Wild & Steamy (anthology) by Meljean Brook, Jill Myles, and Carolyn Crane

Wild & Steamy
Meljean Brook,
Jill Myles, and Carolyn Crane

There was about a week where this self-published anthology by a few well-known authors in romance and UF was 99 cents, and this week happened to coincide with my being on a plane for 6 hours as I traveled west across the U.S. So to my trusty nook it was downloaded. Wild & Steamy is now priced at the still reasonable $2.99. Currently it is only available as an ebook.

Meljean Brook has excerpts of all three short stories up on her website here.

Two of the three short stories/novellas were stories set in existing worlds. Carolyn Crane’s “Kitten-tiger and the Monk” is set in the same world as The Disillusionists Trilogy, and Meljean Brook’s story, “Blushing Bounder” is set in the world of The Iron Seas series. I couldn’t tell whether or not the third story, “Vixen”, by Jill Myles is similarly set in the same world as a series or not (the writing didn’t make me think it was), but research online reveals that it is part of the Midnight Liaisons world.

Blushing Bounder by Meljean Brook: Constable Edward Newton and his wife Temperance are recent newlyweds living in London. Theirs is a strained marriage, as Temperance once thought her husband was an honorable man, until he compromised her reputation and made a marriage to him and a move from New Manhattan to “bug”-infested London her only choice.  Temperance is appalled at the amount of Horde devices she sees in this new city, and is terrified of the tiny machines that practically everyone has injected into their systems.

This was a mostly sweet story about two people who have to work through misunderstandings in order to be together, with a bit of police procedural thrown in. I haven’t read any of the books in The Iron Seas series yet, but I understand that Constable Newton is a secondary character, and his detective, Detective Inspector Wentworth, is probably a main character in The Iron Seas series. She has a cameo, and I was able to understand the steampunky industrial London setting and it’s concepts pretty easily. What I had trouble understanding was minor: I didn’t understand the inspector’s reputation in London (it is not a flattering one), and I had trouble pinpointing Temperance’s age (her sickness and heightened sense of propriety made her seem older to me, until I read about her backstory and revised my estimate).

Overall: Really liked the world, and found the hero/heroine likable and their story quite sweet. A nice little read.

****

Vixen by Jill Myles: Miko is a were-fox (or kitsune) living alone in the back woods. Because of her heritage, she is “prone to polygamous relationships” but Miko isn’t satisfied with being being outside of a steady relationship. She knows too well the loneliness that life can cause – her mother being a prime example. So when local hunters start a fox-hunting club, and Miko’s mom sends over two shapeshifter bodyguards to protect her, she isn’t happy at the disruption to her quiet existence at first, but her were-fox nature is interested in selecting a mate. Or two.

This was the most sex-y story in the anthology, where the the problem of the fox hunters felt like a vehicle to introduce the menage rather than the focus of the plot. If you like steamy stories, particularly ones with a menage, this one will work. Threesomes are not my thing so for that reason I found this the least enjoyable of the stories. This also had the greatest “paranormal romance” feel of the three, with the familiar concepts of a mating urge, protective males, and shapeshifters coming to play.

Overall: Didn’t really like this one, but I’m not a fan of threesomes, so it was a personal taste issue.

****

Kitten-tiger and the Monk by Carolyn Crane: Sophia Sidway, a woman with the power to revise memories, is tired of regretting the things she has done. She wants to start anew – “to be stopped – once and for all”, and the one person who can do that is the Monk, a shadowy disillusionist who can “reboot” criminals. Sophia has been told that only The Tanglemaster knows where the Monk lives, but when she visits The Tanglemaster, Sophia is confronted by her first love, a man she betrayed years ago and has regretted it ever since.

This story was probably my biggest reason for buying this ebook in the first place. I am a BIG fan of The Disillusionists Trilogy (cannot WAIT for the third book), and this story provides some back story on two secondary characters. Sophia is actually a character I’ve disliked in the series so far (the first two books), so it was a surprise to be shown a more vulnerable side. This story is very character driven, in a good way. I enjoyed learning about Sophia’s past and I think it was presented in a way that you don’t need to have read the series to understand what was going on. The only issue I had was that the sex in this story seemed extraneous, but that is a minor complaint.

I’m not sure how story fit in with the rest of the trilogy. It may or may not be required reading if it informs upon the general plot of the series.

Overall: This was my favorite of the three. The character development in the short space was very well done. A must-read for fans of The Disillusionists Trilogy.

My impression of the whole anthology would be that these stories were entertaining and the price was reasonable. Worth it if you are a fan of any of these authors.

Buy: Amazon | Nook | Smashwords | All Romance Ebooks

Other reviews:
Smexy Books – B
Fiction Vixen – B
Smart Bitches Trashy Books – A
Book Girl of Mur-y-castell – positive

Cold Magic by Kate Elliot

Cold Magic
Kate Elliot

Ever since KMont posted a glowing review of Cold Magic on her blog, I’ve been really interested in reading it. So despite my teetering TBR, when I saw it in my local library I made an impulsive decision to grab it.

The Premise: (taken from the blurb) “It is the dawn of a new age…The Industrial Revolution has begun, factories are springing up across the country, and new technologies are transforming the cities. But the old ways do not die easy. Cat and Bee are part of this revolution. Young women at college, learning of the science that will shape their future and ignorant of the magics that rule their families. But all of that will change when the cold mages come for Cat. New dangers lurk around every corner and hidden threats menace her every move. If blood can’t be trusted, who can you trust?”

