Review: “The City of Mirrors,” Justin Cronin

Pros: The worldbuilding and characterization are wonderful
Cons: Pacing suffers
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Justin Cronin’s The City of Mirrors: A Novel (Passage Trilogy) is the sequel to The Passage and The Twelve. In book one, scientists created a race of deadly “virals” using twelve death-row inmates and inadvertently ended the world. 97 years later, some pockets of humanity had survived. In book two, viral-but-not Amy and her allies put an end to The Twelve, leaving only Zero, once Tim Fanning, left of the original virals. Now Fanning’s Many are coming awake. He’s ready to push toward Kerrville, Texas, and he’s ready to take on Amy. It’s the year 122 A.V., and most people believe the virals are gone. The residents of Kerrville have spread out into the countryside where they won’t be safe. Michael has been obsessively working to restore the ship he found, with the hopes of saving a mere 700 people. Somehow Amy and her companions need to figure out how to end Fanning, before he ends the human race.

The pacing of the trilogy takes a gut shot in this volume, so be prepared. A very large section backtracks all the way to Fanning’s college days, where he met Jonas and Liz. This is extremely well-written, and actually rather fascinating, but kind of jerks the narrative to a halt. Also, we know pretty much from the early parts of book one that the human race must survive in some part, since some of the narrative comes in the form of things presented at a conference in 1003 A.V. The epilogue of this volume does introduce us to that future, and it’s an unusually long and low-key narrative. Things seem awfully familiar for being 1000 years in the future, but I guess it’s hard to say what would happen if you had to rebuild society instead of building it fresh, so who can say?

Like book two, I’m leaving you with a content warning for rape, although in this case it’s largely the aftermath of the rape of an adolescent girl. Since at some point the narrative leaps forward to 122 A.V., all of our familiar faces have grown older, and there’s a new generation of kids in the picture. There are plenty of people to imperil once things pick up about halfway through.

You’ll find plenty of the character- and worldbuilding you’ve come to expect from this series in here. Even the virals are a bit different, since Fanning seems to have a more finely-tuned control over them. He’s much more human than the Twelve were, and while he’s a bit mad after all these years, it doesn’t feel like the stereotypical insane bad guy at all. All that narrative background gets put to good use–he’s layered and three-dimensional, and all too easy to pity at times.

This isn’t my favorite volume in the trilogy; I definitely got a bit impatient with the early bits, and the epilogue meandered a bit. But the story is so vivid and alive that it’s still a wonderful tale.

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Recipe: Lamb Shank and Lentil Stew with Collard Greens

I started subscribing to the Imperfect Produce box (see this post), and this week’s box came with a big ol’ bunch of collard greens. I decided to use them to make a lamb shank and lentil stew with collard greens.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 1 bunch collard greens, stems removed and tossed, leaves chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder or chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 cups stock (I used mushroom)
  • 3 cups water
  • 3/4 cup green lentils
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • salt to taste

Brown 2 lamb shanks in olive oil and remove from pan.

Wilt 1 bunch chopped collard greens with 1 teaspoon minced garlic in olive oil. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon chipotle or chili powder, 1 teaspoon coriander, and 2 teaspoons cumin.

Add 2 c stock (I used mushroom) and 3 c water and bring to a simmer. Add 3/4 c green lentils and both lamb shanks. Simmer for 45 minutes. Skim foam and fat off of the top from time to time.

Remove each lamb shank, cut the meat from the bone, cut into chunks, and toss back into the soup.

Add a 15 oz can of tomato sauce and heat through. Salt to taste.

Lamb Stew

Lamb Stew

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Review: “The Twelve,” Justin Cronin

Pros: Such an intricate world
Rating: 5 out of 5

Justin Cronin’s The Twelve (Book Two of The Passage Trilogy): A Novel picks up five years after the end of The Passage, in 97 A.V. Amy, Alicia, and Peter, among others, are living in Texas. Then the narrative drops back to year zero, where we find out what happened to Grey and Lila, and we’re introduced to Horace Guilder, a government bureaucrat who has very personal reasons for wanting the virus to work. We meet two of Alicia’s ancestors, and then we hop to 79 A.V. to witness a pivotal historical moment and some background for what’s going on in 97 A.V. Finally we settle back into 97 A.V., where Amy seems to make contact with Wolgast, who sends her after Carter, the one of the Twelve who’s most reluctant about being what he is. Meanwhile, it turns out Sara and some others believed dead are alive and living in “The Homeland,” a despotic compound in Iowa run by a mysterious Director and his red-eyed henchmen. They seem to have some sort of “arrangement” with the virals, who not only leave them alone but sometimes seem to work for the Director’s people, particularly a mysterious–and very crazy–woman.

