Book Review: Discord’s Apple by Carrie Vaughn

Hey there…

There’s nothing like the feeling I get when I discover a new writer. It’s like opening a door to a brave new world. Sometimes I have to admit I don’t like what I find on the other side. But then there are those rare moments when I get there and don’t want to leave. Discord’s Apple from Carrie Vaughn drew me in from the opening chapter and didn’t let me go until I finished the book just a few hours later.

This is the story of Evie Walker, a successful comic book writer from Los Angeles, and her trip home to Hope’s Fort, Colorado, to help her father Frank face his own mortality. It’s also the story of Alex, a stranger who has truly seen it all who is looking for something he can’t seem to find. Together, Evie, Frank, and Alex face new challenges as the mysteries around them deepen and things really hit the fan.

Let me start by saying that, though I love Colorado authors, I’d never read anything by Vaughn. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, which is only a couple of hours away from me in Colorado Springs. And evidently she’s been writing about a werewolf named Kitty for a while now in a series of urban fantasy novels – the latest of which is called Kitty Goes to War. So how have I managed to miss her?

Discord’s Apple was paced amazingly well. From the subtle beginnings of Evie’s drive into the tiny town of Hope’s Fort to the way she slides characters from myth and legend into play alongside the heroes of the comic book Eagle Eye Commandos, the plot builds and beckons the reader ever forward and back from present to past and back again.

But not since reading Dan Simmons‘ books Illium and Olympos, which managed to weave the Trojan War and Greek gods together with a far flung science fiction, have I seen those stories made relevant. Vaugn masterfully tangles the tale of Sinon, the liar who encouraged Troy to open its gates, with a different spin on the Greek gods that grants Sinon the curse of immortality.

Somehow she also manages to mix in the tales of Longinus, Arthur, and the glass slippers of Cinderella while bringing in elements of the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark where a nameless government employee stashed the Ark of the Covenant. Add to that a sprinkle of a world where the balance of power has tipped enough to make everyone paranoid…

However, at no time in the novel did I feel that any of these elements was ever out of control. Somehow she tames these tornadoes, each of which has their own Oz attached, and pulls them into a coherent tapestry of plot, character, and story. I don’t know how she did it. I only know that I really enjoyed it and want to know what happens next!

So if you’re looking for a book for summer reading, be sure to add Discord’s Apple by Carrie Vaughn to your list. It’s a fun ride. Now I have to go back and see what all the fuss is about this werewolf named Kitty…

For more information about Vaughn, be sure to check out her website at CarrieVaugn.com and look for her books published by TOR/FORGE!

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other Carrie Vaughn books below!

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Book Review: Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts

Ok, I’m a bit perplexed…

What is it about sexual hangups in more mature fantasy offerings these days? I’ve run across shame about homosexual feelings, marital infidelity, and spousal abuse in two recent novels from Robin Hobb (The Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven) and now I’ve hit the social and personal stigma of developing a lesbian relationship in J.A. Pitts’ debut fantasy novel – Black Blade Blues. I’d say it was just my imagination, but I don’t think so…

Anyway, Pitts’ novel is an urban fantasy set in the Northwest United States that centers on the life of Sarah Beauhall, a blacksmith by day and a movie props master by night with a love of medieval weapons and armor. As a collector of such forged materials, she has been known to prowl antique auctions offering swords, axes, knives, and such for sale and occasionally acquiring a piece for herself. One such piece is a beautiful black bladed sword.

When the sword is accidentally broken on the set of the latest movie Sarah is helping with, it begins a bizarre chain of events in her life. Offered help by an extra who claims to be a real live dwarf, Sarah is thrust into a world where dragons are real and magic exists. When she fixes the sword on her anvil, she becomes the central figure in a new cycle where myths and legends not only walk the Earth, but threaten the very lives of Sarah and her friends.

In recent years, beginning with Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods, the upcoming Thor movie from Marvel in 2011, and most recently with Jim Butcher‘s latest Dresden Files novel Changes, Norse gods such as Odin, Thor, Loki, and Sif have found their way into modern works of fantasy. And I have to admit that I absolutely love this trend. For far too long the gods of Asgard have remained dormant and it’s great to see them stalking the pages of fiction once more.

