Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Leaning Pile of Books

Due to illness, I've gotten far more reading than reviewing done this weekend. I just finished A Local Habitation, the second book in Seanan McGuire's October Daye series, which is coming out on March 2. It was a lot of fun, and I did think it was better than the first book (which I also liked). So reviews of that, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin and Sea Dragon Heir by Storm Constantine will be coming up sometime when I'm feeling up to it. In the meantime, I'll probably be reading more short books until I'm over this cold, but I decided that's ok since I'll be reading the massive Warriors anthology soon and that will give me some time to get caught up.

This week I got two more unsolicited review copies. I most likely won't be reading either - one just doesn't sound like my type of book and the other is the third book in a series I haven't read.

Demon Possessed by Stacia Kane

This is the third book in the Megan Chase series. I have heard some good things about the first two so if I find out this one works ok as a stand alone, I might read it. With all the other books I have to read, I'm probably not going to try to acquire the first two to read it, though. Demon Possessed just came out toward the end of February.

Here is the blurb:

Psychologist and psychic Megan Chase has grown remarkably comfortable hanging out with demons. The demon "family" she leads is happy, her solo practice is stabilizing, and she and her steamy demon lover, Greyson Dante, are closer than ever. But when the couple books a week at a luxury hotel to attend a meeting of demon leaders, some unanticipated problems appear. An FBI agent with an unhealthy interest in less-than-legitimate demon business practices shows up; the demon community is urging Megan to undergo the rite that will make her a real demon; and a slightly shady minister is holding one of his wildly popular "weekend exorcisms" just down the road. And oh, yes, someone with scary magical abilities is attempting to kill her. Then, just when it seems as if things couldn't possibly get any worse, a secret comes to light that could jeopardize Megan and Greyson's future -- if Megan manages to live that long. With things heating up, it's becoming difficult for her to keep a cool head...

Empire: A Zombie Novel by David Dunwoody

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a fan of zombie novels so I most likely will not be reading this one under any circumstances. Empire will be released on March 16.

Here is the blurb:

The year is 2112.

The crippled U.S. government and its military forces are giving up the century-long fight against an undead plague. Born of an otherworldly energy fused with a deadly virus, the ravaging hordes of zombified humans and animals have no natural enemies. But they do have one supernatural enemy: Death himself.

Descending upon the ghost town of Jefferson Harbor, Louisiana, the Grim Reaper embarks on a bloody campaign to put down the legions that have defied his touch for so long. He will find allies in the city’s last survivors, and a nemesis in a man who wants to harness the force driving the zombies—a man who seeks to rebuild America into an empire of the dead.

Hailed as “A MACABRE MASTERPIECE OF POST-APOCALYPTIC ZOMBIE GOODNESS” on the Library of the Living Dead podcast, Empire brings stunning new twists to a shattering and unforgettable scenario of the not-too-distant future.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review of The Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures

An Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures
written by Anita Ganeri and illustrated by David West
48pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: N/A
Goodreads Rating: 4/5

An Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures is written by Anita Ganeri and illustrated by David West. It's a rather attractive hardcover book for children ages 9 to 12 that is exactly what is described by the title - a reference to various figures and types of creatures from mythology containing many 3D computer generated graphics.

This is not an in-depth guide to mythology but more of an overview of recurring creature archetypes. I certainly wouldn't call it encyclopedic – you could probably find more depth on each creature in any AD&D Monster Manual – but for a child who is going to be more interested in pretty colors than feeding habits or habitat patterns of monsters it has an appropriate amount of content. It consists of a brief introduction and index as well as sections on the following:
  • Dragons, Serpents and Worms
  • Flying Creatures
  • Chimera
  • Half-Human, Half-Beast
  • Water Beasts
  • Giants
  • Shape-Shifters
  • Demons, Ghouls and Ghosts
Each of these generalized categories is then divided into several more specific types of creatures, most of which just have a paragraph describing them.