Some of the seesawing back and forth between time periods in the beginning gets a little confusing, but once we settle into 97 A.V. it all coalesces and makes sense again. There’s a lot going on, but I never felt like anything in here got overly random or unnecessarily complex. Various groupings of the characters come together, reassemble, part, and come together again. Alicia, now a type of viral similar to Amy, gets sent on some dangerous assignments by the Expeditionary. Peter ends up guarding Michael’s caravan, which encounters the mysterious cloaked woman and her ‘pet’ virals. Amy and Greer–now her familiar–set out on their own to find Carter, while Amy goes through a transformation.

I’m glad that thanks to Lacey’s story in the first book, it’s been established that the hand of God directing events is a very real and likely possibility in here. It helps to keep the coincidences from getting out of hand. If that ‘guiding hand’ philosophy hadn’t been established, I wouldn’t have been able to suspend disbelief for the number of people who get mysteriously reunited. I am a little mystified by the author’s treatment of pregnancy and motherhood as a kind of magical thing. Women seem to just ‘know’ what gender their unborn child is, and one person immediately recognizes her child, who was taken from her at birth, after nearly five years.

In between major sections there’s a panel that includes notes as to what year it is. If you’re reading the Kindle edition, you may find that these are rendered extremely small on the page. I had to take off my glasses and squint to figure it out. Make sure you don’t miss these things, or you’ll get very confused.

Amy seems much more human in this book, which I appreciate. She was too much of an enigma at first, which made sense after 92 years of solitude but didn’t work for me so well in year zero, when she was a somewhat-normal girl. Now she’s had five years of interacting with other people, and it shows.

I’m providing a content warning for rape. Martínez’s defining dream/memory is of a rape, and one character is captured by bad guys and subjected to some terrible abuses.

It’s nice that we get some closure on what happened to Wolgast, although how it happened is a bit of a mystery. Homeland is a bit more of a stereotypical post-apocalyptic society in some ways, but more interesting in that it’s had nearly 100 years to grow into what it is. That helps to give it a bit more depth.

I’m very much looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy!

Sorry, we made vampires; it seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Review: “The Passage,” Justin Cronin

Pros: LONG and fascinating tale
Rating: 5 out of 5

Justin Cronin’s The Passage: A Novel (Book One of The Passage Trilogy) covers a lot of genre background, from paranormal to horror, sci-fi to bio-thriller, apocalyptic to post-apocalyptic. Government-run Project NOAH seeks to use a mysterious virus to lengthen human life, cure cancer, and more. Unfortunately, what they really seem to have done is create a hive-mind vampire race, using death-row inmates as their test subjects. They decide that they need to see what will happen if they infect a child with the virus, and they assign Agent Wolgast to bring Amy Belafonte to their base. He decides he can’t do it, but it’s too late to back out now. Even before the virus, though, Amy is something “more”. She seems to know things she shouldn’t, and animals respond to her in strange ways. The more virals that are created, the stronger the hive-mind gets–something has to break.

I watched the first ten episodes of the TV series based on this trilogy before I read the book, so I will make a few comparisons. The one thing I liked better about the TV show so far is that Amy seems more… human. In the book Amy’s pretty much just an enigma until late in the book, despite the fact that we see a lot more of her childhood in here. One thing I like better about the book, however, is the fact that Amy has something paranormally “special” about her from the start–whereas she gets called “special” in the TV series, that’s more about her personality: warmth and strength. Her unusual abilities to start with in the book make her transition into an unusual being seem to have more basis in reality.

The opening of the book made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end:

Before she became the Girl from Nowhere–the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years–she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Bellafonte.

