Crucible of Souls (Sorcery Ascendant Sequence #1) – Mitchell Hogan

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Summary:

When Caldan’s parents are brutally slain, he is raised by monks and taught the arcane mysteries of sorcery.

Vowing to discover for himself who his parents really were, and what led to their violent end, he is thrust into the unfamiliar chaos of city life. With nothing to his name but a pair of mysterious heirlooms and a handful of coins, he must prove his talent to earn an apprenticeship with a guild of sorcerers.

But he soon learns the world outside the monastery is a darker place than he ever imagined, and his treasured sorcery has disturbing depths.

As a shadowed evil manipulates the unwary and forbidden powers are unleashed, Caldan is plunged into an age-old conflict that brings the world to the edge of destruction…

Review:

Self-publishing is where it’s at, it seems. Or at the very least, it’s where its at for traditional fantasy. Following in the footsteps of Anthony Ryan, Mitchell Hogan has used his success to land himself a deal with Harper Voyager. Unlike Inked which did nothing of real interest with the tropes it used to tell its tale, A Crucible of Souls at least bothered to take the time to develop an intricate magic system that almost results in a kind of steam-punk flare to it, using crafting (sometimes paper, sometimes metals) to great impact. That said, much of the rest of the world is pretty familiar. There is an Empire. There are people that have some kind of conflict with the Empire that will undoubtedly be expanded upon in the second book. And then there is Caldan. Caldan is clearly not your average sorcerer. What he is…we don’t know. And we don’t find out, presumably with the idea that the desire to find out will help nudge the reader into picking up the second book. We also don’t really find out anything about the jewelry bequeathed to him by his mother (and the “twist” at the end is easily guessed at a few different points in the book to be honest), nor much of anything about his parents at all except the tiniest scrap of information.

While I have no issues with the inherent idea of giving away everything in the first book, I still feel like the reader should be given something, even if it was just one thing because now it’s coming off as coy. Case and point: early on in the book Caldan comments on how hungry he is, and how he’s eating like twice as much as everyone else and clearly going through a growth spurt. There are then at least another half-dozen variations of this same scene. Any fantasy vet would be able to tell you at the first scene that it wasn’t a growth spurt. The rest of the scenes may as well be bashing you over the head with PAY ATTENTION TO THIS IT IS IMPORTANT. If that still wasn’t enough, he’s thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to having special snowflake powers. Clearly, he is not your average sorcerer, so see what I mean about playing coy? Just tell the reader what’s going on! There are plenty of other mysteries to last the remainder of the trilogy.

As for the rest of the book? It’s solid enough, I guess. The side-stories didn’t really grab me, but it was nice to see that many of the side characters were women, and many of them were varying degrees of powerful, so I will give him that, and hey, even though I’m tired of the trope of the character who will let all manners of evil be committed in the name of wiping out a specific kind of evil, again, it’s nice to see a woman play that part. Equal opportunity crazy!

All told, this book is very much classic traditional fantasy with only slight modern updates (c.f. the number of female characters). There is absolutely an audience for this kind of book and if you’re a part of that audience, I think you’ll dig this. If you’re looking for something more modern, something a little different, this may not be the book for you, so take that into mind wen deciding to pick it up.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: September 22nd

Dark Currents (Agent of Hel #1) – Jacqueline Carey

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Summary:

Jacqueline Carey, New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Kushiel’s Legacy novels, presents an all-new world featuring a woman caught between the normal and paranormal worlds, while enforcing order in both. Introducing Daisy Johanssen, reluctant hell-spawn…

The Midwestern resort town of Pemkowet boasts a diverse population: eccentric locals, wealthy summer people, and tourists by the busload; not to mention fairies, sprites, vampires, naiads, ogres and a whole host of eldritch folk, presided over by Hel, a reclusive Norse goddess.

To Daisy Johanssen, fathered by an incubus and raised by a single mother, it’s home. And as Hel’s enforcer and the designated liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, it’s up to her to ensure relations between the mundane and eldritch communities run smoothly.

