Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

A Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

“Take a large bowl, fill it with equal measures of fact, fantasy, history, mythology, science, superstition, logic and lunacy. Darken the mixture with bitter tears, brighten it with howls of laughter, toss in three thousands years of civilization, bellow kan pei, which means 'dry cup' and drink to the dregs.”

“And will I be wise?”

“Better, you'll be Chinese.”

Dialogue between Li Kao and Procopius, page 29.

A Bridge of Birds is the first spacebattles recommendation, but it won't be the last. Set in a China that never was but should have been, it's a tale of a simple quest that starts simple and quickly explodes into a complex, gloriously entertaining mess. Given that the book won the World Fantasy Award in 1985 and the Mythopeic Award in 1986. Which makes it one of the more accomplished books I've done a review for on this blog. Despite this, I am more then willing to add my two cents. Let me start with the author of course.

Written by Mr. Hughart, who currently resides in Tucson Arizona. Mr. Hughart has a lot of experience in Asia, having served in Japan and Korea with the United States Air Force and working with a military surplus company that was based out of Asia. Interestingly enough, he admits in interviews that while he's read many classics of Chinese literature, he has never visited China due to the cold war (his service was during the 50's). He wasn't even allowed to visit Hong Kong. His exposure to eastern culture shows in the book. While it doesn't have the same voice as the Journey to the West (but then, the Chinese parts of Asia are big places and there is plenty of rooms for more then one voice therein), it still feels like a Chinese story, instead of a Western story set in China. Let me clarify that, Mr. Hughart writes like a man who has sat down and read the classics of Chinese literature and taken a deep drink of the culture. That said I wouldn't say he writes like a native, just someone really familiar with the old culture of China. Of course I should point out that I am no where near an expert in China so I could be completely off base here. Anyways, I was sad to find out that this is the first book in a series that will never be finished. Mr. Hughart had wanted to write 7 books but due to disagreements with his publishers (among them selling it in the fantasy lot), books 4-7 were never written. I am told that book 3 might change my mind about this being a sad thing, but I digress

The story begins when the children of the village of Ku-Fu are poisoned while harvesting feed for silk worms. Lu Yu (not to be confused with the famous man who wrote The Classic of Tea) who goes by the name Number Ten Ox is charged by his aunt to find them a sage. Unfortunately she gives him 5000 copper coins and as anyone who has played a fantasy RPG can tell you... Copper coins will buy you about 2/3rd of a cup of give a fuck and not a drop more. This is demonstrated to us when Number Ten Ox doesn't even make it pass the doormen of most the sages for hire. Lucky for our protagonist, he discovers there is a sage willing to work for cheap. Surname Li, personal name Kao and with a slight flaw in his character... If you consider being a drunk, a thief, a liar and a cheat all slight flaws anyways. That said, Master Li may just be the smartest guy in all of China, which is pretty damn smart, he's willing to go to insane lengths to finish the job, his professional ethics are impeccable and he'll work for copper coins. So you know... He'll do.

Let me discuss our two main characters here. Number Ten Ox is a village kid with large muscles and a bigger heart. The story is told from his point of view, which leads to an interesting situation where a number of nearly superhuman feats are down played because Ox is a modest boy. While he is a good boy, he's also willing to go the mat to save the children of his village. If that means dealing with bandits, monsters and gods... Well that's what he'll do. He plays a lot of roles in this book, he's a dashing hero, a lying liar who lies, a man mourning a lost love, an innocent farm boy and a sage's treasured pupil. If there was a traditional hero in this story Number Ten Ox would be it. He's also the audience stand in some situations, as being from a tiny little village, he of course doesn't know all that much about some of the figures and places that he and Li Kao find themselves in. Course Li Kao will be happy to explain that.

