Carrot’s Book Review: WTF Undead Edition

Editor’s note: Am not being paid to review and linky goes to not the Amazonian empire.

So, class. You might remember my love of necromancers, and so I finally got around to Harrow the Ninth, sequel to Gideon the Ninth.

Listening, more like. My brain has been scatter shot of late and I can’t keep my eyes on the printed word for very long, skimming like I was trying to cram before a college final. Audio books are rarely an option for me as I cannot stand most voices. I have finally found myself another audio reader that I can stand (still can count them all on one hand) and settled in for some embroidery and listening. Thank you Moira Quirk.

We shall begin. Ahem.

Whiskey.

Tango.

Foxtrot.

I had so much no-damn-clue what was going on, I checked out the first audio book for a re-listen to help me get fresher base for whatever insane bit of storytelling architecture I was subjecting myself. By the way, Sassomancers get +3 to everything when voiced in snotty English accents. The kids kept interrupting me wanting to know what I was laughing at.

While I had a better understanding of Gideon’s tale of WTF, I still had no idea what was going on with Harrow’s WTF. It didn’t mean the story wasn’t interesting, it just had less Sassomancy than the first book. I’m not even sure how to describe what was going on without giving exceptional spoilers. We do get introduced to the Undying Emperor. Some space travel. Some space bees.

I’m not kidding. Space bees. You know you want to read it now just for that.

Again, there’s some hard science to the necromancy but still no damn explanation on how the Emperor Undying became undying and no damn explanation on why they’re at war or who they’re at war with! There were times I had to stop to consider that maybe this story was being told by the baddies perpetuating a terrible and unjust conflict. It didn’t make any more sense of the tale I was being told.

Harrow’s strange little trip does get some resolution by the end. Most of her crazy little drama is made clear, but in the process of unveiling that madness, it just gives you another crate of WTF and isn’t even shy about the cliff hanger it gives you.

Bastards.

So, just the fact I listened to it on loop to make sure the WTF portion of this novel wasn’t 100% a user error (constant familial interruptions likely contributed) should be factored into the entertainment the book provided based on my Stargate Theory*. The characters were interesting, the mystery compelling, I’m dying to find out the rest of the world and the universe and am still holding out that I will have that itch scratched sooner rather than later. I suppose I need to find out if Ms. Quirk read the rest of them and hope that giving them a listen will make All Thing Clear(tm).

Still no clever undead ratings, so I’ll give it another four outta five stars just for the brain game it played with me.

Carrot’s Stargate Theory: Back when Stargate hit the theater, a knot of us nerds went to see it and debated the merits – or lack thereof – for well into the evening. Someone pointed out that we talked about the movie longer than the movie’s actual run time. It was postulated that any movie that could make you discuss it for that long was de facto a good movie.

Ergo, the fact that a completely incomprehensible book was interesting enough in its confusion to get you to hit repeat for a second ride meant that it was good.

A little called out there.

(scene opens in cluttered dinning room, merit badge work in progress)

Carrot: (typing around Delta in her lap) Okay, requirement #2b says you have to pick a book of a “best of” list that you think you’d like to read and write it down.

Beta: (unenthused)

Carrot: (after the third list heavy on the “Live, Laugh, Love” bullshit) Wow, its a lot harder than I thought to find something to read.

Beta: Try narrowing it down to just best science-fiction of 2021.

Carrot: Here we go. (starts to scroll, points to the screen) Read that one. Don’t recommend. Oh! I read the first one of this series! (camera cuts to screen, showing Harrow the Ninth)

Beta: (skeptical)

Carrot: Stay with me. It’s got a very Warhammer 40k setting.

Beta: (skeptically interested) …..yeah?

Carrot: And everyone has a different flavor of necromancy.

Beta: (explodes) What is it with you and necromancers!? First its necromancer vampires! Then its necromancer space marines! (waves arms in Muppet flail) Look over there! Necromancer ponies!

Carrot: (loses it completely, laughs copious fat tears into Delta’s moppy blond curls)

Beta: Seriously. What the hell is wrong with you?

Delta (echoing) Yeah mom! What’s wrong with you?

(Carrot laughs until it hurts, fade to black, cut to car commercial)

Literary References

(scene opens in messy kitchen, Carrot hastily making school lunches)

Gamma: Mom? Can I wear this jacket? (holds up ratty Starfleet letterman)

Me: (pained) I’d rather you not, the sleeves are peeling and I’ve not replaced them with real leather yet.

Gamma: Please?! Look! It almost fits me! (puts it on)

Me: (defeated) Sure, just be very careful with it? I don’t want it to get beyond repair. (goes back to making sandwiches)

Gamma: Mom? What’s Battlestar Galactica?

