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

 

The Scorpion Rules – @erinbowbooks

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Summary:

A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages. The Children of Peace – sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals – are raised together in small, isolated schools called Preceptures. There, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of the North American Prefecture. Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace, even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water — she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.

Enter Elián Palnik, the Prefecture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Prefecture’s insidious surveillance, its small punishments and rewards, can make no dent in Elián, who is not interested in dignity and tradition, and doesn’t even accept the right of the UN to keep hostages.

What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?

Review:

 Patience is someone else’s virtue – Talis, the Book of Utterances

A nicely fitting quote to start off this review, as once again I am skipping ahead to look at a book that isn’t due out to til the end of September. Like with Illuminae my gut was telling me to read this now and so I did. And I am so glad. My gut seems to be on to be something.

The Scorpion Rules is dystopian sci-fi set about 400 years from now. Humans left the earth to go to hell in a handbasket and soon the population dropped like flies due to shortages of basics like food and water, but also due to wars over things like food and water. The UN decided that the best way to try and figure out how to end all the fighting was to let an AI by the name of Talis do the thinking for him: he decided to take control of the sub-orbital weapon systems and began systematically wiping cities off the face of the map until they started listening to him. After a few days, they got the point. He then implemented the Children of the Peace system: you want to rule, you put up your heir as collateral. You don’t go to war, they’re free at 18. They can then marry, produce an heir of their own, and the cycle begins anew. Go to war, and your child is killed. It actually works pretty damn well. Until it doesn’t. And then everything goes to pot.

First off, these are two things I like right away: there is nary a whiff of The Hunger Games or Divergent to be found. I didn’t actually think they were publishing genuinely unique dystopian books in YA anymore, so kudos to Simon & Schuster for that. Furthermore, there’s a groundedness here that actually feels believable. The Hunger Games is a classic for a reason, but there is some suspension of disbelief that people would just be willing to sacrifice their children for ritualistic slaughter so damn easily. At least here the children have a chance to live: find a diplomatic way to resolve things, and everything will be okay. Not always easy to do mind, but it IS doable. Another thing I like is Talis. Although I loved Illuminae there was more than a hint of HAL in AIDAN. Talis feels entirely like his own unique person with distinct personality. He’s kind of a snarky bastard, and as I’ve already tweeted at Erin, I would love if the final edition of this had some kind of version of the Book of Utterances because I’d love to read more.

Moving beyond that, I love Greta. I love her stoicism. Her bravery. Her sense of self-sacrifice. Her acceptance of her fate and her ultimate fate for that matter can be seen as kind of a downer, but then you look at how she saved others at the same time and I can’t help but admire her for her strength. More than once she is referred to as the leader of The Children of Peace and you can understand way. I also love her interactions with the other characters: especially Elián and Da-Xia. I like how Erin toys with the hint of romance between Greta and Elián, but that she ultimately realizes her love for Da-Xia. Elián helps her to realize that there is some virtue to passion and fight – something almost beaten out of them by the Abbott, but Da-Xia has been there for her since she first came to the Precepture. It’s all so quiet and lovely and the kind nuanced look that can be hard to find in adult fiction, let alone YA.

If I have any quibbles, it’s that I’m not totally sold on the title. To be honest, I find it kind of a generic thriller title. I feel like I could go to the store and find Tom Clancy’s The Scorpion Rules. It’s apt, but it doesn’t grab you. The former title, Art of Scorpions is a little more cumbersome on the tongue, but I think it’s also more intriguing. Likewise, the cover art just misses the mark for me. It’s a bit abstract: once you see the scorpions it all makes sense, but until you see it, it’s just kind of weird. That said, it still is kind of eye-catching and sometimes that makes all the difference.

