Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Red Moon and Black Mountain

Joy Chant
Completed 12/29/2021, Reviewed 12/29/2021
4 stars

This is a tough one to review.  I started out not liking it but loved the ending.  The story felt derivative, although this book was first published in 1970 by the same publisher of JRR Tolkien.  It kind of had the feel of a cross between Narnia and Lord of the Rings and an old pulp fantasy novel, which is probably why Allen & Unwin published it.  It’s written well and the world building is very good.  I thought the end was tremendous.  It just didn’t sit right with me for the first half of it.  This book won the second Mythopoeic Award in 1972, the year after it was published here in the States.

The story is about three children, Oliver, Nicholas, and Penny, who stumble out of the present and into an alternate universe.  Nicholas and Penny find themselves together near a great black mountain pelted by snow.  The are found by a princess and her entourage.  Oliver finds himself out on a plain and is discovered by a nomadic tribe.  Oliver integrates into the tribe, forgetting his past.  Nicholas and Penny find themselves on an adventure at the beginning of a battle between good and evil.  Eventually, all the peoples of this world come together to fight the great evil that has arisen and wants to destroy everything good in the world.

So you can see why it bears resemblance to Lewis and Tolkien.  I think that’s why I had a hard time with it in the beginning.  It also didn’t help that the names of this alternate universe’s inhabitants were very difficult to get used to, often containing apostrophes and or unusual consonant pairings.  There were a lot of characters for a short book.  There were mostly men and a lot of them ran together, as did the place and tribal names.  Lots of M’s, H’s and K’s.  The few women that were present were pretty strong, for the most part, although I was bummed that the powerful enchantress princess fell silly in love with a man.  It didn’t fit the character she was at the beginning.  

In general, I thought the characters and the dialogue were wooden.  There didn’t seem to be much emotional depth to them.  The princess wasn’t too bad and Nicholas and Penny had some depth as well.  Oliver was one-note, the brooding teenager who is called to greatness, and still broods.  But somehow,  by the end, I was pretty attached to the children and the major players from the alt-uni.

The ending, though, packed a punch.  There was a very well-written battle, and Oliver’s brooding actually felt authentic throughout it and afterwards.  I found myself slowing down my reading to make sure I got every word and nuance of what was happening.  This was a stark contrast particularly to the middle third of the book where I just wanted to get through it as quickly as I could.  The effort paid off and I was rewarded with a thorough enjoyment of the conclusion.  

I toyed with giving this book three stars because of the derivative nature and the fact that I wasn’t happy with the first half.  But I loved the second half so much that I decided to give it a reluctant four stars out of five.   This book is the first of a trilogy, though it appears they are not dependent on each other.  The third, “When Voiha Wakes”, also won the Mythopoeic Award, so I’ll be reading that as well.  The second book was a prequel to the first, so I’m hoping I won’t be lost when I read Voiha.  Now that I’ve finished this book, I’m actually looking forward to it.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr

John Crowley
Completed 12/27/2021, Reviewed 12/27/2021
4 stars

This is another one of those books that I found to be well-written and even may call profound, but didn’t quite work for me.  It’s a tour through western civilization through the eyes of a Crow.  It’s not just any Crow, but the first to bear a name and one who achieves a sort of immortality.  The prose is so lush, it’s almost poetry.  The perspective, that of a Crow, is remarkable.  Yet for all its gloriousness, I was rather bored by it.  This book won the 2018 Mythopoeic Award and was nominated for several others.  

Dar Oakley’s story is conveyed by a human in whose garden he falls, sick with a bird flu.  Amazingly, Dar can speak and communicates with the human, telling him stories of his long life.  The story begins apparently in Europe, with the first People living in tribes.  Dar sees a couple of two legged beings wearing animal skins carrying spears.  Eventually, he sees the whole tribe.  He befriends a young girl, known as Fox Cap, who becomes a shaman in her tribe.  Dar witnesses battles over territory as well as life and death in the tribe.  With the Fox Cap, he goes on a journey in which he acquires immortality.  Dar lives a very long life, but then dies and is reborn somewhere else.  His adventures take him to Ireland where he lives with a brother in a religious order, on a boat ride to the New World with a boy who may have been St. Brendan the Navigator, in America where he befriends a Native American medicine man, through the Civil War, with a psychic woman, and through a personal battle with a Crow hunter.  Finally, his story takes him to the narrator who is a dying widower.  And with most of the People who develops close relationships with, he has the ability to communicate with them.

