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(less)
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.(less)
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.(less)
I practically binge read this series, which is unusual for me. But truly, it is a rare pleasure indeed when subsequent books in a series just get better and better. I’ve had such a change of heart about this trilogy from the first book to the last book, that I am actually floored with amazement. I certainly don’t take back my thoughts in my review of The Magicians – I liked the book but I also had some very real issues with it and those still stand – but by God, it’s hard to believe how The Magician King and now The Magician’s Land have managed to completely revive this series for me.
We’re at the third and final book at this point, so it’s going to be hard to summarize it without giving away spoilers. Suffice to say, protagonist Quentin Coldwater has been through a lot since finding out the magical world of Fillory from his beloved childhood fantasy novels is actually real. He has been its king, explored the farthest reaches of its borders, been ejected unceremoniously from the realm by its god, but through it all Quentin has always had his magic. We return to Brakebills College where he takes on a position as a junior faculty member, but when that falls through, Quentin’s going to need to find another way to make money and make it real fast, especially for the plans he has in mind.
For you see, Quentin has never truly forgotten Alice, whose fate still haunts him daily. She was my favorite character in The Magicians, and to my dismay, I thought we had heard the last of her by the end of that book. So yes, it was invigorating to discover that her story might not be over yet. When it comes to the first book, saying that Quentin had an attitude problem is a massive understatement; I believe I wrote that the only cure for his malaise was a few years of growing up and possibly a swift kick to the seat of his pants – except what happened to Alice was more like a knife through his heart. What happened to Alice defined and transformed his character, so I was also happy to see things come full circle.
The book also has two very distinct parts. In the first half, we have an exciting heist which, departing from convention, doesn’t go well at all – but everyone who knows me know how much I love a good heist story. And trust me, you wouldn’t want to miss how spectacularly disastrous it goes for Quentin and his partners in crime. The action and the dry humor in this book is ramped up to a whole other level, which is something readers have always loved about this series.
The second part of this novel focuses on Quentin and his old friends’ quest to save Fillory. Like all good things, it must come to an end, but not if the old Brakebills gang has anything to say about it. The Magician’s Land was at times thrilling, at others touching, but always it was full of wild magic and fantastic imagination. My only complaint? The link between the two story threads was tenuous at best and the transition between them was very abrupt (whatever happened to the others involved with the heist? “Betsy” got a throwaway mention at best towards the end of the book, and I wouldn’t have minded more Stoppard, I liked him a lot!) but despite this, I have to say the story never faltered in engaging me and holding my attention.
In essence, The Magician’s Land achieved something that all series-enders should strive for. Not only does Grossman tie everything together, he does it in a way that makes you think back to the earlier books and it suddenly occurs to you: Oh, so THAT’S what he was setting up for. The first book The Magicians was a coming-of-age tale which felt rather aimless at times, if I’m to be honest. But somewhere between its last hundred pages and the first hundred pages of the book two, I think the series finally found its direction. From then on out the story took off, straight and steady, and as a result, this last book is marked by a certain cohesiveness that makes sense – that just feels right.
And Quentin. Quentin, Quentin, Quentin. If it is possible to feel proud of a fictional character, it is the feeling I get for him after reading this book. What a far cry from when I wanted to wring his spoiled, whiny neck and throttle the life out of him in The Magicians. He grew up. He grew up a lot. He became someone I liked and admired, and as infuriatingly annoying as he was in the first book, I don’t know if I would have appreciated his growth and character development this much if he hadn’t been so unappealing to begin with. He was a shallow, self-absorbed child who ultimately became an adult worthy of his magical gifts, and it is a testament to the author’s pacing and writing style that it was a journey that didn’t feel forced or contrived.
My final thoughts: I may have stumbled a bit with the first book of this series, but the way I see it, it’s always better to read a series that gets stronger than to read one that goes downhill after book one. And so, I tentatively recommend the first book The Magicians; after all, it’s one of the most polarizing books I’ve ever read. It seemed as many readers loved it as hated it, while some others like me fell somewhere in between. But I felt a lot more positive towards the series with The Magician King, and as the last book of the trilogy, The Magician’s Land was a solid finale. My thoughts on book one aside, I think the trilogy as a whole is fantastic and absolutely worth experiencing. What an adventure it has been.(less)
I accepted The Vampires of Manhattan for review before I found out the book was actually the first of a sequel series to Melissa de la Cruz’s Young Adult Blue Bloods; fortunately, not having read those books did not seem to have a negative impact on my experience. Of course, there were a few moments where I sensed gaping holes in my knowledge of the background of the world, but on the whole my enjoyment of the storyline was unaffected. So if you’re unfamiliar with Blue Bloods and are uncertain as to whether or not you should check out this book, fear not! It’s perfectly fine to jump right in.
This might have something to do with the amount of time that has passed since the Blue Bloods series. Apparently, ten years have gone by, and the teenage protagonists are now all grown up, and while Blue Bloods may have been intended audience, The Vampires of Manhattan definitely feels more geared towards adults. Many of the characters have brand new lives, including Araminta Scott (formerly “Minty” but now known as “Ara”) who is now a Venator, an enforcer of sorts, specializing in paranormal activities and crimes. Mimi and Kingsley Martin, a married couple whose history is fraught with intense emotions have returned to New York following a particularly heated fight, after seven years of living in the Underworld. Oliver Hazard-Perry is now a vampire and has risen quickly in the Coven, preparing to take his place as its leader. With the help of his lover and human conduit Finn, they’re making sure the upcoming Four Hundred Ball will go off without a hitch.
But then pentagrams start appearing all over the place, and the discovery of a dead teenage girl who appears to have been murdered by a vampire leads to unease in the community, putting the Blue Bloods and Venators on alert.
The Vampires of Manhattan is touted as “hipster horror” right there in the description, though after reading it I think it’s more accurate to call it “yuppie mystery” on account of the ultra-sophisticated, extremely wealthy lifestyles that some of the characters flaunt. The Four Hundred Ball is the lavish, no-expense-spared affair that is at the center of this novel, the point where all the plot threads will culminate in a startling, dramatic climax. However, the story is also balanced with an investigation into a murder, with Ara and her new wolfish partner Edon Marrok hard at work to find the killer.
Told through many points-of-view, the novel will capture your attention no matter who you are, though if you have an inclination towards mystery like I do, then Ara’s perspective will probably interest you the most. I liked it best when she and Edon were following up on clues, especially when the investigation leads them to the hoity-toity prep schools of the city. Oliver’s perspective provides us with a glimpse into the life of a high-powered elite. And those who enjoy the ups-and-downs of a tumultuous romance will eat up Mimi and Kingsley’s chapters.
The plot itself is not terribly complicated, but that probably works in the novel’s favor. Being a follow-up series that will likely serve as a jumping-on point for a lot of new readers, a twisty, heavy and convoluted story would not have gone over too well with me, personally. I thought the book was pretty perfect in its simplicity, and at the same time I also grew to connect with many of the characters who I had previously no knowledge about, which is a rather impressive feat for an author. I imagine those who have read Blue Bloods will be even more thrilled to catch up with these characters.
I’m glad I discovered this urban fantasy, which was a fast read and thoroughly entertaining for the genre. Despite not knowing a lot of the background behind the vampires, it worked for me – and feeling lost when it comes to a book’s world usually drives me nuts. It’s my first book by Melissa de la Cruz, and this has actually made me very interested in going back to check out Blue Bloods, or her other YA work. I would expect that readers who are already fans of Blue Bloods to enjoy this, but I was certainly a bit surprised — but in a good way — that I did too.(less)
Back in my review of The Magicians, I wrote that you could have a miserably unlikeable character for the sake of writing a miserably unlikeable character and that I wouldn’t mind, just as long as you could give me a reason to care about him or her. While that’s still true, it does really help if your protagonist isn’t a whiny little ingrate and actually shows growth over the course of the novel. I really think that’s why The Magician King worked better for me than its predecessor. Like, a lot better. The ending of the first book gave me hope that I would enjoy the sequel more, and I did.
Things were looking up right from the start, with our story opening with a return to Fillory, the otherworldly realm from Quentin’s beloved childhood fantasy series that turned out to be a real place. He and his friends are now the kings and queens of this magical kingdom, but after a routine morning hunt goes wrong, Quentin and Julia decide to set off across the seas to the far reaches of Fillory to take care of certain matters. But their journey is interrupted by an unceremonious ejection from Fillory back to Earth and the mundane world. Thus begins an epic quest to find their way back, with the fate of all magic hanging in the balance.
