Dark Avenger’s Sidekick – John C Wright – Repost Review


Dark Avenger’s Sidekick is the second trilogy in the Moth & Cobweb series by John C Wright, comprising Daughter of Danger, City of Corpses, and Tithe to Tartarus. It is YA novel that straddles the line between science fiction, urban fantasy, and high fantasy and does it effortlessly. It’s written by the one SF/F writer alive who can use prose on the level of Jack Vance and write worlds with the scope of Roger Zelazny. I liked it a lot less than the previous trilogy. I wanted to like this book a lot more than I liked it; caveat: I think part of my problem is that I don’t like Urban Fantasy that comes down too heavily on the Fantasy side.

In short? I was disappointed in the resolution of the plot, and did not feel that the heroine’s characterization worked properly for the genre and her narrative role in it.

Also, not enough respect for my boy Batman/Winged Vengeance.

Plot: an amnesiac woman wakes up in a hospital bedroom, convinced that it is a trap. She’s right. A trio of monsters invade and try to kill her; she fights her way clear and escapes. (The whole five-feet tall, 90 pounds soaking wet = ineffective combatant rule doesn’t apply to mooks, I guess). She’s wearing a hospital gown and a mysterious ring that changes its appearance and has various powers.She doesn’t know her own name.

Long story short, she is Yumiko Moth the Fox Maiden, apprentice of a night-stalking vigilante called Winged Vengeance (he’s basically Batman except hardcore, lol); she lost her memory during a raid and was either left behind by Winged Vengeance (boo), or escaped via the sacrifice of her fiancee, Tom. I forget which. In any case, Tom is being held prisoner by the bad guys and is going to be sent to Hell as teind for the court of the evil faery. Does this sound vaguely familiar yet?

Yumiko, despite her deep reservations about the kind of silly, post-modern, unrealistic story where *girls* rescue *boys* (hmph!), well, has to go rescue him. Part of this involves going undercover. In time-honored tradition for beautiful young female detectives, this involves being scantily clad. (Book 2) I did snicker at the wardrobe mistress assuring Yumiko, with sadistic cheerfulness, that their weight-watching regimen was no more arduous than that of a professional wrestling team.

Book 2 and a chunk of book 3 comprise Yumiko failing at her mission in various humiliating-to-hilarious ways, until she teams up with the hero of the previous trilogy, Gil Moth, is baptized as a Catholic, and stops trying to fight for her love and just to hold on to him. Literally. While being injured in various gross and horrifying ways that are described with sadistic relish.

I found this ending unsatisfactory.

I have three problems with this story overall.

Problem 1: Improper handling of female character archetype. See, authors have limited repertoire of characters. Their expertise is in how they change and modify their own stock of characters by giving them different skillsets, placing them in new settings, or using different, new plots to show them off in different ways.

This is why Roger Zelazny writes of tall, laconic, green-eyed men with many names; but they are differentiated into the tall, ballad-writing, many-named Corwin of Amber, the tall, laconic, many-named hero of My Name is Legion, and the tall, sarcastic Carlton Davits. All have different roles to play. His female characters are either sultry but straightforward or sultry and coy; they are memorable either way. Larry Correia writes big, burly men who are smarter than they look and like guns, handsome antagonistic men who are dumber than they look and like guns, and beautiful women who are not particularly sophisticated, who like guns *a lot*. Gordon R Dickson writes square-jawed space-age heroes who Know How Systems Work, who confidently set forward to make them Work For Me. The confident hero can either not be quite as smart as he thinks he is (Soldier Ask Not), not nearly as smart as he thinks he is (Pro), or dead right (Wolfling). His female characters tend to be: annoying. Well, you can’t do everything all at once. Especially if you’re a nerd. Writing for nerds.

Again: an expert author can have a limited repertoire, it’s fine–but he must know how to use what he’s got.

John C. Wright’s female character repertoire is singular: highly feminine, happy to be so, happy with life in general, cheerful, helpful. (Any similarities to Mrs. Wright, who, as per her blog seems like a lovely person, are purely speculative. But, yeah.) This type of heroine works quite well–as he himself noted in character, in the Golden Oecumeneif the genre is first-person romance (heh). Now, as his skills improve, he is able to vary this somewhat: highly feminine, cheerful, and secretly a femme fatale Trying To Lure Hero Into MORTAL SIN (Iron Chamber of Memory); or, highly feminine, not cheerful because her mission is not going well, and doesn’t particularly like her putative love interest (yet) (Somewhither). Both of these heroines do work and I rate both of those books highly.

Yumiko is an attempt to write a Short Female Badass (an archetype in its own right)…who is also highly feminine, giggly, and revels in male attention. She starts out as the Fox Maiden, the Dark Avenger’s sidekick, someone whose deeds of vengeance strike fear and nausea into the hearts of her victims. Or so we’re told. Yumiko herself has amnesia and, over the course of the story, mostly proves herself to be the kind of girl who, as a presumable adult, still has relations with a large stuffed teddy bear. (not kidding). The dichotomy doesn’t work. Now, while I think there is a way it *could* have worked, (see the Tam Lin section below), as it is, it doesn’t.

Problem 2. Subversion of narrative structure.
Bear with me.
The central tenet of fiction is that heroes win after they lose. Especially after losing in a particular way, with additional humiliation, by showing more prowess, intelligence, technique. Those who completely abandon their initial techniques and try to win without fighting are those who are certain of possession of the moral high ground (Return of the Jedi) (or physical high ground, Revenge of the Sith), and the conflict ceases to be about the fight so much as about the moral and psychological dimensions of it.

The hero’s learning curve has to continue logically forward from whatever has already been shown before. Otherwise, why show it? So if hero lost before by: applying brute force instead of strategy–win by applying superior strategy. If loss was by expecting fair play–win with overwhelming force.

Yumiko doesn’t change her initial technique by Being More Clever. The heroes are outwitted at every single step of the way by What’s-his-name Moth anyhow. She doesn’t change her initial technique by Working On A Team and Trusting Her Allies, either. No: what she *does* change is her violent pagan heart for a new, sinless, Christian (Catholic) one, and then also doesn’t fight. (Not Kidding) Protestants (and atheists) read these damn books too, you know.

This is, I believe, a narrative-level mistake. Changing from a physical battle to a physical struggle that isn’t a battle, without allowing hero to negate their previous failures is highly unsatisfying. Not allowing the hero to make up for previous humiliations caused by being dumb is unsatisfying. If Yumiko had won without fighting by outsmarting the Moths and the forces of Hell, that would have been satisfying. If Yumiko had managed to learn a new fighting technique and suddenly was able to overpower the enemy physically, that would have been satisfying. Instead, Yumiko wins by being passive. (Is it because girls should be passively courageous and not try to fight and (hmph!) rescue boys? I have my suspicions.)

Problem 3:
The climax of the story is a nearly point for point retelling of Tam Lin. For your amusement and/or edification, please follow the link, which is a brief and highly editorialized retelling. In short, though: heroine’s lover is on his way to hell; heroine must identify lover accurately; heroine must physically grab hold of lover; heroine must hold on to lover through various shapeshifts, boom, lover has been saved from hell.


