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Search tags: Alternate-history
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text 2017-05-29 00:42
Reading progress update: I've read 430 out of 832 pages.
Rogues -

A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell

 

Jonathan Hamilton believes he'd heading to his death on an estate that is connected to multiple alternate worlds, facing off against a younger version of himself that he had "humiliated" several weeks prior at a dinner party in a card game.  Now his younger Alt-Self has stolen money from the College of Heralds and even kidnapped a young senior Herald Precious Nothing before making his way to a place he can get back home or take Hamilton's place.  Unfortunately this story suffers because unless you've read previous Jonathan Hamilton stories, what I just wrote above is the only thing you understand in the entire story.  The story features a little twist that makes you wonder who the "true" rogue of the story is, but without understanding anything about the world it's almost worthless.

 

1 STAR

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text 2017-05-01 15:07
Prentice Alvin / Orson Scott Card
Prentice Alvin - Orson Scott Card

The Tales of Alvin Maker series continues in volume three, Prentice Alvin. Young Alvin returns to the town of his birth, and begins his apprenticeship with Makepeace Smith, committing seven years of his life in exchange for the skills and knowledge of a blacksmith. But Alvin must also learn to control and use his own talent, that of a Maker, else his destiny will be unfulfilled.

 

This has to be one of the oddest fantasy series that I have ever read. O.S. Card gives early American history his own strange, imaginative torque. Cross Pilgrim’s Progress with the Belgariad, add in a dash of chemistry, alchemy, and magic, and you get this weird combination of the chosen one quest tale and religious allegory.

Alvin is definitely a “chosen one” with characteristics of Jesus and Joseph Smith both. His quest is to become a Maker, kind of an apprentice creator to God. Like the protagonists in most quest tales, he must learn to control himself as well as to control his talent. He is up against the Unmaker, the Satan stand-in for this series, which reminds me strongly of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry series.

The last volume dealt with race relations between settlers and Native Americans, which leaned heavily on the Noble Savage concept of the 19th century. This volume explores the relationship between white owners and black slaves. Both of these volumes leave me wondering what exactly Card is trying to accomplish in this regard—whatever it is, I didn’t get it.

Book 255 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2017-04-18 18:30
Nightmare of the Dead by Vincenzo Bilof
Nightmare Of The Dead - Vincenzo Bilof

 

Nightmare of the Dead was a different kind of zombie/cannibal novel and I'm torn over it.

 

On the one hand, I enjoyed the creativity and imagination that went into this story. We have the Union and the Confederacy battling it out, with one side using medical experimentation to create the perfect type of soldier. And somehow this was done with a horror/western type feel to it-kudos to the author for that.

 

On the other hand, the writing felt disjointed. At times there seemed to be parts that were rewritten and inserted without regard for the paragraphs before and after. There were also a lot of missing words. These issues did bother me and took me out of the flow of the story more than once.

 

The author's descriptive skills were excellent and believe you me, there is a lot of blood, gore, torture, and rape here to describe. In that vein, Mr. Bilof's writing put me in mind of Tim Curran, whose imagination is beyond compare.

 

This was a quick reading, short novel and I did enjoy it, it's just that the writing could have been better. I would read more of this author's work in the future, in the hopes that he's honing his craft. If that's the case, then we certainly have not seen the last of Vincenzo Bilof.

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review 2017-04-16 16:56
Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
Naamah's Kiss -

Note: This is the first book in the third trilogy set in the Kushiel’s Legacy series. However, this last trilogy is set a few generations later and stands on it’s own so don’t be afraid to start here if this book intrigues you.

The Bear Witches of Alba are all but extinct but for those few that remain, they do possess small magics and the Great Bear does look out for her own. Moirin grows up in a cave in the depths of a forest and from these humble beginnings she will be tasked by her divine Bear to fulfill a destiny that lies over seas. First she travels to Terre D’Ange to find her D’Angeline relatives, including her father. A D’Angeline lord and healer is intrigued by her small gifts and she’s soon wrapped up in a semi-secret demon summoning circle. She also meets a Chi’in Master and his student/body guard Bao. Perhaps her destiny lies even further than she could imagine.

I read this for the second time as part of a group read and there were weekly discussions which hold plenty of detail on what I think of the book. Once again, I was wrapped up in Carey’s world building. I fell in love with the D’Angelines when I read Kushiel’s Dart so many years ago. I recall my first time reading this book and how it didn’t wow me as much as the first 6 books. However, knowing this round that this is Moirin’s tale, I gave it a better chance. Indeed, I did like this book quite a bit more the second time through. I think with the first read through, I was constantly looking for reflections of the characters I had come to know and love from the first 2 trilogies. Now with the second reading I was focused on Moirin.

I loved Moirin’s small magics. She’s inherited a few from her D’Angeline side as well as her Alban side. Each individual one is rather small, but as we see Moirin grow from a child to a young lady to a woman, she learns to use her powers to great effect. Carey does a most excellent job of showing the reader this growth as the story unfolds.

Moirin is of the Maghuin Dhonn, the Bear Witch people, which we learned a little about in earlier books in the series. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the Maghuin Dhonn directly through Moirin. While much of Maghuin Dhonn live in near isolation, they are still a connected people and will come together in larger groups for certain occasions, such as Moirin’s coming of age ceremony. Moirin has to work hard to be acknowledged by the Bear Witch herself, but that acknowledgement comes at a steep price, one that I think we won’t fully understand until the end of this trilogy.

As usual with this series, there are several lovely sex scenes. Carey doesn’t skimp but she also doesn’t toss in throwaway love scenes. These interactions always reveal something more about the characters involved. I found this especially true in the later part of the book where there is a princess and a dragon. I won’t say anything further as I don’t want to be spoilery. Just know that it’s worthy.

I do have one quibble for this book. At the end, there is some drama and death and I did feel there was some deus ex machina involved. It involves the ultimate bad guy and why he wasn’t properly trussed up. Even with this one small criticism, I did enjoy how the ending leaves our heroes in a complicated place, setting us up for the next adventure.

The Narration: Anne Flosnik is a joy to listen to. She does such an excellent job with the multitude of accents needed for this book. She’s also great with a voice for Moirin that ages as she comes of age throughout the story. Her male voices are quite believable.

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review 2017-03-30 03:56
Revisiting an enjoyable author
Last Year - Robert Charles Wilson

Although I'm a longtime fan of Robert Charles Wilson's books, it's been awhile since I last read one of his new novels. While I can't say for certain why (it's been that long), I suspect the Spin saga had something to do with this; I've always felt that the others were unnecessary, and I didn't want to sully my memory of the first one with inferior sequels. Having fallen out of the habit of reading his books, I really didn't feel motivated to pick up the ones that followed.

 

That changed after reading the description of this one. I'm a sucker for time travel and well-done (i.e. no WWII wank) alternate history, and this one had both intertwined in its premise of modern-day Americans touring their Gilded Age past thanks to a time portal. As I read it, I was reminded of everything I loved about Wilson's books, which mix interesting ideas with well-developed characters and bring the plot to an enjoyably satisfying conclusion. In some ways it reminded me of Paul McAuley's Cowboy Angels, which also offered a mix of the two genres, though far less successfully than Wilson achieves here. While it falls short of my favorite Wilson work, I finished it determined to read the other novels that I missed. It's good to be back.

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