Thursday, July 30, 2009

UK Romance Novelist Dies

Ms. Jane Aiken Hodge, well known UK romance author, died in her home last month. It sounds like an understandably painful moment in her family life, I hope the issues revolving around her method of death are resolved favorably n her family's best interest. I've not read any of her work myself, but her name comes up occasionally in online discussions. Her writing life was prolific & I'm sure her fans will miss her. Link in title above to article referencing her death, click here for wiki article about her life and work. Her family certainly had their share of writing gifts, her sister is children's writer Joan Aiken.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New PG Wodehouse Found

According to The Guardian a literary expert specializing in PG Wodehouse and Arthur Conan Doyle has discovered four new short plays written by PG Wodehouse and a collaborator approximately one hundred years ago. I dearly hope they will be collected together and published, I would love to have them! Direct link to article in title above.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why Romances are Fabulous

Romance author Teresa Medeiros has written a lovely post about why she writes and reads romances. The post is on her group website Squawk Radio, and is titled 'Teresa Says it Loud and Says it Proud'. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books site co-owner Candy takes time out from law school madness to mull Ms. Medeiros' arguments. Candy doesn't pop up much anymore, obviously, due to her schedule, so go & read what she has to say before she submerges again into the depths of law school insanity.

My favorite quotes from Ms. Medeiros:

"..In a society gutted by cynicism, we have found the courage to stand up and proclaim that hope isn’t corny, love isn’t an antiquated fantasy, and dreams can come true for women still willing to strive for them.

Probably the most subversive thing we dare to do is to make the woman the hero of her own story..

Our heroines don’t just “stand by their men”, they “stand up to them.” And guess what—their men love it! We celebrate both a woman’s softness and her strength and introduce her to a man capable of recognizing the value of both.."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Land of Story Books; Robert Louis Stevenson

At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.

Now, with my little gun I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.

There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter's camp I lie,
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed.

These are the hills, these are the woods,
These are my starry solitudes;
And there the river by whose brink
The roaring lions come to drink.

I see the others far away.
As if in firelit camp they lay,
And I, like to an Indian scout,
Around their party prowl about.

So, when my nurse comes for me,
Home I return across the sea,
And go to bed with backward looks
At my dear land of storybooks.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

RIP: E Lynn Harris

According to Essence Magazine, link in title above, author E Lynn Harris has died. My condolences to his family and his fans. Mr. Harris is one of those authors who were perennially on my 'need to read someday' list. My bucket reading list, so to speak. Now he's gone & I'm sad that we'll only have the eleven fiction titles, one memoir & an anthology already published (list here). Next time I'm in a bookstore or the library, whichever comes first, I'll buy one of his books. No more procrastinating. Another author always on my TBB list, Eric Jerome Dickey. Gonna find one of his books too. ASAP.

Friday, July 24, 2009

2 DNFs

Couldn't finish Alan Campbell's Iron Angel, mostly related to other problems in the previous book. Specifically, the timing and pacing continued to worsen, primary characters introduced in the previous novel were shunted aside in favor of a whole new issue. In truth I wonder if some of the problem isn't editing. If the parts had been organized differently the flow would've been better & I would've happily stuck with the story no matter what. An altered focus, different pacing. Unfortunately none of those things happened. I'm very regretful, truth be told. I really really liked Scar Night & I had high hopes for this one but I simply couldn't keep wading. From all accounts online, the third one has its fair share of problems all its own too, so I think I'm gonna pass. However, Mr. Campbell is permanently on my list of authors to watch.

Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon suffered from..I don't know. Just general waning interest. Lack of being a female Miles Vorkosigan. Actually, what I plan to do in this case is borrow another one in the series a little further along to see if I like them better. Why? Because there would be nothing better than a girl trader sailing across space having adventures. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Seen at Le Tour de France 09

1. Generously built woman jumping up and down along the side of a road barely wearing a bikini. A small bikini. lol :)

2. People wearing various furry costumes: gorilla, pink rabbit, yellow & red something or other & chickens.

3. Fans in Barcelona waving bits of yellow paper all along the route in their region.

4. Inflatable kangaroos & flamingos wearing straw hats & sunglasses. Also small stuffed Camargue bulls.

5. Male fan wearing a knight's costume & waving a sword & shield.

6. Group of fans wearing green shorts & neon yellow wigs running alongside the cyclists & cheering.

7. Cowboy in full "old west" riding outfit, including lariat & hat, riding a western saddle & holding in his stirrup a huge flag streaming behind him.

