Review: City of Light (Outcast #1) – Keri Arthur

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Summary:

When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between this world and the next, they allowed entry to the Others—demons, wraiths, and death spirits who turned the shadows into their hunting grounds. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay….

As a déchet—a breed of humanoid super-soldiers almost eradicated by the war—Tiger has spent her life in hiding. But when she risks her life to save a little girl on the outskirts of Central City, she discovers that the child is one of many abducted in broad daylight by a wraith-like being—an impossibility with dangerous implications for everyone on earth.

Because if the light is no longer enough to protect them, nowhere is safe…

Review:

There’s no way around this: City of Light is a disappointment. The concept is cool, but it feels like that: just a concept, and a wasted one at that.

We meet no humans. We see no shifters other than Tiger actually shift. Tiger is supposedly a lure – a déchet bred to seduce the enemy – but all that seems to mean is that she is a walking sack of hormones who gets horny when someone with the right DNA walks by with no input from her own emotions at all. What this ultimately feels like is a world where Tiger has plot convenient powers because the plot demands them, leaving the actual differences between humans and shifters and the déchet as little more than a thinly veiled allegory about racism. Outside of one instance where Tiger shifted her form, there is no reason for her to be a shifter. Outside of her ability to become one with the shadows, there is no reason for her to be part vampire. She could have just been a witch or a psychic and it would have had the same impact on the story.

Also, can I say that her constantly referring to the ghosts as her “little ones” wound up being a bit more creepy than endearing?

The other thing that didn’t really work for me was the fact that the people that she is roped into helping ultimately all come off as complete and utter assholes. The cause may be a good one, but they’re basically blackmailing her throughout the book directly and indirectly into having her help. Maybe this wouldn’t have been such a bad thing if Tiger herself had more personality, but for me she just felt flat on the page.

I don’t think the book is a complete failure – the story was at least interesting enough that I read through to the end as opposed to just setting it aside – but the things that should have made this book stand out and shine just fell completely flat. The ending of this book is a complete and obvious set up for a sequel, and I have to say that I have no real desire to actually keep an eye out for it, let alone read it. I just don’t care.

Based on the early reviews upon Goodreads, this book seems to be developing a solid fanbase, but I am just not one of them. The only thing worse than a book devoid of any fresh ideas at all is one that has them but squanders them.

City of Light just did not work and I can’t recommend it.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: January 5

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The Lost Sun (Gods of New Asgard #1) – Tessa Gratton

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Summary:

Fans of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” and Holly Black’s “The Curse Workers” will embrace this richly drawn, Norse-mythology-infused alternate world: the United States of Asgard. Seventeen-year-old Soren Bearskin is trying to escape the past. His father, a famed warrior, lost himself to the battle-frenzy and killed thirteen innocent people. Soren cannot deny that berserking is in his blood–the fevers, insomnia, and occasional feelings of uncontrollable rage haunt him. So he tries to remain calm and detached from everyone at Sanctus Sigurd’s Academy. But that’s hard to do when a popular, beautiful girl like Astrid Glyn tells Soren she dreams of him. That’s not all Astrid dreams of–the daughter of a renowned prophetess, Astrid is coming into her own inherited abilities.


When Baldur, son of Odin and one of the most popular gods in the country, goes missing, Astrid sees where he is and convinces Soren to join her on a road trip that will take them to find not only a lost god, but also who they are beyond the legacy of their parents and everything they’ve been told they have to be.

Review:

At the same time I was devouring this book, I’ve been working on my Best of 2015 post. And though I’ve had most of my list for quite some time, the bottom few books were giving me trouble. While I managed to sort out most of it, I had one spot remaining where I was never quite happy with the YA fantasy title I had been putting in there. It just didn’t feel right. But then I read this book and suddenly the solution to my dilemma seems clear. Perhaps it was fated, handy, for a book about fate.

The Lost Sun is a book about fate. It is a book about embracing who you are, what your destiny is, and that the path we take to get there is never quite as we might expect it to be. While some consider the notion of Fate to be somehow unkind as it seems in theory to be inherently opposed to the idea of Free Will, this book does not take that path. If anything, this book shows us how we meet our Fate because of the choices that we are forced to make. Nothing that ultimately occurs in this novel unfairly thrust upon them. The choices – aid Astrid or do not. Aid Baldur or do not. Embrace being a Berserker or ask Odin to relieve him of this burden – are laid about before our characters, and it is through our characters choices that the future that Astrid sees comes into being. And as a reader, you eagerly follow as our hero Soren makes his decisions. It has been quite some time since I so eagerly devoured a book, longing for a moment to steal so I could read more. And that we can thank the excellent job Gratton did in developing her protagonists.

