I have to say, so far I’ve been very impressed with the variety of Tor.com novellas. Just as I’ve gotten myself settled in with a couple stories that are rather sober, more serious-like endeavors, along comes Envy of Angels barging into this black tie dinner party like your favorite uncle, the one who gets loud when he’s had too many but is always ready to entertain the crowd with a funny yarn.
I had such a great time with this book. Imagine Hell’s Kitchen meets Dresden Files, marinated in a flavorful blend of action and thrills, seasoned generously with humor. When I first glimpsed the conspicuously short publisher description for this novella, I had my suspicions about what this meant and now they have been confirmed: The less you know about this story going in, the better.
Fortunately, I can give the general gist of it without spoiling anything. Envy of Angels is about Lena and Darren, two ordinary down-on-their-luck New York chefs who suddenly find themselves landing the gig of lifetime at Sin du Jour, an exclusive catering company owned by one of the city’s hottest celebrity chefs. However, it soon becomes clear that Sin du Jour is no ordinary catering company. For one thing, their clients are demons.
When asked to serve a morally questionable item on the menu at their next event (and we’re not talking about veal), Sin du Jour owner and executive chef Byron “Bronko” Luck gathers his staff and puts it to a vote. Should they do what they’re told and go through with the whole thing? Or should they take the dangerous, near-impossible option and attempt to pull the wool over their devilish clientele’s eyes by preparing a substitute main course and praying they won’t notice? By the way, these types of hellish customers, when they don’t get what they order, aren’t just going to be sending it back. But guess what our characters decide to go ahead and do anyway.
The result is an extraordinary amount of story packed into this novella. Envy of Angels features plenty of action both in the kitchen and out in the field, and even includes a thrilling heist sequence starring Ritter, Cindy, Hara and Moon, the unforgettable foursome who make up Sin du Jour’s Stocking and Receiving Department.
The plot is also very addictive, especially when it gets more and more bizarre. Between getting completely sucked into the story and the sheer morbid curiosity to see what other crazy things might be happening next, I kept turning the pages and finished this book in no time at all. It was fantastically good fun. I really don’t want to give much more away, though in truth, there are moments so absurdly hilarious, so out-of-this-world-insane that I would be hard-pressed to describe them, anyway. Seriously. There are moments in here that you simply must experience for yourself.
One thing is certain though. I’ll never look at a Chicken McNugget the same way again....more
As someone who was totally new to Cathy Clamp’s work, I was very excited about the opportunity to read Forbidden, book one in a new series set in the Sazi universe. A “reboot” of sorts, the novel takes place ten years after the events at the end of The Tales of the Sazi, featuring a new story and new characters – a fresh start, essentially, and a perfect jumping-on point for a newcomer like me.
Indeed, there’s not much you need to know before starting this series, and any required knowledge is helpfully provided by the author. For example, I found it interesting that the two protagonists of Forbidden actually first appeared in the original series as relatively minor characters. According to Clamp’s afterword, the heroine Clarissa Evans (who goes by Claire Sanchez here) was in Moon’s Fury as one of the young victims of a child abductor. All grown up now and an agent of the Wolven, Claire is being sent to investigate a string of missing children cases in the remote town of Luna Lake.
For obvious reasons, the mission hits a bit close to home, and Claire finds herself struggling to deal with unpleasant memories on top of trying to figure out the complex hierarchy of her new pack. The community at Luna Lake is unlike anything she’s had to deal with before, on account of it being a former refugee camp for displaced Sazi and lost orphans. Shapeshifters of all sorts live together here, including owls, falcons, bears, cougars, and of course wolves like Claire herself. On her first day, she meets another wolf named Alek, a Sazi orphan who grew up in Luna Lake after being adopted into a family of owls. Sparks fly between them immediately – both the good and bad sort – but whatever attraction or differences they have between them, solving the mystery must come first…before it’s too late for the missing kids.
Right away, I was captivated by the magic of this world. There are all sorts of Sazi, like those who can turn into wolves, big cats, birds of prey, snakes, etc. There were also the little things that charmed me, like the fact they can talk in their animals forms, or use food smells (most often desserts, I find. Or maybe I just notice them more because of my sweet tooth) to identify the emotional states of other Sazi.
I was also amazed by the social dynamics of Luna Lake. You don’t have to be familiar with the Sazi series to understand that it’s a very special community. The bird shifters aren’t big fans of the cats, the cats don’t much like the wolves, and the wolves can’t stand the smell of the birds, but at Luna Lake all the groups manage to live in relative harmony because that’s the only way to ensure survival. For Alek and other Sazi like him who were adopted by the Williams, the town is literally one big family. Even though he is a wolf, Alek is a big brother to owls, eagles, bobcats, other wolves and more, and there’s this sense of solidarity and togetherness about Luna Lake that gave me all the warm and fuzzy feels. Yet, there’s also a cost to that peace. Over the years the pack has developed a way to identify their “omegas”, and these low ranked individuals are treated poorly and forced to do all the dirty jobs in town. It made me feel really unsettled and angry towards Luna Lake’s leaders and those townsfolk who turn a blind eye to this blatantly unfair and broken system.
Be aware too that while Forbidden is described as an Urban Fantasy mystery, in some ways it actually reads more like a paranormal romance. Claire and Alek’s relationship is often the focus of the story, and the mystery elements of the plot are in truth not that substantial. To really get into the story, you would need to buy into the chemistry between Claire and Alek, and that was perhaps my problem; I didn’t feel like I got a chance to know either of them very well before they were thrust together, and right on the heels of them falling in lust came the obligatory plot contrivances to introduce conflict between them. I also found Alek too self-absorbed for my tastes and Claire too much of a “special snowflake”, which all made it harder for me to care about their developing relationship. That said, I’m not a big reader of PNR so there may be a lot genre norms and nuances that I’m not accustomed to, so feel free to take my opinion on the romance with a grain of salt!
The world of the Sazi does have the benefit of being fully fleshed out and realized though, from all the groundwork that has been established by the original series. Just this little taste of it has gotten me hooked, and I find myself wanting more. Certainly if you have a love for stories about shapeshifters, you need to check this one out for the many different kinds of creatures alone. Recommended for urban fantasy/paranormal romance readers and fans of strange and beautiful magic....more
It’s really interesting to me how the Daniel Blackland trilogy has evolved over the three books, and reading Dragon Coast made me want to cheer because we were going back to the series’ heist story beginnings. I am a total sucker for caper stories, so not surprisingly I loved the first book California Bones. On the other hand, the second book Pacific Fire took a different direction, and was more like a coming-of-age tale that explored the characters’ histories and relationships. To me, what’s great is that this third book felt like a combination of both, tying up loose ends to bring it all home. Throw in a fire-breathing dragon, and I really can’t ask for more than that.
Right away, Dragon Coast resolves a few questions left open at the end of the last book, so if you haven’t read Pacific Fire yet, you probably should first. This review won’t be revealing spoilers beyond what’s available in the publisher description, but they might be unavoidable anyway because each book builds on the previous one, and I would not recommend reading either of the sequels as stand alones. The focus returns to Daniel in this book, though Sam still plays a big role. A golem made from the magical essence of the late Hierarch, Sam was taken in by Daniel as an adopted son. Together they’ve been on the run for a long time, until things came to a head with a Pacific firedrake, a magical creature constructed by Daniel’s half-brother Paul.
Everyone thought Sam was lost when he was consumed by the firedrake, but it turns out the boy’s consciousness is still alive and aware inside the dragon, albeit in magical form. This leaves Daniel and his friends with a bit of a dilemma. They cannot kill the firedrake without losing Sam, even while the huge creature rampages across Southern California turning huge swathes of it into fiery ruin. Daniel comes up with a plan: he will find a way to subdue the dragon, then use a magical substance called the axis mundi to draw out Sam’s essence, before replacing it in a new constructed golem body. Great plan, except for one problem – axis mundi is one of the rarest substances on earth. To get it, Daniel will have to pose as Paul—whom he killed—to sneak into the kingdom of Northern California, win a promotion to become the Lord High Osteomancer, then steal a piece of axis mundi on the ceremonial jeweled scepter of the Northern Hierarch herself as she uses it to confirm his position.
It’s like stealing the crown jewels…meets Face/Off. I love it.
I’ll also say this about Daniel: the man never does anything by halves, even when it comes to planning the riskiest, most impossible of heists. However, this time he’s going into the enemy’s lair without the usual caper crew, with only Moth by his side as his bodyguard. He sends his Cassandra, his go-to safe-cracker, with Gabriel the water mage and Max the hound to track down the firedrake. Meanwhile, Sam is stuck in the belly of the beast, so to speak. We as readers are treated to a somewhat abstract concept of the boy’s consciousness trapped within the half-organic, half-mechanical insides of the dragon. The team is split into those three main threads that make up the story.
For obvious reasons, the most compelling of these was Daniel’s sections. It’s intense and exciting watching him pose as Paul, working against the clock to achieve his goals while also struggling to familiarize himself with all the intricate customs of the Northern Kingdom in order to pass as his dead half-brother. Of all the supporting characters, Moth also shines in Dragon Coast as the muscle and the brains of this operation, taking over some of Daniel’s duties as mastermind to gather intelligence. Next up was Cassandra, Gabriel, and Max’s sections, which featured a bit of sleuthing and espionage, adding intrigue to the equation. Finally, even though Sam is my favorite character, unfortunately his sections were the weakest in my eyes. This has a lot to do with my own preferences; I just don’t do well with abstract conceptualizations and I also felt those bizarre glimpses inside the dragon were less relevant to the story and seemed more like dream-like interludes.
This isn’t a very long book, which means there’s a lot happening in a relatively small number of pages. It’s great because there is absolutely no slowing down, and Greg Van Eekhout’s writing has a very cinematic quality that helps the story drive you ever forward between these three separate plot threads, so one thing you can count on is snappy pacing and a quick read.
On the flip side though, this also means there’s little opportunity to delve deeper into anything else. Our time with Daniel in Northern California feels far too brief and there’s not much to his challenge to become Lord High Osteomancer. Remember in Face/Off, when John Travolta’s character with Nic Cage’s face finds himself in his nemesis’ hideout, meets his lover and his child, and realizes then that even the bad guys have their lives, their loves, and their families? I sense this book going for the same kind of deep, heartfelt revelation but it never quite manages, simply because there was so little time to know everyone in Daniel’s — or rather, Paul’s — life. Dragon Coast should have been a more emotional story, exploring the painful side of one’s self and past, but realistically, the novel was just too short to be effective with that.
Still, this series has long established itself to be more fun and adventurous than weighty and profound, though it has a deep and very complex magic system and some pretty dark themes, what with osteomancers cannibalizing each other for their powers and all that. The world-building remains one of my favorite aspects, and I love how each book has given us more osteomancy as well as the author’s strange and dystopian version of a flooded and divided California. If you’ve enjoyed the previous books, Dragon Coast is not to be missed. It wraps up the series with a bang, and gives satisfying answers to a lot of character conflicts and plot questions besides. And if you’ve always been curious about these books, now is the best time to check out the whole completed trilogy. It’s one I highly recommend....more
And now time for something totally different. Long Black Curl isn’t a book I would have normally picked up on my own, and not least because it’s actually the third book of the Tufa sequence. I don’t usually like to jump onboard mid-series, but two factors made me decide to make an exception. First, I was told this book can be read as a stand-alone, and second, I’ve been hearing all these great things about it, which got me curious.
Now I’m so glad that I decided to give it a shot. I suppose Long Black Curl is technically an urban fantasy, but it’s certainly unlike anything else in the genre that I’ve ever read. When I think about the typical setting for a UF, I picture big cities or built-up metropolitan areas. The setting of the Tufa, on the other hand, is a remote valley nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. We’re talking the rural south, a land of gorgeous peaks and ridges upon ridges of pristine forests. But it’s also a land of no indoor plumbing, dirt roads, and where bigotry is still very much alive.
It’s an interesting world. There’s beauty, but also a whole lot of ugliness. It’s also where the Tufa make their home. No one knows exactly where they came from before they settled here, but for generations they have lived in the quiet hills and valleys of Cloud County, passing on the their stories and traditions in the form of song. Music is a huge part of their lives, and an innate part of their identity. To be cast out of their community and stripped of their ability to make music is one of the worst fates imaginable, but this is exactly what happened to Bo-Kate Wisby and her lover Jefferson Powell, the only two Tufa to have ever been exiled.
