Friday, 27 November 2009

CBR Book 7: "Bath Tangle" by Georgette Heyer

Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd.
Page count: 320 pages
Date begun: November 26th, 2009
Date finished: November 27th, 2009

For those who may not have heard of her, Georgette Heyer was a British novelist who in her long career wrote 30 historical romance novels and 12 crime thrillers. She was greatly inspired by Jane Austen, and is probably the reason why Regency romance is now a genre onto itself. Heyer's romances, unlike today's modern, quite often very raunchy stories, are more in the vein of Austen, in that the characters are created with wit and charm, and the dialogue sparkles. The hero and heroine may kiss at the end, but there is nothing even vaguely like sex scenes in them.

Bath Tangle
was written in the latter half of her career, and features, not at all unusual for a romance novel, a redheaded, fiery-tempered heroine, and a dark, swarthy, rich and arrogant hero. 25-year-old Lady Serena Carlow has just lost her father, the Earl of Spenborough. Her cousin inherits the estate, as her father left no sons, just a widow younger than his fiesty and strong-willed daughter. Lady Serena is shocked to realize, that her father has placed all her inheritance in trust, and her former fiancée Ivo Barrasford, the Marquis of Rotherham, is to be her guardian. She will only gain control of her fortune once she is married, and Rotherham has to consent to the union before such an event can occur.

Serena was engaged to Rotherham years previously, but broke it off with him a month before the wedding, because all they did was quarrel. She has known him all her life, and has great affection for him, but every time they are in the same room, sparks fly. This is partly due to the fact that Rotherham does not let Serena boss him around, as she is wont to do everyone else. He is greatly amused by the Earl's will and testament, but promises Serena he will be a sensible guardian to her.

After living with her young and lovely step-mother Fanny in the dower-house on the estate, the two young women realize that they are both bored to death, and decide to move to Bath, where there is more of a varied society, and Serena does not need to annoy herself over every change her cousin, the new Earl, is making to her former home. In Bath, Serena soon meets up with the only man she claims to have ever loved, a young army officer who after seven years has become a Major. Major Kirkby is stunned to have met his former love again, and seems just as much in love with her as before, only now their stations are not quite as far removed from each other as they once were. He becomes secretly engaged to Serena, who is quite happy with the idea of becoming his wife, until she discovers that Rotherham is engaged to a 17-year-old debutante.

Unusually in a romance, the hero does not feature all that prominently in the story at all. As in most romances, it is obvious from the start that Rotherham and Serena are meant to be, no two people argue that vehemently and passionately in romance without getting together at the end. Bath Tangle also explores a common fate of many women in Regency society - having to marry a much older man because family and society expects you to make a good match, no matter how big the age difference. Fanny keeps assuring Serena and everyone else that Spenborough was a most considerate husband, but she is clearly very distressed at the thought of an innocent 17-year-old marrying the much older Rotherham, obviously not out of love, but because of her ambitious mama's wishes. Serena's grief at her father's passing, and having to move out of the home she grew up in, simply because she is unmarried and her father did not provide male heirs, is also well written.

Bath Tangle will not go down as one of my favourite Heyer novels, but it was a quick and enjoyable read, as always.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

CBR Book 6: "The Hero of Ages" by Brandon Sanderson

Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Page count: 748 pages
Date begun: November 20th, 2009
Date finished: November 26th, 2009

WARNING! THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR MISTBORN AND THE WELL OF ASCENSION - THE FIRST TWO PARTS IN THIS TRILOGY!

The third part of Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy starts a year after the end of the second book. At the end of the second book, Elend became Mistborn, and gained incredible powers, while Vin, thinking she was saving the world, instead released a malevolent force trapped in the Well of Ascension. Ruin is one of two cosmic powers, and strives only to destroy and create chaos. Released from its prison, it can manipulate events in the world directly, and the world, which was already turbulent after the fall of the Lord Ruler, is now moving towards certain destruction. The mists are out even in the daytime, and many people caught in them either fall sick or die. Plants are not getting the sunlight required to grow, both because of the smothering mists and the ever increasing ashfalls.

Vin and Elend, have found four great storage caverns under prominent cities in the Empire, but have to lay siege to the last remaining city, ruled by one of the late Lord Ruler's administrators, in order to get to it. Spook, one of the less prominent members of Kelsier's old thieving crew has been sent to spy in another of the cities, where a man calling himself the Citizen has taken control, determined to wipe out all nobles, and creating a world following all the most extreme ideas of Kelsier, the Survivor of Hathsin.

