Ted Nolan <tednolan>
2019-08-08 20:23:29 UTC
Enzili: An Athanate Novella
by Mark Henwick (Author), Lauren Sweet (Editor)
Mark Henwick's "Athanate" world has been going off on tangents recently.
The main sequence is a series of first person books narrated by Amber Farrell,
an ex-special-forces member who was bitten by a rogue "Athanate" (the source
for the vampire legends) who turns Athanate and gets involved with the
ongoing plan to bring the Athanate public. These are cracker-jack books
(though the last suffered a little from worthy-cause messaging).
The most current book in Farrell's saga dates from 2016.
Since then, Henwick has written a number of third person Athanate novellas
which he has said he considers partly as writing exercises. "Enzili" is
Set on the British Caribbean island of St. Mark in the early 1830s,
the ostensible main character is an sugar plantation estate manager
(for an absentee Lord) and amateur Engineer, Charles Tynes. He
believes he has perfected the design for a steam powered milling
engine that will greatly speed up the processing of sugar cane. He
has sent a proposal to the absent Lord for financing, but in the
meantime, he has contracted massive debts with the region's shadier
merchant class by presenting the Lord's support as a done deal.
Unless the the ship arriving at Drakeston bears a letter from the
Lord, his life is over (due to the tender mercies of Debtors'
In fact the ship does not bear a letter, but does bear the Lord's daughter
and her African maidservant. Confusingly, there is no male escort.
The daughter re-opens the dilapidated local mansion and makes it the center
of the frontier social season. She gives Charles reason to think that
his hints to the Lord of a marriage alliance could come true, but then
drops the twin bombshells that she has been disowned, and that abolition
(which she supports) is coming soon. Without slave labor, sugar culture
would be unprofitable -- unless Charles's engine will actually work, in
which case if they present a united front and imply the Lord's support
until the first harvest can be sold they might both actually survive.
In the meantime, the more unpleasant of the local slave owners start
turning up dead, and the slaves are convinced that one of their Voodoo
goddesses is on the march, and as the financial and social pressure
builds, Charles, never the most stable man, becomes ever more worn down,
suspicious and volatile...
The novella ends with one thing very resolved but many others up in the
air, and the promise of a follow-up to come, which, I believe, has not
I have to say that I have not enjoyed the Athanate novellas nearly as much
as the Amber Farrell books, and this one is no exception, especially as
it is set so far in the past that it will have (I presume) no bearing on
the main storyline. I was a bit disappointed in Tynes as well as he was
just too twitchy and paranoid. Of course, as it turned out, he had some
reason to be, if not the reasons he thought, but it was not very comfortable
spending time with him.
I was curious if real events were playing into the story line. Slave revolts
and Maroons are mentioned, things I associated with Jamaica, so I looked
up St. Mark to see what the history of the time was there. As it turns out,
as far as I can tell, St. Mark is an imaginary Leeward island and there
was no port town called Drakeston anywhere in the area either.
Heaven's Fallen (Mantles of Power Book 1)
by Benjamin Medrano (Author)
Mortal Gods (Mantles of Power Book 2)
by Benjamin Medrano (Author)
The Amazon recommender pitched _Heaven's Fallen_ at me back in April,
but I only recently got around to it because the cover looked a bit
anime to me and I had plenty of others in my to read stack. In the
event, I liked it quite a bit.
Having been discovered in an illicit love affair, and assigned as
punishment to a minor administrative post in a agricultural area
where nothing interesting ever happened, Angel Isalla had uncovered
a conspiracy in the Heavens. A conspiracy to do what she never learned
because as soon as she voiced her suspicions to a mistakenly trusted friend,
she found herself beaten, shorn of her wings, almost fatally poisoned and
cast down from The Heavens into The Hells.
She surely would have died except for the incredible happenstance of
the demon healer Kanae being out gathering herbs in just the right spot
to stop her descent. Taken home by Kanae, her wounds treated and the poison
neutralized, Isalla starts to become familiar with the oppressive, but not
necessarily "evil" environment of The Hells, and to make plans to deal
with the problems in The Heavens.
As it happens, she had sent a note with her suspicions to her lover, and
finds that in itself was enough to get her captured and also brought
to The Hells. When Isalla is healed enough, she and Kanae set off on
a rescue mission though Kanae is very ambivalent as she has also come to
care for Isalla herself...
