Winterwood and I were love at first sight, and all you have to do is take a gander at the book’s myriad subjects to see why: Magic. History. Fantasy. Romance. Fae. Ghosts. Shapeshifters. PIRATES. It’s like an irresistible smorgasbord of all my favorite themes and fantasy elements all in one place, and a strong, compelling female protagonist was the cherry on top.
Set in Britain in the time of King George III, Winterwood tells the tale of Rossalinde Tremayne, a young woman gifted with magical abilities. Seven years ago, she eloped with privateer captain Will Tremayne along with the Heart of Oak, the ship meant as her dowry, and Ross’s mother hasn’t forgiven her since. Now Will has been dead these past three years, and Ross has taken on the mantle of the Heart’s commander, adopting her late husband’s identity and disguising herself by wearing men’s clothing.
The book begins with Ross returning home to visit her ailing mother on her deathbed. In doing so, she learns more about her family than she ever bargained for, including the fact that she has a half-brother named David, who was fathered by the household’s rowankind bondservant. Ross also inherits a beautiful winterwood box, an object of great magical power that she is told only she can open, but the repercussions of that may be far-reaching and dire. Add to that, a shadowy enemy is on the hunt for Ross as well, and he would do anything to stop her from unlocking the box’s mysteries. With the crew of the Heart and the help of her newfound brother and a dashing wolf shapeshifter named Corwen, Ross sets off on a swashbuckling chase across the high seas to seeks answers and uncover the truth about her family’s secrets.
In news that I’m sure will surprise no one, I absolutely adore stories about women characters disguised as men, and even better when the book is a maritime fantasy and the protagonist is a capable heroine who captains her own ship. I love how Rossalinde is a strong and intelligent woman, but that she also listens to her heart. She gave everything up to marry the man of her dreams, and even though she and Will only had four short years together, she doesn’t regret her decision one bit. Interestingly, while Will’s death occurs before the book even begins, we still get to meet him in Winterwood in the form of his ghost. Back when her grief was still a raw and open wound, Ross unwittingly summoned him and now his spirit is a constant presence in her life. Will’s ghost and Ross share some humorous moments, but for the most part his appearances are a reminder of tragedy; he is a symbol of her past at a time when she should really be looking to the future. Being torn between two paths is devastating for a woman like Ross who is so in tune to her emotions, which is why I felt for her.
In addition to offering a well-crafted main protagonist, Winterwood also offers an altogether tantalizing blend of fantasy and historical fiction. Jacey Bedford’s prose is elegant and evocative of the setting, which is an alternate version of early 19th century Britain steeped in magic. The world feels familiar yet new, plus we get the added benefit of being on the ocean for a substantial part of this book, deeply immersed in the life of privateering during this time period. The battles at sea against pirates and French ships alike are thrilling and dramatic, where victory may come at a high cost but the rewards are well worth it. The dialogue is also superbly done, especially when it comes to the crew of the Heart and their nautical jargon and rough accents.
In terms of magic, this book is practically full to brimming with it. Perhaps the foremost fantastical element comes in the form of the rowankind, a docile and subjugated race of people exploited for their labor. Britain’s entire economy is dependent on these unpaid servants, and yet their history and origins are mostly unknown, lost to time. However, there are rumors that connect them to the Fae, who also have a large role to play in this story. Moreover, the realm of the Fae is completely separate from the domain of The Green Lady, who rules over the natural world. While the inner workings of the various kinds of magic go largely unexplained, it is clear that there are many sources of it, and their powers mingle and react in very interesting ways.
Also, when a book’s tagline reads “A tale of magic, piracy, adventure and love”, you’d be correct to expect a heavy dose of romance. Love is something Ross is just starting to allow herself to explore again after losing Will, and Corwen proves to be a good match for her, with lots of chemistry and sexual tension between the privateer and the wolf shapeshifter (just don’t call her a pirate, or him a werewolf—them’s fightin’ words!) But to my surprise, there’s more to this book than just romantic love. Familial love is an important part of this story too, with Ross accepting her half-brother David, becoming overprotective when he is threatened or treated poorly because of his rowankind heritage. I was impressed with the emotional level and complexity of the relationships in this book, as well as its unique perspective on social prejudice.
The best thing about Winterwood is its many fascinating components, which Jacey Bedford weaves into one amazing story of magic and adventure. Rollicking action is expertly balanced with passionate romance in this novel which will leave you salivating for more, and I loved every moment! I’m already looking forward to the next installment and dreaming about a return to this exciting, magical world....more
And now time for something totally different. Long Black Curl isn’t a book I would have normally picked up on my own, and not least because it’s actually the third book of the Tufa sequence. I don’t usually like to jump onboard mid-series, but two factors made me decide to make an exception. First, I was told this book can be read as a stand-alone, and second, I’ve been hearing all these great things about it, which got me curious.
Now I’m so glad that I decided to give it a shot. I suppose Long Black Curl is technically an urban fantasy, but it’s certainly unlike anything else in the genre that I’ve ever read. When I think about the typical setting for a UF, I picture big cities or built-up metropolitan areas. The setting of the Tufa, on the other hand, is a remote valley nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. We’re talking the rural south, a land of gorgeous peaks and ridges upon ridges of pristine forests. But it’s also a land of no indoor plumbing, dirt roads, and where bigotry is still very much alive.
It’s an interesting world. There’s beauty, but also a whole lot of ugliness. It’s also where the Tufa make their home. No one knows exactly where they came from before they settled here, but for generations they have lived in the quiet hills and valleys of Cloud County, passing on the their stories and traditions in the form of song. Music is a huge part of their lives, and an innate part of their identity. To be cast out of their community and stripped of their ability to make music is one of the worst fates imaginable, but this is exactly what happened to Bo-Kate Wisby and her lover Jefferson Powell, the only two Tufa to have ever been exiled.
Now Bo-Kate is back, and she is angry, bitter, and determined to take over both tribes of the Tufa, which means taking out the two leaders Rockhouse Hicks and Mandalay Harris. Her secret weapon is Byron Harley, a famous musician from the 50s who went down in a plane crash but did not die, trapped instead in a faerie time bubble for the last sixty years. Bo-Kate hopes that Byron will help her by taking advantage of his desire for revenge, and for a while she seems unstoppable, until the rest of the Tufa decide to seek out a secret weapon of their own: Jefferson Powell, Bo-Kates old boyfriend.
Anyway, that’s the brief description of the book. What’s way more difficult is putting into words the feelings I got while reading it. The first thing that struck me about the story was how atmospheric it was, seemingly evocative of so much more than meets the eye. Reading about the Tufa was like walking through a veil into another realm. And it’s not just the nature of the setting either; reading about some of the things that go on in this small community (especially those perpetrated by one of the Tufa leaders Rockhouse) are just so hideous and beyond the pale that convincing myself that this is some faraway fantasy world becomes easier and less traumatic to accept. Furthermore, because the Tufa are such a closely knit group, everything that goes on within their ranks – like internal politics or scandals, for example – feel so much more personal, making the emotions cut even deeper.
What I loved the most though, was the music. Creating it is an art form I find both mysterious and beautiful. And to a non-musician like me, it even almost seems like magic. Alex Bledsoe pretty much takes this idea and runs with it, so that music to the Tufa is in fact the source or their magical power. Songs become more than just a way to communicate ideas; they become a means for them to affect the world around them. Music is also a part of the Tufa shared heritage, something that links the community together and gives the individual a sense of identity and belonging. Of course, I’ve seen music used as a magical device in fantasy novels before, but Bledsoe’s handling of it is one of the more unique examples I’ve seen so far, despite—or perhaps because of—the abstractness in its execution.
Needless to say, I enjoyed the book a lot, and something tells me I would have liked it even more if I’d read the previous two before I tackling this one. Long Black Curl worked absolutely fine as a stand-alone, but I think the extra background information would further enhance the story by adding more context to the Tufa characters and all their complex relationships. I’ve gone ahead and added the first book The Hum and the Shiver to my to-read list, because this is a very special series and I would love to go back and read more. Highly recommended....more
Son of the Shadows may be the second book of the Sevenwaters series, but it is not a direct sequel. Instead, the story follows the youngest daughter of Sorcha, the brave young woman in Daughter of the Forest who was set upon a quest to save her six older brothers from a terrible curse – and succeeded. Liadan proves to be just as resourceful as her mother when she is abducted by outlaws on the road, managing to maneuver her way out of the dilemma by offering her healing services to an injured member of the group. This is also how she meets the Painted Man, the leader of the band known to be a cold and heartless killer.
Despite it not being a direct sequel, it is still perhaps necessary to read Daughter of the Forest first before tackling Son of the Shadows. Threads from the first book’s story carry over to this one, and if you aren’t familiar with them it is easy to become confused or lost. In fact, as someone who jumped into this book right after reading the first one, I still feel like I’m missing something. The meddling Fae are back, reminding us that there is still a prophecy to be fulfilled and a darkness to vanquish. Sorcha may have set Sevenwaters on the right path, but it is up to Liadan to take up the mantle now and continue what her mother started. However, nothing really develops in the grander scheme of things; we don’t get to see the great evil rear its ugly head even once in this novel, and I’m not sure if the Fair Folk’s prophecy progresses that much at all.
For all that, Son of the Shadows was an enjoyable read, almost as much as Daughter of the Forest. It does lack a bit of the cohesion I found in the first book, which had a clear direction given how it was a very faithful retelling of a well-known fairy tale. Marillier plays around more with her characters and plot with this one, having freer reign to do as she pleases with the story. For one thing, the romance here is much heavier and more in the forefront. Liadan and the Painted Man fall swiftly for each other, whereas Sorcha’s relationship in the previous book was a much slower burn. The love story elements are more overt and in your face this time around and doesn’t come across as naturally, but it’s still very deep and full of passion.
Still, it’s an excellent follow up and a worthy addition to the saga of Sevenwaters, which looks to have more in store. It’s clear now that there’s a lot more to the narrative, and the effects aren’t going to be limited to just a few characters. Instead, multiple generations in the same bloodline will be touched forever. Son of the Shadows is different from the first book, but in a good way. And it doesn’t stray too far from the overall themes that I’ve come to appreciate about this series, mainly the fairy tale and mythological undertones to the setting and story. And of course, Marillier’s writing is beautiful as always.
This book is put together slightly less elegantly and doesn’t tread as lightly as its predecessor, but I still loved it....more
While this isn’t exactly what I had in mind for an ending, I have to say Garden of Dreams & Desires concludes the Crescent City trilogy nicely. What’s great is that this novel boasts its own story arc but still manages to resolve everything from the previous two installments, tying up any and all loose ends. That being said, there’s obviously a lot to pack into a little more than 300 pages or so, and I felt like I was being powered through the story at a breakneck pace.
We last left Harlow in a bit of a quandary. At the end of City of Eternal Night, she does something insanely stupid and ends up resurrecting the soul of her dead twin Ava Mae, using the magic of a lightning tree. Of course, with nowhere else for Ava Mae to go, her spirit immediately hitches a ride in Harlow’s body and takes over. Once again for the first half of the book, we have Augustine scrambling to do everything he can to help Harlow out of a problem of her own making.
Meanwhile, tourists have been disappearing in New Orleans, including the son of a prominent and bigoted senator who believes the Fae and Othernaturals are the ones responsible for the kidnappings. As Guardian of the city, Augustine has his hands full with the investigation into the missing tourists, trying to find the real kidnappers before the senator imposes sanctions on his people. But since he has fallen deeply for Harlow, he therefore decides to make her predicament his first priority, even though the fate of the entire supernatural population could be at stake. Oh the things we do for love.
Maybe it was the pacing, but something about this didn’t quite sit right with me. If you can’t tell already, my relationship with Harlow’s character has been a long and tumultuous journey. I disliked her strongly in the first book, but started to warm towards her in the second only to watch her naiveté strike her down again. Perhaps she and I were just never meant to be. There were some major improvements to her character in here, but the book’s pacing was just so fast that it felt like she was transformed overnight. I couldn’t understand anyone’s affection for her, let alone how Augustine could fall in love with her.
I enjoyed seeing how the story wrapped up, but the speed at which it happened diminished the experience somewhat. Harlow didn’t get enough time to develop properly, and neither did Senator Pellimento, the new baddie introduced in this book now that Branzino has been taken care of. Pellimento was sort of a paint-by-numbers villainess, her reasons for coming down hard on the Fae not very well explained other than the fact she hates them and is unwilling to consider the possibility that anyone else could be responsible for her son’s disappearance. In the end, it was the witches. That’s not really a spoiler since it’s mentioned right there in the book description, plus ultimately there was no mystery just because there was absolutely no room left in the story to set one up. The conclusion also tied things up too neatly and a little too quickly, casually taking care of the witches and Ava Mae in one fell swoop so that Augustine and Harlow can have their happy ending. Don’t get me wrong; I think the two of them are a good match and I’m glad things worked out for them, but wow, those last few chapters just blew right by.
If I have to hazard a guess as to why it feels so rushed, I would say it’s because in our interview with Kristen Painter, she revealed that she originally intended Crescent City to be a five book series, not three. Indeed, with all that happened in this book, it could easily have been two or even three installments. That could explain why the most important threads were tied up but some major questions are still left open, such as what will happen to Olivia and the consequences now of so many people knowing about the dangers of the lightning tree.
Garden of Dreams & Desires was a good read with thrills that will leave you exhilarated – and not least because it is so fast-paced that you won’t even have a chance to catch a breath. It’s a hectic novel which could have been better paced, but I also understand the challenge of having to work under certain restrictions and the author’s choices if that was the case. On a whole, I thought this series was very enjoyable. The first book was good and the second book was even better; City of Eternal Night was my favorite of the three books. Crescent City is a fascinating Fae-centric urban fantasy trilogy set in a very unique and vibrant portrayal of New Orleans, certainly worth checking out if that sounds like your cup of tea....more
I read a whopping number of books last year. Like, the final tally was probably somewhere close to 200. And out of the dozens upon dozens of books, do you know which one stood out to me the most? Juliet Marillier’s Dreamer’s Pool. It should come as no surprise then, that its sequel Tower of Thorns is hands down my most anticipated novel this fall. Heck, most anticipated novel this year. We’re talking, if there’s one book I need to read in 2015, THIS. IS. IT.
So, please understand now when I say I need a moment to pull myself together. I’m still trying desperately to come up with the words to describe how I felt about this novel, without coming off as a gushing, fangirly lunatic. After all, it’s not every day that I get to read a book that I’ve been dying for, only to have that book exceed all my expectations.
What can I say? Tower of Thorns, you were utter perfection. Juliet Marillier, you are truly amazing.
Yeah, that whole trying-not-to-be-a-gushy-fangirl thing. Not really working out, is it?
Let me start again, all proper-like this time. Tower of Thorns is the direct sequel to Dreamer’s Pool. Theoretically, you can start with this book, though in my opinion you’d be doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t start from the beginning. Blackthorn and Grim have a very special connection, and being familiar with the story of how these two characters first met and came to be partners in Dreamer’s Pool made Tower of Thorns all the more powerful and touching.
Almost a year has passed since Blackthorn made her deal with the fey, buying her freedom and a new beginning by promising two things: 1) that she will travel to and settle in Dalriada as a wise woman healer, never turning away any request for help, and 2) for seven years she will stay there, putting aside her desire for revenge against Mathuin, the cruel Lord of Laois who destroyed her life and took everything away from her. Hatred for Mathuin and the need to see him brought to justice has made keeping her end of the bargain difficult, but Blackthorn is aided by Grim, her steadfast and taciturn companion who has stayed by her side since their escape from Mathuin’s dungeons.
However, peace is disrupted once again with the arrival of Lady Geiléis, a noblewoman who comes to beg Blackthorn for help with a monster of a problem—literally. A howling creature has taken up residence in an old tower on Lady Geiléis’ land, its mournful calls driving the surrounding populace to depression and madness. The tower is inaccessible due to a hedge of thorns surrounding its base, and it soon becomes clear that any means to vanquish the monster would have to be magical.
Have you ever wanted to peel back the layers of a fairy tale? Dive deeper into its secrets and investigate its puzzles? If fairy tales were turned into mystery novels, I think they would look very much like these books. And I couldn’t ask for a better detective team on the case than Blackthorn and Grim.
As characters, they are broken and flawed, but I’m more than a bit fond of them. Tower of Thorns is a defining book for both our protagonists, exploring the pain in their pasts. Blackthorn gave up a huge part of herself when she struck her bargain with the Fae, a part that she still cannot completely let go of, even if it will mean paying a steeper, more severe price down the road. Grim too is haunted by his own demons, his memories of blood and loss brought to the surface by the miserable cries of the monster in the tower.
I can’t deny Grim really stole the show in this one. As much as I admired Blackthorn’s intelligence and her strength in the face of overwhelming odds, my heart broke for Grim and the darkness he’s kept locked up inside himself for so long. A big, quiet man often dismissed as an oaf and a simpleton, Grim’s character actually holds the sort of depth rarely seen in fantasy fiction. His sincerity and unwavering loyalty to Blackthorn is what makes their relationship so remarkable and unique, reducing me to tears in the concluding chapters of this novel.
All this takes place in a world infused with as much darkness as whimsy, reminiscent of most fairy tale settings. And like many fairy tales, the themes of love and sacrifice are strong in Tower of Thorns. The courage of unlikely heroes is pitted against the malice and underhandedness of tricksters, both the mortal and immortal kind. Even the closest of friends will find themselves torn at a crossroads, faced with decisions that can change their entire lives. There’s no doubt about it, the gut-wrenching emotions that this book brought out in me made reading this sequel even more rewarding that the first book.
If you’re looking for a fantasy novel filled with irresistible characters and the kind of rich, evocative magic that will take your breath away, look no further than this brilliant series by Juliet Marillier. Tower of Thorns made me fall in love with Blackthorn and Grim all over again. Powerful and emotionally-charged, this tale will hold you absolutely spellbound. I highly recommend it....more
October Daye is one of those urban fantasy series I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. And unless you count her novels written under the name Mira Grant, I’ve never read anything by Seanan Mcguire before either, so this was a good opportunity to knock out two birds with one stone.
The series’ eponymous protagonist is a half-human and half-fae changeling with an incredible and downright uncanny history. The book’s prologue takes us back fourteen years ago as October “Toby” Daye investigates a missing persons case for her liege lord Duke Torquil, but her stakeout ends in disaster when she is ambushed by the fae suspect and magically transformed into a fish. And in that form she stayed, for fourteen damn years.
The book officially begins not too long after Toby returns to herself, but she’s only a shadow of who she once was. The world has passed her by while she was trapped in that koi pond. Her human family who long thought her dead are now having trouble coming to terms with her reappearance, and Toby herself is unable to face old friends, especially Duke Torquil, whom she believed she failed. Turning her back on both the human and the fae worlds, Toby retreats into herself and attempts a solitary life of night shifts and takeout, but those plans are shot when a pureblood fae countess is murdered and Toby is charged to find her killer. Now not only is Toby forced back into fae society, she also has no choice but to step back into her old role as a private investigator.
Many people I know who have read both Seanan Mcguire’s books and also her Mira Grant books have told me that the writing styles under each name could not be any more different. Those folks are right. The author also uses her names to write very different genres, which is probably the reason for their disparate styles – and from what I’ve read, I think I enjoy her urban fantasy more than her horror. The two Grant books I’ve read, namely Feed and Parasite both suffered from very hackneyed plotlines and stunted character development, but Toby Daye was a breath of fresh air with her very unique and natural voice, along with the author’s vision of fae politics and their interactions with the human world. McGuire’s writing flowed a lot better for me in this novel.
That’s not to say the book was perfect, though. The story in Rosemany and Rue itself didn’t blow me away – it’s a paradigmatic UF murder investigation which involves a lot of talk and little to no mystery in the traditional sense. After that awesome prologue, the intro drags on while we follow Toby through a tour of fae country as she makes stop after stop to tell others that the great Countess Evening Winterrose is dead and/or to ask for help. As the main protagonist, Toby is also prone to seriously bad decision-making, and maybe I just missed something, but I’m very skeptical of the author’s warped, cynical reality where a young woman can bleed all over a public bus from a gunshot wound and everyone around her can just pretend it’s not happening.
Still, it’s the background elements and potential for good side stories that really caught my attention here. The stage is set and all the players are in place, now all we have to do is sit back and let things take their course. I have a feeling the complex social hierarchies in the fae world itself should add a lot of flavor to this series and make it stand out, and I’m also interested to see if Toby will ever connect with her human fiancé Cliff and their daughter Gillian again.
I’m not typically that picky about my urban fantasy; all I’m looking for in any first book to a series is that it’s entertaining and that it serves as a good escape, and Rosemary and Rue passed the test. What I do know is that I think I’m done with Mira Grant books for now, but I’m definitely open to continuing with Seanan McGuire’s October Daye. As with most UF, I expect the books will get better once the series finds its stride....more
It’s tough admitting when a book doesn’t work for me, and in the case of Trailer Park Fae I find this even more difficult to do considering the high hopes I had for it. To complicate matters, I can’t even really fault the book itself, because the writing superb and the story has it dark charms. However, it just felt like I was sold one thing by the title, cover and description, but received something altogether different instead.
First, a bit of background about the book: one of the main characters is the half-human-half-Sidhe Jeremiah Gallow, former Armormaster and close confidante to Summer, Queen of the Seelie Court. He’s left that life behind him now though, making his living as just another construction worker in the mortal world. He also just recently lost his beloved wife Daisy, and every day he mourns her still. Enter our other main protagonist, Robin Ragged, another half-Sidhe looking for a place to lie low after narrowly escaping the agents of the Unseelie Court. When Jeremiah first lays eyes on Robin in the bar he frequents, he is shocked by how much she resembles his dead wife, prompting the protective instincts to kick in.
