The Seventh Age: Dawn certainly knows how to kick things off with style. In fact, the very first page opens with us standing twenty-one floors up above the city of Chicago on an I beam with our protagonist Mike Auburn, a man with a death wish. Rather, he is obsessed with death; everyone he has ever loved has crossed into the great unknown, and now Mike flirts regularly with it in the hopes of glimpsing the ghosts of his past on the other side. As it happens, Mike’s penchant for death defying stunts and near-death experiences also catches the attention of a group looking to recruit a candidate of his skills and interests.
Before long, Mike finds himself joining forces with a mysterious organization led by a man called O’Neil, enlisted into the war against the coming apocalypse. Soon our hero is battling demons, staving off the encroaching forces of the Unification whose aims involve resurrecting a powerful being named Lazarus so that they can usher in a new age where magic will once again reign supreme. After devouring the heart of the monster Golgoroth, Mike transcends his own humanity, becoming the key to an age-old conflict between the realms of supernatural beings.
I enjoyed The Seventh Age: Dawn for the most part, though I’ll also be honest and say that there were times where I really struggled. It’s an ambitious book for sure, though it also suffers occasionally from excessiveness and bloat, a common issue for first novels where you get the sense that the author is trying to cram as much as possible into their debut effort. Rick Heinz throws in everything but the kitchen sink: angels, demons, warlocks, vampires, ghosts, shapeshifters, and I’m sure there are quite a few more creatures that I’m forgetting. I believe therein lies part of the problem. There was simply too much to process such a short time, and in the end I felt like I was only able to absorb a small fraction of the information deluge.
Fortunately, after a few false starts I managed to fall into an easier rhythm, though I also can’t help but feel that “rhythm” might be a wildly inaccurate term to describe the nature of this book. The plot is complicated and rather dense, and the reader is dropped hard into the thick of things straight from the beginning. To the novel’s credit, at no point does the story slow down as we’re thrust into one frenetic situation after another. There’s really nothing soft or predictable about it.
That said though, for an urban fantasy, it’s a bit on the heavier side for my tastes. This is my go-to genre from straight-up fun, not to wrack my brain teasing out multiple impenetrable layers of hidden agendas or trying to work out who’s who. A book with so much action should not feel tedious, or else there’s something not right going on, and I just feel that the story tries to do too much at times and things can get very messy especially with the overabundance of POV characters. The constant shifts and back-and-forths made it nearly impossible to connect with any one person, and trying to keep all the names straight was one reason why I had difficulty getting into this book early on. Another issue is wordiness. In my opinion, there are quite a few scenes that could have been cut down or omitted altogether.
Still, the overall concept is a good one, even if the execution was a little shaky. For all the pomp and zeal that The Seven Age: Dawn tries to pack into its 400 or so pages, the overall plot is relatively light on substance, though that could change in the next installment. Rick Heinz may have tried to cover too much ground in this series opener, but there’s no denying that he’s created an interesting world that I wouldn’t mind exploring further. I also enjoyed the gritty dry tone he established for the rest of the series, a style which reminds me somewhat of Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim. Perhaps I just need to spend more time in this world to form stronger attachment to the characters and to get a better sense of where things stand....more
Paranormal horror and historical fiction collide in the rather unfortunately titled Dracula vs. Hitler, since anyone picking up this book would be rightly forgiven for mistaking this book for a campy, humorous mashup. After all, that was my initial thought after seeing the name and cover as well, but as it turns out, my first impression couldn’t be further from the truth.
Dracula vs. Hitler is actually a quite serious endeavor, reinforced with what appears to be plenty of research and painstaking attention to detail. For one thing, it is written in an epistolary style like the original Dracula by Bram Stoker, a nod to the classic work.
The story officially begins with the Editor’s Note, as the author Patrick Sheane Duncan (who is also known for his work as a film producer and director, on movies like Courage Under Fire and Mr. Holland’s Opus) recounts a recent trip deep down into the bowels of a cavernous Washington DC document warehouse (think the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark), where he was supposed to be conducting research for a new television series. Instead, he ends up finding more than he bargained for, when he chances across a thick packet of papers labeled “TOP SECRET”. Inside this classified folder are the documents making up most of this book, mainly a series of entries from the journal of one Jonathan Murray Harker dated between the months of April to June 1941, as well as a number of excerpts from a novel believed to be authored by Lucille Van Helsing writing under a pen name.
These two characters are of course the descendants of the original characters from the novel Dracula, the ending of which apparently didn’t play out the way Stoker had written them. In a letter written in 1890, Lucille’s father Abraham Van Helsing confesses to not having killed the creature as he had intended, instead stashing the body away in a state of suspended animation. Fifty odd years later, as the Nazis are wreaking death and fear across Europe, Van Helsing is now a resistance leader in Romania. Nazi atrocities are detailed in secret communiqués to Berlin written by Major Waltraud Reikel, a vile and sadistic officer of the SS. As the resistance forces flounder under Reikel’s tight hold in the area, Van Helsing is forced to consider drastic measures—like turning to the creature he put down half a century ago. As reluctant as he is to go through with the plan, deep down he knows that to fight a monster…you need a monster. Together with the English spy Jonathan Harker, grandson of original Jonathan and Mina Harker, Van Helsing prepares to go back and unearth the legendary Dracula.
So no, this book is not intended to be a cheesy crossover or a comedic piece so don’t let the title put you off (though on the other hand, if you were attracted to this book because you were expecting a humorous read, then you’ll be disappointed…seriously, they really could have gone with a more suitable title). Instead, what you’ll find is a cleverly thought out novel featuring deep characters which actually deals with some solemn themes. Despite having a strong element of escapism appeal, I also wouldn’t exactly call this a “light, fluffy” read either. The story definitely has its share of slow, dragging parts, especially towards the beginning and in the middle, and for a book called Dracula vs. Hitler, there’s actually disappointingly little showdown between the two title characters. Dracula doesn’t even enter the picture until about a hundred pages in, and the Fuhrer’s presence mainly comes into play near the very end.
Still, after a lengthy buildup, the reader’s patience is rewarded as the momentum picks up. The story takes off bigtime as the resistance unleashes their secret weapon in the form of a bloodsucking vampire, and I can’t even begin to describe the immense pleasure and satisfaction derived from watching the Nazis lose their shit. The fight scenes are suspenseful and literally explosive, and of course, once Hitler finally figure out what’s going on, he becomes obsessed with capturing Dracula for a chance at unlocking the secret of immortality. The author pulls off the rest of the novel marvelously, and there’s no doubt that the climax and conclusion are this book’s best parts.
There are other notable aspects that must be addressed though, and first and foremost is of course the character of Dracula himself. Here he is portrayed as a savior and protector of Romania, though not without some pushback from those familiar with his bloody role in “The Book” as well as his brutal history as Prince Vlad the Impaler. Dracula doesn’t actually get his own “voice” in this novel, and instead we have to rely mostly on Jonathan Harker and Lucy Van Helsing’s sections in order to get to know him. Nevertheless, I am impressed with Duncan’s handling of the classic character. In the story, the resistance often refers to Dracula as “the creature” or “the secret weapon”, but as the plot continues it becomes more and more clear that he is not a thing or a monster, but a man who is more human than anyone gives him credit for. The author has also managed to create a lot of interesting tension between Dracula, Jonathan and Lucy, even going as far as to throw a bizarre love triangle into this mix (and trust me, it is not dubious as it sounds).
All told, its questionable title notwithstanding, I’m actually not too worried because I’m sure Dracula vs. Hitler will find an audience—and I really hope it will find success too because this book really is quite a gem. Do not, and I repeat, do not be fooled into expecting “Freddy vs. Jason” or “King Kong vs. Godzilla” levels of camp with this one; it’s not that kind of book. Historical fantasy and paranormal fans should have a good time though, especially if you’re looking for an imaginative book with a dash of pulp and quirkiness....more
I’ve been champing at the bit to read Certain Dark things ever since I first heard about the book. Back then it still didn’t have a title, but the mere description of it clinched it for me. I’m not someone who’s ever needed much motivation to pick up a vampire story after all, and after learning that one of the main characters is a descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, I was even more intrigued.
That the book takes place in Mexico City was a compelling factor too. Gangs, drugs and corruption run rampant in the capital, but what you won’t have to worry about are vampires. That’s because the city has declared itself to be a “vampire-free zone”. But as with all rules, there are times when individuals have found a way around this particular edict.
This is something Domingo knows all too well. A homeless teenager who ekes out a meager living by salvaging landfills for usable goods to resell, he is on his way home one day when he spies a pretty girl trailed by her large Doberman. To his surprise, she notices him back. And actually talks to him! It isn’t long before the girl confides in him her name and true nature. She is Atl, and she is a member of a subgroup of vampires who trace their line back to the ancient Aztecs.
Atl is in trouble, so she cuts to the chase: some other dangerous vampires are after her, and she needs to get out of Mexico City and head south right away. But while she’s here, she will need a place to hide as well as a “Renfield” to feed on and to assist her during the day. Completely smitten by this confident, beautiful girl, Domingo readily agrees to help her out—the fact that she’s a vampire and wants to drink his blood be damned.
However, it turns out Atl’s troubles are worse than he realized. The vampire gang she’s on the run from are headed by Nick Godoy, a real nasty piece of work. Brash young Nick is a “Necro”, a subspecies of vampire that most closely resembles the classical vampire archetype, and he has a grudge to grind. Bent on seeking vengeance for a long-ago slight, Nick has tracked his target to Mexico City where he and his Renfield Rodrigo have been getting into all sorts of mischief, attracting the attention of a police detective thus causing even more problems for Atl and Domingo.
I had high hopes for the world-building going into Certain Dark Things, and I was not disappointed. Instead of charging in with an attempt to turn the vampire mythos on its head though, Silvia Moreno-Garcia does something more subtle—and ingenious, in my opinion. As we go deeper into Atl’s past, we get to learn a wealth of information about vampire lore in general. We find out about the subspecies, of which there are many. Considering how many cultures throughout history have developed their own version of the “blood-sucking/flesh-eating monster” legend (the Chinese and the Jiang-shi, or the stories of the Wendigo in Native American folklore, to name a couple) I thought this to be an especially clever twist. By drawing from inspiration taken from all over the world, the author has formed a basis for her story that at once feels fresh but still has roots firmly planted in our reality. The results are very effective and pleasing because the reader feels an immediate affinity for the setting and characters.
