The first novel in Karen Myers’ The Hounds of Annwn series is TO CARRY THE HORN. It stars George Talbot Traherne, a whipper-in from modern-day Virginia, his Elven grandfather Gwyn ap Nudd, and a cast of thousands rotating around these two.
The story starts with George out riding one day with the Rowanton Hunt. However, he gets distracted by a huge white stag and ends up veering off course, ending up in the Fae Otherworld on the very day Gwyn’s own Master of the Hunt has been murdered. George quickly realizes he’s in a different place (though the land is much the same), but rather than becoming discommoded by this, he quickly immerses himself in working with Gwyn’s hounds. This quick immersion isn’t as jarring as it sounds, however, because George is obviously a man of action rather than one of introspection.
Anyway, Gwyn’s hounds are not your normal run of dogs by any means, as they’re actually the Hounds of Hell (most are half-demon, half-dog), which makes Gwyn far more than just any Fae overlord. And there’s only two weeks to go before the next edition of the Wild Hunt must take place; if it doesn’t come off, ancient God Cernunnos, who set Gwyn up as Lord of his own establishment long ago, can take the rulership away from Gwyn again.
Now, you might be wondering how a normal guy from Virginia, albeit a huntsman and whipper-in, can possibly control the Hounds of Hell. Well, in Ms. Myers’ conception, it comes down to two things: George genuinely has a gift when it comes to animals (most particularly dogs), and he also has an extra ability gifted to him from his non-human — and non-Fae — grandparent, who appears to be none other than Cernunnos himself. Because of these two rather exceptional grandparents, he can handle the Hounds of Hell. And because George is somewhat at loose ends in his life — thirtyish, athletic, smart enough to own his own computer company and pragmatic enough to make more than enough money to live on with it — he definitely is ready for a new adventure.
Once George takes charge of the pack of hounds, he quickly realizes that he’s going to need allies. The Elven teenager Rhian becomes George’s apprentice along with the lutin Isolda, while Rhian’s older brother Rhys continues on for a short time as the most experienced person left who’s used to dealing with the hounds. This is important, because George never led a hunt by himself before, much less with these particular hounds.
But George also needs allies in Gwyn’s court, which is why his nascent friendship with two Elves — Edern, a lord, and Angharad, an artist — is so important to the plot. These two help George get up to speed quickly with regards to the overall political situation with the Elves, much less the major scandals in Gwyn’s past that may or may not come back to haunt Gwyn in the near future, and often function as quasi-infodumps.
Then George realizes that the more time he spends with Angharad, the more he wants to be with her. Yet he still has a home and business in our Virginia, and he’s been told it won’t be that difficult to go home again. He doesn’t want to leave his grandparents behind (this grandmother is Gwyn’s daughter and George’s reason for close kinship to Gwyn in the first place), but he certainly doesn’t want to leave Angharad, the dogs, Rhian, Isolda, or any of the others in this strange new place he’s come to love.
So what’s to do? And will he ever figure out who, exactly, killed the former huntsman? Much less why? And is Gwyn’s rule really as endangered as all that? All of these questions will be answered, but most of the answers in turn raise more questions.
This is a good story that I found both engaging and absorbing, but it does have a few flaws. This is a first novel, and because of that, there are a number of minor issues that distracted just a touch and interfered with the reading trance. These small things mostly were in the way inner monologue was presented (most of the time, it’s easiest to show that with italics), or in a few areas where our hero, George, was led to the right answer rather than reasoning it out for himself.
Overall, TO CARRY THE HORN is a solid fantasy that is interesting, well-plotted, and held my attention through several re-reads. There are many nonhumans in this story (much less Cernunnos), and their motivations are sensible, logical, and well thought out. Ms. Myers’ knowledge of Welsh mythology, up to and including the Mabinogion (perhaps the first-known collection of Arthurian tales), served her well in the creation of this novel.
Bottom line: TO CARRY THE HORN is a solid introduction to the Hounds of Annwn series. I liked George quite a bit as a hero, can’t wait to see how his relationship with Angharad develops, and will be interested to follow his future adventures.
