Friday, March 31, 2023


Tim Powers
Completed 3/30/2023, Reviewed 3/30/2023
3 stars

Another book by Tim Powers under my belt and I have to say I’m not a fan.  I thought this book was overblown.  At nearly 600 pages, I found myself mentally editing out bloated character backgrounds and repetition.  Although, some of the repetition was useful when my mind wandered and needed to refresh what exactly was going on.  This book is a combination spy and fantasy novel, but you don’t get an inkling of the fantasy until about halfway through, especially with double agents.  My forte is not remembering who is spying for which country at what point in time, and keeping all the spies straight in my head.  The fantasy part was about the djinn, which normally would have kept me going, but I even had trouble with that.  This book won the 2001 World Fantasy Award and was nominated for a slew of others.

Andrew Hale had a strange childhood.  Born in Palestine to his British and Catholic mother the nun, he’s raised in England.  He’s brought into the world of espionage by a secret government agency that funded his single parent family as well as his education after the death of his mother.  Soon he’s a spy in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II, trying to infiltrate the Soviet movements there.  While in Paris he falls in love for another spy, Elena, a Spanish orphan of the revolution there, now a red spy.  Also in the mix is a British double agent named Kim Philby who has a strange psychic connection to Hale and also loves Elena.  Fast forward to the cold war of 1963 and Hale is assigned to discover the mysteries of the djinn residing in Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat and take vengeance for a previously aborted attempt from 1948, codenamed Declare.

The whole book wasn’t a slog.  In fact there were times I thought the plot was pretty inspired.  I actually liked the part that took place during WWII which occurred before the supernatural stuff comes in play.  I also liked the background stories of Hale and Elena.  However, by the time we get to the background stories of Philby, I was worn out by my confusion of who was spying for whom at what point and why.  I also thought the description of the encounters with the djinn were not always very well written.  I often found it difficult to follow the action.  I’ve read a lot of djinn tales over the past few years now and found this book to be the weakest depiction of them so far.  

I guess I kind of liked the protagonist and his love interest, especially in their time in Paris, as noted earlier.  However, I never empathized with either of them.  My relationship with them was rather cold.  We know a ton about them, but we don’t really get much in the way of emotions from them.  And Philby, I didn’t get at all.

I give this book three stars out of five.  I would have given it two, but the writing and character development were better than that.  I’m done with Powers though.  Unless he wins another Mythopoeic or WFA, I don’t plan on reading him anymore.  However, looking at his ratings and reviews for this book on the internet, he’s quite popular, and this book is considered one of his best.  So take what you will from that.  You might find this book a better read than me.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Our Lady of Darkness

Fritz Leiber
Completed 3/24/2023, Reviewed 3/24/2023
2 stars

This book was a tedious bore.  I found it difficult to get through.  I didn’t like the prose or the plot. The book takes place in San Francisco after the heyday of the ‘60s and before hi tech.  It’s also an urban fantasy before the concept became a subgenre.  It deals with an unknown horror in modern day San Fran.  It tips its hat to several other literary figures, including Lovecraft.  However, none of these things held any appeal for me.  I don’t seem to have much luck with Leiber, having read two other books by him and not caring for either.  This book won the 1978 World Fantasy Award.

Franz Westen is a horror writer who one day sees a cloaked figure on the top of Corona Heights waving at him through his binoculars from his apartment.  Intrigued, he goes to the Heights and finds nothing of note.  However, he turns his binoculars back to his apartment and the figure is there leaning out his window waving at him again.  He does some investigation and finds that an author who believed in something called Megapolisomancy, the access of power of a large metropolis, put a curse on some fellow writers (his acolytes) and that curse seems to have found Franz.

Judging by the blurb about the book and this summary, it sounds like it might be an intriguing twist on the haunted place.  However, not much happens after seeing the apparition.  He does a lot investigation, which is how he finds out about this (fictional) author and the curse.  To my dismay, a lot of the revelations were in the form of exposition and were tedious to read.  The big info dump where Franz learns everything bored me to tears.  Nothing supernatural happens again until the very end.

