More Claudia — digitized!

Publishers really do listen to readers — because books 2, 3 and 4 of the Claudia mystery series have been digitized!

I’d described Marilyn Todd’s Claudia series in an earlier post. The books, set in early Rome, feature Claudia Seferius, on paper the widow of a wine merchant from the upper class. She has a business to run (and no idea how to manage that task), questionable friends from all strata of society, an annoying nobleman-investigator who’s constantly “interfering” in her life, and a teensy, tiny little gambling problem. Oh, and a tendency to fall, trip or run headlong into murders.

The series was published mostly only in Europe, and it can be difficult to find the books at a reasonable price, particularly the first 9 which were only published in paperback. However, last year I discovered the first book, “I, Claudia,” had been issued in a digital format. I’d only sent off a request for a Kindle version to the publisher every week for the last year! Untreed Reads is bringing the books out in e-pub, Kindle and Nook formats, at last!

Book 2, Virgin Territory, followed a couple of weeks later.

Spoilers below for some elements of the individual books in the series, although I’m only offering brief plot summaries.

Claudia, disconcerted to realize she’s actually expected to run her husband’s wine business, jumps at the opportunity to get out of town and away from her oh-so-onerous business responsibilities. She agrees to accompany a Vestal Virgin back to her family after the completion of thirty-years’ service to the goddess Hestia. After starting the journey, Claudia realizes there’s a little problem — she saw all the Vestals earlier in the season at a major holiday, and the woman she’s traveling with was not one of them. Oh, and she’s fairly certain the fake-priestess is not completely sane. Matters only get more confusing when they reach their destination and Claudia’s companion is recognized, and welcomed, as the daughter they’d sent off to the temple. If she wasn’t serving as a Vestal, just where has the woman been for thirty years? And why are people connected to her childhood suddenly dying? As second books go, it was solidly entertaining, and interesting in that you got a look at elements of Roman society that were not based in Rome itself. I found the twist at the end about the woman’s identity to be a bit unbelievable at first, but realized after a second reading that my assumptions as to the plot’s believability were based on how modern society works — not how a rural farming community without any means of rapid communication would have functioned.

Book 3, Man Eater, followed hard on the heels of Virgin Territory. Claudia just can’t win. She ran away from her business and straight into murder in the second book. Now she races to handle a problem at her business — and runs straight into a murder again. This time we travel to the northern countryside, where Claudia is ambushed and ends up convalescing at a training facility supplying animals to those Roman games on which Claudia just loves to wager. The characters, the facility — even some of the sub-plots, they all reminded me of old black-and-white mystery movies, where everyone had dark secrets and any one of the characters could have been the murderer, but in the end, the resolution of the mystery was so apparent that you could not believe you hadn’t figured it out earlier. Overall, well-plotted, lots of action, and another glimpse into a Roman world we’d rarely seen before Gladiator.

And now I’ve bought Book 4, Wolf Whistle, where Claudia has to confront memories of her real earlier life when her good deed of rescuing a street urchin rewards her with a serial murderer, thugs running a slavery ring, and the ever-more-persistently determined-to-save-her-from-herself Marcus Orbilio. By this point, if I were Claudia, I’d have sold the wine business and emigrated to the furthest country outside Roman’s empire. I plan to read this treat this weekend.

Overall, the books thus far have lived up to my memory of them — good plots; interesting characterizations; a heroine (if Claudia lets you call her that!) who’s funny, abrasive, determined, arrogant and desperate to ignore her impulses toward caring for others; and glimpses of everyday Roman life, not just the historic events we see in blockbuster movies.

Now I’m off to harangue the publisher to bring the rest of the series out. I can’t wait to get to books 6-9 which I never got to read!


Erotically Delicious

It’s erotic! And delicious! It’s Fifty Shades of — Chicken!?!

If you haven’t already bought it, I strongly recommend you get Fifty Shades of Chicken, by F.L. Fowler (even the author’s pseudonym is a parody). It came out just before Christmas last year, but somehow, I missed seeing it in the stores. And that’s a shame, because I have never laughed so much while reading a cookbook in my life.

Mr. (?) Fowler’s work is both a cookbook (with fifty recipes for chicken dishes) and an homage/parody of, obviously, Fifty Shades of Grey. In this tribute, we are treated to the story of Shifty Blades, a successful and restless chef, and Miss Chicken, a naive, organically-raised fowl who literally falls out of the refrigerator and lands at Shifty’s feet, tempting him with her firm, ripe flesh. After some confusion on the part of Miss Chicken, and Shifty’s avowal that Miss Chicken is too good for him, Shifty and his hen end up engaging in an elaborate dance of food porn.

Fowler perfectly mirrors the Grey books with a breathless, tongue-in-cheek tone to the narrative, slyly poking fun at our obsession with the sexual exploration themes of the Grey trilogy. Shifty ties, stuffs, massages and so on his Miss Chicken, all while conducting a running commentary on his actions. Miss Chicken, in turn, engages in internal monologues about Shifty’s intentions toward her and her reactions to his ‘handling.’ Just like the characters in the Grey series — only one’s a chicken and the other an inventive chef.

The book is structured so that each recipe is introduced by a short passage describing the, ahem, ‘interaction’ between chef and bird. Some of these passages are brief, others a full page long, but all are ridiculously funny. Picture a roasting chicken screaming her ‘safe word’ because she’s overheating.

It would have been so easy for this book to have slipped into over-the-top absurdity; instead, it’s carefully balanced — hilarious without being too ridiculous.

And it’s not just the story that’s good, the recipes appear to be quite tempting as well. (Literally tempting — Fowler carries the double entendres into the cooking intructions.) I’ve tried out two so far — a horseradish-marinaded roast and chicken chili. They were both quite tasty (there was no left-over chili, which considering I made a double batch to feed only four people is pretty astounding). Since I’m eating healthier, I can see I’ll be trying out most of these recipes over the coming months.

