Tag Archives: #Shapeshifters

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.

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

Braden, J. (2013). The Devil’s Concubine. Wayzgoose Press

Cover design by DJ Rogers

With “The Devil’s ConcubineBraden blows a breath of fresh air into fantasy literature that seems swamped with poorly edited stories. I am having a difficult time trying to find fault with it. You seriously need to get this story. Right now (6th May 2018) you can get it for free on Amazon.

The Devil’s Concubine” is part of a series called “The Devil of Ponong“. Currently there are three books in the series. I want more of them They all have proper endings without cliff-hangers and the “problem” is resolved during the novel. The over-arching story is a political drama set in a fantasy world that carries a Far East spirit. It deals with some of the consequences of having your country stolen from you. Braden seems to have done her homework with regards to what it means to be “the protected” and “the protectors” in a protectorate. Dehumanization, corruption, blinders, hopelessness and courage are all topics that are shown, not told, in the story. In fact, “The Devil’s Concubine” is delightfully free of preaching, and manages to put a face to both sides.

The Ponong island chain lies between the Sea of Erykoli and Te ‘Am Ocean, a strategic position that grandfather Zul took advantage of. When he was younger, he invaded Ponong and laid her under the Thampur as a protectorate, with Levapur as the capitol. As with many protectorates in the real world, the Thampur sent their unwanted riff-raff to Ponong. They made up the militia, the government and the bureaucracy. The Thampur consider the Ponongese to be uncivilized and barely human. What that means, in practical terms, is that the Ponongese lost all of their rights. They were not allowed to grow crops, to hunt, to teach their culture or language to the young, or to hold any important positions. When we meet them, anger is simmering under the surface. Some readers belong to cultures that have invaded and some readers belong to cultures that have been invaded.

Pongon is a jewel of an island consisting of many people, but mainly the Ponongese who are shiftless humans with fangs and slitted eyes. Being shiftless is looked down upon by shifters. Top dog in Levapur are the Thampurian human/seadragons. There are also the violent Rujicks who are human/werewolves,  and the Ingosolians who shift between genders. We meet two other shiftless races on Ponong. The Li Islanders are cattish human and the Ravidians have a bony neckruff and a dewclaw for gutting.

QuiTai is our main character and my favourite person of the story. I would love to see more women like this in literature. She has one handicap, being a woman in a man’s world – much like our own, and is not taken seriously by the extremely misogynistic Thampurians and Rujicks. She is probably the most intelligent person on the islands, but has only been allowed roles as acolyte, actress, prostitute, and mistress. Even though she is considered the Devil’s concubine, QuiTai is the reason the Devil hold top “dog” position of the island’s criminal world. She is feared, despised and hated – even by those who should be grateful for her interventions.

Like a school of jewel-toned tropical fish on the reef, the crowd in the marketplace suddenly veered away as QuiTai stepped off the veranda of the sunset-pink building into the town square. They cringed back as she sauntered through the stalls, as if instead of her bright green sarong she were clothed in poison. She’d decided long ago it was their guilt that made them unable to meet her gaze, not judgment. The Devil’s concubine had nothing to be ashamed of.

Against her plays the Thampurian male Kyam. He is an intelligent male who wears the blinders of the conqueror. As a disillusioned exile he is unable to accept his place in life. He refuses to face the political realities of Ponong and he despises the Ponong for being “less than”. Both of them fight for what they believe. QuiTai fights  for the rights of the Ponong while Kyam fights to retain his belief in the ways of the world. A lot of walls must fall for any real change to happen. Where Kyam can use might to retain status quo, QuiTai has to use her wits against the Devil, the Thampur and even the Ponong to even stay alive.

While at first glance it seemed a simple enough request, QuiTai and Kyam Zul both operated in a world beneath the surface. She found his note rather cryptic. Normally people begged her to plead with the Devil on their behalf, but he’d called for the Devil’s arrest too many times to dare beg for that kind of favor. No, Kyam Zul wanted to discuss something with her. How intriguing. If he’d resorted to asking his biggest enemy in Levapur for a favor, he must be desperate.

This is such a great story.

Wells, Martha; The Serpent Sea (Raksura II)(2013)

All countries/societies/cultures/etc. have their own rules and regulations (written and unwritten) that must be followed to avoid being ostracized. Small communities, in particular, have a difficult time with newcomers, because those newcomers shake up their beliefs about right and wrong. Aspies are often life-long newcomers to the places they are born. We cross invisible lines and are called socially deficient. When Moon came to the Indigo Cloud Court he knew only what Shade had told him of their ways.

Moon had been consort to Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud Court, for eleven days and nobody had tried to kill him yet. He thought it was going well so far.

As much as the world of the Court confuses Moon, Moon confuses the Arbora (cannot fly) and Aeriat (can fly).

Moon caught hold of the railing and slung himself up to crouch on it. He said, “Tell the others.” He leapt away from the boat, shifted to Raksuran form in midair and caught the wind.

Consorts are raised to be timid creatures and do not learn to fight. Generally, they are obedient and do not raise their voices. Moon, who takes the lead, changes form in mid-air and joins in hunting for and guarding the Court, is a person who will not accept Raksura strictures. Through his example, he shows others that changes aren’t necessarily a bad thing and that there are options to traditional patterns. In return, the Court shows Moon that living forever in a place can be a good thing. Unfortunately, Moon’s past leaves him expecting to be kicked out of the Indigo Cloud Court.

What is left of the Indigo Cloud Court, after the Fell have decimated them, travel onboard the two wind-ships, the Valendera and the Indara, to their ancestral lands, the Reaches, to find a Mother Tree to live in. Moon’s experience with living in trees has not left him wanting more.

