Feed by Mira Grant (pen name for Seanan McGuire) is the first book in Newsflesh trilogy, documenting the adventures of bloggers and adoptive siblings Georgia “George” and Shaun Mason.
Set in 2034, twenty years after the zombie apocalypse, the Mason siblings and I.T. tech Georgette “Buffy” Meissonier discover that their blogging team has been selected to cover the campaign trail of the Republican Presidential candidate Peter Ryman. But the campaign trail grows more dangerous by the minute, and the bloggers must figure out what’s behind the attacks before they become zombie Happy Meals.
Intricate worldbuilding Now that the zombie apocalypse is overdone, Feed examines the post-post apocalyptic setting and how society restructured itself twenty years after cures for the common cold and for cancer mutated into the Kellis-Amberlee virus and became an epidemic. Everyone is infected, but only when the virus is activated does zombification occur. Feed delves into the properties of the virus in such detail that the Newsflesh series qualifies as a science fiction treatment of zombies; this is certainly the strongest aspect of the book. There are also geographic and social science musings on how the virus spread, and as a decade-long Berkeley-Oakland dweller, I especially appreciated how Berkeley, California—home to the Masons—survived.
Popular culture and social media Popular culture gets its nods; since George Romero’s movies proved hauntingly accurate in providing instructions on how to deal with zombies, the most popular female names are Georgia, Georgette, and Barbara (the more popular variation of the name “Barbra,” the lead female character in Night of the Living Dead). The character Shaun Mason likely gets his name from the more recent popular zombie movie, Shaun of the Dead.
The news-blogging aspect was very interesting to an off-and-on blogger such as myself, though as soon as Feed was printed the technological aspects would inevitably become outdated, as only the most prescient writer can accurately predict social media advancements. Still, in the age of Twitter, where one could read about the Comic-Con server crash hours before the story hit the newswire, the underlying idea behind Feed remains relevant.
The details and the broad strokes Though Feed thrives on the details of post-post-apocalyptic living, other aspects of the book are underdeveloped. Sometimes Grant’s voice seems to poke through at strange moments; Georgia Mason states, “We are the Jennifers of our generation,” presumably referring to the fact that Jennifer was the number one name for girls born in the U.S. each year, from 1970 until 1984, and remained popular well into the early 2000s. This is a fact that Grant, born in 1978, is likely aware of from living in the contemporary U.S. But why would Georgia say or know this in 2034, especially when mere sentences later, Georgia proves to be completely oblivious to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show?
Much more egregious than Georgia’s ignorance of Buffy Summers, however, are the lack of brains in Feed. Despite Georgia’s repeated sentiment that Senator Ryman is a great Presidential candidate—which should mean a lot given her somewhat jaded view—we simply don’t see enough of him to draw the same conclusions. What we do learn of him instead indicates that he’s dumb; though, to be fair, all but our protagonist bloggers seem affected by a “dumb” virus—highly suspicious events jog only the suspicions of the protagonists. As young adults are sometimes unbelievably heroic in young adult literature, thus are the bloggers here in this blogger fantasy.
Similarly disappointing here are the politics. While the hatred of the religious right may spark camaraderie in Berkeley, the broad strokes afforded the religious Republicans in Feed feel lazy, especially when presented in stark contrast to the care given to developing the intricacies of the Kellis-Amberlee virus.
Why should you read this book? Despite my complaints about Feed, it was still a highly enjoyable read with a lot to offer. In addition, the kick-ass action sequences and memorable characters made this a hard book to put down. I’m definitely sticking around for Deadline, the next book in the Newsflesh series.(less)
Huntress is Malinda Lo’s second young adult novel. It is billed as a prequel to Ash, though the threads that tie the two books together are light; for example, the main characters do not overlap. In Huntress, we follow two young women, Kaede and Taisin, who learn that they must embark on a journey to the city of the Fairy Queen. Kaede, a warrior, does not feel confident in her own abilities, but she is chosen due to the visions of Taisin, a young but trusted sage who can see into the future.
Romantic expectations One thing I loved about the romance in Ash was that it developed organically as we witnessed Ash’s journey in discovering where her heart led her. In Huntress, Lo is determined not to repeat the same journey and instead introduces a new element: Because Taisin’s own visions tell her she will fall in love with Kaede, Taisin has to deal with the disconnect between what she feels now and the love she knows she will feel for Kaede in the future. It’s an interesting setup; Taisin knows where her heart will lead; knowing this, how will she get there and what surprises can she expect? After all, prophecies and visions may come true, but the result is never quite what you expect. Just as Lo played with and exceeded readers’ romantic expectations in Ash, so she does in Huntress.
Well-written Simplicity in language can be beautiful, though in young adult novels, sometimes I find it to be non-distracting at best and clichéd at worst. Lo’s writing is simple and beautiful; there is a Zen-like quality to the prose. When I’m panicking, Lo’s voice is what I’d like to hear to allay my fears. At times, however, this evenness and calmness act almost to the novel’s detriment—though the action scenes are fascinating and well-written, the reassuring tone diminishes the urgency and danger of the situation.
Chinese influences Ash, as a reimaging of the Cinderella tale with an exploration of the fae, was influenced far more by European folklore. Huntress begins with this “warning”—“Huntress is set in the same world as Ash, but it takes place many centuries earlier. There are some significant cultural differences between the time periods.” Thus Lo creates the perfect excuse to turn to Chinese influences in this rather loosely-termed “prequel.” The biggest source of inspiration is the I-Ching, otherwise known as the Book of Changes, which Lo turns into her own Book of Changes through poetic interpretation. For example, the opening poem is in part a reference to Hexagram 3 of the I-Ching, which is named “sprouting” or “difficulty in the beginning.” These details add delicious texture to the story, but one need not be familiar with the source of inspiration to enjoy the book.
Overly ambitious As Lo combines lesbian romance, multiple viewpoints, action adventure, Chinese lore, and more, the overall cohesiveness of the story is a little lost. To say that Huntress is overly ambitious may be an understatement—it sprawls too much in too little space. The ending is a bit rushed, and this abruptness is all the more jarring given Lo’s otherwise steady prose. But an excess of ambition always trumps lack of ambition.
Why should you read this book? Lo is a real asset to young adult literature, and this shows in Huntress. While it is not necessary to read Ash to follow the story in Huntress, both are strong books that I would highly recommend.(less)
Ash is a gay retelling of the Cinderella tale that challenges the assumptions underlying many fairy tales—namely, that all girls merely yearn for their princes to come rescue them from their lives. While the protagonist Ash does wish she can escape the clutches of her cruel stepmother, as the story progresses, she discovers that her dreams may lie with the King’s Huntress rather than any prince or even her handsome fairy godfather. Will Ash be able to realize her dreams?
Melding of the worlds While undoubtedly cruel stepmothers and cruel stepsisters exist, their cruelness in the typical Cinderella tales usually reach caricatural heights. Malinda Lo, however, paints Ash’s circumstances in believable and grounded strokes. We discover how a girl beloved by her parents can end up an orphan controlled by a matriarch who strives for understandable goals with less-than-noble means.
As grounded and as realistically difficult as Ash’s home life is, Lo also manages to describe the wonders and eeriness of the fairy world to great effect. The setup is such that it’s easy to understand how the human world came to coexist with the fairy world, and how humans—but not Ash—can be ignorant of the fairy world.
An organic romance Based on the book description and promotional literature, it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Ash falls for another woman, Kaisa, the King’s Huntress. Despite this foreknowledge, the romance still manages to develop naturally and organically. In fact, it may not even be clear that a romance is brewing, in part because Ash had never fallen in love before and may not be completely cognizant of identifying or recognizing her feelings. But Ash still knows her heart well enough to follow it, and when she realizes her love for Kaisa, the realization is so powerful and beautiful that I consider Ash one of the better books to describe the act of falling in love. A lot of young adult novels rely on the mere existence of an amazingly gorgeous male love interest and neglect justifying the female protagonist’s romantic feelings. Ash takes no such shortcuts.
In forgoing these shortcuts, Ash remains fair to the potential male love interests. Ash may not necessarily feel the need to marry a prince or even a rich noble man, but she is also presented with an amazingly gorgeous male love interest who seems intent on catering to her wishes (as well as his own, of course). She doesn’t spurn his attentions, and she is justifiably drawn to his world. That all this temptation does not immediately win over her heart completely is a testament to the power of true love and the beauty of Ash.
Why should you read this book? Ash pushes the boundaries of reader expectations. This push is administered not as a forceful cramming-down-the-throat of anti-clichés, but rather as the push of a river down an unexpected, but natural, path. The only potential shortcoming of Ash is the ending, which came a little abruptly. But the sweetness of Ash is guaranteed to linger.(less)
Horns is the second standalone novel from Joe Hill, also known for his dark and twisted graphic novel series Locke & Key. Horns follows Ignatius Perrish a.k.a. “Ig.” On the one-year anniversary of his girlfriend Merrin’s rape and murder, Ig finds that he has grown horns on his temples. The horns encourage people around him to uncontrollably confess and act upon their sinful thoughts. It’s not easy to live with people’s unfiltered opinions—after all, almost everyone in town thinks Ig killed Merrin, his childhood sweetheart and true love. But with this newfound power of suggestion, Ig can now conduct his own investigation and seek out Merrin’s killer.
An engrossing mystery Horns is a supernatural murder mystery, but it is also an emotional mystery in that people’s intentions unfold in many unexpected ways. We start the journey when Ig discovers his horns, but then we also go back in time to see how Ig and Merrin first met and later fell in love. We are also introduced to the people in Ig’s life, and when those people later start confessing their thoughts (thanks to Ig’s horns), we’re in for a hell of a ride.
Romance for the twisted Nothing about Ig and Merrin’s relationship is twisted, but Horns is the kind of book that really appeals to my romantic side in the vein of Twelve Monkeys—dark, gritty, but powered by love. Merrin was the one thing that Ig ever fought for; the rest of his life was unremarkable while Merrin was alive. Ig was devoted to Merrin, but he also let her down when she needed him the most. Horns is complicated—it challenges both the idea of a pure and true love and its disbelievers.
Challenging material For those with delicate sensibilities, there are a few later chapters told from the killer’s perspective, which is an extremely chilling point of view—powerful, but disturbing. I mentioned earlier that Merrin was raped and killed, and that scene gets a visceral first-person treatment.
As for those with delicate ideological sensibilities, Horns also throws out the idea that given all the bad and the evil in the world, the devil may bring more justice than God. Horns leads you to feel that revenge may be justified. But if revenge is the moral high ground, isn’t the devil a good guy?
I’m not providing these warnings to scare people away; rather, I hope that those who otherwise may be unpleasantly surprised with the subject matter be forewarned and approach Horns prepared. This is a book that begs to be read.
Why should you read this book? Horns is on the Locus recommended reading list as one of the best fantasy novels of the year 2010 for good reason—it’s entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. Not only does Joe Hill have his father’s talent (his father is Stephen King), I’m hoping he will be just as—if not more—prolific.
Buy the book and get a specialized bookplate! With March seeing the paperback release of Horns, the author is offering the following deal: the first 1000 people to order the book and then email email@example.com with proof of purchase will receive a specialized bookplate from Joe—he’s been signing and doodling all sorts of creations on bookplates for days now! For more information on this giveaway and the rest of Joe’s books, visit www.joehillfiction.com and follow Joe on Twitter @joe_hill.(less)
The Samaritan begins when Dale Sampson is in the sixth grade. Girls don’t talk to him. And when the school baseball star, Mack, decides to befriend Dale, Dale earns an air of mystique—but he remains luckless when it comes to the opposite sex. Later in high school, when Dale is about to graduate, when it seems he may finally win the girl of his dreams, those dreams are shattered.
So when he discovers that he can regenerate his body parts, he decides that if he can’t improve his own life, he’ll put his regenerative powers to save others—starting with the twin sister of his dream girl, the sister who married an abusive husband.
A strong, honest voice The Samaritan is written from the first-person perspective, and Dale lays out his life and feelings with such raw and brutal honesty that even if you don’t like him, you understand him, you trust him, you sympathize with him. So when Dale thinks the unthinkable, instead of believing him a villain, you instead see what dark thoughts can result from the hope of love after a long lack of human contact. And you forgive him because sometimes even your own mind can betray you. Forgiveness is more than Dale can grant himself, however, so he decides to seek redemption.
A difficult journey The Samaritan captures small town life—the friendships that grow from self-congratulation that end up holding together because of self-pity, the dreams that turn into hopelessness, the great beyond revealing itself as nothing more than another trapped existence. Then there’s life, of course, that pitcher who won’t stop throwing curve balls. As much as Dale knows he’s never going to be normal, he keeps striving to be special on his own terms. But life has other plans.
A story about human connections For a loner like Dale, his supernatural power is the only thread connecting him to others. As he exploits this connection, he manages to distance himself even further. His journey, which consists of effort after effort to claw his way back from the dark pit of guilt and despair, is a fascinating and powerful one, but it is not for the faint of heart—I must warn readers that this book does contain a violent rape scene.
Why should you read this book? This is an extremely strong debut, and with Venturini’s insights into human nature and smart writing style, it’s easy to see why the budding Blank Slate Press chose Venturini as one of its flagship authors. Who knows how many books it will take for Venturini to garner the attention he deserves, but why not say you knew him when? Pick up a copy of The Samaritan and find out for yourself.
Benni received a review copy courtesy of Blank Slate Press and TLC Book Tours.(less)
Moon Over Soho is the second book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, the first being Midnight Riot (U.S.) or Rivers of London (U.K.). In his first adventure, Peter Grant, a magic-wielding constable, investigated a series of crimes tied to the theater. This time around, in Moon Over Soho, Peter takes on jazz: When a part-time jazz musician drops dead from what seems like a heart attack, the jazz notes lingering on his corpse indicate a supernatural cause of death, requiring the investigative work of our charming Mr. Grant.
Read It Fast or Read It Slow I previously noted that Midnight Riot was a “fun and fast read,” but I must clarify. Both Peter Grant books are “fun and fast” thanks to the abundant humor, action, and adventure. But readers seeking something more will also find Aaronovitch’s attention to history, popular culture, geography, and science rewarding.
A Rich, Alternate London In a sense, all urban fantasy novels are alternate histories, exploring what our world would be like if magic, vampires, werewolves, etc. existed. Where other urban fantasy novels may decide to gloss over this alternate history aspect, Aaronovitch explores it to the series’s credit. For example, in the Peter Grant world, a certain past famous scientist wrote an entire treatise on magic. Contemporary scientists also have genetic theories as to why preternatural beings exist, such as the woman with the vagina dentata, whose victims bleed to death. And when Peter is asked to fix the damage caused by magic with more magic, he explains that doing so may be ineffective; i.e., you use balms and creams to heal a burn, not more fire.
