact with and without Evie helps me believe in them. It seems obvious to me that the author must have been great friends with all of them.

“He was supposed to be a wizard,” Katie stage-whispered to me. “To go with my costume. but he forgot and he had to get something at the last minute.” She turned and gave him a look that I swear she must have learned from Sarah, the see-what-inferior-materials-I-must-work-with look. “So instead he’s an evil scientist who’s kidnapping fairies and turning them into trolls.”

Her interactions with Katie differ enough from her same-age interactions for me to see how strong the focus on the costs and benefits of friendship is in the series and how difficult it is for Evie to believe that she is worthy of such friends. Evie has many characteristics that I can relate to. For one thing, she lies to her friends and rationalizes those lies with “protecting them”.  Other people and situations are judged through the lens of her talents and experiences and sometimes that leads to poor decision making, e.g. lying to her friends about her condition. Humour (dry and hilarious) plays an important role in how Evie deals with other people.

… What was the rule for telling proper New England spinsters that yes, you were sharing a bed with their nephew? Did Miss Manners even cover that?

Quabbin Reservation

The ending was satisfactory. All of the aforesaid problems were resolved in one way or another and I was left with a sense of sadness that this friendship is over. I am fortunate in being able to return to it at a later date. I definitely recommend that UF fans read Soul Hunt. In fact, start with Spiral Hunt, then move on to Wild Hunt before you finish with Soul Hunt. More people need to meet Margaret Ronald’s writing.


My reviews of:

  1. Spiral Hunt
  2. Wild Hunt

Ronald, M. (2010). Wild Hunt. New York: Eos.

Artist Don Sipley

In “Wild Hunt” we return to Boston’s very own hound, Genvieve (Evie) Scelan, whose part-time job is to hunt for lost objects/people by using her sense of smell. Her “nose” has roots back to Ireland’s Fionn mac Cumhaill and his niece, Sceolan. Ronald‘s writing kept on dragging me into this novel that takes place in a Boston where the undercurrent, once again, threatens Evie Scelan and the people she cares for.

Wild Hunt continues the lives of some of the characters from Spiral Hunt. They are Evie, Nate, Katie, Sarah, Allison and Rena along with some other minor characters. The cast specific to Wild Hunt are Abigail and Patrick Huston, Mr. Janssen, Mr. Yuen, Elizabeth Yuen and Reverend James Woodfin.

Need help finding source

Yuen died twenty minutes after I arrived, and I was there to make sure of it. …

“Please listen carefully Hound. You can sense the … ghost — of my father-” … “-within this jar. When I am dead, I will want you to confirm that it is gone. Do you understand?” …

“I’m sorry you had to be the one to see this.” (ch. 1)

When the Bright Brotherhood’s hold on Boston had broken, other forces were circling in for power. Power is a dangerous tool if wielded by the wrong hands and Yuen’s death opened the door to a chain of events that had its roots in myth and history. The entire novel plays with that history.

Protecting herself and others from the undercurrent was hard-wired into Evie by her mother. Unfortunately, she herself had passed the point of no return and wisely decided she needed to better understand what the undercurrent was. However, by trying to keep her friends from falling into the deep further, Evie took their choice away from them. A lack of knowledge turned out to be a detriment for them and made things harder for Evie. The undercurrent is filled with dangerous people who look out for number one. Even the client who hired Evie did not care if Evie got hurt. Her extra sense both helped and hindered Evie in her hunts for  history.

When authors have the knowledge they need about a certain topic, their knowledge gives them the freedom to mess with it. Ronald’s understanding of Celtic mythology, Wild Hunts and Boston drives the story. From the first chapter she guided us through an alternate Boston, magicking important places such as the Mount Auburn Cemetery,

This was my city. I’d said as much to Janssen, and I didn’t regret it. Here, in this high place, I could see it all – and further, the heavy green of trees in Cambridge and Newton, the Blue hills through their haze, Summit Hill and its park, the great coliseum of Harvard’s stadium across the river. … (p. 100)

A shape rose up from the gaping blackness of the stairwell, a man in a robe or a long coat, no more than a shadow against shadows. A snarl cut through the amalgam’s screaming like a sword through a snake……..(p. 107)

the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum,

The building that was such a drab block on the outside held a garden within. An atrium four stories high looked down onto green grass and running water, fountains and sculpture and tiles side by side as if strewn by some titanic hand……. (p. 186)

and the MIT University.

