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Book Log

2011 Book Log #46: The Thirteenth House, by Sharon Shinn

The Thirteenth House

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I read Sharon Shinn’s first book in her Twelve Houses series, I found it a bit shaky in its initial chapters, at least till it got its feet under it. I was very pleased to discover that I had no such problem with Book 2, The Thirteenth House.

This book continues the adventures of the overall cast of characters established in Mystic and Rider as they pursue the greater plot arc of anti-magic sentiment sweeping their kingdom and threatening to plunge them all into outright war. However, the focus shifts now from Senneth and Tayse over to the shapeshifter Kirra, whose participation in the rescue of their king’s kidnapped regent, Lord Romar, leads to a stormy affair with said regent. The catch: Romar is married, and Kirra is impersonating her own half-sister. Between that and Kirra’s need to keep her true identify and her talents secret, the affair is perilous to them both. Kirra’s soon swamped in intrigue–and comes under the threat of the ringleaders of the growing potential rebellion.

Overall I liked this book quite a bit, despite the fact that as a character, Kirra is definitely more flawed than Senneth. She’s impulsive to a fault, and at first this is frustrating. Yet she did well riding the line between “I want to smack her for her choices” and “I am nonetheless sympathizing with her”, and she shows some admirable development when faced with the consequences of her actions. (Even as she’s ultimately forced into a difficult and ethically shady choice indeed, about which I shall not elaborate, because spoilers.)

I did also like Romar, and was relieved to see that Shinn did not go the too-easy route of making his wife unlikeable. Some readers may find the fact that Kirra’s carrying on with a married man ethically shady all by itself; if you’re one of those readers, this book won’t be for you. But for what it’s worth, I did appreciate that Shinn didn’t make it easy on either character.

On the bigger level of the overall story arc, I liked the advancements in this one quite a bit. After I finished this one off as a library checkout, I went ahead and committed to buying the series, and I’ll look forward to finishing them off. For this one, four stars.

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2012 Book Log #8: Those Who Went Remain There Still, by Cherie Priest

Those Who Went Remain There Still

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the big reasons I’ve picked up everything Cherie Priest has written is her propensity for taking established SF/F tropes and finding not only new ways to look at them, but actively odd ones as well–and in a run of intriguingly odd books, Those Who Went Remain There Still stands out as particularly strange.

And that’s a good thing. I haven’t read very much non-steampunk fantasy out there set in the early history of the United States and to find this one was a pleasure in no small part because it’s set in my home state of Kentucky. Moreover, Daniel Boone features prominently in the earlier prong of a two-prong plot, and any kid who grew up in Kentucky knows all about Daniel Boone. Any kid in Kentucky will, however, be a trifle surprised at this tale of how Boone and his men are cutting a road through the Kentucky wilderness, only to be harried by a monster who takes vicious pleasure in hunting them down one at a time.

Fast forward a hundred years or so, to when the cantankerous old son of one of the survivors of Boone’s party has passed away. His grandchildren are called home for the reading of his will, only to discover that it’s been hidden in a cavern near their valley. And by the terms of said will, six men must venture into the cave–and risk coming afoul of the creature Boone’s men had abandoned there to die.

Except it’s not dead. And its descendants are pissed.

I very much liked the dual plotlines as long as they ran through the bulk of the story, simultaneously showing us the stalking of Boone’s men as well as the reactions of two of Heaster Wharton’s kin who are called in to find the will. There’s great tension in both plotlines, especially as you slowly learn more and more about what the monster actually is.

But the final third or so felt rushed to me, perhaps because of this being a novella. Once the group of six contenders for the will is thrown together, we have barely enough time for them to fight through their own differences before they’re hurled into mortal danger–and before the end of the story. As is often the case with Priest’s shorter works, I found myself wishing at the end of this one that it hadn’t finished so soon. Three stars.

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2011 Book Log #45: Mystic and Rider, by Sharon Shinn

Mystic and Rider (Twelve Houses, #1)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was previously familiar with Sharon Shinn via her Samaria novels, and so when I was in the mood to take on some epic fantasy, I was pleased to check out her Twelve Houses books. Mystic and Rider is the first of these, introducing the mystic Senneth, who has been appointed by her king to patrol the land of Gillengaria and find out how bad the anti-magic sentiment among the people has gotten. With her travel a small band of other magic-users, as well as two of the King’s Riders, the elite cadre of warriors.

