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#CBR7 Review #2 – Cairo

CairoTarget: G. Willow Wilson’s Cairo.  Art by M.K. Perker

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Urban, Middle Eastern, Graphic Novel

After Action Report:

Cairo is, in many ways, a prototype for G. Willow Wilson’s later novel, Alif the Unseen.  They are stories of clashing cultures. Both the complex internal clash between Islamic hardliners and the culturally diverse youth of the Middle East, and the more external, if no less complex conflict between encroaching western culture and the entrenched lifestyles of Muslims.  By necessity, Cairo is more spare, crashing through a much simpler plot at breakneck pace, but it manages to hit the same powerful notes that Alif does.

The comic starts as the story of Ashraf, an Egyptian drug smuggler who makes regular runs across the border into Israel.  On one such run, he wrecks his car on a stoned camel (exactly as funny as it sounds), loses his shipment and ends up stealing a hookah from his employer to make some fast cash.  But the hookah is home to a jinn, Shams, a beneficent creature who owns a box that could give control of the entire Middle East to anyone who possesses it.

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#CBR6 Review #24 – New Watch

New WatchTarget: Sergei Lukyanenko’s New Watch.  Translated by Andrew Bromfield (The Watches pentalogy #5)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Horror

After Action Report:

Sergei Lukyanenko ostensibly drew his Watches series to a conclusion with Last Watch, but almost six years later he released a fifth book.  New Watch is a very different kind of novel than its predecessors.  It draws inspiration from other contemporary and urban fantasies, most notably the Harry Potter series.  There is a greater emphasis on the mechanics of the world’s magic system, answering some questions from previous novels, but shifting the tone of the series away from the cerebral contemplation of the battle between good and evil, towards a more action-oriented adventure.  Some of Lukyanenko’s trademark musings remain, but New Watch is clearly written for a slightly different, more global audience than the rest of the pentalogy.

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#CBR6 Review #22 – Last Watch

Last Watch

Target: Sergei Lukyanenko’s Last Watch.  Translated by Andrew Bromfield (The Watches pentalogy #4)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Urban Fantasy

After Action Report:

So, I spent a really unreasonable amount of time waiting for and then looking for the Harper paperback release of Last Watch.  I waited so long that the fifth book in the series was published stateside and my copy actually started to gather dust on my shelf.  Eventually I contacted Harper Collins which prompted a very curt autoreply informing me that they didn’t have the publication rights.  Although the Random House imprint they directed me to doesn’t seem to have the U.S. rights either, so…

Last Watch is the conclusion of all the storylines explored by The Watches books so far.  Mysteries are solved, questions are answered, and actions are (somewhat) justified.  The stakes are higher than ever, with friends pitted against each other and alliances formed from the most unlikely combinations.  Through it all, Lukyanenko maintains his cerebral approach to storytelling, blending action, tension and philosophical exploration almost seamlessly and reminding us that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are rarely the simple constructs we assume them to be.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #11 – Alif the Unseen

Alif the UnseenTarget: G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Religion

Summary: From the dust jacket, “The Unseen:1: anonymity, a space or state of being occupied in order to commit mischief; 2: That which cannot be perceived by human eyes; 3: an unimaginable new dimension of power waiting for someone to grasp it…

In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients–dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups–from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble.  He goes by Alif–the first letter of the Arabic alphabet.  The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his compter has just been breached by the state’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line.

It turns out that his lover’s new fiancé is the “Hand of God,” as they call the head of state security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground.  When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.

After Action Report:

Alif the Unseen is honestly one of the best novels I’ve read in recent memory.  It practically sparkles with fresh ideas and invigorating prose.  Like Throne of the Crescent Moon, I picked up Alif on the recommendation of io9.com’s best speculative fiction of 2012 list, and out of a desire to read more non-Eurocentric fantasy.  But the two books shouldn’t even be compared.  Alif is on a completely different level of fiction, the same level occupied by giants like China Miéville’s Kraken and Neil Gaimen’s American Gods, or perhaps more saliently, his Anansi Boys.