I’ll admit it, the first book had its high points, but on the whole I wasn’t too enamored. The wonderful sections featuring Quentin at Brakebills aside, I thought most of the book was directionless and tedious, and I wasn’t impressed with the characters and their attitudes until almost the very end when they discover Fillory and set out to explore it. The thing is, I loved the spellbinding world of Fillory and its amazing denizens, as well as the incredible sights and sounds. When the final pages of The Magicians teased that we may be going back, I was very pleased. That’s one reason why The Magician King worked better for me; the fact that we got to be in Fillory right away was a huge plus.
The second reason is something I’ve already alluded to, that being Quentin has come a long way from the moody, self-absorbed and aimless young man he was in book one. He has grown up a lot between the two novels in my eyes, no doubt in part due to the traumatic events he experienced at the end of The Magicians. His concern for a young crew member and the neglected daughter of a diplomat really touched me; it’s not something I would have expected in a million years from the old Quentin. In this book, he is driven and finds it possible to become excited about the prospects of adventure again, and – shocker! – in the process he became someone I wanted to read more about.
The same could not be said for Julia, however. My one gripe about this novel are her chapters, which more or less alternated with the chapters focusing on the main story. Julia’s tale encompasses her own rise to the world of magic after failing her Brakebills entrance exam, which couldn’t have been more different than Quentin’s academically formal training. Her journey through the underground magical scene is actually quite interesting, though I was initially unsure how it all related to the book’s central premise. What bothered me wasn’t so much her story, but the fact that the role of annoyingly maudlin and dissatisfied character seemed to have been passed from Quentin to Julia, though we do see that she has had to go through a lot of suffering and very difficult times. I could also appreciate how the two lines of thought eventually came together, but felt that her “backstory” was a bit distracting at first.
All in all, however, I was pleasantly surprised by my positive reactions to this book. On the whole, this was a much deeper and complex novel, but also much more entertaining and engaging on multiple levels. I liked how a lot of the world was expanded, as well as the answers to a lot questions brought up by the first book. And that ending! I can’t believe my heart is actually aching for Quentin. It’s very rare for a sequel to grab me, especially since book one failed to do so, and it’s great whenever that happens. I’m really starting to see the appeal behind this series, and this second installment has really made it grow on me.(less)
Self-absorbed, annoying, moody, smug, dissatisfied, spoiled, fake, maudlin, insecure, aimless, whiny, stupid, pampered, emo, vain, egotistical, small-minded, excessive, inconsiderate, thankless, pretentious, snobby, entitled, mercurial, immature, depressed, hypocritical, mean-spirited, cynical, clueless – just a small sample of the words I could use to describe the characters in this book.
No, The Magicians isn’t going to your big smiling ball of sunshine no matter how many Harry Potter comparisons you see slapped on it. Instead, you have a book featuring a much darker, grittier and almost satirical aura, a “New Adult” urban fantasy about letting the unhappiness of wanting something you can never have consume you. We follow disillusioned Quentin Coldwater, a high school student who never really grew out of his love for a series of novels he read as a kid about the adventures of five siblings in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, what can the real world offer him?
Imagine how he feels then, when he discovers that magic is real. And not only is it real, Quentin himself is a promising young magician, accepted into very secret and highly exclusive Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy in upstate New York. It should have changed everything. Quentin should have been ecstatic.
But he is not. But of course he’s not. Magic isn’t going to make Quentin happy. Neither is finding out that Fillory actually exists. It’s a sad moment when the realization hits. There’s really no cure for what ails Quentin, except one thing and one thing only: a few years of life experience and a whole lot of growing up. Well, that or maybe a swift and forceful kick in the seat of his pants.
Thing is though, you can write a miserably unlikeable character for the sake of writing a miserably unlikeable character. I don’t mind. Not even if your character is an insufferably whiny little ingrate. You just have to give me a reason – any reason – to make me care about what happens to him. That’s not too much to ask, is it? My issue with this novel wasn’t so much with the mopey protagonist than it was with the directionless storytelling. In fact, I was quite excited for the first part of this book. I couldn’t get enough of the magical school idea the author’s jabs and funny references to Harry Potter and other humorous injections. That there was no sign of a main conflict didn’t bother me at this point either, as I was relishing the setting and enjoying myself too much.
Around the midway point was when the book started to lose me, coinciding with Quentin’s graduation and life after Brakebills. Until then I never really bothered asking where the story was going, and hadn’t felt the need to – but eventually there was a creeping sense that giving Quentin and his magician friends “real life” problems like relationship hang ups and dismal prospects for the future just wasn’t going cut it. Like, dudes, I get that y’all are bored with life. But I’m bored with you too now. Sorry. Worse yet, there is absolutely no development in their characters or personalities (unless you count decline as growth) and that’s absolutely mind boggling when you consider how a person’s time at college should have been the most formative years. I don’t know anyone who left college the same person they were when they arrived.
Admittedly, the final handful of chapters about the discovery and exploration of Fillory had their charm. Possibly enough to salvage my feelings for this book for a solid rating. And I suppose the conclusion, while incomplete and flinging the doors wide open for a new adventure, also manages to offer a sense of closure and satisfaction in its own unique way.
This book isn’t bad, apart from the pacing issues. The ending gives me hope for Quentin, and the promise of more Fillory makes me feel very optimistic about the next book.(less)
To tell the truth, Dämoren didn’t start off high on my priority list of books to read when I received it for review, though it did hook my attention when I was told there would be wendigos (seriously, more books need wendigos). The cover, while very pretty, also did nothing to draw me in, showing a partial image of a bladed revolver. Hey, gunblades are neat and all -- but that also tells me very little.
Then a couple weeks ago, while trying to choose my next read, I was struck by a sudden surge of spontaneity and decided to pick up Dämoren and give the first few pages a shot. An hour later, I realized with a jolt that I was still reading, and that I was already almost a third of the way in. The weird thing about that hour, is that it honestly felt like a mere few minutes. Dämoren simply took me by surprise. I’ve read my fair share of stories about demon slayers and monster hunters, so admittedly I wasn’t expecting this first book of Seth Skorkowsky’s new urban fantasy/horror series to be that much different.
Once again, I am sorry to have underestimated the dark fiction of Ragnarok Pub. Rest assured Dämoren will satisfy all your needs in the action and thrills department, but what I was most impressed with was the world building and unique body of lore Skorkowsky has created, which offered a fresh new take on the angel/demon mythos.
Central to the novel is the concept of holy weapons. In the world of Dämoren, these weapons are sentient entities that if you’re not careful you may actually grow to care for them and even start thinking of them as characters themselves! Somehow the author has managed to imbue unmoving, unspeaking objects with personalities of their own. For when these holy weapons form a bond with a wielder, he or she becomes irrevocably aware that their weapons are alive and that they speak to their souls. No one knows how a holy weapon comes to be, but they are the only way to kill a demon. And the love a wielder feels for their weapon can be even more powerful than any attachment to another human being.
It is so with Matt Hollis, the main protagonist and owner of Dämoren, the name of his holy sword pistol. As a child, Matt was the only survivor of a wendigo attack on his family, making it out alive thanks to a man named Clay Mercer who killed the monsters and rescued the young boy. The former wielder of Dämoren, Clay had resigned from a secret order of demon hunters called the Valducan, and left his holy weapon to Matt after he died. But many years later, the Valducan leadership has taken an interest in Matt’s activities and asked him and Dämoren to rejoin their ranks, due to a sudden influx of coordinated monster attacks and attempts to destroy holy weapons. Unfortunately, this was not a decision welcomed by all, as some of the Valducan see Matt as corrupted. For while Matt had survived his childhood wendigo attack, he was also bitten by one of the creatures.
So, get this: In the world of this novel, all monsters – everything from werewolves to vampires, ghouls to lamia – are all essentially humans, but possessed by the souls of the different kinds of demons inhabiting them, giving rise to their physical and characteristic traits. A bite is how a demon “marks” a person, making them an available vessel to possess if or when their old body perishes. Now you can see why the other Valducans might be giving Matt the shifty eyes.
The book is just filled to the brim with cool ideas like these, not to mention the fact Matt’s special condition gives him some rather handy powers (blood compasses! Can you say awesome?) or the sheer variety of terrifying monsters, both new and familiar, that you’ll come face to face with within these pages. There’s certainly no shortage of action. I also classified this book as an urban fantasy, but in reality the plot will take you to many places across the globe, from the wilds of western Canada to the outskirt villages of Florence. So not only does it take place in variety of environments, Dämoren is a truly international adventure.
