The Saturn Game by Poul Anderson

Read  November 2017
Recommended for fans of classic sci-fi
★    ★    ★  

Winner of both a Nebula and a Hugo, The Saturn Game tempted me by being a mix of both fantasy and sci-fi. I’ve had some success with Poul Anderson when younger. Alas, The Saturn Game did not connect; although written very well, it felt dated and failed to ignite my interest.

“There was no describing it, not really. You could speak of lower slopes and palisades above, to a mean height of perhaps a hundred meters, with spires towering farther still. You could speak of gracefully curved tiers going up those braes, of lacy parapets and fluted crags and arched openings to caves filled with wonders, of mysterious blues in the depths and greens where light streamed through translucencies, of gem-sparkle across whiteness where radiance and shadow wove mandalas–and none of it would convey anything more than Scobie’s earlier, altogether inadequate comparison to the Grand Canyon.”

Anderson, although not as well-known as his cohorts, was one of the greats of the sci-fi Golden Age. The premise here is that an exploration ship, followed more slowly by a colony ship, is nearing the end of its journey. The highly competent crew has needed distraction during eight years of space travel, particularly with television systems only allowed three hours of the day (funny commentary from 1981!). A group of people has found escape through a ‘psycho-drama,’ which sounds a great deal like a more verbal, less board oriented, Dungeons and Dragons. When the crew at last approaches Saturn’s glacier-covered moon, they begin to have a hard time separating reality from fantasy.

Narratively, it’s third person omniscient, with each section beginning with a pseudo-lecture about the mental hazards of prolonged travel. I don’t know if Anderson was the first to use the device, but it has been replicated many times since. When three of the crew members slip into fantasy, the text shifts to italics, and as they become more confused about their reality, the shift is more and more frequent.

“‘I stay far aloft,’ Kendrick says. ‘Save he use a scrying stone, the Elf King will not be aware this beast has a rider. From here I’ll spy out city and castle.’ And then–? He knows not. He knows simply that he must set her free or die in the quest. How long will it take him, how many more nights will she lie in the King’s embrace?

‘I thought you were supposed to spy out Iapetus,’ Mark Danzig interrupted.

His dry tone startled the three others into alertness.

Jean Broberg flushed with embarrassment, Colin Scobie with irritation; Luis Garcilaso shrugged, grinned, and turned his gaze to the pilot console before which he sat harnessed. For a moment silence filled the cabin, and shadows, and radiance from the universe.”

Between the vivid description of the snows and scientific discussion of the strata, there’s meaty imagery. However, the pedestrian nature of the fantasy–essentially a knight, a sorcerer, and a noble lady, the ol’Camelot type trope–just lacks interest. The fantasy lacks the insidiousness of Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, making it hard to immerse myself along with the crew. What I mostly felt was annoyance by their foolishness as they explore the ice equivalent of the Grand Canyon, and at their companion’s relentless nagging as he waits on the ship. The psychology of it didn’t fit for me, that after eight years together, the interactions would fall out the way they did.

It isn’t a bad story, or ill-done by any means. It just didn’t strike that chord for me.

 

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Yellow Elephant: A Bright Bestiary by Larios and Paschkis

Read  November 2017
Recommended for fans of lithographs, animals
★    ★    ★    ★   1/2

I have a long affection for children’s picture books, despite having no children. When I saw a review on this and a small sample of the artwork, I was motivated to find out more.

A sort of variation on the beloved “Color Kittens,” this combines a color and a familiar animal, sometimes in unusual combinations.

Each picture is accompanied by a poem, with a strip of colorful detail.

I think the vivid colors will work for young eyes, as well as the crisp lines.

Occasionally it is stylized enough that it may be less accessible, but the variety in style means some pictures should still work well.

 

 

I’m in love with the colorful artwork. I’d love to have a a group of these as prints. It even sent me to Paschkis’ site to learn more about her work. Alas: no prints of these for sale.

