This is a sequel to Point of Hopes. Basically, this is a mystery series; it just happens to be set in a fantasy world with an interesting cosmology an...moreThis is a sequel to Point of Hopes. Basically, this is a mystery series; it just happens to be set in a fantasy world with an interesting cosmology and magic system. Just as the real test of whether you're likely to enjoy Hammerfall is whether you enjoy Cherryh's fantasy, not her sf, I think the real test of whether you're likely to enjoy this book is whether you enjoy mystery series, not whether you enjoy fantasy series.
Astreiant is the capital city of a land with a roughly 17th century level of technology, with the difference that magic and divination work, with interesting effects on the culture. Somewhat earlier than in our world, the inhabitants are inventing policemen--called pointsmen--to investigate crimes and arrest malefactors. This is still a new idea, and the pointsmen, especially the Chief and Adjunct Points who have to deal with aristocracy unaccustomed to the idea that anyone other than the Queen can question their actions, have problems because of it.
Adjunct Point Nicholas Rathe, recently transferred from Point of Hopes to Point of Dreams, is handed a murder investigation which is potentially politically explosive, and has another murder investigation snatched away from him and handed to a younger but well-connected pointsman of whose abilities he entertains serious doubts. Meanwhile, his lover, Philip Eslingen, has lost his former position and found another, as the newest member of the Masters of the Guild of Defense, who provide all military and/or fighting performances in Astreiant's theaters. Life is further enlivened by the fact that this is the Ghost Tide, the time of year when even the normally quiet dead return to visit their living friends and family. None of these things, naturally, remains unrelated to the others.
I remember being an adolescent girl. That seems normal enough, because I was one for several years. It's a bit scarier that Peter Beagle seems to reme...moreI remember being an adolescent girl. That seems normal enough, because I was one for several years. It's a bit scarier that Peter Beagle seems to remember being an adolescent girl.
Jenny Gluckstein is thirteen years old, and living with her divorced mother, a music teacher in New York, and visiting regularly with her father, an opera singer. She's a bit of a misfit at school, which most adolescents are, but she has two friends she spends a lot of time with, and she has a cat, Mister Cat.
And then her mother announces she's marrying her boyfriend, Evan McHugh, and that she and Jenny are moving to England with him. She'll be leaving her friends, her life, and Mister Cat will spend six months in quarantine. But her new stepbrothers, Tony and Julian, aren't too bad. Also, at least she'll be living in London, and she'll like London.
Except that Evan gets a new job, managing a farm in Dorset. And the house they'll be living in turns out to be barely habitable.
Jenny's a real pill through all this, and she knows it, and it's mostly intentional. She does eventually meet a girl at school, Meena Chari, whose efforts at friendship she cannot defeat, and eventually the six months are over and she gets Mister Cat back, and things get a little better.
The house is haunted, of course. There are lots of hints, but eventually Mister Cat brings Jenny proof, in the form of his new girlfriend, a ghost Persian. After a little more time, Jenny meets the Persian's person, Tamsin Willoughby, the daughter of Roger Willoughby, the founder of Stourhead Farm.
Tamsin has been dead for three hundred years, having died around the time of the Bloody Assizes, in 1685. She needs to move on, she should have moved on long ago, but there's something she needs to do first, and she can't remember what it is. It begins to seem that perhaps she doesn't really want to remember what it is. Jenny gradually realizes that, as much as she wants Tamsin to stick around, her continued presence is causing strange problems around Stourhead, and things need to be set right. Over the next couple of years, she meets a Pooka, the billy-blind, the Black Dog , the Old Lady of the Elder Tree, and assorted other unusual beings--along with just about the most terrifying ghost I've encountered. Oh, and the Wild Hunt, too.
It's a very good book, even if in some ways the most peculiar part of it is being that convincingly back inside my own adolescent head again.(less)
This is a near-future thriller about an Illuminati plot to destroy the Vatican, or maybe something else entirely is going on, but saying anything else...moreThis is a near-future thriller about an Illuminati plot to destroy the Vatican, or maybe something else entirely is going on, but saying anything else would be a spoiler. The plot is exciting, the characters are very good; indeed, it's a tribute to how good these things are that I kept reading despite all the times I got kicked out of the plot by the author's own startling ignorance on things that could have been easily checked--some of them in any decent desk dictionary, such as the meaning of the word "canonization". At some points, Mr. Brown appears to think that it means "ordination". At other points, that's not a possible reading of his usage of it, but neither is the correct meaning a possible reading. He has notions about how papal elections work which are wrong, and which are clearly wrong just from an examination of the results of the last few, and which are important to the plot. There are other instances where he's assuming a general ignorance that seems improbable to me, although, given that Mr. Brown clearly has no clue what "canonization" means, I may be overly optimistic. The instance of this that hit me over the head at the beginning of the book: Our Hero, Robert Langdon, is a Harvard professor, who has written a book that makes him a magnet for conspiracy theorists whose obsessions center around the Illuminati. He has a website on which he has no contact information, in the interest of making it a little bit harder for the kooks to find him in the real world. He gets a phone call from someone who has found him through his website and wants him to come immediately to consult on a matter relating to his specialty, religious symbology--but the caller doesn't say where he's calling from. He does say that he has already sent a plane to pick up Langdon, and he can be at the destination in about an hour. He also says that he located Dr. Langdon through his website, and when Langdon says that's not possible, he says that he's from the laboratory where the Web was invented.
