Books Read in November, 2021
Zorro in The Land That Time Forgot Vol 1 #1-4 (Comics)
Dejah Thoris Vol 3 #10-12 (Comics)
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Dejah Thoris Vol 3: Winter's End (Comic)
Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner with Jeanne Darst
Generations Forged Vol 1 #1 (Comic)
Future State: Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #2 (Comic)
The Orville #1: Digressions, Part 1 of 2 (Comic)
Crime Syndicate Vol 1 #1-4 (Comics)
Infinite Frontier Vol 1 #0 (Comic)
The Orville #2: Digressions, Part 2 of 2 (Comic)
Zorro New World Vol 1 #1-2 (Comics)
Stargirl Spring Break Special #1 (Comic)
Dejah Thoris versus John Carter of Mars Vol 1 #1-2 (Comics)
Black Projects, White Knights: The Company Dossiers by Kage Baker (r)
October, 2021 Locus
Infinite Frontier Secret Files Vol 1 #1 (Comic)
Infinite Frontier Vol 1 #1 (Comic)
The Pioneer by Bridget Tyler
Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
The Troubleshooters Roleplaying Game Core Book by Krister Sundelin (RPG)
The Gladiators from Capua by Caroline Lawrence
And that was my reading for November, 2021. This was a pretty good month of reading, both in terms of quality of books and the number of books I read, especially given that I was somewhat ill for a chunk of the month and headaches and the like don't really motivate one to read a lot. My reading time this past month was somewhat impacted by the fact that I read quite a few comics in November (and still have a slew of them to read from my last shopping trip for them), and I was also reading The Troubleshooters Roleplaying Game during the month as well. 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:
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
The first book in the Between Earth and Sky series.
A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world. Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man's mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as "harmless," the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as "harmless," he usually ends up being a villain. What a fantastic book, and a wonderful read. The word "unique" is the best way to describe this opener to the series. The thing that makes this book so unique in my mind is the fact that the world building by author Roanhorse is inspired by Pre-Columbian Americans (indigenous people). The reader gains a refreshingly different perspective, as well as characters, ideology, society, and even the story arc. There is so much going on in Black Sun, to be honest, but let's start with the world building. The novel takes place mostly in the city of Tova, which has a society as mentioned modelled on Pre-Columbian indigenous peoples. Four clans - Carrion Crow, Water Strider, Golden Eagle, and Winged Serpent. The reader encounters giant crows and giants water beetles, which means there must be giant golden eagles and most excitingly winged serpents (I can't wait to see what those are like.) They are overseen by the Priesthood called the Watchers) that keeps the peace. The Priesthood, of which Naranpa (see below) is head, is a highly divided by political in-fighting entity. When there are highly trained soldiers in a peaceful town, you, the reader, knows what that means. Tova is, essentially, a powder keg ready to explode. However, there's more to the world of the Meridian than just Tova. The reader gets a glimpse of the mountainous land of Obregi, the southern crescent area of the Meridian encapsulated in the town of Cuecola, and we learn something about the Teek, of whom Xiala is a member in disgrace and exile. The story centres on three characters, well three-and-a-half characters, primarily because I don't consider Okoa a full main character because he only has a few passages and does not appear until the middle of the book, but do think he will have a large part to play in the next book. All four characters are common, if advanced, character types, but all were much more than I expected. First, there is Serapio, the vessel of the Crow God, raised and trained to avenge his clan against the priesthood. His story here is intriguing, as the reader learns how his eyes have been carved shut and sacrificed by his mother for a greater good and how the crows turn into his only accomplice by turning into his own eyes, but are also his protectors. His training process with the most dangerous and skillful instructors in his childhood and adolescence teach him the secrets of defeating the most powerful