Wednesday, October 28, 2020

#Review - All These Monsters by Amy Tintera #YALIT #Science #Fiction #Dystopia

Series: All These Monsters # 1
Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
Release Date:  July 7, 2020
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction

From New York Times best-selling author Amy Tintera, a high-stakes sci-fi adventure about a teen girl who will do anything to escape her troubled home—even if that means joining a dangerous monster-fighting squad. Perfect for fans of Warcross and Renegades.

Seventeen-year-old Clara is ready to fight back. Fight back against her abusive father, fight back against the only life she’s ever known, and most of all, fight back against scrabs, the earth-dwelling monsters that are currently ravaging the world. So when an opportunity arises for Clara to join an international monster-fighting squad, she jumps at the chance.

When Clara starts training with her teammates, however, she realizes what fighting monsters really means: sore muscles, exhaustion, and worst of all, death. Scrabs are unpredictable, violent, and terrifying. But as Clara gains confidence in her battle skills, she starts to realize scrabs might not be the biggest evil. The true monsters are the ones you least expect.




Author Amy Tintera's All These Monsters is the first book in an expected duology featuring a ragtag group of monster fighters and a shocking twist that will leave readers craving for the second book. 17-year old Clara Pratt is the main character. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her mom, brother, and abusive father. After being physically abused by her dad, she decides she’s had enough. After years of her mother and brother refusing to speak up and doing nothing, she decides to leave home after reading about Grayson St. John's International Fight Squad.

This is a group that hunts monsters known as Scrabs and is looking for new recruits. So, after making her way through the process, Clara boards a bus to Atlanta where Grayson trains new recruits and puts together teams that will end up traveling to Paris where the Scrabs are out in full force. Clara is the weakest on her team but makes it through and bonds with her team including one of the teams so called leaders, Julian, as well as Edan who is very much like Clara, and Madison who is Grayson’s sister. The first thing that Clara learns is that training is hard, and not everyone is going to survive once they encounter real world situations.

In this world, everyone in High School is expected to take combat training to fight Scrabs which are Earth-dwelling monsters that rampage thru cities across the world. Apparently, around 2013, Scrabs made their first appearance in this world. Scrabs are hard to describe because there's several different types of them. Apparently, Scrabs have not been seen in the US in ages, and Russia has closed itself off from the rest of the World. They tunnel underground and pop up in heavy populated areas killing and destroying anything they come across. The U.S. has mostly gotten it under control, but in Europe, they are heavily infested.

Europe is where most of this story take place. First in Paris where Clara and Edan learn a secret about the competition MDG (Monster Defense Group) and their plans for the Scrabs. Later in London where the Scrabs are plenty busy terrorizing those who still live in the city, and Clara realizes not everyone is who they seem, and some are more dangerous than others. Even though Clara is allegedly the weakest on her team, somehow, she manages to survive through a series of brutal attacks whereas some of her teammates aren't so lucky. She finds that she can easily connect with Edan because he makes her a better fighter whenever he's around.

In the vein of bestsellers like Warcross and Renegades, All These Monsters has accessible science fiction elements that tackle today’s issues like teen activism, and toxic relationships. What appears to be a dystopian science-fiction adventure turns out fundamentally to be about a young woman’s emotional path to transcendence over the cycle of abuse. Tintera balances heart-pounding action with compelling connections between Clara and her teammates, all told through snappy dialogue and prose. It is fair to say that this book ends on a cliffhanger ending which shouldn’t surprise anyone since it’s a duology, not a standalone.  