In my review of Midnight Riot, I claimed there was little in common with the Harry Potter series (as noted by a cover blurb), except that Latin words were associated with the casting of spells. What that means for Peter Grant, though, is that he also actually has to study Latin. These small touches that ground the story in reality enhance the magical aspects in return.
A Charming Lead Anchoring all the magic, action, and science is Peter Grant, who provides a strong center for the series, aptly named in his honor. Unrefined as his humor may be (and as expected from a London constable), Peter is nevertheless that charming scoundrel you want not only to hang out with, but also to back you in dangerous situations.
Police Procedural with Insights Part of Aaronovitch’s attention to detail involves insight into forensic investigations, and should appeal to fans of police procedurals. Some examples:
I showed her my warrant card, and she stared at it in confusion. You get that about half the time, mainly because most members of the public have never seen a warrant card close up and have no idea what the hell it is.
“Would you like me to arrest you?” I asked. That’s an old police trick: If you just warn people they often just ignore you, but if you ask them a question then they have to think about it. Once they start to think about the consequences they almost always calm down, unless they’re drunk of course, or stoned, or aged between fourteen and twenty-one, or Glaswegian.
Why Should You Read This Book? Aaronovitch once half-jokingly touted Midnight Riot as a “book that [his family] called the best book ever written by anyone ever in the history of time.” Midnight Riot was a very strong start to the Peter Grant series, but I held back on rating it a full 5 stars in part because I wasn’t sure how the series would progress. While my praise for Moon Over Soho may fall short of the Aaronovitch family’s praise of Midnight Riot, Moon Over Soho cements the Peter Grant series as my favorite urban fantasy series. The humor, the world-building, the action, the magic, the mystery, the procedural—all are top-notch.(less)
Vegas Knights is a standalone novel, described on the cover as “Ocean’s Eleven meets Harry Potter as two student wizards try to scam a Vegas casino…using magic!” Harry Potter is the go-to cover blurb shorthand for wizardry nowadays, and while in Vegas Knights we follow students of magic, the similarities to Harry Potter end there. Vegas Knights reads more like a supernatural Bringing Down the House.
The aforementioned students of magic, Jackson and Bill, are earning secret degrees in magic studies (publicly titled “trans-quantum postulating”) at University of Michigan’s Residential College. The boys are interested in putting their studies to practical use, however, and decide to spend spring break in Vegas. Since they have magical powers that can alter the faces of cards, they plan on winning big at card games. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t pay enough attention in their Magical Logic 101 class, where they should have learned that (1) if they have magic powers, so must others, and (2) if they can bet on anything, it’s that other wizards must have dreamed up the same get-rich-quick schemes. When they learn these lessons the hard way, Jackson and Bill will have to figure out how to escape Sin City alive.
Fast-paced action The action sequences in Vegas Knights put to shame even the highest-budgeted action movies. Where directors need millions of dollars in special effects and stunts, Forbeck uses language to much greater effect. Forbeck, rather than plucking words from the dictionary like the rest of us, forms his language from distilling the most potent shots of adrenaline. I have held my breath before; I have felt my heartbeat rise before; but never have I physically shaken from the rush generated from the action contained in a book until I read Vegas Knights. When the Author’s Note at the end of the book mentioned that Forbeck once tried to develop this concept as a movie, the only surprising fact was that he never got far.
Never-ending excitement Even when the action stops, the excitement never abates. I enjoyed the Mojo Poker showdown, and even yearned to have my own copy of Mojo Poker: The Game and the Rules. Without spoiling too much, Vegas Knights pleasantly surprises with its incorporation of real life magic lore and figures, as well as gaming references.
Little character development Just as you don’t walk into the theater expecting in-depth character development from The Fast and the Furious, don’t expect too much character development in Vegas Knights. The characters are a little one-note—for example, Jackson is the hero whose powers are greater than he could have imagined, and Bill is the sidekick who gets distracted by the glitz and the glamor. The emotions rely more on paradigmatic relationships—that is, we can relate to a mother loving her son without much explanation—than the author’s careful construction. But this is a book where the story and the action take the front seat—and what story and action they are!
Why should you read this book? If you’re craving a fast-paced action adventure, skip a movie and grab a copy of Vegas Knights instead. If you don’t mind characters that never break their archetypal molds, you’ll savor the magic rocket ride that is Vegas Knights and its action in spades. This is popcorn fantasy at its best.(less)
This review contains minor spoilers for the previous volumes in The Iron Fey series.
The Iron Queen is the third book in Julie Kagawa’s The Iron Fey series. Having previously defeated Virus, one of the false Iron King’s minions, Meghan Chase is called back to NeverNever to finish off the false Iron King himself. Even though iron can be deadly to both Summer and Winter fey, Queen Mab, leader of the Unseelie (Winter) Court, has figured out a way to craft protective amulets for Ash, Puck, and Grimalkin, so that these trusty companions can aid Meghan in her quest.
A slow start Meghan mostly relies on her wit in the first two books to defeat her enemies, but in The Iron Queen, she decides to train physically and magically. While interesting, the training spans the first one-third of the book, and there’s something off-putting about extensive training scenes for a protagonist so late in the series. Additionally, once the adventure begins, The Iron Queen never quite matches the momentum of the first two books, even though it features one of the largest battle scenes yet. Further, as discussed below, the fun quotient drops as the characters argue amongst themselves.
Can’t we all just get along? Despite Meghan’s efforts in the first two books, NeverNever is still in danger. This plight and the explosive tension built up from the love triangle inevitably lead to high stress. But the characters seem particularly impatient with each other, becoming unreasonably angered by any slight. Meghan is angry at Puck for lying to her, even though Meghan should know that Puck’s actions actually resulted in the best situation possible. Ash is angry at Meghan for saying things that are offensive to a fey, even though Ash should know that Meghan is actually looking out for him. Meghan is angry at Grimalkin for providing the ingredients for the amulets, even though Meghan should know that no trust was betrayed and the amulets are essential for her consorts. Meghan even yells at a gremlin for failing to follow an order, right before discovering that the gremlin actually did follow her order. While NeverNever remains as magical as ever, Meghan’s moodiness affected my enjoyment of this book.
Creepy old men I understand that both Puck and Ash love Meghan, even though both are much, much older than she is. Puck’s age did not bother me in the past, since he’s a trickster who will always be young at heart. Ash’s age also did not bother me, since no matter how old he gets, he’s still always seen as the youngest son. But as the plot progresses and the romantic relationships grow more serious in The Iron Daughter, I find myself bothered by the age differences. Perhaps this struck me when Puck revealed that he has always been in love with Meghan (who is only seventeen), which necessarily implies he was in love with her even at an elementary-school age. Or this may have struck me when Ash delved into additional detail about his long, long past. Whatever it was, I definitely felt a slight increase in the “ick” factor. To Kagawa’s credit, however, she’s got a strong enough handle on the prose and the story to overcome any obstacle.
