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Newsletter #127 September November, 2019

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall ($16.00) was a lot of fun. The publisher is pushing it as a Sherlock Holmes style fantasy, which it is, but that’s not what makes it so much fun. It’s the voice of the narrator that I enjoyed.
        Captain John Wyndham is very prim and proper from a religious background, but he joined the army and served in a war in another universe. After he was wounded by alien bullets that disappear and reappear through time (so that sometimes he is wounded and other times he is not, until the next time the bullets reappear), he leaves the army and moves to a civilian job in the capital city of Khelathra-Ven. He searches for a place to live, and ends up as a housemate of consulting sorceress Ms. Shaharazad Haas at 221b Martyrs Walk. Ms. Haas has a dark and scandalous reputation, richly deserved. She keeps dragging John into her investigations, which he then narrates, trying (very unsuccessfully) to shield the gentle reader from the more scandalous elements of their adventures. Delightful, and hopefully the first of many adventures.

        Witchy Kingdom by D. J. Butler ($25.00, signing at Uncle Hugo’s Wednesday, September 25, 5-6 pm) is the third in the series of alternate history fantasies that take place in America in the early 1800s, following Witchy Eye ($7.99) and Witchy Winter ($7.99). Earlier in the series, we learned that a descendant of William Penn is the emperor of most of North America south of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi. Sarah Calhoun is an Appalachee girl with a witchy eye and some magical abilities, who does not realize that she is one of the triplets born to the last rightful empress. The triplets were secretly snuck out of the palace on the night of their birth and placed in adoptive homes in different parts of the empire, shortly before the current emperor locked up their mother (claiming she was insane), and eventually killed her. Now agents of the current emperor are searching for the triplets, and a few people loyal to her mother are trying to protect them. The first book concentrated on Sarah and those trying to catch her and those trying to protect her. The second book concentrated on the other two of the triplets and those chasing them and those protecting them. At the beginning of the third book Sarah is in Cahokia, accepted by the population as the Beloved of the goddess, but not able to access the power of the Serpent Throne. The forces of the Imperium are besieging Cahokia, with the assistance of necromancers, and other Imperium forces are trying to capture the other two of the triplets. The publisher is calling this “The Finale of the Witchy Wars Series”, and by the end of the book Sarah has used the power of the Serpent Throne to break the siege and the other two of the triplets seem to be safe for the moment, but there sure are a lot of bad guys running around and a lot of loose end that are not resolved. I’d be surprised if this is really the final book in the series.

        Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes ($15.99. due mid-September) is a fast-paced oddball space opera and a first novel. I enjoyed it a lot, but had a couple of problems with it.
        The foul-mouthed female captain of an interstellar freighter is hired to transport a shipment of psychic kittens to another star system, but the kittens keep escaping from the cargo hold, sometimes messing with the brain implants of her crew members, and sometimes taking over the piloting of the ship. When she and her oddball crew finish wrangling the cats and reach their destination, the deal falls through, she’s broke, stuck with the cats, and forced into increasingly hazardous missions to try to pay the bills. Seems like a great set-up, but from the point the cat deal falls through the cats seem to become ordinary cats who happen to live on the freighter. And when the captain gets upset (which happens very often), she switches to Spanish (which I don’t know) and I was left suspecting that I was not catching many of the funnier lines. In spite of these problems, I can recommend this book for those interested in some fast, light adventure.

        Marque of Caine by Charles E. Gannon ($16.00) is the fifth in the Caine Riordan series, after Fire With Fire ($7.99), Trial by Fire ($7.99). Raising Caine (not currently available), and Caine’s Mutiny ($7.99). The first four books were primarily military action adventure with lots of alien races, but the new novel is very different. The ancient and enigmatic Dornaani race was supposed to have been protecting Terra from the other alien races, but had not been overwhelmingly helpful or successful. Now Caine Riordan goes to visit the Dornaani empire to retrieve his mortally wounded love Elena Corcoran, who is somewhere in their unthinkably advanced medical facilities. But the Dornani have misplaced her body, and while searching for her Caine discovers a great deal about their history, their technology and where it came from, and that their empire is decaying. Of course, there is a cliff-hanging ending.

