Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Magic in the Blood, by Devon Monk

Magic in the Blood (Allie Beckstrom)
One of the things I like about this book, the second in the Allie Beckstrom series by Monk, is that it very closely reflects something that I've noticed is true about life. If you have a set of problems or challenges, and you begin to work your way through them, you can probably overcome or eliminate a certain subset of those problems, but in the meantime, some other ones will come along, and you'll end up, in any given short time period, with a new set of problems, consisting of a few of the old, plus a few of the new, with another subset of both new and old problems solved. At least, that's how it appears to me, most days.

So Allie begins this book with some old problems, such as her memory loss from overuse of magic, the ambiguous nature of her relationship with Zayvion, getting settled in a new apartment after the old one was trashed in Magic to the Bone, figuring out where she fits in the business empire her father created and willed her a controlling interest in, meeting with the police to clear up some details surrounding her last case, deciding what type of relationship she may have with her father's widowed fifth wife, and so forth.

And then we have the new problems. One of them is actually an old problem which resurfaces, when a criminal named Trager, who Allie testified against to put away in prison for thirty years, is released early. He corners her on a bus, and threatens her life if she doesn't bring him a man named Pike, a fellow Hound who was also instrumental in convicting Trager. He also works blood magic on her which connects and binds her to him, so he can summon her whenever he wants.

Allie also has an encounter of the strange kind with her father's ghost, who warns her about mystical things which are happening in the city. She also begins to encounter some other, more malicious, ghosts, which show up whenever she's working magic and "eat" her magical energy.

At her meeting with the police, Stott, the head of a somewhat secret special department within the police force which deals strictly with magical crimes recruits her to help him solve the mystery of the abductions of several young girls. Her old Hound friend, Pike, recruits her to help him lead The Pack, a loosely bound group of fellow Hounds who try to provide each other with backup and support.

Despite her challenges, however, Allie begins to rethink her lone wolf stance, and to realize that she has some friends and allies, which may perhaps counter the opponents that just keep cropping up. She risks becoming a pawn in a political and magical struggle, and must learn some new coping skills quickly to survive the coming battles. This second book in the series is, I think, an improvement on the first, and I can only hope that the sequels continue to build.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Small Favor, by Jim Butcher

(great plot synopsis here) Small Favor picks up Harry's story a few months after White Knight. An early winter has settled on Chicago, and all of the action seems to take place in snowdrifts, adding some fun logistics and mishaps to the plot. Things begin with a bit of a triple threat; Harry is attacked by gruffs, minions of Summer, visited by Mab, Queen of Winter, and called to a bizarre crime scene by Karrin Murphy, which turns out to be the site of John Marcone, crime lord's, kidnapping by forces unknown, or perhaps merely unidentified at present.

Of course, nothing is really coincidence when it comes to Harry's life, and we begin to learn how things tie together pretty rapidly. From previous events in the series, Harry owes Mab two favors, and she's calling one in now (hence the title), requiring him to find and recover Marcone, and the attack by Summer is just a necessary response to Winter's appointing Harry its Emissary.

It becomes apparent fairly quickly that the Denarians are the ones behind Marcone's kidnapping, despite a significant number of folks within the organized crime community who would more obviously benefit from his removal. Any time the Denarians are involved, you can bet things are going to get twisty - layers upon layers of twisty. If I told you all of the plot twists, it would remove too much fun of discovering things for yourself.

I will say, however, that not all of the truly twisty plots are fully resolved in this book, so Butcher's setting Harry up for way more fun in future novels.There's a fun reference in the book to the story of the Billy Goats Gruff - remember them battling the trolls under the bridge? The gruffs attacking Harry somewhat resemble
bipedal billy goats on steroids. When he defeats the first set, then the "big brothers" of those gruffs show up for the next attack, and when he survives that attack, the "bigger brothers," and so forth, with a fun little twist when the biggest baddest brother of all shows up.