Perhaps the best thing about this book is that Dar Oakley is not an anthropomorphized animal.  He’s a Crow and throughout the book, he interacts with other Crows as such as well as when he interacts with humans.  He and the other Crows do all the things Crows do, live in colonies, mate, and search for food.  The whole beginning of Dar’s dealings with People is based on the fact that they have battles, leaving their dead, which is food for the Crows.  

The book is also a grand meditation on life and death, through Dar’s own life and immortality as well as that of the People he encounters.  Being immortal, he must deal with the death of his mates and friends, both Crow and People.  And being a Crow, as known through mythology, he has access to the underworld.  It is there he acquires his immortality while traveling with Fox Cap on her shamanic journey.  In one particularly dramatic sequence, he follows the Irish brother into Hell to help purge him of his sins.  

The one thing that left me cold though was that I never felt like developed a relationship with Dar.  Rather, I did with his People companions, particularly Fox Cap and the Irish brother.  I also enjoyed Dar’s battle against the Crow hunter who steals his daughter and trains her as a lure for other Crows.  The Crow hunter was deliciously evil.  But I think this lack of empathy with Dar was what kept me from feeling fully engaged in the story at the various points where he is not attached to a human, or when he is just doing Crow stuff.  

I think this book is really wonderful but boring.  It’s smart, inventive, and lushly written.  It just couldn’t keep my interest.  Still, I give it four stars out of five because I recognize what a masterpiece Crowley has written here.  If I went on feelings alone, I would have only given it three stars.  But it is so much more than that.  I think for the right reader, this book would be mind-blowing.  Crowley also won several awards for a much earlier novel which I will be reading soon.  I’m interested to see what that one will be like.  Crowley has only written ten novels in his long career and I think it definitely shows in this one that he takes great care in what and how he writes.

Thursday, December 23, 2021


Patricia A. McKillip
Completed 12/23/2021, Reviewed 12/23/2021
4 star

I have yet to read a book by McKillip that I haven’t liked.  This one is no exception.  It’s a fun, alternative universe-urban fantasy retelling of the search for the Holy Grail, mixing motorcycles and cell phones with kings, knights, and sorceresses.  And there’s a lot of seafood!  The book has the usual excellent prose and lifelike characters I’ve come to expect from McKillip.  If I knew more Arthurian legend, I could say which of these characters represented which of the Arthurian knights and sorceresses.  But even not knowing all that, I still found the book very enjoyable.  It won the 2017 Mythopoeic Award.

Pierce Oliver lives with his sorceress mother Heloise in a remote coastal village.  He never knew his father, and after a surprising reveal by his mother, he decides to go to the capital to find him.  He hops in his car and heads south.  He stops after a while at a rundown restaurant to eat and rest.  In the morning, no one is around and he sees a beautiful knife that seems to call to him.  He takes it and leaves.  It turns out to be a magical knife that he will need for some reason.  He makes his way to the capital and happens upon the king’s castle on the night the king announces the plan to find an artifact that has mysterious powers, a cup or cauldron of indeterminant size, shape, color, or make.  At this gathering he accidently meets his long-lost brother, a knight, as well as his knight father.  They and most of the other knights begin their quest for the artifact.

The general plot is simple enough, but there is a whole cast of other characters that come in and out of Pierce’s life.  Surprisingly, they are all done really well.  My one and only complaint with the book is that the narration follows too many of them.  The alternating narration moves the plot along well enough, but at times, I got a little lost trying to keep up with everyone. 

I really liked the magical food trope that runs throughout the book.  There are several restaurants in the story.  Heloise has one, where Pierce learned how to catch crabs, prep food, and cook.  The Kingfisher restaurant employs woman named Carrie who does marvelous things with fried seafood.  The place also has what seems to be a magical all-you-can-eat Seafood Friday.  And in the same town, there’s a mysterious man named Stillwater who makes little amuse bouche that leave people voraciously hungry no matter how much they eat.  What’s interesting is that all these restaurants tie in to the quest for the artifact.  

Another thing I liked was the transposition of fantasy-style kings, knights, and sorceresses onto modern day.  The knights ride motorcycles, though they still fight with swords.  It’s sort of like a Renaissance Festival unleashed upon the present.  When you start the book, it’s a little bit of a shock realizing it’s the present.  

