Category Archives: Words

Powers: Gods

This is the last book in the Powers series!

Okay, it actually isn’t, but at the same time, if you’re going to figure out a way to wrap up the apparently third run of your series before rebranding it as something slightly different, and your series started out as “What if cops had to investigate when superheroes get murdered, and also what if one of those cops used to be a superhero but lost his powers?”, then it stands to reason that you have to end bigger.

Bigger, in this case, is solving the murder of a god, Damocles. Which… okay, it felt a little cheap, and here’s why. If you’re going to have had Greek (in this case) gods hanging out throughout the history of the series, there in the background all along, then you can’t wait to mention it until one of them is going to be your plot device. You especially cannot have your commentary track TV show that everyone (or possibly no one) watches, Powers That Be, talk about said gods and whether people believe in them as gods or as fancier heroes or not at all, like it’s a whole big theological issue, and also never have mentioned them in the previous thirteen volumes of your ongoing series. It’s a problem!

BUT: if you can ignore all that, which I was able to do until the composition of this missive you see before you, they act as a good plot device to reveal a lot of closely held character secrets and catapult the series into its next phase, which I will no doubt discuss next time, whenever that may be.

Ancillary Sword

Look at me, cleaning up my partially-read series backlog. Woo! But also, it’s nice in this case because I still remembered at least a little bit of Ancillary Justice. Not nearly everything, but probably enough.

A thing about that book and about Ancillary Sword that I find disheartening in myself is how much importance I place on gender. I should not spend large swathes of a book who is purposely (by the author, at least) cloaking gender by making it completely irrelevant to the society the series portrays, I should not I was saying spend most of the book wondering as to the gender identity of its characters as they come and go. And yet I do. Not that non-binary is what the book is portraying, exactly, but it is definitely clear to me via this book (and okay, not only via this book) that it’s not a concept I have yet comprehended. Gender dysphoria, I comprehend. Rejection of the concept, I just… don’t. (And for all I know, that description of it may even be missing the point.)

That bit of failed self-examination aside, the book continues to concern itself with the concept of justice, albeit from a different angle. A particularly of the moment angle, although the fires[1] of BLM had not yet started when the book was being written, as it happens: what justice is owed by a government to its citizens, especially when not all citizens are considered equal, and the divisors are by (in this instance) planet of origin[2].

Anyway: it is a) a good book, once more, and b) a maddeningly sparse book in the sense of resolving what I had considered to be the prime issue of the series. Okay, that’s not right. You don’t resolve the issues of your trilogy in the second book, but you… you advance them, right? This barely felt like that at all.

But that’s a me issue, reacting to the structure with which I have been presented. Taken on its own, this book, just like the one before it, is one of the best things I’ve read in many a year. Would heartily recommend.

[1] Figurative fires. Don’t even with me on this.
[2] At least I think I’m reading this correctly, between the lines. It’s made explicit now and again that there are alien species, and how many. Therefore, everyone else must be human and just of different origins prior to the Imperial Radch swallowing them up, whether decades, centuries, or millennia ago. I think. Like a lot of sci-fi, things are left for you to figure out on your own, and therefore arguably this entire footnote is a massive spoiler.

The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year

I cannot decide whether it’s weirder to be reading non-fiction, or to be reading a book gradually over the course of a year. Both are pretty weird! Like, maybe histories would be less weird? History is just non-fiction with a plot and a throughline. Although I guess a book about what to expect over the course of a year of childhood growth is almost that too? But histories have characters, which this does not, super-disgusting anecdotes about mistaken pumpkin puree notwithstanding.

As you may have guessed by this point in the review, my son is nearing a year old. And thusly I have been reading on a (mostly) month ahead basis, the first of Armin Brott’s New Father trilogy(?), wherein I learn what to do over the course of a year.

