This is a review of a book provided to me by Strange Chemistry (the YA imprint of Angry Robot books).
The Premise: The Toland siblings, Natividad, Alejandro, and Miguel, have fled from their home in Mexico, all the way across the United States, and have just reached their destination in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Their father’s old enemy, Malvern Vonhausel, still stalks them despite already destroying their village and murdering their parents. Now the siblings are making a desperate gamble: that Dimilioc, a stronghold for shapeshifters called black dogs, will take them in. They have very little to convince Dimilioc’s Master — only that their father was once a Dimilioc wolf, and that Natividad is Pure. Their father told them that Dimilioc protected the Pure, but it never tolerated strays. Miguel may be granted amnesty because he’s human, but Alejandro is black dog and may not be treated so kindly.
Read an excerpt of Black Dog here
My Thoughts: Before reading Black Dog, the other books I’d read by Rachel Neumeier were two-thirds of The Griffin Mage Trilogy, and House of Shadows. These are all straight fantasy, and for some reason (probably my own obliviousness), I thought Black Dog was the same. I didn’t realize that until I began reading it that this is urban fantasy. This was not a bad thing. It felt nice to be surprised that Black Dog was Neumeier’s own riff on werewolf mythology. The world is not far off from our own as it is now, but Neumeier alters all we know by setting Black Dog right after a war. This war is one that is not necessarily fully explained, but what we do know is that it has wiped out all vampires, and vampire magic happened to hide the supernatural from regular people. It also has the devastating consequence of Vonhausel tracking down the Toland family and slaughtering everyone in their village. Black Dog opens in the midst of the siblings’ flight from home, with the plan to be taken in by the group of black dogs that their father once belonged.
Black Dog is narrated in the third person but focuses on Natividad and Alejandro, and as you would expect when a supernatural murderer is after you, this story has a desperate edge. First there is the fear of getting caught before they reach Dimilioc, and then there is the stress over what to say that would most likely keep them alive once they get there. After that the challenges just keep coming. So this has a quickly moving plot, but beyond that, the world building and the characters kept me engaged as well. The Tolands’ Mexican upbringing is part of the narrative (the dialogue is peppered with Spanish), and that mixed with their having to grow up quickly kept these characters real and vulnerable.
What black dogs and the Pure are, are organically introduced as necessary. It isn’t difficult to catch on that a “black dog” is a shapeshifter that turns into a monstrous dog, but Neumeier throws in her own touches, from the superficial (like their black fangs and claws, intense heat, eyes of “fiery gold and red”, and black ichor of their wounds) to the fundamental (that they are two separate selves, one human, one shadow, housed within the same body). The Pure, which Natividad is, is more difficult to grasp. Natividad demonstrates that she has powers that she uses to protect and hide her brothers from their pursuers, but as the story moves forward, it becomes clear that’s not all she’s useful for. Adding to the mystery is the strange relationship the black dogs have with the Pure. Black dogs are drawn to the Pure, but while one half of their nature wants to protect them, the other wants to destroy. It’s not certain that even the Pure and the black dogs know how they are linked.
The Dimilioc wolves believe in protecting the Pure. In fact, they are prized, which is one of the reasons Natividad and her brothers have decided to go to them. Here is where things get sticky though, because Natividad is willing to sacrifice herself in exchange for her and her brothers’ survival (“I’m not a puta; I won’t lie down with them all. But if you take us into Dimilioc, I will take any one of your wolves you say”). Whether Natividad really has any agency is one issue, that she is only fifteen years old (while the youngest of her options seem to be in their twenties, there are men much older than that here), is another. I suppose I should feel better that it’s one of the youngest who is most aggressive in the pissing contest over Natividad, but when you are fifteen, a five or six-year age difference is significant. Any further romance or consent would be questionable. On the other hand, things don’t progress far enough for me to really question what is happening. All this is sort of there, in the background, percolating, while the Toland siblings deal with more immediate life or death situations. Yes, there is attention and Natividad isn’t immune, but there is the sense she wonders whether it’s real. I feel hopeful, because of the thoughtfulness of the writing, that when this series continues I won’t be disappointed by what happens to Natividad. I am not completely against a romance, but I’d feel better if Natividad got to grow up first. I also wonder whether the controversial romance is deliberate. It’s interesting when you pair the situation with Natividad’s nature, which involves a lot of placating of the black dogs and defusing aggression with teasing jokes made at the right moment. I also noticed a mirroring of Natividad’s situation in another (male) character. Needless to say, I’m very interested in finding out where this is going to go. Unfortunately, Strange Chemistry has been discontinued, but it sounds like Rachel Neumeier still expects to be able to publish the sequel, Pure Magic, one way or another.
Overall: Every time I read a book by Rachel Neumeier, it becomes my new favorite by this author. I think this is because of a mix of super thoughtful writing plus an element of surprise. Black Dog is no different. This was the kind of read that you gobble up quickly, with a lot of life-threatening action squeezed into the space of the few days, but it was the quieter moments between the life-or-death situations, where the characters are planning and anticipating and arguing, that lingered long after the book was closed. For those looking for no more than action and adventure, you will find it here. For those looking for something deeper – Black Dog sometimes made me uncomfortable in a way that is never resolved. Depending on how things go, I think this series has the potential to be more subversive than you’d initially expect.
Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository
Bunbury in the Stacks @ Tor.com – “Black Dog is, like the characters within its pages, frightening and beautiful and solid right down to its core.”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “Rachel Neumeier made a successful foray into urban fantasy with Black Dog.”
On Starships and Dragon Wings – “I was excited to get to know some characters a little different from the typical young adult cast, but I was completely unable to connect to them for reasons I’m honestly still not able to pin down.”
Anthologies are basically perfect reading when you KNOW you’re going to be interrupted by relatives. With that thought in mind, I picked this one up while on vacation in Sedona and read it in between all the madness of the Christmas season. (Yes, I know it’s been a few months since Christmas.. still working on that review backlog).