When I say Isalla was cast down, it's not quite that simple. The Heavens,
The Hells and the Mortal Lands are all dimensions, essentially, with portals
between them. It does seem that generally one goes "down" through portals
to The Hells, but at any rate, Isalla's enemies had to open portals beneath her
during her fall, it's not the cosmography where you can just fall off a cloud
or whatever and end up in Hell. It's also not a Western cosmology at all.
Angels aren't "good", demons aren't "evil", mortals aren't souls in play
between the two -- they are all just different kinds of beings who (largely)
live in different places.
In general I found the two main characters here appealing. I would say
that Isalla does come off a bit naive and unsure at times, but she is
fairly young for an angel, and has just had her worldview upended. There
is a kind of Hurt/Comfort vibe going on and some almost Chalkeresque things
going on with Isalla's lover (which it's left very ambiguous whether we should
approve of or not), and Medrano does seem to believe strongly in the healing
power of lesbian polyamory (though he doesn't write actual sex scenes).
Book two of the trilogy, _Mortal Gods_ continues the storyline, expands the
setting to include the Mortal Lands, and reveals a bit more about the
conspiracy. I won't say much that would spoil the ending of _Heaven's
Fallen_, but it's a good follow-up and I enjoyed it as well. Book three
is due out in September, and I will be reading that one as well.
Ancient Ruins (Ancient Dreams Book 1)
by Benjamin Medrano (Author)
Spells of Old (Ancient Dreams Book 2)
by Benjamin Medrano (Author)
Halls of Power (Ancient Dreams Book 3)
by Benjamin Medrano (Author)
I liked Medrano's "Mantles of Power" enough that I sought out some of
his older books. "Ancient Dreams" is a (completed) trilogy from a few
In a prologue, we find a demon, Avendrial, punished for unclear
reasons by being imprisoned in a soul gem. The gem is gradually
eating away at her memories & self, but she does find happiness for
a time being worn as jewelry by a gentle and respected elven woman
named Sistina. When Sistina dies, her favorite necklace is buried
with her and Avendrial gradually loses track of time, loses her
personal memories and forgets she is not a soul gem.
When chance (though actually predicted by a prophecy Sistina sought)
frees her, she manifests as a dryad in the underground ruins of the once
great elven capital. Taking the only name she can remember, she becomes
'Sistina' and starts to fashion an underground garden.
Eventually the outside world intrudes. A runaway elf slave stumbles into
Sistina's cavern, and Sistina finds the world has greatly changed from
what little she can remember. An apocalyptic war called the Godsrage
has eliminated all true gods from the mortal plane (some were killed,
the survivors left), the elven kingdom of the original Sistina is long
gone, and an expansionist human nation is making war on the elven
successor kingdoms and placing slave brands, which magical enforce obedience,
on the defeated so that each defeated soldier becomes a new enemy.
Sistina finds that while she cannot break the slave brand of her elven guest,
she can possess it, binding the elf to her rather than her human masters.
While not ideal as she doesn't actually issue any orders, or ever plan to,
it's a step in the right direction.
Ruminating on the state of the world, Sistina remains withdrawn until her
foraging guest is captured by a elven war party who have just rescued
their princess from slavery and are on the way home. Sending her construct
body outside of her cavern for the first time, Sistina easily frees her
guest, but realizes that the elven princess is clearly a descendant of
her original Sistina. Becoming snared in rapidly expanding circles of
love and obligation, Sistina becomes a growing power in her world, and
diagnosed by the Adventurer's Guild as a dungeon throws herself into that
This series shares a number of features with "Mantles of Power".
Some examples are, "mantles" as a transferable power locus, the
impossibly light and strong magical metal mithral, elves, angels, demons,
demigods, succubi. Despite that, I do not think the world is the same.
There is also a strong D&D element here (I think -- I'm not a D&D guy) for the
dungeon-core stuff, which seems very similar to what D. R. Rosier was doing
in his "Dark Dungeon" series.
I would say that while on the whole I enjoyed this trilogy, it was not
as good as "Mantles of Power". I think to some extent Medrano had a bit
less finesse in writing about some of his tropes and the Chalkeresque
stuff is stronger here, and there is less ambiguity about it being against
the characters' best interests. The plot also meandered a bit more,
and Sistina largely found plot tokens whenever she needed them. There was
some intersting character development on the villain side, with a jovial
and unflappable big-bad, and one of his chief subordinates who could have been
a good guy if he had been raised in a normal country.
