Sunday, August 28, 2022

Ancestral Night

Elizabeth Bear
Completed 8/28/2022, Reviewed 8/28/2022
2 stars

I have been hit or miss with Elizabeth Bear.  This is the sixth book I’ve read of hers for various reasons.  This time it was because it was my book club’s selection.  Upon reading this book, my opinion of Bear hasn’t changed.  In fact, it went down a little bit.  This book was sooooo boring.  It has so much prosy description and self-reflection that after a hundred pages, I didn’t think there was going to be a plot.  Then when it was introduced, it had hardly any forward movement, playing second fiddle to the mounds and mounds of mental masturbation by the main character.  The only reason I finished the book was because it was for book club.  And it took me so long to read this 550 page monstrosity that when I did finish it, it was a relief, but not satisfying.

Haimey Dz is an engineer on a tug ship.  She runs salvage missions of abandoned spacecraft with her ship AI, Singer, and Connla Kurucz, who I think was the pilot of the tug.  They go after a ship and find it has the rendered remains of the whale/dragon-like race whose sentience is contested.  There could only be one culprit, pirates.  This leads them on a big chase with a particularly nasty pirate.  At one point, she disables Haimey’s brain chip and she finds that her real memories are very different from her own.  In other words, she has no idea who she really is.  But the question is, will Haimey bring the pirate to justice or will the pirate bring Haimey to a life on the outer edge of society.

This book is filled with politics and philosophy.  The government, the Synarche, keeps everyone productive via a brain chip of sorts that helps them deal with reality.  The pirates are FreeThinkers and want to overthrow the Synarche and give people freedom and choice.  But are the guerilla tactics, assassinations,  and enslavement the right way to go about it.  These are just some of the things Haimey considers in long discussions with the pirate, as well as in long thoughts with herself.  Haimey also goes off on love and relationships, including the great love of her life, which she may or may not be accurately recalling. The premises of many of Haimey’s ideas and discussions were often interesting, but it always ended up sounding like a term paper.

The characterization wasn’t bad.  I felt like I really knew Haimey, the pirate, and Singer the AI.  I liked some of the other characters as well.  I just couldn’t suffer the lengths of these term paper descriptions and discussions.  This book could easily have been cut nearly in half and still retained sufficient plot and character development to feel completed.  

There is a sequel to this book.  I have no intention of reading it.  I already feel like I’ve read too much Elizabeth Bear, most recently Carnival and Ink and Steel.  I think I’ve given most of her books three stars.  Ink and Steel got four stars.  This book gets two stars (out of five).  It simply did not feel like it had any forward momentum.  Whenever it did move forward, it was derailed by long bouts of tedious prose.  I basically hated reading it from about the fiftieth page to the end.  And life’s too short to read tedious books.  I’m hoping the next few book club books aren’t nearly so bad. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Melee Mage

Michael Taggart
Completed 8/19/2022, Reviewed 8/20/2022
3 stars

This is the second book in the Fledgling God series which began with Misfit Mage.  Like the first book, this is very enjoyable.  It’s a gay urban fantasy with an extremely detailed magic system.  It took me nearly two weeks to read it because I was on a long driving and hiking vacation and only got about twenty pages read on some nights.  But once I got back I zoomed through the rest of it.  The book is really fluff, but good fluff, with much more meaty action and situations promised in the next installment.

It had been over a year since I read the first book, so it was great that the author included a synopsis to get the reader up to speed for this book.  It picks up right after the events of the first book.  Jason is still healing from the showdown with Isobel and her golem.  Sandy is unconscious with very little magic left.  John the half troll seems to have turned to stone and become unresponsive.  Annabeth is in decent shape but tired.  And Tyler the incubus pops in and out of the house to take care of issues as assigned by the house, which is also magic.  Tyler begins a regimen for Jason and Annabeth to learn how to fight with their bodies, not just with magic.  Jason and Annabeth watch over the other two in the house, trying to find ways to bring them back from their unconscious states.  There is a lull in the bad activity of the bad mages until John and Annabeth find a mage who tells them about how the bad mages are consolidating their magic in an effort to take out Sandy’s house once and for all.  And it’s up to Jason to figure out a way to fight this growing enemy.

