Hexed (The Iron Druid Chronicles #2) – Kevin Hearne

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Summary:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, doesn’t care much for witches. Still, he’s about to make nice with the local coven by signing a mutually beneficial nonaggression treaty—when suddenly the witch population in modern-day Tempe, Arizona, quadruples overnight. And the new girls are not just bad, they’re badasses with a dark history on the German side of World War II.

With a fallen angel feasting on local high school students, a horde of Bacchants blowing in from Vegas with their special brand of deadly decadence, and a dangerously sexy Celtic goddess of fire vying for his attention, Atticus is having trouble scheduling the witch hunt. But aided by his magical sword, his neighbor’s rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and his vampire attorney, Atticus is ready to sweep the town and show the witchy women they picked the wrong Druid to hex.

Review:

In some ways, Hexed feels like it ought to be a continuation of Hounded, like it is finishing the set-up work that the first book started. Why? It now feels like the players of this world are fully in place: we know that the Morrighan and Brighid will likely spar over the course of the series. We now know which witches will be at his side, and which witches he’ll be sparring with sporadically over the course of the series, and so on.

Why? The first third of the book feels like filler.

We get some fun character interactions, and Hearne is setting up some characters that will become important later in the series, but it’s so insignificant to the plot that none of this story is mentioned in the synopsis at all. Worse still, you could take this all out and have the story basically work as is with very few, very marginal changes. Not helping matters is that this book barely clocks 200 pages without it, it basically NEEDS to be in here to justify calling it a novel. To me, that is the very definition of filler.

But once I got past that, I enjoyed the book. I like the world that Hearne is creating and Atticus is a very likable figure. The world is unique enough and the humor of the first book is still there and if you’re looking for a more action-centric series, this will certainly fit the bill.

I think at this point I expected to be more sold on the series than I am. Will I pick up Hammered at some point? Probably. Do I feel in any rush to do so? Not really.

That said, I completely get why this series is as popular as it is though, and I do think that if you liked the first book you should give this second one a chance.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now

Traitor Angels – Anne Blankman

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Summary:

Six years have passed since England’s King Charles II returned from exile to reclaim the throne, ushering in a new era of stability for his subjects.

Except for Elizabeth Milton. The daughter of notorious poet John Milton, Elizabeth has never known her place in this shifting world—except by her father’s side. By day she helps transcribe his latest masterpiece, the epic poem Paradise Lost, and by night she learns languages and sword fighting. Although she does not dare object, she suspects that he’s training her for a mission whose purpose she cannot fathom.

Until one night the reason becomes clear: the king’s men arrive at her family’s country home to arrest her father. Determined to save him, Elizabeth follows his one cryptic clue and journeys to Oxford, accompanied by her father’s mysterious young houseguest, Antonio Vivani, a darkly handsome Italian scientist who surprises her at every turn. Funny, brilliant, and passionate, Antonio seems just as determined to protect her father as she is—but can she trust him with her heart?

When the two discover that Milton has planted an explosive secret in the half-finished Paradise Lost—a secret the king and his aristocratic supporters are desperate to conceal—Elizabeth is faced with a devastating choice: cling to the shelter of her old life or risk cracking the code, unleashing a secret that could save her father…and tear apart the very fabric of society.

Review:

Historical fiction is still very much a niche within YA – the closest you usually get are faux-medieval worlds and fantasies set within the Regency era – so to find something set in the 17th century and to incorporate Milton within it got me all excited.

Sadly, my excitement ended rather quickly.

First and foremost, this is yet another historical novel where the protagonist is 100% modern. She’s fluent in five languages and a competent swordsman, making her more educated than pretty much the vast majority of Europe, even the male nobility. And it hurts her to to think that her father believes that a woman’s place is subservient to her husband (you know, like every single last man – and a good majority of the women at the time believed). What makes it worse is that it all feels so arbitrary because none of her other three sisters are as educated. To be fair, one is clearly simple, but the other two? They didn’t get the same education…because? It seems like it was done out of a nod to historical accuracy, but it makes his focus on her seem all the more jarring. It stands out to only educate the one, and since it was to ensure that she would have the tools to go on this scavenger hunt later, talk about putting your eggs in one basket. What if she wasn’t the best choice of the three? And what’s worse, is that at the end of the book, she essentially gets disowned for having developed a love of learning when he encouraged it. And it’s the more ridiculous because he cites a fear of scandal, when he was convicted of plotting to kill the king. You don’t get more scandalous than that.

