Two members of The Ranting Dragon staff, Stephan and Garrett, were able to get their hands on ARCs of one of our most anticipated books for January, Control Point by debuting author Myke Cole. A military fantasy whose premise can be summarized as “X-Men crossed with Black Hawk Down,” Control Point is one hell of a roller coaster ride with very little down time.
The bigger conflict Don’t let that X-Men comparison throw you off, though. Modern geek culture often takes us to the beginning of a time when people start developing superpowers. Just think of the various examples: your average superhero comic—of course including X-Men—as well as various television shows like Heroes, The 4400, and Smallville. In Control Point, too, Cole introduces us to a world where most everyone has the potential to have become “Latent”: develop magical abilities. However, the conflicts that define many similar stories have seemingly already been fought. Before the time of Control Point, the Geneva Amendment had been changed to include magic, and the various governments have taken control.
Beneath the surface, however, a much greater conflict is still brewing—a conflict that Cole manages to capture with amazing skill. Enter Lieutenant Oscar Britton, an Army man who has seen firsthand what happens to Selfers, Latents who don’t turn themselves in to the US Army. When Oscar himself suddenly comes Latent of a prohibited magic school, he knows his options: run or die. Through the eyes of Oscar, who is, refreshingly, the only viewpoint character in Control Point, we meet a world with new rules in which the militaries of the world controls sorcerers as if they are tools and slaves.
A question of morality A military man at heart, Oscar’s viewpoint are a device well-employed by Cole to show the true depths of the conflict. After all, isn’t the US military supposed to be the good side? But what about his rights as a citizen who didn’t choose to come Latent? Oscar’s and many other personalities are portrayed with great skill and plausibility, their struggles realistic and easy to identify with. From start to finish, the inner conflict of Oscar—and ultimately the greater conflict of the book—is written elegantly, sucking the reader into the middle of it, trying their best to help Oscar figure a way out of the bad situations he’s gotten himself into. The moral issues in Cole’s well-crafted world are intriguing and intense.
Stephan couldn’t help but read a lot of Cole, a military man himself, in his main character and the story at large. The prose is succinct and to the point, like a military briefing, filled with military terms and slang. This writing assists in creating an extraordinary atmosphere as well as speeds up the pace of the story, hardly ever slowing it down. However, it seems brave and admirable that a man like Cole would write a novel that questions governments and military. This, we can only applaud.
Garrett had the opportunity to chat with Myke a great deal during New York Comic Con 2011, and much of Control Point reflect the opinions he expressed during that time. The military is both a curse and a blessing; they may have done some disreputable things in the past, but they also have the potential to do great good, and this mindset is reflected greatly within Control Point. It is a book which greatly reflects the quality of the man who wrote it, and both are of the highest caliber.
Imaginative in its simplicity The magic itself is well-crafted also. It is captivating in its simplicity—the Latent can develop one of a possible nine abilities, four of which are prohibited—yet delightfully creative in its application—every ability comes with a series of skills, and can be used for endless possibilities. The real value, and in it Cole’s real imaginative powers, is in the battles. Imagine military operations and infiltrations where the soldiers are also sorcerers and can fight with both conventional and unconventional means, narrated through Cole’s impressive eye for factual detail. It’s bloody amazing!
Why should you read this novel? Control Point is an intense masterwork of military fantasy that grips you from start to finish until your eyes practically devour the words as you approach the thrilling ending. With the spectacular world Cole created and the significant amount of foreshadowed questions yet unanswered, the potential for the rest of the Shadow Ops series is substantial. Whether you’re a fan of superhero fiction or military thrillers—heck, even if you like your epic fantasy with elves and goblins—we absolutely recommend you give Control Point a read when it comes out on January 31. The year has just begun, and here already is a debut that will be hard to top....more
The first installment in a new series by Devon Monk (author of the Allie Beckstrom novels), Dead Iron is a wonderfully fresh and intriguing combination of steampunk technology and western action.
In a world running on steam and gears, science has taken the forefront. However, tales of magic still circulate; magic, and something largely regarded as superstition, a mysterious realm tied to the mortal plane: The Strange.
Cedar Hunt, teacher by schooling but bounty hunter by trade, has come to the Oregon frontier carrying both his guilt over his brother’s death and a curse of lycanthropy which transforms his body and mind into that of a wolf’s during the full moon. Mae Lindson, a renegade witch who left her coven due to her unorthodox methods, hunts for her husband’s killer. And Shard LeFel, railroad tycoon come to Hallelujah, Oregon promising a better tomorrow, is not what he seems to be. In fact, he is something Strange, banished to the mortal plane until his death.
When Cedar learns from a trio of brothers that his brother may yet live, no price is too high to pay to find him. In return for the information, he must track down the Holder, a device created by the mad inventors of the Strange. However, the Holder is in the hands of LeFel, who believes it the key to releasing him from the curse of mortality. But to activate the device, LeFel needs three final victims — a child, a cursed man, and a witch — and he already has two of the three in his possession. It is a race against the clock for Cedar to uncover the mystery surrounding Shard LeFel, the town of Hallelujah, and himself.
Intricate cogs and characters The character work in the novel is absolutely wonderful. For the major players, enough is seen of who they are and what makes them tick (sometimes literally!) that they are believable as actual characters. Yet there are questions left about each, shadows left to explore, that makes one want to continue reading to discover their secrets. A prime example of the fantastic character work is Cedar Hunt. Though he is a bounty hunter, he has his morals — he will not hunt to kill. However, he is quick (though not without his doubts) to toss these morals out when he discovers his brother might still live.
A well-oiled machine Apart from the characters, the aspect of the novel that really sold it for me was the plot. It had the right mix of fast-paced action coupled with suspense to hold my attention through the the entirety of the book (even though much of my reading was done in the pit at the theatre!). The division of the storyline between the major players is very balanced, and each is engaging. Not only was the plot of the novel tight and concise, it also laid a few foundatoins for series-spanning subplots — a great selling point for me.
Shakes, stirs, and serves This is a true genre mash-up, and as my first real foray into steampunk novels, Dead Iron delivered, and did it well. While it may seem that the western, steampunk, and fantasy genres are simply smashed together, the three genres have actually been closely interwoven, much like the many tiny gears in a watch or a clock. It is a polished, well-organized world, and I loved every moment of it. And as a setting for a new series, I believe it holds a lot promise; while the reader may see the finished facade and some of the underlying foundations of the world, there are enough aspects left unexplained to pique the curiosity of the reader.
The downside to this is that the world almost overpowers the main plot. Almost, but not quite. For me, a novel is usually more about the characters and how they make it through their given circumstances, and that held true for Dead Iron. However, I did find myself wanting to know more about things happening back East, in China, and the rest of the world, which is where I think the series is probably heading.
Why should you read this book? It’s something fresh, new, and exciting. Instead of being a steampunk novel with aspects of fantasy and western, it reads more like a fantasy novel with steampunk technology. The characters are engaging, the plot lines are twisty but fairly easy to follow, and the premise is original. This is a fantastic start to a promising new series....more
Throne of Jade is the second title in Naomi Novik’s refreshing and original Temeraire series, which centers around the French Revolution of the early nineteenth century and the war with Napoleon Bonaparte—but with dragons! The series follows the adventures (and misadventures) of a dragon named Temeraire, as well as his captain, Will Lawrence.
A continuation of what came before Throne of Jade picks up where the cliffhanger of the first installment, His Majesty’s Dragon, left the reader hanging. (Har har, see what I did there?) However, this does not in any way mean that a new reader will have trouble understanding the storyline. On the contrary, it works well both as a standalone novel and as a part of a larger whole.
The Chinese have requested that Temeraire be returned to China, as his egg was originally to be a gift to Bonaparte before it was intercepted by Captain Lawrence. To appease the delegation sent to Britain, Temeraire and Lawrence embark on a journey to China — a journey which sends them down and around the southernmost tip of Africa, across to the Asian mainland. However, on reaching China, the protagonists are embroiled in the peril and intrigue of Chinese society — a society which, unlike Britain’s, accepts and promotes draconic inclusion.
Temeraire’s growth also continues, and it becomes apparent that he is not only unique in breed but also in mind amongst the dragons of the Western world. His craving for knowledge is insatiable and he picks up everything very quickly, from mathematics to foreign languages. However, the other dragons are not to be discounted, as they all have character and history of their own, and the interactions between Temeraire and the others is truly where the story shines.
The story lies over the ocean The one aspect of this novel which diminished it in my sight was the sheer amount of story which occurred at sea, on the journey to China. Much like everyone aboard the HMS Alliance, I was thankful to finally reach solid land after so much time at sea. Not that it was badly written — not at all. Much of my disenchantment came from the fact that most of the action and conflict during the journey centered around the tensions between the British and Chinese parties, with the occasional scuffle on the deck. Indeed, nearly 200 pages (half of the length of the book!) are devoted to the voyage from Britain to China. During my read, I probably put down the book three or four times to read something else, due to the inability of the storyline to keep my attention while at sea.
But look at that comeback, ladies and gentlemen! However, once the story actually reached China, events picked up. Indeed, there is hardly a dull moment, what with the political intrigue and conspiracies, not to mention the cultural adaptations Lawrence and Temeraire must make. The action is engaging, the plot lines twisty, and revelations are made which will impact the rest of the series — for better or for worse!
Truly, the finale of this novel took me by surprise, and in a very good way. It wrapped up the main story of the novel very nicely, but left enough of an opening for the reader to want the next book now. The underlying plot lines of the series also get a boost, as our protagonists have been influenced by Chinese ideas and customs, as well as the contrast between the ways of China and the ways of the West.
Why should you read this book? Read it for the story. Whether you’re just starting Temeraire or have been with us since book one, the story is captivating and the premise original. It is well worth the time of reading. Read it too for the action. The action sequences are truly well-written, be it the action of a pitched battle or that of political fencing over a dinner table. Lastly, read it for the dragons! Temeraire is often too damn clever for his own good, and it is so much fun just to watch him grow and mature. Well, there you have it, folks! And if you enjoy Throne of Jade, be sure to check out book three in the series, Black Powder War....more
As the sixth installment in the Greywalker series by Kat Richardson, Downpour continues the story of Seattle-based P. I. Harper Blaine. Harper is no ordinary private investigator, however. When she died for two minutes earlier in her life, Harper became a Greywalker—a human able to interact with and manipulate the strange plane of energy, magic, and ghosts known as the Grey.
Original and unique The thing that initially captivated me about this series is the unique system it uses for magic and the paranormal. Not since Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy have I encountered such an original idea; what Mistborn’s system is to epic fantasy, the system in the Greywalker novels is to urban fantasy. The Grey is home to ghosts, of places as well as people. As a Greywalker, Harper is able to enter the Grey and slip through time to these ghostly pasts. It truly puts a new spin on the entire private investigator angle, and is utterly fascinating, not to mention fluid, as the shape of it changes from location to location in the physical world, making things all sorts of fun and twisty!
Change of scenery In Downpour, Harper is drawn out of her comfort zone of Seattle to investigate a decades old mystery which leads her to the Sunset Lakes, west of Seattle in Washington state. I personally love it when authors take characters and throw them into new situations, and this book is an example of why. Not only is the environment different from that Harper is used to working in, but the shape of the Grey is also different in the Sunset Lakes area. Watching Harper adjust to the changes was truly a joy to observe as she went about it in a complete out-of-the-box way.
Real troubles equal real characters The thing that truly sold this novel for me, though, was the character development—particularly of the two main characters: Harper and her boyfriend, Quinton. Both drawn out of their comfort zones, it is interesting to see the adapting they must do. Harper must cope with the changing of the Grey while Quinton—your smarter-than-average tech geek—gets thrown into situations requiring physical action. Specifically, violent physical action. How they handle themselves in the various situations, both socially and mentally, was a treat to read.
More than that, however, the tensions within their relationship really made me connect with the characters. As Harper is drawn away from Seattle, and subsequently Quinton, Quinton himself becomes more withdrawn and distant. The confrontation of these difficulties truly makes the pair feel real to the reader, and drew a number of strong emotional reactions from me—something which rarely occurs when I read a book.
Why should you read this book? For newcomers to the series, I recommend starting with book one, Greywalker. While a reader could pick up Downpour not having read the rest of the series and understand most everything, you must have read the other books to get the fullest experience from the novel. However, I recommend the series in general for its wonderful character work and its sheer uniqueness and originality.
For longtime fans and readers of the series, Downpour is an absolute must-read. The plot follows through from the fifth book, but the true value lies within the characters. It’s definitely a journey to savor as Harper and Quinton must rediscover who they are when forced out of their comfort zones. The secondary characters are no slouches either, and the mystery surrounding the Sunset Lakes is absolutely captivating. Like the rest of the series, not a single word goes to waste with every action and reaction being used to fourth the story, a definite plus. The Grey continues to be unique, the series subplots get a boost, and the banter is fun to watch. This series is one of the few which truly feels as if it could exist in our world, and Downpour does nothing to dissuade me of that opinion. If anything, it reaffirms it and then some....more
Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, has been a lot of things in his life: friend, enemy, apprentice, teacher, guardian, avenger, victim, and lover; not to mention shot, stabbed, bruised, and beaten. But dead? That’s a new one in his book.
When an unknown killer puts a bullet through Harry’s chest and leaves him to die in the cold waters of Lake Michigan, Harry thinks it’s all over. But even dead, he can’t seem to catch a break. Without a body, his powers, or any way to interact with anyone, Harry is sent back to the mortal world to solve his own murder. And if he fails, three of his friends will experience unbelievable agony and torment. It’s a literal race of life and death, and Harry’s not the only specter in Chicago. There are those who remember his habit for knocking off the bad guys and who are itching for some payback. It’s a game for keeps, and Harry has to pull off the ultimate trick—without magic. If he can’t… he will face eternity as just another lost soul.
