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
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
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
If summer blockbuster action movies existed back in the Victorian era, they would look a lot like The Shadow Revolution. This book doesn’t mess around. It makes its goals very clear right from the beginning, and that is to stuff as much fun and excitement as it can into its three hundred or so pages.
Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith take readers on a wild ride through Victorian London in this feisty, ass-kicking adventure about magic and alchemy and werewolves and mad science. Spell-casting scribe Simon Archer and his mentor Nick Barker have an unfortunate run-in with a lycanthrope one night, and the hunt for it leads them to discover something bigger and so much more disturbing stirring within the city’s shadows. Meanwhile, the brilliant alchemist Kate Anstruther’s younger sister Imogen is snatched by a werewolf, prompting Kate to join forces with Simon, Nick, and a Scottish monster hunter named Malcolm in order to stage a daring rescue.
Being a fan of the authors, I was really excited when I first heard about this book. I saw the kind of magic the Griffiths worked with historical fiction, fantasy and adventure in their Vampire Empire series, and it looks like they’ve dialed things up even higher here for Crown & Key. This first installment wastes no time throwing readers into the thick of things, going straight for pure fast-paced and unadulterated fun. Sometimes it felt like the story only took breaks long enough to push things along, and then we’re plunging right back into the action again. As you’d expect, this makes for quite a page-turner.
Of course, this also makes the book a bit weaker in other areas, most notably in the character development and world building departments. That’s not to say these aspects are completely lacking, just that we get the minimum to satisfy the story and to care about our protagonists. In spite of this, I still found the characters fascinating and memorable, and a great air of intrigue permeates the setting. Simon Archer captured my attention with his roguish charm, and I loved Kate’s cleverness and stalwart determination. The story even leaves plenty of room for characters to grow and relationships to develop. Already I’m looking forward to finding out what secrets Nick might be hiding from Simon, or whether or not Kate and Imogen will ever be the same again, or how Malcolm will fit into the equation in future books.
So maybe it’s not a terribly deep or sophisticated experience, but so what? It’s not really meant to be. Entertainment value is what this novel is all about, complete with snappy dialogue, tons of throwaway violence and a sweet little romantic subplot. It’s fun as hell. The book and its two sequels following right on its heels will make the perfect 2015 summer beach reads for lovers of steampunk gaslamp fantasy and urban paranormal mysteries, count on it. The story might not stay with you for very long, it’s true, but you’ll definitely want to pick up the next book straight away and get right back into the world.
All told, The Shadow Revolution is an exciting introduction to a series that knows exactly what it wants to be, and it’s scarily good at what it does. If you’re willing to go with that, then you’ll probably enjoy this one as much as I did. I’m already excited to dive into book two, The Undying Legion. Highly recommended if you’re in the mood for something fast, pulpish and wicked cool to brighten up your day....more
I was a bit taken aback by the tepid to cool reviews I’ve been seeing for this one. Not that my own review is all that glowing, I realize, but while Talon probably won’t rank among my favorite Young Adult novels read this year, I had a lot of fun with it. By all means not a bad book. Surprisingly, most of the disappointment appears to be from fans of Julie Kagawa’s other series. I’ve never read anything else by her though, so there’s really nothing for me to compare this to.
But let’s move on to what the book is about. Talon is about dragons…but also not really. If you’re looking for a novel featuring these magnificent creatures in all their winged and scaly fire-breathing glory, you’re not going to find much of that here. What you have instead is a small group of dragonkind who spend most of their time in human form, hoping to infiltrate our society and one day take over the world again. A secret faction of dragon slayers called the Order of St. George is determined not to let that happen, and their members continue to hunt dragons like they have for time immemorial.
