Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Fantasy Medley 2 edited by Yanni Kuznia

Over the past year or so I've been reading more short fiction than ever before, largely because of anthologies like A Fantasy Medley 2. It's a collection of short stories by four authors: Tanya Huff, Amanda Downum, Jasper Kent and Seanan McGuire. I suspect we got it because of the inclusion of Seanan McGuire's contribution.

Often anthologies have a theme, I'm not sure if there is one in this. It doesn't explicitly say so, but the 4 stories were rather dark and a little depressing. Not sure if that was entirely intentional when the collection was put together or if that's just the way it turned out.

Of the 4 authors I'd read 3 of them. Jasper Kent is the only one I was unfamiliar with, although I have wanted to read his Napoleonic War vampire series, just never got around to including him on the TBR pile.

I have read some Tanya Huff, but never her Quarters series, which is where her story Quartered was set. I was unfamiliar with the setting and talk of bardic magic and kighs eluded me, although I was able to pick up the gist of the story. As with all of the stories in the collection it had a bitter sweet ending and left me a little sad at the end.

I quite enjoyed Amanda Downum's The Drowning City and Bone Garden was set in the world she uncovered in the sequel to The Drowning City, The Bone Palace. It too was rather dark and depressing, although her setting of a Russian flavoured world was very well done and quite atmospheric. I'm going to have to see about getting hold of a copy of The Bone Palace shortly.

Jasper Kent's books have largely dealt with the influence vampires had on the struggle between Russia and France during Napoleon's attempted conquest, generally from the Russian side. In The Sergeant and the General the other side was focussed on. The General of the title is actually a horse. This one was harrowing to read and it stayed with me for some time after finishing it. I actually needed to take a break before reading the collection's last story.

That story was Rat-Catcher. It deals with the origins of Tybalt the King of the Cats from Seanan McGuire's Toby Daye series. Afficionadoes of that series will enjoy seeing this look at Tybalt's early life and how he gained his position and just exactly why he has such affection for the works of William Shakespeare, especially Romeo and Juliet the play from which he takes the name he currently goes by. I came away with more sympathy for Tybalt, a character I have not played well with in the Toby Daye books.

It's a small collection and a bit depressing I have to say, but it does have four very high quality stories from talented and respected authors.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan

I really have to take my hat off to Robert Jordan here with The Path of Daggers. I would not have thought it possible to write a 500 page plus novel and not advance the plot at all, but in this the 8th book of The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan manages to do exactly that.

I knew I was in for this when I realised I'd gotten up to book 8 in my reread. All I could remember from this particular volume from when I read it years ago was that Mat, after being left on the edge of a very high cliff at the end of The Crown of Swords, was frustratingly not in this book at all. I think he gets mentioned three times.

For the rest of them they wander around, they bicker and squabble, but they don't ever actually accomplish anything. I'm sure Perrin is only in this book, early and towards the end, so that Faile can be kidnapped by a rogue band of Aiel and give him something to do in the next book.

There isn't even much of Nynaeve and what there is, doesn't help. Jordan even managed to make me lose interest in Nynaeve!

Rand continues to be frustratingly inconsistent. The man has near godlike powers, yet when some of his female bodyguards decide to lay an absolute beat down on him he accepts it without really attempting to defend himself, yet when Cadsuane tries to tell him what to do he trashes the room using his power. It just doesn't make sense. It's also pretty sloppy writing from someone who should have known better.

What had happened by now was that Jordan had introduced so many characters and story threads he couldn't control them anymore and was unable to keep all the balls in the air at once. Interestingly this didn't stop him from adding in more characters and story lines. Worryingly there have been signs in it's last two volumes that George R.R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is headed down this path.

I can't remember any of volume 9 Winter's Heart either, so that's concerning. I do know that was when I jumped the good ship The Wheel of Time fed up with the inertia, though.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots by Seanan McGuire

I first discovered Velma Martinez aka Velveteen about the same time as I discovered her creator Seanan McGuire.

