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

 

Miserere: An Autumn Tale

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Summary:

Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister Catarina’s soul, but Catarina doesn’t want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell. When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed and abandoned in Hell, is dying from a demonic possession. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina’s wrath isn’t so easy to escape!

Review:

Show, don’t tell. It’s one of the first rules of writing that your English teacher tries to drill into you when practicing creative writing of any sort.

And yet, all Frohock does is tell, tell, tell.

We know Lucian loved Catarina, because the story tells us it was so. We know that Lucian loved Rachel and that he did what he did, because the story tells us it was so.  As it was, all we get are glimpses of a backstory that could have been amazing, but instead just teases us with what might have been. It’s a problem too, because your investment in the story hinges on you buying that Lucian has remorse, and that Lucian loves Rachel. But here’s the thing: we never see Lucian actually loving Catarina. By the time we meet them, his feelings are mainly a mixture of hatred and fear. There’s some regret to be sure, but love? You don’t see it. Throw in the fact that Catarina is almost over the top villain – she lacks all subtly as a woman who wants power and will do anything and everything to get it. You literally can’t see why he would do what he did. Rachel says that she’s gone crazy. I do not doubt it, but why couldn’t we have seen it?

If there were ever a story begging for length, it is this. At 280 pages, I wish, wish wish that the book had doubled the length so we could have seen more of this tantalizing past, because I fully believe that the world created and characters that populate it are rich enough that they could have supported it. It’s so frustrating because I feel like there was so much more to see, but sadly she had chosen to tell instead.

At time of writing, the e-book was on sale, if you can get it on sale, I say pick it up. There’s just not quite enough here for me to give it my full recommendation.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available Now

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

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts #1) – Stacia Kane

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Summary:

THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED.

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

Review:

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

I wish I liked it more.

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

But that’s about all I liked.

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

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

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

Verdict: Skip It

Available Now

Kushiel’s Scion (Kushiel’s Avatar #4/Imrael’s Trilogy #1) – Jacqueline Carey

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Summary:

It is whispered that Kushiel’s lineage carries the ability to perceive the flaws in mortal souls, to administer an untender mercy. I sense its presence like a shadow on my soul…the memories of blood and branding and horror, and the legacy of cruelty that runs in my veins, shaping my own secret vow and wielding it like a brand against the darkness, whispering it to myself, over and over.
I will try to be good.

Imriel de la Courcel’s blood parents are history’s most reviled traitors, but his adoptive parents, the Comtesse Phedre and the warrior-priest 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 art, beauty, and desire. It is a court steeped in deeply laid conspiracies…and there are many who would see the young prince dead. Some despise him out of hatred for his birth mother Melisande, who nearly destroyed the realm in her quest for power. Others because they fear he has inherited his mother’s irresistible allure – and her dangerous gifts. And as he comes of age, plagued by dark yearnings, Imriel shares their fears.

At the royal court, where gossip is the chosen poison and assailants wield slander instead of swords, the young prince fights character assassins while struggling with his own innermost conflicts. But when Imriel departs to study at the fames University of Tiberium, the perils he faces turn infinitely more deadly.

Searching for wisdom, he finds instead a web of manipulation, where innocent words hide sinister meanings, and your lover of last night may become your hired killer before dawn. Now a simple act of friendship will leave Imriel trapped in a besieged city where the infamous Melisande is worshiped as a goddess; where a dead man leads an army; and where the prince must face his greatest test: to find his true self.

Review:

Kushiel’s Scion is the first book of Imrael’s trilogy, and the continuation of the Kushiel’s Legacy. While it is its own trilogy, like true epic fantasy, it draws on characters and events of the first three books: it will make much, much, much more sense for having read Phedre’s books and your enjoyment will go up accordingly.

That aside, there’s a question that all but hangs over the series: is it as good as Phedre’s tale?

In short: no.

And to be fair, it almost couldn’t be. Phedre is genuinely unique. I cannot think of anyone who comes close to comparing Phedre, there are many more out there like Imrael.

Does that make this less of a good book?

Not really.

