The Witch Hunter is probably one of this summer’s more buzzworthy Young Adult titles, if the amount of coverage I’ve seen for it is any indication. Most of my friends who have read it also enjoyed it, while others were not so keen. If nothing else though, the book did succeed in getting my attention, and I was grateful to receive the audiobook for review, which is actually my preferred format when it comes to reading YA.
The story starts off by introducing us to its protagonist, Elizabeth Grey. She’s sixteen years old and already an accomplished witch hunter, part of the king’s elite group of agents trained to track down and capture sorcerers. But when a nighttime rendezvous goes awry, Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself and is taken to the dungeons to await burning at the stake.
On the eve of her execution, a strange man pays a visit to her cell. Believing her to be a witch, he helps break her out of prison. As it turns out, her mysterious rescuer is none other than Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful sorcerer in the kingdom as well as leader of a group of young rebel witches and wizards who are unhappy with being persecuted by the king’s laws. By helping her escape though, Nicholas has also turned Elizabeth into public enemy number one, forcing her to accept his terms or be left on her own to deal with the authorities. Reluctantly, Elizabeth agrees to help Nicholas break a deadly curse that has been laid upon him, and the group also takes her in as one of their own.
But of course, Elizabeth knows that it’s all a lie. Not only is she not a witch, she is one of the hunters whom they hate and fear, and there is no telling what Nicholas and his group might do when they find out the truth about her.
Now that I’ve finished the book, I feel I can better understand the different reactions I saw across the board. My own feeling lie somewhere in between. The Witch Hunter is a story peppered with tropes and familiar clichés, making it a very typical middle-of-the-road YA fantasy. As a protagonist, Elizabeth was not exceptional, nor did she really strike me as particularly sharp. Are you really telling me, that in all the years of witnessing countless examples of her mentor using magic as a tool in their witch hunter training sessions, Elizabeth never once suspected he was a magician? The logic is not strong with this one. It was also one of the bigger plot holes I tripped upon. The story itself is rather simplistic too, with the obvious message of “magic itself not being inherently evil, it just depends on how you use it” being presented as the crux of the conflict. Not exactly profound.
For all its flaws though, The Witch Hunter also has plenty of redeeming factors. The novel’s strength is in its light and adventurous tone, which had me chuckling at a couple places in response to some clever lines of dialogue. I especially loved the conversations between Elizabeth and Fifer, the only other female in their group. When Fifer’s character was introduced, I despaired thinking she would be yet another typical “girl rival” whose only purpose in the story is to make the heroine look good. Suffice to say, I was glad to be wrong. I also enjoyed the lack of a full-blown love triangle, and I felt the romance arc was stronger for it.
Most of the time I also prefer to listen to YA novels in audiobook format. I’m less likely to get hung up on world-building (or the lack of it) when I’m experiencing a book in this format, and characters feel richer to me when a narrator gives them a voice. This isn’t the first time I’ve listened to an audiobook narrated by Nicola Barber; in fact it was just a few weeks ago that I listened to her on another title so her performance was still fresh on my mind. I find myself very impressed with her versatility. For The Witch Hunter, Barber sounded younger, giving the protagonist the bubbly, energetic personality which her character called for, and her deftly delivered curses of “Damnation!” made me think, yep, that’s Elizabeth right there.
Simply put, this book was a lot of fun. I may have called the story simple, but that in itself is not necessarily a weakness. In fact, if you enjoy tightly woven plots and are tired of the ostentation and gimmicky shticks cropping up all over the genre these days, this one might very well work for you. It’s mainstream and not looking to break new ground, but it definitely knows what it has to offer....more
I have to say, so far I’ve been very impressed with the variety of Tor.com novellas. Just as I’ve gotten myself settled in with a couple stories that are rather sober, more serious-like endeavors, along comes Envy of Angels barging into this black tie dinner party like your favorite uncle, the one who gets loud when he’s had too many but is always ready to entertain the crowd with a funny yarn.
I had such a great time with this book. Imagine Hell’s Kitchen meets Dresden Files, marinated in a flavorful blend of action and thrills, seasoned generously with humor. When I first glimpsed the conspicuously short publisher description for this novella, I had my suspicions about what this meant and now they have been confirmed: The less you know about this story going in, the better.
Fortunately, I can give the general gist of it without spoiling anything. Envy of Angels is about Lena and Darren, two ordinary down-on-their-luck New York chefs who suddenly find themselves landing the gig of lifetime at Sin du Jour, an exclusive catering company owned by one of the city’s hottest celebrity chefs. However, it soon becomes clear that Sin du Jour is no ordinary catering company. For one thing, their clients are demons.
When asked to serve a morally questionable item on the menu at their next event (and we’re not talking about veal), Sin du Jour owner and executive chef Byron “Bronko” Luck gathers his staff and puts it to a vote. Should they do what they’re told and go through with the whole thing? Or should they take the dangerous, near-impossible option and attempt to pull the wool over their devilish clientele’s eyes by preparing a substitute main course and praying they won’t notice? By the way, these types of hellish customers, when they don’t get what they order, aren’t just going to be sending it back. But guess what our characters decide to go ahead and do anyway.
The result is an extraordinary amount of story packed into this novella. Envy of Angels features plenty of action both in the kitchen and out in the field, and even includes a thrilling heist sequence starring Ritter, Cindy, Hara and Moon, the unforgettable foursome who make up Sin du Jour’s Stocking and Receiving Department.
The plot is also very addictive, especially when it gets more and more bizarre. Between getting completely sucked into the story and the sheer morbid curiosity to see what other crazy things might be happening next, I kept turning the pages and finished this book in no time at all. It was fantastically good fun. I really don’t want to give much more away, though in truth, there are moments so absurdly hilarious, so out-of-this-world-insane that I would be hard-pressed to describe them, anyway. Seriously. There are moments in here that you simply must experience for yourself.
One thing is certain though. I’ll never look at a Chicken McNugget the same way again....more
As someone who was totally new to Cathy Clamp’s work, I was very excited about the opportunity to read Forbidden, book one in a new series set in the Sazi universe. A “reboot” of sorts, the novel takes place ten years after the events at the end of The Tales of the Sazi, featuring a new story and new characters – a fresh start, essentially, and a perfect jumping-on point for a newcomer like me.
Indeed, there’s not much you need to know before starting this series, and any required knowledge is helpfully provided by the author. For example, I found it interesting that the two protagonists of Forbidden actually first appeared in the original series as relatively minor characters. According to Clamp’s afterword, the heroine Clarissa Evans (who goes by Claire Sanchez here) was in Moon’s Fury as one of the young victims of a child abductor. All grown up now and an agent of the Wolven, Claire is being sent to investigate a string of missing children cases in the remote town of Luna Lake.
For obvious reasons, the mission hits a bit close to home, and Claire finds herself struggling to deal with unpleasant memories on top of trying to figure out the complex hierarchy of her new pack. The community at Luna Lake is unlike anything she’s had to deal with before, on account of it being a former refugee camp for displaced Sazi and lost orphans. Shapeshifters of all sorts live together here, including owls, falcons, bears, cougars, and of course wolves like Claire herself. On her first day, she meets another wolf named Alek, a Sazi orphan who grew up in Luna Lake after being adopted into a family of owls. Sparks fly between them immediately – both the good and bad sort – but whatever attraction or differences they have between them, solving the mystery must come first…before it’s too late for the missing kids.
Right away, I was captivated by the magic of this world. There are all sorts of Sazi, like those who can turn into wolves, big cats, birds of prey, snakes, etc. There were also the little things that charmed me, like the fact they can talk in their animals forms, or use food smells (most often desserts, I find. Or maybe I just notice them more because of my sweet tooth) to identify the emotional states of other Sazi.
I was also amazed by the social dynamics of Luna Lake. You don’t have to be familiar with the Sazi series to understand that it’s a very special community. The bird shifters aren’t big fans of the cats, the cats don’t much like the wolves, and the wolves can’t stand the smell of the birds, but at Luna Lake all the groups manage to live in relative harmony because that’s the only way to ensure survival. For Alek and other Sazi like him who were adopted by the Williams, the town is literally one big family. Even though he is a wolf, Alek is a big brother to owls, eagles, bobcats, other wolves and more, and there’s this sense of solidarity and togetherness about Luna Lake that gave me all the warm and fuzzy feels. Yet, there’s also a cost to that peace. Over the years the pack has developed a way to identify their “omegas”, and these low ranked individuals are treated poorly and forced to do all the dirty jobs in town. It made me feel really unsettled and angry towards Luna Lake’s leaders and those townsfolk who turn a blind eye to this blatantly unfair and broken system.
Be aware too that while Forbidden is described as an Urban Fantasy mystery, in some ways it actually reads more like a paranormal romance. Claire and Alek’s relationship is often the focus of the story, and the mystery elements of the plot are in truth not that substantial. To really get into the story, you would need to buy into the chemistry between Claire and Alek, and that was perhaps my problem; I didn’t feel like I got a chance to know either of them very well before they were thrust together, and right on the heels of them falling in lust came the obligatory plot contrivances to introduce conflict between them. I also found Alek too self-absorbed for my tastes and Claire too much of a “special snowflake”, which all made it harder for me to care about their developing relationship. That said, I’m not a big reader of PNR so there may be a lot genre norms and nuances that I’m not accustomed to, so feel free to take my opinion on the romance with a grain of salt!
The world of the Sazi does have the benefit of being fully fleshed out and realized though, from all the groundwork that has been established by the original series. Just this little taste of it has gotten me hooked, and I find myself wanting more. Certainly if you have a love for stories about shapeshifters, you need to check this one out for the many different kinds of creatures alone. Recommended for urban fantasy/paranormal romance readers and fans of strange and beautiful magic....more
And now time for something totally different. Long Black Curl isn’t a book I would have normally picked up on my own, and not least because it’s actually the third book of the Tufa sequence. I don’t usually like to jump onboard mid-series, but two factors made me decide to make an exception. First, I was told this book can be read as a stand-alone, and second, I’ve been hearing all these great things about it, which got me curious.
