Saturday Review – Fractured Loyalties

fractured loyaltiesI wanted to do more reviews of Pam Uphoff’s books because I really enjoy “The Wine of the Gods” series and her “Directorate Series.” I haven’t even tried to count them all.

I had been following Ra’d from the time he was introduced as a character in the first book. He had  interesting beginnings. He and others were “bubbled” in a dimensional bubble during a war. They were un-bubbled several centuries later. It was a shock for them and the society when they tried to integrate.

If you want to read about it, you’ll have to go to the earlier books in the series.

Why I like this book in particular is that Ra’d is now in the intelligence services and he has to juggle his spy duties with his lover. She happens to be from another world and there is an uneasy truce between worlds. Even worse, she is the offspring of the God of Spies.

So Ra’d is between two loyalties.

Every book I’ve read from Pam Uphoff has had a different twist in it. Her characters are well-formed and interesting.

I will read this one again.

 

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Tuesday Snippet – Hero of Corsindor – Chapter 1b

As the sun touched the peak of the gray mountain, the last rays hit the large tent that had been erected as a banquet hall in the center of the nomad city. The last of the light turned the tent from orange to gold and then to a pale yellow.

As the last light disappeared into the dark night, the pale gray tent glowed yellow from the lamps lit inside. It was a gathering that only happened once a decade. The Ahrah gathered together to eat, drink, laugh, and sing. They would trade stock and this was where the younger men could meet potential brides.

Shira slid into the noise and stepped through the opening. Young women and children were serving lamb seasoned with hot red peppers, garlic, and onions. The heat in one bite would burn the mouth and warm the belly. Each family brought their own signature dish to the feast so the tables groaned with carrots, potatoes, peas, beans, and corn.

Shira had help set up the tables for the feast. One of the Counselor’s advisers had come up with a table that could be easily assembled and disassembled. Usually in a family setting, Shira and Oor would sit on blankets and eat cross-legged. It was strange to see tables. Instead of blankets, the families set on chairs. It was a novel ideal.

Oor had told her once that their neighbors didn’t sit on the ground. That they used tables and chairs all the time. Who would have the time to assemble or disassemble the things before moving on? It just didn’t make sense.

She wouldn’t pass up the chance to sit on the things even if they looked too rickety to hold an adult’s weight. Shira ambled around the tables, going to the big table at the other end of the opening. She greeted friends and non-friends alike, keeping a simple smile on her face.

Oor was fond of saying that she was not old enough to have enemies. So instead of showing her disdain, she nodded politely to the more powerful council members.

Unfortunately she would have to walk by Malkiah’s mother, Cianne. His mother kept her face covered in a transparent white veil, which moved back and forth with her breath.

“Sit with me,” she said. Shira could not afford to upset Cianne. She was one of the most powerful members of the Council. Also she was a traditionalist, hence the white veil.

Her stated position was that the Ahrah needed more men in powerful positions. She had been politely angry when the Ahrah had selected a woman as the Councilor.

Before the veil had fallen obscuring the Ahrah from their neighbors, many of the best warriors died in the border wars. Corsindor wanted their land.

The border veil changed all that. Corsindor had forgotten them. Still there was a shortage of men. The birthrate of boys was low and many of them died before they reached puberty.

Women stepped into the void to lead the people.

Shira bowed her head politely to Cianne and sat down on one of the rickety chairs across from her. She waited for Cianne’s pronouncements.

She had heard it all before. Cianne thought she was blessed above all other women because she had a boy, Malkiah and that her boy was now a man. It would only be advantageous if Shira would pledge herself to a strong man. Cianne would point to her son with her chin.

Shira knew were this would lead so she tried to head Cianne to other topics. Shira’s direction must have been clumsy because Cianne’s eyes gleamed. Her mouth pursed as if she had bitten into something sour.

Then Cianne shifted her body to the other council members at the table. She waved her hand sideways at Shira like an afterthought. “This is Shira,” she said.

Shira stood and made a formal bow to the elders, who were looking at her as if she were a rat caught stealing grain from the stable.

