Child of Fire by Harry Connolly (2009)

June 28, 2010 at 9:07 pm (urban fantasy)

Well.  Unless and until I hear otherwise, I have to assume that Connolly either (a) played rather a lot of Call of Cthulhu during college, or (b) has spent a lot of time reading H. P. Lovecraft.  Or both, I suppose – or else convergent evolution is at work here.

Regardless, if you understood what I just wrote, then the rest of this review is probably redundant.

If not, then please understand that this novel skirted very close to being too much like a horror novel for me.  I can’t read most horror novels; I’ve never even finished a Stephen King novel, because I just don’t want to know what horrible thing is going to happen next.  Mind you, it’s plenty horrific, but having played a modest amount of Call of Cthulhu myself, I found it almost a homey, familiar sort of horrific.  (Your mileage may vary.)

See, what’s going on is that the real modern world could contain lots of things that Man Was Not Meant To Know.  Usually it doesn’t.  But of course various fools decide they Need To Know anyway, and so unleash nameless horrors into the world.  And the Twenty Palace Society (this the first “Twenty Palaces Novel”) goes around cleaning up these problems, often in a bloody and violent fashion.

Ray Lilly got mixed up in Twenty Palace business awhile back, and as a result he’s stuck as driver, sidekick, and punching bag for Annelise Powliss, Twenty Palace enforcer and serious, dangerous hard case.  They’re visiting the town of Hammer Bay, Washington, to investigate otherwordly activity and eliminate it … and anybody else who even accidentally gets in the way, actually, as far as Annelise is concerned.

It takes some fumbling around, but at a certain point the fire-spitting clerks kind of give away who the main villain really is.  Then they just have to find and eliminate him, and it would’ve been nice if that went easily, wouldn’t it?  Well, actually that would make for a boring novelistic climax, so of course it’s very hard, and being the actual main character, Ray gets to take center stage.

This novel is not recommended for people who can’t tolerate reading about the death of children.   It is recommended for anyone who’s interested in a good novel with a hard-boiled mystery, eldritch horrors, character development, and incidental werewolves.

Also, I’d gladly play in a Cthulhu campaign using this setting.  Anybody up for organizing that?

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The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (2010)

June 16, 2010 at 1:21 pm (fantasy, Reviews, teen)

Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, delivers more great hair-raising mythological adventures in this first volume of The Kane Chronicles.   Carter and Sadie Kane are the children, they discover, of two ancient lines of Egyptian magicians – and through no fault of their own, are in trouble with the other magicians.  It seems, also, that the Egyptian gods are too dangerous to be allowed loose in the world (or so almost everyone says), but now some of them are.

I don’t want to give much of the plot away; a lot of the fun of this book is learning exactly what’s going on, along with the characters.  Suffice it to say that the world is in great danger, and only the Kanes are likely to save it.   Also fun is that while Carter Kane is not quite the wisacre that Percy is, the book has much the same tone.

Finally, and to my mind most importantly, the book deals very deftly with an issue that rarely comes up in YA literature, but should be more present: the realities of being a mixed-race child.  Kudos to Mr. Riordan for bringing it up and dealing with it head-on, instead of comfortably pretending the whole world is colorblind.

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A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds (1997)

June 3, 2010 at 1:37 pm (mainstream)

I bought this one at a library book sale a while back, and finally picked it off the shelf this week.  It’s quite good; sort of a long meditation on alienation, grief, forgiveness, and redemption.

In a small Southern town, Finch Nobles lives a hermit-like existence as the caretaker of the cemetery, a calling she inherited from her father.  She also listens to and talks with the dead who are interred there, and has as little to do with the living as possible, because she is badly disfigured (inside and out) by childhood burn scars.

The story begins as things are about to change, for Finch and several others among the living (see above about forgiveness and redemption).  Reynolds offers an interesting cosmology, numerous well-drawn and worthwhile characters, and more than a little hope for everyone.

It’s not my usual sort of thing, but I found it worth reading.

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