Wednesday 30 September 2015

Words on the Outside: Authors Reading Their Favorite Passages

This is a series put together by Laura Bynum (author of the distopian novel Veracity and currently accepting pre-orders for two other novels on Inkshares, Cancer Nation and The Hide).  The series has authors reading their favorite passage from one of their books.

She started off by reading a passage from Cancer Nation, and has added clips by several other authors (descriptions and links from her blog):

Crutcher, Landon: Monkey Business (Currently available for pre-order on Inkshares) (Comedic Fantasy; Neil Gaiman, Christopher Moore, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams)

Gillan, Byron: The Children of the Forest (Currently available for pre-order on Inkshares) (Science Fantasy; Frank Herbert’s Dune)

Grace, Janna: The Talkers are Talking (working title) (Currently available for pre-order on Inkshares) (Science Fiction; 1950s horror films, Richard Matheson’s Born of Man and Woman, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series.

Soldwedel, Steve: Disintegration (Currently available for pre-order on Inkshares) (Science Fiction/Fantasy; Isaac Asimov, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Star Wars, Star Trek, Arthur C. Clarke)

Lee Moyer, Jaime: Against a Brightening Sky (website here) (Historical Fantasy; Elizabeth Bear, Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, Rae Carson)

You can follow the series on Laura's blog or youtube channel.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Book Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

(Published in the UK as The Traitor)

Pros: economic and political intrigue, utterly fascinating protagonist, interesting pov, keeps you guessing

Cons: not sure the rebel dukes gave their plans proper consideration

Daughter of a huntress, and a blacksmith, and a shield-bearer, Baru Cormorant grew up in Taranoke.  Her world changes when the Empire of Masks uses its trade agreement with Taranoke to slowly conquer the land, educating her and other native children in their schools.  Horrified by what has been done to her homeland but knowing that the Empire is too vast to fight, Baru resolves to destroy it from the inside.  But first she must prove her loyalty and worth to the Empire by using her intelligence to uncover revolt in another conquered land, Aurdwynn.

Before you start reading the book you’re greeted by a map.  After a quick cursory glance I turned the page.  Maps are common in fantasy books and this one wasn’t that detailed or complex.  But something had caught my eye so I turned back and examined the map in more detail.  It’s a map of Aurdwynn, showing the duchies and - more interestingly - Baru’s comments on the various dukes and what each duchy is known for.  There aren’t many comments, but the sheer honesty they portray is refreshing and drew me into the story before it had even begun.  Through the map we learn that the people of Oathsfire have awful beards, Radaszic is a complete moron, and Erebog is probably going to starve.  It’s a clever and fun map that peaked my interest.

The novel starts with Baru’s childhood and education before heading to Aurdwynn where the rest of the book takes place.  This is a book driven by Baru’s character and her attempts to understand, control, and outmaneuver the dukes as she tries to organize the country’s finances while rooting out rebellion.  While there is some fighting, most of the book is concerned with political and economic intrigue.

Baru’s a wiz at economics and seeing the big picture of cause and effect.  Where she falters is in recognizing that individual people have the ability to cause change outside of the larger picture, meaning she sometimes gets blindsided by not taking individual passions and choices into consideration.  It’s a wonderfully tense book with a protagonist who’s always thinking so many moves ahead you’re struggling to understand her current plays.  At one point I had to reread a conversation to figure out what she’d read between the lines during it, in order to understand why she was doing certain things.  It’s a book that will keep you on your toes, second guessing her and everyone else’s motives.

I’ve never read a book that goes over, however briefly, the conquest of a country, so I really appreciated the point of view.  It’s both fascinating and horrifying, how - and how quickly - the Empire gained power in Taranoke.

After thinking about the book for a few days I find myself wondering how much the rebel dukes considered their plans.  They end up making at least once decision that seems to go against their individual interests.  A decision I’m not sure they’d be willing to make.  I’ll discuss it more in the spoiler section.

I’m not sure I agree with one aspect of the ending (more on that in the spoiler section too), but I really enjoyed the book.  I had to read it quickly, but I’d advise taking time to really think about what’s going on - to appreciate the decisions Baru makes and the circumstances she finds herself in.  It’s a fascinating read and I cannot wait to see what happens next.


