In the interest of honesty, I picked up Lost Souls without realizing that it was part of the Cainsville sequence, so that probably had an impact on my rating. Still, despite my oversight, I really enjoyed this novella, and I think fans of the series who are familiar with the characters and the subtle nuances in their relationships will no doubt appreciate it even more.
As urban legends go, few are as well-known as the one about the “Vanishing Hitchhiker” or its many variations. The stories all roughly begin and end the same way: A driver encounters a hitchhiker on the side of a lonely road, but after picking them up the hitchhiker subsequently disappears without any explanation. Kelley Armstrong has adopted this motif for the central premise of Lost Souls which stars Gabriel Walsh, a lawyer who takes on a side job investigating the case of a man alleging to have been led astray by a vanishing hitchhiker in the form of a young woman in a white sundress. Gabriel would have been tempted to dismiss the story as a hoax if the circumstances around the incident hadn’t been so strange. For one thing, why would the man risk jeopardizing his successful career and marriage by filing a false report? Also, there have been a string of similar vanishing hitchhiker sightings in recent years, but a suspicious number of them have ended up with the witnesses committing suicide not long after—exactly forty-eight hours after picking up the hitchhiker, to be exact.
Plus, if there’s one thing Gabriel loves, it’s a good mystery. Lately, his relationship with his friend and employee Olivia Taylor-Jones has been on the rocks, and he has hopes too that presenting her with an interesting puzzle like this would help mend fences. In the wake of their rift, Liv has taken off on a vacation and Gabriel finds himself missing her, even if he has trouble admitting it to her or anyone else. Given their shared love for the strange and the weird, this case of the disappearing hitchhiker might be their chance to reconnect again.
Since I have not read any of the main books in the Cainsville series, I know I’m probably missing a lot here, so keep in mind these are the opinions of a newcomer to this world and its characters. The main struggle I had was with the character behaviors and motivations. I found myself exasperated with Gabriel and Liv, namely because all the drama surrounding their relationship is based on miscommunication and misunderstanding—pretty much the oldest trick in the book. While backstories were provided for both, without the deeper context of the series I had a really hard time sympathizing with Gabriel’s excuses for being jerk or Liv’s reasons for being so manipulative. That said though, the story itself was relatively easy to follow, and references to past events were freely provided. Not once was I confused or overwhelmed. So while Lost Souls is clearly intended as a companion novella to the main series, the fact that I was able to follow along just fine is no small feat.
For Cainsville fans, the interpersonal relationships and character development will probably end up being the main draw, though personally I also loved the mystery plot in between these sections. Armstrong adapts the urban legend of the vanishing hitchhiker to great effect, making it a race against time for our characters to find the answers. There are even ties to Gabriel’s past, giving me the chance to know him better. Perhaps my only complaint about the story is the ending, which I thought was anti-climactic and too abrupt, but it’s a minor issue in the big scheme of things.
All told, Lost Souls is probably best tackled only if you are caught up with the main series, though speaking as a relatively new fan of Kelley Armstrong, not having read any of the other novels did not prevent me from enjoying it either. If anything, reading this novella made me even more curious about Cainsville. I also wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Lost Souls if you simply want to read more by the author; she’s an amazing writer who knows all about creating suspenseful drama, and even in this compact novella you will be sure to find all the ingredients of a good urban fantasy mystery....more
I’m always up for a good changeling story, and Alison Littlewood is an author I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. Thus when I found out about The Hidden People, I saw this book as the perfect place to start. There’s no doubt that the story is utterly atmospheric, full of the kind of beautiful, exquisite detail that slowly creeps up on you. Littlewood also writes wonderfully and has a flair for bringing a historical setting to life. And yet…I don’t know if I felt as fully engaged as I could be. This book had all the elements of a dark historical mystery or good horror tale, but lacked the pacing of one, and I think that’s where it might have missed its mark.
It is 1851 when a young Albie meets his cousin Lizzie for the first time at the Great Exhibition. It was a grand day of celebration for industry, modern technology, invention and design, but Albie only had Lizzie on his mind, and there she stayed for many, many years even though the two of them never saw each other again.
Fast forward to 1862, Albie is just sitting down to dinner with his wife Helena when his father breaks the horrible news: Lizzie, Albie’s pretty cousin that he met more than ten years ago, is dead. She was burned to death by her husband, who claimed his wife had been replaced by a changeling. Enraged and grieving, Albie takes it upon himself to visit the village where Lizzie had lived in order to pay his respects and seek justice. But upon his arrival, he is shocked and even more furious to see how deeply superstitious the people are. His cousin hasn’t even been buried yet, left in her twisted and charred state. And during the funeral, no one showed up. It appears that all the talk of magic and fairies is more than just that; the villagers actually believe that Lizzie has been fae-touched and is now anathema.
But Albie’s obsession with Lizzie means he is unable to let this injustice stand. He refuses to leave the village, even when his wife Helena comes to join him for the funeral and then tries to convince him to let it all go and return to his own life and family. After all, she reminds him, he’s only met his cousin once and that was more than a decade ago.
But apparently, Lizzie made quite an impression on Albie. The problem was, no one around him was convinced, and to be honest, neither was I. It’s unfortunate that this sets the precedent for the rest of the book, but also not surprising, considering the entire basis for Albie’s obsession rests on this one scene at the start of the book which lasts no more than seven pages. We’re told that Lizzie’s beauty, sweetness and charisma got under our protagonist’s skin and stayed with him for many years, but I never believed it. This huge disconnect made it hard for me to understand a key part of what made the main character tick, and as such it made sympathizing with him throughout the novel an uphill battle—especially when his preoccupation with Lizzie started straining his marriage.
Then there was the pacing. While I loved the dark, haunting, gothic style of The Hidden People, the story itself was very slow to build, taking away from the tensions the author was trying to convey. Littlewood’s prose is gorgeous, and she paints a detailed picture of rural village life in the mid-1800s complete with the different dialects and other cultural nuances, but the meticulous nature of her writing style also makes it difficult to stay engaged. That’s a shame because there’s really an excellent story in here, but I also can’t deny that at times I struggled with the restrained speed at which the plot unfolded.
Still, I’m happy I got to discover Alison Littlewood’s beautiful writing, and despite the book’s flaws I thought The Hidden People was worth my time. There’s a lot of good stuff in here too, a lot to counter the quibbles. If you have an interest in the time period and the subject matter, I strongly encourage you to take a look....more
Last year Mishell Baker burst onto the scene and shook up the urban fantasy world with her debut Borderline, dazzling me with her fresh take on the genre. She also introduced us to Millie Roper, one of the most genuine and notable protagonists that I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. It is therefore with great excitement that I can say the sequel Phantom Pains is even better, stronger, and more inventive than its predecessor. The Arcadia Project, welcome to my favorite series shelf!
If you haven’t read the first book yet, 1) you’re missing out, and 2) you may want to catch up first before tackling this one. Phantom Pains begins approximately four months after we last saw Millie, who has left the Arcadia Project after the devastating loss of her partner Teo. The Hollywood soundstage upon which the incident happened has since been designated a magical crime scene, restricted to all but those who are savvy to Arcadia, the “other” realm where Fey and other supernatural creatures reside.
However, just as Millie and her former boss Caryl are carrying out their final inspection of the soundstage before clearing it to open again, something strange happens. A vision of a tormented Teo suddenly appears to Millie, beseeching her to “let him in”. Traumatized, Millie is only marginally comforted when Caryl tells her that it could not have been the spirit of Teo, since ghosts don’t exist. But if that’s true, then what did she see?
While reluctant to rejoin the Arcadia Project as a full agent, Millie does agree to help them get down to the bottom of this, if nothing else to get the soundstage up and running again so she can get a particularly nettlesome studio client off her back. For the first time in months, Millie returns to her old home of Residence Four, where she is scheduled to meet with two bigwigs from the Project’s National Headquarters. Soon after her meeting though, one of them is found brutally murdered with dark magic—the kind that only Caryl, a warlock, is capable of. Still, despite the overwhelming evidence, Millie is certain that Caryl didn’t do it. Painfully aware that she is her friend’s last and only hope, Millie must now gather whatever allies and resources she has left to try and clear Caryl’s name before it is too late.
Let’s start with how simply awesome Millie is as a protagonist. Phantom Pains continues to develop and grow her as a complex and fully-realized character, while also progressing her journey as a survivor. I could tell you that Millie has borderline personality disorder, or that a about a year ago she had a failed suicide attempt that caused her to lose her legs a promising film career. But the truth is though, those mere descriptions simply don’t do her justice. Millie is so much more, and once you pick up these books and experience her voice for yourself, you’ll know what I mean. It really speaks volumes about the author’s skills as a writer that she is able to convey the character’s tragic past and disabilities in an unflinchingly honest yet respectful manner, making her feel realistic and convincing without resorting to stereotypes. Outstandingly, Baker challenges our established views on disability in fiction simply by writing a fun and enjoyable story, and her protagonist is portrayed as she is: vulnerable but strong, flawed but indomitable, different but no less important.
Bottom line, I just love Millie, despite her not always being likeable. It’s true that she’s a straight-talker, and her BPD sometimes affects her emotionally, making her say or do impulsive things. Interestingly though, I find that she has mellowed out somewhat in Phantom Pains, her voice reflecting the ongoing treatment she reports to have been receiving in the four months since the events of Borderline. And on that note, I was also happy to find out that Millie and Caryl remained friends, even in the aftermath of all that happened. The two of them have a great dynamic, not to mention Caryl was one of my favorites from the first book and it thrilled me to see her play a bigger role in this sequel. If you aren’t familiar with Caryl’s circumstances I’m not going to spoil anything for you, though I will say that Phantom Pains revealed much more of her history and what I learned broke my heart into a million pieces.
And that brings us to the story, which was absolutely fantastic. While the plot may have been slower to take off and there were more holes in it than I would have liked, I am completely willing to forgive everything in light of how this book ended. It’s not going to be the epic conclusion you would expect in terms of style and tone, but for me the ending was still surprising and emotionally impactful, the kind that makes you look back and realize the entire story had been setting up for this moment. There is a very real kind of beauty in the way everything came together in the end, and of course Mishell Baker nailed it perfectly.
In sum, Borderline was great, and to my delight, Phantom Pains was even better. Bar none, The Arcadia Project is the most refreshing series to come out of the urban fantasy genre in years. Anyone who is a UF fan needs to do themselves a favor and check out these books right now!...more
All is Fair is the third installment of Emma Newman’s The Split World series. After two books of introducing multiple threads and building everything, we’re finally starting to see it all come together.
As this is an ongoing series, spoilers for Between Two Thorns and Any Other Name are entirely possible, so beware if you haven’t read the first two books yet. We’re picking things up right where they left off, following Will’s violent ascent to the Londinium throne. Now the consequences of his actions have caught up with him, and there is no telling how far his adversaries will go to see him pay. Meanwhile, Cathy is determined to bring change in the Nether, even as she faces obstacles at every turn. Between the threat of the Fae lords and the Agency, no one wants to stick their necks out for her cause.
In Mundanus, Sam is coming to grips with his grief and dealing with a new reality. In the course of his investigations, he has caught the attention of Lord Iron and the Elemental Court, and what Sam finds out from them turns his world upside down. Max and the gargoyle have gone on to pursue their own case, trying to find out the truth behind all the chapter murders. These efforts lead them to uncover even more disturbing questions about the Agency.
While reading the last book together with the SF/F Read Along group, I likened this series to a soap opera, and more and more I’m finding that to be an apt comparison. There are plenty of twists and turns and more than a few shocks, giving these books the addictive quality that keeps me coming back for more. Things slow down a bit in All Is Fair, but that is more than made up for by the last quarter of the book. There’s a real sense of thread-tying and trying to bring everything together, perhaps in an attempt to streamline the plot for the next installment. If you’ve been crying for answers like I have, then the revelations in this book should make you very happy.
That said, I have some issues with the hasty way things wrapped up, almost like Newman was in a rush to finish the book. After spending two and a half books on all these plot threads, it was disappointing to watch some of them resolve with what effectively feels like a snap of the fingers. Cathy’s solution to her problems with the Agency seemed way too convenient, considering all that she went through. The same goes for Sam’s storyline, where the Fae-related conflicts that have been plaguing him for so long are suddenly made trivial. As for Max and the gargoyle, I wasn’t too crazy about the curveball we were thrown at the end either. I enjoy plot twists when they make sense, but not when there’s absolutely no setup for them, like the one we had here.
Still, it’s good to know that there’s more to come. I hear that the plan is for five books in the series, though in many ways All Is Fair feels like the end of an era for a lot of the characters. Cathy has grown so much from when we first met her in book one, and now she is prepared to take on the next challenge to bring change to the Nether. Sam has gone through a huge transformation as well, discovering his new potential. His story has been up and down for me, but there’s a distinct feeling of peace and closure when we last leave him at the end of this book, so I’m hoping that Sam can start afresh now that his past is behind him. For Max and the gargoyle, the future is perhaps the most uncertain, but they too will have to walk a new path given the way things went down. They may have solved the mystery, but left without a clear direction, where will they go next?