8. Man, why is is almost always a man??? wearing a red spandex outfit-not AT ALL flattering- with a purple cape & yellow wig.

9. "The Devil", an older man with mostly white hair who wears a red and black outfit & carries a trident. This man is a tradition & has been seen at every TDF for years and years.

10. A European version of what my husband & I call 'drunken bubba syndrome', bubba being Southern American slang, click here for in depth explanation. A fat, shirtless, tanned man wearing shorts hanging off of his genitalia & exposing his butt cheeks holding a canned beverage and jumping up & down in the grass so vigorously I was afraid I was about to see all of his equipment.

11. Always amazes me how much some people can pack into tiny cars: tents, folding tables, folding chairs, tarpaulins, costume paraphenalia, flags, beverages.

12. Speaking of tents, some of my favorite tv shots are of the mini tent villages that spring up in the smallest verges along the roads. Adorable colorful tents sprout like bright mushrooms & disappear just as soon as the Tour goes by.

13. Living near & regularly traveling along one of the busiest interstate highways in the US, I thought that mostly Americans and Canadians were obsessed with recreational vehicles (RVs), aka camper vans or caravans. Images & terms found here, if you're unsure what I'm nattering on about. I'm completely out of the loop though, because apparently Europeans love them too. Complete with satellite tv dishes. LOL :) However, there are hoards of them along the TDF route.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Book of Unholy Mischief; Elle Newmark

All I can say is yummy. From beginning to end: yummy. Elle Newmark's newest book is an historical thriller wrapped in a delicious disguise as a tour of a 15th century Venetian kitchen. I was invited to review this novel by Pump Up Your Book Promotion and received a (signed!!yay!!) review copy. The image here is of the audiobook, but the cover is the same. Via Simon & Schuster. I spent most of this book hungry. I warned you. lol :) If you are a fan of Ariana Franklin's work, this is definitely one to try.

The plot is deceptively simple: the Doge's chef rescues a near starving street urchin named Luciano & makes him the chef's apprentice. Luciano, along with most of Venice, becomes obsessed with a fabled book that is rumored to have recipes not only for making gold, but for immortality itself. And wealthy Venetians want it. The apprenticeship is a huge opportunity for an uneducated bastard who'd been on the streets of Venice since he was five. Hints are placed carefully so that soon you realize there is significantly more happening to this story than you thought there would be. Venice herself, that grand lady, as well as the food, the cuisine, and most especially her politics are all characters who play a part.

Adjective upon adjective wells up in my mind when thinking about The Book of Unholy Mischief. Lush, sensual and decadent are only three of them. Feast for the senses, 'purple prose' for epicures, to use a romance cliche in the best sense of the phrase. The relationships are complicated by lust, greed, curiosity, furtiveness, revenge and the need for secrecy. Knowledge is power. Venetians, running a shipping empire, know this more than others. For some the quest drives them ever higher, ever onward. But who will pay the price?

The narrative is nonlinear and Ms. Newmark leads the reader along by the stomach, which is entirely pleasant, I assure you. There are a few words and phrases in Italian (also French and Spanish) which are translated at the author's website, here. I realize this review is short, but in my defense I have to say I honestly found very little to critique in The Book of Unholy Mischief, indeed very little to quibble over. For me this is a book to savor much like a ripe peach- sweet, intense, full of delicious juices and you're sorry when it's done. Like homegrown tomatoes, Ms. Newmark's book is the best of the bunch. Is that enough food metaphors for you? This is a book I would have purchased on my own- run out and buy one yourself. It's worth it's weight in ripe peaches! Or homegrown tomatoes. lol :)

PS~ Ms. Newmark has a blog where she discusses book signing in Venice and her age as well as a video walking tour. Click here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


College Student has been visiting this week, so I've been visiting with him as opposed to blogging and reading. Sorry for the lack of posts. :) Am also incredibly behind with my reading schedule! Gotta buckle down & get moving.

