Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer

Posted by Simcha 3:23 PM, under | 3 comments

Meet Finch, a corporate drone and blogger who invents words and imaginary lives, but none as surreal as the life he's about to lead as a decorative hermit. Meet Mr. Crane, an eccentric billionaire whose whims and moods change as often as the landscape outside his employee's cave. Join them both as they search for naturalistic serenity in a land of postmodern complexity. Like Mr. Crane, who possesses the resources to build his own river, shape its path, and control its flow, Himmer carefully constructs a wondrous setting and creates a magical allegory that playfully explores the meaning of society, wealth, and the nature of work, and the limits of solitude in a networked world.

Often, when everyday-life gets to be overwhelming, I think about how nice it would be to get away from it all; from the demands and expectations of other people and the constant financial pressure. Sometimes it seems like it would be such a relief to let go if it all and just live  each day as it comes, providing for myself with whatever is at hand. This is the enviable situation that Finch finds himself in, after answering a random spam email that lands in his in-box.

After years of working at the same marketing job, creating blogs posts for numerous fake identities, Finch is laid off. Not having any desire to look for a new job, Finch lies around the house, watching TV and answering spam mail from impoverished princesses and Viagra salesmen. But after answering one particular email, Finch's life takes a drastic turn.

The next day a limo arrives at Finch's apartment, bearing him to a mansion where he meets the wealthy Mr. Crane. There, Finch is offered the position as Mr. Crane's hermit. The job would entail Finch moving into a cave on the Crane Estate and living among nature in quiet contemplation, for a period of seven years. Finch immediately agrees and before he knows it he's been moved into a man-made cave and given a scratchy tunic to wear in place of his own filthy garments.

The Bee-Loud Glade starts off many years down the road, after Finch has settled in permanently to his life as a hermit. A couple of hitchhikers have arrived in his glade and Finch, unused to the company of other human beings, is shaken by this disturbance to his solitary existence. The story then alternates between describing the events that brought Finch here and of his early years as a hermit, and his current situation as an elderly, nearly blind man living alone in a cave.

The Bee-Loud Glade is not a book in which a lot happens but it still manges to be engrossing and entertaining. Finch's description of his daily activities as a hermit made me long to head out into the wilderness and give it a try myself. From early morning meditations, to afternoon swims in the lake, Finch's life was pretty idyllic. Though Finch wasn't completely at the mercy of nature, as hot meals were provided for him every day by his employer, delivered discreetly by mysterious means. There were also frequent reminders that Finch's current lifestyle was being supported by Mr. Crane, who provided Finch with particular tasks he wanted done, such as learning to play the flute, planting a garden or gathering honey from the new beehives (a very painful tasks, as it turns out). One morning Finch is startled to discover that a lion has been brought to his glade and that he is meant to befriend him. But Finch takes on each tasks unquestioningly, no matter how strange or dangerous.

The only thing that marred the story for me was that fact that I didn't like Finch at all. He wasn't particularly offensive but people like him just really annoy me. People that that go through life always choosing the path of least resistance, never making a real effort to improve their situations no matter how unhappy they might be. Finch spent years at a job that he didn't really enjoy and then spent weeks lying around his house doing nothing, not even bathing, until he gets a job as a hermit, where he gets paid to pretty much do nothing. And though he does have occasional jobs to do, they are dictated to him by someone else and he just goes along with them even when they might get him killed. He doesn't even actively make the choice to take the hermit job but is herded into it by Mr. Crane.  I'm curious why Himmer chose such a lackluster character as Finch as his protagonist rather than someone to whom a life as a hermit would require some adjustment or change. The only reason I could think of is that doing so might make the story seem too much like a parable meant to be learned from, and Himmer wanted to avoid this. But that's really just a guess.

While I didn't find Finch to be particularly engaging, what I was interested in were the other characters' interactions with him. To Mr. Crane, for whom money does buy everything, Finch was someone who could be paid to do activities on behalf of his employer. I came to suspect that beneath Crane's strict, business- focused exterior was the hint of a man who longed to swim in lakes and mediate over sunrises. To Mrs. Crane, Finch was a fellow pawn of her husband's mechanisms, another person under her husband's thumb, who might be able to understand hand sympathize with her. And to Smithee, Mr. Crane's butler, Finch is everything he hates about those with money, who expect to be coddled and cared for by others like himself.  But as I saw it, their expectations and beliefs in Finch were all misplaced.

From Finch's descriptions of his current life we know that something happened that brought an end to his employment with Crane, and the mystery of what that was adds a little intrigue to the story, though it's never the focus.

