Horrorstör scratched a really great itch. When it comes to the Horror genre, I’m an unabashed fan of ghost stories and books about hauntings. Thing is, because so many of them follow the same formula and use the same familiar tropes, it’s really hard find something that truly stands out. I was therefore quite excited about this novel, which is a memorable and real quirky take on your classic haunted house story.
Protagonist Amy is a disgruntled employee of furniture superstore Orsk, which is essentially a clever parody of our real world IKEA (the author has nailed it all down, everything from the proprietary magic tool to the delicious meatballs in the cafeteria). There’s something strange about this particular Orsk store though. Every morning store partners arrive at work to find damaged and vandalized goods, not to mention the creepy “HELP” messages that randomly shows up on everyone’s cellphones.
To get to the bottom of this mystery once and for all, store manager Basil recruits Amy and fellow employee Ruth Anne for an overnight shift. Expecting to find some innocuous and mundane reason for all the strange things going on, they are totally unprepared for the horrors awaiting them on showroom floor in the dead of night.
I really enjoyed this book, and its story is one that will stay with me for a very long time. After all, how often does one come across a haunted house story that takes place in a big box chain store? Old mansions are typically your go-to settings for these kinds of stories, but before I read this book it has never really occurred to me how creepy a place like your local Best Buy or Home Depot can be after store hours when all the customers have gone home and the lights go off. I certainly wouldn’t want to be locked inside all alone.
And while I’ve had experience in retail, they were all gigs in small businesses or independently owned establishments. I have never worked in a big box chain store so I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure (or misfortune, depending on your outlook) of experiencing that kind of unique environment or culture. Still, I don’t think you have to have worked in that capacity to recognize some of the “retail-speak” that gets poked fun at a lot in this novel (“It’s not just a job, it’s the rest of your life”, “communicate knowledge to visitors with maximum sales competence”, “contribute to an environment where Orsk culture is a strong and living reality” and other such gems), some of which are just downright hilarious especially through Amy’s jaded eye.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the core selling points of the physical copy of Horrorstör – the fact that it comes published in the shape and size of a glossy mail order catalog, along with product illustrations and descriptions, “coupons”, order forms and other such documents. Sound like a gimmick? Yeah, probably. But hey, it works. I give this packaging decision 10/10 for presentation and creativity.
Because of how the book looks, along with its spoofy nature, I admit I went into this thinking it would be more humor than horror. My mistake. This is a horror novel through and through. Yes, the story has its lighthearted bits and funny laugh-out-loud moments, but things quickly turn grim and spooky once the plot gets moving. There were parts that seriously gave me the heebie-jeebies and freaked me the hell out. And I confess, I loved being caught off guard like this.
What more can I say, but Horrorstör is a great addition which would add a little fun and eccentricity to any Horror lover’s library. I also think it would make a rather unique gift, especially if the recipient knows nothing about the book beforehand. The whole IKEA catalog look of it will no doubt lead many to believe it’s a joke/humor book, but what a surprise they’ll get when they crack open the cover and give it a read. Definitely a novel that will give you more than you bargained for....more
Stories of the Raksura is a delightful romp into Martha Wells’ world of the Raksura – even if you have not read the main series. I have been meaning to get to her Books of the Raksura for a long time now but still haven’t found the opportunity yet, so I was very happy to get my hands on this collection.
Of course, I had the usual concerns: How much do I need to know before jumping in? Am I going to be able to follow along with the short stories in here without getting lost? I shouldn’t have worried. As it turns out, this collection actually serves pretty well as an introduction to Wells’ wildly imaginative universe and the fantastical beings that live in it.
The Falling World
“The Falling World” is the first novella found in this anthology. For those like me who were unfamiliar with the race of fantasy creatures called the Raksura, you get a quick and intense crash course in this tale. Raksura are shapeshifters that look a bit to me like a form of bird-people, though their societies more closely resemble those of hive insects. A ruling queen is at the top, followed by lesser queens. Queens mate with fertile males called Consorts to produce royal clutches composed of Queens, Consorts and Warriors (infertile males and females that defend the colony). Together, these three types make up the Aeriat. They are winged and capable of flight.
Then there are the Arbora, who have no wings but are capable climbers. They are made up of Teachers that oversee the nurseries and train the young, Hunters who provide food for the colony, Soldiers who guard the colony, and Mentors who are seers with magical abilities enabling them to perform tasks such as foreseeing the future or healing the sick and wounded.
It can be a bit daunting at first, but all this information is adequately provided and easy to pick up as the story progresses. In “The Falling World”, a sister Queen called Jade travels with her entourage to another colony to negotiate trade, leaving her consort Moon behind at court. But then the diplomatic convoy fails to reach their destination, and an expedition is launched by Moon along with a party of warriors and hunters to try to discover what happened to them. However, what the rescuers find in the end might prove too dangerous and difficult for them to handle.
The story is simple and straightforward: one group sets out to find another. What amazed me though, was the amount of lore and world building Wells managed to inject into this novella. I was blown away by the information here about Raksuran culture, physiology, and social hierarchy. And the great thing is, none of it was really forced. I never once felt like I was taken aside and given and info dump; instead, all the information flowed naturally just from the normal course of storytelling. I’m sure as a new reader there’s lots I’m missing still, but the amount of knowledge I gleaned here of the Raksura and their world was just superb.
Perhaps it is also a good thing that the story itself is not overly complicated. On top of the information about Raksuran culture, there are a lot of characters to meet, many names to learn. The naming convention might take some getting used to, and you probably won’t remember who’s who all the time, but this particular story for me was mostly about getting to know this fantasy world and the Raksura, and I had a good time with it.
The Tale of Indigo and Cloud
“The Tale of Indigo and Cloud” is the second novella found in this collection. It is more of a historical narrative, exploring the legend behind the origins of Indigo Cloud court. A long time ago, a sister Queen called Indigo stole a consort named Cloud away from another Raksuran court, angering the hot-tempered queen who was Cloud’s mate, leading to a conflict that could mean all-out war between the two colonies.
This was an interesting story, which read a bit like a mythological scenario. That’s not too surprising, given its unique nature. It is a tale about the Indigo Cloud court’s queens of old, long before the key character Moon joined the colony’s ranks. It reveals more information about the way Raksuran society works, or rather how easily it could also fall apart. There’s a bit of politics and a bit of romance, the kind of perfect mix you’d want to find in an ancient legend.
There’s not much else I can think to say about this novella, but it’s probably my favorite of the two in this book. I really enjoyed the story and the lesson it imparted, as well as the overall vibe.
The Forest Boy
Next comes this short story, which tells of Moon as an injured fledgling taken in by a kind-hearted family in a nearby village, who are all unaware of his Raksuran background and shapeshifting abilities.
“The Forest Boy” is a nice bonus, giving the reader more insight into this central character.
