Category Archives: Philippa Ballantine

Return to the Shifted World

Kindred and Wings
Philippa Ballantine
Pyr Books
Paperback 340 pp., $18.00
ebook $11.99  Kindle  B&N

If you read Philippa Ballantine’s Hunter and Fox last year (reviewed here), then you will be glad to know that the sequel hits the shelves on August 6, which is tomorrow as I’m writing this.  The good folks at Pyr books were kind enough to send me a review copy, for which I would like to thank them.

I enjoyed the novel, but I liked the sequel even more.  Kindred and Wings takes up where Hunter and Fox left off. Talyn is still seeking the Caisah’s death, but she’s going to discover there are other things that should be a higher priority.  Finn the Fox, aided by the dragon Wahirangi, continues his quest to find his brother.  Meanwhile, Talyn’s brother Byre will discover that dealing with the Kindred is not without cost. And hanging over everything is the growing menace of White Void.

There are a number of viewpoint characters in Kindred and Wings.  Ballantine alternates between them, juggling story lines in a way that makes the action flow.  I’ve not read her more recent novels in her other series (not because I’m not interested but because I have to sleep sometime), so I can’t make a complete comparison, but I think this is some of her best writing.  Each of the viewpoint characters, and there more than just the three I mentioned above, are well defined.  We see each of them at their worst and their best.  Their motives and agendas sometimes come into conflict, and it’s here that some of the strongest character development occurs.  While I didn’t like all the viewpoint characters, I understood them, and it’s because they were so well written that I didn’t like one or two of them.  None of them were stock characters.

There are some great action scenes, including several battles, and all are handled well.  But ultimately this book boils down to personal conflict, and it’s at this level that the author’s abilities really shine.  The scene in the castle where Finn first encounters the shade of his mother, or when Kelanim is in the chapel of wings, not a word is wasted.  The sense of being there, of visualizing what was happening, was particularly strong. 

Overall, Kindred and Wings had a more epic feel to it than I remember Hunter and Fox having.   That’s probably the result of how Ballantine handles the viewpoint characters.  The respective characters don’t alternate chapters or sections of chapters in a predictable manner.  Rather we see what we need to see when it’s time to see it.  That means that sometimes a character will be off stage longer in some parts of the book than in others.  We find out the Caisah’s secrets, and I really liked what those turned out to be.  Not everything you thought you knew in the first book was true.

If I had to find a flaw in the book, I felt that everyone coming together for the final confrontation was a little rushed.  I was expecting a cliffhanger ending with the final resolution in a following book.  The ending was satisfying, and I don’t mean to imply that it wasn’t.  I just wasn’t expecting it to happen in this book.

Kindred and Wings was a very satisfying read. It hits shelves tomorrow, so if this is your cup of tea, look for it.

New Acquisitions

Today a friend and I took my son hiking in Palo Duro Canyon while our wives stayed home doing whatever wives do when husbands are away.  (I don’t want to know; that it involves spending money is enough.)  This will tie into a Dispatches From the Lone Star Front post later in the week after another road trip. 

When I go home, there was a package waiting for me.  It contained a copy of Ari Marmell’s In Thunder Forged from Pyr Books.  Along with Wrath-Breaking Tree (James Enge) and Kindred and Wings (Philippa Ballantine) that came Thursday and Nebula Awards Showcase (Catherine Asaro, ed.), which arrived last week, that’s four from Pyr in about ten days.  The Marmell and Nebula Awards will be reviewed first since the former will be out in a couple of weeks, and the latter is out already.  That’s not to say some of the other review copies Pyr has sent me won’t end up in the queue in the next couple of weeks.

I’ve also got several titles from Angry Robot in my ereader:  The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig (which I’ve already started and am loving), iD by Madelaine Ashbury, and A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp.

Finally, I’m looking forward to diving into No Return by Zachary Jernigan.  He was kind enough to send me a copy of his first novel.  This one got some good advance buzz, and I love the cover.  It’s up Blue Blazes

Anyway, those are the novels from publishers and authors I’ve agreed to read and review.  I still plan to increase the amount of short fiction I review.  (Sooper Seekrit Project #2 requires me to do so.)  I’m also going to stick in some novels just because I want to read them.

Think all that will keep me busy?

Hunter and Fox is Full of Surprises

Hunter and Fox
Philipa Ballantine
Pyr Books
trade paper $17.32
ebook $10.31 Kindle  Nook

I enjoyed Philipa Ballantine’s Geist very much (reviewed here) and have the sequel Spectyr in the TBR pile, so when an opportunity to get a review copy of her latest book arose, I took advantage of it.  I’m glad I did.

This is different than any of Ms. Ballantine’s work I’ve seen to this point.  I think it’s safe to say Hunter and Fox is different than most fantasy that’s currently out there.  This is a good thing, although trying to pull off a book like this is a challenge for most writers.  By and large, Ms. Ballantine is up for the challenge.