Why should you read this book? While this review emphasized my qualms, I nevertheless enjoyed reading The Iron Queen and spending time with characters I loved, even if they were crankier. Also, we’re given a preview for book four, The Iron Knight, told from Ash’s point of view; if the preview is any indication, The Iron Knight is not to be missed. To prepare for the next installment in this imaginative series, you’ll have to read The Iron Queen.(less)
The Painted Boy is a standalone novel by Charles de Lint, following a young Chinese-American teenager, Jay Li. When he was 11 years old, a painted dra...moreThe Painted Boy is a standalone novel by Charles de Lint, following a young Chinese-American teenager, Jay Li. When he was 11 years old, a painted dragon appeared on his back, signaling that in the future he may wield the power of his inner dragon. When Jay turns 17, he travels from Chicago’s Chinatown to Santo del Vado Viejo, Arizona as part of his spiritual journey. Upon arrival, he immediately has to escape angry gang members who believe Jay to be a Triad spy.
Jay does find some friends in town, including Rosalie, who works at the local restaurant, and Anna, who is the guitarist for the local band, Malo Malo. But the gangs have ruined life in Santo del Vado Viejo, and it’s up to Jay to cultivate his inner dragon so that he can fulfill his destiny and clean up the town.
Diverse mythologies and cultures It isn’t every day that I find fantasy books based on Chinese, Native American, and Latino mythologies and cultures. It is even rarer to find a book such as The Painted Boy that identifies strong common ground among these mythologies and cultures. As a Chinese-American who in part grew up in a largely Latino neighborhood (though the gangs were not nearly as out of control as in The Painted Boy), I appreciated this point of view. As for the Chinese cultural part, Jay’s strained relationship with his Paupau (grandmother) portrays familial and generational tensions quite realistically. As for the Chinese mythology part, I’ve always been partial to tales where animals become humans, as in Legend of the White Snake or the myth of the huli jing. The Painted Boy delivers on these grounds.
An origin story Jay spends the majority of the book learning to wield his powers, which, while entirely understandable and plausible, would have been more satisfying if this were the first book in a series. As a standalone book, I was disappointed to only get a glimpse of what Jay is capable of. The Painted Boy is not a superhero story, and a “let me use my superpowers a ton” phase would not necessarily be appropriate, but nevertheless I found myself yearning for more.
Not as engaging as I had hoped The good guys are all likeable enough, and Jay is unassuming and charming, but overall the characters lack any real depth and none of them ever become fully engaging.
The story itself is extremely straightforward, perhaps predictable (though I don’t use the word “predictable” in a pejorative sense). But, in its straightforwardness, the story lacked the substance that I would expect to accompany such rich mythological and cultural material. For example, what ultimately helps Jay control his power is something I found to be somewhat of a cop-out.
The book’s messages are also honorable but a bit hollow (don’t use your power for bad, don’t join a gang, don’t judge a book by its cover, go to school, etc.) because, as presented, I’m not certain it would get through to the target audience. It’s not this book’s job to offer any solutions for gang violence, but the platitudes given in the context of the characters’ situations seem so unhelpful as to be depressing. I would, however, still recommend this book to teenagers. If anything, the interracial friendships are encouraging.
Why should you read this book? Despite my suspicion that The Painted Boy aims to do more than tell a story (and fails), it’s still a great source for getting a fix of mythologies you may not encounter very frequently in the fantasy genre.
This review contains very minor spoilers for The Iron King, Book #1 in The Iron Fey series.
The Iron Daughter is the second book in Julie Kagawa’s The...moreThis review contains very minor spoilers for The Iron King, Book #1 in The Iron Fey series.
The Iron Daughter is the second book in Julie Kagawa’s The Iron Fey series. For centuries, the Seelie (Summer) Court and the Unseelie (Winter) Court have maintained an uneasy alliance to avoid costly wars. As part of a treaty, during each human year, both courts get a chance to hold the Scepter of the Seasons, the source of power in the fairyland, NeverNever. But when the Iron Fey steal the scepter from the Winter Court and frame the Summer Court, it’s up to our heroine Meghan Chase to retrieve the scepter, set the record straight, and keep the tenuous Winter-Summer truce from collapsing.
Less focused than the first book Even though there is a clear quest to retrieve the scepter, The Iron Daughter seems less focused than the first book in the series, The Iron King. The characters embark in more side journeys, meet more characters, and get further acquainted with minor characters from the first book. The side journeys are enjoyable, as are all the new supporting characters: Leanesidhe, who takes in various half-feys; Ironhorse, who now swears allegiance to Meghan; and Virus, a formidable foe who works for the false Iron king. As enjoyable as these side journeys and characters are, NeverNever is already a saturated world, and for the first time in the series, we see a glimpse of how there can be too much of a good thing. It is still much preferable to not enough, however, and The Iron Daughter remains an exciting adventure.
A love triangle resolved too soon Even though both Puck and Ash get a chance to woo Meghan, by the middle of The Iron Daughter, it seems obvious who has won Meghan’s heart for good. There’s no point in drawing out a love triangle for the sake of drama, but I still felt this decision came a little too soon in the series. Well, okay, I admit I may just be a little upset that Meghan made the wrong choice. If I sound like a petulant fangirl, that’s what The Iron Fey series can do to you; it’s so lovable that you cannot help but become invested in all the characters and the relationships.
Can I get my heart back? No, I’m not talking about either Puck or Ash. Instead, I’m referring to Grimalkin, the cat-like cait sith who has cemented his spot in my heart as the best sidekick ever (though he would be very upset to hear me refer to him as a sidekick). He disappears and reappears at critical junctures, provides solutions to obstacles, and prevents characters from kissing too much. And when asked how he does what he does, he answers simply: “I’m a cat.” He’s absolutely purr-fect, even for a dog lover like me.
Why should you read this book? Despite some minor shortcomings in The Iron Daughter, The Iron Fey is still one of the best young adult fantasy series out there, and Kagawa one of the best storytellers.
The Iron King is the first book in Julie Kagawa’s The Iron Fey series. The Iron King follows Meghan Chase, a perfectly ordinary high school teenager,...moreThe Iron King is the first book in Julie Kagawa’s The Iron Fey series. The Iron King follows Meghan Chase, a perfectly ordinary high school teenager, who just wants some attention from the cutest guy in school, Scott Waldron. Unfortunately for Meghan, she’s just a poor farm girl, and the only two people who acknowledge her existence are her four-year-old half-brother Ethan and her neighbor and best friend, Robbie Goodfell.
As Meghan turns sixteen, however, she discovers that she is half-fey; she is the daughter of Oberon, King of the Seelie (or Summer) Court. When faeries kidnap Ethan and replace him with a vicious changeling, Meghan is forced to venture into the fairy-land of NeverNever to rescue him.
Tribute to everything fantastic The Iron King draws on many sources. The Seelie court is loosely based on characters from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Oberon is king, Titania is queen, and Meghan’s best friend Robbie is actually Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, trickster and knave to Oberon. The closet entrance to NeverNever is reminiscent of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Grimalkin the cait sith is a mysterious and unconventially-helpful guide like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. Since NeverNever is fueled by human imagination, it makes sense that everything is at once fantastic but familiar. And now that human lives are so dominated by technology, these new technological fantasies have spawned a new power—the Iron King. Even though combining all of these eclectic elements may sound hodgepodge, Kagawa blends this all together seamlessly and in the process creates her own unique world inspired by a love of all things fantastic.
