Read Recently — January 2017 — Fantasy

The Hob’s Bargain by Patricia Briggs

Early Briggs, and second-world fantasy, and a re-read.

Aren is nearly 30, and in her world is a little old to be newly married. But, as her parents’ only suriving child, she must ensure that their land remains in the family and that requires a man. Fortunately, her parents found Daryn, a genuinely nice guy who really cares for Aren and would be a good husband if he weren’t killed by bandits, along with his brother and Aren’s parents, in the first five pages of the book.

To complicate things, Aren is a seer: visions of the near future come to her but they’re usually baffling images that she figures out the meaning of after. Such magic gifts run in her family: her grandmother was a healer and her brother was a finder. Most of those who have such gifts hide them for two reasons: one, the village recently (within the last couple of generations) converted to worship of the One God, who orders death for magic users, and two, the only allowed form of magic use is Blood Magic, and if a Blood Mage sees that you have a talent he can order you taken and turned into a Blood Mage (which is why Aren is now an only child. Her brother chose suicide rather than become a Blood Mage. Blood Mages are not nice people, they have short lives, and they get a lot less nice before they die). The Blood Mages did one good thing, though: ages ago they locked down the natural magic in the land, saving the humans from the attacks of wild magic creatures.

Until, as Aren hides in the cellar while the bandits raid her house, she has a vision of a Blood Mage stripping the defense from the land to power him in a final, massive act of death magic.

Now the village is in serious trouble. They have a few old, retired soldiers, plus Aren’s brother’s old friend Kith, who is a mixed bag (not so old, and a trained soldier with some magic added in by the Blood Mage who served their lord; but on the other hand he only has one arm, which is why he’s back home and not still serving in the army), but the bandits are all ex-mercenaries and trained killers, and the magic is coming back and with it creatures that will feed on their crops, their animals, and the villagers themselves.

On the nearby Hob’s Mountain, though, there dwells a Hob (not unexpectedly, he being in the title and all). No one knows what a Hob is (he has been asleep since the magic was locked down), but Aren has reason to believe that he will be helful, and such he proves to be. A trickster figure, the local last of his race, he offers the humans a bargain: his aid in exchange for a bride. Always an outsider among the humans, Aren volunteers.

But even the Hob might not be enough to fight off the enemy that is coming . . .

By this point in her career, Briggs has moved past the roughness that marked Masques/Wolfsbane and Dragon Bones/Dragon Blood. Aren is a hero in the mold of Mercy Thompson and Caefawn, the Hob, is a worthy match to her. The story goes in some frankly unexpected directions at times and though short, is engaging. I am torn between wanting a sequel and worrying that if one were written it just wouldn’t hold up.

Recommended.

Sparrow Falling by Gaie Sebold

Sequel to Shanghai Sparrow, this finds Eveline Sparrow trying to keep her school for girls of slightly-less-than-honest tendencies running, but she finds it hard to keep the money coming in without actually turning to crime. Trying to raise funds from a possible sponsor goes badly wrong, though, when the man turns out to have criminal plans of his own and a use for Eveline’s skills. With her fae friend Fox off dealing with problems of his own among the folk and her support among the other instructors at the school falling apart, can Eveline save her dream home?

This is a worthy sequel, and avoids one of the major problems I had with the first one by staying entirely within England rather than titling the book after a location that it barely goes to. It’s not exactly steampunk, though there are elements of steampunk in it; perhaps call it something like “etherpunk”? Anyway, for those who are concerned about steampunk not telling stories of the lower classes: this series does. My one complaint is that while Evvie’s money problems are solved by the end of the book, they aren’t solved by her own efforts, but rather by someone else. I would have preferred the former.

Recommended, but you have to have read Shanghai Sparrow first for it to make sense.

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Read Recently presents: Unfinished in 2016!

Yes, it’s that time again! Time to discuss the books I just couldn’t be arsed to finish reading in the horrible, horrible year which was 2016.