Me: (taken aback) What? Uh…its another space show. About humanity’s survival against the Cylons. Sentient robots – maybe androids – that rose up and rebelled against their masters.

Gamma: (with deep and excessive sarcasm) Oh. Robots rising up against their masters. Where have I heard that before?

Me: All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.

Gamma: Wut?

Me: Nothing. It’s a trope. Tropes are reoccurring themes in entertainment and literature. They’re meant to convey certain concepts. Everything is referencing something else. If you understand all the references, you get a much deeper story.

Gamma: (dismissive) You’d think they’d come up with something new by now.

Me: Yeah, well, everything old is eventually made new. Get your boots on, it’s go time.

The importance of literature.

(scene opens in bitterly cold min-van, conversation in progress)

Gamma: And then my teacher said Slytherin was the best house. When she asked me to hold open the door, I said she had to make Gryffindor just as good as Slytherin. And then I held it open. Gryffindor is the Hero House

Me: (considers that, sighs) Okay. So. As much as I enjoyed the books, the idea that one house is all good and one house is all bad is very simplistic writing. The real world isn’t like that.

Gamma: But Draco is Slytherin and Slytherin is evil.

Me: Draco is not evil and neither is Slytherin. Draco was taught hate and bigotry by his parents, that’s why it persists over generations. Slytherin isn’t evil either. Ambition, while not exactly a virtue, isn’t an evil thing. Its good to be ambitious, to want to be the best at something. To excel.

Gamma: Like Hermoine!

Me: Yes, Hermoine is a very ambitious woman. Where ambition goes wrong is when winning is all that matters and comes at the expense of the safety and well-being of others. Ambition without empathy. As for the Hero House, being brave is all well and good, but sometimes being brave is following the rules. How many times did Harry and crew break the rules?

Gamma: All the time!

Me: And it always worked out for them in the end, which is also nothing like real life. Rules sometimes exist for a reason. The flip side of brave is reckless. Breaking rules just because you think rules don’t apply to you is extremely selfish and somewhat dangerous.

Gamma: Dumbledore gave them extra points when they broke rules so they’d win the house cup.

Me: Which was poor form. It might as well be cheating and abusing a position of authority. Now, as for Hufflepuff, the flip side of Loyalty is giving your loyalty to someone who doesn’t deserve it.

Gamma: Like Crabbe and Goyle! They were very loyal. Why weren’t they in Hufflepuff and not Slytherin?

Me: I don’t know. Maybe their parents were in Slytherin and they wanted to be just like them. Sometimes kids will do whatever their parents say – like Draco – or try to be just like them because they think if they don’t, their parents won’t like them any more. That’s how you perpetuate generational hate. They’re being hateful to other people to win their parent’s love and approval. Anyway, being a loyal friend isn’t supporting them 100% of the time. Sometimes being a loyal friend is standing up to them when they’re about to do something dumb or hurtful or dangerous.

(car pulls into school parking lot)

Gamma: What about Ravenclaw?

Me: The flip side of Intelligence is believing your own hype. You get to the point where you have so much faith in your own smarts, you can’t possibly think that anyone is as smart or smarter than you. So you refuse to listen to experts in their own field. No one is an expert on everything. There will always be an expert that knows more about a subject than you do, and you should listen and learn what they have to teach.

(stops car)

Me: Now. Go to school, learn new things, stay warm, I’ll see you later.

Gamma: Bye! (hops out of car runs off)

Me: (drives the circle to Delta’s building)

Delta: You talk a lot, mom.

Me: Thank you for listening.

Delta: You’re welcome. (hops out of car, runs off)

Carrot’s Book Review: Crime Pays

Since it was a duology, I figured I’d finish both books before I said anything.

Here we revisit the Grishaverse with Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.

(Ed. note: I was not paid for this review and for all those that wish to avoid the Amazonian empire, links connect to an independent bookstore)

Loved! It!

It follows the heist and tribulations of a group of thieves and con-men. If you’d seen the Shadow & Bone tv show on Netflix, we’re talking about Brekker, Inej, and Jasper. I might have mentioned before that the show and books deviate a great deal by combining characters/plots, making them all one big story arc rather than separate one (there’s a duology after this one with another charcter years after the Sun Summoner drama).

I do speculate, however, with how the first season of the show ended and how Nina and her Fjerdian boyfriend came to questionable ends, I suspect that the meat of these books are what will be on the plate for our loveable thieves in the next season.

