Tuesday, August 31, 2010

[Review] Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard

Title: Servant of the Underworld

Series: Obsidian and Blood book 1
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Genre: Aztec Fantasy
Paperback: 432
Publisher: Angry Robot (2010)

Copy: bought it myself
Reviewer: Ove Jansson

Order from: Amazon US | UK | B&N | sfbok

Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan the capital of the Aztecs. The end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice. A Priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, High Priest, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Aliette De Bodard is the hottest rising star in world SF and Fantasy, blending ancient crimes with wild imagination. This is her debut novel.

FILE UNDER: Modern Fantasy [The Aztecs / Locked room mystery / Human sacrifice / Destroy the Gods]

It is very refreshing to read a fantasy that takes place outside the ordinary western settings with elfs, orcs and traditional magic. Aliette have found her culture and settings in central American pre-colonization Aztec country. This is a mystery investigated by Acatl, High Priest for the Dead. In many respect it reminds of traditional mystery novels but the settings are the sacred city with its priests, worshipers, warriors, pyramids, temples, cults and living gods.

Blood magic place a major part in the magic here, you have to give a little to make it work. Blood and cutting is something Acatl is doing all the time but he does get weak of blood loss from time to time. Magic also involves the gods but there is a very pragmatic view on the gods and their willingness to help, it is more of a negotiation than the traditional christian/other religions submit to your god kind of worship that I find entertaining.

There is the traditional peeling of the onion of deception and intrigue before the story turns to its cataclysmic and cosmic conclusion. Acatl is a very good detective and I feel I learned a lot of the Aztecs by reading this book. Some of the names are a bit hard to pronounce but that never stopped me before. The plot is captivating and the characters came to life to my inner eye.

Some people might have a problem with names they can't pronounce but these are historically correct Aztec's ones not like some science fiction novels I read with arbitrary made up names I can't pronounce.

This is a great book if you want to try a different kind of fantasy set outside the traditional western or Japanese settings. It is very much a standalone book but it is part of a trilogy. I enjoyed it very much and I will buy the sequel Harbringer of the Storm when it is released in January 2011.

Rating: 9/10

Friday, August 27, 2010

[Review] Darkship Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt

Title: Darkship Thieves

Author: Sarah A. Hoyt
Genre: Space Opera
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Baen

Copy: bought it myself
Reviewer: Ove Jansson

Order From: Amazon US | UK | B&N

Athena Hera Sinistra never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in finding out the truth about the DarkShips. You always get what you don’t ask for. Which must have been why she woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in her father’s space cruiser, knowing that there was a stranger in her room. In a short time, after taking out the stranger—who turned out to be one of her father’s bodyguards up to no good, she was hurtling away from the ship in a lifeboat to get help. But what she got instead would be the adventure of a lifetime—if she managed to survive. . . .
For being the daughter of a seacity ruler Athena Hera Sinistra, our protagonist picked up an amazing skill set while going rampage through military schools, instructors, reformatories, madhouses and ballet school.

It helps a lot when she wakes up with an unknown man leaning over her aboard her father's space cruiser. She succeeds in subduing him and flees the ship half naked in an escape pod. In a desperate attempt to escape her pursuers she heads into the dangerous power-tree forest and crashes into a dark ship. She is rescued by the pilot.

She have run into the Darkship Thieves of legend.

This is a really mesmerizing book, I started reading and after a few pages I was in the world Sarah A. Hoyt created experiencing it from the slightly disturbed mind of a captivating young woman. Athena Hera Sinistra is as much a handful as her name, but it is a handful easy to love as a reader.

The book reminds me of old Space Opera classics like the Skylark series but with much better characterization and world building.

24th century Earth has outlawed all bio-engineering since the revolt against the super engineered sterile Mules that ruled humanity. All Mules and their bio-engineered servants where killed but legend has it a few escaped in a spaceship. Earth civilization is centered around the seacities, each ruled by a Good Man with dictatorial powers, and Daddy Dearest is one of them.

The Darkship Thieves home, Eden is quite different but I won't ruin the surprise for you.

At the core of the story is the morality of bio-engineering and cloning humans.

