The Claw of the Conciliator (The Book of the New Sun #2)

0312890176.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Outside the walls of his home city for the first time, a young executioner on a mission finds himself amongst strange locations and stranger people. The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe is the second volume of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy continuing the journey of Severian, an exiled torturer figuring out the world.

Picking up shortly after the last volume, Severian is in the mining village of Saltus with a new travelling companion Jonas after being separated from Dorcas and the theater company at the gate of Nessus. Severian believes he sees Agia, but after searching for her returns to his inn to take his mask and cape to execute an accused witch. Later that night he travels to an old mine, fights off man-apes, and comes face-to-face with Agia but doesn’t kill her even though he tricked him to get him there so see could have revenge and get possession of the titular Claw that she put on Severian’s person during the events of Shadow and Severian used during his fight with the man-apes. Severian and Jonas are then taken by associates of Vodalus, who they kill as they get to the revolutionary’s hide out in the forest. Severian and Jonas join Vodalus after taking part in a cannibalistic ritual, before heading off to the House Absolute on a mission from Vodalus. The two are captured by the guards and in a holding room are attacked, which results in Severian learning that Jonas is a robot with human skin. Using the knowledge acquired from the memories of the person they ate, Severian finds a way out of the holding room and Jonas leaves to find a way to get repaired. Severian wanders around the grounds, finding his sword, coming across the Autarch, and then is reunited with theater group and Dorcas. The five perform a play during which Baldanders turns and attacks the crowd resulting in the group running for it. Severian meets with them again on the road heading north, he and Dorcas head to Thrax while Dr. Talos attacks the other member the troupe resulting in her joining them and is attacked by a poisonous bat which results in her death in the ruins of a city while meeting with associates of Vodalus who perform a mystic ceremony.

This story was all over the place and it felt like the quality of everything connected with it was the same. There was significant worldbuilding with Severian getting out into the wider world as the previous fantasy feel was joined by sci-fi elements to create this unique landscape of future Earth. However while Wolfe created this interested background, the plot and the first-person narration were all over the place and whatever elements that were good were very much outweighed by the bad, in particular the nonsensical play that added nothing for approximately 15 pages and was just to set up Baldanders’ attack in the next very short chapter. And frankly every time Severian seems to become interesting, though by his own account, he does a 180 by disclaiming his own “perfect” memory or puts himself down.

The Claw of the Conciliator is a mishmash of good, bad, and frustration. A lot of this comes down to the writing of Gene Wolfe and primarily from the first-person point-of-view that creates most of the issues. Maybe after finishing the tetralogy I might get a better view of things, but frankly if this “classic” continues to be frustrating it’ll be a big disappointment.

The Shadow of the Torturer (The Book of the New Sun #1)

0312890176.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A young man breaks the cardinal rule of his guild and instead of the expected torture and death is sent out the only home he’s known to be a travelling executioner. The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe is the first volume of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy following the life of Severian, an apprentice torturer who betrays his guild and brothers.

Raised within the ancient Citadel of Nessus by the Seekers of Truth and Penitence, aka the guild of torturers), Severian almost drowns in the River Gyoll and with some of his fellow apprentices goes into a necropolis where he encounters the legendary revolutionary Vodalus robbing a grave and helps him in fight with volunteer guards, earning him a gold coin from Vodalus. Later just before Severian becomes a journeyman, he meets a new client Thecla who is being used as a pawn to get to one of Vodalus’ associates. Because of her position, she asks that Severian talk with her and the two becomes friends even though Severian knows she’ll get tortured eventually. After her first torture session, Severian gives her a knife and after she slits her throat he turns himself in. Instead of torture and execution, Severian is sent out into the world as an executioner and given sword named Terminus Est. Venturing out further into Nessus than he ever had before, Severian scares people and is advised by the local guards to put something over his executioner’s garb. The next day after sharing a room with two charlatans he goes to a rag shop and when buying a mantle is challenged by a cavalry officer to a duel using an alien plant. The shop’s owner feeling responsible for this happening in his shop tells his sister, Agia, to show Severian how to prepare for the duel. The two journey around city to get his plant weapon and are joined by the mysterious Dorcas, who Agia dislikes though Severian is intrigued with. Facing his challenger, Severian survives a strike from the plant weapon surprising his opponent who attempts to run but onlookers attempt to stops him but he attacks him and kills several of them before he’s arrested by guards. The next day Severian wakes in a hospice and learns he is needed for an execution, visiting his client he finds Agia and her brother, who was his challenger, then realizes how naïve he was. After Severian executes Agia’s brother, he and Dorcas meet up with the charlatans while looking for some religious fanatics that Agia stole from only to learn they’ve left the city. The story ends on a cliffhanger because Severian decides to finish writing at that point.