The final short story tells of Chime, one of the warriors who accompanied Jade on her diplomatic mission back in the first novella in this collection, “The Falling World”. Chime’s situation is interesting in that he didn’t actually start off as a warrior. He was born a mentor, who then changed forms. That’s huge.
A switch from mentor to warrior, as you recall, also means a switch from Arbora to Aeriat. Wingless to winged. Fertile to infertile. Quite the life-changing event. “Adaptation” is exactly what it sounds like: Chime’s struggle to come to terms with this drastic transformation.
Despite being so short, this is probably my second favorite piece in this collection. It’s a powerful tale in its own right, not only because of the emotional and physical obstacles that Chime has to overcome, but also because of what his transformation might ultimately mean for the colony. It’s a great read, and in the end I am left to wonder what fate might hold in store for the entire Indigo Cloud court. It’s a bit ominous and unsettling.
The Raksura are one of the most original fantasy races I’ve ever encountered in fantasy fiction. I was genuinely compelled by everything about them. Despite them being so different biologically and culturally, the depth of their personalities and motivations make them feel very human. The novellas and short stories in this collection show that they have to deal with the same complex emotions we do, such as love, hate, guilt, etc. Their issues and conflicts like politics, gender and societal roles are also realistic and relatable.
All told, this is a great collection filled with all kinds of goodness like magic, rich worlds, and fascinating characters. I can’t believe how invested I am, as someone who hasn’t even read the Books of the Raksura main series. After reading this, I’m going to have to try hitting them sooner rather than later. Hopefully there will also be more of these short tales collected in future anthologies, because I would definitely be interested in reading them....more
Despite the modest page count and a fascinating premise about what the zombie apocalypse would look like if meth heads were the only survivors – which, I have to say, is a pretty awesome social thought experiment – it still took me a long time to read this book, the reason being I could only take it in small doses on account of how incredibly obnoxious it was.
It wasn’t even so much the nihilistic and transgressive-like style of storytelling, or the fact that the drug-addled characters are so infuriatingly unlikeable down to the very last person. At the end of the day, while being in the mind of a junkie might not be all sunshine and lollipops, I actually thought Peter Stenson did a fantastic job painting a very vivid and realistic perspective.
No, the real reason I had such a hard time is because I’m a big fan of punctuation. Quotation marks are our friends! But anyway, Fiend begs to differ. I can’t say I’m thrilled with the lack of punctuation or the continuous stream-of-consciousness writing style, and yet I’m also not such a stickler for it that I would dismiss the whole book because of it. Did it affect my enjoyment of the novel though? I tried not to let it, but to a degree it did. If anything, it was because trying to read this book for prolonged periods of time would inevitably give me a massive headache.
I’ll give it this, though: at no point did I ever consider throwing in the towel. The story was just too addictive, if you would pardon the borderline tasteless pun. It marries one unpleasant subject (drug abuse) with another (zombies) and the results are pretty interesting in that hideous-but-I-just-can’t-stop-looking way. The end of the world is at hand. Everyone just went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up in the morning, and some of those individuals have reanimated to become the walking dead. For whatever reason, the only survivors are people like Chase Daniels, a long time meth addict. Chase was so high that for days he hadn’t even known the zombocalypse had arrived, and he actually thought his first exposure to it – a little girl in his front yard tearing out the throat of a dog and eating it – was a drug-induced hallucination.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a junkie. I won’t even pretend to know. But just to give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here, Chase and his friends are the kind of people who would sell their own mothers for a hit, so you can only imagine the world we’re left with, with him and his fellow addicts being the only survivors. There’s no trust, no morals, no self-control, and hence no chance in hell of society ever rebuilding. Add to that, the characters discover that continuing to do drugs it the only way to stay alive and keep from turning into the monsters. There you go: survival and self-destruction, two sides of the same coin. Kinda puts an interesting spin on your typical zombie story, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed with the ending. To be fair, given the nature of the story, I would have been surprised if I would have gotten a satisfying conclusion, but it was still very abrupt and left things hanging – and that’s a big pet peeve.
To sum up: fascinating book, offering a different approach to zombies and the end of the world. I found Chase Daniels and his narration intensely off-putting, but I also see that as a testament to the author’s skill to write a believable, meth-addicted anti-hero type protagonist. The only things that kept me from enjoying this novel more was the writing style (though admittedly it worked very well for the story and character) and the ending. I would still heartily recommend this one to zombie fiction enthusiasts and those who are interested in checking out a unique take on the genre....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 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
Like many Star Wars fans, I was initially disappointed by the news earlier this year that Lucasfilm has pretty much nuked most of the franchise’s Expanded Universe, declaring all of it as no longer official canon. But after some thinking, I’ve come to terms with it and now actually believe that it was a wise decision. Having ballooned into this humongous bloated entity after all these years, if anything needed a hard reset it was the Star Wars EU. And having been a long time reader of Marvel and DC comics, I’ve grown more accustomed to stuff like retcons and massive wipes by now.
Besides, I can finally give up the New Jedi Order for good without feeling guilty about stalling halfway through the series since like forever. Move over, old school stuff, it’s time for new stories. Time for the very aptly named A New Dawn.
As the first Star Wars novel integrating input from the Lucasfilm Story Group, A New Dawn is set in the time between the movies Episode III and IV, not long after the fall of the Republic and the legendary Jedi.
It probably also behooves me to mention that I’m currently following the new animated series Star Wars Rebels, which had a role in motivating me to pick up this book. I’m enjoying what I’ve seen so far, so it was only natural that I was interested in reading this. It serves as a prequel to the show, taking place roughly six years before the events in the first episode, and two of the lead characters are featured as protagonist in the book as well. Essentially, it tells the story of how the former Jedi Kanan Jarrus and the Twi’lek rebel Hera Syndulla first met.
That said, you don’t need to know anything about the show to read the book. In fact, I find that the two are completely different in tone and vibe. The show feels geared more towards a younger audience; being on the Disney X-D channel and all, that’s perhaps not too surprising. The book, on the other hand, is more mature, and I’m guessing most people who read it will agree that John Jackson Miller did not dial anything down.
Still, I can’t describe A New Dawn as anything other than standard Star Wars fare, in terms of the quality of writing and story. This was a slight downer, given the publication significance of this book and the fact it marks a new beginning, I had hoped for something a little more…well, just MORE. But on the bright side, it should make readers of Star Wars fiction feel right at home. You have the very recognizable character types, such as the Jedi-in-exile and hotshot starship pilot. You have a ruthless villain and Imperial tyranny. You have sweeping battles in space and the spark of rebellion. So on second thought, being the same-old-same-old might not be such a bad thing.