I first learned about Sarah A. Hoyt from The Big Idea article about Darkship Thieves on John Scalzi's blog Whatever and found it quite entertaining that the Big Idea started with Sarah being annoyed. But it wasn't until I read a rant Blame It on the Girls on Darwin's evolutions I started to suspect I found a new favorite author. And I was right. Now I can't wait to read more by Sarah and any sequel to Darkship Thieves would be on the top of my list.

I love Darkship Thieves and Athena the strong heroine, you will too.

Other blog reviews of Darkship Thieves:
- by Ella Drake 13 things she enjoyed with Darkship Thieves

Rating: 9/10

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Taking Stock

Having catalogued most of my book collection on Goodreads I have found that there are now 304 UNREAD books in the theoretical ‘To be read’ pile. That is more than I thought, and the number is still growing as I feed my addiction to the printed page. Not all are Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror genre novels, though the majority fall within these categories. I read non-fiction too, mainly eco-politics, history, rock biographies and travel books, but Fantasy is by far the most populated category with 256 books out of a total of 721 that I have added to Goodreads so far. So, with a move to the north of England coming up later this year, I am taking stock of my collection and trying to prioritise some kind of reading order for the books I already own.

Science Fiction
I want to read more classic Science Fiction and have collected a number of the excellent Gollancz SF Masterworks series. Top of the list to read is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
“Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, is a floor sweeper, and the gentle butt of everyone’s jokes, until an experiment in the enhancement of human intelligence turns him into a genius. But then Algernon, the mouse whose triumphal experimental transformation preceded his, fades and dies, and Charlie has to face the possibility that his salvation was only temporary.”
From flicking through the book, it appears that the story is told by way of progress reports written by Charlie himself. This appeals to me as a way of describing the effects the experiment has on Charlie, how he copes with the changes he experiences and the emotional impact of these.

I have long been a fan of classic British SF, having grown up watching TV adaptations of The Day of the Triffids, and Quatermass alongside Dr Who and Blake’s Seven. I have recently been catching up with authors such as John Christopher, Arthur C. Clarke and H.G.Wells and next in my list is The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos are probably more well known, but The Chrysalids comes highly recommended as possibly the least dated of his novels…
“The Chrysalids is a post-nuclear apocalypse story of genetic mutation in a devastated world and explores the lengths the intolerant will go to keep themselves pure.”
Anyone who knows my reading preferences will be aware of my love of post-apocalyptic fiction and so I am keen to read The Chrysalids as it was written in 1955, when the threat of a nuclear holocaust was very real.

Next up is The Complete Robot, the definitive anthology of Isaac Asimov’s stunning visions of a robotic future. This is classic SF at it’s finest, if the multitude of reviews and recommendations online are anything to go by. I enjoyed the film I, Robot, but have been warned that The Complete Robot is much, much more than the film…
“In these stories, Isaac Asimov creates the Three Laws of Robotics and ushers in the Robot Age: when Earth is ruled by master-machines and when robots are more human than mankind.”
Last in the list of classics are two books by Philip K. Dick: A Scanner Darkly and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? An American author, renowned for exploring political, sociological and metaphysical themes in his novels and short stories, he is an author I have never read. I have thoroughly enjoyed the films based on his writing; Bladerunner, Total Recall and Minority Report for example, yet have never read the source material. Both books are part of the Gollancz SF Masterworks series.
A Scanner Darkly: “Substance D – otherwise known as Death – is the most dangerous drug ever to find its way onto the black market. It destroys the links between the brain’s two hemispheres, leading first to disorientation and then to complete and irreversible brain damage. Bob Arctor, undercover narcotics agent, is trying to find a lead to the source of supply, but to pass as an addict he must become a user…”
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: “War has left the Earth devastated. Through its ruins, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalks the runaway androids who are his prey. When he isn’t ‘retiring’ them, he dreams of owning the ultimate status symbol – a live animal. Then Rick gets his next assignment: to track down six Nexus–6 targets, for a huge reward. But life is never that straightforward and Rick’s quickly turns into a kaleidoscopic nightmare of subterfuge and deceit.”

Fantasy is by far my favourite genre and while I have read a lot of Fantasy over the years, I still have some catching up to do! I sometimes get sidetracked by Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, as they tend to be light, enjoyable reads requiring little concentration or thought on my part, but epic fantasy, particularly involving the Sidhe, Fae/Fairy, or Elves are a real favourite of mine. This could be because I grew up in Ireland on tales of banshees, mythical heroes and magical beings. I also read the Chronicles of Narnia quite young, followed by The Hobbit and then later, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so the preference was set early on in my reading career.

