Two Serpents Rise (Craft Sequence 2) by Max Gladstone.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I have a small, but slowly growing circle of authors whose books I sweep off the shelves as soon as they get published because I know that they will not disappoint me.  Ilona Andrews is in it, as well as James S. A. Corey, Robert Jackson Bennet, and Peter F Hamilton. After finishing Two Serpents Rise, I am adding Max Gladstone to that circle as well.

I had loved the first book in the series, Three Parts Dead, and thought that this world had a lot of potential (You can read my review of that book here, if you are interested), but then I got so many other books to read and review that I completely forgot that I had bought the second book in the series as well. Until I started cleaning out my e-reader and stumbled upon it three days ago. Needless to say that I was hooked the moment I opened the book on page 1…

While it set up in the same world at Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise has a different set of characters and a different story to tell, though it still revolves around Gods, Craftsmen, and the nature of sacrifice.

Caleb works for Red King Consolidated, a corporation of Craftsmen who killed the gods of Dresediel Lex sixty years ago and had since then taken their responsibility of supplying the growing city with everything needed for its survival, like water, power, and food. Caleb works as a professional risk manager for RKC and is sent to investigate an accident in one of the mountain reservoirs supplying the city with much needed water. Reservoir that had been contaminated by tsimet, or water demons. It’s up to Caleb to find out if it was a miscalculation in their risk assessment or the result of intentional sabotage. Turns out, there is more than tsimet lurking beneath the dark waters, and Dresediel Lex is in more trouble than anyone expects. And some of that trouble is very familiar to Caleb, since it comes from his father, who is also known as the last priest of the old gods and the leader of the True Quechal opposition.

This book is darker than the first one, because Quechal is not a peaceful country. The gods have been killed, but there are plenty who would welcome the return of the old ways. More importantly, this city shouldn’t exist. It’s a bustling metropolis on the shores of a deadly sea filled with monsters and surrounded by an arid land where nothing grows naturally. Everything that Dresediel Lex relies on to survive was provided by divine intervention. Gods made the rain fall and the reservoirs fill with water. Gods protected the fishing boats from the monsters roaming in the depths of the sea. Gods made crops grow on infertile soil and cattle thrive. And now those gods are gone, and RKC is a poor substitute for the miracles by which the gods kept Dresediel Lex alive and thriving. Dresediel Lex is a city on the brink of a disaster, even if the common masses don’t know it. Or maybe they know, but are too afraid to acknowledge it?

And Caleb is a prime example of this. He rejects the old ways because he’d seen firsthand how bloody and uncompromising they can be. But he also realizes that his new employer cannot keep the city going forever; that in ten – fifteen years the water table in Quechal would be sucked dry and the city would either die of thirst or have to wage war with other nations for that precious liquid. He sees no solution for this dilemma, and no future for himself or his city, so he is adrift, just living his days without a purpose or passion.

The story itself is gripping and fast-paced and ends on a hopeful note, despite the initial bleakness of the situation – when both the old and the new ways are equally bad, sometimes it’s essential to put your pride aside and work together for a different solution, a third way…

Anyway, I love this world and I would recommend this series to anyone who like complex stories that makes you think. I am certainly ready to dive into the next book in the series, so stay tuned for more reviews!

Chaos Rises (Veil World 1) by Pippa DaCosta.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

I always pick up a new series with a certain amount of trepidation. Will it be good? Will the world be interesting? Will the protagonist be engaging enough or will she or he make me want to pull my hair out? Will the actual plot of the book be worth the read? Some series start with a bang and some start with a whimper. I’m glad that Veil World turned out to be in the first category. So before I dive into the review, let me just say that Chaos Rises had been a tremendously fun read.

 

Gem and her brother Del are half-bloods. Half-demon and half-human. Created by the Institute for the sole purpose to hunt down and exterminate demons. Trained for that purpose since they barely learned how to walk as well. When the Veil fell and demons swarmed our world, Gem and Del took the opportunity to escape the Institute. Only their training didn’t prepare them for the harsh realities of life outside their sterile cells, and now, with the Veil back in place and stronger than ever and the Institute looking for them, they are forced to rely on the good graces of a demon to survive in LA. It’s not half bad, as long as they are together…

 

A routine mission to capture a lesser demon for their master goes terribly awry and lands Gem in a hospital bed while Del goes missing. Now Gem will go to any lengths to get her brother back, even if that means going against their benefactor.