As with the second book of the trilogy, I didn't exactly dislike The Hero of Ages, but it took me longer to finish than many books do, because I just didn't care all that much. As with The Well of Ascension, the action picks up towards the latter half of the book, and some of Sanderson's ideas really are very original and creative. It's just that the book is far too long, and the plot drags out for hundreds of pages before you get to the really good bits. I have read books this size in a much shorter period of time, and several times this week had to persuade myself to read rather than do other things, which does not happen if I am reading a book I really love.

As a concluding part of a trilogy, it does tie up loose ends very neatly, and there are some cool revelations to previous storylines, but all of these things mostly come towards the latter half of the book. Of the trilogy, only the first book didn't really suffer from being overlong and having parts I pretty much skimmed through, in the hopes that something more interesting would happen soon. Like quite a lot of epic fantasy, the page count should have been reduced somewhat, making the books shorter and faster paced. All in all, the trilogy is a good read, but not a great one.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

CBR Book 5: "The Well of Ascension" by Brandon Sanderson

Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Page count: 783 pages
Date begun: November 14th, 2009
Date finished: November 19th, 2009

WARNING! THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR MISTBORN - THE FIRST BOOK IN THIS TRILOGY!!

Kelsier, "the Survivor of Hathsin" and Vin, both Mistborn, set out, with a band of thieves and conmen to overthrow the tyrannical Lord Ruler and free the Final Empire. They suceeded, but there was a cost. Kelsier sacrificed himself, and is now worshipped as a God in a slowly emerging new religion. Elend Venture rules Luthadel, the capital city, but there are two armies camped outside the city walls, one led by his own father - and a third army is on the way.

Vin and the rest of Kelsier's old gang are not sure what they are supposed to do now, as none of them expected to succeed, and establishing a democracy where there was previously a thousand-year long dictatorship is easier said than done. Especially with large hostile forces on one's doorstep. Vin is not entirely comfortable with being a ruthless weapon these armies can be threatened with, and the appearence in Luthadel of another Mistborn makes her more insecure. The mists have also started becoming more sinister, actually appearing in the daytime, and sometimes apparently killing people. Could it be that the mists are actually the legendary Deepness returning? Is Vin the prophesied Hero of Ages, and does she, her lover and her friends have more to worry about than impending warfare?

The second book in Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy fleshes out some of the characters from the first book more. Breeze and Ham, not to mention Elend, are explored in greater detail. The premise of the book: what happens when the rebels actually win, and defeat the Dark Lord? What happens afterwards? is an interesting one, but I also found the plot a lot more slow and plodding in this book. Both Vin and Elend spend a lot of the book being insecure and unsure of themselves and their feelings, and after the third or fourth time they kept agonizing over how wrong they were for each other, not to mention uncomfortable in their roles as King of Luthadel or worshipped Mistborn, it got a bit tiresome. For a very long time, while he is building up tension, nothing much actually happens, and I suspect Sanderson might have produced a better book if he'd cut the book by a hundred pages or so.

The book also explores some interesting political and religious ideas, but it felt like a lot of Sanderson's main messages got a bit dragged down by the long narrative. Still, the ending of the book is not bad at all, and makes me very curious about the conclusion of the trilogy.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

CBR Book 4: "Mistborn: The Final Empire" by Brandon Sanderson


Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Page count: 647 pages
Date begun: November 11th, 2009
Date finished: November 14th, 2009

Brandon Sanderson was hired by Robert Jordan's widow to finish his sprawling and unfinished fantasy series The Wheel of Time, after Jordan died in 2007. Sanderson wrote the stand-alone fantasy novel Elantris in 2005, and followed this up with the trilogy Mistborn.

Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first part in the trilogy, but somewhat unusually for epic fantasy trilogies, has a self-contained ending, instead of ending with a cliffhanger, forcing the reader to continue to the next book in the series. If one wanted to, this book could be read in isolation, and one would still have a satisfying conclusion.

The Final Empire is a depressing place to live. Once, it is rumoured, the sun was bright and yellow, not a dull red. The fields, trees and plants were green, not a dull brown. There were even things known as flowers. Ash didn't constantly rain from the sky. Now the days are dark and gloomy, and at night the sinister and all-enveloping mists cover everything. A thousand years ago, the Lord Ruler saved the world from the Deepness. He has ruled the Final Empire ever since. Known as the Sliver of Infinity, he is immortal, both emperor and God. Society consists of a limited amount of Noble Houses, and the skaa, the down-trodden and oppressed serf-race. The skaa work on the plantations in the countryside, or do menial tasks in the cities. They have no rights, they can be killed on the whim of one of the nobles or clergy - and any skaa woman who is taken as a mistress by one of the nobility has to be killed before half-noble offspring can be concieved and born.

