Category Archives: Urban fantasy

Urban Shaman (The Walker Papers 1) by C. E. Murphy.

Stars: 1 out of 5.

 

I don’t give a one star review to a book very often. Usually, when a book is only worthy of one star in my opinion, it ends up in my DNF (Did Not Finish) pile, and I don’t write reviews on DNF because it wouldn’t be fair to the author if I reviewed something I didn’t finish.

 

But I actually stuck around until the very end of Urban Shaman, because I kept hoping that things would get better. Sadly, they didn’t, which is a shame, really, because the book is well written. There is plenty of action. I didn’t particularly hate the protagonist, even though I didn’t fall in love with her either. There are a few juicy pieces of worldbuilding that kept me interested and wanting to learn more… Problem is, the bad in this book outweighed the good, at least for me.

 

But first things first, Joanne Walker is a car mechanic working for the police department. She is also a mixt race, because her father was Native American and her mother Irish, though she knows little of either of those cultures (I’m not even sure it’s mentioned which Native American tribe her father belonged to, just that Joanne spent some time with the Native Americans in North Carolina). While on a plane back from Ireland where she attended her mother’s funeral, she spots a woman being chased by an armed man and decides to help as soon as the plane lands. This choice will change her life forever…

 

I can see you frowning in puzzlement and trying to re-read that last paragraph, but no, I didn’t make a mistake. Joanne spots a woman running away from a man armed with a knife FROM A DESCENDING plane. Wow, even Hawkeye from the Avengers would be impressed with that! Not only that, but she manages to triangulate the part of the city in which it happened “using basic math she learned at school” (I didn’t say that, the author did). Once again, I’m impressed. Even if I could see something this precise from a descending plane (again, the plane wasn’t even landing yet, but executing the descending approach), I would only have a vague idea where it happened even if I’m familiar with the city.

 

I kept hoping that this miraculous ability would be explained later in the book, but like most of the perks Joanne acquires, the only explanation we get goes along the lines of “it’s magic” or “it’s part of her shaman abilities”. I would be okay with that if there was a learning curve involved in discovering those shaman abilities, but that’s where this book is severely lacking.

 

Every time Joanne encounters a problem, a new ability lands on her lap to bail her out. Pierced by a sword and dying? No problem, let’s enter a trance and heal ourselves! Never mind that Joanne has never attempted a trance before or that healing people and repairing cars have very little in common.

 

Don’t know why the killer is targeting certain people? Let’s enter yet another trance, have an out of body experience and go talk to the ghosts of the victims. Never done that before? Not a problem. You’re a shaman. You instinctively know how to do things like that.

 

It’s that instinctive knowledge that I have a problem with. Shaman is like any other profession, if you think about it. Everyone starts not knowing what they are doing and become more and more proficient with training and experience. Knowledge doesn’t simply land in your lap when convenient. That’s lazy writing.

 

Another sign of lazy writing is how easily both Joanne and people around her accept the existence of the supernatural, even though this world is like ours – logical and materialistic, where supernatural elements stay hidden. Seriously, in the real world, the moment Joanne started spewing all that nonsense about the Wild Hunt and being a shaman to her direct supervisor, he would have called 911 and had her committed. Or he would have just driven her to the psychiatric ward himself, being a cop. Here, he just… accepts it. And he is only one in the long line of people who just take this in stride and roll with it. So much so that this complete non-resistance to the absurdity of the situation threw me completely out of the story on several occasions.

 

And finally, I find it extremely improbable that a person who, in her own words, has no knowledge of either of her parent’s cultures, manages to become an expert in both Celtic myths and Native American shamanism after a few trance induced dreams and a couple internet searches…

 

So to sum this rather extensive review up, this is a very disappointing first book in a series. The world has potential, but I have no desire to stick around and watch Joanne put yet another new ability out of her butt anytime her own rash actions get land her in danger. There are a lot of exciting series that I eagerly follow, but this isn’t one of them.

