Book Review: The Sunken (Engine Ward Book 1), S.C. Green (2014)

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

“By Great Conductor’s steam-driven testicles!”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, trigger warning for rape. I summarize some of the plot points below, but try to avoid any major spoilers.)

Set in London in 1820 and 1830, The Sunken imagines an alternate history in which dragons thrive in the swamps surrounding London; King George III is a vampire/cannibal/madman; and traditional, god-fearing religions have been abolished in favor of those that worship science. In this new old England, engineers, physicians, scholars, artists, and poets lead their own churches and sects, sermonizing on their latest theories and inventions.

The Sunken follows four childhood friends in boyhood (in 1820, they are fifteen years of age and on the cusp of going their separate ways) and adulthood (in 1830, they reunite in a London destined for radical change). The son of a Lord, Nicholas Rose is about to depart with the Royal Navy on a post bought and paid for by his cruel father – as is his adventure-seeking comrade, James Holman. Meanwhile, Isambard Kingdom Brunel is to continue studying engineering under the tutelage of his father Marc. Ditto: Henry Williams, who – as the descendant of the great dragon hunter Aaron Williams Senior – occupies one of the top social rungs among the lowly Stokers, the laborers who keep the great machines under London running. The day before Nicholas and James are to set sail, there’s an accident in Marc’s school which claims the life of Henry; Marc is tried for negligence and banished to Van Diem’s Land, leaving Isambard in the care of his abusive mother.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Jacob, King of Portalia, Casey Clubb (2014)

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

You had me at “LGBT Fantasy”!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy for review from the publisher.)

Eleven-year-old Jacob Prios is a dreamer. He kind of has to be, when real life holds so much potential for unhappiness.

Jacob wants to be an accomplished and famous “intergalactic musician” – even though he’s completely lacking in talent, no matter how much time he devotes to practicing the violin – just like his father Prantos, who died under mysterious circumstances when Jacob was only four years old. Now his mother is remarried and hardly ever speaks of her late husband. One of the few reminders Jacob has of his father is the clubhouse they built together – and on the eve of his twelfth birthday, Jacob overhears Rick and Laney conspiring to board it up after the weekend celebrations. As if this isn’t bad enough, Jacob’s journal – the one in which he scribbled another boy’s name, surrounded in hearts – has gone missing from his violin case. Jacob is convinced that he’ll soon be outed by Jimmy and his “goons,” the reigning bullies at Archer Middle School, and disowned by his stepdad Rick and best/only friend, Sammy.

And then something remarkable happens. Jacob picks up his violin and begins to play a song for Sammy – “one I’d heard long ago, in a dream of my father” – and unwittingly opens up a portal to another world.

(More below the fold…)

Is there another way to win a maiden? | Kindness, courtesy, good works, that sort of thing.

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Still fro The Last Unicorn

“What can I do for you?” Prince Lír asked. “Nothing very much just now,” Molly Grue said. “The water was all I needed. Unless you want to peel the potatoes, which would be all right with me.”

“No, I didn’t mean that. I mean yes, I will if you want me to, but I was talking to her. I mean, when I talk to her, that’s what I keep asking.”

“Sit down and peel me a few potatoes,” Molly said. “It’ll give you something to do with your hands.”

They were in the scullery, a dank little room smelling strongly of rotting turnips and fermenting beets. A dozen earthenware dishes were piled in one corner, and a very small fire was shivering under a tripod, trying to boil a large pot of gray water. Molly sat at a rude table which was covered with potatoes, leeks, onions, peppers, carrots, and other vegetables, most of them limp and spotty. Prince Lír stood before her, rocking slowly along his feet and twisting his big, soft fingers together.

“I killed another dragon this morning,” he said presently.

“That’s nice,” Molly answered. “That’s fine. How many does that make now?”

“Five. This one was smaller than the others, but it really gave me more trouble. I couldn’t get near it on foot, so I had to go in with the lance, and my horse got pretty badly burned. It was funny about the horse —”

Molly interrupted him. “Sit down, Your Highness, and stop doing that. I start to twitch all over just watching you.” Prince Lír sat down opposite her. He drew a dagger from his belt and moodily began peeling potatoes. Molly regarded him with a slight, slow smile.

“I brought her the head,” he said. “She was in her chamber, as she usually is. I dragged that head all the way up the stairs to lay it at her feet.” He sighed, and nicked his finger with the dagger. “Damn. I didn’t mind that. All the way up the stairs it was a dragon’s head, the proudest gift anyone can give anyone. But when she looked at it, suddenly it became a sad, battered mess of scales and horns, gristly tongue, bloody eyes. I felt like some country butcher who had brought his lass a nice chunk of fresh meat as a token of his love. And then she looked at me, and I was sorry I had killed the thing. Sorry for killing a dragon!” He slashed at a rubbery potato and wounded himself again.

– Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn (1968)