In the Forests of Serre ★★★★★

intheforestsofserre (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission 
Title:
In the Forests of Serre
Series: ———-
Author: Patricia McKillip
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 316
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Prince Ronan, the son of the heartless and one-eyed King Ferus, had his wife and child die several months ago. Now his father has arranged a marriage for him with Princess Sidonie, from a small neighboring kingdom known for its magic. Before Ronan hears of this news though, he accidentally kills a white chicken belonging to the witch Brume, who goes about the forests of Serre in walking house of bones. She curses Ronan and he becomes enamoured of the firebird. He begins to hunt the firebird down only to become as wild as an animal.

Sidonie meets Ronan on her way to the castle only she doesn’t know it is him. She is with a wizard named Gyre who has been sent as a guardian by the powerful wizard Unciel, who fought a battle in The North and barely survived. Once at the castle Sidonie is pretty much held captive under threat of invasion of her home until Ferus can find his son. Gyre pretends to be Ronan but his magical disguise is seen through and Ferus attacks him and drives him into the forests, leaving Sidonie alone.

Gyre runs into Ronan and helps him pay back Brume. Ronan has to give Brume his heart and since it is already broken, he gladly gives it up and returns to the castle. Sidonie realizes something is wrong with Ronan and sneaks out of the castle to find Brume and bargain with her for the return of Ronan’s heart. At the same time Gyre is roaming the forest looking for Brume for the heart of power that makes Serre so mysterious.

While all of this is going on, a nameless, faceless monster appears and begins terrorizing Serre. It would appear that the threat Unciel the great Wizard defeated is not truly defeated.

Turns out that Gyre stole the dead monsters heart and so it doesn’t know it is dead. Sidonie gets Ronan’s heart back, Ronan falls in love with Sidonie and Brume, the firebird and Gyre all figure out what is going on and destroy the monster’s heart, which was Gyre’s heart which merely needed to transform from a jewel into a real human heart.

I think.

 

My Thoughts:

This was confusing and weird and perfectly delicious. It was definitely one of the most fairytale’ish and straight forward of McKillip’s tales, as there was NO misapprehension with what was going on with Brume or Ronan or Sidonie. Where things were confusing was all with Gyre, Unciel and the nameless terror. I think the firebird’s egg was involved somehow, but I really didn’t catch it all. I was too busy enjoying the parts I could easily understand.

It has been almost 14 years exactly since I last read this and I have to say, it has only gotten better. Despite my not understanding the nameless terror, or maybe because of it really, I am going to be adding the “Best Book of the Year” tag and put this in the running for the end of the year. Something in this book just resonated with me and while not making me jump up and down with glee, so thoroughly satisfied me that I felt like a fat little buddha statue full of literary satiation.

So far, my re-reads of McKillip have only enhanced my enjoyment of her storytelling and of her writing skill. It saddens me that more people don’t love these books as much as I do and at the same time I realize that I’m not exactly a focal point for what is hot. I do hope that McKillip’s books stand the test of time and survive where other fantasies simply dissolve back into the morass from which they came.

The cover is once again an amazing one by Kinuko Craft. I’ll be including the full size piece of art in clickable linkiness so you can peruse as you wish. I can already tell you that this cover is probably going to win April’s Cover Love hands down at the end of the month.

★★★★★

 

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Hard Times ★★★★½

hardtimes (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Hard Times
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 368
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Louisa and her younger brother Tom have been raised by their father to think only of “facts”. If it can’t be quantified and tabulated on a report, then in the School of Mr Gradgrind, it simply doesn’t exist. A circus girl, Cecilia, comes to their school and her father abandons her. Cecilia is taken on by Mr and Mrs Gradgrind, first as a student and then a servingmaid.

Louisa has turned all of her stunted feelings towards helping her brother, who has been employed by a friend of his father, a Josiah Bounderby. Bounderby is a self-made man who dragged himself up from the gutters after his mother abandoned him and has become one of the most successful businessmen in the town. He also is the kind of man who is always telling everyone how he dragged himself up by his bootstraps. He has watched Louisa grow up and likes the idea of a wife who is only concerned with facts. He proposes marriage and her father asks her. She realizes it will help her brother and so says “why not”.

We also meet a working man by the name of Stephen Blackpool. He married unwisely years ago and his wife has destroyed their life with her drinking. She now wanders the countryside prostituting herself out for money for more drink. Stephen asks Bounderby, who owns the company that he works for, if there is any way he could get a divorce, since he has heard of such things happening for rich folk. Bounderby replies in his usual bombastic tone and tells the man to get out of his sight. The men of the company are trying to unionize and Blackpool doesn’t agree with it. As such, he is kicked out of the social sphere and ostracized. Between that and the antipathy of his employer, he is forced to leave the town and seek work elsewhere. Right before he leaves though, he is accosted by Tom Gradgrind who asks him to hang around the bank where Tom works each evening, just in case Tom wants to send some messages. No messages are sent and Blackpool leaves the town.

