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Many Bloody Returns, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Keiner, is a vampire anthology with a twist. The theme that ties them all together is the idea of birthdays - birthday parties, birthday gifts, public or private ways of commemorating birthdays.

I picked this anthology up because it had a Henry Fitzroy story by Tanya Huff (Blood Wrapped, in which Henry and Tony hunt monsters and debate what to give Vicky for her 40th) and a Garnet Lacey story by Tate Halloway aka Lyda Morehouse (Fire and Ice and Linguini for Two, in which Garnet and Sebastien encounter some unnatural weather en route to Sebastien's birthday dinner). While that's enough reason for me to acquire an anthology of vampire stories, there were quite a few other tasty treats on hand, most notably stories by several other authors whose well-known vampire series I'd always meant to try but hadn't yet.

I know this may be difficult to believe of someone who really likes vampire lore, but this collection was my introduction to Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse universe, in the rather amusing Dracula Night, where the birthday in question is that of the great Vlad Tepes himself. In The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, I met Rachel Caine's Morganville vampires, and found myself in great sympathy with a young woman who chooses not to accept her family's vampire Protector on her 18th birthday. And, while I've always meant to read the Harry Dresden series - and did watch and enjoy the short-lived TV show based on the books - the Dresden tale in this anthology, It's My Birthday Too, which features Harry's vampire brother and a nasty after-hours dust-up in the local mall, was my first foray into Jim Butcher's work. Also new to me was P. N. Elrod's vampire detective Jack Fleming, who takes on a fake medium with plans for his victim's birthday in Grave-robbed. Kelley Armstrong contributed Twilight, a short story set in her Women of the Otherworld series featuring Clarissa duCharme, whose birthday into her vampiric life brings with it a requirement she is having trouble fulfilling.
Completing the anthology were various stand-alone stories, some of them by first-time vampire fiction writers.

Most of the stories in this collection fall into the category of paranormal fantasy or supernatural romance, with sex and humour filling out the spaces between blood-drinking and death - including Jeanne C. Stein's The Witch and The Wicked, Bill Crider's I Was a Teenage Vampire, and one of my favourites, Elaine Viets' Vampire Hours, a revenge fantasy about a woman who finds a unique way to get back at a cold, controlling and adulterous spouse. Several, of course, are about vampire detectives of one sort or another - though not always exactly urban fantasy, as in the case of Toni Kelner's How Stella Got Her Grave Back, in which 82-year-old Stella returns to the small town where she was born and died, only to solve the murder of the unknown woman buried in what had been her own grave.

Two of the stories - The Mournful Cry of Owls by Christopher Golden, about a young woman who discovers the truth about herself on her 16th birthday, and Carolyn Haines' The Wish, about a woman who sees Death - fall into the realm of more classic supernatural horror, and perhaps for this reason are two of the strongest entries.

All in all, it was a fun bit of reading, and if none of the stories are masterpieces of supernatural fiction, certainly all of them were entertaining.

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Aydori is a small nation, with big problems. Its neighbour, the technologically advanced Empire, has been annexing small countries left and right, and Aydori, which rekies on the formidiable powers of its mages and ruling werewolf clans, is next on the list. Already many of the ranking members of The Clan have been killed, and now the Empire has kidnapped five of Aydori's mages. It's up to the relatively untrained and unskilled mage Mirian and battle survivor werewolf Tomas to rescue then from the hands of the Emperor, and turn Aydori's impending defeat into a viable defense.

Well, it's Tanya Huff, so of course it is a good book - winner of the Aurora Award for Best Canadian Spec-fic, in fact - and naturally I enjoyed it very much. Despite the fact that I'm not overly excited about books that feature werewolf dominance issues and use the word Alpha a lot.

But Huff's werewolf and mage based society was fascinating, and the main characters were interesting (and mostly female, which was a nice switch for a werewolf story), and the plot had me turning pages avidly. I'd love to see more of this world,

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I follow a lot of authors who write both science fiction and fantasy series. New volumes in ongoing series read in 2012:

Tanya Huff, The Wild Ways

The second novel about the Gale family, whose women are strangely gifted and powerful and whose men - rare in a family of many sisters, aunties and nieces - are the embodiment of the Horned God. The full story of what and who the Gales are is slowly unfolding as Huff tells stories about its various members, and I'm sure there is more to come.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Lord Vorpatril's Alliance

Now that Miles Vorkosigan is settled into a title, important court function and family, Bujold has turned her attention to one of the people in Miles' inner circle. An improvement on Cryoburn, largely because the new focus lets Bujold play wild games with her characters again.

