Redshirts is a loving homage to Star Trek and televised SF serials in general, despite poking at some of the tropes. It even goes in the title: a 'redRedshirts is a loving homage to Star Trek and televised SF serials in general, despite poking at some of the tropes. It even goes in the title: a 'redshirt', from the color of the uniforms the security personell on the original Enterprise wore, is an extra killed off solely to emphasize how dangerous the situation is.
The first part of the book is sort of a 'Lower Decks' (Star Trek: The Next Generation episode) take on the flagship of an interstellar civilization's military (which is totally not the Federation you all ;-) ), in that it follows the assignment of five low-ranked crew to the UU Intrepid, combined with a parody of Star Trek-isms, like... well, like the danger of being an ensign on an away mission with senior officers, or the Box that the Xenobiology department has in a closet that makes everyone very uncomfortable but will get you the answer on a tight deadline, or poor (yet veyr attractive) Lieutenant Kerensky (who never dies on away missions, but is some sort of disaster magnet). And as a humor book it works: Scalzi is a funny guy, and he knows his SF.
Then Our Redshirted Heros try to answer why this ship is so damn weird, by chasing down Jenkins the hermit who lives in the Jeffries Tubes cargo tunnels. And things get very meta. And then there is time travel and we get a take on the classic Trek plot of 'travel back in time to when the show is being produced'* and some thoughtful meditations on free will, good writing, love, and mortality. Well, and jokes about culture clashes, because what's the good of having some Future People around if you can't have them wonder things like 'who the hell writes Wikipedia' and if the food in LA is safe to eat**.
* I'm going to be honest, even if this plot is cheesy as hell, and the characters call out how often time travel happens to 'when we're filming' for the lulz of the writers, I have a hell of a soft spot for time travel plots. Even the dumb ones. Maybe especially the dumb ones.
** It is, but it's never a good idea to have that extra burrito, especially right before an important meeting. Past or Future. ...more
I reread this as part of my 'Votin' in the Hugos, Baby!' catch. I also remember the first time I read this which, resulted in me swearing at the authoI reread this as part of my 'Votin' in the Hugos, Baby!' catch. I also remember the first time I read this which, resulted in me swearing at the author for leaving me where she did. Which is the sign of a good book, in my opinion.
It's hard to review Deadline without spoiling the previous book, Feed. Basically, after the events of Feed, Shaun Mason is clearly Not Coping and has gone a bit crazy to avoid going all the way crazy. He's also trying to unravel the loose ends from Feed's plot, run his news site, and not shoot annoying people who want to know why he's no longer poking zombies with sticks for their amusement.
Then a contact drops a woman -- Doctor Kelly Conelley (sp?) -- who is supposed to be dead on his door, and someone is willing to stage a zombie outbreak and firebomb half of Oakland to make sure she is actually dead. And she gets to bring Shaun the next big break, since for some reason a subset of people who have partial-immunity to the zombie flu are dying at abnormal rates... and from everything but 'eaten by zombies'. And CDC research money is being shifted away from 'study and cure the zombie flu'. And Dr. Kelly's team has been all dying.
(Oh, yes, this is a zombie book, BTW.)
So, this really is a wonderful thriller. Even the expected down-times are well-handled. The characters (since we finally get to meet the rest of the After the End Times team, besides name-drops and Mahir being Georgia's best friend) are wonderful. The book is also very self-aware of zombie movie tropes it pulls or not -- one minor character (Maggie, rich pharmaceutical scion, writer of poetry, fan of horror movies and operator of a teacup bulldog rescue.)
Also, the bit with the storm and the Midwest is some of the most atmospheric writing I've seen, and handles the transition from 'horror movie trope' to 'prose' well. ...more
So, this is a pretty standard Nightside book. For those who don't know the series, the Nightside is a hidden city reachable through London, where if SSo, this is a pretty standard Nightside book. For those who don't know the series, the Nightside is a hidden city reachable through London, where if Simon Greene can come up with it, it can and will exist there, probably buying services that would be illegal anywhere else. Greene is very good in somehow combining noir sensibilities, where everything is gray and shady, with a world where everything can be true and things are a bit over the top. Somehow it works.