Let's take a look at Li Kao, a man with a colorful past that ranges from imperial palaces to the dirty gutters. When Number Ten Ox's find him he's passed right out and all he wants is a jar of cheap wine (the kind you can buy with copper coins). Give him a tipple and a job though... And he doesn't give a crap about wine. Which kinda suggest whatever his problem is, it's not an addiction to booze. Older then old (oh to be 90 again I can hear him sigh) and with every ounce of the kind of sly, wicked wisdom that comes from surviving misspent decades. That said, while at times venal, I wouldn't call him evil or all that bad. A little corrupt perhaps, but his predatory urges seem restricted to people who are just as bad or even worse. Yeah, this is a guy who is willing to lie, cheat and murder to get the job done but frankly this is a guy trying to save the lives of dozens of children for a bowl of copper coins he already spent going up against people who are wealthy and as vile as ripe sewage. I kinda find it hard to hold his flaws against him in such a situation especially given the people I am forced to compare him to.

The villains in this story are uniformly wealthy, powerful people who think nothing of bringing ruin and pain to everyone around them. Often for the most petty reasons. We all know people like this so sadly these people are incredibly realistic despite their fantastic surroundings. I mean we have the Ancestress, based on Empress Dowager Ci xi, a woman who started as an imperial concubine and worked her up to ruler of China. She was however utter crap at it on a account of only being interested in her own comfort and rights. Thrown out of power and exiled to the countryside she plots revenge and makes the life everyone around her utterly miserable. S Then there's the Duke of Chin, who rules from behind a Tiger mask so every Duke of Chin will be the same as the first. This is a guy who when told that the crops of a village had been destroyed and the peasants begged for tax relief so they could rebuild, kills everyone and burns down the village. Compared to people like this, Li Kao could be nominated for sainthood.

The recurring minor characters are also joys and interesting case studies of the skill of a good writer. I found myself cheering on the scholar Henpecked Ho on his murderous rampage. This book made me cheer on a man going on an axe murder spree! I felt sorry for Miser Shen. The story of Bright Star was tragic and moving. Minor characters are given just enough color to feel like actual people with interesting stories, but they never overshadow our heroes. This is a tough tightrope to walk but it's done with panache here.

The story itself is broken up into episodes as our heroes chase down leads, encounter obstacles and learn more about the increasingly high stakes game they've bellied up to. Form trying to figure out the proper cure, to hunting it down and more. Each episode reads as a nearly contained story in and itself which is an interesting way to write a book. At the end of each episode they return to the village and it's there we usually get revelations about Number Ten Ox, or the village itself that plays into the story later down the line. That said, we learn more about the children of the village then the adults. They (excluding our buddy Ox of course) don't do much besides sit vigils by their kids. There's the abbot of the village temple of course and his job is basically to nod with Li Kao and confirm that he's a genius. As well as assist with the treatments they come up with. Besides that the village is the most lifeless part of the book, which is damn odd. Part of it might be that every moment past the first chapter we spend in the village the characters are preparing to be somewhere else. We learn a lot more about the life and past times of the children of the village. We learn about their games, relationships and more. This is despite most of them never getting a line here. Don't get me wrong, there is color to the village, mostly in the misplaced section of the Wall of China, the general who built there claimed he was ordered to by heaven itself. The wall called the Dragon's Pillow is a bit of curiosity and plays a part in the story. As does the ghost who sits watch over the wall.

That ghost isn't the only one! You'll run into several ghosts reading this story, each with their own story and often with a task that our heroes must perform to complete their mission. The ghosts work pretty well. They often work to introduce a touch of the fantastic as well as advance the plot. Additionally we see brief but interesting appearances of Taoists and they are set in the right role. That of people living pretty outside of the Confucius order of society and subtly critical of it. In fact, I would suspect that Li Kao is himself a Taoist given some of his comments. The whole book itself has some subtle criticisms of ruling parties who get to wrapped up in their privileges and wealth to remember just what they're suppose to be doing. Which ironically plants it firmly in the Taoist tradition, which I am aware of but haven't really looked into.

Bridge of Birds gets an A. It's one of the best fantasy works I've read and I encourage everyone to give it a tour.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Bone Doll's Twin By Lynn Flewelling

The Bone Doll's Twin By Lynn Flewelling

“Black makes white. Foul makes pure. Evil creates greatness.”
Bone Doll's Twin chapter 1

This book was recommended to me by my little brother, yes, that's right being related to me means your recommendations get to the head of the line. Frigid Reads makes no bones of practicing old fashion Family Values and there's nothing more old fashion then letting kin jump the head of the line!

Anyways back to books. Written by Lynn Flewelling whose first book Luck in the Shadows was a finalist for the Compton Crook Award and picked by the editor of Locus Magazine as best first novel. The Bone Doll's Twin is a fantasy book published in 2001, it is Ms. Flewelling 3rd or 4th book and the beginning of a new series. This is the first book of her's I've read though. The story itself maintains a dark and creepy atmosphere through most of it, the offsetting moments only strengthening the overall themes running through the story.

The story is set on the peninsula nation of Skala, a former imperial province of another power (Plenimar) that lies across the sea from it. Nor it is the only nation with this background. Once under the rule of Priest Kings, Plenimar ruled all the nations bordering the inner and outer sea (which honestly look like the same bloody sea to me just broken by the peninsula of Skala but what do I know?). However like all empires do eventually, it fell and many of the provinces made their own way. Skala and other nations that share the sea with it must contend with Plenimar's constant attempts to bring them back into the imperial fold and in addition with Plenimar raiding their nations for goods and people to carry off into slavery.

Skala is in luck however as the gods of the setting have promised that as long as a Queen sits on the throne. For 300 years the divinely sanctioned Warrior Queens of Skala have held the nation safe and ensured it prospered. Which is actually a problem... Because the book opens with a King having planted his ass on the throne.

Now to be fair to King Erius, he did it because the Queen at the time (his mother) was batshit insane and killing everyone! That's a pretty good reason to overthrow a Monarch I think. Less defensible are his actions after taking the throne. For example... Murdering every woman who had royal blood expect his half sister, who he married off to a powerful nobleman for his support. This is where the story begins. Let me say up front that I really enjoy the villain, King Erius and his servants. He clearly starts out with good intentions and slides into villainy in the pursuit of staying in power. I can almost hear him rationalizing every act he does as being for the good of the nation... And if the good of the nation should make him more powerful and secure.. Well, it's all for the best isn't it? It makes him very human and understandable. Don't get me wrong, I hate his guts because he's a fucking baby murderer and an increasingly tyrannical ruler who is dragging his nation down in a paranoid quest to secure his own power. But it's a paranoid quest that makes sense and I can actually see a person doing! That means a bit to me.

Another villain is the King's wizard henchmen Niryn. As Erius paranoia grows, he suspects wizards and priests of plotting against him (to be fair... He ain't wrong) and with Niryn creates his own organization of wizards to register, number and police the wizards while beginning a bloody suppression of the priests of one god, while favoring another. Niryn is rarely ever present physically in the book, but his hand is often in evidence. In the white robed King Harriers enforcing his will, in the dead bodies being strung up everywhere our characters follow. In the numbering system that he enforces on behalf of the king and the system of informants and secret policemen that he creates. While the motivations of Niryn or his past are never discussed, it seems clear that he desires wealth and power, especially power over his fellow magic users. Additionally this is all done without ever making either of them view point characters. Which is good work in and of itself. So full points there!

The prologue is magnificent, focusing on a pair of wizards, Iya and Arkoniel, who are teacher and student. Iya, the elder of the two is the person to blame for this whole story. As she is granted a vision while visiting a oracle, which convinces her that she has two jobs. First, create a wizard organization and school. Second, put a queen back on the throne. The first job is easy and just involves traveling around the country to talk wizards into the idea. How does she intend to do the second job you ask? Lies, Politics, Black Magic and Infanticide (our Heroes ladies and gentlemen.). The only woman left with royal blood in her veins, is the King's little half sister Princess Ariani, married to the Duke Rhius an old war buddy of the King... Who now has doubts about being buddy buddy with a guy who has clearly gone over the line. Worried about his country and tempted by the thought of putting his daughter on the throne... He agrees to Iya's plan. The plan is simple. Ariani is pregnant with twins. A boy and a girl. Iya tracks down Lhel, a witch belonging to the original people of Skala who have been driven into the hills by the main characters people a long time ago. Lhel practices a different kind of magic then Arkoniel and Iya. A magic forbidden to them. Combining their magic abilities will allow them to craft something more then illusion but less then a full shape change to make Rhius and Ariani's daughter look and feel like a boy to everyone. Including herself. All they have do to do it... Is kill her twin. Iya makes it happen.

