- Lord of Snow and Shadows and Prisoner of the Iron Tower (books one and two of the Tears of Artamon trilogy, by Sarah Ash).
- I really like the cover art. And the cover has that new (in the past several years) matte/satin feel to it, which has been attracting me to to books. Okay, I have completely goofy motives for buying books, I admit it. Anyway, there are a lot of interesting ideas in here, but the whole thing has something of an amateurish feel to it. No, actually, it has a strange Tzalmirish feel to it, like it's a RPG with everyone playing characters on different scales and not all of them completely in tune with how the GM sees things.
Spoilers here: For example, there are five countries. One of the country players has spent points on an Army and a Navy. One of the other countries bought a Navy (because it's cool), but neglected to get an army. Another one has an honor guard for the king, but no army or navy. Oh, but their king can turn into a dragon. Sometimes. Another country doesn't have any sort of defenses, just a bunch of artists and students. So the country with the army just marches around conquering everyone else, by virtue of marching its several-thousand-guy army up to the capital and knocking the castle down, while everyone else is saying "Hey, can he do that? Nobody told me there was a war mechanic!" For the country that has the dragon/king, they take the his mother hostage, and send him a note saying "You have to let our army march around in your country unmolested. And abdicate the throne in favor of our guy. And send our guy back to us safely. Or we kill your mom! Muah ha hah!" (I find the third request particularly funny. Once their guy is king, surely he doesn't have to be "sent back safely"? Heck, once he's king, the ex-king probably can't send him anywhere, even if he wants to!) Then they add a codicil: "Oh, and you have to let the agent we sent poison you, too. Or you'll never see your mother alive again!" So the dragon king is about to surrender, but then there's a misunderstanding and the army starts knocking down his castle, as per standard operating procedure, so he toasts them. And then the invading king starts throwing a fit: "He reneged on our agreement! Treason!" Excuse me, but "Do what I want or I shoot the hostage" isn't an agreement. They're like unreasonable players sulking when they don't win all the plots. In another arc, there's the subplot of the Ghost Singer. She has a dramatic confrontation with the ghost of a dead king, and he dramatically overcomes her and gets into the real world, to possess one of her sacred owls and head out to dramatically confront his arch-nemesis. The owl dramatically attacks, and then the arch-nemesis and a friend beat it to death with sticks. I can hear the GM saying "It's an owl. It has four hit points. They're sixth level fighters. What did you expect?"
As I said, there were a lot of interesting ideas -- and the books careen wildly around between them. It starts like Hamlet with the ghost of the dead king and the prince returning from school (kidnapped from school, actually). Crazy love plots. Magic bardic powers. Torment and renunciation and hostages. Then in book two, it segues into One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, complete with lobotomies, as the main character gets locked in an asylum for a while. One of the conquered countries stages Les Mis against the invaders, with barricades and protests, because, remember, they forgot to buy an army. The author clearly has a lot of stories she wants to tell, but I have to think she might have done better with a co-author to warn her when she was getting silly. I've had more fun reviewing them than any books for a long while, but I expected better from covers this pretty. Two and a half stars.
- A Scattering of Jades (by Alexander C Irvine)
- This reminded me like nothing so much as some of the books by Tim Powers that I didn't like as much. The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides I think are brilliant (the latter has pirates and voodoo in it! All you need now is virtual reality!). Anyway, go read those, except that On Stranger Tides is way out of print. This was more like Earthquake Weater or Last Call, which for whatever reason I wasn't as fond of. Anyway, I'm supposed to be talking about this book. It's set in the early 1800s, with cameos by P.T. Barnum and Aaron Burr (only in flashback) and Tammany Hall and such, plus Tezcatlipoca and chacmool-mummies and all sorts of Aztec paraphernalia. No basketball games, alas. In the end, it's an exciting adventure story, but keeping the sides straight was a little confusing, and none of the characters were quite sympathetic enough to pull me in. Three and a half stars, and I've given the book to arcanology. The cover isn't nearly as pretty: