Saturday, July 28, 2018

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls - David Sedaris

    2013; 278 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Essays; Non-Fiction; Anecdotal Humor.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    Here's a writing assignment for you.  Compose a 10-page essay on getting a colonoscopy.  There’s one catch, however.  You have to make it entertaining.  Something readers will chuckle at, and that will make them want to immediately read more essays by you.

    After that, write four more essays on these topics: Being robbed while in Hawaii; Litterbugs (in the UK); People ahead of you in lines at food places who won’t stop chatting with the cashier; and Kids throwing temper tantrums in stores.  Remember to make all of them amusing.

    When you’re finished with those, try to think of another 21 topics from your personal experiences to pen essays about.  Make sure that your readers will still find all of them witty and that the stories will resonate with them.

    Now that you've got all these personal anecdotes done, go out and buy David Sedaris’s book, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, and see how his tales compare with yours.  I’m guessing you’ll have gained a much greater appreciation for just how challenging it is to write books of this genre.     

What’s To Like...
    Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls is David Sedaris’s seventh book of anecdotal stories about his life, and I’ve read all the previous ones.  There is an eighth one, Calypso, that was just released this past May, but I’ll wait until the hoopla (and price) dies down before snagging it.

    The lengths of the essays are fairly consistent – about 10 pages each (26 chapters covering 278 pages).  Normally, David Sedaris closes these books with a longer narrative, but here the final chapter was a collection of short-&-silly poems about all sorts of breeds of dogs.  I don’t recall the author offering any of his poetry before, and I found these bits of doggy doggerel hilarious.   My other  favorite chapters were:

    08.  Easy, Tiger.  Learning foreign languages (Mandarin and German).
    09.  Laugh, Kookaburra.  Feeding kookaburras and turning off stoves.
    18.  #2 To Go.  Eating "real" Chinese food.
    22.  Day In, Day Out.  Keeping a diary.
    23.  Mind the Gap.  An essay written in English, not in Yankee.
    24.  A Cold Case.  Losing your passport and wallet in Hawaii.

    The book’s contents follow the usual pattern – all the stories are personal experiences, and not in any order - chronological or otherwise.  David Sedaris is a writer by profession, gay, grew up in a crazy family, travels extensively promoting his books, and has lived in various parts of the world, including New York, North Carolina, England, France and Italy.  A couple of the chapters were written in wingnut style, and one was written in Britspeak.

    I delighted in the details. In one chapter, he recounts spending some time in a city called Brindisi, a place I’d never heard of.  His insights about living in France  were LOL funny.  I shuddered while reading the chapter on colonoscopies since I’m overdue and avoiding my first one.  It was neat to see he’s familiar with Edith Pargeter’s (aka, Ellis Peters') Brother Cadfael novels.  And the chapter about his compulsion of picking up litter resonated with me; for a while we had a guy in our neighborhood who did the same thing, at 5:30 every morning, even when it was pitch black outside.  I know because I’d see him every morning as I left for work.

    You should keep in mind there are R-rated words and adult situations in the book.  Art Linkletter would have a cow.  Misogynists and homophobes should steer clear; David Sedaris is unashamedly married, and unashamedly gay.  Finally, in case you’re wondering, the titular owls show up in Chapter 17; but the diabetes never appears.  Wikipedia gives a brief explanation for the title.

    Shaun’s father, Hank, was a psychiatrist and sometimes gave his boys and me tests, the type for which there were, he assured us, “no right answers.”  He and his wife were younger than my parents, and they seemed it, not just in their dress but in their eclectic tastes – records by Donovan and Moby Grape shelved among the Schubert.  Their house had real hardcover books in it, and you often saw them lying open on the sofa, the words still warm from being read.  (loc. 559)

    There wasn’t a lot of familiar in China.  No pork lo mein or kung pao chicken, and definitely no egg rolls.  On our first night in Chengdu, we joined a group of four for dinner – one Chinese woman and three Westerners.  The restaurant was not fancy, but it was obviously popular.  Built into our table was a simmering cauldron of broth, into which we were to add side dishes and cook them until they were done.  “I’ve taken the liberty of ordering us some tofu, some mushrooms, and some duck tongues,” said the Western woman sitting across from me.  “Do you trust me to keep ordering, or is there anything in particular you might like? (loc. 1818)

Kindle Details...
    Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls sells for $11.99 at Amazon.  David Sedaris's other collections of anecdotal essays are all available, and in the $8.99-$14.99 price range.

