Read Recently — December 2014 — And the rest

Five Hundred Years After by Steven Brust P.J.F.

Sequel to The Phoenix Guards. The title echoes the sequel to The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, allowing for the greater lifespan of the Dragaerians.

After the events of the first novel, only Khaavren remained in the Phoenix Guards, his friends scattering to their various destinies. However, events conspire to bring them back together as Adron, the Dragon Heir to the throne, tests the competence of the Emperor they have all sworn loyalty to. Readers of the Vlad Taltos novels will remember the name of Adron, attached as it is to a major historical event. Another famous name we actually get to meet in this volume is the legendary Mario Greymist.

Also, Khaavren falls in love (for real, this time).

This one is just as much fun as the first one, and just as recommended.

How To Become a Really Good Pain In The Ass: a critical thinker’s guide to asking the right questions by Christopher DiCarlo

The basic point of this book is to provide philosophical tools to allow you to argue better. DiCarlo focuses heavily on the Socratic Method, including devoting an entire chapter (the middle “section” of the book (about 45 pages, compared to over 100 pages each for the first and last section, which is why I put it in quotes) to Socrates and the classical scholars who used his method. That section is easily skippable, though, as the real meat of the book is in the first and last parts.

One problem I had with the book is that it is larded with pointless illustrations, each labelled “Fig. #”. When the text says “See Fig. 1.2” during a discussion of an argument about Lady Gaga being a great performer (it’s intended as a demonstration of how arguments should be structured), I expect that figure 1.2 will contribute something to the text, illuminate things, if you like, and not just be a black and white drawing of Lady Gaga. All the drawing are competently-done and some of them even well-done, but few if any of them actually add anything to the book.

Overall, though, the book is well-written and easily followed (not all philosophy books are) and probably worth reading if you’re interested in pop philosophy or how to argue (but unnecessary for advanced students). Mildly recommended.

Cursor’s Fury by Jim Butcher

A re-read. Originally read here. Still Highly recommended.

Unnatural Issue: the elemental masters, book six by Mercedes Lackey

I am no longer entirely sure as to what faerie tale Lackey is writing about these days. The next one, Steadfast, is obvious, but this one baffles me. I also spent most of the book unsure when it was taking place, until at last we get caught up (again) in the first world war. Since Lackey already did WWI I had expected her to move on, not loop back and go through it again, so that threw me.

It begins with a prolog, in which Earth Master Richard Whitestone is making his way home from London, where he has been assisting the other elemental masters in tracking down a rogue earth master, one who was corrupting the local elementals into evil and hiding within London’s polluted atmosphere. But Richard tracked him down and now he’s on his way back to his home and none too soon, as his beloved wife is due to give birth at any time. Short story shorter, by the time Richard gets home the baby has come and his wife has gone. Outraged that his daughter has killed his wife Richard rejects her utterly and withdraws to the upper floors of his palatial home, where he lives alone for the next 20 years.

His daughter, Susanne, is raised by the servants (which causes one of the problems I had with this book and its attitude towards the servants–or perhaps, with Susanne’s attitude towards the servants: it’s contradictory, and it has no reason to be) and never sees her father, who in his turn believes that she has been given away and has no reason to believe she’s around (nor interest, to be honest). She is herself a powerful Earth Master, trained in the basics by Puck himself and devoted to taking care of the land in the way her father no longer does.

Her father, glancing out a window one day, sees her returning to the mansion and at first mistakes her for her mother, so great is the resemblance. Realizing who she must be he seems to come out of his depression and begins to treat her as his daughter again. Susanne should be pleased but rather, she’s suspicious, and rightfully so: Richard has dark plans for her, so dark that he has turned to necromancy (a twisted form of Earth Mastery) to accomplish them. Catching wind of it, Susanne flees the house and hides among the servants of Branwell Hall, possibly the best place she could have chosen because everyone there has some degree of elemental talent, especially Charles Kerridge, the young master, whom she immediately falls heavily for.

However, it’s Lord Peter Almsley, brother to the Duke of Westbury, who turns out to be her best ally. Peter has been sent by Lord Alderscroft, aka The Wizard of London to try to track down a necromancer he suspects of being loose in the area. Almsley is having trouble finding even traces of anything, and he suspects Alderscroft may be just trying to keep him out of the troubled (and troubling) situation in Europe. However, when Richard follows Susanne and attacks the Hall with twisted earth elementals and the walking dead, Peter knows he’s found his man. But Richard vanishes and, before Peter can pursue, he knows he has to get Susanne to safety. So he sends her to relatives of his in France, and, right into the path of the war.

Susanne will have to face her father and defeat him before she can ever be free, but Richard is an extraordinarily powerful necromancer and, even with powerful allies, can Susanne be up to the task?

I had some problems with this one, including figuring out the time period and the issue of the attitude, but it was still fun. Lightweight but not light-hearted (no novel involving necromancy and the battlefields of the first world war possibly could be), and some of my favourite characters from the earlier books return (Alderscroft! Maya!). But I don’t think you have to have read the earlier books to make sense of this one so, overall, recommended.

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