Category Archives: Fantasy

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

This review is for the ARC I have received curtesy of NetGalley.

I must admit that I am rather frustrated with this book.

On one hand, I loved the premise of We Are All Completely Fine.

We’ve all read stories about that Lone Hero, or that Boy or Girl who survived his / her brush with the supernatural and often malevolent forces that lurk in the shadows.  But we never hear about how those people get to live after that. They cannot be normal again. All of them bear scars from their encounters, physical or emotional, or both. All of them know that the world isn’t a safe place; that powerful and cruel Beings lurk just on the other side of the veil, eager to swallow it whole. They are permanently altered by the ordeal they survived, and they feel lost in  this life, because how can you resume a normal life if you are not entirely normal anymore?

So imagine a support group organized explicitly for those souls so broken by their encounter with the supernatural that they are unable to heal on their own. This is a wonderful idea, and it’s brilliantly executed in this book. I loved the dynamics inside this group, and how Daryl Gregory slowly transformed those six broken and solitary people into a working group. How anger and distrust, and even contempt and outright hostility, slowly mutated into acceptance, mutual support and even respect.

And I loved the characters. They are all different and they bear their scars in different ways, but their reactions are believable. Stan is so scared of being ridiculed because of his infirmity that he  prefers to throw it into people’s faces as a pre-emptive strike and to be loud and obnoxious about it. And Gretta is on the opposite side of the spectrum – she is always covered from head to toe to hide the symbols carved into her flesh. And the other four characters also have fascinating stories that I would have loved to read more about.

So yes, the book has an intriguing premise and interesting characters, but I was left feeling cheated when I finished it. Like the author dropped the ball at the very end of a perfect story.

First of all, this book feels too short. It would have done much better as a full-blown novel instead of a novella. Right now, we have an excellent build-up, which takes about three quarters of the book, but the climax and the aftermath feel rushed. It’s like the author ran out of steam and tossed everything into the last 20 pages, just to get it over with.

Secondly, the frequent change of POV is somewhat confusing. Each chapter starts with a royal “we”, as in “we as the group” and so on. But then it promptly switches to third person and hops into the head of one of the characters. So I was left wondering who is really telling this story? Who is that “we”?

And my last complaint is that the ending brings to real resolution to any of the characters, except maybe Barbara. But even with her, the question of that final etching was left unanswered. The rest of the cast didn’t even get that.

It reads like a cliffhanger designed to make the reader purchase the next book in the series. If that is the case, then I’m eagerly awaiting the next book, because I want to know what happens to his rag tag bunch after the therapy. But if it’s a stand-alone, then I can’t help but feel cheated. Please tell me there is more to the story than that?

Those problems notwithstanding, I would still recommend We Are All Completely Fine. It’s a fast and entertaining read, and the characters are people that you want to stick around for. I just wish I could have stayed in their world for a little bit longer.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett.

Stars: 5 out of 5

I received an ARC of this book for free from NetGalley.

There are books that grip you and don’t let you go until you read the very last line on the very last page. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett is one such book. I finished it in three days, which is no small feat for me, considering that I have a full time job, a family and my own writing fighting for my time most of the days.

So what is City of Stairs about? Bulikov used to be called the Seat of the World, the city where all six Divinities governing the Continent resided. But the Divinities had been slain 80 years ago, and the Continent was invaded by the people who used to be their former slaves. The passing of the Divinities laid waste to the land, with whole cities disappearing, collapsing or shrinking in the blink of an eye. Even the climate has undergone a drastic change, and the whole land went from being a lush tropical paradise to a frozen wasteland.

The city of Bulikov suffered the most damage. Even 80 years later, it lies in shambles. Its citizens are the poorest on the Continent, the infrastructure is non-existent and the living conditions are atrocious. And the invaders intend to keep it that way, as punishment for everything they had to suffer at the hands of the citizen of Bulikov and their Divinities.

But the citizens of Bulikov remember their glory days. Hatered and discontent brews in the streets and the whole city is a powder keg ready to explode. Will the murder of Efrem Pangyui, celebrated Saypuri historian, be the spark that ignites the city and starts yet another war?

