When all is said and done, if you’re in the mood for a fresh twist on magic and the paranormal, or simply looking for a story featuring an interesting confluence of relationships and thought-provoking characters, then you’ll definitely want to curl up with Claire Humphrey’s enchanting novel debut, Spells of Blood and Kin. And as an added bonus, the events of this book also take place before a charming and vibrant backdrop, in the heart of a city full of its own cultural magic and diversity. Things might not turn out the way you’d expect them to, but they’re guaranteed to keep you engaged.
The novel is mainly told from the perspectives of three people. First and foremost is Lissa Nevsky, a 22-year-old woman abruptly elevated to the position of koldun’ia—sorceress, or magical practitioner—in her small Russian folk community after the sudden death of her grandmother who previously held the title. Providing healing spells like sleep aids or fertility charms quickly becomes a part of her main routine, until she is completely caught off guard one day when Maksim Volkov shows up on her doorstep, calling himself “kin”. Failing to recognize the true meaning behind the term, Lissa initially mistakes this mysterious stranger for family, but understanding that he and her grandmother may have had a long-standing arrangement for healing services, she sets her mind to providing him the same help.
However, Maksim knows he has already come too late. On the last full moon, he remembers losing control, unwittingly infecting a young man with his savage and untamable nature. The sleep spells from the witch’s granddaughter have helped a bit, but they can never truly quench the desire for violence. Now Maksim feels the burden of responsibility to track down his victim, before the effects of his blood can manifest. The young man turns out to be a college student named Nick Kaisaris, who was out celebrating the end of finals with his friend the night he encountered Maksim in an alley. Ever since then, Nick has been feeling strange; his senses have been enhanced, and his strength has increased, but it hasn’t all been pleasant. Nick doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but something is wrong and he’s slowly losing his grip on his sanity.
This was a strange book, not at all like your typical urban fantasy, even if it does contain some of the usual elements. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking this story was about shapeshifters, but it is actually a bit more complicated than that. The kin are not exactly like werewolves or any kind of shifter in that they don’t go through any form of physical transformation, but they are indeed immortal and their behavior also appears to be closely tied to the phases of the moon. To suppress the violence in their veins, Maksim and his fellow kin Augusta have to drown themselves in copious amounts of alcohol or let off steam by beating the crap out of each other. Maksim, being centuries older and susceptible to blinding rages, also needs the help of a witch’s spell to leash his inner animal.
That’s where Lissa comes in. She’s also not your typical witch, young and inexperienced in the eyes of her community. I really liked how the paranormal aspects described in this book had the feel of folk magic and tradition. Following in the footsteps of her grandmother who used eggs to bind and distribute her spells, Lissa has been trying to do the best she can while still dealing with her grief. Through her eyes, we learn the ways of her magic, like how her spells are performed on the few nights around a full moon, and how regular store-bought eggs can be imbued with the power of her special ingredients and incantations. When these eggs are subsequently consumed raw, the subject will experience their effects. I thought this was a very well-portrayed and captivating mode of magic.
There were some weaknesses, though. Chief among them was Lissa’s character. Given how central her role is to the book, I was disappointed to feel the least connected to her out of everyone else in the story. Shy, aloof, and not too savvy when it comes to social situations, Lissa always felt far removed from me, like I was never able to get close enough to see her true personality. Perhaps this perceived distance is by design, in which case the author might have done her job too well, because Lissa often came across cold, two-dimensional and emotionally vacant. I really disliked her in the first half of the book, especially when her stepsister Stella (who ended up being my favorite character) showed up with an offer to help out after her grandmother’s death. The brusque, unwelcoming response from Lissa turned me off even more, though fortunately my opinion of her gradually improved as the story progressed.
As well, the story’s pacing is somewhat inconsistent, with a lot of jumping around between perspectives. Like I said, this is not your average crisis-filled, action-oriented urban fantasy, so be prepared for slow-building momentum because this one does take some time to get really going. We also never get a satisfying explanation for the kin, like where they came from or how they came to be the way there are. It’s not information we need to know to understand the story, but those who crave a bit more world-building and context are going to be left wanting for answers.
However, I did love the setting. Being a former Torontonian, I was touched on a personal and emotional level by the author’s descriptions of the sights, sounds, and culture of the city. I was also a UofT student, so the places featured or mentioned in this book, like the pubs of the Annex or the eateries on College, Victorian-style houses tucked in the neighborhoods off Dundas, crappy TTC streetcar experiences, and convocation week, all of it brought me back to memories of my old haunts and good times. It was really cool to read a story set in my hometown, and Claire Humphrey captured the spirit of Toronto perfectly.
So if Spell of Blood and Kin sounds like a book that would interest you, go ahead and give it a try. The story’s tone and style will take some getting used to, but the ideas are fascinating and the magic is superb. If character development suffers a little, Humphrey makes up for that with her wonderfully expressive writing that brings the world around the characters to life. This was an impressive novel debut, and I’ll be watching to see what she has in store for the future....more
I typically try to approach ultra-hyped books with caution especially when it comes to the Young Adult fantasy genre, but I admit, when it came to Truthwitch by Susan Dennard I caved like an old sinkhole. This is the first time I’ve read the author so I had no idea what to expect, but her fans have so many lovely things to say about her Something Strange and Deadly series and Truthwitch also had such a wonderful description filled with all these promising elements, I knew I had to give the novel a try.
All told, I’m pleased that I did, for while there were plenty of mixed feelings, on the whole I could see where a lot of the excitement and love for this book is warranted. Truthwitch is often lauded for having a strong female friendship at its core, though for me the magic was by far the most notable aspect, the novel’s crowning glory. In the Witchlands where this story takes place, many individuals are gifted with powers called “witcheries” and these can manifest in many different ways. Some are pretty straightforward—among an Airwitch’s arsenal of abilities is control over winds and air currents, for instance—but others are more complex.
Take Iseult, who is one of our main protagonists and also a magic user called a Threadwitch, which means her powers allow her to read people’s emotions and see the literal ties that bind relationships. Ironically, the only threads Iseult can’t read are her own, so she can’t even see the bonds that tie her to her own best friend Safiya, for example. Safi herself has a witchery too, and hers is a rare one, for she is a Truthwitch, someone who can tell truth from lie. For obvious reasons, Safi’s power makes her highly coveted by powerful people, like rulers who believe having a Truthwitch will give them an advantage over their adversaries. For this reason, Safi’s witchery must remain a closely guarded secret.
War, however, has other plans. Safi and Iseult are “threadsisters”, which actually makes them closer than friends and in some ways even more than family. The two young women want nothing more than to be left alone to live their own lives, but the encroaching politics of the world will snatch those dreams away, making it difficult to hide. When Safi is promised to the emperor against her will, she refuses to be a pawn and devises her own escape, placing her fate and her friend’s in the hands of Merik, a dashing prince and sea captain. Unfortunately, their hasty retreat has also caught the attention of a Bloodwitch, and everyone knows there’s no running once one has got your scent.
First, the pros: As I alluded to before, I was very impressed with the magic, especially when the straightforward names of the individual types of witcheries often belied their hidden intricacies and other uses. Some witches are more powerful than others, or may exhibit different talents at varying strengths. This means that not all Airwitches will have the same air-manipulating abilities, and it’s common for one Airwitch to be able to do something that another can’t. Some kinds of witcheries also involve powers I never would have expected. Apart from controlling fire, for example, some Firewitches are also healers, but only if they have the training and aptitude for it. And they can’t heal all manners of injuries either, only some of them. So, if you have a muscle damage, a Firewitch might be able to help, but for certain maladies of the blood, a Waterwitch might be a better bet. The different “rules” of the systems are all very elaborate and fascinating.
There’s also a lot to take in when it comes to the story, and personally, this was something I welcomed. Too often, I find myself frustrated with YA novels that feel overly simplistic or jejune, so it’s always nice whenever I encounter a YA fantasy with a more substantial plot and multiple layers to the narrative. There’s a whole web of complicated politics here that I did not expect and was pleasantly surprised to find, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking in the underlying conflicts between the three rival empires.
Now, the cons: Quite frankly, the biggest disappointment I had with this novel were the characters themselves. My favorite was the sensible and level-headed Iseult, and to my dismay she had a much more passive and diminished role compared to Safi, even though I believe the author tried to balance both of them equally. In reality though, Safi with her recklessness and hot temper dominated the show, but her personality frequently bordered on annoying. Her burgeoning romance with Merik also did very little for me, because I often found his character just as exasperating, if not more. You can tell this is a guy who tries hard to be an Alpha, but instead he comes across as an overbearing and insensitive blowhard.
Finally, as much as I admire Dennard’s vision to write a YA novel where female friendship takes center stage, I honestly didn’t feel much of it. Sure, the story tries repeatedly to drill Iseult and Safi’s closeness into your head, but the truth can be gleaned in the first third of the book where the girls get separated and spend much of the time apart. Here’s what ends up happening: Safi spends a lot more time in her head pondering the handsome and charming Prince Merik than she ever does being concerned with her threadsister’s wellbeing and whereabouts. Which actually shouldn’t have surprised me at all, though for moment I did hope that romance would take a backseat to sisterhood and friendship. Simply put, it’s not enough for the narrative to tell me Iseult and Safi are BFFs, I need to feel it.
There’s immense potential for the series though, and in spite of my issues with this book, the parts I did enjoy really stood out for me. And in truth, the characters started to improve for me towards the end of the novel, especially when it comes to Safi, and that really shows growth in her personality. My interest is piqued enough right now that I’m actually quite curious about the next book, and I hope that Iseult will have a more significant presence in the sequel and that the girls’ friendship will truly have a chance to shine....more
First let me say I had no idea before I got an ARC of this novel that it would be written in the epistolary style as a collection of mostly diary entries, though it also includes interview transcripts, descriptions of video footage, emails and newspaper articles, etc. Not to mention the huge visual component! I picked up The Dead House because I love horror and I’m also always on the lookout for good creepy YA, but seriously nothing could have prepared me for the surprise I got when I opened up the book.
In a word, it’s gorgeous. It’s made to look like a compiled report, drawing evidence from multiple sources detailing a disturbing and mysterious “incident”. The book also makes liberal use of images, different fonts, and other visual embellishments to add even great realism to the story. But before I could fall too deeply in love with the eye candy, my cynical side immediately leaped into the picture with a reality check. After all, pretty pages are certainly all well and good, but the real test of course is how well the story stands up in spite of that.
We open with a newspaper article dated February 4, 2005 describing an inferno that ravaged a prestigious boarding school, killing three teenagers and injuring twenty. Next comes an introduction to the report, revealing that two decades have passed since the fire (now referred to as the “Johnson Incident”) but new information has come to light prompting a reinvestigation of the events that led up to the tragedy.
One student, an orphan named Carly Johnson, went missing during the incident but her body was not found among those recovered from the burned ruins. To this day, her whereabouts remain a mystery. No one could deny though, that Carly was a very disturbed girl, as evidenced from her writings in a scorched diary discovered at the school. By all accounts, she struggled with Dissociative Identity Disorder, writing in her diary not as Carly but as her alter “Kaitlyn”, who only emerges after sunset. But who exactly was Kaitlyn Johnson? Was she really just a mental construct of Carly’s mind, or was she something more?
All I have to say is, DAMN this is one creepy book. If you don’t like the epistolary style however, I can’t imagine this book would do anything for you, but I loved it and I thought it made this book an incredibly immersive experience. I found The Dead House really hard to put down, and ended up finishing it in a little more than a day, and it only took me that long because I made myself take a break a couple of times so I could savor it. The format made it a very quick read, but the story was also very addictive and fun; in spite of myself, I found myself totally sucked in.
What makes this one fascinating is also its main character, a one hell of an unreliable narrator. The book is an intimate look into the labyrinthine mind of Kaitlyn Johnson, though the difficulty of separating her words into fact versus fiction is further compounded when faced with the question of whether or not she actually exists. Kaitlyn believes she is real, and that’s what matters in the end. Her diary entries reveal a desperate soul wanting nothing more to be believed that she is not just a symptom or a made-up part of Carly’s mind. In her state of mind, she makes decisions that sometimes won’t make sense or may seem very extreme.
All throughout the book though is a sense of ambiguity – which isn’t necessarily a negative, especially when we’re talking about paranormal horror or psychological thrillers. It’s eerie and unsettling precisely because you won’t get all the answers tied up neatly with a bow and served on a platter. By design, we are constantly kept guessing: Are we looking at the results of an actual paranormal situation or the ravings of a mentally unstable teenager? The report is presented with all the pieces of evidence ordered by date, the whole story being gradually revealed to the reader as each page moves us closer towards the day of the incident. This a book best experienced firsthand, so I hesitate to give much more information about the plot.