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Stars: 5 out of 5

 

I must admit that I really enjoyed this book because it’s well written and has a rather unusual premise. I’ve seen stories taken place during World War II and stories taking place during earlier periods, like the Civil War in the US, or the Gold Rush, not to mention all the regency novels. But this is the first time I come across a book taking place during World War I. And this book not only uses WWI as the background for the story, but makes the war its integral part.

 

Ginger Stuyvesant is a medium in the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritual Force within the British army. Each soldier is conditioned to report to the Spirit Corps after they die and give all the details of the location and manner of their death as well as what they heard and saw at those last moments before they can move on to the afterlife. Ginger and the other mediums are in charge of documenting this and passing the relevant information up the chain of command.

 

This is a thankless and grueling job, because there aren’t enough mediums, so they have to work double if not triple shifts, and the casualties keep piling up. The mediums are at the verge of collapsing from exhaustion and their circles are just as worn out, but there seems to be no end in sight…

 

One day, Ginger takes the last report of a ghost that hints at the fact that the Spirit Corps are not as secret as they thought they were, and that the Germans are not only aware of them, but are actively seeking to destroy the mediums. More worrying still, the ghost hints that there is a traitor within the British command. Ginger goes to her superiors only to be ridiculed and sent home, but she won’t just sit still and watch the events play out, not when the lives of those she loves are on the line.

 

I loved the attention to detail the author put into this book. It touches on a number or important subjects, like the role of women in society at that time, or the disdain towards people of color, who, even though they fought in the war and died alongside white soldiers, were still considered second rate citizens at best.

 

I loved how well-developed and “alive” all the characters were in this book, even the secondary and tertiary ones. They all felt like real people with their own hopes and stories, all of them worthy of a novel of their own, and that’s a big accomplishment!

 

Ginger is a capable young woman who stands up for those she loves, even if that means going against racial prejudice and injustice like in the case of the medium who she thinks is more than capable of serving as liaison between the Spirit Corps and the commanding officers in her stead, but the medium being black and a woman to boot, this idea is promptly shut down. I love that Ginger judges people by their personal worth, not by their skin color or place in society.

 

At the same time, I love that Ginger isn’t depicted as a feminist (I’m pretty sure that notion didn’t exist at that time yet) or even a suffragette. She is very much the product of her time and her upbringing, and she behaves in accordance with the rules of polite society of that time, even if she pushes the boundaries a little when she needs to.

 

The story itself is fast-moving and packed with action, but also has poignant and heartbreaking moments as well as providing a pertinent commentary on prejudice, misogyny and racism. My only complaint is that the ending was rather underwhelming, but it was logical and in line with the world that was depicted in the book.

 

So all in all, it was a fun and refreshing read, and I really loved it! I would definitely recommend it to my friends, and I hope that there will be a second book set in this world someday.

 

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

Wrong Side of Hell (The DeathSpeaker Codex 1) by Sonya Bateman.

Stars: 4 out of 5

 

What a fun fast read it’s been!

Gideon Black is a body mover, which means he is the person who chauffeurs the dead from hospitals to funerary homes, or from crime scenes to the morgue. He works nights, lives out of his van, and prefers the company of dead people to the company of the living. At least, the dead don’t talk back… until one night the corpse of the cop he killed does exactly that. And after that things go from bad to worse for Gideon.

I liked how fast-paced and easy to read this book is. The action starts on page one and doesn’t let go until the very end. Gideon is thrown head first into this new dangerous reality where fae and werewolves and boogeymen are real and are hunted down like vermin by a powerful organization called Milus Dei. Moreover, he discovers that he isn’t who he thought he was and that his family (who are awful people by the way) isn’t his real family. Oh, and Milus Dei wants him at all costs because he is the DeathSpeaker.

A lot to process in such a short time you would say? You would be right. And it’s even harder to come to terms with this when your life suddenly becomes one nightmarish race for survival.

