“One-Eyed Jack” Elizabeth Bear

I mentioned at the end of my post about Elizabeth Bear’s Hell and Earth that the next of the Promethean Age books was out – and in fact in between writing that post and it going live I bought One-Eyed Jack and started to read it. This book takes place after Blood and Iron (and possibly after Whiskey and Water, I’m not sure if this is what the common antagonist character did before showing up in Whiskey and Water or after (if there was an after for him, which is ambiguous)). It is more in the nature of a linked story in the same universe, rather than a sequel per se.

It’s set in Las Vegas (mostly), and the protagonists are not so much people as archetypes and personifications of places. Which doesn’t sound like it would work, but it really does. The titular character, One-Eyed Jack is the genius or avatar of Las Vegas along with his partner the Suicide King. And the story opens on the Hoover Dam, with the first skirmish in what the Los Angeles avatars hope will be a takeover of Las Vegas using the Dam as their bridgehead. It is vital for the water supply of LA after all, so is a point for them to establish their influence. Amongst the rest of the cast are the ghosts of a pair of late 19th Century folk heroes, a vampire who calls himself Tribute (but who you’ll recognise early on if you know any cultural icons from the 20th Century US), and a handful of pairs of spies/assassins who are archetypes from different TV shows. Of course the takeover attempt from LA isn’t all that’s going on – there are several other power struggles which are also coming to a head at this point, and over the course of the book the links between these become clear.

There was a certain amount of mental whiplash reading this so soon after reading Hell and Earth. All four of the other Promethean Age books are grounded in a mythos I know – so the interesting thing was seeing what Bear was doing with them and exploring her versions of these stories I already have a sort of shape for. This book flipped that on its head – here the anchor point for me were the elements of Bear’s Promethean Age I recognised, and the newer stuff was the mythos. I don’t think that would be the case for someone who lives in the US, or for someone who watches more fiction TV than I do. But it still works as a story, and as a cast of characters, for me – I know enough through cultural osmosis to have an idea who the people are. Which is a part of the point of the book – like me you might never’ve been to Vegas or to LA, but you’ll have enough of an idea of the cities to recognise the personifications as personifications. Like me, you might not’ve watched the various spy shows, but you’ll still recognise the character types and possibly even the specific shows referenced. I’m fairly confident the Englishman and the woman in the leather jumpsuit are from The Avengers, for instance, despite not having watched a single episode of that.

Names and the naming of things are once again important in this story in ways that range from the One-Eyed Jack using sympathetic magic to call up ghosts of his more famous namesakes, to the way the assassins are nameless for most of the story. Another common theme for the Promethean Age novels that shows up is the power of story with the characters at times trusting that if they “play to genre” they’ll survive something implausibly (the hero never dies in a spy story!), and at times deliberating flouting genre conventions in order to throw the antagonists off the scent.

One thing that has struck me as I’ve been writing this up & thinking about the book, is that the mental whiplash I mentioned above is almost a part of the point. The stories & characters in the other Promethean Age books are much more familiar to me, because I’m British – the Stratford Man duology are set in my cultural past with my cultural mythology playing a part. The other two (Blood and Iron, Whiskey and Water) are set in a part of the New World that’s full of immigrants from the Old World, whether recent or not. So the stories are the stories from “home”, and some – like Arthur, like the Fae – are a part of my cultural heritage and have continuity with the Stratford Man stories. Of course there’s other elements mixed in – not all the immigrants who come to New York and the rest of the North-East US are European after all and they change to fit their new context as stories always do. And then we come to this book – it’s set in the West and the people who came here came from the East coast, it’s one step more removed from Europe. And the stories they build their identities on are the stories of the Wild West – of Cowboys and Indians, of brave pioneers, of lawless towns and railroads bringing civilisation, of the American Dream and the gold rush. And into that mix is dropped Hollywood glamour, sinful Vegas – not the staid old-fashioned elements of Faerie courts. With a health dollop of Cold War paranoia. Basically it’s more deeply rooted in US culture, so it’s not surprising I recognise things more from an outside perspective, I am an outsider to it.

A good book, that kept me thinking about it after I finished reading it.

“Labyrinth” Kat Richardson

“Labyrinth” is book 5 of Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series, and I read it a couple of months ago now. I nearly decided not to write a blog post about it as it had been so long since I read it – this summer has been pretty hectic & I’ve been generating posts to write quicker than I can write them! (Which is a nice problem to have 🙂 ). But I do want to make a few remarks for my own benefit even if I’m not sure how interesting or coherent they’ll be for anyone else. And it’s incredibly hard to say anything without spoilers for the previous books.