I also loved the characters. They’re the best aspect of this book, and not just because I really like Kanan and Hera from the animated series (though that helped). John Jackson Miller goes into the background of both characters, giving us great insight into their personalities and motivations. On the show, they’re not only the leaders of their crew but almost like the father and mother figures, and I can appreciate the nature of their partnership so much more after reading this. Other supporting characters that I’ve only met for the first time in the novel were well-written as well, most notably the former Clone Wars veteran and conspiracy theorist Skelly, whose persona is as volatile as the incendiary devices he loves so much.
All told, this wasn’t a bad book, but it’s also unlikely that it’s going to end up on my shelf of favorite Star Wars novels. Still, I enjoyed it well enough. While A New Dawn had a decent story that was entertaining but not all that memorable, the strength really goes to the characters rather than plot, and that’s a huge redeeming factor. It would also make a great jumping on point for new fans, which is why I think all the more a shame that it wasn’t more special, but I think the majority of readers will like it just fine and won’t be too disappointed, which is where I’m standing....more
I have so much to say about this novella, but to make a long story short: The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a gorgeously written novel, both haunting and whimsical at once if such a thing is possible, and an incredibly detailed exploration into one of the Kingkiller Chronicle series’ most fascinating and mysterious characters. And yet for all of that, I was disappointed and left feeling unsatisfied.
As a lot of reviewers and even the author himself have pointed out already, this book isn’t going to be for everyone. Rothfuss warns readers that without the context of the first two books of the series, you’re going to feel pretty lost. I’d carry that further to say that heck, even if you have read The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, you might feel pretty lost. On the one hand, I really appreciate Rothfuss’s caveat – that this book is going to be strange, different, and not going to do things that a classic story is supposed to do – and I admire him a lot for being straight up with us. But on the other hand, I wish he hadn’t plastered both his foreword and endnote with all these “warnings” and “apologies”. This is why I often skip author content like this. I’m not going to deny that getting hit first thing with a line like “You might not want to buy this book” might have biased me somewhat against it right off the bat. It grated me a little, because you’d figure something like that should be my prerogative to decide for myself.
But anyway, that’s beside the point. For this review, I’m not going to attempt a description or summary of plot summary, because to be truthful, there really isn’t one. All you have to know is that the book is about Auri, a secondary character from the main Kingkiller Chronicle series. I’ll admit, she’s not my favorite, but I don’t think that had any effect on the experience at all. What did affect me was the story and its plodding pace and its total lack of variation. Auri’s unique way of viewing even the most mundane objects around her as special and magical was fun at the beginning, but like all magic, it starts to wear off after a while with nothing else to drive things along. It’s a silent and lonely world that, while not completely devoid of color or life, gets tedious.
I guess I’m just the kind of reader that the author’s warning “The truth is, it probably just wasn’t for you” describes. And that’s totally okay. I’m into characters, and even though this whole novella pretty much boils down an incredibly detailed account into a week of Auri’s life as she makes her way through the ancient and labyrinthine halls of the Underthing, it didn’t work for me. I had originally thought it would, based on some of Auri’s feelings and behaviors that I can certainly relate to. As someone who has struggled with obsessive-compulsiveness and the resulting endless sleepless nights, some of the descriptions of the abject fear, anger, and anxiety Auri experiences when she feels something is not where it belongs or “out of sync” rings uncomfortably true for me. While I suppose I might count as “slightly broken”, sorry, but this still just wasn’t my cup of tea.
That said, there’s just no way I can write this book off, simply because there’s a so much else to like. The writing was probably worth it alone. It’s exquisite, probably the best I’ve seen from Rothfuss to date. I might not have enjoyed the particular style of storytelling, but if bringing out this side of the author’s writing was the result, then who am I to complain that much, really?
To sum it up, this book reads very much like a love letter to Auri. We know that Rothfuss has a soft spot for her, so I see it as a pet project of sorts. If Auri is a character that intrigued you in the main series, you will find this novella very enlightening. Even as someone who didn’t really care for her, the writing and atmosphere in here took my breath away. Despite wishing I had enjoyed it more, personally speaking I didn’t think this was a waste of my time. The book has its merits, and no doubt has an audience. The opinions will range all over for this one, I’m sure. Whether or not you’ll enjoy it isn’t a question I can answer, though; either you’ll like it or you won’t. Regardless, I’m grateful to the author for sharing this one with us....more
The Heart Does Not Grow Back was an unexpected surprise. I saw some readers designate it as Science Fiction, others who describe it as Horror, and even a few who tagged it as a superhero novel. As it often is in these cases, every single one of these categorizations are accurate, but none of them tell the whole story. It’s definitely a tough book to describe, but I’m also really glad I went into it with very little information, because I loved how everything unfolded before me and threw me for a loop at every turn.
The introduction was probably the most powerful but also most brutal part of the book. When I was reading the first few chapters, my mind went to Stephen King – not really in terms of the storytelling or writing style, but in the whole vibe of a boyhood camaraderie that binds together two young friends, and how even in small sleepy towns you will find evil people with darkness in their hearts. Once upon a time, a geek and a jock met each other on the playground and became the best of friends. But months before their high school graduation, a violent and unthinkable tragedy destroys Mack Tucker’s chances of ever becoming a professional baseball player, and Dale Sampson loses the love of his life but also discovers he possesses the ability to regenerate.
Dale’s story takes a turn for the grim and bleak, full of regrets and what-could-have-beens. Despite winning the evolutionary lottery with his amazing regeneration powers, he falls into a downward spiral of depression and apathy, until one day a girl from his past walks back into his life and gives it some meaning again.
So, what can a guy with the miraculous ability to heal and regenerate himself do in order to turn his life around, become the hero and save the girl? Dale gets together with his old friend Mack and the two come up with a plan that ends up being as insane as it is darkly hilarious. Two words: Reality TV. I wouldn’t have seen that coming in a million years.
As outlandish as the premise sounds, Fred Venturini makes it all work wonderfully, making this an intensely engaging read. I was always left wondering where the story will go next, even though the characters themselves remain quite static and predictable when it comes to personality. Mack is a crude womanizing meathead, and Dale is a sad one-man pity party who hits rock bottom and stays there for much of the book. None of the characters are particularly likeable and there was no one in this book whose neck I didn’t want to wring at least once, though there is no doubt that all of this is by design. The author clearly meant for his narrator to be deeply flawed and broken with a defeatist and almost transgressive attitude towards life and love – a result from the traumatic events of his past. Dale is standoffish and has deep-seated issues when it comes to women, but at least we are in the position to understand why.
The ending is what really pulls it all together, resolving the conflicts and all the relationships while offering a glimmer of hope and a reason to be optimistic. Still, I wouldn’t go as far as to call this a happy book. I enjoy stories where characters are put in difficult situations; part of the fun is watching them overcome those obstacles to emerge victorious, after all. But Venturini is an author who seriously puts his characters through the wringer. I mean that as a compliment more than anything, given the way Dale to pushed to the very edge thus making his eventual turnaround all the more satisfying and meaningful. Nevertheless, I still felt the need for a cheerier book after this.
