Review: “Cast In Shadow,” Michelle Sagara

Pros: Intense and emotional
Cons: Very occasionally confusing
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Kaylin is a Hawk, serving one of the three Lords of Law. The Lords are looking into a series of murders in which children are marked with odd script and then ritually sacrificed. Kaylin dealt with murders like these once before, when she was young and lived in the fief beyond the reach of the Lords. She knew the children who were sacrificed then, and dealt with tragedies of her own. She’d do anything to stop the current rash of murders–even if it means teaming up with Severn, whom she’s wanted to kill for his own role in her old tragedies. Kaylin is intimately tied to the murders, however. She has the same markings on her own arms, and yet they appeared there on their own–and she’s never been targeted by the killers. She also has strange powers of her own, powers that let her heal, but that she must keep carefully under wraps. The Hawk Lord protects her for some reason of his own, but she makes that hard on him–she’s stubborn, overly curious, and perpetually late to everything. She’s going to have to get her act together if she’s going to put a stop to the new round of murders.

 

Cast in Shadow, by Michelle Sagara, is book one of the Chronicles of Elantra. (It’s also available as part of the Chronicles of Elantra (Cast in Shadow / Cast in Courtlight / Cast in Secret) bundle.) I heard good things about the series and figured that for once I’d get to start at the beginning–I’m so glad that I did!

I love the characters in Cast in Shadow. They have depth, and flaws, and secrets. People have been hiding information about Kaylin from herself, but for once I understood why and didn’t find myself frustrated with this as a reader. Kaylin is impetuous and undisciplined, but I understood why the people around her tended to cut her some slack.

The worldbuilding is fantastic. The setting feels unique and fascinating. It’s detailed just enough to feel complete, without any ungainly infodumps to slow things down. The ecosystem of races and levels of society sucked me in and left me wanting more. There are plenty of mysteries to the world, such that I can easily imagine not growing tired of things through the rest of the series–I can’t wait to read the other books and find out if that holds true. On the one hand I wish I’d discovered this series before now, but at least this way I don’t have to wait before reading more installments in the series! I did occasionally find the descriptions of magic’s use slightly confusing, but this didn’t significantly detract from my enjoyment.

The plot dragged me in thoroughly. I had trouble tearing myself away from the pages even though I’ve been really restless lately, which I wholly appreciate. There are some serious moral dilemmas in here rather than easy black-and-white answers. I shed tears more than once, which always says great things about how emotionally engaging a book is. Time to put the next book on hold with my library!

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , ,

Review: “Storm Front,” Jim Butcher

Pros: Wild, weird, and fun
Cons: Mildly confusing at times
Rating: 4 out of 5

One advantage of the fact that I’m accepting fewer review books right now is that I’m finally getting around to reading certain books that I should have read long ago. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, for example. I saw the TV show, which I loved, so now it’s time to read the books–thankfully my library’s online collection has them (their collection sucks, so this was by no means assured). One thing I found interesting is that the descriptions of characters in Storm Front (Dresden Files book one) are good enough and ‘real’ enough that they overrode my pre-existing mental images that came from the TV series. That’s tough to accomplish and impressive.

The Dresden Files are about Harry Dresden, wizard-for-hire. In a world where most people think he’s crazy, a crank, or maybe some sort of children’s party entertainer, he takes on the cases other people can’t do much about. He doesn’t do love potions, and he certainly doesn’t do parties. He has to look over his shoulder the whole while, because he killed a man with magic once, and only the fact that it was done in self-defense saved his life. The White Council has given him only one chance: break one of the Laws of Magic again and die. Harry also acts as a consultant for the police from time to time, and in Storm Front he’s looking into the deaths of a mob-connected man and the escort he was spending the night with–deaths in which their hearts exploded out of their chests. No one should be able to wield that kind of doom from a distance. Blend that with someone who’s trying to kill Harry; the fact that Murphy, Harry’s favorite detective, is asking him for information that would put her in danger; and there’s a new drug on the street that open’s a person’s Third Eye. Harry will be lucky if he can make it through the day, much less survive the experience wholesale.

 

Paranoid? Probably. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face.