The book is quite long! The ten episodes so far in the TV series, even though they seem to cover a lot of ground, only take us to one-third of the way through the first book of the trilogy! Clearly there will be plenty of material for an extensive TV show, should they continue it. As is probably evident by how long the book is, it isn’t all tense chases and fights and fleeing. There are some extensive almost-but-not-quite stream-of-consciousness pieces exploring the world through the eyes of various characters. Several sections are excerpts from journals. There’s some society-building passages as we encounter various post-apocalyptic groups; because the book skips the time immediately after things go south, we get to see these societies already established, rather than retreading ground covered in so many other books. There is, however, plenty of action–particularly toward the end things get awfully tense. The only part that I felt didn’t get quite enough detail was Amy’s fight with the virus. It seemed strangely elided for such an important turning point.

There are one or two details that bugged me slightly. It’s hard to believe that gas would still be viable after nearly a hundred years. I’ve read enough other apocalyptics in which the limited lifespan of gas was a factor that it just didn’t work for me in here. Most of the material worked for me, though. In particular, the vampires are new and different in how they work.

The Twelve were the blood running below the skin of all things in the world at that time.

I’m really looking forward to reading the next two books and watching more of the TV show!

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Review: “Fungi,” ed. Orrin Grey, Sylvia Moreno-Garcia

Pros: Some fascinating surreal bits of horror
Cons: More whimsy than I would have liked
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I’m fond of “cosmic horror,” and a fungal-themed anthology posted under the horror genre sounded right up my alley. While I enjoyed Fungi (edited by Orrin Grey and Sylvia Moreno-Garcia), it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. Quite a few stories were more whimsical in nature and seemed to have little of horror to them. As is frequently true of anthologies, which are of necessity put together to someone else’s scheme and preferences, you’re unlikely to enjoy all of the tales equally. Mild content warning for self-harm, all sorts of methods of death, and some slurs.

The book starts off well with John Langan’s Hyphae, in which John goes home to find out how his father is doing now that his mother has left. Though the place seems perfectly clean, it gives off a horrific stench. When John follows this to the basement and a tunnel dug out into the earth, you know things can’t possibly end well. This one was short, bizarre, and creepy, just the way I like ’em. A little later in the book, Kristopher Reisz’s The Pilgrims of Parthen involves a strange mushroom that’s started popping up. It enables people to visit a mysterious, seemingly uninhabited city, and users become obsessed with finding out the city’s secrets. I also liked Goatsbride, by Richard Gavin. It tells the tale of a dying old god and what happens when invaders come to his land. One of my favorites in here was Laird Barron’s Gamma. It’s a very unusual road to telling a tale of the fungal takeover of the world, and it made me shudder. Cordyceps Zombii, by Ann K. Schwader, is an elegant and intriguing poem.

“Parthen can’t be conquered. You have to love her.”

Paul Tremblay’s Our Stories Will Live Forever involves a man who’s afraid of flying who takes an ill-fated flight. The man next to him gives him something, saying, “take this if you want to live.” This is a fascinating story with an intriguing run-on style. A.C. Wise’s Where Dead Men Go to Dream sees Jonah going to a woman who “sells dreams” in order to find out what happened to his missing lover, and the results are fascinating. Daniel Mills’s Dust from a Dark Flower tells us a tale of a 1700s village in which gravestones have started to disintegrate precipitously into spores, and the spores aren’t content to stop there. The Shaft through the Middle of It All, by Nick Mamatas, explores a bit of vengeance wrought by a woman when her community garden gets torn down for a gentrification project. Note that the main character does refer to some characters by slurs, although it seems that this is a case of characterization rather than author editorialization.

The second story, Lavie Tidhar’s The White Hands, totally jarred me. The atmosphere was about as different as you could get from the first tale, and it isn’t my cup of tea. It’s a collection of… maybe encyclopedia entries? It details various organisms and events and places, gradually laying out a strange world in which the “Human-Fungi Accord of 945” seems to have been followed by quite a few years of strange events, like a pirate captain (half-human, half-fungus) called “Scarlet Hood,” and the rise of a deadly empire. It’s… interesting. Camille Alexa’s His Sweet Truffle of a Girl struck me similarly. In it, Morel has created, through the abilities of Dr. Crimini, a living, organic, puffball submersible. His goal is to impress the father of Amanita, the girl he loves–only the maiden voyage doesn’t go as planned. Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington wrote Tubby McMungus, Fat from Fungus. The main characters are cats, a rat, and some bats, and Tubby himself is a merkin-maker (a maker of pubic wigs). A wager results in Tubby stealing some strange materials to make the very best merkin out of, resulting in terrible consequences. Yes, cats with pubic wigs. I don’t even know what to say. I’ll give it to the authors–this has to be the most creative tale in here, and that’s saying something.

