Monday, February 8, 2021

Monster Hunter: Guardian by Larry Corriea and Sarah Hoyt

 (Author's note: I have been informed by one Mrs. Sarah Hoyt that I should not be paying for anything I blog about. I'm not saying she's wrong. I'm just saying that I wanted to read this and then I wanted to tell you all about it and well...

I was walking down the street one day and some dollars fell out of my wallet and when I bent over to pick them up there was a book laying on the sidewalk. If it just so happened that it happened to be something she helped write, how could that be my fault?

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

 Oh, and I don't review covers but, as an old-school GI Joe fan, I can't help but look at that and think "SWEET BARONESS PIC!!!! Uhh... oops.)



It's not my fault okay, I mean except for the part where it IS my fault, but it's not, right? But I MAY have a small confession to make. It's POSSIBLE, just possible you understand, that when I first picked up a copy of Monster Hunter:Alpha I was a bit disappointed at first. It's not that it was a bad book. It was an awesome book. It's just that I had kind of come to think of the Monster Hunter series as being the story of Owen Pitt and when the main character was not him...

Poor little Jimbo got his world rocked. I mean seriously, it was weird. Of course I kept reading and I loved it, but for a guy like me who really just bought it because of the author and the series and hadn't read any snippets or anything..

Yeah, I got junk punched.

Of course, we've had another novel since then starring Agent Franks from the Monster Control Bureau so maybe it should come as no surprise, especially with her picture on the cover, that the star of Monster Hunter: Guardian is none other than Mrs. Julia Shackleford-Pitt, wife of Owen Pitt, heir to the ownership of the Monster Hunter International company, super-sniper and all around tail-kicker. Seriously, I wouldn't cross Julie if you paid me. I'm not kidding. She's not only a phenomenal long-range shot, she's also super loyal and able to overcome her fear of just about anything. Oh, and she's no stranger to using violence to complete her mission. 

Those who follow me here at Jimbo's know that  I love a strong female protagonist, so it's no wonder that I loved MH:G. Julie is the kind of woman that we can follow anywhere and when someone takes her infant son it's ON. She'll do what she needs to get him back and she's not particularly worried about what that is. If she ruffles a few feathers in the process of getting little Ray that's just too bad. And well...

I mean...

That's a LOT of feathers, but at least they're not MY feathers. So it's okay right?

And it's weird because, although the Illustrious Mr. Correia does have children, he's nobodies mother. Hoyt is though, and this is a story written from the point of view of not just a world beating sniper, but a mother. Listen, I've got kids but it's different for dudes. We've got a different hormonal balance and different brain chemistry so we don't think, feel or act like a woman would in most situations. I'm not saying that's a bad thing or that anyone is doing anything wrong. It's just a fact. So, while I can definitely see moving Heaven and Earth to get my kid if someone stole them, it would be different for me emotionally.

Hoyt nails the differences, probably because she actually is different. Everything Julie goes through feels right even though it doesn't match with what I would go through. So I'm sold, even though I'd probably be more rage and less pain. It makes sense. 

Julie also learns some things about herself that the rest of us have been wondering about as well. I don't want to give up more than that and it's probably too much anyway. The fact remains that there is something she needed to know that we needed to know. What it is makes sense in a weird sort of way. And if you don't do weird, you don't do MHI, so I know you'll love it.

Of course, in an MHI book, you expect more than just the emotional stuff and Hoyt and Correia deliver. There are the usual gunshots and explosions. There are some truly bizarre things about. We're not really sure what all of them are, but that's good. You never know what might show up again later. An old villain resurfaces for the eight hundred and ninety seven millionth time and it's good to see them, even if Julie is a little less than happy about it. Maybe especially since Julie doesn't like it, because what fun is a story where the characters run around happy all the time?

It's obvious that Correia put in his time on the novel as well because, while Hoyt can do the weird and uncanny as well as anyone in the business, there is no one who can gun geek like Correia. And there is some gun porn here. Not as much as you would get in some other MHI novels, but definitely enough to keep an MHI fan happy and scratch that itch. I get it too. Sometimes you just need a cool firearm to get you through your day and keep you going strong. 

