Seraphs by Faith Hunter

Seraphs is book 2 in the trilogy of Thorn St. Croix, stone neomage in a post-apocalyptic era, where mankind has dwindled, seraphs from heaven come down to smite sinners, and demons do exist.

I read book 1 (Bloodring) and reviewed it here.

From this point on there may be possible spoilers for Bloodring.

 

 

In the first book we get introduced to the complex world – Thorn was hiding her neomage status because her kind is generally feared and hated by humans, and being raped and killed is a real possibility for her. I don't think I was alone when I thought that the reason for this wasn't clear, but in the second book, some history is revealed that explains this extreme hatred. By the time Seraphs starts, Thorn's identity is revealed and so Thorn must deal with the reaction of the townspeople, but she has some friends on her side too, and so there is an uneasy tension at the start of the second book.  Meanwhile, the demons that live under the nearby mountain (the Trine) are constantly attacking and getting bolder, and Thorn is haunted by dreams of seraphs and a cherub still trapped with them. Thorn has already successfully fought the the demons, but that seems to be a mere battle in an ongoing war – they seem to have some plans that require capturing or killing Thorn.

Bad things: OK, I have to admit – I kept reading this series because I felt somewhat confused by the first book and I wanted to understand what was going on. Unfortunately, while a couple of things make more sense now (the strange hatred for neomages), others still do not (really what's with the mage lust?). I feel like I really had to make myself finish this book, because it felt like we were seeing the same thing happening in book 1 as in book 2 and I felt like I wasn't really getting anywhere in terms of seeing the big picture.  What I saw was Thorn's limited viewpoint of this world – and since she never got a full education from her enclave, she doesn't know many things about her magic, so as in book 1, there is a lot of detailed descriptions of Thorn experimenting with different stones and discovering things, but this doesn't seem to really make the story progress. It got very tedious to read about every stone Thorn touched in great detail. Following this is one fight after another, again, not much progress – just because there's action doesn't mean that the plot is coming along. Finally towards the end do we get an idea of larger mechanations going on, both by Thorn's associates and by the supernatural creatures around her, but by that time I was dissatisfied by the slow progress, and it was too little too late. I felt like the mystery of apocalypse and the seraphs would be more delved into, but it seems like the author is content to leave that a mystery, at least in this book. On top of this, I found it a bit off-putting that it seems like Thorn was becoming this over-idealized woman – fighing the dark, saving the town, going through hell, but still men want her. The only ones not interested are the gay ones.  But what's annoying - I sense that this isn't going to go anywhere anyway, so what's the point of it?

Good things: As I mentioned when I read book 1 – it seems like the visual details of the world are well thought out, as is the use of stone by Thorn in her magic. The strong points in the book would be the descriptions, I had a very clear idea of what was happening and a visual in my minds eye of many details (maybe too much sometimes – I'm not sure it was necessary to describe what every person was wearing to Thorn's trial). Also the creatures that populate this world are fascinating – the host of angels, terrible and beautiful, the half-human races and their limitations, the demon lord and his minions, the succubi and incubi.

Overall: It's a fascinating world, but the plot meanders slowly, and in the end, the second book felt much too much like "second verse, same as the first". It looks like I'm in the minority with feeling disappointed, because I see a lot of positive reviews, but it isn't working for me. I would probably bail from this series now, but I already have book 3, Host.

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Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

[SIDE RANT unrelated to the book]

This book was pre-ordered by me months ahead of it's release, and damn you Barnes and Noble – you put the book in the store at least a week ahead (I saw it there, but I had pre-ordered and it's the principle of the thing), and then you mailed it out the day of the release so of course I'm irritated I get it 4 days after it came out. [A bunch of bad words] on a stick. But I'll still use B&N because I have gift cards left over from Christmas. Yes, I know, this is useless anger that will go no where. But I know Amazon sends things out earlier. I might start just pre-ordering from them and buying from B&N at the store, not online and now I'm posting about it in a blog for others to read and perhaps follow my example. So there.

Even though I know of one instance were Amazon was very late in sending out a CD someone preordered. So late that it was already out in stores and 2 weeks later Amazon sent it.

.. Ug.

I'm almost tempted to not even preorder, but then I might forget to get the book on the release week and I'd like to support authors I like by pre-ordering and helping any bestseller status (Magic Burns – #32 on the NY Times list by the way). I hate when authors I like just sort of disappear into the ether from lack of notice.