I have to say, YA sci-fi might be kind of limited, but what it lacks in quantity it seems to be making up for in quality. If you want a smart, mature book that does things differently than most, go pre-order this, even if you don’t normally read YA. The best way to get more books like this is to support the ones that are out there or in the pipeline. I know I will.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: September 22nd

Illuminae (Illuminae Files #1) – by @AmieKaufman @misterkristoff

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Summary:

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Review:

This review is early. Super early. And I don’t care. Illuminae is freaking amazing and I want to talk about it now because it is that awesome.

Described by Kristoff as “Scifi Horror Romance,” Illuminae is told in a kind of modern-epistolary form. Eschewing traditional narration for everything except transcriptions of videos that we as readers cannot watch, Illuminae is probably one of the most unique books I’ve ever read – young adult or otherwise. It’s also ridiculously entertaining.

Illuminae is ultimately a story of survival and the fight to live against almost impossible odds, from the cover-ups by high command, to bioenginereed disease that renders people insane through fear, to the slow and steady chase by an enemy ship whose constant progress means that the question is when they get caught, not if. There is this delicious tension that runs throughout the book as the reader watches the world slowly crumble around Kady. There are dueling sympathies as you hate command for some of the lies they tell and some of the choices they make, but yet as much as it hurts to watch those decisions being made, it’s very much in the vein of “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” They’re trying to make the best decisions they can for the moment they are in. And the options are usually in the range from bad to worse. There are no easy outs here and death is an ever lurking presence that can’t be ignored. And of course, there is AIDAN, the AI whose behavior is irrational at best, and yet even with him you can see the twisted logic behind it.

There are two great strengths here: the characters and the style.

Kady is the girl that we should all be so lucky to be: she’s smart, she’s skilled and she’s courageous as all get out. She’s a poster child for both girls in STEM (hack, girl, hack) and just kick ass heroines. She willingly put herself on a suicide mission to do what she thought right. And at the end, she arguably has changed. She is harder. She does have a thirst for revenge and it all feels so damn right. I have mad respect for her in a way I simply don’t for most YA protagonists. And then, the conversations she has with Ezra and that Ezra has with his friends provide some much needed levity, and the romance is genuinely sweet and not heavy handed at all. It’s really well balanced. Also, mad props to the authors for having the guys sound like guys. Their conversations aren’t sanitized for our protection, and yet they aren’t overdone either. I suppose while I’m on the topic, I will say I find this book is probably for the 15-16+ crowd. The action gets pretty heavy, there is on-page death, there is on page-violence and swearing (albeit redacted) abounds.  It’s never overdone or exploitative (it’s really on par with what you might find in adult books) but it may be just a bit heavy for those on the younger end of the YA scale, so just putting that out there.

The other thing that makes it work is the commitment to the style of the book. Just recently I criticized another book for being style, without substance. An occasional trill of words running diagonally down a page or random bolding or whatnot. On the other hand, Illuminae is committed. There is everything here, from renders of the crafts there on, to word art, to poetry turned art (my favorite being AIDAN’s musings written such that it looks like ships flying in formation and when Kady is doing a space walk and the words bounce like her steps). It’s clearly well-thought out and beautifully done.

Overall, Illuminae hits all the sweet spots for me and does what I’ve been craving in YA: tell an original story in an original way. The biggest compliment I can give the book is this: I see this being the book that makes a person a sci-fi fan. I see someone picking this up for the hype of it all and just completely falling in love. It’s that good 🙂

So yes. The wait til October will be long and painful and for that I apologize, but go. Preorder now. You can thank me once you’ve devoured the book.

Verdict: Buy It (This will be on my Top 10 this year, just saying)

Available: October 20th

The Philosopher Kings (Thessaly #2) – Jo Walton

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From acclaimed, award-winning author Jo Walton: Philosopher Kings, a tale of gods and humans, and the surprising things they have to learn from one another. Twenty years have elapsed since the events of The Just City. The City, founded by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, organized on the principles espoused in Plato’s Republic and populated by people from all eras of human history, has now split into five cities, and low-level armed conflict between them is not unheard-of.

The god Apollo, living (by his own choice) a human life as “Pythias” in the City, his true identity known only to a few, is now married and the father of several children. But a tragic loss causes him to become consumed with the desire for revenge. Being Apollo, he goes handling it in a seemingly rational and systematic way, but it’s evident, particularly to his precocious daughter Arete, that he is unhinged with grief.

Along with Arete and several of his sons, plus a boatload of other volunteers–including the now fantastically aged Marsilio Ficino, the great humanist of Renaissance Florence–Pythias/Apollo goes sailing into the mysterious Eastern Mediterranean of pre-antiquity to see what they can find—possibly the man who may have caused his great grief, possibly communities of the earliest people to call themselves “Greek.” What Apollo, his daughter, and the rest of the expedition will discover…will change everything.

Review:

Genre labels are a blessing and a curse. They’re nice when you need a quick and dirty framing device for a discussion, but they can be an absolute bitch when the book you’re trying to describe refuses to fit into neatly. To whit, if you really pressed me, I’d call this sci-fi/historical fantasy. It’s science fiction, because time travel makes the entire series possible, the cities exist in this bubble of space time that allows them to interact with the greater world, yet not leave a lasting impact. It’s historical because the world it exists against is about 1000 B.C.E, several generations before Troy ever occurs, and it’s fantasy because the Greek Gods are quite real, and their powers are manifest in the (currently mortal) Apollo’s demi-god children. It sounds horrifically confusing, and trying to wrap your head around its neat category does it a disservice: it all comes together remarkably well.

The Philosopher Kings is a sequel to The Just City (a book I haven’t read yet, but I am planning on rectifying), a book in which Athene gathers various humans from throughout history and creates a new society, trying to live up to the Platonic ideals, as laid out in The Republic. It’s a world where Plato is held up in almost as high regard as the Gods themselves with his seminal text acting as a kind of sacred text. As you might suspect, this book is rather heavy on the philosophy. It doesn’t preach Plato, but by the same token, you’ll definitely get more out of it if you have read The Republic, if only because it’ll let you understand some of the discussions more. And while that may seem to be a bit of a tall order to read fantasy, I don’t think it’s really that unreasonable of a request. This is unquestionably a niche title. Not only is it philosophy heavy, it is action light and the combination of the two may well be off putting to a lot of readers. On the other hand, it’s a wonderful discussion of what it means to be human and questions how we should handle ourselves and will give you a lot to chew on, if you so desire.

I really only have one complaint about this book: the book is told through multiple points of view, and all are in the first person. I find that the narrators don’t have distinct voices and so you really need to pay attention to the chapter titles which tell you whose point of view we’re now in: it’s otherwise too easy to get confused because you lost track of who the narrator is. I think the story is strong enough to make it worth the extra hassle, but really, authors who go this route NEED to make character voices distinct because when they are, we can follow along and never need that header.

Overall, I think this is a really thoughtful read. If you want something that you haven’t read before, give this a look. I think you’ll be as satisfied as I am.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: June 30th

Owl and the Japanese Circus (Adventures of Owl #1) – Kristi Charish

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Summary:

Fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, and Linda Hamilton will flock to the kick-ass world of Owl, a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.

Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.

Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.

Review:

The greatest strength of Owl and the Japanese Circus is that Charish takes the expected tropes of the paranormal urban fantasy genre and gives them a little twist, creating a tale that is both familiar and fresh. Vampires are present here (and I like the touches of them using pheromones to thrall or that Egyptian Mau cats can be trained to attack them, and their bites/scratches are venomous to them) but if this were a video game, they would be the minions that you beat up on a million times, yet never the main boss. Instead, our big bad is a Dragon. We also have (in no particular order): naga, kami and skin walkers on team bad guy, and team neutral has incubi, luck demons, nymphs and more. It’s a cornucopia of supernaturals and ones we generally don’t see, which is always a nice touch.