I’m not even sure where to begin. We dive right off into Harry’s crazy world, in which there are demons and fairies, dark magic and light. Yet even he struggles to pay his bills. He has to deal with a sarcastic air spirit, a very independent giant housecat, a pissed-off police contact, and the temptation that is dark magic. He manages to get himself into all sorts of messes, getting attacked by mysterious assailants, hunted by a demon when he’s supposed to be on a rare date, ending up on the bad side of a mob boss, and even hanging from a balcony by a handcuff while fires rage overhead. Just when you think his sad-sack self can’t sink any lower, he screws himself over even further or falls prey to another bout of bad luck. It’s almost painful seeing how many times he can be brought low before he figures out what’s going on and flails like crazy trying to fix things.

It creates a wonderful dynamic, supported and reinforced by some fantastic secondary characters. Even the ones that seem one-note turn out to have more to them (notably Morgan, Harry’s ‘minder’ from the White Council, who’s determined to bring him down). In particular I love Lieutenant Murphy, Harry’s detective friend. She’s a marvelous balance of strong personality traits, some of which are at odds with one another in interesting ways.

Magic is a wild, weird, quirky thing, and it has a unique feel to it in Dresden’s world (I’ve seen other authors who’ve tried to copy that feel, usually without great success). It’s hard not to love a wizard who ends up running around in sweatpants and cowboy boots due to several calamities in series, and whose hair is usually stuck out at an unglamorous angle. I look forward to seeing more of Harry falling afoul of both bad luck and bad guys, while trying in his usual half-assed fashion to protect all of those he cares about.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , , ,

Review: “Black Swan, White Raven,” ed. Datlow and Windling

Pros: Lovely fairy tales for adults
Cons: As with nearly all anthologies, quality and tone waver
Rating: 4 out of 5

Review e-book provided by Open Road Integrated Media
Expected release date: September 30, 2014

 

The concept behind Black Swan, White Raven is simple and beautiful: creative re-tellings of fairy tales by modern authors. These are not meant to be children’s stories. Many of them depict sex, violence, and other subjects you wouldn’t want to read to your children – just like the original fairy tales.

Fairy tales have a sort of fundamental appeal. They’re stories of love and loss, revenge and justice, royalty and peasantry, mundanity and magic. Some have a moral; others are told to explain natural events. Many started out as popular folk tales. Most address what happens when ordinary people meet up with the world of the extraordinary.

The fairy tales found in “Black Swan, White Raven” run the creative gamut of modern fairy-tale-telling. Some are old tales re-written in a modern light. Others are traditional fairy tales told from a new and interesting point of view. Still others take the core kernel of story from a fairy tale and make it something… new, and uniquely different. Many of the stories play with popular fairy tales such as Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel, while others play with less-well-known stories. A couple I didn’t recognize – whether because the allusions were particularly subtle, or because it’s been too long since I read the relevant tale, I’m uncertain. As always, with so many wildly different stories by very different authors, you’re almost guaranteed to find at least one or two stories that don’t amaze you. But then, that’s a problem inherent in any anthology.

A Few Story Samples

There are 21 new and different pieces in here, including a couple of poems. Anne Bishop, author of “The Black Jewels Trilogy,” has a story in here, and she didn’t disappoint in the least. I’m not quite as enamored of the poems, somehow – they just didn’t have the emotional or intellectual impact that some of the stories did.

“Snow in Dirt” is a very unusual “Sleeping Beauty” variant by Michael Blumlein, set in a modern/slightly futuristic world of fashion models and anti-aging drugs. For once we get to find out what Sleeping Beauty is like after she wakes up, and what sort of prince it takes to care for her. A very odd story of love, in which I didn’t particularly like most of the characters, yet enjoyed their story anyway.

“Riding the Red” by Nalo Hopkinson is obviously a “Red Riding Hood” tale. It takes the traditional view of RRH as a tale of emerging sexuality, but told in a wonderful voice by the grandmother of the tale, who had her own encounter with the wolf many years ago. “No Bigger than my Thumb” is by the inimitable Esther Friesner, who has written some very odd and humorous books. In this case, however, she tells a very dark tale revolving around a trio of witches – and not-quite-Thumbelina. The ending of this one actually gave me a bit of a shudder.

Joyce Carol Oates contributes “In the Insomniac Night,” one of the most ambiguous and disturbing stories in this volume. It tells of a modern, divorced mother of two, who’s trying to be a responsible mother and live her own life, all at the same time. I’ll let you decide whether there’s really anything supernatural about this story, and who the “bad guy” is. Or maybe, like me, you’ll just be left with your head spinning.

“The Trial of Hansel and Gretel,” by Gary Kilworth, will make you re-think a great deal of that old tale of children captured by a witch. This story, like several of the others, capitalizes on a couple of unexplained details in the old stories in order to suggest that all is not as it seems. And you’ll certainly get a very different view of these two cunning children.

