CITY OF BONES by Martha Wells

Where once great galleons roamed the sea,
sand ships now traverse the Great Waste,
and a glittering chain of city-states
dots the desert that has no end…

And the greatest city of them all is Charisat: Imperial seat and wonder of wonders, a great monolithic structure towering over the desert. Charisat, a phantasmagorical place where silken courtesans and beggars weave lies side by side, where any man’s dreams can be fulfilled at the whisper of a genie, and where the tier that you live on determines how high up the food (or more importantly, water) chain you are. It is the goal of every schemer, treasure hunter, and madman intent on finding his heart’s content — a place that dazzles the senses, makes the most somber mind dizzy with its scents and sights — and where no one knows friend from foe when it comes to the desperate fight for dwindling resources.

And where a beautiful woman and a handsome thief will try to unravel the mysteries of an age-old technology to stop a fanatical cult before they unleash an evil that will topple Charisat.

And destroy all the water in the world.

This fantasy city is set in the expansive desert, in a strange and unique multi-level tower-like city, with eight tiers.  I has an intricate socio-economic system, an intricate caste system, and of course, plenty of political intrigue.  The principle characters are mostly outcasts, except for the Warders, the diviner class.   It all revolves around an ancient archaeological mystery having to do with closing a door to some other world or dimension so the evil beings there cannot enter into this world.

Here is a reviewer’s lovely and concise plot description. “City of Bones is set in the city of Charisat, one of the few major cities remaining after an apocalypse has nearly destroyed humanity. Cities are surrounded by a hostile, desert Waste, and survivors rely on the roads of the Ancients to travel from one city to another. In Charisat, Khat, a krisman, and Sagai, a foreign scholar, are bargaining with a relic trader when they are approached by the entourage of a heavily robed but obviously wealthy individual. The group wants guidance to a nearby Ancient Remnant. Of course, Khat has skills as a local expert in Ancient artifacts–but he is all too aware that a kris, he is also expendable. However, there is a debt he’d like to clear and both the guide money and the wealthy patronage could buy him a way out. When the caravan is attacked by pirates in the Waste outside the city, it sets off a chain of complex events that result in Khat working with the mystery person to ‘collect’ two more relics from inside the city of Charisat. The anonymous aristocrat is revealed early on, so I hesitate to say more at the risk of spoilers, but bone prophecies, thievery, the underground market, the academy, ghost spirits–so many elements make this an thoroughly intriguing read.”

I have to admit, I found it more interesting in the thinking about than in the reading of.  I find suspending belief for beings of other dimensions difficult, especially when the world in which they appear is so well and completely described and built.  So well that I tend to forget IT IS FICTION!  haha

But I really liked the characters, and a bit of the snark of the Murderbot Diaries series can be seen in this book.  So all in all, most fantasy readers will just love this stand alone book.

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WHEEL OF THE INFINITE by Martha Wells

The official plot description is woefully inadequate.  In fact, it doesn’t sound anything like the actual plot.  So I stole a really good plot description from a reviewer named Carol.  Hat tip to Carol.

Wheel of the Infinite centers on Maskelle, a formerly powerful woman who has left her position as her temple divinity’s living Voice in disgrace. Set in a society somewhat loosely based on Tibetan Buddhism, there is a pantheon of gods who have spent time on earth and have returned to the Divine Realms. A core ritual of the combined temples is to recreate the mandala pattern of the lands annually or the land will suffer, and this year marks a crucial hundred-year ceremony. Although Maskelle retains many of her powers from her time as the Voice, she’s been traveling incognito, acting as seer for a traveling theater troupe. While looking for herbs, she discovers a river inn overrun with raiders. Feeling rather ornery, she decides to see if there are any honest folk left to rescue, and she instead discovers a foreign traveler captive to the bandits’ amusements. They mutually rescue each other, discovering an immediate connection. He surreptitiously follows as she leads the troupe to the capital city of the Celestial Empire, until a temporary rouse as her bodyguard leads to a permanent association. Once in the city, Maskelle, her new bodyguard Rian, and the troupe quickly become the focus of local politics, both supernatural and corporeal.

There.  That’s more like it.

Again, my main bone to pick with this sorcerer and sandals type story, as with all sorcerer and sandals type fantasies, is the discrepancy between the nifty magic that can be conjured up by the wizards, and the everyday needs of the people.  Why is it that wizards can always wage some kind of fantastic war, change people into animals and vice versa, create castles in the air, and magic up some great ethereal phenomenon, but cannot come up with indoor plumbing, central heating,  and the combustion engine?  Or even the umbrella? The folks in these stories always live in some kind of medieval world with carts and dray animals, use outdoor fires or fireplaces for all their cooking and heating needs,  sweat a lot in the heat, freeze themselves silly in the cold weather, and get drenched when it rains.