Iya is one of the main view point characters here and she is an interesting one. A woman and a wizard in her 3rd century of life. She shows a lot of certainty and courage. Having been granted a vision she is determined to do her part no matter the cost to herself or sometimes the cost to others. Iya frankly makes Abraham look like wuss here. Having been given orders by her god and told if this doesn't happen her nation is heading to ruin and destruction, she does not hesitate or turn aside. She spends years in the countryside tracking down wizard after wizard to recruit them into her secret society of wizardly cooperation. Making each one swear to support the Queen to come, leaving Duke Rhius to deal with the fall out of her actions that awful night.

Duke Rhius is another character who despite not getting a lot of time on center stage is made entirely human. He is up to his neck in a conscirpy to defy his best friend and to be blunt kill one of his children to save the other from said best friend (let me just say God save us all from such choices). He does this by lying to the wife he loves, the captain of his men who is practically a brother to him, dealing with forbidden magics and afterwards doing whatever it takes to keep the King from being suspicious. He does this all despite the guilt and doubt that is clearly gnawing at his soul the entire time. He is the only character in this little plot to ask hey wait a minute couldn't we do this another way? While his doubt is shown openly by having him question Iya and later Arkoniel. Ms. Flewelling shows this guilt subtly without having him beat his breast or whimper in corners about the state of his soul. This is a book where you'll have to pay attention to catch these details but they're there. Sometimes they pop out in his dealings with his wife, who was driven insane by the fallout of that night... And his daughter Tobin.

Ah, Tobin. Our protagonist and main view point character.... And the source of most of my problems with this book. Just for the record, I am going to use feminine pronouns for Tobin despite the fact that physically she's a boy in this book. Her boyhood is a magically created lie to protect her, she is actually a girl and for simplicity sake's I'm simply going to refer to her as a girl. After that amazing prologue/1st chapter... I am forced to deal with several chapters of 7/8 year old Tobin trying to piece together just why her life is the way it is. Why is her mother insane? Why is her father often gone? Why is she haunted by a angry spirit that torments almost everyone in her home? Why does she live in a fortress out in the middle of nowhere? You know... Questions we already had have been fully shown the answer to! Frankly I hate that. I hate having crawl through a character figuring out things we already know. There's no mystery or excitement in that! There's only me waiting for the bloody character to catch the fuck up so the story can go somewhere I haven't been! I don't blame Tobin for this, as far she knows she's the first born son of one of the most powerful men in her nation and she is a perfectly normal boy... As far as she knows. Tobin isn't written as a genius child either (which I am okay with)or has Harry Potter but as a perfectly normal kid all things considered. Which means she is terrified of her mother, adores her father and is in turns freaked out and utterly enthralled by the spirit that roams her home. She also is consumed with the desire to be the greatest warrior possible. Mainly I think because that brings her approval and attention, which she gets very little of from her parents. She also gets a lot of acclaim for being an artist has she is capable of great works with wood and wax. I enjoy this part of her character. I am forced to spend more time with Tobin flailing about then I would like, while Iya and Arkoniel are out doing interesting shit. That honestly annoys me, Tobin is the least interesting person in this book but is also the one person I have to spend the most time with.