An old man with a long white beard sprinkled with crumbs sneered at her. “She has taught you well,” he said. The white haired lady with blue highlights bobbed her head as if the old man was a wise. She put some more meat onto his plate. He stopped and took a bite.

When he looked up at Shira, she knew he was going to say something cutting.

“She’s not one of us,” he said. Shira waited for the scriptures that was supposed to cut her down to size. “Woman is a bright jewel. Speak not. Her beauty radiates.”

She could tell he was quoting from the book because of the sonorous ring to his voice. Shira wanted to turn away and head to the table where her friends were. The meat wafted to her nose and her stomach growled. Instead she nodded politely as if he had made a hit.

Then she said, “Man is the ox of the family. He feeds and protects his family.” Shira knew she had made a hit when he jerked just a little.

Before he could roar at her, Cianne intervened. “Canroh was wise,” she said.
It was the gleam in Cianne’s eyes that warned Shira. She held herself still and waited for the blow.

“You had an audience with the Councilor.”

Shira nodded her head, yes. She stared into Cianne’s eyes, which reminded her of a snake. After a moment Shira said, “The Councilor is wise.”

The silence lasted until Shira bowed again and backed away. She could feel their eyes boring into the back of her head as she turned away.

She blew out a breath of air as she saw Oor at the table. There was a crooked smile on his face as he moved pulled a chair next to him. “Sit,” he said.

“So, the elders cornered you.”

There was nothing to say. Shira filled her plate and listened to Oor and one of his students argue about the merits of stick versus sword. She settled into the warm companionship and ate.

Who knew when there would be this much to eat again?

Last day for a free ebook

Hildaebookcover2015finishedIn honor of the 4th of JulyHilda’s Inn for Retired Heroes will be free from July 3-5.

In Delhaven, there is an Inn run by a retired mercenary. If you are a down-on-your-luck mercenary or men-at-arms, come to the public rooms and Hilda Brant, the owner, will give you a bowl of stew. If you want ale, hand over the coins. Hilda may give you floor space, but she expects you to pay in favors or coins.

The second book is Dragon Boy. 

Tuesday Snippet – Hero of Corsindor- Chapter One-a

Hero of Corsindor 2018-2 Shira stopped in the door to take in the magnificence that was the Counselor. Even by the oil lamps light, the Counselor’s robes were a whiteness that was almost impossible to clean. Shira idly wondered who had the job of keeping her quarters immaculate and her clothing in such good shape.

Shira dusted off her clothes, feeling shabby in the Counselor’s presence. She strode toward the center of the tent where the Counselor was sitting on a carved wooden chair.

A red pillow peeked from under her seat. A small portable wooden tray next to her held her inks, quills, and books. Shira could tell she had recently used her quill because there was a light black dot on her finger.

When she stood in front of the Counselor, Shira bowed deeply.

“No need for that here, child.”

Shira stood at attention, trying to honor this woman who led the Ahrah. The Counselor smiled. Shira had not been close the Counselor in a long time. Around the Counselor’s lips and forehead, the lines had gotten deeper. Her skin was pale and papery. Her eyes were the colors of bruised grapes and not the normal dark brown of her people. Under the lavender perfume was a slight dark smell of earth and rot.

Shira’s stomach clenched as she saw into this woman, who had taken the Ahrah from a few tents to a large community. She was sick, very sick. Shira waited for her to speak.

The silence became long as the Counselor used a cane to get to her feet. She leaned against the cane and when Shira tried to reach for her, she gave Shira a look that told Shira stay put.

Shira settled back into her position and waited. The silence became longer and Shira wanted to fidget. You didn’t fidget in front of the most powerful woman in your world. She wiggled her toes and waited.

The Counselor sighed. “You are so young.” Now the Counselor was inches from Shira’s face. She looked deeply into Shira’s eyes. Then she touched Shira’s cheek. When had the Counselor become so old?

The Counselor sank back into her chair exhausted.

“I must tell you your origins.”
Shira had wondered where she had come from and who her people were. All her life she had been an outsider with her pale corn-silk locks. Now she would know where she came from.

