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Book Review: The Hand of Thrawn Duology by Timothy Zahn

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Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Characters (the edition published in 2002), was my first introduction to the franchise’s original Expanded Universe. While my parents had copies of several Star Wars EU novels and encouraged me to read them, I was young enough at the time that the volumes appeared too large and adult for a child of my age to understand. So I left the books sitting on the shelf, planning to dive into them when I was older and had a better chance of appreciating them.

Then, on a trip to the library, my father found The New Essential Guide to Characters. It was in the “for sale” shelves, so he picked it up and bought it for me – even though I was not truly interested in it at the time. Not long after he purchased it, however, I cracked the tome open to at least look at the pictures.

Over the years, “looking at the pictures” became “reading the profiles.” Gradually, I began to understand the Star Wars timeline outside of the films, which were my only source of Star Wars material up to that point. (Hey, I was a child! How many rambunctious tweens and teens do you know who prefer a good, big book to watching a movie?) But even as I began to put the Expanded Universe and film timelines together, I did not necessarily realize which characters were where and did what.

That all changed when I finally read Mara Jade Skywalker’s file. A New Hope, as I have said elsewhere, was the Star Wars film I loved best when I was young. Han getting frozen in carbonite kind of turned me off of the sequels until I was in my early teens, so the rest of the trilogy was something of a mystery to me for a while.

So when I learned that Luke had actually gotten married after Return of the Jedi, and to a woman who hated him and had vowed to kill him, I was thrown for a bit of a loop. I struggled with the idea for a bit, but eventually came to accept it, reading and rereading her profile along with all the others.

After a couple of years doing this, I decided enough was enough. Mara sounded pretty cool, from what I had read. So if she was this interesting in a character summary, she had to be twice as amazing “in person” – that is, in the novels. Not long after this I picked up one of the books I had been offered as a child and started reading, learning quickly that the Guide had undersold Mara Jade completely. She didn’t live up to her reputation; she exceeded it.

What does all this have to do with the Hand of Thrawn Duology by Timothy Zahn? Well, if you remember your own days as teenager, you remember that we sometimes start at the end or the middle instead of the beginning. I did not meet Mara in the Thrawn trilogy or even in Specter of the Past. I just jumped right into Vision of the Future and started reading.

The book knocked my socks off, readers. To this day, I would say it is my favorite Expanded Universe novel, and none of the new timeline books have beaten it. I rather doubt they ever will.

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Specter of the Past is the first book in the Duology. It starts, naturally enough, with a Star Destroyer. (Zahn always follows the original films’ format by showing us the Empire ahead of the Rebellion/New Republic.) Admiral Gilad Pellaeon watches the Chimera try out a new computer said to be able to predict an enemy’s attack pattern and then destroy their opponent while the ship is cloaked. Using Preybirds instead of TIE fighters, a number of Imperial pilots “assault” the Chimera before the ship cloaks. Then it engages its fancy targeting computer and counterattacks, firing off five hundred shots.

Five hundred shots plus a handful of fighters – how do you think the test went?

Badly, that’s how. Out of a pitiful number of targets, the Chimera’s blind shooting only “destroyed” one Preybird. Yeah, that is pretty pathetic, even by our standards.

Though the captain of his ship, a man named Ardiff, thinks the display is fine, Pellaeon is not pleased. The ship fired five hundred near random shots and only one fighter was “destroyed.” Besides which, Preybirds are not military fighters – even the New Republic did not use them during the Rebellion era. The fact that the Empire, which has been reduced to eight sectors at this point, is relying on Preybirds as fighters means only one thing…

The war is over. And they’ve lost.

Meanwhile, Han and Chewie have gone on a diplomatic mission to Iphigin to try and straighten out a trade dispute between two alien species, the Ishori and the Diamala. Leia, who has stepped down as President of the New Republic, is currently on Wayland getting some well-deserved R&R with their three children. A Calibop named Ponc Gavrisom is now President of the New Republic. Nevertheless, he immediately went to whistle up Leia’s help in solving this minor problem, despite the fact that her vacation has only just begun.

Well, Han Solo is not going to stand for this. He intercepts the message before it can reach his wife and goes in Leia’s place – without telling her what he is doing, of course. Before you accuse him of being a misogynist, readers, or say he thought she couldn’t handle the job, consider this: Leia is on vacation. She is, for the time being, not active in the day-to-day politics of the New Republic. She has also been handling one crisis after another for ten years and, now that she is no longer running the New Republic, should she have her rest and relaxation disturbed over one little trade disagreement?

I do not think Leia deserves that, and neither does Han. Rather than run and tell her about the fuss, he decided to handle it quietly on her behalf. If that isn’t gentlemanly – not to mention romantic – behavior on his part, then you can paint me as red as the Errant Venture and call me a sap.

Besides, Han has thought things through this time and come prepared. Not long after he and Chewie arrive at Iphigin to handle the trade dispute, Luke and R2 appear in the former’s New Republic X-wing. They trade some small talk before Solo explains that Chewie will handle the Ishori part of the disagreement while Luke takes care of the Diamala. He developed this plan because the Ishori think well when they are screaming in fury, while the Diamala would give Jedi and Vulcans a run for their money when it comes maintaining their calm.

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The plan is a sound one – but it hits an unexpected snag. The Diamala do not want anything to do with Luke, stating that Jedi who use as much power as he does inevitably fall to the Dark Side. Surprised – and somewhat miffed – Luke becomes Han’s advisor instead as the negotiations start…

…But at the end of the day, they have accomplished exactly nothing. The two species do not appear interested in getting along, leaving both our heroes with nothing except headaches for all their trouble.

However, it soon turns out not to be a total waste of a day. While they are trying to figure out a way to solve the mess, the men receive a message about an incoming freighter Iphigini Customs has been told is carrying contraband. Something about this gets Han excited, and after the call is terminated, he tells Luke the smuggler is just a distraction. Pirates blow the whistle to the authorities on a “smuggler” carrying contraband into the day side of a planet while they hit a night side target. Because Customs is running to take in the “smuggler,” they cannot get back to the night side of the planet to stop the pirates before they have grabbed whatever they want and run off.

But he and Luke can get there in time. They head for the Falcon and the X-wing to deal with the pirates, allowing them to burn off their frustration about the trade negotiation. But before the battle begins, Luke experiences a disturbing vision of the Emperor and another, more ancient Sith Lord he faced as a spirit, staring at him through the X-wing’s canopy. And they are laughing at him.

Meanwhile, on Wayland, Threepio tells Leia that Han ran off to handle a diplomatic matter. At first put out, Leia lets it go and decides it is better to just enjoy her time on Wayland with the Noghri and her children. Unfortunately, her vacation is interrupted by a Devaronian poking around where he should not be. The Noghri call her in to handle the matter, which she seemingly does….

…Until the guy drops a smoke bomb near Jaina and Anakin to cover his escape.

(L to R) Anakin, Jacen, and Jaina Solo

Anyone with sense knows that threatening the Solo children is a big mistake, so this Devaronian obviously lacks sense. Leia takes off with a Noghri escort to bring him in, only to get some unexpected help from Talon Karrde and Mara Jade. The two are on Wayland to hire Noghri bodyguards for some of Karrde’s informants – the ones who typically work in dangerous areas. The three learn when they capture the guy that the thief intended to sell a data card with a damaged document on it.

This soon proves to be a recipe for disaster. The document in question not only threatens the peace of the New Republic, it could start another galactic civil war. Only this time, the Republic will not be fighting the Empire for their freedom. This time, they will be fighting each other in a pointless attempt to get even with the past.

Our heroes scramble to prevent this, but things go from bad to worse when Luke has another Force vision. This one includes a picture of Mara, apparently dead in a cave somewhere. Not long after he has said vision, Mara disappears on a planet in Wild Space. Instead of sending someone else to get her, however, Luke leaves his friends and family to handle the New Republic’s problems while he goes in alone to rescue her.

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This is where Vision of the Future takes up the tale, and where I leave you, readers. I will not spoil anything else about these wonderful books, which are now old friends to me. If you do not enjoy the Hand of Thrawn Duology, I am sincerely sorry to hear that. They are truly great tales, though, and they deserve to be read at least once.

Before I go, I would like to add that at first Mara and Zahn’s constant remarks about Luke using too much power made no sense to me. As I said, my first experience of the Expanded Universe came through The New Essential Guide to Characters. There was not much there about Luke overusing the Force.

It was only when I read some novels in the Star Wars mythos besides Zahn’s that I found out what he was chastising Luke for doing – and thereby the other writers for the EU. Seriously, I enjoy the old EU more than the new timeline, but some of the writers for those books seemed to think being Force-sensitive means Jedi can get away with anything. Reading Jedi Search and the Young Jedi Knights series by Kevin J. Anderson was fun – except for the way he had Luke use the Force. Good grief, the difference between Light Siders and Dark Siders is that Dark Siders use the Force to gain power. Jedi rely on the Force as an ally, as a guide to get through life. They don’t master the Force – they serve it.

