Last year I discovered the awesome world of magic, demons, and sentient spirit-imbued weapons in Seth Skorkowsky’s Dämoren, so when I was offered a chance to read the sequel, I didn’t hesitate.
Hounacier builds on the first book, which introduced us to an order of modern-day knights called the Valducan. All the monsters or the world are actually human beings possessed by demon, and the type of demon in turn determines the type of monster and the transformation into werewolf, ghoul, lamia, wendigo, etc. A Valducan knight makes it his or her life’s work hunting and killing these demons, with the help of a holy weapon which the knight is bonded to with their whole heart and soul.
Book two expands upon these themes, but the story is also very different. For one thing, we have a change in protagonist. While Dämoren follows the life of a rogue demon hunter named Matt Hollis, Hounacier instead features another Valducan knight named Malcolm Romero. Dämoren was a jet-setting action/adventure thriller that took us on an ass-kicking demon hunt across the globe, while Hounacier takes place mostly in New Orleans and the story reads more like a mystery. The pacing is thus slower, but this is a good thing because it also sets the book up nicely for a heavier and more macabre horror vibe.
This dark fantasy series just got even darker, which is how I like it! Eleven years after he faced his first demon and became apprenticed to a Voodoo priest, Malcolm receives news about the grisly murder of his mentor. Now he returns to New Orleans to in order to catch the killer, armed with his holy weapon, a machete named Hounacier. As the investigation deepens and the details surrounding it becomes more disturbing, Malcolm finds himself betrayed. With his soul violated and his holy blade stolen from him, Malcolm is plunged into a nightmarish existence of violence and terrible dark magic. Seth Skorkowsky kept me on my toes the whole time, and it’s such an intense and brutal tale that I couldn’t even begin to guess how everything would turn out.
In many ways, the scope of Hounacier is smaller than that of its predecessor; we’re mainly in a single setting, there aren’t as many characters, and we also don’t see a big variety of demons in this book. Still, the narrower focus serves an advantage here, because it immerses us deeply into the culture and traditions of Voodoo magic. The author has clearly done a lot of research in order to make his portrayal of it as authentic and accurate as possible.
We also get to know the protagonist a lot better. Malcolm was a side character in Dämoren, one of the lead knights who gave Matt Hollis a hard time because the Valducan believed Matt was demon-touched. So in the first book, Malcolm was painted as this huge asshole and admittedly that’s how I remembered him too. Imagine my surprise then, when I read Hounacier and realized how much I liked him and sympathized with him. Malcolm is awesome – he’s interesting, deep, and conflicted, and this makes him an engaging character to follow. I think I ended up liking him even more than Matt Hollis. The powers granted to Malcolm by the mystical properties of his weapon are also unique and new. Matt Hollis may have his blood compasses, but Malcolm Romero has his magical tattoos, including one that can see through your soul to tell if you’re pure or tainted by a demon. Very cool stuff.
I would consider these Valducan books to be Urban Fantasy, but there’s also a great deal of Horror thrown into the mix. The horror element is even more prominent in Hounacier, as we follow the trail of a murderer and then come face-to-face with a werewolf demon. The werewolves here are the savage, psychotic and bloodthirsty variety, with the monster in control rather than the human. More than once, the terrifyingly gruesome scenes in here evoked a visceral reaction from me. If you like your UF dark, brutal and completely unflinching about the fact, then Valducan is the series for you.
One final thing I’m grateful to Mr. Skorkowsky for is that these books can be read as stand-alones. Hounacier has some connections to Dämoren, like Matt Hollis showing up near the end to team up with Malcolm, etc. but for the most part both novels are self-contained stories. Pick up either one (they’re both good!) and read away. Highly recommended....more
More and more, I’m understanding why these books are so universally loved by urban fantasy readers. I suppose I’m a bit of a late convert; I certainly enjoyed the first two novels of The Others, but I don’t think the addiction really started to creep up on me until this latest installment. I found it difficult to put down at times.
Part of it is the fact that all the seeds planted in the previous books are finally starting to come to fruition. No more messing around, things just got REAL with the Cassandra sangue and the Humans First and Last (HFL) movement. I’m so glad I decided to catch up with Murder of Crows before tackling this one, because my experience with Vision in Silver would not have been so enjoyable otherwise. So if you’re thinking about picking up this series, definitely start from the beginning with Written in Red – and not least because you wouldn’t want to spoil anything for yourself, not when it comes to The Others.
This book continues two major plot threads that have been brewing for a while: 1) the fate of the blood prophets who were confined to compounds and then freed, and 2) the rise of the HFL and their increasingly aggressive resistance against the Others. Both have dire repercussions for the humans and terra indigene living across Thaisia.
With Meg Corbyn’s help, the Others of Lakeside Courtyard are trying to put together a plan to integrate the freed blood prophets into their new communities, helping them deal with the drastic changes to their lives and the uncontrollable urge to cut themselves. The details about the girls’ previous lives at the compound under the Controller just got even more terrible in this book. After what I read in Murder of Crows it’s hard to imagine that things could get any worse, but there you go. Meg may have escaped on her own, but she’s not immune from the effects either; now Simon Wolfgard is even more protective of her, making sure that her own efforts don’t put her even more at risk.
It’s the HFL storyline that wins, though. This whole ugly situation with anti-Others movement was a lit powder keg just waiting to blow, and the moment has finally come. It also makes you wonder, just who are the monsters here, really? Granted, the Others of the Lakeside Courtyard under the rule of Simon Wolfgard are more benevolent than your average terra indigene, but thus far this series has been painting them as the beasts that they are, the savage predators of humankind. But the depravity of the acts committed by some of the humans in this book are just despicable, not to mention the sheer stupidity of the HFL for even thinking about messing with the Others. THEY HAVE CONTROL OVER THE NATURAL WORLD, PEOPLE! If the elementals want to cause a huge storm or make the waves rise up to sink your ship to the bottom of a lake, they have their ways. For time eternal, humans and the terra indigene have existed side by side but only out of necessity; the former may have developed some useful and advanced technologies over the ages, but it is the latter who control the natural resources. By seeking to upset this precarious balance, HFL is going to open themselves up to a whole world of hurt, and there have already been casualties from both sides. Something tells me that there will be lot more craziness before this is over (*munches popcorn*).
That said though, I think the series also took a step backwards when it comes to certain things, mainly when it comes to the portrayal of Meg’s character. I’ve always wondered why Meg is so special to everyone in Lakeside Courtyard. Yes, she’s a Cassandra sangue, a human-but-not-quite-human-and-therefore-not-prey blood prophet who has stolen the hearts of the Others by helping them a few times, but that still doesn’t really explain why they defer to her or bend over backwards to treat her like a queen – especially since that goes against everything we know about the Others’ nature. Meg is an idealized character, an observation that has been sitting in the back of my mind since the beginning of the series, but it’s a lot more noticeable in this book, enough to finally push me over the edge to question it. It says a lot too, that out of all the books, Meg’s POV was the most limited in this one but I didn’t really notice or even mind too much. It’s a minor flaw, but it bothered me enough that I had to mention it.
Am I really pumped up for the next book, though? Yes, a thousand times yes. I enjoyed Vision in Silver as much as I did the previous two books, but something about it just took it to the next level. Despite my dissatisfaction with Meg’s character, everything else was amazing. The story was superb, more engaging than ever before. The ending was also somewhat abrupt, which was torturous – I wanted more right away. I’m glad I’m all caught up with this series…but of course, that means I now join the waiting game for book four....more
Ever since the release of Dirty Magic a year ago, I’ve been hearing such great things the Prospero’s War series, which is why over the holiday season I decided to take the plunge and binge read the first and second books. And that’s the story of how I got hooked into yet another urban fantasy series, as well as my first introduction to the work of Jaye Wells.
Meet protagonist Kate Prospero, former scion of a dirty magic coven who has turned her back on her old life in order to start clean. Now a beat cop on loan to the Magical Enforcement Agency, Kate is hoping to shed the prejudices of her notorious family name by helping her new team members investigate magic-related crimes in the rust belt city of Babylon, while also trying to raise her younger brother by herself.
Deadly Spells begins with the murder of a leader of a dirty magic coven leader, lighting a spark which could set off a chain of events leading to an all-out turf war if Kate and the MEA task force can’t track down the killer first.
For a series that’s already three books in, it is not surprising that it’s had its ups and downs. I’ve come this far though, so obviously I’m still enjoying the hell out of it. I like my urban fantasy fast-paced and entertaining, and Prospero’s War delivers. Wells has created and built a whole world around a relatively simple concept involving “clean” versus “dirty” magic. Those individuals who are magically adept can “cook” potions, creating all sorts of concoctions with a variety of uses. Clean potions are made, sold, and used legally, whereas dirty potions are cooked and distributed by cartel-like organizations on the streets for the less law-abiding citizenry. Like I said, it’s a simple and straightforward concept, yet its potential for interesting cases is virtually limitless.
Kate is also a complex but sometimes exasperating character. Our heroine has gone through a lot in the last two books, so understandably her emotions are a whirlwind of confusion and guilt by this point. But while some characters carry their burdens with grace, unfortunately that’s just not Kate. She’s the kind of person who gets into a lot of trouble due to her own stupid decisions, but dare to point that out to her and she’ll chew your face off. There’s only so much I can take of a character’s crap, and admittedly she came dangerously close to that line in the last book. Thankfully, now that she’s made her peace with magic, her attitude has vastly improved. While at times she is still a bully and a condescending self-righteous hypocrite, at least she did not try my patience as much in this book (though making stupid decisions due to impulsiveness and her own negligence is sadly still a pattern).
However, on the whole I’m enjoying where the main series arc is headed as well as the development of the relationships between various characters. Kate’s situation of raising her teenaged brother Danny is perhaps a bit clichéd, but wrangling a broody and defiant sixteen year old always makes for some stories in every book. I’d also hoped that Kate would finally stop wasting her time with John Volos and that Wells would stop teasing that pairing as a possible romance since that doozy appears to be hitting a brick wall no matter how you look at it. Again, there seems to be progress in this area, as well as certain developments in Kate’s love life that should make Drew Morales fans very happy. Finally, Kate’s pretty clueless, but still I can’t help but be curious about where future stories in this series will go now that she’s been hit with some huge revelations about her past life.
Urban fantasy readers, you can’t go wrong with the Prospero’s War series. It sounds like there may be more books after Deadly Spells, though I can’t seem to find any sources to confirm at this time of writing. I sure hope so though, as this series is just starting to get off the ground. It’s fun, it’s fast, and it has a bite. Sure, the protagonist isn’t perfect, but then who is? There are themes in these books that will make those with more delicate sensibilities squirm, but if you like a slightly more twisted vibe to your UF then you’re golden....more
The Witches of Echo Park is an interesting but strange and shifting book. At first glance, I thought I would be going into your usual urban fantasy about witch covens and magic, but the experience turned out to be much more literary, with the novel quite formally and artistically written.
The story follows the lives of a group of witches in the Los Angeles area. At the center of the plot is Lyse MacAllister, who jumps on the next plane to California the moment she learns the devastating news that her great-aunt Eleanora, the woman who raised her, is dying. Lyse hopes to convince her great-aunt to seek a second or even a third medical opinion. What she doesn’t realize is that Eleanora has something to tell her too, a great secret that could change her life forever.
To her shock, Lyse discovers that magic is real, that there’s a reason why the house she grew up in has felt strange to her ever since she was a child. Eleanora isn’t just a kindly old distant relative who took her in after her parents died; in truth, her great-aunt is the leader of the Echo Park witches – though the women much prefer the term blood sisters. And now that Eleanora is ready to pass on to the next life, she wants Lyse to take her place as head of the coven.
As I was saying, The Witches of Echo Park does not read like the typical book you would pull off the shelf in the Urban Fantasy or Paranormal aisle. If you’re expecting the kick-ass Buffy-style heroine or the non-stop action and snarky humor, you won’t really find it here. The style isn’t very light, either. Instead, the story within these pages is more comparable to a family drama, which unfolds gradually through the perspectives of six women, all members of the Echo Park coven. Besides Lyse and Eleanora, there is the indomitable Arrabelle, resident herbalist; the fun-loving Devandra; Daniela the seer who is more than meets the eye; and last but not least, the silent and perspective Lizbeth.
Still, I was not prepared for how restrained the pacing was. Eleanora’s plan to tell Lyse the truth about herself and what she wants for her grand-niece’s future – a plot point that I initially took for a set-up for the bigger picture, simply an introduction and no more – actually turned out to be the bulk of the story, not resolving itself until nearly the halfway mark. Everything given to us up to this point seems to be a mix of character history and background information, told mostly through visions and memories. That’s not to say that all of it was filler, as there’s a good reason the author included all these narratives. However, I can’t deny there were also quite a few times where I found myself questioning where the book was going, because it does take its time establishing a direction.
Simply put, the not-quite-300 pages of this novel felt like one long introduction. That’s not always a bad thing, and in truth, so many series do this nowadays that I don’t even bat an eye anymore. I only regret that this book did not have a more substantial plot, though I have to applaud Amber Benson for ultimately pulling together a main conflict. By the end, most of the mystery is explained, we have several threats identified and a few villains named. But if you would allow me a few moments to chide, I do believe that many of these elements should have made themselves clear by the first third of a novel, not late in the second half. That’s probably my biggest issue with the story, but at least now I have a better understanding of where things are headed.
Just a couple more observations and minor issues before I head off: I found myself liking a lot of the characters in here; a couple of them are especially memorable, like Arrabelle and Lizbeth. I had hoped for a stronger connection to Lyse though, since she’s closest to being the main protagonist. In truth, I actually found her a bit shallow and impetuous. She can be put off by and act brusquely towards an awkward but harmless mute teenage girl, but then is totally all right with flirting and practically throwing herself at a total stranger simply because he is handsome and has cool tattoos. And on that note, there’s also a small romantic side plot here that nonetheless came across slightly rushed and out of place. I was taken aback by a graphic sex scene (it should be noted that it was in the context of a dream), not because that’s something that would bother me, but because it just felt like it came out of nowhere.
In sum, this book is a decent start if you look at it as an introduction, just a taste of something much bigger to come. I didn’t know anything about it before I picked it up, aside from the author’s background in TV and film. Though it didn’t turn out to be the light and peppy read I’d expected, it was fascinating and enjoyable in its own way. I’d like to know what the next book will bring. Something tells me it will be much more focused and fast-paced now that the foundation of the series has been laid down and completed....more
I found this book surprisingly enjoyable…or perhaps that ought not to be so surprising. After all, I loved The Spirit Thief and the rollicking sci-fi Paradox trilogy that the author wrote under her pen name Rachel Bach. Still, combining dragons, magic, dystopia, humor and urban fantasy? Seemed just a tad ambitious. But boy, does Aaron pull it off with flying colors. I think Nice Dragons Finish Last may be my favorite book from her yet. I also had the pleasure of listening to the audio version of this book and it was fantastic.
Meet Julius, the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan. He isn’t a pushover so much as he’s just downright terrible at being a dragon. He’s nice, considerate, has no designs on taking over the world, all of which makes him an absolute failure in his mother’s eyes. After twenty-four years of watching Julius hide out in his room in the mountain, Bethesda the Heartstriker has finally had it. Sealing him in his human form, the dragon matriarch banishes her son to the Detroit Free Zone.
Built on the ruins of old Detroit, the DFZ is set apart from the rest of the country, having been annexed by the spirit Algonquin, Lady of the Great Lakes. It is home to modern mages, lesser spirits and all manner of magical creatures. Unfortunately, it’s also got a strict no dragons policy. Trapped in hostile territory with only the clothes on his back, Julius is going to have to prove himself to his mother if he wants any chance of getting his true form back. His only source of help comes in the form of Marci, an exiled human mage who is dealing with her own hefty set of problems.
First of all, I called this one an urban fantasy, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than that. Rachel Aaron puts a fun, fresh twist on the genre, infusing her setting with science fiction, post-apocalyptic and dystopic elements as well as a touch of mythology. It’s a fascinating mix. Magic exists in the world now, thanks to a meteor striking the earth in 2035. Algonquin awakens from the resulting shockwave, causing great tidal waves to rise, which was how Detroit was flooded and destroyed. The DFZ rises from its ruins, thriving unchecked on an economy system based on free enterprise and bounty hunting.
I also love rooting for the underdog, and Julius is an underdog all right, being the runt of Bethesda’s latest clutch. While his siblings are out doing great things, Julius prefers to avoid the rest of his family by shutting himself in his room playing computer games and earning an impressive collection of online degrees. It’s hard not to feel for him; if Julian were human, he’d actually be quite a catch! Good looking, sweet, kind, educated, and being just this side of geeky enough for me. Bah, too bad he had to be born to a clan of merciless, cutthroat dragons who can’t appreciate his finer points.
No worries though, because I’m on Team Julius all the way. Also in his corner you’ll find Marci the runaway thaumaturgic mage, as well as – surprise, surprise – Julius’s brother Justin. Marci’s a great character; she’s got an awkward personality but also a shrewd mind, which creates an interesting dynamic with our protagonist. I loved Justin too. He’s Julius’s complete opposite, but it’s hard not to be touched by his brotherly love and concern. I even got a kick out of Julian’s less benevolent family members like Chelsie the Heartstriker assassin and Bob the mercurial Seer. Did I also mention Bethesda names her children by assigning each clutch by letter in order of the alphabet, so that all the dragonlings in her first clutch would have names starting with A, those in the second clutch would have names starting with B, and so on? The Heartstriker clan is full of quirks, and I loved them all.
Rachel Aaron has an incredible imagination, and I think this book, more than any of her others, let her go wild with it. The audio version really did an amazing job bringing this book and all of her ideas to life, the narrator Vikas Adam making this one a really fun listen. I haven’t listened to any of his other performances, but this was a great first experience. Adam can do a wonderful range of voices, even though I have to say a couple of them didn’t quite “fit”, like Bob whom he made sound like a stoned surfer dude, and at times his female voices can be hilariously awkward. You can tell he had a good time reading the book too though, because his narration is animated and he does wonderful effects like hissing for when Bethesda is annoyed, or groaning when Justin is exasperated with Julius. Little touches like that can make the listening experience more memorable.
All in all, I’m really impressed with how well this book came together. Maybe it’s because urban fantasy is more to my tastes, but I think I liked this one even more than Aaron’s Paradox trilogy, and I did love those Devi Morris books. Julius is just such a lovable character though, and the story is so fun and easy to get into, it’s hard to stop once you start. Highly recommended if you’re looking for an entertaining feel-good book....more
Kristi Charish is an author after my own heart. First, her book Owl and the Japanese Circus stars Alix “Owl” Hiboux, a former archaeologist turned international antiquities thief. Having been an Archaeology student myself, I can’t in good conscience say I endorse the character’s tomb raiding and thieving ways, but heck, anything to do with archaeology will inevitably will catch my attention – and consider me on board with Owl’s whole “Indiana Jane” persona! Second, much of the novel takes place in fabulous Las Vegas, one of my favorite cities in the world. And third, Owl is a hardcore gamer and lover of RPGs, and it greatly intrigues me that her favorite online game World Quest might be more than it seems…
It doesn’t end there. There’s a lot more here that urban fantasy readers will really get a kick out of, from vampires and naga and nympths to more exotic supernaturals like Kami spirits. Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon masquerading as a human that first summons Owl to his lavish Japanese Circus Casino in Vegas to make her an offer she can’t refuse – retrieve a priceless artifact for him, and in return he’ll help Owl take care of a pack of vampires that have been dogging her steps for months and making her life a living hell.
Of course, things are never so simple. And this is why Owl hates working supernatural jobs. Together with her best friend Nadya and the charismatic and hunky ex-mercenary Rynn, Owl stumbles into one disastrous problem after another in the course of her world-wide treasure hunt, and it’s going to take all her wits to simply stay alive.
Thing is, Owl may have the brains, but her problem solving abilities are often hindered by her temper, impatience, and a trigger-happy mouth that has the unfortunate tendency to spout foul insults at anyone – friends and enemies alike – when she feels they have her up against a wall. As a result, Owl feels a lot less idealized when compared to a lot of her urban fantasy heroine counterparts, making her come across more flawed, real and human. That said, I doubt it’ll be easy to get through the book without feeling multiple urges to throttle her for being so foolhardy and bullheaded, or for not thinking things through and always charging head-first into danger without a plan. Still, while it might take a while for Owl to grow on you, her spunky personality also makes this one a fast-paced, energizing read.
The story is also a lot of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, the plot constantly moving from one action scene to the next, thundering along like a runaway freight train. There are a lot of moments where you have to suspend your disbelief, but nothing so extreme that it prevented me from enjoying myself. Also, as is the case with a lot of debut novels, there’s a rawness to the storytelling, some plot inconsistencies that cropped up every now and then (like, given the dangerous nature of the scroll Owl was tasked to find and the fact Mr. Kurasawa knew all about it, why would he even seek to find a translation?) and some minor contradictions (early on in the novel, Owl mentions looking forward about getting plenty of time to sleep on the plane, but later when on board, admits that she can’t ever sleep on planes) but since I read the advanced copy, I imagine many of these hiccups will be ironed out in the final.
All told, this is a great start to what looks to be a very different kind of urban fantasy. I’d like to see more of the archaeology and gaming angle, and I’m definitely interested in continuing Owl’s future adventures if the books keep up with the heavy action and fun. ...more
I was a bit taken aback by the tepid to cool reviews I’ve been seeing for this one. Not that my own review is all that glowing, I realize, but while Talon probably won’t rank among my favorite Young Adult novels read this year, I had a lot of fun with it. By all means not a bad book. Surprisingly, most of the disappointment appears to be from fans of Julie Kagawa’s other series. I’ve never read anything else by her though, so there’s really nothing for me to compare this to.
But let’s move on to what the book is about. Talon is about dragons…but also not really. If you’re looking for a novel featuring these magnificent creatures in all their winged and scaly fire-breathing glory, you’re not going to find much of that here. What you have instead is a small group of dragonkind who spend most of their time in human form, hoping to infiltrate our society and one day take over the world again. A secret faction of dragon slayers called the Order of St. George is determined not to let that happen, and their members continue to hunt dragons like they have for time immemorial.
The book begins as two young dragon siblings, Ember and Dante Hill travel to California in their human forms to begin training for their future positions to serve their home base of Talon. Ember is fascinated with humankind, and wants nothing more than to enjoy the summer living out the full teenager experience – beaches, arcades, ice cream parlors, the whole shebang. Her brother Dante on the other hand is a lot more disciplined, and does not like it one bit when a rogue dragon shows up in their territory, distracting Ember from her training. Meanwhile, St. George has received the rumors of new dragon recruits in the area, and the young soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian and his partner are tasked to hunt these Talon agents down and kill them.
Encouraged to mingle and blend in with other teenagers, Ember and Dante spend most of this book as humans. But unlike other books with shape-shifting dragons (like Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina for example, which I thought did a really good job developing the culture and world of the draconic characters), it’s difficult to think of the dragons here as anything but human. This is what I meant when I cautioned not to think of Talon too much as a “dragon” book. Despite a few scenes of Ember thinking as a dragon and being a dragon – and they are quite few and far between – the author often seems to put her human persona before her draconic one. Plus, the setting is modern and urban. Ember’s life revolves around surfing, parties, friends and boys. Very little is known about the dragon home of Talon and Kagawa doesn’t really get into it. For those craving a bit more fantasy and world building, I can see how that could cause some frustration.
As such, this ends up being your rather typical contemporary young adult novel with a light fantasy twist, complete with love triangle and just a dash of forbidden love. Despite being exactly what I expected, it was undeniably entertaining.
After reading this, however, I admit to being skeptical of Kagawa’s writing. It’s obvious that she can spin a good yarn, but there were some plot elements that were so illogical and downright silly, it can be difficult to take these characters seriously. First of all, if you can take any form and you’re trying to covertly infiltrate and gain influence in human society, I would not do it as a teenager. Good luck gathering any useful information to bring back to your overlords, unless they’re interested in how your airheaded friend thinks so-and-so is so totally gorgeous and has nice abs. Talon is also so bad at this undercover secret agent stuff, I’m not surprised St. George managed to narrow their search down to Ember and Dante and their group of beach bum friends in like all of two seconds. You’re a dragon spy, and you’re seriously going to stick with Ember for your name? You might as well paint a target on your back and wear a big sign that says “I’M THE DRAGON!” and hang it around your neck. The Order of St. George doesn’t seem that much more competent either. At one point, Garret admits to his partner that he is getting too close to Ember and recommends stepping back from the mission. Instead of allowing Garret to do so, what does his partner do but tell him to take advantage of this new development to go even deeper into the case. Um, no! As soon as one of your soldiers gets emotionally involved and becomes compromised like that, you pull them the hell out. A lot of the problems that St. George experience near the end, they brought most of them on themselves.
These little moments aside, not much else detracted from the experience. Yes, the story is pretty standard but ended up being more interesting than the description made it sound, and it held my attention to the end, which isn’t something I can say for a lot of YA. The next book, predictably called Rogue, looks like it will delve deeper into the both the secret Order of St. George and the dragon organization Talon, so hopefully readers get the world building we want there....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
The Siobhan Quinn series is the dark underbelly of urban fantasy you never get to see, a project that began as the author Caitlín R. Kiernan’s (writing as Kathleen Tierney) “protest against what ‘paranormal romance’ has done to the once respectable genre”. It is harsh, it is gritty, it is obscene…but so help me I’ve loved every page and every moment I’ve gotten to spend with its crude and foul-mouthed protagonist.
Cherry Bomb is the latest (and apparently also the last – I’ll have more words on this later) book of the series. It has been three years since Quinn walked out on Mean Mr. B and left Rhode Island behind her, and after traveling around the country she eventually settled in the Big Apple. One night she meets a seductive antiquities dealer named Selwyn Throckmorton in a BDSM club and the two immediately hit it off. Unbeknownst to Quinn, however, Miss Throckmorton has apparently been getting into all kinds of trouble trading in ghoul artifacts with some deeply unsavory characters.
They say love makes you do foolish things, and if you ask Quinn I’m sure she’ll offer her agreement along with some choice words for how she feels about that.
This book is the arguably the grittiest, most aggressive and in-your-face installment yet. In spite of that, I wish I could claim the series goes out with a bang. It doesn’t though, not really. Or at least, not in any conventional sense. But seeing as how this series is all about doing things unconventionally, I suppose the ending strikes the right tone in its own way.
Of course, a lot of my feelings might have to do with how I discovered this was the final Siobhan Quinn novel. I literally found out on the very last page – the Author’s Note. Up to this point, I was actually quite happy with the ending, but after becoming aware that this book concludes the series, my expectations were inevitably altered. Not very fair of me, perhaps; but I can’t help that this is how I feel, and for that reason I wish I had known beforehand. I wasn’t looking for anything happy or monumental, but I still I couldn’t help but wish things had wrapped up in a more memorable conclusion.
Because this series is also a satirical look at the urban fantasy genre, it makes these books hard to review. But I did feel Cherry Bomb is lighter on the dark, twisted humor than the first two novels, and is instead just darker and more twisted in general, not to mention also more violent, more disturbing and more depressing. I’m all right with this on the whole, though I frequently found myself missing Quinn’s dry wit. She still retains that “very Quinn” sense of humor, but now it has an edge. Understandably, the events of the last novel and then in this one has jaded her (even more) and it really shows in her new attitude.
Finally, Quinn isn’t meant to be an admirable or a sympathetic character; she’s lewd, unpleasant, and over-the-top, but that’s also why I love her. And because I love her, it was very hard for me to see her manipulated and played like a damn fiddle. Selwyn isn’t a very likeable character either (and we’re actually warned about this) but she knows that deep down inside Quinn is a goodness that she’s not afraid to take advantage of, and it drove me nuts. On the one hand, I spent a lot of time reading this book feeling annoyed at Quinn for letting Selwyn lead her around by the nose (what happened to the spitfire from the last two books? That Quinn I know wouldn’t have taken any of this crap), but on the other hand, it did open my eyes to the softer, more solicitous side to her personality. Love, after all, can change someone, make them act differently, and I liked how Tierney/Kiernan explored Quinn’s character in this book by really peeling back the layers.
Once more, the author delivers another fantastic Siobhan Quinn novel. If you ask me, it’s a series that ended all too soon. Still, it’s probably best to say goodbye on a high note, not to mention no one likes to see a series drag on unnecessarily and I would have hated to see one this special wear out its welcome. I heartily recommend this series to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy, anti-heroes, and dark stories…and who won’t mind reading a book that come with a warning label....more
It feels like just the other day I was expressing my desire for more ghosts in urban fantasy, and then onto my lap drops Half-Resurrection Blues. There’s a twist to it, though. Protagonist Carlos Delacruz isn’t exactly a ghost. Instead, he’s an “inbetweener”, which is exactly what it sounds like – someone not quite alive and also not quite dead. As such, he is one of the New York Council of the Dead’s most special and valuable agents, someone who can interact with the living in the corporeal world as well as the ghosts in the realm of the dead.
Carlos has no idea how he came to be the way he is, nor does he remember his past or how he died. Until recently though, he thought he was alone. But since New Year’s Eve, he has encountered three other inbetweeners, one of whom is a particularly nasty sorcerer. Meanwhile, NYCOD is freaking out because the city is being overrun with “ngks”, imp-like creatures that pose a dire threat to spirits and undead. Somehow all of this has to be connected. It’s up to Carlos to maintain the delicate balance between the mortal world and the Underworld, and put a stop to a nefarious plot to breach the Entrada that protects us all.
I only learned after I finished reading the book that this wasn’t Carlos Delacruz’s first appearance. A bit of research led me to discover Daniel José Older’s anthology called Salsa Nocturna which features the NYCOD and also our main guy Carlos in a lot of the short stories. Reading this collection isn’t a prerequisite by any means, but knowing that Half-Resurrection Blues is part of a greater world that existed before this made a lot of sense. The story drops you right into the thick of things; few words are wasted when it comes to the rich portrayal of this fully-formed version of New York City, inhabited by a diverse population made up of both the living and dead alike. Nevertheless, the book is written in a way that makes it easy for the average reader to pick up the overall premise and atmosphere, allowing one to jump straight into the plot.
