Elizabeth McCoy of GURPS IOU and In Nomine fame is not only a fantastic game designer she is a fantastic author (though both professions do lend well to the other). Herb-Witch’s premise is simple enough: the protagonist, Kessa Herbsman is framed for a crime she didn’t commit (or did she?) and the Lord Alchemist of the city, Iathor Kymus decides to investigate. The obstacles include Kessa’s heritage (she’s a half “barbarian”), the Lord Alchemist’s brother, her own studies in alchemy, and famously enough the herb-witch’s own stubbornness. As the story progresses the reader learns of Kessa’s alchemical “immunity” and though its not revealed till more than half-way in this becomes a very important theme. I don’t want to give away to much here but the way McCoy weaves multiple tales in the same story is (in my personal opinion) quite expert. Moreover, the blending of the everyday and the not-so-everyday appeals to my own internal storyteller. After all what do the protagonists of stories do when you’re not looking at them? This theme is seen quite often through the whole book, and while it can run flat if done wrong, this is not the case with Herb-Witch. The best parts are where in my opinion when the main plot was not talked about. Oh and did I mention that there’s a marriage proposal in a jail cell? Yeah, figured that’d get your attention. McCoy’s dialogue is witty, clever, and to the point with such wonderful gems as: “Then I’ll be in my office, knocking for minor issues, screaming for explosions.”
Now that’s not to say I found all of the book enjoyable, McCoy packs a ton of information in her book about Kessa’s world and it does take a bit to parse (I ended up having to read a paragraph here and there a few times). Furthermore a bit of a peeve of mine is the vagueness of geography (the overall area, not the city itself which is splendidly colorful), maybe I’m just spoiled for maps in my fantasy novels.
Herb-Witch is a fantastic book that deserves more attention that what it has so far received.
As I recently discussed earlier, Elizabeth McCoy is a damn good author. Herb-Witch (the first book of the series) ends with you being hurtled over a figurative cliff (as opposed to just hanging there). I hate cliffhangers. No really, I hate them, they annoy me and they must die. I hate the wait. I hate the wondering. Hate, hate, hate. And yeah, if you’re curious Jim Butcher drove me freaking nuts with his latest Dresden Files books. Other than my deep abiding hatred and loathing of cliffhangers I liked the first book and I sure as hell liked the second one. Herb-Wife picks up where Herb-Witch left off, again, I won’t spoil it but the title should give away at least some of it. Kessa, Iathor, and that unpredictable bastard Iason are back. The second book quite succinctly sums up just about everything I could want summed up but I’m still left with questions and even a few doubts (but that’s the case with nearly every bit of fiction out there).
As a sometimes writer myself I know one thing: endings are hard. You cannot possibly tie up every string, thread, and spool of plot there is. And if you tried, you’d go mad. Still you can tie up the big ones and even a few of the small ones, and in the end that’s the best you can do. McCoy nails it pretty close to the mark, making sure most of the plots are tied with a ribbon and a bell. Also there is a refreshing lack of plot-holes (on either proverbial ceiling or floor). The dialogue remains witty and the attention to details remains high. The book in general was a real page-turner and I must admit I finished it in less than three days of before-bed reading.
Again, the vagueness of geography threw me off a bit; places and names were mentioned but with only the barest of descriptions. There was also one instance of “Why is that character here” but it was justified enough later on that and I was suitably mollified. I was rather disappointed by the book length, I felt the author could have gone on a bit more and I found myself at the end far too quickly. Both books of the Lord Alchemist’s Duology are worth acquiring if you have a love of low-magic fantasy worlds or alchemy in general.
I’ve been pretty sick lately (just got out of the hospital today actually) but I have to post the review of the Queen of Roses by Elizabeth McCoy. I’ve been reading a lot of McCoy’s work lately and well…she’s probably one of my favorite authors. Her work is not full of epic action and world-shattering events. It is about people. McCoy has a sort of razor sharp focus that allows her to show off a particular character in a particular set of circumstances without relying on the crash and boom of more traditional stories. This isn’t to say that her work is boring, but it is a change of pace that makes me want to curl up in a chair on a rainy day and just read. Queen of Roses does this for me, it’s a sci-fi cozy, it’s what would happen if Agatha Christie wrote a science fiction novel. The book starts with a twist and it does not stop until the end (and really, not even then). Another bit I really liked is how the author differentiated between conversations between AI’s and normal folks. The basic premise of Queen of Roses is that Sarafina (a AI) is bought by a skeevy starship owner for his cruise ship…and well…you need to read the book for the rest. It’s worth it, seriously, go buy it.
