[reading] What have you read recently?


Rune Priest
Another couple by Sherwood Smith:

Sacheria En Garde!

Originally published in 2 volumes: Once a Princess and Twice a Prince, Smith released the ebook as a single volume which is how she originally wrote it, although the 2 volume formatting is preserved. I had the original first book in print for many years, but never came across the second.

This is a YA portal fantasy: starting on Earth, Sasharia Zhavalieshin is attending grad school in LA and paying her way as a waitress. However, she has a secret - she and her Earth-born mother, Sun, have escaped from Khanerenth on the world of Sartorias-Deles (which may have been settled from Earth) where her father, Prince Mathias of Khanerenth has disappeared. She is found by agents of the usurper king and also by agents of the resistance. Drawn back to Khanerenth by the latter, she finds herself in the midst of politics and doesn’t know who to trust: who is Zandath the Pirate, what are the ultimate aims of the Randart brothers, and is the usurper really in love with Sun (and will she accept him over her husband)?

A swash-buckling romp, very much in the style of The Prisoner of Zenda, the story forms part of the ongoing history of Sartorias-Deles.


The Trouble with Kings

This is set earlier than the Sacheria duology, although in a different part of the world - the continent of Gorael as opposed to the continent of Sartor. It deals with much the same themes, although less swashbuckling, and is another YA novel.

Princess Flian Elandersi of Lygiera wakes with no memory of who she is nor where she is. It seems she has had an accident while the guest of King Garian Herlester of Drath who is arranging a marriage for her to King Jason Szinzar of Ralanor Veleth. She is ‘rescued’ by King Jason’s younger brother and sister, Jaim and Jewel, and recovering her memory, returns to Lygiera accompanied by Jewel. Here she starts taking more of an interest in court affairs, and is kidnapped by King Garian’s minions and rekidnapped by King Jason. Yes, complicated, as initially Jason comes across as a villain but in fact it’s Garian.

Another romp, this time dealing with growing up and finding you place in life.



Rune Priest
Little Fuzzy, by H Beam Piper (book 1 of Fuzzies)

Originally published in 1962, this is out of copyright and freely available on Project Gutenberg.

The planet Zarathustra is 'owned' by the Chartered Zarathustra Company in a situation analogous to the East India company without those pesky natives. The powers on Earth would very much like to break the company's monopoly but has no grounds to do so - until a curmudgeonly backwoodsman has an encounter with a new species who wanders into his camp one day. The plot hinges on whether this species is sapient or not - if it is, the CZC's monopoly is automatically void.

If you ignore various issues (which weren't issues when the book was originally written but are now), this is a very well written courtroom drama in a science fiction setting and I can thoroughly recommend it. However, others may take issue with any or all of the following:

The Fuzzies. Think Ewoks, and you won't go far wrong (I suspect Ewoks were based on Fuzzies). Highly cute, they are effectively winsome 10-year olds, scrubbed up for a visitation from a rich relative who is making their will. It does come across as rather patronising.

Health. Virtually all the characters smoke like chimneys and drink like fish.

Women. Under-represented, and tend to be in supporting roles. It's noticeable most female characters are relegated to the domestic sphere.

Guns. Yup, Piper was a gun bunny and it shows in his writing. This does add to the frontier feel of the setting, but can be a bit off-putting - casual shooting of the planetary wildlife and mentions of capital punishment abound.

Fuzzy Sapiens, by H Beam Piper (book 2 of Fuzzies)

Originally published in 1964, this is available on the FadedPage website, being out of copyright in Canada.

In Little Fuzzy, the plot hinged on whether a primitive race who did not use fire could be considered sapient. The question has now been answered, and Fuzzy Sapiens deals with the consequences of that ruling: Zarathustra goes from an uninhabited planet to one with a native population and from effectively being a company world to one with a colonial government.

My comments on Little Fuzzy still stand but with the addition of colonialism to add to the mix. I also found the descriptions of Fuzzies to be more than a little patronising (it was rather more obvious). I still enjoyed the story very much.


