“Jurt, I need to talk to you,” I said.
Jurt put down the gun that he was cleaning, wiped his fingers on a paper towel, and stood up and followed me to my office. It was the same size as Sam’s, and it looked as crowded. I stood with my back to the desk. Jurt, after surveying the room, leaned against the wall to the side of the door. He left his arms in a neutral posture, loose at his sides.
Damn, he was tall.
“I need you to know something,” I said. “You need to understand.” I’d rehearsed it in my head, of course, but as long as we hit all the correct high notes–“I’m grateful to you. I will never forget what you did for me.” Now and without hesitating: “I want to not harm you. Not ever. If it’s within my power. I can’t guarantee that if you if you stay here.”
Jurt waited a minute before he said: “You wouldn’t be able to guarantee that if I left.”
“I don’t know how to protect you. I don’t know that I can. I just want you to be forewarned.”
He was staring intently at me, goddamn it. I was having enough difficulty looking him in the face already and the long goddamned pauses were not helping. He chose his tone very, very carefully. “What are you going to do?”
This time when we locked eyes it was him who flinched and flicked his own gaze aside. His hands remained loose and easy, but he had thought–there, for an instant–about raising them.
I said: “Don’t get in our way.”
[A/N: this is back from my days in the tiger pits. No mothers were involved in the making of this post.]
“Riders, are we gonna get cultured tonight?”
“Wait, what are we doing?”
“Getting cultured. We’re watching Pride and Prejudice.”
“A2, come get cultured!”
“We’re watching Pride and Prejudice.”
“But no zombies.”
“It’s kind of creepy that he’s just staring at her. I mean, he was awkward in the other version but this one–”
“Even more awkward.”
“So…what she just said was, ‘I heard you’re into this guy and I’m gonna tell it to you straight,’ but then she said, ‘you gotta be careful, he’s poor’?”
“He still staring at her?”
“It’s so awkward!”
“The mother isn’t going to be like this the whole movie, is she?”
“Oh my g*d. I hate her already.”
“I like how the dad is just out of it. He’s so chill.”
“Homegirl is sassy! I love it. I like this girl. I hate everyone else, but I like her.”
“Well, what about Jane?”
“Oh, Jane is OK.”
“And what about the dad?”
“Oh, well, sure, I like him too.”
“What about Darcy?”
“Oh, well, I love Colin Firth, so sure. Even though he’s a creepy awkward dude who stares at girls instead of talking to them.”
“Hey, talking to people is hard.”
“Oh my gosh. Is this the cousin guy?”
“He’s definitely more weasly. And possibly more ratlike.”
“I think he’s less ratlike but more weasly in this one.”
“You guys, he’s creepy!”
“THIS GUY! He’s so creepy!”
“He’s supposed to be like funny in a pathetic way.”
“He’s so creepy, it’s like–it’s like actually making me physically uncomfortable to see him.”
“Ooo, ooh is this gonna be the scene where he finds her in his house? DUDE. I cannot imagine how it would be if I came home and the person I asked to marry me and who turned me down was there IN MY HOUSE.”
“I hope this scene is as good as the other one, because that was deadass hilarious.”
“I feel like I need to read this book.”
“You need to read the book.”
“What did I miss?”
“I wish I could catch you up, but…”
“….culture. You missed getting cultured.”
“Oh. That makes me sad.”
“When are the zombies going to show up?”
Ashok Vadal vs Harry Dresden.
Yikes, I have no idea what would happen here, except that Harry is going to run his mouth and Ashok is going to be suspicious and grumpy. Thing is, I can’t see these guys continuing to fight after they’ve both figured out they’re on the side of the Good Guys. In my opinion, most of these Who Would Win matches end with both parties having a drink and swapping yarns somewhere.
Thera and Murphy…mind you, I’m pretty sure they’d actually get along excellently, but if it’s a matter of either of them seeing their boys in trouble, they’d definitely wade right in. Normally I’d say that Murphy has the definite physical combat advantage (multiple black belts and all, y’know), but if it’s post-Skin Game Murphy with a bad leg, and if Thera can’t throw a knife worth a damn because her hands are messed up, the odds would even out a little bit more.
So, hey, maybe the boys aren’t going to fight at all, maybe they’re just busy dragging their ladies apart…
Harry Dresden vs John Carter, Lord Greystoke.
