Monday, February 26, 2024

Paradigm Lost: The Founder’s Sons

R Roderick Rowe
Completed 2/26/2024, Reviewed 2/26/2024
4 stars

At last in this final installment of the Jamari and the Manhood Rites trilogy, the book reads more like a novel than a documentary.  There is ongoing conflict, issues, and a mind-blowing ending.  This edition of the book was modified in parts, and it shows in the maturity of the prose.  At the end of this book, there’s a description of all the books in this universe and it added some clarity to the first two.  Both Jamari and the Manhood Rites and Jamari Shaman were reissued as a single volume with all the erotica removed.  I think I would have preferred reading the reissued volume.  All the erotica was placed in a separate book.  I have one more book to read in this universe, which I’ll get to in a few weeks.  I’m actually looking forward to it.  It delves into the prehistory of this tribe and its spiritual roots.  

The plot picks up where Shaman left off.  Jamari is in soul crushing despair over the loss of his lover, with whom he had just agreed to become lifelong partners.  It takes great effort to reconnect with his inner sense of God.  Just as he does, the tribe comes under threat of a tree harvesting corporation that claims to have rights over the tribal lands, nullifying the treaty that established it eighty years before.  In the meantime, Jamari resumes his role as Shaman, growing more spiritually, and has a vision of the Founder asking him to accomplish a task involving the Founder’s newly born son. 

A lot goes on in this book.  There is a lot of conflict and resolution going back and forth.  It makes for exciting reading.  I was caught up in Jamari’s despair.  I was aghast at the corporate attempts to reclaim their land.  Most of all, I was thrilled by Jamari’s rapid growth into a leading Shaman of the tribe, particularly, with his experiences in meditation with the Divine.  This being the third book, his character developed a great deal and the journey that propels him into the spiritual leader of the tribe is quite riveting.

I thought the writing in this book was much better.  This is probably because most of the world building has finally finished and the prose is more focused on moving the plot forward.  Even the description of the world outside the tribal lands is much more interestingly depicted as Jamari and the Knight Shaman make their way to Salem to fight the evil corporation.  It reads much more like a novel than a documentary, which made a big difference in my enjoyment of it.

There was a little more interaction with the women of the tribe in this book as well.  It added a little something, perhaps balance, in this male-dominated story.  I really like Sophia, the women who is his first mating partner.  She is also elevated in the tribe around the time Jamari is, and she accompanies him on one of his meditation sessions to help him reattain the contact with the Divine that has eluded him since the death of his lover.  It is an extremely touching scene as she provides insights that he can’t perceive on his own.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  It is a well written, well thought out conclusion.  If I am ever so motivated, I will go back and read the combined and edited first two volumes to see if it reads better than the originals.  And I may just read some more of this universe as Rowe produces more.  I’m looking forward to the next book I have, “Cernon,” the genesis story.  It is told from Sophia’s point of view.  I always like genesis stories to fantasy and science fiction universes.  And this one looks to be quite intriguing.  

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Trailer Park Trickster

David R Slayton
Completed 2/19/2024, Reviewed 2/19/2024
4 stars

I am loving this Adam Binder series.  This book continues the rural fantasy adventures of Adam Binder, a gay warlock from Oklahoma who is trying to save his family from an evil Druid.  It is a well-written, suspenseful tale that is grounded in issues like poverty, drug addiction, abuse, and homophobia, despite the whimsical title.  There are good elves, bad elves, and even Death makes an appearance.  I read this book in a day and a half, thanks to the long President’s Day weekend.  Looking at the number of reads on Goodreads, this has nearly five thousand ratings.  While respectable for a small novel, I really believe this should have a much wider audience.  I think it’s that good.  

WARNING:  Spoilers for the first novel to follow.

Adam speeds back to Guthrie, Oklahoma when he finds out that his Aunt Sue has died.  When he arrives, he finds that his cousin Noreen and her daughter Jodi have moved into Sue’s trailer.  The trailer suddenly explodes and Adam saves Noreen and Jodi is missing.  While saving his cousin, he sees an apparition of the evil Druid who seems to be murdering his way through the Binder family.  Adam’s mother and brother show up, more accepting of his mage status after saving Denver.  Together they try to unravel the mystery of who the Druid is and who the next victim will be.  