The book begins as two young dragon siblings, Ember and Dante Hill travel to California in their human forms to begin training for their future positions to serve their home base of Talon. Ember is fascinated with humankind, and wants nothing more than to enjoy the summer living out the full teenager experience – beaches, arcades, ice cream parlors, the whole shebang. Her brother Dante on the other hand is a lot more disciplined, and does not like it one bit when a rogue dragon shows up in their territory, distracting Ember from her training. Meanwhile, St. George has received the rumors of new dragon recruits in the area, and the young soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian and his partner are tasked to hunt these Talon agents down and kill them.
Encouraged to mingle and blend in with other teenagers, Ember and Dante spend most of this book as humans. But unlike other books with shape-shifting dragons (like Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina for example, which I thought did a really good job developing the culture and world of the draconic characters), it’s difficult to think of the dragons here as anything but human. This is what I meant when I cautioned not to think of Talon too much as a “dragon” book. Despite a few scenes of Ember thinking as a dragon and being a dragon – and they are quite few and far between – the author often seems to put her human persona before her draconic one. Plus, the setting is modern and urban. Ember’s life revolves around surfing, parties, friends and boys. Very little is known about the dragon home of Talon and Kagawa doesn’t really get into it. For those craving a bit more fantasy and world building, I can see how that could cause some frustration.
As such, this ends up being your rather typical contemporary young adult novel with a light fantasy twist, complete with love triangle and just a dash of forbidden love. Despite being exactly what I expected, it was undeniably entertaining.
After reading this, however, I admit to being skeptical of Kagawa’s writing. It’s obvious that she can spin a good yarn, but there were some plot elements that were so illogical and downright silly, it can be difficult to take these characters seriously. First of all, if you can take any form and you’re trying to covertly infiltrate and gain influence in human society, I would not do it as a teenager. Good luck gathering any useful information to bring back to your overlords, unless they’re interested in how your airheaded friend thinks so-and-so is so totally gorgeous and has nice abs. Talon is also so bad at this undercover secret agent stuff, I’m not surprised St. George managed to narrow their search down to Ember and Dante and their group of beach bum friends in like all of two seconds. You’re a dragon spy, and you’re seriously going to stick with Ember for your name? You might as well paint a target on your back and wear a big sign that says “I’M THE DRAGON!” and hang it around your neck. The Order of St. George doesn’t seem that much more competent either. At one point, Garret admits to his partner that he is getting too close to Ember and recommends stepping back from the mission. Instead of allowing Garret to do so, what does his partner do but tell him to take advantage of this new development to go even deeper into the case. Um, no! As soon as one of your soldiers gets emotionally involved and becomes compromised like that, you pull them the hell out. A lot of the problems that St. George experience near the end, they brought most of them on themselves.
These little moments aside, not much else detracted from the experience. Yes, the story is pretty standard but ended up being more interesting than the description made it sound, and it held my attention to the end, which isn’t something I can say for a lot of YA. The next book, predictably called Rogue, looks like it will delve deeper into the both the secret Order of St. George and the dragon organization Talon, so hopefully readers get the world building we want there....more
It’s Great Britain versus the United States in this paranormal historical novel about the search for immortality. After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, his widow Mary Todd Lincoln is determined to never let anyone experience her grief again, forming the impetus behind the Eterna Project, a secret group of scientists and researchers tasked to find a cure for death.
Across the ocean, Queen Victoria creates special division in charge of investigating all matters of the supernatural and paranormal, codenaming it “Omega”. Hungry for everlasting power and expansion, the queen appoints Harold Spire of the Metropolitan Police to head up Omega, charging him to find the ruined Eterna laboratory in New York, where she is convinced someone has survived with a sample of the immortality compound. Meanwhile, American Clara Templeton is also searching for Eterna. Grieving for her lover who worked on the secret project and died in the catastrophe that destroyed the laboratory, she will do her best not to let the any of the research fall into British hands.
