Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stay the Night by Lynn Viehl

Stay the Night is a poignant romance about the sacrifices people make for true love. Wait, Stay the Night is an action thriller with lives on the line and no confidence of success. Oh, no, Stay the Night is a tale of betrayal, of a revenge served cold...

Stay the Night really is another of Lynn Viehl's wonderful blends where it is everything I've listed above and more, adding in shifting politics, political machinations, and a little medical science among other aspects. This novel is a fitting end (or waypoint) in the Darkyn tales. It is as strong as the strongest of them, leaves some gateways open but nothing gaping so far that I was dissatisfied, and pulls together the main concerns of the series so that it feels like the right things have reached their conclusions. One of those conclusions is a real emotional kicker, and something I didn't imagine Viehl would manage in such a short time, but she does. I can't say anything more than that without serious spoilage, but I wanted to note that I was impressed.

The main story in this novel belongs to Robin of Locksley, that green tunic'd archer who has been a lifelong love of mine. I openly admit to having a soft spot for Robin, whether as presented by Errol Flynn, in the Disney cartoon, or in various books and comic books. Viehl's incarnation is only the latest in a long line of Robins for me. I have even classified the men in my life as Sherwoodian...or not.

I came away from Evermore just a smidge disappointed in his role, mainly because he didn't get a fair shot. There was a chance at him finding peace and happiness, only to discover that had never been in his cards (yes, a slight spoiler, but if you haven't read Evermore, do. You will never guess why I said that until you read the novel). This time, it's his story that has the center stage, and he deserves everything he gets...both good and bad.

I really enjoyed this novel, but I find myself at a loss in explaining why without going into too much detail or on at too much length. Go back to the beginning of this review and you'll have as much as you need in order to know that it's worth picking up and enjoying, despite the cover coloration that Viehl so detests. I have been lucky in that the color doesn't appear quite so lurid in my yellow study.

I regret that this is the last of the Darkyn series, not because Stay the Night fails to wrap things up, but rather because there are things Viehl didn't get a chance to explore, and new stories that are opened up even in this one that I don't know if she will be able to resolve in the new, related, series that's coming out. Viehl is planning some ebooks on her site that will continue the characters and give me a Darkyn fix for all that they're likely to be shorter. These may also provide the rest of those hinted at tales.

Meanwhile Viehl's already charging off into the shared world series, exploring something that was begun in the Darkyn books and yet did not get the full focus. I look forward to seeing this new step, especially with the teasers snuck into Stay the Night, for all that I'll miss Alex, Michael, and the other Darkyn.

The Darkyn are dead, all hail the Kyndred.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Writers of the Future Volume XIII by Dave Wolverton

Note: This is an older review that I never bothered to post, but I'm trying to post at least once a week, and the contents are still interesting. The reference to Realms of Fantasy however is just sad.

As with any short story collection, there were stories in this anthology that I enjoyed, and ones I thought were not as strong. I was surprised at how many of the ends didn't really resonate with me. I had the same problem with a recent issue of Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction where I enjoyed almost all of the stories with the exception of their ends. I did enjoy some of the stories all the way through, but a surprising number didn't click. Which tells me that the issue might just possibly be me ;).

Every reader has different preferences and apparently mine are for an ending that resonates differently than at least a couple editors. Oddly, I have to wonder if the opening story of this collection, The Scent of Desire by Bo Griffin, wasn't the inspiration for a short story in an issue of Realms of Fantasy called something like Icy Hot I think, but can't remember. In both cases, the stories are about a person whose desire literally burns his partners to dust. It's an interesting little story with a laugh at the end that I won't spoil in case someone looks it up.

I was rather surprised at the level of sensuality in this collection. Several of the stories dealt with people's sex life. I actually have a collection of the Writers of the Future (including one from 1985) that I decided to use as an exercise in market research for my writing group. We're all reading one and coming back with what patterns we had. It's a slightly different focus than I would normally have had and it's affecting how I react to the book.

For example, one of the stories that caught my attention was Wings by Alan Smale. It's an interesting story as much for the content as for the story. Had I been reading just for the story, it still would have stuck in my head, but it's the wide end of the sexual content. The Gods Perspire by Ken Rand on the other hand is pure fun in the old style of fantasy. Nothing has to make sense, you just accept the manifestation of Thor and Zeus in a modern bookie's shop and roll with it.

Recursion by S. Seaport is right up my alley being anthropological SF at least on the surface, but didn't manage to click. I could see where the story was going and yet when it got there it didn't have meaning...this goes to what I was saying above about endings. I want the ending to mean something. It doesn't have to be a big something, but something. And inevitability is not enough of a something to comply.

Altar by Malcolm Twigg on the other hand was wonderful. I really got the characters, and when I thought the ending would leave me hanging, a last little twist made everything fall beautifully into place.

In contrast, both Orange by Sara Backer and Black on Black by Kyle David Jelle frustrated me. I enjoyed the stories, both of them had me reading page after page to see how this would work out (they're very different but both well written), then I got to the end and they ended with a fizzle instead of bang. In the first, the culture is set up with DNA as king. By denying us the true ending, how do I know that that principle was properly eased so the truth could out? In the second, a lot happens at the end and it's just not clear to me whether the end was a heroic sacrifice, an attempt to make good after a betrayal, or a betrayal right then and there. It left me lost, and therefore sour.

Now this is an old issue (something I didn't realize when I started reading), so my guess is even the names I don't recognize have gone on to do bigger and better things. The writing skill of these two stories, Orange and Black on Black, make me want to seek them out...but only if they've learned how to end cleanly.