Elizabeth Moon, Echoes of Betrayal

This follow-up series to Moon's Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter series just keeps developing more and more twists and taking a wider scope with each volume. I'm thinking by the end that we will know a lot more about the history and future of this world, and that's a good thing.

Charles R. Saunders, The Trail of Bohu (Revised)

The third volume of Saunders' exceptional Imaro series was first published decades ago, and revised recently now that the new era of self-publishing has finally allowed him to complete the series. Although I had read the original version when it was first published, between revisions and the passage of time, thiswas very much a new book for me. And it sets up the coming confrontation between Imaro and his life-long enemies very well.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Burning Shadows

Somehow I never tire of the Count Saint Germain, warrior, healer, alchemist, vampire. This one is set in 5th century Hungary and Romania, where the Count faces the coming of the Huns.

Michelle Sagara, Cast in Silence
Michelle Sagara, Cast in Chaos
Michelle Sagara, Cast in Ruin

Finally almost caught up with Sagara West's Elantra Chronicles featuring Private Keylin Neya.

Todd McCaffrey, Dragongirl
Todd and Anne McCaffrey, Dragon’s Time
Todd McCaffrey, Sky Dragons

Fare thee well to Anne McCaffrey, creator of Pern and other worlds. I've been reading her work for most of my life, it seems, and while I have issues with her gender politics, still I can't ignore what a key figure she was in science fiction. And as Todd McCaffery cones into his own as inheritor of his mother's creations, I'm hoping to see more originality and more of the greater awareness of sexual and gender diversity and equality that he has been bringing to the series.

Kevin Hearne, Hexed
Kevin Hearne, Hammered
Kevin Hearne, Tricked
Kevin Hearne, Two Ravens and One Crow (novella)
Kevin Hearne, Trapped

Atticus O'Sullivan (born Siodhachan O Suileabhain), the 2000 year-old Druid with a sharp wit and enough magical power to take on a god or two, is one of the most enjoyable new characters I've encountered in some time. The Iron Druid Chronicles are fast-paced and truly funny. I hope Hearne has quite a few more brewing in the back of his mind.
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Tanya Huff, Truth of Valor

In or out of the Marines, Tanya Huff's Torin Kerr kicks ass!

In the latest installment of Huff's MilSF Confederation series, Kerr, having left the Marines to go into partnership with her lover, deepspace salvage operator Craig Ryder, finds herself floundering in civilian life, especially when it comes to trying to integrate herself into the culture of the civilian salvage operators - an independent bunch at best, whose philosophies and customs are quite different from the Marines she has lived and worked among for so many years.

The difference is brought sharply home when Kerr and her partner find evidence of pirates preying on salvage operators, and Ryder is himself captured by the pirates. Ryder's friends and fellow operators refuse Torin's request for help in tracking down the pirates and trying to rescue him - a response that is almost unbelievable to someone imbued with the Marine Corps philosophy to leave no one behind.

Determined to find and save her lover no matter what the cost, Torin contacts old friends and mounts a rescue against all odds. What else would you expect her to do?

And at the end, a hint of more to come, which may take the Confederation's most kick-ass heroine in a new and promising direction.

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Fantasy reads in 2010 included books by some of my favourite writers: Tanya Huff, Michelle West (aka Michelle Sagara), Lyda Morehouse (writing as Tate Hallaway), Mercedes Lackey (solo and in tandem with James Mallory), Kate Elliott, and Katherine Kurtz (writing with Deborah turner Harris).

I revisited Elizabeth Lynn's Chronicles of Tornor trilogy. discovered the work of Nnedi Okorafor and Anna Elliott, and found some newer works by familiar names - Andre Norton and Holly Lisle.

Anna Elliott, Twilight of Avalon

Mercedes Lackey, Gwenhyfar

Kate Elliott, King’s Dragon

Tate Hallaway, Dead If I Do

Elizabeth Lynn, Watchtower
Elizabeth Lynn, The Dancers of Arun
Elizabeth Lynn, A Northern Girl

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, Zahrah the Windseeker

Michelle Sagara West, Lady of Mercy
Michelle Sagara West, Chains of Darkness, Chains of Light

Tanya Huff, Sing the Four Quarters
Tanya Huff, The Enchantment Emporium

Andre Norton & Sasha Miller, To the King a Daughter

Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory, The Phoenix Transformed

Holly Lisle, Fire in the Mist

Katherine Kurtz & Deborah Turner Harris, The Temple and the Stone

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Valor’s Trial, Tanya Huff

Tanya Huff does MilSF like nobody else does. Torin Kerr is truly one of the great characters in the subgenre, and this latest book in the series (and possibly the last, depending on who you interpret the ending) is yet more evidence that Huff knows the things that can go wrong with this kind of a series and this kind of a character in this kind of subgenre, and she does not make the kinds of mistakes that have been made by others working in the same vein. ::cough::David Weber::cough::

One of the inherent problems in writing space opera/MilSF is that you have a hero, and to make the story interesting, you need to have that hero do uncommon, in fact, heroic things. And the more novels you write in the series, the more heroic deeds your character has attached to her name But in a real military organisation, the more of a legend you become, the less you fit into the ranks, because military organisations work by suppressing individual action and identity in favour of the group identity, the mass action.