Was it worth the read, though? Heck, was it ever. I was surprised when I looked up the author and saw that The Heart Does Not Grow Back was his first novel (though it was first published a few years ago under a different title, The Samaritan) because of how strong and polished the writing was. I’ll be keeping an eye out for any other books by him in the future....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
If you haven’t read Lock In yet and have concerns about being overwhelmed by the details of Haden’s Syndrome, or if you’ve finished the book and would like to know more, I highly recommend checking out this companion novella that you can actually read online for free here.
Told in an epistolary format in the form of collected interviews, Unlocked features narratives from many different people, all in one way or another intimately involved in the history of Haden’s Syndrome and the Great Flu that precipitated it all. It’s meant to give you more information about the condition, as well some history on how the world struggled with and recovered from the epidemic only to end up trying to find a way to help the millions that experienced “lock in”.
Through the various perspectives, we get to find out what the devastating flu was like, how it was spread, as well as the response when everyone realized that the illness was unlike anything the world has ever seen. The most relevant part, of course, is what happens afterwards, when Haden’s Syndrome rears its ugly head. As someone who read Lock In first before checking this out, I knew that President Haden had a major role in galvanizing the country and uniting everyone’s efforts in finding a way to help the victims of the condition, and I was so happy that I got to have the whole story of how it happened here, in all its glory.
Just in keep in mind that this novella is meant to inform, so it wouldn’t be fair to go into this with the usual expectations for a story. There’s not a lot of plot or character development, which is okay because that’s not its goal. Nonetheless, I was completely fascinated by the way this book went through the different stages of the whole Haden’s Syndrome saga. Several of the characters also made themselves stand out with distinct “voices” as they related stories of their experience with Haden’s.
Unlocked shows just how invested John Scalzi is into the world of his book Lock In, and perhaps he rightly recognized that readers will want to know more about it. It probably doesn’t matter whether you read this before or after you read the full-length novel, but all I can say is, either way it’s worth it....more
I’m disappointed to say the least. Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls was a trilogy I read a few years ago, and while it might not rank up there as one of my favorite Young Adult series of all time, it had its moments. One of the highlights was the supporting character of Isabel Culpeper who was a bit of a queen bee, plus she’s angry and bitter to boot. And yet, I found her to be a lot more interesting than the very blah protagonist of Grace Brisbane, and I was rather fond of Isabel. I was also intrigued when I found out she would be starring in her own book Sinner along with Cole St. Clair, the rock star/werewolf with whom she started a budding romance towards the end of the Mercy Falls trilogy.
Sinner begins in California, where Isabel has started her new life, going to school preparing to be a doctor while working part time at a clothing designer’s store. Cole on the other hand is trying to make a comeback to the music scene after being rehabilitated from a life of booze and drugs, by — ugh! — agreeing to be the focus of a godforsaken reality TV show, of all things. When he arrives in LA, the first thing he does is look up Isabel, hoping to rekindle what they had from their days back in Mercy Falls, Minnesota.
There’s really not much else to say about the plot. The story zips along at the speed of molasses, and for the longest time I tried to figure out what the conflict was, only to resign myself to the fact that there really isn’t one. Cole does his reality TV show thing while acting like a prima donna, and Isabel goes about her daily life putting up with his crap.
To be fair, Sinner ended up being a completely different book than I expected it to be. First of all, it probably falls more into the New Adult category instead of YA, following the characters like Isabel in their post-high school life, and werewolves or not, the themes are more contemporary rather than related to speculative fiction. It has very few paranormal elements compared to the Mercy Falls trilogy, so few that I was just barely able to label this one a fantasy.
My main issue, however, wasn’t the lack of fantasy elements or the fact that there was hardly any story. My problem was the vacuous, insufferable prat that was Cole St. Clair.
For the love of God, I don’t remember him being so annoying in the original trilogy. A big pet peeve of mine is bad boys who try oh so very hard to be a bad boy. Let’s face it, if Cole hadn’t gotten lucky and become a rock star, he would have ended up living in a cardboard box in some alley, offering to take your verbal abuse for chance at a bit of change. And who knows, he still might end up that way. He’s already washed up at this young age, reduced to dancing-bear status on an insipid reality TV show.
The sad part is, I still really like Isabel’s character, which made it doubly hard to watch her fall for this joker when all I wanted to do was scream at her to run, run away! Get as far away as you can from this idiot because God forbid if you end up marrying him he’ll end up a worthless thirty-five-year-old has-been, having pissed away his royalties on cars and parties, with no aspirations other than to be a professional layabout because working for an honest living is just sooooo lame. He’d probably let his looks and physique go too, because exercise and taking good care of one’s health is something, like, everybody does! And we all know Cole’s just too cool to go along with everyone else!
I feel kind of bad for being snarky, but it just makes me so ANGRY. I think this was my problem with the Wolves of Mercy Falls series as well. The trilogy started well enough, but things went downhill in the last book Forever when the characters suddenly developed these horribly bratty and angsty attitudes. To a certain extent you have to expect a fair dose of youthful naiveté in YA, but this whole “OMG I hate everyone and everything!” and “Adults are stupid morons and I totally know better than all of them!” kind of thinking gets a bit old, especially in Sinner when we’ve supposedly left high school far behind. Frankly, Cole’s behavior towards his parents made me sick, especially considering how by all accounts they are perfectly good, sensible people. The worst thing Cole can think of to happen to him is if he became his dad, because apparently, Cole thinks being a responsible contributor to society is boring. Go figure.
As a novel, it saddens me to say this, especially since according to her foreword it sounds like a pretty important book for the author, but Sinner felt kind of pointless. For me, it was also 300-ish pages of teeth-grinding aggravation, thanks to the big, cuddly ball of phony that was Cole. Read this if you’re fan of the Mercy Falls books because you’ll probably want to see what happened to two of the more important side characters from the trilogy. That’s what I told myself I wanted to do, and I don’t regret reading this because at least I got to follow up with Isabel, but unfortunately not even her chapters could make up for her co-star....more
When I finished Storm Siren, I was speechless. If I am correct about what the ending implies, I just could not believe the story had the audacity and boldness to say, “Oh YES indeedy, I am going to go there!” And honestly, it’s refreshing whenever a Young Adult novel surprises me. I like unpredictability especially when it comes to my YA, and weird as this may sound, I admit I do get a little thrill in my heart whenever I get completely blindsided.
It was, however, a journey to get to that point. One of the reasons why I think Storm Siren will be a very successful book is because it mixes the familiar with the new. Yes, we have some unexpected plot twists and bombshells, an incredible world with a rich magic system, and a heroine with a unique superpower. But balanced with this is also a novel that feels distinctly like it belongs in this genre, with archetypal characters and the usual tropes of YA. Despite this, I believe YA readers will feel comfortable with it and love it for what it is.
