- The Decoy Princess by Dawn Cook
- The initial premise is lovely. The archetype of the true heir to the throne, hidden away and raised as a nobody-in-particular, who is surprised to discover his bloodline - there are a million of those stories. This story is the other side - the nobody-in-particular baby, raised to be the princess, while the real princess is hidden away for safety, who is surprised to learn her lack of bloodline. There's a very well done shining tragic moment early on, and then the adventure starts. The anti-princess has a well-defined and somewhat novel skill set - a couple of exotic weapons, poison resistance, a lot of Spot Hidden, and a ton of Haggling and Merchanting. Jabril would approve. Most of the characters are ambiguous shades of grey, rather than black and white. There's definitely an assassin-game flavor to the midgame, though, especially when it comes to the Secret Conspiracy/Competition plot - it's one of those competitions where the greensheet gives them the rules, and sticking to the rules of the rules of the game is more important than winning the plot. You wouldn't shoot your competitor, that's not sporting! But that sort of plot badly needs an arbiter, which there isn't here. Anyway, there's a lot of novelty value to the the plots, and some nicely done emotion, but the A and B plots don't quite feel like the same genre, and the dialogue tends to end up in ruts. (Yes, he's a cheat, not a thief. No, she's not an assassin. They said that last time). Three and a half stars.
- The Carpet Makers by Andreas Esbach
- Orson Scott Card is very pleased to have "discovered" this German SF author and gotten an English translation of the book published - I'm certainly glad he did. The book is basically a setting, told through ever-expanding overlapping anecdotes. The initial feel is reminiscent of the Arabian Nights, as a bit of the life of a particular carpet-maker is told. But the setting expands - the medieval society is part of a wide galactic Empire - and it manages to expand without being jarring at all. The scope widens until it is the tale of the Empire rather than the one man, city, or even planet, but it still seems to keep its focus. Now, it's not that nothing happens. Terrible things happen. But they don't happen as part of a linear plot, but because the setting is one in which terrible things, both grand and small, happen. I never knew where the story was going, but even so, there were almost no wrong steps. Five stars.
- The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver
- In detective stories, the detective has to have a shtick, back to the seriously eccentric Holmes (I still haven't read Wilkie Collins). Agatha Christie mocked it with Ariadne Oliver and her Finn detective ("I only regret one thing, making my detective a Finn. I don't really know anything about Finns and I'm always getting letters from Finland pointing out something") - perhaps Christie didn't know much about Belgians. Silence of the Lambs is so wildly popular because the detective is a sociopathic cannibal - you can't beat that for shtick (random IMDB trivia: Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Lecter, under seventeen minutes of screen time, is the shortest ever to win a "leading actor" Oscar). Anyhow. This is the first Lincoln Rhyme
mysterythriller, also in the Silence of the Lambs subgenre of psycho-killer mystery, and boy does Rhyme have shtick. First, he's a quadriplegic - but more interestingly (at least to me) is that he's over the top, hard core crusty. As in "yes, the victim is in there screaming. She's not going to die in the next two minutes - don't run in and ruin the forensic evidence, wait for the crime scene investigator to get there!". It's all tech toys and forensic evidence, but there's enough attitude to keep it from being dry. There's a couple more plot twists than are actually needed, and the time frame seems insanely compressed, but it's the first in the series, so I can understand wanting to open with a bang. I shall be cross if future books in the series continue to use a particular cliche that this one does (not worth the spoiler to explain), but I'll forgive once. It's a niche book, but it's a pretty good example of the niche. Four stars, but you kinda have to be into sociopathic cannibals to appreciate it.
I also read the next two in the series, The Coffin Dancer and The Empty Chair. The second holds up pretty well in comparison. Like the first, there are occasional things that make me say "hmm, that's weird" which turn out to be Clues. Well, not Clues, but at least Indications of a Plan. I appreciate that, it's fair play by the author, to signal the plot twists rather than just teleport them in from left field. And they're still decent twists - better in book two than book one, even. The third, Empty Chair, is significantly less impressive. In part because the particular sort of forensics he plays with is less well suited to tracking a known perp than determining an unknown one (Okay, so what if you did figure out where the guy bought his snacks? How would that help? If you didn't know who he was, you could talk to the clerk to try to get a description, or something. But since you know who he is, if "talk to random people he encountered" is useful, you should be running about talking to the town... anyway, it wasn't quite the right tool in some of the circumstances). The villains were more annoying, and there were a couple of small subplot bits that were just badly done.
- Black Oak: Genesis by Charles Grant
- Why did I read this? Unacceptably inane and badly written. I couldn't bother to care about any of the characters, especially the ones who just wandered on for several pages to introduce a subplot which was never returned to. The monster / bad guy made no sense at all. (Hmm, right, it was supposed to be "like the X-files, when it was good". Okay, it's a little bit like one episode of a TV show, but I expect more closure from my book plots.) One star.