And by the time we get to this book, Torin Kerr has a lot of heroic and noteworthy deeds attached to her name. She’s not just a Gunnery Sergeant, doing what any Gunnery Sergeant would do – she is an individual with a legend building around her, and that makes her a disruption in the ranks, not an asset.

And Huff knows and understands this. A large chunk of the novel shows us just what happens in a military environment under stress when a personality cult goes wrong, and throughout the novel we see both Kerr and those around her questioning how the cult of personality growing around her will affect her ability to fulfill her function effectively, and affect the ability of others to fulfill theirs.

This novel ties up a lot of loose ends from previous books in the series, and leads Kerr to the only possible solution to the problem her fame and unusual success have caused for her and for the Marine Corps. It’s also a rousing SF version of the prisoner of war breakout story that kept me reading anxiously and eagerly right to the end.

If this is the last Torin Kerr novel – it’s a great way for her to go. If there are more, they will be very different, and that’s going to be interesting if it happens.

Brava, Gunnery Sergeant Kerr, and brava, Ms. Huff, for treating the character with respect and sending her off in style.

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Of Darkness, Light and Fire is an an omnibus volume containing two of Huff’s early novels, both of which I've read before, and both of which I was delighted to read again.

Gate of Darkness Circle of Light

As i think I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a devoted fan of Tanya Huff’s work since her very first published novel. I read this novel shortly after it was published, and loved it then, and I still love it now that I’ve read it again.

These days, when people talk about urban fantasy, what they mostly seem to mean is novels with urban settings about kick-ass protagonists, primarily women, who hunt down magical or supernatural nasties, usually with the help of a friendly vampire or werewolf or whatnot (unless we're talking YA urban fantasy, where the protagonist is having an angst-ridden adolescent romance with the vampire, werewolf or whatnot). There’s certainly nothing wrong with that – after all, Huff was one of the pioneers of that particular subgenre, with the Victory Nelson series. But the urban fantasy that I remember fondly and don't see quite as often as I'd like to is the kind that started a bit earlier, with books like Diana Paxton’s Brisingamen and Emma Bull’s War of the Oaks – and Tanya Huff’s Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light.

Books where the formula isn’t set yet, and the group of people who come together to fight the darkness may well be special, even supernatural (after all, the assembled warriors of light here include a street musician who, all unbeknownst to himself, is two-thirds of the way to becoming a true Bard, three women - a bag lady, a frazzled social services caseworker, and her mentally challenged client who works in a doughnut shop - who are, at times, avatars of the triple goddess, and an Adept of light, who might be called in other frames of reference an angel) but what gives them the edge to win is the basic human virtues of love in the face of despair, courage in the face of fear. Because it’s their humanity that saves the world, the rest just makes it a little easier to get there. This is a beautiful story about daring to do what is right, even when you have no idea how you're going to make it happen, and fear that tyhe sacrifice may be all you have to give.

The Fire’s Stone

Another early Huff novel, The Fire’s Stone is a wonderful coming-of-age magequest romance and political intrigue story – and yes, putting all of those elements together in one story just makes it stronger.

Huff has always had the gift of creating characters that are multi-dimensional and interesting. The Fire’s Stone brings together Chandra, a 16 year old princess who has the gift to become a powerful wizard; Darvish, the dissolute third son of a king to whom Chandra has been betrothed, and Aaron, master thief with a death wish. Their quest is to save Darvish’s homeland from total destruction after the theft of a magical artefact threatens to unleash the power of the sacred volcano in the heart of the capital city. Along the way, the three manage to heal each other of old and very deep wounds, and forge a most unexpected and unusual relationship.

Another great early story from a master of the fantasy genre.

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Blood Bank, Tanya Huff

Tanya Huff’s Blood books, featuring Vicki Nelson, homicide cop turned private investigator, Henry Fitzroy, vampire writer of bodice rippers, and Mike Celluci, Nelson’s former partner on the force, have long been favourites of mine. In fact, if I have my publications dates right, Huff pretty much invented the urban fantasy crime-solving genre with these books (they were preceded by Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde Investigations series, but the first of the Blood books was published well before the sub-genre became so popular), which is rather a remarkable feat, considering how many variations on the theme there are now in publication.

