Wednesday, November 30, 2016

[Book Review] The Masked City

The Masked City (The Invisible Library #2) / Genevieve Cogman

Previously Reviewed:

The Masked City starts up on the heels of the events in The Invisible Library.  Irene and Kai have their hands full with magical and political shenanigans that an alternate London infected with elves can throw at them.  Add in the complications of dragon families (Kai) and other duties that pull in different directions, things get messy quite quickly for this Librarian and her apprentice.  This story continues in the same narrative style and flow as it's predecessor, merging wit, magic, and fantastic contraptions all together.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Roc (Penguin RandomHouse) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Return of the Read - Book 5, Chapter 2

The Fellowship and the narrative at this point is well and truly shattered.  Frodo, Samwise, and the Ring are within Mordor, Boromir slain, and Gandalf and Peregrin to Gondor, Aragron seeking the Paths of the Dead with Gimli and Legolas, and Meriadoc entering the service of Thoden.  Each living group still works towards the same ultimate goal, but their actions and efforts are connected with shepherding different forces and strands of the story.  With what foggy memories I have of the last time I read this book, I believe further fracturing will continue.  This may however be the rawest separation.  Merry and Pippin nearly never are seen without the other.  The Merry and Pippin who will meet again will not be the same, and will have changed without the other.  Now each is without the other and facing drastically different decisions and personal growth, though in interestingly parallel paths.

Personally, I always feel a company of Rangers showing up signals some sort of excitement and adventure.  Then when one comes with a message for Aragorn bearing the words "The days art short.  If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead."  Well, you know some sort of destiny claiming shit is going down.  Arwen's gift, as we will soon see, just further supports that.  Not that the title of this book isn't a big spoiler...

Of course, the nature and source of the summons that brought the Dunedain is up for discussion, Galadriel, Gandalf, or even Elrond or Arwen, though no one seems to think of the latter two.  The wisdom and sight of Elrond is well considered in other areas of the story, and not only do they come bearing a banner made by his daughter, but his sons ride as well.

Gimli remarks that he and Legolas should have wished for some of their own kin, which leads me to wonder the situation within the Mirkwood.  Legolas replies "I do not think that any would come... They have no need to ride to war; war already marches on their own lands."  After The Hobbit a blow was dealt to the shadows that lay over the Greenwood, but it remains marked as the Mirkwood.  What did his kin and lands face when he left to seek Elrond's council and join the Fellowship?

The Lord of the Rings is often considered something of a bro-fest due to the strong lack of female characters even in supporting roles.  I have to say though, painful romantic pining aside, I like a lot of what Tolkien does with Eowyn here (and it's worth noting how Alan Lee also painted her as well, dressed for war not the hearth - she's made out far more traditionally feminine in the film up through here, including wearing a courtly dress in camp).  Her voice is strong and powerful, calling out the role she is dealt again and again regardless of her ability to fully serve.  She is right to fear a cage, that is too easily the shape her life can take.

Under the ground, in a cavern even Gimli balks at entering, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and the Dunedain take the Paths of the Dead, with an army of fallen gathering behind them.

After the darkness of the last few chapters, and the ending of the last film, we get a celebration of the lives lost and of the lives that remain.  Order has been shuffled around a little bit, as in this post-battle wake we see Merry and Pippin bringing their own joy of life to the party, and the Palantir handling does not come up for a few scenes.  But more than that the overall feeling here is of hope, even with the acknowledgement of lurking shadow.

Mixed in the points of this chapter is some content I've already touched on, namely dealing with Arwen and Elrond.  Arwen choosing mortality and the (seriously belated and obviously aided by magic) reforging of Narsil.  So moving on. 

The rest of this chapter has to be sought out in the film, split into several sections that seem to attempt to connect these events happening into a more linear rather than parallel narrative.  The gain is more growth of Theoden as a leader and a character, the loss is deliberate planning to travel to the Paths of the Dead, instead they oddly camp at the entrance way (yes Legolas, the horses are restless), and get Aragorn staring uncomfortably down a ghostly chasm.  We lose some of Eowyn's more powerful dialog, and get it reinterpreted instead instead as a defense of Merry fighting.