Zahn’s message must have hit home, because the novels following Vision of the Future took his stance toward the Force rather than Anderson’s haphazard treatment. Jude Watson may have been one of the authors who followed his example almost to the letter. Her The Last Jedi series for young Star Wars fans felt very similar, to me, to Zahn’s work. This was especially true in regards to the hows, wheres, and whyfores of the Force and Star Wars tech.

Well, that is it for now, readers. All I have to say before I go is that I hope you enjoy the Hand of Thrawn Duology. Remember, the Force will be with you, always.

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Book Review: The Good Guy by Dean Koontz

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I have stated that I am not a fan of horror novels/films/fill-in-the-blank. That still stands. Do I believe in ghosts, monsters, demons, and evil? Oh, yes, I do. That is part of the reason why I do not like horror stories. Too many people think these things are not real, and therefore they take them lightly. But these things are all very real, so I do not have a blasé attitude when I consider them.

Evil is real, and Koontz makes sure to tell his readers this time and again throughout his novels. The Good Guy is no exception; it opens with Tim Carrier – a bachelor, mason, bricklayer, and former United States Marine – sitting down to have a beer.

Since his return to the states, Tim’s kept himself off the radar. He is a self-employed mason in California who shows up, does his job well, and says very little about himself. He likes to end his days with a drink or two at his friend’s bar, the Lamplighter Tavern.

On this particular night, though, he does not go unnoticed. A nervous, twitchy little man enters the establishment after Tim has exchanged the usual pleasantries with his friend. For the first few minutes, he thinks the newcomer’s just jumpy, so he tries to strike up an interesting conversation with the guy.

Then the man slides a thick manila envelope over to him with the words, “Half of it’s there. Ten thousand. The rest when she’s gone.”

At first, Tim is too surprised to explain that there has been a mistake. Before he can get his mouth to start working, though, the little man has bolted out the door. Looking at the manila envelope for a while, Tim then opens it and checks out the contents.

Inside are ten thousand dollars in cash and a photo of a pretty woman about Tim’s own age. Printed on the photo is the woman’s name – Linda Paquette – along with her address.

He puts the photo and the money back in the envelope before sliding it as far from him as he can. No sooner has Tim put this slimy offering away, however, than a man – who could be his dopplegänger – enters the bar. He takes the uneasy man’s seat, orders a beer, and picks up the envelope.

What would you do here, readers? Call the cops? Try to tell the man the job’s off? Tim tries the second course, but it does not work. As for the first, Tim considers it until he sees the killer put a police light on the top of his car. This hired murderer might be disguising himself as a cop, but having seen his eyes, heard him talk, our Good Guy doubts that very much. Going to the police will therefore get Linda – and very probably Tim – murdered a whole lot faster.

Now, readers, in this situation, what would you do? Help Linda, or walk away and forget the entire scene had ever occurred?

Dean Koontz lets Mr. Carrier make the choice. And Tim chooses to go help Linda.

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The Good Guy is a great read. It will scare the pants off of you, and it will break your heart. It will crack the veneer of normalcy the academics and journalists have laid over our world to show you the writhing, seething things that hide in the darkness so prevalent in the world where we live. If you pay attention, you will learn many things about evil, faith, hope, love, and courage while reading this book.

Koontz has often referenced Flannery O’Connor, one of his favorite authors, in his novels. Flannery O’Connor once said that her aim in the stories she wrote was to “shout loud enough for the atheists” to hear the truth she had to tell them.

Mr. Koontz is aiming in the same general direction, but it is not just the atheists and unbelievers he wants to awaken. It is the rest of us who go about the world with our hands over our ears, eyes, and mouth in the hopes of avoiding the face of evil. Evil is real. It is very, very real, and the only thing that allows it to win is if good men and women – good guys and girls – let it.

That is Mr. Koontz’s message in all his fiction, something new readers of his works ought to be aware of. The Good Guy is one of the stories where he shouts the loudest.

Discover The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz, at your earliest opportunity, readers. It is worth your time and money.

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Book Review – Star Trek: Traitor Winds by L. A. Graf

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Well, we have been to the Witch World, Newfoundland, and a toy castle from England. Let’s see what is going on in the United Federation of Planets, shall we?

I gave this book as a gift to a friend, so I do not have a copy of it with me as a reference. Please forgive me if I mess up some of the details, readers. 😉 The novel, written by the ladies who use the pen name L. A. Graf – “Let’s All Get Rich And Famous!” – takes place in the interim between the end of the original series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Kirk has become an Admiral some time before this book starts; McCoy is enjoying being a crotchety, grounded Earth doctor; Spock is away on Vulcan, and Scotty is aboard the Enterprise, which has been docked in orbit for a refit.

