Archive for October, 2013

Ash Krafton’s “Blood Rush” — Good Characters, Convoluted Plot

Ash Krafton’s BLOOD RUSH is the second tale in her Demimonde series, the first being the excellent BLEEDING HEARTS (reviewed here).   Sophie Galen, an advice columnist, is now in a better financial position due to her readership climbing astronomically due to becoming the Sophia (an empath and problem solver) of the Demivampire (DV for short), but is not happy as her DV lover, Marek Thurzo, nearly killed her at the end of BLEEDING HEARTS.  The DV are a race of beings somewhere between humans and the soulless Vampire and have some characteristics of both races; their main drawback as a race is that sooner or later, a DV is going to become a full-fledged Vampire and the enemy of his own people.  And such was nearly the case with Marek, as he came much closer than he’d have liked to “evolving” into a Vampire, which would’ve made him kill Sophie and everything else he knew and loved due to suddenly lacking his soul.

At the start of BLOOD RUSH, we’re told that Marek has left Sophie for good, no reason given.  Because this wasn’t Sophie’s decision — and most especially because Marek is the only person left alive who’s close to her, as her best friend Jared, a Catholic priest, was killed in BLEEDING HEARTS as a way to get to Sophie and put Marek in danger — she feels terrible about it.  She is lonely, she keeps having to move as werewolves have been stalking her, and she really doesn’t know what to do.  Even being the Sophia to the DV isn’t what it’s cracked up to be; while it’s a highly influential position, it’s also a great deal of work.  And because Sophie herself is not safe, most of her work has been done through her advice column rather than in person.

Then, out of the blue, Marek’s brother Rodrian (called “Rode”) calls Sophie up.  Rode’s daughter, Shiloh (“Shy”), is ill.  (Yes, the DV have illnesses, though not many.)  Rode wants Sophie to come live with him in his palatial estate in order to keep an eye on Shy.

But of course there’s more going on.  First, Rode has been attracted to Sophie from the start, but didn’t want to act.  (“Thank goodness,” I muttered.)  Second, Rode feels guilty that Sophie’s been put in danger, and wants to help her.  Third, Marek — yes, he’s still around — has feelings for Sophie and wants Sophie protected, even if for whatever reason he refuses to come around.

At this point, another complication enters the picture in Sophia-trainer Eirene (pronounced the same as “Irene,” which is important to the plot in a way I’d rather not explain as it’ll blow the ending out of the water).  Eirene has heard of Sophie and believes Sophie hasn’t been adequately trained, which is true as Sophie really wasn’t trained at all.  Eirene wants Sophie to learn how to guard herself and not be taken over all the time by the needs of the DV — who, as I said in the previous review, don’t have any empaths and don’t realize how strong their needs are.  Eirene starts Sophie on a rigorous training schedule, teaching Sophie how to build mental walls (usually called shields in fantasy literature), advising her to “get tough” with the DV and overall to value herself more.  All good things, for sure.

But Eirene isn’t the easiest person to deal with.  She’s abrupt, rude, cold, likes to see Sophie in the evening after Sophie’s put in a hard day at work, and overall seems extremely self-centered.  In some ways, Sophia-trainer Eirene does not seem anything like Sophie herself, yet Sophie cannot put her finger on it.

At this point, a young werewolf, Tanner, enters the picture.  Tanner, unlike the previous werewolves Sophie’s known, only wants to do good.  He’s not a member of any formal Pack and the only person he’d ever bonded to who knew he was a were is dead.  Tanner pledges to protect Sophie and quickly becomes her friend — her platonic friend, something I greatly appreciated.

But Eirene doesn’t like Weres, and counsels Sophie to get rid of him, as Eirene figures the only good Were is a dead Were.

Around this time, Rode decided he should declare his interest in Sophie despite the fact his own brother, Marek, is still alive, still a DV and is still interested in Sophie despite staying away for reasons of his own.  This was a very difficult plot point for me to deal with for several reasons.  First, it’s almost impossible to understand the appeal of Rode from Sophie’s perspective.  Marek is also wealthy, yes, and long-lived, but has many of the same historical interests and enjoys many of the same things, whereas Rode seems much more shallow and far more interested in high finance than the practical Sophie.  Second, Rode is Marek’s own brother.  Third, the only reason Sophie seems to go for Rode is because Rode knows who she is — the Sophia of the American DV — and is in close proximity.  And fourth, Rode is still Marek’s brother.