But when a young man from a nearby college drowns—and signs point to eldritch involvement—the town’s booming paranormal tourism trade is at stake. Teamed up with her childhood crush, Officer Cody Fairfax, a sexy werewolf on the down-low, Daisy must solve the crime—and keep a tight rein on the darker side of her nature. For if she’s ever tempted to invoke her demonic birthright, it could accidentally unleash nothing less than Armageddon.

Review:

So remember the very early days of the Anita Blake series where the focus was on crimes with preternatural angles with some slightly awkward flirting with Jean-Claude? The first nine-books or so, before the stories became dominated by which overly-endowed male would be joining her bed next and what new power she’d obtain from said coupling? Do you miss those early books?

Give Dark Currents a chance. Trust me on this.

As for the rest of us, if you’ve come from reading the Kushiel’s Legacy books the first thing you notice is that at first blush, the writing doesn’t sound much like Carey at all. The tone sounds like many an other urban fantasy title on the market: casual and slightly brisk and not at all like the lush, elegant and semi-formal prose of her other series. In fact, you would be forgiven for thinking they were written by two different women as they sound so different.

But then you keep reading and Carey’s gifts come through.

So often in Urban Fantasy have we seen concepts of some kind of boundary that separates Earth/the mortal realm from the forces of Heaven and Hell. Usually it’s giving a name like The Boundary or the Seal – something simple. Here? It’s the Inviolate Wall. Does it need to be the Inviolate Wall? Of course not. Is it a sign that perhaps there is more than the usual level of creativity in this book? Yep.

Brownies, Naga, Faeries, Ghouls, Vampires, Norn, Naiads – all sorts of creatures come into play here. I love the concept that there are these pockets of preternatural creatures living where the boundary is thin and the magic is accessible. The concept of Yggdrasil II and Hel as being a kind of ruler over everyone is awesome, and having Daisy being Hel’s representative on earth.

Speaking of Daisy, I’m totally digging her as our heroine. Her situation isn’t one that I can recall seeing before, and she’s blissfully attitude free. She’s got a nice mix of friends, her mom is interesting and heck, I’m even digging this weird attraction situation going on with a ghoul, which my brain tells me should probably be giving me the icks. Speaking of possible romantic interests, I do how Cody’s lycanthropy is depicted here. It’s definitely got more emphasis on the wolf and less “human who happens to go furry once a month” variety, which I dig.

In short, this book is the kind of urban fantasy I love: unique and detailed world with likable characters. It certainly doesn’t push boundaries like her epic fantasy does, but that’s okay. She’s not reinventing the wheel, but she’s putting a nice coat of polish on it.

I love discovering new series that I enjoy, and the fact that it’s close-ended trilogy is a huge bonus because it’s not a big commitment.

If you like Urban Fantasy, you owe yourself a look at this book.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Inked – Eric Smith

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Summary:

Tattoos once were an act of rebellion.

Now they decide your destiny the moment the magical Ink settles under your skin.

And in a world where Ink controls your fate, Caenum can’t escape soon enough. He is ready to run from his family, and his best friend Dreya, and the home he has known, just to have a chance at a choice.

But when he upsets the very Scribe scheduled to give him his Ink on his eighteenth birthday, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that sends the corrupt, magic-fearing government, The Citadel, after him and those he loves.

Now Caenum, Dreya, and their reluctant companion Kenzi must find their way to the Sanctuary, a secret town where those with the gift of magic are safe. Along the way, they learn the truth behind Ink, its dark origins, and why they are the only ones who can stop the Citadel.

Eric Smith takes you on a high-octane fantasy adventure, perfect for anyone who has dreamed of being different… only to discover that fate is more than skin deep.

Review:

It’s trope checklist time! Let’s see…

  • Protagonist on the cusp of adulthood?
  • Tragedy on the day protagonist comes of age?
  • Protagonist has special ability?
  • Protagonist learns that the special system of their world is secretly evil?
  • Protagonist learns that he is the son of an Important Person?
  • “Surprise” twist of someone you wouldn’t think be evil turns out to be evil?
  • Character randomly gets thrust role of leadership on him and everyone says “Damn, you’re a good leader?”
  • Open ending that leaves room for a sequel?
  • Said sequel likely about the continuing fight to take down The Man?

