Like Neil Gaiman on insane carnival crack, Delilah S. Dawson’s debut, Wicked As They Come, took me by surprise the moment I picked it up. Skirting the...moreLike Neil Gaiman on insane carnival crack, Delilah S. Dawson’s debut, Wicked As They Come, took me by surprise the moment I picked it up. Skirting the boundaries of fantasy and paranormal, and playing coy with both, Wicked defies genre classification. It was so charming, and refreshingly good that I actually groaned when I hit the last page. Dawson has knit a story whose strength lies in a genuine voice, quirky characters, and notable world-building.
The tale of Letitia Paisley who accidentally steals a locket from an estate sale only to be transported to the alternate world of Sang and into the arms of Bludman and carnivallero Criminy Stain, is not your ordinary Dorothy leaving Kansas story.
Dawson’s plan from the beginning is to gently invite conflict after conflict into the mix: Letitia’s ability to “glance” the future which makes her both admired and feared, a scorned lover from Criminy’s past out for revenge, and the brutality of the Copper’s against the Bludmen all set the stage for an epic adventure-one that will cause Letitia to question her own path trapped between two realities, and will thrust her into Criminy’s arms, her only ally in a strange but vicious world.
Criminy Stain is by far my favorite character whose devilish and cajoling manner sometimes betrays his seriousness. He is formidably lethal as a Bludman, but his patience, joviality, inner steel, and magic are his main strengths. As is his ability to assess and defuse dangerous situations, stare down Coppers, and skillfully protect the carnivalleros and Letitia all the while trying to court her, had me jumping up and down in his corner shouting “Go Criminy!”
His patience spelling the locket, and waiting countless years for it to return to him is swooningly romantic but is also his greatest vulnerability, and despite him being a Bludman, makes him more human in the eyes of a reader. And the desperate plight of the Bludman being hunted by the nefarious Jonah Goodwill and his gang of crooked Coopers provides a lethal conflict that keeps the pages turning and Criminy and Leticia on their toes as they dash from one end of Sang to another to face him down.
The chemistry between Criminy and Leticia is lively, sweet, and their playful dialog does a great job of framing their attraction. I get the sense that Dawson is an incurable romantic at heart, because Wicked as They Come is deeply romantic with the gentle push and pull of a real relationship-not a construct. It simply was not enough for me. I ended up reading the arc THREE times.
If you were to twist the funhouse mirror just so, you might be able to glimpse Dawson’s alt-Victorian world in its reflection and beyond…an alternate reality just as breathtaking as Stormhold, Tortall, The Weird, Middle Earth, or Oz. Rich in culture, Sang is a vibrant tapestry of such lush viciousness where blud-thirsty animals roam the countryside ready to tear out the throats of any “Pinky” who dare show skin…and where the coin of the realm is Blud, magic and might. Wicked as they Come is an amazing find, brimming with danger, incredible adventure that spans many genres and , and I cannot wait to read more of this lush, off-kilter world.
On the Edge, the Andrews’ latest fantasy series breaks new ground and proves once again, the dynamic duo are at the top of their game. The Andrews dabble with a trio of dimensions that exist side by side in On the Edge: The Weird where magic and feudalism reign, The Broken, and that halfway-in-between space known as the Edge, enable the Andrews’ to chart any course they see fit. And it looks as if the sky, the universe, and even time and history, are not the limit when these two collaborate.
Their latest cast of characters exist in all these three spheres and the world-building sandwiched in between is deliciously beyond compare. With a tiny smidgen of steampunk noir to set the stage, mixed with a dash of elemental magic, On the Edge is fiercely vibrant, teeming with wicked, deviant life and is wholly believable. Where else can you get rolpies, wolds, leech birds, edge lynx’s and the like?
On the Edge’s heroine, Rose Drayton and her two younger brothers Georgie and Jack reside in that in-between space between realms, the Edge, barely scraping by…one foot in either world but never truly belonging to either. In the Weird, magic is pure, and aristocracy reigns. But in the Edge, in Rose’s world, the law is handled with a gun, your clan, and sometimes with the diluted magic inherent in every Edger.