Alix (the titular Owl) is a kind of anti-Anita Blake. For all that she voluntarily or involuntarily gets involved with the supernatural, she can’t spot them for shit, so much much so that it becomes a pretty amusing running joke. Like Anita (and many other protagonists of this genre) she has a smart mouth. Unlike Anita, it without fail pisses off whomever she’s talking to – friend or foe. Never once does it gain her points from the other side, it only pisses people off. She nearly loses the two friends of hers that we meet in the book, and deservedly so. She’s the kind of friend that would be loyal to the end, but would have others asking you why you were still friends with her. She’s also notorious for rushing in head first to situations, and inevitably something goes completely awry. When you discover the background of one of the antagonists it’s actually quite tragic. Alix may try to paint herself a victim (something her friends don’t let her get away with, which is nice) but much of her drama is her own damn fault, she’s no murderer, but she’s also hardly innocent. It’s nice having a protagonist that everyone agrees is pretty damn well broken, but still manages to ultimately be likable.

Overall, this is just one of those books that works and hits all of the right notes. There’s plenty of action, there’s some good girlfriend heart-to-hearts, there’s even a nice bit of budding romance and hey, she even manages to find time to play a game called World Quest that honestly sounds quite fun and doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story. The title sounds like it belongs to some kind of literary fiction, but it isn’t. It’s a very fun, very enjoyable piece of urban fantasy and anyone who has any interest in this genre should definitely check it out.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

The Girl at Midnight – Melissa Grey

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Summary:

For readers of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, The Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

Review:

Guys, this is why I read young adult fantasy. Every time I read something and I wonder why it’s been so hyped when it feels so much like everything else I’ve read in the genre, a book like this will come along like a breath of fresh air.

The Girl at Midnight is a tale of a girl named Echo – names have meaning amongst the magical Avicen (human/bird) and Drakharin (human/dragon) and hers has an especially poignant meaning when you figure it out – a runaway taken in by the Ala, a Seer amongst the Avicen. Echo knows that most Avicen see her as something lessor, but they are her family, so when the Ala asks her to retrieve an object in secret, she readily agrees. Of course, this being a fantasy, it sets her on a journey she couldn’t have imagined.

This is a book about finding your place in the world, your family and your friends. It’s about the hatred that separates us, but the undeniable truth that beneath the hate there are a lot more similarities if only we allowed ourselves to look. It’s about a loyalty that goes beyond simple friendship – the way Dorian will follow Caius anywhere, why Ivy stays with Echo and even helps Dorian, even though he is the enemy, and beat her in captivity. It’s a story about love trying to find a way – be it between Echo and Caius, or more touchingly, Dorian and Jasper two characters who are obviously gay but the book never feels the need to have a moment to say “THEIR GAY” just taking moments to regret the unrequited love Dorian has for Caius or how Jasper (a Avicen) tries wooing Dorian from the second they meet because to him, the one eyed Dorian is hot and eff his people who’d consider him a traitor for liking a Drakharin.

If the end isn’t the biggest surprise, that’s okay. It doesn’t need to be. As the book itself says, it’s more about the journey, and the journey itself was great. It was fun, it was taut, it dealt with the grief that comes with the first time you kill. It was just all really, really well done.

This is one of those books that wound up being so much more than I expected it to be and it made me fall in love with YA all over again. In short this is the first book in the series. I’m already counting the days ’til June 2016.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Kushiel’s Dart (Kushiel’s Legacy #1) by @JCareyAuthor

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Summary:

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good….and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt. Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission….and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel’s dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair….and beyond.

Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear. Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel’s Dart, a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.

Review:

One of the first reviews you’ll see of this book on Goodreads makes much ado about the relative young age of those entering Naamah’s service (14, though most don’t seem to start actually serving until 15 or 16), and how some of the BDSM is a bit extreme for her taste and so on. As I got into this novel I was going to write this big impassioned defense of the world of which this book is set. There’s the fact that Naamah is not unlike Aphrodite: her priests and priestesses are courtesans, and to sleep with one is an act of worship. There’s the fact that consent is everywhere in this book, and that consent being taken away around the midpoint plays an important role. There’s a fact that none of the sexy is tawdry or exploitative. It is crystal clear when one patrol has crossed the line, and what constitutes that line and when Phèdre will allow her patron to tip toe up to it is very much a part of her coming to grips with what it means to bear Kushiel’s Dart and so forth.