The plot was also kept rather simple. It’s also fast-paced as hell. Everything about this book is slick and elegant, furnished with all the best features without being weighed down. This lack of complexity is perhaps the only thing holding me back from giving it a full five stars, but while it may not be phenomenal, it is still great. Certain Dark Things easily ranks among my most interesting and entertaining reads of the year.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia offers a whole new world to discover in Certain Dark Things, a novel that offers rock solid world-building and compelling characters that are guaranteed to charm you and open your eyes. So if you’re getting a hankering for a vampire story, why not give this one a try? You won’t regret it....more
The Suicide Motor Club by Christopher Buehlman was actually pretty awesome. Know that the only reason I didn’t rate this book higher is because I’m very picky about vampire books, owing to their particular abundance in fantasy and horror fiction. In truth, as much as I enjoyed this, I think there are better vampire titles out there, including Buehlman’s own vampire novel that was published a couple years ago, The Lesser Dead. I still remember how I felt when I read that book, the sense of fear and dread that filled me when I first encountered the novel’s group of creepy vampire children roaming and hunting in the subways. I wanted badly to experience that again with The Suicide Motor Club, but in the end it just didn’t compare.
The Suicide Motor Club opens in 1967, following a family of three as they drive down a lonely stretch of highway. All of a sudden, another car comes speeding up towards them out of nowhere, overtaking the family, making a snatch at the little boy sitting in the back with his arm hanging out the open window. Just like that, Judith Lamb’s son Glendon was gone, yanked into the other vehicle, a hot rod Camaro occupied by its gleaming-eyed driver and his pale companion. However, before Judith and her husband Robert could catch up and rescue their boy, another car comes up behind them and rams them off the road, causing them to crash.
Robert Lamb dies in the hospital soon after, but Judith survives, heartbroken knowing that Glendon is also lost to her forever. She ends up joining a convent, but two years later when she is still a novice nun, a stranger named Wicklow comes seeking her, claiming to be the leader of a group called the Bereaved. They are hunters, and the targets they hunt are the creatures in those cars that took Judith’s son, killed her husband, and almost killed Judith herself: Vampires. Wicklow tells her about a band of them known as the Suicide Motor Club, who prey on their victims by targeting them on the road, deliberately causing deadly accidents so they can swoop in and feed on the survivors. Because of her past experiences and unique position as a nun, Wicklow believes that Judith can help them. Ultimately he convinces her to join the Bereaved, appealing as well to her intense desire for vengeance.
There are a couple reason why I didn’t think this one was as good as The Lesser Dead. First of all, it’s pretty hard to out-creep creepy vampire children. Creepy vampire children are like the pinnacle of creepiness. Even the sadistic founder of the Suicide Motor Club and his ilk could hardly match that. Second, I felt a distinct aversion for the kind of…unsubtlety that made up the action in this story, like scenes of car chases, horrific crashes, and deadly explosions, etc. To be fair, this is something I should have anticipated, considering that fast cars and highways are the central focus of this novel. If that kind of action strikes your fancy, then chances are you’ll love the hell out of this book. Personally I’m just not that into this kind of bombast, so for me many of the more “exciting” sequences fell flat.
I also enjoyed the characters, even given limited opportunity to really get to know any of them. There are a lot of characters involved, including minor appearances from incidental names and faces whose presence is mainly used to illustrate the destructiveness of the vampires as they make their deadly rampage along the country’s highways. It’s a common enough device (especially in many horror and thriller-suspense novels) but to me it felt like it was slightly overdone here, overshadowing the more important primary characters. I liked Judith, but at the same time I also felt a detachment to her cause. When you consider the main story without all its tangents, the plot is actually quite simple; and at the end of the day, Judith didn’t seem to have much control over her circumstances, nor did she have the means to really influence the direction of the story and the fate of all involved. Still, I don’t deny that I generally prefer more character-driven stories, so this is most likely just a matter of taste.
Lest I start to sound too negative though, I want to emphasize again that this is not a bad book, and I actually liked it a lot! Admittedly I have high expectations when it comes to Buehlman, since I loved the two other books I’ve read by him. It’s just hard not to make comparisons to them, especially since like The Lesser Dead, this newest novel also features vampires, and I’ve even heard somewhere that The Suicide Motor Club was meant to be a quasi-prequel. Knowing that he was tackling vampires as a subject again, I’d merely hoped that the story would be more original, or that there would be something more unique about these vampires. Everything ended up being fairly standard and predictable, but I definitely wouldn’t say I was disappointed either.
Frankly, when it comes down to the enjoyment factor, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book. It might not be perfect, nor do I consider it Buehlman’s best, but he does some pretty neat things with the premise. The Suicide Motor Club also hasn’t changed my opinion of him as a talented author, who writes with such a bold, evocative style. Plus, it’s fast-paced, action-oriented, and it’ll keep you turning the pages. When you’re looking to escape with a thrilling horror novel, sometimes you just can’t ask for more....more
I found a new favorite author in Keri Arthur when I read City of Light last year, and my hope is that I will continue to enjoy her work for years to come. Certainly those odds are looking good with Winter Halo, the sequel. Not only did I enjoy it as much as the previous book, this second novel of the Outcast series also came along when I needed it the most, providing a much needed counterpoint to the heavier reads I’ve had on my plate lately. It was nice to simply let loose with Tiger in her world again; that and we all know there’s nothing quite like vampires and shapeshifters plus a little a bit of sex and action to serve as perfect entremets.
The story picks up from the end of City of Light, continuing Tiger’s quest to rescue a group of kidnapped children. With the help from some new allies (because calling them friends would still be quite a stretch), she traces the trail to Winter Halo, a pharmaceutical company whose research arm appears to be involved in a bunch of shady activities. Our protagonist hatches up a plan to go undercover, using her déchet abilities to shapeshift and gather information from a top company executive to find out what’s going on within their research facility.
Her findings end up being even more bizarre and worrisome than expected, including everything from reports of hauntings to illicit experimentation and dissections. Just what is going on inside the walls of Winter Halo? To find out, Tiger must infiltrate the company and go deep into the heart of hostile territory. Time is fast running out, and the lost children are depending on her to find and rescue them.
If you haven’t discovered the world of Outcast yet, you’re in for a treat. As I mentioned before, Tiger is a humanoid being known as a “déchet”, a French term that means “junk” or “waste”, referring to the process with which she and others like her were made. Déchets were the super-soldiers created for the war against the monsters that came through rifts into our world more than a hundred years ago, genetic hybrids cobbled from genes from human, animal, and even paranormal creatures. Tiger’s main role in that long-ago war was to act as a “lure”, an agent capable of seducing her victims and extracting sensitive information from their heads before killing them. This explains why she is more “emotionally connected” than many of her fellow déchets who were mainly bred to be violent war machines. Pretty much all of them were eradicated by the end of the war though, so Tiger lives a lonely existence, making her home in an abandoned bunker surrounded by ghosts of murdered déchet children.
I think that’s the part which gets me the most. Let’s face it, urban fantasy and paranormal books about their main characters trying to rescue kidnapped kids are a dime a dozen. What makes Outcast and Tiger so special is that the reader can deeply sympathize with her reasons for going the distance for these stolen children. Her own life has been touched by the cruel and untimely deaths of young souls, and those experiences have affected her and stayed with her. Whenever we encounter scenes with Bear and Cat, our protagonist’ energetic helper ghosts, sometimes they charm us so much that it’s easy to forget the horrible way they died. For Tiger though, the heartbreaking circumstances around their deaths are always on her mind, and she’ll fight hard to prevent another child from ever being harmed again.
This sequel also builds upon the relationships established in the first book. The feelings growing between Tiger and Jonas are likely to be of the most interest, their attraction having been teased since the two of them first met. I’m actually surprised at the slow-burn approach Arthur is taking, when in a lot of other series, their authors often seem so eager to throw their love interests together as quickly as possible. I love this more measured pacing though, giving time to let the characters’ lives and personalities sink in.
Finally, I’m really enjoying the new plot developments. There’s a noticeable shift in Winter Halo’s themes towards more subterfuge, but the tensions and thrills remain high. The hunt for the missing children still makes up the main story arc, but now several secondary plot threads have also come into play and I’m curious to see where they will go.
The stakes have definitely been raised for this one! Arthur’s world-building and characterizations continue to be outstanding for this series, and I am having a blast with the twists and turns of the story. Now begins the hard part: the wait for book three....more
This was my first book by Keri Arthur, and I was completely unprepared for how good it was. I don’t even know why I was caught so flat-footed! After all, I know friends who have been fans of the author’s for years and they all absolutely adore her work, which is what convinced me to give City of Light a try in the first place. I’ve been curious about her books for a long time, and this being the first book of a new series seemed like the perfect place to start, so I went in with pretty high expectations. It ended up exceeding all of them.
Of course, I was skeptical at first, especially right after I opened the book and was almost immediately overwhelmed by a huge solid wave of info-dumps. To be fair, I understood the reasons for this, especially after I finished the book. There’s a tremendous amount of world building and a lot of amazing wonders and mysteries to discover, but the fun can’t start until after we’ve all taken the crash course, so to speak. After the story gets moving though, things really heat up.
This series opener introduces us to Tiger, a genetically hybrid soldier known as a “déchet”—a word that translates to “waste product” and speaks volumes about their makers’ attitudes towards their creations. But all that happened more than a hundred years ago, during the war between this world and the one beyond the veil. Those alive now live a precarious existence in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, with humans and shifters alike occupying highly-secured cities lit perpetually with artificial light meant to keep all the monsters like demons, wraiths and vampires out.
Tig is the last of her kind, after the shifters eradicated all déchet at the end of the war. She lives in the remnants of a military bunker filled with the ghosts of her people, whose energies she can sense and interact with. For the past century she has been in hiding, until one day she rescues a little girl on the outskirts of Central City and learns of a disturbing string of child abductions. Wraith-like beings are snatching kids in broad daylight—which should be impossible—and after what happened to her people, Tig has sworn never to stand by and let another child be harmed again.