 



1

The bag slammed into my body, and I hit the mat with a grunt. I flipped over, scrambling to my knees as I tried to find the weapon that just flew out of my hand.
Four claws appeared at my throat. A loud buzzer sounded.
Dead.
I flopped back on the mat, letting out an annoyed huff of air. That was embarrassing. I didn’t even make it thirty seconds that round.
“You have one more life,” the voice on the intercom said. “Do you want to take a break first?”
I got to my feet and turned to where a large, skeptical man named Bubba watched me through the window. I considered telling him to forget about the last life. Surely I’d humiliated myself enough for one day.
I shook my head. “No, I’m fine.”
Bubba made a face like, wow, she’s an idiot. I was very familiar with this expression.
He pressed a button on his computer, and the practice dummy retracted, squeaking as it zipped along the track mounted to the ceiling.
I put my hands on my hips as I took a deep breath. Four lives, and I died within two minutes each round. I really was an idiot. Bubba was a good judge of character.
“You sure you don’t want the body pads, Clara?” Bubba asked over the intercom. “You took a pretty big hit just now.”
“No.” I shook out my shoulders. “I don’t need pads.” Pads were for football players. I’d never had padding to protect me from a hit.
“The girls usually take the pads,” he said. “Especially . . .” He didn’t finish his sentence. He didn’t need to. Especially the girls who didn’t look tough. Especially the girls with their dark brown hair in French braid pigtails and breasts that were made to hold up dresses, not jump around fighting monsters. I really shouldn’t have been doing this in a regular bra. Sorry, boobs.
“I don’t need pads,” I said again.
“All right. Ready?” Bubba asked over the intercom.
“Yeah.”
“Sword.” Bubba sounded like he’d lost what little faith he had in me.
I grabbed my sword from the mat. It wasn’t actually a sword, just a plastic tube that looked like it belonged on a vacuum cleaner. It had a light on the end that glowed green if I hit a weak spot. I’d only seen it light up once, briefly.
The buzzer sounded, indicating that I had five seconds to prepare. I tightened my grip on my vacuum attachment.
There were four practice dummies hanging from the ceiling, but I’d picked a level one session, so only one jolted away from the wall. It was made out of a large punching bag with plastic arms attached, complete with four-inch claws at the end.
It looked cheap, and stupid. Until it started moving.
The dummy flew at me, metal screeching as it zoomed forward. It was made to approximate a real scrab, and it moved incredibly fast.
Claws sliced through the air. I stumbled backward, the mat squishing beneath my feet.
The dummy’s body swung side to side as it raced along the track, claws outstretched. I ducked beneath its arms and darted around it. I’d clearly surprised it, because it took a second for it to swing around.
I jumped forward, thrusting the sword at its neck. I saw the green light, but only for a second. I hadn’t put enough force behind the weapon for a kill shot.
I barely pulled my hand back in time to miss getting dinged by plastic claws. I spun and ran, ready to swerve and surprise it again—
The bag slammed into my back, sending me crashing into the wall. I hit it so hard that I could have sworn the wall shook. That was going to leave a bruise.
“Whoa, are you—”
Bubba’s voice cut out as I jumped away from the wall and dashed around the dummy. It swung to face me, all ten claws stretching for my face. I launched at it, throwing my sword into its neck as hard as I could.
The sword glowed bright green. The dummy’s arms dropped. A pleasant dinging sound echoed through the room.
I won. I killed it.
“Congrats, darlin’,” Bubba said over the intercom. He didn’t actually sound all that happy for me. “You sure can take a hit. Last guy in here cried after round two.”
I blew my bangs out of my eyes. I could definitely take a hit. One of my few talents.
And I could kill a dummy pretending to be a scrab one in five times.
I watched as the dummy retracted. If I’d had more money, I might have asked Bubba to give me another full set of lives. I wanted to pound the vacuum attachment into that fake scrab until it was thoroughly dead.
“Meet me up front,” Bubba said.
The dummy took its place at the back of the room, and I dropped my sword into its charger on the wall.
I walked out of the simulation room and down the hallway to the front desk. Bubba’s Combat Training and Games wasn’t much to look at, inside or out. It was a squat, windowless building on the side of the highway, the kind of place that might be the last thing you saw before you died. The front room consisted of a few metal chairs, a desk, and walls covered in flyers advertising various services.