I must say that I like Gideon a lot as the protagonist. He has a sense of humor, even if it’s gallows humor most of the time, and he doesn’t sit and mope around when life throws him a curve ball. I like how he simply refuses to give up, no matter how many times he is beaten down. He just gets up, dusts himself off and keeps going, or crawls forward if he can’t walk anymore. I also love that his resilience is explained by his backstory and well-woven into the plot. He comes from a family where weakness wasn’t tolerated. He’d lived through terrible abuse and had learned to grit his teeth and ignore the pain, and grin at the face of the enemy through bloodied lips and broken teeth. So even though his upbringing was horrible, he wouldn’t have survived this story if it had been any different. I love it when a tragic backstory isn’t just thrown into the book for character angst but is a driving force shaping his actions.

As I had mentioned before, it was a fast read… a bit too fast for my taste actually. This is the first book in a new series, and as such, it has to establish the world and the characters and make us want to follow along. In my opinion, the book did well on the last two, but not so much on the first one. We get almost no worldbuilding at all. All we learn is that there are the Others, who include fae, werewolves, boogeymen (excuse me, boogeypersons, let’s be politically correct here) and some other unidentified supernaturals, and there is the Milus Dei – a human organization dedicated solely to the destruction of the Others… And that’s it.

How did the Others end up in our world? How did the Milus Dei come to be? Why do they hate each other so much? Why does Abe trust Gideon so much that he is willing to cover up for him even when his direct superior gives him the order to arrest him?  Who are the boogeypeople? We’ve only seen one so far and he seems more powerful than even a fae noble. Are there more? How didn’t they take over the world yet if they possess such power? Not to mention that we get almost no backstory on any of the characters apart from Gideon and Taeral and maybe Sadie. It raises so many questions and gives no answers at all.

So while this book is a fast and fun read, it leaves you with the impression that you just ran in a dead sprint through a glass tunnel that allowed you very small and unsatisfying glimpses into what seems like a rather interesting world. I wanted to slow down and have a better look, but the story wouldn’t let me.

But all in all, I admit that the book accomplished its purpose – I want to read the next one in the series. I just hope that we would slow down a bit and get a chance to learn more about this world and the characters.

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

Shattered Girls (Broken Dolls 2) by Tyrolin Puxty.


Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I had really loved Broken Dolls, the first book in the series, which I reviewed here, if you are interested. So I picked up Shattered Girls with a certain amount of trepidation. Would it live up to its predecessor? Would it expand the world and manage to weave a compelling story at the same time? Sadly, it failed on both accounts, at least in my opinion…

Shattered Girls takes place about 10 years after the first book. The Professor made his invention public and went on to work for a big company and make lots of money. Gabby transformed from a vivacious little girl into a sullen teenager. And Ella… well, Ella is still a doll. But at least she is happily hanging out with Gabby and even attending school classes with her, since everybody thinks that she is just an exceptionally well-made robot.

But all isn’t well in the little town where Gabby and Ella live. Girls keep disappearing and the police doesn’t seem to be able to find any clues as to why or who is behind this. And now Gabby and Ella come back home to an empty house and visible signs of a fight. Something very fishy is going on, but the girls will definitely get to the bottom of it all with the help of their crazy aunt Sianne.

The book follows a similar recipe as the first one – two girls fighting against evil adults and their evil machinations, only this time it doesn’t quite work. Let me explain why.

In my opinion, it doesn’t work because of the stakes are too high in the second book. In Broken Dolls, Ella was fighting against the evil Professor in order to save Gabby from the same unfortunate fate that befell her – being turned into a doll. Nevermind that the Professor wasn’t evil at all and that what he did was to cure Gabby, or that Ella had chosen to remain a doll in the first place as it turned out. What I’m saying is that the stakes were localized and attainable even for a little girl and a plastic doll.

