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Newsletter #117 March May, 2017

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Behind the Throne ($14.99) is a first novel by K. B. Wagers, and it was packaged in a way that I consider unfortunate–very dark cover that doesn’t catch the eye, and you have to really study the art to figure out what is being shown. I ordered very lightly on it, and it didn’t sell very well. But I kept hearing very good things about it, and I finally picked it up. It was very hard to put down, and I immediate grabbed the second volume, After the Crown ($15.99), which came out four months after the first volume.
        Over a thousand years before the story starts, the diaspora from Earth resulted in the Indranan system being settled primarily by people from India, who set up a Hindu matriarchal system of government. By the time the story starts, the modest Indranan Empire consists of forty-five planets spread over twenty-eight star systems, surrounded by other, larger empires. Princess Hailimi Bristol was the middle of three daughters of the empress, but she was never happy living in the royal court. Twenty years before the story starts, her father was murdered, and she fled the empire to try to track down the man behind the murder. After she lost his trail, she decided that she preferred being free out in the galaxy rather than being a surplus daughter at the royal court. She became one of the top gunrunners in the galaxy, with many high-level criminal contacts. After twenty years of freedom, the empire tracks her down and forces her to return to the royal court. Both of her sisters have been murdered, and she is now the heir. She doesn’t want anything to do with the royal court, and most of the members of the plot-ridden court don’t want her back. But it soon becomes clear that the empire needs her gunrunner attitudes and connections if it is to survive, and she starts kicking ass, inside and outside the royal court. This is good old-fashioned space opera, full of fast action, interesting characters, and dark humor. The third volume, Beyond the Empire, is tentatively scheduled to be released in December, 2017.

        I’ve previously recommended Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage Trilogy: Promise of Blood ($16.00), The Crimson Campaign ($17.00), and The Autumn Republic ($15.99). There are various kinds of magic that had been used for a long time and the kings gathered the more powerful of the magic users into royal Priviliged cabals. But then gunpowder came along, and some people learned to become 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. Soon a continent-wide war was going, full of fast action, very interesting characters, assorted subplots, and even some gods got involved in the war (including one who was described by one of our customers as her favorite fantasy god of all time). At the end of the third book, everything is tied up, but some of the major characters are thinking about leaving the continent and taking a look at another continent.
        Sins of Empire ($26.00, due early March) is the first of the Gods of Blood and Powder series and takes place on the other continent several years after the end of the first trilogy. Eventually several major characters from the first series become part of the plot, as well as lots of new interesting characters. The cultures are different, the power structures are different, and even some of the magic is different on the new continent. A reader could start with this book and enjoy it, but the first trilogy is so outstanding that I recommend that you start at the beginning.

        Richard Kadrey has two different urban fantasy series going. He is better known for the Sandman Slim series, which is very hard-boiled, violent, and profane. James Stark grew up in L.A., and was the most powerful of a gang of juvenile delinquent magic users. The other members of the gang sent him to Hell, where he spent eleven years as a gladiator for the entertainment of the demons, but he eventually escaped from Hell and made it back to L.A., looking for payback. The Perdition Score is the eighth Sandman Slim novel, and the $15.99 trade paperback reprint just arrived.
        The other series is more madcap humor and far less violent or profane. It began with The Everything Box ($16.99) and continues with The Wrong Dead Guy ($24.99, due early March). Coop is a thief specializing in stealing magical objects. He is forced, very much against his will, to join the Department of Peculiar Science, a top-secret government agency that polices the odd and strange. The first book involved a box that would bring about the end of the world, and had various not-so-bright cultists who will do anything to get that box, not to mention the not-so-bright angel who originally lost the box 4000 years ago and wants it back. In the second book, Coop and his team muddle their way through the theft of the not-quite-dead mummy of an ancient Egyptian wizard who wants to bring back from the dead his ancient love, a warrior sorceress who wants to conquer the world with her undead armies. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the political in-fighting within the Department of Peculiar Science is incredible.
        I have a slight preference for the Sandman Slim series, but enjoy both series.

