Tag Archives: #Racism

Braden, J. (2014). Tempt the Devil. (The Devil of Ponong III). Wayzgoose Press.

Cover design by DJ Rodgers

As with the first two novels of this series, I enjoyed “Tempt the Devil“. Braden kept up the good work all through the story.

…. she showed him the slums of Old Levapur, and forced him to look at the bodies of executed prisoners hanging from the fortress walls. Nothing he said would stop her from revealing horrors. (p. 5).

In Kyam’s opinion the Island of Ponong is the prison from which he desperately hopes to escape. But grandfather Zul wants the rule of it so badly that he forced the situation in “The Devil Incarnate“, and, with the unwilling help of QuiTai and Hadre, Kyam was left with no option but take over governorship from Turyat. One year later, the depressed and hopeless Kyam finds himself incapable of fighting back or taking an interest in his new role.

QuiTai craned around as if she’d lost sight of someone. The hairs at the nape of Kyam’s neck rose when her gaze fixed on a shadowy warehouse doorway. He didn’t see anyone, but there was a subtle shift in her face. She turned back to appraise Nashruu, as if suddenly finding her interesting. Her gaze dropped to Khyram. Kyam’s heart caught in his throat. He knew that expression. It was the most frightening look he’d ever seen, and he knew it all too well. QuiTai was thinking.  (p. 11).

On top of those struggles, Kyam’s wife, Nashruu, and her son, Khyram, are sent to join him. Kyam had not seen her for eight years and is worried they won’t get along with each other. She was chosen by grandfather Zul as his wife and grandfather Zul had also chosen the biological father of Khyram. Grandfather Zul thinks he holds Nashruu’s obedience in the palms of his hands.Her loyalty to him will be tested in “Tempt the Devil“. She discovers that he might not be the omniscient person he understands himself to be.

Since Kyam had been named as Turyat’s replacement, the avuncular man had turned from a causal user of black lotus into a vapor ghoul. His belly no longer filled his jacket. Pale skin made his addict’s red lips seem brighter. QuiTai unlocked the typhoon shutters as Turyat advanced on her. Her shoulders tensed. Turyat smoothed a lank strand of hair across his balding head. He had the look of a kicked dog. As QuiTai opened the shutter, she shook her head in one, firm motion. Turyat shouted. He gripped the shutter so she couldn’t close it. (p. 8)

Denying Turyat black lotus from herself or any other seller is the perfect revenge for his ordering of the killing of her family and herself.  Just she rewards crimes with horror, she rewards Vorus’ aid. QuiTai has paid the renowned teacher, Mityam Muul, to teach him how to interpret Thampurian laws.

On the surface “Tempt the Devil” is regarding saving QuiTai from the hang-man. Looking slightly below the surface the story is, as the first two previous novels were, about the consequences of imperialism. Investigating the murders of Ponongese is not done while all stops are pulled if a Thampurian is killed. Usually, a Ponongese is blamed and hung without due process. Except Kyam and Voruus have vested interests in QuiTai’s survival. When she demands to be arrested for the death of Thuryat they both find themselves facing ugly truths about Thampurian rule on Ponong.

Braden’s three stories mimics real world issues with frustrating accuracy.  I’m one of those who thinks that if groups of people can possibly mess things up for themselves, they will do so. There are plenty of examples of a situation like the one the Island of Ponong finds itself in. Desperately clinging to their blinders several characters have to make difficult choices about their world. If you are a fan of strange worlds similar to our own, then Braden is an author for you.


My review of:

  1. The Devil’s Concubine
  2. The Devil Incarnate

Braden, J. (2013). The Devil Incarnate (The Devil of Ponong II). Wayzgoose Press.

As I’m sure you noticed, I loved “The Devil’s Concubine“. Braden begins the second installment of “The Devil of Ponong” series with this sentence:

The morning QuiTai awoke completely sane, she knew Petrof was dead.

If any first sentence is an indication of the quality of its novel, this one is. In “The Devil Incarnate” Braden continues to weave her words together into sounds and images that brought me to the Island of Ponong and its inhabitants. Cultural gaps between the Thampurians and Ponongese are shown, not told, and I have no problem understanding the depths that must be bridged. The greatest one has to do with respect.

Thampurians respect only their male elders. When grandfather Zul states something as fact, younger generations are not allowed to gainsay him nor to disobey him even if their knowledge is greater than his. The Ponongese, however, are not bound by such rules. Age or gender do not automatically buy a person respect. Instead, titles are given on the basis of power and understanding. While speaking with people, QuiTai is called “grandmother”, “aunt”, “daughter” and “little sister” depending on the issue at hand. Even little children may be called “grandmother” if they are the most knowledgeable about a something. Even though QuiTai is a very powerful woman, her employees may call her “aunt” if the topic at hand denotes equality or if there is a close relationship. Oddly, enough, the Thampurians seem to fear this system. Or perhaps it isn’t all that strange after all.

In this story, QuiTai wants to find out who hired Petrof to kill her, Kyam Zul desperately wants to leave the island, and grandfather Zul plays games with deadly consequences.

Grandfather Zul is too much of a coward to speak directly to Kyam about what he wants to do.  Despite having articles of transport signed by Governor Turyat and Chief Justice Cuulon, grandfather Zul has pressured Thampurians into denying Kyam transport back to Thampur. In spite of his cowardly ways, Kyam cannot find fault with the old man. He claims “It is not our place to question him” even when  Hadre tells Kyam

He gave me a direct order not to tell you that he was here. He didn’t have the balls to tell you the bad news to your face, so he ran away and left it to me.”

In a sense, this is a “coming-of-age” story for Kyam. His blind devotion to Grandfather Zul is challenged over and over. Fighting facts, Kyam mostly blames others for the choices he is forced to make, and one wonders whether Kyam has the courage to face the truth about the old man.

Kyam is not the only one who has a difficult time removing his blinders. Major Voorus was hit hard when he discovered the truth about the slaves on Cay Rhi. Slowly he realizes that “honor” is just a word used by those in power to control the behavior of the masses.   “Honor” must be redefined into something he can live with. He and Kyam have a defining moment when Voorus expresses his doubts. Both of them are forced to make a choice. Sadly, both judge the Pongonese on the basis of what a Thampurian would do.

They’re just waiting for any excuse to slaughter us, and she has that excuse, Zul.