You are now asking yourself two questions. And the answer to the first is that it’s a helpful book in the same ways that the pregnancy book was. Not quite as helpful, and my uninformed speculation from a non-female perspective as to why is that there are more different types of kids than there are types of pregnancies. Or maybe I’m just more invested in how closely he hews to the baby averages than I was in how closely we hewed to the pregnancy averages? Also feasible.

The answer to the second question is that I have done at best a mediocre job following the presented advice. I’m about as bad at money with him as I am at money with me. We play, but I never really wrestle with him, which came up a lot in the book? I don’t really understand how to wrestle with someone that small, to be honest. I feel like he’s been consistently months ahead on the physical scale[1] and on the manipulation scale[2], but maybe farther behind than I want him to be on the verbal scale? Like, this “you’ve made it through a year” chapter I just read, which to be fair is still four weeks away, expects him to be able to point at his body parts when we tell him to, and I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to get him to know all his body parts before reading that. Which as we all know means I’m objectively a bad father. He might be able to say two words by now, but then again maybe not, and is expected to have a six plus word vocabulary in the aforementioned four weeks. Maybe he will! Or maybe I’m, again, objectively bad at this.

I’m 95% not serious about my reactions, but this also goes back to my “more invested” thing from before. Because the goal of the pregnancy book was to end up with a baby, which is pretty much a binary outcome. Whereas the goal of this book (and the subsequent ones I presume) is to make the existing infant into a good human who can successfully navigate the world. That is, uh, non-binary, you know? It is open-ended. Which means that yeah, any moment where he’s not on target or better is a moment for me to feel bad about myself. So that’s great.

For no fault of the book’s own, I’m not sure whether I want the sequel. Probably should, though? It is almost certainly better to use and resent the map than to kick it in the creek.[3]

[1] Rolling over, standing, walking, etc. Gross body movements. (As opposed to fine.)
[2] Ha ha, but no. Here I mean fine body movements (as opposed to gross), like unscrewing lids, putting objects in holes, etc.
[3] I’ve made myself sad, as that reference was more or less for one person, who isn’t alive to see it. Or the kid.

Fairest in All the Land

The last Fables story was also a Fairest story, I guess? Also, the last actual Fables story was kind of a big deal, with repercussions still echoing around the margins. (These are the margins, since this wasn’t a main sequence story, you see.) Downside being, I read that a year and a half ago and only barely remember what happened. Which beats not remembering at all, don’t get me wrong!

Anyway, echoing repercussions aside, Fairest in All the Land is a murder mystery in which a certain mirror that may be evoked by that phrase and Cinderella (who has previously been the star of her own Fables spin-off spy series) square off against… and here we run into a wall called What Exactly Do You Think a Murder Mystery Is, Anyway? But the victims are a who’s who of, er, the fairest… in all… you know what, I’m going to pretend like I didn’t just get that reference.

Plot and plot arcs aside, this book was weird. It’s not that every story segment was drawn and colored by different artists. It’s that the story segments on average lasted three pages each, which… it’s just too many hard corners, is the thing. Whiplash, I’m saying. But the plot was fine, as was the plot arc progression. (And whoever was the artist for the bits that included the Page sisters is good at drawing the Page sisters. Sexy librarians equals best trope.)

Later

Cart before the horse time: surprise! I liked the new Stephen King book.

Later is, as the title mildly hints, a book about the way the present informs (or to be more precise reframes) the past. Which I found to be a clever composition, since everyone and their brother will tell you about how the past informs the present, while the other direction is not half so well-trodden of a theme. It is also a terribly modern coming of age story, which is also a crime story (not a spoiler, since the publishing company is Hard Case Crime), which is also a horror story (not a spoiler, because the narrator not-quite smugly informs the reader of this in the opening moments of the book).

That King manages to juggle all of these to good effect is a testament to the timelessness of his own voice (or to the fact that I’m old enough to not notice how out of touch he is) and to the fact that he has long since transcended mere genre concerns. But mostly it’s a testament to the fact that his ability to spin a good yarn is undiminished. After all, you can mash together as many types of stories into one yarn as you want to, if you spin it well enough.