I wouldn’t have a problem with this nascent romance if Marek was either dead or had turned into a soulless Vampire.  But Marek hasn’t.  Instead, Marek is still, slightly, in the picture.  He’s done something wrong in keeping Sophie out of the loop as to why (for a reason you need to read; I refuse to spoil it), and has marked her so almost no one in the DV community is going to go anywhere near her, while “regular people” who aren’t Weres or DV have no common frame of reference.

So while I understand why Sophie is really upset with Marek, and sympathize with her, I still don’t get why she’d ever want to even think about being with Rode.  It just doesn’t make sense on any level, especially if Sophie really is concerned about Marek turning into a Vampire any time soon as any relationship Sophie has will turn Rode into an even bigger target than he already is.

I’ll stop there with a plot summary, as there are a number of twists and turns at the end I refuse to spoil.  But suffice it to say that the plot, while convoluted, is mostly quite good.

Aside from the odd romance with Rode, everything else in BLOOD RUSH is fine.  The snappy dialogue I enjoyed so much in BLEEDING HEARTS is there and I still adore it.  I continue to believe in the DV, as they fit seamlessly into the “otherworld” mythos.  Sophie remains a winning character who I couldn’t help rooting for, even as she struggled to learn how to defend herself as a Sophia and dealt with all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

But the romance with Rode was very difficult for me to get past.  I actually put BLOOD RUSH down about a hundred pages from the end and let it sit for a month before finishing it up, fearing Krafton was going to do something stereotypical, causing me to throw my lovely ARC across the room.  Fortunately, Krafton did not do this and found a way to resolve that plot without further squickiness.

Bottom line: BLOOD RUSH is a worthy sequel to BLEEDING HEARTS.  It has a very odd romance with Rodrian I did not care for, but overall was a good read that made sense in the mythos Krafton created.  I am still looking forward to book three, coming sometimes during the spring of 2014.

Grade: B.

— reviewed by Barb

, , , ,

1 Comment

Treecat Wars — A Beautiful Series Continues

Treecat WarsWith their usual wit and candor, David Weber and Jane Lindskold have another winner in their young adult (YA) Stephanie Harrington series, Treecat Wars

Stephanie Harrington, the discoverer of treecats on the planet Sphinx and newly appointed “provisional Ranger” with the Sphinx Forestry Service, is being sent to Manticore to with her friend Karl to participate in the Service’s accelerated training program. This is something of a shock to Stephanie, but a welcomed one, since she really does want to become a Ranger. However, a problem quickly arises — she cannot be separated from Lionheart, her treecat, due to their intense psychological and emotional bonding. She finds out that he is allowed to come, though not to every class she has, and some of her fears are eased. Her other fear, though, is her relationship with her boyfriend, Anders Whitaker would potentially end. But with his own imminent departure back home, however, it initially appears that everything would work out and they would be reunited sometime in the future.

Ah, like the authors are going to make everything neat and pat for us readers…

In the background, nefarious persons are still working to kidnap a treecat for study off world somewhere (subplots in both A Beautiful Friendship and Fire Season; A Beautiful Friendship is reviewed here). They realize that with Stephanie and Lionheart on Manticore, they will have an excellent opportunity to “prove” that the treecats are nothing more than wild beasts who deserve to be kept in private zoos for their own enjoyment. A plan is set in motion, one that could easily ruin what Stephanie and Lionheart have worked so hard to overcome.

With Stephanie off on Manticore studying to become a Ranger, the viewpoint of the book drifts a bit as the authors struggle to keep the book on point. This is the only part of the book where I was underwhelmed, but thankfully the drift doesn’t happen for too long as treecats, driven from their homes due to the fire season, accidentally encroach upon the lands of another clan. Starving and nearly destitute, they plead for help. However, they are not welcomed and are told to leave. They cannot leave, however, due to so many of their young being sick and weak. They remain, fishing and trying to survive at the edge of their rival clan’s lands. This leads to conflict, and the title of the book.