Andrew Penn Romine’s Last Bloom on the Sage was in-between for me. It’s a depiction of “the spore-changed West”, where Duke Winchester is working with tentacled beyonder Legs McGraw to rob a train. It has a touch of horror to it, but it’s still kind of whimsical and humorous. Jeff VanderMeer’s Corpse Mouth and Spore Nose is another in-between: it’s definitely creepy, but the ending is fairly silly. Still, the writing style drew me in. A Monster in the Midst, by Julio Toro and Sam Martin, involves a man and his automata tracking down the source of a globe-spanning fungal infection. It has a bit of that larger-than-life steampunk vibe to it, and it feels incompatible with the style of horror I was looking for. Chadwick Ginther’s First They Came for the Pigs sees a wealthy man trying to hire people to deal with the fact that all of his people are turning up killed by fungal growths. He goes with several men underneath the city, where he comes face-to-face with something awful. Ian Rogers’s Out of the Blue sees a real estate agent for haunted properties teaming up with a detective who works on supernatural cases. This story is a bit predictable, but fun to read–and it hints at a wider world that I’d like to read about.

Steve Berman’s Kum, Raúl (The Unknown Terror) is a nice tale of a fungal terror in Mexico, but the presentation is dry and straightforward, robbing it of that frisson of horror. I enjoyed the not-so-horrific tale of Wild Mushrooms, by Jane Hartenstein, in which a cancer-stricken mushroom hunter goes into the woods to die, but it felt like it sort of stumbled to a halt. It’s nice and poignant, however. Lisa M. Bradley’s The Pearl in the Oyster and the Oyster Under Glass pulled me in, but I’m still not sure what to make of it. Main character Art is a bear? Or not a bear but wants to be a bear? Or not a bear but a phantom bear? Anyway, the tale involves cleaning up an oil spill using mushrooms. It’s kind of surreal, but it does avoid being excessively random, which tends to be a peril of surreal writing. Go Home Again, by Simon Strantzas, is an odd tale of a young woman coming to terms with her father’s death and her mother’s disappearance. It feels like it could have been pared down a little, but it’s an interesting read.

Some of the stories read like the authors decided to try out some hallucinatory mushrooms before they started writing! Midnight Mushrumps, by W.H. Pugmire, reads this way to me. I don’t even know what to say about it. Polenth Blake’s Letters to a Fungus is a delightfully hilarious piece made up of letters by one of those people who sees themselves as being the neighborhood HOA police, constantly writing letters and making complaints about everything. In this case, she has some complaints about the fungal growths in her garden (although I can’t blame her for making a fuss when they eat Aunt Mabel).

Overall I’m glad I read this anthology, but I’m also glad it wasn’t priced very high. Hopefully now that you’ve read this you have a slightly better idea than I did of whether this would suit your tastes.

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Gifts to My Future Self

Most of my gifts to my future self are pre-ordered books. At some point in the future Amazon will alert me that a new ebook has been sent to my kindle, and hey! Something unexpected and fun to read!

Lately I’ve been trying to get myself to eat better. I have energy and fatigue problems, so it’s hard to get myself to put the effort into cooking from scratch rather than, say, ordering out. I took a nutrition class this semester, however, partly because it sounded interesting and I wanted to take a class this term, and partly because I’d had the professor before and he’s really fun. This class has really brought home to me how important it is to eat right. It changes “gee, I should eat more fruits and vegetables” into “here are all the vitamins and phytochemicals you’re missing, and the ways in which that can impact your body.” It’s motivating.

So I decided to smush these two notions together. I signed up for two things: The Rotten Fruit Box, and Imperfect Produce. From Rotten Fruit I picked out a six-month subscription to the monthly seasonal fruit box. They have a much wider array of freeze-dried fruits than in any store, and freeze-dried fruits should work well in my overnight oats. Since I won’t know what I’m getting each month until it gets here, it’ll have that fun Christmas morning vibe to it. From Imperfect Produce I signed up for the weekly small veggie box. You can customize it each week, which means I can get rid of anything resembling an onion and pick something (anything) else I’d rather eat.