European Vacation Special
Buy 5 defense classes for the family and get 2 free!

Weapons, Armor, and Guns
What works, and what doesn’t. Free book with class!

Florida Beach Tips
Learn to spot scrabs in the sand.

The last one was a couple years old. There hadn’t been a scrab sighting in Florida for a long time. They were rarely spotted anywhere in North America these days. It had been three months since the last one, in South Carolina, and the National Guard had shown up almost immediately to whisk it away.
Bubba must never have removed old flyers, because I spotted a bunch of old stuff—the announcement requiring Texas high school students to take combat class instead of gym, a seminar discussing scrab origin theories, even a newspaper article from 2013 about the attack in New Orleans, with a photo of President Obama standing amongst the wreckage. The walls were more history than advertising.
“All right, Clara,” Bubba said as he walked through the door and sat down at his desk. He pushed aside a coffee mug. “That’ll be twenty.”
I dug the bill out of my pocket, flattening it with my hand against the counter before handing it over. Bubba whisked it into a box in the top drawer of the desk. I swallowed as I watched it disappear. With the exception of a few quarters, that was all the money I had. I’d been saving that twenty for months.
The television mounted on the wall above my head was silently playing the news, and Bubba glanced up at it. The words Grayson St. John and Elite Fighting Squad scrolled across the bottom of the screen, beneath a photo of three scrabs standing over a destroyed food cart in Beijing. The scrabs looked a bit different depending on the region—in Asia they were large, typically six or seven feet tall, with enormous bodies covered in spikes. They ran on all fours and mostly used their massive mouths full of fangs to fight. Scrabs in Europe and the UK fought on two legs and made better use of their front claws. North American scrabs were a mix of both, but everyone said ours were smaller and kind of sluggish compared to the rest of the world.
I wondered which version Bubba had modeled his dummy after.
“You thinking of joining?” Bubba asked.
“Uh, I don’t know.” I was too embarrassed to say yes.
He squinted at me, running a hand over his dark beard. “You got any special skills or anything?”
“No.” I tilted my head. “Well, maybe. Is surviving a special skill?”
“I guess?” Bubba said it skeptically, probably thinking of my four deaths he’d just witnessed. But Bubba didn’t know. Not really.
“Yeah, I’ve got that, then. Not dying. That’s what I’m good at.”





Tuesday, October 27, 2020

#Review - How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge by K. Eason #Science #Fiction

Series: The Thorne Chronicles (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date: October 27, 2020
Publisher: DAW
Source: Publisher
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera

Rory Thorne must use the fairy blessings gifted to her to change the multiverse in the second book in this space opera duology.

After avoiding an arranged marriage, thwarting a coup, and inadvertently kick-starting a revolution, Rory Thorne is no longer a princess, but a space pirate.

Her new life is interrupted when Rory and her crew—former royal bodyguards, Thorsdottir and Zhang, and co-conspirator Jaed—encounter an abandoned ship registered under a false name, seemingly fallen victim to attack. As they investigate, they find evidence of vicious technology and arithmancy, alien and far beyond known capabilities.

The only answer to all the destruction is the mysterious, and unexpected, cargo: a rose plant. One that reveals themself to be sentient—and designed as a massive biological weapon. Rose seeks to escape their intended fate, and Rory and her friends must act fast when the attackers return with their superior weaponry.

As the situation gains the attention of an increasing number of alien races, Rory finds herself acting as negotiator and diplomat, in order to save Rose and her friends—and avert an unprecedented war.

 

 

How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge is the second book in the space opera Rory Thorne Chronicles. This is Princess Leia meets The Princess Bride combining science fiction and fantasy with a snarky heroine, fairy blessings, a galaxy-spanning adventure, and political intrigue. This story is once again told via a Chronicler, rather than any character in this story or series. It has been (2) years since the former Princess Rory Thorne renounced her title and became a privateer working to stop smuggling. Also, aboard the Vagabond, which she pretty much stole from the Tadesh, are former royal bodyguards Thorsdottir and Zhang as well as co-conspirator Jaed Moss, son of the deposed leader of the Free Worlds of Tadesh.