I kind of liked the characters.  There’s Cal, as in Calpurnia, a harpsichordist with whom Franz had an affair after his wife died of brain cancer.  Then there’s Gun and Saul, two friends of Franz who live in the same building.  They were colorful characters and almost gay.  Then there’s the Peruvian apartment manager, her daughter, and the chess loving maintenance man Fernando, whose relationship to the first two I couldn’t remember.  All these characters go out to eat with Franz and have a lively conversation where Franz reveals what he’s seen.  The interaction is playful and gives you a good idea of what each of the characters is like.  That scene solidified that I liked them.

Franz himself is kind of a bore.  He’s about a year sober after plunging into the depths of alcoholism after his wife died.  Yes, he wonders if he is going insane often, but there’s no real evidence of him going through the struggle of what a newly sober person goes through.  A year sober may seem like a long time, but in terms of getting your life back to some semblance of normalcy, it’s still a fresh trauma that is only beginning to heal.

I give this book two stars out of five.  Either Leiber is an overrated author, or I just don’t get him.  I read his Hugo winning books The Wanderer and The Big Time, and found them either lackluster or undecipherable.  In all cases, I found the prose generally confusing and difficult to read.  I’m probably not going to read anything else by him, despite him having won most of the major awards including the Grand Master award.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Jack Vance
Completed 3/22/2023, Reviewed 3/22/2023
5 stars

I was really impressed by this last installment of the Lyonesse trilogy.  I felt that it was much more organized with a more relatable main character.  It still had a lot of characters, but by this time, I had them all down pretty well.  I also felt that the story followed the main character longer with fewer jumps to the subplots.  It was more cohesive and overall read much better than the first two books.  This book won the 1990 World Fantasy Award.  I can’t say it stands on its own.  You have to read the first two books to know what is going on in this one.  However, everything you need to know is eventually reviewed in this book, but you’d miss out on so much without reading the first two.

This book begins with the changeling that replaced Suldrun’s son in the first book.  Madouc is a precocious teenager who like her mother, wants nothing to do with the royal life.  She doesn’t want to be a trained in the genteel arts, she only wants to learn what she’s interested in, and most of all, she doesn’t want to marry for political gain to appease her father the King.  But unlike her Suldrun, she’s much more creative and aggressive in the way she avoids commands and responsibilities.  Eventually, she figures out she’s a changeling and meets her birth mother from the faerie realm.  However, the mother does not remember who the father is.  So Madouc goes on a quest to find out who he is so she can know her pedigree.  Along the way, she also discovers her father the King’s plans to unite the Elder Isles under himself.  She also meets Dhrun, the true son of Suldrun with whom she was exchanged.  

Madouc is a terrific character, a strong young woman with a passion for what she finds interesting and rejection of the oppressive patriarchy her father and mother condone.  It’s her way or no way.  I think this is one of the strongest female characters written by a man from a book so old.  This book is over thirty years old, and while you would think that female characters would have generally been well written by that time, it wasn’t necessarily true.  

Dhrun and his father Aillas appear in the book, but only in much briefer scenes.  It’s really too bad because they were the standouts in the previous book, The Green Pearl, and Aillas particularly in the first book, Suldrun’s Garden.  Casmir is ruthless and devious as ever.  Shimrod comes back and plays an important role in the magical politics of the Isles.  

I give this book five stars out of five.  This one is a little out of my usual requirement for a perfect score.  The book wasn’t perfect.  In particular, I thought the ending was rushed, even though the book was already about five hundred pages long.  I also didn’t have a visceral reaction at the conclusion.  I give it a five star rating because it’s about the best high fantasy trilogy I’ve read in a long time.  Vance does a terrific job with the Faerie realm, especially once embodied in Madouc.  The prose is flawless and the worldbuilding is simply phenomenal.  I highly recommend this book to readers who miss traditional fantasy.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Mythago Wood

Robert Holdstock
Completed 3/18/2023, Reviewed 3/18/2023
4 stars

I liked this book despite its misogynistic sensibility.  It was really good while it stayed a sausage fest and lost momentum when it brought in a female character whose main purpose seemed to be to make men fall in love with her.  Granted, the book was published in 1984 and takes place after WWII, but it still could have been much more enlightened in its treatment of woman.  Otherwise, the basic premise of the book is very original and the prose is terrific.  This book won the 1984 British Sci Fi Award and the 1985 World Fantasy Award.  