I love the story and I love the characters, but it is Older’s writing that takes the cake. This is my first experience with his work, and his style is definitely not something I would have expected to find in an urban fantasy novel. He makes an art of the genre, infusing his prose with so much beauty and intensity. The voice of main character Carlos Delacruz is rooted in the urban fantasy tradition, suiting the story perfectly, but every once in a while you will come across some sections in the narrative that are just…damn. Some sections are just downright poetic, so fine and elegant that it will take your breath away, leaving you at a loss for words.
Likewise there is nothing simple or superficial about the story. There’s a bit of everything thrown into this mix – some mystery with a tinge of classic noir especially when we delve deep into Carlos’ mind; a dash of humor when we learn that even ghosts and creatures of the otherworld have their little quirks and eccentricities; a strong undercurrent of horror because at its heart this is a novel about living and dying; and last but not least, we have love and passion handled in a way that is at once candid but also full of soul and quite insightful.
Half-Resurrection Blues is the first book of a series called Bone Street Rumba, and it’s probably safe to say I’ve never encountered an urban fantasy quite like this. Infused with the fierce and primal rhythm of a party while bringing together a combination of traditions, I believed the series is rather aptly named. All this makes the book a fun and entertaining read, but it’s also very thought-provoking when you peel back the layers....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
Horror in Young Adult fiction is tricky territory, so whenever I see a novel getting some buzz, I can’t help but take notice. Shutter ended up surprising me. While it probably wasn’t the book I was expecting, there’s absolutely no denying that Courtney Alameda has delivered a high-octane read that’s at once superbly written and full of interesting new ideas. This is the first YA novel in months to stand out for me. That’s not to say there weren’t a few areas that I thought could have used improvement, but I’m impressed especially given how this is the author’s debut.
Shutter introduces us to Micheline Helsing – yes, she is indeed a descendent of that Helsing – a tetrachromat girl whose ability allows her to identify different types of undead by the color of their auras they give off. Her family along with other such illustrious lineages like the Stokers and Drakes have always sworn to hunt and destroy monsters, and in time their organization has grown to occupy an entire island off the coast of San Francisco, complete with itsown medical and research buildings, training yards, and other such facilities. This means that besides her powers, Micheline and her pals are also armed with state-of-the-art monster hunting tech and equipment, all the better to do their jobs. Mundane firearms are usually enough to bring down the corporeal baddies, but dealing with the spiritual undead sometimes requires a bit more finesse.
As such, Micheline never goes anywhere without her camera, her weapon of choice when it comes to fighting ghosts. By capturing their “ghostlight” on film, she can steal their energy bit by bit until they are gone for good. Until now, her trusty SLR has never failed her. But then a run-in with a particularly nasty entity leaves her and her team cursed and marked by soulchains, and Micheline has seven days to figure out how to exorcise the entity or else they will all die. With her relationship with her father already on the rocks since the deaths of her mother and brothers, Micheline is forced to go on the run in order to save herself and her friends.
One of the favorite aspects about this book is how seamlessly Alameda has managed to incorporate the Reapers into the modern world. With the Helsings being in the open and publicly known as the go-to guys for all your ghost and monster problems, we avoid the kinds of pesky problems that arise when authors try to construct a believable scenario around a secret society. But while I am sold on the Reapers and their place in the world, I also thought the book stumbled on providing some of the finer details. Take the mechanics behind the use of mirrors and camera lenses to exorcise ghosts, for example. It scores major points with me for being a new and innovative idea, but at the same time the explanation behind the process is rather touch-and-go. To be fair, I do tend to feel this way about a lot of concepts in YA novels, and I can be excessively critical when it comes to world-building elements. I wish the camera-as-a-weapon idea had been more robust and better developed (no pun intended), especially since it so central to the book, but I was also fine for the most part just going along with it.
However, when it comes to the writing, I have nothing but good things to say. It’s hard to believe this is Courtney Alameda’s first novel. Her writing style is wonderful and easy on the eyes, and she keeps such a fine consistency on her character’s voice as well as pacing behind her storytelling, it honestly led me to believe she’s been doing this for ages. Another observation is that despite its categorization, I wouldn’t exactly describe Shutter as horror. Generous amounts of blood, gore and guts aside, there’s simply none of that atmosphere behind it, though I don’t doubt Alameda could have managed it if she wanted to. There are definitely traces of Horror elements in the plot, but quite simply, I got the feeling she was more interested in telling an action-thriller, and she certainly succeeded in that. Sure, there are parts that are predictable (mainly who the big bad entity was, as well as the identity of the mastermind pulling the strings behind the scenes), but I could not spot any lulls or breaks that hindered the flow of the story.
There are things I wish could have been different – Micheline’s character, for example, is the typical YA heroine ruled by emotional impulses, who leaps into dangerous situations without thinking about the consequences and insists on taking matters into her own hands even though she makes a bigger mess of things in the end. Not long ago, I also read an insightful guest post by another author about friendships between strong female characters, and ever since then I have become more aware of how many YA female protagonists are kickass, smart-talking girls who are inevitably surrounded by only male companions, with other girls in the story only serving as rivals or someone getting in the way and/or someone for the heroine to protect. I really think this trend has to change. To its credit, at least this book had a romantic side plot that was not convoluted or poisoned by a love triangle or any such nonsense, and the relationships between the characters, particularly the one between Micheline and her father, reached me on a deeper level.
The strengths, most notably the strong writing and the fast-paced, action-oriented plot, overcame all the minor weaknesses and made reading this novel worth it, though. Sure to appeal to fans of supernatural/horror themed TV shows and books, you won’t regret picking this one up....more
I have a thing for heist books. That’s what Premonitions is and more, mashing up the best elements of urban fantasy, mystery-noir and dark psychological horror. Be prepared for lots of thrills along the way as things spiral rapidly out of control on a high-stakes job, leaving a rag-tag gang of professional thieves floundering in a situation none of them could have imagined in their worst nightmares.
This is the story of Karyn Ames’ crew, who thought they’d hit on the ultimate score when the notorious crime lord Enoch Sobell offers them two millions dollars to steal an ancient occult artifact – just some piece of dusty old bone. But as it turns out, that bone once belonged to something evil, vengeful, and not even of this earth. And it just so happens to be in the possession of a fanatical cult, who will stop at nothing to protect their precious treasure.
There are two main reasons why I love heist stories. One is that they are essentially a problem solving mission to acquire a quest item, with the characters using everything at their disposal to gain their goal, very often leading to some creative solutions. The second part of it is the characters themselves. After all, what’s a heist story without a diverse crew made of individuals with “special” talents? Premonitions shows us how it’s done.
First up, we have our leader, the one who heads up the crew and decides which jobs to take, and that’s Karyn Ames. But Karyn isn’t your typical mastermind who calls all the shots. She has a condition which allows her to hallucinate slices of the future – a useful power when you’re the one responsible for the safety and wellbeing of your crew, but it can also be overwhelming and debilitating when the visions get out of hand. To keep her hallucinations in check, Karyn relies on a very rare black market drug called Blind, which unfortunately is also very expensive. Without Blind, her visions can get very unsettling. It becomes difficult to tell the present from the tangled mess of near or even far future possibilities.
The author has done an incredible job here portraying Karyn’s struggle with her visions coming and going, as well as evoking powerful responses from me with the things she sees. Imagine experiencing scary moments like armed gunmen kicking your door in, not knowing if it’s really happening or if it’s something that will happen in the future (not like that’s any more comforting). Or having gruesome hallucinations of things like bullet holes spurting blood in the middle of your friends’ foreheads even as they are in front you talking like nothing is out of the ordinary. Jamie Schultz ends up capturing the disturbing nature of this very well, and I think it’s one of the best aspects of the book.
Karyn’s predicament with her condition makes her the most interesting character, but the rest of her crew are no slouches either. Anna is the second-in-command and best friend, ever competent and dependable. Then there’s Nail, who is most definitely the guy who brings the big guns. He’s the expert on ordnance and how to dish out the punishment. Finally, there’s Tommy, the eccentric and somewhat creepy practitioner of dark magic arts, probably because his line of work involves doing some pretty unsavory things. A mid-mission addition is Genevieve, liaison extraordinaire and a love interest for Anna, and pretty good at some of that sorcery herself. And of course we also have to talk about the client, the ruthless criminal overlord Enoch Sobell himself. Is he the crew’s ally or villain? Both or neither? There are so many surprises when it comes to this mercurial character, you’ll just have to read and find out more.
All told, there’s plenty of delicious twists and turns in this one, a treat for fans of the urban fantasy genre who are especially looking for a touch of something darker and more ominous, but without sacrificing the action and the fun. Premonitions ends up being a lot more than the sum of its parts, but it does stumble briefly on a couple of bewildering segments. Perhaps my only issue with the story is the jumble of factions involved in the main conflict, at times causing a few instances of confusion when it’s not clearly explained who’s going after who and which group has taken over which other group. In the end it’s not an issue that I found overwhelming, and I enjoyed the overall story in spite of it.
Ultimately, Premonitions ended up being a pretty damn good read. Considering how the book has been on my radar for a while, it didn’t disappoint. With this, the series is off to a great start and I’ll very likely pick up the next book because I think I’d like to know more about this world and its characters....more
I practically binge read this series, which is unusual for me. But truly, it is a rare pleasure indeed when subsequent books in a series just get better and better. I’ve had such a change of heart about this trilogy from the first book to the last book, that I am actually floored with amazement. I certainly don’t take back my thoughts in my review of The Magicians – I liked the book but I also had some very real issues with it and those still stand – but by God, it’s hard to believe how The Magician King and now The Magician’s Land have managed to completely revive this series for me.
We’re at the third and final book at this point, so it’s going to be hard to summarize it without giving away spoilers. Suffice to say, protagonist Quentin Coldwater has been through a lot since finding out the magical world of Fillory from his beloved childhood fantasy novels is actually real. He has been its king, explored the farthest reaches of its borders, been ejected unceremoniously from the realm by its god, but through it all Quentin has always had his magic. We return to Brakebills College where he takes on a position as a junior faculty member, but when that falls through, Quentin’s going to need to find another way to make money and make it real fast, especially for the plans he has in mind.
For you see, Quentin has never truly forgotten Alice, whose fate still haunts him daily. She was my favorite character in The Magicians, and to my dismay, I thought we had heard the last of her by the end of that book. So yes, it was invigorating to discover that her story might not be over yet. When it comes to the first book, saying that Quentin had an attitude problem is a massive understatement; I believe I wrote that the only cure for his malaise was a few years of growing up and possibly a swift kick to the seat of his pants – except what happened to Alice was more like a knife through his heart. What happened to Alice defined and transformed his character, so I was also happy to see things come full circle.
The book also has two very distinct parts. In the first half, we have an exciting heist which, departing from convention, doesn’t go well at all – but everyone who knows me know how much I love a good heist story. And trust me, you wouldn’t want to miss how spectacularly disastrous it goes for Quentin and his partners in crime. The action and the dry humor in this book is ramped up to a whole other level, which is something readers have always loved about this series.
The second part of this novel focuses on Quentin and his old friends’ quest to save Fillory. Like all good things, it must come to an end, but not if the old Brakebills gang has anything to say about it. The Magician’s Land was at times thrilling, at others touching, but always it was full of wild magic and fantastic imagination. My only complaint? The link between the two story threads was tenuous at best and the transition between them was very abrupt (whatever happened to the others involved with the heist? “Betsy” got a throwaway mention at best towards the end of the book, and I wouldn’t have minded more Stoppard, I liked him a lot!) but despite this, I have to say the story never faltered in engaging me and holding my attention.
In essence, The Magician’s Land achieved something that all series-enders should strive for. Not only does Grossman tie everything together, he does it in a way that makes you think back to the earlier books and it suddenly occurs to you: Oh, so THAT’S what he was setting up for. The first book The Magicians was a coming-of-age tale which felt rather aimless at times, if I’m to be honest. But somewhere between its last hundred pages and the first hundred pages of the book two, I think the series finally found its direction. From then on out the story took off, straight and steady, and as a result, this last book is marked by a certain cohesiveness that makes sense – that just feels right.
And Quentin. Quentin, Quentin, Quentin. If it is possible to feel proud of a fictional character, it is the feeling I get for him after reading this book. What a far cry from when I wanted to wring his spoiled, whiny neck and throttle the life out of him in The Magicians. He grew up. He grew up a lot. He became someone I liked and admired, and as infuriatingly annoying as he was in the first book, I don’t know if I would have appreciated his growth and character development this much if he hadn’t been so unappealing to begin with. He was a shallow, self-absorbed child who ultimately became an adult worthy of his magical gifts, and it is a testament to the author’s pacing and writing style that it was a journey that didn’t feel forced or contrived.
My final thoughts: I may have stumbled a bit with the first book of this series, but the way I see it, it’s always better to read a series that gets stronger than to read one that goes downhill after book one. And so, I tentatively recommend the first book The Magicians; after all, it’s one of the most polarizing books I’ve ever read. It seemed as many readers loved it as hated it, while some others like me fell somewhere in between. But I felt a lot more positive towards the series with The Magician King, and as the last book of the trilogy, The Magician’s Land was a solid finale. My thoughts on book one aside, I think the trilogy as a whole is fantastic and absolutely worth experiencing. What an adventure it has been....more
I accepted The Vampires of Manhattan for review before I found out the book was actually the first of a sequel series to Melissa de la Cruz’s Young Adult Blue Bloods; fortunately, not having read those books did not seem to have a negative impact on my experience. Of course, there were a few moments where I sensed gaping holes in my knowledge of the background of the world, but on the whole my enjoyment of the storyline was unaffected. So if you’re unfamiliar with Blue Bloods and are uncertain as to whether or not you should check out this book, fear not! It’s perfectly fine to jump right in.
This might have something to do with the amount of time that has passed since the Blue Bloods series. Apparently, ten years have gone by, and the teenage protagonists are now all grown up, and while Blue Bloods may have been intended audience, The Vampires of Manhattan definitely feels more geared towards adults. Many of the characters have brand new lives, including Araminta Scott (formerly “Minty” but now known as “Ara”) who is now a Venator, an enforcer of sorts, specializing in paranormal activities and crimes. Mimi and Kingsley Martin, a married couple whose history is fraught with intense emotions have returned to New York following a particularly heated fight, after seven years of living in the Underworld. Oliver Hazard-Perry is now a vampire and has risen quickly in the Coven, preparing to take his place as its leader. With the help of his lover and human conduit Finn, they’re making sure the upcoming Four Hundred Ball will go off without a hitch.
But then pentagrams start appearing all over the place, and the discovery of a dead teenage girl who appears to have been murdered by a vampire leads to unease in the community, putting the Blue Bloods and Venators on alert.
The Vampires of Manhattan is touted as “hipster horror” right there in the description, though after reading it I think it’s more accurate to call it “yuppie mystery” on account of the ultra-sophisticated, extremely wealthy lifestyles that some of the characters flaunt. The Four Hundred Ball is the lavish, no-expense-spared affair that is at the center of this novel, the point where all the plot threads will culminate in a startling, dramatic climax. However, the story is also balanced with an investigation into a murder, with Ara and her new wolfish partner Edon Marrok hard at work to find the killer.
Told through many points-of-view, the novel will capture your attention no matter who you are, though if you have an inclination towards mystery like I do, then Ara’s perspective will probably interest you the most. I liked it best when she and Edon were following up on clues, especially when the investigation leads them to the hoity-toity prep schools of the city. Oliver’s perspective provides us with a glimpse into the life of a high-powered elite. And those who enjoy the ups-and-downs of a tumultuous romance will eat up Mimi and Kingsley’s chapters.
The plot itself is not terribly complicated, but that probably works in the novel’s favor. Being a follow-up series that will likely serve as a jumping-on point for a lot of new readers, a twisty, heavy and convoluted story would not have gone over too well with me, personally. I thought the book was pretty perfect in its simplicity, and at the same time I also grew to connect with many of the characters who I had previously no knowledge about, which is a rather impressive feat for an author. I imagine those who have read Blue Bloods will be even more thrilled to catch up with these characters.
I’m glad I discovered this urban fantasy, which was a fast read and thoroughly entertaining for the genre. Despite not knowing a lot of the background behind the vampires, it worked for me – and feeling lost when it comes to a book’s world usually drives me nuts. It’s my first book by Melissa de la Cruz, and this has actually made me very interested in going back to check out Blue Bloods, or her other YA work. I would expect that readers who are already fans of Blue Bloods to enjoy this, but I was certainly a bit surprised — but in a good way — that I did too....more
Back in my review of The Magicians, I wrote that you could have a miserably unlikeable character for the sake of writing a miserably unlikeable character and that I wouldn’t mind, just as long as you could give me a reason to care about him or her. While that’s still true, it does really help if your protagonist isn’t a whiny little ingrate and actually shows growth over the course of the novel. I really think that’s why The Magician King worked better for me than its predecessor. Like, a lot better. The ending of the first book gave me hope that I would enjoy the sequel more, and I did.
Things were looking up right from the start, with our story opening with a return to Fillory, the otherworldly realm from Quentin’s beloved childhood fantasy series that turned out to be a real place. He and his friends are now the kings and queens of this magical kingdom, but after a routine morning hunt goes wrong, Quentin and Julia decide to set off across the seas to the far reaches of Fillory to take care of certain matters. But their journey is interrupted by an unceremonious ejection from Fillory back to Earth and the mundane world. Thus begins an epic quest to find their way back, with the fate of all magic hanging in the balance.
I’ll admit it, the first book had its high points, but on the whole I wasn’t too enamored. The wonderful sections featuring Quentin at Brakebills aside, I thought most of the book was directionless and tedious, and I wasn’t impressed with the characters and their attitudes until almost the very end when they discover Fillory and set out to explore it. The thing is, I loved the spellbinding world of Fillory and its amazing denizens, as well as the incredible sights and sounds. When the final pages of The Magicians teased that we may be going back, I was very pleased. That’s one reason why The Magician King worked better for me; the fact that we got to be in Fillory right away was a huge plus.
The second reason is something I’ve already alluded to, that being Quentin has come a long way from the moody, self-absorbed and aimless young man he was in book one. He has grown up a lot between the two novels in my eyes, no doubt in part due to the traumatic events he experienced at the end of The Magicians. His concern for a young crew member and the neglected daughter of a diplomat really touched me; it’s not something I would have expected in a million years from the old Quentin. In this book, he is driven and finds it possible to become excited about the prospects of adventure again, and – shocker! – in the process he became someone I wanted to read more about.
The same could not be said for Julia, however. My one gripe about this novel are her chapters, which more or less alternated with the chapters focusing on the main story. Julia’s tale encompasses her own rise to the world of magic after failing her Brakebills entrance exam, which couldn’t have been more different than Quentin’s academically formal training. Her journey through the underground magical scene is actually quite interesting, though I was initially unsure how it all related to the book’s central premise. What bothered me wasn’t so much her story, but the fact that the role of annoyingly maudlin and dissatisfied character seemed to have been passed from Quentin to Julia, though we do see that she has had to go through a lot of suffering and very difficult times. I could also appreciate how the two lines of thought eventually came together, but felt that her “backstory” was a bit distracting at first.
All in all, however, I was pleasantly surprised by my positive reactions to this book. On the whole, this was a much deeper and complex novel, but also much more entertaining and engaging on multiple levels. I liked how a lot of the world was expanded, as well as the answers to a lot questions brought up by the first book. And that ending! I can’t believe my heart is actually aching for Quentin. It’s very rare for a sequel to grab me, especially since book one failed to do so, and it’s great whenever that happens. I’m really starting to see the appeal behind this series, and this second installment has really made it grow on me....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
Another One Bites the Dust continues the Jensen Murphy, Ghost for Hire series which has the distinction of being one of the few urban fantasies out there featuring a dead girl as the protagonist. Jensen isn’t just technically dead, living dead, or undead – she’s DEAD dead, an ordinary California girl who was murdered in the woods by a serial killer in the eighties. She’s back now in modern times, pulled out of her time loop by a psychic named Amanda Lee.
