[reading] What have you read recently?

Just finished Memories of Ice Book 3 of the Malazan books by Steven Erikson on audiobook. Read by Ralph Lister, who is an excellent Narrator and has done the books so far justice.

Starting House of Chains Book 4. Change of Narrator in Michael Page. I liked his narration with the Gentlemen Bastard books by Scott Lynch (which I recommend).

This year so far 3 down and 7 more to go of this Epic Series.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
Catching up a bit on some reading while I have the chance:

Port of Shadows, by Glen Cook (The Black Company 10 by publication order, probably 1.5 chronologically)

The long-awaited new Black Company book; although #10 in publication order, it comes earlier in the chronology before the Company head south. It's set after the Battle of Charm (The Black Company) and before the events of The White Rose. It's probably between The Black Company and Shadows Linger, if not an interlude during The Black Company.

Narrated by Croaker, it's set in the city of Aloe, where the company have garrison duty. Starting quiet, it becomes apparent there is something odd going on in the city, not least because of the odd local religion, centred around sacred prostitution. One of the temple girls attracts the attention of the company, and it becomes apparent there is something very odd about her. Still a virgin well past the age when the temple girls become sexually active, she is sexuality incarnate. The wizards determine she is a threat and take her into custody and deliver her into the hands of The Lady who adds her to the ranks of The Taken (depleted after the Battle of Charm).

Returning to Aloe, it turns out she is one of many 'sisters' of differing ages being churned out by the Resurrectionists. Flashbacks to the age of the Dominator reveal she is descended from one of the Senjak sisters, one of whom could well be The Lady. The Resurrectionists are trying to breed/create a wizard capable of reviving the Dominator.

Not as grimdark as others in the series, it's still a good read and fleshes out more around the Company's years in the North. Recomended.

The Georgian Rake, by Alice Chetwynd Ley

I think I recall this one from 30-odd years ago, but it was long culled from my collection if I actually owned it rather than borrowing it from the library.

Miss Amanda Twyford is travelling with her governess to join her parents and elder sister in London. Suffering an accident to her carriage, she goes exploring while waiting for her coachman to return with the blacksmith, and enters the grounds of Medmenham Abbey (yes, the one owned by Francis Dashwood). Encountering a gentleman who escorts her off the premises, she resumes her journey to London, where her elder sister has become engaged to Charles Barsett even though she loves another.

Very light, I think I know why it was culled; I thought the heroine too immature and not entirely sympathetic (basically, too much the schoolgirl). With a more mature heroine, this would have been a keeper. As it is, I probably won't bother rereading it.

The Beau and the Bluestocking, by Alice Chetwynd Ley

Another book I vaguely remember from way back. A more interesting heroine than the preceding one, Alethea Newnham, the only daughter in 6 boys, has been educated alongside her brothers, by her father, and was sent to Miss Hannah More's school to continue her education. Sent to her aunt to be brought out by her alongside her cousin Lydia, she attracts the attentions of Beau Devenish - partly because she does not seek to attract his attention unlike every other female in town. She is more interested in bluestocking society than fashionable society.

Light, but readable.

The Byram Succession, by Mira Stables

Alethea Forester is travelling to London to stay with her aunt to make her come-out. En route, she encounters Lord Skirlaugh at the scene of a carriage accident. When in London, she arouses the jealousy of her cousin Albertine who is in her second season. Albertine is headstrong and self-centered and has set her sights on Lord Skirlaugh, who is the Duke of Byram's heir.

Enjoyable.

Still trying to finish some review copies, along with a couple of RPG purchases, but the next week promises to be busy - I'll be spending a couple of days ferrying Margaret around to get the funeral organised. About the only thing we've got done is to clear Alan's room at the nursing home; hopefully, the April fees will be repayable. Unfortunately, Alan died late Friday afternoon, which means we can't collect the death certificate until tomorrow morning, we can't book the registrar until we've got the death certificate, and we can't organise the cremation until we've got the cremation order from the registrar... Paul thinks there's a good chance we'll be here until Wednesday as I'm needed to do the driving as everything is scattered across town.

Invitation to Die, by Lindsey Davis

A short story, set during the Flavia Albia series, featuring the Camillus brothers. As senators, they are invited to Domitian's infamous Black Dinner. Very much the reaction of the brothers to the invitation and it's aftermath. I thought it a bit weak, not on the same level as Vesuvius by Night.