Did I have my misgivings though? Well, yes. I thought the ending wrapped up way too quickly, but this is in part due to the limitations of the format. But there’s no denying that all the major reveals came hard and fast, all in the last 30 pages or so. There was also one “twist” that was painfully predictable, the number of red herrings thrown at us notwithstanding. Part of the problem was a romance that felt out of place, among other relationships between Kaitlyn/Carly and other characters that just didn’t add up. I am also a little tired of YA books that portray doctors and especially mental healthcare professionals as incompetent, insensitive or overbearing. In this case, poor Dr. Lansing was all three, which I felt was a rather inelegant way to paint her as a villain early on and drum up sympathy for Kaitlyn.
These flaws were very minor though, certainly not enough to take much away from the experience. All told, I had a really good time with The Dead House. I confess I had my doubts when I first started this novel and even resolved to keep a level head while reading so that I wouldn’t be dazzled by the unique structure of the novel and the flashy visuals. All the same, I ended up devouring this book. It’s undeniably entertaining and addictive, which sets it apart from being just another gimmick or run-of-the-mill YA horror....more
To be fair, this wasn’t all bad. My disappointment probably stems less from my overall feelings for the book itself, and had more to do with how inadequate and unsatisfying I found it to be as a concluding volume—to what started off as such a strong and promising series, I might add. On the one hand, you have endings that are bittersweet, and on the other, there are the kinds of endings that leave a rotten taste in your mouth. To me, this one felt a lot more like the latter. Maybe it was an attempt to be bold and give readers something different, but I thought it was needlessly complicated and cruel, and I can’t help thinking this trilogy and its characters would have been better served with a more traditional happily-ever-after.
But more on that later. First, let me back up a bit here. Warrior Witch picks up right where the previous book Hidden Huntress left off, with Tristan and Cécile continuing their fight against their enemy, trying to save both the humans and the trolls after a deadly magic was unleashed upon their worlds. A great war is coming, and while his people are free, Tristan still has much to do to prove that he is the rightful leader of the trolls. Cécile is doing what she can to support her beloved with her newfound powers, but she too is recovering from learning several shocking revelations about her own family. Both our protagonists may have their debts to pay, but more importantly, the two of them also have a prophecy to fulfill, and it won’t do to underestimate the lengths they will go to do it.
This should have had all the makings of an epic finale. Instead, it turned out to be my least favorite installment of the trilogy. Right away, I knew something was wrong when I could barely reconcile myself to this shaky transition between the beginning of this book and the end of the last one. As I recall, the final few chapters of Hidden Huntress were amazing, setting readers up for this incredible high even when all was said and done. Instead of picking up that momentum, however, Warrior Witch began with a sluggish introduction, and continued with its lackadaisical pacing until well into the second half of the novel. I hate to say it, but there were so many parts of this book where having to read it felt like such a chore. If I hadn’t been so determined to finish the trilogy, I might have been tempted to throw in the towel long before the plot picked up again.
But even as the story got better, I had my issues with the characters. Several times I almost lost my patience with Cécile, whose actions made me feel like the only way she could contribute to the story was by running headlong into danger without a single thought to anyone but herself. While her pluckiness was semi-charming in Hidden Huntress, here it just felt like a bad habit. When it all inevitably goes wrong and she ends up blaming herself, all I could think was, “Yes, I blame you too, Cécile, you fool girl.” The relationship between her and Tristan was also problematic, for I think I actually like them more when they’re apart. So what does that say about their romance? Their love for each other seemed almost like an afterthought in this book, though granted they both had a lot more pressing things on their mind, what with the bad guys coming to kill them and all.
However, the final straw that ultimately went and destroyed the camel’s back was, as I said, the final few chapters. Truthfully, I’m not even all that angry over how it ended because I’m still trying to get over my staggering dismay and bewilderment as to why, WHY, we had to end the series this way. Look, I am not one to always demand a happy ending. In fact, most times I actually prefer it when things don’t end up with perfect outcomes for everyone so that they can all go home and have cake. Bittersweet endings can be really cool when they are done well. Unfortunately that’s not something I can say about this one. After all the build-up of the challenges, the conflicts, the struggles that the characters had to go through over the course of three books, what we ended up with here felt like a kick in the teeth. There was no pleasure tinged with sadness or pain here, just a pure sense of awkwardness that felt extemporaneous and out of place. I found it horribly off-putting, and there’s simply no other way to describe how it felt to be dealt such a blow.
But like I said, it wasn’t all bad. This book and I might have even parted on good terms if it wasn’t for the ending, which I just could not abide. But that’s just my personal take. If you loved the first two books like I did, then you probably should read Warrior Witch. If nothing else, that final epic showdown is well worth the price of admission just to witness how all the human, troll and fae conflicts resolve. Minus those final few chapters (which I’m now going to pretend never happened) it really is a lovely trilogy, as long as you’re prepared for a potentially vexing conclusion. It didn’t work out for me, but it might for you....more
I really enjoyed Seriously Wicked, though feel I should also preface my review with the note that I’m probably not the intended demographic for this book. Young Adult and Teen Fiction is a genre I dip into quite frequently, but I was initially thrown off a bit by this novel’s tone and writing style which felt skewed even younger, maybe preteen (back in Grade Five and Six, we were already reading books about high schoolers, so it’s possible). It took some adjusting, but once I was able to get used to the crushes on “boy-band boys” and girls named Sparkle, I felt I could give this one a shot. And really, it was a lot of fun. If it were possible to go back in time, I probably wouldn’t hesitate a second to hand this one off to my 11 or 12-year-old self.
The story begins with an introduction to our 15-year-old protagonist Camellia Anna Stella Hendrix, whose days consist of figuring out ways to foil her adopted witch mother’s plans for world domination, running around town collecting strange and sometimes disgusting ingredients for her magical spells, and all the while trying to pass her algebra test and not get distracted by the cute new boy in town. However, the witch Sarmine’s latest plot to take over the world by harnessing the power of a dying phoenix on the night of the big Halloween dance might complicate matters slightly.
Actually, scratch that. Matters are complicated by A LOT when Sarmine’s failed demon summoning session ends with the demon taking over the body of Devon, the aforementioned cute new boy in town. Now on top of not flunking algebra, Cam has to worry about getting the demon out of Devon and preventing the school getting destroyed. Can things get any worse? Well, yes, yes they can. Hunting down hidden phoenixes and chasing after demon-possessed boys is just the beginning.
As you can probably tell from its description and cover, Seriously Wicked is a fun, quirky book – emphasis on the quirky. Like I said, the story is probably geared more towards preteens or young teens, which might account for some of the silliness. It’s a very lighthearted and upbeat book, which means it’s probably good for providing some cheerful, innocent entertainment for folks of all ages. Its lightness and YA designation notwithstanding, the story actually has a lot of complexity, quite a few not-very-obvious twists and turns, as well as many instances of Cam finding very creative and outside-the-box solutions to her problems. Readers will adore Cam, whose quick thinking and determination can help get her out of any difficult situation, from dealing with high school mean girl cliques to procuring a source of goat’s blood for Sarmine’s spells.
My final verdict is, if you’re an older teen or adult looking for more age-appropriate reading, Seriously Wicked probably will feel too immature for you. However, yours truly did her best to put herself in a middle-grader’s shoes and was still able to find plenty to like about the book. Those curious about Tina Connolly’s work but aren’t into Children’s or YA fiction could probably check out her Ironskin series which is said to be quite good, and having read the second book Copperhead I can attest to that. If you don’t mind a cute, charming read that clocks out at just a tad over 200 pages though (so it’s also very quick), give this one a go....more
Humor, as we all know, is subjective. Especially satire and parody. Case in point, the man I married can watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the nine hundredth time and still bust a gut laughing, while I’m sitting there beside him on the couch rolling my eyes because the movie stopped being funny after the first time (and I expect I will catch a lot of grief for that blasphemous confession). What I find funny/not funny might not be the same as others, which is why I feel it is necessary to preface this review with a big YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. There are many great things about this novel: it’s clever, it’s entertaining, and it has its uproariously funny moments. On the other hand, there are parts where the humor simply did not work for me. But that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work for you! Because it is so difficult to put a score on books like this, I’m actually going to leave my rating off for the blog.
The hilariously titled Witches Be Crazy pokes fun at one of my favorite fantasy themes – the epic quest. The story begins “once upon a time in the middle of nowhere” – in this case a desert oasis village, home to an unassuming blacksmith-turned-innkeeper named Dungar Loloth who hears tell of strange happenings in Jenair, the kingdom’s capital. The ruler King Ik is dying, if not already dead, with only his long-lost-but-now-only-just-found daughter to succeed him.
No, as a matter of fact, Dungar doesn’t think that sounds very legit either. Convinced of witchcraft, Dungar sets off on a journey to expose the princess for what she really is, and plans to kill her before she can set her evil plans in motion. Along for the ride is Jimminy, an insane hobo who loves to sing off-tune and drive Dungar (and me) crazy. Surviving each other is just the beginning, though. Together on their way to Jenair, the two companions get to come face-to-face with many more dangers, meet other questing adventurers, and run afoul of plenty more beloved genre tropes.
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you might have noticed we participate in a weekly meme called “Tough Traveling”, a feature inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, a parody tourist guidebook that uses humor to examine the common themes in fantasy fiction. Tropes are popular for a reason – they’re tried and true and entertaining to boot, but it’s also very fun to recognize and affectionately make light of them, which is why I was drawn to the description of Witches be Crazy in the first place. Logan J. Hunder’s debut succeeds at lampooning many of the genre’s most established and cherished clichés, starting with character archetypes. I loved this book’s introduction, which featured many quotable gems such as this one about the ridiculously beautiful Princess Koey:
“She was known to have left the castle and made a public appearance only once. It is said that during this appearance her skin, which was oddly tanned for someone who had apparently never been outside, emitted a light more radiant than that of the sun and her smile was so alluring that a flock of birds splattered themselves all over a tower because they were physically unable to watch where they were going.”
The book is full of moments like this that will make you chuckle – because they reveal the illogical nature behind so many of our favorite tropes. The prologue made me optimistic for the rest of the book, though as I read on, I realized that I prefer a subtler kind of comedy. After the first handful of chapters, it’s clear that there was not going to be much variation to style of humor employed by the author, which consists of mostly punny wordplay and slapstick. If you enjoy that, then you are sure to be in for a real treat. For me, however, there was just not enough variation to the repertoire. While I had an excellent time with the beginning of this book, I have to admit the novelty gradually lost its appeal.
The story read like a series of skits – Dungar and Jimminy are plunged into one situation after another, some of which will be immediately familiar to avid readers of fantasy. You have the gladiatorial arena. A stint on a ship with a fearsome band of pirates. A magical tree with malicious nymphs. This random assortment of events made for an outrageous yet amusing plotline, though ultimately they featured a similar routine played out over and over. By the time Dungar and Jimminy got to the village populated by bigoted Amazons, I was just worn down and ready for this story to end. It might have been oversaturation for me at that point, but I really could have done without that entire section with the all-women village, which I did not enjoy or find funny at all. But like I said, to each their own.
In the end, I think a novella of this type of story would have been perfect for me, but a full length novel was perhaps more than I could manage. It was a fun book, but simply featured too much of the same kind of humor and ran too long for my tastes. I have no doubt that Witches Be Crazy will garner a lot of fans though; to me this is the kind of book with “dedicated cult following” written all over it, much like other parodic classics like Monty Python and the Holy Grail or The Princess Bride. If the novel’s description sounds like something that would interest you, it might be worth giving it a shot....more
A Murder of Mages is the first book of a series dedicated to the Maradaine Constabulary, set in the same wonderful world as Marshall Ryan Maresca’s debut novel The Thorn of Dentonhill. No need to read one before the other, though; that’s the beauty of it. Despite their shared setting, the series are companions to one another, each featuring separate stories and starring completely different characters.
And having read both books now, I can say they are both equally great. However, A Murder of Mages might have just the slightest itty-bitty edge here, since I admit a penchant for detective stories, not to mention a super soft spot for lady cops.
One of the main protagonists is Satrine Rainey – a wife, a mother of two, and a former street rat and ex-spy. After her constable husband suffers a grave injury in the line of duty, it is up to Satrine to figure out a way to support and care for the family. Using her skills, she is able to fake her way into the Maradaine Constabulary to land herself a job as an Inspector third class, where she is promptly paired up with another inspector who no one wanted to partner with – Minox Welling, an Uncircled mage nicknamed Jinx because his past partners have all met with unfortunate accidents.
Her first day on the job, Satrine is sent out with Minox to the streets where she grew up to investigate the body of a mage found in an alley, staked to the ground with his heart cut out. When more victims of these ritual murders are discovered, a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues as the inspectors race against time to track down the elusive killer.