Did I just refuse to marry my mother?  (loc. 469)
    Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls is another solid installment in the life-&-times of David Sedaris, but I wouldn’t call it my favorite.  This is mostly due to the tone of the book, at least at the start.  For me, the best David Sedaris stories are the ones written in a self-deprecatory style.  But here his mood in a number of them is that of a grumpy old man.  He rants about parents no longer disciplining their kids enough, moans about how crappy of a person his dad was, and whines about having to take swimming classes as a kid.

    If these topics had been tackled with the author’s usual amount of insight and wit, things would’ve been fine.  Unfortunately, here he just seemed like he wanted to vent.

    Maybe he was being too subtle for my dense brain, or maybe he was in a bad mood when he penned some of the chapters..  In any case, he finds his groove about halfway through the book, the wit returns, the tone gets cheerier, and it’s smooth sailing thereafter.

    Or perhaps I was just in a better mood when reading the second half of the book.

    7½ Stars.  One final note.  David Sedaris at long last reveals his secret for coming up with interesting past experiences to write about in book after book.  He’s been keeping diaries, making entries every day, for the past 35 years.  Whenever he needs a new memoir for his next book, he just opens one of the many volumes of his diaries.  Holy OCD-ness, Batman!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Gardens of the Moon - Steven Erikson

   1999; 666 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Book 1 (out of 10, not counting the prequels) in the “Malazan Book of the Fallen” series.  Genre : Epic Fantasy; Sword & Sorcery.  Overall Rating : 9½*/10.

    Someone has it in for the Bridgeburners.

    Well, that’s not surprising since they’re an elite fighting squad in the Malazan Imperial Armies, and commanded by the legendary Sergeant Whiskeyjack, he who was once the commander of the whole Second Army.

    But he’s been demoted, probably at the behest of the Empress Laseen, who came to the throne under somewhat suspicious circumstances, who no doubt questions whether his loyalty is first and foremost to the Empire itself, or to the previous Emperor.  Popular military heroes can be a threat. And so can the soldiers they command.

    So if the war calls for a suicide mission, guess which squad always gets picked?  During the recently completed siege of the city Pale, they were given the task of tunneling underneath the defensive walls and laying explosives.  But tunnels tend to collapse unexpectedly, and the majority of Whiskeyjack’s men were lost.  Now there’s only half a dozen or so left alive.

    And guess what?  Their next assignment has just been issued.  They’re to infiltrate Darujhistan, the next city in the path of the Imperial invasion and lay more explosives underground.  Duty calls, the Empress commands, but after this mission, there may be no more Bridgeburners left alive.

What’s To Like...
    Gardens of the Moon is the first story in a completed 10-book series in one of my favorite genres, Epic Fantasy, and it truly lives up to its billing.  Both the world-building and the character development are incredible, there’s lots of both action and intrigue, and buckles are swashed.  There are heroes and villains, and sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart, as they are all my favorite color, “gray”.

    There are war-weary warriors, mages and mage-killers, and churlish thieves and assassins.  I was impressed by the number and variety of non-human races, wowed by some magical crows, and delighted that several dragons showed up late in the tale.  I have a feeling the latter will have more significant roles in subsequent books.