Assassin's Bond (Chains of Honor Book 3)
by Lindsay Buroker (Author)
This series stood at two books for quite a while while Buroker wrote
other settings, but she has finally returned to the story of the
young mage Yanko.
Set in the world of "The Emperor's Edge" we have followed Yanko
from his beginnings working in a family run mine in his world's
China analog to his failing out of the mage academy and to his
unexpectedly being given a quest by the youngest of the royal family.
Yanko's quest was to find a hidden continent which, hopefully, could be
farmed to save his nation from its failing soils and rising population.
Unexpectedly succeeding after a voyage that led him through some of
the world's more interesting places and introduced him to some of the world's
more interesting people, Yanko must now return home from captivity in
Turgonia to bring the news of the new continent. Unfortunately, his country
has descended into civil war, the grand chief is dead, the prince is
in hiding, Turgonia knows about the continent too, one of his allies doesn't
trust him, another has been hired to kill him, and his recently discovered
pirate mother has her blood-thirsty fleet on the horizon..
To a certain extent this series reminds me of Rachel Aaron's
"Heartstrikers" books, the story of Julian the "nice dragon". Yanko
is such a moral and sincere young man that he is often able to talk
people into actions they would otherwise roll their eyes at.
Oblivious to his growing power and indications that he may be one
of the most powerful mages in the world, he is also somewhat dense
about the women in his life, and from time to time you want to
shake him and say "Forget about the Academy! Open your eyes!"
I liked this book, though not as much as the mainline "Emperor's
Edge" books (some of whose characters do come on-screen in this
outing). Still, it's solid Buroker, with her trademark banter
and character moments, and I will be picking up the final book
"Great Chief", which has now been released.
Villains Do Date Villains!
by Mia Archer (Author)
This book ends (for now at least) Archer's Night Terror & Fialux series,
which is her homage to superhero comics.
This is another Fialux narrated book, though it is not quite Fialux
V1.0, the naive superhero. Being mind controlled by alien
worms, mind bonded with the villainous Sabine and finally
discovering that the "legitimate" forces of the US Government plan to
nuke her home, Starlight City, can have an effect on a girl's disposition..
In the previous book, the failure of one of the evil, and semi-competent,
Dr. Lana's schemes left the city inundated with naked Fialux clones.
In this book, Fialux wakes up naked and confused. Is she a clone?
Hopefully not, as most of them seem to be kind of half-baked and
lame. It certainly doesn't make getting close to her ex-girlfriend
any easier as Night Terror has now had any number of useless naked
flying girls come up to her and her resistance cadre and try to
Still, if she *is* the real Fialux, then technically, she is the co-leader
of the alien invasion, and that has to be advantageous somehow, especially
with Sabine out of the picture. And if she can actually prove herself
to Night Terror, it would a) be great reunion sex & b) get her access to
Night Terror's techno gadgets for locating the a-bombs.
I think I would have rather gone out on a Night Terror narrated book (which
would also get us more CORVAC), but this was fun, and we actually get to see
Fialux stump Night Terror with a totally appropriate cultural reference.
Mission: Improper (London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy Book 1)
by Bec McMaster (Author)
Meh. This turns out to be a very romancey romance about a special
team put together to solve an important mystery in steampunk London.
The Blue Bloods (those infected with incipient vampirism, basically)
have recently been cast down as England's ruling class and not all
of them are happy about it. Two of the team members have had
romantic sparks in the past and when they meet again, it is at the
point of obsession, completely outweighing the actual mystery. To
make matters worse, they don't solve the mystery in this book, but
*do* flash forward to this couple's HEA (with kid) while everybody
reminisces about how mysterious that mystery was without ever saying
anything more specific. Next book it's apparently back to the
present and another couple within the team has a romance and
presumably a flash forward to *their* HEA and reminiscing about how
mysterious that mystery was.
Count me out.
Voice of Life (The Spoken Mage Book 4)
by Melanie Cellier (Author)
This book finishes the story of Elena, once a peasant girl, now the
world's only Spoken Mage in a setting where magecraft is done by writing,
and writing by those without magical talent is equivalent to handing out
A-bomb kits and hoping for the best.
