Book Review: ‘Undone’ by Rachel Caine

Undone by Rachel Caine

This is the first book in the new ‘Open Season’ series by Rachel Caine. The series is a spin-off of her ‘Weather Warden’ series, and comes from the timeframe of book 7 in that series, Gale Force. However, while it helps to have read the Weather Warden series to understand the world that the book is written in and for backstory on just what is going on elsewhere in the world, it’s not 100% required in order to read this one.

First of all, let me say that this book is wonderful. I enjoyed the pacing and the characters, and I highly recommend it, ESPECIALLY if you have read the ‘Weather Warden’ books.

Now, on to the story, first of all, the main character of the story, is a Djinn… or more correctly, she is until the story begins. For at the very beginning, the ‘conduit’ of all the ‘True Djinn’ unmakes her and remakes her as a human. Not a powerless human, but still a human. And for her to do any of the old ‘magic’ sorts of things now requires that she have a human give her the power. She even needs that ‘donation’ of power to keep living. And she’s not very happy with this. Not at all.

The story is about this newly formed person, whose name is Cassiel, dealing with her new place in existence and with the whole thing of what it really means to be a human and all that entails. You see, the ‘True Djinn’ are those Djinn that have NEVER been human. They’ve been a part of existence since before humans even came into existence. The ‘New Djinn’ are also out there, but they are ones that, in a general sense, were once human and some event of some sort happened, usually very traumatic, and they ‘became’ Djinn.

In recent times (in human terms) there was One ‘new’ Djinn, by the name of Johnathan, that the great powers and mother earth designated as the prime ‘conduit’ for all Djinn. But he gave up his ‘life’ to protect another New Djinn, by the name of David, who is now the new ‘Conduit’, but only for the New Djinn. The True Djinn now have one of their own, Ashan by name, as their ‘conduit’. Cassiel was one of them. Until Ashan cast her out for refusing to perform some mysterious task/duty/something.

So, in the first moments of Cassiel’s new existence as a human, she appears in the bedroom of the human Joanne, the Weather Warden companion of New Djinn David… Those reading the Weather Warden series know Joanne very well, and know what this sort of complication adds. And by placing Cassiel where he did, Ashan, who is no friend of the Wardens in the least, really complicates things for the Wardens.

So they ship her off to Arizona, along with one of their Wardens, an Earth Warden by the name of Manny Rocha, as her new partner. This is supposed to get them out of the mess going on in Florida (happening in the Weather Warden books) as well as gets them out of the way so that Cassiel doesn’t complicate things further. She’s not really trusted by the Wardens, as she’s an Ex-True Djinn, and they don’t trust the reasons Ashan dropped her on them, and because she needs power from someone like a Warden to live. So her motivations to ‘behave’ are not trusted. And the feelings are mostly mutual, because as an ex-True Djinn she has no reason to like Wardens, or humans at all, for that matter. She’s considered unstable, and unsafe. So she’s shipped out of the way.
So, what follows is a great example of character growth and story, one that stands on its own as well as compliments the Weather Warden series… and, as it IS the first book of a new series, the book ends with more unresolved issues than resolved ones. And it also leaves us with some really, really good characters, with plenty of motivation to work with. But don’t expect an easy ride. Cassiel is new at being human, and that has good and bad sides, as you can imagine. However, due to the fact that she needs energy from humans with power like a Warden, she doesn’t have the choice to walk away and just let the world go to hell in a handbasket.

I love Rachel Caine’s writing, and I will continue to pick up the Weather Warden and Outcast Season books as quickly as they are released. Ms Caine has another series, with 10 books of its own, called the Morganville Vampires, which I have read none of. I am currently hunting for Glass Houses which is book 1, so I can see if this series is as good, too.

Due to the fact that this book (and series) does tie in to the Weather Warden series, I recommend reading those, starting with Ill Wind and right through to Gale Force before reading Undone… it’s just not 100% necessary. Just without it you may miss a large chunk of the motivation for why David and Joanne (as well as other Wardens in the book) react to and treat Cassiel. All 8 of these books are excellent reads.

Book Review: ‘The Trouble With Aliens’ by Christopher Anvil

The Trouble With Aliens by Christopher Anvil (Edited by Eric Flint)

This wonderful book is a collection of short stories that appeared in various science fiction magazines in the 50’s and 60’s, plus one that appeared in 1995 and another that is published in this volume for the first time. The central theme for all the stories has to do with how Aliens keep trying to put humankind down. Usually through deception or attempts at overwhelming force. And always with just a hint of humor to it all.

Christopher Anvil is a master satirist, and plies his trade with style and wit. My favorite of the stories is one that comes late in the book. In it the main character is put into a position where he is given both the best gift and the worst curse someone could ever be given. Namely he is made to live many life times and comes out of it not knowing which lifetime is quite real.

The volume starts out with a large number of stories where mankind is dealing with a set of aliens called the ‘Outs’. These strange beings have a certain something that gives them an edge in deception. But humans are way too stubborn to be totally tricked for long. In one of the most amusing we really never have a typical story. It is, instead, told in the form of memos and dispatches back and forth after then change in leaders. The pace is fun, and the ending not at all what you would quite expect, but definitely the solution to the problem and a sure example of the lengths humanity will go to to survive and prevail.