There were a lot of things happening in this volume, which resulted in the story being both engaging and disengaging. The first person narration made the story very intimate, but also didn’t allow for the traditional world building which forced the reader to figure a lot of things out while trying to get a grip on the story itself. Yet once you figure things out the story becomes intriguing until Severian confronts the brother and sister in the prison cell and the brother’s reasons for challenging Severian are stupid. And the ending of Severian just deciding just to quit writing at the end of the story is weird as well. The fact that an older Severian is “writing” means that readers know he survives whatever happens, thus forcing Wolfe to take another direction which had both good and bad points.

The Shadow of the Torturer is a good story overall, though there are issues in the beginning and at the end that are somewhat disconcerting for a first time reader. Gene Wolfe created a very interesting protagonist and created several interesting twists throughout the story though some didn’t pay off as well as others while also laying seeds for future stories around Severian. This is an enjoyable volume that I’ll have to revisit with a reread in the future after completing the rest of the tetralogy.

Fire & Blood: From Aegon I to the Regency of Aegon III (ASOIAF- History)

152479628X.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The rise and fall of the Targaryens in Westeros over the course of 300 years is essentially the backstory for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones). Taking on the guise as a master of the Citadel, Martin’s Fire & Blood: From Aegon I to the Regency of Aegon III is the first volume of two detailing the history of the Targaryen dynasty and the unified Westeros they ruled that readers would first meet in A Game of Thrones.

Unlike the vast majority of the books concerning Westeros, Martin writes this one as a pure—yet fictional—history book, though with a clear narrative structure, detailing the lives of the Targaryens and the events that impacted their reigns from Aegon’s Conquest down to the Regency of his great-great-great-grandson Aegon III in the aftermath of The Dance of the Dragons. The book begins with a quick family history of the Targaryens with their flight from Valyria before the Doom and the century leading up to Aegon’s conquest of Westeros before delving into said conquest with his sister-wives. Then just a regular history book, the text goes into how the new realm was brought together and how the Targaryens attempted to bring Dorne into the realm during Aegon’s life. Next came the reigns of the Conqueror’s two sons showing how the new dynasty was tested once the founder was missing and the problems faith and cultures play when interacting with one another. Follow the death of Maegor the Cruel, the long reign of Jaehaerys I with considerable influence from his sister-wife queen Alysanne shows how dynasty’s rule was cemented even though seeds were planted for a crisis in the succession of the line that would explode in civil war after the death of their grandson Viserys I between his eldest daughter and her younger half-brother that would devastate the realm and basically kill off all the dragons—both human and creature—leaving a 10-year boy left to sit the Iron Throne.

Although around half the material in this book was a reprint from A World of Ice and Fire, “The Princess and the Queen, “The Rogue Prince”, and “Sons of the Dragon” it was all the new material and some retconned details of this 700 page book that is really interesting. The reign of Jaehaerys and Alysanne was essentially all new as was the details about how The Dance of the Dragons ended and the resulting multiple Regencies for Aegon III. Along with all this information, which fleshed out the backstory of Westeros even more, were parallels of characters from the main series—as well as the Dunk & Egg novels—with historical personages that appeared in this history that gives big fans thoughts to ponder about what might be in store with the former.

Overall Fire & Blood: From Aegon I to the Regency of Aegon III is a very good book for those fans of ASOIAF/GoT who look in-depth at their favorite series. Personally as fan of the series and being interested in the depth Martin gives his series, as well as big history read, this book was fantastic. Yet if you are a casual fan or simple a show fan that hasn’t read the books, this book isn’t for you.

A Song of Ice and Fire

Earth, Air, Fire, Water: Tales from the Eternal Archives #2

0886778573-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Earth, Air, Fire, Water by Margaret Weis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The short story anthology Earth, Air, Fire, Water edited by Margaret Weis, the second and last collection of the Tales from the Eternal Archives, contains thirteen stories of varying quality loosely connected to one another through the titular mystical library. But unlike the first collection all thirteen stories were all fantasy genre.

The best story of the collection was “Strange Creatures” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, which followed Chief Dan Retsler investigating the latest in a series of animal mutilations but suddenly finds out that the latest animal might be linked to mythical “selkies”. The next two best stories were “How Golf Shaped Scotland” by Bruce Holland Rogers, a fun and good natured short story about how a game of golf created Scotland’s iconic coastline, and “An Elemental Conversation” by Donald J. Bingle, a conversation between a Reverend and his friend during their weekly chess game about how the news of non-human intelligent life affects religion with a twist ending.