Anyway, this book was kind of meh for me. It almost was like Greene took two novellas and stuck them together to make a short book. TGtBatU wasn't any shorter than the average novel in the series, but the fact the first chapters had only a tangental relationship to the second half of the book, we got a chapter from another character's POV about how he accidentally freed Queen Mab from Hell years ago, and the narrative payout seems to have been deferred to the next book, it make the book feel shorter.
The first story was Our Hero, John Taylor, taking a job from an elf lord to get him out of the Nightside with a treaty that would end the war between Oberon and Titania's elves and Mab's. Of course the Powers that Be in the Nightside, as represented by Walker, would rather the elves stick to warring among themselves, so we get a good old fashioned 'running the gauntlet' scene. Given I had just finished The Man with the Golden Torc and that I remember at least one or two other scenes in theNightside series where John and a friend with a car have to brave Nightside traffic, I suspect Greene has a real thing for writing these.
There are two things I like here. The first is that Taylor's power -- the ability to find anything and occasionally remove it -- is shown to have a weakness, in that he eventually ends up running on fumes. Since the previous ones had been bought off through the narration, it's a nice reminder while this is an awesome power -- he can find abstract concepts, such as 'what is this thing's weakness', he can remove bullets from guns, fillings from mouths and the specific wavelength of moonlight that causes werewolves to change from the spectrum -- it doesn't make Taylor invincible.
The second might seem like a minor thing to most people. Taylor recruits the help of Ms. Fate, a crime-fighting superheroine who happens to be male in her mundane identity. Greene (or Greene-writing-Taylor) used the correct pronouns for her -- the only times Ms. Fate was referred to by masculine pronouns was when speaking of her mundane identity. While the idea of a man dressing up as a woman to fight crime is something easily mocked, the character got as much respect as any crime-fighter. (In other words, while comic-book tropes, especially female superhero tropes, might be silly, the character is treated as a real person.)
Anyway, part two was another case, interwoven with Taylor's conflict with Walker. Walker is retiring -- in the old-fashioned way, which is 'through a coffin' -- and wants Taylor to take over his job. As much as Taylor considers himself a force for good (mostly) in the Nightside and admits Walker has crazy amounts of power as the guy who turns policy into results, he doesn't particularly want to do what Walker does, which is keep order at any cost. Which was a nice narrative conflict, to go with the footwork as Taylor tracks down a missing friend with the friend's brother, but again, it felt short.
Overall, this is the kind of book you get because you enjoy the series, but it won't make any converts....more
So, this is a Firefly/Serenity comic. About Book. That answers all the mysteries of his backstory. And... well, that's it. Seriously, it's like Joss WSo, this is a Firefly/Serenity comic. About Book. That answers all the mysteries of his backstory. And... well, that's it. Seriously, it's like Joss Whedon, reflecting that he'll never get to give us all the details about Book's Mysterious Past, decided to just write them down in one book.
The basic structure of the book is we see Book on Haven, the planet he ends up on on the movie (and, god help me, I'm trying not to spoil that for all of you who aren't Firefly fans, even if it feels like Everyone Knows all the spoilers), and reflecting on his life. We get successive flashes backward -- the first one showing him on Serenity, then him leaving the abbey right before the first episode, then we start going into the details we don't know.
It's an interesting structure, since the overall story is 'how did Book get the way he is today?', so it's almost like it traces the stream of 'and where did that come from?' until Book's childhood. And I do think it worked well.
But one of the annoying things I found about this was that it was just too damn short. Because Whedon had to condense all his notes into one story, we pretty much get a collection of scenes, rather than going into depth into any one moment of Book's life. So it comes off as a bit superficial. I'd have rather something that felt more novel (or TV episode) length, rather than what we got.
You can read the above paragraph as 'Bitter Firefly fan is still upset over the cancelation of her show'. Also, I didn't like the artist chosen, but... eh.