Dark and Stormy Nights is an anthology of 9 urban fantasy stories with the theme of “knights” who do some questionable things for the right reasons. So basically urban fantasy heroes doing what they usually do, which is work in the grey area. I liked that the theme is so wide open, and that the anthology had a bunch of authors I have read and liked. Here’s a breakdown of what we get, followed by my brief (non-spoiler) impressions of each:
- A Questionable Client by Ilona Andrews (also found in a 2-novella ebook here)
- Even Hand by Jim Butcher
- The Beacon by Shannon K. Butcher
- Even a Rabbit Will Bite by Rachel Caine
- Dark Lady by P.N. Elrod
- Beknighted by Deidre Knight
- Shifting Star by Vicki Pettersson
- Rookwood & Mrs. King by Lilith Saintcrow
- God’s Creatures by Carrie Vaughn
A Questionable Client by Ilona Andrews – Kate Daniels, a member of the Atlanta Mercenary Guild is offered a bodyguard job when two of her peers back out. This is a prequel the Kate Daniels series, which means it doesn’t require you to know anything, but fans of that series will enjoy learning the back story on how Kate met Saiman, a minor but unique character. I always understood that Saiman creeped Kate out from the beginning, and why that is is explained here. Lives up to what I expect from Ilona Andrews, currently my favorite writing duo. Link to an excerpt
Even Hand by Jim Butcher – A powerful man agrees to protect a woman and child against a supernatural pursuer. This is set in the Harry Dresden universe, except the narrator is John Marcone. I haven’t read any of the Harry Dresden books, but I gather this narrator is not Dresden’s ally. He’s not a good guy, but he does have his own set of rules, and it was refreshing to hear a story from a character on the other side and who is sharp in a scary way. This was another strong story in the anthology and really hit the sweet spot in character development – I just loved the ambiguity in this one.
The Beacon by Shannon K. Butcher – This is a story about a weary hunter named Ryder Ward who kills Beacons – people who (through no fault of their own) attract monsters called Terraphages into our world from another dimension. The latest Beacon is a young girl with a single mother and Ryder feels wretched about his choices. This sounds like an original story though the Terraphages sound like the Synestryn of Butcher’s Sentinel Wars series. Although Shannon K. Butcher is known for her paranormal romance, this didn’t go there (although it did feel like there was the set up for it). There was something about these characters that I didn’t warm to – I think they just felt very standard issue: single mother in a small town, adorable child, tortured hunter, but I felt like there was a spark for something more there if this was a longer story.
Even a Rabbit Will Bite by Rachel Caine – This is another story that didn’t feel set in a bigger universe, but I really enjoyed the world building which was nice and comprehensive in such a small space. It’s about Lisel, a centuries-old woman warrior who has managed to survive and become the last living Dragonslayer, and she’s just been informed that her successor has been chosen (by the pope, as these things are). A young girl knocks on her door the next day. I loved this one for the characterization and dialogue. The grumpy old-school Dragonslayer (“Get your ass inside”) viewing the new guard with exasperation (“glowing with youth and vitality and health and a smart-ass attitude”) but having to train her anyway and maybe gets proved wrong was a fun concept. One of my favorites.
Dark Lady by P.N. Elrod – The Internet tells me that Dark Lady is part of the Vampire Files universe because its narrator, Jack Fleming is the star of that series. This didn’t bother me, all I needed to know was that Jack was a vampire, owns a nightclub, and on occasion helps out people, and this was explained in the first three sentences. This was a very noir-style story with a damsel in distress, a mob boss, missing money, and thugs galore, set in 1930’s Chicago. What I liked about this one was that there were surprises and a puzzle which is unexpected for the story length. Link to an excerpt
Beknighted by Deidre Knight – An artist named Anna gains a patron in order to pay for “living gold” which she needs to unlock a man from another world through her artwork, but there’s something that makes Anna question her patron’s motives for backing the project. This was another story that had more of a paranormal romance tint to the writing than an urban fantasy one. I found the concept of the living gold, Artist Guild and patrons in the context of artists actually “unlocking” things within their paintings interesting in theory, but the execution was confusing. It could be a reading comprehension fail on my part, but I just had trouble connecting some of the dots.
Shifting Star by Vicki Pettersson – Skamar is a woman made flesh by the focus of her creator, and her job is to protect a certain teen girl. This means investigating the abductions of girls around her age, working with a human, and dealing with human emotions. This is just as gritty and violent and a little bit heart rending as the rest of the Signs of the Zodiac series, and it focuses on side characters, but I think it would be a little difficult to follow the concept of the Zodiac, tulpas, and who Zoe Archer is unless you’ve read other books in this world. One of the darker stories in this collection.
Rookwood & Mrs. King by Lilith Saintcrow – A suburban wife comes to Rookwood, asking him to kill her husband, who is already dead. This is another short story of the pulpy vampire detective variety, except a more modern-day version and a damsel in distress who is a lot faster on the uptake than she might be given credit for. I liked the plot of this one, but I wish the story would have been from Mrs. King’s point of view instead of focusing on Rookwood’s interpretation of events.
God’s Creatures by Carrie Vaughn – Cormac is called to deal with a killer that has gutted some cattle. It is clearly a werewolf losing the battle against bloodlust, and it won’t be long before it moves to human prey. This is another story set in a bigger universe (Kitty Norville), but Cormac is a secondary character and on a side trip so you don’t need to have knowledge of the series to understand what is going on here. The concept of hunting a werewolf was straightforward, but God’s Creatures adds a human element and ambiguity to the whole enterprise that I liked. Link to an excerpt
Overall: As urban fantasy anthologies go, this is probably one of the strongest ones I’ve read. The reason for that is there seemed to be a concerted effort (for the most part) not to lose the reader with world building details they wouldn’t know. I think we’ve all read stories set in a world related to an author’s series and been lost before. It seemed like most of these were written from the point of view of a side character, or set the story before their series begins, or are original stories not related to some bigger world. This made things more accessible, which was refreshing to see. Also keeping things cohesive: no romance and stories that all kept with a theme of doing deeds for the “greater good” that don’t always leave our heroes looking entirely pure. A very solid lineup.
