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review 2016-02-29 09:35
"War was monstrous. To win, you had to be a monster. And he was."
Javelin Rain: A Shadow Ops Novel - Myke Cole

Javelin Rain (Gemini Cell #2)

by Myke Cole


There's something really badly wrong with me. An example: I'm at the climax of a horrifically graphic battle scene where Jim Schweitzer, ex-SEAL and current super-zombie on the run from a secret government cell, is desperately trying to protect his wife and child from magic-wielding mercenaries who have come to take him back or take him down. Schweitzer's wife is fighting for her life, but another mercenary has her in his sights. Schweitzer acts. In the sudden silence, he gazes at the body of the man who tried to rip lightning out of the sky and use it to fry Sarah. And my brain immediately goes:
He's dead, Jim.

But here's the truly amazing thing about Javelin Rain: even with my brain inserting lyrics from "Star Trekkin" at inopportune moments, the book still managed to be nail-bitingly suspenseful, gut-wrenching, horrific, sad, and bittersweet in turn.

One of the things I love about Myke Cole is that when it comes to magic, he doesn't do pretty and he doesn't do nice. His zombies are no exception. Unlike the rest of the Operators in Gemini Cell, Schweitzer may still have his mind, but his face is sheet metal stretched over skull, his eyes are glowing silver orbs shining out from empty sockets. His body shows marks from all previous battles, carelessly stitched and duct-taped to hold it all together. Death has irrevocably changed him. (It's life, Jim, but not as we know it.) Throughout the story, Schweitzer struggles to come to terms with the fact that while consciousness remains, his life is over. He can never be a father to his son, never take him to soccer practice, never take his wife out to dinner. Even as he risks all to protect them, there are heartbreaking moments where even his loved ones treat him as the monster he is in so many ways.

Javelin Rain is a little bit hard to characterize in terms of plot. It's a second book, a "things fall apart" book, in which Schweitzer sets himself in direct opposition to Gemini Cell. It's a fugitive's story, a chase, a series of desperate last stands. But it's also a love story. An increasingly creepy, violent love story, because the longer Schweitzer stays dead, the more of his humanity he loses. If you read my reviews, you probably know by now that I don't do romance, but love stories aren't necessarily romances. They're not about passion; they're about commitment, about compromises, about trust, about two alien people trying to create something together. Throw in the fact that one member of the couple has veins of glycerol and is steadily losing his last vestiges of humanity, the other has a small child with a bad case of poison ivy, and they're both on the run from a relentless military black ops military organization, and the love story really takes on a unique flavor. As one character puts it,

"Magic is like cancer. You don't ask for it, and it changes everything."

Schweitzer and Sarah's story is not the only plot running through the book, but it was definitely my favourite. Perhaps half the pagetime is from the perspective of other members of Gemini Cell, including Eldredge, the chief scientist of the cell, and Jawid and Dadou, the sorcerers responsible for creating zombie beings like Schweitzer. I found the Jawid/Dadou subplot deeply and troublingly problematic. Jawid, the only Muslim character in the book, is a naive simpleton who parrots repressive religious dogma and wants nothing more than to own a wife and family. Religious simpleton characters irritate me in general, and to have Jawid the only Muslim character in the story left a bad taste in my mouth. Dadou, who has a history of abuse and sexual assault, uses her own sexuality to cynically dominate those around her, mostly because her higher command orders her to do so, something that isn't really dealt with in the story. I wanted to empathize with her, and certainly her story is tragic, but she makes it awfully difficult. My other major complaint with the story is that a bunch of major plot elements didn't make sense.