The Bronze God of Rhodes, by L Sprague de Camp

Set in Rhodes during the Successor Wars, Chares of Lindos is an arrogant but talented sculptor, who regularly gets people's backs up. He is, of course, the creator of the Colossus of Rhodes. A historical about a little-known sculptor set in Rhodes, Asia Minor and Egypt.

Recommended.
 
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Maddz

Rune Priest
Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho

A first novel by an author new to me. The premise looked interesting: Regency London with a magical society taking centre stage so I took a punt when it turned up in a deal a while back.

Sir Stephen Wythe has adopted the magically talented son of two slaves, and taught the child magic; presenting him at the Society of Unnatural Philosophers as an example of what other races are capable of. Grown to adulthood, Zacharias Wythe has inherited Sir Stephen’s position and staff as Sorcerer Royal and head of the Society.

Miss Prunella Gentleman has grown up as an unpaid drudge in a ladies’ seminary. Her father lodged with the headmistress before she started the school and following his death, the headmistress kept Prunella with her for his sake. Prunella is half-caste and has been told nothing of her mother.

Both Prunella and Zacharias suffer from prejudice; Zacharias additionally is accused of murdering Sir Stephen. This is the story of how they met and overcame the obstacles in front of them for their happy ending.

The story was interesting and well-told, however I really disliked the style. I found too breathless and gushy; I was reminded of the ghastly Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences story I read some time ago. I also found Zacharias too derivative of the black butler in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. The fairy kingdoms came across as whimsical rather than otherworldly and frightening. I also thought the racism rather overdone; it seemed more Victorian rather than Regency. What would have rung more true was class divisions rather than racism.

However, the story of Prunella and Zacharias kept me engaged and the ideas were interesting. The Society was a nice touch, especially the back-biting and jealousy displayed by the members. The nature of the bond between sorcerer and familiar was genuinely startling; it’s a pity that didn’t come through with the rest of Faerie society.

This may be the first of a series; if it is, I’m not sure I’ll bother with it.
 
Double Cross by Ben McIntyre. The story of the WW2 spy network that fooled the Germans into thinking the the site of the D-Day invasion was anywhere but Normandy. McIntyre has a gift for making what could be a rather dry subject come alive and is particularly good on the human drama. The spies were a rather motley collection of rakes, eccentrics and out and out chancers. The book tells their story with compassion and a fair amount of humour. Enjoyed McIntyre's Agent Zig Zag as well when I read it last year.
 

Maddz

Rune Priest
The Dancing Floor, by John Buchan (Sir Edward Leithem 3).

This caught my eye when it came up on the FadedPage feed because it's set in Greece and it shares a title with a Barbara Michaels I own. An interesting read, and it could form the basis of a CoC scenario. There's some period racism and sexism, but nothing much overt.

Sir Edward's nephew introduces a fellow student to his uncle, who takes an interest in the lad. This boy has been plagued by a recurrent nightmare since childhood, but is otherwise prosaic. Following WWI, the dream comes to a head: a girl raised abroad comes to England. She is the last of a very unpleasant family, and has been raised on a Greek island where her father retreated to after finally making society reject him. Her father built an estate on the island, where he wallowed in debauchery and black magic (shades of Crowley) and alienated the local population. Following a succession of bad harvests and a hard winter, the islanders revert to a pagan past; they revive an old tradition of sacrifice to revive their fortunes with the girl cast as their victim.

Not bad, but a bit of a period piece these days.

Aliette de Bodard: Xuya Universe:
The Citadel of Weeping Pearls
On a Red Station, Drifting
The Tea Master and the Detective


3 novellas set in the same universe; On a Red Station, Drifting is set before The Citadel of Weeping Pearls and shares a character, and I'm not sure where in the sequence The Tea Master and the Detective comes. The premise is that humanity has left Earth and spread out in space, and space travel is by means of mind-ships; artificial minds borne by humans and implanted into shells (a bit like Anne McCaffrey's brainships). The minds run space stations as well as operating space ships. The other twist is that the culture is SE Asian - Vietnamese, I think, and politically it is an empire based on the Chinese Imperial model with classical scholarship being the route to bettering oneself. The other thing is that many people have mem-implants; these are ancestral personalities guiding their descendants.