But aiding her also means being dragged back into the world of magic and danger, where Summer and Unwinter are in a constant war. A plague ravages the Seelie Court and the Unseelie are the main suspects for unleashing it. Robin has been tasked as the courier to deliver the cure, but she is no friend of Summer, feeling bitter towards the Seelie queen for stealing away and imprisoning Robin’s adopted child Sean. Then of course, there’s also the free Sidhe, represented by their clever yet mischievous leader, a Fae known as Puck…
Despite its eye-catching description and shades of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Trailer Park Fae is one dark book. And unfortunately, what’s on the surface does not match what’s beneath. When I first picked it up, I admit the book’s bold electrifying cover and its quirky little title led me to expect another light urban fantasy with a good dose of humor and maybe a little snark, so I was disappointed to find little to none at all. Instead, the story is a lot more somber and grave, with a little heartbreak thrown in to boot. Normally, this isn’t something I would mind, and it’s certainly not the first time I’ve ever started a book only to discover it is completely different than I thought it would be. I’ve rolled with the punches before, but switching gears in this case was a lot harder for a couple reasons.
First of all, the writing isn’t exactly light on the eyes, with scattered sections that would slip into the formal style, reflecting the courtly speak of the Sidhe-folk. As you can probably guess, this didn’t really make for an easy read, even though I credit the prose for being very well-structured and beautifully written. Second, even if I had been in the mood for a book like this, I don’t know how well it would have worked for me. Very little happened for the first hundred pages, making it a real challenge to engage with the story and characters. There were some nice twists towards the middle and the end, but regretfully, I still didn’t feel invested enough at that point to experience their full impact.
I should point out though, that there are actually lots of fantastic and very unique ideas in here. Lilith Saintcrow’s portrayal of the Fae is wonderful and complex, painting them as creatures of mischief and malice, incorporating myths about changelings at the same time. Then there’s putting the Fae in the context of trailer parks, dive bars, and greasy diners – a creative concept that hooked me as soon as I saw it. Both Jeremiah and Robin have some nifty powers at their disposal as well, with the former possessing tattoos on his arms that can transform into a weapon, and the latter with the ability to create objects with strong, lasting enchantments.
I wish I had enjoyed this book more, and not least because I feel it’s partly my fault for being misled by the tone suggested by its cover and title. Yes, I’m a mood reader, and I thought this book would be the rollicking urban fantasy I needed at the time, yet it turned out to be just the opposite. As I noted though, I had issues with this book that went deeper, so I’m not sure how I would have liked it even if I had been prepared for its much weightier tone and style. If you’re not sure that this one would be for you, I recommend reading a sample before taking the plunge....more
This series and I have definitely had our ups and downs. Throne of Glass first swept me off my feet with an introduction to the feisty Celaena Sardothien and the whole wide world of rebel princesses, deadly assassins and glass castles – definitely an “up”. However, the sequel Crown of Midnight frustrated me with a dry formulaic plot which spun its wheels and went nowhere for most of the book – definitely a “down”. But then along came Heir of Fire. Not only did it get the bad taste the previous novel left in my mouth, this third installment made up for everything by being my favorite book of the series. I could hardly wait to get my hands on Queen of Shadows after that, so to say I had high hopes for this fourth book would be putting it lightly, since I was very curious to see if the upwards trend will continue.
One thing I was sure of though, was that I was going to review the audiobook once more. It would feel wrong not to, at this point. I’ve experienced this whole series thus far in this format, and narrator Elizabeth Evans has always been fantastic. The association between her name and this series for me is so strong by now, that even if I read the book I think I would hear the characters in her voice. She’s just so good at bringing them to life.
And so when I first saw the length of this audiobook, I felt an instant surge of optimism. Generally speaking, a long book should equate to a lot of interesting things happening, a ton of action and suspense and all that goodness.
Well, I suppose I was half-right – “half” being the operative word here. Lots of things do indeed happen in Queen of Shadows, but I found the entire first half to be a struggle. Even now, I feel torn. Overall, this book was actually pretty great, and it had one hell of an ending that’s definitely not to be missed. But we did have to take the longest and most meandering road to get there.
Before I go further though, I must warn that this review assumes you have at least read as far as the end of Heir of Fire, so there will be details from the first three books. Queen of Shadows builds upon everything that came before, so it’ll be quite impossible to talk about it without addressing some major events, such as the fact that Celaena Sardothien is actually the long lost princess Aelin Galathynius (the publisher’s own book description itself states this though, so I don’t think it’ll be too big a deal to reveal). She has finally embraced this as her identity, thus Celaena will be henceforth referred to as Aelin.
Still, while the name has changed, the woman is still the same. Aelin definitely isn’t a character everyone can take to overnight; she’s full of arrogance and bluster, and it wasn’t until the end of Crown of Midnight that I started to like her. It’s no coincidence that I also saw this as a turning point for the series. As the story went down a darker path, Aelin also started to act like a real assassin; no longer just talk, it was great to see her finally walk the walk.
That said though, too many alpha personalities can also spoil a good plot. Aelin is surrounded by men just like her in this book – Chaol, Aedion, Rowan – all very competitive, impatient, conceited and combustible people. There you have a problem, because watching them all in the same scene together is like having to sit through a boardroom meeting with a bunch of Donald Trumps – a whole lot of posturing and snapping at each other, with waves of hormones flying off the walls but no actual progress made, and at the end of it all you just feel like jettisoning the lot of them out an airlock.
I also admit that while a good ship I can get behind is definitely a plus, I read primarily for story, not for who’s getting together with whom (and quite frankly, the latter usually gets in the way of the former, which is frustrating). I do feel like I have to comment on this one thing though, since Rowan and Aelin’s mentor-protégé relationship was one thing that stood out for me in Heir of Fire. I should have known it wouldn’t last. As a formidable teacher, ally and friend, Rowan was actually interesting. As just another hot piece of man meat for Aelin, not so much. Must she throw herself at every available good looking guy that’s not related to her? And parading around in front of Rowan in a skimpy nightie and acting like a schoolgirl with a first crush, was that really necessary?
I feel like such a curmudgeon whenever I say this, but sometimes no romance is better than a forced romance. Aelin and Rowan were just so AWKWARD. Making up for their platonic relationship in the first book meant a whole lot of overcompensating in this one, resulting in some truly banal and cringe-worthy dialogue.
Thankfully, the second half of the book goes a long way in redeeming the tedium and overindulgences of the first half. When Manon Blackbeak was introduced in the previous book, she was one of the highlights. The wyvern-riding witches are one of the best additions to this series, and I loved that we saw more of Manon and Abraxos in this one! Queen of Shadows is also a must-read simply because of all the things the characters go through at the end. There’s a crazy climax, some major changes, and one explosive conclusion, and that’s really all I can say about the second half of the book without spoiling more plot details. Suffice to say, if you’ve been following the series thus far, you’d be insane to miss this.
The ending also begs the question: What is left for book five? I’ve heard that there are at least two more sequels after this, and it’s hard to imagine what could possibly be epic enough to match the events at the end of this book. Despite some of the problems I had with Queen of Shadows, I still enjoyed it and I look forward to finding out what’s next....more
C.T. Adams has written books as Cat Adams, a dual-partnership writing team with Cathy Clamp. I’ve never read anything by either author before, so I was looking forward to starting out with Ms. Adams’ first solo full-length novel The Exile, especially since I love stories about the fae.
The protagonist Brianna Hai lives a double life as necessitated by her own very nature. By day the half-human, half-fae young woman runs an occult shop selling innocent knickknacks to tourists, while hanging in her home is a magical painting which acts as a portal between our real world and the world of the faerie. As the daughter of High King Leu of Fae, Brianna enjoyed a childhood living amongst the wonders and delights of her father’s realm until her mother, a powerful human witch, changed the Veil that separated the worlds. All crossings between them are now governed by a new set of strict rules.
One day an unexpected attack by doxies on her apartment lands Brianna and her colleague David and his brother Nick back in Leu’s court, where she also discovers that her father may be in trouble. Having spent most of her life living as a human, Brianna is unused to the dangers of Fae politics, but she’ll have to deal with them in order to bring herself and her friends safely home.
This was a great book; I loved the story. However, from a technical standpoint, I stumbled a little with the writing.
The Exile will wow readers with a luscious, excitement filled plot. There’s very little downtime as we’re ushered from scene to scene, and something important happens in every one. The book is also filled with rich, beautiful descriptions of the Fae world, everything from the surroundings of King Leu’s palace and the huge variety of different fae that live in his magical domain, right down to the finest details about what the court lords and ladies wear and to the decadent food they eat. I seriously loved this.
I also enjoyed the characters and was impressed with Brianna most of all. The author paints a very unique picture of the fae, but at its heart they are still the conniving tricksters that make their stories such a delight. Being able to survive their world of ruthless politics and backstabbing is no mean feat, but Brianna manages to navigate this quagmire with aplomb. Despite being rusty in her knowledge of the ways and traditions of the fae, she’s frequently able to use her quick thinking and resourcefulness to get out of trouble.
The writing itself was what I struggled with most of all, along with the pacing of the story. Simply put, too much happens much too quickly, and not exactly in a way that’s desirable. The plot elements and the events in the timeline feel disjointed, particularly because there are so many character perspectives and so many point-of-view changes, all within a relatively short period of time. This gives the book an aura of confused, disorganized energy. Stylistically, there’s also something about Adams’ prose that I find distracting. I get jarred out of my immersion when I come across passages like:
“Nick didn’t consider himself overly modest, but he had never particularly liked being naked in front of strangers…”
Apparently, Nick has had plenty of experience to be naked in front of strangers…or it sounded that way in context, at least. Also, I imagine not too many people do, so I find his musing sort of unnecessary. Another example:
“Ulrich’s voice sounded strained and strange.”
Strained AND strange? I imagine the former would already suggest the latter. Little redundancies like this along with other instances of awkward phrasing gave me pause and stalled my reading somewhat.
That said, overall The Exile was a pretty good read. It’s entertaining and grabbed my attention right away, which is by far the most important criterion, especially considering that it’s the first installment of a series. It’s an urban fantasy, but to me it also feels very different from the usual standard UF fare. The way things are going, I believe these books will go above and beyond simply chronicling the main character’s life and her immediate interactions and surroundings. Instead, the world-building feels very important too, and the narrative seems just as focused on the bigger picture. To me that means future plot developments will probably surprise us with large scale repercussions for both the human and fae worlds.
I’m definitely planning on sticking around to see what happens next....more
I want to start by saying I’m not a big reader of short fiction, and on the whole I tend not to bother with any novellas, short stories or anthologies that are companion to an existing series. Part of this is due to my preference for full-length novels, but I’ve also not had the best experiences when it comes to the short format. Characters are world building are important for me, and with only a few exceptions, most short stories don’t go as in-depth into these aspects as I would like. Also, I always end up forming attachments to only a small handful of characters whenever I read a series, and I don’t often find myself as interested in companion novellas/shorts that feature the perspectives of other minor characters and people in a series’ “universe”.
