Short works

Books : reviews

S. M. Stirling, Holly Lisle.
The Rose Sea.
Baen. 1994

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 30 November 1997

Bren Morkaarin is a Captain in the XIXth legion of Tykiss, on his way to war against An Tiram. Kara Grenlaarin, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, is pressed into service in the XIXth. But unbeknownst to either, the war is not what it seems, both sides are mired in a web of conspiracy and treachery, and the gods have decided to take a hand in their fate.

The battle scenes are well-drawn, making the fights seem bloody, unpleasant, frightening, and not the sort of place you would want to find yourself; the technology level is swords and muskets. The protagonists are mostly competent -- I particularly liked the Grenlaarin family's reaction to Konzin's news of Kara's fate. The main characters are suitably different from each other, not entirely polarized into all 'good' or all 'bad', and experience a (small) degree of growth through the story. The various conspiracies serve mainly to push the plot in the desired direction, but in rather too straight a line for my liking. I would have preferred some plot twists, and I felt opportunities were missed -- when the identity of Amourgin's patron becomes known, for example.

A good page turner, but ultimately a bit unsatisfying.

Holly Lisle.
Hunting the Corrigan's Blood.
Baen. 1997

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 13 April 1997

Peter Crane has hired Cadence Drake and her partner, Badger, to find Corrigan's Blood, a stolen spaceship that has a new untrackable kind of hyperdrive. Cadence is good at finding things, but this time she stumbles across a sinister conspiracy that for some reason wants her very dead, and doesn't mind who else has to die to achieve this.

The use of nanoviruses and rejuv medical machines allows the various characters to be very nearly killed in gruesome ways several times, whilst still being plausibly on their feet again in a few days. We get a whirlwind tour of various pleasant and unpleasant planets as Cadence and Badger hunt down the missing ship, whilst being hunted down by powerful shadowy enemies themselves. A hectic roller-coaster adventure, but with a touch of nastiness (here called-for by the plot -- not as gratuitous as in Bones of the Past).

Holly Lisle.
Fire in the Mist.
Baen. 1992

rating : 4 : passes the time

Holly Lisle.
Bones of the Past.
Baen. 1993

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 31 December 1996

We meet many old friends from Fire in the Mist; Faia is a rather minor character here. A group of children, after being thrown out of their clan (who practice some rather gruesome rites for their tree gods), find some tablets of First Folk writing. A motley collection of magicians and children band together to find out more about the mythical First Folk, battling the tree gods on the way.

A disappointing sequel. Too much gratuitous unpleasantness, and too many plot strands coming together too slowly, to make this a recommended read.

Holly Lisle.
Mind of the Magic.
Baen. 1995

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 16 August 2004

Faia and her young daughter Kirtha are leaving a peaceful, even boring, existence in the village of Omwimmee Trade, trying to make a living in a world where suddenly everyone has magical powers. But this is all turned upside down when she finds a half-dead traveller on her doorstep, and is persuaded into adventuring again. Before she knows it, a great disaster has befallen the magic across the whole of Arhel, and it appears to be her destiny to fix it.

Fortunately enough back-story is hinted at that it is not necessary to have read the previous books. I have, but so long ago I've forgotten essentially every detail of them. This is a fun page-turner, as Faia struggles against the machinations of various gods, not-gods, and wannabe-gods, to rescue herself, her friends, and all of Arhel. However, the two surprise revelation identities are blindingly obvious from the start, which changes the tension from "what's going on?" to "why can't she see what's going on!" As ever in a Holly Lisle book, there's quite a bit of graphic pain and suffering to be endured -- but it's not as gratuitous here as in Bones of the Past.

Holly Lisle, Ted Nolan.
Hell on High.
Baen. 1997

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 7 February 2009

The Hellraised are still infesting North Carolina, settling in, becoming detectives, whatever. But there are problems: God's gone on holiday, a Fallen Angel has escaped from Hell, if Rhea can't get more funding for her company her new space drive will never leave the ground, and her chief engineer Jack has a gargoyle living over his front door.

This takes a while to get going, because of the multiple plot threads, and the jokey style isn't quite as funny as it might be. But once things do start rolling, it gets fast and furious, and all the various strands come together in interesting, ironic, funny, and tragic ways. Good mind candy.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, Holly Lisle.
Baen. 1996

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 2 November 1997

JayJay's third marriage has just ended as disastrously as the previous two, and she's looking for an escape. In her local bookshop she finds a tourist guide to the unknown small European country of Glenraven, and feels unaccountably drawn to it. Her best friend Sophie, still mourning the death of her daughter, feels just as compelled to accompany her.

That guide book is, of course, magical, and has summoned these two unlikely heroes to Glenraven to save it from the immortal tyrant Watchmistress. Our heroes, however, are oblivious of this fact, and, thinking they are ordinary tourists, blunder about the country, upsetting all the careful plans of their desperate summoners. They soon realise, however, that something Is Not Right, but with their sophisticated western background, it takes them a while to accept magic.