Some of the nobles possess the power to burn one of ten metals to give them enhanced powers. A few, very rare exceptions, are known as Mistborn. They can burn all ten metals, and hence can control all ten enhanced abilities. Vin, the street urchin who is the book's protagonist, is one of these Mistborn. She is one of the few half noble children who were never killed. Another of the Mistborn is Kelsier, a half-noble former thief and conman. If the skaa are lucky, they get a quick death if they earn their masters' disapproval. If they're less fortunate, they are sent to the Pits of Hathsin, a brutal mine where people first go insane and then die. Kelsier is the only man to survive and escape the Pit, but he lost his wife - and is out for revenge.

Kelsier, with the help of Vin, and his band of accomplices have a grand scheme. They are going to kill the immortal Lord Ruler, destroy the Final Empire and steal the treasury. Everyone is convinced that Kelsier is insane, that the plan is impossible to accomplish - but they're going to try anyway.

One of the best things about Sanderson's book is the magic system the Mistborn control. By swallowing fragments of metal, they are able to burn them to get various enhanced power, like strength, speed, vision, hearing etc. Various metals burn at different speeds, when they're used up, the powers fade. There are also consequences to using the powers, the users are not superhuman, and have limitations. The main characters are pretty well fleshed out and complex, however, some of the supporting cast are pretty one-dimensional. Still, Sanderson has created an interesting world, quite different from that of many other epic fantasy series. I had read several complimentary reviews of this book, and am glad to say that I was not disappointed.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Cannonball Read Book 3: "Soulless" by Gail Carriger

Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 384 pages
Date begun: November 09th, 2009
Date finished: November 11th, 2009

Soulless
is the first of Gail Carriger's Alexia Tarabotti novels, and is described as "A novel of vampires, werewolves and parasols". In Carriger's Steampunk Victorian London, vampires, werewolves and ghosts live fully integrated in society, and is one of the things that have helped make the British Empire so very great. Queen Victoria has both a vampire and a werewolf advisor; vampires dictate popular fashion and werewolves help control the armed forces.

Carriger's heroine is the outspoken, independent-minded spinster Miss Alexia Tarabotti. She has the misfortune of having a father who was not only Italian, but is now dead. Her silly mother has remarried, and Alexia has to suffer the opinions of her and her frivolous and blonde younger sisters. As well as being in possession of a Roman nose, unruly dark hair and a skintone rather more tan than is considered fashionable (especially with vampires deciding what is truly chiq), Alexia's chief legacy from her dead father is her lack of a soul. She is a preternatural, a creature who can cancel out the powers of all the supernaturals in society. If she touches a vampire, their fangs retract and they lose their superhuman stength. She can even turn a werewolf entirely human, even during a full moon.

Because of her unusual powers, the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (or BUR as it's generally referred to in the book) has kept a close eye on Alexia since she was a young girl. The head of the BUR, Lord Connal Maccon, the Earl of Woolsey and alpha of the London pack of werewolves is not amused when he finds Alexia next to a dead vampire at ball. The fact that Alexia accidentally killed the vampire in self-defence, after the poorly-dressed and uncouth creature tried to kill her in the library, does not seem to make him any happier. Lord Maccon and Miss Tarabotti have clearly have frequent run-ins and disagreements over the years, ever since "the hedgehog incident" a few years back. Yet neither can help but be slightly pleased when they keep being thrown together in the course of the investigation of the strangely behaved vampire and the events that follow its demise.

Soulless, if one must classify it, is a Steampunk paranormal romance, written in a wry and witty style, reminiscent of P.G Wodehouse and Jane Austen - both of whom Carriger admits to admiring. Occasionally, Carriger would use a more modern or informal turn of phrase, which I found a bit distracting and annoying, but the book as a whole was very amusing, and the dialogue in the book (not just that between Alexia and Lord Maccon) sparkles. Alexia is a very formidable and capable heroine, and I am already looking forward to reading her and the Earl of Woolsey's continued adventures in Changeless, which is released early next year.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Cannonball Read Book 2: "Tarnished Beauty" by Cecilia Samartin

Publisher: Washington Square Press
Page Count: 368 pages
Date begun: November 7th, 2009
Date finished: November 8th, 2009

My mother read this book translated into Norwegian, and recommended it to me. When reading books that are originally written in a language I do not read fluently, such as Spanish or Russian, I have no problem reading the book in Norwegian, and often prefer to, as despite living in Norway, and even teaching Norwegian in school, I tend to read nearly everything in English nowadays. The Norwegian title of the book is Senor Peregrino, making me believe the original novel was in Spanish. Once I realized it was originally written in English, however, I tracked down a copy on Amazon and ordered it for myself.

