Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Black Heart Loa by Adrian Phoenix. Book 2 of the Hoodoo Series

This is one of those awkward books where we find ourselves having differing opinions about the series – however we believe this is one of taste than impressions or fails – more a case of your mileage may vary. Still, one of us is quite happy to read this series, another would rather clean tile grout.

Keille Riviere, hoodoo and persistent user of a right hook to solve all problems is still facing the fall out of the events of Black Dust Mambo. Doctor Heron's misplaced crusade of revenge still casts long shadows – and her cousin, Jackson, has gone missing, perhaps Dr. Heron's latest victim. But, more pressingly, magic is failing. Every hoodooist, voodoo priest, magician and conjurer through Louisiana is finding their spells go awry. Some reflect back against their casters, some warp – some just become completely random. Worst of all, after Katrina, wards were set across the Louisiana coast to prevent another disaster. The wards have reversed – they're now attracting and increasing hurricanes – and another Katrina is on the way.

And if that wasn't enough to be getting on with, the loa Baron Samedi thinks Keille is responsible and is quite willing to kill her to solve the problem. Then throw in some werewolves and ongoing issues with her aunt's identity theft and you have a full set.

As I said, I liked the story. It has a wide world and it manages to maintain tension surprisingly well. It also managed to cover a lot of different things happening, often at once, without it ever getting lost, confused or any element feeling completely superfluous. It's a wide world,a deep, nuanced and fascinating story with plenty of twists to keep you amused and lots of curiosity to pull you further forwards – I kept reading because I wanted to know what happened, I wanted to see how various things worked, I wanted to see what the solution was, what the consequences where, how the world fit together.

Thoughts on Lauren Dane's Goddess With a Blade

This is the first book that I have read by Lauren Dane and I must say that despite several problems, I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading the rest of the books in this series.  Though Lauren Dane is an Australian author this book is set in Las Vegas.  One of the main issues with this book is that Dane has constructed Las Vegas as a Whitetopia.  I wonder if this stems from unfamiliarity with the area, or is just another example of people of colour being erased? Las Vegas is a city where anything goes and Dane does acknowledge this in her writing and yet there isn't a single person of colour in the book.  Also erased are GLBT people. Right. No GLBT people in Vegas of all places.  It makes me wonder if their are LGBT in San Francisco.

Once again we have a female protagonist whose job it is to kill vampires.  In this case, Rowan Summerwaite is infused with a Goddess who gives her the power to slay vampires who murder humans.  Rowan is about as mannerly as a bull in a china shop, speaking in the most vulgar tones at inappropriate moments, as well as threatening violence at the drop of a hat. She is arrogant and self righteous to a fault.  Falling in line with other tropes popular to the genre, Rowan is also an orphan.  Heaven forbid one of these books have a protagonist with living, loving parents.  In Rowan's case her parents were murdered by her vampire step father Theo, when she was just a child.  Her relationship with Theo who is considered The First amongst the vampires is complicated and marred with abuse but they clearly love each other.  This makes me uncomfortable because even though Theo represents the only father she has ever known, I cannot in good conscience understand maintaining a relationship with the person that killed your parents and left permanent marks on your body.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review: Grave Peril by Jim Butcher. Book 3 of the Harry Dresden Files

Harry Dresden returns in another Urban Fantasy Mystery. This time, ghosts are running amok, causing chaos and killing people and similar shenanigans. Harry must go out with his new side-kick, Michael a Knight of the Cross, and stop this sudden tidal wave of deadly ghost activity.

Following the exhausting and dangerous trail finds that someone is tormenting and manipulating these ghosts raising them and encouraging them to spread their havoc – and further, in doing so they are thinning the barrier between the real world and the Nevernever, allowing more and darker spirits to emerge. As if that weren't enough, there is something else out there, a Nightmare that is darker than any ghost they've faced that is hunting Harry and his friends specifically.

Harry must find how they are all connected and what lies behind the ghosts, the Nightmare, the thinning of the Nevernever all the while dodging his faerie godmother who hunts him and seeks to drag him away to be her slave – and even that must be done while negotiating the twisted and convoluted plots of the vampires as Bianca, an old enemy, rises within their ranks.

It's a desperate fight to keep body and soul together – and to protect those he cares about who are being targeted by forces even Harry can't comprehend.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review: Blood Bank by Tanya Huff, Book 6 of the Vicki Nelson Series

This review is difficult for me. Blood Bank is a collection of short stories by Tanya Huff that involve the characters and world of the Victory Nelson series. The problem I have in reviewing it is I, frankly, don't like short stories. As soon as I realised what it was, I admit I was disappointed. I like epic series with huge meta-plot and endlessly developing themes and stories and plotting. Little vignettes of people's lives just generally don't do it for me. So, I'm going to try and work past my natural disinclination to do this book justice

I would say these are a series of delightful little stories that just add a lot of little bits of flavour into the world. They each add depth, they each add a new angle and they all hint at the breadth of the world as well as giving little bits of insight into things like Henry's past and Vicki's relationship with Mike.

But, and I admit this could all be personal taste, it all felt a little empty. It added a little flesh to the bones but not much grew – there was no development, no advancing of the plot or story, no growth. It was interesting, it was a series of amusing insights and curious stories. But after 5 books of the plot advancing and going forwards it felt a little like someone had pushed the pause button and we were having an intermission. Even if the intermission is interesting – seeing how Vicki is settling in with her new circumstances, seeing more flashes from Henry's past – it's still an intermission.

