Hitchers by Will McIntosh

The world goes weird. There’s terrorism, possession, widespread death, family, and memories. The end of the world is all about relationships, and guilt that can’t be put aside.

I enjoyed it and don’t want to spoil it too much.

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

The beginning of a cool series, I hope. It follows Vaelin Al Sorna; most of the book focuses on his teens, where he is apprenticed to the Sixth Order. It’s a tough life of dedication–something of a cross between a military boarding school and a monastic order.

There are politics going on in the background–among the Aspects, the nobility, and more. They’re intriguing and complex, particularly from a young “don’t know the players” POV–but it’s not just politicking for the sake of screwing people over, or hat trick deaths.

I like the main character and his brothers… and look forward to seeing how the story progresses.

D’Shai by Joel Rosenberg

An interesting non-European fantasy, thick with concerns of caste, status and honor. I think I’ve read a short story in this world previously, as the caste elements in particular felt familiar. The start, with the almost Mayan running culture threw me off, but that’s the frame of the story.

Inside we have a world of kazuh, of magic that flows as a exaltation of ability. So our runner in the frame story, raises kazuh, and runs in perfect balance for hours. At the end, he’s exhausted, but no horse can keep pace with his magical talent. From there, we meet Kami and his magical family of acrobats. His Dad is renowned and his sister has the talent of acrobatics… but Kami has only studious hard work– not the magical gift.

The world building is excellent. We root for Kami, even though we can understand other people’s perspectives. His romance is fraught, but feels right for a well traveled and experienced teen. Similarly, the feel of the court–from the sumptuous feasts, absolute loyalty and fantastic expected submission all come around and reinforce the feeling of caste and a coherent world.

Witch World by Andre Norton

A classic science fiction book from the 1960s, the start of several interweaving series. The book is fast paced–extraordinarily so in a world of The Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones tomes.

The first chapter sets up our main character as a man on the run, a former Colonel, a physically dangerous man… and catapults him out of our world in Witch World and the country of Estcarp. The next chapters are similarly brief; he’s in a new and alien world, but the narration sticks close to Simon Tregarth in action. As soon as the first conflict is resolved, we hop forward–these days I’d expect a few chapters of “learn the language, study the world, meet the people”, but we leap ahead to a homecoming for the woman he’s escorting and the councils of power. Then we’re off almost immediately to a front in the war.

That war stays tight and focused around Simon’s perceptions… until the end of the invasion, when we shift to a brand new viewpoint character. Who is native to this universe and a woman, for a very different perspective.

The book packs a lot into a little over 200 pages; it’s mostly action. I can see that there’s a lot of space to find out more about the world in sequels; what’s present is well done but the world is only sketched. I’m curious to read a further, though probably not the whole set of books.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

A weird and interesting story. It’s set in the modern day–no time travel tricks–but Carolyn splits her time between modern America–where she’s an outsider–and the library. The book is heavy on flashbacks and formative experiences. They’re generally horrific; among the tricks that Carolyn’s brothers and sisters have mastered is snatching people from the plains of the dead and returning them to life.

It’s very well written and engaging. We begin the book with Carolyn’s presentation to the world–mousy, asking for help and tricking people into doing more than they agree to. As the book moves on, however, we learn that a lot of that is a ploy; she has acquired powers that no one–not even those closest to her, and certainly not Father.

In the end, it’s a creepy story well told. It’s a world of power, absurd rituals from long ago, foresight and betrayal. It also is a story of compassion, interestingly told.

Circle of Hands by Ron Edwards

In this book, Ron created a thoroughly interesting setting. The mechanics seem simple and a bit random (in character generation), but that fits the less scripted times that he’s emulating.

The book covers four undifferentiated nations in a very local dark ages setting, with two sweeping magics running through the area and altering the world in their image. The four regions are very similar; there’s little coinage, a great deal of mistrust for outsiders (who, to be fair, are often raiders), a presumption that everyone you’ll encounter is culturally the same.

It’s a direct, honest culture. As players, you make a pair of Circle Knights who are among the new King(ish) of Rolke’s kitchen cabinet–and who are each familiar with both black and white magic. Most of the time you’re in villages; cities over a thousand people are rare and won’t often be visited by the knights on their ventures.

The magic system is strongly thematic, which is reinforced by the cultural implications of magic being introduced before character creation and spell lists. The culture and Ron’s presentation of it is excellent–if you’re looking for a way to play people who don’t feel like 20th century people in costume, this game gives both a complete setting and strong guidelines for conveying that culture. (As a closest analogue, think 9th century Germany or England.)

Playing it is trickier; I’d be interested, but I’d really want fellow players to have read a bit–or at least be willing to set all of their assumptions aside. Since so much gaming is fantasy gaming, there are a lot of assumptions to peel away.

So… mark me as interested, though probably not interested in running it quite yet. With a similarly invested group, I think it’d be interesting to experience in play. The website for Circle of Hands.