Fantasy and science fiction, more than any other kind of fiction, allows the reader to relax and look away from what their socialization has told them to think. Stories like “The Devil of Ponang” opens the door to issues like racism, culturalism, genderism and classism without telling us what to think about them. My own ideas of right and wrong have changed thanks to such literature, even when facts were not able to get through my noggin.

QuiTai grieves. Petrof killed her daughter, her family and had tried to kill her as well. In “The Devil’s Concubine” he killed her spouse, Jeezeret. “The Devil Incarnate” continues her grieving lessons as even more essential parts of her life cease. Yet she is not allowed time to grieve. Instead people demand more and more of her. Once a person manages to pull a miracle out of their sleeve, such as freeing slaves, even more unlikely deeds are expected of them. As the new incognito Devil, she also has obligations to the Ponong underworld.

You’re running out of black lotus.

I envy none of these three for what they go through in this novel, but I did enjoy reading about them and the rest of the characters in “The Devil Incarnate“.


My review of “The Devil’s Concubine

Wells, Martha; The Siren Depths; (2012); New York, Night Shade Books

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As the last mentor hopped out of the chamber, Moon saw that the seed had sprouted new white tendrils. They snaked out and twined around the crumbling remnants of the dead tendrils to follow their path into the heart wood. The tension ran out of Moon’s body and he leaned back against the wall, letting his breath out. That’s it, he thought. The seed was alive and well and back in its place. ………….

“Well, we’re home now.”

The Indigo Cloud Court mountain tree survived the adventures of The Serpent Sea and is now ready for the adventures of The Siren Depths. The last story of the trilogy begins with the leavetaking of Niran and his two air ships. Stone, the line grandfather, and several warriors and Arbora travel with him to return him safely to his family on the Golden Islands (floating islands).

Stone was cranky, moody, and had lied to get Moon to follow him across the Three Worlds, and Moon wanted him to leave slightly less than he wanted to lose a wing.

Moon loves deeply. In spite of his fears of getting thrown out of the Indigo Cloud court he cannot help loving many of them and hoping that this is his home. A place he does not have to leave. A place to feel safe. A place to belong. In the past six months Moon has come to know what he is (a Raksura Aeriat Consort) and that there are other beings like him (the Indigo Cloud Court). Except for vague memories from early childhood, up until he met Stone, he had never encountered another like himself. His foster-mother and foster-siblings were eaten when he was around 4-5 years old. For the past 35 years he made the best of what survival skills his foster-mother had taught him to survive The Three Worlds and its diverse groundling populations. However, getting accepted by the court’s members has not been a simple matter.

“He doesn’t have to think about it,” Root said suddenly, with a pointed glance around at the others. “Nobody wanted Moon here, remember?”

There was a moment of appalled silence. Then Floret hissed and aimed a slap at Root’s head. He rolled out of reach, bounced up to stand in the safety of the passage door, and hissed at them all. “You know it’s true!”

The past six months haven’t been safe. He has battled the Fell and magicians and has saved the Indigo Cloud Court mountain tree. Not by himself, but he played a major part in all three situations. That is a lot of danger for six months. In spite of proving himself several times over, a faction of the Indigo Cloud Court see Moon as a threat to the Raksura way. That makes sense, when you think about it. Living in a variety of cultures, over a number of years, has shown Moon alternative life-styles and he has trouble fitting into the various views of what being a consort entails. Both consorts and queens are high-strung creatures yet Queens are taught to channel this into aggressive and assertive leadership while Consorts are taught to be timid and nurturing. In healthy courts consorts are pampered and protected from the outside world until they reach maturity. They then go to the consort halls. After a while, they are either claimed by a queen of their court or given away to another court to cement relations between them.

“The courts in the Reaches have to see us as something besides struggling refugees coming back to our old mountain-tree to die off in peace. It’s bad enough that they know we have a feral consort with no bloodline; when you act like one your’re shaming all of us, making us look weak.”

Yet Moon never received that socialization and that is a good thing for the survival of Indigo Cloud Court. Moon has endeared himself to most of the Arbora and the fledglings. Getting the mountain tree up to its old standards takes hard work. Hard work that he is willing to put in but that Aeriats like River are not. Moon has shown much of the Aeriat that they, too, can help make platforms safe, hunt animals and clean house. Particularly Jade has taken his example to heart. Because he is her consort, his behavior reflects upon her. By joining in when she is able to she shows the entire court her approval and her willingness to get dirty. The Arbora appreciates Moon’s example and leaves him small gifts in his bower (the consorts’ rooms).

Not only the Arbora and the Aeriat have benefitted from Moon’s untraditional life. His experiences with dealing with trauma has made him the ideal person to help the three fledgling Summer Sky court survivors, Frost, Bitter and Thorn (clutch queen and two consorts). They trust him implicitly and take advantage of him in all ways he allows them. He benefits by having someone to share his knowledge with who will not judge him on what he “is supposed or not supposed” to do. Moon underestimates the impact he has on the Indigo Cloud Court.

When they went to the Emerald Twilight Court, Ice, mother-queen of Emerald Twilight Court, saw something about Moon that made her wonder about his heritage. In an attempt to make up for Halcyon’s behavior she looks into the matter. What she discovers turns Moon’s life up-side-down once more.

Wells’ stories about the Raksura blend current issues with an imaginative world into a compelling story. My brain harmonizes with her writing. It baffles me that her stories have not been translated into other languages.


My review of:

West of the Pecos by Zane Grey

As some of you know, I have a blog dedicated to Zane Grey. He published action romance novels in the early 1900’s.

West of the Pecos; New York, The American Magazine, 1931

18Feb

Illustrated by Frank Hoffman

West of the Pecos

was first published as a 7-episode serial in The American Magazine from August of 1931 to February of 1932. In 1937 Harper & Brothers published the story as an action romance. The Zane Grey’s Western Magazine published West of the Pecos in 1947 and again in 1954. The main characters are Pecos Smith and Terrill (Rill) Lambeth with Sambo as supporting character. As usual, nature plays an important role displaying Pecos River, Horsehead Crossing and Langtry around 1865-1871 (ZGWS). A free copy is available in Roy Glashan‘s library.