I admit it’s a lot to take in, and I was initially confused given the staggering amount of information I had to process about Tig’s world. I almost thought City of Light might have been a spinoff from another series, and had to double-check to make sure this wasn’t the case. The world building is simply phenomenal, with a very robust and established feel, blending sci-fi futuristic elements with magic and other aspects from the fantasy genre. Even creatures like wraiths and vampires feel very different from the kind I usually read about in urban fantasy.
And for some reason, I went into City of Light expecting it to be a full-blown paranormal romance, probably since most of Keri Arthur’s other books have that tag. I was wrong, but I was also far from being disappointed. With Tig being a déchet created specifically for espionage and seduction, I admit was prepared for nothing but romance and sexual tension, but in the end the heavier emphasis was on the mystery of the abducted children rather than Tig’s relationships. On the whole, this book read more like a well-crafted UF with some PNR elements and a couple of smoking hot sex scenes thrown in, and it was a balance that struck the perfect note.
I also loved Tig as a protagonist. Her kind was created by humans to be a mix of animal, shifter, and vampire—the ultimate weapon. But after the war, the déchet were completely killed off, and even after all these years, Tig still remembers the day when the military bunker she was in was gassed with poisons. Everyone else inside was killed, including the young déchet in the nursery. Tig herself barely managed to survive thanks to her genetically modified DNA, but two of the children, Bear and Cat, died horribly in her arms. Today, their ghosts are her loyal companions, playfully following Tig wherever she goes, but the story of their tragic deaths haunted me and shattered my heart to pieces. It made me see why Tig is so protective of her little ones, and why she would go so far to help the kidnapped shifter children. I also gained a deeper appreciation for her strength and resolve, knowing the terrible things she witnessed back during the war. And finally, being able to connect with Tig made the ending more poignant, because it underscored the sacrifice behind Tig’s decision. Ultimately, nothing can ever come between her and her responsibility to those she has sworn to protect.
All told, City of Light is exciting and well-written, its story containing a remarkable mix of intrigue and action punctuated with sizzling melt-your-mind love scenes. The book’s main character is a sympathetic and lion-hearted (or rather should I say, tiger-hearted?) heroine you just can’t help but root for. Now I am waiting on pins and needles for the sequel to see what she’ll do next! I simply couldn’t have been more pleased at how this experience with my first Keri Arthur novel turned out. If I loved it, I have no doubt her fans will as well....more
Oh, Adele and Gareth. I just want to wrap them both up in a nice warm hug. How apropos it is that my favorite fictional power couple of steampunk is back this fall in a new adventure written by my favorite real-life literary power couple of fantasy fiction. Three years after the end of the original trilogy, Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith return to the world of Vampire Empire with The Geomancer, the first book of a new spinoff series.
This book is the beginning of a new chapter in every way. The vampire clans in the north have been decimated, their hold on Britain shattered. Empress Adele of Equatoria and her consort the vampire prince Gareth are looking to the future, trying to work together to bring back order. Humans are starting to feel safe on the streets of London again. The war here with the vampires is over.
Or is it? Barely half a year has passed since Adele brought death and destruction to the enemy by using her powers of geomancy, but already there are rumors spreading that vampires are making their return. An investigation into a string of bloody murders in London confirm their worst fears—somehow vampires have found a way to resist the killing powers of geomancy. At the same time, news comes of a mysterious human known as the Witchfinder who has thrown in with the new vampire regime, with plans to help them kill humans on a massive scale. There’s no doubt that the two events are connected, and the path to stopping this new threat will lead our characters on an epic quest across the globe, from the warm heart of Equatoria in Alexandria to the cold, icy mountains of Tibet.
The Geomancer is exciting, action-packed, emotional, and I’m delighted to report that there’s plenty to love here for fans new and old. Readers who began the journey from the beginning with the original series will be happy to be reunited with these wonderful characters, while first-timers will be able to jump right in. The narrative is taking the next step towards resolving the conflict between humans and vampires, and we’re swept along for the ride. There are new dangers to face, new foes to fight, new challenges to overcome, and in this novel Adele and Gareth are perhaps facing the toughest question yet: Can their two species ever learn to co-exist?
For all the good Gareth has done for humans in the guise of the hero Greyfriar, his secret identity remains closely guarded. The world is not ready for the truth, nor is it ready to accept Adele and Gareth’s romantic relationship. One day that time will come, and until then the two of them will just have to do what they can to change people’s minds, one tiny step at a time. But before that can happen, both of them are going to have to deal with his or her own personal demons.
For Gareth, who spends a lot of time struggling with his pride and dealing with a lot of self-doubt in this book, this can be quite a harrowing and emotional journey. Adele herself fears that the awesome power of geomancy might be doing more harm than good, especially since it is a force no one truly understands. But through it all, you can be sure the two of them are going to be there for each other, because if there’s one thing the Griffiths have always done right in this series, it’s the romance. The authors have done an outstanding job with these characters, further developing their relationship. Things are still interesting even after four books, and I just love how Gareth and Adele are closer now than ever before.
It’s also great to be back in this world, which I’ve always admired for its uniqueness. The setting is a great mix of alternate history, paranormal, and steampunk, and the vampires here are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Kudos to the Griffiths for putting a fresh twist on an old trope. I also enjoyed how this book brought us to new places, like the hidden monastery in Tibet where I found a couple of new favorite characters among its intriguing residents. The vampire queen Caterina’s chapters also gave us a closer look at the treacherous power-plays as well as a burgeoning vampire rebellion in the overgrown ruins of Paris.
So if you’re curious about this series, this is a fantastic point to jump on board. I believe fans of the original trilogy will also be very happy with this new beginning, especially since familiarity with the people and places will make the experience all the more rewarding. Either way, prepare for love, action, adventure, and an explosive ending that promises even more to come....more
So the other day I was having this conversation with another blogger about what makes us give a book 5 stars. Admittedly, my own reasons can be pretty nebulous and oftentimes the finer details can differ from a lot of others’ “criteria”, but ultimately I think it always comes down to the question: Did the book blow my mind? Maybe the author impressed with some crazy unique ideas, or made me see something in a whole different light. Or maybe the book touched my emotions in some way, destroyed my feels and left me blubbering like an idiot.
Or maybe sometimes, like in the case of The Fifth House of the Heart, the reasons don’t have to be either cerebral or emotional. Maybe I just want to give a book 5 stars because it was just so damn fucking fun. DEAL WITH IT!
Seriously, though. Horror, humor, and a heist all in one? I couldn’t have asked for more. Say what you want about vampires being a tired old trope, but they can still be pretty terrifying, especially when you have an author who knows how to portray them like the monsters that they are—the way they’re meant to be. Next, throw in a motley group of mercenaries led by a septuagenarian antiquities dealer, our rather zany protagonist who is as motivated by his desire to rid the world of vampires as he is by the opportunity to get his hands on some of their priceless loot.
For you see, vampires are as bad as dragons when it comes to hoarding; they have an obsession for the past as well as an eye for expensive, beautiful, and exquisitely crafted things. Unfortunately, they are also fiercely attached to their possessions and will guard them with as much fervor. This is precisely how Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang draws the attention of a vampire at an antiques auction, after barely winning a bidding war for an ormolu clock. But Sax is no stranger to vampires, having profited greatly from a couple of run-ins with them in the past. So when the clock is later stolen from his warehouse, leaving the watchman on duty brutally murdered, Sax knows only one thing can be responsible. Determined to settle the score, he travels to the Vatican to assemble a crack team of vampire hunters to counter this new threat—and hopefully to make another fortune while he’s at it.
Everyone in this book is a character, in the sense that they all possess interesting and notable traits or personalities. First there’s Fra Paolo, the guileless monk admiringly described by the openly gay Sax as a dark, handsome young “piece of Italian beefcake.” Next is Min, a small innocuous-looking Korean woman who just happens to be one of the deadliest, most frighteningly accomplished vampire killers in the world–and the sanest one the Vatican could come up with on short notice. Rock is the team’s muscle, an ex-US Army Special Forces guy who is as rugged and strong as his name suggests. Gheorghe plays the role of the rogue, a Romanian burglar who moonlights as a street acrobat in between bank heists. Then there are the unwitting additions to the crew, those who just happened to fall into this deadly caper by happy circumstance: Nilu, the Bollywood actress who became a vampire victim; Emily, Sax’s concerned niece who trails her uncle to Europe; and finally, Abingdon the British blacksmith/professional jouster whose impeccable physique and devastatingly good looks make him popular with the ladies at Ren Faires all across the continent.
Hard to imagine a more dubious or random group of people getting together to slay monsters, but there you are. But of course, the most interesting and entertaining one of all is Sax, the leader of this jolly band and the one who holds everyone together. Sax is one of the best protagonists I’ve read in years, a man of contrasts if I’ve ever seen one. I can’t decide whether he’s closer in type to the gentle elderly man who gives smiles to children in the park, or to the crotchety one who brandishes his cane at them from his porch yelling “Get off my lawn!” In truth, he’s probably both in equal parts.
One thing is certain though: this novel owes a lot of its greatness to Sax. Certainly, his wry and wicked sense of humor is a huge part of it; I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. Throughout the book, Sax will say all sorts of scandalous or outrageously inappropriate things but you’ll still find yourself busting a gut without feeling too guilty about it because he reminds you of your 100-year-old eccentric grandpa. Plus, the guy has already survived two vampire attacks, and yet even now he’s preparing to charge headlong into another. RESPECT. I could only hope to be so spritely when I’m pushing eighty.
You might have noticed by now that I haven’t talked much about the plot – and I’m not going to. Because as with most heist stories, the less you know about the novel before you read it the better. The less you know about the vampires in this book the better too, but I just want to say how much I loved Tripp’s return to the ruthless, bestial portrayal of these creatures while still giving it a refreshingly unique twist. The Fifth House of the Heart will remind you that vampires are monsters. They don’t love you. They want to kill you.
