Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials is second in this mystery series set in contemporary Singapore. Aunty Lee provides catering, including a dish that can be deadly if prepared improperly, and two people die after eating it. As you might imagine, the dish did not kill them. As in the previous installment, the mystery is very character based, with Aunty Lee being a classic Nosy Old Lady Who Solves Mysteries character; I like her and her sidekick Nina a lot. One of the murder victims is a gay character, and the previous book had a lesbian victim, neither of whom did anything wrong; I’m hoping this trend will not continue. At least one gay couple is thriving! Content warning: human organ trafficking.
Knot of Shadows by Lois McMaster Bujold is the most recent of the Penric and Desdemona series; it felt a bit thin in comparison to a recent longer installment, despite centering on a tangled theological issue tied into a mysterious not-death that Penric and his demon Desdemona must unravel. See what I did there? I’m in this series for Bujold’s narrative voice and for her characters, so I’m always happy to visit again. Content warning for reference to a child’s death.
Personal Paradise by Barbara Hambly is a short fiction tie-in to the Windrose fantasy series; there are a number of these that I’ve slowly been working my way through. In this one, exiled wizard Antryg Windrose of the Empire of Ferryth and computer programmer Joanna Sheraton, living together in 1980s Los Angeles, encounter aliens who’ve created a series of pocket universes for elites that are starting to fail, possibly destroying the multiverse in the process; both of them are needed to solve the problem. Just Like Real People by Barbara Hambly, more with Antryg and Joanna, begins with a missing person and ends with grief and a meditation on making reparation and whether true justice can ever be achieved.
The Magistrates of Hell by Barbara Hambly is fourth in her James and Lydia Asher, and Spanish vampire Don Simon Ysidro, series; I skipped the third but will be going back to it. I read the original novel in the late 1980s, when I was first getting into Hambly’s work, and the second several years later. It’s been about fifteen years since then! I only recalled a very few things about the previous two books: James was older than his wife Lydia and studied linguistics; Lydia wore glasses (Hambly has multiple glasses-wearing characters); Simon had white hair and unrequited something for Lydia. All of those things seemed to carry over. I had forgotten that James had been a secret agent for the British Empire, though, and that Lydia trained as a doctor! This installment, set in 1912 Beijing (Peking at the time to the English-speaking characters), features The Others, zombie-like vampiric creatures that can control rats and work as a hivemind; they were apparently introduced in volume three. Asher and an old mentor, the Rebbe Karlebach (also probably introduced in volume three), fear the Others have made their way from Prague to Peking. Then a woman is murdered, but not by the Others, and it’s not even a major part of the plot; it’s almost dropped completely. This book has a lot going on. There are bandits, and gossipy colonialist diplomats, and a diplomat who is abusive to women and has murdered a couple (he’s not a vampire), and on top of all that there’s organized crime, and Japanese diplomats who are handy with swords, and the late appearance of a mysterious Chinese priest with psychic abilities, and of course Simon Ysidro fading in and out of places and dreams. Also rats. Content warning for many rats. Blankets of rats. Face-chewing rats. Did I mention the rats? This was one of the more grim and piteous Hambly books I’ve read; it reminded me a bit of Hambly’s Darwath books, but on a smaller scale. I feel bad for the rats, who didn’t ask for the plot they got.
A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske is a fantasy male/male romance set in a 1908 England which has a secret community of magicians who hide their existence via a drug called lethe mint and occasional dangerous memory spells. Unmagical Robin Blyth is “unbusheled” when his new government job turns out to be liaising with the magical community. He’s swiftly embroiled in a dangerous and deadly magical plot; he relies on magical Edwin Courcey, his magical liaison counterpart, to get him out of it while discovering he might not be as unmagical as he thought. Robin is an athletic extrovert; Edwin is an intellectual loner with very little magic, who’s spent his life bullied by his older brother. I loved that the looming threat of World War One is part of the villains’ motivation. The characterization is great and multiple systems of magic are shown, that I suspect will be explored more fully in future installments. I’m looking forward to more from this author. This book is first in a planned trilogy.