Pushes the limits of Harry’s worlds Ghost Story pushes and expands the boundaries of The Dresden Files, especially in the worldbuilding. The novel takes Harry to a new place—a place where he cannot use magic to simply smash or burn his way through his problems. While not technically a new physical location, the metaphysical and magical rules have changed—for the rules of being a ghost are largely dependent upon the ghost itself. Where before the reader saw what happens to spiritual constructs when they go up against the mortal world from the mortal side of things, now they get to see the flip side: what happens when you cannot physically interact with the world without running the risk of oblivion. It’s a definite shift in the setting of the series—and it only gets more twisty and mind-blowing from there.
Plot games A longtime reader of Butcher’s, I have come to expect the labyrinth of plot twists which he throws into his books. However, even though I was expecting the idea of plot twists, the specifics of most of them proceeded to blow my mind. Butcher is one of those authors who will plant a small but crucial detail in the second book of a series, but said detail won’t become relevant until book eleven. The twists in Ghost Story definitely reflect this mindset, and even though the story is ultimately about Harry’s experiences, the overall plot of the series gets thrown for some loops, too.
Secondary characters with primary problems Due largely in part to the protagonist’s inability to affect most of the world, much of the novel revolves around the secondary characters. While the previous novel (Changes) was, in Butcher’s words, “building up the model city of Tokyo and then finally [getting] to strap on the Godzilla suit and knock it all down,”[Source] Ghost Story is the true game changer of the series. In the time between Changes and Ghost Story, secondary characters had to step up to the plate, and in Ghost Story, many of the true changes in character are revealed. Some characters have taken turns into despair while others have found their element and come into their own. Yet others have lost themselves, making deals and doing deeds they never would have contemplated before. All of these come together in the novel, with some truly awe-inspiring character development.
A gorgeously flawed protagonist Harry Dresden, until recently, has been seen as somewhat of a proverbial white knight. Sure, he has his taints of darkness, but they pale in comparison to his more idealistic traits. In Ghost Story, however, Harry has the time to spend on reflection and realizes that he may have become what he had always fought against. And yet, if given the chance to go back and redo his choices, Harry realizes that he would make the exact same decisions—and to hell with the consequences. (Incidentally, that’s sort of what happened because of his choices, but that’s neither here nor there.) This mule-headed stubbornness to stick by his own decisions—even when he knows that they were morally wrong and largely unjustifiable—makes for a beautifully flawed protagonist, something I love to see in any book.
Heart-wrenching and tear-jerking While reviews are personal reactions by their very nature, they are often more detached and objective in delivery—at least, that’s what I attempt to do in my reviews. But I wouldn’t be doing this novel justice if I didn’t throw in my personal reactions. At any rate, Ghost Story is the most emotionally wrenching novel I have read to date. The cliffhanger at the end of Changes left me a gibbering idiot for hours after I finished it, but the sheer emotional weight of Ghost Story makes Changes pale in comparison. Butcher’s writing truly made me feel for the characters, for what they were going through, and, in total, I spent probably about a third of the book in tears. Some of the twists left me gaping at the pages in stunned horror, but always turning the page to find out what happened next. The climactic sequence at the end of the novel had me crying, sitting in stunned silence, and ready to throw the book at the wall in anger, all in equal measures. The plights of the characters, these characters who I’ve grown up with since I was thirteen, truly grabbed at my heartstrings, and yanked on them a number of times. Some novels have been able to leave me staring at the page, but none of them have ever pulled so much of an emotional reaction from me. And that ability to draw such reactions from a reader is, in my opinion, the definition of truly great writing.
So, why should you read this book? For newcomers to the series: you can read this book… But, you won’t understand a lot of it. Even with the previous novel, a newcomer to the series could read it and not be totally lost. But there has been so much backstory and worldbuilding over the first twelve books in the series which comes into play in Ghost Story that a new reader would probably be overwhelmed. Butcher himself said that Ghost Story is “the LEAST stand-aloney book of the series” and that “skipping ahead to it will get [a new reader] a lot of stuff that is inexplicable.”[Source] So, as with any series, I recommend you begin with book one. In this case, Storm Front. This series has been in the works for over ten years, and Butcher’s writing style has greatly improved since he began. While there isn’t a review for Storm Front on The Ranting Dragon, I urge readers to make it to book four (Summer Knight) before deciding to continue with the series or to drop it, as things really begin to pick up speed there.
Now, for those who have read along since the beginning and made it through to the end of Changes? I’m probably preaching to the choir. Because in my mind, how can you not read Ghost Story after that cliffhanger? That being said, if you have stuck with the series but haven’t yet picked up Ghost Story, I strongly urge you to do so. The tone and setting are completely different from the rest of the series, and the worldbuilding and character developments are simply breathtaking. Harry’s world is put through its paces, and I personally cannot wait to see where book fourteen, Cold Days, leads us....more
The first installment in a new urban fantasy series from Roc Books, A Devil in the Details is K. A. Stewart’s debut novel. Jesse James Dawson is just your average American samurai with a wife and child. Well, okay, maybe being a samurai isn’t exactly average, but neither is putting your soul on the line to save those who get in trouble with demons. And that’s what Jesse does as a member of a loose organization of champions—an organization whose most experienced members are getting killed off at a higher rate than usual. Someone changed the rules, and Jesse has to figure them out if he doesn’t want his next battle to be his last…
Original, yet a tad familiar The premise of A Devil in the Details is quite original and intriguing. Stewart put a lot of thought into the magic systems and demonic order, and it shows. The various types of demons are glossed over, shown but not fully explained, leaving much to the reader’s imagination while setting firm groundwork for future expansion. The order of champions of which Jesse is member is similarly developed, leaving the reader with questions.
However, the worldbuilding feels a tad familiar. It is original, yes, but it’s not a setup which leaps out and just strikes you with its originality. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing; it just is. As urban fantasies go, this is one of the more subtle in terms of the circumstances, where it is extremely easy for the rest of the world to ignore the supernatural. It’s a different flavor of urban fantasy, and one I’ll continue to read with great interest.
A well-developed cast The true beauty of the novel lies in the character work. For the first novel in a series (and a debut novel, no less!), there is an obscene amount of character development. From Jesse’s observations, keen details are acknowledged about those he interacts with. Of special import are Jesse’s wife and daughter, Mira and Annabelle. Much of Jesse’s time is spent with his family—something of a rarity for an urban fantasy protagonist—and it has all of the ups and downs of a real family. Jesse’s “boss” in the organization of champions, Ivan, provides much of the comedic relief in conjunction with Jesse’s wit.
Demonic goodness My favorite part of the novel, however, lies not in the world or the characters, but rather in the demonic entities. Specifically Jesse’s personal demon, Axel. Initially coming across as a more garden-variety demon, Axel takes some serious turns in personality throughout the plot—which drives Jesse up the wall. However, while being a demon, Axel isn’t completely of the “I want your soul” mindset. He attempts to both aid and annoy Jesse, and succeeds with flying colors on the latter. It’s a beautiful piece of humanity within the demonic system, and I can’t wait to see where it leads.
Why should you read this book? A Devil in the Details isn’t the most flamboyant book out there. Nor is it the most droll. It finds a happy medium and stays there fairly well. Exceptionally well, for a debut novel. The premise is original but not overwhelming, and the character work is absolutely wonderful. All in all, a very good start to Stewart’s writing career....more
Magic, supernatural powers and spell books. Rogue magicians and otherworldly predators—not to mention a secret society of sorcerers devoted to hunting them down. And ex-convict Raymond Lilly, right in the middle of it all—as a driver to one of the Twenty Palaces Society members, Annalise, who wants nothing more than to kill Ray herself. But when Annalise is incapacitated, Ray must complete her assignment on his own—armed with nothing but a single spell and his nearly nonexistent knowledge of the world he’s stepped into. Welcome to the world of author Harry Connolly’s debut novel, Child of Fire.
Gritty and dark One of the things that impressed me the most about this book is the world Connolly brings to the table. It’s a sinister setting, one where everything can be dangerous—even in the face of magic. The plot is dark and twisted, with malevolent forces lurking in every shadow. The violence is so gritty that you can feel it, almost as if you might get something in your eye just by reading it. It’s an engaging ride that you just can’t get enough of.
A fresh face in an expanding genre Urban fantasy is one of the fastest-growing genres today. However, in the flood of new authors, and even among those who are established in their careers, Harry Connolly stands out. His world is one of the most compelling I’ve read in a long time, and it sticks out for its sheer amount of grittiness. Another thing that really appeals to me about his writing is that Connolly is totally unafraid of putting his protagonist through hell, and he really makes us connect with Ray Lilly.
As good as the premise and delivery of his story is, it is still apparent that this is Connolly’s first novel. The tone and mood of the book are impeccable, but at times, Connolly’s prose felt stilted to me. It didn’t bother me enough to distract me from the story, but it happened enough to make me blink a couple times. However, despite the little bumps in the tracks, the roller coaster of a tale keeps you engaged—and does it well.
An antagonistic protagonist As good as the worldbuilding and story are, the true value of Child of Fire lies in the protagonist, Ray Lilly. An ex-convict, he has no qualms about violence and illegalities; he just doesn’t want to go back to prison. As a protagonist, he isn’t so much flawed as cracked. He’s not a white knight, and he knows it. On top of all that, Ray is probably the most morally ambiguous protagonist I’ve seen in an urban fantasy novel to date. When given the choice between what’s right and what’s best for himself, Ray’s decisions are sometimes surprising, but never without thought. Connolly gives us a beautifully crafted character with imperfections so genuine that Ray truly feels real to a reader.
Why should you read this book? This novel is an exhilarating addition to the urban fantasy genre. Between the world and the plot, the little bumps in Connolly’s writing are barely noticed. Add in the beautifully flawed protagonist of Ray Lilly, and you’re given a winning combination for a fantastic read. This novel is one for fans of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files or for any fantasy enthusiast who enjoys a tale of gritty realism, action, and suspense....more
The fifth book in New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, One Salt Sea picks up one month after the events of book four, Late Eclipses. A changeling (part fae, part human) knight turned Countess, October “Toby” Daye’s life is finally beginning to take on some semblance of “normal”—she’s becoming more comfortable with her role as nobility, actually dating again, and her life is starting to look up. That is, until war is threatened when someone kidnaps the children of the Duchess of the undersea courts of Saltmist. Toby only has three days to find the kids, clear her Queen’s name, and stave off a war, a feat made even more difficult by the fact that someone is determined stop her—someone who isn’t afraid to break the rules. And the stakes are much higher than usual—as the back cover blurb states, “When Faerie goes to war, not everyone will walk away.”
Hitting her stride In previous novels, the storyline has seemed rushed, like McGuire simply couldn’t take the time needed to fully express the story. While Toby is almost always working against a deadline, the sense of rushing seemed almost too much and took away from the overall impact of the story. This was one of my major critiques of McGuire’s writing and the stories she crafted in the earlier installments.
However, in book four, McGuire seemed to find a good pacing for the narrative, and I’m happy to say that she settles into that pacing in One Salt Sea. The suspense of working on a deadline is there, but the plot and story do not seem rushed. It’s a relatively steady pace which works phenomenally well for Toby’s story, and I am very pleased with the results, as One Salt Sea quickly became my favorite of Toby’s (mis)adventures.
Worldbuilder extraordinaire One of the things I love about this series is the sheer amount of worldbuilding done within each novel. In a lot of instances, McGuire pulls directly from mythologies, and her research is evident. At the beginning of each book, a pronunciation guide is also provided, and before each read, I will just spend ten minutes going through the list and saying words out loud.
Yes, I’m a total geek.
At any rate, the worldbuilding in One Salt Sea is more expansive than in most of the previous novels, largely due to the new realm Toby encounters—the Saltmist, home of the undersea Fae. McGuire’s research shines through again, and she brings a feeling of correctness to this world that is so different from anything we’ve seen in Toby’s story thus far.
Character connections One of the things that struck me the most about One Salt Sea, as opposed to the rest of the novels, was the degree to which I connected with the secondary characters. While the secondary characters have been developed in previous books, I hadn’t felt as much of a connection with them as I did in One Salt Sea. This is partly due to becoming more and more familiar with the characters, but can also be attributed to the writing style and content of the novel. As such, there was one character in particular whom I began to warm up to I hadn’t really care for before. Yet even then, I still had my biases against them—I simply began to accept them and the direction McGuire was writing them. And once I finally began to accept that, what happened? Like any good author, McGuire killed them off. (Seanan, I both loved and hated you in that moment.)
Apart from the secondary character developments, we get a number of more introspective moments from the protagonist herself. These moments serve to develop some absolutely delicious internal conflicts as well as external character tensions. I am personally looking forward to where they will go, and how they will affect Toby in the future.
Why should you read this book? Read this book for the action. Read this book for the worldbuilding. But most of all, read this book for the characters and the story. McGuire truly hits her stride in this novel, and it shows, both in pacing as well as her character work.
If you’re a newcomer to the series, this book can stand on its own quite nicely. However, as with any series, I recommend starting at the beginning, Rosemary and Rue, with the understanding that as with most series, this one takes a few books to get up to speed....more
The first in a new urban fantasy series by Cherie Priest, author of Boneshaker and Dreadnought, Bloodshot introduces us to Raylene Pendle, Seattle-based vampire and world-renowned thief under the alias “Cheshire Red”. Raylene is a loner who doesn’t play well with others, but when a fellow vampire comes to her with a case, she takes it—and then finds that she’s in deeper than she thought. For Uncle Sam doesn’t play well with others, either, and Raylene’s client is asking for the classified documents on the secret biological experiments which left him blind. It’s a ride filled with the supernatural, men in black, and drag queens—and it’s a heck of a lot fun.
More vampires? Really? Yes, really. But Raylene isn’t a vampire of the “standard” pop-culture-issued variant which feed on sex and virgins and whatnot. No, she’s a vampire who actually feeds on blood—a novel concept, I know. (Har, a pun!) Granted, I was still apprehensive when first picking the book up, as I’m not typically a fan of most works centering around vampires nowadays. But I was very pleasantly surprised with Bloodshot, as Priest gives a very detailed version of vampirism but doesn’t go over the top with it. Her vampires are undead, yes, but they still have bodily processes, still need sleep, and still bleed. Not to mention they drink actual blood, avoid the sun if at all possible, and have the heightened senses and physical prowess one would expect from a supernatural being. All in all, a very attractive style of vampirism.
Rogue gone wild. Raylene is a vampire gone rogue—she doesn’t affiliate herself with any of the vampire Houses, the main power structures in vampiric society. However, Priest puts a spin on the “going rogue” motif: Raylene is a high-profile, internationally wanted thief—and is thought to be a guy. That extra tidbit doesn’t come into play much in this first novel, but I believe it will resurface later in Raylene’s story. That being said, I was quite taken with the concept of the protagonist being a thief, and thoroughly enjoyed the paces Priest put her through.
Vamps just wanna have fun… Well, okay, maybe not so much. But that’s what this novel was, for me: sheer fun. And what made it fun was the way Priest wrote her characters. Raylene is a character who loves to ramble, and more often than not she will digress on her current topic only to realize it and stop—only to pick up the tangent at a later time. The banter is a lot of fun, even if it’s only between Raylene and herself most of the time.
The thing that really sold the novel as fun for me, though, was Raylene’s interaction with a drag queen named Sister Rose. Raylene’s commentary is hilarious and priceless. This isn’t to say that Priest is making fun of any community of people, because that is not the case at all. It’s a character’s reaction to her situation—and Sister Rose gives as good as she gets. It’s quite the wild and fun ride.
Why should you read this book? Read it for a new taste of vampires. Vampires have gotten to be so commonplace in contemporary fantasy settings today that they’ve lost a lot of their flair. Priest reinvigorated the vampire motif for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed Bloodshot despite my initial apprehensions. And, more importantly, read it for the sheer enjoyment of it. Bloodshot is one heck of a fun novel, and I finished it only to want to pick up the second book, Hellbent, immediately. This novel is a definite urban fantasy favorite of mine, and I look forward to where Priest will take us in the future....more
Game of Cages, the second installment in the Twenty Palaces series by Harry Connolly, returns to the story of ex-convict Ray Lilly months after the events detailed in book one, Child of Fire (see our review here). When a group of wealthy individuals gather to bid on a predator capable of destroying all life on earth, the sorcerers of the Twenty Palaces Society mobilize, and, as assistant to one of the sorcerers, Ray is caught in the scramble. Sent to investigate the auction with only one spell to his name, he finds that the predator has escaped and the society’s most powerful enemies are desperate to recapture it.
Home Improvement: Author Edition My one main quibble with book one of the series was the sometimes stilted prose of Connolly’s writing. However, I came across no instances of the same within Game of Cages. Instead, I found a tone and style which suits the story content very well, and an impeccable sense of tension and suspense. Connolly’s writing has grown and matured, and it is quite exciting to witness.
Wrestling With Morals—An Ambiguity Exclusive! Much like in the first novel, Ray faces a number of decisions where his morals come into play. But unlike the first novel, he finds he questions himself a lot more. He knows what’s right and what he should do, but he also knows what he needs to do to ensure his further survival—and the two aren’t always one and the same. One of the things I truly love about Ray Lilly is that he makes mistakes. He’s not a paragon of a protagonist, one who miraculously makes the right decisions every time. No, he’s definitely a learn-as-you-go type, though much of that is forced upon him by the Society—which remains ever-mysterious through most of the novel.
Worldbuilding: The Expansion Pack Within Game of Cages, Connolly deepens Ray’s world. His originality is brought forth time and time again, from the alien predators to the magic, from the various parties encountered to the political structures of the Society, and beyond. Connolly’s world is a fresh and new one in the urban fantasy genre, and keeps me coming back for more. His creativity with the various predators is engaging, and the magic system is such that it seems to the reader to become simpler and more complex simultaneously. It’s a truly engaging style of writing Connolly has found, and he settles into his pacing in Game of Cages.
Why should you read this book? If you’re like me, you absolutely need to know more about Ray Lilly and the Twenty Palaces Society after finishing Child of Fire. I’m happy to say that Game of Cages delivers, and does it very well. The ambiguity feels so very realistic in terms of morality, further developing Ray’s character to depths we haven’t seen before. The worldbuilding isn’t too extensive, but there is enough original material introduced to capture a reader’s attention—capture, and hold it. So, if you’ve read Child of Fire, go out, buy this book, read it, love it. If you haven’t read the first novel, then go do the same thing with Child of Fire. This is not a series any urban fantasy enthusiast should miss out on....more
Three and a half millennia before Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side and the rise of Palpatine’s Galactic Empire, the Republic finds itself on the brink of war with another threat: the Sith Empire. However, when a third party comes forward with a proposition neither side can refuse, things begin to heat up. Centering around a Jedi Padawan, a Sith apprentice, a disgraced commando, and an undercover operative ultimately looking out for number one, Fatal Alliance sets the stage for Star Wars: The Old Republic, the upcoming MMORPG from BioWare and LucasArts.
A fresh new plot Before I actually began reading this novel, I was interested in discovering how it would be different from other novels in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. In the past, novels centering on the search for an unknown object usually contained the same motifs: multiple parties are interested, multiple parties fight over the object, and one party walks away with the prize. Obviously, this is highly generalized, but it serves to exemplify my slight apprehension at the initial premise of Fatal Alliance.
However, I was very pleasantly surprised in the direction this novel went. Sure, it began with the multiple parties coming together because of an interesting unknown object, but it deviates from there. In Fatal Alliance, the object of interest becomes the primary threat—to all involved parties, not just a single one. And not only was there that twist within the novel, but the threat becomes so great that it causes Jedi and Sith, Republic and Empire, to join forces in order to have even a hope of a chance at survival.
Seemed over-simplified at times The one thing which detracted from this novel, for me, was the author’s style of writing. Maybe it is due to the fact that I haven’t read a Star Wars novel in a while, or that I’m used to Timothy Zahn’s writing with the Star Wars universe. Whatever the reason, Williams’ writing style seemed… simplistic to me. It’s not that it was bad writing, because it wasn’t. The best way to describe my impression of his style is as a less-than-adult reading level style of writing. As I said, his writing isn’t bad; it’s just simple.
Character depth is a go—dive, dive, dive The thing that made Fatal Alliance a truly good read, though, was Williams’ characters. For characters who are essentially one-shot characters for these novels, Williams brought an astonishing level of depth and complexity to them. Of special note is the inner turmoil the Jedi Padawan and the Sith apprentice go through while interacting with their respective sworn enemies. It’s not often that fans of the Star Wars universe get to see old-school Jedi and Sith working together, and I don’t think fans will be disappointed with how things develop in regard to the alliance.
In addition to the Jedi and Sith extremes, I enjoyed the character development of the undercover operative, despite my dislike of the character (I’m a Force-user fanboy at heart). As the alliance forms, it is very interesting to see how the operative’s focus and goals shift from one political spectrum to another—and from there to sheer survival. Throw in a possible romantic relationship, and this character development shakes, stirs, and serves, and does it very well.
Why should you read this book? Despite my misgivings about the author’s writing style, Fatal Alliance is really a very well-rounded novel. The characters are enjoyable and fresh, and the development they undergo is a sight to behold. However, you should read this novel for the story. This is a new and original plot line for the Star Wars universe and it does a marvelous job in setting the mood for the upcoming video game from BioWare and LucasArts....more
Cherie Priest is back with another installment in the tale of Raylene Pendle, vampire thief extraordinaire. Picking up largely where the previous novel, Bloodshot, left off, we find that Raylene, Ian, Adrian, and the two kids have settled into a comfortable pace of life together. However, largely due to the vampiric nature of two of the occupants of Raylene’s building—Raylene herself included—this status quo does not last. For, even as Raylene takes on a job of hunting down some very specific magical relics, Ian receives word that his former House is trying to kill him. Everything hits the fan, and we once again experience a roller coaster of twists and turns as Raylene and Adrian hit the road to save their own little world from collapsing.
A rip-roaring good time Like its predecessor, Hellbent is a fun little story which sweeps the readers off of their feet and puts them at the front of a speeding amusement park ride of their choosing. While there isn’t as much physical action in this novel as there was in Bloodshot, Priest makes up for it with character development, especially within the relationship between Raylene and Adrian. These developments make both Raylene and Adrian seem more real and work well to counter the more action-based sequences of the novel. In retrospect, it almost seems like a video game RPG, where you finish a set of quests and have new dialogue options with your companions. This is neither good nor bad; it just is.
In conjunction with the development of the characters, the banter between characters is absolutely stellar. Even characters who read primarily as plot devices get their fair share—just look at the interactions Raylene has with her main client, Horace, and you’ll see what I mean.
What I didn’t like In my review of Bloodshot, I didn’t have anything very negative to say about the novel, and was thus asked why the book didn’t merit a five-star rating. To put it quite simply, it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever read—but keep in mind that neither was it the worst. In reading Hellbent, I was able to finally put some of my feelings about the series into words.
To me, Hellbent is a well-written and fun tale, but it only goes skin deep in most parts. The stakes aren’t very high in the overall scheme of things; Raylene might—might—lose a housemate. That’s about as far as it goes. Sure, she’s throwing herself into danger, but she’s already dead, just not dead-dead. Throwing Adrian into the mix helps with the stakes, as Raylene is suddenly looking out for more than herself.
The pacing also throws me off in this novel. The first half or so is well paced, but the latter half contributes to the skin-deep feeling I got from the book, as a lot of stuff happens. That’s the best way to describe it: it happens. Sure, I care about the characters, but the way Priest worked the circumstances she threw them into did them little justice. This is especially true with regard to the ending, where everything was wrapped up, nice and neat. Now, I’m not asking for a cliffhanger in every book I read, but there should be some cost to the characters within a novel. Of course, it is entirely possible this novel is a setup for Bad Things to Come in future books, but on its own, things seemed… easy. Too easy.
The one other thing about Hellbent that gives me conflicting emotions about it is Raylene’s narration. With an urban fantasy novel like this, where the author has to introduce new material most every book, the reader can expect digressions now and again to explain things. However, Raylene makes a big deal of it, thus drawing the reader’s attention to it. In my case, it almost casts the information she is imparting in a less important light, which it isn’t. The other part of Raylene’s narration that bugs me is the journal-but-not-a-journal quality of it. Written in the first person, Hellbent reads like many other urban fantasy novels—except in a few scenarios where Raylene will mention something along the lines of “if he was reading this over my shoulder, he would disagree.” If this was a deliberate choice of Priest’s, then that’s that. But such a line as that lessens the emotional impact of a novel for me—it lets me know that the narrator makes it out of the situation well enough to be narrating. Other readers may follow the same line of thought and reach the other conclusions I ultimately drew.
Drag queen drama My favorite aspect of this novel is easily the drag queen sidekick, Adrian. A former Navy SEAL, Adrian has all of the BAMF skills needed to be a valuable asset to Raylene—a fact he almost ruthlessly shoves in her I-go-it-alone mentality over and over again throughout the novel. Adrian kicks some serious bad guy ass when the situation requires it, but additionally, his sense of fashion as a drag queen is impeccable—which leads to some rather hilarious dialogue between him and Raylene. The relationship between the two is probably the heftiest material in the novel and was the most enjoyable aspect of the novel to me.
Why should you read this book? As I’ve said, this is a majorly fun book and series. And, despite my qualms with the style of writing, it really is well-written. Priest obviously cares about her characters and, more than that, how her readers feel about her characters. The level of work she puts into her character development is one of the best things about Hellbent. You should also read this for the amount of fun it is. There are few other books which can match this one in terms of sheer enjoyability. Of course, the final reason I think you should read this novel is for the drag queen badassery. I mean, come on. How often does one come across such an entertaining sidekick? Hellbent is one hell of a fun read, and I recommend it to any urban fantasy enthusiast....more
This review contains slight spoilers for The Bearers of the Black Staff.
The second half of the Legends of Shannara duology by Terry Brooks, The Measure of Magic continues the story begun by The Bearers of the Black Staff. Five hundred years after the events of the Genesis of Shannara trilogy, the barrier of magic hiding the survivors led to safety by the gypsy morph Hawk has fallen. With the fall of the barrier comes an entire new world filled with dangers. The only protection to the residents of the valley lie within the bearer of the black staff, the last heir to the legacy of the Knights of the Word.
An engaging premise With Sider Ament dead, Panterra “Pan” Qu has taken up the black staff and become the last mystical defender of his valley. The Troll threat is still at large, though not immediately of consequence to the valley. Instead, there is a new force coming for the valley: a being drawn by the magic of the black staff. A demon, who is drawn to devour the magic itself. Only the wielder of the black staff has any chance of survival against this threat, but Pan must first learn how to use the magic of the staff—a task easier said than done. Not only does the threat of the demon loom, but Pan’s companions also face their own perils. Phryne Amaranthine must escape imprisonment by her traitorous stepmother and recover the blue elfstones, the only other source of magic available to the peoples of the valley. Prue Liss, trapped outside of the valley with a horde on her tail, must somehow find her way back to Panterra while avoiding the demon stalking her.
And that’s not all—they also face danger from within their own ranks.
Bridging the gap One of the things I enjoyed about this duology is that it ties together Brooks’ various series. His Knight of the Word trilogy is set in the same physical world as his multiple Shannara series, and the bridge was begun with the Genesis of Shannara series. Here, five hundred years later, we can see the expanse of time and history which bridges the gap between the two worlds—because they are very much two different worlds. It’s refreshing to see the different phases of the world, and it really puts the timeline of the novels’ stories in perspective.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Not necessarily true. In his writing career, Brooks has fallen into a set formula, especially within the world of Shannara. Generalizing, it follows a three-act design. Act I: the stage is set, one villain is identified, the hero sets out on his quest and accomplishes some key elements of that quest. Act II: everything is running fairly smoothly, but then a second opposing force comes into play (sometimes at the direction of another entity), and complications ensue and sacrifices must be made by the hero. Act III: faced with the utter despair following the events of Act II, the hero must find his way out of the maze of doubt and desperation, manages to do so in the nick of time, and the inevitable butt-kicking of the ultimate villain occurs—and we can’t forget, the hero gets the proverbial girl.