Although it will read perfectly fine as a self-contained novel, I was also happy to see that it is a “book one” implying that there will be more in the future. When the Valducan Order expands, one thing I'd love to see is more kickass female knights like Luiza. As one of the only two major female characters, I wasn't surprised that the role of "love interest" fell to her as well, but more to the point, I think the special relationship between a holy weapon and its owner is one of the most intriguing aspects of Dämoren and I would love to see this uncanny bond further explored with an even greater diversity of characters. Really looking forward to see what else Seth Skorkowsky has in store for us. (less)
Whenever I encounter cool, interesting new concepts in urban fantasy, it's always like a breath of fresh air. I mean, I love vampires, werewolves, wizards and such, but it's also nice to see something different every once in a while. And with this book, the idea of magical tattoos most definitely fits into the "that's not something I see every day" category.
The unique properties of "Live Ink" is what serves as the foundation for the magic system in Marcella Burnard's newest novel, in a world where tattoos are more than just body art. If integrated well, a Live Ink tattoo can enhance a person's life and augment their skills. But when things go wrong, they can also turn on their wearers and even wind up killing them.
Protagonist Isa Romanchzyk and others like her who have the ability to manipulate Live Ink can either use that power to create or destroy, making her tattoo shop a destination for both the cops and the mob alike -- or anyone who needs to get rid of a Live Ink tattoo gone bad. Isa's approach has always involved "binding" the tattoo, effectively killing it in order to save the life of the victim. Until one day a desperate friend turns to her for help, and for the first time in years Isa works Live Ink, fixing the tattoo instead of destroying it. But what she doesn't realize is that by interfering, she might as well have just painted a target on her back.
It goes without saying, when you take an interesting idea and throw in compelling characters, you get a winning combination. Nightmare Ink has this going for it. Isa's enigmatic past and her connections with both the law and the gangs of Seattle make her interesting to me. I thought I'd seen and heard it all when it comes to urban fantasy protagonists and their shady backgrounds, but I guess not! Information about Isa's history is doled out sparingly so you don't get to learn everything about her straight away, and I found myself being surprised by the darker revelations of her past even once I was well into the final chapters of the book.
However, the uneven way details are revealed also presents a bit of an issue. I noticed the introductory chapters are heavier on the info-dumps, going so far as to have a character ask Isa about Live Ink so that she can not-so-subtly explain all the ins-and-outs. But information becomes sparser after this, leaving me with a lot of questions about tattoo magic. For example, why does Live Ink only take to certain people and not others? There's also not much about the "etheric" world where a lot of Isa's interactions with Live Ink tattoos take place. It makes some of the later scenes in the novel involving her relationship with her own Live Ink very confusing. It is also implied that the Living Tattoos come from another realm, but again we don't get a lot of detail on that. There are many instances like this, and while it's a very interesting world I only wish I knew more about it!
At the time of reading, I wasn't sure if this was going to be a series, but I see now that there is at least one future book planned. In any case, Nightmare Ink works very well as a stand alone. Isa and her friends are a fantastic group of people I wouldn't hesitate to read about again, and the concept of Live Ink magic could definitely do with some expanding, fine-turning and polish that another book could provide. Despite some holes in the world building, this was overall a very entertaining read.(less)
I’m glad I gave this book a shot. I have to admit, I've not had the best experience when it comes to Anne Bishop (I really wanted to like Daughter of the Blood in her Black Jewels series, but just couldn’t seem to get into it) so I initially shied away from Written in Red. However, after multiple recommendations and even an assurance or two that it is very different from Bishop’s epic fantasy, I was finally convinced to pick it up.
I was also told that this series should be right up my alley, based on the type of urban fantasy I enjoy. I daresay that was a good call. I love the genre for its focus on interesting characters and unique worlds, and Written in Red certainly delivers on those fronts. Not only that, Anne Bishop also introduces UF elements in this book that are at once brand new and yet all too familiar. Given my mixed feelings in the past with her other work, it felt reassuring to find this book settled nicely in my comfort zone.
Despite my tepid feelings towards Daughter of the Blood, even I can't deny that Bishop has a knack for creating worlds. Her talent and creativity is evident everywhere in her work, and that is true of The Others series as well, where the mundane and the supernatural coexist in a fragile balance…so to speak. Namely, it’s the unearthly creatures who are in charge, and so long as we puny humans keep in line, they will tolerate sharing the living space with us. It’s different, but makes a lot of sense. Why should “The Others” hide and live in secret when they are so powerful and there are so many of them? And thus people are prey, and they are put in their place.
Written in Red also features a world with more than just vampires and werewolves. Granted, there are shapeshifters aplenty, but they come in many other forms, such as crows, owls, etc. Here you will encounter all kinds of creatures and races of powerful humans, never seen or heard of before. Take the protagonist Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet who has the ability to see the future when her skin is cut. Kind of a morbid power, if you ask me, but it's intriguing. It's simply Bishop working up her gift for creating and describing magic. For me, that dark and vaguely-disturbing but enchanting quality is what I remember of her style. I really like how she's applied it here, to a world so very different from what I’ve previously read from her.
Speaking of which, Bishop’s also not the first epic/high fantasy author I’ve read who has taken the leap into urban fantasy in recent years. In several cases, I felt the pacing was a mild issue with storytelling, and I couldn’t help but feel it here as well. Check out the page count, for one thing. Written in Red is relatively lengthy for an urban fantasy novel, especially a series starter, and I don’t know if it really needed to be so long. Looking back, I can think of quite a few scenes that probably weren’t required. World building is important, sure, but at times I felt it came at the expense of the story's momentum.
Still, I liked the cohesiveness of the plot. So many urban fantasy novels seem to be crammed to the brim with action and a whole lot of ideas and things going on these days, all in about 300 pages. Written in Red may be longer than most, but at least it gives Meg’s plight and her relationships with The Others the full attention it deserves. As a main protagonist, she’s a bit too timid for my tastes, but the writing is very effective at making the reader feel protective of her and invested in her success. As a result, the tension was palpable throughout the novel even without a billion things happening all at once.
As a parting thought, cheers and thank you to those who recommended this to me and told me to read it. This was a fun one! If I’d continued staying away, I would have missed out on a refreshing new urban fantasy series. No need to remind me to put the next book Murder of Crows on my reading list – it’s already there, I promise.(less)
Hooray! From now on, whenever someone asks me if I have read any Ilona Andrews, no longer do I have to look down shame-facedly at my shoes and admit, “No, but I’ve been meaning to for the longest time, I swear!”
Of course, when it comes to the authors’ books and the question of where to start, for me it had to be the quintessential Kate Daniels series. In a world where technology has progressed too much and too fast, the volatile forces of magic have struck back with a vengeance. While magic feeds on technology, everything is unpredictable – machinery, vehicles or electrically powered objects can fail at any time, making it a pretty screwed up world of ruined streets lined with shells of crumbling skyscrapers.
And that’s not all. The way it works, magic rises and falls with no warning, and when the precarious balance between the magical and the technological is thrown out of whack, weird things happen – peculiar magical effects and paranormal monsters wreaking havoc on the world, and what have you. In the middle of it all, a tenacious and headstrong mercenary makes her living attempting to clean up all the resulting messes of this magical apocalypse. Kate’s just another human with a bit of magic blood in her, trying to make ends meet in this crazy messed up milieu, while dodging vampires, shapeshifters, and other nasties. But when her guardian is brutally murdered, Kate’s making it her personal mission to hunt down the one responsible.
So, wow, great setting and premise for an urban fantasy, amirite? But I do have a confession to make. I honestly couldn’t make heads or tails of this world from the explanation provided by the book as I was reading. Afterwards, I had to cheat and had to look up on wikis and other reviews to understand how the whole magic vs. technology process actually worked because what I was given didn’t feel like it was enough at all. Did that take away from my enjoyment of the story? Not really. Technically, you don’t need to understand how and why everything in this world is the way it is, but in some ways, I felt like I was thrown into the middle of a movie that had already started. I got by okay, but if you don’t like feeling like that, then this first book might be a struggle.
As for the main character herself, I liked her. Kate Daniels is smart, resourceful, a bit of a wisecracker and comes in at a hundred percent on the kickass meter – admittedly, much like a lot of other female protagonists in the urban fantasy genre. There’s really not much else I can say, but that’s not really a negative. While I can’t pin down anything that would make her stand out in particular from the rest, archetypal UF characters like Kate are what make this genre great and so fun to read.
I think I approach urban fantasy as a whole with a similar attitude. Arguably, there are a handful of requisite tropes in this genre that will probably never go out of style, and you know what? I wouldn’t want it any other way. These days, I’m happy enough diving into a good UF, and if it happens to do something wildly different and amazing, that’s just gravy. Magic Bites probably isn’t exceptional when it comes to characters and its light-on-plot story, but it does have a pretty cool setting (if only it was explained better).