This is a hard book to describe because there are multiple story arcs that intertwine.  I’m only going to give you an idea of the initial set up to avoid spoilers because there are plenty of surprises.  The story takes place in a world where Chaos reigns, with mountains becoming plains or shallow seas, forests turning into deserts, a constantly changing topography, with the flora changing with it.  Or at least it did until a despot known as the Caisah conquered everything and brought stability to large portions of the world.

This world is inhabited by a number of races, all of whom came there through the White Void at different times.  The older races are the more powerful, and the oldest of all is the Vaerli.  When the Caisah came to power, he performed a magical attack against the Vaerli called the Harrowing, which took away most of their abilities.  It also caused any two Vaerli who happen to find themselves in each other’s presence to burst into flame.  This was 300 years ago.  Some of the races, including the Vaerli and the Casisah (whose race is a mystery), are effectively immortal.  They can be killed, but they don’t age.

Talyn is one of the Vaerli.  She is the Caisah’s Hunter, charged with tracking down and killing any enemies he decides need to die.  There have been quite a few such individuals through the years.  Talyn tells herself she’s doing this to help her people.

Finnbarr the Fox is a storyteller who happens to have some small magical abilities.  He loves Talyn.  At one time she loved him, but she’s discarded those memories.  Being immortal, the Vaerli have the ability to excise memories to preserve their sanity.  He’s come to find her.  He’s also fomenting rebellion against the Caisah.

Finnbarr has three companions who are more (and less) than they seem.  Talyn’s brother is out there somewhere.  He’s been given a quest that will have major repercussions.  Before the book is done the players will learn that there are greater things to fear than the Caisah.

This is an ambitious book, original and full of surprises.  My understanding of what was happening changed throughout.  Ballantine doesn’t foreshadow much.  She simply drops information and revelations as she goes along.  You need to be paying attention when you read this one because what you think is happening isn’t necessarily what’s really happening.  There are a number of plot threads hanging and questions unanswered when you close the book.  Who is the boy Finn communicates with through a cat’s cradle?  What’s the story about a group of Vaerli sacrificing their children?  I could go on, but that would be teasing.  Also, many of the questions involve spoilers.

Don’t look for a happy ending in this one.  The last line has to be one of the bleakest and most effective I’ve ever seen.  It’s not so much that the ending is tragic or a cliffhanger, although the end contains aspects of both.  This is a story that isn’t fully told, and I’m not sure wrapping things up in neat resolutions would have been the best way to tell this portion.  There will definitely be another volume, and I hope sales are good enough that Pyr publishes it soon.  I want to know how things get wrapped up.

The only complaint I have is the cover, for two reasons.  First, it implies there’s a greater romance element to the story than there actually is.  Second, Talyn is described more than once as being shorter than the average Vaerli woman, or any woman for that matter, with an olive complexion.  The woman on the cover (that’s not a horse she’s riding, BTW) looks tall and pale. 

My issues with the cover aside, this was a good book, one I recommend.  I’m looking forward to the sequel.  Hunter and Fox is a featured book at Adventures Fantastic Books.

Report on Fencon

Fencon VII/Deep South Con 49 was held in Dallas (well really, Addison), TX on September 23-25.  While I can’t say that a good time was had by all, a good time was certainly had by me.  Everything had a steampunk theme, with many of the guests being steampunk authors.

As usual, there was much more on the programming than I had time to attend.  I didn’t make it to either slide show by the artist guests, Vincent DiFate or Stephan Martiniere. Not because I don’t like those artists.  I do.  It was just that there were other things conflicting with their slideshows.

Rather than try to sum up the whole convention, I’ll hit some of the high points of the events I attended, then post some pictures.

My favorite panel was the one Saturday afternoon devoted to Phineas and Ferb.  Yes, yes it was.  It was the most fun I’ve had at a panel in years.  I hadn’t had a chance to check the schedule in detail before I left, so it was only coincidence when I put on my Perry the Platypus T-shirt that morning.  Really.

I met Phillipa Ballantine (see my review of Geist) and Tee Morris.  They were a lot of fun.  I hope the convention brings them back.  In addition to being two of the nicest people, they were also funny, high energy, and more approachable than many professionals I’ve encountered.

Other good panels include remembrances of the Shuttle, discussions of near space exploration (more than I was able to attend), and a panel on publishing scams that could have been twice as long and still not exhausted the subject.

I got a chance to visit a little with Lou Anders, editor of Pyr books.

There were plenty of room parties, although I found it offensive that the hotel posted a uniformed security guard in the hall near where the parties were being held.

Finally, one of the things I like most about Fencon is there is an entire track of programming devoted to music.  This, I’ve discovered, is a great way to keep me financially solvent  out of the dealer’s room occupied when there’s not a panel or reading I want to attend.  I just read and listen to the music.