Rune Priest
Rotherweird, by Andrew Caldecott (book 1 of the Rotherweird series)

Rather an oddity, and somewhat hard to classify. I badged it as an urban fantasy, but it's as much magical realism and secret history with some portal fantasy thrown in. It took me a little while to get into it, especially as I started reading it on my iPhone, and the layout was distinctly odd on the small screen (I think because of the text flow around the illustrations). Switching to the e-reader helped a lot.

The set-up is a self-governing English country town by virtue of a statute from Elizabeth I; this is because of the presence of a portal to another dimension (with Lovecraftian elements) and the fact that Queen Mary exiled a group of child prodigies there. The prodigies were cared for and educated by the kindly Lord of the Manor, but after his death, most of the group started meddling with the other dimension, creating monstrous fusions of different animals, and animals and human. Following the breaking up of the group by Elizabeth, the town if divorced from the outside world, and the study of history strictly banned.

Skipping to the present day, Rotherweird keeps it's traditions and is governed by the Lord Mayor. The Manor is acquired by an outsider who restores and reopens it. However, he has a secret - he is one of the group of child prodigies who had their memories wiped and were exiled in the New World by Drake (where most promptly died). He is trying to get back through the portal to reverse what has been done to him; but there is a millennial crisis happening through the portal. A disparate group of townspeople and country people band together to try and stop him, along with an outsider - the modern history teacher at the Rotherweird school.

As I said, a deeply strange story, but well worth the read. Recommended.


Rune Priest
Stranger within the Gates, by Mira Stables

A post-Regency romance by an author I remember from the 70s (I still have a couple of her books). This one I don't remember reading. Mr Develyn inherits an estate from his uncle, the Earl of Finemore. After an adventurous life, he is ready to settle in England and raise his daughter. However, when he arrives to take possession, he finds instead of the lodge he remembers at one of the gate a comfortable house occupied by a young woman who had been under his uncle's protection for many years although they were never lovers. Under the terms of the will, Miss Thornish has the right to occupy the house for her lifetime unless she marries when the house reverts to the estate and she is granted a generous dowry instead.

Unlike many of the genre, this is not set in the glittering balls of The Season, but rather the action takes place within the confines of a rural estate with occasional trips to London. Light and enjoyable.

There are, I believe, some staples of the fantasy genre that everyone has read ... everyone but me. When I was a kid I didn't read books as much as I did comics. I learned to read by reading the Avengers! As a result I have only ever read Tolkein once in my 20s, I have never read the Earthsea books (although they are in the pile), I have vague memories of Andre Norton and Heinlein ... and I never read the Belgariad.

So, at the tender age of 47, I stumbled across them in a charity shop and decided to have a bash. What could go wrong?

(Full disclosure - I did try to read the first book of the Mallorean before, but couldn't get further than the prologue as the Sheer Number of Capitalised Words and People from Places with Weapons and Kingdoms was just too much to take in.)

Anyway... here we go.

Its safe to say David Eddings had read Lord of the Rings, and seen Star Wars, right? hahahahahahaha

Bugger me, what a load of nothing. The prologue is great - all very big picture fantasy, introducing the orb macguffin, Poldara and Belgareth. Or whatever they are called. And then we get the slice of life stuff on the farm with Garion Skywalker undergoing borderline obsession behaviour from Aunt Pol - he could have made that reveal a little subtler! The Old Gandalf Wolf turns up, and goes, and comes back, and some Off Brand Ring Wraiths arrive and everyone runs in a Tyrion-esque travelogue which appears to be simulataneously running away from the Aldi-Wraiths and hunting the MacGuffin, which is the Orb right? We never get told its the Orb but its the Orb...

Some more characters are added. Swarthy Were-Gimli Berek, Han Silko and reliable everyman Chew-Durnik. It also turns out that Berek and Silk are nobility, and that Silk can teach Garion a secret sign language of Finger Wiggle Exposition that no one every notices in the time it takes them to familiarise us with the continent. Cool.