“We found you, a little baby, near the great veil that is our protection against our southern neighbors.”

The oil lamp flickered and the Counselor’s face became even older to Shira’s eyes. It was not the romantic beginning Shira had thought she would have. She had been a foundling.

They had taken a big risk to shelter a foundling. So many things could have gone wrong.
Oor was not shy about the stories of demon foundlings who had grown up to kill their foster families. He had told her that if she found a foundling to leave it there. It was not safe.

Shira felt an electric shock go through her body. She could have been that foundling.

“We decided to take a risk because you looked so much like our blood-thirsty neighbors to the south. We would raise you, train you, and make you one of our own.”

Shira could see the strategy. The veil had been powered by magic for so many years. Children with magic were rare and in the last few years there were less and less Ahrah mages who could renew the spell that separated the two countries.

“But we can’t keep you.”

Shira wanted to interrupt the Counselor and tell her she would be loyal to her and to the Ahrah for taking in a foundling. Instead of bursting in speech, her training kicked in and she became a statue.

“I had a vision,” The Counselor closed her eyes for a moment. The lines in her face deepened. “You through the woods with a sword in your hand. Under your feet were the skulls of the Ahrah. You were fierce, but a hairy dark man pulled you down to the ground and pierced your throat.”

The Counselor took Shira’s hands in her own.

“Child. Cut your hair. Burn your locks. You are not one of us. Your destiny is not here.
A wetness moistened Shira’s cheek. She took a deep breath and wanted to pull her hands out of the old woman’s hands.

“You leave tonight after the banquet. Tell no one.”

Hildaebookcover2015finishedIn honor of Liberty Con and the 4th of JulyHilda’s Inn for Retired Heroes will be free from July 3-5.

In Delhaven, there is an Inn run by a retired mercenary. If you are a down-on-your-luck mercenary or men-at-arms, come to the public rooms and Hilda Brant, the owner, will give you a bowl of stew. If you want ale, hand over the coins. Hilda may give you floor space, but she expects you to pay in favors or coins.

Saturday Review: Witchfire Burning

Witchfire Burning (Eerie Side of the Tracks Book 1) by [Ferguson, Ellie, Green, Amanda S.]Witchfire Burning by Ellie Ferguson (pen name of Amanda S. Green)

Quinn O’Donnell was a normal human amid a family with abnormal powers. When she was old enough to leave, she went to that wider world. Now she is a single mother with a child who has powers. So she decided to come home so that her grandmother can train her child.

Except the house is abandoned and is lonely for company. Plus the house is sentient and has its own idea of who is allowed into the house and who is forced to stay on the boundaries. There is trouble here and Quinn also brings trouble in the form of her ex-husband.

This is one of those stories that grab you with the first few paragraphs and doesn’t let you go until the end.  My only disappointment was that I want to read more books about this character and this world.

I recommend this book. Plus you can find it on Kindle Unlimited if you are on that service. It’s a win-win for me.

 

Tuesday Snippet – Hero of Corsindor Chapter One

Hero of Corsindor 2018-2
The huge gray boulder rested on the edge of the ridge. In the last ice age it had probably been pushed to this remote spot and left by the ice. It was colored with varying colors of tan and white among the gray crystals.

Today Shira was not inspecting it. Today she was sitting on top of it and gazing down into the valley below her. The sheep looked like little white dots and she could see young boys following the flock in the brown and green patchwork fields.

Her long legs were slung over the boulder and she kicked them idly. The sun beat down on her and she had taken off her head scarf and her light corn-silk reflected the sun that had found its way to her. She shook her head to feel the air through her silky hair.

Down below she could see the tent city of the Ahrah. She had come here to be alone so she didn’t have to talk to anyone. Every day some woman thought she wasn’t covered enough. She had stood in front of too many women for too many years. Besides she had been picked to be a warrior. It was a break with tradition. Among the Ahrah women ruled their tents and families with an iron fist. The men fought and defended their family and their herds of sheep and goats.