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

This should be right up my alley: the weird west as interpreted by weird, lyrical writer Valente, with added fractured fairy tale! Yet somehow, (and I’ll be saying this a lot in this entry) it just failed to grab my attention. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it that I could see, but I kept putting it down and not picking it up again until finally, I gave up.

Magpies, Squirrels & Thieves: how the Victorians collected the world by Jacqueline Yallop

I’m not sure what I expected when I picked this up. Possibly something about how the Victorians got their hands on so many of the world’s treasures in their era, and why. What I got was a dissection of the almost hobby of collecting and presenting things to the public in those days. It may in fact be very interesting stuff . . . but not to me.

Second Street Station: a Mary Handley mystery by Lawrence H. Levy

A mystery series lives and dies on the quality of two things: the crimes it presents, and the personality of its detectives. The mystery here did not grip me, and our hero ditto. Given a historical setting (19th-century New York), the writer should also take into account that people are going to have their own opinions of historical figures and how you write them is also going to affect how the reader reacts. Finally, if you decide to give your hero a Chinese childhood friend and have the friend’s father teach her the ancient Chinese art of Jujitsu, well, be aware that the reader is going to laugh at you and throw the book away.

Half-Resurrection Blues: a Bone Street Rumba novel by Daniel Jose Older

Undead New York is a busy, dangerous place, and Carlos Delacruz has to negotiate it as an agent of the Council of the Dead. Carlos is an inbetweener, someone partially resurrected from death and I just kinda choked on that concept. I couldn’t get it and I still don’t know what partially resurrected means. Nor was I engaged by any of the characters, good or bad, nor by the situations. I don’t know if the problem is Older or me; that is, given how many people I respect seem to have enjoyed this book, I suspect the problem is that it just isn’t for me.

The Price of Valor: book three of the Shadow Campaigns by Django Wexler

After the rave reviews I gave to the first two volumes of this series, I was really looking forward to this one. But in the process of cataloguing a book (yes, of course I catalogue my books. What kind of library nerd do you think I am?) I check how many pages it has, which can sometimes lead to me seeing scenes from the end of the story (fortunately, I do not mind spoilers all that much. In fact, sometimes I prefer them, as in this case) and found myself reading a scene that distressed me and seemed to set me up to be squicked; reading further I decided that I didn’t want to know any more. So I’m done with the Shadow Campaigns; I’m not sure how personal this particular distress/squick combo is so I’m not going to spoil it for you. The writing seems to be of the usual high quality, so if you enjoyed the first two and you aren’t me, you might like this one and going forward. I won’t be reading any more.

Aleister Crowley: the biography: spiritual revolutionary, romantic explorer, occult master — and spy by Tobias Churton

I never really shared the popular fixation on Crowley, a rather unpleasant man notorious for his excess in the first half of the 20th century CE, but I thought this might make an interesting read. However, reading the forward (not by Churton but rather by one Christopher McIntosh) and its literary fellation of Crowley quite put me off reading any more. The man just ain’t that interesting.

1913: the Year Before The Storm by Florian Illes

The fact that these last few years have been the centennial of the First World War has been a matter of some discussion in Canada, given that WWI was when Canada sprang to prominence on the international scene as an Imperial lackey without peer, sending thousands of our young men to die under the command of in-bred incompetents so that Britain could continue to rule the third world, instead of Germany we could remain free (I may have some issues). Anyway, I’ve come to realize that I’m not really well-educated on the prewar/war-period and am trying to make up for it. This book, which promises “a witty yet moving narrative that progresses month by month through the year” failed to provide the kind of information I was looking for. Or a witty yet moving narrative. I gave up in January.

