“Springtime in Styria. And that means war.”
The general Monza Murcato was the most feared mercenary in Grand Duke Orso’s employ. Her fame and popularity were making the Grand Duke uneasy. When Monza and her brother met the Grand Duke and his closest circle of people they were betrayed, stabbed, their bones crushed and thrown off the Duke’s balcony. However, Monza survived and swore vengeance upon the seven men who were in the room when she was betrayed.
To help in her vengeance, Monza hired a mercenary barbarian who wanted to be a honest man, a treacherous poisoner and his apprentice, a mass murderer obsessed with numbers, an unpredictable ex-general with drinking problems, and a retired torturer.
The story of Best Served Cold has many similarities with The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. The main character was in her moment of success when she was betrayed by a group of people whom she trusted. When they thought they had gotten rid of her, she comes back, richer and focused on taking revenge. However, Best Served Cold falls short in comparison with Dumas’ work; mainly for the lack of the suspense Duma’s writing creates even if the reader already knows the story. The ending of Best Served Cold can also be a bit disappointing. The details are well treated, but in general it seems rushed in the easy way – it does not stand the comparison with wonderful ending of The Count of Monte Cristo (in content and in style).
What makes Best Served Cold special are the characters. Each character, ally or enemy, is vividly described and attracts the reader’s sympathy for all his/hers psychotic and amoral features. The past of each character is slowly disclosed throughout the book, which turns them progressively more interesting.
As it claims to have “splatterpunk” influences, many scenes with stabbing, violence, torture and lots of blood can be found in Best Served Cold, and there is not the feeling that the main characters are being spared of the worse treatments. However, after the shock of the first violent scenes, the bloody aspect is also mixed with a huge load of dark humor.
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Global warming transformed England into a semitropical country. Advances in genetic engineering cured many diseases, however the human lifespan has been halved as a consequence of extinguishing cancer. Viruses are used to educate children by transferring knowledge. At the age of 10, children’s minds are read by “The Consensus” and their personality and moral values are corrected by viruses.
Milena is a young actress who has never been read and is immune to most viruses. She meets Rolfa, a half-polar bear woman who is also a musician, and falls in love with her. Homosexuality is rare, it is regarded as “bad grammar” and “corrected” with viruses.
Milena has to deal with her own unsocial problems while she attempts to stage a mega-production of an opera composed by Rolfa, based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, and keeps wondering why “The Consensus” seems to support her instead of eliminating her.
The Child Garden is a complex novel that deals with many subjects in a rich and poetic manner. Mainly, it deals with the transformation of human beings and human culture to an uniform society and the impact it has in the individual. And the story is entirely given in the point of view of an individual who is not well connected to the tissue of society – Milena.
The Child Garden deals with some of the problems and losses that arise from solving human problems by means that were once considered a problem. Decreasing the lifespan by curing cancer with the viruses was the crudest example given, but the same could be applied for what is lost when individuality is sacrificed to create a completely unified society.
One issue approached was the solitude that can be created in the unification of a group. When a society is an integrated group of individuals, might feel solitude as a lonely animal – which is nothing more than an integrated group of cells (that is believed to have evolved from a group of unicellular organisms).
It is also worth mentioning the rich way the story is told. There is much to tell in this aspect, but what especially caught my attention was:
- The use of metaphors, which is luxurious and delicious: 1) especially as they come in colourful images and 2) even if morbid meanings are cruelly expressed through beautiful images (or the opposite).
- The use of music references in the text, as music playing in certain situations or as characters singing their own words with classical music /opera music. This is particularly special as the music referred not only enriches the meaning of the text, but it may give it a second meaning, an ironic meaning or even alter its meaning completely. The music references are inserted in the text with Wagnerian precision, where not a single note is useless, maybe to give an image of how Rolfa’s music was written in the Divine Comedy to be read together with the text.
The Child Garden is no light reading. It is very dense and complex both in its form and content. After reading it I went back to some of its parts and I surely intend to read it again.