The book opens with our protagonist, a seventeen-year-old Elemental girl named Nym, facing her fifteenth sell as a slave. An unfortunate incident triggers her storm-summoning powers while she is on the auction block, resulting in chaos and panic. After passing out, Nym wakes up inexplicably in a luxurious bedroom in a mansion, and is informed that she has been purchased by Adora, the rich and influential noblewoman and court advisor to the king of Faelen.
Throughout this entire novel, we are told that Nym is special. This is practically thrust into our faces the entire time, from the fact that she shouldn’t even exist, since Elementals are all supposed to be only born male, to her role as the only person who can save Faelen in the war against the neighboring kingdom of Bron. But Nym isn’t the perfect savior either. She’s reluctant to use her powers even in defense of her friends due to her inability to control the storm. She has also already caused no small number of deaths in her life, albeit accidentally, and hates the idea of killing more people even if they are the enemy.
Storm Siren features a great story, encompassing a lot of political intrigue and epic battles. The story itself is definitely a winner. But that isn’t to say it couldn’t have been stronger, and perhaps it is a credit to the book and author that my only issue was that I always felt like wanting more.
I mentioned the world and the magic earlier in this review, for example. When Nym is sent to train with a tutor to hone her Elemental abilities, her classmate as it were is a boy named Colin who is a Terrene, someone from his land who can manipulate the earth and stone. Terrenes are also always born as twins, with one twin having abilities and the other not. Apparently, there are even more “brands” of magic users in this world, each with their own specific types of powers and presumably interesting facts about their backgrounds. I mean, this stuff is great! It’s world-building gold. Unfortunately, we just don’t get to learn much about them at all. This is possibly due to limitations like book length or the fact the author couldn’t work those details into the plot, but I sometimes also felt like she may have been trying to put too much into her story.
I also think more emphasis could have been placed on supporting characters. We only have a total of about five characters we really get to know, and I found Breck and Eogan interesting but a few others were quite superficial, like Adora the classic cold villain or Colin with the heart of gold and a personality of a golden retriever puppy. I thought some of the other characters of the court, like the king and a couple of visiting nobles and a princess could have been developed more as well, since relatively they weren’t given much attention but they all had pivotal roles to play by the end of the novel. It would have given the politics and the brewing war between the different kingdoms that extra oomph, and perhaps made things less confusing.
Like I said, I wanted more – but I’m also the kind of person who constantly asks questions when I’m reading, especially when it comes to a book’s world and lore. Did I need all this information to enjoy the story? No, the story itself is solid, even though I felt more world building could have enhanced it. Just when I thought for sure I had everything nailed down, just when I figured it was all going to end the same neat and tidy way that all YA books do, the last few chapters with the final showdown threw me for a loop. I learned that Mary Weber is someone who is not afraid to do things with her characters, even if it means shock and heartbreak to the reader. And I just have to admire and raise my glass to that.
The issues I mentioned notwithstanding, I did have a good time with this book. It started out like the YA novel it’s meant to be – feels like YA, reads like YA – but then went and gave me a surprise at the end. So ultimately I got exactly what I expected, plus a bit more as a bonus! 3.5 to 4 stars from me....more
Angry Robot is making a comeback this fall with a couple of great titles, and The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is one gem that is deserving of a lot more attention. I really had no idea what I was in for going into this book, but even before the beginnings of the story was revealed to me, I found myself already captivated by the elegant writing style.
Rod Duncan brings the Gas-Lit Empire to life in this steampunkish tale of mystery and espionage, starring a female protagonist with a big secret. Elizabeth Barnabus is the single child of a “bullet-catcher”, a term used to describe stage magicians or artists known for performing large-scale or spectacular illusions, but she has used all the tricks of the trades to fool the world into thinking she has a twin brother. In the guise of her fictitious brother Edwin the private detective, Elizabeth sets out to solve the case of a missing aristocrat while dodging alchemists and shady circus folk as well as agents of the all-powerful and tyrannical International Patent Office.
Obviously, Elizabeth is a talented, capable and intelligent young woman used to solving her own problems, often in creative and ingenious ways. So forgive me for going on a mini-ramble here while I ponder on the trend of the “daughter-in-the-title” phenomenon; that is, I notice so many book titles that seem to follow this “The ________’s Daughter” formula these days, but I call it a ramble and not a rant because I think it amuses me more than it bothers me. I find it curious especially in this case, where Elizabeth is such an awesome character and being defined by her father’s profession clearly doesn’t do her enough justice! Besides being a master of disguise, she is also very adept at taking in a situation and making snappy decisions.
I’m also impressed with the way the author has created this world using very subtle means. Instead of throwing buckets of descriptive details in the readers’ faces, he instead uses the history he has crafted for the Gas-Lit Empire to great effect. By reading about the significant events that shaped the empire, such as the war that divided England or the rise of the Patent Office, I was able to piece together the culture and mood of this alternate universe. Sights and sounds can come across easily through words, but it takes a much rarer talent to convey the intangible such as the atmosphere of a setting the way Duncan does.
The mystery in this novel unfolds gradually, and though I wouldn’t call The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter a high-octane read, it does keep up a steady level of intrigue and suspense. It also has its moments, such as when Elizabeth runs afoul of a troupe of traveling circus performers and for a few chapters I was immersed in the dark side of circus life and became acquainted with many very interesting individuals.
With its unique setting and premise, this book embodies the essence of what I’ve come to expect from Angry Robot over the years. But I would still love to know more about Elizabeth as a character. Even though the story is told through her perspective in the first person, she seems to keep the reader at arm’s length. This might be an effect of the writing style, or perhaps something Rod Duncan purposely meant to do from the start, and if that’s the case, then it’s actually pretty clever. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for someone in Elizabeth’s place to maintain a detached attitude even as she is narrating her own story, given how she must protect the secret of her double-life from the rest of the world.
In short, this was a well-written novel, the story fantastically put together with elements of alternate history and steampunk, topped off with a strong, resourceful heroine. You can’t help but be drawn to Elizabeth Barnabus. I’m definitely looking forward to continuing her adventures in the sequel....more
It’s not too often I come across a unique and original concept in urban fantasy, but move over denizens of the world of the paranormal and say hello to a brand new breed of fae. The first book introduced us to John Golden, the protagonist of this clever, snappy series with an interesting mix of UF and techno-geek elements. He’s a “debugger”, an individual with special talents hired by corporate clients to go inside their computer systems in order to eliminate the gremlins, sprites and other faery creatures wreaking havoc on their networks. Needless to say, I loved this concept. It sure gives a whole new perspective on computer bugs, glitches and viruses.
And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, not long after I found out about John Golden, I heard author Django Wexler tease the next installment of this series. Not only was book two going to have a gamer angle, it was going to be satirizing the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. That MMORPG is, of course, World of Warcraft.