One thing that was really interesting to me was that part of MH:G takes place in Portugal. Hoyt is an immigrant from that ancient land and it's really cool to see how she compares her new homeland (she is now an American citizen) with her old one. Oops. Spoiler alert? Part of the story takes place in Portugal. I'm not going to say what happens there though.

There are fairly constant references to the MHI novel before this, Monster Hunter Siege. They're not all pervasive though, and a knowledge of MH:S, while a good thing to have in general, is not necessary to understand or enjoy the events in Guardian. Suffice it to say that Julie is worried about some people she hasn't talked to in a long time, including her husband. Given the fact that they're off fighting it should be fairly obvious why she's worried. That's all you need to know. That's unless you WANT to read the previous book, which is an awesome read as well. 

Other than that though, pull up a chair, get a barrel of Cheez-its (HOOOON!) and enjoy the only existing collaboration of the International Lord of Hate and the Beautiful, But Evil, Space Princess.  You'll thank me later. Of course, if this is your first MHI book *GASP* your wallet will hate me when you feel yourself compelled to buy and read the rest of the series, but I'm here for you, not your wallet.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Auctions

Monster Hunter Guardian
Larry Correia and Sarah Hoyt
Baen Books, 2019

Monster Hunter Guardian is available for purchase at the following link. If you click it and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage at no additional cost to you.

Suzanne Collins's The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Suzanne Collins is an amazeballs author. I mean that seriously. It took me longer than it should have to start reading the books (Not my fault. By the time they were on my radar, I had heard that they were just like Twilight. I tried Twilight. I can't do it. Bella is everything I teach my daughters not to be and I can't read a series with a MC that I have no respect for.) but I saw the first movie with a girl that I knew and I was hooked. The books are even better. Some people will hate on Ms. Collins because she writes in first person present tense. Some people can kiss my butt. I get so sucked into Collin's writing that I forget to eat. I'm a three hundred and seventy pound man. I NEVER forget to eat. I often eat when I shouldn't. But when I get locked into one of this woman's books, as they say on the streets of New York, "Fugetaboudit." She has kept me up all night a few times too. That probably makes her evil on some level, but this is the kind of evil that I fully condone.

I was, however, kind of hesitant with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.Why? Because it's the story of President Snow from the original trilogy and that guy was a villain's villain. I mean, who wants to read about a dude who slaughters children as part of his job? But then, I mean, it was Suzanne Collins and my oldest daughter did love it and...


I caved, okay? I'm not proud of it but I totally gave up my inhibitions and through myself face first into the book. I'm glad I did though, because I had been acting like a total turdface. Listen, this is a good book if you just like... read it. It also helps if you think of the character by the name Coriolanus Snow (his full name as given in Ballad) as opposed to President Snow.

What Collins has done here is two things:

1.) She kept in mind the single most ubiquitous thing about every human being and their mindset: We are all the hero of our own story. From the outside looking in, what Snow will do later (and, indeed, some of what he does in Ballad) is evil. But to him, it's a necessary evil. The Hunger Games trilogy depicts Snow as an evil man, doing what he wants. Ballad not so much. Here we see a young man (or maybe boy is a better title) doing what he has to do because he has to do it.


2.) The Greatest Harm is Often Done with the Best Intentions. Seriously, the Hunger Games terrorized twelve Districts full of people. It's how they're kept in line. It's how society continues and, honestly, what are the rights of people as compared to the rights of society? Snow is, in short, a believer in the Social Contract. And like many other followers of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (that's the guy who wrote the actual book called The Social Contract for those of you who don't have degrees in history) he simply believes that killing people is an acceptable way to enforce it. I mean it worked for Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot right? And, I mean, seventy five years of The Hunger Games killed a lot less people than the Reign of Terror in France, right? And that was, after all, the first massacre conducted due to Rousseau's teachings.