A Discourse In Steel: a tale of Egil & Nix by Paul S. Kemp

Not the first Egil & Nix adventure, but that wasn’t why I gave up. The basic story promises that our two heroes (dubious term) are retired adventurers, described on the back cover as a dashing rogue and a warrior-priest (and, as warrior-priests are wont to do since D&D came along, he sticks to non-edged weapons), having set up as pimps and running their own brothel. This is as endearing as you might expect: the characters may be intended to come across as respectful of their charges, but they don’t (in particular, our “dashing rogue” is taken with one of the girls but bothered that she’s a whore). This particular volume has them falling afoul of the local thieves’ guild and having to go to war to protect themselves and their property.

It isn’t that there’s nothing good in this one; there is a fascinating look at a system of psychic magic, but it isn’t enough to make up for the characters, all of whom, good or evil, suck.

The House of Shattered Wings: a Dominion of the Fallen novel by Aliette de Bodard

I’m very fond of de Bodard’s writing, especially her earlier series of Aztec mysteries, and I was really looking forward to this book, which posits that Europe was conquered early on by fallen angels and the first world war was really fought between them, with magic et al. But, as with Discourse in Steel and as I might have expected with a book focused on the noble houses of Paris, houses founded by the beings that in our reality’s mythology went on to become Devils, the story is nothing but unpleasant people being unpleasant to each other and while things might have improved later in the book I just couldn’t bring myself to go on.

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

It had to happen sooner or later. There had to be a Tim Powers book somewhere that I just couldn’t finish. I’m just still in shock.

Brendan Doyle is an academic whose specialty is the life of the little-known poet William Ashbless, an American who ended up in London, England, in 1810 or thereabouts, but who antecedents are virtually unknown. When Doyle is himself brought to London by the Darrow Interdisciplinary Research Enterprises (DIRE) he thinks that whatever else is going on he will use the opportunity to do some research into Ashbless, but doesn’t realize what a research tool he’s about to be handed: DIRE has discovered a way to travel in time to a particular location on a particular date, to attend a reading by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and, since they’re selling the opportunity to take the trip to a bunch of rich dilettantes, having someone along who knows Coleridge and the era as an expert would be useful. Doyle can hardly refuse, but after the reading he is kidnapped and left in the past and at that point, one of the plotlines becomes quite clear (though I did read far enough ahead to see that things aren’t without the kind of twists that one would expect of Powers).

Anyway, it kinda stopped gripping me, but unlike most “Unfinisheds” I intend to hang on to it and try again in the future.

Read Recently — December 2016 — The rest

The Shepherd’s Crown: a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

It had to happen. Terry Pratchett had early-onset Alzheimer’s Syndrome and it was bound to influence his writing before he died. Some argued for an earlier affect than this, and even some of them held this book up as a good example of his work regardless but I disagree. It’s a pity, too, as it’s a Tiffany Aching book, and they are generally good, but this . . . just doesn’t work.

It isn’t that the book begins with Granny Weatherwax dying. Of all Pratchett’s characters Granny was the one most likely to die (other than Rincewind, of course, and killing Rincewind off would’ve been cruel and Pratchett was rarely cruel to his characters) and really, her role in Tiffany’s saga has so far been to act as an example and that’s no longer necessary. So Granny passes on and she leaves her hut to Tiffany, of course, giving Tiffany duties both in Lancre and on the Chalk. And there is unrest in the court of the Elves, and with Granny gone, one of the barriers that kept them out of the world is gone too . . .

So we get a “Tiffany takes on too much work” story, which we’ve done before, and we get a “Tiffany and/or Witches in general against the elves” story, both variants of which we’ve done before, and we’ve got Pratchett not on his A-game (which, sadly, we have also had before) and it’s a sad farewell to the Discworld.

Mildly not recommended.

Atheism: the case against God by George H. Smith; foreword by Lawrence M. Krauss

This was a re-read, though it’s a new edition, re-issued 42 years after the first publication. Smith is systematic in defining his terms, including the many varieties of Atheism and Agnosticism, and sets up his terms of argument well. On the other hand, in one chapter he falls badly into the strawman trap in presenting a “dialogue” between believer and non-believer (which is why this sort of thing is best avoided) and in his chapter titled “Ethics, Rationality and Religion” he draws far too heavily on Ayn Rand, another thing best avoided. Still, it’s an interesting book and the early chapters at least are well worth looking at. Recommended.