Regardless, I love tackling books like this especially after a string of heavier reads, because sometimes you just want to sit back and relax with a light, entertaining read, and I have to say it filled that need perfectly. To be honest, you really can’t screw up with me when it comes to this genre, unless you’re doing something terribly, terribly wrong – and I didn’t doubt for second that a series like Kate Daniels, which has been going strong for so many years, would have garnered so many fans if it hadn’t been delivering the right stuff.
So yep, you’ll see me continuing on with this series for sure.(less)
Score one to this book for having a protagonist who is a bookseller. And bonus points for her being a vampire too. The title of this novel is actually in reference to the bookstore she runs, a quaint little place on a college campus called Night Owls which is open to 3am every night. Now why can't there be something that awesome around where I live? I'd spend all my insomnia-ridden nights there with a big mug of tea and a good book.
Meet Valerie McTeague, sleeping the sleep of the dead by day, providing the students of Edgewood a study haven by night. No more hunting Jackals for her; she's done with that life and has left it all behind, settling into a quiet routine with the help of her human servant Chaz.
But unfortunately for Val, that life isn't done with her. Trouble lands on her doorstep in the form of Elly Garrett, who has a magical book the Jackals want. However, the book manages to transfer its information into the mind of Justin, a Night Owls employee who gets more than he bargained for when he unwittingly trips the wards on the old tome. The werewolf-like shapeshifting Jackals have already killed Elly's mentor, so you can be sure nothing would stop them from killing Justin too. Val and Chaz have no choice but to seek help from the warlock Cavale, who also happens to be Elly's estranged brother.
Overall, Night Owls has a plot that is both clever and brisk, full of windy twists and turns and yet someone all those story threads manage to come together in the end. That said, the flow felt a bit disjointed until I grew more accustomed to the structure and style of storytelling. We have several perspectives in play here and with Val being a vampire, the book almost has this day-night cycle feel going on as one of our main protagonists always has to sleep away the daylight hours. You won't get a lot of rehashing as the main narrative is always picked up by the next POV right where the last one ends, so if you don't keep up you'll feel like you're missing something.
Happily, the book firmly establishes its rhythm once the characters are united and find their synergy. The story picks up considerably at this point, and the different relationships made it even better. There are clearly some serious issues between foster siblings Elly and Cavale, which causes a lot of tension in spite of the obvious love they have for each other. Something also seems to be brewing between Elly and Justin, a future romance perhaps? And unless my eyes deceive me, Val and Chaz seem to have something to work out too, in their complicated vampire-Renfield relationship.
In the end, I liked this one. Because I read so much urban fantasy though, I can't help but be a bit picky. When it comes to this genre, I don't often find myself blown away by "Book 1s", but a lot of my favorite series have started out by hooking me with the first book and only wowing me later on. This book has that feel, and as such it's definitely one I'll want to stick with.
Admittedly, you're probably not going to find anything too new in Night Owls at this early stage, but if the story description interests you and if you enjoy the genre it should settle quite comfortably. An action-filled plot, a "Scooby Gang" type ensemble cast, and a world full of supernatural creatures and beings should make the UF fan feel right at home. All things considered, it has everything to make it a promising start to a new series -- great world, great characters, and most importantly, a great story with lots of potential for more!(less)
I'm a tough sell when it comes to novellas. Even tougher when it comes to urban fantasy. Don't get me wrong; I love this genre, but the truth is there's also a lot of books and series out there. These days, ideas in urban fantasy have to be special and different enough in order to stand out and hook me.
But as soon as I read the description for this book, which is about a character whose job as a "freelance debugger" involves getting fairies out of computers, I knew it had me. Speaking as someone who is often convinced she has problems way worse than fairies mucking about in her PC, I think I need this John Golden guy in my life.
Django Wexler is also the perfect person to write this. That might come as a surprise if you've only read his epic fantasy, but I've discovered that he's also an amazingly versatile author. And as a former programmer and someone clearly used to being called upon for impromptu IT work, he definitely knows his way around computers and networks. He's taken that knowledge and mashed it up with elements from urban fantasy, creating a world where the land of the fae exists as part of a "Wildernet", and its denizens wreck havoc on our servers and systems by infesting them with their nasty "burrows".
I think the first thing most readers will notice is "Hey, there's a bunch of footnotes in this!" Wexler has decided to do something different here by using footnotes for humorous effect, having John Golden's business partner Sarah fill us in with her commentary in the form of annotations. Sarah is an interesting character, with her being a ... well, I think I'll just leave that little bit out as a surprise for now! In any case, I personally appreciated the footnotes as part of the book's unique flavor, though they did trip me up a little at the beginning. Ultimately though, it's worth your time to read Sarah's snarktastic comments, since they often add to the narrative or give you more details about the world. Not to mention she's downright hilarious.
I would recommend this to everyone. It's the perfect urban fantasy for computer geeks, with its IT jokes and references, but it's also fun for those who are not. Take me, for example. I wouldn't say I'm hopeless with computers, but at the same time what I don't know could fill an Olympic-size pool, and yet I still loved this book! It's quick, it's entertaining, and I have to say I got a real kick out of its geeky pop culture references and humor.
Can't wait for more, especially since Wexler has teased that the next book will have a gamer angle. I know his other fantasy series will likely take precedence, but I really hope he'll keep finding time to write John Golden stories. A premise this amazing simply demands further exploration!(less)
This is the second novel I’ve read by Gail Z. Martin and I have to say, her books have a way of wrapping around the reader like a well-loved, comfortable sweater. Prior to Deadly Curiosities, I’ve read the first book of her Ascendant Kingdoms series Ice Forged, and as traditional fantasies go, it wasn’t groundbreaking but still offered enough new with the old to give me that nice, warm fuzzy feeling. Similarly, I felt good about being in familiar urban fantasy territory with her new book Deadly Curiosities, at the same time delighting in some of the things that made it unique.
The book stars Cassidy Kincaide, owner of an upscale antique/curio store called Trifles & Folly in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Being able to touch an object and know its history is a special psychic gift that runs in her family – an ability that comes in handy in her line of work. It’s the perfect front for Cassidy and the Alliance’s real work: to seek out supernatural and possibly dangerous items and weed them out of the general public before they can harm anyone. However, when reports that a number of mundane antiques are suddenly turning into “Spookies”, it’s up to Cassidy and her coworkers to find out what dark force is changing all these previously harmless things into haunted objects.
Without a doubt, the highlight of this book for me was the setting. No joke, I wanted to drop everything right there and then and move to Charleston. I have read urban fantasies set in a number of different places, from big cities to sleepy towns, and very few have made me feel a pull this intense. Martin captured the atmosphere perfectly, combining the fictional paranormal elements with the rich history and culture of the city, as well as the hospitality and charm of its people. I wanted to shop the antique shops, visit the museums, stay at the bed and breakfasts, even do the nighttime ghost tours and the whole shebang. Well, minus the evil demons, of course.
In the past I’ve also noticed that authors who go from writing epic fantasy to urban fantasy often stumble with pacing. There is definitely less of an issue with Deadly Curiosities. However, I did feel that sections in the middle lagged a bit, and several characters central to the strike team at the end were introduced much later than I would have preferred. Still, this was probably my one and only complaint. On the whole, this was a great story and I especially enjoyed the first part of the novel, which hooked right away with the introduction to the central premise. I also love the smooth, natural and modern voices of Cassidy and the crew. Gail Z. Martin is a natural at writing urban fantasy; you would think she’s been doing this right from the start.
One interesting thing to note though, is that unlike every other urban fantasy series out there, there is a conspicuous lack of a romantic side plot for our protagonist. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to the individual reader. Those who like a bit of romance with their UF might be disappointed, while others who are neutral or don’t mind something different might find it refreshing. Personally, I don’t think you can force a love story; it either works or it doesn’t. I would rather read an urban fantasy sans romance than one with a romance awkwardly shoehorned in just for the sake of having one, so I say good for Martin! (But for a second, I did get worried – I thought perhaps Cassidy would end up falling for Sorren, her silent business partner at Trifles & Folly. He’s also a 500-year-old vampire. So in this case, I guess you can say I was doubly glad it did not happen. The world has enough vampire romances.)
I am, however, a little tempted to hunt down Gail Z. Martin’s other Deadly Curiosity Adventure stories, from her series that spans over 500 years starring Sorren. That’s what a good book does – make you want more. I do hope she has plans to continue expanding Cassidy’s story as well, because this was a lot of fun. I would return to Charleston and Trifies & Folly in a heartbeat. (less)
Vampires, werewolves, and even faeries and ghouls populate the urban fantasy genre in abundance, but it's not often that I stumble across a series centered around ghosts. Even rarer still to find a one that's told from the perspective of a ghost, which is why I was initially drawn to this book.