Speaking of ridiculous, the hunt to solve the mystery borders on that as well, with leaps of logic along the lines of Elizabeth deciding that she and Antonio are characters in this poem because the names of Adam and Eve start with A and E respectively. Seriously. And it’s all over a vial of liquid mercury? Or some kind of space elixir that can supposedly resurrect people that will result in the downfall of Europe and create a world war because it’ll destroy the notion of the Divine Right of Kings and belief in Chris. It’s just…silly.

I just couldn’t take this book seriously when the author clearly does. I suppose if you like books like The Da Vinci Code you could very well enjoy it – it’s that kind of absurdist fun – but if leaps of logic like the ones articulated above make you roll your eyes, keep looking, because once they start rolling, they’ll likely won’t stop.

Verdict: Skip it

Available Now

 

The Voodoo Killings: A Kincaid Strange Novel – Kristi Charish

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Summary:

For the first time since we launched Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, Random House Canada is thrilled to announce the debut of a new urban fantasy series. Kristi Charish’s The Voodoo Killings introduces Kincaid Strange, not your average voodoo practitioner…

For starters, she’s only 27. Then there’s the fact that she lives in rain-soaked Seattle, which is not exactly Haiti. And she’s broke. With raising zombies outlawed throughout the continental USA, Kincaid has to eke out a living running seances for university students with more money than brains who are desperate for guitar lessons with the ghost of a Seattle grunge rocker–who happens to be Kincaid’s on-again, off-again roommate.

Then a stray zombie turns up outside her neighbourhood bar: Cameron Wight, an up-and-coming visual artist with no recollection of how he died or who raised him. Not only is it dangerous for Kincaid to be caught with an unauthorized zombie, she soon realizes he’s tied to a spate of murders: someone is targeting the zombies and voodoo practitioners in Seattle’s infamous Underground City, a paranormal hub. When the police refuse to investigate, the City’s oldest and foremost zombie asks Kincaid to help. Raising ghosts and zombies is one thing, but finding a murderer? She’s broke, but she’s not stupid.

And then she becomes the target…As the saying goes, when it rains it pours, especially in Seattle.

Normally, I’m not much of a zombie person. Or at least, I’m not really much of a horror zombie kidn of person. The apocalypse (which usually comes with zombies) doesn’t interest me and beyond serving as a metaphor for death that is nipping at ones heels, they just aren’t that interesting of a normal paranormal creature to me.

Normally.

Kristi Charish’s Voodoo Killings has made me a fan, of at least her special brand of the classic creature.

Kincaid Strange lives in a world where zombies, ghosts and poltergeists are all quite real, and the latter common place enough that they even have their own enclave hidden beneath the streets of Seattle. Thanks to a police captain (that is the Mayor’s sister’s husband) that somehow believes that it’s your own damn fault if a ghost comes to visit, Kincaid’s primary means of living – raising zombies for things like will disputes and helping the police with preternatural crimes – was outlawed and now she’s stuck doing seances with the Kurt Cobain analogue of Nate Cade.

Then she’s called to do something about a zombie that randomly shows up outside the bar of a good friend and it all goes to pot from there.

If it sounds like their are vague similarities to Anita Blake (the zombies for wills, helping the police) there are, but that’s about the full extent of it. Kincaid isn’t a medium, she has no innate *need* to raise them like Anita does, and she’s very much on the outs with the police in this book, not only because of the outlaw on her craft but because one of the cops happens to also be an ex. Kincaid is very much her own woman and this world is very much its own place.