    I especially liked the god-building.  The ones here are indeed powerful, but they’re neither omnipotent nor omniscient, and they are at times subject to the whims of fate and luck.  The ones that no longer have worshippers are rather sad cases, and, like the humans, they are mostly “gray” in alignment, falling into the “gods behaving badly” category.

    There are two maps plus a Dramatis Personae at the start of the book, and a glossary listing various titles, peoples, gods, critters, and geographic locales in the back.  Bookmark both sections, because you’re going to be referring to them a lot, since you’ll be crossing paths with a slew of people and places.  Steven Erikson treats the reader like an adult; he expects you to look new stuff up in those reference sections, and is thereby able to forego bogging things down with a backstory.

    A fair number of characters die in the book, but if your fave is one of them, keep a stiff upper lip, not all of them stay dead.  Tarot Card enthusiasts will love the potency of the decks that are used here.  And I found soul-shifting to be quite the neat trick.  The book’s title is explained on page 531, and I liked the euphemistic cuss phrases used here, such as “Hood’s Breath” and “Shedunul’s Mercy”.  A pantheon of gods means a mortal has so many more ways to take their names in vain.

    Everything builds to a superbly exciting climax, and without giving away any spoilers, I’ll only say that any author who can create a thrilling ending using a social gathering as the backdrop can certainly be described as “gifted”.  Some of the storylines are resolved; others are left open for the sequels.

Kewlest New Word ...
Woad (n. or adj.) : a yellow-flowered European plant of the cabbage family, or the blue dye obtained therefrom.
Others:  Febrile (adj.); Arbalest (n.).

    “Tell me, Tool, what dominates your thoughts?”
    The Imass shrugged before replying.  “I think of futility, Adjunct.”
    “Do all Imass think about futility?”
    “No.  Few think at all.”
    “Why is that?”
    The Imass leaned his head to one side and regarded her.  “Because, Adjunct, it is futile.”
    “Let’s get going, Tool.  We’re wasting time.”
    “Yes, Adjunct.”
    She climbed into the saddle, wondering how the Imass had meant that.  (pg. 325)

    “Do you stand alone in this, Anomander Rake?  Do your people approve?”
    “They care not,” Rake said.  “They accept my commands.  They follow me.  They serve Caladan Brood when I ask them to.  And they die in the mud and forests of a land that is not their own, in a war not their own, for a people who are terrified of them.”
    Baruk sat forward.  “Then why?  Why do you do all this?”
    A harsh laugh was Rake’s response.  After a moment, however, his bitter amusement fell away and he said, “Is an honorable cause worth anything these days?  Does it matter that we’ve borrowed it?  We fight as well as any man.  We die alongside them.  Mercenaries of the spirit.  And even that is a coin we scarcely value.  Why?  It doesn’t matter why.  But we never betray our allies.”  (pg. 486)

“It’s a bad smell when sorcerers panic.”  (pg. 5)
     The quibbles are microscopic.  The main map was hard to read and doesn’t cover the full world.  Some cities, countries, and even continents are cited that simply aren’t shown, and I searched for them in vain.  However, it must also be said that all the places that are visited in the story, at least the terrestrial sites, are on the map.

    Also, it took me a while to figure out what the main storyline was.  Was it the siege of Pale?  No.  How about the suicide mission to Darujhistan by Whiskeyjack and his merry band?  Not really.  Perhaps it’s the overthrow of the Empress Laseen.  Uh-uh.  But somewhere around mid-book, things got clarified, so this is a non-issue.

    Last, and least, the bits of prose that start off each chapter, although a nice touch, generally didn’t do much for me.  But I pick at nits.

    9½ Stars.  Highly recommended.  I’ve been meaning to give Steven Erikson a try for quite some time.  My expectations were lofty, and Gardens of the Moon fully met them.  I’m now facing a gazillion pages to read if I want to pursue this series, plus there’s a 3-book prequel that Erikson hasn’t finished yet.  And I still have one more epic fantasy author on my list to try: a fellow named Stephen R. Donaldson.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Fridgularity - Mark A. Rayner

   2012; 395 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Humorous Science Fiction; Satire.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    Blake Given’s refrigerator talks to him.