The Child Garden was first published in 1989 and won both the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1990.
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Harper Connolly is honest, ethical and loyal – and ever since a bolt of lightning zapped her on the head, she’s had an extra-special talent: she can find dead people. It’s not a common-or-garden job. Some people find Harper’s talent useful and fascinating, but she’s getting to most people treating her like a blood-sucking leech. She’s become an expert at getting in, getting paid and getting out, fast.
When Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver travel to the Ozarks to find a local teenager, missing, believed dead, they discover that someone is willing to go to great lengths to bury a secret.
The summary in the back tells quite well what this work is about. Harper Connolly has the ability to sense the last experiences of corpses. Therefore she also perceives when a dead body is near by its last memories. However, she is not able to communicate with dead people, see who murdered them or any other kind of medium abilities. She and her stepbrother travel through the USA, to where they are hired by people who pay for Harper’s services: finding dead bodies and discover the cause of death.
This is an all-American work, about all-American people aimed to all-American readers.
The story is a crime plot, which is told in a direct straight-forward way, without any literary embellishments. The characters are all-American people, and it is hard for a European reader to feel some sort of identification with them. Also, there are no characters deep enough to become really interesting. Even Harper, who the author took great care to remark that was intellectually superior to the other characters, seems quite shallow.
By this book, the Harper Connolly series seems very similar to the Sookie Stackhouse series in the kind of characters, way of writing and sense of humor, but the Sookie series feels more special for the higher amount of fantasy elements, and the way it makes the characters more appealing.
Grave Sight is entertaining, easy and fast to read, but feels too light.
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Karl Glogauer, a time traveler from the 20th century, arrived to Palestine 28AD. The time machine was damaged and he was saved by a group of Essenes, whose leader was John the Baptist.
Glogauer suffered from many neuroses and chronic psychological problems related with childhood traumas, his strong Christian education, the rupture with Christianity in later years, and his messed up views upon sexuality. Although he felt no longer a Christian, he volunteered to test the time machine built by a friend. And so he decided to go to Palestine and witness the crucification of Christ, a decisive event in human History and in his own life.
However, when he arrived (one year before the death of Jesus) John the Baptist’s group never heard about Jesus and they were still waiting for their Savior. Glogauer was stuck in the past, the “greatest moment” was approaching, and things were not happening as they should… someone had to do something for the sake History!
Behold the Man is a novella with a plot that becomes interesting by the way it is told. The story starts by Glogauer’s arrival in Palestine, and the events before the time travel (London, 20th century) are given by flashbacks and memoirs that come parallel with the events in Palestine. Also, some passages from the Bible are placed in the proper places to offer the alternative description of the events, and to give the final touch to the dark humor of the tale.
Even the main character, Glogauer, becomes interesting by its frailty, as he is the opposite of what is expected in a hero: he is weak, depressed and neurotic, with a personality crushed by the society that, after all, was his own creation.
Behold the Man won the Nebula Award for best novella in 1967.
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The disruption of the centuries-established power in the Earthsky started affecting Osrakum. Obsidian wanted to recover his rightful place as Emperor and Carnelian wanted freedom for the people of Earthsky. As they forced the structure of the society to conquer their aims, the true history of that society was revealed. The balance of the political powers was breaking and a new balance had to be found.
The Third God is the third and final part of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, and unifies it into a three volume epic, rather than a trilogy. The plot is complex, taking many twists and turns, to reach an apocalyptic ending. Carnelian – from whose point of view the whole story is told – although not a strong and active hero, proved to have the key role in the events.
The main weakness of Carnelian as a character is his emotional dependence on other characters. But that “over-humanity” may be intended to mark the difference of the deity he represents and emphasize the sadism that is characteristic of the Masters and the Wise.
The ending makes justice to the size and complexity of the work, and it amazed me for its credibility. Political systems tend to be cyclic: sooner or later dominant groups loose strength and fall. Our History tells us that the most stable systems are the ones with strongest hierarchy and religious faith, but even those may fall. It is also interesting to think how time/habit/tradition can give strength to one system that starts in fragile conditions, and how dominant parties seek tradition to make their beginning fall into oblivion.
