Review of Rising Tide by Rajan Khanna (Pyr, October 6, 2015)
This is the second volume of the steampunk-airships-with-zombies series which started with Falling Sky. It is the adventures of Ben Gold (one of the few Jewish steampunk characters Your Humble Reviewers have ever seen) as he travels the western coast of the United States many years after a disease which turns people into zombies has hit. Society has fallen apart and it is basically chaos with a few places held by various groups.
Ben has lost his airship in a suicide attack to prevent some bad people from reaching a refuge that he and his scientist friend Miranda had just left. Miranda wants to develop a test to check for the zombie disease so the refuge will know if new people or traders are safe. She wants to get the data she has collected back to the refuge in order to merge it with data she has stored there, but the loss of Ben’s airship puts a damper on this plan.
So this volume is all the adventures they have while trying to get back to the refuge. They meet an old friend/enemy of Ben’s who holds them hostage. They are held in a facility with several airships and boats so eventually an opportunity arises to escape.
When they finally do reach the refuge, things do not go well. A new disease attacks people there and it appears to be a modified version of the zombie disease. They have to discover who made the disease and how they managed to get it into the refuge. There must be at least one traitor in their group. The hunt for the traitor makes everyone suspicious of each other and only slows progress to find the source and possibly a person with antibodies against the disease (they think the traitor must be vaccinated against the disease he delivered to the refuge).
This is a fast paced post-apocalypse steampunk adventure with airship battles, hand-to-hand combat and futuristic nasty diseases. Ben and Miranda share the viewpoint in this volume by the use of Miranda’s journal entries. Both of them are very interesting and complex people who have valid motivations. They have a relationship but both put other things in front of them having happiness together. It is mostly adventure with a little romance and relationship issues thrown in so the characters behave like real people, they all have a job and usually relationships don’t enter into the equation but in some circumstances they intrude. If you like your adventure with guns and airships plus a little romance, then this is the series for you!
The book ends on a cliffhanger with Ben and the others uncertain of their future or that of the refuge, so there better be another volume soon!
Review of Gold Throne in Shadow: World of Prime Book Two by M. C. Planck (Pyr, October 13, 2015)
The epic portal series which has Christopher going through into a world where magic exists continues! Christopher has been raised from the dead and promoted to a moderate rank at the start of the volume. He is of sufficient rank that he gets orders from the King with no higher ranking person supervising him. This is good, because he doesn’t have to explain his tactics for using rifles and cannons to a higher officer, but also bad because any failures are obviously his fault.
He is sent south to a supposedly easy posting, but having his soldiers in the city is difficult and the enemies they are looking for are far from the city. They move out to a fortress on a hill and hordes of the enemy soon find them. Several thousand rabid dog-men attack and the fortress is nearly overrun. In fact they send a message about needing help, but by the time the help arrives, Christopher is already on his way back to the city with wagons of dead. The King thinks Christopher cried “wolf” until he is presented with his share of the loot from the 1500 or so dead dog-men. It is so much wealth that the King ignores everything the others are saying about Christopher. Christopher’s enemies traveling with the King just have to sit and steam!
Christopher goes on a further adventure with Lalania the troubadour to get information from the teachers at the university where she was trained. This turns out not to be as simple as it sounds and leads to an epic-level inn and barroom brawl. Much sword swinging and spell casting and even some poison!
This is excellent epic fantasy with the swordplay being Asian style (Christopher was a swordsman in the modern world, but only striking targets with his katana) and also having rifles and cannons. Since Christopher is an accidently portaled modern person, everyone has to explain things to him and sometimes his magically acquired language doesn’t translate well. So he conveniently is a good warrior but an idiot about other things. He is more interested in doing the task set out for him by his god and getting back to the modern world than he is with dealing with the politics of the realm. This of course means he tends to do things the hard, non-diplomatic way, but he is learning to ask locals for help before he deals with situations needing a finer touch. There are quite a few amusing scenes in this volume with Christopher trying to follow someone’s instructions about how to deal with a situation.
Planck’s text is an easy read and tends to pull the reader in quickly. It is a gritty, realistic medieval setting with many heads being lopped off (magic potential from creatures and humans is stored in the head) and also some nasty wounds described. It’s not gory, but realistic from a medical and injury view and so could upset sensitive people. Primitive weapons and guns are not nice weapons and Planck makes that quite clear in his text. Luckily, high-level priests can revive the dead so Christopher’s help who aren’t as hardy as he is know that if they die in battle that they will be brought back. This fact reduces the guilt Christopher feels for taking his friends into battle, but because he isn’t used to warfare, it is still hard on him.
Christopher’s journey through the ranks in this medieval world is quite entertaining and this series certainly takes a very different view of a portal story. We love his confusion with the medieval women! Because of the many wars, the medieval world has many more women than men. Christopher wants their help in some cases, but can’t seem to get his concept of being faithful to his wife across to them. This leads to some very amusing scenes!
If you don’t mind your fantasy having a few guns, then this is a great reading choice for you.