(Image via wylielise.deviantart.com. Have I mentioned recently that WORDPRESS SUCKS AND THEIR EDITORS ARE NOW FAR LESS USEFUL THAN BEFORE? BECAUSE WORDPRESS SUCKS.)

Ahem. So, anyway: despite being someone so absolutely gifted at reimagining old tales, putting new twists into them, making utterly absurd and illogical things happen in charming and funny ways…Wright nonetheless plays this absolutely, completely, straight. And misses by a mile.

Part of the reason Tam Lin works is that there’s an extra archetypal quality to it, something my liftime as a Pratchett reader insists on calling “myffic.” Janet is pregnant; she needs Tam Lin to live not only for her own sake, but for her child’s. Tam Lin wants to escape Hell, and also to escape the Faerie, to be a father to his child in the world of men. The subtextual meaning of this story is that people who take responsibility for themselves at each step of the way, can, will, and should make great efforts to better their lives and the lives of their children.

This paratext is absent from Wright’s story. And I think that actually putting it back in–making Yumiko knowingly or unknowingly pregnant during her story–would have actually worked at some level. At the very least, it gives Yumiko an out for not being All That, physically. Thus it’d be OK that she can’t defeat the enemy in a hand-to-hand battle; thus, it would add a ticking clock element to her days as a corseted undercover dancing girl.

A second myffic point in Tam Lin is that Tam doesn’t injure Janet even though the enemy turns him into different, scary animals to try and make her let go: things may be weird, appearances may be scary, but he is the same person underneath, worthy to be her husband and the father of her child. He may not be able to control his outside circumstances (shape), but he can control himself and not harm the mother of his child. Here, Yumiko is *horribly* injured as Tom is turned into a variety of porcupines, sword fish, ray fish, sawfish, venomous porcupines, and other nasty things with spikes on them. What’s more, this section goes on for a long time.

Misery porn + the climax of your novel? DO NOT MIX.

(Then she gets healed by drinking the blood of her vampire priest cousin. Not kidding. What??)

Could Yumiko have used her Tom-provided technology nonlethally as it was “intended” to be used, to grapple and hold him? Sure. Does she? No. Could Yumiko have provided the bigwigs of Faerie proof of What’s-his-Name’s treachery and misdeeds, and persuaded them to switch out Tom for him? Sure. Does she? No. Could Yumiko have engaged in one-on-one battle for Tom? Sure (she has a magic ring that is kryptonite to the faery, a magic bow that is kryptonite to the faery, a magic sword that is…yes. If that’s not enough to make it a fair fight, then Tom should have made her some ray guns, too.) Does she? No.

Does this book have any pros? Yes, like all JCW books, it is superbly worded, the worldbuilding is excellent, the descriptions, gadgets, and settings are vivid. There are many good points about this story; I’m just out of time to write about them and it was more fun to complain.

Rated: 2/5 magic swords that are never drawn, magic bows that are never strung, and magic arrows that are never fired.

Green Knight’s Squire – John C Wright – Repost Review

swan-knight-son-640x1024The Green Knight’s Squire is a YA Urban-slash-High-slash-Christian Fantasy trilogy by John C. Wright. The three books are: Swan Knight’s Son, Feast of the Elfs, and Swan Knight’s Sword. The trilogy is the first part of a 12-book series, Moth & Cobweb, of which 6 books have been published. (Review of Dark Avenger’s Sidekick to follow)

Short review: It’s quite good. Extremely Catholic, somewhat long-winded, but quite good. I strongly believe JCW’s writing career would do way better if he met an editor who could a) freaking make him stop monologuing, b) seriously, tone down the Catholic-ness, c) stop it with the sadomasochism and gross torture descriptions. Fortunately, (c) is not a problem in this book.

Nevertheless, and this is important, when Mr. Wright gets in gear and writes, he writes well, and I don’t think there is a single author today who uses language as well as he does. Some of work is downright Vancian: mood, setting, and descriptions are clear, vivid, picturesque, and sometimes, brilliant. Also, there’s a lot of pure homage to G. K. Chesterton, which is worth a star unto itself…but we’ll get into that in a minute.

Plot: Swan Knight’s Son is about a modern-day boy’s journey to becoming a knight. The fact that his mother is Ygraine of the Riddles, a Swan May, his dog talks and is an elf spy, he can understand the speech of animals and birds, and that there is a magic door in their house that follows them across country and opens to a moonlit room with his father’s armor, makes this a little easier for him than it would be for a strictly normal modern-day boy. On the other hand, he does end up in jail…

feast_960Feast of the Elfs
follows Gil as he is recruited into The Last Crusade by the man in the dark room from Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, swears allegiance to King Arthur, attends the titular Feast, meets The Green Knight–yes, the same one as in the Arthurian saga, what a coincidence–and finagles actual weapons training out of the elf king’s champion. This being part two of a trilogy, it ends on a down note as Gil loses his father’s sword–one of the Thirteen Treasures of Lyonesse–and has to be rescued by his mermaid girlfriend.

In Swan Knight’s Sword, Gil (spoiler!) gets his father’s sword back, returns to the court of the elves, declares himself openly as the Swan Knight’s son, restores his mother’s honor, gains the respect of knights and kings, everything goes just fine and all wrongs are righted and his mom meets his girlfriend and is okay with it (whew!)…ready to live happily ever after and have more adventures when the time comes.

– Wright’s command of language is, of course, worth full marks. I’ve already mentioned the associated downside of this, that he lets his tendency to floridness get away with him, but the upside is lavish descriptions, witty dialogue, and outlandish but utterly logical scenarios that range from the ludicrously sensible to eye-rollingly brilliant.
– Building off that thought, one real strength of these books and Wright’s stuff in particular is his ability to mix and match elements of other works, literature, classic movies, classical mythology, chivalric romances, etc…and make them work. For instance: Batman (well, actually, The Shadow) plus Norse Mythology? But of course: it’s a homage to the disguises of Odin, who walked anonymously abroad in a broad hat and muffling cloak, clouding the minds of men that they did not see what was before their very eyes. Part two of the Moth & Cobweb series does this even better by introducing Tomorrow “Tom Swift” Moth, the gadget and science hero. (Sidenote: Tom Swift was one of the very young Rider’s first SF heroes. I was incredibly chuffed to find someone else had read and remembered those books.)
– Besides being able to make literary themes match together and work, Wright is also able to pull off what would otherwise be the most ridiculous juxtapositions ever. In book 1, Gil wants to train as a knight, but can only find a bear…a talking bear, naturally…who can teach him to fight. The training regimen? Daily practice in bear crawls [WHICH ARE A REAL EXERCISE, LOL], bear hugs, roaring, and playing dead….all of which Gil later uses when fighting. Bravo. I loved it.
– ….and some of the dialogue is brief, snappy, and genuinely witty. SOME of it.
– Ruff–Sgeolan son of Iolan–spy of the elfs, is one of the best dogs and worst spies ever. In fact, all of the talking animals were well-done, including the spider who gets ticked at Gil for letting her dinner out of the web.
– “We thought this was a Kwanzaa tree!” Politically-correct fairies are the best fairies.