In John Golden’s universe, it becomes “Heroes of Mazaroth”. On what was supposed to be a routine debugging mission for a financial company, our protagonist somehow finds himself trapped in the game’s fantasy realm, suckered into taking the place of a Dark Lord raid boss, doomed to be farmed by a never-ending army of player-adventurers forever and ever…unless John and his sister-in-a-Dell-Inspiron Sarah can change the story and find a way out of this epic mix-up.
Simply put, these John Golden books a whole lot of fun. You can tell the author had a good time writing these books. Wexler has been in IT and is a gamer, injecting his own sense of humor and perspective of these topics into this series in a way that he can’t in his epic fantasy. John Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth is filled to the brim with all the right stuff which makes the urban fantasy genre such a blast to read. The pop culture jokes, and geek and gamer humor had me laughing out loud throughout.
“I’d seen some weird fairies in my time—driver-eating ogres, hydras made out of HR spreadsheets, a whole tribe of elves that worshipped the MS Word paperclip as a god…”
Sarah Golden is also delightfully hilarious, as always. She’s such a wonderful character. A distinguishing and highly entertaining feature of these books, her footnotes provide a running commentary on John’s adventures and misadventures, and let’s face it: there is no one more uniquely suited to give us insight into someone’s personality than his her own sibling, am I right? Sarah’s remarks often poke fun at John endearingly, and other times they give us more information about the world of the Wildernet and its fae. Either way, it’s great. The first book John Golden: Freelance Debugger has a bit of backstory about why she no longer has a physical body, her consciousness instead residing in a laptop, and it’s definitely not to be missed. I hope future books will continue building upon Sarah’s character, and the awesome dynamic between her and John in general.
What can I say? I just loved this book. You don’t need to be an IT person to get this book and you certainly don’t need to be an online gamer. But if you’re familiar with playing MMORPGs and World of Warcraft, there will be a lot of Easter eggs that will have you smiling. Gaming has been a long-time passion of mine, especially when it comes to MMOs, and WoW and I have a long and interesting history. I’ve played it for years and still work it into my gaming repertoire now and then despite the mountain of other MMO titles I play, so maybe I’m a little biased but I knew I was going to enjoy the hell out of John Golden: Heroes of Mazaroth as soon as I learned its premise. But it really is a fantastically entertaining book.
Though Heroes of Mazaroth can absolutely be read as a standalone, I recommend reading both books in this series. John Golden is awesome and you’re going to get a lot of great background into the world. These are also quick, bite-sized adventures that can be enjoyed in a single sitting.
And now if you’ll excuse me, Warlords of Draenor is on the horizon and after this book I have a hankering to do me some LFRs....more
Age of Iron ended up surprising me in many delightful ways, but what I didn’t expect at all was how addicting it was. It simply grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. It’s dark, brutal, violent and gritty, and yet I was completely immersed in its harsh, war-torn world.
We begin the story with an introduction to Dug Sealskinner, a mercenary on his way to join up with King Zadar’s grand army at Maidun Castle, hoping for a way to earn some steady coin. But then he is waylaid at Barton, a town that gets attacked and annihilated by the very same people Dug had wished to join. In the aftermath, he meets up with a strange young girl named Spring, and together they encounter Lowa Flynn, formerly one of Zadar’s favored fighters who now finds herself on the run and seeking revenge on the king for her murdered band of warrior women.
King Zadar is a tyrant like no other with his twisted sense of how the world should be. His betrayal of Lowa and failure to capture her has earned him a dangerous enemy, but his killing and pillaging across the country has also made him the target of a young druid named Ragnall, who too seeks to make his way to Maidun to rescue his kidnapped fiancée. Ragnall and his mentor Drustan end up joining with our trio, and together the five make up a rather motley party of unlikely adventurers, all with a common foe.
Very little is known about life in Iron Age Britain; that the book began with this fact and a “this is what really happened” kind of statement in its foreword made me wonder what I’ll be in for. Large swaths of the book filled with history lessons, perhaps? But no, while we do indeed get a torrent of rich, scintillating details about the world, all of it no doubt painstakingly researched and cross checked and checked again by the author, none of it felt blatant or overtly shoved down my throat.
In fact, Watson placed storytelling and characters first, which is what I think made the book’s pacing so successful. He gave backstories to even the more minor characters, in a way that didn’t bog down the story but instead enhanced it, as every detail seems purposely placed to provide insight into the people and life at the time. The plot is also constantly driving forward, and there aren’t many places where it loses steam. History clearly has a role in this book, but the ultimate goal here is epic adventure, and we certainly don’t sacrifice storytelling or momentum.
It also wouldn’t feel complete without a bit of magic, which brings us to the druids. I admit I was very much drawn to the mention of them in the book’s description, as I’ve always been interested in the subject. And the druids of Age of Iron are fascinating indeed. There are all kinds of druids – healers, soothsayers, magicians, some who are benevolent and others who are bloodthirsty and depraved. This latter sort of druid seems to get the most attention, in the form of Felix, the druid who serves King Zadar. As cruel and wicked Zadar is, Felix makes him look like a snuffling choir boy. Some of the druid’s deeds are hard to read about, described in all its gruesome, gory details, and Watson doesn’t spare his readers one bit in this area.
I guess here’s where I should mention that no one is safe in this book – men, women, children and animals are all subjected to some horrific, violent fates, and it can get quite graphic – disturbingly so. If you’re squeamish or turned off about that kind of stuff, here’s a caveat: you might want to stay far away.
And yet, Age of Iron isn’t all doom and gloom, and blood and guts. There is humor, and there are inherently good people in this book. However, none of them are so black-and-white as that either. Characters like Dug, Lowa, Spring, and Ragnall serve as good counterpoints to the depravity and viciousness of people like Zadar and Felix, but our so-called heroes aren’t without their weaknesses. They may endear themselves to you, make you laugh or make you root for them, but be prepared to despise them sometimes too, because in the end they are also flawed people and simply trying to survive a world trying to do them in. I was all the more impressed by the well-roundedness of these characters, and whether you love them or hate them, I thought they were all very developed and well written.
Needless to say, I can’t wait for the next book. Age of Iron is one hell of a novel. The polish and skill in the writing makes it hard to believe it’s his fictional debut, but you can bet Angus Watson’s got my full attention. I’ll definitely be watching for his future works as well as the progress of this series with great interest....more
The Falcon Throne introduces readers to a kingdom torn apart by a centuries-long feud between two neighboring duchies, Harcia and Clemen – all because of a conflict that happened long ago. In the distant past, two stubborn and power-hungry royal brothers fought for rule, and the resulting rift caused the land to split into the two dukedoms. Now Harcia and Clemen are on the brink of war again with the tensions threatening to boil over, fueled by the lofty ambitions of men on both sides.