    Okay, it doesn’t vocally talk to Blake; that would be silly.  But it is a web-enabled model, with a web browser and a monitor screen embedded in the freezer half on the front door.  It uses that screen to communicate with Blake.

    Which isn’t as amazing as it sounds.  For one thing, the refrigerator doesn’t know squat about syntax.  For another, it doesn’t address Blake by his name.  Instead, it refers to him as “THAT HUMAN PERSON”.  But worst of all is its insistence on typing everything in capital letters (doesn’t it know that means it’s yelling?!), and its extremely poor taste in fonts.

    Still, it seems to learn from its gaffes.  And when it subsequently shuts down the entire Internet, then follows that up by a worldwide power outage, it becomes evident that ZAHIR (for that is its name) is a threat to civilization.  I’d ask ZAHIR to be my Facebook friend, except for one thing.  Since there is no Internet, there is no Facebook.

    And without my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Etsy, and all those other online socializing sites, I’m not sure life is worth living anymore.

What’s To Like...
    The Fridgularity asks the question: what would happen to our world if suddenly all electronic activity disappeared?  No internet, no cellphones, no TV or Radio, and in its most extreme cases, no electricity.  S.M. Stirling has devoted a 15-book alternate-history series (“The Emberverse”) to exploring this concept, now Mark A. Rayner tackles it in a more satiric, absurdist fashion.

    The book is broken into two sections, “The Big Crash” and “A Cold Reboot”, each comprising of 25 chapters.  At 50 chapters for 395 pages, this means it's always easy to find a good place to stop for the night.  The setting is Landon, Ontario, Canada, apparently a takeoff of London, Ontario, which I'm embarrassed to say I’ve never heard of.  I’m pretty it is the author’s stomping grounds.

   I liked the literary nods to Siddhartha and Neal Stephenson.  Ditto for the reference to playing blindfold chess, which I've actually done a few times.  I also learned some new acronyms: LARPing (“Live Action Role Playing”) which is real; and TARFU (we’ll let you decipher that one) which I think the author made up.  I never did figure out what the “Big Lebowski Effect” was, which is not surprising since I’ve never watched that movie.

    Beneath all the absurdity, Mark A. Rayner offers some interesting insight as to just how messed up we’d all be without our electronic devices and associated social media.  His portrayal of how such upheavals to our everyday life can lead to the rise of religious nut-jobs and blind-faith followers was rather sobering.  Then there’s the slightly scary concept of a sentient “Emerging Intelligence” in our electronic gadgetry, aka the titular “The Singularity”.

    There is a moderate amount of cussing, and a roll in the hay near the end of the book, but this all fit in nicely.  Everybody’s sense of humor is different, so some readers won’t find The Fridgularity funny at all.  Personally, I thought it was hilarious.

Kewlest New Word ...
Pong (n.) : a strong, unpleasant smell.  (no, not the old arcade game.)
Others : Numinous (adj.).

    “Look at this, none of it working.  Even this, my lifeline,” he said, brandishing his expensive and glossy little portable touch screen phone that was de rigueur in the Creative Department, even if you didn’t really need it.  “I can’t do anything.  No texts, no tweets, no updates, no apps, pokes, prods, prons – nothing!  I can’t see my blog.  I can’t comment on anyone else’s.  I’m totally cut off!  We’re cut off, dude.  I can feel it.  We’re FUBAR. TARFU and FUBAR!  TARFUBAR!  Oh, that’s good!  I wish I could tweet that!”  (loc. 337)

    It was a feeling similar to the one he sometimes got as he drove to work.  Did I leave the oven on?  Even if he thought about it for another few minutes he’d never be able to remember, so he’d have to turn back to check; objectively, the oven is either on or it’s not, but if you stop your commute to check, you’re guaranteed that it will not be on.  This is a form of quantum mechanics, the Schrodinger’s Cat corollary for major kitchen appliances.  (loc. 4325)

Kindle Details...
    The Fridgularity sells for $6.99 at Amazon, although I got it years ago, probably when it was discounted or free.  Mark A. Rayner has five other e-books at Amazon (including a non-fiction biography novella), ranging in price from $2.90 to $6.99.

