This is the book I've had more people telling me to read--all independently of one another--in years. It certainly seems like it would interest me.
The...moreThis is the book I've had more people telling me to read--all independently of one another--in years. It certainly seems like it would interest me.
The genre is a common one for Luna. Strong female protagonist, modern fantasy/slipstream with the supernatural element hidden from most people, and a hint of sexual tension or romance.
Our protag is Joanne Walker, an Irish/Cherokee crossbreed trying to go as mainstream American as she can. She's a Seattle cop by vocation and a mechanic by avocation, so she works in the motor pool keeping the cruisers running. The department keeps her badged in a cynical attempt to up their apparent diversity (she counts as a woman and a Native American!).
As the story starts she begins to develop abilities she doesn't understand and doesn't want. She looks out the window of her landing plane and sees a woman about to be attacked; once the plane lands she feels compelled to go help, although no one believes she could have seen the detail she did from the plane.
So she's awakening abilities as a shaman, combining both the Celtic and Native American traditions. She acquires a spirit guide (Coyote, of course... it's always coyote in these books), comes back from the dead, loses her job (but not her place on the force) and becomes embroiled in a complex set of shenanigans between Cernunos, Herne, and the control and mission of the Wild Hunt.
A few things set Urban Shaman apart from lesser books in the same vein: - Joanne doesn't ever embrace her role as a shaman and healer. She feels compelled at times, and when someone's life is at stake she doesn't consider whether she wants to use magic or not, but she really just wants to fix cars, preferably classic muscle cars. - Joanne's shamanic path is 100% about healing. When investigating a serial killer who clearly uses magic, she wants to find him to heal him, although she willingly admits that the only way to heal him may involve killing him at the same time. - There is a sidekick character, Gary the Cabbie, who holds enough surprises to keep us interested. I hope we learn a lot about his past in a later book. He confounds Joanne's assumptions repeatedly; she should challenge those assumptions at some point. - Joanne's sexuality is present, but left very vague. As the narrator, she mentions when people (usually men) are very attractive but we get no sense of her actually having a romantic life. We also don't get the brooding, whining, "I don't have anyone because I work too much" complaint that many books of this ilk have. - Her requisite antagonistic relationship with her boss (required in every story about a cop unless it's a procedural) is well drawn. They are well-matched adversaries and the sexual tension grows between them very nicely.
And especially: - The take on shamanism is actually interesting. It's different from most forms of fantasy or slipstream magic. Joanne finds a metaphor that makes sense to her--repairing cars--and applies it to her healing. The metaphor is brought up often enough, and in enough detail, to remain interesting but never belabors the point. - Her interactions with Coyote are excellent. She makes a comment at one point that she shouldn't trust him because he's a trickster. He replies that he's a teacher first and foremost. Being a trickster is one of his methods to teach.
So overall, it's noticeably better than you'd have any reason to expect, especially if you're interested in the magical side of the story. Compared to, say, the Patricia Briggs stories, the "woman mechanic" element is actually part of the story and not just some backstory. And the side characters--Gary the Cabbie and her boss--are compelling enough to hold up a lot more of the story than they do.
I'm not sure where the rest of the series can go without turning into "freak of the week," but we'll see. I started the second book yesterday.
... I'll detail why I may not bother to finish it in its review.(less)
Quite a turn-around for the series. This book takes most of the friends away to off-stage stuff and lets us focus back on Jaz and Vayle, with her brot...moreQuite a turn-around for the series. This book takes most of the friends away to off-stage stuff and lets us focus back on Jaz and Vayle, with her brother around for some much-needed contrast.
The three are in Italy at the compound of a small group of vampires that Vayle has a complicated history with, supposedly working with them to set a trap for Samos, the big bad guy behind the smaller bad guys of the past 3 books. We get vampire politics, Vayle's complicated history, David's shell-shock from the events of the last book, and Jaz' chance to reconsider the web of friends she seems to be forming. Plus, they steal Samos' dog, and that's just cool.
The major trouble is magical this time, with the vampires in the "Trust," a kind of vampire commune, combining and forming a powerful and hard-to-steer gestalt. It's especially dangerous to Vayle, who was once a part of the trust and whom most members would like to see return. Jaz has to start to understand, accept, and work with her increasing sensitivity to and control of magic to identify the threats and protect Vayle.
Jaz can't shoot her way out of this--even Bergman's prototypes prove almost as dangerous as his stable designs, providing both comic relief and plot advancement--and we get back to the revenant storyline that started the series. Vayle's history of making enemies and leaving jilted partners behind, his obsession with psychics and his long-dead sons, and his arrogance all combine to make Jaz step up to what she really got into when she entered into the "bonded mortal equal" relationship with Vayle.
From a writing perspective, Rardin did some great things. She took away the easy outs that have weakened the last two books; Jaz can't turn to the team of specialists-cum-friends to avoid facing difficult scenes or risking pushing herself emotionally and physically; Rardin forced herself to write the hard scenes where all three major characters face their failings and their hopes. It's hard writing and it comes off great.