[Let's see:
(1) Why on earth would binding zombies into living beings make them more obedient? As far as I can tell, the Obedient Zombie Track Record is nil: one of them is running operations, one of them ran away, and the rest run wild. Why would an intelligent zombie be biddable? Wouldn't it have everything it wanted already? Equally, why would such a living zombie be "reliable, a known quantity", a "puppet"?
(2) On the same note, if Dadou really had the power to grab Sarah out of the soul-cyclone, then she already had complete power to make Silvers and to make living zombies. From the first book and from this one, we know the major problem is that the souls that come out of the vortex are just too strong. Yet if she really has the power to pick and choose, she could choose a weak soul, weak enough to be defeated by the Silver.
(3) On that note, the Soul Vortex. When I read it, I couldn't accept the vortex as the only end in the narrative because it's so damned depressing. Plus, harking back to Dadou's ability to yank anyone and everyone out of the whirlpool, it would mean that literally anyone could be used after death. Including Dadou. Do I smell a sequel? Personally, I'd rather the vortex be a single stop on the way to eternity, or eternal nothingness.
(4) Why on earth would Eldredge give up the knife? Surely it would be better spent protecting Patrick, because:
(5) If Sarah really wanted release, why couldn't she just go? Wasn't staying the hard part? It's not like the merc wanted her there. From what we know of the whole shared soul bit, leaving is easy. It's staying that's hard. So why didn't Sarah leave rather than be bait? ]

(spoiler show)


Schweitzer lived his life around the SEAL motto, "So others might live." But in this book, all of that starts to fall apart: we find out more about the Gemini Cell, their leadership, and their belief that they don't "have the luxury of ethical struggles." Gemini Cell suffers a bit from Second Book Syndrome. For one thing, I really don't think it can be read without the first book. For another, I can actually summarize the entire book, which demonstrates its simplicity. At the same time, it's an interesting step in the Gemini Cell saga, and there were plenty of shocking twists. Sarah underwent significant character development, and I find her one of the more interesting members of the cast. Javelin Rain also satisfied one of my biggest concerns with Gemini Cell. Schweitzer no longer sees himself as a sanctified paladin. He seeks to protect only his family by any means necessary. As he puts it:

"He didn't want to hurt anyone, but if he was going to be a monster, then he may as well be one to protect his own."

As always, the sequel is automatically on my to-read list. I'm dying to find out how Schweitzer's saga ends, not in least because hyperintelligent zombies don't make an appearance in the later Shadow Ops books, and I'm awfully curious about why. If you have any interest in creative, gritty, and graphic military urban fantasy, you definitely need to check out Cole's Shadow Ops.

~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Berkley Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes are taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the book as a whole.~~

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review 2014-12-20 22:04
"If life gives you lemmings, jump off a cliff."
The Devil You Know - Mike Carey

Hmm. I was pretty sure I reviewed this, but my review has disappeared. In any case, I just finished a reread, so I guess I'll use my GR review as a base and stick it up again.


~~Review After Reread~~


Despite the etymology of his name, Felix "Fix" Castor feels anything but happy or lucky. In his altered world, in which the dead have risen and now pace the streets as zombies and ghosts, Castor's skills as an exorcist are at a premium. After a terrible accident in which he helped to bind a friend's soul to a demon, Castor is trying to take early retirement from the ghostbuster business. With money tight and fear on the rise, it's just not that easy for Castor to hang up his exorcism flute. To earn a bit of much-needed cash, he takes on one last exorcism. It seems simple--a ghost in a museum who has suddenly taken to violence--but as always seems to be the case, things are never as simple as they appear. Far too soon, Castor is drawn into a web of conspiracy and brutality, with a mob boss expressing a rather sinister interest in him, a demon ready to hunt him down, and a loup-garou after his blood. Worse still, Castor is forced to question his own beliefs about life, death, and the supernatural.

Mike Carey's The Devil You Know is a compelling read, a hardboiled detective story transposed into a gritty apocalyptic world. Castor is an engaging narrator and his wry, humorous voice is effective and appealing. Take his explanation for how he got into ghostbusting:

"But how many people do you know who actually get to choose what they do for a living? My careers teacher said I should go into hotel management, so exorcism it was."