The multiple layers of branches reached up like giants’ arms, and the trunk was enourmous, wider around than the base of the ruined step pyramid that had formed the old Indigo Cloud colony. from the lower part of the trunk, greenery platforms extendet out, multiple levels of them, some more than five hundred paces across. A waterfall fell out of a knothole nearly big enough to sail the Valendera through, plunged down to collect in a pool on one of the platforms, then fell to the next, and the next, until it disappeared into the shadows below.

In Serpent Sea Martha Wells has given us a mystery, a moving island, and an arrogant neighbor. Everything I have to say about Serpent Sea is positive. I love the way Wells blends major and minor tones. The text winds its way through dangers and peace creating a symphony of words that fits my taste and, with ease, draws me through the story. Once again, Moon is the only POV. Seeing through those eyes shows me a complex world and interesting characters. Like Nobent. Talk about excellent predator. And the moving island. Oozing darkness and goo. Not a human society in sight.


My review of The Cloud Roads

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:

Pierce, Tamora: Wild Magic (The Immortals I) (1992)

Wild Magic is the first book in The Immortals four book series. It can be read alone or with the other three. The setting is in Tortall. In the world of Tortall and its neighboring countries, magic is called the Gift.

Daine is our main character. She is 13-years-old and an orphan. Daine has an unusual ability to communicate with animals. In spite of this, her gift does not show the hallmarks of the Gift. It turns out that her magic is a more dangerous, unpredictable and unusual magic, Wild Magic. In fact, Daine seems to be brimming with it.

Daine’s father is unknown (unknown to her). Before her mother managed to get around to telling Daine who he was, bandits killed her and Daine’s grandda and tried to burn down the homestead. At the time, Daine and Cloud (her pony) were away helping a breech-birth lambing.

“Coming out of their place, I couldn’t see anything anywhere but fog, couldn’t smell, couldn’t hear. I was clear to our village before I knew.

“They hit around dawn. The mill was burned, the miller dead. They took the wheelwright’s oldest girl and the headman’s wife. Really, they mighta passed my house by, Ma having the Gift, but they remembered she was pretty too, see.

“They fought—all of them. Ma, Grandda, dogs, ponies, horses—even the stupid chickens. Even Ma’s geese. Not the rabbits. They left. Well, they never fight, and you can’t ask them to go against their nature. But the rest fought. They killed some of the bandits.

“The bandits went crazy. They killed everything on the farm and didn’t carry any of it away, Mammoth told me. Mammoth was my boss dog. He said they was too cared of animals who fought like that.

“Mammoth told me what happened, and died.

“So we buried them, me and Cloud, every last one of our family. Cloud’s dam and sire, her brothers are in those graves.

“I straightened up the house, what was left. The raiders had tried to burn it, but only the upper story and the roof were gone. Ma had a bunch of charms against fire in the kitchen, so most of the downstairs was saved.

“It was two days before anyone came to see. After Ma helped them birth their children, nursed when they was sick. Two days! She could’ve been alive and hurt all that time! If the bandits had passed us by, Ma would have been at the village with medicines and bandages, making me and Grandda help.

Daine brought what she could from her home and left. Onua is the first person we know about who encounters Daine’s unusual ability to converse with animals. It turns out Daine is also unusually good with the bow and arrow. Way better than natural ability would make her. But Daine does not acknowledge that her abilities have anything to do with magic. That would mean confronting an episode we do not find out about until we are well into the story.

The second person Daine meets after Onua, is Numair, shape-shifter and magician. He is the one who spots the degree of her magic and identifies it. Numair is also the person who helps Daine understand that she must learn to control her magic. Otherwise Daine might end up unintentionally killing herself or others. So Daine battens down and does her best to stuff information into her head while at the same time ending up as Onua’s assistant. Turns out Onua is head hostler of the horses that the Riders use. Riders are semi-cavalry who go out in small groups to route out bandits and try to keep Tortall out of trouble.

Strange creatures attack Tortallians. Immortals seem to have escaped the God’s dimension that magicians had imprisoned them in 400 years previously. They are back and making sure people know it. Some of the Immortals are cruel beings, some are indifferent and some are helpful. Like people everywhere, I suppose.

Daine and her friends are attacked by the scarier versions of the Immortals. These creatures are difficult, but not impossible, to kill. Daine faces many difficult choices during Wild Magic. Some of them involve placing others in danger and understanding the meaning of free will. Other choices involve killing other intelligent creature. Not a simple matter for a 13-year old girl.

Daine also has to face pirates and the royalty of Tortall. For those who have read The Lioness series, you know that they can be a bit unusual. For Daine, who has grown up in a hierarchical and patriarchal society, Tortall royalty comes as a shock. But face them, she must. We meet characters from The Lioness series (another great children/young adult series that Pierce has written. The Immortals falls into the same age category.

Definitely recommended.


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Translations:

  • Czech: Pierceová, Tamora, Zaklínačka koní; Trans: Eva Kadlecová; Praha, CPRESS, 2014
  • Danish: Vild Magi; Trans: Bjarne Skovlund; Ruds-Veby, Tellerup, 1998 (ill: Bodil Molich)
  • German: Dhana: Kamph um Tortall; Trans:  Elisabeth Epple; Würsburg, Arena, 1998
  • Indonesian: Wild Magic – Sihir Liar; Trans: ; Jakarta Pusat, Elex Media Komputindo, 2013
  • Swedish: Vild Magi; Trans: Ylva Spångberg; Stockholm, Bonnier Carlsen, 2003