Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Succubus Heat by Richelle Mead

 Georgina has been going through the various stages of grieving for the loss of her relationship with Seth, and at the start of this book she appears to have settled for anger, and bad behavior. She has been "dating" Dante, the corrupt magician, who makes his living giving bogus Tarot and palm readings, and has been a bit of a pain in the rear to all of her immortal colleagues. Arch demon Jerome finally tires of this and gets her out of his hair by lending her out to a rival in Vancouver Canada, Cedric, who needs her to infiltrate and discourage a group of wannabe Satanists who are embarrassing his evil organization.

There's a deeper plot going on, though, and Georgina is once again stuck in the middle of divine and demonic intrigues.

In the midst of all of the intrigue, she keeps being thrust into situations where she must deal with Seth and Maddie's relationship, and she doesn't handle it well. When Jerome is summoned and imprisoned by a magician and an unknown demonic rival, she and all the other lesser immortals lose their powers - the vampires can walk around in daylight, and succubi cannot shape shift or sustain themselves on sexual energy, things get even more complicated, as the two of them realize that they can finally do what they could not do when they were openly in love - make love. Could this be happiness at last? Hell, no! Just more ways for them to screw things up.

I have to say that I really didn't see the identity of the villain coming until the final reveal. Mead did a great job of leaving the clues out there to see, but not in a way that made it too obvious.

One of the mysteries that has been hanging out there for a couple of books now is whether there was some sort of irregularity with Georgina's contract with Hell - and I think the readers have been holding out hope that if there was, she'd somehow be able to find a loophole to get out of her servitude. After doing a more powerful immortal a favor, the demon checks the archives and finds that the contract was clearly written, no way out. Drat! But I've thought of at least one circumstance which could void the contract, if it could ever be proven, and I'm sure Mead's got something up her sleeve for the day she's ready to end the series...which appears at least a few books away, at least.

Possibly one of the best plotted books Mead has written, this one moves the plot arc in an unexpected direction.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hell Bent by Devon Monk

 So, it's been a few years since the final novel in the Allie Beckstrom series, and we're switching protagonists to Shame, the Death magic user whose soul complement is Terric, and the pair has been serving as the co-heads of the Authority after magic was neutered by the events in Magic for a Price.  Only soul complement pairs can now "break" magic and make it perform as powerfully as it used to, and most of the Authority members have quietly faded into the woodwork.

But someone has been committing murder by magic, and it becomes Shame and Terric's responsibility to find the culprit, even as they are removed from their position and replaced by a chairman more suited for quiet times. It has been rumored that some shadowy branch of the federal government is trying to figure out how to use soul complements as weapons, and so the known pairs have mostly fled or gone into hiding. Only Allie and Zayvion, Shame and Terric remain in Portland, and stubbornly refuse to leave their home.

I'm not generally enamored of the self-pitying, anti-hero, which Shame appears to be, but his attitude almost approximates self-hatred, or at least hatred of the monster he thinks he has become, constantly fighting the temptation to use Death magic to siphon the life out of everyone and every animate thing he encounters. For the most part, he's coping in the traditional manner - boozing, smoking and avoiding human contact, aside from the ghost, Eleanor, who has haunted him for years now. When a government assassin gets him in her sights, he rapidly finds himself more engaged emotionally than he prefers to be, and she finds ways to get him properly motivated to pursue the killer.

This novel seems like a pretty good setup for a new series, continuing an old idea. Monk always writes an entertaining tale.

Friday, July 25, 2014

M*A*S*H Goes to Maine by Richard Hooker

 This is the original sequel to M*A*S*H, written by Richard Hooker, before William E. Butterworth went crazy on the series and created a dozen or so "zany" adventures starring our favorite characters. The story picks up a year or so after Hawkeye has returned to Crabapple Cove and he is working at the VA hospital in Spruce Harbor, Maine for a bunch of fools and other bureaucratic types. He decides he needs to strike out on his own, but first must pass his thoracic surgical boards, so he moves to the big city just long enough to study and master heart and lung operations, then returns and opens up his own hospital and clinic, where he convinces Duke and Trapper and Spearchucker to join him in putting this tiny town on the medical map.

The humorous side of the book deals with broad sketches of the native Maine characters, and giving the medical mal-practitioners their long overdue comeuppance, but there is a more serious side explored when Hooker tells several tales of Hawkeye's surgical adventures, which are probably taken from Hooker's own experiences as a doctor.

Another good, quick read, which may make you crack a smile, let loose a chuckle, or wipe away a tear.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summertime, and the Livin' is...