All of the main characters in this book are well developed and distinct. Soren fights what he is because he fears winding up like his father, and yet his courage and devotion to his friends remains ever true. Astrid is devout in her belief and yet her budding love for Soren is no less strong. Vidir is wild and lively, a good foil to them both.

Rounding out the good characters are the world she places them in. Familiar and unique all at once, it posits the idea of a United States that grew from the descendants of the Vikings who landed in North America centuries before the Europeans and where the Old Ways never quite died, and yet is fully modern with everything from televisions, the internet and fast food.

The author has recently re-released the books and with a newbie friendly $5 price tag, if you YA fantasy or are a fan of Norse Mythology, you owe yourself to check this series out. I know I’ve already bought the next book.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

The Martian – Andy Weir

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Summary:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

Grounded in real, present-day science from the first page to the last, yet propelled by a brilliantly ingenious plot that surprises the reader again and again, The Martian is a truly remarkable thriller: an impossible-to-put-down suspense novel that manages to read like a real-life survival tale.

Review:

Did I really need to put that summary here? Aren’t I the last person to have actually read this book? Maybe! I wanted to give myself some distance between the book and the movie to give both versions of the same material a fair shake. Comparison is inevitable, but comparing too soon and you can irrevocably change your opinion of one version, even if it isn’t necessarily fair to do so.

Either way.

The Martian is the tale of Mark Watney, an astronaut mistakenly left beind on Mars after a freak sandstorm causes a freak accident that makes his commander think him deceased.  It is the ultimate man-versus-natural survival tale where instead of laying down to die, our hero goes full American, says “fuck you, Mars” and proceeds to keep finding ways to survive despite the horrendous odds.

This is a book that is very much worth the hype and if you’ve been living in the stone age with me, I’ll tell you to go and pick it up now. How can you not respect a hero who saves himself not through violence, but through keeping his head on straight and not willing to let the enormity of his situation or the solitude crush him? It’s nothing short of miraculous and remarkable and shows a dedication and a steadfastness that I think the rest of us could hope to obtain.

So really, I feel like the issue here isn’t so much is The Martian a good book (because it definitely is) but did the movie do it justice?

And to that I say: yes. Yes it did. I’d almost even say I think the film is slightly better than the book.

*ducks things thrown at monitors*

I know, I know. I’m sure had I read the book first I wouldn’t be saying that, but hear me out:

Do the situations that get cut out result you in respecting Watney any less?

No.

Is the tension any less for them having been cut out?

No.

If anything, I think the cutting of those few scenes just helped tighten up the pacing which is good, because I did feel like there were a few parts where it dragged. Also, having that human doing the monologues really helps invest you in the story because you get that added inflection that comes from an emotional being reading it. Otherwise, it can be a bit hard to get through. Now that isn’t to say the movie is perfect. The genderswapping of Mindy’s character is completely unnecessary as was the whitewashing of many cast members. Of course, the I could have also done completely without the sappy and anticlimatic ending of Watney on Earth, but still. On the whole, the film did what a good adaptation does: take the best parts of the book and put it on the screen without changing the tone or heart of the book, and that’s what this movie does.

So do I recommend the book? Yes. Do I recommend seeing the film? Absolutely.

Both the book and the film are worth the hype.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now.

A Fantasy Medley 3 – edited by Yanni Kuzina

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Summary:

In “Goddess at the Crossroads,” Kevin Hearne shares a thrillingly memorable episode from the past of his popular Iron Druid Chronicles hero Atticus O’Sullivan, revealing how one night’s dark encounter with the cult of Hecate served as inspiration for Shakespeare’s witches in the Scottish play.

With “Ashes,” Laura Bickle revisits Detroit arson investigator and powerful spirit medium Anya Kalinczyk as she, her five-foot-long salamander familiar Sparky, and Hades’ Charon pursue a destructive fire elemental named the Nain Rouge through the city’s festival in his dubious honor.

