Book Review: The Wild Dead, Carrie Vaughn

Book Review: The Wild Dead, Bannerless Saga Book 2, Carrie Vaughn

 

The Wild Dead, Carrie Vaughn

Mystery: The Wild Dead, Bannerless Saga, Book 2, Carrie Vaughn

Like the first book in this series (Bannerless), The Wild Dead is a mystery set in a dystopian future. The people of the Coast Road live by strict rules. Households must live within their means but also contribute to the good of their communities. Quotas cannot be exceeded so that the land is not overworked, but enough must be grown or gathered to share with others. When a household proves they can live within the parameters set and support another person they are given a banner. A banner signifies permission to become pregnant and have a baby. Households that do not have a banner are not allowed to have children, and there is no stigma greater in the Coast Road than trying to have a bannerless child.

 

Enid, the investigator we first met in Bannerless, has been sent to the estuary to mediate a property dispute. A house dating from before “the Fall” is unlikely to survive another storm without significant repairs, and the owner wants his neighbors to help restore the property. Enid and her new partner Teeg have come to check out the property and determine whether the owner’s adamance is warranted. While they are there, though, a body is discovered on the tidal flats. A young woman has been murdered…and soon they realize that the woman is not from the Coast Road at all but rather is from the “wild” people who are not part of their society.

 

These facts do not tell the investigators who killed the woman, but they raise their own set of questions. Do the investigators have an actual responsibility to investigate the murder of someone who is not part of their community? Is the murder of an outsider actually even a crime? How far is Enid willing to go to solve this murder…especially when everyone, including Teeg, thinks she should just walk away and leave it be?

 

Carrie Vaughn has worked hard building the world of the Coast Road, a world that has been shaped dramatically by the collapse of the world we readers know. The Coast Road enjoys some of the remnants of civilization: electricity is sustainably generated, food is grown in moderation, trade occurs up and down the Coast Road. But the cost is high: women receive implants preventing pregnancy upon their first menstruation and those implants can only be removed when a banner is awarded. The Coast Road society is fully sustainable, but far from free. Bannerless children are forcibly removed from their families and given to families who have banners but have not been able to conceive. And the stigma for even trying to conceive a bannerless child continues for a lifetime.

 

The “wild” people live with much more freedom, but they also live on the edge of starvation. No one says who or when they can have children, but they struggle to meet basic needs for those children. The Coast Road chooses security over freedom. The wild people choose freedom over security. When the two societies intersect, both are challenged to evaluate their choices.

 

As a reader who enjoys both science fiction and mysteries, this novel is a delightful cross-genre story. Enid is a dogged investigator who is committed to finding the truth. She is willing to do the difficult work of pursuing the truth outside of her comfort zone, even outside of her society, seeking justice for the dead woman even though she is from another culture. Carrie Vaughn has created a fascinating world in her Bannerless Saga, and The Wild Dead is an outstanding continuation of that saga. I hope there are more to come.

 

The Wild Dead, Carrie Vaughn

 

Book Review: The Wild Dead, Carrie Vaughn

Book Review: Dogstar Rising, Parker Bilal

Book Review: Dogstar Rising, Parker Bilal

Dogstar Rising, Parker Bilal

Mystery: Dogstar Rising, Parker Bilal

Detective Makana has decided to help the son of an old friend. The son is in love with a girl whose father needs some investigative work done. This inauspicious beginning leads Makana to a small travel agency and possibly to the answer for a question he did not know he was asking.

 

Dogstar Rising is the second Makana mystery by Parker Bilal, and it is brilliant. Again set mostly in Cairo, Makana is both dogged and brilliant. Refusing to be put off the case by crooked officials, physical intimidation, bribes, or threats, Makana insists on pursuing the truth. When a young woman in the travel agency is killed right in front of him, Makana will stop at nothing to find justice for her.

 

Makana finds himself pursuing multiple mysteries during the course of this book. The death of the young woman, which may or may not be related to the investigation of the travel agency. The gruesome murders of several children in a slum area of the city. A mysterious priest with a shrouded past. A monastery with a scandalous secret. And the possibility that his own daughter survived the car crash that he thought had taken her life ten years before. And not to give away any spoilers, but the skill with which the author draws these sundry plots together is quite impressive. Makana is part Sherlock Holmes, but much more is simply unstoppable, following lead after lead even when it looks like they might take him directly to his own death.