Together with her ghostly friends and Amanda Lee, Jensen is putting her talents to good use by helping catch bad guy and solve mysteries, including that of her own murder. This second novel puts her skills to the test with a tough case involving a woman and her hotheaded and potentially dangerous boyfriend who might be just be a few short fuses away from snapping.
The neat thing is, ghosts in this series have quite an arsenal of abilities up their sleeves to go about investigating these kinds of situations, including creating hallucinations, entering dreams, or getting a feel for someone’s emotions and thoughts simply by making contact with them. This is just one example of the many unique ideas found in the first book, which impressed me enough to want to continue the series. I’m also quite invested in Jensen’s personal story, given how the mystery and details surrounding her horrific murder have been greatly built up. I’d like know who killed her, and hopefully see Jensen find closure and make peace with the fact that her life was so unfairly cut short.
What surprised me was that my wish might be granted sooner than I thought. I know there are at least three books planned so far for this series, and I did not expect it to even begin delving into Jensen’s death until at least the third installment. There are a lot of things going on in this book as a result – first, we have the main storyline involving Heidi and her concern for her friend Nichelle who is dating the loose cannon/possible psychopath Tim. Second, we have the major side plot in which Jensen does some independent investigating into her murder and makes some huge discoveries. Third, we get the chance to follow up with Gavin and Wendy, the siblings we got to meet in book one. Jensen still has some residual feelings for Gavin that she needs to resolve, not to mention her reluctant attraction towards “Fake Dean”, the mysterious supernatural entity that has taken on the guise of her old high school sweetheart.
Not surprisingly, Jensen is kept quite busy throughout this book, and we jump along with her from one event to another. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, the book feels very scattered. But on the other, you’re never going to have an opportunity to be bored. In the end, the pros and cons probably balance each other out, though I do wish we could have slowed down just enough to have gotten to know the side characters a bit better, especially Jensen’s group of “ghost budders” who so delighted me in Only the Good Die Young. Personalities like Twyla, Randy, Scott and Louis were pivotal in making the first book grow on me, and I just can’t get enough of them.
Poor Jensen, though. I think the author is attempting to inject a bit of romance into the series by giving her these complicated feelings for both Gavin and Fake Dean, but I just can’t help but feel both these relationships (if you can even go as far as to call them that) are simply doomed. The girl is a ghost, while one of the guys is very much alive and the other is some weird, ethereal and celestial…thing. Fake Dean is very much a big question mark, and it is still unclear whether he is a force of good or evil in Jensen’s life. In any case, I’m not getting a sense of chemistry between either of these pairings so admittedly, any romance is falling flat.
Still, overall we’re definitely getting somewhere with the main story. I am loving the tone of these books, enjoying the way light and dark mingle. We have some humor and cheerful interludes provided by the banter and camaraderie of the ghosts mixed with the creepy and disturbing circumstances of Jensen’s murder as well as the grim nature of the cases she and Amanda Lee decide to take on. The antagonist in this novel is a very troubled and unstable individual, and the few glimpses we get into his mind and into his dreams aren’t very pleasant at all.
All told, this was an enjoyable follow up. The series might not be blowing me away quite yet, but I like how it’s bringing something unique to the genre and the new ideas are enough to make me want to stick around, and I am also very curious how things will end up for our protagonist....more
Self-absorbed, annoying, moody, smug, dissatisfied, spoiled, fake, maudlin, insecure, aimless, whiny, stupid, pampered, emo, vain, egotistical, small-minded, excessive, inconsiderate, thankless, pretentious, snobby, entitled, mercurial, immature, depressed, hypocritical, mean-spirited, cynical, clueless – just a small sample of the words I could use to describe the characters in this book.
No, The Magicians isn’t going to your big smiling ball of sunshine no matter how many Harry Potter comparisons you see slapped on it. Instead, you have a book featuring a much darker, grittier and almost satirical aura, a “New Adult” urban fantasy about letting the unhappiness of wanting something you can never have consume you. We follow disillusioned Quentin Coldwater, a high school student who never really grew out of his love for a series of novels he read as a kid about the adventures of five siblings in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, what can the real world offer him?
Imagine how he feels then, when he discovers that magic is real. And not only is it real, Quentin himself is a promising young magician, accepted into very secret and highly exclusive Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy in upstate New York. It should have changed everything. Quentin should have been ecstatic.
But he is not. But of course he’s not. Magic isn’t going to make Quentin happy. Neither is finding out that Fillory actually exists. It’s a sad moment when the realization hits. There’s really no cure for what ails Quentin, except one thing and one thing only: a few years of life experience and a whole lot of growing up. Well, that or maybe a swift and forceful kick in the seat of his pants.
Thing is though, you can write a miserably unlikeable character for the sake of writing a miserably unlikeable character. I don’t mind. Not even if your character is an insufferably whiny little ingrate. You just have to give me a reason – any reason – to make me care about what happens to him. That’s not too much to ask, is it? My issue with this novel wasn’t so much with the mopey protagonist than it was with the directionless storytelling. In fact, I was quite excited for the first part of this book. I couldn’t get enough of the magical school idea the author’s jabs and funny references to Harry Potter and other humorous injections. That there was no sign of a main conflict didn’t bother me at this point either, as I was relishing the setting and enjoying myself too much.
Around the midway point was when the book started to lose me, coinciding with Quentin’s graduation and life after Brakebills. Until then I never really bothered asking where the story was going, and hadn’t felt the need to – but eventually there was a creeping sense that giving Quentin and his magician friends “real life” problems like relationship hang ups and dismal prospects for the future just wasn’t going cut it. Like, dudes, I get that y’all are bored with life. But I’m bored with you too now. Sorry. Worse yet, there is absolutely no development in their characters or personalities (unless you count decline as growth) and that’s absolutely mind boggling when you consider how a person’s time at college should have been the most formative years. I don’t know anyone who left college the same person they were when they arrived.
Admittedly, the final handful of chapters about the discovery and exploration of Fillory had their charm. Possibly enough to salvage my feelings for this book for a solid rating. And I suppose the conclusion, while incomplete and flinging the doors wide open for a new adventure, also manages to offer a sense of closure and satisfaction in its own unique way.
This book isn’t bad, apart from the pacing issues. The ending gives me hope for Quentin, and the promise of more Fillory makes me feel very optimistic about the next book....more
To tell the truth, Dämoren didn’t start off high on my priority list of books to read when I received it for review, though it did hook my attention when I was told there would be wendigos (seriously, more books need wendigos). The cover, while very pretty, also did nothing to draw me in, showing a partial image of a bladed revolver. Hey, gunblades are neat and all -- but that also tells me very little.
Then a couple weeks ago, while trying to choose my next read, I was struck by a sudden surge of spontaneity and decided to pick up Dämoren and give the first few pages a shot. An hour later, I realized with a jolt that I was still reading, and that I was already almost a third of the way in. The weird thing about that hour, is that it honestly felt like a mere few minutes. Dämoren simply took me by surprise. I’ve read my fair share of stories about demon slayers and monster hunters, so admittedly I wasn’t expecting this first book of Seth Skorkowsky’s new urban fantasy/horror series to be that much different.
Once again, I am sorry to have underestimated the dark fiction of Ragnarok Pub. Rest assured Dämoren will satisfy all your needs in the action and thrills department, but what I was most impressed with was the world building and unique body of lore Skorkowsky has created, which offered a fresh new take on the angel/demon mythos.
Central to the novel is the concept of holy weapons. In the world of Dämoren, these weapons are sentient entities that if you’re not careful you may actually grow to care for them and even start thinking of them as characters themselves! Somehow the author has managed to imbue unmoving, unspeaking objects with personalities of their own. For when these holy weapons form a bond with a wielder, he or she becomes irrevocably aware that their weapons are alive and that they speak to their souls. No one knows how a holy weapon comes to be, but they are the only way to kill a demon. And the love a wielder feels for their weapon can be even more powerful than any attachment to another human being.
It is so with Matt Hollis, the main protagonist and owner of Dämoren, the name of his holy sword pistol. As a child, Matt was the only survivor of a wendigo attack on his family, making it out alive thanks to a man named Clay Mercer who killed the monsters and rescued the young boy. The former wielder of Dämoren, Clay had resigned from a secret order of demon hunters called the Valducan, and left his holy weapon to Matt after he died. But many years later, the Valducan leadership has taken an interest in Matt’s activities and asked him and Dämoren to rejoin their ranks, due to a sudden influx of coordinated monster attacks and attempts to destroy holy weapons. Unfortunately, this was not a decision welcomed by all, as some of the Valducan see Matt as corrupted. For while Matt had survived his childhood wendigo attack, he was also bitten by one of the creatures.
So, get this: In the world of this novel, all monsters – everything from werewolves to vampires, ghouls to lamia – are all essentially humans, but possessed by the souls of the different kinds of demons inhabiting them, giving rise to their physical and characteristic traits. A bite is how a demon “marks” a person, making them an available vessel to possess if or when their old body perishes. Now you can see why the other Valducans might be giving Matt the shifty eyes.
The book is just filled to the brim with cool ideas like these, not to mention the fact Matt’s special condition gives him some rather handy powers (blood compasses! Can you say awesome?) or the sheer variety of terrifying monsters, both new and familiar, that you’ll come face to face with within these pages. There’s certainly no shortage of action. I also classified this book as an urban fantasy, but in reality the plot will take you to many places across the globe, from the wilds of western Canada to the outskirt villages of Florence. So not only does it take place in variety of environments, Dämoren is a truly international adventure.
