Thursday 27 June 2019

Shout-Out: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

In this charming, witty, and weird fantasy novel, Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new twist on those renowned characters.

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham is drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas' stock-in-trade.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Book Review: New Worlds, Year Two: More Essays on the Art of Worldbuilding by Marie Brennan

Pros: short essays are easy to read, covers a wide variety of topics

Cons: short essays don’t go into much detail

This is the second book of essays compiled from Brennan’s Patreon. There’s an introduction, 52 themed essays and an afterward. The themes from this book encompass weaponry, honor, cosmetics, clothing, wedding customs, literacy, time keeping, religious practices, superstitions, and some general worldbuilding tips.

I loved that there were a variety of topics, broken down into more specific essays. Each essay is only a few pages long so you can easy read one in a few minutes. Brennan gives several examples per essay showing how cultures differ, so as to get the reader thinking of applications beyond the common. The downside here is each essay is very basic and is more of a way to get you thinking about applications than showing you how to apply each aspect to your own world.

As with the first book, it’s a great collection and points out a lot of worthwhile tidbits for making your fictional worlds feel more lived in.

Friday 21 June 2019

Shout-Out: Green Valley by Louis Greenberg

Chilling near-future SF for fans of Black Mirror and True Detective.

When Lucie Sterling's niece is abducted, she knows it won't be easy to find answers. Stanton is no ordinary city: invasive digital technology has been banned, by public vote. No surveillance state, no shadowy companies holding databases of information on private citizens, no phones tracking their every move.

Only one place stays firmly anchored in the bad old ways, in a huge bunker across town: Green Valley, where the inhabitants have retreated into the comfort of full-time virtual reality--personae non gratae to the outside world. And it's inside Green Valley, beyond the ideal virtual world it presents, that Lucie will have to go to find her missing niece.

Tuesday 18 June 2019

Physiologus: A Medieval Book of Nature Lore Translated by Michael Curley

Pros: excellent introduction, full translation, lots of end notes

Cons: some quotes left untranslated

Translated in 1979 and reissued in 2009, this was the first full English translation of the Greek manuscript, Physiologus. The manuscript took stories of animals and gave them Christian allegorical meanings. These stories were used in later bestiary collections and by encyclopedists - with and without their allegories - greatly influencing the medieval mind.

The book begins with an introduction that gives background on the Physiologus and the questions surrounding when it was written and who it was written by. It is then followed by translations of the 51 chapters, most of which deal with animals though there are also a few plants and stones.

The information in the introduction is fantastic and really helps you place the Physiologus in history while not being too academic and dry. My only complain here - and also with the notes at the back of the volume - is that neither Greek nor Latin quotations are translated for those who can’t read them.

The manuscript itself is rather dry. More time is given to the moral than to describing the animal. If you’re unfamiliar with these types of works, you’ll be confused by a lot of the ‘natural’ behaviours described. Very little of this is true animal behaviours. Consider them more morality tales like Aesop’s fables rather than a treatise on natural history. However, remember that as many of the animals described were not native to the lands where the tales became popular, they did influence beliefs in mythological creatures and many in the past believed the stories depicted actual animal behaviours.

The book includes black and white woodcut images from the 1587 G. Ponce de Leon edition of the book. I had expected there to be an image per chapter but there were only 21 images in total and a few of the listings had more than one image (the serpent has a series of 4 images).

If you’re interested in medieval thought and art, the bestiary by way of the Physiologus was hugely influential. This book is a glimpse into the medieval mind, both with regards to how they saw the natural world and how they believed the natural and spiritual worlds overlapped.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Book Review: The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

Pros: great fight scenes, real consequences, long odds


The displaced villagers of Lutet now face the full wrath of the Order. They realize they need walls to protect them and decide to take over the nearby town of Lyse.

Picking up immediately where The Armored Saint left off, Queen of Crows starts with an ambush and ends with a siege.

There’s a good amount of fighting and some real internal conflicts for the villagers in general and Heloise in particular. They suffer real losses (again) in this book.

I enjoyed learning more about the travelling people and seeing their knife dancing and magic.

The first book was so good I was a little concerned this one wouldn’t hold up, but the author nailed the ending. I can’t wait for the next book to come out.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

Book Review: The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

Pros: feisty protagonist, interesting world-building


Sixteen year old Heloise Factor’s world is upended when she and her father encounter members of the Order on the road. The Sojourner and his Pilgrims dragged the bodies of two female magicians behind their horses. Thus the Order keeps the people safe from the legions of Hell, which magicians unwittingly loose in their pride. But the Order has little consideration for the peasantry that feed them, and Heloise discovers that her fear must contend with anger at the mistreatment she and her father receive.

This character driven story is told from Heloise’s point of view as she learns that the world can be a terrifying place and that those who profess to do good are sometimes the most horrible. She’s a headstrong girl who can’t watch injustice without acting. This gets her - and others - into a lot of trouble. She’s also slowly discovering that she’s into girls, in a world where that’s not an acceptable option. There were a few moments where I wanted to yell at her for making poor decisions, but I can’t deny that Cole accurately tapped into a teen girl’s psyche, showing her fear, rage, and passion in equal measure.

The setting is medieval inspired with some minor steampunk style engines thrown in. I loved that there were quotations from various books of holy writ as well as her father’s journal from when he was in the war to give the narrative some historical grounding.

It’s very much a novel about family and what people will do for those they love. It’s also about communities that stick together, even when things get tough.

There’s a scene reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and it’s just as uncomfortable to read. It also contains the sole scene of graphic, somewhat gory, violence in the book. There’s a brilliant fight scene at the end that’s brutal, but not gory.

This is a quick read that really grips you (I missed a subway stop reading it).

Note: If you liked this but want a fantasy novel with an older heroine, pick up Armed In Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield.