Review: Daughter of Chaos (Red Magic #1)

21953444Book purchased by me

Summary:

There comes a time in every witch’s life when she must choose her path. Darlena’s friends have already chosen, so why is it so hard for her to make up her mind? Now, Darlena is out of time. Under pressure from Hecate, the queen of all witches, Darlena makes a rash decision to choose Red magic, a path no witch in her right mind would dare take. As a Red witch, she will be responsible for chaos and mayhem, drawing her deep into darkness. Will the power of Red magic prove too much for Darlena, or will she learn to control it before it’s too late?

Review:

Daughter of Chaos is a solid indie work that’s a light read with an interesting premise. In this world, magic is predominantly arranged around the Trine: Black, White and Green magic. The three schools are pretty straight forward: White magic focuses on healing and healing others, Green is more about nature and balance and Black obviously about the more destructive forces. Darlena (a name that isn’t my favorite, my mind kept going to the ship name of Dalena from The Vampire Diaries and I can’t but feel that Dalena sounds better, but I digress) can’t decide which path she’s called too – well past the point where most have already decided. Finally, Hecate, Queen of the Witches shows up in her house and demands she chooses. In a moment of flippancy, she declares for Red magic, thinking it all made up.

Instead, as the summary helpfully advises us, it is path that exists and now Goddesses that control Red Magic – like Aphrodite, Hecate, Kali and Pele all want her to Dedicate her magic to them, and serve in their cause.

Red Witches are extremely rare and extremely powerful – only three ever exist at once. And so, she tries to figure out what Red magic is, and tries to keep herself and her family safe in the process.

The book is not without flaws, most notably there’s a friend who betrays her, and you can guess who in about two seconds flat and the character goes so far off the deep end you wonder if she was ever sane to begin with because the author just didn’t take the time to develop this fully.

I also feel like these meetings with the various deities don’t feel particularly special. Even her mother has met her patron Goddess and it’s all rather downplayed like it’s no big deal and that doesn’t sit right, because at the end of the day, they ARE gods.

Finally, Darlena has these moments where she feels blood thirsty and the like – moments that are out of character and don’t really make full sense? I guess it’s supposed to be Red Magic manifesting itself in her, but a bit more explanation might have been nice.

All told, it was a fun little read and if it’s something that sounds like it’d be up your alley, you’d probably enjoy it.

Verdict: A solid borrow it.

ARC Review: Destruction (December People #1) – Sharon Bayliss

20996178eARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for fair review

Summary:

David Vandergraff wants to be a good man. He goes to church every Sunday, keeps his lawn trim and green, and loves his wife and kids more than anything. Unfortunately, being a dark wizard isn’t a choice.

Eleven years ago, David’s secret second family went missing. When his two lost children are finally found, he learns they suffered years of unthinkable abuse. Ready to make things right, David brings the kids home even though it could mean losing the wife he can’t imagine living without.

Keeping his life together becomes harder when the new children claim to be dark wizards. David believes they use this fantasy to cope with their trauma. Until, David’s wife admits a secret of her own—she is a dark wizard too, as is David, and all of their children.

Now, David must parent two hurting children from a dark world he doesn’t understand and keep his family from falling apart. All while dealing with the realization that everyone he loves, including himself, may be evil

Review:

Is there a genre between magical realism and full-on fantasy? If there isn’t, I think this book makes a good case for one. Like Suffer the Children did for vampire novels, this is very much a tale of witches, but one rather firmly grounded in reality. It’s first and foremost a story of a family. It just happens that the family is one made of witches, whom for fear of harming themselves or others, have actively avoided practicing magic out of a combination of deliberateness and, in some cases, ignorance.

This is a tale of fundamentally flawed people. David had an affair, David’s company suffered a great setback from which there is no recovery and he only told his wife when more or less forced to by a spell cast by her parents. His wife Amanda isn’t necessarily better: she’s a control freak and she deliberately erased David’s knowledge of both his childhood and his magic to “protect” him – against his will. As much as this is a tale of witches, it’s a tale of a family falling apart and trying to come back together again. Because Sharon focuses on the family first, the story works.

The magic here is earth-and-incantation based. Every witch has a “season” to them. Summer witches – those born between the equinoxes are “good” witches. Winter witches- David and his family (the series name gets its title from the fact that David, his wife, and most of their children, save one are winter witches) are “evil” whose natural magical is aligned with destruction. Spring and autumn witches are somewhere in the middle. I do like that the “evil” of this book isn’t Voldemort style evil. It’s more the destruction (hence the title) we can do with both magic and it’s unintended consequences. We don’t really see much of the society, and it’s fitting because the text makes it quite clear that they don’t tend to congregate. Besides, much of the story is the family more or less discovering magic so it never really feels like you’re being cheated out of anything or that the author didn’t develop her system. We know enough for what the story needs, and that is enough.

Before I wrap up, I just want to use this book to make a point about book length. I criticized Witch Song for padding out it’s length – that was a 250 page book stretched out to 300 pages for no apparent reason other than the author seemed to feel like she was afraid to let her story end at its natural conclusion. Bayliss had no such qualms here. This book, while short at 236 pages (the remainder of the book is actually a tease for an entirely different story), feels entirely whole. She told the story she intended to tell and let the novel go with grace. I absolutely can enjoy a long read when the novel can sustain it, but not all can and I applaud the author for not forcing it.  Plus, at a list price of $5 for the Kindle edition, it’s still a good value.

