Tag Archives: mystery

White Serpent, Black Dragon (Eve of Redemption #2)

Title: White Serpent, Black Dragon

Author: Joe Jackson

Series: Eve of Redemption #2

A serial killer is stalking the streets of Barcon, and the Order has been approached for help by none other than Kaelin Black, Barcon’s infamous Earl. Since the killings might be demonic in origin, Karian goes to investigate. But nothing about this case is simple. What is going on with the Lord Black? Is he innocent, as he claims, of the long list of crimes everyone suspects of him? What has the Order–and its last Avatar of Vengeance–been doing behind everyone’s backs?
And what do the demons stand to gain from this killing spree?

Set three years after the end of the first book, this one finds Karian in a much different place. Now married and a mother, she’s taken on a more administrative job to allow her to fulfill those roles more effectively. But a complicated problem calls for a high-ranking hunter, and it doesn’t take long for Karian to get back to her original job.

This, like the first book, isn’t as black-and-white as things first appear. Karian has to reevaluate her own beliefs often, and her initial disdain of the previous Avatar of Vengeance’s underhand methods comes against the fact that the real world isn’t nearly as simple as she thought. The mystery has a number of surprising twists, too, and it will take more than just Karian to untangle it.

I liked the fact that Kari’s healing from her childhood abuse is an ongoing thing. One piece that worried me about the first book’s resolution to that was that it felt like a one-and-done event, when she’s had years of trauma. Thankfully, that was more of a turning point than a total healing. Kari still struggles, but she’s moved past the place where it owns her. I also liked that she finds unexpected common ground in this with someone else, and how it helps the both of them to be able to support each other.

I also like that we’re getting introduced to more people outside the Order. And I REALLY like that there are so many different kinds of people, animals, and monsters that show up…. gnolls, werewolves, griffons, to name a few of my favorites. Or, as Eli puts it:

“So we’ve got assassins, demons, necromancers, and werewolves all involved here,” Eli said. He and Kari were headed toward the graveyard to see if they could find any other clues about whether the necromancer might be mixed up with the succubus. “Now we just need a vampire to show up, and we’ll have a nice little miniature apocalypse.”

All in all, this is a great continuation of an excellent first book. Start with Salvation’s Dawn, but definitely read this one next! I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers (Anime)

Title: Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers

Episodes: 1-12

When the Demon Lord rises, Fate chooses six warriors who inherit legendary power and fight for the peace. Adlet Mayer is determined to be one of those Braves. He’s confident he’s the strongest man in the world–and when the Demon Lord resurrects, and Adlet receives his coveted mark, he appears to be proved correct. But some sinister scheme is at work this time around: only six Braves exist, but seven have shown up! Who is the traitor? And can the real Braves determine the truth before killing each other?

This wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I thought, based on the first few eps, this would be mostly fantasy/adventure, but the arrival of the seventh Brave transforms the story into a locked-room mystery. With the Braves trapped within an impenetrable barrier, and one of them likely plotting to destroy them all, it becomes critical that they figure out who needs to die.

The traitor isn’t obvious, either. Pretty much everyone has something that casts them in a bad light, and as the episodes dig in, the probable traitor changes again and again as new evidence comes to light. As a mystery, it works well, although as a mystery I’m not going to get as much enjoyment out of a rewatch because at that point knowing who did it takes away most of the fun.

I grew to like Adlet a lot over the course of the show. At first he simply amused me because the self-proclaimed “strongest man in the world” wasn’t using strength, but dirty tricks, to win. Of course if you measure “strongest” by “winner”, then “win by any means possible” does look like a sound strategy. But for all that he’s boastful and gullible, he’s also smart enough to put together a lot of the mystery on his own.

The art is also worth a mention. The setting is Aztec rather than a traditional feudal European or Japanese society. I was also fond of the generic monsters attacking the party. I like dragonish looking beings. The flying ones are beautifully colored too, like tropical birds. However, there are a few areas where the art does slip up (a conversation on the side of a mountain was the worst one that stuck out to me), which hopefully would have been fixed for any DVD/Blu-Ray release. Since I watched the stream, I don’t know if this is still a problem for the disks.