enemies. And he will need that training and knowledge for what lies ahead of him. The second character is Xiala, who I thought was the strong female of abstract sexual preferences that we see in so many books like Gideon the Ninth, but she had a lot more going on. Xiala is a Teek, a type human with magical abilities that allow her to control water and people with song. She is more than that, but I'm not going to spoil the surprises surrounding Xiala, other than I'm hoping to learn more about her and the Teek in the next book in the series. Xiala is an outsider and just wants to be accepted. Needless to say Serapio's and Xiala's paths cross as the novel unfolds. Xiala is discharged from the prison she finds herself in after a drunken incident through the help of a powerful and mysterious lord, who offers her a job to travel to the holy city of Tova in less than a month (before the Convergence), her responsibility to transport a cargo to the city. Needless to say, the cargo turns out to be Serapio, who needs to arrive in Tova before the solar eclipse that will allow him to accomplish his goal which has been a long time in the making. The two also discover a love for each other than both actually need, but which cannot be fulfilled, but it changes both Serapio and Xiala by the end of this first novel in ways that were quite surprising. It is also *not* a conventional love story. The third character of import is Naranpa, the Sun Priest of Tova, who has risen from the lowest level of society and has made many enemies along the way. Her life is constantly threatened, as she is an outsider seemingly in charge of the leading power (the Watchers) of the city. Due to no fault of her own, Naranpa is caught in a political and social nightmare that she is only vaguely aware of as the novel unfolds. Then there is the "three and a half" character mentioned earlier, Okoa. Okoa is the son of the Carrion Crow matron, and returns to Tova after his mother is murdered; he is a soldier in a city of peace. Naranpa is a very important character in the book, but both she and Okoa receive short shrift in the novel, though as mentioned above, Okoa will likely feature more prominently in the second novel. The story is very much dominated by Xiala and Serapio, leaving the other two with less proportionate roles in the book, but... As mentioned earlier, the city of Tova is a powder keg, ready to explode. And who, you ask, is the spark? Why, our boy Serapio... and the powder keg literally explodes near the high stakes end of the novel, with plans coming to fruition, other plans failing utterly, and-- ah, don't want to spoil the novel here! :) Needless to say, the world is bigger than just Tova, given the nature and origins of several of the other characters; the idea that the events in Black Sun were set in motion by another kingdom is even found here. There is just soooooo much room for this story to be expanded and for the world to be explored more. This is just a fabulous book, as I mentioned above, and aside from the amazing world building that the author has done, it's a well-written work, highly efficient in its use of language, and I really liked this book. I highly recommend it, and can't wait for the second book in the series.
Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner with Jeanne Darst
From actor, comedian, and singer Brent Spiner - best known for playing Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation - comes a sensational noir comedy (inspired by true events), which examines the slightly askew relationship between a celebrity and his fans. It's Los Angeles, early nineties. The explosive success of Star Trek: The Next Generation has rocketed the cast to global fame. Everyone knows who they are. Life is good. But one day while on set, the young and impressionable actor Brent Spiner receives a mysterious package in the mail, and when he finally gets around to opening it, it sets off a deeply disturbing mystery. Soon, bizarre and terrifying letters start to follow. Brent has no choice but to enlist the help of Paramount Security. But that's not enough - this is serious. The LAPD is needed, too. Even the FBI gets involved. Someone needs to put a stop this danger before Brent's life and career end up hanging in the balance. Featuring a cast of characters from Patrick Stewart to LeVar Burton to Trek creator Gene Roddenberry to some completely imagined, this fictional autobiography takes readers deep into the life of Brent Spiner. It tells