“Rapunzel” is Anne Bishop’s entry into this book. This is the first story that brought tears to my eyes (but not the last). It’s told in three parts. The first is told by Rapunzel’s mother, and will give you a very different view of the beginning of this story. The second is told by the witch, and the third by Rapunzel. Each one is new and different, and full of rich emotion, just like Bishop’s books. This story, like some old fairy tales, is very up-front about its messages and its moralities, but the beautiful, clear fairy-tale tone prevents it from feeling preachy.

“Sparks,” by Gregory Frost, is my other favorite from this book. It’s a modern version of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Tinder Box,” with those oh-so-familiar huge dogs with their saucer-like eyes. This time it involves an ex-soldier-turned-private detective, an old witch-woman, a corrupt politician with a beautiful daughter, and a Zippo lighter. The story is told from the ex-soldier’s point of view, and his observations and voice are what really make the story come alive.

 

That should give you something of an idea of what you might find in this book. I definitely enjoyed it, and there are certain stories in here (most notably “Sparks” and “Rapunzel”) which I expect to read over and over again. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fairy tales – particularly the old ones, not written for children.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , ,

Review: “Thunderhead,” Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Pros: Enjoyable archaeology thriller
Cons: Stock characters; no real surprises
Rating: 3 out of 5

Archaeologist Nora Kelly has found an old letter from her father, one that indicates he’d found the lost Anasazi city of Quivira, the fabled city of gold. Using his notes and the help of a scientist, she finds a trail that should lead her right to the city. That’s enough to convince the head of her institute to put together an expedition–but other than that scientist who helped her, and her as head of the expedition, he gets to pick all of her compatriots. He’s able to get the absolute luminaries in their fields, which is a plus, but it’s a quarrelsome bunch she has to put up with. Meanwhile, someone seems to be dogging Nora’s heels, trying to steal the letter her father sent, or perhaps do something even worse. Nora has to find her mythical city, keep her companions alive and working together, and somehow escape the predations of some very mysterious and evil forces.

 

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Thunderhead is a fairly by-the-books archaeological thriller. This isn’t to say it’s bad; if that’s the genre you’re in the mood for, it’ll satisfy. It ticks off all the right suspense boxes, kicking the danger in early and ratcheting it up at regular intervals. There are plenty of discoveries and setbacks, new friendships and new enmities.

There are only two real downsides. One is that most of the characters are stock characters, stereotypes. (Ahh, the rugged cowboy horse-wrangler with a heart of gold.) There are some exceptions to that however, so that isn’t a huge problem. Other than that, there just aren’t many surprises here. Because it sticks carefully to expected parameters, there’s never any real doubt as to who will succeed, who won’t, who’ll die, who won’t, etc. There are only minor variations on a theme rather than any real shockers. All the pieces of the whole are appropriate, fun, and suspenseful, if not overly thrilling.

I did for a brief time see enough chemistry between two female characters that I dared to hope the authors might do something surprising with a relationship there, but alas, it was not to be.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , ,

Review: “A Touch of Crimson,” Sylvia Day

Pros: Decent basics
Cons: Almost everything else
Rating: 1 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

Adrian Mitchell is an angel tasked with policing fallen angels. When he sees Lindsay, he knows immediately that she was born with the soul of Shadoe–his long-time lover–inside of her. He sweeps her up into his world, only to find out she’s already there: she has unusual abilities and has been using them to hunt vampires since childhood. Someone is trying to force the vampires and seraphim to go to war, maneuvering the leaders of each side into blaming each other for a series of deaths and illnesses. Meanwhile, Shadoe’s father, Syre, the first of the Fallen, must find her in order to finish making her immortal by turning her into a vampire. Lindsay and Adrian’s love seems destined to become a casualty of war.

 

Sylvia Day’s A Touch of Crimson: A Renegade Angels Novel is the start of a series. On the whole it’s a fairly average erotic paranormal romance. When I got into the details, however, I liked it less.

I think of Adrian as a Slab O’Man. He doesn’t seem to have a lot to him beyond that, physically and personality-wise. Lindsay is somewhat more interesting, as is Elijah, her lycan bodyguard, but the other seraphim are even sketchier than Adrian and seriously lacking in personality. I often felt as though the characters were posing for the reader instead of behaving naturally.