Cons: Everybody talks too much, talks like a professor of English Literature who has been mainlining Arthurian literature and is extremely anxious to tell you all about it. And if you aren’t Catholic, well, prepare to let your eyes glaze over at points.

I’m not really exaggerating on the first point. In Feast of the Elfs, it takes all of nine pages before a swansword_960-500x800-1character starts talking at very extended length (he starts on page eight. By page nine I decided it was probably a monologue. By page fourteen there was no doubt and I skipped to the end. On page eighteen.)

And as far as the second…well, what else can you call the scene where Gil, rightfully skeptical about a “law enforcement” job that requires no skills, ID, training, or prior experience, asks what it is. The Man in the Dark Room (AKA, Mr. Sunday from Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday…AKA, God) replies: “Martyrdom.” ….Yeah. It’s not the random, minor jabs against Protestantism (poking fun at other denominations in good faith and humor is totally understandable); it’s the smug attitude and on-the-nose preachiness that I find wearisome.

All in all: I liked it, I read all three books in a single afternoon, and I do really recommend it.

Rated: Nine and a half flaming swords out of thirteen

Monster Hunter Files – partial review

“Thistle” by Larry Correia – 3/5. Owen and company rescue a little girl from monsters. The little girl has a rather different opinion…
This gets a low score because a) I dislike Owen as a narrator, and b) it, as unbelievably as this sounds, it stretches disbelief too much. Edward the tracker-orc can smell a little girl’s doll, but not that she’s a thistle-monster herself?

Correia is at his weakest when he’s writing Owen–there’s just too much smugness in his voice. He might deny that Owen is a self-insert, but it’s a weak and unconvincing denial given how OP and insufferable Owen is. Still, even the worst of the Correia’s popcorn stories is readable, even if it does make you absolutely swear off popcorn until the next book comes out.

“Small Problems” by Jim Butcher – 5/5. MHI meets NIMH.

In order for fanfic story to be good, it must match the original author’s tone. To be outstanding, it should also put an new (but fitting) perspective into play, adding shading and original colors to the picture while still staying inside the lines. Most fanfic authors are amateurs. JB is a pro. This is a really good story that is well written, matches the tone of the original, portrays known characters without disfigurement, and adds a cool new element to the world to boot.

NIMH rats will forever fight in Roman shieldwalls in my imagination. It’s excellent.

“Darkness Under The Mountain” by Mike Kupari – DNF. This story started off with more than five Kindle pages of driving in a jeep down an Afghanistan road, talking about zombies, and that’s where I left it. Kupari is just not a particularly good writer. Also, I despise zombies.

“A Knight Of The Enchanted Forest” by Jessica Day George – 5/5. Building a better mousetrap is a worthwhile career skill. This story didn’t have much action at all, as it stars a teenage girl and is set in the Enchanted Forest trailer park, but it is well-done and quite funny.

“The Manticore Sanction” by John C. Wright – 4/5. A James Bond-type spy is ordered to kill his nonhuman lover. Also featuring The Mummy, Grendel, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, and the underwater oxygen-burning gadget from Gojira. Wright is perhaps the best writer in this book; however, he has a couple of characteristic tropes that tend to negate this.

1) His characters will stop, mid-action, and moralize to each other. Generally, this is in-character, because he writes self-important, pompous twerps…but…I like action and don’t like to have it interrupted, especially by more freaking dialogue. It’s frustrating and annoying.

2) His action scenes are frustrating and annoying (and that’s after you wade through acres of quasi-Shakespearian dialogue to get to them), because he undercuts his protagonists at every turn. Sure, it’s thematic in this story (To make Ardath Bey look better), but this is a pattern I’ve noticed ever since Orphans of Chaos. (Trying to escape? Your powers get shut off and you get spanked.) Last Guardian of Everness: use the magic weapon you are destined to wield to defeat the villain? It breaks your arms and then he walks over you. Somewhither: Heroes charging a line of cowering spearmen? Heroes get stabbed from a distance with pointy sticks. It makes sense in Somewhither….not so much the others.

3) Would James Bond really be that dumb? He did get married once and he’s had enough experience with women to know that some of them can be really psycho bitches if you get them mad…

On the pro side: this is story written by a master of lyrical prose who knows well how to invoke a sense of wonder, seamlessly blends classic monsters and modern fantasy, and features a damsel who has more on her mind than being distressed.

“The Bride” by Brad R. Torgersen – 2/5. Dippel actually also created a female body, and Ben Franklin also cuts a deal with her. Also von Steuben is in on it. Eh, meh.

“She Bitch, Killer of Kits” (a Skinwalker Crossover Tale) by Faith Hunter – 2/5. This a crossover story starring Jane Yellowrock, a part-Native American panther-type shapeshifter biker babe bounty hunter with waist-length black hair who is tough and strong and has relationship troubles, and uses TWO machetes, how cool is that? Did we mention her hair is waist-length and shiny? The story does, twice.

She gets two stars for managing to rescue the kids before the werewolves eat them. People mock the Dresden Files–but those women at least have personalities and their personalities are different from each other.

“Mr. Natural” by Jody Lynn Nye – 3/5. A STFU team rescues hippies from a nature god who has taken over their commune. This story wasn’t nearly as funny as it could have or wanted to be.

“The Troll Factory” by Alex Shvartsman – 2/5. A computer geek hunter ends up in the Russian IT farm known as the troll factory…guess why. This onetries to do too much with too many concepts and ends up underusing each one of them. Trolls/spiders/demons: if your page time is limited, pick one and stick to it. I mean, internet trolls who are literal trolls is a hilarious concept and you could have even made something out of the new competition from the insidious Russian Bots threat…

“Keep Kaiju Weird” by Kim May – 3/5. A Japanese schoolgirl runs into some strange events…fortunately, she’s not an ordinary girl, and she knows some extraordinary people.
This story was almost really good. However, I have questions, like:
– Why does kitsune girl have Franks on speed-dial?
– I know people don’t like Grant, but even so, why did he lose so many IQ points?
– How come just Franks and Grant are responding with no team to back them up?
– How come Franks was on a mission with no team and yet is able to call in an airstrike within seconds?
– If kitsune girl had a special katana the whole time, why not just go ahead and take care of it herself?
– If the artist who drew the monsters was already so well-known, how come MCB hadn’t already shut him down with extreme prejudice?
– Am I going to finish the rest of this book?

The really annoying thing about the Monster Hunter International series is that, when you’re forced to read it, you’re forced to admit it’s pretty good.

Rated: Ain’t nobody forcing me.

Review: Peace Talks – The Dresden Files 16 – Jim Butcher

pt_ewTLDR: “It’s a two-parter.”

So. If you’re someone who has had their head under a rock, it’s been five years since the last Dresden book, and this one was supposed to have been completed by last October. It wasn’t. Then, when it was completed, the story goes, it needed extensive editing because of the gap between novels and the “extended” fashion in which it had been written. Skipping ahead a bit, we’re getting two books this year, Peace Talks (see below) and Battle Grounds in September.

There are two main theories: a) that the full Battle Talks novel would have been massive, and God knows that fans who have waited five frikking years for their next fix would haaaaate to have a book they couldn’t finish in a mere three hours (cough), publishers decided to split it in half. Or, b) the full Battle Talks novel was massive (the preliminary chapter count from last year/this spring seems to confirm this), and the publishers saw the opportunity to milk money out of an extremely reliable franchise which hadn’t actually produced anything in five frikking years.

