In this seventh installment of Seanan McGuire's bestselling urban fantasy series, October "Toby" Daye is finally getting her life in gear. She's doing her job, her squire's training is progressing, and she has a boyfriend in the local King of Cats, Tybalt. However, it's not all green fields and rosebuds in Toby's life. When the local changeling population begins to drop dead of goblin fruit overdose, Toby investigates and takes the problem to the Queen of the Mists in hopes of resolving the issue. Naturally, this backfires and Toby suddenly finds herself in exile. Backed into a corner, with problems from the past resurfacing, information comes to light that the Queen may not actually have a legitimate claim on the throne, and Toby must do the only logical thing:
Overthrow the Queen.
A vibrant, living world One of the things that sells a novel for me is a well-realized world. This is especially true when considering urban fantasy settings. Because there, not only do authors have to create their own world, they have to make it mesh with a world that is already familiar: our own. There are very few who do this as well as McGuire—not only has she created a supernatural world that has history, has weight, but she's also fit it into our reality so well that it's nigh-seamless. The Toby Daye series is one of the best examples of solid urban fantasy worldbuilding I've ever encountered.
And beyond that, McGuire's propensity to uncover new corners of the world never ceases to please. In every book, there's something new, details that come to life as they're brought into the reader's focus. The same holds true with Chimes at Midnight, though where in previous books it was predominantly locations that got the new spotlight, here it is more of Faerie's history and culture than anything else. Which is wonderful. (Side note: the mass market paperback has a kick-ass short story featuring a pair of the Firstborn, and it's totally awesome.)
A roller coaster of a plot I should elaborate. One of the things I have come to love and adore about McGuire's work is her knack for keeping the plot twists fresh with each book. With Chimes at Midnight, McGuire outdoes herself. Whereas all of her plots can fit the roller coaster analogy—starting off with a bang, sharp twists and turns, etc—this book is more akin to riding a roller coaster while blindfolded. The twists in the story? You know they're coming, but you don't know when or how until you're right there in the moment. McGuire pulls stuff out of the hat I didn't even know was in the hat to begin with.
And that's just real damn nifty.
The calm before the storm After finishing my read, Pink's "Glitter in the Air" comes to mind whenever I reflect upon this book. And I think it's for the following lyrics:
And it's only half past the point of no return The tip of the iceberg The sun before the burn […] It's only half past the point of oblivion The hourglass on the table The walk before the run The breath before the kiss And the fear before the flames
It seems to me that we have now reached a vital point in Toby's story. The closing of Chimes at Midnight leaves things in a more easygoing, lighter place than some of the endings of previous installments. Things are starting to look up for Toby.
So, like in any good series, this means it's about time for Toby's world to come crashing down around her. Book eight, The Winter Long, is gonna hurt. But I wouldn't trade my seat on this ride for the world.
Why should you read this book? If you're a newcomer to the series and you read this book, you'll be able to follow along pretty easily. Not everything will make complete sense, but it's doable. You should, of course, begin with book one (Rosemary and Rue). If you've read the first book or three but are on the fence about continuing? Don't. Stop. Because this book is an epitome of everything that makes the Toby Daye novels one of the best urban fantasy series on the market, right up there with Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: tight and believable characters, a gorgeously realized universe, and so many unexpected twists it's almost like they're going out of style. Chimes at Midnight is definitely my most favorite Toby book to date.
Garrett received an ARC of Chimes at Midnight courtesy of DAW Books.
Released earlier this year in the United Kingdom and then released in the United States in September, The Grim Company is Luke Scull's debut novel.
Welcome to the Trine, a world where wizards have murdered the gods. Nigh-immortal, these Magelords have taken control of a divided world, many of them ruling large cities. After hundreds of years of a despotic rule, the people of the Grey City of Dorminia are ready to rise up against the Magelord Salazar. Enter two orphans, a pair of Highlander mercenaries, and a couple of double agents in the forms of a mage and a manservant. Despite the initial tensions between the members of the group, this ragtag rebellion somehow manages to find its feet. Through setbacks and various troubles that arise, they push on until they confront the tyrannic Magelord for the fate of the Grey City.