The last thing I want to mention is the cover. This is pretty much one of those ‘don’t judge a book by it’ situations. Although Curiosity Quills Press is not a vanity/self-publishing firm, it’s small enough that in some ways, it’s only a step up from that and you can tell in the quality of the cover. I’m guessing the butterfly is supposed to be some kind of reference to The Butterfly Effect, because it otherwise doesn’t make sense, and the font choice just looks cheap. Still, I’d say that authors who think their books are good enough to publish, but are having trouble gaining a foothold from a Big Six publisher might want to look here. They’ve put out some pretty good titles and you are almost always better off starting with a very small publisher like this than self-publishing. You probably have as good a chance to win the lotto as you do to make the leap from self-published to traditionally published.

At the end of the day, Bayliss tells a fairly quiet story well, and if you’re looking for a bit of a different witch story, this may do the trick for you.

Verdict: Buy it

Available: Now

Review: A Breath of Frost (The Lovegrove Legacy #1) by Alyxandra Harvey

breath of frost

Summary:

In 1814, three cousins—Gretchen, Emma, and Penelope—discover their family lineage of witchcraft when a binding spell is broken, allowing their individual magical powers to manifest. Now, beyond the manicured gardens and ballrooms of Regency London, an alluring underworld available only to those with power is revealed to the cousins. By claiming their power, the three cousins have accidentally opened the gates to the underworld.

Now ghouls, hellhounds—and most terrifying of all, the spirits of dark witches known as the Greymalkin Sisters—are hunting and killing young debutante witches for their powers. And, somehow, Emma is connected to the murders…because she keeps finding the bodies.

Can the cousins seal the gates before another witch is killed…or even worse, before their new gifts are stripped away?

Review:

If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that I went through a period of “no more young adult” at the beginning of the year – I’d hit a rough spell where I couldn’t find anything that I liked. Despite that, I pre-ordered this anyways, because I love time period and I’d seen some bloggers praising the book. I definitely do not regret my decision.

I will say right now that this is one of the best YA fantasy titles I’ve read so far this year. While The Winner’s Curse was definitely a good book, I still consider that more a romance than fantasy. This, however, is historical urban fantasy for lack of a better descriptor. Set amongst the aristocracy of London, our protagonists are debutantes who unwittingly discover they are witches. The cousins here are all genuinely likable girls. There is a love interest in Cormac who strikes me like a charming Percy Weasley- when he starts the book he’s insistent on doing The Right Thing even though he knows that it isn’t really the right thing to. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself yelling at the book at his actions. By the same token, his character undoubtedly grows which is great to see. While we never get to see too much of the bones of the magic system at work (other than there is a lot of iron and salt used for protective purposes), the bits we see are fun, and I love how one of the protagonists ends up with antlers as a result of her magic. It’s just fun and the book so enjoyable that if you’re like me and you do prefer more detailed settings, that you’ll forgive the author for not showing us more.  At the very least, there is an obvious consistency to the world so that while I can’t necessarily explain to you how Emma does magic (other than she’s a weather-witch and prone to making it rain when she gets emotional) it doesn’t feel like hand-waving or cheating to make the magic fit the situation, which I will always appreciate it.

On top of the enjoyable characters we have a couple of enjoyable mysteries – who are behind the deaths, what happened with Emma’s mom, what is the truth of Emma’s heritage – that help keep you vested in the story.

If there is a weakness, I will say that I feel like Moira and her world didn’t really feel properly integrated with the story of Emma and the more upper class witches. It’s probably because we meet her early on, then she disappears for a large swath of the book before suddenly popping up and helping the girls out at opportune times. If there are any times where it feels like Harvey is cheating, it’s there. Still, the complaint is minor and I don’t find it enough of a distraction to consider it a true negative. I just hope that in the sequel, if she does come back, that it’s a bit smoother.

The sequel, Whisper the Dead is set to bow on October 9th. From the descriptor, it appears that that book will be focused on Gretchen, not Emma. I’m looking forward to that. Robin LaFevers has been doing something similar in her His Fair Assassin series to what I think is good effect: I rather see different characters in the same world, then trying to stretch a plot with the same character to cover multiple books. Even if I’m wrong though, I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel. This book is a bit of fresh air in a somewhat stagnant fantasy YA genre with good characters, good plot, and deftly handled romance that fits in with the plot and doesn’t overwhelm it.

Verdict: Buy it

Available: Now.

Good Reads #49: Hex Hall

ImageAhhh. This was the kind of read I needed after Rampant. Light and frothy. The kind of book that’s easy to read in a day or two, that you enjoy while you’re reading it, but maybe don’t necessarily remember it a day or two after you finish it.

The premise of the book is fun enough: Hecate (Hex) Hall is basically a reform school for witches, shifters (both were and shape varieties) and fae who got into trouble in the human world and are sent to live/study there until they turn 18.

Like in Harry Potter, none of their classes are “traditional” in any means, focusing on history and classification of the “Prodigium” as they’re called. Unlike Harry Potter they don’t study magic because…? Except when it comes to the dance when the witches get to learn how to make their own dresses. Yeah. That part of the book has some problems for me.

Regardless the real focus on the book is the relationship between the protagonist Sophie and her classmates. She has a vampire for a roommate and when her roommate is being blamed for the murder/near murder of classmates she goes out and tries to figure out what’s really happening.

Ultimately it’s one of those books that the plot exists, it’s solid and even a little interesting, but you’re really reading it for the characters.  And if you pick up the book with that expectation in mind, you’ll probably enjoy it.

This is the first book in a series. Will I pick up other books in the series? Yeah, probably at some point when I don’t have anything else to read. It just wasn’t quite strong enough to make me want to go out and read them now and I suspect that for those who read a ton, it won’t be that compelling a read either.

Verdict: Borrow it