Team Puck v. Team Ash Somehow in the first three paragraphs above, I managed to leave out a major love interest, the youngest prince of the Unseelie (or Winter) Court, Prince Ash. Both Ash and Puck vie for Meghan’s love, setting up the biggest showdown since Edward and Jacob fought over Bella in the Twilight series. This setup may be tired in the hands of a less capable author, but Kagawa has the uncanny ability to infuse clichés with freshness. I suspect I may be rooting for the losing team, but both love interests possess enough winning qualities to keep fangirls on both sides swooning.
Effortless read Kagawa writes in a breezy style that keeps the reader turning the pages. Though some may find this book to be a fast read, everyone will get a lot of entertainment in return. The Iron King has a strong storyline accompanied by a compelling cast of characters, lead and supporting alike.
Why should you read this book? The Iron King is an exceptionally well-written book that deserves the kind of attention showered upon Twilight. Twilight fans will definitely enjoy The Iron King—but so will the Twilight detractors! Kagawa’s love for fantasy really shines through the obligatory teenage angst, and she covers the spectrum from genuinely scary moments to fairy-land fun, making The Iron King a delightful romp for the readers.
Passion Play is the first book in the Erythandra series. We are introduced to Therez Zhalina (later Ilse), the daughter of a well-to-do merchant. She lives a privileged life but is dependent on the continued vitality of her father’s business. To ensure the family’s continued wealth and station, Therez’s father promises her hand in marriage to an older man, Theodr Galt, who is poised to help the Zhalina family.
Based on the rumors she hears about Galt’s broken engagement with another woman from a prominent family, Therez deduces that Galt is cruel. Her fears are compounded when she intuits a deep-rooted anger from his mere touch. Frightened by the prospect of a life trapped in a gilded cage with a probable monster, Therez decides to run away and assume the name Ilse.
An admirable heroine Passion Play starts off strong. I felt I was right next to Therez/Ilse as she attempts escape her impending marriage and is forced into harrowing experiences while bargaining for passage. (Warning: there are multiple rapes in succession.) I admired Ilse because no matter how hard things get for her, she never regrets her decision to leave—that was the one choice she did get to make. No one should ever have to suffer so much for freedom, but freedom isn’t free, and Ilse remains dedicated to forging her own path.
A troubling romance Ilse remains jobless until Duke Raul offers her a position in the kitchen of his pleasure house. Raul is by no means a conventional love interest, and the author made a gutsy choice in selecting him, which I admire. I even understand why, given Ilse’s escape experience, she may be drawn to Raul; but after everything I went through with Ilse, I felt she deserved better. She may be physically safe with Raul, but I found him condescending, cold, and oppressive. Certainly, there is room to grow as a character, and Raul may grow to deserve Ilse.
Problems with pacing While Ilse’s adventures begin with a swift pace, once Raul decides to elevate her to a secretarial position, the book slows to a crawl. Ilse learns of political plots and far-off events through letters that she has to deliver and subsequent conversations with Raul. If letters and conversations about far-off events sound dull, well, they are. Unfortunately, this letter reading and event discussing encompasses more than one-third of the book, and is ultimately my reason for a low rating. By the time Ilse’s personal adventures pick up, including her dabbles in magic, it is too little, too late.
Why should you read this book? Despite the book’s problems, the prose in Passion Play is beautifully written, and Ilse holds immense promise as the heroine. If you think you can handle the slow pacing in the middle, you could do a lot worse than Passion Play.(less)
Angelfire is the first book in the Angelfire Trilogy. The beautiful girl on the cover is seventeen-year-old Ellie, who has begun having nightmares about past lives where she fights reapers. Ellie notices a boy stalking her, but since he’s handsome, she is intrigued. The stalker, Will, turns out to be her immortal guardian, and she turns out to be the Preliator, Latin for “warrior.” Every time she dies, she eventually reincarnates into another human body, but Will has to wait until she’s seventeen to activate her memories and her power.
An uninspired love interest If you guessed that despite Will’s immortality, he looks about twenty, then kudos. If you thought seventeen, sorry; that’s Twilight (which I liked much more than Manon). Will is the kind of immortal who never bothered over his years to learn the meaning of humor or levity, because (1) how else would a girl know that this guy is ancient and “wise” unless he’s also unfunny? and (2) this reaper threat is serious business. Serious, but not urgent, it seems, since he has to wait for his Ellie, who sometimes bides her time in the reincarnation process and must grow to the ripe age of seventeen before her powers are activated. Since there’s no competing love interest, all that’s keeping the lovebirds apart is Will’s sense of… honor? I’m not completely sure. After a half-twist reveal, though, I suppose I would also feel uncomfortable if they were to become an official couple.
More (unrequited) romance than adventure Ellie’s girl friend proclaims that girls are hardwired to desire nothing more than a shining white knight, a sentiment that proves unfortunately sincere in Angelfire. However kickass Ellie may turn out as the series progresses, it will remain secondary to her love for Will and his oh-so-noble sacrifices to protect her. This is disappointing.
That is not to say there is no action; though I would distinguish said “action” from “adventure.” There are plenty of fight scenes in which reapers randomly attack and bellow threats while Ellie’s trying to date Will and convince him to do normal teenager stuff. These scenes seem contrived, failing to build any suspense because Ellie and Will are never in real danger. While they accrue battle wounds, those wounds heal quickly because the two have supernatural abilities. The fights serve more as an excuse for the pair to cry out each other’s name and declare their love for each other without actually declaring their love for each other.
An unimaginative story As I was reading Angelfire, I could not help but fantasize how even smallest touches would have injected the story with more life. Since Ellie is in part a different person every time she reincarnates, why couldn’t she have, for once, not been attracted to Will? Think of all the additional moping Will could do. Or, since Will never knows exactly how long it takes for Ellie to reincarnate, Will could feel bitter towards Ellie. Maybe he could even decide to abandon her. Think of all the additional moping Ellie could do. I don’t mean these suggestions in earnest, just as a warning that this book can prompt meandering thoughts.
Why should you read this book? The author absolutely nails the young adult experience; perhaps that is why legions of teenagers who have received advanced copies of this book vehemently disagree with me. However, I cannot imagine very many adults who would enjoy this book, and even to a teenage reader, I would recommend looking at the other young adult books that we have reviewed.(less)
Zoo City is a standalone novel set in a fictional Johannesburg, South Africa. In Zoo City, if you commit a felonious sin, the Undertow comes for you and marks you with first an animal companion that serves as a manifestation of your sin, and second a supernatural talent. Both the animal and the talent are called “mashavi.” The sinners are called “aposymbiots,” and are relegated to living in a slum known as Zoo City.
Zinzi December is an aposymbiot: her animal is a sloth named Sloth, and her talent is tracking lost things. While she prefers not to track lost persons, money is tight. So when she’s offered a sizeable sum for locating a missing young pop star, she accepts. Zinzi finds out, however, that with big money comes big risk.
Great dialogue Zoo City captures a textured, living world, where even the minor characters are vivid. In part, this is due to great dialogue—not the kind of highly stylistic dialogue where everyone sounds clever or cool, à la Elmore Leonard, but one that lends a verisimilitude to this breathing world. Each person sounds distinct enough to convey his or her personality, yet similar enough to constitute communities. Zoo City is written in the first person from the perspective of the articulate Zinzi. Zinzi’s observations and the rhythms of the dialogue together serve as the heartbeat of Zoo City.