What good is a wizard if he (or she) can’t heat your damn house or produce a flush toilet?)

This particular book seemed to have a bit of trouble with its internal logic.  I can suspend belief quite easily if the entire world and story line follows a consistent logic, but this one seemed to jumble around a lot.  First of all, there were the Ancestors, people who have lived so wonderfully that when they died, they became sages to the living, using a living monk or whatchamacallit as their Voice, speaking through them.  Our heroine, Maskelle, is the Voice of the top Ancestor, the Adversary.  Turns out the Adversary is a little mad, and is trying to kill itself. Very strange.  How can that be?

Also, this ‘wheel’, is actually a … ummm… what do you call those maps that are dimensional, with the mountains, elevations  and valleys, etc?  Physical maps?  Topographical?  It is made out of sand, painstakingly crafted which takes a year to do.  It keeps the world in existence.  So if someone messes with it, the world becomes like the messed up version.    A little odd and hard to understand.

But it is fantasy, and sort of fun.  I think most fantasy fans really liked the book.  I was only meh about it, not because it was not well written, but because none of these wizard-y, sorcerer-y people conjured up electricity.

 

 

UNGLUED by Zig Davidson

A murder mystery, but wait, no.  It’s a crime novel.  But yet sort of.  It is sci fi fantasy, but only partially.

OK, here’s the deal.  Martin Gonlea’s life takes a sudden wrong turn as he rounds a street corner in lower Manhattan to find his mistress dead on the sidewalk. He can’t account for the minutes leading up to her death, and the more he tries to fix things–with his wife, and with her hard-boiled NYPD detective sister–the more quickly they unravel. Clocks fly out of windows, watches run backward, and time becomes undependable in this fantasy-tinged story of guilt, lust, obsession, and redemption.

He finds he can reset the clock, but each time he tries to do that, to get back before the bad stuff, when he comes to in that new time, things go awry.  And he finds his ability unreliable, sometimes putting him in the future, sometimes in the past.  He sees the deaths of several people, and when he tries to move time to avoid it, it seems to happen anyway, in yet a different time setting.

In different time settings, different people are the murderer, different people are the dead victim, and nothing is certain.

I absolutely loved this, except for the very very end, which was a total cop-out, a taffy for the lady readers.

ENCHANTED GLASS by Diana Wynne Jones

I have come to realize that every time I read and write about a fantasy work, I preface it by saying ‘I almost never read fantasy’,  and that I have said this so often that now I am forced to admit that actually I DO seem to read fantasy, just not as often as sci fi or detective fiction.  My bad.

Enchanted Glass is another delightful offering by Diana Wynne Jones, this time about more down to earth magicians, and a somewhat less down to earth character, and some wonderful other-worldly ‘counterparts’, people who sort of resemble in an exaggerated way normal people in the town.

When Andrew Hope’s magician grandfather dies, he leaves his house and field-of-care to his grandson who spent much of his childhood at the house. Into this mix comes young Aidan Cain, who turns up from the orphanage asking for safety. Who he is and why he’s there is unclear, but a strong connection between the two becomes apparent.

Actually, these are YA or even for children, but the child in me certainly enjoyed it.  There is a lot of dark fantasy out there, and it is lovely to chance upon work that doesn’t feel like the magician’s apocalypse.

HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones

A truly fun fantasy tale, set in England, sort of, about a village which has a couple of witches living nearby.  One is a woman, and gee is she nasty, the Witch of the Waste.  Her in-air castle is plunked in the middle of well, wasteland.  The other, with a fabu castle is the Wizard Howl, (Howell in his native home of Wales).  His castle in the air moves from place to place, and Howl, a young guy, has the reputation of snatching young women and  stealing their souls.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Howl’s castle is really only two rooms inside, and the rest is just magical appearance, but it DOES have a nifty door with four different settings which allows the residents to leave into different areas.  Kind of like an elevator, right?

Anyhoo, Sophie, our wonderful protagonist,  has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking the spell lies in the ever-moving Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

The above-mentioned fire demon lives in the fireplace in Howl’s Castle, having made a contract with the Wizard.  Said demon is a hoot, the whole story is a hoot, and will easily enchant readers from very young to very old, and I am not telling you which category I fit into.

As the waitress says when she brings you your meal, enjoy!