Read Recently — December 2016 — Steampunk

Ganymede by Cherie Priest

Josephine Early is a successful businesswoman in New Orleans in the early 1880s; she runs a “boarding house” for young ladies (yes, that is a euphemism; it’s a brothel, but a good one) and maintains her and their independence, which is quite something for a free woman of colour in a Confederate State in a world in which the US Civil War still hasn’t ended after 20 years. A while ago the Union actually took the city, and when the Confederacy was unable to take it back directly they asked Texas to intervene. Since Texas has the best tech in the Clockwork Century-verse (they’re up to dieselpunk rather than steampunk), they succeeded and now they occupy New Orleans “for the Confederacy”.

Still Josephine has a plan. In tandem with her brother Deaderick (“Rick”) she is aware of a device known as the Ganymede, an advanced submarine (based on a real sub designed by a real person in the real world) scuttled and lost in Lake Ponchartrain. If they can get it down to the Gulf of Mexico and hook up with the Union fleet down there they could strike a real blow against the Confederacy. The problem is that the machine is hard to handle and has a tendency to drown its crews (there is a reason why it was scuttled and lost in Ponchartrain). But then again, everyone they have tried to get to run it so far has been a sailor, and Josephine has a theory that the controls and environmental effects are more like those of an airship. There are lots of airships around, but she can’t afford to pay a good pilot what he’s worth (the Union is not convinced the Ganymede is worth the effort and won’t invest any money in the project until they see it in the field, as it were). Then it occurs to her that she knows someone who is a good airship pilot, owes no allegiance to the Confederacy or the Republic of Texas, and might be willing to work for less than optimal pay due to residual fondness from the long-gone days when they were a couple.

Andan Cly is a pretty good airship pilot, though he’s thinking about getting out of the business. He’s been a pirate and a smuggler for a while, and ten years ago he used to hang out in New Orleans a lot, but lately he’s been working out of the Seattle area and the new sherriff, Briar Wilkes, has him thinking about giving that up. Settling down. Opening a depot. Not that settling down in Seattle is as easy as it is in other cities; Seattle is locked away behind a high wall intended to hold in the heavier-than-air gas that, if not filtered out of the air, kills those who breathe it and then brings them back as violent, undead creatures. The Seattlites live underground, in sealed, well-vented chambers, and are very well-acquainted with gas masks.

On the other hand, the gas, if properly treated, makes a popular drug known in the outside world as “sap”. Sap does have the same side-effect as the gas does, but that only kicks in once the user is dead, and isn’t widely known about. Cly has been transporting sap for the other master of Seattle, but he intends to get out of the business and that will mean refitting his ship. That means a trip out of Seattle and a visit to a shipyard. Various people from around the town want him to get supplies for them as well, including some technical materials to work on Seattle’s airpumps, so a visit to a “Texian” shop would be worthwhile. Why not go to New Orleans and kill two birds with one stone?

Priest does her usual excellent work here. No novel in the Clockwork Century series has been a direct sequel to any other, but characters from the first two books do make reappearances here and the storyline overall advances. Action, great characterisation, excellent world-building (Priest discusses it in the Author’s note at the end): highly recommended.

Read Recently — December 2016 – Phreak Me Right the Phuck Out

Exploding the Phone: the untold story ofthe teenagers and outlaws who hacked Ma Bell by Phil Lapsley

Lapsley here brings us the story of how a number of people discovered and exploited mechanical errors in the phone system of the mid-to-late 20th century. The tools they used ranged from charm to fraud to surprisingly simple electronic devices called “Blue Boxes”. They had cool nicknames and exchanged information through long-distance phone calls (free because that’s one of the things they used their exploits to gain) and personal meetings at first, and eventually zines and unofficial phone “chat-rooms”. For the most part, they didn’t do it for money, but for kicks and ego.