The book is an interesting blend of genres with a unique premise, though it may take quite a bit of investment to get into the meat of the story. It’s up to the reader to get caught up, since we’re essentially dropped into the wake of the destruction of the Eterna laboratory and deaths of all the scientists and researchers. But perhaps most bewildering of all is the prologue which introduces readers to the character of Clara as a young girl, being confided in by Mary Todd Lincoln after the assassination of the president. Thus we learn that Clara possesses special abilities, ones that allow her to commune with the dead, but that she also a mystic of sorts who recalls all the memories of her past lives.
Even after finishing this novel, I’m still unclear as to the significance of Clara’s abilities in the bigger scheme of things. They don’t benefit her in any clear way, and certainly not on the Eterna project as she isn’t even directly connected with the work. They don’t even come in handy when it comes to communicating with her dead lover, since she blocks everything out. As far as I can tell, her psychic talents are there to make her stand out and be more interesting than she really is. The truth is, Clara is aloof, uninspiring and devoid of much personality, and unfortunately her powers actually don’t do much to improve things. In fact, I think they make an even bigger mess of her character. Whether her abilities will come into play later on in the series, only time will tell.
On the British side, we have Harold Spire and Omega. I found Spire to be a much more developed character than Clara, and more sympathetic due to his tragic past and the unusual relationship he has with his father. There are also more interesting characters in Omega; secret agents and spies and circus performers, oh my. My only criticism is that, while assigned the job of tracking down Eterna, the plot ends up spending more time focusing on Spire as he investigates another seemingly unconnected case. This robs the story of a lot of the suspense, especially if you were anticipating a tension-filled “arms race” type competition between the British and Americans from the novel’s description, with the two nations scrabbling to be the first to find the secret to immortality. This is not that kind of book, which was somewhat disappointing, though I ultimately didn’t mind the new direction.
The Eterna Files ended up being an enjoyable read, if at times disorganized and convoluted. In the jumble of themes and ideas and plot points, I can glean the overall picture and take a good guess where author Leanna Renee Hieber is taking the story, even though the narrative stumbles in the pacing and is slow in pulling it all together. Once everything resolves, however, it’s a lot more compelling....more
C.T. Adams has written books as Cat Adams, a dual-partnership writing team with Cathy Clamp. I’ve never read anything by either author before, so I was looking forward to starting out with Ms. Adams’ first solo full-length novel The Exile, especially since I love stories about the fae.
The protagonist Brianna Hai lives a double life as necessitated by her own very nature. By day the half-human, half-fae young woman runs an occult shop selling innocent knickknacks to tourists, while hanging in her home is a magical painting which acts as a portal between our real world and the world of the faerie. As the daughter of High King Leu of Fae, Brianna enjoyed a childhood living amongst the wonders and delights of her father’s realm until her mother, a powerful human witch, changed the Veil that separated the worlds. All crossings between them are now governed by a new set of strict rules.
One day an unexpected attack by doxies on her apartment lands Brianna and her colleague David and his brother Nick back in Leu’s court, where she also discovers that her father may be in trouble. Having spent most of her life living as a human, Brianna is unused to the dangers of Fae politics, but she’ll have to deal with them in order to bring herself and her friends safely home.
This was a great book; I loved the story. However, from a technical standpoint, I stumbled a little with the writing.
The Exile will wow readers with a luscious, excitement filled plot. There’s very little downtime as we’re ushered from scene to scene, and something important happens in every one. The book is also filled with rich, beautiful descriptions of the Fae world, everything from the surroundings of King Leu’s palace and the huge variety of different fae that live in his magical domain, right down to the finest details about what the court lords and ladies wear and to the decadent food they eat. I seriously loved this.
I also enjoyed the characters and was impressed with Brianna most of all. The author paints a very unique picture of the fae, but at its heart they are still the conniving tricksters that make their stories such a delight. Being able to survive their world of ruthless politics and backstabbing is no mean feat, but Brianna manages to navigate this quagmire with aplomb. Despite being rusty in her knowledge of the ways and traditions of the fae, she’s frequently able to use her quick thinking and resourcefulness to get out of trouble.
