Review: A Conspiracy of Shadows by Randy Nargi

Published by: self-published
Published: Jan 2014
Pages: 367
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this was a late edition when two from my original list of 30 were deemed to be more science than fantasy, and hence booted off the gangplank.

In this we meet Bander, who has seen much in his life and is now content to walk and walk and walk – he has a path laid out that will take him about a year to circumnavigate and this is all he wants in life. Only he’s called back to return to his old job – that of investigator, and it’s to try and uncover the truth about who murdered an old friend of his. But of course, it’s not going to be easy, and soon Bander is discovering much more than he first anticipated.

This was a good and solid read – Bander is a capable and solid main character, and he’s surrounded by some pretty decent characters. Vala is in charge of the investigation, and she’s probably my favourite character of the novel – more than capable and has earned her position of leadership (specifically that of the leader of the secret police). Silbra Dal, a representative of the Guild, is a mage who can both help or hinder them, but comes to their assistance when an attempt is made on her life also.

Overall this was fun. I was thrown every so often when there were a few words italicised to make it obvious they were magic, such as divination and holding, which we could have done without. It had good adventure and good fighting scenes, and at all times Bander seems very very human. He has his faults, he has to try, and he has to think things through.

In parts it was just a little bit of a push to keep reading, which is why it loses a star for me.

Discussion Post: Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold


Labyrinth is the latest novella we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It runs after Ethan of Athos takes place, and we see Miles as Admiral Naismith once agian. In it, we meet Taura  for the first time – a character who becomes more important later.

You can read Katharine’s review of Labyrinth here, and Tsana’s review here.


Tsana: Well, the first thing I can say about Labyrinth is that it was not very memorable the first time I read it! For the first significant chunk of the novella I couldn’t remember what was coming up next as I was reading. Once Taura was introduced I finally put the pieces together and remembered the point of the novella (which was to introduce Taura) but up until that point it was a bit of a bland but enjoyable Miles shenanigan.


Katharine: In it, we see Miles on a mission to provide safe passage for a research scientist, who refuses to leave unless Miles can do something for him – eliminate an earlier project the scientist now regrets. Miles must enter a place run by some pretty vile and cold blooded businessmen in order to try, and he only has 24 hours to do so.


Tsana: And in the meantime, Bel Thorn and the other Dendarii have to look like they’re just at Jackson’s Whole to buy weapons. Nothing unusual to see here. Oh, our Admiral is just having a chat with the suppliers, etc.


Katharine: Once again we get to see Miles’ short stature as a positive. When buying out the regretted science project doesn’t work he reckons he’ll break in and solve it that way – so he sneaks in where others can’t fit, and slowly leads the way in… Though the plan literally seems to be 1. Break in. 2. Look around and fast-penna someone. 3. ??? 4. Profit!


Tsana: Well Miles is known for thinking on his feet. I did find it interesting though that the scientist they’re extracting on the down-low was involved in the sciencey back story of Ethan of Athos. And the fact that he’s being extracted by the Dendarii to Barrayar (via a handover on Escobar) and still no one suspect’s Miles’s true identity? That’s pretty impressive.


Katharine: I guess it’s a big universe out there – almost like we’d probably walk by Benedict Cumberbatch on the street because there’s no chance he’d be here, right? Though it is pretty closely related, and you’d think that when people die and others are foiled, they’d want answers and information.

Anyway. Miles takes a small unit in with him, but they’re quickly spotted and thrown out, leaving Miles alone. He plans to see if he can find at least the location of what they need to make it easier to break in the next time but, of course, he happens to end up exactly where he shouldn’t, and is thrown in the basement as punishment.


Tsana: I think this is the time to raise the spoiler shield.

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Review: Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 1590623827
ISBN 13: 9781590623824
Published: 1989
Pages: 110
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

I have been sometimes free with choosing the cover for my posts – this is the actual cover for the omnibus in my virtual library that contains The Mountains of Mourning (1989) (already reviewed), Labyrinth (1989), and The Borders of Infinity (1987) (coming later this month.) The majority of the covers for this series are horrible, but this one didn’t even really have any to pick from, being from the middle of an omnibus. Such is life.

In this novella we see what Miles got up to just after the previous book – Ethan of Athos – who gets a mention in this tale just in passing, and the knowledge of helps Miles make a pretty tough but quick decision. His original mission was to provide safe passage for a research scientist, but of course when Miles is involved things are never that simple. The scientist refuses to board until Miles does something for him – destroy a project he regrets – especially if it were to get into the wrong hands. And when Miles finds what exactly the project is he quickly decides there’s no way he’s doing any such thing.

Apparently this gives us the background of a character we’ll see a lot more of later on (damn you, spoilers!) which makes me a little more sympathetic to the plot, but I do have one major problem with it, and possibly because it’s something that comes up quite regularly in my line of work. So it’s time for a spoiler cut:

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Review: The Harbors of the Sun by Martha Wells

Series: The Books of the Raksura #5
Published by: Night Shade Books
ISBN: 1597805963
ISBN 13: 9781597805964
Published: July 2017
Pages: 416
Format reviewed: eVersion from Edelweiss
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

If you have a short memory (like I do) and/or it’s been some time since you read The Edge of Worlds then the start of The Harbors of the Sun may be a little confusing. This is because it takes up right as the previous book ended (or, well, part happens at the same time as the very end of the previous book), which may mean a re-read could be in order. If this is where you’ve picked up, the entire series is well worth a read to fully understand the ties each character has to each other so go back to The Cloud Roads and start there instead.

Unlike most of my reviews, spoilers are ahead for this one because it’s just too hard to review without them in this case. Short spoiler-free review is to go read the whole series immediately!

