A pair of '90s portal fantasies about veterinary students who travel to a fantasyland called Crossroads to treat centaurs, unicorns, griffins, and other magical beasts. I read these years ago and re-read recently with the intention of finally reading book three, which I had either failed to find or failed to read previously. Now that I have re-read, I understand why I never read the final book. I had remembered the fun parts (vet students figuring out how to treat magical creatures, and that is both accurate to my knowledge and very fun if you like that sort of thing) and forgotten about the truly amazing amount of awesome depressingness surrounding them.

I also have to mention that O'Donohoe also wrote an sf novel in a dystopian future, Too Too Solid Flesh about androids programmed with the personalities of the characters of Hamlet. This was also fairly depressing (though with way less torture), but more appropriate to the subject matter and I recall liking it a lot, despite a manic pixie dream girl.

He doesn't seem to have written anything in over ten years, which is too bad. He's obviously got a lot of talent and it would be interesting to see what he'd come up with if he had either more or less editing. (The Crossroads books either would have been improved by some editorial guidance ("Skip the Dark Lord stuff" or the editorial guidance caused the problem ("Fantasy books need a Dark Lord.") No idea which.)

Too, Too Solid Flesh

The Magic And The Healing

Under the Healing Sign

The Magic and the Healing

BJ Vaughan, a vet student, is understandably depressed. Her mother committed suicide out of the blue, leaving a note saying that she was dying of Huntington's Chorea (a horrific, fatal genetic disease) and BJ should be tested to see if she's going to get it too. BJ, who has been having mysterious symptoms lately, gets tested. Sure enough, she has it. She tells no one, but begins planning her suicide. I will cut to the chase and say that she continues telling no one and planning her suicide for the entire book, and in fact by the end of the second book, though she is no longer planning suicide, she has still told very, very few people and has not informed the people who most need to know.

But! Something more cheerful happens, and about time. BJ and some other students are invited on to a special exotic animal rotation, which of course turns out to be in Crossroads. The magical creatures, their cultures, and their ecologies are sketched-in but interesting and convincing. My favorite for cuteness was the flowerbinders, which are kittens the size of German Shepherds who catch their prey by winding flowers into their fur and camouflaging themselves as a bush or hillock of wildflowers. My favorite for interesting worldbuilding were the several sentient species which remain the prey of other sentient species, and how intelligent beings evolved cultures, laws, and rituals which account for that. There are a handful of human inhabitants of Crossroads, most of whom are essentially refugees who stumbled in while fleeing for their lives, but it's mostly populated by centaurs, fauns, griffins, etc.

As BJ and the other students ply their trade, they learn more about how the magic of Crossroads works, and BJ realizes that though traumatic injury and some diseases exist in Crossroads, cancer and degenerative diseases don't. If she stays, can she arrest or even cure her own degenerative illness? Is she willing to give up her entire previous life for the chance at a new one?

I think this is plenty of story for a novel, and if this had been the entire story, the book would have been much better, much less grim, and also much less ridiculous. Unfortunately, there is another plotline involving one of the most moustache-twirling villains I've ever come across. Her name is Morgan, and she is a sadistic genocidal sociopathic mass murderer whose hobbies include torture, mass graves, bathing in blood (literally), invasion, getting people hooked on drugs, slaughtering her own minions in front of her entire army just for the fun of it, and slaughtering everyone in sight. She plans to invade Crossroads, slaughter everyone, and then go to another world and slaughter everyone there. Rinse, repeat. Inexplicably, her army does not desert en masse despite her periodically torturing her own soldiers to death. Oh, yeah, and did I mention that she's immortal and invulnerable, so no one can just whack her?

She has a backstory. Sort of. It's the sort which introduces more plotholes than it resolves. Why is she the way she is? She's angry. NO SHIT. What's she angry about? Who knows! Why is she immortal? Because it was somehow a condition of booting her out of Crossroads earlier, when she was just a non-immortal homicidal maniac. Why the hell would you make a homicidal maniac immortal? Uh... the magic works that way! Why not kill her when you had the chance? Because the king was in love with her! WHY? Because she didn't seem evil right away. I realize this sort of thing happens in real life (the charming sociopath, I mean) but 1) we never see the charm, 2) if your choice is "kill the genocidal maniac you still kind of love, or make her immortal so she can come back and murder you and every citizen of your country," you need to suck it up and break out the guillotine.