Okay, so follow along with me here: in Clemen, the tyrant Duke Harald is feared and hated by his nobles, and inevitably a rebellion led by his bastard-born cousin Ederic and backed by Ederic’s foster lord Humbert swiftly puts an end to Harald’s reign of terror. Believed to be among the casualties is Harald’s infant son and heir Liam, but in fact the child was whisked away to safety by his nursemaid, who intends to raise the boy until he is old enough to take back his stolen throne. Meanwhile over in Harcia, Duke Aimery has two living sons, his hot-tempered heir Balfre as well as the younger and more level-headed Grefin. Balfre has dreams of being the supreme ruler of a reunited kingdom, which would require bringing Clemen back into Harcia’s fold by brute force if necessary. Aimery, recognizing his heir’s dangerous ambitions, would like nothing more than to have his favorite son Grefin succeed him, but you can also be sure Balfre isn’t going to let anything – not even his own father and brother – stand in his way.
First I just want to put it out there that The Falcon Throne is my first book by Karen Miller, but from what I’ve heard about her previous work, I can’t say this is what I expected. I’ve seen reviews of her other books, especially her Godspeaker Trilogy, that have intrigued me with their discussion of controversial characters and bold subject matters. Readers seemed to either love or hate those books, but at least they sounded very different and intriguing. I think I’d expected The Falcon Throne to go in a similar direction, but that didn’t quite happen. Despite the twisty plotlines involving court intrigue, lordly politics, and the unpredictable consequence of shenanigans by pathological schemers, the story and themes aren’t really groundbreaking or anything to write home about.
And yet, I really enjoyed this book in spite of myself. Looking at the fantasy genre, I’ve noticed that in recent years the classic elves and dwarves seem to have been largely replaced by squabbling noble houses and psychopathic royalty. With Game of Thrones fever taking the world by storm, I suppose it’s really not that surprising to see writers hoping to ride on the coattails of its success by emulating its style or concepts. I don’t know if this was Miller’s intent, but I definitely sensed some of those vibes while reading this. Nothing wrong with that, though! Not especially with her obvious talent for writing fully-realized characters and intense sequences.
However, as much enjoyment as I got out of this book, Miller doesn’t quite push things over to mind-blowing territory. Don’t get me wrong, the story was certainly addictive – enough to make getting through 670-ish pages of this ARC not feel like a chore at all. I am still surprised at the speed I gobbled up this book. But like any lengthy epic, it has its ups and downs. The characters are great, but I was largely unaffected by any significant events that happened to them, and even unexpected character deaths didn’t always have the desired impact. Here and there were also several patches with borderline information overload that I was tempted to skim, but I have to make it clear that for the most part, these rare hiccups in the story were made up for by the wonderfully executed dialogue between characters and action-filled fight scenes.
In case you’re still wondering about the validity of the comparisons of this book to Game of Thrones, I would say those descriptions are pretty apt. It’s certainly in the same vein. Still, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I always hesitate to compare anything to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire…simply because nothing out there is like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Certain series like that or Harry Potter are just so big they defy comparison. But quite honestly, it wouldn’t be fair to The Falcon Throne to make that comparison either. Without a doubt, this book can stand on its own. Some of its themes might ring familiar to avid readers of epic fantasy, but I’ll be the first in line to admit I can’t resist these kinds of stories, and Karen Miller brings her own unique and elegant touch to The Falcon Throne....more
I thought I would be going into Echopraxia with two strikes against me. First, the fact that I haven’t read Blindsight which is the first book in the Firefall series, and second, there was the worry that the book would be too “hard sci-fi” for my tastes. Fortunately, neither really ended up being an obstacle. Sure, I had my issues with this novel, but those have little to do with my original concerns.
It’s hard to explain a book like Echopraxia; this is one of those cases where it’s probably better to just let the publisher description do the talking: “The eve of the twenty-second century”, “a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues”, “genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans”, “soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat”.
It’s a whole other world, with a very different status quo. People like biologist Daniel Bruks who is adamant against upgrading himself with any implants or enhancements are seen as “old school”, living fossils that are still clinging on to an extinct way of life. While working in the field in the middle of the Oregon desert, he finds himself entangled in a conflict between a vampire and her entourage of zombie bodyguards versus a faction of technologically advanced Bicameral monks. Now he’s trapped on a ship headed to the center of the solar system to learn what happened to Blindsight, the expedition which took off years ago to investigate what appeared to be an alien signal.
The ideas here are wild, spectacular and ambitious. The plot, on the other hand, is quite thin – another reason why it would be difficult to describe this novel. Echopraxia is a book that feels less concerned with providing a cohesive narrative, instead focusing more heavily on philosophical discussion and debate on the human condition. Great if like these kinds of books, not so great if you don’t. Personally, I really enjoyed the first hundred pages or so because it contained most of the story. Watts established the setting, the main characters and the conflict. But everything started unraveling after that point, and became unfocused and disorganized.
The challenge for me was in trying to tease apart the jumble of ideas without allowing myself to be driven to distraction. Watts’ writing is laden with scientific jargon and not very easy on the eyes, making this one a slower read. Given the heavier themes and tinge of gloom, not to mention the fact there’s barely any plot, there’s just not too much energy to push it along. Not that I’m saying Echopraxia is a bad book. Far from it, in fact. I feel it has all the right ingredients, but the actual execution of all those great ideas leaves something to be desired.
Over the years, I think I’ve come to gain a deeper appreciation for hard sci-fi. It’s still a struggle sometimes, I admit, but it’s no longer the insurmountable hurdle it once was. However, plot and characters rank high on my priority list. Compelling and cogent storytelling is still somewhat of a requirement in the question of whether or not I’ll enjoy a book. Unfortunately, parts of Echopraxia are just too inconsistent for me to embrace it with open arms, but Watts should be recognized for his incredible talent of making everything he writes about sound fascinating and convincing. This is not a book you’ll want to pick up for a light afternoon of reading, but it’s worth it if you’re up for a thoughtful discourse on the complexities of the human mind and consciousness....more
This book would be perfect for readers looking for a well-balanced blend of fantasy with a historical fiction-type setting, overlaid with a story laced with a heavy dose of the kind of chaste, slow-burn romance one might find in a traditional Regency novel.
Graham Marshall – Gray to family and friends – finds himself out of favor at Merlin College when a midnight errand goes terribly wrong, landing himself and a couple friends in the infirmary while another boy loses his life. Disgraced, Gray is sent away to the summer home of the arrogant and unpleasant Professor Appius Callendar until such time the college can decide his fate. It’s there that Gray has the pleasure of meeting the professor’s middle daughter Sophie, who for some reason Professor Callendar seems to neglect and disdain. There’s certainly no love lost between father and daughter.