– reviewed by Barb
NOTE: Book two of The Hounds of Annwn, THE WAYS OF WINTER, will be reviewed here at Shiny Book Review in the next few weeks.
(Ed.– Today’s review comes from guest reviewer Chris Smith. We here at Shiny Book Review thank Chris for stepping up and delivering this review, and hope that he sticks around for more.)
I blame it on Howard Stern. The idea that crude and obnoxious is inherently funny. For him, it worked. I think part of that was the fact that it had never been done in such an obviously over the top way. I’m not a fan of Stern’s show, but I’m willing to give him credit for being a pioneer of sorts in the ‘shock value entertainment’ industry.
Unfortunately, his success spawned imitators. Lots of imitators. Oh Dear and Forgiving (insert favorite God, Goddess, Higher Power, or Celebrity) the imitators. Each newcomer, it seemed, had less talent, and less wit, than the one that had come before. I quit listening to morning shows on terrestrial radio, the natural spawning ground for the species. They made their way to satellite, infecting the airwaves I paid for, trying to escape. There is now one station I can’t listen to on Fridays, simply because they play a certain host’s show for three hours in the morning, and then replay another three hours of “The Best of.”
Then came MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and all the rest of the social media. Whatever good has come from social media- yes, there is some good, be it keeping long distance friends in touch with each other, getting to know your favorite authors, free publicity for your business, etc.- the format has also brought out the ‘140 character brain dump’ style of commentary. Some of it is good. Most is not. The shock jocks had found a new format. The virus spread.
So this is what it has come to, then. A collection of what seems to be a bunch of Facebook posts, blog entries and assorted ‘Deep Thoughts’ (the old SNL bit, not something deep and profound) liberally sprinkled with bathroom “humor”, penis “jokes”, and direct references to masturbation.
I’m not using quotes here in an attempt to sound elite or snobby, I actually don’t have a problem with low humor done well. “Blazing Saddles” is one of my all time favorites, and still brings me to tears with the infamous ‘bean scene.’ I thought the first “Hangover” was hysterical. Louis CK has the ability to be crass and over the top, yet still come off as a likeable guy. “40 year old virgin?” Modern classic.
No, I use quotes simply because, unlike Mel Brooks, the author seems to assume that just mentioning his defecation or masturbation is somehow funny, with very little setup, attempted wit, or punch line. Or point, for that matter.
I can’t say I wasn’t warned, though. It was right there in the introduction. Following a short sample, we get this: ”Had enough? That’s pretty much what you’re going to get if you read this book. Don’t know what the point is? Neither do I most of the time.”
Fair enough, the sample was crude, but had potential. I read on. Three or four entries in, I found myself losing hope. What had seemed somewhat promising was not getting any better. I started counting the pages until my minimum, looking forward to putting this all behind me.
Roughly a third of the way through, the promise of improvement came back. There were a few stories, such as “A whole lot of shaking going on” and “New Year’s Day” that started out strong and fizzled at the end. The feeling crept over me that this author, when confronted with a story that went somewhere, panicked and scuttled it before it became a fully developed piece.
I glared at the remaining page count, resenting the fact that I had been teased with something good, only to have it snatched away at the last line.
What kept going through my head was that the author, for better or worse, was taking George Carlin’s later routines, Dane Cook’s current routines and attempting to write them in Dave Barry’s irreverent style. With less than spectacular results.
Then I read “States of Grace.” It started out as more of the same, and to be honest, it took everything I had to keep going. Then the unexpected happened; the final line made me go back and read it again. My jaw dropped. In this one story, everything I had been hoping for had finally made an appearance. Plot, character growth, and yes! an actual point! It even showed the deeper and more introspective side of the author that had been hinted at earlier entries.
Dare I say this was a new direction for the rest of the book?
I read the next entry, “Stop bullying racists”, with hope in my heart, and a new look at the author. More of the same, but there was humor under the surface, waiting-just waiting, I knew it!- to burst forth. It didn’t.
A few more like that, same results. The potential was there, so close I could touch it, but never fully realized.
I checked the page count. Home stretch, twenty or so to go to minimum. I can do this.