Now I’m so glad that I decided to give it a shot. I suppose Long Black Curl is technically an urban fantasy, but it’s certainly unlike anything else in the genre that I’ve ever read. When I think about the typical setting for a UF, I picture big cities or built-up metropolitan areas. The setting of the Tufa, on the other hand, is a remote valley nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. We’re talking the rural south, a land of gorgeous peaks and ridges upon ridges of pristine forests. But it’s also a land of no indoor plumbing, dirt roads, and where bigotry is still very much alive.
It’s an interesting world. There’s beauty, but also a whole lot of ugliness. It’s also where the Tufa make their home. No one knows exactly where they came from before they settled here, but for generations they have lived in the quiet hills and valleys of Cloud County, passing on the their stories and traditions in the form of song. Music is a huge part of their lives, and an innate part of their identity. To be cast out of their community and stripped of their ability to make music is one of the worst fates imaginable, but this is exactly what happened to Bo-Kate Wisby and her lover Jefferson Powell, the only two Tufa to have ever been exiled.
Now Bo-Kate is back, and she is angry, bitter, and determined to take over both tribes of the Tufa, which means taking out the two leaders Rockhouse Hicks and Mandalay Harris. Her secret weapon is Byron Harley, a famous musician from the 50s who went down in a plane crash but did not die, trapped instead in a faerie time bubble for the last sixty years. Bo-Kate hopes that Byron will help her by taking advantage of his desire for revenge, and for a while she seems unstoppable, until the rest of the Tufa decide to seek out a secret weapon of their own: Jefferson Powell, Bo-Kates old boyfriend.
Anyway, that’s the brief description of the book. What’s way more difficult is putting into words the feelings I got while reading it. The first thing that struck me about the story was how atmospheric it was, seemingly evocative of so much more than meets the eye. Reading about the Tufa was like walking through a veil into another realm. And it’s not just the nature of the setting either; reading about some of the things that go on in this small community (especially those perpetrated by one of the Tufa leaders Rockhouse) are just so hideous and beyond the pale that convincing myself that this is some faraway fantasy world becomes easier and less traumatic to accept. Furthermore, because the Tufa are such a closely knit group, everything that goes on within their ranks – like internal politics or scandals, for example – feel so much more personal, making the emotions cut even deeper.
What I loved the most though, was the music. Creating it is an art form I find both mysterious and beautiful. And to a non-musician like me, it even almost seems like magic. Alex Bledsoe pretty much takes this idea and runs with it, so that music to the Tufa is in fact the source or their magical power. Songs become more than just a way to communicate ideas; they become a means for them to affect the world around them. Music is also a part of the Tufa shared heritage, something that links the community together and gives the individual a sense of identity and belonging. Of course, I’ve seen music used as a magical device in fantasy novels before, but Bledsoe’s handling of it is one of the more unique examples I’ve seen so far, despite—or perhaps because of—the abstractness in its execution.
Needless to say, I enjoyed the book a lot, and something tells me I would have liked it even more if I’d read the previous two before I tackling this one. Long Black Curl worked absolutely fine as a stand-alone, but I think the extra background information would further enhance the story by adding more context to the Tufa characters and all their complex relationships. I’ve gone ahead and added the first book The Hum and the Shiver to my to-read list, because this is a very special series and I would love to go back and read more. Highly recommended....more
The Craft Sequence is unlike many conventional fantasy series in that each book can be read as a stand-alone, their stories ping-ponging unapologetically all over time and place, focusing on different characters. It makes it an unusual, albeit very special series. That said, many of these characters and events connect to each other, and there is a clear advantage to reading these books in the order in which they are published.
Last First Snow, for instance, is technically a prequel, taking place before the other three books, but it still felt like I was reaching a “crossroads” of sorts, on account of some of the familiar faces. The two main protagonists, Elayne and Temoc, are characters we’ve met before, though both appeared in their respective books in a supporting capacity only. It is also only forty years after the God Wars, and the city of Dresediel Lex still feels its effects, not least of all the poor population in the district of Skittersill, constrained by the old gods’ wards. Elayne Kevarian, a craftswoman, necromancer, and lawyer (not necessarily in that order) is retained by the King in Red to repair the wards, but the people of Skittersill rise up against her efforts, led by the warrior-priest Temoc.
Something had to be done, so Elayne organizes a meeting between all the parties in the hopes of negotiating a deal. After long days of bargaining back and forth and against all odds, an agreement is finally reached. However, no sooner had the ink dried on the contract than an assassination attempt throws all possibility of peace out the window. An all-out battle ensues. Gods and mortals, law and tradition, magic and reason, duty and family – it all comes to a head as both Elayne and Temoc must decide what they fight for.
In spite of all the cool ideas and fiery clashes, so far in the series Last First Snow was probably the toughest book for me to get into. Each installment has focused on a different theme, and something about this one just didn’t quite capture me right off the bat. We got started on a lethargic note, establishing the situation and mood in the Dresediel Lex. I didn’t feel what we were supposed to feel: a growing pressure, a sense of a city on the brink of losing control, the citizenry holding its collective breath. I don’t think I felt much of a connection to the people of Skittersill, not if I spent half the book actually rooting for the King in Red – whom, I might add, is not the villain in my eyes. In truth, there are no villains in this story. It also means no good guys either, but more on that later.
In essence, it felt like Max Gladstone tried to save all the good stuff for the second half of the novel. It wasn’t until the negotiations went sideways that I found myself full engaged; those scenes following the assassination attempt featured some of the best writing I’ve seen from Gladstone in this series so far. Once those floodgates were open, the story became more interesting, but still only because the main characters’ potentials were unlocked and not because I felt much for the nameless, faceless crowds of Skitterskill. Bottom line, Last First Snow is all about Elayne and Temoc, both of whom valiantly propped up the narrative.
Let’s start with Elayne Kevarian. You don’t mess with her. For readers who’ve been following this series since the beginning, that’s a lesson we learned early. There’s a certain satisfaction seeing her take center stage in this book, because though we’ve already taken her measure, there are still clearly so many ways in which she can surprise you. While Elayne remains one of my favorite Craft Sequence personalities, Temoc on the other hand stirred up plenty of mixed emotions. Seeing him with his young son Caleb, who will grow up to be the main character in Two Serpents Rise, was both a treat and a dreadful reminder of how things will turn out. Temoc’s personal journey in Last First Snow puts him in the difficult situation of choosing between two things that mean everything to him. Is he right for choosing one over the other? Just as difficult as it is to call the King in Red a villain, I too find it hard to get a bead on Temoc; for all the reasons there are to support him, I can probably find just as many to condemn him.
I enjoy books that throw me curve balls. Last First Snow by Max Gladstone is such a book. Is it my favorite of the series? Probably not. Still, as I say, there’s no such thing as a bad Craft Sequence book, just that some are better than others. Taking place before all the other books, Last First Snow was perhaps disadvantaged from the start, because the future is known for a lot of the characters. We already know who will make it out alive, how events will come to pass, how certain relationships will play out. For a book that’s mostly for filling the gaps in history though, it paints a rather fulfilling picture of two important characters who have thus far been on the periphery of our attention. I still love this series, and I can’t recommend it enough....more
After hearing about this book from so many people, I just knew I had to experience it for myself. And now that I’ve read it, When We Were Animals may well be the most interesting book to hit my shelves this year. I’m still finding it difficult to categorize this unconventional coming-of-age tale, which combines elements from a variety of genres including mystery, paranormal and horror.
Most of the story is told in retrospect, as protagonist Lumen Fowler looks back on her childhood growing up in a small, quiet Midwestern town with a big, dark secret. For a few nights every month during the full moon, the town’s teenagers run naked and free through the streets like animals, seized by a mysterious and uncontrollable urge known as “breaching”. Every resident of this town has gone through it and know to also expect it in their children, which typically coincides with puberty and lasts about a year. Breaching is just something everybody goes through, an unavoidable and natural fact of life about growing up in this town.
But is it really inevitable? Lumen hardly remembers her mother, who died when she was very little, but she is intrigued by the stories her father tells, about how Lumen’s mother never went breach. Always the good girl, the high achiever who never gets in trouble or gives cause for worry, Lumen makes a promise to her father that she will never breach either, determined not to succumb to the call of her baser instincts and join her peers in the unrestrained orgies of sex, violence and wild abandon during the full moons.
It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to figure out When We Were Animals is an allegory for growing up, specifically for the tumultuous period when a young person transitions from adolescence to adulthood. What fascinated me is the story’s ability to illustrate a range of perceptions towards the concept of breaching. Residents seem both proud and ashamed that such a phenomenon is unique to their town, and parents of breaching teenagers treat it with a mixture reverence and trepidation while children both dread and look forward to the day when they too will be called. It is beautiful and magical, but also messy and frightening. What everyone in Lumen’s hometown can agree on though, is that breaching is an important rite of passage – once you enter and emerge from the other side, childhood ends and the journey to adulthood begins.
What singlehandedly made this book so great was the character of Lumen, whose personality gives this coming-of-age story an even more unique spin. Small and unassuming, our protagonist isn’t someone who would stand out in a crowd. At school, she would be the one hanging out on the edges of a group, the girl you don’t really notice is there. Ironically, the fact that she’s different from the other kids just makes her even more invisible, and being a late bloomer doesn’t help either, widening the divide between her and her peers.