Steve Huxley comes home from the war to find his brother Christian a wraith.  He has become obsessed with the forest near their house that their father was obsessed with.  After Christian disappears, Steve tries to figure out the mystery of the ancient wood.  It seems to generate archetypal creatures and beings partly generated by mind of the observer and partly by the history and folklore of the area.  Christian comes back from the wood and has become powerful, burly, and aggressive.  He is in search of the woman from the wood with whom he fell in love.  He goes back into the wood and again disappears.  This time, the woman of the wood shows up for Steve and the two fall in love.  This of course causes conflict between the brothers, though it feeds into a folk tale of the murderous Outsider and the Kinsman who must kill him.  

As noted above, I really liked the beginning of the book.  It was quite a mystery, this wooded area being only a few square miles in size, but people get lost in it for long periods of time.  It is not necessarily of the faerie folk, but it has that time dilation.  Inside the wood, there are extinct animals like wild giant boars and bears.  There’s a Robin Hood like person and various other peoples from cultures that lived in this area.  It’s an enigmatic area that seems to drive mad the people trying to explore it.

The story loses its appeal when Guiwenneth shows up.  She’s like a warrior princess, so it takes a while before she and Steve hit it off, but of course they do.  I found the whole courting ritual to be rather tedious.  Then Christian returns, steals Guiwenneth from Steve, and leaves him for dead.  I would have rather seen more exploration of the wood, or perhaps a less stereotypical trope.

One aspect I did like was the appearance of a royal air force pilot who Steve spots trying to fly over the woods.  Harry Keeton is a charming guy with his own mystery.  He came across a similar wooded area in Belgium during the war.  Harry, Steve and Guiwenneth become good friends.  When Christian steals Guiwenneth, Harry accompanies Steve on his journey into the wood to find her.  Harry offers a different perspective and occasional breaks in the tension with humor and kindness.  

I reluctantly give this book four stars out of five.  If I read it when it first came out, I would have had no qualms about the rating.  But reading it forty years later, the book drips with misogyny.  The appearance of Guiwenneth was a distraction from the more interesting primeval forest mystery.  And she goes from being a force to be reconned with to a victim way too quickly.  If I remember correctly, there was only two other female characters noted, one was a “spinster” from the house of the owners of the land that the Huxleys live on.  She was only in her twenties and was already bitter.  The other was a thirteen-year-old naked girl covered in green who tells stories.  She herself wasn’t creepy.  Her being written by a white cis male who finds it necessary to describe her breasts was the creepy part.  The further back I go with a book, the more forgiving I am of these things, but for 1984, Holdstock had the opportunity to be a little more enlightened.  

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Song of Kali

Dan Simmons
Completed 3/15/2023, Reviewed 3/16/2023
4 stars

The Song of Kali is the first novel by Dan Simmons.  He would later go on to win the Hugo for Hyperion.  This book won the 1986 World Fantasy Award.  It’s more horror than fantasy although by looking at many Fantasy Award lists, you will find a lot of horror.  This one takes place in Calcutta.  Upon reading, it becomes pretty clear that Simmons hates Calcutta.  In fact, he spent 2 ½ days there, resulting in this paean of hatred.  If there is a good quality of Calcutta, you won’t find it here.  But what you do find is a well-written horror novel steeped deeply in the mythos of the goddess Kali.  

Bobby Luczak is an American poet and writer.  His Indian wife Amrita is a professor of mathematics.  They have a baby daughter Victoria.  Bobby is assigned to go to Calcutta to retrieve a new manuscript of the legendary Indian poet named M. Das who has supposedly been dead for nearly eight years.  He takes his wife and daughter on the trip so that they can stop in London to visit her parents who have not yet seen Victoria.  Upon arrival, Bobby is immediately disgusted with the squalor and poverty.  He connects with people who promise him the manuscript, but not a meeting with Das.  They tell him of how Das has been resurrected by the goddess Kali and has written an important work about her and her coming into power.  He gets a major runaround through the misery and violence that is Calcutta.  The end will break your heart, traumatically.

It was hard for me to get into this book.  Simmons paints a horrible picture of Calcutta, complete with rats, garbage, poverty, fecal waste, and death.  Everywhere he turns, people are squatting in the streets urinating or defecating.  There is no reprieve from this misery except in the hotel where the Luczaks are staying.  Even when it gets into the cult of Kali and the mythology surrounding her, I found it difficult to stay connected with the book.  The descriptions are that miserable.  I have to say, though, that the prose is quite good, otherwise, I don’t think I would have had as visceral a reaction to it.  