As you can tell, this is as vanilla fantasy as it absolutely gets. Oh sure, the tattoo elements (a neat idea, although a bit underdeveloped) add a slight dystopian flavor to the whole affair, but not by much. It follows the tropes pretty much to a T. You could probably invent a plot based on my description of the tropes in it and be not too far from the truth.

And yet.

It’s fun.

I’d normally a dog of book for it’s lack of development of the magic and the world – we basically see nothing of the bad guys for the most part – but this is one of those books that you pick up when you just want a quick (I read this in under 90 minutes) read. Does it need that sequel that it sets up? No. Will I go out of my way to read said sequel? Probably not. Will I remember any of this in a day? Nope. But if you’re into this kind of thing, you should have fun. You can currently buy it for $3.82 on Amazon as of me writing this review (8/19) and for that price, I can give it the thumbs up. Just know what you’re getting yourself into and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available Now

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts #1) – Stacia Kane

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Summary:

THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED.

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

Review:

So I decided to join up this cool (not-so-little) cheer/secret santa exchange called #otspsecretsister. Seeing that I’m a fan of Urban Fantasy, my sister included this book as part of her first package to me. She wanted to share it because it is a series she  loves, and she even went so far as to annotate the book with notes, a genuinely thoughtful touch! So what was my reaction?

I wish I liked it more.

To be sure, the premise is cool: the dead rose, and when the government and conventional faith could not resolve the crisis, the Church of Real Truth stepped in and took over. The Church is basically an atheistic organization that can weild magic and encourages its use while tamping down on various religions. While I do wish it had been more fleshed out, we got plenty to give the world a unique setting of its own. I also like that the creatures du jour are ghosts. As I’ve said before, I love me some vampires, but it is fun to mix it up.

But that’s about all I liked.

Meet Chess: She’s a drug addict and that’s about it. She has no other defining characteristics and we learn little else about her during our stay in her world, other than she was an orphan. Honestly, her drug use seems quirky more than anything and that bothers me. Drug use isn’t quirky. It’s debilitating. For as little as it impacts her, she might as well be smoking weed but she’s clearly doing some really duty stuff. And these drugs seem to have zero impact on her on. She’s not eating, she’s barely sleeping and no one notices that anything wrong? Like at all? She’s so high-functioning she might as well be sober. It ultimately adds nothing to the story – seriously, you could replace her drug addiction with a gambling one and it would have the same impact on her and on the story. That’s not a good thing. What’s worse, is that if you take away that part of her, there’s nothing left to define her. Addiction isn’t a quirk nor is it a character trait. Ultimately Kane just seems to use it as a lazy way to develop character and it did not work for me.

Beyond that, this book is unquestionably story (and not character) driven. I need the emotional investment to hold my interest, so the story just didn’t work for me. It was there. It was adequate, but it wasn’t anything particularly memorable or unique.

While I can see why a series like this would make it to series and why it has lasted as long (#6 is going to be released next year after a few year hiatus) it’s just not a series for me. Maybe if you like ghosts and don’t mind more plot driven stories it’d still be worth a look. I just personally think there are better Urban Fantasy series out there to recommend it.

Verdict: Skip It

Available Now

Curiosity Quills Serial Publishing and a quick DNF review of The Vampire Circus by Rod Kierkegaard, Jr.

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Summary:

Note: I normally put a book’s Goodreads synopsis here, but at almost 600 words and a full page in length it’s just too long for what I have planned to say. You can read it here if you so desire, but I hope going forward that he learns that less is more as this is less a tease and more the outline of the whole book.

Review:

I requested the first three parts of this novel for two reasons: the story did have me kind of intrigued and more importantly, I was curious to see how Curiosity Quills was handling the release of these serialized stories.

As far as the serial aspect goes,so far, I like what I see. In terms of pricing, it’s $1.99 per part which assuming it’s five parts keeps it within my personal preference of $10 for a full title and you get a novella’s worth of content for that money, which is inline of what I was expecting. The installments do end at good cliffhangers, which is nice to see. While I don’t know if I’ll ever be a fan of serial printing, I do feel like the publisher is handling it well, and I’d feel safe recommending them if you want to check out serialized novels, over say dipping your toes at Amazon where too many self-published titles charge you too much for too little story.

