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

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

 

 

Buy It (Now!) The Crown’s Game – Evelyn Skye

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Summary:

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Review:

I’m not going to beat around the bush: I loved this book. Loved. This is one of the rare books that was even better than the some of the hype implied.

First off, I loved all the characters major and minor. Everyone felt distinct and fleshed out, aside from one side character none of them felt cartoonish or over the top. I especially like the balance that Skye manages to achieve with Vika and Nikolai. Both of them want to want, both of them understand that success means the chance to live and that killing their competition is the best way to do that and so they really do try. At the same point in time, they have their humanity. They’re relieved when they fail. I think a lot of authors (especially YA authors) would have fallen into the trap of having one of them be like “I’m not going to play the Game! I’m not going to kill!” and she avoided that. I also liked how she acknowledged the political tensions of the time without turning it into a story where Vika joined the rebellion. She promised to serve the Tsar, and she will. It’s refreshing.

The magic was well done – evocative and enough of a framework to know the rules they are playing by, but not over-expained. It just comes off as exquisite and exquisitely done. I found myself looking forward to each Turn to see what they’d do next.

Finally, the pacing was spot on and the three main point of views all worked well making the book come together in a real elegant way.

My quibbles were few: there was a side-story with a character introduced late in the book that I don’t think ultimately added that much to the tale and I think she could have found another way to achieve the same end result. There was also a revelation at the end of the book straight out of the Book of YA Tropes that felt pointless. Really though, these were small and neither detracted anywhere near enough to consider not recommending this book.

This is a wonderful bit of fantasy that you should check out without second thought. Evelyn Skye is running a pre-order campaign that you can check out here if that’s your game. When I wrote this review, Amazon had it for $11.09, an absolute bargain, so go forth and pre-order!

Verdict: Buy It

Available: May 17th

 

Review: Black City Saint (Black City Saint #1) – Richard A. Knaack

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Summary:

For more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.

Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.

Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him…but ever seeking escape.

The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms…then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm

Review:

So in the last week I reviewed a historical fantasy set during Prohibition a YA fantasy (supposedly) about the Fey. So this time, I’d thought I’d mix things up and review a fantasy about the Fey set during Prohibition!

Man, I wish I could take credit for the timing on this, but funny how “to be read lists” just work out that way.

So anyway. Black City Saint is a book with interesting ideas and lackluster presentation. Nick Medea was once known as St. George (not really a spoiler since it’s more or less told you at the start of Chapter 2) – yes, the St. George that slew the dragon. It just so happens that the dragon was quite real and guarding the Gate that separates the Fae realm from our our own. So through a bit of magic, he’s now immortal and is tasked with making sure the Fae stay out – especially the particularly nasty Oberon – from trying to take things over which would eventually spell the end of mankind.

It’s a cool idea, but the execution left something to be desired. The book is written in a first person point of view but it sounds very stiff. While it does make sense for the book to be in this point of view, it comes off as if Knaack just isn’t comfortable with it and as a result, neither are the readers.

I should also mention that this is one of those books that’s mostly action, with Nick dashing from set piece to set piece. It was kind of nice seeing Chicago being used as more of a character, because the actual characters fell a little flat, all of them pretty much much having only one trait to them. Nick was devoted to his duties. He had some Feirie-realm helpers that seemed almost slavishly devoted to Nick. Detective Cortez was the One Straight Cop Amongst An Endless Sea of Corrupt Ones and the current reincarnation of Cleolinda was pretty much an annoying damsel-in-distress (I lost track of how many times she said  variations of”You’re not leaving me here!) for the majority of the book until she suddenly took a few levels in badass towards the very end.

All told, this book has some interesting ideas let down by some so-so presentation. If you like action oriented books and the concept intrigues you, you might want to give it a look. If you need emotional engagement to get into a book, keep looking.

Verdict: Borrow it

Available: March 1

Seven Black Diamonds – Melissa Marr

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Summary:

This riveting fantasy marks Melissa Marr’s return to the world of faery courts that made her Wicked Lovely series an international phenomenon.

Lilywhite Abernathy is a criminal—she’s half human, half fae, and since the time before she was born, a war has been raging between humans and faeries. The Queen of Blood and Rage, ruler of the fae courts, wants to avenge the tragic death of her heir due to the actions of reckless humans.