If you like classic stories of science fiction from well before things we all take for granted with just a hint at what was then thought about what might be, you will enjoy these stories. If you like your stories to contain wit and don’t mind not going too deep into the whys and wherefores, you will enjoy these stories. They are masterful little stories to tickle your neurons with.

Book Review: ‘The Accidental Demon Slayer’ by Angie Fox

The Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox

This is the first book in a new series. It’s ‘paranormal romance’ of a sort. It’s really closer to ‘Urban Fantasy’ with some Paranormal Romance on the side. The main character is a single woman that is just preparing to go to her 30th birthday party when suddenly her grandmother arrives riding a Harley motorcycle and a demon pops into her bathroom. And that’s just the start. Lizzie brown is a pre-school teacher and mostly likes her life right the way it is, but it would appear she has a legacy to live up to and her grandmother, who apparently knows all about it, isn’t giving her all the dirt on it. But she drags her away from her life and embroils her into the world of road-kill witches (they brew potions and spells up using road kill and the like) and demons.

The writing here is good, and the main character feels quite real as she tries to deal with all this stuff she doesn’t understand and, quite simply, doesn’t WANT to understand. She just wants her life back. But instead she is destined to go to hell and defeat a demon. Of course, the demon in question has other ideas and is more interested in her soul. Of course, this being a paranormal romance, there’s a guy involved too. One that gets Lizzie’s heart beating quite fast, though she, naturally, doesn’t want to admit it. Things are just happening too fast for her.

However, while I did enjoy the ‘ride’ that this book took me on, I don’t think I will be getting the sequels. Simply enough, I was turned off by the ‘road kill witchcraft’ and the biker gang of senior citizens. But if you like kooky, off beat settings and thoughts thrown your way with your paranormal romance, by all means pick it up and its sequel, The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, coming out in April 2009.

Book Review: ‘The Scourge of God’ by S. M. Stirling

The Scourge of God by S. M. Stirling

The Scourge of God is book 2 of ‘The Sunrise Lands’ series (Also known on the author’s website as ‘Emberverse II’) or ‘The Change’ as it’s known in the UK. This is actually the second series set in a version of the current world that changed in on March 17th, 1998 when the world as we knew it, just ceased. Electricity stopped working. Internal Combustion stopped working. Planes fell out of the sky, cars crashed, high gas pressures stopped being possible, and explosives and gunpowder just don’t work right any more. Basically Armageddon came and things were never, ever the same again.

In the first series, consisting of Dies the Fire, The Protector’s War, and A Meeting at Corvallis it told the story of the Change itself and how the people of Willamette Valley of Oregon, and a few other select places make it through into a new world and a new/old take on civilization. Wars included.

This second series starts 22 years after the change. There’s now a new generation that has never known a world other than the Post-Change one. And there are old powers, thought to be myths and legends that seem to be returning to the world. If that is through the belief of the people in the world, or through something ‘other’ is never really clear.

In book 1, The Sunrise Land, we are introduced to the mostly grown up versions of the children of the characters we followed in the first series. And there has been a man, by the name of Ingolf Volgeler, who has traveled from out near the Mississippi, into the ‘Dead Lands’ of the East Coast to the island of Nantucket, where he saw ..something.. and became driven to go west. However he also got captured and abused along the way by the servants of the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT) before he escaped. He got to Mackenzie land, driven by dreams and visions that just wouldn’t leave him alone. And there was nearly killed by men/priests/assassins hired/sent by CUT to get him and stop him.

Ingolf’s visions come to the attention of the Mackenzie clan’s leader, Juniper Mackenzie, and her son Rudi. And one thing leads to another and a QUEST is discerned to be the meaning of the visions. And Rudi, Ingolf, Edain Aylward (son of Sam Alyward, a former member of the UK Special Air Service that had been hunting in Oregon when the change happened, and is source of superior archery and bows that the Mackenzies make) – and his half-mastiff dog, Mathilda Arminger (princess and heir to the Portland Protective Association (PPA)), Odard Liu (now Baron of Gervais in the PPA), Alex (a servant of Odard’s), Ritva and Mary Havel (twin daughters of the heads of The Bearkillers and Dunedain Rangers), and Father Ignatius (a sword-brother from Mount Angel) make up the classical Nine for a Quest. (Just ask Astrid, the head of the Dunedain Rangers.. she’s obsessed with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Yes, she’s nuts. But it’s a GOOD sort of nuts that has helped folks survive and even excel.)

The company of the Quest headed off to go to Nantucket in quest of the ‘Sword’ seen by Ingolf. In book one Alex betrays them to the CUT and we are sort of mostly left at that point to wait for this book.

Naturally, the party gained a new member at the end of the 1st book, one Frederick Thurston, the youngest son of the President of the United States of America (Boise). I won’t spoil the end of the 1st book by saying how or what happens, only in that in this book he replaces Alex to make the Party one of Nine members once more. The party is all reunited at the beginning of this book and their journey continues to the East, always chased by the forces of CUT that fanatically want them to fail in this Quest.

