Books Read in April, 2021
In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker (r)
February, 2021 Locus
Galactic Stew edited by David B. Coe & Joshua Palmatier
The Camp of Alla-Akabar by Gerry Klug, Robert Kern, et. al. (RPG) (r)
The House of Kurin by David James Ritchie and John Garcia (RPG) (r)
The Palace of Ontoncle by Peter Herzig and Nick Karp (RPG) (r)
The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
The Blade of Allectus by Nick Karp (RPG) (r)
March, 2021 Reader's Digest
The Enchanted Wood by Paul Jaquays (RPG) (r)
The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh
With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu
And that was my reading for April, 2021. This was a pretty good month of reading for me, both in terms of the quality of the books read and the quantity of books read. It doesn't seem like I read a lot of books in April, simply because I was back working on getting some gaming stuff ready for the DragonQuest, 2nd Edition RPG. I re-read a number of game adventures for the DragonQuest RPG as part of the months reads (noted above), and to be honest, the Beaulieu book was very heavy (literally!) and a dense read that took me just over a month to read. It was another month of getting bck to reading for the joy of it, rather than reading because I was bored and had nothing better to do. Made for a good change, again. Regardless, my bookcases are stacked with a pretty large To Read Queue (TRQ) still. The books I enjoyed the most were:
With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu - The second novel in the Song of the Shattered Sands series. Ceda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim - that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will - but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, chaining them to her, she feels their pain as if her own. They hunger for release, they demand it, but with the power of the gods compelling them, they find the yokes around their necks unbreakable. Ceda could become the champion they've been waiting for, but the need to tread carefully has never been greater. After the victory won by the Moonless Host in the Wandering King's palace, the kings are hungry for blood. They scour the city, ruthless in their quest for revenge. Unrest spreads like a plague, a thing Emre and his new allies in the Moonless Host hope to exploit, but with the kings and their god-given powers, and the Maidens and their deadly ebon blades, there is little hope of doing so. When Ceda and Emre are drawn into a plot of the blood mage, Hamzakiir, they sail across the desert to learn the truth, and a devastating secret is revealed, one that may very well shatter the power of the hated kings. They plot quickly to take advantage of it, but it may all be undone if Ceda cannot learn to navigate the shifting tides of power in Sharakhai and control the growing anger of the asirim that threatens to overwhelm her. I have to admit that I've been chomping at the bit to read this second book by Bradley P. Beaulieu in the Song of the Shattered Sands series after reading the first book, but had to pace myself as my reading queue is massive. I will say that the book is quite a heavy read, both literally and dense in its content (or perhaps that's just my 65-year-old eyes!), and it took me just over a month to read. That said, the sequel to Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (and you really have to read the first book before delving into this one) lives up to the hype and what came before, and definitely surprised me with the events of the first chapter and those of the last chapter; without spoilers, the first chapter takes the story and gives it a twist that leads in a couple of unexpected directions, while the final chapter sends the book into a whole different direction seemingly for the third book in the series. This novel does answer many of the questions raised in Twelve Kings, but at the same time, brings whole new issues to light and exceeds the first book quite a bit. As shown in the previous novel (yes, spoilers!) Ceda, our heroine of the first book, is now one of the Blade Maidens, the elite group trained to protect the Twelve Kings of Sharakhai. As a Blade Maiden, she is sworn to guard the Kings with her life, but we know from the first novel that she has an alternate role – her purposes as a Maiden is only a cover because she knows the Kings grisly secret and she knows that they killed her mother. As a result, she is determined to kill them and destroy the world they have created, and much of this second novel is about how she moves nearer her goal. As the reader might expect, this is a journey that is not without lots of drama. The other (some secondary, some not so much) characters that we have learned to love and hate, as anticipated, evolve here too. Ceda also grows and matures in this book. Still headstrong, she finds that her mysterious talent becomes more and more important as the book progresses. There are risks and dangers not just to others but to Ceda herself as she learns to cope with her changing circumstances. This book truly does improve and add to the first book and the lore of this imagined world, and Beaulieu's writing shows the improvement and the like that authors tend to go through when they start to get comfortable in their (new) world. I think that author Bradley P. Beaulieu has created one of the most intense, fascinating, and enjoyable (fantasy) worlds I have experienced the tales of over the last few years, largely because (for me) it is a completely new setting with lots of stuff drawn from older stuff, but given a good shaking and twist. If you have not read Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, you need to read this epic fantasy series. I highly recommend it.