In the meantime, Adam’s new boyfriend, Vic, also travels to Guthrie, but with Argent, the Queen Elf of Swords.  They get sidetracked by an attack from the Sea Elves.  They try to infiltrate their domain, the Sea Upon the Land, only to find that their mission is to wipe out humanity because of the mishandling of the environment.  When Vic finally gets to Guthrie, he finds out some family secrets that cause him to question his ability to trust Adam, something he needs if he is going to continue pursuing this relationship.  Besides, as a newly appointed Reaper, he needs to understand more about the Other Side than Adam has told him so far.

Adam’s maturation process is at the forefront of this novel.  He has reached some sense of reconciliation with his mother and brother.  He must rely on and nurture those relationships to succeed in this quest to destroy the Druid.  He must also become much more trusting of the bond between himself and Vic.  He still is afraid to give himself totally to the relationship.  He must learn that he’s lovable, worthwhile, and unique in a good way.  

While Vic was only seen through Adam’s eyes in the first book, we actually get Vic’s perspective in this one.  We see him struggle with his bisexuality and the recent death of his own father from cancer.  His family dynamic is very different from Adam’s, but he still has his own self-doubts and frustrations from the people around him.  Some of it is a little humorous as he tries to understand the Argent the Elf Queen and the Other Side.  On top of this, he’s trying to figure out what it means to be a Reaper.  

The magic system in this book continues to be interesting and detailed.  The nice thing about it is that Adam is not that powerful, so it doesn’t require a whole lot of explanation.  It doesn’t get so complicated to lose the suspension of disbelief.  The Other Side, that is, the land of the Fae, on the other hand, gets more complex with the introduction of the Sea Elves.  But it’s pretty straight-forward and believable, while at the same time still awesome and awe-striking.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  It is so entertaining and engrossing that I am glad there’s one more book in the series.  I love Adam and Vic and their character arcs.  I want to see them survive the crazy things thrown at them and then make it as a couple.  Perhaps I am a hopeless romantic, but I can’t wait until the next book to see them succeed, assuming they do.  I would be heartbroken if they didn’t.  Regardless of the outcome, I can’t wait to read the next book, which will hopefully be next week.  

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Paradigm Lost: Jamari Shaman

R Roderick Rowe
Completed 2/18/2024, Reviewed 2/18/2024
3 stars

I liked this book a little better than the first book in this trilogy, Paradigm Lost: Jamari and the Manhood Rites.  This book was not an erotic novel, and I understand that Rowe has toned down the erotica in the first book in a subsequent edition.  Sexuality is still at the forefront of this book, but it is much more tied to the spirituality of the tribe.  That made it more interesting.  However, I felt like the book still suffered from the same basic issues as the first, mainly, it feels more like a documentary than a novel.  There isn’t much tension or conflict until the last fifty pages or so.  Interestingly enough, I found myself pretty moved by the ending.  I guess I had become attached to the main characters more than I thought I did.  

In this book, the older members of the tribe realize that Jamari has the talents to be a shaman.  Jamari himself isn’t aware of how advanced he is, until he is told.  Jamari worries that the others of his age group who are training to become full men and citizens of their tribe will treat him differently.  However, that fear is unsubstantiated as most things proceed as normal.  Jamari and the others of the Young Men’s Hall are now mentoring newer young men who are ready for adulthood.  As he and his peers excel in their studies, they are awarded new ranks in the militia.  Jamari, while being a shaman in training, becomes the chaplain.  Things go well for a while until he is sent with a squad to the coast to manufacture salt from the ocean, negotiate a treaty with the coastal tribe, and look for illegal fishing practices along the way.  

What I liked best about this book was the introduction of more spirituality into the story, which you expect as the main character finds out he is not just a shaman, but has talents greater than the current Knight Shaman.  I can’t remember if this is from a review I read or one of the book’s descriptions, but it’s like a mix of Native American and Celtic spirituality sprinkled with a little Gnosticism.  It makes for very interesting directions in the plot.  I particularly liked how one of the other shaman’s references quotes from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.  It is some beautiful theology, which I’ve been exposed to by reading Elaine Pagels, which I bet Rowe himself also read.  