Throughout their ‘relationship,’ developed over the course of fifty recipes, Shifty and Miss Chicken must deal with some speed bumps in the form of a snooping, blackmailing cookbook publisher and Shifty’s unhealthy obsession with that hussy, Julia Childs. In the end, though, bird and cook are united in deliciousness and cookbook fame. And because of both the interesting recipes and the screamingly-funny story, this cookbook earned rare praise from me — it’s become only the eighth cookbook that I actually own. I can foresee a long, and hopefully satisfying, partnership with it.

Lost Tribe of the Sith: Paragon and Skyborn

Sith power games are so very intriguing.. And in Lost Tribe of the Sith, we get a lot of them.

The Lost Tribe, you’ll recall, is stranded on Kesh following the crash of their ship, Omen, onto the planet. The first two stories in the series set up the Sith’s arrival on Kesh. The rest of the series draws you into the expected, but nevertheless frightening, power struggles between different species, families and individuals in the Tribe, from shortly after their arrival on the planet until 3500 years before the Battle of Yavin.

Also Expected:

Spoiler Warnings.

Here Be Too Many Details!

Books 3 and 4, Paragon and Savior, were definitely worth reading.


Paragon takes place 15 years after Omen’s landing, and is told from the point of view of Seelah. She is the very, very angry human Sith woman who was married to Devore Korsin. And Devore, of course, was killed by his half-brother, Captain Yaru, when the Captain discovered Devore had set up his betrayal to the Sith Lord Naga Sadow. The first, but not the last, betrayal and death match involving Kesh’s new residents.

Now, Seelah is married to Yaru and has borne him a daughter; despite his near-daily meetings with Adari Vaal, the Kesh woman who ‘saved’ the Sith after the crash, Seelah and Yaru have settled into a partnership of sorts to run this mini Sith empire. The Sith have been accepted as the ‘gods’ of the Kesh returned to their people, and Keshiri society has been restructured to worship and serve the whims of the Sith. In turn, the Sith have done everything they can to solidify their position as the dominant rulers of the planet, even to the point of taking over the riding of the uvaks, thereby grounding, literally, the former leaders of Keshiri society.

As foreshadowed at the end of the second story, the Sith have discovered that Kesh has no metal whatsoever, but only after squandering much of their surviving equipment in useless mining and exploration. To add to their problems, the planet emits some type of interference that knocks out communications and affects machinery. It seems that their only chance of escape from Kesh will be to attract the attention of some passing ship – a forlorn hope, at best.

Meanwhile, the Sith, we learn, are firmly split between the contingent of human Sith settling into permanent exile on Kesh – and the alien, Red Sith who are determined that they must return to the Empire. (While there is a distinction between Red and human Sith, it’s not a complete one. The two groups, it appears, have long been interbreeding, and that is how the Sith powers ‘entered’ into humanity.)

Seelah, a medic, has been placed in charge of the, well, let’s call it a breeding program. Kesh’s animosity toward the alien Sith is continuing — humans bear healthy children, while not a single alien baby has survived beyond a day. Seelah and her staff are pulling apart the geneology of the Sith, ostensibly to solve this problem, but in reality, to breed ‘purer’ humans, although only the staff appears to be in on that secret.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the alien Sith – it does. When Ravilan, their informal ‘leader’, goes on a tour of distant communities, the first one he visits – dies. Completely. Every resident, 18,000 of them, succumbs to some sort of disease. And then another village dies. And another.

In the end, it’s not a disease, it was a plot by Ravilan and his people to poison the communities, turn the Kesh against the Sith and force them to give up their ‘luxuries’ and find a way off the planet. (In my opinion he’s not a very bright Sith. You’ve exhausted the power supplies for your equipment, there’s no way to get a signal out and there’s no metal to rebuild Omen. Just how, exactly, did he think turning the Sith’s only refuge against them was going to get the Tribe off the planet?!?)

But Ravilan makes a mistake, and Seelah takes advantage of it – and manages to arrange for the deaths of all the alien Sith. As she tells Ravilan, what’s happening with the Tribe is merely a preview of what will happen to the Sith overall. The Red Sith are failing; the human Sith will replace them.

The story was a good way to learn about the inner workings of the Sith power structures overall, and also about Seelah, who had been neglected in the first two stories beyond her cameo appearances as lead medic and ‘mother’of a child. She was originally the slave, along with her family, of Sadow’s rival, Kressh; she suffered under him and he ultimately killed the rest of her family; and, good Sith that she is, she used Devore to escape from his service.

And at the very end of the book, we learn that there is more than one plot, one betrayal, at work here.

Some of the Keshiri know the truth about the Sith – they are not gods, not the Skyborn returned, and they are destroying the Keshiri. They’ve planted spies in the heart of the Sith to work toward their ultimate destruction.

And they are led by none other than Yaru’s friend, Adari Vaal.


Savior picks up from this ending, and completes the four-story cycle of the arrival of the Sith on Kesh. Taking place ten years after Paragon, the story opens with the remaining Sith now somewhat accepting of the fact that they will be on Kesh for a long time, if not forever. They have moved from the mountain and Omen’s crash site down into the main town. While they still believe the transmitter is working (Yaru having allowed that lie to stand) and that someday, someone will hear it and come to rescue them, the Sith are now dedicated to the task of reshaping Kesh into a proper Sith world.

One where the Sith rule, and the aliens – the Keshiri – are slaves, even if they don’t know it. Which is ironic, considering that, in the actual Sith Empire, the human Sith were the slaves, and the aliens – the Red Sith – the rulers.