It is at this point that I have to admit to never reading some of the most well known and popular fantasy authors such as Robert Jordan, Steven Erikson, or Terry Goodkind for example, and possibly may never do so. I have bought books by Guy Gavriel Kay, Terry Brooks, Lois McMaster Bujold, Tad Williams and Mary Gentle but they are still amongst the many waiting to be read. So, in order to start catching up on the range of classic fantasy books I have not yet read, here are the five I have selected as ones I really must read as soon as possible…

First up, and one which may shock the sensibilities of many a Fantasy fan is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I bought it when it was first released in paperback, took it to New Zealand last Christmas, intending to read it on the return journey but left it behind as my bag was over weight. My sister and brother-in-law thoroughly enjoyed it! I have since repurchased it and am determined to read it before the sequel is released next year.
“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that made the minstrels weep.
My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.”
With a blurb like that, I’m not sure why I haven’t devoured this book long before now. And so it takes the top spot in my list of Fantasy books I really must read!

Next up is George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, book one of A Song of Ice and Fire series. It is currently being made into a TV series, filmed in Belfast, and I fully intend to have this book read before it is broadcast. It has been described as ‘one of the greats’ and while I tend to shy away from multi-volumes series, I like the sound of this epic fantasy.
“As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must… and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty. The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, a vengeance-mad boy has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities beyond the sea. Heir of the mad Dragon King deposed by Robert, he claims the Iron Throne…”
Some familiar Fantasy themes here, plus dragons, I think I will enjoy reading this hefty tome.

I have read some of Elizabeth Moon’s Science Fiction but have overlooked her fantasy books. With Oath of Fealty, book one of Paladin’s Legacy I aim to change this situation. She comes highly recommended, and as I have a tendency to prefer female authors, I am interested to see how she writes Fantasy.
“An unexpected death has made Kieri Phelan king of Lyona. Here humans and elves live in uneasy peace, united only by their failure to see the dangers at their borders. Harmony has never been more important – or elusive. But will Kieri’s soldier background allow him to navigate these difficult politics? And can he awaken the powers his mixed blood promises?
An older evil also threatens Lyona, and all surrounding kingships. The Verrakai family has been practising forbidden blood magic for generations, and its scions are becoming bold. When they infiltrate a foreign court and assassinate key nobles, it’s clear they must be controlled, or eradicated. Phelan will send Dorrin, the only Verrakai he can truly trust, on this mission. She must overcome her abhorrence of the power that is her birthright and awaken her own hidden magic. This will lead to long-hidden secrets and a mystery that neither Phelan nor Dorrin could have anticipated.”
Politics, court intrigue, elves, magic; these are all very appealing ingredients for me so I am eager to find out why Elizabeth Moon’s fantasy writing is highly praised.

When I mentioned on Twitter that I had not read The Lies of Locke Lamora there were several shocked responses. Scott Lynch’s debut novel, the first in The Gentleman Bastards Sequence (what a great title for a series!) appears on many lists of favourite novels so I am curious to find out for myself what all the fuss is about.
“The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.
Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains re strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentlemen Bastards.
The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive…”
Certainly The Lies of Locke Lamora appears to be an irreverent swashbuckling adventure story and I am fond of a novel where the main characters are not good, honourable and noble heroes.

Finally, another great author I have not yet read, despite owning at least four of his standalone novels, is Guy Gavriel Kay. I intend to rectify this by starting with the first in his Fionovar Tapestry series, The Summer Tree.
“The first volume in Guy Gavriel Kay's stunning fantasy masterwork. Five men and women find themselves flung into the magical land of Fionavar, First of all Worlds. They have been called there by the mage Loren Silvercloak, and quickly find themselves drawn into the complex tapestry of events. For Kim, Paul, Kevin, Jennifer and Dave all have their own part to play in the coming battle against the forces of evil led by the fallen god Rakoth Maugrim and his dark hordes. Guy Gavriel Kay's classic epic fantasy plays out on a truly grand scale, and has already been delighting fans of imaginative fiction for twenty years.”
I generally enjoy reading novels where people from our own world are suddenly transported to a magical other world, for example, Narnia, or The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, so this epic fantasy trilogy would seem to be as good a place to start as any.

