Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review: A Man Betrayed by J.V. Jones

While working their way through Halcus Jack and Melliandra are separated when they are confronted by a patrol of enemy soldiers. Melliandra is captured by slavers but is determined to turn her circumstances into her favor. Jack meanwhile believes Melli is dead. He is taken in by a smuggler and his indebted 'family' who try and manipulate him into killing the captain of the guard 'responsible' for Melli's demise. After being driven to kill Bevlin by a compulsion Tawl flees to Bren where he attempts to lose himself in drink and fighting. However the young pickpocket Nabber is determined to aid his friend. Maybor and Baralis both reach Bren themselves. Baralis is attempting to ensure that the betrothal between Kylock and the Duke's daughter goes ahead while Maybor tries to subvert him. Kylock decides to arrange an accident for the ailing king, seizes power and invades Halcus, complicating everyone's plans.

I didn't enjoy this as much as the first volume. The novelty of many of the main characters being villains has worn a bit thin and I struggled to get past the overplayed self-absorbed and bumbling nature of most of the characters. I also found the writing itself slightly rougher than the first volume.

On the positive side the pacing is generally well controlled through most of the subplots and I did find the Duke of Bren himself an interesting addition to the cast.

Overall I found this volume harder going than the last. 6/10.       

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review: Dangerous Women editied by by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Some Desperado by Joe Abercrombie: Shy made off with her gang's rather underwhelming amount of loot after a heist. However after her horse collapses outside a ghost town she has has to use all of her resourcefulness to try and survive her pursuers. Has it's moments and has more of a western feel to it than Red Country but doesn't offer anything more than a light entertaining read. 7/10.

My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott: A couple deal with the fallout of their daughter being abducted. The father begins to wonder if his wife may have more to do with their daughter's disappearance  than she is letting one. The story is told from the husband's perspective and I loved the way the very character of the wife shifted and changed through his eyes. Very well delivered twist as well. 8.5/10.

Nora's Song by Cecelia Holland: Tells the story of Nora, one of the young daughters of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine as she is caught up in her parents squabble. Nora's view point is well portrayed but the story itself doesn't seem to go very far and feels almost incomplete.  6.5/10.

The Hands Are Not There by Melinda Snodgrass: Science fiction story about a young man, who is down on his luck, being told a very strange story by an alien in a bar. Exceptional world building in a limited space with some well portrayed characters. 8.5/10.

Bombshells by Jim Butcher:  Molly is approached by Justine for help in a delicate matter. Thomas has been caught spying on the svartalves, who are in the middle of negotiations with the deadly Fomor. I've mostly enjoyed Butcher's forays into stories from the perspectives of other characters in the Dresden files and this one is no exception. Fast paced and action packed with nice little twist on the theme. 8.5/10.

Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn: Follows a female Russian fighter pilot during World War 2 who fears that her brother's disappearance from an infantry unit will doom her family. A steady piece but lacked any real spark. 6/10.

 Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale: A young man is taken in by a geriatric wrestler who fights another geriatric wrestler every few years for a beautiful woman's favor. Packed with memorable and rather quirky characters and a lot of heart. 8.5/10.

Neighbors by Megan Lindholm: An elder woman is being pushed to selling her house and move into a retirement home by her busy children, while at the same time the disappearance of an eccentric neighbor may open the door to a world where the woman may still be useful. Emotionally powerful story with a wonderfully realized protagonist. Arguably the strongest story of the anthology 9/10.

I Know How To Pick 'Em by Lawrence Block: A man in a bar is approached by a desperate housewife, seemingly looking for a casual fling. Both parties may have darker intentions.  A chilling view point and another original twist on the theme. 8/10.

Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson: Silence is the owner of an inn in a forest where dark spirits roam, easily enraged by the sight of blood or by a person running. In order to keep her family together she secretly kills outlaws with bounties on their head but her contact may want a bigger chunk of the prize. Exceptional world-building, a complex and engaging lead and a plot that moves right along. 8.5/10.

A Queen in Exile by Sharon Kay Penman: Constance is caught between the ambition of her husband Heinrich prince of Germany and her brothers bastard as they fight for Sicily. Has it's moments but overall felt a touch bland in characterization and plot. 6.25/10.

The Girl in the Mirror by  Lev Grossman: An overachieving girl in a magical school looks to prank a boy for a perceived wrong but gets more than she bargained for. I found the protagonist well drawn and loved the quirkiness of the story but it did lack a degree of depth. 7/10.

Second Arabesque, Very Slowly by Nancy Kress. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the majority of women are no longer fertile and bands of survivors compete for survival by hunting and gathering. Nurse realizes the future of her own tribe is in jeopardy when some of them take an interest in something beautiful lost from the old world. Superb world-building and a very well realized protagonist. 8.75/10.

City Lazarus by Diana Gabaldon: Set in a New Orleans where the Mississippi river has now run dry. A crooked cop becomes infatuated with a beguiling stripper and begins to question his values. Strong cast of characters but I saw the twist coming a mile away. This probably wouldn't have been as obvious if it wasn't in an anthology about dangerous women. Still a very well written piece 8.25/10.

Virgins by Diana Gabaldon:  Two Scottish warriors find themselves escorting a wealthy Jewish man's daughter to the man she is to be wed to. Decent cast of characters but felt too much like it had been plucked from a larger piece. 7/10.

Hell Hath No Fury by Sherrilyn Kenyon: A spiritually sensitive young woman and her friends visit a ghost town cursed by a spurned woman. Clever take on the theme and moves right along. 7/10.

Pronouncing Doom by S.M. Stirling:  Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the the local people have turned to a form of Neo-Druidism. Juniper, the local head woman, has to preside over the trial of an accused rapist. Another piece with strong world-building and protagonist. 8/10.

Name the Beast by Sam Sykes:  A schict woman is forced teach her estranged daughter how to be one of them while hunting a family of humans. Lacked any real spark. 6/10.

Caretakers by Pat Cadigan: A middle aged woman and her younger sister begin to suspect all might not be well at their mother's retirement home. Well-drawn characters and I really enjoyed the sometimes dysfunctional relationship of the sisters. 8.25/10.

Lies My Mother Told Me by Caroline Spector: Set in the Wild card universe. The amazing bubbles and Voodoo Mama find themselves the target of a mysterious foe with the ability to steal their powers and is intent on discrediting them. Stands really well on it's own as I had no trouble following and I've never read anything in the Wild Card universe before. Well realized cast of characters and surprisingly packs a strong emotional punch. 8.5/10.

The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin: Outlines the events of a fight for the iron throne by two branches of House Targaryen. And when I say 'outlines, that's exactly what I mean. Major issues of 'telling' rather than 'showing'. While the events are interesting enough I really think this was a phoned in effort from Martin. 6.25/10.

Overall a very strong collection of stories which utilized the theme very well. Over half of them are real gems.  8.25/10