That said, I had a really good time with Shifting Shadows. I’ve really fallen in love with the Mercy Thompson series in the last couple of years, which sparked my interest in this book despite it being an anthology. Aside from four new additions, most of the stories in here have previously been published, though I never felt the need to read them due to the reasons stated above, so I am reading everything with fresh eyes. Sure, as with any short story collection there are ups and downs, but overall I was very impressed with this book, and it probably ranks as up there as one of the best urban fantasy anthologies I’ve ever read.
Here’s a more detailed look at the contents:
According to the description, this is one of the new stories, written as an “origin” tale of sorts for the werewolves of Mercy Thompson’s world. We’ve always been told Bran and Samuel are old, but now we realize just how old. We’re talking possibly around the time Christianity first came to Wales. This story also has a bit of romance and sadness, detailing how Samuel and his beloved Ariana first met, but to me its true importance in the fact that it fills in a lot of history to help readers better understand the werewolf mythos as well as Bran and Samuel’s familial ties. A great starter to this anthology, and highly apt.
Unfortunately, after this comes a few stories that I just wasn’t as fond of. Thomas Hao was a vampire character I barely remember from his appearance in Frost Burned, though he may have been in any of Patricia Briggs’ other books/spin-off series, but since I haven’t read anything other than Mercy Thompson I really wouldn’t know. I like the “western” feel of this story, but other than that I have to say it was pretty forgettable. I was scarcely able to follow along with the story with its confusing back-and-forth time jumps, and I felt like I was dumped into the middle of a situation without knowing what was going on or who everyone was and why they mattered. Going back to my opening paragraph, this story is a pretty good example of my issues with series companion short stories.
The stories in here are arranged in chronological order based on the timeline of the Mercy Thompson series, and at this point we’re still in pre-Moon Called territory. Which is probably why I still found myself asking “Who are you and why do you matter again?” I feel a little guilty that I don’t remember who Elyna is, or even if I have encountered her before in any of the Mercy books. This is another one about vampires, but it’s also a ghost story at its heart. The story itself isn’t half bad, but again I would rather be reading about characters I’m more familiar with. This is definitely not one of my favorites either.
This story features Tom and Moira, two characters from Hunting Ground, book two of Briggs’ other series Alpha & Omega – which I have not read. But despite not being familiar with these characters, the author did a good job of really fleshing them out and I actually found myself curious to find out more about them beyond the events of this story. We have a perspective character here who is a witch, which was a treat. The plot also had a clear beginning and end, with the build-up and climax and everything good in between, so I didn’t feel lost at all. I loved how this story had a bit of mystery and sleuthing by the characters, and a sweet romance that ends up blossoming between them.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
I’ve always wanted to check out Alpha & Omega, though to be honest, I don’t know if I feel more or less enthusiastic about picking it up now, after reading this story. I was happy to meet up with Charles (yay, finally a character I recognize again) but I don’t know if I like the way he was portrayed here, or how Anna was portrayed either. Which is a bit ironic, I know, given how this technically gave rise to the series of the same name. It’s always grated on me a little, how the werewolf characters in the world of Mercy Thompson frequently let their wolf side take over all common sense and turn the human into chauvinistic testosterone-fueled meatheads. In this story, we are repeatedly told that Anna still has fire in her, despite being beaten and broken by her abusive pack, but it feels like whatever strength in her that’s fighting to get out is constantly being smothered by Charles’ overbearing need to own her and protect her. I realize this all fits in the context of Briggs’ “pack magic”, but it just always rankles whenever I see an over-possessive male and a helpless female that needs him to do the rescuing.
THE STAR OF DAVID
Hooray, we’re finally into Moon Called-territory and familiar ground for me. This is a great story about Adam’s fellow army ranger, David, whose tragic history illustrates the awful things that can happen when a werewolf isn’t in control of their wolf side. He reconnects with his estranged daughter in this heartwarming tale. My only problem with this story involves some of the implausible and unconvincing aspects of the situation, but given the limitations of the short story format, I didn’t let it bother me too much.
ROSES IN WINTER
This is one of the new stories, and it’s hands down my favorite out of this entire anthology. In my opinion, it’s worth picking up Shifting Shadows for this one alone. Again, I barely remember Kara since she was such a minor character (mentioned in Blood Bound, but never even appeared in any of the books) but I do recall Asil. Though I believe he’s a character in Alpha & Omega, he did make a very strong impression on me from his appearance in Frost Burned. But wow. I never imagined I would grow to love his character so much, and it was all thanks to this story. I had tears in my eyes at the end of this one, that’s how amazing it is.
IN RED, WITH PEARLS
This was a nice detective story, starring Warren. Someone sent a zombie to kill his boyfriend Kyle, and Warren’s not going to rest until he finds out who. Patricia Briggs did a fantastic job making him sound like the cowboy that he is, and I can tell she probably had a lot of fun writing this. We also get to see a few moments of tenderness between Warren and Kyle, but the best part of getting a story from Warren’s perspective is being able to experience his anxieties and doubts from inside his head. In the regular series, through Mercy’s eyes we see Warren as a happy-go-lucky, fiercely loyal friend. But as this story shows, there’s so much more to him beneath the surface.
Probably my second favorite story in the anthology, this one features Ben. It’s hard to get a bead on his character in the regular series. On the one hand, it’s been implied that Ben has a rather distasteful past, and his attitude towards women leaves a lot to be desired. On the other, Adam and Mercy seem to trust him implicitly, and Ben has gone out of his way for both of them on more than one occasion. This story gives the reader a better sense of who he is, and how he got this way. But it’s also downright hilarious. You gotta love Ben; he can be a real gentleman when he wants to be, and he takes crap from no one, not even when he’s not allowed to swear.
I was beginning to think we weren’t going to get a Mercy story at all, which despite some of the other great offerings in here, would have been disappointing. But fear not, this one’s all about Mercy, told from her point of view. And as Mercy stories go, I have to say it’s pretty standard – it reads like it could have been a story from one of the novels, but of course it’s much more condensed in this form. This meant I enjoyed it, but I admit, it does feel like Briggs crammed this one in just for the sake of having a story told in Mercy’s perspective. Just a little.
OUTTAKE FROM SILVER BORNE
Sorry to say, but…there’s probably a good reason why this was an outtake and never made it to the final book. Yeah, it gives a bit of closure to Samuel and Ariana’s story, but I wouldn’t say it’s needed in the least to enjoy the story of their relationship. I could take it or leave it. I think it was the right call to leave it out.
OUTTAKE FROM NIGHT BROKEN
On the other hand, I wish Briggs could have worked this one in somehow. I loved this scene from Adam’s point of view, at the end of Night Broken in the wake of all the craziness that happened. It endeared me to Adam, and my heart melts for his deep love for Mercy. It might just be me, but this scene would have also made the ending to that book a lot less confusing.
Concluding thoughts: there’s definitely a reason why this book is described as “Stories from the world of Mercy Thompson”, because as you can see, most of what you see in here isn’t about Mercy or even the people close to her. But with the exception of a couple of stories, that didn’t really put a damper on my experience reading Shifting Shadows. In fact, on the whole I think this book gave me a deeper understanding of the Mercy Thompson universe and made me appreciate it more. I’ve read similar anthologies and regretted it deeply afterwards, but this is not one of those cases. I highly recommended this for fans of the series, because if someone like me loved it, you probably will too...more
It’s not too often I come across a unique and original concept in urban fantasy, but move over denizens of the world of the paranormal and say hello to a brand new breed of fae. The first book introduced us to John Golden, the protagonist of this clever, snappy series with an interesting mix of UF and techno-geek elements. He’s a “debugger”, an individual with special talents hired by corporate clients to go inside their computer systems in order to eliminate the gremlins, sprites and other faery creatures wreaking havoc on their networks. Needless to say, I loved this concept. It sure gives a whole new perspective on computer bugs, glitches and viruses.
And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, not long after I found out about John Golden, I heard author Django Wexler tease the next installment of this series. Not only was book two going to have a gamer angle, it was going to be satirizing the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. That MMORPG is, of course, World of Warcraft.
In John Golden’s universe, it becomes “Heroes of Mazaroth”. On what was supposed to be a routine debugging mission for a financial company, our protagonist somehow finds himself trapped in the game’s fantasy realm, suckered into taking the place of a Dark Lord raid boss, doomed to be farmed by a never-ending army of player-adventurers forever and ever…unless John and his sister-in-a-Dell-Inspiron Sarah can change the story and find a way out of this epic mix-up.
Simply put, these John Golden books a whole lot of fun. You can tell the author had a good time writing these books. Wexler has been in IT and is a gamer, injecting his own sense of humor and perspective of these topics into this series in a way that he can’t in his epic fantasy. John Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth is filled to the brim with all the right stuff which makes the urban fantasy genre such a blast to read. The pop culture jokes, and geek and gamer humor had me laughing out loud throughout.
“I’d seen some weird fairies in my time—driver-eating ogres, hydras made out of HR spreadsheets, a whole tribe of elves that worshipped the MS Word paperclip as a god…”
Sarah Golden is also delightfully hilarious, as always. She’s such a wonderful character. A distinguishing and highly entertaining feature of these books, her footnotes provide a running commentary on John’s adventures and misadventures, and let’s face it: there is no one more uniquely suited to give us insight into someone’s personality than his her own sibling, am I right? Sarah’s remarks often poke fun at John endearingly, and other times they give us more information about the world of the Wildernet and its fae. Either way, it’s great. The first book John Golden: Freelance Debugger has a bit of backstory about why she no longer has a physical body, her consciousness instead residing in a laptop, and it’s definitely not to be missed. I hope future books will continue building upon Sarah’s character, and the awesome dynamic between her and John in general.
What can I say? I just loved this book. You don’t need to be an IT person to get this book and you certainly don’t need to be an online gamer. But if you’re familiar with playing MMORPGs and World of Warcraft, there will be a lot of Easter eggs that will have you smiling. Gaming has been a long-time passion of mine, especially when it comes to MMOs, and WoW and I have a long and interesting history. I’ve played it for years and still work it into my gaming repertoire now and then despite the mountain of other MMO titles I play, so maybe I’m a little biased but I knew I was going to enjoy the hell out of John Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth as soon as I learned its premise. But it really is a fantastically entertaining book.
Though Heroes of Mazaroth can absolutely be read as a standalone, I recommend reading both books in this series. John Golden is awesome and you’re going to get a lot of great background into the world. These are also quick, bite-sized adventures that can be enjoyed in a single sitting.
And now if you’ll excuse me, Warlords of Draenor is on the horizon and after this book I have a hankering to do me some LFRs....more
Few subsequent installments in a Young Adult series have lived up to the bar set by their first books, so color me impressed by the way Heir of Fire has managed to do this while at the same time helping me get over the bad taste that Crown of Midnight left in my mouth.