“When Templeton Lambeth’s wife informed him that if God was good they might in due time expect the heir he had so passionately longed for, he grasped at this with the joy of a man whose fortunes were failing, and who believed that a son might revive his once cherished dream of a new and adventurous life on the wild Texas ranges west of the Pecos River.

That very momentous day he named the expected boy Terrill Lambeth, for a beloved brother. Their father had bequeathed to each a plantation; one in Louisiana, and the other in eastern Texas. Terrill had done well with his talents, while Templeton had failed.

The baby came and it was a girl. This disappointment was the second of Lambeth’s life, and the greater. Lambeth never reconciled himself to what he considered a scurvy trick of fate. He decided to regard the child as he would a son, and to bring her up accordingly. He never changed the name Terrill. And though he could not help loving Terrill as a daughter, he exulted in her tomboy tendencies and her apparently natural preferences for the rougher and more virile pleasures and occupations. Of these he took full advantage.”

Zane Grey was known for thorough research for his stories and appropriately portrayed characters according to each storyline’s class, gender and color. In West of the Pecos we find ourselves in Texas before and after the war between Southern and Northern states. Texas never experienced the major invasions that other Southern states did. Shortages of essentials like food, medication and paper was extensive because essentials went to the army. To support the war, new property-, poll-, income- and distilling taxes were imposed. Refugees started arriving and wounded men returned. Crime rose and sometimes these were answered with lynchings. Since most white men, like Lambeth, joined the army, women took over the running of most facets of life. Many cotton plantations were not as affected as other industries (TSLAC). However, the Lambeth women experienced hardship, and their slaves probably felt the increasing lack of ready income the most. When the war ended, Lambeth returned a widower with a fifteen year old daughter (Rill) to provide for and a plantation he no longer wants to run.

West of the Pecos is about gender differences, how Texans viewed African-Americans, crime as a consequence of the war, poverty and not giving up. It’s probably one of my favourite Zane Grey action romances. The action is excellent. As usual nature plays a vital part……………………………….

The rest of the review is on zanegreyandme.wordpress.com

Huff, Tanya; Valor’s Choice (Confedation of Valor I)(2000)

“If space is big and mostly uninhabited, it should be safe to assume that any life-forms who really didn’t get along would avoid spending time in each other’s company.

Unfortunately, the fact that said life-forms could avoid each other doesn’t necessarily mean that they would.

When the Others attacked systems on the borders of Confederation territory, Parliament sent out a team of negotiators to point out that expansion in any other direction would be more practical as it would not result in conflict. The negotiators were returned in a number of very small pieces…”

The Confederation and the Others each consist of several sentient life forms wanting a piece of the other side’s action. Unlike the Others, the Confederation had been at peace for long enough to evolve an inability to kill species they defined as sentient, leaving the Elder races desperate for someone to protect them. As Humans had, already, ventured out into their own solar system, they were uplifted on the condition that they, in effect, become the military arm of the Confederation. Once the Krai and di’Taykan were included into the Conferation, that military was expanded.

Valor’s Choice takes us to a world where another warlike species has been discovered. The Silsviss are tough enough that the military want them to join the Confederation and not the Others. Enter  the Human Torin Kerr, staff sergeant for the Sh’Quo Company. General Morris, who has never been in a ground battle, orders Kerr to recall the battleworn Sh’quo Company, supposedly to serve as honor guard for the diplomats. On top of that she is given a brand new  second lieutenant, the di’Taykan di’Ka Jarret to train. Their relationship is part of the humour of the story, but not for the reasons one might suspect. Jarret is not a bumbling fool. Instead the humour lies in their preexisting relationship.

Neither Kerr nor Jarret are fools. Both of them know that General Morris is planning on something unpleasant for them. Nothing they can do other than be as prepared as they can. On to diplomat-sitting duty they travel. Fortunately, Huff does not fall into some of the tempting traps that are available to authors. Male and female characters are not stereotyped. Nor are the other marines portrayed as stupid fighting machines. Granted, the extras do not have in-depth personalities, but Huff has tried to bring them somewhat to life. Huff manages to blend the three fighting species into a unit all the while maintaining species-typical behaviour. Valor’s Choice is told in third person from Kerr’s point of view and  she is the person who is most three-dimensional. I found myself liking her. Another character I really liked was the envoy from the Silvsniss, Cri Sawyes.

There is definitely entertainment value in Valor’s Choice. In the sense that it draws me in and keeps me reading, it could be called escapist. Yet, escapism isn’t all there is to this story. Power and politics are major themes of Valor’s Choice. General Morris is a political general, i.e. he wants advancement at whatever price others have to pay. I strongly dislike people who intend to use other people’s lives to get there. Even when fighting is inevitable, war-hawks tend to up the tally of dead.

Valor’s Choice is also about specieism. Colourism or culturism are inevitable. Humans are programmed to use pre-existing information upon meeting people who look or behave different from themselves and their contemporaries. Humans, Krai and di’Taykan are all war-like. Disparaging remarks are made about the Silvsniss by the marines, but they aren’t said in the same spirit they use on each other. The three military species have worked out their differences (with the help of translators) and joke about those species-specific behaviours (like eating your grandmother). In many ways they find  Silvsniss easier to understand than the Elder races the marines babysit. Nor are the Elder races able to comprehend how bloodthirsty the three military species.

Valor’s Choice is a military sci-fi space opera with fighting on the ground. Except for the last bit. Fighting does not begin until after page 100. For me it was easy to get into and was interesting even when action was slow.

Bell, Odette C. The Betrothed & Shattered Destiny. 2015

“Life, in all its imperfect variation, was nothing compared to the scale of nothingness that made up most of the known universe.”

Shattered Destiny (loc 19537)

Davis, Milton & Ojetade, Balogun (ed); Steamfunk! (2013)

Illustrated by Marcellus Shane Jackson

Steamfunk! is my first encounter with the genre. Like all anthologies I have ever read, some of the stories appealed to me while others did not. No wonder, given the span of genres. Steamfunk is a US-centric collection of stories that love their steam. I keep on wondering to what extent steam could be an energy source. There are some ideas here that I have not seen before.

According to Balogun Ojetade the Steamfunk! anthology came about because:

The Steamfunk anthology came about from a conversation that I and several authors had online about the lack of Steampunk stories told from a Black / African perspective. We all agreed we would create an anthology in which we would tell such stories. Author Maurice Broaddus suggested we call it Steamfunk and author / publisher Milton Davis agreed to publish it.