I thought when I started the series that these would be a never ending series of PI thrillers. That book 1 would be the origin story where Harper Blaine gets her ability to see and interact with the supernatural and then there’d be a bad-guy-of-the-book or mystery-of-the-book for each succeeding instalment. Instead it’s become clear that there’s an overarching story here, and I found out (after I read this book but before I wrote about it) that the ninth and final book has been published this summer. So that’s reshaped how I think about the series a bit, and I think probably gives them more re-read value (and I’m annoyed now that I missed out on book 3 as it’s more like missing a chapter of a novel rather than just an episode). I think I’ll stick to using the library for now – but I should put them on the list to be bought & revisited later.

Plot wise, Harper is back on home ground here and we revisit some of the people and plot threads from book 1 but now Harper knows so much more than she did. It’s become clear that what happened to Harper wasn’t an accident, and that a lot of the people that seemed coincidentally linked to her in the first story actually had agendas of their own. Harper is also being changed by her increasingly deep connection to the Grey, and not in good ways. Over the last 4 books she’s gradually opened up and made more friends & connections* and now the Grey is starting to take some of that away. I don’t think this is going to turn out to be a tragedy overall, the tone so far hasn’t felt like the sort of story where Harper could become evil and take over the world muahahahaha. But with 4 books left there’s definitely time for these disturbing seeds to grow and it to get darker before pulling back at the end.

*Amusing that her lack of connection to the world around her was something I was concerned was a bad sign for the series in book 1. Nope, it was a plot point.

On a different note, after I read book 4 I wondered if the Egyptian vampires were a real legend – the author’s note in this book says that they are not. I’m impressed that Richardson has made her creation feel so truthy – there wasn’t anything that jumped out and made me think that couldn’t be an Egyptian legend.

Hopefully the library has book 6! 🙂

“Hell and Earth” Elizabeth Bear

Hell and Earth is the second half of the story begun in Ink and Steel (post). I have unfortunately left this too long between reading and writing up (3 weeks? maybe more) so this will be briefer notes than originally intended.

This pair of books are very much two halves of a larger story – although there’s some degree of resolution at the end of Ink and Steel (and it’s not a cliff hanger), most of the plotlines don’t come to fruition until this book. But this half of the story feels more like Kit Marlowe’s story (where the first half was more Will Shakespeare’s or perhaps more balanced between the two). Over the course of Ink and Steel Bear set up her world where the land of mortals (England as ruled by Elizabeth I) is linked to the court of the Daoine Sidhe (as ruled by the Mebd). Now Elizabeth is dying, as all mortals inevitably must, which threatens the Fae due to this linkage as well as potentially plunging the mortal world into the chaos of a succession crisis. But that’s almost the B-plot, the main thrust of the story is Kit discovering what was done to him in his youth that’s left him with PTSD and symbols carved into his flesh. It wasn’t just petty sadism on the part of his tormentor, but is another way in which Kit is a tool that has been shaped to fit a long term plan to alter the stories that shape the world.

Mortality is a thread that runs through the whole book – it even opens with the discovery of Edmund Spenser dead in his home. But it’s not just mortality that keeps cropping up it’s also the aftermath and the grieving, and how the people left behind cope. Not just Elizabeth and whether & how the country and the Fae are going to survive the turmoil of her passing away. But also on a more intimate level – Will is dying, slowly but surely, as all mortals will. But Kit is not entirely mortal any more and beginning to live with the realisation that all that he loved in the mortal realm will inevitably fade away.

As with Ink and Steel (and Bear’s books in general) one of the things I like best about this world she has created is the sense of reality, even tho the plot and premise are fantastical. The characters react plausibly to the situation(s) they’re in, I have a strong sense of personality for them all. Even if I might not predict what’s going to happen next it doesn’t feel forced, rather grows organically out of the characters & their interactions.

