Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Blue Sword

I can't remember exactly why I bought Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword.  I think I got it after reading Uprooted.  I also think I was attracted to The Hero and the Crown, but ended up buying The Blue Sword at the same time because it is the first book in McKinley's Damar series.  I've read one other book by McKinley (Sunshine) and liked it well enough; so I decided to give The Blue Sword a shot when I went out to camp over the weekend. 

The Blue Sword is the story of Harry Crewe, an orphan girl who goes to foster with a couple who live on the edge of Damar.  Her brother arranged this for her after their father died.  Harry is kidnapped from their home by Corlath, the Hillfolk King; Corlath laid eyes on her, and his magic (called kelar) insists that he bring the Outland girl with him.  Harry is treated with the utmost courtesy (although due to their cultural differences, some of that courtesy, like the male servants wanting to bathe her, is not appreciated). 

Harry begins to learn the ways of the Hillfolk, starting with how to ride like them (they have no stirrups nor bridles, and control their horses completely through their body language).  She then goes into the wilds with Mathin, one of Corlath's 18 King's Riders, to train for six weeks.  When she returns, she enters the Laprun trials (a competition held every three years now to determine whether or not a man or woman is worthy to wear a sash - only sword-bearing citizens can wear one) and places first, becoming the Laprun-minta (she loses only to Corlath, who is the final combatant she must face).  After that, Corlath makes her one of his Riders, giving her the blue sword Gonturan, which was last wielded by Lady Aerin the Dragon-Slayer generations ago.

At this point, the Hillfolk are preparing for war against the Northerners, who have mobilized their gigantic army and are heading through the mountain passes.  Harry and Corlath have a disagreement - Harry thinks they should be concerned about the Northern army splitting into two and going through two passes.  The second pass is by the Outlander settlement which Corlath tried to warn when he first saw Harry; he believes it is their problem.  Under the cover of night, Harry saddles her horse and leaves.  Two of her friends (and the hunting cat which has befriended her) join her.  She amasses a small force which slowly gains numbers when others join her (including her friend the Outland colonel). They arrive at the pass to find that the bulk of the Northern army is planning on crossing the mountains there.  They defend the pass on the first night and Harry manages to knock down the enemy's standard (although she knows she would never have been able to defeat the opposing commander one on one - he was toying with her in their battle and let her live).  Harry goes to the top of a mountain and with the help of Gonturan, manages to bring the mountains down on the pass and the Northern army, crushing them. 

Harry then goes back to Corlath (because a whole bunch of her friends urge her to - she was afraid to go because she was afraid of his reaction to her desertion).  Instead she is welcomed back; Corlath declares his love for her.  They are married, have many children, and open up diplomatic negotiations between their two nations. 

While I powered through The Blue Sword, I had a bit of a hard time reading it (it was very much a slog to get through).  I liked a lot of the characters, and the book was interesting enough.  But I think unfortunately it was a characteristic of how the book was written - it just didn't work for me, but I'm not entirely sure why not.  I'm a bit worried to read The Hero and the Crown now, but at the very least I should be able to power through it like I did The Blue Sword.

Also: why did Harry only name Colonel Jack Dedham as her Queen's Rider in the end???  Why didn't she name Senay and Terim, too?  They were the two friends who went with her from Corlath's camp to defend the second passage - don't they deserve the same honour as Jack?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three

Alright then.  So back in June, I finally read The Gunslinger.  At that time I said I was pretty uninterested in continuing.  But then a friend at work lent me The Drawing of the Three and The Wasteland.  So I guess I get to continue on this ride.  I put off reading The Drawing of the Three for a couple of weeks, but finally just got on with it (it helped to find out that most people either like books 1 and 4, or 2 and 3.  Since I didn't like book 1, by that logic I should be good to go for book 2, right?)

The Drawing of the Three opens with Roland, the last gunslinger, on a beach.  His ammunition has gotten wet in the surf, so he's unsure of what will still work.  He is attacked by a weird lobster monster, which severs and eats two fingers from his right hand and one of his toes.  Roland manages to kill it, then finds the first of three magic doors that open a portal back to our world.  He must go through them and find the three people the man in black told him about at the end of the last book. 

