Review: Peter Grant and Kate Paulk

I’m at LibertyCon today, and somewhat obviously, this was written days ago 🙂 I decided I’d review the book of a fellow con-goer, and also a (series of) book(s) about cons…

Peter Grant’s new release, War to the Knife, is also the start to a new series. It opens like a scene from a Western novel, on a frontier planet, but we learn quickly this is just camoflage, the people who live on this planet have been invaded by another. The invaders, also humans, are committing genocide, and have driven the rightful inhabitants of Laredo to the brink of despair. But a small group of valiant warriors will not give up, and they pursue war to the knife.

Peter has delighted me with his books since I met him last year at LibertyCon, along with his lovely wife Dorothy. His first novel was flawed, but still an enjoyable read. The second and third were good, too… and this one hits the ball out of the park. His characters are real, and well-developed. His villains are mostly not-evil, just following orders, which feels about right. For every war, you have dozens of people trying to do their best to win it, not for evil, but because it’s the right thing to them. War to the Knife explores that dichotomy.

When the war leaves the planetary sphere, it’s even more complicated as they must prove to the UP, an organization which seems to resemble the UN, that they are worth bothering over. With Grant’s history coming out of a life in Africa, I was on tenterhooks here… the UN has not been kind to Africans. And in fact, we don’t get to see that wholly play out… it is left for the next book. I can’t wait to see what happens!

Since I am at a convention this weekend, it was a perfect time to re-read Kate Paulk’s snarky, funny, lovely series about conventions, and the beings who lurk at them. We open with Jim, a very old and powerful vampire, who is very careful not to feed at conventions. He rather likes geeks, and they rather like him, although they only know him as yer another pale, skinny guy who avoids the sunlight. We meet editor-demons, writer-succubi and fallen angels. It turns out that there is a whole ecosystem of predator and prey at a convention. Here and you thought it was just fans, writers, and publishers!

ConVent, the first book, revolves around the sacrifice of fans for some unknown reason. Jim reluctantly investigates, not wanting to be discovered, but also not wanting to be discovered when the police get involved. It all comes down to the banquet room, where the summoning of a greater daemon is taking place…. and demon blood tastes horrible.

ConSensual… well, here’s the blurb: “There are vampires in the lobby, succubi in the beds, and bodies in the bathroom. It’s ConSensual, where the editors are demons, the writers are crazy and the vampires and werewolves might be the most stable people in the room. If that isn’t enough, Dracula is staying at the hotel on a business trip for his wood-based hardware chain, Kit Marlowe is one of the authors, and there’s an out of control baby vampire to deal with. Once again, the “Save the World” department is caught with its pants down.”

This book is if anything even funnier than the last one, as Jim and company return with revelations about the Bosting family, more con shenanigans, and even more bodies.

For all that this may sound corny to you, it made me laugh when I read ConVent before I had ever attended a con. Now that I have several under my belt, I can see where Kate pulled the characters from real life, and it becomes ever more fun to read. I’m leaning on her for another chapter in the adventures of Jim, and I hope you’ll read these and join me in asking for “Moar! moar! plz to writz moar!”

I also started to read Stephanie Osborn’s A Case of Spontaneous Combustion, which is one of her Sherlock Holmes in modern day series, but unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the promise of the series. I really did enjoy the first books in the series, and I recommend that if you like a little Holmes updated, you should try book one, The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival. It’s a light romp with the old-school detective and a cutting-edge scientist. I enjoyed the characters, and how the plot wove between trying to return him to his own time, and his discovery of how things had changed.

Yes, Holmes is fictional, but there is a fun theory that authors are affected by the ‘leakage’ of parallel universes and so create their most enduring characters. (Heinlein did this, although I don’t think it originated with him). So why not have a researcher of those parallel worlds be interested in her favorite detective? I’d read Books one through three, missed four somehow, and picked up five. Unfortunately, the major interpersonal conflict was very forced and artificial, and some of the missed research cues really set my teeth on edge. Things like how maple syrup happens and mustang-breaking are obscure (and my knowing what a CSI’s role is and how much they are paid in general), I realize, but part of my knowledge base, and I just couldn’t finish the book. I’m sure that for the general reader, if you enjoyed the series, you will likely want to keep reading. Sadly, it didn’t work for me. I do have to say that the cover may be the creepiest thing I’ve seen in a while, with some admiration… really made me want to find out what the heck was going on.