Thankfully, Ms. Flewelling fixes this by having Arkoniel come to live with Tobin after yet another tragedy slams into her life. Let me talk about Arkoniel, because he is a character we also spend a lot of time with as well. Arkoniel is a young man full of idealism and fire and that loads him with guilt and a powerful desire to do right by Tobin and her family. He also has a vision from his god and it drives him to make his own path in life, leaving Iya to become a tutor and protector to Tobin eventually. He fully believes in the future that Iya is pursuing but hasn't bought in fully to her methods in some cases I think. His relationship with Lhel is a complicated one, he wants the knowledge she has whether it be forbidden or not. But he's also afraid and tempted by her. He doesn't want that knowledge for power sake though, but for two reasons. One he thinks he'll need it to guard Tobin from her enemies. Two, for knowledge's own sake. Arkoniel is one of my favorites here and I enjoyed anytime he was the center of the book. His constant quest to try and do right by Tobin and give her a decent life while everyone else kinda sees her as a tool to be used or a precious object to be hidden way makes him a breath of fresh air.

Arkoniel's return also brings the witch Lhel back into the picture to explain things to Tobin and teach her how to control the angry spirit... Who is the ghost of her murdered brother, chained to her by the magic Lys and Lhel performed the night of their birth. The key to controlling the spirit that Tobin names Brother? A doll crafted by her mother that hides the part of the physical remains of the boy (I did mention creepy right?). Arkoniel also brings in another child character, a country Lord's son named Ki.

Ki is bloody awesome. His appearance compels Tobin to do things and interact with someone beyond an adult-child level. I am supremely thankful for Ki being in this book. He is easily my favorite character. The only person here with a sense of humor and an earthy easy understanding of people. Add in a devoted loyality to Tobin and you got a great kid running around in this book who humanizes Tobin to a great degree. Ki is also the only one willing to meet Tobin at her level and accept her for who she is. Frankly, to my thinking that means there's a huge target on the poor boy's back.

On the flip side we have Lhel, who I am of two minds of. Lhel seems less of a character at times and more of a plot device. Her job is to pass information on to other characters, often challenging their understanding of the world around them and to represent a completely different way of life. But I'm often left groping for a handle on her character. I get that she's a practitioner of an older, rawer form of magic than Iya and Arkoniel with different rules (Iya and Arkoniel get their powers by having ancestry that isn't entirely human and live under rules to maintain it, Lhel gets her power through... I'm not actually sure). I get that she's a representative of a different people and has a different way of viewing things. I don't get what she wants or what she actually believes besides some grab bag Wiccan style paganism with yin/yang elements. She's left her home to teach Tobin and Arkoniel and lives out in the wilderness for years maintaining a watch over Brother and she claims that's the price she bares for creating the spell that makes Tobin look like a boy in the first place. But I'm left with more questions then answers and I'm not entirely sure I believe Lhel.

After Ki is introduced, another tragedy hits and Tobin is forced to come to live in the capital. There we meet Tobin's cousin, the heir to the throne and his court. The prince is a nice teenager, if rowdy but slowly going to rot being left in the capital with no responsibilities and a strong desire to join his father in his wars. We also made very aware of certain realities that Tobin has been sheltered from. First off, draugth and plague have been hammering the country for years now. The poor ride the ragged edge of starvation, which only makes them more vulnerable to plagues that flare up killing thousands if not more. Also... Tobin's home is at war. Sick of the constant raiding and needing loot to pay for imported food (and something to keep people's mind off the idea that this might be a punishment from the Gods for having a King instead of a Queen like they were told to), King Erius has gathered together an alliance to attack Plenimar directly and teach them a lesson. This war is however increasingly costly. This section is rather brief but we do see more portents, as Tobin sees more ghosts and spirits. We also see the children of the nobility that frankly are a mixed bag.

The story starts with Tobin's birth and ends with her... Well let me be blunt about it, it ends with her having her first period. Which is the event where Tobin finally learns that she is not a boy and what happened to Brother in the first place. Sadly, we don't get to see the fall out of this in the book. The book ends there with Lhel creating an even more powerful spell using Brother's bones to keep Tobin looking and feeling like a boy and Tobin reeling under the revelation that her entire life has been a lie. That made me scream with frustration right there! You've been building up to this the whole book and then you tell me to get another book to answer the question! Dirty Pool Ms. Flewelling, this is behavior I hate when I see it from Hollywood, forget the book industry. Still I knew this was a trilogy going in.