Review of Wake of Vultures: The Shadow Book One by Lila Bowen (Orbit, October 27, 2015)
Nettie Lonesome is awesome! She is a non-gender conforming teenage female who is confused about who to love, what love is and why anyone would want to be female. She starts out as a young teen that gets attacked by a stranger in her barn, but she kills the strange man by poking a sharp stick into his heart. It turns out that he was a vampire, and killing him means Nettie can now see monsters. She gets the vampire’s clothes, boots, weapons, and money. With this she decides to venture to the ranch next door and after proving himself, Nat Lonesome is a bronc breaker. Breaking horses soon earns her a horse of her own.
Then when she strikes down another monster, she has to leave in a hurry because no one else will believe the monster story and will think she has committed murder. On the road she meets a couple of shape-changers who give her company as well as some knowledge and some new survival skills for traveling. Eventually she joins the Rangers as Rhett Hennessy in order to complete her quest. There she finds a confusing friend, a nice boss (who realizes she is female, but doesn’t tell the others), and a villain.
She does complete her quest in this book, but Your Humble Reviewers don’t want to spoil any of how she does it. Completion of the quest also leads to some self-discovery and where she is at the end of this book will totally change Nettie and her perspective on life in the next book.
Nettie lives in a Wild West filled with monsters and shape-shifters. The attitude towards females and the totally impractical nature of typical female clothing means that Nettie cannot understand why anyone would want to be one. Life is much simpler as a boy. When she has her first drink of whiskey, she notices how sexy her companions are, which leads to much confusion because she has no idea choices exist other than men and women as a couple. The couple who adopted her used her like a slave and never sent her to school, so Nettie’s knowledge of the world was very limited until she learned from others on her travels.
Over the course of the book she becomes close enough to Coyote Winifred that she will sometimes listen to her advice. Eventually her friendship with Winifred and Winifred’s brother Dan as well as her success as a Ranger lead to Nettie valuing herself more.
This is a great fast-moving adventure tale of an epically confused and questioning teen that lives in a world where females aren’t really valued and where monsters roam the western Unites States. This would make an excellent family reading book because Nettie’s confusion about self-worth, sex and gender is handled very well and these scenes would make good family discussion points. If you have a questioning/non-binary teen or have someone who wants to understand non-binary persons better, then give them this book. They will love the adventure story and learn a great deal from Nettie and her friends. Young people who don’t know how to label themselves regarding sex and gender will immediately identify with Nettie, because she doesn’t either. She has even fewer choices in her vocabulary than our modern society does.
We will be waiting for the next volume of The Shadow to see where Nettie goes with her newly discovered self!
Review of The Geomancer: Vampire Empire – A Gareth and Adele Novel by Clay and Susan Griffith (Pyr, November 3, 2015)
The vampire and human couple of Gareth (also known as the Greyfriar by humans who don’t realize they are being helped by a vampire) and Adele (the empress) have returned for more adventures. Adele certainly is an unusual empress. She is a geomancer, able to use the ley energy in the earth to protect and attack. Because she is the most powerful one around and many people don’t even believe in magic, she has to leave her palace in Alexandria and go save the world from bad humans and vampires. Gareth is a very educated and sophisticated vampire who can use gloves and goggles to disguise himself as a human. He keeps his claws very short so he can use tools and writing implements, which is highly unusual for European vampires. He also uses a sword, which is a human skill few vampires bother learning.
In the course of this book Gareth and Adele travel to Tibet, where they find other vampires at a monastery who get along with their local human population. They have invented some tools and machines and are fascinated by the airship Adele and Gareth use for transportation. There is even another vampire who spent a great deal of time in Japan and uses a katana. The vampire monks are protecting a very old stone which a bad geomancer wants to use to destroy the world. He and his bad vampires attack the monks and the airship. The vampires and humans must work together to defeat the bad geomancer’s army and repair the airship so Gareth and Adele can chase after them. The ability of them all to work together shows everyone that their hope of peace between humans and vampires is possible.
Adele must eventually fight the bad geomancer. This is occurs in Notre Dame amid a Paris half-destroyed by the war. The old stone he stole from the monks has been taken there to be placed in a ley line crossing so the geomancer can control all the black bad energy in the stone. As this would result in the destruction of the world, Adele doesn’t want him to do this. He believes Adele is wrong and that he controls the stone’s energy, not that it is using him for destruction of everything. Geomancer magic is not very predictable so things don’t turn out as either geomancer had expected.
This novel is faster moving and more character driven than their previous Vampire Empire novels. It was a much more enjoyable read. The setting is very dark, with vampires preying on humans in many parts of the world. The vampires are interesting because they are really like a second intelligent species which developed on Earth separately from humans. Many vampires have a tech level not much different from cavemen because they have no interest in technology or learning. There are some exceptions to this and it is from these exceptions that Gareth and Adele see a hope for the future.
The romance between Gareth and Adele seems odd to parties on both sides, but Gareth is very different from most vampires and Adele used her magic to change him in the previous series so that her magic doesn’t hurt him like it does other vampires. He seems different than in the previous series, partly from the change and also because he has seen more things which give him hope that the humans won’t destroy his species. Seeing all the vampire monks in Tibet has a strong influence on how hopeful he is for the future.
Overall this is a very entertaining steampunk adventure in a dark but hopeful setting. The characters are engaging, and they change and grow over the course of the book. You really care what happens to them. We will be looking forward to the next volume.