Yesterday's schedule: Taking the Pianist out to camp in Shenandoah then taking College Student back to his digs at Grandmere's. Then off to visit the Outlaws (lol) so Hubby can talk to his aunt & uncle. Uncle has very serious form of cancer & wants someone to translate "doctor-speak" into Plain English. My heart goes out to them, he was a farmer for years & farmers are thought to have higher incidences of certain cancers.

American Creationism

In the beginning, God created the
Heavens and the Earth and populated
the Earth with broccoli, cauliflower and
spinach, green and yellow and
red vegetables of all kinds, so Man and
Woman would live long and healthy
Then using God's great gifts,
Satan created Ben and Jerry's
Ice Cream and Krispy Creme
Donuts. And Satan said, "You
want chocolate with that?"
And Man said, "Yes!" and
Woman said, "and as long as
you're at it, add some
sprinkles." And they gained
10 pounds. And Satan smiled.
And God created the
healthful yogurt that
Woman might keep the
figure that Man found so
fair. And Satan brought
forth white flour from the
wheat, and sugar from the
cane and combined them.
And Woman went from
size 6 to size 14.
So God said, "Try my fresh green
salad." And Satan presented
Thousand-Island Dressing,
buttery croutons and garlic toast
on the side.
And Man and Woman unfastened
their belts following the repast.
God then said, "I have sent you heart
healthy vegetables and olive oil in
which to cook them." And Satan
brought forth deep fried fish and
chicken-fried steak so big it needed its
own platter. And Man gained more
weight and his cholesterol went through
the roof. God then created a light, fluffy
white cake, named it "Angel Food
Cake," and said, "It is good." Satan then
created chocolate cake and named it
"Devil's Food."
God then brought forth
running shoes so that His
children might lose those extra
pounds. And Satan gave cable
TV with a remote control so
Man would not have to toil
changing the channels. And
Man and Woman laughed and
cried before the flickering blue
light and gained pounds.
Then God brought forth the potato,
naturally low in fat and brimming
with nutrition. And Satan peeled off
the healthful skin and sliced the
starchy center into chips and deep-
fried them. And Man gained pounds.
God then gave lean beef so that Man
might consume fewer calories and still
satisfy his appetite. And Satan created
McDonald's and its
99-cent double cheeseburger. Then said,
"You want fries with that?" And Man
replied, "Yes! And super size them!"
And Satan said, "It is good." And Man
went into cardiac arrest.
God sighed and created
quadruple bypass surgery.
Then Satan created HMOs.

Found in my inbox this week. Don't know original source.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Last Anne of Green Gables Coming

According to the book section the last L M Mongomery book will be published at the end of October. I couldn't find it anywhere except on Amazon Canada's website. Supposedly there was an abridged version released in the 1970's but this one will be the full text. Read the article linked to above for more details.

Image found on wikimedia.

6 Month Statistics

Here are my monthly statistics, organized a little differently this time around. All reviews, including the DNFs, are hyperlinked within each month listed below. After that they're all listed by subgenre. As always, my goal is to read 100+ titles per year, although I've not managed that since traditional regencies have pretty much gone out of print.







Total Books Read~ 41

Books by Subgenre

Chick Lit, paranormal- 1
Christian Thriller- 1
Christian Women's Fiction- 1
Diet- 0
Fictionalized Memoir- 2
Historical Fiction- 0
Horror- 0
Humor- 0
Literary Criticism- 1
Metaphysics- 1
Mystery, Contemporary- 3
Mystery, Historical- 4
Science Fiction- 4
Sociology- 2
Women's Fiction- 1


Contemporary Suspense- 0
Fairytale- 0
Fantasy Anthology- 0
Fantasy- 1
Historical (Incl. long format Regencies)- 3
Mythology- 0
Paranormal- Vampire- 3
Paranormal- Faery- 0
Paranormal- Mythological Being- 0
Science Fiction- 1
Time Travel- 0
Traditional Regencies- 2

YA Vampire Romance- 1

DNF~ 2

Historical Fiction, WW I- 1
Historical fiction, Mythological character- 1

Sunday, July 12, 2009

June Monthly Synopsis

I suppose June was more productive than I previously thought. I managed to catch up all of my reviews! I can't believe it. Still a slow reader, though, and it's not looking like it'll pick up anytime soon either.

