Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Stone of Farewell / Tad Williams

4 out of 5 stars
It is a time of darkness, dread, and ultimate testing for the realm of Osten Ard, for the wild magic and terrifying minions of the undead Sithi ruler, Ineluki the Storm King, are spreading their seemingly undefeatable evil across the kingdom.

With the very land blighted by the power of Ineluki’s wrath, the tattered remnants of a once-proud human army flee in search of a last sanctuary and rallying point—the Stone of Farewell, a place shrouded in mystery and ancient sorrow.

An even as Prince Josua seeks to rally his scattered forces, Simon and the surviving members of the League of the Scroll are desperately struggling to discover the truth behind an almost-forgotten legend, which will take them from the fallen citadels of humans to the secret heartland of the Sithi—where near-immortals must at last decide whether to ally with the race of men in a final war against those of their own blood.


As I look back on the reading experience for Stone of Farewell, I wonder exactly why I enjoyed it so much? I mean, not an awful lot happens. Simon returns to being a pouty, immature boy more often than not. There’s an awful lot of walking, while keeping a look-out for the bad guys. In fact, you could probably sum up the whole book in one sentence: Most of the good guys get to the Stone of Farewell.

I guess what made it worthwhile for me was learning quite a bit more about the Sithi (Williams’ version of Elves). Plus getting some back-story for Ineluki, the Storm King, to find out what turned him into the vengeful creature that is threatening all of Osten Ard. There’s also a peek into Troll culture and a love interest for poor, patient old Binibik.

The character who really gets left in the lurch in this volume is Miriamele, King Elias’ daughter. I would be reading book three regardless, but it is her fate that really is pulling me along at this point. I must know what happens!

This is pretty standard fantasy fare and if you enjoy high fantasy, you are likely to enjoy the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. Those who don’t like elves, trolls, and magic swords should definitely pass this series by!

Book 250 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

Survivors / Richard Fortey

4 out of 5 stars
Evolution does not simply obliterate its tracks as more advanced organisms evolve. Scattered across the globe, organisms and ecosystems that survive from far earlier times can speak to us of seminal events in the history of life. It is these animals and plants that Richard Fortey visits in the field, taking the reader on a voyage to the exotic, and sometimes everyday, places in which they live. Landscapes are evoked, boulders are turned over, seas are paddled as he explains the importance of understanding plants and animals as pivotal points in evolutionary history itself. Survivors: The Animals and Plants that Time Has left Behind is a journey across the globe and across time that weaves a rich and brilliantly delineated tapestry of how life and our planet have evolved together.

 I love Richard Fortey’s science writing. Two of his books are among my absolute favourites (Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth and Dry Storeroom No. 1). Perhaps because there’s an awful lot of stuff happening in my life right now, I didn’t get into this book in quite the same way as those two.

Still, it’s an extremely enjoyable book if you are a fan of paleontology and natural history. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a “living fossil” and Fortey explores it thoroughly in this book (while explaining that the whole idea of a living fossil is a bit off-base—they may look the same, but many things will still have changed over the millennia). I am more than a little envious of Mr. Fortey, as I would dearly love to travel to see some of the creatures that he visited for this book. I mean, Horseshoe Crabs? Sign me up to go see them at spawning time! Wouldn’t you like to hold a Lungfish in Northern Australia? Or is it just me?

What I truly appreciate about Fortey’s writing is the enormous depth and breadth of knowledge of paleontology. Now, he does shine brightest when talking about invertebrates, as you would expect of a trilobite specialist, but he’s a dab hand at fish too and obviously an enthusiastic naturalist when it comes to plants and birds. I am amazed how much natural history knowledge resides in one person’s skull.

Add to that the charm of quoting poetry and literature in meaningful ways, making allusions to dance and art, and one has to admit that this is a well-rounded scholar.

Recommended for those who are fascinated with paleontology in all its glory.

Whose Body? / Dorothy L. Sayers

3 out of 5 stars
The stark naked body was lying in the tub. Not unusual for a proper bath, but highly irregular for murder -- especially with a pair of gold pince-nez deliberately perched before the sightless eyes. What's more, the face appeared to have been shaved after death. The police assumed that the victim was a prominent financier, but Lord Peter Wimsey, who dabbled in mystery detection as a hobby, knew better. In this, his first murder case, Lord Peter untangles the ghastly mystery of the corpse in the bath.

  I hope that Dorothy Sayers would be pleased that people are still reading her Lord Peter Wimsey series in the 21st century, 50 years after her death. That said, this was very much a “first book” in the series. Lord Peter is very well named, it seems to have started a bit whimsically. Ms. Sayers was obviously finding out who this gentleman was and what he was capable of.

There are regular references to Sherlock Holmes, so Sayers was obviously conversant with Conan Doyle’s creation. Especially in the matter of the criminal’s need to confess and explain what he did and why he did it, something that I am unsure actually happens in real life.

I also found echoes of two of her contemporaries, Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse. Lord Peter is an amateur sleuth, like Miss Marple, but he has connections in the police department rather like Hercule Poirot. His relationship with his butler, Bunter, is reminiscent of Bertie Wooster and his man Jeeves.

I was very fond of Peter’s mother, the Duchess. She is a wonderfully intelligent & lively woman and I hope that she continues to feature in future installments.

It was an entertaining little book—unfortunately my copy had some major typographical problems. Every time the character “æ” should have appeared in a word, “¾” replaced it, making for some very odd looking words. Things went even further awry close to the end of the book, when Lord Peter speaks with a woman in French. All the accents, circumflexes and cedillas were replaced by symbols and numbers and made the conversation extremely difficult to parse out.