Lumen’s introspective nature means that this is a very personal narrative, light on plot but heavy on character. She loves to read and learn, and her very unusual way of looking at things made it so that I hung on her every word. This story isn’t the kind where a lot of things happen, and instead emphasizes internal dialogue over action. But I was captivated by it nonetheless. In Lumen, I saw not only a teenager struggling to find her identity, but also a girl trying to reconcile her desires to fit in and yet still stand out from the rest. It’s a motivating factor in all that she does, whether it’s asking her dad for stories about her mom or looking up definitions of her peculiar name. It shines a new light on her determination not to go breach, which becomes more than just a way to connect to the mother she never knew. Not breaching ultimately becomes something she hopes can define her, an achievement she can call her own and make a part of herself.
I was completely charmed by Lumen, who is now an adult in a new town with a new name with her own family, telling us about her past. This is what made the audiobook such a pleasure to listen to. The only downside was sometimes not knowing whether we’re in the past or present, since the transitions weren’t always obvious in the audio, but the narration was simply fantastic. My praise goes to narrator Suehyla El Attar bringing Lumen to life. Her voice became the character’s voice, and after that it was just a matter of letting go and allowing the story to transport you to another time, another place.
At times eerie and unsettling, at others powerful and heartwarming, When We Were Animals has a lot to say about topics like independence and teenage rebellion and peer pressure. There are the moments that disturbed and horrified me, many of which are related to the descriptions of what goes on when the teenagers were breaching, but there were also scenes that touched me, especially those featuring the closeness between Lumen and her father. This an absolutely fantastic and well executed story about the stark realities of human nature and growing up. I’m still reeling from the rollercoaster of emotions....more
As a fantasy reader, not ever having read K. J. Parker has always been one of my private shames. But hey, now that we know he’s Tom Holt, does this count? Given how the books he writes under the two different names are apparently so completely different, I’m guessing probably not, huh? Oh well, can’t blame a girl for trying, right?
I do admit though, that was one impetus that led me to try this book. Not knowing what I was in for, and not even being aware that The Good, the Bad and the Smug is actually the fourth novel in a series, I actually ended up pleasantly surprised and very impressed. Taking place in Holt’s YouSpace universe, this book can indeed be read as a stand-alone, and not being familiar with the previous books did not impede my personal enjoyment in any way.
Working on the principle of multiple universes, this particular tale lands us in a fantasy world completely with elves, dwarves, and even goblins – a rare treat. Horrible, evil things they are though, those goblins, but their king Mordak is hoping to revitalize things with a rebranding. Of course, the first order of business is to make sure the media is in your pocket, which means buying up all the newspapers that say bad things about you. Efluviel is an elf journalist who promptly loses her job thanks to Mordak’s shenanigans, but when she is subsequently offered a position as the goblin king’s new assistant, how could she say no? Everyone’s gotta eat, after all.
Meanwhile, deep in the dark forest lives a little man, offering all the human princes of the land his services to spin straw into gold in exchange for their first born children. As gold floods the market and the price of straw skyrockets, this sudden economic turmoil is just yet another thorn in King Mordak’s side. Humans are on the up and up, and that simply won’t do at all. Time to figure out what’s going on.
Tom Holt’s style has been compared to Christopher Moore and Terry Pratchett, and indeed it seems he’s known for his satirical takes on various fictional themes, often in humorous and over-the-top ways. This most definitely describes The Good, The Bad and the Smug which admittedly is not my usual type of read, but I had a great time with it regardless. Humor is so subjective, and I almost always approach books like this with no small amount of skepticism and trepidation. One might even say I expect to be disappointed. The fact that this book defied my cynicism and ended up endearing itself to me is a pretty big deal. In truth, it’s probably more ridiculous than I would prefer, but I did laugh a lot. That’s something. That’s huge.
Audiobook comments: The audiobook for The Good, The Bad, and the Smug was truly excellent, giving me no cause to regret my decision to listen to this instead of reading the print. It also prompted me to look up narrator Ray Sawyer to see what other books he has read, but I was only able to find the three other audio installments in the YouSpace series. His voice really is the ideal match for a story like this though, especially since so many of the jokes are best delivered in a deadpan manner, which Sawyer nails down perfectly in his performance. If I were to go back and pick up the previous books, audio would probably be my choice of format, just to hear him read again. He made Mordak the goblin king even more hilarious, and his timing and accents are dead-on.
I confess, however, that I am not good at all with describing humor, so ultimately this is probably something you would have to try for yourself to see if it works for you. For me personally, this turned out to be quite a funny and refreshingly clever book. The plot is silly, but it’s not without substance. The writing is also sharp, with just the right amount of cheek. Satire is tricky, but Tom Holt’s style seemed to strike the right note with me....more
Total newcomer to Chloe Neill here, so I had no idea what to expect when I started the first installment of her new Devil’s Isle series. Being peripherally aware of her Chicagoland Vampires books though, I knew enough to prepare myself for a fun urban fantasy story, and I was right. Leaving aside a shaky start and a couple rough edges, The Veil is a pretty solid introduction to a brand new post-apocalyptic world featuring an intriguing protagonist.
Her name is Claire Connolly, just another young woman trying to survive in post-war New Orleans running her late father’s antique shop (which sells more emergency batteries and MREs than furniture these days). She’s also a Sensitive, someone endowed with the magic which seeped through the Veil when the Paranormals came through seven years ago to wage war on humanity. It’s a secret she guards closely, for if anyone discovers her powers she could end up in Devil’s Isle, a prison for Sensitives and other stray Paras trapped in this world after the fighting was done.
However, keeping her secret also left Claire untrained and unable to control her magic. When bounty hunter Liam Quinn discovers the truth about her, he wastes no time finding her a mentor before the magic can consume Claire and turn her into a wraith like the one that killed his sister. But then strange things start happening to the Veil, which has remained closed for many years now, and Claire and Liam stumble upon a plot to plunge what is left of NOLA back into conflict with the Paranormals, a threat they and their friends must stop in order to prevent more death and destruction on all sides.
I confess, this book and I didn’t exactly start off on the right foot. If things like large swaths of infodumps bother you, then you might experience some of the same difficulties I had with the introduction. Claire’s story about how she discovered her powers, along with the entire history of the war with the Paras following the opening of the Veil were unceremoniously crammed into the first handful of pages, without much effort to make the deluge of details less awkward or obtrusive.
However, the book also started with a party, with the characters celebrating the not-so-imaginatively named War Night, a day which commemorates the survival of New Orleans after one of the biggest battles towards the end of the war. New Orleans is a city that ranks high among my favorite urban fantasy book settings, so it was really hard to resist the boisterous and frenetic atmosphere where everyone just wants to have fun and forget the hardships of everyday life. Even though the city is a shadow of what it once was, the spirit of its people is alive and well.
My impressions of the story also improved a lot as it progressed, once we were through with laying down the groundwork. I wouldn’t say the premise is anything unprecedented and there are admittedly a few kinks in the world-building that need ironing out or expanding, but on the whole I had a good time with this book. I enjoyed Claire as a protagonist, even if she is still feeling rather generic at this point, but I do look forward to seeing her develop more of a personality as the series progresses. The character of Liam Quinn, on the other hand, I really loved; when we first met him I immediately pegged him for a cookie-cutter UF love interest, one of those mysterious and smoldering tall, dark, handsome (and boring!) types — but turns out, I couldn’t be more wrong. He’s the character I found most likely to surprise me by going against my expectations, which immediately made him the most interesting in my eyes.
I was also astonished (but not entire unhappy) to see that the romance is relatively understated. The priority here is the overall story, and Chloe Neill really takes a no-nonsense approach to pacing by limiting the superfluous drama, instead focusing on driving the plot forward so that I never lost interest.
All told, The Veil may not be breaking any new ground, but I found it satisfying and entertaining. I’m curious to see where the author will go with the world-building, but what I’m most interested in is the potential in these characters. I’m definitely on board for the next book....more
Just as fun and entertaining as the first book! Going back to earlier this summer, here were some of the words I used in my review of The Shadow Revolution, book one of Clay and Susan Griffith’s new Crown & Key trilogy: feisty, ass-kicking, fast-paced, pulpish and adventurous, the perfect beach read. Now I’m pleased to report its sequel proved just as satisfying, especially since we know what we’re getting into and are more acquainted with our main characters.
The Undying Legion is the second installment of the trilogy, but instead of hitting the “middle book slump” this book really takes off and hits the ground running. Simon Archer, Kate Anstruther, and Malcom MacFarlane are back on the hunt for monsters and other things that go bump in the night, and true to form, we kick off this story with a grisly discovery. While on one of his nighttime patrols, Malcolm comes across the mutilated body of a woman in a London church. Based on evidence at the scene – signs of black magic, cryptic words carved in stone, mysterious Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into the victim’s exposed heart – Malcolm, Simon and Kate determine this to be a ritual murder.
However, this just turns out to be the first of many more gruesome ritualized killings around the city. We follow our heroes as they join forces with a quirky gadgeteer and a young werewolf to solve these mysteries, creating an unlikely alliance to battle demons, Egyptian mummies, necromancers and hordes of zombies. Let’s just say The Undying Legion sure lives up to its title.
I ended up enjoying this book even more than its predecessor, mainly due to the improvements in a couple of areas I felt were lacking in The Shadow Revolution. While I love the fast-paced action and page-turning enthusiasm of “popcorn” reads such as this, let’s face it, these kinds of stories don’t often leave much room for fully-fleshed character development or robust world-building. This was the key weakness of the first book. Still, I understood the reason for the trade-off, and had hoped to see the authors go beyond the surface-level details in this sequel to expand upon the characters and the world.
This was the real test for me, and happily, The Undying Legion passed with flying colors. It’s often expected of a sequel to build upon its preceding volumes, and this one carried that responsibility well, giving us a more intimate look into the lives of Simon, Kate and Malcolm, as well as rendering their world into a fully realized setting. I felt like I was given a lot more reasons to care about the characters, especially as their relationships strengthened and grew more complex. Likewise, I could appreciate the clever and snappy dialogue from before, but knowing the history behind all the relationships now, many of the interactions started taking on a deeper significance. Supporting characters aren’t left out either, and I was very happy that Penny Carter the adorable inventress as well as Charlotte the child werewolf both got bigger roles.