Although it will read perfectly fine as a self-contained novel, I was also happy to see that it is a “book one” implying that there will be more in the future. When the Valducan Order expands, one thing I'd love to see is more kickass female knights like Luiza. As one of the only two major female characters, I wasn't surprised that the role of "love interest" fell to her as well, but more to the point, I think the special relationship between a holy weapon and its owner is one of the most intriguing aspects of Dämoren and I would love to see this uncanny bond further explored with an even greater diversity of characters. Really looking forward to see what else Seth Skorkowsky has in store for us. ...more
Once again, M.L. Brennan reminds me why this is one of my favorite urban fantasy series right now! I simply love how the Generation V books break so many of the genre’s rules.
First off, forget about immortal vampires that ooze sexuality from every single attractive pore on their flawless runway model bodies, because here we have Fortitude Scott, a vampire protagonist who is very much an underdog and is as down-to-earth as they come. And how ‘bout those family dynamics? Where else can you find a book in which the mother and siblings of said vampire protagonist have such a huge impact on his everyday life? I’ve always enjoyed the roles that Madeline, Prudence and Chivalry play in the development of Fort’s character, but this third book is where the author really drives that point home. The story here is, after all, about the blood ties that bind.
Unlike the first two books which both started off with a healthy dose of humor, a dark shroud of sadness hangs over book three’s introduction, because it is revealed that Chivalry’s ailing wife has finally passed away. The loss leaves Chivalry in no shape to attend his duties, meaning it’s up to Fort to step up and fill his older brother’s shoes. It’s a tough job keeping checks on all the supernatural denizens living in his mother’s territory, but Fort manages swimmingly with the help of Suzume, his kitsune sidekick and friend-who-he-wishes-is-more-than-just-a-friend.
Then everything goes to hell when the leader of a faction of bear shapeshifters turns up brutally murdered. It’s Fort’s first time handling an investigation and of course his family is no help (his mother Madeline’s sagely advice pretty much boils down to “Just handle it dammit, find a patsy if necessary”), but still Fort is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery and bring the true killer to justice. He just hopes he’s not in way over his head on this one.
Tainted Blood and the story of Fort’s first solo mission on his family’s business is definitely not to be missed! The twists and turns of the investigation had me on my toes, and as always the brilliant banter between the dynamic duo of Fort and Suze continued to have me chuckling all the way through.
But there are also a few other things I felt this book did extremely well, which I want to highlight. For one thing, you’ll definitely be floored by Brennan’s fascinating and unique take on the paranormal world and its creatures, an approach which has become her signature style. Her first book Generation V introduced us to the nitty-gritty details of the vampire life cycle, while her second book Iron Night portrayed elves in a way that I know will make me never look at Legolas the same way again. I can always depend on Brennan to have a cool supernatural race or two up her sleeve, and quite honestly, I would expect nothing less from an author who features the awesomeness of kitsune in her books! This time around, we get up close and personal with shapeshifters in the form (no pun intended) of werebears. Just, ah, don’t call them that to their faces, unless you want to risk getting your own clawed off.
What I really like are the checks and balances in the world of these books, providing an explanation as to why we puny humans aren’t overrun a million times over yet by all these supernatural beings that are so much more powerful than us. Every creature has a weakness to go with a strength. Brennan’s vampires, for example, are not immortal, and though the process is much slower, they can and will die of old age just like anything else. And while elves do enjoy the luxury of immortality, they are so violent and bloodthirsty that they’ve pretty much fought themselves to the brink of extinction, with problems of infertility and inbreeding to boot. Witches have powers that make them extraordinary talented healers, but they’re also the most isolated and scattered group because any large concentration of witches in one area can stir up bad juju and mass hysteria in nearby human populations. Details such as these lend Fortitude Scott’s world a touch of realism which is not always present in UF, and it’s something I don’t think is appreciated enough.
I also want to take it back to family dynamics, because this is another area where Tainted Blood excelled. Familial love can be a tricky thing to tackle, especially when it comes to so-called “monsters”. Fort may be a relatively harmless vampire trying to hold on to his human side as long as possible, though the same cannot be said of his mother and older siblings. But Madeline, Chivalry and Prudence are such fascinating characters simply because they love Fort and are fiercely protective of him, only they show it in their own very different and sometimes unconventional ways. This is brought to the forefront in Tainted Blood, when Fort’s interactions with each of his family members produce a wide range of emotional results. Perhaps for the first time, he catches a glimpse of weakness in his mother, a darkness in his brother, and – probably the most shocking revelation of all – a nice side to Prudence. Nothing is ever black and white, and I loved that about this book.
So if an urban fantasy with actual deep, meaningful and complex relationships sounds good to you, look no further than this series. And speaking of relationships, if you have been following these books and are rooting for Fortitude and Suzume in the romance department, you might be in for a real treat too!
Bottom line, fans of urban fantasy need to check out this series, and current fans MUST read Tainted Blood. There are significant developments brewing, and with all this foreshadowing of Madeline’s inevitable fate, I have a feeling this books marks the beginning of a turning point. We may be on the cusp of something huge. What can I say, but bring on the next one!...more
This series is seriously great. There’s nothing out there quite like it; Anne Bishop is a talented storyteller and her characters are wonderful, but it’s the world of The Others that truly sets it apart. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Bishop brings a fresh and unique take on urban fantasy to the table.
Remember, in this world, the supernaturals are the dominant race and we puny humans are their food. Murder of Crows picks up from the first book Written in Red, following the story of the cassandra sangue or blood prophet Meg Corbyn in her new life at the Lakeside Courtyard. A few months have passed since she escaped her keepers to seek sanctuary among the terra indigene, and she’s viewed as somewhat of an oddity due to the nature of her powers. Meg isn’t exactly one of the Others, but she’s not quite human either and that makes her not prey. Slowly she gains the trust of her hosts, and her relationship with Simon Wolfgard, the shapeshifting leader of Lakeside Courtyard, also continues to grow.
There are a couple other major plotlines in this book. Someone is out there killing terra indigene, specifically targeting crows and creating drugs that would dangerously alter the behaviors of the Others. The fragile peace is further shaken as humans are becoming more and more disgruntled with their place in the pecking order (pardon the pun), giving rise to groups like Humans First and Last. Tensions are at an all-time high between the two groups, and while the situation is much worse in other parts of Thaisia, Lakeside Courtyard has not been able to avoid the effects of the conflict.
With this second book, Anne Bishop seems to have hit her stride. In my review of Written in Red, I noted that it seemed rather lengthy for an urban fantasy novel, especially for a series starter. The story felt bulky, padded with what I felt were quite a few unnecessary scenes. In contrast, Murder of Crows has a much more reasonable page count and therefore a lot less filler, which in turn improved the flow and made the story feel more streamlined.
I also like how the series has made a turn for the darker. Not that Written in Red wasn’t dark enough to begin with, but there’s still a noticeable shift here with the themes gradually inching towards grimmer and more disturbing territory. Violence between humans and the Others is nothing new, but the people who used to hold Meg captive are up to their usual shenanigans as well, and you can see how she’s one of the lucky ones for managing to escape. Bishop does not attempt to sugarcoat or soften the details of what happens to the other cassandra sangue girls who suffer all kinds of abuse at the hands of the sinister and depraved man known as “The Controller”.
However, the darkness is also countered with moments of levity. An interesting but intentionally awkward dynamic starts to develop between Meg and Simon Wolfgard, due to the fact that their reactions to each other are so vastly different when the latter is in his human form versus his furry form. I doubt this shtick can continue for that much longer though, so let’s hope their relationship will progress a little further in the next book.
Also in the next book, I’d like to see more depth to the characters. The strength of the world-building seems to be overshadowing everything because it’s the most unique aspect at the moment. While Meg’s blood prophet powers are pretty cool, I’m not getting much of a feel for her personality. She’s meek and comes across slightly aloof, perhaps due to the style of narration which keeps her somewhat at arm’s length. A better balance between setting and characters would be nice, because I’d like to feel a stronger connection to the protagonist.
All in all though, this is definitely an interesting and enjoyable read. I’ll be jumping into Vision in Silver very soon and I’m really looking forward to it....more
Whenever I encounter cool, interesting new concepts in urban fantasy, it's always like a breath of fresh air. I mean, I love vampires, werewolves, wizards and such, but it's also nice to see something different every once in a while. And with this book, the idea of magical tattoos most definitely fits into the "that's not something I see every day" category.
The unique properties of "Live Ink" is what serves as the foundation for the magic system in Marcella Burnard's newest novel, in a world where tattoos are more than just body art. If integrated well, a Live Ink tattoo can enhance a person's life and augment their skills. But when things go wrong, they can also turn on their wearers and even wind up killing them.
Protagonist Isa Romanchzyk and others like her who have the ability to manipulate Live Ink can either use that power to create or destroy, making her tattoo shop a destination for both the cops and the mob alike -- or anyone who needs to get rid of a Live Ink tattoo gone bad. Isa's approach has always involved "binding" the tattoo, effectively killing it in order to save the life of the victim. Until one day a desperate friend turns to her for help, and for the first time in years Isa works Live Ink, fixing the tattoo instead of destroying it. But what she doesn't realize is that by interfering, she might as well have just painted a target on her back.
It goes without saying, when you take an interesting idea and throw in compelling characters, you get a winning combination. Nightmare Ink has this going for it. Isa's enigmatic past and her connections with both the law and the gangs of Seattle make her interesting to me. I thought I'd seen and heard it all when it comes to urban fantasy protagonists and their shady backgrounds, but I guess not! Information about Isa's history is doled out sparingly so you don't get to learn everything about her straight away, and I found myself being surprised by the darker revelations of her past even once I was well into the final chapters of the book.
However, the uneven way details are revealed also presents a bit of an issue. I noticed the introductory chapters are heavier on the info-dumps, going so far as to have a character ask Isa about Live Ink so that she can not-so-subtly explain all the ins-and-outs. But information becomes sparser after this, leaving me with a lot of questions about tattoo magic. For example, why does Live Ink only take to certain people and not others? There's also not much about the "etheric" world where a lot of Isa's interactions with Live Ink tattoos take place. It makes some of the later scenes in the novel involving her relationship with her own Live Ink very confusing. It is also implied that the Living Tattoos come from another realm, but again we don't get a lot of detail on that. There are many instances like this, and while it's a very interesting world I only wish I knew more about it!