I’m left wondering why the dukes, who are rebelling so they can return their country to their own power (as it was before the Empire showed up) would be willing to put one individual - and a foreigner at that - in complete control.  Considering the fact that even the Empire couldn’t remove their hereditary ducal positions, why would they want to do that themselves and install a ‘high king’ as it were, above them.  Isn’t that what they’ve already got with the Governor the Empire installed?  Their new system would give them even less power than they currently have - and no real gain except for not being under the Empire’s yoke anymore.  Even if they thought they could use Baru as a puppet figurehead (and if they believed that they weren’t paying close enough attention to her personality and actions), they were still willing to give up a lot of power simply by having such a position created in the first place, having their people rally towards someone other than themselves.  And yes, I understand the whole point was to have a central rallying cry for the rebellion (and picked someone who’d already ingratiated herself to the peasantry via her loans), but surely they could have the troops cry their own dukes’ names, since their army at the end wasn’t integrated.  Basically, I’m not sure that what the dukes were giving up is worth what they were getting, and some of the dukes were wise enough to be able to see that.

With regards to the ending, while I understand that the shadow government has an important - and fatal - secret to hold as blackmail on Baru, I don’t believe they’d allow her into their ranks without something even more powerful to hold over her.  In other words, I believe she failed their last test and they would have killed her as a potential liability (ie, she’s too powerful to let loose without a strong restraint, which they don’t have).  Without more leverage they can’t assure that she won’t work against them.  And while their secret is dangerous for her, I’m not sure it’s enough to keep her in line.  It also occurred to me that this final test was similar to the test the rebels put her to when they demanded she kill the ship captain after stealing the tax money.  Would the shadow government want actual sociopaths working for them?  People with no empathy or consideration at all for others?  Perhaps.  They are dealing in the bigger picture after all.  But it seems there should be a limit of just how cold your operatives can be before they’re more dangerous to the Empire than their worth compensates for.  Then again, considering who else is being courted by the shadow council, maybe sociopaths are what they’re looking for.

Sunday 27 September 2015

Shout-Out: Alliance by M. L. Callahan

For centuries aliens have waged a covert war for control of Earth using time travel as a weapon. A select group of humans become their soldiers, genetically modified pawns destined to be caught in the crossfire. But this time, the pawns have a plan of their own...and the fate of all mankind rests in their hands.

Friday 25 September 2015

Medieval Plants: Atropa Belladonna aka Deadly Nightshade

A column looking at medieval plants and what they were use for. (Archive)

Illustration from Köhler's Medicinal Plants 
Latin name: Atropa belladonna
Aka: deadly nightshade, dwale (trance), devil’s cherries, devil’s herb, great morel, dwayberry, banewort, naughty man’s cherries, death cherries…
Description: check it out on wikipedia.

Belladonna, aka deadly nightshade, is a member of the solanum dulcamara family, which also includes the mandrake.  This family of plants has anaesthetic value and were used for pain relief (Fisher 86).  In fact, one of its compounds, atropine, is an effective antidote for some other poisons (Kowalchik 158-159).

The first part of it’s Latin name, Atropa, refers the oldest of the three Fates in Greek mythology.  Atropa was the Fate that cut the thread at the end of a person’s life.  Some people believed she used this plant as a means of cutting that thread (Kowalchik 158-159).  The name Belladonna comes from how Italian ladies used the plant to beautify themselves by adding drops of the plants’ juice to their eyes in order to dilate them.  There was also a legend that the plant itself could turn into a beautiful woman.

The plant is highly dangerous and can kill even if you’re eating an animal that has ingested the plant.  The chemicals are absorbed through the skin and the sap of the plant can cause dermatitis while handling the berries can give you vesiculo-pustular eruptions on your face.  Symptoms show up in as little as 15 minutes and include: dry mouth, burning throat, dilated pupils, intense thirst, double vision, burning in stomach, nausea, hallucinations, rambling talk, and feeble rapid pulse (Kowalchik 151).  Even in small amounts belladonna can be fatal.  Archers used it on their arrow tips (Wikipedia) and it is believed to have been used to poison the troops of Marcus Antonius during the Parthian wars and by soldiers of Macbeth on invading Danes (mixed with wine and given to them during a truce) (Botanical).  