Blood Maidens by Barbara Hambly is third in the James Asher series, and it does indeed reference his mentor Karlebach and the vampiric “Others” of Prague, but more briefly than I’d guessed given their appearance in book four. Also, there are significantly fewer rats. In 1911, Asher travels to St. Petersburg with the vampire Ysidro to investigate the disappearance of a vampire friend of his, which might be linked to vampires allying with Prussia. Eventually, Lydia Asher follows there to investigate a German scientist’s mysterious experiments involving blood. There are many train journeys between Russia and Germany, the danger from vampires sometimes less worrisome than danger from humans, because Asher used to be a spy for the English government, and could be recognized and jailed or killed at any moment. This was a tense thriller, and I loved the many plot twists. I did want more interaction between James and Lydia; they are mostly working separately throughout. Content warning for brief description of Lydia’s past miscarriage.
The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison is the newest from this author, a sequel to The Witness for the Dead. It’s a secondary world fantasy with a mystery plot; really there are several mysteries. If you liked the first one, I am pretty sure you will like the second one; first-person narrator Thara Celehar continues to be a quiet badass who does not realize he is a badass, and who also has trouble recognizing that other people like and value him as a persongiv. This gives an extra layer of emotional intensity to his various griefs and struggles. The opera composer from volume one is back and his agonizingly slow burn potential romance with Thara takes another step or two. A fascinating new female character is introduced and I have hopes she will be a bigger part of volume three (I’m told there will be three total).
I reread The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison after The Grief of Stones; it features the initial appearance of Thara Celehar, and I caught a few things I’d missed before.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang is second in a trilogy, but I read it last thanks to the vagaries of my library holds. Heroine My/Esme is a mixed-race single mother in Vietnam who lives with her mother and grandmother. She works as hotel housekeeping because she had to drop out of school. Khai is American-born, on the autism spectrum, and convinced he has no feelings thanks to a traumatic event in his youth. Khai’s Vietnamese immigrant mother offers Esme the chance to spend a summer in California, to see if Esme and Khai might be able to form a relationship and a marriage. Esme realizes this gives her a chance to search for her father, who left Vietnam before her mother knew she was pregnant; he was an American who went to school in California. Though not a Marriage of Convenience plot exactly, the Arranged Marriage plot feels similar, and since I love Marriage of Convenience for the character conflicts it can generate, this story was catnip to me. Esme (the American name My chooses for the summer) and Khai are both smitten by each other on sight, at least as far as physical appearance. Outgoing Esme repeatedly reaches out, and introvert Khai, while bemused and sometimes confused by her efforts, responds swiftly. The largest conflict arises when commitment to marriage grows closer. Khai firmly believes he doesn’t love Esme, though it’s obvious to his family and to the reader that he does. Khai thinks he is “addicted” to her. Esme takes him at his word, since he’s a very truthful person. Though he offers a marriage of convenience, she is too in love with him to tolerate that shadow of a relationship. Meanwhile, Esme works harder toward ways to stay in the United States where she has more opportunities, and Khai helps her to look for her father. As with the other two Hoang books I’ve read, this is a romance between good people who are sweet together but have to overcome realistic obstacles to achieve their happily ever after. Recommended!
My TBR Challenge book for June is After the War: The Great Silence by Juliet Nicolson.
Freedom’s Chance by ladysorka is a space opera AU of Stargate: Atlantis in which Rodney McKay has grown up on an obscure, isolated moon where the chief industry is gas diving, extracting valuable gases In Spaaace. John Sheppard, on the run, is forced to stop at the outpost to get his ship fixed. This had the feel of a wide-ranging space opera even though confined to a small outpost, helped along by a lot of cool details about the larger world mentioned in passing. The outpost’s economic and political conflicts with the hegemonic Fleet and Core were very well-thought-out and realistic.