Lumberjanes: To the Max Edition, Vol. 3

By Shannon Watters

Rating: 4 stars

The third of the hardcover ‘To the Max’ editions of the still-excellent Lumberjanes sees co-creator Noelle Stevenson leave the series after a ‘prequel’ issue to open the volume. This shows how the occupants of Roanoke cabin arrived at the Lumberjanes camp at the start of the summer. This is a nice little flashback to characters we already know and like (and a nice way to remind the reader who they after, after year or so since the last volume!).

After this, we have a story about merfolk, and April’s attempts to help two former friends repair their friendship through the medium of song. As you may expect, things don’t entirely go according to plan. I must confess that I wasn’t as taken with this story, although I don’t know how much of that was to do with the artwork, which has a different artist to before and with whom I didn’t really gel. The characters didn’t quite look right. It wasn’t that it’s a more cartoony style to before (the story that comes next also takes quite a cartoony style — with another new artist — but I liked it better) but YMMV as always.

The final story in the collection concerns selkies and the bear woman and it’s quite a strong one, and ties back to the previous volume and the ongoing strange goings on at and around the Lumberjanes camp. Again, the art is quite cartoony here, but I liked it better than the previous story. Maybe because I thought the story was a bit stronger too.

So definitely still much to enjoy here. The characters are all loveable in their own different ways, and show very different ways of being girls, all of which are equally valid. It’s definitely something that I’m excited to introduce to my niece (and nephew) when they’re a bit older

Book details

ISBN: 9781684150038
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Year of publication: 2017

The Heart of Valor (Confederation, #3)

By Tanya Huff

Rating: 4 stars

The third of Tanya Huff’s Confederation series sees newly promoted Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr accompanying a convalescing officer on a training mission. One that suddenly turns more serious as the deadly kit on the planet Crucible starts turning against them in earnest. With nothing more than a platoon of very green recruits and her officer’s doctor with her, she has to survive the planet.

This is the first book in the series that Kerr starts to question the nature of the war that the younger races are fighting on behalf of the Confederation, and it’s implied that she’s not the only one. Until now, she’s been the model soldier, going where she’s told and doing what she’s told when she gets there. Although the thought is left tantalisingly open in this book, it’ll be interesting to see where (if anywhere) it goes in the remaining volumes.

There was another new set of cannon fodder other soldiers to get to know here as well (remarkably few of whom died. I know, right, I’m as surprised as you!), although I’m not sure “get to know” is the right phrase, since none of them really got much in the way of character development. I don’t think that’s really the draw with milSF stories though, and the constant slog of the platoon to keep together, to develop and stay alive until help can arrive definitely holds the book together, with the B-plot involving Kerr’s lover, trying to find out what happened to something he salvaged in the previous book that the military took off him, creating a good amount of intrigue.

A solid military SF story and one that is starting to expand the universe. I look forward to the rest of the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781169704
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2007

A Vampire Quintet: Five Sinister and Seductive Vampire Stories

By Eugie Foster

Rating: 4 stars

I’m not normally hugely interested in vampire fiction, but I’ve been a fan of Foster for a while and this was the last collection of her work that I didn’t already have. I also recently started a Vampire: The Masquerade RPG, so I thought it might help me get into character as well. And it’s a solid set of stories. It’s a short book, at under 100 pages but with a number of interesting takes on the vampire mythos.

First up we have an origin story, The Son That Pain Made, in which the rape and desecration of a Muse leads to the birth of her son, who would avenge her. Still my Beating Heart is probably the story that I enjoyed the most about a newly turned vampire struggling to let go of his humanity; while The Few, the Proud, Leech Corps is a sort of cyberpunk, near-future story about a military vampire organisation and an opposition that’s better than it should be. Inspirations End is a sort of follow up to The Son That Pain Made, with similar themes; and finally we have Ascendancy of Blood which is a vampiric take on the story of Sleeping Beauty (and when you think about it, the story really does lend itself to a bloodsucking retelling).

This is a good range of stories that find different takes on a classic theme, from a still-missed storyteller.

Book details

ISBN: 9781492839927
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Year of publication: 2013

Jingo (Discworld, #21)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 5 stars

There’s xenophobia in the air in Ankh-Morpork, and the old warmongers are dusting down their swords; it’s up to Commander Vimes of the Watch to sort things out. It’s been many years since I last read Jingo, and, to be honest, it’s depressing just how relevant it still feels. PTerry was far too prescient with this one, his Ankh-Morpork of this period feels very much like post-brexit Britain, but alas, we don’t have a Sir Samuel or a Lord Vetinari to swoop to our aid.