Once again, the author is able to create something altogether unique and fresh by adding his own twist to a familiar idea like the male and female crime-solving duo. I enjoyed the dynamics in the relationship between Satrine and Minox, especially since we know right off the bat that it will be a platonic one. The narrative makes it clear that Satrine has a disabled husband at home who she is deeply devoted to, which in and of itself is an intriguing albeit heartbreaking element to throw into the mix.
Satrine is genuinely one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever met. Without overwhelming us with details, Maresca gives us a glimpse into her rough childhood as a street urchin. After she was recruited by the Druth Intelligence and doing her stint as a spy, Satrine met and married Loren Rainey and they had two daughters. In light of the devastating accident that leaves Satrine as the sole provider and caregiver for her husband and their girls, I really couldn’t blame her for deceiving the Constabulary to get her job under false pretenses. A mother wants the best for her children, and in Satrine’s case she wanted to give Rian and Caribet a good life and a good education, the sort of opportunities Satrine could only dream about when she was their age. It’s hard to fault her for those sentiments.
I didn’t get as deep of a feel for Minox Welling, but he’s a great character as well. Mages are a complex class in these Maradaine novels, as evidenced by the protagonist of Maresca’s first novel The Thorn of Dentonhill. Through Minox the reader was able to get a better feel for how mages fit in this society. Uncircled mages like him appear to be treated with disdain (you’re either a failure, in hiding, or a late-bloomer – none of which are good to be) and even Circled mages seem feared and distrusted by the local populace. Having a child who is a mage is even a source of shame for some families.
Having two series in tandem is certainly a remarkable way to build a world, but it is also very effective. Despite not being a sequel or even a follow up to The Thorn of Dentonhill, A Murder of Mages added a lot to what we know of Maradaine, providing a look at the everyday hustle and bustle of its citizenry from all walks of life. Marshall Ryan Maresca has a true knack for creating rich settings as well as characters that feel very real and well-rounded. There’s always something special to the people he writes about, whether they are mage students or constable inspectors. A Murder of Mages was another hit for me, a fantastic read from a new talent whose star continues to be on the rise....more
The Witches of Echo Park is an interesting but strange and shifting book. At first glance, I thought I would be going into your usual urban fantasy about witch covens and magic, but the experience turned out to be much more literary, with the novel quite formally and artistically written.
The story follows the lives of a group of witches in the Los Angeles area. At the center of the plot is Lyse MacAllister, who jumps on the next plane to California the moment she learns the devastating news that her great-aunt Eleanora, the woman who raised her, is dying. Lyse hopes to convince her great-aunt to seek a second or even a third medical opinion. What she doesn’t realize is that Eleanora has something to tell her too, a great secret that could change her life forever.
To her shock, Lyse discovers that magic is real, that there’s a reason why the house she grew up in has felt strange to her ever since she was a child. Eleanora isn’t just a kindly old distant relative who took her in after her parents died; in truth, her great-aunt is the leader of the Echo Park witches – though the women much prefer the term blood sisters. And now that Eleanora is ready to pass on to the next life, she wants Lyse to take her place as head of the coven.
As I was saying, The Witches of Echo Park does not read like the typical book you would pull off the shelf in the Urban Fantasy or Paranormal aisle. If you’re expecting the kick-ass Buffy-style heroine or the non-stop action and snarky humor, you won’t really find it here. The style isn’t very light, either. Instead, the story within these pages is more comparable to a family drama, which unfolds gradually through the perspectives of six women, all members of the Echo Park coven. Besides Lyse and Eleanora, there is the indomitable Arrabelle, resident herbalist; the fun-loving Devandra; Daniela the seer who is more than meets the eye; and last but not least, the silent and perspective Lizbeth.
Still, I was not prepared for how restrained the pacing was. Eleanora’s plan to tell Lyse the truth about herself and what she wants for her grand-niece’s future – a plot point that I initially took for a set-up for the bigger picture, simply an introduction and no more – actually turned out to be the bulk of the story, not resolving itself until nearly the halfway mark. Everything given to us up to this point seems to be a mix of character history and background information, told mostly through visions and memories. That’s not to say that all of it was filler, as there’s a good reason the author included all these narratives. However, I can’t deny there were also quite a few times where I found myself questioning where the book was going, because it does take its time establishing a direction.
Simply put, the not-quite-300 pages of this novel felt like one long introduction. That’s not always a bad thing, and in truth, so many series do this nowadays that I don’t even bat an eye anymore. I only regret that this book did not have a more substantial plot, though I have to applaud Amber Benson for ultimately pulling together a main conflict. By the end, most of the mystery is explained, we have several threats identified and a few villains named. But if you would allow me a few moments to chide, I do believe that many of these elements should have made themselves clear by the first third of a novel, not late in the second half. That’s probably my biggest issue with the story, but at least now I have a better understanding of where things are headed.
Just a couple more observations and minor issues before I head off: I found myself liking a lot of the characters in here; a couple of them are especially memorable, like Arrabelle and Lizbeth. I had hoped for a stronger connection to Lyse though, since she’s closest to being the main protagonist. In truth, I actually found her a bit shallow and impetuous. She can be put off by and act brusquely towards an awkward but harmless mute teenage girl, but then is totally all right with flirting and practically throwing herself at a total stranger simply because he is handsome and has cool tattoos. And on that note, there’s also a small romantic side plot here that nonetheless came across slightly rushed and out of place. I was taken aback by a graphic sex scene (it should be noted that it was in the context of a dream), not because that’s something that would bother me, but because it just felt like it came out of nowhere.
In sum, this book is a decent start if you look at it as an introduction, just a taste of something much bigger to come. I didn’t know anything about it before I picked it up, aside from the author’s background in TV and film. Though it didn’t turn out to be the light and peppy read I’d expected, it was fascinating and enjoyable in its own way. I’d like to know what the next book will bring. Something tells me it will be much more focused and fast-paced now that the foundation of the series has been laid down and completed....more
While this isn’t exactly what I had in mind for an ending, I have to say Garden of Dreams & Desires concludes the Crescent City trilogy nicely. What’s great is that this novel boasts its own story arc but still manages to resolve everything from the previous two installments, tying up any and all loose ends. That being said, there’s obviously a lot to pack into a little more than 300 pages or so, and I felt like I was being powered through the story at a breakneck pace.
We last left Harlow in a bit of a quandary. At the end of City of Eternal Night, she does something insanely stupid and ends up resurrecting the soul of her dead twin Ava Mae, using the magic of a lightning tree. Of course, with nowhere else for Ava Mae to go, her spirit immediately hitches a ride in Harlow’s body and takes over. Once again for the first half of the book, we have Augustine scrambling to do everything he can to help Harlow out of a problem of her own making.
Meanwhile, tourists have been disappearing in New Orleans, including the son of a prominent and bigoted senator who believes the Fae and Othernaturals are the ones responsible for the kidnappings. As Guardian of the city, Augustine has his hands full with the investigation into the missing tourists, trying to find the real kidnappers before the senator imposes sanctions on his people. But since he has fallen deeply for Harlow, he therefore decides to make her predicament his first priority, even though the fate of the entire supernatural population could be at stake. Oh the things we do for love.
Maybe it was the pacing, but something about this didn’t quite sit right with me. If you can’t tell already, my relationship with Harlow’s character has been a long and tumultuous journey. I disliked her strongly in the first book, but started to warm towards her in the second only to watch her naiveté strike her down again. Perhaps she and I were just never meant to be. There were some major improvements to her character in here, but the book’s pacing was just so fast that it felt like she was transformed overnight. I couldn’t understand anyone’s affection for her, let alone how Augustine could fall in love with her.
I enjoyed seeing how the story wrapped up, but the speed at which it happened diminished the experience somewhat. Harlow didn’t get enough time to develop properly, and neither did Senator Pellimento, the new baddie introduced in this book now that Branzino has been taken care of. Pellimento was sort of a paint-by-numbers villainess, her reasons for coming down hard on the Fae not very well explained other than the fact she hates them and is unwilling to consider the possibility that anyone else could be responsible for her son’s disappearance. In the end, it was the witches. That’s not really a spoiler since it’s mentioned right there in the book description, plus ultimately there was no mystery just because there was absolutely no room left in the story to set one up. The conclusion also tied things up too neatly and a little too quickly, casually taking care of the witches and Ava Mae in one fell swoop so that Augustine and Harlow can have their happy ending. Don’t get me wrong; I think the two of them are a good match and I’m glad things worked out for them, but wow, those last few chapters just blew right by.
If I have to hazard a guess as to why it feels so rushed, I would say it’s because in our interview with Kristen Painter, she revealed that she originally intended Crescent City to be a five book series, not three. Indeed, with all that happened in this book, it could easily have been two or even three installments. That could explain why the most important threads were tied up but some major questions are still left open, such as what will happen to Olivia and the consequences now of so many people knowing about the dangers of the lightning tree.
Garden of Dreams & Desires was a good read with thrills that will leave you exhilarated – and not least because it is so fast-paced that you won’t even have a chance to catch a breath. It’s a hectic novel which could have been better paced, but I also understand the challenge of having to work under certain restrictions and the author’s choices if that was the case. On a whole, I thought this series was very enjoyable. The first book was good and the second book was even better; City of Eternal Night was my favorite of the three books. Crescent City is a fascinating Fae-centric urban fantasy trilogy set in a very unique and vibrant portrayal of New Orleans, certainly worth checking out if that sounds like your cup of tea....more
Another excellent Young Adult novel from Pyr, the first of what I hope will be Hexed series featuring more of heroine Luci Jenifer Ignacio das Neves – Lucifer for short. Based on the author’s comic of the same name which I’ve actually not read before tackling this book (but you can be sure it’s on my to-read list now), Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown has made me a new fan of Michael Alan Nelson.
The story begins with a Bloody Mary game gone wrong. What should have been a harmless prank ends up getting a high school girl snatched away by monstrous haggish creature. Her father, a police officer, goes to Lucifer for help after hearing that the young thief possesses supernatural talents that would help him get his daughter Gina back. Unable to bear the cop’s grief, Lucifer decides to help. After her initial investigations at the missing girl’s school, Lucifer ends up with some promising leads as well as a new sidekick – Gina’s handsome and popular boyfriend, David.
A great mix of action and humor with just a dash of horror, Hexed is an entertaining paranormal YA novel featuring a story that feels new and fresh. With a plot that’s fast-paced and addictive, this book is truly something special. I took to our kickass protagonist right away, charmed by her resourcefulness and laugh-out-loud wit. Lucifer is simply hilarious! I really enjoyed following her as a main character, even if I do find her name and the reason behind it (she was named for her two grandmothers, and she “honors” them by combining their first names like that) a little dubious, but I guess when it comes to her brand of dry dark humor, that’s probably as good an example as any. I like Lucifer too because she manages to pull off that take-no-crap attitude without coming off as a belligerent little brat. She may have a strong personality, but her kind heart and good intentions come through on every page.
I also love the secret mystical underworld of Hexed. As Lucifer is so fond of reminding us, she possesses no inherent magical power, but the tools she uses often do. She carries around a trick bag full of magical – and sometimes dangerous – gadgets and thingamabobs which she whips out whenever she needs a problem solved, and finding out what each object does is half the fun. Through some very intense scenes, we’re also introduced to what appears to be a very intricate spell system involving runes and symbols, used for anything from activating mirrors to other dimensions to exorcising demons from their hapless victims (bet you’re dying to know why Lucifer’s holding a stuffed bunny on the cover!) The supernatural baddies here can be pretty terrifying, like the filcher demons, witch-hounds, and the witches themselves, but they’re also fascinating. Lucifer’s harrowing journey to find and rescue Gina from the dead realm of Witchdown is not without its disturbing moments, but I couldn’t help it – I found myself utterly captivated by the whole story.
There are just a couple of issues I have to bring up; one is minor, while the other can be a deal breaker depending on your personal preferences. The first is something that struck me as unnecessary, which is the constant reminder that Lucifer is something “separate” and apart from the normal real world. Every few chapters is another wistful comment from her regarding high school life in general, how all that is out of reach for her but she still wants it badly. The other issue is the romance, and not just any romance. As Lucifer and David work closely together to get Gina back, feelings start to develop between them, despite David already being unmistakably, indisputably, irrefutably spoken for. This particular story arc did make for a pretty startling twist at the end, but just a heads up if you find the idea of dallying with a taken guy unappealing.