Are you kidding me? There isn’t going to be a fight. Harry is going to be fanboying so hard he gets caught off guard when the Pelluciderean Neanderthal ninjas get teleported in by the vengeful Therns of Barsoom (who allied with the insane Russian) and a bundle of hired thugs from the south side (probably ghouls in disguise) who tried to jump him earlier and are now aiming to kidnap the womenfolk.
Murphy gets kidnapped on account of being a blonde female in the company of the heroes and thus obviously a damsel.
Murphy has strong opinions about this.
John Carter, Lord Greystoke vs Conan of Cimmeria
Like I said, no matter how this begins, this is only ever going to end with them having a drink somewhere with their respective ladies (whom they have just finished rescuing.) Conan is probably going to pay, because he also pinched the jewels from under the evil altar on the way out.
Ashok Vadal vs Benedict of Amber
Oh, wow. If it did come to a fight, Benedict is going to win hands-down, and the most Ashok is going to do is make him raise a sweat. But realistically, Ashok lucked out in this one, because it’s quite obvious Benedict isn’t there for a fight. Benedict has come back, after an unavoidably long hiatus–
–perhaps he was imprisoned in Chaos; perhaps he was guarding another relation and dared not leave; perhaps an enemy or a jealous lover interfered with the flow of time and kept him for ages past his intent–
–to see how his children fare.
Ramrowan is obviously Benedict.–the greatest strategist, or tactician, or combatant who ever lived, but who has learned the value of peace through his who also realizes the horror of war and the worth of a human life. He’d have some answers for Ashok, and then they’d go off and fight the demons of Chaos together.
Solomon Kane vs Corwin of Amber
Solomon Kane, the solemn, fanatical Puritan avenger, has been on the trail of an evil man like a starving wolf follows the scent of blood. From one end of the world to the other he has been at this cur’s heels, and yet somehow stumbles into an ambush anyway. (This always happens).
Corwin of Amber pauses in his hellride when he sees a half-familiar form in a desperate fight, one man against many, cut and tattered and blooded with many wounds: staunch, undefeated. He turns aside in his journey through Shadow, even though he knows in his heart this can be but the shadow of a man he once knew ages before: in the days before the court of the Sun King fell, in the time when the days were new and the nights bright and deadly.
Kane recounts his tale of woe and vengeance and his mission of Godly vengeance. Corwin rides with him to see it done and fights with him, side by side, one last time.
Kane invites the stranger to stay and ride with him a while, but Corwin demurs. He has a brother to murder and a multiverse to conquer, and, with a courteous salute and a reckless laugh, spurs his horse. And yet the words his once-companion calls after him ring on the wind, strangely to his ears: “What profitteth it a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?”
The actual Frazetta “Eowyn vs the Nazgul” pic is laughably pathetic. As is the original lineart, which I would heartily not recomend any one look up on the Frazettagirls.com website and then purchase.
TLDR: Even if this one is pretty good, I have lost all patience with the Dragaera Cycle.
It’s difficult to read Steven Brust’s books at all now–even ones I previously
loved liked found okay, like Issola and the very first Jhereg–because now I know the dirty secret. He’s not interested in his own story, his own universe, or making it all fit together. Dragaera isn’t a tightly-woven narrative tapestry, it’s a collection of very bright and colorful threads in a loose knot. Now and then Brust may tug a couple of threads taut, just to show off how shiny and pretty those strands are. But there’s no overall, well-thought out picture that can be salvaged from the tangle at this point (well, not without extreme and conscientious effort which I highly doubt will be made).
Brust’s interest in Dragaera lies in…I can’t say the characters, because he seems painfully uninterested in them, but he does like gourmet food, philosophical digressions (AKA, why socialism is good and mafia aren’t), and….I guess, Devera. And this is a problem, because klava and gourmand fried chocolate-dipped garlic and roast asafoedita-stuffed dormouse have left enough of a bad taste in my mouth that even after reading half of this book and enjoying it, I was extremely reluctant to pick it up again–and I still can’t bring myself to actually read The Baron of Magister Valley (AKA, The Count of Monte Cristo IN DRAGAERA.) Why should I read a book in a series that the author doesn’t even want to finish and doesn’t like any more? Why should I expect to be pleasantly entertained when that’s not the purpose of the story, anymore? Why read a well-written and enjoyable prequel to a series that the author doesn’t want to finish?