What I didn’t care for was that most of the book is the day-to-day activities of the tribe.  That’s the part that reads like non-fiction.  While many may find it interesting, I would have liked to have seen more fiction in it.  By that I mean some tension and conflict to move the plot along.  It makes for great world building, as it did in the first book.  I just need some more tension to keep me interested in the story.  I think another reason is that this tribe is a utopian society.  And in that environment, the people are all happy and work toward the common good.  Most utopian novels turn out to be dystopian.  This one isn’t.  And that’s what makes it dry in many places.

Now, there is some conflict, like one of the young men Jamari mentors is probably exclusively heterosexual.  This poses the question of how to work him in as a productive member of the tribe.  It’s a neat reversal of how society normally works.  However, it continues to pop up through the story and doesn’t get resolved until the end.   There’s also an exciting scene with a cougar and the realization that Jamari has more than one spirit animal, and for that matter, more than just an ordinary shaman.

The ending of the book is really good.  That’s where there is tension and conflict, and even tragedy, which I did not see coming.  The tragedy was done with much grace and sensitivity.  It drew a tear to my eye.  That’s where I realized I was more caught up in the characters than I thought.

I give the book three stars out of five.  I have the third book, which I’ll read in a few weeks.  The author has many other short books out which include side stories this post-apocalyptic utopia.  There are also a few books to where Rowe has moved all the erotica.  I’m not sure I’ll read any of those, except for one book I got at the sci fi convention which tells the account of how the tribe got started.  I’ll read that one after I finish this trilogy.  

Sunday, February 11, 2024

White Trash Warlock

David R Slayton
Completed 2/10/2024, Reviewed 2/10/2024
4 stars

I thought this book would be a light-hearted urban fantasy farce based on the title.  After the last book I read, I needed one.  But this turned out to be a very serious drama, featuring the struggles of a gay mage who grew up very poor in rural Oklahoma and goes to Denver to help his estranged brother out of a supernatural nightmare.  Despite being so serious, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It has action, suspense, and most of all, heart.  And it has a very interesting magic system along with the usual inhabitants of fantasy:  elves, leprechauns, gnomes, and reapers.

Adam Binder is a young gay man living with his great aunt, who is also a mage, in her trailer in Oklahoma.  He’s been searching for his father who he believes was a bad mage and disappeared when he was around ten.  The only clues he has are bad magical items that pop up from time to time.  Out of the blue, he gets a text from his brother Bobby, who is a doctor in Denver, to call him.  He tells Adam that something is wrong with his wife and only he can help.  So he makes the trek to Denver to find that she is being possessed by a gigantic evil force that floats over Denver like a huge black cloud.  Seeing this is beyond his powers, he reluctantly asks the elven Guardians for help battle this terrible menace.

The characters of Adam and Bobby, along with their mother, are very complex characters.  Turns out that Adam’s dad was very abusive.  Bobby, who is ten years older than Adam, was his protector, but Adam felt betrayed by him when he locked Adam up in an insane asylum for hearing voices.  The voices, of course, were the beginnings of Adam’s magical ability.  Their mother, a Bible-thumper, cosigned the documents to lock up the teenager.  After escaping at the age of eighteen, Adam escaped and left his mother and brother behind.  Now Adam is trying his best to learn magic skills while dealing with being gay in rural country, Bobby is a doctor who goes by Robert and lives with his wife in the ‘burbs, and their chain smoking, God fearing mother is staying with Robert to take care of his mysteriously ailing wife.  Needless to say, all the interactions of the family are difficult and tense.  

Adam’s one source of joy is Vic, a cop whose life he saved by slicing a piece of his soul and stitching it in the fatally shot cop.  Now they are connected in a mysterious way, and Adam finds that his attraction to Vic is reciprocated.  However, he doesn’t know how to deal with someone who actually likes him, second guessing that it is their magical connection that is causing Vic’s feelings.  

There are two elves who play key roles in this story, Argent, Queen of the Elves, and her brother Silver, who is a Prince.  They are also pretty complex characters who go from being stand-offish and otherworldly to pragmatic and friendly.  There are other aspects to their relationship with Adam, but revealing that would be a spoiler.