I should have seen it coming. Whipping through the pages before the intermission, I slogged through ‘meh’ (“Easter realization”),’hunh?’ (“Al goes his own way”), not bad but needs polish (“Little ditty bout Jack and Diana”), weird-in-a-good-way (“The perpetual scary-go-round”), then touching and insightful (“Piedmont”). “Piedmont” was like “States of Grace,” it caught me off guard and felt genuine.
Then came “Bad advice for writers.” The author lays out his method and theory on writing. As I read the piece, the feelings of minor irritation at some of the lackluster entries disappear, turning into something more like relief. Here’s why; After the analogy of a best-selling author as a parade, and himself as the janitor that cleans up after, the author says “Usually there are a few people who are looking down and finding something more interesting caught in a storm grate or written in fading spray paint on an alley wall. They buy books as well. Just not my books. Yet. And they deserve the very least I can provide.”
Well, if this is the very least the author could provide, I don’t feel so bad about thinking most of it was crap. This isn’t something he had put a lot of time into creating, which is reinforced by the line “Just write it down. Don’t worry about the “craft,” that only applies to about a dozen people. The rest of us are just churning s**t out.”
To be honest, he’s probably right, and given the culture of shock value entertainment I mentioned earlier, will continue to be right for years to come.
Fine. I accept that this is not something you care about enough to give your best effort.
Then came the intermission, and the swearing. On my part, and for once, not the author’s. This is your only warning on spoilers, because frankly, if my reprinting this line from the intermission ruins the effect that the author had in mind, GOOD. He doesn’t deserve to get the effect. Not after this:
“Please keep in mind that the purpose of these stories is not to immerse you in some epic saga but instead act as a catalyst for your own imagination. If you’ve gotten to this point and haven’t already come up with much better endings for some of the stories or even much better stories that you wouldn’t have thought of unless you were reading this book then you might be missing the point … although I will give you credit for sticking with it then.”
No. Just no. You don’t get to say this after laying out your “write down anything that comes to mind” manifesto. I could accept that, and possibly be interested in reading the rest of the book to find some gems. Not now.
Screw you, dude. You copped out. I can’t help but envision you sitting at your laptop, reading over what you had compiled, not liking it, and then coming up with this BS reason for putting it all together. It comes off as a desperate attempt to strive for a loftier goal, and a weak attempt at convincing me that this is what you planned all along.
I don’t buy it. I feel betrayed.
If this were an actual paper book, I wouldn’t give it the honor of “hurling it across the room with great force.” It would be taken out back and dropped in a bucket of water, so no accidental reading could occur. Then I’d toss it out while driving on a back road. That’s it, the very least I could do to make sure it didn’t find its way into anyone else’s hands.
All moot, though, as I was given a PDF to read. It galls me that I have to go through the process of deleting it from my hard drive, as I don’t feel that this work deserves any more of my time or attention.
On one hand, it’s never wise to get hopes up for a series that you know is going to be nothing more than a bunch of Mack Bolan novels on steroids. On the other, when the series becomes much better than anticipated and the characters are completely believable (albeit in the fictional sort of way), you expect something more from a series. That said, Tiger by the Tail is a horrible addition to the Paladin of Shadows series by John Ringo.
Picking up a co-author along the way (newcomer Ryan Sear), the series takes a twist as Mike Harmon (aka “Ghost”, aka “Kildar”) and his Keldaran special operations team (if you haven’t read any book in this series thus far, start with Kildar. Ghost is, technically, the first book of the series but is… uh… not for the faint of heart and really doesn’t add much to the series until you finish Unto the Breach. Only then should a noob — that would be someone new to the series — go back and read Ghost) are currently taking on pirates in the Asian Pacific near Myanmar (Burma). “Practice” seems to be the best way to describe the operations that the Kildar is currently performing, though there are hints that things in the South Pacific aren’t all that they appear. Stumbling onto a criminal enterprise far bigger than anything the Kildar could imagine, Harmon and his team push through the underbelly of the Asian criminal underworld to find out the truth — and stop the bad guys once more.