This book reunites just about all of Harry's friends from previous books, with a few notable exceptions, and it's interesting to see how Butcher manages the interactions between them. The book has some great wizardly battles as well as physical ones, and Harry gets to know himself and his friends a bit better than before, as well as gaining some unexpected talents of his own. As always, Butcher left me wanting more.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Naamah's Curse, by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Curse
This story continues the tale of Moirin which Carey began in Naamah's Kiss, part of a new cycle taking place several generations after her tales of Phedre and Jocelyn, Imri and Sidonie in the Kushiel cycle. Moirin's lover, Bao, has fled the land of Chi'in, trying to come to terms with his return from death. Part of Moirin's spirit is living in him now, and after waiting for him for several months, the compulsion to be joined with him is too strong, and she sets out to find him.

She travels to the borders of Chi'in, and enters the endless steppes of the Tatar tribes, following the call  of her divided spirit in Bao. When she is forced by the weather to spend the winter with a Tatar family in their tent, or ger, she begins to forge bonds of adopted kinship with them. In the spring, she sets out once again, and at the Great Gathering of the tribes, she is finally reunited with Bao once more.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, Bao has been wed to the daughter of the great Khan, and neither the Khan nor his daughter is happy to see Moirin. He conspires with men from the land of Vralia to capture her and contain her magic, and the Vralians take her back to their own lands. The Khan misdirects Bao by telling him that Moirin was kidnapped by The Falconer, a prince of assassins whose domain is in an entirely different direction.

Moirin is held captive by the Patriarch of the church of Elua in Vralia, Rostov. He has plans to forcibly convert her to the Habiru faith and to use her as a political lever to begin a crusade against Terre d'Ange, where they definitely worship Elua and his Companions in a totally different manner. Moirin must find a way to escape his clutches and to resume her quest to be joined with Bao once more.

Carey has once again returned to the type of gripping tale that we saw in the latter portion of her first trilogy, placing her heroine in a place of suffering. Contrary to Phedre's nature, Moirin is not particularly suited to enjoy torture and pain, and the way she succeeds through her trials is perhaps more subtle. There are some wonderful undercurrents throughout the book, hinting at the deeper tasks that the gods have assigned to Moirin. It's obvious that her quest not only serves her own desires, but serves as a spark to move men and nations. Looking forward to the conlusion of this trilogy, though I don't see how Carey can possibly resolve all the issues raised here in a single volume.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Power Hungry by Robert Bryce

Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future
A couple of years ago, I read an article on C-Net, Can Renewable Energy Make a Dent in Fossil Fuels?, which I babbled about to anyone who would stand still long enough. Go read it. I'm waiting... Much of the information in it was taken from a paper written by Crane, Kinderman and Malhotra called A Cubic Mile of Oil (since expanded into book form). Bryce has been a journalist writing about energy issues and policy for two decades, and he appears to have done his research quite thoroughly, reaching some conclusions shared by the authors mentioned above.
I'm definitely a numbers-oriented person, and Bryce really does a great job of laying out the numbers involved in global energy production and consumption - really big numbers!! Bryce talks about the Four Imperatives of the energy business: power density, energy density, cost, and scale. He debunks many of the myths about energy that everyone knows are "true" about energy and hydrocarbon use in the world today.

Did you know that the United States actually exports an average of 1.9 million barrels of oil per day? Most of the exports are in the area of refined products, because U.S. refineries are among the best in the world, producing what the global market demands.

Biodiesel is a big buzzword these days. Did you know that if the United States converted all of its soybean production into biodiesel, it would provide less than ten percent of our diesel needs, or if it could be made into jet fuel (a process as yet uninvented), it would only provide about twenty percent of our jet fuel needs? That's just the U.S. Worldwide, the demand is much much larger.

To listen to some polititicians talk (a futile quest if ever there was one), you would think that the U.S. didn't produce much energy from nuclear power. Did you know that the U.S. ranks first in the world in total number of megawatts of electricity from nuclear power plants. France is second place, although they produce a higher percentage of their total electricity that way than we do. Interestingly, the United States actually produces domestically about 74 percent of the primary energy it consumes, despite all the rhetoric about our being overly dependent on foreign oil. We also have more proven hydrocarbon reserves than any other country in the world.