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The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

Read  November 2017
Recommended for fans of light mysteries
★    ★    ★ 

“The next morning Inspector Chopra awoke for the first time in thirty-four years without the knowledge that he was a police officer.

For a while he lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling. He felt his body urging him to get up, shower, and put on his uniform. Inertia; wasn’t that what people called it? After all, when one has been running, it takes a while for the body to stop even though the finishing line has been crossed. When he arrived at the breakfast table, dressed in a plain white shirt and cotton trousers, he felt strangely naked.

Poppy was already bustling around the kitchen with the housemaid, Lata, and flashed him a welcoming smile. ‘How nice to have you home for breakfast,’ she beamed. ‘I’ve made your favorite: masala dosa with sambar.'”

Inspector Chopra has spent over thirty years on the police force in Mumbai, and the day before he is to retire for medical reasons, he receives a note from his uncle leaving him a baby elephant. But he can’t deal with that now; there are too many things on his mind. What about the distressed woman accusing the local police that they don’t care about her dead son? And what about his wife, Poppy, and her conviction that anything non-sedentary would cause him another and potentially fatal heart attack?

It’s an interesting tale, set in the wildly growing city of Mumbai, where money greases all wheels. True to the detective tradition, the setting comes alive as Chopra travels from place to place. Any inadequacies in visualization are solely my own, hamstrung as I am by life in the U.S. and lack of travel. The puzzle unfolds quite well, with one discovery leading to the next, although Chopra also spends hours and hours on stakeout. I found myself partially distracted with concerns on the care and feeding of elephants, which was likely not Khan’s intention. He should be careful how he uses pachyderms! The end takes a surprisingly dark and deep turn, perhaps incongruous with much of the earlier story, but I think perhaps fitting for the idea Khan wants to convey about Mumbai. But it all comes out well in the end.

I enjoyed it and will no doubt try the next in the series when in the mood for a gentle mystery. Recommended for fans of Inspector Singh (Shamini Flint), Dr. Siri (Colin Cotterill) and of Precious Ramotswe (Alexander McCall Smith), as well as anyone else who enjoys a mystery sans blood and gore.

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Wild Neighbors by HSUS

Read  November 2017
Recommended for people having animal conflicts
★    ★    ★ 

 

Written in 1997, Wild Animals is no less pertinent today. I picked it up largely out of curiosity, as I’m one of the ones that feels like I’ve generally learned to live with the vertebrate populations. I do occasionally wish the rabbits wouldn’t be quite so fond of my yard, although, to be totally honest, the real issue is my empathetic distress when my dogs wound or kill them. (I miss my rottweilers, who were generally lazy and preferred loads of loud barking over actual physical conflict). So I’ve already mastered strategy number one: learn to live with the animal. At any rate, it’s a solid book, full of general information for those who are new to the issue, say, new homeowners that never spent time re-reading wildlife magazines.

It’s divided into three sections, ‘Living With Wild Neighbors,’ an animal index, and various supporting appendixes. ‘Living With’ is a surprisingly well-balanced section. It begins with overall strategy, which follows a well-known problem-solving pathway of determine the problem, identify the damage, assess the seriousness of the damage, evaluate options and act. It’s good advice: my mom, for instance complains about the little vole pathways in the snow every year. Is it actual damage? No. Health issue? No. Solution is to stop feeding birds sloppy seed. Will she change? No. Maybe we should look for a book on Zen.

The authors note that a lot of apparent ‘conflicts’ may not be a conflict at all, but end up perceived as such because of a sighting. Many animals have larger territories and a sighting may be the result of an animal on a regular patrol. Another possibility it the dispersal of young seeking new territories. That’s were having environmental changes helps (lack of denning space, baffles, etc). There’s then an overview of types of agencies that might help someone take action and consideration of action in light of laws. Hint: you don’t get to randomly shoot stuff.