As one might expect from the title, The Devil You Know is a very dark read, without as much of the genre-savvy absurdism that tends to characterize urban fantasy. There is humour, most of it decidedly British and involving references to Thatcher and Blue Peter, but at least in my first read, I was not once tempted to laugh out loud. However, this speaks more about the underlying darkness of the plot and Carey's ability to generate suspense. On my second read, I found quite a few passages hilarious. I especially love Castor's mixed metaphors such as:

"It wasn’t what I was expecting, but like I’ve always said, if life gives you lemmings, jump off a cliff."

Most urban fantasy pits the protagonist against supernatural evils, but this book is about man's inhumanity to man, leading to a much darker, more upsetting, and more introspective book. It also calls into question many of the basic assumptions of most urban fantasy worlds. For example, in most urban fantasy novels, because most of the villains faced in urban fantasy are nonhuman, removing them becomes a righteous act. It is taken for granted that vampires don't have souls so a stake through the heart isn't murder, that since souls are just residual carbon copies, a salt-and-burn operation at a graveside is just a guilt-free janitorial exercise, that the creature being hunted is a monster and removing a monster is a moral act. But in Felix Castor's case, the greatest monsters are the other people. Even loup-garou are people in some ways, since they are ghosts possessing animal bodies, and it is the human intelligence that makes them vicious. What happens to an exorcised ghost is unknown. Is he damning the souls of those dead, or releasing them to a better hereafter? That open question makes the tone of the novel very gritty and saturnine, but also creates a complex and compelling world.

The overall feel of the novel is very noir hardboiled detective; we have the standard mob boss and femme fatale plot arcs and quite a reasonable mystery. At the same time, the perpetrator becomes pretty obvious about halfway through, and waiting for the naive Felix to catch up is frustrating. In Castor's world, it is humanity, not supernatural monsters, who are the root of all evil, leading to a plot that at times feels unrelentingly dark. Mike Carey also goes out of his way to castigate the Church as rigid and hypocritical. I'm no longer Christian--I misplaced my faith and it hasn't yet turned up in the lost and found--but even I was appalled at the vitriol applied to the religion. Castor has the jaded world-weariness of a true hardboiled detective, but unlike "protagonists" such as Richard Kadrey's James Stark, he has not caved into self-serving nihilism. Felix still believes in right and wrong and wants to do the right thing with an almost painful intensity. What makes this book such a dark and compelling read is that it is simply not always easy to figure out, in a complex and twisted world, exactly what constitutes the moral act.

Overall, The Devil You Know combines some of the best aspects of urban fantasy with the mood and structure of classic noir. Castor is an appealing narrator, a satisfyingly imperfect protagonist in a world of gritty greys. The book is an intriguing start to a great series. The Felix Castor books only get better from here.

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review 2014-07-14 04:40
“If she was going to die, she might as well die sarcastic.”
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown - Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

by Holly Black


It had been one hell of a party. Hangovers were to be expected. Kids with their last drops of blood drained from their bodies? Not so much,even if perhaps the open window should have foreshadowed the outcome. When Tana awakens in the bathtub, it ix to a world undone. The vampires have killed her friends and may have tainted her own blood. Seeing no other option, Tana sets out for Coldtown, the city within a city where those dead to the world--the vampires and their Cold victims--are imprisoned.


The Coldest Girl in Coldtown presents an world that was altered by the travels of a romantic vampire who decided to spare his victims. Suddenly, the world faced an epidemic: those bitten by a vampire become infected, and then become Cold. Their blood and body seems to cool and they are obsessed by a terrible thirst for blood. When they inevitably succumb, almost always killing the victim in the process, they promptly die and wake again as full vampires. One can survive the Cold and recover if one can resist the call of the blood for 88 days, but this inevitably seems to require chains, strong doors, and a whole lot of luck. The government in its infinite wisdom depends upon self-reporting and casts the infected into the so-called Coldtowns, along with the predatory vampires. The only way for uninfected humans to escape is by trading their lives for a captured vampire, and it is rare to find anyone who can pay the bounty. But vampires, too, suffer from the youtube bug: within the Coldtowns, live feeds show the world a vision of decadent revelry and merriment. The vampires have become stars to be featured on blogs, on TV, in memes. This gives the vampires a strange, unreal duality: popular celebrities, apparently only dangerous in a "sexy" way, yet they are still ready to prey upon any who leave their doors unlocked at night.