The ten books listed here are my planned reading over the next few months and I intend to review them as I finish each one. I will continue to read new novels… I have I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar and Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey already lined up. So the intention is to read one ‘classic’ followed by one ‘new’. Whether that plan will actually happen is anyone’s guess as I can be quite fickle when it comes to choosing my next book from the ever-increasing pile. Only time will tell!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

[Book Review] Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

Title: Terminal World

Author: Alastair Reynolds
Genre: Futuristic Steampunk

Audiobook: 19h 45 m
Naration: John Lee
Publisher: Tantor Media

Hardback: 496 pages
Publisher: Gollancz (March 2010) | ACE (June 2010)

Order from: Audible | Amazon US | UK | B&N

Copy: bought by me
Reviewer: Ove Jansson
Spearpoint, the last human city, is an atmosphere-piercing spire of vast size. Clinging to its skin are the zones, a series of semi-autonomous city-states, each of which enjoys a different - and rigidly enforced - level of technology. Horsetown is pre-industrial; in Neon Heights they have television and electric trains ...Following an infiltration mission that went tragically wrong, Quillon has been living incognito, working as a pathologist in the district morgue. But when a near-dead angel drops onto his dissecting table, Quillon's world is wrenched apart one more time, for the angel is a winged posthuman from Spearpoint's Celestial Levels - and with the dying body comes bad news. If Quillon is to save his life, he must leave his home and journey into the cold and hostile lands beyond Spearpoint's base, starting an exile that will take him further than he could ever imagine. But there is far more at stake than just Quillon's own survival, for the limiting technologies of the zones are determined not by governments or police, but by the very nature of reality - and reality itself is showing worrying signs of instability ...
This was a surprise for me, Terminal world is different in tone from what I can remember from other works by Alastair Reynolds and the futuristic steampunky setting is something else to. I think steampunk is the new black. From what I read lately a lot of writing talent goes into the new brass genre.

Terminal world is something unusual, an earth that consists of zones that appears to have different natural laws. And the protagonist is an undercover angel on the run from the Celestial Levels. I find I like the world here with its zone sickness when you pass from zone to zone; the different levels of technology in each zone and the whole mystery how the world came from what we have today to what it is here.

I listen to this in audio-book version well narrated by John Lee for Tantor Media but it was the story that caught my interest and made me finish it in a few evenings of listening. The pace is quick and the settings keep changing as the true scope of the mystery becomes revealed. The characters are compelling and their relationships twists to keep us in suspense but I also find I want to know more about them than I am given. The book is well contained and the ending gives good closure but there is more to explore in this world which makes me hope Mr Reynolds will return here.

Terminal World is steam punk with 'real' science and a brilliant explanation will be given by the end of the story. I am still thinking about the characters and the big idea here, two weeks after finishing the book.

Rating 10/10

Friday, August 13, 2010

[Review] Earth Strike by Ian Douglas (Star Carrier 1)

This is a high octane military space opera set about 300 years into the future. It follows the Star Carrier CVS America and Lieutenant Gray, one of the pilots. Ian Douglas (a pseudonym for William H. Keith) is following a familiar pattern with this new Star Carrier series I recognize from his Star Marine series - Humanity is set against a galactic empire, this time ruled by the elusive and mysterious Sh’daar.

Title: Earth Strike

Series: Star Carrier 1
Author: Ian Douglas
Genre: Military Space Opera
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Eos 2010
Excerpt: page 1-65

Order from: Eos | Amazon US | UK | B&N

Copy: brought by me
Reviewer: Ove Jansson
The first book in the epic saga of humankind’s war of transcendence

There is a milestone in the evolution of every sentient race, a Tech Singularity Event, when the species achieves transcendence through its technological advances. Now the creatures known as humans are near this momentous turning point.

But an armed threat is approaching from deepest space, determined to prevent humankind from crossing over that boundary—by total annihilation if necessary.