Unlike many generic fantasy quests, the plot is not just a straight line from start to goal. It has sufficient complexity, and sufficient setbacks and twists, to keep up the interest. I think I detect the hand of Holly Lisle in the loving details of some of the more gruesome murders. A fun read, if a slightly rushed conclusion, and just a single sentence paving the way for a sequel, if needs be.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, Holly Lisle.
In the Rift.
Baen. 1998

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 18 April 1999

The promised sequel had indeed materialised. This time out the magic Guidebook selects Kate Beacham as its hero. She's a wiccan, disowned by her own family, facing being run out of town by the local bigots, who have just killed her horse. Then a bunch of Glenravenites gate to her cottage, pursued by a monster. Kate kills it, but is then captured by the very people she rescued. The guidebook then informs her she has to team up with these people, before Callion and the Watchers destroy both of their worlds. But one of them is a traitor. Not her best day.

Most of the action takes place in our Machine World, rather than Glenraven, this time. The action proceeds briskly, and there are some funny moments as Kate passes off her non-human visitors as SF costumers. It is rather obvious who the traitor is from early on, however, just by employing the usual mystery story algorithms.

The story is spoiled slightly by the overt preachiness in a couple of places. But it makes a very pleasant change to have a mediaevaloid fantasy where the occupants both of our world, and the other, agree that this world does has its advantages -- and to have a protagonist who actually prefers this world (despite all the pain it has given her).

Holly Lisle.
Tor. 2005

Holly Lisle.
Diplomacy of Wolves.
Millennium. 1998

Holly Lisle.
Vengeance of Dragons.
Aspect. 1999

Holly Lisle.
Courage of Falcons.
Aspect. 2000

Holly Lisle.
Memory of Fire.
Eos. 2002

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 4 June 2008

Molly McColl is kidnapped from her trailer in Cat Creek by strange alien beings, and taken to another dimension, where she is reverentially told that she is the Ninth Vodi, brought here to save a dying race. She's not at all pleased, despite the place having several attractions missing from her previous life. Lauren Dane and her son Jake move back to her old family home in Cat Creek. There she discovers that the mirror in the hall that terrified her as a child seems to have some strange power, if only she could remember. Also, someone is trying to frame her for a murder. Sheriff Eric MacAvery is investigating Molly's disappearance, but, as one of the local Sentinels guarding this world from magic, he and his friends have just discovered that backlash from a rogue spell threatens to kill most of the Earth's population. They must find the rogue and reverse the spell. Suspicion falls on newcomer Lauren, daughter of traitor Sentinels...

All these plot strand come together in frenetic rush of misunderstandings, and a successful conclusion (if you can call only a million dead successful; however I liked that it was such a trivial spell that has such a stunning backlash). The world building is interesting, and poised to be really complicated, with hierarchies of magic and parallel dimensions. The villains are a bit cardboard, there only to provide a reason for the action. The conclusion is a little unsatisfying, after having had it hammered into us how unreversable certain events are, only to have one of them reversed. But it allows the sequels.

Holly Lisle.
The Wreck of Heaven.
Eos. 2003

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 11 June 2008

!!! spoilers for Memory of Fire !!!

Vodi Molly has returned to Oria to continue the fight against its destruction. But she discovers that the people there are lying to her, hiding something from her, and she feels ... different ... since she died. She calls to her sister Lauren for help. They must work together to follow their parents' plans to defeat the darkness, but it might cost them everything, more than they are willing to pay.

This picks up immediately after the first book, as Molly and Lauren come to terms with their powers. It starts off looking like it's going to be a straightforward battle, but takes a sharp left turn, splitting the sisters up, putting them each through their own kind of hell, before they can take on the bad guys. But these sisters aren't the meek and mild types who previously negotiated with the bad guys for temporary safety: they are full throttle on the offensive. We get more on the structure of the world line, some great battles (with hellish bureaucrats as well as dragons), a semi-conclusion, and a good set-up for the final conflict next.

Holly Lisle.
Gods Old and Dark.
Eos. 2004

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 29 June 2008

!!! spoilers for The Wreck of Heaven !!!

Lauren has been siphoning magic to Earth from the downworlds, and even further up the line to Kerras. Molly has been waging war against the Night Watch, killing Dark Gods, even though it is slowly shredding her remaining humanity from her. Now the Dark Gods have noticed their works, and prepare to strike back. The whole world, even the whole world chain, is at risk. But there are still some Old Gods willing to fight for Earth.

As ever in a trilogy like this, the battles getter bigger, and the consequences more dramatic. On the one hand, it reduces the excitement, as the storyline inevitably splits between multiple protagonists, and the chance for individuals making significant differences is diluted. But on the other hand, the excitement mounts in proportion to the peril. So if the resolution is simply one individual doing something minorly heroic, there's a feeling of letdown. That doesn't happen here. Everybody has to give their all, and they all suffer dreadfully, and some make the ultimate sacrifice (although it's not that ultimate, since we saw heaven in the previous volume).

There are a few loose ends, but these feel more like things that happen in an ongoing story, rather than things that need a further volume to explain. (Pete is going to have a hard time the next time he sees his boss, for example.) So this is good rattling stuff, with again several plot developments I never saw coming. It's these developments that raise this series above the mere generic.