They were brought down by a combination of that ego and by the slow replacement of the mechanical switches that they relied on with digital switches. They did, however, give birth to hacker culture, which remains with us to this very day.

For the most part you won’t recognize the names of the “phone phreaks” (they originally spelled it “freaks”, but media attention and the appeal of alliteration made the change irresistable), but there are two you might; notorious but anonymous sellers of blue boxes in the Bay area in the 70s: Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

Recommended.

Going Postal: a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

A re-read, obviously, but since I last read it I have read the above book and the book on the history of the Telegraph (here) and they both provide some new illumination to this volume.

Moist von Lipwig (pronounced “Lipvig”) is a professional con man. Down through the years since he left his home he has swindled a lot of people out of a lot of money, but alas he has finally been caught and is due to be hanged. He is, however, grateful for one thing: he is to be hanged under an assumed name.

And despite his best efforts to escape, Moist is duly hanged, by the neck, until (not quite-) dead. The small mercy of his life is extended to him by a truly proficient hangman at the orders of Lord Vetinari, the Patrician (dictator) of Ankh-Morpork, who has a job for him: Postmaster General.

The Ankh-Morpork post office is a mess. It has only two employees left, one of them elderly and the other obsessed with collecting pins, plus an elderly cat so set in his ways that it is easier to just get out of his way and, if need be, open the door for him than wait for him to realise that he can’t walk through that particular spot. The building is stuffed with undelivered letters, but no one brings mail to it any more. Why bother? If you need messages sent you either deliver them yourself (if local) or else send them by Clacks (visual telegraph) if it’s long distance. Of course, the Post Office now has Moist, and his parole officer, a golem named Mr. Pump.

The last thing Moist wants to be is Postmaster General, especially once he finds out that the last four men assigned to the task have all come to bad ends. Of course, none of those men were Moist von Lipwig, with his particular skills and gifts. None of them befriended Adora Belle Dearheart, head of the Golem Trust. Or none of them came to the attention of Reacher Gilt, the head of the Grand Trunk Clacks consortium, who has to see the Post Offce as a rival, has skills much like those of Moist, and has the . . . aid of Mr Gryle. Who is not someone you want to meet at all.

Pratchett explores a lot of themes in this one, including what is freedom? Does the right of a business to make money trump the right of the people to vital services? Is redemption possible for even the worst people? And it’s funny. It’s a great book, and Highly recommended, especially in conjunction with those other two books.

Read Recently — December 2016 — Mysteries

Who Buries the Dead: a Sebastian St. Cyr mystery by C. S. Harris

The latest St. Cyr mystery to fall into my hands has Sebastian dealing with the decapitated body of a man related to the Home Secretary. The victim was a collecctor of, shall we say, historical artifacts not necessarily obtained by legal means; and as he was found near a leather strap labelled “King Charles I” there is reason to believe that he might have stumbled onto a real find: the head of said Charles, possibly stolen from his recently discovered tomb. This gives St. Cyr a double deadline: stop the killer before he or she kills again, and find and restore the head to its grave before a fascinated Prinny visits it and finds the head not there.

One of the suspects is a banker named Henry Austen, and the investigation brings St. Cyr into contact with his daughter Jane, whose (anonymously-published) novels have been recently fascinating the ton. Her insights into personality may be useful for finding the killer. And of course, as he works his investigation, St. Cyr annoys the famous and the powerful, one of whom may be angry enough to try to kill him.

All things considered, this is another good entry in a good series. Recommended.

Black Cat Crossing by Kay Finch

Sabrina (you know, I just realised that I don’t know the character’s last name; if it’s mentioned in the first 30 pages I can’t find it. I don’t know if that’s good writing or bad, but it’s certainly indicative of something) has moved to Lavender, Texas, to help her aunt Rowena (Aunt Rowe) run her collection of vacation cottages while Rowe recovers from a broken leg. It’s not exactly labour-intensive, as Rowe has a handyman and lots of friends, but Sabrina is irrationally fond of her aunt and has good memories of summers spent in Lavender as a girl. Also, she wants to work on her novel, a mystery/thriller that she is having some problems with.