Only the Good Die Young is the first of a brand new series by Chris Marie Green featuring protagonist Jensen Murphy, a twenty-three year old woman who was murdered in Elfin Woods sometime in the 1980s. Her death was so traumatic that not only did she lose all her memories of that night, her spirit was also trapped in a time loop and became an imprint until a psychic medium named Amanda Lee came along and snapped her out of it. Ever since then, Amanda Lee has been helping Jensen get up to speed on all that has happened in the last thirty years (unsurprisingly, our protagonist's mind is totally blown by this whole internet thing).
The psychic has been keeping secrets, however. It turns out that one of the reasons she rescued Jensen was so that she could have access to a ghostly assistant, in the hopes that her spirit abilities could help identify the killer of one of Amanda Lee's dearest friends who was murdered a few years ago. The main suspect was the victim's ex-boyfriend. Convinced that he did it, Amanda Lee now wants Jensen to haunt the guy and scare the bejeezus out of him so badly that he will eventually break down and confess his crime.
Putting it that way, the plot sounds rather goofy, I know. I'm actually still coming down from the surprise of how light this book ended up being, since I was admittedly expecting something a lot darker given the brutal circumstances around Jensen's death (someone in a creepy mask, wielding an axe, alone in the woods, etc.) Not that this book is all sunshine and rainbows either, but it definitely contains a lot less horror and bleakness, and instead a lot more humor and energy than I'd anticipated. For a ghost book, that is.
I have to say this one took its time to grow on me. I was so unimpressed by the main characters at the beginning, turned off by Jensen's yielding nature and especially by Amanda Lee's judgmental and cynical ways. Because someone designed a violent video game, he must be guilty of murder? People only adopt children from third world countries because doing it is a symbol of status? Oh my, get as far away as you can from this woman, Jensen, just get away as soon as you can. The fact that she just kept hanging around this Amanda Lee person made it difficult for me to continue reading.
But then, something happened. As Jensen also noted about herself, she grew a backbone. She stuck up for herself, found some new friends to hang out with. And how fun these new friends are! I loved the "ghost budders" Randy, Twyla, Scott and Louis, who teach Jensen what it is to be a ghost and what she can do. Ghosts in this series have some pretty cool powers, actually. They can induce hallucinations, imitate sounds and throw their voices around. They can enter dreams and sift through your memories. These abilities take a lot out of a ghost though, because they are made up of pure energy. To recharge, they have to draw from a source of electricity in order to juice up again. Some really neat ideas in here, and the imagery of Jensen and her fellow ghosts sitting on a power line is pretty funny!
Amanda Lee also didn't turn out to be so bad after all. Of all the characters, she was probably the most invested in the outcome of the mystery, even more so than Jensen. As her character became more and more defined, it grew easier to see where she's coming from even if I didn't agree with her methods. At the end of this, the identity of her friend's murderer comes to light, and the answer may shock you! I certainly didn't see it coming.
So yes, I liked this book a lot more once it got going; certainly my feelings about it were more positive by the end, and I'm glad the plot ultimately sorted itself out. Still, there's a bigger murder mystery to be solved here, that of Jensen's, of course. Somehow, I have a feeling her story is going to be a part of a much bigger arc. Now that I'm fully on board, I'm looking forward to finding out.
Luna Masterson is an odd girl who sees demons. Reed Taylor is an odd guy who hangs around with an angel. And when girl meets guy, things get pretty crazy. This is probably THE thing I love best when it comes Mercedes M. Yardley's stories, the fact that when she gets two people together, you know you're not going to get just any old boring relationship!
I must say I learned that lesson well with Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu, Yardley's not-quite-horror-not-quite-romance love story novella that I read last year. What amazed me most about that book was her treatment of her two outcast characters, the way she gave them each a purpose and emotional depth even though as serial killers they are far from deserving of any admiration or sympathy. The characters in Nameless are perhaps not quite so extreme, but I likewise experienced some of those same vibes from Luna and Reed Taylor -- two very unique individuals who find in each other a kindred spirit...so to speak. I had a feeling I was going to be in for something special, and I was right.
So how does a girl deal with being able to see things that nobody else can? Luna's never had many friends, and the only people close to her are her brother Seth and 1-year-old niece Lydia. Perhaps this is why she comes across to me as socially awkward, sometimes doing and saying strange things or acting like she can't make up her mind. At the same time, I had to admire the brave and positive face she puts on. The way she takes the "Luna the Lunatic" comments in stride or shrugs off the weird looks she gets when she's talking with the demons only she can see, all that just makes me want to cheer her on. So as to whether or not you'll form a connection to her character, I think it can go either way.
But if there was one thing that really touched me, it was Luna's devotion and love for her niece. When Lydia is kidnapped by the worst sort of demon, Luna's anger and desperation felt so raw and close to the surface that it was practically palpable. As the mother of a Sweet Baby Girl myself, at times it was almost gut-wrenchingly difficult to read about Luna's distressing search for Lydia, simply because every one of her fears was like a piercing knife to my heart. In my opinion, this part of the book was done very well. Not only did it make Luna feel more real for me, it also made me care about this story and want to see it through.
The overarching plot is quite good too, even if at times it felt a bit rushed. If books had remote controls, imagine that someone has pressed the fast forward button through some of the scenes in this novel. Perhaps the book could have been a little longer, giving me more information and letting some of the major happenings sink in. The way Luna's narration sometimes zipped from one event to the next didn't give me enough time to digest some of the things that went on, especially when it came to her meeting and subsequent relationship with Reed Taylor. Regardless, their love story was an interesting one to say the least! I think the impact of the story would have been even stronger if there had been more time to let those feelings deepen.
But in the end I was very happy with the way things turned out. Well, okay, maybe a little gutted by the ending, but still happy! Yardley's brand of storytelling and writing style is tremendously addictive and her characters are a treat, I'd looked forward to reading more of her work ever since I got my first taste. Nameless left me very impressed, especially as a full-length novel debut for the author and the first installment of a planned trilogy. I can't wait to see what's coming next.(less)
Quirky and energetic, The Grendel Affair is the first book which kicks off the new SPI Files series by Lisa Shearin, featuring a mash-up of police/government agent procedural elements with urban fantasy. Think The X-Files meets Men in Black -- except instead of aliens, Supernatural Protection & Investigations is in charge of tracking paranormal creatures and keeping the public safe from them. Unfortunately, they also don't have those handy flashy neuralyzers thingies to help hide the truth of their existence from the general populace.
The book follows Makenna Fraser, a southern seer who moves to New York City to persue her dreams of becoming a world famous journalist. However, not long after starting her first job as a trashy tabloid reporter, she is recruited by the NY branch of SPI for her special ability to see through any kind of glamour, veil, spell or shield that a supernatural baddie can come up with.
Mac's duties generally don't require her to be on the front lines, but a sudden string of murders by something not human puts SPI on high alert. From then on it's all hands on deck, especially when the murders are linked to a bigger plot to expose supernaturals to the world on the night of the biggest party of the year -- New Year's Eve in Time Square. Thousands more will die if the SPI doesn't stop their adversary in time, and the only person who can see through the disguises of the killer creatures is Mac.
First of all, can I give a big yay for Grendel? Yes, we're talking the Grendel of Beowulf fame. The monsters that SPI goes after in this book are creatures like Grendel, probably even his descendents, and that is just way too cool. In a series that also features the usual fare of urban fantasy creatures like vampires, werewolves, ghouls and goblins, it's a nice as well to see a touch of inspiration from Old English literature and mythology.
Other than that, this book is what you would expect and quite typical of the genre, complete with an action-filled mystery plot, a budding office romance, and clever snappy dialogue but without a lot of the snark. Mac is an interesting character, not being an outwardly kickass or sassy kind of protagonist but she is still very endearing in her reluctant-heroine awkwardness...to say nothing of her cookie-gobbling ways and the fact she carries a fake handgun loaded with tequila. Also, I enjoy the fact that her business partner and fellow SPI agent Ian Byrne is not the kind of arrogant, cheeky-posing-as-charming love interest I generally have the tendency to dislike on sight. These two are both down-to-earth and will be very good together, I can already tell.
