Now that she's writing fantasy novels she's taken down her fanfic.

Bright New Future

(1) "In The Beginning" (Sentinel)

Reviewed by Kathryn A on 29th January 2001 (2)

This is the second of CiceroCat's stories, and shows even more heavily the Susan Foster influence, since this AU setting is more like the GDP series; a near-futuristic setting, where Guides are second-class citizens. There also seems to be a bit of borrowing of an idea from Y.S. McCool's "Upgrades" universe, but that may be a coincidence. Again, this author manages to leave the worst horrors of the GDP universe out of this story, and refrains from giving Jim animalistic behaviours (yet), while at the same time giving a reasonable explanation as to why Blair is downtrodden and distrusting. Yes, a WimpyBlair, but not as wimpy as the one in GDP.

The opening is really good -- a tense, immediate scene which manages to give us background and backstory without any boring exposition.
    "In a few short minutes, a new century, with new possibilities will be upon us. New heights reachable by way of ever advancing technology. . . "
    Pant; thump; pant; thump. . .
    Gotta hide, gotta hide, gotta. . . Panting heavily, breath visible in the frigid air, his rhythmic footsteps pushed out all superfluous thought. He barely gave the booming voice from loudspeakers any attention, a voice that told of a grand future in store. A future he probably wouldn't see.
    Dark, so dark. She's gonna find me, it's not gonna work.
    ". . . A greater future is at hand, a future that is our heritage, our destiny. . ."
    Shoes squeaked loudly on slick concrete sidewalks, as he slid. Cursing, he went down on three limbs, his hand catching and levering him up from the cold, unyielding surface, as he cut too sharp around a corner.

Guides here aren't grovelling slaves, but they have been denied civil rights. (I can see the Dark Angel influence mentioned here also) It wasn't entirely clear whether the abuses Blair had suffered were legal or not, however; whether they were the exception or the rule.

One thing that also isn't clear is why the Major Crimes gang seems to be concealing that Jim is a Sentinel, nor why they make the offer to Blair. (Again, it would be nice to see something from Jim's point of view). It also isn't quite clear what happened in the very last scene; I'm sure the author knew, but not me. There's also no reason that I can see, in the second-last scene, why Blair would think that a strange cop would shoot him, on the word of a stranger. That's a bit extreme.

But I am looking forward to the next one.

Addendum: nominated for favourite alternate universe story, 2001 Cascade Times Awards.

Dark World Making

(1) "Making of A Sentinel" (Sentinel)

Reviewed by Kathryn A on 29th October 2001 (2)

When I saw that this author had written something new, I couldn't resist taking a peek straight away. This is (no surprise) another AU which is reminiscent of Susan Foster's stories, where Sentinels are well known, and Sentinels and Guides have a psychic bond which is necessary for them to function without going nuts. We don't get so much of the background here, only hints, because this story opts (very effectively) for an almost stream-of-consciousness story from Jim's point of view. As soon as I read it, I turned around and read it again. Now, that's rare!

In this story you follow Jim down the path into the torment of an awakening Sentinel, and out the other side. I like how he was stubborn and rebellious at the start (and indeed along the way) and how we are gradually shown things building up, and Jim having less and less control. It makes you wonder, though, what kind of people would deem such extreme measures to be necessary. Which we will hopefully find out in future stories. I'm not sure I wanted the story to stop at that point, there were some things that were still in the air for me (specifically, Jim's state of mind) but on the other hand, the last line was a good one.

(2) "Making of a Guide" (Sentinel)

Reviewed by Kathryn A on 28th February 2002 (4)

I was looking forward to this story, so I read it as soon as it was posted on Senfic, rather than waiting for it to go up on a web page. This tells the other half of the AU story told in "Making of a Sentinel", this time from Blair's point of view. It's probably a good idea to re-read "Making of a Sentinel" first, to get into it fresh. Again, we see a fighting, stubborn person driven almost to the breaking point, very effectively described. I particularly liked the Hunger metaphor (or whatever one would call it).