This has been my main qualm with the majority of Brooks’ writing in the last decade. It’s not that it doesn’t work, because it’s not a bad formula and is one that works very well for Brooks’ style. However, it does cause the story to be predictable and stale, and all the character development and world-building in the world cannot detract from the sheer repetitiveness of plot points.
But, I can happily say that this is not the case with the Legends of Shannara duology. For one, it’s only two books, not three. For another, The Measure of Magic doesn’t get that fairy tale ending that so many of his other stories get. I was very pleasantly surprised at the developments which occurred, which seemed very much out of character for Brooks. Here’s hoping we see more of this sort of development in his future works.
Why should you read this book? If you’re like me and have been a Shannara fan since you were young, it’s become almost habitual to read Brooks’ works by this point, no matter their quality. However, I highly recommend this duology. Not only does it reveal some of the history of the world we’ve never come across before, but Brooks is definitely upping the ante of his writing—and it’s paying off. This tale engaged me more than any of his works since The Heritage of Shannara quartet. Seriously, if you’re a Shannara fan, read this. It restored much of my faith in the series, and I hope it will do the same for any similarly disillusioned fans....more
Deadline is the second installment in the much-lauded zombie apocalypse Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant, pseudonym for New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire. Oops, spoiler alert—not that it’s a secret. But I digress. It’ll be relevant later, I promise. At any rate, Deadline was one of the most brain-twisting and entertaining novels I’ve read this year.
Warning: Twisty roads ahead To say that the plot is merely twisty would be inaccurate, to say the least. Think of the wildest roller coaster that you know of, then multiply it by about five, and you’ll have an idea of the sheer unpredictability of the storyline—but without any of the nausea, of course. And it’s not so much that the twists are unpredictable, but rather, the way the author goes about navigating them is so very fresh and exciting. And infuriating, as the chapters like to end with little cliffhangers of their own—all of which lead up to the giant cliffhanger at the end, which left me a gibbering idiot for half an hour.
Now, this is a double-edged sword, as I realize this scope of unpredictability isn’t for everyone. Some prefer to be able to predict the lay of the plot. While I said that the twists aren’t necessarily unpredictable, neither did I mean that you’ll have a good idea of where the story is going. Deadline’s twists are organic, yes, but definitely not very predictable, which is something you’ll have to decide on your own if you can cope with.
Well-done, not overdone The zombie motif, much like other supernatural staples like vampires or werewolves, is starting to feel overdone. A “you seen one, you seen ‘em all” sort of feeling. However, this is most definitely not the case with the Newsflesh trilogy. The author has thoroughly thought out the scientific history behind her zombie apocalypse, and it shows in her story. She keeps the scientific explanations simple enough that a reader may follow them with little trouble, yet complex enough to appease the science geeks amongst her demographic. Needless to say, this series is my favorite take on the zombie apocalypse and I look forward book three, Blackout, due for release on May 22, 2012.
Voice of the apocalypse Being a fan of most everything Seanan McGuire has written, I’ve experienced her various writing styles. While her Toby Daye series is one of my favorite urban fantasy series to date, the Newsflesh trilogy is where McGuire’s writing truly shines. With a very contemporary sense to her writing style, it fits with her characters and setting very organically, breathing life into the world she has created. If there is to be a zombie apocalypse in the future, I want McGuire to do the narration.
Why should you read this book? If you liked Feed, you should definitely read this book. If you’ve not read Feed but like zombies, you should read this series (read Feed first, if you can). If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, you should read this series. If you want to try something new and completely out of your comfort zone, like I did, you should read this series. What with the fresh variety of zombies, plot twists, and stellar writing style, I don’t believe you will be disappointed.
A word of caution, however. The ending of Deadline is similar in scope to the ending of The Empire Strikes Back. If you don’t like cliffhangers, wait until Blackout is available, and then read this book. But do read this book. Seriously. You won’t be sorry....more
The third installment in Harry Connolly’s Twenty Palaces series, Circle of Enemies returns us once again to the story of Ray Lilly. Continuing in the footsteps of its predecessors, Circle of Enemies is full of wonderfully gritty realism and a completely morally ambiguous protagonist who is a lot of fun to follow.
This time, it’s personal Yes, the tagline is cheesy, but it’s the best way to sum up the initial premise of the novel. An ex-convict, Ray has survived more during his time with the Twenty Palace Society than any “wooden man” probably should have. Up to this point, Ray has been able to tough it out and has bounced back from everything thrown at him reasonably well. However, when members of his old gang back in Los Angeles begin falling victim to magical attack, the personal stakes are raised—and not only because Ray is being blamed for the attacks. A little bit of digging reveals that Wally King, the sorcerer who thrust Ray into this mess in the first place, is behind the attacks. Ray has to make a decision between his past and his responsibilities—and he has to do it fast, as the threat of Wally King and a bizarre new predator barrels ever closer.
There will be blood As I mentioned, Circle of Enemies follows in the footsteps of it’s predecessors. This remains no less true in regards to the sheer amount of violence in the novel. There is a lot of it in Circle of Enemies, with people being murdered pretty much right and left. However, it’s not killing just for killing’s sake; most every death impacts the plot—if not necessarily Ray—in some significant way. And it’s not sugar coated. It is stark, blatant, and bloody. Connolly does a good job of keeping the violence interesting and plot-related, but if you’re not a fan of uber-violent novels, this may not be the thing for you. It didn’t bother me much, though.
Insights abound Circle of Enemies is less physically action-oriented than the first two novels in the series. By its very nature, it is a lot more character-driven as we gain glimpses of Ray’s powerful and personal reactions to the events unfolding around him. Not only that, but he has gained a measure of morality over the course of the series, feeling guilt over some of the events that took place during Child of Fire and Game of Cages. All of these things make Ray more believable as a character, not to mention more human. On top of all that, this book bears witness to the evolving relationship between Ray and Annalise. It is no longer the boss-minion relationship of the first novel, but something… different, and it was a delight to see things unfold.
Why should you read this book? Harry Connolly has done it again, folks. Circle of Enemies is hands-down my favorite of the Twenty Palaces series thus far. It is a novel full of dark realism, gritty violence, and a fantastic magic system. But more than that, it is a novel of deep insight and character development. As always, if you are new to the series, I suggest reading books one and two first, but you won’t be lost if you begin with this novel. All in all, a very fun and entertaining ride well worth your time.
Now, this is where I must be the bearer of bad news. If you haven’t yet heard, Circle of Enemies was the last Twenty Palaces novel under contract, and that contract was not renewed. Connolly has said that it will be the last Twenty Palaces novel for now, and he is currently moving on to other things. I cannot thank you enough, Mr. Connolly, for your time and effort in sharing your stories with us. It has been a wonderful journey. Here’s to the next one....more
Imagine The Arabian Nights starring Iroh of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and you’ll have a sense of what Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel is like. Throne of the Crescent Moon is one of the strongest debut novels I’ve read and will likely be a serious contender in any “Best Debut” list for this year.
Throne of the Crescent Moon follows the story of Doctor Adoulla Makshlood, the last of the true ghul hunters in the great city of Dhamsawaat. On the verge of retiring, Adoulla is forced away from his hopes and plans when he and his assistant learn of a series of grisly murders and rumors of a sinister conspiracy. Adoulla’s investigations lead him outside the city with his assistant Raseed bas Raseed, a young member of an order of holy warriors. There, they are set upon and nearly overwhelmed by a band of powerful ghuls. They only survive the encounter due to the aid of a young woman able to take the form of a lioness, Zamia Badawai, whose entire tribe was slaughtered by the ghuls. Adoulla takes Zamia under his wing, and together the three of them must unravel the mystery surrounding the Throne of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms before it’s too late.
Engaging Characters As previously stated, the main character, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, initially reminded me of Iroh from the 2005-2008 television series Avatar: The Last Airbender. As the story progressed, I had to revise my thoughts on the character to “Iroh, if Avatar: The Last Airbender had been a more adult show.” One of the more interesting and unique things about Adoulla as a main character is that he is over sixty years old—and isn’t part of a culture where such longevity is common. He is a very, very human character, subject to the aches and pains of extensive experience and the wear and tear of the years.
Adoulla’s assistant, Raseed, is a sixteen-year-old boy who is part of an order of holy warriors. He is prideful, and many of Adoulla’s quirks go against his training of absolute purity. Prone seeing only surface value, Raseed is quick to judge and does not discriminate between friend and foe in his quest to bring justice, with intentions mattering very little in his logic. Things become very entertaining once Zamia joins the group since is an inherent attraction between them—as young people are prone to have.
Zamia Badawai, the young woman able to take the form of a lioness, is not the exiled beautiful princess popularized by adapted fairy tales and children’s movies. In fact, her plain features are emphasized by the author, as well as used as a source of conflict within her character. Also, the tension between Zamia and Raseed is highly entertaining to read, as it takes on a variety of forms.
The prose flows ever on and on While the premise and characters were definitely strong points of Throne of the Crescent Moon, the true strength of the novel lies in Ahmed’s ability to craft a story. The atmosphere of the novel lends and adapts itself to every scene, evolving as the story develops. Ahmed’s writing also finds that balance between giving the reader too much information and leaving too much to the reader’s imagination, something that I distinctly enjoy. Combine these elements with his character work, and Ahmed’s debut novel becomes a masterful work of worldbuilding and storytelling.
My one qualm with his writing comes not from any fault on the author’s end, but rather from my own personal biases; I am a comma junkie, and many of Ahmed’s sentences give me pause. However, in every case, the sentences were grammatically correct either with or without commas. Once I got used to Ahmed’s style of writing, it became a moot point—especially once the story really started picking up steam. Just a word of warning to any fellow comma junkies out there.
A mesmerizing world In Throne of the Crescent Moon, Ahmed crafts a detailed world with a sense of history. The lands of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms are part of a deeply immersive world with believable history, characters, and places. The map provided in the novel complements the novel in many ways, both stylistically and informationally. Taken together, Throne of Crescent Moon creates a fantastic world that I look forward to visiting again and again.
Why should you read this book? As debut novels go, this might well be the strongest I have read to date. Saladin Ahmed has created a fantastic debut novel with a gorgeous world and fantastic characters. But the main reason you should read this novel is Ahmed’s sheer capacity for storytelling. Available on February 7, Throne of the Crescent Moon is a novel any fantasy enthusiast should not miss....more
The first novel in the Alien/Katherine "Kitty" Katt series, Touched By An Alien is Gini Koch's debut novel. A science-fiction novel set approximatelyThe first novel in the Alien/Katherine "Kitty" Katt series, Touched By An Alien is Gini Koch's debut novel. A science-fiction novel set approximately in the present day, it is reminiscent of both Men In Black and The Middleman.
When marketing manager Katherine "Kitty" Katt steps into what seems to be a domestic dispute gone wrong, she has no idea what she's in for. Because it hasn't just gone wrong—it's gone really wrong. When the man turns into a monster from a Grade-Z horror movie, instead of running like she probably should, Kitty springs into action and takes the Big Bad down.
Enter Jeff Martini. Sent by the "agency" to clean up the mess, he's strong, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and an alien from Alpha Centauri. And totally Kitty's kind of guy. He introduces her to a world that only conspiracy nuts think exist. A world filled with equally gorgeous, Armani-clad guys (and gals!) with hyperspeed, two hearts, and a variety of extra talents. There, Kitty finds herself dragged into a planetary crisis, as the Big Bad she took down was a creature known as a "superbeing"—and only a lesser one at that. As Kitty learns more about the situation she's in, the threat of the superbeings grows ever larger, and Kitty might be their target.
Rollicking good fun Touched By An Alien was one of the most downright fun and entertaining novels I've read in while. Kitty is a very likable protagonist and I found myself relating to her in a number of ways, particularly in her sense of humor—and her choice of music. Kitty is very reliant upon her iPod, and breaks out the Aerosmith and Sir Elton John whenever the situation warrants it. Her sense of humor is quite snarky and loaded with pop culture references—very much along the lines of my own. Couple that with the Centaurions' reactions to her humor, and you've got a recipe for very entertaining scenes.
Comic book cliche craziness Maybe by choice of the author or perhaps due to the nature of the beast (both, I suspect), Touched By An Alien is filled with pop culture references and influences. The more readily apparent references can be found within almost all of the action sequences, where our protagonist finds herself more than capable of dealing with the threats that give the Centaurions with hyper-abilities pause. Another example is the scene when she learns to pilot a jet fighter literally on the fly. Oh, and the godlike sex of which the Centaurions are capable . (Disclaimer: Touched By An Alien isn't overly explicit in the sex scenes but neither does it do the fade-to-black thing. Just a heads-up.)
Now, such things generally require a reader to suspend their disbelief in order to work. None of these bothered me while I was reading, for a couple of reasons. One, I work in the musical theatre business; suspension of disbelief is almost a requirement for one to get any sort of entertainment or fulfillment there. Two, the story is so well put-together that I just took everything in stride. So, if such things aren't your cup of tea, this book may not be for you—but I believe that the book wouldn't be as good as it is without.
"Urban science-fiction" If you asked me to place Touched By An Alien within a single genre, I would have to place it as a science-fiction novel. However, it's important to remember is that this is science-fiction within the modern day. Due to this, Touched By An Alien has a very urban fantasy sort of air to it. A large part of that sense is also due to Koch's writing style and her humor, which is conveyed largely through Kitty, though also through some secondary characters, too. I greatly enjoyed the product of this pseudo-genre-mashup, and it was a very nice change of scenery from my usual reading material.
Why should you read this book? If you were a fan of the Men In Black movies or The Middleman television and comic series, you should read this book. A very entertaining read, Kitty is a very likable and relatively relatable protagonist, leading the reader on a whirlwind of an adventure that is engaging, sexy, and highly entertaining. Koch's debut is a strong one, a stay-up-all-night-til-you-finish-it page burner that I recommend to any urban fantasy enthusiast looking to expand their reading horizons, or to anyone who enjoys a healthy dose of snark with their aliens....more
Contemporary fantasy is one of the fastest growing genres within speculative fiction today. Urban fantasy, in particular, has seen an increase in sheeContemporary fantasy is one of the fastest growing genres within speculative fiction today. Urban fantasy, in particular, has seen an increase in sheer numbers of authors and stories, to the point where some ideas have been recycled so much that various incarnations are either too similar to fully enjoy or have become stale.
