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review 2017-02-21 19:55
Agent of Change / Sharon Lee, Steve Miller
Agent of Change - Sharon Lee,Steve Miller

Once a brilliant First-in Scout, Val Con yos'Phelium was "recruited" by the mysterious Liaden Department of Interior and brainwashed into an Agent of Change—a ruthless covert operative who kills without remorse.

Fleeing the scene of his latest murderous mission, he finds himself saving the life of ex-mercenary Miri Robertson, a tough Terran on the run from a team of interplanetary assassins. Thrown together by circumstances, Val Con and Miri struggle to elude their enemies and stay alive without slaying each other—or surrendering to the unexpected passion that flares between them.

 

The Liaden Universe entertains again—I stayed up past bedtime last night to finish this novel and absolutely had to know how things ended. Except I now know that I will have to consult another title for “the rest of the story.” That’s okay, this was a fun romp.

What do you do when you are a hardened, take-no-prisoners spy who almost incidentally rescues someone and then you find yourself quite taken with her? Val Con yos’Phelium suddenly can’t just leave Miri Robertson in the lurch. He saved her life once and now it seems the two of them have become interdependent. Neither one of them is sure how they feel about it.

Although their developing relationship definitely has a starring role in the novel, there is plenty of action & adventure too. A new species is introduced to the Liaden series, that of the large, sentient turtles (The Clutch). The most prominent of them, Edger, reminds me of the Ents in LOTR—living & doing business at a stately pace, watching short-lived humans whip through the world at a frantic rate. I’m looking forward to seeing how these reptilian characters feature in future adventures. Not to mention the space mafia that they seem to be set up to oppose.

The ever-so-complicated Liaden world barely impinges on this book—our main characters never get near Liaden society, so there is less of the societal machinations prominent in Local Custom or Scout’s Progress. I look forward to future stories of Val Con and Miri.

Book 245 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

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review 2017-02-17 21:38
Sheepfarmer's Daughter / Elizabeth Moon
Sheepfarmer's Daughter - Elizabeth Moon

Paksenarrion — Paks for short — is somebody special. She knows it, even if nobody else does yet. No way will she follow her father's orders to marry the pig farmer down the road. She's off to join the army, even if it means she can never see her family again.

And so her adventure begins... the adventure that transforms her into a hero remembered in songs, chosen by the gods to restore a lost ruler to his throne.

Here is her tale as she lived it.

 

I really wanted to like this tale more than I actually did. It had moments of greatness—as when Paksenarrion fights off her father and leaves home to join the army. (Although, as the daughter of a pig farmer, I will tell you that there are worse men that you could end up married to).

I read this book while on holiday and it always seemed that I was interrupted right in mid-battle, left wondering for many hours how things would turn out! That said, the battles were certainly not gritty like those described by Glen Cook in his Dark Company series. These were battlefield-lite. And although Paks is injured several times and has bad things happen to her, she leads the charmed life of the fantasy heroine.

What was refreshing was having a female main character who was competent with a weapon and interested in tactics. Now, how much is her own doing and how much is she being assisted by somewhat magical influences? This supernatural stirring in her life puts me in mind of Joan of Arc….

Book 241 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

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review 2017-02-16 17:02
Magic's Pawn / Mercedes Lackey
Magic's Pawn - Mercedes Lackey

Though Vanyel has been born with near-legendary abilities to work both Herald and Mage magic, he wants no part of such things. Nor does he seek a warrior's path, wishing instead to become a Bard. Yet such talent as his if left untrained may prove a menace not only to Vanyel but to others as well. So he is sent to be fostered with his aunt, Savil, one of the famed Herald-Mages of Valdemar.

But, strong-willed and self-centered, Vanyel is a challenge which even Savil can not master alone. For soon he will become the focus of frightening forces, lending his raw magic to a spell that unleashes terrifying wyr-hunters on the land. And by the time Savil seeks the assistance of a Shin'a'in Adept, Vanyel's wild talent may have already grown beyond anyone's ability to contain, placing Vanyel, Savil, and Valdemar itself in desperate peril...

 

Oh, what a validating novel this would be for a child who had no sports talent, but was being forced to participate anyway! Every boy convinced by his father to set aside his violin or book in order to fail dismally at baseball or hockey would be able to relate to Vanyel. Music is everything to Vanyel with academics running a close second, but his father only wants him to become a brutal swordsman.

Others who may relate: those who excelled in their own small pond (small town or small school), but find themselves out-shone by talented peers when they arrived at university. Vanyel is considered smart and musically talented at home, but once he is sent to his Aunt Savil at the school for Herald-Mages, his talents fall short of the mark.

Also a book for a youngster (in the 1980s) struggling with his/her sexual orientation. The good thing that comes out of this new situation is that Vanyel realizes that he is interested in boys—that’s why bedding girls at home was never alluring to him. And although some people are prejudiced against him for his orientation, the author makes it clear that they are “provincial” and not to be listened to. I was pleasantly surprised to find this viewpoint expressed so unequivocally in literature from the 1980s.