In medieval times it was believed to be the favourite plant of the devil (Kowalchik 158-159) and that he tended the plants during his leisure time, only stopping for Walpurgis, the witches’ sabbath (Botanical).  Hildegard von Bingen stated that the ground it grew on had diabolic influence and that ingesting it would disorder your spirit as if you were dead (Hildegard 75).  Witches were believed to mix belladonna and other poisonous plants (including aconite) to create a flying ointment, which they then rubbed on their skin (some modern historians have argued that its real use was for hallucinatory dreaming) (Wikipedia).  One of its other names, dwale, means trance (the word may derive from the Scandinavian ‘dool’, for delay or sleep, or from the French, ‘deuil’ for grief) (Botanical).


Fisher, Celia. The Medieval Flower Book. London: The British Library, 2013.

Hildegard von Bingen. Physica: The Complete English Translation of her Classic Work on Health and Healing. Trans. Priscilla Throop. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 2011. 

Kowalchick, Claire and William Hylton, Ed. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1998.

Thursday 24 September 2015

Shout-Out: The Fifth Dimension by Martin Vopenka

A contemporary classic from the Czech Republic. To support his family, a man submits himself to a solo science experiment in the High Andes. A cosmic adventure story of big ideas and murder. ‘I loved it: simple as that. I started reading thinking I'd start with a few chapters and pace it over a week or two, but I found I couldn't stop. A potent and haunting novel of black holes, solitude and the sublime, it is never less than immensely readable and absorbing.’ – Adam Roberts, winner of the BSFA Award for Best Novel and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Your business is dead. It seems like a deal – leave your family behind in Prague for a year, isolate yourself in a research station in the Andes, and come home with a fortune. With a treatise on black holes for company, Jakob settles in at altitude. The air is thin. Strangers pass by on dangerous pilgrimage while his young wife and kids take life in his mind. In mountain starkness, the big questions take shape – like what happens to love inside a black hole?

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Philip K. Dick Award StoryBundle

The new DRM free, pay what you want ebook bundle up at StoryBundle is made up of Philip K. Dick award winners.

From the email:

The basic bundle (minimum $5 to purchase, more if you feel the books are worth more) includes:
  • Points of Departure by Pat Murphy
  • Summer of Love by Lisa Mason
  • Dark Seeker by K. W. Jeter
  • The Cipher by Kathe Koja
  • Life by Gwyneth Jones
  • Aestival Tide by Elizabeth Hand
Even better, if you pay $15 or higher, you unlock five more titles, which include:
  • Acts of Conscience by William Barton
  • Knight Moves by Walter Jon Williams
  • Reclamation by Sarah Zettel
  • Frontera by Lewis Shiner
  • Maximum Ice by Kay Kenyon

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Book Review: Mystic City by Theo Lawrence

Pros: interesting story, interesting characters

Cons: characters do some really dumb things, protagonist has a lack of consideration for others’ lives, ending was unsatisfying

Manhattan’s now a partially flooded and divided city, where the rich live in a mystic built and powered upper city called the Aeries, and the poor live in the depths below.  Years ago a bomb built by mystics blew up and now they have their powers drained twice a year and must live in the slum that used to be central park.

Aria Rose, of the wealthy Rose family, wakes up from a drug overdose unable to remember the past few months and the supposedly torrid love affair she had behind her family’s back with the son of their political rival, Thomas Foster.  But now she’s engaged to marry him just weeks after the upcoming election.  The two families have joined forces - because of the engagement - to fight against a mystic mayoral candidate who might just win the election.

The plot has some definite Romeo and Juliet overtones, but it’s not a retelling. 

I really liked Aria at the beginning.  She’s an earnest young woman who’s honestly confused by what’s going on in her life and trying to make the best of it.  She’s also painfully naive and, as the book goes on, kind of oblivious to reality.  The more she learns about what happened with her memory, the more she realizes that her family is terrible, something she apparently hadn’t recognized before, despite her father being a mob style leader.