I’m really looking forward to finding out what’s next for everyone, despite some of my misgivings here. I have a strong feeling that book four, A Little Knowledge, will be a new chapter in all their lives and I think it would be a refreshing change of pace to explore some new directions. Can’t wait to dive right in....more
Any Other Name is the second book of Emma Newman’s The Split Worlds series, and things are certainly getting very interesting. I read this one as part of the SF/F Read Along group, and as you can imagine, the last month has been filled with much intense and spirited discussion over the characters’ outrageous actions and other unexpected surprises in the story.
While I’ll be keeping plot details to a minimum without going into anything beyond the publisher’s description to keep this review spoiler-free, bear in mind that this novel builds upon the events of the previous one and can’t really be read as a standalone. Back in Between Two Thorns, readers got to meet Catherine Papaver, a young woman who was living in double life in Mundanus while trying to escape the old-fashioned society of the Nether. Any Other Name sees Cathy back in her home world after being dragged back by her family, and against her wishes she is quickly married off to William of house Iris.
Will himself is also tasked with an impossible mission. His patron fae lord has demanded of him the Londinium throne, leaving the newly-wed couple no choice but to move to London’s mirror city in the Nether. Cathy reluctantly tries to integrate herself into their new social circles, while Will sets about finding allies to support his bid for dukedom. As much as he wants to be a good husband to Cathy though, certain desires and other dark temptations seek to draw him onto a different path. Meanwhile, Max the Arbiter continues to investigate the Agency in an attempt to uncover the mysterious circumstances behind the Bath Chapter incident, and Sam also seeks out magical help to figure out what’s wrong with his wife Leanne.
I liked this book, probably just as much, if not more, than its predecessor. While I’m not completely blown away by this series yet, I think we’re gradually getting there, with layers upon layers being built up in the story. In my review of the first book, I commented on the disjointedness of the plot as well as the imbalance the character POVs. Thankfully, these aspects are much improved in the sequel, even though there are still many threads that need to be addressed. I still think there’s way too much going on here all at once, but on the whole this book answered a lot of the questions I had after finishing Between Two Thorns, so I was pleased.
This sequel was a lot easier to read too, now that I have a better understanding of the world. The story was less hampered by the details, which allowed me to settle back and simply let myself be swept away by its events. I gained a deeper appreciation for this relationship between the realms of Exilium, Mundanus, and the in-between world of the Nether. Furthermore, groups like the Arbiters or the Agency who have the ability to affect more than one of these places add an intriguing dynamic to the situation. Max got his chance to play a bigger role again in this volume, allying with Cathy to investigate the dastardly Agency and even briefly teaming up with Sam to see what’s going on with Leanne. This latter plot development was perhaps my favorite part of the novel, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how thoroughly I’ve enjoyed this thread of mystery.
That said, certain aspects of this novel were…problematic. I remain torn on a couple of our main characters, since one moment they would be turning me off, but the next they could be redeeming themselves. I don’t often flip-flop so much on my feelings for characters, but I definitely sense a “soap opera” quality to some of their dramatics. Still, Cathy is actually a much stronger person in my eyes this time, thinking things through instead of just digging in her heels. Plus, she is starting to see beyond her own predicament, perhaps reaching out to help others as well. Sam steps up too, trying to do some good in his own bumbling way, and I found myself rooting for his cause. In contrast, Max shows us what it means to be literally soulless, having no qualms about resorting to unsavory means to get the information he needs. And Will…oh Will. Pretty much every other thing he did made me angry. It’s a good thing I’m keeping this review sans spoilers so I won’t have to go into details, or else we’d be here forever.
I will say this about The Split Worlds series, though: it’s incredibly addictive. I’m officially hooked, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next, especially after the way this book ended. I don’t know what Emma Newman has in store for us, but it’s clear none of her characters are going to come out of this clean and unscathed. Now onward to All Is Fair!...more
Once again I was unable to resist the temptation of a book inspired by Peter Pan. It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction at this point, whether it turns out for good or for ill. I have to say though, I had high hopes for Lisa Maxwell’s Unhooked when I first heard about it, with its blurb that hinted at such a different and unique vision. Because it offered such a cool new twist on Neverland unlike anything I’d seen before, I’d hoped this would mean something more than just another retelling, but in the end I was disappointed. This book could have gone in new directions, with virtually thousands of possibilities to explore, but all that potential was ultimately misspent on flat characters and superficial relationships.
What’s worse is that the beginning of this novel showed so much promise. Seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn Allister has just arrived in London with her mother, a rather unstable woman who believes monsters are after her and her daughter. The two of them have bounced around the globe, never settling down in one place for long, but at least this time, Gwendolyn has her best friend Olivia along for moral support.
However, that first night in their dingy new flat, the two teens are kidnapped by shadowy creatures and are whisked off to a strange new land. Gwen, separated from Olivia, discovers that this place is called Neverland, like in the storybooks. But to her dismay, everything she thought she knew about those tales is a lie. The dashing pirate captain who claims to have rescued her is nothing like the Captain Hook she pictured in her mind, and the horrible things she hears about Peter Pan makes the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up sound more like the villain than a hero. The fairies are also nothing like Tinkerbell, but are actually frightening beings out of nightmare called the Dark Ones. Suddenly, Gwen’s mother doesn’t sound so crazy anymore. And worst of all, the longer Gwen stays in Neverland, the more her memories start to slip away. If she can’t figure out a way to find Olivia and escape this world, she might not even remember the home she comes from.
The best thing about Unhooked is the idea that the Captain and Pan are simply agents caught on opposite sides of a much bigger conflict—the one fought between the Dark Ones. The scary fairies are the ones playing both sides in order to get what they want, and what they want is Gwen because there is an important secret about her, something that she has no idea about. But therein also lies one of the biggest problems I had with this book. Simply put, Gwen’s ignorance makes her a helpless victim for much of the story, unable to exert any control over her fate like a leaf blown on the wind. I can’t even blame her for most of the disastrous decisions she makes, because what could she have done differently, being kept in the dark? Literally, the first thing the Captain does is to shut Gwen up in a room without deigning to explain anything. For her own good, probably. Even frightened and confused though, Gwen’s response to this mistreatment is the first stirrings of attraction for this intimidating stranger with a bionic arm who has locked her up for days and refused to answer any of her perfectly reasonable questions. When your instalove looks a lot like Stockholm syndrome, no thank you.
The real slap in the face though, was the unfortunate way Gwen and Olivia’s relationship played out. I love seeing strong, supportive female friendships in YA, and my spirits were lifted by Liv’s kindness and loyalty to Gwen at the beginning at the novel when our protagonist needed it the most. It really broke my heart to see a boy get between them in Neverland, even if the rift was caused by said boy’s special magic; I just wished we could have seen more of the two girls working together, especially since I found the story behind their friendship so intriguing. I was really bummed by the end of the book and thought Liv’s role was rather wasted.