an amazing tale about the trappings of celebrity amd the fear Brent has carried with him his entire life. This book is a zany love letter to a world in which we all participate, the wonderful and terrifying phenomenon of Fandom. While I knew that Brent Spiner was a talented thespian and singer, I have to admit that I had my doubts that of whether this book would be any good. It turns out that Spiner is a decent author after all, though I'm not sure how much input Jeanne Darst (who is also credited inside and acknowledged by Spiner for her help on the book) had into this piece of "fiction". I use the quotation marks around the word here because in many ways, Spiner may have created a whole new genre here with this memoir told in the noir style (hence the book's "mem-noir" useage in the title). I can't say that I'm a Trekkie by any stretch of the imagination, though I've seen the Next Generation episodes multiple times. Author Spiner made a smart move with this book, sticking with what he knows, and the story presented here gives the reader a fictionalized look behind the scenes of the tv series, but at the same time is a serious look at celebrity, fandom, and the downfalls of both. Spiner very adroitly spins a hilarious tale, at times deadly serious, tale, nailing the whole self-effacing schtick as he regales the reader with details of his life while weaving in an account of a crazed Star Trek fan who threatens his safety. Spiner provides a brief autobiography in the Prologue of the book, and then introduces the story by making it very clear that he is presenting a fictional version of his life and the people with whom he interacts. Essentially, he's putting the reader into a parallel universe, where the events in his story could happen. Instead of presenting one scenario, he combines multiple encounters to shine the light on some of the lengths people will go to use a celebrity they barely know and turn that celebrity into a key focal point of their lives. Fans who send strange gifts, such as a pig penis. Fans who lash out if they do not get their desired response from a celebrity. Fans who fulfill fantasies by inserting their version of a celebrity into their lives. Fans who want their moments at a celebrity convention to be significant. Fans who turn into predators and believe that if they can't have that celebrity then no one can. However, it's not just the fans. People are so focused on what a celebrity could do for them that they neglect their jobs and responsibilities. They want a leg up in the industry, either in front of the camera or behind the scenes. There's even a sub-plot where Spiner plays up the trope about everyone wanting to sell a screenplay when one he rejects ends up on a hilarious journey of its own. That said, the characters that Spiner presents in the novel are wonderful to read about. While the love that the author has for his fellow Star Trek: The Next Generation cast mates comes across fully in the story, as they are rendered wonderfully on the written page in a somewhat "focused" and highlighted manner, there are plenty of other characters that Spiner presents here that make the novel come to life (so to speak). There's not-so-helpful members of the LAPD, the potential love interests in the form of twins, one an FBI agent and the other a security firm bodyguard, the guy who delivers mail to the actors on the Paramount set, a video store clerk, to name a few. These characters come to life, whether they're main characters or not, and add to the "real"ness of the novel and the tale that Spiner is spinning here. Spiner himself, as the protagonist and viewpoint character, is followed by this cast of characters through the harrowing journey that follows as Spiner just tries to be himself and deal with the usual Hollywood problems while not getting murdered while he's at it. The novel's story plays out exactly like the cheesy mystery/thriller movies of that time period, only with brilliant comedic timing thrown in to pretty much every scene. To be honest, I don't know how much of the novel is factual and how much of it is fiction, but this book was a fun read, highly entertaining, and the mystery kept me hooked until the end. That said, it's theme of celebrity and fannish obsession are both serious and timely in today's world, and provides a strong counterpoint to the hilarious shenanigans going on in the book. I recommend this book, and not just to Next Generation fans but also to those who enjoy a crackin' good read.
