Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some Unusual Reads

Shades of Milk and Honey
Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor, Aug 3 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780765325563

In England, plain-looking twenty-eight year old Jane Ellsworth is jealous of her beautiful sister Melody’s looks. On the other hand, although she has some talent Melody is envious of Jane's magical glamour ability.

Vulgar glamour artist Mr. Vincent is commissioned to create living murals in a nearby mansion. Reticent when it comes to males, Jane wants Mr. Vincent to mentor her in glamour usage; she also is attracted to him and wishes he would reciprocate. However, she has a minor hope he will tutor her and no hope he will desire her as men want Melody. On the other hand she is concerned with one of Melody’s myriad of admirers who seems nasty with a personal agenda that she fears will harm her sibling.

This is an interesting ironic look at Regency-like England ( for that matter it could be any society in which the aristocracy eats cake and everyone else battle over their crumbs) through a fantasy lens. The characterization is solid and the sense of being there is strong as the descriptions are vivid. The key to the story line is the ironic use of glamour by the aristocracy not to improve society but for selfish cosmetic use. Although the story line at times slows down with the excesses of the affluent, readers will enjoy what happened to Jane as she seeks her glamour groove. Harriet Klausner

The Questing Road
Lyn McConchie
Tor, Aug 3 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780765322111

Kyrryl, her husband Yoros and his niece Ashara seek to rescue the kidnapped child Ashara. The brave trio follows a path, but initially is unaware that the trail leads them though a portal opened by a desperate wizard from another world to their realm.

At about the same time that Kyrryl and her companions cross over, brothers Sirado and Eilish, and companion Trasso are enjoying a ride together when they unknowingly cross through a portal to the same world that the rescue party traversed. A cat goddess endows the six travelers with the ability to speak the local language. When the two groups meet, they agree to unite on their respective journeys. The sextet soon encounters local merchants Anatiah and Kaitlen. The latter pair hides escaped slave Aycharna. Now a party of nine, they seek the missing Ashara, unaware that a wizard took her as an animal sacrifice, and hope to return Aycharna to her home before returning to their various homes.

This is an intriguing quest fantasy due to the kidnapper unaware the beast he snatched from the other world to use as a sacrifice has loving sentient family members wanting her home safe and sound. The story line is fast-paced from the moment the trek begins and never slows down as the teams unite in a common cause of helping two young females. Although feline-like deities making the key decisions for the travelers detracts from their expedition, as they have no difficult cultural-ethical differences between the groups from two worlds or choices to make, fans will enjoy the entertaining rescue missions. Harriet Klausner

The Double Human
James O'Neal
Tor, Jun 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780765320155

Due to overseas intervention, anthrax deployment in malls, oil dictatorships and domestic political discord at home, the once United States is disintegrating. In this increasingly lawless society in which the central government is non-existent and New York City is a wasteland, terrorist anthrax attacks supplemented by radical climate changes have turned Miami into a deadly anarchistic "Quarantine Zone".

Florida United Police Force detective Tom Wilner enters this dead zone in search of the serial killing "the Vampire", who is Undead. There he meets benevolent teacher Mari Saltis of Columbia who refuses to leave the Quarantined Zone as she feels the children need her. As their attraction flourishes within this dark area, the insane predator he chases after wants both of them dead.

This is an entertaining futuristic science fiction-horror police procedural that requires leaving the plausibility at home. The story line is filled with action-packed subplots although some are left dangling (like that of the alien arrival) for a sequel. James O’Neal provides some of the back story as to what happened to Southern Florida and elsewhere as civilizations collapsed; thus this dystopian thriller can stand alone but is enhanced by first reading its predecessor The Human Disguise. Harriet Klausner

The Osiris Ritual
George Mann
Tor, Aug 3 2010, $24.99
ISBN: 9780765323217

In 1902 there is plenty of excitement in the air of London as an odd mummy is arriving from Egypt. The sarcophagus containing the mummy is marked with dynamic colors and strange enigmatic symbols. Like many others British Museum curator Sir Maurice Newbury watches in wonder as the mummy is delicately unwrapped. He muses as rags are dropped to the floor that this is more fun than the battle with the automons last year (see The Affinity Bridge). When the final bandage drops to the floor, the skeleton begins screaming in rage for the horror of being buried alive.

Soon afterward, someone murders the expedition’s leader and an agent coming in from the cold of Russia vanishes. Putting on his other hat as a secret crown investigator Maurice and his assistant Veronica Hobbes seek clues to the homicide, the disappearances and more while wondering if his dangerous predecessor Dr. Knox is the link between all. As Newbury researches the arcane symbols, Hobbs works the case of disappearing women.

The second Newbury-Hobbes late Victorian investigative urban fantasy is an exciting action-packed tale with a load of corpses seemingly everywhere in London. The prime subplots are fast-paced as the Queen’s detecting duet work together and separately on the cases. Although at time over the top of Big Ben, fans will appreciate this rousing thriller. Harriet Klausner

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