I had a good time and came back much more relaxed than when I went.  (I really, really, really needed the break)

Phineas and Ferb Panel

Toastmaster Brad Denton signs for a fan.
Tee Morris and Phillipa Ballantine
Lou Antonelli channels Harlan Ellison by writing in public.

Attendees came from the North, South, East, and West

Publishing scams panel

Who’s Who in the pictures, if not identified in the captions:

1.  l. to r. :  Gloria Oliver, Shanna Swendson, Perry the Platypus, Cathy Clamp, Todd Caldwell, Rhonda Eudaly
2.  Brad Denton and Steven Silver
5.  unidentified
6.  L. to r.:  A. Lee Martinez, Rachel Caine, Tee Morris, Cathy Clamp, Selina Rosen, Amy Sisson
7.  unidentified

Ghosts, Conspiracies, and a Smoking Hot Deacon

Philippa Ballantine
Ace, 294 p., $7.99

That should probably be “deaconess” in the title of this post, but since both male and female holders of that office go by the title of “deacon” in Geist, I’ll stick with Ms. Ballantine’s convention.  Regardless of details of semantics, this was a thoroughly enjoyable novel.  It’s not the author’s first, but it was the first one of hers I’ve read.  It won’t be the last. 

The geists of the title are beings from the Otherside, sort a spirit world, and “geist” is something of a catchall term that could encompass a number of different entities.  They are usually pretty destructive.  They can be a form of ghost or some other malignant being.

The novel probably wouldn’t be considered heroic fantasy in the strictest sense, but there were plenty of heroics.  The setup is this, at least as I understand it.  I may have a couple of the details wrong.  There were no major infodumps; background was filled in as you went along, often from context.  It takes place on continent that had been settled some generations before, although how long ago was a little unclear.  The Deacons long ago cast off all their religious beliefs and are quiet secular in their behavior, as much as they may still function as a religious order at times.  The book opens with Sorcha putting out her cigar on the side of a building.  Anyway, the Deacons are the ones who protect the citizenry against possessions and other attacks from the Otherside.

The current Emperor, or at least his line, hasn’t held the throne long.  Raed Rossin, the son of the former Emperor, is still around and is known by the title of The Young Pretender.  He still has some support, but it’s fading.  When the book opens, he’s surviving as a pirate and is a bit down on his luck.  He also suffers from a curse.  If he spends much time on dry land, he transforms into a Rossin, which is a pretty nasty geist.

The gorgeous woman on the cover is Deacon Sorcha Faris.  Deacons fall into one of two categories, Actives and Sensitives.  Sorcha is an Active, which means she does the fighting.  Sensitives can see Otherside activity as well as know what living creatures are in a given area.  Sensitives and Actives in the field are always paired.  Sorcha is somewhere in her thirties, the most powerful (and feared and beautiful) of the Actives, and has had more partners than most Deacons.  She’s married to her current partner, and the marriage is in trouble. 

When her husband is seriously wounded in an attack in the first chapter, she’s given a new partner, Merrick Chambers.  Sorcha isn’t happy about this.  Merrick has just passed his final test and been made a Deacon.  Although she doesn’t realize it, Merrick has met her before.  When he was a child, he watched Sorcha kill his father.

The pair are given an assignment to investigate trouble at an isolated Priory.  That’s when things really begin to go to the Otherside in a handbasket.  Along the way, they have to be rescued by Raed.  Plenty of sparks ensue, some from conflicting loyalties, some romantic.

There’s plenty of combat and fighting, and while most of it is magical in nature, there’s still a good deal of sword play.  The viewpoints alternate between Sorcha, Merrick, and Raed.  I found this to be very effective, in that when the viewpoint characters had conflicts among themselves, the reader gets to see both sides in detail.  The book is told from their perspectives, and since very little is as it appears to them, there are a good number of surprises.

There are also some unanswered questions that I expect will be resolved in the following books.  The author’s website says there will be at least four.  The second, Spectyr (A Book of the Order), recently hit the shelves.  One of the questions is about the events that led to Raed’s father losing his throne.  Not a lot of details were given in the book.  Also, the Deacons in the book came across the ocean from another continent a few years prior to the book’s opening to clean things up.  The native Deacons had let things get out of hand.  This ties in some way to Raed’s father.

This was an entertaining fantasy adventure/romance.  I’ve not been impressed with this type of blend much in the past.  The ones I’ve read have tended to interject the romance pretty early in the story, and the characters started acting in ways that should have gotten them killed.  That wasn’t the case in this book.  The threat and the conspiracy were well established before the romance really ramped up.  Ms. Ballantine managed to balance the adventure and the romance well.  While I thought the ending wrapped some things up a little too neatly, there are more books in which to address some of the loose ends.

Give this one a try.