I wouldn’t say this is a light, fluff book, but it is fun.  There’s some serious drama with different groups of people looking for the artifact for different reasons.  There’s treachery and malice to add some depth to the plot.  There’s suspicious fae.  There’s Carrie and her estranged relationship with her shapeshifting father.  But it’s those juicy subplots juxtaposed with the contemporary setting that make it a fun read.  I give this book four out of five stars.  

Monday, December 20, 2021

Seventh Son

Orson Scott Card
Completed 12/19/2021, Reviewed 12/19/2021
1 star

I was looking forward to this book because I liked the two Ender books I read.  But I was also dreading this book because of my distaste for the author himself.  Upon reading it, I was perplexed.  I couldn’t believe this was the same author who wrote Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead.  This felt like a bad pulp novel from the ‘50s.  It’s an alternative early American history with folk religion competing with the different Christian sects.  It was choppy, full of exposition, and clearly the beginning of a series.  The plot went nowhere.  Yet this book won the 1988 Mythopoeic Award and was nominated for several others, including the Hugo.  I just don’t get it.

Alvin Miller is the seventh son of a seventh son.  This means he’s gifted, special, and possibly even a savior of some sort.  He has a “knack” for things, like flawlessly carving stone and commanding cockroaches.  His family are homesteaders in the territory of Hio, part of the United States that’s comprised of seven states including one for Native Americans.  His mother is Christian, but his father is of the folk religion.  His mother drags him to church but his father tries to foster Alvin’s folky talents.  A stranger comes through town, known as Taleswapper, to help Alvin understand his gifts as well.  On the other hand, the local Christian preacher and Alvin’s brother-in-law try to get the Devil out of him.  

I had a lot of problems with this book.  The first is that I didn’t like the writing.  The characters generally speak in a twangy country dialect.  That I could handle.  What I didn’t like is that Card popped in and out of using the dialect in the non-dialogue narration.  It was very aggravating trying to read all the ain’ts and triple negatives and other cutesy colloquialisms.  If it was consistent, as in a first person narration, I think I could have handled it just fine.  But this was third person omniscient.  It should have been left to the dialogue.

Another thing I didn’t like was that most of the alternative American history was preachy exposition.  It stopped the forward momentum of the story telling.  I thought it would be interesting, but I generally didn’t like it.  It was focused on religion more than politics.  And except for George Washington being beheaded for being a traitor to the English and Benjamin Franklin being a wizard, I couldn’t really follow all the details of all the other founding fathers mentioned.  They were more like asides than anything integral to the plot.  The exception was Franklin, who was Taleswapper’s roommate for a few years.

Then there was the offensive portrayal of non-whites.  The Native Americans were called Reds and were obsessed with scalping.  Of course, they were also all alcoholics.  And I couldn’t believe that Card actually used the offensive term for black children that begins with a P.  I think these things turned me off from the book pretty early on.

The characters were mostly one-dimensional.  Alvin had some depth, but I had a hard time reading him as a child.  While I thought Ender was very well depicted as a child, Alvin’s nature only came through occasionally.  Interestingly enough, I thought the Christian minister had more depth than the rest of the characters put together.  He struggled with what to do with the Millers and then was in agony over visions he received calling for killing Alvin.  I felt for him more than any other character despite his portrayal as one of the bad guys. I also didn’t like the cartoonish names of most of the characters.

I don’t know much about the life of Joseph Smith, but my understanding is that this story parallels his early life, from the bickering parents of different faiths to the broken leg near the end.  To me, the parallel wasn’t organic.  It felt forced.  It’s like Card thought “Hey, I’m going to fantasize Joseph Smith’s life” and clunked his way through it, coming up with scenarios that didn’t flow naturally into a decent story arc.  

I was going to give this book two stars, but after writing this review, I dropped it down to one star out of five.  The one star is for the details of Alvin coming into his own power and the struggle of the minister.  Everything else was mind-numbing or offensive.  If I read this book first, I never would have picked up the Ender books.  This is Card at his worst and I have no intention of reading any of the other books in this series, despite the homoerotic covers on most of them.  