Steve Himmer created a really unique story here which is actually based on an 18th century Fad practiced by some of England's wealthiest citizens, including Queen Caroline. Now I'm really curious to read more about these hermit-hiring rich people of Victorian England, most of whose hermits didn't mange to last the full contractual term.

By the end of the book I had determined that I don't think the life of a hermit would really suit me and perhaps I should just go camping. Though if someone offered me 5 million dollars to do so, I would certainly consider it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Emperor's Knife by Mazarkis Williams

Posted by Simcha 3:23 PM, under | 5 comments

There is a cancer at the heart of the mighty Cerani Empire: a plague that attacks young and old, rich and poor alike, marking each victim with a fragment of a greater pattern. Anyone showing the marks is put to death. That is Emperor Beyon's law . . .

But now the pattern is reaching closer to the palace than ever before. In a hidden room, a forgotten prince has grown from child to man, and as the empire sickens, Sarmin, the emperor’s only surviving brother, is remembered. He awaits the bride his mother has chosen: a chieftain’s daughter from the northern plains.

Mesema travels from her homeland, an offering for the empire’s favour. She is a Windreader, used to riding free across the grasslands, not posing and primping in rare silks. She finds the Imperial Court’s protocols stifling, but she doesn’t take long to realize the politicking and intrigues are not a game, but deadly earnest.

Eyul is burdened both by years and by the horrors he has carried out in service to the throne. At his emperor’s command he bears the emperor’s Knife to the desert in search of a cure for the pattern-markings.

As long-planned conspiracies boil over into open violence and rebellion, the enemy moves toward victory. Now only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young girl from the steppes who once saw a path through a pattern, among the waving grasses.

Mazarkis Williams pieces together a complex mosaic of personality and ambition in a brilliant work of magic and mystery set in a richly imagined world, the first book in a fantastic new series.

The Emperor's Knife kicks off with a dramatic start as young prince Sarmin is taken from his bed one night and locked up in the top of a tower and his younger siblings are brought outside and murdered. Only Sarmin's older brother, Beyon, has been left alive and he now rules as emperor.

Fifteen years later Sarmin is still confined to his small room in the tower with only five books to keep him company and the occasional visit from his mother. Few even know that he is still alive. But suddenly a new visitor appears in Sarmin's room, the High Vizier, Tuvaini, and he wants Sarmin's cooperation. A terrible disease has been spreading through out the kingdom, marking all those afflicted with geometric patterns across their skin, eventually taking over their mind. According to the law anyone infected must immediately be put to death, and Vizier fears that the Emperor himself may be marked. And since the emperor has no children Sarmin is next in line for the throne. But years of isolation have had their impact on Sarmin and he may not be capable to becoming the ruler that the kingdom needs.

Eyul, the royal assassin, wields the Emperor's Knife, the only blade permitted to spill the blood of royalty. He is the one who murdered Sarmin's siblings and who will kill the emperor himself, should it become necessary. A lifetime of killing has taken it's toll on Eyul and when he is sent on a mission to seek advice from the hermit in the desert he begins to question what his purpose really is and to who he owes his allegiance.

Mesema is a plains-woman from the North, where women ride horses and are able read patterns in the wind. When the Imperial Court requests a a wife for Prince Sarmin from the Plains-Tribe Mesma is given over, despite her protests. She knows nothing of the prince or of the Imperial Court but along the way she will encounter the Pattern from the first time and will do whatever it takes to make sure that it never reaches her own home and those she loves.

As the pattern spreads, eventually infiltrating into the palace, it seems like no one is safe from this mysterious disease. Those loyal to the emperor are determined to find a cure while everyone else schemes and plots in anticipation of the emperor's eminent downfall.

The Emperor's Knife is a very impressive debut novel that takes place in Middle-Eastern-like setting, full of interesting and complex characters and following a plot rife with conspiracies and political intrigue. There is some magic here as well, though I didn't get a very clear understanding on the importance of it to the story or how it worked. For example, the mages do magic with the help of elemental creatures that inhabit their bodies and eventually destroy them, but we really spend very little time with any mages and don't learn much about them or their magic. There is also no clear explanation as to how the Pattern spreads from person to person, which caused me some confusion.

After the exciting beginning the story slows down quite a bit and I had some trouble sticking with it. This was particularly true during Eyul's trek in the desert in search of the hermit, which seemed to crawl by. But after that episode was concluded the pace sped up once more and I easily got caught up in the events that followed, especially once Mesema enters the story ( she was my favorite). Towards the end, as all the political maneuvering comes to a head, I became a bit confused about certain events which I didn't feel were explained as clearly as they could have been. I did appreciate the fact that there weren't an overwhelming amount of characters involved, so at least I didn't have trouble remember who was who and what side they were on.