The ending was equal parts satisfying and frustrating. I liked the reveal of the actual traitor and how that worked out, but the closing twist was annoying because there’s no chance to even get started on resolving it (and why are we repeating this line again?). I suspect this may be handled in the source material since it looks like the anime only adapted the first part.

Overall this was an interesting show on a number of levels. Primarily it functions as a mystery in a fantasy world, and the tweaks to a typical RPG adventure story make it feel unique. I am curious where it goes from here, and will have to see about reading the light novels as they come out in English. I rate this show Recommended.

Spartan Gold (Fargo Adventure #1)

Title: Spartan Gold

Author: Clive Cussler with Grant Blackwood

Series: Fargo Adventure #1

A lost mystery discovered by Napoleon Bonaparte leads to a treasure hunt two hundred years later. Sam and Remi Fargo were tracking down a different mystery when a glass bottle and an old German U-Boat give them their first lead to something much bigger than they anticipated. Because Napoleon’s secrets have also captured the attention of a much more dangerous man, who will stop at nothing to get there first.

This isn’t typically my genre, but I read this for a book club.

The book as a whole made for a somewhat frustrating read because most of the strong parts are balanced out by weaker parts. The history, the clues, the treasure, and the various links to locations around the world were well thought-out, and the various exotic locales helped with the sense of adventure. The plot never flags, and the occasional switch to the villain’s point of view helps to heighten the tension. It’s easy to visualize the whole thing as a movie.

On the other hand, I found the characters only believable about half the time. I usually like competence, but this is the first book I can remember where I kept thinking they pushed it too far. In the first half of the book especially, it felt like every time they came up against another situation, either Sam or Remi had a degree/hobby in exactly that area, and of course they were experts in various wildly diverging fields. Their extreme abilities took a lot of the fun out of most of the situations they got into, as I didn’t really feel the tension until the scope got much further out of their control.

The beginning also felt like it pushed very hard to make them “good guys” which to my mind the story as a whole doesn’t support. Technically, Sam and Remi go a step farther than the actual villain in several areas, particularly in how they acquired one bottle’s riddle and what they ultimately did in the caves at the end. I fully support that kind of ending for most bad guys, but the way it happened left me wondering why I was supposed to cheer for this. In a way it was almost amusing to compare the way both sides were breaking a lot of the same laws. For more amoral characters this would be less problematic, but again, it felt like the story was setting them up as complete contrasts to the villain, when in reality they’re not all that different.

I also didn’t buy the fact that the home base was secure enough to make even a man with those kinds of connections back off. Unless they’ve physically fortified the structure, all an alarm system is going to do is ensure the police arrive in time to take people to the hospital. If they did fortify the structure, why not just bomb it? A quick and dirty bomb is ridiculously easy to rig together (as events like the Boston Marathon unfortunately proved). Even just as a warning, perhaps with the aim of taking out a bodyguard or two, if he really needs them to keep hunting down the treasure he can’t quite get to himself.

I did like the fact that the lead couple being married meant a complete lack of romantic shenanigans to distract from the action. This left the focus on the action and not on some flimsy relationship likely to be completely discarded by a sequel. Having other people back home to help with the research also eased a lot of the logistical problems.

All in all, I suppose it was a good choice for a book club since there will be a lot to talk about, but I’m not convinced I want to read another one. As a historical mystery it works just fine, but I had a lot more problems with the present-day side of things. I rate this book Neutral.

Orca (Vlad Taltos #7)

Title: Orca

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #7

All Vlad is trying to do is repay his debt to Savn, who was injured in the process of saving Vlad’s life. But the healer he finds doesn’t want money—she wants the right to continue living in her own home, which the failing bank is trying to foreclose. So Vlad reluctantly puts himself on the case. Murder is so much more his specialty . . .

I liked this a great deal. Kiera the Thief shares the narration with Vlad this time, and shows something of a different side to the sorts of activities Vlad usually gets himself into. Vlad finds himself, this time, not as the assassin but as the detective, trying to work backwards from a death. Trying to untangle the whole sordid story that led to one little old woman being kicked out of her home.