What no one seems to have picked up on is that not all Keshiri are happy to worship and serve the Sith. Adari Vaal, the Daughter of the Skyborn, the very person responsible for the Sith being rescued from Omen’s crash site and complicit in the takeover of her society, is mounting a clandestine rebellion. Yaru still seems to be fond, and even a bit admiring of her – at one point, he says she has the will of a Sith. He’s spot on in that statement. And perhaps that has blinded him to her bitter hatred, sparked by the death of her son and Yaru’s failure to save him, driven by the realization that her entire society is being destroyed by the Sith.

We also meet the two children of Seelah – her son, Jariad, by her first husband Devore, and her daughter, Nida, by Yaru. Jariad, the leader of the Sabers, the Sith’s honor guard, is the successful son and logical choice to succeed Yaru Korsin, while Nida is merely the leader of the Skyborn Rangers, the uvak riders.

So much of this story deals with surface impressions, and how they hide the true nature, the underlying motives, beneath seemingly innocent (if one can use that word with Sith) words and actions.

On the surface:

Seelah supports Yaru and his endeavors to build a Sith society on Kesh – and to a certain extent, she does. Only she intends that her son Jariad will lead it, while Yaru dies as revenge for his killing of Devore.

Adari Vaal basks in her position as Daughter of the Skyborn, while preparing a death blow to the Sith’s ability to control the Keshiri — stealing the uvaks back and forcing a confrontation between Sith and Keshiri.

Jariad is a ‘golden boy’ of the Sith, the expected future leader, while Nida his sister is nothing more than a plodding, simple girl who likes to ride uvaks.

And Yaru is complacently designing the future lives of the Sith on Kesh, blind to the plots against him.

Without spoiling two much, I can tell you that Yaru does manage to outmaneuver Seelah, not without losing his life. Adari succeeds in her plot, but it does not have the outcome she expected and she is betrayed by her own son, a servant to Nida Korsin. And Nida herself proves to be the biggest surprise of all, her hidden skills and cooperation in her father’s counterplots making her more than a match for her brother. Ultimately, she assumes leadership of the Sith.

Overall, a satisfying end to the arrival stories of the Sith. The final two chapters, and in particular the ending page, of Savior capture the vicious nature of the Sith quite well. Although I’m wondering, just who is the ‘savior’ of the title? Yaru Korsin, who created a structure by which the Sith could channel their aggressive nature while establishing a society on Kesh? Adari Vaal, who, in the end, escapes with her followers and uvaks to a distant continent where she prepares for a war with the Sith? Or Nida Korsin, who, by outwitting her brother and mother, manages to preserve the society Yaru established and, perhaps, save both Sith and Keshiri from a bloody, violent conflict?

I’ll find out in the next stories.

Lost Tribe of the Sith: Precipice and Skyborn

Well, that was more like the Star Wars I’m used to. I’m speaking, of course, of the tales of the Lost Tribe of the Sith.

John Jackson Miller wrote nine stories of the Lost Tribe of the Sith – eight short (30-40 page) e-books and a final, much-longer story. The first eight were briefly posted online, free of charge, while the longer Pandemonium was only just published in the Collected Stories anthology. They span roughly two thousand years (5,000-2,975 years before the Battle of Yavin) and are meant to introduce readers to the Lost Tribe we meet in the Fate of the Jedi series.

After reading all nine stories, I have to say I really enjoyed them, although I wished they had been longer; some scenes and relationships could have been expanded a bit to provide more depth to the characters. Despite that, I thought the stories definitely provided a believable backstory for the Lost Tribe met by Luke Skywalker in the Fate novels, and explained a few ‘quirks’ of their society that had puzzled me when I read the Fate stories.

Usual warning

Draigons of spoilers ahead

Read at your own peril

The first two stories – Precipice and Skyborn – relate how the Sith came to be on the planet Kesh. They take place at the same time, but view events from two, vastly different perspectives – that of Yaru Korsin, the captain of the Sith ship Omen, and Adari Vaal, a Keshiri widow.


Right from the start, Precipice dumps you into the Sith power games.

Omen is a mining ship, crewed by a mix of human and alien species, almost all of them ‘Sith,’ along with a complement of the deadly Massassi troops. She is the property of the Sith Lord Naga Sadow, a true Red Sith. It’s interesting that Sadow, and his fellow Sith Lords, are of an alien species, while the human Sith like Yaru Korsin are merely servants/slaves of their overlords. Very interesting, given that Palpatine/Darth Sidious had a distinct bias against non-humans, to realize that the Sith actually started as a non-human species.

As the story opens, Omen is returning to Sadow with a full cargo of crystals. However, the ship makes an uncontrolled jump through hyperspace, hits a gravity well, and emerges above an unknown world which promptly begins pulling the ship to the surface.

As Yaru Korsin, Omen’s human captain, puts it, a Sith glories in the ’exaltation of the self,’ each Sith ready to strike at any time and advance their own personal interests. That doesn’t help very much, though, when your ship is disintegrating around you – during the crash, Yaru’s half-brother Devore is busy accusing the navigator of making a mistake in his piloting rather than finding some way to save the ship. The rest of the bridge crew, with the exception of a non-Sith Houk named Gloyd, aren’t much more help to Korsin.

That type of attitude is even less useful when you’ve crashed, with minimal supplies, on an unknown, hostile world. And Kesh is very definitely hostile, at least to intruders. The survivors of the crash, roughly 350 Sith and 80 Massassi, manage to stumble out of Omen’s burning, wrecked hulk, only to have some of them fall off the mountain on the way down from the crash site. Then the Massassi get sick – something in Kesh’s atmostphere just plain hates them. They’re dead in just a few days. The animals on the planet appear to be inedible and downright poisonous to the survivors. And true to form, Devore and the other Sith kill the navigator and are now ready to start killing each other.

