Review of Noah’s Boy by Sarah A. Hoyt (Baen, July 2, 2013, trade paperback)
Noah’s Boy is volume three in the Shifter series of urban fantasy from Sarah A. Hoyt. In this universe, people shift into all types of creatures from mice to dragons. Kyrie and Tom own The George, a shifter attracting diner in Goldport, a college town in Colorado. Rafiel, their customer, friend and a local policeman, is investigating several unexplained deaths, many of which appear to be shifters. So in their efforts to police their own, Kyrie, Tom and Rafiel try to sort out who the killer is because they think he is a fellow shifter.
Things get more complicated because the Great Sky Dragon sends a female dragon to be with Tom, even though Tom the dragon shifter is with Kyrie the panther shifter. Rafiel the lion shifter sort of liked Kyrie but now really wants another female shifter who floats his boat. Circumstances put the girl dragon with Rafiel for an extended period of time and they both are interested so perhaps this is the end of the love triangle with a dragon, a panther and a lion.
While they are investigating the murders, the Great Sky Dragon is killed by the murderer and while he is regenerating there is a power vacuum among the dragons. Tom is determined to be the heir and he steps in so things don’t get out of control until the Great Sky Dragon returns.
The three end up investigating an aquarium and an old amusement park looking for the killer. These locations make for some interesting battle scenes and heroic rescues. The three meet some new shifter friends along the way as well as Rafiel’s lady dragon, Bea. The shifters in the story have made their own family out of people like themselves who accept them. The characters are all very interesting, with Kyrie and Tom having a very interesting relationship which finally can be resolved because of information from older shifters. Tom’s relationship with his father continues to evolve, but conveniently snow keeps him in Denver until the very end of the book. Hopefully we will see more adventures of this self-made family of shifters.
Review of Beginnings: Worlds of Honor #6 by David Weber with Charles E. Gannon, Timothy Zahn and Joelle Posey (Baen, July 2, 2013, hardcover)
Well, for readers of the Honorverse since the beginning, we have been waiting twenty years to know the full stories of how Honor’s parents met on Beowulf while at medical school and how Honor ending up bonding to Nimitz. Finally, in this volume those stories are told.
“Beauty and the Beast” tells of the first encounters of Alison Benton-Ramirez Chou and Lt. Alfred Harrington. Of course nothing is as simple just meeting on campus; they do that, but then an adventure comes along to sweep up both of them and Alison’s brother Jacques, who is in the Biological Survey Corps. Being a Harrington means Alfred is as much a trouble magnet as his daughter will be. It is interesting to see what Honor’s parents were like when they were young and she most definitely inherited some of her nose for trouble, shooting acumen and intelligence from the Harrington side as well as the Beowulf side.
“The Best Laid Plans” tells of how Honor at almost 13 is even worse at avoiding trouble than she is as an adult. Her plans to get her mother a birthday present go horribly wrong and she has to save herself and a couple of treecats. One of the treecats is of course, Laughs Brightly, whom Honor calls Nimitz.
These two stories are told with wit and give more insight into characters that appear regularly in Honorverse books. Every reader of the Honorverse, even if you have only read the YA Stephanie Harrington series, should read these stories.
Two of the stories in the volume tell of times in the history of the Honorverse. “By the Book” by Charles E. Gannon takes place in 250 P.D. which is 525 years before the colonization ship left for Manticore. It tells the story of Lt. Lee Strong of Earth Union’s Custom Patrol Officer Corps as he investigates a hijacking and a sabotage incident on Callisto, where the Outbound colony ships are built. It gives a fascinating look at the politics of the factions in the Earth Union. Lt. Strong is an interesting character who comes from a future US and perhaps we can see what type of fallout happens to him as a result of the events in the story if he can make a return visit to Worlds of Honor in a later volume.
The other tale from the past is “A Call to Arms” by Timothy Zahn, which is set in 1538 P.D. in the Manticore system. It tells the story of Lt. Travis Uriah Long of the RMN. This is at a time when many ships are being un-mothballed and larger numbers of personnel are being trained because of the dangers to small systems from raiders and mercenaries, in addition to the danger of another military invading. Manticore is attacked by mercenaries hired by a corporation and this story tells of the naval battle from Lt. Long’s point of view. It is interesting to see how some RMN traditions are already going strong by this time, and how the officers there for political reasons cause just as much trouble as they do in Honor’s time. This is a well written naval battle story.