I'm of mixed opinion regarding the dream sequence, but I suppose they wanted to loop in Aragorn as to Arwen's decision on a mystical level before he finds out from her father.  I'm not a fan of some of Elrond's dialog, but I rarely fail to enjoy Hugo Weaving's delivery.  My problem here is the "lets add extra drama and internal conflict" in what's a rather powerful build up regardless (plus, Aragorn should have had the sword already).  Why remove the company of Rangers, the simple message of council, Arwen's gift, and instead have him almost sneak off in the night with only Gimli and Legolas for company. 

Again, I'm still left wondering why the hell they would camp on the edge of a place considered so cursed, but I guess it shortens travel time, and Legolas serves well to rely the otherwise expository information.  Visually, the journey they make differs from what I expect based on the text, with the ruined city and it's defiant ghostly king.  The brief armed stand off gives the claiming of destiny and some drama that I suppose was felt otherwise unfulfilled by a proclamation in the darkness.

[Book Review] Dark Orbit

Dark Orbit / Carolyn Ives Gilman

I'd managed to both hear a lot about Dark Orbit and yet retain nearly nothing about it going in.  It seemed like it would be a good Virtual Speculation pick, so I threw it on the list for October.

On the surface Dark Orbit is a SpecFic re-imagining of Country of the Blind (with less xenophobia).  Saraswati Callicot spends her life leaping across decades as she explores new worlds reachable only through FTL travel.  When she's sent on a new mission to secretly keep an eye on Thora Lassiter and the trouble that may seek her out, she expects little issue.  But the world they visit defies expectation or experience, and presents dangers that could never be anticipated.

In many ways this is a book about perception.  How our perceptions shape everything we encounter, and how others perceptions shape us.  For all that the story involves both a murder and a missing persons investigation as well as natural disaster, the narrative tends towards the cerebral over action yet retains some of the grandeur of a space opera.

Discussion Fodder:
  • How does the story discuss the concept of self?  How does translation and reconstitution effect the self?  What about beminding?  How does perception of the characters shape and effect the narrative?
  • Does, as Thora say, understanding destroy unfamiliarity?  What exactly does that mean?
  • What exactly is beminding?  Is it unique to the application of wending, or is it something that ties into real life?
  • In a conversation between Ashok and David we hear "That's what buzzwords are.  Tranquilizers."  "Thought suppressants, you mean."  What do you think the roles of buzzwords are?
  • How does the story handle blindness?  What did the author get right, what is wrong?  How do the characters (mis)interpret sightedness and blindenss?  What examples of assistive and adaptive technology show up?
  • The women of Orem worship Witassa, the Shameless One in secret.  What is the power of shame or of being shameless?
  • How does the narrative balance mysticism and science?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

[Book Review] How to Train Your Highlander

How to Train Your Highlander (Broadswords and Ballrooms #3) / Christy English

She’s the Hellion of Hyde Park…
A foolproof plan to avoid marriage:
1. Always carry at least three blades.
2. Ride circles around any man.
3. Never get caught in a handsome duke’s arms.
Wild Highlander Mary Elizabeth Waters is living on borrowed time. She’s managed to dodge the marriage banns up to now, but even Englishmen can only be put off for so long…and there’s one in particular who has her in his sights. 
Harold Percy, Duke of Northumberland, is enchanted by the beautiful hellion who outrides every man on his estate and dances Scottish reels while the ton looks on in horror. The more he sees Mary, the more he knows he has to have her, tradition and good sense be damned. But what’s a powerful man to do when the Highland spitfire of his dreams has no desire to be tamed...
In most ways this is your standard fiesty-lady historical romance, and if that's your itch to scratch I heartily recommend it.

I tend to be a bit pickier at times, so this didn't really hit what I was looking for.  Decently constructed, and let's be honest, I'm a sucker for a deadly and intelligent leading lady.  But the courtship drama is a bit over drawn-out, and Duke Harry's ideas of exerting his male dominance in a relationship and in the bedroom had me rolling my eyes at best.  I'm really not sure how, outside of a BDSM romance, threatening a grown woman with a spanking is supposed to be a part of courtship.  I might have not minded if Mary Elizabeth did some damage to his august personage, he kind of deserved being put in his place.