The world created by Robert Jackson Bennett is absolutely fascinating. Each of the six Divinities had their own creation myths and rules by which the world functioned, and those rules were absolute in the zone of their influence. But when they died, all those different view of reality clashed together and produced the Blink, when entire parts of the continent simply vanished; others got warped beyond recognition while those realities fought for dominance. It’s a broke and strange world that we get to explore along with the characters of this story.

Speaking of characters, I absolutely loved Shara and Sigurd, her secretary / bodyguard / enforcer. They are interesting characters with their own flaws and strengths, and I was genuinely engaged with their stories and problems. But the book doesn’t rely solely on its main protagonists. The secondary characters are also memorable and “alive”. You love them or you hate them, but they don’t leave you indifferent.

Most of all, I found the general ideas behind this story extremely compelling and thought-provoking: do the Divinities create their followers or are they created by them? Or is it a two-way relationship? Can they break free from each other without losing their identity? Can whole nations become obsolete along with their Divinity? Is change really such a bad thing? All those questions apply not only to the fictional world of City of Stairs, but to ours as well…

I am glad I found this story and go to read the ARC before the release. I also heard that the author is working on the second book, so I’m definitely placing it on my “books to watch for” list. My advice is – go buy City of Stairs, it’s a guaranteed good read.

Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch

Stars: 4.5 out of 5

Whispers Underground is the third book in the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch. I have reviewed the first two books as well – Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the US) and Moon over Soho.

Peter Grant is back and better than ever! When the body of an American exchange student is found on the Underground tracks near Baker Street Station, Peter is forced to explore a bit more of the London’s underground tunnels and sewer systems than he really wants to. But the place where the victim was found has a very strong vestigia, which means that the young man had been killed by magic. And with Nightingale busy chasing after the evil wizard called The Faceless Man, who had almost killed Peter in the previous book, it falls to Peter and Lesley to investigate this particular murder.

Needless to say, I loved this book. Ben Aaronovitch has a knack for sprinkling his stories with just the right amount of intrigue and tension to keep his readers turning the pages. At the same time, he manages to insert little historical trivia and tidbits about magic and science, but in a way that never feels boring or info dumpish.

But the strongest aspect of these books is the characters. Peter Grant is as funny and likable as ever, and Nightingale is still awesome and mysterious. Thou we are starting to see a more human side of him as well, which makes me like him even more, and pity him a little as well. For over fifty years, he had lived his life with the guilt of being one of the few survivors of a war that saw most of the English wizards eliminated. He lived with the conviction that magic was slowly dying out and that he had become obsolete, like the dinosaurs. And all of a sudden he discovers that all this time there had been another wizard operating in London, recruiting apprentices and doing rather questionable experiments, all this right under his nose and he didn’t notice anything.

Oh, and Lesley is back! She is still horribly disfigured and has to wear a mask in public, but she is now a full-time member of the Folly and Nightingale’s second apprentice. I’m glad that she gets a bigger role in these books, because I find her interesting and engaging. She’s been handed the short end of the stick, but she doesn’t mop around and wallow in her misery. She presses on instead and tries to master the other gift she has discovered – magic. And, unsurprisingly, she is better at it than Peter, because she is determined and persistent.

We are also introduced to a few new characters that might or might not have a bigger role in the next books.

All in all, it’s an excellent installment in the series, and I actually like this story better than Moon over Soho, maybe because I’m not very versed in the musical / jazz scene, but a murder underground – that’s right up my alley.

I don’t think you necessarily need to have read the previous two books to understand the plot of Whispers Underground, but I would strongly recommend reading them first anyway. If nothing else, it will give you two more exciting stories to discover. You can get them on Amazon – Rivers of London and Moon over Soho.

My conclusion is – wonderful book. I’m glad I bought it and I already acquired Broken Homes, book 4 in the series, so be on the lookout for a review once I’m done with it.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

“Dear you, The body you are wearing used to be mine.”

