November 2nd, 2021

Books Read in October, 2021

A new month. Thus, as is my standard usage of my blog space at or near the beginning of the month, I present the listing of my October, 2021 reads.


*****
Books Read in October, 2021

The Graveyard Game by Kage Baker (r)

The Last Uncharted Sky by Curtis Craddock

September, 2021 Locus

September, 2021 Reader's Digest

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso

Cloudbound by Fran Wilde

The Enemies of Jupiter by Caroline Lawrence
*****

And that was my reading for October, 2021. This was a pretty decent month of good reading with books of quality for the most part, especially given my headaches all of the month and the limited reading time I had. While my reading time was somewhat impacted by the headaches, part of the reason for this seemingly few reads during the month was that I was/am also reading the Character Book for the Fading Suns RPG, which has been a true slog at over 330+ pages; heck, I'm still only 3/4 of the way through that rulebook. But reading is always more about quality of the reads, rather than quantity for the most part, so... Once more, this was a month of reading for the joy of it, rather than reading out of boredom or having nothing better to do. Regardless, my bookcases are still stacked with a pretty large To Read Queue (TRQ). The books I enjoyed the most were:

The Graveyard Game by Kage Baker (r)
The fourth book in The Company series. Mendoza is a Preserver for The Dr. Zeus Company, living in the past to collect species for the future. But when she kills six people in California in 1863, The Company makes her disappear. Joseph, a senior Preserver, loves Mendoza as the daughter he never had. Drunk on chocolate and fueled by rage, he's determined to find her, however long it takes. Being an indestructible, immortal cyborg gives him an unlimited well of patience. What begins as a rescue mission uncovers a conspiracy stretching across fifty centuries of recorded history. Behind it lies genocide, graveyards filled with Company agents, and the roots of the ominous Silence that falls across the world in 2355. When last we heard from Facilitator Joseph, he was running around as an indigenous Coyote God. Now, in what was the modern era when the book was written, he works in San Francisco. We last saw literature Specialist Lewis at New World One just prior to the Spanish arrival in Central and South America. He's in Los Angeles. And when last we saw Mendoza, she was *way* back in time. Which leads the reader to this novel... Basically, this book covers one hell of a lot of time, from the mid-1990s to around 2289-ish. The book follows Joseph and Lewis as they try to figure out what happened to Mendoza, who has more or less dropped off the face of the planet. Lewis was there in the last book, Mendoza in Hollywood, when Mendoza jumped forward in time (theoretically impossible), and is now trying to figure out where the botanist ended up, since her current assignment is merely a number. This fourth book in the series, and my first re-read of the month, is easily the best one since the opener, In the Garden of Iden. It mixes a much darker mood regarding the employer of the immortals with a surprisingly excellent touch of humour. The reader goes through the second American Civil War, the complete veganization of the U.K. (and later on the newly reconciled U.S.A.), suborbital travel and anti-gravity cars... The reader finds out about different factions within the Immortals (including the Plaguebringers, the founder believed to be Budu, the Enforcer who found Joseph back in the neolithic era.) The reader learns that Edward Alton-Fairfax is, indeed, almost the same man as Nicholas Harpoole - the two men Mendoza loved. The former was shot by the Yanks, the latter was burned as a heretic. The reader learns that one Immortal in particular (who really doesn't like "monkeys" set Edward up to take the fall. And the reader learns of a group of humans who know about the Immortals and who have been chasing Lewis for quite some time. Oh, yes... and conspiracy theories abound about 2355, the Year The Silence Descends. When it comes down to it, it's all very interesting as the reader digs through graveyards both literal and figurative, learning secrets here and there. Like what happens to retired cyborgs, the fate of Budu (last seen under arrest in Sky Coyote. What the reader doesn't know at the end of this book is where Mendoza actually is, and what will happen 74 years after the end of this novel. The search for what happened to Mendoza and the fact that Joseph's father has been on the run for centuries and why they have vanished says a lot about the all-encompassing Company and the coming deadline when the Silence descend on the future, but both Joseph and Lewis (and the reader) are left with a lot more questions and very few answers by the end of the book. That said, this is the first Company novel that breaks into the future, though there are plenty of incidents in the past, particularly the massacre of the Ninth Roman Legion, and the investigation takes place over hundreds of years, across societal and cultural upheaval and technological breakthrough and the odd pandemic that may not have been entirely natural. However, the reader has already glimpsed the future in the earlier novels and seen hints that it's a strange, almost sad place where the lively, curious, hungry Immortals could never be at home. The problem is, the future seems to know that, too. Author Baker's style and story are very readable, funny and thoughtful, and occasionally horrific. It's fun to see the powerful, knowing Immortals who have operated in history's shadow become lost and uncertain, and beginning to look for answers that affect them directly. They are about to step out of the shadows and into history itself, and they well know how fraught and bloody and messy that is. This is an excellent book, and probably the best so far of the four books in the series. I'm completely hooked on the series, I really want to know what happened to Mendoza after her trip *way, way* back, and I want to know the fate and the future of all these characters. I highly recommend this book, but feel it necessary to mention that reading the earlier books in the series is also a necessity.