But moving on. I really love Brekker. Love me some cold and highly competent crime bosses. Thanks to having watched the show first, I envisioned the actors rather than my brain creating them from nothing. I’m not entirely sure I could see that much competence in a gang of teenagers, but then I never had to hone my wits and my skill to survive an uncaring underworld that’d chew you up and spit you out the first chance they’d get.

It was also better written, I think, than the Shadow & Bone trilogy. Ms. Bardugo upped her game. Mad props.

Even better? There was an accidental necromancer! We’ve already discussed how much I love necromancers. So it was like I got my cake and ate it too. I really hope that if there are any more novels set in this world, we get some more Brekker, Inej, and Jasper. They are really the best thing about the Grishaverse.

Except maybe the coats. I’d love a kefta.

Giving these books a Double the Pleasure.

Carrot’s Book Review: Undead Edition

We come here together to talk about Gideon the Ninth, written by Tamsin Nur.

I love Necromancers as a general rule. Most gaming systems (eventually) offer them as a class choice and I love playing them. There’s not a whole lot of variation, sadly, almost as if people really don’t know what to do with Necromancers save “raise the dead” and “summon ghost”. It means that while you get the option of playing one, you’re very limited on what you’re allowed to do. No one wants to make Necromancers more deadly than Tanks for some reason. Like its an offensive threat to the Nerd Gods to up-end some sort of classic and traditional “He-Man Protects Nerdy Weak Magic Class” dynamic. Can’t have freaky Goth Kids saving the Captain of the Football team, right?

But I digress.

The fact that Gideon the Ninth is a book entirely about futuristic space necromancers (bear with me) was a big draw. Not gonna lie. I would not be surprised to find out that the author is a closet Warhammer 40k fan. Or at least has spent a goodly amount of time flipping through lore books. There are nine – count them nine! – noble houses all with their own variation/flavor of necromancy, and they serve/worship their Undying God Emperor who apparently is battling some space war with something never specified.

Its the never-specified that gets me. Were I to go with a traditional Five Star Rating, I’ll have to go with a Four just because while I really liked it, I had no goddamn idea what was going on for the start of the book. It opens cold into this universe with no explanation and you have to scramble to fill the holes as you find them. I don’t mind scrambling if the story is good, its like a treasure hunt and the map unfurls oh-so very slowly.

Oh you terrible tease!

Once you settle in and come to terms that some things will not be explained, like most of the worlds and their cultures, you can focus on the characters, which are a delight. Gideon is a straight up Sassomancer and who doesn’t like some mouthy chick with a sword, amirite? Every house has a necromancer at the lead, and every one of those house scions has a dedicated sword master to serve them. Nice to see the Goth Kids in charge for once, even as there’s still the thug-protecting-the-scholar set up. This story centers around Gideon as the sword master (they call them cavaliers) to the Head of the Ninth House. Personality conflicts ensue.

I can only guess that there will be more explanation of WT Ever Living F (“ever living” ha ha, see what I did there?) is going on with this never ending necromantic war and why everything seems to be multiple millennia old and crumbling around them. Maybe how they got an Undying God Emperor, how you resurrect an entire solar system, and for what purpose? Where are all the regular people?

I guess this is more of my map slowly unfurling. There are four books in this run, the fourth not yet published. I only recently discovered there’s a couple Point(tm) in this series. And by Point I mean this new (and weird trend) to publish books slightly out of order and “to the side”. Example? Having just finished Book #1, I discovered there’s a Book #0.5 (which is NOT in my local library!). Book #1 was published in 2019, book #0.5 published in 2020. I suppose all the explanation I didn’t get in Gideon the Ninth was published in a later game supplement back up novel? There’s also a #2.5 novel which seemed to be published in correct order between #2 and #3. Does that mean I don’t have to read it to make the novel make sense? And if I do have to read it, why isn’t #2.5 just #3? I guess I’ll figure out when I get there.

I would like to know why this is now a thing in writing. It’s a bit aggravating.

But I digress again!

Some of it was way sciencey. I glossed over that a little bit, wanting to get back to the witty sassomancer and her necromancer. It gets a little deep with the science experiments and the alluding to previous studies. Like, the actual scientific theorems of various necromantic abilities. They put a way lot of thought into what Necromancers can/could do if given the ability to really stretch their magic class. A little hard science in your sci-fi-fantasy, I guess. Hey – DMs & STs – read these books and take some damn notes so your Necromancers can do more than just tag along behind the party to question the guy you accidentally killed.

This here book is getting Four Stars because I don’t have a witty rating for it that doesn’t somehow involve Bela Lugosi.

0/10 Not Recommend

(scene opens in detritus laden dinning room, Carrot sorting through a school year’s worth of papers)

Me: Gamma? Can you come here and fill out your memory book for the school year?