They chose the correct person to illustrate the cover. Marcellus Shane Jackson has done an excellent job capturing the essence of each  story. There are cosmetic problems with my kindle version, mostly to do with ↵. It’s a distraction from the stories themselves.

The Delivery by Milton Davis

In the late 1800’s women needed chaperones to go anywhere. Anthony Wainright paid for one of the puppet-men (steam-powered robot) from GWC Factories to escort his fiancée, Miss Appelgate, from Freedonia to New York City. Upon arrival they cannot find Mr. Wainright. Instead, Miss Appelgate is kidnapped by Beuregard Clinton. Clinton shot the puppet-man and managed to hit one of the steam veins. Mr. Stiles, from the airship, fixes him. After that the puppet-man and Mr. Stiles set off to find and save Miss Appelgate from her kidnappers.

Tough Night in Tommyville by Melvin Carter

Problem-solvers Rudy and Boatwright get off the hopper at Thomasville. They have been hired by head gang-boss of the underbelly of Thomasville, Stanford “Rip” Tatum, to solve the problem of Rip’s ex and her river-wolf. Grace Baptiste-Neely and Lloyd “Daddy” Green supposedly hijacked and killed people Rip would prefer lived. Plenty of surprises, like a marching band on coke, line up to whack them in the face.

Men in Black by P. Djeli Clark

The title does not have anything to do with cockroaches invading earth. Whitewood and Blackwood are neighbouring towns. Mainly whites live in one of them and only Blacks live in the other. 40 years after slavery ended tensions still run high and it takes little to get lynching blood cooking. Laurence, from Blackwood, heard his dad say that this next lynching of a coloured man was unjust. So Laurence convinces Big Walter to see what it is all about. Whitewood certainly gets the surprise of its life during the sham trial.

Mudholes and Mississippi Mules by Malon Edwards

Genetic tinkering brought about Aeshna with her compound eyes and insect mouth parts. All she and Petal want is to be left alone. But that cannot be when Aeshna is able to judge a person’s soul and mete out appropriate punishment. Petal is another changed human fitted with a steam clock for a heart and a compost boiler for guts. One day Bald Man Head comes on an errand from the Hanged Man. I liked these two women and the story was fun to read. Especially towards the end.

A Will of Iron by Ray Dean

A Will of Iron is based on the well-known The Ballad of John Henry.

A man is nothing but a man,
But before I let your steam drill beat me down,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand

People fighting to keep their jobs from being replaced by new technology is an old and familiar one.

The Path of Ironclad Bison by Penelope Flynn

Zahara and Porter are left in the desert to die. Finances had fallen a long way from their steady income with Cross Continental Airship Line. Was all that was left for the two friends a slow and painful death in the desert?

The Refugee by Kochava Green

In the world of Kochava Green, humans must be extremely careful around bodies of water or they risk the fate of those infected with Lepidoptera larvae. St. Lauritz All-Mother cloister is extremely lucky when a woman from San Lazare wishes to become a novice there. The All-Mother cloisters accept women from all walks of life, no-holds-barred.  Sister Amelia brings unique strengths that aid in the survival of the women. She, in turn, finds a new purpose to life. Refugee is one of my favourite stories.

The Switch by Valjeanne Jeffers

Revolutions seldom bring change, only new overlords. Z100 had been a key player in the revolution that made women property. Because she had been a spy, she was exempt from those rules. But only as long as she did not marry. She was careful in her choice of men by never having humans for lovers. Life-like robots were her get-out-of-jail card. What she forgot is that all security protocols have weaknesses.

Benjamin’s Freedom Magic by Ronald T. Jones

Slavery is a common tool in human history. One of the many problems with slavery is the de-humanizing of people. In rare cases that might actually work to a slave’s advantage because their owners generally do not see slaves or servants. Infiltrating a particular group of slaves is the only way our investigator, Sam, has to find out what Cicero Jensen and Secretary Patterson try to hide inside Jensen’s barn. During his investigations, Sam learns a bit about himself, his attitudes and how far people will go to keep a secret.

Once a Spider by Rebecca McFarland Kyle

This was another favourite. Nansi is a shape-changing human/spider. Imagine the size of that spider! Her dual identity is a result of her Trickster father. At night Nansi, the spider, fights crime in the city. She is not the only shape-changer. There are wolves and tigers as well. One night, to protect a new-born baby, Nansi kills a tiger. That choice changes her life and the life of the city.

On Western Winds by Carole McDonnell

Through the journal of the Headmistress of a women’s college we learn what happens when the ocean brings a dock, or part of it, to the beach by the college. A decision is made to bring the dock inside city walls. A short time later, body parts turn up on the same beach. Then a sub-mariner hears a pulse coming from the depths of the ocean.

The Lion Hunters by Josh Reynolds

I really liked this one as well. It is time for the initiation of the Masai boy Saitoti into the ranks of lion-hunters. Eleven lion-hunters travel to Mombasa to meet with Ethiopian Bahati Mazarin. She tells them that there are two lions she wants killed. That is, if they are lions. Rumours would have it otherwise. Bahati Mazarin comes with them on the hunt. Saitoti cannot help but wonder why she is going with them and why she specifically asked for their group. He hopes it has nothing to do with his own background.

The Sharp Knife of a Short Life by Hannibal Tabu

Clara Perry is on the strangest journey of her life. Unbeknownst to her, Clara’s cryogenic chamber was not sitting in Las Vegas waiting to be opened years into the future. Instead, persons unknown had sent her to the planet Pless to introduce them to technology. It turns out Pless has human-like people on it, people who breathe air Clara can breathe, eat food Clara can eat and behave in a manner Clara can relate to. She soon establishes herself as a woman to be reckoned with. Widow Perry breaks gender roles and class roles, enabling Clara’s integration with people from the various walks of life on Pless. I really liked this story as well. There is something about realistically portrayed strong women that I like. Not that steamfunk is realistic, but I hope you understand what I mean.

The Tunnel at the End of the Light by Geoffrey Thorne

Every ‘jack knew that secrets were death on the rim. But secrets had been kept from the younger generations of Breaktown. When a rip tears Kally Freeman from Other Country to somewhere else, Bannecker Jack does not hesitate to jump after her. “Where did we come from?” “How did we get here?” were questions the child Bannecker often asked his mother. He is about to find out.