It's true that those who read a lot of urban fantasy probably won't find anything too new about the overall premise or story in this book, but The Grendel Affair is still a very solid introduction to the SPI Files as well as a promising beginning to the series. Those looking for a fun read will not be disappointed.(less)
I think reading this book gave me a better insight into coulrophobia. I mean, clowns are kinda creepy I guess. But I’ve also always found it hard to look at them and not see beyond just some guy in colorful clothes and makeup. Supernatural clowns on the other hand, are a whole other matter. Especially when they are someone’s nightmare literally come to life.
But in spite of what the title and cover initially led me to believe, this is not a horror novel. Night Terrors would probably fit more comfortably in the urban fantasy and paranormal section. That said, it’s also darkly comedic and not just a little bit unhinged. Think buddy cop movie meets Tim Burton, quirky and fun but also a little macabre.
The book’s protagonist is Audra Hawthorne, an officer of the Shadow Watch, the supernatural agency dedicated to patrolling the border between our world and the dream realm. Their units are generally organized into pairs made up of an Ideator and their Incubus – in other words, the dreamer and the living manifestation of their worst nightmare. For Audra, dreams of the psychotic clown Jinx has terrorized her ever since she was a child, but now they are partners working together to keep both Earth and Nod safe from rogue Incubi.
Because they are essentially the products of our dreams, Incubi come in all shapes and sizes. You’ll see some pretty wild dream-folk in this book, like Candy, the Incubus made completely out of – you guessed it – chocolate and other yummy sweets (rumored to have been dreamt up by a dentist’s son) or the Deathmobile, a nightmare hearse. I really enjoyed the originality of these crazy manifestations and the idea that our mortal realm exists in parallel with the zany world of Nod.
And yet, I didn’t feel as excited about this book as I thought. The awesome premise aside, the plot was mediocre not to mention formulaic with all the usual elements of an urban fantasy thrown in. As a detective story it was rather predictable, which is disappointing especially given all the other cool ideas in here. And while I appreciated the contrast between the level-headed Audra versus the insane and unpredictable Jinx, I found a lot of the action to be over-the-top and mostly exaggerated slapstick. On the one hand, I loved the delightfully creepy way Jinx was portrayed. But personally, that kind of humor just isn’t my style.
I’ll also admit I might be just a bit picky with my urban fantasy. On the whole, Night Terrors is a pretty good book, if nothing else a quick and entertaining read with a few rather neat, never-seen-before ideas. The story itself didn’t take off for me, mostly because the style isn’t my cup of tea, but I actually think it could click with most people.(less)
Having wanted to read a book by this author for a while, I initially debated either tackling 7 Wonders or the Empire State series, but then I found out about his upcoming title Hang Wire. After reading the description, I decided right then and there that I wanted it to be my first Adam Christopher novel.
Immortal gods, pagan rites, a serial killer on the loose...is there anything this book doesn't have? And what's this, a circus too? If anything, it was this last one that sold me. Hang Wire looked to me like an unconventional urban fantasy that is also a fusion of paranormal, horror and mystery. There's even some mythology thrown in to stir things up even more, in what is arguably already a quirky mix.
In present day San Francisco, a blogger named Ted goes out to dinner with his group of journalist friends to celebrate his birthday, only to have a fortune cookie blow up in his face. Physically unharmed, Ted nonetheless starts experiencing odd things ever since the incident. Recently, the city has also been held in fear by a killer known as Hang Wire, who brutally strangles his victims before stringing them up in public places.
Meanwhile, the circus is in town with a new high wire act plus a Celtic dance group whose performances have been garnering lots of praise. But tension is mounting behind the scenes, especially with rumors that the carnival is cursed, and the frequent fights breaking out between the creepy circus manager and the workers are putting everyone on edge. There's an ancient evil lurking, and as it turns out, everything has to do with a handful of gods who walk among us. And one of them is a scruffy but devastatingly handsome beach bum named Bob, who gives free ballroom dancing lessons at the aqua park by the sea...
Right, I don't think I need to go further to let you know just how bizarre this book is. But then, I liked it. I didn't think I would at first, simply because of the sheer amount of information the story throws at you right off the bat. As you can see from my brief summary, there's a lot happening in this book, and while trying to figure out what's going on, things can feel a tad overwhelming. Not to mention, the numerous time jumps near the beginning can add to the sense of disjointedness.
I was loaded up with so many questions at first. Most of them involve the circus manager Joel. Who is he and why are we seeing him in all these places across the country, and at these very different times? He's obviously hunting something, but what is this strange power allowing him to know exactly where to be? Where is it coming from? A lot of these questions were answered to my satisfaction at the end, but there were still many points that I felt could have been expanded. I bring this up because for a book with so many threads and topics, the world building is surprisingly on the light side. I enjoyed what I saw, but also felt like there should have been more.
However, I am amazed at Adam Christopher's creativity and the vision for this novel. I especially loved the mysticism and the darkness. Take the Hang Wire killer, for example. This was one of many developments in the overarching story line, but admittedly it was also the horror and mystery of it that eventually grabbed my attention and drew me in. And in fantasy, you usually see circuses depicted as magical places filled with whimsy and wonder, but here the circus is a cursed, creepy place suffused with pure evil where the carnival attractions themselves hunger for blood. I found it all deeply enticing.
So then, my first Adam Christopher novel turned out to be quite the offbeat experience, but I wasn't disappointed. All in all, this was a highly original read packed with all kinds of strange and fantastical elements, and that's how I like it. There may be a lot to take in at first, but everything comes together eventually, once the story gets going and builds momentum. (less)
A couple of recent experiences have made me extremely wary of spin-offs, so it was probably a good thing I didn’t know House of the Rising Sun was one until I was already well into it. I’ve never read Kristen Painter before this, and I’d definitely wanted to give this series a fair shot. So perhaps it’s to her credit that I didn’t even know this was a spin-off novel until I read the author interview at the back of the book – not once did I feel lost or in over my head even if I hadn’t read her House of Comarré series. Right away, I liked how this book was the perfect jumping-on point for a new reader, which is a quality I think all spin-offs should strive for.
Augustine, who was a side character in House of Comarré gets to star in his own series here, returning to his hometown of New Orleans after some time away. He’s playing fast and loose, having very few responsibilities and getting to enjoy the attentions of human women who find his Fae heritage irresistible. He also gets free room and board whenever he wants in a luxurious Garden District mansion, thanks to his adoptive mother Olivia Goodwin, the retired movie star. It’s a good life! Little wonder then why he’s so fiercely reluctant when asked to be Guardian of the city. But when the vampire gangs start attacking innocent tourists and those he loves, Augustine finds he might not have a choice.
Meanwhile, Olivia’s biological daughter Harlow gets into a massive amount of trouble, having been convicted of cyber-hacking. Completely broke and unable to pay the exorbitant fine, she decides on the lesser of two evils and hits up her mom for help rather than go to jail, even though the two have been estranged for years.
What struck me early on was that neither Augustine nor Harlow seemed to be capable of taking responsibility of their own actions. Augustine wasn’t too bad – though it was a bit off-putting the way he figured he could get away with doing something wrong with no repercussions. When threatened with the Guardianship, all he could think about was how it would affect his cushy life. Guess what, Augustine, punishment usually goes hand in hand with breaking the rules! There’s really no sense in resenting it.
Ultimately Augustine redeemed himself in my eyes, stepping up to fulfill his role. On the other hand, Harlow’s attitude left a bad taste in my mouth and did not really fade until the very end. It was revealed early on that her estrangement from her mother was due to Olivia refusing to divulge the identity of Harlow’s father. That’s a fixation Harlow NEVER allows us to forget. Hearing her go on about it, you’d think every single one of her life’s misfortunes could be traced back to Olivia withholding her father’s name. Harlow's introductory scene even involved her wishing daddy would come bail her out of trouble, if only she'd known who he was, and that she’d never have been duped into a cybercrime if only he'd been in her life in the first place. Somehow, I just don't buy that. Plus, Olivia was not as bad a mother as Harlow made her sound. Characters tend to play a huge role in my enjoyment of a novel, so it was unfortunate that Harlow started off so self-absorbed and entitled, and her inability to admit "Hey, I screwed up, and it was my own fault" really grated on me.
But how I adored the Kristen Painter’s portrayal of New Orleans in this series! If she’d had wanted the atmosphere of a never-ending party, she certainly nailed it. It’s the perfect setting when it comes to a haven for fae, vampires, witches and other supernatural creatures. I loved the scene of Nokturnos, a noisy and boisterous night of festivities where everyone just wants to have fun. Can’t really blame Augustine for being so happy-go-lucky when the mood’s just so positively infectious, and world building is simply phenomenal.