She - and several other characters - make increasingly dumb decisions as the book goes on.  Aria sneaks into the depths several times, and though her parents discover this, they don’t put any protections in place to stop her from continuing to do this (which is even more bizarre as her dad runs the organization that tracks people and could flag her use of the scanner POD devices that allow her to enter the depths.

Hunter, a rebel mystic she encounters, also makes some poor decisions that get Aria into trouble when they’re discovered together - multiple times.

I was particularly disturbed by Aria’s apparent lack of consideration for the lives of others.  She watches a gondola driver she claims helped her cross the canals in the depths executed - and feels bad about it - but it doesn’t stop her from going back to the depths and asking other gondola drivers to ferry her around.  Similarly, a homeless man is killed near the end of the book and she thinks nothing of it beyond that it potentially helps her out.  In fact, the entire ending is due to several bad decisions she and Hunter make that leads to a battle that sees many people die.  And they don’t seem too broken up over it.

For the most part I enjoyed the book, though towards the end I started losing sympathy for the protagonists as their decisions became less and less thought out and started to affect more and more people.  I found the ending rather unsatisfying as a result, though I’m sure others will find the battle exciting.

Monday 21 September 2015

Movie Trailer: The Last Witch Hunter

This looks really cool.  Out October 23rd and starring Vin Diesel, Elijah Wood, Rose Leslie (Ygritte from Game of Thrones) and Michael Caine.

Sunday 20 September 2015

Shout-Out: Cancer Nation and The Hide by Laura Bynum

Laura Bynum, author of Veracity, an excellent dystipian novel which I reviewed a few years back, currently has two novel proposals up on Inkshares, The Nation and The Hide.  I'll explain more about Inkshares after the book synopses and videos.

The Nation

Cyrus and Melba Crowe have found and trademarked the cure for cancer. All they ask in exchange for putting it on the market is a benevolent dictatorship.
Leader of the Illuminaughty
Head of an underground group calling itself the Illuminaughty, Emeritus Locshaw is leading guerilla-style Meet & Greets with an unwilling public. The point of these armed visits, to divest citizens of their willful ignorance and teach them about the poisoned well from which so many of their products and services flow, The Crowe Corporation. Never out of costume, Emeritus is an enigma to the man who loves her, and a thorn in Cyrus Crowe’s side. Should her campaign against his empire and beloved mascot, the Travel Angel, ever find its way into the public domain, it just may sprout legs.
The Travel Angel
Eve Sontag plays the Crowe Corporation’s omnipresent mascot. A luminary with approval rating s second only to leaders in times of war, she’s treated as a holy relic by C-Corp’s adoring customers. Even so, the bad blood surrounding her forced entry into Cyrus Crowe’s service is beginning to boil over, and the secret she carries may just be the thing to set the country free.

The Hide

Synesthesia: a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads, automatically, to a second sensory or cognitive pathway. Some theorize that synesthesia is the next step in human evolution.

Rhys Overland experiences the world differently than most people. She identifies numbers by color, experiences a strong odor when hearing certain words, and has an adverse effect on anything electronic when angry. Left at the door of a Virginia orphanage at age three and raised in no less than 24 foster homes, she’s spent the last two decades working off-the-radar jobs while making a slow journey to the muddy river that cuts the country’s belly in two. It is the place where she was cut out of her mother. A place in which she feels both at home, and never more vulnerable.

When someone from her mother’s past, someone who was present at her birth, arrives at the door, Rhys knows she won’t be home for long. She knows what she has to do: run.

Inkshares is a publisher based around pre-orders.  The idea is that authors must prove that there is interest in their novels by achieving a minimum number of pre-orders before they'll publish it (750 copies for ebook, 1000 copies for print).  Inkshares edits, designs and markets the book.  Physical books are then mailed (currently for free) to those who pre-ordered it, and are stocked in stores.

Cancer Nation and The Hide are currently available for pre-order for US $9.99 on the site.  The list price (what you'd pay after the book has been printed, assuming they get the necessary 1000+ pre-orders, will be US $14.99).  If the book is printed, pre-order readers also get the ebook copy included. There's a second option to be a 'super reader', which includes 3 copies of the book and your name in the back for $29.97.