Then, there’s also c) which seems to have some credence given that it was Jim Butcher himself who stated it: Battle Talks was going to be massive, and he was going for a gimick…that didn’t work. Now, I have forgotten the details of this interview and am too lazy to go look it up. But basically JB said that he was going for two separate gimicks, one involving short-term memory loss (the cornerhounds’ special attack power) and then the other one involving an abrupt genre and tonal shift to the novel half of the way through. (Probably when all the screaming and dying breaks out.) Apparently his test audiences and more importantly his editors weren’t sold on this. So splitting the book was the best solution, really. Honest.

One way or another, Peace Talks is supposed to be a two-part episode, in the tradition of those old TV shows where the two-parters would herald Something Big, something truly epic, that needed lots of setup and gave lots of payoff. It’s not supposed to be a stand-alone novel.

Which makes reviewing it, in the absence of Battle Grounds, tricky. The book does not stand on its own.

Does it suffer for it? Wrong question, because this book does not stand on its own. Any answer is going to have to include Battle Grounds in its calculations.

But? I’m willing to wait.

Jim Butcher really does have what it takes (if and when he’s willing to put the work in, because sometimes the guy really doesn’t and it shows). Going by the Dresden Files subreddit, some aren’t. But the average IQ of Reddit is the temperature of the pavement outside divided by the time of day, so there really isn’t any worthwhile perspective to be gained from that fact anyway.

So. Plot! The Fomor have declared their willingness to sit down at the table and hammer out some kind of agreement with the rest of the Accords signatories. The talks are going to be hosted in Chicago by Baron Marcone and with the assistance of the acting White Queen, Lara Raith, and the governance of the Accords’ creator, Queen Mab.

One Harry Dresdent is going to be present, not only as Winter Knight and Mab’s enforcer, but also as a wizard of the White Council. Problem: the White Council does not trust him–even the Wardens he’s fought alongside are wary and closed-off–and the Council is actively considering expelling him from their ranks. His grandfather, Ebenezar McCoy, wants him to leave Chicago and go play politics for a while to reassure people….but this plot thread gets lit on fire when an argument breaks out on the best way to Protect One’s Offspring, hey, how well did your way work out for my mom? Oh wait, she hated you and now she’s dead, isn’t that right?

And, of course, Harry can’t go to the White Council, because as Winter Knight, he’s just been loaned out to Lara Raith in payment of favors owed. Ebenezar also has things to say about this, because, it turns out, he hates White Court vampires with the passion of a thousand incandescently flaming suns, hates them to a degree we’ve never actually seen before.

Kind of bad news, given that he has one White Court vampire grandson, huh.

The problems continue, because said grandson, Thomas Raith, somehow gets caught trying to assassinate an Accorded head of state. In the house where his brother and his young niece(s) live. Now, that beyond “Thomas, you idiot, what have you done?” territory, and we’re either in mind control or (what everyone assumes), blackmail. Harry proceeds on the assumption that someone unknown has threatened Thomas’s girlfriend, true love, and soon to be mother of his child, Justine, and panicked him to the point where he would do something like this. (This assumption seems somewhat justified, given that everyone and their kind brother who has ever watched a spy movie seems to be watching Justine. Including the FBI and someone we are assuming is Paranoid Gary the Paranetizen. Is it just me, or is this guy overdue for some actual screentime?)

Anyhow, so the svartalves are pissed to the point of slowly torturing Thomas to death and the clock starts ticking. Fortunately for Harry, whatever it was Lara was intending to use him for gets converted to “get my/our brother back.”

And…that’s basically it.

Until the Fomor show up. Spoiler (as if there wasn’t an entire short story dedicated to the idea that the Fomor are chaotic assholes who exist to break their given word and destroy other people’s lives and power): The Fomor are chaotic assholes who break their given word and destroy lives and power structures. They are, in fact, aiming at exterminating the rest of the Accords signatories.

And also Chicago.

And they have the power to do it.

And the Outer Gates are under heavy attack.

Dun dun dunnnnnn.

(PS, here is pre-order link to next book in series Dresden Files, book Battle Grounds, pls order now kthxbai)

There are a couple of main criticisms.

1) People acting out of character. Mostly, its understandable just with the context given. The Wardens don’t trust Harry–though they do want to–because he’s turned into a seriously scary guy and, frankly, a little bit of reassurance that he’s on the side of the angels would help. So that’s that. But mostly, people are wondering WTH is up with Ebenezar.

Eb is borderline irrational in this book–and crosses that line near the end–boiling with White Court Vampire hatred to a level that hasn’t been seen before. He’s also worried about Maggie. And by worried, we mean, Harry has to explicitly warn him not to even think about grabbing her away FROM HER FATHER and stashing her “somewhere safe.”

I think that this can be explained with some subtext: first, Eb is REALLY, really, really worried about something. It’s basically the Zeroth Law of the Dresden Files that There Is A Lot Going On That Harry Doesn’t Know About. Something big is going on with the White Council, and….an old man is worried about his only living relatives. Second–Ebenezar McCoy, like most of the Senior Council, is only just barely hanging on. I’m willing to wait for the reveal (post Eb’s death, of course), of what was happening, because the knife just has to get twisted.

Then, there’s Lara. My problem? She’s way, way softer and nicer than she’s ever been in this book. Lara Raith isn’t a nice person, no matter how chivalrously Harry tries to view her. She’s an inhuman monster with one or two redeeming values. But here, she’s risking her own neck–in person–and her Court’s standing, to rescue Thomas…when there’s a perfectly good cats’-paw right in front of her WHO WOULD DO IT FOR FREE. Seriously, Lara wastes an entire Favor just making Harry introduce her to Cristos/Marcone.

So for some reason, Lara is both much kinder and gentler than she should have been…and far dumber. I’m going to give JB a very very large credit here, and say that maybe it’s because Harry’s perspective has changed. He’s no longer in a position where he’s threatened by Lara Raith…at all…and is, in fact, more than a match for her physically, psychically, and (to a degree) politically. So maybe it’s not Jim Butcher making his characters dumber to make the story easier. Maybe it really is clever writing.

Then, there’s Marcone. Why? Because rescuing Thomas (spoiler, DUH) is absurdly easy for the heroes, even given the level of distracted everyone is…by a puppet show. Well, for this one, I’m just going to go with, Marcone’s gonna Marcone.

2) This book is very horny. Now….this one, honestly, is kinda true. Despite the fact that Harry is actually getting some (WITH MURPHY AND IT’s <3, SUCK IT HATERS BOOOYA HARRY/MURPHY 4EVER WOOOOO), there still is quite a lot of him noticing when he’s in the presence of supernaturally, or even just humanly, beautiful women and getting turned on.

Winter Knight Mantle, maybe? But I do think that this was overdone, myself, too.

3) People hate Butters, apparently.

Whatever floats your boat, fam.