The section on ‘Health Concerns’ ignores the ‘fluffy bunny’ aspect of wildlife and goes straight for the jugular. Or should I say, the bubonic plague? Yes, that’s right–every year in the Southwest U.S. there is a case or two of plague, primarily flea-transmitted and then acquired through domestic pets exposed to fleas on rodents. Other familiar ones are chlamydia, salmonella and Lyme disease, as well as genuinely fearsome ones like the Hanta virus. There’s also brief information on how to clean bites (soap, running water, ER visits). Just in case you were getting the idea that you wanted to, you know, invite the critters into your home.

Most potentially interesting was a ‘Tools and Tactics’ section. I was hoping for something that actually evaluated some of the products out there–ultrasonic machines, scarecrows, baffles, sprays and the like. Most effective techniques rely on physical deterrents–covering the chimney, rabbit-proof fencing, caulking by power/water meters, etc. There’s a few notes on effectiveness, but no evidence provided of hard data. Occasionally, such as in the section about hair (deer/rabbits supposedly avoid it), it says, ‘it’s worth a try.’ No, it’s not–if it involves embarrassing myself by asking a a hair salon for a bag of hair, I want to be right, not weird. It lists common products, pesticides and stuff marketed as repellents. Here’s where being 20 years out of date is a weakness. But as I try to remind my mom–if spraying it kills something living and breathing, what, precisely, do you think it does to you?

The animal section will be familiar to anyone who owned one of those Guides to North American Animals (cough, cough). It divides into history, habitat, diet, reproduction, various problems, various solutions. Pictures are drawn, not photographed, sadly. It also contains animals that are common, but I marvel a little at a couple of the choices. I mean, if you are going to include cougars and bobcats, which are notoriously secretive and generally rare even in farm-like landscapes, you might as well include moose, which are slightly more common and as belligerent. Other animals are armadillos, bats, beavers, black bears, chipmunks, chimney swifts, mice, house sparrows, snakes, and woodpeckers, among others.

The appendixes include other sources of information, including HSUS and USDA offices, sources for products and a glossary. Sadly, I’m sure much of it is out of date. However, overall, not a bad introductory guide for the animal-naive homeowner who is dealing with various ‘somethings’ invading their territory and wants information on how to actually deal with the problem–if it is one.

Oh, and the section on rabbits says this about repellents: “Many homemade repellent strategies have been tried, with the usual varying results that taunt anyone trying to make real sense out of them. These include soap and hair as recommended sometimes for repelling deer. While we cannot endorse any of these procedures enthusiastically, they may be worth trying and certainly are an inexpensive form of entertainment if nothing else.”

Smarty-pants.

 

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Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Read  November 2017
Recommended for fans of skewed myths
★    ★    ★    ★  

 

Fairy tales, myths, folklore; these small, archetypal tales that have endured through generations of childhood. Seanan McGuire reinvented them once again for the current decade. Solid writing, acceptable plotting, imaginative characterization all combine to make this an intriguing read.

Nancy is the New Girl, arriving at the Home for Wayward Children after having disappeared for weeks. Her parents don’t know what to do about her almost-starvation, her stillness and her predilection for wearing black. She’s met by Eleanor and put in a room with Sumi, a whirling dervish of color and energy. Sumi and the rest of the young adults at the Home have all been to other worlds and back, and they are all longing to be somewhere else.


“‘Going back’ had two distinct meanings at the school, depending on how it was said. It was the best thing in the world. It was also the worst thing that could happen to anybody. It was returning to a place that understood you so well that it had reached across realities to find you, claiming you as its own and only; it was being sent to a family that wanted to love you, wanted to keep you safe and sound, but didn’t know you well enough to do anything but hurt you. The duality of the phrase was like the duality of the doors: they changed lives, and they destroyed them, all with the same, simple invitation.”