We get some answers in this book as to the source of Elena's power,
(not terribly satisfying in my opinion, but fair enough), and a resolution
to the long ongoing tragic war storyline. We still don't have an answer as
to why magic is tied to writing in the first place, but are left with some
hope for the peasants.
I like that Elena owns her actions from the end of the previous
book which seemed like it was going to be a bad idea (Roman style
adoption into a noble family to blunt her social woes) and accepts
the corresponding obligations along with the benefits, and if some harebrained
schemes play out better than they really should have, I'm not going to
begrudge the happy ending.
"Ride In, Killer!" by A. E. van Vogt
According to the link above, this is van Vogt's only Western, and was
written shortly before the end of the first phase of his writing career.
THE GORGE twisted up, up ahead of his horse; a writhing,
barren, untrod trail, grim and gray-brown and incalculably
hostile in the primeval unevenness of its surface.
Somewhere in this world of gray slag and piling rock and
tortured gravel hills must be the valley that old Birrton
had described to him. In that valley would be the outfit
that he must destroy to the last man. And they would be in
the very midst of rounding up the cattle he had come to
Jargg felt the great black animal he rode sag before the
cruel unevenness of the upward path. His slate eyes narrowed.
His voice snarled harsh and defiant on the chilling fall
air. "Get on, damn you!"
The gray-brown walls, towering so sheer above him flung
back his half-hysterical up-thrown voice in a shrilly mocking
echo. That calmed him, a shuddering calm; he looked around
him, wearily. For three days he had pushed through this
immense hell-hole of badlands; he was beginning to doubt
his direction. The desolation was oppressive.
Hey, it's a van Vogt monster story!
Jargg (of course his name is Jargg..) is as much a monster as any
Rull, but like them he doesn't realize the monster rarely wins (and
never in a Western). Finding more cowboys than his information
specified, he decides to continue with his plan regardless and
quickly deniably offs three of them before things start to go badly
wrong. How will this man of incalculable evil vitality cope? Well
check it out. The full text is at the link as well as ebook
downloads, and it's worth half an hour just for the novelty.
Skyship Thrive (Thrive Space Colony Adventures Book 1)
by Ginger Booth (Author)
In the fairly near future, something has happened to Earth. It's
not entirely clear in the flashbacks we get, but it seems to be
more of a biosphere collapse than just the coastal flooding associated
with global warming (though there is plenty of that as well).
Luckily a star drive has been discovered and terraforming efforts
are underway. Unluckily, it is a 100 year plan and the final crisis comes
after only 40 years. Suddenly the extrasolar colonies are flooded with
'last ship out' refugees which they are totally unprepared to handle.
On Mahina, an extra-solar gas giant moon, there is barely an atmosphere
established, and it is patchy and prone to anoxia inducing oxygen droughts.
Nonetheless the completely overwhelmed terraformer technicians in the
enclosed city of Mahina Actual do what they can for the settlers and then
close the doors, knowing they are completely outnumbered.
Years later ex-cop Sassafras Collier participates in a rebellion against
Mahina Actual, which she ends up betraying (for the best reasons: there
was going to be a massacre which she couldn't support). She takes
concessions from the terraformers as her pieces of silver: From now on
each settler child will be issued a personal gravity generator and some
early years healthcare.
After serving twenty years on a prison farm, Sass is shocked as she
comes out in the world again. Many people don't use the generators
and become spindly and unhealthy. Other's don't carefully monitor the
ambient oxygen levels and become brain-damaged due to frequent anoxia.
In short the colony is still failing to thrive.
Still Sass considers that she has done her part, and after twenty years
tied to one place, wants to move around. Having carefully managed her
prison wages and the farm crop sales, she has enough, nearly, to take
ownership of one of the few skyships left on the colony, but she'll need
a partner, and a crew..
As Sass gathers a crew of oddballs, youtube stars, gamers and fugitive
scientists around her, she finds herself drawn back into the basic problem
of Mahina, and perhaps this time she can actually do something about it.
This book is part _Farmer In The Sky_, part _Search The Sky_ and part
_The Grapes Of Wrath_. It's a fairly "small" book. Mahina really has
no more people than a medium sized city and the level of violence needed
to effect change is very minimal once someone is determined to do it.