So if you want some terrifyingly good entertainment, read this book. What an uproarious mix of thrills and chills! Needless to say, I enjoyed it thoroughly, from the first page to the last!...more
I have a feeling I’m going to be the sole voice of dissent on this one. It’s not that thought Blood of the Earth was a bad book, but quite honestly I was expecting a lot more. However, it should be made known that this was the first time I’ve ever read Faith Hunter; I’ve never read any of the books in the Jane Yellowrock series, and maybe that was part of the problem. A spinoff can be a tricky beast, and though this can be read separately from the main series, I’m guessing that not having the benefit of a previous connection to this world likely had an impact on my overall enjoyment—or lack thereof.
The story stars Nell Nicholson Ingram, who was, as I discovered later, a character first introduced in a Jane Yellowrock short story called “Off the Grid”. She grew up in a cult called the God’s Cloud of Glory Church, and was only a young girl when she was made to marry one of its other members, a much older man named John Ingram. For all his faults though, John had wanted to do right by Nell. So, when she turned eighteen, he also married her legally in the eyes of Tennessee law, which is why when he passed away, ownership of his entire estate was rightfully transferred to her. This, however, did not sit right with the Church. Even after Nell left the cult, its members still kept coming, harassing her about her property, which they considered as theirs no matter what the law says.
The attacks have made Nell nervous, which is why when a group of agents from PsyLED show up at her door one day, she isn’t sure whether or not she can trust them. Turns out though, Jane Yellowrock had referred Nell to the paranormal investigation agency after finding out about Nell’s earth magic and special connection to nature, so now Agent Rick LaFleur and his team of were-cat operatives are here hoping she can help out on a case. There has been a string of disappearances involving young women lately, and one of the missing victims is a member of a very important vampire house. PsyLED suspects Nell’s old cult might have something to do with it, and they believe access to her past and property could be a very useful resource.
As I mentioned previously, I didn’t think this was a bad book. That said, I also found nothing terribly exciting about it. First of all, a “missing girls” story? Urban fantasy isn’t exactly suffering from a dearth of missing-or-kidnapped-kids plots lately, so that ho-hum was one of the bigger disappointments. Second, the first third of the novel with its slow pacing almost did me in. What made it even more frustrating was the constant repetition, what with Nell finding about fifty thousand ways to beat it over the readers’ heads that the God’s Cloud Church wants her land because they didn’t agree with her late husband’s decision, or how some of their men came over and killed her dogs. Yes, Nell, cult goons bad. I got it the first time, and really could have done without the image of the poor dead pups over and over in my mind. The rough pacing continues in the later parts of the book, like when we’re introduced to the vampire family of the missing girl, and for the next hundred or so pages she is barely mentioned again. The story just feels like it’s all over the place.
I also didn’t think there was anything too special about the world. Again, I know I’m at a disadvantage because I haven’t read the Jane Yellowrock series, so I’m probably missing years and years’ worth of relevant world-building which would have helped me gain a better appreciation for it. Still, at this moment I don’t know if I’m jumping up and down to start another series about vampires and shapeshifters, since I’m already following a bunch of them that scratch that itch, though I did find Nell’s nature-based magic fascinating.
The main character’s background is also one of the most intriguing aspects of this book, since a life of growing up in a cult definitely shaped her into a very interesting person. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced of her random Sherlock Holmes moments. The story spends a lot of time painting Nell to be this country bumpkin, but every so often she will get these flashes of genius (all at the most convenient times, I might add) where she will surprise all her PsyLED team members and then proceed to lecture them all about how a lifetime spent hunting and trapping in the woods somehow taught her to become a whiz at deductive reasoning. And then when they all feel bad about judging her, Nell gets to pat herself on the back, all the while ignoring the fact she can be pretty judgmental herself, of course.
So yeah, this one didn’t exactly blow me away me due to a multitude of smaller issues that simply added up, hence the middling, uncertain rating. In spite of this, I haven’t entirely ruled out picking up the next book yet, especially since I still plan on starting the Jane Yellowrock series one of these days. I think there’s potential for Nell and Soulwood to be a lot more, so here’s hoping the sequel will help them grow on me....more
Even before I started this one, I had a feeling something big was coming. For three books now, Anne Bishop has been ramping up the tensions between the Others and the Humans First and Last (HFL) movement, a radical anti-terra indigene group that has been playing with fire since the beginning of this series. All that pent-up rage and energy had to be going somewhere, and that somewhere turned out to be in the pages of Marked in Flesh.
For centuries, a delicate balance has existed between humans and the creatures that inhabited the land before we got here. The Others, who see humans as prey, have only allowed this truce to continue because they benefit from the relationship as well, enjoying the useful trade goods that humans produce from the natural resources that are under terra indigene control. However, the HFL has made it clear that they are tired of this compromise, issuing a warning to all that a reckoning is at hand.
Caught in the middle of this conflict is Lakeside Courtyard and its leader Simon Wolfgard, the wolf shifter. The arrival of a cassandra sangue named Meg Corbyn has done much to alleviate the bad blood between the Others and the humans in this location, creating a relatively safe place for the two groups to get along. But as HFL violence starts spilling into their daily lives, Simon and the rest of the terra indigene will have to take steps to protect their own, and that may lead to some difficult choices.
Marked in Flesh is undoubtedly a turning point for this series, complete with a significant event that draws a line in the sand. Going forward, a lot of the characters will likely be defined by this moment. The world is also forever changed with the awakening of the Elders, which for all intents and purposes are the “super-terra indigene” of The Others universe. These are beings that even the earth natives themselves fear. For all their bluster and rhetoric, HFL is clearly screwed.
Still, these intense circumstances are merely the backdrop for what happens in Lakeside Courtyard, which is where the true interest is. Simon and Meg are again at the center of all this chaos, but there are also a lot of supporting characters to fill out the story. There’s a good number of perspectives to follow, but at this point in the series, I think this broader view is exactly what it needs. The Others is also somewhat of an oddity for me, since it’s one of the rare cases where I love the books but I’m not too crazy about its protagonist. Meg Corbyn hasn’t grown on me, and I feel her lack of agency in her own series continues to be a weak point, even in Marked in Flesh. She makes a bit of progress in this book, seeking other ways for her fellow blood prophets to get by without resorting to cutting, but in the end Meg is still a confused mess, even to herself. I still don’t really understand the reverence the terra indigene have for her. My enjoyment was instead carried by my love for some of the other characters, and so getting a bigger picture from those POVs actually worked well for me.
Of course, a lot happens in this very important volume, and Anne Bishop does not pull any punches. On the other hand, I also couldn’t help but feel that certain things have been dragging out. It took this long for the HFL conflict to finally come to a head, but certain other plot threads are still hanging. Not much progress has been made it comes to the fate of the liberated cassandra sangue, for example. And if there’s ever going to be any romance between Simon and Meg, then it had better come quick. When I look at the two of them now, I don’t see lovers; I see a relationship that reminds me of a child and her dog. Any chemistry between the two of them has been slowly leaking away, and if something doesn’t happen soon, I’m afraid it will fizzle out altogether.
In spite of my misgivings though, I’m still really excited for the future of The Others. It’s typical for urban fantasy series to have their ups and downs, and I feel that Marked in Flesh found a middle ground, holding steady on some plot points while also giving readers a watershed moment that will leave no one unscathed. If nothing else, I think this will set the stage for even greater things to come. I eagerly await the next installment!...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
I didn’t expect to like this one so much. First of all, I haven’t read any of Gail Carriger’s other books save for Soulless which I found quite enjoyable, but ultimately the emphasis on Alexia and Maccon’s romance kept me from diving headfirst into the Parasol Protectorate. Then along came Prudence. Described as a new series featuring the adventures of Alexia’s daughter, this book sounded like a lot of fun. More importantly, it also looked different enough from the original series that I figured I might just give it a shot.
I’m so glad I did. Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama AKA “Rue” is definitely a force to be reckoned with! Like I said, I never got beyond the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series so this was my first introduction to this spirited young lady. I didn’t feel disadvantaged at all for not having read the original series; Carriger does a great job making sure that all her readers can hop aboard at this point and enjoy this book on an equal footing.
Witty, vivacious, and oh so much less prim and proper than her mother, I just couldn’t help but fall in love with Rue. She possesses an ability not unlike Alexia’s, being able to negate the effects of supernatural beings simply by making skin-to-skin contact with them, except she does this by temporarily stealing their powers. So for example, by touching a werewolf, she in turn becomes a werewolf, leaving her hapless victim mortal for the rest of the night or at least until Rue gets far enough away to snap the magical tether. Needless to say, high society has gotten quite used to the sight of Rue running around the city in wolf form wearing nothing but her bloomers, much to Alexia’s chagrin…which just goes to show how different Rue is from her mother.
Also, for much of Rue’s life she was raised away from her birth parents by her foster “second father”, the vampire Lord Akeldama. When trouble threatens to strike Dama’s tea interests in India, he tasks Rue with the mission to investigate, because as everyone knows, tea is SERIOUS BUSINESS. To help her complete her quest, Dama also gifts Rue with her very own dirigible, which our protagonist promptly dubs The Spotted Custard.
Oh God. Never have I wished this hard for illustrations in an adult novel. What I wouldn’t give to see a picture of Rue’s red-with-black-spotted dirigible, because Rue being Rue, of course the first thing she does is commission it to be painted like a gigantic ladybug. Oh, and due to some kink in its engineering, the ship also farts loudly upon liftoff.
Yeah, I just about fell out of my chair from laughing so hard.
Such preposterous, over-the-top situations are everywhere in this book, making this a very humorous read – another point Prudence has over Soulless, in my opinion. This fact makes the novel a regular comedy of errors, made even funnier by Rue’s traveling companions who are all delightful but just as hilariously incompetent at pulling off a mission of espionage. You have straight-laced Primrose who forces the entire expedition to depart early due to an unexpected fashion faux pas, the scholarly navigator Percy who fills up his stateroom with more books than the necessities for basic living, and the rakish Quesnel who is constantly distracting Rue with his good looks and casual flirtations. Can India survive the crew of The Spotted Custard? That’s the million dollar question indeed.