The arrival of her aunt’s cousin, Bobby Joe Flowers, throws a spanner into everyone’s plans (everyone except Bobby Joe, that is). A wildman and sometime thief, Bobby Joe is already unpopular with Rowe, but on this trip he brings worse news than usual: a blood test has revealed that he, and not Rowe, might actually be the heir to the property holding the cottages. Rowe doesn’t let a broken leg stop her from throwing Bobby Joe out, and that turn to near-violence makes her a natural suspect when Bobby Joe is found dead on the property, his head smashed with a shovel.

Concerned for her aunt, Sabrina begins an inept investigation that is hampered by her concern for a new friend: the titular cat, which she nicknames Hitchcock but who many locals are blaming for any bad luck they might happen to have. And her friend Tyanne, who owns a bookstore, has arranged for a major literary agent to visit and told her all about Sabrina’s book. And now the agent wants to talk to Sabrina about it. Her unfinished book.

That was the part of the book I really tripped over: you don’t approach an agent with an incomplete book, one that hasn’t even finished a first draft. What if you never finish it? The agent could wind up putting a lot of work into a product that you never actually deliver. And Sabrina’s refusal to do the sensible thing and tell her friend to fuck off, she’ll find an agent when the book is ready, combined with her ineptitude as a detective, makes her really unlikable to me, and the book mildly not recommended (mildly because this particular quirk is probably mine alone).

Tempest in a Teapot by Amanda Cooper

The front cover says that this is “a teapot collector mystery”, but there is no series indicator inside the book.

Sophie Taylor is a trained chef, but her New York restaurant recently failed and she’s kind of adrift. Rather than fall into the social whirl that her mother, a wealthy woman, expects her to, Sophie decides to go back to the small Finger Lakes town of Gracious Grove, where her grandmother runs “Auntie Rose’s Victorian Teahouse”. Sophie used to spend summers with Rose and loves both the woman and her teahouse very much.

Ands so the reader is plunged into an environment sweet enough to give you diabetes; though fortunately the palate is quickly cleansed by old feuds, dislikeable relations (none of them Sophie’s), and a murder right in the teahouse–though it’s not Auntie Rose’s, but the place across the street, the source of much of the tensions mentioned above. All things considered, this wasn’t too bad, and Sophie is certainly no Sabrina, but frankly I felt that the whole plot was dragged down by the circumstances that lead to Sophie being in Gracious Grove in the first place: her failure at her planned career. For all that the book does not blame Sophie for it (there are always economic factors to consider) I am tired of the “woman fails in the big city and must return to her small town roots to find success” sort of storyline so endemic in romance and romantic comedy. But then, I’m not a small town kind of person, so I might be prejudiced.

Mildly not recommended.

Read Recently — December 2016 — Fantasies, Urban and Other

The Aeronaut’s Windlass: the Cinder Spires by Jim Butcher

In a world in which civilization is centered in cities laid out in levels inside massive spires of stone-like material, reared by ancient technology centuries ago in the wake of a disaster that made the surface dangerous to inhabit (though it can still be reached for the purposes of, say, harvesting wood for furniture), the main method of travel between spires is airship; the ships are kept airborne by power flowing through a network of wires and crystals, and driven by steam (though in the event of problems most maintain sails as a backup). The AMS Predator, under the command of Captain Francis Madison Grimm, is badly damaged in battle, her crystals cracked, barely able to rise or descend — no better than a windlass, a type of crane, as someone with an agenda helpfully tells the Captain.