Black's vampires don't break the mould, but her exploration of their dual nature is interesting. Throughout the novel, it is unclear whether vampires are just the same people with slightly sharper teeth, or demons with the bodies and memories of the dead. Tana is a multidimensional, real-feeling character, torn between a multitude of conflicting loyalties and passions, but determined to do what she considers right. The rest of the characters were rather less appealing to me. The vampire Gavriel is a somewhat stereotypical "demon lover," and I found the little sister rather trying. The only character I truly couldn't stand was Aidan, Tana's more than a little sociopathic ex-boyfriend. Sadly, my respect for Tana decreased in proportion with her efforts for Aidan, for she continues to unthinkingly help him even after he selfishly betrays her again and again. There's also quite a lot of instalove and more than a hint of a love triangle, but while the romance is a major aspect of the plot, it does not fully overwhelm the story. The plot itself is engaging, although the twists are far from unexpected and tend to be revealed rather late. I think the most impressive part was the sense of threat or danger that Black created: while reading, it really did seem to me that anyone could die.

The most irritating part, to me, was Pearl. She exists, not so much as a character, but as a convenient plot device to drive Tana to desperation and to provide a neat symmetry for the vampire bounty. 

(spoiler show)


Even though it isn't entirely unique, I quite enjoyed the worldbuilding and the bizarre setup of the coldtowns. The most interesting aspect of the world, to me, was the disease itself, mostly because it is the antithesis of an epidemic. Vampires aren't eager to Turn people because each new vampire decreases the food supply. The Cold cannot Turn their victims, so it is only the stupid or crazy or careless vampires who spread the disease. At the same time, vampires are immortal, and immortally hungry. Some teenagers are enthralled by the romance of the Coldtowns and will do anything to go there, to give their blood to the vampires through stints and open cuts and pray that they will be "special" enough to be turned. While some of the infected voluntarily report themselves and are whisked into Coldtown, those who become Cold usually beg family members to lock and chain them, While I loved the idea, I had a certain amount of trouble buying it at first. Wouldn't it be infinitely more sensible for the government to lock up the Cold? It isn't as if there weren't perfect facilities available for locking people in solitary. Why not build or repurpose a prison? But as I started thinking about it, I can see a certain amount of logic behind it: in some ways, I think the Coldtowns exist not to contain the Cold, but to satisfy the vampires trapped inside. 


Overall, while the romance did not impress me, I greatly enjoyed my foray into Holly Black's imagination. Her story is engaging and suspenseful, and the character of Tana is deftly drawn and dimensional. Plus, it's awfully hard to resist the allure of that cover and title. I'll definitely look out for more of Black's books.

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review 2014-06-02 02:36
Test-driving the urban fantasy big-names: your mileage may vary
Magic City: Recent Spells - Patricia Briggs

Magic City: Recent Spells

Anthology, edited by Paula Guran


I suspect that I wasn't the only reader who was attracted to Magic City by the popular authors displayed prominently on the cover. In retrospect, I think the collection provides precisely what it advertises: pleasant short stories from some of the biggest names in the genre. At the same time, I simply didn't expect the striking difference from my usual variety of short-story read.  I generally stick to "Year's Best" variety of anthology, which tend to go for the most bizarre, imaginative, and memorable stories of the year or decade.  In contrast, most of the stories in Magic City are pleasantly ordinary examples of urban fantasy; enjoyable to read, but, to a large extent, rather unmemorable.


My sense of letdown was first triggered by the introduction, which I found to be a peculiar combination of pomposity and simplicity.  Guran puts tremendous emphasis on the physical location and the type of magic, to the point that she actually starts each story with a bizarre infobox-style description of "The City" and "The Magic." Personally, I found these to be intrusive and condescending, and they gave me the impression of someone trying too hard to be cute. This also put tremendous emphasis on magic and location, almost suggesting that they are the key elements of each story. Personally, I believe that a story's plot, characters, and underlying message are the important aspects, and perhaps this intrinsic disagreement explains much of my dissatisfaction with the collection.