 

Pippa DaCosta created a very interesting and different world. Are you used to smolderingly sexual and slightly dangerous demons who are just misunderstood and need someone to love them to transform into cuddly puppies? Well, you won’t find any here. These demons are smoldering, and sexual, yes, but also ruthless, cruel, and very very dangerous. And for them rutting, fighting, killing and devouring their enemies is just as fun. And not always in that order either.

 

The demon hierarchy is based on strength and ruthlessness. One literally climbs up the ladder stepping on the corpses of weaker and unluckier demons. And the place of half-bloods in that hierarchy? Right at the very bottom, just one step higher than the mindless lesser demons. Half-bloods were made to be owned, that’s what demon rules dictate.

 

I also liked the unusual take on half-bloods in this book. There is nothing “half” in Gem and Del. They are both fully human and fully demon. Two entities sharing the same shell and the same mind, constantly fighting for dominance. The life of a half-blood is a constant struggle to stay human enough to keep the demon in check. In the Institute, Gem managed to do that with the aid of a special drug, a drug that only Allard can procure for them now.

 

Gem is one heck of a protagonist. She is strong and determined and ruthless sometimes, but how can she not be with her upbringing? She doesn’t trust anyone, especially not demons, and the only person she can relate to is her brother. I also loved her struggle to keep control of her demon, to stay in charge when her world spun out of control more and more. And while at first I wondered what the big deal about that was, I was given ample explanation of it when Gem finally lost that control. She was created to kill demons, so her demon by definition had to be stronger, meaner and deadlier than her prey. Well, if such things as psychopathic serial killer demons existed in Hell, Gem’s demon would be one. Without her human mind in control, she is more terrifying than Allard and his demons.

 

The story is tightly wound and keeps you on the edge of your sit. I found myself rooting for Gem, celebrating her small victories and fuming on her behalf when things went from bad to worse.

 

So to summarize, Chaos Rises is an excellent start of a new series. I certainly recommend it to any Urban Fantasy lovers and I am looking forward to the next book.

 

PS. I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Ghoul King (A story of the Dreaming Cities) by Guy Haley.

 Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Quinn, the Knight of the Dreaming City of Atlantis, is back in this new novella, and I’m so very happy about it! I’d read the first novella of the cycle, The Emperor’s Railroad, and absolutely loved it. If you are interested, you can read my review here. So I was eager to find out where Quinn’s adventures took him next.

 

Well, in The Ghoul King, Quinn finds himself rather down on his luck thanks to the intervention of an Angel, who took it rather personally when Quinn had killed that dragon at the end of The Emperor’s Railroad. So at the beginning of this book, Quinn has lost both his horses and his gear and is forced to fight countless waves of undead in the fighting pits of a squalid little town. So when a woman offers to tell him where his gear and horses are if he escorts her group of technophiles inside the ruined Dreaming City of Columbus, it’s not an offer he can refuse. Even if he knows that the chances that any of them will survive the trip are very slim. Even if he suspects that his employer’s reasons for entering Columbus might not be as innocent as she wants them to appear…

 

The first story gave us a glimpse into what promised to be a very complex world, but left us with more questions than answers in the end. I’m glad that in The Ghoul King, Haley answered at least some of those questions, even though those answers only added to the mystery. One of the answers we got in this book is about the origin of Angel, and just as I suspected, God had very little to do with their creation…

 

Just like in the first book, the reader sees this story through the eyes of a narrator who knows very little about the ugly reality behind the lies he’ grown up with. Though in this case, Jaxon is in possession of more knowledge then Abney from the first book. A forbidden knowledge that would get him killed if the Angels knew he had stumbled upon it. I love how Guy Harley manages to submerge the reader in his narrator’s point of view so seamlessly, that even though we recognize most of the things he describes, we understand why they would seem fantastical and incomprehensible to him. After all, Jaxon was born to a mostly medieval world, so he wouldn’t know what a computer or an elevator shaft is. He’d seen trains, but they were powered by clunky coal engines, so when he sees train tracks in a tunnel buried under a city, he can’t fathom how a train would travel through without its passengers suffocating.