Before I go any further, let me mention that Bryce is in favor of reducing overall carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, although he's sceptical that climatologists can predict with any certainty the actual effects of CO2 emissions on global climate change. He doesn't propose giving up on "green" power altogether, but he demonstrates prettty thoroughly, by the numbers, that wind and solar are not the panacea that their fans would have us believe.

He says, "the carbon dioxide reduction targets being advocated by the U.s. Congress and the Democratic leadership in Washington are pure fantasy...Obama has 'set a goal for our nation that we will reduce our carbon pollution by more than 80% by 2050.'" Bryce asks, first, what are we going to substitute for hydrocarbons that will provide us with the energy required, with as small of an environmental impact and as low a cost, and second, if (as he shows in this book) higher energy usage results in higher living standards and better health for people worldwide, how can we expect all 6.7 billion of them to use less energy?

The Holy Grail of carbon strategies is CCS, Carbon Capture and Sequestration. The idea is that we capture all of the CO2 from our power plants, cars, trains and planes, and keep it from entering the atmosphere, then store it somewhere harmless. While it's "technically feasible", no one has figured out how to do it in an economically viable way. Just 10 percent of global carbon dioxide emitted annually is about 3 billion tons. What do you do with 3 billion tons of CO2?

While we can all agree that the production and use of hydrocarbons for energy has its downside, with problems like oil spills, air pollution, refinery accidents, mine collapses, environmental degradation from mining collapses, encouraging corruption in governments worldwide, financing terrorism and so forth, the less technologically sophisticated alternatives are far worse. 

In Virunga National Park in the Congo, the mountain gorillas are endangered. The reason for this is that the nearly 1 million people in the area use charcoal to cook their food. The charcoal is made by burning the trees in the gorillas' forest. If we were able to provide butane (a hydrocarbon) stoves to these residents, they'd quit burning the trees and the gorillas might be saved. The use of other biofuels (wood, dung,  in third world nations also causes indoor air pollution, which kills thousands of people there. The quest for biodiesel in Europe led to the increased production of palm oil in Indonesia. To grow more palm oil, farmers there cut down the lowland tropical forests, endangering rare species such as the Sumatran Tiger and orangutans.

Cellulosic ethanol has a number of enthusiasts in politics today. Made from wood chips or other biomass, one of the best of which is switchgrass, it is touted as being able to replace gasoline in our fleet of vehicles. But when you run the numbers, you find that its low energy density requires that you need 48.5 billion gallons of ethanaol  to replace 32 billion gallons of oil  mde into gasoline for our automobiles in the U.S. each year.

One acre of switchgrass can produce, in theory, 11.5 tons of biomass for ethanol each year, so to replace our gasoline, you would need to put 42.1 million acres, or 65,800 square miles of farm land into switchgrass production, an area the size of the state of Oklahoma. I'm sure the Sooners are up for that. Doing so, by the way, would require taking 10% of the land in this country currently under food production out of play.

I'm always interesting in the old adage, "follow the money" when it comes to people's motivations. We all know that Al Gore has been a tireless promoter of stopping global warming and reducing carbon emissions. I'd read elsewhere that Al had some controlling financial interests in companies that trade carbon credits, but here's a new little bit. In the pantheon of companies in the U.S. that are trying to produce electric cars, "In September 2009, Fisker Automotive received a $529 million loan from the U.S. government to cover its startup costs. One of Fisker's main financial backers is...a Silicon Valley firm where Al Gore is a partner."

Bryce believes that the long term solution lies mostly in what he calls N2N, Natural Gas to Nuclear. Natural gas is a cleaner, more plentiful, less costly method of producing electricity than most of what we're doing today. Nuclear is by far more effective, and he feels we should eventually move much further in that direction, while phasing out the more "dirty" methods, such as coal-fired power plants. There are some issues with disposing of nuclear waste (mostly political, really), but the total volume of coal ash produced in the U.S. in a single year is 2200 times larger than all of the nuclear waste produced in this country in 4 decades! The existing global fleet of  nuclear reactors prevents the emission of 2 billion tons of CO2 annually, about 7 percent of world output.