But, anyway, it's definitely a comic that really only works if you're invested in Book as a character, which pretty much means 'Firefly fans only'. And maybe I'd wait until they come out with a softcover version. ...more
This book hits a few loves with me. First off, the narration structure. The book is based around the legend of Prester John, a medieval European legenThis book hits a few loves with me. First off, the narration structure. The book is based around the legend of Prester John, a medieval European legend of a priest-king who ruled over a land of legend off somewhere in the east. In 1699, a group, lead by a Brother Hiob, sets out to find traces of his kingdom, and come across a hamlet with a strange woman, who tells them that Prester John is gone, and shows them to a tree with books for fruit, and tells the head of the expedition he can pick three. The narrative is interwoven from those three books and Hiob's comments as he fights the decay of the books -- which, being fruit, don't last long once picked -- to record them and send them back to Europe.
The three interwoven narratives are John's own accounts of his travels, a memoir of Hagia, one of the locals who eventually ends up as John's queen, and a book of stories, which do a lot to explain how the country of Pentexore came into being and fill in the history that Hagia knows and John never asks about. It's a really cool device for a story like this, which is based on medieval legends rather than modern fantasy, even if the peoples of Pentexore are just as fantastic as elves and dwarves and vampires and werewolves.
Which is another point in its favor. A friend of mine is a fan of reading ancient Greek and Roman accounts of the wider world (and completely made-up ones, such as Lucian of Samosata's True History) and telling me what happens, and a lot of the legends have similar qualities. It's a welcome change from the current staple of fantasy, and Valente draws some damn good stuff from legends (not just of Prester John, but Thomas the Apostle, Alexander the Great and Herodotus), but gives a modern fantasy author's worldbuilding spin on it.
Valente, in a guest column for John Scalzi's blog, described it as writing a first contact novel, in that John is taken from a world where he fundamentally knows that everyone believes the same basic thing and looks, roughly, like him, and thrown into a place -- alone -- without other humans and without the shared cultural references that everyone takes for granted. Which can be frustrating for the reader, since, from Hagia's point of view, we are already invested in her people and that really makes John seem like kind of an asshole for taking so long to fit this into his worldview. Then again, John is a medieval priest, who doesn't even have the reference a Western reader would have for things like aliens or elves -- in his world, there are men, beasts, angels and demons, and he's not sure what is what or how this fits in with God's plan.
I did really enjoy the book. Valente can turn a phrase like nothing else -- at least, based on reading Palimpsest and parts of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making -- and this is the kind of story that calls for it. Plus, I did really like a lot of the characters, and the old-school legends made the book feel young again. I'd like to see the sequels -- from the bridging story and Hagia's own reflections as she writes, we know Shit Went Down, but there is always a story in telling how. ...more
Mistborn is definitely in the 'find the sequel' category, in addition to the 'keep it'. So, there you go.
So, the basic premise is that we have a despMistborn is definitely in the 'find the sequel' category, in addition to the 'keep it'. So, there you go.
So, the basic premise is that we have a despot immortal mage-king who has been ruling the known world for a millennium. Rebellions have formed in the past, but even most rebels seem to assume Failure Is the Only Option, and the scheming nobles generally assume even they can't take out the Lord Ruler.
So, instead of armies marching to battle the Lord Ruler's forces, let's have a caper book. Kelsier, a thief and bastard son of a noble, with the reputation of breaking out of the Lord Ruler's unbreakable Mine o' Doom, and a Mistborn (mage) whose abilities awoke there, decides that he's going to take a job to take over the capital city. In addition to his trained Mistings (single-'element' mages) and various friends in the city's underworld, he discovers Vin, a young girl with the same Mistborn gift, but untrained. So, while Kelsier is trying to juggle all the pieces of his plan, Vin is both in training as a Mistborn and set to infiltrate the nobility as a young country noble presumably sent to the city to meet a nice boy and get hitched. And, of course, she has trouble reconciling her image of the nobility as distant people who can and will beat and kill any peasant they want, with the young nobles who run the gamut between bastards and decent people. It doesn't hurt that she meets Elend, the heir to a Great House who is troubled by the status quo, but knows shit-all about how anything operates outside of the nobility.