The first door leads to Eddie, the Prisoner.  Eddie is a junkie, a prisoner to the demon of his addiction to drugs.  He is smuggling drugs back to New York City.  When Roland enters the door, he arrives in Eddie's mind and is able to control him (or sit back and do nothing).  This chunk of the book was really fun, with Roland trying to figure out how to navigate the world and its strange customs (like the ritual of clearing the customs.  Or the fact that podkins are called "sandwiches" in this strange, amazing world.  Or how about how paper is pretty much disregarded and everywhere?)  Roland sees that the stewardesses (or "army women" as he calls them because they are in pants) are onto Eddie and manages to help him by bringing the drugs back to his world.  After clearing the customs, they go to deliver the drugs to Balazar, which ends in a shootout (but luckily they are able to bring some penicillin back to help Roland, who is badly suffering from an infection).

Next, the second door leads to Odetta and Detta.  Odetta is an intelligent, sweet lady in a wheelchair (she was pushed into the path of an oncoming train years ago, which severed her legs).  Detta is an evil hellion of a woman.  Both happen to inhabit the same body.  Detta is in the process of stealing some cheap costume jewellery when Roland charges in and brings her kicking and screaming into his world.  Eddie starts to fall in love with Odetta, but at any moment she may leave and Detta will return.  It makes for a harrowing journey down the beach to the third door.

The third door leads to a man named Jack Mort. Mort is the cause of so much pain and anguish.  He gets people maimed and killed for fun.  To Roland's horror, he discovers that Jack dropped a brick on a little girl's head years ago, causing her self to splinter into two (becoming Odetta and Detta).  Jack is also the one who pushed Jake, the boy from The Gunslinger, into traffic, which killed him and brought him to Roland's own world.  Meanwhile, back in Roland's world, Eddie (who is exhausted - he's been forced to bring Odetta and Roland to the third door in Odetta's wheelchair because Roland's infection has returned and is once again killing him), has been captured by Detta.  She's using him as bait to draw Roland back into the world they're in - she wants to force the gunslinger to bring her back to her world, or else she's going to kill him.  Roland is in a race against time, having to get the medicine (and new ammunition) before Eddie is killed by the lobster monsters who are on the beach, all while navigating New York City in the body of a monster. 

I found the lobster monsters really weird.  They were there as a ticking time bomb, a menace that made life that much more difficult for people.  But it felt super arbitrary.  I mean, Roland could have just as easily lost his fingers to the man in black at the end of The Gunslinger, rather than to these things here. 

As for the rest of the book, I was really drawn in (ha ha ha) during the beginning portion with Eddie.  But I lost that a bit once we got to Odetta/Detta.  Detta in particular was a bit hard to read (I mean this literally - there was a page from her perspective that was one crazy long run-on sentence.  It was hard to concentrate on what she was thinking the further into that that I read!)  The book also got really monotonous at that point.  Beach. Walking. Lobster monsters. Repeat.  The Jack Mort stuff was interesting enough, but too similar to the beginning stuff to be really new (I mean Roland as a fish out of water sort of thing).  He also took control and did whatever he had to to get what he needed (he didn't kill any innocent bystanders, but he used Mort to get around, used his brain to find information, and wandered in places to "steal" things - I put steal in brackets because he always paid for them, but he'd go up and terrorize people with guns beforehand because he had to).  But everything turns out alright in the end: Detta and Odetta are reunited, Eddie is saved from lobster monsters, Roland gets to heal, and Jack Mort is dead.

I also need to talk about the references to genitals.  I kept track as I was reading (only because the first page literally had two separate references in it).  There were 32 separate instances.  37 total (Detta would throw around two to three references all the time).  Jerking off got 6 mentions.  I didn't count references to sex (because I honestly didn't really care), but I would guess it was comparable to jerking off. In a book with 400 pages, it's not tons, but it was still enough that I noticed as I read (on average it's a reference per ten pages) and it kind of knocked me out of the narrative because a lot of them didn't seem warranted.  Has anyone else felt like that while reading these books?  Does Stephen King have some preoccupation with (mostly male) genitals?  Or is this just a Dark Tower thing???  I haven't read any of Stephen King's horror novels, so I honestly don't know if this is just a quirk of his writing or not. 

I also feel like it is part of the reason these two books have felt more like "guy books" (I felt like that with some of Chuck Wendig's books, too).