The writing itself was what I struggled with most of all, along with the pacing of the story. Simply put, too much happens much too quickly, and not exactly in a way that’s desirable. The plot elements and the events in the timeline feel disjointed, particularly because there are so many character perspectives and so many point-of-view changes, all within a relatively short period of time. This gives the book an aura of confused, disorganized energy. Stylistically, there’s also something about Adams’ prose that I find distracting. I get jarred out of my immersion when I come across passages like:
“Nick didn’t consider himself overly modest, but he had never particularly liked being naked in front of strangers…”
Apparently, Nick has had plenty of experience to be naked in front of strangers…or it sounded that way in context, at least. Also, I imagine not too many people do, so I find his musing sort of unnecessary. Another example:
“Ulrich’s voice sounded strained and strange.”
Strained AND strange? I imagine the former would already suggest the latter. Little redundancies like this along with other instances of awkward phrasing gave me pause and stalled my reading somewhat.
That said, overall The Exile was a pretty good read. It’s entertaining and grabbed my attention right away, which is by far the most important criterion, especially considering that it’s the first installment of a series. It’s an urban fantasy, but to me it also feels very different from the usual standard UF fare. The way things are going, I believe these books will go above and beyond simply chronicling the main character’s life and her immediate interactions and surroundings. Instead, the world-building feels very important too, and the narrative seems just as focused on the bigger picture. To me that means future plot developments will probably surprise us with large scale repercussions for both the human and fae worlds.
I’m definitely planning on sticking around to see what happens next....more
The Siobhan Quinn series is the dark underbelly of urban fantasy you never get to see, a project that began as the author Caitlín R. Kiernan’s (writing as Kathleen Tierney) “protest against what ‘paranormal romance’ has done to the once respectable genre”. It is harsh, it is gritty, it is obscene…but so help me I’ve loved every page and every moment I’ve gotten to spend with its crude and foul-mouthed protagonist.
Cherry Bomb is the latest (and apparently also the last – I’ll have more words on this later) book of the series. It has been three years since Quinn walked out on Mean Mr. B and left Rhode Island behind her, and after traveling around the country she eventually settled in the Big Apple. One night she meets a seductive antiquities dealer named Selwyn Throckmorton in a BDSM club and the two immediately hit it off. Unbeknownst to Quinn, however, Miss Throckmorton has apparently been getting into all kinds of trouble trading in ghoul artifacts with some deeply unsavory characters.
They say love makes you do foolish things, and if you ask Quinn I’m sure she’ll offer her agreement along with some choice words for how she feels about that.
This book is the arguably the grittiest, most aggressive and in-your-face installment yet. In spite of that, I wish I could claim the series goes out with a bang. It doesn’t though, not really. Or at least, not in any conventional sense. But seeing as how this series is all about doing things unconventionally, I suppose the ending strikes the right tone in its own way.
Of course, a lot of my feelings might have to do with how I discovered this was the final Siobhan Quinn novel. I literally found out on the very last page – the Author’s Note. Up to this point, I was actually quite happy with the ending, but after becoming aware that this book concludes the series, my expectations were inevitably altered. Not very fair of me, perhaps; but I can’t help that this is how I feel, and for that reason I wish I had known beforehand. I wasn’t looking for anything happy or monumental, but I still I couldn’t help but wish things had wrapped up in a more memorable conclusion.
Because this series is also a satirical look at the urban fantasy genre, it makes these books hard to review. But I did feel Cherry Bomb is lighter on the dark, twisted humor than the first two novels, and is instead just darker and more twisted in general, not to mention also more violent, more disturbing and more depressing. I’m all right with this on the whole, though I frequently found myself missing Quinn’s dry wit. She still retains that “very Quinn” sense of humor, but now it has an edge. Understandably, the events of the last novel and then in this one has jaded her (even more) and it really shows in her new attitude.