Now Bo-Kate is back, and she is angry, bitter, and determined to take over both tribes of the Tufa, which means taking out the two leaders Rockhouse Hicks and Mandalay Harris. Her secret weapon is Byron Harley, a famous musician from the 50s who went down in a plane crash but did not die, trapped instead in a faerie time bubble for the last sixty years. Bo-Kate hopes that Byron will help her by taking advantage of his desire for revenge, and for a while she seems unstoppable, until the rest of the Tufa decide to seek out a secret weapon of their own: Jefferson Powell, Bo-Kates old boyfriend.
Anyway, that’s the brief description of the book. What’s way more difficult is putting into words the feelings I got while reading it. The first thing that struck me about the story was how atmospheric it was, seemingly evocative of so much more than meets the eye. Reading about the Tufa was like walking through a veil into another realm. And it’s not just the nature of the setting either; reading about some of the things that go on in this small community (especially those perpetrated by one of the Tufa leaders Rockhouse) are just so hideous and beyond the pale that convincing myself that this is some faraway fantasy world becomes easier and less traumatic to accept. Furthermore, because the Tufa are such a closely knit group, everything that goes on within their ranks – like internal politics or scandals, for example – feel so much more personal, making the emotions cut even deeper.
What I loved the most though, was the music. Creating it is an art form I find both mysterious and beautiful. And to a non-musician like me, it even almost seems like magic. Alex Bledsoe pretty much takes this idea and runs with it, so that music to the Tufa is in fact the source or their magical power. Songs become more than just a way to communicate ideas; they become a means for them to affect the world around them. Music is also a part of the Tufa shared heritage, something that links the community together and gives the individual a sense of identity and belonging. Of course, I’ve seen music used as a magical device in fantasy novels before, but Bledsoe’s handling of it is one of the more unique examples I’ve seen so far, despite—or perhaps because of—the abstractness in its execution.
Needless to say, I enjoyed the book a lot, and something tells me I would have liked it even more if I’d read the previous two before I tackling this one. Long Black Curl worked absolutely fine as a stand-alone, but I think the extra background information would further enhance the story by adding more context to the Tufa characters and all their complex relationships. I’ve gone ahead and added the first book The Hum and the Shiver to my to-read list, because this is a very special series and I would love to go back and read more. Highly recommended....more
The Craft Sequence is unlike many conventional fantasy series in that each book can be read as a stand-alone, their stories ping-ponging unapologetically all over time and place, focusing on different characters. It makes it an unusual, albeit very special series. That said, many of these characters and events connect to each other, and there is a clear advantage to reading these books in the order in which they are published.
Last First Snow, for instance, is technically a prequel, taking place before the other three books, but it still felt like I was reaching a “crossroads” of sorts, on account of some of the familiar faces. The two main protagonists, Elayne and Temoc, are characters we’ve met before, though both appeared in their respective books in a supporting capacity only. It is also only forty years after the God Wars, and the city of Dresediel Lex still feels its effects, not least of all the poor population in the district of Skittersill, constrained by the old gods’ wards. Elayne Kevarian, a craftswoman, necromancer, and lawyer (not necessarily in that order) is retained by the King in Red to repair the wards, but the people of Skittersill rise up against her efforts, led by the warrior-priest Temoc.
Something had to be done, so Elayne organizes a meeting between all the parties in the hopes of negotiating a deal. After long days of bargaining back and forth and against all odds, an agreement is finally reached. However, no sooner had the ink dried on the contract than an assassination attempt throws all possibility of peace out the window. An all-out battle ensues. Gods and mortals, law and tradition, magic and reason, duty and family – it all comes to a head as both Elayne and Temoc must decide what they fight for.
In spite of all the cool ideas and fiery clashes, so far in the series Last First Snow was probably the toughest book for me to get into. Each installment has focused on a different theme, and something about this one just didn’t quite capture me right off the bat. We got started on a lethargic note, establishing the situation and mood in the Dresediel Lex. I didn’t feel what we were supposed to feel: a growing pressure, a sense of a city on the brink of losing control, the citizenry holding its collective breath. I don’t think I felt much of a connection to the people of Skittersill, not if I spent half the book actually rooting for the King in Red – whom, I might add, is not the villain in my eyes. In truth, there are no villains in this story. It also means no good guys either, but more on that later.
In essence, it felt like Max Gladstone tried to save all the good stuff for the second half of the novel. It wasn’t until the negotiations went sideways that I found myself full engaged; those scenes following the assassination attempt featured some of the best writing I’ve seen from Gladstone in this series so far. Once those floodgates were open, the story became more interesting, but still only because the main characters’ potentials were unlocked and not because I felt much for the nameless, faceless crowds of Skitterskill. Bottom line, Last First Snow is all about Elayne and Temoc, both of whom valiantly propped up the narrative.
Let’s start with Elayne Kevarian. You don’t mess with her. For readers who’ve been following this series since the beginning, that’s a lesson we learned early. There’s a certain satisfaction seeing her take center stage in this book, because though we’ve already taken her measure, there are still clearly so many ways in which she can surprise you. While Elayne remains one of my favorite Craft Sequence personalities, Temoc on the other hand stirred up plenty of mixed emotions. Seeing him with his young son Caleb, who will grow up to be the main character in Two Serpents Rise, was both a treat and a dreadful reminder of how things will turn out. Temoc’s personal journey in Last First Snow puts him in the difficult situation of choosing between two things that mean everything to him. Is he right for choosing one over the other? Just as difficult as it is to call the King in Red a villain, I too find it hard to get a bead on Temoc; for all the reasons there are to support him, I can probably find just as many to condemn him.
I enjoy books that throw me curve balls. Last First Snow by Max Gladstone is such a book. Is it my favorite of the series? Probably not. Still, as I say, there’s no such thing as a bad Craft Sequence book, just that some are better than others. Taking place before all the other books, Last First Snow was perhaps disadvantaged from the start, because the future is known for a lot of the characters. We already know who will make it out alive, how events will come to pass, how certain relationships will play out. For a book that’s mostly for filling the gaps in history though, it paints a rather fulfilling picture of two important characters who have thus far been on the periphery of our attention. I still love this series, and I can’t recommend it enough....more
Total newcomer to Chloe Neill here, so I had no idea what to expect when I started the first installment of her new Devil’s Isle series. Being peripherally aware of her Chicagoland Vampires books though, I knew enough to prepare myself for a fun urban fantasy story, and I was right. Leaving aside a shaky start and a couple rough edges, The Veil is a pretty solid introduction to a brand new post-apocalyptic world featuring an intriguing protagonist.
Her name is Claire Connolly, just another young woman trying to survive in post-war New Orleans running her late father’s antique shop (which sells more emergency batteries and MREs than furniture these days). She’s also a Sensitive, someone endowed with the magic which seeped through the Veil when the Paranormals came through seven years ago to wage war on humanity. It’s a secret she guards closely, for if anyone discovers her powers she could end up in Devil’s Isle, a prison for Sensitives and other stray Paras trapped in this world after the fighting was done.
However, keeping her secret also left Claire untrained and unable to control her magic. When bounty hunter Liam Quinn discovers the truth about her, he wastes no time finding her a mentor before the magic can consume Claire and turn her into a wraith like the one that killed his sister. But then strange things start happening to the Veil, which has remained closed for many years now, and Claire and Liam stumble upon a plot to plunge what is left of NOLA back into conflict with the Paranormals, a threat they and their friends must stop in order to prevent more death and destruction on all sides.
I confess, this book and I didn’t exactly start off on the right foot. If things like large swaths of infodumps bother you, then you might experience some of the same difficulties I had with the introduction. Claire’s story about how she discovered her powers, along with the entire history of the war with the Paras following the opening of the Veil were unceremoniously crammed into the first handful of pages, without much effort to make the deluge of details less awkward or obtrusive.
However, the book also started with a party, with the characters celebrating the not-so-imaginatively named War Night, a day which commemorates the survival of New Orleans after one of the biggest battles towards the end of the war. New Orleans is a city that ranks high among my favorite urban fantasy book settings, so it was really hard to resist the boisterous and frenetic atmosphere where everyone just wants to have fun and forget the hardships of everyday life. Even though the city is a shadow of what it once was, the spirit of its people is alive and well.
My impressions of the story also improved a lot as it progressed, once we were through with laying down the groundwork. I wouldn’t say the premise is anything unprecedented and there are admittedly a few kinks in the world-building that need ironing out or expanding, but on the whole I had a good time with this book. I enjoyed Claire as a protagonist, even if she is still feeling rather generic at this point, but I do look forward to seeing her develop more of a personality as the series progresses. The character of Liam Quinn, on the other hand, I really loved; when we first met him I immediately pegged him for a cookie-cutter UF love interest, one of those mysterious and smoldering tall, dark, handsome (and boring!) types — but turns out, I couldn’t be more wrong. He’s the character I found most likely to surprise me by going against my expectations, which immediately made him the most interesting in my eyes.
I was also astonished (but not entire unhappy) to see that the romance is relatively understated. The priority here is the overall story, and Chloe Neill really takes a no-nonsense approach to pacing by limiting the superfluous drama, instead focusing on driving the plot forward so that I never lost interest.
All told, The Veil may not be breaking any new ground, but I found it satisfying and entertaining. I’m curious to see where the author will go with the world-building, but what I’m most interested in is the potential in these characters. I’m definitely on board for the next book....more
Just as fun and entertaining as the first book! Going back to earlier this summer, here were some of the words I used in my review of The Shadow Revolution, book one of Clay and Susan Griffith’s new Crown & Key trilogy: feisty, ass-kicking, fast-paced, pulpish and adventurous, the perfect beach read. Now I’m pleased to report its sequel proved just as satisfying, especially since we know what we’re getting into and are more acquainted with our main characters.
The Undying Legion is the second installment of the trilogy, but instead of hitting the “middle book slump” this book really takes off and hits the ground running. Simon Archer, Kate Anstruther, and Malcom MacFarlane are back on the hunt for monsters and other things that go bump in the night, and true to form, we kick off this story with a grisly discovery. While on one of his nighttime patrols, Malcolm comes across the mutilated body of a woman in a London church. Based on evidence at the scene – signs of black magic, cryptic words carved in stone, mysterious Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into the victim’s exposed heart – Malcolm, Simon and Kate determine this to be a ritual murder.
However, this just turns out to be the first of many more gruesome ritualized killings around the city. We follow our heroes as they join forces with a quirky gadgeteer and a young werewolf to solve these mysteries, creating an unlikely alliance to battle demons, Egyptian mummies, necromancers and hordes of zombies. Let’s just say The Undying Legion sure lives up to its title.
I ended up enjoying this book even more than its predecessor, mainly due to the improvements in a couple of areas I felt were lacking in The Shadow Revolution. While I love the fast-paced action and page-turning enthusiasm of “popcorn” reads such as this, let’s face it, these kinds of stories don’t often leave much room for fully-fleshed character development or robust world-building. This was the key weakness of the first book. Still, I understood the reason for the trade-off, and had hoped to see the authors go beyond the surface-level details in this sequel to expand upon the characters and the world.
This was the real test for me, and happily, The Undying Legion passed with flying colors. It’s often expected of a sequel to build upon its preceding volumes, and this one carried that responsibility well, giving us a more intimate look into the lives of Simon, Kate and Malcolm, as well as rendering their world into a fully realized setting. I felt like I was given a lot more reasons to care about the characters, especially as their relationships strengthened and grew more complex. Likewise, I could appreciate the clever and snappy dialogue from before, but knowing the history behind all the relationships now, many of the interactions started taking on a deeper significance. Supporting characters aren’t left out either, and I was very happy that Penny Carter the adorable inventress as well as Charlotte the child werewolf both got bigger roles.
The pacing in this book was also far less chaotic, allowing more opportunities to develop the story and explore its overall arc. The Undying Legion presents a new adventure, but rest assured, the questions raised in the first book about Kate and Simon’s connection and the mysterious key won’t be forgotten. Throughout it all, the plot maintained its rigorous momentum, so effectively that even now it’s a wonder to me how this book managed to accomplish all that it did in a little over 300 pages.