At any rate, in his own mind Coriolanus is working for the good of all and to prevent another war like the one that ruined his family, destroyed his country and killed his father. I mean, it was a really bad time not just for Panem but for Coriolanus personally. He went from seeing his father on TV and leading parades to being raised by his grandmother. It couldn't have been easy. 

And that's the magic of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Collins has taken a man that I hated and turned him into a sympathetic character that I could root for. I never would have believed it possible but sh she did it. The Snow in this book is really a guy you can root for. Once you understand his intentions, what he's doing becomes, well, not admirable but at least understandable. After all, as badly as life sucked in the Capitol during the war, the Districts got it worse. Of course, it helps that she shows Corio as being capable of loving another human being. That's not the impression I got from the original trilogy.

Of course there's more to Ballad than just that. The story revolves around the Tenth Hunger Games, long before Katniss Everdeen and her time in the arena, or even her birth. And it's weird to say this, but it's kind of cool to see how small the games were when they started. The arena is small and not all that well equipped. Muttations are not really a thing yet. The same arena is used every year and it is not in good shape at all. The Games are not very popular and there are no such things as sponsors or betting yet.  These Games are similar to the Games that Katniss played in some ways, but they're so much smaller. It's almost eerie.

There is plenty of good, old fashioned violence to keep a fan of the original trilogy engaged as well.  There is action both in the arena and outside of it. It wouldn't be a Hunger Games story if someone didn't get it in the neck at some point and that's what happens here. I mean, we all know that only one of the Tributes is going to make it back to their District. I'm not going to reveal who it was, but that remains, well...

Not the same because this time it actually is only one.

But that's neither here nor there. Seriously, go buy the book and read it. Then come back and thank me for recommending it. This is some seriously good stuff.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Worrisome Essays

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press, 2020

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is available for purchase at the following links. If you click it and buy literally anything from Amazon I get a small percentage at no additional cost to you. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Writing and Russian Fairytales - A Guest Post by Cedar Sanderson

(Jimbo's is proud to feature Cedar Sanderson once again. This time, she's here to tell us all about the fun she had doing research for her latest book, The East Witch. A review is forthcoming.)

I’ve been blending up fairytales into my fantasy work almost since the beginning. I’m not saying that lightly - I’ll sometimes say of my first novel, Vulcan’s Kittens, that I threw the world myths into a blender and pressed pulse a couple of times. With that series, I wanted to create an overarching explanation that linked gods and legends from all around the world... from Mount Olympus to the Mayan jaguar god I referred to in the book as Steve. 

When it comes to the books I’m calling the Underhill stories, I approached it a little differently. In this world, where I set Pixie Noir and that trilogy, there are myths and legends that inhabit the earth we know and love and live on, and there are beings who are Under the Hill, which I’ve written as a sort of parallel universe that can have gateways to our world. Only sometimes things don’t line up quite right, and then there are shifts in relative time between the worlds. Also, there are more than two worlds. I explored one of those pocket universes in the Pixie trilogy. I visit another in The East Witch, my latest novel, which is set Underhill, and has some cameo appearances for readers of the trilogy. Plus Raven, or at least a fragment of that Trickster spirit. 

With all of my fiction, though, whichever world, I start out by reading fairy tales and folklore and mythology, to use as jumping-off points. Since I prefer to use the older versions, and avoid the modern wussified stories, this has the handy side effect of being public domain, and my favorite research material price: free. I highly recommend all the color fairy books by Andrew Lang, to begin with. They range around the world and have some tales you will never have heard of before. For my purposes, though, I wanted something a little more specific. 

Which, it turned out, wasn’t easy to find. I wanted folklore and mythology of the native Siberian tribes. See, I was writing The East Witch about Baba Yaga. I grew up reading Russian Fairy Tales, and a beautifully illustrated collection of those was the first book I ever owned, a Christmas gift when I was only a few months old. I’ve wanted to weave the old witch into a story for many years. With the main character in the book being based loosely on one of my cousins - well, ok, more than one - who lives in Alaska, I decided the middle ground was Siberia. Setting the location of my tale there was a momentous decision that is part of why it took me three years to finish this book. 