One of the most heart wrenching things about reading this book is the war between the clans. I’ve been a huge Honor Harrington fan for years, and my first introduction to a treecat was Nimitz, Honor’s treecat. The idea that the treecats war among themselves is a painful yet realistic reminder that even in fiction, life happens. It’s a horrible war, one that delves into the idea of the “mind sickness” that a treecat can suffer from (being natural empaths, it would only make sense that someone with a sick mind would hurt others in his or her clan) and how it affects others.

Stephanie Harrington continues to be the ideal teenage YA star, with her actions showing her bravery, loyalty and commitment to helping others, human and treecat alike. She is the right role model that young readers should be looking for, someone who is not entirely confident but still tries to do the right thing. As I mentioned above, this is the third book in the series, and I still highly recommend it for anyone looking for a new YA series that involves honesty, integrity and bravery. Books like this give me hope while being entertaining and exciting reads, and the young Miss Harrington has plenty to offer for any reader looking for something new and fresh to read. Definitely recommend for anyone ages 10 and up.

–Reviewed by Jason

1 Comment

Interview: Author Kal Spriggs

Editor’s note: One of the really near things we get to do here at Shiny Book Review is to interview new and upcoming authors. It’s always fun to see what goes on with the thought process behind any author’s mind, and when a new voice breaks onto the scene, it’s captivating to see just where their mind goes. 

Today’s interview was set up on a whim. I’ve been horrible about reviewing books lately and decided (with Barb’s assistance) that we were going to start doing some interviews. The problem, naturally, was to decide who to interview.

After much deliberation, I decided on this young writer named Kal Spriggs. Kal is a new science fiction author who was introduced to me by past SBR reviewer Leo Champion. His first two books, Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption and Renegades: The Gentle One are both available at Amazon for a low price of $0.99. While many people shy away from an underpriced book (or, in this case, novella), I know a good deal when I see one. So without further ado, here is our exclusive interview with Kal Spriggs.

Shiny Book Review: Okay, so tell us… who is Kal Spriggs?

KS1Kal Spriggs: Hmmm, interesting question

I would say that Kal Spriggs is a guy who likes to explore things, both in real life and in his head. He’s a guy who likes to ask what might happen if things were different, and likes to find out how things work. Less introspectively, Spriggs is active duty military, an engineer by education, and an Army brat by origin.

He’s a Scorpio, likes long walks on the beach, and meeting interesting people…

SBR: Wow. I… uh… wow. So what in the world possessed you to become an author?

KS: Frankly, I love to write. There’s few bigger rushes for me in life that can match the feeling of writing an awesome scene. Writing is something that I find to be a catharsis, and it lets me really delve into some of my curiosity about how things work. Creating an entire universe, society and then the physics, and even the fundamental laws of the universe lets me dive into asking the complicated questions.

Also, it gives me a nice escape from the mundane and a good way to share some of the cool things I’ve seen, even if reimagined a little bit.

SBR: Complicated questions? Care to give me an example?

KS: One of the complicated questions that especially appeals to me is: what exactly makes us human?

Where do you draw the line… and when you encounter aliens, or have mutants, psychics, and genetically engineered people, how does the line become blurred?

I personally think that treating people with respect is an essential part of our own humanity. But some species we encounter might be anathema to that concept. How do you respect a homicidal alien who views you as sentient food? How do you not react with instinctive fear to someone who can not only read your mind, but can bend you to their will? Human interaction at that level is interesting for me.

Another area, since I’m fascinated with warfare, is how the societal norms influences tactics, strategy, weapons design, and so-on. We see a bit of that in current warfare, quite a bit in ancient warfare (i.e., the western Greek/Roman style of shock troops versus the eastern style of skirmishers).

So I try to build a society’s war-making capabilities around their values and ideology. It gets interesting, sometimes, especially when I end up designing a race of ADHD aliens with more limbs than good sense.