The cucumbers are finally starting to come on strong, and I'm harvesting about a half dozen each morning. This means every few days it's time to can some dill pickles - it's best to work with the cukes while they are still nice and firm and crispy, so the end product has a chance of having that wonderful crisp, crunchy texture.

You can see the quick pickle recipe I use on my other blog Grandma's Recipe Books. Technically, you can eat these within a day or two, but I like to let them cure for at least a week, in the refrigerator. If the harvest keeps up the pace it's on right now, I may have to buy myself an old garage fridge to keep them in, so they stay as crisp as the Clausen dills you buy at the supermarket. I had a batch a couple of summers ago that were simply amazing - possibly the best kosher dills I ever tasted.

The tomatoes haven't come on fast and furious yet; there's just been an adequate amount to keep us in eatin' ones for lunch, dinner and snacks so far. Hoping to have a bumper crop in August so I can begin canning them. Usually like to put up a few dozen quarts and perhaps a dozen of salsa. Hot sun and a good water supply should do the trick.

Storyteller by Amy Thomson

 My first impression of this book was that it had some similarities, plot-wise, if not in style, to Citizen of the Galaxy and a few other Heinlein works. The main thread begins when Teller, an itinerant senior master storyteller, rescues a young beggar, Samad, from being punished for theft, and, as Heinlein once said, "when you free a slave, you become responsible for making sure they can survive on their own (not a politically correct sentiment at all, is it?)" So, she ends up adopting the boy and they begin their travels around the world of Thalassa, and Samad's education.

Thomson uses this framework to gracefully show us the story of how the Pilot first landed on Thalassa - its creation myth - and guided the settlers who finally arrived by starship later into creating a peaceful colony, in harmony with the harsels, the dominant intelligent sea creatures on the planet. The Pilot had lost her "Jump" abilities when she was shipwrecked, but bonded with the eldest and greatest of the harsels via mindspeech.

As Teller and Samad travel together, she relates, bit by bit, all of the stories that tie the colonists to their traditions, and we are also given all the background information that we need to understand the planet and its cooperative races, without ever feeling like we've just gotten a massive data dump. The book is billed as for young adults, and it maintains a PG rating aside from some mild heterosexual and homosexual scenes, where Samad figures out just who he is, as he grows into a young adult, and becomes a master storyteller himself.

Monday, July 21, 2014

M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker

 Over the years, aside from the core collection of science fiction and fantasy, my library has contained a number of oddball comedic series, such as the Flashman novels, by Fraser, the Doonesbury comic strip collections, and the M*A*S*H collection, by Richard Hooker. I found myself in the mood for some light summer fare and decided to re-read them, which I seem to do about once a decade. Hooker wrote three novels by himself, of which this is the first, and then "co-wrote" a number of others with William E. Butterworth. Of course, after the first novel was published in 1968, there was a famous movie based upon it in 1970, and then a long-running TV series which ran for over a decade, so most of the characters and setting are well known to people of a certain age.

The story begins with the arrival of two new doctors, Hawkeye and Duke,  at the M*A*S*H 4077th, and, as one might not guess from the way things went in the TV series, ends with their departure from Korea and return to the States. Hawkeye is from Maine, while Duke is from Georgia, but they both suffer from a bit of contempt for the regular Army and its officers, aside from the CO of the "double natural", Col. Henry Blake, who is probably the only commander in Korea who could put up with the trouble this duo causes, even before the arrival of their partner in crime, Trapper John.

The saving grace of this trio, if they have one, is their utter devotion to saving the lives of the young men who are sent to their surgical unit with horrendous injuries. They also, at heart, seem to be truly decent human beings, as evidenced by their campaign to raise money to send their Korean houseboy, Ho Jon, to the U.S. so he can attend college, and by some pro bono surgeries for non-war wounds. They drink, gamble and womanize in their spare time, which is not greatly appreciated by their arch enemies, Frank Burns and Hot Lips Houlihan.

You can probably still find copies of this novel at the antiquarian booksellers or possibly even your local library, just for a cool read in the dog days of summer. The book is missing most of the political commentary on war itself that we saw in the last few years of the TV series, which is refreshing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cold Copper by Devon Monk

 When Cedar, Mae, Wil, Miss Dupuis and the Madder brothers arrive in Des Moines in the middle of a blizzard, they find themselves bound by an old promise the brothers made to the grandfather of a priest in that town, and must divert from their purpose of hunting down the Holder to deliver a favor owed. I wonder, however, nearly immediately if Monk is repeating a plot gimmick here from the first book, as it  turns out that chasing down the children who went missing "after the star fell from the sky" is part and parcel of their quest to find the pieces of the ancient weapon, which wreak death and destruction wherever they land. Or, could it be that the nature of the Holder causes these sort of events, using weak young children to power its mischief? The jury is still out on that one.