The Ahrah lived in these temporary quarters because they believed that one day they would come home and then they would build permanent structures. They only built wooden stalls with covered roofs for their horses.

Shira shifted on the rock. She scraped her hands on the rock, feeling the texture of rock. She would like to sit here forever. But she was here to think and she was not getting much thinking done.

Not far from here was a meadow filled with wildflowers. She could go there and watch the little ones, tiny sprites with wings, flit from flower to flower. They would sometimes pull out their pins and attack the bees. But even that pastime didn’t thrill her. She was growing up and she was not wanted among the men of the Ahrah.

It was obvious that she was not one of them. She had the light skin of the Northern people while the Ahrah were more swarthy with dark brown eyes. She was tall and slim while their women were busty and moved like they were dancing. Their women looked good in the robes and head scarves, while she looked like a child, trying to imitate them.

There was no reason to keep brooding here. She turned to slip off the rock when a large stick swung past her head. She automatically ducked and rolled to the ground around the boulder. She grazed her shoulder and winced, but kept rolling.

The stick whooshed again and almost hit her shoulder as she jumped to her feet. She faced her mentor, Oor.

Oor was barely taller than Shira. She stared into his brown eyes, watching for the next attack. Normally she would have enjoyed the practice, but she had come up here to have time to herself. She gasped as she tried to get her breath back.

“Girl,” Oor said. “You should be alert at all times.” He frowned at her as he prepared to hit her with his long bamboo staff. It rested easily in his hands. His stance was low so Shira was sure he was going to sweep her off her feet.

She jumped as he swept the staff to her feet. Then he hit her ribs when she wasn’t fast enough to get out of the way. She knew the drill. If she wasn’t there, he couldn’t hit her.
After a whirlwind of blows she fell to the ground. Suddenly she could see time slow down. This was why she was being trained. She saw the staff come down and she caught it.

It took a lot of energy to be able to see time slow and she had only a few moments to act before she would be unable to do much more than lie on the ground like a grounded fish.
She pulled the staff hard and Oor landed on the ground. She heard a hard “whoof” as he fell on his side. They lay there on the ground getting the air back into their lungs.

She rolled over and took a long look at Oor. He was in magnificent shape for an old man. There was not an ounce of fat on his body. Many of the women in the tribe would have considered it an honor to have him live in their tents. He was handsome too. His beak of a nose had been shattered. His face had started to wrinkle around the eyes and mouth.

There was a story about Oor. That he had left the tribe to go to their lost home. Another people lived there now. He had learned hand-to-hand and the way of the sword. When he had tired of adventure, he had come home.

He had no wives and no children. He taught the boys and men self-defense and war. Shira was his only female student. But then she wasn’t Ahra so there wasn’t a prohibition for teaching her the arts.

“Truce?” asked Shira. She felt concerned about how long it took for Oor to stand up. He used his staff to stand up and dusted the dirt off his pants. He was one of the few who didn’t wear a robe. Shira dusted the dirt of her robes.

Oor looked pointedly at her bare feet. She put on her boots and laced them up. She liked going barefoot because she felt more energy when her feet were touching the earth. Oor had showed her in one of their sessions what happened to bare feet when fighting.

He had stomped her foot and Shira was sure that he broke her little toe. She listened to him after that and wore shoes. Oor wasn’t all warrior, but in the last few days he had stressed self-defense.

“Truce,” Oor said. “You skipped your lessons.”

Shira groaned. “Why do I need to learn math, history, and geography? Isn’t that only for the ruling class?” She could hear a short whine come out of her voice. She hated school. She would rather fight or sit here and watch the sprites.

It was not that she was lazy, it was just that she rarely had time alone.

Oor grabbed her by the elbow. “Are you going to help an old man down the trail?”

Shira laughed then. “Old man?” She did slip her arm into his. “See that rock, old man? Don’t trip?”

The dirt path wound back and forth like a snake down the mountain. On the sides of the path were a forest of firs. Their needles swayed at the slight breeze. The trees shadowed them as they walked down. Shira took a deep breath of air. The smell of sap smelled like a tree had farted. It followed them down the mountain until the trees thinned and then instead of trees there were bushes.

