Read Recently — January 2007

First Truth by Dawn Cook In a land divided between aristocratic plainsfolk and farming hill folk, the life of a halfbreed isn’t easy . Alissa is such a half-breed, daughter of a hill father and a plains mother. Her father, long gone and almost certainly dead, was something called a Keeper and told stories about a place called “the Hold”, where people learn and work magic. At the start of the book, Alissa’s mother throws her out of the house to make her way to the hold, in which Alissa does not believe but where her mother feels that Alissa belongs, for her own good.

Meanwhile, plainsman Strell is on his way home when he learns that his entire family has died. Heading across the mountains to the coast, he encounters Alissa and the two of them team up to find safe haven–either the coast or the Hold, should it actually exist, before the winter closes down the mountains. And, of course, the Hold does exist, but it holds new dangers that the freezing mountains don’t. Will Alissa be able to figure out her father’s legacy in time to save herself and Strell from danger? A good book with likeable, realistic heroes and a nice mystery or two. Recommended.

Paladins by Joel Rosenberg Knights who carry two swords, one a dangerous magic weapon with the soul of a saint or a truly great sinner, on a quest to find the source of a mysterious new set of such swords. Set in an alternate universe where Arthur lost at Camlann and Mordred became the hero who inspired an empire. Not a bad book, and it’s nice to see Rosenberg moving away from the tired Guardians of the Flame series, but not that good, either. Marginally not recommended.

Thud! by Terry Pratchett Commander Vimes gets caught up in the politics around the anniversary of a great troll/dwarf battle. One of the best of the Vimes stories, which is saying a lot cause Vimes is my favourite of Pterry’s characters. Highly recommended.

What Angels Fear by C. S. Harris A mystery set right at the start of the Regency, as young Lord Sebastian St. Cyr is accused of a brutal murder. But St. Cyr has resources that London’s fledgeling police force wots not of, and sets out to clear his name. A nice change of period and some good characters make thsi one fun. Recommended.

Runes of the Lyre by Ardath Mayhar A magickal musical instrument changes the destinies of several people in two connected worlds. Not Mayhar’s best, but still a cut above a lot of the crap out there right now, and a quick read. Recommended.

Steal the Dragon by Patricia Briggs Rialla is horse-trainer for the mercenaries of Sianim, but she’s also an ex-slave from the nation of Darran. Now the spymaster of Sianim needs her to return to Darran, disguised as a slave, and help protect a new alliance. She goes, reluctantly, as part of a delegation, but soon finds herself accused of murder and on the run, in a nation that views her as nothing more than property. “Steal the Dragon” is the local name for a chess-like game, at whcih our hero has some skill. Briggs brings her usual strong heroine and an attractive hero who complements her nicely. The world is also interesting, and one I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. The storyline kind of reminds me of early Barbara Hambly. All in all, recommended.

The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones The secret origin of Chrestomanci! Young Christopher Chant can travel between worlds. At first he does it while asleep and thinks everything is dreams, but he has the uncanny ability to bring things back with him and keep them in the waking world, and that’s surely not normal. His uncle asks Christopher to do some secret errands in other worlds for him, which hero-worshipping Christopher agrees to. Eventually, the source of Christopher’s power is figured out and he is sent off to be educated by the current Chrestomanci . . . who it seems is trying hard to track down a dangerous, cross-world smuggling operation . . . Lots of fun, and good reading for all ages. Highly recommended.

Conrad’s Fate by Diana Wynne Jones My favourite Chrestomanci book–so far, anyway. Young Conrad Tesdinic lives in a world with real magic. His uncle is a magician, as well as owner of the family bookstore. His mother is a famous feminist author. And in the castle on the hill, someone keeps changing reality in minor ways (an entire series of books changes, for example) that not everyone can detect. One day, when Conrad graduates from school, his uncle informs him that his (Conrad’s) bad karma will kill him soon if he doesn’t expiate it by finding the person that he failed to deal with in his previous life and dealing with them now. And that person can be found . . . in the castle above the town. Fortunately, the castle is looking for new staff, and Conrad is sent up to apply. On the way in he meets a tall, impecably dressed youngster named Christopher. Those of us who read the above book know exactly who he is; what we don’t know is why he’s here and not at home, learning to be the next Chrestomanci. The story behind that, and what Conrad’s fate really is, is a lot of fun and gets my highest recommendation this month (which, remember, is still last november).

Lurker in the Lobby: a guide to the cinema of H.P. Lovecraft by Andrew Migliore & John Strysik The title’s a bit misleading, since Lovecraft never actually made any movies. However, a lot of movies have been made based on his work, and that’s what this book is about. About half of it is reviews of movies, some more strongly based on Lovecraft than others, and of TV shows based on same (mostly stuff like episodes of Night Gallery and the like). The second half of the book is interviews with the creators of the movies. The book is badly edited (the review of Hellboy, for instance, ends in mid-sentence), but credit must be given for finding obscure titles (such as several Japanese movies, including Innsmouth Wo Oou Kage), even if I disagree with some of their reviews. All right, a lot of their reviews. Recommended for Lovecraft fans only/

Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book: unmasking the myth of modernity by Thomas Andrae I’d heard of Carl Barks, and even read some of his work, though of course a lot of it didn’t have his name on it (house rules). Still, I knew almost nothing about him. Thsi book filled in that gap. Mind you, the author’s attempt at . . . I don’t know what to call it. Debumking? . . . How to Read Donald Duck kinda falls down, IMHO. Still, recommended for comics fans, and of course, biography fans.

Splatter Flicks: how to make low-budget horror films by Sara Caldwell One of these days, I probably will end up making a low-budget, straight to video, horror flick. If I do, this book will have helped me immensely. Recommended for those interested in film-making.

The Shaolin Grandmaster’s Text: history, philosophy, and Gung Fu of Shaolin Ch’an by the Order of Shaolin Ch’an While writing your book of philosophy anonymously may, in fact, help you avoid “the martial arts limelight and other worldly entanglements” and help you extinguish the ego, but it also makes it impossible to verify whether anyone involved in writing the book has ever actually learned kung fu at all, never mind from Shaolin. This, of course, makes all the claims you make rather, shall we say, dubious. An interesting read, but not recommended unless someone wants to take responsibility for it.

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