Lily’s father has always shielded her, but when she’s sent to the prestigious St. Columba’s school, she’s delivered straight into the arms of a fae sleeper cell—the Black Diamonds. The Diamonds are planted in the human world as the sons and daughters of the most influential families and tasked with destroying it from within. Against her will, Lilywhite’s been chosen to join them…and even the romantic attention of the fae rock singer Creed Morrison isn’t enough to keep Lily from wanting to run back to the familiar world she knows.

Melissa Marr returns to faery in a dramatic story of the precarious space between two worlds and the people who must thrive there. The combination of ethereal fae powers, tumultuous romance, and a bloodthirsty faery queen will have longtime fans and new readers at the edge of their seats.

Review:

You know. This isn’t a bad book. It’s a bland book.

The Queen of Blood and Rage is an Evil Queen because actions in the first chapter of the book tell us soon. The Black Diamonds are killers/terrorists against the humans because we are introduced to two of them in media res of a mission. Lilywhite is…well, that’s a spoiler but I imagine most people will figure out who Lilywhite is within a few chapters.

But really though? This book is all talk.

Talk. Talk. Talk. A few comments about “toxins” and how the humans have ruined the earth (for a world that is supposedly in some kind of post-Apocalypse you really can’t tell) and talk.

The Seven Black Diamonds never go on any missions together. Backstory is conveniently dumped upon us in the form of a letter and action towards the end of the book is pretty predictable for this sort of thing.

I also feel like there’s just not much character development. The biggest defining characteristic of any of them is that Lilywhite has these rules that she likes to chant that remind me of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition only they seem more like mantras than anything a criminal family would actually live by (I don’t think criminal bosses would really think that choices matter). For that matter, I’m still not sure why she had to the daughter of a crime boss. She could have been a more general socialite and it wouldn’t have had much of a change on the story.

I don’t know. It’s better than most YA faery stuff I’ve read, but I would still recommend Thorn Jack over this in a heartbeat if age-level didn’t matter to you. Ultimately, this book was good enough to keep me going to the end, and I did read it in a day, but it’s the very definition of a forgettable tale.

Verdict: Skip It

Available: March 1

Review: Angelus (The Books of Raziel #3) – Sabrina Benulis

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Summary:

The heart-pounding conclusion to the Books of Raziel trilogy, a gothic supernatural tale about a girl who discovers that she holds the keys to both Heaven and Hell—and that angels, demons, and all the creatures in between will stop at nothing to possess her and control the power she holds

“These angels can be vindictive and cruel, more human than you might expect and oozing supernatural abilities. . . . If you think you have the guts . . . pick it up.”—Boulder Examiner on Archon

The war begun by three powerful angel siblings—Raziel, Lucifel, and Israfel—has divided the kingdoms of both Heaven and Hell, and the destruction is spilling over into the human world.

The last hope for a crumbling world is the Archon—the human Angela Mathers who has the power to control the supernatural universe. Angela alone can successfully oppose Lucifel and open Raziel’s Book, to use its power for good. But to do so would mean murdering her best friend, a sacrifice Angela refuses to contemplate.

Angela sits on the throne of Hell, fulfilling a prophecy of ruin. But ruin does not always mean destruction—sometimes it means revolution. Time is running out for both Angela and the universe, and former enemies are eager to see her fail . . .

Review:

Before I get into the review proper, I’m going to do something I don’t normally do and gush about the book cover. I was fortunate enough to receive a finished copy from the publisher, and man, the photograph doesn’t really do it justice. The cover itself is almost completely matte, the grays are nice and saturated so the blood-red color of her hair and the hourglass all really stands out. The lettering also has the barest hint of a shine to it too that helps makes it stand out. All told, it’s quite eye-popping and probably one of my favorite covers in quite some time.

Of course, while a catchy cover can catch your eye, it doesn’t mean that the heart of the book itself can slack, and I don’t think it has. As before, Angelus picks up not too long after we left off and the End is basically here with Angela running out of time to open the Book of Raziel and save all mankind. She is still trapped in Hell at the beginning and the book is largely her journey to not only escape, but to see if there any way she can open the Book without Sophia, while of course trying to avoid being killed by Lucifel or the humans on earth who have been convinced that she is the new devil.

Again, as always the series places its emphasis on action more than anything else. We do get story dolled out, but it’s as Angela and her friends/allies dart from place to place. I still personally wish that there was more character development and I still feel like this would make an amazing television series where you could really bring all the great visuals to life.

The story does get wrapped up satisfactorily, and there’s a great (and grisly) end for one of our primary antagonists that did make me cheer, and I think fans of the series should be quite pleased with this ending.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: February 9