Archive for March, 2014

Tiger Gray’s “No Deadly Thing” — An nonworking mish-mash of urban fantasy and military thriller

No Deadly ThingTiger Gray’s debut novel No Deadly Thing takes place roughly during the Iraq War (2004 edition) and stars Ashrinn Pinecroft as a military veteran who is severely injured during the war. During the battle in which he was wounded, he gets the feeling for the first time of a “higher calling” and charges recklessly into the fight. After being injured in said battle and discharged, he is recruited into a mystical organization called the Order. The Order fights against “the serpent”, which is the symbol for evil across the board, thought this is (again) not explained well initially. Because of his military experience, Ashrinn is tasked to train the Seattle-Tacoma area group of the Order, which is just getting off the ground there. Beset on all sides by lack of experience and equipment, he struggles to bring the (children, really) under his tutelage to be ready for combat against the ancient evil before it is too late.

Meanwhile, his home life is an unspoken mess. His son, who doesn’t quite grasp his father’s mental and emotional war within, is struggling to go about his everyday life now that his dad is back from the war. Ashrinn’s wife, on the other hand, is thrilled that he is home and that he has finally discovered the power within him that the esoteric society (the Order) recruited him for. However, there is a taint to her aura, and Ashrinn suddenly realizes that he does not trust her or her own side of the power.

Let me get this out in the open right now: this book could have been amazing. Instead, it falls flat and is merely average.

The idea behind it, the concept and breathtaking research that the author delves into to bring the powers inside both the protagonist and the antagonists is amazing. There is talk of the Morrigan (Celtic goddess), dryads, Mesopotamian gods intermingled with Zoroastrian belief, western civilization and the modern world.

Excellent research into esoteric and ancient religion aside, there really isn’t any smooth transition points in the story. You never get a feel of right about Ashrinn, and his movements are wooden and do nothing more than to try and move the plot forward. It’s hard to explain, but bear with me for a moment. When Ashrinn talks, it doesn’t come out as honest and appealing. He’s a very unlikable  protagonist, and yet he doesn’t fit into the mold of anti-heroes that one can root for. He’s just there, and this is a crime unto itself. The background that should have been around him is not there. There is no reason to cheer him on. The strange conflict he has between his wife and a new recruit early on does nothing to make me like him more, and actually detest his weakness. I’m not demanding that he be inhuman and unfeeling, but the inner conflict inside him should be a little more evident, make him more appealing to the reader. Here is where the author failed.

The plot is convoluted but there, and the pacing is fast (a little too fast at some points, but who am I to complain about a fast-paced novel?) and doable. The right elements for a tremendous book are there, but something is missing. My gut tells me that it’s the main character. Plus, it’s about a military veteran, but what? Not every infantryman can teach people to become soldiers instead of fighters, for example. I just didn’t get the feeling that, despite him using the military to escape his eccentric family beliefs, he really never seemed to “be” the Special Forces operative that the author portrays him to be.

A mildly decent read, nothing to shout to the heavens about however. I’d borrow this one from the library, or perhaps look for it on an e-reader at a discounted price.

–Reviewed by Jason

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Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s “Necessity’s Child” is a Fine, Fast Read

Necessity's Child coverSharon Lee and Steve Miller’s NECESSITY’S CHILD is a novel about Syl Vor yos’Galan Clan Korval, a child of about eight who’s had his life completely rearranged due to circumstances beyond his control. His mother, along with her entire clan (Korval), has relocated to the planet Surebleak, a cold and dismal frontier world. Because Syl Vor was recently in danger along with every member of his clan (explicated in PLAN B and I DARE, currently collected in the omnibus KORVAL’S GAME), he’s suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress and is not particularly childlike due to having to assume adult responsibilities at way too young an age.