Lucifer is not your typical teenage girl, nor is Hexed your typical YA. It was a very enjoyable, quick and fun read, and best of all it is not necessary to have read the graphic novel before diving in this one. You do get a feeling that there’s an incredibly rich back story there though, one that I’ll definitely have to go back and check out one of these days now!...more
I don’t know what it is, but something about this book totally appealed to me. One would think I’d have had enough of elves and dwarves and orcs by now, but then I tried to remember the last time I read a Young Adult novel set in a world like this, and it actually made me realized just how refreshingly different it is from the sort of YA I’ve been reading lately. It’s free of a lot of the usual tropes, anyway. Plus, something about the storytelling just gives off this down-to-earth and easygoing vibe. It feels like the author wrote this book from his heart, to have fun, not to hit up all the items on some imaginary checklist of what makes a YA novel successful. In fact, I read somewhere that The Novice began life as a personal NaNoWriMo project, and that doesn’t surprise me at all.
The story follows Fletcher, an orphan raised by a village blacksmith after he was found as a baby abandoned in the snow. One day, on the cusp of Fletcher’s sixteenth birthday, a chance encounter with a veteran soldier at the market left him in possession of an old scroll. And like all curious teenage boys, Fletcher just couldn’t resist reading it, and in doing so he unleashes a demon from the Ether. But it’s not as ominous as it sounds! The demon – a cute little imp-like creature that shoots fire – is a Salamander that quickly bonds to Fletcher and becomes his loyal companion.
However, Fletcher’s summoning of the demon does reveal him to be a mage. And with the war going on with the orcs, the army needs all the summoners they can get their hands on, noble-born or commoner; elf, dwarf or human. On the run for a crime he didn’t commit, that’s how Fletcher ends up at the Adept Military Academy, a school that teaches young summoners and prepares them to become full-fledged battlemages before sending them to the frontlines. Fletcher learns to control his demon familiar – whom he names Ignatius – alongside the new friends he meets, but also has to contend with the snotty noble children who try to undermine him at every turn. As the war effort becomes increasingly more desperate, the Academy holds a competition to weed out the brightest and the best for leadership positions, and even first-years like Fletcher are included. Fletcher wants to win, and not just because he wants to teach the nobles a lesson. There are shady dealings afoot; political plots and conspiracies abound, and Fletcher knows he can make a difference for the better, if only he can overcome the challenges of the trials and best his opponents to win a position of command.
A quick look at Taran Matharu’s author page tells us that his passion for reading began at a very young age, and it probably wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out he was a fan of Harry Potter as a child. If that’s the case, the influence is pretty strong. I also see shades of influence from other literary sources, like Lord of the Rings, and the use of mana to summon demon companions of varying species and power levels also reminds me of role-playing video games and even Pokemon. Taken by themselves, the ideas are familiar and derived from what we’ve seen before, but taken as a whole, they actually come together here to form something quite new and interesting, not to mention also a whole lot of fun.
Like I said, Taran Matharu’s approach is very straightforward and uncomplicated; it doesn’t feel like he’s sacrificing his vision to adhere to a fixed set of conventions, nor does it feel like he’s out to subvert any norms. At the heart of it, I just see an author telling a story about characters that he obviously cares a lot about. For that, I can overlook some of the novel’s weaknesses, such as the simplistic writing style and on several occasions where it felt somewhat skewed towards younger audiences like Middle Grade. The writing is perhaps my only big issue I had with this novel, which I felt could use a fair bit more polishing, but this is not an area I’m overly concerned with when I read YA.
Plus, there’s a lot to like too. I found the different kinds of demons and their little quirks charming, plus the Demonology treatise found at the end of the book was a nice touch. I liked reading about the magic school environment and the interactions Fletcher has with his fellow students, especially his relationship with the dwarf Othello and the elf Sylva. The tournament at the end definitely made for an entertaining closer as well, though I also can’t wait to finally step out of the academy setting into big wide world. Thus far we’ve not seen much of the ongoing war with the orcs, and I hope we’ll get a chance to get out to the front. Well, after the cliffhanger at the end of this book gets resolved, of course. Just in case you can’t tell, yes, I’m looking forward to the next book....more
I was excited when I learned that Naomi Novik would be writing a new fantasy novel “rooted in folk stories and legends” in the vein of Grimm Fairy Tales, and even more excited now that I’ve read it and the book has exceeded all my expectations. I’m already a fan of Novik’s from reading her Temeraire series, but not only is Uprooted quite a departure, the change is also like an exhilarating breath of fresh air.
The story of Uprooted is simply spellbinding, with magical elements and traditional Polish fairy tale influences, all superbly woven into the fabric of the narrative. We begin with an introduction to our protagonist Agnieszka, just another simple girl from yet another simple village, but the bucolic setting belies something more sinister lurking beneath the surface. Surrounding Agnieszka’s valley home is the ever encroaching Wood, a forest filled with dark energies and spirits, whose corrupting force has trapped and stolen the lives and minds of many.
Every so often, the wizard in the tower will descend to the valley and work up powerful spells to drive away the malicious effects of the Wood. Cold and aloof, this sorcerer also known as the Dragon helps the villagers keep the evil at bay, but also exacts a steep price: every ten years, he chooses one young woman and takes her away to live in his tower until she is released and the next choosing begins again. No one really knows why he takes the girls, but there is speculation of course, and none of it is good. Agnieszka will be up for the choosing this year, but the villagers already know that the Dragon will take bright, bold and beautiful Kasia, Agnieszka’s best friend who exemplifies everything the wizard looks for. So it was a shock to everyone, most of all to Agnieszka herself, when the Dragon ends up passing over Kasia and chooses our poor, discombobulated protagonist instead.
But life with the Dragon was much different than she’d expected, of course. In an intro that has shades of Beauty and the Beast, Agnieszka discovers that the wizard can be reticent and brusque, but he’s not altogether unkind, the bountiful insults he hurls at her notwithstanding. She even learns his real name – Sarkan. The two of them negotiate an unspoken agreement for a peaceful, if not completely cordial, coexistence. But then they discover that Agnieska actually possesses a talent for magic full of untapped potential, which complicates things. And then comes the news of more corruption by the Wood and rumblings of war from the royal family at the capital, which complicates things even further. Out of necessity more than anything, Agnieszka and Sarkan start experimenting with casting their magic together, even though their spellcasting styles are vastly different.
Let me just say right off that I don’t think Uprooted is a Romance; all the romantic elements could have been scrubbed from the story and it would still have read just as smoothly and worked just as well. But that just makes it even more amazing to me! Those who know me know that I’m not one to fawn (and I mean really fawn) all over love stories or develop crushes on fictional characters. That’s just not my style, nor have I come across many authors who can write a romance arc which could warrant that kind of reaction. But brava, Naomi Novik has done it! There were really only two scenes of what you would call “red hot nookie”, but it was enough; the sexual tension in the deliciously slow-burning relationship between Sarkan and Agnieszka had me fanning myself. Whew!
More amazing is that Novik utilizes two tropes that normally would have had me grinding my teeth, but somehow, they just worked here. The first trope is the older and more experienced male mentor with the young, just-coming-into-her-power female apprentice. The second is the “Male love interest who is a jerk and treats our heroine/protagonist like crap” trope (I swear, he calls her an idiot or insinuates that she’s a dullard at least once in every chapter the two of them appear together), because we all know bad boys are sexy, right? Well, whatever floats your boat, but that just has no appeal to me at all. But then why did it work so well with the Dragon/Sarkan here? I still don’t really know. If I could hazard a guess though, I would chalk it up to the author’s skill at drawing up her characters so that Sarkan became a very real entity, allowing me to compartmentalize his foibles and even understand the reasons for them. He may be unpleasant, but he’s honorable and well-intentioned.
Perhaps my only complaint is that the book ran a tad too long for my tastes, and there was just not enough of Sarkan (can you tell my character crush is showing?) because he is absent for almost half the book after Agnieszka heads to court. But these little quibbles are overwhelmingly outweighed by the good parts. The world of Uprooted is a fairy tale land brought to life, held in the clutches of a villain which turns out to be an evil forest. Kudos to Novik for pulling that off. Using vivid imagery and a complex system of traditional magic, she makes the idea of the spiteful and malignant living Wood truly terrifying. The type of magic envisioned here also fits the tone of the book. Novik portrays it as an ancient and mysterious force, its effects erratic and malleable in different magic users’ hands (I still can’t get over the excitement of those crazy mage battles!) This rich blend of dark and whimsical complements the fairy-tale feel of the story perfectly.
All told, Uprooted was truly captivating. I’m getting these pleasant little shivers up my spine just thinking about the book again. Fans of Naomi Novik will not be disappointed. That magical, adventurous quality in her writing which first made me fall in love with His Majesty’s Dragon is alive and well, presented here in a different but just as irresistible package. Highly recommended. ...more
Marshall Ryan Maresca introduces us to the world of Maradaine with his new novel The Thorn of Dentonhill, transporting us to a vibrant and diverse city where powerful mages, university students, assassins and street gangs all call home. Our protagonist is Veranix Calbert, a magic student by day and vigilante by night. When the sun goes down, Veranix ventures out into the streets, disrupting the local drug trade in the hopes of bringing down the notorious crime boss Fenmere, the man who killed Veranix’s father and destroyed his mother’s mind.
One night, Veranix intercepts a delivery in progress, absconding with a major shipment worth forty thousand crowns. But instead of finding the mother lode of drugs in the satchel, he finds…a cloak and a coil of rope?! What’s so special about these mundane objects, and what could Fenmere want with them? What follows is a highly entertaining tale of mystery and adventure as we learn more about circumstances behind this botched trade.
There’s also the intriguing details when it comes to Veranix’s double life. The idea of an average everyman moonlighting as a crime-fighter/vigilante certainly isn’t a new one, but the novel feels unique nonetheless, thanks to the author bringing his own fresh twist to the story. For example, it turns out that Veranix isn’t just your typical mage-in-training, and his tragic history and his family ties to the street gangs make him an irresistible hero.
One of the key strengths here are the characters. At times, even the indomitable Veranix is outshined by the supporting cast, with his friend and roommate Delmin standing out as one of my favorites. Another character who ended up growing on me is Veranix’s cousin Colin, street captain of the Rose Street Princes. This also brings me to how much I loved Maresca’s portrayal of the different street gangs, painting most of them as a lovable bunch of guys rather than just your typical two-bit delinquents. Above all else, the Princes are family and united against the “true” bad guys, who are Fenmere and his buddies at the top. It’s really refreshing to see support within a gang rather than the usual power-struggles.
I also love the world Maresca has created. It’s surprisingly rich, featuring a long and complex history and populated by many cultures. Other than a couple of awkward information dumps near the beginning of the novel, most of the world-building is revealed to us organically over the course of the story. In retrospect, I find it quite impressive that the author was able to work in so much information without overwhelming the reader or distracting from the plot.
Maresca brings the whole package, complete and well-constructed. If you’re looking for something fun and adventurous for your next fantasy read, look no further than The Thorn of Dentonhill, an incredible start to a new series, from an author who is clearly on his way to great things. I liked its balance between drama and action, and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of world building and character development. I’m looking forward to seeing more!...more
This book would be perfect for readers looking for a well-balanced blend of fantasy with a historical fiction-type setting, overlaid with a story laced with a heavy dose of the kind of chaste, slow-burn romance one might find in a traditional Regency novel.
Graham Marshall – Gray to family and friends – finds himself out of favor at Merlin College when a midnight errand goes terribly wrong, landing himself and a couple friends in the infirmary while another boy loses his life. Disgraced, Gray is sent away to the summer home of the arrogant and unpleasant Professor Appius Callendar until such time the college can decide his fate. It’s there that Gray has the pleasure of meeting the professor’s middle daughter Sophie, who for some reason Professor Callendar seems to neglect and disdain. There’s certainly no love lost between father and daughter.
Even though he was told none of the Callendar girls were born with any magical talent, Gray senses something strange about Sophie. Because proper women studying magical theory is considered scandalous in their society, Sophie has been secretly learning it herself from the books in her father’s library. She’s delighted to meet Gray, finding him very different from the pretentious and foppish young men her father usually invites home from the college, and is grateful when he offers to fill in the gaps in her knowledge. The two of them strike up a friendship, and so when astounding revelations are revealed about Sophie’s past, Gray is wrapped up in the whirlwind of events. And here he was, thinking his life was complicated!
From page one, I was drawn in by the gorgeous writing. Admittedly, it can be somewhat difficult to get used to. Clunky and awkward in some places, it’s not exactly what I would call easy on the eyes, with a style and tone suited to the historical era. But it’s extremely effective when it comes to setting the mood, and once you adapt to it, the reading goes much faster and smoother.
The novel’s greatest strength is the characterization. Gray and Sophie take center stage, and the whole book is told through their perspectives, which alternate back and forth – a lot. Again, it can be distracting, at least initially. The author jumps between Sophie and Gray whenever it suits her, so that sometimes you can get a few paragraphs of Gray’s point of view and then abruptly we would switch to Sophie as she picks up the narrative. Regular readers of romance are probably used to this, but it was something else I had to adjust to at the beginning.