At the same time, there were quite a few stories that utterly captured my imagination and interest. My list of outstanding stories:


"The Thief of Precious Things" by A.C. Wise, was, for me, the most outstanding story in the collection.  Full of lyrical writing and vibrant imagery, it has that dreamy watercolour texture of a fairy-story while exploring a fascinating world that binds Japanese mythology to a technological dystopia.  I will definitely look out for more works by the author.

"Kabu Kabu" by Nnedi Okarafor was another brilliant one: Ngozi, a successful Chicago lawyer, is running late for her flight to Nigeria for her sister's wedding, so she jumps into the first cab she sees.  But this cab happens to be run by a fellow Igbo who has a rather interesting clientele.  Charming and humorous, the story achieves the greatest feat of urban fantasy, effortlessly binding Igbo mythos to urban life in a thoroughly enjoyable, accessible manner.

"In the Stacks" by Scott Lynch was another of my favourites.  The story starts with a group of students who are about to take their fifth year magic exam, which consists of making their way through the library to return one book apiece.  The Library itself is rather reminescient of Pratchett's creation (ook), filled to the brim with self-aware texts and creative monsters. The Librarians' motto? "RETRIEVE. RETURN. SURVIVE." In fact, whilst the group doesn't run into a stampeding thesaurus or angry orang-utan, the entire story reminds me quite a lot of a Pratchett yarn, as it involves characters with names like "Inappropriate Levity Bronzeclaw", various "Sword-Librarians" who carry swords, spells, and shields when they venture into the stacks, and hilarious critters such as vocabuvores and other bibliofauna.

"The Woman who Walked with Dogs" by Mary Rosenblum, was, to my mind, another gem.  It tells the story of Mari June, a girl just reaching womanhood, who has a penchant for wandering her neighborhood at night. In the flickering shadows of a summer night, she finds herself in a oddly alien, unpredictable world in which an ordinary daylight scene is imbued with magic.  I simply loved the writing style; for example, take the moment in which Mari June decides to cross the road into the park: 

"She stared at the wide dark snouts of the cars, teeth hidden between painted bumper lips.  They stared back at her, eyes dull and smug."

The story is heartwarming and sweet, but also truly captures the way in which the veil of night can cast the world into a threatening, uneasy strangeness.

"Alchemy" by Lucy Sussex was also memorable; I was fascinated by its attention to detail and use of ancient history; it tells the story of a perfumer in Ancient Babylon who draws the interest of a lamassu-- A beautiful blend of fantasy, mythology, and history.


Many other stories were quite enjoyable. "Patricia Briggs' "Seeing Eye" was as engaging and readable as the rest of her stories, with a solid plot and a rather sweet romance that never quite overpowers the story. “Wallamellon” by Nisi Shawl was a bittersweet little vignette of growing up, while “Grand Central Park” by Delia Sherman was a lighter story of leaving childhood, a first-person and heavily dialectic story from an outsider/unpopular girl who discovers that invisible friends aren’t necessarily imaginary. "The Slaughtered Lamb" by Elizabeth Bear featured an interesting protagonist, a transsexual whose choices have caused her to lose the support of her community.  The ending felt a little too pat to me, but I would have loved to learn more about the world. "De La Tierra" by Emma Bull skips the overused Celtic vibe in favour of the folklore of Mexican Indios. While I do get tired of the back-to-the-earth messages common to such stories, I liked how the story tied magic very directly to environmentalism and to the soulless feeling of LA. I also got a kick out of "Stray Magic" by Diana Peterfreund, mainly because it takes place in an animal shelter, features a protagonist who volunteers so that she can get her "dog fix", and involves a talking dog. The story is likely to appeal to anyone who wastes significant time on dogshaming.com. "The Arcane Art of Misdirection" by Carrie Vaughn was equally light and fluffy, telling the story of a blackjack dealer who decides to investigate after one too many unlikely coincidences at her table.