All told, I was never truly able feel connected to Gwen and her relationships because I felt so little depth in her and the other characters. The Captain was probably the best written out of all of them and mostly because he had the advantage of a mini-backstory you could piece together at the beginning of each chapter, but the rest of the characters are very two-dimensional. The story also left me cold. This tale of Peter Pan and Neverland could have been so different and special, but it didn’t quite capture my imagination even with some of the very neat ideas in here, which I wish had been better executed. To be honest, Unhooked wasn’t all bad, but with so many retellings out there, it simply didn’t stand out as much as it could have, and these days I just can’t help being pickier....more
Diving into a debut novel is always a bit of a gamble, but it can also prove exciting and extremely rewarding—especially when a book ends up surprising me or blowing away all my expectations. These are the moments I live for and this is exactly what I felt with Mark Tompkin’s The Last Days of Magic, a breathtaking historical fantasy saga about mysticism and mythology through the ages.
I am absolutely in love with this novel and its premise, which posits that magic is real but merely forgotten, suppressed and denied. Today we dismiss the tales of the Sidhe as nothing but folklore and legend, but just a few centuries ago humans co-existed with all kinds of supernatural creatures, and in no other place was that bond stronger than in Ireland, the last bastion of magic against the encroaching powers of the Vatican Church. Much of island’s strength comes from the protection of its patron deity the Morrígna, a goddess whose three aspects come together to rule over the Celts and the Sidhe. One of Her aspects resides in the Otherworld as a source of power, while the other two—known as Aisling and Anya—are always reborn in the mortal realm as identical twin girls.
The book begins with the introduction to the last incarnations of the twins Aisling and Anya in the autumn of 1387. But just days before their ascendance ritual to become one with the Goddess, disaster strikes. Without the assurance of the Morrígna on their side, fears begin to rise and alliances start to break down, leading to a weakened Ireland and a fractured Middle Kingdom, which is the home of the Sidhe. Taking advantage of this instability, the Vatican prepares to rid the world of its last remnants of magic by using the forces of King Richard II of England to invade. Thus the story is as much about Aisling and Anya as it is about their protectors, and about Jordan, a mercenary turned Vatican commander who arrives on the shores of Ireland to find that the magic is not all as it seems.
When I’m promised epic historical fantasy, this is exactly the kind of book I’m looking for, pushing the boundaries of multiple genres by blending medieval history, Irish legends, and even Biblical elements. Other religions were mostly stamped out during the Christianization of Europe in the Middle Ages, which serves as the backdrop for The Last Days of Magic. But while this by itself has been a theme in many works of fiction about why real magic has passed from this world, what I find interesting here is foundation for the origins of all supernatural creatures. In this book, magical beings like the Fae (which are typically associated with paganism, earth spirits, and nature worship) also have their roots in Christianity, so that the Sidhe (faeries like the Skeaghshee, gnomes, pixies, fire sprites, leprechauns, dryads, etc.) along with the Elioud (banshees, imps, sirens, goblins, giants, etc.) are all branches of the Nephilim, offspring of humans and fallen angels. Tompkin’s portrayal of the trinity goddess Morrígna as Anann, Aisling and Anya to bring all Irish Fae and humans together adds even more layers to the land’s mysterious and ancient magical customs.
At first, all of this can be a little confusing, and the author’s somewhat pedagogical style also has a tendency to be distracting. He inserts a lot of historical detail, though this isn’t really a criticism since most of the time I find the information helpful and educational. Of more concern is probably the non-linear storytelling. While each chapter is labeled chronologically, within most of these sections are multiple time skips and flashbacks, and it took me several chapters to grow used to this rhythm. Once I got it down though, the story really took off.
Soon enough, this book had me completely captivated. In light of my observations about the writing, I was actually a little surprised at how quickly I took to the characters. I wouldn’t have thought Tompkin’s seemingly didactic style would translate all that well to deep and engaging characterization, but in truth his storytelling is remarkably expressive. There are a lot of players in this book, some fictional and some not, but they are all shaped very convincingly by the story’s events. This is especially true of Aisling, who had her entire worldview ripped away from her on the day she lost everything she loved. Her tale is a tragic one, but after a while Jordan also emerges as a more prominent figure. His role to seek knowledge goes a long way in transforming the narrative by giving it a more hopeful tone. I also enjoyed seeing how everything that happened in this story was placed in a historical context, including all the magically-infused scenarios—a testament to the amount of research that must have gone into the writing of this novel.
All that’s left to say is bravo! The Last Days of Magic is everything I want in a historical fantasy, offering a tale that sparks the imagination and explores the multilayered relationship between truth and myth. Mark Tompkins has created an incredible world filled with vivid characters, capturing the complex nature of faith, love, and conflicting loyalties. A stunning, evocative debut....more
Books that get the five star treatment from me often have an emotional component to them, which would probably explain why I have consistently given the novels in the Blackthorn & Grim series full marks. That’s because every single one of them has been a boatload of feels, and this third installment is no exception. In fact, Den of Wolves might be the most poignant and moving of them all. I’ve laughed and cried with these characters through their triumphs and tribulations, and now I finally understand that everything we’d been through had been gradually building up to this crucial novel.
If you have not had the pleasure of meeting Blackthorn and Grim yet, the two of them make up one of the most extraordinary partnerships I’ve ever read, and their shared experiences in the previous books have only deepened that bond of trust and friendship. Blackthorn is a wise woman, her job to mend and heal and cure, but deep down inside she is still broken and raging with her desire for revenge on Mathuin of Laois, the man who destroyed everything she ever loved. The only thing keeping her from acting upon that anger is an oath she made to the fey who saved her life in exchange for a promise that she will not seek out her enemy for seven years and only do good deeds for the duration of that time. That and Grim, Blackthorn’s steadfast companion who has given her strength through the most difficult of times and kept her dark thoughts at bay when they threatened to take over.
The two of them have settled comfortably in Winterfalls, home of the Prince of Dalriada. This spring brings several changes, however. A troubled young woman named Cara has been sent to the court from Wolf Glen at the request of her wealthy father, and the princess of Dalriada has asked Blackthorn to spend some time with the awkward and tongue-tied girl. Meanwhile, Grim has been hired by the master of Wolf Glen for an elaborate new project—to build something called a Heartwood House, said to bring good luck to the owner because it would confer the blessings of every tree in the forest. The timing though, as Blackthorn and Grim suspect, cannot be a coincidence. Something feels wrong with the whole building project, and there must be a reason why Cara’s father does not want the girl around while construction is taking place. Wolf Glen is a web of secrets, and to unravel it, our protagonists will have to uncover the real legend behind the Heartwood House.