Final verdict? I once said this series is like the equivalent of an explosive summer action blockbuster if movies like that existed back in the Victorian era, and I stand by that. The Undying Legion doesn’t add much to the first book in terms of its light, pulpy tones and monster-hunting themes, but it’s still a deeper experience for all that because of how much more we’re invested at this point. I’m looking forward to check out what I believe will be Kate, Simon and Malcolm’s biggest adventure yet in the series conclusion, The Conquering Dark....more
t all begins with a fallen angel. The War in Heaven has come to Paris – or what’s left of it. The proud city is a ruin now, the once beautiful Seine clogged with the ashes of the dead and destroyed. House Silverspires, which used to be one of the most powerful Fallen factions, has followed Paris’ downfall into decay and disarray. It is thought that the House’s founder Morningstar has abandoned them, or he may be dead; either way, the fate of Silverspires now rests in his protégé Selene’s hands. And Selene, while she’s no Morningstar, is trying to do her best to keep her House together and her people safe.
The situation grows more complicated when a new Fallen named Isabelle comes to Silverspires with a young man named Philippe. Isabelle, being one of their own, is embraced immediately, but Philippe – as an immortal but not a Fallen – remains an outsider until they can figure out what he is and where he came from. However, as Selene and her alchemist Madeleine struggle to unravel the enigma of Philippe and his strange mental link to Isabelle, a sudden string of uncanny deaths strikes those with ties to Silverspires, including a visiting dignitary of another Great House. To prevent another a war from tearing them all apart, friends and enemies must band together to uncover the secrets of their past and figure out how all of this is tied to the stranger in their midst.
The House of Shattered Wings is therefore a very different kind of murder mystery, one that involves the blending of a great number of elements. Using a broken and crumbling version of Paris as a backdrop lends the story a gothic vibe, in all its dark and portentous glory. Snippets of the story behind Lucifer’s fall can be glimpsed in the long history of House Silverspires and their infamous founder. Fallen themselves become the favorite prey of the urban gangs hiding amidst the hollowed out ruins, waiting patiently for their chance to harvest the magical flesh and bone to sell for lucrative sums on the black market. East also clashes with West when the mythologies of two very different cultures meet. Characters still dream longingly of a bygone era, clinging to ideals that they’ll never have again.
This book also has all the hallmarks of an “Aftermath” story. There’s a strong sense of being thrust into the middle of a situation, which I felt so keenly that at one point I actually stopped to wonder if I had unknowingly stepped into a spinoff or a continuation novel of an existing universe. These types of narratives are often tricky; after all, I have to be convinced that the “post-event” is in fact more interesting to read about than the event itself. For the most part, I think author Aliette de Bodard pulled it off. You won’t get a lot of background information here – at least, not laid out in a traditional or organized fashion. Instead, the world building and character details are integrated seamlessly into the plot, to be absorbed gradually as it progresses. It’s a very immersive way to experience a story.
On the other hand, throughout my reading of this novel there was a constant tugging, nagging sensation deep inside of me always demanding to know more. I wanted to know more about this bombed-out world, learn more about the author’s vision of this shattered version of Paris. I wanted to see the scope of the story expanded, because really, what we get to see here is merely a sliver. While the power struggle among the many Fallen Houses involves a great number of individuals, it’s still a relatively small piece of the puzzle. We know from the presence of Philippe that there’s a much bigger picture, and to her credit De Bodard does plenty to indicate this, though she left little room to explore further.
I also struggled to engage with the characters, the reason being most of them had pasts that sounded a lot more intriguing than their present circumstances. In many ways, Isabelle was a blank slate and Philippe’s own journey was part of the mystery, so I was all right with those two. With Selene and Madeleine, however, I felt like their histories overshadowed their current selves. Selene was apprentice to Morningstar himself, a relationship I would have really liked to know more about. And as for Madeleine, mentions of her past at House Hawthorne often made me feel out of my depth, like I was already supposed to know everything about her origins and her associations with the Fallen there. Ironically, she was probably the most interesting character, but I also felt disconnected to her most of all.
And yet, in spite of the areas which I thought could have been improved, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’m not denying there were hurdles, but overall I thought it was very well put together story that presented an intriguing and sophisticated never-seen-before side to the “fallen angels” mythos. In a way, my desire to know more is a testament to how thoroughly this book drew me in. It might not have swept me off my feet, but it got me paying attention. I look forward to reading more of Aliette de Bodard’s work in the future....more
Last year I discovered the awesome world of magic, demons, and sentient spirit-imbued weapons in Seth Skorkowsky’s Dämoren, so when I was offered a chance to read the sequel, I didn’t hesitate.
Hounacier builds on the first book, which introduced us to an order of modern-day knights called the Valducan. All the monsters or the world are actually human beings possessed by demon, and the type of demon in turn determines the type of monster and the transformation into werewolf, ghoul, lamia, wendigo, etc. A Valducan knight makes it his or her life’s work hunting and killing these demons, with the help of a holy weapon which the knight is bonded to with their whole heart and soul.
Book two expands upon these themes, but the story is also very different. For one thing, we have a change in protagonist. While Dämoren follows the life of a rogue demon hunter named Matt Hollis, Hounacier instead features another Valducan knight named Malcolm Romero. Dämoren was a jet-setting action/adventure thriller that took us on an ass-kicking demon hunt across the globe, while Hounacier takes place mostly in New Orleans and the story reads more like a mystery. The pacing is thus slower, but this is a good thing because it also sets the book up nicely for a heavier and more macabre horror vibe.
This dark fantasy series just got even darker, which is how I like it! Eleven years after he faced his first demon and became apprenticed to a Voodoo priest, Malcolm receives news about the grisly murder of his mentor. Now he returns to New Orleans to in order to catch the killer, armed with his holy weapon, a machete named Hounacier. As the investigation deepens and the details surrounding it becomes more disturbing, Malcolm finds himself betrayed. With his soul violated and his holy blade stolen from him, Malcolm is plunged into a nightmarish existence of violence and terrible dark magic. Seth Skorkowsky kept me on my toes the whole time, and it’s such an intense and brutal tale that I couldn’t even begin to guess how everything would turn out.
In many ways, the scope of Hounacier is smaller than that of its predecessor; we’re mainly in a single setting, there aren’t as many characters, and we also don’t see a big variety of demons in this book. Still, the narrower focus serves an advantage here, because it immerses us deeply into the culture and traditions of Voodoo magic. The author has clearly done a lot of research in order to make his portrayal of it as authentic and accurate as possible.
We also get to know the protagonist a lot better. Malcolm was a side character in Dämoren, one of the lead knights who gave Matt Hollis a hard time because the Valducan believed Matt was demon-touched. So in the first book, Malcolm was painted as this huge asshole and admittedly that’s how I remembered him too. Imagine my surprise then, when I read Hounacier and realized how much I liked him and sympathized with him. Malcolm is awesome – he’s interesting, deep, and conflicted, and this makes him an engaging character to follow. I think I ended up liking him even more than Matt Hollis. The powers granted to Malcolm by the mystical properties of his weapon are also unique and new. Matt Hollis may have his blood compasses, but Malcolm Romero has his magical tattoos, including one that can see through your soul to tell if you’re pure or tainted by a demon. Very cool stuff.
I would consider these Valducan books to be Urban Fantasy, but there’s also a great deal of Horror thrown into the mix. The horror element is even more prominent in Hounacier, as we follow the trail of a murderer and then come face-to-face with a werewolf demon. The werewolves here are the savage, psychotic and bloodthirsty variety, with the monster in control rather than the human. More than once, the terrifyingly gruesome scenes in here evoked a visceral reaction from me. If you like your UF dark, brutal and completely unflinching about the fact, then Valducan is the series for you.
One final thing I’m grateful to Mr. Skorkowsky for is that these books can be read as stand-alones. Hounacier has some connections to Dämoren, like Matt Hollis showing up near the end to team up with Malcolm, etc. but for the most part both novels are self-contained stories. Pick up either one (they’re both good!) and read away. Highly recommended....more
I had to wait at least a day after finishing One Good Dragon Deserves Another to write my review, lest I just end up gushing incoherently like a madwoman. That’s because this book was simply amazing. Not only did it manage to be even better than the first book – a magnificent achievement in itself, considering how awesome Nice Dragons Finish Last was and how much I already loved it to pieces – it’s also now vying for the top spot in my list of best books read in 2015.
This sequel takes place not long after the events of book one. Our protagonist Julius, the youngest and nicest dragon in the Heartstriker clan, is feeling happier than he’s ever been in his entire life. Working out of the Detroit Free Zone as a magical pest control specialist with the help of his friend and mage partner Marci, it feels oh so good to be finally free of his tyrant mother and all his cutthroat siblings. But unfortunately for Julius, this respite doesn’t last; before long he’s sucked back into the dragon-eat-dragon world of Bethesda the Heartstriker, and used as a political pawn in a war against a rival clan.
If you think your family is dysfunctional, you should see Julius’. To Bethesda, who values strength and ruthlessness, her youngest son is a total failure of a dragon and she never misses a chance to let him know exactly how she feels. If it weren’t for the efforts of his more forgiving siblings, she would have made a snack out of Julius years ago. But for all that, Bethesda is still his mother, and Julius only wants the best for his clan. When Estella, dragon seer and head of The Three Sisters starts laying an obvious trap for the leader of the Heartstrikers, Julius becomes frustrated that Bethesda’s pride is blinding her to all dangers.
It took only the first chapter to remind me instantly of how astonishingly unique, creative, and addictive this world is. That said, it’s Rachel Aaron so I would have expected nothing less. Everything I’ve read by her thus far from The Spirit Thief to the Paradox sci-fi trilogy she published under her name Rachel Bach have all been bursting at the seams with original and intriguing ideas. But she’s outdone even herself with these Heartstriker books.
My first instincts is to call this Urban Fantasy, but that’s just a small slice of the big picture. There’s also a post-apocalyptic component with traces of mythical lore combined with sci-fi elements. Throw in magic, dragons, and a healthy dose of humor (I laughed out loud so many times – HARD), and that’s still just barely scratching the surface. Not many authors can set out to do something this ambitious and deliver it with such finesse and aplomb. It goes without saying that world-building was fantastic in this book, giving Aaron plenty of opportunities to expand upon the way magic works here, and also answer plenty of questions about dragon history.
And then there are the characters. Where do I even begin? Being the stars of the show, it probably comes as no surprise that I absolutely adored both Julius and Marci. Julius is as lovable as ever and Marci totally steals the show in this book by kicking so much magical ass. But I was also excited when I saw the many familiar faces returning for this sequel. Oh my goodness, Justin! And Bob! Even Chelsie, who is now my new hero, and Ghost, who may have single-handedly turned me into a cat person overnight. Even the villains are superb in this series, from Estella the North Star to the spirit baddies like Algonquin and her top dragon hunter Vann Jeger.
Of course, no character discussion is complete without also a nod to Julius’s big sister Amelia, introduced in this book as the heir to Heartstriker. As part of A-clutch, this makes her one of the oldest and most powerful dragons in the clan, second only to Bethesda herself. She’s also nothing like I expected. It’s not my place to spoil Amelia’s big debut so I’ll leave it at that, but suffice to say it wouldn’t surprise me if after this book she ends up with a pretty sizeable fan club. Like every character in these novels, she is compelling and memorable – a good thing too, considering Julius’ huge family and the number of siblings that play a part in his story.
As an avid Urban Fantasy reader, I just fell in love with this book. Perhaps it’ll come as no surprise that the story has all the action, comedy and thrills you would expect; after all, I’m addicted to this genre precisely because it is so consistently fun and entertaining. But if you want originality and truly stellar storytelling as well? Then there is no contest – this series stands out way above the rest.
What’s even more impressive is that these books are self-published, a personal project by Rachel Aaron. I sincerely wish her the best on her endeavors, because this series deserves all the attention and praise I can give. One Good Dragon Deserves Another blew me away with a plot that just kept on giving and giving, taking me on a wild ride through several arcs that nonetheless fit together so well, with surprising revelations aplenty and underdog heroes to root for every step of the way. Highly, highly recommended!...more
More and more, I’m understanding why these books are so universally loved by urban fantasy readers. I suppose I’m a bit of a late convert; I certainly enjoyed the first two novels of The Others, but I don’t think the addiction really started to creep up on me until this latest installment. I found it difficult to put down at times.