Don't take this to mean I dislike urban fantasy; nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if you look at a genre breakdown of my reading material, you would find that the majority falls within the urban fantasy genre. I am always looking for that next interesting or unique twist, but with the sheer amount of urban fantasy material out there, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find these twists. However, there are some authors who always manage to bring something new to the table. Seanan McGuire is one such author.
Already well-known for her Toby Daye novels as well as her Newsflesh trilogy (written as Mira Grant), Seanan McGuire is hitting the shelves on March 6, 2012 with a new urban fantasy series: the InCryptid novels. I wasn't sure what I was going to discover in Discount Armageddon when I began reading, but, as is often the case with McGuire's work, I found a novel unlike most anything else I've ever read.
Monsters, microminis, and… ballroom dancing? While it might seem that someone reached into a hat and pulled out these three things, they are truly related. The common thread tying them all together is Verity Price, cryptozoologist and ballroom dancer.
Verity is quite the girl—and is now my most favorite of McGuire's protagonists. Looks, moves, brains, snarks—this girl has it all. Her sense of humor is dry, witty, and correlates very well to my own. I mean, hell, when your protagonist talks about the borderline impossibility of hiding a gun holster under a micromini within the first five pages of the book? I'm sold. The fact that she wants to focus on the arts as her career only cemented Verity as my favorite of McGuire's protagonists.
Despite having been trained since a very early age as a cryptozoologist to study and protect the monsters of the world, Verity would much rather dance a tango than tussle with monsters. While spending a year in Manhattan pursuing a career in ballroom dancing, Verity suddenly becomes aware of the disappearance of local cryptids. And of strange lizard-men appearing in the sewers. And of rumors of a dragon beneath the city. Subsequently, Verity is sucked back into the family business when she would rather just dance.
"Cryptid, noun: Any creature whose existence has not yet been proven by science. See also 'monster.'" As previously stated, urban fantasy is one of the fastest-growing subgenres today. However, Discount Armageddon has a fantasy system that is completely different from any other urban fantasy that I've yet read. There is no magic. Let me say that again: There is no magic. The main character isn't a gunslinger wizard or a shapeshifter, and they don't battle demons or other practitioners of magic. Sure, there are fantastical creatures with fantastic abilities, but those don't count.
In fact, those creatures—cryptids—are a large part of what sets this novel apart from the rest of the urban fantasy genre. They're not something otherworldly; they're just part of the world, like humanity. And, like humanity, their traits vary. Rich, poor, conniving, caring, ditzy, skeptical—these cryptids are just like humanity in regard to emotions and mental states. With the added complication of generally being hunted and persecuted.
The sheer variety of cryptids within Discount Armageddon fill out the world McGuire is presenting, and do it well. It is one thing to have a history for the world and the main characters, but McGuire takes it one step further and builds a history for every single species of cryptic—and in some cases, individual cryptids. Some of those histories are just downright fun and entertaining. I'm speaking of Verity's resident clan of Aeslin mice at this point, which function as a sort of comic relief—and they do it oh-so-very-well. (As a side note, McGuire has included a few pages of information on various cryptids at the back of the book, so be sure to check it out.)
"Cryptozoologist, noun: Any person who thinks hunting for cryptids is a good idea. Sea also 'idiot.'" While Verity Price's family are all cryptozoologists, they are by no means the only ones out there. Enter the Covenant of St. George, old enemies of the Price family. While Verity is out trying to find the disappearing cryptids, and continuing her dancing career not-so-much on the side, the Covenant dispatches their own operative, Dominic De Luca, to the area. Let's just say that the Covenant have conflicting opinions with the Price family regarding the treatment of cryptids—the take-no-quarter kind of opinion. Neither Verity or Dominic is prepared to deal with the other, and that leads to all sorts of fun places.
Where Verity is an open-minded sort, Dominic holds his opinions, and holds them close. Where Verity's primary form of transportation is free running (she hates taxis), Dominic will take any sort of transportation that doesn't involve him expending effort. Where Dominic wants to hunt and take all cryptids down, Verity wants to protect them. They are extremely different people—well, except for being pretty damn sexy. And good dancers.
In fact, the setup as different people from competing organizations might be ringing a familiar bell right about now. It's a very Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story sort of setup, but that's about the extent of it. Verity and Dominic don't fall in love at first sight and try to stick it to the man and elope. Not at all. Rather, their personalities continue to clash, even in the face of common objectives, and this makes for some very entertaining dialogue and scenes.
Hit me with your best plot While the plot of Discount Armageddon may not be as complicated as that of McGuire's Newsflesh trilogy, I believe it to be one of the most streamlined she has ever written. By streamlined, I mean that it flows exceptionally well, with all of the unexpected twists and turns being surprising but not jarring. It's a very well-developed storyline that functions as a well-oiled machine. Not only that, but it leaves enough unresolved questions that I really, really want the next book. Now. I do believe this is the most excited I've ever been at the thought of a sequel to one of McGuire's books—and for me, that's saying something.
So, why should you read this book? Because I told you to, dangit! All joking aside, this is one of the best books I've read in a long time, and not just for the fun factor. Discount Armageddon is an exceptionally well-written tale with a unique premise, fantastic character work, and a plot that just pulls you along until you finish. This is one for the urban fantasy enthusiasts out there—as well as for anyone who wants something different from most anything else on shelves today. Easily one of my favorite books of 2012, Discount Armageddon has re-solidified my opinion that I will buy ALL THE THINGS McGuire writes, ever.
Garrett received an ARC of Discount Armageddon courtesy of DAW Books.
Nuclear holocaust. Global warming. Robotic overlords. Zombie infections. These are all fairly commonplace apocalypse scenarios within speculative fiction today. Ilona Andrews’ debut novel, Magic Bites, steps outside this box with an apocalypse caused by magic.
The world has been taken over by magic. Magical surges kill most technology when they occur, causing phones to go down, cars to fail, and skyscrapers to collapse. Vampires and shapeshifters have come to public awareness, if not acceptance. The government has military organizations of magic users to counter supernatural threats. However, they are often caught by red tape, as per government usual. Then there’s the Mercenary Guild, who will take care of your problem—if you can pay their (usually hefty) fee. Finally, there’s the Order of the Knights of Merciful Aid, who will aid you in exchange for a smaller fee—but with the caveat that they do things for the good of humanity, not the individual.
Enter Kate Daniels, a member of the Mercenary Guild who is thrust back into working with the Order when her legal guardian, the knight-diviner of the Atlanta Chapter of the Order, is killed. And with him having been the only family Kate had left, she is out for vengeance. However, things become complicated as she is drawn into a power struggle between the Masters of the Dead (the controlling force behind vampires) and the Pack (the paramilitary clan of shapeshifters). These two factions blame each other for a series of bizarre deaths—and Kate’s guardian may be part of the same mystery. To top it all off, Kate gets thrust into the middle of this magical maelstrom and finds that she might just be way out of her league…
An apocalypse like nothing you’ve seen Andrews creates a very unique feel with her magical apocalypse setting. This is one of my favorite aspects of this novel because the magical surges are very random and unexpected. It’s almost like a tabletop RPG where the Game Master continues rolling dice until he gets a natural critical and Bad Stuff Happens™. The idea that magic wreaks havoc with the physical nature of the world entertains me to no end, and the solutions humanity have put forward to adapt to the changes are intriguing and continued to pique my curiosity throughout the entirety of the novel.
On another note, this sense of unpredictability coupled with the nature of some of the supernatural elements present throughout Atlanta give Magic Bites a distinctly darker atmosphere than other urban fantasy novels I’ve read. While not the grittiest, feels-like-you’ve-got-a-rock-in-your-eye setting I’ve come across (ahem, Harry Connolly’s Child of Fire), it definitely has a darker streak underlying everything. And, for the most part, it works.
Fantastic supporting cast The supporting cast within Magic Bites truly breathes more life into the world and the characters. We get to see aspects of the Masters of the Dead and the vampires in Kate’s interactions with Ghastek, one of the local Masters. The Pack is fleshed out when Kate involves herself in a matter directly pertaining to the Beast Lord—the alpha of the alphas, leader of all the various were-groups within the Pack. I wish we’d get some more details on the workings of the Masters of the Dead and those of the Pack, but that’s what future installments are for, right?
However, my favorite character interactions within the novel happen between Kate and Derek, whom Kate refers to as her “teenage werewolf sidekick.” Assigned to Kate by the Beast Lord as a bodyguard, Derek is a perfect example of what I imagine a teenage werewolf in the paramilitary Pack would be—a combination of teenager angst, insecurities, “me-much-macho” bravado, and the discipline he must learn to control his inner beast. Kate’s interactions with him are loaded with impatience and humor, which brings the novel to a very relatable level. All-in-all, I’m very impressed with how much Andrews has fleshed out her primary supporting characters, and I look forward to learning more in the next installments.
Snarky heroine with a can of ass-whoop As fantastic as the supporting cast of characters is, the protagonist herself is what drives this novel home and has made this series a permanent resident on my shelves. Kate is one hell of a snarker, much akin to Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden. Not only that, but she also knows how to kick ass. Liberal amounts of ass. About halfway through the book, Andrews begins dropping hints that there is definitely more to Kate than meets the eye and that she knows it. This is one of the more infuriating (and effective!) tools an author has at her disposal, and Andrews wields it with great precision, teasing the reader with the slightest sense of “I know something you don’t know” that had me silently begging for more. And through all of this, Andrews manages to make Kate seem completely human through her various flaws and insecurities—no small feat.
Why should you read this book? As a debut novel, Magic Bites hits all of the points that make me want the next book, and want it NOW (as a matter of fact, I went out and bought the next two books a couple days after finishing this one). While a fantastic effort for a debut novel, there are some distinct points that could be fleshed out, and I hope Andrews takes those steps in upcoming installments, as the premise of the book and the nature of the setting have a lot of promise for much more to come. All-in-all, Magic Bites is one hell of a start to an edgy urban fantasy series that has a lot of potential, and I greatly look forward to seeing where this series leads....more
Seawitch is the seventh novel of the nationally bestselling Greywalker series by Kat Richardson. Private investigator and Greywalker Harper Blaine is back in Seattle after the the events of book six (Downpour) took both her and her boyfriend out of their comfort zones and to a national park near Seattle.
Harper Blaine used to be a smaller-time private investigator–that is, until she died for two minutes. Now, she's a Greywalker, someone able to see and interact with the Grey, the plane of the ghostly and otherworldly, and home to ghosts and other entities. Due to this ability to tread the very thin line between the living world and the paranormal realm of the Grey, Harper lands some decidedly "strange" cases.
The ghost ship Seawitch disappeared twenty-seven years ago and hasn't been seen since—until now. Now, it's the subject of Harper Blaine's latest case, a case that has her teaming up with Detective Rey Solis of the SPD, a man well-skeptical of anything falling outside of "normal" logic. On top of a partner who doesn't really trust her, Harper must also navigate her way through this case while avoiding destruction, ghostly and paranormal threats and death.
You know, the usual.
Delves a little deeper Seawitch, like all of the previous Greywalker novels, expands Richardson's unique magic and supernatural system. We see a little bit more of Harper's view of the Grey and of the mortal world. In particular, there is a focus on the Guardian Beast of the Grey and Harper's relationship with it (y'know, it being her boss and all). The magic of the system also gets some screen time as Harper's understanding of it grows. In addition to the supernatural growth, Harper's physical boundaries are expanded. The nature of her case means that, sooner or later, Harper will have to spend some time on boats and out on Puget Sound, something that hasn't really happened in the course of the series thus far.
The only detracting aspect in my mind comes from my having read the rest of the series, actually. In Seawitch, there simply isn't as much development and discovery of the Grey and the various other supernatural elements as there has been in the previous novels. Much of this can be attributed, however, to the idea that Harper's experiences have finally reached the point where she is no longer coming upon absolutely new things around every corner. This is not a bad thing or a good thing, it just is, but it made the book seem less in comparison.
Thicker writing than a typical urban fantasy Having just burned through five different novels within two weeks, I became aware of something I'd always registered unconsciously but never actively realized: I read the Greywalker novels more slowly than I do the majority of urban fantasy. After thinking on it, I believe this is due to Richardson's specific writing style. There is just something about it, some combination of Harper's narrative voice and Richardson's descriptions that forces the reader to slow down and process all of… well, all the things (ALL THE THINGS!). To put it in perspective, I can go through one Greywalker novel in two days if I have nothing else going on (including my day job). In the same amount of time, I can go through three or four other urban fantasy novels. Seawitch was no exception to this trend set by the previous installments in the series.
Now, this is not to say that Richardson's writing has any blatant problems or that the flow is stilted, as that is most certainly not the case. Richardson's writing flows—just at a slower pace than that of series like Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files or Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles. In my opinion, it's a nice change of pace from the usual fare.
Organic character developments By far, my most favorite aspect of Seawitch comes in the form of its characters. I love everything Quinton, and we get glimpses into his past and family life in this novel. He also goes so far as to call out Harper, pointing out some of her own character flaws—something which makes them both more human. And that doesn't even take into account their reactions to the situation and that particular conversation.
However, it was Detective Rey Solis and his family that were my absolute favorite parts of Seawitch. A lot is revealed about Solis and why he does what he does. His reactions when confronted with the reality of the Grey and of the paranormal are completely believable. Subsequently, he becomes much more likable than he was in previous novels.
Oh. And his wife is awesome. Just a heads-up.
Why should you read this book? If you're returning to Harper's story, you won't be disappointed. While Seawitch doesn't expand the world as much as previous novels, Harper is still her kick-ass self—and a bit more so, as she is more confident with the whole "taking charge" thing in Seawitch than in previous novels. Quinton makes his appearances, and the glimpses of his past are enough to leave any fan wanting to know more. If you're a newcomer to the series, you might end up a bit lost at the beginning, but not too terribly. As always, Richardson's unique system of the Grey captivates, and the sheer amount of character development is admirable. With this latest in the Greywalker series, Richardson has crafted a well-balanced urban fantasy novel with a kick-ass heroine who isn't afraid to take names, a story that will appeal to both mystery and paranormal lovers, and a fantastic supporting cast of characters that bring an exquisite level of believability to Harper's world.