The book is told from Bobby’s first person perspective.  You experience his disgust throughout the book.  He meets a variety of people, all who claim to be part of the writer’s guild that brought him over.  But rather than a simple transaction, acquiring the poem’s manuscript is a complicated and dangerous mission.  He encounters a cult of Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and destruction.  She has supposedly resurrected Das who is now dedicated to bringing her to world consciousness.  Bobby’s fatal flaw is that his curiosity wins over his disgust and he tries to pursue a meeting with Das even after he gets the manuscript.  He believes he needs this meeting to write a reasonable article for Harper’s, the magazine hiring him, as well as for “Other Voices”, the independent poetry magazine to which he contributes.

I give this book four stars out of five.  The writing is really good.  However, I can’t say I enjoyed the book.  I was caught in an internal struggle of liking the writing and being disgusted by Bobby’s reaction to the city.  It made me think of a tables-turned scenario, where an Indian comes to Portland, goes walking on the waterfront amongst the homeless, trash, and refuse, gets accosted by meth-heads, and writes a book about how horrible Portland is.  Is this the scenario of Simmon’s two and half days in Calcutta?  Or is it a first world observer trying to wipe the muck of the third world off their shoes so they can ignore it as they return to their comfy mountain home and schoolteacher job?  

Monday, March 13, 2023

The Sudden Appearance of Hope

Claire North
Completed 3/13/2023, Reviewed 3/13/2023
4 stars

When you read the plot summary of this book, you might think that The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue was a rip off of it.  Both are about a girl who no one remembers interacting with.  But while Addie LaRue is kind of a fairy tale-ish romance, this book is a hardcore reflection on what it means to be perfect in a world dominated by social media, toxic capitalism, celebrity, and low self-esteem.  I don’t know if the basic trope started with North, or if it’s found in other books.  Having read these two so closely together, it's easy to draw comparisons and contrasts between the two.  North’s book won the 2017 World Fantasy Award.  Addie LaRue was published a few years later.

At the age of 16, Hope Arden’s family starts forgetting that she is their daughter.  At school, she is introduced as a new student every day.  Her friends don’t remember her.  Only her developmentally challenged sister remembers her.  She eventually leaves home and becomes a thief to survive.  She finds herself in Dubai going after a priceless diamond necklace.  She steals it, but it was during a party for ultra-wealthy people who are using an app called Perfection.  This app tells them what choices and changes to make to make themselves perfect.  Soon she is in the target of a hunt to find the thief.  The problem is no one remembers her.  Still, she becomes embroiled in the dirty world of the ultra-rich and a plot to destroy the company that makes Perfection.

While this book won the WFA, I would consider it a little more science fiction and a little less fantasy.  It might fall under the subgenres of cyberpunk and human development.  A lot of the chase happens online and the key to perfection is undergoing treatments for behavior modification.  Regardless of the category, I found it a terrifically written thriller.  I particularly liked the stream of conscious thinking and google search results that give Hope’s life some definition and meaning.  It makes for a much grittier feel than Addie LaRue.

Hope is the narrator of the story.  She tells it in first person, bouncing back and forth between how this condition began and evolved while telling the main story beginning with the theft of the necklace in Dubai.  Despite the mixing of the timelines, it was easy to follow.  I think that goes back to North’s excellent writing.  Hope is not necessarily a character you can empathize with.  She certainly doesn’t evoke pathos.  It’s also clear that she is not a reliable narrator.  Nonetheless, I found myself on her side through the existential crisis this predicament arouses in her and the actions she pursues as a result of her decisions.  

The toughest part of this book is reading about so many self-absorbed people becoming more self-absorbed.  It reflects the world we find ourselves in already, with tailored ads, self-help and self-actualization programs, and all the other deplorableness that comes with being obsessively online.  While the book is set in upper stratosphere of society, it still trickles down to the common folk.  And it’s hard to admit that I can be as caught up in the mania as anyone else.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  It ranks up there with the last book of North’s that I read, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.  While the style is different, the writing is equally terrific and the plot commands some hard reflection on morality.  The book is really dark, even the earworm of The Macarena is darkly humorous.  It was nice to read this while off from work because I was able to really dig my teeth into it.  I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much if I read it in small bits.  North’s writing evokes an immediacy and tenseness that keeps you pulled into the book.  I’ll definitely keep reading North as more works of hers come out.  