To the Sh’daar, the driving technologies of transcendent change are anathema and must be obliterated from the universe—along with those who would employ them. As their great warships destroy everything in their path en route to the Sol system, the human Confederation government falls into dangerous disarray. There is but one hope, and it rests with a rogue Navy Admiral, commander of the kilometer-long star carrier America, as he leads his courageous fighters deep into enemy space towards humankind’s greatest conflict—and quite possibly its last.

The plot is similar to the Star Marine series. Humanity is set against a vast galaxy spanning empire this time with different kinds of alien in it. The war has been going on for some thirty years by the time this story begins. The star carrier CVS America and her task group attack and evacuate a Marine contingent under siege by the Turusch, an alien race subservient to the Sh’daar from a planet thirty-seven light years from earth. The Marines have captured two Turusch soldiers and they are the task forces real objective, since no live Turusch have ever been captured before. It is a nice believable battle and really good introduction to the characters.

After their mission they return to Earth and we get more than a glimpse into life of the twenty-fourth century. World building is good even if Ian’s usual stereotypes shine trough a bit. Politicians and Civilians are stupid and don’t know what to do.

The Turusch launch a surprise attack on earth that America and her crew has to repel.

Characterization in Earth Strike is even better than in Semper Human (The last book in the Star Marines series that came out last summer). Lt Gray has a complex and believable background in the Manhattan swamps, beside him you also gets to follow Rear Admiral Koenig point of view. The alien Turusch are also quite interesting and they have names like Tactician emphatic blossom at dawn and their psychology is also interesting with different minds the Mind Below , the Mind Above and the Mind Here in dialog with each other. The Sh’daar reminds behind the scene so far, but I guess we will learn more about them later in the series.

Earth Strike is a solid uncomplicated military science fiction I would recommend to all readers of military SF. It is also an excellent book to start the with if you haven’t read anything by Ian Douglas before. Characterization and storytelling have never been better in any of his books, the lore part is still second to the first star marine trilogy but we are just starting out in this new universe and not even the humans here know better.

The next Star Carrier book Center of Gravity (EOS | Amazon US | UK | B&N) will be published in February 2011 and might cover a strike at the aliens forward base.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, August 8, 2010

REVIEW: Orgasmachine by Ian Watson

Orgasmachine by Ian Watson
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: NewCon Press (2 April 2010)
ISBN-10: 1907069151
ISBN-13: 978-1907069154
Copy: Bought online
Reviewer: Cara

Forget Stepford Wives; this goes way beyond anything seen in Stepford.

The Three Laws of Feministics:
  1. Your body is not your own; it belongs to another. Therefore you may not damage it nor, through inaction, allow it to be damaged.
  2. You must obey all orders given to you by your owner (or in cases of loss of ownership, by any man) even if such orders conflict with the First Law.
  3. You may not injure any man, nor through failure to comply with the Second Law, cause him displeasure and mental injury.
Women as chattels, as customised sex slaves; bodies freakishly modified to their owners’ dictates, personalities preset to order. Welcome to the world of the Orgasmachine.

But Jade and Mari escape their masters and dream of revenge, of revolution, of freedom.

Originally written in 1970, after Ian Watson spent three years living and teaching English in Japan, Orgasmachine was eventually published in 2010.

I must confess, I spent much of my time reading this book with my jaw hitting the floor! There were numerous exclamations of “WTF?” and at one point I considered abandoning Orgasmachine thinking it couldn’t get any more bizarre and extreme, but I continued on to the end and I am glad I did. Make no mistake, this is most definitely an adult novel as the sexual content is about as explicit as it gets. But if you are looking for titillation, this is not the book for you. Instead Ian Watson describes an overtly misogynistic society, where women are purely sex commodities, to be bought and discarded at will, used and abused in all manner of disturbing ways, and denied even the most basic of human rights.