Temporary worlds book reviews – “although there are a few stories that didn’t work for me, I feel as if the good content outweighs the bad in this anthology”
Calicoreaction – Worth the Cash: “On the whole, it’s a very solid anthology with stories that stand on their own two feet even if they’re set in established universes”
The Evie Scelan series one I’ve been following for a little while now. It’s a urban fantasy set in Boston and it centers on Evie, a bike messenger with a side business: finding lost things with her abilities as a Hound. What keeps me coming back is the true-to-life characters and the Boston setting.
The Premise: After Evie’s last tussle with supernatural forces in a battle to protect her beloved Boston, she’s left with the price of her endeavors. Firstly, Evie’s talent just doesn’t work the way it used to: it’s unreliable, starting and stopping unexpectedly. Scents can be hard to find, and Evie feels drained by a simple tracking. Secondly, Evie has something that doesn’t really belong to her — the Horn of the Wild Hunt. She has to return it to its rightful owners, who will not like that she sounded it. While this is going on, strange things are afoot in Boston. A mysterious fire on a yacht and bystanders paralyzed by fear is the first sign in a wave of disquiet in Boston’s Undercurrent.
My Thoughts: I have to admit, it’s been a while since I read the second book in this series. I seem to jump back into the Evie Scelan books every couple of years, so I remembered the ending and some very big plot points of Wild Hunt, but I was fuzzy on some of the details. I could fudge it, but I really wish I remembered some more of the details or that they were spelled out to me a bit more. This is not the first time in the series where the previous book’s events has had an impact on the plot, so I don’t recommend reading Soul Hunt without a least reading Wild Hunt, and I don’t recommend reading Wild Hunt without reading Spiral Hunt. Basically, you need to read these books in order.
The big plot points from the earlier book are these: Evie has the Horn of the Wild Hunt and needs to return it to it’s rightful owner or owners. Due to her possession of the horn, she brings the the hounds of the hunt with her wherever she goes, and the hounds are quite willing to give her their two cents on her life. Also, ever since she rescued rescued boyfriend Nate, she has noticed that her power has gotten weaker. She isn’t sure why, but she suspects it has to do with an exchange she had with the water spirit who had him. In the meantime, Evie’s relationships continue as before: she and Nate are in a serious relationship and his young sister is someone Evie has taken under he wing. Her friend Sarah is as optimistic as ever and is trying to organize the Undercurrent for future outside threats – a neighborhood watch with an emergency phone tree if you will. And Evie still is on the outs with Rena, a cop who was once a close friend, but got blames Evie for bringing her trouble and “bruja shit”.
While Evie has the remnants of her latest adventures to deal with, another issue springs up. An associate in the Undercurrent asks for her help and that leads Evie to a strange occurrence: a burning yacht. This isn’t that strange, but the behavior of other members of Boston’s magic community is. People tell Evie that they feel fear, but they cannot tell her what is causing it. Then the man whose boat burned down asks Evie to find something for him, something stolen generations ago.
With everything going on in Evie’s life: the Horn, her relationships, Nate’s curse, Nate’s sister’s Sight, the budding Undercurrent organization, her fatigue, issues with her talent, and her work (both as a bike messenger and a finder), the plot of Soul Hunt felt very fragmented. There were too many disasters vying for attention and Evie spends the story flitting from place to the next in order to deal with them all. I wasn’t sure what was the most important: the repercussions of having the Horn, fixing the problem with her talent, or this new mystery that has the Boston Undercurrent with its hair standing on end. When the story ends, one of these three becomes the main focus while the other two, dragged along for most of the book, are resolved very conveniently. There was something very dissatisfying about that after watching Evie trying to juggle it all throughout the book. I wanted something less pat for those two threads.
What I did like is that Evie is now part of a family in this story and she has support that she did not really have before. I think what did work with the tumbled mess of troubles Evie has, was the sense that Evie shouldn’t be trying to fix everything herself and there are people willing to help her. I loved the relationships, but didn’t love that the plot got too scattered while trying to prove this point.
This is the third book in the series and it ends in a satisfying place, but with enough leeway for more books. I don’t know if there will be any more though, as Soul Hunt was published in 2010 and no other books have been announced.
Overall: OK plot-wise, solid everything else. I recommend this one for urban fantasy fans who like a down-to-earth, working girl kind of protagonist who has relationships that are nuanced and true-to-life. This is the type of series where I care more about the characters and their developing relationships than the current disaster to be averted.
Calico reaction – 8 (Excellent) ” Frankly, this whole series is a must read for urban fantasy fans who want more female relationships in their stories and, if there MUST be romance, then said romance must be balanced with the story and not become the story”
I’ve been meaning to get to this series. Ever since Tithe, I’ve been a fan of Holly Black, plus this was supposed to be a YA with supernatural elements and a con artist protagonist. What’s not to like, right?
A big thank you to fellow book blogger, Laura of A Jane of All Reads for my copy!
The Premise: (taken from the blurb) “Cassel comes from a family of Curse Workers – people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all criminals. Many become mobsters and con artists. But not Cassel. He hasn’t got magic, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail – he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.
Cassel has carefully built up a facade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his facade starts to crumble when he finds himself sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He’s noticing other disturbing things too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he must unravel his past and his memories. To find out the truth, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.”
My Thoughts: In Cassel Sharpe’s family, everyone is a curse worker except for him. With one touch they can bestow a “curse”. His mother can manipulate people’s emotions, his grandfather can kill, his oldest brother, Philip, can break bones, and Barron, the middle brother, works luck. Although curse workers are rare and blowback exacts a cost for each working, curse workers are the reason why everyone in the U.S. wears gloves and keeps their skin covered. Being the only normal in a family of workers is hard for Cassel, but thankfully, he has his family’s other talent to fall back on: swindling people. While his brothers rely on their curse worker skills, Cassel grew up fine tuning his ability to manipulate others by conventional means.