Another thing I really enjoyed is just the light smattering of romance, which in no way detracts from the main storyline. Something’s definitely brewing between Rue and Quesnel, but their relationship is secondary to the central plot which focuses on adventure. There’s no doubt that the exciting journey to India was what made this book such a joy to read, bolstered by Rue’s eccentric brand of diplomacy and the antics of her friends and crew.
I’m also happy that while many of the major characters of Parasol Protectorate are featured in this book, the author keeps their appearances limited. This is strictly Rue’s story, and I couldn’t be more pleased with that. Of course, if you’ve read the series featuring her parents you’ll have a better grasp on the lore and characters’ backgrounds, but I didn’t and I still had a blast. I actually liked Prudence a lot more than Soulless; after all, I didn’t get a jump on the rest of the books in Alexia’s series, but I’m very impatient now for the next book of Rue’s! I’m so glad that Carriger decided to focus on this character, and I can’t wait to follow Rue and her friends on their future adventures with The Spotted Custard....more
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
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
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
I want to start by saying I’m not a big reader of short fiction, and on the whole I tend not to bother with any novellas, short stories or anthologies that are companion to an existing series. Part of this is due to my preference for full-length novels, but I’ve also not had the best experiences when it comes to the short format. Characters are world building are important for me, and with only a few exceptions, most short stories don’t go as in-depth into these aspects as I would like. Also, I always end up forming attachments to only a small handful of characters whenever I read a series, and I don’t often find myself as interested in companion novellas/shorts that feature the perspectives of other minor characters and people in a series’ “universe”.
That said, I had a really good time with Shifting Shadows. I’ve really fallen in love with the Mercy Thompson series in the last couple of years, which sparked my interest in this book despite it being an anthology. Aside from four new additions, most of the stories in here have previously been published, though I never felt the need to read them due to the reasons stated above, so I am reading everything with fresh eyes. Sure, as with any short story collection there are ups and downs, but overall I was very impressed with this book, and it probably ranks as up there as one of the best urban fantasy anthologies I’ve ever read.
Here’s a more detailed look at the contents:
According to the description, this is one of the new stories, written as an “origin” tale of sorts for the werewolves of Mercy Thompson’s world. We’ve always been told Bran and Samuel are old, but now we realize just how old. We’re talking possibly around the time Christianity first came to Wales. This story also has a bit of romance and sadness, detailing how Samuel and his beloved Ariana first met, but to me its true importance in the fact that it fills in a lot of history to help readers better understand the werewolf mythos as well as Bran and Samuel’s familial ties. A great starter to this anthology, and highly apt.
Unfortunately, after this comes a few stories that I just wasn’t as fond of. Thomas Hao was a vampire character I barely remember from his appearance in Frost Burned, though he may have been in any of Patricia Briggs’ other books/spin-off series, but since I haven’t read anything other than Mercy Thompson I really wouldn’t know. I like the “western” feel of this story, but other than that I have to say it was pretty forgettable. I was scarcely able to follow along with the story with its confusing back-and-forth time jumps, and I felt like I was dumped into the middle of a situation without knowing what was going on or who everyone was and why they mattered. Going back to my opening paragraph, this story is a pretty good example of my issues with series companion short stories.
The stories in here are arranged in chronological order based on the timeline of the Mercy Thompson series, and at this point we’re still in pre-Moon Called territory. Which is probably why I still found myself asking “Who are you and why do you matter again?” I feel a little guilty that I don’t remember who Elyna is, or even if I have encountered her before in any of the Mercy books. This is another one about vampires, but it’s also a ghost story at its heart. The story itself isn’t half bad, but again I would rather be reading about characters I’m more familiar with. This is definitely not one of my favorites either.
This story features Tom and Moira, two characters from Hunting Ground, book two of Briggs’ other series Alpha & Omega – which I have not read. But despite not being familiar with these characters, the author did a good job of really fleshing them out and I actually found myself curious to find out more about them beyond the events of this story. We have a perspective character here who is a witch, which was a treat. The plot also had a clear beginning and end, with the build-up and climax and everything good in between, so I didn’t feel lost at all. I loved how this story had a bit of mystery and sleuthing by the characters, and a sweet romance that ends up blossoming between them.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
I’ve always wanted to check out Alpha & Omega, though to be honest, I don’t know if I feel more or less enthusiastic about picking it up now, after reading this story. I was happy to meet up with Charles (yay, finally a character I recognize again) but I don’t know if I like the way he was portrayed here, or how Anna was portrayed either. Which is a bit ironic, I know, given how this technically gave rise to the series of the same name. It’s always grated on me a little, how the werewolf characters in the world of Mercy Thompson frequently let their wolf side take over all common sense and turn the human into chauvinistic testosterone-fueled meatheads. In this story, we are repeatedly told that Anna still has fire in her, despite being beaten and broken by her abusive pack, but it feels like whatever strength in her that’s fighting to get out is constantly being smothered by Charles’ overbearing need to own her and protect her. I realize this all fits in the context of Briggs’ “pack magic”, but it just always rankles whenever I see an over-possessive male and a helpless female that needs him to do the rescuing.
THE STAR OF DAVID
Hooray, we’re finally into Moon Called-territory and familiar ground for me. This is a great story about Adam’s fellow army ranger, David, whose tragic history illustrates the awful things that can happen when a werewolf isn’t in control of their wolf side. He reconnects with his estranged daughter in this heartwarming tale. My only problem with this story involves some of the implausible and unconvincing aspects of the situation, but given the limitations of the short story format, I didn’t let it bother me too much.
ROSES IN WINTER
This is one of the new stories, and it’s hands down my favorite out of this entire anthology. In my opinion, it’s worth picking up Shifting Shadows for this one alone. Again, I barely remember Kara since she was such a minor character (mentioned in Blood Bound, but never even appeared in any of the books) but I do recall Asil. Though I believe he’s a character in Alpha & Omega, he did make a very strong impression on me from his appearance in Frost Burned. But wow. I never imagined I would grow to love his character so much, and it was all thanks to this story. I had tears in my eyes at the end of this one, that’s how amazing it is.
IN RED, WITH PEARLS
This was a nice detective story, starring Warren. Someone sent a zombie to kill his boyfriend Kyle, and Warren’s not going to rest until he finds out who. Patricia Briggs did a fantastic job making him sound like the cowboy that he is, and I can tell she probably had a lot of fun writing this. We also get to see a few moments of tenderness between Warren and Kyle, but the best part of getting a story from Warren’s perspective is being able to experience his anxieties and doubts from inside his head. In the regular series, through Mercy’s eyes we see Warren as a happy-go-lucky, fiercely loyal friend. But as this story shows, there’s so much more to him beneath the surface.
Probably my second favorite story in the anthology, this one features Ben. It’s hard to get a bead on his character in the regular series. On the one hand, it’s been implied that Ben has a rather distasteful past, and his attitude towards women leaves a lot to be desired. On the other, Adam and Mercy seem to trust him implicitly, and Ben has gone out of his way for both of them on more than one occasion. This story gives the reader a better sense of who he is, and how he got this way. But it’s also downright hilarious. You gotta love Ben; he can be a real gentleman when he wants to be, and he takes crap from no one, not even when he’s not allowed to swear.
I was beginning to think we weren’t going to get a Mercy story at all, which despite some of the other great offerings in here, would have been disappointing. But fear not, this one’s all about Mercy, told from her point of view. And as Mercy stories go, I have to say it’s pretty standard – it reads like it could have been a story from one of the novels, but of course it’s much more condensed in this form. This meant I enjoyed it, but I admit, it does feel like Briggs crammed this one in just for the sake of having a story told in Mercy’s perspective. Just a little.
OUTTAKE FROM SILVER BORNE
Sorry to say, but…there’s probably a good reason why this was an outtake and never made it to the final book. Yeah, it gives a bit of closure to Samuel and Ariana’s story, but I wouldn’t say it’s needed in the least to enjoy the story of their relationship. I could take it or leave it. I think it was the right call to leave it out.
OUTTAKE FROM NIGHT BROKEN
On the other hand, I wish Briggs could have worked this one in somehow. I loved this scene from Adam’s point of view, at the end of Night Broken in the wake of all the craziness that happened. It endeared me to Adam, and my heart melts for his deep love for Mercy. It might just be me, but this scene would have also made the ending to that book a lot less confusing.
Concluding thoughts: there’s definitely a reason why this book is described as “Stories from the world of Mercy Thompson”, because as you can see, most of what you see in here isn’t about Mercy or even the people close to her. But with the exception of a couple of stories, that didn’t really put a damper on my experience reading Shifting Shadows. In fact, on the whole I think this book gave me a deeper understanding of the Mercy Thompson universe and made me appreciate it more. I’ve read similar anthologies and regretted it deeply afterwards, but this is not one of those cases. I highly recommended this for fans of the series, because if someone like me loved it, you probably will too...more
I thought I would be going into Echopraxia with two strikes against me. First, the fact that I haven’t read Blindsight which is the first book in the Firefall series, and second, there was the worry that the book would be too “hard sci-fi” for my tastes. Fortunately, neither really ended up being an obstacle. Sure, I had my issues with this novel, but those have little to do with my original concerns.
It’s hard to explain a book like Echopraxia; this is one of those cases where it’s probably better to just let the publisher description do the talking: “The eve of the twenty-second century”, “a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues”, “genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans”, “soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat”.
It’s a whole other world, with a very different status quo. People like biologist Daniel Bruks who is adamant against upgrading himself with any implants or enhancements are seen as “old school”, living fossils that are still clinging on to an extinct way of life. While working in the field in the middle of the Oregon desert, he finds himself entangled in a conflict between a vampire and her entourage of zombie bodyguards versus a faction of technologically advanced Bicameral monks. Now he’s trapped on a ship headed to the center of the solar system to learn what happened to Blindsight, the expedition which took off years ago to investigate what appeared to be an alien signal.
The ideas here are wild, spectacular and ambitious. The plot, on the other hand, is quite thin – another reason why it would be difficult to describe this novel. Echopraxia is a book that feels less concerned with providing a cohesive narrative, instead focusing more heavily on philosophical discussion and debate on the human condition. Great if like these kinds of books, not so great if you don’t. Personally, I really enjoyed the first hundred pages or so because it contained most of the story. Watts established the setting, the main characters and the conflict. But everything started unraveling after that point, and became unfocused and disorganized.