Orgasmachine begins in an offshore island facility; here women are ‘grown’ in bottles, genetically modified to custom specifications, and, once they reach maturity, refined by plastic surgeon. Their personalities are developed according to their future owners requirements. Here we meet Jade, she of the giant cerulean eyes and the central character, who is leaving the island for the city, into the care of her owner. She makes her farewells to Hana, her closest friend, then her dormitory companions, all of whom will make the same journey across the water to the city beyond.
“Lili the hermaphrodite, Mari the girl with fur and claws, Sue and Susan the Siamese twins who live back to back like two playing cards, Una and Remi the twin lesbians almost narcissistic in their devotion to each other, and Cathy the executive girl, one of whose prosthetic breast conceals a drawer, empty now but intended for cigarettes or small cigars, while the other holds a rechargeable battery which makes her nipple glow red-hot for use as a lighter when the breast is squeezed.”
The introductory chapter gives us some idea of just how warped and bizarre this futuristic society is, yet we are lulled into a false sense of security as the girls harbour romantic notions of being wanted and cherished by their owners, having been created for these unknown men. Once in the city, we find that how these girls are treated is even more disturbing than their genetic modifications. The degree of cruelty and degradation experienced by Jade and her friends defies belief. Hana, the mute, sensitive girl with six breasts that lactate aphrodisiac milk, is taken to a ‘fuckeasy’ bar, where she is fitted with a brass collar and chain, then a brass chastity belt with a coin-operated unlocking mechanism… Mari, the tiger-girl is caged with wild animals… Jade is obliged to dress in the skin of a different girl each night. Just when you think it cannot get any worse, another depraved scenario is revealed and the horror is chilling. Orgasmachine describes the abyss of male sexual behaviour within a society that does not consider women to be of any value or worth. Women die and are replaced, they are discarded without a thought for their welfare, they are punished, mistreated, abused without consequence. This is the ultimate in misogyny and it is painful to read, knowing that in our own society today there are women who undergo similar treatment.

But there is hope. Towards the end of the book, when I was beginning to despair of the relentless cruelty, some of the women escape their sexual slavery and end up in a roller derby team. Here they find respite from the cruelty and degradation and instead have some degree of freedom and independence. It is here that the revolution begins. Mari, Carmen and Jade question the lives they have been forced to lead and rebel against the society that sanctions and legitimises the abuse of all women.

While reading Orgasmachine I thought about how women are treated in our own world; from the total oppression of the Taliban regime, the trafficking of East European women into UK brothels, the highly sexualised imagery prevalent in our media. Yes, Ian Watson’s vision of a future society was extreme to say the least, but is our own culture any better? We live in a society where girls aspire to be glamour models (with Jordan as their role model), where the newspapers are full of reports of rape and domestic violence, where women are stoned to death for alleged adultery. Sex is glamourised in the media, yet women are vilified for being single mothers. Double standards are everywhere – where is the outcry over the men who don’t take responsibility for their children, or the reluctance of men to frequent brothels where East European or Asian women are forced into prostitution? Orgasmachine is a very disturbing book that left me with a lot to think about in terms of the world I live in, and for that I think it was worth reading, bizarre and extreme as it was.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

[Review] The Ambassador's Mission by Trudi Canavan (Traitor Spy Trilogy 1)

This is a straightforward enjoyable new fantasy series from Trudi Canavan. We are back in The Black Magician Universe only now Black Magician Sonea's son Lorkin is grown up and ready to spread his wings and forces of evil are once again afoot in the city of Imardin.

Title: The Ambassador's Mission

Series: Traitor Spy Trilogy 1
Author: Trudi Canavan
Genre: Fantasy
Jacket art:
Steve Stone [portfolio]
Hardback: 528 pages
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Reviewer: Ove Jansson

Order:Amazon US | UK | B&N | sfbok

As the son of late High Lord Akkarin, savior of the city, and Sonea, the former street urchin turned Black Magician, Lorkin has a legacy of heroism and adventure to live up to. So when Lord Dannyl takes the position of Guild Ambassador to Sachaka, Lorkin volunteers to be his assistant in the hopes of making his mark on the world.

When news come that Lorkin is in danger, the law forbids Black Magicians leaving the city forces Sonea to trust that Dannyl will save him, and now Cery needs her as never before. Someone has been assassinating Thieves, and when his family is targeted he finds evidence that this Thief Hunter uses Magic.

Either a member of the Guild is hunting down the Thieves one by one, or there is - once again - a rogue on the streets of Imardin. But this one has full control of their powers - and is willing to kill with them.

The Author

Trudi Canavan is relatively new for me. I started reading The Black Magician Trilogy (The Magicians’ Guild, Novice, High Lord) after a slightly tippsy literary discussion on a company outing in November 2009. A colleague borrowed me the trilogy and I was hooked, thank you M. I also read Age of Five trilogy (Priestess of the White, Last of the Five, Voice of the Gods) and I liked it too.