Also, it is uncharacteristically short, so I’m glad he can still do that.

Slaves Unchained

I started reviewing things here in September of 2004. The first two books of the Slave Trade trilogy were published in 2003, and Slaves Unchained was released in early 2005. My lack of reviews on the prior books indicates that I definitely read them in earlier 2004, and then just never moved on to the third one. But I’ve got this stack of old books I’m trying to get through, and so…

The problem with a trilogy whose first two entries I read 25 years ago[1] is, well, a) I barely remember why I read them in the first place[2], and b) I even more barely remember the plot. Which is why I went looking for my previous reviews in the first place and discovered that they just missed the temporal cut. Too bad for me.

What I know is: humans are treasured as pleasure slaves by the other species of the galaxy, because those other species cannot have sex outside procreative imperative, but humans can. And I know that a bunch of said human characters found a way to rebel and escape from their imprisonment, with the occasional help of sympathetic aliens, who are all involved in a two or three way war with some of each other. Not a lot to go on, but of course this third book was written with people who had not read the prior books in 25 years in mind, so… haha no.

Basically I stumbled from chapter to chapter following subplots that matched my memory, subplots that were destined to eventually tie into the plots I remembered, and subplots that seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the book, only to crash headlong into an ending that was extremely open, but which has never been followed up upon.

Was it good? I legitimately have no idea[3]. Was it good enough to reread the first two books and form a real opinion? It was not.

[1] More than half my life!, at least for now.
[2] I believe they were recommended by Lara Beaton as having been written by her sister-in-law. No doubt she will immediately appear to correct me if I have this wrong. No doubt whatsoever.
[3] Notably, it was not actively bad. It was also not especially erotica, despite what the cover would have you believe. I dimly think the first two books were? But this one, huh-uh.

Circle Thrice

Nearly a year since the last Deathlands. Oops? But between a global pandemic and a new son, I’ve had things going on. …boy howdy. Things.

Circle Thrice is a weird book, even by the standards of the series so far. For one thing, it’s highly episodic. Except for the fact that our post-apocalyptic teleporting companions are not literally on the Mississippi River (it’s the Tennessee instead), the first two thirds of the story remind me a lot of Huckleberry Finn. Because there they go, downriver[1] on a raft, running into various weird people and situations[2] without very much fear of consequence, because, as you know by now, our heroes are very well-armed and other people generally are not. It’s a peaceful interlude, if you correct for mutant death around every corner.

Later, in the last third, we get to a more typical “heroes run into a baron who may not have their best interests in mind and/or former enemy makes a new appearance” situation, and that part is fine as well. I guess a thing I like about these books is that, 32 volumes in, they are simultaneously comfort food and something I’ve never read before. It’s not like I’m getting bored, clearly. Probably because they still keep me guessing with things like the first two aforementioned thirds, and with things like wondering if that wound that keeps being mentioned and which keeps not getting resolved is going to turn into a really big deal major character death or in fact is just an oops, need to stretch more and maybe take it easy for a day or so. It’s nice to not know for sure, instead of seeing it coming from miles away.

Also, though, the book title? It feels like a religious or especially pagan religious reference, right? No idea if it is one, my briefest of googles tells me not especially, but man it sounds like it. Also, it doesn’t mean a single thing relative to the story being told. Nothing. Pick any other random imperative verb and slightly archaic modifier, and it would fit equally well here.

So that’s weird.

[1] Did Huck and Jim go upriver? Because on the one hand, how do you stop being a slave by going farther south? But on the other hand, raft + river rarely results in an upriver trip. How is this the first time I’m asking myself this question?
[2] Villagers who have a raft that needs stealing. Non-consensual BDSM priest. Tour of the Civil War battlefield of Shiloh. Graceland[3]. Rabid villagers (not the same ones as the ones with the raft).
[3] Look. I’m not saying it’s on the Tennessee River. I’m not even saying the writer is saying that. It’s just another episodic thing that happened. They don’t all have to tie directly to the raft, okay?