The challenge for me was in trying to tease apart the jumble of ideas without allowing myself to be driven to distraction. Watts’ writing is laden with scientific jargon and not very easy on the eyes, making this one a slower read. Given the heavier themes and tinge of gloom, not to mention the fact there’s barely any plot, there’s just not too much energy to push it along. Not that I’m saying Echopraxia is a bad book. Far from it, in fact. I feel it has all the right ingredients, but the actual execution of all those great ideas leaves something to be desired.
Over the years, I think I’ve come to gain a deeper appreciation for hard sci-fi. It’s still a struggle sometimes, I admit, but it’s no longer the insurmountable hurdle it once was. However, plot and characters rank high on my priority list. Compelling and cogent storytelling is still somewhat of a requirement in the question of whether or not I’ll enjoy a book. Unfortunately, parts of Echopraxia are just too inconsistent for me to embrace it with open arms, but Watts should be recognized for his incredible talent of making everything he writes about sound fascinating and convincing. This is not a book you’ll want to pick up for a light afternoon of reading, but it’s worth it if you’re up for a thoughtful discourse on the complexities of the human mind and consciousness....more
I accepted The Vampires of Manhattan for review before I found out the book was actually the first of a sequel series to Melissa de la Cruz’s Young Adult Blue Bloods; fortunately, not having read those books did not seem to have a negative impact on my experience. Of course, there were a few moments where I sensed gaping holes in my knowledge of the background of the world, but on the whole my enjoyment of the storyline was unaffected. So if you’re unfamiliar with Blue Bloods and are uncertain as to whether or not you should check out this book, fear not! It’s perfectly fine to jump right in.
This might have something to do with the amount of time that has passed since the Blue Bloods series. Apparently, ten years have gone by, and the teenage protagonists are now all grown up, and while Blue Bloods may have been intended audience, The Vampires of Manhattan definitely feels more geared towards adults. Many of the characters have brand new lives, including Araminta Scott (formerly “Minty” but now known as “Ara”) who is now a Venator, an enforcer of sorts, specializing in paranormal activities and crimes. Mimi and Kingsley Martin, a married couple whose history is fraught with intense emotions have returned to New York following a particularly heated fight, after seven years of living in the Underworld. Oliver Hazard-Perry is now a vampire and has risen quickly in the Coven, preparing to take his place as its leader. With the help of his lover and human conduit Finn, they’re making sure the upcoming Four Hundred Ball will go off without a hitch.
But then pentagrams start appearing all over the place, and the discovery of a dead teenage girl who appears to have been murdered by a vampire leads to unease in the community, putting the Blue Bloods and Venators on alert.
The Vampires of Manhattan is touted as “hipster horror” right there in the description, though after reading it I think it’s more accurate to call it “yuppie mystery” on account of the ultra-sophisticated, extremely wealthy lifestyles that some of the characters flaunt. The Four Hundred Ball is the lavish, no-expense-spared affair that is at the center of this novel, the point where all the plot threads will culminate in a startling, dramatic climax. However, the story is also balanced with an investigation into a murder, with Ara and her new wolfish partner Edon Marrok hard at work to find the killer.
Told through many points-of-view, the novel will capture your attention no matter who you are, though if you have an inclination towards mystery like I do, then Ara’s perspective will probably interest you the most. I liked it best when she and Edon were following up on clues, especially when the investigation leads them to the hoity-toity prep schools of the city. Oliver’s perspective provides us with a glimpse into the life of a high-powered elite. And those who enjoy the ups-and-downs of a tumultuous romance will eat up Mimi and Kingsley’s chapters.
The plot itself is not terribly complicated, but that probably works in the novel’s favor. Being a follow-up series that will likely serve as a jumping-on point for a lot of new readers, a twisty, heavy and convoluted story would not have gone over too well with me, personally. I thought the book was pretty perfect in its simplicity, and at the same time I also grew to connect with many of the characters who I had previously no knowledge about, which is a rather impressive feat for an author. I imagine those who have read Blue Bloods will be even more thrilled to catch up with these characters.
I’m glad I discovered this urban fantasy, which was a fast read and thoroughly entertaining for the genre. Despite not knowing a lot of the background behind the vampires, it worked for me – and feeling lost when it comes to a book’s world usually drives me nuts. It’s my first book by Melissa de la Cruz, and this has actually made me very interested in going back to check out Blue Bloods, or her other YA work. I would expect that readers who are already fans of Blue Bloods to enjoy this, but I was certainly a bit surprised — but in a good way — that I did too....more
Once again, M.L. Brennan reminds me why this is one of my favorite urban fantasy series right now! I simply love how the Generation V books break so many of the genre’s rules.
First off, forget about immortal vampires that ooze sexuality from every single attractive pore on their flawless runway model bodies, because here we have Fortitude Scott, a vampire protagonist who is very much an underdog and is as down-to-earth as they come. And how ‘bout those family dynamics? Where else can you find a book in which the mother and siblings of said vampire protagonist have such a huge impact on his everyday life? I’ve always enjoyed the roles that Madeline, Prudence and Chivalry play in the development of Fort’s character, but this third book is where the author really drives that point home. The story here is, after all, about the blood ties that bind.
Unlike the first two books which both started off with a healthy dose of humor, a dark shroud of sadness hangs over book three’s introduction, because it is revealed that Chivalry’s ailing wife has finally passed away. The loss leaves Chivalry in no shape to attend his duties, meaning it’s up to Fort to step up and fill his older brother’s shoes. It’s a tough job keeping checks on all the supernatural denizens living in his mother’s territory, but Fort manages swimmingly with the help of Suzume, his kitsune sidekick and friend-who-he-wishes-is-more-than-just-a-friend.
Then everything goes to hell when the leader of a faction of bear shapeshifters turns up brutally murdered. It’s Fort’s first time handling an investigation and of course his family is no help (his mother Madeline’s sagely advice pretty much boils down to “Just handle it dammit, find a patsy if necessary”), but still Fort is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery and bring the true killer to justice. He just hopes he’s not in way over his head on this one.
Tainted Blood and the story of Fort’s first solo mission on his family’s business is definitely not to be missed! The twists and turns of the investigation had me on my toes, and as always the brilliant banter between the dynamic duo of Fort and Suze continued to have me chuckling all the way through.
But there are also a few other things I felt this book did extremely well, which I want to highlight. For one thing, you’ll definitely be floored by Brennan’s fascinating and unique take on the paranormal world and its creatures, an approach which has become her signature style. Her first book Generation V introduced us to the nitty-gritty details of the vampire life cycle, while her second book Iron Night portrayed elves in a way that I know will make me never look at Legolas the same way again. I can always depend on Brennan to have a cool supernatural race or two up her sleeve, and quite honestly, I would expect nothing less from an author who features the awesomeness of kitsune in her books! This time around, we get up close and personal with shapeshifters in the form (no pun intended) of werebears. Just, ah, don’t call them that to their faces, unless you want to risk getting your own clawed off.
What I really like are the checks and balances in the world of these books, providing an explanation as to why we puny humans aren’t overrun a million times over yet by all these supernatural beings that are so much more powerful than us. Every creature has a weakness to go with a strength. Brennan’s vampires, for example, are not immortal, and though the process is much slower, they can and will die of old age just like anything else. And while elves do enjoy the luxury of immortality, they are so violent and bloodthirsty that they’ve pretty much fought themselves to the brink of extinction, with problems of infertility and inbreeding to boot. Witches have powers that make them extraordinary talented healers, but they’re also the most isolated and scattered group because any large concentration of witches in one area can stir up bad juju and mass hysteria in nearby human populations. Details such as these lend Fortitude Scott’s world a touch of realism which is not always present in UF, and it’s something I don’t think is appreciated enough.
I also want to take it back to family dynamics, because this is another area where Tainted Blood excelled. Familial love can be a tricky thing to tackle, especially when it comes to so-called “monsters”. Fort may be a relatively harmless vampire trying to hold on to his human side as long as possible, though the same cannot be said of his mother and older siblings. But Madeline, Chivalry and Prudence are such fascinating characters simply because they love Fort and are fiercely protective of him, only they show it in their own very different and sometimes unconventional ways. This is brought to the forefront in Tainted Blood, when Fort’s interactions with each of his family members produce a wide range of emotional results. Perhaps for the first time, he catches a glimpse of weakness in his mother, a darkness in his brother, and – probably the most shocking revelation of all – a nice side to Prudence. Nothing is ever black and white, and I loved that about this book.
So if an urban fantasy with actual deep, meaningful and complex relationships sounds good to you, look no further than this series. And speaking of relationships, if you have been following these books and are rooting for Fortitude and Suzume in the romance department, you might be in for a real treat too!
Bottom line, fans of urban fantasy need to check out this series, and current fans MUST read Tainted Blood. There are significant developments brewing, and with all this foreshadowing of Madeline’s inevitable fate, I have a feeling this books marks the beginning of a turning point. We may be on the cusp of something huge. What can I say, but bring on the next one!...more
This series is seriously great. There’s nothing out there quite like it; Anne Bishop is a talented storyteller and her characters are wonderful, but it’s the world of The Others that truly sets it apart. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Bishop brings a fresh and unique take on urban fantasy to the table.
Remember, in this world, the supernaturals are the dominant race and we puny humans are their food. Murder of Crows picks up from the first book Written in Red, following the story of the cassandra sangue or blood prophet Meg Corbyn in her new life at the Lakeside Courtyard. A few months have passed since she escaped her keepers to seek sanctuary among the terra indigene, and she’s viewed as somewhat of an oddity due to the nature of her powers. Meg isn’t exactly one of the Others, but she’s not quite human either and that makes her not prey. Slowly she gains the trust of her hosts, and her relationship with Simon Wolfgard, the shapeshifting leader of Lakeside Courtyard, also continues to grow.
