Monthly Archives: December 2013

Dark Currents

Dark Currents

Dark Currents is book two of the Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker.

The team is back, trying to do good deeds and gain the favour and attention of the Emperor. Lead by Amaranthe, the boys are still jocular (well, mostly Maldynado is light-hearted) and their disputes are starting to look more like fighting between siblings than real conflicts.

This book focuses more on Books as a secondary character. Books lacks confidence and feels like he doesn’t fit in or contribute. When he and Maldynado find a few dead bodies, it seems the group has stumbled across an appropriate mystery to solve.

This adventure takes them to gambling houses, across the city, and out into the countryside. They come across tainted water, evil shamans, vicious wild beasts, strange and deadly metallic constructs.

The relationship between Amaranthe and Sicarius is progressing – or at least Amaranthe keeps prattling at and teasing Sicarius and he seems less stony toward her than others of the group.

Maldynado is still a confident, cocky, vain, but loveable guy.
Basilard, a mute fighter who only joined the crew at the conclusion of the last adventure, proves to be a little bit mysterious. It is unclear how much loyalty he feels to his roots (the Mangdorian people).
Akstyr is learning more and more of the Mental Sciences (and seems especially devoted to studying when there is work to do).
Sespian, the Emperor, features only in name in this book. You don’t see or interact with him at all.

I quite enjoyed this one. It took me a little longer to get into than the first, but it was still a fun read. I think what keeps me going is the interaction between Amarante and Sicarius and the annoying but loveable Maldynado. Fun! Another 4 / 5 !

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Merry Christmas!

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December 25, 2013 · 10:30 am

The Three Snake-Leaves

The Three Snake Leaves

Wainwright Illustration: The Three Snake Leaves

This is a tale that I have not heard before.  Thanks again to the Brothers Grimm, here is my summary:

Once upon a time there was a poor man.  He has a son, and when he could no longer support his son the boy say to him, “My dear father, let me make my own way in the world and earn my own bread.”  With great sorrow, they parted and the son went on his way.

At that time, the King was at war, and the son entered into his service.  During a dangerous battle, in which his comrades fell on all sides and their leader was killed and all seemed lost, the youth stepped up.  He said to those remaining men, who were on the verge of flight, “We shall not let our fatherland fall!” The other men followed him and together they conquered the enemy.

The King heard that he owed the victory to the youth, and he gave him great treasures and wealth and raised him above all others.

It happened that the King had a very beautiful daughter.  This daughter was not only pretty but strange.  She vowed that she would not take any husband unless he promised that if she died first he would let himself be buried alive with her.  “What use will he have for living, if he loves me with all his heart?” she asked. She vowed to do the same, and if he would die first then she would go to the grave with him.  So far, this vow had scared away all suitors, but the youth was so charmed by her that he asked her father for her hand.

“Do you know what you must promise?” asked the King.

“I do, and if it comes that I must be buried with her then so be it. I love her so much that I will take this risk,” the youth replied.

So there was a splendid wedding and much rejoicing.  The new couple lived happily for some time, but then he young Queen was struck by a mysterious illness.  No one could cure her and the illness soon took the young Queen’s life.

As the Queen lay like stone, the young King remembered his promise with horror.  There was no escape; the old king posted sentries at the door.  So the young King took his fate with grace, and when it was time for the Queen to be buried, they were both taken to the royal tomb.  The Queen was laid inside, with the King by her side, and the door was shut and bolted.

Inside the tomb, near the coffin, was a table.  There were four candles, four loaves of bread, and four bottles of wine.  When these rations were done, the young King would die of hunger.  He sat by his wife’s side, full of grief, and ate only a little piece o bread and a mouthful of wine.  Slowly he weakened.

One day, the young king saw a snake slither out of a corner of the tomb and come toward the coffin.  The young King was horrified that the snake might feast on his wife’s corpse, so he drew his sword, swore that the snake would not touch her, and hacked it into pieces.