Once again, Den of Wolves follows the structure established by the first two books, following several POV characters. Blackthorn and Grim’s chapters are the most prominent of course, but Cara also adds her gentle, sensitive voice to this book along with the mysterious Bardán, the “wild man” whose real purpose will become known as the story unfolds. And like the previous books, this one also features a mystery, though the details surrounding our characters trying to solve it are perhaps less important than the final resolution itself, or even the fallout from the entire conflict. In fact, I think most readers will puzzle out the answers well before the end of the book, but ultimately it’s the all-pervasive tension that will whet your appetite for more.
To give you an idea of effectively this book managed to build and maintain momentum, it probably took me two or three sittings to read the first hundred pages or so, but only a single day to devour the remainder. While Den of Wolves is not what I would call a heart-pounding page-turner in the traditional sense, there’s just something so riveting about Marillier’s writing; her stories have a way of drawing you in, making you forget yourself and lose all sense of time and reality…like stepping into a fairy tale.
I’m also not ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears. This series overall has done a number on my emotions, and this novel once again destroyed me. While these books do contain their fair share of heartbreaking moments, I don’t think they are meant to be tearjerkers or sad stories per se, but if you have been following these characters since the beginning, it’s hard not to be affected. Blackthorn and Grim are such fantastic protagonists because Marillier is a true master at developing genuine, sympathetic, and well-rounded heroes and heroines you care about. They are both broken and flawed people but they still somehow manage to complete and bring out the best in each other, which makes the fact that they spent so much time apart in this novel very difficult to bear. After watching them go through so much, you want these characters to be happy.
Still, the idea that deliverance from the past can come in many forms and from the most unexpected of places is a theme that receives a lot of attention in this series. And it really came through here in Den of Wolves. If I talk any more about the relationship between Blackthorn and Grim I will be treading dangerously into spoiler territory, not to mention I will probably start tearing up again, but suffice to say I think fans of this series will be very satisfied with how things play out.
And speaking of which, whether I like it or not, this book does have the feel of an ending of sorts. Blackthorn’s “seven years” agreement with the fey regarding Mathuin had led me to anticipate there will be more than three books to this series, but Den of Wolves does leave things off with a definite sense of closure, and a satisfying one at that. However, the author has said in an interview that she has more ideas for future Blackthorn & Grim books, but in the end it will depend on what her publishers decide, so I am crossing my fingers.
No matter what happens though, these three books represent a complete arc, and Blackthorn & Grim is now one of my favorite series of all time. It is a truly stunning achievement, and mere words cannot express how much I love these books, or how much I will cherish these stories and characters. Juliet Marillier has drawn together the threads of passion, imagination and beauty to bring to life an enchanting vision of magic and awe. Absolutely not to be missed....more
I wish I had enjoyed this more, but when a novel of just a smidgen over two hundred pages takes me more than a week to read, something’s definitely not working for me, and I think I know what it is. While the premise behind The Kind Folk is certainly compelling, and horror novelist Ramsey Campbell sure knows his stuff when it comes to creating dread and suspense, I nevertheless had a difficult time getting used to his writing style and technique, which ultimately affected my overall enjoyment of the story and its characters. Of course when it comes down to an author’s writing style, each individual reader’s mileage may vary, so you may still wish to give this book a try if the story sounds like something that would interest you.
Imagine finding out you are not who you’ve always thought you were, and for the moment to play out on television in front of a nationwide audience. Luke is a 30-year-old standup comedian who along with his parents Maurice and Freda are called up to appear on Brittan’s Resolutions, a fictional Maury-like British daytime talk show which specializes in paternity tests. Maurice has long held suspicions that his son was actually fathered by his brother, Luke’s uncle Terence, and so the whole family has been subjected to a round of DNA testing. The results? Terence is NOT the father! Queue the collective sighs of relief and tears and joy. But before the congratulations can go around, the host drops another surprise: Maurice, you are also NOT the father! And yet, it’s the final bombshell that stuns everyone: DNA shows that Freda isn’t Luke’s mother either.
Reeling from the news, the family concludes that a mistake must have been made at the hospital when Luke was born, and somehow babies have been switched. Luke thus begins his quest to track down his biological parents, hoping that the knowledge would shed light on his medical history because he and his girlfriend Sophie are expecting their own baby very soon. He begins by approaching Terence for help, since Luke has always been close to his uncle, but Terence’s sudden death puts an end to that plan. Instead, Luke searches for clues in Terence’s journal, which the older man had filled with rambling, disjointed notes on his obsession with mythology and the occult going all the way back to a time just before Luke was born.
Terence had written about going to various locations around Britain seeking something, with the words KIND FOLK cropping up in the journal more than a few times. At first, Luke takes this to mean that the locals Terence met were nice and helpful, but as he traces his uncle’s steps, he begins to see strange unsettling things, and more than once he could have sworn he saw an inhuman creature following him out of the corner of his eye.
The mentions of “Kind Folk” of course were references to Faeries. These are the real scary ones too, and not your Disney-fied versions or even the beautiful, cruel tricksters you often see in urban fantasy. The ones in this book are so, so, so much worse. They don’t even look entirely human, with their elongated limbs and pale shapeless faces bearing a poor facsimile of regular features like eyes and mouths. The book also describes them doing this hideous thing with their hands, and I don’t know why, but there’s just something so hair-raisingly disturbing when it comes to extreme bodily contortions, which is probably why exorcism movies employ this device so much.
While there were times where I wish there had been more “horror” in this story, especially during sections where the plot meanders, this novel definitely had its terrifying moments, and almost without exception those scenes all involved the Folk. Whenever they appear, things immediately become creepy as hell. At the heart of this book is also the Changeling myth, based on old folk tales about how the Fae steal newborn babies by replacing them with a doppelganger who is one of their own. This is obviously relevant to Luke’s situation, but with the impending arrival of his own child, there’s this further sense that time is running out, adding a layer of suspense and dread as the baby’s due date ticks closer and closer.
Now for the main reason why this book didn’t work as well for me: Campbell’s writing has a very stark, bare-bones quality to it, with very little description. Coupled with a heavy reliance on dialogue, certain scenes can be difficult to follow. A character will say something, often without accompanying context, leaving me guessing at what he or she means by that. At the same time, when the author does describe the physical environment, he would sometimes use overly complicated clunky metaphors used to relay very simple ideas.
Hard as I tried, I also couldn’t get into the characters. There’s barely any emotion to them, and they seem to treat major events like any other normal day. A husband accuses his wife of being unfaithful, to the extent they all have to appear on a national daytime talk show to sort it out, and the next day they go just back to being a regular old married couple with all the tensions and marital conflicts forgotten. Luke’s uncle Terence dies, and everyone treats it with the gravitas of a trip to the mall. I also didn’t like Luke very much. He barely had a personality, even though he’s supposed to be a very successful comedian, charming audiences with his talent for imitations. His reaction to the DNA results also made me want to punch him in the face. Blood parents or not, for thirty years they raised him and loved him, but suddenly with the snap of the fingers it’s not “Mum” and “Dad” anymore, it’s “Freda” and “Maurice”—and he even goes as far as to change this for their contacts in his phone! I mean, SERIOUSLY, LUKE?! But of course, Freda and Maurice’s response to all of this is the equivalence of a shrug—no sadness, no anger, no hurt, no nothing.