1. The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns; Elizabeth Leiknes

2. Hidden Honor; Anne Stuart

3. Ruby's Slippers; Leanna Ellis

4. Midwinter; Matthew Sturges

5. The Moon's Shadow; Catherine Asaro

6. The Ruby Dice; Catherine Asaro

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Ruby Dice; Catherine Asaro

The Ruby Dice was published in 2008 by Baen, written by Catherine Asaro. It is the second novel in what I consider a duology. The first novel is The Moon's Shadow, reviewed here. These novels are set in Asaro's Skolian Empire world and are basically straight science fiction. If you are a romance reader looking to branch out into others of Asaro's worlds be aware that these novels are very different from her novels published by Luna. Honestly, I think one of the biggest problems SFF has is awful covers! They are so terrible. It can be very off putting. Her stories grab my attention and don't let go, but the covers..jeez. :(

Primarily The Ruby Dice is the story of how Kelricson Valdoria Skolia and Jaibriol Qox manage to drag their respective empires to the peace table. Unknown to Kelric, he and Jai are uncle and nephew, which adds a unique flavor to the storyline. Secondarily the story details the political and personal struggles each ruler has while trying to bring the desired treaty to fruition. This episode takes place nine years after the events in The Moon's Shadow. If you prefer to read these stories in internal chronological story order, the list is here.

It's hard to discuss this novel without including spoilers of the previous one, but I'll try. Kelric was thought dead, killed in action basically, for eighteen years until Jai set him free from the Eubians (previous novel). Ms. Asaro alternates between telling some of Kelric's back story with current political realities,linking them both to his desire for peace. Meantime, Jai has his own motivations for pushing for peace, albeit very carefully. Jai discovers that perhaps he has other, more personal motivations for wanting peace.

The Ruby Dice presents peace making between large governments as achievable via personal relationships between the two rulers. A hoped for solution, perhaps, but unrealistic as far as I'm concerned. I was reminded of the conferences and photo ops over the Cold War years: pretty to look at, nice to read about but they don't really achieve much. Peace isn't unwanted, mind you, but isn't achievable in the manner the author wishes the reader to believe. Other political machinations within each respective group seem to be believeable, the complexity of motivation, the unwieldy bureaucracy, the seeming inbred opposition for opposition's sake, etc.

Leaving that aside, I liked watching Jai and his wife interact, learning how they've built a relationship, how they work together towards goals Jai has for the Empire. Jai seems to spend most of his time suspecting his wife's motivations and goals. He's more of an idealist, while she's more capitalistic and pragmatic. He doesn't appear to recognize that someone behind the scene sometimes has to set the stage for future victories. He's become cynical and more aware that the personal price he will pay is much higher than he originally thought. Inevitable changes for one in his position. Meantime some of her actions proved, to me at least, that she deeply cares for him aside from his position and her subsequent power, although her ability to compartmentalize her roles often keeps Jai off balance. Then too, Eubian culture isn't his native culture and some of their behaviors probably continue to keep him off kilter.

Kelric's family story is unique and interesting and is central to the Skolians' efforts at peacemaking, but is very hard to talk about here without revealing major plot point. His story is also found in the book The Last Hawk. I'm very hopeful that Ms. Asaro will write books about the newest members of Kelric's already large family.

One of the most intriguing elements of The Ruby Dice are the dice themselves. Quis is a dice game played with multiple players using multiple dice. It's kind of a storytelling three dimensional chess game, click here for wiki article explaining chess variants. Kelric has a set and uses them to think through some of the problems presented to him. Quis is an essential element on the planet where Kelric was hidden. I like the concept of a culture that both forms and was formed by a game.

An enjoyable and satisfying episode in the Eubian-Skolian saga, all in all. The familial backstory and the to-ing and fro-ing of more intimate relationships was most interesting to me. Jai and his wife and their situation, personally and politically fascinate me no end & I'm hoping to see glimpses of them in the future.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Need a laugh?