There are a couple other major plotlines in this book. Someone is out there killing terra indigene, specifically targeting crows and creating drugs that would dangerously alter the behaviors of the Others. The fragile peace is further shaken as humans are becoming more and more disgruntled with their place in the pecking order (pardon the pun), giving rise to groups like Humans First and Last. Tensions are at an all-time high between the two groups, and while the situation is much worse in other parts of Thaisia, Lakeside Courtyard has not been able to avoid the effects of the conflict.
With this second book, Anne Bishop seems to have hit her stride. In my review of Written in Red, I noted that it seemed rather lengthy for an urban fantasy novel, especially for a series starter. The story felt bulky, padded with what I felt were quite a few unnecessary scenes. In contrast, Murder of Crows has a much more reasonable page count and therefore a lot less filler, which in turn improved the flow and made the story feel more streamlined.
I also like how the series has made a turn for the darker. Not that Written in Red wasn’t dark enough to begin with, but there’s still a noticeable shift here with the themes gradually inching towards grimmer and more disturbing territory. Violence between humans and the Others is nothing new, but the people who used to hold Meg captive are up to their usual shenanigans as well, and you can see how she’s one of the lucky ones for managing to escape. Bishop does not attempt to sugarcoat or soften the details of what happens to the other cassandra sangue girls who suffer all kinds of abuse at the hands of the sinister and depraved man known as “The Controller”.
However, the darkness is also countered with moments of levity. An interesting but intentionally awkward dynamic starts to develop between Meg and Simon Wolfgard, due to the fact that their reactions to each other are so vastly different when the latter is in his human form versus his furry form. I doubt this shtick can continue for that much longer though, so let’s hope their relationship will progress a little further in the next book.
Also in the next book, I’d like to see more depth to the characters. The strength of the world-building seems to be overshadowing everything because it’s the most unique aspect at the moment. While Meg’s blood prophet powers are pretty cool, I’m not getting much of a feel for her personality. She’s meek and comes across slightly aloof, perhaps due to the style of narration which keeps her somewhat at arm’s length. A better balance between setting and characters would be nice, because I’d like to feel a stronger connection to the protagonist.
All in all though, this is definitely an interesting and enjoyable read. I’ll be jumping into Vision in Silver very soon and I’m really looking forward to it....more
I’m glad I gave this book a shot. I have to admit, I've not had the best experience when it comes to Anne Bishop (I really wanted to like Daughter of the Blood in her Black Jewels series, but just couldn’t seem to get into it) so I initially shied away from Written in Red. However, after multiple recommendations and even an assurance or two that it is very different from Bishop’s epic fantasy, I was finally convinced to pick it up.
I was also told that this series should be right up my alley, based on the type of urban fantasy I enjoy. I daresay that was a good call. I love the genre for its focus on interesting characters and unique worlds, and Written in Red certainly delivers on those fronts. Not only that, Anne Bishop also introduces UF elements in this book that are at once brand new and yet all too familiar. Given my mixed feelings in the past with her other work, it felt reassuring to find this book settled nicely in my comfort zone.
Despite my tepid feelings towards Daughter of the Blood, even I can't deny that Bishop has a knack for creating worlds. Her talent and creativity is evident everywhere in her work, and that is true of The Others series as well, where the mundane and the supernatural coexist in a fragile balance…so to speak. Namely, it’s the unearthly creatures who are in charge, and so long as we puny humans keep in line, they will tolerate sharing the living space with us. It’s different, but makes a lot of sense. Why should “The Others” hide and live in secret when they are so powerful and there are so many of them? And thus people are prey, and they are put in their place.
Written in Red also features a world with more than just vampires and werewolves. Granted, there are shapeshifters aplenty, but they come in many other forms, such as crows, owls, etc. Here you will encounter all kinds of creatures and races of powerful humans, never seen or heard of before. Take the protagonist Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet who has the ability to see the future when her skin is cut. Kind of a morbid power, if you ask me, but it's intriguing. It's simply Bishop working up her gift for creating and describing magic. For me, that dark and vaguely-disturbing but enchanting quality is what I remember of her style. I really like how she's applied it here, to a world so very different from what I’ve previously read from her.
Speaking of which, Bishop’s also not the first epic/high fantasy author I’ve read who has taken the leap into urban fantasy in recent years. In several cases, I felt the pacing was a mild issue with storytelling, and I couldn’t help but feel it here as well. Check out the page count, for one thing. Written in Red is relatively lengthy for an urban fantasy novel, especially a series starter, and I don’t know if it really needed to be so long. Looking back, I can think of quite a few scenes that probably weren’t required. World building is important, sure, but at times I felt it came at the expense of the story's momentum.
Still, I liked the cohesiveness of the plot. So many urban fantasy novels seem to be crammed to the brim with action and a whole lot of ideas and things going on these days, all in about 300 pages. Written in Red may be longer than most, but at least it gives Meg’s plight and her relationships with The Others the full attention it deserves. As a main protagonist, she’s a bit too timid for my tastes, but the writing is very effective at making the reader feel protective of her and invested in her success. As a result, the tension was palpable throughout the novel even without a billion things happening all at once.
As a parting thought, cheers and thank you to those who recommended this to me and told me to read it. This was a fun one! If I’d continued staying away, I would have missed out on a refreshing new urban fantasy series. No need to remind me to put the next book Murder of Crows on my reading list – it’s already there, I promise....more
Hooray! From now on, whenever someone asks me if I have read any Ilona Andrews, no longer do I have to look down shame-facedly at my shoes and admit, “No, but I’ve been meaning to for the longest time, I swear!”
Of course, when it comes to the authors’ books and the question of where to start, for me it had to be the quintessential Kate Daniels series. In a world where technology has progressed too much and too fast, the volatile forces of magic have struck back with a vengeance. While magic feeds on technology, everything is unpredictable – machinery, vehicles or electrically powered objects can fail at any time, making it a pretty screwed up world of ruined streets lined with shells of crumbling skyscrapers.
And that’s not all. The way it works, magic rises and falls with no warning, and when the precarious balance between the magical and the technological is thrown out of whack, weird things happen – peculiar magical effects and paranormal monsters wreaking havoc on the world, and what have you. In the middle of it all, a tenacious and headstrong mercenary makes her living attempting to clean up all the resulting messes of this magical apocalypse. Kate’s just another human with a bit of magic blood in her, trying to make ends meet in this crazy messed up milieu, while dodging vampires, shapeshifters, and other nasties. But when her guardian is brutally murdered, Kate’s making it her personal mission to hunt down the one responsible.
So, wow, great setting and premise for an urban fantasy, amirite? But I do have a confession to make. I honestly couldn’t make heads or tails of this world from the explanation provided by the book as I was reading. Afterwards, I had to cheat and had to look up on wikis and other reviews to understand how the whole magic vs. technology process actually worked because what I was given didn’t feel like it was enough at all. Did that take away from my enjoyment of the story? Not really. Technically, you don’t need to understand how and why everything in this world is the way it is, but in some ways, I felt like I was thrown into the middle of a movie that had already started. I got by okay, but if you don’t like feeling like that, then this first book might be a struggle.
As for the main character herself, I liked her. Kate Daniels is smart, resourceful, a bit of a wisecracker and comes in at a hundred percent on the kickass meter – admittedly, much like a lot of other female protagonists in the urban fantasy genre. There’s really not much else I can say, but that’s not really a negative. While I can’t pin down anything that would make her stand out in particular from the rest, archetypal UF characters like Kate are what make this genre great and so fun to read.
I think I approach urban fantasy as a whole with a similar attitude. Arguably, there are a handful of requisite tropes in this genre that will probably never go out of style, and you know what? I wouldn’t want it any other way. These days, I’m happy enough diving into a good UF, and if it happens to do something wildly different and amazing, that’s just gravy. Magic Bites probably isn’t exceptional when it comes to characters and its light-on-plot story, but it does have a pretty cool setting (if only it was explained better).
Regardless, I love tackling books like this especially after a string of heavier reads, because sometimes you just want to sit back and relax with a light, entertaining read, and I have to say it filled that need perfectly. To be honest, you really can’t screw up with me when it comes to this genre, unless you’re doing something terribly, terribly wrong – and I didn’t doubt for second that a series like Kate Daniels, which has been going strong for so many years, would have garnered so many fans if it hadn’t been delivering the right stuff.
So yep, you’ll see me continuing on with this series for sure....more
Score one to this book for having a protagonist who is a bookseller. And bonus points for her being a vampire too. The title of this novel is actually in reference to the bookstore she runs, a quaint little place on a college campus called Night Owls which is open to 3am every night. Now why can't there be something that awesome around where I live? I'd spend all my insomnia-ridden nights there with a big mug of tea and a good book.
Meet Valerie McTeague, sleeping the sleep of the dead by day, providing the students of Edgewood a study haven by night. No more hunting Jackals for her; she's done with that life and has left it all behind, settling into a quiet routine with the help of her human servant Chaz.
But unfortunately for Val, that life isn't done with her. Trouble lands on her doorstep in the form of Elly Garrett, who has a magical book the Jackals want. However, the book manages to transfer its information into the mind of Justin, a Night Owls employee who gets more than he bargained for when he unwittingly trips the wards on the old tome. The werewolf-like shapeshifting Jackals have already killed Elly's mentor, so you can be sure nothing would stop them from killing Justin too. Val and Chaz have no choice but to seek help from the warlock Cavale, who also happens to be Elly's estranged brother.
Overall, Night Owls has a plot that is both clever and brisk, full of windy twists and turns and yet someone all those story threads manage to come together in the end. That said, the flow felt a bit disjointed until I grew more accustomed to the structure and style of storytelling. We have several perspectives in play here and with Val being a vampire, the book almost has this day-night cycle feel going on as one of our main protagonists always has to sleep away the daylight hours. You won't get a lot of rehashing as the main narrative is always picked up by the next POV right where the last one ends, so if you don't keep up you'll feel like you're missing something.
Happily, the book firmly establishes its rhythm once the characters are united and find their synergy. The story picks up considerably at this point, and the different relationships made it even better. There are clearly some serious issues between foster siblings Elly and Cavale, which causes a lot of tension in spite of the obvious love they have for each other. Something also seems to be brewing between Elly and Justin, a future romance perhaps? And unless my eyes deceive me, Val and Chaz seem to have something to work out too, in their complicated vampire-Renfield relationship.