Rose and Captain Hinks remain in Kansas, and their little bit of romantic paradise is rapidly put through the wringer when she catches the man she loves frequenting the local bordello. I suspect that all is not as it appears here, either, since Hinks is actually a U.S. Marshall, and it is likely that he is playing a role in pursuit of the president's investigation, and simply hasn't let her know, having been single far too long. Rose makes the acquaintance of a very charming fellow, Thomas Wicks, who lures her away to, of all places, a library, and may be able to give Hinks a run for his money in Rose's affections.

Oops, I was wrong about the number of books in this series. Near the end, when Cedar recovers another piece of the Holder, and says he has six left to find, the Madder brothers tell him that they have already found another shard.

We get a few more hints about the Madder brothers, and a new insight into orphan Rose's nature, and Monk plays some fun games with the literality of a binding promise, and see Cedar and Wil's curse lifted from them and born by another for a time (I could have said "by a spell for a spell", but that was just a bit too folksy, eh?).

Another plot device that seems to repeat here is that the chief antagonist in the novel is another powerful man who is bringing modernity to Des Moines, in the form of universal telegraph lines of "cold copper" which will join them with the entire nation, perhaps the world, and who is willing to do whatever it takes, no matter how evil, to accomplish his goals and to gain power for himself, Mayor Vosbrough. Perhaps there's a moral to the story arc of power corrupting, and technology enabling power to  grow more rapidly than is "natural".

Nearly every chapter in this multi-threaded tale ends with a minor cliffhanger, leaving us with the desire to get back to that part of the story quickly, yet we are returned to the solution of an earlier dilemma from another plot thread. Monk is definitely at or near the top of her game these days. Hope she can maintain it for a good long time.

Around the Web

A book review at Pajamas Media.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Scarcity by Sendhil Mullainathan

 I was intrigued by a short review of this book on one of the finance blogs I read regularly, so I picked up a copy at the library. Once more, this is one of those scholarly works where the authors took their research paper and tried to turn it into a full-length book, probably stretching their initial hypotheses to the breaking point in order to make a point...and word count.

One of the things their research uncovered is the focus dividend - the positive outcome of scarcity capturing the mind. One example that comes to mind is finishing up a paper that's been due for months on the last possible night, like most college students do. The whole concept of "making your last shot count" comes vividly to mind in this context. If you have less resources, you will make the ones you have as effective as possible.

Another term they invented for the book is the tunneling tax - the negative effects of focusing single-mindedly on managing the scarcity at hand. Tunneling often happens in the area of insurance; the poor believe they cannot afford health insurance because their day to day demands are commanding all of their resources and attention, and they are unable to look at the long term effects of going without this essential service. We won't get into the whole political battle over employer and government provided, mandated or subsidized health care at this point, but I will mention that I have known some young people who declined their employers CHEAP health care coverage because they "couldn't afford it", then spent far more money on "necessities" like new hunting rifles and tinted windows on their cars. Tunneling happens in the business world quite often, as well. Think of the companies that made decisions in search of a short term profit, and ruined their business in the long term,.

Scarcity in our personal, emotional or financial lives has a number of effects on our mental bandwidth (the authors borrow a networking term here). The two primary components of bandwidth as defined here are cognitive capacity, the mechanisms that underlie our ability to solve problems, retain information and indulge in logical reasoning, and executive control, the way we go about planning, paying attention to, initiating and inhibiting actions.

In the area of executive control, one interesting thing they talk about is that willpower is often a function of diverting your attention away from the items or actions which you wish to avoid, and focusing your attention on things you wish to embrace. "Once you realize that willpower is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it."

An interesting example from nature of the effects of scarcity versus plenty (though God only knows how much mental capacity insects actually have that could be affected by worrying over scarcity) was that bees build intricately constructed honeycombs out of wax, which is manufactured within their bodies after consuming pollen (a pound of wax requires more than ninety thousand little bee journeys to collect nectar from flowers) whose walls are perfect hexagons with a thickness accurate within a two percent tolerance, while wasps use easily acquired mud and build very sloppy ill-constructed nests.

