Monday, October 06, 2014

Alam Cumming's Memoir, Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun by Jeffrey Cook and Sarah Symonds, and My Fair Assassin Series by Robin LaFevers

I adore Alan Cumming, not just because he's an amazing actor, but also for his lovely persona, his brio, and he has a very sexy way about him that has nothing to do with his pairing off with men or women, it just is, like some people have red hair or blue eyes. The Scottish accent helps, too, at least for me, because I find Scottish men tremendously attractive (There is a new Hugo Boss fragrance out that has as its spokesperson Scotsman Gerard Butler putting on a suit in the morning, and it is the sexiest commercial I've seen in a decade). Now Cumming has come out with a book about his terrible childhood, and yet I imagine it is hauntingly beautiful, despite the horrific subject matter of child abuse.
Not My Father's Son: An award-winning actor, singer, writer, producer and director, Alan
Cumming recently starred in a one-man staging of Macbeth on Broadway and
appears on the Emmy Award-winning television show The Good Wife. He won
a Tony Award for his portrayal of the Emcee in the Broadway musical
Cabaret, a role he is reprising in 2014. He hosts PBS Masterpiece
Mystery, and has appeared in many films, including Spy Kids, Titus, X2:
X-Men United, The Anniversary Party, Any Day Now and Eyes Wide Shut.
He's now written a memoir, Not My Father's Son (Dey Street Books,
October 7, 2014); watch the trailer here

 Having read the first book in this series, I was given a copy of Gods of the Sun to read a couple of weeks ago by author Jeffrey Cook. Here's the blurb, and information on gentleman Jeffrey and his co author, the beautiful Sarah Symonds.

Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun is an alternate-history, early-era Steampunk epistolary novel. In 1816, Gregory Conan Watts's chronicle of the adventures begun in Dawn of Steam: First Light continues - as does the Year Without a Summer. The crew of the airship Dame Fortuna travel to four continents and are embroiled in combat on three of them: conflict with New Spain in Britain's American colonies, an ambush in Machu Picchu, and entanglement in the Maori Potato Wars in New Zealand. As they progress through darkened skies, Gregory gradually discovers that nothing at all was as he thought it was. All his assumptions are cast into doubt: what their orders are, which tales of foreign lands are true, and what parts of the social order as he knows it really are natural. Also in doubt is whether they will all survive the experience.

Author Jeffrey Cook lives in Maple Valley, Washington, with his wife and three large dogs. He was born in Boulder, Colorado, but has lived all over the United States. He's contributed to a number of role-playing game books for Deep7 Press out of Seattle, Washington, but the Dawn of Steam series are his first novels. When not reading, researching, or writing, Jeffrey enjoys role-playing games and watching football. Co-contributor Sarah Symonds also lives in Washington. Born and raised in Seattle, she left for college and promptly came back. Sarah has been writing for fun since high school and tends towards short-shorts or novels. When not working on her own novels, Sarah enjoys costuming, fiber arts, and making Jeff explain football. 
Though I wasn't pleased with the sexism of the first book, I did note that the prose was dense and intricate, while still managing to be clear of typos and grammatical errors. Fortunately, Cook and Symonds continue their virtuous prose in the second novel, and they also make their protagonist Gregory learn and grow as a person, so there is much less judgmental sexist commentary on his part throughout the book. The adventure is ramped up, and the added action makes the plot zoom along like a train on greased rails. the female protagonists of the book remain heroines and there is more humor and a lighter touch on the footnotes, too, which makes the novel more of a pleasure to read. Though the epistolary style and antique prose can be slightly difficult for some readers, those who enjoy a good steampunk tale will find that once you dedicate some uninterrupted reading time to Gods of the Sun, you will find the book difficult to put down, and the language of the book becomes second nature. I give the book a B+ and recommend it to those who enjoy steampunk adventures along the lines of Jules Verne.

The My Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers begins with Grave Mercy and continues with Dark Triumph. The third book in the series, Mortal Heart, hasn't come out yet.  I got a copy of Grave Mercy from the library, and was instantly consumed by the story of a young girl who was viciously abused and marked from birth by a potion forced on her mother by her hideous father to abort her (it didn't work) who is smuggled from a marriage she was sold into, to the Convent of Saint Mortain, the God of Death. There Ismae, along with Sybella and Annith learn to use weapons, guile, poisons and their brains to assasinate those with the marque of Mortain on them, and those who have been chosen by the abbess for death. Grave Mercy is mainly Ismae's story, so we learn of this world, which is somewhat like 15th century England, through her eyes. Her first assignment is to help a duchess of the high court of Brittany escape marriage to the dreadful Count D'Albret, who has abused and murdered his past 6 wives and only wishes to marry the duchess to gain her lands and power. Part of Ismae's assignment is to pretend to be the mistress of the duchesses half brother, Gavriel Duval, which at first is a problem for Ismae, because she's only known men to be brutal, stupid and abusive. Duval is none of these, and of course the two fall in love, but that they do isn't really the focal point of the plot. Ismae discovers, after a meeting with Death/Mortain himself, that her gift isn't just to assassinate for political or moral reasons, but to give a merciful death to those who have fallen on the battlefield and are in need of a way to get out of pain and cease suffering. This, and her falling in love with Duval put her in opposition to the abbess of the Convent, and the book ends with Ismae wanting to forge her own path as a giver of Mercy instead of a political pawn. Dark Triumph picks up right where Grave Mercy left off, except it's the story of Sybella, who is actually D'Albret's much abused daughter. Syb has been placed back in her home to spy on her father and get information to the duchess and her forces. Unfortunately, Syb's half-brother Julian believes he's in love with his sister, and has been forcing himself on her for years, which she accepted because it afforded her protection from her vile father and her other brother, all of whom seem bent on raping every female they encounter. So Julian shadows Syb for a great deal of the book and thwarts many of her plans, yet she still manages to help the duchesses forces, and when she breaks a prisoner known as the Beast out of her father's dungeon, she discovers, as did Ismae, that all men are not evil, and that it is possible to be loved for who you are, darkness, flaws and all. Sybella discovers, after a chat with Mortain himself, that her gift is for meting out death for justice. Through vigorous prose and enthralling storytelling, LaFevers creates a world that, not unlike the Lord of the Rings trilogy, will have readers glued to the page long after bedtime. A well-deserved A, with the recommendation that those who enjoy historical romance, fantasy, adventure and strong female protagonists who get justice and get the guy, run out and buy these books.

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