Like most teenagers, Vanyel is very self-centered. It goes with the territory, but it does make the kid hard to like (at least for a woman in her 50s). However, it was also disappointing that the instructors at the mage school made so little effort to see behind the arrogant pose that Vanyel used to protect himself. The situation improves as the book progresses, with Aunt Savil realizing that there is a great deal more to her nephew that she had previously realized and that maybe her brother was even thicker than she had thought. This is also a pretty standard plot device—I think of Simon in The Dragonbone Chair, who also starts as a self-involved teen (with fewer talents than Vanyel), but eventually becomes a person of character.

I had to wonder at the addition of the horse-like Companions—in order to become a Herald-Mage, one must be “chosen” by one of these superior, magical beings, who reminded me very much of the Houyhnhnms from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Maybe in the next book, I will figure out why the Companions are necessary to this world.

Book 244 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2017-02-16 14:58
Rimrunners / C.J. Cherryh
Rimrunners - C.J. Cherryh

Meet Elizabeth Yeager, "Spacer, machinist, temp." A refugee waiting for a ship to call home, Bet Yeager was once a marine.

Now she's on the run.

 

In this world Yeager has hit bottom, she's jobless, homeless, and starving on Thule, a nearly abandoned station in the by-passed Hinder Stars. Sleeping in toilets, killing to save her body, stealing to stay alive, she feels her hopes die ... until the Loki docks. It's a spook: a mercenary warship barely legitimated by Alliance documents as a free-lance bounty hunter and spy vessel—a ship whose captain has no qualms about signing on a "machinist" with no papers and a shady past, not to mention murder charges hanging over her head.

 

 

Not my favourite Cherryh book, but I still liked it. She has an uncanny knack for exploring aspects of the future that wouldn’t occur to me. Like this book—what happens when you’re a spacer and you lose your job and become homeless? Is it possible to conceal your identity in such an advanced society? Considering that this book was written in the 1980s, when it was considerably easier to take on a new identity, it would be interesting to read something along the same lines written in this century. It would seem to me to be almost impossible to disappear today, though I understand that there are books which give instruction on how to do that—erasing traces of yourself, both physical and electronic.

Bet Yeager is a difficult woman to relate to, but despite that I found myself rooting for her, especially as she started making connections with the people around her, despite herself. Funny how friendship can change the shape of a life, pushing people in different directions than they would normally go.

Rimrunners is a tribute to the power of personal connections to pull people out of difficult situations.

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review 2017-02-15 19:59
The Burning Page / Genevieve Cogman
The Burning Page - Genevieve Cogman

Librarian spy Irene has professional standards to maintain. Standards that absolutely do not include making hasty, unplanned escapes through a burning besieged building. But when the gateway back to your headquarters dramatically malfunctions, one must improvise. And after fleeing a version of Revolutionary France astride a dragon (also known as her assistant, Kai), Irene soon discovers she's not the only one affected. Gates back to the Library are malfunctioning across a multitude of worlds, creating general havoc. She and Kai are tasked with a mission to St Petersburg's Winter Palace, to retrieve a book which will help restore order.

However, such plans rarely survive first contact with the enemy - particularly when the enemy is the traitor Alberich. A nightmare figure bent on the Library's destruction, Alberich gives Irene a tainted 'join me or die' job offer. Meanwhile, Irene's old friend Vale has been damaged by exposure to Chaotic forces and she has no idea how to save him. When another figure from her past appears, begging for help, Irene has to take a good hard look at her priorities. And of course try to save the Library from absolute annihilation. Saving herself would be a bonus.

 

I was so frustrated with the ending of The Masked City, I could hardly wait to get my hands on this, book three of the series. The Burning Page answered the hanging questions from TMC and plunges the reader into more Library adventures with Irene and Kai.

Thankfully, this volume ends on a better note for me—the story is wrapped up, although there is definitely room for more adventures (which I shall await impatiently). This installment has fewer Fae in it (a minus for me) but gets Irene back to the fundamentals of being a Librarian, i.e. the pursuit of rare books (definitely a plus).

I love the Library’s determined neutrality—they refuse to support either the forces of Chaos or those of Order, knowing that the optimum state is a balance in between those two poles. Like real libraries do, actually, trying to support the needs of their community, no matter which political party is currently forming government, while defending free speech, free flow of information, and freedom from censorship.

I do hope that Irene and Vale manage to overcome their issues to become a couple in the next book (although if he is a Sherlock-Holmes-kind-of-guy, this may be a doomed relationship). Four books is an awful long distance to draw out the suspense of this courtship. And Kai is hinting that he’s in the running too, so will Irene have to deal with some awkward workplace romance? And will she regain her standing within the Library hierarchy, or is she doomed to probation forever? Perhaps The Lost Plot will answer some of my questions.

I’m ever so glad that I discovered this series—it is highly entertaining and I will be sad when I’ve finished reading it. Thankfully, that point seems to be some distance in the future right now, with books 4 and 5 promised, but no dates for publication yet available.

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