After getting the hang of things, it was easier for me to simply sit back and soak in the story. It bears emphasizing again that the characters are just great in this; because the relationship between Gray and Sophie are so integral to the story, it makes sense to establish and build upon them early, and that’s what we get here. Before Gray and Sophie can get to know each other intimately, the reader has to get to know them as individuals, which makes their eventual coming together that much more satisfying. As I mentioned before, theirs is a slow-burn romance (the kind where everyone around them can see what’s going on before the two can even admit it to themselves) so if you’re looking for instant gratification, this is not the book you’re looking for. We’re also not talking fiery passion or red hot love scenes here, keeping things clean and proper with good manners!
The heavy focus on G+S notwithstanding, that’s not to say the other characters were forgotten or underdeveloped. In fact, my favorite character was a supporting character, Joanna Callendar, who probably has more personality in her little finger than her sister Sophie had in her whole body. Sad to say, as much as I liked Sophie, she was an idealized character, a special snowflake that came across just a little too perfect in a lot of ways, and that makes her less interesting than the spunky, lippy and slightly insolent Joanna.
By the same token, plot is probably not this novel’s strong suit. A lost princess, a prophecy foretelling the return of “The One” and the pivotal role they play in the fate of a monarch and the kingdom…it’s a little clichéd, perhaps, but it’s also not a negative if you go in knowing what to expect. This book is obviously more interested in telling Gray and Sophie’s story, it makes its intention loud and clear right from the start, and so a lighter, less original plot is something I could overlook.
Bottom line: The Midnight Queen is a very beautiful, very atmospheric novel about young love, slow-going at times, making it feel like very little happens while the author develops the two characters. You can probably predict the outcome of the story with no effort at all, but the emotional payoff is worth it if you stick around and give the book a chance to let Gray and Sophie to resolve their feelings for each other. Recommended for fantasy lovers who want romance, but who also won’t mind the slower, sweet-and-tender but also more subtle approach....more
I practically binge read this series, which is unusual for me. But truly, it is a rare pleasure indeed when subsequent books in a series just get better and better. I’ve had such a change of heart about this trilogy from the first book to the last book, that I am actually floored with amazement. I certainly don’t take back my thoughts in my review of The Magicians – I liked the book but I also had some very real issues with it and those still stand – but by God, it’s hard to believe how The Magician King and now The Magician’s Land have managed to completely revive this series for me.
We’re at the third and final book at this point, so it’s going to be hard to summarize it without giving away spoilers. Suffice to say, protagonist Quentin Coldwater has been through a lot since finding out the magical world of Fillory from his beloved childhood fantasy novels is actually real. He has been its king, explored the farthest reaches of its borders, been ejected unceremoniously from the realm by its god, but through it all Quentin has always had his magic. We return to Brakebills College where he takes on a position as a junior faculty member, but when that falls through, Quentin’s going to need to find another way to make money and make it real fast, especially for the plans he has in mind.
For you see, Quentin has never truly forgotten Alice, whose fate still haunts him daily. She was my favorite character in The Magicians, and to my dismay, I thought we had heard the last of her by the end of that book. So yes, it was invigorating to discover that her story might not be over yet. When it comes to the first book, saying that Quentin had an attitude problem is a massive understatement; I believe I wrote that the only cure for his malaise was a few years of growing up and possibly a swift kick to the seat of his pants – except what happened to Alice was more like a knife through his heart. What happened to Alice defined and transformed his character, so I was also happy to see things come full circle.
The book also has two very distinct parts. In the first half, we have an exciting heist which, departing from convention, doesn’t go well at all – but everyone who knows me know how much I love a good heist story. And trust me, you wouldn’t want to miss how spectacularly disastrous it goes for Quentin and his partners in crime. The action and the dry humor in this book is ramped up to a whole other level, which is something readers have always loved about this series.
The second part of this novel focuses on Quentin and his old friends’ quest to save Fillory. Like all good things, it must come to an end, but not if the old Brakebills gang has anything to say about it. The Magician’s Land was at times thrilling, at others touching, but always it was full of wild magic and fantastic imagination. My only complaint? The link between the two story threads was tenuous at best and the transition between them was very abrupt (whatever happened to the others involved with the heist? “Betsy” got a throwaway mention at best towards the end of the book, and I wouldn’t have minded more Stoppard, I liked him a lot!) but despite this, I have to say the story never faltered in engaging me and holding my attention.
In essence, The Magician’s Land achieved something that all series-enders should strive for. Not only does Grossman tie everything together, he does it in a way that makes you think back to the earlier books and it suddenly occurs to you: Oh, so THAT’S what he was setting up for. The first book The Magicians was a coming-of-age tale which felt rather aimless at times, if I’m to be honest. But somewhere between its last hundred pages and the first hundred pages of the book two, I think the series finally found its direction. From then on out the story took off, straight and steady, and as a result, this last book is marked by a certain cohesiveness that makes sense – that just feels right.
And Quentin. Quentin, Quentin, Quentin. If it is possible to feel proud of a fictional character, it is the feeling I get for him after reading this book. What a far cry from when I wanted to wring his spoiled, whiny neck and throttle the life out of him in The Magicians. He grew up. He grew up a lot. He became someone I liked and admired, and as infuriatingly annoying as he was in the first book, I don’t know if I would have appreciated his growth and character development this much if he hadn’t been so unappealing to begin with. He was a shallow, self-absorbed child who ultimately became an adult worthy of his magical gifts, and it is a testament to the author’s pacing and writing style that it was a journey that didn’t feel forced or contrived.
My final thoughts: I may have stumbled a bit with the first book of this series, but the way I see it, it’s always better to read a series that gets stronger than to read one that goes downhill after book one. And so, I tentatively recommend the first book The Magicians; after all, it’s one of the most polarizing books I’ve ever read. It seemed as many readers loved it as hated it, while some others like me fell somewhere in between. But I felt a lot more positive towards the series with The Magician King, and as the last book of the trilogy, The Magician’s Land was a solid finale. My thoughts on book one aside, I think the trilogy as a whole is fantastic and absolutely worth experiencing. What an adventure it has been....more
Back in my review of The Magicians, I wrote that you could have a miserably unlikeable character for the sake of writing a miserably unlikeable character and that I wouldn’t mind, just as long as you could give me a reason to care about him or her. While that’s still true, it does really help if your protagonist isn’t a whiny little ingrate and actually shows growth over the course of the novel. I really think that’s why The Magician King worked better for me than its predecessor. Like, a lot better. The ending of the first book gave me hope that I would enjoy the sequel more, and I did.
Things were looking up right from the start, with our story opening with a return to Fillory, the otherworldly realm from Quentin’s beloved childhood fantasy series that turned out to be a real place. He and his friends are now the kings and queens of this magical kingdom, but after a routine morning hunt goes wrong, Quentin and Julia decide to set off across the seas to the far reaches of Fillory to take care of certain matters. But their journey is interrupted by an unceremonious ejection from Fillory back to Earth and the mundane world. Thus begins an epic quest to find their way back, with the fate of all magic hanging in the balance.
I’ll admit it, the first book had its high points, but on the whole I wasn’t too enamored. The wonderful sections featuring Quentin at Brakebills aside, I thought most of the book was directionless and tedious, and I wasn’t impressed with the characters and their attitudes until almost the very end when they discover Fillory and set out to explore it. The thing is, I loved the spellbinding world of Fillory and its amazing denizens, as well as the incredible sights and sounds. When the final pages of The Magicians teased that we may be going back, I was very pleased. That’s one reason why The Magician King worked better for me; the fact that we got to be in Fillory right away was a huge plus.
The second reason is something I’ve already alluded to, that being Quentin has come a long way from the moody, self-absorbed and aimless young man he was in book one. He has grown up a lot between the two novels in my eyes, no doubt in part due to the traumatic events he experienced at the end of The Magicians. His concern for a young crew member and the neglected daughter of a diplomat really touched me; it’s not something I would have expected in a million years from the old Quentin. In this book, he is driven and finds it possible to become excited about the prospects of adventure again, and – shocker! – in the process he became someone I wanted to read more about.
The same could not be said for Julia, however. My one gripe about this novel are her chapters, which more or less alternated with the chapters focusing on the main story. Julia’s tale encompasses her own rise to the world of magic after failing her Brakebills entrance exam, which couldn’t have been more different than Quentin’s academically formal training. Her journey through the underground magical scene is actually quite interesting, though I was initially unsure how it all related to the book’s central premise. What bothered me wasn’t so much her story, but the fact that the role of annoyingly maudlin and dissatisfied character seemed to have been passed from Quentin to Julia, though we do see that she has had to go through a lot of suffering and very difficult times. I could also appreciate how the two lines of thought eventually came together, but felt that her “backstory” was a bit distracting at first.
All in all, however, I was pleasantly surprised by my positive reactions to this book. On the whole, this was a much deeper and complex novel, but also much more entertaining and engaging on multiple levels. I liked how a lot of the world was expanded, as well as the answers to a lot questions brought up by the first book. And that ending! I can’t believe my heart is actually aching for Quentin. It’s very rare for a sequel to grab me, especially since book one failed to do so, and it’s great whenever that happens. I’m really starting to see the appeal behind this series, and this second installment has really made it grow on me....more
My excitement to read this book is evidence enough for me that the first installment of this series ended a lot stronger than it began. I went through the first two-thirds of House of the Rising Sun feeling rather ambivalent towards the protagonists, but by the conclusion Augustine and Harlow managed to win me over. A couple of significant events in the previous novel taught both of them lessons in humility and responsibility, and Harlow especially did a lot of growing up. As such, I looked forward to City of Eternal Night with a newfound respect for the characters.
On top of that, this sequel raises the stakes in every way by setting up a new arc that is bigger, stronger, and more encompassing. The story now goes beyond Augustine and Harlow’s personal problems to involve the whole supernatural community. Of course, the diabolical Branzino also makes a return in an attempt to further disrupt Harlow’s life as well as kill Augustine, and as usual the witches’ coven are up to no good again, but the huge whammy that rocks the fae world this time around is the kidnapping of a young girl from the Mardi Gras Exemplar Ball, which is the by far most important and lavish fae event of the year. There’s no ransom price, just a demand for Augustine to relinquish his role as the city’s fae Guardian – and everyone knows the only way to resign from that position is death.
First, what I loved: speaking of Exemplar Ball, I continue to really enjoy Kristen Painter’s portrayal of the city of New Orleans and the fae community’s place in it. I was even more enchanted by the atmosphere of the ball in this book than I was with the scenes from Nokturnos in House of the Rising Sun. Of course, the Exemplar Ball had to be a masquerade and the theme is predictably “Enchanted Forest”. A little overindulgent, perhaps, but boy, what I wouldn’t give to have been invited to that particular shindig. The descriptions of the decorations, costumes and even the food were wild and extraordinary and magnificent.
I also appreciated Painter’s expansion of the fae world in this installment. It’s easy to forget that this series actually takes place in the future, so sometimes the advanced technology can be a bit jarring. But mixed in with this “new and high-tech” is also mythology and the ancient lore of faeries. The history and background of Lally, a secondary character, is further explored with several big revelations about the old mansion that belonged to Harlow’s mother, also explaining why Branzino also wants it so much. A lot of things start to come together in this sequel, and the author continues to tease the details little by little.
Now for a couple of criticisms, which are minor: firstly, there is absolutely no mystery at all when it comes to the kidnapping case. There are a very limited number of suspects, and despite Augustine and the fae council going nuts over trying to narrow down the culprit, the one responsible is practically named in the book’s own description.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any other surprises.
Take the ending, for example. On the one hand, it was abrupt and left us with one hell of a cliffhanger, but on the other, we are set up for a pretty big conundrum which makes me mighty curious as to how things will be resolved.
Finally, despite maturing a bit since the first book, every once in a while Harlow still gets on my nerves. She may be less of a selfish brat, but she’s still terribly naïve (or dumb with a capital D, if you’re feeling less generous). Sad to say, but she brings a lot of her problems on herself. It’s one thing to be socially awkward and a little sheltered, it’s another to have someone tell you straight out NOT to do a certain thing because there will be dire consequences – and even give you examples! – and you go do it anyway. That’s Harlow for you.
Still, my feelings about her notwithstanding, I continue to believe Harlow will become a more sympathetic character, and I’m following the budding romance between her and Augustine with interest. I’m also enjoying the world of this series a lot, and the story is getting better. This sequel is without question an improvement over the first book, and I’m definitely on board for book three....more
Self-absorbed, annoying, moody, smug, dissatisfied, spoiled, fake, maudlin, insecure, aimless, whiny, stupid, pampered, emo, vain, egotistical, small-minded, excessive, inconsiderate, thankless, pretentious, snobby, entitled, mercurial, immature, depressed, hypocritical, mean-spirited, cynical, clueless – just a small sample of the words I could use to describe the characters in this book.