At this point, of course, a little bell went "ding" and I said, "But CERN is a lot more than an hour away from Boston."
Dr. Langdon does not say this, or think it, or anything similar. He does not realize until he's disembarking from the spiffy new space plane that the mysterious caller sent that he's not in North America anymore. (The space plane is a CERN invention, too.) There follows a discussion of how Americans all think that the Worldwide Web is American technology. Unfortunately, the content of the discussion leaves me in some doubt as to whether Mr. Brown realizes that there's a difference between the internet and the web, and that the internet is American technology.
The yawning factual errors in this book left me wondering how many yawning factual errors I was missing because I don't know enough about, say, anti-matter, or Renaissance art. Don't read it if you're feeling at all sensitive to such errors. If you're in the mood for a good brain-candy thriller, though, and prepared to slide over the factual errors, it's great fun.(less)
This book would be a stand-out among pseudo-mediaeval fantasy novels if only for the fact that it has a believable and well-thought-out religion that...moreThis book would be a stand-out among pseudo-mediaeval fantasy novels if only for the fact that it has a believable and well-thought-out religion that actually matters, not only to the plot, but to the characters as well. This is not a fantasy where no one but the gullible believes in the gods, and the clergy are all either dupes or villains. (That the gods are, in the context of the novel, quite real, and take a meaningful role in the personal and especially the political conflicts, has its effect here.) The rest of the background is also fairly well thought out, and while what we see is the portion of the world that the characters, limited to the speed of foot and horse and sailing ship, can reach, it has the feel of extending well beyond that.
Chalion is a kingdom at about a 15th century level of technology, with some resemblances in its culture and situation to Spain of about that time-- and also, of course, a great many differences. The Spanish monarchy, for instance, was probably not actually under a curse, however tempting an explanation that may seem.
The Castillar Lupe dy Cazaril walks home to Chalion after enduring many months of captivity as a galley slave aboard an enemy ship, and months of illness in a neighboring kingdom after being rescued. Still far too weak to do most of the things he did before his captivity, he is appointed secretary and tutor to the Royesse Iselle, half-sister of the Roya of Chalion. His life at court is enlivened by the fact that the enemies whose treachery let to his being sold rather than ransomed have become the Roya's most powerful advisors, in some ways more powerful than the roya himself.
Gradually he discovers that the royal family is under a curse, a curse that is slowly destroying the family and the kingdom. Desperate circumstances lead to equally desperate measures, and Cazaril learns more about Chalion's history, the gods, and what passes for domestic and international politics in a 15th century setting than he ever wanted to know.
Very much worth reading, even if there is one glaring coincidence buried in the plot.(less)
Did you think that Miles was the definitive example of how far the Vor will go to be Vor? You were wrong. Someone else has Miles beat by, um, miles. B...moreDid you think that Miles was the definitive example of how far the Vor will go to be Vor? You were wrong. Someone else has Miles beat by, um, miles. But that's okay; Miles, as usual, has his own problems. There's his brother Mark's new business venture, which involves some rather unattractive bugs, currently stashed in an old laundry room in Vorkosigan House. There's convincing Ekaterin that the fact that she made a mistake in marrying Tien at twenty doesn't mean that she's forever incapable of making good marital choices. There's convincing Ekaterin that he's not trying to manipulate her, which is tough, because he is. He's Miles, after all; it's easier for him to skip breathing for a few days than to skip manipulating people for a similar period. There's Miles' old friend Count René Vorbretten, whose unfortunate and previously unsuspected Cetagandan ancestry is endangering his possession of the countship--and risks turning that vote in the Council of Counts over to the Conservative Party. There's the rumors going around that Miles murdered Ekaterin's first husband. There's the other countship that's in dispute, with one of the putative heirs trying to blackmail Miles to force the Vorkosigans to support him when the Council of Counts votes on who's the real Count. There's the most disastrous dinner party in, possibly, the history of Barrayar. (Well, perhaps not. Nobody dies, after all. It's just that some people wish they had.)
And he can't even run away to be Admiral Naismith anymore. Aside from the fact that Admiral Naismith is dead and everyone knows it, his uniform doesn't even fit anymore.
