Saturday, May 11, 2013

Book Review: “The White Dragon” By Anne McCaffrey

This is the fifth novel Anne McCaffrey set on Pern.  It is placed with the first two novels in the series to form a trilogy called the “Dragonriders of Pern”, but it can almost stand as a separate novel.  There are references that will be easier to understand if the first four books have been read.

The story begins a year or two after Jaxom accidentally impressed Ruth.  Ruth has reached his full growth and Jaxom is now permitted to train to ride Ruth.  The training only includes flying Ruth not fighting with him, so Jaxom secretly tries to train Ruth in how to fight Thread, the nasty flesh eating spore that periodically falls on Pern.  He makes use of his limited training while playing his part in recovering a queen egg the Oldtimer’s stole.  After that he is trained in fighting Thread, to prevent future foolishness.  Then he is drawn into the task of finding where D’ram, retired weyrleader of Ista, has taken himself after the death of his weyrmate (wife).  This leads to a serious illness and then an exploration of the southern continent that marks the Pern series as being Sci-fi rather than fantasy.

Along the way Jaxom grows up.  He starts as a teenager with a certain amount of teenage angst over how he fits into his world.  By the end of the story he’s married and grown into his dual responsibilities as Lord Holder and dragonrider.

This is an enjoyable book; not challenging, except maybe on the women’s rights front, but not so formulaic as to be predictable. The main characters are complex enough that they can be interesting and the minor characters are simply drawn, but solidly enough not to distract.  Unless women’s rights are a serious concern, this is a book that is well worth putting on the list for light reading.

On the women’s rights front this book follows the earlier books, which were published starting in 1968.  All of the top positions are filled by men and expected to be filled by men.  There are a handful of strong women, who are put in positions supporting the top men.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: “Finding the Way” Edited by Mercedes Lackey

This is a collection of stories set in Valdemar. Most of the stories are decent though none are particularly outstanding. One of them uses a plot devise I particularly can’t stand.

Here are some brief comments on each of the stories included.

“Finding the Way” by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon

Sherra is a hertasi living on the edge of the Gripping Mire. She lives outside of the Vales and makes a living off of the swamp, partially by guiding people through it. One morning she awakens with a Companion outside her hidden hut. The Companion, Vesily, is going after her Chosen. All she knows is that the Chosen is either in or on the other side of the swamp.

This is a solid story of staid experience helping the inexperienced.

“In Burning Zones We Build Against the Sun by Rosemary Edghill and Denise McCune

At the beginning of the reign of Queen Alliana the King of Karse demanded that she banish the Companions and marry his son. Alliana refused and the King sent his army and the demon summoning priests to attack Valdemar. Hedion is a Mindhealer and he goes around the southern border healing all those who have been damaged by Karse’s demons. Hedion collapses when on his way to save another dozen people and is saved by Gaurane, who insists that Hedion needs to take on his impossible quest intelligently.

This is a solid story. Rather sad in away, like Don Quixote without the comedy.

“Unintended Consequences” by Elizabeth A. Vaughan

Lady Ceraratha’s husband Lord Sinmon is dead after participating in the treasonous attack on Queen Selenay. This is the two scene denouement of the affair.

This is so short a story that it doesn’t amount to much or go anywhere.

“The Education of Evita” by Mickey Zucker Reichert

This is the story of how Evita came agree to be a Herald trainee and be educated at the Collegium.

I don’t know if this story is any good or not. The character Evita suffers from a crippling level of naiveté and her Companion is foolish enough to decide that the best way to handle this is to give her a large dose of uncontrolled reality. It’s the sort of character and plot that I simply can’t stand.

“A Charm of Finches” by Elisabeth Waters

Maia has the gift of Animal Mindspeech, which she is using to assist the priest/veterinarians at the Temple of Thenoth, Lord of the Beasts, in Haven. Then a distraught girl brings in her finch, which had been injured by a small knife. She investigates the incident and learns tha the girl’s older brother is running a scam where he accepts money to pray for the deceased and then uses the money to drink and party. Maia, with the assistance of her friend Samira, brings him to justice.

It is an enjoyable story with vivid characters.