There''s some action. A brawl in a street, a boar hunt (has there EVER been a fantasy boar hunt where the protagonists come back unscathed?) and a moustache twirling bad guy who leads a direct attack on the Council of Rivende.... sorry Cherek, but is defeated off page. At the end of the book we discover (in really rapid succession, like Eddings had forgot he had to introduce stuff...) that (deep breath) the Bad Guys are about the wage war, the son of the one of the kings is a horse-whisperer which instantly gets him access to the Fellowship of the Orb, Poldara is a bitch who hates soothsayers, Belgarath is Garion's 'grandfather' (I mean, no shit Sherlock....) and magic exists. The Will and the Word. Four pages from the end.

I'm hooked! Its like reading really shit D&D fanfic. From a slow burn GM that loves his secrets but is terrible at keeping them.

I'll keep you up to date when I finish the next one!


The Guvnor
Staff member
Gosh it's been so very long.
Good luck and please keep us updated.

Then read Earthsea, that really is available first classic.


Rune Priest
Back on the train again, so I've been catching up on reading.

Ghost in the Cogs, edited by Scott Gable and C Dombrowski

A steampunk ghost story anthology by (mostly) indie authors. Only 2 names - Parker Goodreau and Nick Mamatas = I've come across before.

In general, the stories were well-written and seemed to hang together, although it's difficult to do much world-building in the confines of a short story. However, I found that this was an anthology that could only be dipped into a story at a time; I found the overall tone to be depressing - a bit like being force-fed misery fiction.

I'm not going to recommend it as it wasn't entirely to my taste overall but others may well like it better than me.

Honey Pot, by Mira Stables

After the previous book, I badly needed something lighter in tone.

A Regency romance, which I have owned in paperback for many years and recently picked up the Kindle version.

Russet Ingram has inherited a fortune and given up her job as a governess at a school and has become a leader of Society. A former pupil, jealous of her success, stirs up trouble as she thinks Russet is casting eyes at her intended; she asks her guardian, James Cameron, to do something to ensure Russet does not become betrothed to her intended. Mr Cameron is unable to gain leverage over Russet, so hits on the idea of kidnapping her when Russet is starting her journey to Italy to visit her father. Essentially, Russet's younger sister is on the verge of becoming betrothed to the heir to a duchy - provided there is no breath of scandal.

Held prisoner in Mr Cameron's secluded estate, Russet ends up winning hearts and minds, including that of Mr Cameron. He realises just how badly he has misjudged Russet when his ward arrives with her suitor - except the suitor is a different young man...

Enjoyable. Like the previous title I reviewed earlier, the book is largely set in the country rather than the more usual London setting in The Season; this seems to be a feature of her books; the other paperback I own also follows that pattern.

There are, I believe, some staples of the fantasy genre that everyone has read ... everyone but me. When I was a kid I didn't read books as much as I did comics. I learned to read by reading the Avengers! As a result I have only ever read Tolkein once in my 20s, I have never read the Earthsea books (although they are in the pile), I have vague memories of Andre Norton and Heinlein ... and I never read the Belgariad.

So, at the tender age of 47, I stumbled across them in a charity shop and decided to have a bash. What could go wrong?
You should really read Thomas Covenant after you finish these...bwa-ha-ha-ha...


Rune Priest
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury.

I’m not sure if this was a re-read or not; if I read it before, it must have been 30 or 40 years ago and I have no recollection of the book at all. I doubt I would have appreciated the book at all if I had read it.

Entitled The Martian Chronicles, it follows the events of the first humans to reach Mars and the consequences of that event. The title suggests a continuous story, but in fact the book is a series of linked short stories and vignettes that follow in chronological order after the first man lands on Mars. With two exceptions, the entire sequence is set on Mars; both are set on Earth, the first deals with the entire African-American population emigrating to Mars, the second is set after WWIII and is about a robotic house. The first is the most overtly racist story in the collection; and is the only story to deal with non-white humans. Admittedly, the collection was first published in 1951, but that story left a bad taste in my mouth.