But then I realized than I decided that if I did so, that it kind of misses the point.

For as much as sex and sexuality run as themes through this story, it is not a story about sex.

It is epic fantasy.

It is feminist, sex-positive epic fantasy told from a perspective that we just never see: the female outsider. Phèdre is no warrior. For all that she has been taught, she is no scholar nor trained diplomat. She is a courtesan, taught by her bond-holder (yes, she’s an indentured servant, but like so many before her has earned her freedom before the half-way mark of this book) to pay attention and to listen. She gathers information and passes it along to let him do with it as he pleases.

Until she can no longer be the outsider.

Until her bond-holder has been betrayed and killed and she has become an unwilling participant because it’s that or die. She survives because she is smart. She survives because she can use her knowledge of men (and one woman, actually) to do what must be done. There are a few occasions in this book where she uses her body to get what is needed. Male companions of hers question her decisions, but in a refreshing change from the norm, she does not feel guilt. She is a servant of Naamah. She has Kushiel’s Dart. They are part and parcel of who she is and if that is what it takes to to further their dire situation than so be it.

This is about a girl becoming a woman. It is a book about discovering what it means to serve your god – chosen freely (Naamah) or by her very nature (Kushiel) – and that is a discussion that isn’t limited to Phèdre, but also to her companion Joscelin – a guard in the service of Cassiel who in their quest to survive must break vows he swore never to break.

I actually really like the religion and world building here too. It’s a curious mix of the polytheism of the Greeks mixed with a bit of Christianity (Blessed Elua had 12 companions is all I’m saying) and the Yeshuites are clearly the Hebrews. The world is clearly European-based: Phèdre people feel like the French. We get mentions (in other names) of the Romans, the Spanish, the Celts, and the Vikings. It just shows that you these old constructs have plenty of life in them when enough care is paid to them.

And finally, I have to give Carey props because though this book is long (the paperback version is about 930 pages long, the Kindle version just over 1000) it doesn’t feel it nor outstay its welcome. So often I feel like books of these length (see Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles) need a trim, but this one doesn’t. The first half and the second half are distinct enough that they could have been cut into two books, but I’m glad they didn’t, because you need both halves to get that truly rewarding experience.

One consistent plea in fantasy is for more female-centric and female-written books. This book and this series are just that. Don’t let the basic concept behind the book turn you off, because you’ll be missing out on something truly special.

Verdict: Buy It

Available Now

Blog Tour: The Curse Servant (Dark Choir #2)

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Summary:

The one person standing between Hell… and an innocent girl… is a man without a soul.

A regular life isn’t in the cards for Dorian Lake, but with his charm-crafting business invigorated, and the prospect of a serious relationship within his grasp, life is closer to normal than Dorian could ever expect. In the heat of the Baltimore mayoral campaign, Dorian has managed to balance his arrangements with Deputy Mayor Julian Bright with his search to find his lost soul. Dorian soon learns of a Netherworker, the head of a dangerous West Coast cabal, who might be able to find and return his soul. The price? Just one curse.

Sounds easy… but nothing ever is for Dorian. A dark presence arrives in the city, hell-bent on finding Dorian’s soul first. Innocents are caught in the crossfire, and Dorian finds it harder to keep his commitments to Bright. When the fight gets personal, and the entity hits too close to home, Dorian must rely on those he trusts the least to save the ones he loves. As he tests the limits of his hermetic skills to defeat this new enemy, will Dorian lose his one chance to avoid damnation?

Review:

Okay. I don’t like to beg people. But I will.

Buy this book, people.