Part of it is the fact that all the seeds planted in the previous books are finally starting to come to fruition. No more messing around, things just got REAL with the Cassandra sangue and the Humans First and Last (HFL) movement. I’m so glad I decided to catch up with Murder of Crows before tackling this one, because my experience with Vision in Silver would not have been so enjoyable otherwise. So if you’re thinking about picking up this series, definitely start from the beginning with Written in Red – and not least because you wouldn’t want to spoil anything for yourself, not when it comes to The Others.
This book continues two major plot threads that have been brewing for a while: 1) the fate of the blood prophets who were confined to compounds and then freed, and 2) the rise of the HFL and their increasingly aggressive resistance against the Others. Both have dire repercussions for the humans and terra indigene living across Thaisia.
With Meg Corbyn’s help, the Others of Lakeside Courtyard are trying to put together a plan to integrate the freed blood prophets into their new communities, helping them deal with the drastic changes to their lives and the uncontrollable urge to cut themselves. The details about the girls’ previous lives at the compound under the Controller just got even more terrible in this book. After what I read in Murder of Crows it’s hard to imagine that things could get any worse, but there you go. Meg may have escaped on her own, but she’s not immune from the effects either; now Simon Wolfgard is even more protective of her, making sure that her own efforts don’t put her even more at risk.
It’s the HFL storyline that wins, though. This whole ugly situation with anti-Others movement was a lit powder keg just waiting to blow, and the moment has finally come. It also makes you wonder, just who are the monsters here, really? Granted, the Others of the Lakeside Courtyard under the rule of Simon Wolfgard are more benevolent than your average terra indigene, but thus far this series has been painting them as the beasts that they are, the savage predators of humankind. But the depravity of the acts committed by some of the humans in this book are just despicable, not to mention the sheer stupidity of the HFL for even thinking about messing with the Others. THEY HAVE CONTROL OVER THE NATURAL WORLD, PEOPLE! If the elementals want to cause a huge storm or make the waves rise up to sink your ship to the bottom of a lake, they have their ways. For time eternal, humans and the terra indigene have existed side by side but only out of necessity; the former may have developed some useful and advanced technologies over the ages, but it is the latter who control the natural resources. By seeking to upset this precarious balance, HFL is going to open themselves up to a whole world of hurt, and there have already been casualties from both sides. Something tells me that there will be lot more craziness before this is over (*munches popcorn*).
That said though, I think the series also took a step backwards when it comes to certain things, mainly when it comes to the portrayal of Meg’s character. I’ve always wondered why Meg is so special to everyone in Lakeside Courtyard. Yes, she’s a Cassandra sangue, a human-but-not-quite-human-and-therefore-not-prey blood prophet who has stolen the hearts of the Others by helping them a few times, but that still doesn’t really explain why they defer to her or bend over backwards to treat her like a queen – especially since that goes against everything we know about the Others’ nature. Meg is an idealized character, an observation that has been sitting in the back of my mind since the beginning of the series, but it’s a lot more noticeable in this book, enough to finally push me over the edge to question it. It says a lot too, that out of all the books, Meg’s POV was the most limited in this one but I didn’t really notice or even mind too much. It’s a minor flaw, but it bothered me enough that I had to mention it.
Am I really pumped up for the next book, though? Yes, a thousand times yes. I enjoyed Vision in Silver as much as I did the previous two books, but something about it just took it to the next level. Despite my dissatisfaction with Meg’s character, everything else was amazing. The story was superb, more engaging than ever before. The ending was also somewhat abrupt, which was torturous – I wanted more right away. I’m glad I’m all caught up with this series…but of course, that means I now join the waiting game for book four....more
The bulk of this story takes place years after the first book, following the lives of osteomancer Daniel Blackland and his adopted son Sam, the golem created from the essence of the late Hierarch. The two have stayed under the radar for the last ten years, constantly staying on the move in order to keep Sam out of the wrong hands. That is until one day, word reaches them that some very bad people are attempting to build the ultimate weapon of mass magical destruction — a real, live, honest-to-goodness Pacific firedrake.
The premise behind these novels has got to be one of the most original and creative I’ve ever encountered in an urban fantasy series. The magic system of osteomancy – wizards who ingest creature bones and other body parts to absorb their essence and gain their power — is as cool as it is disturbing. I’m also a sucker for heist stories, which is why I loved the first book. However, this sequel, while also featuring a caper aspect, is more of character study and coming-of-age tale centered around Sam. Daniel on the other hand is still a major presence in the story, but it does feel like at times he is taking a step back to let the character of Sam shine.
In my eyes, the classic heist plot of California Bones still gives the first book the edge, but admittedly not by much; Pacific Fire is just as fun and full of thrills as its predecessor, and I do appreciate the differences in the two books’ structure because it definitely made things more interesting....more
A Murder of Mages is the first book of a series dedicated to the Maradaine Constabulary, set in the same wonderful world as Marshall Ryan Maresca’s debut novel The Thorn of Dentonhill. No need to read one before the other, though; that’s the beauty of it. Despite their shared setting, the series are companions to one another, each featuring separate stories and starring completely different characters.
And having read both books now, I can say they are both equally great. However, A Murder of Mages might have just the slightest itty-bitty edge here, since I admit a penchant for detective stories, not to mention a super soft spot for lady cops.
One of the main protagonists is Satrine Rainey – a wife, a mother of two, and a former street rat and ex-spy. After her constable husband suffers a grave injury in the line of duty, it is up to Satrine to figure out a way to support and care for the family. Using her skills, she is able to fake her way into the Maradaine Constabulary to land herself a job as an Inspector third class, where she is promptly paired up with another inspector who no one wanted to partner with – Minox Welling, an Uncircled mage nicknamed Jinx because his past partners have all met with unfortunate accidents.
Her first day on the job, Satrine is sent out with Minox to the streets where she grew up to investigate the body of a mage found in an alley, staked to the ground with his heart cut out. When more victims of these ritual murders are discovered, a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues as the inspectors race against time to track down the elusive killer.
Once again, the author is able to create something altogether unique and fresh by adding his own twist to a familiar idea like the male and female crime-solving duo. I enjoyed the dynamics in the relationship between Satrine and Minox, especially since we know right off the bat that it will be a platonic one. The narrative makes it clear that Satrine has a disabled husband at home who she is deeply devoted to, which in and of itself is an intriguing albeit heartbreaking element to throw into the mix.
Satrine is genuinely one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever met. Without overwhelming us with details, Maresca gives us a glimpse into her rough childhood as a street urchin. After she was recruited by the Druth Intelligence and doing her stint as a spy, Satrine met and married Loren Rainey and they had two daughters. In light of the devastating accident that leaves Satrine as the sole provider and caregiver for her husband and their girls, I really couldn’t blame her for deceiving the Constabulary to get her job under false pretenses. A mother wants the best for her children, and in Satrine’s case she wanted to give Rian and Caribet a good life and a good education, the sort of opportunities Satrine could only dream about when she was their age. It’s hard to fault her for those sentiments.
I didn’t get as deep of a feel for Minox Welling, but he’s a great character as well. Mages are a complex class in these Maradaine novels, as evidenced by the protagonist of Maresca’s first novel The Thorn of Dentonhill. Through Minox the reader was able to get a better feel for how mages fit in this society. Uncircled mages like him appear to be treated with disdain (you’re either a failure, in hiding, or a late-bloomer – none of which are good to be) and even Circled mages seem feared and distrusted by the local populace. Having a child who is a mage is even a source of shame for some families.
Having two series in tandem is certainly a remarkable way to build a world, but it is also very effective. Despite not being a sequel or even a follow up to The Thorn of Dentonhill, A Murder of Mages added a lot to what we know of Maradaine, providing a look at the everyday hustle and bustle of its citizenry from all walks of life. Marshall Ryan Maresca has a true knack for creating rich settings as well as characters that feel very real and well-rounded. There’s always something special to the people he writes about, whether they are mage students or constable inspectors. A Murder of Mages was another hit for me, a fantastic read from a new talent whose star continues to be on the rise....more
The Arcane Underworld series has it all. Demons. Fanatical cultists. Dark magic. Now throw in a group of down-on-their-luck thieves working for one Enoch Sobell, possibly the scariest and most powerful crime lord that ever lived. So what does it tell you when even the big boss man is rattled by a new threat entering the playing field?
If you like your urban fantasy dark with a touch of horror, Splintered and its predecessor Premonitions will be perfect for you. This sequel picks up shortly after the events of the first book, following the lives of Karyn Ames’ crew in the wake of their big heist to steal an ancient occult artifact. Ever since Karyn’s affliction has taken her out of the picture though, Anna Ruiz has stepped up to lead the gang, hoping to help her friend break free of the debilitating visions that have cut her off from reality.
Enoch Sobell, however, has further plans for the crew. No longer are Anna and her friends carrying out mere thefts for the crime lord. His demands have gotten more disturbing and extreme in recent weeks, as evidenced by their latest job, which involves shadier deals like kidnapping. But what they didn’t count on is that their target has a loyal following of acolyte mages who will stop at nothing to get him back. Now Anna, Genevieve and Nail find themselves in way over their heads, tangled in a web of violence and blood magic.
Like the first book, this one also features a great mix of urban fantasy, mystery and psychological thrills, but it takes off in some new directions as well. I love heist books, which is why I enjoyed Premonitions so much, but as it turned out, there’s a lot less thieving action this time around in Splintered. Still, the story makes up for this by being much darker, which suited me just fine. Many parts of the book even bordered on horror, including a bunch of messy scenes that featured demonic possession, the summoning of nightmarish monsters, as well as the brutal consequence of black magic.
Also, now that Karyn has gotten lost in her hallucinations, Anna has taken over as the head of the crew as well as de facto main protagonist. As a result we see a lot less of Karyn, which was slight disappointment since she was my favorite character in book one, as well as the member of the crew that I found most interesting. Because of the frightening and unpredictable nature of Karyn’s visions, Premonitions was a real head-trip, and I thought Jamie Schultz did a really good job giving readers a glimpse into the scary world that is her mind. Sadly, we lose much of that in this book.
The bright side though? This development gives us the opportunity to know the other crew members better. And what fascinating characters they are. Anna is doing her best to lead the group, but is finding that hard to do with Sobell breathing down her neck. Karyn’s plight is also always on the back of Anna’s mind, quite possibly affecting her job as well as her relationship with fellow thief and girlfriend Genevieve, whose loyalties are still on the fence. As the newest member of the crew, Gen is still a big question mark for me. I’m not willing to trust her fully just yet, and after this book things should get even more interesting.
But perhaps the biggest star of the story for me is Nail, the crew’s muscle and the guy who brings the big guns. In spite of this, he clearly has a soft side. Nail is the kind of man who would do anything for family – in this case, that’s his crew as well as his older brother DeWayne, whose gambling problem has gotten him in debt with the wrong people. For such a minor character, DeWayne stole the show for the brief moments he appeared, and I loved his interactions with Nail. I really hope we’ll see more of him in future books.
Now, here’s the deal: Splintered was a great sequel. But as much as I enjoyed it, I think I still have to give the edge to the first book. I love the darker, grittier feel of this book but I just have to confess, I simply love heist stories way too much, so Premonitions will always have a special place in my heart. I also thought Splintered faltered with a plot that was difficult to follow at times, especially when I was trying to figure out how all the different plot threads – the search for Karyn’s cure, Van Horn’s kidnapping, and Sobell’s job on Mona Gorow’s house, etc. – were supposed to fit together. In the long run though, I suppose it mattered little because the conclusion tied it all up, not to mention the final show down was all kinds of awesome.