The change that *can* be effected is minimal as well. There is still no
way to accommodate the settlers in Mahina Actual, but perhaps with enough
small changes the rolling snowball will start to get bigger on its own.
There are some nice touches in the rituals around the baroque week that
being a moon of a gas giant causes, and some nice character beats
with Sass and her misfits. I do have a problem with the idea that
talking computers will lead to the end of reading for most folks -- the
story itself makes clear how inconvenient that is that I couldn't buy it.
There are more books in this series, where presumably Sass will try to
find out what has happened to the *other* colonies both in the same
solar system and elsewhere and I plan to eventually check them out.
Shadow's Bane (Dorina Basarab Book 4)
by Karen Chance (Author)
Dorry's life has been going better than usual lately. Considering how
her life usually goes, that may not be saying much, but she (or at least
her vampire half) is now on the vampire Senate, her love life is somewhat
stable and she has a real home with real friends.
Of course that's too good to last, and Dorry is drawn into fighting a
scheme to use illegally trafficed fey in arena death fights, and she
is having no luck finding the one specific fey she is looking for. Furthermore
her roommate's father-in-law, a fey King has set up camp with his royal
guard in her yard, she has somehow become the den-mother of a bunch of
"baby" vampires and her vampire half is trying to communicate *something*
important to her, but can only send visions of stuff that happened in
Somehow Dorry will sort it out.. in the messiest way possible, as usual.
Chance's books are that rare mix of farce and relatable characters, and
that continues here. There is a particularly good scene where she shows
up at Kit Marlowe's door and he refuses to let her in because things
always go to hell when she is around. Naturally she assures him this
time will be different, and naturally it's not. I do ding her a couple
of points for the "he'll be better off without me!" angst, but that's
minor -- a good time as usual, and much less labored than the last
Cassie Palmer outing.
The China Station (The Earl's Other Son Series, Book 1)
by Andrew Wareham (Author)
This book is not SF, but rather an historical novel in the Hornblower
tradition (though the last cabin boy to serve with Hornblower must be retired
by the time of the events here). I have some problems with historical
books as the broad play of events is known, and the characters cannot
affect them, but this was entertaining enough.
Lord Magnus Campbell is the impecunious second son of an impecunious
Scottish Earl. He has an uncle who pays him a stipend as long as he
remains in the RN, which is OK by Magnus as his title and service get
him invited to the wilder upper-crust parties (the nobility having never
subscribed to the middle-class "Victorian" virtues).
Having been found in flagrante delicto with an Admiral's daughter,
Magnus is suddenly faced with the choice to resign in shame (and there
goes the stipend..) or take a promotion that comes with a posting to
the other side of the world in the China Station.
Having been fortunate enough to encounter a Foreign Office wallah
on the trip out, Magnus (and we) learn a bit about the delicate
situation in China. The Qing dynasty is moribund, the Europeans
(even the Austro-Hungarians!) are actively trying to dismember the
country, warlordry abounds, and all sides are cynically using
missionaries as catspaws.
Taking command of a sloop, Magnus somewhat impresses the local admiral
by refusing the mandated practice of moving under sail whenever possible
to conserve coal, something he feels has no place in the 1890s. Sailing
against pirates and supporting the local pro-British (as long as his
bread stays buttered..) warlord, Magnus gives a pretty good account
of himself and ends up resolving an incident that would have been very
embarrassing for the British.
Along the way, he comes to understand that despite its current
state, China is a real country, not a bunch of feuding principalities
such as the British picked off one by one on the subcontinent and
that the European effort to colonize it is ultimately doomed, though
the Great Game plays on. He also realizes that he is running into
the same English lady he met on the voyage out, and that if he continues
to do so, people will expect him to do something about it, disgraced or
This was a very Drake-like book, or you could say both are inspired by
some of the same sources. Magnus is an interesting character, he is
a loyal and reasonably patriotic Briton without deluding himself that
what his country is doing is "right". He is fairly honest by the standards
of the time, but willing to indulge in the winked at levels of graft.
He is also realistic enough that after he has been duped into firing on
Qing troops, he makes no bones about destroying the evidence and reporting
the incident as warlord action.
We are obviously moving towards the events of the Boxer Rebellion, and
I will probably continue the series to see how that plays out.
What's not in Columbia anymore..
What's not in Columbia anymore..