Meanwhile, Sulu is working as a test pilot for a new shuttle with a cloaking shield in White Sands, Arizona. The project is top secret, but he has told his best friends – Uhura and Chekov – all about it anyway. After all, if they cannot keep a secret, who can? At the same time, Uhura is teaching a communications class at Starfleet Academy and Chekov is going to the Security Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Of the three Chekov has, as usual, gotten the short end of the stick. He wants to be a Security Officer so he can gain the experience he needs to enter the Officers’ Academy which Kirk attended. Kirk was admitted to this school at a young age because he was a special case. Chekov is special, too, of course, but the guys in charge have deemed him too immature to enter the school at this time.

This has stung his pride so badly that he has decided Security is the only place to gain maturity. Unfortunately for Chekov, one of his classmates absolutely hates him. This man’s name is Leong, and he has been in Security for quite some time. He thinks all Starfleet officers are flash and splash; that they do not have the mettle to take on real threats. Because Chekov is not as graceful or fast as he is, Leong can outmaneuver and whip him easily in practice fights. There is nothing wrong with Chekov, who has faced worse opponents in deep space and lived to tell the tale. It is simply that he cannot keep up with Leong when it comes to speed.

Chekov does not see it that way, though, probably due to a combination of the Officers’ Academy’s vitriolic rejection letter and his natural Russian pessimism. He rarely has any fun at the Security Academy, and he has almost no friends there. The only bright points in the whole mess are the occasional dinners he has with Uhura and Sulu when they leave their much nicer jobs out west to visit him on the weekends. Then they all get to sit down, reminisce, and relax at a nice diner, restaurant, or café somewhere in Annapolis.

The latest dinner includes McCoy and Dr. Piper, the physician for the Enterprise before Kirk took command. The dinner is merrier than ever, and Chekov gets an offer from Dr. Piper he cannot refuse. Dr. Piper is working on finding a way to treat injuries caused by Klingon disruptors. The problem is, no one at Johns Hopkins University knows how to fire the one disruptor they have. Starfleet officers who have faced Klingons in combat are not exactly lining up at the door to shoot it, either.

Knowing how bad a disruptor injury can be, Chekov jumps at the chance to help. It is only later that Piper confides in Chekov the real reason he wanted to hire the ensign: he thinks a traitor in Starfleet is trying to steal the disruptor. Afraid to trust anyone at the University, since those attached to the project might be compromised, he hired Chekov because he served under Kirk aboard the Enterprise. If Kirk trusts him, that’s good enough for Piper.

Unfortunately, as Chekov learns too late, Piper is right about those attached to the disruptor project being compromised. Unable to get to Dr. Piper in time to save him and, robbed of the recordings proving what actually happened, Chekov ends up on the run from the authorities after he is accused of killing Dr. Piper. Though Uhura and Sulu know this is not true, Starfleet’s top helmsman soon has other things to worry about. The plans for his stealth shuttle have been copied and stolen, and the Navajo engineer helping him to test the shuttle has gone missing.

The engineer is blamed for the theft, naturally, but Sulu finds this hard to believe. His faith in his friend is rewarded when he is testing the shuttle some days later. During the test flight Sulu finds a message from the engineer embedded in the shuttle’s systems. Through the message, the engineer warns him that someone in Starfleet has turned traitor and stolen the plans in such a way that either the engineer or Sulu would take the blame. To take the heat off of Sulu, the engineer ran off and hid in a place only the Navajo can find.

He left the message because he wants Sulu to know someone is out to get him. And Sulu has a feeling he is not the only target. The theft of the plans, the disappearance of the disruptor, and now Chekov’s supposed murder of Dr. Piper have happened too close together to be coincidence. They were both senior officers aboard the Enterprise, so whoever the traitor is, Sulu can only assume that he is trying to black Admiral Kirk’s name by framing him and Chekov for treason.

Star Trek: Traitor Winds is a good standalone Trek novel. It rotates through the POVs of Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Kirk. Spock is the only member of the Enterprise Seven absent from the story, while Christine Chapel and Janet Rand get guest appearances. As a high stakes race to the finish, Traitor Winds is one of the best. Engage that warp drive of yours, readers, and search this novel out. It is worth the read!

Book Review: The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop

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Did you ever dream about your toys coming to life, speaking to you, playing with you, and becoming your best friends, readers? I used to do that. I loved the characters in all the stories I read about or watched on TV. I wanted to romp with 101 Dalmatians come to life, to pilot a zoid across Zi’s burning deserts, to travel through the Stargate with SG-1. I even wanted to hang out with Lieutenant Harmon Rabb Jr. from JAG.