        A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie ($27.00, due mid-September, signed copies expected) is the first of a new fantasy trilogy set later in time in the same universe as The First Law trilogy. Abercrombie has a well-deserved reputation for writing grim, gritty fantasies, and I like his writing a lot. A Little Hatred continues the grim, gritty tradition, but also includes more humor (much of it grim) than I’ve encountered before in his books, and I enjoyed this book more than any of his earlier books. And you can enjoy this book even if you haven’t read any of the other books.
        The Union has problems. The Crown Prince is a wastrel, sure that he is totally disqualified to become king, and goes out of his way to prove that to everybody. The industrial revolution has arrived, driving farmers off of their land and into the dangerous factories, leading to revolutionary groups of varying degrees of radicalness, leading to extreme suppression from the aristocracy and the capitalists. The Northmen are invading again and the Union isn’t sure if it can borrow enough or raise taxes enough to send an army to defend the border. The magi are manipulating things for their own advantage. Lots of interesting characters, interesting situations, and full of grim and gritty.

        Monster Hunter Guardian by Larry Correia and Sarah A. Hoyt ($25.00, a few copies available signed by Larry Correia) follows the adventures of Julie Shackleford after her husband Owen Pitt and most of the rest of the Monster Hunter International crew went away in Monster Hunter Siege ($7.99) to fight in a monster-infested nightmare dimension. Months later Julie is still holding down the fort, taking care of their new baby boy Ray, and wondering if her husband and the rest of the crew will be able to escape the dimension they entered. When Brother Death kidnaps Ray and promises to return him in a swap for an ancient magical item that could destroy the Earth and then fails to return him, Julie and her pet shoggoth Mr. Trash Bags go on the war path against necromantic death cults, child-stealing monsters, and her vampire mother. The book was a lot of fun, even with most of the regular characters missing in that other dimension.

        The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey ($26.99) is not connected to any of his other books, and the writing style is different. His Sandman Slim series and Another Coop Heist series are fast-paced, violent, profane, and funny. The Grand Dark reads more like a China Mieville novel.
        Set in the city of Lower Proszawa after the Great War (where they were on the losing side), a spirit of decadence and hedonism reigns. But robots are taking jobs from an ever increasing number of people, genetic engineering of animals has become an art form, and the secret police are watching everywhere. Kadrey says it is based loosely on Berlin after the end of WW I. The story is interesting, but nowhere near as much fun as his other books.

        About nine months ago I recommended The Ruin of Kings ($24.99), a major epic fantasy that is the first of a five book series that is already written, which the publisher will be releasing nine months apart. The Name of All Things ($26.99, coming October 29) is the second of the series, and the series continues to be excellent. At the beginning of the book, two days have passed since the major events that occurred at the end of The Ruin of Kings. Kihrin meets with some major characters that he had glimpses of during the first book, and in a style similar to what Patrick Rothfuss used for his books, these characters fill in Kihrin about the events that they experienced during the time when Kihrin was having his adventures that were described in The Ruin of Kings. Many of these events took place in the land of Jorat, which was added to the Quur empire centuries before, when the population rose up against their god and asked for help from the Quur empire to kill their god. Their god loved horses, so he created intelligent horses, and gave his people mottled skin colors like the horses, and the people have a culture where the primary goal is to “protect the herd” (referring to the human herd as well as the horse herd). After all the story-telling is done, Kihrin and his new friends and an old enemy move the main story forward. Now I have to wait nine more months for the next installment.

        A little over a year ago Patrick S. Tomlinson put out a humorous space opera called Gate Crashers ($18.99, signed copies available). A couple of months ago Starship Repo ($18.99, signed copies available), and it is another humorous space opera. It is set in the same universe, later in time, but can be read independently. (One character in Gate Crashers makes a cameo appearance in Starship Repo.)
        After the events in Gate Crashers, humans are allowed to become part of the culture of many alien races that had previously quarantined Earth. Firstname Lastname (the result of a clerical error by the alien immigration department, which they claim they will eventually fix) is a teenage human runaway who is skilled in various cons, pick pocketing, and auto theft. She is the only human on a huge alien space station, and when some of the aliens realize how talented she is, they force her to join their repo operation, repossessing space ships from those who don’t keep up with their bank payments. They take her under their wings (sometime literally), teach her the ropes, and use her flair for crooked operations to out-perform the other repo outfits. You could pick a lot of holes in the logic of the story, but the novel is a lot of fun. The final repo of the book involves a huge, glitzy casino owned by the alien Fonald Plump, who doesn’t believe in paying back his bank loans.



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