So Yaru makes a desperate hike back up the mountain to activate the transmitter and wait for rescue, only to find that the transmitter is fried and useless. The same can be said of his brother, who’s waiting, drugged up, to challenge his command. Instead, Yaru kills him, then heads back down the mountain and lies to the remaining crew that he activated the transmitter.

Korsin struck me as a bit of an unusual Sith, more interested in doing a good job as captain than playing the power games of his fellow Sith. Oh, he’s not above protecting himself and advancing his position in the hierarchy – witness the fact that he kills his brother when he realizes the idiot lied about him to Sadow – but he’s focused more on holding the remaining Sith together and finding some way to get off the planet and back into Sadow’s good graces than in joining the genocidal blame games the others have started.

Devore’s widow, Seelah, though, is more traditional – having guessed that Korsin had something to do with Devore’s death, she fires up her anger and hatred, then smiles invitingly at Korsin, prepared to wait for her revenge.

Just like a Sith.


The second story, Skyborn, looks at the Sith’s arrival from the viewpoint of Adari Vaal, the widow of an uvak rider. Her husband allegedly died gloriously – only she knows that Nink, his uvak, became tired of being abused and dumped his rider off in the ocean. Adari has been left with a good (by Keshtiri standards) house, her nagging mother, two dim-witted children, and sincere gratitude that her people have done away with the ancient tradition of killing the family of a dead uvak-rider.

Her position as a widow should now assure her of relative comfort and peace – but we start the story with Adari on trial as a heretic. Her crime? Challenging the accepted dogma surrounding the creation of the Keshtiri continents.

The Neshtovar, or uvak-riders, who run Keshtiri society, are trying Adari her for heresy because she’s pointed out that volcanos elsewhere on the continent are creating new land. Since the same kind of stones can be found around her village, that land too must have been created by volcanos. However, their mythology holds that the Skyborn, the creators from above, made everything, including the continent of Keshtah, and nothing new can be created — ever.

Fundamentalism, it seems, is a universal concept.

During the trial, a distant mountain appears to erupt, despite the fact that Adari knows it to be granite and therefore incapable of an eruption. The Keshtiri interpret this as an omen of a different kind – that Adari is endangering them. They gather into a mob and start lighting torches to burn her house – and her.

Adari wisely escapes out the back door – and up into the sky, aboard a rather startled Nink. She decides to investigate the site of the flaming mountain – Omen’s crash site – and spots the crushed ship, which she at first thinks is a shell hatching, well, something unidentifiable. In reality, she’s watching Yaru and Devore fight, witnessing brother killing brother. Ultimately, she ends up stumbling into the Sith camp, where she is ‘captured’ and then slowly ‘persuaded’ to aid the Sith to escape from the mountain by going for help on Nink. And she does, even though she was initially treated hostiley by the Sith, and even though she can tell that at least some of them, including Seelah, dislike her. Intensely.

My favorite part of the story was when Korsin asks her ‘how many are her people’. She replies that they’re numberless. He assumes she means they’ve never been counted, and she corrects him – it’s not that no one’s tried to count them, but their language doesn’t have a number large enough to tally the population.

Korsin, who may have intended only to seek help from the natives, is momentariy stunned, and then switches gears, asking her for the legends of the Skyborn. Clearly, he’s intending to masquerade his people as the Kesh’s gods.

The story ends with a grateful Adari, whose life has been saved and social status elevated by the return to Kesh of the ‘Skyborn’, wondering about the future of her world. She knows the Sith are not the Skyborn, but since they are clearly more advanced than her people, she’s eager to learn from them. And she knows one more thing – although the Sith don’t believe her.

The metals the Sith need to repair Omen and leave Kesh don’t exist on her world.

The Sith – are stuck.

Put together, these two stories serve as a good introduction to the Sith of planet Kesh. I would have liked to have more backstory on Devore and Seelah – their hatred and animosity against Yaru didn’t feel fully fleshed out at this point. We’re asked to accept that they have reason to hate Yaru, although, particularly in Seelah’s case, there doesn’t seem to be a basis for it beyond the fact that her man, Devore, hates his brother. Seelah seems a very independent person, much smarter than Devore. I can’t see her just blindly hating whoever Devore hates unless it furthers her interests somehow.

Also, I really would have liked an explanation of why Adari’s husband was called the uvak rider ‘upon whom all hope had rested.’ Which hopes, and why?

But overall, the stories were very good, and nicely set up the next two in the series.

Forsooth! A Death Star.

I love Shakespeare. I love Star Wars. Pair the two and you get to witness my happy dance.

An hour ago, I finished reading William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, by Ian Doescher. My local comics shop recommended it to me, and it is well-worth your time!

I know, I know, it seems a bit ridiculous that the two would work together. But they do. Shakespeare’s plays include heroic action, the growth of heroes, twisted family dynamics, hidden motivations, greatly complicated villains, and, oh yeah — comic relief. All elements that are present in Star Wars. As the author points out, George Lucas studied mythology, including Joseph Campbell’s seminal work ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, when writing Star Wars; and in turn, Campbell had studied Shakespeare’s plays when formulating his theories.

So yes, Star Wars as a Shakespearean drama definitely works.

Doescher catches the wonderful cadence of Shakespeare’s plays, both the wording (in, of course, iambic pentameter) and the way in which such plays flow dramatically. I salute him — iambic pentameter is not easy to write, as I recall from my attempts during a high-school English class, and to carry it through for an entire book while remaining faithful to the source material is quite the feat. While you’ll recognize the paraphrasing of a number of Shakespeare’s well-known phrases (‘Now is the summer of our happiness’ ring a bell?), much of the dialogue deals with the expected terminology of my beloved Star Wars Universe — Death Stars, lighsabers and droids, plus the original languages of Jawas, Jabba and assorted aliens. Translating all these things to iambic pentameter cannot have been easy.