However, the Spirearch (essentially the King of the Spire, though he has lttle actual power to back up the title) needs some agents taken downspire to search for agents of another Spire who may, according to an etherealist (essentially a wizard, though in a discipline which renders its users eventually, to the casual viewer, quite mad) be a great danger to the Spire. In return for ferrying these passengers down and back up the Spirearch will re-equip the Predator with a full new set of crystals, perhaps even making her better than before. Since Grimm regards the Predator as his home and her crew as his family, he agrees.

Grimm thus comes into contact with the Etherialist Master Ferus and his apprentice, Folly, who cannot talk to living humans but only to a collection of defunct crystals she carries around with her, Guard trainees Gwendolyn Lancaster, whose wealthy family grows power crystals, and Bridget Tagwynn, whose family grows vat-meat to feed the Spire but are now barely count as a house, Rrowl, a cat-prince who regards Bridget with a certain fondness (she speaks Cat), and Benedict Lancaster, a Guardsman and warriorborn, cousin to Gwen and follower of the Way. The group of them will face not only enemy marines who have, indeed, infiltrated the Spire, but also an enemy Etherealist with a dangerous mission of her own and something darker come up from the surface . . . and a hint of something even darker and more powerful lurking in the background.

I’ve enjoyed most of Butcher’s work and particularely his last limited fantasy series (as opposed to the open-ended Dresden Files, which eventually drove me away) Codex Alera, so I had high hopes for this one. I did read some reviews, both formal (actual reviews) and informal (opinions), that were negative, but I’m pleased to find that they were wrong and the book’s quite good, certainly up to Butcher’s usual standards (which you may regard as a recommendation or a warning, depending on your tastes). The characters are appealing or appalling, depending on what they need to be (though the enemies are given character, not mere stereotypes or faceless villains) and the world seems well-thought out and intriguing. I’m looking forward to more.

Highly recommended.

Once Broken Faith: an October Daye novel by Seanan McGuire

In her last adventure (mild spoiler follows) Toby and her crew found a cure for elfshot — the weapon that allows the fair folk to go to war without violating their absent king’s dictate that they not kill each other. Elfshot puts purebloods to sleep for a century, which is not a long time if you’re basically going to live forever (though it’s still a distressingly long absense for those left behind). Changelings it kills, but who cares about Changelings? Being elfshot twice has caused Toby to move further towards pureblooded, as first her mother and then her own power changed her blood to move her away from lethal status (I know, I know: blood doesn’t control your heredity. Hush, it’s magic). Now, the king of North America’s fae (based, for some reason, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada) has declared that the cure is not to be used until he and a convocation of monarchs have met, and discussed it, and come to a decision. And they could potentially decide that it is not to be used. And the convocation is to be held in the Kingdom of the Mists, where Toby lives.

Of course, nothing goes exactly as planned. To start with, the High King and Queen are the parents of Quentin, Toby’s squire. Quentin being a prince-in disguise puts a certain amount of pressure on Toby as things stand; having his parents around is going to make it worse. Toby is ordered to attend the convocation, mostly as a device to allow Quentin to attend, both so that his parents can see more of him and so that he can learn how these things are done. The Luidaeg attends; elf-shot was invented by one of her sisters, who now sleeps, elf-shot herself, on a faerie road, having made the mistake of attacking Toby, and the two sisters never got along. The Luidaeg wants the cure used to frustrate her sister, but the sister has found a way to speak for herself: one of Toby’s honourary neices is an oneiromancer, a dream-walker and, as the sister is asleep, but still powerful, she can force the oneiromancer to speak for her.

And of course, as everyone might have expected, since Toby is in attendance, someone starts mudering the local kings. Toby, as the only person there with experience, is assigned to investigate. Can she solve the murders despite the unwillingness of most kings to cooperate with a changeling? Can she convince them to use the cure? Will she and Tybalt get married in Toronto?

This volume includes the novella (or possible novelette; I’m never sure) “Dreams and Slumbers” about how Queen Arden deals with the aftermath of the convocation and its effects on her elf-shot brother.

Highly recommended.