But, before get to Rory's part of the book, let's start at the beginning with Ivar Valenko, former crown prince of the Free Worlds of Tadesh who is supposed to be dead per terms of agreement with Dame Maggie, now in permanent exile-asylum on Lanscot along with Grytt and Rupert. Ivar gets a surprise visit from the Green fairy, you know, the third fairy with pointy teeth who gave Rory the ability to play the Harp which she subverted to good cause. She wants Ivar to deliver a message. If seems our girl Rory is needed for another epic confrontation with a new group of xeno-people called the vakari who belong to the Protectorate.

It appears the Protectorate has already invaded K'Bal territories simply because they are abomination's who must be destroyed. Not my words. They also don't like those like Grytt who are half mecha now. The Vakari are religious fanatics who preach organic purity. There is also an armed conflict happening between the Protectorate and Tadeshi loyalists who have acquired a weapon that will prompt the Protectorate into full scale war which could spill over into newly configured Confederation of Liberated Worlds territory and the rest of the known Multiverse, including Rory’s former home, Thorne Consortium. Of course, the warning via Rupert & Grytt gets to Rory way too late, and by that time, Rory and her crew are already hip deep into trouble.

As I said, Rory and her crew are hip deep in trouble after boarding a Tadeshi ship to salvage and ends up confronting not only the Protectorate, but battle hexes who seem eager to target Rory. Rory is an adept arithmancer who can protect herself and unlock any locked door. But she’s not Rupert, or the Protectorate for that matter who can quickly put up hexes to disable and tell whether Rory is telling the truth or not. After being cut-off from Rory and Jaed, Thorsdottir becomes a carrier of a nanomech weapon that could be devastating in anyone's hands who is able to use it against their enemies.

From there, Rory and crew will come face to face with the Protectorate, meet a new ally called Crow, (who is more than he leads on), and Rory realizes that she’s been out of the loop too long. She’s a major player and a person of consequence whether she wants to be or not. Which is why the green fairy needed Rupert to find Rory to save the Multiverse, not break it. The point I am trying to make about Rory, is that she’s not a fighter. She’s not Thorsdottir or Zhang who were trained to protect and fight and can handle themselves. She’s an ambassador between conflicting parties. She’s a negotiator trying to prevent large scale wars. She’s also a Princess whether she likes it or not.

The reason for my rating is that the entire book focuses more on the side characters like Thorsdottir, and not Rory. Oh, I am not saying she isn't engaged, I am saying that Rupert, Grytt, and Thorsdottir get most of the scenes. Rory, for her part, is good for making a mess of things. She's thwarted a coup, kick-started a revolution, and now, she gets to play diplomat, ambassador, and negotiator between Confederated, Merchants League, Thorne Consortium, and the Protectorate while keeping Rose out of the hands of the wrong people. This book apparently closes out the series since the Chronicler, whomever it may be, jumps ahead in time to give readers a run down of what happens to Rory after the end of the story.

 

 



CHAPTER ONE

Ivar Valenko, former crown prince of the Free Worlds of Tadesh, now in permanent exile-asylum on Lanscot, was herding sheep for Grytt when the fairy appeared.

She looked like a small woman, short as a mirri, but of course without the distinctive, limbless spherical environmental suit mirri used when interacting with oxygen-based atmospheres, and without any daughter-buds, so really, there was nothing mirri-like about the fairy at all, except that human women did not, in Ivar’s experience, come in that particular size. Here we must note that Ivar was unfamiliar with children of any age, his single experience having been limited to a visit with the Princess of Thorne, when she had shown him a pondful of fish and thus, quite inadvertently, saved him from an assassin’s bomb.