Some interesting aspects Upon starting my read of the novel, I was pleasantly surprised by the various twists Scull made on my expectations. Given that it was a united group of wizards who threw down the gods, I was expecting there to be some uniformity in their powers and tendencies. Not so. Each Magelord has their own personality, their own strengths and weaknesses in their power. These differences and developments also extended to the cultures each Magelord ruled over. In particular, the culture and powers of Highlanders of the North caught my interest—and the Shaman Magelord of the North was definitely the most /human/ of the immortal wizards.
Most of the major players also surprised me. They weren't your typical "perfect" adventurers that so many authors try to use in their first attempts. No, each character had their own trials and tribulations, and each had a couple of different layers as to what made them tick. All in all, very decent work for a debut novel.
Hype falls short Heralded as the first book in a dark epic fantasy trilogy, the novel has been highly praised by many publications such as Tor.com, the Fantasy Book Critic, and the Daily Mail. The premise is rather intriguing and so, given all the hype, I was very excited to have this book arrive on my doorstep.
Upon reading, one of the first characters we are introduced to is Davarus Cole, an orphaned youth trying to fill his father's "hero" shoes. And who is, in all honesty, a cocky douchebag. And his mindsets don't change until the very last chapters of the book. He's rude, uncouth, and so caught up in his narcissistic hero worship of his image of himself that I could not bring myself to like him. Which is unfortunate, as nearly a quarter of the book is spent with the character. It took me a solid two weeks to read this book, as I had to stop after almost every chapter with him to let my brain reset.
The geography and layout of the world itself was another element I found lacking. Taking a look at the map, it's almost the typical LotR-knockoff, very similar in layout to that of Christopher Paolini's Inheritance series: you have the cities on the coast and in the center of the map, an expanse to the North that's mysterious and dangerous but inhabited, little-known cities to the east across a desert, tribal mercenary lands in the tropics to the south, and a mystical, mythical land to the west across a sea.
Granted, the world makes logical sense. However, given that the map was the very first piece of the story you get, it turned me off of the novel just a bit from the get-go.
In addition, upon reflection after finishing the novel, the title struck me as rather misleading. Because of the title and the synopsis, I expected something a little more Lord of the Rings in setup, and a little more… grim, really, in nature. However, the characters listed in the synopsis were only ever completely together in one scene. Period. And the "grim," "dark," and "gritty"? Yeah, not so much. The atmosphere was more of a halfway point between being a dark fantasy and something like your typical Tolkien atmosphere.
The little things add up.
Redeeming qualities All of that being said, however, there are some bits of the book that truly shine. I loved the two Highlander mercenaries, Brodar Kayne and Jerek the Wolf. Brodar is one of the main focus characters, and Scull does a fantastic job expressing just how weary Kayne is after all he's been through—and how he still finds the will to press on. It should stand to reason, then, that my favorite storyline in the novel was the one centering around the travels of Brodar Kayne, Jerek, Sasha, and Isaac. Their story didn't just have engaging characters—it had layers.
The antagonists of the book got their fair share of screentime during the novel, too. And these I loved almost as much as the moments with Brodar Kayne. It's very much a grey area of antagonist, no Epic Good versus Epic Evil here. In fact, the antagonists seemed more realistic than some of the protagonists at times.
Also of note are Scull's action and battle sequences. While his intrigue storylines and… well, almost every other kind of scene in the book… are a touch lackluster, his knack for creating balanced and flowing fight scenes is phenomenal for a debut author. It was the reason why I couldn't put the final fifth of the book down.
A lot of potential The thing to keep in mind with The Grim Company is this: it is a debut novel. And as such, it's not going to be the most ZOMGAMAZEBALLS thing out there. However, it is a very solid first step for Scull, and there are many areas in which he has a lot of potential to realize. The first is in his pacing. The first three-quarters of the book dragged—a lot. But then Scull hit his stride in the lead-up to the climactic battle sequences, and the pace flowed and kept my interest all the way through to the end. The second is in his characters—a few of them have been developed wonderfully, but the rest definitely have some layers that can be added and explored.
