Monday, May 2, 2011

Unusual Books Reviewed by Harriett

A Discovery of Witches
Deborah Harkness
Viking, Feb 8 2011, $28.95
ISBN: 9780670022410

Most of the patrons and staff at the Oxford University Bodleian Library are paranormals consisting of three species: witches, daemons and vampires; though there are some humans also. Visiting American witch Yale professor Diana Bishop is at the library conducting research into ancient alchemy tomes when she uncovers the Ashmole 782 manuscript that may provide insight into the origins of the species. Using her paranormal skills, as the offspring of two powerful but deceased witches, Diana uses an enchantment to open the tome.

Her incantation leads 1,500 years old vampire Matthew Clairmont to Bishop as well as the now, freed by her, undead who want their accidental liberator dead in case she can reverse what she wrought. Breaking the class taboo, the witch and the vampire team up to keep her safe while they investigate the origin of the species. As their attraction grows, many of the paranormal want both dead for breaking the laws of nature that forbids cross species relationships.

Although over the top of Sir Christopher Wren's Tom Tower, A Discovery of Witches is a great academic fantasy in which readers will feel Deborah Harkness put a spell on us. Fast-paced with an underlying social theme and a nod to Darwin, a world of four sentient species sharing the famous library and fragile peace makes for a fun start to an engaging tale. Diana the intellectual witch and her undead protector are a fine team escorting the audience through lethal maize of paranormal who want them dead. Harriet Klausner

Karen Russell
Knopf, Feb 1 2011, $24.95
ISBN: 9780307263995

Florida is known for some of the oddest tourist attractions (some might say traps) on the planet. The state is home to Swamplandia where Bigtree alligator-wrestling has gone on for ages. However, several recent setbacks place the family business in jeopardy as the once popular stop appears heading to bankrupt extinction.

There are talent issues as the star wrestler Hilia who brought in the masses to watch a female pin alligators recently died. The older daughter Ossie has fallen in love and elopes with a ghost of a man. Adding insult their brother Kiwi accepts a position as janitor at their more powerfully backed rival the World of Darkness. Finally the patriarch Chief Bigtree has vanished. Thus the youngest sibling thirteen years old Ava takes over her late mom’s spot as the show must go on, but lacks her glamour and experience and besides has to herd just under a hundred gators and care for the park while controlling her grief. However, all changes when Ava believes she must rescue her father trapped in hell otherwise known as Gulf of Mexico; her allies are Grandpa Sawtooth, the Bird Man, and her BFF the midget alligator; at stake is her dad, the park and their island.

This is a wonderful odd fantasy with the key players fully substantial as they bring core realism to the capricious tale. Obviously this is Ava’s saga but the support cast enhances her save her world story line. Readers who enjoy something cutting edge different will want Swamplandia! Tour guide Karen Russell escorting them around the island, the park, and the Gulf in this enchanting but strange thriller (see St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves anthology for more entertainingly refreshing). Harriet Klausner

Dead Waters
Anton Strout
Ace, Feb 22 2011, $7.99
ISBN: 9780441020119

In Manhattan’s Columbus Circle, Department Of Extraordinary Affairs Other Worldly Division field agent Simon Canderous and his girlfriend Jane Clayton-Forrester of Greater and Lesser Arcana Division are off the clock doing a favor for vampire Aidan Christos. Customer complains about a spirit haunting an antique store the Undead own; vampires are unable to bite or punch ghosts. The pair rid the store of the insane ghost, but psychometric Simon absorbs tons of negative emotion from the sick spirit.

No time for rest for the weary as the pair attends a meeting called by Simon’s boss Inspectre Qumbley who explains to Jane, Simon and his partner Connor Christos that David Davidson of the Mayor’s Office of Plausibility Deniability needs the help of DEA. Davidson explains that a murder of Professor Mason Redfield has shaken up NYPD. Quimbley is shook too as he knows Mason. The three agents visit the homicide scene in which Mason drowned without a struggle as there is no water on his clothing or on the floor; only in his lungs. The case spins wetter and weirder while Simon struggles to control emotional overload and the need for a chest of drawers.

The latest Canderous urban fantasy (see Dead To Me, Deader Still and Dead Matter) contains the usual defense mechanism banter used by the field agents to relieve the emotions of some of the gruesome adversaries they dive after in “mortal” combat. City budget cuts provide further comic relief as those risking their lives for a government paycheck are told the phony platitude to do more with less although they already spend 90% of their work time in deadly inquiries and 120% time on bureaucratic paper required by fiscal cookie-cutters. Fast-paced even off the clock, readers will enjoy Anton Strout’s Dead twisting investigative thriller with a stunning climax. Harriet Klausner

The Remembering
Steve Cash
Del Rey, Feb 22 2011, $15.00
ISBN: 9780345470942

The Meq are an immortal human-like race who stops maturing at twelve years old. They possess many extraordinary skills such as immunity to disease and psychic abilities like mind control, telepathy and teleportation. None of them know why they differ from their human neighbors but every Meq hopes that the predicted Remembering comes soon though no one know what this event truly is.

Born in 1869, Zianno “Z” Zezen was in Nagasaki with his bitter enemy the Fleur du Mal assassin Xanti Otso when the bomb destroyed the city; he is shocked with the carnage of one bomb. He was also in Dallas though in the wrong place to prevent the assassination of JFK. A black ops group led by Blaine Harrington knows of the Meq and like their Soviet counterpart wants to use them as assault weapons. The Meq is fortunate that they have excellent intel and Jack Flowers protecting them from abduction. Z and his Meq mates work with Fleur du Mal trying to decipher arcane writings on an ancient sphere that they pray will tell them the location of the Remembering.

The final Meq thriller (see The Meq and Time Dancers) is a fabulous finish to a brilliant metaphysical epic fantasy. The Meqs have humans they trust to keep them safe even though some like Fleur du mal have lived for millennia and witnessed much of the human historical chronicle. The race hides in plain sight knowing with few exceptions the overwhelmingly superior in numbers humans would use them for malignant purposes. Fans will enjoy the escapades of Z and company as they seek The Remembering. Harriet Klausner

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