The action is there. The suspense is there. Dialogue, pop culture references, nerdy “in” jokes… they’re all there. However, this book is lacking something profound. There is not sense of “soul” to this book. Mike Harmon is cool, but he lacks something defining in this book, something that makes him the anti-hero we root for. Anyone familiar with the series will know that Harmon is a special kind of evil, one that is the most dangerous towards other kinds of evil (see Dexter). This book takes this away and gives us juvenile jerk material instead, which is somewhat of a surprise. Sexuality in these books isn’t hidden (trust me, I’ve read Ghost) but in this book it is more portrayed as a teenager discovering his dad’s nudie books in the shed. Before there was rhyme and reason why the Kildar randomly banged women (“rapist in his heart” is a start… I never claimed that they were good reasons) but now, it comes across as someone deciding to slather it across the page because they can.
The Keldara are nothing more than cardboard cutouts this time around, and Chief Adams seems to have reverted to a drunken Navy SEAL set loose on an unsuspecting town of debauchery (which was funny a few books ago; now it’s just something to add to the word count). The villains who are featured for only a short time before the Kildar offs them seem to be better drawn than the actual heroes of the Keldara teams, and the entire book comes across as something that started as fanfic and somehow got published with the original author’s name on it. Before you fire up your torches and pick up those pitchforks, let me explain.
I like the majority of John Ringo’s books. He has an extraordinary gift for gab, to draw the reader in with nothing more than a few lines of dialogue. The only other writer I know of who seems to be able to pull that off without much effort is Joss Whedon. You can always tell a Ringo book apart from the rest of the field because the dialogue is witty and snappy, and can tell a scene without going into expressive detail about every surrounding. Tiger by the Tail is missing this gab, the easy conversation which helps propel the story along. Some of the dialogue is downright painful.
I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone but the most ardent fan. There’s potential, and this book does move the series along. As itself, though Tiger by the Tail is a perfect miss and very disappointing addition.
–Reviewed by Jason
While Chuck Gannon isn’t entirely “new” for me (I’ve read his 1632 stories), this is his first solo novel I’ve read and I was quite pleased with the end product, Fire with Firea science fiction novel that has a lot of everything in it — intrigue, suspense, action, mystery, and even a little bit of romance. Without a doubt it’s one of the best SF books I’ve read this year.
Caine Riordan wakes up out of cold sleep and missing memories from the past 100 hours. He is disoriented and confused, since cold sleep (cryogenic freezing) was not something one usually lost that many memories to. He learns that he has not been asleep for 100 hours but, instead, for over 13 years. He struggles to answer questions and to find out what had happened, how it happened, and what would drive them to keep him asleep for so long. However, answers aren’t entirely forthcoming from those asking him questions, and he soon realizes that the man asking him questions, Richard Downing, has a hidden agenda. The man also wants to give him a job.
Recruited into a world of intrigue, Caine must figure out what is going on at a small island known only as Shangri-La on a planet humans have settled far out in the galaxy. Initially thinking that it is simply an oil operation by a major corporation, he soon discovers that something far deeper and darker is at play as he stumbles upon the remnants of a lost alien culture living, and sentient aliens living on the planet. Armed with this information, Caine must make it back to Downing and his allies before the assassins of the oil corporation can stop him.
The only downside of this book is that it really is two books in one, which means that reviewing this without spoilers is very difficult.
Caine must survive long enough to make a presentation to a group of power brokers on Earth at the Pantheon in Greece, and again survive assassination attempts in order to let the politicians on Earth know that humans are not alone. A world government is being formed, and the news of alien existence could make or break the proceedings.
And then the book really gets going as aliens themselves initiate First Contact, and request that none other than Caine Riordan be on the first contact team.
Gannon’s plotting and pacing is fabulous, and Caine is a believable character you can’t help but to root for. His bodyguard/companion/potential love interest, Opal Patrone, is a solid support character with her own tragic past and, due to cold sleep, a woman out of her time. The empathy one feels when she struggles to adapt and, after she does, going about her business with a strange mixture of relentlessness and trepidation is nerve-wracking. The author keeps the action and story barreling forward with only one inevitable conclusion at the end.
Gannon has himself a winner here. Fire With Fire is a tremendous first effort and promises so much more in the following sequels. This is a must-buy for fans who love a good SF story.