However, despite all that, PTerry never forgets the story, first and foremost. This is a great fun book, overflowing with wit and humour. It’s really the first time we get to spend some time with Lord Vetinari, and, I think, our introduction to Leonard of Quirm. Vimes is filled with the righteous anger that, well, makes him Vimes and Death makes his obligatory cameo. There’s also the Disorganizer, the Disc’s answer to a smartphone, with added confusion about universes, which I sort of love. It’s the constant cheerfulness of the thing, just trying to do its best in a world where people just don’t read the manual!.

I guess the constant freshness of the book is a reminder that war will probably always be with us. As long as there are people like Prince Cadram and Lord Rust and people willing to line up behind them and march for a nebulous thing like a flag, we’ll have conflict and ignorance. But I hope there will also be the Vetinaris, working quietly in the background to smooth things over and correct misunderstandings before they turn into something bigger.

Book details

Publisher: Corgi
Year of publication: 1997

The House of Shattered Wings (Dominion of the Fallen, #1)

By Aliette de Bodard

Rating: 4 stars

In a Paris ruined by a war fought with forces beyond those of mortals, the Great Houses scrabble for power amongst each other in the ruins. Into this melange are dragged an immortal who doesn’t want to be there, a recently Fallen angel and an addict. They are dragged into a power play between the Houses that will shift the power balance in the city.

There’s a lot of interesting worldbuilding in this novel. We never know why angels Fall, but they are the source of the magic that drives the power within the Houses. I love how that was slowly introduced, starting with the idea that the blood has power and gradually widening.

I think my favourite theme in the book is the post-colonialism, manifested most in the anger of Philippe, the immortal from a Vietnam whose own magical traditions were overwhelmed with casual arrogance by the Fallen. This is a lovely metaphor and Philippe’s anger at Paris and the Houses is a perfect metaphor for the more mundane colonisation that happened in our world.

This is something that it often feels like Western, specifically European, literature doesn’t deal with enough. The acknowledgement that colonisation wasn’t “bringing civilisation and railways to the natives”, but destroyed ancient and proud civilisations, and brought countless misery to millions of people. And then the casual way that the natives of the colonies could be drafted into European armies to fight in wars that they have no knowledge or interest in. All these themes are brought into House of Shattered Wings and it’s great to see.

Even without this, it’s still an enjoyable read, with political intrigue and magic in the mix. I’ve got a lot of questions about the theology of this world. There’s a lot of talk about God, but nothing at all about Jesus. Does Christianity exist in this world? Philippe hints that his Jade Emperor and the God of the Fallen may be the same, but the place he was cast out from is definitely not the City of the Fallen. Do the gods of other faiths manifest as well? What does the India of this world look like? Was it also conquered by the Fallen of England? I suspect we’ll never get answers to a lot of these questions, but they’re fun to consider.

Having read and enjoyed this one, I’m not really sure how much I want to read the follow-up, House of Binding Thorns. Mostly because it sounds like it will focus much more on House Hawthorn, which never seemed like a nice place to spend time in. I’ll maybe wait until I get some trusted reviews before making a call on that.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473212572
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2015

The Mystery of the Yellow Room

By Gaston Leroux

Rating: 4 stars

I’m a fan of the whodunit and a sucker for a good locked room mystery, so this early and clever example sucked me in from the start. I must confess to being unfamiliar with Joseph Rouletabille before reading this, but Leroux uses the template that Conan Doyle laid down and adds his own flourishes. Rather than an established detective, we have a junior reporter for a newspaper, and instead of bumbling police, we have a clever and sharp detective against whom Rouletabille wishes to prove his own wits. But other tropes – the sidekick to whom the detective can explain his cleverness, the Clues (Sam Vimes would have no truck with those), and even the pipe are all present and correct.

The mystery is an intriguing one – a young lady is assaulted in a locked room with no exits other than one door which her rescuers have to break down to get in. And when they do, they find the room empty of assailants. I must confess that since the young lady was a scientist (unusual in a work of this period) working with her father on the ‘disassociation of matter’, I did wonder a few times if a science fictional resolution would be forthcoming, as I couldn’t see any other solution, But the answer was stubbornly natural and, IMO, very clever.

I like the young Rouletabille and found his first adventure a clever and fun read. I also liked the sprinklings throughout the text of mention of a mysterious “lady in black” whose perfume evokes reminisces in Rouletabille and are obvious hooks for the sequel (even before I discovered that the sequel is, indeed, called The Perfume of the Lady in Black). I shall look forward to reading more of the Boy Reporter’s intrepid adventures.

Book details

ISBN: 9781840226478
Publisher: Wordsworth Editors
Year of publication: 1907

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