I am going to nit-pick one thing. I’m still trying to decide if the phrase ‘set to stun’ properly can be admitted to the Star Wars Universe. A friend who’s a devoted Trekkie objects to its inclusion — actually, the words used were ‘you stole it from us!’ Aside from that one point, though, I honestly just loved the entire book.

Doescher follows the script of the Original Movie “A New Hope” and sets out on the right foot by adhering to a typical device in plays. The action is advanced and explained by the words of the Chorus:

“It is a period of civil war.
The spaceships of the rebels, striking swift
From base unseen, have gain’d a vict’ry o’er
The cruel Galactic Empire now adrift.”

Can’t you just see this onstage? A mixed crowd of Stormtroopers, Rebels, Jawas, standing in the back of a dimly-lit and smoky stage, chanting the lines in unison. The author even catches the stage directions of Shakespeare, also as shown in the first Scene. “Enter REBELS. Many die. Enter STORMTROOPERS and DARTH VADER.” These directions, like those of Shakespeare, convey the events occurring onstage in just a few concise words.

The play — for that is, after all, what this is — features all the characters from the Movie. Luke, Leia and Han, R2-D2 and C-3P0, Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, enter and exit from the stage, uttering the (Elizabethanized) lines we all know from the Movie as well as expanded commentary representing the thoughts and emotions of the characters at key points in the play. Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, in particular, will break your heart with certain statements, the lines poignant and neatly tying back to events in the Prequel Trilogy.

But even more than these insights into the hearts and minds of the key players, setting Star Wars as a play offers the opportunity for the bit and background players to have expanded roles — rebels, troopers and all, they get the opportunity to offer their commentary, their insight, their complaints. (There’s one scene, on the Death Star, that brings instantly to my mind the squabbling of the watchmen in Much Ado About Nothing.)

The best lines of all, in my opinion, are reserved for R2-D2. Now, I love droids, perhaps unreasonably so, and R2 is tied with Dummy from Marvel Cineverse for my favorite. In the movie, C-3P0 and R2-D2 start off the action and true to the script, in the play C-3P0 enters seeking R2, whose first lines are:

“Beep beep,
Beep, beep, meep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, whee!”

To which C-3P0 responds “We’re doomed.”

Picturing this in my head, I started laughing as I heard the distinctive tones George Lucas used for R2’s ‘voice’, and the lovely, modulated, but fussy, responses of C-3P0. And then, I didn’t stop laughing. Why? Because R2-D2 gets real lines!

“This golden droid has been a friend, ’tis true,
And yet I wish to stil his prating tongue!”

My inner fangirl is still squealing. We get to hear R2-D2’s viewpoint on the action, and his counterpart and companion C-3P0, rather than a mere ‘translation’ offered through the voices of other characters.

I won’t mention much more because while the play stays true to the Movie, there are new and unexpectedly enhanced scenes, the iambic pentameter twisting of the dialogue is beautiful, and you really must read this book. Need further incentive? There are lovely ‘woodcuts’ of movie scenes interspersed throughout (Jabba the Hutt. In an Elizabethan doublet and cap!) Although really, would it have killed them to give us one clear close-up of Obi-Wan? We get the back of his head, we get a distant view of his death — come on, what about that iconic scene where he lowers his hood and first meets Luke?

A quick bit of advice. Read the entire book through once. Then, read it again — aloud. Doing so helps you catch the rhythm of the scenes and, if you have a good imagination? Close your eyes and picture our actors walking upon the stage of Shakespeare’s venerable Globe Theater.

Although if you’re reading it aloud, I’d suggest checking whether anyone is around you. An audience of fellow geeks and sci-fi fans is appropriate. A gathering of those unfamiliar with either the Bard or Star Wars might get you, ah, questioned as to your mental health. Particularly if you’re combining words like ‘forsooth’ and ‘Death Star’ in the same phrase.

Upon second thought, that might not happen — the questioning of your sanity, that is. Between the popularity of Shakespeare and Star Wars, I don’t think there are many people around who haven’t heard of one or the other.

Now, go forth and expand upon thy geekly knowledge.

Reading Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Eruption

I wish I’d read this short story before I read Into the Void.

Dawn of the Jedi: Eruption takes place just before Into the Void, and actually introduces the character of Je’Daii Lanoree, as well as her occasional partner, Hawk Ryo. Just nine pages long, it nevertheless manages to explain several important plot and background points for this early period in the Star Wars Universe that had puzzled me while I was reading Void.

And again, the spoiler warning:

Draigons be here.

Read no further if you’ve not gotten to this story and the longer novel, or for that matter the comics, as yet.

As I mentioned in my earlier review, Into the Void just drops you into this Universe without providing an explanation of key plot points. But after reading this story, I have a relative understanding of certain critical locations — Bogan is a moon, Furies Gate is the last planet in the system (and also the entrance and sought-for exit from the Typhon system), and, apparently, the system itself is in the very Core of the Galaxy.

There is a brief, but I think important, paragaph where Hawk moves from his ‘balance’ into the darkside of the Force in order to fight some kidnappers and save their victim. After reading that passage, I’m left to wonder if the latter-day Jedi are, unknowingly, also stepping to the darkside when they enter a fight. It would certainly explain why, according to anecdotes in books and the comics, many Jedi of the Republic era ‘went bad’ during the War against the Separatists.

It also lends potential new meaning to the prophecy of the Chosen One (Anakin Skywalker). He was, so the prophecy said, meant to bring balance to the Force. Could it be that ‘bringing balance’ required the Jedi to recognize they were using both the light, and the dark, of the Force, rather than insisting one step into the darkside and the darkside would taint you forever? It’s certainly an interesting thought, at least to me. Also, potential fodder for fanfiction – my brain is currently picturing Mace Windu getting into an ‘I-told-you-so’ match with Yoda.