Seanan, in addition to writing 3 book series (urban fantasies October Daye, InCryptid and the zombie apocalypse trilogy Newsflesh under the pseudonym Mira Grant), also decided to put her love of comic books (most specifically The X-Men) into print in the form of an homage and parody that she called Velveteen vs. Seanan made, and still does as far as I know, the stories free on her Livejournal and website for anyone to enjoy, and it's hard not to enjoy them.

From the time I read the first Velveteen story (Velveteen vs. The Isley Crawfish Festival) on the author's website I was convinced that it would make a great graphic novel or comic book. The first 9 Velveteen stories have been collected in book format with IsFic's limited edition (1,000 copies only were printed and signed individually by the author) Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots. Reading them in this format is a pleasure and more satisfying than in their original online format.

I've been a long time reader of comics, to a certain extent my love of fantasy was probably formed by the comics I read in my pre-teen and teen years. Comic books are a form of fantasy and more and more authors are recognising that. Superhero books are forming a subgenre of their own these days and even Myke Cole's debut Shadow Ops: Control Point owes as much to The X-Men as it does to the more traditional epic or urban fantasy works that helped to inspire it. Velveteen vs. was the sort of thing I always dreamed of reading in book form back in those days and I could never understand why no one did it. No one until now.

Velma 'Velveteen' Martinez had the ability to animate toys (usually teddy bears) for as long as she could remember, but it did not become public until she managed to animate the dinosaurs in the Natural History wing of her local museum during a school field trip. An incident that brought Velma to the attention of the Marketing Department who controlled most of the licensed super heroes in the U.S. They were looking to create a junior branch of their star team The Super Patriots and a twelve year old who could animate toys was an ideal candidate.

The only problem was that Velma didn't want to be owned and she didn't want her life controlled by the Marketing Department's robot like executives. So when she was legally old enough she took off. The Marketing Department don't like anyone to escape their clutches and they're going to make life hell for Velma until she either agrees to return or dies trying to get away...unless she can make it to Oregon where the Marketing Department have no power.

Through the adventures of Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots readers are introduced to Velma and her former team mates: David 'The Claw' Mickelstein; a boy fused with the body of a lobster by his mad scientist father, Action Dude, the all American dream with flight, super strength and invulnerability and Sparkle Bright with her flight, photon manipulation and photonic camouflage abilities. There's also Velma's other allies: Jackie Frost and The Princess, as well as prospective boyfriend Tag. Seanan really let her imagination go wild with Jackie and The Princess. They're not even really from this world, but they're great friends and powerful allies for Velveteen.

The 9 stories are all a true delight and any comic lover will adore them. Seanan is still writing  Velveteen vs. stories and making them available on her website, and IsFic plan the second installment of her adventures Velveteen vs. The Multiverse in August of 2013.

Monday, January 21, 2013

This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong

Late last year I read an odd horror/comedy called John Dies at the End by David Wong. I loved the book. It was actually one of my favourite reads form 2012. The reason I picked up John Dies at the End was because of This Book is Full of Spiders.

I have arachnophobia, so any book with a title like that will naturally catch my attention. The book isn't really full of spiders. The spiders it talks about are spiderlike, but they're not actually spiders. A more apt title would have been This Book is Full of Zombies, but the zombies in the book aren't actually zombies either, so maybe not. Making sense? I thought not, and that's pretty much how David Wong writes.

His first book was largely an accident and while it hung together remarkably well you could see that at times. This one was written far more on purpose and it's apparent that the author learned from the experience of publishing John Dies at the End.

This Book is Full of Spiders follows a far more structured plot line than John Dies at the End, and I think it's a better book for that. It does have the same three strand idea that characterised John Dies at the End, though. David is the narrator and his parts are in first person. The other main characters are David's best friend John and David's girlfriend Amy. There is even one memorable chapter told from the point of view of Molly the dog.

This Book is Full of Spiders is rather like The Walking Dead if it were played for laughs. For that reason although I know David doesn't look anything like Steven Yeun (Glenn from The Walking Dead), but I kept seeing him that way (mind you I did that with John Dies in the End, too).

John and David both display the strangely heroic qualities that they possess. They are two of the most unlikely heroes you could ever encounter. Despite that this book is Amy's. Amy is also an unlikely hero. She's small and softly spoken, she's physically disabled, but she is smart and in This Book is Full of Spiders she kicks arse!