The plot is pretty basic.  Our hero must find a way to fight the bad guys and trains to do so.  The fun is in the journey.  A large chunk of the book is about Jason and Annabeth learning to fight with their fists rather than rely completely on magic.  It’s sort of like a long “Rocky” montage.  But just as Taggart deftly and thoroughly explains the magic system, he deftly and thoroughly explains the fight training.  What could be boring was pretty exciting.  I enjoyed watching Jason and Annabeth develop their fighting skills under Tyler’s tutelage.  What could have boring fighting exercises turns out to be really engrossing reading.

The other thing going on is Jason’s attempts at reviving Sandy and John.  He uses his magic to make little creatures that pull neutral magic and infuse it into Sandy to get her personal magic level up.  And he makes other little creatures to chip away at the rock that is encasing John.  How he does that is simply fascinating.  

The character development continues where it left off.  The relationship between Jason and the others in the House continue to grow as they become their own family.  His relationship with Tyler goes in positive directions, bringing him a joy he never had in his more mortal previous life.  Jason is simply lovable.  At times, it seems too good to be true, with all the hugging and crying and mutual support.  But on the other hand, it is nice to read an urban fantasy which does not rely on angsty moping mages waiting for the next negative experience.

I give this book three stars out of five.  It reads very much like the first.  The biggest problem with it is that the fight training scenes did run on a bit long and there were so many of them.  In fact, the author notes in the afterward that this book had to be broken into two books because it went on so long.  I bet with judicious editing, he could have gotten this and the next book hammered into a singe volume.  But it is what it is and as it stands, this second book is solid fun.  The next installment promises to be more action with the big confrontation with the bad guys.

Saturday, August 6, 2022


Mercedes Lackey
Completed 8/6/2022, Reviewed 8/6/2022
3 stars

For the second book in the Vows and Honor trilogy, I again had mixed feelings.  Like in The Oathbound,  I liked a lot of things about the book, but it just didn’t really engage me.  One of these “the whole is less than the sum of its parts” type reactions.  I really like her prose, the plot, the world building, and I thought the characters were well developed.  But overall, I just couldn’t get into the book.  

This volume has only one story arc, as opposed to the previous book which was a collection of shorter works fused together into one.  Tarma and Kethry spend time with the Sunhawks, a mercenary group.  Their leader is Idra, a strong woman and their founder.  She gets word that her father has died, leaving the throne vacant.  She must go back and cast her vote toward one of her two brothers to reign, since she renounced her inheritance.  After several months, she disappears and Tarma and Kethry go to find out what happened to her.  

Tarma and Kethry are great.  I really like them.  They basically share equal billing, but it feels like Kethry gets a little more growth.  We’re introduced to a new character Jadrek, a royal archivist who seems to have insight into the kingdom, the new king, and the whereabouts of Idra.  At first he’s not very likable, but I warmed up to him as time went on.  He’s the one character I actually empathized with.  I like the main characters, but didn’t find myself engaged with them until they develop a friendship with Jadrek.  He's an intellectual, awkward, and has a bit of a chip on his shoulder.  But as the plot develops, he gets thrown in with Tarma and Kethry and soon they begin to trust each other and actually care for one another.

The world building continues to grow, particularly in the relationship Tarma has to the Goddess.  It doesn’t feel haphazard or superfluous.  It’s detailed and intriguing.  And the prose is wonderful as well.  I like the way Lackey describes the action without the mechanical details while still making you feel part of the action.  There’s some pretty rough violence in this book, but it’s never too gory or over the top.  In fact, I felt the same amount of revulsion that the main characters did when confronted with it themselves.  

I give this book three stars out of five.  It’s good, but it just didn’t come together for me.  In the end, I felt a little ambivalent about reading the third book.  However, I think I’m going to read it because it’s a collection of short stories and a short novel of our heroes.  I’m actually looking forward to the change in form to see how I like that as opposed to a full-length novel.