Like Charish’s other protagonist, Owl, Kincaid is a bit of loner in this book too, but that seems to be more by choice as opposed to just pissing everyone off  the way that Owl has a knack for. Still, the book has some rather interesting side characters from the aforementioned ghost Nate, to the century+ zombie of Lee Ling who runs the Seattle underground, to the aforementioned ex boyfriend where there’s some nice push and pull action between the pair and even a bit of jealousy. Ultimately, for someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends, she still feels a heck of a lot more human than a lot of urban fantasy protagonists can often come off as.

As far as Voodoo goes Charish kept her discussion of Voodoo to the actual Otherside – something that obviously none of us are going to have any experience with, so that it can be whatever she wants it to be. Voodoo/Vaundun is a real religion and it would have been easy to go with the obvious stereotypes, and she didn’t. It’s very much the kind of touch that I personally appreciate when people are putting their own spins on real-world religions and just a bit of an added bonus for me.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remark on the design of this book. From the hand-drawn appearing title page, to the mirrored page numbers, mirrored author’s name and the snakes along each page, the team at Random House CA put a lot of love into this book and shows because rarely does a book get this much attention  for such small details. It’s fantastic.

My only complaint about this book is that right now this book has only been released in Canada, and as far as I can tell, there aren’t any plans for US distribution yet. I really hope that changes as this feels like another fresh entry into one of the most tropey fantasy sub-genres. Do yourself a favor and pick this up from Amazon.ca. Hopefully we can get demand up high enough so more can read this awesome book.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now, at Canadian retailers only

P.S. Though not technically labeled as a series, the ending is absolutely setting up a second book. It makes me think that it will only actually become a series if sales justify it, so please take a look at this, I’d love to read more!

 

This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) – Victoria Schwab

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Summary:

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from acclaimed author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books, This Savage Song is a must-have for fans of Holly Black, Maggie Stiefvater, and Laini Taylor.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives. In This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab creates a gritty, seething metropolis, one worthy of being compared to Gotham and to the four versions of London in her critically acclaimed fantasy for adults, A Darker Shade of Magic. Her heroes will face monsters intent on destroying them from every side—including the monsters within.

Review:

I remember requesting a DRC on a whim, not actually expecting to get approval. I got approval the same day as The Crown’s Game. And while I was excited for both, and more or less read the former the day I got the green light, I just sat on this for a while until I picked it up again today. Skipping over what I thought was a problematic prologue and going for the first chapter resulted me getting absolutely hooked. I read 65% of it on my flight home and finished the rest in the same evening because I will be honest: this book is compulsively readable. It’s a great book for when you’re looking for something truly fun to sink your teeth into.

If it I enjoyed it so much why was the prologue a problem for me?

It all comes down to Kate. Kate is the human who would be a monster to impress her father. Her father rules his half of the city mostly by fear, and she wants to be wanted by him, to be allowed to go home again and the lengths of what she’s willing to do to get there turn her pretty dark, pretty quick. It’s sympathetic in that sense of you can tell it’s a girl who just wants her only remaining parent to love her, but it’s also cold enough and hard enough that it takes a long time to reach that sympathetic point. I’m not entirely convinced that that was the POV to start out with.

Luckily, the book has an intriguing premise set in an interesting world that blissfully isn’t telling another story of teenagers improbably banding together to overthrow the tyrant/save the day or what have you. Although the book does walk some familiar paths, the story doesn’t go exactly where you expect it to, and that’s also a refreshing bonus.

If anything, my only real complaint is I would have loved to see what Schwab could have done this under her V.E. Schwab pen-name. This book is pretty dark for YA, but the premise could have gone darker still without much trouble and I would have loved really exploring it. Scwhab never really fully explores the morality at play here and she proved in Vicious especially that it’s something that she’s fantastic at.

All told, this is a return to form for me (I’m not a fan of A Darker Shade of Magic) as it shows all the hallmark originality and questionable morality that makes her stand out as an author. If you haven’t preordered this yet,  why don’t you get on that, mmkay?

Verdict: Buy It

Available: July 5

Night Watch (Watch #1) – Sergei Lukyanenko

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Summary:

Others. They walk among us. Observing.

Set in contemporary Moscow, where shape shifters, vampires, and street-sorcerers linger in the shadows, Night Watch is the first book of the hyper-imaginative fantasy pentalogy from best-selling Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko.