 

And I understand his growing disappointment and even resentment towards the Angels because they decided to keep most of the knowledge of the Gone Before from common people. As a healer, he can’t understand what harm it could do to let doctors study the old textbooks. To educate the masses about microbes and bacteria and that washing your hands and separating your sewage from your drinking water would alleviate a lot of health problems. He doesn’t understand why his desire to learn how to help people would get him banished. And his encounter with Quinn, as well as the ill-fated trip into Columbus only reinforces his conviction that something is very wrong with the world he lives in…

 

As I said, this book gives us some answers and lifts the curtain a bit further over this interesting and complex world, but this story also raises more questions. What do the Angels do with the young people they collect from the villages every year? What happened in Atlantis to make Quinn rebel against the Angels? What is he looking for? And why did the Angels of Atlantis let him live? And also what cataclysm could transform what used to be a highly technological world into a barren wasteland where the remnants of humanity cling to small medieval cities?

 

I am looking forward to more stories set in this world and I hope that I will eventually get all the answers I want.

 

PS. I received an advanced reader copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese.

 Stars: 3 out of 5

 

Blake Fowler works for Erasmus Keane, a brilliant private detective. When they are called on a case of a missing sheep, he doesn’t even suspect the depth of trouble they will get themselves into if they decide to take the case. And when a rising TV star comes to their agency to seek their help because she thinks someone wants to kill her, things only get more complicated. After all, there is only two of them, so working two cases at once can get complicated. Only the two cases turn out to be more connected then they suspect…

 

Mr. Kroese has created an interesting world here. One that I wouldn’t mind exploring further. After the Collapse of 2028, when the United States briefly descended into anarchy, Los Angeles is a city divided. There is the normal city where law and order rule again, and then there is the DZ or the Disincorporated Zone, a walled off portion of the city where warlords rule, police is none-existent, and human life is cheaper than a penny.

 

We get to explore both sides of LA in this book, but I would have loved to see how the rest of the US and the world fared as well. Does each city have their own DZ? How did other governments cope with the Collapse? Maybe we will learn about that if the author decides to continue this story.

 

So all in all, I liked this book and I really liked our protagonist, Blake Fowler. He isn’t a genius investigator like Keane, but he has a good head on his shoulders. Besides, his function in this duo is not to spin crazy theories, but to keep Keane grounded when he digresses too much and to provide raw muscles when things get dangerous. And when it comes to kicking ass, Blake delivers.

 

Unfortunately, even though the protagonists are good, the same couldn’t be said about the villain. I won’t name names, because that would be big spoiler and certain to ruin the enjoyment of the book, but a lot of times I wanted to hand the antagonist Pete’s Evil Overlord List and make them memorize it, especially the following points:

 

I will not gloat over my enemies’ predicament before killing them.

 

When I’ve captured my adversary and he says, “Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?” I’ll say, “No.” and shoot him. No, on second thought I’ll shoot him then say “No.”

 

I mean seriously, I have never seen an antagonist spend more time explaining their whole plan in specific details than in this book. Not only does that come across as unrealistic and frankly rather stupid on the villain’s part, but it also gets annoying very quickly. You have several scenes full of action and tension… and then over 10 pages of exposition. Tension killed. Yawn fest begins. I admit that by the end, I skimmed over all that to get to the next action scene, because I didn’t WANT to hear about the reasons behind all the actions anymore. I just wanted to know how it ended.

 

So all in all, it was an enjoyable read, even though it could have been so much better with a villain who didn’t feel the need to tell their life story in great detail to the private investigators they were about to kill anyway.