 

The book is set in the summer of 2001. This becomes very meaningful in the last scene of the novel, which takes place in a cafe on September 11. Reading the reactions of these (mostly) Egyptians, I was reminded of the fact that 9/11 was an attack on the entire world. Sometimes our American sensibilities are so focused on America that we don’t acknowledge that most people around the world, including in the Middle East, were aghast and horrified by the attacks that day. These may have been fictional characters in this novel, but the reactions are very much what I have heard from other sources and from friends around the world. True, there were people who celebrated. There were many more who wept.

 

In two books this has become a favorite series of mine. Fortunately for me, there are several more in the series already in print, so I don’t have to wait for the next one to come out. I just have to get over to the library for it!

 

Dogstar Rising, Parker Bilal

Book Review: Dogstar Rising, Parker Bilal

Book Review: The Tropic of Serpents, Marie Brennan

Book Review: The Tropic of Serpents, Book 2 of the Memoirs of Lady Trent, Marie Brennan

 

The Tropic of Serpents, Marie Brennan

Fantasy: The Tropic of Serpents, Marie Brennan

 

Isabella Camherst can face dragons. She has met with heads of state, with scientists from around the world. She survived the cold steppes and the machinations of local warlords, and as we learn in this volume she triumphed over the savannahs and swamps of Eriga. Early in this book, though, she faces her most formidable foe of all.

 

Her mother.

 

The Tropic of Serpents is the second volume of the memoirs of Lady Trent, a fantasy series set in a Victorian-type era where real men are men of breeding and education, and real women stay home and mind the household. Unless you are Lady Trent. Accompanied by a companion from her previous journey (a man, but not a man of breeding) and by a runaway heiress, Isabella sets forth to the continent of Eriga, home to lions and elephants and leopards and several kinds of dragons.

 

In Eriga she must navigate her way through palace intrigue, through political waters muddied by foreign influences (including those from her home country of Scirland), and eventually through the swamps of the “Green Hell,” the jungle home of a rare and surly type of dragon. She courts danger and scandal and finds plenty of both.

 

Marie Brennan’s delightful character must deal with converting skirts to trousers, being confined with other women during her menstruation, and other issues that are gender related. Brennan does a great job remaining true to the Victorian-era sensibilities, once with Isabella apologizing for the rough language of calling something a “godsend”; one shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain, although in fairness that is what the man said and neither the man nor Isabella are particularly religious. The book is at times whimsical, at times serious. Always, though, The Tropic of Serpents is a wonderful story about a very well-drawn character.

 

You might also enjoy:

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk, Book 3 of the Memoirs of Lady Trent, Marie Brennan

Book Review: European Travel for the Monstrous GentlewomanTheodora Goss

Book Review: The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman 

Book Review: The Mortal Word (Book 5 of The Invisible Library Series), Genevieve Cogman

 

 

The Tropic of Serpents, Marie Brennan

Book Review: The Tropic of Serpents, Book 2 of the Memoirs of Lady Trent, Marie Brennan

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Fantasy: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

 

“It’s a sad fact of modern life that if you drive long enough, sooner or later you must leave London behind.”

 

This may now be my favorite opening line to any novel I’ve ever read, and I’ve never been to London! In Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch continues the story of police detective and apprentice magician Peter Grant, a mixed-race human able to see ghosts. Grant uses his abilities to solve crimes involving magic. Aaronovitch uses his abilities to write fun and engaging stories that mix police procedurals with urban fantasy. I am not sure whether Aaronovitch or his character Peter Grant is truly the more magical.

 

Grant is pursuing leads surrounding the death of a jazz musician. The musician’s death normally would be attributed to natural causes, but there is a strange magical echo, called vestigium, surrounding the body. Most humans cannot sense vestigium, but the coroner can and when he does, he calls Grant and Grant’s boss, DCI Nightingale. Nightingale is still recovering from injuries received during a previous investigation, so the bulk of the detecting will be up to Grant. Grant also enlists aid from DS Lesley May, another detective who was injured during that same case.

 

Grant is also called in to consult with the Murder Team on a case where a man’s…manhood was removed and the victim left to bleed out. They suspect that the man was the victim of some kind of magical creature, one that had teeth in her…womanhood. Grant is pursuing two lines of inquiry, and he cannot help but wonder whether there is a link between these two crimes despite the very different causes of death.

