Category Archives: Urban fantasy

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.

Everlost by Neal Shusterman

Everlost

Stars: 4 out of 5

With Everlost, the first book in the Skinjacker series, Neal Shusterman created a fascinating world that I enjoyed exploring.

Nick and Allie die in a car crash, but instead of going all the way to the light at the end of the tunnel, they collide with each other and go of course. So they end up stuck in a world called Everlost – a place that permeates our real world, but in which things that had meaning in our world, but were for some reason destroyed, still remain. It’s a world where the Twin Towers are still standing in New York, the Titanic still sails the seas, the Hindenburg soars through the skies, and all the fortunes in the fortune cookies are always true.

Nick and Allie soon find out that only places that don’t exist in the real world anymore, that are solid in Everlost only, are safe for them. Everywhere else they start sinking into the ground if they stand still for too long. They also discover that this world is only populated by children, the oldest of which was barely 17 when she died, and that monsters do exist, even if they are man-made.

I absolutely loved the world of Everlost. The idea that the ghosts exit in this world that is near ours, but not entirely like ours, is fascinating. Also loved the fact that landmarks, buildings and objects that had some significance or importance to somebody pass into the Everlost as well when they are destroyed. Or that the Afterlights (because they don’t want to call themselves ghosts) are only safe in those places that passed into the Everlost too.

I loved following the main characters, but most of the supporting characters were just as fun to read about. Mary, and the McGill, and Leaf were all very real and well-portrayed characters with their own personalities and goals. They all are basically in the same boat – trying to make sense of what happened to them and figure out how to spend eternity in this strange place.

I was also happy with the fact that the author didn’t chose to go the easy way and populate this world with monsters or other creepy things. The only monsters our heroes encounter are man-made. In fact, this is one of the messages of the book – that you can chose what to be in Everlost, whether you will have the strength to stay human, or lock yourself in a mindless routine that you would be repeating forever, or even become a monster. Every soul copes with the circumstances differently. There is no right or wrong way. But this world is not sad and gloomy at all, because in the end, there is a coin for every lost soul to get to their final destination. They just have to be ready to take that last step.

I really enjoyed this first book and I can’t wait to dive into Everwild, the next book in the series. So if you enjoy a well-thought world and engaging characters, pick up Everlost and read it. Go do it now!