You see, there is very little known about the tribes who used to occupy all the habitable regions of Siberia, before the Rus came, and then the genocides. It’s fascinating, if you look at ethnology, comparing cultures to see who collected folklore, recorded the stories of the peoples, and who did not. Victorian British? Loved to hear stories and write them down. Russian incursions into a land rich with furs, precious stones, and much more? Not so interested in anything other than forcing the people they encountered to conform to their customs, or else. Languages were lost. Stories vanished into the mists of time, the grandmother’s voices silenced. 

I did what I could, to find their remnants. And I wrote the ones I found into my own story of an independent land which did not want Baba Yaga’s iron clutches to fall on it. The way the Siberians of the distant past did not want the Rus. But in my story... well. You’ll have to read it and see for yourself! 

As for the books I did find and use as resources, some were very much Russian-based. Like Arthur Ransome’s Old Peter’s Russian Tales or William Ralston’s Russian Fairy Tales. Much more helpful to me were books like Tales of Yukaghir, Lamut, and Russianized Natives of Eastern Siberia, by Waldemar Bogoras and Uno Holmberg’s Mythology of All Races (Vol 4: Siberian and Finno-Ugric). I’d also highly recommend The Shaman’s Coat by Anna Reid. This book isn’t specifically folklore, but it is a history and a recounting of a modern journey to Siberia and a firsthand account of that which remains of the tribes. Finally, George Keenan’s Tent Life in Siberia was a useful resource for setting, as a hundred years ago, Siberia had a different aspect than Anna Reid found. 

Fantasy, as a genre, sets up worlds very unlike our own. Worlds where magic is real, but folklore also brings magic to life, in our world. Different times, where the explanations were much less scientific, and more likely to involve spirited exchanges between gods, conflicts between demigods and mere men, or tricksters who played their little jokes with cosmic repercussions. Is it any wonder I like to bring those old, old threads and weave them into my new stories for added depth and dimension?  

The East Witch is available for purchase at the following link:

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Killing 2020 by Jim McCoy (sorta)

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 (If you don't get all of the references don't feel bad. I'm trying to get as many big fandoms in here, but there might be some more obscure ones mixed in. I'm not showing off. I belong to some smaller fandoms.) 
Admiral Adama stood up from behind his desk. "Colonel Tigh, set Condition One throughout the ship. Multiple Basestars are approaching." Adama turned his head. "Communications inform Captains Picard and Kirk to gather the Starfleet ships and rally at Cybertron. Use codeword 'Four Lights.' Optimus Prime and the Autobots will be waiting there for them. They have defeated the Decepticons and are available to deliver an ass-kicking." 
 A voice came from the back of the room. "Gorram, Admiral. I aim to misbehave. Where do you want me? " Adama nodded. "Captain Mal, you and Han Solo are needed to run the Imperial blockade. Retrieve the package from Arrakis. The Spice must flow. Leave Shepherd Book here. He and Father Mulcahy have other duties to attend to. We're going to need some major backup this time and they know where to get it." Adama looked thoughtful. "Get some salt to Sam and Dean. Drop it in the trunk of the Impala. They'll be useful as well." "
And what, precisely, are we fighting?" Adama spun around to see Minister of Magic Hermione Granger standing behind him. "Miss Granger!The target is the year 2020. It's at its weakest point and if we strike now we can end it. We're going to need to use some non-standard assets in this one. Contact all of your friends as well as Elminster, Raistlin and Melf. Tell them to hit hard with everything they've got. Some minute meteors in the right place can have a huge effect." 
"With all due respect, Admiral," Colonel Tigh's voice was harsh. "Those are more than just 'non-standard assets.' Their methods defy known science!" 
Adama lifted his glasses and pinched his nose. "You're right, so let's go with someone we can understand a bit better. Fire up the Hyperpulse Generator and contact Victor Davion, Jamie Wolf and Grayson Death Carlyle. Tell them to travel to Robinson to repel the Clan threat against the Draconis Combine. While you're at it, contact the Four Horsemen on Earth. Have Jim Cartwright gather up the troops and head into hyperspace to fight the.. uhh.. Things there." 
"Radiological warning!" 
Adama shrugged. "Admiral Harrington will deploy counter-missiles. Tell her to roll pods! The Grand Alliance will take care of this for us!" Adama's face distorted. Tigh screamed. The crew of the Battlestar Galactica began to panic as reality started to flicker. "That's it! We've done it! Voltron has broken through. 2020 is finished!" 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Dan Parkinson's The Covenant of the Forge