Apart from the hiccups with the characters, I actually quite enjoyed this book and had a lot of fun with it. In fact, I thought the last page came far too soon, and wish ending hadn’t been so rushed. These characters have a lot of potential to grow, with Augustine having won me over already, and Harlow is well on her way to becoming a more sympathetic character. I’ll admit it – I’m raring to find out more. All in all, House of the Rising Sun is a promising start, and I look forward to the next book.(less)
Last year I read Hell Bent by Devon Monk, not realizing before I started that it is actually the first of a two-book spin-off series set in the world of the author's Allie Beckstrom novels. This book Stone Cold is the second. While the description for this Broken Magic duology says it can be read on its own without reading the Allie books, my own personal experience has shown that unless you have, it can be quite a struggle to keep track of the characters' histories and the series backstory. Don't get me wrong, I still had a great time reading. But I'm positive your experience would be richer and you'd feel a lot less lost if both series are read. Just something to consider.
At least I was more prepared this time around, having done most of the necessary catching up during the last novel. Shamus "Shame" Flynn is back and he is now even more damaged from the events at the end of Hell Bent. The book's main villain, a rogue magic user named Eli Collins is still out there, and Shame is determined to hunt him down and make Eli pay for the deaths of loved ones. Feeling angry and full of guilt, Shame's already unstable control of Death magic is threatening to slip away from him, which could mean great danger to everyone around him, even his friends and allies.
When all's said and done, I'm really glad I decided to read this book, and not just because it's the second half of a two-parter and I always hate to leave things hanging. I'm also glad because I liked Stone Cold much more than I did Hell Bent, and there are several reasons for this. Firstly, this book contains a conclusion that finishes things off with a bang. Secondly, that conclusion not only provides an ending for Shame's story, it provides one for Allie Beckstrom as well. Even though I've never read her character's series, I still could tell that this was a pretty huge deal.
But thirdly and most importantly, I liked Stone Cold because I felt Shame finally stepped up to take the reins to his own series. In the first book, his character was really hard to get into; even though that was my first exposure to Shame and this entire Allie Beckstrom universe, he always felt like a guest in someone else's world, which was why color me totally unsurprised when I eventually discovered that Hell Bent was a spin-off. It also didn't help that Allie and Zayvion made such frequent appearances making it obvious that they were still quite central to the story, and that Shame himself was such a curmudgeony character. However, in losing control of his Death magic in this book, he became a lot more interesting to me by turning into a very different kind of Urban Fantasy anti-hero protagonist.
I actually felt sympathy for Shame. Don't his friends realize just how volatile his powers are? You can't demand help from a person who can't control Death magic and then blame him when horrible things happen, especially when they are exactly what he'd warned them about! Give him a break! Geez, everyone was so hard on poor Shame in this one, I found myself on his side just because it was all so unfair.
Anyway, how sad it is that the series ends just as I was getting into the character. At the same time, I wouldn't have had it any other way. I'm actually glad this is only two books because I don't know if I would've continued if this was an ongoing series. With books, shows, etc. I always much prefer it if the spin-off character actually moves to a new locale and make new friends so we get to start off fresh. He or she deserves a chance to move out of the shadow and shine. That's probably my only beef with Broken Magic. I wanted more Shame, but it was also clear that Devon Monk wanted to hold on to the characters in her other series (the first half dozen or so chapters of this book was about Allie's baby shower, for example). I just don't know if I could take that, but two books is absolutely fine.
If you've kept up with the Allie Beckstrom novels, then picking this series up is probably a no-brainer. You'd have the advantage over me as well, and no doubt enjoy it even more. For readers who are new to the world but don't mind feeling like they've stepped into the middle of an ongoing saga, this is a good opportunity to discover Devon Monk's writing and these two books are actually a pretty decent choice for the urban fantasy enthusiast.(less)
It’s over! And make no mistake, whatever I may say here about Dreams of Gods & Monsters, it was a good book, and the trilogy as a whole is a series I would heartily recommend. But in terms of expectations, I think I may have placed all my eggs in one basket. I went into this with hopes for the ending of all endings, which is unfair of me perhaps, but I desperately wanted back the magic I first experienced in Daughter of Smoke & Bone. Needless to say, the first book still reigns supreme as my favorite of the trilogy, but that being said, the third book didn't disappoint either. It just didn’t leave me as satisfied as I wanted to be, but I admit I was expecting a lot.
So the war is on in this book, with Jael at the head of the angel army. On the run, Akiva and his seraph sister Liraz have fled to the other side to join Karou, who has taken control of the chimaera rebellion through an impressive feat of deception and pretense. It’s a shockingly suspenseful scenario, considering how at any moment the ruse could be discovered, destroying any chance of a peaceful resolution. Still, at last we see Akiva and Karou fighting on the same side for the same cause against a common enemy.
But as much as it pains me to say, the romance itself isn’t doing much for me anymore. How far Karou and Akiva’s love story has fallen in my eyes, when I look back to my review of the first book and see how weak-in-the-knees I was for their tale of forbidden love. And now? I feel nothing. If I can hazard a guess, I think the second book pushed the melodrama a bit too far. Watching the characters dance around each other going through the motions (and emotions) when you know they’re going to end up back together anyway? Well, that just sort of takes the fun out of it. So Karou and Akiva reconcile in this book, like we’d all known was going to happen. Did they want a prize?
Up until the last few chapters though, and minus my gripes about the romance, this book was in fact quite fantastic. There are multiple plot threads going on, each punctuated by their moments of action and suspense, but also moments of tenderness and humor as well. When Jael’s army of angels first descended to earth, it made for a few incredible chapters where the panic and disbelief practically emanated off the page.
Add to that, we have a new POV character named Eliza, whom I initially thought was introduced for the sole purpose of showing us humanity’s reaction during the aforementioned significant event. As it turned out, she had a bigger role to play as well. I still think Eliza joined us way too late and her part in the overall big picture felt a little forced, given this already cramped storyline. However, I do love her character. I really can’t say much more about her for fear of revealing any spoilers, but she brought a great personality to the story, and that’s saying a lot, considering we already have Zuzana. It goes without saying, Zuze was simply delightful. As always!
Now for the actual ending. I wish I had better things to say about it but the truth is, I thought it carried on for much longer than it should have. Talk about an ending that overstayed its welcome. When all is said and done, the foes are vanquished, friends are reunited, all I wanted to do was bask in the glory of victory and soak up the feel-good vibes. I really could have done without a final bombshell. Especially since it felt like it came out of nowhere. Granted, that stuff usually works like a charm in action movies, and hey, it might work for you. But for me it was mentally exhausting. I would prefer not to feel like that at the end of a book, and especially not at a series-ender.
Don’t get me wrong, though. None of this changes the fact that I think the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is absolutely fantastic and one of the strongest YA series I’ve ever read. Like I said, I highly recommend these books. And if you’ve enjoyed the first two, there’s no reason at all not to read this too and finish up the saga. Despite minor hiccups here and there, it's a concluding novel well worth your time.(less)
While it's true I've never read anything by Devon Monk before this, her name had been on my reading list ever since her Age of Steam books first caught my eye. I wasn't aware that she was working on something else, which explained my surprise when I saw that she had a first book of a new Urban Fantasy series out this month. You know me, I can never pass up a chance to read new UF! The fact that I'll also finally get to check out a book by Devon Monk was also very exciting.
Hell Bent is the book in question, starring the jaded Shamus "Shame" Flynn as the main protagonist and narrator. Being a special kind of magic user called a Breaker, Shame along with his Soul Complement Terric Conley have the ability to "break" magic, channeling it in its full force. Thing is, Shame's magic is Death and Terric's is Life, and both are constantly engaged in a struggle against their power, which can consume them if they're not careful. In Shame's case, he has to remain control of himself at all times, lest his Death magic harms others arround him.
In a world where the power of magic has become so diminished, the Breakers immediately become targets when secrets behind their abilities leak out and become known to the government. A group of Breakers, including Shame and Terric, choose to stay and fight on home ground. But then, people with magic in their pasts start disappearing and dying -- people close to Shame and his friends. Then, beautiful and mysterious Dessa breezes into his life asking for help to find her brother's killer, making Shame realize the extent of the threat if the Breakers' secrets fall into the wrong hands.
Almost right away, I had to do a double-take of the blurb on the cover, to make sure I was indeed reading the first book of a new series. I had that strange feeling of being dropped into the middle of a a situation, much like walking into a theater fifteen minutes after the movie had already started. The world of the book had an "established" feel to it already, as well as a community of characters firmly set in place, described in a way that made me feel I should already know them. I did some research and that was how I ultimately came to discover Devon Monk's other Urban Fantasy series, the Allie Beckstrom books. I don't know how I managed to completely miss the boat on this series, because there are nine books all together and they were pretty popular, but I soon found out that Hell Bent is actually the first book of a spinoff. Which explains a lot!