 

PS. I received an advanced copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles 2) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Did I mention that Ilona Andrews is one of my absolute favorite authors? Every time I pick up one of her books, I don’t have to worry about being disappointed or bored by the story. I KNOW that it will be good and that it will sweep me off my feet and that I would devour the book in a matter of hours then agonize because it’s finished. Sweep in Peace was one of those books as well.

 

In the first book of the series, Clean Sweep, we were introduced to this original and very interesting world where Dina is the innkeeper of a very particular bed and breakfast. If you are interested, you can read my review of this book here. We get an in depth exploration of a few facets of this world in Sweep in Peace. Notably the bloody history between the Space Vampires and the Hope-Crushing Horde, as well as the meaning of tradition, duty, and compassion.

 

By the end of book 1, Dina succeeded at not only avoiding disaster and keeping her inn, but also at adding a star to the inn’s rating. Unfortunately, guests aren’t exactly knocking at her door, and the inn needs guests to survive and thrive. So when an Arbitrator shows up at her door and requisitions her inn for peace negotiations between three warring factions, Dina has no choice but to agree, even though her intuition and common sense screams that this is a bad idea. Only brokering a peace between nations who had been killing each other for generations is easier said than done. But Dina will do everything in her power to succeed, because the alternative would be disastrous for her inn and herself.

 

I love this world. I loved this story. How heartbreaking and touching it was, yet how the author managed to avoid all the doom and gloom by keeping it lighthearted. Which in turn made the impact of the bloody conflict between those races so much more effective on the reader. Imagine a world where technology fails and the living conditions are harsh, but it’s the only known planet in the galaxy to produce a very valuable mineral. So even though none of the factions want to be there, they are still fighting for domination on a planet where they have to go against each other with swords and arrows instead of tactical air strikes and lasers. It’s up close and personal. It’s bloody. It’s life-altering and soul-wrenching. And it’s a never-ending cycle of destruction because the sides can’t afford to back down even if they can’t afford to keep on fighting either.

 

Most of all, I love Dina. She already proved in book 1 that she is smart and resourceful and more than capable of being a real Innkeeper. She has a level head and doesn’t panic easily, but most importantly, I love that she is more brains then brawl. She will always try to find a peaceful solution to a problem first, though she will not hesitate to kick some ass if there is no other alternative.

 

But in this book, she also shows the depth of her compassion and understanding of other cultures. She studies their customs and rituals, and she is extremely respectful of them. I love how much thought she put into transforming the quarters for each faction into places where they would feel at home and safe…

 

I will not say anything about the rest of the story, because I want the readers to experience it for themselves. My recommendation is buy this book immediately. I won’t regret it. And when is the next one coming out?

Admiral (An Evagardian Novel) by Sean Danker.

Stars: 2 out of 5.

Our protagonist wakes up in a sleeper (something like a cryo-sleep capsule) on a strange ship in the company of three young recruits fresh out of the military academy on the way to their first duty stations. Problem is, the ship isn’t moving, the crew is missing, all the systems are malfunctioning, and they seem to be stranded on a strange planet with no means to contact anyone. Oh, and they might not be alone on that apparently deserted planet either. So in the light of those problems, the fact that he has somehow been promoted to Admiral while he was in cryo-sleep seems like just a trivial matter. After all, what’s a rank if you probably won’t survive to enjoy it?

The rest of the story is a mad race against the clock and the stacking odds towards the finish line where salvation might or might not be waiting for them.

This book is a fast read. Events develop at neck breaking speed, so the characters barely have time to catch their breath before a new catastrophe hurls towards them. Problem is, the reader doesn’t have time to catch a breath either, so it becomes rather tedious after a while. Also, this book as a few too many problems for my liking.

First of all, the narrator has a VERY BIG SECRET that’s hinted upon over and over as the story unfolds. It’s intriguing at the beginning, but gets rather frustrating towards the end when we get no closer to discovering this big secret. The reveal, when it comes in the last ten pages of the book, comes about one third of a book too late, in my opinion, because by that time, it really doesn’t matter what the protagonist was before or what he’d done.