Now Cassel is enrolled in a private boarding school, but when he wakes up on the roof of his dormitory without any idea how he got up there except a dream of a white cat, his stay at Wallingford is put on hold. This is purportedly for the insurance liability, but Cassel suspects it’s because people think he might be curse-worked. Cassel has been careful at the academy so that people would forget his past– that he comes from a family of crooks and conmen, but this one incident reminds everyone. Despite this, when Cassel goes back to his parents’ house all he wants to do is hustle his way back into the school. In between the house cleaning his grandfather has him do, Cassel is on damage control and smoothing his way back in. But while he is figuring that out he notices some telling behavior from his family — especially from his brothers. They’re keeping secrets from him, and Cassel suspects these secrets are more than just hiding things from the non-worker. He suspects they have to do with the night he killed his best friend Lila.
One of the stronger aspects of White Cat was its world building. The idea of workers, a very small percentage of the population with genetically passed abilities, fits seamlessly into the story. Cassel lives in a world where their existence is a given, and he offhandedly mentions what most people in his world already seem to know: that workers exist in the criminal fringes of society, a fragment of a percent of the population, but everyone wears gloves because of them. Gloves have become so de rigueur that Cassel feels uncomfortable if he sees bare hands. A fear of workers is part of day-to-day life: people wear charms to protect themselves from being worked, and there is also an ongoing controversy about legislation requiring everyone be tested for worker ability. What isn’t as well known is how the abilities work, and here Cassel knows more than the average person because of his family.
What was less strong was the character development, unless we’re talking about Cassel. Since White Cat is told from Cassel’s point of view, he is the most well developed character. The sense of isolation — both from his family for being a non-worker and for Lila’s death, and from the other students at his school, is in his every action. He doesn’t seem close to anyone, and only relies on others when he’s forced to (it goes against what he was taught). He’s a great broody teen guy character and I really enjoyed getting in his head and seeing how his upbringing has messed with him. Unfortunately, that isolation made the supporting characters difficult to know: they got little page space compared to Cassel, and what there was was filtered through Cassel’s walls. Cassel is least familiar with his classmates but they are probably the most likable characters. His brothers are distant and untrustworthy, his sister-in-law disconnected, and his mother a manipulative nightmare. His grandfather seems to be the only one in the family with a proper concern for Cassel, but he’s left out of the loop. Even Cassel’s romantic relationships are dysfunctional ones and it’s not clear if Cassel understands either girl he thinks he loves.
As for the plot – I liked the mystery aspect to this story. There’s a sense of urgency to figuring out what’s going on — that until he does, the cards are stacked in everyone else’s favor. I really loved the concept of what was going on when all was revealed, but I figured things out a lot quicker than Cassel does, and I wasn’t as wowed by the twists as a result. It was nicely done, but there were so many clues that I ended up questioning Cassel for not being quicker on the uptake. Also, because so much is made of Cassel being a normal in a family of workers and having to hone his skills as a confidence artist, I had a certain expectation of Cassel as a manipulator. I think I was expecting Cassel’s tricks to be more.. tricky, than they were. Instead they felt really obvious. I don’t know what this says about me, but I seem to be in a decided minority in feeling this way.
Overall: I loved loved loved the concept, world building, and voice. But. Other than Cassel, a lot of the side characters weren’t fleshed out and I wasn’t as surprised by the story as I wanted to be. I liked this one, and feel like it has that Holly Black writing that sucks me in, I just wasn’t in awe (and I really wanted to be). That said, I think a lot of people liked this one more than I did, and I liked it enough and am curious enough to continue this series with the next book, Red Glove.
Bunbury in the Stacks – “Cassel is one of those bad boys that you just can’t help but have a thing for…because he’s also kind of a good guy. ”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “While I didn’t find White Cat amazing, I still recommend it to fans of urban fantasy.”
Stella Matutina - “I was somewhat less interested in the plot than in the overall setup.”
Steph Su Reads – “Don’t miss it!”
Jawas Read, Too! – “White Cat is an impressive and entertaining read.” (8 out of 10)
Read. Breathe. Relax – “White Cat is a must-read.”
See Michelle Read – “In this exceptionally character-driven novel, Holly Black has crafted a world so unlike any other YA book I’ve come across. White Cat is dark. Gritty. Intense. Just my kind of story.”
The Curse Workers website
P.S. I was tickled by the image of a mystery girl on the spine of the hardcover. Easily looked over, it’s a hidden detail.
The Premise: Verity Price comes from a line of cryptozoologists — people who categorize those mythical beings and monsters that humans don’t think really exist. If such a creature (a cryptid) is a danger to people and won’t curtail its harmful nature on its own, her family steps in, but mostly they leave the cryptids alone. They believe in maintaining an ecological equilibrium — not a philosophy that the Covenant of St. George shares. Ever since the Healy/Price family broke off from the Covenant, they’ve been branded as traitors to the human race. After emigrating to America, they’ve kept their heads down to make it harder for the Covenant to find and hunt them down. The exception to the “no publicity” rule is Verity. No one really thinks of dance training as fight training, so she’s allowed to move to New York City where she can monitor the cryptid population there while trying to make it as a dancer. All goes well until a Covenant member is seen in town and members of the cryptid population begin to disappear.