As NECESSITY’S CHILD is the sixteenth novel in Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe series, it serves two purposes: For long-time readers, it fills in the gaps regarding what happened to the children of Korval once Plan B was called because of the nasty things the Department of the Interior was trying to do to Korval in order to wipe out the whole Clan. (Roughly, Plan B meant that adults of Korval scattered, while the children were taken to a place of safety and protected.) And for new readers, it’s a wonderful story about the young Syl Vor, who feels he has much to live up to, being a child of Korval, but has all the problems you might expect a young person to have who’s been uprooted from the only planet he’s ever known — Liad — and told that he must go elsewhere along with the others previously discussed.

Syl Vor quickly meets up with Kezzi and her little dog, Udari, while at a new school. Kezzi is about his age, is quick-witted and ever-so-slightly slightly psychic (with the potential to be more in the future), and has very quick reflexes. But because Kezzi comes from the secretive kompani (think “Gypsies” and you’re not far wrong), she doesn’t give either her correct name or her dog’s correct name right away. Syl Vor is drawn to her and because of a series of youthful adventures (some might call them “mishaps”), he and Kezzi end up having to account for themselves both to his mother, the formidable Nova yos’Galan Clan Korval, and to the luthia — the woman Kezzi accounts for as her grandmother, who also is the grandmother to all the kompani.

While these two are having their adventures, we meet a confused young man named Rys. He is obviously Liaden, doesn’t know what he’s doing on Surebleak, and is missing a leg. This is significant because Liadens either get medical treatment right away for their injuries (even small scars aren’t usual, or permitted), or they are often shunned by their Clan of origin.

As time goes on, we find out that Rys is a former agent of the Department of the Interior. Like Val Con yos’Phelium, Delm of Korval (and hero of many of the Liaden Universe books), he has managed to break training and become himself again. But the price has been steep, as his mind is broken and his soul does not seem to be able to be mended as he cannot fully remember exactly what has happened to bring him to this place.

Complicating the mix is a full agent of the Department of the Interior, who wants Rys to cause trouble for Korval, as Korval has managed thus far to elude the Department at every turn. Rys isn’t well enough to fight the Department on his own, or at least he thinks he isn’t . . . but perhaps he has an ally in an unexpected place?

As usual with every book Lee and Miller write, NECESSITY’S CHILD is well thought out, interesting, and I cared about the characters from beginning to end. Syl Vor in particular is an appealing youngster precisely because he’s had to assume responsibilities that are far too old for him due to the recent unpleasantness with the Department of the Interior, and how he regains a little of his boyhood is well worth reading all on its own.

But then, there’s Kezzi, and the luthia, and Rys . . . lots of interesting subplots, lots of detail, and an intriguing mix that made me wonder just how strong a man Syl Vor will be once he reaches his maturity, which is exactly what you want in a coming of age tale.

The only possible drawback I see is this: If you haven’t read the previous Liaden Universe books, starting with this one may be difficult. Syl Vor’s story should be eminently comprehensible, yes — but why the Department of the Interior is so nasty may not be, as we only see one individual from the Department who’s actively trying to harm people rather than a whole bunch of them (as in other books).

Further, if you haven’t read the previous books, you may not understand how the formidable Clan Korval ended up on Surebleak at all, so you might not understand just how alienated Syl Vor is at the beginning of NECESSITY’S CHILD — though he’s trying hard not to show it, and obviously hasn’t admitted it to himself as that’s just not done in polite society.

As I’ve read every single last book in the Liaden Universe, I don’t have the same perspective as a new reader . So all I can say is that if you haven’t read any of the other books, I think it’s likely you’ll figure out what’s going on, at least from Syl Vor and Kezzi’s perspective if not necessarily from Rys’ point of view, and that you should still enjoy NECESSITY’S CHILD.

But if you have read all of the previous books, NECESSITY’S CHILD is a delight. All of the characters here are interesting, Syl Vor’s situation is completely understandable, and his cross-cultural friendship with Kezzi is heartwarming without being cloying — which is very tough to pull off.