Then there is the small matter of a lot of exposition about the world we’re in, the war that supposedly just ended, the structure of the noble families in the Evagardian Empire, and even about the mysterious Empress who cruises the galaxy in her megaship called the Julian and who always wears a mask so nobody’s ever seen her face…

I understand that this is the first book in what seems to be a new series and that the author needs to introduce his world, but is all that information really relevant to the problem at hand? The problem is simple – they are stranded on a strange and deadly planet and need to get off it before the environment and the natives kill them. How exactly talking about the Empress and everything else is helping them do that. Those moments of narrative exposition feel rather dissonant from the rest of the story because of that. Like we hit pause in the middle of the life or death action to listen to a dissertation about the structure of the Evagardian Empire.

Finally, the stakes shift and change on us constantly, and not only because the situation is evolving, but also because new things are introduced all the time. And the fact that three barely trained soldiers and a maybe admiral manage to overcome adversity that killed 20 000 colonists and get off that planet alive reads like science fiction, and not in a good way. In fact, the more odds the author stacks against his characters, the more implausible their escape is. There is such a thing as too much, when simple logic revolts and your brain starts screaming, “I refuse to believe this.” Not to mention that the final escape reads a lot like deus ex machina to me…

And the ending itself is… anticlimactic to say the least. I had the feeling that the book just sort of fizzled out because the author got tired of writing the story.

The underlying premise of this book had so much promise, but I think the author did both himself and the book a disservice by trying to make it into more than it was. Had he just stuck with the disaster movie like concept and left out most of the allusions to the rest of his world as well is the BIG SECRET about the protagonist out of the picture, it would have read a lot better.

PS. I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

That Darkness by Lisa Black.

Stars 2 out of 5.

 

I must admit that I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it’s an interesting view on the nature of evil and the nature vs nurture part when it comes to creating monsters. On the other hand, the book drags out and lacks in suspense in parts. And I have a problem with the ethical and moral implications of the ending.

 

So what is this book about? It’s told from the perspective of two different protagonists. One is Maggie Gardiner, a forensic investigator who is very good at her job and is like a dog with a bone when she feels that something doesn’t adapt. Which ultimately sends her on a collision course with our second protagonist – Jack Renner, police detective by day and vigilante by night. Also quite possibly a serial killer, since he has a ritual for executing his victims and a distinct MO…

 

I kinda liked the idea behind this story and for the most part I liked how it was told and how it unfolded. I loved Maggie and how tenacious she is. How she is more than capable to hold her own in the very macho world of the law enforcement. How she doesn’t let go when she sees things that just don’t add up. He keeps digging and digging and asking often very uncomfortable questions until the picture in front of her makes sense. And she is not afraid to jump to some very dangerous conclusions – like suspecting that the vigilante is a cop.

 

It’s what she does with that information that baffles me. You suspect someone of being a serial killer, yet you still agree to go with him to the possible murder scenes? And you follow him inside one when he is clearly with his newest victim? Girl, you seemed so smart before that, did you just switch your brain suddenly?

 

And that sudden case of stupid doesn’t affect only Maggie, unfortunately. Jack seems to develop a chronic condition of it as soon as he meets her. In the first part of the book, he is shown as a meticulous and intelligent person who learns about his victim’s habits and plans the execution carefully, trying to leave as few incriminating clues as possible. Then why does he take Maggie around the crime scenes she wants to visit in the SAME CAR he uses for his killings? Really, Jack, really? It’s not even his car. He took it out of the police yard. Why not go and take another out of the dozens they have in there and NOT give a forensic investigator a chance to collect some evidence that would instantly make her suspect you?

 

I think that’s what really killed this story for me. If you portray your protagonists as smart people, then let them be smart until the end, and don’t force them to make stupid mistakes just so that you can advance your story.

 

Now the ending. I think it’s good, because it made me think about what I would have chosen in this particular situation. And let’s just say that’s where my decision defers from Maggie’s.

 

So all in all, it’s an entertaining crime novel that will help you pass a lazy afternoon at the beach, but don’t expect anything too complicated.

 

PS. I received an advanced reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest book review.

My dreams and stories. The life of a writer.

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