The third is in his cliffhangers. Because more happened to pique my interest in the last two chapters of the novel than in most of the rest of the novel's entirety. Character developments, revelations, slight resolutions, all of these things are used by Scull to leave you wanting more.
Why should you read this book? This is not going to be a book I recommend to people who are looking for the best of the genre. Because it's not, yet. However, if Scull ups his game in Book 2 (The Sword of the North, out June 2014), this novel will be worth the read, so I am yet hopeful. With an intriguing setup, engaging characters, and an ending that will leave your curiosity piqued, Luke Scull's The Grim Company is a fairly solid debut novel that has a lot of potential with which to grow and go places....more
I’d be lying if I said that Jason M. Hough hit the ground running with his debut novel. Because he didn’t.
First, he jumped out of the freaking plane, then he hit the ground running.
Darwin, Australia. Humanity’s last beacon of hope and the last remaining human city on Earth. An alien plague has conquered the world, turning the majority of the population into mindless savages. Those who remain have flocked to Darwin, site of the only thing keeping the plague at bay: a space elevator constructed by the same architects of this apocalypse—an alien race known only as the Builders.
Then the Elevator begins to malfunction.
Enter Skyler Luiken. One of the very few with an immunity to the plague, Skyler is captain of a ship that makes scavenging runs outside the Elevator’s protective aura—with a crew completely comprised of fellow “immunes.” When the Elevator starts malfunctioning, Skyler is brought in to help solve the mystery of failing alien tech…
…and to save humanity, if he can.
Fresh-faced apocalypse One of the most attractive things about The Darwin Elevator was the conceit. Sure, I’ve read apocalypse novels, and I’ve read alien novels, and I’ve read alien apocalypse novels, but there was nothing quite like this. The aliens kick off the apocalypse—but give humanity one safe harbor—and then up and LEAVE? Weird.
Now, the plague that turns humanity into savage killing machines? Not the most original thing in the world—it screams Reavers and Firefly and Serenity at me. But it’s a nice homage, and is a tried and true story element that has worked in the past and that works again here.
Subtle worldbuilding There’s a notion that many debut authors don’t grasp right away, and it’s the idea of making the author’s presence as invisible as possible. It’s the difference between telling the reader what’s happening and showing what’s happening. With a new story and a new world, some authors are tempted to give us the history of the world with a prologue or something similar at the outset of the novel. But, see, here’s the thing: a prologue in fiction? Backstory. It can be plopped down almost anywhere in the midst of the novel—preferably somewhere that makes sense, of course, but it needn’t (and usually shouldn’t) be at the very beginning of the novel.
And I am very happy to report that Hough has learned this lesson, and learned it well.
Throughout the novel, we get little explanations, stories, and flashbacks which help bring the reader up to speed on the history of Hough’s world. None of these instances are too much or too long. On top of that, they’re very well spaced, coming at appropriate moments over the course of novel, keeping the reader’s attention while at the same time feeding their sense of curiosity.
Very human characters…mostly Another of The Darwin Elevator‘s strongest aspects lies in Hough’s character work. Our primary protagonists, Skyler Luiken and Dr. Tania Sharma, are full of depth and human emotion, especially Skyler. He goes from being the tentative captain to being forced to trust his instincts and go balls-to-the-wall for those he cares about. Tania gets a similar treatment, but not quite as thorough (which was a tiny disappointment, but here’s looking forward to book two).
There is a downside to this amount of character development, however. When there are those who have obviously been grown to be very human characters, any recurring characters who don’t have as much development stick out. And stick out, they do. Of Skyler’s crew, about half have been decently developed while the other half remain relatively two-dimensional. Considering that not all of the crew makes it through to the end of the novel, the lack of a more thorough character development means the fatalities don’t hit the reader as hard as they might.
Overall, though, Hough’s character work is very solid. This is further exemplified by his story’s antagonists. The Darwin Elevator is interesting in the idea that there isn’t really one entity functioning as the primary force working against our heroes. There’s no evil Empire, no Alliance striving to force civilization upon people, no single dictator. Instead, Hough has split up various functions of an antagonist among a few different characters. Once you’ve been introduced to the characters, it’s not difficult to figure out, but it’s a trick that works exceptionally well. There are the characters out to further their own ambition, those out to thwart everyone else, etc.