I really enjoyed it and it is a more than worthy successor to John Dies at the End. I hope the film version of John Dies at the End is a success, because I can't wait to see how they'll film This Book is Full of Spiders.

An excellent book that anyone who likes zombies (sort of) and laughs should seriously think about buying.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Flashman's Lady Chapter 3

One of my complaints about Flashman in the Great Game was that the same thing seemed to happen chapter after chapter or that things didn't really move quickly enough. This is not the case with Flashman's Lady. Chapter 3 is absolutely packed with happenings, and they are mostly of the too strange to be true variety. In a Flashman book this generally means that George MacDonald Fraser is completely historically accurate.

Harry has to hide away for a while before the Solomon's boat leaves. He doesn't seem all that concerned about Tighe, possibly he thinks his reputation can survive the battering. The Duke bothers him. Mainly because he still seems to think it's the eighteenth century and he can have his bully boys give someone who has offended him a good kicking with complete impunity. Knowing Flashman's physical cowardice this should not be surprising. His Uncle Bindley seems to understand Harry's predicament and very helpfully sorts things out with the Horse Guards and comes up with a convincing explanation as to why Flashman is not in England for an extended period of time.

The cruise on Don Solomon's lavishly appointed steamer is like the nineteenth century equivalent of a trip aboard the Queen Mary. Both Elspeth and Morrison seem to enjoy themselves, but Harry does not. He's continually jealous of Don Solomon although he doesn't make any untoward moves to Elspeth, and she gives no indication that she's anything but in love with her husband. That's actually something about their relationship, though. Until he settled down from adventuring in his 80's he continually suspected Elspeth of cheating on him with all and sundry, even though he never proved it.

They do ominously stop outside Madagascar and are warned that despite the outward appearances that they would be wise to avoid the island as it is ruled by a mad woman and life there seems akin to one of the circles of hell.

They stop at Singapore and there's where things really get interesting. Harry is bored stiff by the staid and pious colonials in the Asian colony and goes seeking other diversions. Solomon discovers him at this and offers to arrange something for him. Harry, while suspicious, does sort of accept.

He's set upon by a number of black faced individuals carrying hatchets. Had it not been for the arrival of an an odd group commanded by a well spoken, good looking character who goes by the name of JB he may have been killed. JB turns out to be James Brooke, the White Rajah of Sarawak. One of the most interesting and exciting nineteenth century gentleman adventurers there has ever been. Brooke is one of those people who can't possibly have been real, but he was, and nearly everything George MacDonald Fraser writes about him in Flashman's Lady can be historically verified as accurate.

The biggest shock comes when Brooke and his gang get Flashman back to their host in Singapore, a local known as Whampoa. Elspeth is gone! Don Solomon has spirited her away!

Her diary extract at the end of the chapter is, as always, delightful and indicates that she has no intention of being ravished by Don Solomon or ever being unfaithful to her dear, darling Harry.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Those in Peril by Wilbur Smith

Sometimes I find there are reviews I don't want to write. This is one of them. This is usually because I didn't like a book, and this case is no different. I should explain. I've been reading Wilbur Smith for years. I think I've read all of his books, except for Assegai, and I do have a copy of that, but it's lost somewhere on Mount Toberead.

Those in Peril interested me because it didn't appear to be part of the Ballantyne or Courtney historical family dramas that Smith has been doing for many years now, and it wasn't part of his other Egyptian Warlock series (oh, I couldn't get through the last of those, if I want badly written fantasy I'll go to an actual fantasy writer. Most of David Eddings work immediately springs to mind). Some of Smith's best work in my opinion has been his standalone books, although the early Courtney and Ballantyne books were quite good, especially The Lion Feeds, which started it all.

