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Newsletter #82 June August, 2008

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold ($25.95, signed copies available) is the third volume of this four-volume fantasy series, with the final volume scheduled for next February. Usually, the middle volume of such a series is a bit slower than either the beginning or the concluding volume, but I actually liked this one better than the first 2 volumes. Dag, the magic-fighting Lakewalker, and Dawn, the much younger farmer’s daughter, were introduced in the first volume, along with the magic evil that the Lakewalkers fight to try to protect the farmers. Against all custom on both sides, they marry. In the second volume, they go to live together with the Lakewalkers, but are not welcomed because of their marriage. After an epic battle against a major outbreak of evil, they decide to leave the Lakewalkers and try to figure out how to bridge the misunderstandings between the Lakewalkers and the farmers. In this volume they travel by riverboat down to the sea. The reader already knows Dag and Fawn and the magic system from the earlier volumes, so no lengthy explanations are necessary. A number of interesting new characters are quickly added to the mix, and a new quest is introduced to help some of their new friends, while Dag works on recovering from the final battle of the previous book and tries in various ways to improve understanding between Lakewalkers and farmers.

        Last Newsletter, I recommended Spirit Gate by Kate Elliot ($7.99). This time, I’m going to recommend the sequel, Shadow Gate ($25.95). At the beginning of Spirit Gate, we are introduced to a couple of reeves, Marit and Joss. Marit is soon murdered, and Joss never quite gets over the loss. After jumping ahead 20 years, much of Spirit Gate follows Joss. The beginning of Shadow Gate follows Marit after she is murdered until around the time period where Spirit Gate ended, and this early part was a little slow and confusing––especially to Marit. But Marit’s story soon starts to integrate with the story from the end of Spirit Gate, the action picks up, and puzzles from the first book start to become clearer. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next volume.

        Jhergaala by Steven Brust ($24.95, coming in July) continues the story of Vlad Taltos. With the criminal Jhereg organization determined to kill him, Vlad decides to flee the Draegaran Empire and hide out among the humans to the east of the Empire. While he’s among the humans, he decides to try to track down relatives of his ancestors who had moved to the Empire. He learns where his mother’s family was originally from, and goes to visit the small town of Burz, which at first seems a pleasant place except for the stench from the paper mill. But the people do not act like Vlad expects after a lifetime in the Empire, and Vlad does not act like the humans expect. In a different book, such misunderstandings could have turned into a comedy of manners––but in this book, the misunderstanding turn deadly. Vlad Taltos books tend to be a mixture of humor and grimness. This book has less humor and more grimness than usual, but I still enjoyed it.

        Judge by Karen Traviss ($7.99) concludes the series that began with City of Pearl ($7.50) and continued with Crossing the Line ($7.50), The World Before ($7.50), Matriarch ($7.99), and Ally ($7.99). In the first book, hard-as-nails female cop Shan Frankland was tricked by politicians into accepting leadership of a small group of marines and corporate-sponsored scientists on a 150-year trip to a distant planet where a small human colony has survived, although the public thinks the colony failed. The true goals of the expedition were concealed from her, as was the fact that the planet is claimed by 3 other intelligent races. When the politicians make various stupid moves, Shan decides that her personal ethics should control her actions, not orders from Earth. Later in the series, the Eqbas (who have appointed themselves the ecological policemen of the galaxy, and don’t care how many billions of individuals they have to kill to “fix” things to their own satisfaction) get drawn into the conflict. In the final book, the Eqbas reach Earth to “fix” it, and Shan and her two lifemates, one alien and one human, come along to try to hold down the damage.
        I didn’t enjoy Judge quite as much as the earlier books in the series, with much of the story involves wrapping up loose ends instead of Shan and friends charging head-first into conflicts, but it was still enjoyable and did a satisfactory job of ending a very good series.

        I’ve been a big fan of Glen Cook’s Garrett, P.I. series since Sweet Silver Blues first arrived in 1987. After years of being out-of-print, it was recently republished ($6.99), along with the second and third, Bitter Gold Hearts ($6.99) and Cold Copper Tears ($6.99). This is helpful, since the entire series is wonderful, and the relationship between the characters evolves enough from book to book that it is best to read them in order, and for a while the entire series was out of print.
        Cruel Zinc Melodies ($7.99) is the twelfth in the series, the longest, and the best. The largest brewer in town is building a major new theater, partly because his daughter wants to be an actress and partly because he figures he can sell a lot of beer if only his beer is carried in his theater. But his construction crew has run into problems, so he hires Garrett to figure out what’s going on and fix it. First, there are the giant insects infesting the work site, but there are also ghosts and strange music scaring the workmen. Garrett thinks at first that it’s just a stupid shake-down attempt by a dumb gang, until he sees how huge the giant insects really are. There is a dumb gang attempting a shake-down, but they have nothing to do with the real problems. There is also a young group made up primarily of rebellious children of many of the top sorcerers in town, and they are responsible for the giant insects. When the sorcerers come down from the Hill to see what kinds of trouble their kids have been up to, things get real interesting.
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