 

 

THE ROOK by Daniel O’Malley

A pretty nifty fantasy genre book.  Urban fantasy genre.  Urban thriller fantasy genre. Our genres are now begetting their own niche genres.  I guess Urban Fantasy is more modern, no swords and sorcery and sandals.  OK, I had to look it up, such is the lacuna in my knowledge base.  “Works of urban fantasy are set primarily in the real world and contain aspects of fantasy, such as the discovery of earthbound mythological creatures, coexistence or conflict between humans and paranormal beings, and other changes to city life. A contemporary setting is not strictly necessary for a work of urban fantasy: works of the genre may also take place in futuristic and historical settings, actual or imagined.”

This is set in ummmm an unnamed city in England, modern times. I think it is London.  I know it is modern times because everybody has cell phones, although faxes still seem to be a viable option.  Well, it was written in 2012, so that would make sense.

Want to know what it is about?

“The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

The secret organization hierarchy is based on chess:  Since in England it would be bad form to have a King and Queen, the top two are Lord and Lady, then the Bishops, Then Chevaliers (the knights), Rooks, and Pawns.  Everybody with those nifty strange supernatural powers are one of those ranks.  Anybody working for the Court who is not powered is called a Retainer, and as might be expected, not everyone loves this demeaning appellation.

As with so many long fantasy novels, (this one clocks in at almost 500 pages), it was great for the first three-quarters of the book, and the last quarter or so became somewhat tedious and over the top.  Yeah, I know.  If it is fantasy with fantastical creatures populating it, how can it actually be over the top? Isn’t ‘fantastical creatures’ and’over the top’ a contradiction in terms?   But because we are careening at breakneck speed toward the final denouement,  it becomes less interesting and more action oriented and less, shall we say, cerebral.

Since I am not generally a fantasy reader, I do not seek them out, but somehow happened upon this one, and was happy I did.  I liked it, especially the mystery aspect of it.  Action scenes with severed body parts, gore and body fluids do not entrance me, but that’s why the Universe invented chocolate, vanilla, pistachio and even chile ice cream.  Something for everyone.

THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI by Helene Wecker

Now this was certainly a fun read, combining the golem myth with the jinni (or geni) myth in what turns out to be Love, Actually.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free.

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale. “

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

There are lots of fascinating and lovable human characters populating the tale, and although this is fantasy/fable/magical realism/sorta historical fiction, it is also a ripping tale, as our British counterparts might say, and is a page turner of the first water.  Loved it.  LOVED it.

Some definitions for you.

‘of the first water’.  Ever wondered where that expression came from?  Wonder no more.  Of course you already know it means of the finest quality, as in That was a play of the first water . This idiom refers to a grading system for diamonds for their color or luster (compared to the shininess of water). The system is no longer used but the term, used figuratively since the early 1800s, has survived it.

Golem – In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being that is magically created entirely from inanimate matter (usually clay or mud). The word was used to mean an amorphous, unformed material in Psalms and medieval writing.  The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late-16th-century rabbi of Prague. There are many tales differing on how the golem was brought to life and afterward controlled. According to Moment Magazine, “the golem is a highly mutable metaphor with seemingly limitless symbolism. It can be victim or villain, Jew or non-Jew, man or woman—or sometimes both. Over the centuries it has been used to connote war, community, isolation, hope and despair.”

Jinni – as in I Dreamed Of  —  Jinni, plural jinn, also called genie, Arabic jinnī, in Arabic mythology, a supernatural spirit below the level of angels and devils. Ghūl (treacherous spirits of changing shape), ʿifrīt (diabolic, evil spirits), and siʿlā (treacherous spirits of invariable form) constitute classes of jinn. Jinn are beings of flame or air who are capable of assuming human or animal form and are said to dwell in all conceivable inanimate objects—stones, trees, ruins—underneath the earth, in the air, and in fire. They possess the bodily needs of human beings and can even be killed, but they are free from all physical restraints. Jinn delight in punishing humans for any harm done them, intentionally or unintentionally, and are said to be responsible for many diseases and all kinds of accidents; however, those human beings knowing the proper magical procedure can exploit the jinn to their advantage.

Belief in jinn was common in early Arabia, where they were thought to inspire poets and soothsayers. Even Muhammad originally feared that his revelations might be the work of jinn. Their existence was further acknowledged in official Islam, which indicated that they, like human beings, would have to face eventual salvation or damnation.

Now, go forth and amaze your friends and enemies with your erudition.

What makes this story so fun is that it is highly unusual to have a golem and a jinni in the same tale becauze they come from different cultures and myths.

Apparently there is a sequel.  See ya later  – I am off to locate a copy.