The jacket has a fine staff wielding figure in some kind of fighting stance overlaid with a tower/cityscape and some signs on it.

There is three good maps at the beginning of the book over The Magicans' Guild of Kyralia, The City of Imardin and The Land of Kyralia. There is no maps of Sachaka where most of the ambassador's adventures take place.

At the back of the book there is a Glossary of animals, plants/food, clothing and weaponry, countries/peoples in the region, titles/positions and other terms that you will find useful.

There is also Lord Dannyl's Guide to Slum Slang and Acknowledgements at the end.


Sonea was a street urchin, a rogue mage and then she became a black magician in the first series The Black Magician Trilogy. Her boyfriend gave his last power so she could defeat the Sachaka invaders and save the city. They fought the invaders with the help of her childhood friend Cery and the thieves guild. Some time later she gave birth to Lorkin. Now Lorkin is a young man living in the shadow of his legendary mother. This is explained well in the book


Half of the action takes place in the City of Imardin in Kyralia and the Magicians' Guild so that is fleshed out quite well in glimpses and short backgrounds. For example every year they used to Purge poor people from the inner city before winter, that has stopped now leading to all kinds of interesting changes in the city. It was at one of those Purges Sonea discovered her magic ability. The author fills in the background and social settings into the action and suspense in a way that works well for me.

The land of Sachaka where Lorkin goes as the Ambassador's assistant is not as well described but then its not there Lorkin end up.The Ambassadors long term job is to get Sachaka to free it's slaves and to join the Alliance. The travel there gives a good general orientation. By the time the book ends we have a glimpse of the underground Traitor society and their hidden city. I will not ruin the surprises for you by telling you details.


There are two plot lines in this story Lorkin's in Sachaka and Sonea's in Imardin.

Sonea is restricted to temple grounds and the hospital as one of two Black Magicians in the Guild. If she ever leaves them she will be exiled outside the alliance never to return. Black Magic is powerful and the Guild doesn't trust anyone wielding it. Cery, her childhood friend is a prominent thief. But someone is killing thieves in the city. They call the murderer the Thief Hunter. When Cery is at a meeting with another crime boss named Skellin his family is killed. Evidence shows that magic was involved. He turns to Sonea for help, either there is someone in the Guild doing the killings or they have a rogue mage in the city. They find some unlikely allies in the hunt that goes through a for me a changed city. Much have changed since we saw them last.

Sonea's son Lorkin goes as an ambassador's assistant to Sachaka. Sonea fear for his life as Sachaka is known for family blood feuds even for outcasts like the black magicians that invaded Kyralia she killed. He leaves anyway together with Ambassador Dannyl. Both he and Dannyl are really there to study the history of magic. Dannyl because he is writing a history of magic and Lorkin because he wants to find new kinds of magic like his father did. Quit soon after their arrival there is an attempt on Lorkins life but he is rescued and have to flee with the slave underground who calls themselves the Traitors.

There is also what I believe is a trilogy plot line, someone is subverting the kingdom of Kyralia with Rot a new and habit forming drug. What is their long time goal? I think you will get some of the answers at the end of this book.

I liked the narration that switches between Sonea and Lorkin, particularly when it stayed with the one where things heated up until some resolution before switching back.


The characters are easy to love and be interested in even if I sometimes feels that there could be more challenges for them. I am a character guy, I like to like my characters, I like when it goes well for them but they have to have challenges that presses them and here Lorkin got it but Sonea never breaks a sweat.

The Black Magician Sonea we know from previous books, she feels frustrated by all the restrictions surrounding her especially when she learns her son has disappeared. She also involve herself in Guild politics when it comes to change old unfair rules that prohibit the mages from lower classes to socialize with their kin as any poor is of 'dubious character'. Her helping Cery hunt down the Thief Hunter is in fact a small part of her story that is mostly about changing the system.

For Sonea's son Lorkin this is a coming of age story. He is out of his legendary mother's shadow and has to stand on his own. He gets to experience life in Sachaka from the bottom in an illuminating and character building way. I liked the clever way he handled the Ambassador's Mission and his father's promise.

A love interest is also nice spice to any story and Lorkin's is just what the doctor ordered.