[REVIEW PART]

Magic Burns is book two in the series which started with Magic Bites. Kate Daniels lives in the outskirts of a futuristic Atlanta where where both magic and technology exist in "waves" (one crests, another falls, everyone goes on with their lives, but magic seems to be winning). She is a mercenary with some magic skills, rather a rule breaker and impulsive. She is loathe to join the Order (sort of a magic police) – their rules and code are too stiffling for her, but In Magic Bites, her guardian Greg is murdered. Kate decides to find the killer so she joins the Order, and shakes up everyone she can in order make the killer so mad that they reveal themselves. She runs into some powerful people like the necromancer puppetiers that control vampires, and the Pack of shapeshifters (and annoys them all). She is smart and she's strong and she's very interesting, but subtle she is not. In both books Kate runs her mouth in situations and had me bemusedly shaking my head as she got into trouble with Curran, Lord of Beasts. There is clearly going to be something going on here but it will be over several books, like the treatment of the romance we see in Patricia Briggs' Mercy series (it's a draw but definitely not the major focus). We also get a glimpse that Kate has to hide what she is from people and that she has a long term agenda that has roots in her past. Both books also have an array of very interesting secondary characters with their own agendas and motivations. There's the necromancer with his tight control over his vampires, the man who can shapeshift into any person he wants, the young lyanthrope, and then there is of course the whole weirdness that is the setting. Atlanta is barely recognizable but it is there under the rubble and magic.

Magic Bites starts off with Kate doing a mercenary job with her partner Jim when someone kills their bounty. In trying to find out who that was Kate stumbles into some odd goings on in the Honeycomb section of Atlanta, something that involves Celtic deities and a coven of missing witches. She ends up protecting a young teen whose mother belonged to that coven and as usual with Kate, nothing is easy. There is also a little bit of development in the relationship between Kate and Curran, though it is more like a cat stalking its prey than the usual romance.

Honestly, I love this series. The best books are the ones where there are parts you find yourself flipping back to so you can reread them. I reread certain sections several times. I also like that it's complicated. You don't really guess what's going to happen and who is going to do what. Well you might guess one or two minor things but not everything. The only disappointment I had was just that one of the characters in Magic Burns revealed themselves to be less than I expected. I was hoping they would turn out better than who they ended up being 

Spoilerish: (I'm taking about Red)

. But that's not negative. That's me getting involved.

Magic Bites was one of my favorite reads last year and I loved Magic Burns just as much.

I asked on the RT Ask the Author board for Ilona Andrews about how many books were planned. The answer was "Honestly, it depends on the sales. If people keep liking it, we will keep writing them. But if the sales can't support the series and publisher decides to wrap it up, there isn't much we can do about it. At this point the plan is five." – FIVE!!  I like that number. At least three more to look forward to. Book three is I think called Midnight Games and is supposed to come out sometime in 2009. There was also talk of spinoff books based on characters in this series. I would love this, and prefer it over trying to keep Kate as the main focus after several books.

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Hidden by Eve Kenin

I'm on the Eve Kenin mailing list after I read Driven last year and I really enjoyed myself.  I think I'm just addicted to high action, high-tech stories that have romance thrown in. When I read Driven, I had a smile on my face because I was just so happy to find something like this. Siberian Ice Truckers!! In the future! Come on now. I reviewed that book over here (Sigh, back in Sept 2007 when my TBR was only 97).

Anyway, I was on the mailing list so when the author of Driven sent out a note about sending ARCs of the second book of that series – Hidden to people willing to review the book, I couldn't reply fast enough. I got the book last week friday, and by sunday- I'd read it all. My fiance got to hear me crow over it too:

Me: *pet pet pets book* "OMG July release date! I got my hands on it in APRIL. That's like 4 months!!!

Him: Yes dear.

OK, so this book continues in the same world as Driven (post apocalyptic, perpetual winter, governed by corrupt people and populated by the dregs of society) but focussing on new characters. You can probably read Hidden without reading Driven, it is pretty easy to grasp what's going on. One of them is Tatiana – sister of Wizard, the hero in Driven (book 1). In Driven Tatiana's whereabouts are unknown, but she is mentioned as someone Raina met, and as Wizard and Yuriko's younger sister. Unlike her older siblings, Tatiana is described as having different powers (empathy seems to be her particular skill). Duncan Bane, the bad guy in book 1 believed she could tell the future, which is something Wizard and Yuriko can't do, but she also was a lot weaker physically and unable to heal as quickly as them.