The Bone Doll's Twin gets a B-. Well written and masterfully plotted but making me deal with a kid stumbling about to find answers I already know for chapter after chapter and not letting me view the full resolution that you've building up to is going to cost you. I do however recommend it if you're into dark fiction and willing to start a new series. Hopefully when I pick up the 2nd book, Tobin will be more interesting.  

Queen Mab Courtesy by Dr. Bruce Davis.

o continue my almost tradition of full disclosure (I'm told you have to do something 3 times before it's actually tradition), I do know Dr. Davis and have been lucky enough to be the close friend of his eldest son. In fact his eldest son gave me my copy of his book. His family have been very gracious and kind to me over the years and I remain continually grateful. That said I promise that everything I say about this book is because it's what I actually think, whether y'all believe that or not is up to you.

This is not Dr. Davis' first go around at writing, he has been in fact writing for some time which is impressive when you consider he is also a respected trauma surgeon for one of Arizona's many hospitals. A profession not known for having a lot of free time. Despite this Dr. Davis has over the years built up a good amount of written work. This is his first fiction work that I've read however.

Queen Mab Courtesy is his most recent fiction work, a near future science fiction that embraces a lot of the same themes and ideas of cyberpunk... Without the cyberpunk baggage (sooo much 80s... SOOO MUCH). Don't get me wrong, I love me some Cyberpunk although I tend to prefer the edge cases. For example, I love me some Shadowrun! Hoping to restart that game soon! That said Cyberpunk does tend to demand the use of certain tropes and themes some of whom I think are rather obsolete. It also tends to have writers thinking they can do nothing but style over substance or go way down in the depths of cynical posturing without anything of any real weight to say. Frankly if I wanted that I could go watch the news. I'm not saying you can't have dark stories. I'm not saying that the bad guys can't win. But do something with that darkness don't just wave it around like a flag! Seriously, this kind of waste is just criminal.


Right, book review, sorry. Moving on. Queen Mab Courtesy takes place in the near future in the year 20something. How story focuses on a young man named Horacio 'Tito' Guzman. Tito is in many ways an unfortunate young man, although through no fault of his own. Tito is a Denver Dwarf, or to explain, he is someone who is born with massive birth defects due to a vaccine that wasn't properly tested. Now I'm sure you ask, why would we use an improperly tested vaccine on people? Simple. The vaccine was to contain a genetically engineered plague released in the worse terrorist attack in over a century. The terrorist group that committed this attack is frankly unimportant, what's more important are the effects that attack had on Tito and the society he has to live in. For example Tito is a dwarf and has eyes that are placed in a way that gives him a blind spot right in front of him. It makes reading somewhat difficult for him but he manages.

Let me talk about Tito for a second. Tito is a intelligent, determined young man who not only has to live with being treated like a circus freak by the average person but also a mental 5 year old. His gifts and talents are constantly denied and constrained. Anything good he finds in his life will inevitability be taken away. The best he can hope for in the system is a life of menial labor constantly supervised by people he could outsmart while high and drunk. Add in that his father disappeared when he was 3, pretty much abandoning him and his mother to the tender mercies of that system. His father was the man who invented the vaccine which makes Tito's own troubles somewhat ironic in a sense. As one can imagine all this has made him a tad angry and bitter. He is also deeply mistrusting of people and the society he must navigate. Let's talk about that society shall we?

