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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 2017-02-17 21:35
The Dragonbone Chair / Tad Williams
The Dragonbone Chair - Tad Williams

A war fueled by the powers of dark sorcery is about to engulf the peaceful land of Osten Ard—for Prester John, the High King, lies dying. And with his death, the Storm King, the undead ruler of the elf-like Sithi, seizes the chance to regain his lost realm through a pact with the newly ascended king. Knowing the consequences of this bargain, the king’s younger brother joins with a small, scattered group of scholars, the League of the Scroll, to confront the true danger threatening Osten Ard.

Simon, a kitchen boy from the royal castle unknowingly apprenticed to a member of this League, will be sent on a quest that offers the only hope of salvation, a deadly riddle concerning long-lost swords of power. Compelled by fate and perilous magics, he must leave the only home he’s ever known and face enemies more terrifying than Osten Ard has ever seen, even as the land itself begins to die.

 

Oh, the orphan boy with unknown talents, who under-performs until the pressure is applied—how many fantasy stories have you read with this structure? Let’s see--Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey, The Riftwar Saga by Raymond Feist, The Belgariad by David Eddings, The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, even to some extent The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien (substitute “hobbit” for “boy”). Maybe even the King Arthur story to some extent—until young Arthur pulls the sword from the stone. It’s a well-used idea.

At the book’s beginning, I found Simon particularly annoying. As lives go in Midieval-like settings, his lot in life isn’t so bad, although the housekeeper Rachel does make his existence somewhat miserable. However, we all have to earn our keep, so pull up your socks, laddie, and make an effort! Even when offered opportunities to learn to read and to study, he complains! Typical 14-year-old, I guess, something I wouldn’t know about, having had the reading bug ever since I learned to read. Simon doesn’t appreciate his warm bed, three square meals a day, and secure surroundings until he has to flee the castle.

Once he starts running for his life, Simon begins growing up. He becomes a much more likeable character at that point and I began to get invested in his tale. He loses some of the ADHD qualities that made him a “mooncalf” in the beginning and becomes a much more focused young man.
I also appreciated a brand new take on trolls—making them smaller, wiser, and wilier. I liked Binobik and his wolf companion a lot. The Sithi are interesting in their ambiguity—are they enlightened, ethereal beings like the elves in Tolkien? Or are they the dark enemies of mankind? The world of Osten Ard is very detailed and easy to picture in the mind’s eye.

The writing isn’t the best ever, but the story is engaging and I am waiting impatiently for volume 2 at my public library, where it is ‘on order.’ No telling how long I will have to pause before I know what happens to Simon, the kingdom, and the Storm King!

Book number 239 in my Science Fiction & 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 2017-01-10 16:05
Last Three Novels in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
Dead Reckoning - Charlaine Harris
Deadlocked - Charlaine Harris
Dead Ever After - Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse finds it easy to turn down the request of former barmaid Arlene when she wants her job back at Merlotte’s. After all, Arlene tried to have Sookie killed. But her relationship with Eric Northman is not so clearcut. He and his vampires are keeping their distance…and a cold silence. And when Sookie learns the reason why, she is devastated.

Then a shocking murder rocks Bon Temps, and Sookie is arrested for the crime.

But the evidence against Sookie is weak, and she makes bail. Investigating the killing, she’ll learn that what passes for truth in Bon Temps is only a convenient lie. What passes for justice is more spilled blood. And what passes for love is never enough...

 

Okay, this is where I admit that I binge-read the last 3 books in the Sookie Stackhouse series in two days. Part of me is sad that I did this to myself—concluded a series that I’ve been stretching out and planning to savour for as long as possible. But once I had the final books in my hands, I just couldn’t quit reading!

I can see why others were disappointed with this ending, but to my eye it was foreshadowed from the very first book. What was required was for Sookie to gain some life experience and to learn some hard lessons about life and the motivations of other people. That’s what our twenties and early thirties are for—learning that the way that you were raised isn’t shared by everyone, not even your own family or the community where you grew up. Learning that not everyone who arrives when you have a problem is there to help you. Figuring out what you can live with and what you can’t, who you can trust and who you shouldn’t. Who is supportive of who you are and who will never be?

Sookie couldn’t have ended up in a happy relationship if she didn’t have some problematic ones to compare to. I can say from personal experience that I was much shallower in my salad days and much more impressed by personal appearance in a love interest than perhaps by his values. And I cried my share of tears when the heartless & handsome disappeared out of my life. Nowadays, I appreciate kindness more than a full head of hair, thoughtfulness over a handsome face. But you have to get there! The mating issue is the biggest thing to be dealt with during the second decade of life and we are making important decisions while inexperienced—a recipe for potential disaster.

Basically, this series of 13 books follows the growing up experiences of a naïve but good-hearted young woman. If I have any criticism, it’s that Sookie seems to become more concerned with Christianity during the last few books, something which felt off to me. For the whole series, Harris gives us far too much information about Sookie’s personal hygiene, what she does with her hair, and what she’s making for supper, but she also gives us the angst of those years, the hard experiences, the growing up, and eventually making better choices.

Possibly the best first & last lines of a series—from I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar to I’m Sookie Stackhouse. I belong here. I’m already missing having another Sookie book to read—I hope to re-read them at some point in the future.

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review 2016-12-12 16:56
The Player of Games / Iain M. Banks
The Player of Games - Iain M. Banks

The Culture--a humanoid/machine symbiotic society--has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel & incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game, a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game and with it the challenge of his life, and very possibly his death.

 

First, let me say how much I want to live in The Culture! Where even some of the machine drones go bird watching! I really enjoyed Consider Phelbas earlier this year and I liked The Player of Games even more.

Jernau Morat Gurgeh (Gurgeh to most people) is well known in The Culture for his game playing abilities—there isn’t a game of strategy that he doesn’t excel at and he’s spent his life either playing the games or writing about them (and other game players). This is totally foreign to me, as I avoid almost all games as often as I can—I don’t find them fun, I find them boring. Why would I spend my valuable time on something that produces no real effect in my world? That’s one of the things that’s so fascinating about The Culture—people have unlimited time for anything that catches their fancy.

The interesting thing about the beginning of the book is that Gurgeh has started to share my boredom with the game playing scene. His ennui is palpable during the first pages, as he realizes that he’s been there, done that, got the t-shirt. This is how he gets tempted to try the official game of the Empire of Azad, a non-Culture society, a game with real-life consequences because the winner becomes Emperor. Gurgeh re-discovers his enthusiasm as he wades into the fray—adrenaline & testosterone seem to be the spices that wake him up from his torpor. But is the famous game player being played?

A teensy bit predictable, but a very enjoyable journey to get to that ending. Banks tends to wrap things up more neatly that I care for—I prefer a more ambiguous ending—but as I say, the drama on the journey makes up for that. I look forward to Use of Weapons sometime in 2017!

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