Listen, there's just so much information in this book that you're never going to learn about on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, CBS, or even the Discovery Channel. I seriously believe you need to read this book, so you can be well-informed about global energy issues, the myth and the reality. I don't agree with everything he has to say, but I sure can't argue with the numbers.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Digital Knight by Ryk E. Spoor

Digital Knight
Having read another book by Spoor semi-recently,  I saw this one at the used bookstore and thought it might be interesting. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
This book appears to be a series of interconnected short stories about a technical wizard by the name of Jason Wood. In the first story, Jason is working on enhancing a group of digital photos that the police have turned over to him, and discovers something odd in one of the photos. There's a pair of footprints in the photo, where the grass is bent over as if someone is standing in that spot, but there's no one there. Upon investigating, he figures out that it may be a vampire, since if vampires don't appear in mirrors, and the type of camera used has mirrors inside of it, then the vampire wouldn't appear in the photo, either.
The vampire in question is suspected of dealing drugs to high ranking city officials, and the police detective who gave him the photos points Jason in the direction of Verne Domingo. Domingo, of course, turns out to be a vampire, but the plot twists a bit from there, and Jason ends up facing an entirely different vampiric villain, along with his friend/girlfriend Sylvie Stake.
In the end, the whole story turns out to be a shaggy dog, apparently written to use the line "Wood N' Stake, Vampire Hunters."
Things continue to go downhill from there, as Spoor introduces other legendary characters to the mix. The writing is, at best, unengaging. About halfway through, I decided I was wasting my time. Don't waste yours.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Unto the Breach, by John Ringo

This is the fourth book in Ringo's series that started with Ghost. The title, of course, comes from the oft misquoted line from Henry V. Ex-special forces soldier, Mike Harmon, has once again been tasked with a deadly mission to stop biological weapons from falling into the hands of Chechen terrorists, and he and his Kildara warriors are up for the challenge.

I think that these books fall into a wish fulfillment category for Ringo, and probably many of his fans. Just things we'd like to see happen, rather than the total foul up that results from bureaucracy and normal human stupidity in the Global War on Terror these days. For example, there's a great sequence where Al Jazeera is doing an interview with a Chechen terrorist general, being broadcast live on CNN as the terrorists are claiming they're going to wipe out Mike's forces, with the usual accompaniment of jihadist bragging. Suddenly, the general's body explodes in a splash of gore, as one of the Kildara snipers uses his high powered rifle to spectacular effect, seen worldwide on tv.

Of course, there's some more obvious wish fulfillment stuff, showing how Mike deals with having a harem full of young nubiles, exercising his droit du seigneur in his fiefdom, and playing with a vast assortment of high tech weaponry. Oh, and don't forget the awesome beer they brew in the village!

This one has plenty of action, suspense, and a few good plot twists. If you haven't already, pick up the earlier books in the series and enjoy the ride!

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Hostage by W.E.B. Griffin

The Hostage (Presidential Agent)
The second in the Presidential Agent series by Griffin, starring Charlie Castillo, begins with the kidnapping of a U.S. diplomat's wife in Argentina. The President wants his own eyes on the ground, in addition to the CIA and FBI agents already in country, so he sends Charlie and his friends to investigate.
Things go from bad to worse, however, within a short time, when the diplomat meets with the kidnappers without anyone on the team's knowledge, and is murdered by them. His wife, however, is released. This turn of events really peeves the president, and he issues a finding which creates a special agency within the department of Homeland Security, answerable only to him, with Charlie at its head. Its mission is to "render harmless" those responsible for the murder.
The villains also, in an unsuccessful attempt to kill Charlie, manage to kill his Marine driver and wound his lady love, Betty Schneider. Worrying about her health while he's trying to figure out why this is all happening puts him under quite a bit of stress, but he seems to deal with it all right, he just gets a little whiny at times.
The pace of this novel is pretty slow. There are lots of little flashbacks and sidebars re-telling the back story that we got in the first book, for those who haven't been following from the beginning, which is a little irritating. There's another thing about this whole series that I find a bit implausible; all of the people that Castillo is friends with are just so extraordinarily competent and amiable, it begins to stretch the bonds of credibility. It's a little bit like the soirees at Lazarus Long's place in Time Enough for Love, where everyone is intelligent, beautiful and witty.
The ending, as well, was a little abrupt. I can't tell whether Griffin is planning on continuing the story line later, or whether he just couldn't figure out how to end it in a satisfying manner.
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Friday, June 18, 2010