If you've never read Wilbur Smith before there are a few things you need to know about his writing. Most, if not all, of any book he writes will be set in Africa. He's a South African and he loves the continent, he's also quite knowledgeable about it. His dialogue often appears stilted. His characters all speak very correct English. He seems to believe abbreviating a word, even in dialogue, by use of the apostrophe is some sort of writing crime. His characters are often quite generic. There will be at least one alpha male, there will be at least one beautiful, but not helpless heroine, she'll usually have fallen in love with the alpha male by the end of the book, but they won't like each other to begin with. The villain will be a seriously nasty piece of work, often physically scarred or deformed and nearly always a sexual deviant.

Why the hell would anyone read these? They sound awful! Funnily enough it often works, well it does for me anyway.

It didn't in Those in Peril. It had all the above faults, but they were taken to a new level in this one. Wilbur Smith is close to 80 and his publisher can be pretty much assured of a good return with anything he publishes. That's the only reason Those in Peril made it out of the slush pile.

The plot, such as it is,  is along these lines. Hazel Bannock is the owner of Bannock Oil, a multi national oil business worth many billions of dollars. She is of course beautiful and intelligent, she was also a tennis champion (she won the Australian Open, I must have missed that one). Her only daughter, 19 year old Cayla, is kidnapped from the company yacht by a group of Islamic terrorists/pirates and held to ransom. When the American military either can't or won't help for diplomatic and legal reasons Hazel turns to Hector Cross. Hector is an ex SAS soldier and the owner of CrossBow Security, responsible for guarding Bannock Oil's African oilfields. He's the ultra alpha male and has a score to settle with Cayla's kidnappers. This is pretty standard Wilbur Smith stuff.

Normally I like them, but this one just did everything wrong. There was the dialog, the one dimensional characters who acted in ways that often didn't make sense, but the plot dictated that they do it. Sometimes Smith puts in peripheral characters that make a lot of the rest of it worth reading, but he didn't even do that in Those in Peril. He did try, but it fell flat. If Cayla, (19 years old remember?) referred to Hazel as Mummy one more time I was going to throw up. About the only saving grace was the action sequences, Smith does do those well and they're good to read. I only kept reading to see how he turned it all out, although I knew it would have a HEA and the bad guys would get theirs, it was just a matter of how.

Thank goodness I got this cheap. I would have felt seriously ripped off if I'd paid full price. If you were thinking of reading Wilbur Smith I'd advise to steer clear of Those in Peril. Try Cry Wolf, or The Lion Feeds, even The Sunbird or Shout at the Devil. I'm a little sad that he's come to this. I'm glad I have the memories of his good work.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

Ian Tregillis' Bitter Seeds is the first book of his Milkweed triptych, an alternate history series about a very different World War II.

There are two sides in Bitter Seeds. One is the Allies, led by intelligence operative Raybould Marsh and his nobly born friend Will, who is also a warlock. The other side are the Nazis, a special super powered division known as the Reichsbehorde.

Initially Bitter Seeds seems to follow the accepted history of the conflict with the twist of the magic using British and the supermen of the Third Reich, then as the war really gets underway events that we know as historical fact take a definite alternate path, with the result that the war ends earlier and this also sets up the sequel (The Coldest War), which as the title indicates will cover a Cold War that is nothing like the one we know about from the late 1940's and 1950's.

A number of things about Bitter Seeds impressed me. One was the atmosphere. Ian Tregillis has, despite his twists, managed to give the whole thing a very noirish WW II novel feel about it, and the reader is taken into a Britain in the grip of a terror from the Nazi blitz of their skies and cities. I was surprised to discover when looking into Ian Tregillis' background that he's not actually English. He lives in New Mexico and got his information about the Blitz from reading and studying, oh and watching Foyle's War!

The characters themselves were another thing that made me sit up and take notice in Bitter Seeds. Initially the Nazis are painted as the stereotypical bad guys from any number of war novels, but as the story unfolds they develop layers and we begin to understand why they behave the way they do. In fact Reichsbehorde member Klaus is probably the most sympathetic character in the novel. Although the rather Bondian Raybould does act in some pretty extreme ways at times I also felt for him and Will, who was really put in between a rock and a hard place trying to protect his country. The character of Gretel, Klaus' precognitive sister, was far and away the star of Bitter Seeds for me, and she is drawn wonderfully. She doesn't say much or even do that much, but she's truly chilling and alternately sympathetic and we still don't know exactly what game she's playing.