In Shattered Girls, the stakes are much higher: a big corporation is kidnapping children and turning them into dolls. Moreover, they have policemen, politicians and even the press on their payroll. They are big, they are powerful, and they are motivated by nothing but profit. Unfortunately, the fact that the villain is so powerful makes the idea that a teenager and a doll can defeat it rather ridiculous. In which world can a child and a doll go against an evil corporation and win? Even Harry Potter needed friends and all the help he could get often from unlikely allies to defeat Voldemort.

But Ella and Gabby are the protagonists of this story and they will defeat the super villain and restore order even if the author has to bend rules to achieve that. Hence we have adults behaving like they all got struck with a highly contagious case of the stupids. We have a huge corporation whose headquarters have such lax security that a teenager can walk right through the front door just by jamming the surveillance cameras. And so on and so forth.

By the end of the story, I didn’t really care what happened to Ella and Gabby and if they managed to restore all the kidnaped people to their own bodies, because the story turned so ridiculous that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief any longer.

So all in all, I wouldn’t recommend this book, even though the beginning is rather fun and fast-paced. But as soon as the action shifts from the confines of a school or even a small town to New York, the story goes off the rails.

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

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.

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?

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles 1) by Ilona Andrews.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

 

Let me just say that Ilona Andrews is an author I go to when I want a good book to read and not have to worry to be disappointed with the plot, the characters or major plot holes. I never hesitate to pick up one of her books because I know that I would be completely immersed in the story, laughing and crying with the characters until the very last page. And I will be very very sad and feeling lost once I reach that page, not wanting to leave that world behind.

 

So when I saw that she had a brand new series out there, of course I immediately grabbed the first book! All I can say is that I love love LOVE it! I love Dina and the strange and complex world she inhabits. I love that we already have a hint that this world has may layers even in the first book. I love that all the races we meet have distinct origins and traditions. I love just how original the concept of this book and this world is.

 

But what is this book about? Well, Dina runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small sleepy Texas town. Only her bed and breakfast caters to a rather different clientele than the usual tourists. See, Dina is an Innkeeper (yes, the capital “I” is intentional), and her guests come from much further away and are infinitely more dangerous.

 

Usually, Innkeepers try to stay out of the news and not get involved in local affairs, because the safety if their Inn is their outmost priority. That and not attracting attention of the police to the occasional flying saucer landing in their backyard or a portal opening on their doorsteps. But when something that is definitely not a cougar starts killing dogs in the neighborhood and the resident werewolf doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it, Dina decides to intervene. Which, of course, bring a load of problems on her head, but hey, at least she gets guests to stay at her inn as well, so that’s good. That they are capable of destroying the whole town is just a minor side effect…

 

I love Dina as the protagonist. Yes, being an Innkeeper gives her some serious juju when she is on Inn grounds, but unlike some protagonists out there, she only uses her magic as last resort. Her biggest strength is her profound knowledge of the customs and preferences of all the races that inhabit the vast universe. She is immensely knowledgeable and treats all of her guests with respect and deference. But she isn’t a pushover either. She is very clear at drawing the lines of what is and isn’t allowed on her grounds and her retaliation if the guests cross those lines is swift and ruthless.

 

I like how knowledgeable Dina is and how respectful she is of her guests and their customs. And I also like that at the same time she is not a jaded and over-confident Innkeeper either. Her backstory is expertly woven into the book and explains this small contraction perfectly. Both Dina’s parents were very successful Innkeepers, so she grew up in a big bustling Inn… Until one day she came back from her travels to find both the Inn and her family gone and just barren ground in the place of the Inn grounds. She looked for them all over the universe, but never found even a hint as to what had happened. Finally, she decided to settle back on Earth and open her own Inn, but then only Inn such an inexperienced Innkeeper could get was an old disused one located away from the usual busy routes. So while she has extensive knowledge of what it means to be an Innkeeper, she is very inexperienced at actually being one. Plus her Inn had been asleep for so long that she has only maybe a tenth of the powers an Innkeeper would normally have…

 

I read the first book and immediately jumped into the next one, that’s how much I fell in love with this new world and these characters. So expect my review of book 2 soon.