Tom has been living beyond his means and gambling away what he has earned, as once he was released from his father’s school of thought he went in the exact opposite direction. He comes into contact with James Harthouse, a rich younger son who is “trying out” being a businessman. James meets Louisa and begins trying to seduce her, just for a lark and because he hates Bounderby. He also leads on Tom in his extravagant lifestyle. This leads Tom to robbing the bank he works for and that Bounderby runs. He implicates Stephen Blackpool who isn’t around to clear his name.

Eventually Harthouse asks Louisa to have an affair with him and meet him. She agrees but only to get rid of him, as her husband Bounderby pretty much leaves her to her own devices, and runs off to her father for protection. Mr Gradgrind is stunned by the news and by Louisa’s revelation that she wants love as much as “facts”.

On top of this news Stephen Blackpool is found dying in a pit and he reveals that Tom Gradgrind asked him to visit the bank before Stephen left town. Tom hoofs it with Cecilia’s help and takes cover at the circus she used to work for. Mr Gradgrind and Louisa meet Cecilia there and plan to smuggle Tom to the Continent (Africa) or South America so he can escape justice. He is found out but the circus people help out the Gradgrinds because they took Cecilia in.

Tom escapes, Louisa lives with her father and mother until her death, Bounderby is revealed as a fraud when his mother comes forth and shows she is the sweetest and most loving woman alive and only Cecilia lives happily ever after.

 

My Thoughts:

This was one of Dickens’ shorter books and as such his characters and situations weren’t quite as fleshed out as I’m used to but I still found this eminently enjoyable. The only downside was Stephen Blackpool when he talked. Dickens used some sort of “working man slang” that made it almost impossible to figure out what he was actually saying. That is the only bad thing I can say about this book.

It is very obvious that Dickens is writing a “message” book here, what with the over the top “Just the fact’s, ma’am” school by Mr Gradgrind and how it ruins Louisa’s life. In many ways it reminded me of those Uncle Arthur Bedtime Stories, which are Christian morality stories at their most stark. By the by, Arthur Maxwell was a 7th Day Adventist. Fun fact for the day. Anyway. Thankfully, Dickens makes it clear where he falls on the “Just the Facts” debates but it never felt like he was preaching to me like a pigheaded Social Justice Warrior. That is because Dickens had class, talent, skill and he was willing to create something, not just tear something else down.

This is my 3rd time reading this and I really debated about giving it 5 stars. In many ways it deserves 5stars, as not only have I now read it 3 times but I already plan on re-reading it again in the future when I read all of Dicken’s stuff again. Not only has it stood the test of time, it has stood the test of Bookstooge. Dickens can rest easy, as there will be no grave desecration and “Unholy” water in his future. However, the dialect of Blackpool was a real stumbling block to me and I skipped almost all of his dying speech. So that is why I really like this book but can’t give it 5stars.

★★★★½

 

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The Engineer Reconditioned (Polity #13) ★★★★☆

engineerreconditioned (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Engineer Reconditioned
Series: Polity #13
Author: Neal Asher
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 260
Format: Digital Edition

Synopsis:

A collection of short stories from Asher’s Polity Universe, his Owner universe and some general SF shorts.

 

My Thoughts:

Really, my previous review still stands. Asher just unloads several times on anything “religious” and even in one of his intro’s to a story admits that’s exactly what he is doing. Makes me wonder why the vitriol. His wife hadn’t died yet, so it wasn’t like he was blaming God for that. In fact, now that his wife has passed on, I’ve noticed LESS bashing of religion in his books. Thankfully, I knew this was an element in this book so it didn’t shock me like it did the first time around. Scyenze is Asher’s god, he just won’t admit it.

I enjoyed the Owner stories a lot this time around as I now had the Owner trilogy under my literary belt. Did make me want to add them to my tbr. Once I finish up my Polity re-read, I’ll probably re-read the Owner books to tide me over until Asher’s Jain trilogy wraps up.

There was a story about the Hive (turns out Wasps are sentient creatures) and I have to admit I would like a trilogy about them at some point. I doubt it will happen and I’d be ok with just some more short stories, but since I’m wishing, a trilogy is what I want.

