Armed and Magical by Lisa Shearin

Armed and Magical is book 2 of the Raine Benares series. I'm glad I picked up the series now because book 3 The Trouble with Demons is coming soon in April.

Armed and Magical picks up soon after Magic Lost, Trouble Found left off so skip this review if you don't want to be mildly spoiled about book 1. I reviewed book 1 over here (I enjoyed it).

Raine is in the Isle of Mid with her landlady's grandson Piaras (who she thinks of as a little brother). Mid is the location where magic users flock to because of the prestigious sorcery school there, and it's also where the Conclave, the magic governing body is. Piaras is there to audition with the best spellsinging teacher available, and Raine is there for help regarding the magical stone, The Saghred. The evil thing seems to be bonded to her now but Raine just wants to sever the connection. Meanwhile baddies from all sides (goblins, elves, mages, what have you), are eager to get to Raine and Piaras, both for the same reason – the power they would wield as magical weapon. On top of that, young college students are disappearing one by one and Raine feels compelled to use her abilities to help find them.

Overall:  Almost as enjoyable as the first book – plenty of action and Raine's usual humor to keep the book going nicely. As in book 1, the voice is light and more urban fantasy than straight fantasy, and a lot of surprisingly modern words are used in this world. That's refreshing for some, maybe not so for others.

I did have a couple of nits however. One was on page 108 (yes, I did write it down!). There was a paragraph describing Raine's relationship with Tam that I swear was word for word exactly the same as the first book. I wouldn't have noticed if I didn't read these books almost back to back, but it really threw me out of the story. After that I started noticing vaguely familiar sentences, though nothing like the same word for word paragraph. It was weird. Another thing is that I still didn't quite understand in the end why the songspell students where kidnapped by who originally kidnapped them. I either missed something, or Raine did and it will be revealed in book 3. Who set that up and why? Just money? I am not sure. Raine seemed to not think much about it, but it felt like a glaring omission to me. In the end I had the feeling like the book wasn't complete. I hope the third book resolves some of the mystery. 

Piaras continues to be a likable character, as is Raine's cousin Phaelan. Plus there are a few interesting new ones  (archmagus Justinius, pirate Tanik Ozal, spellsinger Talon Tandu). There was a funny bit with one of Raine's new abilities that I can't go into but I enjoyed reading the whole scenario and other character's reactions. The love triangle – still there.  Though Mychael seems to be spending more time with Raine than Tam, there are scenes with each that hint it could go either way. I have my suspicion on who she will end up with (if she does at all? Maybe she won't!). Tam's dark past brings a twist into this book, and Mychael's job may potentially become a bigger conflict. We shall see.

Looking forward to book 3. Raine is amassing an awful lot of enemies in this one – book 3 will likely be teeming with people wanting her blood! There's also the promise of meeting more of her famous Benares family to look forward to. Mychael will have his hands full.

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Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin

I've been reading mostly good reviews for this book by people who I think have similar tastes to me. There was one person who didn't like the too modern voice, but that seems like one of those things that bothers some people and not others, so it didn't dissuade me (I'd pretty much decided to read it by then).

The cover:  This cover has a cheesy, goofy vibe to it which put me off the book when I saw it in the bookstore, but I still read the back blurb which I felt was intruiging, but it didn't really sell me on the book.

So why did I read it? I was sold after reading recommendations because they pointed out a couple of things – 2 possible love interests, and a heroine with an urban fantasy voice.

Raine Benares is a seeker – she has the gift of finding things, plus a couple of minor magics (moving small things with her mind, great mental shields, and leaving an image of herself in a place she just left). She didn't know her parents well (her mother died when she was young and her father was unknown), but was raised by her family – notorious thieves. Thus, she seems to have the familial trait for trouble, and in this book she finds it again when she follows a friend, "ex-thief" Quentin, who she found out was tasked to steal an item from a necromancer's house. This turns out to be an amulet which Raine puts on (and then can't take off), and which everyone wants – from elven Conclave Guardian Mychael Eiliesor, to Goblin royalty.

Overall: I think that if you've read a lot of fantasy and expect a third person narrator and more formal speech, then this may not be the book for you, but I personally found it a refreshing change. Angiegirl described the voice well in her review when she said:

"This series seems to be most often described as regular fantasy with a decidedly urban fantasy heroine, complete with charming (at times self deprecating) sense of humor. I would agree with this assessment. Raine's internal dialogue is very much in keeping with urban fantasy trends"

The book is told from the first person point of view, but unlike a lot of urban fantasies where the heroine is often alone, Raine is usually surrounded by her friends and family as she tries to work out her problems. I liked the cast of characters and there was interesting development in the character of Piaras, a promising young spellsinger she knows. 

The other thing I liked was a different spin on goblins. While we always hear about tall, pale elves like Legolas (and we have those here), the goblins here are tall, grey-blue, with angular faces, sensitivity to light, and  fangs. Raine's two love interests are an elf and a goblin. Usually I can guess in the beginning of the book who the heroine ends up with, but I found myself liking both of them. Mychael Eiliesor seems like the good guy with lots of power, and Tamnais Nathrach seemed like the scoundrel (also with lots of power) who could be good. And they were friends with each other for once. The romance was very light and flirty in this book, so I don't know if anything serious is going to happen.  Anyway, we'll see. I just hope the love triangle doesn't go on too long, that can be annoying in a series.

This book most reminds me of Ann Logston's Shadow series (well the heroine in there is a cheeky elven thief), but that series seems more straight fantasy than this one. This one had a fast pace, action, adventure, an interesting world, likeable characters, and I enjoyed reading it. I plan to read the second book, Armed and Magical very soon.

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