[reading] What have you read recently?

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.

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.
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.
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!