Finally, Quinn isn’t meant to be an admirable or a sympathetic character; she’s lewd, unpleasant, and over-the-top, but that’s also why I love her. And because I love her, it was very hard for me to see her manipulated and played like a damn fiddle. Selwyn isn’t a very likeable character either (and we’re actually warned about this) but she knows that deep down inside Quinn is a goodness that she’s not afraid to take advantage of, and it drove me nuts. On the one hand, I spent a lot of time reading this book feeling annoyed at Quinn for letting Selwyn lead her around by the nose (what happened to the spitfire from the last two books? That Quinn I know wouldn’t have taken any of this crap), but on the other hand, it did open my eyes to the softer, more solicitous side to her personality. Love, after all, can change someone, make them act differently, and I liked how Tierney/Kiernan explored Quinn’s character in this book by really peeling back the layers.
Once more, the author delivers another fantastic Siobhan Quinn novel. If you ask me, it’s a series that ended all too soon. Still, it’s probably best to say goodbye on a high note, not to mention no one likes to see a series drag on unnecessarily and I would have hated to see one this special wear out its welcome. I heartily recommend this series to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy, anti-heroes, and dark stories…and who won’t mind reading a book that come with a warning label....more
It feels like just the other day I was expressing my desire for more ghosts in urban fantasy, and then onto my lap drops Half-Resurrection Blues. There’s a twist to it, though. Protagonist Carlos Delacruz isn’t exactly a ghost. Instead, he’s an “inbetweener”, which is exactly what it sounds like – someone not quite alive and also not quite dead. As such, he is one of the New York Council of the Dead’s most special and valuable agents, someone who can interact with the living in the corporeal world as well as the ghosts in the realm of the dead.
Carlos has no idea how he came to be the way he is, nor does he remember his past or how he died. Until recently though, he thought he was alone. But since New Year’s Eve, he has encountered three other inbetweeners, one of whom is a particularly nasty sorcerer. Meanwhile, NYCOD is freaking out because the city is being overrun with “ngks”, imp-like creatures that pose a dire threat to spirits and undead. Somehow all of this has to be connected. It’s up to Carlos to maintain the delicate balance between the mortal world and the Underworld, and put a stop to a nefarious plot to breach the Entrada that protects us all.
I only learned after I finished reading the book that this wasn’t Carlos Delacruz’s first appearance. A bit of research led me to discover Daniel José Older’s anthology called Salsa Nocturna which features the NYCOD and also our main guy Carlos in a lot of the short stories. Reading this collection isn’t a prerequisite by any means, but knowing that Half-Resurrection Blues is part of a greater world that existed before this made a lot of sense. The story drops you right into the thick of things; few words are wasted when it comes to the rich portrayal of this fully-formed version of New York City, inhabited by a diverse population made up of both the living and dead alike. Nevertheless, the book is written in a way that makes it easy for the average reader to pick up the overall premise and atmosphere, allowing one to jump straight into the plot.
I love the story and I love the characters, but it is Older’s writing that takes the cake. This is my first experience with his work, and his style is definitely not something I would have expected to find in an urban fantasy novel. He makes an art of the genre, infusing his prose with so much beauty and intensity. The voice of main character Carlos Delacruz is rooted in the urban fantasy tradition, suiting the story perfectly, but every once in a while you will come across some sections in the narrative that are just…damn. Some sections are just downright poetic, so fine and elegant that it will take your breath away, leaving you at a loss for words.
Likewise there is nothing simple or superficial about the story. There’s a bit of everything thrown into this mix – some mystery with a tinge of classic noir especially when we delve deep into Carlos’ mind; a dash of humor when we learn that even ghosts and creatures of the otherworld have their little quirks and eccentricities; a strong undercurrent of horror because at its heart this is a novel about living and dying; and last but not least, we have love and passion handled in a way that is at once candid but also full of soul and quite insightful.
