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Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
January 2011

Title: Pegasus
Author: Robin McKinley
EAN: 9780399246777

Ask me who my favorite authors are and -- hard pressed as I am to narrow it down to less than twenty -- Robin McKinley is always at the top of the list. She has remained stubbornly at the top position, despite the fact that I have not enjoyed her last three books. I couldn't even finish Dragonhaven. I felt completely miserable about that one. But I refused to give up on her. I hoped that the muse would find her again, that she would wander back to Damar, or retell another fairy tale in the way that only Robin McKinley can. I wanted the gorgeous prose and complex worlds and even more complex characters that she can weave like straw into gold. I didn't expect another Blue Sword or Deerskin, but a girl can dream, can't she? I bought my copy of Pegasus hoping for nothing, but praying that I would not be disappointed.

I am happy to report: This is the book I've been waiting a decade for.

The world of the pegasi is so incredibly well done, I honestly didn't care much about the plot. I love those books, where the world is so incredibly interesting that you just want to chew on the scenery and study the sociology and learn the vocabulary, and you keep checking where you are in the book and happy that you're nowhere near the end yet. The basic plot is simple enough: after almost a millennium of humans and pegasi living in harmony but unable to communicate usefully, even with the aid of a "Speaker," a young, fourth-born princess (Sylvi) and a young Pegasus (Ebon) discover at their bonding ceremony that they can mentally communicate with each other perfectly. This unprecedented event throws the royal court into even more chaos -- a chaos already begun by the increasing frequency of dangerous magical beasts crossing into human-pegasi lands.

As Sylvi grows up and travels to places no human has gone before, the McKinley fan in me wondered if this world wasn't some other incarnation of Damar, if the Dreaming Sea has any relation to Meeldtar's Water of Sight, if the rocs and taralians and norindours were part of Thurra's army, and if the blue light of the king's Sword isn't reminiscent of Aerin's bloodthirsty Gonturan. None of these questions are answered directly, and that's fine.

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What is not fine is the abrupt ending of the book. I screamed in frustration when I read the last line, and instead of throwing the book across the room, I opened my laptop and pulled up McKinley's blog to see if there was any mention of a sequel (also unprecedented in the worlds of this author). As it turns out, McKinley called Pegasus her Lord of the Rings. When she was writing the story, she knew that it was bigger than one book, so she found a stopping place and did just that. STOP. She said that if the reader loved the story, they would hate her for the ending. Since I have been given permission, I will say outright that I hate Robin McKinley . . . at least until I get my hands on the sequel.

The real wrist-slap goes out to Putnam, the publisher. It would not have killed them to print TO BE CONTINUED after that last line, leaving the reader with something more than a few blank endpapers and a sense of loss. Those who would not think to Google the author's website will have just that, without hope at all, and they may not be as stubborn as I am in keeping the authors I love close to my heart.

Title: The Osiris Ritual
Author: George Mann
EAN: 9780765323217

Once upon a time I was a series purist and completist. I needed to start with Book One of a series and go on chronologically until I came to the end (or until the author lost me in boring minutiae). Now that I've read my way around the library a few times, I enjoy jumping into an already-established series just to see if the author has the chops to draw me in and pull it off without my having read the first one. In The Osiris Ritual, a Newbury and Hobbes investigation, author George Mann passes the test with flying colors.

The Osiris Ritual is steampunk Sherlock Holmes, before the Sherlock Holmes movie was steampunk Sherlock Holmes. Sir Maurice Newbury is also a little 007, as he's an agent of the crown -- in a world where "Long Live the Queen" is more of a curse than a blessing. He likes his laudanum only slightly less than his Earl Grey, and his partner is the devastatingly lovely Veronica Hobbes (in lieu of the stodgy Watson).

The Osiris Ritual itself refers to a legendary necromantic ritual reported to have been discovered (and then summarily hidden) by the ancient Egyptians. At the start of the book, Sir Maurice attends a polite gathering hosted by one Lord Henry Winthrop. Winthrop, very much the ostentatious philanthropist, is far more interested in showing off his spectacular mechanical butlers and newly uncovered sarcophagus than he is about studying the history of the sarcophagus . . . and the curse of the mummy inside it.

Soon after, Sir Maurice is called off on another assignment by HRH Victoria: a fellow secret agent once thought dead has suddenly been given new, machine-enhanced life and gone rogue. Meanwhile, Veronica is off on her own quest to find the answers behind why a number of women have recently gone missing -- women who may or may not have something to do with a professional illusionist. In the process, the reader discovers that Veronica has a few secrets of her own . . .

Vanishing women! Mechanical speeding carriages! Opium dens! Rooftop foot races! This book really is as fast-paced and fun as it sounds. I highly recommend it -- if you happen across it in the train station, as I did, be sure to pick it up. You will not be disappointed. Mann is lavish in his detail, but not purple in his prose. Victorian perfection, masterfully done.

And now I'm very much looking forward to going back and sinking my teeth into The Affinity Bridge, the first of the Newbury and Hobbes adventures. But before that, I desperately need to replenish my stash of Earl Grey. I appear to be fresh out.

Title: Subject Seven
Author: James A. Moore
EAN: 9781595143044

The theme of my column this week is apparently series, or books that are some small part of a bigger whole. I dove into Subject Seven having no idea if it was book one of a series, and at the writing of this column I still have no idea. But sure as heck hope it is, because I would really like to know what happens.

From the first page of Subject Seven, author James A. Moore throws you right in the deep end. There are authors who can't pull this off, but Moore is not one of them. The reader is too busy following the action to wonder about answering all the questions they don't know -- there will be time for that, we realize, right now we just need to get out alive. There is automatic sympathy with the character of Subject Seven, and we want nothing more than his success.

Beyond that chapter, as we discover more bits and pieces of this complicated plot, we're not sure who to root for anymore. We're not even really sure what's going on . . . because the characters in the books have no idea what's going on. Each chapter is written from the POV of someone who has constant blackouts and bouts of amnesia, and for the first 200 pages, we're not sure if this is some sort of dissociative identity disorder, or a Jekyll and Hyde scenario, or both. You literally cannot put the book down -- I warn you about this because I did, and when I picked it back up again I was even more confused. And then I remembered that I was supposed to be confused, so I just kept on reading. Luckily, Subject Seven is an amazingly easy read and the pages just flew by.

Just like Pegasus, by the time I reached the last chapter of Subject Seven, I realized there were not enough pages left in the book to wrap up a lot of the story. You get enough pieces of the puzzle that fit together . . . and then you stand back and realize it's only the left corner of a much bigger puzzle. It left me hanging, and slightly frustrated. I desperately wanted to know more -- once again, the ARC I was reading gave no hint to the existence of future books in the series.

What happened to teaser chapters (which, granted, are usually not included in ARCs) or subtitles like "Book One of the Subject Seven Series." It's like watching the pilot of a really great sci-fi series and not knowing if the network picked up the rest of the shows.

Which brings up another great point about this book -- from the cover (which I hope doesn't change) to the last page, Subject Seven would make a great television series. We need something new since Stargate got canned and Heroes jumped the shark. Are you listening, Syfy?

Read more by Alethea Kontis

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