Long and short of it, this series has snuck its way into my heart and has become my favorite urban fantasy series. It just clicks with me on a level that I have trouble understanding, let alone explaining, but I think it comes down to this:

It’s grounded. It feels real. He feels real. Not the “I’m just a normal person living in a crazy world, honest!” vibe that most protagonists in these kind of novels have. He is mostly a normal guy, and the world is mostly normal: no vampires, no werewolves, no demon bars. He just happens to practice magic and have concerns about the attempts to gentrify his tenants out of the neighborhood. He’s as relatable as anyone in this genre will ever be.

Another plus? Although he’s certainly trying for romance and you want him to find someone, it’s by no means a large part of the story. It doesn’t take the story over, there are no sex scenes. Those things aren’t bad, but for those of us who like our urban fantasy without the romance, it’s a bonus.

All in all, this book and this series just work and they deserve more love.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now at Amazon

Son of the Morning – Mark Alder

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Summary:

Edward the Third stands in the burnt ruin of an English church. He is beset on all sides. He needs a victory against the French to rescue his Kingship. Or he will die trying.

Philip of Valois can put 50,000 men in the field. He has sent his priests to summon the very Angels themselves to fight for France. Edward could call on God for aid but he is an usurper. What if God truly is on the side of the French?

But for a price, Edward could open the gates of Hell and take an unholy war to France . . .

Mark Alder has brought the epic fantasy of George R.R. Martin to the vivid historical adventure of Bernard Cornwell and has a created a fantasy that will sweep you to a new vision of the Hundred Years War.

Review:

The Antichrist is the single most moral character in this book.

Seriously.

That sentence should defy all logic, and yet, Alder has done such a convincing job of laying out his version of Christianity that it actually winds up making perfect sense. In this world, as the story goes, Lucifer was the creator, and reveled in the joy of his creation, while the angel Ithekter wished to be worshiped. Eventually, Ithekter overthrew Lucifer, declared himself God and put Lucifer under the watch of his gaoler, Satan in Hell. Those who worship Lucifer claim that Christ was not the Son of God, but rather Lucifer in mortal form. Further, they go on to mention that demons are fallen angels, where devils are creatures “created from spite and envy.” And ever since that day, there has been civil war in Hell – between Lucifer, his demons and followers who would only wish for peace for all and Satan, who wishes to keep him contained. Lucifer is now trying to escape hell so he can set Earth back to what he created – as opposed to what the usurper has ultimately wrought on it.

And although this sounds sacrilegious at first, there’s something very respectful about all of this. The so-called “cult” of Lucifer isn’t an attack on Christianity at all. If anything, it comes across as Christianity in its most idealized state: equality for all, and no man above another. Ultimately, this retelling feels like a condemnation of the Catholic Church during this time period: the Angels only help those who build the biggest and the most beautiful temples, and God’s favor can literally be bought. There’s much talk of the divine right of Kings and you see many instances of the Church using its power to trod upon the underclasses. And the squabbles of man – such as Edward and Philip’s struggles to control France – are almost equally found amongst those that serve god and all have their own agenda. Lucifer wants out of Hell. God wants the AntiChrist left alive while Satan wants him dead (“Servants often have different plans than their masters” is mentioned more than once, as is the notion that God likes to play the angels and devils off one another for his affections). The divine politics are easily as complicated as (if not more so than) the politics on earth. It makes for some fantastic reading.

In a lot of ways, this book is about faith to: the Antichrist (who I don’t want to spoil) is a very moral man and his faith is absolute. LIkewise, Montagu, Lord Marschall of England, is devout in his beliefs as well. He hates himself for what he has done, so seeks to damn himself – although in so doing, he is serving Lucifer, and arguably, the better team. We also have characters like Osbert the pardoner whose faith only extends so far as to supporting the side that can support him best. It’s all complex and well thought out.

This is a book I gravitated towards because the summary grabbed me, and it yet it wound up being so much more than I expected it to be. If you can open yourself to what the book is trying to present, I think you’ll find that this book is not only an engrossing read that is beautifully written, but it may even make you think too.