Apparently the Rotten Fruit thing is so popular they’re running about a week behind on shipping, so I’m impatient to get that first box. I’ll get my first Imperfect Produce box this week. I replaced the onions and green onions with a couple of mandarin oranges and a blood orange. I’m getting three kinds of greens (spinach, collard greens, and rapini), which, well, sauteed greens are incredibly easy and tasty, so yay. I’m getting two bell peppers, which, perfect to have with hummus. One pound of carrots, for which I’m thinking of making a vinaigrette and just dipping them. Finally, a pound of sweet potatoes, which I plan to roast and have with cinnamon and honey.

In other words, I’m turning my quest to eat better into a cross between opening a bunch of quasi-mystery gifts and playing a game.

I’ll come back at some point to say what I think of how the two programs work out vs. what they look like right now, and whether playing the game works.

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Review: “Elixr,” Joshua James

Pros: Nifty plot and setup
Cons: Some flimsy characters; a bit surface-level
Rating: 3 out of 5

Joshua James is the author of the “Lucky’s Marines” military sci-fi books, which I’m quite fond of, so when Elixr: The Lost Starship (Book 1) came out, I had to read it. It’s aimed at a bit of a different audience–the main characters are much younger, the plot is simpler, and there’s little gore and cursing. Noah and Will are brothers, and they are the only living occupants of the spaceship Elixr. Before their time, Captain Bellamy was bringing a cure for a mysterious condition back to his people. A man on board who wanted to control who got that cure led a mutiny. Bellamy told the ship to “Save the cure. Kill the crew.” Because of this, Noah and Will have been raised by Sark, or SRK-47A, a malfunctioning teacherbot that can’t seem to explain to them what their mysterious and all-important “mission” is–just that they have one. Noah is having seizures that are getting closer together; he’s the adventurous one of the two boys. Will would rather not put himself in danger, but he’s determined to watch out for Noah regardless. Everything changes when the ship crash-lands on a planet. Will is taken prisoner by Lord Killoran, who knows about, and wants, the cure. Noah is rescued by Tai and the Faithful, who worship him as a prophesied healer. Noah is determined to save his brother, even though it might be suicide to try–but the Faithful need him to save their world.

The real interest in this story, for me, was the whole plot about the cure. It isn’t a cure to your standard fictional plague. The boys have what they call an “auric,” sort of a field of power that’s native to themselves that they can use for various purposes such as healing or strengthening themselves, as well as for activating certain kinds of technology. The ship also has an auric. On the planet, no one has an auric. Tak–or technology with auric power–is collected up and its energy used to keep the City of Light safe under Killoran’s control. An event called the Inversion is responsible for the fact that people and nature no longer have the auric. The cure is meant to fix this situation, because the city will run out of Tak to scavenge eventually. This is really creative and interesting.

The characters don’t have as much depth as I’d like. Killoran is pretty much the standard crazy evil tyrant. The people who work for him seem one-sidedly bad. SARK is my favorite character out of the bunch, despite the fact that he’s really just a helper.

I think this qualifies as a novel rather than a novella, but as novels go it’s relatively short, and the plot is fairly simple. I would have liked to see a bit more to it. Despite the fact that I enjoyed the story, I don’t particularly find myself wanting to read the next installment.

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Review: “Zero Sum Game,” S.L. Huang

Pros: Adrenaline-packed, high-intrigue, snarky adventure
Cons: Didn’t go quite far enough
Rating: 5 out of 5

S.L. Huang’s Zero Sum Game (Cas Russell) is a delightfully sardonic thriller with some unusual characters and relationships. Cas Russell is a retrieval artist–people hire her, and she fetches things for them. She’s not above killing people who threaten her, and she has a supernatural skill with math that’s matched only by her reflexes and agility. She rescues Courtney Polk, a somewhat innocent drug mule who’s being held by a cartel, for Courtney’s sister Dawna. She sees an old friend of hers, Rio, undercover with the cartel, and manages not to blow his cover. On the way back to Los Angeles, a PI and ex-cop named Arthur Tresting tracks her down and asks her about something named “Pithica.” When she starts poking around to find out what that is, people start to die. It turns out that Cas isn’t the only one with an unusual ability–there’s a handful of people who are capable of a sort of form of telepathy, allowing them to read virtually anything in a person’s face, and influence a person’s behavior. The quandary: these people believe they’re doing everything they can to make the world a better place, and the ends justify the means. So how can Cas, Rio, Arthur, and Arthur’s hacker friend Checker fight back without doing worse damage? Or do they even want to fight back?