Anyway, now that the plot is done, let's talk what I liked and disliked. The book was recced to me as having an interesting magic system. The major one of the Final Empire is that of Allomancy, where mages (Mistings or Mistborn) can 'burn' metals in their stomachs to create specified effects. For example, iron lets you sense metal and push it away from you, while allomantic steel (a specific iron alloy) lets you sense metal and pull it towards you. I agree this is moderately interesting, though of course, my science mind wanted to know why Vin in the beginning could use metal ions in the drinking water, but most Allomancers used metallic sources rather than salts. (I guess easier to mix the alloys, but if you had all eight metals in your stomach, would the acid in your stomach break down the alloys? Yeah, yeah, I know... magic.)
But, I liked the element of the caper, and some thought was brought into formatting the revolution rather than 'the peasants will just rise up without thought to their lives and families'. Apparently recruiting is hard when as long as anyone can remember, the same guy has been on the throne, the priests all say that he's an aspect of God, and your ancestors have been doing the same back-breaking scutwork. Not impossible -- it's implied that there's always some runaways and rebels and occasionally armies are sent out to knock down their numbers, just like the Lord Ruler encourages the nobles to occasionally fight amongst themselves to knock out the ambitious ones and decrease their influence.
I also liked that there's plenty of hints about how the Lord Ruler came to power, the reason why everything is a volcanic hellhole with ash raining out of the sky and mists that come out at night, and exactly what the Lord Ruler uses the mystical metal atium for, besides that it gives Mistborn badass abilities. Nice setup for sequels.
Vin is also an interesting protagonist to me. I was less enamored of Kelsier, mostly because he kept secrets in the narration. But it brings up two points:
There are maybe four female characters of import in the book. One is Vin. The second is Mare, Kelsier's wife and former partner in crime who is essentially a Woman in the Refrigerator to give Kelsier motivation to do something other than be the Greatest Thief Ever. The third is Shan, a noblewoman who seems to hate Vin mostly because Shan used to be engaged to Elend, and now Elend is favoring Vin, and is neck deep in politics herself. Finally, Lady Kliss, a young noblewoman with the reputation of being the court gossip. None of these characters have any kind of relationship, other than Shan and Vin's mutual dislike. It's a bit of what I'm calling the Princess Leia problem... in Star Wars, you have Leia, who is a badass, and that's it for major female characters. In contrast to the number of male heroes and villains that show up. Heck, you see it in the Prequel trilogy as well, where Padmé is the only notable female presence. It's like the author has the 'add a woman' to the cast, checks it off, and then never thinks that maybe a lot of the characters could be either male or female, so why not make some female? It's not enough to turn me off Mistborn, but it's annoying, since even ignoring the Vin-Elend-Shan angle, one could easily have had one of Kelsier's crew be a woman.
The second is a bit of POV creep. In the first half of the book, we get Vin and Kelsier's POVs. Later, we add Elend's, which is fine -- he's shaping up to be an interesting character, though I might have liked seeing him before. Near the end, however, we get two scenes where the POV character is new, and then never gets the POV spotlight again. One is Kel's friend, Dockson -- which makes sense, I guess, if you need a rebel POV when you can't use Kel. The other is an Inquisitor, and most of what we get is Evil Villain Glee and the presence of a scene that we were told would happen previously. Then Vin comes in, and we jump to her POV, making it just seem like Sanderson was all 'oops, got to drop some information here', so quickly hands it off. It's a bit of a pet peeve with me, since I'm Miss Organized.
But, overall, it's not a bad book. The plot and characters kept me interested, despite the flaws. I'd just like to see more female characters, since the ones that are there are interesting. ...more
Some of that was probably due to 'book was something different than I wanted'. Which, you know, happens: authors are notSo, my overall reaction? Meh.