This epic saga chronicles the eternal war of the “Others,” an ancient race of humans with supernatural powers who must swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. The agents of the Dark – the Night Watch – oversee nocturnal activity, while the agents of the Light keep watch over the day. For a thousand years both sides have maintained a precarious balance of power, but an ancient prophecy has decreed that a supreme Other will one day emerge, threatening to tip the scales. Now, that day has arrived. When a mid-level Night Watch agent named Anton stumbles upon a cursed young woman – an uninitiated Other with magnificent potential – both sides prepare for a battle that could lay waste to the entire city, possible the world. With language that throbs like darkly humorous hard-rock lyrics about blood and power, freedom and responsibility, Night Watch is a chilling, cutting-edge thriller, a pulse-pounding ride of fusion fiction that will leave you breathless for the next installment.

Review:

This is one of those books where the things that make it interesting also make it frustrating.

It is a refreshing change to read a story about a man who is not the hero and can never be the hero. It is also depressing when you are constantly being reminded that he is nothing but a pawn, knows it, hates it, and yet mostly accepts it because he sees little alternative.

There’s just something inherently depressing about this world; so much so that it makes it hard to keep a vested interest in the characters.

The book is not aided by a translation that, while assuredly faithful to the original as it can be, reads as very stilted as if the translator doesn’t understand that the meter and rhythms of the original language are only a hindrance here. There was nothing gained by refusing to soften the harshness of the style, is all.

Finally, the fact that this is not one story, but three shorts means that this feels like a loose collection of shorts that feel disconnected and only makes it that much harder to really ever gain any empathy for anyone.

This is one of those books you almost read out of academic interest because it feels so far removed from American urban fantasy. I’m not sad that I read it, but I also know I have no interest of looking at any of the other books in the series.

Verdict: Borrow it. This is very much a Your Mileage May Vary kind of book that’s hard to recommend at full price.

Available: Now

 

Age of Myth (The Legends of the First Empire #1) – Michael Sullivan

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Summary:

What does it mean if the gods can be killed? The first novel in an epic new fantasy series for readers of Brent Weeks, Brandon Sanderson, Peter V. Brett, and Scott Lynch.

Michael J. Sullivan’s trailblazing career began with the breakout success of his Riyria series: full-bodied, spellbinding fantasy adventures whose imaginative scope and sympathetic characters won a devoted readership. Now, Sullivan’s stunning hardcover debut, Age of Myth, inaugurates an original five-book series, and one of fantasy’s finest next-generation storytellers continues to break new ground.

Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between men and those they thought were gods changes forever. Now, only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer, Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom, and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over; the time of rebellion has begun.

Review:

Something about this book just doesn’t quite sit well with me, and it left me uneasy as I read this entire piece. Finally, I decided it was this: the juxtaposition of the vaguely Bronze-age Rhune versus the pure high fantasy Fhrey is an uneasy one, and the egotism in which the Fhrey see the Rhune (aka the humans) a mere rodens that are incapable of thought makes the latter seem almost like cartoonish. I get it: racism often lends itself to superiority complexes, but this takes it to near extreme levels. It doesn’t help that some characters somehow can speak the Fhrey tongue, but when in speaking with the Fhrey, that language comes off as broken enough to make Ralph Wiggum seem smart. I get that they wouldn’t fully understand it, but in combination with how the Fhrey see the Rhune, it just adds that extra layer of discomfort.

On the other hand, if there is one thing I thought Sullivan did quite well was the portrayal of gender politics in the book. Persephone is constantly in danger throughout this book, and in large part it was because she is a smart woman who commanded respect – unlike the man who took over after her husband died. Those tensions played off quite believably and honestly, it is her struggle that made the book worth reading. Although the Art was quite an interesting magic system, the disconnect between the two stories was so jarring, and the antagonists so cliched that they just didn’t feel like they belonged in this book.