Rite of Passage: Blood & Iron by Balogun Ojetade

Warden Clemons tells prisoner John William Henry that he is about to experience the breeze of the Virginia wind and the smell of its dirt again. Only thing is, John Henry will do that by being part of a chain-gang laying tracks for The C and O Railway. Oh joy. John Henry uses this as a chance to run away. He is shot but manages to make his way into an opening in the side of a hill.


Reviews:

Hernandez, Jessica: Capering on Glass Bridges (Hawk of Stone I)

Capering on Glass Bridges, 2015
On Fiaru Island, in the Kingdom of Greylandia, on the world Acu lives the Stone family. We first meet them at the Pairing ceremony of the youngest daughter. Meeting your canonipom and bonding with it is the most important day in the lives of Greylandians. As far as the people we meet know, Kaia Stone (16) is the only person who never did so. The Stones are humans. Canonipoms are not.

A canonipom is about a foot tall and humanoid in appearance, the same gender as its human and similar in nature and looks. Being a companion seems to be its sole purpose. Once a Pairing is complete, the two have a bond that allows telepathic communication.

Soon after the family returned from the bonding, a flird appeared with a message from the Speaker Council on Zavonia. A flird is a type of shape-changer. One form functions as a flying messenger capable of conversation and memorization. Its other form is flower-like. Travel for a flird must be instantaneous because the time it took to go back and forth between Zavonia and Fiaru was, at most, a couple of hours.

The Council invited the Stones to appear before them. Speakers are human magicians whose words, or Utterances, manifest. As with most magicians, talent and work ethics differ between Speakers. To get to the secretive island, the Stone family had travel overnight by ship. The Council of Speakers asked Kaia to go on a mission to the cursed Kingdom of Mar.

Ten years ago, Marians slaughtered the Tivmicians and, thereby, into conflict with one of the Speakers’ utterances:

“Should a group ever seek the extermination of another group, … let Acu’s skies cry blood on that day. Let the plagued realm know only misery, and let it offer escape to none.”

And so the Marians were cursed forever. Or so it seemed. Recently, the Utdrendans (one of the first three races) told the Speakers there was a chance the curse could be lifted. To do so, Kaia Stone of Greyland and Sir Pelliab Blackwell of Darlbent must go to Mar and report the Utdrendan message to King Richard of Mar and discover a cure. Kaia and Pelliab would not have to travel alone. The Council promised to send along two Speakers and five of King Robert’s (brother to Richard) sons. Mr. Stone refused outright to let his 16 year old daughter traipse off into unknown territory. Kaia felt this quest would, finally, give her life meaning and felt devastated by her father’s refusal. However, just as she was about to enter the return vessel, one of the Councillors pushed a flird bulb up her sleeve. If she chooses to go, it will have to be without her family knowing and that worries her.

Capering on Glass Bridges is a hero’s quest story, and that means we know what Kaia will decide. She is our main character and it would be strange if she stayed home. So. We get to meet five princes of King Robert’s 1000 children (busy man), two speakers and a kingsman along with the various people who are part of the adventure. Kaia and Pelliab’s challenge lies in getting to the Kingdom of Mar, then getting to King Richard, then finding out what they and the kingdom need to do to lift the curse. A solution is not found in book one of the duology.

Capering on Glass Bridges is Hernandez debut. It has a good story-line. Genre betas and/or editor would have improved it. Terminology is important and there were inconsistencies. However, there very few spelling/grammar problems, and the plot and creatures fit the “hero’s quest” genre.


Reviews:


The author gave me a reviewer’s copy of Capering on Glass Bridges.


Capering on Glass Bridges is available at Smashwords

Flynn, Sabrina; A Bitter Draught (Ravenwood Mysteries II) (2015)

I have followed Sabrina Flynn‘s writing since her début novel. It simply does not do her justice to say that her writing has improved immensely. That she happens to throw in important issues as well, is frosting on A Bitter Draught.

Humphrey glanced at the envelope again. Muttering under his breath about redheads and their strange temperaments, he opened the envelope, hoping he wasn’t going to get arrested. It held a neatly folded slip of paper. When he unfolded the slip, a single line of elegant words ran its width. A cold prickle pierced Humphrey’s neck and crawled down his spine, producing a shiver that no San Franciscan wind had yet managed.

And so our story begins. San Francisco around the turn of the 19th century was a hot-bed of racism, corruption and bigotry.

“For murdering a Negro woman? The police all but accused my wife of harlotry.”

Isobel Saavedra Amsel (formerly Kingston), aka Bel, aka Charlotte Bonnie, aka Mr. Morgan is back in town and finds San Francisco unforgiving of people running out of capital. Bel has never been a helpless damsel, waiting for her knight in shining armor, and she aims to solve her emptying purse. The San Francisco Call hints at a solution.

Reporter Charlotte Bonnie gets wind of an unusual death on Ocean Beach. That people die after entering the water at Ocean Beach is in and of itself not interesting. It is a dangerous place to wade. What makes Ms. Bonnie’s detecting muscles stretch is the note in the sand that went with the death of Violet. Clues are given early on and continue throughout the story. Keep your eyes open and brain at attention and you may well solve the mystery before our favorite cross-dresser does.

Mr. Morgan is not alone in his cross-dressing. We also meet our favorite gender fluid and gay side-kick, Loratio, aka Madame de Winter, aka Paris. Since before they ran away to the circus, Bel and Loratio have caused their parents heart problems. Both are wild for their time. People often think of the “Wild West” as wild. And it was. But that wildness was pretty shallow when it came to gender- and sexually-fluid people. Our twins hold many of my favorite moments in this story.

Atticus Riot is both cynical and naïve. Despite his childhood as the son of a crib-whore, he thinks that as long as he does his part in fighting the darker sides of people, justice will prevail. He might also be deemed nuts. Ravenwood has not yet left him and conversations between the two seem a bit one-sided when all people see is Riot. Yet Riot needs both his naivety and his ghost to keep living and helping people. A husband comes to him seeking to understand the death of his wife. They had only been married three months, and the man knew little of her background. San Francisco being San Francisco, Riot warns the husband he may not like the answers he gets. As it turns out, neither does Riot. But the road towards understanding brings him, once again, into contact with Bel.

And Kingston. Will Kingston find out that his dead wife is back in town? Good question.