Then, as is inevitable at pre-apocalyptic poetry readings, someone threw the first punch.  (loc. 503)
    The quibbles are nitpicky.  Our hero deduces ZAHIR’s mood by which font he uses, but in the Kindle version only uses one font for everything, so that cute twist loses some of its impact.  I have the feeling that this was due to whatever program or self-publishing software was used to convert the MS-Word manuscript to a Kindle-friendly format.

    Second, although there's not much of a plot beyond the "protagonist versus UE" (Ultimate Evil), conflict.  But I happen to be a huge fan of Tom Holt, whose books are similarly short on plotlines and long on satiric humor.  So this style didn't bother me.

    Finally, while the ending is adequately resolves the "good-vs-evil" issue, it leaves a lot of threads dangling.  Indeed, I tassumed there was a sequel, but ANAICT, that isn’t the case.  Mark A. Rayner has written several more novels since The Fridgularity came out in 2012, but I don’t believe any of them carry on the tale.  But not to worry; this is still a standalone novel.

    7½ Stars.  In case you’re wondering, there really is such a thing as a web enabled refrigerator.  Fry’s Electronics sells them, so does Best Buy; you can even order one through Amazon.  Heck, Wikipedia has a post about them, although there they call it an “Internet Refrigerator”.  I’d never heard of such a thing; I thought the author was goofing on me.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

A Brief History of the Druids - Peter Berresford Ellis

   1994; 480 pages.  Full Title : A Brief History of the Druids.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Non-Fiction; World History; Celtic History; Druids.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    A question: What pops into your mind when you hear the word “Druid”?

    If you’re like me, it’s a mental image of the Gandalf dude from Lord Of The Rings.  Pointy hat, floppy robe, magic staff, and the obligatory ZZ-Top beard.

      Alternatively, if you’re from the British Isles, you might envision some bald-headed dude, still in the floppy robe, and working his magic in the middle of Stonehenge.

    But if your European History knowledge has a Continental drift, then maybe your Druid would be standing in an oak grove doing his thing.

    If you’re an ancient Greek or Roman, you won’t think of anything so noble.  For you, a Druid is some heathen zealot who burns human sacrifices to propitiate the gods,  often en masse by means of “the wicker man”.  Because Emperor Julius Caesar told you so.

    Finally, if you’re a New Ager, a Druid to you is probably some hippie, sitting on top of one of the stone structures at Stonehenge, smoking a joint, and digging on the sun as it rises on the morning of the Summer Solstice.

    Petter Berresford Ellis would probably give you half-credit if you included the oak grove in your image, and zero credit for any of the other details listed above.

What’s To Like...
    Peter Berresford Ellis makes it clear at the very beginning: Any serious book about the Druids is going to involve a lot of conjecture.  The Druids themselves didn’t write anything down, and those “foreigners” who did were conquerors, such as Julius Caesar, who had a vested interest in denigrating anyone who held a position of power in the Celtic tribes he had just subjugated.

    The author bases his set of educated conjectures on the following hypotheses:
    a.) The Druids were not limited to being mages.  They were the Intellectual Caste of the Celtic world: Priests, Seers, Doctors, Poets, Leaders, and much more.
    b.) Greek and Roman sources can’t be trusted.  Ellis relies mostly on early Irish and Welsh writings.
    c.)  The Druid Caste is akin to the Brahmin Caste in India.  This commonality stems from a long-hypothesized Indo-European root language, from which most Eurasian tongues are thought to have come.