But back to the sexual revolution in modern fantasy for a moment… Sarah is estranged from her father, a devout believer in the Christian God and a misogynist who seems to believe that women should serve men and not get in their way. And she’s dealing with the new love she feels for her girlfriend Katie, a schoolteacher who knows who she is and what she wants – and that is Sarah. Sarah unfortunately isn’t so sure and struggles with feelings of shame brought on by her father’s intolerance for anything other than the union of a man and a woman…

I think I get it now that I’ve had time to consider it a bit. Finding yourself and your loves is a quest all of us is on throughout most of our lives. And weaving the storyline of self-discovery into the novel as Sarah goes from self-doubt about her relationship with Katie to somewhere nearing acceptance balances out the supernatural story elements surrounding the sword. It’s just interesting to see that these more modern relationships, unbounded by the “traditional” union of man and woman, are working their way into what I think of as mainstream fiction. Really it’s probably overdue.

Honestly, I was surprised to discover that this was a debut novel. The 400+ pages of Black Blade Blues went extremely quickly. As I learned more of how Pitts intertwined interpretations of Norse myths into a modern setting, it picked up speed and didn’t let me go. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Sarah Beauhall, Katie, and the rest of their friends as they deal with a world of dragons, dwarves, and magic. If you like urban fantasy and are looking for a female answer to Harry Dresden, be sure to check it out at your favorite bookstore!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Black Blade Blues from Barnes & Noble today!

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[Book Review] Christopher Farnsworth’s Blood Oath

Hi again…

In 1867, some believe that Andrew Johnson – a president whose term was rife with controversy – pardoned someone accused of vampirism. This bizarre piece of history inspired author Christopher Farnworth to write a story about that accused vampire, which developed into Blood Oath. I was sucked into this story and it didn’t let me go – I devoured the whole thing in a weekend.

Consider this tiny, obscure fact as a “What If”… What if there was a vampire working for the President of the United States behind the scenes, handling supernatural threats that the regular police, military, and intelligence forces of the United States could not handle themselves? Now consider 140 years of such threats against the United States and the many wars and enemies we have faced in that time… Look back through the years… We currently have the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Before that was the First Gulf War, the Cold War, Vietnam, Korea, World War II, World War I, the Spanish-American War… And the countless insurgencies, enemies, and tyrants here and there around the world doing evil in the name of whatever ideology they follow.

If a vampire exists, then what other mad scientists, monsters, or creations may be roaming the world as well? Imagine if the Nazis had developed super soldiers or harnessed the artifacts collected for Hitler’s fascination with the supernatural? Consider a world filled with nasty creatures in the dark corners we don’t shine light on because we don’t want to see what’s there…

Now give our vampire hero the strength, brains, and determination of Jack Bauer along with the technology and intelligence-gathering abilities of the United States government. He’d be one heck of a force to be reckoned with. Do you think he’d develop an ego over that century and a half?

But our intrepid author doesn’t stop there. To spice things up, he adds a new liason to the Oval Office into the mix – Zach Barrows, a young, politically-savvy, hot-headed and impetuous individual. After a poor choice in lovers (dating the President’s daughter doesn’t help your career much), Zach finds himself in a world he didn’t know existed and doesn’t want to be in – especially since he’s paired up with Nathaniel Cade, the vampire sworn to protect the President of the United States for the last 140 years.

Through Barrows’ eyes, Farnsworth takes us down the rabbit hole into Cade’s world as he and Zach try to stop a madman from unleashing a biological weapon in the US. And it is one heck of a crazy ride – but one I’d be willing to go on again. His style reads fast and the world he’s describing sucked me in faster than you could say “vampire.” The text on the back cover alone got my attention, but once I started reading I couldn’t stop.

My only knock on the book (and it’s a very small knock) is the similarity to the Hellboy comic and movie series – a young outsider thrust into a world of dark, supernatural secrets and horrors under the tutelage of a more experienced individual or team. But the apprentice/master approach to storytelling has been around as long as people have been telling stories and the backstory and action of Farnsworth’s world is far too entertaining to let a little Hellboy spoil the mood.

I want to know more about this world of Nathaniel Cade and learn about some of the things we didn’t know were going on in this alternate world where horrors are real and we’re not at the top of the food chain! Be sure to pick up your copy of Christopher Farnsworth’s Blood Oath and get sucked into the tales of the President’s vampire! Let’s hope Nathaniel Cade can keep us safe until Farnsworth reveals what’s next for our undead hero.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this book and other great urban fantasies with vampires at Barnes & Noble!

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