In the end, I liked this one. Because I read so much urban fantasy though, I can't help but be a bit picky. When it comes to this genre, I don't often find myself blown away by "Book 1s", but a lot of my favorite series have started out by hooking me with the first book and only wowing me later on. This book has that feel, and as such it's definitely one I'll want to stick with.
Admittedly, you're probably not going to find anything too new in Night Owls at this early stage, but if the story description interests you and if you enjoy the genre it should settle quite comfortably. An action-filled plot, a "Scooby Gang" type ensemble cast, and a world full of supernatural creatures and beings should make the UF fan feel right at home. All things considered, it has everything to make it a promising start to a new series -- great world, great characters, and most importantly, a great story with lots of potential for more!...more
This is the second novel I’ve read by Gail Z. Martin and I have to say, her books have a way of wrapping around the reader like a well-loved, comfortable sweater. Prior to Deadly Curiosities, I’ve read the first book of her Ascendant Kingdoms series Ice Forged, and as traditional fantasies go, it wasn’t groundbreaking but still offered enough new with the old to give me that nice, warm fuzzy feeling. Similarly, I felt good about being in familiar urban fantasy territory with her new book Deadly Curiosities, at the same time delighting in some of the things that made it unique.
The book stars Cassidy Kincaide, owner of an upscale antique/curio store called Trifles & Folly in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Being able to touch an object and know its history is a special psychic gift that runs in her family – an ability that comes in handy in her line of work. It’s the perfect front for Cassidy and the Alliance’s real work: to seek out supernatural and possibly dangerous items and weed them out of the general public before they can harm anyone. However, when reports that a number of mundane antiques are suddenly turning into “Spookies”, it’s up to Cassidy and her coworkers to find out what dark force is changing all these previously harmless things into haunted objects.
Without a doubt, the highlight of this book for me was the setting. No joke, I wanted to drop everything right there and then and move to Charleston. I have read urban fantasies set in a number of different places, from big cities to sleepy towns, and very few have made me feel a pull this intense. Martin captured the atmosphere perfectly, combining the fictional paranormal elements with the rich history and culture of the city, as well as the hospitality and charm of its people. I wanted to shop the antique shops, visit the museums, stay at the bed and breakfasts, even do the nighttime ghost tours and the whole shebang. Well, minus the evil demons, of course.
In the past I’ve also noticed that authors who go from writing epic fantasy to urban fantasy often stumble with pacing. There is definitely less of an issue with Deadly Curiosities. However, I did feel that sections in the middle lagged a bit, and several characters central to the strike team at the end were introduced much later than I would have preferred. Still, this was probably my one and only complaint. On the whole, this was a great story and I especially enjoyed the first part of the novel, which hooked right away with the introduction to the central premise. I also love the smooth, natural and modern voices of Cassidy and the crew. Gail Z. Martin is a natural at writing urban fantasy; you would think she’s been doing this right from the start.
One interesting thing to note though, is that unlike every other urban fantasy series out there, there is a conspicuous lack of a romantic side plot for our protagonist. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to the individual reader. Those who like a bit of romance with their UF might be disappointed, while others who are neutral or don’t mind something different might find it refreshing. Personally, I don’t think you can force a love story; it either works or it doesn’t. I would rather read an urban fantasy sans romance than one with a romance awkwardly shoehorned in just for the sake of having one, so I say good for Martin! (But for a second, I did get worried – I thought perhaps Cassidy would end up falling for Sorren, her silent business partner at Trifles & Folly. He’s also a 500-year-old vampire. So in this case, I guess you can say I was doubly glad it did not happen. The world has enough vampire romances.)
I am, however, a little tempted to hunt down Gail Z. Martin’s other Deadly Curiosity Adventure stories, from her series that spans over 500 years starring Sorren. That’s what a good book does – make you want more. I do hope she has plans to continue expanding Cassidy’s story as well, because this was a lot of fun. I would return to Charleston and Trifies & Folly in a heartbeat. ...more
A couple of recent experiences have made me extremely wary of spin-offs, so it was probably a good thing I didn’t know House of the Rising Sun was one until I was already well into it. I’ve never read Kristen Painter before this, and I’d definitely wanted to give this series a fair shot. So perhaps it’s to her credit that I didn’t even know this was a spin-off novel until I read the author interview at the back of the book – not once did I feel lost or in over my head even if I hadn’t read her House of Comarré series. Right away, I liked how this book was the perfect jumping-on point for a new reader, which is a quality I think all spin-offs should strive for.
Augustine, who was a side character in House of Comarré gets to star in his own series here, returning to his hometown of New Orleans after some time away. He’s playing fast and loose, having very few responsibilities and getting to enjoy the attentions of human women who find his Fae heritage irresistible. He also gets free room and board whenever he wants in a luxurious Garden District mansion, thanks to his adoptive mother Olivia Goodwin, the retired movie star. It’s a good life! Little wonder then why he’s so fiercely reluctant when asked to be Guardian of the city. But when the vampire gangs start attacking innocent tourists and those he loves, Augustine finds he might not have a choice.
Meanwhile, Olivia’s biological daughter Harlow gets into a massive amount of trouble, having been convicted of cyber-hacking. Completely broke and unable to pay the exorbitant fine, she decides on the lesser of two evils and hits up her mom for help rather than go to jail, even though the two have been estranged for years.
What struck me early on was that neither Augustine nor Harlow seemed to be capable of taking responsibility of their own actions. Augustine wasn’t too bad – though it was a bit off-putting the way he figured he could get away with doing something wrong with no repercussions. When threatened with the Guardianship, all he could think about was how it would affect his cushy life. Guess what, Augustine, punishment usually goes hand in hand with breaking the rules! There’s really no sense in resenting it.
Ultimately Augustine redeemed himself in my eyes, stepping up to fulfill his role. On the other hand, Harlow’s attitude left a bad taste in my mouth and did not really fade until the very end. It was revealed early on that her estrangement from her mother was due to Olivia refusing to divulge the identity of Harlow’s father. That’s a fixation Harlow NEVER allows us to forget. Hearing her go on about it, you’d think every single one of her life’s misfortunes could be traced back to Olivia withholding her father’s name. Harlow's introductory scene even involved her wishing daddy would come bail her out of trouble, if only she'd known who he was, and that she’d never have been duped into a cybercrime if only he'd been in her life in the first place. Somehow, I just don't buy that. Plus, Olivia was not as bad a mother as Harlow made her sound. Characters tend to play a huge role in my enjoyment of a novel, so it was unfortunate that Harlow started off so self-absorbed and entitled, and her inability to admit "Hey, I screwed up, and it was my own fault" really grated on me.
But how I adored the Kristen Painter’s portrayal of New Orleans in this series! If she’d had wanted the atmosphere of a never-ending party, she certainly nailed it. It’s the perfect setting when it comes to a haven for fae, vampires, witches and other supernatural creatures. I loved the scene of Nokturnos, a noisy and boisterous night of festivities where everyone just wants to have fun. Can’t really blame Augustine for being so happy-go-lucky when the mood’s just so positively infectious, and world building is simply phenomenal.
Apart from the hiccups with the characters, I actually quite enjoyed this book and had a lot of fun with it. In fact, I thought the last page came far too soon, and wish ending hadn’t been so rushed. These characters have a lot of potential to grow, with Augustine having won me over already, and Harlow is well on her way to becoming a more sympathetic character. I’ll admit it – I’m raring to find out more. All in all, House of the Rising Sun is a promising start, and I look forward to the next book....more
The fascinating concept behind this book was what first drew me in and made me decide to take a chance on it. Featuring a kickass nineteenth-century female demon hunter on a journey across the globe to track down and kill some very unconventional monsters, Netherworld appeared to have everything I was looking for and sounded very promising.
The book follows Lady Diana Furnaval, a young widow who has inherited much more than her husband's estates after his death. Lord William Furnaval turns out to have been one of the last guardians of the mysterious gateways that lead into Netherworld, the place where demons and other malevolent spirits make their homes. With him gone, it is up to Diana to take up the mantle to secure these portals, though she is determined to take things one step further and close them forever.
Diana's personal mission takes her to gateways located in faraway places. In China, she meets and befriends a young Cantonese sailor named Yi-kin, who accompanies her and her cat on their demon hunting adventures. Retracing her husband's final journey, she also uncovers some disturbing information about his death which leads her to believe there is much more to the story.
After reading this book, my general impression is that Lisa Morton is definitely familiar with the ingredients which make up an effective and compelling tale. And yet, while all the elements were in place, the actual storytelling felt disorganized and inconsistent, with the pacing feeling very rushed in certain places. For instance, I had a hard time getting into this book because the several of the opening chapters felt so disconnected and unfeeling, especially with the quick play-by-play explanation of the circumstances behind Lord William Furnaval's death, as well as the portion taken from his journal.
To its credit, the book falls back into an easier groove after this point, though the ending once again runs into issues with uneven pacing. The climax and conclusion felt glossed over, and overall the story had so many plot points and ideas that it was difficult not to wish for things to slow down a little, just to catch my breath and enjoy the different places and people Diana encounters. The book isn't that long to begin with, and yet we go from Transylvania to India to China to America to England and to Ireland, and in each place we only get to stay long enough for the characters to kill a few demons and close a gateway.
There's just so much more that could have been explored, and given how the author seems quite fond of providing historical details of the different locales Diana visits, I don't know why she didn't seize the opportunity to flesh them out. After all, I love how the story delves into legends and lore outside of the Western tradition. In particular, I enjoyed the inclusion of Chinese vampires or jiangshi (called goong-si in this novel because it uses the Cantonese dialect) and it's clear Lisa Morton did a lot of research into them to ensure her descriptions and translations are as accurate as possible. It's always interesting whenever I see an unconventional take on supernatural monsters, and in this case we're looking at them through the lens of other cultures.
Overall, I think I expected more from this book. The story itself was admittedly quite enjoyable, though the haphazard pacing and execution of ideas took a lot of the fun out of it. Here and there, I have to give it major points for moments of ingenuity, but in the end this just wasn't my cup of tea....more