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 When one accepts free books in exchange for reviews, the expectation is that they will read only those books and review them. I mean, I got it for free, right? And people have a right to expect that I'll hold up my end of the bargain. It makes sense on a purely logical level, right?

The problem being that I'm a human being and human beings aren't necessarily "purely logical." I wish I could be sometimes, but real life doesn't work that way. 

So, having gotten an Amazon gift card for Christmas, I decided to buy some comfort food for my brain. I picked up all three of the books from the Dragonlance Dwarven Nations Trilogy. I started with The Covenant of the Forge by Dan Parkinson because, well, it's the first book in the series. And it's definitely comforting. I was thinking that I had originally read it thirty years ago, but a quick Google search shows that it's only been twenty-seven years since it was published. I guess it was less than that.

Still though, I love this book. 

I'll be honest in stating that part of the reason I picked up these novels is because I'm writing a novel with a dwarf main character that starts in a dwarven town and I've been thinking about these books a lot. I'll also be honest in admitting that a lot of the genesis of my book (and it needs a better title than Dwarf Story, but I'm not so good at titles.) comes from the Dwarven Nations Trilogy. The concept of a dwarven society fascinates me and, if the society I'm creating looks different than this one, at least I won't get sued.  

Parkinson does a really good job of making dwarves people that aren't human (because DUH, they're dwarves) but still have recognizable and understandable motivations. The humans in the book aren't necessarily portrayed in a super positive manner, but that makes sense. Humans, to a dwarf's eyes, are short-lived and therefore in too big a rush for everything and kind of flighty. When viewed from a dwarf's eyes, some positive traits (to humans) don't look so positive. And if you've never been told to "look to the left side of your tools" well, it's a concept we could all benefit from and one that's easy to understand. It's also a concept I'd like to incorporate in my own work, but uhh...

Yeah, not sure how I can manage to mention this one and not get sued. Seriously. I don't have the right kind of file to eliminate the serial numbers on this axiom, but it's so useful and so intelligent..

Yeah, it's dwarven and I'M WRITING ABOUT DWARVES!


But the thing is that these dwarves are not alien to the point where we can't identify with them. They love. They hate. They marry. They have children. They're people just like you and I only they're different. They're not monolithic though, and that makes sense as well. Handil the Drum is a musician. He plays the Call to Balladine, the opening of the autumn trade festival. He ends up as a major hero. Cale Greeneye reminds many dwarves of an elf. Colin Stonetooth leads the Calnar clan with honor and distinction.. for awhile.

 And I guess that's what interests me more than anything: These are characters I care about. When a child is born at a moment that is precisely perfect and terrible (read the book, you'll get it) you want to cheer for the new father as he runs pell mell to where his wife is giving birth. When your hero, and the guy you figured would end up running things dies heroically it hurts, but you're proud of him for doing the right thing even if it ends badly for him personally. He honestly kind of reminds me of a dude named Sturm Brightblade in the Dragonlance Chronicles and that's saying a lot. If you're not familiar with the Chronicles you need to be. You should read them right after you read the Dwarven Nations Trilogy. Of course, Sturm was human, but no one is perfect I suppose...