Plague digs into a section of history of Cymelia and the (current) Lord Alchemist. When I first began reading it I was pleasantly surprised to find the book was written as ‘letters’ from the cast of characters to the others. Since one of my favorite books of all time is written like this (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) I was pretty stoked. Unfortunately, I was quickly disabused of this as the narrative switched from ‘letter’ to ‘person’. I found it jarring and couldn’t settle into the familiar rhythm I found so easy to get myself wrapped up in with Herb-Witch and Herb-Wife. That’s not to say it’s bad it’s sort of like whistling a jaunty tune and then humming it every third of the way. I didn’t like the way it flowed. It might be just me. Maybe I’m a persnickety bastard. No, correction I am a persnickety bastard. Still McCoy’s lively writing, witty dialogue, and attention to detail remain top-notch and more than makes up for what I consider this one failing. While reading Plague isn’t required for any of her other Cymelia novels I recommend it as it gives insight into some of the key characters of her other works.
I really cannot get enough of Cymelia. To the book at hand! All That Glitters by Elizabeth McCoy is insanely good, a fun race through the streets of a cityscape as seen through the eyes of a “roof rat” (think Oliver Twist if he were a Lost Boy from Neverland; just not restricted to boys). The plot is pretty straightforward with a few twists and turns, but that’s not what makes the book awesome. The dialogue is a-freaking-mazing.
Okay, look, what I want you to do is to first think of your favorite foreign accent or dialect. In the past I’ve read books that have featured fictional dialects, badly written Cockney accents, or badly constructed languages. Add this to stilted dialogue and what you have is a book that could have been good…but quickly turns into a shit pile. What’s even worse is accented dialogue that you just can’t decipher. An tha’s th way et is. See? That’s a simple sentence and it’s screwed from the start. All That Glitters not only avoids that trap – it somehow makes the dialogue the center of an already good book. Add that to a dynamic plot that is chock full of intrigue and deception and you have a really good read. Only part of the book I disliked was how the relationship between the two main characters turned out. It was kind of sad, but perfect for the story. Just my opinion there. I really can’t wait for the next Alchemy’s Heirs book. :-)
Seriously. Go buy the damn book. It’ll be the best $4 you ever spent.
The Legend of The Morning Star is another Cymelia book, but it’s dreadfully short. Though it does make up for it with content. It’s even narrated by your favorite priest, Ches. The story itself is about one of the deities of Cymelia, one of his servants, and a beautiful girl. Not much else to say other than it’s worth your money and goes quite well with the rest of the Lord Alchemist series.
Hunger is fantastic. Way too short for me, but an excellent read. I realize that this is Barton’s preferred medium (he’s likes writing short stories and he’s good at it), but some of these narratives felt like dipping my toe in the ocean. I know there could be more, but I’ll never find out because the tide went out. All were equally good, but the first one, the Mask of Sisyphus left marks on me. It’s about a man who works at a fast food joint in the future whose boss makes him an offer he can’t refuse. I don’t know whether to call it fiction or a critique on modern society’s minimum wage slaves. Each paragraph is bursting with the author’s thoughts on the subject, but cleverly masked to read like fiction. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that the protagonist does what his boss wants, and things go topsy-turvy from there. I do have a small issue though: his style reads like a stream of consciousness making the narrative a little less tight than it could be. I found myself rereading several paragraphs over to try to get what he was telling me. Overall, the entire book is excellent and I highly recommend it. Barton’s writing reminds me of Philip K. Dick and I can see his work being optioned into Hollywood movies years down the line. It’s really that good.
I'd give Hunger 5 stars because the story is excellent, but is overridden by the writing style at times and jolts me out of the flow.