Brust does not want to tell stories about swashbuckling but hard-edged heroes, noble but ruthless warriors, sorcerers who are as powerful as gods, and gods who are as petty as men. He doesn’t want to tell a story of criminals or of empires, rebels or righteous war. He doesn’t really care about excitement any more, and adventures are downright distasteful. Much better to drink egg coffee in a corner cafe. His stories are the stories of an old man who shares little in common with his younger self (who at least tried), or with younger audiences (who came on board for the swashbuckling, capeswishing, rapier-flashing, epic fantasy stories written on a narrative backdrop that is a richly-woven tapestry, etc…AKA, people like me who stuck it out for fifteen books but have at this point noticed which way the wind blows.)
That said, and with it in mind, Brust is at his best when he’s riffing off a better author and doesn’t have to come up with those tedious narrative beats himself. As in Paths of the Dead, which I own but haven’t read in several years, this is one of those instances.
This subseries is a prequel to the main Vlad Taltos books, covering the fall and rise again of the Dragaeran Empire. It’s also a riff off of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers–D’Artagnan, Portos, Aramis, and, uh, whats-his-face, Oliver Reed played him in the movie…whatever–becoming Khaavren (the main hero), Tazendra (the dumb but loveable ruffian), Aramis (the sneaky Yendi), and…I dunno, the other guy. (WHAT IS HIS NAAAAME?!) So, I had it wrong, this is actually book 2 of a sub-trilogy within the Khaavren Romances subseries of the Dragaera Cycle. Eh, whatever.
The plot is: Khaavren, formerly the swashbuckling hero of a previous generation, has decided that he needs to get back in shape and take to the road again. His timing is good, because meanwhile, Zerika has re-emerged with the Orb from the Paths of the Dead–making her indisputably the new Empress. Problem is, there really is a dispute going on, because there are at least two pretenders to the throne, and they have quite a few more men than she does. (She’s got about twenty-five, including Khaavren’s son Piro). Meanwhile, young Dragonlord Morrolan has set up shop in a ruined castle and begun doing what he is assured Dragonlords do, which tax the local civilians and use the money to assemble an army. He’s got about three thousand soldiers. Meanwhile, immortal sorceress Sethra Lavode is…well, she’s in her mountain doing whatever she does that is of deep mystic import and is never actually explained to the audience. And, since this is book 2 of 3-ish, that’s about it. There’s a couple of battles but they don’t resolve the Pretendership conflict, and on the personal level, the book ends with a near-tragedy as Khaavren’s old-school values and personal prejudices end up pushing his son away into a life of banditry (whee!)
So the main attraction the Khaavren Romances have is that the writing style, as well as the plot, homages Dumas–that is, it’s wordy, literate, and full of narrative filligree and little stylistic flourishes which ironically help flesh out the world and the characters far, far better than plainer prose. It’s a bit stilted, but it’s charming, often amusing, (“Oh bother,” said Tazendra, “I’ve lost the reins.”) and sometimes actually quite witty. Actual action is treated in classic style: with many flourishes and little detail and as much posturing as is necessary to show our heroes in a heroic light.
The characters are less of an attraction, mostly because they’ve already been established and the narrative convention is to keep them on a bit flatter of an arc than we’d normally see. Mostly the only development is between Piro and his love interest Ibronka, culminating in a highly amusing scene wherein their friends basically lock them in a closet to resolve the UST. Morrolan, the second lead, amusingly gets slighted by the biased narrator, who regards him as an unsophisticated country (human-raised) bumpkin who wavers between dangerously airheaded and just plain dangerous. Needless to say, Morrolan’s actual actions put a lie to everything but the dangerous bit.
So, overall: this is a good book, and it’s part of a series that once showed great promise. Unfortunately, given that the rest of the series fails signally to live up to that….I honestly can’t enjoy it anymore.
Rated: One half-exploded sorceress out of…well…one.