Black Projects, White Knights: The Company Dossiers by Kage Baker (r)
The fifth book in The Company series of books. It's not all black and white! Is it possible to interfere with History in a moral way, especially if profit is the primary motivation for doing so? In fact, is it possible to sustain any ethical standards at all when handed what amounts to unlimited power? These and other shadowy questions are raised in Black Projects, White Knights, Kage Baker's Unofficial History of Dr. Zeus, Inc. - known to its employees simply as the Company. This collection brings together fourteen Company stories in one volume for the first time. Three of these stories have never seen publication until now - and one, "The Queen in Yellow," was written exclusively for this collection. This fifth book in The Company series is actually a collection of stories, and hence the fourth-and-a-half book in the series. The book consists of an Introduction and fourteen (14) stories in the Company universe, three of which have been published here for the first time, including the new story for this collection, "The Queen in Yellow," the rest having been published in Asimov's magazine. The collection also includes the first four Alec Checkerfield stories. The young Alec Checkerfield, who bears a striking resemblance to two human men that Mendoza was well acquainted with in previous novels, is a tall lad of remarkable capabilities who hangs out with an AI pirate. He'd make a great character for his own series (though I wouldn't personally read them, as Alec's story doesn't really appeal to me), and the alert reader should be able to piece together the mystery of Alec's life: Who created this little superman, and to what purpose? The collection includes: "Introduction" - takes the reader into the secret files for a look at the immortal agents of the Dr. Zeus Company. "Noble Mold" (1997) is the first story in the series, introducing Joseph and Mendoza as they steal a vine for the Company. "Smart Alec" (1999) takes Alec to London and he is not happy. "Facts Relating to the Arrest of Dr. Kalugin" (1997) brings a dybbuk to Kalugin at Fort Ross. "Old Flat Top" (2002) brings a Cro-Magnon boy up the mountain to find God, but he discovers Joshua instead. "The Dust Enclosed Here" (2001) admits Alec to see a hologram of William Shakespeare. "The Literary Agent" (1998) sends Joseph to the mountains above Monterey to tend to Robert Louis Stevenson. "Lemuria Will Arise" (1998) involves Mendoza with a psychic and a flying egg. "The Wreck of the Gladstone" (1998) concerns Kalugin and a sunken ship. "Monster Story" (2001) forces Alec to face the hypocrisy of English society. "Hanuman" (2002) exposes Mendoza to an augmented Australopithecus. "Studio Dick Drowns Near Malibu" (2001) regards the faked death of Joseph in 1938. "The Likely Lad" (2002) follows Alec and Morgan in smuggling banned substances into England. "The Queen in Yellow" (2002) throws Lewis into an affair on the Nile River. "The Hotel at Harlan's Landing" (2002) recounts the appearance of a rebel cyborg in a bar. As with the novels in the series, my favorite stories here are the ones which depict the immortal operatives doing their routine work of preserving and acquiring significant historical objects. I find this to be much more interesting than the larger plot of the series, which involves far-reaching, sinister conspiracies, though that also holds an appeal for me, with the intrigues growing as the series goes on. My favourite stories here are: "The Noble Mold," in which Botanist Mendoza searches for the rare hallucinogenic Black Elysium grape in 1844 Spanish-held Santa Barbara, California; "The Literary Agent," which follows Facilitator Joseph's dream-like solicitation of the very ill Robert Louis Stevenson in 1879 Monterey; "The Wreck of the Gladstone" follows Marine Specialist Kalugin's recovery of a unique Eugène Delacroix painting from a sunken yacht off the coast ofo Los Angeles in 1894; "The Queen in Yellow" presents Literature Preservationist Lewis's retrieval of priceless literary artefacts in 1914 Egypt, from the mummy case of Princess Sit-Hathor-Yunet; and "The Hotel at Harlan's Landing," set during the Great Depression, in which a California coastal town hosts a strange pair of fugitives. I highly recommend this collection to tose who are fans of author Baker's series, and who enjoy stories of time travel, advanced technology, and interesting people. However, the reader will certainly find the collection more enjoyable having read the first four novels in The Company series first, though it isn't absolutely necessary.