Click here and read this. Someone on this site took my Catherine Asaro The Moon's Shadow entry & either ran through a translator & put the translation up or attempted to translate it themselves & put it up or..?? I don't know. Maybe it's a Catherine Asaro fan who feels I wasn't complimentary enough?? A troll who has nothing better to do? Kinda funny though! :)

The Moon's Shadow; Catherine Asaro

The Moon’s Shadow was published by Tor in 2002. I categorize it as science fiction with romantic elements. If you’re a romance reader, be aware that this has romantic elements only, unlike the novels Ms. Asaro has written for Luna. This novel is the first part of what I think of as a duology, the second part is The Ruby Dice, to be reviewed shortly. They are a continuation of the story of the same man, Jaibriol Rockworth Qox told with a nine year gap (within the story) between novels. This book is a coming of age tale. It’s set in the same world as her Skolian Empire series depicting a member of the Eubian Concord, the Skolian’s despised enemies.

Jaibriol Rockworth Qox, aka Jai, is seventeen and has grown up isolated and sheltered. His parents were mortal enemies who fell in love and were killed trying to reunite when Jai was young. Their story is told in the book Primary Inversion. At least I think that's the right one. If I'm wrong, please let me know. Jai knows neither his mother’s family nor his father’s. That they were intergalactic scions and rulers of most of the known universe between them all, is about all he knows. As The Moon’s Shadow opens Jai trades himself to the Eubian Concord in exchange for an uncle who doesn’t know who or what Jai is. You see, Jai will inherit the throne of the Emperor of the Eubian Concord as well as being a Ruby Telepath, the rarest of all gifts, inherited from his mother’s family.

As the saying goes, Jai leaps from the frying pan into the fire. He reckons the price worth it despite knowing only a smattering of Eubian culture and some of the language. Of course he’s only seventeen. At seventeen we humans invariably think we know everything (and we’re always right!). As a newcomer Jai sees everything with fresh eyes, perhaps he will be able to take the Empire to new places because of that. If he survives, that is.

I think these quotes sum things up nicely:

"I should so like to make the stars safe for those I love.." and then, four pages later, " may be desirable, sometimes, to act in benefit of Eube [the empire] rather than of oneself." Pages 456 & 460.

The Eubian Concord is a culture where everyone is injected with new and powerful nanomeds (tiny cell like machines) whose primary job is to hunt for poisons and to repair injuries and illnesses and other defects. Why? Because you can’t trust anyone, including members of your own family. Royalty, the universe over, since time immemorial, is always a target. Someone else is after your job because they can do it better, because they hate you, because they think you’re weak, because a ruler breeds enemies like dogs collect fleas.

Culturally, Eubians have bred out almost all feelings since feelings are often perceived as weakness. And Eubians despise all weakness. Eubians exist in a kind of symbiotic relationship with other humans the Eubians call ‘providers’ and everyone else calls slaves. The gap left within by the lack of feelings has to be filled with something though. The providers are the ones to fill this, forced by the Eubians. How can you force someone to feed you their emotions? Why, by torturing them of course. When inflicting pain upon a psychically gifted person a Eubian will feel euphoria (and other positive emotions). Eubians have a kind of ‘sixth sense’ about people who are or could be ‘providers’ and Eubian law and culture treats these people as belongings with very few rights.

What does this have to do with the new Emperor Jaibriol? As I mentioned above, he’s a Ruby Telepath. The Eubians don’t know this though. How can a provider rule the empire undetected? Aside from the fact that he’s only seventeen and practically untutored, that is. You’ll have to read The Moon’s Shadow and find out!

I love the books set in this world. I’ve read The Ruby Dice a review of which is coming in a few days. I also borrowed Ms. Asaro’s newest book, Diamond Star, from the library & plan to read (& review) it very soon. There is almost no physics or technological jargon in this book, which is either a plus or a minus depending on your point of view. As a character centered reader I view this as a plus. I was most interested in watching Jai maneuver in this new world he dropped himself into. Sci fi oriented readers may disagree. I wish that Ms. Asaro's website listed the series books in internal chronological order like Ms. Bujold's site does. I like to read the books by the internal chronological order, which I had to look up on wikipedia, unfortunately. A listing that includes short stories is here.