I definitely picked up the book because of the title.  With a title that, to me, riffs off of How to Train Your Dragon, I wanted a little more humor and certainly more fieriness in the characters.  What I got was a little more run-of-the mill than I hoped for, but by no means is a poorly written book.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of SOURCEBOOKS Casablanca via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Return of the Read - Book 5, Chapter 1

Two-thirds of our way through Lord of the Rings now.  If you're a little fuzzy about what we've read on our journey so far make sure to stop and read through the Preface to get back up to speed.  Hopefully with life settling down for me again I'll be able to stay on top of the schedule again.

However, for now we'll have to leave Sam and Frodo and go back to the other members of the Fellowship.  In particular, we're back with Pippin and Gandalf, as they ride to Minas Tirith.

This is our first visitation of Minas Tirith and of Gondor, and Tolkien gives us both its splendor and it's ruin.  Architecturally, the city still stands glorious, but it has diminished over the years as the population diminishes and age takes its toll.  To me the strongest signifier of Gondor's decline is the tree.

Denethor is a man deep within his grief and constrained by his pride.  There is a madness underlying his speech and action, born from many sources but perhaps triggered by the hurt of loss.  I also wonder at the seeming glamour of him, where he has a majesty that perhaps diminishes the perception of Gandalf's power.  Some of it does come from his lineage, a heritage that interestingly Faramir possesses and Boromir did not.  More than most men, Denethor has the potential to be great, as does his surviving son and as does the rightful King of Gondor.  We can't completely fault him his pride either, his family has stood as Stewards for generations, all but kings, and they stand as the wall between sides in a conflict that has spanned the ages of Middle Earth.

Pippin makes a gamble, swearing himself into the service of Gondor, though he may not have perceived it as so.  I wonder if the symbolism of his father's name was deliberate, or something that came together as the story developed.  With the depth invested in these stories, I lean towards a deliberate act to give Pippin's father the name Paladin, a title/honorific for a knight renowned for heroism and chivalry.  Regardless of actions and destiny to come, right now his sworn service comes with advantages, some possibly helped by the seeming harmlessness of the friendly little halfling.  Were he a spy with nefarious intent things would go poorly for Gondor, as it is, just virtue or his friendly nature and connection to rumors of hope, Pippin learns quite a bit that could serve to advantage.

In addition to everything we've read, we get a few scenes thrown in here between when Gandalf and Pippin ride off from Aragorn and company.  In particular we get the Reforging of Narsil.. which should have happened back when they were gearing up to set out (the shards of Narsil reforged into Andurill), as well as a vision by Arwen that imparts a bunch of (what I believe is) appendix and supplemental material regarding Arwen's future life with Aragorn.  It gives us a little more time with Jackson's interpretation of Arwen and Elrond.  It's not my particularly favorite scene, it lacks the weight it deserves for the emotional conflicts present.

But then we get back to the business at hand, with Pippin and Gandalf riding into Gondor.  I cannot fault the city as shown to us on the screen.  It definitely is a thing of grandeur.  The tree is more specifically brought to our attention, but not exactly in relation to it's dying state, just that it is a tree of Kings and Denethor is not a king but is a proud man.  Most of the lead up to the meeting between Gandalf, Denethor, and Pippin is stripped away... and in this case I think it was a good decision.  The result is a very strong scene, and one that reveals more Denethor's pride, anger, and grief.  I think it serves to the narrative benefit to cut out Pippin's social successes among the soldiers and townfolk.  Instead what we get are some very powerful, and a few lightly humorous, moments between Pippin and Gandalf that might be otherwise lost.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Towering Read - Book 4, Chapter 10

My summary of this chapter: Samwise is the goddamn hero of this book, and honestly, a better friend and protector than Frodo ever is.  They may be friends, but the dynamic favors Frodo strongly, perhaps due to lingering status as Sam's master/employer.  Frodo inherited the Ring, but he's never really been all that full of the Tookishness that pulled his uncle through all sorts of adventures.

Without Sam, this story would be much shorter and with a darker end for our friends.  Starting in The Fellowship of the Ring, I commented that Sam was the true heir of Bilbo... and I think this chapter really encapsulates that.  Among other things, we have parallels between Bilbo vs Smaug and Sam vs Shelob with actual references to the difference between her and a dragon.  Sam, not Frodo with his noble and elvish air, is the hobbit to surprise others with his courage, dedication, and even wits.  Of course, Sam, like Bilbo, is also the one to wish he was at home by the fire with a good meal.