–Reviewed by Jason
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s HIDDEN FIRES is the third book of her Chronicles of Nuala to be reviewed here at Shiny Book Review, but is the second book in the series in chronological sequence, following FIRES OF NUALA (FIRE SANCTUARY was the first book written and sold). As it is the second book in sequence with FIRES OF NUALA, many of the same characters appear as in the previous novel, including Sheel Atare, his wife, Darame, his sister, Avis (the Ragäree, both a powerful politician and a huge symbol of fertility for both the Atare family and Nuala as a whole), and many more. As with FIRES OF NUALA, there’s a complex plot, a goodly amount of realistic romance, and worldbuilding that is second to none, along with a great deal of storytelling that, put simply, drew me right in and never let me go.
New to HIDDEN FIRES is Garth Kristinsson, the son of free-traders. He has a past connection to the woman he knows as “Silver” — Darame — and he’s bent on finding her. However, he doesn’t know she’s gone to Nuala, much less that she’s now a member of the Nualan aristocracy — he only knows her as a former free-trader of considerable acumen, and someone who may know exactly why Garth’s father was murdered.
As with FIRE SANCTUARY, we see Garth’s slow transition to Nuala and the difficulties he endures, particularly with regards to the irradiated food (Nuala has some severe problems with radiation, which has caused systemic problems with fertility and many, many other issues). The main thing to consider is that unlike in FIRE SANCTUARY, or even in FIRES OF NUALA, Garth the reluctant, possible immigrant is not taken in hand by the honest, ethical and forthright Atare family — instead, he’s taken in hand by Lucy, a scion of the diabolical Dielaan family. Lucy’s interest in Garth is two-fold: One, Garth is an off-worlder, so his genes have not been compromised by radiation and should be able to give her at least one healthy child if all goes well. And two, because Garth is an off-worlder with an enigmatic connection to Darame Atarae (meaning, the wife of the Atare), perhaps Garth can be used by the Dielaan.
However, what Garth really doesn’t understand is that there’s a power struggle going on with the Dielaaners. Rex Dielaan, the next head of the family, is twenty-one, hot-blooded, and impatient. All of that could be worked around by his mother, Livia (the Ragäree of Dielaan, an ethical, though ruthless, woman). But the fact that Rex is both xenophobic and psychotic is something that gives her great pause.
Unfortunately for all concerned, Lucy either does not realize Rex is crazy, or she’s willing to go along with him. Yet she’s drawn to Garth, and really wants to be with him . . . which way will Lucy turn when the worst happens? (Further reviewer sayeth not, at least not about this.)
Getting back to the Sheel/Darame arc, Sheel has grown into his role as both Atare and healer. He’s been aided in this by Darame, who as a former free-trader (think: consummate con artist, who only cons other con artists) is skilled at sniffing out scams and is nearly as skilled dealing with various forms of political intrigue. They now have three children who will never rule due to the peculiar inheritance laws of Nuala (the next ruler will be one of Avis’s sons, which is part of why the Ragäree is so important), but of course Darame wants them to grow up to be strong, intelligent, capable, and ethical — what every good parent wants for his/her child, in short.
Sheel and Darame, surprisingly enough, are very good friends with Livia, the Ragäree of Dielaan. They’re aware of at least some of Rex’s problems, mostly because Livia’s second son, Quin, has ended up with many of Rex’s duties due to Rex not wanting to be bothered. As noblesse oblige is a very big part of the Nualan aristocracy (even though it’s not called that), this has not set well with Livia, Sheel or Darame because a poor ruler can do a great deal of harm without even trying.
And, of course, Rex is trying his best to live up to the worst aspects of the Dielaan family, which may plunge all of Nuala into a war. (Thus ends the plot summary, or I’ll give far too much away.)
Look. This is a book that you really need to read if you love science fiction, romance, or any blend of the two. It’s complex, engrossing, honest, surprising, intelligent in how it deals with the problems of a completely different world with its own history and nuances, even more intelligent when it deals with the problems unwitting potential immigrants face on Nuala, and contains two realistic and root-worthy romances in the continuing, enduring love between Darame and Sheel, and the newfound romance between Garth and Lucy.