The pacing in this book was also far less chaotic, allowing more opportunities to develop the story and explore its overall arc. The Undying Legion presents a new adventure, but rest assured, the questions raised in the first book about Kate and Simon’s connection and the mysterious key won’t be forgotten. Throughout it all, the plot maintained its rigorous momentum, so effectively that even now it’s a wonder to me how this book managed to accomplish all that it did in a little over 300 pages.
Final verdict? I once said this series is like the equivalent of an explosive summer action blockbuster if movies like that existed back in the Victorian era, and I stand by that. The Undying Legion doesn’t add much to the first book in terms of its light, pulpy tones and monster-hunting themes, but it’s still a deeper experience for all that because of how much more we’re invested at this point. I’m looking forward to check out what I believe will be Kate, Simon and Malcolm’s biggest adventure yet in the series conclusion, The Conquering Dark....more
In a small island town on the coast of South Carolina, everyone disappears. The military, scientists, and media are all perplexed. Rewind back to a day before, when everything still seemed hunky-dory. There’s David Ribault, smarting over the arrival of a slick Northerner named Rawson Steele who has come blazing into town looking to buy up property. Davy returns that evening to the home he shares with his girlfriend Merrill, to find her and Rawson leaning close to each other on the porch, talking. Jealousies flare, tempers rise, and Davy and Merrill end up having a huge fight, ignoring the sage relationship advice of “never go to bed angry.”
It’s a decision that both of them will come to regret. Without waking Merrill or leaving a note, Davy wakes up in the dead of night for a meeting and confrontation outside the town with Rawson Steele. However, Steele ends up being a no-show. Morning has come by the time Davy decides to head back to the island, but it is already too late. Everyone in the village gone without a trace, including Merrill.
This mysterious and spooky scenario has the feel of a Stephen King story all over it, starting with an unexplainable paranormal event that disappears the entire population of Kraven Island, eventually culminating into an end with lots of panic, terror and paranoia. But that’s pretty much where my comparison ends, because Where is a very unique novel that does its own very unique thing. Kit Reed’s choice of writing style for this book is interesting, adopting an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative for most of it. Reed also makes a story decision that I personally find very bold, in that she shows both sides of the mystery and lets us see through the eyes of the missing. We get chapters from the perspectives of Merrill, her brother Ned, as well as their overbearing and unstable father, who along with all the townsfolk have been mysteriously whisked away to another plane of existence. Time moves differently in this strange new dimension, and the longer the missing are trapped, the more the feelings of helplessness and fear seem to warp their minds.
Where is a real head-trip, and it’s good at playing on readers’ fear of the unknown especially when it comes to unsolved mass disappearances. Its story even makes references to high-profile incidents like the Lost Colony of Roanoke as well as missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Coverage of such incidents make a lot of us anxious and uncomfortable, particularly when they happen in more modern times when it really hits home that neither science nor technology can prevent or explain every case, and the book is written in a purposeful way to stir up all these unsettling emotions. Through Davy’s chapters I could feel his guilt and frustration, because sometimes not knowing can be even more painful than the truth. Through Merrill’s, I could feel the rising tensions and the collective fear ultimately becoming too much for everyone to bear. Throughout the novel there is a pervasive sense of eeriness that I really enjoyed.
As for where the book stumbles, the aforementioned quirks in the writing style could pose possible obstacles for readers; I personally found the 13-year-old Ned’s chapters very difficult to read because he uses bad grammar, bad punctuation and run-on sentences galore. Where is also a very short novel and I didn’t feel enough time was given to develop the characters or story. Someone like Merrill’s arrogant and power-hungry father was given an intriguing chapter where we were able to glimpse his very disturbed mind, but for the most part he came across like a caricature. I didn’t get a good feel for any of the characters which is a shame, because without the emotional connection in what should be a very emotional tale, this book falls a bit flat. The ending also came very abruptly, leaving me hanging on this mystery that doesn’t really offer a solution or much closure.
Still, right up until the ending, I was really enjoying this book. I wish the ultimate payoff could have been more satisfying, but I also can’t deny that for the most part Where is a very eerie and atmospheric novel. The build-up of tension alone makes this one a worthy read, and be prepared for some chills if you find you get spooked by unexplained phenomena or stories about strange mass disappearances....more
I really enjoyed Seriously Wicked, though feel I should also preface my review with the note that I’m probably not the intended demographic for this book. Young Adult and Teen Fiction is a genre I dip into quite frequently, but I was initially thrown off a bit by this novel’s tone and writing style which felt skewed even younger, maybe preteen (back in Grade Five and Six, we were already reading books about high schoolers, so it’s possible). It took some adjusting, but once I was able to get used to the crushes on “boy-band boys” and girls named Sparkle, I felt I could give this one a shot. And really, it was a lot of fun. If it were possible to go back in time, I probably wouldn’t hesitate a second to hand this one off to my 11 or 12-year-old self.
The story begins with an introduction to our 15-year-old protagonist Camellia Anna Stella Hendrix, whose days consist of figuring out ways to foil her adopted witch mother’s plans for world domination, running around town collecting strange and sometimes disgusting ingredients for her magical spells, and all the while trying to pass her algebra test and not get distracted by the cute new boy in town. However, the witch Sarmine’s latest plot to take over the world by harnessing the power of a dying phoenix on the night of the big Halloween dance might complicate matters slightly.
Actually, scratch that. Matters are complicated by A LOT when Sarmine’s failed demon summoning session ends with the demon taking over the body of Devon, the aforementioned cute new boy in town. Now on top of not flunking algebra, Cam has to worry about getting the demon out of Devon and preventing the school getting destroyed. Can things get any worse? Well, yes, yes they can. Hunting down hidden phoenixes and chasing after demon-possessed boys is just the beginning.
As you can probably tell from its description and cover, Seriously Wicked is a fun, quirky book – emphasis on the quirky. Like I said, the story is probably geared more towards preteens or young teens, which might account for some of the silliness. It’s a very lighthearted and upbeat book, which means it’s probably good for providing some cheerful, innocent entertainment for folks of all ages. Its lightness and YA designation notwithstanding, the story actually has a lot of complexity, quite a few not-very-obvious twists and turns, as well as many instances of Cam finding very creative and outside-the-box solutions to her problems. Readers will adore Cam, whose quick thinking and determination can help get her out of any difficult situation, from dealing with high school mean girl cliques to procuring a source of goat’s blood for Sarmine’s spells.
My final verdict is, if you’re an older teen or adult looking for more age-appropriate reading, Seriously Wicked probably will feel too immature for you. However, yours truly did her best to put herself in a middle-grader’s shoes and was still able to find plenty to like about the book. Those curious about Tina Connolly’s work but aren’t into Children’s or YA fiction could probably check out her Ironskin series which is said to be quite good, and having read the second book Copperhead I can attest to that. If you don’t mind a cute, charming read that clocks out at just a tad over 200 pages though (so it’s also very quick), give this one a go....more
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
If you recall in my review of Harrison Squared, I described that book as a fun, adventurous mystery which strikes the perfect balance for teen and adult crossover appeal. Well, nothing could be further from my experience with We Are All Completely Fine. Rather, try descriptions like “traumatic”, “disturbing” and “mature audiences only”.
Don’t get me wrong, though; I’ve developed a taste for horror fiction in recent years, and I loved this book. But what surprised me was just how completely different this it from Harrison Squared, which is actually its prequel. In fact, that was what prompted me to pick up We Are All Completely Fine, after finding out how the two books were related, and because I wanted to read more from Daryl Gregory.
The teenaged Harrison whom I first met in Harrison Squared is presently a man in his mid-thirties. Not that he was a jolly personality even at aged sixteen, but as an adult he has become even more gloomy, jaded and world-weary. He’s a famous author now, known for his “Monster Detective” childrens’ stories starring the boy hero from Dunnsmouth named Jameson Jameson, AKA Jameson Squared (things are getting kind of meta here). He’s also seeing a psychiatrist, which is how he eventually landed in a support group with four other members – Stan, Barbara, Martin, and Greta – led by the psychotherapist Dr. Jan Sayer.
Some reviewers have remarked on the strange quirk in the narrative style, specifically how at the beginning of each chapter in this book an unknown narrator appears to be speaking in the first person, though the usage of the pronoun “we” suggests he or she would be part of the support group. However, after a few paragraphs the narration will invariably shift back to the third person. As strange as it sounds, this style immediately brought to my mind the movie The Breakfast Club. Director John Hughes used a slightly different but similar “breaking the fourth wall” technique with voiceover narration at the beginning of the film, explaining to the audience what’s going to happen and why all the characters were there. This creates a kind of “reflection to the past” effect which helps us gain a slightly better understanding. In the case of this book, it tells you that despite the horror that is coming, you know that at least some members of this group managed to survive and come through intact. Well…mostly.
And perhaps comparing this book to The Breakfast Club isn’t so absurd, if you think about it. Instead of five teenagers who have little in common with each other, all trying to fit in amidst the crushing pressures of high school life, you have five likely-insane adults who have little in common with each other, all trying to get by in their normal day lives without the crushing fear of appearing completely unhinged. The characters in The Breakfast Club find themselves in detention, where none of them want to be. The characters of We Are All Completely Fine find themselves in group therapy, where none of them want to be. Despite their differences, the teens in TBC realize they are more than their individual stereotypes, and band together against a common enemy, Principal Vernon. Despite their differences, the strangers in WAACF realize they are more than their individual fucked up pasts, and band together against a common enemy, an ancient all-devouring evil from another world entirely.