This is going to be a difficult review to write without stomping all over spoiler territory for the previous books, but I’ll do my best not to divulge anything beyond what’s already in the book’s description. So much has happened in the series since the beginning. We last left Celaena on a ship bound for Wendlyn, sent there by her former lover and captain of the King’s Guard Chaol Westfall. Significant events as of late have also marked Wendlyn as her destination for answers to her past, and a way to thwart the King of Adarlan’s nefarious plans.
Not only has Heir of Fire sparked my enthusiasm to follow Celaena on her adventures again, it’s also now my favorite book of this series. I noted as well that this third book was remarkably light on relationship drama and all that bullshit. Coincidence? Probably not. The incessant shoving of an unimaginative, hackneyed romantic side-plot down my throat in Crown of Midnight was what almost made me lose my patience with that last book. It’s a welcome change to be somewhat free of that stuff this time around, and I’m glad Heir of Fire switched gears to focus on more action and rigorous story-development.
Of course, there were a few close calls with Rowan Whitethorn, introduced here as the warrior tasked by the Fae-Queen Maeve to train and guide Celaena to control her magic, but Celaena thankfully manages to remember that the remains of her poor and battered broken heart still technically belongs to someone else. I honestly thought Rowan would be yet another blip in the long line of male-mentors-to-YA-female-protagonists, but rescued from being labeled as yet another possible love interest (boring!), he actually ends up becoming a formidable mentor, ally, and friend to Celaena (much more interesting!) Getting to that point was also quite the journey, their interactions punctuated by ups and downs, but then some of the strongest and most loyal partnerships are forged in this manner.
Back in Adarlan we also have a couple storylines threaded with mystery and intrigue, as Chaol does some sleuthing and uncovers several important revelations about Aedion, the newly arrived general at the royal court. Meanwhile, Prince Dorian struggles with his own secret, one that could cost him his life if his father the king ever found out about it. He strikes up a friendship and later a romance with a palace healer who tries to help him. It would cheapen the experience to give way any more detail than that, but suffice to say, both Chaol and Dorian’s storylines ended up converging in a shocking, gut wrenching climax that seriously knocked me for a loop. Looks like things in this series has started moving away from the predictable throwaway elements, and is instead focusing on working in bolder and weightier developments that might actually cause major ripples further down the road.
It also wouldn’t be right to talk about this book without mentioning the Manon Blackbeak, another character who makes her first appearance in Heir of Fire. The King of Adarlan’s latest plans for domination involve Manon and her people, the wyvern-riding witches. Vicious, bloodthirsty and completely determined to prove herself as the most capable Wing Leader, Manon became an instant favorite, despite her role thus far as an accessory to a tyrant. I loved the side story in here of how she ended up with her wyvern – kind of like How to Train Your Dragon, except considerably less heartwarming and with 500% more brutality. But the bond between rider and mount is well-written and convincing, and the circumstances behind how Manon actually ended up with her wyvern made for an amazing sequence, and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the book.
This one’s much longer book than its two predecessors, but almost everything in the story was important, with hardly any dithering around. It’s a step up from both Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, dealing with heavier and more developed themes. We also go deeper into each character, with the new players like Rowan, Aedion and Manon getting the introductions they deserve, and even familiar characters like Celaena, Chaol and Dorian getting much love and attention from the author when it comes to building up their stories and personalities. So whaddya know, looks like a series can indeed mature with time and subsequent novels, and Heir of Fire is exemplary....more
My excitement to read this book is evidence enough for me that the first installment of this series ended a lot stronger than it began. I went through the first two-thirds of House of the Rising Sun feeling rather ambivalent towards the protagonists, but by the conclusion Augustine and Harlow managed to win me over. A couple of significant events in the previous novel taught both of them lessons in humility and responsibility, and Harlow especially did a lot of growing up. As such, I looked forward to City of Eternal Night with a newfound respect for the characters.
On top of that, this sequel raises the stakes in every way by setting up a new arc that is bigger, stronger, and more encompassing. The story now goes beyond Augustine and Harlow’s personal problems to involve the whole supernatural community. Of course, the diabolical Branzino also makes a return in an attempt to further disrupt Harlow’s life as well as kill Augustine, and as usual the witches’ coven are up to no good again, but the huge whammy that rocks the fae world this time around is the kidnapping of a young girl from the Mardi Gras Exemplar Ball, which is the by far most important and lavish fae event of the year. There’s no ransom price, just a demand for Augustine to relinquish his role as the city’s fae Guardian – and everyone knows the only way to resign from that position is death.
First, what I loved: speaking of Exemplar Ball, I continue to really enjoy Kristen Painter’s portrayal of the city of New Orleans and the fae community’s place in it. I was even more enchanted by the atmosphere of the ball in this book than I was with the scenes from Nokturnos in House of the Rising Sun. Of course, the Exemplar Ball had to be a masquerade and the theme is predictably “Enchanted Forest”. A little overindulgent, perhaps, but boy, what I wouldn’t give to have been invited to that particular shindig. The descriptions of the decorations, costumes and even the food were wild and extraordinary and magnificent.
I also appreciated Painter’s expansion of the fae world in this installment. It’s easy to forget that this series actually takes place in the future, so sometimes the advanced technology can be a bit jarring. But mixed in with this “new and high-tech” is also mythology and the ancient lore of faeries. The history and background of Lally, a secondary character, is further explored with several big revelations about the old mansion that belonged to Harlow’s mother, also explaining why Branzino also wants it so much. A lot of things start to come together in this sequel, and the author continues to tease the details little by little.
Now for a couple of criticisms, which are minor: firstly, there is absolutely no mystery at all when it comes to the kidnapping case. There are a very limited number of suspects, and despite Augustine and the fae council going nuts over trying to narrow down the culprit, the one responsible is practically named in the book’s own description.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any other surprises.
Take the ending, for example. On the one hand, it was abrupt and left us with one hell of a cliffhanger, but on the other, we are set up for a pretty big conundrum which makes me mighty curious as to how things will be resolved.
Finally, despite maturing a bit since the first book, every once in a while Harlow still gets on my nerves. She may be less of a selfish brat, but she’s still terribly naïve (or dumb with a capital D, if you’re feeling less generous). Sad to say, but she brings a lot of her problems on herself. It’s one thing to be socially awkward and a little sheltered, it’s another to have someone tell you straight out NOT to do a certain thing because there will be dire consequences – and even give you examples! – and you go do it anyway. That’s Harlow for you.
Still, my feelings about her notwithstanding, I continue to believe Harlow will become a more sympathetic character, and I’m following the budding romance between her and Augustine with interest. I’m also enjoying the world of this series a lot, and the story is getting better. This sequel is without question an improvement over the first book, and I’m definitely on board for book three....more
When Angry Robot announced in the summer of 2014 that they were shutting down their Young Adult imprint Strange Chemistry, I was among the many readers saddened by the cancellation of their books and series. But thank goodness for at least the small mercies, like Danielle L. Jensen’s Malediction Trilogy being picked up by the parent company. Stolen Songbird was one of the best YA titles I read last year, and I was looking forward to continuing Cécile’s story in Hidden Huntress.
The sequel picks up shortly after the events of the first book. Cécile has recovered from her harrowing escape from Trollus, but it also means being separated from her love, the troll prince Tristan who is still trapped in the city beneath a mountain, sealed in by a witch’s curse. Determined to save Tristan, Cécile is willing to do anything – even if it means entering into a magically binding deal with the tyrant troll king, who tasks her to break them free by hunting down the elusive Anushka, the one who cast the original curse so long ago.
Meanwhile, Tristan is at his lowest point. He is shunned by his people, and only has few remaining loyal followers at his side. His power-hungry father will stop at nothing to escape their mountain prison and unleash the power of the trolls on the outside world, but Tristan is just as resolved to do all he can to stop him. Neither Tristan nor Cécile were prepared for the extent of the king’s Machiavellian cunning though, or just how far he would go with his manipulations.
On the whole, I actually thought Hidden Huntress was an even better book than its predecessor. This surprised me somewhat, considering some reviewer opinions I’ve seen expressing disappointment that Cécile and Tristan were separated for most of the story, and I thought for sure I would feel the same way. In fact, the opposite turned out to be true. In a case like this, distance apparently does make the heart grow fonder. Because of their magical bond, Cécile and Tristan are able to feel each other’s emotions more deeply than most couples even when they are far apart, creating a very intriguing dynamic. I felt too that the opportunity gave each protagonist the time they needed to fully develop as individuals, something that might not have occurred if they had been together. Tristan, for example, got his chance to really shine, occupying almost if not just as much page time as Cécile. Though I personally didn’t find his chapters as interesting as hers, his mission in Trollus was no less important, and I really appreciated how much of his personality we were able to glean from his perspective.
As much as Cécile and Tristan’s separation pained me, ultimately I believe the decision was worth the benefits to the plot. Sometimes, I find physical romance can take a back seat but the resulting novel ends up being just as satisfying. The story of Hidden Huntress is more sophisticated and even more entertaining than Stolen Songbird, placing a stronger emphasis on the bigger picture and also allowing supporting characters to play larger roles. The city of Trianon is a whole other world, but as a rising opera star following in her mother’s footsteps, Cécile has to tread just as carefully. Genevieve de Troyes was mentioned in the first book and I was very curious to finally meet this woman who has made such an impact on her daughter’s life. Let’s just say she was not what I expected.
I wouldn’t surprise me though, if readers are divided on Hidden Huntress. Danielle L. Jensen made a bold move, and it’ll pay off for some but perhaps not for others. It worked well for me for many reasons, some of which I’ve outlined above, but I also found it important that Ms. Jensen showed what would happen to her characters if they were placed under terrible pressure. Many will probably find some of Cécile’s decisions in this book frustrating, but to me they were an extension of the determined young woman we met in the first book who is loath to give up on something she believes in even if it drives her to extremes. We already had the chance to see the romance spark and develop between her and Tristan in the first book; I was glad to see that this book went further beyond giving readers more of the same, deciding instead to explore the greater mysteries. The page count is probably just a tad higher than I would have been comfortable with, but I got a lot out of it in the end, so I can’t bring myself to complain too much.
Hidden Huntress opens up the world, simply put. It felt bigger and more encompassing, upping the ante for all involved. The pull of the story was irresistible, given how so much more now rests on the success of our protagonists. Everything that the first book set us up for comes to fruition, complete with welcome twists and unexpected surprises. If nothing else, that incredible ending sure has me eager for book three....more
The adventures of Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko continue in Silver Mirrors, but the second novel of the Apparatus Infernum series takes a decidedly different tack. Of course, our two CID investigators have another mystery to solve, but their mission this time takes them across the ocean, over the treacherous peaks of the mountains, and deep into the fire elemental mining tunnels of the north.
Needless to say, I found Silver Mirrors to be a much more exciting novel than the first. The premise of the story – that the world’s elementals are unsettled and running amok as a result of the destructive events of the last book – is perhaps tenuous at best, but it hardly mattered. The important thing is, we get to go on an adventure out of the city and onto the high seas with our two protagonists. And thar be pirates!