“The Death of Aiguillon” finds Aliette de Bodard exploring an episode sixty years prior to the start of her latest novel, The House of Shattered Wings, in which the survivors of an ongoing magical conflict in Paris eke out a grim existence, and one woman’s wish for a better life is granted at a terrible price.

And in “One Hundred Ablutions,” Jacqueline Carey, author of the much-beloved Kushiel’s Legacy series, tells the tale of Dala—a young woman chosen by her people’s overlords to be an exalted slave among slaves—and of the twining in her life of ritual, rebellion, and redemption.

Review:

Throughout the past year I’ve really started to grow an appreciation for anthologies. I think they can be a great way to be introduced to new authors and get glances at worlds you might want to further explore on your own. So when I got wind through Jacqueline Carey’s Twitter that she was participating in this new project, I got all excited.

Then I had sticker shock.

$20 for a trade paperback or $45 for a limited edition hard copy  signed by all four authors. There are apparently no current plans for an eBook version. On the face of it, it’s like, what’s the big deal. Small runs are expensive. Which is true. But this anthology totals 152 pages. Total. Each story averages somewhere around 35-37 pages. They are genuinely short stories, the kind you usally pay for at $0.99-$1.99 for on Kindle when the big publishers release them.

Not going to lie. That’s steep and makes it a tough sell. So the question becomes: is this book worth it?

While only you can put a dollar amount on that value, I can at least tell you what I thought of the stories and my own personal belief. Let’s get to it.

“Goddess at the Crossroads” is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. No more. No less. Atticus sits at a campfire and tells of how he met William Shakespeare and how he directly influenced the creation of Macbeth and the supposed curse that follows The Scottish Play. It’s fun, but it’s pure froth that’s easily forgettable. It’s a slice of life story basically. Existing fans won’t really learn much new about the hero and I’m not sure how much of a good introduction to the series it would be for newbies like myself. That says, the story does stand on its own pretty well, which is always appreciated in this kind of collection.

“Ashes” – I think was the best of the shorts from existing series. Fans of Anya will delight in the continuation of her story, while keeping it rather newbie friendly. I came out of this genuinely wanting to take another work at the series that the story was set in. I can’t speak to authorial intent, but if I were an author and I were invited to participate in anthology, this is what I’d aim for: a treat for my loyal readers that has the potential to earn me new ones at the same time.

“The Death of Aiguillon” – one of the reason for my sticker shock was that I didn’t like The House of Shattered Wings so much so I couldn’t even bring myself to finish it. The world is very dense with history and mythology of how things came to be, and de Bodard leaves you to figure it out. I hate when books over-explain their worlds, but she doesn’t even try. She presents it as “here it is, figure it out,” and it’s just not enticing enough to try when the characters are all so chilly and distant and there’s so many characters and so much maneuvering that you need a flow chart to keep it all straight. Needless to say, the first novel wasn’t newbie friendly and this isn’t any easier a read. There is a nicely human sentiment at the core, but it’s just too dense for its own good. 

“One Hundred Ablutions” is the one that I was most excited for when I first heard the announcement. The prose is definitely lush without being dense as is her namesake, and this book looks at slavery through the lens of essentially a bird in a gilded cage. She may be well fed. She may have great quarters. She may get to be treated with a rarefied air amongst her other Kerens, but she’s still very much a slave. Like so many of Carey’s works though, I think it needed a little more time to develop. As it stands, it’s not bad, but it’s not her most memorable work either.

So all that said. Do I think it worth the $20 now? Would I now go and buy it?

No.

I really enjoyed two, only kind of liked one, and didn’t like one. To me, that’s just not enough.

As for you, I’ll make my recommendation this way: if you’re a completionist and really love one (or more) of the authors listed, it would be a great add to your collection. Everyone else can skip it either until an e-book version comes out (I’d recommend it at $10) or until the stories get reprinted down the road. As it stands, however, I just don’t think there’s enough meant on this books bones to warrant the price tag.

Verdict: Skip it. Should a price drop or a reduced-price eBook ever come along, upgrade this to a Borrow It.

Available 12/31/2015 through Subterranean Press.

Chosen (Alex Verus #4) – Benedict Jacka

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Summary:

I don’t publicly advertise that I’m a mage, but I don’t exactly hide it either, and one of the odd things I’ve learnt over the years is just how much you can get away with if you’re blatant enough. Hide something behind smoke and mirrors and make people work to find it, and they’ll tear the place down looking for what’s there.