Saturday, December 18, 2021

The Hollow Hills

Mary Stewart
Completed 12/18/2021, Reviewed 12/18/2021
3 stars

Another beautifully written book by Stewart, this is the second entry in the Arthurian Saga.  It basically suffers from the same problems as its predecessor, The Crystal Cave.  Lots of gorgeous, descriptive prose that gets in the way of the plot.  This book also spends even more time on the details of journeys across the country which I found to be boring filler.  In fact, I only really liked the first hundred and the last hundred pages of this nearly five-hundred-page novel.  For what it’s worth, this book won the 1974 Mythopoeic Award and it’s about as beloved as “Cave”.  

Be warned: this plot summary has spoilers for the first book…

This book picks up after the conception of Arthur, which is how “Cave” ended.  It recounts how Merlin got to this place of waiting for Arthur’s birth so that he can whisk the babe away to protect him from King Uther Pendragon’s enemies, and possibly Uther himself.  But he finds both parents in agreement with his plan and takes the infant to a kinsman of Uther’s.  There he is weaned and then sent to anther kinsman back in Britain.  After delivering the infant, Merlin leaves his sidekick Ralf to watch over Arthur’s development.  He travels to the continent to create a diversion for any spies who might be following him.  But all the while he knows what is happening to Arthur through his visions.  Finally he returns to England when the boy is thirteen and mentors him until Uther calls on him to declare him his heir.

The characterization is not as good in this book.  Merlin is basically the same in this book as he is at the end of the first.  He’s the narrator again, but not much really happens to him.  His reactions and responses throughout the book are pretty predictable.  Ralf, his sidekick is a little more interesting, being kicked out of the palace to be Merlin’s helper.  He resents his new station until he comes to believe in the big picture of Merlin’s prophesy of Arthur.  Arthur himself is only slightly better developed.  We only read about him in the last hundred pages of the book, which is partly why I liked that part.

I was bored by the whole middle three hundred pages.  It was all travelogue.  Merlin goes from place to place, but the plot really doesn’t advance.  I fell asleep often during this section.  Things don’t happen again until the Merlin goes to find Arthur after thirteen years.  Then everything picks up: the plot, the action, the suspense, the character development.  

I give this book three out of five stars.  This time, my boredom couldn’t overcome the prose.  I’m glad no other books in this series won the award, because I’m just not interested in them.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

In the Night Garden

Catherynne M Valente
Completed 12/13/2021, Reviewed 12/14/2021
5 stars

This book blew me away, mostly because of its form.  It’s a collection of stories, sort of like the story of Scheherazade and the 1001 Nights.  Here, a girl tells stories to a young prince.  The remarkable thing, though, is that the stories are nested.  She begins one tale, within which is another tale, within which is another tale, and so on.  All the stories are within the same universe and the characters all overlap.  Left in average hands, this could have been a mess, but Valente does it expertly and with such deft that it is easy to follow.  You never feel that there is exposition because the recursive form makes each story seem vital.  This book and its sequel “In the Cities of Coin and Spice” together won the 2008 Mythopoeic Award.  This volume alone won the 2006 Otherwise Award and was nominated for the 2007 World Fantasy Award.

The plot is really difficult to convey.  The outermost story is about a girl labeled as a demon, abandoned by her family, shunned by the community, and living alone in the royal gardens.  A young prince, one of many children of the Caliph, sneaks out of the castle looking for adventure.  He finds her there and she begins to tell him the stories which are inked around her eyes so closely together, they make her eyes look dark, hollow, and evil, hence the demon label.  But the stories entrance him and soon he is engrossed in the nested stories.  He sneaks out daily, bringing her food in exchange for the storytelling.  His eldest sister, caretaker of all the children, finds out and punishes him, but he always finds a way to get back to the storyteller.  

The stories are all magical and mythical.  There are so many, it’s hard to remember them all, so I’ll quote the blurb on the back of the book.  There are “…tales of shape-shifting witches and wild horsewomen, heron kings and beast princesses, snake gods, dog monks, and living stars…”  And that’s just a few.  With their interweaving form, it’s hard to say which specific stories I liked.  I have to say it was all engrossing because of their form.  One might think that it may get annoying because you’d just want a story to finish, and a few times I did, but mostly I just wanted to keep reading to get through the whole complexity to its conclusion.