So–overall, I’m slightly convinced that the gimick is: we’re already in the parallel/Mirror Dresden universe. We might even have been watching Alternate Harry Dresdens for the past few books, at least since Changes. Maybe the Mirror Mirror Harry is actually Harry Prime and all the rest of the books have been his shadows. This is just a feeling, mind, but it’s based on the fact that there have been inconsistencies in the text that just aren’t really adding up.

– Why does Harry keep referring to his coat as a duster, when he should be mentioning that it’s actually an Inverness coat? Harry spends enough time reminding the audience about his gear/what it does/how he made it, and so forth–and we used to get the “this is my duster, it has spells on it,” etc, quite often when he had it. You’d think that would continue, wouldn’t it? And by the way, what happened to the red jewel in the middle of his pentacle necklace? You know, the one that his mother left for him, that gives him access to her knowledge of the Ways?
– Why does Butters keep warning Harry (once per book) about the dangers of the Winter Knight mantle in almost the same terms each time?
– Why does Harry say he’s never been to the BFS castle…when in that same breath he references the scene in which he did exactly that–the denouement of the previous book, no less?

Something’s up.

So. Rating?

Hell, I liked it. I liked it, and the inconsistencies don’t bother me because I have faith and the mysteries are intriguing rather than irritating, and I don’t happen to be annoyed by the characters. (except Lara, I don’t like Lara).

So I’m not going to play any cutesey 2.5/5 stars games. This is a 9/10 book–and maybe it’ll go higher when they give us the rest of it.

Artemis Fowl 2020: Movie Reaction (yeah, no. it sucks.)





Having a reporter describe himself and the multiple voiceovers we are getting as “a media frenzy” is really lazy.

OH HEY I KNOW THAT PLACE, it’s that sea…nation…station place thingy. It also has nothing to do with MI6, since it’s privately owned. See, I knew that.

McGuffin interrogation. Mcguffin interrogation. Mcguffin. Mcguffin. Mcguffin. To be honest, I’m also listening to music and surfing reddit, so the dialogue isn’t bothering me as much as it might, which it would, because it’s also lazy and boring.

Fundamentally changing your main character in the first scene he’s in isn’t necessarily a bad sign, right? (the casting director’s name popped up over the surfing scene. Coincidentally, I’m sure.)

The voiceover describing Artemis might have worked, if it was then competently followed up by a scene in which Artemis, for example, showcased his ruthlessness, criminal chops, and intelligence in a plot-relevant way. Such as forcing a fairy into betraying sacred secrets for his own benefit. Instead…ARTEMIS ANALYZES HIS THERAPIST’S CHAIR AND DEDUCES IT IS A FAKE.

Oh, and Artemis’s mother is dead. You know, Artemis’ mother, who is an important and highly sympathetic character in the book who provides Artemis with his first shot at redemption and morality. I mean, seriously!

OH THIS PAINFUL. This is painful. It really hurts. It’s only been about ten minutes, too.


Butler. Why. WHY? WHYYYYYYYYYYYYY??????????????????????????? OK. OK. Break it down.
1) Racebending. He’s Eurasian and lives in Ireland. Eh, I always had Dwayne Johnson in my head. A black guy could do it, sure, if he looked the part.
2) But here’s the actual disrespect. I mean: why just casually completely reverse the way the character is named and referred to? In the book, Butler is Butler. We only find out his first name in the third book when he’s at the point of dying and wants to say goodbye to Artemis. Here, it’s “Don’t call him Butler, call him Dom. Or Domovoi. If you call him Butler, he’ll snap you in half.” Why? It’s just such a small thing, just…why? WHY?!!?!?!?
3) Anyhow, he doesn’t look the part. Butler should have a sculpted, lean but powerful build. Like, uh, Dwayne Johnson. Instead, he’s bulky and, frankly, looks slow and heavy.
4) The white hair plus blue eyes just looks dumb.
5) Butler gives Artemis orders. NO.

ARTEMIS SCREAMING THAT HIS FATHER IS NOT A CRIMINAL?! Artemis Fowl. Artemis Fowl of the Irish criminal dynasty whose fortunes were reduced by their run-in with the Russian Mafia. Artemis Fowl of the kidnapping fairies for ransom fame.

Butler introduces Artemis to the supernatural/relics. Together with some of the most on-the-nose expository dialogue I’ve ever had the misfortune to hear, not to mention Artemis’ instant emotional 180. Man, that was poorly-done.

Oh, wait, there’s more of that Mulch Diggums narration.

Mulch Diggums is a giant dwarf. ?! !? !! ?? No, literally. He says, he is a “GIANT DWARF.” Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

He’s a giant dwarf who tries to be humorous but really, really, really, REALLY REALLY REALLY ISN’T.

I’ll admit it. I’m skipping pretty hard at this point.

Judi Dench. Well, ok, I’ll be honest here. She’s doing her Judi Dench best and it could have worked decently. The problem is the movie, the script, the situations, and the characters.

Is that supposed to be Juliet? So you took a quirky, amusing character with a distinctive personality and made her…non-distinct, non-amusing, personality-less…and black with poofy hair. Why? I mean, it’s hard to come up with interesting characters BUT ALL THE WORK WAS ALREADY DONE FOR YOU! I MEAN, SERIOUSLY!

Foaly. WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY FOALY? Why does he look totally and utterly…gay? He shouldn’t look gay. He should look like a nerd. He should look like a four-legged underwear-wearing basement dweller who drinks Mountain Dew and eats Doritos, only he’s in a superhyperultrafuturistic computer den instead surrounded by serious professionals. He’s wearing a skirt!? He’s got long hair and a side cut? Why isn’t he wearing his tinfoil hat? Where’s his personality?
NO. OW. OW. Owhhhhowhow.
OK, that’s it. That’s seriously it. I officially cannot stand this any more. Ow.


Book Review – Iron and Magic – Ilona Andrews – repost

ironmagic-900Iron and Magic – Ilona Andrews

TLDR: ….here’s the thing: I rate books differently depending on what genre they are—and I can’t decide what genre this book is.

If it’s a romance, it’s a solid 5/5: it has a romance in the A-plot, but it also has an actual A-plot and characters who don’t completely fall apart once they start sleeping together.

If it’s a standard pseudo-medieval fantasy, it’s a 4/5: it has warlords who seem genuinely dangerous and leaders who lay plans and think ahead, act like leaders rather than 20th-century office workers.

If it’s a post-apocalyptic fantasy thriller, it’s a 3/5…because, damnit, that’s the setting, and therefore that’s the genre by default, right? But it kept slipping into stupid romance-novel cliches, or dumb fantasy cliches, or dumb Hollywood cliches, and insulting its own intelligence in the process.

Pros/Cons: My likes and problems with this book are the same as with the Kate Daniels series: it’s at its best when it focuses on the worldbuilding and characterization….and yet it resolutely doesn’t play to its strengths and eventually just gives up and coasts on a smooth lane of cliche.

Plot: Hugh d’Ambray, after failing once too many times at doing whatever he was supposed to do to Kate in the previous series, was placed on administrative leave by Roland. Hugh proceeds to get very drunk. Roland has also decided to thin out those among his men who might be more personally loyal to Hugh than to him. These proceed to die, until they get back together with Hugh and demand he do something about it. So: Hugh has a small army, but no home base, no supplies, allies, or resources. Elara, leader of The Departed (no, they don’t explain it either), has a castle, farmlands, and four thousand people to protect….but somehow doesn’t have anyone to do the protecting. She and Hugh contract a marriage alliance. They also immediately fall in hate with each other (rather strangely, because there doesn’t seem to be any real reason for it), and spend the rest of the book bickering until they finally fall into bed.

