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

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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

 

 

Hounded (Iron Druid #1) – Kevin Hearne

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Summary:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

Review:

So both Seven Black Diamonds and Black City Saint had the fae. Both Black City Saint and Hounded have an Oberon. I gotta say, all this over-lap is more than a little trippy. But you know, it’s okay.

Hounded is awesome.

On my list of Urban Fantasy series to try this year (The Elemental Assassin is also on this list), I was not disappointed. While the short I read last year left me on the fence, this book obliterated any doubts I had about this series. The premise is just a blast: a 2100 year-old Druid that all the Irish gods (and a few non-Irish ones to boot) like to talk to and use in various ways (fighting, sexy times, you name it) whether or not he’s quite aware of the broader plot at hand.

The writing here is nice and light and frothy. No matter how bloody the fighting gets (and it does get bloody), the story never takes it self too seriously. It’s not so joking as to undermine the gravity of the story, but it’s very much that vibe of using humor to take the edge off, to stop it from being too dark. The aforementioned Oberon (his wolfhound) really helps in that respect as does the fact that his attorneys are literally vampires and werewolves.

The other thing that helps is that everyone is full of personality. The humans (gotta love the Widow MacDonagh, whom I’d love to have a drink with sometime), the goddesses, the witches. No one here is left to be a cut-out, except for maybe the cops that are touching the story at a glance.

Even though this is very much episodic Urban Fantasy it just feels fresh and fun – exactly what I was seeking and it may be just what you need as a palette cleanser as well.

The eighth book was just released this year. I look forward to making a dent in this series.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Review: Elementals: The Prophecy of Shadows (Elementals #1) – Michelle Madow

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Summary:

Filled with magic, thrilling adventure, and sweet romance, Elementals is the first in a new series that fans of Percy Jackson and The Secret Circle will love!

When Nicole Cassidy moves from sunny Georgia to gloomy New England, the last thing she expects is to learn that her homeroom is a cover for a secret coven of witches. Even more surprisingly … she’s apparently a witch herself. Despite doubts about her newfound abilities, Nicole is welcomed into this ancient circle of witches and is bedazzled by their powers—and, to her dismay, by Blake—the school’s notorious bad-boy.

Girls who get close to Blake wind up hurt. His girlfriend Danielle will do anything to keep them away, even if she must resort to using dark magic. But the chemistry between Blake and Nicole is undeniable, and despite wanting to protect Nicole from Danielle’s wrath, he finds it impossible to keep his distance.

When the Olympian Comet shoots through the sky for the first time in three thousand years, Nicole, Blake, Danielle, and two others in their homeroom are gifted with mysterious powers. But the comet has another effect—it opens the portal to the prison world that has contained the Titans for centuries. After an ancient monster escapes and attacks Nicole and Blake, it’s up to them and the others to follow the clues from a cryptic prophecy so that they can save their town … and possibly the world.

Review:

So my friend asked my why do I put myself through this, with this being painfully generic, trope-filled cliche-fests of YA novels. My answer is two fold:

  1. Sometimes, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.
  2.  They’re quick and dirty reads – I finished this in under 90 minutes.

The top three books on my best-of 2015 list were YA novels. I know there is some great books out there and I don’t want to give up on the genre, because who knows what I might miss? On the other hand, for every Scorpion Rules, Wandering Star or Illuminae there are probably a dozen or more novels like this out there. You know the drill. Chosen Ones, longing over guys with mean-girl girlfriends, adults who serve no purpose but to offer up world building and say “Welp, I don’t know what to do, so you guys take care of this for me, k?”and sibling who exist only to get into danger.

Characters in this novel all have their nice to fill. Kate is the by-the-book-timid nice girl. Blake is the hot guy all the girls want. Chris is the nice guy who can’t get the girl (or will probably get the friend down the road). Danielle is the mean girl. Nicole is the wunderkind with all the powers that everyone (except the mean girl, natch) likes.

The books starts off with no world building – literally three pages in it’s “Surprise! You’re a witch!” and no character development beyond what the trope allows for. Kate helps her catch up on homework, Danielle tries to sabotage her tennis team try out and so on. Then not too far in there’s a Mystical Event ™ and they have powers and it’s off to fulfill a <strike>prophecy</strike> mystical treasure hunt and for Nicole to repeatedly save the day. In case there is any doubt in how overpowered Nicole is, I’ll just leave this here:

“I’d done it. My entire body had been broken, and I’d healed it all.”