Not to mention the mastermind behind the entire story.
Yep, it’s there. And handled quite deftly. I saw the twist coming, but was still pleasantly surprised at the details.
All told, very good work for a debuting author.
Why should you read this book? The Darwin Elevator is a fantastically strong first novel. Hough handles most of the novel with the precision of an author with a few books under his belt. If you’re not a big fan of space opera or hard sci-fi but are looking for that sci-fi fix, I highly recommend you give this book a try. If you’re a fan of fantasy, you’ll get a kick out of this book, too. Through a combination of strong characters, an intriguing premise, and a heaping dose of tension, Jason Hough has crafted a captivating story that doesn’t just have you following it into hell to finish—you’re bloody well sprinting.
Garrett received a review copy of this book courtesy of TLC Book Tours....more
A collaborative effort between film director Guillermo del Toro (known for films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy) and author Chuck Hogan, The Strain was originally conceived as a series for television; it is now the first in a trilogy of vampire novels.
The Strain has a relatively simple premise: a plane touches down in New York City, and all but four of the people on board are dead. Of course, given that this is a vampire novel, you can probably guess what happened. The Strain then proceeds to follow primarily the scientist Ephraim Goodweather, but also a multitude of characters who are caught in the path of the supernatural infection that begins to spread across New York City.
Vampires that are actually scary (thank goodness) We all know that vampires have become incredibly romanticized in recent years, and I’m not going to go into a lengthy tirade on the subject. Suffice to say: it’s not too often that we get vampire fiction which features vampires that are actually scary, and so I find it immensely refreshing when we do. The Strain is one of those stories that goes for the all-out scary vampires, and it does it right. These are vicious, bloodsucking creatures that share a lot of similarities with traditional vampires; however, there are some interesting new twists as well. Del Toro and Hogan take the elements of vampire mythology we’ve seen countless times before and weave them into something fresh and re-contextualized for the modern world. This approach, the meshing of new and old elements into something all its own, works surprisingly well.
A scientific approach While maintaining elements of traditional vampire mythology, The Strain takes a very scientific approach to its subject matter. It’s no mistake that the book’s primary protagonist is a scientist: every aspect of the vampires is dissected and analyzed from a scientific perspective. Instead of just magically infecting people by biting them, the vampires strike with a fleshy “stinger”; this stinger injects victims with parasitic worms that spread the infection. This is only one aspect of how these vampires function, however, and much of the book is devoted to unraveling the scientific rationale behind their anatomy. I’ve never seen vampires approached in this way, and I really enjoyed it; by explaining seemingly supernatural characteristics through science, these modern-day vampires feel credible in a way that most others don’t.
A well-rounded cast of characters The Strain features a surprising number of viewpoint characters, and the book’s perspective jumps frequently between them. This can be jarring and sometimes frustrating as the frequent perspective shifts don’t feel completely necessary, but it’s not a major detriment to the book. With characters only being presented in short snippets, I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of characterization. Most of The Strain’s characters are complex and flawed, and one of my favorite aspects of the book was getting to see how they perceive each other differently. The Strain may not need as many point-of-view characters as it has, but for the most part, the relatively large cast works well.
Setting up the story The Strain is not a stand-alone story; it is very clearly the first section of a larger arc. This works both for and against the book. On the one hand, most of the book is just setting up the conflict that is to come in the trilogy’s next two entries, The Fall and The Night Eternal. The vampires themselves don’t really start appearing until about halfway through the book; if you’re reading The Strain, you’re obviously reading it for the vampires, so it is worth noting that this aspect of the story doesn’t become prevalent until a couple hundred pages in. On the other hand, despite focusing on such extensive buildup, this book is not boring. Del Toro and Hogan ratchet up the tension for a long, long, long time, and so when the action finally lets loose in the second half of the book, it hits hard.