The Kind Folk could have been a real winner, and certainly it contained all of the right ingredients. Unfortunately, it was the execution that really fell flat for me. With all these great ideas here, this novel could have been one of the most terrifying books I read this year, but while it did indeed have its frightening moments, the horror never really sustained itself due to some untidy plotting and weak characterization. If you can get into the writing, this would be a really fast read though, and might be worth a look if you want a book about some truly terrifying Faeries....more
I’ve made it no secret that this series and I have had our ups and downs. To cut straight to the chase, Empire of Storms was definitely another “down”. Probably the lowest I’ve come to feeling about these books, actually. At least the first half of this novel was really good, and the audiobook narrator remains stellar, or I might have gone with an even lower rating. As it is, I have to start really considering whether or not I want to continue with the next book because clearly the direction of this series has changed, and has been changing for the last two books, and I am close to reaching the limit of what I can take.
For one thing, ever since Heir of Fire this series has been suffering an increasingly worsening case of bloat. At least the previous book Queen of Shadows had the courtesy of being really amazing at the end, finishing with an incredible finale. Empire of Storms on the other hand simply went on and on, with a lot of sections I probably would have skimmed had I been reading a physical copy of the book instead of listening to it. The same problem seems to keep rearing its ugly head. Namely, the plot spends an inordinate amount of time spinning its wheels, going nowhere fast. A lot of that also has to do with the pointless talkitty-talk-talk, which so often amounts to nothing but bickering and testosterone-fueled posturing between all these angry, egotistical roided-out characters.
Speaking of which, the romance between Aelin and Rowan still leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve said it before and I have no problems saying it again, Rowan was a million times more interesting as Aelin’s mentor, back when they still had their platonic relationship. As her latest love interest, he’s not only boring, but he’s also a creeper. The guy flies off the handle every time someone so much as looks at his precious Aelin the wrong way, and he also seems to have this weird fetish for biting. His whole territorial fae male thing with the marking and possessiveness of his mate is not only repulsive, it’s also starting to get really old. I don’t know why Aelin, who is a supposedly strong and independent woman, puts up with it. That’s probably one of my biggest issues with her character; she plays at being the badass heroine, but she always comes across as little more than a vainglorious little girl who needs to latch on to a boy in order to be complete.
And that’s another thing – the number of pairings in this series is becoming ridiculous. Why must everyone be involved in a relationship? Is Aelin’s complex where she can’t function without a boyfriend contagious?
Then there are the sex scenes. Thing is, the writing in this series has always struck me as a bit over-embellished or overdramatic, but nothing deal-breaking. That was before I read this latest installment though, where you get not one but multiple detailed sex scenes, and they are all awkward and hilarious. Granted, it might be the fact I was listening to the audiobook. I have to say, when you have writing that tries too hard, it comes through so much worse in this format. One thing that really gets to me is the use of, um, creative euphemisms. Several times I had to pause playback and skip back to listen again because I was struck by a certain phrase and had to make sure I heard right. Did the author really just refer to Rowan’s penis as a length of “velvet-wrapped steel”?
Another hitch in the writing that comes through really strongly in the audiobook is the excessive use of speech verbs like “breathed”, “rasped”, and “hissed.” I swear, it’s like there’s a shortage of air in this world or something, because no one simply SAYS anything naturally like a normal person. It gets quite distracting in audio.
Anyway, I know so far most of what I’ve done is talk about the things I didn’t like, but really, this book wasn’t all bad. Like I said, I really enjoyed the first half of this novel, before things started unraveling. After the crazy ending in the previous novel, I had my doubts, wondering what could possibly be left for book five. Well, I shouldn’t have worried, because there’s definitely a lot more to cover. All the more a shame that this book is so full of bloat, because when you trim off all the fat, the plot is actually REALLY GOOD.
I also love Manon Blackbeak. In fact, she’s probably the only character I’m still rooting for, since I’ve lost so much respect for all the others. If the earth were to suddenly split apart and swallow up Aelin and Rowan and their whole lot overnight, it would not break my heart. Manon though, is still my favorite wyvern-riding witch. She and Abraxos continue to be amazing, and I was glad that I got to have them at least, while Chaol is out of commission.
Finally, a tip of the hat goes to Elizabeth Evans, who is once again fantastic with the narration. I was able to get through the second half of this book thanks to her performance, since a good narrator can sometimes counteract faults in the story or the writing. She gives great personality and attitude to the characters, sometimes doing her job a bit too well. I’ll most definitely continue with the audiobooks—that is, if I even decide to pick up the next installment.
Until then, I guess I’ll have plenty of time to think about it. I would hate to stop after coming so far especially if there’s only one book left in the series, but there’s also no denying the story, the tone, the characters, and pretty much everything has changed from the days of Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight. There’s nothing wrong with a series that grows and evolves, but I also have to accept it when it goes in a direction I don’t want to follow. I just don’t know if I even feel invested enough to see this through anymore, or whether it’s worth the frustration for the sake of completion. I’ll just have to see how I feel when the time comes....more
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
They say there’s a certain amount of truth in fairy tales. Despite their fantastical nature, the stories usually have some basis in reality, providing a moral compass during turbulent times, often teaching lessons which can be applied to one’s own life. If nothing else, the “trueness” may lie in the big picture rather than the details, such as the honesty of the character’s emotions or the essence of their relationships. How far would you go to save someone you love, for instance? And what might you be willing to sacrifice to get your happily ever after?
Roses and Rot is a novel that encompasses these concepts, using metafiction to address the basic literary conventions of fairy tales in order to convey the story’s full purpose and meaning. It follows the lives of two sisters, both of whom are talented artists in their own fields. Imogen, our narrator, is a writer, while her younger sibling Marin’s passion is in dance. The two of them grew up together suffering at the hands of their cruel, controlling and abusive mother, but it was awkward and introspective Imogen who bore the brunt of the mistreatment. This prompted Imogen to leave home as soon as she was able to, using the money she saved in secret to attend boarding school, even though her own escape meant having to leave Marin behind.