We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams; Wandering by lone sea-breakers, and sitting by desolate streams; World losers, and world-forsakers, On whom the pale moon gleams: Yet we are the movers and the shakers of the world forever it seems. With wonderful deathless ditties We build up the world's great cities, And out of a fabulous story We fashion an empire's glory: One man with a dream, at pleasure, Shall go forth and conquer a crown; And three with a new song's measure Can trample an empire down. We, in the ages lying In the buried past of the earth, Built Nineveh with our sighing, And Babel itself with our mirth; And o'erthrew them with prophesying To the old of the new world's worth; For each age is a dream that is dying, Or one that is coming to birth. - Edgar O'Shaughnessy - (the rest of the poem is longer and, frankly, weaker. Vanitas poetae: poets are at their worst when allowed to opine on how world-changing *their* poetry is.....)
“Oooo how big?”
“Not that big.”
“So I have a thing on my blog, Movies With My Mother, where it’s us watching a movie and me explaining it as we go along–”
“I am going to find your blog and I am going to read that, because it sounds like the funniest thing ever.”
“Ah, uh.” [Riders changes the subject]
“Oh, you know T?”
“Yeah, he used to come around [redacted] all the time with his dogs. I loved his dogs.”
“Yeah, they’re awesome! He’s okay. He’s not as smart as he thinks he is–”
“No he is not.”
“…so yeah, M is not in good health, and her son–”
“Yeah, he’s also–”
“It’s not rocket surgery.”
“If you ladies can just give me a minute, I need to figure out what to do with these guns.”
– My cats are in good health
– So are my parents
– Go-kart speedway rally driving: it’s quite a bit harder than it looks
So having gone on at length as to how Shiwan Khan–who, having a positive gluttony for punishment, just kept coming back to New York to receive his due whalloping for four books in a row–is a decidedly unimpressive supervillain and deserve no such credit as “archrival” or “nemesis,” here is a rundown of the first appearance to a character who does make a worthy rival to The Shadow: Doctor Rodil Mocquino, the Voodoo Master.
In brief, my thesis is: this book is perfectly executed to show that Mocquino is a supremely dangerous, intelligent, ambitious enemy–and that The Shadow is more powerful, insightful, and and deadly than he….while still retaining suspense, interpersonal danger, and plenty of excitement.
The plot begins with the police acquiring a zombi, not that they know what he is exactly or how to spell it. Ace Inspector Cardona, who has something of a clew now and then, calls in Doctor Rupert Sayre–who calls for his sometimes-client, sometimes-superior, Lamont Cranston, whom he believes to be The Shadow. Yes, it’s out of the ordinary for an M.D. to call in a civilian to make a diagnosis, but then Dr. Sayre doesn’t have that much experience with West Indian superstition, crime lords, methods of subtle and unsubtle psychological torture, and fiendish plots.
Our heroes soon learn details of the last item: a voodoo cult in the very heart of New York, figuring highly placed members of society–who have been programmed or lured into observing with fiendish glee the voodoo deaths of their own close relatives, their friends or employers…. deaths in effigy which are soon duplicated mysteriously in the flesh, leaving said cultees in the possession of, often, great wealth. More to the point, the former zombi, Stanton Wallace, fears for the life of his employer, Texan millionaire Dunley Bligh. Bligh’s situation is set up for a pretty seamless murder. He is on board an ocean liner that has already left port, there to receive a consignment of jewels from the ship’s purser; he has heart issues and takes daily medications at a clinical dosage that is just barely below the fatal one.
Observe how there is a greater but currently immobile threat–The Voodoo Master and his ring of minions (currently numbering about twenty. Keep an eye on that number, because it declines over the course of this novel, heh)–and also an innocent in immediate danger, elsewhere. Standard stuff, obvious, sure: but where The Shadow shows his superiority is that he doesn’t rush headlong to the rescue, committing his full strength in one single, less important, direction. (As, for instance, Tarzan, John Carter, Batman, or Feanor would.)
The Shadow has already located the Voodoo Master’s cult headquarters; he leaves it under close observation by his most competent agents (cough, not Harry Vincent, cough.) Mocquino cannot move without this information reaching The Shadow; and via Burbank and a wireless radio, any such move can be traced or countered. While not negated, the greater threat is controlled. This leaves The Shadow clear to move to the rescue of Dunley Bligh. An artificial crisis is not created by having the hero completely withdraw the field and leave the villain free to act.