My Thoughts: Although they are both classified as urban fantasy, the InCryptid series is very different from the October Daye books. Do not approach this series expecting something like October Daye. I had to do a mind-reset because I found myself comparing them, and it’s like comparing apples and oranges. The biggest difference is that this series is a lot less serious. Verity Price is a younger protagonist with no known baggage and a big dream. She just wants to dance. While she’s respectful of her family business and trained just as hard as her brother Alex and sister Antimony, her indulgence in her real passion, her blonde, blue-eyed look, high energy, and her Smart Aleck demeanor make her by far the least moody urban fantasy heroine I’ve ever met. Verity may not be what a lot of people expect in their urban fantasy, but I don’t think she’s a bad thing. She’s just a UF heroine coming from a different direction.
Since Verity is a more light-hearted character, if you guessed that other aspects of Discount Armageddon are light-hearted too, you wouldn’t be wrong. I wouldn’t call it light-hearted to the point of being a farce, because there is some gritty thrown in there (monsters and death and dark, damp, places), but it’s definitely a lot more fun than the UF I’m used to reading. Verity likes to let herself live in the moment with dancing her heart out at a club, free running across rooftops, or dropping into the dark from her kitchen window. She shares her apartment with a colony of talking, religious mice. Mice that worship her family, pepper her apartment with the word “Hail”, and enthusiastically celebrate mundane events as religious holidays.
The relationships in this book are blessedly uncomplicated by past drama. When she talks to her family she’s clearly happy and close with them, and they talk about killing monsters and have conversations where basilisks, crossbows, and “I’ll tell them you’re insane but being responsible about it.” are part of the conversation. Verity’s family isn’t in New York with her (with the exception of her cuckoo cousin Sarah), but we hear a lot about them from Verity, and they all seem great and kick butt in their own unique ways. Verity approaches her romantic relationships without some dark past relationship clouding in her present. What you see is what you get with this girl. There is a blossoming romance in this book and I liked that Verity approached her attraction a straightforward way (although, whether things will work out remains to be seen).
The main plot here is the arrival of Dominic De Luca, a young member of the Covenant, to Verity’s turf, and the disappearance of cryptids not long after. Verity has to make a decision about the impressively trained but ill-informed Dominic, and she has to figure out what exactly is behind the missing cryptids. With the help of Sarah, Verity’s nerdy mathematician adopted cousin, who happens to be a Cuckoo (which means she’s got some amazing skills at blending in, including telepathy), the mystery feels relatively straightforward. OK, there are a couple of twists and turns, but I was so much more entertained by Verity’s life that the investigation took a back seat to that for much of the book before coming to the forefront at the end.
P.S. The cover – it matches the fun tone of the book, and I like that it’s different from the usual all-black, serious look of other UF covers, but still not in love with the scantily clad in stilettos look. Yes, Verity works as a waitress in a strip joint, and her uniform sounds like what she’s wearing on the cover, but still.
Overall: A refreshing urban fantasy that does not take itself too seriously. Discount Armageddon is full of fun and humor, but is balanced with just the right amount of grit. I thoroughly enjoyed Verity’s dynamo presence and her enthusiasm for being in the Now. She’s a kick-ass UF heroine who isn’t angry or angsty, doesn’t have a painful past, and comes with a supportive family. I recommend this one for urban fantasy fans that are looking for something that approaches the genre from a different angle.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Starmetal Oak Book Blog – 6.5
Tynga’s Reviews – positive
Fantasy Cafe – 8.5/10
Fantasy and SciFi Lovin’ News & Reviews – 4.5 out of 5
Lurv a la Mode – 4.5 scoops (out of 5)
Calico Reaction – 9 (Couldn’t put it down) (LJ link, wordpress link)
The Cryptid Field Guide
Book 1: Mind Games
Book 2: Double Cross
Standalone Novella: Kitten-tiger and the Monk in Wild & Steamy anthology
**** Because of the way book 2 ended, I can’t review Head Rush without referring to it and spoiling the earlier books (I’ll be shifty in The Premise, but I can’t stay shifty in My Thoughts), so check out my reviews of Mind Games and Double Cross instead ****
The Premise: After witnessing a traumatic event a few months ago and learning a thing or two about someone she once trusted, Justine Jones has moved on. What she always wanted is within her grasp. She’s going to nursing school, she’s engaged to the man of her dreams, and her life has settled down – no disillusioning, no zinging, no running into danger. Instead, her life is regimented and protected under the wing of the most powerful man in Midcity. Trouble is, something doesn’t seem to be quite right. Justine chafes a bit under all her protections but her fiance is anxious to know where she is at all times. In the meantime, her friends Simon and Shelby are acting odd around her. It’s as if everyone around her knows something she doesn’t, and they’re tiptoeing around her because of it.
Read an excerpt of Head Rush here
My Thoughts: In Mind Games and Double Cross, we’re introduced to the world of Midcity, where highcaps and disillusionists roam. Justine becomes one of the disillusionists under the leadership of Packard, and as the story progresses, she learns about Packard’s greatest enemy and former friend, Otto Sanchez. Everything seemed to revolve around these two men and their differing approaches to protecting their city. Packard works in secret and out of public eye; his Disillusionists doing his work for him, while Otto is the dashing police chief turned mayor, and he is the darling of the city. Both these men are powerful highcaps, both are the city’s defenders, and both are in love with Justine. What I found really gripping about all this is for Justine, it’s difficult to tell which of these two is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Trying to figure it all out, Justine finds herself going back and forth in her allegiances as she learns more about each of them while chasing after murdering highcaps herself.
Head Rush has a different vibe from the previous books because not only is Justine no longer disillusioning people, but Packard and Otto have finally shown their cards. At the end of Double Cross the reader knows who has crossed the line and can never come back, and who has redeemed himself. The problem is, Justine doesn’t know what the reader knows, thanks to the present tense narrative and a well-timed memory wipe. Instead of the suspense being about Justine trying to disillusion a murdering highcap or looking for a band of highcap killers, it’s about whether Justine will figure out the truth. Because of that, this book lacks that episodic mystery element that the other books have, and is more about “how and when will Justine find out that someone manipulated her memory”.