Now nearly ten years later, the sisters are in their twenties and have seized upon an opportunity to reconnect. At Marin’s urging, Imogen applies with her to a prestigious post-graduate arts program at an institution called Melete, and both end up being accepted. The school is a dream come true, a quiet retreat in the scenic woods where fellows can dedicate their full attention to their art. For Imogen and Marin, it is also a safe haven where they can finally be free of their terrible “Mommy Dearest”. They even get to live in the same house, among other residences styled like modern castles complete with moats and tower rooms. Unfortunately for the sisters, however, the peace doesn’t last. After a while, Imogen starts noticing strange things happening about on campus—nature behaves differently here, with the paths through the woods seeming to wind and shift with a life of their own, and she can never shake that unsettling feeling of being watched. As it turns out, there is more to the school than meets the eye. When she first arrived, Imogen remembered thinking how all the wonders and beauty of Melete reminded her of a fairy tale. Little did she know how close she came to the truth.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first started this book, given the vagueness of the publisher description. Even now, I find it hard to talk about it without giving away too many of its secrets. There’s a major fantastical element to this story but it remains elusive, teasing at the edges of perception, until the mysteries of Melete are ultimately revealed. The initial build-up is slow, but that also allows the setting a chance to draw you in with its haunting and almost dream-like atmosphere. The magic is subtle, at least at first, before it eventually grows to become this negative force which drives a wedge between Imogen and Marin. As children, the sisters were always close, helping each other survive their mother’s horrible abuses. At Melete though, the strength of that bond might just be tested. The two young women are presented with a dilemma which pits the love they have for each other against the love for their art.
At its heart, Roses and Rot is a modern-day fairy tale, and it earns that distinction by featuring themes of love and sacrifice. Choices are made. Prices are paid. As we all know, Faerie magic always demands something in return, but what you buy might not be what you get. And sometimes, even the Fae themselves are the victims of their own rigid, convoluted rules.
Sisterhood is obviously a central focus of this novel, with Imogen and Marin’s shared memories of living with their awful mother being a formative experience that shapes them both. Reading about the things they endured was so distressing at times, it literally made me sick to my stomach and made me want to go and hug my own daughters tight. For Imogen, that kind of poisonous upbringing also made her insecure and unsure of her talent as a writer, further stoking that need to prove herself to the world. However, anyone with a passion for their art, no matter what their field, will undoubtedly see something of themselves in Imogen and the other characters at Melete. The question though, is how much are you willing to give up for your dreams? Kat Howard explores this conflict with gentle compassion and her beautiful, powerful writing.
Roses and Rot is a clever and emotional story of love, magic, and imagination. I loved it. I would recommend this novel highly, especially for creative types and lovers of all things Fae and fairy tale. A truly delightful treat for fans of contemporary fantasy who enjoy vivid settings, complex characters, and meaningful relationships....more
I’m so glad I finally got the chance to read Borderline. I admit I haven’t been trying out a lot of new urban fantasy lately, since after a while so many of the common themes start to run together until I can’t keep the different stories straight in my head anymore. Borderline, though, is special. Very special. It’s completely invigorating and just what I needed to rekindle my excitement for the genre.
The story, which I originally thought would be darker and grimmer in tone due to what I read in the publisher description, actually turned out to be a lot of fun. The book stars Millie Roper, a young woman with borderline personality disorder who is in recovery for a failed suicide attempt a year before. The incident caused her to lose her legs and her promising filmmaking career, but just as Millie has decided to resign herself to her new reality, a strange woman called Caryl Vallo shows up in her room at the psychiatric center, claiming to represent a group called the Arcadia Project.
And what is the Arcadia Project? Now that’s where things get interesting. Imagine something like Men in Black, but replace the aliens with faeries. Arcadia is the name given to the “other” realm, where the Fey and other mythical creatures reside. They frequently come visiting in our mundane world, and some even make it their home. It’s the mission of certain secret branches of the government working with the Arcadia Project to track these Fey visitors and make sure they don’t stir up too much trouble on this side of reality. What that also means is when the Fey break the rules or go off radar, agents have to be sent in to investigate. That’s where the Arcadia Project comes in, and now Caryl is asking Millie to be their newest recruit.
Wow, where do I start? First of all, Millie is an incredible protagonist. Yes, she’s a complex, fully-realized character. And no, she’s not always likeable. Her borderline personality disorder sometimes makes her emotions volatile, and her behavior unpredictable. But paradoxically, I also found her very genuine despite her moods and thoughts constantly swinging in different directions. I find that unreliable narrators are commonly used in stories about characters with mental illness or behavioral disorders, but Millie also somehow breaks that mold, coming across to me as an exceptional and very different kind of protagonist. She can’t help what she feels in the moment, but she will always tell you straight. She has her dark and low moments, but when she’s not experiencing symptoms she can also be a very humorous, energetic and upbeat person. I loved her unique voice and wouldn’t have wanted anyone else at the helm of this wonderful story.
Speaking of story, on the whole Borderline features a rather conventional urban fantasy plot, but the joy of it is in the details. The book takes place in Hollywood, amidst sprawling film studio lots and glitzy celebrities. Millie herself was a former film student and an indie director before her suicide attempt. Both the character’s background and the setting are woven tightly into the story, so we also get to have some quirky twists involving the movie making industry. For example, almost every successful filmmaker and actor or actress in the past century has had some connections to Arcadia. Central to the plot is the really cool concept of Echoes. The idea suggests that every creative genius in our world will have a muse, or Echo, in Arcadia. And when they meet, it’s like the faerie-touched version of finding your soulmate—you just know. Once a person and their Fey Echo are joined, their talents can reach their full potential, unleashing even more creativity into their work and furthering their success. It’s a lovely idea, and I find it works especially well in this world Mishell Baker created.
I really don’t have many complaints. Perhaps the only thing that tripped me up is the way the author sometimes portrayed Millie’s BPD. I used to work in the therapy and rehabilitation field, and spent a great deal of time working with clients with mental illness, personality and behavioral disorders, as well as acquired brain injury. Millie’s “checklist” style of discussing her BPD at times felt exactly the way I’d described—often it felt like she was reading out of a copy of the DSM and ticking off all the major points like “Borderlines do this because” or “I am like that because” it’s what the info on the disorder says she should feel or do. It hasn’t really been like that in my experience; every individual is different and rarely does the full gamut of symptoms come neatly described and packaged together like that with any one person. It didn’t greatly affect my overall enjoyment of the novel though, and I appreciate the fact that Baker is trying to shine a light on mental health issues and the personal struggles of people who live with them.
