Monday, May 1, 2017

Book Review: From Here to Timbuktu by Milton Davis

'Lo People,

I'm gonna school ya on why this book is important.
From Here to Timbuktu had me when I turned the page to the map of an alternate US where the original 13 colonies, NY, PA,part of VA,OH,IN,IL,MI and WI are all that's left of the United States. The southern belt with the exception of Florida and Louisiana has been amassed into a territory called Freedonia bordered another large territory called New Haiti. Texas and California and Florida have all remained in Spanish hands.
I'm saying to myself what's the story here?

I'm told it's from the sub-genre Steamfunk (Afro steampunk). What the hell is that, you say? It means there's no rayguns or automatic weapons. People still ride horses. Lots of airships are spanning continents. Long story short, this book takes place after the American Civil War and probably a decade before the 1920s. There are poisonings, bullets flying, killer mechanical cats, and ancient alien technology. By the way, all the sex happens between scenes in the minds of the readers who were looking for smut on the actual pages. (Yes, Her Tangh-i-ness was gonna go there.)

When I was a teen, I read Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and H. Rider Haggard in hopes of reading about characters who looked like me doing cool stuff. If I could have gotten away with shoving Milton Davis into a wayback machine and hitting the button, I would. This. This is the stuff I should have been reading as a youngster. I was starving for it. The idea that Harriet Tubman or Fredrick Douglass could have ended up a president. The idea that ancient Black people had books at all might come as a shock to some. The idea that African peoples have had alien contact doesn't seem bandied about much either.

Best of all, as a woman, I soooo enjoy seeing women being just as badass as their male counterparts. Menna needs her own book. I figure the spirited sort of man could convince her to harness that formidable will of hers into more constructive uses. Just sayin'. Hint. Hint.

*Spoiler Alert*

Her Tangh-i-ness greatly appreciates pithy plot summaries. However, for those who must have a virgin reading experience, read no further, and eyeball elsewhere.

*Spoiler Alert End*

Remember these names:

Wagadu- a lost ancient city, a site of first contact
Famara Keita- a horro, an elite warrior
Zeke Culpepper- a church deacon, gunslinger, and bounty-hunter
Annette Bijoux- a machete-wielding singer from New Haiti
Menna- female Ihaggaren assassin, sister and rival of El Tellak for the leadership of the kel
El Tellak- the leader of the Ihaggaren Tuareg
Dolph Ericksson- Prussian Field Marshall and closet academic
Claus Reuters- the Prussian General determined to prove Dolph's obsession is a waste
Pierre LaRue- New Haitian expatriate and socialite

This novel could have been subtitled the book of the double-cross. Famara Keita has to pluck two highly coveted tomes from a Tuareg warlord and transplanted New Haitian socialite. Menna wants to wrestle the leadership of the kel from her brother El Tellak. Claus Reuters wants to prove that Dolph's obsession with the books is a waste of Prussian resources. The only character who engages in relatively little two-timing is Zeke Culpepper.

As an inveterate book hoarder, I totally get why having a plot revolve about missing ancient African books ought to be a Bestseller. Gimme my good reads!

Famara Keita strides onto the page deep in the Sahara to knife El Tellak and steal the book that El Tellak meant to turn over to Dolph Ericksson. The scene ends with Keita single-handedly taking down a Prussian airship with only a bullet to the shoulder to slow him. Calling all auteurs. Calling all auteurs. Can someone please shoot that opening action sequence like yesterday? I need t see it on a big screen. Zeke Culpepper enters next moving from passing the collection plate, to being enlisted by a Sheriff and Deputy to take down a wanted gang. Apparently, Keita and Culpepper's paths are meant to cross.

Field Marshall Dolph Ericksson fumes at the loss of the first book that the horro, Famara Keita, has stolen and plots to take the second book which had ended up in Zeke Culpepper's Freedonia. El Tellak recovers from his near death experience at Famara Keita's hands. These two men, and Menna, form the triumvirate of problems facing Famara Keita and Zeke Culpepper. Dolph Ericksson had already put the arcane knowledge found in the stolen books to work and he longs to complete the technological advantage their secrets have given. Already a scientist under his direction used the information to create clockwork cat sentries that hold a town in terror.

The second book in Freedonia brings Famara Keita in search of it. His mission is to bring it back to Timbuktu and to the oversight of the elders. Zeke Culpepper takes down his latest bounty unaware how much his own life will be changing. Menna travels Famara Keita's homeland in search of him and kiling as she goes. El Tellak concentrates on saving face amongst his own people and managing his murderous sister. Pierre LaRue hosts the bonne soirée that intended to celebrate his ownership of the Fredonian tome but nearly ends his wife's life and his own when Famara makes off with the book with Dolph and his Prussian agents hot on his heels. Zeke Culpepper answers an urgent summons from LaRue. Culpepper finds himself hired to go after the book. He's been promised a substantial for his efforts. So Zeke Culpepper joins the chase that will lead Famara Keita, Menna, Dolph Ericksson to Lorraine, France and Annette Bijoux, and then to Bavaria, and finally to Timbutku in Africa itself. Thirty gold pieces exchanged between Famara Keita and Zeke Culpepper outstrips the bounty Pierre LaRue offered. After all, LaRue made promises while Keita actually delivers solid evidence of Culpepper's best financial interest. In retrieving the Freedonian book and returning it to the African Elders, Zeke Culpepper faces a deeper calling. Somehow, I suppose we haven't seen the last of the gun-slinging church deacon.