Cause? Effect? I dunno, but it was an interesting factoid.

One of the ways in which the poor are affected by scarcity is that the "tunneling" causes them to think only of the immediate need. One business that takes advantage of this is the payday loan industry.

Did you know that "In 2006 there were more than 23,000 payday lender branches in the United States, which was more than all the McDonalds (12,000) and Starbucks (almost 9,000) locations combined."?
3.5 billion dollars in fees each year!!

Some support for one of the things I've long maintained (and read somewhere before) - working overtime over a long period of time is counterproductive and if you can't get the job done in 40 hours a week or less, on average, you're doing it wrong, may be found in a couple of  articles they reference Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work and Bring Back the 40 Hour Work Week.

Interesting thought,

"Recent research shows that self-control may actually get depleted as we use it. One study, for example, put dieters in a room with some highly tempting snacks (Doritos, Skittles, M&Ms, salted peanuts) and gave them a computer task to perform. For some, the snacks were placed, highly visible, on the table right next to them. For others, the snacks were far away, out of mind. Having completed the computer task, subjects were given access to large containers of ice cream. Those who had been sitting next to the snacks, continuously resisting the urge, finally caved. They ate significantly more ice cream than those who were less tempted by the distant snacks. Researchers have likened willpower to a muscle, which fatigues with use."

Excuses for my binge eating at last! I've exercised my willpower far too long.

In the context of studies about the poor not taking medications they needed to stay healthy, even when the medicines were freely provided to them, they mentioned a startling fact. After decades of medical research, we have medications which can keep diabetics healthy, save HIV victims, cure tuberculosis, and yet diabetics only take their medications 50 to 75 percent of the time, millions have died of AIDS due to failure to take their medications regularly, and in order for tuberculosis treatment to work, doctors have to assign each patient someone who comes every day to watch them take their pill, otherwise they won't do it.

Crazy, huh?

The authors come up with a number of ways in which they recommend we administer various social programs which serve the poor which take into account the effects of scarcity. It's an interesting read, but I'm not sure that sheer human cussedness won't foil those efforts just as it has foiled others we've already tried.

As I said in the beginning, they really stretch things to show how scarcity affects everyone in similar ways, but there are just enough outliers and just enough contradictory phenomena out there to make me doubt that things are as simple as they hope.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer Hiatus

There is a strong possibility that summer activities may cause me to go "dark" for a while, as the long days and short nights keep me outdoors and traveling, not reading as much.

Have a fantastic Independence Day Weekend!

Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Internet access Gasp! at last!

Just so y'all aren't worried about my disappearance, a few photos from my travels.
America is alive and well in her small towns, folks. The Independence Day parade lasted nearly two hours, and everyone for miles around came to wave the flag in Rupert, Idaho. I was comforted by the spirit of our heartland.

It took a hundred or so of these wild mountain strawberries to fill this cup, but though they are small in size, they are ENORMOUS in flavor! I'd hate to have to survive as a hunter gatherer, but life's simple and natural pleasures can't be beat.

It's difficult to convey the scale of these house-sized boulders in the middle of Selway Falls, the roar of the water, or the crisp pine scent of the mountain air. I wish I'd been able to get a close up photo of the nearby quiet pool where we saw spawning salmon resting from their upstream journey.

This magnificent suspension bridge across Dworshak Reservoir at Dent, Idaho left me wondering which old Idaho pol's cousin owned the construction company. The Army Corps operates a very pleasant campground here, and some of the fisherman were pulling dozens of Kokanee salmon from the waters.

More another day, perhaps.

Stay cool, y'all!

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

 I don't know who told me about Cambias, he might have been mentioned on According to Hoyt. For a debut novel, it at least begins well. There are several classic ways to tell an First Encounter story, if the aliens are covered under some form of prime directive where humans are not supposed to interfere with their culture, or perhaps even to let the aliens suspect their existence, and I think I've read m stories following all of the possible plots at one point in time or another.  Cambias decides to tell the tale from the humans point of view to begin the story, shifts to the aliens, who live in a frigid ocean under an ice cap, and after playing with that for a while, changes perspective to a member of an alien race which the humans have known far longer, and who are rabidly insistent on non-interference with indigenous peoples. By the time the third group shows up on the scene, it's already too late and (for those of you who remember the 70s), Ethel has already been mooned.