Why should you read this book? The Strain isn’t without its flaws, but most of them are relatively minor. It’s an incredibly effective vampire novel, and while it focuses mainly on exposition and setting the stage for the next two books in the trilogy, the engaging cast of characters and high levels of tension still make it an engaging read. For fans of vampire fiction (vampire horror, that is), The Strain is definitely a book you’ll want to check out....more
Constructed from the unfinished writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin is a stand-alone story from the First Age of Middle-Earth taking place long before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. While approximately 75 percent of the book previously appeared in various sections of Tolkien’s other writings, his son, Christopher Tolkien, edited the entire tale together into a single book for the first time. It was published in 2007.
The Children of Húrin follows the family of the titular Húrin who is captured by the Dark Lord Morgoth and then refuses to submit to his will. Angered, Morgoth curses Húrin’s family, sentencing darkness and despair to follow them throughout their entire lives.
The early days of Middle-Earth The Children of Húrin is set thousands of years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, but the time difference doesn’t feel as significant as it is. While The Children of Húrin is located in a region to the north of the area in which The Lord of the Rings takes place, Middle-Earth feels very much the same as it does in Tolkien’s more famous work. Hobbits aren’t present in this story, but men, elves, and dwarves all play significant roles, and the antagonism between them is sharp and primal. Instead of Sauron, this story features Morgoth (with Sauron as his lieutenant); his role in The Children of Hurin is virtually identical to Sauron’s in The Lord of the Rings, but he is not the primary antagonist of the story.
The Children of Húrin is much smaller in scale than The Lord of the Rings, focusing primarily on the trials and tribulations of Húrin’s family, and most specifically his son, Túrin. As the entire story takes place within the context of a war with Morgoth and only contains a snippet of this great conflict, I imagine some readers could find it frustrating that the events of this war are never resolved within The Children of Húrin. I, however, appreciated the story’s tight focus, and fortunately, the events of the war with Morgoth are detailed in Tolkien’s other writings; The Children of Húrin can serve as a starting point for delving into the mythology of the First Age, and if it inspires you to dig deeper into the history of Middle-Earth (as it did for me), Tolkien’s writings on this era are readily available.
Not the Tolkien you know If you’ve read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, you’re familiar with the kind of stories Tolkien tells; be warned, though—content-wise, The Children of Húrinis very, very different from Tolkien’s more famous works. All of Tolkien’s traditional traits are here: the distant viewpoint, the telling of the story as if relating a long-lost legend, the lavish world-building that hints at the vast mythology of Middle-Earth without explicitly revealing it, and of course, the ever-present orcs, elves, and dwarves. However, The Children of Húrin is a much darker story than either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings; it plays out more like a Shakespearean tragedy than anything else. I expect that this aspect will be the most divisive amongst readers of the book. Don’t go into The Children of Húrin expecting whimsical hobbits or grand quests: this is the story of a family unraveling under the weight of the curse placed upon them—it’s not a particularly pleasant story, nor is it emotionally fulfilling. This wasn’t a detriment to the book in my case (I love those kinds of stories), but if you don’t enjoy tragic tales, The Children of Húrin may not be the book for you.
Why should you read this book? If you’re a fan of fantasy, and especially if you’re a fan of Tolkien, The Children of Húrin is a must-read. I’ve made numerous comparisons to Tolkien’s other works, but I do believe that The Children of Húrinmust be taken in the context of these other works; if you’re new to Tolkien, The Children of Húrinis not the book to start with—it will be most effective for those who have already enjoyed Tolkien’s other writings and want to delve deeper into the mythology of Middle-Earth. For those who do love exploring this mythology, however, The Children of Húrinhas it all: the brevity and quick pace of The Hobbit, the epic storytelling of The Lord of the Rings, the solemnity and pathos of a Shakespearean tragedy, and the detached narrative voice of an ancient myth. Its tone and content are more reminiscent of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire than Tolkien’s other works, and this won’t appeal to everyone; for me, however, it was a breath of fresh air. I’m a huge fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but The Children of Húrin is far and away my favorite of the three; this is Tolkien at his absolute best. If you do choose to give The Children of Húrin a shot, I recommend reading the illustrated edition (this is only the hardcover version, I believe), as Alan Lee’s artwork is gorgeous and greatly enhances the reading experience....more