SBR: So do you cover this in all of your books or do you spread it around a bit? Tell us about what you’ve written already.

desertersKS: My current series I have published, The Renegades, uses a lot of this. I’ve got psychics and aliens and even a genetically engineered ‘super-soldier.’ The interaction between them and normal humans is particularly interesting to write, and I think I manage to make it fun to read.

There’s distrust, particularly from those who haven’t dealt with these unknown people

There’s hostility from some of the aliens, who’ve been on the wrong end of a lot of prejudice, and nervousness about the abilities of a psychic from everyone.

As far as the societal influences, there are big differences in military tech of each of the big political groups. The tactics the different groups go for, and the overall strategies and goals of the various powers are complicated.

To top things off, the future is bleak for humanity in this universe. Two alien races have invaded, most of the human nations are at war with each other, and piracy has become so rampant as to be a common occurrence.

I’ve got another series that is set a few years later, which starts with The Fallen Race, where a handful of humans are the last hope to turn things around. What can I say… I’m a sucker for the underdog.

SBR: So if I suggest the first series reminds me of 1998 Somalia, you’d say…?

KS: Well, only if Somalia had a massive military bent on world domination and the main characters started out in a Somali prison labor camp and had to stage a break-out with a werewolf, a centaur and a mix of mercenaries, missionaries, and pirates.

SBR: That’d possibly be a better result than what we got…

KS: I wouldn’t rule it out… though we didn’t get to use nukes. They do in my book.

SBR: Always a game changer, nukes. So who do you like to read in your down time — assuming you have down time?

KS: Unfortunately, I haven’t had a lot of that lately. Still, I have a few favorite authors that I make time for. Heinlein is at the top. David Weber, John Ringo, Tom Kratman, Ryk Spoor, Mike Shephard, David Drake, Jim Butcher…

Pretty much I read at least two or three books a month. Down considerably from when I had lots of time and could read five in a week and still have time to write. Or maybe I’m just getting old, who knows?

SBR: Yeah, we have similar reading tastes. I’ll have to give Mike Shepard a look, though. So what do you have coming out next?

KS: I’m currently working on getting a military SF novel The Fallen Race ready to self-publish. It’s set in the same universe as Renegades, only the main character has a pocket battleship at his disposal.

To balance it, he’s got not just one, but two empires bent on his annihilation, as well as several rather large pirate factions.

When I finish edits on that, I’ve got my first Epic Fantasy coming out. Echo of the High Kings is my take on fantasy and magic. I’ll admit that I actually sat down and busted out my thermodynamics books when I went to see what was possible with the magic system

Though, again, rather little of that made it into the book. But at least it was math for a good cause.rgo-cover

SBR: Okay, earlier you mentioned you like to write “awesome scenes”. What, to you, defines an awesome scene?

KS: For me, an awesome scene is one where everything fits. Character, Character background, plot, theme… when it all comes together and the story damn near writes itself. When all the loose ends that were bugging me all come together in a nice little bow.

Sometimes it’s a plot twist even I didn’t see coming, and sometimes it is something so inevitable that when I read what I wrote, I realize I was headed there all along.

It normally involves a character that even I discounted stepping forward to make his mark. Sometimes it is a villain turning the tables or even renouncing his villainous ways… or sometimes it is a hero taking a last stand. It often involves some action or conflict and a strong resolution, either positive or negative. When it gets me tearing up or laughing as I write it, I know I’ve nailed it.

SBR: Nice. So is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about Kal Spriggs?

KS: There’s a question that will have me waking in the middle of the night saying “Aw, crap I should have said…”

SBR: *laughs*

KS: Seriously, I think we’ve covered most of it. Short of grovelling and asking them to read my works, I think I can safely leave it at that.

SBR: Well, that’s good enough for me. I’ll do the groveling for you. To buy Kal’s books, please follow the links below. Feel free to spread the word and let people know about this brand new up-and-coming author you heard us talk about (seriously, we like it. Lots) you discovered before he became famous. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to sit down with us, Kal.

KS: Not a problem, thanks for having me

Link for Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption

Link for Renegades: The Gentle One

Kal’s Amazon Page

Kal’s personal blog

, , ,