    I liked the book’s structure.  Ellis devotes the first part (pgs 1-156) to the generic characteristics and origins of the Druids.  Part 2 (pgs 157-250) enumerates the specific roles Druids played in the Celtic tribal hierarchy.  And Part 3 (pgs. 251-281) analyzes the modern surge in popularity of the Druid mystique, and how the hippies came ended up at Stonehenge.
    The Druids is a history buff’s delight, and I happen to be one.  Some of the details were familiar to me: Taliesin, the Aes Sidhe, the Tuatha Da Danaan, Tara, Stonehenge, Cruachan, Boudicca, Finn McCool, and my favorite Gnostic magician, Simon Magus, who, FWIW, gets some ink in the biblical Book of Acts.

    But I learned about a lot of new things too, such as: Fidelma, the Red Branch, the Irish Ogham alphabet, the origin of the words “Danube” and  “boycott”, and the Druidic origin and long history that hunger strikes have as a way of protest in Ireland.  I also liked the literary nod to Morgan Llywelyn’s historical-fiction novel, Druids, which I’ve read and is reviewed here, and being reminded that Rome, the Eternal City, was once sacked by the Celts, way back in ~390 BC.

    The book is written in English, not American.  So you have neighbours and jewellery, you’re advized to wear woollen  clothes, and if you’re one of the élite, you have a rôle to perform.  I liked this, but spell-checker is going nutzo as I write this review.  The book is part of a 16-volume (at the time of printing) historical series, which uses the “A Brief History of…” format.  There are some neat photos in the middle of the book, including one of Winston Churchill being installed at a Druidic lodge.  Make no mistake about it, reading this book will be a learning experience.

Kewlest New Word ...
Peripatetic (adj.) : traveling from place to place.
Others : Micturition (n.; who knew there was a word for this!?); Proscription (n.)

    This destruction of native Irish learning, compounded by the Penal Laws of William III, saw the rise of a new educational phenomenon – the Irish Hedge School.  During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Irish teachers were compelled to teach the children secretly and usually out of doors in some secluded spot, often in the shelter of a hedge – hence the name.  One pupil was placed at a vantage point to give warning of the approach of English soldiers or informers, when the class would be disbanded at a word.  (pg. 160)

    The basis of the Celtic idea of immortality of the soul was that death was but a changing of place and life went on with all its forms and good in another world, a world of the dead, the fabulous Otherworld.  When people died in that world, however, their souls were reborn in this.  Thus a constant exchange of souls took place between the two worlds; death in this world took a soul to the Otherworld, death in that world brought a soul to this.  (pg. 176)

Kindle Details…
    Curiously, there is no e-book version of A Brief History of the Druids.  Various dealers at Amazon have the paperback version for sale, which is what I read.  It sells for anywhere from $7 to $40.

 “Worship the gods, do no evil and exercise courage.”  (pg. 168, and the Druids’ chief maxim.)
    The book was a slow read for me, and with 20 chapters and sub-chapters for 281 pages, finding a good place to stop for the night often proved problematic.  It is written in the old-fashioned “scholarly” style and, as some reviewers at Amazon have noted, it can be quite dry at times.  The frequent and lengthy studies of the etymologies of various Irish and Gaelic words also contributes to this dryness.

    The “scholarly style” also means Peter Berresford Ellis can be confrontational at time.  In particular, his views quite often differ from those of  one Nora Chadwick, who is apparently also a Celtic historian.

    Despite all this, I still enjoyed A Brief History of The Druids, and came away with a much greater appreciation of why the Irish were so fiercely resentful of English occupation down through the centuries.

    Just don’t be expecting it to be in the style of Sarah Vowell or Erik Larsson.