In Hidden, it is never explained how, but somehow after the events that happened in Driven, Tatiana has escaped her prison and is outside in the frozen Northern Waste. She is a lot stronger than she used to be – apparently she was late to bloom into her powers, but she does have more than before. Her goal is to use them to stop a new bad guy – Dr. Gavin Ward, who for years has been using her as a test subject, and has developed a deadly plague using her genetic material crossed with some nasty diseases. All she knows is that there is a secret underground lab and that someone named Tolliver is in charge. Her plan is to completely destroy this lab, Dr Ward, and Tolliver.

Following a lead Tatiana runs into a mysterious stranger – Tristan, who shows up again later, and after something happens, they both end up trapped underground. Both of them are attracted to the other, but both have their secrets about who they are and what they can do. In terms of plot, there was a part where I thought Tatiana should be figuring out what's going on a wee bit sooner, but I guess this could be a nit. More nits – there were a couple of parts where I thought things felt a little glossed over and unexplained - like contacting Ward, or how Tatiana escaped, or even what happened to certain characters. The best part is probably the action. There were some scenes that had me on the edge of my seat (Residence Evil scenarios and a tense scene with a laser grid). Other action outdoors in the Waste against giant trucker rigs and gunfights - this seemed similar to Driven, so didn't excite me as much.

Because Hidden was set in the same place as Driven, the Northern waste, I was already used to this area and it didn't wow me in the same way the second time around. I still felt that it was well-written and interesting, and I could really see the snow and ice in my mind's eye, but I would love to see other parts of this world other than the Northern Waste. I'm beginning to wonder what the cities and other places mentioned like Neo-Toyko look like. There are hints about acrobats in Neo-Toyko, and at one point Tatiana talks about a conservatory with trees somewhere else and I was really drawn to that, but the plot in this case didn't lend to much travelling out of the Waste.

I also had an interesting time comparing Tatiana with Wizard. In Driven, Wizard is almost robotic in his analytical responses and lack of emotion. Meanwhile, in Hidden, Tatiana often responds to people in a really formal, analytical way like Wizard, but her abilities seem to make her more in tune with her emotions than Wizard was. And because she as had very little social interaction, she doesn't really know how to read people's facial expressions or hide her own feelings under a mask. I like that there was a difference between the siblings as to how their upbringing affected them. I was also interested to see how Tristan has an unusual for the Waste upbringing – often trying to be chivalrous – shielding Tatiana, eating with a napkin on his lap. While Tatiana found this odd and fascinating, she decides not to be insulted by it. Definitely a different interaction between these two from what we saw between Raina and Wizard.

Overall - Addictive writing, full of action and an interesting world, but perhaps one grade below what I felt for Driven. I wasn't as *spellbound* this time around, but it did make for a quick and enjoyable read. That's a positive review, but I think maybe Driven made my expectations very high. Not sure if my judgement is colored by my memory of book 1..? Would I think this if I hadn't read Driven first? Not sure, but it could be that someone reading Hidden without having read Driven would have a higher opinion.

The cover – I think I like the artwork on this cover a smidge more than the first book, probably because the facial features of the two characters are clearer. I'm undecided on the typeface though. I think I like Driven's better.

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Driven by Eve Kenin

Driven (Shomi)
Eve Kenin

So Dorchester publishing has this new line of futuristic romances called Shomi fiction. All the covers of the books so far published are manga inspired, and the stories are a fusion of romance with sci fi, fantasy, thriller, action, and manga type genres. It's very unique sounding and I like cross-genre books so I've been keeping an eye on Shomi. So far Wired by Liz Maverick, Moongazer by Marianne Mancusi, and Driven by Eve Kenin are out. I'm probably going to pick them all up eventually. 

Excerpts for: Wired ,  Moongazer , and Driven

My first buy was Driven because … seriously – it has siberian ice-truckers in it. I was gravitating to it because that sounded really interesting, plus I kept seeing good reviews for it, liked the excerpt, had $5 in Borders bucks burning in my pocket and a hankering for a HEA. Also a disregard for the length of the TBR (97).

The world in Driven is a post nuclear landscape with an extreme climate. Much of it is governed by a corrupt New Government Organization and by big business (headed by bad guy Duncan Bane). The two main characters are a couple of toughies who value supressing emotion and making quick decisions to stay alive in their harsh environment (a sub-zero Northern wasteland). Raina Bowen is in hiding from Duncan Bane, and determined to win the 50 million interdollars awarded in to the first trucker to deliver their cargo to Gladow Station. Wizard is the contact she was supposed to meet at Bob's Truck stop so that she can get a special license to ride the ICW, the Intercontinental Worldwide. Unfortunately, things go wrong at their first meeting, and the two are thrown together for longer than expected. There is a lot of action as they run from and fight the bad guys – who do remind me of the bad guys in the Mad Max movies.