 

Once again, Ilona Andrews proves that her books are a must read regardless of which series they belong too. Highly recommending this and everything else she’s ever written!

Of Scions and Men by Courtney Sloan.


Stars: 4 out of 5.

Of Scions and Men is the first book in a new urban fantasy series and as such, it does a good job in introducing the readers to the world and the characters who inhabit it.

And that’s no small feat, I can tell you. First books in a series have the thankless job of showing the reader a brand new world and making sure that they love the protagonist enough to stick not only until the end of one book, but to keep reading the series, AND they need to do that while avoiding info dumps and expositions and still telling an interesting story. So I’m always happy when a start a new series and am hooked from the get go.

So what is this world that Rowan inhabits? This is a world where the war against terror escalated into a full blown all out Third World War and threatened to wipe the human race off the face of the Earth. Supernatural beings like vampires and shifters, who had until then been content to stay in the shadows and make normal people believe they didn’t exist, decided to intervene and put a stop to the massacre, because, in the case of vampires, they were reluctant to lose their food source. By the time vampires took control of the world and bought order and peace again (in a rather ruthless and bloody fashion, I must admit), most of the planet was a smoldering radioactive mess. And humans aren’t in charge of anything, not even their own lives anymore.

Rowan Brady sold her life, her career and her blood when she chose to become a vampire’s Scion, but it was the only way she could ensure that her brother would have a roof over his head and enough food to eat every day. And even though the loss of freedom and the obligation to give a pint of blood a week to her master is a bitter pill to swallow, in exchange Rowan got a job she loves with the police, making sure that supernaturals don’t engage in illegal blood trade.

I like Rowan and her relationship with Devon. I like how she tries to make the best out of a bad situation and preserve every sliver of independence she can while basically having Devon in her head and thoughts 24 / 7. I like that she always relies on herself and doesn’t flash her scion get out of jail card left and right. I like that she is a truly though and capable protagonist.

I like the fact that Devon isn’t your typical domineering selfish and rather violent male lead we usually get in those kind of books. If fact, as vampire masters go, he is a good one to be scioned to.

I do have a few gripes with this book though, hence the 4 out of 5 stars.

The first one is with Lyle. Lyle is gay and flamboyantly so, since even his true form is a blue jay. He could have been such an interesting character if he’d been fleshed out instead of being a walking assembly of clichés. As he stands now, he is more of a plot point and trusty sidekick to Rowan, always there to help her out and listen to her problems. That’s annoying. I want to know what makes him tick. I want to know his backstory. I want to know what pushed him to display his orientation so blatantly in a world where being gay is greatly frowned upon. Why did he choose to come out of the closet and become an outcast? Hopefully, we will discover more about Lyle in the next books because that’s one character I could really fall in love with.

My second gripe is with Rowan’s constant resentment towards Devon and the fact that she became a scion. I would understand that if she’d been forced to do that against her will, but she CHOSE to become a scion. Yes, it was for her brother’s sake, but still, nobody bent her arm or held her at gunpoint when she agreed to this. And it makes even less sense that she would rail against Devon instead of her little brother whom she is making all those sacrifices for. Also, this reaction is rather out of character for her, at least in my opinion. Rowan is a person used to making tough decisions and owning to the consequences, so rehashing this resentment over and over again gets old really fast.

But all in all, this is a solid first instalment of a new series and I will certainly look forward to the next book. And I would recommend it to lovers of urban fantasy.

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

Marked in Flesh (The Others book 4) by Anne Bishop.

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I absolutely love The Others series, so I look forward to each new book with trepidation. And I have reviewed all the previous books so you can check them out if you want: book one, book two, book three.