Read an excerpt of Cold Magic here

My Thoughts: This is one of those books that just throws you into the world and you glean information as the characters make their way. The story begins on a relatively typical day in Catherine and Beatrice’s (Cat and Bee’s)  life in Adurnam.  Cat lives with Bee, who is her cousin, and with her aunt and uncle. Along with her cousin, she’s a student at the local university. There is a feeling of excitement about industry and human innovation, and about the airship for the “Great Expedition”. The two girls, who are very close, have a great chemistry and I loved reading scenes with them together. All seems as usual, even Cat and Bee’s mischief, but when they go home, and their day turns dark.  A cold mage, Andevai Diarisso Haranwy, from Four Moons house, arrives at the family’s home, asking for the eldest Hassi-Barahal girl as per some agreement. By the end of the night, Cat is married to this arrogant mage, and taken away.

This seems like a set up for a captive-bride romance, but the story doesn’t really go there. There’s a twist which brings down a whole world of trouble, but Cat reacts and survives. She refuses to be used, nor will she let her beloved cousin be used. Luckily for her, her true lineage gives her an edge that no one realizes.

This is a fantastic story in terms of world building. There are steampunky elements in this book, but it also throws in an alternate history and hints at a well-built magical world. It’s clear that the two forces of magic and science are at odds, not only among cold mages, the ruling aristocrats and the common man, but among men and other creatures. The part of me that loves that stuff was very happy.  At times I worried that things were going over my head, but I’m not sure if it was my fault for reading the book when I was tired or if this was to be expected, as things made more sense as the story progressed. Anyway, the book is chock-full of details about a world that is like ours, except not. The icy climate, the spirit world, the history of the cold mages and how Cat’s people adapted after Roman rule are all mixed in with Cat’s adventures. As is Cat’s personal history which she realizes isn’t what she thought.

Cat is a great heroine. As the narrator she has a strong grasp on recent history and a pride in her people, the Kena’ani (called Phoenicians by the Romans). I liked that she was interested in technology and in science, but although magic is an accepted part of the world, it’s not something she’s very knowledgeable in. As a result, when he fate intersects with that of cold mages and spirit worlds, Cat has to rely on her wits and instinct to survive. The world seems to be reaching an impasse, and it’s not certain which way things will go, but Cat is in the center of big changes.

My favorite secondary characters were Cat’s husband Andevai and her cousin Bee. Bee is someone Cat loves and wants to be safe, and who shares similar feelings for Cat. I really enjoyed the relationship between the two girls and I liked how they had their own distinct personalities – Bee being more the winsome and artistic one, but who is just as quick as Cat. I loved their close relationship, as I loved how well that immediate recognition of family that was elsewhere in this story (saying more would spoil the fun). Their antics and banter had me grinning. I also ultimately liked Andevai although he starts off as someone who I couldn’t pin down as someone I should like. Cat isn’t sure if he’s ally or an enemy.  It’s not obvious how he feels because he blindly follows the instructions given him, and his arrogance and vanity makes him rather unlikable. I felt somewhat irritated that Cat would note how handsome he was at the same time she was complaining about his faults, but as the book went along he showed more depth. There’s an obvious set up for romance between the two but it’s definitely something for that’s not going to be simple and will likely develop over multiple books.

Overall: This was a solid fantasy story with a really imaginative world (alternative history, hints of steampunk, cold magic). My favorite things were the world building and the relationships between characters, two important things in my checklist for liking a book. My only criticisms would be that the pacing felt uneven and things went over my head, problems that not everyone may share. In the end, I really want to know what happens next, and do look forward to the second book, Cold Fire, so I can experience all these characters again. I recommend it for fans of straight fantasy who like independent female heroines.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Lurv a la Mode (ARC review) – The Biggest 5 Scoops ever (out of 5)
Charlotte’s Library – mixed review, “here’s much to admire [...] didn’t quite come together”
Dreams and Speculation/Dirty, Sexy Books Dueling Review – 4 stars (DSB) / 6 out of 10 (D&S). I tend to have similar opinions DSB, and I agree with this one
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive review (I share her opinion on this one too!)
Smexy Books – B-
SFF Chat – some problems but ultimately positive
Got Schephs – 8 out of 10
The Book Smugglers – 8 (Excellent)
Dear Author – A-
Starmetal oak book blog – A

The Native Star by M. K. Hobson

The Native Star
M. K. Hobson

I bought this book based purely off this review by calico_reaction over at Dreams and Speculation. Wild West setting with an alternative history involving Warlocks and Witches? I shall have to try some of that.

The Premise: It’s 1876, and Emily Edwards, the Witch of a small town called Lost Pine, is getting desperate for money in the face of competition from the fancy mail-order company, Baugh’s Patent Magicks. So she does a bad thing. She creates a love charm and uses it on Dag Hansen, the timber man who has brought jobs and prosperity to Lost Pine. When she does, she’s almost immediately called out for it by the town clairvoyant, Besim. Besim also reveals that the zombies working in the town mine are going to break free. Besim is ignored by everyone, since he’s made bad pronouncements before, but Emily knows he’s not lying about her use of bad magic, so she goes to check out the mine, along with irritating town newcomer, Warlock Dreadnought Stanton. One thing leads to another and suddenly Emily has a mysterious blue stone lodged in the palm of her right hand, she’s fleeing Lost Pine with Dreadnought Stanton, and evil Warlocks who want the stone are trying to kill them both.