It’s really hard to talk about the components of the book, like the characterization, because there are so many stories and characters.  However, I can say that the characters are all pretty well developed and the world building is simply mindboggling.  It’s like reading many, many interrelated fairy tales with a cast of thousands.  But once you buy into them, the characters are marvelous.  The book is divided into two major story sets.  In the second one, I did get a bit confused because there are several characters named Sigrid, but that cleared up as I kept reading.  Overall, the characters are colorful and most are of ambiguous morality.  They aren’t cookie cutter good guys vs. bad guys.  Some are fun, some are scary, and all are richly drawn. 

I’ll be reading the second book in a few months, maybe sooner, and I expect the review of that will be very similar to this one.  I’m so glad I read this book because the only other book I read of Valente’s was Palimpsest, which I did not like.  Though to be honest, I listened the audio of it while driving.  So maybe I need to give that one another shake.

I give this book five stars out of five.  It’s simply an amazing experience to read.  I recommend reading it quickly to keep all the stories fresh in your mind.  I would think that if you read this over a month, say, you might lose yourself in the recursive form.  At one point, I almost did.  But it’s well worth the effort.  Despite there being a sequel, it stands alone pretty well.  However, the experience is so awesome that I definitely will read the sequel (also because it’s part of my challenge to read all the Mythopoeic winners, and since the sequel was part of the win…).  Anyway, I highly recommend this book if you’re up for a bit of a challenge.  The reward is great.

Thursday, December 9, 2021


Peter S. Beagle
Completed 12/9/2021, Reviewed 12/9/2021
4 stars

This book is a ghost story, a bit different for the author, I think.  It’s about a 13-year-old girl’s acquaintance with a ghost at a run-down Manor in rural England.  It’s beautifully told, amazingly evoking the mind of teenage girl who can see the supernatural, albeit ghosts or the mythical creatures that inhabit the rural English countryside.  The narrator is the girl, Jenny, retelling her moving from New York to Dorset because of her mother’s remarriage and evolution from despising it to loving it.  I was astounded by how much I loved the book, despite being a little YA-ish.  It won the 2000 Mythopoeic Award and was nominated for several others.  

Jenny lives with her mom in New York.  When she tells Jenny she’s getting married and moving them to England, she does everything possible to try to move in with her dad.  It doesn’t work out and this shy, awkward girl with only a few friends moves to London.  In London, the stepdad tells the family he got a job in the country, Dorset, to be specific, so they move there, making matters worse for Jenny.  But there, she encounters the ghosts of a cat, and eventually, a nineteen-year-old girl named Tamsin.  Tamsin’s ghost is three-hundred-years-old, and longs for a lost love and is terrified of an evil judge who pursued her in life.  Jenny and Tamsin become friends, with Jenny learning a lot about the denizens of the night and the circumstances of Tamsin’s death.  But things get dangerous as the powerful ghost of the judge comes back to reclaim Tamsin.

The book is written as a memoir by Jenny when she’s nineteen, but she really captures the mindset of her younger self.  She often describes things she’s told no one, especially things that she finds embarrassing to recount.  I thought that touch was quite excellent.  It adds believability to this first-person narration.  The prose is marvelous.  Through the whole book, I felt like I was thinking like a thirteen-year-old.  The world building is terrific as well: smart and believable.  Beagle doesn’t overwhelm you with mythical creatures.  There’s just a few but they are described well as are the encounters Jenny has with them.  They are not simply elves or fairies.  There’s a boggart, a billy-blind, a pooka, a big black dog, and the Wild Huntsmen.  They each have their purposes for appearing to Jenny and they have distinct personalities.

Jenny is terrific, although at first, she was quite annoying, as any thirteen-year-old would be faced with the events she does.  But by the time she gets to Dorset, I really empathized with her in her dealings with her mother, stepfather and stepbrothers.  As in New York, she has trouble making friends at school.  So when she finally meets Tamsin, you’re glad she finally has a friend.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  It’s a very smart supernatural adventure.  There’s only a little bit of “things that go bump in the night” type of activity, meaning it’s not a scary book.  It’s a relationship book during a girl’s coming of age, where she learns something about herself and others.  This book is almost as good as In Calabria, and definitely better than The Folk of the Air.  It’s the kind of writing I’ve come to expect from Beagle.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Tales from Rugosa Coven

Sarah Avery
Completed 12/6/2021, Reviewed 12/6/2021
4 stars

I loved this book.  It’s basically an urban fantasy, or being set in coastal New Jersey, a suburban fantasy.  It’s three novellas about the members of a coven, named after the rugosa rose bush that grows wild along the sand dunes on the beach.  Avery has a way of writing to make the stories fun, interesting, and personal.  Each story is told from a different member’s perspective and deals with human and supernatural issues.  It won the Mythopoeic Award in 2015.