Alex Verus is a diviner who can see probable futures—a talent that’s gotten him out of many a tough scrape. But this time, he may be in over his head. Alex was once apprenticed to a Dark mage, and in his service he did a lot of things he isn’t proud of.

As rumors swirl that his old master is coming back, Alex comes face to face with his misdeeds in the form of a young adept whose only goal is to get revenge. Alex has changed his life for the better, but he’s afraid of what his friends—including his apprentice, Luna—will think of his past. But if they’re going to put themselves at risk, they need to know exactly what kind of man they’re fighting for…

Review:

Have you ever had one of those moments where you weren’t sure if you were liking something, and then all of the sudden realized you were looking at it wrong and then just got it?

I had one of those moments while reading Chosen the fourth book in the Alex Verus’ series.

See, here’s the thing: said adept from the summary? He’s just not interesting. He’s entire characterization is basically:

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Only it was a sister who died and the adept manages to recruit a bunch of other kids into a kind of vigilante army that fights the dark mages nominally because the system’s broke, but in actuality just because he wants revenge.

And it makes for a very dull opponent and I was wondering when the book was going to get to it.

But then I realized, it’s also kind of not the point.

Chosen is really all about Alex and his backstory. What he did as an apprentice, and what he is now, and trying to reconcile the past with his present and the fact that you can’t always just make the bad stuff in your past disappear by not thinking about it.

One aspect of this series that I’ve always loved is that Jacka has very purposefully made Verus not a fighter. He’s not a battle mage, knows he’s not a battle mage and tries to avoid a fight whenever possible. It’s not that he’s a coward, it’s just the odds are perpetually against him, here so more than ever because of the numbers in this game. At his core, Alex is a decent guy and understandably doesn’t want to risk his friends, yet also knows he can’t just keep running. So he comes up with a plan that is brutal and effective. And what makes him so interesting as a character is that at the end of it all, he doesn’t regret the decision he makes, he regrets that he was forced to make that decision in the first place, forced to dig up that past he was so desperately trying to move beyond. It’s the kind of decision that really does put him squarely into anti-hero category without him necessarily being just an asshole for the sake of being an asshole. And that character study – the decisions he makes in this book – are what makes this book worth reading. There is plenty of action who like that kind of thing, though I found it a bit repetitive (get found, fight, run, repeat) after a while.

Alex Verus remains such an interesting character because at his core he is a decent guy who made some very poor decisions as a kid, and though he has been trying to overcome them, the fact remains that he doesn’t think like a good guy. He spent too much time with the Dark Mages as a vulnerable teenager and that training did leave a mark on him and that means that he’s willing to cross a line that most urban fantasy protagonists would never be allowed to cross.

Without question this is a series that quickly grew on me and is probably becoming one of my favorite of all time favorites. I look forward to reading Hidden and strongly recommend checking out the series if you haven’t already.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

 

 

Briar Queen (Night and Nothing #2) – Katherine Harbour

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Summary:

The dark, moody, and mystical fantasy begun in Thorn Jack, the first novel in the Night and Nothing series, continues in this bewitching follow up–an intriguing blend of Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alice in Wonderland, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream–in which Finn Sullivan discovers that her town, Fair Hollow, borders a dangerous otherworld . . .

Serafina Sullivan and her father left San Francisco to escape the painful memory of her older sister Lily Rose’s suicide. But soon after she arrived in bohemian Fair Hollow, New York, Finn discovered a terrifying secret connected to Lily Rose. The placid surface of this picture-perfect town concealed an eerie supernatural world–and at its center, the wealthy, beautiful, and terrifying Fata family.

Though the striking and mysterious Jack Fata tried to push Finn away to protect her, their attraction was too powerful to resist. To save him, Finn–a girl named for the angels and a brave Irish prince–banished a cabal of malevolent enemies to shadows, freeing him from their diabolical grip.

Now, the rhythm of life in Fair Hollow is beginning to feel a little closer to ordinary. But Finn knows better than to be lulled by this comfortable sense of normalcy. It’s just the calm before the storm. For soon, a chance encounter outside the magical Brambleberry Books will lead her down a rabbit hole, into a fairy world of secrets and legacies . . . straight towards the shocking truth about her sister’s death.