I wish I’d either taken a few notes or written this up sooner, as I’m sure I had more to say. It’s a series that continues to feel like it would reward paying close attention and taking notes, whilst still being a lot of fun to read on a surface level. There’s another book in the series just recently come out, which I’ve not picked up a copy of yet – I need to rectify this soon! 🙂

“Ink and Steel” Elizabeth Bear

Ink and Steel is the third book in Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age series. It’s the first part of a tightly linked duology set in Elizabethan England, with Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare as our view point characters. It opens with Marlowe’s death, but given his presence as a character in Whiskey and Water (set some 400 years later) it comes as no surprise that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him. He’s “rescued” by one of the Queens of Faerie – Morgan – and while he is still alive, he can’t leave Faerie for long, so as far as the world of the living goes he might as well be dead. But Marlowe has no desire to give up his ties to the world just yet.

The Shakespeare strand of the story begins with him still in shock from the news of his friend’s murder, and learning that Marlowe had been part of a secret society – the Prometheus Club – sworn to protect England and her Queen. Marlowe’s plays had been a part of their protections, there was a magic in them to nudge events along in the right way. And now William Shakespeare is being asked to step into that role, and to start moving in a world of politics and intrigue. Made even more difficult by the fact that Marlowe’s murder implies a traitor within the Prometheus Club.

The plot then follows both of them as they try to fit into their new roles & worlds – separately and together. Kit was always supposed to survive (not that he knows it at first) but he wasn’t supposed to end up bound to a Faerie Queen, and a lot of his story is about him figuring out why Morgan “rescued” him and what she wants with him. And that’s the plot thread that comes to a resolution to provide a climax to this book – Shakespeare’s dealing with the aftermath of Marlowe’s murder out in the human world is mostly not tied up.

I like Bear’s Shakespeare. I like the other characters too, but having been learning a bit more about the historical character recently it was neat to see how she weaves her imaginings in with the known facts. Particularly good was the way that Shakespeare’s relationship with his wife is fleshed out – Anne is a character as well, and even though you always see her through Shakespeare’s eyes you get a feel for the woman’s character. And also for the relationship between the two in all its complexity. Bear makes one reason that Shakespeare spends so much time in London and not in Stratford with Anne a reason of love – in this story Anne nearly died when giving birth to the twins, and so Will doesn’t want to risk getting her pregnant again. Of course in the 16th Century there aren’t contraceptives or abortions, the only way to avoid children is to not have sex. He stays away so that he won’t give into temptation, and she knows this and hates it (and its necessity) too. But he also stays away because he’s got a good life in London, and because the theatre is as important to him as his family.

The setting feels realistic, rather than modern people slapped down in “ye olden days”. The characters don’t have modern attitudes, even the sympathetic ones say or do things that would feel out of place now but just right in context. Particularly attitudes towards women – who are mostly secondary characters in the story (rather than viewpoint characters) but are a lot more central to events than the men whose eyes we see through really appreciate. Attitudes to sexuality are also full of things that are seen as hopelessly bigoted today. Part of Shakespeare’s character arc during the book has him discovering that his prejudices about women, and about non-hetrosexuals, aren’t as founded in reality as he might think. It’s not just attitudes that evoke the people of a different era – the dialogue is Elizabethan-lite. It’s not an accurate representation of how people would’ve spoken at the time, but it’s full of little turns of phrase that evoke the era. For example: “Richard, you come hand in hand with fortune tonight. You did perchance bring wine?”. And Shakespeare’s lines are full of wordplay and being clever with words, not in an obtrusive way but just enough to make you believe he’s the man who wrote the plays.

In terms of the overall series this and its sequel are the other half of the backstory for the events of Whiskey and Water – this is about Kit Marlowe and Faerie and Hell. It’s also something of an origin story for the Prometheans, who are not (all) the antagonists in this book. In Elizabethan England they are not just one society, they’ve split into two with different interpretations of their goal to protect the realm & Queen. And different methods they’re willing to use. I think the Prometheans of the 20th Century novels grow out of the Prometheans that Shakespeare is part of, not the ones he’s working against. Although I’m not entirely sure about that. But that means that the organisation that’s on the antagonist side in books 1 & 2 is on the protagonist side in books 3 & 4. And I like the way that this story is not the Good Guys and the Bad Guys, instead it’s more complicated and more of a matter of perspective.

As well as sacrifice and choices which run as themes through the whole series this book also has a lot of time being out of joint which feels significant. A lot of the communication is asynchronous – by letters only sporadically delivered/collected. And time runs differently in Faerie, so Kit and Will can never be quite sure how long has passed for the other one. I’m not sure what the deeper significance is, but it definitely feels like something I’m intended to notice.