At the time of reading, I wasn't sure if this was going to be a series, but I see now that there is at least one future book planned. In any case, Nightmare Ink works very well as a stand alone. Isa and her friends are a fantastic group of people I wouldn't hesitate to read about again, and the concept of Live Ink magic could definitely do with some expanding, fine-turning and polish that another book could provide. Despite some holes in the world building, this was overall a very entertaining read....more
Given my heavy reading load and lack of time, this book almost didn’t make it onto my review list. I enjoyed its predecessor Charming, though as a first book in an urban fantasy series it was probably a bit too standard and conventional to be truly memorable. But UFs are generally quick reads, not to mention I realize some series do need a bit of time to take off, so I was more than willing to give Pax Arcana another shot with Daring.
The book jumps right back into the life of John Charming, a young man who comes from a long line of Charmings – yes, that family of swoon-worthy princes, heroic dragon slayers, and rescuers of damsels in distress from evil witches and their dastardly curses. But John isn’t your average Charming, despite his illustrious family name and long years spent training with the modern day equivalent of the Knights Templar. A werewolf attack on his mother right before his birth resulted in John becoming a new type of strange hybrid, and his own people have hunted him ever since the first day he manifested his symptoms.
But now, instead of trying to kill him the Knights Templar are actually trying recruit him. They believe John’s ties to werewolves makes him the perfect man to infiltrate the werewolf packs that have been uniting under a mysterious leader, while the Templar themselves have failed time and time again. They’re dealing with creatures with noses that can sniff out an interloper from a mile away, after all. John agrees, but only because he was forced to and it would also help keep the woman he loves out of danger.
I have to say this book left me a bit torn. I do think Daring is a better book than Charming, but probably not by much. Like I said, the first book didn’t make much of an impression on me; a few months after reading it I found I could hardly remember anything specific about the plot. Needless to say, that affected my ability to jump right into this one. Even though the “ten things you need to know” type recap at the beginning was humorous and a clever way to get the reader up to speed again, I didn’t really find it all that helpful.
But the question here is how does book two match up? Well, I do think there’s a lot more to like about Daring. I thought the comedy factor was more pronounced in this book, even though the overall themes are bit darker. And sometimes it’s not the action scenes and the flashy trimmings that I find the most memorable (in fact, a lot of times it’s the opposite and those tend to blend together) but the more subdued and serious scenes. I liked the chapters that flashed back to John’s past, for example, revealing his childhood years as a talented but outcast novice in the order of the Knights Templar, as well as the experiences in his love life that have shaped him. Likewise, when John joined up with the werewolves in the woods, I got a kick out of the quiet moments of introspection and meditation with his new lycanthrope clan mates.
Then there were the things I didn’t like so much. While the overall story was enjoyable, as to how much it will stick with me this time around, that remains to be seen. I suspect much of what happened after the part with the new age-y wolves will become a blur for me. There were the requisite bells and whistles and twists and turns. But what was missing for me were the supporting characters I met in book one! Where’s Molly? Where’s Choo? And I could have done with more than just a small cameo from Parth. I also wasn’t too convinced of John’s budding relationship with the Valkyrie Sig in the first place, to have her absent for the most of this book was a mistake in my eyes.
And finally, perhaps my main disappointment with this book is the same one I had with the first. The description for Daring states that this series “gives a new twist to the Prince Charming tale.” I still feel that it’s a bit of an overstatement, and wish that the “twist” to the Prince Charming angle could be more inventive and unique. A lot of what makes this series different is based on gimmicky factors like punny chapter titles and a split paragraph here and there; I know this is probably going to sound a lot harsher than I intend, but I really do think a new urban fantasy needs to stand out more these days to set itself apart.
Pax Arcana continues to be fun. My opinion of these books hasn’t really changed for the better or the worse since the first one, which means despite my gripes my feelings are still favorable towards this series. I’ll be open to checking out the third book when it comes out. Now, if this had been an epic fantasy series and the books were each 500+ pages long, that would be a different story, but urban fantasies do not require the same time investment and I know they’re always a good time. I’ll decide once we get closer to the release date of Fearless....more
I’m glad I gave this book a shot. I have to admit, I've not had the best experience when it comes to Anne Bishop (I really wanted to like Daughter of the Blood in her Black Jewels series, but just couldn’t seem to get into it) so I initially shied away from Written in Red. However, after multiple recommendations and even an assurance or two that it is very different from Bishop’s epic fantasy, I was finally convinced to pick it up.
I was also told that this series should be right up my alley, based on the type of urban fantasy I enjoy. I daresay that was a good call. I love the genre for its focus on interesting characters and unique worlds, and Written in Red certainly delivers on those fronts. Not only that, Anne Bishop also introduces UF elements in this book that are at once brand new and yet all too familiar. Given my mixed feelings in the past with her other work, it felt reassuring to find this book settled nicely in my comfort zone.
Despite my tepid feelings towards Daughter of the Blood, even I can't deny that Bishop has a knack for creating worlds. Her talent and creativity is evident everywhere in her work, and that is true of The Others series as well, where the mundane and the supernatural coexist in a fragile balance…so to speak. Namely, it’s the unearthly creatures who are in charge, and so long as we puny humans keep in line, they will tolerate sharing the living space with us. It’s different, but makes a lot of sense. Why should “The Others” hide and live in secret when they are so powerful and there are so many of them? And thus people are prey, and they are put in their place.
Written in Red also features a world with more than just vampires and werewolves. Granted, there are shapeshifters aplenty, but they come in many other forms, such as crows, owls, etc. Here you will encounter all kinds of creatures and races of powerful humans, never seen or heard of before. Take the protagonist Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet who has the ability to see the future when her skin is cut. Kind of a morbid power, if you ask me, but it's intriguing. It's simply Bishop working up her gift for creating and describing magic. For me, that dark and vaguely-disturbing but enchanting quality is what I remember of her style. I really like how she's applied it here, to a world so very different from what I’ve previously read from her.
Speaking of which, Bishop’s also not the first epic/high fantasy author I’ve read who has taken the leap into urban fantasy in recent years. In several cases, I felt the pacing was a mild issue with storytelling, and I couldn’t help but feel it here as well. Check out the page count, for one thing. Written in Red is relatively lengthy for an urban fantasy novel, especially a series starter, and I don’t know if it really needed to be so long. Looking back, I can think of quite a few scenes that probably weren’t required. World building is important, sure, but at times I felt it came at the expense of the story's momentum.
Still, I liked the cohesiveness of the plot. So many urban fantasy novels seem to be crammed to the brim with action and a whole lot of ideas and things going on these days, all in about 300 pages. Written in Red may be longer than most, but at least it gives Meg’s plight and her relationships with The Others the full attention it deserves. As a main protagonist, she’s a bit too timid for my tastes, but the writing is very effective at making the reader feel protective of her and invested in her success. As a result, the tension was palpable throughout the novel even without a billion things happening all at once.
As a parting thought, cheers and thank you to those who recommended this to me and told me to read it. This was a fun one! If I’d continued staying away, I would have missed out on a refreshing new urban fantasy series. No need to remind me to put the next book Murder of Crows on my reading list – it’s already there, I promise....more
Hooray! From now on, whenever someone asks me if I have read any Ilona Andrews, no longer do I have to look down shame-facedly at my shoes and admit, “No, but I’ve been meaning to for the longest time, I swear!”
Of course, when it comes to the authors’ books and the question of where to start, for me it had to be the quintessential Kate Daniels series. In a world where technology has progressed too much and too fast, the volatile forces of magic have struck back with a vengeance. While magic feeds on technology, everything is unpredictable – machinery, vehicles or electrically powered objects can fail at any time, making it a pretty screwed up world of ruined streets lined with shells of crumbling skyscrapers.
And that’s not all. The way it works, magic rises and falls with no warning, and when the precarious balance between the magical and the technological is thrown out of whack, weird things happen – peculiar magical effects and paranormal monsters wreaking havoc on the world, and what have you. In the middle of it all, a tenacious and headstrong mercenary makes her living attempting to clean up all the resulting messes of this magical apocalypse. Kate’s just another human with a bit of magic blood in her, trying to make ends meet in this crazy messed up milieu, while dodging vampires, shapeshifters, and other nasties. But when her guardian is brutally murdered, Kate’s making it her personal mission to hunt down the one responsible.
So, wow, great setting and premise for an urban fantasy, amirite? But I do have a confession to make. I honestly couldn’t make heads or tails of this world from the explanation provided by the book as I was reading. Afterwards, I had to cheat and had to look up on wikis and other reviews to understand how the whole magic vs. technology process actually worked because what I was given didn’t feel like it was enough at all. Did that take away from my enjoyment of the story? Not really. Technically, you don’t need to understand how and why everything in this world is the way it is, but in some ways, I felt like I was thrown into the middle of a movie that had already started. I got by okay, but if you don’t like feeling like that, then this first book might be a struggle.
As for the main character herself, I liked her. Kate Daniels is smart, resourceful, a bit of a wisecracker and comes in at a hundred percent on the kickass meter – admittedly, much like a lot of other female protagonists in the urban fantasy genre. There’s really not much else I can say, but that’s not really a negative. While I can’t pin down anything that would make her stand out in particular from the rest, archetypal UF characters like Kate are what make this genre great and so fun to read.
I think I approach urban fantasy as a whole with a similar attitude. Arguably, there are a handful of requisite tropes in this genre that will probably never go out of style, and you know what? I wouldn’t want it any other way. These days, I’m happy enough diving into a good UF, and if it happens to do something wildly different and amazing, that’s just gravy. Magic Bites probably isn’t exceptional when it comes to characters and its light-on-plot story, but it does have a pretty cool setting (if only it was explained better).
Regardless, I love tackling books like this especially after a string of heavier reads, because sometimes you just want to sit back and relax with a light, entertaining read, and I have to say it filled that need perfectly. To be honest, you really can’t screw up with me when it comes to this genre, unless you’re doing something terribly, terribly wrong – and I didn’t doubt for second that a series like Kate Daniels, which has been going strong for so many years, would have garnered so many fans if it hadn’t been delivering the right stuff.
So yep, you’ll see me continuing on with this series for sure....more