The novel is also a triumph of multiculturalism.  The author, G. Willow Wilson, an American journalist who converted to Islam and moved to Cairo where she wrote for a number of magazines and newspapers, has written a magnificent window into contemporary Middle Eastern culture, and one that stand surprisingly accessible to readers who might not know anything about the history or culture of this incredibly interesting and diverse region.  Where Saladin Ahmed utterly failed to connect with the richness of Arabian and Islamic mythology in his Crescent Moon, Wilson has succeeded in stunning fashion.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #45-54 – The Great Book of Amber

Amber

Target: Roger Zelazny’s The Great Book of Amber (Amber Chronicles #1-10)

Profile: Epic Fantasy, Modern Fantasy

Summary: Taken from the back cover, “Roger Zelazny’s chronicles of Amber have earned their place as all-time classics of imaginative literature.  Now, here are all ten novels, together in one omnibus volume.  Witness the titanic battle for supremacy waged on Earth, in the Courts of Chaos, and on a magical world of mystery, adventure and romance. ”

After Action Report:

Where have you been hiding you ask?  No posts for two weeks?  Nothing to report?  Well here’s your answer.  I was reading all 7000+ pages of Homestuck.  Well, that was one week.  The other week was spent devouring the 1200+ page omnibus of the Chronicles of Amber.  It was actually the webcomic that prompted reading Amber top to bottom again.  The two projects have a lot in common: an expansive multiverse, complex time travel shenanigans, protagonists tied to classic fortunetelling tropes.  And they’re both more than a little confusing in the end.

The Chronicles of Amber span ten books in five book sets.  The first five books deal with Corwin, exiled prince of Amber, and the second five tell the story of Merlin, Corwin’s son and scion of the combined houses of Amber and Chaos.  I am going to segment the review a bit because the two stories are very different from one another.  Corwin’s books feel like a classical fantasy, with some interesting modern elements added for shenanigans sake.  Merlin’s is much more a coming of age story combined with some deep metaphysical conflicts.

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#CBR4 Maneuver #37 – Ghost Story

Target: Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story (Dresden Files #13)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

Summary: Taken from the back cover, ::REDACTED::
The rear cover summary is a major spoiler for the end of Changes (Dresden #12) and has been redacted.

After Action Report:

I have to give this to Jim Butcher: he knows how to drag a series past its expiration date.  Changes, book twelve in this somewhat mammoth sequence, took some major risks and really shook up the Dresden formula.  And ended with a hell of a cliffhanger.  It was/is such a big cliffhanger that I can’t actually talk about the plot of Ghost Story at all without spoiling everything.  So where does Butcher take this embarrassment of storytelling riches?  Straight back into the ground.  Or do I mean grind?

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CBRIII Maneuver #24 – Cybermancy

Target: Kelly McCullough’s Cybermancy

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Greek Mythology, Modern Fantasy.

Summary: From the back of the book, “Not just any computer geek and hack into Hades.  But Ravirn (please don’t call him Raven), a direct descendant of one of the three Fates, is no ordinary hacker.  Magic has gone digital in the twenty-first century, and Ravirn is a sorcerer with a laptop – otherwise known as his shape-changing best friend.

These days, Ravirn’s crashing at his girlfriend’s place while she works on her doctorate in computer science.  Only one problem: all of her research is in her webgoblin’s memory, which is now in Hades along with its soul.  To save Cerice’s webgoblin (and her Ph.D.), Ravirn must brave Hell itself. (Truncated)” Read the rest of this entry

CBRIII Maneuver #19 – Changes (The Dresden Files)

Target: Jim Butcher’s Changes

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Mage Detective

Summary: From the back of the book, “Long ago, Susan Rodriguez was Harry Dresden’s lover-until she was attacked by his enemies, leaving her torn between her own humanity and the bloodlust of the vampiricRed Court. Susan then disappeared to South America, where she could fight both her savage gift and those who cursed her with it.

Now Arianna Ortega, Duchess of theRed Court, has discovered a secret Susan has long kept, and she plans to use it-against Harry. To prevail this time, he may have no choice but to embrace the raging fury of his own untapped dark power. Because Harry’s not fighting to save the world…  He’s fighting to save his child.”

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CBRIII Maneuver #17 – WebMage

Target: Kelly McCullough’s WebMage

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Greek Mythology, Modern Fantasy

Summary: From the back of the book, “Ravirn is not your average computer geek.  A child of the Fates – literally – he’s a hacker extraordinaire who can zero in on the fatal flaw in any program.  Now that twenty-first century magic has gone digital, that makes him a very talented sorcerer.  But a world of problems is about to be downloaded on Ravirn who’s just trying to pass his college midterms. 

Great Aunt Atropos, one of the three Fates, decides that humans having free will is really overrated and plans to rid herself of the annoyance by coding a spell into the Fate Core, the server that rules destiny.  As a hacker, Ravirn is a big believer in free will, and when he not only refuses to debug her spell but actively opposes her, all hell breaks lose.  Read the rest of this entry