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Newsletter #103 September November, 2013

Short Recommendations
By Don Blyly

        Back in 2006 a wonderful debut fantasy novel came out, The Lies of Locke Lamora ($7.99) by Scott Lynch, and it’s been on our recommended fantasy shelf for many years. Set on a world that is clearly not Earth, in the city of Camorr (built by the alien Eldren and then abandoned perhaps 30,000 years ago and now filled with humans), this is the story of Locke Lamora. An orphan who began his life of crime at the age of six, he eventually comes to lead the best team of con men in the city, the Gentlemen Bastards. Part of the fun consists of the clever plots to remove wealth from the decadent nobles, but a large part of the fun are the clever lines that the Gentlemen Bastards fling at each other.
        A year later, Red Seas Under Red Skies ($7.99) came out. To avoid revealing too much about the ending of Lies, let me just say that two of the Gentlemen Bastards, Locke and Jean, move on to another city to practice their cons on a fresh set of victims. While Red Seas was fun, it was not as outstanding as Lies, largely because Locke and Jean could not fling as many clever lines at each other as the whole team had been able to fling in the first book.
        The next year (2008), the third book was supposed to come out, but was postponed. And postponed again. And postponed again. Finally, The Republic of Thieves ($28.00) will be released in October, and it is very good.
        Since they were about six years old, Locke had a crush on Sabetha, the red-haired little girl who grew up to be the only Gentle(Lady) Bastard. At the beginning of the book, it’s been over 5 years since he last saw her, but he’s still obsessed with her. Much of The Republic of Thieves consists of scenes that happened in the past, showing earlier cons run by the Gentlemen Bastards that the reader has not previously seen. This allows the reader to learn that the relationship between Locke and Sabetha is more complicated than Locke would like to admit, but it also lets the reader watch the full team of Bastards flinging clever lines at each other.
        But, the plot also moves forward. The bondsmagi rule the city of Karthian, but to keep the factions of magi from using their magic to kill members of other factions, they hold elections every five years under strict rules. One faction make Locke and Jean an offer they can’t refuse to help rig the election in their favor, while another faction makes Sabetha an offer she can’t refuse to rig the election in their favor, with warnings from both factions that any cooperation between these outside consultants will be dealt with lethally. Since Locke and Sabetha have always been fiercely competitive, this makes their complicated relationship even more complicated. But watching them each try to be more crooked than the other at rigging the election is a lot of fun.
        Near the end of the book, one of the magi reveals some startling things about Locke’s background (which may or may not be true) and gives him a prophecy about his future (which may or may not be true). Hints are dropped about why the Eldren fled the world. And other interesting developments at the end of the book make me look forward to the next installment –hopefully soon.

        Kate Elliott’s excellent Spiritwalker Trilogy is an alternate history fantasy that throws in almost everything but the kitchen sink, but still manages to work very well. The Romans failed to defeat Carthage, leaving the Phoenicians in control of the seas and a weaker Roman Empire on land. About 1000 years before the story begins (in the 1800s, dated from Augustus coming to power in Rome), the Roman Empire pretty much collapsed, but not before having a heavy impact on the cultures of western Europe. About 400 years before the story begins, the Persians conquered Northern Africa, causing many of the Phoenicians to flee to Europe and form alliances with the Celtic princes. About 100 years later, an outbreak of ghouls south of the Sahara destroyed the west African empire of Mali, with many of the Mali elite hiring Phoenician ships to take them, their gold, and their magic to Europe, where they married into the families of the Celtic princes. Some of the Mali hired Phoenicians to take them to South America and eventually to North America, where they met the “trolls”, intelligent descendants of the dinosaurs who are slightly more technologically advanced than the humans and very interested in trade with the humans (or “rats”, as they like to call the humans). And then there is the new Ice Age, which has lowered the sea level enough to connect England to France. And the cold mages are the most powerful of several different kinds of magic users. Throw in people (and others) passing back and forth between our world and the spirit world, plus the Wild Hunt, plus too many other things to mention, and you have a very interesting background for the story.
        Cold Magic (#1, $7.99) features Catherine (“Cat”), an orphan approaching her 20th birthday, living with a Phoenician family of modest means that she believes to be her aunt and uncle and various cousins, including Beatrice (“Bee”), who is a couple of months younger and her best friend. When Cat is suddenly forced against her will to marry a cold mage, she starts to learn that much of what she thought she knew is wrong. Cat and Bee start out with a rather romantic view of life, which they are forced to alter by what they learn of cold mages, politics in Europa, and happenings in the spirit world. Cold Fire (#2, $7.99) primarily takes place in the Antilles Islands, where Cat and Bee and other characters have fled, and allows them and the reader to experience the society set up with the Mali refugees, the native population (with even stronger magic than either the Mali refugees or the Europeans), and the “trolls” from North America.
        Cold Steel (#3, $18.00) primarily takes place in the spirit world and back in Europa, and does a wonderful job of tying up almost all of the loose ends. General Camjiata, who we met in the first book after he had failed in his first attempt to conquer Europa, has secured military backing (magical and mundane) in the Antilles, and has returned to Europa to try again. Cat and Bee are much more knowledgeable and formidable women in the third book than they were at the beginning of the series, and neither of them trust the General, but they are willing to help him to the extent that it will advance their own goals.