Mystic and Rider is not without problems; the initial pacing is somewhat clunky, and I found several of the character names and place names somewhat clunky as well. The clunky bits were never enough to drop me out of the story, though. And once the book got its feet under it, it hummed along nicely. I particularly appreciated a scene where Senneth is provoked into unleashing her fire magic.

As with the book as a whole, the grudging but increasing chemistry between Senneth and the Rider Tayse starts off somewhat clunkily. But it too gets its feet under it, and ultimately I found the development of their relationship satisfying.

Overall this was a decent little fantasy novel. The main plot of unrest fueled by an anti-magic cult in the realm is intriguing, and this was certainly more than enough to make me go ahead and continue with the series. Three stars.

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2012 Book Log #7: Bloodshot, by Cherie Priest

Bloodshot (The Cheshire Red Reports, #1)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Urban fantasy has to work very, very hard to seize and hold my attention these days, and I say this fully cognizant of how there are a great number of authors out there writing awesome books. For me, it’s just been a matter of wanting to read so many things–and having read so much urban fantasy the last several years–that more of it is generally pretty far down my reading queue.

For Cherie Priest, though, I’ll totally make exceptions. I’ve unilaterally liked every single thing of hers I’ve read, and Bloodshot, the first of her Cheshire Red Reports series, is no exception. It doesn’t engage me quite as hard as the Clockwork Century books do, I’ll cheerfully admit. But on the other hand, “slightly less awesome than Boneshaker” is still pretty goddamned awesome.

Here’s the thing for me about Bloodshot: it made me actively like a vampire protagonist, and it did it by making her an engaging character entirely aside from her being a badassed vampire thief. Yeah yeah yeah, badassed vampire thief, seen too much of that; see previous commentary re: reading a whole LOT of urban fantasy. What I haven’t seen, though, is a vampire who was a flapper before she was turned. Who sets off being a badassed thief with being thoroughly neurotic, to the degree of preparing for her heists to obsessive levels of detail. And who, even while she swears up and down to the reader that she’s not interested in forming lasting attachments, nonetheless has adopted two homeless children in her Seattle base of operations–and who proceeds to take a very personal interest in the case her latest client brings her, when he turns out to be a blinded vampire seeking to steal information about what happened to him while he was the captive of a secret government experiment.

Nor was it enough that Raylene rocked. Backing her up in this story is one of the most awesome male lead characters it has been my pleasure to read in some time: Adrian deJesus, a.k.a. Sister Rose, an ex-Navy SEAL turned drag queen. I adore Adrian. I adore that he is the reason why Raylene has to struggle with the question of how to address his gender identity, in a reasonable and non-angstful way, and that it’s a struggle that doesn’t take Raylene much time to figure out. I adore that he is both thoroughly badassed AND very, very comfortable with makeup. I adore that he is, in fact, the second most badassed character in the book, only slightly less badassed than the vampire protagonist. And godDAMN, that boy can dance.

With these two highly engaging main characters to blaze the way, it was no effort at all to enjoy the hell out of this book. I very much liked the exploration of the aforementioned secret government experiment, and how it dovetails with Adrian’s own backstory, as he’s on the hunt for his missing sister, who has herself become a vampire. And I quite like the exploration of the idea that a vampire, Raylene’s client Ian, has to live with the strong likelihood that he’ll be permanently disabled.

In short, there’s a great deal I liked here and not very much at all I didn’t care for. I found the kids a bit too plot-moppety for my liking, as they’re mostly there to provide character development for Raylene, and a couple of the details revealed about what happened to Ian a bit too predictable. But that’s about the extent of my problems with it, and all in all, we’re talking four strong stars here.

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2011 Book Log #44: Die in Plain Sight, by Elizabeth Lowell

Die in Plain Sight (Rarities Unlimited, #3)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Die in Plain Sight is a bit of an odd duck in the run of Elizabeth Lowell novels, straddling as it does the line between her Donovan series and her Rarities Unlimited ones. Goodreads classifies it as a Rarities book, but the two series are set in the same universe–and since it provides major camera time to Susa Donovan, the matriarch of the Donovan clan, it’s hard not to call this a Donovan book.

Nonetheless the question is, how does this particular book stack up against either series? Our heroine is Lacey Quinn, granddaughter of a famous artist, who’s determined to find out whether the previously unknown works of his she has inherited are proof of murder. And our hero is Ian Lapstrake, employed by Rarities, and of whom we get brief glimpses in Moving Target and Running Scared. They’re both pretty standard, likeable lead characters. In Ian’s case, I didn’t necessarily find him as intense or as charismatic as some of the Donovans, but on the other hand, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; it also meant that there was a refreshing lack of what Romancelandia calls alphole-ness on his part.