Huff brought the series to a close some years ago in a profoundly final fashion, but this volume collects the handful of short stories that feature Vicki, Mike and/or Henry, and as such is a welcome chance to return to some beloved characters.

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Night Child, Jes Battiss

I have to admit, I’m picky about my urban fantasy. Two of my favourite urban fantasy writers are Tanya Huff and Mercedes Lackey – Huff’s Blood books were among the first urban fantasy I read, and I also like her Smoke trilogy and her Keeper novels. Lackey’s Tregarde mysteries and her series of novels featuring Bard Eric Banyon are also favourites. I used to like the Anita Blake novels before they became all about how many different supernatural species you can squeeze into one BDSM play party. And I think R.A. Macavoy’s Twisting the Rope is one of the best urban fantasies ever written.

The thread here is, broadly speaking, the detective story format. I read classic detective novels (Conan Doyle, Sayers, Christie, Marsh to name a few of my favourite authors over the years), I watch a fair selection of police procedurals on TV, particularly the ones focusing on forensics, and I like urban fantasy that involves paranormal beings and abilities in a crime-solving format.

Which is why I was so interested when I happened across the author’s website and read the background for his first novel, Night Child, featuring occult special investigator Tess Corday, who works out of Vancouver’s Mystical. The premise is that, unbeknownst to most of us, all sorts of paranormal beings live around us, and like us, some of them are criminals. So naturally, also unbeknownst to us, there is a secret police organisation dedicated to solving crimes involving paranormal creatures when they impinge on the world of ordinary humans.

The biggest plus for me was the abundance of female characters on all sides of the investigation. Tess Corday is an interesting protagonist in that she isn’t always super-strong or super-right, and she has a backstory that is only partly unravelled by the end of this, the first book in a planned series (Battis was working on the third book in the series as of the last interview I read).

One of the biggest weaknesses was that the complex histories of the various groups of paranormal beings, and the nature and origins of the relationships between human and paranormal species, communities and organisations wasn’t as clearly explained as I would have liked, so that at times I was a bit lost as to exactly what was happening.

I also found myself a little disappointed in one respect. The author makes a point in his forward to the book that one of his goals in writing this novel – and, one hopes, a number of sequels – is to write positively about queer characters in an urban fantasy setting. After making such a point, I was disappointed to find that the only obvious recurring queer character so far is the female protagonist’s sidekick. Going back to Huff and Lackey, both of these genre writers and others have been writing positive, openly queer characters – leads as well as secondaries – in their novels for 20 years now. Yes, there’s plenty of room for more, but in that context, it hardly seems appropriate for the author to present the novel as something different or new for its treatment of queer characters.

Still, I enjoyed the mystery and the crime solving, and I do look forward to reading more of the occult forensic adventures of Tess Corday.

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The Heart of Valor, Tanya Huff

This is the third novel in Huff’s series about Marine Sergeant Torin Kerr. The series takes place in a future in which several younger and more aggressive species (humans among them) have been granted membership in a Confederation of many species, most both non-violent and much older, on the understanding that their peoples will staff the Confederation’s military forces in the ongoing war against mysterious invader known only as the Others.

Sgt Kerr (recently promoted to Gunnery sergeant) serves, with great skill and efficiency, in this future military. Up to this point, she has been a perfect soldier – carrying out her mission, doing her best (and her best is pretty damn good) to keep her senior officers from doing something foolish and the Marines under their command alive. But something is changing.

In her last adventure, Sgt. Kerr was involved in a first contact situation with an apparently sentient space ship, and now Kerr discovers that she and a handful of those who were with her on the alien ship have memories that no one else involved in the mission have. And no one seems willing to listen to her when she tries to tell the brass that something is wrong.

Heart of Valor is, like the earlier Confederation novels, a rousing action story in the tradition of the great milsf writers, but it is also, I think, something more – the beginnings of an exploration into the level of trust required between civilian leadership and the military, and into what are the responsibilities of a soldier when she suspects that trust has been breached.

I was loving this series already, because Torin Kerr is an interesting and well-developed character, and because of the solid portrayal of a women in the military. But now I think I’m liking it even more, as Huff seems to be setting the stage for a broader consideration of the relationship between the military and its civilian overseers. Already, one begins to wonder about the implications of how and why the younger races were admitted into the Confederation – to do the fighting for those who will not, while having at the same time no input into the highest levels of decisions about military goals and attempts to enter into negotiations with the enemy – and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens if Kerr’s intelligence and insight keep bringing up questions that her devotion to duty and to the Marines might make her reluctant to think about.