And there, my friends, is half of what I both hate and love about McGuire. She was showing us this, with the suitcase full of rainbow clothes left by Nancy’s parents. Why did she have to tell us this? Yet it is so beautifully worded and such a wonderfully full underpinning to a story.

The conflict within the children has an interesting foundation–the difference between Virtuous worlds, and those that are Wicked–but is clumsily executed, appearing only after the first incident. Nancy thinks her world would be on the ‘Wicked’ access because it was ruled by the Underworld, but it’s clear it isn’t any more violent than the others. Yet this is supposedly the basis for the teens’ animosity. I think I would have liked to see more of the interpersonal tension develop from the beginning instead of feeling like a tired behavior trope was being hauled out for convenience and to escalate conflict. It’s not clear why Eleanor jokes–I think–about Nancy and Sumi killing each other and yet finds it acceptable to room them together. In retrospect, I’m not sure the conflict between students was needed at all.

I found the details regarding sexuality distracting and rather awkward. In the end, it felt like McGuire Had A Point To Make, rather than being a more organic part of character and world-building. I’ve thought about it a bit, and wonder if she was trying to make connections between growing up, identity, and belonging, with sexuality as a component of those things, but it felt incompletely realized. It was also too fast, too out front; if one knows anything about teenagers and alternative lifestyles, it’s that they aren’t going to share unless they are Making A Point or feel very safe. The ambiguity in interpretation means it doesn’t quite reach a five star for me. The terribly overt messaging, a few too many deaths, and lazy group dynamics prevent it from reaching stellar. Quite good, though.

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The Witches by Roald Dahl

Read  October 2017
Recommended for fans of Roald Dahl
★    ★   

Things that are cool:

  • a cigar-smoking grandma who encourages you to take safe action
  • investigating
  • solving problems
  • witches with accents

 

Things that are creepy:

  • Having to stay a mouse the rest of your life
  • Feet without toes
  • Pet mice that go missing and are never found
  • A boy who is never reunited by his family, or even mouse-trapped
  • Talking about dying while in bed with your grandmother

Roald Dahl never worked for me as a kid. I distinctly remember picking up James and the Giant Peach and being singularly unimpressed by visuals or story. I gave this one a shot on strength of 1) Halloween spirit, 2) a friend review, and 3) adding to my witch lore. Alas, it was a no-go.

As an adult, there were a couple of parts that made me laugh, but conceptually, there was too much I didn’t care for, and I’m pretty certain the 9 year-old self would have felt similarly, although perhaps for different reasons. Both of us were bothered by the indifference to the fate of the greedy boy who was also turned into a mouse.

As far as reading age, I think it’d be a narrow window. The head witch has an accent, so her extensive dialogue looks like this:

“Silence,” shouted The Grand High Witch, raising her hands. “You know perrrfectly vell you must do nothing to drrraw attention to yourselves vhile you are living in the hotel! Let us by all means get rrrid of this eveil-smelling little sqvirt, but vee must do it as qvietly as possible, for are vee not all of us the most rrree-spectable ladies?”

Tricky for younger readers, and probably silly for older ones.

I’m the odd one out, judging by friends’ fond recollections. That’s okay. I never got into Harriet the Spy either.

 

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One of Us by Michael Marshall Smith

Read  September 2017
Recommended for fans of sci-fi fantasy that messes with the rules
★    ★    ★    ★  

I’ve chewed on this review for a ridiculous amount of time. After two months, I’m left with a movie analogy: I think if Only Forward was The Fifth Element,

 

One of Us is Blade Runner (old school, not the new one).

 

One of Us, like the movies and Only Forward, is a genre mash-up. Noir mystery, future science fiction and somewhat mystical fiction with a grim overtone. The main character is not entirely admirable, the main female isn’t particularly likeable, and the villain is generally despicable. Still, there is a lot to enjoy here, particularly–and I feel certain I’ve never said this–the appliances.

