Read Recently — December 2015 — Fantasy

Darkened Blade by Kelly McCullough

McCullough comes, I think, to the end of another series (first mentioned here). Aral and his companions are at the city of Wall, which is literally built on and around the wall which contains the Sylvani Empire, debating their next step: sooner or later, they will have to take the battle to the Son of Heaven. Bad enough that he led the destruction of the temple of Namarra, the now dead goddess of justice whom Aral and his fellow Blades served, but also he’s a covert undead, his curse affecting the leaders and powers of most of the kingdoms of the area. What they don’t expect is to be attacked and almost overwhelmed by a tide of undead as the Son of Heaven decides to strike back first.

The rest of the book is their campaign, a lot of running and gathering allies and facing down evil. I was kind of disappointed in the ending; there is a time-junp after the action and in-between important stuff happens but we get no more than hints. It’s weak, basically. I wanted a stronger ending. Overall, though, that’s something like five pages out of approx. 300. so, if you’ve been reading the rest of the series you should read this one. If not, start with Broken Blade.

There’s one other thing I think I should mention: this book makes explicit, in a conversation among some of the Blades, that bisexuality and homosexuality are more accepted in this culture than in ours, and certainly among the Blades themselves. Aral himself is bi. This is certainly better than, say, Rowling’s post-facto revelation that Dumbledore was gay, but not in my opinion as good as, oh, I don’t know, actually showing us Aral being romantically involved with another man. Throughout the entire series, we’ve seen him become romantically or sexually involved with several women, so it wouldn’t be out of character for the series to show us the other. As it is, it feels at best like an afterthought (“Oh yeah, Aral’s bi, better mention that before the book ends!”) and at worst like a last-minute ret-con.

Recommended.

River Marked By Patricia Briggs

Back when I wrote about the last Mercy Thompson book I read (here), I noted that I had missed one with some events that related to that one’s plot. This is that book.

Mercy and Adam get married (they try to elope, as Mercy’s mother keeps making grander and grander plans. The whole thing turns out to be a trick, but not a mean one, involving a conspiracy between Jesse, Adam’s daughter, and Mercy’s Mom. Bran gives the bride away) and go on their honeymoon. They take a trailer and go camping on the Columbia River.

Of course, it ain’t just bucolic frolics by the riverside. First, Mercy sees her father’s ghost. Then it turns out that Adam was lent the trailer by Uncle Mike, a local fae leader, while another fae suggested the location. Then they find a boat with an injured man in it . . a Native man whose family includes changers like Mercy (but into different animal species). While Mercy makes her way through the water to the boat, something (she thinks it’s riverweed) grabs her ankle, leaving a mark like a rope burn but which they soon learn is magical.

There’s something in the river. Something that hunts humans, marking them, controlling them. Eating them. Mercy and Adam alone might not be enough to handle it. Will Coyote make a difference? And for good or ill?

Just as each earlier book in the series dealt with one particular aspect of the world Briggs was showing us (werewolves. Vampires. The Fae) this book deals with Native American myth and Mercy’s Native side. She learns more about her nature as a changer and about her father, who died before she was born. All in all, it continues the high quality of the rest of the series.

Recommended.

For a Few Souls More: book three of the Heaven’s Gate trilogy by Guy Adams

Still not that Heaven’s Gate.

God is dead (or is he?), and Wormwood, the town that provides access to the afterlife, is now solidly planted in the Western US. Heaven and Hell can now both be just walked into (or out of) by anyone. Lucifer now rules Wormwood as its governor, while Henry Jones gathers power in Hell. Patrick Irish, no longer drinking, finds himself basically left in charge of Heaven, though he has no idea how to make it work. And the British agent known as Atherton is lurking around the outskirts of Wormwood, planning something.

Many books these days need to be cut heavily but this one could actually stand to be expanded. Elwyn, who for the first two books was first-person narrator for much of the story is now not even a background character as much as a briefly-seen background decoration; we have to guess when we’re seeing him or someone else, to choose just one example. Major events are just skimmed over or hinted at. I can’t help but think there should be more here.

Overall, I think if you’ve read the rest of the trilogy you need to read this one to get the only conclusion you can get. On the other hand, it . . . I don’t want to say it’s a weak ending, but it’s not as strong an ending as the rest of the trilogy needs. This takes the whole series to only mildly recommended.

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