Yes, The Rook by Daniel O’Malley starts with one of the tropes I hate: the heroine finds herself standing surrounded by bodies with no idea how she got there or even who she is. Normally, I would have immediately closed this book and moved on to something else, because amnesia had been used and abused so much already that it’s extremely difficult to do anything new and interesting with it, at least in my opinion.  Well, Mr. O’Malley managed to surprise me, because he pulled this off brilliantly. I’m glad I stuck with the book – I ended up absolutely loving it.

The world Daniel O’Malley describes is also not particularly innovative. I have seen most of that before. We have a secret organization called The Chequy that is responsible for protecting the world from supernatural treats and monsters (and people) with often rather terrifying powers. On, and the Chequy also makes sure that the general public remains blissfully unaware of said monsters.

This organization seeks out young people with supernatural abilities and recruits them, trains them and uses them for the good of Queen and country. Yes, the story takes place in Britain, but there is a kick-ass American agent in it as well.

So even though the world is not new, the presentation and the world building are excellent and compelling.

And the protagonist in his book deserves a special mention. Myfawny Thomas is what I would like to see more often in strong female characters. She is thrown into the deep end from the very beginning of the story, not knowing what’s going on or what she is capable of, the only guidance coming from the notes her former self left her. Yet, when she is presented with the choice to empty the contingency funds, grab her fake passport and make a run for it to start a new life somewhere far away, she chooses to stay instead. She decides to go back to work and try to impersonate the total stranger that her former self is to her now and to discover what had led to her current predicament. She does that even though both her new and her former selves strongly suspect that the assassination attempt she so narrowly survived was orchestrated by someone within the Chequy itself, someone she works with and probably passes in the hallways every day. That takes will power.

I also loved the transformation Myfawny undergoes throughout the book. We get glimpses of her former self in the letters she left to her new self and through the attitude of other people towards her. I like the fact that Myfawny doesn’t try to go back to being that person. She sets off to find her own path, to do things her own way, to try new things her former self would never have dared doing.

I think that’s why the amnesia trope works well here. Myfawny isn’t suddenly remembering “mad skills” she used to have before, she is acquiring and developing new skills instead. It is interesting to watch, and I can say that by the end of the book the new Myfawny and the old Myfawny are two completely different people.

I won’t discuss the plot here because I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery, but I will say that it had me hooked and turning the pages until the very end. We have an external treat that might or might not be more than it seems. We have prominent members of the Chequy with dark secrets. We have a possible mole that might or might not be behind the assassination attempt. And Myfawny finds herself in the middle of this while she tries to act like her formal self, do her job and make sure that nobody suspects that she doesn’t remember anything.

My only complaint about this book is that it’s over, and that Daniel O’Malley is taking his sweet time writing the next one. I want to know more! I want to see how Myfawny will adjust to her new life and read about her new adventures.

So if you are looking for a good read, buy The Rook, get comfortable and prepare to enjoy. You will not regret it.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Sometimes, you stumbled upon a book that resonates with you on a deeper than usual level. Maybe you had a similar idea banging around your head for a while, or maybe some of your inner voices speak in voiced strangely reminiscent of the characters in that book. Or just maybe you really get the world the author is describing. In any case, it makes reading that particular book an absolute joy.

It happened to me before with Leviathan Wakes where I just fell head first in to the world and in love with the characters. You can find my review of it here. And it happened again with Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone.

I knew I would love this book as soon as I read the blurb in the back. A world where craftsmen and women have almost godlike powers? Where gods walk the earth and can be killed and brought back to life? A weird steampunk-ish technology mixed with magic? Heck yeah!

So I downloaded a free sample from amazon and was immediately hooked. Sure, the world is wonderfully weird and complex, but the characters are what really appealed to me. They are different and wonderfully complex.

I loved Tara, the young craftswoman. She has a very strong personality and doesn’t take crap from anybody. She is also new to the Craft and not as ruthless and her older peers. She still has some humanity left in her. This makes her even more endearing, because she has to make some hard choices in this book between her obligations to her employers and her obligations to her new-found friends. Those choices don’t come easy, and I could really feel how much they cost her.