My Thoughts: This reads very much like a Wild West cross-country adventure which just happens to be set in an alternative world where magic is an accepted part of life. I imagine Emily Edwards and Dreadnought Stanton are dressed up much like Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson in Maverick, (minus the confidence artist personalities), as they take horse, train, and a hybrid mechanical-magical flying machine from one destination to another, chased by various men bent on getting the blue stone embedded in Emily’s hand. The author has mentioned in guest posts a pulp novel influence, particularly Horatio Alger, and she eludes to the influence in The Native Star with characters who read pulp fiction from Mystic Truth Publishers, and magazines like Ladies’ Repository.

The world building goes along with the pulp fiction influence. There’s Wild West adventure staples mixed with Victorian era sensibilities. Emily has to deal with being a woman in a world where women were often expected to stay at home and act proper, but she’s grown up with a lenient father in a town where she is respected for her witchcraft. When she ventures outside of Lost Pine, the disparity between her rural upbringing and the straightlaced expectations of how she should act is a big one. There’s even a sort of woman’s suffrage movement in the form of a group called the Witches Friendly Society.

Along with this mixed attitude about women, is a mixed attitude about magic. It’s something everyone knows exists, but whether magic is a natural part of life and can be explained scientifically or as the work of the devil depends on who you are talking to.  This world is on a cusp of change, and I think that whether Progress comes at a price is a big question. Some advancements are for the better, but some come at a cost that people are only beginning to discover.

Of course, it’s often the bad guys of the story with the condescending attitude towards women or who want to eradicate all Witches and Warlocks. Her companion on the road, Dreadnought, clashes with Emily over other things. The two have a bickering sort of relationship and although this sort of thing suggests a romance is on it’s way (which is correct), the romance is a very low key one — the adventure and magic are in the forefront of the story most of the time, and the banter gave me a little chuckle or two as a bonus. This is not one of those stories where there’s a lot of sexual tension in my opinion, maybe because the focus on the book is more on the plot than it is on character development.

I enjoyed the way that magic was explained in this story. There are three forms of magic – animancy (spirit magic), sangrimancy (blood magic), and  credomancy (belief magic). Emily Edwards, who with her Pap, the local magic practitioners of Lone Pine, California, practice animancy. Dreadnought Stanton is a credomancer, and his magic comes from belief. The use of blood magic (sangrimancy) has been outlawed with a notable exception. Hobson takes the idea of magic and a natural explanation for it a bit further when she introduces an ecological component — magic, once used is absorbed by the Earth and recycled, and the process creates waste in the form of a sticky black tar-like substance known as Black Exchunge.  This has some significance in the story and I enjoyed learning as the Emily and Dreadnought did, the significance of Emily’s blue stone in relation to magic.

I’m looking forward to the next book, The Hidden Goddess, out this April.

Overall: A very fun story that combines pulp fiction, magic, Wild West adventure, a bit of steampunk and romance in a seamless way. I enjoyed the alternative history and how magic fit into the Victorian mindset where Progress and Tradition often butted heads. This is very much a plot-driven story, and I liked how the world-building felt effortless. The only thing that I personally would have liked was more room to really delve into the two main characters, but the second book promises to give us more, so I’m looking forward to it.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews
The Book Pushers – 5/5
Dreams and Speculation (guest review by Calico_reaction) – 7/10
All Things Urban Fantasy – 4/5
The Book Smugglers – 8/10

Links:
Guest Post at The Book Pushers

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

This is an ARC that I picked up at BEA. Cassandra Clare is an author who is relatively new to me. I’ve read a short story of hers but none of her full length books. I was assured however that while this new series (The Infernal Devices) is related to one that she has out (The Mortal Instruments), I could start Clockwork Angel without reading the other one.

The Premise: This is the story of Tessa Gray. Tessa’s aunt just died and because Tessa has no where else to go, she’s moving from her home in New York to join her brother Nate in Victorian London. Unfortunately, as soon as Tessa steps off the boat, she’s pretty much kidnapped by the Dark Sisters, members of the secretive Pandemonium Club, who tell her that she has to do what they tell her or her brother will be hurt. What they do is surprising – they train Tessa to shapechange. Tessa realizes that she may not be completely human, but what she is, she doesn’t know. What she does know is that the Dark Sisters are training Tessa for the mysterious head of their Club – the Magister. Tessa manages to escape with the help of yet another hidden organization – the Shadowhunters, who protect humanity by policing the Downworlders like the warlocks, demons and vampires who haunt London streets.

Read an excerpt of Clockwork Angel here

My Thoughts: I was going to be lazy and just cut and paste the blurb for this book because I thought that it would describe the world and the premise better than what I could come up with, but on second thought I decided not to. Why?  Well, it implies a love triangle that I didn’t really think was there for about 80 percent of the book. I think that it’s pretty clear who Tessa is most attracted to, and while she cares about Boy #2  and they have their private moments, I felt like that relationship is mostly in the friend territory, until bam, near the end. So: a little spoilery, that blurb (but go read it if you just want to see who is in the love triangle, I’m sure you can guess).