I loved A Bitter Draught. Yeah. Loved it. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


My review of From the Ashes (1)


The author gave me a reviewer’s copy of A Bitter Draught


Just because: you-tube clip from 1903 of Ocean Beach w/Cliff House, Copyright: American Mutoscope & Biograph Co.

 

Wolfe, Anna: Liar’s Game (The One Rises V) (2015)

Liar's Game; 2016
Illustration by Kip Ayers

After reviewing books for four years (April), I have come to realize that great stories (regardless of category) come about through bloody hard work and zing. Any one of us can get to a point of writing good books. Only some of us manage zing. Anna Wolfe is one of them. I have had the privilege following Wolfe’s journey through The One Rises and have watched her mastery and self-confidence grow. By now you must realize that I am going to say that Liar’s Game is the best of the lot.

In her preface Wolfe makes certain no technical difficulties will arise in reading her story. She then gives a brief intro of the previous books. It is, as she states, possible to read Liar’s Game without having read the earlier four stories, but your enjoyment will be much higher if you have gotten to know the main characters Carrie, Silas, Mark, Edie and the Hatter ahead of time. In Liar’s Game we get to know more about Jiye, Mimi, Hyacinth and the Seer.

Up til now, the Seer has been shown as hated and implacable. Liar’s Game demonstrates that life is too complicated for such simplistic interpretations of the Seer:

“We care only about guiding our little globe down the right path. We care about the many, more than the one. And the two of you are necessary to preserve the best futures. But you must find the truth for yourselves or important possibilities become nothing more than frozen darkness.” They do not understand. How can they? They are both so young.

Finally, Dokuz asked a question he should have asked a hundred years ago. “How far can you See?”

At last. “Millenia.” And we won’t be able to help you surf the challenges that are coming. Not if you won’t let us help you.

Imagine what it must be like to see into the future for millennia and to know that quite a few of those paths lead to the annihilation of your species, humans. I know I would go crazy, and my guess is that the Seer most likely was insane during her early incarnations. At least until she became we. Wolfe does not explain the Seer’s we, but she has let us see how Carrie communicates with her memory sets. Once again, I am guessing and believe that the Seer chose at some time in the past to magically retain the memories of every incarnation. That would take courage, resilience and a whole lot of stubborn. Mark, Callie and Silas learn this side of her, and that changes them. How could it not?

Mark is frustrated. His demon-infection demands anger to sate its hunger, and Mark is a master at making people angry. Somehow, his ability recognizes what will hurt the most and tries to force words to bring hurt and anger out in all he meets. Being able to sense lies also aids his ability a great deal. Liar’s Game shows us how painful controlling his ability is.

The sensation in his mouth morphed into a ball of needles that was trying to escape his skull in every direction.

For some reason Callie can feed him without anger, but Callie is an extremely dangerous person to feed from. She has almost killed him once, and neither of them wishes to repeat that experience. So Mark starves rather than inflect unnecessary anger on people.

Silas winced and then a sick ball of dread opened up in his stomach. And now she dies. I’ll have to pass it off as a suicide, but after the events in San Fran, Edie and Mark will be at risk. They will both have to leave. And soon. Only Callie didn’t die. One moment turned into ten and still Callie stood there glaring at him. Shock rippled through him, and for a moment, he couldn’t hear anything. The room wavered under his feet, and he stumbled forward until he could sit on the end of the bed.

Why does Callie not die? Wolfe has hinted at the truth in the previous books. This should knock the final nail into your chest of understanding. No worries, though. All is revealed in Liar’s Game. Fair is fair, so Callie finds out about Silas. Gaining knowledge about each other tears down preconceptions and barriers and matures Silas and Callie for the Seer.

Anna Wolfe states that The One Rises series is intended for adults. Most likely that is because of the sex. It is certainly explicit but no more than the violence in many Young Adult stories. There is plenty of ACTION and some violence.

Highly recommended.

Liar’s Game was given to me by the author.


Liar’s Game is available at Smashwords from Feb 1, 2016


My review of: 1) Bitten, 2) Addicted, 3) Ensnared by magic, 4) Poisoned by deceit

Green, Dominic: Saucerers and Gondoliers (Ant & Cleo 1) (2008)

Saucerers and Gondoliers cover
Cover by Dominic Green

It was the cover that lured me in. Sometimes I am lucky and the cover actually presages the contents.

Dominic Green‘s Ant & Cleo series is as well-written and ridiculous as only British humor can be. These two young (12 years old) people go through experiences that are disconnected to reality as we prefer to believe it. Unless, of course, Britain, Russia (USSR) and the US have actually managed to get colonies into space. I suppose it is possible?

First, Antony and Cleopatra, the main characters. Their characters have little to do with the portrayal by Shakespeare but more in common with the originals. Ant seems to be bluff, passionate and a little simple-minded (and highly underestimated by Cleo), while Cleo is fairly intelligent and practical.

It all begins with a trip to the woods with Ant’s father. Forests are great places for adventure, though I doubt many people get to go into space with an alien from Lalande 21185. Strangely enough, this alien looks like a human:

“The new man looked tired and thin, and had a haircut that suggested he spent a lot of his time in prison. He was wearing neither a suit nor combat fatigues, but a pair of Levi’s which still had the label dangling from the back of them, and a maroon T shirt. The T shirt had aliens in flying saucers on it, along with the words SPACE RASTA.”

Mr. Green throws Ant & Cleo into situations that keep them wondering about the things they have learned in school. The spaceship they leave Earth in is their first clue to their ignorance. “Made in Britain by Hawker Siddeley Aviation” seems a bit far-fetched to them. But that is what the maker’s plate says.

Then they meet Americans (US) in space. What a parody of every prejudice non-US citizens have had of them. White-supremacy, a confederate flag and deep southern accents along with names like Billy-Bob, Billy-Hank and Wayne-Bob. A whole sleuth of movies go through my memories as I write this. The funniest thing about these stereotypes is that Hollywood is the worst perpetrator of the image (and early James Bond). Their new compatriots join them on that planet. Glenn Bob and Truman make an odd couple. One very curious and the other diligent in carrying out assigned jobs.

After the US, Ant & Cleo get to meet members of the Soviet Union. Yes. In space the USSR still rules and feelings between the US and Russians continue to be very cold (I guess a bit like today).  Here, too, accents and behavior copies movie and television stereotypes. Mr. Green nails these stereotypes.