In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker - This is the first novel in the The Company series of books by the late Kage Baker. In the 24th Century, the Company preserves works of art and extinct forms of life (for profit of course). It recruits orphans from the past, renders them all but immortal, and trains them to serve the Company, Dr. Zeus. One of these is Mendoza the botanist. She is sent to Elizabethan England to collect samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden. But while there, she meets Nicholas Harpole, with whom she falls in love. And that love sounds great bells of change that will echo down the centuries, and through the succeeding novels of the series. It's been a long time since I re-read the earlier books in this series, and since I've still got a few that I've been holding off on reading due to the author's death some years ago, I figured that I'd start from the beginning and work my way through the series. Since this is a re-read, I'm going to keep my comments here brief. There are lots of little things that I like(d) about this novel - it's historical science fiction, there's a dryly hilarious narration, and oh, there's a goat - but there's a lot going on in this novel about mortality and free will. In retrospect, it reminds me of Michael Flynn's Eifelheim (which came much later), but Kage Baker did a much better job of it through Mendoza's weary recollection of herself as a young woman. In some ways, it's a somewhat sad and grim novel, too, but it is brilliant for the most part. One complaint about the novel that many (presumably male) readers had is that it's a romance. The key is not to think of it as a romantic book: it's about the older and isolated Mendoza looking back on a time of very intense naivete and how she was put onto the path from a girl she tells us about to the complicated, layered woman she has become. This book gets better every time I read it, and the author inserted so much material and background about her world in the book without it seeming an infodump. And the groundwork is laid in this novel for what's to come in future The Company tales. I very much recommend this book, and the series.
Galactic Stew edited by David B. Coe & Joshua Palmatier - Food is an essential part of life - not just for energy and exotic flavours, but as a unifier during social events, a focal point for establishing culture, and shared experience to put people at ease. In this anthology of tales, readers will sit down at the communal table and sup upon stories centered on food. Whether it's a tense treaty negotiation over a full course meal or a trap devised by the fae to chain you to their realm, these stories are certain to be delectable. Come and savour these delicacies...and hope the taste doesn't mask a deadly poison! Featuring stories by Paige L. Christie, Diana A. Hart, A.L. Tompkins, Esther Friesner, Derrick Boden, Andy Duncan, Chaz Brenchley, Howard Andrew Jones, Mike Jack Stoumbos, R.S. Belcher, Mia Moss, Gini Koch, D.B. Jackson, Jason Palmatier, and Gabriela Santiago. In essence, this anthology is a series of stories with the theme of food and eating. I read this book during the month because I was looking for short diversions that weren't going to be as weighty as some of the other stuff I'd been reading during the month. The book has a surprising number of humorous and downright whimsical stories, which was nice, but it does have more serious stories, too, and one is border-line horror. Some of the stories here mix fantasy and science fiction, some are more "pure" genre, but all the stories have food in them and some of them focus on a particular dish. My favourite tales in the book, in no particular order, include:
"Snow and Apples" by A.L. Tompkins: Ivan's beloved Marushka has died and the only thing he can do for her is to fetch some ghost apples. But they're well guarded. Fortunately, Ivan has friends who might be able to help him.
"The Silence that Consumes Us" by Derrick Boden: A military pilot crashes her space fighter with one of her enemies' fighters. They end up on a moon which has barely breathable air. But no food.
"Six Sandwiches to Place Inside a Pentagram to Summon Me to Your Presence" by Gabriela Santiago: This story is told from Elle to her younger brother Kam in six letters. They instruct him on how to make various sandwiches and also reminisce on the past, her own and their shared past.
"Course of Blood" by Howard Andrew Jones: This fantasy story begins with a feast. Three soldiers are looking for an enemy general, Hanuvar, who is apparently hiding in the town. Hanuvar has such a fearsome reputation that the soldiers say that they're looking for someone who claims to be the general.
Overall, a lovely collection of tales, and well worth the read. Excellent distraction, though at times reading this, I was hungry! :)
The Enchanted Wood by Paul Jaquays (RPG) (r) - This is one of the booklet scenarios that came out for the
DragonQuest, 2nd Edition, the third of three and the last to come out before the company went bankrupt. I'm not going to talk in detail about the adventure (as that would spoil it for anyone who might want to play it at some time, but will say that it is one of the best, if not the *best* fantasy adventure and module that ever came out for any roleplaying game, fantasy or otherwise. The adventure gives the players six possible beginnings to start adventuring in the Enchanted Wood, with an internal consistency to what is going on in the wood that leads to confronting a terrible evil that has given the place its reputation. The adventure has something for everyone, some really lovely locations, creatures, and events going on, and can provide multiple sessions of magnificent roleplaying. Even after all this time, the brilliance of the ideas and the execution of the material in this scenario still amazes me.
Overall, I managed to read 5 novels, 5 RPGs and RPG products, 2 magazines, 0 comics, and 0 graphic novels in April. This brings the year total in 2021 to a set of numbers that look like this: 22 books, 7 RPGs and RPG products, 4 magazines, 37 comics, and 0 graphic novels.
Anyway, thoughts and comments are always welcome. :)