Cloudbound by Fran Wilde
The second book in the Bone Universe series. When Kirit Densira left her home tower for the skies, she gave up many things: her beloved family, her known way of life, her dreams of flying as a trader for her tower, her dreams. Kirit set her City upside down, and fomented a massive rebellion at the Spire, to the good of the towers - but months later, everything has fallen to pieces. Months later, with the Towers now in disarray, without a governing body or any defense against the dangers lurking in the clouds, daily life is full of terror and strife. Naton, Kirit's wing-brother, sets out to be a hero in his own way - sitting on the new Council to cast votes protecting Tower-born, and exploring lower tiers to find more materials to repair the struggling City. But what he finds down-tier is more secrets - and now Nat will have to decide who to trust, and how to trust himself without losing those he holds most dear, before a dangerous myth raises a surprisingly realistic threat to the crippled City. In the sky-high city of living bone, to fall beneath the clouds is to be lost forever. But Nat Densira finds more in the grey expanse than he ever expected. To survive, he must let go of everything he believes. One of the dangers of a sequel is that it won't live up to the original book. This isn't a problem with this second book in the Bone Universe series. In the first novel, Updraft, Kirit changed the status quo in her city above the clouds, but now, in the second book it's up to Nat to help deal with the resultant fallout. For all that's changed since Kirit became a Singer, there's still so much more change to come. That said, in order to read Cloudbound, the reader will need to have read the first book, and if the reader doesn't, I suspect they'll be completely lost in this novel. While Kirit was the main point or view character in the first book, the second book's story is told from the point of view of her best friend, Nat. Nat is now a member of the Council, the group of people with representatives from each tower who make decisions for the city. And their current decision is to hold a Conclave, where the disgraced Singers will be thrown down in punishment. While Nat used to go along with his mentor Doran's counsel, he's beginning to think for himself (courtesy of Kirit's commentary on the state of things), and wonder at Doran's motivations. Singers aren't bad necessarily because they are Singers, and surely the children in training are innocent. There has to be another way to satisfy the city's sense of justice. Nat and Kirit are able to convince Doran to give them time to find the true source of trouble in the city, because they've discovered someone is drilling into the heartbone of a tower in order to use the marrow for their inventions and to kill the tower. But everything goes horribly wrong. And it continues to go wrong for the rest of the book. Kirit was a terrific character in Updraft, but it's really good to see the city and its people from Nat's perspective. Unlike Kirit, He doesn’t instantly distrust people, and instead tries to see their strengths. He wishes he were better at diplomacy and changing others' opinions the way Councillor Doran seems to be able to. But if nothing else, Nat is earnest in his desire to do what's right for his family, his friends, and the city. Unfortunately, that means fighting against people who seem to be unbeatable, because he's barely out of his youth and they have experience and strength of arms on their side. However, Nat has his own little "army" of friends and family who are willing to help him: Kirit; Kirit’s mother, Ezarit; his mother Elna; mother-of-his-child Ceetcee; former Singer Wik; and even the children Ciel and Moc, who have been in training to become Singers, among others. He meets scavengers below the clouds, one of whom in particular, Aliati, who helps them explore parts of below the clouds that no one else dares to visit because of the dangers involved. However, what makes the book so special and interesting is the world building that author Fran Wilde does in Cloudbound. While the politics and social structure of the city comes up a lot and gets expounded on, it's the city itself, the world below the clouds, that gets fleshed out and lovingly detailed by the author. The reader gets some of the answers to questions that arose from Updraft, such as why do they live in bone towers? Why can’t they live on the ground? Why is the Spire dying? And so many more. As the story progresses, the reader sees more and more of this strange, delightfully wondrous but dangerous, new world, as Nat and his friends descend below the clouds, discovering ancient plates that describe machines and skills no longer in use, find meadows suspended in the air, and learn that singing causes the littlemouths to glow. There is so much to discover and explore, but the characters must do it under duress, as they're in hiding as the politics above the clouds turn into outright war. The horrible, terrifying revelation that comes at the end of the book (which I'll not spoil here!) is one that I certainly didn't see coming, but sets the basic plot in motion for the third book in the series. The book moves along at a good, steady pace where action scenes are intertwined with scenes of learning and discovery. Two-thirds of the way in, te book switches from being a science fantasy politics story to one of an adventure/survival tale, but it never departs from the intimate point of view story from Nat's perspective, and that in itself gives the story a great deal of consistency. The novel also offers the reader a modicum of anthropology and science (something that I greatly appreciated), but author Wilde makes it clear this is not our knowledge of anthropology or science, and she doesn't use our language as most people understand it. It is also made clear that invention is not an easy process, even if you've recovered some bone and tablet blueprints... Cloudbound is a superb book, and a wonderful sequel to the first book in the series. As I mentioned, one needs to read the first book before reading this second volume, but doing so is well worth one's time, as the author continues a remarkable tale in this sequel set in a world that is very unique and full of creativity and imagination. I highly, highly recommend this book...but read Updraft first! :)