The short version? Hap is in Mexico, looking for a woman. Not just any woman, but a client of his employer, a mostly illegal dream business that does completely illegal memory storage on the side. One of the memories Hap holds is of this woman shooting and killing a man, and some mysterious men in suits who arrive immediately after. And that’s the most normal part of the story.

One of the things I like about Smith’s writing is the almost thoughtless, exaggerated moments of humor, such as when he describes stopping for gas:

“The gas station claimed to be under new management, but the toilets were evidently still under some old management, or more probably governed by an organization that predated the concept of management altogether. Possibly the Spanish Inquisition.”

or carries the description of the dirty refrigerator to a new level:

“Three cans of beer and some leftover Chinese in the fridge, the noodles covered in a bacterial culture so advanced, they probably had their own constitution and strong views on environmental issues.”

But Smith’s talent isn’t just in the ironical tone. He also excels as some of the more challenging emotions:

“Sabrina didn’t look like Sabrina anymore. The hardness in her face was gone, and her lips didn’t look quite so airtight. I’m sure the change was only temporary, but it was an improvement. I just wish she hadn’t had to be scared to allow herself to be more human, but I guess a lot of us are like that.”

or

“She got over the death of her parents, in time: stopped expecting it to be her mother whenever the phone rang, or thinking of things to tell her dad. But she got over it partly by becoming something her parents would never have recognized, by untethering herself from the past they’d structured, by sidestepping into a different life.”

It’s an interesting, remarkable, challenging book. It does go off the rails a bit at the end, and like Only Forward, I found myself not entirely satisfied with the ending. But there is a note of hope, for which I was grateful. It also left me thinking of the song.

 

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L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais

Read  November 2017
Recommended for fans of detective thrillers
★    ★    ★    ★   (on the detective scale)

I can’t stop reading Crais.

In this one, our hero Elvis Cole is pulled into a case by long-time partner, Joe Pike. Despite seven earlier books, this is the first story that has Pike initiating an investigation. A very influential and wealthy father of an ex-girlfriend wants Joe to find her after she’s gone missing. Elvis, much to his dismay, is pulled away from helping Lucy settle into her new L.A. apartment in order to help his closest friend.

“The Santa Anas continued to pick up as we drove north to the second Jungle Juice. Palm trees, tall and vulnerable like the necks of giant dinosaurs, took the worse of it. The wind stripped the dead fronds that bunched beneath the crowns and tossed them into streets and yards and onto cars.”

Out of all the books I’ve read so far, this one most follows a traditional mystery format. Shortly after the woman goes missing, she’s found dead. For a number of reasons, it becomes Joe and Elvis’ primary mission to identify and capture her killer. The investigation takes a number of turns, a couple of which were entirely unpredictable. After decades of mystery books, I always enjoy it when a book manages to realistically surprise me, or at the very least, raise the eyebrows. Of course, as the story progresses, aspects become less plausible. I had trouble believing the character of the murderer, when they became known, and found the combination of cunning and reckless crazy implausible. As it was all in way of a positive outcome, I’m forgiving.

“We asked the people at the flower shop if they had seen anything, but they hadn’t. We asked every shopkeeper in the strip mall and most of the employees, but they all said no. I hoped they had seen something to indicate that Karen was safe, but deep down, where your blood runs cold, I knew they hadn’t.”

Character development is solid, with the bulk of it fleshing out Joe and his history. I found myself appreciated the background, as most of the observations Elvis makes about his best friend tend to be consistent (why, why must he always describe the tattoos and the sunglasses?) and underwhelming. In fact, I’m not sure how much of the Joe backstory is actually known by Elvis. Regardless, it added a lot to the story, and I’m sure future books, even if the general psychology of the individual (as Poirot likes to say) was unsurprising. But I appreciate congruence, that the back-story fits the man we’ve come to barely know. Elvis’ characteristic moments of humor that continue to provide lighter moments, as does the surly attitude of Elvis’ cat. I don’t know if I can say I enjoyed the direction Elvis’ and Lucy’s relationship took, but it felt largely organic, reminding me of their first encounters in Voodoo River.