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Some brief comments on several collections of short stories I’ve read this year, but some very talents authors – some of whom I’ve been reading for years, and some of whom I have only discovered this year but have come to appreciate greatly.

Dangerous Space, Kelley Eskridge

This was my introduction to Eskridge’s work, and I was very impressed. Her explorations of the fluidity of identity, gender and sexuality are powerful and harken back, for me, to some of the best of Samuel Delany’s work. There has been much mention by reviewers of the three stories that feature the ungendered character Mars, but while Mars is perhaps the flashpoint of discussion about these issues for many, most of the stories in this collection place their characters in the “dangerous space” that lies outside, or perhaps in between, the safe definitions society would force upon us all. In some stories, the use of settings where social roles and personal actions are highly regulated (an asylum, a fascist state) highlight the sense that anyone can find themselves in a dangerous state when we move away from any imposed norm.

Bloodchild and Other Stories, Octavia Butler

It still seems unreal to me to think that we shall read no more from Octavia Butler. I’ve long been an admirer of her novels, but only this year did I finally read this collection of her few short stories. Most science fiction readers will be acquainted, with the three strongest stories here – “Bloodchild,” “Speech sounds,” and “The Evening and the Morning and the Night.” In addition, there are two lesser known stories and two essays on her craft by Butler. It is a good thing to have all of her published stories together in one place on my shelf. It is a sad thing that there are so few. It is a great loss that there will be no more.

The Chains that You Refuse, Elizabeth Bear

It is difficult from me to think that before this year I had never read anything by Elizabeth Bear. In just a few months, she has become one of my (admittedly many) favourite writers, someone whose latest offering I would buy unhesitatingly without even reading a review or a blurb to see what it was about. This collection was the second book I read by her, and the diversity of ideas, combined with her sure sense of the right style for each, made a strong impression. If there was an underlying theme to the collection, it was making choices that challenge boundaries, subvert expectations, resist demands – as the title says, refusing chains.

Mother Aegypt and Other Stories, Kage Baker

I acquired this book specifically because I had run into a great deal of positive comment about Kage Baker, and decided to introduce myself to her work through a collection of her short stories. The title story of this collection, which captured my imagination immediately, is an original novella set in Baker’s Company series, which I am currently devouring with great joy. Several other stories are apparently set in the universe of another of her novels, The Anvil of the World, which I have not yet read, although I intend to remedy that as soon as I may. I also enjoyed the stand-alone stories in the collection. Baker has a gift for telling what seems to be a simple tale, about something not all that earth-shattering, which turns out to be far more significant than one would at first have believed. The delayed punch effect. I like it.

What Ho, Magic! and Relative Magic, Tanya Huff

Why yes, I am trying to acquire every collection of Huff’s stories. How clever of you to notice how many of them have been on this year’s reading list. Why? Because Huff writes stories that run the gamut of styles and emotions, from laugh-out-loud pun-laden comedy to the most serious and heroic of epic fantasy with everything in between. Reading her work makes me feel good. Do I need another reason?

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Smoke and Ashes, Tanya Huff

The third in Huff’s latest contemporary fantasy series featuring Tony Foster (mostly self-taught wizard and TV production staffer) and Henry FitzRoy (the vampire son of Henry VIII), Smoke and Ashes is another grand romp through the fantastical and the theatrical.

In this adventure, Tony discovers that one of the stunt women working on set is a 3,000 year-old living - but completely sealed - Hellgate. Worse than that, an army of demons is taking advantage of the Grand Convergence to cross over into our world, and if she is killed by demons attracted to the power that emanates from her, it will open up the gate contained within her to a major invasion from the dimensions of Hell.

Working with Tony and Henry to save the world are all the familiar faces from the cast and crew of the world’s best syndicated vampire detective TV show filmed in Vancouver (except for one, of course). But Smoke and Ashes is primetime entertainment.

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Valor’s Choice
The Better Part of Valor

Here’s the thing you need to know: Tanya Huff’s novels about Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr are some of the best MilSF out there.

Sgt. Kerr is a grunt. She’s not the scion of a line of fabled warriors, she’s not going to end up as the leader of the free universe, she has no rich and influential relatives, she has no special powers or alien buddies or ancient artefacts or arcane knowledge. She’s nobody’s Mary Sue. She’s a grunt. And as a staff sergeant, her job is to know everything keep her lieutenant alive, keep the troops going no matter what, and finish the mission.

Huff has a note at the end of Valor’s Choice that says everything that needs to be said about Torin Kerr. She begins by identifying a historical battle that was the inspiration for a crucial battle in the book. And then she goes on to say:
… a total of eleven men were awarded with the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery, making this the highest number ever awarded for a single engagement in British military history.