No, The Magicians isn’t going to your big smiling ball of sunshine no matter how many Harry Potter comparisons you see slapped on it. Instead, you have a book featuring a much darker, grittier and almost satirical aura, a “New Adult” urban fantasy about letting the unhappiness of wanting something you can never have consume you. We follow disillusioned Quentin Coldwater, a high school student who never really grew out of his love for a series of novels he read as a kid about the adventures of five siblings in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, what can the real world offer him?
Imagine how he feels then, when he discovers that magic is real. And not only is it real, Quentin himself is a promising young magician, accepted into very secret and highly exclusive Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy in upstate New York. It should have changed everything. Quentin should have been ecstatic.
But he is not. But of course he’s not. Magic isn’t going to make Quentin happy. Neither is finding out that Fillory actually exists. It’s a sad moment when the realization hits. There’s really no cure for what ails Quentin, except one thing and one thing only: a few years of life experience and a whole lot of growing up. Well, that or maybe a swift and forceful kick in the seat of his pants.
Thing is though, you can write a miserably unlikeable character for the sake of writing a miserably unlikeable character. I don’t mind. Not even if your character is an insufferably whiny little ingrate. You just have to give me a reason – any reason – to make me care about what happens to him. That’s not too much to ask, is it? My issue with this novel wasn’t so much with the mopey protagonist than it was with the directionless storytelling. In fact, I was quite excited for the first part of this book. I couldn’t get enough of the magical school idea the author’s jabs and funny references to Harry Potter and other humorous injections. That there was no sign of a main conflict didn’t bother me at this point either, as I was relishing the setting and enjoying myself too much.
Around the midway point was when the book started to lose me, coinciding with Quentin’s graduation and life after Brakebills. Until then I never really bothered asking where the story was going, and hadn’t felt the need to – but eventually there was a creeping sense that giving Quentin and his magician friends “real life” problems like relationship hang ups and dismal prospects for the future just wasn’t going cut it. Like, dudes, I get that y’all are bored with life. But I’m bored with you too now. Sorry. Worse yet, there is absolutely no development in their characters or personalities (unless you count decline as growth) and that’s absolutely mind boggling when you consider how a person’s time at college should have been the most formative years. I don’t know anyone who left college the same person they were when they arrived.
Admittedly, the final handful of chapters about the discovery and exploration of Fillory had their charm. Possibly enough to salvage my feelings for this book for a solid rating. And I suppose the conclusion, while incomplete and flinging the doors wide open for a new adventure, also manages to offer a sense of closure and satisfaction in its own unique way.
This book isn’t bad, apart from the pacing issues. The ending gives me hope for Quentin, and the promise of more Fillory makes me feel very optimistic about the next book....more
When Angry Robot announced in the summer of 2014 that they were shutting down their Young Adult imprint Strange Chemistry, I was among the many readers saddened by the cancellation of their books and series. But thank goodness for at least the small mercies, like Danielle L. Jensen’s Malediction Trilogy being picked up by the parent company. Stolen Songbird was one of the best YA titles I read last year, and I was looking forward to continuing Cécile’s story in Hidden Huntress.
The sequel picks up shortly after the events of the first book. Cécile has recovered from her harrowing escape from Trollus, but it also means being separated from her love, the troll prince Tristan who is still trapped in the city beneath a mountain, sealed in by a witch’s curse. Determined to save Tristan, Cécile is willing to do anything – even if it means entering into a magically binding deal with the tyrant troll king, who tasks her to break them free by hunting down the elusive Anushka, the one who cast the original curse so long ago.
Meanwhile, Tristan is at his lowest point. He is shunned by his people, and only has few remaining loyal followers at his side. His power-hungry father will stop at nothing to escape their mountain prison and unleash the power of the trolls on the outside world, but Tristan is just as resolved to do all he can to stop him. Neither Tristan nor Cécile were prepared for the extent of the king’s Machiavellian cunning though, or just how far he would go with his manipulations.
On the whole, I actually thought Hidden Huntress was an even better book than its predecessor. This surprised me somewhat, considering some reviewer opinions I’ve seen expressing disappointment that Cécile and Tristan were separated for most of the story, and I thought for sure I would feel the same way. In fact, the opposite turned out to be true. In a case like this, distance apparently does make the heart grow fonder. Because of their magical bond, Cécile and Tristan are able to feel each other’s emotions more deeply than most couples even when they are far apart, creating a very intriguing dynamic. I felt too that the opportunity gave each protagonist the time they needed to fully develop as individuals, something that might not have occurred if they had been together. Tristan, for example, got his chance to really shine, occupying almost if not just as much page time as Cécile. Though I personally didn’t find his chapters as interesting as hers, his mission in Trollus was no less important, and I really appreciated how much of his personality we were able to glean from his perspective.
As much as Cécile and Tristan’s separation pained me, ultimately I believe the decision was worth the benefits to the plot. Sometimes, I find physical romance can take a back seat but the resulting novel ends up being just as satisfying. The story of Hidden Huntress is more sophisticated and even more entertaining than Stolen Songbird, placing a stronger emphasis on the bigger picture and also allowing supporting characters to play larger roles. The city of Trianon is a whole other world, but as a rising opera star following in her mother’s footsteps, Cécile has to tread just as carefully. Genevieve de Troyes was mentioned in the first book and I was very curious to finally meet this woman who has made such an impact on her daughter’s life. Let’s just say she was not what I expected.
I wouldn’t surprise me though, if readers are divided on Hidden Huntress. Danielle L. Jensen made a bold move, and it’ll pay off for some but perhaps not for others. It worked well for me for many reasons, some of which I’ve outlined above, but I also found it important that Ms. Jensen showed what would happen to her characters if they were placed under terrible pressure. Many will probably find some of Cécile’s decisions in this book frustrating, but to me they were an extension of the determined young woman we met in the first book who is loath to give up on something she believes in even if it drives her to extremes. We already had the chance to see the romance spark and develop between her and Tristan in the first book; I was glad to see that this book went further beyond giving readers more of the same, deciding instead to explore the greater mysteries. The page count is probably just a tad higher than I would have been comfortable with, but I got a lot out of it in the end, so I can’t bring myself to complain too much.
Hidden Huntress opens up the world, simply put. It felt bigger and more encompassing, upping the ante for all involved. The pull of the story was irresistible, given how so much more now rests on the success of our protagonists. Everything that the first book set us up for comes to fruition, complete with welcome twists and unexpected surprises. If nothing else, that incredible ending sure has me eager for book three....more
There are only a few urban fantasy series I would drop everything for, and this is one of them. So when Foxglove Summer arrived on my doorstep, I did exactly that – every other book that was on my plate got put on hold while I set forth to devour this one. Move over, “The Boy Who Lived”, for when it comes to my favorite British wizard, his name is Peter Grant.
Foxglove Summer may the fifth installment of the series, but it’s still going strong. While I hardly ever recommend starting in the middle of a series, I suppose if you’ve been mighty curious about these books, this could possibly be a decent place to jump on board, it being book five notwithstanding. Here, author Ben Aaronovitch gives our protagonist a little break from his long-term struggle with his arch nemesis the Faceless Man, sending Peter out of London into the rural countryside to investigate the possibility of magic involvement in the disappearance of two young girls.
We could all use a little breather sometimes, and this served as a nice rest from the hustle and bustle of the city. But of course, it’s never a vacation for Police Constable Grant, a Londoner to the core and who now finds himself way out of his element. He is thrown into the case, working with the cordial yet skeptical local police who have no idea what to make of Peter’s area of expertise, namely all things supernatural and thaumaturgical – a perfectly reasonable response, if you can imagine what it would be like if Mulder and Scully suddenly showed up at your precinct going on about formae and vestigia. But time’s a-ticking, and the desperation grows with each day that goes by with still no trace of the two missing girls. It’s time to try anything and everything Peter can think of, including bringing in his friend Beverley Brook, a genius loci of the rivers.
Out of all the books so far, I feel this one has reads the most like a police procedural and also has the strongest self-contained and cohesive mystery plot yet. A lot of urban fantasies sell themselves as mysteries, but this one actually feels like a mystery, with subtle clues dropped along the course of the investigation that the attentive reader might pick up and use later on to put together the pieces. The story is also light on the magical elements in the beginning, but rest assured no Peter Grant adventure ends without a whole lot of weird stuff going on by the time it’s finished. What sort of weird stuff, you ask? Try a couple of invisible and pissed off carnivorous unicorns on for size.
Why do I love these novels so? Namely because they feel so different from my usual urban fantasy fare. I’ve seen the series described as “very British” in terms of the writing, and definitely when it comes to the humor as well. Indeed, Peter’s most hilarious lines are often laced with strong undertones of sarcasm and self-deprecation, and delivered with the kind of subtlety that contrasts greatly with the in-your-face type of snark that I’m so used to in my mostly American UF heroes and heroines. Oh, but how Peter Grant makes me laugh and laugh and laugh. Reading these books in public is a risk, because I never know when something Aaronovitch writes will make me guffaw out loud, drawing stares from strangers around me who all then think I’ve gone nuts.
It’s hard to believe, considering how much I adored the first and second books in the series, but Foxglove Summer may be my favorite Peter Grant novel so far. It’s true that it’s a bit of a departure from the previous books. For one thing, the city of London has been as much of a character as the people living in it, but now we have a story that takes place almost entirely in a small village in the outskirts. And yet, the beautiful descriptions of the English countryside more than make up for it, not to mention the fascinating information on the geography and history of Herefordshire. Also noticeably absent are the usual supporting characters, including the Rivers (with the exception of Beverley) and most glaringly of all, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the mentor and supervisor of Peter Grant – and also my favorite character after Peter. Still, I was more than willing to overlook this, given how tightly the story was told. These days, a lot of urban fantasies are so overwhelming with the sheer amount of things going on in them, it’s nice just to sit back and enjoy a straight-up mystery with a highly focused plot and a clear direction.
I look forward to when we’ll get back to the larger story arc following the Faceless Man, especially after the giant bombshell dropped on us at the end of the last book, Broken Homes. Still, for a brief respite, I couldn’t be happier with the way Foxglove Summer turned out. I sense the events of this book will have some lasting repercussions, possibly extending into the next book since things ended pretty abruptly here with a couple of minor loose ends still unresolved. On the whole, however, this book is a great example of how a series and its main character can grow while still retaining everything that makes the previous novels so great. An extraordinary fun ride that’s not to be missed....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
Open up The Scarlet Tides and the first things you’ll see are several gorgeously illustrated maps depicting the world of the Moontide Quartet. Needless to say, the maps became indispensable to me while I was reading. I’ve never come across a fantasy series with such a comprehensive and detailed approach to world-building. David Hair goes well beyond simply describing the different peoples and places — what he’s created here actually feels like a living, breathing system. These books take place across two huge continents following about half a dozen characters of different creeds and cultures, with the alliances and conflicts that arise between nations forming the basis for multiple threads of the story and driving the plot forward.
Middle books of a series can also be mighty tricky; I’ve had enough disappointing experiences with sequels myself, which makes me understand why some readers would be nervous when approaching them. However, I jumped into The Scarlet Tides with no reservations whatsoever. This series has grown on me, as I stated in my review of the preceding volume, Mage’s Blood. The first book may have been slightly encumbered by a lengthy introduction and a slow build-up as Hair established the players and set the stage, but it all culminated into one explosive climax and conclusion. And I knew we were going to be heading right into the action with book two.
In this sequel, the Moontide is at hand and the mighty Leviathan Bridge now stands open, creating a corridor between the two continents Yuros and Antiopia, which are normally separated by a vast ocean. The last two Moontides have involved lofty ambitions and crusades of conquest, and this one is no different. Rondion legions and the Inquisition’s windships waste no time storming their way across Antiopia, but very few know of a troubling secret eating at the heart of their empire. A very powerful and valuable artifact called the Scytale of Corineus has slipped through Emperor Constant’s fingers, and he has tasked his inquisitors to scour the world searching for the ones who have absconded with it.
Enter Alaron Mercer, a failed mage who had the Scytale in his hands, then lost it to the girl of his dreams who stole the artifact along with his heart. Cymbellea, who believes she knows the best use for the Scytale, has taken it with the intention of delivering it to Antonin Meiros, the most powerful mage in the world. Little does she know, Meiros is dead, leaving his pregnant widow Ramita on the run from his killers. Several more story arcs run in tandem, including the one which follows Ramita’s former lover Kazim, who ends up with the mercenary Elena Anborn after a botched attack on Emperor Constant’s pureblood mages. Polar opposites in political sides and backgrounds, both nevertheless come to realize they may have a common enemy in Gurvon Gyle, the empire’s spymaster. Some comic relief is also provided by Alaron’s former classmate Ramon, whose storyline involves him running a pyramid scheme, all while his legion marches towards battle. Amusing as this is, Ramon’s point of view also gives readers a boots-on-the-ground view of looming war.