Mythologies from all over the world are included such as Greek, Celtic, Australian, Chinese, Aztec, Japanese, Egyptian and Native American. As an introductory guide, of course many of the usual suspects are present such as Medusa, unicorns, the Sphinx, vampires, and the Loch Ness monster. However, there were still a few that were more obscure:
In the mythology of Bali, Leyaks are hideous flying creatures that haunt graveyards and feed on dead bodies. By day, they appear as ordinary humans. At night, their gruesome heads and internal organs break out of their bodies and fly. pp. 15
(For those who are curious, the picture of the Leyak looks like a severed head with bat wings - I wouldn't want to meet one of those in a graveyard or anywhere else in the middle of the night!)

Every page is laid out very nicely with lots of pictures to go with the different descriptions, and the beginning of each new chapter has a full page image to go with it.

An Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures is a great book for introducing children to world mythologies. It's keeps each explanation fairly short and to the point and provides many pictorial examples of what the various creatures look like.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: A publicist sent me a copy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bone Crossed Giveaway

A couple of days ago I got a copy of Bone Crossed, the fourth book in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, as a late Christmas present. Since I already bought it the day it came out and just read and reviewed it, I'm going to give it away here. (This is the new paperback edition, not the hardcover.)

Contest Rules and Information

To enter, send an email with the subject line 'Bone Crossed' to fantasycafe @ novomancy dot org. Please include your mailing address. Addresses will not be used for any purpose other than sending the book to the winner and all emails will be deleted once a winner has been selected.

One entry is allowed per person. This giveaway is open to everyone no matter what country you live in.

This giveaway will close on Friday March 12.

Good luck!

The First Chapter of Silver Borne

Since I just reviewed Bone Crossed, it seems like a good time to post the link to the first chapter of Silver Borne. I saw this the other day thanks to a post on Angieville, which also mentioned this would be Samuel's book. I don't normally read chapters online, but I did read this one (partially because I was hoping it would help me decide about my dilemma about whether or not to wait for paperback - no, still undecided). Silver Borne is the fifth book in the Mercy Thompson series and will be released on March 30.

Due to an email from Borders, I also noticed that the first book, Moon Called, is coming to hardcover on March 2. The fourth book was the first one released in hardcover so the first three books had only been available in paperback (unless you include the Science Fiction Book Club version, which contained the first three novels as Preying for Mercy).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review of Bone Crossed

Bone Crossed is the fourth book in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. The first three books in this popular urban fantasy series are Moon Called, Blood Bound and Iron Kissed, respectively. Silver Borne, the fifth book, will be released in hardcover in March 2010. Briggs is also writing a related series featuring different main protagonists called Alpha and Omega, which currently consists of two novels and a novella.

As this is a review of a book in an ongoing series, there will be spoilers for the first three books.

This novel picks up shortly before the end of Iron Kissed and expands on that ending. While Mercy and Adam are still discussing their relationship and the trauma Mercy recently endured, Mercy has several surprise visitors. First, her mother shows up after reading about Mercy's rape in the paper - Mercy doesn't exactly like to talk about it and would like everyone to stop looking sorry for her so she hadn't yet told her. Soon after that, Stefan appears in her living room in such bad shape that Mercy is afraid he might die (or whatever it is vampires do when they cease to exist since they're sort of already dead). All Stefan manages to tell Mercy is that "she knows," but Mercy is aware that he is referring to Marsilia discovering that she killed a dangerous vampire from the vampire's seethe and that Stefan covered it up. Now they are both in danger.

Soon after the first two visitors arrive, there is a knock on the door. It is Amber, an acquaintance of Mercy's from college, who also heard about Mercy rape in the news along with the fact that she is dating Adam, a werewolf. Now that Amber realizes Mercy's drunken ramblings about being raised by werewolves is plausible, she thinks perhaps she meant it when she said she could see ghosts too. Amber's house is haunted and she requests Mercy's help. Mercy finds the timing somewhat suspicious at first, but she later finds out there is no reason Marsilia would want her to go to Amber's hometown. Neither she nor any of her vampires would be able to get near Mercy there since it is inhabited by a very territorial, uncooperative vampire who will allow no others in his area. Mercy decides to pay a visit to Amber and investigate her ghost problem if it will get her away from Marsilia, especially since she believes Marsilia would not hurt any of her friends without Mercy around to witness it.