Bottom line? NECESSITY’S CHILD is a fun, fast read that will stick with you long after you’ve finished turning the pages, and is a welcome addition to the overall Liaden canon.

Grade: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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Earth Star — A sequel, and… that’s about it.

Earth StarI recently read Earth Girl (reviewed here by Barb) and thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was one of those novels which sucked you in, built up the suspense, and then hit you when you weren’t expecting it, built you back up, and finished with a grand conclusion,

In short, everything that the first book in a series should be.

Unfortunately, I’m not reviewing Earth Girl. I’m here to review Earth Star, which definitely suffers from the sophomore blues.

Jarra, recipient of the highest award available to mankind, is ready to return back to school after her harrowing rescue of the downed space ship in Earth Girl. She returns back to school and, surprisingly, runs into some issues with her being an “ape” — something that really didn’t crop up in the first book (except for one character, and this was developed nicely in terms of character growth, I felt at the time). She is shocked and surprised at her classmate’s reaction to her, but takes it as well as she can, since she still has her boyfriend/intended (the rules for marriage and such are very complicated). Just as she is preparing to delve back into her studies, however, she and her betrothed are both whisked away by the military.

Confused, Jarra and Fian agree to assist the military with a top secret project — identify the alien artifact that has suddenly appeared and is headed directly for Earth itself.

IN a race against the unknown, Jarra discovers that there is more to her life — and her mysterious birth family — than she could have possibly ever imagined. Unfortunately, that’s all this book does at this point — imagine how great it could be. A stagnant story line with echoes of promise, but nothing really going on as the investigation into the alien artifact is extremely drawn out, and life around Jarra goes on.

And on.

And on.

The ending feels rushed, and comes off as something that the author threw together once she realized that there was little more she could do building up the romance between Fian and Jarra. There is some tension there, but it feels contrived as the author introduces prospective interests only to throw them out the airlock as Jarra finds out she’s either related to them or they are already committed to someone and would never break that commitment.

The pacing is slow, but the characterization of Jarra is true to the previous book. However, gone is the toughened survivor out to prove everyone (secretly, I’ll add) that people are wrong about Apes. The story seems to be one giant build up, and then there is no payoff at the end — it’s almost a hand-off to the final novel, and really frustrated me. It’s a beautiful story, with lots of good prose and is technically sound, but… it’s lacking something.

Overall, not the best follow up to a breakout novel, but I’m willing to bet that, if combined with the eventual third book, it’ll be an astounding addition to the series as whole. I wouldn’t recommend buying it, however, unless you’re dead set on owning the entire series in print. Look for it when Kindle offers an ebook discount, or perhaps borrow it from the library.

Grade: C-

Reviewed by Jason

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An Interview with Novelist Extraordinaire Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

Over the past two years, we at Shiny Book Review have avidly devoured every last one of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s novels — there are five to date (FIRES OF NUALA, HIDDEN FIRES, FIRE SANCTUARY, NIGHT CALLS, and KINDRED RITES), with a sixth, SPIRAL PATH, currently being polished even as we speak.

There’s a reason for that.

Put simply, anything Ms. Kimbriel writes is worth the price of admission. It doesn’t matter whether she writes fantasy or science fiction; it doesn’t matter whether she’s writing a young adult novel, as in her Night Calls series, or if she’s writing a complex and challenging far-future epic clearly meant for adults, as with her Chronicles of Nuala.

Whatever she writes is excellent in all particulars. Guaranteed.

So, without further ado, please welcome novelist Katharine Eliska Kimbriel!

