book reviews by Althea

Operation Arcana – John Joseph Adams, ed.

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**   RULES OF ENCHANTMENT—David Klecha & Tobias S. Buckell
Tolkien’s world and our own have had a portal open between them. It’s taking both modern military technology and strategic alliances to fight off threats such as trolls and dragons. Unfortunately, I didn’t really like the second-person voice, and the tongue-in-cheek style with geeky references to D&D and the LoTR movies didn’t do it for me either.

**** THE DAMNED ONE HUNDRED—Jonathan Maberry
Classic sword-and-sorcery, plus vampires, plus a situation reminiscent of the Battle of Thermopylae. I really enjoyed this one.

**** BLOOD, ASH, BRAIDS—Genevieve Valentine
Historically interesting, AND a rousing good tale. A group of Russian WWII fighter pilots, all women, are assigned horribly dangerous missions. A bit of witchcraft may help them stay alive…

**** MERCENARY’S HONOR—Elizabeth Moon
I’m sure a lot of people will buy this anthology just for this story – a ‘Paksworld’ tale – and I don’t believe they’ll be disappointed. Familiar characters (including Kieri Phelan and Halveric) make their appearance, but this is a fully stand-alone, and cleverly entertaining tale of two mercenary commanders and how they work out a situation which initially seems untenable for both of them.

***  THE GUNS OF THE WASTES—Django Wexler
Bonus points for being what I personally feel that steampunk ought to be (weird sci-fi, not faux-Victorian romance). However, this is really a fun action scene with quirky characters, rather than a fully-developed story. It feels like (and I hope it might be) an excerpt from a forthcoming novel.

I really enjoy Yoon Ha Lee’s takes on the ideas of lexical magic. I found echoes here of some of her other work: ‘Effigy Nights’ and ‘Iseul’s Lexicon’ – but this is a piece that works on its own.
A brilliant magician has been forced into a dangerous military position in official retribution for the groundbreaking – but status-quo-threatening – ideas she came up with in university. Now, her mission will require her to explore even more radical ideas – and may demand the ultimate self-sacrifice.

***  AMERICAN GOLEM—Weston Ochse
The main character goes AWOL in Afghanistan to pursue his true mission: to kill the Osama-bin-Laden-like terrorist who was responsible for his brother’s death. The twist is: the ‘brother’ is actually a golem, created just for this purpose. The author has clearly drawn on his own experiences in Afghanistan to inform this story.

A long and rather harrowing story of a group of goblins from a nomadic tribe who have been taken  prisoner by their enemies. It’s a quite bleak and agonizing experience.

***  HEAVY SULFUR—Ari Marmell
Alternate-history WWI, with trench warfare and mages on both sides summoning spirits and demons. A dangerous mission behind enemy lines, with a magical element thrown into the mix.

***  STEEL SHIPS—Tanya Huff
A quick, action-oriented episode. Selkie-type shapeshifters in the midst of a war come up with a dangerous mission to protect their side from the threat of the enemy’s new ironclad riverboats. Feels like an excerpt from a longer tale.

*** SEALSKIN—Carrie Vaughn
A burnt-out American military man goes to Ireland, like so many tourists, in search of his ‘roots’ – and faces a dramatic decision about which part of his heritage to choose to follow.

***  PATHFINDER—T.C. McCarthy
In an underground military hospital complex in Korea, a young nurse fulfills her traditional/supernatural role of escorting the souls of the dead to the afterlife. However, both her jobs are full of more than the usual hazards, both paranormal and mundane.

**** BONE EATERS—Glen Cook
The Black Company is back! And in classic form! This is another one where fans of the series may very well find this one story alone worth the price of admission.
I’ll defer to those who are more detail-oriented if I’m wrong, but the events here seem to take place around the time of the events in ‘The White Rose.’ Croaker is the annalist and narrator, and Darling is the leader of the Company. The group is magically led to a village of Hungry Ghosts, and must use ingenuity to escape and/or nullify the threat.
Will Cook’s long-promised further entries into this series be finally forthcoming soon? We can only hope…

**   MOON—Simon R. Green
This is an example of exactly what I don’t like alternate history to do. It takes a morally and politically complex real-life situation (the bombing of Dresden) and attempts to remove any ambiguity from it by adding in a compelling reason for the attack which never existed, and quite literally making it a battle between the forces of Good and Evil, complete with a misguided, traitorous opponent to the action. I’m sure some will see this as nothing more than an action story, but I see it as a misguided attempt to assuage historical guilt through rewriting.

**** IN SKELETON LEAVES—Seanan McGuire
Recommended for those who enjoyed Lisa Jensen’s ‘Alias Hook’ and/or who are interested in darker explorations of the Peter Pan story. What happened in Neverland after the stories of Peter that we’re all familiar with? Is the otherworld as stable as it seemed, or might it change, gradually and depending on the children that are brought to it? Children can be not just heartless, but vicious, and there’s always a disturbing aspect to not growing up.

*** THE WAY HOME—Linda Nagata
A military team has somehow been caught in a hostile otherworld populated my attacking demons. By trial and error, they’ve learned that each death opens a temporary portal home – for only one soldier. Can the commander manage to get every member of his team home safely?

Many thanks to NetGalley and Baen books for the opportunity to read this anthology of quality military fantasy! As always, my opinion is solely my own.


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