Battle Ground

I have logistical thoughts about Battle Ground. Because it’s obvious that this and Peace Talks are in fact one book. Sure, there are one or two structural plot elements to make them feel like they are each a whole book, and that’s a good thing; but if you rearrange those or ditch the plot elements leading to them, you don’t hurt the overall story of the proposed single book. But man would it have been an enormous book, you know?

All that to say, a three month gap between these books is not bad at all[1], so I’m not complaining exactly, but the delay to get here was… also not insane, but it was large, and what I’m really saying is it reminds me of George RR Martin’s scenario writ in miniature, except you’ll note that after his split in two single book, he never wrote anything else again. So I’m concerned, is the thing.

But back to this actual book. This is a title that delivers. I mean, I guess they both are? Peace Talks was easily 80 percent or more a book about all of the Accorded Nations getting together to hash out a peace, while they could[2]. And Battle Ground is about the moment when that ticking clock has run out. So if what you are looking for from this book is an all out war between Dresden and allies vs the bad guys de l’année, I can assure you that you will get it.

And while you’re getting that, you’ll also get a great deal of broader plot events and character development moments. From all kinds of characters and all kinds of plot directions. This is a legitimately huge book in the greater sequence of the Dresden Files series, and I’m still all wrapped up in it. I know people have turned away from these over the past decade, but for my money, it’s still a very solid piece of story-telling, and I will continue to find out what happens next for as long as I’m able.

More below the footnotes + cut, to be considered at least mild spoiler territory, mostly for the series rather than the book.

[1] Especially at the rate I’ve been reading this year, which is to say that my three new summer books took me basically two thirds of a year. Look, things are and have been weird.
[2] Some of them, it occurs to me, with vastly more hypocrisy than others.

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The Baron of Magister Valley

It has taken me over three months to read The Baron of Magister Valley. This is a) not a statement on the quality of the book, and also b) it’s really not okay.

What happened was, I read the first half of the book in a leisurely rush, around child-rearing and comics-reading. That half of the book was great! There were dire plots and secret prisons and just the very best kinds of intrigue, all surrounded by Paarfi’s oh so distinctive authorial voice. I was at each moment excited to learn what would happen next! Just like I should be.

And then suddenly they wanted me to come back to work. Which means I’ve had time for watching about a gajillion movies, but reading has just fallen apart on me. And at a snail’s pace crawl, I found that I just didn’t really care much about the revenge half[1] of the book. My assumption here is that reading the book with any kind of momentum would have prevented this malaise, and I would be glowing here instead of all mehed out.

Ultimately, I think the failures of the book were either the failures of my circumstances, or (less likely but certainly possible) the failures of the source material. Or, so unlikely that I hate to think it after the stretch of great books I’ve previously read by him, it could actually be the book, and this is a failure on Brust’s part.

But whatever the case, a book whose plot I did not care about and whose characters’ motivations were mostly uninteresting to me for an entire half of the story, and the second half no less!, a book who I mostly kept reading because, whatever else was going on, Paarfi knows how to make me laugh? That is not a book I can be excited about in a review. Alas.

[1] I should say here that I’m not actually hurling out spoilers; this book, like the others that “Paarfi” has written, are based on popular works of adventure fictions from the 18th or 19th centuries.

A Night in the Lonesome October revisited

Cool thing about finally reading A Night in the Lonesome October again: I have done this on a month when October ended in a full moon, as the plot demands. Also, and if I’m being real, moreso cool, I did it as a family. I mean, Malcolm wasn’t really old enough to catch the finer points of the adventures of Snuff and his human, Jack, and he doesn’t have the literary context to catch the sundry references on display, but he does like to hear me read.

If this gets to be annual, which I don’t fully expect that it will, I am not going to write a new review each year, in which I decline to discuss the plot any more deeply than I already have. But this time seems relevant nevertheless. And so, a fairly belated Happy Halloween!