Magic is power for those who dwell in the Weird and the Edge. Ever since the clans of the Edge witnessed the sheer force and color of Rose’s power she has been a target for every would-be-suitor in the district. And some are not content to come hat-in-hand. Fending off attempted kidnappings, Rose and her family have tried to dissuade even the most persistent beaus. But many families are desperate to breed power and legitimacy back into their family tree one way or another-by any means necessary-be they gentile Edgers, or aristocratic blue bloods from the Weird.
When a blue blood from the Weird shows up beyond the wards of Rose’s property she dismisses him as another suitor. But Declan Martel is not roaming the Wood or the Edge for Rose. This former Red Legion officer and Andrianglian noble is on the hunt for an enemy of the state with a mechanical doomsday device that threatens all the realms.
But that’s not to say that he’s not going to pass up an opportunity when it’s right in front of him. I loved, LOVED On the Edge. Its’ cracked fairytale and vision are fully realized by the monumental creativity and practicality of its authors. Most importantly, On the Edge has a life all its own with a beating pulse that doesn’t stop. The world of the Edge literally comes alive, like wild, crazy, kudzu out of control. And readers will be hesitant to disengage from it.
The wooing of Rose by Declan shines, but it’s not the only lure to this adventure. Just traipsing through the Edge’s pages reminds one of a bit of Stephen Hunt melded with some old-world Frank Baum. There is a definite bit of whimsy here that’s guaranteed to conjure a chuckle or two.
The backstory of William and Declan lend some important props to the Andrews’ world-building and provides vital clues about the governing body of the Weird. And the similarities of William and Jack are crucial as well to bait us for the sequel Bayou Moon. Georgie’s secret is unwrapped slowly and delicately savored.
This is what writing is all about…pure omnipotence with a pen. I feel like proclaiming to all, “The Andrews write it and so shall it be”
A Fiendishly Bookish Review (and one grumpy cat) (less)
Hannah Jayne’s light-hearted debut Underworld Detection Agency Chronicles Under Wraps centers on breather Sophie Lawson a seer (who has yet to come into her powers) and who works in the rather unusual UDA, 37 floors below the San Francisco Police Department. Beneath the hilly streets of above, the UDA handles the immigration, immersion, law and enforcement, inter-species disputes, and general hub of the Underworld population. Think MIB but for the Underworld or the civil servant office in Beetlejuice.
When the Underworld becomes plagued with a series of ritualistic murders, and Sophie’s boss, UDA Chief Pete Sampson goes missing, Sophie is asked to liaise with SFPD detective Parker Hayes (aka Alex Grace) on tracking down the killer or killers. Sparks fly with Parker and Sophie throughout its frothy pages and the mystery behind who and what Parker is a great draw. As is the slowly evolving sub-plot behind Sophie’s heritage that Jayne cannily sprinkles breadcrumbs about throughout the book.
Under Wraps is backed by a cast of quirky characters that kept me laughing, (my favorite being Steve the Troll), Vlad…the wannabe Impaler (who belongs to The Vampire Empowerment and Restoration Movement aka VERM), and a plethora of “fanpires” that will make readers smile, and smile often. And characterization might be the high point here compared to the plot(s) which is slow to develop.
So what makes Under Wraps different from other urban fantasies? Jayne’s strength is her quirky style, witticisms, and plentiful characterizations which remind me of Jayne Ann Krentz in the early days, and Dakota Cassidy’s immensely funny characters. Also, Jayne capitalizes on the innocent with her heroine and her attraction to Parker which is strictly PG-13. Sophie Lawson is not a femme fatale…but is shy, modest, and doesn’t have a problem clinging to big, strong Parker when they are fighting off the denizens of San Francisco’s Underworld. Parker and Sophie’s romance is like melting chocolate…pure, sweet, velvety and a nice change from the over-loaded passionate encounters that readers might be used to.
Jayne’s second offering to the series is out in November with Under Ground…which takes off from the cliffhanger that she thrusts readers at the end of Under Wraps…a rather titillating loose end…the revelation of Sophie’s heritage, and perhaps an explanation about how Pete Sampson was involved in it…which brings us back to the major clue that Jayne drops when Pete psychically connects with Sophie…
Under Wraps will appeal highly to fans of Michele Bardsley, Michelle Rowen, Dakota Cassidy and Molly Harper.