Since this is the first book in what I assume will be at least a trilogy, there’s a lot of what feels like set up for long running story arcs. Through Tessa we’re introduced to a whole world and to several characters that work and live in the London Institute. Among the Shadowhunters are other teens – the volatile Will, the zenlike James (Jem), and the spoiled Jessamine who are under the guidance of Charlotte and Henry Branwell. Then there are servants around the age of the teens – Sophie and Thomas, and an older cook – Agatha. Most of the characters have a past, and Tessa, as the nosy newcomer, discovers their individual personalities and nuggets of their backstory.  There’s a lot in this book that is hinted at and ambiguous, like a story sort of taking shape but leaving much hidden. The hints of the complex relationships between the characters is one example. The mysterious back story of every character is another (the best example of this is Will, but Jem, Jessamine, Sophie, even Tessa’s past is shrouded in mystery). This is all while the Shadowhunters try to figure out who is behind the Pandemonium Club and what their plans are with Tessa. Once the story is over, we discover very little of our questions as readers have been answered. The many dangling plot strings and Mysterious Pasts peppered throughout the story feel like manipulation so you have to pick up the second book. Usually I don’t mind being manipulated a little to read on, but Clockwork Angel seemed to take it to another level.

Setting that aside, the story was entertaining. Even with the length (the ARC is 476 pages, but big font), the pacing went at a fast clip with plenty going on. I can’t go into much here without spoiling it so I’ll just say there is lots of action – fights and chases, but also very interesting developments between characters. The world was described in lush detail, with lots of steampunky elements – little clockwork tokens, automatons, and Henry Branwell, an absentminded inventor, against a backdrop of the huge and amazing church on whose ruins the London Institute was built (there’s a lot of description, but I liked it). Tessa also has the mentality of someone of that era. She quotes books she’s read that come from that time, and was brought up thinking there are things that women do not do, although the Shadowhunters have her changing her mind on that. Jessamine’s anger seems related to this too – wanting to just be a Lady – someone who stays a home and isn’t expected to kill Demons. She and Will were the darkest and most interesting characters.  Jessamine for being unlikeable, but with the opportunity to grow, and Will for his tendency to push people away (sometimes cruelly if truth be told), although I think all the characters in this book had some depth.

Overall: Hmm. I had a hard time classifying how I felt about this book so I will settle for: diverting but feels like it’s target is teens. It’s fast paced and it has boys who are beautiful and a little mysterious, a plucky heroine who has something special about her, and I’m entertained and want to know what happens in the next book because it deliberately dangles carrots to make me want to. There’s something that kind of bothers me in that, but I was entertained, so I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Clockwork Angel comes out August 31st

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Wicked Walker – 4.5 stars

Websites:
The Infernal Devices

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

I liked The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker so much that I made sure to ask about the second book, and Dorchester sent me a copy for review. I also have an extra copy that I’m going to be giving away later.

My review of Strangely Beautiful can be found here: http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpghttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/vox.png

The Premise: This is the second book in the series which begins with white haired and pale skinned orphan Persephone Parker, a strange girl who can talk to ghosts, arriving at Athens Academy and discovering that she’s an integral part to a long awaited Prophecy. The Guard of London, six remarkable people who protect the city from the forces of Darkness, take Persephone into their fold, but after a very brief respite, the war continues. This is the conclusion of the story.

Read an Excerpt of The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker

****** There are MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK from this point on *******

My Thoughts:
As in the previous installment, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker has a lovely but dense writing style. It’s definitely not a book I’d say you could pick up and read cover to cover without stopping. I had to read this book piece by piece. I’d call this a rich chocolate cake: to be enjoyed at a sedate pace with time to digest the material in between. Both books have a very Gothic, theatrical element to it, and when I found out Strangely Beautiful was optioned for a Broadway musical, it made sense – it’s a good fit because the people in the book do make grand gestures and seem larger than life. The exception would probably be Percy, but she has a presence too – with her stark albino coloring and her long white hair.  I could see her dancing across the stage with her dark and broody partner, Professor Alexi Rychman.

The language is very Victorian and embellished, and the best way for me to show that is an excerpt:

“Their kiss was of such fusion that they felt the ground tremble. The slight sound of angels grew into bursting chorus. Rising from the candles and met by an aura of light from their bodies, white flame began to pool, merge and expand into a hazy, egglike form that grew as their kiss sustained.  As it ended, the form burst into a great, bird-shaped sun. The avian form threw open expansive wings, and a wave of heat and deafening music blew…”

There is a lot of set up in the first 100 pages Strangely Beautiful, but while that was okay to me because it was the first book in a series, and the world had to be drawn and it’s characters introduced. In Darkly Luminous however, it slows down the pacing especially coupled with the Gothic and embellished language. While I thought that the language in the book was probably even better than the first one, the war between London and the Whisper World did not come to the forefront for a long time. This meant there was very little action until the last part of the book. Instead the book focuses on the romance of Alexi and Persephone, and the final battle is shrouded in mystery and talk of “fate”. The spirits of the old Guard know more about what’s going on that that of the new, and they withhold information for fear of jeopardizing the outcome. I’m never a fan of one character keeping information back from another character in books, and I wish this wasn’t a plot device used here.