The Pioneer by Bridget Tyler
The first book in the Pioneer series. When Jo steps onto Tau Ceti E, it should be the happiest moment of her life. After all, she's been training ever since she can remember to be a cadet pilot in the International Space Agency. She's dreamed of the day she and her family would leave Earth forever and begin life as pioneers on a new planet. But now she can't stop thinking of everything that has gone wrong on their mission: the terrible accident that almost destroyed their craft, that set their voyage back years, that killed her brother, that left her unable to fly... As she helps her commander mother establish a community, she starts to feel like her old self again, and she remembers what it means to be a pioneer. That is, until she uncovers a devastating secret her mother has been keeping from her people. With the fate of the pioneers in her hands, Jo must decide how far she's willing to go to expose the truth - before the truth destroys them all. One of the things that I really like about books for older young adults is that the authors don't tend to talk down to their readers and they don't tend to make the plot overly simplistic. Bridget Tyler does an admirable job of this in The Pioneer, the first book of a potential series, in both these respects. The protagonist of the story, Joanna Watson (Jo, to her friends), is a character that comes across in the early pages as a bit of a one-dimensional character, is a cadet pilot for the International Space Agency whose family will be travelling in the starship Pioneer to colonize the new world of Tau Ceti e. As the novel opens, the author quite boldly and bloodily shows the reader the dangers of going into space and working in space, as one of her siblings dies and Jo herself is rendered unable to pilot ever again due to her injuries. But it's some years later, on Tau Ceti e, that Jo discovers new aspects of her character and personality, and comes to love the new world they have arrived at and the process of becoming and being a pioneer. I thought that Jo was a great character, both in terms of presenting the book from her perspective, and due to her changing personality as the novel goes on. That said, all the other characters found in The Pioneer, even the secondary ones, are presented very nicely and each has a distinct personality. While the Sorrow and the Phytoraptor characters are all...well, alien...there are enough human traits among them to allow the reader to understand them as well, though they still remain pretty enigmatic. The world building by the author in the book is stunning. It is rooted (no pun intended) in concepts found on Earth, but somehow making them entirely into their own thing. There are crystal mountains on Tau Ceti e, twin moons, carnivorous trees, and then there are the two alien species native to Tau Ceti e - the Sorrow and the "Beasts" (as the Sorrow call them), that the humans come to call Phytoraptors. I'm not going to go into the biology and culture building of the two native Tau Ceti e species, but will say they are innovative and deliberately constructed in such a manner as to fit right in with the planet they inhabit, though the author doesn't give us a great deal of tech speak and biology and anatomy lessons. That said, the alien-ness of the Sorrow and the Phytoraptors is a wonderful counterpoint to the humans' approach and perspective of the planet. This world building is key to the story, as the human colonists come into conflict with the native Sorrow and the Phytoraptors (who it turns out are less "beasts" than one expects). That said, this book is very much about life lessons, facing problems that may not have clear-cut or positive solutions, and about ecology and environmentalism. Jo and the other characters in the book, both human and alien, have choices and decisions to make that are not easy, not without their pitfalls, and that have and will have ramifications down the road. The book treats life and death in a very realistic manner, sometimes too brutal to be honest, but the prose of this novel is lovely, descriptive, and gives the reader a true glimpse into Joanna Watson, the other pioneers and her family around her, and the Sorrow. The book ends on something of a cliffhanger, which had me wanting the sequel right now!, but the story told in The Pioneer is a complete tale, at least insofar as an opening "chapter" to a potential series of books can be. I highly recommend this book.
Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate America's western territories, even as lawless gold-rush towns begin to mark the landscape. While the civilized East debates Mr. Darwin's heretical new theory called evolution, two monomaniacal palaeontologists pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils while surveilling, deceiving, and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars. Into this treacherous territory plunges the arrogant and entitled William Johnson, a Yale student with more privilege than sense. Determined to survive a summer in the West to win a bet against his arch-rival, William has joined world-renowned palaeontologist Othniel Charles Marsh on his latest expedition. But when the paranoid and secretive Marsh becomes convinced that William is spying for his nemesis, Edwin Drinker Cope, he abandons him in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a locus of crime and vice. His honour at stake, William joins forces with Cope and soon stumbles upon a discovery of historic proportions. With this extraordinary treasure, however, comes exceptional danger, and William's newfound resilience will be tested in a struggle to protect his cache from some of the West's most notorious and wily characters. This book is the author's third posthumous novel, and is one that shows its age in that Crichton's writing is not as smooth and as polished as the books he wrote when he was alive, and this despite its being edited and treated with the love and respect that its bringers to the reading audience undertook. While the prose here is definitely Crichton and his writing voice is clear, the text does read somewhat as a manuscript (even though it has been cleaned up somewhat and edited a mite). That said, this book is one that is a page-turner and keeps the reader wanting to learn more, to experience the story, and to see how things turn out. While this book involves dinosaurs and their bones and palaentologists, if the reader is looking for an early version of Jurassic Park (though it is certainly a precursor in some ways to what author Crichton did in that book and its sequels), they'll be somewhat disappointed. This book is, to put it mildly, a western - gunfights, saloons, Indian war controversy, and even the appearance of some famous Western characters. However, instead of gold nuggets, the treasure is dinosaur bones. The story concerns what will become known as the legendary "Bone Wars" that featured College professors Othniel Charles Marsh from Yale, and his younger, former friend Edward Drinker Cope from a small Quaker university in Philadelphia. Two ruthless pioneering palaeontologists, historical figures and great rivals in the 19th century, digging for dinosaur fossils in the old, dangerous West, in canyons, hills, and deserts where always lethal accidents or unfriendly incidents can occur (caused by humans both red and white). Both are somewhat...mad...and any underhanded tricks to spoil and discredit the other are fine, as they hate each other with a passion. The story is told, however, from the point of view of one William Johnson, an 18-year-old lazy freshman at Yale, the arrogant son of a rich man, during the Centennial celebrations of 1876. William, not wanting to lose a let with his nemesis, another arrogant fellow student, foregoes a leisurely, pleasant trip to Europe and sightseeing on the continent, and wrangles his way onto the Marsh expedition to the Old West as a photographer. However, the paranoid Marsh abandons William in Cheyenne, and instead the once arrogant student joins forces with Cope, and the discovery of the century (hence the title of the book) is made. And that's where William Johnson's story truly begins. What makes the novel so interesting and so readable is that the Bone Wars are not really the focus of the story, although the reader gets a very good idea of what it's about and how the Bone Wars between Marsh and Cope plays out, as William gets to work with both men and sees them front and centre. In an afterward, Crichton’s widow opines that rather than building spectacular hyperbole for books sales, her husband probably actually toned down the vehemence of animosity between Marsh and Cope as modern readers would find a more realistic portrayal hard to believe. The novel offers a peak at American history of the time, the way of life in the 19th Century Wild West, the nature and state of the Indian Wars, the politics and socioeconomics of the East and the West during this time, all with the fictional William encountering some historical and famous and not-so-famous people (Wyatt Earp, in particular, comes across as quite charismatic). At the same time, the story provides the reader with an excellent tale of how dinosaur fossils had to be transported from the Wild West back East, and this particular aspect of the story tests William's mettle to the extreme. When it comes down to it, Dragon Teeth is a novel that explores the themes of loyalty, courage, and survival. If you like Crichton's novels, Westerns, and palaeontology, this is the book for you. Even if you don't, read this book because it's a crackin' fine read! Highly recommended. :)
The Gladiators from Capua by Caroline Lawrence
