Thursday, September 6, 2012

Book Review: Herb-Wife by Elizabeth McCoy


As I recently discussed earlier, Elizabeth McCoy is a damn good author. Herb-Witch (the first book of the series) ends with you being hurtled over a figurative cliff (as opposed to just hanging there). I hate cliffhangers. No really, I hate them, they annoy me and they must die. I hate the wait. I hate the wondering. Hate, hate, hate. And yeah, if you're curious Jim Butcher drove me freaking nuts with his latest Dresden Files books. Other than my deep abiding hatred and loathing of cliffhangers I liked the first book and I sure as hell liked the second one. Herb-Wife picks up where Herb-Witch left off, again, I won’t spoil it but the title should give away at least some of it. Kessa, Iathor, and that unpredictable bastard Iason are back. The second book quite succinctly sums up just about everything I could want summed up but I’m still left with questions and even a few doubts (but that’s the case with nearly every bit of fiction out there).

As a sometimes writer myself I know one thing: endings are hard. You cannot possibly tie up every string, thread, and spool of plot there is. And if you tried, you’d go mad. Still you can tie up the big ones and even a few of the small ones, and in the end that’s the best you can do. McCoy nails it pretty close to the mark, making sure most of the plots are tied with a ribbon and a bell. Also there is a refreshing lack of plot-holes (on either proverbial ceiling or floor). The dialogue remains witty and the attention to details remains high. The book in general was a real page-turner and I must admit I finished it in less than three days of before-bed reading.

Again, the vagueness of geography threw me off a bit; places and names were mentioned but with only the barest of descriptions. There was also one instance of “Why is that character here” but it was justified enough later on that and I was suitably mollified. I was rather disappointed by the book length, I felt the author could have gone on a bit more and I found myself at the end far too quickly. Both books of the Lord Alchemist’s Duology are worth acquiring if you have a love of low-magic fantasy worlds or alchemy in general. I give Herb-Wife four pennies out of five.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book Review: Herb-Witch by Elizabeth McCoy

Elizabeth McCoy of GURPS IOU and In Nomine fame is not only a fantastic game designer she is a fantastic author (though both professions do lend well to the other). Herb-Witch’s premise is simple enough: the protagonist, Kessa Herbsman is framed for a crime she didn’t commit (or did she?) and the Lord Alchemist of the city, Iathor Kymus decides to investigate. The obstacles include Kessa’s heritage (she’s a half “barbarian”), the Lord Alchemist’s brother, her own studies in alchemy, and famously enough the herb-witch’s own stubbornness. As the story progresses the reader learns of Kessa’s alchemical “immunity” and though its not revealed till more than half-way in this becomes a very important theme. I don’t want to give away to much here but the way McCoy weaves multiple tales in the same story is (in my personal opinion) quite expert. Moreover, the blending of the everyday and the not-so-everyday appeals to my own internal storyteller. After all what do the protagonists of stories do when you’re not looking at them? This theme is seen quite often through the whole book, and while it can run flat if done wrong, this is not the case with Herb-Witch. The best parts are where in my opinion when the main plot was not talked about. Oh and did I mention that there’s a marriage proposal in a jail cell? Yeah, figured that’d get your attention. McCoy’s dialogue is witty, clever, and to the point with such wonderful gems as: “Then I’ll be in my office, knocking for minor issues, screaming for explosions.”

Now that’s not to say I found all of the book enjoyable, McCoy packs a ton of information in her book about Kessa’s world and it does take a bit to parse (I ended up having to read a paragraph here and there a few times). Furthermore a bit of a peeve of mine is the vagueness of geography (the overall area, not the city itself which is splendidly colorful), maybe I’m just spoiled for maps in my fantasy novels.

Herb-Witch is a fantastic book that deserves more attention that what it has so far received. I give Herb-Witch four and a half pennies out of five (the dialogue alone gives the half-penny!)