I keep trying to figure out how to describe the contents of this book without providing spoilers, as it is only in hardback right now, so many won’t be reading it until it reaches paperback. But lets just say that their journey takes them to a Monastery high in the mountains, down into the plains of the Neo-Sioux and into the Provisional Republic of Iowa. No, they don’t make it to Nantucket in this book. There’s just too many things that have to HAPPEN first. But they DO make it to the Mississippi. But beyond that is left to the next book.

The storytelling in this book is rich, and while it does skip back to Mackenzie lands and the happenings there some, the real focus is on the party of adventurers and their growth, both as persons and as legends-to-be. There are changes to go through, and the evil of CUT is just getting worse. But it becomes clear that there is a heck of a lot going on here than just nine people heading across a very, very, very changed North America. There are powers arising, both political, social and spiritual. There are lessons to be learned, wisdom to be imparted, friends to discover, and enemies to collect. It is in every way a story of adventure, and the sort of things that will shape the future of at least these nine adventurers, and perhaps all of the people that they encounter.

The writing is the sort that makes you to not want to really put it down. You feel like you are there with the characters, riding beside Rudi and living through the happenings with him. I recommend this book, and all of S. M. Stirling’s work. You don’t need to read the first series to enjoy this one, be it really helps to do so. Heck, you can even read most, if not all of the text of the first series on line at the author’s own website that I linked above. If you like well written stories, you’ll enjoy these.

The next book in the series will be The Sword of the Lady expected around September of this year.

Next book on my ‘reading’ queue is The Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox. I have NO idea what to expect from this book. I’m just trying a new author with books labeled as ‘Paranormal Romance’. We’ll see what I think.

Book Review: ‘Brimstone Kiss’ by Carole Nelson Douglas

Brimstone Kiss by Carole Nelson Douglas

Brimstone Kiss is book 2 of the ‘Delilah Street, Paranormal Investigator’ series. The first book was Dancing with Werewolves from last year. You really, really need to read the first book before reading this one.

Delilah Street is an orphan from Kansas who worked as a paranormal investigative reporter for WTCH-TV until office politics, a ‘vampire’ newscaster and his weather witch of a girlfriend almost literally blew Delilah from town. Delilah saw an episode of CSI Las Vegas V in which there was a morgue scene in which there was a twin of her, right down to a nose stud, on the autopsy table. So, with no reason to stay in Kansas, she moved to Las Vegas to search for her twin and discovered a LOT more going on than just a TV show with her twin in it. But all that discovery happened in the first book, in which she gained a new home, a new job, a new boyfriend and new pet. As well as a passel of new enemies.

In Delilah Street’s world, things are similar to ours, but changed in significant ways due to something that happened in the year 2000: The Millennium Revelation. In that year all the things that go ‘bump in the night’ and were thought to be only fiction have come out from under the bed and out of the dark closet. Werewolves, vampires, witches and zombies are just some of them. And some of those zombies are imbued through magic and science with new life from the black and white age of film. These zombies become CinSims (Cinema Simulacrums) whose appearance and nature are based on the merging of the actor and the character the actor portrayed. So there are multiple Bogarts, multiple Lon Chaney’s and so on.

It is now 2013 (or thereabouts) and Delilah Street lives in Las Vegas in an Enchanted Cottage on the estate of the Hector Nightwine, producer of the CSI Las Vegas V TV show and is investigating the 80 year cold case of the murder of a pair of lovers back from before Las Vegas was the ‘power’ that it is today. But in both the discovery of the bones of the lovers (in the first book) and in just the fact that she looks like that body in the TV show (around which a cult is forming, of sorts), Delilah has stirred up a whole passel of troubles and things that the powers that run Vegas really preferred stayed buried like the murdered lovers.

In general this book adds a number of pieces to the puzzle, adds more questions, and reveals more about the post Millennium Revelation world (or at least Las Vegas). We learn more about the lovers, more about the CinSims, more about Delilah’s various ’employers’ as well as a little more about her dog, Quicksilver, and her boyfriend, Ric Montoya. But most of the book is just investigations and Delialh getting herself into more trouble. She discovers that some of her ‘enemies’ may be closer to friends, and that there is more going on than meets the eye in Vegas. But really nothing is resolved and things don’t move along that much. This feels a lot more like just another step along a long, long path.

All in all, I really don’t feel like this book had any story of it’s own. No real start, middle or end. Delilah Street is a GREAT character, and the world is really interesting, but this felt less like a book and more like a collection of episodes in an old movie serial. Even the end of the book, where we suddenly have a big event causing a undefined change in one of the characters feels like something you would find in one of those serials. Maybe this is the author’s intent, in which case she did a really good job, but I, as a reader, was sort of swimming around through the book looking for something to be resolved, even if it was something small, but I never found it, unless that something was intended to be the Name of book and the bestowing of that kiss.

I did enjoy this book, and I really want to read the next one, and I hope it is on the same schedule as the last to, targeting them for a October release. But I also see that Ms. Nelson writes very prolifically, so we’ll see.