Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer finally have a grown-up demon fighter to follow.

Most 'Chosen One' stories deal with teens or children as their main characters.  Both are tumultuous times in a person's life, and while so much is going on, it makes sense that one would come into his powers then, too.  But sometimes a situation calls for a special person, with a special connection to his god, or God, and age doesn't matter terribly much.

Such is the situation in Princess of Wands by John Ringo.  More a collection of three novellas than a proper novel, the stories center around Barbara Everett, a good Christian woman and soccer mom of 3.  Raised a military brat traveling the world, she learned from an early age to defend herself both through extensive martial arts training as well as modern weaponry.  Her fierce temper, however, she has come to control through a close, personal relationship with God.

A very close relationship with God.

We get to know Mrs. Everett in 'The Almadu Sanction'.  Even though Barb is the consummate housewife and PTO member, even she occasionally needs a break..  So she tells her ESPN-watching husband that she's taking a weekend for herself down in Louisiana.  But on the road, instead of heading for one of her usual haunts, she takes an impulsive turn off to a backwater parish, looking for some "authentic" cajun food.

Unfortunately, Thibideau, LA deserves all of the horror-novel-style creepiness that pervades the place.  Detective Kelly Lockhart has a lead on some murders down in New Orleans, and his investigation is leading him places that he never could have imagined.  He's approached by an FBI agent from Special Circumstances.  These agents are only called in when some sort of supernatural or occult activity is suspected.  It turns out that there has ben some Construct DNA found on the murdered women's bodies, and with that knowledge, Kelly is sent to find the man last seen with one of the victims.

When Detective Lockhart and Barb meet up in the local bait-shop-cum-restaurant, and both realize that their cars have been disabled, it's up to them to get themselves out of the bayou alive.  Will Barb be able to draw on her undiscovered connection to the White God's power to save both herself and Kelly?

In 'The Necromancy Option', Barb is called away from her family, this time for a religious retreat of sorts. The Foundation for Love and Universal Faith is more than a day spa with prayerful overtones. All the attendees here are fighting the good fight against evil, but no two people get there in the exact same way.  These retreats are a good way to share information picked up in the field, take time out for good, old fashioned book learning and research, and to pick up new assignments.  There are, however, very few good Christian soccer moms in a place like this.  And the people who have connected to other gods have generally had bad experienceds with the popular girls like Barb.  So beyond learning how to identify demons and the like, along with a host of other topics that Barb certainly never thought shed be dealing with, she also has to learn how to fit in with people from many, many different backgrounds, and with very different ways of connecting with their gods.

After a week at the Foundation, Barb gets sent out on her first field assignment.  There's been a string of murders out of Ohio and Virginia, and they've been tied to science fiction conventions.  So after a week of sharing a camp with devotees of every religion under the sun, Barb now has to deal with her first taste of fandom.

Life just isn't fair, sometimes.

But when the convention is hit by a blizzard, and both roads and cell phones are out of commission, things turn bad quickly.  Back-up is unreachable and bodies start piling up fast, but Barb and her teammates are particularly suited to take on such a problem.  Will the team, aided by some very...well-equipped military SF fans, be able to handle things on their own?

And in 'Broken Sabbath', the Circumstances hit much closer to home.  Barb's oldest daughter Allison has a new softball coach, and he's setting off Barb's creep radar.  At first, Allison's sullenness and late-night, student-only meetings could be shrugged off as the natural state of high school girls and sports.  But as she becomes more run down and after an uncomfortable meeting between Barb and Coach Sherman, will Barb have to call on her newfound abilities to save one of her own?  Because there is nothing more frightening than a Paladin of the Light protecting her own child.

Fans of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" who grew up watching a teenage blonde fighting evil with find lots to like here, with a new late 30s blonde doing the same thing.  Barb, for all her unintended preachiness and strangely sheltered yet experienced background, is a truly likable person.  She hasher metaphorical demons, including a vicious temper, but does her best to control them.  While parts of 'The Necromancy Option' feel like a bad fanfic, with Barb being introduced to all the cliques at a local convention, once the action picks up again that feeling goes away.  It's also obvious from the descriptions that Ringo gives of the women at the Con that he's more accustomed to writing for his military science fiction fanbase.  When writing fantasy, with a much higher female readership, it might behoove him to remember that they don't need to know the chest size of each female.

But Ringo has some of the best characters and humor in the genre today, and fans of his more famous series would do themselves a disservice by passing this one by.

Highs:  Barb having to remind Janea several times that the White God would frown on joining in on her escapades.

Lows:  If she's travelled so, why has she never encountered any of these countercultures?

Verdict:  Not Ringo's best fantasy, but a light read that stays fun to the end.

Further Reading:  There Will be DragonsSpirits in the Wires

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