I think that having Justine get her memories tampered with was an awesome plot twist in the second book, but in the third book, having her slowly figure out what happened restricted the story somewhat. There’s a lot of mundane wedding planning going on, with her best friends giving each other significant looks, but while Justine’s senses are tingling, she’s still utterly in the dark for a big chunk of the story. It was a little frustrating to watch Justine stumble around until she learned what we already knew, but I don’t think there was any other way for her to learn the truth and be convinced of it. So in my mind, it had to happen this way, frustrating as it was to see Justine and Otto together knowing that they are so wrong for each other. I found myself looking forward to Justine finally figuring things out so that the story could move to the next phase, which involves confronting Otto for what he’s done. When we get there, it is as nail biting as I hoped, and the story ramps up in complexity from that point.
There were a couple of characters were mentioned in the earlier books who finally make an appearance in this one. They are Justine’s father, and Fawna, the highcap seer that Packard and Otto knew as children. I was expecting someone on the crazy side for Justine’s dad, but I ended up adoring his relationship with his daughter and the way he stepped up to support her. Fawna is a more enigmatic character, and extremely hard to read, but I had the feeling she had an unyielding personality because of her precognitive abilities. I wouldn’t mind learning more about her, but there wasn’t room for it in this story.
As for Justine’s friends, they are as well-written as ever. Towards the end of the book, Justine’s emotions about them were palpable. There were a lot of moments where Justine’s awareness of the people around her were sharply defined. It was a great finish to the series, and a emotional one. I don’t think I expected how profound that ending would be. And the romance, what a heart-wrencher, in a “their love moves you” kind of way. It was so good, but I still wanted for more scenes between Packard and Justine. What there was, was amazing, but confined to a couple of brief exchanges and a couple of intense scenes. I seriously resented Otto for keeping these two apart, but the character development is so well done that even Otto gets my sympathy.
Overall: A great ending to one of my favorite urban fantasy series. The Disillusionment Trilogy feels incredibly well thought out. From the characters to the world, time and again, I was impressed by those little details that offered more insight to the story.
Buy: Amazon (kindle) | B&N (eBook) | Samhain (different formats)
My World…in words and pages – “wonderfully done”
My Thoughts: I’ve been interested in Embers for a very long time, but it’s been one of those books that I’d planned to read if I ever ran into a copy and it took a while for that to happen. When I finally had a copy in my hands, I fell easily into its pages. Anya’s life is a fascinating one. An ex-firefighter, Anya now spends her days in the charred hulks of buildings investigating whether or not a fire was actually arson. Every so often she gets a call from DAGR, a ragtag group of mediums and ghost hunters when there is a particularly stubborn spirit that needs removing. By her side is Sparky, a fire salamander that only she can see (who stole the show every page he was on).
Unfortunately for Anya, her life is a weary one, especially lately. The calls for DAGR are becoming more frequent as their usual methods aren’t working like they used to. Every spirit she consumes takes it’s toll on her, but this isn’t something DAGR’s leader Jules seems to grasp. And while Sparky is a lovable and rambunctious supernatural pet, Anya is isolated from human connection. Her abilities and Sparky aren’t things Anya can exactly explain to a your Everyday Joe, and letting people near her always seems to end in someone getting hurt. The closest thing she has to a friend is Katie, the DAGR witch (and baker by day) that Anya sees only occasionally, and then there is Brian, a sweet and geeky guy who Anya always pushes away.
Sparky is the only constant companion Anya has ever had, but her loneliness is just one facet that makes Anya human. She’s not your kick-ass urban fantasy heroine, she’s just a tired woman trying to make things right. Right now, making things right looks like finding and stopping the supernatural arsonist terrorizing Detroit. But with Anya lonely and tired, she is also vulnerable, and the lines get a little blurry. I felt like Anya wandered into a gray area in a way that I found surprising and yet so-human, and this was a strong point of the book – the meeting of opposing sides that were fascinated with each other. I don’t think I can recall the last time I read a book with such a sympathetic bad guy. I liked it! The only wish I had was that Brian, Anya’s possible romantic interest, could have had as much character development as the arsonist.
Overall: In the end, I was pretty satisfied with this urban fantasy. The investigation parts were straightforward but Anya and her opponent had a deliciously conflicting relationship that upped my enjoyment. It’s obvious too that Anya has a lot to learn about who she is as a Lantern and that she needs to drop her walls when it comes DAGR, so I expect more character development and world building to come. This is a promising start to a series and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
I have also been informed that the author has an alter-ego: Alayna Williams. More books for me to check out.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Tez Says (a bit spoilery) – positive
Scooper Speaks – positive
Angieville – “exactly what I was hoping it would be”
Book 1: Rosemary and Rue –
Book 2: A Local Habitation –
Book 3: An Artificial Night –
Book 4: Late Eclipses –
**** There may be mild spoilers for earlier books in this review ****
The Premise: Some time has passed since Toby has survived her latest near-death experience and annoyed the Queen of Mists. Now trouble is brewing with the fae neighbors bordering her Queen’s lands. This time the children of the Duchess of Saltmist, have been snatched up from the waters along the California coast, and a familiar enemy may be behind it. Toby has to rescue these boys soon, before war erupts between the land and the sea.
My Thoughts: Well, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me speak yet again of the delicious breadcrumbs left throughout these books. Those readers paying attention get to play a little game of “guess what THAT means”. Keen-eyed readers probably noticed the foreshadowing of this latest brouhaha in the last volume, and had some questions cleared up in this one (although new clues bring new questions). I admit, I’m like a dog with a bone when I have a puzzle to chew over, so that side of me is really happy when reading a October Daye book. I am not saying the puzzles are diabolical, but they are there if you like that sort of thing.