Also threaded into this thrilling ride is the ever-present romantic side plot, with the sexual tension between Ritsuko and Mikani about to boil over and explode any second. Seriously, these two have it BAD for one another. And of course, everyone sees it except for them. If you prefer slow-burn romances and delayed gratification when it comes to love stories between characters, I can’t recommend these books enough. But it also behooves me to say it probably wouldn’t hurt to be prepared for how oblivious they are. Reading about the two of them dancing and flailing around each other’s emotions is a bit like watching a couple of hopeless players at game of charades. It’s hard to believe they actually make a living doing detective work and solving mysteries. But you know what they say about good things coming to those who wait. I think that goes for the characters and the readers both, and for now all we can do is root for Ritsuko and Mikani.
But I’m glad I decided to read this sequel not just for the progression of their romance, because there’s a lot more to the world of this series. Silver Mirrors expands it by having the characters travel afar, and not for the first time I wished a book would include a map. We also learn more about the magic and its limitations. For instance, when the behaviors of elementals are disrupted, the different instruments and devices they help power can also become unstable or fail spectacularly altogether. It wasn’t until this novel that I finally got a sense of the living, breathing connection between the mortal and the mystical.
The Aguirres are clearly not afraid to take their books into new territory. While Bronze Gods was more of a whodunit murder mystery, Silver Mirrors reads like an action-adventure with the characters embarking on a perilous quest. Book two may be a continuation of book one, but even so, the two stories can’t be any more different. It mixes things up and keeps this series interesting. Obviously, the Mikani and Ritsuko situation is something I’d like to keep an eye on, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what the authors will do in future installments and where they will take us next. ...more
There are only a few urban fantasy series I would drop everything for, and this is one of them. So when Foxglove Summer arrived on my doorstep, I did exactly that – every other book that was on my plate got put on hold while I set forth to devour this one. Move over, “The Boy Who Lived”, for when it comes to my favorite British wizard, his name is Peter Grant.
Foxglove Summer may the fifth installment of the series, but it’s still going strong. While I hardly ever recommend starting in the middle of a series, I suppose if you’ve been mighty curious about these books, this could possibly be a decent place to jump on board, it being book five notwithstanding. Here, author Ben Aaronovitch gives our protagonist a little break from his long-term struggle with his arch nemesis the Faceless Man, sending Peter out of London into the rural countryside to investigate the possibility of magic involvement in the disappearance of two young girls.
We could all use a little breather sometimes, and this served as a nice rest from the hustle and bustle of the city. But of course, it’s never a vacation for Police Constable Grant, a Londoner to the core and who now finds himself way out of his element. He is thrown into the case, working with the cordial yet skeptical local police who have no idea what to make of Peter’s area of expertise, namely all things supernatural and thaumaturgical – a perfectly reasonable response, if you can imagine what it would be like if Mulder and Scully suddenly showed up at your precinct going on about formae and vestigia. But time’s a-ticking, and the desperation grows with each day that goes by with still no trace of the two missing girls. It’s time to try anything and everything Peter can think of, including bringing in his friend Beverley Brook, a genius loci of the rivers.
Out of all the books so far, I feel this one has reads the most like a police procedural and also has the strongest self-contained and cohesive mystery plot yet. A lot of urban fantasies sell themselves as mysteries, but this one actually feels like a mystery, with subtle clues dropped along the course of the investigation that the attentive reader might pick up and use later on to put together the pieces. The story is also light on the magical elements in the beginning, but rest assured no Peter Grant adventure ends without a whole lot of weird stuff going on by the time it’s finished. What sort of weird stuff, you ask? Try a couple of invisible and pissed off carnivorous unicorns on for size.
Why do I love these novels so? Namely because they feel so different from my usual urban fantasy fare. I’ve seen the series described as “very British” in terms of the writing, and definitely when it comes to the humor as well. Indeed, Peter’s most hilarious lines are often laced with strong undertones of sarcasm and self-deprecation, and delivered with the kind of subtlety that contrasts greatly with the in-your-face type of snark that I’m so used to in my mostly American UF heroes and heroines. Oh, but how Peter Grant makes me laugh and laugh and laugh. Reading these books in public is a risk, because I never know when something Aaronovitch writes will make me guffaw out loud, drawing stares from strangers around me who all then think I’ve gone nuts.
It’s hard to believe, considering how much I adored the first and second books in the series, but Foxglove Summer may be my favorite Peter Grant novel so far. It’s true that it’s a bit of a departure from the previous books. For one thing, the city of London has been as much of a character as the people living in it, but now we have a story that takes place almost entirely in a small village in the outskirts. And yet, the beautiful descriptions of the English countryside more than make up for it, not to mention the fascinating information on the geography and history of Herefordshire. Also noticeably absent are the usual supporting characters, including the Rivers (with the exception of Beverley) and most glaringly of all, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the mentor and supervisor of Peter Grant – and also my favorite character after Peter. Still, I was more than willing to overlook this, given how tightly the story was told. These days, a lot of urban fantasies are so overwhelming with the sheer amount of things going on in them, it’s nice just to sit back and enjoy a straight-up mystery with a highly focused plot and a clear direction.
I look forward to when we’ll get back to the larger story arc following the Faceless Man, especially after the giant bombshell dropped on us at the end of the last book, Broken Homes. Still, for a brief respite, I couldn’t be happier with the way Foxglove Summer turned out. I sense the events of this book will have some lasting repercussions, possibly extending into the next book since things ended pretty abruptly here with a couple of minor loose ends still unresolved. On the whole, however, this book is a great example of how a series and its main character can grow while still retaining everything that makes the previous novels so great. An extraordinary fun ride that’s not to be missed....more
I'm a tough sell when it comes to novellas. Even tougher when it comes to urban fantasy. Don't get me wrong; I love this genre, but the truth is there's also a lot of books and series out there. These days, ideas in urban fantasy have to be special and different enough in order to stand out and hook me.
But as soon as I read the description for this book, which is about a character whose job as a "freelance debugger" involves getting fairies out of computers, I knew it had me. Speaking as someone who is often convinced she has problems way worse than fairies mucking about in her PC, I think I need this John Golden guy in my life.
Django Wexler is also the perfect person to write this. That might come as a surprise if you've only read his epic fantasy, but I've discovered that he's also an amazingly versatile author. And as a former programmer and someone clearly used to being called upon for impromptu IT work, he definitely knows his way around computers and networks. He's taken that knowledge and mashed it up with elements from urban fantasy, creating a world where the land of the fae exists as part of a "Wildernet", and its denizens wreck havoc on our servers and systems by infesting them with their nasty "burrows".
I think the first thing most readers will notice is "Hey, there's a bunch of footnotes in this!" Wexler has decided to do something different here by using footnotes for humorous effect, having John Golden's business partner Sarah fill us in with her commentary in the form of annotations. Sarah is an interesting character, with her being a ... well, I think I'll just leave that little bit out as a surprise for now! In any case, I personally appreciated the footnotes as part of the book's unique flavor, though they did trip me up a little at the beginning. Ultimately though, it's worth your time to read Sarah's snarktastic comments, since they often add to the narrative or give you more details about the world. Not to mention she's downright hilarious.
I would recommend this to everyone. It's the perfect urban fantasy for computer geeks, with its IT jokes and references, but it's also fun for those who are not. Take me, for example. I wouldn't say I'm hopeless with computers, but at the same time what I don't know could fill an Olympic-size pool, and yet I still loved this book! It's quick, it's entertaining, and I have to say I got a real kick out of its geeky pop culture references and humor.
Can't wait for more, especially since Wexler has teased that the next book will have a gamer angle. I know his other fantasy series will likely take precedence, but I really hope he'll keep finding time to write John Golden stories. A premise this amazing simply demands further exploration!...more
“Spellbinding” is the only word to describe Dreamer’s Pool. Reading it was like walking into a gorgeous, living fairy tale. I just loved this book, it’s probably one of the best I’ve read all year…and I’ve read A LOT of books this year.
This is the first in an adult series by Juliet Marillier, called Blackthorn and Grim. Blackthorn is a woman we meet at the beginning of the novel, imprisoned for speaking out against a wicked and corrupt chieftain. Hours before she is to be executed, she is visited by the fey, who offers her a chance to escape in exchange for her promise to set aside her desire for vengeance. Reluctantly, Blackthorn agrees and makes her way north to Dalriada to start her new life. She is trailed by her fellow prisoner and escapee Grim, a hulking man of few words. Unable to turn away anyone who asks her for help, Blackthorn also recognizes Grim’s potential as an ally, and the two of them strike up a tentative partnership.
Meanwhile in Dalriada, Prince Oran prepares to wed. He has never met his future bride the Lady Flidais, though he has seen her portrait and they have written extensively to each other. However, the crown prince is convinced that the sweet, compassionate and intelligent woman he has come to know through her letters is his perfect match, which is why he is dismayed when the Flidais who arrives at his castle is nothing like the Flidais he thought he knew. Had he been taken for a fool, merely blinded by youthful naiveté? Or is there something stranger, more mystical afoot? Perhaps the newly arrived wise woman and her big strong helper could be of some assistance in this mystery.
This is a tale of magic, set in a world where one imagines myths and legends can come to life, but it also feels surprisingly grounded at the same time, almost like a fairy tale infused with a bit of realism. These elements gave the world more depth and kept it from feeling too simplistic, but they were also muted enough not to be overbearing or risk completely obliterating the magical nuances. Marillier tackles the craft of world-building meticulously and flawlessly, striking the perfect tone. I’m beyond impressed.
Dreamer’s Pool is told through the perspectives of Blackthorn, Grim and Oran. These three characters made this book a joy to read, and there’s no hemming and hawing about it – I loved them all equally. They’re very different people, and the way they’re written by Marillier, you would never mistake any one of them for another. Each person’s voice feels unique and extraordinarily real and powerful. The reader perceives the world and various events through a character’s eyes, at the same time watching him or her develop along with the story. We’re with Oran as he grows from a young, carefree man into a thoughtful and worldly leader. We’re in Blackthorn’s head even as she is blinded by her own personal biases and unaware of her flaws. And Grim is just Grim. He’s simply an amazing and special man and there can be no other like him.
This book made me wonder why I waited so long to pick up something by Juliet Marillier. She writes so beautifully, with every word like an enchantment or spell drawing the reader deeper into the story. There’s a mystery here I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom of, and then as we drew closer to the conclusion I didn’t want this story to end!
Alas, it did. But I’m also glad this is going to be a series because I can’t wait until we can return to the world of Blackthorn and Grim. Until then, I’ve bought other books by Marillier because I just can’t get enough of her writing. Dreamer’s Pool gave me a taste, and now I’m hooked....more
Thorn Jack has been on my to-read list for a while, but nothing could have prepared me for magical story I found when I cracked open its pages. I was also delighted to find out that it’s a modern retelling inspired by “Tam Lin”.