There are some frustrating character point-of-view oddities. Early on we’re seeing things from Lindsay’s perspective, although in the third person. Some vital information was left out of this part of the narrative just to make a revelation surprising a little while later. Since we had supposedly been getting Lindsay’s PoV, this felt like a cheap cheat. Just make the revelation earlier and own it, for heaven’s sake.

I have a real problem with plots that rely on someone having decided to “punish” a being by making them more powerful and/or more dangerous to all of those around them. It can work in stories with a certain mythical, fairy-tale feel, but A Touch of Crimson is about as far from that sort of feel as possible. Angels aren’t wild and mythical; they’re soldiers with wings. Thus, the fact that angels were turned into Vampires when they fell–Vampires who feed on humans and can spread vampirism to humans–vampires the angels aren’t really supposed to kill because that negates the punishment aspect… that’s just plain bad plotting.

And now for the quote that really gets me:

Lindsay shook her head. “No.”

Adrian’s features lit with a glorious smile. He twisted swiftly and she found herself beneath him …

“I know what it means when you say that,” he murmured.

Yes, by all means, let’s put a scene into a romance that indicates that the man not only knows better than the woman does what she means when she says “no,” but feels it appropriate to act on his imagined “yes” rather than her spoken “no.” WTF. There are better ways to produce a dynamic where Lindsay is reluctant-but-wanting and Adrian draws her out, that don’t imply that it’s not only okay but desirable for a man to decide he knows better than a woman what she really wants in bed, and to act on that without her agreement.

There are a few similar tidbits. There’s also a set of decisions later on–one by Lindsay and one by Shadoe–that get made ridiculously easily given what each of them would have to pay for her decision. (I’m not specifying further to avoid spoilers.)

I was going to give this book a 2 out of 5, but honestly that bit about ‘no’ meaning ‘yes’ pisses me off enough that I’m demoting the book to a 1 out of 5.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Review: “Altar of Eden,” James Rollins

Pros: Rollicking good time
Cons:
Rating: 4 out of 5

Lorna is a veterinarian and researcher in Louisiana, and she’s called up to assist in the investigation of an unusual exotic animal smuggling case. All of the animals display throwback characteristics. The parrot has no feathers. The large, white feline cub is beginning to grow in saber teeth… and its mama is missing from the beached boat. Jack needs Lorna’s help in tracking the large, unusually intelligent, extremely dangerous cat before it starts killing. And Lorna needs to figure out what makes these animals so unusual, and why someone has made them so.

 

James Rollins’s Altar of Eden has a fascinating setup, but then I’m a sucker for bio-thrillers, particularly ones involving genetic experimentation, animals, the works. I also enjoyed Jack and Lorna as characters, including their complicated past and their burgeoning feelings for one another. The search for the big cat provides immediate danger and tension; Lorna cares about trying to capture rather than kill it, but not to a ridiculous or unsafe extent, which is nice.

The villains work out well. One of them provides the unredeemingly nasty bad guy for us to hate, but he’s also smart and has some depth to him, which is nice. The other villains provide a more nuanced and slightly ambiguous enemy, repulsive in some ways but potentially redeemable in others, which makes them interesting. Lorna and Jack find themselves in different dangerous situations as the plot progresses; neither of them is passive in the plot, and there are plenty of genetic and biological plot twists to keep things exciting and interesting.

If you enjoy bio-thrillers and genetic experimentation novels, James Rollins’s Altar of Eden is a good choice. It’s fun, interesting, tense, and engaging.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , ,

Non-Review: “Dead Witch Walking,” Kim Harrison

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

I do a “non-review” when I couldn’t finish a book. I won’t review it on Amazon or GoodReads, but I don’t mind telling you here why I chose not to finish. If there’s one thing I’ve found over the years, it’s that there are too many good books to spend my time finishing a book that I can’t get into.

Rachel is a witch and a sort of bounty hunter for the Inderland Security agency. They bring in criminal non-humans. She has a contract with them, and they’re rumored to kill off anyone who breaks a contract–but her job has become miserable. She’s had a run of bad luck and been given crap jobs. She’s pretty sure they’ll be happy to be rid of her rather than upset that she’s leaving. So, she and a couple of co-workers decide to strike out on their own. Only problem is, Ivy is one of the best agents the IS has–they really don’t want to lose her, and they blame Rachel for the loss.

Dead Witch Walking is book one of The Hollows. Normally I like it when the first book in a series has references to previous events–it gives the world a lived-in feel and gives depth to the characters. In this case it’s way overdone, and just makes the beginning of the book confusing.