First things first, even though I absolutely loved this book, it’s not one a person unfamiliar with the series can pick up and enjoy. If you have never read any of the Others books, you wouldn’t understand 80% of what’s going on and just how high the stakes are, so I would recommend that you start at the beginning with Written in Red. Then you have four whole books of excellent story to look forward to.

Now that I’m done with that disclaimer, let’s dive into the story. Back in book 3, the Elders asked Simon a crucial question: How much human the terra indigene will keep. And the future of all humans in Thaisia rides on the answer to that question.

This book is really about reaping the consequences of what all the characters sowed in the previous three books. I knew that humans and the terra indigene were headed for a confrontation if not an all-out war. All the events in the previous three books hinted on that. Heck, the third book ended with the terra indigene declaring a breach of trust. So the question was not whether there would be a conflict, but just how bloody and all-encompassing it would be.

The Humans First and Last (HFL) Movement is pushing for an open conflict and the annihilation of the “animals” that they consider the Others to be so that the human race can finally have unlimited access to all the resources that the land has to offer. Unfortunately for them, they operate under the (false) impression that the Wolfguard, Crowguard, and Sanginati they are used to seeing in city Courtyards are the only existing terra indigene. But the Intuits, Simple folks and some selected humans who closely work with the Others in Lakeside, know the truth. These terra indigene are but a buffer between humans and the Elders, the ancient and ageless beings who roam the deep country. So far, they hadn’t paid much notice to the clever monkeys living on their allotted piece of land, happy to let the various guards to keep the peace. But with the humans getting bolder by the day, they start to take notice. And that’s very bad news, because those Elders aren’t called Namid’s Claws and Teeth for nothing…

This book shows just how big of an impact Meg’s presence had on the Others and humans alike, both in Lakeside and in smaller communities like Ferryman Crossing and Sweetwater.  If the Elders had asked Simon that question in book 1 or even in book 2, he would have answered “None” without a shred of hesitation. Now he worries and even looses sleep over it. And what’s significant is that he isn’t worried about Meg. In fact, none of the terra indigene are worried about Meg because to them, she has become part of the pack. She is just as terra indigene as they are. But they worry about all the other humans that she had brought to the Courtyard – the Meg’s pack which includes a “gaggle of girls” (I chuckled at that definition), as well as the police officers who did everything to help the Others and cooperate with them throughout the previous books. It also includes the Intuit villages and Simple folks that had been more than willing to cooperate with the terra indigene and are being persecuted by the HFL movement for that.

A great storm is coming, and for the first time in his life, Simon is worried about how to make sure that the human pack he got entangled with would survive the certain annihilation of human kind in Thaisia.

All the characters show tremendous growth throughout the series and I love that we see the progress Meg, Hope, and Jean have made to deal with their limitations and the strive they have to adapt to their new lives. I love that when faced with tough choices, the Lakeside police officers like Monty and Burke side with the Others even if that means being declared Wolf Lovers and being shunned and persecuted. I love that the Intuits of Sweetwater don’t think twice when they get Meg’s warning and grab not only their own children but ride to the terra indigene village and evacuate all the pups as well. I love that when the night of reckoning comes, a lot of terra indigene return the favor and stand guard in front of the human villages that helped them, telling Namid’s Teeth and Claws, “We’re here. Those are our humans. Pass along. Leave them be.”

By the end of this book, the landscape of the world has changed irrevocably, but thanks to the cooperation and friendship of a few humans and terra indigene, there is still hope for the human race in Thaisia…

I loved this book and the further insight we got into the rules of this land and the different kinds of terra indigene that populate it. I’m definitely looking forward to the next one and to see how life will unfold for your protagonists now that the Others have reclaimed the land. And what impact would the Elders’ interest towards the “howling non-Wolf” have on the lives of all the cassandra sangue.

Once again, I will say that this is one of the best urban fantasy series out there right now and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who likes great complex worlds and excellent characters, but you need to start at book 1.

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