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

An interesting book with a very strong, positive, interesting protagonist: Joyeaux Charmand. She’s a Hunter–someone with magical powers in a post-almost the Apocalypse, the Diseray.

Some of the interesting threads that felt reminiscent of other books were the high peaks setting for the Monestary and home. Much like a few recent books about a plague (disease or zombie) restricting people to mountaintops, with the lands below being wasteland, the flatlands are a shattered world. In fact, the backstory of the Diseray feels a lot like the RIFTS backstory–a bunch of bad decisions collided and brought back magic in a wrenching disaster. The disaster was near total–society collapsed and creatures from myth ate just about everything–except for a few enclaves, particularly where the snow remains year round–or where the remaining scraps of humanity rallied behind the Psimonds and early Hunters.

Joyeaux is a teenage girl who is a Hunter, trained in a (to the Capital, Apex) remote and hidden fortress. Very quickly, she’s summoned from the mountain to her Uncle in Apex. There are interesting fish-out-of-water elements (a bit like Katniss going to the Capitol).

What made the book stand apart was the strong internal consistency to Joy’s decision making and experiences. You don’t get flashes of her doing things because it’d be convenient to the plot. The world building also hangs together plausibly–there are a lot of asides about decisions that were quickly made that reflect well on the people who made them.

The magic system hangs together, though it does take the back seat to the Hunter’s Hounds. The hounds are the core of the magic–in fact, we really don’t hear about non-Hunters using magic, and Hunters are defined by their hounds. Hmm… that’ll be something to look forward to; are there magicians who don’t have hounds?

The story is familiar; outsider with strange gifts comes to town, trains alongside her peers, fights outsiders and wins allies and enemies for doing so. There’s an interesting overlay of reality TV; in Apex, each Hunter is filmed and has a personal channel, has to keep their ratings up, etc. It adds an interesting twist, as our poor turnip has to adjust to a thriving city and Hunters by the dozen, navigating a reality star’s life in the camera, plus skullduggery. She does well and we root for her the whole way.

(It looks like Elite: A Hunter novel is the sequel; Amazon has it coming out in September.)

Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

The second book of the Worldbreaker Saga. This book adds a few new POV characters, including Kirana, the invasion’s leader.

There’s a lot less learning everything from scratch in this book, which made it an easier read. Similarly, the plots and actions by everyone seem much more straightforward. There’s some leveling; Zezili is back after her mauling and ready to kick butt. Roh (and new POV Luna) are engaged in arctic survival, Lilia is coming down off her end of book 1 high, with the impossible demanded of her.

Three of the new POV characters are rulers; Kirana for the invading empire, but also the king of Tordin and Saiduan’s power behind the throne. They are interesting people, all with tough choices to make. Time seems less compressed; the book covers about a year of the conflict, instead of only a few months.

By the end of the book, we’ve killed some of the POV characters, so we should be back to five-ish in the next (last?) book of the Saga. The strife is terrible, but feels less shockingly bloody than before. It read much faster than book 1; perhaps in part because I was fluent in the characters from just finishing the Mirror Empire.

The next book has some big plots to finish; I look forward to it!

Mystic by Jason Denzel

A good turning of age fantasy book, in a less glossy world. I liked the assumed privileges of the nobility (and their secret stressors), and the conflict with Pomella. The petty revenge of her Lady (and the surprising solidarity she found from her peers) felt like good world building.

Her relationships are strong and interesting, including her mistakes. I’d like to see how the story continues.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

A great YA book set in a late victorian clockwork and magic world that borrows a lot from real history… then throws in bold changes, making it unique. The borrowing from the real world, in the end, is mostly the names of countries and empires–but not even that, straight.

It’s a boarding school book, where our hero attends a large, exclusive school that trains people for their careers… including the career of Rithmatist. There’s a lot of interesting history about this weird magical practice that comes out over the book. The first thing we learn is that Rithmatic lines are drawn in chalk, often circles and lines. There’s art interspersed between chapters with drawings of the various circles and their points of intersection. That’s a fascinating read, and lends quite a bit to the feel of a complex, discovered magic system.

Joel is an interesting hero; near obsessed with Rithmatists, but unable to wield their powers. As you’d expect from YA, his focus and dedication, despite the evident incongruity, pays off in the end–but not much before that!

Much like Harry Potter, he’s poor in a society of wealthy aristocrats. While his father is also dead, his mother is present, if mostly in the background. Much of the book is about Joel coming to navigate relationships of his choosing, both with Professor Fitch and Melody.

Melody, in contrast to Joel, is a Rithmatist… but not a very good one. She doesn’t draw great circles, she drifts off in class, and “doodles” unicorns. She’s what Joel wishes to be, squandered… but we find that there’s more to her (and her chalklings) too.

In the end, it was well done. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion, but with a large thread left dangling. I’ll keep an eye out for its promised sequel, but writing hasn’t been begun on it yet.