The action and mystery plots deliver as well. It's a great, rollicking read and we never get lost in fast-cut action writing that usually mars this type of book. Rardin has done that well in the past and she's just getting better.
It would be a decent book to start the series on (certainly better than 2 or 3), but it isn't so far back to the first one--and 2 and 3 aren't actually all that bad--so read 'em all if you're inclined to the series.
I gave this book 5 stars. - As science fiction it would get 2 - As philosophy it would get 1 (the world-view it argues for is much better discussed in...moreI gave this book 5 stars. - As science fiction it would get 2 - As philosophy it would get 1 (the world-view it argues for is much better discussed in other books--some of them even by RAW) - As humor it would get 3. Maybe 4 on a good day - As conspiracy theory it would get 4 - As research it doesn't even rate 1 - As a good guide to things to research for yourself, it's a solid 4 (great game: open to a random page and pick 5 things to look up in a library)
But it crosses the line on two things: * Cultural references that make points and explain things in the SF/geek/outcase/introvert subcultures. The Roberts nailed the experience of believing you're different and believing that what you want or experience is different and wanting to share it with the world. The terms and phrases that come out of this (fnord, illuminati, AUM, "You'll like it inside the apple," All Hail Discordia, Law of Fives, Aneristic Illusion, Paratheoanametamystichood, etc.) may not all be original, but they have built a part of a culture. Much like it's worth seeing Monty Python even if you don't "get" the humor to understand the "code."
It inspired two (excellent) card games and a wide variety of "bits" of other games, books, comics, and so forth.
* This book is one of the best tools for an adolescent or young adult (not YA--young adult) colonostickectomy. A young person hiding their creativity and trying to be "serious" so they can make it through life will get a huge amount of value from this book. You have to forgive them for believing the viewpoint for a few years and then you have to forgive them for rejecting it for a few. In the end, they'll probably come to a happy medium, but they'll always be gratefull for getting that damned uncomfortable thing out of their butt.
Oh yeah... the first 100 pages suck. Really. They're bad. But they're never referenced again (well, until the last 100 pages, which you really just skim looking for jokes), so skim them or skip them. You really don't need to start reading until the words "Egyptian Mouth-Breeder" appear on the page.
Actually, that might be the simplest and best review of all: You really don't need to start reading until the words "Egyptian Mouth-Breeder" appear on the page. (less)
This is Faust's first book, but wasn't published until 10 years later, after other of her books. It definitely has the feel of a Christa Faust story,...moreThis is Faust's first book, but wasn't published until 10 years later, after other of her books. It definitely has the feel of a Christa Faust story, but it reads like a first book. The writing is often a little gimmicky and there are several plotlines that just vanish rather than resolve. But it's a good read and the main character's growth is quite well handled.
Control Freak is set in early 90's NYC. Our protagonist is Caitlin. She is a writer and when her cop boyfriend is assigned to a particularly gruesome murder she decides she might want to write a true-crime book on the case. With the unsuspecting aid of her boyfriend's information and the help of a hacker friend she stays ahead of the police in her investigation and traces the victim to a the BDSM scene in lower Manhatten. She goes to the clubs and discovers she has natural skill for, and unsuspected interest in, being dominant.
Since the early nineties, the US BDSM scene has mainstreamed quite a bit. Clubs and parties invite fetishwear and light bondage in even small cities across the US. It is important to remember that this was not the case in the book's timeframe. The clubs in the book are also more tolerant of certain unsafe behaviors that would raise eyebrows in much of even the fetish scene today. Fewer people then had been exposed to fetish play beyond the Betty Page movies and what Caitlin discovers is new and scary to her; presumably it was supposed to be new and scary to the reader as well.
Caitlin's love of the scene and talent for it draws her further in to the more underground--and dangerous--clubs where the victim was well-known, and she makes friends in the community who are all suspects in the case. Her involvement begins to scare her hacker friend and becomes trouble for her boyfriend, eventually leader to her complete separation from her old life.
The mystery story is good and doubles into itself as we discover multiple interrelated mysteries. Caitlin's descent into an artificial world is well-handled and will be familiar to many people who have lost months or years of their lives in any inbred subculture of druggies, sex addicts, activists, or other groups. It is also kept separate enough from her introspection about power play and sex that she and the reader are able to keep from tainting one with the other.
The resolution of the mysteries is interesting, although not completely unexpected, and leads to some oddly (but not badly) paced action scenes and nice layers of betrayal.
All in all, it's a good read.