This is easily the best book I’ve read to date this year, and I can’t imagine it not making my Top 10 list. If this intrigues you at all, hunt it down (sadly, this book doesn’t have an American distributor yet – tips for locating it will be below) because it’s definitely worth the read.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: NowIf you want to get your hands on the book, you’ll need to look to UK distributors. Your best bets are Amazon.co.uk for a Kindle version or The Book Depository for a physical copy. Amazon sellers just aren’t going to be a help here.

Top 10 of 2014

I’m kind of amazed we’re already at this point in the year again, time really does pass by faster as you get older. How bothersome! Overall, I think 2014 was a pretty good year. There were no books that I downright loathed. I can’t even pull together a “Worst of” list for the year. You go, 2014! The list is a mix of young adult and adult. If there’s an overriding theme to my list is that I rewarded books that tried to put their own spin on traditional. Outside of my picks for the 9 and 10 spot, they all do something just a little bit different. Finally, the only criteria for being on the list was that I reviewed it in 2014. A good book is a good book and deserves a shout out regardless of publication date.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at my Top Ten books of 2014. Click on the covers for links back to the original review 🙂

 

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9. The Casquette Girls – Alys Arden & A Taste of Blood Wine – Freda Warrington Paranormal Fantasy (Vampires) YA and Adult, respectively
I honestly couldn’t rank one above the other because they’re on the list for the same reason: they take the tropes of their given genres and spin fantastic tales using those tropes. It shows why the tropes have hung around and proves that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to create a great book.

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8. Sword of the Bright Lady -M.C. Planck Traditional Fantasy, Adult
A mostly traditional fantasy novel with the twist of a modern protagonist trying to find his way in the new land. The author was careful with both avoiding over-explaining how he got there (important to avoid immersion breaks) and made sure to touch on how the people from that time to react to him which helps ground the novel.

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7. Zodiac – Romina Russell Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult
A wonderful surprise of a Young Adult novel. Clever world-building, likable and smart protagonists, and no dreaded love-triangle! This is the kind of book that the fantasy YA genre should aspire to in general, and I’d easily recommend it for someone new to Young Adult and is looking for something to dip their toes with.

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6. Libriomancer – Jim C. Hines Urban Fantasy, Adult
A book lover’s fantasy novel. Between the almost endless references that are fun to find, but don’t feel added for the sake of being added and a very clever and well-thought out magic system, it’s a must read.

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5. Clariel – Garth Nix  High Fantasy, Young Adult
A high fantasy YA title that is YA in name only, it made me get why Nix has been around for twenty years. If Zodiac gently bucks against tropes of the genre, Clariel more or less gives the tropes a middle finger and it’s awesome.

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4. The Waking Engine – David Edison Urban Fantasy, Adult
Literary fantasy that at times is highly surreal, has some wonderfully creepy imagery and some heady and heavy themes. This is easily the most divisive book I have on the list, but I implore you to at least give it a look.

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3. Written in Red – Anne Bishop Paranormal, Urban Fantasy. Adult
A series that turned all the tropes of paranormal fantasy on its head by simply approaching it from the angle of: what if  the shifted form was human, and not beast? It’s a simple, yet brilliant, twist that makes you wonder why no one thought of it earlier.
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2. The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison Traditional Fantasy, Adult
Never has a book let me see the world from the point of view of its narrator as effectively as this book. It’s narrative style – a first person point of view that uses a formal second-person English tense – is rough to get used to, but works wonders in showing you the lonliness of the protagonist and the sense of isolation that comes with being Emperor. Give it a shot, and you’ll be rewarded.

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1. City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett Secondary World, Adult
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I’ve been pimping this book like crazy, and for good reason. A fantasy that reads like historical fiction due to the wonderfully developed secondary world that has strong, smart women as its leads. I will recommend it to anyone and everyone. It’s that good.

So what do you think? What should be on there that I left off? Let me know!