Category Archives: Urban fantasy

Hidden Blade (The Soul Eater 1) by Pippa DaCosta.

Stars: 4 out of 5

Hidden Blade is the first book in a new series by Pippa DaCosta and it has all the ingredients I came to expect from this author after I read Chaos Rises (which I also reviewed): excellent worldbuilding, interesting (if not always likable) characters, and non-stop action.

Ace Dante has been banned from the Underworld and bound to the dark soul of the evilest sorceress he’d ever captured. Now they are condemned to walk this Earth together, because the death of one will bring the destruction of the other as well. So they decide to open a private investigation agency and help mortals in sticky situations where gods are involved.

Oh yes, this is a world where ancient deities never disappeared. They just adapted and morphed and are more powerful than ever. And they like to play games in which mortals have very little chances of winning. That’s where Ace comes in, offering what help he can to even the odds. But when Bastet, goddess of cats and Ace’s ex-wife asks for his help, Ace might just find himself in an impossible situation, because helping her means going against Osiris and Isis, and Osiris has a claim on Ace’s soul. A claim that Ace cannot deny. A compulsion that he simply cannot fight, no matter how much he tries, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try.

As far as first books go, Hidden Blade does an excellent job of introducing the protagonist and the world he lives in as well as showing us exactly what the stakes are. Ace isn’t a nice guy or even particularly a good guy, but he’s been placed into an impossible situation so the reader can’t help but empathize with the poor devil. And despite not being a good guy, he still tries to do the right thing in most situations, even when that means angering the god that can literally order your heart to stop beating at any moment.

Because Egyptian Gods are not very benevolent entities in this world. They are flawed and petty and all-powerful, which is a very bad combination. They can bestow a blessing or reap the supplicant’s heart out and eat it with the same ease, depending on their mood. And Osiris is the most powerful of the Gods, so making him your enemy is a royally bad idea.

As I mentioned above, the action is also relentless. The book is fast paced and keeps you at the edge of your sit all the way through. But even though the story barrels towards the inevitable conclusion at speeds way above the legal limit, it doesn’t feel rushed. Surprising, I know. We still get a glimpse into our characters’ pasts and the motivations behind their actions. We still slow down enough to look around this world and decide that yes, it’s something we would like to learn more about. We learn a bit about Ace, but aren’t given much clues as to what happened in the past that got him banned out of the Underworld and basically put on a leach by Osiris. And the events in the last quarter of the book have such an impact that now I NEED to pick up book 2 and see if Osiris will get what he deserves for what he did…

So to recap this rather rambling review, this book does an excellent job of introducing a new world and making the reader care for the characters. I would definitely recommend it to urban fantasy lovers. And I will pick up book 2 to see where the story goes.

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

Winter Halo (Outcast book 2) by Keri Arthur.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

 

I had read and reviewed City of Light, the first book in the Outcast series, and I had absolutely loved it. So I awaited the next installment with no small amount of anticipation and, I must admit it, dread.

 

Why dread, might you ask? Because too often the second book in a series is the weakest, especially if book one was excellent, like it was here. The worldbuilding is set, the characters have been introduced, but it’s too early to start on the main conflict of the series, so book two is often a slump that can easily be skipped (I’m looking at you, October Daye).

 

So how did Winter Halo fare when it comes to the dreaded second book slump? It did better than most, but didn’t escape it entirely. The story moved forward, and we got another piece of the big puzzle, but the main premise of the book still felt… rather secondary.

 

The book picks up right where the first book left off, and there is no rest for the wicked, and no time for Tiger to lick wounds or reflect on the betrayal of some people she’d just began to trust. Yes, they managed to rescue the children held by the vampires, but at least five more are missing, and the odds of finding them alive are bad. And even though one of the people she’d agreed to work with just tried to kill her, Tiger wouldn’t be Tiger if she just stood by and let those children get hurt without at least trying to do something. So she chooses to ally herself with the shifters again, albeit reluctantly, and infiltrate Winter Halo, the company they had investigated in book 1…

 

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. I am still loving Tiger. She is a strong and kickass protagonist who knows her strengths and uses them to advance her cause. I love that she has a strong moral compass and a depth of compassion and love that not many “normal” people have, let alone other dechet. Her relationship with Cat and Bear, the two ghost children that are tied to her, is both heartwarming and incredibly sad. And I understand why she would go to the lengths she goes to find the missing children – She watched all the little dechet children in her care slaughtered and was unable to save them, and has to live with that guilt (and their ghosts), so she would rather die than watch another child hurt.

 

My problem is that this book does a poor job of following through with this premise. We start looking for those still missing children right off the bat. The author even tells us that their time is running out, so you would think that there would be some sense of urgency there? Nope. Tiger and her crew seem to meander all over the place and stumble into bigger plots along the way, and the mention of those children who are still missing is thrown here and there almost like an afterthought.

 

Second problem is that this particular storyline isn’t even resolved by the end of the book. SPOILER ALERT!!! The children are still missing by the end, and Tiger (and the reader) isn’t any closer to finding them than she was in the beginning.

 

And finally, what Tiger discovers in Winter Halo is so big that the destiny of a few children rather pales in comparison… yet it’s not properly addressed in the book or acknowledged by the characters. It’s like hey, the creatures from the rifts might be planning to take over our world and exterminate everyone who lives here, but let’s not talk about that, because the children are still missing…

 

On a positive note, Tiger eliminated yet another villain and, hopefully, threw a wrench in the group’s plans to destroy the world. And she had an honest talk with her love interest after which both decided to give the relationship a chance. Color me pleasantly surprised, because most series would have milked that sexual tension for at least another 2-3 books. I’m glad it’s resolved though, because that opens a new chapter in their relationship to explore – how will they deal with dating each other, coming from such different backgrounds and with such a history of hate and violence between their species? And even if it wasn’t for that, not many books choose to explore the difficulties and joys of two people trying to build something together after that initial “we love each other, let’s hook up” phase.

 

So my wish for the next book is this – let’s finally put that missing children plot to rest. Either find them already or write them off as casualties of this shadow war, but enough is enough. And let’s focus on the more pressing problem of some unknown baddies that have allies even inside the city government trying to destroy the world.

 

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

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!