All fanciful comparisons to classic 80s movies aside though, this was a fantastic book. It’s the characters that make We Are All Completely Fine – mainly because they are all so completely not. Everyone in Dr. Sayer’s support group is there because they have experienced something terrifying and traumatic…but also unexplainable. No one would believe them if they told their stories of what really happened to them. Unraveling each group member’s mystery is therefore the first step of this hair-raising journey, and my favorite part of the novella. How does Stan handle his minor celebrity status, after being abducted by a family of cannibals a la The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and emerging as the sole survivor? What message did the Scrimshander leave on Barbara’s bones twenty years ago, when he bound her, drugged her, and carved up her flesh with his knives? Why doesn’t Martin ever want to take off his sunglasses? And Greta, what awful inconceivable secrets must she be hiding behind her silence?
However, the biggest mystery of all – at least to me – was what on earth happened to the Harrison Harrison that I thought I knew from Harrison Squared?
It does make me wonder now, how I would have felt if I hadn’t read that book first before this one. We Are All Completely Fine reveals no major spoilers but does refer to many of the significant events from Harrison Squared, especially those relating to the nightmarish creature called The Scrimshander. It’s made me rethink everything I read in the prequel novel. How much of it was glossed over, played down for “a story for kids?” Mind you, I want to make it clear that reading this in no way diminished my experience with HS, but I am now looking at it in a whole different light. It’s that meta thing again. In a weird trippy way, the two books actually complement each other very well.
Well, now I realize I’ve gone about this review in a very roundabout way. Partly, it’s because I don’t want to spoil too much of the story. We Are All Completely Fine is an average-sized novella, a very quick read, and yet it is just so densely packed with goodness. It just begs to be experienced firsthand. True, it might not be an easy read at times, with its disturbing themes and bone-chilling violence, but I did also find it tremendously addicting. Needless to say, I highly recommend this book and author. It’s a good place to jump on board if you love the horror genre, or if you’re curious about checking out Daryl Gregory’s work. I for one am looking forward to more from his pen....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
The Arcane Underworld series has it all. Demons. Fanatical cultists. Dark magic. Now throw in a group of down-on-their-luck thieves working for one Enoch Sobell, possibly the scariest and most powerful crime lord that ever lived. So what does it tell you when even the big boss man is rattled by a new threat entering the playing field?
If you like your urban fantasy dark with a touch of horror, Splintered and its predecessor Premonitions will be perfect for you. This sequel picks up shortly after the events of the first book, following the lives of Karyn Ames’ crew in the wake of their big heist to steal an ancient occult artifact. Ever since Karyn’s affliction has taken her out of the picture though, Anna Ruiz has stepped up to lead the gang, hoping to help her friend break free of the debilitating visions that have cut her off from reality.
Enoch Sobell, however, has further plans for the crew. No longer are Anna and her friends carrying out mere thefts for the crime lord. His demands have gotten more disturbing and extreme in recent weeks, as evidenced by their latest job, which involves shadier deals like kidnapping. But what they didn’t count on is that their target has a loyal following of acolyte mages who will stop at nothing to get him back. Now Anna, Genevieve and Nail find themselves in way over their heads, tangled in a web of violence and blood magic.
Like the first book, this one also features a great mix of urban fantasy, mystery and psychological thrills, but it takes off in some new directions as well. I love heist books, which is why I enjoyed Premonitions so much, but as it turned out, there’s a lot less thieving action this time around in Splintered. Still, the story makes up for this by being much darker, which suited me just fine. Many parts of the book even bordered on horror, including a bunch of messy scenes that featured demonic possession, the summoning of nightmarish monsters, as well as the brutal consequence of black magic.
Also, now that Karyn has gotten lost in her hallucinations, Anna has taken over as the head of the crew as well as de facto main protagonist. As a result we see a lot less of Karyn, which was slight disappointment since she was my favorite character in book one, as well as the member of the crew that I found most interesting. Because of the frightening and unpredictable nature of Karyn’s visions, Premonitions was a real head-trip, and I thought Jamie Schultz did a really good job giving readers a glimpse into the scary world that is her mind. Sadly, we lose much of that in this book.
The bright side though? This development gives us the opportunity to know the other crew members better. And what fascinating characters they are. Anna is doing her best to lead the group, but is finding that hard to do with Sobell breathing down her neck. Karyn’s plight is also always on the back of Anna’s mind, quite possibly affecting her job as well as her relationship with fellow thief and girlfriend Genevieve, whose loyalties are still on the fence. As the newest member of the crew, Gen is still a big question mark for me. I’m not willing to trust her fully just yet, and after this book things should get even more interesting.
But perhaps the biggest star of the story for me is Nail, the crew’s muscle and the guy who brings the big guns. In spite of this, he clearly has a soft side. Nail is the kind of man who would do anything for family – in this case, that’s his crew as well as his older brother DeWayne, whose gambling problem has gotten him in debt with the wrong people. For such a minor character, DeWayne stole the show for the brief moments he appeared, and I loved his interactions with Nail. I really hope we’ll see more of him in future books.
Now, here’s the deal: Splintered was a great sequel. But as much as I enjoyed it, I think I still have to give the edge to the first book. I love the darker, grittier feel of this book but I just have to confess, I simply love heist stories way too much, so Premonitions will always have a special place in my heart. I also thought Splintered faltered with a plot that was difficult to follow at times, especially when I was trying to figure out how all the different plot threads – the search for Karyn’s cure, Van Horn’s kidnapping, and Sobell’s job on Mona Gorow’s house, etc. – were supposed to fit together. In the long run though, I suppose it mattered little because the conclusion tied it all up, not to mention the final show down was all kinds of awesome.
With the stakes remaining this high, you can count me in for book three – especially if it means getting to find out whether or not Karyn gets back in the game. I’m burning for more dark urban fantasy in my reading, and Jamie Schultz definitely knows how to bring it....more
Okay, I loved Flex. And not least because there was some of this:
Oh and also throw in a bit of this to boot:
But wait, maybe I should back up a bit. You want to know what the story is actually about. Well, welcome to the world of Flex, where it’s actually possible to love a thing so much, the power of your obsession can kick the laws of physics in the ass so hard that reality literally comes undone. This is what gives rise to the many different kinds of magic users. You get illustromancers. Deathmetalmancers. Collectomancers! Or even videogamemancers. In the case of Flex protagonist Paul Tsabo, he loves his job as a number-cruncher at his insurance company SO MUCH that he’s turned paperwork into more than just an art. He’s become a bureaucromancer, and this means he can work magic on anything in the world, as long as what he needs is logged somewhere on paper.
Thing is, if you’re not a ‘mancer, you can still use magic. Distilled magic can come in the form of crystallized Flex, a powerful drug brewed by ‘mancers. But working ‘mancy and using Flex can cause one hell of a blowback. Maybe with the power of Flex you can twist reality to match your vision – but only for a time. After the effects wear off, the backlash called Flux will hit. Because if there’s one thing the universe hates more than anything, it’s being bent to a magic user’s will. It will fight back with a vengeance, and you can bet the universe always wins.
So there’s a good reason why the general public doesn’t trust ‘mancers; the effects of their magic defy normality and prediction, and chaos typically follows where they go. For this reason, Paul has gone to great lengths to hide his bureaucromancy. But now there’s a dangerous ‘mancer known as Anathema out there, brewing some very powerful Flex. It’s causing a lot of accidents, a lot of deaths. One night, Paul and his daughter Aliyah become Anathema’s victims when a Flex user in his apartment causes a gas main to blow up. Paul’s ‘mancy saves his daughter’s life, but the little girl still ends up badly burned. To come up with the money for Aliyah’s reconstructive surgery, Paul must find a way to use his bureaucromancy without causing the Flux that will make things worse. And to do that, he must find a mentor.
Enter Valentine. The gamemancer. My heroine.
First I have to tell you that I’m a sucker for any book or story that has to do with video games. When I discovered what Valentine’s power meant, I had myself a squee moment. Flex is one of those books that worked perfectly for me, because it hit that special sweet spot balancing a complex magic system with all-out fun. The world of ‘mancy is full of potential and the possibility of pretty much any kind of ‘mancer you can think of, but all of it still works within the confines of rules that make sense.
Flex is also a book that’s full of heart. After all, so much of ‘mancy and becoming a ‘mancer has its roots in emotion. It’s about love and obsession, both the healthy and unhealthy kind. It’s the idea that you can want or believe in something so hard that the sheer force of that power will make it happen. For that reason, ‘mancers aren’t always happy people. Some are lonely. Some are angry. Some are lost and afraid. When push comes to shove, their obsessions and resulting ‘mancy are literally their ways to escape from the real world. And when it comes to Valentine, video games as escapism is something I can sympathize with and understand. More often than not though, the magic just makes ‘mancers feel even more alone and marginalized.
And also, who can blame Paul, the father who only wants the best for his daughter, even if it means seeking out a killer to help him give Aliyah the chance for a normal life? Flex is a thrilling journey through the dark underbelly of the drug trade, but it’s also about friendship and devotion and finding acceptance. It’s also a story about the desperate hunt for an evil villain, but one that will also allow you to geek out big time.
And geek out I did. I also laughed. And screamed. No doubt about it, Flex is the most fun I’ve had with a book in a long time. I was so glad when the audiobook finally released, because I had been wanting to read it forever, in part due to the amazing things I’ve heard from other reviewers. Now I understand what everyone was raving about. I’m a bit in love with this book. Can’t wait for the next one! Highly recommended....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
I didn’t expect to like this one so much. First of all, I haven’t read any of Gail Carriger’s other books save for Soulless which I found quite enjoyable, but ultimately the emphasis on Alexia and Maccon’s romance kept me from diving headfirst into the Parasol Protectorate. Then along came Prudence. Described as a new series featuring the adventures of Alexia’s daughter, this book sounded like a lot of fun. More importantly, it also looked different enough from the original series that I figured I might just give it a shot.
I’m so glad I did. Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama AKA “Rue” is definitely a force to be reckoned with! Like I said, I never got beyond the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series so this was my first introduction to this spirited young lady. I didn’t feel disadvantaged at all for not having read the original series; Carriger does a great job making sure that all her readers can hop aboard at this point and enjoy this book on an equal footing.