It did expand the world. There is a lot of weird and wonderful out there – though the big bugs and the Christmas story were... perhaps a little more out there and twee than amused me. But the world did grow and it was very imaginative creative and it was original in a genre where very little is. And it was a good story – it was interesting, it was fun, it amused me and I enjoyed reading it. It was never a difficult read.

There are a few offish elements. We have a brief visit of a Romani fortune teller. As far as such portrayals go, it's not awful – but one of these days I'd love to read a book with a Romani in it who doesn't have a bloody clue what's going to happen tomorrow – or whether you're going to meet a stranger (tall, dark or otherwise). It's a bit done. I will say, at least, that Tanya Huff has done some research and it's not all Madame Ludmilla staring into her crystal ball while wearing lots of shawls.

There was an alleged/possible First Nations beastie in a lake, but it would have been nice to have a First Nations person involved.

We see a few more of Henry's past romantic adventures – his deep passionate love with women past, and his casual snacking on men. His paternalistic contempt for Tony was lesser in this book – largely because Tony's presence was less. In some ways it avoided some of the issues I have with previous books simply by omission.

It was still heavily erased when it comes to POC for a book set in such a diverse city as Toronto, where much of the story takes place

On the whole it's a good book, but perhaps lacking in big meaty substance. And part of that, I admit, is my dislike of short stories. But I wanted a steak dinner, I got a sandwich. It's a nice sandwich, it's tasty, it's well made and I like it – but still the previous books were steak, I picked this up expecting steak – I want my steak *pout*

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thoughts on Season 6 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer

When I first started watching Buffy, fans promised me that I would adore the series given my love for urban fantasy.  The first five seasons were hard for me to watch and quite honestly if I didn't have a project which required me to watch Buffy, I would have stopped.  Season 6 however was a game changer.  Buffy left behind much of the teen angst with the exception of Dawn (can we drop a house on her?) and was much darker and far more adult.
Since season five, I desperately wanted Spike and Buffy to get together and that desire was met by an abusive relationship that culminated in rape. I know that some fans don't see the abuse in the relationship prior to the rape, and that is why I think a discussion is absolutely necessary.  Even though Buffy was more than capable of defending herself against Spike's physical assaults against her, he continually hit her to provoke sex.  He prayed upon her vulnerabilities using shame, and then systematically attempted to isolate her from her friends.  These are the hallmarks of abuse and should never be seen as some sort of romantic interlude. 

As much as season six was adult, it was also more problematic.  After waiting for Tara and Willow to finally kiss and share the same sort of romantic screen time as heterosexual couples, viewers were rewarded with watching them break up due to Willow's abuse of magic (more on that later) and finally Tara's death.  Really Whedon?  It's bad enough that Tara died, but to kill her after she and Willow had sex, makes it seem as though death is the penalty for same sex love. How many times have we seen this trope carried out in the media?  After witnessing Tara's death, I don't understand how this show could be seen in any way as a positive representation of the GLBT community.  I know that some will defend Tara's death behind Whedon's nasty habit of breaking up couples, but when it comes to gay/lesbian relationships, the fact remains that violent death is often how they are ended in the media. Tara's death is an absolute reflection of lesbophobia and can be seen as nothing else.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fangs for the Fantasy Podcast - Episode 24

This week we discuss True Blood episode 4 "Fever", Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas, Yasmine Galenorn's Changeling and LA Banks' The Hunger

True Blood: I'm Alive And On Fire

Last nights episode was much less painful to watch, though it started with Jason still being tied to the bed being gang raped.  As I listened to the people from Hot Shot refer to the men in their community as uncle daddy, and brother husband, I have to say that I was very upset.  I understand that the whole point behind wanting Jason was to interject fresh blood into their DNA, but I really feel that Ball's approach stigmatized these people in a way that Charlaine Harris did not.  Believe me, it absolutely pains me to praise Harris for anything after reading her Aurora Teagarden mysteries. Not only did Felton drug Jason and set him up to be gang raped, he sent in the young Becky to participate, proving that they are so backward, that they don't even care about the women of their community.  I want to watch True Blood, not a remake of Deliverance.

I thought that the flashback to the Spanish Inquisition was great.  I wonder how many viewing this realized that what they were watching, was essentially a re-enactment of a war on women.  I know that Ball is linking vampires to this witch's death, but we have yet to hear the whole story.  It is clear that Marlee is in way over her head.  She cannot control the spirit, she cannot force it to answer her, and when the spirit does appear, she cannot control what it does.

It was sweet to watch Eric play in the sun.  I also have to say, I don't understand why Ball couldn't have the camera drop just a few inches when Alcide was changing and when Eric was in the water. That is what I call a serious tease. When Sookie turns to Alcide and says, "stop making that noise," it cracked me up.  Watching Eric mourn the loss of daylight really gave me a sense of his loss. Though he is over 1000 years old, and has seen things that I could only dream about, to do that he had to give up simple pleasures like going for a swim on a hot summer day. I guess there is a cost for everything. Tenderness is something the old Eric would never have exhibited, and it is this vulnerability that is drawing Sookie in.  In some ways, she is still very much a sexual conquest to him, and in others, she is a mother figure.