No one has time to give him any sympathy; everyone has their own problems. Ekaterin has persistent unwanted suitors, and annoyingly helpful relatives and in-laws. Mark has his business partner Enrique, and his on-again off-again romance with Kareen Koudelka, and Kou and Drou's reaction when they find out. Ivan has been formally assigned as an aide to Lady Alys, while she manages the arrangements for Gregor and Laisa's wedding. And then there's the startling discovery he's made about his old love, Lady Donna Vorrutyer...
Great fun. And I don't recommend that you annoy any Lady Vorkosigan, present or future; it seems to be bad for your career prospects.(less)
Miles in his first job as a permanent Imperial Auditor. Miles on the planet where, more than anywhere else, they think of his dad as the Butcher. Mile...moreMiles in his first job as a permanent Imperial Auditor. Miles on the planet where, more than anywhere else, they think of his dad as the Butcher. Miles meeting a woman who is neither an impossible choice for the next Countess Vorkosigan, nor an impossible person to imagine him spending five minutes talking to without going mad. Miles exercising restraint (I'll bet you didn't think he knew what that was.) Great fun. (less)
A young girl wakes up with no memory, serious burns, very serious skull injuries, an aversion to daylight, and some very strange needs and abilities....moreA young girl wakes up with no memory, serious burns, very serious skull injuries, an aversion to daylight, and some very strange needs and abilities. Gradually, she recovers some memory of how the world works and what she needs, but her memory of herself and her family is completely gone.
Shori is a 53-year-old vampire (still a young girl, by vampire standards), genetically modified to be able to wake and walk during daylight (but not enough to love it; she burns very easily), and the sole survivor of a vicious attack on her community, which consisted of her female relatives and their symbionts. With some help from a human man who stopped to pick up the lost little girl by the side of the road, she finds her father's family, and, after they're attacked, too, other vampires. Gradually she discovers both the reason for the attacks, and her own history and the history and culture of her people. As you'd expect of Butler, it's very well-written, and both logically worked out and emotionally compelling.
This is an alternate world where literature is really taken seriously--even to the extent of kidnapping and murdering characters out of books, so that...moreThis is an alternate world where literature is really taken seriously--even to the extent of kidnapping and murdering characters out of books, so that the books are permanently altered. Thursday Next is a LiteraTec who fails to recover the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit before a minor character is killed. When the villain steals the Jane Eyre manuscript and removes Jane, threatening to kill her if his demands aren't met, she's determined to prevent a disastrous repeat. This is a charming book, with engaging characters, dotty English inventors, and audience-participation performances of Richard III, but it's unnecessarily marred by an excessive cuteness of names. I originally typed Thursday's name as Tuesday. Jack Schitt definitely isn't misnamed, but it's foolish and unnecessary. It's nine-year-old cleverness in an otherwise excellent book. (less)
This is the second of the Thursday Next adventures. While I enjoyed the first one, The Eyre Affair, and even though, or perhaps because, Jane Eyre is...moreThis is the second of the Thursday Next adventures. While I enjoyed the first one, The Eyre Affair, and even though, or perhaps because, Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books, I wasn't blown away by it to the same extent that oth ers seem to have been. I was perfectly happy to pick up this second book, but I did so hoping that the tiresome features of the first, including the pointless bathroom humor of many of the names, would not overwhelm a thin story in an alternate world that really doesn't stand up to any examination at all.
In fact, though, while all the background problems are there--the alternate world isn't believable, the names are tiresome--the story and the characters this time felt far more fleshed-out and involving, as Thursday spends frustrating and disjointed time with her not-quite-live father, seeks to recover her no-longer-quite-live husband, and gets recruited into the between-the-covers service that polices the behavior of fictional characters. It's strengthened by numerous little episodes and moments that add depth to this improbable world without changing its nature one bit. Thursday's own trial inside Kafka's The Trial, for the crime of having interfered with the ending of Jane Eyre is almost worth the price of admission by itself, and the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat, previously the Cheshire Cat, is a grumpy delight.
In case you were worried: No, Jasper Fforde has not run out of weird, twisted things to do to defenseless Literature.
Jack Spratt, his second wife, and...moreIn case you were worried: No, Jasper Fforde has not run out of weird, twisted things to do to defenseless Literature.
Jack Spratt, his second wife, and their five children (two his, two hers, one theirs) are living happily in Reading, England. Well, reasonably happily. Jack, a policeman, has the dubious honor of being the head of the Nursery Crimes unit. He and his tiny unit believe in the importance of their jobs, but no one else does. And they've just experienced the embarrassing, and more importantly, budgetarily inconvenient, failure to convict the three pigs for the murder of the wolf. As icing on the cake, Jack's old rival, Friedland Chymes, has just wrapped up yet another big case, and is yet again basking in the glow of favorable publicity and departmental approval.