Witty, vivacious, and oh so much less prim and proper than her mother, I just couldn’t help but fall in love with Rue. She possesses an ability not unlike Alexia’s, being able to negate the effects of supernatural beings simply by making skin-to-skin contact with them, except she does this by temporarily stealing their powers. So for example, by touching a werewolf, she in turn becomes a werewolf, leaving her hapless victim mortal for the rest of the night or at least until Rue gets far enough away to snap the magical tether. Needless to say, high society has gotten quite used to the sight of Rue running around the city in wolf form wearing nothing but her bloomers, much to Alexia’s chagrin…which just goes to show how different Rue is from her mother.
Also, for much of Rue’s life she was raised away from her birth parents by her foster “second father”, the vampire Lord Akeldama. When trouble threatens to strike Dama’s tea interests in India, he tasks Rue with the mission to investigate, because as everyone knows, tea is SERIOUS BUSINESS. To help her complete her quest, Dama also gifts Rue with her very own dirigible, which our protagonist promptly dubs The Spotted Custard.
Oh God. Never have I wished this hard for illustrations in an adult novel. What I wouldn’t give to see a picture of Rue’s red-with-black-spotted dirigible, because Rue being Rue, of course the first thing she does is commission it to be painted like a gigantic ladybug. Oh, and due to some kink in its engineering, the ship also farts loudly upon liftoff.
Yeah, I just about fell out of my chair from laughing so hard.
Such preposterous, over-the-top situations are everywhere in this book, making this a very humorous read – another point Prudence has over Soulless, in my opinion. This fact makes the novel a regular comedy of errors, made even funnier by Rue’s traveling companions who are all delightful but just as hilariously incompetent at pulling off a mission of espionage. You have straight-laced Primrose who forces the entire expedition to depart early due to an unexpected fashion faux pas, the scholarly navigator Percy who fills up his stateroom with more books than the necessities for basic living, and the rakish Quesnel who is constantly distracting Rue with his good looks and casual flirtations. Can India survive the crew of The Spotted Custard? That’s the million dollar question indeed.
Another thing I really enjoyed is just the light smattering of romance, which in no way detracts from the main storyline. Something’s definitely brewing between Rue and Quesnel, but their relationship is secondary to the central plot which focuses on adventure. There’s no doubt that the exciting journey to India was what made this book such a joy to read, bolstered by Rue’s eccentric brand of diplomacy and the antics of her friends and crew.
I’m also happy that while many of the major characters of Parasol Protectorate are featured in this book, the author keeps their appearances limited. This is strictly Rue’s story, and I couldn’t be more pleased with that. Of course, if you’ve read the series featuring her parents you’ll have a better grasp on the lore and characters’ backgrounds, but I didn’t and I still had a blast. I actually liked Prudence a lot more than Soulless; after all, I didn’t get a jump on the rest of the books in Alexia’s series, but I’m very impatient now for the next book of Rue’s! I’m so glad that Carriger decided to focus on this character, and I can’t wait to follow Rue and her friends on their future adventures with The Spotted Custard....more
Sarah Lotz topped my 2014 Horror/Thriller list with her book The Three, terrifying me with a story about four deadly plane crashes and three mysterious child survivors. This year she’s set to dominate my Best-Of lists again with her new book Day Four.
Thing is, The Three may have scared the living daylights out of me, but hey, I was already afraid of flying.
Day Four, however, may have just ruined cruising for me as well.
This is the story about the Beautiful Dreamer, a cruise ship carrying just under 3000 souls on board for her four-days-fight-nights voyage through the Gulf of Mexico. It’s New Year’s Eve on the final night and everyone’s ready to party and usher in a fresh new start, when the unthinkable happens. The ship suddenly stops dead in the water – no power, no radio, no cellphone signals. The much prayed for rescue never comes, and as the days go by, things get worse – the toilets stop running, food starts spoiling, and all over the ship, reports are coming in about passengers and crew members seeing and hearing some strange, impossible things…
Before this book, I’d never considered how much we take for granted on a cruise. If you’ve ever been on one, then you know the drill. From the moment you board to the time you disembark, everything is organized and planned for your pleasure and convenience. Your luggage is brought to your stateroom, where your excursion tickets await. Your dining times are scheduled, unless you wish to hit up the buffet where more food than you could ever imagine is piled in mountains on the serving tables. Everything works like a well-oiled machine, despite the hoopla of hundreds of guests all crammed into staterooms on multiple decks along the long narrow corridors that span almost the entire length of the ship.
But when the engines stop and the lights go out, how cheery do you think a cruise ship is then? Without power and the ability to cook or keep food fresh, what good are the all-you-can-eat buffets? When the infrastructure starts to break down, the crew overworked and sick of the abuse from irate passengers, the entire system falls apart. A cruise ship is like a floating city, after all. When order fails on a ship, you can expect to see the same kind of uncontrolled spiral into chaos. And I have to say Sarah Lotz has perfectly envisioned and captured this descent into pure anarchy.
On top of that, compared to The Three which was more of a suspense/thriller, Day Four reads more like a horror novel in the traditional sense. We’re exposed to some disturbing things right off the bat, even if the horrors are the more mundane kind to start with. For most of us, cruise ships mean vacation and relaxation, plenty of fun in the sun. However, beneath the glitzy façade lies the dark truths no one likes to talk about. Slovenly and rude passengers. Inclement weather and unstable seas. The risk of norovirus and infectious diseases. Sexual predators and assault. There’s plenty in the secret world of cruise ship problems that can turn a fun-filled vacation into a nightmare, I’m sure.
The day after the Beautiful Dreamer breaks down, when it’s clear that no rescue is coming and the captain is hiding the truth of the problem, that’s when the real creepy fun begin. Several passengers start exhibiting strange behavior, the superstitious crew insist on seeing visions of the Lady in White who haunts the belly of the ship, a child is spotted darting around the lower decks even though it is an adults-only New Year’s cruise, and a dead body of a young woman is found in her stateroom with rumors saying that she died just before the ship stopped. Imagine all that going down in the middle of the ocean stranded miles from civilization, tempers and tensions high with full-blown panic not too far behind. Oh, and throw in an open bar, because alcohol is sure to make any bad situation better! Right?
No surprise that in a short time, the Beautiful Dreamer turns into a floating hell. Amidst the paranormal eeriness that pervades the story is added stresses of the passengers and crew, and Sarah Lotz does an incredible job showing that people can be driven to all sorts of ugliness when they are feeling frightened and trapped. More than once, I entertained the thought of the ship sinking and everyone going down with it on this voyage of the damned, and realized I probably wouldn’t even feel too bad if that happened. What amazes me is that so much goes on in this book, but everything is tied together in some way. The story is told through the perspectives of about half a dozen people whose lives are all linked, showing all sides of the narrative. All of it forms a picture of the kind of dread that’s both awful and claustrophobic, and the writing puts you right there on the Beautiful Dreamer in the middle of that craziness.
I didn’t think it would be possible, but I think I enjoyed Day Four even more than The Three. It’s a real page-turner and an easier read in many ways, written in a more traditional style versus an epistolary format. The book is advertised as a sequel to The Three but really it is a stand alone novel that can be enjoyed on its own, and I’d even say pick this one if you had the choice between the two, though both books are fantastic and worth reading.
Highly recommended, with just one warning: you probably want to avoid Day Four if you have a cruise planned in the near future! I love cruises and the vibrant atmosphere of a cruise ship, and despite what I said at the beginning of my review, I doubt this book would be enough to turn me off cruising…but I probably won’t be planning my next one until the memories of this terrifying story are out of my system!...more
I make it no secret that Generation V is one of my favorite urban fantasy series right now. I just love these books so much! Even if this latest installment did make me bawl my eyes out.
Normally, I’d be pretty resentful if anyone made me cry, but it’s entirely different when it comes to a book. In that case, it’s liable to earn itself at least an extra half star and a gushy review. What can I say, I just love it when my reading material appeals to my emotions. It’s a sign of good storytelling and character development, and I’m always excited to see what author M.L. Brennan will bring next for our underdog vampire protagonist Fortitude Scott and his partner Suzume Hollis the spunky kitsune.
Every Generation V book is a new surprise, and Dark Ascension might be the biggest and most important one yet. The winds of change are sweeping through Madeline Scott’s territory, and all the supernatural denizens within are bracing themselves for the inevitable outcome of the vampire matriarch’s failing health. Everyone is worried (and rightfully so) what would happen when her daughter, the psychotic and murderous Prudence takes over, but Fort is not about to let his Machiavellian older sister seize all that power without a fight. In the end though, the aging but still terrifyingly shrewd Madeline may be the one to surprise them all.
Dark Ascension follows a path that is very dissimilar to what we saw in the first three installments, and to be honest, to most urban fantasy arcs in general. It’s a very bold move by the author, but for what she’s attempting to do here, it works rather well. Instead of presenting us with a main problem that unifies the entire plot – like a paranormal crime to be solved by the characters over the course of the book, for example – the story is actually made of many different and smaller conflicts. And subsequently, all these conflicts come to together to form the big question: What will be become of Madeline Scott’s territory once she’s gone? The answers will have repercussions for the entire supernatural community, not to mention Madeline’s own children.
Once again, the Scott family dynamics are at the forefront, an element I find fascinating and that I look forward to seeing developed each time a new book comes out. I’m not sure what it says about me that I simply adore the fearsome and bloodthirsty Prudence, but it’s always nice to see her get a bigger role (though not as much as I thought she would). Needless to say, Fort’s more liberal way of thinking combined with his kind heart makes him the antithesis of his cruel, hard-edged sister. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love each other; it’s merely a love that few can understand. To paraphrase Fort, it’s not that Prudence is incapable of showing affection, just that she’s at her most terrifying when she actually tries. Between them in birth order and in ideology is also of course their brother Chivalry, whose moderate stance only leads to more gridlock whenever the siblings try to work together as a team. If anything though, I think this book only raised my regard for Chivalry, who of the three of them seems to be the most invested in honoring their mother’s wishes. I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for the good son.