One of the scientists studying the Sholen is a bit of a glory hog, and when he decides to violate the rules in a big way to get attention, things end tragically for him personally and, eventually, for the rest of the scientists. The crustacean-like Ilmatarans capture him and decide to dissect this new creature to find out what it is. The "more advanced" Sholen get wind of this misadventure and two of their ambassadors descend on the station to investigate and hopefully to avoid further contamination, but the political considerations result in escalating tensions and aggression between the two groups.

One of the things that Cambias does quite well is manage the info dumps in this story. We get a paragraph or two here and there, woven into the natural conversations between characters, and especially in the case of the Ilmatarans, he uses "show me, don't tell me" to give us a sense of their culture, language, and appearance. The ending seemed a little bit rushed, and I couldn't decide whether he was fighting a wordage or time deadline to finish it or whether it was simply that he hadn't thoroughly plotted the conclusion before he arrived where the story led him. There was an unexpected twist in the last sentence which left me wondering if it was a setup for a sequel, or simply something clever he wanted to spring upon us. Time will tell, I suppose.

A thoroughly enjoyable read from a new author. Hope to see more.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead by Charles Murray

 I think I finally figured out why I've enjoyed Charles Murray's earlier writings so much - it appears that I'm actually a curmudgeon! Now, my children could have told you that years ago, but Murray's guidelines contain things I think about nearly every day of my professional life, so my status is externally confirmed now.

Aside from tips to the younger generation about avoiding the entitlement mentality, using good manners, and avoiding questionable style choices, Murray communicates clearly about clear communication, and avoiding buzzwords and cliches, such as the ubiquitous "I'll be there for you." He translates that phrase, roughly, as "I hereby make a meaningless pretend commitment." and says a more appropriate answer might be "Who do you want me to kill?" I love it.

Of course, I have my own pet peeves when it comes to CorpSpeak (my new term for crazy things people who work in big corporations say). The first is, "I have (or don't have) visibility to that", which means that they are unaware or unable to access the item in question. Visibility is a noun which is properly used in a sentence such as, "Visibility is excellent today, luckily for our pilot - and the passengers." I'll share more with you when the time is right.

One of the grammatical errors he explains well is using "which" and "that" interchangeably. I'm probably guilty of this one quite often. "That introduces essential clauses while which introduces nonessential clauses." If the clause is not crucial to understanding the sentence, use which.

One of Murray's tips definitely identifies him as a curmudgeon of my generation, when it comes to writing.

"Edit the piece in hard copy before before sending out the final version." People of my generation grew up with, at best, electric typewriters, and we are unable to really visualize structure and perform edits without a hard copy to scribble on. I think that my children's generation, having used digital visual media their entire lives, may not have this problem, so it might not be the best tip for a newbie in the job force, but I completely can relate to it.

On editing, and how often new material will flow from your fingertips in the midst of an edit, quoting co-author Dick Herrnstein,

"I remember once when I noticed a rough transition between paragraphs. By the time I fixed it, I had seven new chapters."

I think this explains a lot about The Wheel of Time.

Perhaps his most important bit of advice for writers is simply, "Don't wait for the muse." When you have to write as part of your job, or you intend to write in  order to put a roof over your head and food on the table, you absolutely must set a time and a place for writing, and do it consistently and persistently every working day. If you wait for the muse to strike, it could be a long time before that happens, and it could also strike at a horribly inconvenient time, with no way to take a message when Calliope calls.

Murray also dispels the myth that you need to achieve great success at a young age, like Facebook's Zuckerberg. The median age at which artists and composers have created their greatest works is forty, while writers' greatest literature has been created at a median age of fifty. I guess there's hope for us middle-aged curmudgeons yet.

He also proposes several strategies to increase your personal resilience, so that you won't be overwhelmed when whirlwinds of change make life...interesting in the Chinese curse sense. One option is joining the military, which has a culture which is completely foreign to the one most people experience while growing up, and another is to "pick a place in a strange part of the world that you'd like to get to know, buy a one way airplane ticket, and go...stay for at least three years."

Something he said that you might want to think deeply upon,

"What I am about to say assumes that the purpose of a human life is not just to pass the time between birth and death as pleasantly as possible, with as little trouble as possible. Life should consist of something more than leisure and transient pleasures. Can we agree on that?"

I'm not so sure that we do, here in America today. They're giving us bread and circuses, and that which passes for meaningful is generally based on deception and manipulation. Think about it.

