DERYNI CHECKMATE was the second book in Katherine Kurtz original Deryni trilogy (review of Vol. 1 here), and a marked improvement over the first (so apparently my fondness for the books wasn’t just misty nostalgia for teenage favorites). This is in the school of Everything Falls Apart volume twos, as both religious crusaders and would-be conquerors threaten to invade Gwynedd, the church amps the persecution of the Deryni, a love spell goes horribly wrong and Morgan tries to figure out if he’s really getting guidance from visions of a saint. An excellent job.
KAI LUNG’S GOLDEN HOURS by Ernest Bramah (cover by Ian Miller, all rights to current holder) is a piece of 1920s Orientalism — as editor Lin Carter puts it, Bramah’s writing about a country he made up, only it happens to be named China — so if you find that objectionable, this probably won’t work for you. The protagonist, Kai Lung, is a storyteller who in this volume falls afoul of a minor imperial official and buys time by repeatedly pulling out the perfect story to satisfy a higher-ranked official’s personal dilemmas. Droll and witty (“There is no problem that cannot be solved by suicide, a bag of gold or the hurling of a despised enemy over a cliff in the dead of night.”), but a slow, leisurely read, not suited for when you’re in a rush. Despite the orientalist cliches, I enjoyed it.
Reading Ian Fleming’s 1961 novel THUNDERBALL for the first time (to gain some perspective for Martinis Girls and Guns), I was struck by how very technothriller it comes off, with extensive details on the nuclear technology SPECTRE has stolen. Then again Fleming may just have been in a wordy mood as we also get lengthy discussion of health fads, SPECTRE’s backstory (though the film series gains by having two films to build up SPECTRE, —it comes off a lot more impressive in the screen Thunderball), Domino’s biography and how bartenders trick you about how much booze they’re giving you (Bond and Leiter grumble quite a bit about how the servant classes have gone down hill). The book is slow and wordy, probably more significant for giving us SPECTRE (which in turn gave us Hydra, THRUSH and countless other similar cartels). I will say I was pleasantly surprised that Bond’s sexual harassment of the health-spa worker wasn’t in Fleming’s original (though that also makes the film creepier).
The second LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN collection by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill has the “Murray group” confronted by mysterious rockets fired from the planet Mars to launch a War of the Worlds (the opening issue shows John Carter and Gullivar Jones leading Martian armies to drive the creatures off, not realizing where they’ll head next). This is a mixed bag, with some developments I like (Hyde bonding with Mina) and some that didn’t work (using Dr. Moreau to explain various anthropomorphic animal characters from mine and Moore’s childhood). Overall fun, though once again Mina winds up assaulted (not sexually, just beaten up by Griffin). And the Travelogue in the text pages, while it has many interesting bits (Mina and Allan in Arkham!) also throws in so many references I lost interest (it’s hard to care when I don’t know any of them). Plus some simply don’t work, like trying to graft Elric onto this world.
RED LANTERNS: Rage of the Red Lanterns by Peter Milligan and Miguel Sepulveda confirms my general dislike of the Red Lanterns as anything but villains—making Atrocitus and his followers hard-core vigilante anti-heroes just doesn’t work (though given how long the Punisher’s been in print, I suppose it’s not surprising DC gave them a shot). This volume has Atrocitus primarily battling subversion in his own ranks, though the Reds also go up against the Star Sapphires and Stormwatch; competently written, but that doesn’t make this goon squad more appealing.