SBR: You’ve written both fantasy and hard science fiction, and your writing has been well-received in both genres. What, if anything, do you do differently when writing a fantasy story as opposed to a SF story?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: As I mention over in my bio on Book View Cafe, I return to the question of power, and the metaphor is either magic or technology.  Who has it, who doesn’t, do they want it, what will they do with it, how were they affected by it?  It doesn’t matter if I’m writing tech or magic–I want to know how people are changed by their surroundings, events, and the catalyst–magic or tech.  On Nuala, a space-faring group of humans is changed forever by being stranded on a planet where the radiation breakdown is 3x what it is on Earth, with the resultant mutation and sterility factors to overcome.  They could dwindle into death, or they could blaze a new path.  In my fantasy, sometimes the magic solves problems, and sometimes it makes problems–but the people have to deal with it, while still living their lives and interacting with others, both magical and mundane.  I tend not to change a lot, when I create a society–I change a little, making an interesting blend from Earth societies, just to see what will happen.  On Nuala, I used three things, essentially–the increased radiation level, the mutated mineral-leeching microbe, and the mutation that amplified the ability to heal, the so-called King’s touch.

Little changes can multiply into big things!

SBR: How did you come up with your Chronicles of Nuala? (What gave you the initial idea?)

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Two things…I was fascinated by pictures of the huge vegetables growing in the soil around Hiroshima, and the rampant fertility of the soil. I’d also read about wiring a battery to a bone break to speed healing. So I took two questions: 1) What if people could not only survive, but in some weird way, thrive, in a radioactive environment? 2) What if the the concept of laying-on of hands to heal became a reality? Then the story began.

SBR: What was your first story sale? How did that lead into writing novels?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Actually, my first sale was Fire Sanctuary! I sold it to Bluejay Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s, but they never counter-signed the contract (they had no cash flow, and were in trouble) so I’d gotten an agent, who resold the book to Warner/Popular Library/Questar in about a year. Those were the bad old days. We were captive to New York publishing.

SBR: How did you come up with your Night Calls series starring Alfreda “Allie” Sorensson?

Older cover for NIGHT CALLS

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Allie leapt from my subconscious at a statement from the wonderful writer and editor Jane Yolen. She was doing a series of anthologies for Harper & Row, and the first one was to be Werewolves!. A group of us were lunching at World Fantasy Convention, and we were peppering her with questions, testing the start of funny or serious short pieces. I don’t write a lot of short things–they bloom quickly into novels. But I asked her, “Does the werewolf have to be seen?” Jane replied, “The werewolf does not have to be seen, but its presence has to be felt.”

New cover for NIGHT CALLS

I then had two very sharp images come to mind. First, a young girl in clothing that was not modern–either pre- or post modern–gently brushing away snow to find garlic attempting to root under a window, and a young girl with long, blond braids dragging a chair to an interior door to hang up a braid of garlic. In that first version, Allie was post-apocalyptic, but Kim Moran at Amazing Stories convinced me to place her in the past. Allie was born there.

SBR: What sorts of research did you do to add verisimilitude for each series?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: It depended on the story. I researched Antarctica and mineral-leeching microbes for Nuala–also Mirror Matter/antimatter, recessive eye colors, sequoias! For Allie’s world I have an extensive bookshelf of books on herbs, magic, folk tales, fairy stories of Scandinavia, Ireland and the world–colonial life and times. The War of 1812…

SBR: How well did you know Roger Zelasny, and what influence (if any) did he have on your work?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Roger Zelazny came to several Texas conventions when I lived in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.  I thought he was wonderful, and he decided I was pretty interesting, too.  I came up with the book title If at Faust You Don’t Succeed–that was the weekend he was all excited about the book he was writing from the POV of Jack the Ripper’s Dog, one of my favorite of his books, A Night In the Lonesome OctoberWe exchanged letters when his schedule permitted, and had started talking on the phone (we had different networks, which back then was a good thing–we could swap industry gossip!) when he became ill with his cancer.  Only very, very close friends, most of them in New Mexico, knew how ill he was…I was ready to come to Santa Fe at that point, but did not hear back from him.  Then word went out through the fan networks that he had died, and I knew why I had not heard back. Instead of seeing him, I was writing an elegy for Locus and a sympathy note to Jane Lindskold.