It’s just different. The quiet start is expected: it lets Imrael grow up, and to try and deal with some of the demon’s of his past. Carey takes her time with it: if he never fully conquers them (which wouldn’t have been believable) he’s begun to heal from them, which is nice to see. Even when the action picks up, its of a different flavor – more political – and not as adventurous, I guess? This is more a character study, I think. It’s different, but still compelling. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t read both books. I will also say there is no antagonist as compelling as Melisandre, and her shadow still hangs over the books. It’s both good and bad, because another strong antagonist could have really helped this trilogy distinguish itself.

If I’m not as wildly enthusiastic about this book it’s because I think Phedre’s books were truly special. This wasn’t quite on the same level. It’s still a great book, and I’ll still get around to reading the next one, but I just don’t see this sticking with me in the same way, and I think there’s a reason that the first trilogy is the one that has had the most staying power. So yeah. A lesser version of an amazing book is still a great book and that is what this is.

Finally, I will contract my earlier statement and statement say that if you haven’t read the first set because you couldn’t get behind the erotica aspects, this may be worth picking up. There’s not nearly as much sex and it’s much more vanilla, so that is something to consider. Maybe it’ll even entice you into giving Phedre’s trilogy a chance. For the rest of us though,  you know if you’re into Carey, and if you are, you’ll enjoy this.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

DNF – The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

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Summary:

The first adult epic fantasy novel from multi-million copy bestselling author of Chocolat, Joanne Harris.

The novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods – retold from the point of view of the world’s ultimate trickster, Loki. It tells the story of Loki’s recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself. Using her life-long passion for the Norse myths, Joanne Harris has created a vibrant and powerful fantasy novel.

Loki, that’s me.

Loki, the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero of this particular tissue of lies. Take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s at least as true as the official version, and, dare I say it, more entertaining.

So far, history, such as it is, has cast me in a rather unflattering role.

Now it’s my turn to take the stage.

With his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.

From his recruitment by Odin from the realm of Chaos, through his years as the go-to man of Asgard, to his fall from grace in the build-up to Ragnarok, this is the unofficial history of the world’s ultimate trickster.

Why I Did Not Finish:

I knew this book wasn’t working for me when I first started it on June 1st and of this morning was still barely two dozen pages in. Now, to be fair, things had picked up at work and what not, but even so: there was nothing about this book that compelling me to pick it back to, to press on. Still, today I resolved to make real progress. By a third of the way through, I knew this wasn’t for me. By the half-way mark, I was done. Since I did make it further than I normally did, I contemplated posting here, then I had one critical thought which pushed me to giving this a true write up:

I realized I might not have been the right audience for this book.

My knowledge of Norse mythology is pretty skin deep. I could name you a few gods, but little else. Still, the concept of the rogue of the tales telling the story sounded appealing. There are two sides to every story, right?

In hindsight, however, I think knowing is going to help your read here. This book, though told as a narrative, isn’t really a narrative. Once the book settles in, it quickly falls into a pattern. Loki mentions his current situation in Asgard (usually relating to how much of an outcast he is/isn’t at the time) followed by Loki talking about how a given event came to be, then how he used his wits to resolve the situation, followed by an update on his situation in Asgard. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s a collection of stories only barely linked together by narration. To get the most out of it, I think you would benefit from knowing the other side of the tale, so you have that rounded view. As it is, Loki (naturally) comes off as the hero all the time and I think knowing the both so you can decide for yourself which version was closer to the truth (a narrator like Loki is going to be, by definition, unreliable). As it stands, Loki, the master of the humble brag doesn’t come off as terribly likable or sympathetic and I just found it hard to connect with the character, so I didn’t want to see his journey through.

Aside from a few annoying seemingly anachronistic bit (i.e. Loki saying that at a certain point people were asking for his autograph) the writing of the book is solid and Loki does have a nicely distinct voice. I do think there is a real audience out there for this book and I think they can find a lot to like. As for myself? I just couldn’t get in to it and so I had to DNF it.

On to the next.

P.S. It should go without saying that I’m no judge of how much fidelity to the original stories there is or isn’t. If that kind of thing is important to you, you may want to check out other reviews before picking this up 🙂