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Newsletter #101 March May, 2013

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Several years ago I really enjoyed Wen Spencer’s Ukiah Oregon series (Alien Taste, Tainted Trail, Bitter Waters, and Dog Warrior) about a half-alien private investigator on contemporary Earth, with hidden aliens among us. When the author stopped that series and switched to a different publisher, I didn’t continue to read her books, and that was a big mistake.
        Tinker ($7.99) is an interesting fantasy/science fiction hybrid. When a satellite was put into orbit to generate a hyperphase gate to allow space ships to jump to distant parts of the universe, it had an unexpected side effect–it sent Pittsburgh to a parallel world, Elfhome. Once a month the gate is turned off for 24 hours to bring Pittsburgh back to Earth, and some people leave Pittsburgh, other people enter Pittsburgh (mainly graduate students doing research on various aspects of Elfhome), and a month’s worth of supplies are trucked into Pittsburgh. Then Pittsburgh goes back to Elfhome, land of the elves, where magic works, strange and dangerous critters and plants exist, and even the stars are different.
        Tinker is an 18-year-old orphan girl genius who runs a junkyard in Pittsburgh so that she has ready access to parts for her inventions, and she’s also trying to come up with a quantum mechanical explanation for magic. Early in the first book, Tinker becomes an elf princess through no fault of her own, which gets her involved in elf politics.
        What nobody originally realizes is that Earth and Elfhome are not the only parallel worlds that have been linked by the gate. The truly nasty rulers of the third world have already infiltrated various powerful governments and corporations on Earth and have started an invasion of Elfhome. Soon, Tinker is saving the world, often partly by accident and often with unintended consequences. The story and the war continues in Wolf Who Rules ($7.99) and Elfhome ($24.00), and the story isn’t finished at the end of Elfhome.

        Last Newsletter I recommended Crown Thief ($7.99) by David Tallerman, but pointed out that it is the direct sequel to Giant Thief ($7.99) and should not be read without reading Giant Thief first. The problem was that the publisher was out of Giant Thief when Crown Thief was issued. I complained to the publisher, and they finally reprinted Giant Thief–three months after Crown Thief was issued.

        I’ve been a fan of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series (Soulless ($7.99), Changless ($7.99), Blameless ($7.99), Heartless ($7.99), and Timeless ($7.99)) of adult steampunk Victorian-era novels with werewolves, vampires, and humor. I seldom read young adult novels, but I did read Etiquette & Espionage ($17.99), the first of 4 young adult novels set in the same universe, beginning 22 years before the adult series.
        Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her mother. Sophronia likes to dismantle clocks and climb trees, and her curtsy is terrible, so her mother sends her to finishing school. But this finishing school is not exactly what her mother had in mind. In addition to classes in manners, dance, the proper ways to curtsy, etc., there are also classes in knife-throwing, poisons, and espionage to train the next generation of female spies for the empire, and the instructors include a werewolf and a vampire. In a podcast interview the author points out that the level of technology in the young adult series is more advanced than in the later adult series, and that Sophronia will have a lot to do with certain technologies being abandoned.

        Last year I recommended Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold ($7.99) as good popcorn fantasy. Babylon Steel used to be a sword-for-hire for caravans, but is now the madam of a brothel called The Red Lantern in Scalentine, a trading city connected by portals to many different planes with many different species. In the second book, Dangerous Gifts ($8.99), Babylon agrees to travel to another plane to act as bodyguard for an alien female who’s about to shake up the political structure of her world. While much of the book involves Babylon learning about the politics, cultures, and threats of the world, she manages to spend some time giving advice and instruction to some sexually repressed aliens. There’s bound to be another novel coming soon.

        Ever After by Kim Harrison ($27.99) is the latest in the Hollows series featuring witch Rachel Morgan. This series should be read in order because so much character development happens from book to book, and plot elements stretch across several books. If you’re a fan of the series, you should know that I enjoyed this novel more than the last couple, and that we have a bunch of signed copies. If you haven’t tried the series, start with Dead Witch Walking ($7.99).

        I’ve been recommending the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller since the late 1980s, and I’m always happy to see a new book in the series. Necessity’s Child ($26.00 signed copies) arrived a few weeks ago, and it’s a stand-alone novel set shortly after Clan Korval has relocated to the planet Surebleak. Some new characters are developed who are likely to be significant in future books in the series. If you’ve been following the series, you want to read this book.
        The authors see this book as an alternate entry point to the series for new readers, and I’m afraid I have to disagree with them. Too many things are mentioned in the book which a fan of the series will understand, but they are not explained enough for a new reader to understand the significance of what they are reading. If you have somehow never discovered this excellent space opera series, don’t start with Necessity’s Child. Start at the beginning of the series, which is now available as The Agent Gambit ($12.00), which contains the first two novels, Agent of Change and Carpe Diem. You can then move on to The Dragon Variation ($12.00), which contains Local Custom, Scout’s Progress, and Conflict of Honors, after which you should read Korval’s Game ($12.00), which contains Plan B and I Dare. By that point, you should be hooked on the series and can start collecting the rest of the Liaden Universe novels.

        I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Patricia Briggs, both the traditional fantasies and the urban fantasies. The urban fantasy series began with Moon Called ($7.99), about Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson, a coyote shape-shifter who was raised by werewolves and now is a Volkswagen mechanic in Oregon. After a few of the Mercy Thompson books, along came the spin-off Alpha and Omega series featuring some of the secondary characters from the Mercy series. While I still enjoy the Mercy series, I enjoy the Alpha and Omega series even more. In the third of the spin-off series, Fair Game ($7.99), a serial killer that the FBI has never been able to catch has been moving around the country for decades. When word reaches the Oregon werewolves that the serial killer has now reached Boston and has managed to capture, torture, and murder three werewolves there, Anna and Charles fly to Boston to help the FBI track down the killer. Lots of action with interesting and entertaining characters is the result.

        Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan ($23.99, coming mid-April) is the first of The Powder Mage Trilogy, and is a very good and original fantasy. Since the god Kresimir is said to have set up the world the way he wanted it, with the nine kingdoms, and left the world, there have been various kinds of people who could work magic. Some people have a Knack–the ability the work magic in one particular specialty (such as cooking, perhaps). A Knack can be useful, but the kings don’t get very excited about that. Some people have control over a wide variety of magics, and kings try to find them, train them, and force them into a royal Privileged cabal. But as technology advanced, black powder firearms were invented, and some people learned to become black powder mages. Such people could use their powers to guide a bullet a mile or more to kill a Privileged of an opposing king, could set off black powder at a distance with their minds, and could snort black powder to increase their stamina and sharpen their senses. Armies with firearms and black powder mages became more important in war than Priviliged cabals. And the Priviliged were not pleased.
        Field Marshal Tamas of Adro is a black powder mage and has recruited many other black powder mages to his army. When he learns that his king has foolishly spent Adro into near bankrupcy and now plans to hand effective control of his country to the empire of Kez in exchange for forgiveness of his debts, Tamas stages a coup, killing the king, his Priviliged cabal, and most of the nobility of Adro. Tamas thought that killing the second most powerful Privileged cabal in the world was the hard part, and now it would be a fairly simple matter to unite Adro and prepare to fight Kez. He has no idea what a complex mess he has gotten into.

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