I followed his trail past the weird little brick thing that looked like a missile silo, past another building that looked like the rest of the buildings had been beating up on it, …. (p. 19)

Ronald’s characters are easy to love. There is little glamour in any of their lives or to their looks. All of them are people trying to get by in the lives handed to them by fate. PhD candidate, Nate, has to be a father for his little sister Katie (8). Poor Nate struggled with several issues time. Katie had to be much more independent than most eight-year-olds do, yet retained their vulnerability. She is one of my favourite people. Sarah and her partner Allison were life-savers for the pair. Sarah has her own store and Allison is a lawyer. The couple trained and watched over Katie when Nate could not. In different ways Evie loves all four of them. We did not see Rena as much this time around. Or rather, we saw her in a different capacity. Evie’s character was solidified through her interactions and feelings about all of her friends.

I used to be able to deal with these things better. I used to not care what happened in the undercurrent, so long as it left me unscathed. … (p.17)

… two of my friends had been yanked headfirst into the deeps of the undercurrent…

There were obligations, and then there were things that you couldn’t ever pay back, not fully…. (p. 18)

This lack of glamour made it easier for all of them to grab a bit of my heart. They all grew even more into their roles and became “real”. Maybe that is what defines Ronald’s writing. She made me care enough about the characters that they have stayed in my mind. While most metaphors kept the atmosphere dark: “There was something both pitiful and disgusting about it, like a baby rat.” there was plenty of humour: “cram everything into a reticule the size of a biscuit“.

Wild Hunt was filled with plenty of action and adventure and fun scenes. Much like Spiral Hunt, Wild Hunt seemed to be about the value and cost of friendship and family and also about who family is. Is biology the deciding factor of who gets to be a family?

I would most definitely recommend this book that is an urban fantasy mystery ghost story filled with Celtic mythology, some violence, some sex, and Boston in Massachusetts.


Reviews:

My review of Spiral Hunt.

Ronald, M. (2009). Spiral Hunt. New York: EOS.

Cover art by Don Sipley

A descendant of Celtic mythological figures, Evie Scelan honors her long-dead ancestor Sceolan. With a nose that guides her through the neighborhoods of Boston, Scelan hunts what has been lost. In Spiral Hunt, climax is reached at the spiral’s centre. Like her long time ancestor, Scelan must see through illusions, deceptions and glamours to uncover truth the Bright Brotherhood wanted hidden from the rest of the undercurrent.

No one ever calls in the middle of the night if they have good news. ……

……………… “Hound watch for a collar. The hunt comes …”

“Frank, you son of a bitch.” I said at last. “Couldn’t you have stayed dead?” (ch. 1)

Spiral Hunt is a mystery urban fantasy story, with the disappearance of Frank as its mystery, Boston as its urban, and Celtic mythology as its fantasy. Boston is our Boston, except with an addition of an undercurrent (i.e. the super-natural). As a bike courier, Scelan has access to people of all inclinations and socioeconomic classes  all over Boston. Throw in magic, corruption, and Celtic gods and heroes and we have a highly entertaining story. There is no love-triangle and the Bechdel Test is passed with flying colours. Its mythology is well researched. Part of her preparations included the study of Celtic mythology to a degree that she was comfortable enough with the material to play with it for our pleasure. None of the characters of the story have unlimited power, or even amazing amounts of power on their own. Only those born to their powers (blood magic), like Scelan, can use it without destroying themselves or others. However, even blood magic is severely limited and can be highly addictive.

… It was an old silver Chrysler painted up like a demolition derby car, but with weirder symbols, like the result of a ghetto graffiti-fest organized by the Rosicrucians. … (p. 42)

Roland’s prose is lovely. Her writing is clear and without mistakes. Dialogues in Spiral Hunt affect the mood and tone of the story, and, even when they happen in the middle of a crisis, they remained believable. Throughout the story the author gifts me with hints that feed my curiosity.  Showing, not telling, is the rule of thumb in this story. Point of view is a first-person point of view, allowing us a look at what goes on inside Scelan’s head and how she perceives her world. I tend to prefer this kind of story-telling. Each chapter number is preceeded by the celtic symbol called triskelion/triskela or a triple spiral. My paperback copy is about 300 pages.

“I know what you are going to say,” I said warily. “Every magician in the city …”

Sarah wasn’t listening. “Every magician in-” She frowned and shot an exasperated glare at me. “Okay. But doesn’t make it any less true. You can’t be a magician and just give out your real name to anyone who asks.”