The Covenant of the Forge has a little bit of everything. There is some extremely light romance. There is some combat. There is politics and scheming. There are loyal followers and treacherous enemies. There are even treacherous allies. You won't find anything missing from your favorite fantasy works, with the possible exception of horror. The Covenant of the Forge is not Ravenloft, even if Ravenloft  does feature a death knight from Krynn, which is the planet Covenant takes place on.

It doesn't need to be though. And the Dwarven Nations Trilogy takes place before the Cataclysm and Soth's descent into Death Knighthood anyway...

Err.. Nevermind. Nerd moment. Those happen.

The point is that this is a damn fine book and an awesome series. Looking back over twenty-five years after I read Covenant for the first time, I find myself amazed that it starts off as quickly as it does. I guess I didn't think about it at the time, but trilogies, and longer series, often start off pretty slowly. Not so much here. Don't get me wrong. There is a lot of worldbuilding that takes place, but it's so well done that I didn't really notice that it was happening. I just kind of understood things and moved on. There's no navel gazing, and no long winded explanations of things. Parkinson somehow managed to get what needs to be there stuffed in without making it feel like a chore to wade through it. 

I... will... not...

Who am I kidding? Of course I will.

Remember that feeling you got when you were a kid and you saw Star Wars for the first time? Remember how cool it was? Do you know how frustrating it can be to watch the prequels and the sequels because they don't make you feel the same way?

Yeah, I hate it too.

The thing is that I got that feeling reading The Covenant of the Forge again. I love these books for a reason. Read them. You will too.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Vibrar Drums

The Covenant of the Forge
Dan Parkinson
Wizards of the Coast, 2012 (current edition)
TSR, 1993 (original edition)

The Covenant of the Forge is available for purchase at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage at no additional cost to you.



Monday, November 30, 2020

T.S. Randell's The Last Marine: Books One and Two

Listen, I'm a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I've been an SF fan since my dad sat me down in front of a TV with Star Trek on it. Science Fiction literature had to wait a few years, because I hadn't learned to read by the age of three days.


It's a failing on my part I know, but can't you cut your boy some slack?

 With fantasy, it started a little later when I first saw the animated version of The Hobbit in like first or second grade. Not my fault that time, I hadn't been exposed.


As a fan, there are some universes you'd love to live in. Star Trek comes to mind, although I would perhaps prefer a place not up against one of the Neutral Zones. There is no such thing as a Harry Potter fan who doesn't want to attend Hogwarts. I'm not convinced that Westeros would be my favorite place, but Valdemar just might. I don't trust Jayne, but I'd love to work for Captain Mal. And, let's face it, I'd run spice with Han and Chewie if I thought I'd make enough to make it worth my while.

But when it comes to the universe that T.S. Randell created for his series The Last Marine I think I'll stay home if given the choice. If. Given. The. Choice. The problem being that I may not be. See, the United States of The Last Marine is a wokesters paradise. In other words, it's a Communist Hell.

The society of The Last Marine is divided into Elites (people who have the right politics and express them in ways that benefit the Democrat Party) and everyone else. The Elites get the best food, the best drinks, the best seats on a plane...

You get the idea. It's remarkably close to the Marxist society of the Soviet Union, where the average worker got a tiny apartment and Josef Stalin got five dachas and a chauffeur driven limo because SOLIDARITY COMRADE!!!

Yeah, it's scary because it's so close to coming true.

Of course, we didn't just happen to get there by accident and Randell's world-building is amazing.

Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. I hate it when I do that...

The story starts out with a young reporter trying to make something of himself. His name is Joel Levine and he has a mission: He is to interview the last known living member of the United States Marine Corps, one Sean Harris, and show the citizens of the United States, indeed the entire human race, what a bunch of violent, misogynistic, homophobic, racist baby killers the Marines were. 

And yeah, I know I don't do spoilers but this all comes out in the first chapter so it's not reeeeeeallly a spoiler right?