World building through literature I also enjoyed glimpses into this world via its literature. Between certain chapters, we are presented with excerpts of writing: Zinzi’s 419 scam e-mails (if I ever got such eloquently written scam e-mails, I’d probably frame them), interviews with aposymbiotic prisoners (including one whose mashavi is a butterfly suggestive of Chuang-Tzu’s butterfly), and movie reviews of a documentary featuring the first known aposymbiot, a film student turned warlord whose animal was a penguin and talent was psychic torture. I really like this approach of world-building; it educates and entertains.
Unique fantasy Even though the mashavi animals are partly reminiscent of Philip Pullman’s daemons from His Dark Materials trilogy, Beukes’s version is highly original. The animals are in part an embarrassment as a mark of sin, but there are also those humans who adopt real animals for “street cred.” For the aposymbiots who don’t get to choose their animals, however, life can be difficult if your animal is perceived as wimpy. As the Butterfly prisoner explains, “Don’t matter what you did, you got a bad-ass animal in here, you’re a bad-ass too. And it don’t matter how many people you killed, you got a Chipmunk or a Squirrel, you’re gonna be a bitch. Way it is.”
Why should you read this book? Zoo City is one of the most original and captivating books I have read; I was hooked in five pages. Zinzi is also one of my all-time favorite heroines—she’s spunky, difficult, articulate, emotional, tough, intelligent, and repentant. If you don’t read Zoo City, you’re missing out on one of the best modern books in and outside the fantasy genre.(less)
The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood is the first in the Vampire Assassin Trilogy, set in an alternate history Venice circa 1407. Since the city ruler, Duke Marco IV, is a simpleton and figurehead, the Duke’s Uncle, Prince Alonzo, rules in his stead. Alonzo’s ambitions, in turn, are tempered by the schemes of the Duke’s widowed mother, Duchess Alexa. The book opens as the Duke’s young cousin, Lady Giulietta, runs away from home, trying to escape an arranged marriage to the elderly King Janus of Cyprus. Atilo, the Duke’s chief assassin, retrieves Giulietta and saves her from the werewolves roaming the night.
Before she is wed, however, Giulietta vanishes again. This time, retrieving Giulietta proves difficult; the only fruitful find proves to be a boy chained and bound to a ship. This boy, Tycho, possesses superhuman strength and speed, feeds on blood, and reviles the sunlight. Atilo immediately recruits Tycho as an assassin-in-training who will aid in the search for the missing girl.
Misleading cover The cover for The Fallen Blade is beautiful but somewhat misleading. Tycho looks clean and well-dressed. He stands tall, resembling the love child of Edward Cullen and the Vampire Lestat, redone in 1407 Venice style. But The Fallen Blade is gritty, dirty, and coarse. Not even the noblewomen in this book are so pristine as to escape the visceral reaction of soiling their underpants when the situation calls for it. Think Underworld’s vampire-werewolf rivalry meets The Tudors’ political intrigue—then toss in all the dirt and grime from The Road and Children of Men.
Revitalizing the vampire genre Just as Batman Begins revitalized the Batman franchise, Grimwood revitalizes the vampire genre with The Fallen Blade. As Tycho adjusts to the year 1407, he realizes that his last memory is from one century earlier. Because he may very well be history’s first vampire, he has no idea what he is, nor how he became that way. He has help developing his assassin skills, but he has no mentor to decipher his vampiric abilities. While it may be obvious to the reader what Tycho is, the lack of vampiric precedence in this world makes us question some of our preconceived notions about vampires and sets the stage for fresh parameters to be further defined by the next two books. Since the werewolves are not examined in detail this time around, I also hope that the next two books will reveal the inner workings of the Wolf Brothers, who in this book are led by the German Prince Leopold.
The only minor complaint I have with The Fallen Blade is that while stylishly written, the prose can sometimes be downright dense, leading me to reread passages where I’ve lost track of the speaker, the setting, or both.
Why should you read this book? Grimwood is a wizard who brings this world alive. Not only will you walk through 1407 Venice, you’ll smell the urine on the streets, taste the salt water in the air, rock along with the boats, and roam across the rooftops. That all this is done while an intriguing fantasy storyline unfolds is nothing less than impressive.(less)
The latest book by the prolific Mike Resnick is The Buntline Special, a standalone novel that gifts the events leading up to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral with a steampunk treatment. In this fantasy world—depictions of which are supplied by the talented illustrator, J. Seamas Gallagher—the United States cannot expand beyond the Mississippi River due to the magic-wielding Medicine Men of the Apache Indians, led by Geronimo. Thomas Edison, inventor extraordinaire, is dispatched to Tombstone to discover scientific methods to counter the Indians’ magic, and Doc Holliday and the Wyatt Earp crew are tasked with protecting Edison.
Witty banter Sparse with descriptions and overflowing with witty banter, The Buntline Special delivers dialogue to die for. When zombie Johnny Ringo observes that the consumptively ill Doc Holliday looked as if a strong wind might blow him away, Doc replies, “A strong wind might…But a dead gunslinger won’t.” Credit the dialogue for propelling the novel forward at such a spine-bending pace.
Historical figures reimagined Though there may be little proof that the real Big Nose Kate ran a brothel, what’s a western without a kickass madam? For that matter, what’s a steampunk western without robot prostitutes and the gentlemen who love them? The whole Earp crew is present, as is the Clanton gang, not to mention Johnny Ringo, who has been brought back from the dead to make life difficult for our protagonist, Doc Holliday. And perhaps because Nikola Tesla has been done to death in steampunk fiction (or that Tesla’s only 25 years old in 1881), as mentioned above, Resnick chooses instead to feature the bright-eyed Edison, with mechanical arm enhancements, of course.
Then there’s batty Bat Masterson and the talented Ned Buntline, the manufacturer who realizes all of Edison’s funky ideas and crafts the titular Buntline Special that resolves the climactic gunfight. Even if you don’t already know these folks (or can’t be bothered to Google them), Resnick provides a handy appendix with short biographies of the real life counterparts.
Why should you read this book? Do you love rollicking adventures? Appreciate the wry gunslinging attitude? If you don’t mind a book that reads like a movie script, The Buntline Special is vying for a space on your book shelf.(less)
Yarn is a standalone prequel to Jon Armstrong’s novel Grey, set in a dystopic future where fashion is literally do or die.
A well-woven tale Yarn begins with a mission. A former lover—“the girl who got away”—stumbles upon the studio steps of the renowned tailor Tane Cedar. She demands a dangerous deed of him: a custom coat crafted from the illegal and addictive Xi yarn. As Tane embarks on a quest to obtain the now-elusive Xi, a parallel story emerges, disclosing how Tane rose from his job as a yarn thief to a successful, top designer. These two threads—past and present—are woven together with masterful skill and twists galore, revealing, to us and to Tane, what he is really made of.
One small qualm I had regarding the presentation is that the present—Tane’s Xi quest—is indicated by italics. As the book progressed and the past and present converged, I grew to understand the choice for such an indication, but large bodies of text presented in italics were hard on the eyes and I was tempted to skip them. Thankfully, the tale is so fast-paced and engaging that I nonetheless devoured every word.
Front row seats to Seattlehama and beyond The young Tane, a slubber boy who knew nothing but corn and poorly-constructed t-shirts, is thrown into the mad city of Seattlehama. When we accompany Tane on his journey into Seattlehama, we experience the same eye-opening awe, confusion, arousal, and fascination as he does. This is a fully immersive experience complete with striking visuals, culture, and language.