Nobody in Crossroads thinks they have a chance of fighting her off, though they're planning a hopeless last stand anyway. Periodically Morgan sneaks in, tortures or kills some animals or people, and sneaks out. I don't mind reading about hurt animals in the context of veterinary medicine, but I draw the line at animal torture. Anyway, eventually the good guys beat her back, but it's just for now. They're still doomed. (Until book two! No, wait. Still doomed.)

There is also an extremely unconvincing romance between BJ and a faun named Stefan. They have no chemistry and nothing in common other than that they both like animals. They never have sex because BJ doesn't tell him she's dying but doesn't want to commit when she's dying. This entire plotline really didn't work for me. Alas, it continues in exactly the same vein in book two, except BJ is no longer dying and they do have sex... but she still doesn't tell him and continues to angst in the exact same way.

Approximately half of a pretty cool book melded to half of a pretty terrible book. Perhaps this was meant to be symbolic of Crossroads' many chimera-creatures... Nah.

Under the Healing Sign

My feelings about the sequel are summed up by an Amazon reader who wrote, "On the whole, it [the third book] is much better than the second book of the very same series, "Under The Healing Sign", which made me wish to commite suicide immediately upon reading the last chapter of it."

Despite the charmingly pastoral cover, what actually happens in this book is mostly death, despair, defeat, torture, animal and child harm, and the least triumphant "happy ending" I've ever read in a fantasy book. It does have some sweet scenes a la the good parts of the first book and introduces a really awesome character(who, shockingly, does not die), a gay and fabulous cross-dressing, swordfighting veterinarian, Dr. Esteban Protera, who needed to star or co-star in a cheerier book. But overall, I'm with the Amazon reviewer.

Spoilers, if anyone cares. I'll just hit a few of the grimdark highlights.

- Morgan tortures and slaughters many more people and animals.

- A sympathetic character who came to Crossroads to reverse his Alzheimer's in book one finds that he doesn't get along with anyone there and misses his family. He returns to Earth, where his dementia goes on fast-forward, to his family's horror, then dies.

- BJ becomes the adoptive mother of an adorable werewolf cub. He's so horribly wounded trying to defend BJ that she's forced to put him to sleep. She recalls him exactly once after that.

- The entire population of Crossroads, except for about five hold-outs, either flees Crossroads into other worlds they cannot return from, or is slaughtered.

- The "happy ending" consists of Morgan getting killed and BJ inheriting the power to open paths to other worlds. So in theory, she could bring everyone back who's still alive. But if she does this, she'll be exposing Crossroads to the threat of another invasion. So she's left healed but stuck on Crossroads or her disease will come back worse than ever, a vet with no patients, presiding over a nearly empty world. The end!
sovay: (Morell: quizzical)

From: [personal profile] sovay

"On the whole, it [the third book] is much better than the second book of the very same series, "Under The Healing Sign", which made me wish to commite suicide immediately upon reading the last chapter of it."

Man. I remembered all the veterinary parts of The Magic and the Healing and Under the Healing Sign, as well as the plotline with Morgan in both books and Dr. Protera with great affection, but I had completely forgotten the grimdark ending! There's a third book in the series, but it never looked any good to me. Now I can't decide whether I should poke at it for a plot fix?

From: [identity profile] oracne.livejournal.com

Please to snuggle a pile of wombats after reading these books....

From: [identity profile] helen-keeble.livejournal.com

I just checked out the reviews of book 3. Apparently at some point a sentient being is skinned and turned into a set of bagpipes. WUT.

I cannot help but suspect that the concept of the series would work much, MUCH better as a fluffy New Adult portal fantasy. Or even as a Middle Grade adventure. I kind of wonder who on earth the author thought their audience was.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


It would have worked fine as an adult fantasy that was just small-scale. Those parts were actually good. Though as MG maybe there would have been less temptation to go full-on grimdark and it could have not been about saving the world in doomed battle, but just about saving it one creature at a time.

From: [identity profile] ravens-shadow.livejournal.com

"I had remembered the fun parts (vet students figuring out how to treat magical creatures, and that is both accurate to my knowledge and very fun if you like that sort of thing) and forgotten about the truly amazing amount of awesome depressingness surrounding them."

Same. I saw the titles and immediately recognized/recalled them, the vet stuff, and even that she had a disease that Crossroads cured. All the darker stuff had completely fled my memory (I probably read the books in middle school, and I was consuming any and all fantasy books I could find at the time).

From: [identity profile] cat-i-th-adage.livejournal.com

I know I read the second one at some point, because I recognise the blurb, but I must have blocked the details.