There is a lot happening in this latest installment in spite of the fact that is not a long novel. It has the vampire plot with Stefan/Marsilia and the ghost plot with Mercy's college acquaintance Amber and her family. Plus there is the aftermath of Mercy's traumatic experience from the previous book and great moments with many of the characters - especially Stefan, Adam, and Amber's ten year old son Chad. Briggs continues to maintain a great balance between keeping the plot moving and characterization.

Each book seems to contain some new insights into the various types of paranormal beings that inhabit this world. This one had most of the focus on the vampires with a little more information on the werewolves. There were also some interesting revelations about Mercy's own powers, which she knows very little about since she doesn't know of any other walkers like her. Mercy seems more like an ordinary human than most of them - she can shapeshift and is gradually learning more about her abilities but she's not dangerous like the werewolves or evil like the vampires.

Mercy is very enjoyable to read about and her character is one of the highlights of this series. The novels are all told from her first person perspective and she's such a fun narrator. She has a humorous way of looking at the world around her and Briggs gives her such a great voice that she comes alive. In spite of the fact that she can shapeshift into a coyote, she seems like an ordinary person with a mixture of real personality traits. She's loyal to her friends and seems to be very likable, yet she's also hesitant to really open up to others. While she likes to be in control and is stubborn and independent, she's also pragmatic enough to let others take over if it's the logical thing to do and seems necessary (at least most of the time). She's not so perfect that she's hard to relate to - she still has vulnerabilities and makes mistakes. Whenever she does mess up, though, it always seems to fit with her character and makes sense.

In this novel, there is a lot of hardship for Mercy. After her traumatic experience in the previous book, she still panics when she knows there is no rational reason to do so. While she does her best to overcome it, it's also not something that she can just brush off and forget about immediately, either, even though she seems to like to be reminded of it as little as possible.

In general, the characters are all very interesting and seem to have unique personalities even if lots of pages are not dedicated to their development. The friendships are well-written and enjoyable to read about. I was especially happy to see so much of Stefan in this installment - even though I am not normally a vampire fan, I do really like Stefan. Everyone always says he is not that bad for an evil vampire, but even he isn't what one would call a "good guy." He does have the capacity to care for others, but he'll also still commit acts like murdering innocent people if he thinks it's necessary. Stefan is more complex than good or evil and I like that in a character.

It's not a perfect book, although I had so much fun with it while reading it that I didn't notice many flaws until afterward. There is still some info dumping, but there is still a lot less of it than in the first book in the series. Also, perhaps there was a little too much going on in this novel sometimes - this one seemed to lack some of the emotional impact of the previous two books and that may have been because it was always rushing on to the next scene. Sometimes, as is often the case in novels, everything may work out a little too conveniently, too.

While Bone Crossed was not quite as good as the second and third books, I was immersed in the story from start to finish. Reading a new book in this series is like visiting old friends, and I'll definitely read the next one.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Read Chapter One

Other reviews of this book:
Reviews of other books in this series:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Leaning Pile of Books

Just finished a rough draft of a review of Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs - getting closer to caught up on reviews all the time. Or maybe it would feel that way if I hadn't finished The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms over the weekend and read most of Sea Dragon Heir yesterday, but at least it is a lot easier to review books that have been read more recently. (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was excellent - my favorite book I've read this year to date and I'm really excited about the next one in the series.) Next up is a book I am looking forward to, A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire, and the next book I read after that probably depends on how close to caught up I am.

Yesterday I got one review copy in the mail.