What struck me was that the reaching of Mars and it’s subsequent colonisation was a thinly-disguised colonisation of the Americas, along with 99.99% of the Martian population succumbing fatally to chickenpox. I couldn’t tell whether the stories were satirising small town America or not; the colonists and explorers all seemed to bring that mentality with them. Part of this may have been the Cold War background in which the book was written (the last stories deal with WWIII).

Read the book for the wonderful language if you can tolerate the 1950s attitudes. Women are domestic ornaments, non-whites just don’t feature apart from that one story, and the Martians stand in for Native Americans.


Rune Priest
City of the Saints, by D J Butler. The omnibus of Liahona, Deseret, Timpanogos, Teancum which form the City of the Saints series.

A steampunk historical fantasy mash-up. Similar in style to Brian Ruckley's The Edinburgh Dead but far more violent.

Set in a steampunk USA in 1860, Samuel Clemens, Edgar Allen Poe and Sir Richard Burton are travelling to the Kingdom of Deseret to treat with Brigham Young. Each has their own agenda and works for different people. I found it hard to care about any of the characters, and the violence was off-putting.

Acquired as part of a Storybundle deal, I won't be bothering to look out for any more by this author,


Rune Priest
Plain Tales from the Hills, by Rudyard Kipling

A collection of short stories, available for free at Project Gutenberg.

These days it's difficult to know what to say about these given Kipling's reputation as an imperialist. As stories, they're brilliant, as social commentary at the time they were written and the time and place they were set, they're good. However, reading with a modern eye makes one wince - the class consciousness (yes, Indian society was that stratified), the liberal use of the n-word (again, typical of the time), the paternalistic attitudes to 'the natives'... The PG version hasn't been bowdlerised, so read and enjoy the stories for what they are, not for the attitudes displayed.

I will say that for any Victorian game, especially one set in The Raj, these are a great source.



Rune Priest
Quest for Kim: In Search of Kipling's Great Game by Peter Hopkirk

I thought I'd posted this review here, but it seems not.

Written after Hopkirk’s Trespassers on the Roof of the World, it touches on the same territory - the exploration of Central Asia, but here it deals with the intersection of truth and fiction contained in Kipling’s Kim.

Part travelogue, and part treatise, Hopkirk follows in Kim’s footsteps across the Punjab, up to Simla and into the foothills of the Himalayas. He attempts (with varying success) to relate the scenes of the book to actual locations, and characters to actual people.

Fairly light rather than erudite, this is probably best read as an adjunct to reading Kipling (not just Kim, but other works are mentioned as part of the context of the Great Game). I found it an enjoyable read.


Kim, by Rudyard Kipling

Available free on Project Gutenberg.

I was inspired to reread this by reading Quest for Kim: In Search of Kipling's Great Game by Peter Hopkirk. Less overtly racist than Plain Tales from the Hills, this is a magical bildungsrman dealing with an orphaned English boy growing up in the bazaar in Lahore who one day meets a Tibetan lama and accompanies him on his travels. It can be a bit tedious in places, especially when Kipling is attempting dialect (which tends to be a feature of Victorian writing), and a lot of the Hindi phraseology now goes over people's heads but is one of the best late Victorian novels around and is still very readable.



Staff member
# Books in September 2018

Very quiet September. To be fair, I did skim read the Cthulhu Hack, Cthulhu City and The Sword, the Crown and the Unspeakable Power again but that doesn't really count.

## *The Best of Our Spies* (Alex Gerlis)
Set in World War Two, an interesting spy thriller about the double crosses necessary to deceive the German armies that the allies weren’t landing in Normandy. I enjoyed this and am trying some of the rest of the author's books.