Magic to the Bone, by Devon Monk

Magic to the Bone (Allie Beckstrom)
Magic to the Bone is the debut novel in an urban fantasy series by Devon Monk. The heroine, Allie Beckstrom, lives in a world where magic has been harnessed and controlled for use in many ways in which electricity is used to power our lives. Although it's not explicity stated, it seems that magic tends to pool in places where many people congregate, like the big cities, and there are "dead zones" in less populated areas. Most of the action in this novel takes place in Seattle, but Allie does get away a couple of times to her friend Nola's farm near Bend, Oregon, where the magic is thin, at best.

Allie is the daughter of a powerful businessman who has made his fortune in the technology that harnesses the magic for everyday use. She's also a Hound - a person who has the talent to track magical effects back to their originator, which comes in handy when someone misuses magic. When an acquaintance of hers is attacked by magical means, she traces the signature of the magic back to her father, who of course denies any involvement. The next day, her father is murdered by magic, which a number of other Hounds track back to Allie, and the mystery begins.

This book is a little confusing. It jumps right in, and explanations of the fantasy world, its history, and Allie's place in it seem to fall a little haphazardly amongst the events of the novel. To further add to the confusion, one of the prices Allie pays for using her own magic is amnesia, which she attempts to control by writing important things down in a notebook. But, when things get hot and heavy - in the plot and in her personal life - she forgets to write them down, and it causes some odd situations.

For example, her memories of her college days studying magic are pretty sparse, and she believes that she really wasn't very good at learning how to do complex magic. But her friend, Nola, has a totally different slant on those days. Incidentally, one of the things Allie has apparently forgotten is how she came to know Nola, or at least Ms. Monk has failed to inform the reader in this book. Nola mentions in passing that Allie was better at magic than her memories indicate, but it's left as a throwaway comment of sorts, and never thoroughly explored.

Allie seems to have a problem with impulsive behavior where romantic relationships are concerned. In the course of the story, she begins a new one with Zayvion, a rather mysterious fellow who her father hired to follow her around (we don't ever find out why), and who had a previous business relationship with Allie's stepmother, and who may or may not be part of a super secret group of magic policemen. This new love affair yoyos through most of the story, and might continue as the series does.

Interesting premise, interesting characters, and plenty of potential for further adventures. There are several more books in the series already published, which I intend, cautiously, to read.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nomad, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations
A while back, I read Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book, Infidel. I thought it was a very good look at Islam from someone who had left the religion, and who was attempting to influence Muslims to quit supporting the radicalization and violence within it. So, I was excited to see Ali's new book.

This one takes a more personal slant, right from the start. Ali talks about her relationship with her father, which had always been strained since she ran away from an arranged marriage, and left her clan and family's traditions behind. When her father died, it caused her to examine her past, especially in respect to her family, and how they were affected by their Somali heritage and by Islam.

It's a pretty harsh view of a very dysfunctional group of people. Whether merely because of their adherence to a strict version of Islam, or because of their clan's history and traditions, or perhaps even just personalities, the harsh discipline, bipolar emotional motivation, and backstabbing and infighting in the family left all of her generation permanently emotionally scarred. This is painful reading.

Ali fled to Holland, where she worked hard to escape refugee status, and eventually became a member of the Dutch parliament. She subsequently moved to the United States, where she took a job with the American Enterprise Institute, writing papers and speaking out on women's issues, especially with respect to Islam's treatment of women.

