Shorter Reviews of Six 2014 Novels: R.J. Bennett, R. Ford, S. Saylor, J. Sprunk, A. Furst and A. Roberts (with comments by Liviu Suciu)
Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city’s proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power. Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters-dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem-and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well.”
As lots of things happen and I do not want to spoil the twists, I would just mention that there is everything one wants – drama, romance, battles, fights, mysteries, amazing world building and great characters who stay with you.
Here is just a small taste of the wonders of the book – an extract from a list of miraculous things now stowed away in a secret warehouse whose content are of course of great interest to our heroes and villains:
“368. Shelf C5-158. Glass of Kivrey: Small marble bead that supposedly contains the sleeping body of Saint Kivrey, a Jukoshtani priest who changed gender every night as part of one of Jukov’s miracles. Miraculous nature—undetermined.
369. Shelf C5-159. Small iron key: Name is unknown, but when used on any door the door sometimes opens onto an unidentified tropical forest. Pattern has yet to be determined. Still miraculous.
370. Shelf C5-160. Bust of Ahanas: Once cried tears that possessed some healing properties. Users of the tears also had a tendency to levitate. No longer miraculous.
371. Shelf C5-161. Nine stone cups: if left in a place where they receive sun, these cups would refill with goat’s milk every dawn. No longer miraculous.
372. Shelf C5-162. Ear of Jukov: an engraved, stone door frame that contains no door. Iron wheels on the base. Speculated that it has a twin, and no matter where the other Ear is, if the doors are operated in the correct manner one can pass through one door and come out the other. We speculate that the twin has been destroyed. No longer miraculous.
373. Shelf C5-163. Edicts of Kolkan, books 783 to 797: fifteen tomes mostly dictating Kolkan’s attitudes on dancing. Total weight: 378 pounds. Not miraculous, but content is definitely dangerous.
374. Shelf C5-164. Glass sphere. Contained a small pond and overhanging tree Ahanas was fond of visiting when she felt troubled. No longer miraculous”
…or the city will fall
Before the city faces the terror that approaches, it must crush the danger already lurking within its walls. But will the cost of victory be as devastating as that of defeat?”
Overall. another highly recommended installment of this wonderful series.
As the streets of Alexandria slowly descend into chaos, and the citizenry begin to riot with rumors of an impending invasion by Ptolmey’s brother, Gordianus finds himself in the midst of a very bold and dangerous plot—the raiding and pillaging of the golden sarcophagus of Alexander the Great himself.
New York Times bestselling author Steven Saylor returns, chronicling the early years of his detective, Gordianus, before he assumed the title of The Finder. Raiders of the Nile is the latest in his much-loved series of mysteries set in the late Roman Republic.”
The postscript of the author – in the form of a q/a – explains his thinking behind the structure of the young Gordianus books and I definitely want more, though the long promised March Ides book would do quite well too. Any Gordianus will do actually as my older post about this wonderful series explains why!
As an aside, in the upcoming Rogues anthology, Steven Saylor has a young Gordianus story that uses the 40′s pulp sf heroes Fafrhrd and the Gray Mouser as legendary beings in the classical worlds, showing again how sff interacts with other genres in occasionally surprising ways,
It starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn’t even begin to understand.
Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn’t last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen’s court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire’s caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both.”
Non stop action where the main hero seems not to have any time to do anything but keep saving the world, or at least his current slice at the time…
Cristián Ferrar, a brilliant and handsome Spanish émigré, is a lawyer in the Paris office of a prestigious international law firm. Ferrar is approached by the embassy of the Spanish Republic and asked to help a clandestine agency trying desperately to supply weapons to the Republic’s beleaguered army—an effort that puts his life at risk in the battle against fascism.
Joining Ferrar in this mission is a group of unlikely men and women: idealists and gangsters, arms traders and aristocrats and spies. From shady Paris nightclubs to white-shoe New York law firms, from brothels in Istanbul to the dockyards of Poland, Ferrar and his allies battle the secret agents of Hitler and Franco. And what allies they are: there’s Max de Lyon, a former arms merchant now hunted by the Gestapo; the Marquesa Maria Cristina, a beautiful aristocrat with a taste for danger; and the Macedonian Stavros, who grew up “fighting Bulgarian bandits. After that, being a gangster was easy.” Then there is Eileen Moore, the American woman Ferrar could never forget.
In Midnight in Europe, Alan Furst paints a spellbinding portrait of a continent marching into a nightmare—and the heroes and heroines who fought back against the darkness.”
Almost as soon as it is underwater, however, and having passed beyond the Continental Shelf, an accident (or sabotage!) sends it plummeting towards the ocean floor. The crew desperately attempt repairs as the pressure builds, threatening to crush the entire craft.
But then something very strange happens: despite the fact that they are still descending, the pressure equalises. The descent continues for days; soon passing the 5000m depth that ought to mark the bottom of the ocean. As days turn to weeks, the mystery of their plight only grows deeper: for they pass hundreds and soon thousands kilometres of ‘depth’ with no ill effects.
Other constraints press upon them: particularly the need to find food, and conserve fuel. Pressures amongst the all-male crew intensify as well, approaching breaking point as weeks pass, and the depth becomes measurable in millions of kilometres. Are they dead, trapped in an eternal descent to Hell? Have they passed through some portal into a realm of infinite water? Or have they somehow stumbled upon — or been deliberately lead to, via the mysterious Indian blueprint — some truth about the world too profound even to be measured in trillions?
Then, when they think all hope is lost, and as they approach the trillionth kilometre of depth, they see light below them …”