With that mystery out of the way, I have to say that while those familiar with Allie Beckstrom will probably find a lot more to be excited about in this book, it was nevertheless a pretty fun ride for a newcomer like me too. Yes, I felt a little lost at first, but that was mostly due to my own compulsive desire to find out everything about the world and the relationships between all the members of this tightly-knit group of magic users (that is, nothing all that pertinent to understanding the story). The details that were important, on the other hand, were all there, so readers new to this world need not fear. If you're anything like me, you might even feel the urge to pick up the Allie Beckstrom novels. Indeed, my curiosity led me to add Magic to the Bone to my reading list, because I was just too intrigued by all the mentions and references to people and events in this previous series.
One thing I wasn't too sure of about this book was how I felt about the main character. I can tell Devon Monk is a talented writer from the way she has crafted this indepth and fully fleshed-out personality for Shamus Flynn. The problem is, that personality is a very caustic one. I'm used to reading Urban Fantasy starring snarky characters, but Shame's brand of snark was tinged with a little too much hostility for my tastes. Right from the start, I could tell he has a massive chip on his shoulder. Not that he doesn't have a good excuse, being Death Magic incarnate and all, but at times his angst would reach levels I could barely tolerate. It took me a while to warm up to him, when the story got going and the goodness in him eventually made itself known. He also has an unconventional way of showing that he cares, which actually won him points from me. Plus, I enjoyed his brutal and no-nonsense methods of payback. For a character I downright disliked at the beginning, he certainly has a way of turning things around and making me change my mind.
The final point I want to bring up involves the romance. Devon Monk did a fantastic job building it up and carrying it out, making it emotionally impactful for the reader. But for whatever reason, it just didn't work for me. Shame and Dessa were great together, but the way their relationship was written and presented somehow gave me the feeling like it was shoehorned into the story to make a point. It's definitely not a dealbreaker, but I do prefer it when a romance develops more realistically between two characters, especially in this case when things happen so quickly.
Despite being slightly disappointed at how the story was left wide open for the next book (not all the loose ends were tied up nicely), I did enjoy how this one ended. The climax was action-filled and suspenseful, leaving me excited to find out what will happen next. Hell Bent did its job as a good teaser and gave me a taste of what to expect, and I have a feeling I'll probably like the second Broken Magic book even more. I can definitely see Stone Cold in my future, not to mention the Allie Beckstrom series as well!(less)
Let's face it. Forbidden love is just like any other kind of love in young adult fiction. A good thing like that hardly ever lasts, at least not without being dragged through seven layers of confused teenaged angst and subjected to overused plot devices that involve mix-ups and misunderstandings. That said, I still really enjoyed this book. But the delicious passion and romance, which is what I loved so much about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, is lost and gone in this sequel, replaced by so much anger and bitterness.
Karou has finally awoken to her true origins, remembering the Chimaera she used to be. She also remembers the angel she once loved, in the world before the war and bloodshed. His people have decimated hers and killed those she loved, and so now she sets her sights on two goals: rebuilding the Chimaera army as their new ressurectionist, and hating Akiva. Meanwhile, the angel in question is wracked with guilt and heartbreak over what he has done to Madrigal/Karou, miserable that he'd found her only to drive her away again. Yet the war rages on, and Akiva must continue fighting for his own side, though not without uncertainty and a lot of doubt for his leaders and their orders.
The story has evolved to focusing on the fighting, politics and conspiracies between and within both factions. The seductive, magical aspect of this series has shifted to something darker and more violent, though I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing. But like I said, there is now very little of the delicious romance that first drew me in, though I suppose this was something I'd already expected even as I was zipping to the library to snag the second book as soon as I was finished with the first. I understand you have to ramp up the romantic drama somehow to make things interesting, especially in a trilogy. Sadly, it just didn't work for me; the relationship between Karou and Akiva was at once reduced to slow, dull, typical.
On the other hand, there's so much more to this series than just the romance. When I wasn't so busy being a morose sentimentalist, I actually enjoyed this book quite a lot, especially the chapters leading up to the ending. As irked as I was with the comedy of errors that has become of Karou and Akiva's love story, the gripping suspense in the conclusion and its promise of an incredible finale in the third book went a long way to make up for my disappointment. I still like the story, and desperately want to know what happens next.
I also don't want to make it sound like the book is completely devoid of love and lightness. After all, one of my favorite characters is Zuzana, Karou's best friend, who has found happiness with her boyfriend Mik. Their relationship is like a potent concoction of sweetness and humor injected right into the story -- almost like the author realized in advance that she would need to include them somehow to make everything feel less empty and bleak. It worked, for the most part; Zuzana's chapters carried a big part of this book for me. As I grew less interested in Karou and Akiva, my fondness for other characters increased. Besides Zuzana and Mik, I also very much liked Liraz and Hazael, Akiva's angel siblings and loyal companions.
And of course, Laini Taylor's writing is as beautiful as always, bringing her worlds and characters to life. In this area she has not let me down yet. Even though I didn't like this book as much as the first, there's still plenty here to gush about, as you can see. Very much looking forward to the third book to see how the war culminates as well as to discover the fates of Akiva and Karou.(less)
Wow, what a surprising and fantastic paranormal debut from E.L. Tettensor. With its dark mystery vibes and Victorian era inspired fantasy setting, this book was practically screaming my name when it was first brought to my attention, and even then I ended up with much more than I bargained for. That's definitely one way to make me a happy reader.
Darkwalker is the first book of the new Nicolas Lenoir series, starring the eponymous main character who was once a greatly esteemed and talented police inspector known for his tenacity and respect for justice. But now Lenoir is a shadow of who he once was, a jaded man who has grown dismissive of his work as well as the people around him, much to the annoyance of Sergeant Kody, who had thought being assigned to the legendary inspector would be the opportunity of a lifetime.
No one knows that behind that contemptuous demeanor and the apathy, Nicolas Lenoir is actually hiding a secret past. Something hunts him, a vindictive spirit known as the Darkwalker that will not stop once he has marked someone for death. Now a disturbing new case has brought the Darkwalker to Lenoir's neck of the woods, and the detective has to solve the mystery before the spirit of vengeance catches up to him...and time runs out for a young boy he cares for.
First, looking back at the notes I took for this review, I almost feel like I need to apologize to the book for brushing off its introduction as "slow". Granted, it took me longer than I expected to read the first sixty or so pages, not only because so little happens during this stage of setting up the story but also because I reacted so negatively to the main character's attitude. Simply put, Lenoir is a jerk. The way he treated Kody and looked down his nose on the case in the opening chapter made me want to punch him in the face. At this point, I almost started to dread the idea of reading further. But I shouldn't have doubted! Now that I'm done with the book, I could see that everything happened for a reason. I wouldn't have enjoyed this one so much if not for all the information that was given to me in the introduction, and likewise I would not have appreciated Lenoir for who he is at the end had not acted like such a curmudgeon at the beginning.
On that note, this story definitely includes one of those mystery plots that will have the reader flipping back the pages to a previous spot in the book, just to marvel at how the author had been dropping bits of clues and other details from the very start. I was still genuinely shocked at how things turned out; the answer came as unexpectedly to me as it did to the inspector.
Darkwalker also impresses me on the fantasy side of things. Lenoir works out of a city called Kennian, part of the Five Villages area, described as a rather backwater part of the book's world. The setting reminds me of turn-of-the-19th-century England, home to a population that largely does not acknowledge the existence of the paranormal, making the thing hunting Lenoir all the more creepy and unsettling. In addition, E.L. Tettensor has created a group of people and culture called the Adal, a society of pastoral nomads persecuted for their outsider status as well as the actions of a few bad apples. The subject of Adali magic plays a big role in the case, and Tettensor has also crafted a very thorough and rich history for her fictional race. I am overall very pleased with the amount of world building presented in this book.
Everything in the plot just came together so well. Once you reach the point where the story takes off, it doesn't slow down. After making it through the introductory chapters, I was quickly drawn in by the intrigue and mystery, especially when I was treated to a brief glimpse of the brilliant and passionate detective Lenoir used to be. I found I could not bear to put this book down during the final hundred pages, and stayed up into the wee hours of the night just to finish.
Of course, there is still the big question of Nicolas Lenoir's past, which did not go fully addressed. So I was so glad to see this would be a series, even though this book can certainly be read as a stand alone with no cliffhangers or glaring loose ends to worry about. I would love to see further exploration into his character and this world, or heck, even stories about Lenoir that take place in an earlier time. Regardless of what comes next, I'm really looking forward to book two!(less)