And let’s talk about Abelard! Great job creating this one, Mr. Gladstone, I am really envious. This seemingly lost and naïve acolyte who is chain smoking and dealing with a crisis of faith turns out to have immeasurable hidden reserves and a will of steel. He ends up saving the day and doesn’t ask for anything in return, apart from to be left alone to worship his god in peace.

I was found of the other characters as well, even if those two definitely stole the limelight. The story itself is also deliciously complex and engaging. I loved the fact that underneath it all, it was ultimately a story about love and sacrifice and about the lengths even a god would go to save the one he loves.

So my advice to you is to go pick up Three Parts Dead. You will not regret it. You will spend a day or two in a wonderfully bizarre world with engaging characters. And if you want to return to that world, Mr. Gladsone has two more books out. I’m about to start the next one, Two Serpents Rise.

Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

In this second book of the series, Ben Aaronovitch brings us back to London where Constable Peter Grant has to investigate suspicious deaths among jazz players. And for Peter, those deaths strike a little close to home, because his dad, the famous (or infamous) “Lord Grant” used to be a jazz legend, until he lost his air due to drug use.

During the course of the investigation, Peter comes to suspect that Nightingale’s belief that magic is leaving the world and that there aren’t any practitioners left is rather erroneous. There is an unknown magician in London and his intentions are less than honorable.

I loved the first book in the series, Rivers of London (called Midnight Riot in the USA for some reason). You can read my review of it here. I absolutely loved the book, so I picked up Moon over Soho was with an equal amount of anticipation and apprehension. It happened to me way too many times when I love the first book of a series only to be disappointed with the next one. I was very glad to discover that it wasn’t the case with Moon over Soho.

All the characters I grew to love in the first book are back. Nightingale survived his gunshot wound and continues to teach Peter, even if he is still a bit under the weather (but still manages to show just how much of a badass he is in a certain scene with a night club and a demon trap). Leslie also survived her encounter with the vengeful ghost of last book, but is irrevocably scarred by it.

And we finally get to meet the arch-nemesis of the series, an infamous (and powerful) magician who calls himself the Faceless Man. We learn very little about him in this book, but even that shows that he will be a formidable foe for the Folly.

Peter Grant continues to learn magic and explore his limits. I love the fact that he doesn’t just blindly follow Nightingale’s command. He asks questions, he tries to understand why magic works, and he experiments (sometimes with disastrous results).

We also get another glimpse at Peter’s family, meet new magical denizens of London and go to a couple jazz concerts. Oh, and we also get to see the school where Nightingale learned magic, and it’s nothing like Hogwards.

All in all, a wonderful second book in the series! So if you are looking for a good read, pick up both the first and the second book in the series. I am looking forward to starting Whispers Under Ground, the third book.

Rivers Of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Stars: 5 out of 5

There are some books which release you highly anticipate and can’t wait to read, and then there are books that you just kind of stumble upon almost by accident. For me, it was the case for The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (for some reason, the book is called Midnight Riot in the US). I was browsing the book section of Amazon, hunting for something new that sounded even marginally interesting to read, and I came upon this book. The blurb at the back sounded interesting enough, so I decided to give it a try. And boy am I glad I did! I absolutely, totally love this book (and the next three in the series as well, but I will review them at a later date)!

But first things first, here is a synopsis of the book. Peter Grant is just a probationary constable in the London police, and as such, he is saddled with the thankless task of guarding a crime scene overnight. The night is cold and Peter’s future is grim, because he seems to be destined for the Case Progression Unit – the unit of glorified paper pushers. But everything changes that night when Peter takes a statement from a ghost and makes the acquaintance of Inspector Nightingale, England’s last real wizard. So now Peter Grant is assigned to the Folly, the Unit that doesn’t officially exit but that most of the Force knows to call when any “weird” stuff starts happening.

One of the reviewers said that this book was what would have happened if Harry Potter grew up and lost his Chosen One complex (I’m paraphrasing here), but I think this book is better than that.

First of all, I loved Ben Aaronovitch subtle sense of humor which managed to lighten up even the really grim passages of the book. You can also feel that the author loves London and knows her very well. The city is not just a stage for the events in the book, but a participant. Its locations are intertwined with the plot.