I was so impressed by these characters that I was able to empathize with all of them.  I also thought the worldbuilding was just terrific.  And if you know Denver, you will get some of the unnamed references, like the May clock tower, Casa Bonita, and the amusement park (although I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be Elitch’s or Lakeside).  On top of the corporeal setting was a magical realm which Adam traversed with the Elves.  The realm was not always welcoming of humans and Adam gets imprisoned there for a while.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  It was so much more amazing than I thought it would be.  The only thing that was lacking a little was the writing.  It felt very plain, as many books with a good amount of action often are.  But I could overlook this because the plot, the characters, and the world all came together in a fascinating and engrossing way.  This book was not as widely read as it should have been, but it did get a 2021 nomination for Sci Fi/Fantasy novel in the Colorado Book Awards.  I can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

The Gate to Women’s Country

Sherri S Tepper
Completed 2/4/2024, Reviewed 2/4/2024
2 stars

I did not like this book.  I found it extremely irritating.  It could be classed as ecofeminism, but I found it to be the most hateful book I’ve ever read.  It does create empathy for the main character, but none for hardly anyone else.  Almost every other character is unlikable, from the manipulating women to the violent men.  It creates a worst-case dystopian future of gender separatism and suspicion.  It almost felt like she was trying to one up “The Handmaid’s Tale” and failed.  I have read quite a bit of feminist science fiction and often find it to be worthwhile and rewarding no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel as a man.  This book only succeeds in turning off the reader.

The story begins with Stavia finding out her son has decided to turn his back on Women’s Country and stay with the all-male warriors who live outside the city.  It then jumps back in time to Stavia’s youth, where we learn more about the society in which she is being raised.  Women get to stay in Women’s Country, getting educated, learning science, skills, and arts.  Boys at the age of five are turned out, to be raised by the male warriors who protect the city.  At the age of fifteen, they must choose whether to stay with the men outside or rejoin the women inside.  The men who return also get education and help with the women’s society.  Twice a year, the warriors come into town at Carnival and have sex with the women in a party-like, socially condoned celebrations.  This is how new children are born.  Then the cycle begins again for the boy children while the girl children get encultured.

Around the time Stavia is twelve, the warriors outside the city believe that the women hold some kind of secret weapon and should be overthrown.  Women of course should not have weapons.  They should only be making more warriors.  So they send two young men to woo Stavia and her sister Myra and manipulate them romantically to get the secrets out of them.  Stavia and Myra are daughters of a Councilwoman for the city, so the warriors believe her daughters would know any secrets the mother has.  This leads to all sorts of trouble for Myra.  However, Stavia is a pretty clear-thinking girl, but she does make some bad decisions.  Her suitor-spy doesn’t try to have sex with her, but he does manipulate her into smuggling books out of the city, which is forbidden by ordinances.  This only whets the appetite of the warriors for more information.  The plot then follows the troubled relationship between Stavia and the young spy.

Assuming someone would like this story, there are technical problems with the book.  The first half of the book is very dull.  I thought the exploration of this society would be better than it was.  Instead, it was so slow in parts, I think I lost brain cells.  There is also a juxtaposition of a play about Iphigenia’s ghost returning to talk to Achilles and some some surviving woman from the battle of Troy.  Through most of the book, its inclusion does not make sense, other than talking about the futility of war.  It just makes for jarring interruptions in the story.  The prose is okay, but not good enough to really enliven the world building.  

One thing that really turned me off was the little aside that homosexuality was successfully bred out of the culture.  This aberration was found to be a hormone imbalance that could be eradicated through breeding manipulation.  My only thought at this point was “Fuck you, Miss Tepper!  You can take your homophobic nonsense and shove it where the sun don’t shine!”  I tried to recover my senses after reading that passage but never forgave Tepper.  Even when she has the characters captured by an inbred, Fundamentalist Mormon-like enclave, I still kept one foot out of letting myself enjoy the suspense of how they were going to escape.  And this was the one part of the book that actually had some decent pacing and excitement.

I liked one review I read that said this book was “gender essentialist, heterosexist, cissexist garbage.”  Yes, it is all that, and every page reinforces it.  Even the revelation of the big secret at the end couldn’t bring me to fully engage with the book.  If you’re looking to read a book that stays relevant to the oppression women feel today, read “The Handmaid’s Tale.”  Don’t read this.  I give it two stars out of five solely because I thought Stavia was a good character and actually two of the men within the city, Joshua and Corrig, were relatable and empathetic.  Without these three being written as they were, I would have given this book one star.