The last story is one taking place in the time immediately before and after the attack on Manticore and Grayson by Manpower. Grayson still has a long way to go before women are treated equally, so midshipwoman Claire Bedlam Lecroix has to deal with all types of comments, insults and verbal abuse from her fellow officers. Her captain decides he will be rid of her before he leaves Blackbird yard so he promotes her to Ensign and gets her transferred to another ship, the GNS Manasseh.
The crew on this ship act a bit better than that of the GNS Ephraim but soon everyone is too busy to take much notice she is female. GNS Manasseh arrives at Blackbird Yard just 6 hours after the attack, so Ensign Lecroix heads up search and rescue efforts. From her shuttle she sees that the area where her two cousins lived is just pulverized debris. The GNS Ephraim along with the all the other ships in dock was destroyed. The Protector’s brother comes on board to travel to Manticore and Lecroix’s shipmates bring to his attention the problems she is having with her family and steadholder and much to her embarrassment, he takes everything very seriously and sorts it out. It would be interesting to see Ensign Lecroix experience the Manticore system and Steadholder Harrington, so hopefully she will make appearances in later stories. This is a great look at Grayson from an ordinary female’s perspective and gives a great deal of insight into what Honor changed by her presence there, but shows how much is still to be done.
Review of Wolf in Shadow by John Lambshead (Baen, July 2, 2013, trade paperback)
Wolf in Shadow by John Lambshead is an urban fantasy set in an alternate London which has a Millennium Dome instead of a Millennium Wheel (now called the London Eye). Witches and magic are part of society with daemons and vampires being only a rumor to most people, but such creatures do exist in this alternate world in a way. Magic can open doors to other dimensions which are not at the same time point as the present day so you can end up in Roman, pre-Roman, Victorian, or even early 20th century settings when you step through into the Otherworld.
The main characters in the story are Rhian, a Welsh girl who runs to Tower Hamlets, East London after her boyfriend is killed at a protest rally in Ealing, West London, her landlady and friend Frankie and her boss at the Dirty Duck/Black Swan, Gary. She also meets some government civil servants and a strange man named Max, for whom she feels a strange attraction. James’ death is so recent that feeling an attraction to anyone seems wrong, but Max keeps intruding into her life. He gets her and Frankie to work for him to solve some magical crises. Frankie is a witch and gets Rhian to be her assistant because she can see the magic even though she isn’t a witch. Rhian’s friends and coworkers soon discover the wolf inside her as they try to fight a magical terrorist’s plot to open a large hole deep into the Otherworld. The greedy man who hires people to make the hole only wants a market disturbance so he can make a fortune, but hungry bad guys from inside the Otherworld want through.
Rhian is a very interesting character. Physically, she appears to be just a petite little mouse of a girl, but her inner nature is that of a wolf, and when it manifests she becomes a wolf, both physically and mentally, but with a slight human conscience. Her interaction with the many male characters in the story reveals a great deal about how much she understands them, even though she is young. Many of the male types could be encountered at any local pub in London. Rhian is a strong female character and the males react to her in realistic ways, so her London pub is frequented by gentlemen, college students who tend to be slightly drunk before having the nerve to speak, and the usual sexist pigs any female who has walked into a bar has met. You can see Rhian’s character strengthen by the way she deals with the different types of men as the book progresses.
Lambshead’s London feels very real and the geography is quite like modern London with some obvious differences because it is an alternate world. Don’t go looking for the Black Swan/Dirty Duck in the neighborhood mentioned in the book, because in our universe it was demolished years ago (Not to be confused with the still vibrant Black Swan/Dirty Duck in Stratford-Upon-Avon).
Rhian’s shock at getting off the tube and discovering her West London prejudices had her getting a wrong impression of East London was amusing and very accurate. As an East Londoner for weeks at a time for several years, Your Humble Reviewers had several occasions where young adults from West London asked whether where we lived in East London was safe. East London is like many other urban neighborhoods: in the business areas, you need to stay out of dark places when all the offices are empty and the busy sections with night life are fine if you pay attention to lighting and foot traffic. Rhian notices the poor lighting, but in her young Welsh naivety continues into the dark area, so she is at fault, not the city.
The ExCel center which is the setting of a major scene in the book is the location for LonCon 3, the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention, but hopefully it won’t be invaded by a bad magic portal full of evil elves while everyone is there.
This book is a fast-moving urban fantasy with strong mythologically-based magic but also characters with cool guns and cars. The London setting is well done, the geographical detail bringing to mind Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London/Midnight Riot setting of a modern slightly magical London. It is nice to see a non-US urban fantasy setting from Baen. Hope we get to see these characters and this setting again in the near future!