A little while later, a second snake slithered out of the hole.  When it saw the first snake, hewed to pieced, the second snake quickly exited the tomb.  He soon came back, with three green leaves in it’s mouth.  The young King watched with interest as the snake rearranged the pieces of the dead snake’s body, so they aligned where they were supposed to connect.  The snake then put one of the leaves on each wound.  Immediately the parts joined and the snake was whole and alive again.  The two snakes slithered away together.

The leaves remained on the floor, and the young King picked them up and wondered if they could have similar powers for his wife.  So he laid a leaf on her mouth and on each of her eyes.  As soon as the last leaf was in place, colour returned to her face and she drew breath.  Opening her eyes, the Queen exclaimed, “Where am I?”

“You are with me, my love,” the young King answered, gathering her in his arms.  He then explained what had transpired and gave her some bread and wine.  She regained her strength and they went to the door and knocked and yelled so loudly that the sentries heard and brought the old King.

When the old King ordered the door to the tomb opened, and saw that they were both alive and well, there was much rejoicing.  The young King took the three leaves in his pocket as they left.  He gave them to his most loyal and trusted servant and bade the man, “Keep these for me with care.  Carry them with you at all times, as who knows when or if I shall need them again!”

The young Queen, though alive, was changed.  Her love for her husband seemed lost, and she was cold and aloof. When he wanted to make a voyage over the sea, in order to visit his old father, the Queen decided to accompany him.  The Queen, forgetting the great love and loyalty of her husband, thought of a wicked plan.  Enlisting the help of the skipper, the Queen waited until the young King lay asleep in his bunk.  Then she and the skipper came in and seized the King by his head and feet and slung him overboard to drown.

“Let’s go home,” proclaimed the Queen to her skipper, “and we shall tell my father that my husband died along the way.  I will convince my father that you are a much better substitute, and we shall be married and you will be the heir to the crown.”

In the meantime, the young King’s faithful servant had watched the Queen and the skipper.  The servant had unfastened a lifeboat from the side and quickly sailed after his master.  He was able to rescue the dead body of the young King and bring it onto the little boat.  Then the servant put a snake-leaf on the young King’s mouth, and one on each of his eyes.  Scarcely had the last leaf been placed before the young King was again alive and drawing breath.  The servant explained what had occurred and together he and the young King rowed swiftly back to the shore.  They rowed with all their strength and did not stop until they reached their destination.  So fast was their journey that they reached the old King before the Queen’s boat returned.

The young King explained what had happened to he the old King, who was shocked at the evil deeds of his daughter.  “I cannot believe that she has behaved so wickedly,” said the old King, “but we shall soon have the truth.” He then told the young King to hide in a secret chamber until the young Queen returned.

It was not long before the Queen and the skipper arrived.

“Why do you come alone?  Where is your husband?” asked the old King.

“My dearest father, I am in great grief.  My poor husband became so suddenly ill and died.  Without the help of this good skipper things would have gone badly for me as well,” replied the Queen.

The old King saw through her false grief and said, “I can make the dead come alive again!”  With that, the opened the door to the secret chamber and the young King stepped out.

When the young Queen saw her husband she was shocked.  With alarm, she fell to her knees and begged for mercy and forgiveness.

The old king said, “This man was ready to die with you.  He restored you to life but you repay him with murder in his sleep! There is no mercy.” Then the old King ordered her ship pierced with holes.  She and the skipper (an accomplice in murder) were put on the ship and sent out to sea.  The ship soon sank beneath the waves and the Queen was not seen ever again.

My thoughts:

  • I am pretty sure that the Grimm brothers did some poor math in the version that I read.  If the young King hacked the snake into three pieces, there would be TWO wounds. So above I omitted how many pieces the snake was hacked into.  Just a point of annoyance which has no relevance to the story.
  • What the heck were those leaves?
  • Being brought back to life makes you a little bit evil, I guess.  However, the Queen may have been messed up to begin with, with her crazy vow.
  • This was a weird story!

