Recent Reads: Dawson, Chu, and Schaff-Stump
Catching up on some of my recent reading…
First up is Phasma [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound], by Delilah Dawson. I wanted this book for two reasons. The first is that Phasma has been criminally underutilized in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. So much wasted potential, and I wanted more about her character.
The second is because this is the first Star Wars book with my name in it. Sure, it’s in small print on the back book flap (author photo credit), but it’s a start!
From the publisher:
Deep inside the Battlecruiser Absolution, a captured Resistance spy endures brutal interrogation at the hands of a crimson-armored stormtrooper—Cardinal. But the information he desires has nothing to do with the Resistance or its covert operations against the First Order.
What the mysterious stormtrooper wants is Phasma’s past—and with it whatever long-buried scandal, treachery, or private demons he can wield against the hated rival who threatens his own power and privilege in the ranks of the First Order. His prisoner has what Cardinal so desperately seeks, but she won’t surrender it easily. As she wages a painstaking war of wills with her captor, bargaining for her life in exchange for every precious revelation, the spellbinding chronicle of the inscrutable Phasma unfolds. But this knowledge may prove more than just dangerous once Cardinal possesses it—and once his adversary unleashes the full measure of her fury.
What impressed me most about this one was the frame story, which was used to talk about Phasma’s background and history. We know Phasma ends up as a high-level villain, which means her story isn’t likely to be a happy one. How do you tell her story without getting overwhelmed by the darkness and the hopelessness?
You bring in an awesome Resistance spy named Vi. As interesting as it was to learn Phasma’s story, Vi and Cardinal ended up being my favorite characters. Cardinal is a nice contrast with Phasma, being of equal rank and genuinely believing in the purpose and ideas of the First Order.
It’s still a dark story, but there’s hope as well. Well done, Dawson!
Read an excerpt at Starwars.com.
Next up is The Vessel of Ra [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound], by Catherine Schaff-Stump.
This is one of the twistier books I’ve read in a while, about magical families and their secrets and conflicts. Lucy Klaereon is bound to the demon Ra, destined to battle him for control. If she wins, she gains his service power. If she loses, she is to be killed. But Lucy’s family see her as weak, and nobody believes she’ll be able to win.
From the publisher:
While traveling in Venice in 1837, Lucy Klaereon, in order to save her family’s honor and her immortal soul, decides to commit suicide by drowning herself in the Grand Canal. Unfortunately for Lucy, she is rescued. Her rescuers believe they can separate her from the demon Ra, whom she is destined to fight because of an ancient family pact.
What Lucy does not know is that her rescuers have their own agenda. Paolo Borgia, head of a deposed magical family, wants to use Ra for his own purposes. Lucy is given an alternative, to separate herself from her demon and family, which she gladly welcomes. When she finds out the truth about Ra, Lucy’s purpose changes from not only freedom, but to righting an ancient wrong.
Octavia, Lucy’s older sister, is in pursuit. She has been trained since birth to kill Lucy when Lucy loses her battle with Ra.. At the ritual to free Ra, the two sisters clash with surprising results. Octavia is possessed by Ra and Lucy is determined to free her sister and keep Ra from reshaping the world in his image.
There is one small problem. Lucy has been murdered. However, she’s not about to let a small detail like that keep her from correcting her mistakes. Lucy will save Octavia, even if it kills her again.
There’s a lot going on in this book. Secrets and betrayals and love and death and more betrayals and several very power-hungry characters willing to do whatever it takes to increase their magic. There’s also courage and decency and hope. Every character comes with their own background and conflicts and stories. It makes for a very good and complex story.
Here’s an interview and excerpt where you can read more.
Finally, I read The Rise of IO [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound], by Wesley Chu.
This is a great follow-up to Chu’s books about Tao. (I reviewed The Lives of Tao here.) Whereas Tao was a highly skilled Quasing who had changed the course of human history through his hosts. the central Quasing in this book is…well, pretty much the anti-Tao. For example, one of IO’s more notable hosts was a general by the name of George Custer.
From the publisher:
Ella Patel – thief, con-artist and smuggler – is in the wrong place at the wrong time. One night, on the border of a demilitarized zone run by the body-swapping alien invaders, she happens upon a man and woman being chased by a group of assailants. The man freezes, leaving the woman to fight off five attackers at once, before succumbing. As she dies, to both Ella and the man’s surprise, the sparkling light that rises from the woman enters Ella, instead of the man. She soon realizes she’s been inhabited by Io, a low-ranking Quasing who was involved in some of the worst decisions in history. Now Ella must now help the alien presence to complete her mission and investigate a rash of murders in the border states that maintain the frail peace.
With the Prophus assigned to help her seemingly wanting to stab her in the back, and the enemy Genjix hunting her, Ella must also deal with Io’s annoying inferiority complex. To top it all off, Ella thinks the damn alien voice in her head is trying to get her killed. And if you can’t trust the voices in your head, who can you trust?
Like the earlier books, this is a fast-paced SF thriller with plenty of action, and I really enjoyed it. It’s nice to see women taking more of the stage in this one, and Ella is a great character: smart, streetwise, and practical.
There’s a pretty big plot thread left hanging at the end, so I assume (and hope) we’ll be getting more of IO soon. In the meantime, you can read the first chapter over at Tor.com.
February 2, 2018 @ 8:10 pm
As a pagan, I gotta say, I’m really uncomfortable with the implication the cover seems to indicate, that the “demon” Ra is the same as the Egyptian god Ra. Is that in the book?
Jim C. Hines
February 2, 2018 @ 8:23 pm
Schaff-Stump touches on this in the interview I linked.
Your book is about demons! And some of them turn out to be Egyptian Gods banished into the abyss by King Solomon. Historically speaking, there is likely to have been significant cultural and religious exchange between Egypt and Canaan. Starting around the fourth century, Christianity suppressed the worship of Egyptian deities and a lot of the practices were adapted to fit Christian theology. Is there some underlying commentary here?
Cath: Well, yes. Historically, Christianity has proven to be the universal recipient of religion, and an old practice of Christianity has been to integrate pagan practices into accepted religion. This occurred not only in Egypt, but also in Rome, Britain, and Ireland, to name just a few examples. There are spots in the world where folklore merges with Christianity, such as Arthurian legend and Norwegian folk tales. In the case of The Vessel of Ra, there is obvious extrapolation on my part. A legend of the Middle East tells about how King Solomon enslaved the djinn and made them do his bidding. It seemed a small stretch to imagine Solomon banishing deities as well.
February 3, 2018 @ 7:13 am
Reading that part of the interview, still REALLY uncomfortable. But now I know to avoid it. Shame. Otherwise sounds intriguing.