Everything and everyone is connected, the vast distances between the some of the characters and the spheres of conflict notwithstanding. And yet, despite of the sheer scale of it, David Hair manages to make his characters and their stories feel deeply intimate and personal. It’s another reason why this world feels so alive, with all its elements working in tune with one another. Nations and their diverse populations are woven into an intricate web of magic and religion, which are two sides of the same coin. Both play a huge part in nearly all the societies, and as more factions emerge from the shadows we see how much more complex the situation can get.
As things heat up, the net tightens and gradually we are starting to see events converge, bringing the various players closer together. We have betrayals, shifting loyalties, unlikely friendships, and even love. With a dramatis personae so large, it’s inevitable some characters will emerge as my favorites. In Mage’s Blood, the top spot went to Ramita, whose touching yet complicated relationship with Antonin Meiros made me enjoy reading her perspective the most. In this book, however, I came to relish the chapters that follow Kazim and Elena. It’s probably not a coincidence that my favorite storyline yet again involves two people from disparate backgrounds who begin at odds with each other, with the hostility turning to understanding, understanding turning to respect, and the respect eventually turning into love. David Hair has an incredible talent for writing these types of dynamic relationships, making them engaging to read without resorting to clichés and cloying platitudes.
He also does a good job giving each perspective character the attention they deserve. Every one of them has an important role to play, and nobody feels left behind or “parked” while something more exciting happens elsewhere. I learned more about the world from each person, whether it be through meeting Ramon’s new friends from faraway lands, or from Alaron’s encounter with a new race of sentient beings with an astounding origin. And before I could fret myself over how everything will come together, the climax converges most of these storylines, serving up a conclusion and epilogue that tie things up quite nicely.
Overall, an excellent follow up to the first novel, continuing the tradition of vivid, dynamic characters and terrific world building. The intriguing storylines kept me glued to the pages. I honestly found it hard to put down, which was how I ended up reading all 700 pages of this in a little more than three days. Readers of epic fantasy should definitely check out this series....more
Once upon a time, two girls kidnapped from the sleepy town of Gavaldon by the mysterious Schoolmaster. One was perfect and beautiful, thought to be destined for the School of Good, while the other was an oddball and an outcast from birth, sure to have been a shoo-in for the School of Evil. But pretty Sophie with her flawless features and dreams of princes and pink dresses ended up being dumped in Evil, while strange, frumpy Agatha landed in Good! Together, the two friends discovered the truth behind this apparent mix-up, and learned more about each other and themselves along the way. They worked to escape the clutches of the sinister Schoolmaster and made it back home to Gavaldon, but the adventure is far from over.
As you can probably tell, there were a couple of really heartwarming messages in the first book of The School for Good and Evil series, as befitting a novel more suitably aimed at Middle Grade readers. “Beauty is only skin deep” and “Believe in yourself” are only a couple examples, woven into a unique and magical fairy-tale style story.
This sequel, however, is a bit more complicated and a little more twisted. Once again, Sophie and Agatha find themselves back in the land of princesses and witches, princes and henchmen. But gone are the Schools for both Good and Evil, and in their places are the School for Girls and School for Boys. Some major changes have taken place since the two girls left; new alliances have formed while old bonds have broken, and now boys and girls are locked in a bitter war. The fate of the schools and this world rest on Agatha and Sophie and whether or not they can find their Happily Ever After.
So A World Without Princes was a fun read, but I also can’t deny that this sequel has lost some of the magic that made me fall in love with the first book. Story-wise, it was a little rough around the edges, with a plot that seemed to meander needlessly in several places. Friction and misunderstandings and between the two main characters feel forced, prolonging the conflict without adding anything new. Unlike its predecessor, this second book didn’t read like it had a clear direction or a main theme it was drawing from, and the storytelling was very uneven with long stretches that felt monotonous in some places and plot developments that felt like they came out of nowhere in others.
A World Without Princes is also much darker in tone compared to The School for Good and Evil. I’d hand the first book to a Middle Grader without a second thought, since it was at once ridiculous and full of heart, cute with just the right amount of wickedness to enchant readers of all ages. On the other hand, the second book would probably give me pause. The more mature themes and violence in this would likely not bother Adult and Young Adult readers, and it’s certainly not a negative to me personally as I was reading this, but it’s still enough that I’d hesitate to give this book to a 8 to 12-year-old, which I think is the age range most publishers are traditionally using for MG guidelines these days. There’s mild torture, descriptions of images that involve a mother drowning her child, scenes of boys and girls talking about and relishing the idea of killing each other, just to name a few examples of things that that might be disturbing to younger readers. As they say, reader discretion is advised, in the end use your own judgment to decide.
In spite of it all, I love the characters, I love the premise of these books, and I still enjoyed myself a lot. Agatha and Sophie are precious, and I just can’t get enough of them, their shenanigans in this novel notwithstanding. There are still many moments of whimsy and humor that author Soman Chainani does so well, and plenty of scenes brought smiles to my face. Ultimately, I really want to find out what will happen to these two friends, and the repercussions from the climax and shocking conclusion to this book are sure to be significant. “Happily Ever After” hasn’t come yet, and I’m definitely not going to give up on this series until “The End”....more
Books like Mage's Blood are extremely hard for me to review, and not least of all because the many comparisons of this to A Song of Ice and Fire are mostly appropriate; this first book of the Moontide Quartet is a sprawling epic indeed! Still, I'm of the mind that George R.R. Martin's epic series stands uniquely on its own...but then so does David Hair's. It would be impossible for me to go into every single thing I liked about this book without having to talk about why, because that would just lead to lengthy explanations into the details of the plot, and if I did that this review will end up being thirty pages long with half of it made up of spoilers. Obviously, we can't have that.
Suffice to say though, this book has it all: nations at war, clashing religions, political intrigue, mages and sorcery, multiple points of view. Yuros and Antiopia are two lands long separated by vast ocean. But every Moontide, the seas part to reveal the magnificent mage-crafted Leviathan Bridge, allowing trade and communication between the two continents. Unfortunately, the passage is also a source of much bitterness and conflict. The last two Moontides have involved crusades of conquest, thanks to the lofty ambitions of the Magi.
Now another Moontide is at hand. As the time draws nearer, the people on both sides prepare for war. Antonin Meiros, a mage of great renown (in fact, it was he who was the intellect behind the Leviathan Bridge) seeks a new wife, and travels to Lahk to wed Ramita. Ramita, however, is already betrothed to the hotheaded Kazim. In another part of the world, Elena Anborn has pledged her life to protect the royal family of Javon, fighting off the assassination attempts and conspiracies masterminded by her former lover Gurvon Gyle, who works for powerful political enemies. Meanwhile in Noros, Elena's nephew Alaron prepares for his mage finals. But during the presentation of his thesis, he unwittingly proposes a dangerous topic that could mean the end to his hopes and dreams.
Everything and everyone is connected in this massive and intricate web that David Hair has woven. The scale of both setting and story are vast. The continents involved here encompass various nations, many of which are described here with great thought and detail. Their populations, including their cultures, languages, religions, rituals and even food and styles of dress are given the same exacting care. This is a world where both magic and theology form a strong basis for society, and it is diverse.
At the same time, readers will find there is much that is familiar in this fantasy world of Urte. Most of the nations and cultures in this book bear marked resemblances to those in our reality -- even when it comes to religion and geography. The nature of this brought to mind a recent discussion I had with a friend, regarding settings in various epic fantasies and how he usually preferred fictional worlds that he can imagine as our own earth, whereas I tended to prefer the opposite. Needless to say, a book like Mage's Blood can appeal to both camps. As well, even I can admit that real-world historical and cultural influences in a fantasy setting can add a lot to a story, a prime example being Jacqueline Carey's original Kushiel's Universe trilogy which remains one of my favorite series of all time.
With a book so massive which features a cast so big, it was perhaps no surprise that the first quarter of Mage's Blood is the most demanding of the reader. The different characters and their story lines are cleanly organized and separated by chapters, which is why this is my favorite format for epic novels. Nevertheless, it makes for a slower start, when an author has to cycle through the perspectives while introducing all the main players, and the first couple hundred pages were dedicated to this task. Patience pays off though, as the book finishes setting the scene and gradually builds up momentum in the middle chapters. This is the meat of the story, and it is amazing how David Hair manages keep all the plates spinning at once, giving each character and plot thread the attention they deserve, while also meticulously bringing them all together so that they eventually form a much bigger picture.
As Mage's Blood features an ensemble cast, obviously I had my favorites (the notable example being Ramita and her story with Antonin Meiros) while others were not as interesting to me. Each person has an important role to play though, and this was made clear by the climax and the ending, which is in a word incredible. It is a conclusion that is positively incendiary, leaving me wondering what else the author has in store. As the series name implies, Mage's Blood is only the first in what is meant to be series of four books, and as such there is much left wide open for huge things to come. However, at the same time David Hair has wrapped things up in a way that is straightforward and satisfying, without any abruptness. I think this is a far rarer skill than people realize.
I have a feeling a lot will be happening in The Scarlet Tides. Mage's Blood may have been encumbered by a lengthy introduction and a slow build-up to the story, which I honestly don't think could have been avoided. I suspect, however, that we will jump right into the action with the sequel. I'm excited, and can't wait to see where things will go....more
This is middle-grade fantasy, but honestly, I don't see why it can't be enjoyed by all ages. I'm a strong believer in that fairy tales are not just for children, that the stories and characters in folkloric fantasy can appeal to a much wider audience -- and it's especially entertaining when familiar concepts like "fairy tale romance" or "happily ever after" are being parodied or turned on their heads.
That's the idea behind this book; in a village called Gavaldon, two children are kidnapped every four years, never to be seen again. One was always beautiful and good, the other an outcast and strange. It didn't take long for the village children to speculate where these missing boys and girls go. They say a mysterious schoolmaster takes them to the fabled School for Good and Evil, where storybook heroes and villains are made.
For as long as she can remember, Sophie has dreamed of being whisked away to the School of Good, imagining a magical world of pretty dresses and handsome princes. On the other hand, she figures her friend Agatha with her homely face and frumpy black clothes would be a perfect fit for the School of Evil. So it's no surprise then when the two were the ones taken way this year. However, when they arrive at the Endless Woods, Sophie is dumped into the school for Evil, while Agatha ends up in the School for Good! This has to be just a terrible mix-up, right? Or is it?
How cool is this idea? Let's face it, traditional fairy tales aren't about character development; off the top of my head, Prince Charming and others like him are good examples of characters that don't go beyond being a mere caricature. We don't tend to think beyond what is presented, and that's what makes this book so great. You know the kind of satire we see in Shrek? It's similar here, poking fun at how shallow princesses must be for obsessing only about their beauty and who will take them to the formal ball. It also makes you wonder about the villains, like, do any of them have hopes and ambitions other than cooking up nefarious schemes? Who gets to determine what is good and evil, anyway?
Obviously, there also some good messages here. "Beauty is only skin deep" and "believe in yourself" are only a couple amongst many, but it's presented very well in this original and magical tale, all wrapped up in a whimsical package. There are lovely illustrations scattered throughout the book as well, and I can't help but feel grumpy now about the lack of pretty drawings in my adult fantasy novels. Is there a rule or something that pictures can only belong in children's books?! Regardless, this book is so much fun. At once ridiculous and full of heart, I couldn't help but melt for this story and its characters. Oh so cute at times, but sinister and dark at others, this book will enchant you and make you smile....more
New rule: if you are an urban fantasy starring a London policeman-turned-wizard named Peter Grant, then I MUST READ YOU. Let's just say I have waited a long time for this! After devouring the first three books last spring, I was left with a void that only this series' dry wit and magical action could provide, and now book four has finally made its way to the US.
Ben Aaronovitch does not hold back for Peter's latest adventure, which involves our favorite magician-constable working to solve yet another string of odd deaths happening around the city. The first red flag goes up when a chance car accident leads him to a murder victim, who may have a link to the mysterious "Faceless Man." That's the big baddie that Peter and his supervisor Nightingale have been hunting over the course of the last couple of books.
As such, Broken Homes probably wouldn't be the best jumping on point if you're new to the series, albeit the central plot within the bigger picture is still wildly entertaining. When it is discovered that the odd deaths are all connected to a controversial housing estate "designed by a nutter, built by charlatans, and inhabited by the truly desperate", Peter and his fellow investigators come up with an insane plan to get to the bottom of the mystery. What do they do? They move in and go under cover. Trouble ensues. And with that, tons of amusement for readers.