When Sam wears the Ring we get descriptions of how his perception and perhaps even place in the world changes, and I think this might be what inspired how they portrayed the experience of wearing the Ring in the movies.
"The world changed, and a single moment of time was filled with an hour of thought.  At once he was aware that hearing was sharpened while sight dimmed, but otherwise than in Shelob's lair.  All things about him now were not dark but vague; while he himself was there in a grey hazy world, alone, like a small black solid rock, and the Ring, weighing down his lieft hand, was like an orb of hot gold.  He did not feel invisible at all, but horribly and uniquely visible; and he know that somewhere an Eye was searching for him."
Then think about how the world shifts when anyone dons the Ring in the films.  The color drains away, voices sound both distant and threatening, and the searching Eye.

Of course, we have one full book left so things will not end here, with orcs finding and taking Frodo into custody, and the revelation that he's merely poisoned.  Whoops.

Before wrapping this up, I also want to take a moment to talk about the orcs.  We generally think of the orcs as not much more than violent, blood-lusting, barely intelligent or verbal thugs.  But, they really aren't.  Well, they are a bit violent and prone to what we might consider less civilized behavior (though the Klingons would disagree on that point), but we do need to remember that they are a mirror of elves.  What Sam overhears could be the words from any fantasy setting soldiers.  There's nothing particularly nasty about their words, nor anything particularly inhuman either considering their discomfort with Shelob, the Nazgul, and others under Sauron's banner.  Even their fears about a great warrior loose behind their lines speak of a humanity of sorts that we often forget the orcs are capable of, instead generally seeing them as a nearly unstoppable and faceless enemy.  Not that this is completely uncalled for - they are fearsome and ruthless, prone to cruel humor, and not above eating the flesh of other humanoids.  But they are also aware that very little in the world looks upon them with favor and are afraid of things that go bump in the night.

When looking at how this scene is mixed into the film I feel I need to start with the fact that "The Choices of Master Samwise" is scene 33 out of 60 in The Return on the King.  There is some logic from a chronological stand point and from the intent to build to suspense, but it's also a bit disorienting for this sort of comparison.

Sam's heroism here loses the internal motivation and reactions, and parts of it are more matter of fact and less desperate.  His grief comes across well but I feel like the scene could have benefited from expressions of Sam's fear mixed with his bravery.  We don't get much insight into the orcs, Jackson doesn't spend much time showing them as more than warrish brutes, just giving us enough conversation to clue us in that Frodo still lives.  I like the complexity Tolkien gave, but in cinema it is easier to keep the enemy as just the enemy, especially when the film already sprawls.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Towering Read - Book 4, Chapter 9

Spiders.  Not a fan here, and clearly neither was Tolkien.  This isn't the first time we've come across giant hobbit-eating spiders in Middle Earth, and not the first time the Ring bearer has encountered one.  Shelob... is something more than just a large spider however.  "She that walked in darkness had heard the Elves cry that cry far back in the deeps of time, and she had not heeded it, and it did not daunt her now."  She is ancient and intelligent in her own right, bearing power and rational thought when faced with a threat, and not exactly a spider depending on how you read "an evil thing in spider-form."

Out of all the passages intended to evoke unease, this chapter probably tops it not only for me but for many readers.  The writing is evocative in setting and pulls on a unease many people feel in regards to spiders.

I'm not sure what I think about the addition in the film of Gollum framing Samwise for the loss of the rest of the food.  It does incorporate some of the better lines we'd otherwise lose, and gives us action instead of more walking and huddling.  But it unconvinces me, parts feeling out of character and overacted.  The best parts are carried by Sean Astin, and I say that as someone who is usually a great fan of the life Andy Serkis brings to Gollum.  We've started entering the part of the film where I just really don't care about Frodo... it's just so much forced angst and a permanent look of nausea.  Seriously, I keep expecting Elijah to vomit.

Side note, is it just me, or is Frodo's hair awfully fluffy and luxurious for someone roughing it?  My hair would be half flat to my head and the other half sticking up in a squirrley faux-hawk.

Interestingly, we don't get the penultimate chapter of The Two Towers until scene 29 in The Return of the King.  Looking back at what we've watched so far, much of the stronger parts of this translation do not feature the Ring or the Ring bearer, with instead a narrative focus on the adventurous heroics rather than the descent into darkness required to save the world.  This shift isn't new to The Return of the King, but it feels more marked as we start the final movie.