With the stakes remaining this high, you can count me in for book three – especially if it means getting to find out whether or not Karyn gets back in the game. I’m burning for more dark urban fantasy in my reading, and Jamie Schultz definitely knows how to bring it....more
Okay, I loved Flex. And not least because there was some of this:
Oh and also throw in a bit of this to boot:
But wait, maybe I should back up a bit. You want to know what the story is actually about. Well, welcome to the world of Flex, where it’s actually possible to love a thing so much, the power of your obsession can kick the laws of physics in the ass so hard that reality literally comes undone. This is what gives rise to the many different kinds of magic users. You get illustromancers. Deathmetalmancers. Collectomancers! Or even videogamemancers. In the case of Flex protagonist Paul Tsabo, he loves his job as a number-cruncher at his insurance company SO MUCH that he’s turned paperwork into more than just an art. He’s become a bureaucromancer, and this means he can work magic on anything in the world, as long as what he needs is logged somewhere on paper.
Thing is, if you’re not a ‘mancer, you can still use magic. Distilled magic can come in the form of crystallized Flex, a powerful drug brewed by ‘mancers. But working ‘mancy and using Flex can cause one hell of a blowback. Maybe with the power of Flex you can twist reality to match your vision – but only for a time. After the effects wear off, the backlash called Flux will hit. Because if there’s one thing the universe hates more than anything, it’s being bent to a magic user’s will. It will fight back with a vengeance, and you can bet the universe always wins.
So there’s a good reason why the general public doesn’t trust ‘mancers; the effects of their magic defy normality and prediction, and chaos typically follows where they go. For this reason, Paul has gone to great lengths to hide his bureaucromancy. But now there’s a dangerous ‘mancer known as Anathema out there, brewing some very powerful Flex. It’s causing a lot of accidents, a lot of deaths. One night, Paul and his daughter Aliyah become Anathema’s victims when a Flex user in his apartment causes a gas main to blow up. Paul’s ‘mancy saves his daughter’s life, but the little girl still ends up badly burned. To come up with the money for Aliyah’s reconstructive surgery, Paul must find a way to use his bureaucromancy without causing the Flux that will make things worse. And to do that, he must find a mentor.
Enter Valentine. The gamemancer. My heroine.
First I have to tell you that I’m a sucker for any book or story that has to do with video games. When I discovered what Valentine’s power meant, I had myself a squee moment. Flex is one of those books that worked perfectly for me, because it hit that special sweet spot balancing a complex magic system with all-out fun. The world of ‘mancy is full of potential and the possibility of pretty much any kind of ‘mancer you can think of, but all of it still works within the confines of rules that make sense.
Flex is also a book that’s full of heart. After all, so much of ‘mancy and becoming a ‘mancer has its roots in emotion. It’s about love and obsession, both the healthy and unhealthy kind. It’s the idea that you can want or believe in something so hard that the sheer force of that power will make it happen. For that reason, ‘mancers aren’t always happy people. Some are lonely. Some are angry. Some are lost and afraid. When push comes to shove, their obsessions and resulting ‘mancy are literally their ways to escape from the real world. And when it comes to Valentine, video games as escapism is something I can sympathize with and understand. More often than not though, the magic just makes ‘mancers feel even more alone and marginalized.
And also, who can blame Paul, the father who only wants the best for his daughter, even if it means seeking out a killer to help him give Aliyah the chance for a normal life? Flex is a thrilling journey through the dark underbelly of the drug trade, but it’s also about friendship and devotion and finding acceptance. It’s also a story about the desperate hunt for an evil villain, but one that will also allow you to geek out big time.
And geek out I did. I also laughed. And screamed. No doubt about it, Flex is the most fun I’ve had with a book in a long time. I was so glad when the audiobook finally released, because I had been wanting to read it forever, in part due to the amazing things I’ve heard from other reviewers. Now I understand what everyone was raving about. I’m a bit in love with this book. Can’t wait for the next one! Highly recommended....more
Ever since the release of Dirty Magic a year ago, I’ve been hearing such great things the Prospero’s War series, which is why over the holiday season I decided to take the plunge and binge read the first and second books. And that’s the story of how I got hooked into yet another urban fantasy series, as well as my first introduction to the work of Jaye Wells.
Meet protagonist Kate Prospero, former scion of a dirty magic coven who has turned her back on her old life in order to start clean. Now a beat cop on loan to the Magical Enforcement Agency, Kate is hoping to shed the prejudices of her notorious family name by helping her new team members investigate magic-related crimes in the rust belt city of Babylon, while also trying to raise her younger brother by herself.
Deadly Spells begins with the murder of a leader of a dirty magic coven leader, lighting a spark which could set off a chain of events leading to an all-out turf war if Kate and the MEA task force can’t track down the killer first.
For a series that’s already three books in, it is not surprising that it’s had its ups and downs. I’ve come this far though, so obviously I’m still enjoying the hell out of it. I like my urban fantasy fast-paced and entertaining, and Prospero’s War delivers. Wells has created and built a whole world around a relatively simple concept involving “clean” versus “dirty” magic. Those individuals who are magically adept can “cook” potions, creating all sorts of concoctions with a variety of uses. Clean potions are made, sold, and used legally, whereas dirty potions are cooked and distributed by cartel-like organizations on the streets for the less law-abiding citizenry. Like I said, it’s a simple and straightforward concept, yet its potential for interesting cases is virtually limitless.
Kate is also a complex but sometimes exasperating character. Our heroine has gone through a lot in the last two books, so understandably her emotions are a whirlwind of confusion and guilt by this point. But while some characters carry their burdens with grace, unfortunately that’s just not Kate. She’s the kind of person who gets into a lot of trouble due to her own stupid decisions, but dare to point that out to her and she’ll chew your face off. There’s only so much I can take of a character’s crap, and admittedly she came dangerously close to that line in the last book. Thankfully, now that she’s made her peace with magic, her attitude has vastly improved. While at times she is still a bully and a condescending self-righteous hypocrite, at least she did not try my patience as much in this book (though making stupid decisions due to impulsiveness and her own negligence is sadly still a pattern).
However, on the whole I’m enjoying where the main series arc is headed as well as the development of the relationships between various characters. Kate’s situation of raising her teenaged brother Danny is perhaps a bit clichéd, but wrangling a broody and defiant sixteen year old always makes for some stories in every book. I’d also hoped that Kate would finally stop wasting her time with John Volos and that Wells would stop teasing that pairing as a possible romance since that doozy appears to be hitting a brick wall no matter how you look at it. Again, there seems to be progress in this area, as well as certain developments in Kate’s love life that should make Drew Morales fans very happy. Finally, Kate’s pretty clueless, but still I can’t help but be curious about where future stories in this series will go now that she’s been hit with some huge revelations about her past life.
Urban fantasy readers, you can’t go wrong with the Prospero’s War series. It sounds like there may be more books after Deadly Spells, though I can’t seem to find any sources to confirm at this time of writing. I sure hope so though, as this series is just starting to get off the ground. It’s fun, it’s fast, and it has a bite. Sure, the protagonist isn’t perfect, but then who is? There are themes in these books that will make those with more delicate sensibilities squirm, but if you like a slightly more twisted vibe to your UF then you’re golden....more
I make it no secret that Generation V is one of my favorite urban fantasy series right now. I just love these books so much! Even if this latest installment did make me bawl my eyes out.
Normally, I’d be pretty resentful if anyone made me cry, but it’s entirely different when it comes to a book. In that case, it’s liable to earn itself at least an extra half star and a gushy review. What can I say, I just love it when my reading material appeals to my emotions. It’s a sign of good storytelling and character development, and I’m always excited to see what author M.L. Brennan will bring next for our underdog vampire protagonist Fortitude Scott and his partner Suzume Hollis the spunky kitsune.
Every Generation V book is a new surprise, and Dark Ascension might be the biggest and most important one yet. The winds of change are sweeping through Madeline Scott’s territory, and all the supernatural denizens within are bracing themselves for the inevitable outcome of the vampire matriarch’s failing health. Everyone is worried (and rightfully so) what would happen when her daughter, the psychotic and murderous Prudence takes over, but Fort is not about to let his Machiavellian older sister seize all that power without a fight. In the end though, the aging but still terrifyingly shrewd Madeline may be the one to surprise them all.
Dark Ascension follows a path that is very dissimilar to what we saw in the first three installments, and to be honest, to most urban fantasy arcs in general. It’s a very bold move by the author, but for what she’s attempting to do here, it works rather well. Instead of presenting us with a main problem that unifies the entire plot – like a paranormal crime to be solved by the characters over the course of the book, for example – the story is actually made of many different and smaller conflicts. And subsequently, all these conflicts come to together to form the big question: What will be become of Madeline Scott’s territory once she’s gone? The answers will have repercussions for the entire supernatural community, not to mention Madeline’s own children.
Once again, the Scott family dynamics are at the forefront, an element I find fascinating and that I look forward to seeing developed each time a new book comes out. I’m not sure what it says about me that I simply adore the fearsome and bloodthirsty Prudence, but it’s always nice to see her get a bigger role (though not as much as I thought she would). Needless to say, Fort’s more liberal way of thinking combined with his kind heart makes him the antithesis of his cruel, hard-edged sister. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love each other; it’s merely a love that few can understand. To paraphrase Fort, it’s not that Prudence is incapable of showing affection, just that she’s at her most terrifying when she actually tries. Between them in birth order and in ideology is also of course their brother Chivalry, whose moderate stance only leads to more gridlock whenever the siblings try to work together as a team. If anything though, I think this book only raised my regard for Chivalry, who of the three of them seems to be the most invested in honoring their mother’s wishes. I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for the good son.
So where does this leave Fort? Well, on the one hand, I’m really impressed at the amount of growth he’s shown throughout the series, but in some ways he hasn’t changed at all. Despite being on his way to become a full-fledged vampire, Fort still underestimates his own value and puts himself in situations where people take advantage of his kindness. He’s also struggling with a serious case of denial when it comes to what he is, but probably not for much longer. Dark Ascension is a turning point where all sorts of changes are happening, and most of them are in our protagonist. Despite the relative lack of action and intrigue in this novel compared to the previous ones, here is where I saw Fort face his most difficult challenges yet.
Furthermore, there’s just so much delicious foreshadowing. Fort makes some great strides in Dark Ascension, and yet there’s still a piece of me bracing for the other shoe to drop. We’ve been told that he is “different” from his siblings, but what that truly means remains to be seen, and I’m very curious to find out what greater purpose Madeline had in mind for her youngest son when she decided to alter his upbringing. Fort has also spent most of his life trying to avoid the family business, but now it’s given him a new purpose. To what cost, though? Keeping in mind Suze’s analogy of the Peep in a microwave, will Fort’s good intentions end up biting him in the ass? Chivalry’s warning at the end is especially ominous. Fort’s heart may be in the right place, but he’s still going against the grand plan and breaking many promises by acting on his own. Isn’t this how corruption begins? By going against Madeline’s wishes, who’s actually bringing the greatest threat to her vision for the future?
I’m practically bursting with questions and anticipation for the next book. I know I’ve said it before but I’ll happily say it again and again: M.L. Brennan’s Generation V series is simply wonderful, featuring a unique world filled the most incredible and unique paranormal beings you’ll ever meet. Without a doubt, this is one of the most fun, refreshing and addictive urban fantasy series you can find on the shelves right now, with each book bringing a new adventure and plenty of surprises. If you haven’t started yet, run—don’t walk—to your nearest bookstore and pick up the first book. I really can’t wait to see what Fort and Suze will be up to next....more
The Witches of Echo Park is an interesting but strange and shifting book. At first glance, I thought I would be going into your usual urban fantasy about witch covens and magic, but the experience turned out to be much more literary, with the novel quite formally and artistically written.
The story follows the lives of a group of witches in the Los Angeles area. At the center of the plot is Lyse MacAllister, who jumps on the next plane to California the moment she learns the devastating news that her great-aunt Eleanora, the woman who raised her, is dying. Lyse hopes to convince her great-aunt to seek a second or even a third medical opinion. What she doesn’t realize is that Eleanora has something to tell her too, a great secret that could change her life forever.
To her shock, Lyse discovers that magic is real, that there’s a reason why the house she grew up in has felt strange to her ever since she was a child. Eleanora isn’t just a kindly old distant relative who took her in after her parents died; in truth, her great-aunt is the leader of the Echo Park witches – though the women much prefer the term blood sisters. And now that Eleanora is ready to pass on to the next life, she wants Lyse to take her place as head of the coven.