Here's why I think it would be a good idea to at least tackle the previous book first before reading this one: if you're not familiar with the overall story arc with the Faceless Man, the first half of the book will probably feel pretty slow. I personally was interested in the investigations because a lot of it had to do with uncovering the identity of the enemy and trying to capture him, but without that context I think a lot of the happenings will feel disjointed or only tenuously connected.
But as someone who has been following this series, I think it is clearly starting to come into its own. With that comes a greater appreciation for the little quirks only found in these books, like London's rivers personified as semi-divine spirits, Peter's esoteric interests into the city's architecture or even his frequent funny jabs at the Metropolitan Police. All this made even some of the more low-key bits of the book very fascinating and engaging -- such as the scene with the spring celebration, or descriptions of Peter's magical training sessions.
However, I have to say the second half of the book -- which includes the subsequent build-up to the climax -- and ending is simply phenomenal. As the main protagonist and narrator, I thought Peter would always be my favorite character in these books, but Nightingale may have just given him a run for his money. His anachronisms and total fail with modern technologies notwithstanding, the guy is awesome. You might think you know wizarding duels, but you don't -- not until you read about the one near the end of this book, with Nightingale versus the Russian Night Witch. I think I may have a crush.
Then, there's the climax and the shocking "twist". I put the quotations there because I'm not sure how truly surprising it is if you've been following the series and the characters. It was shocking yes, but it wasn't completely unexpected. The clues leading up to it weren't entirely subtle, though that might just be me. All the same, the excitement and snappy pace in these final chapters will make you ache for more, and leave you desperate to find out what happens next.
Sigh, which leads me back to this familiar place, of pining for the next book. The waiting does not get easier!...more
Wow, never have I snapped up and read all the currently available books in a series so quickly. With my enthusiasm waning fPosted at The BiblioSanctum
Wow, never have I snapped up and read all the currently available books in a series so quickly. With my enthusiasm waning for Harry Dresden in light of the new direction the Dresden Files series has taken in the last few books, someone else has recently dethroned him as my favorite leading man in urban fantasy fiction. Peter Grant is my master now!
I'm really enjoying this series. I probably didn't like this book as much as the two preceding it, but then again, Rivers of London was excellent and the sequel Moon Over Soho was even better, so I knew that was going to be hard to top.
The story begins with a strange murder in the London Underground, and as usual, strange murders always lead to a call to The Folly, home of the Metropolitan Police's two-man paranormal investigative unit. And thus Peter is dragged into a messy case involving a dead American exchange student who is also the son of a rich and powerful U.S. Senator. Added to that is The Folly's ongoing manhunt for "The Faceless Man", the rogue wizard who wreaked havoc and almost got Peter killed in the last book.
Actually, I'd thought this book would take up that thread directly, following through on the mystery behind who The Faceless Man is and ending that story arc, but apparently not. It seems the author has plans instead to expand that particular plot line over the course of future books, an indication that the scope of this series will be getting bigger and bigger. I'm not sure how I feel about that; on the one hand, I'm glad there are ambitious plans for these novels, but on the other, a part of me still prefers the one-contained-mystery-per-book-at-a-time kind of format.
Already, this book feels like there's a lot more happening in it than the others. With the exception of a couple scenes, the story didn't feel as suspenseful because the mystery was "diluted" amidst all that was going on. Maybe that's also why its chapters were organized into what happened by days of the week this time, to help keep track of all the events over time. There seems to be a lot more exposition as well, and sadly -- at least it feels this way to me -- less history about London and less of Peter experimenting with magic using science, which were the two things I'd loved best about the first two books. Actually, there's just not as much magic, period.
Despite that, there were some things I really liked about this book, not the least of all Lesley's bigger role in this series. I wasn't happy at all about what happened to her in the first book, and good to know she wasn't just some shallow, throwaway plot device never to have a more important purpose again. There are also a few scenes which I felt were done extremely well, especially a particular one near the end in the eerie confines of the underground tunnels. Very imaginative and atmospheric.
Anyway, I'm glad that I'm all caught up now, but unfortunately that also means it's going to be a long and difficult wait for the end of July, which is when the next book comes out....more
I don't know what it is about the Peter Grant series, but this is only the second installment and already I am completed addicted. I've not been a fanI don't know what it is about the Peter Grant series, but this is only the second installment and already I am completed addicted. I've not been a fan of urban fantasy for very long, but over the years I have come to appreciate the particular brand of "fun and fluffiness" that's so characteristic of books like this. They're reliable entertainment -- I know even before I crack the cover that I'll have a good time, and I'm hardly ever disappointed.
As it happens, Moon Over Soho was even better than I expected, because I found I could hardly put it down once I started. The story begins just several months after the events of the first book Rivers of London/Midnight Riot, but police constable and apprentice magician Peter Grant is already called upon to investigate a series of curious deaths around the Soho area in the West End of London. It appears a troubling number of jazz musicians have been keeling over dead after their gigs, apparently from "natural" causes such as aneurysms or heart failure, but the discovery of thaumaturgical residue on the bodies makes Peter suspect magical foul play.
I was also surprised to see that a seemingly minor event from the last book, one I'd thought was originally thrown in at the end for some perverse comic relief, actually turned out to be the basis for another major plot thread in this novel. The details are a little disturbing and really much too outrageous to try to explain, so let's just leave it at that. I'd rather not spoil it, anyhow.
That said, while the adventures of Peter and his dry sardonic British wit (especially in his zinging of everything from the bureaucracy of the London Metropolitan Police to post-modern architecture) continue to delight and make me laugh out loud, there is definitely a darker, more sinister tone to this book. Not only are a few of the crime scene scenarios somewhat disturbing, there were also a few parts where I actually found myself downright creeped out -- but in the good, spine-tingling-edge-of-your-seat kind of way.
There are also a couple of traditions I'm glad to see this book continuing. The first is the ever phenomenal characterization of London as a charming, vibrant and multicultural city. The author likes to inject random and interesting facts about London's description, history, and people in the course of his storytelling, and all that attention to detail truly brings this magnificent city to life in these books.
The second is the "science" behind the magic. The magical systems and how they work in this series are still not very clear, and here the reader is almost as lost as Peter when it comes to trying to figure it out. Peter, however, persists in experimenting with his powers using logic and scientific theory, and even though some of his results and "explanations" make things even more confusing and harder to understand, I do like his unique approach and am interested to see how the series' concept of magic will continue to develop in future books.
Speaking of which, contrary to the first book which in my opinion wrapped up quite nicely, Moon Over Soho has the distinct feel of a "Part I". This series is definitely building into something bigger, and I can't wait to get my hands on the third book so I can find out what happens.
3.5 stars. Trudi Canavan is an author I'd been looking forward to read for a long time, which is why she was pretty high on my list for the WWEnd Wome3.5 stars. Trudi Canavan is an author I'd been looking forward to read for a long time, which is why she was pretty high on my list for the WWEnd Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge. Thanks to my book hoarding habits, I found that I actually own the first books from both her Black Magician Trilogy and the Traitor Spy Trilogy and didn't know which to tackle first. Then I found out that the latter series is a continuing story of some of the characters in the former, which ultimately decided it for me. I always I prefer to read things chronologically and in publishing order, so The Magicians' Guild it was.
The book centers around the life of Sonea, a young vagrant girl caught up in the disturbance which occurs every year during the Purge, an event which expels all the city's poor, homeless, beggars and other undesirables from within its boundaries. Sonea sees a group of children trying to annoy the guild magicians in charge by throwing stones at their magical shield, and decides for fun to join in. In a moment of anger, however, the stone she throws somehow manages to pierce the magicians' protection, beaning one of them on the side of the head. Then everything explodes into chaos.
The Magicians' Guild immediately launches a manhunt for the little girl who so effortlessly foiled their shield spell, because it must mean she possesses magical ability as well. No untrained magic user can be trusted to roam unchecked around the city, for the results of that uncontrolled power can be dangerous for all. Not knowing this, Sonea flees and goes deeper underground with the help of her friends, but a time will soon come when she won't be able to escape anymore, neither from the magicians nor herself.
At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to like this. I spent a good chunk of the book wondering when the story will get to the part where the Magician's Guild and Sonea meet up with each other, so that they can finally get on to training her properly in the ways of magic. That's how these kinds of stories usually go, right? Then I realized that the hunt for her was actually the whole point for the entire first half of the novel, dashing any preexisting expectations I had for the plot.
Going to be honest here, the book still didn't quite hook me until the Magicians do eventually end up finding Sonea, and that was around the halfway mark. Everything that occurred before this point detailing the search and Sonea's struggle to control her magic felt like this huge, unnecessarily drawn out introduction, but the good new is, I started to enjoy myself a lot more. It's almost like, "Okay, now that all that's out of the way, we can finally get this show on the road." The conflicts in the plot started to get more interesting, and I found myself drawn to characters like Rothen, for whom I previously felt nothing.
It also wasn't until I finished this book that I heard this series had been re-marketed for the young adult market. If so, that actually made a lot of sense. Assuming that a YA audience probably wouldn't be as critical as I'm being, I thought the story and characters were strong but could have done with a little more depth, especially since a few sections of the plot felt thin to me and not very convincing. As general fantasy though, I liked this book well enough and I think it can be appreciated by all.
Let’s face it, there’s really no such thing as a bad Dresden Files book – but some are better than others. For me, this series reached its peak round book 5 or 6. I loved Death Masks and Blood Rites, and though everything since has been very enjoyable, there are still times I get nostalgic for the days where Harry’s life was a lot simpler. Well, relatively simpler. The point is, each installment has added another layer of complexity and drama, until each book became a tangle of White Council politics, vampire mischief and Fae court shenanigans, and basically if you haven’t been following the series you wouldn’t have a snowflake’s chance in hell of figuring out what’s going on if you’d only jumped on board at this point.
I understand it had to happen. Change is a good thing, especially when it comes to a long running urban fantasy series, otherwise things would get old quick. But gone are the days when we used to get fun things like cases that send Harry to a horror film festival, or like, to the set of a porno flick. After about ten books, the inevitable bloat happened. The series was in need of a reset button, or at least a way to start tying things together.
For me, Changes was that reset button. And Ghost Story and Cold Days did the tying up. These books marked an important transition for the series, one that I felt was needed and that this handful of novels achieved quite well. However, it wasn’t until Skin Game that I felt that we were finally taking the first real step in this new direction. I have not enjoyed a Dresden Files book this much in a while, and I’m convinced now that the series has regained its feet at last. Sure, we still have the White Council politics, vampire mischief, Fae Court shenanigans, and what have you, but once more we’re back to having a very tightly focused story around a single EPIC situation – it’s heist time, baby!
Ever since he took on the mantle of the Winter Knight, Harry’s life has taken some pretty dark turns. Mab still has him bent over a barrel, but that hasn’t stopped him from fighting back, looking for ways to push the limits of her authority. So when the Queen of the Winter court orders him to aid the big bad Nicodemus and his gang of fallen angels, Harry finds himself in quite a jam. The Denarians want to break into Hades’ vault and steal the Holy Grail, and Harry’s service to Mab requires him to help, but who’s to say Nicodemus will honor his bargain and keep from killing them all after the job is done? And that’s assuming the job CAN be done.
Ah, I love heist stories. It’s a bit of a niche topic in fantasy, but it gets me excited every time. And everyone knows that a good heist story needs a posse, so of course we have a wonderful cast of characters with us on this particular adventure. Some old friends come along for the ride, as well as a few new faces. Among this team of talented individuals, we have the thief Anna Valmont, the rogue warlock Hannah Ascher, the wizard mercenary Binder, a shapeshifter named Goodman Grey, and even a forest creature called a Genoskwa. And of course, Harry, Karrin Murphy, and Michael Carpenter. They are led by the nefarious Nicodemus and his daughter Deirdre. As a result, we have a good mixture of humor and easygoing camaraderie with savage, violent action. Whenever the Denarians get involved, you also know we’ll get our fair share of treachery, deceit, and unexpected twists and turns.
The other great thing about this series is the continued development of Harry’s character. He’s a far cry from the simple wizard he used to be; along with this series, his role has ballooned into epic proportions, albeit he is still very humble and self-deprecating about it. For this reason, I loved a couple of the conversations he has with Michael in this novel. For all his denials, we know Harry is special, but he’s been beating himself up over the last fifteen books and it’s time someone really put it into perspective. Jim Butcher really does a stellar job with these heart-to-heart talks.
Also, completely unrelated but just have to say this – boy, can the man can write one HELL of a sex scene. In the end, the circumstances aren’t really what you think and Harry might have to wait a little longer in the love department, but still. Wowzas.
This book was just pure fun, harkening back to the days when I could enjoy a good Harry story without having it spin out of control into half a dozen different directions. For the first time in years, I finished a Dresden Files book without feeling mentally exhausted. Finally, the next stage for this series has become fully realized right here in Skin Game, I’m hoping the trend will continue into the next book Peace Talks and beyond. ...more