The first story is “Closing Arguments” and is by far my favorite.  Bob is a personal injury lawyer and part of the coven.  However, he is married to a Methodist and has three kids.  Bob’s parents die simultaneously in a Target, leaving him three quarters of their estate and his sister Sophie one quarter.  In their will, they asked that Bob burn down their generations-old mansion with all their horded stuff.  The parents leave supernatural sticky notes all over the place urging Bob to follow their wishes or they will suffer consequences in the afterlife.

Next comes “And Ria’s from Virgo”.  Ria is an astrologer and fortune teller with a secret.  She’s OCD and is finally trying to get help.  She tries to find a therapist amidst various crises within and without the coven.  One member of the coven, Jane, is being battered by her alcoholic husband.  An old flame shows up looking for a divination to locate the Jersey Devil.  And a mysterious financial advisor is seeking guidance about going to the FBI about something.  Through all this, she is trying to save money to buy the store where she reads the future, and keep her relationships within the coven from imploding.

Lastly, “Atlantis Cranks Need Not Apply” features Jane who lives with Sophie in the beach cottage she inherited from her parents in the first story.  Jane’s dangerous alcoholic husband keeps trying to get her to come back, stalking her and stealing their garbage.  But the issue she has the hardest time with is that Sophie has fallen in love with a gilled man who washed up on the beach one night.  

I really liked all the characters of the coven: Bob, Sophie, Ria, Jane, as well as Amber and Sebastian.  Each character has distinct personalities and definite quirks.  For example, Bob is juggling his own beliefs with his wife’s.  He’s quick to anger and defensive of his sister and his own family.  Ria, of course, is a long character study as she deals with her OCD.  She’s also the witchy one of the coven, wearing black, lots of silver jewelry, and constantly burning of incense.  Jane is a skeptic and very resentful.  She and Ria have an ongoing feud that doesn’t ever seem to heal.

The stories are told mostly through the dialogue rather than long prose and exposition.  The pacing is good, except maybe in Ria’s story which has a lot of inner dialogue describing what she’s doing compulsively.  That part seems a little slow at times as that is the longest story of the three.  But it wraps up in a wonderfully surprising way.  

The stories were published in reverse order, although the timeline is in the printed order.  I think that’s why I liked “Closing Arguments” best.  I think it’s the best written of the three stories.  But really, all three are pretty satisfying.

I give this book four stars out of five.  It’s no literary masterpiece, but it’s a highly enjoyable collection of tales where supernatural things do happen despite the coven’s motley beliefs.  At the end, I wished there were more stories, because Avery tells them well.  She’s blends myth with a contemporary setting in ways that’s even surprising to the coven.  I believe Avery has only written short fiction since this book, but I’d read those stories if she came out with another collection, Rugosa based or otherwise.

Sunday, December 5, 2021


Robin McKinley
Completed 12/5/2021, Reviewed 12/5/2021
2 stars

This book is considered a modern classic in the vampire genre.  It won the Mythopoeic Award in 2004.  I can see why.  The world building is phenomenal.  McKinley creates a very original world of vampires, demons, weres, and sorcerers, as well as mixed bloods, and their interactions with pure humans.  My problem with the book is that there is so much continuous info dumping that I couldn’t stay interested in the plot.  The book is told in first person, so we are inside the main character’s head, and it is a mess.  She constantly goes off on very long tangents, which sometimes aids the world building, and sometimes just shows us what a mess she is.  It ended up a tedious reading experience for me.

Rae, aka Sunshine, is a baker at a family coffeehouse.  She’s known for her outstanding cinnamon rolls, muffins, and desserts.  During a particularly toxic family movie night, she decides to leave and finds herself driving up to an old cabin where she used to visit her now disappeared paternal grandmother.  Nothing has happened there since the Voodoo Wars, a period of violence with the Others (vampires, etc).  Of course, this is the night she gets abducted by a gang of vampires.  They chain her in this old mansion in the ritzy part of the woods, along with another vampire.  It is here we learn that Sunshine is part sorcerer on her father’s side.  The two help each other escape, leading to an ultimate showdown between the bad vampires and Sunshine and Con.