Yep.

If you’ve read YA for any length of time, you’ve read this book, or at least some variation of it there of. If you enjoy this kind of thing, you’ll love it – it’s face paced and hits all the notes you’d expect it to. If you’re wanting more, keep on looking.

I will say that at least this book held my interest enough that I powered through and read the whole thing, so some props there. I was just hoping for a little more.

One last note: it appears the author intends to release a quartet of books, with at least the next two having 2016 release dates. The sequel is due out in April. I personally always wonder about release schedules this tight, as it makes me wonder if longer books are being cut up to make more money for the author/publisher. Given how generally underdeveloped this book is, it is something to keep in mind when deciding if you want to pick this series up.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: January 26

 

Stacking the Shelves #13

Now that I’ve done my Best Of list, it seems to make sense to do a final Stacking the Shelves for the year. I have to say, there seems to be something about the month of December where I get book crazy. It’s been a little less than a month since my last post, and yet I’ve managed to acquire some twenty books in that time frame! And that doesn’t count one that will arrive in January and that I think I still have 3-4 ARCs out for request on NetGalley and Edelweiss that I’m hoping to get my hands on. Yikes. Maybe I should be sliiiightly more choosy for a while? My TBR pile would thank me 🙂

For the last time in 2015, let’s do this.

ARC

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My first unsolicited ARC. I feel all grown up :* It’s pure sci-fi, which I’m looking forward to. I played in the YA end of the pool in 2015, so looking to dip my toes more in the adult end in 2016.

DRC

There’s definitely a broad assortment of books in this group. In the YA camp we have The Prophecy of Shadows (Greek mythology-inspired), Daughter of Blood (epic fantasy), Seven Black Diamonds (faery) Burning Glass (romance/fantasy), Beyond the Red (sci-fi) and Flawed (dystopian).  On the adult side we have Submissive Seductions (erotica) A Girl’s Guide to Landing a Greek God (Greek mythology based) and Masks and Shadows (historical).  It’s a fun mix. The books here are posted in order of publication date; though it’ll take me a while to get to Daughter of Blood. It’s the the third in a trilogy and I managed to pick up the first two for $1.99 each on Kindle and will be reviewing those first. The others are all stand-alones/first in series, so there is that :*

physical books traded for by me

I picked these up in a blog sale. These are all young adult except for The Forbidden Library which is more middle grade, but Django Wexler was an enticing thought. Becoming Jinn got a lot of love when it came out and others sounded like fun (angels! steampunk!). Given the size of my TBR pile though, these are definitely going to be lower on the totem pole for when I’m looking for something different to mix it up.

eBooks bought by me

Another hodgepodge of adult and young adult. The Strange Maid is the sequel to the just-reviewed The Lost Sun. Hidden is the next Alex Verus novel. The Heir of Night/The Gathering of the Lost are the first two in the Wall of Night books. These Broken Stars is a sci-fi/romance The Rook is a fantastical thriller and Tooth and Claw is a novel of manners…with dragons.

Twenty-one books. Twenty-one. I think I need to slow down just a wee bit. LOL. So. Have you gone as crazy as I have? What have you added to your shelves?

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.

Kushiel’s Justice (Kushiel’s Legacy #5) – Jacqueline Carey

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Summary:

My blood beat hard in my veins and hammered in my ears, like the sound of bronze wings clashing. And I understand for the first time what it meant that Kushiel, the One God’s punisher, had loved his charges too well…

Imriel de la Courcel’s blood parents are history’s most reviled traitors, while his adoptive parents, Phèdre and Joscelin, are Terre d’Ange’s greatest champions. Stolen, tortured, and enslaved as a young boy, Imriel is now a Prince of the Blood, third in line for the throne in a land that revels in beauty, art, and desire.

After a year abroad to study at university, Imriel returns from his adventures a little older and somewhat wiser. But perhaps not wise enough. What was once a mere spark of interest between himself and his cousin Sidonie now ignites into a white-hot blaze. But from commoner to peer, the whole realm would recoil from any alliance between Sidonie, heir to the throne, and Imriel, who bears the stigma of his mother’s of his mother’s misdeeds and betrayals. Praying that their passion will peak and fade, Imriel and Sidonie embark on an intense, secret affair.

