Saturday 17 April 2021

Assorted novels, new and old(ish)


Forged, by Benedict Jacka

The continuing story of Alex Verus, modern magician. My comments on Fallen, the previous volume of the series, were as follows:

At the start of this volume, Verus has achieved a degree of acceptance, being appointed to the magical Light Council with his friend (and now girlfriend) Anne also accepted as his assistant. Needless to say, this does not last and Verus's world comes crashing down around his ears, with the support he has enjoyed from various others being brutally kicked away. Almost alone, he has to take drastic, life-changing measures to acquire the ability to defend himself against his powerful enemies. He succeeds – at a cost. The story ends abruptly, so we'll have to wait for the next (and last) two volumes to discover what happens. This whole series is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys this kind of contemporary urban fantasy.

In Forged, Verus is now almost alone, with the powerful magicians of the Light Council on one side, the Dark magicians on the other, and Verus stuck uncomfortably in between. His newly enhanced powers provide him with a considerable advantage over his unsuspecting enemies, but as his battle for survival continues he becomes ever more desperate and ruthless, racking up an impressive, but disconcerting, body count.

There is just one more volume scheduled, which doesn’t surprise me because so many issues are coming to a head in Forged that there won’t be a lot left to write about!


Spaceside and Colonyside, by Michael Mammay

These are the sequels to Planetside (reviewed here on 26 July), of which I said: 

At one level this is a fast-paced and enjoyable thriller, well-written in a laconic, understated military style. At another level are some fundamental issues about the relationships between humanity and other intelligent forms of life. 

Spaceside continues the story of Carl Butler, who has now left the military and attained considerable notoriety after the dramatic conclusion of the previous volume. The Cappans are still around, however, and trying to make use of him. The result is lots of dramatic tension and military action, as the very human Butler tries to find a way through the usually desperate situations he keeps finding himself in. Just as good as the previous volume. 

Colonyside is the third volume (will there be any more?). Butler is hauled out of retirement to investigate the death, on a jungle-covered colony world, of a daughter of a very rich man. He find himself juggling with several opposed organisations; the civilian governorship, the military arm, an industrial organisation the daughter worked for, and some militant environmentalists. And that’s just the humans - there are some particularly nasty native inhabitants (can’t really call them aliens as it’s their planet; it’s the humans who are the aliens, right?). Great fun again, but I did find it quite similar to the last one. 


Tea with the Black Dragon, and Twisting the Rope, by R. A. MacAvoy

These two books, first published in 1983 and 1986, were among the first of the fifteen novels (to date) published by this author. I have previously (February 2010) reviewed another of her stories, The Book of Kells

Tea with the Black Dragon is set in the modern world. Martha Macnamara, a talented violinist, is visiting California in search of her daughter, an equally talented computer programmer, who has mysteriously disappeared. She meets Mayland Long, a strange and apparently elderly man of Chinese descent, who claims to have once been a dragon - and an Imperial black dragon, no less. This unlikely pair get on very well and combine their efforts to discover what has happened to Martha’s daughter, a search which takes them through the more dubious aspects of the world of information technology (early 1980s vintage). 

This is a beautifully written story with two well-drawn and engaging characters in what is, for a fantasy, an unusual plot. In fact, the plot could have belonged to a contemporary mystery thriller, were it not for some unusual capabilities possessed by Mayland Long.

Twisting the Rope picks up the story of Martha and Mayland some five years on. Martha is now touring in California with her Celtic folk music band, managed by Mayland. This book takes some time to get going, with nothing much happening for the first 100 pages or so, until a member of the band dies in curious circumstances.  Then it is Martha’s young granddaughter who disappears, with the whole band drawn into the search as well as a perceptive detective. The conclusion has some unexpected twists and turns but again, apart from one fantasy element, the story is a conventional mystery thriller.

If you only read one of these books it should be the first. The second one doesn’t really offer anything new, and is most likely to appeal to readers who loved the first.