If there is a flaw here, it’s that Garth’s character seems remarkably naïve. There were times I just wanted to shake him, because he obviously didn’t know what he was getting into, and Lucy’s oblique hints just weren’t helping. Yet Garth being young and impulsive enough to have followed Darame’s trail for a hundred subjective years (most of that spent in cryogenic freeze/sleep) is an important plot point, and I’m not sure if there was another way to get this point across. (Really, an older, wiser man would’ve given up long ago and never ended up on Nuala at all.)
I also was a bit annoyed by Lucy. She was smart, well-educated, ethical in her fashion and honest, but she couldn’t seem to figure out that Rex was flat-out crazy until way too close to the end to suit me. (I’m dancing around the spoilers, folks. All apologies if I’ve unwittingly given something away.) She truly cared about Garth. She wanted the two of them to have a future. But she couldn’t see a way through to that future, and was so inarticulate about it that it took a miracle of subtext by Ms. Kimbriel to get this fact across — a very neat authorial thing to do, and something for which I applaud Ms. Kimbriel.
While I enjoyed HIDDEN FIRES a great deal and found it a worthy companion to the two other novels comprising the Chronicles of Nuala, I adjudged it just short of a full “A” mark. So the grades stand as follows:
HIDDEN FIRES: A-minus. (Solid, smart, entertaining, intelligent, and two good romances. What more could you want, save a bit more life out of Lucy and a bit less naïveté from Garth?)
For the Chronicles of Nuala as a whole: A.
– reviewed by Barb
FIRE SANCTUARY, technically, is the third book in the Chronicles of Nuala by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel. (The first book in the series, THE FIRES OF NUALA, was reviewed here.) But it was the first released, and as it contains different characters and situations than THE FIRES OF NUALA or HIDDEN FIRES (to be reviewed soon), it can be read alone.
If you’ve read THE FIRES OF NUALA, you already know how important the Atare are to the people of Nuala. The Atare are aristocrats of the first water, and are a fertile family made up of “20s” (the infertile, or people with borderline fertility, are called “80s”). Their leadership has been essential to the survival of Nuala.
The main storyline of FIRE SANCTUARY deals with the interplay of five characters — Moran and Lyte, officers from the Axis worlds, Braan and Ronuviel (“Roe”) Atare, siblings and an important part of the Nualan aristocracy, and Teloa, a planter from Caprica. Perhaps Teloa’s story is the simplest, as she lands on Nuala and immediately claims sanctuary. As Nuala has been known for millenia as a planet that will welcome anyone, providing you are willing to be honest about who you are and who you’ve been, she is accepted with relative ease — especially as planters are valued highly on Nuala.
Now, the main reason we have so many differing and important characters involved is this: there’s a war brewing, and Nuala may not be able to stay out of it. The Axis has been at war with the Fewha Empire for many years, and in this conflict, it’s possibly easiest to see the Fewhas as classic xenophobes, while the Axis is the old, corrupt empire that no one particularly wants to belong to, but everyone (save the Fewhas) has been forced to deal with anyway. Moran and Lyte have long been considered essential to the Axis, yet because times are changing — and because Moran has fallen in love with Roe — both Moran and Lyte have been ordered to Nuala.
This is much more important than it seems, and not just because Moran and Lyte have major roles to play in FIRE SANCTUARY. You see, the Fewhas quickly attack Nuala and drive the Axis off. Nuala sustains a great deal of damage, with many people killed, even more crops destroyed and no real way of getting back at the Fewhas save by surviving long enough to outwait them. And because of the immediate attack, Braan, formerly a third son, and his sister Roe must assume power as the ruling Atare (Braan) and the Ragäree (Roe). This is no light thing, as what they actually now are happens to be the most important political leader and the most important, living symbol of fertility the Nualans have.
Obviously, Braan and Roe will need all the help they can get. And Moran and Lyte’s help will be considerable. But don’t underestimate Teloa — she’s not only a planter, but has also been a “hustler” (what might be considered as a particularly high-end prostitute). She’s been forced to live by her wits due to a planetary disaster at Caprica, and because of that, she’s become an extremely quick study.
Which is a good thing, because as Teloa finds out, Nuala is a tough place to live.