But Ivar knew, somehow, and with firm conviction, that this was not a child. He was reasonably certain, as he drew a bit closer, that she was also not a woman, or at least not entirely human. He knew, in a sort of distant, textbook way, that there were no such things as partial humans, but he did not hold to those views with any conviction. He had almost as little experience with women as he did with children, having spent much of his post-adolescence in cryostasis, captive and laboratory experiment of Vernor Moss, former Regent of the Free Worlds of Tadesh. He had, because of Moss’s machinations, skipped past much of the maturation process in which one learns, or is taught, what is and is not possible. This fluidity of perception made him especially receptive to new experiences, but also exceptionally ill-suited to most forms of social interaction. Grytt and Messer Rupert were the exceptions, in Messer Rupert’s case because he had experience as a tutor and general molder-of-youthful-spirits (he had done rather well with Rory); and in Grytt’s because she did not have especially high expectations of people in general.

Grytt did, however, expect Ivar to mind her sheep, which meant keeping them safe. Although Ivar knew (in that same, distant textbookish way) that it was really the dogs, Bobby and Edmund, who were responsible for sheep-safety, he also knew that sheep were not stupid. If there was something dangerous, they could usually tell; it was just what to do about it that sometimes confused them. Ivar shared some sympathy with that.

And so, when he saw the fairy, he looked at them, first: the sheep, and then the dogs. The sheep did not seem to notice the woman at all, which suggested that she was, in fact, real. (Sheep tended to ignore people unless there was food involved). Bobby and Edmund cocked their fluffy black-and-white ears at her, and Bobby even sniffed in her general direction, but no hackles came up, and no growling ensued, so Ivar decided it might be all right to approach.

So he did.

The fairy woman was sitting on a flat rock, the largest and flattest on a slopeful of rocks, almost at the pinnacle of the hill. It happened to be Ivar’s favorite sitting-stone as well. He was not sure how to feel about finding someone else on it. (The wonder that there was anyone out here at all had already passed out of his awareness). She was dressed impractically for following sheep around the hills, and entirely in green, which set her at vibrant odds with the late summer grasses. She wore some kind of dress with a close-fitting bodice that dissolved into a skirt made of strips and panels of cloth overlapping like scales or feathers. Even from her position on the rock, sitting with her legs dangling, the skirt moved restlessly around her legs, as if it had a mind of its own. The hose she wore were also green and embroidered with tiny gold butterflies. Her feet were bare, and possessed of longish, shapely toes that seemed to have an extra joint.

The woman, he realized, was entirely green. Hair, which she wore long and intricately bound up in silver and gold threads. Eyes (except for the white part, and the pupil). And her skin, which was really the telling feature. The color could be paint-he had thought it must be, knowing as he did that human people did not come in green-but now he was certain that green was her natural shade.

She smiled, green lips breaking over teeth small and white as pearls, only sharper.

“Ivar Valenko,” she said.

His patronymic was not exactly secret, but it also wasn’t meant for, as Messer Rupert put it, general consumption. Ivar was supposed to be dead, and probably would have been, except for Rory; and if it became widely known that he wasn’t, Dame Maggie might say he couldn’t remain on the farm with Grytt and Rupert anymore. Ivar knew what exile meant (textbook knowing, again). He ranked it just above extended time in cryostasis for desirability.

So he was not at all pleased that this green woman sitting on his favorite rock knew his name.

Messer Rupert had said hello was the preferred manner in which to greet people one did not know. The green woman had already violated that protocol. Ivar borrowed his manners from Grytt, who usually snorted when Messer Rupert pronounced on etiquette, skipped the greeting, and went straight to the thing he most wanted to know.

“What do you want?”

The green woman’s green eyebrows climbed. Her smile remained, if a little stiffer now, sharp as her teeth. “Most people ask what I am, first.”

Ivar shrugged. He had learned if he didn’t say anything for long enough that two things happened: one, he could not get into trouble for saying the wrong thing; and two, people tended to lose patience and say whatever it was they’d intended in the first place.