This book is a return to the heights of Blood & Iron for me – a combination of my favourite historical era and the Fair Folk.

“Whiskey and Water” Elizabeth Bear

Whiskey and Water is the second half of the duology started with Blood and Iron (post). It is set 7 years later and in many ways deals with the unfinished business from and consequences of the end of the first book. But where Elaine and the stories of the Fae & Merlin were the centre of the last book, in this one it’s Matthew Magus and the stories of Hell & the Devil in his many forms that take centre stage. I finished reading this a while ago but I’ve been putting off talking about it because while I know what happened on a surface level I have a tantalising feeling of not quite getting it on a deeper level. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, I just have a sense of something just outside my grasp.

The plot proper kicks off with the murder of a girl in New York – by a Fae. Matthew Magus is no longer what he was, he was damaged by his part in the end of the Faerie War and his magic isn’t under his control. But he still feels a duty to protect Manhattan, even tho he can’t quite do it, and he still feels guilty that he couldn’t prevent the murder (like he maybe once would’ve). And so he takes the girl’s friends under his wing to help them find out who and why.

There are also subplots revolving around the losses of the war. Murchaud, a Prince of Hell, died in that war and Jane Andraste bears a responsibility for that death as he was only there as part of her alliance with Hell. Murchaud is a gaping wound round which the story bends – he’s Morgan le Fay’s son, he’s Elaine Queen of the Daoine Sidhe’s father, he was Kit Marlowe’s lover. And Kit wants revenge on Jane Andraste for his death so he leaves Hell where he was living with Murchaud to challenge her to a duel. And so many of the other key players in the story have reason to smooth his path to that – not just those I mentioned already, but also Lucifer Morningstar (one of the several Devils) and Matthew. Matthew has his own issues with Jane – his whole life has been twisted into one of loss by Jane and the Prometheans’ desire for war against Faerie.

Whiskey is the centre of another subplot. He was given Elaine’s soul and name as a part of her becoming Fae enough to be Queen. And so he has a conscience and he isn’t doing what needs to be done as the foremost of the water Fae. The Bunyip comes to challenge him because Whiskey is weak from his refusal to kill. Which means that the Bunyip gets drawn into the conflict in alliance with Jane Andraste.

Loss is one of the themes running through the book. Not just Matthew’s losses, Kit’s losses, Elaine’s losses etc: Hell itself is a loss of God’s presence, and Lucifer suffers from what he sees as God’s refusal to forgive him and the loss of God’s love. The end of that particular thread took me a little by surprise. I don’t think it really came out of nowhere, I think I just missed the things that should’ve clued me in. Forgiveness, true forgiveness, is another theme. And I think pride too – several characters are brought down, or nearly so, by their own pride or the pride of others.

This book doesn’t work for me quite as well as Blood and Iron does, but it’s still good. And perhaps if I read it again I might get it next time.

“Blood and Iron” Elizabeth Bear

Blood and Iron was, I think, the second Elizabeth Bear book I ever read and it’s the one that made me a fan. This and its companion volumes (there are four in the series so far) are Bear’s take on the urban fairies/elves and urban fantasy sub genres. This one and Whiskey and Water are set in the modern day and the other duology (Ink and Steel & Hell and Earth) are set in Shakespeare’s England (with Shakespeare as a character). The basic premise is “what if the Fair Folk of myth and legend were real?”. It’s not the cosy imaginings of Mercedes Lackey’s urban elves books (which I do like too) instead it’s more akin to the old ballads and the Celtic mythology. The Tam Lin story is one of the stories that binds this book together, along with the story of Arthur.

There are three viewpoint characters – Elaine Andraste, Matthew Szczegielniak and Keith MacNeill. The other two are important, but Elaine is the pivot around which the story turns. She is a changeling, part fae and stolen away from her mortal life some years ago by the Daoine Sidhe. Her name was used to bind her to the service of the Mebd, Queen of the Daoine Sidhe, she is now the Seeker of the Daoine Sidhe and at the beginning of the book she has done her best to subsume her sense of self into her office. She never thinks of herself as Elaine, instead she is Seeker. To some degree the book is about her coming to terms with who she is, who she was and what her heritage is – both from her Fae ancestry and the surprises in her human ancestry.