So this means that stories such as The Castle in the Attic were tailor made for me. If I could not convince my toys to come to life and talk to me, I could read about toys that did do this for their owners.

William Lawrence is a ten year old American boy. Since he was little, while his parents have been away at work he has been cared for by Mrs. Phillips. Mrs. Phillips is from England. She lost her husband in World War II, and aside from William and his parents her only family is her brother, who still lives in England.

Coming back from gym class one day, William learns that Mrs. Phillips is going back to England. She is homesick and wants to go back. This upsets William mightily. He loves the old woman like she was his own grandmother and he does not want her to leave.

So he takes the picture of her husband and her pearl pin and hides them, hoping that this will make her stay. But Mrs. Phillips knows him too well not to guess what he has done, and eventually William returns the items. In order to make their parting a little easier, Mrs. Phillips gives William a model castle which has been in her family for generations.

There is only one toy that goes with the fully equipped, articulated castle: a knight carrying a dagger, sword, and shield. Called the Silver Knight, William puts the toy and the box it came in on the castle courtyard.

Later, after he has been put to bed, William waits until everyone has gone off to sleep. Then he sneaks upstairs, opens the box, and takes out the Silver Knight.

But the Knight does not feel like a toy. He feels warm. And squishy. And he is moving!

William is so surprised that he drops the Knight in the castle courtyard. Once he is upright, the Silver Knight challenges William to a duel. Once the preliminary arguments are dispensed with, the two go to their separate beds. William is not quite sure that he has not dreamed the entire encounter, so he goes up to the attic again next morning to see if the Knight is still there and alive.

Turns out, he is.

The adventure continues on from here, readers, but I do not want to spoil more of the story. If you want to know what else happens in the book, you shall have to cross that drawbridge yourselves! I would not want to spoil your fun.

Also, be sure to look for the sequel, Battle for the Castle. It is not my favorite of the two, but it never hurts to read the sequel at least once.

See you around!

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Book Review: The Witch World Trilogy by Andre Norton

About a year ago, maybe two, I covered Andre Norton’s famous first Witch World novels: Witch World and Web of the Witch World. As you may remember, those books detailed the arrival of Simon Tregarth to the Witch World from Earth. After several adventures in this new world, Simon married the Witch Jaelithe who, though she was cast out of the Witches’ Council, retained her Power after marrying him.

These next three tales, which are crucial to understanding the timeline and references in all future Witch World novels, continue their tale in a new form…

Three Against the Witch World

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Three Against the Witch World is set after the Kolder War, at the very end of the year. Told from the point of view of Kyllan Tregarth, he describes how his mother, Jaelithe, gave birth to triplets. This was astounding because no one in the Witch World had ever had more than two children at once. Not in recorded memory, at least; if it ever happened before, it is lost in the Witch World’s ancient history.

But the birth was difficult, leaving Jaelithe lethargic and nearly catatonic for an entire year. This nearly drove Simon mad, and his work on Estcarp’s border with Karsten came dangerously close to killing for killing’s sake. Only when Jaelithe recovered did he calm down.

And the children? There were three: Warrior, Sage, and Witch. Kyllan is the warrior. He reached for a sword hilt when he could only crawl. The first born, Kyllan is not prone to asking questions or thinking on ancient mysteries. He is a man made to face the present moment, the desperate hour of battle.

Kemoc, the second of the triplets, is the Sage, the one with all the questions. He pries into records, old knowledge, and wants to learn anything and everything. Kaththea, the third triplet, was born almost immediately after him, and so the two have always been closer to each other than to Kyllan. Though not displayed in her early life, Kaththea has the same gifts as her mother; she is the Witch.

With Karsten maintaining its aggressive stance toward Estcarp, Simon and Jaelithe have to spend almost all their time on the border. Thus they rarely interact with their own children, whom they leave in the keep of their old friend, Loyse of Verlaine, the wife of Koris of Gorm.

The children’s only real mother is Anghart, a Falconer woman who left her village after her own deformed son was killed. The Falconers cannot tolerate weakness of any kind in their ranks because of their harsh lifestyle as mercenaries. And so, like the Spartans of old, they traditionally dispense with any child that is crippled or somehow blemished – even by, say, a large red birthmark splattered across their face. So Anghart is cold and distant to all in the keep. Only the Tregarth triplets, whom she cares for as her own, know her true warmth and nature.