“You certainly didn’t get a Naming, did you?” the green woman muttered. Her smile had turned into a husk of itself. “Charm is the first thing we hand out at those. Well. Not the first thing I hand out. I usually get stuck with great strength or physical prowess or whatever best fits the father’s expectations.”

That confirmed it. This was a fairy. Ivar forgot to be suspicious, or rather, he set his suspicions aside. Rory had told him about the fairies that had attended her Naming, and the gifts they’d handed out. He had thought, at the time, she’d been teasing him, even though Messer Rupert and Grytt had, when pressed, confirmed the account. (“There were unknown xenos present,” Messer Rupert had said; and Grytt had made one of her faces, which was as good as a verbal confirmation.)

Ivar had been vaguely jealous at the time. His father, and later Moss, had been relentlessly dismissive of anything which did not conform to his worldview, including fairies, imagination, and cats.

He eyed the fairy. “What did you give Rory for her Naming?”

“I gave her the ability to play the harp, which I understand she subverted to good cause.” The fairy smiled, this time without teeth or humor. “If I’m called for a prince, I give things like incredible strength and physical resilience, but there’s not much call for brawny princesses. Bet someone’s regretting that now.”

“She’s not a princess anymore.”

“She’s still Rory Thorne,” the green fairy said, enigmatically. “To answer your first question: I want you to deliver a message for me.”

Cold sweat prickled on Ivar’s skin. He hated talking to people with very few exceptions, and four of those exceptions had left Lanscot almost two years ago. “You should talk to Messer Rupert or Grytt.”

The fairy snorted. She sounded a bit like a sheep when she did it. “That’s who I want you to tell. Rupert’s the one who most needs to hear this, but he’s also the one most likely to get fixated on what I am and where I came from and how I got here. Not my first choice. And Grytt, well, no. There’s too much metal on her now. If Two or Five had come-but of course not, no, Send Three, she travels best,” the fairy muttered. “But you can tell her what I say, too. She’s sensible.”

The fairy paused.

Ivar supposed this was the place he was meant to ask tell them what and continue the conversation. He said nothing.

The green woman grimaced. Her teeth were definitely pointed. Ivar revised his opinion about them looking like pearls. They were yellower. More like bone.

That was not comforting.

Then the fairy began to speak, and that was even less comforting. Ivar listened without interrupting. And when the green woman was finished, he ran down the hill to find Rupert and Grytt.

ÒI can stay, if you want.Ó Grytt stood by the door, balancing on her mecha foot while she tugged her boot over the other. The polysteel toes flexed like claws, scoring tiny gouges in the tile.

“No,” Rupert said, and then, regretting the terseness of the syllable, “Thank you. I will be fine. I can handle Samur.”

“Huh.” Grytt shifted her weight, one side to the other. The mecha limb had its own special boot, more for tidiness than for necessity. The mecha joints were hexed against moisture and cold and heat, but not as much against mud. Grytt’s boots were an appalling, deliberately bright yellow, in contrast to her practical, drab coveralls. Her mecha hand winked from the frayed grey cuffs.

She frowned at him. “I’ll be right outside.”

Rupert nodded. Then he turned back to the quantum-hex viewing ball. It looked like a plain, polished glass globe at the moment, sitting on a base of plain iron which was etched all over with hexes. He had already fed it the appropriate coordinates. He made eye contact with his distorted reflection, composed his features, leaned forward, and whispered his personal code.

Quantum-hexes are as close to instantaneous communication as the laws of the multiverse permit. Still, it felt like minutes before a tiny white light appeared in the viewing ball’s center, which meant there was contact on the other end. He supposed the delay was a matter of routing. There had been a time his code would have gone immediately to Samur’s office. Since those days were long over, he expected that he would have to spend some time arguing with minor functionaries, or perhaps her personal secretary, or maybe whoever it was had replaced him as Vizier of the Thorne Consortium.