Oh, and did I mention mermaids? 'Cause there were mermaids....more
In the House of the Wicked is the fifth installment in the Remy Chandler series by New York Times bestselling author, Thomas Sniegoski.
Remy Chandler, a Boston-based private investigator, isn’t your typical private eye; while he wears the guise of a human, he is actually much more: a fallen angel. Once known as Remiel of the Heavenly Host Seraphim, Remy left Heaven of his own accord after witnessing the destruction and bloodshed of Lucifer Morningstar’s war with the Almighty. He became curious about God’s favorite creation and decided to spend time on Earth discovering, learning. Falling in love.
Now, after his wife has passed away, Remy has averted the apocalypse of the Four Horsemen, faced the Morningstar in Tartarus, prevented another god from claiming enough power to change the world, and gone up against a corrupted Malachi in an attempt to save the Garden of Eden. During this time, Remy kept his angelic and human natures apart, allowing him to hide his true identity. But both of Remy’s natures are now sharing the same space, and Remy can feel himself becoming more and more volatile despite all of his efforts to control it.
To make matters worse, Ashley Berg, his longtime dog sitter who is like a daughter to him, has been kidnapped by a once-formidable sorcerer. This sorcerer wants his revenge upon those who wronged him in the past, and he is determined to use Remy as his instrument of revenge… and if Remy doesn’t play along, Ashley will die.
Flying solo Due to some of the circumstances within In the House of the Wicked, Remy is unable to use his angelic powers for the majority of the novel. It makes for a very different read than the previous four novels in the series. It’s a change of pace that throws the already-long odds into the realm of nigh-impossibility, all the while making Remy’s actions more believable than at almost any other point in the series. It also forces Remy to slow down and think before he acts. Since he cannot summon up the Seraphim to just batter through all of his problems, Remy has to play a sneakier, smarter game than ever before. And that is most definitely a welcome change of pace to the series.
Upping the ante While Sniegoski gave us a hint of the underlying plotlines of the series in book four, A Hundred Words For Hate, this is the first Remy book where details from all of the previous novels really begin fitting together. And quite frankly, it scares me. I fear for the well-being of Remy and those around him. The world looks like it’s going to get much, much worse before it gets better.
And that’s awesome.
Sniegoski does some fantastic foreshadowing for these plotlines throughout the novel. Some of it comes from Francis (a mercenary angel also living among humanity), some from Remy himself, and yet some more from the Grigori (those cast out of Heaven by God for teaching humanity dark secrets). But the real kicker comes in the epilogue of the novel. If you’ve seen Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, it was very much akin to the first post-credits scene. If you haven’t, let’s just say that many of the events can be theorized to have been manipulated by an off-screen character. And the implications of that are breathtaking. I cannot wait to see how Sniegoski plays it in future novels.
That’s quite the character you got there… Remy himself is one of my favorite urban fantasy protagonists and one of my favorite characters of all time. He gets a lot of time to reflect in this novel: about how he wants to live his life now that his wife has passed away; how to balance the dueling natures inside of him; how to help his friends cope with the realization that there is more out there than humanity knows. His relationship with his Labrador, Marlowe, is heart-wrenching and wonderful. It’s gut-wrenching, too—to watch Remy, unable to draw upon his angelic abilities‚ deal with the realization that he can no longer communicate with Marlowe. The scene brought tears to my eyes.
On top of Remy and Marlowe, the supporting cast gets a lot of screen time. Francis, Ashley, and Detective Steven Mulvehill all find new things within themselves. Francis has to deal with working under a new employer—which has some definite perks, he will admit. I look forward to seeing how being set against his best friend in the future will affect him‚ because Francis isn’t particularly known for his compassion and morals. Ashley gets tossed headfirst into Remy’s world, under what is most definitely not the best of circumstances. She shows the whole variety of human reaction to her situation, ranging from panic and denial to eventual calm levelheadedness. Mulvehill, after the events of A Hundred Words for Hate, isn’t talking to Remy; he’s still in denial about everything that happened and hopes that by ignoring things, they will just go away. However, when something puts Boston, and likely the entire world, at risk, Mulvehill goes out to help instead of hiding. Seeing him take that leap was refreshing, and I hope it means that his friendship with Remy can—and will—be mended in future novels.
We’re also introduced to one hell of a new character during the course of In the House of the Wicked: a hobgoblin by the name of Squire who currently resides in the shadow realm. Squire is one of those “retired good guy” characters who has convinced himself of the uselessness of being a hero, and is resolutely telling himself that he’s only looking out for Number One. However, as events progress, we see him come to grips with the fact that he misses fighting the good fight, and he ends up getting involved and helping Remy out in a number of ways. I really hope we see him again—and I think we will, as that much development time usually isn’t spent on a throwaway character.
Why should you read this book? If you’ve read and liked the first four installments in this series, you won’t be disappointed. Sniegoski ups his game in this most recent Remy adventure, and we begin to see some of the grand scheme he is setting up for us. The conflict and situations within this novel are refreshingly personal, bringing the forefront of activity back to the Boston area. The characters are varied and very well-developed, bringing life and humanity into this novel largely centered around the angelic pantheon. With In the House of the Wicked, Sniegoski has crafted a very powerful, very personal tale that is equal parts gut-wrenching, heart-warming, and awe-inspiring. In short, it is definitely my favorite Remy Chandler novel to date....more
The sixth installment of New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye series, Ashes of Honor, returns us to San Francisco and the world of changeling October Daye.
It’s been a year since the events of the previous novel, One Salt Sea, and Toby still hasn’t fully recovered from the personal losses she sustained during that time. She’s been trying to keep her focus on her responsibilities as Sylvester’s knight and putting in hours training her squire, Quentin—not to mention trying to pay the bills—but it’s not been working so well. Things have gotten to the point where even her most supportive allies are beginning to worry at her increasingly reckless behaviors.
And to top matters off, she’s just been hired to find yet another missing child—except, this time, it’s the changeling daughter of her fellow knight, Etienne. Her name is Chelsea, and, like her father, she is a teleporter, able to open portals between the various realms of Faerie and the mortal plane. She is also the kind of changeling from legend—one with all of the power and none of the control—and is opening doors that have been sealed for centuries, releasing dangers never meant to be seen again. Oh, and there’s the fact that she could destroy the entirety of Faerie if she isn’t found.
Toby must find Chelsea before the world ends, facing unknown deadlines and unknown worlds in her attempts to avert complete disaster. And to further complicate matters, things are stirring in the local Court of Cats, and Tybalt needs Toby’s help with the greatest challenge he’s ever faced.
The worlds next door One of my favorite things about this series is the sheer diversity of the various areas of Faerie that McGuire introduces us to. In each novel, she branches out a bit further, filling in a section here, revealing a bit there. It’s almost like seeing a tree from a distance and then coming closer to focus on an area of leaves and see all of the details. It’s very smooth, the way McGuire incorporates the worldbuilding of the otherworldly realms of Faerie into our own, familiar world. Some have said that urban fantasy isn’t as “good” as epic fantasy because the world is already built. I would direct those of that mindset to McGuire’s work, because not only does she create entirely new worlds, she melds them seamlessly with our world and all of its own history and character.
A more straightforward plot than usual One of the things I really started noticing about halfway through the novel is that the overall plot of Ashes of Honor isn’t all that complex compared to the last couple of installments in the series. Sure, it has its surprises—this is Seanan McGuire we’re talking about, after all—but all in all, it’s one of the most straightforward of the series. There’s no discovery of multiple plots going on at once, decisions having to be made to save one thing or the other, etc., etc., et al. Rather, the initial problem is just escalated—repeatedly. The more Toby finds out about her case, the more she realizes just how much danger they (and the world) are actually in.
However, this straightforward plot isn’t a bad thing. Because of it, Ashes of Honor turns into much more of an internal journey for Toby. Many of the events that occur over the course of the novel force Toby to step back and reevaluate what she knows, how she behaves, and how she feels. As she hunts after Chelsea, so does Toby begin to establish and realize who she is as opposed to who she was. It’s a refreshing change of pace and it feels like the logical next step in Toby’s story, and I believe McGuire executed it exceptionally well.
Beautifully crafted characters and relationships While Toby’s internal, personal journey is more than enough on its own to make Ashes of Honor stand apart from the rest of the series, the level of character work McGuire throws into the mix makes the book shine. As previously stated, Toby undergoes a deeply personal journey, and has to rediscover who she is. This includes her relationships with everyone around her: May, Etienne, the Ludaieg, and especially Tybalt, to name a few. We garner more insights to the workings of Faerie and the various courts and territories (such as Tamed Lightning) because of these evolving relationships. Some new faces are met, and the amount of life and utter believability McGuire manages to give them in a short time is nothing less than breathtaking. Etienne is quite thoroughly fleshed out as a character, and we get to see how Quentin has matured over the last year. Oh, and Tybalt does some decidedly badass things. Again.
And speaking of Tybalt, Ashes of Honor also gives large glimpses into the workings of the Court of Cats, as well into a good chunk of Tybalt’s past. For Toby isn’t the only one going through an internal journey. For both their sakes, Tybalt has to come clean about some rather important things, putting it all out there—something that doesn’t come easily to him. It’s a wondrous thing, to see how these two characters who were once on opposite sides have grown to depend upon each other.
Why should you read this book? Seanan McGuire has done it again. I always think that the most recent Toby novel will be my favorite, and every time, McGuire ups the ante and puts out a better one. Ashes of Honor finds the balance between being introspective and being action-oriented, and holds that balance exceptionally well. The worldbuilding is natural, flowing, and organic. The characters are real, dynamic, and their relationships are completely believable. With Ashes of Honor, McGuire has crafted a deeply personal and intense story that will keep you on the edge, hoping to be pushed over. In my opinion, it is, hands down, the best Toby to date....more
May, June, and July of 2011 were great months for urban fantasy enthusiasts. For the guys, urban fantasy gained one badass dude with one hell of a smart mouth. For the ladies, urban fantasy gained one badass dude with one hell of a drool-worthy body.
Okay, I generalized there. So sue me. The fact of the matter is that with the introduction of Kevin Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles, the world was introduced to the amazing character of Atticus O’Sullivan, a two-thousand-year-old redheaded Irish Druid. And he’s back in the fourth installment of The Iron Druid Chronicles, Tricked.
Being held responsible for the death of multiple Norse deities, Atticus O’Sullivan is a wanted Druid. The novel opens on the scene of Atticus’s staged death for the benefit of the world pantheons. From there, he takes his wolfhound Oberon and his apprentice Granuaile and gets the hell out of Dodge—err, Mesa.
Because Coyote assisted Atticus in the staging of his death, he wants Atticus to help the Navajo people on one of the local reservations. However, this is Coyote, so there are always… unsaid portions to any bargain. Sure enough, Atticus, Oberon, and Granuaile come up against something straight out of Navajo legend: a pair of skinwalkers. Atticus swears that if he makes it out of this alive, he’ll not let anyone fool him ever again.
One would think he would know better than to tempt the universe like that.
Strength in characters A large portion of Hearne’s talent as a storyteller lies in his character work. Tricked is no exception to this. Coyote, as the title of the book implies, has a lot of screen time and is rather thoroughly developed. Hearne gives him a definite air of mischievousness, but flavors him with more moral ambiguity than some authors. Coyote is definitely only looking to further his own agenda, and helps Atticus only so much as it lines up with his goals—which is a truer interpretation of the character than most authors give, in my opinion.
Now, due to the nature of the premise, many of the regulars from the first three installments don’t make any appearances in Tricked, which may disappoint some readers and worry others. However, Hearne compensates for the lack of familiar faces with lots of development for Atticus and Granuaile. We get some of Granuaile’s history in Tricked, and some of her motivations for wanting to train as a Druid become clear. The relationship between her and Atticus also gets a lot of attention, but more on that later. Atticus experiences the brunt of the character development. We learn more about his past, and for the first time, we can really get a sense of just how much two thousand years of life weighs on him—it’s definitely not all fun and games. It gives a whole new depth to the phrase “world weary.”
Glimpses of series plotlines At this point in the series, Hearne has given us enough information to start piecing together some of the underlying plotlines of the The Iron Druid Chronicles. One big clue was Jesus’ major forewarning to Atticus in Hammered—and we begin to glimpse the repercussions in Tricked. Atticus also speculates as to where his future might lead—down some darker paths indeed—but one must keep in mind that such information is, to borrow phrases from tabletop gaming, “character knowledge” and not “player knowledge.” This means that Atticus could be downright wrong about something, so we shouldn’t assume that everything he speculates will come to pass.
However, while the plotlines seem to be heading in a darker, more desperate direction, they don’t seem to be too terribly twisty at this point. The underlying plot doesn’t seem to be as complex as that of, say, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. And that’s okay. Being very familiar with Butcher’s work, however, has my brain’s “default” at the Butcher level of trippy-twisty, and so most other underlying plots tend to seem a bit… bare-boned to me. So while I like the direction the series seems to be heading, I do hope that Hearne will start throwing some major curve-plotty-balls at Atticus—and thereby, his readers—in the near future.
Personal upheavals This isn’t to say Hearne hasn’t hit Atticus with some major-league fastballs already (to keep with the baseball metaphors prevalent throughout the series). However, a lot of these haven’t been directly plot-related, and so don’t affect the large scheme of things. No, these have been smaller, more personal, and revolve largely around Atticus’s relationships. His dealings with Coyote seem somewhat akin to the deal between Lando Calrissian and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. I will admit that there were a couple occasions where I heard someone in my head doing a bad impersonation of James Earl Jones, saying, “I have altered the deal. Pray I do not alter it further.” Needless to say, this tends to tick Atticus off just a bit. Additionally, his relationship with vampire Lief Helgarsson proves to be strained, at best, after the events of book three, and this has near-fatal repercussions.