Some of that was probably due to 'book was something different than I wanted'. Which, you know, happens: authors are not mindreaders. They don't even get to write the jacket copy. I'm not going to bitch out Condie for not writing to order for a reader she's never met.
So, what I wanted was more play with the Match system -- basically, in the Society, teenagers at 15 decide if they want the 'heterosexual marriage + 2(?) kids' or to be single. If they want to go the spouse + kids, they are put into the system to be Matched for optimum personality and genetic compatibility, then have six years to get to know their Match before they are contracted at age 21, and have until age 35 to have their required kids. So you essentially have a system where there are two options: surrender a lot of freedom of association for kids and domesticity, or end up single, which allows some ability for freedom to romance who you choose, but no Society-sanctioned commitment or children.
And, well, this was ripe to get social satire. And works well with romance -- social commentary usually does, in my opinion. But, well, once we got the back jacket plot going: 'Meet Cassia. She's Matched to Xander, but, just for a minute, sees Ky's face in her Match datacard. Xander is a friend and she cares about him, but she finds herself attracted to Ky', we move into more standard dystopia affair. Which... well, the Society isn't too different than other centrally-planned dystopias. And here is where we get to the 'meh' angle: nothing about this book sets it apart from anything else I could be reading. The romance angle really detracts from the non-romantic plot, in my opinion: really, I was skimming across most of the 'Cassia angsts about loving two guys' to get to the other bits. Cassia's relationship with her grandfather and her love of poetry and running would make her interesting, except most of the investigation she does is motivated by a boy she's got a crush on. Ky has the whole 'outsider' POV that make him interesting, and even Xander and Cassia's parents have some secrets, but because this is strictly in Cassia's POV, we don't know them (yet).
Also, the Society seems a bit... well, like parts aren't talking to the other. And here I'm going to leave spoiler space:
So, we find out that Cassia and Ky's faux Match was part of an experiment to see what would happen, though Cassia expects her initial leak wasn't planned. But the folks monitoring her were aware it was making her a lot more rebellious. But, at the same time, Cassia is being tested to join the government bureaucracy, since she's bright and has good data analysis skills. Her final exam is to sort through workers at the factory Ky works at, to send the better half on 'special assignment'. Not only is it an exposure to an uglier part of the Society -- even before she sees the plant, most of Cassia's classmates know Ky's job is hard, low-prestige work -- but Cassia would have extra sympathy seeing a classmate. Which could be part of the test, I suppose, but it strikes me as a Dumb Move with both things happening at once. At least without some kind of safety net that prevents your subject from, you know, turning into a problem.
Which, I can understand if you want to portray it as a flawed system, but it strikes me that, given the degree of monitoring, it seems like This Should Be Caught. Or, you know, figure out the motivation that will keep Cassia from running off to join the Resistance, since you keep planting clues for her to figure out she's been living a lie....more
Here's something interesting for me. Michelle Sagara-West has three series set in the same world -- the Hunter duology, the Sun Sword series, and theHere's something interesting for me. Michelle Sagara-West has three series set in the same world -- the Hunter duology, the Sun Sword series, and the House War series, which is ongoing. I just finished the third (and newest) book in the House War series, House Name.
So, some background. The overall world is centered on the city of Averalaan, though House War is the only series that focuses on it alone*. The gods existed in the world, but most removed themselves -- with the most notable exceptions being the Lord of the Hells, who refused, and got sealed into Hell to keep him from causing trouble. Of course, then he and his followers are trying to break out -- he gets a piece of his power out in the Hunter duology, and the Sun Sword series chronicles his attempts to gain more power.
Anyway, in the Hunter duology, a seer character is introduced -- Jewel -- who sought refuge from demons within Terafin, one of Averallan's noble houses, thanks to the rare talent of precognition and an old friendship with the Terafin (the current head of the house's) brother**. In the Sun Sword series, she plays a role, riding with the armies heading south to deal with a mix of political unrest and demonic scheming. However, one of the subplots in that series is scheming against the Terafin, with Jewel and her own people involved because Jewel is considered a favorite to become the next Terafin. As a result, at some point, Jewel was called away from the plot of the Sun Sword books to attend to manners in House Terafin. Lest the plot of the book get even more tangled, Sagara-West decides to leave Jewel's story to continue the Sun Sword series and pick up Jewel in her own series.