Overall, an enjoyable, diverting read. Took me right out of this rainy fall day to the hot, smoky atmosphere of L.A. Bravo. Thankfully, Crais has already written a few encores.

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In Shades of Grey by Melissa Myers

Read  October 2017
Recommended for fans of In the Name of the Wind
★    ★    ★   

 

A friend and I were talking about children’s books, and one lifelong reading preference that I’ve only gradually reined in is a preference for fantasies that include animals. I have no idea how this book came to my attention, as none of my friends have added or reviewed, but it undoubtedly remained due to the heroine being described as acquiring “a Familiar like no other” and then a lovely picture of a silver lion on the cover. What retained my attention was bits of intriguing world building, including the idea of Aspects (done best in Fred Saberhagen’s Gods series) and Houses (done best by Steven Brust’s Taltos series).

It begins with Jala as a small girl, clearly the darling of the household and the daughter of her father’s eye. They are heading out to work in the fields one day when a wave of death overtakes them, killing everything in its path. Somehow, Jala survives, is found by two vigilantes and taken to a nearby temple devoted to the aspect of Fortune. The story jumps forward in time, to when Jala needs to leave the temple and travel to the city of Sanctuary to be trained in the use of her magic. Before she leaves, the Aspect of Fortune stops by for a little chat with her, info-dumps about her parents (specifically, her dads) and national politics, gives her a ton of money, and in a move worthy of the Fairy Godmother, updates her wardrobe and baubles. She travels to the harbor and by an odd stroke of luck, meets a young pilot, Shade, who just happens to be heading to Sanctuary as well.  Turns out he is the first surviving son of one of the major Houses, is very kind and filthy rich.

Jala’s journey to Sanctuary and the first few weeks there is one of the fuller sections of the story, and remains intriguing despite the Orphan Destined for Greatness trope. Jala is quick (avoiding the TSTL trait), curious, open-minded and generally kind, so it’s a pleasure to spend time with her. Friend Shade has a cousin, Finn, who’s a renowned duelist and full-time cad, and it isn’t long before Jala meets Finn and is suckered into drinking a few too many. It’s the set-up for a love triangle, but thankfully, Myers avoids the full-blown trope. Finn brings Jala to his super-talented older brother who ‘unblocks’ her magic and we discover her magic is Amazing. Jala also has to contend with romantic attention from an unwanted admirer.  Myers takes some time to build a nice picture of Sanctuary and of the personal politics that surround her new friends.

Strangely, however, the book skips almost everything to do with classes and learning magic, instead jumping forward three months to a more proficient Jala (Harry Potter this ain’t). She’s having terrible nightmares, dreaming of the burning of her home and hearing someone calling to her. She and her friends go on an expedition by magic portal to the area she came from and discover a Familiar waiting. This is generally billed as a very amazing thing, except her Familiar does nothing further except threaten to eat people and offer mating advice. It’s very odd because the character is hugely underutilized and seems to provide no actual value. Compare, for instance, magic reservoir of Companions in the Valdemar series, or the aid in witchcraft from lizard familiars in Taltos. From there, the boon companions go on another quest where Jala does some Amazing, Unheard-of Magic. After she recovers, they meet up with the lawmen. Then Jala gets married, and meets with the leaders of many of the Houses about taking back her historical lands.

I have a very mixed reaction to this story. Based on the edition I read, I wanted to suggest one more major edit if Myers wanted to reach blockbuster potential. There’s some really great bones in here, but the trouble is that the world-building feels a little kitchen sink. We don’t need every device available (magic portals, airships, horses), ‘schooling’ versus other kinds of learning, or the idea that the population was ‘imprisoned’ on this world through a particular barrier.

More importantly, the drastic time-skips through this particular book don’t allow as detailed of development as the story needed. Think of The Belgariad, and how Garion’s travel through the land gave opportunity for character development and a paced plot.