The part where I have to give Hearne serious credit, though, is in regards to Atticus’s relationship with Granuaile. As anyone who has read the series can attest, there are some serious sparks of attraction flying between these two hot redheads. (Yes, I will admit I ship them something fierce.) However, as much as I would love to see them hook up, there’s that whole student-teacher relationship that should remain sacred. Hearne’s handling of their feelings for each other and changing relationship is remarkably well-done, and even if it isn’t necessarily what some of his readers would like to see, I cannot disagree with how he managed it.
Oberon steals the show… again Order an extra plate of sausage and break out the bacon, because Oberon is back. This is where Hearne’s writing truly excels, because Atticus’s loyal wolfhound is comedy gold, people. It just keeps getting better, and with very little repetition. On top of it all, Oberon gets some truly badass moments in Tricked to go along with his awesome snark.
Someone get that hound a comedy show already!
Why should you read this book? If you’re looking for something with super-gritty realism and a darker, more serious outlook and atmosphere, this probably isn’t the series for you. However, the “lighter” aspects of The Iron Druid Chronicles don’t diminish the quality of this urban fantasy. In fact, its more lighthearted fare really makes the series stand out in today’s batch of urban fantasy. Tricked is chock-full of everything that makes The Iron Druid Chronicles appealing and entertaining: gods aplenty, lots of action, an Irish redhead badass druid, and one hell of a comedic counter in Oberon. This is the point in the series at which we begin to see the possibilities in the future of the series. Things are not as simple as they once were, and this shows Hearne’s growing strength as a storyteller. With Tricked, Hearne has crafted a highly enjoyable, tough-to-put-down read that takes ample amounts of swords, sorcery, and bacon-filled comedy gold, and then shakes, stirs, and serves.
Now, could I get an extra side of sausage with that?...more
In book nine of The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher’s bestselling series, we return to the world of Harry Dresden, wizard private eye. White Night sees Harry with a new apprentice, a bit of a new reputation, and a new case: someone has been murdering the magical practitioners of Chicago and leaving references to the book of Exodus and the killing of witches. But when Harry sets out to track down the killer, the evidence he gathers points to one person he cannot possibly believe guilty: Thomas Raith, semi-reformed vampire. However, in his endeavors to clear Thomas’ name, Harry attracts the attention of the White Court of Vampires and finds himself embroiled in a power play that leaves him outgunned, outclassed, outmaneuvered, and with those he holds dear at risk of serious—even fatal—harm.
Business as usual. Mostly.
Worldbuilding in white Following in the footsteps of the previous installments in the series, White Night delves into a couple of aspects of Harry’s world that haven’t been as fully explored before: in this case, The White Court of Vampires—vampires who feed on the life energy of mortals—and the Wardens of the White Council of Wizards. While we’ve known about the four Courts of vampires that Butcher has mentioned before (Red, Black, White, and Jade), this is the first time we get a glimpse of the inner workings of the White Court—and discover that there are “subspecies” of vampires. There are three main houses in the White Court: House Raith, whose members inspire and feed on lust; House Malvora, whose members inspire and feed on fear; and House Skavis, whose members inspire and feed on pain and despair.
This is an example of why I love the world of The Dresden Files—Butcher isn’t content to have just one simple type of a supernatural something. No, he has to go and create four different kinds of vampire and then some. It makes for a distinctly rich and unique world, and gives it a complexity and sense of life that many urban fantasy worlds fail to have in the first place, much less match.
In addition to the White Court, the Wardens of the White Council get some screen time in White Night. More specifically, we get a glimpse of Harry’s role within the Wardens: working with Regional Commander Carlos Ramirez to train the next batch of Wardens to help them get up to snuff before they head out into the world to deal with all of the things that go bump in the night. And Harry… is not always the best at teaching. Which is highly entertaining.
Fleshing out the supporting roles In White Night, a good number of secondary characters get some major screen time, and it’s what makes the novel one of my favorites in the series. “Gentleman” John Marcone, crime boss and lord of Chicago’s underworld, is one of these. Up until this point, we’ve seen very little of Marcone apart from the skilled and ruthless businessman. But in White Night, we catch a glimpse of what makes Marcone tick—and so does Harry, who hates that Marcone can’t simply be Evil™, but has to go along with it, anyway.
But the character who simply makes this novel for me is my second-favorite character in the series (my favorite being Harry’s cat, Mister, of course): Warden Carlos Ramirez. Ramirez is almost as snarky as Harry, and uses his wits at Harry’s expense pretty much constantly. He’s also one hell of a combat wizard, and proceeds to show his skill in the inevitable showdown between Harry and the murderer of the practitioners of Chicago. This is also interesting about him, because his magic is completely different from Harry’s. Where Harry likes using fire and force in his magics, Ramirez is more about using physics and principles of entropy against his opponents. It makes for some very interesting combat. And commentary from Harry’s side.
A glimpse at the bigger picture White Night is one of the first novels that hints at the bigger things to come in the series, and it does so in no small ways. Harry begins to think about the connections between some of his previous cases, and has other information brought to his attentions. Like the circumstances surrounding his birth.
Why should you read this book? White Night follows in the footsteps of its predecessors and meets the standard with flying colors. It continues to flesh out both Harry’s world and its inhabitants, and does so in ways that keep a reader continually engaged in the story. One hell of a magical murder mystery with a fantastic combination of introspection and high-octane action sequences, White Night is one of the best-balanced installments in The Dresden Files....more
Small Favor, book ten of Jim Butcher’s bestselling series The Dresden Files, starts off with a snowball fight. That, in and of itself, probably should have been an omen—especially since no one has tried to kill Harry Dresden, professional wizard, for over a year. But the past casts one hell of a long shadow, and Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness and ruler of the Unseelie Court of the Sidhe, has come to collect a favor. A favor that will place Harry between a rock, a hard place, a nightmarish foe, and a terrifying ally.
No biggy, right?
Wrong. Harry soon finds himself completely outmatched and has to call in some favors of his own. The Knights of the Order of the Blackened Denarius are in town, and Harry needs the help of one of the two remaining Knights of the Cross to even hope to counter them. Not only that, but the Archive—the grand sum of all recorded human knowledge, condensed into a single being—is called in to help mediate the conflict.
And, of course, all hell proceeds to break loose.
Playing the long game With the Denarians being in town, that means one of my most favorite literary villains of all time is present in Small Favor: Nicodemus Archleone. Nicodemus is a guy who’s literally been around for centuries, and he knows how to play very long ball. And Harry, of course, doesn’t realize Nicodemus’ true intentions and plans until just a hair too late. Nicodemus is one of the few villains who has probably read the Evil Overlord List—heck, he probably would have contributed to it. And that thought? That’s scary. And downright nifty. Not only is Nicodemus not stupid, he isn’t cocky, either. When he brags about how he will kill you, it’s not bragging. He is fully capable of pulling off whatever it is he has envisioned. And that’s downright chilling. Which makes him an awesome character, and probably my favorite villain from The Dresden Files thus far.
The snark, it doth flow As has become pretty much standard fare for any installment in The Dresden Files, Small Favor is filled with snark, insouciance, and Harry mouthing off to the wrong person at the wrong time. However, times have changed, and he’s no longer badmouthing two-bit sorcerers like he was in Storm Front. Oh, no. He snarks off to those who could take his head off ten times over and not break a sweat. You know, like the guy who has dueled three Senior Council wizards—and killed all three of them. But, this is Harry. And there were donuts involved.
A small dose of worldbuilding on the side At this point, Butcher has fleshed out Harry’s alternate universe to a fairly great extent, but one of the things I love about his books is that he doesn’t stop. There’s always something new to be uncovered, or another layer to be discovered in that which has already been introduced to the reader. Small Favor contains a lot of the latter form of worldbuilding. We find more about Chicago and the immediate area; apparently, the area is a giant hub of ley lines— currents of magical energy that flow through the earth [generally] regardless of the geography around them. This is just one of the many things revealed to the reader in Small Favor, with others including the hit men of the Summer Court of the Sidhe, an island that will likely play a big role in coming installments, and details about the Archive and her existence.
Why should you read this book? Because you like donuts, that’s why. Also, Small Favor has one of the best villains I’ve ever seen in urban fantasy basically running the game, and the humor in the novel is pure comedy gold. The action sequences are mind-boggling and yet totally believable; no one comes away unscathed—and some barely come away at all. While definitely not where I would enter into reading The Dresden Files for the very first time, this novel can stand on its own if need be. A fun, brain-bending game of intrigue, snark, and lots of kaboom, Small Favor is definitely a worthy installment to the series....more
Come the beginning of Turn Coat, book eleven of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, Harry Dresden, the only guy in the Chicago phonebook under the heading “Wizards,” has very little reason to love the Wardens of the White Council of Wizards. Over the span of his life, he has been the subject of unjust suspicions—and none have been more prone to suspicion than Morgan, an aged Warden who holds grudges against anyone who manages to bend the rules.
Like, y’know, Harry.
So when Morgan shows up at Harry’s front door, bleeding and asking to be hidden from the Wardens, Harry is less than inclined to help out. But Morgan has been accused of being a traitor against the White Council, and needs someone with a knack of being the underdog. So now, Harry must uncover a traitor to the Council, keep a less-than-cooperative Morgan hidden, and avoid excessive scrutiny. And a single mistake may cause someone fatal harm.
Someone like, y’know, Harry.
Follow the plot-twisty road Turn Coat is one of the first installments in the series where a reader beings to see the things set up in earlier novels come back into play. It’s one of the first times you begin to actively realize the depth and complexity of the story Butcher has been creating for over ten years. It’s kind of awe-inspiring, honestly.
Beyond that, the story in Turn Coat has one of the most twisty plots yet in a Dresden Files novel. Butcher’s ability to create unexpected plot turns that blow your mind, and yet are completely logical, continues to grow and astound. They’re not always plot twists that are detrimental to Harry (though most of them are), which is something uncommon to see considering that Butcher admits that he makes his living by screwing up Harry Dresden’s life. Either way, though, Turn Coat is one heck of a fun and twisted story.
One of my favorite antagonists yet The primary antagonist of Turn Coat isn’t readily apparent from the cover blurb. It’s not the White Council. It’s not the Wardens. It’s something that actually proceeded to scare the crap out of me when I was reading the novel for the first time. In Turn Coat, Harry Dresden has to work against a naagloshii: A certifiable skinwalker nightmare straight out of Navajo legend. Harry approaches him with his typical amount of insouciance, dubbing the naagloshii “Shagnasty”—and gets his ass handed to him. Multiple times. Not only that, but Shagnasty manages to succeed where so many other before him have failed: he actually brings harm to Harry’s loved ones—something that is worse for Harry than actually taking bodily harm himself. All in all, one of my favorite antagonists in the Dresdenverse to date.
Creating new facets of the world and characters Butcher’s craft just continues to excel and improve with each novel, in my opinion, and Turn Coat is no exception to this. In terms of world building, Butcher continues to flesh out the supernatural world in and around Chicago—in particular, we get glimpses of the White Court of Vampires and the Wardens. Beyond that, remember the island that was introduced back in Small Favor? Yeah… that island gets a major mojo boost. I won’t spoiler things, but let’s just say that Harry gets himself into a situation that makes even the Gatekeeper—a member of the White Council’s Senior Council—take a step back in… well, one assumes awe, as well as a side dose of not-envying, because Butcher hints at the fact that the Gatekeeper knows a lot more than he’s telling.
Morgan, while an already well-fleshed-out character, also gets an overhaul in Turn Coat. Instead of the cold and hard Warden we’ve come to know throughout the series, Morgan is taken out of his position of authority and made vulnerable in Turn Coat. Which reveals a completely different and unexpected side of him. So, while before he came across as an entitled asshole with issues against anybody who evaded the rules, by the end of Turn Coat, I knew he was a good person. Still an entitled asshole, but a good person. Aka, human. Aka, I ended up really liking him.
Why should you read this book? Turn Coat is a minor turning point in The Dresden Files as a whole—it begins to pull pieces from earlier books in the series together, and some of those realizations are simply dumbfounding. The world building continues on par with the previous novels in the series, with the understanding coming across that Harry is getting into some really big situations that he won’t fully realize for a while. But beyond all of that, the thing that really makes Turn Coat is the antagonist—an antagonist that is actually scary and worrisome. Filled with snark, plot twists, and high-octane action, Turn Coat is, in my opinion, one of the better novels in The Dresden Files to date....more
Changes, book twelve of The Dresden Files by #1 New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher, returns us to the world of one Harry Dresden, wizarding private eye. In his life, Harry has faced down ghouls and faeries, vampires and werewolves, demons and nightmares from beyond mortal ken—and didn’t bat an eye. However, nothing could have prepared him for what awaits him in Changes.
Susan Rodriguez, Harry’s former lover, disappeared from his life after she fell victim to one of his enemies and her soul became trapped between her humanity and the bloodlust of a Red Court vampire. Now, she’s forcing herself back into his life, bearing disturbing news. For Susan has a secret—a secret that Arianna Ortega, Duchess of the Red Court, has discovered and plans to use against the man she blames for the death of her husband: Harry Dresden. This is a fight that will take Harry out of his comfort zone, and a fight that will force him up to the line—and then over it as he lays it all out to protect himself and those he holds dear.
The most unpredictable plot yet The Dresden Files novels have been subject to some damn twisty plots in their time. However, everything in the past pales in comparison to Changes. Not only has Butcher matured as a writer and his craft has improved so much since Storm Front, but Harry himself has grown, gotten smarter—and he’s just starting to show it in-text. So you don’t just have the big bads pulling their usual plot twists, but you also have Harry himself doing things that you’re not really acclimated to him doing just yet. And beyond that, Jim continues his trend of pulling things from the previous novels and tying them all together in Changes.
World building and world smashing Like any novel of The Dresden Files, Changes has its fair share of world building. The Red Court is an obvious focus, and the reader gets some very detailed glimpses into the sociopolitical hierarchy of the Court. A couple of the names that have been tossed around the series in books past get actual screen time in Changes, not the least of which is Vadderung.