On value judgments (a curmudgeonly relic from a bygone era),

"I want to emphasize that being judgmental is not the same as being intolerant. It is appropriate to be tolerant of behaviors that you wouldn't engage in yourself, and even ones of which you disapprove but which you also judge to fall within the range of choices that people should be entitled to make in a free society. But you can't let your desire to be tolerant get in the way of your obligation to reach moral judgments. You need to think through your assessment of alternative codes of behavior, drawing upon as much accumulated human wisdom as you can about virtue and vice, and about the consequences of different behaviors for human flourishing. You not only need to do it; you must. The failure to do so doesn't define you as nonjudgmental. It defines you as lazy."

And again, on virtue,

"Lacking the cardinal virtues (courage, justice, wisdom, temperance), you can act in those other virtuous ways (being kind, compassionate, merciful, tolerant) haphazardly, and occasionally have the effect you wish, but you cannot consistently have the effect you wish, nor will you be able to bring yourself to behave in those other virtuous ways when the going gets rough. You will still mean well. You will still be nice. You won't be good."

An interesting thought,

"What was true in 1875 had been true throughout human history. Day to day, people didn't have any choice but to show up."

It was not possible to disengage from family, friends, vocation, community, or faith. You needed to be "present to win". After the invention of the phonograph and motion pictures, you could be entertained without showing up for a concert or play. After the introduction of commercial radio, then television, and now electronic media, it is possible to live a life completely alone, and never to directly engage with a living, breathing human.

This is the kind of pocket reference guide to life that ought to be on everyone's nightstand.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tin Swift by Devon Monk

 Monk has written a great second novel in her new Age of Steam series. Some time has actually passed since the end of Cold Iron, and the ragged little band consisting of the Madder brothers, Rose, Cedar, Mae, and Wil, the wolf, have been slowly making their way east from Oregon to Kansas. As we pick up the tale, they are crossing Idaho, past Fort Boise on the way to the Bitteroots. Mae is being driven out of her mind by the geas set upon her by the coven where she grew up to return to them, now that her marriage vow is broken by Jed's death. When they stop in the town of Victory to seek supplies, they find that the entire population has been wiped out, and the bodies multilated.

Cedar senses the presence of one of the fragments of the Holder, as well as the scent of their old "friend" Mr. Shunt, who has made it his mission in what passes for his Strange version of life to harass and kill Cedar and his friends. When they trigger a trap left behind by Shunt, the townsfolk reanimate and attack. In the ensuing battle, the Madder brothers stay behind to battle the zombies, allowing Cedar, Wil, Rose and Mae to make their getaway. Not unscathed, however, as when the trap sprung, Rose was infected with a fragment of the Holder which Shunt left behind, and its evil begins to drain her life force. They must get Mae to the Coven, and get Rose the help she needs.

An odd sort of rescue takes place when Captain Hinks, a glim gatherer with a steam airship at his command, shows up on the scene just in time to rescue the quartet from the zombie horde. Hinks is an undercover U.S. Marshal, working for the president, hunting down corruption in the glim trade. He has an archenemy, General Alabaster, a traitor whom he exposed long ago, and who is now allied with Mr. Shunt and dogging the steps of both Hinks and our adventurers. Cedar and company pick up a few new allies as well, and become acquainted with the league of folks who are also on the trail of the Holder, to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.

We catch a glimpse of the nature of glim,
"Glim, more precious than diamonds or gold, used to power ships on air, water, or land. Used to heal the sick, cure the blights, turn the tide in wars, and make anything and everything stronger and longer lasting. Glim was even rumored to extend a man's life well beyond his years."

We begin to see some hints that although Cedar has always regarded the curse laid on Wil and himself as, well, a curse, the Pawnee gods may have had something else in mind. Cedar and Wil are the only ones who can sense and track the Holder, and they may be destined to save the world, so to speak.

"Cedar's ability to sense the Holder gave him an edge on those others looking for it. Whether his sensitivity to the weapon was a product of the Pawnee curse in his bones, or pure bad luck, he didn't know and didn't care."

"Cedar looked taller, inhuman, like a hunter out of legend, or some kind of warrior of old come to put the land right."

And a little bit of poetry from Monk,

"We all deserve happiness, Rose. Our lives should be filled with it whether the days are dark or sunny. Happiness doesn't beg permission. It just walks across our threshold, sets itself down beside us, and waits for us to notice."

Lots of great action, evil ploys, and even a bit of romance as Cedar and Mae finally admit to their feelings, and other little affairs begin. Since the Holder split in seven pieces at the conclusion of Cold Iron, and were scattered across the country, and Cedar is bound by his promise to the Madders to find them, and given that they find one of the fragments in this book, I'm guessing we have six exciting sequels coming our way.