Unfortunately, I found most of the stories from major authors rather uninspired, even though many were still quite readable. I'm going to go on and discuss every single story in the collection, but as always with short stories, I've listed them in approximate inverse order of enjoyment, so unless you actually enjoy reading my rants and "damn-with-faint-praise"s, you may as well consider this review complete. 


Overall, I think the collection favours author fame over story brilliance, so while you'll get plenty of examples from some of the biggest names in the genre, the stories themselves may be less exciting than one might wish.


~~I received this ebook through NetGalley from the publisher, Prime Books, in exchange for my honest review.  ~~

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review 2014-06-01 01:39
"You want to change the rules? This is where you start."
Fortress Frontier - Myke Cole

Fortress Frontier (Shadow Ops #2)

by Myke Cole


When it comes to nasty surprises, magic doesn’t discriminate.  As a paper pusher par excellence, Colonel Alan Bookbinder may not get the respect his position demands—as he admits, the military “didn't give Purple Hearts for paper cuts”— but since he gets to go home at night to his loving wife and darling kids, he figures that it’s more than a fair trade. Unfortunately for Bookbinder, his comfortable life has just ended: suddenly, he is able to feel the magical currents around him.  Like so many others, Bookbinder has come up Latent, which means his life is now effectively owned by the US military’s SOC (Supernatural Operations Corps). Hustled away from his family and transported to an alien world, Bookbinder has to figure out his magical talent, put his military training to work, and figure out how to handle his rather difficult colleagues, all while the whole world is falling apart.


Fortress Frontier is an interesting continuation of Shadow Ops: the timing overlaps with certain sections of the first book, but about half of the story is told from Bookbinder’s point of view. Whilst Britton spends much of his time in the first book struggling against the SOC, Bookbinder is very much a willing part of the system.  I felt that the last book was fueled by pure rage; this one, not so much. At the same time, Bookbinder is a far more likable character. This added an interesting dimension to the story because I think Britton is a complete ass yet generally agree with his politics, whilst I really like Bookbinder and still am morally opposed to the imperialistic regime that he supports.  


As one might expect, Britton is still a major POV character in Fortress, and I found my previous dissatisfaction with the character congealing into pure dislike. Britton continues to claim that he can protect people, but when they get hurt or killed, he demands forgiveness, dodges blame, then reasserts control over whatever situation he has landed them in.  The responsibility for having destroyed peoples’ lives doesn’t give him the right to whatever pieces might still remain.  Honestly, I find his delusions rather terrifying. He repeatedly states that he’s “not going to let that happen,” as if he really believes that he can control the outcome. Basically, he’s an arrogant, self-justifying asshole.


Standard Britton form:

"Who the hell put you in charge?" Tsunami asked.

"I did," Britton said.


"Therese, please. I did what I had to. I got us out safe. They would have killed Marty. They would have experimented on those of us who didn't play ball."


"Fair doesn't enter into it, Oscar. You made choices. You are responsible for them."


"I was trying to save you! To save all of us."

"And you did that, at the price of Lord knows how many hundreds of others."


"I did what I had to, for all of us. It's not my fault it worked out the way it did.”

I pretty much agree with one character’s assessment of him:

"I've seen what you do. Whether you mean it or not, there are a lot of people dead because of you. I'll take my chances with the SOC."

Even stealing that student’s computer was an asshole move.  What if his dissertation had been on there?

(spoiler show)

Bookbinder, on the other hand, is the quintessential nerd; he believes that he has “all the leadership capability of a wet sock,” but when circumstances force him to take action, he shoulders the responsibility while still listening to those around him. I also enjoyed his self-deprecating humour.  One of my favorite scenes occurs after Bookbinder wakes up late in camp:

Bookbinder stood. "Why the hell didn't anyone wake me?"
"You looked peaceful, sir," Anan volunteered.