As previously seen, Nuala is an extremely fragile planetary ecosystem. The radiation is what’s damaged so many people’s fertility over time, and it still needs to be accounted for in every facet of daily life. Planters like Teloa are valued because they must deal with the fact of the radiation along with everything else, and every available method — including sophisticated solutions from the Axis-aligned worlds and much easier, yet more intensive, methods such as crop rotation — must be applied or Nuala cannot feed its people.
And it’s because Nuala is so fragile that a most unusual system of marriage has cropped up. The Atare have been bound by law to marry only off-worlders for years due to Nuala’s radiation and the need for off-world genes to add to the mix, and because of this, the Atare may take only one spouse as the people of Nuala have found, over time, that off-worlders do not take too well to polygamy or polygyny. Plus, there are extensive rules, lightly sketched by Ms. Kimbriel yet real, dealing with how the 20s may not take multiple spouses unless they do so from the 80s . . . and the upshot of all these rules is that the people of Nuala (Ms. Kimbriel never calls them “Nualans”) are both moral and flexible when it comes to dealing with human sexuality.
The good part of this is that there literally are no illegitimate children. Like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, children are known by their mother’s name the vast majority of the time (only the aristocrats take a surname, it seems). And even when a father is acknowledged, his contact with the child he’s fathered seems largely up to the individual — something Ms. Kimbriel denotes by the attitudes of both Moran and Lyte as they acclimate to the society of Nuala.
Most of FIRE SANCTUARY deals with how Nuala must adapt and survive now that the Axis has withdrawn from actively helping them keep the Fewhas off. Yet all of this action is underscored by the human relationships we see between Roe and her husband Moran, Braan’s growing attachment to Teloa, and Lyte’s various adventures.
And that doesn’t even get into the important minor characters, including the remaining family of Roe and Braan, the high priest and priestess of Nuala, the other healers (Roe’s contemporaries), and the movers and shakers among both the Sinis (the radioactive people) and the Ciedärlien (nomadic tribes that live in what was once an inhospitable waste).
Overall, FIRE SANCTUARY is an excellent novel, full of believable characters, interesting challenges, cross-cultural romance, and a goodly amount of action. As it was Ms. Kimbriel’s first-ever published novel, it’s not quite as good as her later FIRES OF NUALA — but that’s like saying an orange isn’t quite as good as an orange with chocolate sauce on it.
Really, the only bad thing about FIRE SANCTUARY is this — it needs a sequel. Because I really want to find out how Braan, Roe, and the rest manage to keep the Fewhas off while staying alive to appreciate another day (or three).
– reviewed by Barb
It’s Saturday, which for all long-term readers of Shiny Book Review means one and only one thing — it’s time for a romance.
Some weeks are better than others in this regard. I’ve reviewed romances of all descriptions, plus some books that have romance encapsulated in them but are not predominantly romances. Tonight I have one of the latter in Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s THE FIRES OF NUALA, surely one of the best books I’ve read all year. (Note: if you’d rather buy this through Amazon, here’s that link.)
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The main characters here are Sheel, who will soon be Atare (the ruler of his clan) despite being a Healer gifted with both empathy and the ability to diagnose by touch-telepathy, and Darame, an off-world woman and “free trader” who’s really a combination spy and criminal, but with one caveat: she only cheats other spies and criminals. The two share one night of passion, then wake up to disaster. The four or five people who’d been heirs before Sheel are all either dead or dying, and no one’s certain as to anyone’s underlying motivations. Darame is immediately a suspect despite having an undeniable alibi — she was with Sheel, and in a mightily compromising position, to boot — but Sheel knows that Darame could not possibly be involved.
The plot thickens when it’s discovered that the guaard around Sheel’s kin when they were murdered had been changed at the last minute in a way that’s extremely suspicious. This suspicion is contrary to everything the guaard stands for, as these complex people — more than security guards, they take an oath to the various noble families (such as Sheel’s) in a quasi-feudalistic rite — have been thought incorruptible. But when Sheel’s own guaard commander Mailan concurs with Darame’s assessment that at least some of the guaard have been compromised, this forces Sheel to start thinking outside the box immediately in order to assure his kin’s safety.