In the meantime, lovers of romance will probably be happy with the way Alexi and Percy’s relationship is portrayed. We really get to see their intimate moments and it’s written in a very poetic way. Again, there is a sense of drama about their love and it does include a lot of sweeping gestures (Alexi actually does make them to light candles during their private getaways). While in the first book Alexi is a grumpy and aloof professor, his character is different in this one. Now that he has Percy, I found that Alexi’s previous self-confidence became more overbearing, and in contrast, Percy’s giggling and swooning made her look really young. Their age-difference and Alexi’s bossy, forceful personality, is saved only because Percy begins to show some backbone and corrects Alexi when he misdirects his anger towards her. The danger to Percy is ongoing (the Guard is fighting for her), and Alexi does not do well in those circumstances. There was one particular scene where the result of Alexi’s forcefulness is conveyed which made me dislike him quite a bit, despite his regret for his actions.

Other relationships within the Guard, which were hinted at in the first book are further cultivated here. Percy as the perceptive newcomer urges Elijah, Jane, Rebecca, Michael and Josephine to be open about their feelings before they either ruin the group dynamic or something happens in the battle with Darkness. I’ve been particularly interested in Rebecca, who has loved Alexi for years but that isn’t returned. She instead sees Alexi very happy with Percy and dispairs, oblivious to the fact that Michael has been in love with her.  The story seems to concludes satisfactorily in this second volume, although it looks like there will be a short story that focuses on one pairing in the guard in A Midwinter Fantasy (October 2010). I am not sure if there will be a continuation after this book, although I’m sure there could be.

Overall: The lovely, dense language is why I like this series, although it’s Gothic tone and embellishments mean that the book is something to be slowly savored, and some readers may chafe at the pacing. I thought the language in this installment was even more lovely than the first book, but I had some minor reservations in this one compared to the first.

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Smokin Hot Books – 4 smooches
Lurv a la mode – 4 and a half scoops (out of 5)
Brooke Reviews – positive
Smexy Books – 4.5 out of 5
Babbling about Books - B
A Buckeye Girl Reads – positive
Anna’s Book Blog – 5 (out of 5)

Before the Storm by Marian Perera

This is book that I finished off during the 24 hour readathon. It first came to my attention through moirarogersbree on twitter who said she was excited about it’s release because of the cover, the premise and the excerpt. I read the excerpt and really liked it, and I got even more excited because the author is Sri Lankan (I’m biased, I grew up there).

The Premise: Alexis Kayne (Alex) is a courtesan in the coronet city of Radiath, in the country called Dagre.  She is known as the Black Mare and owned by a powerful man named Stephan Garnath. She hates Stephen and his treatment of her and waits for the day that she can escape, but before she does, Stephen suddenly gifts her to one of his enemies, Lord Robert Demeresna, baron of Dawnever. Neither Alex or Robert know why, but they both know that Stephen never does anything without a reason. Robert thinks that Alex could be a killer sent to his home, but he’d rather she travel with him than behind him. Alex believes that Robert is a despot because of his reputation as the Bloody Baron (a reputation Robert cultivated to dissuade attacks), but she can’t escape.

Read an excerpt of Chapter one of Before the Storm here

My Thoughts: The first thing I have to say is that I wish this cover was a little bit different. It does a very good job in that it conveys the small steampunk aspects, the romance, and the war. Even the lightening behind the couple is significant to the story. I just wish that the couple was wearing clothes. My first impression was this story was erotic or had high heat content because of the topless people. Steaminess that isn’t what I tend to gravitate towards (and reading that the main character was a “whore” being given away doesn’t help the impression). What this book really is, is a fantasy with romantic aspects which I do read, so that’s my one nitpick about the cover perhaps not being ideal for it’s audience.

So upfront: this is not erotica/erotic romance. This is a fantasy with a bit of romance. There’s one sex scene in the whole book and it isn’t something that happens early on. It also has some steampunk elements in the form of machines of war. They do have a significant part in the story, but the are not the focus so I’d call this steampunk influenced but not really steampunk.

In this world, there are two main groups that have the power.  First there is Stephen Garnath. He rules everything but in name (the Governing Hand is supposed to have control but Stephen controls it). Stephen rules through force and fear. To me, he represented one extreme – that of depravity. He’s extremely cunning but takes pleasure in making people he has power over suffer. The second group in power is the Quorum. They are a religious group who serve The Benevolent Ones, and who have their own agenda. I felt like they represented the other extreme. They preach piousness and virtue but don’t take practical considerations or grey areas into account. And they were often hypocritical in their views compared to their actions.

Robert Demeresna is part of a small group who sits somewhere in the middle of these two opposing powers. His land is far from the main city and not that influenced by the Quorum. Robert just wants what’s best for his people, and his rule is has neither the extremes of the other two. Unfortunately for him, neither Stephen Garnath or the Quorumlords allow him to be a neutral party in the struggle for the country.

Alex and Robert are well suited for each other. Alex may be beautiful, but she’s also got a quick mind and she’s had an insider’s view of how Stephen thinks, so she becomes a very important asset (I really enjoyed her strong character). Robert is someone who can see the gray in the world so he’s more open minded than others in the story are. He was a leader but he was neither an alpha or beta male. I enjoyed the way their relationship progressed.  It happens slowly so you see the beginnings of respect and attraction that turn into more. It was refreshing that Alex doesn’t find Robert attractive until she gets to know him. That’s not to say that this relationship didn’t have it’s missteps for me. Robert says some idiotic things when arguing with Alex that I never felt he really apologized fully for, and his realization of his feelings needed a kick-in-the-pants moment to happen rather than figuring it out himself.