So anyway, I liked The Drawing of the Three a lot more than The Gunslinger (I was more interested in the story by a long shot), but I didn't think it was amazing.  I will be reading the third book (because my friend lent it to me), but I'm definitely going to go read something else (or a few something elses) in the immediate future.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rosemary and Rue

I heard Seanan McGuire speak at 4th Street Fantasy several years ago.  I looked up her books afterwards and they sounded interesting, so I grabbed Rosemary and Rue, the first book in her October Daye series.  I finally got around to reading it now.

Rosemary and Rue opens with this really intriguing prologue.  October "Toby" Daye is a private investigator who just happens to be a changeling (a half human-half faerie).  She's tailing her only suspect in a kidnapping case (the wife and daughter of her liege lord and friend have disappeared).  The suspect (her liege's brother) gets the better of her and turns her into a koi fish.The prologue ends with Toby saying that the koi pond "was my home now, the only one I'd know for fourteen years."

So that was a pretty cool hook.  Unfortunately, chapter one opens with Toby working at a grocery store fourteen years and six months later; the curse had been broken somehow six months earlier, and she was trying to put her life together.  Her husband and daughter wanted nothing to do with her (they believe she left them fourteen years ago).  And Toby wants nothing to do with the faerie world because it caused all of this.

I say this is unfortunate because I thought it would be fun to see what happened - how the curse was broken, who broke it, etc.  But nope.  Skip ahead.  McGuire gives details a bit later in the narrative, but it's not very satisfying.

Anyway, a faerie noble, the Countess Evening Winterrose (who happens to be the only one Toby is really speaking to) is murdered.  Before the murder, Eve calls Toby and lays a binding on her, so that Toby must discover who the murderer was or else she will die.  This forces Toby back into the world and life she left behind. 

While Toby is much weaker than her mother, she inherited her mother's ability to taste blood and relive the blood's memories.  It's pretty neat.  She does this pretty early in the story (going to Eve's murder scene to learn what she can).  There's a part later in the story where Toby (and a couple of other changelings) is attacked and another fae, Tybalt, saves her.  Tybalt gets the attackers blood all over everything (including his shirt).  It was obvious to me that Toby could discover who had hired the attacker at that point.  And it was obvious to her too: she tried to tell Tybalt that, but he shooed her away (to be fair, she had almost died a couple of times - the attacker had shot her with iron, which had almost killed her.  Then the same attacker was waiting for her when she was leaving the Japanese Tea Gardens where her friend, Lily, had managed to heal her).  But then there was about 100 pages of Toby checking out random leads before FINALLY going and getting Tybalt's shirt to discovered who had hired the guy. 

Warning: Major Spoiler Ahead. 

The culprit was a bit surprising in some ways.  It was her changeling friend/old mentor Devin.  Devin had been friends with Eve, but she had a Hope Chest, which has the power to turn changelings into either full humans or full faerie, whatever they wish.  Devin wanted it to live forever.  So he killed Eve, and kept sending random people to go and kill (or torture then kill) Toby to stop her from getting the chest (or find out where she had hidden it).  The weird thing about him doing it is that he kept sending kids who had no idea about his plan to hang out with Toby.  Or like he would patch up Toby, then send a Doppelganger in to torture and kill her.  Or he called in a huge favour to heal her from iron poisoning, then turned around to murder her (this was really, really weird.  It would have made more sense if ANYONE else in the book had called in the favour instead).  These were really, really weird moments.  I guess he was wanting Toby to back off from the investigation and kept asking her to - it was only when she kept saying no that he'd send more things to murder her.  

Other than these plot issues (this and the weird prologue to chapter 1 time gap I mentioned earlier), I really enjoyed the book.  And to be fair, this was McGuire's very first novel.  So I would be interested in reading more from her (and more October Daye) in the future. :)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Guards! Guards!

Waaaay back in 2009, a couple of friends recommended that I give three different Discworld novels a chance after I read The Colour of Magic (twice!) and The Light Fantastic.  The three novels that were recommended to me were Reaper Man (which I read in February 2009), Wyrd Sisters (which I read in July 2009), and Guards! Guards! I'm not proud of it, but it's taken me EIGHT YEARS to finally get around to reading Guards! Guards!  I've picked it up a few times, or moved it to the top of my reading pile.  But it always gets shoved back for some reason.  Well, no more.  Over the weekend I finally sat down and actually READ the thing!