## *Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action* (Simon Sinek)
This was kind of a compulsory read as my boss passed me a copy. I cheated using the audio book. Simple but effective message in this, even I don’t agree with it all.
Took me a month but finally finished Lorna Doone by RD Blackmore. Didn’t much care for the hero and heroine who struck me as a moralising prig and a bit of a wet blanket respectively. Even less keen on the antediluvian social and religious attitudes – probably historically accurate though(?). Blackmore has a prolix style which I often found aggravating, but I liked his attention to historical and geographical detail – he does evoke the place and time very well. He also manages a some powerful writing on occasion e.g. his depiction of the aftermath of Sedgemoor, and the Doone’s wanton killing of a small child. There’s also some humour to relieve the bleakness - I enjoyed his blackly comic portraits of the notorious Judge Jeffreys and a plainly barking James II.


Rune Priest
Just finished Montalbano’s First Case and other stories by Andrea Camilleri.

A collection of 21 short stories and novellas at various points in Montalbano’s career. Just when this started is debateable; from internal evidence, I suspect some time in the 1960s. I much prefer his shorts to the longer works, including the title novella. I don’t know why, but I find Camilleri’s leisured style a bit grating in a crime novel, especially a police procedural. I like the stories and the settings, but the short stories work far better.

The Lake Boy, by Adam Roberts.

A Newcon Press novella, acquired from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme in exchange for a review.

A very odd historical story. Set in what seems to be the Lake District in 1795, Cynthia, a young lady with mental health issues, and her brother George, a consumptive parson, reside in a small cottage outside the village. Cynthia has been in an asylum in London; ostensibly for delusions, but probably because she is lesbian. Strange things start happening; Cynthia starts seeing a young boy with a face that is scarred on one side and beautiful on the other and lights are seen in the sky. These seem to be something to do with the lake - it has an evil reputation locally being associated with a number of drownings. Cynthia starts an affair with a neighbour’s married sister, is discovered and is put in another asylum from where she vanishes.

It’s difficult to know how to classify this; it comes across as an alien abduction story - but equally it could be all in Cynthia’s mind.



Rune Priest
Gaslight Gothic: Strange Tales of Sherlock Holmes, edited by J R Campbell and Charles Prepolec.

An advance reading copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme. An interesting anthology featuring Sherlock Holmes with stories by Mark A Latham, David Stuart Davies, Stephen Volk, James Lovegrove, Josh Reynolds, Nancy Holder, Mark Morris, Kevin P Thornton, Angela Slatter and Lyndsay Faye. As is usual with anthologies, I liked some stories a lot, others I thought were OK, and the remainder I thought poor (either in subject matter or execution).

The premise of the anthology is marrying Sherlock Holmes with gothic literature. Some worked well - the story featuring Edgar Allen Poe, for example or the first story with the house of traps.

As a read on the train, the anthology worked as I could fit one story into each of my outbound and return legs and wasn’t distracted during the day wondering what happens next. However, overall I doubt I would have gone for the book if I’d seen it in a shop.
Gaslight Gothic: Strange Tales of Sherlock Holmes, edited by J R Campbell and Charles Prepolec.

An advance reading copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme. An interesting anthology featuring Sherlock Holmes with stories by Mark A Latham, David Stuart Davies, Stephen Volk, James Lovegrove, Josh Reynolds, Nancy Holder, Mark Morris, Kevin P Thornton, Angela Slatter and Lyndsay Faye. As is usual with anthologies, I liked some stories a lot, others I thought were OK, and the remainder I thought poor (either in subject matter or execution).
I'm reading this at the moment. A very mixed bag. Just finished Angela Slatter's story which was dreadful - apparently she's an award winning author but on this evidence can't write for toffee. Best story so far is Mark Morris's "The Lizard Lady of Pemberton Grange" which I think captures Conan Doyle's style quite well, and is the most successful at integrating gothic horror tropes into the classic detective tale. The lizard connection is a bit contrived but that's a minor quibble.