Lush and gorgeously written, featuring star-crossed lovers and the collision of the magical and the mundane, Briar Queen will appeal to the fans of Cassandra Clare’s bestselling Mortal Instruments series and Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely

Review:

Look at me! I’m doing that thing where you review two books in a series back to back because you enjoyed the first one so much! And like the last time I did this, the second book wasn’t quite as good as the first.

First a caveat: do not try to read this without having read Thorn Jack as this book picks up almost immediately after the last and heavily references it – you may want to do a reread first if it’s been a while.

That out of the way, let’s get to the heart of why I don’t think Brian Queen works quite as well the first novel: the action leaves our Earth and move to the land of the fae. On the one hand, the creativity that I loved in the first book remains. On the other hand, I think it was more interesting watching Finn and her friends navigate figuring out what is going on than this more action-oriented books. That book had a lingering sense of dread that nothing was quite right, but you couldn’t put a finger on what that was. Here you know nothing is right and that certainty does a larger difference than you may think.

I also think that by having the focus being more on the Fata than the humans doesn’t quite work. On the one hand, it expands the mythology greatly. On the other hand, you just don’t care about the Fata the way you do for Finn and her friends, so it’s harder to get invested.

Night and Nothing is a trilogy and I already have the DRC of the final book in my possession. While I’ll definitely be finishing off the series, I’ll be honest I’m not entirely sure that I would if I didn’t. The series just lost a little bit of that magic this time around. I hope that it can be found in the final book.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now

Thorn Jack (Night & Nothing #1) – Katherine Harbour

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Summary:

They call us things with teeth. These words from Lily Rose Sullivan the night of her death haunts her seventeen-year-old sister, Finn, who has moved with her widowed father to his hometown of Fair Hollow, New York. After befriending a boy named Christie Hart and his best friend, Sylvie Whitethorn, Finn is invited to a lakeside party where she encounters the alluring Jack Fata, a member of the town’s mysterious Fata family. Despite Jack’s air of danger and his clever words, Finn learns they have things in common.

One day, while unpacking, Finn finds her sister’s journal, scrawled with descriptions of creatures that bear a sinister resemblance to Jack’s family. Finn dismisses these stories as fiction, but Jack’s family has a secret—the Fatas are the children of nothing and night, nomadic beings who have been preying on humanity for centuries—and Jack fears that his friendship with Finn has drawn the attention of the most dangerous members of his family—Reiko Fata and vicious Caliban, otherwise known as the white snake and the crooked dog.

Plagued with nightmares about her sister, Finn attempts to discover what happened to Lily Rose and begins to suspect that the Fatas are somehow tied to Lily Rose’s untimely death. Drawn to Jack, determined to solve the mystery of her sister’s suicide, Finn must navigate a dangerous world where nothing is as it seems.

Review:

Before I get this review going, have some music to go with it: it’s from a feature-length anime called Le Portrait de Petit Cossette, which had a lovely gothic atmosphere running throughout, much like this book.

Thorn Jack is dark fantasy telling the story of Finn and how she’s slowly brought into the world of the Fata’s and her attempts to get back out – life and sanity intact. One of the things that Harbour does really well is that you never feel safe in this world. Never once do you ever really buy that Jack is a viable candidate for a boyfriend. We’re not talking about someone like Edward or Angel where they make token protests about not being good for you, but never fully push away their girlfriends either – Jack consistently tries to pull himself away knowing that it isn’t good for either one of them.

His so-called family, the Fatas, is this constant menacing threat. Beautiful, ethereal and deadly, there is every sense that humans are their playthings and nothing more.  These are definitely not the Tinker Bell type of faery.

The prose in this novel is absolutely lovely, and really helps capture that dreamy feel. I have seen some complain about conversations that don’t seem to take logical turns, and I think that’s unfair. Those conversations are deliberately awkward as characters try to avoid conversations they rather not have. There’s also quite a bit of quoted poetry here and it doesn’t feel pretentious, it just fits in well even though it should feel out of place.

Finally, this series is interesting because the series description on Good Reads calls it young adult – but I (and Barnes and Nobles) heartily disagree. That’s not something you see often.

If you like dark fantasy, if you like gothic fantasy, pick this one up. Now that I’ve read it, I absolutely plan to go back and not only make a second go of the second book (which I had to put down because I was simply too lost without having read this one) and quite possibly the third one coming out in 2016. It’s simply lovely.

Verdict: Buy It

Available Now