I miss him still.  He never got to see Allie, he was too ill to read the story.  Roger taught me to write short stories as if they were the last chapter of a novel–and a lot about writing dialogue.  You can follow his dialog for pages without any qualifiers telling you who is speaking.  That helps me remember to keep speech patterns distinct.

SBR: How is being published by Book View Cafe different from working with your previous publisher(s)? What do you like about this approach, and do you think there will be more consortiums like BVC in the future?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: It is collaborative, because as a coop we do everything, and we help with everything.  We have a huge forum where there are topics for kibbitzing on cover art, layout, back cover blurbs–we have people currently specializing in everything from ebook formatting to keeping the web site going through blogging and copy editing.  There are people shepherding production schedules and volunteers.  I could not have gotten my books up without my fellow authors, due to my health problems back in the early BVC years.  I hope I have been useful to them.  Right now I do everything from woman the events calendar to serve as a member of the board.  And as you know, I mention all the great books we bring out.  It’s a blessing to me that everyone in the coop is good at what they write, whether their work is to my personal tastes or not.  I have no hesitation bringing their books to the attention of my fans, because there’s a chance that some of them may be looking for just that type of book.

I do think the producer cooperative model will be a successful one for writers.  We are inventing a new way to do business, but we are hopeful and making more money each year,  So…forward!

SBR: You’ve recently announced (via Facebook) that the third book in the Night Calls series has been finished. How soon will it be available?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Well, I’m editing. Once I am satisfied with it, Spiral Path will go to at least one Book View Cafe member for a beta read, because it is an original work. (Also to my cover artist, Mitchell Bentley.) It’s at least a four month lag time from that point. I hope at the end of this week to be able to ballpark it, because I want to send out print copies for review to Locus and possibly Rave Reviews. End of summer, if I can get the lead slot at Book View Cafe? This is possibly Allie’s last chance. I have to make some money from the books, because I spent a great deal of money staying alive. I have to make a living and try to replenish the emptied investment account. So…if not Allie, I will have to try writing something else. In fact, I will be starting a new series, a contemporary fantasy, after this, and also, I hope a fourth Allie book, if she’s still telling me her story.

(Interviewer’s aside: Let us sincerely hope so! Allie’s a great character and I want more of her, pronto. End of aside.) 

SBR: Ms. Kimbriel, e-books of all five of your novels are available right now. But what about hard-copy, “dead tree” editions? Are they, too, available now?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Well, all my books exist in paper. I just don’t get any money for sales of the SF, unless you buy them from me at a convention! I’ll do the third Allie in print, but the sales on the SF are not great enough to justify new cover art. So don’t expect the Nuala books in print soon–I need a better paying job first! On the other hand, I have some new copies of Hidden Fires that might interest folk… ;^)

SBR: As an editor, what is your favorite genre to edit? (Or do you like a little bit of everything?) And what is your favorite book that you’ve ever edited, and why?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Actually, I don’t have a favorite right now. I love the variety. I prefer fiction, and really enjoy concept editing. I like helping someone find their own voice and where they want to go, and making it the best book their idea can be. I would have liked being a NY editor, but that didn’t happen.

SBR: Why didn’t it happen?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: Becoming a known concept editor who can make a living at it tends to start with a job (working) for a NY publisher. You had to move to NY in those days, and that was something I would not have dreamed of doing when I was first publishing–my husband had a good job in Texas, and Texas was having its first tech boom at that time. Later I was trying to establish a business that would let me write fiction part time, and I was looking for life balance, so I became a clinical massage therapist. Finally, I became ill, and life has been catch-up ever since. So although I have been told by many writers that I am a good concept editor, and my resume tag line is “Writer, editor, and trainer specializing in retaining the authentic client voice”, becoming a developmental editor at this point is unlikely.

