In the Company of Ogres, by A. Lee Martinez – This was a comedic look on fantasy, hardly anything new, but still entertaining. It tells the story of Never Dead Ned, a guy who dies quite often, but is always resurrected, as he’s sent to command a company of mythical misfits. There’s a large goblin who insists he’s a small orc, a fishy Siren, an Amazon warrior, a very polite two-headed ogre, a blind oracle, a salamander, a shapeshifter, and a sentient tree. When an author uses fantasy types, I always find it interesting how they utilize the existing mythology and what they add themselves. While J.R.R. Tolkien’s goblins and orcs were the same creatures, orcs became bigger and tougher in Dungeons & Dragons, and Martinez goes with this. Goblins and orcs are related, but orcs are larger. There’s also a joke on Tolkien’s copyrighted names with the tree, who insists there’s a curse on the word “Ent,” and instead uses “Woodfolk.” Ned is generally a passive protagonist, but his talent of not staying dead helps out against the company’s tendency to stage accidents for its commanders, and he eventually learns of his true hidden power in time for a battle with an evil demon lord. Yeah, it probably sounds kind of familiar, and the comparisons to Terry Pratchett are obvious. Martinez, however, has his own style of humor that works well with such subplots as the Amazon and the Siren fighting over Ned. He might work in the same territory as Pratchett, but he does his own thing.
The Hidden Oracle, by Rick Riordan – In addition to his series on Norse mythology, Riordan is also returning to Greco-Roman yet again for The Trials of Apollo, a follow-up to Heroes of Olympus. Zeus blames Apollo for the awakening of Gaea in the previous series, and banishes him to Earth in the form of a mortal teenager with acne. The proud god is very indignant about this, but eventually learns to use his talents that don’t rely on his Olympian powers, and even starts seeing the humans’ point of view. It’s a recurring theme in Riordan’s books, and for that matter in mythology itself, that the gods aren’t generally bad per se (with some exceptions) but are mostly indifferent toward the concerns of mortals. Apollo finds himself bound in servitude to a willful young girl named Meg McCaffrey, a daughter of Demeter. Reaching Camp Half-Blood with help from Percy Jackson, they discover a conspiracy by a company made up of three mysteriously resurrected Roman emperors, with Nero serving as the main villain in this volume. The sun god encounters geyser deities and giant ants, the latter of which he torments by playing “Sweet Caroline.” The modern pop culture references (okay, that song isn’t THAT modern, but it is compared with the thousands of years the Greek gods have been around) that Riordan works in are fun, and fit in with the mythological setting. In The Sword of Summer, there’s an indication that Taylor Swift is a dwarf, despite the fact that she’s 5’10”. I guess he just didn’t want to go with the obvious joke of making Bjork the dwarf musician.