So where does this leave Fort? Well, on the one hand, I’m really impressed at the amount of growth he’s shown throughout the series, but in some ways he hasn’t changed at all. Despite being on his way to become a full-fledged vampire, Fort still underestimates his own value and puts himself in situations where people take advantage of his kindness. He’s also struggling with a serious case of denial when it comes to what he is, but probably not for much longer. Dark Ascension is a turning point where all sorts of changes are happening, and most of them are in our protagonist. Despite the relative lack of action and intrigue in this novel compared to the previous ones, here is where I saw Fort face his most difficult challenges yet.
Furthermore, there’s just so much delicious foreshadowing. Fort makes some great strides in Dark Ascension, and yet there’s still a piece of me bracing for the other shoe to drop. We’ve been told that he is “different” from his siblings, but what that truly means remains to be seen, and I’m very curious to find out what greater purpose Madeline had in mind for her youngest son when she decided to alter his upbringing. Fort has also spent most of his life trying to avoid the family business, but now it’s given him a new purpose. To what cost, though? Keeping in mind Suze’s analogy of the Peep in a microwave, will Fort’s good intentions end up biting him in the ass? Chivalry’s warning at the end is especially ominous. Fort’s heart may be in the right place, but he’s still going against the grand plan and breaking many promises by acting on his own. Isn’t this how corruption begins? By going against Madeline’s wishes, who’s actually bringing the greatest threat to her vision for the future?
I’m practically bursting with questions and anticipation for the next book. I know I’ve said it before but I’ll happily say it again and again: M.L. Brennan’s Generation V series is simply wonderful, featuring a unique world filled the most incredible and unique paranormal beings you’ll ever meet. Without a doubt, this is one of the most fun, refreshing and addictive urban fantasy series you can find on the shelves right now, with each book bringing a new adventure and plenty of surprises. If you haven’t started yet, run—don’t walk—to your nearest bookstore and pick up the first book. I really can’t wait to see what Fort and Suze will be up to next....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
While this isn’t exactly what I had in mind for an ending, I have to say Garden of Dreams & Desires concludes the Crescent City trilogy nicely. What’s great is that this novel boasts its own story arc but still manages to resolve everything from the previous two installments, tying up any and all loose ends. That being said, there’s obviously a lot to pack into a little more than 300 pages or so, and I felt like I was being powered through the story at a breakneck pace.
We last left Harlow in a bit of a quandary. At the end of City of Eternal Night, she does something insanely stupid and ends up resurrecting the soul of her dead twin Ava Mae, using the magic of a lightning tree. Of course, with nowhere else for Ava Mae to go, her spirit immediately hitches a ride in Harlow’s body and takes over. Once again for the first half of the book, we have Augustine scrambling to do everything he can to help Harlow out of a problem of her own making.
Meanwhile, tourists have been disappearing in New Orleans, including the son of a prominent and bigoted senator who believes the Fae and Othernaturals are the ones responsible for the kidnappings. As Guardian of the city, Augustine has his hands full with the investigation into the missing tourists, trying to find the real kidnappers before the senator imposes sanctions on his people. But since he has fallen deeply for Harlow, he therefore decides to make her predicament his first priority, even though the fate of the entire supernatural population could be at stake. Oh the things we do for love.
Maybe it was the pacing, but something about this didn’t quite sit right with me. If you can’t tell already, my relationship with Harlow’s character has been a long and tumultuous journey. I disliked her strongly in the first book, but started to warm towards her in the second only to watch her naiveté strike her down again. Perhaps she and I were just never meant to be. There were some major improvements to her character in here, but the book’s pacing was just so fast that it felt like she was transformed overnight. I couldn’t understand anyone’s affection for her, let alone how Augustine could fall in love with her.
I enjoyed seeing how the story wrapped up, but the speed at which it happened diminished the experience somewhat. Harlow didn’t get enough time to develop properly, and neither did Senator Pellimento, the new baddie introduced in this book now that Branzino has been taken care of. Pellimento was sort of a paint-by-numbers villainess, her reasons for coming down hard on the Fae not very well explained other than the fact she hates them and is unwilling to consider the possibility that anyone else could be responsible for her son’s disappearance. In the end, it was the witches. That’s not really a spoiler since it’s mentioned right there in the book description, plus ultimately there was no mystery just because there was absolutely no room left in the story to set one up. The conclusion also tied things up too neatly and a little too quickly, casually taking care of the witches and Ava Mae in one fell swoop so that Augustine and Harlow can have their happy ending. Don’t get me wrong; I think the two of them are a good match and I’m glad things worked out for them, but wow, those last few chapters just blew right by.
If I have to hazard a guess as to why it feels so rushed, I would say it’s because in our interview with Kristen Painter, she revealed that she originally intended Crescent City to be a five book series, not three. Indeed, with all that happened in this book, it could easily have been two or even three installments. That could explain why the most important threads were tied up but some major questions are still left open, such as what will happen to Olivia and the consequences now of so many people knowing about the dangers of the lightning tree.
Garden of Dreams & Desires was a good read with thrills that will leave you exhilarated – and not least because it is so fast-paced that you won’t even have a chance to catch a breath. It’s a hectic novel which could have been better paced, but I also understand the challenge of having to work under certain restrictions and the author’s choices if that was the case. On a whole, I thought this series was very enjoyable. The first book was good and the second book was even better; City of Eternal Night was my favorite of the three books. Crescent City is a fascinating Fae-centric urban fantasy trilogy set in a very unique and vibrant portrayal of New Orleans, certainly worth checking out if that sounds like your cup of tea....more
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 have a weakness for gaslight paranormal fantasy and lady detectives, so when presented with P.N. Elrod’s The Hanged Man I found I could hardly resist this delectable mystery set in alternate historical England with shades of the Victorian era.
The book begins on a cold and dreary Christmas Eve in 1897, and Alexandrina Victoria Pendlebury of Her Majesty’s Psychic Service is called out to a house on Baker Street to do a forensic reading of a scene of questionable death. A man has hung himself, but by using her abilities to pick up on emotional traces left behind, Alex is able to rule out a suicide. And indeed, later they find the evidence that someone broke into the house, drugged the hapless victim and strung him up to make it look like he killed himself. What’s even more disturbing to Alex is the emotional signature left behind by the perpetrator…or rather, the lack of one. Whoever (or whatever) committed this murder, they did it without feeling anything at all.
Then the identity of the hanged man is revealed and Alex’s world comes crashing down around her. This opens up a whole new set of questions, deeply personal ones that fill her with doubt as she struggles to keep her mind on the investigation. Her superiors remove her from the case, but Alex is determined to follow up on leads even if it means setting out on her own. Luckily, she’s not completely alone; newly recruited Lieutenant Brooks may be green but he’s behind Alex all the way, and Alex also has family to rely on, even if it’s her slightly insane cousin James. There are assassins and dark magic afoot, and both Scotland Yard and the Psychic Service are going to need all the help they can get.
I’ve read a lot of books that take place in this historical time period, but more uncommon are the authors who can write convincingly enough to make me believe we’re really there. It says a lot that The Hanged Man grabbed me right away with its impressively rich prose, plunging me into its setting. I’ve actually never read anything by P.N. Elrod before this, but looks like I’ve been missing out, give me more! Her writing really shines here; not only is the language deeply immersive, it also exudes an atmosphere of magic and mystery – perfect for an evocative tale such as this. The dialogue is well-written too, and I was amazed at the variety of voices. The author uses period jargon and unique speech patterns to make all her characters stand out, whether it’s the main protagonist Alex or a side character like Police Inspector Lennon. There will be no skimming this book because you’ll want to slow down and soak up every word and expression.
Then there’s the story. I knew this book was going to be a mystery when I first picked it up, but I think I expected a slower take-off followed by a gradual unraveling of the case’s clues and intricacies. What I got instead was a bombshell dropped on my head at the end of the very first chapter, and before I could even recover from the shock, we’re whisked away on a horse carriage race through the streets in a shower of gunfire. It is almost impossible to review this book without revealing any spoilers, because there’s just no end to the twists and turns. For a book that’s written so evenly and this tightly plotted, I was surprised at how often it had me on the edge of my seat. We got to slow down a bit in the middle, enough to let me catch my breath, but then the ending had me reeling again. There’s no cliffhanger, but one last revelation before the book closes struck me like a punch in the gut and had me feeling no small amount of sympathy for Alex. This entire story was deftly told, leaving me a very happy reader by the time it was all done.
I know I’m often bemoaning that all books these days seem to be part of a series, but in this case I’m actually hoping there will be more installments. The Hanged Man reads perfectly well as a standalone, but there’s still a lot left to ponder. Just what kind of secrets are the top men at Her Majesty’s Psychic Service hiding? I’d also love to get more background on the organization and its people. It appears that Alex and her Reader skills are just the beginning, seeing as the Service also employs Seers and Precogs and what sounds to me like a considerable R&D department. With all this supernatural talent flying around, I imagine there’s quite a bit of potential for future novels. And last but not least, I think Alex and Lieutenant Brooks have a good thing here going, and it would be interesting to watch their romance (which is just in the first stages of blooming here) develop into something more.
I anticipated that I would really like The Hanged Man, I just didn’t know it would be this much. A blend of Urban Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Mystery and Romance all rolled into one, it’s sure to appeal to readers with a palate for bold twists and magical intrigue. The writing is simply wonderful, with P.N. Elrod’s prose bringing the period to life in a very expressive and authentic way. The story and characters are very well developed, and if I ever get the chance to catch up with Alex, Brooks, James and the other people in this world again, I know I won’t hesitate....more
Another excellent Young Adult novel from Pyr, the first of what I hope will be Hexed series featuring more of heroine Luci Jenifer Ignacio das Neves – Lucifer for short. Based on the author’s comic of the same name which I’ve actually not read before tackling this book (but you can be sure it’s on my to-read list now), Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown has made me a new fan of Michael Alan Nelson.