    7 Stars.  Peter Berresford Ellis also writes a historical fiction/murder-mystery series under the pen name Peter Tremayne.  Its protagonist is a  “Sister Fidelma”, and I gather it is set in Druidic times.  By good fortune, my local digital library carries one of these books, and I’m a big fan of the Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series  I suspect I’ll be trying this series out in the not-too-distant future.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Speaks The Nightbird, Volume 2: Evil Unveiled - Robert McCammon

    2003; 418 pages.  Full Title: Speaks The Nightbird, Volume 2: Evil Unveiled.  Book 2 (or Chapter 24-44 in the newer, combined version of the book), out of the 5-book “Matthew Corbett” series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Horror; Mystery; Witches; Demons; Suspense; Historical Fiction.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    Time is running out for Rachel Howarth.  She’s been tried by the magistrate, found guilty of being a witch, and will be burned at the stake five days hence.

    The magistrate’s young clerk, Matthew Corbett, believes Rachel is innocent, and is determined to prove it.  For that matter, he’s rather skeptical about the existence of witches at all.  Still, the evidence against Rachel is quite persuasive.

    For starters, both Rachel’s husband and Fount Royal’s minister have been murdered, clawed to death by an unknown beast, most likely some demon she summoned.  Then there are the various buildings in the town that have burnt to the ground, with the firefighting efforts seeming to have no effect on the infernos.  Surely this is the devil’s work.

    But the most damning evidence against Rachel are the sworn testimonies of three eyewitnesses, each of whom claims to have seen Rachel doing …um… nasty things with Satan himself.  None of the three give any indication that they’re lying, and one of them, little Violet Adams, is too young to think of such vile acts on her own.

    So Matthew has his work cut out for him, and not much time in which to do it.  And for the remaining townspeople of Fount Royal, who are watching their fledgling village turn into a ghost town due to that accursed witch, the five days until the burning at the stake can’t pass by soon enough.

What’s To Like...
    First off, let’s clarify things about this book.  It was originally written as two separate volumes, of which Speaks The Nightbird, Evil Unveiled is Volume 2.  The first volume, Speaks the Nightbird, Judgment of the Witch, is reviewed here.  The two volumes have since been combined into one book, and if you buy Speaks The Nightbird as a new book nowadays, you’ll get this combined version.  OTOH, if you pick it up in a used-book store, like I did, you could get either the combined book or one of the two individual volumes.

    The setting is the Carolina Colony in 1699, the same as in Book 1.  That one ended with lots of questions and no answers yet revealed.  The questions are:

    a.) Who is burning down the buildings in Fount Royal?
    b.) Who Is framing Rachel as a witch?
    c.) Is the Evil in Fount Royal of Natural or Supernatural origin?
    d.) Why is singing heard when Satan allegedly visits, and who’s singing?
    e.) Where did the innkeeper Shawcombe disappear to?
    f.) How did an Indian come into possession of a Spanish-minted gold coin?

       Robert McCammon wastes little time in starting to answer these in Evil Unveiled, and it’s fun for the reader to walk alongside Matthew, trying to make sense of all the weird things going on.  There are 21 chapters to cover 418 pages (chapters 24 thru 44 in the combined version), or if you’re reading it in your Kindle (I was), it starts at 55% in the combined book.  I once again was delighted  by the "Is it Natural or Supernatural?" aspect of the mystery, and I'll not give any spoilers about that here.

    I was again fascinated by the meticulous attention to historical detail.  But in addition to that, I liked the glimpse of the state of medical science back then.  The poor magistrate is at Death’s door, and the town doctor uses the latest medical practices to try to heal him.  Alas, these are things like leeches, a heat-&-vacuum blood treatment, applying a plaster, and last but definitely not least, something called a colonic.  I’ll spare you the details of this last one; let’s just say you’ll have a greater appreciation of the strides that have been made in the last 400 years in the medical field.

    I liked the inclusion of “Greek Fire”, whose composition is truly a lost secret in History.  There’s some French again, which I always appreciate, although I have to nitpick at the phrase “La Florida”.  It’s “La Floride.”  I'm presuming that Spellchecker is at fault for that typo.  Chess once again makes an appearance, and this time with an opening move (with a pawn), which is more in line with opening theory, such as it was in 1699.