Friday, March 10, 2023

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Karen Lord
Completed 3/10/2023, Reviewed 3/10/2023
3 stars

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since I read Lord’s first novel, Redemption in Indigo.  It was a retelling of a Senegalese myth, award-winning and masterfully done.  This second novel is a jump over to the SF side.  It was inspired by the devastating tsunami in the Indian and Pacific Oceans in 2014, along with some stories by Ray Bradbury.  However, it didn’t grab me the way Indigo did.  I had several issues with the book, namely, keeping track of all the names.  I also didn’t care for the episodic nature of book.  But it had its moments of brilliance, just not nearly enough of them.

Grace Delarua is a linguist working on Cygnus Beta, a home of various strains of humanity who have been refugees from another place.  Grace is brought on to work with the incoming Sadira, all-male survivors of a terrible invasion that devastated their planet and their female population.  She travels with a team including Dllenahkh, a refugee from Sadira, to find homesteads and a solution to their wifelessness.  

The main differences between the different lines of humanity living on Cygnus Beta include, of course, the physical, and also psionic ability.  Grace comes from a line that doesn’t generally have much, but Dllenahkh does.  When all the episodic adventures are stripped away, the book is a slow-paced romance between these two despite their differences.

I kind of liked Grace and Dllenahkh.  Grace was goofy next to Dllenahkh’s stoic cultural nature.  The book tackles some intense issues including genocide and human trafficking.  At one point, Grace takes a stand on one of these issues, jeopardizing her job on the mission.  She is a strong woman despite the goofiness that comes through most of the time.  Sometimes, I did find it a little difficult to get really serious on these issues as we see them through Grace’s perspective.  I thought this was a flaw in the writing, which wasn’t always as tight as I thought it could be.  It was much easier to take things more seriously  through Dllenahkh’s perspective as he was almost Vulcan in his stoic nature.  

I had trouble identifying with all the secondary characters.  There were many of them, with many different names.  I regularly lost track of who was who, what their ancestral line was, and sometimes, whether they were male or female.  This was a shame because there was even a non-binary character, but I could not remember their name.  I often confused it with the name of the male who was romantically interested in them.

All in all, I was pretty meh about this book.  I was disappointed after being wowed by Indigo.  I do have an old Advanced Reading Copy of the sequel, The Galaxy Game, which I’ll probably read soon, just to give Lord another chance.  In general, I think she has a good vision and imagination.  And she comes from the new wave of Caribbean women authors of the past twenty years.  I think she and they have a lot to offer in creativity and perspective in fantasy and science fiction.  I give this book three stars out of five.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The Prestige

Christopher Priest
Completed 3/7/2023, Reviewed 3/8/2023
4 stars

Like the sleight of hand of Victorian magicians, this book began as one thing and turned into something else entirely.  On the surface, and through most of the narrative, this book appears to be about a rivalry between two magicians in Victorian England who sabotage each other during performances.  It of course begins with good intentions and a misunderstanding and then continues their whole lives.  But then the end goes off in an unexpected direction and the book turns into a horror novel.  Priest is quite prolific in the UK, winning many awards across Europe.  This, however, is I think his only book to win something that’s a little less parochial.  It won the 1996 World Fantasy Award.

This book begins with a present day adopted man finding out about the history of his birth-ancestors, meaning his natural great-great-grandfather, Alfred Borden.  It’s contained in a published but little circulated memoir of his life as a magician performing in the Victorian era.  The memoir was supposed to be about revealing the secrets of his tricks, including one that got him the most fame.  In actuality, it was about an ongoing sabotage war with another major performing magician of the era, Rupert Angier.  The book is told from different perspectives:  from Andrew, Borden’s descendant, then from Borden’s memoir.  Then from Kate Angier, Rupert’s descendant, then from Rupert’s own diary.  And it ends with Andrew and Kate piecing together what happened to Andrew’s twin before he was adopted.