Needless to say, the other way The Shadow > other heroes is that he also succeeds when he sets out to rescue the innocent bystander. One of the cheesy but utterly endearing parts of the early to mid-stage Shadow novels is the author’s fullhearted intention to make his hero awesome by any means necessary, even if it was offscreen. The Shadow reaches the outbound ocean liner with the cover story of participating in an aeronautic stunt flight to land an autogiro on a moving vessel, and the audience, like Dunley Bligh, learns from the ship’s purser that “The landing was perfect!” Because of course it was.
Meanwhile, while an artificial crisis has been avoided, a genuine one results: Stanton Wallace sends Cardona and a posse of headquarters detectives into a trap. Doctor Mocquino’s men get the drop on the detectives and hold them at gunpoint just long enough for everyone to evacuate the voodoo cult headquarters.–Just time enough for Hawkeye to put a call into Burbank, and a strange, swift, wingless plane to swing wide of the Newark airport and drop a passenger off on a rooftop (the landing, again, perfect, although we don’t get to see how well Miles Crofton handles the take-off. Honestly, poor Crofton has like the most thankless job of all The Shadow’s agents, considering how he gets shown up almost every time he’s on screen.)
The Shadow manages to save Cardona and the detectives (remember: not like other heroes), and to thin out Mocquino’s minions–but, the Voodoo Master manages to completely vanish.
This section of the novel is where Mocquino begins to show his own quality–by managing his disappearing act in the first place, smoothly enough that the police never do figure it out; by continuing on the offensive and defensive; and by maintaining enough firepower to continue to be a threat, even to The Shadow and his agents.
Doctor Mocquino traces the source of the leak to his organization backwards–to Stanton Wallace–but also forwards, placing preemptive countermeasures in the house of the next most likely cultist to be spotted and interrogated by either the police or The Shadow. What’s more, those countermeasures are effective. (Mind you, if Dr. Sayre had more experience at the spy game, and Sergeant Markham wasn’t a moron, Mocquino would have had much less success. Alas. Note, however, that Cardona is allowed to show his intelligence by calling Markham out for the blockhead he is.)
Anyhow, the tension remains high, because The Shadow is physically injured while making his escape, and Doctor Sayre’s combination of over-caution and inexperience prevents him from taking the correct measures. Also, (sigh) Harry Vincent has walked directly into a trap along with Stanton Wallace and needs to be rescued, but never mind. You’d think that these are straits dire enough in themselves, but no: Mocquino continues on the offensive, sending minions to capture Doctor Sayre (they escape with their lives only because The Shadow is too physically weak to pursue them, and are terrified by the notion that an actual sorcerer ghost is after them.)
“The Shadow is not human!” he gasped. “He is what I say—a ghost! Bullets pass through him like a vapor! We do not doubt your power, master. But The Shadow, too, has power—”
Manuel was nodding. Arilla kept on: “At the old house!” he panted. “I have talked with those who fought there. No bullets could harm The Shadow! He advanced in the face of guns! At Rathcourt’s—I have talked with Manuel—let him speak—”
“I saw The Shadow at Rathcourt’s,” put in Manuel, promptly. “I saw guns pointed toward his heart. I saw those weapons fired. One would have thought that the cartridges were blank—”
“And to-day,” added Arilla, “I fired point-blank. My aim was perfect! My bullet did not even stop The Shadow’s laugh!”
Mocquino was glowering. Sayre, turning, saw the fearful expressions on the faces of the Voodoo Master’s minions. Harry and Stanton were looking on, elated. Sayre saw a chance for a conclusive statement.
“They are right, Mocquino,” expressed the physician. “Scientifically and from a medical standpoint, The Shadow is superhuman.”
And while this doesn’t fool Mocquino for more than a few minutes, there’s a wonderful moment where he’s definitely worried.
Anyhow: the plot therefore continues to a satisfactory climax, with another voodoo ritual upcoming and Harry Vincent and Stanton Wallace making guest appearances therein; with the police still officially and unofficially at a complete loss; and with The Shadow’s remaining agents also definitely worried about their chief’s physical ability to participate in the upcoming fight.
(Mind you, Doctor Mocquino has now lost so many minions he can’t afford to post an outside guard. Heh.)
And so it goes.
I’m all out of things to say, but it’s one of the best. Even if the guy on the cover does look like he got stung by a bee.