Nothing is black or white in here. Each character has their own moral boundaries, from Arthur, who at least would like to obey the law, to Rio, who’s a psychopathic killer who uses religion to guide his actions. Cas sees no problem with killing anyone who threatens her, but she still cares about people, in particular children. When she finds herself working with Arthur, she ends up questioning some of her moral assumptions. Rio was perhaps my favorite character. Is he on the good guys’ side? Is he a bad guy? Is he something altogether different? There are no easy answers to questions in here. It’s possible that by going after the people who are brainwashing others, our heroes will undo some of the good those people have done. So whose ends justify the means? No one’s innocent in this book. There’s some philosophizing and moralizing, but it never feels like the author is lecturing the reader–it’s just good characterization.

Yup, I’m that good at math: I can parallel park in Los Angeles.

My only (small) gripe is that I wanted to know more about Cas. We just barely scratch the surface of her past by the end, and it felt like that got cut off a little quickly. Certainly it’s going to be hard to wait to read the sequel, which comes out later this year (I already pre-ordered it–a little surprise gift for my future self). It was a little tough to believe how little Cas seemed to realize how not-normal she is.

Things do get a little bloody–content warning for the results of torture, plenty of fist-fights, and some shooting.

The depiction of Cas’s abilities is wonderful. The high-octane fight scenes are imaginative and bold. (Apparently the author is both a mathematician and a stunt woman, and she clearly brings both experiences to bear here!) It’s fascinating to watch how her mind tends to start eating itself when Cas doesn’t have anything to focus on. And the math isn’t always about bullets and acrobatics.

There is something beautiful about the high-speed math of a gunfight.

There’s intrigue, multiple large and dangerous organizations, the thrill of the chase, gunfights, and wonderful characters. What more could you want?

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Review: “Exile,” Lisa M. Bradley

Pros: Fabulous characters; fascinating setup
Rating: 5 out of 5

Amazon publication date is 6/4/2019–I bought an early copy of this book distributed via

Lisa M. Bradley’s Exile seems, at first glance, to be yet another post-apocalyptic, dystopian, violence-and-sex-filled escapade. But instead, it’s a crazed, riveting character drama that would not let me go. Exile is a city where a mysterious tanker truck spilled its hazardous load and the entire town was quarantined and cut off from the outside world. Many of the citizens are afflicted with “Spill-Induced Rage,” so rival gangs fight it out day-to-day on the streets. It isn’t a berserker sort of thing; the fighting is more of a release valve for most people, although some do seem to have gone a bit crazy. Heidi Palermo’s brother William is in one of these gangs, and Heidi’s the family medic. What she really wants is to get Outside and become a plastic surgeon, but when she takes the tests she keeps failing the “sanity” portion with a result of “inconclusive”. Her brother was just killed by an Outsider named Tank (some Outsiders are allowed to come in to work), and she happens to have the hots for Tank–not to mention she is seriously not going to miss her brother. But neither her family nor her brother’s crew are going to sit back and accept what’s happened–and to them, she’s a traitor. Soon Heidi, Tank, and two of Tank’s crew are trapped in his fortress-like house, and there seems to be no way out.

First, I do have to say that there’s a lot of sex and sex-talk in here, so, if you’re not okay with that, don’t read this book. One of the things I love about Exile is the fact that Heidi is not ashamed of her sexuality. She owns the fact that she likes sex, she likes sex a LOT, and she finds many men attractive. No matter how much shit other people give her, she doesn’t feel shame. She gets rightfully pissed at others’ judgment of her, but it in no way prevents her from going after what she wants. She initially goes after Tank because she’s attracted to him and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about that. She continues to go after him because she thinks maybe he could help her get Outside. Then… things gradually change. She and the taciturn enigma that is Tank begin to slowly change each other, and he comes to mean more to her than just a ticket out. When she gets trapped in his house with him, Sweeney, and Paolo, all three of them get stripped down to their essentials under fire from her family and her brother’s crew. Sweeney despises Heidi but is loyal to Tank. Paolo seems to be a sweetheart, although maybe he has a bit of a thing for Heidi. Tank… he’s mysterious, although bit by bit Heidi yanks the truth out of him and his associates. When Tank wants to kill Heidi’s Mother–who is the ringleader of the attack against them–Heidi has to figure out just how far she’s willing to go. Even minor outside characters, mostly seen through Heidi’s memories and dreams and phone calls with the outside world, have an impressive amount of detail and depth to them.