When the book opens the world is beginning to go through another iteration of a cyclical story. The Dragon Prince has been chosen. The Merlin has been born, but not come into true power yet. And the Mebd sends the Seeker off to find and bind the Merlin – like Nimue did before her. We know the story best as the story of Arthur: at times of need the Dragon Prince arises and fights back against the threatened conquerors aided by the power of the Merlin. But the Dragon requires a price for this – the Dragon Prince must spill the blood of innocents and if he doesn’t, then he will fail. And it’s also told that he will be betrayed by someone close to him. Bear works various historical figures into this narrative as past Dragon Princes so the cycle is repeating roughly once in 500 years. I particularly liked the inclusion of Harold Godwinson as a Dragon Prince, betrayed by his brother and refusing to pay the Dragon’s price so lost to William the Bastard in the end.

The Seeker and Keith MacNeill are linked by the past – Keith is the father of her child, and the man who gave her name to the Mebd so she could be bound. The first of these resonates with the Tam Lin story – Janet has a claim to Tam because he is the father of her child, and that’s important for why she can win him back from the tithe to Hell. And the second link is important thematically within this story. He doesn’t betray her to the Mebd out of hate, but out of love. He’s a werewolf and lives much longer than a normal mortal – but if Elaine is bound to the Fae then he won’t have to watch her grow old and die. But even tho his intentions were good, she still feels it as betrayal. And choices are important in this story – the choices you make for yourself, the choices you make for others. And there’s a constant theme of that which you give freely or choose to do yourself being more important than the same actions when coerced.

Matthew is actually the viewpoint in which we start the book – he’s not Fae at all, he’s a mortal magic user and a member of the Prometheus Club. The Prometheans exist to protect humanity against the Fae. They try to stop them stealing people and are gearing up for an invasion and final binding of Faerie to complete the job started by the iron of the railways. Matthew’s beloved older brother is a mortal who was taken to dance for the Faerie court, and returned when he could dance no more – many years older and crippled. Revenge for this, and wanting to ensure it happens to no-one else, are what drives Matthew and why he is one of the Prometheans. He works closely with a senior Promethean, Jane Andraste, mother of Elaine. And he sees them as sharing the same motivations, although over the course of the story it becomes clear that it’s not as simple as that.

This is a very dense book (in a good way) – I’ve given, I think, some idea of some of the intertwining plotlines without giving away too much. But there’s more I’ve not mentioned – like the tithe to Hell, which you’d expect from the Tam Lin story. And Morgan le Fay and Arthur are both characters in the book. And there’s not just the Daoine Sidhe, but the Unseelie Sidhe as well ruled by their own Queen and with their own desire to bind the Merlin. One of the things I like about the book is the sense of complexity and a fully fleshed out world – there’s more going on than just what we see and even if what we see is of great importance that doesn’t mean that the other things aren’t also of great importance too. But it’s not the sort of complexity that makes me feel like it’s a game of Jenga – where if I pull out a piece to examine it too closely it’ll all fall to pieces. (Moffat era Doctor Who is a bit like that, for all that I enjoy it I do feel I need to be careful not to look too closely.) Blood and Iron is the sort of complex that almost makes me want to go through it taking notes to see how it all fits together. For instance in a conversation about the Tam Lin ballad one character says about something “it says it twice so it must be important”. And the line in question (Tam Lin being the father of Janet’s child) is important to the story, but there’s more than that. I’d noticed that “the rules are different for the ones who were gods” had come up a couple of times by then (and there’s a pay-off to that later in the book). So what else is there that’s said twice that I’ve missed? And I’m sure there’s plenty of passing “offhand” references in this book that will turn out to have pay-offs in one of the other books.

The choices people make is, I think, the thematic thread that connects the whole story together. For instance, a lot of the book revolves around the price one is willing to pay to get one’s goals. And about choosing your goals carefully. There’s a lot I could write about that side of it, but the thing that I wanted to talk about is the emphasis on stories. This is a world where the stories we tell shape the world itself. Arthur didn’t exist, and yet there he is asleep on his bier waiting for his foretold return. His story has been told so many times that he does exist now. You might wonder how come Hell exists in this world where the celtic mythology is true, but again that’s because of the stories – the rise of Christianity created Hell (and Heaven) and now they do exist. And you could see that as being fatalistic – if you find you’re caught up in a story then you know how it’s going to play out. And you could see that as absolving you from the need to choose, but that would be a choice in itself. Because the thing is – if the stories we tell are what shapes the world, then you can choose to tell the story differently. But like everything that will come with a price, and are you willing to pay it?