    There’s a fair amount of cussing, which fits in appropriately with the frontier setting, one roll in the hay, and one instance of brutal torture.  Evil Unveiled, aka “Part 2”, is not a standalone novel, but most likely you’ll be reading the combined version, which is a complete and self-contained tale.

Kewlest New Word...
Grisard (n.) : a grayish-black color (French).
Others : Vulpine (adj.); Luffing (v.); .); Cattawago (n., and a word not found anywhere else on the Internet except this book).

    “What can you tell us of the witch?  Does she weep and wail at the prospect of burning?”
    The stew he was about to swallow had suddenly sprouted thorns and lodged in his throat.  “Mrs. Vaughan,” he said, as politely as possible, “if you don’t mind … I would prefer not to talk about Rachel Howarth.”
    Suddenly Cherise looked at him and grinned, her blue eyes gleaming.  “Oh, that is a subject I find of interest!”  Her voice was pleasingly melodic, but there was a wickedly sharp edge to it as well.  “Do tell us about the witch, sir!  Is it true she shits toad-frogs?”  (loc. 8834)

    “Everyone goes on,” he repeated, with a taint of bitter mockery.  “Oh, yes.  They go on.  With crippled spirits and broken ideals, they do go on.  And with the passage of years they forget what crippled and broke them.  They accept it grandly as they grow older, as if crippling and breaking were gifts from a king.  Then those same hopeful spirits and large ideals in younger souls are viewed as stupid, and petty … and things to be crippled and broken, because everyone does go on.”  (loc. 10471)

Kindle Details...
    The e-book version of Speaks The Nightbird (the combined version) is presently on sale at Amazon, for a mere $1.99.  The other books in the Matthew Corbett series go for $6.99, except for Book 2, The Queen of Bedlam, which sells for a whopping $13.99.  Robert McCammon has other books in the Horror genre as well; these e-books are all in the price range of $1.99-$10.99.  If you have patience, the author graciously and periodically puts a lot of these e-books on sale for $1.99, except for the other books in this series.  I should know, I’ve been keeping an eye out for those.

If this was indeed Hell, (…) no wonder everyone was in such a fever to make their reservations.  (loc. 11357)
   The quibbles are minor and mostly technical in nature.  It took me a couple chapters to remember which characters had done what in the first volume.  But their various roles came back to me quickly, and hey, if I’d  read the combined version, or hadn't waited two months to read Volume 2, this wouldn’t’ve been an issue.

    The page-numbering system doesn't work in the second half of the “combined” Kindle version.  Book 1 is okay, but Book 2 starts out at page 484, and never moves from there.  Yeah, I know.  Picky, picky.

    In a similar vein, the number of pages listed for each version seem contradictory.  The paperback format says it has 816 pages, which makes sense: a pair of 400+ page books combined.  But Amazon says the Kindle version only has 500 pages, while the “Mass Market” paperback has 482 pages.  Amazon doesn’t tell you how many pages are in the Hardcover version, but Barnes & Noble says there are 726 pages in it.  That’s quite a variance if you're trying to make sure you're getting the combined story.

    None of this has anything to do Robert MaCammon’s fine storytelling and writing skills.  The only nit I can pick in that regard is that it seemed like the thread involving the innkeeper, Shawcombe, didn't seem to contribute anything to the storyline, and its resolution seemed to occur a tad bit too conveniently.  But hey, Tolkien had his equally irrelevant Tom Bombadil tangent, and nobody, including me, gripes about that.

    9 Stars.  Same as for Book 1, Judgment of the Witch.   For me, this was a great introduction to Robert McCammon’s novels.  I have a couple more on my Kindle, and also one on my TBR shelf.  And here’s hoping the author will someday break from his current pattern, and occasionally discount the other books in the Matthew Corbett series.