As I was saying, The Witches of Echo Park does not read like the typical book you would pull off the shelf in the Urban Fantasy or Paranormal aisle. If you’re expecting the kick-ass Buffy-style heroine or the non-stop action and snarky humor, you won’t really find it here. The style isn’t very light, either. Instead, the story within these pages is more comparable to a family drama, which unfolds gradually through the perspectives of six women, all members of the Echo Park coven. Besides Lyse and Eleanora, there is the indomitable Arrabelle, resident herbalist; the fun-loving Devandra; Daniela the seer who is more than meets the eye; and last but not least, the silent and perspective Lizbeth.
Still, I was not prepared for how restrained the pacing was. Eleanora’s plan to tell Lyse the truth about herself and what she wants for her grand-niece’s future – a plot point that I initially took for a set-up for the bigger picture, simply an introduction and no more – actually turned out to be the bulk of the story, not resolving itself until nearly the halfway mark. Everything given to us up to this point seems to be a mix of character history and background information, told mostly through visions and memories. That’s not to say that all of it was filler, as there’s a good reason the author included all these narratives. However, I can’t deny there were also quite a few times where I found myself questioning where the book was going, because it does take its time establishing a direction.
Simply put, the not-quite-300 pages of this novel felt like one long introduction. That’s not always a bad thing, and in truth, so many series do this nowadays that I don’t even bat an eye anymore. I only regret that this book did not have a more substantial plot, though I have to applaud Amber Benson for ultimately pulling together a main conflict. By the end, most of the mystery is explained, we have several threats identified and a few villains named. But if you would allow me a few moments to chide, I do believe that many of these elements should have made themselves clear by the first third of a novel, not late in the second half. That’s probably my biggest issue with the story, but at least now I have a better understanding of where things are headed.
Just a couple more observations and minor issues before I head off: I found myself liking a lot of the characters in here; a couple of them are especially memorable, like Arrabelle and Lizbeth. I had hoped for a stronger connection to Lyse though, since she’s closest to being the main protagonist. In truth, I actually found her a bit shallow and impetuous. She can be put off by and act brusquely towards an awkward but harmless mute teenage girl, but then is totally all right with flirting and practically throwing herself at a total stranger simply because he is handsome and has cool tattoos. And on that note, there’s also a small romantic side plot here that nonetheless came across slightly rushed and out of place. I was taken aback by a graphic sex scene (it should be noted that it was in the context of a dream), not because that’s something that would bother me, but because it just felt like it came out of nowhere.
In sum, this book is a decent start if you look at it as an introduction, just a taste of something much bigger to come. I didn’t know anything about it before I picked it up, aside from the author’s background in TV and film. Though it didn’t turn out to be the light and peppy read I’d expected, it was fascinating and enjoyable in its own way. I’d like to know what the next book will bring. Something tells me it will be much more focused and fast-paced now that the foundation of the series has been laid down and completed....more
While this isn’t exactly what I had in mind for an ending, I have to say Garden of Dreams & Desires concludes the Crescent City trilogy nicely. What’s great is that this novel boasts its own story arc but still manages to resolve everything from the previous two installments, tying up any and all loose ends. That being said, there’s obviously a lot to pack into a little more than 300 pages or so, and I felt like I was being powered through the story at a breakneck pace.
We last left Harlow in a bit of a quandary. At the end of City of Eternal Night, she does something insanely stupid and ends up resurrecting the soul of her dead twin Ava Mae, using the magic of a lightning tree. Of course, with nowhere else for Ava Mae to go, her spirit immediately hitches a ride in Harlow’s body and takes over. Once again for the first half of the book, we have Augustine scrambling to do everything he can to help Harlow out of a problem of her own making.
Meanwhile, tourists have been disappearing in New Orleans, including the son of a prominent and bigoted senator who believes the Fae and Othernaturals are the ones responsible for the kidnappings. As Guardian of the city, Augustine has his hands full with the investigation into the missing tourists, trying to find the real kidnappers before the senator imposes sanctions on his people. But since he has fallen deeply for Harlow, he therefore decides to make her predicament his first priority, even though the fate of the entire supernatural population could be at stake. Oh the things we do for love.
Maybe it was the pacing, but something about this didn’t quite sit right with me. If you can’t tell already, my relationship with Harlow’s character has been a long and tumultuous journey. I disliked her strongly in the first book, but started to warm towards her in the second only to watch her naiveté strike her down again. Perhaps she and I were just never meant to be. There were some major improvements to her character in here, but the book’s pacing was just so fast that it felt like she was transformed overnight. I couldn’t understand anyone’s affection for her, let alone how Augustine could fall in love with her.
I enjoyed seeing how the story wrapped up, but the speed at which it happened diminished the experience somewhat. Harlow didn’t get enough time to develop properly, and neither did Senator Pellimento, the new baddie introduced in this book now that Branzino has been taken care of. Pellimento was sort of a paint-by-numbers villainess, her reasons for coming down hard on the Fae not very well explained other than the fact she hates them and is unwilling to consider the possibility that anyone else could be responsible for her son’s disappearance. In the end, it was the witches. That’s not really a spoiler since it’s mentioned right there in the book description, plus ultimately there was no mystery just because there was absolutely no room left in the story to set one up. The conclusion also tied things up too neatly and a little too quickly, casually taking care of the witches and Ava Mae in one fell swoop so that Augustine and Harlow can have their happy ending. Don’t get me wrong; I think the two of them are a good match and I’m glad things worked out for them, but wow, those last few chapters just blew right by.
If I have to hazard a guess as to why it feels so rushed, I would say it’s because in our interview with Kristen Painter, she revealed that she originally intended Crescent City to be a five book series, not three. Indeed, with all that happened in this book, it could easily have been two or even three installments. That could explain why the most important threads were tied up but some major questions are still left open, such as what will happen to Olivia and the consequences now of so many people knowing about the dangers of the lightning tree.
Garden of Dreams & Desires was a good read with thrills that will leave you exhilarated – and not least because it is so fast-paced that you won’t even have a chance to catch a breath. It’s a hectic novel which could have been better paced, but I also understand the challenge of having to work under certain restrictions and the author’s choices if that was the case. On a whole, I thought this series was very enjoyable. The first book was good and the second book was even better; City of Eternal Night was my favorite of the three books. Crescent City is a fascinating Fae-centric urban fantasy trilogy set in a very unique and vibrant portrayal of New Orleans, certainly worth checking out if that sounds like your cup of tea....more
I found this book surprisingly enjoyable…or perhaps that ought not to be so surprising. After all, I loved The Spirit Thief and the rollicking sci-fi Paradox trilogy that the author wrote under her pen name Rachel Bach. Still, combining dragons, magic, dystopia, humor and urban fantasy? Seemed just a tad ambitious. But boy, does Aaron pull it off with flying colors. I think Nice Dragons Finish Last may be my favorite book from her yet. I also had the pleasure of listening to the audio version of this book and it was fantastic.
Meet Julius, the smallest dragon in the Heartstriker clan. He isn’t a pushover so much as he’s just downright terrible at being a dragon. He’s nice, considerate, has no designs on taking over the world, all of which makes him an absolute failure in his mother’s eyes. After twenty-four years of watching Julius hide out in his room in the mountain, Bethesda the Heartstriker has finally had it. Sealing him in his human form, the dragon matriarch banishes her son to the Detroit Free Zone.
Built on the ruins of old Detroit, the DFZ is set apart from the rest of the country, having been annexed by the spirit Algonquin, Lady of the Great Lakes. It is home to modern mages, lesser spirits and all manner of magical creatures. Unfortunately, it’s also got a strict no dragons policy. Trapped in hostile territory with only the clothes on his back, Julius is going to have to prove himself to his mother if he wants any chance of getting his true form back. His only source of help comes in the form of Marci, an exiled human mage who is dealing with her own hefty set of problems.
First of all, I called this one an urban fantasy, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than that. Rachel Aaron puts a fun, fresh twist on the genre, infusing her setting with science fiction, post-apocalyptic and dystopic elements as well as a touch of mythology. It’s a fascinating mix. Magic exists in the world now, thanks to a meteor striking the earth in 2035. Algonquin awakens from the resulting shockwave, causing great tidal waves to rise, which was how Detroit was flooded and destroyed. The DFZ rises from its ruins, thriving unchecked on an economy system based on free enterprise and bounty hunting.
I also love rooting for the underdog, and Julius is an underdog all right, being the runt of Bethesda’s latest clutch. While his siblings are out doing great things, Julius prefers to avoid the rest of his family by shutting himself in his room playing computer games and earning an impressive collection of online degrees. It’s hard not to feel for him; if Julian were human, he’d actually be quite a catch! Good looking, sweet, kind, educated, and being just this side of geeky enough for me. Bah, too bad he had to be born to a clan of merciless, cutthroat dragons who can’t appreciate his finer points.
No worries though, because I’m on Team Julius all the way. Also in his corner you’ll find Marci the runaway thaumaturgic mage, as well as – surprise, surprise – Julius’s brother Justin. Marci’s a great character; she’s got an awkward personality but also a shrewd mind, which creates an interesting dynamic with our protagonist. I loved Justin too. He’s Julius’s complete opposite, but it’s hard not to be touched by his brotherly love and concern. I even got a kick out of Julian’s less benevolent family members like Chelsie the Heartstriker assassin and Bob the mercurial Seer. Did I also mention Bethesda names her children by assigning each clutch by letter in order of the alphabet, so that all the dragonlings in her first clutch would have names starting with A, those in the second clutch would have names starting with B, and so on? The Heartstriker clan is full of quirks, and I loved them all.
Rachel Aaron has an incredible imagination, and I think this book, more than any of her others, let her go wild with it. The audio version really did an amazing job bringing this book and all of her ideas to life, the narrator Vikas Adam making this one a really fun listen. I haven’t listened to any of his other performances, but this was a great first experience. Adam can do a wonderful range of voices, even though I have to say a couple of them didn’t quite “fit”, like Bob whom he made sound like a stoned surfer dude, and at times his female voices can be hilariously awkward. You can tell he had a good time reading the book too though, because his narration is animated and he does wonderful effects like hissing for when Bethesda is annoyed, or groaning when Justin is exasperated with Julius. Little touches like that can make the listening experience more memorable.
All in all, I’m really impressed with how well this book came together. Maybe it’s because urban fantasy is more to my tastes, but I think I liked this one even more than Aaron’s Paradox trilogy, and I did love those Devi Morris books. Julius is just such a lovable character though, and the story is so fun and easy to get into, it’s hard to stop once you start. Highly recommended if you’re looking for an entertaining feel-good book....more
Kristi Charish is an author after my own heart. First, her book Owl and the Japanese Circus stars Alix “Owl” Hiboux, a former archaeologist turned international antiquities thief. Having been an Archaeology student myself, I can’t in good conscience say I endorse the character’s tomb raiding and thieving ways, but heck, anything to do with archaeology will inevitably will catch my attention – and consider me on board with Owl’s whole “Indiana Jane” persona! Second, much of the novel takes place in fabulous Las Vegas, one of my favorite cities in the world. And third, Owl is a hardcore gamer and lover of RPGs, and it greatly intrigues me that her favorite online game World Quest might be more than it seems…
It doesn’t end there. There’s a lot more here that urban fantasy readers will really get a kick out of, from vampires and naga and nympths to more exotic supernaturals like Kami spirits. Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon masquerading as a human that first summons Owl to his lavish Japanese Circus Casino in Vegas to make her an offer she can’t refuse – retrieve a priceless artifact for him, and in return he’ll help Owl take care of a pack of vampires that have been dogging her steps for months and making her life a living hell.
Of course, things are never so simple. And this is why Owl hates working supernatural jobs. Together with her best friend Nadya and the charismatic and hunky ex-mercenary Rynn, Owl stumbles into one disastrous problem after another in the course of her world-wide treasure hunt, and it’s going to take all her wits to simply stay alive.
Thing is, Owl may have the brains, but her problem solving abilities are often hindered by her temper, impatience, and a trigger-happy mouth that has the unfortunate tendency to spout foul insults at anyone – friends and enemies alike – when she feels they have her up against a wall. As a result, Owl feels a lot less idealized when compared to a lot of her urban fantasy heroine counterparts, making her come across more flawed, real and human. That said, I doubt it’ll be easy to get through the book without feeling multiple urges to throttle her for being so foolhardy and bullheaded, or for not thinking things through and always charging head-first into danger without a plan. Still, while it might take a while for Owl to grow on you, her spunky personality also makes this one a fast-paced, energizing read.