Bitter Seeds is a very strong, very dark debut with an startling premise and will have many readers eager to see how Milkweed comes out.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Flashman's Lady Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of Flashman's Lady is where the brown smelly stuff really hits the fan.

It features a form of cricket I had never been aware of before. Haslam goads Harry into accepting a wager. They'll play cricket against each other. I'd never heard of playing cricket with two people before. There are all sorts of bizarre variations with beach cricket and backyard cricket and tippenny run, but they're very casual things. What Haslam proposed against Flashman was pretty serious. I hope the ICC don't get wind of this, they'll be sure to start putting on matches like this.

The cashed up Solomon proposes wagering a thousand pounds. Harry's confident that he can beat Haslam, but he doesn't have the money to match his opponent. Haslam gives him an out by saying that in the unlikely event Harry loses he gets to take Elspeth and Morrison on that cruise.

There are two flies in the ointment and they both are connected. Flashman has been having an affair with Mrs Leo Lade, who is the paramour of an old fashioned Duke, who is the patron of two bare knuckle boxers he uses as muscle. If the Duke finds out he will have no hesitation in setting them on Harry. The second is Tighe. Flashman has taken money from it and he can prove it. Unless Flashman does as he says then Tighe will ruin him publicly, inform the Duke that he's been cuckolded and probably have his own minders hand out a decent kicking as well.

Tighe wants Flashman to lose the match against Haslam. Harry's in two minds about it and he keeps changing before and during the game. He wants to win, but he doesn't want the fall out that will result. On the other hand if he loses and Elspeth sails off with Haslam at least he won't be there to see her being unfaithful to him, and he's always thought she was anyway.

During the game Harry's natural competitive instincts come to the fore and he does his level best to beat Haslam until it's too late and he spies an angry Tighe on the sidelines. Flashman manages to lose at last, however the game winds up as a tie.

So Harry has nearly humiliated himself and almost lost to a duffer all for nothing. Tighe doesn't get his stake back on a tie and Haslam claims that a tie gives him the right to take Elspeth away. There are some days it does not pay to get out of bed.

Readers are left in the dark as to how Harry is going to get out of facing Tighe and the Duke's leg breakers. It is left to Elspeth's diary entry to inform readers. He's decided to accompany her and her father on their trip. Using Elspeth's diary was seriously a stroke of genius by MacDonald Fraser.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Fevre Dream by George R.R Martin

Despite being quite a fan of George R.R Martin's epic A Song of Ice and Fire, I had never actually read anything else written by the man.

Fevre Dream was written in the early 80's, well before Martin had the vision that kicked off A Song of Ice and Fire, and just before the vampire fiction boom.

It's a wonderful idea, to set a vampire story on a riverboat and Martin imbues the story with all the colour and character that that sort of setting evokes.

Abner Marsh (I could not get it out of my head that he looked like George Martin, just taller and younger looking) is a down on his luck riverboat captain when he is approached by the well heeled Joshua York.

York has money and allows Abner to realise his dream of building a grand riverboat that may even challenge the mighty Eclipse for the unofficial Queen of the River title. Against advice Abner names the boat Fevre Dream.

Before long Abner has been drawn into Joshua York's personal crusade to transform the vampire population of earth from predators to respectable members of society.

This will bring them into conflict with his diametric opposite Damon Julian and have tragic consequences for all concerned.

It's a marvelously atmospheric piece and a dark, heavy air hangs over it, just like the miasma that travels down the river ways they ply.

Even if George Martin's name hadn't been plastered all over the cover I would have know that he wrote it. There are his hallmarks in the characters and the descriptions, the bleak material and the endless and loving descriptions of food.

It's a powerful book and one that is filled with ideas that were revolutionary and new for the time when the book came out. I'm not sure how many vampire fiction writers since Fevre Dream's publication have read it, but I suspect that a good few of them owe Martin's now classic work a great debt.

Flashman's Lady Chapter 2

In the second chapter of Flashman's Lady Harry finds that he can't get rid of Don Solomon Haslam. The man is wealthy and extremely well connected. He moves in low and high circles equally easily and everyone other than Harry himself seems to fall under his spell. Haslam is a  real charmer, and he's so like Flashman in many ways that it may be why Harry himself has a bad feeling about the man.

