Review: Maria V. Snyder’s Study Series

Fire Study (Study, Book 3) Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I strongly recommend reading Poison Study, Assassin Study, Magic Study, and Power Study all at a go. The two novellas are optional, but canonical and fun.

Snyder’s world seems to be made up of just two countries: Ixia and Sitia. Ixia has been ruled by Commander Ambrose and his generals for about a decade when Poison Study starts, after a military coup overthrew the old monarchy. There are no beggars, every child is entitled to an education, nobody has to go hungry or homeless, and promotions are based solely on skill, with no gender or racial discrimination—but every citizen also has to wear a uniform declaring his or her proper location and job function, government approval is required for marrying, moving to a new home, or changing jobs, and anybody identified as having magic talent is killed immediately. Everyone is subject to the Code of Behavior, and there are no exceptions for any kind of extenuating circumstances. If you kill someone, you are sentenced to death, even if you were defending yourself or another.

Yelena has been in the Commander’s dungeon for most of a year after killing the son of General Brazell. Valek, Ambrose’s spymaster, gives her a choice: go to the gallows, or become the Commander’s food taster. The job doesn’t have a long life expectancy, as poisoning attempts are fairly common, but Yelena sees a chance at life better than immediate death, and takes the job.

Yelena manages to survive several attempts to murder her. The fact that Brazell wants her dead is understandable, but the other attempts are mysterious. Why would a Sitian master magician try to kill her? Who would slip poison into her wine?

Magic Study finds Yelena in Sitia, learning to cope with a very different way of life. Magic is almost taken for granted, and a strong family/clan structure forms the backbone of the government. But why are there beggars in the streets, and why is it that only those who can afford it are educated? Everyone in Sitia believes that life in Ixia must be horrific, but looking around her, Yelena sees that Ambrose’s rule does have its benefits.

Fire Study moves between Sitia and Ixia, involving the leaders of both nations and intriguers who want to bring both of them down by pitching them against each other. Yelena and her friends are trying to prevent a war and reveal the traitors, but they’ve been declared outlaw and have to sneak around trying to figure out what’s going on.

Another reviewer found Yelena too talented for belief, but I found her fairly realistic. She certainly isn’t good at everything—she could use a lot of help in terms of social skills!—and the skills that she begins with and gains over the course of the trilogy do make sense. She trained as an acrobat when she was a child, so it does make sense that she is able to learn some types of self-defense without too much trouble. Some of her aptitudes make more sense after she learns more about her family background. She does find that she has magical abilities, but she isn’t good at everything, and indeed, cannot seem to master some tasks that other magicians consider rudimentary.

I did find some of the betrayals to be difficult to comprehend, as some of the traitors would have no defense against mental scans. There’s a Sitian Ethical Code of Conduct that prohibits non-consensual scans, but it doesn’t apply to criminals, and in a war situation, I found it hard to believe that nobody ever did a little telepathic peeking at the people around them.

These were fun books, and they could be useful in looking at the pros and cons of different types of governments with teens. There’s some sex in the books, but nothing terribly explicit. The violence is more troublesome, but the author never dwells on it.

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Review: The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

The Atrocity Archives The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don’t give many 5-star ratings, but The Atrocity Archives deserves one. You may need to read it with a web browser open to look up references using Wikipedia or Google, but if you enjoy Torchwood, Men in Black, or Snow Crash, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

The volume actually includes the novel and a novella, The Concrete Jungle. Both are good reading, and I recommend giving yourself time to enjoy the foreword and afterword, as well.

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American Accent Quizzie

What American accent do you have?
Created by Xavier on

Northern. Whether you have the world famous Inland North accent of the Great Lakes area, or the radio-friendly sound of upstate NY and western New England, your accent is what used to set the standard for American English pronunciation (not much anymore now that the Inland North sounds like it does).

If you are not from the North, you are probably one of the following:
(a) A Southerner who hates Southern accents and tries really hard to "talk right"; or
(b) A New Yorker or New Jerseyan who doesn’t have the full accent

Take this quiz now – it’s easy!
We’re going to start with "cot" and "caught." When you say those words do they sound the same or different?

Then again, it could be that I’m a southerner who grew up in the metro Atlanta area, where we hear all kinds of accents. Or that I watched too much television as a child, and broadcasters use the same standard. In any case, the author of the quiz seems to be a bit out of touch as far as the explanations of different results go (and a bit defensive, as well).

Review: Selene by Lilith Saintcrow

Selene Selene by Lilith Saintcrow

My review

I was just as annoyed with this little 5-chapter novella as I was by the bit that was in an anthology—Hotter Than Hell, maybe? We get a good idea of who Selene is, a glimpse of Nikolai, and lot of Selene being an utterly ungrateful bitch to him, hot sex, and NO resolution in the plot. None. At. All. Blah.

Edited: I’m informed that this isn’t just a novella, and that it is still being released. So I’ll wait and review the whole thing when it’s done, if it is interesting enough to read. What I said so far is absolutely true—Selene is a bitch and Nikolai is inexplicably devoted to her—but that seems to be part of Saintcrow’s formula. Maybe there will be more plot soon.

Protect Your Dogs and Boycott Four Paws Products Ltd.

First, if you dog has a Pimple Ball With Bell (what an icky name!), take it back wherever you bought it and ask them to refund your money for the dangerous thing, and take the rest off the shelves.