This is one of my favourite books, and definitely as good second time through when I knew roughly where it was going. I really should sit down one day and go through more slowly taking notes.

“Vanished” Kat Richardson

Vanished is the fourth book in Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series – I’m getting these out of the library so sadly I skipped over book 3 because the library don’t have it. I don’t think this’ll be a long post – I’m not sure how much I can say about this book while staying spoiler free. When I started reading the series I thought they were going to be very episodic monster-of-the-week stuff, but this one (and perhaps the last one too, I don’t know) is much more concerned with series arc. And my initial criticism of the protagonist, Harper Blaine, feeling in the first book like she came out of nowhere is even more off base than I thought with the last book! Here we get to meet some of her family, and other figures from her past, and we find out both why she’s kinda bad at interpersonal relationships and something about why she’s a Greywalker.

I like that Richardson is pulling in things other than the typical urban fantasy critters. The main focus is the ghosts rather than the vampires, and there are other beings from other mythologies – notably a golem, and a statue of Sekhmet which the goddess speaks through at least once. You can probably guess I was pleased to read that bit, I do have a fondness for Sekhmet – and I think Richardson got the right feel for a goddess who is both a protective deity and a personification of rage. She also works in some Ancient Egyptian vampires – not sure here if she took some known piece of Egyptian mythology and reworked it or if it was an invention of her own. What I liked was that they were both vampires and yet a bit different – having cultural and mythological variety in even the creatures that are well worn tropes of urban fantasy makes the whole world feel more fleshed out and solid.

Time to see if the library has book 5, I think 🙂

“Poltergeist” Kat Richardson

This is the second of Kat Richardson’s urban fantasy/detective series about a Seattle-based PI who sees ghosts & can walk in the ghost world (I read the first one a couple of months ago). The set up for this book is that a psychologist is researching how people react to the idea that they are interacting with the paranormal – he’s set up an experiment where a group think they’ve generated a poltergeist, but he’s got someone faking the ghostly actions. Only now he’s getting things happening that his faker hasn’t faked – so he asks Harper Blaine to investigate & find out which of the group is faking the new stuff. Obviously, given the genre of the book the poltergeist is in fact real and significantly more dangerous than the psychologist comprehends – and Harper must figure out how to get rid of it without letting on that it’s real, and what caused it.

My specific criticism of Greywalker – that Harper appears to’ve appeared fully formed from nowhere is addressed. In this book there’s more of a sense of roots in the city pre-dating her becoming a greywalker, in particular her friend Phoebe & Phoebe’s family. There’s also another improvement that Richardson actually mentions in her afterword – in book 1 Harper didn’t have a mobile phone instead she just has a pager, which felt rather odd and made me wonder if the book wasn’t as recent as I thought. It turns out that the first book was written several years before it was published, and Richardson decided not to entirely update it to the “present day” of the publication date. This second book has Harper get a phone and even lampshades it by having her dislike how it lets people call her too early in the morning.

I still like how the series is tending towards the horror side of the supernatural beasties – this poltergeist is dangerous, and the vampire necromancer that Harper needs help from to deal with it has his own less-than-human perspective on appropriate punishments for the mind that is linked to the poltergeist. I also like how Harper has to hide what she is otherwise people would think she was crazy – it’s like our world, the default is that ghosts and vampires don’t exist. It’s just that in this case Harper and a very few others know that’s not true. But her understandable desire to not be seen as crazy is probably making her miss out on potential allies, I suspect as the series goes on she’ll let more people into the truth of her world – there are various things in this book that made me think that Harper’s need to keep herself to herself is being framed as something she needs to move beyond.

I think this still falls into the fun-read-once category – so I’ll carry on getting these from the library. Sadly the library don’t have the third book, but I’ve reserved the fourth one instead.

“The Woken Gods” Gwenda Bond

Kyra is a teenager living in Washington, D.C. – but this is a Washington after the gods have woken and are walking the Earth among us. After her father disappears she & her friends band together to try & find him. What Kyra finds is that she’s not just a normal girl, and the reasons for her father’s disappearance have implications for the whole world.

I picked this up from the library after I read a review of this on Tor.com, and it mentioned that instead of the “normal” pantheons of gods that you often find in fiction like Greek or Norse gods this book had Egyptian gods (amongst others). So I thought I’d give it a go, despite it being Young Adult. I think one reason I have problems with this book is that I’m not the target audience any more – I suspect at age 13 I’d’ve liked it a lot more. It feels very “young”.