Of course, Darame immediately suspects another off-worlder in this conspiracy to subvert the guaard and kill Sheel’s kin, as the man who brought her to Nuala in the first place, an enigmatic career criminal named Brant, is definitely hiding something. That Brant has also made it very difficult for Darame to find out what’s happened to her mentor Halsey, who’s stood as a father figure to her for years, just adds fuel to the fire.
But there’s deeper waters ahead, things that have to do with Nuala’s unusual way of inheritance (half goes through a female offshoot of the family line, this leader being called the “ragäree,” with the other half going through the male) and the fact that the current ragäree-presumptive, Leah — Sheel’s eldest sister — is barren and is trying to cover it up.
Nuala, you see, has had major difficulties with radiation sickness over the centuries. Eighty percent of its population is either outright sterile or is “borderline,” meaning they may or may not ever be able to have children. And some — the Sinis and “mock-Sinis” — are so radioactive that people either can’t be around them at all (the former) or for not very long (the latter). And it’s because of the radiation sickness that this particular way of inheritance became common in the larger families where money and influence was at stake.
So there’s murder. Conspiracy. Greed. The conflict between what’s always been done and new, unexpected methods. A political economy that’s based on fertile Nualans going off-world regularly in order to bring back healthy genes and/or healthy people who wish to settle there, lest Nuala die out. A hereditary line of inheritance that’s different, but makes sense according to everything I’ve ever read, sociologically. And an excellent romance that’s based on competence, mutual regard, and shared values as much as it is about two healthy people in their prime being sexually aware of each other and acting on it.
Ms. Kimbriel has developed a rich, well-developed world to play in, and she does so with great flair. The characterization is outstanding from beginning to end. The world building is first-rate. The romance between Sheel, who needs an off-world bride but has given up on finding one, and Darame, the off-worlder who’d never thought she’d find someone she wanted to settle down with due to her chosen profession, is one of the best I’ve ever read in the science fiction and/or romance categories. Even the dialogue reads well and easily, which is no mean feat considering all the Nualan loan words.
THE FIRES OF NUALA, written in 1988 and reissued** in 2010, is a book that should be in every science fiction library as it is complex, engrossing, interesting, compelling, and outstanding. This is the first book in a trilogy and sets up Nuala, its conflicts, its vital people, and its unique and special problems as a world that you will want to revisit again and again.
Why THE FIRES OF NUALA isn’t already known as an outstanding epic science fiction novel of the best kind — complete with romance — is beyond me. Some novels do not find their entire audience the first time around, and perhaps that was the case here.
However, considering THE FIRES OF NUALA has been reissued by Book View Cafe, you owe it to yourself to read this outstanding novel. Especially if you love epics, complex plots with spots of humor, cultural clashes, well-drawn generational battles, or simply enjoy a good yarn that’s extremely well told.
Bottom line? Technically, THE FIRES OF NUALA is a combination of space opera, romance and mystery. Book View Cafe’s own description calls it “perfect for fans of Darkover and Pern,” and I can’t say they’re wrong.
But in my view, that’s only part of the appeal here, as I’d classify THE FIRES OF NUALA as closer to DUNE on an epic scale (more understandable, and far more fun, but lots of history and interest that reminded me of Frank Herbert) far more than it did any of the Darkover or Pern novels, even the most complex (such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s THE SHATTERED CHAIN or SHARRA’S EXILE).
If you haven’t read THE FIRES OF NUALA already — and I’m betting most of you haven’t — you need to pick it up, pronto. Or you will be missing out on something extraordinary.
– reviewed by Barb
** Upon further review, I’ve been reliably informed by Ms. Kimbriel that THE FIRES OF NUALA that I just read is the very same, exact version put out in 1988. Which makes me wonder, again, what was in the water that year that the awards committees for the various high-profile ceremonies didn’t even consider this amazing novel. (Shame on them.)
So if you bought a copy back in 1988, and read it and loved it, you do not need to worry about anything having changed. (But if you want an e-book copy to augment your hard copy, you still might want to look at Book View Cafe’s reissue as $4.99 for an e-book of this size is an absolute steal.)