I also liked the secondary characters in this story. There’s Robert’s right hand man, Mayerd, who was exiled from his own land, and his backstory was an interesting one. Then there’s Robert’s allies. Perera writes strong female characters, so there’s Robert’s cousin Susanna who has a pet maddog (two headed dog!), and Quorumlord Victoria who annoyed many but had depth. And there was the Word who was an ally in the Quorum who I despised even more than Stephen Garnath.  I thought he was interesting in the way he highlighted the hypocrisy of the Quorum, but the author doesn’t really preach against religion, so much as it being misused by certain people I think.

Most of the story deals with the war that Stephen brings to Robert’s home. There are alliances and maneuvering, secret (steam!) weapons, betrayals, ambushes, and many weary days on the road. The battles are a large part of the book, and at times the details of the skirmishes dragged for me, but there were some interesting tricks that Robert’s smaller army used to even the odds, and interesting side battles fought in magic between Stephen’s pet sorcerer and Robert’s right hand man. The best part was the exciting culmination of the whole thing. I loved that Alex was an integral part of it all and didn’t just sit pretty while the fighting was happening.

This is the first in a planned trilogy.

Overall: I feel like I discovered a hidden gem in this new author. This was a lovely fantasy story with a slow moving romance amid battles and steam machines. The characters are strong minded and interesting, and it left me with things to ponder. My only reservation may be pacing because there are a lot of battle scenes, but your mileage may vary on that count.

Buy (it’s in ebook only as of this review): Samhain | Amazon
(if you buy through My Bookstore & more link through Samhain, there’s a 20% off deal now by entering “shinynew” at checkout)

WIN IT!! – Interview and contest with Marian Perera @ Moira Rogers’ blog (enter soon because I am not sure when the deadline is!)

Links:
Marian Perera’s website
Marian Perera’s blog

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

The Alchemy of Stone
Ekaterina Sedia

Every month at Calico reaction, there is a reading challenge and discussion of a single book. And every month I mean to join but never seem to plan things properly to read the book in time. Well, this month I resolved to read the selection which was The Alchemy of Stone, and with the 24-hour-readathon I even set the date to start it! This means for possibly the first time, I have read a book selection on time for a challenge. A personal victory over my own procrastination. Thank you, thank you.

The Premise:
In the fantastic city of Ayona lives a mechanical girl named Mattie. Mattie lives her life preparing alchemical concoctions for her customers and contemplating how to become truly free from her maker, Loharri.  Although Mattie is emancipated, she still needs Loharri to wind her up and he holds on to her key despite her requests for it. The story begins when Mattie is visited by the guardians of the city – the gargoyles. They ask her to work on saving them, because they are slowly turning into stone and every day their numbers dwindle further. In the meantime, change is coming to the city, as unrest under the ruling classes of Mechanics, Alchemists and Aristocrats begins to increase. As a machine, Mattie is overlooked so she has a unique perspective of the events on the streets and in the meetings of those in power.

Read an excerpt of Alchemy of Stone at Fantasy Magazine

My Thoughts: I just finished The Alchemy of Stone and I don’t really know how to put what this book makes me think about into words. My mind is a big jumble of thoughts. First of all, the prose is lovely. The world in The Alchemy of Stone would be perfect set in a stop-motion animation directed by the Quay brothers. There’s a dark loveliness to everything. Most of the story is told in the third person as we follow Mattie around the city, and although she’s intelligent, I thought that her viewpoint had a sort of innocence to it, because she’s still learning how to be a human and gaining her experience in life. The other perspective is from the gargoyles who speak with one mind as they watch over Mattie. They brought a sense of wistful sadness – watching over the people they’ve seen born into the city they created, sworn to protect them, but never really being able to affect much of what goes on.

I thought that Power was one of the big themes in this book. Power of individuals over each other and power struggles between classes. Everyone seems to hold a little something back from whoever they want to control and everyone wants something. For Mattie the automaton, her master, Lohari, has power over her.  Initially I wondered at Mattie’s resentment of him, because at the surface they seem to have a cordial relationship. She comes by and visits him, makes sure he’s alright and cleans up or makes him something to eat, but at other times, Mattie recalls hating being at his beck and call. I saw some of her resentment of him but his treatment of her at first glance was kind and patient. Then I started to see a little more beyond the surface.  Even though she’s emancipated, she still has to go see him in order to get wound up and continue running. He holds her life in his hands, and through this and other small ways, you discover how insidious his control is.  When I finally realized Loharri’s manipulations, it became a creepy, abusive relationship in my mind. Mattie’s feelings gyrate between love and hate, and I don’t think she even understands them completely or knows what parts are programmed into her. Mattie becoming an Alchemist was her way of trying to get back some of the control by doing something that Loharri didn’t understand and thus feared. But how do you really get control if someone has the key to your life or death?

I didn’t find many of the other characters to be much better towards Mattie as an automaton.  I thought that this was another theme within the book – the treatment of the majority towards the minority, or the treatment of those in power toward those who were not. I felt that we’re reading a lot of things through Mattie’s eyes and she is a forgiving character, and sometimes subtleties of the humans around her don’t register but maybe they do to the reader. Most people in power – the mechanics, ignore Mattie. The alchemists are better, but even then they seem to treat her a little lower class.  When Mattie makes what seem like friends, I felt a little sad because it didn’t seem that their affections were that deep. Most seemed to need something out of her each time. The people most isolated, the gargoyles and the Soul Catcher were perhaps the closest Mattie comes to have people genuinely care about her.