“Glorious Soviet Yutopia does not kyill wyomen and chyildren”

OMG, non-russians speaking English with Russian accents drive me crazy. Finally, Ant & Cleo get to meet and talk with the British. Their poor kidnapper has been unconscious ever since their spaceship broke Earth’s orbit, so they do not know who he is and where he is from. He is British. Here again, Green nails every stereotype. These are the British who shake their head and carry on with the job even when they are severely wounded, wring sweat out of their long underwear to make water and express strong feelings by saying things like “Golly”, “Gosh” and “Bally good”.

Nothing is realistic. Well, except that quite a lot of it is. Tension between countries, secretive and lying governments and people who try to follow the propaganda they have been brought up are all things Green portrays as is. Propaganda, my goodness, what a great examples of propaganda and the brainwashing citizens are put through and accept.

I enjoyed this book immensely and think it would be appropriate for people from around 10 years old and up. Adults might have to explain some of the references, but with the I-net available to many, they might not.

Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


Reading order:

Priest, Cherie: Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Eden Moore 1) (2003)

Book design by Nicole de las Heras
Book design by Nicole de las Heras

“Hey,” I said, not to greet her but to get her attention. “Hey.”
Her eyes rolled to meet mine.
She opened her mouth but did not yet speak. Instead it seemed
every sound in the forest was pulled inside her gasping lungs and I was standing in the vacuum. I knew my friends were only yards away but I did not hear their small, fast feet shuffling through the undergrowth. No birds sang and no squirrels knocked winter nuts down into empty trees. Even the shadows stopped crawling across the rocks as the sky held the clouds above in place.
My breath snagged in my throat and refused to leave my chest.
Tears came to the woman’s eyes and dripped to the forest floor
unchecked. Her head swiveled slowly, looking past her left shoulder and then her right. Her choked, thin voice cried out to the others.
Willa, Luanna—she’s over here.
Two other women appeared, one on either side of her. They had
the same vaguely African features as the first, with hair bound into submission by scarves tied in loose knots. Their faces might have been round once, but their skin was drawn back and their wide cheekbones made shelves that shadowed their hollow jaws. Their teeth were exaggerated by fleshy lips robbed of their firmness, and when they spoke to one another it was a terrible sight.
There she is, his darling one.
His pretty one.
Oh, Mae, she’s returned to you. She’s returned to us.
Mae crouched low to examine me with her enormous, brimming
eyes. My baby, she said, reaching one scrawny arm to my face. Mybaby. Miabella.

Who wants to live forever? Not I. Some people do and this greed is explored in the story about Eden Moore, her convoluted family tree and ghostly followers.

In Four and Twenty Blackbirds the John Gray death-cult uses a dark combination of Songhaien Sorko lore and Seminole lore to bring their founder back to life. Somehow John Gray is tied to young Eden, who we meet for the first time when she is five.

Five years old, Eden hears her three ghostly followers speak for the first time with the words in the quote above. As a child, I had no concept of dead or alive, and I imagine my reaction would have been much as Eden’s was. She was used to these women. They were different to other women, but, you know, people! As she grew older, she realized that others considered Eden a bit of an oddity. Apparently, at least until her first time at camp, no other person she met saw what she now understood were ghosts.

Cherie Priest is not afraid to tackle serious issues. One of the most serious issues in Southern USA is racism. As a child, I was bullied a lot. So, to some extent, I can imagine what it must have been like for Eden to be bullied for something she had no control over. Some of her class-mates and her pale faced relatives were horrible and on one occasion a co-student made it really simple for Eden to break the rules.

“You guys who aren’t all white and aren’t all black. You’re not anything except the worst mix of a bad lot, and it don’t surprise my dad at all that a family like yours would have something crazy like this going on.”

Auntie Lulu, Eden’s adopted mother and aunt, keeps the truth of Eden’s ancestry from her in an attempt to shield her. Being the last to know does not make for a happy Eden.  But Eden must wait until she is old enough to search for the truth on her own.

Works well as a stand-alone, but is part of a series. Definitely recommended. I had trouble putting it down.


Reviews:


Four and Twenty Blackbirds may be found at McMillan

Bishop, Anne: The Pillars of the World (Tir Alainn) (2001)

Reading to my daughter continues to be a pleasure. Our journey through the land of fantasy brought us into the world of Anne Bishop and the trilogy The World of the Fae.

The Pillars of the World is the first book of the series. It works well as a stand-alone novel. Bishop takes us in to a world where one man’s fears changed two countries into places where the gap between the powerful and the powerless becomes unbridgeable. Now the turn has come to Sylvalan.

Misogyny is said to be the hatred and dislike of girls or women. Personally, I believe it is more about fear of the perceived power or potential power of women and girls. Add to that a hunger for an increase in one’s own power and a religion or belief-system is born. Adolfo, the Master Inquisitor, the Witch’s Hammer, carries his misogynism and power hunger to extremes.

She’d never heard of the Evil One until Master Adolfo came to stay with Baron Hirstun. But she knew with absolute certainty that there was such a creature, that the Evil One did, indeed, walk the earth.

And its name was Master Inquisitor Adolfo, the Witch’s Hammer.

He was the very breath of Evil with his quietly spoken words and the gentle sadness in his eyes. Those things were the mask that hid a rotted spirit.

Oh, yes, treat the witch gently so that she may repent. Don’t look upon her limbs so that you won’t be swayed by lust.

The soul-rotted bastard just didn’t want those men to see the welts, the cuts, the burns he had inflicted on her to “help” her confess. The hobbles provided a clever excuse for why she couldn’t walk well. And he certainly hadn’t hesitated to indulge his lust. His rod was as much a tool as the heated poker and the thumbscrews.

While many witches in Sylvalan certainly have enough power to defend themselves, they also have a creed that states “do no harm”. Sometimes such beliefs are also taken to extremes. Not even saving themselves or their loved ones will bring the witches to use their magic to harm another person. Many of them end up being murdered after severe torture and forced confessions to crimes never committed. All for the sake of one man’s insatiable hunger and fear and other men’s envy.

Adolfo’s and his inquisitors’ distrust and dislike of the witches spreads to the rest of the population. We all know what happens when people flock together like sheep following the voice they want to hear rather than that little voice inside their own heads screaming STOP! The few who do try to stop what is happening end up being accused of the crime of “consorting with the Evil one” and killed.