Anghart may be the only one, aside from Jaelithe, who perceives the special tie among the triplets: though three distinct people with their own strengths and weaknesses, the Tregarth heirs have a mental link that lets them meld into a cohesive whole. On instinct, they do not display this ability openly or use it often. It is private, for them alone…

But when Kaththea accidentally intercepts a message sent by a Witch to the Council, asking for aid, their bond activates in response to the urgency of the summons. Captured by Karsten raiders, the Witch called her Sisters for help, and Kaththea was in the line of communication. She and her brothers immediately used their special connection to find the Witch and then help the Borderers save her.

But in doing so they revealed Kaththea’s talent. The Witches do not care for men, and because Jaelithe had left the Council, they did not test her daughter to see if she had the Power. With this rescue of the Witch, however, Kaththea’s Power has been revealed to them. The Council demands the right to test her and, if she proves to have the Power, to take her as a novice who will someday become a full-fledged Witch.

Although they almost never spend much time with their children, the Tregarths are no less protective of their offspring than any other parents. They flatly tell the Council that Kaththea is off-limits and will not be tested. But the Council is patient, and when Simon goes missing two years later, Jaelithe chases after him once she has found his location with the help of their children’s Power.

Years later, despite their parents’ best attempts to guard them, while Kyllan and Kemoc are with the border guards, the Council strikes. Sensing Kaththea’s cry for help, her brothers take off immediately to protect her. It takes the two of them a couple of days to get to the keep, where they find Anghart, barely alive. She stood by her foster daughter to the last, throwing herself between Kaththea and the Witches. When she would not be persuaded to move, they tore her will to live from her with their Power. Though she has the will to live long enough to tell Kyllan and Kemoc what happened and to advise them on how to rescue their sister, she dies two days later.

And so the Tregarth brothers remain Borderers, protecting Estcarp from attacks committed against their nation by Karsten, biding their time until they can find a way to save their sister. In one of these skirmishes Kemoc’s sword hand is injured and he has to be sent to Lormt to recover. When he comes back, he tells Kyllan he has learned where their sister is and where the triplets may hide from the vengeance of the Witches: in the East.

Why is this so special? For all those in Estcarp save Simon and his three children, there is no East on the map. There is not even a recognition of the word in the minds of those Kemoc has asked about the East. It is as if something blocks them from traveling or even thinking in that geographical direction.

So the brothers rescue their sister from the Witches’ training grounds and take her East – where they upset many balances, meet new allies, and find bitter, monstrous foes…

Warlock of the Witch World

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The sequel to Three Against the Witch World, this novel is from Kemoc’s perspective. Living in the Valley of Green Silences with its people, his brother, and his sister, Kemoc leads raids against the evils that prowl the Eastern land known as Escore. Kyllan has married a high lady among the People of Green Silences – Dahaun – but Kemoc and Kaththea as yet have no such heart-ties.

Until a man named Dinzil arrives with his people to join in the Valley’s defense. Kaththea and he get along right from the get-go, and he is well known by reputation among the People of the Valley, not to mention well-liked for his charm.

The only one who cannot stand him is Kemoc. It is not that his sister, with whom he has always been close, is showing favor to the man. That bothers him, but not in the way you might think. The reason that it bothers him is that he instinctively dislikes Dinzil. He cannot find a reason for his aversion; he only knows that every time he gets close to the guy, he has to restrain the urge to grab for his sword. The fact that Kaththea and Kyllan do not have this problem, and that Kaththea is dazzled by Dinzil, only makes matters worse for the Sage.

Dahaun figures this much out through observation and asks Kemoc what his problem is. Kemoc admits that he does not want to speak ill of an ally, nor does he want to accuse a man without proof. He only knows that something about Dinzil feels wrong. He cannot say it any other way.

Unlike his siblings, Dahaun accepts Kemoc’s instinctive assessment of the man. She knows Dinzil’s reputation, knows that he has been vouched for by others as a servant of the Light. But she is not willing to dismiss the second Tregarth youth’s concerns out of hand. Instincts can be as good as knowledge or reason; sometimes, they can be even better than those. In this case, she thinks he may be right and promises to keep as close an eye on Dinzil as she can.

Later, Kemoc and one of the men in the Valley go to visit the Krogan, humans mutated centuries ago by Adepts in magic so that they can live in water, not to mention weave spells using it. The catch is that the Krogan cannot survive long out of water. If they travel too far away from any source of water, salt or fresh, they will die. Don’t bring ‘em to the desert. 😉

At the lake the Krogan call home, Kemoc meets Orsya, one of the Krogan women. Later on, the Krogan emissary states that his people wish to remain neutral. Though of the Light and not allied with Darkness, they are tired of war and just want to be left alone.