Mesema, Eyul and Sarmin are at the center of the story and the narration frequently switches between each of their point of views, which I found slightly frustrating. While I did appreciate being able to see events unfold from each of the different perspectives,the frequent change in POV's disrupted the flow of the story for me.

The Emperor's Knife is intended to be the first in a trilogy but at the end nearly all the issues have been resolved so this could easily be read as a stand-alone novel as well.  

While The Emperor's Knife had a few awkward bits, overall I enjoyed it very much and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy with rich characterization and lots of political intrigue.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Scifi & Fantasy Releases: Week of November 20

Posted by Simcha 7:58 PM, under | 3 comments

It looks like it's another slow week in SFF publishing, which is fine by me since I'm still trying to catch up with the piles of books by my bed and in my Nook. There are a couple of books here that are sequels to books that I have been intending to read, such as In the Forests of the Night (sequel to Tyger, Tyger) and Hearts of Smoke & Steam (Sequel to The Falling Machine, which I actually have but haven't yet read). This is also the big week in which Michael Sullivan's first book in his Riyria Revelations is being released by Orbit, after having made a huge splash as an ebook, and... I just remembered I was supposed to prepare an interview for his blog tour, which I didn't finish doing (darn it!!). Now I'm feeling completely irresponsible.

And on that note, I'm going to bed.

Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving (if I don't manage to post again before then) and a great reading week.



The Pilgrims
Will Elliott
Publisher: Quercus
Release Date: November 24

Eric Albright, a 26-year-old unemployed journalist, and Stuart Casey, a homeless old drunk, discover a door in a graffiti-covered wall that leads them into the strange world of Levall. Here it is said a mountain-sized dragon with the powers of a god lies sleeping beneath a great white castle.

In the castle the sinister Lord Vous rules with an iron fist, and the Project, designed to effect his transformation into an immortal spirit, nears completion. But Vous's growing madness is close to consuming him, together with his fear of an imaginary being named 'Shadow'. And soon Eric may lend substance to that fear.

An impossibly vast Wall divides Levall, and no-one has ever seen what lies beyond. But otherworlders Eric and Casey, known as Pilgrims, possess powers that no-one in either world yet understands, and soon the Wall may be broken. What will enter from the other side?

The Pilgrims is no ordinary alternate-world fantasy: Will Elliott's brilliantly subversive and creative imagination twists the conventions of the genre for an unforgettable, visionary experience.

Theft of Swords
Michael J. Sullivan
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: November 23

Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles—until they are hired to pilfer a famed sword. What appears to be just a simple job finds them framed for the murder of the king and trapped in a conspiracy that uncovers a plot far greater than the mere overthrow of a tiny kingdom.

Can a self-serving thief and an idealistic swordsman survive long enough to unravel the first part of an ancient mystery that has toppled kings and destroyed empires in order to keep a secret too terrible for the world to know?

And so begins the first tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.

When author Michael J. Sullivan self-published the first books of his Riyria Revelations, they rapidly became ebook bestsellers. Now, Orbit is pleased to present the complete series for the first time in bookstores everywhere.



Hearts of Smoke &  Steam (Society of Steam #2)
Andrew P. Mayer
Publisher: Pyr
Release Date: November 22

Sir Dennis Darby has been murdered, the Automaton has been destroyed, and Sarah Stanton has turned her back on a life of privilege and comfort to try and find her way in the unforgiving streets of New York. But Lord Eschaton, the villain behind all these events, isn't finished with her yet. His plans to bring his apocalyptic vision of the future to the world are moving forward, but to complete his scheme he needs the clockwork heart that Sarah still holds.

But she has her own plans for the Automaton's clockwork heart—Sarah is trying rebuild her mechanical friend, and when she is attacked by The Children of Eschaton, the man comes to her rescue may be the one to make her dreams come true. Emelio Armando is a genius inventor who had hoped to leave his troubles behind when he and his sister left Italy for a life of anonymity in the New World. Now he finds himself falling in love with the fallen society girl, but he is rapidly discovering just how powerful the forces of villainy aligned against her are, and that fulfilling her desires means opening the door to a world of danger that could destroy everything he has built.


Science Fiction

Borderlands: The Fallen
John Shirley
Publisher: Baen
Release Date: November 22


His name’s Roland. Soldier class, a former mercenary, he’s on a full-time mission to scrape a living out of the most dangerous planet in the galaxy.