She describes in great detail the many ways women are abused and repressed in Muslim cultures, including genital mutilation, child marriage, and honor killings. A woman in these cultures is totally subservient and controlled by the men in her family, and anything that she may do, or even may be suspected of doing can merit the harshest punishment without any hope for intervention by the "secular" (in countries where Sharia law is in effect, the secular and religious authorities are one and the same) government.

Men in these cultures may have (and often do) have multiple wives. Women under sharia law may be divorced by their husbands without any recourse, are subjected to marital rape, and can be stoned to death for even the hint of infidelity. They can own no property, generally are kept from any education other than religious instruction in segregated madrassas, and must only leave the house with their husband's permission, veiled to one extent or the other, and must be accompanied by a male relative.

Ali is perplexed by the Western culture's indifference to the plight of these women. She finds it hard to believe that Western feminists, who worked hard to end racial injustice, and sexual injustice, dismiss these women's situations by saying that we must respect other cultures' values.

Ali says, "...All human beings are created equal, but all cultures and religions are not. A culture that celebrates femininity and considers women to be the masters of their own lives is better than a culture that mutilates girls' genitals and confines them behind walls and veils or flogs and stones them for falling in love. A culture that protects women's rights by law is better than a culture in which a man can lawfully have four wives at once and women are denied alimony and half their inheritance. A culture that appoints women to its supreme court is better than a culture that declares that the testimony of a woman is half that of a man..."

Ali does have some constructive ideas in the latter portion of her book about how to help stem the tide of radicalization of Islam and mute the call to jihad. Although she's an atheist herself, she believes that Catholic and Christian churches can do a lot to work with refugees in the West to help them accept and embrace Western ideas about justice and liberty, and to reject violence and oppression.

As I said, this is a tough book to read. Ali pulls no punches talking about her journey from Islam to America.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Anti-Ice, by Steven Baxter

This was the first novel by Baxter that I read, and I rather liked it. The blurb on the back cover says it was written in the style of Jules Verne, so I racked my brain to think of another author to compare it to - finally, came up with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He wrote several interesting pseudo sf adventures in the same sort of style that Baxter has produced here.

Anti-Ice is one of those alternate history novels that have been gaining in popularity lately. The novel rests on the idea that the British Empire discovered, in the mid 1800's, an extremely powerful energy source (parallel with nuclear power), which they use to fuel their vast industrial and military power.

The hero of our tale, Ned Vicars, is a newly commissioned diplomat on His Majesty's service. He attends the christening of a land-liner (think Titanic on wheels) powered by anti-ice, a symbol of the power of the Pax Brittanica. However, the peace in Europe is about to be shattered by Prussian militarism and French saboteurs.

There's plenty of action in this amusing tale, but the real meat of the story is the political commentary in the dialog between characters. This story may just stir up some thoughts about why the U.S. is often despised by allies and enemies around the world, and definitely make you wonder what the results of destroying the nuclear balance of power established during the Cold War might be.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Heart of Stone, by C.E. Murphy

Heart of Stone
Occasionally I experiment with picking up a new author's work at the bookstore, and that's what I did with C.E. Murphy's Heart of Stone. Murphy appears to have several series in progress, and this is the first one in The Negotiator. The premise of these books is that there are some of the Old Races living among us, and that we are for the most part unaware of their presence. Nothing new here, really, except that instead of the usual suspects Murphy has elected to use some supernatural beings that, for the most part, ordinarily aren't part of the "in" crowd of todays urban fantasies. The Old Races that are living in New York City in Heart of Stone are Gargoyles, Dragons, Djinns, Selkies and Vampires.

There's a nice nod here to traditional elements of magic in that the Gargoyles represent Earth, the Djinn Air, the Dragons Fire and the Selkies Water. At one point in the book the heroine, Margrit, asks what worldly element the Vampires display, and learns that they are "not of this world". No word yet on whether they're from another planet, an alternate universe, or some sort of spiritual realm.

Another thing that's interesting is that our heroine, Margrit - or "Grit", is of a despised race...Lawyers. To Murphy's credit, some obvious puns were avoided in the dialog. A character could have asked something like, "Is that True, Grit?" or, after she gets beaten up by a crazed female gargoyle, one of her visitors in the hospital could have exclaimed, "Grit, your teeth!" But I digress.