As a mystery, it flows differently than the other books in the series, but I liked it as a change of pace. That also made some of the revelations near the end both unexpected and satisfying. Vlad’s a different person after everything he’s gone through—though still a sarcastic, hard-bitten criminal in many ways. But in the little snippets of Kiera’s retelling Cawti’s side starts to open up some too. And maybe a little of why she’s been acting the way she has comes out.

All in all this is a good continuation. I’m both amused and impressed I’ve made it through this many books in the series without my enthusiasm flagging at all. And I can’t wait to finish collecting them all so I can reread them in the proper order next time. I rate this book Recommended.

07-Ghost (manga)

Title: 07-Ghost
Volumes: 1-17 (Complete)

Ten years ago, war broke out between the Barsburg Empire and the Raggs kingdom. Teito Klein, orphaned by this event, had been pressed into service as a battle sklave for Barsburg, which made him less than popular at the military academy he attends. However, one other boy, Mikage, persists in being his friend, which leads to trouble for both of them when Teito unexpectedly runs across someone from his dimmest memories . . .

It’s hard to give a decent summary of this, because so much of the story revolves around who Teito is, what he does (and doesn’t) remember and why, and how those memories influence him to make the journey he ultimately takes. I liked it a lot as a fantasy. There’s a lot to be said for a story that spans 17 volumes but knows from the beginning where it wants to go, and doesn’t detour at all along the way. As a story, the focus on playing up possibly-romantic relationships between guys unfortunately takes away from some of the more complex relationships that are trying to develop.

I liked the layers of mystery. Teito hasn’t forgotten his origins because he was very young (about four) when everything happened, but also because his memories were deliberately locked away from him. Even that young, what he knew was dangerous. Even now, remembering the wrong thing at the wrong time could ruin everything.

And the world itself has layers. On the purely human level, the Barsburg Empire has all but wiped out the kingdom of Raggs, and they’re eager to move in on what remains. But a large part of the story is also about spiritual matters. The King of Heaven allows every soul to choose three wishes for which to live its life, and once those three are fulfilled, the soul returns to him. However, evil forces offer to grant those wishes in exchange for the soul—and they are working to lay the foundation for the return of Verloren, the god of death. Seven “ghosts” were assigned from heaven to help keep Verloren imprisoned, and Verloren’s body and soul were separately sealed. But he’s working out a plan for revival.

In the beginning, when everything is just starting to unfold, it can feel a bit random. Ayanami remains a good villain, but the Black Hawks in his group struggle to feel meaningful for a long time. I liked how Mikage—and his admonition to Teito against revenge—form a key part of Teito’s struggle, up to the very end. Teito dearly wants to honor his best friend’s wishes, but at the same time, he’s human. He wants justice for all the evil that Ayanami inflicted, as well as revenge for all the pain and suffering.

I don’t really care for the hinting at homosexual relationships in the story (especially with Frau, because he’s got to be twice Teito’s age), but as the hints stay relatively subtle it didn’t subtract much from the story for me.

The ending is really good. It had a bit more epilogue than I expected, which was nice, and it tied everything up in a surprising yet satisfying way. Which is even better considering the major twist that happened not long before that which subverted a lot of my expectations for how the series was going to turn out. I liked how characters that could have been one-offs like some of the Oaks turn into crucial players. I liked the history of the seven ghosts and how Teito has to untangle some of the things that went drastically wrong for each of them.

Overall this is a pretty good fantasy that takes a few volumes to really dig in. It’s not something  I would consider top-tier like Fullmetal Alchemist or Kekkaishi, but it does a good job building a solid story with a number of surprises. I rate this series Recommended.

(Apologies for the glut of posts. I’ve been watching/reading some things over the past season but I don’t like to review them until I’m finished, as I would prefer to look at the overall story than just one episode or a few chapters of manga.)