“Healing in White” by Kristen Schwengel

Shia is a newly Chosen Herald with a strong Healing gift, a significant knowledge of herbcraft, and a gift of Foresight. Not long after she begins her training her foresight tells her that she is needed. She is sent and most of the story is about her tireless efforts to cure the people of Norflank.

It’s an ok story, but it is very much repeating the stereotypes that Mercedes Lackey has used in other stories.

“Songs of a Certain Sort” by Brenda Cooper

Rhiannon is a Bard travelling with her sister, Dionne, a Healer. On their travels they come upon a small fortress town, called Paradise, where women kidnapped from other towns are being held. After a brief risky investigation, and a poisoning, the town is taken care of by the family of the kidnapped women. This leads another bard to write a song about it. Rhia refreshes her complaint that it isn’t the sort of song she’s looking for. She wants to find a song, written by herself, that is popular.

It’s ok but really only ok. The characters are rather simply drawn and the plot isn’t strong enough to carry the load.

“Otherwise Engaged” by Stephanie Shaver

Bard Lelia and Healer Grier met when they both went out to see who the Death Bell was tolling for. They become lovers though they each have a secret they can’t share. By the end of the story they’ve each shared their secrets and then they have to part.

It is a sweet little story, if a little sad. A really enjoyable tale.

“Heart’s Choice” by Kate Paulk

Ree is a cat-like change child created by the Mage Storms. He and his boyfriend Jem live on a small farm in an out of the way valley along with Jem’s grandfather and an adopted daughter Amelie. The story starts with a pair of cat change children dead after attacking a cow and cowherd. Ree and Jem agree to go looking for the kits as there is evidence the change children had them. It ends with Ree and Jem adopting the change child infant and call him Meren.

This isn’t a particularly good story. The story focuses on Ree so the other characters are relatively simple, but Ree is fairly static despite grappling with the question of how human he is.

“Heart’s Own” by Sarah A. Hoyt

A further tale of Ree and Jem. Ree is wrestling with whether Meren is more human than animal.

Not a bad story, but even with the preceding story it is rather static with not enough plot or character development to be interesting.

“The Time We Have” by Tanya Huff

Jors is a Herald on his circuit when he comes on a trio of bandits that have lit a barn full of horses on fire. One of them is a woman. He is joined by Herald Erika who has been chasing the larger band these three came from. He agrees to assist her. They catch the three but the woman makes it out of the ambush. Jors chases her into a canyon until she goes off a cliff.

This is a well enough written story but I must admit I didn’t enjoy the way it ended. It became a story of how things just seem to happen.

“A Bard by Any Other Name” by Fiona Patton

Someone is leaving poetry painted on walls in Haven. The Watch wants to find whoever it is so they direct their talent in a better direction and also assist in cleaning up their vandalism. Hektor is one of the watchmen looking for the vandal and he knows a few people. His younger sister, Kasaith, also knows people. Particularly, a girl with an artist for a father and a love of poetry that has recently become infatuated.

A charming story and really quite amusing with many of the adult characters reminiscing about past courtships and youthful romances.

“Change of Life” by Judith Tarr

Maryls’ sixth daughter, and youngest child, is about to be wed. Shortly before the wedding a Herald gets passes through town amidst all the rush and bustle of preparations. The next day a Companion shows up to choose someone and only Maryls and Ginee, the bride to be, notice.

It’s a thoroughly absurd story, but the interplay between Maryls and the Companion is quite fun.

“Lack of Vision” by Nancy Asire

A murder has been committed in the tavern. The blacksmith’s apprentice, Bred, has been accused of the deed because he was found asleep in the tavern with the murder weapon on his table. The judge, Perran, is an honest judge and skilled investigator. He even questions the blind man that lives in the tavern.

This is an interesting and enjoyable short story, though it doesn’t stay a mystery very long.

“The Groom’s Price” by Michael Z. Williamson and Gail Sanders

Keth’re’son shena Tale’sedrin is a young Shin’a’in man. He was chosen by a Companion named Yssanda. She wants him to go to Valdemar and be trained to use his magic and mind magic. He claims he would rather remain on the plains and never learn any magic what so ever. However, he does enjoy an adventure and he gets hired to escort a young mage student to Valdemar.

The scenes are often too short for much more than a couple sentences. Other than that it’s an ok story.