Although Myers avoids some tropes, others she dives into head first. Jala befriends a notorious womanizer (“bedded every woman in this tavern”) who stops two or three months into their friendship, realizing Jala is his soulmate. Jala is independent enough to ultimately want space away from Shade, but although she supposedly strikes out for her own apartment, it’s only a short time before she’s moving in Finn’s compound. And, sadly, it pretty much solidly fails the Bechdel test with a couple token women in Shade’s household and only one in Finn’s. It’s still the affirmative action type of world-building instead of something truly representational and random as seen in Steven Aryan‘s Mageborn series.

Most of the writing is decent, above average for a first book. There were a few parts where I thought the wording sounded stilted, but overall, I read without being distracted by the writing. Occasionally, dialoge felt a little too modern. When it came to world-building, I didn’t understand why Shade, who supported the idea that there are ‘shades of grey,’ was such an outlier. Everyone we meet is operating in shades of grey and understands a few smaller sacrifices may be made for larger ones. There’s also a repeated statement that  seems to be a philosophy for the entire population, but was immensely puzzling:  “There are two types of Immortals in the prison, those with the will to fight, and those that provoke the fights.”

I’ll finally note, for the love of a thesaurus, please stop using the word ‘smirked.’ There’s at least 16-17, and it started to grate.

Had Brandon Sanderson written this book, it would have been stretched to at least two more books, if not three.  It feels a great deal like a novella or two tied together with a short story. That said, I think I’d comfortably recommend this to people who enjoy fantasy, particularly the Lackey’s Valdemar series and Rothfuss’ Wise Man’s Fear.

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Hidden Blade by Pippa DaCosta

Read  October 2017
Recommended for fans of action!UF!action!
★    ★

 

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I’m a bit bummed, because my friends have such enthusiastic reviews and now I’m going to harsh all over their mellow. It could be the Kindle; I’m not known for loving the format. But the writing was awkward, the plotting scattered, and DaCosta relies on titillation over world-building.

“Instantly told two of the worlds’ most powerful deities exactly what I didn’t want them to know: that I’d prefer to be anywhere else but here with them.”
Believe me, they know. Because you’ve already told us you hate them, and when you follow it up with “There was a time I’d screamed at him, raged, thrown my fists, and gotten myself strung up for my efforts,” it makes the previous statement pretty much meaningless drama.

“Somehow, I smiled, and not for the first time, I secretly wished Osiris had.
Could that sentence be any more awkward?

We have a number of problems/crimes, beginning with lead Ace Dante following some kids from a summoning and now possessed by a demon; an ex-wife wanting a favor investigating the deaths of pregnant women; his mom requesting he visit her in the Underworld; and a hard-core favor for Osiris. There’s also a spoiler thing (view spoiler). Too many plots jammed together in one book does indeed make for “non-stop action” as DaCosta claims, but to make it even more “fun,” only one of those is completely resolved in this book. I knew it was going to end in a cliffhanger from my friends’ reviews, but I didn’t think there would be quite so many sub-plots. Speaking of plotting, although the opening scenes sort of set up a detection scenario, Dante does very little actual detecting. His ‘investigation’ consists of asking deux ex machinas his agency partner or his police contact for information.

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I honestly didn’t get develop much feeling for the main character either, consumed as he was by regret, self-loathing and hate, in between periods of frustrated sexual energy and ecstasy at eating souls (really, George Costanza in a nutshell). Dante lacks any agency; through most of the book he’s only reacting to situations he is ordered to by others, acting because he sees no other option (view spoiler) and acting because other people pushed him into it (view spoiler) That ends up requiring a lot of back-story to justify, which isn’t always done. Upside: less filler. Downside: lots of incomprehensible “I’m forced to do it” in ways that don’t create sympathy or understanding.

I finished, although largely out of obligation to book OCD, making it just above one star.

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