Image found on B&N.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Virus begone! Also- some summer fun :)

I hope anyway. It was quite a battle. Two different security programs & we were still sucked under. We've been reloading & cleaning & polishing & scrubbing & whatnot for days it seems. I hope to goodness we're all ok now.

We spent the 4th (Independence Day) cooking out with the neighbors. Beef ribs, chicken wings & drummettes, 'burgers & hotdogs. Salads, beans. I swear, you've never seen so much food. It was so relaxing. Especially after spending so many damn days fretting with and fighting over the computer. Someone down the street had driven up to West Virginia and bought giant boxes of fireworks, then spent almost three hours setting them off (some time was spent hiding from the cops because lots of them were illegal!). So I didn't have to cook much & didn't have to drive anywhere for fireworks- it was great. The neighbor has a brand new screen house & we all sat in there and gossiped the night away.

Yesterday we drove out to Shenandoah Valley looking for a swimming hole. The weather was perfect for a drive, sunny & warm. We were about ten or twelve miles south and west (I think) of the little town of Sperryville not far from the famous Skyline Drive. We saw two black bears out there across the stream!! Honest!! A group of summer camp kids coming back down the trail from the swimming hole was so excited it was all they chattered about. A fisherman warned us to be careful since bears like to swim. The pair of them were gorgeous. Soaking wet. Avoiding the annoying humans, I suppose.

North American Black Bear
Not my photo. This is from Webshots. This is the type of bear though.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Midwinter; Matthew Sturges

Somehow this year I ended up with two books written by authors who are primarily visual storytellers. This novel was written by a DC Comics writer trying his hand at novel writing. The other being Alan Campbell's Scar Face, reviewed here. Oddly enough both novels feature floating cities! Midwinter was published by Pyr this past March in QP format. It was faced-out on a shelf in my local bookstore & the cover completely caught my attention. No, it wasn't the oh so phallic sword in the male elf's hand. For me the image is atmospheric I suppose: ruins, snow, an armed woman whose pose suggests strength yet vulnerability. So I read the first chapter & that was enough. I was hooked.

Mr. Sturges' version of Faerie has different worlds (of which the reader's reality is but one) stitched together similar in feel to Patricia McKillip's Solstice Wood. These worlds felt 'stitched together' partly as a function of their existence and partly due to their inhabitants' efforts. From the Faerie side at least, they are aware of each others' existence although Faeries are obviously superior! Titania and Mab each rule different Faerie kingdoms originating from a father's inability to refuse a son's request even knowing the consequences of acceding to the son's request.

Midwinter is a classic quest plot. Mauritaine, a loyal, formerly highly placed soldier in the Queen's military is imprisoned. Purane Es, his enemy, succeeded Mauritaine and arrives at the prison with orders to embark upon a top secret, deniable quest for his Queen. It goes without saying this is a nearly impossible quest for an unknown object. Mauritaine must build a little band of adventurers and bring this object back to Titania within strict time requirements. The reward? Depends on the person involved, but for Mauritaine means a pardon.

Who are the band members? Mauritaine is the leader, wrongly imprisoned due to political vengeance stemming from his rival Purane Es'overhwelming ambition and lack of morality. Members of Mauritaine's team include: Perrin Alt, imprisoned because of his mother's belief in the wrong faith; Brian Satterly, a human theoretical physicist caught in Faerie while looking for his niece; Raieve, an ambassador from the country of Avalon seeking help to keep her country unified; Honeywell (proper name: Geluna Eled) Mauritaine's loyal lieutenant who followed him into prison and Grey Mave, the prison guard who lost his job due to Mauritaine. Together this merry band of former prison misfits embarks on what could be either their last adventure while alive or the adventure that could lead to the biggest payoff of their lives.