One thing we do gain from the splitting of Sam and Frodo is a more realized sense of betrayal within the lair, and much of the lair is well built to inspire disgust and fear.  Unfortunately, for me, Shelob only half succeeds.  At times she succeeds in instilling arachnid-inspired chills, but parts seem almost comical and a level of fear is almost lost by the visual reveal.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Towering Read - Book 4, Chapter 8

In the shadow of Cirith Ungol there is no question that we are completely within enemy territory.  The Ring reminds us of it's true allegiance and we witness a large host ride forth, led by the Witch-King of Angmar.  Frodo retains enough self-awareness and will to refrain from putting on the ring, but I find following passage quite telling.
"He knew that the Ring would only betray him, and that he not, even if he put it on, the power to face the Morgul-king - not yet."

NOT YET.  About that...

For not the last time, the vial of elven starlight proves to hold some virtue that drives away Sauron's shadow.  It's one of those things that we're given without full context here, but fits logic expanded on in other texts by Tolkien.  For now, we have to be satisfied that there is something about elvish nature itself that is anthema against Sauron's darkness.

To me the exchange between Sam and Frodo as they discuss how their adventure will be remembered as fanciful fireside tales is touching and sweet.
"No, they never end as tales," said Frodo.  "But the people in them come, and go when their part's ended.  Our part will end later - or sooner."
There is hope in it, hope that they will succeed to be remembered, as failure means few if any people to remember their quest.  Not only that, but I feel this nod acknowledges the importance of stories in our lives, be it our own story another's.  Stories come up regularly in Lord of the Rings, through history, song, or entertainment.

"Why, even Gollum might be good in a tale, better than he is to have by you, anyway.  And he used to like tales himself once, by his own account.  I wonder if he thinks he's the hero or the villain?"

Frodo is right - Gollum desperately wants to keep the ring out of Saron's grasp.  One thing I think the film touches on is that Gollum may be both the hero and villain of his story.  He still holds on to some of his humanity, something we see in moments such as when he watches the hobbits sleeping.

I feel like this chapter argues against the fight inserted earlier on in the films, before Frodo and Sam went free, regardless of it's role in transitioning between the second and third film.  We witness a great outpouring of host against the Men of Gondor, makes the hunting party combat a bit superfluous.

I'm also going to step a bit outside of the book narrative to give special mention to the addition that opens the film - the finding of the Ring and birth of Gollum.  Plus a moment to let Andy Serkis shine as an actor with his own face.  I like that they chose to showcase the tragedy of the Ring's influence, Smeagol's shocked mourning then triumph with the Ring in his hand.  Especially in this third film, Jackson frames Gollum by his tragedy, not just his villainy.

Back to the text comparison, Cirith Ungol looms as a dark and otherworldly fortress.  My impressions from the text are of a dark looming city, what the film gives us doesn't match with what I pull from the text, but works well none-the-less.  The Highlander-esque column of light does link the disparate parties together in experience, but out of the methods to heighten tension and represent Frodo's inner battle, it feels less successful than other aspects.  Frodo's suceptability to suggestion that Sam wants the Ring for himself works well for me as a supplement to the inner-battle that Frodo is slowly losing, and something that we don't really get to see as they hide from the dark host marching to war.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

[Book Review] Unmasking Miss Appleby

Unmasking Miss Appleby (Baleful Godmother #1) / Emily Larkin

On her 25th birthday, Charlotte Appleby receives a most unusual gift from the Faerie godmother she never knew she had: the ability to change shape. 
Penniless and orphaned, she sets off for London to make her fortune as a man. But a position as secretary to Lord Cosgrove proves unexpectedly challenging. Someone is trying to destroy Cosgrove and his life is increasingly in jeopardy. 
As Charlotte plunges into London’s backstreets and brothels at Cosgrove’s side, hunting his persecutor, she finds herself fighting for her life—and falling in love…

Likely unsurprising confession here: I'm a sucker for all manner of gender-swap stories.  So when I went looking for something light and fun to read, this definitely looked to fit the bill... and it delivered.

I have some quibbles with it.  I'm so fed up with the bleeding virgin plot gimmick... and the ways it is executed here are particularly ridiculous (in one case it involves at least day old blood on a handkerchief, the other involves a someone who can shapeshift so I'm pretty sure if she was set on deceit faking an unbroken hymen wouldn't be hard).  I can't really argue at Cosgrove's freakout in response to discovering that his male secretary and the young lady he has become enamored with are one in the same.  What he says and how he acts is upsetting... but it's also rather true to form within a structured society and mindset regarding gender and sexuality.