The story is also a lot of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, the plot constantly moving from one action scene to the next, thundering along like a runaway freight train. There are a lot of moments where you have to suspend your disbelief, but nothing so extreme that it prevented me from enjoying myself. Also, as is the case with a lot of debut novels, there’s a rawness to the storytelling, some plot inconsistencies that cropped up every now and then (like, given the dangerous nature of the scroll Owl was tasked to find and the fact Mr. Kurasawa knew all about it, why would he even seek to find a translation?) and some minor contradictions (early on in the novel, Owl mentions looking forward about getting plenty of time to sleep on the plane, but later when on board, admits that she can’t ever sleep on planes) but since I read the advanced copy, I imagine many of these hiccups will be ironed out in the final.
All told, this is a great start to what looks to be a very different kind of urban fantasy. I’d like to see more of the archaeology and gaming angle, and I’m definitely interested in continuing Owl’s future adventures if the books keep up with the heavy action and fun. ...more
Another excellent Young Adult novel from Pyr, the first of what I hope will be Hexed series featuring more of heroine Luci Jenifer Ignacio das Neves – Lucifer for short. Based on the author’s comic of the same name which I’ve actually not read before tackling this book (but you can be sure it’s on my to-read list now), Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown has made me a new fan of Michael Alan Nelson.
The story begins with a Bloody Mary game gone wrong. What should have been a harmless prank ends up getting a high school girl snatched away by monstrous haggish creature. Her father, a police officer, goes to Lucifer for help after hearing that the young thief possesses supernatural talents that would help him get his daughter Gina back. Unable to bear the cop’s grief, Lucifer decides to help. After her initial investigations at the missing girl’s school, Lucifer ends up with some promising leads as well as a new sidekick – Gina’s handsome and popular boyfriend, David.
A great mix of action and humor with just a dash of horror, Hexed is an entertaining paranormal YA novel featuring a story that feels new and fresh. With a plot that’s fast-paced and addictive, this book is truly something special. I took to our kickass protagonist right away, charmed by her resourcefulness and laugh-out-loud wit. Lucifer is simply hilarious! I really enjoyed following her as a main character, even if I do find her name and the reason behind it (she was named for her two grandmothers, and she “honors” them by combining their first names like that) a little dubious, but I guess when it comes to her brand of dry dark humor, that’s probably as good an example as any. I like Lucifer too because she manages to pull off that take-no-crap attitude without coming off as a belligerent little brat. She may have a strong personality, but her kind heart and good intentions come through on every page.
I also love the secret mystical underworld of Hexed. As Lucifer is so fond of reminding us, she possesses no inherent magical power, but the tools she uses often do. She carries around a trick bag full of magical – and sometimes dangerous – gadgets and thingamabobs which she whips out whenever she needs a problem solved, and finding out what each object does is half the fun. Through some very intense scenes, we’re also introduced to what appears to be a very intricate spell system involving runes and symbols, used for anything from activating mirrors to other dimensions to exorcising demons from their hapless victims (bet you’re dying to know why Lucifer’s holding a stuffed bunny on the cover!) The supernatural baddies here can be pretty terrifying, like the filcher demons, witch-hounds, and the witches themselves, but they’re also fascinating. Lucifer’s harrowing journey to find and rescue Gina from the dead realm of Witchdown is not without its disturbing moments, but I couldn’t help it – I found myself utterly captivated by the whole story.
There are just a couple of issues I have to bring up; one is minor, while the other can be a deal breaker depending on your personal preferences. The first is something that struck me as unnecessary, which is the constant reminder that Lucifer is something “separate” and apart from the normal real world. Every few chapters is another wistful comment from her regarding high school life in general, how all that is out of reach for her but she still wants it badly. The other issue is the romance, and not just any romance. As Lucifer and David work closely together to get Gina back, feelings start to develop between them, despite David already being unmistakably, indisputably, irrefutably spoken for. This particular story arc did make for a pretty startling twist at the end, but just a heads up if you find the idea of dallying with a taken guy unappealing.
Lucifer is not your typical teenage girl, nor is Hexed your typical YA. It was a very enjoyable, quick and fun read, and best of all it is not necessary to have read the graphic novel before diving in this one. You do get a feeling that there’s an incredibly rich back story there though, one that I’ll definitely have to go back and check out one of these days now!...more
October Daye is one of those urban fantasy series I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. And unless you count her novels written under the name Mira Grant, I’ve never read anything by Seanan Mcguire before either, so this was a good opportunity to knock out two birds with one stone.
The series’ eponymous protagonist is a half-human and half-fae changeling with an incredible and downright uncanny history. The book’s prologue takes us back fourteen years ago as October “Toby” Daye investigates a missing persons case for her liege lord Duke Torquil, but her stakeout ends in disaster when she is ambushed by the fae suspect and magically transformed into a fish. And in that form she stayed, for fourteen damn years.
The book officially begins not too long after Toby returns to herself, but she’s only a shadow of who she once was. The world has passed her by while she was trapped in that koi pond. Her human family who long thought her dead are now having trouble coming to terms with her reappearance, and Toby herself is unable to face old friends, especially Duke Torquil, whom she believed she failed. Turning her back on both the human and the fae worlds, Toby retreats into herself and attempts a solitary life of night shifts and takeout, but those plans are shot when a pureblood fae countess is murdered and Toby is charged to find her killer. Now not only is Toby forced back into fae society, she also has no choice but to step back into her old role as a private investigator.
Many people I know who have read both Seanan Mcguire’s books and also her Mira Grant books have told me that the writing styles under each name could not be any more different. Those folks are right. The author also uses her names to write very different genres, which is probably the reason for their disparate styles – and from what I’ve read, I think I enjoy her urban fantasy more than her horror. The two Grant books I’ve read, namely Feed and Parasite both suffered from very hackneyed plotlines and stunted character development, but Toby Daye was a breath of fresh air with her very unique and natural voice, along with the author’s vision of fae politics and their interactions with the human world. McGuire’s writing flowed a lot better for me in this novel.
That’s not to say the book was perfect, though. The story in Rosemany and Rue itself didn’t blow me away – it’s a paradigmatic UF murder investigation which involves a lot of talk and little to no mystery in the traditional sense. After that awesome prologue, the intro drags on while we follow Toby through a tour of fae country as she makes stop after stop to tell others that the great Countess Evening Winterrose is dead and/or to ask for help. As the main protagonist, Toby is also prone to seriously bad decision-making, and maybe I just missed something, but I’m very skeptical of the author’s warped, cynical reality where a young woman can bleed all over a public bus from a gunshot wound and everyone around her can just pretend it’s not happening.
Still, it’s the background elements and potential for good side stories that really caught my attention here. The stage is set and all the players are in place, now all we have to do is sit back and let things take their course. I have a feeling the complex social hierarchies in the fae world itself should add a lot of flavor to this series and make it stand out, and I’m also interested to see if Toby will ever connect with her human fiancé Cliff and their daughter Gillian again.
I’m not typically that picky about my urban fantasy; all I’m looking for in any first book to a series is that it’s entertaining and that it serves as a good escape, and Rosemary and Rue passed the test. What I do know is that I think I’m done with Mira Grant books for now, but I’m definitely open to continuing with Seanan McGuire’s October Daye. As with most UF, I expect the books will get better once the series finds its stride....more
It’s tough admitting when a book doesn’t work for me, and in the case of Trailer Park Fae I find this even more difficult to do considering the high hopes I had for it. To complicate matters, I can’t even really fault the book itself, because the writing superb and the story has it dark charms. However, it just felt like I was sold one thing by the title, cover and description, but received something altogether different instead.
First, a bit of background about the book: one of the main characters is the half-human-half-Sidhe Jeremiah Gallow, former Armormaster and close confidante to Summer, Queen of the Seelie Court. He’s left that life behind him now though, making his living as just another construction worker in the mortal world. He also just recently lost his beloved wife Daisy, and every day he mourns her still. Enter our other main protagonist, Robin Ragged, another half-Sidhe looking for a place to lie low after narrowly escaping the agents of the Unseelie Court. When Jeremiah first lays eyes on Robin in the bar he frequents, he is shocked by how much she resembles his dead wife, prompting the protective instincts to kick in.
But aiding her also means being dragged back into the world of magic and danger, where Summer and Unwinter are in a constant war. A plague ravages the Seelie Court and the Unseelie are the main suspects for unleashing it. Robin has been tasked as the courier to deliver the cure, but she is no friend of Summer, feeling bitter towards the Seelie queen for stealing away and imprisoning Robin’s adopted child Sean. Then of course, there’s also the free Sidhe, represented by their clever yet mischievous leader, a Fae known as Puck…
Despite its eye-catching description and shades of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Trailer Park Fae is one dark book. And unfortunately, what’s on the surface does not match what’s beneath. When I first picked it up, I admit the book’s bold electrifying cover and its quirky little title led me to expect another light urban fantasy with a good dose of humor and maybe a little snark, so I was disappointed to find little to none at all. Instead, the story is a lot more somber and grave, with a little heartbreak thrown in to boot. Normally, this isn’t something I would mind, and it’s certainly not the first time I’ve ever started a book only to discover it is completely different than I thought it would be. I’ve rolled with the punches before, but switching gears in this case was a lot harder for a couple reasons.
First of all, the writing isn’t exactly light on the eyes, with scattered sections that would slip into the formal style, reflecting the courtly speak of the Sidhe-folk. As you can probably guess, this didn’t really make for an easy read, even though I credit the prose for being very well-structured and beautifully written. Second, even if I had been in the mood for a book like this, I don’t know how well it would have worked for me. Very little happened for the first hundred pages, making it a real challenge to engage with the story and characters. There were some nice twists towards the middle and the end, but regretfully, I still didn’t feel invested enough at that point to experience their full impact.
I should point out though, that there are actually lots of fantastic and very unique ideas in here. Lilith Saintcrow’s portrayal of the Fae is wonderful and complex, painting them as creatures of mischief and malice, incorporating myths about changelings at the same time. Then there’s putting the Fae in the context of trailer parks, dive bars, and greasy diners – a creative concept that hooked me as soon as I saw it. Both Jeremiah and Robin have some nifty powers at their disposal as well, with the former possessing tattoos on his arms that can transform into a weapon, and the latter with the ability to create objects with strong, lasting enchantments.
I wish I had enjoyed this book more, and not least because I feel it’s partly my fault for being misled by the tone suggested by its cover and title. Yes, I’m a mood reader, and I thought this book would be the rollicking urban fantasy I needed at the time, yet it turned out to be just the opposite. As I noted though, I had issues with this book that went deeper, so I’m not sure how I would have liked it even if I had been prepared for its much weightier tone and style. If you’re not sure that this one would be for you, I recommend reading a sample before taking the plunge....more
If summer blockbuster action movies existed back in the Victorian era, they would look a lot like The Shadow Revolution. This book doesn’t mess around. It makes its goals very clear right from the beginning, and that is to stuff as much fun and excitement as it can into its three hundred or so pages.
Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith take readers on a wild ride through Victorian London in this feisty, ass-kicking adventure about magic and alchemy and werewolves and mad science. Spell-casting scribe Simon Archer and his mentor Nick Barker have an unfortunate run-in with a lycanthrope one night, and the hunt for it leads them to discover something bigger and so much more disturbing stirring within the city’s shadows. Meanwhile, the brilliant alchemist Kate Anstruther’s younger sister Imogen is snatched by a werewolf, prompting Kate to join forces with Simon, Nick, and a Scottish monster hunter named Malcolm in order to stage a daring rescue.
Being a fan of the authors, I was really excited when I first heard about this book. I saw the kind of magic the Griffiths worked with historical fiction, fantasy and adventure in their Vampire Empire series, and it looks like they’ve dialed things up even higher here for Crown & Key. This first installment wastes no time throwing readers into the thick of things, going straight for pure fast-paced and unadulterated fun. Sometimes it felt like the story only took breaks long enough to push things along, and then we’re plunging right back into the action again. As you’d expect, this makes for quite a page-turner.