The story is told from a third person POV, and mostly centers on Raina, although a couple of times the focus shifts to Wizard and his take on the situation. I thought the quick shifts to Wizard was a little odd in the story, and it felt very romance-like to get a tell-not-show, short internal monologue but it wasn't done often. Wizard has a robotic personality which I enjoyed. He reminds me of Data on Star Trek; he has a hard time with human interaction, misses subtle humor and sarcasm and confused about sayings because he tries to interprete them literally. Raina is similar in having a tight rein on her emotions, but not such an extreme case as Wizard (she has them) – she keeps people at a distance and has long hardened herself to expect betrayal. I enjoyed how she pointedly shoved Wizard away when he encrouched her space and hid her feelings even when she found herself attracted to him. It was an interesting relationship to see develop between the two loners.

I thought the author did a great job blending both light science fiction and romance. Lovers of only one of those camps may be turned off by the presence of another genre blended in here, or they may enjoy reading something different. I definitely liked the blend. There are sex scenes and while they did go on a little, they didn't feel gratuitious. The world-building was done well – information (on technology, politics, communication, whatever) was given as needed, not as a huge info dump, and the plot was action packed and well paced. Even till the end it kept my interest. There was a good balance between the story and the focus on the relationship. A recommend for those who like romance and who like cross-genre books. Maybe futuristic romance is going to be the next big thing after paranormals in romance? Hmm.

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Bloodring by Faith Hunter

Bloodring
Faith Hunter

This is a story that centers around Thorn St. Croix, a neomage hidden among humans in a post-apocalyptic world. The book blurb calls it a "ambiguous apocalypse" because while seraphs have descended upon the world and mass genocide occurred, followed by a continuing war against dark beings, life seems to be going on. Now the survivors aren't sure of what the Divine Powers expect or what religion is right; they all live in an uneasy peace, following strict rules against sin (or the seraphs could exact vengeance) and in fear of demons that live underground and DO exist.

Thorn is a mage whose powers are from stone, and she's pretending to be human because for some reason most humans hate and fear mages. Humans will turn into a murderous mob if they found out who Thorn really was. Most mages are protected from humans in enclaves but Thorn cannot do so.

 The story starts when Thorn's ex-husband is kidnapped under mysterious circumstances and Thorn is determined to find him. A cast of interesting friends and acquaintances surrounds her at her store – Thorn's Gems, who form a family that help Thorn even though they are unaware of her powers.

THOUGHTS: Overall the world was fascinating so I enjoyed the book. 7/10

Good things: I found this to be a very well-imagined and detailed world. I could see the scenes very well, especially the cold weather and ice (nice to read about when it's summer). It also felt like Hunter spent a lot of time thinking about the way Thorn's magic worked and how different stones worked differently for a stone-mage: chants to get magic working, shortcuts, and how magic is taught to the mages, and there was a lot of thought about the history of the apocalypse, and about different species in the world – mages, humans, and seraphs. Sometimes the details were hard to keep track of (Thorn's amulets were described particularly often) – I found this page @ the author's website helpful and interesting after I finished the book. Another thing I liked was the side characters were pretty interesting and well-written, especially the interaction between them. There is a sense of history and shared memories between her business partners and I could believe the relationship and reactions of the characters.

Less good things: I had a lot less questions answered at the end of the book than I expected. Really big, obvious questions that I expected to have answered were not. I know one biggie that other readers commented on was.. why do humans hate mages so much? This is the one out of them all I most wish was answered in this book. Another one I had was - why is there this weird "mage-lust" between Seraphs and mages, but they are not allowed to mate? Many times in the book Thorn goes into throes of lust. Amazon reviewers compared it to Laurell K. Hamilton's "ardeur", but this book does not have the sex all over the place that Hamilton does (point to its favor). Still.. what's up with that? Finally (Hunter did this several times in the book) – Thorn notices something and then she'd "forget", or it seemed important for a second but she moves on. What is this stuff she keeps forgetting? It usually does not get referenced later on! So because of all these questions, Bloodring did not feel like a standalone book and even though there is sort of an ending to it, it has a huge "to be continued" feeling and I have to go get the sequel now because I'm still quite confused.

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