But there's a lot to like here, and I particularly like the aspect of a resentful fairy godmother.  The relationships develop playfully, and the clues to discover who is threatening Cosgrove are well threaded.  It's a fun light fantasy, historical romance read.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Red Adept Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Towering Read - Book 4, Chapter 7

Faramir sends our fair hobbits back on their path, gifted with provisions and +2 walking staves.  I can't help but remain suspicious of Gollum and the noted "he seemed better pleased with himself," but then I have read this before and know what he's leading them into.  The leave taking here to some extend mirrors the entering of Lothloiren, but bleaker and more barren as befits the closer proximity to the darkness.  Upon entering the woods the party all donned blindfolds, even those exempted, and on meeting the Lady Galadriel received guidance/prophesy and gifts.  From Faramir they receive gifts, warning, and the hobbits down blindfolds even when released from that requirement.

In Gollum's defense, he does commit to shepherding Frodo and Samwise.  That he is shepherding them to a death of his choosing is almost a moot point... after all isn't that what shepherds do in the long run?  He no longer possesses the awareness or the empathy to understand how hobbit needs differ from his own (such as dietary preferences and needs), but if Frodo (and at this point Samwise is part of the package) stray from the route he leads them on or die through other means, the Ring may be lost to him.
Sam stared at him suspiciously: he seemed frightened or excited.  "Go now?  What's your little game?  It isn't time yet.  It can't be tea-time even, leastways not in decent places where there is tea-time."

"Silly!" hissed Gollum.  "We're not in decent places.  Time's running short, yes, running fast.  No time to lose.  We must go.  Wake up, Master, wake up!"
Yet, for the clear darkness our party is walking both literally and figuratively into, the chapter ends with a note of inspiration.  The defaced statute of a King long past has it a living crown of silver and gold, small star flowers growing across his brow.

As mentioned with last chapter's write up, a bit of extra content shows up in the film and significantly changes the circumstances of their send off.  The chapter as we read it here does not exist in the movie, Jackson taking the narrative and cinematic focus in a different direction.  The contrast between the battle in the East and in the West does work well, if dragging things out, and the absence of Gollum focusing on his thoughts rather than the tired hobbits confirms the viewer suspicions and builds tension as Jackson brings film number two to a close.

The narrative purposes of these two chapters, as told by Tolkien in the book and Jackson in the film stand opposite.  Tolkien is still bringing us to the close of this book, bringing us further into shadow and despair.  Jackson's narrative arc has shifted this, each movie intertwining the two relevant books, and then stopping several chapters from the end at moments of uncertainty and tension before resolving the most present threat at the start of the next film.  I've been known to complain about how poorly the ending of The Return of the King is handled, and I will likely complain about it again, but looking back on both The Fellowship of the Ring and now The Two Towers I'm wondering if endings themselves are the problem with how Jackson works with this narrative.  We'll see in a few months how it goes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

[Blog Tour] An Import of Intrigue

An Import of Intrigue (Maradaine Constabulary #2) / Marshall Ryan Maresca

Previously reviewed: A Murder of Mages (Maradaine Constabulary #1)

Like A Murder of Mages, An Import of Intrigue jumps right into the action with Inspectors Rainey and Welling.  Actually, the death they start off investigating... and the following debacle with a pit bear are almost tame considering the tempest brewing within the neighborhood of Little East.  A murder of a foreign dignitary with staged clues to point blame at the different (and at times conflicting) Eastern Immigrant cultures.  Pasts, present, and politics all come to a head as tempers spark riots and threaten a citywide war.

A solid sequel, but even with country names An Import of Intrigue still fails to escape the trappings of an almost standard fantasy Sherlockian Europe.  The novel tackles racism and sexism with mixed success.  The women are strong, often complex, and often undervalued.  The cultures read a bit too familiar to stereotypes of our Middle and Far Easts.  The book itself however handles multiple narratives and themes well, all while delivering a action-packed story.

Overall, Maresca has created a richly realized world for both his Maradine and Maradine Constabulary series.

