Read Recently — November 20– Other Skies

Red Seas Under Red Skies: book two of the Gentleman Bastard sequence by Scott Lynch

Sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora. This time Locke and his “brother” and fellow Gentleman Bastard are in the seaside city of Tal Verrar, and once again they are running a hideously complex scam that, in the tradition of all good “big con” stories, is about to go horribly, horribly wrong. This time, among other problems, the two of them are going to be impressed into the Tal Verrar navy and sent on a secret mission to infiltrate the local pirate fleet. Problem is, neither Locke nor Jean knows anything about sailing. Add in mysterious assassins and the return of the Bondsmages from the last book, and it begins to look like, should Locke and Jean survive, they should maybe consider a different line of work.

Still, well written and well put together; actually a lot of fun. Recommended.

The Trouble With Demons by Lisa Shearin

Sequel to Magic Lost, Trouble Found and Armed and Magical. This time, in addition to her standing problems, Raine has to deal with a substitute archmage who believes her to be up to no good and believes in arresting first and asking questions afterwards, and an army of demons invading the Isle of Mid through a demongate opened somewhere in the many tunnels beneath the city. And this invasion is aimed directly at her: since the artifact she’s linked to is a soul-sucking device and some time ago it ate the soul of the King of the Demons, and now someone wants him back. And they may have a way . . .

My earlier concerns about the romantic triangle in this series, by the way, have been assuaged. Shearin seems determined to do it right . . . of course, it could just be that I’ve been exposed to too many bad ones lately.

Anyway, lightweight fantasy fun. Recommended.

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

One of the hardest things for a writer to do has got to be for a middle-aged man to write a story using as the central character a teenaged girl. This is tough because, using the fallible human memory, you must remember two things: what it was like to be a teenager (and most middle-aged men can measure the time since they were a teenager in decades), and what it was like to be a girl. Yeah. It’s really easy to embarrass yourself.

Just in SF, Robert A. Heinlein tried it several times, with varying results. Zoe’s Tale is Scalzi’s attempt at it, and I’ll say right now I don’t think he embarrassed himself. Basically, it’s the events of the Last Colony , as retold by John Perry and Jane Sagan’s adopted daughter. This includes catching a couple of plot points that were dropped in the first story (I don’t think the original was harmed by these dropped points, but some people were apparently upset). This is the last Old Man’s War book, and if you liked the others, you should like this one (assuming you agree with my assessment of Zoe). I did, so I recommend it.

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

Molly Templar is an orphan, living in an orphanage in the city of Middlesteel, capital of the Kingdom of Jackals. The Beadle, who runs the orphanage, rents the kids out for various jobs and pockets the profits. Molly is almost old enough to leave and a trouble-maker to boot, so he sells her contract to a high-class brothel. Her prospective first client, however, kills the older girl who was helping prepare her, and seems likely to come after Molly herself before she flees. Returning to the orphanage, Molly finds that everyone there is either dead or carried off. She is the target! Molly flees into the undercity, massive tunnels beneath the earth going back to prehistory, with the help of local steammen–steam and clockwork-powered sentient robots, only to find that there may be no place where she can hide, and that what is coming after her is something bigger than mere murder.

Oliver Brooks is an orphan. When he was just a baby, the airship on which his parents was travelling crashed into the feymist, and all aboard were assumed lost. Four years later, Oliver came out of the mist apparently unharmed. No one comes into contact with the feymist without changing; most gain at least minor psychic powers but some become physically monstrous, extremely powerful, and usually have to be locked away for the good of society. But Oliver is physically unchanged and has no powers that anyone can detect. He lives with his uncle and runs small errands for him; no one will hire a boy with possible fey powers. One day, Oliver brings a guest from the airship field to his Uncle’s house–the disreputable Harry Stave–and soon enough everyone in the house is murdered and Oliver is framed for the crime. On the run with Stave, Oliver too soon finds himself caught up in big affairs. He and Molly even cross paths, though only briefly and without even a hint of romance. Can two orphans save the nation of Jackals?

If H.G. Wells and China Mieville had a child (don’t think about how; that way lies madness), that child would be Stephen Hunt. Strange and magical, The Court of the Air is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.

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