The story itself is rather interesting, if too short. Lanoree and Hawk are attempting to negotiate the settlement of a dispute on a mining planet, where one family controls the operations and the workers want in on the management. The kidnapped victim is the daughter of the family’s patriarch — who, the two sides have decided, will marry the son of the workers’ lead representative. Needless to say, things don’t work out exactly as the Je’Daii — or the family and the workers — had planned.

In fact, I wish the story had been longer, to flesh out the characters more. Especially Hawk’s — I suspect, given the way the story focused on both Lanoree and Hawk, that he will play more of a substantive role in the future. I still don’t like Lanoree, though — she was a little less abrasive in this story, but nevertheless she still came across as cold and calculating. Hawk was much more interesting. I guess I’ll just have to be patient and wait for the next book in this series.

And with this story over, I’m on to the Lost Tribe of the Sith next.

Reading Star Wars: Into the Void

Star Wars’ Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void is a very interesting book. Also a very confusing book. It’s not a bad Star Wars novel – but its portrayal of the early version of Jedi Knights is not what I was expecting.

As planned, I’ve embarked upon my journey of reading through the Star Wars Universe in chronological order — meaning that I’ve started with the one of the more recent books to be published, Tim Lebbon‘s Into the Void. It steps back 25,000 years before the Battle of Yavin to the distant beginnings of the Star Wars saga. The events take place long, long ago in a system that’s literally far, far away — before the Knights of the Old Republic; the purge of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant; the long years of Palpatine’s Empire; and the rise of Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa Solo and Han Solo to save the Universe, craft the New Republic and restore the Jedi Knights in time to fight the Yuuzhon Vong and witness the Fall of yet another Skywalker.

Into the Void is intended to explain the origins of the Jedi, who in these early days are known as the Je’Daii. And that’s where my problems with the book began.

As is my practice, a spoiler alert here.

If you haven’t yet read the book, and don’t want any surprises, go no further. Here be large draigons of spoilers.

My issues with the book start with the fact that it just drops you into this prehistoric period of the Force.

With just about any other book in the Star Wars saga, there are enough points of commonality with the movies and other novels that you can figure out what’s going on. Jedi hold to the lightside of the Force, Sith to the darkside. Lightsabers shine red for the Darksiders and other colors (usually blue and green) for the Knights. The same planets, species, governmental structures and criminal gangs tend to show up, in one guise or another, on a regular basis. There is a rough sort of continuity (we won’t discuss the inconsistencies of that alleged continuity here) from book to movie to book. But those constants have to do with the known Star Wars Universe. Into the Void reverts to a time before there was a united government known as the Republic and deals with one very narrow and restricted subsection of space populated by the ancestors of a few of the more common species.

Unfortunately, the book was written as if it were any other entry into the Star Wars Universe, as though the reader would have already seen the people, planets, terms and situations in other books and could therefore just dive into the story. And that’s very definitely not the case here, or at least it wasn’t for me.

There were a number of plot and setting points, both key to the story and part of the background, that were unexplained in this book, and that slowed down my reading. It’s hard to enjoy a novel when you have to stop, frequently, to either reread a paragraph and figure out its meaning, or else run a search to look up a term. Two quick examples:

Ashla and Bogan. Ashla is the lightside of the Force, Bogan the darkside. But the way those names and/or terms were used was confusing – until about halfway into the story, when someone mentioned a stay on Bogan. There are, it seems, two moons that orbit the planet Typhon that are also known as Ashla and Bogan.

Tho Yor. There are frequent references to the Tho Yor, who apparently brought the Force users of various species who became the Je’Daii to this system. But it’s not clear at first if the Tho Yor are a species, an organization, or a ship. A huge ‘Thank You’ to the tireless workers of Wookiepedia, which explained that the Tho Yor were nine, possibly sentient, ships that brought the Dai Bendu monks and a variety of Force sensitives to the planet Tython.

I deliberately didn’t read the comic insert midway through the book, so as to keep in flow with the novel. I’ve been told by the helpful people at my local comic stores that I really should have read the comics first, as they provide a much more detailed written and pictographic explanation of this time period that helps you get oriented before tackling the novel (and presumably the novel’s forthcoming successors).

I’ve added reading the comics to my list, but the lack of clear settings and relationships was not the biggest problem I had with Into the Void. That problem – was the Je’Daii, themselves.

Almost from the start, I couldn’t seem to like Lanoree, the ‘heroine’. She’s the Je’Daii Ranger trying to stop the destruction of the system by her brother, who ‘failed out’ of Je’Daii training and faked his own death to run off and search for a way to escape from the system and push out into the wider Universe.

After reading the book a second time, I decided that I really, really didn’t like any of the Je’Daii. They came off as cold individuals interested only in their narrow viewpoint of life. While they ostensibly protect the harmony of the Tython system, and are supposed to mediate disputes and stop criminal activities, the Je’Daii seem to be remarkably inconsistent and ineffective at these goals. Crime is rampant. The Je’Daii stop certain events, like the development of weapons, only to then engage the very people they’ve stopped to make weapons for the Je’Daii. There are planets and places mentioned where even the Je’Dai do not dare to go. And lastly, there’s the Je’Daii ‘exploration’ of the Force.

The Masters and Rangers did things that can be seen as morally questionable — highly morally questionable. A number of them are involved in something called the ‘Alchemy of the Flesh’, including Lanoree, who’s grown a brainless (she hopes) fleshly object from her own cells as an experiment on her ship. And there was the whole matter of the balance between the Light (Ashla) and the Dark (Bogan) side of the Force. The characters are supposed to remain balanced between these two extremes. Yet, I kept feeling as if the Je’Daii were a lot farther into the Darkside of the Force than they realized. Certainly Lanoree experienced a number of instances where she seemed to be ‘tempted’ – and while she remained convinced she had not Fallen, I can’t help but wonder whether she, and her Masters, are merely deluding themselves.