Why does The Bailey of The Departed need protecting? Because Roland’s new warlord, Landon Nez, is expanding his territory throughout the Midwest, and small magical communities like Elara’s are his direct targets. So Hugh must fortify Bailey (his battle for access to the bulldozers is one of the most relatable…*wince*…parts) and prepare for the coming fight. Meanwhile, there’s also supernatural weirdos in strange armor systematically attacking and slaughtering the nearby settlements…who also happen to be anti-magic bigots who won’t accept the help of Them Thar Dad-gum Magical Folk, You Can’t Trust ‘Em None (Throw Some Rocks, That’ll Learn ‘Em To Stay Away.)

Worldbuilding: like, how do you dig a seventy-five by ten foot moat and make it waterfast? Well, bulldozers, and then line it with concrete. But where are you going to get the volcanic ash for the Roman concrete? And who’s paying for the fuel? And your precious moat is lower priority than the sewer system, and the concrete isn’t setting right so did you waste our money? And what, oh, you want generators now? You’re pulling people off of the maintenance crew now? Where are we going to get the fuel for the generators and what if we need those men for the gardens? Yep. YYYYYUP. (I recounted this part to one of the maintenance leads at my first job. He wanted to know what the book was and why the author was mocking him.)

But then for the main conflict they use the laziest device ever: the keystone army that dissolves when you kill the queen. The authors needed a Danger to provide exciting action sequences, but needed it not to be too difficult, since the heroes have limited options and resources. Instead of spending some brainpower to come up with a suitable threat–say, roving band of warlocks from Canada; or a nearby settlement that decides Bailey is now a threat and wants to cripple them preemptively; or The Pack, or the IRS, or something–we get mind-controlled Neanderthals, from nowhere, without context, any kind of buildup or backstory, nothing. BORING. BOOOOOORING. Oh, and can you guess that once you take down the queen the rest of the threat stops in its tracks? SUUUUUPER BORING. Ugh.

Characters: I have better things to say about the characters. All two of them.

Hugh has to play a double role of warlord and romantic hero; but here’s the thing. A warlord isn’t going to be a hard bastard all the time; he has to have charisma, he has to demonstrate intelligence, and he has to be able to sweet-talk or reassure the people he can’t intimidate. I’d actually say that they hit the mark with this: Hugh’s code-switching is done perfectly, and you get a man whom men will trust immediately. Also dogs and kids. (Although the little girl was a bit of an overkill). And, given his powerset–he’s an immensely strong healer, as well as a master swordsman–he’s fun to watch in a fight…theoretically. There aren’t really as many good fight scenes as there ought to be. (Post apocalypse? Fights. Thriller? Fights. Romance novel? No fights.) As far as his character arc, it’s nothing new; we know he’s going to snap out of his drunken funk just as surely as we know he’s going to shape up into the man our heroine can sleep with; and we know he’s going to protect the Bailey and not back down. This isn’t a problem. Tropes are tools, and as long as they are used right–as they are here–it’s satisfying to read.

Elara Harper is also a pretty good heroine: a thoughtful, cunning leader who values life despite the rumor that her people engage in human sacrifice and that she’s the host of some kind of eldritch abomination from the elder days that not even Roland wants to cross…and even with this, she’s hampered by, again, the romance-genre tropes. Instant dislike to her new husband? Check. (I even re-read the scene again. There really is no reason for them both to start breaking out the insults while in the middle of negotiating for their people’s lives). “Fiery” personality that engages in charged bickering with her significant other? Check. Goes to extra lengths to keep him off because she’s really attracted? Check. Actually very soft-hearted and caring underneath? Check. Is any of this a problem? No; tropes are tools. These are just a little more obvious than they should be, and I noticed them a little easier.

Minor characters, such as boisterous, blunt berserker-bro Bale (I wonder if that is exactly what the author’s notes say about him) and the deaf-mute advisor girl who communicates in sign language (because she’s a banshee), remain minor but shouldn’t have. This is where the romance-genre tropes work against the book, by focusing things too much on the main duo rather than letting others get time in the limelight.

Action: is OK. My current gold standard for action writing is Larry Correia’s stuff. Hugh being someone who can heal himself or even his opponent as he fights is something that might come in handy for writing a really brutal fight scene….yeah, no. Well, again; if we call this a romance novel and not a post-apocalyptic thriller, then this isn’t a problem. (WHAT GENRE IS THIS BOOK?! It’s so good when it’s not a romance!)

The other problem is the use of that the really stupid Hollywood cliche “only the hero can do anything heroic on-camera. ” It’s a cliche that shouldn’t be here, just by the book’s own logic.–there’s quite a bit of setup of how Hugh’s Iron Dogs work, are disciplined and competent…and should be able to do things like send out patrols and investigate suspicious happenings and report back to their boss, who is having dinner with some bigwigs and should have no reason whatsoever to be wandering around getting in a fight.

I will favorably mention one scene I thought particularly good: it’s simple, no frills, no magic, nothing fancy…just a child, a monster, a woman, and a shotgun, in a room.

Humor: is used deftly. “You’re handsome, a big, imposing figure of a man, and um…” Lamar scrounged for some words. “And they’re desperate.” Even the slap-slap-kiss romantic bickering is more amusing than annoying.

Oh, and the post-apocalyptic wedding having an official DJ, photographer, and videographer? Pretty good. Preparing to host a self-proclaimed Viking with “one of those big barrels filled with beer, trust me, it works every time”? Hilarious. Like I said, the worldbuilding is one of the strengths of this book, and that includes throwing in funny, as well as realistic, details whenever you can. If only the authors had done it more.

In conclusion: I liked this book enough to read it in one sitting, write 1500-odd words about it, and want to read the next one. Check it out; it’s pretty good.

Repost: Kate Daniels Series Review

magic_bites1TLDR: The Kate Daniels series is an 8 out of 10 when it could have been a 10/10….and that’s an objective number: after bingeing books 2-7 over three days of uninterrupted reading, I finished book 8, read three pages of book 9, said “screw it,” shut off my computer and went out for some fresh air.

There’s two main problems: a lack of good antagonists, and a steadfast refusal to play to its own strengths. The second one is an annoyance. The first one is a killer.

There’s enough good writing, interesting characters, clever post-apocalypse-but-with-magic scenarios, and smartly-written action to keep my attention for eight books…but when it all adds up, it’s pointless.

So, book 1, I reviewed already. I really liked it.