Most of the two novels are told by use of the flashback technique, following Harris's real world experiences through a war and his return home, which was not all that he could have hoped for. There are reasons for that which I don't want to spoil, so let's just say that it ain't pretty if you're a returning GI. I feel bad for these dudes and I'm not really the empathetic type if you wanna know the truth.

 Randell's use of the flashback, and corresponding occasional return to the present, is amazingly effective. It's like watching someone's memories in the Pensieve, ala Harry Potter, and then being able to discuss what you've just seen with that same person. He makes you feel like you were there. Harris has been through a lot, having experienced war and all its horrors first hand on top of a rotten homecoming. It's seamless.There were times when I almost forgot that I was reading a book and felt like I was sitting there WITH Harris and Levine. Spellbinding sounds like a good term. I'll go with that. It was spellbinding.

I've taken a look at Randell's Amazon biography and it says that he teaches, or possibly taught, history. I'm guessing this guy has studied the time period around the Vietnam War because what he's got here rings true and is reminiscent of accounts I've read written by Vietnam vets. The Last Marine has spots that are enough to make me a bit uncomfortable, so if you lived that mess go in prepared. Oh, and while we're list bona fides, let me mention that Randell's Amazon page states that he is a Marine and a veteran of Desert Shield/Storm. This is some slimy civilian who doesn't know what he's talking about. He was infantry and it sounds like he's been there and done that. He gets it right. 

I'll admit that I find myself wondering if Randell wrote The Last Marine, at least partially, out of a desire to be the guy who got to interview the vet. Seriously, I have a degree in history myself (albeit only a BA) and I've always wanted to conduct this type of an interview with a vet: Just me and him and his stories about the war. No historian wouldn't recognize the impulse, although many would interview someone from a different occupation, but still: The people who were there are the greatest primary source and Levine gets access to the last one. I find myself a bit jealous of a person that doesn't exist. I suppose I'll get over it. 

I do have one complaint about the works and it's why I decided to review both books together instead of only reviewing one: The first book doesn't really have an ending. I don't mean it ends on a cliff hanger. I mean just cuts off. It was kind of like watching a VHS and having the VCR eat the tape halfway through the movie. It really threw me. In a way, I guess that's a good thing. I didn't know I was at the end of the book and I wanted more, but it really jarred me. That much having been said, it didn't jar me hard enough to make me not want to read the next book. As a matter of fact, thanks to the magic of the internet, I got the Book Two seconds after I had completed Book One. I couldn't wait. That's a good thing in and of itself. But seriously, when you download the first one, download the second one too. It'll be worth your time and you'll be glad you saved yourself the trouble of having to pause in between. Except that there's a sequel on the way and you'll have to pause for that, because it's not out yet.

Bottom Line:  4.75 out of 5 Scarred Faces

The Last Marine: Book One
T.S. Randell
Self Published, 2016

The Last Marine: Book Two
T.S. Randell
Self Published, 2019

Both books from The Last Marine can be purchased at the following links. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage of your purchase at no additional cost to you.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

L.S. King's Sword's Edge


 I love Sciencie Fiction. I love Fantasy. I've seen Star Wars, with its setting that is primarily SF (Lightsabers, FTL Travel, Aliens, Giant Space Stations, etc) but partially Fantasy (The Force) but L.S. King has done the opposite in Sword's Edge (Sword's Edge Chronicles, Book One).  She's created a setting that is primarily Fantasy (Rangers, Psychic Powers, Nobility, etc.) and partially SF. (Nope, not saying why. Read the book.)  So I guess, in a way, it's reverse Star Wars, except that it takes place on one planet. Then again, that makes it even more reverse Star Wars, right?

So yes, the setting does a lot for the story. Sword's Edge is a book that works based on the world where it's at as much as it does on its characters. (More on that in a minute.) The politics of the world move the story, as does the science fiction aspect of it, which we really don't get all that good a glimpse of at first. We're kept guessing for quite awhile as to certain aspects and I like that about it. We get hints here and hints there, but nothing concrete for quite awhile. And, getting back to the politics, they're complicate, convoluted and corrupt. There are only two political figures in the entire work that read as not evil and treacherous but that's necessary to the plot and makes a lot of sense given the internal logic of the book. 