And I absolutely fell in love with Peter Grant! He is such a vivid character. He is down to earth but willing to accept the existence of strange things when he sees them. He also doesn’t just take the existence of magic for granted, but wants to know how it works. He is not content to just repeat and replicate the formulae that Nightingale teaches him; he wants to know the rules; he wants to know the dangers and the possibilities. And that “scientific” approach to magic really appeals to me, maybe because I’m like Peter – I am not content to see that something works, I want to know how it works as well.

The supporting characters in this book are also very engaging, from Nightingale the mysterious, but slightly clueless in the modern world, wizard, to the smart and sometimes snarky Leslie, or Molly the creepy housekeeper / guard of the Folly. And don’t get me started on Toby, the dog who can sense magical residue! He is hilarious.

Rivers of London is a wonderful book that can be read as a standalone, but is also a very strong beginning of a series. I am very glad I picked it up and got hooked on Peter Grant’s world.

Hounded and Hexed by Kevin Hearne

houndedHexed

 

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

I love browsing the recommendation section on Amazon. I have discovered a few wonderful books by doing so, books that I would otherwise probably not heard of. It was definitely the case with Hounded, the first book in the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne. I had finished the latest of the Harry Dresden books and was looking for something similar. Hounded was amongst the recommendations and I’m glad I decided to give it a try. Atticus O’Sullivan is now amongst my absolutely favorite characters, and Oberon is the best dog ever written.

Atticus O’Sullivan is the last druid and he is close to two thousand years old. He has been all over the world, and seen and done almost everything under the sun. That doesn’t mean that he is life-weary and brooding though, quite the contrary. He still enjoys life and everything it brings. He loves interacting with people and soaking in everything each new century has to offer. I think that’s why I like him so much. I am tired of brooding century-old vampires or ancient wizards with issues and “baggage”, who are just so tired of the world. After several books with similar characters it gets a bit old, so to me Atticus was like a breath of fresh air.

I also loved the fact that there was no love interest (and thus no love-related angst) in the two books. Maybe that will come in later installments, but right now it would definitely have been out of place.

I will not talk about plot here and let you discover it by yourselves. I will just say that it involved a lot of fighting, some demons, Celtic gods and goddesses, and witches, both evil and not so much. Both Hounded and Hexed were a joyful romp through the peaceful Arizona town Atticus chose as his home for now, full of explosions, mayhem and madness.

I like Kevin Hearne style. It’s fun to read, it flows easily, and he has the knack to sprinkle it with humor that just puts a smile on your face no matter what mood you were when you started reading. And I absolutely love the mental conversations between Atticus and Oberon. They make me wonder what my dogs would tell me if they were able to talk.

There have been a lot of criticism of this series where it comes to depiction of female characters, and I must admit that it is rather sexist. But I would disagree that all of the women in the series are there purely as objects of sexual desire. Some of them are well-rounded characters who would not hesitated to kick some ass if needed… and eat your heart out after (Morrigan, I am talking to you).

So all in all, I like this light-hearted series and will definitely read the other books in the series.

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire (October Daye series 3)

An artificial night

Stars: 4 out of 5

In December 2013, I had reviewed the first two books in the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, Rosemary and Rue and A Local Habitation. You can find my review of both of them here. At that time, I had been disappointed with the second installment of the series and had decided not to bother reading the rest of the books. However, one of my blog readers commented that the series really starts to pick up around book 3 and that I should at least give it a try. In April, after I struggled through several rather disappointing books, I decided to follow that advice and picked up An Artificial Night from the library. I have not been disappointed.

This book has everything that the second one lacked – there is a good story with a solid conflict and really high stakes for all characters; Toby is actively doing something to resolve the situation instead of just mopping around; and the new take at the Wild Hunt and other children fairy tales is deliciously terrifying.