It occurred to me that sane people didn’t reject matricide on purely pragmatic grounds.

While the world is insane, most of the initial story takes place inside of Tank’s house. It’s pure character gold. Eventually it ramps up to some serious action, however. The climactic battle is creative, detailed, bloody, incisive, and soul-baring. There is some gore; while it isn’t over-the-top, it also isn’t for the faint of heart. It leads to some very interesting events.

The worldbuilding intrigued me, but it was the characters, particularly Heidi, that riveted me. I just couldn’t get enough of them, and enjoyed this book way more than I would have expected from the setup!

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Review: “Wild Country,” Anne Bishop

Pros: Fascinating world and society building; great characters
Cons: A couple of setting details feel off; too many characters
Rating: 4 out of 5

Anne Bishop’s Wild Country (World of the Others, The) introduces us to the town of Bennett. All of the humans in Bennett were wiped out in the war between Humans First and Last and the terra indigene. Now, under the careful watch of a handful of Sanguinati and wolf-shifters, the town is being resettled. The peace between humans and Others is tentative at best. As we saw in Etched in Bone, the Lakeside Courtyard has been holding job fairs to find people suited to living in Bennett. Police academy graduate Jana Paniccia, who can’t find an actual job as a police officer because she’s female, gets a cryptic message suggesting she go to the job fair, and she ends up taking a job as a deputy in Bennett, working for a wolf-shifter who does not like humans, Virgil. Relations between the humans and Others become frayed as bad things happen in distant Lakeside, and then only get worse when a clan of Intuit called the Blackstones decides they want to settle in Bennett. Unlike most other Intuits, these make a living as grifters, gamblers, and con artists, and they aren’t averse to killing people to get what they want.

You could probably read this if you haven’t read the other books set in this world, but I wouldn’t really recommend it. There are parts of the plot that are spurred by events in Etched in Bone that happen in parallel to this book (Meg’s abduction by Cyrus), and it would feel weird if you’re expecting a standalone book.

There are way too many characters in this book. Every time a scene shifted I had to stop for a moment to remember exactly who the characters in the new scene were. Every character is a named character, no matter how minor. Also, while I was willing to accept for a time while reading this series that humans have managed to keep producing technological items despite the culling of humans by the Others, it’s getting hard to buy into. Cell phone towers only operate locally, okay, I get that. But given that cell towers are maintained and repaired by megacorporations, and this setting seems to have no megacorps, how are the towers being kept up? The only jobs that are filled are basic ones–there’s no local screen repair store, or cell phone activation agent. There needs to be some explanation, however brief, of the fact that things that should require large factories and distance-shipping, like cars and computers, are still around. For a time it was easy to accept that we just hadn’t seen that part of the world yet; after this many books it’s distracting.

That said, if you can overlook those issues, this is a fantastic book. The characters have depth and dimension. There’s a wide enough array of good, evil, and sideways (most of the Others would be difficult to classify as either) that it’s okay that a couple of characters are at the ends of the spectrum rather than just in the middle. A bit of good and evil also fits the fantasy milieu.

As with the other books set in this world, this is more about worldbuilding and society-building than it is about plot. We get to watch as people resettle the town and try to avoid pissing off the Elders who live just outside of the town boundaries. It’s interesting to watch the Others, particularly Virgil, try to understand and relate to humans. We watch Jana try to navigate the minefield that is the sheriff’s office, which also happens to equate to wolf-pack dynamics (I was particularly fascinated when Jana adopted a puppy into the mix). We also get to see more of the Intuits, since quite a few of them live in and around Bennett, and they’re a little less at risk than the ‘normal’ humans from the Others.

There’s a fair amount of violence, though it isn’t glorified. There’s an attempted rape, and torture and actual rape, although it isn’t depicted in too much detail (mostly after-the-fact). It’s a dangerous world, though, so there is some blood and bad things do happen. The climax of the book is a wild, amazing, tension-filled battle that kept me up late reading! Sex also happens. A variety of relationships are depicted, from friends-with-benefits, to romance, to a same-sex married couple, and they’re all handled well.

The characters, worldbuilding, and society-building are, to me, the best parts of this series. I very much look forward to more of these books from Anne Bishop.

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