Tag Archives: #Shapeshifters

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 really, considering 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 a great 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. When they get there, Mr. Wainright has not come to meet them. Instead she is kidnapped by a Beuregard Clinton. Clinton shot the puppet-man and managed to hit one of the steam veins. Mr. Stiles, from the airship, fixes him. The puppet-man is fixed and he and Mr. Stiles must 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 line up to whack them in the face like a marching band on coke.

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. They had both fallen a long way from a 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 extremely careful around bodies of water or they risk the fate of the Lepidoptera larvae. The St. Lauritz All-Mother cloister are extremely lucky in getting a woman from San Lazare wishing to become a novice. 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 was 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 is easy to forget is that no matter how tight your security is, 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 masters generally do not see slaves or servants. Infiltrating the slaves is the only way our investigator, Sam, sees to find out what Cicero Jensen and Secretary Patterson are trying to hide in Jensen’s barn. In the process 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. The dock is to be brought inside the 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 is coming with them to hunt. Saitoti cannot help but wonder why she is coming along with them or why she specifically asked for their group and hopes it has nothing to do with his history.

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 her 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 working on 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.


Reviews:


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

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

McKinley, Brian Patrick: The Chermasu (Order Saga) (2007/2012)

The Chermasu by Brian Patrick McKinley

“Alia went still as she remembered exactly where she’d seen him before. It swept out from her childhood memories like canyon debris washed out by a flash flood …”

Memories have power. In Alia’s case these memories were triggered at a point in her life where a choice needed choosing. That choice brings her deeper into lore and traditions she loves. Following those traditions and that lore has the potential of making her more of an outsider than she is already.

While reading I wondered if McKinley was Navajo/Hopi himself. At the very least he must have researched the matter. Skinwalkers at one time worked for the benefit of the people but are now considered evil. Alia also believes they are evil until she discovers that everything depends on what side you are on.

Brian Patrick McKinley clearly has a talent for writing and has added to the joys of my reading obsession.


The Chemasu is available at amazon.com

McCoskey, Scott: Bad Mojo Blues (2014)

Bad Mojo Blues by Scott McCoskeyMerriam-Webster defines mojo as: “a power that may seem magical and that allows someone to be very effective, successful, etc.” Bad Mojo is certainly something Marcus suffers from during the three days that we walk with him.

“The cards were screaming at him to hop a plane to anywhere else … Right now they told him to change his fucking direction and fast.”

But Marcus’ father is dying. If not for that, he would have stayed away from his dysfunctional family another ten years. His mom and dad are conservative Christians, his cousin is a blood-bag to a vampire and his sister (who begged him to come home) keeps away from Marcus. He is thought, by his family, to be dirty and evil  because he practices magic.

Marcus’ relatives aren’t the only dysfunctional people we meet. Old friends try to mess with him, and some of their requests are pretty unfriendly. All, in all, the tarot cards seem to have been correct, this time, in their predictions.

Scott McCoskey has written about a mess of a person and done it in a manner that I enjoyed. This is a self-published book and there were flaws, but McCoskey’s style makes up for that. Bad Mojo Blues is a fun crime-filled novella set in an unnamed small town in South-West New Mexico.

Recommended.


Bad Mojo Blues available at amazon.com

Gee, Emily: The Sentinel Mage (Cursed Kingdoms I) (2011)

Jáume was in his father’s barn when the curse broke free of its dormancy on the easternmost rim of the Seven Kingdoms.

The story of the Sentinel Mage begins with Jáume, eight years old. Ancient magic turns his father into a monster and the boy has to flee to save his life. Reading up on orphaned children showed me that homeless, orphaned pre-teens looking to survive are more common than I thought. That type of homelessness made Jáume’s tale more believable. Where a lot of children would have died from helplessness, Jáume is crafty and cunning. Sometimes he is not proud of what he has to do to live, but he still does them. Choices we seem to be left with, may not be real choices after all. Do or die?

Magic, like the terrible curse, is the reason witches were hunted until thought extinct on the mainland. But complete extinction of a genetic trait when prophecy is around would never be possible for a fantasy trilogy. In life the complete extinction of a genetic trait seems unlikely. Eventually it might turn up again. In the Sentinel Mage that is even more so the case, as Prince Harkeld is about to discover.

Every prophecy needs its tool and these tools are people who vary from the young and innocent to the old and unwilling. Prince Harkeld starts off with power, wealth and a sense of entitlement. He is 22 years old when he meets the feared witches at his father’s court in Osgaard. King Esgar has called him to meet the diplomatic convoy from Rosny in the Allied Lands. When Prince Harkeld hears what the witches (or “mages” as they prefer) have to say about his destiny and his background he is shocked. It turns out the blood of monsters is in him and he needs to choose between honor and his father’s approval. Fortunately for Prince Harkeld, he choses honor. He is not aware of the personal consequences of doing what his father wishes.

Monsters or not, Harkeld is stuck with the mages (or witches as he curses them). A solution to his distrust is found by the mages. However, this solution requires distraction and a certain amount of naivete on Harkeld’s side. Perhaps the mages figure he is distraught enough that he will not discover the discrepancies that occur when Justen appears.

I understood why Harkeld would act like the distrustful, arrogant and annoying person that he was with the mages. His background, the suddenness of his leaving and the shock of his discovery along with the constant fear of discovery and being on the run would all play a part in leaving him a somewhat unlikable person. I’m not certain I cared much for the mages either. They were dishonest toward Harkeld and very open about the possibility of needing only his hands and blood for the fulfillment of the prophecy. Only as a last resort, of course ….

In leaving the castle behind he also leaves his beloved younger sister and two younger brothers behind. Princess Brigitta wants to come with him but Harkeld feels she will be safer with her father. Hmmmm. Time will show. But Harkeld worries. And with cause. Princess Brigitta and her two helpers, armsman Karel and handmaid Yasma were all that were left to protect her brothers, six-year old Rutgar and four-year old Lukas. But eighteen-year old Brigitta is about to encounter her own set of terrible problems leaving her with little will or ability to look after her brothers. She is also all that stands between Yasma and constant abuse. Being a bondservant in Osgaard equates to slavery and terror. At least with the Princess Yasma had escaped daily rape and beatings.

Gee’s writing is what drove the story on. There were some hiccups but for the main part she kept me caught in her words. Recommended.


Reviews:


The Sentinel Mage is available at Amazon, Amazon UK, IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository

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.