We learn a little bit more about this universe from the snippets of Blair's background that we get here, but not a huge amount. It seems clear from the points of view of both Jim and Blair that one reason they don't want to bond with anyone is they consider it a form of slavery or at the least, a loss of autonomy, but it isn't entirely clear what the social/legal status of Sentinels and Guides is, because Jim's and Blair's reactions are very subjective.

This story ends at exactly the same point as the first story, and though I can hope for a continuation to find out what happens next, and what is really going on, knowing this author, what will probably happen is that she'll get another entrancing idea and start yet another series that will never be continued (sigh).

Kingdom of Cascade

(1) "The Guide's Way" (Sentinel)

Reviewed by Kathryn A on 29th January 2001 (1)

I read this because I'd seen a couple of people raving about it, saying that if you liked Susan Foster, you'd like this. Given my mixed feelings about Susan Foster's stories, it was with a little misgiving that I read this -- and was pleasantly surprised. Yes, they were right; if you like Susan Foster you will like this -- and if you dislike Susan Foster's stuff, you may still like this. Unless of course you can't stand fantasy-flavoured AUs on principle. I can see the Susan Foster influence, but happily, this isn't rated M for sex-deviant psychopaths, and if Jim is behaving like an animal (snicker) there's good reason for it.

I'm a sucker for psi (even when it's magical and not Sci). I also like that Jim seemed to have come to terms with his Sentinelness -- probably because he's had a lot of time to realize that he's stuck with it. I can see the potential for interesting adventures in the future -- even up to political intrigue, if the author feels so inclined.

The world-building is a bit inconsistent -- there are points where this simply doesn't feel like a classic fantasy world. The commoners are educated enough that it's no surprise that they can read, yet Blair is so downtrodden that he expects any member of the nobility to treat him with contempt and injustice. WimpyBlair strikes again -- though I realize that I don't actually mind a WimpyBlair if the backstory gives a reasonable explanation as to why his character is like that (as, for example, in Susan Foster's GDP series, there is darn good reason for that Blair to be wimpy). At least there was an explanation here, but it wasn't sufficient. Another inconsistency is the decree that magic usage by commoners is illegal, that only nobility are mages, yet you also have nobility like the Ellisons who don't want anything to do with magic. I guess I'm thinking a little Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series here, where the nobility has something which sets them apart like magic, (laran) and that thing is what sets them apart, so it's rare to find a noble house which doesn't have laran. Another thing, which I guess is hard to balance, is that Blair's style of speech, while Blair-ish, seems out of place, too modern, in this setting. Likewise Jim's use of "Chief" as a nickname seems a little out of place.

But it's got tear-prick angst and affection, I like this! I want more.

It would also be good to see a companion piece from Jim's point of view.


(1) "Masquerade" (Sentinel)

Reviewed by Kathryn A on 7th October 2001 (11)

This isn't really a review, more of a heads-up. I can't do a proper review of this story because I am rather biased, having beta-read it, and therefore got to tell the author all the things I thought were weak with it, so she could fix 'em up (or ignore me, as the case may be). Well, she didn't ignore me, so I'm very happy, because the potential goodness got lived up to. The story as it stands still needs some polishing (I'm not a grammar/punctuation beta) but it's still worth reading.

So, what's to like? This is yet another AU by this author who seems to like making AUs with psi/magic and empathic Guides. This time she seems to have gone for the best of both worlds -- this is set in a future Cascade where not only are Sentinels recognised and trained (and their Guides with them) but magic is also taught at College as well. The magic here is something of talent and something of learning (one can't be a Mage without the gift, but one can't employ the gift without training). Of course, there's a twist, too -- Guides are not only empathic, but only women can be Guides. Enter one Blair Sandburg, ex-Anthropology student, Mage trainee... and be prepared for a bunch of angst and a touch of psi. And a positive ending, of course! With room for more.

Like her other stories, this is all told from Blair's point of view; the Jim here is rather mysterious, and the Blair here is younger than the one we know. For all the exotic curriculum, College is College, and subject to the same frustrations and troubles -- which Blair walks straight into, from the first paragraph.