Be warned: this is the first book to squick me in years. The event that affected me came very late in the book and didn't diminish my enjoyment of the scene, the chapter, or the story, but there are some harsh descriptions. I didn't find any of the BDSM scenes or the sex to be extreme or explicit; it's the detective story that has the potentially-disturbing parts. (less)
Okay, this series can be a hard sell: the language is deliberately (and beautifully) flowery, the setting is antiquated and almost story-book, and the...moreOkay, this series can be a hard sell: the language is deliberately (and beautifully) flowery, the setting is antiquated and almost story-book, and the ethos requires admiring evil men for their honor and purity of purpose while accepting that good men will fight one another for the same reason. Plus, it wasn't finished when the author died and some of the chapters in the middle are replaced by notes describing what would happen in them. The cheesy frame story doesn't help.
But it's well worth it. It redeems itself with its ontology and with why its characters act the way they do.
In Mistress of Mistresses we are introduced to Zimiamvia, a fantasy land of dukes, princesses, and armies. There is one magician, described as a philosopher, who works his wonders in the garden instead of the battle-field. Our first hero is Lessingham, the perfect specimen of the fighter: a daring general, a dashing leader, and known kingdom-wide for his honor and his mercy. Our second hero is Duke Barganax, the perfect specimen of the lover: painter, devoted to his lover Fiorinda, and known for ruling his prosperous dukedom with kindness and generosity.
If they merged into one protagonist, you would have a book by Heinlein. Instead, the prince's death, an uncertain primogeniture, an unmarried princess, and Lessingham's sense of duty to his evil cousin puts them at the head of opposite armies in a succession war.
The military story is fine: Lessingham and his cousin, the Vicar Horius Parry, versus the combined might of the country's admiral, the duke's own soldiers, and the armies of his allies. In between engagements they and their agents engage in politics, betrayal, and persuasion among the nobility and among criminals.
And of course, whenever they encounter one another--as on the night before hostilities break out, when everyone knows tomorrow will be war so they hold a garden party--they treat one another with civility, leading to some wonderful court insults, lies, and honesty.
A Fish Dinner in Memison drives us deeper into the philosophical side of the story. It takes place during the third book, shortly before a pivotal battle, when the principals come together for an evening and discuss the meaning of life. Trust me, it isn't as boring as it sounds; this isn't My Dinner With Andre, it's a chance for gods and goddesses to make themselves known and for the world's mage to explain why the battle makes sense and what the purpose of their sacrifice is. This is an idealist's version of the Bhagadvagita and it explains many of the stranger moments in the first book.
The Mezantian Gate brings the story to a close by going back to before the first book. We see the politics and relationships that led to the war and in many ways resolve the political story that actually hasn't begun yet. This is the most political and "courtly" of the books and it's a wonderful chance for great character interactions.
Some people will try to tell you to read the books backwards, so you get the story in "chronological" order.
Nonsense and heresy.
The events of The Mezentian Gate don't work as well if you haven't yet read A Fish Dinner in Memison, A Fish Dinner... doesn't work as well if you don't know the characters as antagonists from Mistress of Mistresses, and A Fish Dinner... spoils too much of the character development in Mistress... by telling you why the universe needs the characters to develop as they do.
These aren't light fantasy, but they aren't nearly as heavy as some other, more popular, books. Give them a try. Read some of the text out loud to get a sense of the beauty of the language. Skip the framing chapters at the beginning of Mistress if they bother you (but go back and read them later; they will make sense then).
Get this omnibus edition with the forewards by Thomas and Winter if you can. They make the series a much more rewarding read.(less)
This series is unlike most of the genre: it's about how Kitty grows internally, not about her powers, her worldly power, or her exploits. The first bo...moreThis series is unlike most of the genre: it's about how Kitty grows internally, not about her powers, her worldly power, or her exploits. The first book has her going from bottom beta to independent, getting even me to understand why she's happy as the (literal) bottom dog at first. the second is about her changing concept of community, pack, and pack responsibility.
This book is about her accepting responsibility. Not responsibility for her actions--she isn't "owning up," she's accepting responsibility among her peers and learning to accept respect within the supernatural community, the non-supernatural community, and her professional community. In all three cases, there are positive and negative repurcussions to accepting status and respect. All of these are new to her.
This is a more "talky" book. Maybe not in terms on lines of dialog or lines of internal monolog, but in Kitty Goes to Washington she interacted with a wide variety of characters. Kitty Takes a Holiday has a very spare cast and most of her time is spent in a one-room cabin with two other people. The conversations and her ruminations both seem less narrative as a result.
I like what she's trying to do and I think it mostly works; at times, however, it approaches being an essay or an after-school special. When it backs off of that (and it generally does pretty quickly), it's an excellent book.
The plot is nicely creepy, involving one or more unknown people casting curses and performing dark rituals, all seemingly aimed at Kitty. The complication is a hunt gone bad for her hunter and lawyer friends. The complication ends very nicely, with revelations, secrets, and loads of hooks for ongoing plotlines.
This is by far the best of the three books from a character standpoint, although the most challenging to get through, especially after the excitement of the first two. I hope the author keeps going in the direction of such strong character development.(less)