Procession of the Dead by Darren Shan

Darren Shan is better known as a writer of YA fiction, particularly the Cirque Du Freak series (the first three books were recently made into the movie Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant). This one is an adult novel coming out on June 4, 2010 although it looks like it has been published before but was not easy to get a hold of in the United States. It is the first book in a series called The City. Since I hadn't heard of this one before, here's the blurb on it (I'll probably start including these anyway for all books including the ones I purchase myself):

What had I done before coming to the city? I couldn't remember. It sounded crazy but my past was a blank. I could recall every step since alighting from the train, but not a single one before.

Young, quick-witted and cocksure, Capac Raimi arrives in the City determined to make his mark in a world of sweet, sinister sin. He finds the City is a place of exotic dangers: a legendary assassin with snakes tattooed on his face who moves like smoke, blind Incan priests that no one seems to see, a kingpin who plays with puppets, and friends who mysteriously disappear as though they never existed. Then Capac crosses paths with The Cardinal, and his life changes forever.

The Cardinal is the City, and The City is The Cardinal. They are joined at the soul. Nothing moves on the streets, or below them, without the Cardinal's knowledge. His rule is absolute.

When Capac discovers the extent of The Cardinal's influence on his own life, he is faced with hard choices and his own soaring ambition. To find his way, Capac must know himself and what he is capable of. But how can you trust yourself when you can't remember your past?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review of Miles Errant

Miles Errant is an omnibus containing the novella "The Borders of Infinity" and the novels Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance in the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. Mirror Dance won the Hugo Award in 1995.

There are currently 13 novels in this space opera series (including the ones that are loosely related since one takes place 200 years before, two are prequels about Miles's parents, and one does not feature Miles but a member of his crew instead) and 4 novellas with a new novel (Cryoburn) scheduled to come out later this year. Miles Errant is fourth in the omnibus edition order (after Cordelia's Honor, Young Miles and Miles, Mystery and Mayhem). It is followed by one novel not in an omnibus (Memory) and two more collections, Miles in Love and Miles, Mutants and Microbes.

Even though the books were not all published in chronological order, I'd recommend starting with either the first prequel about Miles's mother (Shards of Honor which can also be found in the omnibus Cordelia's Honor) or the first book about Miles (The Warrior's Apprentice which can be found in the omnibus Young Miles). The two books in Cordelia's Honor are not really necessary to understanding the rest of the series, but I'm glad I started with them because I really enjoyed them. However, I would recommend those who are more interested in space opera adventure begin with The Warrior's Apprentice since Shards of Honor is largely a love story.

The novella "Borders of Infinity" starts off this collection. Miles is dropped off in the Cetagandan prison camp Dagoola IV, where he is immediately beaten and stripped of his few belongings (including the clothes on his back) by some of the other prisoners. Soon he is approached by another naked man who would like to know if Miles is the One - or rather, the other One since the scripture he's been carrying around says there are two Ones. Miles thinks perhaps he can use this religious fanaticism to his advantage in his mission - rescuing the heroic Colonel Tremont from the prison camp.

Brothers in Arms picks up after the events of "The Borders of Infinity." In this novel Miles and his fleet end up on Earth shortly after the end of the previous story. While waiting for the funds necessary to repair one of the ships, Miles works at the Barrayaran embassy - to the great dismay of Captain Galeni, who has to deal with him and his Dendarii Fleet. However, after his requests for funding are ignored, Miles begins to wonder if there is some sort of conspiracy at play - and inadvertently discovers a plot against his home planet involving the clone he never knew he had.

Mirror Dance takes place about two years after the previous story but is very closely related since it is mostly about Mark, Miles's clone. Mark pretends to be Admiral Naismith in order to free the clone children on Jackson's Whole, who will eventually be replacement bodies for their progenitors. While he largely succeeds due to the intervention of Miles, who figured out what happened, the plan goes awry and has some rather dire consequences. Afterward, Mark ends up on Barrayar where he meets his family and must come to terms with who he is.