I found the book to be okay through the first half, that is, with Borden telling his side of the story.  It became more interesting when it switched to Rupert’s diary.  This way, we were getting two different perspectives of the same events by two unreliable narrators.  In general, I don’t care much for stories or movies about 19th century magicians and spiritualists.  I only occasionally enjoy magic shows.  But getting the two sides of the story made it very interesting from a human interaction perspective.  At first I didn’t like either of the magicians, but then slowly developed empathy for both as they told their stories.  

The women in the book were interesting.  They weren’t flighty, swoony women of the period.  They had some substance to them.  I particularly liked Rupert’s wife, as she was in show business as well.  So she already was not an ordinary Victorian wife.  Other women move in and out of the picture as well, magician’s assistants and lovers, and I was pretty impressed by them as well.  

One character of interest was the introduction of Nikola Tesla.  He shows up as someone who can help with designing a magic trick of transportation.  I don’t know how accurate this depiction was, but I enjoyed it.  He was intense, flighty, and money-centric, as it cost a lot of money to make the machines that generated electricity.  By the time Rupert meets him, I was cheering Rupert on and was as frustrated with Tesla as Rupert.

I give this book four stars out of five.  I liked Priest’s prose and am interested to see what his other award winners are like.  Eventually, I’ll get around to them.  I’d also now like to see the Christopher Nolan film adaptation to see how Nolan turned these memoirs into action, and then if he kept the ending as written.

Monday, March 6, 2023

The Green Pearl

Jack Vance
Completed 3/6/2023, Reviewed 3/6/2023
4 stars

Much like the first book in the Lyonesse series, Suldrun’s Garden, this book was tough to get into but eventually, I really liked it.  The beginning is about 150 pages of trying to remember who the characters are and what they did in the first book.  Then the author starting recounting what happened in the first book in small expository ways that jogged my memory and got me on track.  After that I was fully engaged in the plot and the characters.  I couldn’t sleep last night for the pain from my shoulder surgery and restlessness of not doing much all day, so I was able to read about 200 pages during the night, and the remaining seventy or so in the morning.  I read those pages voraciously.  

The book begins with the finding of the green pearl, an unnaturally beautiful jewel that brings bad luck on its bearer.  The jewel passes from possessor to possessor until it is lost in the forest.  The plot then picks up, and that’s where I got kind of lost.  But eventually, Aillas is back in his kingdom with his son.  He has accumulated several kindoms under his rule.  He rules wisely and has a distaste for war.  However, the Ska continue to try to overtake the Isle.  These racially pure refugees from ancient Norway are trying to claim land they believe is theirs, making their way back north to eventually overthrow the Vikings.  Aillas comes up with a plan to fight the Ska differently than they are familiar with to throw them off guard, and give new life to the attempt to expel them from the Isle.  At the same time, Casmir, King of Lyonesse, is still trying to unify the Isle under himself.  One way he is doing this is by sending a magician across the Isle to try to find the missing son of his daughter Suldrun. 

The primary character of this book was Aillas.  He is great to root for.  He’s a good prince who befell much hardship during his captivity by the Ska.  It made him a great King, who tries to find a peaceful resolution to the conflicts with the Ska, or at least one that takes fewer lives than all out war.  He’s smart, funny, and has a way with people in general.  His court magician is also an interesting character.  Shimrod has a pining for Melancthe who thwarts most of his moves.  I remember him being in the first book, but I didn’t remember what he was about.  In this book, we see his strengths and vulnerabilities.  

This book was kind of about relationships, Shimrod and Melancthe, Aillas and Glyneth, and also Kul and Gwyneth.  There is also some continuing scenes with pagan Casmir and his Christian queen who wants to build a Cathedral.  But I think this was the book’s best part.  I felt I had more of a sense of who everyone was because of their relationships with each other.

As usual, the prose is very good and the world-building is spectacular.  I have to say that this book felt less like a sausage fest than the first book, where Suldrun was one of the few females in the book.  The women characters were strong and determined, except for one, a Ska, who can’t figure out what it means to be captured and made a slave.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  Despite the slow start, it picked up, kept a good pace, and satisfied my need for plot and conflict.  At times, it did get heavy on the court intrigue, which is not my favorite, but it wasn’t too bad.  I’m thinking I’ll find this series to a worthwhile endeavor once I finish the last in the series.