This treatment of Mattie extrapolated to the bigger picture represents the clash between the upper class of aristocrats, alchemists and mechanics and the poor miners, farmers and laborers. It also represents the clash between the locals and the immigrant population who are immediately blamed for rebel attacks on the ruling class. It all explodes suddenly when the upper class, in the pursuit of progress, move labor around for more coal and the lower class has no choice in the matter. But I don’t think it’s as simple as the upper class is in the wrong. They believed in their progress and in improving the city, and when there’s rebellion, they just want to keep their lives as they are and fight to keep what they have. There aren’t really easy answers because everyone is trying to protect themselves. Mattie as well. In the course of defending their own interests without acknowledging others leads to betrayals and struggles for control.

Overall: A lovely steampunk fantasy that mixes magic and technology with revolution. The prose is simple and lyrical, but the messages are not. In the end I enjoyed the mental exercise, but it made me a little sad as well. I put it under “well, that took a little bit out of me”.  It’s a little more serious fare than I’d usually choose for myself and has no easy conclusions.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews/links:
Fantasy Book Critic
Ekaterina Sedia guest blog post @ Calico_reaction

Karin Lowachee: The Gaslight Dogs cover

The Gaslight Dogs
Karin Lowachee

OMGOMGOMG!!!!

I kept checking and FINALLY, The Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee (out March 2010 from Orbit) is available for preorder on Amazon !!  I want this book. I’m a big fan of this author’s science fiction trilogy (Warchild, Burndive, Cagebird, although I still need to read that last book), but this new series is going to be steampunk.

Here’s the blurb:
At the edge of the known world, an ancient nomadic tribe faces a new enemy-an Empire fueled by technology and war.

A young spiritwalker of the Aniw and a captain in the Ciracusan army find themselves unexpectedly thrown together. The Aniw girl, taken prisoner from her people, must teach the reluctant soldier a forbidden talent – one that may turn the tide of the war and will surely forever brand him an outcast.

From the rippling curtains of light in an Arctic sky, to the gaslit cobbled streets of the city, war is coming to the frozen north. Two people have a choice that will decide the fates of nations – and may cast them into a darkness that threatens to bring destruction to both their peoples.

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Heiber

I’ve been eying this book ever since I saw the title; it just WINS. And after seeing the cover (which I really like – simple and atmospheric) and learning that the story was a little steampunk, my little book-I-must-get radar was beeping like mad. If you look around, this book is getting a lot of buzz, so I wasn’t the only one. I asked for this book right away when Dorchester asked me if there was anything I was interested in reading. I mean, really. This review is for the ARC copy that Dorchester sent me.

The Premise: The heroine, Miss Percy Parker, is an albino who can talk to ghosts. Proficient in many languages, and aware that she’s very strange looking to others, timid Percy has just enrolled in Athens Academy in London. Meanwhile, her Headmistress Rebecca Thompson and mathematics teacher Professor Alexi Rychman belong to a group of six who have been battling supernatural creatures in the streets of Victorian London. They’ve long awaited for the seventh, a woman that Professor Rychman believes is destined to be his true love, but Prophecy urges them to be cautious. Could Miss Percy be the seventh?

My Thoughts: When I first started reading this book, I was struck by the Gothic atmosphere. The worldbuilding seemed interwoven with the way the book was written. There’s an old fashioned formality to the language and dialogue which goes with the tale of ghosts and demons in Victorian London. I could see things taking place in dark, somber colors like blues and blacks, with Percy as a pale exception. Against this backdrop, the supernatural aspects – the ghosts, the frightening Ripper, and the Guard battling creatures on the cobblestone streets, had a perfect home. The way Greek myth was also added to the story was cherry on top of a lovely pie.

The first people that we meet are the Guard. The six people, three men, three women, who were each chosen by otherworldly spirits to defend the world against Hell. Their first meeting is as young teens, when they are each summoned together. Besides Rebecca and Alexi who become faculty as Athens Academy, there’s Michael, Elijah,Josephine, and Jane. Each has their own set of skills, which Alexi as their leader.
Because this is primarily a romance, the focus was mostly on Percy and Professor Rychman. The characters of each of the Guard are quickly, but deftly sketched. While there is a lot of good natured camaraderie in the group, there are tensions such as unrequited love and differences in interpreting the Prophecy that add depth to the relationships.

Of the main two characters, Percy is the timid schoolgirl, a nineteen year old who haunts the halls of Athena Academy, unsure of herself because of people’s reactions to her looks. In contrast the dark, tall (and somewhat cranky) Professor Rychman is an imposing and confident figure. I loved Professor Rychman’s character, but then I’ve always been fond of slightly acerbic people. I’ve read that the author modeled him on Alan Rickman, and I could see the similarities. It was easy for me to see Percy’s attraction to her Professor, less easy for me to see what the Professor saw in Percy – she was so meek, and in comparison to the Professor, her feelings made her seem very young. In that regard, the romance felt off for me, but otherwise I did enjoy the way it slowly unfolded and the problems it hit along the way.