There are some ungainly info-dumps in here. There’s a discourse on how vampires work early on. Later there’s a sudden dump of history involving a bio-engineered virus that wiped out much of humanity. It’s extremely jarring; up until that moment the book has presented the standard urban fantasy setting, and a big ol’ bio-tech plot comes seemingly out of nowhere. The extended info-dump makes it feel all the more jarring because it sets it apart from the story so far.

After reading a bunch of high-stakes books recently with lots of danger and imminent death, the stakes in this one feel off. Rachel risks getting assassinated for breaking her contract because her job sucks. I can buy her risking quite a bit to leave, but death? Seriously? I just can’t see it. The first assignment that we see Rachel involved in isn’t bad enough to justify it. Poor her, she’s in a dive bar getting hit on by annoying guys, backed up by an annoying pixie, bringing in a lowly leprechaun. There are plenty of jobs in the world that are riskier, more boring, more exasperating. It makes her come across as whiny.

Finally, I didn’t like any of the characters. They’re all floridly stereotypical and overblown. Rachel dumps a drink on a guy for no better reason than that he hit on her by sending her a free drink in a bar, for heaven’s sake–and I’m supposed to like her?! I really hope I missed something important there.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , ,

Review: “The Hammer of Eden,” Ken Follett

Pros: Surprisingly engrossing bad guys
Cons: Predictable
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Priest and Star just want to remain in their commune/winery. Unfortunately, they’re being evicted from their leased land by a government that wants to build power stations. Priest, who has a very shady history, decides the way to save his home is by forcing the Governor to put a freeze on all power station projects. To that end, he creates a fake organization called the Hammer of Eden, and threatens to create an earthquake if he doesn’t get what he wants. Thanks to the knowledge and interests of some of his neighbors at the commune, he’s pretty sure he can accomplish this–as long as he steals some specialized equipment and some technical data. Then he just has to avoid capture and keep his little band of idealists together–even though what he has planned could kill thousands of people.

 

Ken Follett’s The Hammer of Eden is a fairly straightforward story in which the FBI goes up against some rather unconventional terrorists who are using an unexpected and unlikely threat to try to achieve their goals. I was never quite sure how Priest’s plan was supposed to work, mind you–his idea was that the moment the project was put on hold they’d be allowed to stay at their winery/commune. Given the rate at which government bureaucracy moves, however, I’d think that getting their eviction from their leased land reversed would take more than that. (They were literally running up against their deadline to leave by the end.) So I have some doubts that there was really any point to his plans in the first place, but oh well.

I found Priest to be a fascinating character. He had lots of depth, and it was easy to get wrapped up in what he was doing, even if you didn’t want him to succeed. That’s really tough for a writer to accomplish. I also found Star, one of his accomplices, to have some nice nuance to her. Unfortunately Follett didn’t accomplish the same with the rest of his characters–most strikingly, his FBI good guys. The good-guy-bad-guys (i.e., the higher-ups at the FBI who inevitably try to screw with Judy, the main ‘good guy’ FBI character) are incredibly one-dimensional, stupid, and nasty; there’s no hint of the abilities or judgment that got them to where they were. Priest was well-drawn enough that other flat characters stand out. As for Judy, well, she was interesting I guess, but she didn’t engage me as much as Priest did. Nor did her romantic interest, a rather rude seismologist.

The earthquake plan kept things somewhat fresh and interesting and injected unusual obstacles into the plot. However, all of those twists and turns played out in a very predictable fashion. I never felt much doubt, surprise, or tension as to what might ultimately happen–the thriller didn’t entirely thrill me.

All in all this could be an interesting beach read if it’s the sort of story you’re in the mood for, but it isn’t great.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: ,

Review: “Predictably Irrational,” Dan Ariely

Pros: Fascinating, sometimes frightening look at irrational human behavior
Cons: Kind of florid in places
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Visit DanAriely.com for more information.

 

We all like to believe that our choices are rational, that we’ve weighed our options and chosen logically. In Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Dan Ariely shows us all of the ways–the oddly predictable ways–in which we make decisions irrationally. I suspect that a lot of people will be sure that this doesn’t apply to them, so I hope you’ll all consider giving this book a read–it could help you to get a better handle on your decision-making, and to make more rational decisions. Not that we’ll ever totally be free of the emotional underpinnings of our decisions, but every little bit of awareness helps.