In the course of pursuing her brother, Lanoree kills people, a lot of people, without much concern about her actions or her motivations. Someone presents an obstacle to her search, she talks to them only long enough to get herself into a strategic position, then pulls her sword and beheads that person. She literally is involved in the destruction of an entire city – and while that action was planned by her brother, she does nothing to assist the people of the dying city, choosing instead to run past them and continue her pursuit of her brother. Perhaps there was nothing she could have done – but in contrasting the events in this book with later novels, I think the Jedi Knights of later times would have at least tried to mitigate the chaos and death caused by their actions.

Had I read the comics beforehand, I might have enjoyed Into the Void more. I’m told that the characters of the comics are closer to the Star Wars Jedi we’ve come to know from the movies and earlier books. After I get through a few more of the novels, I plan to go back and read the comics, then reread Into the Void, and see if my opinions have changed.

In the end, as I said, it’s not a bad book, but it’s definitely not one that I would reread for fun or list as a personal Star Wars favorite.

I, Claudia — digitized!

I’m doing a happy dance here, because, finally, finally, the first of the Claudia Seferius mysteries is available as an e-book. Now they just have to digitize the rest of the series!

Have you read any of Marilyn Todd‘s Claudia mysteries? If not, run to your computer, download the first book — I, Claudia — and prepare for a great read.

The novels are set in the Rome of Augustus, and the plots center around Claudia, the noble wife of wine merchant Gaius Seferius. The secondary lead is usually Marcus Orbilio, a patrician who has chosen to work as an investigator for the Imperial Security Police, on his way to a Senate seat and to falling for Claudia. Doesn’t sound exciting? Oh, read on.

Spoilers ahead for the major storyline of I, Claudia so read no further if you don’t want your enjoyment of the first book to be spoiled:

Our heroine, Claudia Seferius, is, on the surface, a proper Roman matron. Prior to the novel, she lost her first husband, a judge, and her three children to a plague which also sickened her. When she recovered, she traveled to Rome in an attempt to escape her grief, and now is married to Gaius Seferius, a rich wine merchant in the equestrian class — what we would probably call the upper middle class.

She is quite a bit younger than Gaius; it’s a second marriage for him as well. However, Claudia is doing her best to live up to her marital and social obligations. She plans parties and entertainments to further her husband’s business. She steps into her role as stepmother to Gaius’ nervous daughter and prepares her for an upcoming arranged marriage. Okay, so she does some of these things very, very grudgingly, and maybe she has a little gambling problem but really, her life as a rich noble matron of Rome should be good.

Except she’s not a noblewoman. Claudia came from so far on the wrong side of the Roman road that you can’t even see it from the top of the Coliseum — unless you’re a Roman man who’s interested in the naughtier side of life. You see, the original Claudia died of the same plague that killed the rest of her family. Our Claudia, who started her professional life as a ‘dancer’ in the provinces, took the identity of the dying Claudia and came to Rome to make her fortune.

Claudia is determined to end up with a son in the Senate. It just takes one million sesterces. Which would possibly be achievable – if she didn’t have that little gambling problem.

Who am I kidding — it would be more accurate to say that Claudia has a major, life-ravaging gambling problem. If there’s something to bet on, she’s betting on it. And in Rome, there’s always something going on which involves a betting pool. Normal Romans track the year by major religious holidays. Claudia tracks the year by the games, races and entertainments associated with those holidays and the other celebrations of Rome’s upper-crust.

As the book starts, Claudia has ended up in debt to a thoroughly unpleasant moneylender, and to recover, she’s slipped back into her earlier profession – you could call her an upper-level prostitute-dominatrix who specializes in indulging the peccadillos of Rome’s elite. It’s a fine line balancing between her gambling losses and her naughty income stream – and then someone begins killing off seemingly unconnected upper-class Romans. Only Claudia sees the connection – all of the victims are her customers.

Enter Marcus Orbilio, who’s been assigned to track down the killer. Marcus is a shrewd person – and he quickly determines that these men are connected in some way with Claudia. (The fact that she travels in a litter with a very distinctive orange canopy doesn’t help to hide her whereabouts.)

Needless to say, Claudia solves the murders, with Marcus hard on her heels. But there’s more to solving the murders than just protecting her new identity. And that’s where Claudia really begins to develop into a person you can root for – the moment she discovers she has, all gods help her, developed a conscience.

On first acquaintance, Claudia strikes you as an abrasive, self-absorbed character interested only in her own future, someone who can’t really be bothered with other people’s problems. She’s sarcastic, impatient, and tends to verbally abuse and threaten when she’s unhappy or feels in danger. And let’s face it, she’s probably committed every crime in the book and then some during her life. Claudia, shall we say, does not hesitate to take any actions necessary to protect herself and further her goals.

But while she is all of that, mixed in is the fact that, while she might not want to admit it, Claudia does care about other people. And she will protect and avenge those people that belong to her, or that she identifies with in some way – and preferably in a way that furthers her goals.

For example, in this first book, Gaius ends up dead. Allegedly, he committed suicide because he was the one murdering men who were infatuated with or interested in his wife. In reality, he was murdered for an reason unrelated to the serial murders (not going to give you more than that!). Humiliatingly, while she plans a magnificent funeral for him, no one attends, by order of the Senate. So Claudia digs into his death, and makes certain that her husband’s killer is satisfactorily dealt with by Claudia herself. And then, she solves the series of murders in such a way to both remove Orbilio from her surroundings (she thinks!) and clear her husband (and herself).