Anyway, Merry Christmas Eve!

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The Emperor’s Edge

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This was a completely random choice for me – I purchased this on my kobo ages ago because it was on sale and sounded intriguing and have only just gotten around to reading it.
I am glad I did! The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker is set in “Stumps”, the capital city of the Turgonian Empire, a place where the old Warrior Caste are the ruling elite.  Amaranthe Lokdon is one of the few female enforcers (i.e. Police). Ruled by the young Emperor Sespian Savarsin, the empire has a long history of conquests and killing.  Amaranthe is neat, loyal, and someone who follows the rules.

After a chance encounter with Sespian, Amaranthe is called in to see the Commander of the Armies: Hollowcrest.  As Sespian’s former regent and now Commander, Hollowcrest is a hard man. Amaranthe is given an impossible mission – to kill the assassin Sicarius. Though his reasons are unclear, Sicarius is loyal to the Emperor and instead of killing Amaranthe they form an unlikely alliance. Amaranthe has a plan to save the emperor from the machinations of Hollowcrest. She pulls together a raggedy crew. With limited time, the team must be cunning and quick in order to save the Emperor. They must work together while avoiding a deadly and mysterious beast prowling the city and the Enforcers who are on the lookout for Sicarius and Amaranthe, with orders to kill on sight.

The team:

Amaranthe is tough, smart, and suitably fazed by Sicarius’s cold-blooded approach to killing. She’s good at talking people into doing things for her – or talking herself out of crazy situations!
Sicarius is one tough nut.  Cold, calm, and professional, Sicarius shows no emotion.  I loved the interaction between Amaranthe and Sicarius!
Books, a one time history professor turned drunkard, adds some more brains to the operation.
Maldynado – an egoistic pretty-boy who was disowned by his warrior-caste family adds some appreciated comic relief
Akstyr – a former gang member and broody practitioner of the “mental sciences” (a.k.a. Magic) adds some teenage-style moodiness.

Another bonus: there are sequels!

This book has a good mix of plotting, poison, fights, and intrigue. There are deaths – including a few somewhat graphic descriptions of mauled bodies (as a warning) but I didn’t find them overwhelming.

A great read overall! 4/5 at least!

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Bewitching Season

Bewitching Season

This was my kind of book – historical fiction with a dash of magic.  A good blend of different story threads, and a heroine that I liked even when she did silly things. Perfect!

Set just around the time Queen Victoria takes the throne, it features Persephone (Persy) Leland, a shy somewhat awkward young girl who feels a might overshadowed by her identical twin sister, Penelope (Pen). Persy is bookish and would rather be devoting herself to her studies in Magic than entering society.  The girls are about to embark on their first Season, and while Pen is looking eagerly forward, Persy feels a bit like she’s being led to her doom.  As daughters of a Viscount, both are expected to find suitable husbands, a fact that hangs over Persy’s head like a guillotine blade.

As they arrive in London, the girls discover their beloved governess, Miss Allardyce (Ally), has gone missing.  Ally has been kidnapped as part of an evil plot against the young Princess Victoria.  The girls, along with their sometimes pesky younger brother, Charles, must now navigate not only the Season and social society, but plots against their heroine.  Add to that the handsome Lochinvar, a neighbour who taunted them when they were children but now has Persy’s heart fluttering.

There’s just enough young-love angst, sibling strife, and adventure to satisfy my tastes.  I quite appreciated Persy’s bluestocking tendencies, and as someone who is usually at least a little uncomfortable in new social situations I totally identified with her reluctance to enter society.  I also really appreciated Charles, who may only be 10 but is the perfect little brother for the story.

I am also QUITE pleased that this is the first of a series and that there are already a few sequels either published or in the works! Always a thrill to discover!

I think I’ll have to give this one a 5 / 5.  I feel quite happy with my random bargain-bin find at the bookstore!