“I do give out my real name. That’s because I’m not a magician.”

While solving the mystery of Frank’s disappearance, Evie has to hunt several truths about herself, most of them painful to find. Not until she stops lying to herself is she able to reach her potential. That lie carries a heavy price for her. However, Evie is not the only one who lies to Evie. Who can she trust and what is the cost of that trust? Not only that, but she has to figure out how to live up to the trust of the important people in her life. As with so many other stories, Spiral Hunt is about learning to accept yourself as you are. That acceptance does not mean that there is nothing that needs to change. In fact, acceptance seems to show Evie even more things that she has to work on. One of those things should probably be her love of the baseball team, the Red Sox. Or not.

So. How do I rate Spiral Hunt? I loved it. Definitely one of the better novels I have read. This is my second time reading it and I will read it again = Wholeheartedly recommended.


Reviews:

 

Cross, K. (2014). Miss Mabel’s School for Girls. (Network I). Antebellum Publishing.

Cover by Jenny Zemanak

Without strings attached, K. Cross offers a free copy of Miss Mabel’s School for Girls to any and all on her website.

I stared at the lavender flowers on the white china and willed my heart to stop pounding. Papa’s advice whispered through my head like the balm of a cool poultice, settling my nerves (p. 1).

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is a fun installment in the young adult serial The Network. Miss Mabel’s School for Girls was Cross‘ first installment in the story about Antebellum, a magic world ruled by a government called the Network consisting of five nations with a High Priestess and High Priest as their leaders. Miss Mabel’s school lies in Letum Woods in the Central Network (led by the High Priestess).

I spent years preparing for this. It won’t frighten me now.

I was a terrible liar. Attending Miss Mabel’s School for Girls did frighten me, but so did staying home, forfeiting my only chance at freedom (p. 6).

Given the author’s place of residence (Idaho, US) it comes as no surprise that this is a story about good (Bianca’s side) vs. evil (Miss Mabel’s side). The story is told from the main character’s (i.e. Bianca Monroe, 16 years old) point of view. The reason for Bianca’s desperate need to get into the school and become Miss Mabel’s pupil and assistant is revealed early on. We soon learn that she has been honed for that purpose for many years by her family. During her interview with the Watcher, Bianca is warned that she must not underestimate Miss Mabel.

“This is the third-year corridor. Don’t go in there!” Camille said, pulling me back when I stepped across the doorway. “They get really picky about first-years in their area. Especially Priscilla.” She lowered her tone and spoke behind her hand. “She gets really upset. Her dad is rich so she gets away with it.” (p. 11).

In addition to being a good vs. evil story, Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is also about finding one’s place in the world. On her first day at school, Bianca gains two first-year friends (Camille who has a hard time concentrating on her studies and Leda who is always studying). Bianca enters the Competition for the spot of Assistant and her main competitor is Priscilla, who is from a powerful family. Priscilla also seems driven to win the competition and is terrified of the consequences of losing. Only one person may win, and I expect all of you to know who that person will be.

Most likely it is due to compatibility problems between Kindle and whichever publishing program Cross used that the text sometimes has a stapled underline beginning with a number and the word “Highlighters”. Several authors have commented on similar  problems.

The three friends have three girls as opponents. Beautiful Priscilla from a powerful family and her plain friends Stephany and Jade. Reading about these two groups makes it obvious to me which other authors Cross has been influenced by. In Bianca’s case, the threesome’s characteristics are very similar to Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron. Priscilla’s threesome isn’t as obviously so.

Miss Mabel is the beautiful wicked witch. At times her behaviour becomes stereotypically so, but fortunately, Case manages to steer away from stereotype most of the time. There is no cackling. She is probably the character I liked the most.

I glanced up at Letum Wood with an uncertain eye. Nothing in that forest would make this as simple as it sounded. The eerie darkness crept about like a lazy fog, filled with unknown shadows and creatures you couldn’t always anticipate. (p. 52).

I really enjoyed Bianca’s ventures into Letum Wood and Priscilla’s troublesome last trial. I really liked Leda’s courage.  Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is a dark story and Cross does a good job creating the atmosphere and emotions required. Thankfully, the author generally manages to steer clear of telling and instead lets us find out things on our own.

Despite similarities and Miss Mabel’s sometimes stereotypical behaviour, the characters are believable for its US readers. Those who worry about explicit content (violence or sex) need not worry. For readers who enjoy young adult good vs. evil stories Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is a good read.

