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My books-read list for the past six weeks is like, half Rex Stout.

My books-read list for the past six weeks is like, half Rex Stout. published on

(But I’m only talking about the last two, because I’ve been going through them too fast and they’re running together.)

Black Orchids (Nero Wolfe 9) and Not Quite Dead Enough (Nero Wolfe 10), by Rex Stout

These books are both two novellas glued together, but they did not warn me that they were. So Not Quite Dead Enough started and Lily was the prime suspect for the murder, and then Archie framed himself for the murder, and I expected all these dramatic shenanigans between them over this, and then all of a sudden it was over and there was still half the book to go, and Lily wasn’t even in it. Curses upon this book.

And upon the other one, but less so, because it only really stood out to me as an entry in my directory of books containing an Eccentric Rich Woman Who Keeps A Pet Monkey.

Silent Blade, by Ilona Andrews

This is a novella which I guess I should describe as a paranormal romance, though it’s sci-fi, not fantasy. Meli is a mutant cyborg assassin with special martial arts powers! Celino is a mutant cyborg CEO with special hostile takeover powers! They were engaged in an arranged marriage as children, but Celino ruined Meli’s chances of marriage and independence by breaking the engagement in such a way that no one else would ever want to risk marrying her. She is ready to retire as an assassin, until her brother offers her one last job – killing Celino! Exclamation points.

This is okay for what it is – I mean, if Nalini Singh had written it I’d be overjoyed! It’s a romance where it’s the heroine who might kill the hero! But it suffers a lot by comparison to the Kate Daniels books. I appreciate the novelty of a romance in which both leads are, basically, crazy bastards, but would have been more convinced by the premise if we saw more of them being crazy bastards. The genre requirements, however, force Andrews to waste time on sex that could have been more productively spent on violence. I don’t think this is either Andrews’ natural length or her natural subject matter.

Here is the paragraph that shows us why Ilona Andrews should probably not write straight-out romances: “I know the details of every assassination you have ever done. […] I think the risks you took with Garcia were idiotic.” He knelt beside her. “I also kidnapped your father and your brothers. I would’ve tortured them if I thought they knew where you were.”

I just think this sort of relationship would have been more interesting in a story with a focus wider than the period of time surrounding the removal of garments.

Od Magic, by Patricia A. McKillip

This is definitely one of McKillip’s weaker books, if not her weakest. As is McKillip’s habit, particularly in her city books (this is one), there are several separate plotlines which come together in the end. Brenden is a shy young man with an uncanny ability with plants and animals, who, traumatized by the recent loss of his family, is invited to become gardener at a school of magic by its founder, a huge immortal woman named Od. Yar is a teacher at Od’s school who has recently begun to feel that the paranoid and joyless King’s iron grip over the school is irreversibly damaging its students, and perhaps the entire kingdom. Arneth is a member of the city guard who finds himself falling in love with Mistral, the daughter of and manager for a traveling performer he may have to arrest for illegally using magic without the King’s permission. Sulys is the King’s daughter, who is herself harboring illegal magic, and is being forced to marry Valoren, the humorless and socially awkward young wizard who is her father’s most loyal servant.

So, that’s four plotlines and five POV characters. In general McKillip’s very good about bringing together a lot of different plot strands in a way that feels organic to the story. The ending doesn’t really feel awkward or crowded here – but then it’s not entirely an ending, because one story is left unresolved. I think there just wasn’t any space left for it. It’s not a big enough issue to ruin the book, but for a McKillip book, it’s surprising. Sometimes writers leave threads hanging early on in a book without knowing whether they’re going to pick them up again, and presumably she does it just like everyone else, but she always seems to tidy up them all up before she finishes. This book has some visible loose ends. Example: Brenden repeatedly mistakes Mistral for his lost lover Meryd. Why? Do they have something to do with one another? It’s never explained.

I’m still probably unwarrantedly fond of this book, mainly because of Valoren. I just like dorky villains! McKillip doesn’t do many of them! He and Yar have a conversation in which Valoren can’t decide whether to threaten Yar for his seditious behavior, or ask him for advice about Sulys. “Why did she slam the door like that? What did I do to make her so angry?” Yar tries to explain!

The Calling, by Okano Reiko

The Calling, by Okano Reiko published on 3 Comments on The Calling, by Okano Reiko

Aka, the manga version of Patricia McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, the first volume of which I NOW OWN.

And it is awesome. Seriously.

Okano Reiko’s art is insanely pretty. Her linework is all kind of crooked and uneven and organic. At the beginning, she draws Sybel and the crystal dome with one style of shading, and everyone/everywhere else with another, so that when Tam comes into the dome he doesn’t look like he’s part of the same picture, and doesn’t seem to be touching her even when he technically is. And the beasts (particularly Gules and Cyrin) look like they came off some medieval coat of arms containing woodwoses and suchlike, but they’re not flat-looking, just awesome – and it’s great.

I need to find a scanner for this thing immediately so I can show the entire internet how amazing it is. This is seriously an optimal book-to-comic translation.

The book’s production values are really good, too – there are some really nice color pages, and lots of those little frippy decorative manga things, like both the slipcover and the inner cover being slightly pearlescent (not actually obnoxious in this case!), and one of those deals with a translucent sheet of patterned paper over a really dark picture, which I do not know the technical term for.

I’ve been very slowly reading it (and wishing I’d brought the actual book with me) for the past couple hours. In the first seventeen pages, Sybel calls for the Liralen, loses her concentration when Coren starts yelling at the gate, and gives Ter Falcon some extremely specific instructions regarding what should be done to Coren. Ter, having apparently been put in charge of exposition, explains to her, with many honorifics, why killing everyone who annoys her is a bad idea, while she glowers at him with great poise. Coren also uses honorifics, even when he’s yelling. I think that Sybel has thus far managed one sentence with a polite-style verb in it. Yes! This is correct!

There is also some very McKillip-y wordplay in there, of which I completely approve – the dialog for the first few pages consists of Sybel, written in English with katakana transliteration, “Liralen… Come on… Liralen… Come on… Come on…” Then Coren breaks in: “Kaimon!” “Open the gate!” See, “Kaimon!” sounds like “Come on!” Coren broke into her Call!

(Okay, so maybe it’s a little off to have Sybel saying “Come on” to the Liralen. But it’s not like it’s going to throw the average Japanese reader out of the story, and that’s the important thing here.)

None of the bookstores nearby had this, so I ended up having to go on I’m now going to have to do this again for the next two volumes. I didn’t go ahead and order them before because, for some reason, I didn’t actually expect it to be completely great – but it is.

Patricia A. McKillip Facts

Patricia A. McKillip Facts published on

* Patricia A. McKillip wrote a three-book series in which “Hegdis-Noon the Talking Pig of Hel” was an important historical figure. Hegdis-Noon has no lines.

* The “A” stands for “Actuary,” which was the career which Patricia A. McKillip’s parents dreamed of for her in their native land of Bungali.

* The second fact is not true. I only really had one.