There wasn’t really much Egyptian mythology. Sekhmet has been executed shortly after the gods woke by the Society as a show of power over the gods – and that’s a shame coz I’m fond of Sekhmet. But I guess if you (i.e. the Society) want to make a point about how living gods can be killed then killing off a personification of rage & war makes that point well. The on-screen Egyptian god is Set, along with a Sumerian god (Enki), the Voodoo god(?) Legba and a selection of other trickster gods (Coyote, Loki, Hermes all get walk-on parts). Sadly Bond refers to Set as jackal headed*, which then made me wonder how well researched any of the gods I didn’t know about were.

*According to the books on Egyptian gods that we have, it isn’t known what the Set animal actually represents and it’s thought to be completely mythological … wikipedia on the other hand says the Set animal is a jackal in one of the articles. Did all of the mythology come from wikipedia? I don’t know enough about the rest to know.

The world-building in general was a bit on the insubstantial side. It didn’t feel like the world existed outside of where the author was looking. Too much of the world seemed to be carrying on as if it was business as usual as if when the gods woke everyone just kind of shrugged and got on with life. But then when “cool facts” were needed we had differences – like horse drawn carriages coz tech is affected (how?) & no-one flies anywhere coz interference by a god when you’re on a plane is more likely to be fatal. The government has apparently been replaced by the Society – in the US? in the world? I don’t know. Most of the time the fact that there’s a country outside Washington D.C. isn’t obvious, let alone a world outside the US. And apparently (and plot-importantly) this all happened only 5 years ago, but it feels far too settled for that. It could be that Kyra is just uber-sheltered (a distinct possibility) but it would’ve been nice if the reader was made more aware of that even if Kyra herself didn’t notice.

There’s a phrase I’ve seen used in reviews of various books elseweb – “Too much boyfriend, too little X”. And that sums up most of my impression of the book – in this case X is Egyptian mythology, or maybe just mythology in general. I could’ve done with less of Kyra’s drooling over the love interest’s muscular chest, and more attention paid to the world the story was in. Overall a disappointing read that could’ve been cool.

“Greywalker” Kat Richardson

This book opens with the protagonist, Harper Blaine, being beaten to death. Quite literally. She’s actually only technically dead for about 2 minutes, due to the wonders of modern medicine, but the experience hasn’t left her unchanged. She’s now a Greywalker, and sees ghosts & can venture into the in between world where they exist. That’s a … state of being, rather than a profession – her profession remains the same, she’s a private investigator. And new cases come in – a missing person case, a missing heirloom to track down. Only her change of state hasn’t gone unnoticed & there’s more of the paranormal around in Seattle than she’d realised before she died & came back.

I liked this – having read far too much urban fantasy a few years ago I burnt out on the formula that so many seem to follow but while this book ticks many of the requisite boxes I think it does something more interesting with them than just follow along formulaicly. Yes, the protagonist is a tough young woman – but she’s tough in a “is a good PI” sort of way, not in a “can kick supernatural ass and make sarcastic quips” sort of way. Yes, there’s a love interest, but that didn’t quite go where I was expecting. Yes, there are the normal collection of supernatural beasties – vampires for sure, werewolves probably, a necromancer or two, ghosts of course – but they tip to the horror side of the spectrum rather than the fantasy side in my opinion. Blaine’s reactions to her new status feel real, too, and grounded in her job & personality. And not everybody she meets is supernatural – some of the people are still just people, some dodgy goings are just straightforward crimes.

My criticism is that Blaine appears to’ve come from nowhere despite feeling real. It’s been a couple of weeks since I read this, so perhaps I’ve forgotten if there’s an explanation for why she doesn’t seem to have friends that aren’t connected to this new world. There’s a business associate or two, but there doesn’t seem more than that, and yet she connects to people easily – there’s not a feeling of a “traumatic past that means she doesn’t deal well with people”. But I feel awkward writing this, coz maybe I’m an idiot who has forgotten something in just two weeks. Or maybe for all the solid feelingness of the world building it doesn’t have enough past. It’s a problem that cures itself, of course, because over the series (yes, it ticks the ongoing series box too) these’ll be the past friends for the new books.

So, yes, I liked this but I think it’s in the fun-read-once category. Still, I liked it enough to reserve the next one at the library.