The Citadel of Weeping Pearls is focused on 4 viewpoint characters and is structured so each chapter is from the viewpoint of a different character. We have The Officer - an ex-soldier and former lover of the Empress, he is now investigating the disappearance of a scientist who has been tasked with finding the Empress's daughter who disappeared many years ago on the habitat called The Citadel of Weeping Pearls. There is The Empress - worried about the succession, the best candidate is her vanished daughter, and a threatened civil war where her daughter's scientific researches would tip the balance in the Empire's favour. The Engineer is a scientist working in a frontier habitat; her family was destroyed when The Citadel of Weeping Pearls vanished taking her mother with it. The Younger Sister is another daughter of the Empress, younger than the vanished princess, and mentally scarred by her disappearance. Entwined in the story are The Turtle's Golden Claw - a shipmind whose mother was The Younger Sister and Lady Linh - one of the Empress' mem-implants (and the viewpoint character in On a Red Station, Drifting).

On a Red Station, Drifting is set on Prosper Station in the Scattered Pearls belt of worlds, controlled by a stationmind and her family. Lady Linh (who is a distant cousin of the family) arrives on the station fleeing an invasion on the planet she is magistrate for and seeks refuge with the family. She has been tricked by her second-in-command to flee rather than stand her ground and is guilt-tripping over that. Complicating matters, she wrote a memorial critical of the Emperor's policy on the invasion and is worried about the political fall-out. (Incidentally, the child Emperor is a minor mem-implant of the Empress in The Citadel of Weeping Pearls where Lady Linh is one of the Empress's major mem-implants.) Prosper Station is creaking at the seams - overburdened with refugees, the stationmind is becoming senile, the family are missing members in the war, and the remaining members are barely coping.

The Teamaster and the Detective is set in the same universe, but I can't tell where in the sequence it fits. It is set on a station in the Scattered Pearls belt. Here the story revolves round The Detective - Long Chau is a former tutor to a high-ranking family, implicated in the disappearance of the girl she was coaching, she is now working as a detective. The Teamaster is a shipmind - traumatised by the death of her crew during the war, The Shadow's Child cannot function in deep space easily, and now acts as a teamaster formulating psychotropic teas that are tailored to specific people. Together, they are investigating the disappearance of people from a commune or monastery.

I enjoyed these a lot. TT&TD and TCoWP were both 99p deals (I think TT&TD is still 99p), and I liked these enough to pay list price for OaRSD. Recommended.
 
Just finished Wasp by Eric Frank Russell. Looking on Twitter, I found William Gibson said: "The asymmetry, in asymmetrical warfare, is that the little guy can only really damage the big guy by getting him angry enough to self-injure.", to which Neil Gaiman responded: "It's Eric Frank Russell's WASP. Always." It's nice to pick up a book from 1957 and find the principles and concepts remain relevant and quotable, even though the book suffers from a complete lack of female characters of any kind (possibly excusable by the fact that events take place on another planet and maybe they don't have the same means of reproduction?!)

James Mowry is an agent planted on an enemy world - a wasp intent upon sowing seeds of paranoia and self-injury as a means to turn the Sirian Empire upon itself and make the outpost planet Jaimec an easy target for a Terran invasion. From a gaming perspective, it might be interesting as a one-on-one campaign in a sandbox environment of loosely described urban locales. An enjoyable read with simple principles that could easily be leveraged for a broader espionage campaign.

It was an odd find, but a memorable one. Clearing out old paperwork last week, I found a bunch of old play-by-mail material, including stuff for a game called Star Trak I played in the late 80s. It was a star system-level game of conflict and diplomacy, but core (to my mind) was the Research & Development you needed to do in order to get the advantage against enemy forces. It was a chance to create new ships, new facilities, new troops and other key sciences. It was also a chance to take your sci-fi knowledge and turn it into viable tools to defeat your enemy. It meant reading; it also meant a lot of storytelling. Part of that lead to the game moderator providing a Reading List that expanded a lot over time, packed with novels and short stories from the mid-20th century; most were sci-fi, some not. I found that list --- and I'm now doing some catch-up.
 
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Their Majesties’ Bucketeers, by L Neil Smith. A stand-alone set in the North American Confederacy series and predating the first book.

Less overtly Libertarian than the rest of the series, this is effectively Sherlock Holmes in a science fiction setting. The Laamviin are trilaterally symmetrical crustacea-like beings resident on a desert world. They are also three-sexed; so everything goes in 3s. Water-phobic, they go to great lengths to avoid even the sight of water; water-descriptive works are swear words.

The world-building is excellent, and extends to linguistics - so instead of manhood, we get laamviinhood, and lamly instead of manly. The third sex - the surmales or lurries - is referred to as rher.

