Monday, November 22, 2010

Killbox by Ann Aguirre/The Gentleman Poet by Kathryn Johnson

First, another great quote from Shelf Awareness:
"Even with all of the so-called new media out there, books still have
the potential to be the most powerful medium of them all. Complex ideas
are explored over hundreds of pages and over several days, giving the
ideas time to sink in and take root, changing a person. Being exposed to
an idea or concept through social media or an article just doesn't have
the same impact. Meeting authors who yield this power wisely is still a

--Don Allen, publications director, Busboys and Poets, Washington, D.C.

Killbox is the 4th book in Ann Aguirre's Sirantha Jax science fiction series, and though it contains her usual roller-coaster ride action and space adventure, it also ties up a lot of loose ends in Jax's life, readying us for what I can only assume is the final novel in the series.

Jax has the genetic mutation to navigate grimspace and get ships from place to place across the galaxy, and because she was concieved in grimspace, she is also able to heal herself of the side effects that damage most "jumpers" and make them eventually unable to jump anymore.
Killbox has Jax quitting her ambassadorial role and mentoring a young jumper, as well as spending time with her beloved March and creating a militia to keep ships and colonies from being attacked by pirates or the cannibalistic Morgut, creatures who see humanity as a tasty food source.
I found the pace of this novel measured and deliberate, yet still exciting. The characters are, as always, full-bodied and fascinating, and the love scenes enthralling...few people can write a modern bedroom scene as well as Ann Aguirre. I was glad to see Jax take control of her destiny in this novel, though I was a bit freaked out by the ending of the book, which leaves us not knowing if Jax will survive her attempt to reset the beacons of grimspace to thwart the Morgut. It was interesting to watch her use her new implants and scientific advances to actually hear what the Morgut say, and realize that they are sentient, though confused by the idea that their 'meat' doesn't want to be slaughtered due to our own sentience. Jax's support systems and friends all fall away at once, and Jax realizes that it all comes down to her and her special skills to save the universe. I was gratified to note that Jax's evil mafioso mother died a heroic death, and that she and March are on stable ground in their relationship. I will be awaiting the next installment eagerly, as now I have to know if Jax's plan works, and if she and Hit make it back alive. I'd give Killbox a solid A, and recommend it to all who've read the other Sirantha Jax novels.

The Gentleman Poet by Kathryn Johnson is an interesting fictional take on the life of a servant in Shakespeares time, and on the origins of Shakespeare's "The Tempest."
The protagonist, Elizabeth Miranda Persons, a young girl who has been forced into indentured servitude by the plague and persecution of Catholics by Queen Elizabeth I, her namesake, is working for a mean and cruel old woman of the gentry when she takes a voyage from England to the Virginia colonies in the "new world" on a ship called the Sea Venture. Unfortunately, the 150 passenger vessel is wreaked off the coast of Bermuda, and Miranda is forced to cook and clean not only for the Mistress Horton, but also for the Admiral and the other sailors and shipwreaked folk, including William Strachey, who is actually William Shakespeare. Miranda and William strike up a friendship, and William uses their story to write The Tempest, while also nudging Miranda towards Thomas, the ships cook, who at first horrifies her because she's seen women raped and has nearly been raped herself. Miranda's recipes are added into each couple of chapters, which is fascinating, as she was working with fresh seafood and game animals, as well as tubers and herbs found in Bermuda. She's a good enough cook that she's able to teach Thomas the use of herbs and spices to add flavor to the food, and soon the two are in love and wed, with Miranda pregnant as they make their way to the colonies via a slapped together ship. Unfortunately, Thomas is killed by Native Americans, and Miranda is left with a choice of either marrying a man she doesn't love or moving back to England with William and starting up her own Inn and restaurant in one of Shakespeare's homes. She chooses the latter, and the author leaves us with a decent HEA to wrap things up. I found the history fascinating and the recipes authentic in this book, and though the plot dragged a bit in spots, overall it was a well done novel. I'd give it a B+, and recommend The Gentleman Poet to those interested in Shakespeare, history and historical food.

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