Throughout the book, the info dumping tells us about life after the Voodoo Wars.  It’s interesting, giving us many, many details about the Others and society’s response to them.  There’s an organization called SOF whose whole goal is to mitigate the expansion of the Other population, most specifically, the vampires.  After Sunshine’s two-day disappearance, the SOF deems her a person of interest in a vampire investigation, mostly because she won’t tell anyone what really happened.  In fact, she keeps the events, actually most of the supernatural events, secret from the SOF, her family, and most of all, herself.  So when the info dumping isn’t world building, it’s letting us in on Sunshine unhealthily dealing with her trauma.  This sounds like it should be good for character development, but it made for so much digression, I often had to go back several pages and read the single lines of dialogue to figure out what was going on.

One thing I liked about it was that there was no paranormal romance, even though this book is described as one.  It is really about a bond after a traumatic experience.  There is one scene where some sexual tension happens, but it is very short.  It seemed like its point was to give more details about vampire physiology and the confusion around survivor relationships than anything else.

I like vampire novels.  I really do.  But this one just didn’t do it for me.  This book has a ton of high ratings on Worlds Without End and pretty good reviews on Goodreads.  So I’d suggest reading some of those before basing your desire to read this book on my review alone.  I could be totally off base.  But this book just wasn’t my cup of tea.  I give it two stars out of five.  I found myself constantly falling asleep during the long info dumps and having to put it down every twenty pages or so to shake the boredom from my head.  

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Bridge of Birds

Barry Hughart
Completed 12/1/2021, Reviewed 12/1/2021
5 stars

Interesting change of pace.  This book is subtitled by Hughart as “A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was”.  It’s a quest story in which mythology and fairy tales play a key role.  I don’t know much about Chinese fairy tales and mythology, so I don’t know if the fairy tales are close to actual ones, or if they are all made up.  But it is a marvelous book, where the protagonist is confronted with these tales and tries to put together a solution to a mystery that will save a village full of children and right an ancient wrong.  This book won both the Mythopoeic and World Fantasy Awards in ‘85-‘86. 

The story begins with a young man nicknamed Number Ten Ox.  In his village there is a plague that is only affecting 8– to 14-year-olds.  He is sent to Peking to find a scholar who can figure out the cause.  The only one he can afford is Master Li, a drunk old man.  Ox brings Li back, who determines the cause but the only antedote is the Great Root of Power.  Ox and Li go on a quest to find it.  On the way, they begin to unravel the mystery of a princess and a beggar, the tale of which seems to hold the key to finding the Root.  At each step of the way, they come across tales of magic and deceit that harken back to fairy tales and involve a few of the many gods of China.  

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  I’m not a huge fan of Asian mythology, probably because I have almost no experience with it, and there are so many gods.  So a fantasy rooted in it seemed daunting.  However, this book is a hoot, despite beginning on a somber note.  Ox and the perpetually drinking Master Li are a great duo with Li being the brains and Ox being the brawn.  They race across China over and over gathering tales and strange small artifacts.  Of course, they constantly get into trouble, but always have amazing and humorous escapes.  

The worldbuilding is wonderful.  Hughart creates a fantastic ancient China filled with gods, ghosts, monsters, and very colorful characters who help and/or hinder Ox and Master Li.  My favorite monster was the invisible crawling hand.  My favorite colorful character was Henpecked Ho.  You have to read the novel to learn about them, though.  To describe them gives away plot and motivation.  The prose was also scrumptious without being overbearing.  It took me a little longer to read this book than my last several reads, despite being on vacation.  I found that this book could not be read too quickly.  The story and descriptions need to be savored.  

I’m giving this book five stars out of five.  This is unusual for me in that I normally give this score to a book that nearly moves me to tears, or creates a strong emotional reaction.  This book didn’t exactly, but the story was so great and it put me in such a pleasant headspace that I didn’t want it to end.  The book and its sequels have been compared to Terry Pratchett, and I would agree.  It’s subtly and sometimes sarcastically funny, but not guffaw funny.  It will leave you with a big ol’ smile on your face.  It’s not in e-book format and I don’t know how available it is.  I had to get it from interlibrary loan.  But it was well worth tracking down.