A distinguished scientist (a Charles Darwin analogue) giving a lecture on evolution is assassinated by a bomb at the lecture. Agot Edmoot Mav, an aristocratic member of The Bucketeers (a vigiles-like force with fire-fighting and police duties), is detailed to investigate the murder. He is assisted by Vyssa (Irene Adler), a female with rather disreputable antecedants, and Mymysiir Offe Woom, a lurrie paracauterist (Watson).

An engaging murder mystery with a well-thought out science fiction background.

Recommended.
 
The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief, by Lisa Tuttle (Jesperson and Lane 1).

This is a bit hard to categorise; at first sight it’s a straightforward historical occupying the same space as The Prestige (as per the film), but is more urban fantasy as the psychic powers are genuine and play an important part of the storyline.

Another piece of Sherlockiana - Miss Aphrodite Lane breaks from the Society of Psychical Research on discovering that her partner was willing to resort to trickery, and ends up taking a position with Mr Jasper Jesperson (along with lodgings - chaperoned by his mother). He is planning to make a career as a detective.

However, cases are few and far between until they discover their landlord has a problem and that psychics are disappearing across London.

Recommended.
 
A Capitol Death, by Lindsey Davis (Flavia Albia #7)

Returning from the Dacian Wars, Domitian is celebrating a triumph. During the preparations, a man is hurled off the Tarpeian Rock. Quite apart from the potential sacrilege, the man was an Imperial bureaucrat in charge of transport arrangements. Tiberius Manlius is given the task of investigating; as he has no time to investigate what with Triumphal preparations, he passes the task to his wife, Flavia Albia.

The usual fact finding follows, along with wry social commentary and less slapstick than usual. (I always look forward to that in the books.)

Recommended, although somewhat darker in tone than previous outings.
 
The Edge to Center Trilogy, by Brenda W Clough
The River Twice
Meet Myself There
The Fog of Time


A trilogy I got from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme in exchange for an honest review.

The River Twice
Jack Wragland is a Victorian clergyman with an interest in inventions. Assisted by his sister Fanny, he invents a time machine and ends up in late 20th century Jalanasia. Here he meets Calla Ang, the heiress of the military ruling family. However, he manages to disrupt the timelines and he and Calla move to an alternate Jalanesia before finally ending up in a third timeline.

When I started reading this, it seemed awfully familiar and it’s a brand-new book. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the second book I realised why it was familiar: the various Jalanesian factions were Junta factions - the Army, the Church, the Peasants, and so on.

Meet Myself There
Jack is hunting his sister Fanny across the timelines after she attempts to assassinate Jack and misses. Instead, she gets Lilias Ang - Calla Ang’s daughter. Jack has settled in California and works for the Action Corporation - headed by Steve Jobs - and is now married. Jack encounters various versions of Fanny and her husband across the timelines before finding his sister on her deathbed in an abandoned missile bunker in North Korea.

The Fog of Time
Jack returns to Jalanesia with a baby - given to him by another version of himself. The mother is another version of Calla Ang. Later, his cousin turns up; and complications ensue when Cousin Gary gets himself in trouble. Jack and Gary travel back in time to Imperial Rome and encounter Rufus - the version of Jack that passed on the baby. Rufus fathered the baby on a kidnapped version of Calla Ang. He turns out to be completely amoral and has been ‘pruning’ timelines. After his version of Calla murders Jack, Calla and her husband Ben travel back to stop him.

An interesting mixture of time travel and theology. The trilogy is deeply plotted and it can be difficult to keep the various timelines and versions of the main characters straight.

Recommended.
 
Skull and Pestle: New Tales of Baba Yaga, edited by Kate Wolford. Contributers: Kate Forsyth, Lissa Sloan, Jill Marie Ross, Charlotte Honigman, Szmeralda Shanel, Rebecca A Coates and Jeremy Corob Cook.

An anthology from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Programme in exchange for an honest review.

The seven stories collected in this anthology run from the traditional Russian story to modern-day America. The common theme is, naturally, the old witch living apart in the woods, i.e. Baba Yaga, and the bargains she makes with those who seek her out. I did like the two African-American themed stories - they both worked well. I also enjoyed the two traditional retellings. The story I thought that didn’t work well was the modern American story - Boy Meets Witch; but this may be because I’m coming from the European tradition and the story seemed to be about the American immigrant tradition. The last two stories were more so-so, but this is the problem with a multi-author anthology - there’s always something that you don’t like.