The books have been entered in the Nerdist Collection Contest, which would give the books specific Nerdist branding when published if they win.

Friday 18 September 2015

Stamps - Sundials

They make stamps with the coolest images.  Here is a set of sundial stamps I bought on ebay.  I love sundials.  I love the idea of using a stick and string to tell time.  I love some of the later sundials even more - metals ones, string and paper ones...  Some are so beautifully crafted it's incredible.  While I love the convenience - and accuracy - of watches and clocks, I still think sundials are petty cool.

Thursday 17 September 2015

Shout-Out: Homefront by Scott James Magner

Set against the backdrop of a far-future Earth struggling to reinvent itself after a technological disaster, Homefront is an uncompromising adventure story about what it truly means to be human. Jantine is a Beta, a genetically modified super soldier charged with establishing a hidden colony on Earth. When her expedition arrives in the middle of a civil war, she must choose her allies wisely or be exterminated. Featuring complex characters and edge-of-your-seat action sequences, Homefront will have readers guessing until the last page.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Video: "Speke Parott", Middle English Poem

Lou Anders posted the link to this on facebook and because it's awesome, I'm sharing it here.

It's a recitation of John Skelton's poem "Speke Parott" given the proper Middle English pronunciations.  You can find the poem written out, with a gloss, on their website.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Book Review: Z for Zachariah by Robert O’Brien

Pros: tight, tense storytelling, interesting characters

Cons: limited world-building

For parents: no content (swearing, sex, drugs), minor gun violence

Fifteen year old Ann Burden has been living - alone - in her family’s farmhouse for the past year.  Her family - and as far as she knows everyone else in the world - is dead, victims of the war and the bombs that fell.  So she has mixed emotions when she sees a column of smoke each night, getting closer to the valley that’s protected her.  She knows someone is coming.  But what does this arrival mean for her? 

This is a short novel, told through Ann’s journal entries starting when she first realizes someone is coming.  It details his arrival and the slowly unfolding drama that occurs afterwards.  It’s a tight, tense story, that slowly becomes dreadful as you wonder how everything will play out.

It’s a story worth coming to with little advance knowledge, as it really depends on learning things with the character.  I really liked Ann.  She’s a farm girl - and so knows how to do things that are useful in a post-apocalyptic survival situation, like catch, prepare and cook fish, plogh a field, etc.

There’s very little backstory.  We learn where Ann’s family has gone and how the stranger arrives, but little else.  There’s no information about what the war was about or who it was with or what kinds of bombs were dropped, beyond that they were highly radioactive.

It’s a great story that kept me on the edge of my seat.  

Sunday 13 September 2015

Shout-Out: Abomination by Gary Whitta

He is England's greatest knight, the man who saved the life of Alfred the Great and an entire kingdom from a Viking invasion. But when he is called back into service to combat a plague of monstrous beasts known as abominations, he meets a fate worse than death and is condemned to a life of anguish, solitude, and remorse.
She is a fierce young warrior, raised among an elite order of knights. Driven by a dark secret from her past, she defies her controlling father and sets out on a dangerous quest to do what none before her ever have-hunt down and kill an abomination, alone.
When a chance encounter sets these two against one another, an incredible twist of fate will lead them toward a salvation they never thought possible-and prove that the power of love, mercy, and forgiveness can shine a hopeful light even in history's darkest age.

Friday 11 September 2015

Blast From the Past: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien

Before I started reviewing books online I loved rereading my favourite SF/Fantasy books.  Since I don’t have time to do that anymore, this column is a trip down memory lane, where I’ll rave about books I love to read.  And then read again.  These aren’t reviews, as I won’t necessarily mention criticisms, they’re my chance to fan girl about books I love and hopefully garner some interest in some older titles.

I always remember the book by the the title they used for the animated film that was based on the book, The Secret of NIMH.  Though I like the film it’s a hard sell for modern children, being fairly slow and low key.  The film also added an element of magic that the book didn’t have.