Oh, and remember the Erlking? Yeah, he’s there, too.
But beyond the world building, Changes is all about…well, the changes. It’s Jim Butcher getting to put on the Godzilla suit and go smashing about through model Tokyo. And smash, he does. For as Harry goes through his preparations and investigations, his world begins to be destroyed around him. It’s all to build up to the climax at the end of the novel—and it works like a charm. Jim tears Harry’s world to teensy little bits right in front of his readers, truly giving weight to the title of the novel. This installment of The Dresden Files really is all about changes and coping with said changes, and it doesn’t let up on that theme for the entirety of the novel.
Turn the moral ambiguity up to eleven In previous novels, we’ve seen Harry consciously block himself off from the temptation of powers dark and terrible. He knows that there are lines that he simply cannot cross. However, in Changes, all of that gets kicked out of the window and incinerated on the way down. Harry has found a cause for which he doesn’t care what happens, he will cross every line necessary to see this thing through to the end. And crossing lines he does, all with an “if the world burns, we’ll roast marshmallows” mentality.
This is such a break from the Harry we’ve seen throughout the rest of the series that it stands to reason the change would be jarring to a reader. However, this is not the case, not by a long shot. We all have our weak points, those places where we are at our most vulnerable—and our most passionate, no holds barred. It’s a very human place in which Butcher puts Harry, and one that’s totally believable and adds yet more layers to Harry’s humanity and character.
Jim Butcher broke my brain For those of you who read Changes on the day it came out—or any day between its release and Ghost Story‘s release date—you know of what I speak. That freaking ending. For those of you who don’t know, if you haven’t read Changes yet, be certain to have a copy of Ghost Story on hand to begin immediately after finishing Changes. Because there is such a cliffhanger in this novel that it reduced me to a gibbering idiot for at least forty-five minutes. I simply could not wrap my brain around what had happened in the last bit of the novel.
Why should you read this book? If this is the first Dresden Files book you’ve picked up, I recommend starting elsewhere. While Changes can stand on its own, a lot of the subtleties of the series will be missed if you start the story here. If you’ve read all of Harry’s case files up to this point, you need to read this book. Read it for the action. Read it for the adventure. But more than that, read it for the journey. For, with Changes, Butcher has crafted an epic story about finding the power within yourself to do what must be done in spite of the obstacles in your path....more
After some much-needed time off, Harry Dresden is now back in town. However, he is no longer just the only guy in the Chicago phonebook under the heading “Wizards.” Oh, no. He is now the Winter Knight and beholden to Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, ruler of the Unseelie Court of the Sidhe. Mab’s word is now Harry Dresden’s command, no matter where she wants him to go, no matter what she wants him to do, and no matter who she wants him to kill. Guess which one she wants first?
After months of intensive job training, Mab has given Harry his first assignment. And, of course, it won’t be a mundane assassination. Nope, Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No biggie, right?
If that wasn’t bad enough, Harry uncovers a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that will land him in a kind of trouble that makes death look like a holiday. And to top it all off, Harry can feel his newfound powers eating away at him, slowly forcing changes upon his being. So not only is it a race to save the world (again), but this time, Harry is playing for the one thing he has left to call his own: his soul.
Playing in the big leagues It becomes readily apparent within the first quarter of Cold Days that this novel is going to be setting the stage for the next phase of the series. Harry has reached that point now where other supernatural entities are starting to take notice—without him mouthing off to them first. For not only is he on the Summer Court’s hit list, he’s also on Winter’s—because, in Mab’s philosophy, what good is a Knight who can’t defend himself and win?
And because Harry is Harry, he does begin mouthing off to the big fish in this new pond he’s found himself in. And some of the things he has the audacity to mouth off to? Not very nice.
“You’ve taken your fist step into a larger world.” With the change into the big leagues, so to comes a shift in the world around Harry. Because of this, Butcher is able to flesh out some of the details about the big pieces on the board, both character-wise and story-wise. It is finally revealed why exactly Bob lives in a skull and is terrified of Mab. While it is fantastic to finally know the answer to that question, Butcher’s craft has developed to the point where he’ll answer one question but leave you wanting the answers to four more. That’s how I felt after reading Bob’s big reveal.
Also, remember that teaser about Demonreach from the end of Turn Coat? Oh, maaaaaan. That comes back in a big way. Big as in “going to go boom in about one day unless Harry can find a way to prevent it”—which only leads to more questions about the island: the who, the how, and, most importantly, the why. It’s a fantastic amount of history of this world that Butcher has created, and really starts to put things in perspective—the world is an even crazier, awe-inspiring place than we’ve yet realized.
And this is just the beginning. Some of the major differences between the Winter and Summer Courts of the Sidhe are fleshed out. We get to see what Molly has done with her life since Ghost Story. Toot-toot and the Za Lord’s Guard make a reappearance. The Wild Hunt. The Gatekeeper. And that’s just to name a very slight few.
The “Holy @%!” factor This book has it. This book has it in freaking spades. The only other book that has come anywhere close in this is Changes, and Cold Days blows it out of the water. This is a combination of the realization that Harry’s now playing in the big leagues and the world building mentioned above. Some of the things that occurred took me completely by surprise, yet, in retrospect, I could see exactly where and how they had been set up in the previous novels. Especially some moments in the final battle sequence. Man, the feels.
In addition, it seems that every couple of chapters or so, Harry is discovering something new, something big, something drastic that could ruin his day in eighteen different ways and still have time for dessert. Now, in most other scenarios, something like that would likely get stale and lose its effect after a while. Not with Jim Butcher, however. And that’s going into the novel with no expectations other than “He’s going to blow your mind in multiple ways; brace yourself.” I’ve been reading Jim’s stuff for years, building theories, analyzing the bejeebus out of it, and Cold Days still proceeded to blow my mind, repeatedly and without mercy. And it was awesome.
Intensely personal It’s difficult to find a working balance between external conflict and internal introspection in a novel like Cold Days. It’s even more difficult to find a balance of the two that feels absolutely natural and doesn’t leave one side lacking. However, that is exactly what Jim Butcher has done with this novel. Harry has kept up with some of his introspection from the last novel, and makes for a very engaging read (all the while, y’know, furthering the plots). If I had to pin down a singular theme that Harry is dwelling on, it would be the old adage: “Power corrupts.” Now the Winter Knight, Harry has access to the full power of Winter, and from the get-go, he can feel it trying to subvert who he is.
Along with that, Harry’s seen what the power did to the last guy who held it. He also knows that he’s done some terrible things in the past. And knowing what he knows now, Harry also knows that he would do those things again without hesitation. What Harry has a difficult time coping with is the idea that he himself might be becoming what he has always fought against: a monster.
On top of that, now that Harry is back in town, he has to come to terms with the people he had left behind. It’s been a while; he’s changed, they’ve changed, and everyone is wary. Some people, such as Molly and Thomas, take to his return better than others. Things get…interesting between Karrin Murphy and Harry, and it’ll be a trip to watch and see where things progress from here. However, there is one person of whom he is afraid of interacting with more than anything: Maggie. The conversations centering around her are some of the most heart-rending scenes I’ve read this year.
All of this serve to create a character who is inherently flawed, who is inherently human. And it’s something that has made the last three installments of The Dresden Files my favorite books in the series. Because, prior to this point, we haven’t really seen Harry deal with serious corruption of power. Neither have we seen him have to deal with those who he cares deeply about after they don’t really trust him anymore.
It’s gut-wrenching and horrible to read. And yet, it is the little things like those interactions that truly sell this novel as something that could happen in our world.
The stage is set Cold Days, more than anything, is the setting of the stage for the next phase of Harry Dresden’s story. It feels at once both an ending and a beginning. It is the end of the transitory period that began with Changes and continued with Ghost Story. At the same time, it is also the beginning of the next stretch of Harry’s life. He is no longer simply a wizard private eye or a Warden of the White Council. He is something greater that holds a far more terrible potential now. And that’s just the personal touches.
Butcher is also setting the stage for some of the conflicts to come at points down the line. There’s an epic level of foreshadowing in Cold Days. And, ironically enough, a good chunk of said foreshadowing comes from tying together loose threads left over from earlier novels. Things come to Harry’s attentions, things that are unnatural with both the mundane and supernatural worlds. In addition, there some really chilling and disturbing things introduced that will definitely be coming back later in the series. Things like the Outer Gates and baddies that make the naagloshii skinwalker look like a two-bit punk kid sorcerer. Oh, and if you’re familiar with Christian scripture, there is a reference to something from the Book of Revelation. And that one scared the freaking crap out of me.
Why should you read this book? Because if you don’t, you’re crazy. As always, if you’ve not yet picked up the series, I highly recommend starting at the beginning with Storm Front. While Cold Days can function better as a standalone than Ghost Story, it is still building off of a lot of what happened in the last two books.
But, really. Why should you read Cold Days? It’s a fantastic entry into The Dresden Files, and is one of my favorite books to date. It has action, it has snark, it has one of the most trippy and twisted plots I’ve ever seen, and it has fantastic world building out the wazoo. It is an epic entry to a series that continues to improve upon itself, and it proceeds to set the stage for the novels to come. With Cold Days, Jim Butcher has crafted a story that will make you laugh your butt off, that will leave your mind reeling with all of the possibilities, and that cuts straight to the core of the reader’s humanity with surgical precision and refuses to let up on the pressure and suspense until the very end....more
Taken is the third installment in British author Benedict Jacka’s urban fantasy series centering around a wizard named Alex Verus. Having run-ins with experienced battlemages and coming out victorious seems to boost one’s reputation. Such is Alex Verus discovering. Where a few months ago he was a relative unknown in the supernatural circles, Alex is now drawing the attention of some powerful players. As a very competent diviner—a mage who can see into the future—Alex’s abilities are in high demand.
And so Alex picks his contracts with care—because if there is one thing he hates, it’s unpredictability. However, his latest case is leaning more and more toward impossibility as he discovers more about it. Apprentices have been disappearing without a single trace, leaving Alex with no evidence, witnesses, or suspects. The only thing he does know is that someone is keeping tabs on him. Throw in an assassination attempt on one of his apprentice’s classmates, a Dark mage with a personal grudge against Alex crossing his path, and a vengeful rakshasa, and Alex might just have more on his hands than he can handle.
Oh, and someone on the mages’ Council might be involved.
No pressure or anything.
Societal switchups I have never before really appreciated how lucky American urban fantasy-reading audiences are. In my own personal experience, most of urban fantasy literature is set within the United States, and therefore I, as an American, don’t have to get used to the societal reflections within the story as those who don’t live in America might. In my reading history, I have experienced a bit of disconnect with urban fantasy written by British authors for similar things. This is not a good nor a bad thing, it’s just something that is. However, it has detracted from my overall reading experience in the past (looking at you, Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series and Simon R. Green’s Nightside and Secret Histories series).
However, I have not had any disconnect with Benedict Jacka’s writing in his first two novels, and he continues this trend in Taken. Even though the story moves us out of London proper for a good chunk of the novel, Jacka is clear and distinct enough with his worldbuilding that audiences not familiar with Britain can follow without a hitch.
Precise world building With Taken, Jacka continues to showcase his style of world building. Unlike authors who will toss their readers right in and hope for the best, or like authors who are hesitant about world building overpowering the story and so only give sporadic infodumps, Jacka finds a balance between the two. In the Alex Verus novels, he is very precise with his world building, only giving it when it is absolutely needed. Even then, though, it’s not a blatant, obvious thing. Instead, it comes not just from narrative description, but from the character interactions and the like. It’s not the most organic world building I’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely one of the most efficient styles I’ve read recently.
Slimmer story The one thing that didn’t really impress me about Taken was the story. While reading, it catches you up and doesn’t let you go—but when thinking about it afterward, you realize that not a whole lot happened, especially compared with Fated and Cursed. It’s not that it wasn’t compelling, it just seems that Alex went around in circles for a lot of the novel.
Also, I really didn’t fear for Alex’s well-being in this novel—definitely not to the extent I did in the previous two installments, at least. In Fated, especially, I got a sense of how powerful Alex could be, but also of just how very vulnerable he is. This sense was almost non-existent in Taken—which could just be an extension of Alex’s growing confidence, but I think he works better as a vulnerable character.
Now, both of these things seemed lacking due to the expectations I had coming out of Fated and Cursed, so don’t take this to mean that I hated the story—not at all. It just wasn’t as meaty as I had expected and hoped it was going to be. I hope that Jacka gives us a bit more in the next Alex Verus novel.
Well-realized characters Despite the story lacking in comparison to the rest of the series, the characters within Taken are brilliantly realized. And not just the old faces who we’ve seen before—Jacka is a competent enough wordsmith that he is able to fit new characters naturally into the world he’s created. Alex and Luna are the obvious old faces, and Luna gets a decent chunk of screen time here—not as much as in Cursed, but the story is less about her this time around. Sonder makes a few appearances and we see that he’s matured a bit—and also has a bit of a crush on someone in particular.
However, it was the new characters that really drove a lot of the story in Taken. Jacka crafted detailed backstories for most of the characters introduced, and they fit naturally within his world. Beyond that, they are also completely believable people. All of this especially counts in regards to two of Luna’s classmates: Variam Singh and Anne Walker. I definitely wouldn’t want to get on Variam’s bad side, but despite his badassery, I think my favorite character in Taken is Anne. She’s a complicated character, but an honest one—something that Alex isn’t used to. And they interact a lot over the course of the story. I hope we see her again, and I am going to put my prediction out there right now that she and Luna are going to get in a spat over a particular someone.
Why should you read this book? If you want an urban fantasy not set in the United States, you need to read this series. As always, I recommend starting with book one (Fated), but Taken is able to stand on its own. If you’re looking for an exciting read that balances between being a fun romp and a suspenseful story, read this book. A worthy installment to a series sure to appeal to fans of Jim Butcher and featuring a fantastically-realized world and characters who could walk off the page, sit down on your sofa, and share a drink with you, Taken is a stay-up-all-night-until-you-finish read that will leave you wanting more....more