Recommended
 
Still on Book 5 of 'The Expanse' but also just picked up the collected Fritz Leiber 'Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser' stories (Fantasy Masterworks collection). I read many of these years ago; I don't know if they were abridged because I don't remember the stories being so raunchy and the use of some words which I'm sure I would have picked up on at the time. However, I'm really enjoying them again.
 
The Man Who Would be Kling, by Adam Roberts

A NewCon Press novella obtained free from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme in exchange for an honest review.

An interesting variant on Kipling’s The Man Who Would be King. A strange zone has appeared in Afghanistan which is death to those who enter it. One day, the UN observer meets a couple of cos-players who believe that the zone is set up for aliens not humans (the exact fandom is fairly obvious from the title). They cross into the zone and disappear. Sometime later, an old beggar in Kabul is found to be one of the pair, and she tells the story of what happened to them to the UN observer.

Interesting and rather fun. Recommended.
 
Borrower of the Night, by Elizabeth Peters (Vicky Bliss #1)

Medieval historian Vicky Bliss goes in pursuit of a lost fabulous Renaissance art treasure - a shrine made by a master woodcarver. She is helped and hindered by a colleague, an unscrupulous collector, the Grafin and dowager Grafin of the family that last owned the shrine, a mysterious doctor and a jolly gent who looks like Santa Claus.

It’s a tongue-in-cheek romp, with all Elizabeth Peters’ style, and a fun read. Recommended.
 
The first 7 in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome:
Swallows and Amazons
Swallowdale
Peter Duck
Winter Holiday
Coot Club
Pigeon Post
We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea


These are all available online at the Faded Page website, Ransome being out of copyright in Canada (but not England - we have to wait until 2031 unless international copyright changes. I have them all in hard copy anyway.

A classic children's series with more or less the same characters in each, and with continuity between each book (although each book is a stand-alone story). Set in the interwar years, they still seem relevant today although there are now some general issues:

  • There's very much an issue with female characters - although the Beckett girls are real tomboys, Susan Walker and Peggy Beckett seem to spend an inordinate time engaged in domestic tasks - cooking and cleaning, and taking charge of the younger children (Titty & Roger Walker, Dick and Dorothea Callum). (We won't mention Titty's name - it's a perfectly reasonable nickname for a girl whose full name is presumably Letitia.)
  • Jim Turner's relationship with his nieces, Nancy and Peggy Beckett. Even today, it would have been perfectly in order for an uncle and his nephews, but felt a little off for an uncle and his nieces. Admittedly, the family was rather close knit as the Mrs Beckett was raising her daughters alone, and she and her brother were themselves orphans raised by an aunt.
  • The lack of supervision. That is the one thing that now dates the series - even in the 60s I was able to run wild round the neighbourhood with little or no adult involvement. Now, that's all over unless your parents are fortunate enough to own several several acres of land.
Swallows and Amazons
The Walkers are holidaying in the Lake District, and the 4 elder Walker children (the Swallows) want to camp out on an island near the farm they are staying on. They receive permission from their father (a naval officer) and set out. They meet 2 girls - the Beckett sisters (the Amazons) who reside nearby and have used the island as a campsite previously. After some skirmishes, they win the 'war', capturing the Amazon, and in the process finding 'treasure' - a manuscript written by Jim Turner (Captain Flint) who resides on a houseboat in a nearby bay.

Swallowdale
The Walkers are back in the Lake District next summer, and are hoping to camp once again with the Becketts. But Great Aunt Maria is staying and expects Ruth (Captain Nancy because pirates are ruthless) and Peggy to be seen and not heard (except when reciting poetry). The Swallows camp instead in a valley near the Beckett residence so the Amazons can slip away when they can.

Peter Duck
A more fanciful story - Uncle Jim has acquired a schooner and the Swallows and Amazons go with him and an old sailor (Peter Duck) to recover some buried treasure Peter Duck watched being buried 60 years ago in the Caribbean (shades of Treasure Island). Peter Duck's story is well known in Lowestoft, and when the skipper of another boat sees him setting to sea once more, gives chase thinking that at long last the treasure is to be recovered (having tried and failed to find it before).

Winter Holiday
The Callums - Dick and Dot (the Ds) are introduced to the Walkers and Becketts during the course of a winter holiday in the Lake District. The lake freezes over and a trip is made to the North Pole.