Not only does Elspeth quite like him, but strangely enough so does Morrison. This seems to be largely because there's a big push for industrial reform and this will affect Morrison who uses child labour in his factories and has money invested in mining, which was also a big offender when it came to child labour. Haslam has information about the reforms and cultivates Morrison by feeding him and sympathising with him. Haslam is cultivating Morrison to get to Elspeth. When the older man falls sick he suggests a trip to his holdings in the South China sea. Harry is all too happy for him to take Morrison, but he forbids Elspeth to accompany her father.

While all this is going on Harry is busy. He's playing cricket professionally and trying to carry on an affair with a Mrs Leo Lade, the paramour of an old school Duke.

Tighe approaches him again and enquires as to whether Flashman received the money he sent him. Harry doesn't realise it, but by taking money from the man he's become Tighe's way of cheating the system and if the news goes public it could ruin Harry. Tighe wasn't a character I liked. I know he's a villain, so you're not supposed to, but it was the heavy accent that MacDonald Fraser had given the man, he was barely intelligible.

The chapter ends with another delightful extract from Elspeth's diary, edited by by her sister. You get the impression from her diary that Elspeth is not only a good deal more intelligent and more devoted to her husband than he ever gives her credit for.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Flashman's Lady introduction and Chapter 1

It's been a while. I think I got a bit Flashmanned out there. I also had other things to read and do, something had to give and unfortunately it was Flash Harry. A bit of a shame really because Flashman's Lady is one of my favourites.

There's a few reasons I rate it so highly. It was the sixth of the books to be published, but it fits in chronologically during the period after first encountering Bismarck and Lola Montez and before the second part of Royal Flash. This is one of the reasons that it is a near impossibility to read the books chronologically and why it's not the most satisfying experiences to do so.

I like the Harry of the period George MacDonald Fraser covers in Flashman's Lady. He was young and larger than life, he was still cynical, but less so than he became and he was still a little idealistic. Then there's the subject matter of the early part of the book; cricket. I'm a cricket fan, always have been. Admittedly I do prefer Australian Rules, but cricket probably runs it a close second. One gets the impression that George MacDonald Fraser was also a cricket buff. Finally there's Elspeth. The Lady of the title is Elspeth, there are even excerpts from her diary in this one and they are delightful. It's great to get a closer look at her and realise that she has depths Harry simply does not understand.

Unlike some of the other books there's no real high stakes in this one. Harry and Elspeth's lives for sure, but the Empire won't come to a shuddering halt if Harry can't get out of this one with his miserable skin intact, as is the case with some of other installments.

The cover is a beauty. Harry in his cricket whites, complete with pads, bat and top hat, a sword held like a cricket bat over one broad shoulder. Elspeth, holding her skirts up, is coming up behind him and there's a beach side battle brewing in the distance.

Included is Fraser's traditional explanatory note at the start, and he also mentions that Elspeth's greatly religious and somewhat repressed sister Grizel de Rothschild had gotten hold of this one. She has modified Flashman's language and included some pages from Elspeth's diaries to which she has added her own comments.

I appreciated the addition of the diaries and even Grizel's acidic little comments were amusing, but I really don't know why he had her change Flashman's language. It basically means that every blasphemy or mild profanity has the first and last letter, but none of the middle ones. It makes it hard to read occasionally and must have been a bugger to typeset. About halfway through I think it stops. Clearly Grizel either stopped reading or George MacDonald Fraser gave it up for a bad job.

It begins with Harry talking about the leg before wicket rule. I can only imagine what people not from cricket playing countries made of this. I found it highly amusing. The book was written in the mid 1970's, it was purportedly written by someone who played cricket in the mid 1800's, and it's discussing a series played in the early part of the 20th century. I suspect Flashman's grousing about the tampering with the leg before wicket rule was a view shared by the author when he penned the book. They're still doing it. Even now in 2013 they're still mucking about with the leg before wicket rule and they still haven't gotten it right!