The ending of A Prayer for the Insect Gods by Morgan Burke also got a grimace, but for a completely different reason. I connected with this story almost from the start after an initial confusion over the insects actually being AI robots. But I really wanted the end to go one way when it went the other. However, in this case, the ending is properly supported and understandable in the circumstances. So I like the masterful moment, but I'm kicking my feet that it couldn't have turned the other way :).

The Winds by Heidi Stallman on the other hand is a completely different type of story. It's evocative and more of a mood piece even to the last moments with a few nods toward actual physical events. It's powerful.

The Garden by Cati Coe didn't work for me. It was an interesting setup with a character who was acting rather than sitting passively, which are wonderful things. I was with the MC all the way up until the end when it fizzles. Part of that is story appropriate, but it's also apathetic and counter to the character. Just letting it happen doesn't match her character for all that it matches her world, so it lost me.

Troder by David L. Felts had much the same environment as The Garden, but there the characters take the law into their own hands. They risk themselves to find vengeance and give as is due. But the most powerful moment is the very last one where the MC has a choice...and makes the right one.

And finally, For the Strength of the Hills by Lee Allred. Honestly, I don't know what to make of this story. It's historical fantasy, and yet so plausible and sensible that it should have been predictable. But the blend of characters undercuts that so you never quite know how the answers are going to roll out.

Okay, I take back what I said about the endings. There were a lot of strong stories in this collection, some of them even the ones I thought whose endings fell flat. It's an enjoyable read and I wonder what I'll find in the next Writers of the Future I pick up from my pile.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes

The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes is a very odd book. I don't say that in a bad way, but just to prepare you for what is to come.

For the first part, I felt much like the man in the Monty Python skit with the dead parrot. If you don't happen to know this skit, the essence of it is that a man comes to a pet store and tries to convince the owner that a parrot is dead. The owner is adamant that this is not the case, coming up with nonsensical counter arguments to everything the man says.

Well, what does this have to do with Domino Men? Remember I said the book was odd.

This novel is told in the form of a journal written mostly by a major player after the grand event has occurred. However, despite that framework, the narrative follows the story (with the exception of snarky asides from a secondary voice) chronologically. It begins with an innocent and ignorant character, Henry Lamb, who is drawn into a situation so bizarre as to be beyond comprehension. Like the man in the parrot skit, he can not understand how these people can state things as true that absolutely must be considered mad by anyone with a reasonable grasp of reality.

Suffice it to say that his perspective changes, and ours along with him.

This is the strangest form of an unreliable narrator that I've ever run across, but at the same time, it's so compelling that I couldn't step away. I had to keep reading, first to discover if he could figure out how to convince them of their insanity, then to learn how he manages now that he realizes the world is indeed flat and the round form (metaphor to avoid spoilers) is just a cultural delusion.

And when I decided the narrative would finally straighten out into a semblance of normality, in comes the crown prince and a second narrator intruding on Henry Lamb's tale with the offer of another ignorant innocent to reveal the other half of this war they're in the middle of. And if you think that constitutes a spoiler, you're out to be surprised, because honestly I can't believe you'd guess the nature of the events from that little word.

But what really gets me about this book is that in a crazy, incredible way, it also supports the complicated narrative I love. Okay, the ending makes sense but wasn't foreshadowed as much as I might have liked, but the proverbial gun on the mantelpiece of supposedly random elements in the book do end up gathering meaning, the plot seeds are there and recognizable if you have a quick eye, but usually require two to three pieces before they come clear, and there's character growth and change.

This is not a pure fluff, toss down, cotton candy book. It's more complex than that. But it definitely offers a tangled, fascinating, crazy, and very Monte Python read for those willing to delve between the covers.

Note: I read this book as part of Eos Books' Early Reader program, but I'll keep my eye out for his first book, The Somnambulist. I think this is, hands down, the strangest book review I've written yet, and that just goes to show you how compelling the book is. It's seeped into my pores.

2009 TBR and Read Books

This is a list of the books I have on hand to read for 2009 and my progress in doing so. This is a small portion of the actual books in my TBR bookcase (no, that is not a typo), but it's the ones currently on the short list :).

TitleAuthorFromDate addedDate ReadReadBlogged
Manhunt in the Wild WestJessica Andersongift01/12/200901/14/2009x 
Texas-Sized SecretsElle Jamesgift01/15/200901/15/2009x 
Silent GuardianMallory Kanegift01/15/200901/15/2009x 
Queen's BastardC.E. Murphybookstore04/30/200801/20/2009xx
Around-the-Clock ProtectorJan Hambrightgift01/12/200901/20/2009x 
The Domino MenJonathan BarnesEos Books Early Reader01/06/200902/03/2009xx
Who's Who in Non-Classical MythologyEgerton Sykes and Allen KendallXmas present12/24/2007*x 
Gotham Writers' Workshop: Writing FictionAlexander Steelegift04/04/2008*x 
Dream ManLinda HowardSteph Tyler ( in exchange for the progress bar05/15/2005   
Field of DishonorDavid Webergift04/25/2007   
Son of ThunderMurray J.D. Leederborrowed05/05/2007   
Cold GraniteStuart MacBrideblog contest on by Jean Schara07/05/2007   
The Skewed ThroneJoshua Palmatierbookstore08/04/2007   
Memoirs of a GeishaArthur GoldenBookcrossing11/11/2007   
Blood SecretsVivi AnnaBookcrossing11/11/2007   
Sirius: The Dog StarMartin H. Greenberg and Alexander PotterXmas present12/24/2007   
WorldWiredElizabeth Bearbookstore02/02/2008   
JudgeKaren Travissbookstore04/30/2008   
Breaking PointSuzanne Brockmannbookstore04/30/2008   
TinkerWen Spencerbookstore05/12/2008