All because of one man’s fears.

Not only the inquisitors regard witches as a lower species. The Fae in eastern Sylvalan consider themselves supreme beings of the earth. To take one’s pleasures with one of the non-fae is considered a right, but if a male fae should happen to breed a child upon one of the lesser species children are not taken care of. Female fae place the baby on the door-step of the father not wishing to sully Tir Alainn with mixed breeds. Tir Alainn is the home of the Fae, the place they venture out from when they want to play with those of lesser worth.

Definitely recommended both as a read-alone and read-together book.


Reviews:


Translations:

Meaney, John: Bone Song (2007)

My introduction to John Meaney came through the Nulapeiron series with the book Paradox. I was blown away by the quality of the writing. Then I placed the novel on my shelf and sort of forgot about it (I read a lot). Through my library Bone Song came to my attention. Talk about pleasant reunion with an author. This reminder led to the purchase of the remainder of the Nulapeiron Sequence and the later continuation of Tristopolis with Dark Blood.

John Meaney writes a mean book, a novel that draws me into its lair waiting to be consumed by it. And I was. Bone Song was incredibly difficult to put down. Meaney’s description of Tristopolis is beguiling and dark. Atmosphere and personalities light up like a beacon in my mind.

Considering the title of my blog Bone Song is the perfect first novel to review. In it we find the darker side of humanity described in a manner that shows us the lure of power – power-hunger – power-addiction and the concept that some people are more equal than others.

Bone Song is the first book in the Tristopolis series. Tristopolis is the city of Lieutenant Donal Riordan, the good guy in this plot. It is also a city where the dead are sent to give energy to the generators that keep the city running. Zombies, wraiths and gargoyles are only some the races inhabiting this world along with humans, and Donal manages to interact and make friends with them all.

Bone Song is supposedly a horror book but I’m not sure I agree with that assessment. It’s certainly a dark enough world, but it seems bleak rather than horrifying and creepy.

Donal has been assigned to protect an exceptional opera singer who the authorities suspect is on the hit-list of a mysterious serial killer. The job does not go well. Donal gets drawn into a world of deception and betrayal, a world where he has to find someone hidden by powerful connections.

There is murder and mayhem, but Donal shines like a beacon in this book. He’ll kill and maim if he has to, but he’d prefer it if he didn’t. His opponents (mysterious as they are) are quite different. “The end justifies the means” seems to be their motto. This does seem to be the motto of power-addicted people.


Reviews:


Bone Song available on Amazon US

Jackson, Ros: Melody of Demons (Kaddon Keys I) (2015)

Melody of Demons

I had an “aha” experience reading Melody of Demons. Asperger that I am, life apparently affects my ability to read a story. A recent family crisis brought out chaos in my head. To deal with that chaos, I unconsciously shut off certain cognitive processes, one of which was my ability to digest stories. Not until now, have I recognized doing this. What this meant with regards to Melody of Demons was that I had to keep on reading it until I could absorb what I was reading. Annoying as hell, yet an interesting observation for myself and possibly for others out there.

“Well, that was … a sermon. That’s certainly what it was. I think we all learned a valuable, no a lesson. That we already knew. Yes, one thing you can say for my father’s froth-mouthed rants, is they’re definitely spoken with words.”

Statements like this are in part why I enjoy Ms. Jackson’s writing so much. Her sense of humor fits my own. Yet that humor points to serious issues. In this instance, Ms. Jackson showed me how much certain people enjoy going on and on about their prejudices. Poor Aivee had to endure the rantings of a man who had it in for her kind of people, i.e. half krin/half human.

In this medieval world called Tazelinn, magic exists. For some people, only certain types of magic are acceptable. Krin aren’t human-looking at all (except maybe the bi-pedal part), but somehow they have an innate magic that enables them to shift to human and even interbreed. Aivee is the result of this ability. In all ways she seems human. But that shape must be maintained at all times. Her default shape is krin and her greatest fear is that others discover that she is different. I like the way Ms. Jackson shows us what a strain passing is for Aivee.

“She hadn’t noticed before how disconcerting the rhythm was, like the breath of a monstrous beast in her ear. Now everything was more solid, more real. She ran her fingers of the floorboards and felt the grain of them and their unyielding hardness, as though for the first time.”

Aivee’s innate magic appears to be based on sound or music. In Aivee’s case she uses music. As the story unfolds, we see her gain confidence in her abilities while she remains desperate in her need to hide her krinness.

Through misadventure, Aivee comes in contact with the Kaddon Keys. Finding a less qualified vigilante group would take some work. Yet the Kaddon Keys is the only thing The Missing have between themselves and being lost forever. Kaddon’s Guards (police) certainly aren’t looking for them.

Good intentions are a great place to start, but planning would make the difference between being beat almost to death and success. The Kaddon Keys tend to end up with a severe need for healing. Thankfully, they have their own healer. Duando uses crystal magic to help the Keys survive. Three other members are the owner of the Cross Keys, Fendo, and his two children Riko and Lendia. Riko is a prime example of a patriarchal society with his views on women and their abilities.

The only one of the three women in the group who fights to be seen as equal to the men is Niro. Niro’s sister has become one of the many missing in Kaddon. Not knowing where her sister is, drives Niro to demand a place in the group. Soon after she becomes possessed by a voice that fights for control of Niro’s brain. There is one advantage to this possession. Niro gains the ability to fight with and without weapons, but she must allow the voice control of her body while still remaining in charge herself. I do not envy her that challenge. This voice is the reason Aivee became a member of the Kaddon Keys.

Kaddon has its own gangs, and they each have a territory. Like all gangs, the Neffar are extremely territorial and they think the Keys are competitors. Their fearless and feared leader Leussan does her best to make the Keys history. The Neffar aren’t the only ones who end up wanting the Keys gone. They have angered the Guards, the corrupt nobles and whoever is behind the kidnappings as well. How they are going to do the missing any good is a mystery only Ms. Jackson knows how to solve. She will have to guide the Keys to the missing and save them from the above and several others who come their way.

Melody Demon was a fun adventure story to read. It can be read on its own, yet we are left in no doubt that there will be at least one more story. I look forward to it.


Melody Demon was given to me by the author.