Armstrong invents a new dialect, warTalk, as barked out by saleswarriors. A sampling: “[N]ow that you have seen majesty, you will retreat and live in the lint below your automated knitting contraptions.” “Go or I will release the blind snakes of your gut!” When dueling saleswarriors draw out their sharp knitting needles, it’s 40% amusing, 60% frightening, and 100% original. The only drawback in Armstrong’s razzle-dazzle approach is that some of the twists and turns, while clever, carried less emotional heft than I would have expected. But the punk-suffixed genre prides itself in cool, of which Yarn is the epitome.
Pure dedication Yes, Yarn is cool, but it’s a cool imbued with passion. I loved that fashion rules this world, and that brands not only identify clothing but also people. Each brand inspires allegiance as well as declarations of war upon all other brands. As one character professes, “don’t let anyone ever tell you that fashion is superficial. It’s the only thing that distinguishes humans from the critters.”
Why should you read this book? Don’t be intimidated if you’re no fashionista; no technical knowledge is required to enjoy Yarn. Read Yarn to witness the genesis of fashionpunk. Read Yarn to know who to thank when you begin seeing a wave of artistic and stylish costumes at conventions. Read Yarn so you won’t kick yourself later.(less)
Toothless is a standalone novel set in a fictional France in 1180 A.D. The Black Yew leads an army of the unstoppable undead, indiscriminately killing...moreToothless is a standalone novel set in a fictional France in 1180 A.D. The Black Yew leads an army of the unstoppable undead, indiscriminately killing all in its wake. A few select warriors who are cut down are brought back to life. Martin, a former Templar, is now “Toothless,” an undead soldier with a special connection to the Yew. He seems destined to lead the fallen, but just as paths in life can be circuitous, so wind the twisting paths of the afterlife.
On his path, Toothless collides with Lil, a young female seer whose deformities and visions lead locals to believe that she may be responsible for attracting recent attacks from the forces of evil. When Toothless arrives in town, his presence does little to dispel that belief, but together, Toothless and Lil will shape the fate of the nation.
A fresh take on the zombie genre Toothless is not your typical zombie tale; quite a few facets set it apart. First, rather than being set in an apocalyptic future, this tale is solidly grounded in a distant, fictional past where battles were big and bloody. The undead inhabit this setting with so much ease that I foresee other genre authors following suit.
Second, this may not be the first tale told from the perspective of the undead, but it’s hard to imagine a better guide than Toothless. The change from human to zombie is a significant one, and we experience firsthand Toothless’s struggle to cling to any vestigial humanity.
Third, we’re offered Lil, an unconventional heroine who serves as the mortal foil to Toothless. She provides a much needed respite from the despair of the undead, though we witness the equally harsh realities of life through her.
Great pacing Moore melds atmosphere and action with perfect momentum: Toothless starts off with shades of melancholy as palpable as that of Frankenstein’s monster, and explodes into holy warfare that calls into question the very meaning of life, and whether that meaning can subsist through death. While the ending may be a little predictable, the maxim that “it’s the journey, not the destination” holds true here—Toothless is a hell of a journey.
Why should you read this book? In the words of Mr. Moore himself, “[i]f Toothless is about anything, it is about a wife who inspires, children whose love redeems, and the power of friendship.” I found that to be wholly accurate. I’d recommend this book to zombie lovers and haters alike, as Toothless can only redeem the latter.
Delirium is the first book in the Delirium trilogy, set in a dystopic Portland, Maine. Citizens of the United States receive a partial lobotomy at age...moreDelirium is the first book in the Delirium trilogy, set in a dystopic Portland, Maine. Citizens of the United States receive a partial lobotomy at age eighteen to prevent amor deliria nervosa, the disease of love.
The book begins when the protagonist, Lena, is a mere three months away from her procedure. Because her mother suffered from deliria and committed suicide, Lena welcomes the operation and wishes for a life free of the pain love can cause. But even the best laid plans oft go awry, and Lena meets and falls in love with Alex.
Metaphor for your first love Delirium portrays a first love that blooms in a dystopia, but it is also a metaphor for first love in our world, seen through the lens of a teenager. As a teenager, your parents, other grown-ups, and sometimes even your peers downplay or downright discount your feelings of love. They tell you it won’t last, that you’ll change, that he’ll change, that you’ll fall in love again with someone else. This may all later prove to be true, but you can’t see it; your first love is everything to you. These nonbelievers constitute the world in Delirium, and the lobotomy procedure the embodiment of what you think would happen if you do “grow up” or let the others win. Because the dystopia serves as a metaphor, any complaints that this world is less than believable miss the mark—we’re not in danger of our United States becoming this dystopia; rather, the dystopia is an expression of a teenager’s fears associated with her first love, the feeling that it’s “us against the world,” that everyone is out to deprive her of her love.
While I loved the book as a whole, perhaps as a result of the metaphor, Lena and Alex are not as specifically-defined as the characters in The Hunger Games, a book offered as comparison in the review copy blurb. Lena and Alex are only as effective as the reader allows them to be as surrogates for the reader herself and her first love.
Unconventional world-building That the dystopia serves as a metaphor doesn’t mean Oliver neglects world-building. While differences exist between the Delirium world and ours, the most significant ones are not physical but rather philosophical. Accordingly, below each chapter heading, Oliver excerpts literature from her world: an alternate Bible named “The Book of Shhh,” children’s rhymes, pamphlet literature enumerating the warning signs of deliria, and history books. This was a clever way to provide insight to this alternate reality, and also my favorite part of the book.
Leisurely paced Be forewarned that while the book blurb reveals that Lena will fall in love, she will not do so until past the halfway mark. This doesn’t mean that the book is slow, it only means that we get a detailed view of Lena’s life. Instead of opting for an early inciting incident, Oliver decides to show us in the steady pace of life without love. Peaceful, yes, but passionless.
Why should you read this book? Don’t let the “young adult” label discourage you from reading Delirium; you don’t need to be a young adult to appreciate its beauty. Delirium can almost be described as a literary novel marketed as young adult fare. Read this book if you want a beautiful, lyrical, and poetic expression of first love.
Midnight Riot (U.S. title) or Rivers of London (U.K. title) is the first installment in an urban fantasy series starring Peter Grant, a probationary constable. When his ghost whispering skills prove useful in the latest series of murders, Peter catches the attention of England’s last wizard, Inspector Nightingale, and finds himself immediately promoted. Now Peter just has to figure out why seemingly normal folk are committing senseless, brutal crimes that end with the victims’ faces falling off. That, and learn how to wield magic.
Well-researched The author, Ben Aaronovitch, clearly took pains to research the ins and outs of the London police force. As an American civilian, I may be unqualified to opine as to the accuracy of the representation, but I found it thoroughly convincing. The realistic day-to-day details provide a nice backdrop of verisimilitude amidst the supernatural.
Animated writing Aaronovitch’s style of writing is breezy and effortlessly humorous. He’s got an ear for quippy but realistic dialogue. He can pay tribute to theater and poke fun at the drama. He’s sensitive to visuals, so much so that as I was reading, I kept thinking that BBC should adapt this as a television series. It’s no surprise, then, that Aaronovitch is a longtime writer for various television shows including a little gem you may have heard of: Doctor Who. If Aaronovitch’s background means that he may have the inside connections to make the Peter Grant television series a reality, I’d be first in line to watch it. The fantasy television world could use a handsome mixed-race protagonist… and the fresh content too, of course.