My View

It is great being back in the Black Magician Universe again with Sonea and her friends. The Ambassador's Mission is enjoyable straightforward fantasy with easy to love characters and a bit of Fantasy Opera and Romance in it.

The Ambassador's Mission works as a stand alone novel if you want to start with Trudi Canavan but you will understand more of the background and the characters if you read The Black Magician Trilogy before.

The Ambassador's Mission is a great start for a series, I will definitely get the rest.

Rating: 9/10

Top 5 WORST Speculative Movies Ever Conceived

I watch a lot of movies. I don't discriminate [unless I have some sort of expectations; I can be a scathing demon, when I have unfulfilled expectations], because every type of movie has a certain purpose. B movies aren't meant to be quite that serious, parodies are somewhere lower in the rank list and I'm positive that the productions sitting on the lowest step have an audience. If a movie's created, written, produced and aired, then there is a reason it exists. But quite honestly, I think that there are movies that should have been creative abortions, because... really because they made me facepalm, but it's a subjective criteria.


This movie is not out, yet. The official trailer circulates around the web, but there is no official poster, so you will have to get by on this concept-art piece. The movie is more like this, but less awesome. No matter how cool it seems as a stationary depiction, the sharktopus possesses the-coolest-thing-evah! factor only in this medium. While the hybrid as an idea is wicked, it's futile to try and base a passable story on the monster alone. Even if millions went into the CGI [which here is not the case; for the curious, watch the trailer] to make it look good, Syfy [the creator] has a long history with movies starring CGI monster [Mega Piranha, Mega Shark vs. Mega Octopus etc.] and I am sure that they are out of good material. You may argue that it's too early to judge, but how many movies about giant monsters have you watched recently [being key word here] that are entertaining. Especially about weird-ass hybrids. So, number five goes to a sure failure at a B movie.

'I can't deceive even a toddler that I could [theoretically] exist'. [Because toddlers have seen better CGI in commercials.]


Fantastic poster. Sarah Oh [Grey's Anatomy] is present, but that was misleading and taught me to never trust a known name as a factor that a movie is the very least mediocre. I love crypts. I love people trying to rob them and die trying. I also do not expect much as far as characterization goes, but everything from script to the actual acting was cringe-worthy. It's as if the characters wanted to die, so they did not fight for their survival that much. I watched just to see how wrong they can execute such a simple premise and seeing the one survivor return only to die, was the reason, why this one is featured here.


I've reviewed this one and had it labeled as the downfall of human intelligence or something in that vein. Yes, this movie is not taking itself very seriously. It's a movie about an alien possessing Ron Jeremy's penis and killing people in absurd ways. It was funny in a 'am I on something?' kind of way, because it was hallucinogenic and you could enjoy it, if you are high. The whole premise of murderous, sentient genitalia begs the question whether the creators are in good mental health. By the way, that is a rhetoric question. You don't need to answer. To top it off, the main villain [the penis] had almost no air time.

What did you expect? She is French.


I know it's Japan. I know it's horror. It's beside the point whatever speculative production they release had to meet an early, gruesome end. BUT I watched it, so it stands as representative of the entire Japanese B-movie industry. Inherently, duels between monster icons are not a rarity and I would encourage that such duels take place [I hope Zack Snyder decides to take this concept and do something visually stunning about it], especially between schoolgirls. However, Japan brutally misunderstands the nature of the vampire and treats the Frankenstein monster as a Lego set of weapons and whatnot. Here is the trailer:

I bet you don't want to see it.

A clever pun and a movie based on the existential question that plagues the criminally insane in America: What would happen, if turkeys strike back? Apparently the answer is to whip up razor blades and blurt: "Gobble, gobble, motherfucker!" before carving you up like a... well, you know, a Thanksgiving turkey. Oh, cruel, cruel irony. But couldn't I be overreacting? I mean there are movies with killing birds [Hitchcock's classic BIRDS], but what distinguishes Thanks Killing from every other movie on the topic is that turkeys are really not that intimidating. They do not fly, so that make them a lesser threat. AND they lack the opposable thumb to make that weapon-wielding, even a tad believable. You want to be saved from this pest. Call KFC. They have been dying to branch out into fried Thanksgiving dinners [if they already haven't or are about to].

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