Colour-Sergeant F. Bourne, the senior NCO, was not among those eleven. He received instead a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Why, although his bravery and courage under fire were unquestioned and he was instrumental in turning a number of …attacks, didn’t Colour-Sergeant Bourne receive the Victoria Cross?

Because he was only doing his job.
The Torin Kerr books are, in some ways, reminiscent of the best aspects of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, but the character of Torin Kerr is more realistic, as a woman and as a warrior, than Heinlein would ever manage in his writing.

In these books, Huff has once again created a strong female protagonist who does interesting and exciting things. Torin Kerr kicks ass with the best of them.

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Women of War, (eds.) Tanya Huff and Alexander Potter

Women of War is an anthology of stories linked by the requirement that the main character be a female warrior. To me, There’s something particularly powerful, even iconic, in the image of the woman warrior. I remember discovering, as a child, and being entranced by, C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry short stories. I gloried in finding the almost-hidden accounts of real women who fought for life, land, or even just for adventure – Boudicca, Zenobia, Grainne Ni Maille, Marguerite Delaye, Anne Bonney, Trung Trac, Trung Nhi and on and on, for women have always been doing everything that men do (and not always backwards and in high heels).

I still feel this strange, almost atavistic swelling of – something – when I watch Geena Davis as a pirate captain in Cutthroat Island, or the proud Red Sonja matching Conan strike for strike. Whether I’m reading or watching it, I want to pump my fist in the air and scream “Hell, Yes” when Eowyn declares “I am no woman” and blasts the Witch-king of Angmar into nothingness. In fact, sometimes I do just that.

Perhaps it’s that so much literature, particularly the heroic, epic, thousand-year classic kind, has had something to do with war, or the quest that depends on warrior’s skills, or both. From The Iliad to War and Peace, from The Mahabharata to Le Morte Darthur, so many of our heroes have been warriors – though not always eager ones – and by convention, these special, epic heroes have almost always been men.

But all that’s changing, at least in genre fiction. Even a cursory look at the shelves and where the fantasy and science fiction books and DVDs are displayed will show you a wealth of women warriors (in the widest sense of the term): Xena, Ripley, Lara Croft, Honor Harrington, Tarma Shena Tale'sedrin, Victory Nelson, Modesty Blaise, Paksennarrion, to name but a few. Still not nearly so many as the men warriors, but far more than ever before.

And that’s where the power of this anthology comes from: 15 stories about women warriors, all different, preparing for, fighting, and (mostly) surviving their battles, but all collected in one place. Another thing that’s very special about this anthology is that not one of these stories failed to catch and hold my attention, to speak to my mind and heart. The sketches below may be short, but there's a great deal of appreciation for every story behind them.

“Fighting Chance” by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. To speak one truth about warriors and wars, it’s that many of those who could be called professional soldiers come to the wars because even in the face of death, it’s better than what they leave behind. This is a story of a young woman making that choice.

“Painted Child of Earth” by Rosemary Edghill. An eternal warrior, bonded to a sword of legend, takes the risk of staying close to her humanity.

“She’s such a Nasty Morsel” by Julie E Czeneda. An ancient intelligence, one of the Web Shifters who gather and preserve knowledge about more ephemeral species, learns something about herself by going to war in mortal form.

“The Children of Diardin: to find the Advantage” by Fiona Patton. A tale rooted in Irish Legend, in which the shape-shifting children of Diarden seek the aid of the Tuatha De Danann against the giant army of the King of the Sea.

"Not that Kind of War” by Tanya Huff. A Torin Kerr story from Huff’s Confederation of Valor universe. A small, marine force provides cover for a civilian evacuation, one small unglamorous skirmish among many in an interstellar war, in a soldier’s life.

“The Black Ospreys” by Michelle West. This story is set in West’s world of warring empires Annagar and Essailieyan, and tells, in flashbacks, of the forging of a very special band of warriors.

“The Art of War” by Bruce Holland Rogers. War is bloody and brutal and full of ugliness and horror – but the execution of it, from the level of hand to hand combat up to the highest levels of strategy, can have grace, elegance, an aesthetic all its own.

“Geiko” by Kerrie Hughes The idea of a special kind of warrior, trained as honour-guard or body-guard, is not an unusual one – real-life examples being Mamelukes and Gurkhas to name only two. In Hughes’ story, they are known as the Geiko.

“Shen-Gi-Tae” by Robin Wayne Bailey In the game of Go, it is possible to remove an entire army from the board with the sacrifice of a single piece. Such moves become something altogether different and far more difficult when the pieces are human beings.

“The Last Hand of War” by Jana Paniccia. A warrior fights a different kind of battle to bring peace to her people and herself.