Never before has foreshadowing played such an integral role in the Dark Swan series. At the beginning of Storm Born, the first in the Dark Swan series, Mead alluded that shaman Eugenie Markham’s destiny would be turbulent, on rocky footing, and perhaps a solitary journey. With a prophecy to contend with that could end the reign of humans in their realm and put the gentry in their place, Storm Born cultivated a tall order for the series. Would the destiny of Eugenie’s offspring ever fulfill the prophecy? Would she be able to channel fair play into her hereditary powers? Or would she be seduced by them?
Even Eugenie’s quirky penchant for goddesses who have walked solitary paths was another insight into her potential entanglements. And Queen Maiwenn’s ominous warning to Eugenie to tread cautiously with King Dorian was not made in vain. Enemies and alliances are being formed into an all too familiar pattern reminiscent of the Storm King’s reign. For now Storm Born, Thorn Queen and Iron Crowned appear to be mere set-ups to the conflicts that will prevail in Mead’ next book, as yet untitled #4. Maybe then, we might see Eugenie’s prophetic dream emerge into a reality…Otherworld armies amassed and marching…towards the boundary of the Otherworld and ultimately to the realm of humankind.
All of these vital clues and warnings come into play with Mead’s third installment into the series with Iron Crowned. Eugenie further cements her position in the Otherworld, and her skirmishes against Queen Katrice. Finally realizing her responsibilities as a monarch, and seeking a way to end the rift to bring peace to the Otherworld, Eugenie is lured by Dorian into seeking out the fabled Iron Crown. The crown also sought after by her father, is reputed to dissolve the primal connection between noble and the land. With this dark instrument, Eugenie could wrest away the sovereignty of individual lands and make them her own. In a word, she could get Katrice to back down.
Relationships also take center stage in Iron Crowned, especially that of Eugenie, Kiyo, Dorian and Maiwenn. Mead couldn’t have wielded a hammer better than she did regarding the tangled love triangle that has lingered over the course of two books. What Mead does in Iron Crowned is distill such an acute case of uncertainty with all the players that even I have trouble guessing what the eventual outcome will be. When Thorn Queen ended, romantic aftershocks shook the pages and with the events that occur in IC, they continue still, including a jaw dropping scene with Dorian where his wrath is fully felt and deserved…it’s anything goes…a total free-for-all. Words that come to mind...thwarted. Discomfited. Can Eugenie fix it and survive?
Mead has really whetted my appetite for resolution with Dorian and Eugenie. But the overarching question throughout this series is will she ever find happiness? Will it be with him, or some other? As a character Dorian is incredibly fascinating, has an inordinate amount of patience and discipline over his sexual desires, his dominance, his kingdom and yes…Eugenie. Can Mead craft a solution now that Eugenie has thrown herself at his mercy and begged for “hospitality”? We shall see.
Nancy Collin’s inventive urban fantasy is amazing wrought as her characters both mundane and magically-inclined, intertwine in the most notor...more4.5 Stars
Nancy Collin’s inventive urban fantasy is amazing wrought as her characters both mundane and magically-inclined, intertwine in the most notorious and guarded suburb of New York, Golgotham. When trust fund baby and industrial artist Tate Eresby ventures to find an apartment in the largely magically populated Golgotham, she has no idea that she will embark on an adventure that will change her entire world, put her at death’s door, and perhaps find her true calling. And maybe….just maybe…love.
Collin’s Golgotham is rich, fetid, humming with environment, and my only comparison on the level of atmosphere is Downside, my favorite series by Stacia Kane. Collin’s imagery invokes similar edgy themes, a press of races diverging on a portion of a city rife with crime, magic both benign and malicious, where you can get fried gator-on-a-stick as well as essentials to replenish your magical arsenal. Flavor reigns heavily in The Right Hand of Magic, and of course, the simmering attraction between its two leads: Tate and Hexe.
When Tate moves into Hexe’s family mansion (aka the Boardinghouse), she’s overjoyed by the space she’s rented, a place where she can create her art in peace. But peace is in short supply. With Scratch, Hexe’s familiar that shapeshifts into a diminutive hairless cat with wings, a shadowy oracle bunkered down in the basement, and an Uncle who despises humans…Hexe and Tate have a lot of nonsense to deal with in the beginning-least of all his being a Kymeran prince who only uses right-hand magic to heal and heir to the realm, and her rather annoying human status.