First of all, I love creative reimaginings of all sorts; myths, folklore, fairytales – you name it, I want it. Second, if it’s a retelling of a story I’m not as familiar with…well, that actually just makes me even more interested. Needless to say, I had to go and brush up on the old Scottish legendary ballad while reading this book. There are many versions, but most variants of “Tam Lin” involve a mortal woman rescuing her true love held captive by the Queen of the Fairies, and like most old stories involving the Fae, it encompasses some pretty dark themes. Thorn Jack may be a modern retelling, but it likewise features some of the same themes, including those surrounding the power of young woman’s determination and courage.
So if you enjoy reading about strong, dedicated and genuine female protagonists, you’ll definitely like Finn Sullivan. We come upon her at a very dark time of her life, though. The recent suicide of her sister Lily Rose is an open wound on her heart as Finn and her father move from San Diego to a small town called Fair Hollow in upstate New York. While unpacking, Finn finds Lily Rose’s journal, filled with mad ramblings about strange occurrences and dark creatures that have preyed on humanity for hundreds of years. Dismissing these as her sister’s fanciful stories, Finn puts this aside and goes back to her grieving.
However, it soon becomes clear that things in Fair Hollow are not as they seem. Something feels wrong, and it all seems to revolve around the town’s most wealthiest and notorious family, the Fatas. When Finn and her new college friends are invited to a lakeside party, she immediately becomes drawn to one of the Fatas, a mysterious young man named Jack. But as they grow closer, the more unsettled Finn feels in spite of herself. So much about Jack and his family reminds her of Lily Rose’s journal and her sister’s descriptions of the “Children of Night and Nothing”. There’s an enigmatic, sinister air around the Fatas, but are they really dangerous? And what have they got to do with Lily Rose’s suicide?
Walking into Katherine Harbour’s world of Thorn Jack is like walking into a modern fairytale, a little bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Once Upon a Time. Also, you know you’re in for a good time whenever there are Fae involved, though these Fae are unlike any I’ve ever seen. Their characteristics make me think they are an amalgamation of many different kinds of monsters and creatures, with traits that bring to mind vampires, shapeshifters, ghostly spirits and more. There’s some excellent world-building going on here; I sensed the dark wonder and otherworldliness of Fair Hollow as soon as Finn and her father arrived at their new home. Harbour has created an almost palpable atmosphere, the kind that slowly seeps off the page to send tingles up your arms.
There’s also a heavy element of romance. After all, the story is based on a legend about a man rescued by his true love, so I went into Thorn Jack expecting the plot to center on a romantic relationship. My only issue with it is that it was a bit slow to take off. Part of the reason for this is because the narrative meanders quite a bit, occasionally branching out into small side threads and different POVs. Fortunately, in many cases the characters make up for much of it. While the story might not be constantly moving forward, I loved getting to know Christie and Sylvie (whom I pictured in my mind as Finn’s Xander and Willow) and I got to enjoy reading about the different members of the extended Fata family in all their creepy and dangerous glory. Even the various townies and seemingly innocuous professors at Finn’s college have hidden secrets. Part of the fun was discovering the mysteries of Fair Hollow and its people.
This book also turned out to be a wonderful read for October especially as we approach Halloween (which plays a significant role in this book, much like it did in the ballad of Tam Lin). It’s the time of the year when the leaves are starting to turn and the days are getting colder and shorter, and I found Thorn Jack and its mystical and eerie vibes to be incredibly immersive even though it’s not a horror novel and there’s nothing overtly frightening about the story. What Katherine Harbour has done here is really cool; she has reinvented a legend and put it into a modern package while making sure to preserve all the beauty and magic and seduction....more
A couple of recent experiences have made me extremely wary of spin-offs, so it was probably a good thing I didn’t know House of the Rising Sun was one until I was already well into it. I’ve never read Kristen Painter before this, and I’d definitely wanted to give this series a fair shot. So perhaps it’s to her credit that I didn’t even know this was a spin-off novel until I read the author interview at the back of the book – not once did I feel lost or in over my head even if I hadn’t read her House of Comarré series. Right away, I liked how this book was the perfect jumping-on point for a new reader, which is a quality I think all spin-offs should strive for.
Augustine, who was a side character in House of Comarré gets to star in his own series here, returning to his hometown of New Orleans after some time away. He’s playing fast and loose, having very few responsibilities and getting to enjoy the attentions of human women who find his Fae heritage irresistible. He also gets free room and board whenever he wants in a luxurious Garden District mansion, thanks to his adoptive mother Olivia Goodwin, the retired movie star. It’s a good life! Little wonder then why he’s so fiercely reluctant when asked to be Guardian of the city. But when the vampire gangs start attacking innocent tourists and those he loves, Augustine finds he might not have a choice.
Meanwhile, Olivia’s biological daughter Harlow gets into a massive amount of trouble, having been convicted of cyber-hacking. Completely broke and unable to pay the exorbitant fine, she decides on the lesser of two evils and hits up her mom for help rather than go to jail, even though the two have been estranged for years.
What struck me early on was that neither Augustine nor Harlow seemed to be capable of taking responsibility of their own actions. Augustine wasn’t too bad – though it was a bit off-putting the way he figured he could get away with doing something wrong with no repercussions. When threatened with the Guardianship, all he could think about was how it would affect his cushy life. Guess what, Augustine, punishment usually goes hand in hand with breaking the rules! There’s really no sense in resenting it.
Ultimately Augustine redeemed himself in my eyes, stepping up to fulfill his role. On the other hand, Harlow’s attitude left a bad taste in my mouth and did not really fade until the very end. It was revealed early on that her estrangement from her mother was due to Olivia refusing to divulge the identity of Harlow’s father. That’s a fixation Harlow NEVER allows us to forget. Hearing her go on about it, you’d think every single one of her life’s misfortunes could be traced back to Olivia withholding her father’s name. Harlow's introductory scene even involved her wishing daddy would come bail her out of trouble, if only she'd known who he was, and that she’d never have been duped into a cybercrime if only he'd been in her life in the first place. Somehow, I just don't buy that. Plus, Olivia was not as bad a mother as Harlow made her sound. Characters tend to play a huge role in my enjoyment of a novel, so it was unfortunate that Harlow started off so self-absorbed and entitled, and her inability to admit "Hey, I screwed up, and it was my own fault" really grated on me.
But how I adored the Kristen Painter’s portrayal of New Orleans in this series! If she’d had wanted the atmosphere of a never-ending party, she certainly nailed it. It’s the perfect setting when it comes to a haven for fae, vampires, witches and other supernatural creatures. I loved the scene of Nokturnos, a noisy and boisterous night of festivities where everyone just wants to have fun. Can’t really blame Augustine for being so happy-go-lucky when the mood’s just so positively infectious, and world building is simply phenomenal.
Apart from the hiccups with the characters, I actually quite enjoyed this book and had a lot of fun with it. In fact, I thought the last page came far too soon, and wish ending hadn’t been so rushed. These characters have a lot of potential to grow, with Augustine having won me over already, and Harlow is well on her way to becoming a more sympathetic character. I’ll admit it – I’m raring to find out more. All in all, House of the Rising Sun is a promising start, and I look forward to the next book....more
What an offbeat, curious little novel. I wasn’t surprised to discover that it was a Victorian-inspired steampunk urban fantasy type mystery, but it’s the other little pleasures thrown in that endeared me to this book. The sprinkling of magical elements combined with other fantasy aspects make the world of Bronze Gods more special and enchanting.
Meet Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko, a detective team for the Criminal Investigation Department. He is a magical expert and brings his own uncanny Ferisher (they're like the Fae) powers to the case. She is the first female detective in her division and pushes herself to prove herself. Together, they are tasked to solve the disappearance of a young girl from a noble house, and catch the one responsible before he can strike again.
But there’s more to this story than just police work. If you enjoy a little romance or like a bit of sexual tension to spice things up, then you’re in for a treat. I got a major “Mulder and Scully” vibe from Mikani and Ritsuko, with their mutual attraction and feelings for each other smoldering beneath the surface, gradually warming up in a slow burn that’s both oh so sweet and delicious. The writing team of Ann Aguirre and her husband Andres Aguirre has succeeded in writing a very convincing romance between the two main characters.
So, here you have awesome world (check!), awesome characters (check!) and awesome chemistry between said characters (check!). But what I struggled with a little was the plot and pacing. If you’re a mystery buff, you’ll probably find yourself frustrated by the seemingly lackadaisical pace of the investigation, not to mention the police procedural aspects are a bit light. To be fair, a full-out detective story isn’t what Bronze Gods was meant to be, but just one major facet of the story. I was also a bit dissatisfied by the ending and the “twist” regarding one of the suspects, but seeing as that took place in the final scenes, it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book too much.
More importantly, Bronze Gods was an entertaining and action-filled read, with well-developed characters that actually gave me reasons to continue caring about their unresolved relationship. I like how there is no rush to get Mikani and Ritsuko together, because when it finally happens I'm sure it’ll just be all the more satisfying. I want to continue the series to see what other mysteries our duo will have to solve, but I’m also very interested in seeing where their feelings for each other will eventually take them....more
I was initially drawn to The Falconer thanks to that striking cover. Just absolutely gorgeous! And then I read the book's description and saw that the story was no slouch either. A mix of paranormal fantasy and historical fiction, the Fae, and a spirited heroine made this one sound very inviting.
It is Scotland and the year is 1844. A year has passed since Aileana Kameron was found standing over the dead body of her mother, covered in blood. Everyone thinks she has something to do with it, but Aileana knows the truth. It was a faery who killed her mother and ripped out her heart.
Now all Aileana wants is revenge. As a result, she lives a double life, pretending to be interested in frivolous things like dances and dresses when making her appearances in high society, but when the light fades she goes out hunting. Night after night, she tracks and kills Fae, using the skills learned from her mentor, Kiaran MacKay. Kiaran, who is a faery himself, has his own reasons for wanting to see his own kind dead, but Aileana doesn't care, not as long as their goals align...and as long as she doesn't get too close.
Despite bits of historical context hinted here and there, the setting didn't actually feel like historical fiction to me. Or very Scottish, for that matter. Elizabeth May has pretty much created her own world in The Falconer; the place and time period don't matter all that much to the story anyway, but the light flavor of steampunk is a nice touch. The world is filled with all sorts of wonderful contraptions, like tea dispensers and floating lights, and Aileana is something of a tinkerer, designing and creating weapons and even her own flying machine.
Aileana herself is a great character, as fiery and determined as that amazing cover makes her out to be. When it comes to female protagonists in paranormal fiction, she ranks amongst the best I've ever met, mostly because she comes off as able and intelligent rather than irritating in her conviction. However, if I had to pick a favorite character in this book, the honor would go to her pixie sidekick-like companion Derrick. I loved that humorous, honey-guzzling little guy!
I also didn't realize until after I finished reading that The Falconer has been categorized as Young Adult. I suppose in retrospect, the book contains quite a few trappings of the genre, but honestly, they didn't jump out at me at the time. Aileana is 18 years old, but her experiences have made her older than her years, and even the story's love triangle, which I usually dread, was bearable because it wasn't quite like a real love triangle. Even as a YA novel, I feel The Falconer has excellent crossover appeal.