But, on the positive side, DI Jack Spratt has a new assistant, DS Mary Mary, who just transferred to Reading fro Basingstoke—in the hope of working with Friedland Chymes. It's her ambition to be Official Sidekick to the great detective, writing up—and featuring prominently in—the great detective's adventures as recounted in Amazing Crime Stories. Instead she finds herself working with Jack—not even a member of the Guild!
They quickly find themselves investigating the death of one of the many nursery characters residing in Reading, Humpty Stuyvesant van Dumpty, former teacher, millionaire, philanthropist, ex-convict, and egg about town. His death initially appears to be a suicide, but Jack and Mary make sure they cover all the bases, and discover that Humpty was shot, apparently by his ex-wife, who subsequently shoots herself. But something's wrong here, and they can't let it go.
Jack, especially, can't let it go, when Friedland Chymes decides that he wants the case, and pulls out all stops in his efforts to force Jack to hand over the investigation. Jack quickly finds himself caught in the tangles of a plot involving money-laundering, smuggling, and bio-terrorism, while at home he's dealing with magic beans, beanstalks, his own unfortunate reputation for killing giants, and his new boarder, Prometheus. (Yes, of course that Prometheus; he's escaped and has applied for asylum, to the great annoyance of Zeus.)
The Big Over Easy, like the later Tuesday Next books, has the advantage of being an outright fantasy world, rather than slapdash science fiction. And while some of the names, like Mary Mary's, are a bit sillier than they need to be, it's all in keeping with the nursery-rhyme backdrop, rather than the apparent pre-adolescent desire to get a reaction that seemed to inspire some names in the Tuesday Next books, such as Jack Schitt. The invention here is more firmly in the zany fun category, with few lapses into "silly enough to be annoying."
(While Tuesday Next and her family, friends, and enemies are neither seen nor heard from, this is apparently set in the same world, and some of the minor characters, most notably Lola Vavoom, do make appearances.)
At the start of the second Nursery Crime adventure, Jack Spratt and the Nursery Crime Division are experiencing an unaccustomed interval of official a...moreAt the start of the second Nursery Crime adventure, Jack Spratt and the Nursery Crime Division are experiencing an unaccustomed interval of official approval and public favor, after the successful resolution of the Humpty Dumpty murder.
Naturally, this can't last, and as a direct result of doing his job, Jack has been placed on medical leave. (He successfully captured the Big Bad Wolf—unfortunately after both Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood had been swallowed. He had to go in after them and rescue them, and they're now apparently catatonic.) Jack can't return to duty until he has a session with a psychiatrist and she pronounces him fit for duty. This has happened at an especially inconvenient time, because the Gingerbreadman, the vicious serial killer whose capture was the first big success of Jack's career, has escaped. Meanwhile, mysterious explosions are killing competitive cucumber growers, an old irritant, Josh Hatchett of The Toad, is asking for a favor—his sister is missing. His sister whose nickname is Goldilocks is missing—last seen fleeing the cabin of the Bruin family. Jack delves into the world of bear porridge smuggling, competitive cucumber growing, the new theme park, SommeWorld, being built by QuangTech to discourage romantic images of war, and a painful encounter with his own true nature (as a PDR—Person of Dubious Reality.) And of course, Caliban has taken up residence in his house, and Punch and Judy have moved in next door.
This is fast-paced, entertaining silliness—great fun, and excellent light reading for a hot summer weekend.
This is a fairy tale, the like of which you have had read to you many times before, except that Gaiman pays more attention to character and motivation...moreThis is a fairy tale, the like of which you have had read to you many times before, except that Gaiman pays more attention to character and motivation than Mother Goose or the Brothers Grimm customarily did. In the village of Wall, there is a wall, which is the boundary between the mundane world and Fairy, and every nine years, there's a fair in the meadow, just the other side of the wall, and people come from all over the world to visit and barter and have adventures. A young man of Wall, Dunstan Thorn, bargains with a visitor to give him a night's lodging, and part of the payment is that Dunstan, and his firstborn, and his firstborn's firstborn, will each achieve their heart's desire.
The bulk of the story is about Dunstan's firstborn, Tristram, whose mother is a woman of Fairy. At eight years old, Tristram is greatly frustrated and annoyed because his parents send him away to visit relatives just in time to miss the first Fairy Market since his birth, nine months after the last Market. Eight years after that, Tristram wants to win the girl he's infatuated with, and she promises to kiss him, indeed to marry him, if he brings her that falling star that they have just seen falling through the night sky, to the east--the direction of the wall, and Fairy.
And thus begin Tristram's adventures, with a rather different outcome than he plans on. Tristram and all the inhabitants of Wall are fundamentally decent human beings; the outcome depends on that fact. This is a marvelous book. (less)