Life in the otherworldly borough hits critical mass when they rescue Lukas a were-couger, whose plucky escape from the fighting pits of the Malandanti overlord Boss Marz forces them to engage the magical cabal head on as he tries to retrieve his property. Despite Tate’s lack of magical ability, Collin’s manages still to pull off a coup de grace full of action by allowing Tate’s creations to be imbued by Hexe’s magic with the foreshadowing of a cryptic prophecy, half of which is yet to be fulfilled. Now that has whetted my appetite for the sequel. I was in a perpetual state of amazement reading The Right Hand of Magic, it was engrossing, fueled by Collins’ storytelling verve, pitch perfect, and with all the elements that urban fantasy buffs hunger for. Loved it!
A Fiendishly Bookish Review (and one grumpy cat) (less)
There’s a lot going on in Ascension, the first book in the debut Dark Breed series by writing duo Heather Waters and Laura Barone so much so, that it could be a challenge keeping it all straight. But while the genre-pushing first novel which blends both paranormal and mythology has great bones, it fails to live up to its potential.
Ascension takes off at breakneck speed at a critical point in time. The world has fallen into chaos when the gates of Tartarus are opened, and countless Dark Breeds (Lychens, Leeches, Shyfters, Demons) roam, maim, and wreak general havoc on the world. The last line of defense is the Order of the Ancients who are fending off the masses and protecting humanity as best as they can. For all intents and purposes it’s Game Over in a big way.
The first objective of the Order and its tracers is to save those humans who have been marked as Chosen-those destined to replace the most critical of the supernatural hierarchy. Without the Chosen to replace certain gods and goddess, rule could cease to exist, and anarchy, even chaos would ensue. The world has already gone to hell-in-a-hand-basket but without the gods…well…annihilation. The second is to find the key to Tartarus, lock the gates, and “deal” with the conspirators who brought apocalypse to the world.
Ascension’s heroine Kyana bears the brunt of both worlds being a former Dark Breed who was recruited into the Order for her unusual talents. As the last of her kind, Kyana has an advantage over the other Order soldiers…she is faster, more ruthless, and she possesses the dual strength of both Lychen and Vampyre biology within her. But those very traits color her personality as well and as she favors her colder Vampyre side, the chasm of human understanding is an even larger obstacle for her to overcome.
While Waters and Barone have essentially met the prerequisites of crafting Kyana as the quintessential paranormal heroine she appears to be an empty shell, missing the internal substance crucial for a reader to bond with her. Her background is glossed over in such a way, that it almost seems an afterthought. There are interesting glimpses of her though…her early years spent as an abused young wife to a Sultan, and her eventual transformation by her sire, and her longing for Ryker which transforms from a roll in the hay to something more substantial. But it’s simply not enough.
With the reader unable to experience who Kyana really is through her eyes-to know who she is as a character, then there is no opportunity for the reader to relate to her, to bond with her, or any other element of the story. It is that critical chemistry that makes it all come together, that makes a story memorable-and it is lacking here.
What the Sable Grace duo does do well is maintain a balance between both Ryker and Kyana and their growing relationship as they journey from Above to Below to hunt down the key to Tartarus. As his yang to her yin, Ryker possesses an almost austere presence in the face of Kyana’s deficits. You get a real feel for his character, his caution, his premeditation, and his patience.
On the whole, Ascension is fertile ground, has an interesting premise, but doesn’t fulfill expectations. By the last quarter of the book, more substance has been woven in, and there is a real connection that develops between the characters that hadn’t manifested early on: Kyana’s love for her best friend Haven forces her to make some do or die choices. And Ryker strikes a deal with his father, Ares to wrest an easy death for Kyana when she violates one of the Orders most sacred covenants. Artemis shows some benevolence. And last but not least, Waters and Barone prove they have a few tricks up their sleeves as well…especially with the surprise on the last page which is a great lead in to the next book.
A Fiendishly Bookish Review (and one grumpy cat) (less)