Of course, this also makes the book a bit weaker in other areas, most notably in the character development and world building departments. That’s not to say these aspects are completely lacking, just that we get the minimum to satisfy the story and to care about our protagonists. In spite of this, I still found the characters fascinating and memorable, and a great air of intrigue permeates the setting. Simon Archer captured my attention with his roguish charm, and I loved Kate’s cleverness and stalwart determination. The story even leaves plenty of room for characters to grow and relationships to develop. Already I’m looking forward to finding out what secrets Nick might be hiding from Simon, or whether or not Kate and Imogen will ever be the same again, or how Malcolm will fit into the equation in future books.
So maybe it’s not a terribly deep or sophisticated experience, but so what? It’s not really meant to be. Entertainment value is what this novel is all about, complete with snappy dialogue, tons of throwaway violence and a sweet little romantic subplot. It’s fun as hell. The book and its two sequels following right on its heels will make the perfect 2015 summer beach reads for lovers of steampunk gaslamp fantasy and urban paranormal mysteries, count on it. The story might not stay with you for very long, it’s true, but you’ll definitely want to pick up the next book straight away and get right back into the world.
All told, The Shadow Revolution is an exciting introduction to a series that knows exactly what it wants to be, and it’s scarily good at what it does. If you’re willing to go with that, then you’ll probably enjoy this one as much as I did. I’m already excited to dive into book two, The Undying Legion. Highly recommended if you’re in the mood for something fast, pulpish and wicked cool to brighten up your day....more
I was a bit taken aback by the tepid to cool reviews I’ve been seeing for this one. Not that my own review is all that glowing, I realize, but while Talon probably won’t rank among my favorite Young Adult novels read this year, I had a lot of fun with it. By all means not a bad book. Surprisingly, most of the disappointment appears to be from fans of Julie Kagawa’s other series. I’ve never read anything else by her though, so there’s really nothing for me to compare this to.
But let’s move on to what the book is about. Talon is about dragons…but also not really. If you’re looking for a novel featuring these magnificent creatures in all their winged and scaly fire-breathing glory, you’re not going to find much of that here. What you have instead is a small group of dragonkind who spend most of their time in human form, hoping to infiltrate our society and one day take over the world again. A secret faction of dragon slayers called the Order of St. George is determined not to let that happen, and their members continue to hunt dragons like they have for time immemorial.
The book begins as two young dragon siblings, Ember and Dante Hill travel to California in their human forms to begin training for their future positions to serve their home base of Talon. Ember is fascinated with humankind, and wants nothing more than to enjoy the summer living out the full teenager experience – beaches, arcades, ice cream parlors, the whole shebang. Her brother Dante on the other hand is a lot more disciplined, and does not like it one bit when a rogue dragon shows up in their territory, distracting Ember from her training. Meanwhile, St. George has received the rumors of new dragon recruits in the area, and the young soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian and his partner are tasked to hunt these Talon agents down and kill them.
Encouraged to mingle and blend in with other teenagers, Ember and Dante spend most of this book as humans. But unlike other books with shape-shifting dragons (like Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina for example, which I thought did a really good job developing the culture and world of the draconic characters), it’s difficult to think of the dragons here as anything but human. This is what I meant when I cautioned not to think of Talon too much as a “dragon” book. Despite a few scenes of Ember thinking as a dragon and being a dragon – and they are quite few and far between – the author often seems to put her human persona before her draconic one. Plus, the setting is modern and urban. Ember’s life revolves around surfing, parties, friends and boys. Very little is known about the dragon home of Talon and Kagawa doesn’t really get into it. For those craving a bit more fantasy and world building, I can see how that could cause some frustration.
As such, this ends up being your rather typical contemporary young adult novel with a light fantasy twist, complete with love triangle and just a dash of forbidden love. Despite being exactly what I expected, it was undeniably entertaining.
After reading this, however, I admit to being skeptical of Kagawa’s writing. It’s obvious that she can spin a good yarn, but there were some plot elements that were so illogical and downright silly, it can be difficult to take these characters seriously. First of all, if you can take any form and you’re trying to covertly infiltrate and gain influence in human society, I would not do it as a teenager. Good luck gathering any useful information to bring back to your overlords, unless they’re interested in how your airheaded friend thinks so-and-so is so totally gorgeous and has nice abs. Talon is also so bad at this undercover secret agent stuff, I’m not surprised St. George managed to narrow their search down to Ember and Dante and their group of beach bum friends in like all of two seconds. You’re a dragon spy, and you’re seriously going to stick with Ember for your name? You might as well paint a target on your back and wear a big sign that says “I’M THE DRAGON!” and hang it around your neck. The Order of St. George doesn’t seem that much more competent either. At one point, Garret admits to his partner that he is getting too close to Ember and recommends stepping back from the mission. Instead of allowing Garret to do so, what does his partner do but tell him to take advantage of this new development to go even deeper into the case. Um, no! As soon as one of your soldiers gets emotionally involved and becomes compromised like that, you pull them the hell out. A lot of the problems that St. George experience near the end, they brought most of them on themselves.
These little moments aside, not much else detracted from the experience. Yes, the story is pretty standard but ended up being more interesting than the description made it sound, and it held my attention to the end, which isn’t something I can say for a lot of YA. The next book, predictably called Rogue, looks like it will delve deeper into the both the secret Order of St. George and the dragon organization Talon, so hopefully readers get the world building we want there....more
C.T. Adams has written books as Cat Adams, a dual-partnership writing team with Cathy Clamp. I’ve never read anything by either author before, so I was looking forward to starting out with Ms. Adams’ first solo full-length novel The Exile, especially since I love stories about the fae.
The protagonist Brianna Hai lives a double life as necessitated by her own very nature. By day the half-human, half-fae young woman runs an occult shop selling innocent knickknacks to tourists, while hanging in her home is a magical painting which acts as a portal between our real world and the world of the faerie. As the daughter of High King Leu of Fae, Brianna enjoyed a childhood living amongst the wonders and delights of her father’s realm until her mother, a powerful human witch, changed the Veil that separated the worlds. All crossings between them are now governed by a new set of strict rules.
One day an unexpected attack by doxies on her apartment lands Brianna and her colleague David and his brother Nick back in Leu’s court, where she also discovers that her father may be in trouble. Having spent most of her life living as a human, Brianna is unused to the dangers of Fae politics, but she’ll have to deal with them in order to bring herself and her friends safely home.
This was a great book; I loved the story. However, from a technical standpoint, I stumbled a little with the writing.
The Exile will wow readers with a luscious, excitement filled plot. There’s very little downtime as we’re ushered from scene to scene, and something important happens in every one. The book is also filled with rich, beautiful descriptions of the Fae world, everything from the surroundings of King Leu’s palace and the huge variety of different fae that live in his magical domain, right down to the finest details about what the court lords and ladies wear and to the decadent food they eat. I seriously loved this.
I also enjoyed the characters and was impressed with Brianna most of all. The author paints a very unique picture of the fae, but at its heart they are still the conniving tricksters that make their stories such a delight. Being able to survive their world of ruthless politics and backstabbing is no mean feat, but Brianna manages to navigate this quagmire with aplomb. Despite being rusty in her knowledge of the ways and traditions of the fae, she’s frequently able to use her quick thinking and resourcefulness to get out of trouble.
The writing itself was what I struggled with most of all, along with the pacing of the story. Simply put, too much happens much too quickly, and not exactly in a way that’s desirable. The plot elements and the events in the timeline feel disjointed, particularly because there are so many character perspectives and so many point-of-view changes, all within a relatively short period of time. This gives the book an aura of confused, disorganized energy. Stylistically, there’s also something about Adams’ prose that I find distracting. I get jarred out of my immersion when I come across passages like:
“Nick didn’t consider himself overly modest, but he had never particularly liked being naked in front of strangers…”
Apparently, Nick has had plenty of experience to be naked in front of strangers…or it sounded that way in context, at least. Also, I imagine not too many people do, so I find his musing sort of unnecessary. Another example:
“Ulrich’s voice sounded strained and strange.”
Strained AND strange? I imagine the former would already suggest the latter. Little redundancies like this along with other instances of awkward phrasing gave me pause and stalled my reading somewhat.
That said, overall The Exile was a pretty good read. It’s entertaining and grabbed my attention right away, which is by far the most important criterion, especially considering that it’s the first installment of a series. It’s an urban fantasy, but to me it also feels very different from the usual standard UF fare. The way things are going, I believe these books will go above and beyond simply chronicling the main character’s life and her immediate interactions and surroundings. Instead, the world-building feels very important too, and the narrative seems just as focused on the bigger picture. To me that means future plot developments will probably surprise us with large scale repercussions for both the human and fae worlds.
I’m definitely planning on sticking around to see what happens next....more
The Siobhan Quinn series is the dark underbelly of urban fantasy you never get to see, a project that began as the author Caitlín R. Kiernan’s (writing as Kathleen Tierney) “protest against what ‘paranormal romance’ has done to the once respectable genre”. It is harsh, it is gritty, it is obscene…but so help me I’ve loved every page and every moment I’ve gotten to spend with its crude and foul-mouthed protagonist.
Cherry Bomb is the latest (and apparently also the last – I’ll have more words on this later) book of the series. It has been three years since Quinn walked out on Mean Mr. B and left Rhode Island behind her, and after traveling around the country she eventually settled in the Big Apple. One night she meets a seductive antiquities dealer named Selwyn Throckmorton in a BDSM club and the two immediately hit it off. Unbeknownst to Quinn, however, Miss Throckmorton has apparently been getting into all kinds of trouble trading in ghoul artifacts with some deeply unsavory characters.
They say love makes you do foolish things, and if you ask Quinn I’m sure she’ll offer her agreement along with some choice words for how she feels about that.
This book is the arguably the grittiest, most aggressive and in-your-face installment yet. In spite of that, I wish I could claim the series goes out with a bang. It doesn’t though, not really. Or at least, not in any conventional sense. But seeing as how this series is all about doing things unconventionally, I suppose the ending strikes the right tone in its own way.
Of course, a lot of my feelings might have to do with how I discovered this was the final Siobhan Quinn novel. I literally found out on the very last page – the Author’s Note. Up to this point, I was actually quite happy with the ending, but after becoming aware that this book concludes the series, my expectations were inevitably altered. Not very fair of me, perhaps; but I can’t help that this is how I feel, and for that reason I wish I had known beforehand. I wasn’t looking for anything happy or monumental, but I still I couldn’t help but wish things had wrapped up in a more memorable conclusion.
Because this series is also a satirical look at the urban fantasy genre, it makes these books hard to review. But I did feel Cherry Bomb is lighter on the dark, twisted humor than the first two novels, and is instead just darker and more twisted in general, not to mention also more violent, more disturbing and more depressing. I’m all right with this on the whole, though I frequently found myself missing Quinn’s dry wit. She still retains that “very Quinn” sense of humor, but now it has an edge. Understandably, the events of the last novel and then in this one has jaded her (even more) and it really shows in her new attitude.
Finally, Quinn isn’t meant to be an admirable or a sympathetic character; she’s lewd, unpleasant, and over-the-top, but that’s also why I love her. And because I love her, it was very hard for me to see her manipulated and played like a damn fiddle. Selwyn isn’t a very likeable character either (and we’re actually warned about this) but she knows that deep down inside Quinn is a goodness that she’s not afraid to take advantage of, and it drove me nuts. On the one hand, I spent a lot of time reading this book feeling annoyed at Quinn for letting Selwyn lead her around by the nose (what happened to the spitfire from the last two books? That Quinn I know wouldn’t have taken any of this crap), but on the other hand, it did open my eyes to the softer, more solicitous side to her personality. Love, after all, can change someone, make them act differently, and I liked how Tierney/Kiernan explored Quinn’s character in this book by really peeling back the layers.
Once more, the author delivers another fantastic Siobhan Quinn novel. If you ask me, it’s a series that ended all too soon. Still, it’s probably best to say goodbye on a high note, not to mention no one likes to see a series drag on unnecessarily and I would have hated to see one this special wear out its welcome. I heartily recommend this series to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy, anti-heroes, and dark stories…and who won’t mind reading a book that come with a warning label....more