Book 2 – Magic Burns. Kate must protect a young girl, assist the Pack with a security breach by a teleporting Irishman, and endeavor to keep her butt ungrabbed by said Irishman, or by the sexy, sexy Alpha Male Curran. Yeah.
Pros: Kate is a really good heroine. How so? She has an actual personality. She is able to form actual friendships with people. She empathizes, sympathizes, puts herself in harm’s way, endeavors to help. She also is far from infallible. She gets her ass grabbed, loses a contract, has to deal with embarrassing or difficult, or puzzling situations (how, oh how to get this large, cumbersome body into that small, narrow fridge….) and has her failings gleefully pointed out to her. In a word, despite her powers, she is nowhere near being a Mary Sue.
All the same, she’s believably physically dangerous, has deep reserves of power, and a magical sword that she’s really good at using. Kate kicks ass.
– Characters other than Kate are interesting. This book benefits from not being written by or about teenagers, by someone instead who has put more than a few seconds’ of thought into their work. Thus you can get a scene about how weirded out Bran–an medieval Irishman who has spent most of the last millennium in the fantasy worlds–is by the oddity of having a conversation with a woman, on equal terms, with no expectation of putting out.
– I liked The Order. The Order of Merciful Aid is some kind of paramilitary/police-adjacent organization that deals with threats to humanity. On a sliding scale fee basis. While a lot of my good will was built up in the previous book with the character of Nick–knight-crusader and fanatic badass–Kate coaxing an elderly woman (“secretly” a banshee) down from a telephone pole with a ladder, but also relating a story of how one other time, the knights found that grandma was secretly a flesh-eating harpy and executed her–gives it ambiguity and also, hey, I’m all for some knight templar heroes.
– The romance isn’t too bad. While Curran is kind of an asshole, he’s well-written enough that I can actually *get* his character. Being absolute ruler to a pack of five hundred shapeshifters of different stripes, in a world where shapeshifters are disliked, second class citizens, tempermental, clannish, and have the possibility of turning into mindless cannibal killing machines at a moment’s notice–would tend to give a man an attitude problem.
Mostly, I appreciate Kate not going weak at the knees automatically, the way some (Anita Blake, cough) would. Yeah, we know they’ll be together by book five or so, but in the meanwhile she’s a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man….oooh, you broke into my house and made me coffee? How sweet–wait…

Book 3 – Magic Strikes. Friends calling in favors and friendly enemies collecting on debts leads to Kate participating in a highly illegal underground gladiator tournament. For the sake of…oh yeah, saving The Pack from attacks by brutal but quite dumb invading Rakasha.
– This book introduces some quite cool characters: Dali, the white-tiger shapeshifter sorceress (she’s also vegetarian. And legally blind. And has amnesia after shifting. And won’t bite anything alive because she hates the taste of blood.–don’t ever get in a car with her, because she doesn’t have a license. Oh, and when she volunteers to be the Mage part of the gladiator team, the strategist almost gives up in tears: her magic is calligraphy based…I really like Dali.) and, um, where was I, Hugh d’Ambray, Kate’s short-term nemesis. d’Ambray is a fairly good character, although he does suffer from the major, major shortcoming of this series–he isn’t that good a villain. (In fact, he’s the hero of his own series, review for book 1 of *that* upcoming as well.)
– The romance, in this one, is actually…good? Romance A follows the courtship of Kate’s friend Andrea and Rafael (a werehyena). Romance B is Kate and Curran, but what makes it interesting is (worldbuilding! trope deconstruction!): skewering the usual paranormal romance tropes. To be exact: “spying on you because I love you.” Kate is freaked out when she finds that Curran has been regularly entering her house to check on her while she sleeps (TAKE THAT, Twilight)…and then it’s revealed that this is normal shapeshifter courtship practice.
You see, it’s a test of fitness for the prospective mate! Cunning! And skill! And, and, physical ability, or something! So the wolf clan alphas got married when the wolf male committed breaking and entering and repairs. The hyena alphas got together when he superglued all her furniture to the ceiling. Including the piano.
Kate? Welds Curran’s press bar to his weight bench. Rafael? Christmas tree decorated with romance novels and sexy underwear. Lets just say that both love interests were left…speechless.

Book 4 – Magic Bleeds. Kate meets her aunt–Mesopotamian goddess Erra the City Eater.
– The opening scene–Kate is out on a routine call, to investigate a barfight turned murder that turns swiftly non-routine as a contagious fungus starts to grow off the body and the magical Biohazard team is still on the way–is brilliant.
– The romance: I suppose the fact that once Kate and Curran do get together, they have a stable and happy dynamic without much internal drama is a boon to be appreciated.
– The culture clash: The shapeshifters very much have their own culture, mores and values; Kate is an outsider, and there is friction. She isn’t accepted automatically because she’s sleeping with their leader (much, and violently, the opposite, in fact); and she doesn’t automatically accept their customs and ways. Because a lot of the shapeshifter customs are bull anyway, and Kate Daniels does not put up with that.

Book 5 – Magic Slays. Kate investigates the disappearance of a mad scientist.
I didn’t like this one so much:
– Anti-magic bigots and a bomb that will blow up. How….lazy.
– Damnit, I really wanted the Order to be a badass organization of humans who hunt monsters and occasionally become monstrous themselves in the process. I did not appreciate them being incompetent.
– The scientist with the anti-magic gizmo had a damn point. If you can create an area where technology functions permanently, then that is a very useful thing once it’s under control.
– The scientist was innocent of malice or of crime, and they knew it. Cutting off his thumbs and killing him just as soon as he finishes talking makes you magical bigots, and just as bad as the people you are against. That did not sit well with me at all.

Book 6 – Magic Rises. This is where the series plot starts to overtake the individual casefile books in importance….and the cracks start to show. Kate and company, in order to secure the vital Panacea–anti-loupism medication–for the Pack, accept a contract in Europe to protect a pregnant werewolf heiress. They’re needed: ancient Mesopotamian winged monsters start attacking the day after they show up.
– This is where it screwed up. The book ties into the series arc: Hugh d’Ambray, Roland’s right hand, is actually the one running the show, and the entire plot is an effort for him to get at Kate. Hugh is central to the plot and should have gotten his day to shine.
What does he want? To work out his daddy issues (they were raised by the same man) with Kate? To see if he’s a better swordsman than Kate? To make out with Kate? To annoy Kate? To kill Kate? To harass Kate? To ally himself with Kate? To convince Kate to meeting her father willingly? To coerce Kate into meeting Roland via blackmail? To drag Kate before Roland in handcuffs? Why? In the end, it doesn’t matter, because not only does he fail at all of these, he also gets his ass kicked, his legs broken, his castle destroyed, and his powerbase demolished.
A hero is only as strong as the villains they are up against. So far, Roland’s side is: Dumb Rakasha (Kate, Curran, and a legally blind sorceress rip to shreds), Auntie City Eater (Kate stabs); and Hugh (Curran breaks legs). Hugh losing like this means that when he comes back again, he’s not a threat–he’s an annoyance. It means that the rest of the series’ arc can’t be taken seriously, because why bother being apprehensive or anxious about, or excited for, future confrontations with Roland?
– The good stuff….I liked Desandra, the werewolf heiress who, it slowly emerges, isn’t nearly as stupid, hedonistic, or docile as she appears.
– Curran explaining that he doesn’t normally hunt, because he’s a 600-lb werelion, and prefers to just find a nice sunny rock and take a nap while everyone else is running around having fun…

Book 7 – Magic Breaks. Kate fights with Hugh until Hugh goes away and stops trying to make her come home and talk to Dad.
– I’m not interested in anything Hugh does, or tries to do, because he’s a failure who does nothing right. Hugh is an annoyance. He is boring.
– I actually liked Roland…but he’s not in the remotest sense of the word, scary.
– This book ends leaving the series with no villain whose presence is going to make the next conflict interesting.