After reading about the injuries at least four dogs have experienced due to the absolute refusal of Four Paws Products Ltd. to modify or recall their product after being informed of these problems. One dog had to be euthanized.

The company and its insurer (I wish I knew their name) have been irresponsible, at the very least.

Please talk to pet stores in your area about removing the “pimple ball with bell” from their shelves. Warn other dog owners about the problem. Consider talking to your vet, so he or she can do the same.

Consider writing to Four Paws, as well. E-mail isn’t nearly as effective as a mailed or faxed letter, or even a (polite!) phone call.

I didn’t find the name of any executives on their web site, but will add that after I try calling tomorrow. Here’s the mail and phone information:
50 Wireless Blvd.
Hauppauge, NY 11788
Phone: (631) 434-1100
Fax: (631) 434-1183

Their parent company is Central Garden & Pet Company. The president of the “Pet Group” is James V. Heim
President of Pet Group
1340 Treat Boulevard, Suite 600
Walnut Creek, Callifornia 94597
Phone: (925) 948-4000

I haven’t found a fax number. Yet.

Review: The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu

The Iron Hunt The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Iron Hunt is a beautifully written book with some interesting twists on established fantasy memes. To some extent, I felt that I’d come in to the world on book 2 or 3, but as far as I know (and from what Amazon says) this is the first book of the Hunter Kiss series. There was a bit of Buffy and a little Witchblade, with other elements I’m sure I’m overlooking.

For once, it’s good to see a novel in which an established couple has a seemingly-healthy relationship. Maxine and Grant have very different skills, but they work together well. That said, this is not a romance, so some of Liu’s readers may not enjoy it.

Edited to add: I just learned that there is, in fact, a prequel to this book in Wild Thing (an anthology), which I hadn’t heard of before. I’ll certainly be looking for it.

Next up: The Down Home Zombie Bluesby new-to-me-author Linnea Sinclair

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Review: The Watcher Series by Lilith Saintcrow

Mindhealer (Watcher, Book 5) Mindhealer by Lilith Saintcrow

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m actually reviewing all five of the Watcher books. They’re quite short—novella length, really—and very much interrelated (especially the first four). I read all of them in about a day and a half, despite doing other things. I do advise taking them all in row, which is the equivalent of reading one “normal” novel.

Dark Watcher opens in Santiago City (aka Saint City), with a quartet of witches. Mindhealer is the only book that takes place outside of Santiago City, which seems to be the primary setting for all of Saintcrow’s novels (from what I’ve read in their descriptions).

Theodora, earth witch and healer, runs the Cauldron, an occult book and supply store. Mariamne Niege (water witch, prognosticator) and Elise Nicholson (fire witch) work for her in addition to being, respectively, a graduate student and a musician. Suzanne (air witch, I don’t believe we ever learn her last name) is Elise’s foster mother and their teacher, something of a high priestess to the little group.

The four women know that they’re psychic and that “magick” is real. They don’t know that they are “Lightbringers,” that there are groups and creatures in the world that hunt them, or that a group called Circle Lightfall trains and sends out “Watchers” to protect (and recruit) Lightbringers in order to counterbalance the darkness in the world.

Watchers are formerly wicked men with some psychic talents who have been given a chance to redeem themselves. They are bonded with a tanak, a dark symbiote that gives them supernatural speed, strength, healing power, and longevity. The tanak also makes it possible for them to sense darkness, but it causes the Watchers to experience pain whenever they’re around Lightbringers.

The catch is that for every Watcher, there is one Witch whose presence and touch will be intensely pleasurable instead of torturous. The hope of finding that one witch is what keeps each Watcher going, fighting and surviving horrific wounds for one chance at happiness.

The use of the tired soulmate meme (though that specific word is never used) is annoying, and it detracts from what is otherwise a fairly original concept. The fact that there are only male Watchers, though there are a few (mostly queer) male lightbringers, is a bigger disappointment. The reasoning given is that women do not have the viciousness to kill without hesitation. That’s simplistic, at best. Male lightbringers are also painted as weaker than females, and that, in combination with the pedestal upon which Watchers place Lightbringers, unbalances the novels.

Theodora is the main subject of the first book. Mariamne is the focus of Storm Watcher. Fire Watcher, of course, is primarily about Elise. We meet a new air witch, Anya Harris, in Cloud Watcher. And finally, Mindhealer is about Caro Robbins, whose brother plays a small part in Fire Watcher.

The books should certainly be classified as romances first, although they do have very strong paranormal themes. Every book follows the classic romance novel formula. The fact that I kept reading despite my dislike of romances is a testament to Saintcrow’s talent.

I suspect that the author either is pagan, or is very familiar with pagan practices. The rituals in each novel are nicely done, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear people using some of the invocations used in Circle.

I do have to propose the Watcher drinking game. Take a shot every time there’s any mention of treating a Watcher “dreadfully,” and every time a Watcher moans about how unworthy he is to be in the presence of a Lightbringer. You’ll be past noticing any formulae in no time!

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Review: In Legend Born by Laura Resnick

In Legend Born (Chronicles of Sirkara, Book 1) In Legend Born by Laura Resnick

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Well-written high fantasy, but honestly, it just went on too long. So far, everybody has lost someone important. Anybody who loves anyone seems to be doomed. Betrayals are everywhere, and that’s something I find profoundly disturbing.

The book did end on a note of hope, and I want to know what happens next. I just don’t know if I want it enough to slog through (at least) two more volumes.

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