Kemoc and his guide/commander leave the lake peacefully. But on the return journey, Kemoc is separated from his friend by a flood. It is not a natural flood, either; Kemoc feels as though this flood was conjured up by something or someone of the Dark. He gets back to the Valley eventually – only to learn that Kaththea, distraught at his disappearance and her inability to find him by mind touch, has gone with Dinzil to use that man’s “means” to locate him.

Though no one else is worried, Kemoc sets out almost at once to find her.   His every instinct is screaming that this was a trap set for his sister, and he has to find her before she is killed. Or worse….

Sorceress of the Witch World

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The final book in this trilogy of Witch World novels is from Kaththea’s point of view. After the events of Warlock of the Witch World, Kaththea was left in a childish, not-quite amnesiac state of mind. She has had to relearn everything, and her memory has come back slowly. Soon, though, the only things she does not truly remember are what she did while she was with Dinzil.

Nevertheless, her dabbling and subsequent mind wipe have left her open to the wills of the Dark things that roam Escore. Finally, she can stand the nightmares no longer. She decides to go back to Estcarp to find a surviving Witch to retrain her in the use of her Power.

The plan goes awry, though, when an avalanche separates her from her brothers in the mountain pass that leads back to Estcarp. Alone and unable to contact her brothers due to her weakened mind bond with them, she can only hope that they are still alive and that she will be able to return to them and the Valley.

That idea seems destined to die when a primitive man finds her and takes her back to his tribe – which turns out to have an old, old, old Witch guiding it around Escore’s myriad dangers.

Although she does not like being in this tribe or her separation from her brothers, Kaththea instantly recognizes that this Witch can help her regain control of her Power. This arrangement works well enough – until the old woman appoints Kaththea her replacement in the tribe’s society, seconds before she topples over dead!

Trapped with a tribe she does not want to lead, Kaththea slowly breaks free of the spell holding her to these people. When her attempt to safely guide the tribe ends in a massacre, Kaththea escapes, with only her most bitter enemy for company as she searches for a way back to the Valley.

The search is hampered not simply by those who are hunting the two women, but also by the magnetic pull of magic coming from an abandoned Adept’s castle. Unable to resist the pull, Kaththea and the other woman enter the castle and pass through a gate into another world –

It is through these events that Kaththea becomes the Sorceress of the Witch World.

Wow, that was a longer post than I had intended to write. Whew, I did not realize how much I would have to say to whet your appetites, readers! I think I will sign off now and let you look up these books yourselves. ‘Till next time!

Book Review: That Fine Summer by Ella Manuel

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That Fine Summer, by Ella Manuel, is a short children’s book set in Fox Cove, Newfoundland. Never heard of Newfoundland? I am not terribly surprised; The Rock, as her people call her, is not the most popular tourist destination in the world.

Newfoundland was discovered by Norsemen and colonized by them at the turn of the Dark Ages, if my memory serves me correctly. But it was not until after Christopher Columbus discovered America that a more permanent colony was set up. Over time English, Scottish, and Irish settlers came to Newfoundland to make their living on the bountiful cod, as well as the natural wealth of the rugged island itself. By the twentieth century, Newfoundland was its own island nation. I do not know the year, but Canada eventually annexed the island through Confederation.

I believe That Fine Summer is set before Confederation, back when Newfoundland was an independent country. In this short novel, Mahala “Malie” Jacobs marches out to her Grandfather’s house in a right fury. When asked what the matter is, she tells him that her mother has made her wear a new dress and a new set of shoes first thing in the morning.

Mahala is a tomboy who likes to go fishing and sailing, things she can only really do with her Grandfather. Her mother, her grandfather’s only child, wants Mahala to act and dress like a proper lady. The only things the two agree on are that they love each other, they love Grandfather, and they are ardent piano players.

That evening, Mahala’s mother springs another unwelcome surprise on her daughter. She tells Malie that they are going to St. John’s, the capitol city of Newfoundland, for the summer.

Malie is thunderstruck. She does not want to go to the city. She wants to stay in Fox Cove with her grandfather, fishing, exploring the beaches, and just having fun in her own native place. She has had it all planned out for the last few months.

This leads to an explosive family argument, and Malie goes to the person who understands her best to solve the dilemma: Grandfather. Grandfather talks to Mahala’s mother and convinces her to let Malie stay with him throughout the summer… That fine summer.

I’ll not spoil the rest of the book for you, readers. It is a sweet little story, with lots of local color and language. If you do not understand the Newfoundland slang, the BREAKWATER edition has a short glossary of Newfoundland expressions included in it. But between the jigs and the reels, the story should be easy for children to read and understand.

Have fun fishing for this book and learning about The Rock, readers!