You might like some of Martha Wells' singletons. (Unlike the Raksura books where there's a huge cast and a smorgasbord of exotic cultures to get a grip on - which distanced me from the story a bit - they stick to one, vivid setting each.)

Death of the Necromancer - not!Moriarty and not!Irene Adler are distracted from the culmination of a ten year plan of vengeance against the murderer of not!Moriarty's foster father by a dodgy spiritualist and his undead ancient necromancer friend. There are seances, and sweet-but-opium-addled sorcerers, and machinations, and a Great Detective, and breaking *into* a prison, and a queen who likes cats.

The Element of Fire - fantasy modelled after 17th century France, so there are lots of court politics and good royal favourites and bad royal favourites and duels, and a fairly complicated love story that's sort of poly, AND THEN THE UNSEELIE COURT INVADES. And all the politics and romances keep going while dodging flying things in the snow. There's a running theme of people coming out of abusive childhoods or other traumatic experiences and how they deal with the shadow of that which really leaped out at me the second time I read it. And a happy ending (mostly).

Wheel of the Infinite - non-European fantasy that's difficult to describe without spoilers, but it's got a grizzled, badass heroine called back from exile, a sweet little romance, a theatre troop, and an evil puppet that keeps popping up causing trouble. Agreeable to read after...

City of Bones - post-Apocalyptic relic-hunting in and around an Egypt-esque city. Spooky bits, and sad bits, and desperate bits out in the desert, with a strong found-family vibe and a lot of snark. The archaeology and scholarship came across very vividly to me.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)

From: [personal profile] larryhammer

I especially liked Element of Fire, but all of these are good.

(Of note: Death of the Necromancer is set in the same world, about 150 years later.)
Edited Date: 2016-10-19 03:24 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile] cat-i-th-adage.livejournal.com

I think my favourite is still Bones.

(*On being sent off to slightly safer skulduggery * "Cause a distraction? Cause a distraction! How will it be if I'm hauled up before the court and all I can say is 'Your Honour, I caused a distraction.' I might as well have stayed at home!")
ext_2707: a tree, the blue-purple sky, and two birds reflected in water (tree water sky)

From: [identity profile] kiezh.livejournal.com

I second all of those (especially Wheel of the Infinite!), and also want to add Wells' Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, if you haven't read them, Rachel.

Titles are The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods. Epic multiple-secondary-worlds fantasy with a great ensemble of characters and one of my favorite protagonists ever. Starts off fairly grim (in a city being bombed) but gets much less so as the characters start coming together, figuring things out, and world-hopping. Has an unusual love story that mixes together partnership-in-adversity, culture clashes, political alliances, and strongly-implied poly.

Loosely connected to Death of the Necromancer (the trilogy is set a generation later and the heroine's parents are the main characters of DotN; there are a few characters who show up in both), but neither needs to be read before the other.

From: [identity profile] nancylebov.livejournal.com

Two more by O'Donohoe: The Gnomewrench in the Dwarfworks and The Gnomewrench in the Peopleworks. I remember that I liked the first book better than the second, but little more than that.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

I think I tried to read the first of those and gave up due to boredom.

From: [identity profile] carbonel.livejournal.com

I read Too, Too Solid Flesh because it was written by a friend of a friend, and liked the ideas in it a lot, but thought it could have used some cutting. It was definitely darker than my usual tastes, but they seemed to work.

I loved the beginning of The Magic and the Healing, but honestly, I can't remember if I stopped reading or if I suppressed my memory of the rest of it. My memory tag for that is a large dark spreading blob after the first chunk of the book.

From: [identity profile] pameladean.livejournal.com

Just in case anybody is a completist, Nick O'Donohoe also wrote three mystery novels, which were published by PaperJacks and seem to have vanished without a trace. They are /April Snow, Wind Chill, and Seven Below. They take place in a slightly aberrant version of Minneapolis and environs, and are heavily influenced by Raymond Chandler, and are perfectly well aware of that. The third one is fairly grim, but not, as far as I recall, as grim as the books discussed above. I haven't reread them recently.

I think his best book is definitely Too, Too Solid Flesh, which I still reread with pleasure.


From: [identity profile] dhampyresa.livejournal.com

How can there be a third book after all this?
ext_14419: the mouse that wants Arthur's brain (Default)

From: [identity profile] derien.livejournal.com

So grateful to you for reading these books so I don't have to.

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