Mrs. Frisby is a young field mouse whose husband has recently died.  It’s getting close to the time when the farmer who owns the field she lives on will plough it, meaning she and her family need to move, and soon.  But one of her children is deathly ill, and the chill in the air will likely kill him if he’s moved.  It turns out, however, that her husband kept a secret from her.  He was once a prisoner of a place called NIMH along with some rats.  Those rats - and the knowledge they gained due to experiments that were performed on them - may know a way to save her son.

Mrs. Frisby is a woman (well, mouse) willing to risk her life for her children, and though she asks the rats for help, she has to do most of the dangerous stuff involved in making their plan work (both in the film and the book).  The most harrowing scenes involve an owl and a cat.  

The rats are amazing, as is the home they’ve build for themselves under the ground.  For years after I read this as a child I wanted to name one of my kids Jeremy Nicodemus after two of the rats. 

It’s a book that holds up well for adults (though I last read it years ago after I finished university).  I’m not generally a fan of talking animal books, but when done right…  

There was a sequel, though I don’t remember much about it, having only read it once as a kid.

I just finished one of O'Brien's books that I didn't hear about as a kid (and probably wouldn't have liked then) Z for Zachariah.  I only heard of it because of the film that recently came out.  It's a YA novel about a young woman living alone in a valley after an apocalyptic event.  When someone arrives in the valley everything changes.  I'll be posting my review of it on Tuesday.  It's also a great read, short but compelling.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Shout-Out: Witches be Crazy by Logan Hunder

Real heroes never die. But they do get grouchy in middle age.

The beloved King Ik is dead, and there was barely time to check his pulse before the royal throne was supporting the suspiciously shapely backside of an impostor pretending to be Ik's beautiful long-lost daughter. With the land's heroic hunks busy drooling all over themselves, there's only one man left who can save the kingdom of Jenair. His name is Dungar Loloth, a rural blacksmith turned innkeeper, a surly hermit and an all-around nobody oozing toward middle age, compensating for a lack of height, looks, charm, and tact with guts and an attitude.
Normally politics are the least of his concerns, but after everyone in the neighboring kingdom of Farrawee comes down with a severe case of being dead, Dungar learns that the masquerading princess not only is behind the carnage but also has similar plans for his own hometown. Together with the only person senseless enough to tag along, an eccentric and arguably insane hobo named Jimminy, he journeys out into the world he's so pointedly tried to avoid as the only hope of defeating the most powerful person in it. That is, if he can survive the pirates, cultists, radical Amazonians, and assorted other dangers lying in wait along the way.
Logan J. Hunder's hilarious debut blows up the fantasy genre with its wry juxtaposition of the fantastic and the mundane, proving that the best and brightest heroes aren't always the best for the job.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Video: Baman Piderman

I'm not sure how I stumbled across Baman Piderman by MondoMedia, but they're weird and kind of fun.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Book Review: The Godforsaken by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Pros: political intrigue, sense of dread throughout, wonderfully complex characters 

Cons: slow and somewhat confusing beginning

King Alonzo II’s Spanish court works in close connection with the Inquisition of Padre Juan Murador, rooting out heresy wherever it lies.  At an auto-da-fe, a condemned woman proclaims her innocence and pronounces a curse on Alonzo’s line, a curse his now 19 year old legitimate son bears the burden - and effects - of.  The Infante Real, Don Rolon, is beset by doubts as to his worthiness to be the heir to the Spanish throne, as the curse worsens, turning him into a beast during the full moon.  But he walks a fine line, as the king would prefer to see his bastard son, Gil del Rey, heir, and the inquisition is eager to find fault with those at court, with spies everywhere.  

While the prologue, which sets the scene of the Spanish court and the curse, is easy to follow, I found the first chapter, which introduced Don Rolon a little confusing.  We meet him travelling on his father’s orders to a remote castle.  Given the number of titles and names used, I thought it was a large party, and only realized that the names and titles were for the same people when the text stated that only 5 people were travelling.  The heir is called numerous things, and until I had them all straight (which didn’t take long once I was aware of the situation), it was a bit confusing.  Similarly, I had assumed the men travelling with him were all friends, but that turned out to not be the case either.