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Book Review: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

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In the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow, Poland, there is a special tradition. Every hour of every day, on the hour, one of the firemen of Krakow goes to the tower in the church and plays a special hymn on the trumpet. This hymn is called the Heynal, the Hymn to Our Lady. You can hear it in this video here:

If you listen carefully, you will notice that the hymn ends abruptly. It actually ends on a broken note. Why?

In thirteenth century Poland, the Tartars were invading. They were almost at the gates of the city of Krakow when they heard a song. It was a boy in the brick cathedral of the Church of Our Lady Mary, which at that time was outside the walls of the city. All the other buildings around the church had been burned by the invading Tartars. Only the church remained standing.

The boy was blowing the Heynal on his trumpet, as he had sworn to do in times of emergency. He knew doing this would get the Tartars attention and let them spot him. But it was his duty to play the Heynal on the hour, and the time had come for him to play. So he played.

And a Tartar took aim and fired at him, killing him with the arrow. This left the broken note of the Heynal, as the boy died before he could finish the tune. All who play the hymn today end the tune on the broken note, in memory of the boy who died fulfilling his duty to country, God, and church. Even during the years when the Communists had control of Poland, the Heynal would be played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary.

In the twentieth century, a student and teacher named Eric P. Kelly heard the Heynal being played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow. The melody enchanted him almost as much as Poland did. And it inspired him to write The Trumpeter of Krakow.

In later centuries, after the Tartars were driven out of Poland, the Heynal was played not only on the hour, but to alert the city to the danger of fire. The watchman who would play the Heynal on the hour during the day or night (they rotated shifts, of course), would ring the bell and play the hymn to warn the city of invasion and other such dangers. But for the most part, during the fifteenth century, it was to warn against fires.

Krakow had a lot of wooden buildings at the time. One little set of sparks in the right place at the right time and – whoosh! There goes a third of the city up in smoke.

Pan (Mr.) Andrew Charnetski, his wife, and his son Joseph are headed into Krakow one day in July of 1461. Joseph is sitting on the back of the cart with the last possession of his family besides the cart itself, the horses, and the clothes on their backs – a pumpkin. The Charnetskis lived in the Ukraine until their house and property were burned to the ground by raiders.

Now they are headed to Krakow, on a market day. The road to the city is full of farmers headed to market with their goods, as well as with those coming to buy those goods. The Charnetskis are the only refugees of any import in this story.

As Joseph sits on the back of the cart, watching the world go by, he suddenly sees a man riding toward them. Getting his father’s attention, Joseph dives at once to catch hold of the animal’s reins when the stranger commands him to mind the horse. Young though he is – Joseph is fifteen – the youth senses something amiss with the stranger. There is something dangerous, something evil, in his expression.

The man introduces himself to Pan Andrew and talks to him rapidly in a low voice. Whatever he says, Pan Andrew does not like it. In fact, though no one can tell from his expression, the stranger’s words frighten him. He tells the man to be off, but the stranger is stubborn. He then asks how much Pan Andrew will take for the pumpkin.

Pan Andrew tells him it is not for sale, despite the fact that the man offers him far more than any pumpkin ought to be worth. When Pan Andrew continues to refuse to sell the pumpkin, the stranger draws his sword –

But Pan Andrew is better. He knocks the man off of the cart and to the ground. Thinking quickly, Joseph turns the man’s horse and slaps its rump, sending it running. He jumps aboard the cart and his father takes off, leaving the stranger cursing and shouting in the mud beside the road.

The family makes it to the city safely. On their way in Joseph hears the Heynal as it is played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary. Pan Andrew promises to tell him the story of the broken hymn later on. What poor Pan Andrew does not yet know is that all is not well in Krakow. Pan Andrew goes to see his relatives but finds his cousin has been killed in a feud between the tradesmen and the nobles. This leaves the Charnetskis with no place to stay, no money and, worst of all, no protection.

If you want to know what else happens in the story, readers, you shall have to chase down a copy of The Trumpeter of Krakow yourselves. I have whet your appetite, I hope, for this charming story. Someone I know read and went into raptures over the book a long time ago. I waited a long time to read the novel, unfortunately. Perhaps, if I had read it earlier, I would have enjoyed it more than I did.

Poland is left in the dust these days. For twenty years it did not even exist; it was divided between Germany, Russia, and Austria. By far Austria treated the Poles better than the Germans or the Russians. Poland has suffered much throughout her long history.

However, as the Japanese say, “Fall seven times, stand up eight!” Poland has suffered, but she has always stood back up at some point. It is time she was recognized for this strength. This post and, perhaps, others will help to put her back in the world consciousness, where she belongs.

God go with you, readers!