Even though he was told none of the Callendar girls were born with any magical talent, Gray senses something strange about Sophie. Because proper women studying magical theory is considered scandalous in their society, Sophie has been secretly learning it herself from the books in her father’s library. She’s delighted to meet Gray, finding him very different from the pretentious and foppish young men her father usually invites home from the college, and is grateful when he offers to fill in the gaps in her knowledge. The two of them strike up a friendship, and so when astounding revelations are revealed about Sophie’s past, Gray is wrapped up in the whirlwind of events. And here he was, thinking his life was complicated!
From page one, I was drawn in by the gorgeous writing. Admittedly, it can be somewhat difficult to get used to. Clunky and awkward in some places, it’s not exactly what I would call easy on the eyes, with a style and tone suited to the historical era. But it’s extremely effective when it comes to setting the mood, and once you adapt to it, the reading goes much faster and smoother.
The novel’s greatest strength is the characterization. Gray and Sophie take center stage, and the whole book is told through their perspectives, which alternate back and forth – a lot. Again, it can be distracting, at least initially. The author jumps between Sophie and Gray whenever it suits her, so that sometimes you can get a few paragraphs of Gray’s point of view and then abruptly we would switch to Sophie as she picks up the narrative. Regular readers of romance are probably used to this, but it was something else I had to adjust to at the beginning.
After getting the hang of things, it was easier for me to simply sit back and soak in the story. It bears emphasizing again that the characters are just great in this; because the relationship between Gray and Sophie are so integral to the story, it makes sense to establish and build upon them early, and that’s what we get here. Before Gray and Sophie can get to know each other intimately, the reader has to get to know them as individuals, which makes their eventual coming together that much more satisfying. As I mentioned before, theirs is a slow-burn romance (the kind where everyone around them can see what’s going on before the two can even admit it to themselves) so if you’re looking for instant gratification, this is not the book you’re looking for. We’re also not talking fiery passion or red hot love scenes here, keeping things clean and proper with good manners!
The heavy focus on G+S notwithstanding, that’s not to say the other characters were forgotten or underdeveloped. In fact, my favorite character was a supporting character, Joanna Callendar, who probably has more personality in her little finger than her sister Sophie had in her whole body. Sad to say, as much as I liked Sophie, she was an idealized character, a special snowflake that came across just a little too perfect in a lot of ways, and that makes her less interesting than the spunky, lippy and slightly insolent Joanna.
By the same token, plot is probably not this novel’s strong suit. A lost princess, a prophecy foretelling the return of “The One” and the pivotal role they play in the fate of a monarch and the kingdom…it’s a little clichéd, perhaps, but it’s also not a negative if you go in knowing what to expect. This book is obviously more interested in telling Gray and Sophie’s story, it makes its intention loud and clear right from the start, and so a lighter, less original plot is something I could overlook.
Bottom line: The Midnight Queen is a very beautiful, very atmospheric novel about young love, slow-going at times, making it feel like very little happens while the author develops the two characters. You can probably predict the outcome of the story with no effort at all, but the emotional payoff is worth it if you stick around and give the book a chance to let Gray and Sophie to resolve their feelings for each other. Recommended for fantasy lovers who want romance, but who also won’t mind the slower, sweet-and-tender but also more subtle approach....more
I have a thing for heist books. That’s what Premonitions is and more, mashing up the best elements of urban fantasy, mystery-noir and dark psychological horror. Be prepared for lots of thrills along the way as things spiral rapidly out of control on a high-stakes job, leaving a rag-tag gang of professional thieves floundering in a situation none of them could have imagined in their worst nightmares.
This is the story of Karyn Ames’ crew, who thought they’d hit on the ultimate score when the notorious crime lord Enoch Sobell offers them two millions dollars to steal an ancient occult artifact – just some piece of dusty old bone. But as it turns out, that bone once belonged to something evil, vengeful, and not even of this earth. And it just so happens to be in the possession of a fanatical cult, who will stop at nothing to protect their precious treasure.
There are two main reasons why I love heist stories. One is that they are essentially a problem solving mission to acquire a quest item, with the characters using everything at their disposal to gain their goal, very often leading to some creative solutions. The second part of it is the characters themselves. After all, what’s a heist story without a diverse crew made of individuals with “special” talents? Premonitions shows us how it’s done.
First up, we have our leader, the one who heads up the crew and decides which jobs to take, and that’s Karyn Ames. But Karyn isn’t your typical mastermind who calls all the shots. She has a condition which allows her to hallucinate slices of the future – a useful power when you’re the one responsible for the safety and wellbeing of your crew, but it can also be overwhelming and debilitating when the visions get out of hand. To keep her hallucinations in check, Karyn relies on a very rare black market drug called Blind, which unfortunately is also very expensive. Without Blind, her visions can get very unsettling. It becomes difficult to tell the present from the tangled mess of near or even far future possibilities.
The author has done an incredible job here portraying Karyn’s struggle with her visions coming and going, as well as evoking powerful responses from me with the things she sees. Imagine experiencing scary moments like armed gunmen kicking your door in, not knowing if it’s really happening or if it’s something that will happen in the future (not like that’s any more comforting). Or having gruesome hallucinations of things like bullet holes spurting blood in the middle of your friends’ foreheads even as they are in front you talking like nothing is out of the ordinary. Jamie Schultz ends up capturing the disturbing nature of this very well, and I think it’s one of the best aspects of the book.
Karyn’s predicament with her condition makes her the most interesting character, but the rest of her crew are no slouches either. Anna is the second-in-command and best friend, ever competent and dependable. Then there’s Nail, who is most definitely the guy who brings the big guns. He’s the expert on ordnance and how to dish out the punishment. Finally, there’s Tommy, the eccentric and somewhat creepy practitioner of dark magic arts, probably because his line of work involves doing some pretty unsavory things. A mid-mission addition is Genevieve, liaison extraordinaire and a love interest for Anna, and pretty good at some of that sorcery herself. And of course we also have to talk about the client, the ruthless criminal overlord Enoch Sobell himself. Is he the crew’s ally or villain? Both or neither? There are so many surprises when it comes to this mercurial character, you’ll just have to read and find out more.
All told, there’s plenty of delicious twists and turns in this one, a treat for fans of the urban fantasy genre who are especially looking for a touch of something darker and more ominous, but without sacrificing the action and the fun. Premonitions ends up being a lot more than the sum of its parts, but it does stumble briefly on a couple of bewildering segments. Perhaps my only issue with the story is the jumble of factions involved in the main conflict, at times causing a few instances of confusion when it’s not clearly explained who’s going after who and which group has taken over which other group. In the end it’s not an issue that I found overwhelming, and I enjoyed the overall story in spite of it.
Ultimately, Premonitions ended up being a pretty damn good read. Considering how the book has been on my radar for a while, it didn’t disappoint. With this, the series is off to a great start and I’ll very likely pick up the next book because I think I’d like to know more about this world and its characters....more