I have to say that the object of the quest wasn't what I expected. I loved the curse the gypsy girl put on Perrin Alt & his subsequent actions. The storyline was standard quest fare and the characterization is a little flat, but to me Midwinter is surprisingly visual and unique enough that the twists kept me interested. I have to be honest and say that I'm unlikely to buy another one of these in QP size unless it's considerably fleshed out. There isn't cliffhanger at the end, but there is certainly potential for further storyline and character development in future novels. Mr. Sturges' blog implies that he is still working for DC Comics, and while I certainly hope that is so, I also hope he finds enough time to write more in this world.

Image found on B&N

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Scar Night; Alan Campbell

Recently I’ve added several UK and Canadian science fiction (and its attendants subtypes) review blogs to my feed reader. It’s via one of these, Fantasy Book Critic, that I found Alan Campbell. Scar Night is the first in his trilogy about the city of Deepgate. It was published by Bantam Dell in the UK in 2006, US publication was 2007. This is his debut title. I like to read the short little biographies I find in the back of books and on some review sites, it turns out Mr. Campbell was a video game software designer for such games as Grand Theft Auto. It shows very clearly in this book. Scar Night is extremely visual which is central to the atmosphere and the setting of the story.

Thematically, several things stood out for me. On a large scale: exploration of how individuals and groups cope with death, vengeance, how geography helps form the perceptions of whole peoples. How gullible we humans can be when we dearly want to believe what we are told. Mr. Campbell has created a reality where the entire world is the playground of the Gods, where human beings are pawns without worth, where angels are weapons of war. It’s a fascinating and complex world.

The plot is obliquely approached: it was hard to get a handle on it due to uneven pacing and elements that were helpful to understanding what was happening were placed late in the book. Basically we have a city ruled by fear of things that go bump in the night, a city whose entire existence is due to the angels’ war eons ago. Over a period of time, things don’t add up- not all of the bodies found can be attributed to “the thing that goes bump in the night”- the angel Carnival. Once a month Carnival drains one victim of blood & leaves the body behind. Carnival is several thousand years old. Her body is almost completely covered with scars. This has continued for as long as anyone can remember. No one can stop her.

One night a young woman named Abigail Nettle is found dead, dead and drained of blood. This means that she can’t be buried in the traditional manner approved by the church. Mr. Nettle goes on a one man crusade to find his daughter. Meantime, a young angel named Dill is being kept in isolation at the cathedral in the city. Purposefully raised with very little contact with others, Dill is practically a prisoner. One day the Presbyter in charge of the cathedral, seemingly of the very religion, assigns Dill a bodyguard/tutor/babysitter named Rachael Hael. Dill is the only child of one of the last angels. Rachael was in training to become one of the church’s military members, an emotionless automaton titled a ‘Spine’, however, her brother Mark refuses to give his permission for her to undergo the final examination. The reader follows Dill, Rachel, Mr. Nettle and a selection of church members as events unfold in Deepgate.

Let me say first, before I go into the issues I have with this book, and they were several and serious, that I find Mr. Campbell’s voice compelling & I care about these characters. Rachael and Carnival and Arch Chemist Devon are absolutely my favorite characters. Carnival in particular is worthy of her own book. Rachael and Carnival together as fighting pair would have been incredible. I’ve already borrowed the second book.

The biggest problem is uneven pacing. Passage of time within the story felt like it was in super slow motion . It took over one hundred pages to move thirty six hours. Then you get one sentence where several days or more pass and then we’re onto more or less normal time. The second problem I had was placement of certain storyline information late in the book. It made Scar Night unnecessarily complicated and opaque until late in the story. Third, the backstory of and relationships between certain characters wasn't fully explored. Devon and Sypes come to mind, as do Rachael and Dill. Carnival. In terms of Rachael and Dill readers are asked to believe that they somehow come to care for each other despite the fact that a) they get very little face time and most of that is action packed, not in a romantic way and b) the story itself takes place over roughly a month. In fact, Dill seemed pretty much superfluous for a while. Fourth, and this is related to number one, just as the narrative builds momentum the book is over.

So, yeah, for me Scar Night has flaws, flaws that interfered with my enjoyment of the story. However, Mr. Campbell is absolutely compelling. Mr. Nettle, Carnival and Rachael totally suck you and refuse to let go. I’m looking forward to Mr. Campbell’s future writing and I hope that he’s prolific. And available here in the US!