What’s unique Diana Gabaldon’s cover praise, that Midnight Riot is “[w]hat would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz,” is a pithy pitch that will attract many readers, but nothing about Peter Grant reminded me of Harry Potter. Both are British. Both utter Latin words to incant spells. But those are the only connections.
As for the spell incantations, if you assume from this blurb that the magic and supernatural in Midnight Riot are the usual clichéd fare, you’d be wrong. There are hints that the magic could be explained by science, just not the science we know. And the ghosts aren’t, well, exactly ghosts, and they can be as funny as they are deadly, sometimes both at once. The most delightful surprise, however, lies in London’s river deities—as for that, you’ll have to read the book to learn more.
Why should you read this book? Midnight Riot is a fun and fast read. If you like urban fantasy, Peter Grant injects new life into the genre. If you don’t, this is one to get you started. You won’t even have to wait long for the next book in the series, Moon Over Soho, to be released on March 1, 2011 in the U.S., though Londoners may have to wait longer.(less)
Written by K. J. Parker, The Hammer is a standalone novel set on an island populated by a farming colony, a tribe of nomadic savages, and an exiled noble family, the Met’Ocs. An uneasy and unspoken arrangement exists among these three groups—the colonists allow the armed Met’Ocs to pillage their farms in exchange for protection against the savages.
The oldest Met’Oc brother, Stheno, is the strongest and runs the family farm on the Tabletop, a naturally fortressed formation enhanced to be more defensible. The second-eldest, Luso, is the most agile and hunts, protects, and raids. The youngest, Gignomai—neither as strong as Stheno nor as agile as Luso—helps around the farm but dreams of being an entrepreneur. When Gignomai’s father suggests that he study law, Gignomai runs away from home to build a factory on the savages’ land in aid of the colonists. In doing so, he sets in motion a chain of events that will forever change the island and the dynamics among its people.
Engaging characters Despite his role as protagonist, Gignomai acts with a persistent air of enigma, yet we are fed just enough facts so that the mystery fascinates rather than frustrates. Gignomai embodies a charming and sometimes ominous je ne sais quoi that keeps everyone, including the reader, guessing as to any potential secondary motives. He’s all brain, leading us to wonder about his heart. If you want a strong emotional tie to the protagonist, you may not find it here. Gignomai, like all the characters in The Hammer, is strongly goal-oriented and leaves little room in his heart for love. He certainly never places love first.
The secondary characters are not particularly sympathetic either, but I still grew to care greatly for them, in part because they are forced to live outside their comfort zones. Exiled into poverty, the Met’Ocs try to maintain a semblance of their former lives. The town merchant—who only wanted to rip people off without pissing them off—is elected mayor despite his protests. These are trying times, and the peoples’ faults and deficiencies make them real. I particularly enjoyed the thought processes of the so-called “savages” whose logic and illogic nicely contrasted with that of the more “civilized” folks.
Non-stop intrigue Intrigue seeps into the politics of family, land, and state. As mentioned above, the characters are goal-oriented, and their machinations move the plot along at a swift pace, though it may be a while before you realize the grand scheme. Parker constructs a puzzle for those who wish to solve it, but for the rest of us, each puzzle piece is sufficiently engrossing in itself to keep us occupied as the pieces fall together on their own.
Why should you read this book? If you just want a good story with some twists and turns, you’ll be satisfied. But if you want more from The Hammer, you’ll get plenty of ideas to stew on as well. The Hammer will have you thinking about how being born into the wrong family can stifle you or propel you forward; how what we choose to forget ceases to exist—unless someone never forgot in the first place; how staying true to one’s self can lead to the total abandonment of one’s self, and vice versa; and how people so dependent on one another nevertheless occupy entirely different planes of existence—until “the hammer” nails them all together. I absolutely recommend this book.(less)
The Broken Kingdoms is the second book in N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, the sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (review here). In the first book, we followed Yeine, a warrior princess summoned to the great city of Sky amidst a fierce political struggle. In this sequel, we learn the aftermath of that struggle as we follow Oree, an artist living in Shadow, a city teeming with godlings. Oree herself is a mortal, blind except for her ability to see the glimmering outlines of gods, godlings, and magic.
One day, while discarding her trash, Oree finds a homeless, literally down-in-the-dumps godling and decides that the humane thing to do for one in such sorrow is to take him in. As he is either mute or taciturn, she dubs him Shiny. When she finds another godling – dead, sprawled in an alleyway, missing a heart – she is not the only one confounded. And when Shiny protects Oree from overzealous interrogators, her witness status is immediately elevated to suspect.
A page-turner The main storyline constitutes a mystery: Who is killing godlings, and why? You will not turn the pages for the sake of learning the ending; you will turn the pages because you are fully immersed in Oree’s world and care for the beings in it. Most mysteries beg to be solved, but some are part of a plan so huge that you have no choice but to watch the events unfold, as if propelled by a force of nature. You may stare like a deer in the headlights, but make no mistake, you will turn the pages and stare some more.
The bigger picture The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms introduced Itempas (the Bright Lord, the Skyfather) who killed Enefa (Mistress of Twilight and Dawn) and enslaved Nahadoth (the Nightlord, the Lord of Shadows). Despite the grandeur of the events, I experienced some difficulty seeing the forest for the trees. In The Broken Kingdoms, however, we begin to learn the motivations behind the gods’ actions, and as a result, the world becomes lucid.
Jemisin also examines the uneasy and multi-faceted nature of love and sacrifice. It’s easy to say you would die for others, but is it more easily said than done? And if you live, how do you live without that which you need the most? All this is done with more grace than I can describe.
Even better than the first The first two books in Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy were released in 2010. You may have seen The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms deservingly placed on every Top Ten fantasy list last year, including The Ranting Dragon’s list. The Broken Kingdoms manages to surpass Jemisin’s debut, and for all the praise it has garnered, it nevertheless has become one of the most overlooked books of 2010. If The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is Star Wars: A New Hope – a ground-breaking landmark – The Broken Kingdoms is The Empire Strikes Back – a thought-provoking, heart-wrenching chapter that brands the story further into your life. Neither book hangs you over a cliff, though both kindle the desire to experience more of Jemisin’s world. While the desire burns fervent, the satisfying end to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms may have lessened the urgency for fans to continue. Expect, however, that many more will discover this masterpiece of fantasy literature in 2011 and offer the recognition it deserves.
Connection to the other books The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms presented Yeine, a warrior princess. The Broken Kingdoms introduces Oree, a commoner. The Kingdom of Gods (expected date of release in September 2011) will acquaint us with the trickster god, Sieh. These subjects and points of view seem distinct, but the tales are intertwined, with the fate of the characters in the first book affecting the second. Invisible layers run through The Broken Kingdoms that will only reveal themselves if you’ve read the first book. Undoubtedly, consuming even one of the two released books will be fulfilling, but do not deny yourself the rich, complete experience that will be the entire Inheritance Trilogy.
Why should you read this book? By virtue of reading this review, you care about fantasy. If that is at all because this genre continually allows authors to push the boundaries of imagination, there is no greater benchmark for such a feat than The Broken Kingdoms. At once epic and intimate, The Broken Kingdoms is destined to become a fantasy classic. I predict it will even transcend the “fantasy” label and become a staple of literary fiction, as with The Lord of the Rings.(less)