Our main character is a girl named Tamissa, Tam for short. Tam is a young girl who has been raised in seclusion by her father. She is a member of the Ranger clan, which is responsible for both police and military duties in the Lairdom, but was brought up believing that she had no family. She belongs to the Clan but knows nothing of it. In short, King seems to have used a technique very similar to one used by a certain Mrs. Rowling: Her character is accepted as a member of the society she is in, so we can see her functioning within it, but she views it the way an outsider would. Another apt comparison would probably be Data. Everyone seems to know how to fit in, but her.

This leads Tam to be a bit naive about some things, even for a girl in her early teens. This can cause a bit of consternation among those of us who were born into a more egalitarian age. Tam knows nothing of romantic love and less of sex. She has no real concept of marriage. She can't even recognize her society's version of a wedding ring for what it is. She has no idea why women fear men, since she had no fear of her father and no interactions with any other man. But the thing is, she is actually an extremely intelligent young lady. She learns quickly, but has had no context. 

That's not to say that Valdor didn't teach his daughter anything: She can read. She can write. She can grow a garden, hunt and cook the proceeds from both endeavors. She knows uses of spices and herbs both medicinal and nutritional. She can make a poultice to cure a wound and identify plants that are harmful.  There's got to be something else, too. I feel like I'm missing something...

Oh yeah. Tam can fight. Tam will kick your scrawny (or fat, well proportioned, heavily muscled, etc) ass barehanded and won't feel bad about it. In the Rangers, they call it matching and it's basically like Mixed Martial Arts (watch the backfist bro, trust me) except less formalized. She also seems to know quite a bit about swordplay and archery to go with a working knowledge of tracking. In short, she's every bit as tough as any man in the book, but it gets more complicated from there.

King has done her research well. Sword's Edge features a type of reality that everyone else misses: Tam suffers the mental consequences of succeeding in battle. Here in the real world, Planet Earth, circa the last probably hundred and ten years at least, the leading cause of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder among combat veterans is that they were forced to kill. Having studied history (and I got one of them fancy pieces of paper what has my name and the words "Bachelor of Arts in History" written on it) I can attest that everything I've read agrees to that fact, but most authors and play/screenwriters ignore that fact. It makes me a little batty sometimes watching a hero make his first kill and walk away like nothing happened. The act of killing effects people. Kudos to king for looking the real world in the eye and not backing down. Other authors would do well to follow her example.

That's not to call Sword's Edge overly maudlin. The plot moves quickly. Points of view bounce around at times and we see things when we need to. The fight scenes actually gave me a burst of adrenaline at points. There is no navel gazing. There's no time for it. Tam is hard-core and even when she is relaxing it seems that there's always a prankster around to keep it interesting. Somehow, she makes it through the novel without developing a love interest even though I had two separate dudes picked out at her at different points in the novel.

The only weird part of Sword's Edge was that it didn't end when I thought it would. I was reading it on an app called FB Reader. Page numbers appear in the lower right corner of the screen and often don't match up with Kindle or print page numbers. When I got to what I thought was the end is still had fiftiesh (I think) pages left. What followed was both fun and interesting and ended up with me being very frustrated with my dispatcher at work (Seriously, if the whole day sucks and I'm not making anything don't interrupt me just when the weird stuff starts. It makes me cranky.) but in some ways it felt like it was more set up for the rest of the series than it was part of the story I was reading. Then again, it must have been a good ending because I've already snagged a copy of the omnibus edition containing not only Sword's Edge but also the sequels Children of the Enaisi and Laws and Prophecies. Maybe if you're lucky, I'll let you know what I think about those too.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Bells and Stars

Sword's Edge 
2014, Self Published

Sword's Edge and the Sword's Edge Chronicles Omnibus are available for purchase at the following link. If you click the link and then buy literally anything from Amazon I get a small percentage at no additional cost to you.