The series focuses of course on the title character, Miles Vorkosigan, a dwarf with very brittle bones due to a toxin his mother was exposed to before he was born. Growing up in a very military society, Miles has had to overcome the obstacles of both prejudice and his own physical limitations. Fortunately for Miles, what he lacks is more than made up for by the fact that he is brilliant. He's hyper, has issues with obeying authority and is overall a very vibrant character - and is very entertaining to read about. It's a fun series to read, and I do think there is some great character development and insight, particularly in Mirror Dance (which was not only my favorite in this collection but also my favorite in the series so far).

The three stories in this particular collection all tied together very well. "The Borders of Infinity" was a very light, fast-paced and fun story - at least until close to the end where it's not as light. The way it ended was great, though, and it's very rare that I really think a story has a strong conclusion. Brothers in Arms followed a similar pattern of going from light and fun to less so, but it didn't take long for Mirror Dance to be on the darker side. Even when it's not going well for the characters, the narrative contains enough humor to keep it from feeling as grim as it could, though.

For instance, right at the beginning of "The Borders of Infinity," Miles is stripped naked and pretty thoroughly beaten by some other prisoners. Instead of focusing too much on the depressing circumstances, it is immediately followed up with Miles being approached by a fellow naked prisoner offering him a drink of water:
The man squatted in studied politeness until Miles finished drinking, then leaned forward on his knuckles in restrained urgency. "Are you the One?"

Miles blinked. "Am I the what?"

"The One. The other One, I should say. The scripture says there has to be two."

"Uh," Miles hesitated cautiously. "What exactly does the scripture say?"

The man's right hand wrapped over his knobby left wrist, around which was tied a rag screwed into a sort of rope. He closed his eyes; his lips moved a moment, and then he recited aloud, "...but the pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them by the arms; also they had left their garments behind them, for though they went in with them, they came out without them." His eyes popped back open to stare hopefully at Miles.

So, now we begin to see why this guy seems to be all by himself.... "Are you, perchance, the other One?" Miles shot at a venture.

The man nodded shyly.

"I see. Um..." How was it that he always attracted the nut cases? He licked the last drops of water from his lips. The fellow might have some screws loose, but he was certainly an improvement over the last lot, always presuming he didn't have another personality or two of the homicidal loonie variety tucked away in his head. No, in that case, he'd be introducing himself as the Chosen Two, and not be looking for outside assistance. (pp. 5 - 6)
Even though Mirror Dance is more about Mark than Miles, it is still a very good story and also contains some good scenes with Miles. In spite of being his clone and sharing many of his traits, Mark is very different from Miles. This is definitely his book and he undergoes a lot of growth in it. It goes very well as a follow-up to Brothers in Arms, in which we first meet Mark but only see him from Miles's perspective.

While I wouldn't recommend starting with Miles Errant, I'd definitely recommend it to fans of the series who haven't read it yet. For those who haven't read the series, I'd recommend it to those who like adventures, strong characters and some well-written humorous narrative.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Reviews of other books in this series:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Leaning Pile of Books

Yesterday I got one review copy in the mail. After finishing Bone Crossed (about 60 pages left), I was planning to read one of my review copies but I wasn't sure which one until this one showed up.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

This fantasy debut novel is the first book in the Inheritance trilogy. I have been hearing very good things about it and have been especially excited about reading it ever since I read Ana's review over at The Book Smugglers. It sounds like just the type of book I like so it was a great surprise to receive a copy yesterday. I am really looking forward to reading it. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms will be released on February 25.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review of Twilight of Avalon

Twilight of Avalon
by Anna Elliott
448pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 4/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.25/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.69/5

Twilight of Avalon, a debut novel by Anna Elliott, is the first book in the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, which tells the story of Trystan and Isolde with an Arthurian backstory. The second book in this historical fantasy series, Dark Moon of Avalon, will be released on May 11, 2010.

The story takes place in sixth century Great Britain and is partially based on Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. Isolde, the main character, is the daughter of Modred and Gwynefar, who left Arthur for his and Morgan's son. At a young age, Isolde was married to Arthur's heir Constantine and became High Queen of Britain.