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Fairy Tale Tuesdays – Hansel and Gretel

Fairy Tale Tuesdays

Hansel & Gretel by Gloria Lapuyade Scott

Hansel & Gretel by Gloria Lapuyade Scott
http://www.gloriarts.com/

Happy Tuesday!  This week is a VERY familiar tale, Hansel and Gretel.  Again, I take my cues from the Brothers Grimm.  Here is my summary:

Once upon a time there lived a poor woodcutter with his second wife and two children.  The son was named Hansel and the daughter was named Gretel.  They were very poor and when times got very tough and scarcity fell over the land, the woodcutter could no longer provide for his family.  The woodcutter was very worried and could not sleep at night, tossing and turning.  He said to his wife, “What will become of us? How will we feed our children, when we have nothing even for ourselves?”

“I have a solution,” said his wife, “Tomorrow we will take the children deep into the forest.  We’ll light them a fire and give them each a piece of bread, and we will leave them there and go about our business.  They will not be able to find their way home so we will not have to worry about them any longer.”

“How could I leave my children alone in the forest?” asked the husband, “They will be eaten by wild animals! No, I cannot do it.”

“Then you condemn us all to die of hunger,” argued the wife.  She was very persistent, and would not give her husband peace until he agreed to her plan.  The man felt very guilty and had many misgivings.

The two children overheard the adults talking, as they were so hungry they had not been able to sleep.  Gretel wept bitterly.

“Hush,” said Hansel, “don’t worry, Gretel.  I will find some way to help us.”  He waited until the adults had fallen asleep then got up, put on his coat, and crept outside.  The moon shone brightly on the white pebbles which lay in front of the house.  Hansel scooped up as many pebbles as he could fit in the pockets of his coat.  He went inside and told his sister to take comfort as he had a plan.

In the morning, before the sun had even fully risen, the mother came to wake the children.  “Wake up!” she demanded, “We are going into the forest to fetch wood.”  Then she gave them each a little piece of bread promising “This is for your dinner.  Don’t eat it before then, because you’ll get nothing else!” Gretel put the pieces in her apron pocket, as Hansel was carrying the stones.

The family all walked together on the way to the forest.  After a few moments, Hansel stopped and looked back at the house.  This happened again and again.  At last, the father asked, “Why do you keep stopping? What are you looking at?”

“I am looking at my little white cat,” replied Hansel, “He is sitting on the roof and wants to say goodbye.”

“You fool,” said the wife, “That is not your cat but the morning sun shining on the chimney. Keep up!”

Hansel was not looking at his cat, but had been regularly throwing one little white pebble at a time from his pocket on to the road.

At last, the family reached the middle of the forest.  The father bade  his children to fetch wood and make a pile.  “I will make a fire so you won’t be cold,” he said.

Hansel and Gretel gathered a large pile of wood.  The father set it alight, and the flames burned high. “Now, children, lay down by the fire to rest.  We will go into the forest to cut wood.  We will come back for you when we are done,” said the father.

Hansel and Gretel waited by the fire.  At noon, they each at a little piece of bread.  They could hear the a regular sound, which they thought was their father chopping wood.  It was not their father, but a branch of wood that he had fastened to a tree so that the wind knocked it about.

The two children fell asleep, and when they woke at last, it was already night.  Gretel was frightened and asked, “How are we ever to get out of the forest now?”

“Don’t worry.  Wait until the moon has come out and then we will be able to find our way,” said Hansel. When the moon had risen, Hansel took his little sister’s hand and followed the trail of pebbles, which shone brightly in the moonlight.

By the time they reached the house, it was dawn.  They knocked on the door and when the mother opened it she scolded, “You naughty children! Why did you sleep so long in the forest! We thought you were never coming back!”

The father rejoiced, for he loved his children and it had deeply saddened him to leave them behind.

After a little time, scarcity once again fell over the land and the family ran out of food once more.  The children heard their mother saying, “Everything is eaten! We have only one half loaf of bread left and then nothing! The children must go – we will take them deeper into the wood so they will not find their way out. We shall otherwise die of hunger!”