        I previous recommended Erin Lindsey’s Bloodbound series:
        “The Bloodbound by Erin Lindsey ($7.99) is the first of a new fantasy series. On her webpage, the author says she “is on a quest to write the perfect summer vacation novel, with just the right blend of action, heartbreak and triumph”, and she’s come pretty close. The romance element was a bit strong for my tastes in a few spots, but the action is fast, the characters interesting, and there are some funny scenes (I particularly liked the scene with the wolfhound puppies).
        “Lady Alix Black is serving as a scout in the army of Alden as it fights the invading army from Oridia, when the king’s brother turns traitor and refuses to allow his portion of the army to join the battle as planned. When Alix sees that the battle is lost, she leaves her post and plunges into the battle and manages to save the king. She ends up as the king’s bodyguard and a political advisor, as the king tries to cope with both the invading army and his brother’s attempt to become king. By the end of the book, some things are resolved (including Alix’s wedding) and some are left hanging for the sequel.”
        The trilogy is now complete with The Bloodforged (#2, $7.99) and The Bloodsworn (#3, $7.99), and the entire trilogy is recommended. By the end of the trilogy, the invasion is dealt with, the bad guys are killed off, the story arc is completed. But some loose ends are tossed into the last few pages, so I suspect we will be seeing Alix and the gang in future books.

        I’m a big fan of the Linesman series by S. K. Dunstall. In Linesman ($7.99), we learn that five hundred years before the novel began, an alien spaceship was found and the technology was replicated to allow humans to get to the stars. There are ten lines that control a spaceship, with three of the lines being vital for getting to the stars. The job of a linesman is to keep the ten lines functioning properly, but only about fifty humans are capable of balancing all of the lines. The story for the series is mainly told by the point of view of Ean Lambert, a linesman who uses a different technique than any other linesman to maintain the spaceships. After five hundred years without contact with the aliens, a new, much more powerful alien ship has shown up, and various human factions are competing to gain control of it. In the second book, Alliance ($7.99), an entire alien battle fleet, heavily damaged and with no survivors, arrives in human space. Ean Lambert discovers that there are actually twelve lines, not ten lines, to the artificial intelligences running the spaceships, and he gradually learns the functions of the various lines. The third book, Confluence ($7.99), introduces some palace intrigue, has a secondary character sent on a covert operation behind enemy lines to save her from the palace intrigue, and Ean finds that the alien battle fleet really, really wants living crew members–to the point of picking their own crews if the human authorities won’t provide them with crews. Each of the books kept me up reading far too late into the night. By the end of the third book, we still don’t know anything about the aliens that built the battle fleet or the aliens that heavily damaged the fleet that fled to human space, so I’m hoping that we can look forward to several more books in the series.

        I’ve enjoyed the alternate history novels of Robert Conroy, so I expected to enjoy 1882: Custer in Chains ($7.99), which is based on the idea that Custer survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn and went on to become President of the U.S. I have to admit that Conroy’s description of an arrogant, egotistical President who liked to insult foreign leaders, ignored expert advice he didn’t want to hear, and wanted to start a war to secure his place in history did not provide as much escapism as I was looking for, but the book was written more than two years ago, so the author was clearly not commenting on current events. Custer gets the U.S. into the Spanish-American War at a time when the U.S. was still using leftover equipment from the Civil War and had very few experienced soldiers or sailors. When the story was dealing with characters other than Custer, I enjoyed it very much.

        I enjoyed Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series, but I wasn’t very impressed with The Drafter ($7.99), the first of her new series. It was okay, but I didn’t recommend it to anybody. The Operator ($7.99), the sequel to The Drafter, is much better. If you’ve already read the first book, you already understand the time travel gimmick, you know all the characters and have a pretty good idea which are good guys and which are bad guys, and you’re ready for a much more linear story than what happened in the first book. And The Drafter deliver a fast-paced, entertaining linear story.

        Dark Victory ($7.99) by Brendan DuBois is the first of a series involving humans fighting against much more powerful aliens who have invaded Earth. The story is told from the point of view of sixteen-year-old Sergeant Randy Knox who (with his K-9 Thor) has been fighting the aliens since he was twelve. The aliens came to Earth, dumped asteroids into the oceans to create tsunamis to wipe out the coast cities, hit Earth with EMPs to burn out all the computers, and set up bases on Earth. Years later, the humans still don’t know why the aliens came or what they want, but are still fighting back. The story is good, but the book is a prime example of why it is a bad idea to rely on spell-checker to do your proof-reading.

        A Trail Through Time ($12.99) is the fourth in Jodi Taylor’s madcap British time travel series, The Chronicle of St. Mary’s. Much of the book is more serious and grim than the first three books (Just One Damned Thing After Another ($12.99), A Symphony of Echoes ($12.99), and A Second Chance ($12.99)), but by the end of the book it is laugh-out-loud funny like the others. No Time Like the Past ($12.99) just arrived, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. What Could Possibly Go Wrong ($12.99) is expected mid-March and Lies, Damned Lies, and History ($12.99) is expected mid-May.

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