They stopped and picked some blackberries on a bush that had spread across a huge clearing. Shira kept a look out for bears. The bears liked blackberries too and could strip a bush in less than an hour. She could usually tell when a bear was around because the bush would shake.

Even Oor, great warrior that he was, was wary of bear. Their claws could rip and tear and their teeth. Well, Shira gave them the respect they deserved.

Both Shira and Oor walked with a little bounce, while grabbing a few berries and eating them. Shira’s stomach was growling because she hadn’t eaten the oatmeal that morning. In fact she was supposed to make some that morning for Oor.

“Should we save this for our meal tomorrow?”

Oor shoved another another handful of blackberries in his mouth. There was a twinkle in her eye.

Shira agreed with that sentiment, so she ate some more. The berries burst in her mouth making her feel happy. She rubbed her mouth with the back of her hand to get the stickiness off her face, then licked the rest of the berries.

When they reached the tents, Malikah, one of the council members’ sons waited next to the wooden fence posts that marked fenced corrals for the horses. Privately, Shira thought that Malikah looked like a younger Oor. He always looked like he could handle himself in a fight.

He spent a lot of time with the horses. Malikah was traditional in his ideas. Shira and Malikah had been trained together by Oor. Unlike Oor, Malikah would never touch her with the sticks or his fists. He would practice the forms with her, but he never went farther than that.

Oor had told him in her presence that the people down south did train some of their women to fight. It was rare. So Malikah needed to learn how to defend himself from any swordsman whatever their gender.

Malikah had laughed at the suggestion. Oor was the one who used to tell them stories of cannibals that lived amongst the southern people. If one wasn’t true than the other wasn’t either.

Besides Malikah came from an old Ahrah family. His mother still wore the veil and covered her entire body. Shira had seen the contempt in Malikah’s eyes when she had quit wearing the robe. It was new times and the Council had allowed it. What more did he want?

So having Malikah waiting for them unsettled Shira. She felt her stomach twist a little.

“Shira Loedsdotter. Oor,” he said, formally. His lean body straightened and Shira could feel his aura seeking to surround her. He probably didn’t know he was doing that. Still she stopped and waited. “The Councilor requires your presence.”

Shira and Oor followed him around several of the home tents. Shira grimaced behind his back. Oor gave her a sharp nudge. She composed her face to a more neutral expression, which was not a smile, but not a frown either.

When they reached a large tent set in the center of the small village of tents, Malikah said stiffly, “Oor, you will wait here.”

He gestured to the flap of the tent. Shira slipped in. She knew that Malikah was glaring at her back. She wanted to laugh, knowing that that bigoted young man wanted something that she was getting… a visit to the most powerful woman of the Ahrah.

Saturday Review – Strangely Familiar

strangely familiar I am one of those readers that really enjoys a mixed-genre story. A few years ago I really enjoyed Simon R. Green’s nightside series, of a man who would find the lost ones for you. It had a combinations of noir and fantasy.

Strangely Familiar  by Alma T. C. Boykin has that same taste when I started reading it. It dragged me through the pages and wouldn’t let me go. I was grateful it was a novella size because I might not have slept that night.

The story is about a young woman, who is a half-way house after stealing money for her drug addiction. She is cleaning up, but it is pretty hard. At the same time she meets a coatimundi, who is a mage’s familiar. This meeting throws her into the world of mages. Only mages and nulls had familiars– Leila Chan hadn’t known she had magic.

Now I was in Panama City, Panama for a few years and I have seen coatimundi, running in packs and disturbing neighborhoods. They will smash trash cans and pull metal off building and are as handy as raccoons.  They can be quite vicious. So I was very interested in Boykin’s representative of a coatimundi familiar.

The coatimundi in this story has a lot of patience to deal with a goth-girl who has drug and family issues. It didn’t detract from the story even though I knew the temperament of that animal.

All in all– I am banging my pen on the table for more stories in this world from Boykin.