As for the story itself?

Eh.

I’m going to chalk this up as not being my thing. Too many stories going on with characters I’m not necessarily caring for and I have immediate knee-jerk reaction to any STD resulting in vampirism (bacteria don’t work that way!) and the writing isn’t otherwise strong enough to make me over come it. There is probably an audience for this book (I’d say western fans maybe, as there’s a lot of that vibe going on) but I don’t think I’m it.

Verdict: Fan of how the publisher is putting out its serials, but the book itself is a DNF for me.

Available: First three parts are available now.

Zer0es (Zer0es #1) – Chuck Wendig

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Summary:

Five hackers—an Anonymous-style rabble-rouser, an Arab Spring hacktivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll—are detained by the U.S. government, forced to work as white-hat hackers for Uncle Sam in order to avoid federal prison. At a secret complex known only as “the Lodge,” where they will spend the next year working as an elite cyber-espionage team, these misfits dub themselves “the Zeroes.”

But once the Zeroes begin to work, they uncover secrets that would make even the most dedicated conspiracy theorist’s head spin. And soon they’re not just trying to serve their time, they’re also trying to perform the ultimate hack: burrowing deep into the U.S. government from the inside, and hoping they’ll get out alive. Packed with electric wit and breakneck plot twists, Zer0es is an unforgettable thrill ride through the seedy underbelly of “progress.”

Review:

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, or hell, if you’ve even looked at the title of blog, you’ll know that I more or less only swim in the fantasy end of the SF/F pool. For whatever reason, science fiction never grabbed me the same way that fantasy did. That being said, when the publisher reached out to me about whether or not I wanted to read this, something about it caught my eye and so I said sure. Fast-forward a few days and I was wrapping up the immensely disappointing Magonia and looking for something to read. I decided to read the first chapter. Then the second, and the third.

I was hooked.

I stayed hooked for maybe the first sixty percent or so, and then it started to lose me. You see, the first half is pretty much a cyber-thriller. Five people (three men, two women) start hacking at the “request” of Uncle Sam and of course, not is all as it seems. I rather enjoyed the portion set at the Lodge because this is when we get to know everyone. There’s a nice mix of personalities here, from Chance the likable guy whose backstory is ripped from the headlines in a Law & Order approved manner to Regan, an awful woman who does awful things for the lulz. It’s nice to have the antagonistic female character be awful because she can, and not because she’s a woman scorned. I like how they show the team slowly coming together as they begin to relax and trust one another and slowly start to unravel the mystery of Typhon.

Too bad I don’t like Typhon. Or rather, I don’t like Typhon in this setting.

The second half of this book is pure sci-fi. While the premise of what Typhon is is rather creepy (let’s just say the Borg might approve), the problem I have is that this book is clearly, clearly set in the modern day right down to the the music playing on the radio. We don’t have the tech for what’s going down in the book (or I sure as heck hope we don’t. I now see how this book could be paranoia fodder, now that I think about it) and so I’m finding it a bit difficult to suspend my disbelief and buy into it. I think I might have liked it a touch more had it stayed more thriller and less sci-fi. Then again, if he did, this wouldn’t be Wendig, wouldn’t it?

All told, I do think this is a very well written book and I can see why people love Wendig. His writing is fun and easy to read, he’s got a nice mix of characters that you want to root for, and the villain is suitable evil. I think people who dig science fiction will find this an absolute no-brainer and even with my gripes, I still enjoyed myself and think this book has some cross-over appeal simply because it does feel current.

I’m happy that I gave this book a chance, and I think you will be too.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: August 18th

(P.S. Between AIDAN, Talis and now Typhon, it’s quite the year for AI isn’t it?)

Magonia (Magonia #1) – Maria Dahvana Headley – SPOILERS

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Summary:

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live.

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

Review:

As a general rule, I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews. However, I feel like to do this book justice I need to bust ’em out. So if you were planning on reading this for yourself and don’t want to be spoiled you might want to skip this one. As for how I feel, let me just say that the last time I broke out spoilers, it was for Allegiant and I despised that book. Just something to keep in mind if you’re trying to figure out why I’d do this.

So that being said, let’s get’s going.

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