Though not the most scintillating mystery that I’ve ever read, it is better than many. When time permits, I will undoubtedly read further adventures of Lord Peter Wimsey.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Oath of Gold / Elizabeth Moon

4 out of 5 stars
 Paks was somebody special. Never could she have followed her father's orders and married the pig farmer from down the road. Better a soldier's life than a pigfarmer's wife, so, knowing she can never return home, she runs away to be a soldier, beginning an adventure which will transform her.

I spent the first two chapters of this book crying.  Why, you ask?  Because the second book left Paks in such a hopeless, lonely place and in the first couple of chapters Master Oakhollow takes her in and is SO KIND.  He demonstrates a kindness that’s often missing in our world today.

I had difficulty setting the book down—I really wanted to know what happened.  But I just couldn’t give it 5 stars, despite these two factors.  Once she was healed, Paks went right back to being a Mary Sue character, who could do no wrong and could see her way through all kinds (and I mean ALL kinds) of troubles without getting bent out of shape.  This despite assurances to her on several occasions that she is a better Girdsman now, because she knows how helpless people feel.  Plus she’s gone all religious and holy in the cult of Gird.  For a girl who used to fight & cuss in Duke Phelan’s troops, it was odd to see her go so far to the other end of the spectrum.

Having said that, Moon creates a fascinating world—I would have loved to spend more time with the elves and gnomes and know a bit more about their societies.  The ending, although okay, just kind of petered out.  Rather like a fairy tale, when they just say that everyone lived happily ever after.  A bit more detail in the resolution would have made me feel better about it.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable trilogy and would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys high fantasy.

Book number 249 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

The Gate to Women's Country / Sheri S. Tepper

4 out of 5 stars
Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning.

The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women's Council. As in Tepper's Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text. A rewarding and challenging novel that is to be valued for its provocative ideas.


Very much a product of its time! Post-nuclear war, societies are sorting themselves out and we get to witness two ways of dealing with things. One is very, very matriarchal, the other over-the-top patriarchal. As I began reading, I started with the impression that I was exploring a very patriarchal set-up. Fooled me! Yes, the women and men live (mostly) separately and the women must present sons to the warriors to be raised in warrior culture. But women control almost everything else (medicine, agriculture, trading, education, etc.). Not very religious, but any references present are based on Greek mythology. Sex is viewed as healthy & desirable as long as disease is prevented.

On the other extreme is a community apparently organized much like the polygamist culture in Bountiful, B.C. and in Utah. Older men appropriate all the women & girls for their own “harems,” leaving the young men frustrated and angry. Sex is viewed as an evil necessity, but still avidly desired and “religiously” pursued. Very religious society, based on the Judaeo-Christian model.

Although the author does seem to favour the matriarchal culture, my impression from the book is that she wanted to show that NEITHER extreme is desirable and that both fail in crucial aspects. Perhaps influenced by Margaret Atwood’s excellent The Handmaid’s Tale as well as other post-apocalyptic novels of the 70s and 80s. A bit dated today, but worth reminding ourselves that we can co-operate together to run society fairly.

Book 247 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Divided Allegiance / Elizabeth Moon

4 out of 5 stars
Paksenarrion, once a sheepfarmer's daughter, now a veteran warrior, meets new challenges as she breaks up a robber gang, dispells an ancient evil possessing an elvish shrine and is accepted for training at an academy for knights. Clearly, a high destiny awaits her.

The biggest impression that this book made on me was thinking, “We still don’t treat our wounded veterans very well.” Paksenarrion, the golden girl, leaves her fighting unit for a while to do advanced training. Being the Mary Sue character that she is, she shines at all of it, and is ear-marked to become a Paladin of Gird until she is captured & tortured. Suddenly, her fellow fighters & superiors are questioning her future, even questioning her past dedication to her profession.

Moon was a Marine, and her service experience colours the Paksenarrion saga. Not nearly as dark as Glen Cook’s Black Company series (she obviously had a less traumatic experience than he did), her portrayals of camaraderie in the ranks are pretty sunny until late in this book, when Paks has what we would call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and things get pretty bleak for her. As things still are for returned veterans who are suffering, making this still a rather timely book.

The extra portions of angst for Paks actually make this a better book than the first installment, where she could do no wrong. It is much more interesting & engrossing. No question about whether I will read book 3—it is already in my book bag as my next “work break” book.

Book 248 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project

Trapped / Kevin Hearne

3 out of 5 stars
After twelve years of secret training, Atticus O’Sullivan is finally ready to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth and double the number of Druids in the world. But on the eve of the ritual, the world that thought he was dead abruptly discovers that he’s still alive, and they would much rather he return to the grave.

Having no other choice, Atticus, his trusted Irish wolfhound, Oberon, and Granuaile travel to the base of Mount Olympus, where the Roman god Bacchus is anxious to take his sworn revenge—but he’ll have to get in line behind an ancient vampire, a band of dark elves, and an old god of mischief, who all seem to have KILL THE DRUID at the top of their to-do lists.


Granuaile finally gets to shine! And proves that wolfhound Oberon is correct in calling her Clever Girl.

To me, it feels like this series is kind of getting back on track, although Atticus is still working through the repercussions of poor choices made back in book 3 (Hammered).

However, Granuaile has finally become a Druid in her own right and hopefully will continue to be a steadying influence on Atticus. You’d think a guy as old as he is wouldn’t need steadying, but she keeps him focused on better outcomes.

Now that the supernatural world knows that they are still alive, perhaps they can re-gather a circle of friends that made the first two novels work so well for me.