Guards! Guards! is the first book about the Night Watch of Ankh-Morpork.  There's Captain Vimes, the drunken leader of the Watch.  His second in command, Sergeant Colon.  Corporal Nobbs, the opportunistic thief ("the door just happened to be open, honest" sort of thief).  And Carrot Ironfoundersson, their new recruit.  Carrot is a massive man who was raised by dwarves - his dwarven father sent him to Ankh-Morpork to make a man of him.  Carrot is the only one of the bunch who believes being a member of the Night's Watch is a worthy occupation (almost everyone else in the city, including the other three members of the Watch, think the Watch is useless).

A secret society is plotting against the Patrician (the ruler of Ankh-Morpork) - they've decided to summon a noble dragon to terrorize the city a little bit, then set someone up to conveniently proclaim himself descended from the old kings of Ankh-Morpork and slay the dragon.  But things go a bit wrong and the dragon ends up crowned king instead!  And only the members of the Night's Watch, with the help of the Librarian of Unseen University (who happens to be an ape),and Lady Ramkin (who happens to breed swamp dragons), are ready to risk being burnt to a crisp to dethrone the new monarch.

I know it's been almost a decade since I last read a Terry Pratchett novel, but I honestly think Guards! Guards! was my least favourite of the three Discworld books that were recommended to me.  I found the book a bit hard to get through, especially since about half of it seemed to be the set up for the latter half (the dragon wasn't crowned king until over halfway through the story!)  The most entertaining thing about it was Carrot, who took his duties seriously (he read the law book of Ankh-Morpork and would be constantly quoting it while arresting people.  Plus he was a crazy dwarven-trained machine who could defeat basically whole armies while trying to arrest people. Oh and every here and there you'd get a letter written from him to his dwarven parents.  He was fun!)

Vimes was a bit of a tough sell to me.  I was not a fan at all at the beginning.  But the way he played off other characters (specifically trying to reign in Carrot) was fun.  The other two members of the Watch were just okay in my mind.  They were fine, but they seemed much more like stereotypes than characters to me.  Lady Rankin was pretty fun though.  :)

So yeah.  This was not my favourite Discworld novel.  But I think it was better than The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, so that's something.  I doubt I would recommend Guards! Guards! to anyone though.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

When Demons Walk

It's been far too long since I've read a book by Patricia Briggs. I was bingeing on her books back in 2009. But then I started hoarding them for some reason instead of reading them. So I finally grabbed When Demons Walk off my shelf yesterday because it is a standalone book. I very quickly remembered why I liked her books so much as I very nearly finished the book last night (I very nearly didn't get any sleep in favour of finishing it - luckily I did stop to get a few hours of sleep).

When Demons Walk is the story of Shamera, a thief and mage who lives in the bad part of town. After several people, including her mage master, are killed, she is enlisted by Lord Kerim, Reeve of Southwood, to find the killer. Though Sham is not fond of the Easterners who conquered her city (and killed her family), she agrees to help find the killer to avenge her master. She poses as Kerim's mistress so she can enter the court and hopefully find the killer there. While the Easterners do not believe in magic, Sham and the other people of Southwood do; while Kerim does not believe it is possible, Sham knows they are hunting for a demon. It will take all of her magical power(and a good deal of luck) to find and defeat the demon.

I really liked Sham. She was smart, funny, and very capable as a heroine. As someone who grew up in the Court, she was able to blend in really well (and had a lot of fun playing the mistress who fawns over her lord). Her relationship with Kerim was quite a lot of fun with the two of them joking and teasing each other all the time (yet acting for everyone else around them). Quite honestly, a lot of the characters were fun. I loved the Shark and Dickon almost as much as Sham and Kerim.

I waan't a huge fan of the book's ending though. I felt like Briggs deliberately withheld details of the plan until they were happening to keep the reader in suspence. 

All in all, while I enjoyed reading When Demons Walk, it wasn't my favourite book by Briggs (it's quite possibly my least favourite, which is saying something about her writing - my lease favourite book was still one I didn't want to put down!!!) But if you want to read a better book from her Sianim series, go with Steal the Dragon or Masques instead.