Is he qualified? He’s well armed, he’s ruthless, and he’s tougher than skag hide. And, oh yeah—he’s strapped with some of the most exotic weaponry this side of the Vault, not to mention possessing fists like chunks of steel.

Zac Finn and his wife and young son had better get on the right side of Roland, because a stopover in orbit has turned into a nightmarish fall to the unforgiving landscape of the Borderlands. Zac hopes to find a strange new alien treasure in the Borderlands to turn his down-spiraling life around. But his wife, Marla, and his son, Cal, just want to survive, and reunite, because catastrophe has left them separated by hundreds of klicks. Their chances aren’t good . . . and Roland is all that stands between them and the planet’s kill-crazed Psychos and murderous bandits—not to mention the grotesque primals, giant wyrm squids, insane tunnel rats, voracious skags, brutal bruisers, and ruthless mercs. . . .

An original novel set in the universe of the Rated M for Mature video game created by Gearbox Software and published by 2K Games.

Michael Crichton
Publisher: Harper
Release Date: November 22

Three men are found dead in the locked second-floor office of a Honolulu building, with no sign of struggle except for the ultrafine, razor-sharp cuts covering their bodies. The only clue left behind is a tiny bladed robot, nearly invisible to the human eye.

In the lush forests of Oahu, groundbreaking technology has ushered in a revolutionary era of biological prospecting. Trillions of microorganisms, tens of thousands of bacteria species, are being discovered; they are feeding a search for priceless drugs and applications on a scale beyond anything previously imagined.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, seven graduate students at the forefront of their fields are recruited by a pioneering microbiology start-up. Nanigen MicroTechnologies dispatches the group to a mysterious lab in Hawaii, where they are promised access to tools that will open a whole new scientific frontier.

But once in the Oahu rain forest, the scientists are thrust into a hostile wilderness that reveals profound and surprising dangers at every turn. Armed only with their knowledge of the natural world, they find themselves prey to a technology of radical and unbridled power. To survive, they must harness the inherent forces of nature itself.



Lightspeed: Year One
edited by John Joseph Adams
Publisher: Prime Books
Release Date: November 22

Lightspeed ( is the critically-acclaimed, online science fiction magazine edited by bestselling anthologist John Joseph Adams. Lightspeed publishes all types of science fiction, from near-future, sociological soft sf, to far-future, star-spanning hard sf, and anything and everything in between. Each month, Lightspeed features a mix of originals and reprints, from a variety of authors - from the bestsellers and award-winners you already know to the best new voices you haven''t heard of yet. Now, in Lightspeed: Year One, you will find all of the fiction published in Lightspeed''s first year, from new stories such as Nebula Award finalists, Vylar Kaftan''s "I''m Alive, I Love You, I''ll See You in Reno" and "Arvies" by Adam-Troy Castro, and Carrie Vaughn''s Hugo Award-nominee "Amaryllis," to classic reprints by Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R. R. Martin, and more.

New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird
edited by Paula Guran
Publisher: Prime Books
Release Date: November 22

For more than 80 years H.P. Lovecraft has inspired writers of supernatural fiction, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and gaming. His themes of cosmic indifference, the utter insignificance of humankind, minds invaded by the alien, and the horrors of history - written with a pervasive atmosphere of unexplainable dread - remain not only viable motifs, but are more relevant than ever as we explore the mysteries of a universe in which our planet is infinitesimal and climatic change is overwhelming it. In the first decade of the twenty-first century the best supernatural writers no longer imitate Lovecraft, but they are profoundly influenced by the genre and the mythos he created. New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird presents some of the best of this new Lovecraftian fiction - bizarre, subtle, atmospheric, metaphysical, psychological, filled with strange creatures and stranger characters - eldritch, unsettling, evocative, and darkly appealing.

Somewhere Beneath Those Waves
Sarah Monette
Publisher: Prime Books
Release Date: November 22

The first non-themed collection of critically acclaimed author Sarah Monette''s best short fiction. To paraphrase Hugo-award winner Elizabeth Bear's introduction: "Monette's prose is lapidary, her ideas are fantastical and chilling. She has studied the craft of fantastic fiction from the pens of masters and mistresses of the genre. She is a poet of the awkward and the uncertain, exalter of the outcast, the outre, and the downright weird.


Urban Fantasy

Bad Blood (House of Comarré #3)
Kristen Painter
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: November 22

Samhain approaches, bringing with it the final melding of the mortal and othernatural worlds. No one knows just how much power the night holds...