Half-Resurrection Blues is the first book of a series called Bone Street Rumba, and it’s probably safe to say I’ve never encountered an urban fantasy quite like this. Infused with the fierce and primal rhythm of a party while bringing together a combination of traditions, I believed the series is rather aptly named. All this makes the book a fun and entertaining read, but it’s also very thought-provoking when you peel back the layers....more
It’s been a while since I read a good horror novel. Broken Monsters proved to be just the thing I needed, turning out to be a cross-genre piece with mystery and thriller elements as well. Also, high time I read something from Lauren Beukes, and looks like I’ve been missing out all this time.
Of course, the best part is the paranormal elements. I’m a big fan of the supernatural or the otherworldly in my horror; to me they make the story more interesting by often ramping up the creep factor. From the outset, however, and actually for much of the novel, Broken Monsters presents itself as a police crime mystery, opening with the bizarre and grisly find of a body. Apparently the disturbed killer had taken the top half of a boy’s corpse and the bottom half of a deer’s corpse and somehow fused the two together. This is definitely not a safe and cheery read, and the squeamish reader should be aware of some scenes in here that are just downright twisted and weird.
An atmosphere of gloom and despair settles like a shroud over the story, taking place in the economically hard hit city of Detroit. We follow the events of the investigation through the eyes of a handful of characters – the hardened and experienced Detective Gabriella Versado who has the role of lead investigator on the murder case morbidly codenamed “Bambi”; her daughter Layla, a precocious teenager who nonetheless finds herself tangled in different kinds of trouble while her mother spends most of her time on police work; Jonno, a journalist desperately trying to make a name for himself and getting lucky by stumbling upon the case while covering the underground art scene in Detroit; Thomas Keen AKA T.K., a vagrant with a good heart who just wants to forget his checkered past and stay clean going forward. And of course, every now and then we also get glimpses into the mind of the killer himself, and those snippets sure aren’t pretty.
What is the connection between a teenager and a homeless man? Or the link between an upstart journalist and a Detroit detective? Thing is, everyone has a role to play in this novel, and half the fun was watching the lives of these disparate people unfold and seeing how it all comes together. Broken Monsters is about the hunt for a deranged serial killer, to apprehend him before more badly mutilated bodies turn up, but it’s also about so much more. Beukes goes in depth for each of her characters, going into their pasts and digging up their deepest secrets and own personal monsters. By painting her characters in this naked and blunt realism, the author in turn adds another layer to her gritty, chilling tale.
I really like these kinds of psychological thrillers, the ones that seek not to bombard you with blood and gore. Even though there are some graphic scenes in Broken Monsters, they are not gratuitous. Instead, the story worms its way down to unsettle the reader at a deeper level, stirring up a sense of dread that doesn’t go away as you’re reading. I always find these horror novels to be more effective, because experience tends to stay with me longer. Once the spell is cast, it wraps around you and doesn’t let go very easily.
Like I said, there is a paranormal element here but it doesn’t come into play until quite late in the novel. Personally speaking, that is perhaps the only less-than-ideal factor, but it’s by no means a disappointment. I enjoyed the police procedural-type style of storytelling when it came into play, and also took everything else – like Jonno’s journalistic ventures or Layla’s teenage shenanigans – in stride. I loved the feeling of being held in suspense, wondering who might be the next victim or when the police might make a breakthrough. The ending was really what made Broken Monsters for me, when everything came to a head in the most uncanny and freaky way imaginable.
If you’re looking for a horror-thriller that’s a bit different, I would highly recommend this book. Characters, setting and themes all came together very nicely to deliver one hell of an experience. I’m definitely going to be reading more of Lauren Beukes after this....more
I want to start by saying I’m not a big reader of short fiction, and on the whole I tend not to bother with any novellas, short stories or anthologies that are companion to an existing series. Part of this is due to my preference for full-length novels, but I’ve also not had the best experiences when it comes to the short format. Characters are world building are important for me, and with only a few exceptions, most short stories don’t go as in-depth into these aspects as I would like. Also, I always end up forming attachments to only a small handful of characters whenever I read a series, and I don’t often find myself as interested in companion novellas/shorts that feature the perspectives of other minor characters and people in a series’ “universe”.