The man was very saddened, and thought that his wife would be better to share the last mouthful with her children.  But he was beaten down by her scolding and eventually once more agreed.

The children had overheard once again.  When their parents were asleep, Hansel got up and put on his coat.  He went to go collect pebbles but the door was locked and he could not get out. “Don’t worry, Gretel,” he said, “I will think of something.”

Just before dawn, the mother came to wake the children.  They were given each a tiny piece of bread and led into the forest as before.  As they walked, Hansel crumbled the bread in his pocket and dropped little pieces along the ground.

“Hansel, why do you keep looking back? Let’s go,” said the father.

“I am only looking back at my pigeon, which is sitting on the roof and saying goodbye,” said Hansel.

“You idiot,” said the mother, “that’s only the morning sun striking the chimney!”

The children were led deeper into the forest, to an area they’d never been before.  They gathered wood and another fire was set.

“Sit here,” said the mother, “Rest a little. We are going into the forest to cut wood.  In the evening we will come and get you.”

The children waited by the fire.  At noon, Gretel shared her tiny piece of bread with Hansel as his was scattered along the way into the woods.  They grew tired and fell asleep. It was dark night by the time they woke and Gretel was frightened.

“Don’t worry Gretel,” said Hansel, “We will wait until the moon rises and we will see the bread and follow it home.”  The moon came up, but the children could find no crumbs.  The birds that lived in the forest had eaten the crumbs of bread. “We will find a way,” said Hansel.  The two children walked and walked but they could not find their way out of the forest.  They walked the whole night and the whole day and grew very hungry and very tired.  They found nothing to eat but a few berries.  At last in the evening, they were so tired that they lay beneath a tree and fell asleep.

It was now three mornings since the children had left their house. They began to walk once more but they were terribly hungry and weary.  At midday, they saw a beautiful white bird that sat on a branch and sang a delightful song.  The children stopped to listen and when the bird was done it flew off.  The children followed the bird until they reached a queer little house.

The house was made of bread and cakes, with clear sugar windows.  “Look, Gretel,” said Hansel, “We can have a meal at last!  I will eat some of the roof and you can have some of the window.”  Hansel reached up and broke off a piece of the roof, and Gretel leaned against the window to taste the panes.

“Nibble, nibble, gnaw,” said a voice, “Who is nibbling at my little house?”

“The wind,” answered the children, who then went on eating.  Hansel though the roof was very nice indeed, and tore off a big piece of it.  Gretel pushed out a whole windowpane and sat down happily to eat it.

Suddenly, the door opened and a very very old woman came lurching out on crutches. Hansel and Gretel were so scared they dropped what they were holding.

“Oh my dears,” said the old woman, “who has brought you here?  Come in and stay with me. Nothing will harm you here.” She then took them by the hand and led them into her house.  The children sat down at the table, and the old woman gave them a good meal, with mild and pancakes, sugar, apples and nuts.  When they were full, she took them to two pretty little beds covered in clean white sheets.  Hansel and Gretel lay down happily and went to sleep.

The old woman was really a nasty witch, who had built her house of bread in order to lure children there.  When she had a child in her power, she killed it and then cooked and feasted on it. Witches have red eyes and cannot see far but they have good noses and can scent like beasts.

In the morning, before the children were even awake, the witch looked them over and said to herself, “What a feast!” Then she grabbed Hansel and carried him into a little stable where she locked him up.  Scream and cry as he might, he was trapped and too far for Gretel to hear.  Then the witch came and shook Gretel awake and cried, “Get up you lazy girl! Go and fetch some water and cook something good for your brother! He is in the stable outside and I want him to get nice and fat.  When he is fat, I will eat him!”