Gamma: (slinks to the table, picks up pen) No field trips. No cafeteria. No classrooms. No playground. Guess I’m done.

Me: Wait! Get back here! (dumps twenty half used notebooks in recycling) What’s on the next page?

Gamma: (looks at choices) Goals for next year.

(camera close up on scribble reading “See people”)

Gamma: Am I done?

Me: Go ahead. (sighs, picks up Delta’s book as Gamma flees stage left) Delta? What was your favorite game?

Delta: Nothing.

Me: On the playground?

Delta: Nothing

Me: Favorite story?

Delta: Nothing.

Me: Favorite color? Favorite teacher? Names of your friends?

Delta: Black. None. I don’t have any.

Me: Damn, kid. Do you like anything?

Delta: I like XBox.

Me: (writes that down) The parenting books did not have a chapter on this.

Literature

(scene opens in Pandemic Homeschool)

Me: (miserable between two zoom meetings)

Delta: (fascinated by sing song story time)

Gamma: (talking to speech therapist) I have to read something out loud?

Me: (looks around quickly for suitable reading)

Gamma: (to screen) I have a copy of Terry Pratchett’s “The Hogfather” if that’s okay? (hold up book taken from stack of stuff)

Me: (dumbfounded)

Gamma: (begins to read “The Hogfather” outloud to teacher)

Me: (silently)

The gift that keeps on giving.

(flashback)

Big Boys: (yelling) Die Hard is not a Christmas movie, dad!

Husband: It’s okay to be wrong.

(scene opens in Christmas flavored pandemic parlor)

Husband: (unwrapping present, pauses in wonder) Oh. You didn’t.

Big Boys: (yelling) Mom! You didn’t!

Me: (smug) Now every year we can read it on Christmas eve and remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Big Boys: (yelling) Mom!

Me: Maybe you’ll stop complaining about being forced to watch the Hogfather every Christmas eve?

Beta: I thought you loved us.

Me: I love your father more.

Book Club

(scene opens in quarantined parlor)

Beta: (sullen) I finished folding laundry. Now what.

Me: (fiercely) Excellent. Time for one hour of book reading.

Beta: (collapses bonelessly into chair, reaches for laptop)

Me: What are you doing?

Beta: Logging on to the school library for an audio book.

Me: (outraged) No! Reading! Re-ah-ding! Silently! With your eyes!

Beta: (hysterical) But I’ve read every book in this house!

Me: (evil laugh) You have not.

Beta: (sullen again) I’ve read every book in my room.

Me: (standing up from table) I bet you haven’t, but follow me.

(camera cuts to messy but obviously parental bedroom)

Me: Behold (waves hand at stuffed bookshelf) I have over a hundred Dr. Who books. Pick one. Pick two, they’re short. I have books you’ve never seen before. I have boxes of books in the back of the closet. I have books in boxes in the attic. I have boxes of books in the basement. I have more books than you can possible read in two pandemics. The one things you can never say to me is “I’ve read everything”.

Beta: (collapses onto the bed in tears)

Me: (hands him “Novels of the Jaran” by Kate Elliot) Start reading. You’ll like this one, it has aliens. And horses.

Royal Matters

(scene opens in towel strewn bathroom)

Me: (stripping down toddler) Okay, first we’re going to go potty, then brush our teeth, and then bed time!
Delta: Four story! (holds up three fingers)
Me: One story. Now, get up there and go potty.
Delta: (runs to potty, looks in) Someone did’t flush! (points, outraged)
Me: Its okay, get up there and we’ll flush after. (gets up off the floor)
Delta: No! I flush! (flushes the toilet, stands arms folded to watch)
Me: (sigh) Okay. We’ll wait. (mutters under breath) Princess.
Delta: Not a princess! I an king!
Me: My apologizes, your majesty. Can we go potty now?
Delta: (climbs onto the toilet, doing victory head bob) I an king! I an king! I want four story because I an king! (holds up three fingers)
Me: (starts prepping the toothbrush)

How am I not ruling the world?

(scene opens in a tossed parlor)

Me: For the last time today, sit down and do your reading for English.
Beta: (whining) But I did my reading!
Me: That was for your Merit Badge. Different book. English class. Now.
Beta: (more whining, gravity suddenly triples in effort to reach paperback)
Me: (refuses to be baited, sips coffee)
Beta: (studies book as if having never seen it before) What page was I on?
Me: (temporarily looses vision) What makes you think I would know that?
Beta: (guileless) You’re supposed to be keeping up with my homework so I know what I’m doing.
Me: Find. Your. Page. Read. The. Whole. Book. Tonight.