Grit likes to run in Central Park for exercise, and she has a bad habit of doing it after dark. One evening she is surprised by a gentleman who appears abruptly near her, and they have a brief but tense conversation. The next morning she sees on the news that a woman with a similar physical description to hers has been murdered in the park, and the suspect's description matches that of her mysterious acquaintance.

Grit has an on and off again romantic relationship with a detective on the New York police force, Tony, and she informs him that she may have met the murderer. Tony tries to investigate this new lead, but Grit seems determined to jump in the middle of things, and she's visited again by the suspect, Alban, who turns out to be a gargoyle, and who, of course, claims to be innocent. In what appears to be a separate plot, Grit takes the case of a homeless woman trying to fight City Hall. The building in which she and other squatters live is being torn down by its owner, and Grit tries to get an injunction against him.

Eventually, Grit gets to meet a representative or two of all of the Old Races, and she works hard to get to the bottom of the mystery and find the real killer. The pace of the novel varied too much from frantic to lackadaisical, and I didn't find myself, at the end, with an irresistible desire to grab the next book in the series to find out what happens next. This could have just been a "setup" novel, getting us ready to accept the premise of Grit as The Negotiator, a human lawyer who can act as an advocate between the Old Races, when the human legal system cannot.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Connections 2

Thought I'd mention a couple more interesting sites I ran across this week. Book Series Reviews does a great job of writing about and ranking various series, primarily fantasy. Fantasy Book Critic publishes very in-depth and insightful reviews of fantasy novels.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

A Mighty Fortress, by David Weber

A Mighty Fortress (Safehold Book 4)
This book is the fourth in the Safehold series by Weber, which begins with Off Armageddon Reef and continues with By Heresies Distressed and By Schism Rent Asunder. The premise is that there are a group of colonists on a world far away from Earth who have been deliberately kept in a pre-technological state by the early leaders of that colony. The mechanism used was The Church of God Awaiting, and its proscriptions against new ways of doing things.
This colony may also be the last surviving pocket of humanity, since Earth was destroyed after they left by hostile and powerful aliens. The only "person" who knows this is a biological construct who has wakened from suspended animation after nine centuries, who calls himself Merlin. He has the advantage of being able to use very advanced technology that was hidden away with him as he slept,  to help him get the citizens of this world into the technological age before the aliens find and destroy them, too.
The central authority Church, unfortunately, has become corrupt, its leaders jealous of their power and forgetful of their mission to love, guide, and educate their flocks. When the kingdom of Charis begins to flirt with the edges of the proscriptions on technology and develops a very strong navy, those leaders feel threatened and attempt to destroy them, declaring them heretics and traitors.
So, in the first few books, the war between the church and Charis has been building, and other nations have been taking sides. In A Mighty Fortress, a couple of crisis points are reached. First, the top leaders of the church, The Group of Four (any resemblence to the Gang of Four is purely coincidental, I'm sure) decide to crack down on the reformist movement within its own clergy. Its Inquisition has the power to arrest and interrogate and punish heretics, and their families. Much of the novel deals with the actions of folks attached to that movement getting ready for the coming purge and trying to get their families away from the grasp of the Inquisition before it comes.
Second, the church finally officially declares Holy War against Charis and its allies. The church and those kingdoms still loyal to it have been working hard to achieve naval superiority to the Charisian fleet, and we have a series of battles fought as those new capabilities are tested.
In the meantime, the Emperor and Emperess of the Charisian Empire, Caleb and Sharleyan, are expecting the arrival of their first child and heir to the throne, conspiracies are brewing in the conquered kingdoms, and new allies are being cautiously wooed.
This is a huge, complicated, book. It's nearly 700 pages long, jumps between multiple locations and points of view frequently to present simultaneous views of all its subplots, and requires a list of characters twenty-two pages long at the end of the book. At the same time, it manages to be suspenseful and exciting. A must-read for Weber fans who've been following this series.
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