Ariely includes a fascinating discussion on ‘free!’ and how it affects our buying decisions. That word has a disproportionate affect on our habits, even when it arguably shouldn’t. He includes the details of many experiments, with hard numbers to prove his points. I was also interested by the idea of ‘price anchors’–the initial price that we associate with something strongly affects how we view subsequent alterations in price.

One of my favorite discussions involved ‘market norms’ vs. ‘social norms’. We judge things very differently based on which set of norms we’re applying, and the presence/absence (or even suggestion) of money can cause us to switch which set of norms we’re using. A lawyer might be perfectly willing to donate (free) services to retirees, where he’d be unwilling to provide them with a discount, because the action is judged by an entirely different set of criteria. Where it’s considered nice and appropriate to bring a hostess gift of a bottle of wine to dinner, the host would be insulted if you instead gave them an equivalent amount of money–because you’re taking the transaction out of the realm of social norms and into the realm of market norms. This lesson can be applied to a huge number of interactions, with repercussions, for example, in the world of customer service.

There are so many fascinating, nuanced topics Ariely dives into: procrastination, the placebo effect, pricing, trust as a public resource, dishonesty and cheating. He doesn’t just describe the oddly predictable irrationalities involved in our decision making. He also suggests ways in which we might mitigate effects, promote our awareness of what we’re doing, or even use our irrationalities to our advantage. It can only help to become aware of why we’re doing what we’re doing, and the odd factors that affect or even dictate our choices.

Our irrational behaviors are neither random nor senseless–they are systematic and predictable.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , ,

Review: “February Thaw,” Tanya Huff

Pros: Stellar!
Cons:
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

February Thaw is another relatively short, inexpensive ebook anthology of Tanya Huff short stories. And much like He Said, Sidhe Said and (especially) Swan’s Braid, it is worth every penny and then some.

February Thaw: Persephone has had a fight with her husband, Hades, and gone home to her mother, Demeter. Spring has come unfortunately early, and Demeter isn’t happy to have her relaxing winter cut short. She’s going to have to have words with that son-in-law of hers if she wants things to go back to their almost-happy normal. The Greek gods have always been good for extremely human melodrama, and the nature of the marital spat is just fantastic. Demeter, in particular, is a breath of fresh air.

Burning Bright: A young woman finds out she isn’t what she thinks she is… and she wants to go back to being just a young woman. It’ll take all of the wizards in the world–minus the one who died, of course–to figure out how to replicate the feat that made her human in the first place. I love the two young women who star in this one. Their friendship crosses wonderful boundaries in quirky ways.

“A group of wizards together is called an argument.”
“Like a flock of geese?”
“Amazingly similar.”

When the Student is Ready: This tale is sort of a follow-on to the previous one, although taking part in a different part of the world with almost entirely different characters. A young woman is becoming the next wizard, and that puts her in great danger until she gets her powers under control. Coming to her rescue is the unlikely figure of a rambling, addled homeless man who’s willing to take her on as his apprentice–if he can keep his thoughts together long enough. It’s a wizard’s apprentice story unlike any other I’ve read, with delightful characters and an awesome talking crow.

Jack is a modern-day adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk in which Jack trades a leather jacket for three magic guitar picks, and then tries to save a pretty young singer from a fate worse than death. Jack and his band buddies are hilarious, and I love the quandary the woman finds herself in and how she reacts to it.

Symbols are a Percussion Instrument: A busy and thoroughly modern woman gets dragged into a psychic reading by a friend. When she refuses to stick around for the reading, however, the cards get heavy-handed about delivering their messages. She needs to figure out how to reach beyond the everyday for the meaning of symbolism if she’s going to sidestep a potentially nasty ending. Not only is this a delightfully whimsical and funny story, but there was enough tension to really grip me, which is hard to do in a story this abstract! Huff brought it to life marvelously.

Shing Li-ung: This is a beautiful story of cultural heritage and magical protection that brought tears to my eyes. A young woman is given a mysterious talisman by her dying grandmother, but her brother may need the protection much more than she does.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Team: Sam is a camera operator at the Olympics, and she starts seeing competitors who aren’t on the program and don’t match any nation she’s ever heard of. Before long she’s taking it nearly in stride, but there’s one event left: basketball. And the fairies don’t plan to let the winner of the final game go unchallenged. On the surface this isn’t my usual type of story, but it’s handled so well through Sam’s choleric nature that it… just works.

 

I’m having so much fun catching up with Tanya Huff’s short stories in her ebook anthologies. I hope she keeps producing them!

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Stuff for Gamers

Take a look at the shirts-n-things in our stuff for gamers store.

Archives