My final thought, and perhaps also a warning, is that this book ends in a cliffhanger, perhaps one of the more infuriating ones I've encountered in recent years. The final scenes with Aileana and Kiaran against the Fae threat were so intense and suspenseful! And when I saw that there were still quite a pages left in the book, I got all anxious and prepared for the conclusion to be revealed...only to find out that the last chapter was actually a Bestiary. Arrrggh!
So bravo, Elizabeth May, you have me hooked. Some might say The Falconer is pretty standard in terms of paranormal fantasy, but so help me, it was a fast read and such good fun. ...more
Before we begin, I feel I should make it known that this book is not for the faint of heart. If you know you'll feel uncomfortable with things like brutal violence, ear-bendingly foul language, and extremely graphic sex, then you may wish to reconsider having a go at this ... especially when it comes to that last one. In general, I am not the kind to be bothered by lewd and explicit acts in books, and yet there were still certainly no shortages of eyebrow raises from me with this one! Anyway, it was enough that I feel I should say something. Fair warning!
And now with that out of the way, let's get down to the reasons why this book totally rocks. If you're the kind of person who likes the combination of a good adventure story with the dark and gritty aspects of fantasy (of course, keeping in mind the caveats mentioned above) then you'll love The Barrow! Incidentally, this is exactly the kind of mix I enjoy. The fact that it was even darker than I expected was a nice surprise, though I don't know if I would call it full-out grimdark. In an interview, Mark Smylie described the book as more of an "archetypal Dungeons & Dragons adventure as run through the filter of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" ... and well, yes, actually I suppose that description would do nicely!
Furthermore, the book also takes place in the world of Mark Smylie's Artesia graphic novels. I won't deny that an emotional attachment to the setting was a factor for me, but if you are not familiar with the comics, do not fret! This is a brand new self-contained story, no previous knowledge of the world or characters required -- which is actually great for me too, since I'd only read the first volume and it was quite a while ago. However, you can still tell that writing a story within a setting that has already been established works well in the novel's favor; the world-building is phenomenally robust and very deep, with many layers to the descriptions of the people and places.
As the reader, I felt like I was transported right there -- and that is both a wonderful and terrifying experience, considering the type of world we're thrown into, one filled with dark magics, shady politics, and disreputable characters. Scoundrels and perverts lurk at every corner, and if you're really unlucky, you might even run afoul of demonic horrors and evil gods. The main plot is actually quite simple, deceptively so perhaps; on a routine tomb-robbing operation, Stjepan Black-Heart and his crew stumble upon an ancient map which details the final resting place of a long-dead wizard, who was said to have been buried with a priceless legendary sword.
Here's where the adventure narrative comes in. To find the sword, our protagonists must first gather their allies and go forth to locate this tomb. Of course, epic quests are never so easy or straightforward. But even when a curse placed on the map kills one of the essential members of the crew and ends up transcribing itself onto the skin of a young noblewoman, you think that would stop the Black-Heart? Nope! Whether it's wealth, fame, freedom, or absolution, everyone on this journey has a reason to find this fabled Barrow, which makes this story a riveting one filled with secrets and unexpected twists.
Among these colorful personalities, some of the characters are so disturbing it will make you sick to your stomach, while others are so crazy it will make you laugh; but there's definitely no accusing any of them for being boring. Out of everyone, I think I like Erim the best. A young woman masquerading as a man, Erim is Stjepan's protege, and despite her skill with the blade, in many ways she is as sheltered as her mentor is well-traveled. It's ironic that she doesn't find herself to be very interesting, because she was my favorite with her quiet introspection and fierce loyalty. That pretty much also makes her the most honorable of the lot; we're talking about some rather grim and nasty characters here, after all.
This is a book that pulls you in immediately, starting with an explosive intro that sets the tone and mood of the story quite nicely. It also contains possibly one of the most heart-pounding prologues that has ever graced the pages of a fantasy novel, and my head is still reeling from the events at the end of that chapter. However, the pacing of the novel is a bit uneven, which is probably the only quibble I have about this book. After the introduction comes a middle that slows down considerably as the characters travel towards their destination. There are frequent stops along the way, but the good news is that something interesting happens at every one of them. These encounters often added to the depth of the lore and setting, giving me more of a sense of the world's vastness.
But while it took me several days to read the first three-quarters of this book, I think I devoured the last 150 or so pages in one exhilaratingly intense sitting. Everything that happens after they find the Barrow is pure insanity. Also, I just love twists and surprises! It's a climax and conclusion that goes beyond just being an ending, because more importantly it reveals how all the themes and undercurrents of the novel come together. It speaks much about Mark Smylie's skills as a storyteller. He marks his transition to full-length novels with this incredible debut, and I'm glad to hear we will be seeing more from him following The Barrow...more
Not for the first time, I wish I had a system in place for giving two ratings to a book: 1) An objective rating in which I give a book stars based on its own merits, uninfluenced by my personal feelings, and 2) A subjective rating which is based on how a book worked for me personally, or how well it meshed with my personal tastes. This is going to be a very tough review for me to write, simply because I've never read a book like this, where those two ratings could not be any more different, but I'm also glad I have the chance to explain why.
The book begins with a young man named Cooper waking up in an unfamiliar place to two strangers fussing over his sudden appearance, and the answers he gets are decidedly not reassuring. Apparently, he is dead. Contrary to what we know about death, when someone dies they merely wake up as themselves somewhere else, appearing on one of a possible million universes where they will once again live out their lives and the whole process repeats itself. That is, until you reach the end and wind up at the City Unspoken, also known as the City of the Dead, because only on this world a person can find true death.
This is where Cooper wakes up. But he has also come at a very unsettling time, where something seems to be preventing True Death from happening, leading to widespread frustration and panic among the denizens of the city. There are some who believe Cooper may be the solution to the problem, as he is different. For one thing, he has a belly button. A navel is really nothing but a scar left over from the attachment of the umbilical cord, and because all are born only once but die many times, waking up on new worlds with their bodies whole and unmarred, the fact Cooper has one holds great significance. He may not be really dead.
And from here on out, it gets even stranger. But hey, you'd too if you were Cooper, dragged across the metaverse by a goddess, kidnapped by faeries, drugged by Cleopatra, engulfed by a machine-flesh creature, and pursued by undead monsters and evil elf beings. I love it when I find a unique book with very different, offbeat ideas, but The Waking Engine treads into seriously bizarre territory. More bizarre than I could handle, perhaps. It's the kind of book I can't tackle at night right before bed, because I wake up in the morning and can't remember if I actually dreamed or read these weird images. I tried really hard to embrace the weirdness, but it soon became clear that I was in way over my head.
And that's a real shame, too. It almost breaks my heart to say I didn't like this one as much as I thought I would. The ideas in this story are some of the most original ones I've ever encountered in science fiction and fantasy, and the characters are unconventional and diverse as well. Unfortunately, the strangeness was a barrier for me, preventing me from appreciating all of the positive aspects of this book to its fullness. It's difficult to connect to a character, for instance, when instead I'm putting all my effort into trying to make sense of everything that's happening. The world is also wildly imaginative, which is another huge plus to this book, but words cannot describe just how amazing and fantastical it is. I mean that literally in this case; I get the sense from Edison's writing that the environments he pictures in his mind are so vast and visionary that they transcend mere language.
I wanted to like The Waking Engine so much because objectively, it is a great book, deftly and beautifully written with ground breaking ideas, interesting characters, and incredible world building. But I have to be honest, it was just not my style. There's lots to love about this book, but it just has to find its intended audience, which unfortunately is not me. On the other hand, I think fans of "un-reality" or the metaphysical or more abstract elements in their speculative fiction will be very well pleased with this one. Give it a shot if that's the type of stories you like, I guarantee you won't be disappointed....more
3.5 stars. This took a little bit longer than I expected to finish, despite it always being a joy and a treat for me to return to the world of Mercy T3.5 stars. This took a little bit longer than I expected to finish, despite it always being a joy and a treat for me to return to the world of Mercy Thompson. The thing is, I adored River Marked, the book that came before this. Simply adored it. So if I had to compare the two, I probably didn't like Frost Burned as much, but it's still a solid follow-up. If you're a fan of the series, it's not to be missed.
Anyway, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Mercy's life has not settled into the normalcy of wedded bliss even after her marriage to the werewolf alpha Adam -- but it's not for the lack of trying. The book begins with Mercy taking her teenage stepdaughter Jesse out for some Black Friday shopping (oh, brave, brave Mercy), which is how they end up being two of the few spared when the entire pack and their loved ones get targeted or abducted.
This general premise actually ends up leading to an awful lot of plot threads, which is to be expected if you're familiar with the series. But it was perhaps a bit too much in this book, because I found myself struggling to keep my focus more than I had with any of the previous ones. New elements to the plot were still being introduced almost right up to the very end, such as the revelation which finally led me to understand the reason for the book's title.
Also, I fully admit I may be in the minority for this one, but I did not really enjoy the Adam chapters. To my knowledge, this is the first time he's had his point-of-view featured, albeit in third person, as I don't actually recall if we've ever seen it in a Mercy book before this. I'd have thought it would be amazing to get inside Adam's head, but I was wrong. To be honest, he came off as kind of a jerk. I know, I know, he's a werewolf alpha and can't help it, but nevertheless it still bumped his character up a couple notches on my turn-off meter. I would have been even more put out if the POV change was uncalled for, but because of how certain events played out in the book, I have to admit it was necessary and completely appropriate for that particular situation.
One great thing about Frost Burned, though, is that it introduced two more characters that I absolutely fell in love with almost right off the bat. Asil the werewolf and Thomas Hao the vampire -- I hope we see more of these two in future installments....more
LOVED THIS. Not only do we get a whole book without the rest of the pack business always getting in the way, the story in this is one I've been waitinLOVED THIS. Not only do we get a whole book without the rest of the pack business always getting in the way, the story in this is one I've been waiting to read for a long time.
Mercy and Adam get married at the beginning of River Marked, putting a definitive end to any and all love triangle drama, and even though the wedding scene was too understated for my tastes and over all too quickly, I was happy the story was moving along. The newly-wed couple embark on their honeymoon rustic style in a fae-borrowed trailer, but settling down to marital bliss will have to wait. In the depths of the Columbia River, an ancient evil has awakened and is killing innocent people. Mercy also encounters other walkers for the first time, people like her who can take the form of other animals.
I really liked that the plot of this book was relatively self-contained and focused; I know I've complained in the previous few books that vampire and pack politics always seem to get in the way to interrupt the flow of the story, but there was almost none of that here. And with the elements of mystery, it's the exact kind of urban fantasy I enjoy.
It was also high time that Mercy's own past was explored, answering many questions about her heritage and the father whom she never knew, the man from whom she inherited her special powers. Briggs' inclusion of Native American mythology in this tale also made a very interesting read. My favorite Mercy Thompson book by far.