... which ends up getting three prequels. Of which, book 2's climax is the same as the opening of the second Hunter book, Hunter's Death, and House Name and Hunter's Death are set concurrently and feature the same plot (the business with the Lord of the Hells trying to break into the world). Insert joke here about epic fantasy authors writing the same novel ten times to get ten novels.
But what worked for me was that Sagara-West realized 'shit, the backstory I need to tell for Jewel's present requires not only 'how Jewel met her people' but retelling a novel that exists with her POV, when she wasn't even at the climactic final battle, because she's a seer with some street fighting skills and would die against demons (and I wrote that she stayed home before)'. And then figured out a way to deal with the plot that made it work when we-the-readers might know what was going on from her previous work, or not (since the Hunter duology is old and hard to find).
What worked for me as a reader who had read the Hunter duology was the emotional plot going on during the struggle. Jewel was very much not the major character there, even as a POV character. The emotional plot was focused on the characters coming in from the first book in the duology, while Jewel and her den existed mostly as a source of information to show what was going on. Here, the plot is not just on 'shit, demons under the city', but that Jewel had lead her den to relative safety in Averalaan's upper crust, and even has a job that might win her the House Name of Terafin, guaranteeing her safety and that of her people. For someone who pretty much lived either as 'poor unskilled laborers'/'grave robbers'/'sometimes pickpockets', that's a Big Deal.
But it would mean swearing herself to loyalty other than 'my people'. Which is the emotional conflict for most of Jewel's den here -- Jewel both wants the House Name to protect her den and worries about the change in her status. This also seems to be a theme for Arann, Finch, Teller and Angel, who also get screentime -- 'who are we loyal to, and can we sustain our identity as Jewel's Den when starting to be other things as well'.
One downside is that Jester and, to an extent, Carver both get short shrift in the book. Hell, the Terafin even calls out that Jester hasn't done much in the book when granting House Names to Jewel's people. A bit annoying, since I feel like I have a better sense of who the others are than Jester.
Both the emotional themes and the idea that there are many stories surrounding the events of (fake) history and you either have plot kudzu where no one can tell whether the subplots are advancing under the sheer number of them, or you take Sagara-West's tactic and just end up saying 'look for what happens next to Jewel in a later series'. Given that Sagara-West already noted that the final book of the Sun Sword series had to be split in two because it was running long***, including Jewel's plot -- especially trying to have it keep pace with the Dominion plot -- might have been a nightmare.
And, actually, this works for me. Because real history is messy. I mean, if this was real events chronicling how Valedan took the throne of the Dominion after his father and half-brother were killed, you'd have to include 'the seer Jewel ATerafin, who rode with the Voyani for a period', and maybe tell how she came to do so, but when she went home to deal with House Terafin's succession, trying to tell that story in a history wouldn't work. So you just note that she left, and go on.
This whole thing makes me wonder how, now that we're out of prequel territory for the House War series, how Sagara-West will handle the Sun Sword information giving the background of 'how House Terafin, years after Jewel ATerafin joined, started a war over its succession'. The Sun Sword series gave more emotional space to Jewel on her journey, so it might be difficult to work blind. It might end up that the next book picks up where Jewel left the screen in the Sun Sword series and just runs in parallel that way.