Note: This copy of From Here to Timbuktu was an Amazon ebook purchased by the reviewer. Her Tangh-i-ness usually reviews on a for-the-love basis. No lucre has been involved.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book Review: Silver Moon by Catherine Lundoff

'Lo People,

I am so overdue for this review. You ever read a book or watch a movie where you were yelling at the main character? Grrl what are you doing? Yup. Becca Thornton did that me. I remember hearing about the book from the author. I'm definitely in the target audience being perimenopausal, a female, and a fang-carrying, lifelong member of the shifter tribe. I am down with the Werefolk. And I'm heteroflexible enough that I can enjoy lesbian characters discovering themselves. Her Tangh-i-ness's motto is be who you be. Love is Love. Anyhoo….

I appreciate Silver Moon too for offering a different vision of femaleness. Too often, the woman as a warrior, or even viewed as an elder, as a social force driven to protect and nuture takes a second stage to Romantic entanglement. There is light Romance in Silver Moon. There's also an interesting depiction of the poison of self-hate.

8/20 Update: (The character has been renamed. The writer is a true ally. She understood why the adjustment was needed and took action)

My one quibble with the earlier version of Silver Moon had been in the use of a goddess's name for a difficult character. The antagonist took it as their "warrior" name. The character says, "Remember me: I am the wind that brings change."

As someone who is a shrine keeper in a West African tradition, seeing that name in this context just tossed me out of the story just as Voudun practitioners cringe at non-devotees' depiction of their faith I had a reaction. Uhhhh...Ile Ife, we have a problem. Make of my reaction what you will. Please remember the I found the remainder of this story satisfying and absolutely worthy of a re-read.

*Spoiler Alert*

Her Tangh-i-ness greatly appreciates pithy plot summaries. However, for those who must have a virgin reading experience, read no further, and eyeball elsewhere.

*Spoiler Alert End*

Becca works in a hardware store in a town called Wolf's Point, is a member of a local women's club, and is going through the change. She's also feeling feelings for her female neighbor after her divorce from a man. It's Becca's first time considering that she is attracted to her own sex.

Becca learns the women's club she's part of isn't just a case of running with the wolves. The women become wolves. Becca finds this handy when she has to defend a kidnapped boy from a child predator. My girl Becca dispatches the predator human and brings the boy to safety. Yay!

I loved that Shelly Peterson, the Alpha of Wolf's point, was a Native American woman. I loved that Lizzie Blackhawk, Shelly's cousin was the town Deputy. Even the female antagonist with the goddess's name is a Native woman. So can we talk about Erin? "She grinned her slow lazy smile that always made Becca think about cowboys. Cowgirls. Whatever. Maybe it was her neighbor's long lean body or her short-cropped graying hair." So I'm looking at Erin too and I'm liking what I see. Nice to know Becca has good taste. Erin is the love interest by the way.

Becca and her pack have to stand firm against the machinations of the female antagonist and her crew. The crew calls themselves Nesters. Becca even runs away from what she's become and the pack. That lasts two minutes. Becca's running away earns the first of Her Tangh-iness's severe talking tos. Grrrrl, have you lost your mind? Becca returns to Wolf's Point after a think.

Becca meets the female antagonist with the goddess-name and learns the woman believes the women wolves killed her parents. Erin, Shelly, and the rest of the female elders of Wolf's Point and members of the pack show up to welcome Becca back. Lizzie brings Becca to the secret painted cave where the ancient spirits first put the magic into Wolf's Point that transforms its women into wolves. Becca learns she might lose her home to an ex-husband interested in selling it off so he could support himself and a new pregnant wife. The women of Wolf's Point decide to assist her in keeping it and to train her in using her new-found transformative powers.

The Nesters burn the women's club building down. The antagonist with the goddess-name turns out to be another of Shelly and Lizzie's cousins. She also has a drug that can overpower the urge to change into wolves. Complicated. Complicated. Becca commits herself to the fight when she tells Erin, "You're going to make me the best damn werewolf this town has ever seen."

Meeting with the Pack at the secret painted cave sends Becca into a panic attack but Shelly and the others guide Becca through it. Becca can do cool partial transformations: not quite wolf and not quite human and not always on the full moon. Becca makes some poor decisions (which does not include her first kiss with Erin) and earns being put under watch by her Alpha Shelly. The Nesters escalate their efforts to recruit new members by forcibly "changing" them.

Shelly the Alpha disappears. The Nesters have an injectable "cure." Becca finds herself on the receiving end of a needle. The antagonist with the goddess name says, "I see that you were wavering, but I knew we could save you. And we did. We will. You'll see: it'll be better now. We'll keep helping you." Becca gets herself taken prisoner by the Nesters in a bid to find out where they might have stowed Shelly.

She escapes and reunites with the Pack. Becca finds Shelly and Erin. The Pack elders have given Shelly and Erin the means to counter the Nesters effort to halt the change. Becca, Shelly, and Erin return to the cave with the painted walls. Together, they wield the magic to overcome the antagonist with the goddess-name and her male companion. Erin is wounded yet again. Becca finds that although the magic can defined against Nesters, it can't halt the sale of her home. But she could always move in with her next door neighbor Erin couldn't she?

C'mon, this can't be the last we've seen of Becca and the wolf-women of Wolf's Point…. I swear I can hear howling in the distance.

Note: This copy of Silver Moon was a hard copy purchased by the reviewer. Her Tangh-i-ness usually reviews on a for-the-love basis. No lucre has been involved.