Bookbinder looked askance at Won, but the major only shrugged. "You did." [...]

Bookbinder nodded and shouldered his pack, sucking at his own water feed now. "Surely you must eat, sir," Dhatri said, his voice concerned.

"I can eat while we walk," Bookbinder replied. "We've lost enough time to my cherubic sleepy-time appearance."

In terms of secondary characters, I think Fortress is far stronger than Control Point.  Whilst some of the more frustrating characters still pop up—for example, I can never remember Downer’s given name, since “Debbie” seems to fit her personality so well— there are a host of new and entertaining personalities, and the new perspective brings humanity to some of the previously inhuman characters.  I think my favorites are probably Woon, a sarcastic and down-to-earth terramancer, and return character Crucible, who shows a whole new side of his personality to Bookbinder.  


My favourite scene with Crucible is probably the one in which they are deciding who gets to go on the suicide mission:

"You're making it back, sir. You owe me."
Bookbinder cocked an eyebrow at him. "I owe you?"

"You want me to run this place so you can run off and play some combo game of diplomat-hero? Well, you can drive the big car, and I drive the little car. But this is a shit job, and you're just sticking me with it so you can have an adventure. The least you can do is write me a weekend pass and put me in for a commendation. Hell, maybe a letter to the promotion board. If you're dead, you won't be able to put in the paperwork. That would just be wrong."

Bookbinder snorted. "Yeah, I guess it would."

"I'll see what I can do."


Oddly enough, one of the characters to get “humanized” was Harlequin, which I found to be very strange.  He actually goes through a moment in which he thinks, “and now you want me to commit murder,” which doesn’t really jive with his attitude in the last book.

(spoiler show)

The book also introduces some new dynamics in the magical world, including India’s Sahir Corps “Bandhav” relationship with the naga, and the nagas’ own tensions with the Agni danav.  I liked the complexity this added to the worldbuilding, although I had certain issues with the logic of some of the characters’ actions.


For one thing, what on earth was Bookbinder planning to do on the earth side without Portomancy to get him back? I wasn’t clear on what he was expecting, given that pissing off the naga basically destroyed any prospect of actually getting assistance back through their portal.


The next major logic fail, to my mind, was the whole Big Bear thing.  I never did figure it out: was his personality entirely fabricated? Whatever the case, the methods really don’t make sense: 

"Fear of magic is so deep-seated in the American psyche that people will do almost anything to defend themselves from it. If you're going to unseat that,make public, open Latency a fact on the ground, you're going to need a dramatic event."

…what, so assassination of major government figures by magic is going to make everyone feel all secure and cozy about it all?


I also had a sneaking suspicion that the rules surrounding portomancy changed in this book—was Britton always forced to port between worlds? I thought not.

(spoiler show)

The anger and drive of the last book are more subdued here, but the issues of freedom versus security continue to emerge.  As one Latent notes,

"What do you expect us to do? Lie still and let you kill us, imprison us, strip us of our humanity? You've outlawed our existence. You provide no options."

Many of the issues I found compelling in the last book—the problems of jingoism and imperialism, for one thing—are not really discussed here.  Dehumanization and exoticism of certain groups within the narrative continues; for example, take a conversation in which some of the characters are trying to decide who to go to for help:

"The Apache have already committed so many atrocities on camera that people will never get behind them. The masks, the Mountain Gods. They're too... alien. People follow... you know, other people. People like them."

What, so the Apache are no longer “people”?  


At the same time, I loved getting a glimpse of other countries’ attitudes towards magic; perhaps unsurprisingly, the U.S. was one of the most aggressive in militarization of magical forces.  As one speaker notes,

"Count on the US to do it completely wrong. [...] Firming up the walls for armories and combat outposts? Good use of Terramancy. Growing superfoods to feed the world? Threat to national security."

Overall, while I think the fury so tangible in Control is muted in Fortress, I think the stronger cast of characters more than made up for the difference. As for me, I've made the next book in the series my first summer purchase. I can't wait to find out what happens next.

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