On a seemingly ordinary night, children disappear from their rooms and the only thing left behind is the smell of candle wax. There is no discrimination between who is taken either – changelings, pureblood and human children are missing. And Toby has a very personal reason to investigate those disappearances, because the two youngest children of her best friends are taken, while another one of them won’t wake up. Add to that he fact that Tybald, the kind of Cats, asks her to help find Raj, the young Heir to the throne, who had also been taken, and Toby won’t leave any stones unturned. Even if the next day a Fetch looking like her mirror image shows up at her doorstep, which means that death awaits her in the very near future.

I loved October Daye in this book. Mrs. McGuire finally let her character show some backbone and prove that she had been made a Knight of the Shadowhills for a reason. Toby is fierce and single-minded in her quest to bring the lost children back, and also truly heroic. She doesn’t hesitate even for a moment to put herself in harm’s way to save those kinds. You can’t help but admire her for that.

I also loved the development other characters had in this book. The story behind Luna’s past, and who her parents are. The whole sad story about the Luidaeg, Blind Michael and April. I absolutely loved May Daye, Toby’s unwilling and cheeky Fetch. And, most importantly, the new take on the Wild Hunt myth. I loved the fact that Seanan McGuire made it into a children’s night terror in this book, because those of us, who can still remember our childhood fears, know how terrifying things that go bump in the night can be to a 5-6 years old. And the fact that Toby had to be put back in a child’s body in order to travel the candle road into Blind Michael’s country makes the task before her seem even more daunting. I rooted for her. I was scared for her and all the other characters throughout this book. I also loved the fact that the author didn’t give this book a happy ending in the usual sense of the world. Yes, Toby managed to save the children, but some of them were forever altered, and so was she. And none of the people involved will ever be the same.

Personally, I think that Mrs. McGuire should have skipped the second book altogether, because it only brought one important point (that Toby’s blood magic is somewhat different from what normal Daone Sidhe can do). This point could easily have been integrated into either book one or three.

I would definitely recommend An Artificial Night. I am also looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

City of dolls

Stars: 4 out of 5.

This book is the absolute proof that we do judge a book by its cover. At least, it entices us to pick it up and start reading. I think I would have breezed right past the City of a Thousand Dolls on Amazon if not for the absolutely gorgeous cover art. It made me stop, open the link and read the brief synopsis. And after that, I immediately bought it, not even bothering to look through the reviews. Later, I was surprised at the amount of negative reviews this book received, especially on Goodreads, because I loved it.

I the whole concept of a city created for the sole purpose of caring for abandoned girls that their families don’t want anymore. This sort of orphanage, soft of boarding school, sort of specialized school where the girls learn how to become courtesans, artisans, artists, guards or even assassins. I also loved the world Miriam Forster has created. It’s interesting to see how a society that is completely cut off from the outside world would function.

I read a lot of complaints about Nisha, but I think that she is a fleshed out character, as far as young female protagonists go. Yes, at the beginning all her worries might sound shallow and rather petty, but this is exactly how it should be. She is fifteen; she has lived a very sheltered life behind the walls of the City. Of course, she would be worried only about her dress during the Ceremony, or flirting about the young courier. I actually enjoyed watching Nisha’s character evolve and grow up as the story progressed, and seeing how her priorities shifted the more she got involved in the whole investigation into the murders. It took courage and backbone to do what she did in the end, and for that she has my respect.

I am not a fan of love triangles in general, but the implied triangle in this book didn’t bother me that much. Maybe because Mrs. Forster didn’t take the usual route and made one of the men in Nisha’s life “bad”. Everyone has their reasons for acting like they do, and those reasons make sense.

If I have one gripe with this book, it’s that Miriam Forster never explains what happened to Nisha’s parents. We know that they were afraid of something, because they decided to leave Nisha in the City instead of entrusting their nomad family with her care. We know that they were both killed. It would have been nice to know why. Why was it so important to keep Nisha safe behind the city’s walls? Who sent the dead bird to her parents? Was it a warning? Is that why they ran? Nisha had been wondering about her parents and their reasons for years, it would have been cathartic for both her and the reader to get answers to those questions. Hopefully, the author will come back to this subject in later books.

As it stands now, I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series – Empire of Shadows. And just look at that new gorgeous cover!

Empire of shadows