★★★★☆

 

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[Manga Monday] Northern Pride (Shaman King #15) ★★★☆½

northernpride (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Northern Pride
Series: Shaman King #15
Author: Hiroyuki Takei
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Manga
Pages: 200
Format: Digital Copy

 

Synopsis:

Volume opens with Dr Faust VIII watching over Manta who had fainted at the brutality of the last battle. Faust tells Manta that Team Funbari (Yoh’s team) is up next and Manta gets all worried. Next we cut to Team Funbari who are letting off steam at a restaurant in various ways. Yoh reveals that he’s confident enough in the training they’ve done that he thinks he can take the next team single handedly. Team Ren then has a little run in with Team Icemen, who are Yoh’s next opponents. The Icemen show off a bit and then leave the restaurant.

The battle begins and Yoh reveals his big sword. Ohhhhh myyyyy. He tries to be friendly but the Icemen are having none of it and immediately attack Faust as the weak link. Faust shows how he’s powered up by calling forth a gigantic demon version of his beloved Eliza. Team Icemen then attack Yoh but Ryu steps in and shows the burning power of friendship and literally melts their ice attack.

Eventually Yoh sets his team mates aside and lets the Icemen attack him directly. When he survives, they realize they simply don’t have a chance. Yoh invites them to try again, not to win but so that they can lose with the pride of knowing they gave it their all. They accept and Yoh unleashes the new Amidamaru against them and destroys their attack. The connotation being that the Icemen used up all their mana in their final attack and since it didn’t work, they lose.

 

My Thoughts:

This was a much shorter battle than I was expecting. It felt more like a showcase for the new and improved powers of Faust, Ryu and Yoh. The pride of the leader of the Icemen kept them from realizing how friendly Yoh was trying to be. It wasn’t until the very end that the truth sunk in. Which was what Yoh was trying to do. He didn’t want to create enemies as he climbed up the ladder to become Shaman King so he does what he can to show his opponents that they are not truly his enemies. Thankfully, the Icemen got the message. I suspect other teams later on won’t care or won’t believe it.

I think the fight is over, but it didn’t explicitly show the Icemen officially losing. So I’m holding off judgement until the next volume. With only 32 volumes Takei can’t stretch the fights out into Dragon Ball Z territory, thankfully!

★★★☆½

 

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The Crippled God (Malazan Book of the Fallen #10) ★☆☆☆☆

crippledgod (custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Crippled God
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen #10
Author: Steven Erikson
Rating: 1 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 934
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Adjunct Tavore and the Bonehunters separate from their erstwhile allies as they make a 3 pronged attack on the heart of the recently arisen Forkrul Assail empire, which holds the Crippled God’s heart. Along with gods, various elder races and even the dead, all conspire to set the Crippled God free to return him to his own world and thus begin the healing of their own world. The Perish Grey Helms turn traitor and massive amounts of people die.

At the same time an Ototaral Dragon is resurrected and set free. She is the opposite to all the other Eleint, dragons, who are at heart forces of chaos while she is a force of utter negation. The embodiment of Chaos, known as Tiam begins to manifest but the Ototarol Dragon is chained thus setting the Eleint free from their own frenzy, which dissolves Tiam’s hold over them and dissipates her own Manifesting.

Lots of other things happen.

Tavore and the Malazans and their allies are able to free the Crippled God and he returns to his own world. Shadowthrone and Cotillion hint at each other that everything has been part of an even bigger plan but mention zero details or anything concrete.

As good an ending as one can hope for with the author’s known penchant for deliberate obfuscation and outright misdirection.

 

My Thoughts:

I read over my review from 2011. Eight years later, not one single thing has changed in my mind about this book. It is remains a piece of trash where the author masterbates to his own supposed cleverness with words and is nothing but a dung heap of rubbish pseudo-philosophy.

I finished this and all I could think was “Why did Erikson even bother writing this?” The battle scenes were incredible and show that the skill in writing the first book was no fluke. Which makes my question even more pertinent, as it means he wrote such pointless reams of words on purpose. FOR NO PURPOSE.

What a killjoy way to end a series that started out so promising 2 years ago. And this re-read did not change my mind about the series overall, as I was hoping it would. Well, it does reinforce that I’ll not read another book by Erikson, no matter what. He wrote this book and ended the series this way, he doesn’t deserve any more of my money, time or attention. I almost feel like I’m doing a disservice to book bloggers everywhere by even bringing attention to his name now. Bleh.

★☆☆☆☆

 

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The Gabble and Other Stories (Polity #12) ★★★★★

gabble (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Gabble and Other Stories
Series: Polity #12
Author: Neal Asher
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 384
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

A collection of short stories ranging all throughout Asher’s Polity Universe.