Blessed Elua founded Terre d’Ange and bestowed one simple precept to guide his people: Love as thou wilt. When duty calls, Imriel honors his role as a member of the royal family by leaving to marry a lovely, if merely sweet, Alban princess. By choosing duty over love, Imriel and Sidonie may have unwittingly trespassed against Elua’s law. But when dark powers in Alba, who fear an invasion by Terre d’Ange, seek to use the lovers’ passion to bind Imriel, the gods themselves take notice.

Before the end, Kushiel’s justice will be felt in heaven and on earth.

Review:

When I reviewed Kushiel’s Scion, it was a slightly mixed bag. To say it was a weaker than Phedre’s triology is to do the book disservice: Carey is a strong enough author that even a “weaker” book is still above what most titles could hope to reach. If anything, my biggest problem with that first book was an over-reliance of magic to drive the plot (yes, I’m aware that this will again become an issue in the next book, but I’ll deal with it when I actually sit down to read it) as the magic in these series has always been relatively subdue. It’s influence unquestionably felt, but never at the fore. With Kushiel’s Justice she brings things back into balance. As before, magic does drive the plot, but again it is more subtle as it is what man chose to do with the knowledge that magic brought that truly drove the piece.

Like the best of Carey’s work, at its core, this is a character piece. We truly see Imriel grow up in this story: he goes from insufferable teenager to man. And make no mistake: Imriel is very insufferable at times. As noted above, he loves another when he embarks to be wed, and man getting through the parts where he’s all but constantly moping about can be difficult. So much so, that his wife eventually makes the following remark:

You may be insufferably self-absorbed, but you do have a good heart, Imriel – Dorelei mab Breidaia

Quite honestly, it’s that good heart that makes you want to keep reading. To be fair to Imriel he’s trying. He knows that Dorelei deserves better than him, deserves someone who truly loves him, but he does find his own way to fall in love with her and he gets to a point of at least contentment, and when something happens to her, Imriel gives over everything that he is to bring justice to her in a way that he probably wouldn’t have at the start of the story. I will allow that it’s a bit of stretch to think he was able to make the journey – Alban tradition or not, he’s still third in line to the throne of Terre d’Ange but like the best of stories, it’s well written enough that you’re willing to forgive that (admitted large-ish) problem with the plot.

I have seen some complain of just how much religion plays a part in this book, notably with Imriel’s development, but it honestly didn’t bother me. Generally speaking, fantasy is a genre that rarely touches on religion. Characters are either atheistic or the characters may be religious, but the gods are so interfering that (or perhaps their human ambassadors) are villain characters. Outside the excellent Son of the Morning (which appears will be getting a US release in 2016!) I can’t recall too many titles off the top of my head where the characters are religious and do have faith and it’s an aspect that I really enjoy in these books. Furthermore, faith has always had a large role within these books: Kushiel’s Avatar was largely driven by Phedre fighting her desire to stay out of a situation she knew would be awful, and forsaking the blessing she’s received from Elua’s and Kushiel’s after all. I think the issue probably stems from the fact that Imriel doesn’t seem as religious as Phedre does in the first book as he does here. But as I said, he grows up and his circumstances change. It works.

What also works is the focus on Imriel’s relationships with other people. The last book got bogged down with the magic and with the siege, the plot here allows more room for the characters to breath and ultimately make them more relate able and give you more reason to care for them. It’s a testament to Carey that even the smaller players feel developed when they can often get lost in the fold. All told, I think this will make or break you on whether or not you want to continue with his trilogy. I say this because the torch has finally been well and truly passed: though both books are from his point of view, his foster parents played a large enough role in the first half of the last book, that the book still felt that large portions of the book were here story. Here, their role is appropriately diminished and Imriel has stepped out from the shadows of his heroic parents. As much as I adore Phedre and Jocelin, it is a welcome change and this book is the stronger for it.

Finally, those of you concerned about such things: the sex contained within is all consensual and by this series’ standards, vanilla. There is a visit to Valerian house, but the focus of that scene is less the action than Imriel’s state of mind.

I’m glad that I decided to give this a chance, as I think overall it’s one of the strongest books in the series and it makes me excited to read the final book of this sequence. Combine that with the excellent character growth and the always fantastic setting and I’m a very happy reader: you simply can’t ask for anything more from a book.

Verdict: Buy Now

Available: Now