Special Guest Content from author Marshall Ryan Maresca:
IMACHAN : Culture Report
An Import of Intrigue takes place in a part of the city of Maradaine called "The Little East”, a handful of blocks populated by enclaves of immigrants and foreigners from all over the larger world. Most citizens of Maradaine avoid these enclaves, and their only understanding of other countries and cultures comes from Augustine Montrose’s memoir, My Travels of the World. Here we look at an excerpt from his book, where he talks about one of the cultures encountered in An Import of Intrigue.

Any seasoned traveller knows that Imachan is not a singular nation, but ten distinct and unique countries, united through a shared faith. Strictly speaking, the full name for what we consider Imachan is, “The Grand Confederated Nation of the Faithful to his High Holiness the Cehlat of Imachan”. But this confederacy is incredibly loose, and the borders between the countries involved are definitive and strict.

The Imach faith has noted similarities to our own and the Acserian faith. All three believe in a single God who safeguards the world and the souls of the people on it. All three have a strong usage of a holy text to interpret the will and word of God. All three believe in, and pray to, intercessors to interact with God on our behalf. However, in this last part, we see one of the strongest differences. In both Druth and Acserian faith, those intercessors (the Saints and the Prophets, respectively), are mortal people who have been touched by the divine. In the Imach faith, these intercessors are divine agents themselves, as the Imachs largely believe that mortal man cannot ever be truly worthy of the divine themselves.

That is, at least, my interpretation in reading their holy text, the Bahimahl’Ima - The Books of God’s Word. (In most academic circles here at home, it is called the Imach Codex, but having travelled there and studied the text, I think this is a dismissive and reductive name for it.) I probably ended up spending more time in Imachan than anywhere else in the world, and even then I hardly learned about all of it. I spent very little time in the northern nations like Kutiqar and Amalimach— that whole region is hot, arid and, in my personal opinion, unlivable. But the people there make a home.

But one thing I noticed in all of my journeys through Imachan is the different ways the faith manifests itself in the culture. In Kadabal, the faith is like a drum beat that sets a rhythm for daily life, pervasive and demanding. In Ghalad, it is constant hum, always coloring and informing every other part of life, but never in the forefront.

The place in Imachan that is most known in Druthal, and is the most welcoming to foreigners, is The Mocassa. This city-state metropolis on the mouth of the Imach river is a haven for free-thinkers, artists and scholars of every stripe. Throughout the rest of Imachan, things like music, magic, or open defiance of the faith are at best taboo, and at worst sacrilege punishable by public execution. In The Mocassa, daily life is like a celebration of all things forbidden. It is the only Imach state that is ruled entirely by elected council, and the power of the church and the Cehlat of Imcahan is minimal. It’s a city where on any given day, you might encounter a fellow traveller from anywhere else in the world: Fuergan, Turjin, even Poasian. I could have spent years, even a lifetime, in The Mocassa.

But then I could have never come home to tell you about it.

Maradaine Constabulary #2
By Marshall Ryan Maresca
November 1, 2016 | ISBN: 9780756411732
DAW Mass Market | $7.99 | 400 pages


This second novel in the Maradaine Constabulary series blends high fantasy, murder mystery, and gritty urban magic…

The neighborhood of the Little East is a collision of cultures, languages, and traditions, hidden away in the city of Maradaine. A set of streets to be avoided or ignored. When a foreign dignitary is murdered, solving the crime falls to the most unpopular inspectors in the Maradaine Constabulary: exposed fraud Satrine Rainey, and Uncircled mage Minox Welling.

With a murder scene deliberately constructed to point blame toward the rival groups resident in this exotic section of Maradaine, Rainey is forced to confront her former life, while Welling’s ignorance of his own power threatens to consume him. And the conflicts erupting in the Little East will spark a citywide war unless the Constabulary solves the case quickly.

Marshall Ryan Maresca grew up in upstate New York and studied film and video production at Penn State.  He now lives Austin with his wife and son.  His work appeared in Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction and Rick Klaw’s anthology Rayguns Over Texas. He also has had several short plays produced and has worked as a stage actor, a theatrical director and an amateur chef. His novels The Thorn of Dentonhill and A Murder of Mages each begin their own fantasy series, both set in the port city of Maradaine. For more information, visit Marshall’s website at

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of DAW (Penguin RandomHouse) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.  Special thanks to Marshall Ryan Maresca for his guest content!