Empire of Bones
By N.D. Wilson
The five Library of Congress subject headings (Secret Societies, Supernatural, Brothers and Sisters, Apprentices, Magic) hardly do it justice. Empire of Bones (Random House, 2013), N.D. Wilson’s third entry in the Ashtown Burials saga, is a ripping good yarn.
In the previous book, the evil sorcerer Radu Bey was accidentally liberated; in Empire of Bones, he is just coming into his own as a second supervillain. His plan: free all the transmortals who have been imprisoned and take over the world. Of course, the good guys (whose number is greatly reduced by the story’s end) and the other supervillain, Phoenix, and his army of trans-human warriors oppose this plot.
That only begins to explain the premise of the book, which contains approximately 438 pages of plot. It also contains some heavy-duty Christian symbolism. Two stone warriors, Brother Justice and Brother Wrath, must be roused to fight both villains. But with their law-governed hearts, they kill everyone, for no one is righteous. But once the characters have been marked with the blood of a lamb, and washed with water, Justice and Wrath will no longer touch them.
Wilson also introduces a new character: Brother Boniface Brosnan (Niffy for short), a Mohawk-wearing Irish monk who knows no fear and, during a lull in the action, delivers a beautiful homily on love: “Love burns hotter than justice, and its roar is thunder. Beside love, even wrath whispers.” References to “the Father of our Lord” and even (once) “Yeshua,” along with the dragon “Azazel” (which is how several versions render the “scapegoat” of Leviticus 16:8) leave readers little doubt about Whose world this story is set in. And as always, Wilson excels at showing happy families. That’s actually what his books are about, you know. Just don’t tell the Library of Congress.
Star Wars: Scoundrels
By Timothy Zahn
Timothy Zahn’s stories always feel highly providential to me. He has written 10 Star Wars novels. I have devoured them all, sometimes at the rate of 600 pages a day. I always find—at the end of a massive series of plots, counter-plots, subplots, and cross-purposed characters of every imaginable description—that it was all planned and carefully orchestrated by a superior intelligence: the author’s. If you have to be a mastermind to create a mastermind and then control everything he does, Zahn is a mastermind. In his books, reality as a whole is guided, not by a Force, but by a Being.
His latest effort, Star Wars: Scoundrels (LucasBooks, 2013), is no exception. Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, and a gang of others characters (some familiar from the Star Wars expanded universe, others new) are given a near-impossible task: break into a crime lord’s hyper-secure safe and make off with the ill-gotten gains inside. The crime lord, of course, is trying to protect his safe, as is the criminal agency of which he is a mid-level member, the notorious Black Sun, whose blackmail files are also stored in the safe. Imperial Intelligence (i.e., the FBI of the galactic empire) is hovering in the background, and Han and his gang have to avoid letting any of the other parties know who they actually are. Other than its dismal lack of light saber combat and space battles, Scoundrels delivers everything I want in science fiction: adventure, good clean dialogue and plotting, the triumph of the right side, and the bad guys’ doom served up in spectacular fashion.
Every human needs a little melodrama in his diet, and though 21st-century melodrama may appear more sophisticated than the Victorian kind, it’s the same delicious stew. Please give me another helping, Mr. Zahn.