Glint

Title: Glint

Author: Ann Coburn

Everyone likes Ellie’s little brother Danny. He’s such a happy, friendly kid. So when he mysteriously disappears, her life veers into a hard quest to find him again, to prove her father innocent as well as restore the life they used to have.

Argent enjoys watching dragons hatch, even though her village bears the creatures no love. Dragons radiate enough heat to engulf anything near them in flames, and when Argent witnesses a baby being kidnapped, her village is more interested in destroying the distraught mother than trying to find the baby. So she sets off on a quest to help the dragon family.

This didn’t work out much like I had expected, and although I suppose that’s good, it made for somewhat frustrating reading. I kept expecting the two stories to cross over, when really the only connection between them is that Danny appears to be hallucinating Argent, and the two journeys have a somewhat parallel structure. So really you have two separate novels told in alternating chapters. One is a fiction story about a girl trying to find her kidnapped brother, and one is a fantasy about a girl trying to find a kidnapped dragon.

I liked the dragon story better, but there was a lot more that could have been done if it had been its own story. Because it’s splitting time with another tale, some of the things I was really interested in seeing more of didn’t get a lot of time. Lukos, for example, explains the process of shapechanging to Argent and pretty much says he thinks she’s capable of it, but she (perhaps understandably) shoves the idea away and wants nothing to do with it. I kept hoping the plot would circle back to that and make it happen, but it never did. Also, the worldbuilding in general could have used more fleshing out. The dragons get most of the focus, but a few other creatures come up near the end and I would’ve liked to see a bit more of them, too. Or at least seen some detail in the towns and the people that make this different from all the other fantasies set in a pre-industrial time.

Overall this isn’t bad, but the split storyline can be frustrating because they have so little to do with each other. I rate this story Neutral.

Bloodhound (Beka Cooper #2)

Title: Bloodhound

Author: Tamora Pierce

False silver coins are showing up in town, and Beka’s own friends are getting in trouble over them. Then a riot ensues over the raising prices of bread. Beka, a first-year Dog that is once more partnerless, is sent with Goodwin to Port Caynn to dig deeper into the surge of counterfeits. But the local Dogs aren’t at all worried about the problem, and Beka’s managed to offend the ruling Rogue. Together with the scent hound Achoo, Beka starts digging deep enough to uncover some truly nasty secrets.

This is a tad long, but the tension manages to stay strong throughout. The various clues about the counterfeiting ring surface slowly, and Beka’s got to play the part of stupid visitor (a role that does not suit her at all). It’s interesting to see how local corruption in the Dogs (the police force) feeds the greater corruption in the city, and how Beka functions when friends and allies are few and far between. It’s also interesting to see all the various discussions around counterfeiting, and how it debases the currency, and how that ripples out to broader impacts. And of course, this is a strong cop story, with plenty of scuffles with Rats and an unflinching look at some of the uglier sides of the Dogs.

I wasn’t as keen on the romance. Beka’s lived a rough enough life that she should’ve realized she was being played, and it’s kind of annoying how willing she is to bed someone she’s known for about two days simply because she’s got a pregnancy charm (what about diseases? or better yet, the fact that he’s still technically a SUSPECT?). So it was hard to read the romantic sections without skimming because the only reason she falls for him is that he’s good-looking and persistent about flirting with her.

The other thing I wasn’t keen on is how much page time is devoted to glorifying Okha/”Amber” as a woman in a man’s body and how beautiful that is (and the homosexual relationship is also portrayed as good, although that one is more just there, whereas the prose specifically takes time out to highlight Okha and his particular deviancy). I do not believe “feelings” define gender, because this makes as much sense as me saying I’m really a purple six-legged pony from Jupiter because I know it in my heart. (Bonus: since there’s no evidence no one can prove you wrong, and you’re just branded a hater for not going along with it.)

Anyway, I do enjoy them for the cop stories, and for a look at Tortall from a different angle. Magic certainly comes into play, but for the most part this is hardboiled detective work (and in this instance, a couple of scent-hound tracking sprees). If the rest of it doesn’t bother you, then go ahead and read it. I rate this book Recommended.