At the beginning of this novel, King Constantine has just died. According to the men who bring the king's corpse back, he was killed by enemy Saxons; however, Isolde had a vision of his death and knows that someone actually murdered him in his sleep. While she did not see the face of the one who stabbed the king, she believes it was part of a plot by Lord Marche to become High King in her husband's place. There is only one Isolde trusts with this secret - Myrddin, whom she asks to deliver a message to Drustan to send aid so that the throne of Britain does not fall into a murderer's hands. Meanwhile, the British kingdom is thrown into turmoil while the kings fight over who should take the place of the High King.

Twilight of Avalon was one of those books that didn't really work for me. Toward the beginning, I was very interested when Myrddin said, "No man - or woman, either - is entirely villain or hero, except perhaps in the memories of those who remain." He had been talking about Arthur and how shocked he would be by the exaggerated tales of his heroic feats that persisted after his death. I find this concept of how real events become myth very fascinating and was also intrigued since I was expecting it to deal with complex characters.

Perhaps I'm just spoiled because I have read books that use this theme that I found better (for instance, Jack Whyte's Camulod Chronicles which dealt a lot with how the Arthurian legend could have developed out of mostly realistic events). Of course, this story was also less about Arthur and more about Isolde and what came after Arthur, so it may not be fair to judge it based on that. Maybe I was too distracted by the Arthurian elements that were woven into the story than I should have been since they are really only a small part of it. However, even aside from that, I found many parts of this book very boring. It seemed to take forever to get the point and I never really cared for any of the characters, even Isolde. I could admire Isolde for her compassion and inner strength, but in spite of that I never really connected with her or became very attached to her.

Also, the villain really did seem to have no redeemable qualities at all in spite of the fact that no man is supposed to be a villian or a hero according to Myrrdin. He is always very vile, especially horrible toward women and is never shown to have a single shred of decency. Unfortunately, I prefer to read about characters who do fit more with the view Myrrdin expressed and villains that seem purely evil do not normally appeal to me.

Toward the end of the book, it did begin to pick up a bit, but it took far too long to get going, especially considering it was not too difficult to see where it was going ahead of time. There were so many scenes with Isolde helping the sick that just did not seem that relevant. They showed she had compassion and wasn't really the witch people thought she was, but I found most of them really hard to slog through. Honestly, this was one of those books I was relieved to be done with.

This was a fairly historical version of the Trystan/Isolde Arthurian setting - there were a few fantastic elements, such as the visions Isolde had, but most of it was non-magical and seemed as though it really could have happened. I do tend to like that sort of story, but since I have already read several Arthurian retellings that find everyday explanations for a lot of the myths that I felt were much better, this aspect of the novel fell short for me.

One part of the novel I did rather like was the presentation of the Isolde/Trystan relationship, which was not romantic. Since this is going to be a trilogy, I suspect it will end up that way, but even if it does, I think it's a nice touch that Isolde didn't automatically fall in melodramatic love with Trystan at first, second or third sight. Isolde is not pining over Trystan at all, and instead seems to feel friendship and respect for Trystan.

For the most part, Twilight of Avalon failed to engage me and was often outright dull. Even though Isolde was a respectable heroine, I just never really cared about her or any of the other characters - or found any of them particularly interesting to read about. The novel had a couple of good points in its favor and did improve toward the end, but I still do not find myself wanting to read the next book.

My Rating: 4/10

Where I got my reading copy: The author sent me a copy.