It takes a while to get into the story as a lot of the early part of the book is cementing the personalities of Don Rolon and, to a lesser extent, Lugantes, the court jester.  Other characters are fleshed out and given POV scenes later, when the company returns to court.

The characters are all fascinating, and diverse.  Everyone’s terrified of the inquisition, though some less than others, assuming that their innocence and devotion protects them.  The priests are all devout in their beliefs that they’re doing god’s work, even as they torture innocents.  In fact, some of the most terrifying scenes in the book are listening to the priests justify their work, knowing they’re 100% oblivious to the irony of their accusations in comparison to their actions.

While I liked Don Rolon’s complexity in his dealings with everyone, my favourite character was the jester.  Lugantes, though a little person and much mocked by the court as a whole, with the noted exception of Don Rolon, which earns him Lugantes’ devotion, is remarkably clever.  He hides his cleverness with japes and jokes, and uses his lower status as a form of invisibility, to learn important news and visit people in private.  He’s given a good amount of page time, and he’s instrumental in helping Don Rolon, though he also has his own interests (and love) to occupy, and worry, him.

Not given as much page time, but interesting all the same - if not as developed a character - is Don Rolon’s valet, Ciro Eje, a converso who’s not as devout in his Catholicism as would be wise considering his position.

Certain other characters changed over the course of the book, making me like them more.  I’d put Genevieve, the French Queen and Don Rolon’s fiance in that category.  Conversely, I liked Inez at first, but her unwise decisions - and to be fair, Don Rolon’s interest in her - put her in danger.

The king’s blindness towards what the priests were doing - and some of the liberties he allows them to take with their accusations and denouncements, is astonishing.  And led to several plot twists, especially towards the end, that I did not see coming.

There’s a deep feeling of dread that settles on you as you read this book.  As with actual torture, there’s so much anticipation of what the Inquisition will do to Don Rolon should they learn what the curse does to him that it starts to feel like a physical weight pressing you down as you read on.  So many people you come to care for are in so much danger that you rush towards the ending, just to put yourself out of the misery of uncertainty.  And while I wasn’t necessarily happy with the ending, it did suit the book magnificently.

The book takes place in Spain, but the protagonists are all invented - including the royal family.  The curse makes the book a very light historical fantasy, though it reads like historical fiction.  If you like political intrigue and touches of horror in your stories, you’ll love this.

Thursday 3 September 2015

Shout-Out: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley Beaulieu

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings -- cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule. 
Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings' laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha'ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings' mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings' power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don't find her first.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Video: Why babies in medieval paintings look like ugly old men

I found this video by Vox, who "spoke to Matthew Averett, an art history professor at Creighton University who edited the anthology The Early Modern Child in Art and History" about why babies in medieval pictures don't look like babies, very interesting.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Book Review: Bots: Emergent Behavior by Nicole Taylor

Pros: quick, easy read, engaging, thought-provoking

Cons: limited world-building

For Parents: some swearing, mentions of prostitution and sex slavery

Edmond West is inspired by a story of human cruelty to create a new form of slave - robots.  But his single-minded focus has blinded him to the potential consequences of creating robots with fully human characteristics.

This is the first of a six book series.  It’s a quick read (only took me a few hours to whip through it) that introduces the protagonist and the plot scenario for the following books.  There’s a lot of character development as Edmond works on his project through the years, with some great thought-provoking moments as he confronts the realities of his magnum opus.  The ending of this book is fast paced and leaves you wanting more.

Edmond is highly intelligent and often abrasive, though his social skills are good enough that he avoids being unpleasant.  While I didn’t love him as a character, I didn’t hate him either.  The author did a great job making him aware enough of his faults to redeem him.     

The book is highly focused on Edmond and his purpose, so there’s little world-building or other distractions.  You get to know his co-worker well enough, and hear how Edward’s work is utilized by his employers, but there’s no in depth exploration of the process of building the robots or of the world in general of this future.  Hart is the only other character who you really get a good feel for, and that’s entirely through Edmond’s eyes.  

The moment Edmond brings his creation to life, and the epiphany he undergoes because of it, were wonderful to read.

It’s a great start and I’m curious to see where the series goes.