        Robert J. Sawyer’s Triggers ($7.99) is more a near future thriller than traditional science fiction. An experimental electronic device for dealing with post traumatic stress disorder is being used in a DC hospital when an electro-magnetic pulse from a terrorist device at the nearby White House causes the experimental device to do strange things to 20 people in the hospital, one of whom is the President, being operated on following an assassination attempt. Each of the 20 people can read the memories of another of the 20 people, which means one of them can read the memories of the President, and that person is concealing that he’s reading the President. And each of the other people is having to cope with the fact that they are now reading the thoughts of a stranger, and some other stranger is reading them. A well-told, entertaining story results, as assorted possibilities of the concept are explored.

        The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp ($7.99) is a fun, fast-paced fantasy. Nix and Egil are a pair of tomb raiders who are very skilled and lucky at escaping ancient dangers, but not so good with current dangers. Nix is a sneak thief with a smart mouth, which keeps getting him into trouble. Egil is the only priest of a god that even he doesn’t believe is around any more. After a particularly dangerous but lucrative tomb robbing adventure, they want to take it easy for a while, but are forced by an angry wizard to join an even more dangerous tomb robbing expedition. Lots of rollicking fun.
        Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey ($7.99, signed copies available) came out in 2009, and is constantly on our recommended fantasy shelf. James Stark was a troubled teen growing up in L.A., who fell in with a bad group of teens, all of whom could work magic. James was the strongest magic user, so the others ganged up on him and sent him to hell. After eleven years as a gladiator in hell, he escapes back to L.A., and he’s looking for payback against the others. What follows is fast paced, profanity-laden violence, with lots of humor.
        Next came Kill the Dead ($22.95 signed hc still available, or $12.99 trade pb), then Aloha From Hell ($12.99), and Devil Said Bang ($12.99). Each was fun, but each was a little less fun than the one before it. Kill City Blues ($24.99) just came out, and it’s the best since the first.
        Stark (aka Sandman Slim) has misplaced the Qomrama Om Ya, a weapon from the banished older gods, who are trying to come back into our universe (which would be a Very Bad Thing). Supposedly, a dead man in Kill City (an abandoned multi-story shopping mall in L.A. that’s been taken over by all kinds supernatural forces that you wouldn’t want to encounter) has information that Stark needs, so he leads a team into the Kill City maze.

        Abaddon’s Gate ($17.00) by James S. A. Corey is the third in the excellent space opera series that began with Leviathan Wakes ($15.99) and continued with Caliban's War ($15.99), and should only be read after reading the first two volumes.
        The alien artifact that orbited Saturn for two billion years has now eaten much of Venus and then set up a gate on the edge of the solar system. Mutually suspicious fleets from Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid Belt go to explore the gate, but one of the humans has a plot to frame and destroy Jim Holden, captain of the Rocinante, which is part of the vast flotilla of scientific and military ships sent to explore the artifact. Jim is haunted by the ghost of Detective Miller, who was killed in the first volume, but continues to feed Jim information about the alien artifact. The wrong move could result in the artifact sterilizing the entire solar system, and there are lots of opportunities for mis-steps.

        Patricia Briggs has two related series, the Mercy Thompson series (featuring a shape-shifting VW mechanic, who was raised by werewolves although she is a were-coyote) and the Alpha and Omega series (featuring as main characters a couple who are secondary characters in the Mercy Thompson series). The story lines between the two series keep getting more integrated. Frost Burned ($26.95) stars Mercy and her regular set of characters, but when her husband and most of his pack of werewolves are abducted by a bunch of rogue government agents who want to use them as assassins, Mercy turns to some fey, a vampire, and out-of-town werewolves for help. The Moor (who has been developed as a character more in the Alpha and Omega series) is sent in to help save the pack. The book is a lot of fun if you’re already familiar with both series, but don’t try to start with this book.

        Sergey and Marina Dyachenko are a married couple of Russian writers who have won some European awards, and The Scar ($7.99) is the first of their books to be translated into English.
        Egert is an egotistical member of the military elite of the city of Kavarren. After he kills in a duel a hopelessly outclassed visiting student, he is challenged to a duel by a mysterious stranger–who leaves him with a scar that carries a curse of cowardice. Egert flees Kavarren and tries to find a way to lift the curse. The story spends more time on setting mood and on physical descriptions, and is generally more wordy than a typical American book that focuses much more on plot–but not enough so as to reduce the enjoyment of the story.

        Eric Brown has put out a bunch of science fiction books over the last few years, and I read a couple of the early ones and enjoyed them. I picked up The Devil’s Nebula ($7.99), first of the Weird Space series, and it was as if I had picked up a space opera from the 1960s (except for a lesbian relationship–I don’t remember those from the 1960s space operas). Lots of fast action adventure without much concern for scientific plausibility or deep character analysis.
        The human Expansion has been pushed back by the forces of the alien Vetch, but captain Ed Carew, pilot Lania Takiomar, and engineer Jed Neffard sneak their small space ship across the border to “salvage” art left behind in a museum on a planet where the Vetch drove out the humans. But there is also a mysterious crashed alien space ship of previously unknown design on the planet, which both the humans and the Vetch are puzzled about. After various dangerous encounters on the planet, Ed and crew take off, only to be captured by the forces of the Expansion government, which has been watching Ed’s crew and their various “salvage” operations for some time. The government makes them an offer they can’t refuse, sending them on a mysterious mission to the far side of Vetch space, where they find more alien artifacts and eventually uncover a plot by an alien race from another universe to conquer our universe, starting by taking over both the Vetch and the humans.
        Satan’s Reach ($7.99), the second in the Weird Space universe just came in and I haven’t had time to read it yet. Flipping through it, it clearly continues the war against the aliens from another universe, but doesn’t seem to follow Ed and his crew.
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