The Enemies of Jupiter by Carol‌ine Lawrence
The seventh book in the middle grade/young adult Roman Mysteries series. Jonathan's father, Doctor Mordecai, is summoned to Rome to help the plague victims. The four young detectives are wanted too, as the Emperor Titus believes that they can find the mysterious enemy who seeks Rome's destruction. Can the friends prevent disaster? And what is Jonathan's secret mission? Set in AD 80, this seventh book in the series once more features Flavia Gemina and her friends Jonathan Ben Mordecai, Nubia, and Lupus. But this is very much Jonathan's story once more. With the plague running rampant throughout the ancient Roman world and being particularly devastating in Rome itself, this novel brings the four friends to Rome, along with Jonathan's father, a doctor, at the behest of Emperor Titus, but there is more to the novel than that. While Emperor Titus wants the four young detectives to find the source of Rome's problems and what ails her (one has to remember the superstitious nature of the Roman people, after all), and they go on a quest for "Prometheus," Jonathan has his own agenda - to reunite his father and the presumed dead (to his father) mother, Susannah. Jonathan's plan to do so puts him in severe danger throughout this story, even endangers his friends as well for a short period, and to be honest, Jonathan has no real interest in solving the mystery that is on-going with Flavia and his other two friends, because of his selfish absorption in his own family matters and what he intends. And that, is inherently what the book is really about thematically - selfishness. When Jonathan asks his father, Doctor Mordecai, if he could be his assistant for the day, only to see if he was in love with another Roman woman, he's being selfish. Another example of Jonathan's selfishness was when he wrote a secret letter (witness by Lupus) to Emperor Titus, telling him that his father could help cure the people suffering from plague when he actually wanted his parents to meet and get back together. Like I mentioned, Jonathan couldn't have cared less about solving the mystery because he was focused on reuniting his parents. He even writes a letter pretending to be Emperor Titus to Berenice, Titus' ex lover, that she should come back to Rome. And that return sparks (literally) the final third of the novel, notably when Jonathan's foolishness puts him in the situation of finding out who Berenice's agent in the Roman court is and his plans for the destruction of Rome with its burning. The story is truly focused more on Jonathan's attempts to reunite Doctor Mordecai and his mother, Susannah, and while the mystery of who the enemy of Rome (hence the title of the story), the reader learns the truth of "Prometheus" in the case of this mystery, despite the fact that Flavia and her friends don't have the faintest of who their "Prometheus" actually is! This novel is not one of the best in the series so far, although it does have its strengths. The writing is superb, with the moments of action versus more introspection being well-paced, and the horror of the plague being described in fairly potent detail. The protagonists come across pretty well in this book once more, with the exception of Jonathan, and each has a distinct voice that is evident throughout the story. Even the characters of the Emperor, Doctor Mordecai, Susannah, Jonathan's friend Rizpah, Agathus and the others have a sense of being that brings them across quite well, and gives us some insight into them. In many ways, the most interesting aspects of this novel are the uses of the Latin and Hebrew cultures, mythologies, and vocabularies, the Roman and Jewish mythologies (and to some extent, Greek), and the detailed descriptions of daily Roman life. The latter is particularly of note since the author doesn't hesitate to show the dark, horrific side of the plague afflicting the Roman world, and some elements of this part of the story are not...pleasant. While there is historical evidence of the plague that occurred in February of AD 80, and that a massive fire destroyed the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus as well as the sacred buildings around it and the area to the northwest, below the Capitoline Hill, the author weaves the fictional elements and characters in her story around this, leading to a cliffhanger that makes me quite looking forward to reading the eighth book in the series next month. While this book is not my favourite in the series to this point, I highly recommend this book with the caveat that one really does need to read the earlier books in the series to see and understand the evolution of the characters in the series so far. But as I said, highly recommended.


Overall, I managed to read 5 novels, 0 RPG and RPG products, 2 magazines, 0 comics, and 0 graphic novels in October. This brings the year total in 2021 to a set of numbers that look like this: 61 books, 14 RPGs and RPG products, 18 magazines, 37 comics, and 0 graphic novels.

Anyway, thoughts and comments are always welcome. :)