Book 8 – Magic Shifts. Kate and Curran search for a missing person. A werebuffalo mercenary, to be precise.
The good:
– Kate’s voice has matured since the earlier books. This is a good thing: we can’t always stay being a cocky, quippy, chip-on-her-shoulder heroine. She is now an adoptive mother of three teenagers, business-owner, happily cohabitating, quippy, cocky, heroine.
– The Biohazard team being made of amiable, crazed, intelligent screwups obsessed with their jobs, was awesomely funny. There’s even a real sense of history between them and Kate; and it’s pretty touching that they kept their ghoul-infected former comrade safe and contained.
– Roland’s one scene is pretty darned funny.
– Putting the Mercenary Guild back together is good stuff. Again, this series shines when it can do character moments and worldbuilding. How does a guild of monster hunting mercenaries function? Well, you need staff…. janitors… accountants… administrators… records… And Curran–relieved of his Alpha Jackass mantle–still gets to show how he became the leader of the largest pack of shapeshifters in America. Because he is a leader and can make me believe it.

The bad:
– After building up Roland, introducing Roland, and bringing Roland to the forefront of the action….Roland is only in this book to complain about Kate living in sin without the benefit of wedlock, and nag her for grandchildren. Not even kidding. It’s a funny scene…and Roland is not, ever, going to be a threat to Kate or her family, or her city, or her army, or her allies.
– Lack of consequences. Kate has an aneurysm about half-way through the book and nearly dies. She is told that she a) mustn’t use blood magic and b) mustn’t use magic Words for a while, or else she will die. Now, “a while” could mean “until the climax of the book,” but it generally means, “until the next book.” Here…it means “for about two chapters.”
– In fact, Kate bounces back from having her brain exploded really annoyingly fast.  I actually quite liked her family reacting to her amnesia and taking care of her; letting the best combatant of her group be benched for a while might have been an interesting twist. It might even have added a bit of tension and doubt to the outcome of the final battles. Ah well.
– Bringing Nick back–Nick, the crusader fanatic; Nick the undercover, iron-willed badass –and making him boring, incomptent, weak-willed, and small-minded…was the death of my good will for this series. What a complete waste of a character arc.
I’ll admit this is subjective. But I really liked Nick.

So: you might notice now what I’ve said about the lack of villains. There are no real threats to Kate or her allies–none whatsoever. And that’s a problem, because for a story to be interesting your heroes have to win, but your heroes also have to lose. Kate never loses, not even once, not even when it would raise the stakes for the next battle, not even when it would let her be the underdog when the confrontation reoccurs next time. And…the conflict ceases to be interesting. When I finally read Magic Triumphs, my sympathies were all for the courageous team of dedicated lone assassins–not for Kate, who had the power of her city, three separate genuine armies, and her husband turned into a minor god, to back her up. In my view, there was a way to redeem Kate–letting her return to the person she used to be, a heroic loner with only herself to depend on, having her, at the very end walk away from everyone who is trying to build her up into someone else, someone like Roland–but the books didn’t take it so never mind.

All in all, these books had serious potential–but it was all in the execution. Everything about the plots and characters was pretty darned formulaic. How it was all put together, how those tropes interacted with each other, were examined, deconstructed, and then put back together; how the characters gained personality and color; how well the action scenes were written; worldbuilding in the twisted After-The-Magic setting–is what carried the series, in my eyes, for those seven books.

Rated: 8 out of 10

QuikReviews – Random Readlist

Zoe Martinique 1 – Wraith – Phaedra Weldon
– The previous version of this post had cover pics, but then my internet crashed and I’m not bothering to get it back. It was just as generic as the story inside it, so you’re not missing anything. It was purple, or something.
– An interesting premise and decent setup is derailed by One Wrong Choice of the author: her heroine is supposedly twenty-eight, instead of, say, fifteen to seventeen. Because Holy Hannah is Zoe one dumb chick.–and she’s treated as such by the collection of stereotypes the author calls her family.
– If your made-up mythology is too complicated, people (I) am going to get bored and skip it, especially when it’s being explained for the umpteenth time by stereotype characters (goth chick computer whiz paranormal research gadget genius! sassy gay sidekick! The, uh, other gay sidekick! Cool Mom with unexplained powers who makes a mean mashed potatoes and approves of her daughter’s romance. Fortunately, not with the UnSexy Tentacled Humanoid Abomination Extradimensional Hitman).
– A lot of the beats were totally predictable–Heroine is Marked by Mysterious Stranger From Another Dimension, Heroine Gains the Powers of the Stranger, Heroine Has Hots for Mysterious Stranger, etc–and these flat-out did not fit. Sexy Mysterious Stranger? Has tentacles FOR HIS TEETH. Sexy Mysterious Stranger? Steals Zoe’s health, voice, and wants to steal bits of her soul. Sexy Mysterious Stranger? Is some kind of humanoid abomination and Zoe’s connection to him starts to turn her into one, too. Oh yeah, and it’s a physical (gag) connection, too. These? Are all beats the story could have done without and it would have been all the better for it.
– Zoe is One Dumb Chick and the plot is mostly her bumbling around, doing something stupid, and fainting afterwards.
– Flat and stereotypical characters.
– Heroine fainting after doing things.

Call Him Demon / The Green Man – Henry Kuttner
Call Him Demon is a serviceably creepy story about a girl named Jane finding that she has Another Uncle. He moved in three weeks ago. He gets hungry and he requires meat. Moral of the story: six year olds are naturally psychopaths and as such should not be blamed for feeding Grandma to a demon.

The Green Man – Teaching kids about racial superiority via podcast (mindcast) is wrong.

After Dark – Manly Wade Wellman (Silver John)
Man during the day. But after dark, the Shonokin.
It’s a novel but would have been better as a novella.

Roadmarks – Roger Zelazny
It’s a Zelazny book–so even when confusing and avant-garde, it’s highly entertaining and impeccably well-written. Which is fortunate, because it is confusing and very avant-garde (“That’s a dirty ten-letter word.”) If Zelazny’s editor had any guts, he’d have forced him to rewrite it until it reached coherency.
It’s about: Red Dorakeen, who travels the Road that stretches through time–trying to make a particular future happen. When first seen, he’s attempting to run guns to the Greeks at Thermopylae, so…but the Black Decade has been declared against him–ten assassins are allowed ten free shots at him. Who did this and why? A former business associate who really, really wants Red dead. But…why? Therein lies the rub.
It’s also about Red’s son, Randy, who is guided by Leaves of Grass, a sentient computer who used to travel with Red, and by Leila–a woman who once was old together with Red.
You see, Red and Leila are of the blood that built the Road, and they age backwards…
Oh, and the Marquis de Sade teaches writing workshops in C Twenty-eight. When he gets fed up with this and tenders his resignation via T-rex….read it for that scene alone, it’s highly-entertaining and impeccably well-written.