“War Games” by Lisanne Norman. In a world where all conflicts are by official agreement resolved by virtual war games, is there any remaining need for warriors who fight with weapons and body armour rather than virtual displays?

“Fire from the Sun” by Jane Lindskold. In a time of changes, the granddaughter of a nomad leader must find a way to defend her people from unexpected enemies.

“Token” by Anna Oster. In this fantasy realm, the price paid for victory falls heavily on one young girl.

“Elites” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Conditioning humans for war is one thing. Reconditioning them for peace is something else altogether.

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Long Hot Summoning, Tanya Huff

In this, the third instalment in Huff’s truly hilarious Keeper series, Claire Hansen and her powerful Keeper-in-training younger sister Diana face something even more terrifying than the mouth of Hell – a shopping mall gone mad. And it will take an alliance with street kids turned elves and a leather-rocker version of King Arthur himself to save the world. Meanwhile, Claire’s partner Dean meets his mummy.

Seriously. This is superb urban fantasy that combines the deeply weird and profoundly absurd with a sure hand that is both comic and satiric, but never loses track of the thrill of the adventure or the truth of the characters.

Stealing Magic, Tanya Huff

This is a actually two anthologies in one, and the publisher (Meisha Merlin) has set it up like one of the great old Ace doubles – whichever way you pick the book up, you’re looking at the cover of one of the two books.

One side is a collection of Huff’s short stories featuring Magdelene, the most powerful wizard in the world. Also the laziest wizard in the world, which is a good thing, because if she really wanted to do something other than relax in the sun and enjoy the simple pleasures life has to offer, there would be no escape from her power. Of course, because Magdelene is a good wizard, she’s willing to help people out when she’s really needed, and because she is the most powerful wizard in the world, other wizards and less savoury lifeforms often see her as a challenge, a threat, or the first obstacle to be removed on their path to world domination or destruction. Magdelene is a very unconventional wizard, and Huff’s stories about her are not only great fun to read, but also a trenchant exploration of gender-based fantasy tropes.

The other side gathers Huff’s stories about Terazin the thief, a delightful and daring kick-ass woman hero. The tales of Terazin are less convention-breaking than those about Magdelene, simply because Terazin’s life story and exploits are cast in what has become a more-or-less standard mould – brilliant but poor outcast child passes the initiation tests, joins the thieves’ guild and spends the rest of her life stealing more and more challenging things. Huff does it very well, though, and works some undertones dealing with gender and power politics within the thieves' guild into her well-crafted adventure tales.

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I’m way behind on the grand project I embarked on almost a year ago, which was to actually keep an annotated record of the books I read. So, to try to get back on an even footing for the all-too-quickly-approaching New Year, here are some thumbnail sketches of some of the the science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction novels that I’ve read in recent months (actually, more like the past six months or thereabouts) and haven’t yet written about.

The World of the Fae Trilogy – Anne Bishop
Shadows and Light
The House of Gaian

I wrote briefly about the first volume in this series back at the beginning of the year. It took a while, but I have at last finished the trilogy. It’s interesting – what first interested me about the series was Bishop’s elves – the fae – and their relationship with the witches – almost all women – who are the physical and mystical bond that maintains the link between the human world and the world of the fae. However, what came to dominate my perceptions of the books as I read them was the horrifying and all-too-believable war on women that drives the storyline. Think of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, of the male-dominated society portrayed in the early books of Suzy McKee Charnas’ Holdfast Chronicles, of the utterly evil misogyny that almost destroys both elves and pagan humankind in Gael Baudino’s Strands series. In many ways, Bishop’s trilogy reminds me most of Baudino’s work, in fact, because in both, the answer to hatred and misogyny comes from the mingling of traditions, elven, pagan/wiccan, and human.

The Darker Jewels Trilogy – Anne Bishop
Daughter of the Blood
Heir to the Shadows
Queen if the Darkness

A very different setting and cast of characters from Bishop’s World of the Fae series, although it’s interesting to see that the themes of gender-based power struggles, separate but interconnected worlds or dimensions, and the discovery of lost heritages are also strong elements in the Darker Jewels series. This series is an interesting exploration of power – political power, psychic or magical power, sexual power, the power of conviction and honour, the power of love and hate. And there’s also a nice twist on the standard light=good, dark=bad iconography in a great deal of modern fiction: The devils and the undead are, as much as anyone can be, the good guys here.

The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde

Jack Spratt is a detective. He works the Nursery Crimes beat. His latest case: who killed Humpty Dumpty and why? Only Jasper Fforde could have written this book, and I’m glad he did. Absolutely hilarious, and full of not-so-subtle digs at the entirety of the detective genre.