Finally, in an author’s note at the start of the book, Sullivan mentions this book is set 3000 years before the events of the Riyria Chronicles. And honestly, I have to wonder why he would even bring it up. Yes, there is very much a tangential connection that will eventually come into play with the First Empire, but right now the two worlds are so completely and utterly disconnected that there may as well be no connection. Furthermore, this world feels so different from the ones in the other books (even beyond the obvious advancement in time) that it’s hard to see how the worlds are even connected. It might be one of those things that takes the five full books to bring to light, but for now at least, it leaves you going “these are connected, really?”

All told, I’m a bit torn on it, but if you like traditional fantasy at all, you might still want to give it a look. While problematic, it is interesting and I found myself engaged as I was reading it in a way I haven’t been for a lot of books lately. For that alone, I’d say it’s worth a look.

Verdict: Borrow it

Available: June 28

 

 

Skip It: The Club Dumas – Arturo Perez-Reverte

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Summary:

Lucas Corso is a book detective, a middle-aged mercenary hired to hunt down rare editions for wealthy and unscrupulous clients. When a well-known bibliophile is found dead, leaving behind part of the original manuscript of Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, Corso is brought in to authenticate the fragment. He is soon drawn into a swirling plot involving devil worship, occult practices, and swashbuckling derring-do among a cast of characters bearing a suspicious resemblance to those of Dumas’s masterpiece. Aided by a mysterious beauty named for a Conan Doyle heroine, Corso travels from Madrid to Toledo to Paris on the killer’s trail in this twisty intellectual romp through the book world.

Review:

So the other day I was browsing Amazon Prime and I noticed that The Ninth Gate was now available to stream. I remembered it being a bit slow and kind of confusing. Still, the movie came out in 2000 and I wanted to watch it with older eyes, to see if might not have a better appreciation of it with age. Deciding to do a search on the ending (which I remembered being the most confusing aspect of it) the advice I basically got was: don’t. Read the book instead because it actually makes sense. I figured this wasn’t a bad approach to take and here we are.

Good news: the book does make sense. It won’t necessarily help you with the movie which not only excises a major subplot of the book but changes the ending entirely, but it makes sense.

There’s also some good stuff in here about the history of books, and of book forgery, all of which comes in and plays nicely at the end.

The bad news: the book is, in many ways, just as unfulfilling as the movie. That entire subplot that Polanski dropped? The one for which the book was ultimately named? It wasn’t without cause. The book itself admits that the two strands are completely separate of one another; it’s only through Corso’s eyes that there is any kind of connection at all. It seems to be included because the author wanted to talk Dumas, pad the length of the book, or both. It not a little frustrating to see that story come to an end and realize just how anti-climatic it all was.

Adding to this disappointment is that the girl figure (both in book and film) is very much a living, breathing deus-ex-machina figure. Polanski certainly believes her to be either a servant of (if not the Devil himself) and the book makes her out to be some kind of guardian/sage too: protecting him and pointing the way so speak. It doesn’t add much to the narration when everything keeps happening (or not happening) because she happens to be at every right place at every right time. If something were to come of it it might be acceptable, but the book too just overall comes to an end and it doesn’t feel like there was a reason for the pair to have ever come together.

Really, the most interesting bits of the book were the discussion of Dumas, of occult books (most of which were created by the author for the story) and the discussions of book forgery. I almost wonder if a non-fiction piece might have been more satisfying.

As it stands, the book might be worth a pick up to read it for those reasons, but the rest is such a let down that it’s hard to recommend except for one scenario: you’re planning to watch the film. The film focuses on the quest to authenticate this one copy of the book. Between the conversations that Corso has, and the notes that Corso takes, you the reader are very easily able to wrap your head around that mystery of what is going on well before the ending which ratchets up the tension at the end because you know something isn’t right. Polanski, on the other hand, changes the nature of a key conversation and doesn’t have Corso make the connection and ultimately has has to tell the audience what was going. By then though, the climax is over and the tension is hurt leaving the audience wondering what was going on. Though the two pieces are quite different, knowledge of the the book immeasurably helps enjoyment of the film.

Verdict: Skip it. Its almost a borrow it because there were some parts I genuinely enjoyed, but I can’t in good consciousness endorse only portions of a book.

Available: Now