The society is one that has become obsessed with safety and normalcy. Enormous powers have been ceded to the state in exchange for comfort and security. The police for the most part have been replaced with robot crawlers (although there are human supervisors you can demand to speak to). Citizenship has become more strictly defined, and means becoming part of a system that tracks everything about you. For example one of the robot police crawlers remembers a character that his water bill is due that day. Dr. Davis doesn't actually tell you any of this. You're left to infer this from Tito's commentary and the actions and statements of other characters. This is actually one of the things I like best about the book. The good Doctor resists the temptation to drop massive amounts of exposition on his readers and insists that if you want to know about the society that the story is taking place in, that you pay attention to that story and the characters within it. When done well and it is done well here, it's another thing that pulls you in because you frankly want to know more. It also prevents the flow of the story from being broken up with paragraphs of explanations a lot of people would rather skip (I'm looking at you Weber!). Another trap avoided here is politicizing this society. There are elements that could be considered right wing (omnipresent security state, surveillance and powers deferred to a corporation) and left wing (massive welfare state, incredible focus on comfort and avoiding offense etc). One thing that drags down a lot of dystopian fiction in general is the authors standing up on a soap box to assure that if his political opponents win, THIS IS YOUR FUTURE! My usual reaction to that is to roll my eyes so hard that I'm left with a headache. This makes continued reading difficult honestly. Here we don't get that. The society here feels like something built in a bi partisan moment. Usually those are good things, but I'll remind you that bi partisan moments also created the Patriot Act. This society is a distopia but a comfortable one that could be cobbled together by Senators from both parties working together under popular demand after the deaths of way to many people.

There are people who have refused to become part of the machine and they aren't citizens. They're called blanks. They have no rights and live very dangerous lives on the edge of society. Tito isn't one of them but damn if he isn't trying. When the book opens Tito is fleeing from a police crawler for the grand crime of welfare evasion. See as a Denver Dwarf (the majority of the group suffering from mental disabilities that haven't effected Tito thankfully) Tito isn't a citizen but a ward of the state. He hates that and is determined to escape that fate. Unfortunately the robots know neither pity nor fear and as such are unmoved by Tito's determination to simply live his own life. Lucky for him this time he is aided in his escape by another character in this story, Charlemagne Sleazer, aka Charlie, who pretends to sell chestnuts for a living. In reality he makes his living by trading favors or what he calls “Courtesies.”

Charlie is a really fun character to read. He's flamboyant and eloquent and quotes literature in a fun way. He also doesn't do it so often that you get tired of it. We also never have to suffer from Charlie telling us what he can do. He just shows us. I'd like to note that to other writers, showing me instead of telling me things will get you many bonus points. Charlie does favors great and small, for people of all sorts of social stations from his land lady (who he gets smokes for, which he has to because tobacco is banned), a local grocery store owner, a computer programmer and more. Charlie is also interested in Tito, for reasons that will remain unstated in this review as they would be spoilers. After rescuing Tito, Charlie takes him as sorta of an apprentice in the fine art of favor trading. Tito and Charlie shadowrunners for hire in and of itself would have been an awesome book, but Dr. Davis ups the ante. Maybe a little to quickly but there are limitations of space to consider after all.

With the discovery of a dead man who doesn't exist, Charlie and Tito find themselves embarking on a investigation that will force both of them to confront their pasts. In Tito's case he'll find himself learning things about himself and his family that will both comfort and disturb him deeply. We'll also through flashbacks get a look at the major events of Tito's life, helping us learn why he's so angry. Frankly, you'll see he has good reason. I really enjoyed this book and frankly I think you will to. I've already given a copy of this book out as a gift. That said it wasn't perfect. There are parts of the book that drag a bit (I didn't care for the section of the book going over Tito's school days honestly, I felt the book could have done without that) and the book is maybe slightly over focused. It's good that it stays devoted to it's characters instead drowning the story in a desire to explain everything... But... This was a larger picture I really would like to have more of a look at. Additionally the violence (of which there is shockingly little of for a Cyberpunkish novel) is rather lackluster. That may be because I have rather demanding standards for violence. Other then that it's a great story about a young man coming to grips with his past while trying to avoid capture by the police and solve a murder.

Queen Mab Courtesy gets a A-.
So good news for space battles! Next is the Bone Doll's Twin (recommended by my little brother, yes family recommendations come first.) but after that, A Bridge of Birds, with more recommendations to come!