 

My Thoughts:

Several stories deal with the Gabbleducks, which we know are the deliberately devolved descendants of the Atheter. We also get one story about the Csorians, the 2nd alien lifeform wiped out by the jaintech; from how the story goes it appears that they won’t be making any reappearances in Asher’s writings any time soon. Another story has Penny Royal involved. Since Penny Royal got its own trilogy, I’ve been paying a lot more attention any time it is mentioned.

In my last review, The Technician, I mistakenly claimed that this book explained how the Atheter mem-crystal was found. That is not so. Instead, a bit of the original is used as bait in one story and that is how I got things messed up. The Technician should be #11 in the Polity series and this one the 12th.

I gave this 5stars this time around because of several reasons. One, I really do enjoy the short story format when there is a bunch of them all by one author. It really works for me. Two, I enjoyed this just as much as I did back in ’12, if not more. Third, I plan on enjoying this just as much when I re-read it yet again in another decade or so. Finally, I enjoyed this a ton of a lot more than I have the previous 3 SF books I’ve posted on the previous Fridays.

★★★★★

 

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[Manga Monday] The Tortured Princess (Shaman King #14) ★★★★☆

torturedprincess (custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Tortured Princess
Series: Shaman King #14
Author: Hiroyuki Takei
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Manga
Pages: 200
Format: Digital Copy

 

Synopsis:

Joco’s back story continues. His new master, Olona, wants to make the world a better place through laughter and comedy. But Joco’s old gang doesn’t want to let him go and beats up Olona. Since Joco now controls Mic the Jaguar, Olona is defenseless. Olona tells Joco that he has an incurable disease and that he would rather die at the hands of the gang members than see Joco resort to violence and death to save him. The gang kills Olona and the story reverts back to the present.

Joco shows a new move against Tecolote and immobilizes all his bone dolls with terrible jokes. He uses up his mana but gives Ren the opening he needs to move against Tecolote. He and Bason, his spirit ally, blow Tecolote away with one smashing blow and everyone see’s that Ren’s mana has increased exponentially. Hao, who is watching, comments that maybe it will be worthwhile to recruit Ren later on.

We get a cut scene of Lyserg, now one of the X-Laws, along with Marco the nominal leader of the X-Laws, unloading an Iron Maiden encased in chains.

The next Shaman fight starts, between one of the X-Law sub-groups, X-1 and Team Nile, an Egyptian themed group. Lyserg is now part of X-1 and takes on the challenge of fighting Team Nile all by himself. Marco and the Iron Maiden step aside and leave everything to Lyserg. Ryu is crushed that Lyserg has joined the X-Laws but Our Gang is cheering him on anyway. However, Lyserg has fully drunk the X-Law kool-aid and threatens to kill Team Nile. They refuse to surrender and continue the fight. Lyserg can’t bring himself to kill them and so Marco and Jeanne, the Iron Maiden step in. Jeanne unleashes her power and eventually kills each member of Team Nile as punishment for not surrendering to her.

The volume ends with Yoh realizing that an X-Law member as the Shaman King will result in an age of tyranny and blood and he vows that he will become the Shaman King to stop such a thing from happening.

 

My Thoughts:

Yeah! I like fighting and I get it in spades here. Thankfully, the manga-ka leavens the action scenes with humor, so things haven’t descended into dark, gloomy angst. For instance, when Iron Maiden Jeanne comes out of the iron maiden, both Ryu and Yoh exclaim “she’s hot!” and the picture shows Anna putting her hand over Yoh’s eyes. I’d definitely include that scene here but the digital version I’m reading is a pdf and I don’t know how to extract a particular image from a pdf.

Between Marco and Jeanne, we get a pretty good idea of just what the X-Laws intend. A world of Law without mercy and death as the final sentence for any infraction. It is very harsh and unforgiving. Unfortunately, the manga-ka takes the cheap and easy route and portrays them as simply Hao-lite because their Justice ends in death. The thing is, Justice is about death. Only when Justice is paired with Mercy can death be avoided. There is just lots to go into with all of that and just like his handling of the “great spirit” philosophy, Takei neatly sidesteps any deeper thoughts to paint the X-Laws as no better than Hao. Sigh…

Thankfully, while talking about that took up a whole paragraph in this review, it doesn’t play nearly so big a part in this volume and now that Takei’s gotten it out of his system, I’m hoping we won’t see a repeat of this particular shallow philosophy. I do expect to get lots of philosophy-lite as each new group appears though.

This was a good ending place for the month, as a battle is concluded and no other one has started. I’m thinking I’ll try to find a good ending volume each month to conclude on, as long as it doesn’t run over 5 volumes.

★★★★☆

 

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