The eighth book in The Roman Mysteries series. August AD 80. In Rome, Emperor Titus has announced that there will be a hundred days of games to celebrate the opening of the new amphitheatre (now known as the Colosseum). Flavia, Nubia and Lupus take this opportunity to go to Rome and attend - but their real mission in Rome is to find Jonathan. Their search leads the young detectives straight to the heart of the games, where they encounter criminals and conspirators, wild beasts - and gladiators! This eighth book in the young adult series follows on from the seventh book, The Enemies of Jupiter, in which Jonathan, the 12-year-old friend of Flavia, Nubia, and Lupus was presumed dead in the fire that gutted Rome and killed thousands. In fact, while Jonathan did set the fire (albeit accidentally), to ease his guild he has run away from his family (whom he doesn't know has been reunited) and friends with the intention of becoming a gladiator. Hearing rumours about a boy matching Jonathan's description, Flavia, Nubia and Lupus arrange to go to Rome for the games that Emperor Titus is going to celebrate the opening of the new amphitheatre, and upon starting their investigations learn that the boy matching Jonathan's description is to be taken to the amphitheatre and thrown to the beasts. The young investigators are faced with wild beasts and gladiators, as well as executions, as the reader witnesses some of the events of the early days of the games, making this book quite gory for the young audience that this book is aimed at. This becomes clear at the start of the book, as it opens with a scene of a young gladiator about to kill his opponent, and the kill itself is described in vivid language. In some ways, this book is my least favourite of the series. When compared to the seven earlier books, which were focused on mysteries (hence the title of the series!), The Gladiators from Capua is a book that very much concentrates on the games at the new amphitheatre (which is known to us readers as the Colisseum), the nature of gladiators, what gladiatorial combat was like, and the brutality of what is considered entertainment during that period. Much of what occurs during the early part of the hundred days of the games in the story is drawn from Martial's Book of the Spectacles that he wrote in order to glorify Emperor Titus, and it shows. I'm not going into detail about these events, since potential readers of the book should experience them for themselves, but will say that author Lawrence shows the difference in the reactions of the various characters themselves as they watch the games, ranging from Flavia's horror and disgust to the fascination with the extent of the bloodshed unfolding before them on the part of Lupus. One of the clearest reactions to the game comes from Flavia's aunt and uncle on the first day of the games. Her uncle Aulus is absolutely repulsed by the violence that occurs in the arena, while at the same time her aunt Cynthia is gripped by an absolute bloodlust once the violence and bloodshed begin. The most horrifying moments for me, to be honest, were the sequences with the child gladiators (!!) and seeing their friend, Jonathan, amongst the child gladiators later on. Equally horrifying to me was the sequence where Flavia poses as an orphan and almost ends up dying during her encounter with crocodiles and hippos. I'll note here that she is saved by Nubia, at great peril to herself, but for the rest of the novel Flavia is not the same person she has been in the series so far. One of the more clever elements of the book is how author Lawrence allows the readers to witness different perspectives on the Colisseum and the games through the eyes of the characters situated in different parts of the amphitheatre. First is the perspective from the very top tier where the protagonists and the Senator's family sit a long distance away from the action at ground level. The reader then gets the arena point of view, where two of the characters in the book have a gladiator's perspective on the events. Finally, there is the Imperial Box perspective with the Emperor and those he invites, where one can clearly see the action happening in the arena below. While this eighth volume in the series isn't my favourite book by any means, it does an excellent job of depicting a very accurate story of the life led by gladiators (both in terms of their training, the danger they face and the fame they can gain), the difficult and harshness of life that slaves and prisoners had to deal with, as well as giving the reader an accurate and interesting perspective on life in Rome in AD 80. The detailed gore and violence may not make this book suitable for younger readers the way the earier books were, but it may well be a good book to introduce the series to older children. There is a lot more action and danger for the four young protagonists of the series in this book, but it also works extremely well as a very historical, somewhat accurate (if a bit dry at times) account of the games in Titus's arena now called the Colisseum. There are some excellent (and exciting) plot twists, and the reader will find that the title of the book has a meaning that is somewhat unexpected. That said, despite the gore and the violence, while this is not my favourite book in the series, it is one that is compelling and holds the reader's attention. I recommend this book, with the proviso that the reader be aware of the detailed gore and violence that may be disturbing to some.
Overall, I managed to read 6 novels, 1 RPG and RPG product, 1 magazine, 24 comics, and 0 graphic novels in November. This brings the year total in 2021 to a set of numbers that look like this: 67 books, 15 RPGs and RPG products, 19 magazines, 61 comics, and 0 graphic novels.
Anyway, thoughts and comments are always welcome. :)