Gretel began to weep but she was forced to do what the witch told her.  She cooked the best food for Hansel, but Gretel was allowed only to eat scraps and crab shells.  Every morning, the witch went to the stable and cried, “Hansel, stretch out your finger so I may feel if you will soon be fat.”  Hansel, who was clever, held out a little bone to her, and the old woman, who could not see it, thought it was Hansel’s finger.  The old woman was astonished that Hansel was not getting any fatter and after four weeks she grew impatient.

“Gretel,” she ordered, “go fetch some water.  Whether Hansel is fat or thin, I will eat him tomorrow.”

Poor Gretel wept as she fetched the water.  She cried and lamented and the old woman hushed her impatiently.

In the morning, Gretel was made to go out and hang up the cauldron with the water, then light a fire under it.

“First, we will bake,” said the old woman, “For I have the oven all hot and have kneaded the dough.”  The witch led Gretel to the oven, where flames were darting out. “Get in,” said the witch, “You must see if it’s properly hot for the bread.”  The witch planned to shut the oven door and bake Gretel inside, so she would eat her too.

Gretel suspected the witch and said, “I do not know how to do it!  How do you get in?”

“You fool,” said the witch, “It is easy enough. Look, the door is big enough that I could even get in myself.”  Then the witch stuck her head in the oven door to show.  Gretel gave the witch a big push, which drove her far into the oven.  Quickly, Gretel slammed the door shut and fastened the bolt.  The witch began to scream and moan but Gretel ran away and the witch was burnt to death.

Gretel ran to her brother and opened the door to the stable. “We are saved,” she cried, “The old witch is dead!”  Hansel jumped out of the stable and they rejoiced.  With no fear, the two went into the witches house.  Stored in every corner were chests filled with pebbles and jewels. Hansel filled his pockets and Gretel filled her apron pockets full.

“Now we must go,” said Hansel, “and escape the witch’s forest.” So the two left and walked for two hours.  They came upon a great lake.

“We cannot go over this water,” said Hansel, “for there is no footpath nor bridge.”

“There aren’t any boats,” supplied Gretel, “but look, there is a white duck swimming.  I will ask her if she will help.”  Gretel then called to the duck, “Little duck, little duck, can you help me? Hansel and Gretel are waiting, you see!  There’s not a plank or bridge or boat in sight, so please take us on your back so white!”

The duck swam up and Hansel seated himself on her back.  He told his sister to sit by him but Gretel refused because they would be too heavy.  So the duck took them across one at a time.  They thanked her, and walked on.  The forest became more familiar, until at last they saw their father’s house.  The two ran the remaining distance, bursting into the door and throwing themselves into their father’s arm.

The man had not known happiness since the children left.  His wife had died, and he had mourned their children.

“Look, papa,” said Gretel, and she emptied her apron of pearls and jewels. Hansel added the stones from his pocket.  All the anxiety was lifted from the father, and they all lived happily ever after.

Ahh, Hansel and Gretel.  The deliciously scary gingerbread house in the woods.  Clever Hansel and quick-thinking Gretel! This is one of my favourites!

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Curtsies & Conspiracies

Curtsies and conspiracies

I love Gail Carriger – Curtsies & Conspiracies is the second book in her Finishing School series.  The first, Etiquette and Espionage was AWESOME (my review here).  I was super excited about this one and finally got a chance to read it.  My expectations were definitely met!!

Sophronia continues to enjoy her time at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.  In her second year, she puts her new-found learning to use.  Sneaking around the school, visiting the boiler room, eavesdropping, and flirting, Sophronia suspects that the school’s trip to London is more than meets the eye.  Add some boys from Bunsons, the strange device she rescued in book one, gadgets, the supernatural set, and a character assassination – Sophronia might be in over her head.

All my favourite characters are back: Sophronia (of course), Soap (the boiler room Sootie), Vieve (cheeky as usual), Dimity, Pillover, and Monique (annoying as usual).

I think this was as good as the first, and I can’t wait for the next book!  Gail Carriger has a witty, refreshing style that I just love.  Steampunk for the win! 5 / 5.

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