Harry introduces this packet by talking about how he dropped into a well known sportsman's pub to get some of the talk and feel of the game while he was being lionised as the hero of Jalallabad. I personally think the early part of Flashman's Lady contains one of George MacDonald Fraser's rare continuity errors. While at the pub he bumps into Tom Brown. He initially gives the impression that he doesn't recognise him, although when Brown reminds him about the bullying at Rugby he remembers quick enough. Flashman in the Great Game ended with Harry raging about the publication of Tom Brown's Schooldays and the damage it did to his reputation. I just find it odd that he would speak the way he does of Brown in this book after what he said at the end of the previous one.

Brown, believing Harry has turned over a new leaf, invites him to play a game of cricket at Lords. Rugby Old Boys against the men of Kent, who contained some of England's most celebrated cricketers of the time.

It turns out at school Harry was a demon fast bowler. This shouldn't surprise. Most fast bowlers are bullies at heart. Of all Harry's talents the cricket is the one he is most proud of, mainly because it wasn't God given, it was something he actually had to work out.

The game itself is something of a carnival as apparently cricket was at the time. It was a betting game, and again interestingly enough it still is. Many of the more outlandish bets that Flashman talks about are pretty common these days, especially in the sub continent, they're called exotic bets. They're every bit as much of a danger to the game as they were then, too.

I was particularly amused by Harry's comments about Brooke, his old head boy at Rugby.

'he was clean-limbed and handsome and went to church and had no impure thoughts and was kind to animals and old ladies and was a midshipman in the Navy; what happened to him I've no idea, but I hope he absconded with the ship's funds and the admiral's wife and set up a knocking-shop in Valparaiso'

That is vintage Flashman.

Harry distinguishes himself by taking the first ever hat trick, although I suspect George MacDonald Fraser is taking huge licence here. I'm not sure how the hat trick got it's name, but I don't think the explanation given in the Notes is entirely accurate.

Elspeth happens to meet an exotic character who goes by the name of Don Solomon. Harry takes an instant dislike to him, in part because he's taken Elspeth's eye, and in part because he thinks he's a villain. It takes one to know one.

Harry's performance on the field, a disreputable character by the name of Daedalus Tighe who he met and Don Solomon are all going to change the course of the old soldier's history very soon.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Spirit's End by Rachel Aaron

So the journey that began for me a couple of years ago comes to an end. Spirit's End is, for me, rather bittersweet. I'd like to say firstly that it was a fun ride and I'm very pleased that I picked up The Spirit Thief and went on this trip with Eli Monpress and Co. So why is it a little bittersweet moment? Mostly because it's finished. This is one of the most recent epicish type series that I can remember seeing to it's end. Many of them seem to drag on for years, outlasting their creators and/or their welcomes. Eli Monpress hasn't done that.

The books did become progressively darker as each installment came out, but they still never lost that underlying sense of fun that they began with. The author has a few balls in the air by now and it was interesting to see how she resolved the various storylines, and did so in a satisfactory way.

A lot of this one takes place a white limbo called Between. This is where the goddess known as Benehime the Shepherdess dwells, along with her two brothers the Weaver and the Hunter. Interesting that a white nothingness is where some of the book's darkest sequences are set. The relationship between Benehime and Eli is truly twisted. It's also quite frightening how fixated Benehime is on the wizard/thief, who only wanted to be loved, not possessed.

There's some wonderful moments in this where Eli is free of Benehime and still proving that he can make it without her, because his powers of persuasion are his, not hers and she can't take them away from him.

Thinking about the ending of the book, whilst everything is resolved and we've probably heard all of Eli's story and that of the world he inhabits, it is left open ended enough that if the author wanted to go back and write more she could, but she doesn't have to. They really came full circle, with Eli still trying to increase his bounty and planning more capers with Josef and Nico, while Miranda will do her level best to bring him to justice.

A really fun series that was well plotted and had a cast that was young and vibrant. I look forward to seeing what else Rachel Aaron can give us in the future. While you wait you should give the Eli Monpress series a chance, it's one of the better ones to come out in recent times, and unlike many other better regarded series, this one actually has an ending.