Starship Troopers - Robert Heinlein

After I did the “50 most influential” meme, I just couldn’t resist. I have, after all, been on a project to reread some of the science fiction I grew up with, and Heinlein is a big part of that. I’ve written elsewhere about my love-hate relationship with Heinlein, and this is one of the ones that really pushes all of those buttons. It’s a fun action story, but, and but, and but… tell me again how flogging people publicly makes for a crime-free state. And why military service is the only kind of service to the state that demonstrates one has a sense of responsibility and commitment. And why men are big infantry lugs and women are dainty ship’s pilots and in the future there are no tough ass-kicking grunts like Jenette Goldstein’s Vasquez in Aliens who can smash Bugs with the best of them.

The Puppet Masters - Robert Heinlein

This was the uncut version, although to be honest, it’s been so long since I’d read the original that I didn’t realise this until my partner pointed it out. Then it was sort of obvious – the sex wouldn’t have been quite so explicit in the early 50s when this was first published, but I’ve read so much of Heinlein’s later work, where the sex is pretty much unending, that I didn’t notice. [personal profile] glaurung_quena, who actually compared the versions as part of a grad school paper on Heinlein, also tells me that the first publication had also toned down some of the elements intended to evoke the horror of being possessed, but I remember finding it chilling back in the 60s when I first read it, and it’s still chilling at that level. What I didn’t see so clearly when I first read the novel, although I’ve long since figured it out, was how the puppet masters are so openly paralleled with Russian state communism/totalitarianism. And how much this is a cold war, McCarthyist horror tale in which the communists could be anywhere, even in bed beside you, and you’d never know unless you practised unrelenting vigilance.

One thing that I had not noticed before was that for once, Heinlein’s super-competent, super-sexy, gun-toting female protagonist has a real psychology behind her. Mary, who we learn in the last chapter of the book has undergone horrifying experiences as a child including one of the more traumatic kinds of abandonment imaginable, is almost certainly overcompensating out of a form of PTSD – even if Heinlein didn’t have a clinical description of the condition available to him at the time. Which finally clears up one aspect of her behaviour that always bothered me – her about-face virtual submission to the male protagonist after he rejects her emotionally and assaults her.

Smoke and Mirrors - Tanya Huff

The second of the Tony and Fitzroy novels, though this one is somewhat Fitzroy-light. Doesn’t matter, Tony does just fine. And let me assure you, this is one killer of a haunted house story. With all the insanity of a TV location shoot thrown in for laughs. I’m really loving these books.

The Wizard of the Grove duology – Tanya Huff
Child of the Grove
The Last Wizard

I first read Child of the Grove years ago, alerted by a friend who knew Huff and had read the book in manuscript, and it was this book that made me an instant fan of Huff’s work. It’s always been an interesting duology – the first book is heroic, mythic, epic in nature, all about the wars of nations and the clashes of ancient powers, a classic good versus evil scenario, although with a greater degree of sophistication than many such. The Last Wizard is much smaller and more personal book – what is the life of the hero after the quest is over. Of course, there’s magic and adventure and all of that good high fantasy stuff, but it’s more about the last wizard herself, and what does she do now that she’s met her destiny and survived. An unexpectedly mature sequel to a fine high fantasy epic.

More to come....

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Smoke and Shadows by Tanya Huff

I've been a Tanya Huff fan for longer than she's been published. See, I used to know a guy who knew her well, and had been granted the great honour of reading her first novel prior to publication. He raved about it. And I knew him to be a man of good and discerning taste, so when that first novel was published, I went out and bought it right away. And the next one, and the one after that.

Huff may be best known for her "Victory Nelson" series - five novels about a former Toronto cop, now private detective with night blindness, a helpful ex-partner from the force, and a complicated relationship with the vampire bastard son of Henry VIII, who now writes bodice-rippers for a living.

Smoke and Shadows is the first novel in a stand-alone spin-off series from the Victory Nelson novels. Vicky's vampire, Henry Fitzroy, is now living in Vancouver, as is Tony Foster, a friend and sometime lover of Henry's who was once a street kid. Of course, you just know that folks who could find weird adventures with demons and wizards and werewolves and the like in toronto are going to have no problem running into the same kind of thing in Vancouver.

It's a good urban fantasy (which is definitely Huff's specialty), and it's also, in its setting, a hilarious send-up of the made-in-Canada action/supernatural TV syndication series industry. If you're a fan of Forever Knight or any of its more recent kin, you'll enjoy the goings-on from that perspective as well.

Reading Tanya Huff's novels makes me happy. I'm so glad she's already written two more novels in this new series for me to read.


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