That said, I had a really good time with Shifting Shadows. I’ve really fallen in love with the Mercy Thompson series in the last couple of years, which sparked my interest in this book despite it being an anthology. Aside from four new additions, most of the stories in here have previously been published, though I never felt the need to read them due to the reasons stated above, so I am reading everything with fresh eyes. Sure, as with any short story collection there are ups and downs, but overall I was very impressed with this book, and it probably ranks as up there as one of the best urban fantasy anthologies I’ve ever read.
Here’s a more detailed look at the contents:
According to the description, this is one of the new stories, written as an “origin” tale of sorts for the werewolves of Mercy Thompson’s world. We’ve always been told Bran and Samuel are old, but now we realize just how old. We’re talking possibly around the time Christianity first came to Wales. This story also has a bit of romance and sadness, detailing how Samuel and his beloved Ariana first met, but to me its true importance in the fact that it fills in a lot of history to help readers better understand the werewolf mythos as well as Bran and Samuel’s familial ties. A great starter to this anthology, and highly apt.
Unfortunately, after this comes a few stories that I just wasn’t as fond of. Thomas Hao was a vampire character I barely remember from his appearance in Frost Burned, though he may have been in any of Patricia Briggs’ other books/spin-off series, but since I haven’t read anything other than Mercy Thompson I really wouldn’t know. I like the “western” feel of this story, but other than that I have to say it was pretty forgettable. I was scarcely able to follow along with the story with its confusing back-and-forth time jumps, and I felt like I was dumped into the middle of a situation without knowing what was going on or who everyone was and why they mattered. Going back to my opening paragraph, this story is a pretty good example of my issues with series companion short stories.
The stories in here are arranged in chronological order based on the timeline of the Mercy Thompson series, and at this point we’re still in pre-Moon Called territory. Which is probably why I still found myself asking “Who are you and why do you matter again?” I feel a little guilty that I don’t remember who Elyna is, or even if I have encountered her before in any of the Mercy books. This is another one about vampires, but it’s also a ghost story at its heart. The story itself isn’t half bad, but again I would rather be reading about characters I’m more familiar with. This is definitely not one of my favorites either.
This story features Tom and Moira, two characters from Hunting Ground, book two of Briggs’ other series Alpha & Omega – which I have not read. But despite not being familiar with these characters, the author did a good job of really fleshing them out and I actually found myself curious to find out more about them beyond the events of this story. We have a perspective character here who is a witch, which was a treat. The plot also had a clear beginning and end, with the build-up and climax and everything good in between, so I didn’t feel lost at all. I loved how this story had a bit of mystery and sleuthing by the characters, and a sweet romance that ends up blossoming between them.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
I’ve always wanted to check out Alpha & Omega, though to be honest, I don’t know if I feel more or less enthusiastic about picking it up now, after reading this story. I was happy to meet up with Charles (yay, finally a character I recognize again) but I don’t know if I like the way he was portrayed here, or how Anna was portrayed either. Which is a bit ironic, I know, given how this technically gave rise to the series of the same name. It’s always grated on me a little, how the werewolf characters in the world of Mercy Thompson frequently let their wolf side take over all common sense and turn the human into chauvinistic testosterone-fueled meatheads. In this story, we are repeatedly told that Anna still has fire in her, despite being beaten and broken by her abusive pack, but it feels like whatever strength in her that’s fighting to get out is constantly being smothered by Charles’ overbearing need to own her and protect her. I realize this all fits in the context of Briggs’ “pack magic”, but it just always rankles whenever I see an over-possessive male and a helpless female that needs him to do the rescuing.