If you wish to read the stories in chronological order, you should begin with Mildred’s Resistance or you could buy the entire Network serial in one go.


Reviews:

Never Underestimate a Woman

There was a man who had worked all of his life and had saved all of his money and was a real miser when it came to his money. He loved money more than just about anything, and just before he died, he said to his wife, “Now listen. When I die, I want you to take all my money and put it in the casket with me. I want to take my money to the afterlife with me.”

And so he got his wife to promise him with all of her heart that when he died, she would put all of the money in the casket with him. Well, he died. He was stretched out in the casket, his wife was sitting there in black, and her friend was sitting next to her. When they finished the ceremony, just before the undertakers got ready to close the casket, the wife said, “Wait just a minute!” She had a box with her. She came over with the box and put it in the casket. Then the undertakers locked the casket down and rolled it away.

So her friend said, “Girl, I know you weren’t fool enough to put all that money in there with your husband.” She said, “Listen, I’m a GOOD woman; I can’t go back on my word. I promised him that I would put that money in the casket with him.”

“You mean to tell me you put all that money in the casket with him!!!?”

“I sure did,” said the wife. “I wrote him a check. If he can cash it, he can spend it.”

Pat Miller, May 3, 2003

Thoma, C. (2014). Boreal and John Grey. Season 2. Self-published.

As with Thoma‘s Season 1 collection, I bought the entire Season 2 of the Boreal and John Grey serial. Once again, I really enjoyed the five novellas that make up Season 2: The Threads (73p), The Snare (77p), The Warp (96p), The Loop (99p) and The Weave.

When we left Season 1, Ella’s boss changed his mind about killing Finn – as much as a Duergar/Guardian of the Gates is able to. Lots of blod had been shed, much of it by the two main characters (Ella and Finn). Now it was time for recuperation and a sort or regular life. As much as a John Grey and his Stabilizer could hope for.

Insistent ringing roused Ella from sleep, shattering a dream of Finn talking to her earnestly about lollipops.

Lollipops? Seriously?

Damn ringing continued. Had to be the alarm clock, Ella thought fuzzily and made a grab for it, upturning the lamp on her bedside table and catching it a second before it crashed to the floor.

Not the alarm clock.

Phone. Blindly she groped for it and rolled on her back to answer, her arm flopping to the side. (p. 1)

Of course, recuperation and rest are not on any hunter’s schedule. Their short leave comes to an end with the sighting of a white flying creature. All land creatures from Aelfheim are white, a necessity on a frozen world. A very long time ago Ljosaelfar made their way to Earth/Midgard through Gates created by John Grey to pierce the veil between worlds. Earth was ripe for the taking, warm and willing, while Aelfheim was frigid and stormy. Primitive Viking leaders were no threat. What the Boreal had forgotten was that invaders cannot only watch the invadees but should also watch their backs. Their attempt was thwarted by the Dokkaelfar.

Because gates have once again started appearing, that means that John Grey must exist. In Season 1 we found out that John Grey is not a single individual but rather a title bestowed on people with the ability to open Gates. As we know, today that person is Finn.

He tensed, his back arching. “Asmodr,” he gasped out. His hands curled into fists and an image hit her like a bullet between the eyes.

A blinding form, humanoid, the face dark but the rest sparkling as if made of broken mirror shards — and there was pain, bowing her spine, splitting her head, until she couldn’t breathe. The light intensified, searing into her retinas. (Kindle Locations 441-445).

However, Finn does not operate in a vacuum. For some reason his abilities require a Stabilizer, and that Stabilizer is Ella. We are about to find out what on earth a Stabilizer is and does.

Something zipped by her head. She waved a hand at her face with the vague idea it was an insect — then that something slammed into the wall of the rooftop entrance, cracking the concrete. (Kindle Locations 492-494).

There are many who want to control John Grey and his Stabilizer, for those “who control the Gates, control everything”. Hopeful puppet masters hunt the couple using their weaknesses against them. Our own history is full of successful puppet masters whose mantra is that “the end justifies the means” and are perfectly willing to kill their potential puppets if they cannot gain that control.

I really like this about Seasons 1 and 2 of Boreal and John Grey. Thoma is a Greek-Cypriot, and if anyone knows anything at all about puppet masters it is they. Even now they are victims of the breed. Maybe that is one reason the author writes so vividly and realistically about the topic.

