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Reprint from Inksome: Some Book Reviews

And now the first batch of reviews (written July 30, 2008, shortly after Tor inaugurated its website with a flock of ebook giveaways).

Currently paging my way through a batch of ebooks Tor was giving away recently, of which I downloaded the lot. Interspersed with other stuff, to be sure.

The trouble with writing anything resembling a review is telling anything about the book without committing spoilers, so if you're really concerned with knowing anything about Farthing (Jo Walton), Starfish (Peter Watt), and Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Cherie Priest), (and to a lesser degree The Sword of Maiden's Tears by Rosemary Edghill. There are also some other references that don't give anything away requiring a warning) just skip the cut.

First off was Jo Walton's Farthing, an alternate worlder set where Great Britain made peace with the Nazis in the early '40s, mostly because Hitler wanted to concentrate on Russia. Eight years later, Germany is still embroiled in war with Russia, and across the channel, the British are conducting business as usual. At a country estate party for important politicos, one of the most important is murdered, and a police detective sent in to find out why. He's got to do it fast because he's not going to be able to keep the party together very long thanks to an important vote coming up. The net result? Agatha Christie meets George Orwell in a snakepit. Not badly written or conceived, but somehow, I don't think I"m going to read the sequel.

I reread A Toast To Tomorrow, by Manning Coles to take the taste out of my mind. (Highly recommended, and back in print courtesy Rue Morgue Press), then followed it up with The Fifth Man given as Manning Coles books are like potato chips - hard to stop at one. :) These are set during WWII, more or less OUR WWII this time, essentially the spy biz as it ought to be and so seldom really is, I believe*. Outrageous deeds of derring do... and a whole LOT of fun.

Then, back to the Tor loot.

Starfish, by Peter Watt is a study in pressure, physical and otherwise. It's set in the future, in a society that's still figuring out how to handle the replacement of humans by AIs and nanotech in most occupations. But most of what we see involves humans modified to handle the environmental extremes at the bottom of an oceanic trench who maintain the experimental machinery used to supply power to the mainland from the hotspot. These people are chosen mostly for their survival of extreme psychological pressure; victims of serial abuse and the like. Most of the book covers their adaptations to their surroundings and each other, also some unexplained factors which become important by the end of the book. Which is appropriately ambiguous; not so much what happens, but what you think of the meaning of it all. Good job all around; I shall look for other works by this author.

Next up, Four and Twenty Blackbirds, by Cherie Priest. A spooky fantasy; anyway the protagonist is acquainted with the ghosts of some family members. A young woman goes seeking her mysterious past and finds it, and a few other things too. Another good one.

I'm now in the middle of a book I checked out of the LASFS library, The Sword of Maiden's Tears by Rosemary Edghill. Elf gets stranded in New York, and is promptly mugged for his magic sword. This is more of a problem than it looks inasmuch as the sword in question has a curse on it that will do horrible things to the mugger who will do horrible things to everybody else if not found soon. And off we go. Thus far kinda derivative (though aware of it which takes a lot of the curse off), and full of references. Amusing thus far.

*OK, some of the weirder things the Danes pulled off during WWII do come to mind. If you can, track down a copy of The Savage Canary, by David Lampe. Which I should probably review sometime, but not now because if I go reread it I'll never finish THIS.