THE STAR OF DAVID
Hooray, we’re finally into Moon Called-territory and familiar ground for me. This is a great story about Adam’s fellow army ranger, David, whose tragic history illustrates the awful things that can happen when a werewolf isn’t in control of their wolf side. He reconnects with his estranged daughter in this heartwarming tale. My only problem with this story involves some of the implausible and unconvincing aspects of the situation, but given the limitations of the short story format, I didn’t let it bother me too much.
ROSES IN WINTER
This is one of the new stories, and it’s hands down my favorite out of this entire anthology. In my opinion, it’s worth picking up Shifting Shadows for this one alone. Again, I barely remember Kara since she was such a minor character (mentioned in Blood Bound, but never even appeared in any of the books) but I do recall Asil. Though I believe he’s a character in Alpha & Omega, he did make a very strong impression on me from his appearance in Frost Burned. But wow. I never imagined I would grow to love his character so much, and it was all thanks to this story. I had tears in my eyes at the end of this one, that’s how amazing it is.
IN RED, WITH PEARLS
This was a nice detective story, starring Warren. Someone sent a zombie to kill his boyfriend Kyle, and Warren’s not going to rest until he finds out who. Patricia Briggs did a fantastic job making him sound like the cowboy that he is, and I can tell she probably had a lot of fun writing this. We also get to see a few moments of tenderness between Warren and Kyle, but the best part of getting a story from Warren’s perspective is being able to experience his anxieties and doubts from inside his head. In the regular series, through Mercy’s eyes we see Warren as a happy-go-lucky, fiercely loyal friend. But as this story shows, there’s so much more to him beneath the surface.
Probably my second favorite story in the anthology, this one features Ben. It’s hard to get a bead on his character in the regular series. On the one hand, it’s been implied that Ben has a rather distasteful past, and his attitude towards women leaves a lot to be desired. On the other, Adam and Mercy seem to trust him implicitly, and Ben has gone out of his way for both of them on more than one occasion. This story gives the reader a better sense of who he is, and how he got this way. But it’s also downright hilarious. You gotta love Ben; he can be a real gentleman when he wants to be, and he takes crap from no one, not even when he’s not allowed to swear.
I was beginning to think we weren’t going to get a Mercy story at all, which despite some of the other great offerings in here, would have been disappointing. But fear not, this one’s all about Mercy, told from her point of view. And as Mercy stories go, I have to say it’s pretty standard – it reads like it could have been a story from one of the novels, but of course it’s much more condensed in this form. This meant I enjoyed it, but I admit, it does feel like Briggs crammed this one in just for the sake of having a story told in Mercy’s perspective. Just a little.
OUTTAKE FROM SILVER BORNE
Sorry to say, but…there’s probably a good reason why this was an outtake and never made it to the final book. Yeah, it gives a bit of closure to Samuel and Ariana’s story, but I wouldn’t say it’s needed in the least to enjoy the story of their relationship. I could take it or leave it. I think it was the right call to leave it out.
OUTTAKE FROM NIGHT BROKEN
On the other hand, I wish Briggs could have worked this one in somehow. I loved this scene from Adam’s point of view, at the end of Night Broken in the wake of all the craziness that happened. It endeared me to Adam, and my heart melts for his deep love for Mercy. It might just be me, but this scene would have also made the ending to that book a lot less confusing.
Concluding thoughts: there’s definitely a reason why this book is described as “Stories from the world of Mercy Thompson”, because as you can see, most of what you see in here isn’t about Mercy or even the people close to her. But with the exception of a couple of stories, that didn’t really put a damper on my experience reading Shifting Shadows. In fact, on the whole I think this book gave me a deeper understanding of the Mercy Thompson universe and made me appreciate it more. I’ve read similar anthologies and regretted it deeply afterwards, but this is not one of those cases. I highly recommended this for fans of the series, because if someone like me loved it, you probably will too...more