But if you aren’t the kind of reader to obsess over the details, the progression of Toby’s story and her character growth is reason enough to read these books. In One Salt Sea Toby is stronger in a lot of ways. Her detecting skills and her understanding of the fae has improved so Toby misses less and regroups faster. She is surrounded by allies, so rather than being alone, now she has a posse she can rely on – from her roommate May, teen proteges Quentin and Raj, to Tybalt and other fae friends with useful skills. (And this is a series with well developed side characters. Even Toby’s cats have distinct and lovable personalities). Toby is also beginning to understand her own power, and she’s starting to use it.
All these things make the actual investigation feel much smoother than it has been before. Toby is still herself, but she takes charge in a way that has the force of her recent experience behind it. All of the past books inform on the present book, from the knowledge Toby has gathered to cameos from characters Toby has helped.
Most of the story deals with piecing together what happened to the two missing boys, but Toby’s life is also a big part of the story. There may be a lot of improvements to her life, but she still has a lot to work through. Toby’s mother has hidden things from her, she still hasn’t found the enemy who took twelve years of her life, her love life is a bit messy, and she has a family in the human world who have moved on. Not all of these issues are addressed in One Salt Sea, but there are significant events that impact some of them. The October Daye series is one where the hero doesn’t have the power save everyone. Knowing that there is the potential for real heartache despite Toby’s best efforts is what makes this series so compelling. One Salt Sea is not alone in having it’s share of shockers and emotional moments, but I felt like I was able to accept them and wonder what effect they will have on the rest of the series.
The next book, Ashes of Honor won’t be out for another year. I got spoiled by the 2 book a year schedule that the October Daye series has been on, but these books are worth waiting for. There are a couple of other series that could tide a fan over.
Team Tybalt: And now a message for those on Team Tybalt. If you are on another team, you may skip this section (is there another team? really?). The thing that worried me the most about this book, especially when I saw the cover (Toby as a mermaid!) was that Tybalt wasn’t going to be in it very much. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. Anyone else with the same fears: you can stop worrying.
Overall: Another good one, of course. I feel like I should just cut and paste what I always say because it applies to every book: the way these books build upon each other is extremely gratifying and long running story arcs are cleverly integrated with each self contained mystery. I should probably also mention that there’s plenty of wry humor, a cast of three dimensional side characters that grows as the series progresses, and wonderful world-building. I am so addicted.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Fantasy Cafe – 8.5 (out of 10)
Urban Fantasy – positive
Fantasy Literature – 5 stars (out of 5)
calico_reaction – 9 (out of 10) – this review has spoilers
I met the author and got a signed ARC copy of Blood Rights at BEA. Thanks to Orbit, I have a couple extra ARCs that I will also be giving away at the end of this post.
The Premise: Chrysabelle is a comarré, which is “the vampire equivalent of a geisha”, bred for their blood and social skills. When the vampire she serves is found murdered, she flees, hoping to make a break from her life in a gilded cage. Ambitious vampiress Tatiana searches for her, both because Chrysabelle is the prime suspect for the murder of her master, and because of a special ring Tatiana wants and suspects Chrysabelle has. Chrysabelle seeks her aunt ‘s help in the Americas, specifically, Paradise City, New Florida, and runs into Mal – an outcast vampire (anathema) suffering from two devastating curses.
My Thoughts: Blood Rights is an urban fantasy where its vampires have a decidedly Gothic Horror air about them. They are a combination of dark and angsty, aristocratic and arrogant, monstrous, and insane. Sometimes they are all of these. They can’t go out in the sun or touch crosses. Their vampire nobility prefer to stay in eastern Europe (Romania is home), and they are enemy to the shapeshifters (called the varcolai). These are common vampire traits but this story adds its own details to the standard vampire culture. There are rules (some enforced magically), and a caste system based on ‘parentage’.
While vampires and other supernatural creatures are hidden from most humans, there is a race of humans bred just for them: the commarré. For centuries they have served their masters and have been prized for their blood. The comar/comarré relationship with their vampire masters has evolved into a symbiotic one, where while the vampires feed, the bloodletting relieves the commaré of extra blood their bodies produce, and vampire saliva lengthens their lives.
The vampires consider the commaré nothing more than their subordinates (albeit expensive ones), but the comarré are so much more than pretty faces with big veins, and Chrysabelle is one of their best. The story begins with her escape after her master’s death, a move she makes to stay alive and to figure out what is going on. She has the ring, but isn’t the murderer. So she goes to her aunt the only other commaré she knows that is not living with the vampires. In the process of all this, she runs into Mal, who recognizes what she is, even with her pains to hide the golden tattoos that mark her for what she is. She stabs him and leaves him for dead.
So it’s not a great beginning, but Mal and Chrysabelle are thrown together again, and despite the animosity, both feel an uncomfortable attraction – she’s made to give blood, and her blood is more compelling than the average human’s to a vampire. It only gets more complicated from there. One of Mal’s curses is that once he starts drinking someone’s blood, he will not stop until he kills them. The other curse is that once he kills someone, they haunt him. He’s followed by the ghosts of the hundreds of people he has killed, both as a vampire, and as a human. The clearest ghost is Fi – a graduate student who was unlucky enough to discover Mal locked up in a dungeon, left to rot. She’s in love with a varcolai, suffering under his own curse. Fi and Mal and Doc (the varcolai) live together on a container ship, and while Fi and Doc consider Mal one of the good guys, they never forget that he killed Fi.
I found the world building well thought out, and I also liked the attention to detail that went into the characters’ histories. Every character has a past that informs on their present and on their relationship with other characters. Even the past of bad guy Tatiana sort of explains how she became as crazy as she is, so she isn’t entirely one-dimensional (although she does seem to have just one note: evil).
Amongst the backstories, history and world building that this book introduces, there are a lot of arcs that kept me curious about the direction of the series: what the ring means, what Mal and his past mean, the hidden agenda of the commaré, and what Tatiana’s allies are really working towards. These are enough to make me to want the second book, but what really whets my appetite is the attraction between Chysabelle and Mal. Their lust for one another is mixed up with their instincts to feed and be fed upon, and I’m not sure what is going to happen. With Urban Fantasy there’s never a guarantee for a HEA, but I’m hoping that what I’m seeing here is a slow burn romance (a bit more physical than your usual slow burn, but it works within the context). There are three books of this series out this year , but there is a contract for more. A lot could happen with that much room to work with, but I’m cautiously optimistic.
