Thursday, June 25, 2015

Flesh and Spirit (Lighthouse 1) - Carol Berg

Flesh and Spirit is the first book of a duology that concludes with Breath and Bone.

The main character is Valen, a man running from his destiny. He is a pureblood, which means he has magical ability, and he is also the youngest son of a family of famous mapmakers. But he was unable to learn to read, and rebelled against the family business, finally fleeing to join the military. Dreadfully wounded in battle, he and a buddy named Boreas desert and turn to thievery. Eventually, Boreas abandons Valen near a monastery, trusting that the brothers will heal him -- but first, he steals everything he can from Valen, including the nivat seeds Valen is addicted to. The only thing Boreas doesn't steal is a book that Valen insisted on carting away from one of the houses they had plundered. Boreas sees no value in it, but the joke is on him, for it's a special volume of maps drawn for Valen by his grandfather. And it holds the key not just to Valen's destiny, but to the destiny of their world.

Berg drops her readers right into the story with very little explanation of what's going on, and expects us to keep reading 'til we catch up -- an accepted epic fantasy technique that I found to be less annoying here than in, say, the Malazan Book of the Fallen. And yet, the book starts off slow, partially because of the main character. For a man who's disgraced and nearly dead, Valen certainly likes his flowery prose. As annoying as he is, though, I ended up liking him -- and even pulling for him by the end of the book.

I wasn't as fond of this duology as I was of Berg's Collegia Magica trilogy; I thought Dante made the better antihero, perhaps because he's not a point of view character in the first book or so. But I enjoyed the Lighthouse books, and I recommend them to fans of epic fantasy.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Storyteller's Bracelet - Smoky Zeidel

It's the late 1800s in America, and the white people in power are trying to civilize the Indians -- and one way they're doing it is to forcibly remove as many Indian children as they can and send them to boarding schools far away from their homes.

Sun Song and Otter are members of an unnamed desert tribe who fall foul of this policy while in their teens. Sun Song is a storyteller, Otter is a silversmith, and the pair are very much in love. But at the white man's school, they are forced apart, given new names and new clothing, and told not to speak their mother tongue upon threat of punishment.

Otter adapts to his new name, Gideon, and his new life, but Sun Song can't do it. She ends up brutalized by the school's headmaster, and cannot bring herself to tell Gideon what's going on. In the meantime, Gideon has begun to fall for the daughter of a white patron of the school. But the spirits of the land have not deserted them, and Gideon and Sun Song discover they have a role to play in saving the earth for all people.

Zeidel's writing is smooth; her characters are appealing and finely drawn. I was interested in the subject matter anyway, of course, but I was delighted to find the story was so well told. I highly recommend this novel -- and if you enjoy it, too, then you should also look for Zeidel's short stories about this pair: The Boy Who Survived the River and Why Hummingbird is So Small.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Trapped (Chronicles of White World 2) - M. Terry Green

M. Terry Green turns in another fine effort in this second book of her Chronicles of White World.

As Trapped begins, we are back on the Pacifica Ice Sheet with Thirteen and her castaway crew: Cord and his young daughter, Miyu. Thirteen can see her goal on the horizon -- Volcano Helado, where she last saw her sister -- but an impossibly long rift in the ice sits between her crippled skimmer and her goal. Chased by slavers who want to put an end to Thirteen's attacks on their trade, she and Cord debate whether to chance crossing the chasm at an ice bridge. The bridge seems stable enough until Thirteen sends a probe into it to check its thickness. The next thing they know, all three of them are sliding under the ice and into a mysterious colony that resembles the Hotel California in one respect: you can never leave. But if anybody can get them out, it's Thirteen.

Some middle-of-the-series books suffer from being nothing but a bridge between the beginning and the final volume. But Green is the kind of storyteller who knows how to keep things moving. We still don't know a lot about Thirteen's past, and Cord is more of a mystery man at the end of this book than ever. But I'm confident all will be explained in the final volume -- which I'm very much looking forward to.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Tortured Truths (Phillip McGuire Mysteries #1) - Randy Attwood

I warned you, didn't I? I said after I read Attwood's Heart Chants that I was going to have to read the first book in the series. Well, I did, and here's what I thought.

Tortured Truths is a very different book from Heart Chants. Phillip McGuire is the main character in both books, but Tortured Truths is the story of how the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist found his way back to Lawrence, Kansas, and decides to revitalize a local bar. Of course, you can never take the hound out of the newshound, and so McGuire soon finds himself investigating some odd local goings-on: the disappearance of some local kids whose bodies end up in the river with traces of drugs in their system; the strange behavior of the guy who heads the university foundation; and where that same guy is getting all his money. On top of that, he gets romantically involved with a journalism student named Sheila Perez who comes to the bar to do a story on him, and convinces her to write a story about the foundation's funding. Of course, the bodies and the money are tied together, and things get dicey for McGuire, as well as those he cares for, before it's all wrapped up.

I had two quibbles: McGuire occasionally calls Sheila "Signora Perez," using the Italian honorific -- but Perez is a Hispanic surname. I wasn't sure whether he was kidding around, or whether it was a mistake. My other quibble involved McGuire's decision to put Sheila in the middle of everything. I wondered whether that move was morally defensible -- but maybe only another old journalist would have a problem with it. Those two things aside, McGuire is an appealing character whose pain is very real, and the small-town political atmosphere was spot-on. I would recommend Tortured Truths as an enjoyable read.