I really wish I had read Borderline sooner, as it was such an extraordinary, refreshing novel. It’s exactly what I want in an urban fantasy: entertaining, original, and even meaningful. The fantastic cast simply further highlighted this read for me, from protagonist Millie Roper to my personal favorite character Caryl Vallo. Everything about this book was a delight, and I highly recommend it....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
To be fair, this wasn’t all bad. My disappointment probably stems less from my overall feelings for the book itself, and had more to do with how inadequate and unsatisfying I found it to be as a concluding volume—to what started off as such a strong and promising series, I might add. On the one hand, you have endings that are bittersweet, and on the other, there are the kinds of endings that leave a rotten taste in your mouth. To me, this one felt a lot more like the latter. Maybe it was an attempt to be bold and give readers something different, but I thought it was needlessly complicated and cruel, and I can’t help thinking this trilogy and its characters would have been better served with a more traditional happily-ever-after.
But more on that later. First, let me back up a bit here. Warrior Witch picks up right where the previous book Hidden Huntress left off, with Tristan and Cécile continuing their fight against their enemy, trying to save both the humans and the trolls after a deadly magic was unleashed upon their worlds. A great war is coming, and while his people are free, Tristan still has much to do to prove that he is the rightful leader of the trolls. Cécile is doing what she can to support her beloved with her newfound powers, but she too is recovering from learning several shocking revelations about her own family. Both our protagonists may have their debts to pay, but more importantly, the two of them also have a prophecy to fulfill, and it won’t do to underestimate the lengths they will go to do it.
This should have had all the makings of an epic finale. Instead, it turned out to be my least favorite installment of the trilogy. Right away, I knew something was wrong when I could barely reconcile myself to this shaky transition between the beginning of this book and the end of the last one. As I recall, the final few chapters of Hidden Huntress were amazing, setting readers up for this incredible high even when all was said and done. Instead of picking up that momentum, however, Warrior Witch began with a sluggish introduction, and continued with its lackadaisical pacing until well into the second half of the novel. I hate to say it, but there were so many parts of this book where having to read it felt like such a chore. If I hadn’t been so determined to finish the trilogy, I might have been tempted to throw in the towel long before the plot picked up again.
But even as the story got better, I had my issues with the characters. Several times I almost lost my patience with Cécile, whose actions made me feel like the only way she could contribute to the story was by running headlong into danger without a single thought to anyone but herself. While her pluckiness was semi-charming in Hidden Huntress, here it just felt like a bad habit. When it all inevitably goes wrong and she ends up blaming herself, all I could think was, “Yes, I blame you too, Cécile, you fool girl.” The relationship between her and Tristan was also problematic, for I think I actually like them more when they’re apart. So what does that say about their romance? Their love for each other seemed almost like an afterthought in this book, though granted they both had a lot more pressing things on their mind, what with the bad guys coming to kill them and all.
However, the final straw that ultimately went and destroyed the camel’s back was, as I said, the final few chapters. Truthfully, I’m not even all that angry over how it ended because I’m still trying to get over my staggering dismay and bewilderment as to why, WHY, we had to end the series this way. Look, I am not one to always demand a happy ending. In fact, most times I actually prefer it when things don’t end up with perfect outcomes for everyone so that they can all go home and have cake. Bittersweet endings can be really cool when they are done well. Unfortunately that’s not something I can say about this one. After all the build-up of the challenges, the conflicts, the struggles that the characters had to go through over the course of three books, what we ended up with here felt like a kick in the teeth. There was no pleasure tinged with sadness or pain here, just a pure sense of awkwardness that felt extemporaneous and out of place. I found it horribly off-putting, and there’s simply no other way to describe how it felt to be dealt such a blow.
But like I said, it wasn’t all bad. This book and I might have even parted on good terms if it wasn’t for the ending, which I just could not abide. But that’s just my personal take. If you loved the first two books like I did, then you probably should read Warrior Witch. If nothing else, that final epic showdown is well worth the price of admission just to witness how all the human, troll and fae conflicts resolve. Minus those final few chapters (which I’m now going to pretend never happened) it really is a lovely trilogy, as long as you’re prepared for a potentially vexing conclusion. It didn’t work out for me, but it might for you....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
Fire Touched is another strong entry into the Mercy Thompson series, and even though it might not be my favorite book or even in my top three, the significance of this volume cannot be overlooked because it contains a lot of important moments and turning points.
For one thing, the pack has grown again. Mercy may have stirred things up after becoming the mate of Adam, alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolves, but after the events of the last book Night Broken the pack has welcomed yet another non-wolfy member in the form of Joel the tibicena. Mercy, who has already taken a lot of heat (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!) for her role in making that happen, is once more the target of the pack’s ire in Fire Touched when she extends their protection to a fae-altered child in the aftermath of a troll attack on the city. But while this decision has made some of the pack unhappy, worse yet is the concern that Mercy’s actions may have unwittingly sparked an all-out war between humankind, werewolves and the fae.
Now the Tri-Cities area has become a battleground for fae politics, forcing Bran the Marrok to cut ties with the Columbia Basin pack. However, Adam and his werewolves are standing firm on their promise to defend their territory and protect Aiden, the fire-touched child whom the Grey Lords want to get their hands on. But in the face of constant attacks on the pack and their friends, just how long will they be able to hold out?
There were so many great moments in this book. First of all, Adam probably deserves a husband-of-the-year medal for finally putting his foot down on the nasty pack energy directed at Mercy, and I think even Briggs realizes this pack grudge against the protagonist has gone on for far too long. (I was never too keen on the pack power structure in this series, but I have to admit sometimes a werewolf dictatorship has its uses.) Second, I loved the cameo by the unique vampire Thomas Hao, who has appeared in the author’s other stories before, including Frost Burned where I first met the character. There was also the epic battle on the bridge between the werewolves and the troll, which kicked off this novel with an action-packed scene. The story also culminated into a tense climax and interesting resolution.
That said, I also felt that the pacing of this installment was very inconsistent and not very balanced. Fire Touched is the perfect example of the “sandwich effect”, with an explosive introduction and a stunning conclusion, but everything in between felt comparatively low key and uneventful. I mentioned fae politics, and there a lot of it in here, punctuated with a few scenes of wanton property destruction. Major changes to the future of the Columbia Basin pack notwithstanding, I also felt that little progress was made in the overall series story arc. We’re definitely moving in the right direction, but this novel still has that “filler” vibe to it, and the uneven pacing makes this one feel relatively more subdued compared to some of the previous books.
In spite of its weaker aspects though, I thought Fire Touched was a good book. It might not be the best of the series, but it’s enjoyable and entertaining, which is what matters. I love this series, and I’m especially liking the positive effects that Mercy has been having on the pack, even if not all of them are ready to embrace the changes. She and Adam are as sweet as always, and while I’d like to see Mercy’s role as Coyote’s daughter explored further (it occurred to me that she doesn’t shapeshift into a coyote even once in this novel), I’m okay with seeing her consolidate her place and her power within the pack hierarchy. Now that headway has been made on the storyline with the fae, I’m hoping the series will pick up the momentum that this book has started and run with it in the next installment. Looking forward to seeing what comes next....more