The title Tarnished Beauty refers to the protagonist Jamilet Juárez, a young Mexican girl cursed with a massive bloodred birthmark covering her back from her shoulders to her knees. Believed from birth to be associated with the Devil, as her virtuous and beautiful mother became pregnant through rape (although Jamilet's mother, grandmother and aunt keep telling her colourful, if differing stories about the violent and dramatic ways her supposed father died long ago), Jamilet leads an extremely sheltered life in the tiny Mexican village that was her home. She learns English during a year her mother works as a maid for an American family, and she is allowed to play with the daughter of the house. Once her mother dies, she has no choice but to travel to the US, as she is shunned by the villagers, and she hopes that in America doctors will be able to cure her of her terrible blemish.

In Los Angeles, she moves in with her drunken aunt, and after her aunt helps her get fake documents, she is able to get a job at the nearby lunatic asylum. She falls hopelessly in love with Eddie, a boy dating the girl next door, and dreams of him, while trying to cope with her duties taking care of the foul-tempered, if very clever Senor Peregrino in the asylum. Clearly not a normal mental patient, he has sumptous furniture and Jamilet's personal duties involve fetching his food, running his errands and cleaning his room, although she is under strict instructions not to involve him in conversations, or listen to his delusional stories.

After being attacked by the hospital janitor, Jamilet is saved by the strange, old man, but loses her documents, and strikes up a bargain to have them returned. She promises to listen to his story about the pilgrimage he took in his youth, to Santiago the Compostela in his native Spain, and at the end of the story, he will give her back her documents. As the mysterious Senor Peregrino tells Jamilet his story, they develop a close friendship, which will change both their lives.

The book is well written, and Jamilet's loneliness, kindness and sadness is very well rendered by the author. She pines for a boy she believes she cannot have, and dreams of having her birthmark removed, so she can live a normal life, and not have to cover herself constantly. The story drags a bit in places during Peregrino's pilgrimage tale, and the end is a bit aprupt and sudden (and I read other places online that a lot of people really did not like it), but I think the story wraps up on a very hopeful note, with the author leaving some things unanswered on purpose.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Cannonball Read Book 1: "Bite Marks" by Jennifer Rardin


Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 336 pages
Date begun: November 3rd, 2009
Date finished: November 6th, 2009

Jasmine "Jaz" Parks is an assassin working for a special branch of the CIA. Bite Marks is the sixth book of Jennifer Rardin's paranormal fantasy series. In this book, Jaz finds herself in Australia. With her is her boss (and lover), the centuries-old vampire Vayl; her nerdy and brilliant former college roomate Bergman, who creates marvellous gadgets for her and her team; the ex-PI turned CIA-sniper Cole (who used to have a crush on her); and Cassandra, the gorgeous centuries-old seeress and former oracle who is now dating (and may be marrying) Jaz' brother Dave.

Jaz' mission in Australia revolves around saving NASA's Australian-based space complex from being sabotaged by evil gnomes. Said mission is complicated by the fact that Jaz seems to be possessed by the spirit of a malevolent Scottish warrior king, and because a very determined and ruthless demon has shown up to drag Cassandra to Hell.

Jennifer Rardin's Jaz Parks series is light entertainment fodder, and its heroine is the paranormal equivalent of Sydney Bristow from Alias. She's smarter than Sookie Stackhouse, a lot less annoying (and has vastly less sex) than Anita Blake, and has a fascinating cast of characters in her head to help her stay on top of her game. The books contain witty banter, sexual tension, gadged-filled undercover missions and action-packed set pieces. Like a James Bond-movie, each books features more or less the same cast of quirky characters, having to save the world from some paranormal disaster.

Normally, I find the Jaz Parks books and easy and entertaining read, but this time, the book was less engaging than some of the previous books in the series. I don't know if it was the lack of a proper villain, or that some of the excitement has gone out of the books now that finally Jaz and Vayl have given in to the sizzling sexual tension between them and become and item, but this book did not entertain and amuse me as much as some of the others have. Hoping for an improvement with book 7. As book 6 in a series, it is also not the best place to start, if one is interested in checking out Jennifer Rardin's writing - Once Bitten, Twice Shy is the first book in the series.