Read Chapter One

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I've Been Convinced

A few minutes ago I registered for the Book Blogger Convention/Book Expo America. Thank you to everyone who gave some input on BEA. I'm sure I would end up really regretting it if I did not go - especially after about the third time I heard about how much fun everyone was having at both events. I'm looking forward to meeting those of you who are also going!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Expo America Question

With all I've been reading about the Book Blogger Convention and Book Expo America, I've been starting to seriously consider going to both of them. I've never actually been to a big convention like this, so I was wondering if anyone who went last year would be willing to share what they thought. Did it seem like an entertaining event that kept you busy or did you just have to wander from booth to booth? Did they seem friendly toward independent bloggers? Was it worth the expense of traveling and paying for a (holy expensive Batman) hotel room in New York City? Any other general thoughts?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Review of The Book of Jhereg

The Book of Jhereg
by Steven Brust
480pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.12/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.17/5

The Book of Jhereg by Steven Brust is an omnibus containing three books from his Vlad Taltos series - Jhereg, Yendi and Teckla. There are currently twelve books in this fantasy series (out of a planned 19) about the assassin Vlad Taltos, and the newest book Iorich was just released last month. The books are not published in chronological order, and this collection has the first three books in publication order. This means that the book in the middle of this edition (Yendi) actually takes place before the first book (Jhereg), and The Book of Jhereg does not even contain the first book if going in order of timeline. It was a little disconcerting at first to go backwards in time and then forward again, especially since I'm one of those people who likes to read in strict chronological order, but I did end up deciding it worked just fine for these adventures since each book did have its own main storyline and an ending.

In Jhereg, assassin/mob boss Vlad Taltos is asked to meet with an elite member of the Jhereg council known as the Demon. After much thought about what he could want and how many bodyguards to have nearby, Vlad accepts and goes to lunch with the Demon. The Demon has heard that Vlad does "work" (assassination, of course) and would like him to eliminate a member of the council who ran off with nine million gold belonging to the Jhereg council. Considering the amount of compensation Vlad is offered, it's hard to refuse, but he finds he really has his work cut out for him when his spy network discovers exactly where his target is hiding. Assassinating the man would not only have severe political ramifications but would also end a friendship so Vlad needs to figure out how to get him out of hiding and into a place where he can finish the job.

Yendi takes place before Jhereg and tells the story of an event mentioned toward the beginning of it - how Vlad met his wife, Cawti, when she assassinated him during a Jhereg war between Vlad and another man. Fortunately, Vlad was not permanently killed and was able to be revivified.

In Teckla, which takes place after Jhereg, Vlad and Cawti are at odds with one another. One night a man knocks on their door to tell Cawti about a death, revealing her involvement with a band of revolutionaries to Vlad. While trying to figure out who killed the man, Vlad must contend with his strained relationship with his wife as well as how he feels about himself and his role in the world.

The Book of Jhereg is just plain fun. It's very readable, not at all dense with more dialogue and internal thoughts than description and moves at a pretty good clip, making each book in it a fairly quick read (especially since the individual books are not all that long anyway).

Each book is told from the first person perspective of Vlad, who is a very entertaining narrator. He's smart and fast-thinking and his thoughts are often very humorous. The narrative has a very chatty and modern style - Vlad sounds as if he is telling the story to a friend. Some who enjoy their fantasy to feel old-fashioned may be bothered by just how modern some of the expressions are; for instance, it did jar me out of the story a bit when Vlad said he had some cash since their money is always referred to as gold other than that. It's not a book that takes itself too seriously, though, so if you can read it with that mindset and just look to have some fun, it will work much better.

The setting is somewhat reminiscent of role-playing games such as D&D. There are two main races, what we would call humans (Easterners like Vlad) and the Dragaerans, a tall, very long-lived people who consider themselves to be the humans. The Dragaerans have several different clans, including the Jhereg. Technically, Vlad is a Jhereg since it is possible to purchase membership and his father did so when he was young. Resurrection and teleportation are both possible and there are assassins, thieves, magic users and enchanted weapons galore. In addition, everyone is badass. Vlad is both an assassin and a witch with a jhereg familiar (a dragon small enough to sit on his shoulder that can poison). His wife is also an excellent assassin and has some abilities with witchcraft, although not as much as Vlad. His Dragaeran friends are all both talented mages and warriors and in general very powerful and useful to have around.