The language is often very dramatic, which seems to go along with the Gothic aspect. At times the grand gestures made me aware I was reading fiction – I often could imagine certain scenes as if they were being played out in a theater, but it matched the Gothic Romance feel of the book.

Overall: Very good. The story is unique: a mix of historical, steampunk, paranormal and gothic romance. It’s the originality that really had me and made it a keeper, with clever twists on Greek mythology and Jack the Ripper. The only quibbles I had were with things in keeping with the sense of gothic romance and drama throughout the book.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Other reviews:

Lurv a la Mode (four and a half scoops out of five)
Smexy Books (rating was a 9 )
Fantasy Dreamers Ramblings (positive review)
Tempting Persephone (positive review)

Interviews:
The Book Butterfly – I liked this one – talks about research and inspiration that went into the book, including bits about ghosts and Victorian London. (with contest ending Sept 10th)
Literary Escapism (with a contest ending Aug 25th)

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless caught my eye a couple of months ago when I saw the cover, but I really wanted to read it because of the blurb. When I found this book at BEA I was ALL over it, and with the number of entries for my Soulless giveaway, I wish I had more copies to give away, but alas I only have the one.

I was going to write this review and then shelve it till end of September, but a lot of copies of this were at BEA, so I expect reviews to show up pretty soon, and I’ve had a lot of people asking me how the book is!

Soulless comes out September 30th from Orbit books.

The Premise: Alexia Tarabotti is a spinster and twenty-six years old (she was officially put on the shelf at the early age of fifteen). The daughter of an Italian and well known for her modern sensibilities, headstrong personality, and interest in science, Alexia isn’t the typical young Victorian lady. She has a long nose, dark Italian skin, and loves to eat (treacle tarts are a favorite).  One night, Alexia attends a ball, and is dismayed to find that the host has provided NO refreshments. Taking matters into her own hands, she asks be served tea in the library. One thing leads to another and suddenly there’s a dead vampire on the library floor and Alexia has to fake a faint. The agents of BUR, headed by Lord Maccon (an irritable, scruffy, Scottish werewolf) aren’t fooled for a second, and she is asked questions regarding their investigation.  Vampires and werewolves are appearing where they shouldn’t be, and disappearing from where they should. Of course Alexia decides to do some investigating on her own, and drives Lord Maccon crazy in the process.

My Thoughts: Wow, this book was a lot of fun to read. The blurb is a spot-on indication of what you’ll find in the book – tongue in cheek stuff, a heroine who is a force of nature, and a romance thrown in.  The author calls the book an “urbane fantasy”, and from what I can see there’s an overlap of genres here. There are romantic elements, urban fantasy elements, a very Victorian setting, and a dash of Steampunk. I couldn’t help mentally hearing the words in a proper English accent. First, no one here says “parasol”, so I had to, and second because of the style of the language. There was even a nod to the old-fashioned in the way the chapters were titled (“Our Heroine Ignores Good Advice” is just one example).  Along with the writing, there are a lot of references to fashions, manners and day to day life of the Victorian time period.

The world here is our own, but Great Britain has had supernatural help to conquer so much of the planet. There are werewolves, vampires, and ghosts, with similar traits to what I’ve seen in other urban fantasy (such as banding together under one Alpha or hive ruler), but the criteria for a human to change into a supernatural is something new. This time the amount of soul a person has is a factor. Only people with an excess of soul can survive the change, and supernatural creatures are rare. Alexia is even rarer, she has no soul. This makes her a preternatural, a person whose touch negates the supernatural completely. I don’t think I’ve seen this before. I’ve read books where one character is immune to supernatural effects, but can’t do what Alexia does.  I like the idea.

The worldbuilding was well done and had enough complexity where I felt that while I was seeing and understanding a lot of it, there is still more to come, perhaps in later books. In particular I think the politics between the vampires, werewolves, and the crown has been touched upon but there is more to explore there.

There are a lot of amusing side characters in this book. Usually there’s one or two side characters I kind of like, but here I liked a lot of them, though they are almost caricatures. The poor best friend with horrible taste in hideous, flamboyant, hats, the gay vampire with his baroque furnishings and coterie of foppish young men, the stoic and capable butler, the list goes on, but it works very well. It’s a comedic ensemble cast (complete with straight men) that buttress our heroine and hero.

This book is also a romance. While this is Victorian England so no sex before marriage, there are serious shenanigans going on that are decidedly more modern than this era. Even knowing what a free spirit Alexia is, there are a few scenes where some artistic license takes place in terms of Alexia’s reactions to her love interest. This was a slightly less believable part of Alexia’s character, but we’re reading a book with werewolves and vampires here, so I didn’t dwell on it. The part that irritated me was the repetition of Alexia’s “flaws” which she and her family were concerned about: that Italian nose, dark complexion, and inability to be controlled. I’d prefer Alexia to have been less repetitive in worrying about these silly things, thinking no one wants to marry someone like that.

Overall: This book is going to be popular. It’s as fun as it looks, I promise you, and I love that this feels like something new. I wanted to pick it up as soon as possible whenever I had to put it down. There’s plenty of action, sly wit, and romance going on to keep the pages turning and I will be reading the second book, Changeless.

There’s an excerpt of Changeless at the back of Soulless, and I’ve already checked, but the release date hasn’t been announced yet.

Links:

Video of Gail Carriger at BEA (filmed by Ron Hogan)