As for Lacey, I rather liked her better. She’s an artist and therefore a creative type, and even if painting isn’t my particular art, I definitely sympathized with her attempts to pursue it and especially with her interactions with Susa, whose work she revered. In fact, in many ways I enjoyed the scenes with Lacey and Susa almost more than the ones with Lacey and Ian, just because the two women had strong chemistry as fellow artists pursuing art together. Susa is a lovely character, and it’s great to see this woman get serious camera time, since it helps flesh out the history of the Donovan family and shows where her children get a lot of the awesomeness.

Antagonist-wise, we’ve also got a fairly Lowell-typical screwed up rich family, across whose secrets our heroine has inadvertantly stumbled and who will do anything to keep those secrets secret. There aren’t any real deviations from the standard plot track there, though on the other hand, Lowell doesn’t get too over the top with the antagonists as she’s sometimes done in other books.

So all in all I’ll give this one a good strong three stars, on the strength of Susa.

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2012 Book Log #6: Ganymede, by Cherie Priest

Ganymede (The Clockwork Century, #4)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The fourth installment in Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series, Ganymede is now finally getting into actual sequel territory. Like Clementine and Dreadnought, it’s a standalone story–but this time, one of the spotlight characters in fact someone who previously showed up in Boneshaker, and we’ve got clear followup to the events in that book. So if you want to jump in on this series–and if you like steampunk, zombies, and/or the Civil War era, you should–this is not the place to start.

New Orleans madam Josephine Early is spearheading a secret Confederate attempt to hand over the submersible Ganymede to the Union, in a desperate attempt to turn the tide of the ongoing war. But no one’s left alive who knows how to safely operate the machine, and so Josephine’s forced to call for help to an old flame. She’s fiercely hoping that the airship pilot Andan Cly will be able to use his skills to pilot a machine that goes underwater instead of through the air, and she’s desperate enough that she isn’t exactly ready to tell him that the machine’s drowned all its previous crews.

And without a doubt, the relationship and backstory between Josephine and Andan is one of the high points of the book. I’ve found Priest to always be excellent at what romantic notes she introduces into a story, and this one’s no exception; the prior state of this relationship is played off with the exact right understated note against the bigger picture of the current intrigues. Toss in some glimpses at New Orleans’ zombie problem AND the issue of how the problem’s spreading across the country, references back to characters in all three of the previous books, and a supporting cast of colorful characters (one of whom has a secret revealed that amusingly blows Andan’s mind) and there’s a whole lot to like here.

Bonus points as well for the amusing use of actual Civil War history. It was particularly amusing to me to see a news link going around about the restoration of the Hunley–the actual vehicle named for the man who’s referenced in this novel as the creator of the Ganymede.

All in all, great fun. Five stars.

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2011 Book Log #43: Running Scared, by Elizabeth Lowell

Running Scared (Rarities Unlimited, #2)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Running Scared is Book 2 of Elizabeth Lowell’s Rarities Unlimited series, but I was a bit disappointed to see that it didn’t quite live up to the enjoyment I got out of Book 1, Moving Target. This is not to say that Running Scared was bad, mind you–it’s just that this one didn’t tickle my fancy nearly as much as the first one did.

This time around we’ve got a heroine named Risa Sheridan, a gold appraiser in the employ of wealthy Vegas casino owner Shane Tanahill, who has a strict hands-off policy when it comes to his female employees. But a shiny new Celtic artifact has come to Shane’s attention, and so Risa’s been called upon to appraise it. But this being a suspense novel, the artifact is of course a Problem, with a nasty backstory of recent bloodshed and theft. Naturally, this leads to current bloodshed and theft, which drives much of the plot.

And because Risa is a suspense novel heroine, she too has some angsty backstory in the person of her old friend Cherelle Faulkner. The two of them grew up in poverty together, and while Risa worked her way out of it, Cherelle has not been so lucky. Cherelle becomes involved in the fate of other artifacts from the same collection that Shane’s artifact originated from, and thus, she comes back across Risa’s radar after years of separation. How the two women deal with the way their lives have gone since their childhoods is actually some of the best stuff in the book, as it’s halfway decent character fodder even if you often want to smack Cherelle for her whining, and Risa for putting up with her. Their interactions stand out more clearly in my memory than the standard chemistry between the two leads.

So all in all an acceptable Lowell read. Not as awesome as its predecessor, but decent for a quick breeze-through. Three stars.