Violent murders occur in Paradise City as counterfeit comarré are systematically hunted. The police and the Kubai Mata have more than enough trouble to keep themselves occupied. As war erupts at home, Malkolm and Chrysabelle head to New Orleans to recover the Ring of Sorrows. Chrysabelle is forced to make a life and death decision and will realize that her relationship to Malkolm may have fatal consequences.

The clock is ticking . .

Saints Astray (Santa Olivia #2)
Jacqueline Carey
Publisher: Grand Central
Release Date: November 22

Fellow orphans, amateur vigilantes, and members of the Santitos, Loup Garron-the fugitive daughter of a genetically engineered "wolf man"-and Pilar Ecchevarria grew up in the military zone of Outpost 12, formerly known as Santa Olivia. But now they're free, and they want to help the rest of the Santitos escape. During a series of escapades, they discover that Miguel, Loup's former sparring partner and reprobate surrogate brother, has escaped from Outpost 12 and is testifying on behalf of its forgotten citizens-at least until he disappears from protective custody. Honor drives Loup to rescue Miguel, even though entering the U.S could mean losing her liberty. Pilar vows to help her.

It will take a daring and absurd caper to extricate Miguel from the mess he's created but Loup is prepared to risk everything... and this time she has help.


Young Adult

In the Forests of the Night (Goblin Wars #2)
Kersten Hamilton
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: November 24

The battle against goblinkind continues . . . but which side will Teagan be on?

Teagan, Finn, and Aiden have made it out of Mag Mell alive, but the Dark Man’s forces are hot on their heels. Back in Chicago, Tea’s goblin cousins show up at her school, sure she will come back to Mag Mell, as goblin blood is never passive once awoken. Soon she will belong to Fear Doirich and join them. In the meantime, they are happy to entertain themselves by trying to seduce, kidnap, or kill Tea’s family and friends. Tea knows she doesn’t have much time left, and she refuses to leave Finn or her family to be tortured and killed. A wild Stormrider, born to rule and reign, is growing stronger inside her. But as long as she can hold on, she’s still Teagan Wylltson, who plans to be a veterinarian and who heals the sick and hurting. The disease that’s destroying her—that’s destroying them all—has a name: Fear Doirich. And Teagan Wylltson is not going to let him win.

Soul Screamers, Vol. 1: My Soul to Lose, My Soul to Take, My Soul to Save (Soul Screamers 0.5-2)
Rachel Vincent
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: November 22

— The prequel: never before in print! —
Kaylee is just your average girl shopping at the mall with friends—until a terrified scream burst from her that cannot be stopped.
Taken to a hospital ward, will she be able to save her mind—and her life?

She always felt different, but now Kaylee discovers why. The screams that cannot be denied mean that someone near her will die—and she can never save them. Because saving one life means taking another...

Going on dates with her boyfriend is still new to Kaylee. But when the singer of the band they're seeing dies and Kaylee doesn't scream, she knows something carzy is going on. Soon she discovers soul can indeed be sold..

Unleashed (Wolf Springs Chronicles #1)
Nancy Holder & Debbie Viguie
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release Date: November 24

Katelyn McBride’s life changed in an instant when her mother died. Uprooted from her California home, Katelyn was shipped to the middle of nowhere, Arkansas, to her only living relative, her grandfather. And now she has to start over in Wolf Springs, a tiny village in the Ozark Mountains. Like any small town, Wolf Springs has secrets. But the secrets hidden here are more sinister than Katelyn could ever imagine. It’s a town with a history that reaches back centuries, spans continents, and conceals terrifying truths. And Katelyn McBride is about to change everything.

Broken families, ageless grudges, forced alliances, and love that blooms in the darkest night—welcome to Wolf Springs.


Paranormal Romance

Lord of the Abyss (Royal House of Shadows, #4)
Nalini Singh
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: November 24

Once upon a time…the Blood Sorcerer vanquished the kingdom of Elden. To save their children, the queen scattered them to safety and the king filled them with vengeance. Only a magical timepiece connects the four royal heirs…and time is running out.…

As the dark Lord who condemns souls to damnation in the Abyss, Micah is nothing but a feared monster wrapped in impenetrable black armor. He has no idea he is the last heir of Elden, its last hope. Only one woman knows—the daughter of his enemy.

Liliana is nothing like her father, the Blood Sorcerer who’d cursed Micah. She sees past Micah’s armor to the prince inside. A prince whose sinful touch she craves. But first she has to brave his dark, dangerous lair and help him remember. Because they only have till midnight to save Elden.


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