It was even possible the Regent-Consort would refuse his call altogether, at which point he would have to try plan B, which involved formal requests and triplicate paperwork and very possibly a bribe, if the clerk’s assistant in the communications office was still amenable to such persuasion.

The viewing ball’s glow shifted from white to live-coal red. A three-dimensional projection began assembling itself inside the viewing ball, pixels drawing together like cosmic dust, swirling into the face and features of Samur, Regent-Consort of the Thorne Consortium. There were lines around Samur’s mouth now that had nothing to do with smiling or laughter, and the Kreshti fern on her desk had dark-edged leaves, as if it had been scorched. The last time he had called her, that fern had been out of frame. He wished it was this time, as well, and resolved not to look at it.

“Ah,” Rupert said. They had not parted on genial terms. He was no longer certain of his permissions with her name, and chose to err on the side of formality. “Regent-Consort. Thank you for taking my call.”

Samur (for that is who she was in his head, and if he allowed himself to consider it, his heart) tilted her head to one side. “Rupert,” she said, in the same tone she might have said, I appear to have developed gout. That was, he knew, not a signal that they were on first-name terms again. He had renounced his titles when he had chosen to stay on Lanscot. She had nothing else to call him. “What is it you want?”

The fern flared a nervous yellow, at odds with the frozen blue of her tone. She was worried about something, probably Rory, and too proudly furious with him to ask.

So of course, Rupert answered that question first. “Rory is fine, as far as I am aware. I’m not calling about her. Is this communication secure?” He knew as well-and probably better than-Samur how simple it was to weave a few surveillance hexes into a quantum-communication viewing ball. He had, at one time, made sure of Thorne’s arithmantic security.

“It is on my end.” She permitted an eyebrow to float up her forehead. “What is this about, then?”

“I wanted to ask…” Rupert trailed off. He had grown unaccustomed to the circumlocutions of diplomacy with only Grytt and Ivar for company. “Regent-Consort, have you heard of a xeno-people called the vakari? Or a political entity called the Protectorate?”

Rupert had cause then to be glad of the fern. Samur was not out of diplomatic practice. Her face might well have been a mask, for all the expression she showed. The fern darkened to a bloody orange with white striations. She glanced down at it and made a move to nudge it out of the projection. Then she paused, withdrew her hand, and grimaced.

“If I asked how you came to know those names, would you tell me?”

Ah, yes. Answer a question with a question. Rupert found his own face assuming that porcelain blank of the professional advisor, ambassador, and handler of prickly personalities.

“Of course, Regent-Consort. Ivar told me.”

“Ivar?” Samur blinked. Her mask cracked. “Prince Ivar? I thought he was dead.”

Rupert composed his face into a noncommittal smile. “He is not. And today, he encountered an unusual personage in the south pasture, and it was from this personage he learned these names.”

“Pasture,” Samur said under her breath. She leaned forward, crowding the fern most of the way out of the projection. It remained a twinkling, kaleidoscopic testament to ire and amusement in garishly equal measure. “What sort of unusual personage?”

“A fairy.”

Samur stared at him. Her mouth opened, then closed, then reopened. Rupert could sympathize; his own had done something similar, when he’d first heard that word.

“The green one,” he added. “Number three. You recall her? Small, perfectly proportioned, entirely green.”

“With pointy little teeth, yes. I never understood why she gave out harp-playing.” Samur shook her head carefully. Her earrings, elaborate confections of gold wire and holographic pearls, shimmered like rain. “Are you certain? That the fairy was real, I mean. Wasn’t-isn’t-Ivar…a bit damaged?”

Rupert reflected on the wisdom of saying, Isn’t everyone? and discarded the idea. They had almost, almost, achieved something like their old rapport, and he did not want to jeopardize that with ill-timed sarcasm. He cast a glance toward the yard through the still-open door. Grytt was talking to Ivar, two upright islands in a small sea of woolly backs and muttered bleats. The two-and-a-bit years on Lanscot had been good to Ivar, as they had been good for Grytt and for Rupert himself.