SBR: What do you think is most important when pursuing a career as a writer and editor? Talent? Persistence? Money? Connections? A little of everything? (And does fame, at all, interest you? If it does, how so? And if not, why not?)

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: None of those things hurt. To be a writer, a storyteller, you need stories you are driven to tell (and that may be harder than ever to do, with even more life distractions out there!) persistence, and talent. To be published requires persisting…at the writing, the submissions, or researching how to do it yourself. And then researching how to promote, or not–how to submit the book to a few review sites and let it go, keep writing.

Fame interests me only as a medium to reach more readers with my stories. Money, sadly, would be handy–I spent a fortune staying alive, and I must work now, and need a decent income. If the writing cannot pull its weight, then I have to relegate it to a hobby and return to school or take whatever I can find in the current market. I think Alfreda will outlive me, but who knows what future creators will do with her and her tales. I don’t know about anything else I’ve written or may yet write.

SBR: One, final question: What would you like to say to new authors?

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel: If you have a story that keeps you awake at night, then you may just be a storyteller. Figure out how you want to tell it–book, graphic novel, film–and go for it. No other hobby can compete with creating something unique. Don’t let it be the thing you regret most in life; the thing you never tried.

If you have regrets? Don’t let them be your stories.

Again, many thanks to Katharine Eliska Kimbriel for consenting to this wide-ranging interview . . . now, go forth and read her books already!

— interviewed by Barb

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Romance Saturday Returns with Vera Nazarian’s “Cobweb Forest”

As long-time Shiny Book Review readers know, we enjoy reading romances and tend to review many of them on Saturday . . . and as Vera Nazarian’s COBWEB FOREST was next up in the reviewing queue, what could be better?

At the end of COBWEB EMPIRE, Ms. Nazarian threw in a stunning cliffhanger: The promised Cobweb Bride, which would heal the world by allowing people to die in their own, good times again rather than stay animated as all-but-zombies, turned out to be no such thing.

Instead, she was Demeter — the Greek goddess of corn, grain, and the harvest, who’s often depicted as a quintessential mother goddess and most definitely is the mother of the goddess Persephone.

To make matters even more interesting, Demeter had been going under the name of Melinoe, who’s a different Greek goddess entirely (the daughter of Persephone), one of nightmares and shadows, because Demeter hadn’t known who she was anymore due to drinking the water of Lethe. And she’d been deliberately hidden by her daughter, Persephone (the goddess, not Percy Ayren the mortal), given the false name and biography of Persephone’s daughter for whatever reason, and then left.

Mind you, in Ms. Nazarian’s conception, Melinoe was the daughter of Persephone and Hades (the Greek god of death), and died when brought up from the underworld as she was unable to tolerate the world above whatsoever.

So to start off COBWEB FOREST, you need to know that a deranged Persephone — who’s been masquerading as Rumalar Avalais, Sovereign of the Domain — is on the loose, killing as many people as she can get away with, and is proud of doing so because she’s gone completely off her head due to the death of the real Melinoe.

COBWEB FOREST begins with Persephone “Percy” Ayren and her lover, Beltain Chidair, hearing the explanation of Death, also known as Hades, and Demeter. This explanation is deftly done and gets in all the information required if you haven’t read the previous two books, COBWEB BRIDE and COBWEB EMPIRE (both reviewed here at SBR).

Of course, Percy and Beltain are horrified to know that things are even worse than they’d believed. Because they’d had hopes at the end of COBWEB EMPIRE that death would be restored to the world, and that life as human beings know it would resume; instead, they found that death will not resume any time too soon, that Persephone the goddess has forgotten all that is good about humanity and her fellow gods and goddesses, and that Death himself is in major danger due to the nature of how Persephone has changed.

So, will Percy and Beltain be able to bring Persephone back to herself before she completely rends the world asunder? If not, will death as we know it ever return to Europe and beyond? And without Persephone, how can the regular life cycle be restarted?