As a refresh, a group from the Kish came and sought the help of the court to assist with exploring a sealed ancient city they believe to hold a great power – perhaps even a way to destroy the Fell, who of course are close on their heels thinking along the same lines, so it’s a race to the finish. At the very end they’re betrayed, some are killed, and Bramble and Merit have been taken hostage. Moon and Stone are coming after them just ahead of the others – Jade and Malachite (Moon’s mother) along with the rest of the court are following close behind.

With that refresh, here we are in possibly the last book of the series. We start with Bramble and Merit who are just waking in their capture and freaking out, though it turns out Delin is close by, so there’s hope yet. The rest, as stated, are following, and through use of some moss which allows them to track the flying ships (that are made of the same moss) they’re trying not to lose their very faint tracks, whilst also keeping ahead of the Fell and making some hard decisions along the way.

As ever, this series is driven by the characters. The connection of Moon and Jade (but the ability for them to also have multiple partners and find different levels of comfort around) is so refreshing. It’s great to see so much of Stone, and get to know Malachite better. In this, because of the perceptions of the outside characters, we get a focus on what the different expectations are for each person (whether or not someone should fetch mugs, or do errands for people and so forth), which I’ve always loved in this world building.

An interesting factor in this book is the inclusion of the half-breeds. It’s an interesting discussion of perceptions and their form of racism – we see how deeply it’s bred into them, of course because the majority (or all of them) have experienced some dreadful things from the fell recently, so it would be hard to change minds without immediate evidence to the contrary (along with continued evidence, and even then it would probably take years…)

This feels like a massive book. At 30% I almost felt like if that had been the plot I would have been happy, and then it reaches 50% and so on, and the stakes are only getting higher.

Overall, I adored this book and can’t wait to continue reading Wells’ backlist. Her book The Death of the Necromancer has quite a Scott Lynch feel to it so fans of his work, get on over there if you haven’t already to The Ile-Rien books. And her latest, the Murderbot Diaries, are my absolute favourites!

Discussion Post: Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold


Ethan of Athos is the latest book we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. In it, we meet Ethan for the first time – this is the third book in the publishing order which means Bujold wrote of Cordelia and Aral, then Miles, and now Ethan, as if trying out which storyline she wanted to continue with. Her decision becomes clear as we proceed onto further books.

You can read Katharine’s review of Ethan of Athos here, and Tsana’s review here.


Tsana: So turns out I had completely forgotten the main plot of Ethan of Athos, despite having read it before. I remembered the premise of Athos and that Ellie Quinn was in it, but that was about it. Some of the story was more of a surprise to me than it should have been. And I enjoyed it more this time around than the first read through, probably because I was paying more attention and not just being disappointed that there was no Miles. What did you think of it overall?


Katharine: I was surprised by how much I really, really enjoyed it. I’ve personally always wanted to write space opera and this being mostly based in a space station where you have to consider so many other things like what they consider actual threats (fire and disease as opposed to a murderer on the loose) was of a huge personal interest. Ethan had such character growth throughout, and I felt as attached to him as I did with Cordelia and Miles – and surprised it happened so quickly.


Tsana: Yes, that part was fascinating. I loved how quarantine/biosecurity basically had more power to arrest and detain people than what we would think of as “normal” security. And it lead to some very amusing interactions between some of the characters. The question of how to dispose of a body or other incriminating evidence was similarly interesting since everything is so carefully monitored all the time and a rotting corpse would quickly set off alarms.


Katharine: I love it so much – it’s that type of worldbuilding which sets this series apart as it’s so hard to think about what would be so different to earth.

This book felt a bit more like a mystery book set in space than the previous have – so many characters who are hunting out answers and crazed men with guns coming after them. Love it!


Tsana: Yes, definitely a mystery set in space, but let’s leave the details of that for under the spoiler shield. My other favourite thing was how realistically Ethan thought his world was normal and his reactions to being confronted with a society that we would think of as closer to the real world. He starts off thinking women are evil and not really people, which is problematic for him when half the space station’s residents are female!


Katharine: So amusing, and still so true for some small groups of people depending on their religion in our world today – I know a group who will remain at least a meter away from women they don’t know or who are unattached so… I don’t really understand why – to say temptation demeans them both – I guess ‘just to be proper’? Anyway.

I also liked how at the same time Ethan is scared of women that he comes from a place that has very open thinking about sex and relationships and how a community can work together fairly and earn their way up. One of his first interactions when he arrives is with a gang of homophobic blokey blokes, and it’s an interesting juxtaposition to show just how backwards and forwards Athos manages to be at the same time.


Tsana: Yes, that’s true. Although I was mostly disappointed at how not progressive the stationers were on that front. I like to think the future will be less homophobic than the present, not more (although, this book was written in the 80s…). After hearing so much about how progressive Beta Colony is in the other books, I was disappointed to see that’s not how most places are in this universe. Even Quinn seemed a little homophobic, although it was outweighed by her acceptance.


Katharine: And I was a little disappointed that it was most evident in the gruff men workers – kind of like our current typical ocker Aussie stereotype. But I guess the story needed some kind of confrontation early on, and it’s the easiest thing to go for.


Tsana: And it was published 30 years ago. On the other hand, I actually thought Ethan’s fear of women was handled pretty well. It could easily have come across as more misogynistic than ignorant and fearful.


Katharine: And he could have been dismissive and rude – so I agree that was handled well. What I also loved is Quinn, and how her intelligence shines through – she makes quick and hard decisions, disappears and reappears, and you never really know what she’s capable of. I love seeing so many female characters who are pretty much the most capable nearby. Even if it’s the scary waste disposal woman…


Tsana: Hah, she turned out to be more than what she seemed too. But that’s getting into spoiler territory… Perhaps we should raise the spoiler shields?


Katharine: Spoiler shields… Activate!


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