The two worst stories of the collection were “Water Baby” by Michelle West, which followed the life of a young woman who is emotionally connected to the ocean and how it affects her and others, and “Sons of Thunder” by Edward Carmien, in which a djinn recounts his time as a follower of Jehua and how his brother and his tribe converted to the new faith leaving him alone. These were the two “worst” examples of six stories that were not really good even though they had interesting concept, but just bad execution ruined them. An interesting facet was the unevenness of the number of stories for each element covered in the book, with Air only have one while Earth had five and Water had four and Fire starting off the book with three.

The thirteen stories that make up Earth, Air, Fire, Water were a mixed bag of quality from the excellent to downright disappoint, just like every other anthology collection that has been published. However I will be honest in how well I rated this book given how poorly it began and ended.

Individual Story Ratings
Burning Bright by Tanya Huff (2/5)
The Fire of the Found Heart by Linda P. Baker (2/5)
The Forge of Creation by Carrie Channell (2/5)
How Golf Shaped Scotland by Bruce Holland Rogers (4/5)
The Giant’s Love by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (3/5)
Family Secrets by Robyn McGrew (3.5/5)
Dvergertal by Nancy Vivian Berberick (2/5)
An Elemental Conversation by Donald J. Bingle (4/5)
Water Baby by Michelle West (1/5)
Only As Safe by Mark A. Garland and Lawrence Schimel (3/5)
Out of Hot Water by Jane Lindskold (3.5/5)
Strange Creatures by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (5/5)
Sons of Thunder by Edward Carmien (1/5)

Sons of Thunder (Tales from the Eternal Archives #2)

0886778573-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Sons of Thunder by Edward Carmien
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

An air elemental, or maybe djinn, recounts to a missionary his time with Jehua Mashiah as one of his followers along with his brother whom Jehua names James and John, the Sons of Thunder. The djinn tells how the human sons of Zebedee replaced him and his brother as the Sons of Thunder but his brother remained in the group while he left. The djinn mourns his tribe that was converted to Mashiah’s faith by his brother, all of them becoming human in the process and die. The missionary’s sympathy breaks through the djinn allowing him to let go and find others of his kind.

This story could have been interesting, but the missionary angle just fell flat especially when she willingly had her picture taken for internet porn so she could connect with the djinn just blew any good will this story could have gotten for me.

Strange Creatures (Tales from the Eternal Archives #2)

0886778573-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Strange Creatures by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Dan Retsler, Chief of Police of Whale Rock, overlooks his flood damaged coastal town and thinks back to what led to it. New Year’s Day (1999), Retsler is called to the beach to find a skinned seal pup which is the just the latest in a series animal mutilations. Retsler knows the culprit is probably a teenager, but things are complicated. Maria Selvado, a woman claiming to be employed by a local Science Center, keeps cropping up in various aspects of the investigation which intrigues Retsler. Yet it is Whale Rock’s secretly acknowledged weird history and speculation of mythological creatures, namely selkies, that makes Retsler a hero after learning that a bloody Selvado committed suicide by jumping into the ocean. With barely an hour to evacuate the town, Retsler visits the site of the only two victims of the flood, a father and his teenage son who had both gotten on the bad side of the selkies.

I must apologize for my bad description of this fantastic story, I didn’t do it justice. This one story mean I’ll be keeping the entire book on my shelf because I will want to reread this again.

Out of Hot Water (Tales from the Eternal Archives #2)

0886778573-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Out of Hot Water by Jane Lindskold
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Jeannette, a CPA on an all-expenses-paid holiday from her company for her performance during tax time, is feeling disappointed with her life and with her holiday. While getting a massage, she engages in a conversation with the masseuse who she thinks is a elderly woman from the local Tewa tribe. Though warned that the hot springs the resort is located on are sacred, Jeannette wishes for excitement. It turns out the old woman is the spirit of the hot springs and grants Jeannette’s wish by enlisting her help to stop thieves from stealing from the ruins of the Tewa’s ancient settlement. Using her common sense, Jeannette disables the thieves’ car and gets to the local police to report the crime including a lead for one of the thieves. Months later, after being the star witness at the trial and using her accounting skills Jeannette has shut down several stolen antiquities rings. The old woman then shows up with her grandson, the Tewa tribe’s legendary hero to end the story.

Frankly the ending–the arrival of the grandson–was unnecessary to this very good story and made me downgrade it by half a star.