Coot Club
The action shifts to the Norfolk Broads. The Ds are staying there with their mother's old school mistress, and learn to sail. Here the Coot Club has it's headquarters: Tom Dudgeon the doctor's son, the solicitor's twin daughters Port & Starboard (Nell and Bess Farland), and Jim, Bill and Pete - three younger boys (the Death and Glories). The Coot Club are keen birders and trouble ensues when Tom sets a motor cruiser adrift which has moored on top of a coot's nest.

Pigeon Post
Back in the Lake District, the Swallows, Amazons and Ds are prospecting for gold in the fells. The drought has bitten hard and everywhere is tinder dry. They end up camping on the edge of the fells after finding a spring in a valley used by the local charcoal burners.

We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea
The Walkers are at Pin Mill on the East coast to meet their father who has been transferred to Shotley (he was on the China Station). Here they befriend Jim Brading of the Goblin and go sailing with him. An accident sends them to sea, and they make a night crossing to Flushing in atrocious weather.

Somewhat dated, but all are still very enjoyable. There's some casual racism in Peter Duck, but not really in the other books unless you count the children referring to the adult members of their families as natives of whatever adventure they are currently engaged in. Given Ransome's socialist background, working class characters come across as sympathetic, and does not approve of the idle classes (the Hullaballoos in Coot Club). The other thing noticable is how ecologically sound the books are.

Recommended
'Peter Duck' was not a REAL story per se; it was a fictional re-telling of a story they all made up whilst on holiday in the lakes - 'Missee Lee' was the same. There is a reference to them somewhere in one of the other books.

I love Arthur Ransomes books; I own all of them in HB and never get tired of reading them. I have to say; my first one and all-time favourite is 'Winter Holiday.'
 
Never After: Thirteen Twists on Familiar Tales, by Marie Brennan

An anthology obtained free from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme in exchange for an honest review.

Reminiscent of Angela Carter’s fairytale retellings, these 13 very short twists (the longest is 442 words) turn the familiar stories into much darker ones. This is probably closer to their original roots prior to being sanitised by 19th century collectors.

I enjoyed these very much and would liked more. Recommended.
 
So, I finished Live Free or Die by John Ringo. I'm very sorry. I thought I had an idea going in what I was going to get, as I've read quite a bit of John Ringo's output before (including the "Paladin of Shadows" series which...um...has some issues). I quite liked a lot of his military stuff, even if the gung-ho is a bit over the top. I was hoping for more of the same here, and it started well with the much more advanced aliens arriving and declaring themselves overlords of Earth. Then the plucky protagonist discovered something worth trading to the even more advanced aliens, and it was game on.

And then...it became something a bit strange. Logistics porn, I guess? Where the hero takes his money and manages to build enough stuff to win a fight, then manages to make enough extra money to build enough stuff to win the next fight. And then...repeat ad nauseum. No tension, to be honest. It looked like there might be, just for a moment, but then - oh, it just worked and he won.

And there were no women. And no heroes or sidekicks who aren't right wing, square-jawed, red-blooded all-American men. Well, that's not true. There are some cameos by sympathetic female characters, for a page or two. And of course the aliens killed all the old, the stupid, the liberals, the coloured and the foreigners. No, really, they did. There were these genetically engineered plagues. Oh well, at least it balanced the social security budget (actual reference from book!)

If I say there was no character development, is that just beating this book while it's down? In fact, I'm not sure if there were any characters, let alone development. And there was a curious vagueness about time. There would be a scene, then another scene, and then someone would mention that it's been three years since the events of five pages ago. Really? Why has nothing changed? The "hero" has some youngish kids he's worried about at the start of the book. Next time we hear of them, they're getting married. I think the book covers about 15 years, but I'm not really sure.

There are two more books in this series. I imagine that plucky humanity is going to take it's superior work ethic and individualism and beat up on some more decadent, stupid alien types. Who cares.

My recommendation is don't read. Not even if you liked his other stuff. Not even if it's free.
 
Street of the Five Moons, by Elizabeth Peters (Vicky Bliss #2)

Another caper featuring Vicky Bliss. After the events of the previous book, Vicky managed to get at job at the National Museum in Munich; the jolly gent turned out to be the director. An unidentified corpse turns up in a Munich alley - the only clue to his identity is the Charlemagne Talisman in a hidden pocket. Checks prove the jewel to be an extremely good copy - too good to be true.

After going through some odd bits from his pockets, Vicky discovers another clue which leads to Rome and a forgery gang. Here she meets Sir John Smythe, who is working for the forgers, and is a very attractive man.

Another fun read from the pen of the late Elizabeth Peters. Recommended.
 
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