* The Hunter duology spends most of the fist book in the kingdoms to the west, and the Sun Sword has a lot of the actions in the Dominion to the south. ** The ten noble houses in Averalaan aren't hereditary though being born upper-class makes it far more likely you'll win admission to a house and/or hold a position more advanced than 'cleaned the toilets for five years, so can use the house name, but is still a servant'. *** Seems to be a common thread for epic fantasy authors. ...more
So, at first you think this is a standard 'It's a Wonderful Life'-style plot. It's Christmas and Haruhi is being her domineering self, putting MikuruSo, at first you think this is a standard 'It's a Wonderful Life'-style plot. It's Christmas and Haruhi is being her domineering self, putting Mikuru in a sexy Santa dress and telling everyone they are having a secret party on Christmas Eve. Kyon goes to bed on 17 December, completely normal... and wakes up on the 18th to realize that suddenly Haruhi and Itsuki have never attended North High, both Yuki and Mikuru are normal high schoolers, as is Ryoko Asahina, who incidentally is sitting in Haruhi's desk.
Though it's not really that plot -- the second half features 'setting right what was wrong' based on whatever clues the original Yuki could leave in the club room and heading back to a time where he can find allies, before the timeline diverges. Kyon hardly questions his realization that he is happier in the original world, and even the idea of hanging with the now-human SOS Brigade members on weekends isn't appealing. Kyon never made the wish that he'd never met Haruhi here, and it turns out the reason he's immune is never really explained -- while the SOS Brigade members all needed a past retcon to be normal, and Haruhi needed to be separated from Kyon, even Kyon's classmates didn't remember things. (Nor is how the instigator got the power to re-write the last year.)
The ending was a bit of a twist for me, at least, and it was a good read, though. ...more
This is the second book in a series, but I was able to read it despite not having refreshed my knowledge of the first book. In the first book, The DroThis is the second book in a series, but I was able to read it despite not having refreshed my knowledge of the first book. In the first book, The Drowning City, we meet Isyllt Iskaldur, a necromancer in service to her country's crown, while she's on foreign assignment. The Bone Palace takes place two and a half years later, when Isyllt is called in by the capital city's guard to investigate a dead prostitute... who somehow had gotten a hold of one of the dead queen's ring, which should be buried with her. Considering that the king -- away with the army -- will go apeshit when he finds out someone's been looting his wife's tomb, the guard wisely ask for help finding out what's going on and Taking Care of It.
Of course, things are never that simple, are they? There are two other narrators -- one is Isyllt's mentor/former lover, Kiril who is neck deep in trouble of his own, and the personal reason Isyllt left town for Book 1, and the other is Savedra Severos, a noble's daughter and the Crown Prince's concubine, using her mother's spy network to protect the Crown Prince and Princess from trouble.
One thing I found interesting in Downum's world is the incorporation of GLBT folks. It's casually mentioned that Kiril has had both male and female lovers. While Isyllt is having breakfast with the (female) chief of the city's guards, she jokes that if the chief wasn't taken and Isylllt liked women, she'd get involved with her just for the food. There's also an opera attended -- officially to get a look at some of the conspirators against the crown -- featuring a tragic romance between two women, where the tragedy is more that one of them is a ghost-haunted widowed sorceress. In other words, aside from things such as noble inheritance, same-sex relationships are seen as a normal part of relationships.
Trans and intersex folks are stigmatized, though. One of the novel's subplots features the hirja (sp?), the third sex which encompasses what I'd call trans, genderqueer and intersex folks. A lot of them are recognized and often face stigma, so much so that many have banded together to make their own communities... which are often forced to turn to (legal) prostitution, since they figure people might as well pay for their curiosity. Saverda is a transwoman, and was lucky enough that her family didn't kick her out, but one of her subplots is her inability to marry the prince due to the inability of her to bear his heirs. There's the recognition that not only is she facing the personal demands of being in a body of the wrong sex in a setting where makeup and good clothing is all she can do about it, but also the fact her status as the prince's lover would last only as long as the princess permits it.
I do like how Saverda and Isyllt and Kiril's personal issues interweave with the political and supernatural plot in the book. Actually, the book does a lovely job in general interweaving the history and setting into the plot, so that things like an influx of refugees, or the regular patterns of sickness, or Saverda's family and their own affairs are relevant in the mystery. It also managed a 'antagonist POV' (not telling whose) without feeling false or betraying too much of the plot, and lacking the cackling madperson.