Since this book was about an assassin, I expected to find Vlad interesting to read about but difficult to sympathize with. I was pleasantly surprised to find this was not the case, particularly in the third book where Vlad is more analytical about what he does and why. In the first two books, Vlad doesn't seem particularly worried about his chosen profession but he also never strikes me as a bad guy. He treats his employees well and he cares about his wife and his friends. It also helps that he just seems to be playing the same game as the rest of the Jhereg so he doesn't really seem that different from most people morally - at least until the third book, which gives more a glimpse into the human part of the world. And even then, I couldn't see him as anything other than a decent guy who killed people for a living. It probably also helps somewhat that death is not always permanent and can serve as a warning, although there are times when Vlad does cause permanent death (to a man who committed a serious crime - I don't think I'd say his crime deserved such a harsh punishment, though). Vlad is just so funny and in some ways very relatable that I just couldn't help but really like him.

Duels and assassinations can be quite casual under certain socially acceptable circumstances, though, as shown on the second page of Yendi:
"Good evening, Vlad; Morrolan."

I turned and bowed low to Aliera e'Kieron, Morrolan's cousin and Dragon Heir to the Throne. Morrolan bowed and squeezed her hand. I smiled. "Good evening, Aliera. Any duels yet?"

"Why, yes," she said. "Did you hear?"

"As a matter of fact, no, I was being facetious. You really do have a duel lined up?"

"Yes, for tomorrow. Some teckla of a Dzurlord noticed how I walk and made remarks."

I shook my head and tsked. "What's his name?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. I'll find out tomorrow. Morrolan, have you seen Sethra?"
I really enjoyed all three books. My favorite was Jhereg, which I thought was the most fun, but I also thought Yendi was nearly as entertaining. Most people do not seem to enjoy Teckla as much since it is more political and more about the characters, but I enjoyed that one as well and thought it gave Vlad and Cawti more depth as well as showing more about how most humans related to the Dragaerans.

My only complaint about this one is that Vlad's familiar Loiosh sometimes reminded me of that annoying talking sword from Baldur's Gate II, even if he didn't technically talk but just communicated psionically with Vlad. (Lilarcor is its name - and yes, I couldn't remember its name and found it by googling "annoying talking sword from Baldur's Gate II.") He'd often insert comments like "Can I eat him, boss? Can I? Huh? Huh?" and the way it was worded along with the D&D feel of the book just made me think he must have sounded exactly like that sword. Sometimes Loiosh's interjections also seemed repetitive and overdone with the intent of being humorous just like Lilarcor, but I did really like the idea of a little dragon familiar that sat on your shoulder like a parrot so I didn't mind too much.

The Book of Jhereg contains three very entertaining books about the adventures of the assassin Vlad Taltos. They're easy to read, humorous and just plain fun. I'd definitely like to read more in this series.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: It was a Christmas gift from my wish list (where it has been for quite a while).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Leaning Pile of Books

Before starting this post, I told myself I must finish writing the book review I was working on. So it is written and should be up in the next day or two (I will reread and revise some before putting it up, as usual, but that part won't take long). After this, I'm going to start on the next review to try to get closer to caught up, especially since I'm getting close to the end of Mirror Dance and must read the long-awaited but short Bone Crossed next.

This week there are two new additions to the TBR pile.

World's End by Joan D. Vinge

I had been planning to read The Summer Queen and skip this one since it is out of print, but I found a copy of World's End for fairly cheap. It was hard for me to believe since it was much cheaper than most copies I saw at $10 plus it was a signed, numbered hardcover edition with a slipcase that was supposed to be like new. That sounded too good to be true, but I got it this past week and it really is all that AND in excellent condition. So I was very happy. This one is also much, much shorter than The Summer Queen so it will not take long to read it first.

Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep

This was another review copy that just showed up one day unexpectedly. Spider's Bite is the first book in the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series. It was just released and the next two books in the series will also be released this year (Web of Lies in June and Venom in October). I do like assassins and I've been hearing good things about this book so I'm considering giving it a try. The first chapter is available on the author's website.