For that matter, what will happen to all of those places that mysteriously went missing in the previous two books?

All of those questions, and more besides, will be answered in COBWEB FOREST, but may set off wholly different chains of thought.

Note that we still have the same couples as before to follow in addition to this additional plot-wrinkle, and what happens to them mostly is both life-affirming and heart-rending, something Ms. Nazarian pulls off with aplomb.

For example, the wrap-up of the romance between Infanta Claere Liguon and Marquis Vlau Fiomarre couldn’t have gone better, but there are some hair-raising moments (that I refuse to spoil) before these two find their happily ever after.

And while I was never in doubt that Percy and Beltain would end up together, for a while it looked like they’d end up dead and apart . . . and the pathos there was palpable.

As with the two previous books COBWEB BRIDE and COBWEB EMPIRE, COBWEB FOREST is a well-done dark fantasy with some intriguing plot twists — some which I didn’t expect whatsoever. The romances are excellent, and the main plot of how to restore the goddess Persephone back to the goddess of Spring was particularly well-thought-out.

So there’s action. Romance. Plot-twists. Excitement. Lots of death and dismemberment, if you’re into that sort of thing . . . and an uplifting finale that would charm the socks off a dead person (if said dead person still had socks).

The only drawback — and it is incredibly minor — is a few odd things with regards to the plot. For example, Hades (as Death) tells Beltain early on not to separate from Percy no matter what — not to let Percy out of his sight, ever. But when Beltain does this, no additional, appreciable harm comes to Percy . . . in other words, there isn’t anything else that happens to Percy because Beltain isn’t beside her (rather than three steps to her rear, or having gone through a world gate first, or whatever).

Of course, Percy is in danger from the beginning of this book until its gentle wrap-up. So maybe that’s why it truly didn’t matter where Beltain was in the cosmic scheme of things. But to mention that as something Beltain definitely must do, or there will be consequences, and then to have no consequences whatsoever that are directly because of Beltain not being right next to Percy seemed a bit unnecessary.

As I said, that’s an incredibly minor drawback, as it didn’t impact my enjoyment of COBWEB FOREST whatsoever.

Bottom line? COBWEB FOREST is an exceptionally fine book which conclusively ended the story of Percy and Beltain, and I enjoyed it immensely. (But if Ms. Nazarian can figure out how to write a sequel to this that follows up with Percy and Beltain as they make their way in Europe, I’d enjoy reading it. Guaranteed.)

Grades:

COBWEB FOREST: A.

Cobweb Bride series: A

— reviewed by Barb

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Vera Nazarian’s “Cobweb Empire” is Haunting, Elegiac, and Riveting

Vera Nazarian’s COBWEB BRIDE (reviewed in December) started the story of Persephone “Percy” Ayren, a commoner in an alternate world of 1700s nobility. Percy has an unusual ability: She can see the presence of death. And in a world where death is suspended and no one can truly die, her ability is both a blessing and a curse.

During the course of COBWEB BRIDE, Percy met up with a number of interesting and influential people, including the newly-dead Infanta Claere Liguon (sole heir of her realm), the Witch woman Grial, the enigmatic Black Knight Beltain Chidair (son of the infamous Duke “Hoarfrost,” now dead and even more disreputable than he was in life), and many, many others, including Death Himself. All of the living people, though, paled in comparison to Percy due to Percy’s unusual abilities.

When COBWEB BRIDE ended, Percy returned home, revealed herself as Death’s Champion and managed to ease her dying, suffering grandmother — who’d been “living” despite a death rattle for weeks, unable to eat, move, or possibly even think — into a true and peaceful death.

This, of course, is a miracle of epic proportions under the circumstances. And it cannot be hidden for very long, especially as the various countries populating this alternate Earth (including Liguon, Lethe, Styx, Balmoe, Morphaea, and Serenoa, along with our “mundane” countries of France, Spain, and Italy) are at war.