This time, the collected novellas ended in a true cliff-hanger. If I had thought that was how the entire serial was ending, I wouldn’t have minded it as much. However, as is the case, everything about the ending points towards a Season 3.

Once again, Thoma’s writing is excellent. Rhythm, flow, and plot-tightness is maintained until the last period is written. Point of View is third person told through Ella’s eyes. Again, the story is full of action, betrayal, strange creatures, agencies, and magic, i.e. all the elements required for a great fantasy thriller. There is swearing, violence and sex (Euro-Vanilla on all three/maybe US age 16). If this does not bother you, then Boreal and John Grey ought to be a great read. It certainly was for me.


My review of:

Thoma, C. (2014). Boreal and John Grey Season 1. Self-published.

I absolutely loved the scifi/fantasy/thriller story Boreal and John Grey, Season One. Thoma is an author that justifies self-published works.  Season 1 contains the novellas “The Encounter” (45 p), “The Gate” (70 p), “The Dragon” (94 p), “The Dream” (100 p) and “The Truth” (107 p).

Although it was early September, the cold bit to the bone and the air smelled like snow. Snow and piss and trash. The alley stretched ahead, empty of life and strewn with crushed cans and paper.

Ella didn’t move. Faint humming filled her ears, and clicking noises sounded. The clouds above shifted, though no wind blew. The Veil was thinning. Shades would be lurking, waiting to pounce. In the past, faint, frail faeries came through; these had recently turned into more malevolent creatures — kobolds and goblins with a taste for blood. (p. 1.)

Right off the story reveals the quality of Thoma’s work and the kind of story we can expect. The first two paragraphs seethe with potential action and foreshadow a dark story. For Boreal and John Grey, Season 1 is a dark and action-filled story about elements of the Paranormal Investigation Bureau (PIB) and its dealings somewhere in the US.

PIB Voyants (“Sight”, i.e. can see Shades) are paired off and sent to investigate and deal with possible sightings of Shades (Vaettir). Ella Benson and Simon Esterhase make up one such pairing. An anonymous call was redirected to their team, yet only Ella turns up to hunt. What she discovers about the Veil and the Shades disturbs her boss, David Holborn. She does not reveal that when a goblin was about to kill her, it was instead destroyed by a man who fought “like a hurricane” and who left after making sure she was OK (without sharing his name). Throughout the story Ella finds that trusted people aren’t trustworthy while suspicious characters might not be suspicious after all. We also meet the ever-trustworthy Mike, Ella’s neighbour, friend and also Oracle (“He hears the Shades.”, p. 116).

Ella and the mysterious stranger are our main characters. Both are “Heroes“, i.e. “solitary people who fight for the greater good to the detriment of themselves and who do what must be done so others can live normal lives.”

Thoma tells us that she was inspired by the Icelandic saga Eddukvæði by Sæmundar (English translation). I saw this in the details of the story and how the characters from the Edda fit into modern US and  its paranoia. Edda’s inspiration made for recognizable yet new and original characters. I loved the description of the alternate evolution on a Boreal world (brrr).

Any steady reader of this blog knows that romance is not my thing. A majority of romance authors seem incapable of writing believable character interaction. Not so with Thoma. In this case I believed both the emotional and physical interactions that took place. The sex was European vanilla, and the violence held back yet remained believable. Swearing fit with its position in the story.

Certain issues were extremely relevant in a global context. Hatred left from wars leading to atrocious actions from extremist groups on both sides (e.g. Dave and Adramar) is one issue. Relationships across racial/ethnical divides is another. Child abuse a third. No preaching was involved. I hate preaching, even when I am the one doing the preaching. The worst part of the story was that it ended.

Information was weaved into the story in a manner that kept the drive going. No stutters or dissonances were found. Due to Thoma’s world-building, and how tight the story was, I found it difficult to  take breaks.

Each episode flowed flawlessly into the next and the amount of editing that must have gone into this showed. Fortunately, the novel ended without a cliff-hanger. There was a clear opening for continuing the story.

By now you must realise that I heartily recommend this scifi/fantasy/thriller. Fun characters, great resolutions, sex and some violence are all wrapped up into one of the better stories I have read this year.

I bought my copy at Amazon.


My other Thoma reviews: Rex Rising

Wrong Hands on history

Wrong Hands by John Atkinson is one of the funniest cartoons I have read. Atkinson way of making fun of life is to the point yet gentle. When I feel hit by one of his arrows that gentleness makes it easier to actually think about what he is trying to point out than to become ornery.