The Stone Dance of the Chameleon is written in a vivid and colorful way, even if sometimes the presence of blood, death and violence may be considered a bit excessive by some readers. As a Fantasy Epic, its original characters and setting lead the plot to a completely new direction. Time will undoubtedly put it among the Fantasy Classics.
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And the story started in The Chosen continues… Carnelian and Obsidian were thrown out of Osrakum and taken for dead in the course of the plots of the Masters. Carnelian’s good nature and naiveté allowed them to be accepted by one of the tribes in Earthsky, among the people that were “leeched” by the Masters to maintain the luxury of Osrakum. While Carnelian was educated far from the plots of Osrakum by a woman from Earthsky, Obsidian had the true nature of a Master and could not accept a life among lower people.
Although The Standing Dead is the continuation of The Chosen, and the events of The Chosen are essential to understand it, the plot and the thematic take a huge turn. In The Chosen the background unfolds in front of Carnelian, who was taking his first steps in the (poisoned) heaven of Osrakum. In The Standing Dead the main characters – Carnelian and Obsidian – were in a critic situation and were forced to develop themselves, which they did according to their own natures. Carnelian, with his simplicity and kind nature, wished to mingle with the tribe’s people, who were more similar to him than the Masters; and Obsidian, intrinsically Master of the Masters, recoiled to himself to show later his ability to manipulate and dominate people.
The comparison of the societies in Osrakum and in Earthsky is fascinating, as it is the way that Osrakum controls the people of Earthsky by their most individual and human egoism. The deep changes operated by Obsidian in Earthsky are also amazingly credible, especially as the human factor in them is perfectly recognizable. We may find examples of similar changes in World History (even if we are not proud of them).
The relationship of Carnelian and Obsidian also suffered a strange development. As both characters evolved in such different ways, and the strain imposed to them would not allow romantic love, their relationship evolved to a strong and weird partnership as if they were a long married couple. Although this relationship became so strange that it merged the impossible, it is so well (and subtly) described that it becomes amazingly credible.
And the plot continues in The Third God…
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Lord Suth was one of the most powerful noblemen in Osrakum, but was forced to exile by his enemies. His son Carnelian grew up in exile with a luxurious household, but without ever knowing the excesses of life in court.
One day a delegation arrived from Osrakum bringing the news of the eminent death of the Emperor, and the need of Lord Suth’s return to supervise the election of the new Emperor – every Emperor must have twin sons, one should be elected Emperor after his father’s death, the other should die during the coronation of his brother.
The journey of Carnilean and his father back to the court in Osrakum begins, bringing back all social ways that were neglected in exile and that Carnelian never knew about.
The society in Osrakum is highly stratified, with an aristocracy made of big and beautiful people who live in luxury and have an obsession about blood purity and lineage, which is directly related to social status. The aristocracy is served by slaves, who are smaller and uglier people taken as a tax from tribes that consider the aristocracy as divinity. The slaves are treated as objects that could be used and discarded at will.
Another feature of this society is the use of masks. Aristocrats wear masks that must be taken out as soon as the highest one shows his face. If the difference of rank is too big, it is a crime for the lower ranked aristocrat to look at the face of his superior, and the sentence for this crime is death. A slave that sees the face of a Lord must die immediately.
The Chosen is the first volume of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, and it mainly consists of the return of Lord Suth and Carnelian to Osrakum. The narration is centered in Carnelian, who is so familiar with that world and that society as the reader. The story itself just begins by the end of the book, when Carnelian meets and falls in love with Obsidian, and the election takes place. Although most of this volume seems like a contextualization, it does not become boring as there is always the feeling of excitement as this fantastic – and sometimes nightmarish – world is created in front of Carnelian (and the reader). It is a kind of big scale social experiment.
The Chosen is followed by The Standing Dead and The Third God.
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