The story begins with a Bloody Mary game gone wrong. What should have been a harmless prank ends up getting a high school girl snatched away by monstrous haggish creature. Her father, a police officer, goes to Lucifer for help after hearing that the young thief possesses supernatural talents that would help him get his daughter Gina back. Unable to bear the cop’s grief, Lucifer decides to help. After her initial investigations at the missing girl’s school, Lucifer ends up with some promising leads as well as a new sidekick – Gina’s handsome and popular boyfriend, David.
A great mix of action and humor with just a dash of horror, Hexed is an entertaining paranormal YA novel featuring a story that feels new and fresh. With a plot that’s fast-paced and addictive, this book is truly something special. I took to our kickass protagonist right away, charmed by her resourcefulness and laugh-out-loud wit. Lucifer is simply hilarious! I really enjoyed following her as a main character, even if I do find her name and the reason behind it (she was named for her two grandmothers, and she “honors” them by combining their first names like that) a little dubious, but I guess when it comes to her brand of dry dark humor, that’s probably as good an example as any. I like Lucifer too because she manages to pull off that take-no-crap attitude without coming off as a belligerent little brat. She may have a strong personality, but her kind heart and good intentions come through on every page.
I also love the secret mystical underworld of Hexed. As Lucifer is so fond of reminding us, she possesses no inherent magical power, but the tools she uses often do. She carries around a trick bag full of magical – and sometimes dangerous – gadgets and thingamabobs which she whips out whenever she needs a problem solved, and finding out what each object does is half the fun. Through some very intense scenes, we’re also introduced to what appears to be a very intricate spell system involving runes and symbols, used for anything from activating mirrors to other dimensions to exorcising demons from their hapless victims (bet you’re dying to know why Lucifer’s holding a stuffed bunny on the cover!) The supernatural baddies here can be pretty terrifying, like the filcher demons, witch-hounds, and the witches themselves, but they’re also fascinating. Lucifer’s harrowing journey to find and rescue Gina from the dead realm of Witchdown is not without its disturbing moments, but I couldn’t help it – I found myself utterly captivated by the whole story.
There are just a couple of issues I have to bring up; one is minor, while the other can be a deal breaker depending on your personal preferences. The first is something that struck me as unnecessary, which is the constant reminder that Lucifer is something “separate” and apart from the normal real world. Every few chapters is another wistful comment from her regarding high school life in general, how all that is out of reach for her but she still wants it badly. The other issue is the romance, and not just any romance. As Lucifer and David work closely together to get Gina back, feelings start to develop between them, despite David already being unmistakably, indisputably, irrefutably spoken for. This particular story arc did make for a pretty startling twist at the end, but just a heads up if you find the idea of dallying with a taken guy unappealing.
Lucifer is not your typical teenage girl, nor is Hexed your typical YA. It was a very enjoyable, quick and fun read, and best of all it is not necessary to have read the graphic novel before diving in this one. You do get a feeling that there’s an incredibly rich back story there though, one that I’ll definitely have to go back and check out one of these days now!...more
October Daye is one of those urban fantasy series I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. And unless you count her novels written under the name Mira Grant, I’ve never read anything by Seanan Mcguire before either, so this was a good opportunity to knock out two birds with one stone.
The series’ eponymous protagonist is a half-human and half-fae changeling with an incredible and downright uncanny history. The book’s prologue takes us back fourteen years ago as October “Toby” Daye investigates a missing persons case for her liege lord Duke Torquil, but her stakeout ends in disaster when she is ambushed by the fae suspect and magically transformed into a fish. And in that form she stayed, for fourteen damn years.
The book officially begins not too long after Toby returns to herself, but she’s only a shadow of who she once was. The world has passed her by while she was trapped in that koi pond. Her human family who long thought her dead are now having trouble coming to terms with her reappearance, and Toby herself is unable to face old friends, especially Duke Torquil, whom she believed she failed. Turning her back on both the human and the fae worlds, Toby retreats into herself and attempts a solitary life of night shifts and takeout, but those plans are shot when a pureblood fae countess is murdered and Toby is charged to find her killer. Now not only is Toby forced back into fae society, she also has no choice but to step back into her old role as a private investigator.
Many people I know who have read both Seanan Mcguire’s books and also her Mira Grant books have told me that the writing styles under each name could not be any more different. Those folks are right. The author also uses her names to write very different genres, which is probably the reason for their disparate styles – and from what I’ve read, I think I enjoy her urban fantasy more than her horror. The two Grant books I’ve read, namely Feed and Parasite both suffered from very hackneyed plotlines and stunted character development, but Toby Daye was a breath of fresh air with her very unique and natural voice, along with the author’s vision of fae politics and their interactions with the human world. McGuire’s writing flowed a lot better for me in this novel.
That’s not to say the book was perfect, though. The story in Rosemany and Rue itself didn’t blow me away – it’s a paradigmatic UF murder investigation which involves a lot of talk and little to no mystery in the traditional sense. After that awesome prologue, the intro drags on while we follow Toby through a tour of fae country as she makes stop after stop to tell others that the great Countess Evening Winterrose is dead and/or to ask for help. As the main protagonist, Toby is also prone to seriously bad decision-making, and maybe I just missed something, but I’m very skeptical of the author’s warped, cynical reality where a young woman can bleed all over a public bus from a gunshot wound and everyone around her can just pretend it’s not happening.
Still, it’s the background elements and potential for good side stories that really caught my attention here. The stage is set and all the players are in place, now all we have to do is sit back and let things take their course. I have a feeling the complex social hierarchies in the fae world itself should add a lot of flavor to this series and make it stand out, and I’m also interested to see if Toby will ever connect with her human fiancé Cliff and their daughter Gillian again.
I’m not typically that picky about my urban fantasy; all I’m looking for in any first book to a series is that it’s entertaining and that it serves as a good escape, and Rosemary and Rue passed the test. What I do know is that I think I’m done with Mira Grant books for now, but I’m definitely open to continuing with Seanan McGuire’s October Daye. As with most UF, I expect the books will get better once the series finds its stride....more
It’s tough admitting when a book doesn’t work for me, and in the case of Trailer Park Fae I find this even more difficult to do considering the high hopes I had for it. To complicate matters, I can’t even really fault the book itself, because the writing superb and the story has it dark charms. However, it just felt like I was sold one thing by the title, cover and description, but received something altogether different instead.
First, a bit of background about the book: one of the main characters is the half-human-half-Sidhe Jeremiah Gallow, former Armormaster and close confidante to Summer, Queen of the Seelie Court. He’s left that life behind him now though, making his living as just another construction worker in the mortal world. He also just recently lost his beloved wife Daisy, and every day he mourns her still. Enter our other main protagonist, Robin Ragged, another half-Sidhe looking for a place to lie low after narrowly escaping the agents of the Unseelie Court. When Jeremiah first lays eyes on Robin in the bar he frequents, he is shocked by how much she resembles his dead wife, prompting the protective instincts to kick in.
But aiding her also means being dragged back into the world of magic and danger, where Summer and Unwinter are in a constant war. A plague ravages the Seelie Court and the Unseelie are the main suspects for unleashing it. Robin has been tasked as the courier to deliver the cure, but she is no friend of Summer, feeling bitter towards the Seelie queen for stealing away and imprisoning Robin’s adopted child Sean. Then of course, there’s also the free Sidhe, represented by their clever yet mischievous leader, a Fae known as Puck…
Despite its eye-catching description and shades of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Trailer Park Fae is one dark book. And unfortunately, what’s on the surface does not match what’s beneath. When I first picked it up, I admit the book’s bold electrifying cover and its quirky little title led me to expect another light urban fantasy with a good dose of humor and maybe a little snark, so I was disappointed to find little to none at all. Instead, the story is a lot more somber and grave, with a little heartbreak thrown in to boot. Normally, this isn’t something I would mind, and it’s certainly not the first time I’ve ever started a book only to discover it is completely different than I thought it would be. I’ve rolled with the punches before, but switching gears in this case was a lot harder for a couple reasons.
First of all, the writing isn’t exactly light on the eyes, with scattered sections that would slip into the formal style, reflecting the courtly speak of the Sidhe-folk. As you can probably guess, this didn’t really make for an easy read, even though I credit the prose for being very well-structured and beautifully written. Second, even if I had been in the mood for a book like this, I don’t know how well it would have worked for me. Very little happened for the first hundred pages, making it a real challenge to engage with the story and characters. There were some nice twists towards the middle and the end, but regretfully, I still didn’t feel invested enough at that point to experience their full impact.
I should point out though, that there are actually lots of fantastic and very unique ideas in here. Lilith Saintcrow’s portrayal of the Fae is wonderful and complex, painting them as creatures of mischief and malice, incorporating myths about changelings at the same time. Then there’s putting the Fae in the context of trailer parks, dive bars, and greasy diners – a creative concept that hooked me as soon as I saw it. Both Jeremiah and Robin have some nifty powers at their disposal as well, with the former possessing tattoos on his arms that can transform into a weapon, and the latter with the ability to create objects with strong, lasting enchantments.
I wish I had enjoyed this book more, and not least because I feel it’s partly my fault for being misled by the tone suggested by its cover and title. Yes, I’m a mood reader, and I thought this book would be the rollicking urban fantasy I needed at the time, yet it turned out to be just the opposite. As I noted though, I had issues with this book that went deeper, so I’m not sure how I would have liked it even if I had been prepared for its much weightier tone and style. If you’re not sure that this one would be for you, I recommend reading a sample before taking the plunge....more