At the start of COBWEB EMPIRE, Percy is dealing with the aftermath of easing her grandmother’s transition into a clean, true death. She’s wondering why she, of all people, has this ability. And she wonders if it makes her more than human, or less?

But she doesn’t have much time to spend on philosophical pursuits, as word spreads rapidly of her abilities, especially after she grants a suffering pig — which had been butchered before anyone figured out death no longer applied and has been in an undead, yet hurting state for weeks — its true death as well.

The village priest is immediately called, and he says it’s a miracle (discreetly pocketing a few coins from Percy’s relieved father on the way out). So Percy continues on her way, as she needs to return the riding animal and cart to its proper owner, Grial the Witch woman.

Of course, there are obstacles aplenty before Percy finds Grial, and one of those obstacles is the nature of these additional lands themselves. They have oddly started to fade, taking people and objects with them. No street or dwelling place is safe, and no one has any idea why it’s happening, either . . . the best guess is that because death itself is suspended, these particular “extra” realms are hurting because magic works there, whereas it doesn’t seem to be able to do so in France, Italy, and Spain.

Once Grial is found, she gives Percy a few hints along with a good meal, introduces her to the Crown Prince and Princess of Lethe, who need Percy’s help in order to allow the Crown Prince’s mother, the Queen, to truly die. And because Percy has a big heart and cannot stand suffering, she does so . . . but that causes even more challenges.

Consider, please, that Kings and Queens, if they have any sense at all, need to understand tactics. Since many of these countries are at war with one another, they need a tactical advantage.

And what could be a greater advantage in a world where no one can die than a woman who actually can send the undead into a true death?

Fortunately, Grial intervenes and sends Percy, along with the Black Knight Beltain Chidair, along their way again. Grial knows that Percy must continue to search for the true Cobweb Bride, as that’s the only way life as everyone knows it will ever return.

Because all of the same problems discussed in COBWEB BRIDE still exist. People cannot grow anything, because the grains will not ripen. You cannot butcher any pigs, cows or other animals, because the meat will not cure. Even milk will not properly curdle, so making cheese and yogurt is out, and aside from water itself, there is nothing that will keep the populace from starvation unless Death gets his Cobweb Bride . . . and that in a hurry.

At any rate, Beltain is a formidable knight, so between his fighting abilities and Percy’s rapidly improving abilities in sending the undead into true death, they are left unmolested (though with more than a few strong scares). But there’s more between them than just the comradeship of the road, as Percy had feelings for him in COBWEB BRIDE, while Beltain at least thought she was interesting and spunky. But the more he sees of her and her abilities, the more protective and loving he becomes.

Mind you, a touch of love was very welcome here amidst all this death. And someone being able to love Percy for herself despite her unusual abilities — or perhaps because of them — was even more welcome.

At any rate, there is yet another factor to consider. Rumalar Avalais, the Sovereign of the Domain (think of her as the equivalent of the Emperor and Empress of Liguon), has decided to take the field of war. And this Sovereign doesn’t seem to be keen on ruling the living . . .

The pluses of COBWEB EMPIRE are many. Ms. Nazarian has an ability to give her characters just the right words to say; her characterization is top-notch, her storytelling is keen, and there’s a feeling despite all the darkness and death that somehow, someway, the world will be righted again.

In other words, COBWEB EMPIRE, far from being a “filler” book as tends to happen in far too many trilogies as of late, has a good story to tell all its own. It comes out of the previous COBWEB BRIDE, deepening and broadening it immensely, then adds complexity upon complexity until there’s yet another major surprise in store at the end.

Bottom line? COBWEB EMPIRE is a worthy sequel to the excellent COBWEB BRIDE that leaves much room for doubt as to what, exactly will happen in the concluding COBWEB FOREST.

Grade: A-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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** Note that if all goes well, COBWEB FOREST should be reviewed next weekend. Stay tuned.

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