Overall: Compelling. This is an urban fantasy with a Gothic Horror vibe and a dash of Paranormal romance, and I felt like there’s this sense of dark drama that sets it apart from the genre. I like that the story is set on the cusp of potential chaos (the world discovering that vampires and others do exist), and that the protagonists are a human and a vampire. Their relationship (attracted yet avoidant) intrigues me. I want to see where it goes.
Blood Rights is out October 1st. Flesh and Blood, it’s sequel, is out November, and book 3, Bad Blood is expected in December.
Karissa’s Reading Review – positive
I have TWO extra ARC copies of this book that I can give away. To win one, just fill this form with your name and email.
—-> Enter here <—–
* One entry per person
* This giveaway is international
* Giveaway ends September 19th, 2011, midnight EST
There has been much love in the book blogosphere for Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch,Three Times and I’ve been chomping at the bit to read her writing. Because of this, I made sure I grabbed a copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bonewhen I saw it at BEA this summer. It was one of my Must Haves based on reputation alone. This is a review of an ARC copy.
The Premise: Karou seems like your typical art student. She’s a pretty girl with bright blue hair and a vivid imagination. Every day she shows the other students at the Art Lyceum of Bohemia her sketches of extraordinary characters – Brimstone with his ram’s horns and strange shop where he sells wishes for teeth, Issa, a snake goddess who mans the door, and others with similar part-human, part-animal shapes. To the other students it looks like Karou has a colorful inner world, full of fantastical stories, but the truth is that Karou draws from real life. She was raised by the creatures in her sketches, and when she’s not going to class or working on her art in a small studio apartment in Prague, Karou has a secondary life steeped in magic and a job fetching teeth for Brimstone’s shop. Karou doesn’t really know who she is and why she was raised by Brimstone, but she is content, if not a little lonely. Then one day, handprints are found, burned onto doors around the world. At the same time, sightings of angels begin. Karou’s life is changed forever when she meets one of these winged beings and discovers the truth.
Read an excerpt of Daughter of Smoke and Bone here
My Thoughts: The first thing to hit me about Daughter of Smoke and Bone was its setting. It is so refreshing to have a story that’s NOT set in the usual places, and Prague is described wonderfully. I’ve never been there, but I want to see its old streets that are “a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century […] it’s medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies”. Adding to its character are Karou’s beautiful school, housed in a castle with a macabre history, her acquaintances with street performers that dress up as vampires, and her local hang out, a cafe on church grounds known for its goulash and roman statues. I hugely enjoyed reading about Karou’s charming day to day life as an art student and Prague local. There’s the drama of dealing with her weasel ex-boyfriend, Kaz, the busyness of art classes, and a friendship with the understanding Zuzana, who does not ask questions. Even if Karou wishes she could trust someone with her secrets, her life is pretty full, but her association with a place she calls Elsewhere takes it one step further.
One of the first indications that Karou is privy to a magical world beyond our own is her necklace of skuppies – tiny little wishes in physical form; they provide revenge when Karou needs it most. I loved this idea of tokens that may be used once to make a wish come true, and that there are denominations of them, from little scuppies, to shings, to lucknows, gavriels, and bruxes. The enigmatic Brimstone, a chimaera with the head of a ram makes them in his shop, but how he does so or why, or even why he needs teeth of all kinds is a mystery, as are a lot of things about Elsewhere. Karou may have been raised by Brimstone and the other chimaera of his strange shop, but she was kept in the dark about a lot of things. All Karou knows is that she grew up within the shops walls, that she is never allowed in the back room, and that its front door opens to doors all over the world (a possible homage to Howl’s Moving Castle).
And then the angels show up. I shouldn’t have been surprised, (the back blurb of my ARC talks about “winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky”), but I was. The details to go by from the cover and the summary were sparse enough that I didn’t really have expectations, so it was a surprise when the seraphim Akiva, a inhumanly gorgeous creature who is tormented by his past, discovers Karou. I’m not usually a fan of angels in fiction, particularly in YA. I don’t know why I have this prejudice against them, except maybe I start thinking I’m going to see a romance with the angel falling for a teen, and that is usually hard for me to swallow. I expect angels to have more important things to do. Thankfully, Akiva and the other angels of Daughter of Smoke and Bone are not angels we know. They are something very different, but the story cleverly makes what they are, and the demons that they fight against, just familiar enough to look like they are the genesis for what humans believe. I can’t tell you much more, but they are certainly not divine.
The strengths of this story are in its worldbuilding and the writing style. The writing is a unique mix of beautiful imagery and youthfulness. Maybe it’s the fresh dialogue between Karou and others that makes me think of this sense of the modern and young in the writing. There’s also something really romantic about it too. Unfortunately, the high level of romanticism in the story was a stumbling block for me in connecting to the actual romance. Karou’s love story felt rushed and melodramatic, and her youth and yearning for love did not help me feel better about it. On the other hand, there is a second romance that isn’t as rushed that I was able to connect to a lot better. This restored my faith, but I’m not sure it completely fixed the problems I had with the first romance.
Overall: This is a very well written, fantastical story about war and hope, and love and redemption, set in a beautiful European city and in a place that is Elsewhere. It centers around a teenage girl and her unique place in the world, and a seraphim who may or may not be her enemy. It is very romantic, but at times, the sheer romanticism of this story kept me from fully loving it. In the end I liked it, but not being able to initially connect to the romance kept me from really loving this one as much as I wanted to.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone comes out September 27th in the U.S.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Tempting Persephone – positive
Book Harbinger – positive
Fantasy Book Cafe – positive
Book trailer (two parter!):