In later books, Claudia travels widely throughout the Roman world. She escorts a Vestal Virgin home after her thirty-year term of service, vacations at an exclusive resort that experiences some unfortunate circumstances, and visits/is lured to Gaul and other provinces while running her wine business. In each book, she extracts a rough form of justice for crimes against her and her ‘people’. I sometimes found myself rooting for her form of judgment, especially in circumstances where Roman justice bowed to those in a position of power and money and ignored those who were poor and unimportant.

The books are incredibly detailed – from the furnishings of the houses to the clothes worn by different strata of society to the everyday life in Augustinian Rome. You really can form a picture in your mind of what the settings were like, and how it would feel to wend your way through the crowded noisy streets filled with all kinds of people and activities. The characters in each book are never cookie-cutter, always interesting, and frequently contain multiple hidden layers underneath the polite veneer they exhibit to society.

There are a few drawbacks – for example, sometimes the language includes what seems to be more modern slang, and on occasion, unless you’re paying attention, the minor characters in some of the books can become confusing, especially when their names are similar or only mentioned once or twice. However, Todd does get past this by having Claudia, or another character, reference them along with some identifying detail, and then they snap back into focus.

Overall, though, I absolutely loved this series – I read books 1-5 (the list is below) when I found them at a now-defunct mystery-specialty bookstore in Bryn Mawr. And I was able to find the latter four books in my local library. I’ve yet to read the middle books, because, unfortunately, the books themselves tend to sell for high prices, depending on the websites.

I really don’t understand why Steven Saylor’s Roman novels were such a hit, and Claudia didn’t catch on. I would say it’s the heroine, but frankly I find Saylor’s main character much more annoying and unlikeable. Marilyn Todd has a second series of books now, the Ilona mysteries, dealing with a priestess in a temple in Greece. Unfortunately, they just don’t hold the charm for me that Claudia does.

Ah well, each to his or her own tastes.

As I said, read these books. I’ve already downloaded I, Claudia, and I’m now going to visit Amazon and harangue the publisher to please, please, please digitize the rest of the series.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping to find the books, somewhere, at a reasonable price (early books were paperback only, later books hardback only). This is a series I’ll want in both digital and paper format.

The Claudia Seferius Mysteries

I, Claudia
Virgin Territory
Man Eater
Jail Bait
Black Salamander
Wolf Whistle
Dream Boat
Dark Horse
Second Act
Widow’s Pique
Stone Cold
Sour Grapes
Scorpion Rising

Must Read: Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

If you love superheroes, and zombies, and end-of-the-world survival scenarios, you must read Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines. Even if you don’t love those things, you must read this book.

I took a brief detour from reading my way through Star Wars (I’m through Into the Void and Lost Tribe of the Sith and Revan, which I’ll review shortly). The sun had finally come out, after all the rain and gloomy skies of Thursday and Friday, and I planned to drop myself onto a blanket in one of Valley Forge Park’s grassy meadows and read something quick and light while relaxing before a busy week of work. So I browsed through the library shelves and spotted Ex-Heroes, by Peter Clines. The blurb on the back said the novel featured super-heroes fighting zombies. I figured it would be a fast-reading, but ultimately forgettable, book.

And it is — fast-reading, that is. Forgettable, it is not.

I assumed the book would follow the standard comics plot: Danger appears. Superheroes answer the call. Superheroes save the day, stopping the danger and preventing the collapse of civilization. Life returns to normal.

I was so wrong in my assumptions.


A virus begins spreading in Los Angeles, the location for the story. The virus turns dead people into zombies — or exes, for ex-humans. Naturally, the superheroes respond, but slowly –a number of them are only a year or so into their powers and they don’t know each other really well. Before they can even mount an effective defense — the plague overwhelms the City. And the world. Our heroes aren’t concerned with that, though; they’re just trying to save the City of Los Angeles.

Surprise Number 1: These superheroes do not save the people or the City of Los Angeles.

Surprise Number 2: Some of them can’t even save themselves.

Yes, that’s right. Some of the heroes fall victim to the virus and become zombies themselves. Superpowered zombies.

The best these heroes can manage is to hold back the inevitable and preserve one tiny little corner of the City with a few hundred/thousand survivors.

And that’s what makes the novel so interesting.

You see, one of the things I love about so many of the comics superheroes is that they’re flawed. Yes, they have powers. Specialized equipment. Secret identities and hideouts and really cool vehicles from which to fight criminals and supervillains.

But underneath it all, they’re still human (well, the ones who aren’t extraterrestrial beings or deitites, that is). They have flaws. They experience fear, feel inadequate, lack confidence. They make mistakes, and they don’t always do the right thing even when they know what the right thing is. Despite those failings, they get back up — or are helped back up — and return to try again, and again, until they fix their mistakes.

And that’s what this book got right. We get into the heads of the heroes and find out how they become powered and more importantly, why they started into the superhero gig. And those insights feed into the events of the main storyline and how the characters react to a bigger threat than either zombies or supervillains.

I sped through this book at light speed, finished it, then went back and reread it. Because I was surprised how good it was, and how much I enjoyed it. Let’s face it — based on the plot outline, this book could have been so bad. So very, very bad. It could have pandered to the whole zombie apocalypse stereotype and filled the pages with gore and death and little to no character development or plot beyond ‘shoot the dead guy in the head.’ Instead, I read a book with believable people who happened to have superpowers. People who screwed up and yet continued trying to do what they could to help others. In the end, they manage to save their little corner of surviving civilization, but at a high cost.

The book isn’t perfect — for one thing, you jump back and forth between the past and present, and different characters’ viewpoints, but if you keep your attention focused, that’s a small problem that can be handled.

How much did I like this book? Enough to drive to Barnes and Noble on my way home and buy both it and its sequel, Ex-Patriots. There’s a third book coming out in July.

I’ve already pre-ordered.

Go and buy these books. You won’t regret it.

And now, I’ll return to Star Wars.