Drawn Blades by Kelly McCullough
In his youth, Aral Kingslayer was a Blade of Namara, an assassin in the service of the goddess of justice. He traveled around the eleven kingdoms, killing those who were above the law (or thought they were . . .) His first mission was to kill an evil King, who had so far survived several assassination attempts against him (the assassins had not done as well). For this feat, he earned his surname. Some time later, the other gods killed Namara and their servants, with the help of traitors within, killed the Blades. Aral was away from the temple at the time, so he survived but he was, for a long time after, severely depressed. He moved to the city of Tien* crawled into a bottle and only came out to work enough to buy more whiskey.
He was working as a shadow jack** (an underworld operative who does mostly thefts, rather than, say, murders (black jack)) for hire and this involved him in a number of adventures over the last four books. He also found out, much like the Silver-Age Superman, that he wasn’t the sole survivor of the temple. Many of his friends survived (albeit injured or changed in various ways), and some of the trainees who hadn’t become full blades yet also survived. One such became his protege. In the last book she was badly injured and is now undergoing magickal healing.
At the start of the book, Aral goes out to his local pub for a soft drink and a chat with old friends when the smoke of the fireplace does something weird: it forms itself into the shape of a woman–and not just any woman, but Siri Mythkiller, the former First Blade of Namara (Siri got her name because she was sent to kill an evil god, and succeeded). As she was First Blade, as well as a friend, Aral feels he owes her honour and obedience; so when the smoke figure makes signs asking him to join in a kind of handfasting ceremony, he goes along with it and ends up with a wedding-ring of smoke on his hand.
With the link that the ring provides and some help from a magic-using friend, Aral learns that Siri does need his help and that she is in the Silvani Empire, far to the south. So is the god that she killed. That was a god of fire and smoke . . . could there be a connection? Is Siri still a friend?
Yeah, this is book five of a series, and a bad place to start reviewing, but McCullough continues to impress me with his writing and his world creation, and while you should start with Broken Blade, the whole series is Highly recommended.
Reaper Man: a Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett
Reaper Man wasn’t supposed to be my next Pratchett re-read; I had Soul Music next in line but I had RM in hand and the next thing I knew I was halfway through it . . . just as well, since it’s the second “Death” novel after Mort, and Soul Music is the third (Reaper Man is actually Discworld book 11; Soul Music is number 16) so by accident I’m reading them in the right order.
In Reaper Man we meet the Auditors of Reality, shadowy creatures who live outside of time and space and who hate personality so badly that if one of them ever describes itself as “I” it immediately vanishes in a puff of fire and is replaced a new one that has no individuality. They also don’t so much speak as change reality so that they have spoken, which can make it hard to take certain words back . . .. Disliking personality as they do, they hate the Death of the Discworld, as he has lots of the stuff. So they get him fired.
Where else would an unemployed Grim Reaper go to find work but to the agricultural business? Specifically, he end up working on the farm of one Miss Flitworth, who’s never had someone reap so fast, albeit one stalk at a time. He also grows quite popular in town, under the name Bill Door (Miss Flitworth recognizes a pseudonym when she hears one, but she figures he’s on the run from the law, like her Dad the smuggler used to have to do), and no one but a particular small child seems to notice that he’s a 7-foot tall skeleton in overalls.
Meanwhile, in Ankh-Morpork, wizard Windle Poons is 130 years old and about to die. Wizards, of course, always know when they are about to die and death has to come get them personally. In Windle’s case, of course, he doesn’t and, having nowhere else to go, Windle goes back into his body. And while he gets used to being undead (and the fruitless efforts of his fellow wizards to correct that situation (“This is for your own good, Windle!”)), he also has to deal with a strange infestation of snow globes and wire trolleys, and the bane of all religious organizations in the Discworld: Mrs. Cake!
The main problem with this book is that it is two different stories, tenuously linked. They are both fun stories, with the usual philosophical touches that we have come to expect from the “Death” stories, but this is two books, not one. Highly recommended, nonetheless.
*There is a distinctly “otherworld” Eastern Asian vibe to this series.
**once again, I’m getting a Zelazny-vibe from McCullough’s work.