 

Aaronovitch puts a lot of humor into the books. Grant sometimes struggles to learn magic, and to Nightingale’s frustration he sometimes puts spells together in ways that are less than optimal. This sometimes results in things catching on fire. Grant also has garnered an unfortunate reputation for causing property damage, a reputation only made worse by a stolen ambulance careening down London streets in a (successful) effort to save the son of a demigod. Still, his skills, instinct, and talent are all needed to solve the crimes and expose the killers and their motives.

 

Moon Over Soho builds on the solid foundation of the first book and gives greater insight to Peter Grant and Lesley May. It is a fun ride through London’s jazz scene, and does a nice job introducing new characters and setting up a larger arc for future novels. An excellent follow up in a series I am thoroughly enjoying.

 

Also see by the same author:

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes. Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: The Kingdom of Copper, S.A. Chakraborty

Book Review: The Kingdom of Copper, The Daevebad Trilogy, Book 2, S. A. Chakraborty

The Kingdom of Copper, The Daevebad Trilogy, Book 2, S. A. Chakraborty

Fantasy: The Kingdom of Copper, The Daevebad Trilogy, Book 2, S.A. Chakraborty

 

S.A. Chakraborty’s debut novel, The City of Brass, was one of the most highly honored fantasy novels of 2017. Her 2019 sequel, The Kingdom of Copper, continues the epic story of the healer Nahri, the djinn Dara, and the prince Ali.

 

Set five years after the events of the first novel, Nahri is enduring her forced marriage to Ali’s brother and continuing to learn the healing arts. Her magical abilities are growing, allowing her to heal more complex problems, but her political acumen still is lacking when it comes to dealing with challenges in the court. Still, she is the Banu Nahida, a title which not only reflects her healing ability but also carries religious and political leadership within her tribe. This makes her both a potential ally and a potential threat to the king.

 

Ali escaped assassination and is living quietly in an oasis in the desert with the people who rescued him. He has recovered from his physical injuries but is coming to terms with new powers he did not have before: the ability to find water and the ability to breathe underwater. This connection to water is extremely helpful to the desert tribe that saved him, but would be very challenging to the city where his father rules. He has reconciled himself to never returning home. Others, though, have made different plans for him.

 

And Dara. Dara was killed by Ali during their final battle in the first book. But djinn can be hard to kill permanently–after all, Dara had killed Ali first during that battle and Ali refused to stay dead. Dara is brought back to life to serve the Banu Nahida…but not Nahri. There is another Banu Nahida with a claim in Daevebad, and this one is no potential ally to the king.

 

Chakraborty’s novels are rich and deep and sweeping. She creates a beautifully layered Arabian world, one where the human world and the world of the djinn occasionally intersect but are typically separated, almost like an overlay on a map. Her characters are schemers and dreamers and scholars and warriors. Religion is both crucial and ignored, with some characters motivated by zealotry while others acknowledge divinity only for public show.

 

Although the books are set in the Islamic world of about 120 years ago, they are set in the djinn version of it with little (in this book virtually no) contact between the two. Only descendants of the magical tribes can enter this world. Some of these are partially human, but no fully human person can see or enter the world. This gives the author great freedom to imagine a world that is more like the world of Aladdin than the world of European colonialism. She uses that imaginative license fully, giving us extraordinary palaces built on the abject poverty and misery of slums. Poor and oppressed people living in squalor often face harsh punishments for the decisions of the rich, even decisions that are meant to help those poor and oppressed people. Powerful people enjoy the status quo and are committed to maintaining it at any cost.

 

Chakraborty is giving fantasy readers a rich and epic series. Although it is described as a trilogy, I would be sorry to see it end with the next book. I am developing one of those strange relationships with this series: I am excited for the next book to come out, but I am dreading it because it is supposed to be the last one of the series. Still, I am a richer person for having walked through the streets of Daevebad for however long the series lasts.

 

Also see by the same author: Book Review: The City of Brass, S. A. Chakraborty

 

The Kingdom of Copper, The Daevebad Trilogy, Book 2, S. A. Chakraborty

Book Review: The Kingdom of Copper, The Daevebad Trilogy, Book 2, S. A. Chakraborty