jacey: (blue eyes)
I didn't manage my 50 books this year, largely due to writing - i.e. my three book deal with DAW. When I'm in the throes of writing I'm afraid reading is one of the casualties. I managed 36 books, only 33 of them novels, however, I thoroughly enjoyed discovering some new (to me) authors, especially Kevin Hearne, Benedict Jacka and Jim Hines at the beginning of the year, all books about young male magic users in urban fantasy settings, then Anne Lyle and Scott Lynch at the end of it, both writing fantasy with a historical setting. I also thoroughly enjoyed more books from favourite authors, Anne Aguirre, Joe Abercrombie, Patricia Briggs, Kari Sperring, Ilona Andrews, George R.R. Martin and Karen Traviss. Mixed in with the new books were re-reads, not previously book blogged, from Liz Williams, James Hetley and Kate Elliott.

All in all a good reading year with very few duds. I've already got more books than I can possibly tackle in 2014 lined up on my kindle and on my bookshelves. In fact if I never buy another book - ever - (and how likely is that?) I probably won't live long enough to read through my strategic book reserve unless I make it past 100. I'm not sure whether that's comforting or not! I'm looking forward to reading Gaie Siebold, Tom Pollock, Ben Aaronovitch and more Terry Pratchett in the new year.

In 2013 I read:
1. Margaret Mahy: The Haunting
2. Kevin Hearne: Hounded – Iron Druid #1
3. Kristen Callihan: Firelight – Darkest London #1
4. Ilona Andrews: Steel's Edge – The Edge #4
5. Robert V S Redick: The Red Wolf Conspiracy – Chathrand Voyages #1
6. Benedict Jacka: Fated – Alex Verus #1
7. Jim C. Hines: Libriomancer – Magic Ex Libris #1
8. David Feintuch: Midshipman's Hope – Seafort Saga #1
9. Benedict Jacka: Cursed – Alex Verus #2
10. Freda Warrington: Elfland
11. Joe Abercrombie: Best Served Cold
12. Seanan McGuire: Rosemary and Rue
13. Patricia Briggs: Frost Burned – Mercy Thompson #7
14. Kari Sperring: The Grass King's Concubine
15. Ilona Andrews: Fate's Edge – The Edge #3
16. Terry Jones: Medieval Lives
17. Georgette Heyer: The Toll Gate
18. Anne Aguirre: Aftermath
19. Douglas Hill: Young Legionary
20. George R.R. Martin: A Clash of Kings
21. Kate Elliott: Jaran
22. Cassandra Rose Clarke: The Pirate's Wish
23.  Rayne Hall: Writing Fight Scenes
24. George R.R. Martin: A Storm of Swords, Part 1 Steel and Snow - A Song of Ice and Fire #3A
25. George R.R. Martin: A Storm of Swords, Part 2 Blood and Gold - A Song of Ice and Fire #3B
26. Karen Traviss: Star Wars: The Clone Wars - No Prisoners      
27. Chris Mould: Pip and the Twilight Seekers: A Spindlewood Tale
28. James Hetley: The Summer Country
29. Liz Williams: Snake Agent
30. Anne Lyle: The Alchemist of Souls – Night's Masque #1
31. Tanya Huff: The Wild Ways – Gale Women #2
32. Anne Lyle: The Merchant of Dreams – Night's Masque #2
33. Anne Lyle: The Prince of Lies – Night's Masque #3
34. David Hewson; Writing a Novel with Scrivener
35. Zenna Henderson: Ingathering - The Complete People Stories
36. Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora
jacey: (blue eyes)
What a book to finish my 2013 reading! Thoroughly absorbing, interesting characters who are changed by events that happen to them, great backstory, twisty plot in the front-story leading to nail-biting tension. Highly recommended.

Trying not to give away too many spoilers we get to see the formation of the Gentlemen Bastards, a gang of young men devoted to the gentle art of thievery in a fantasy analogue of Venice. Through inserted backstory interludes we see them as starveling orphans being gradually educated and moulded into a five-man gang so close-mouthed that even the other thieves in the city (and the Capa who rules them all) don't know what they get up to.

Locke is a cocky child, too clever for his own good, who grows up into a cocky Gentleman Bastard devising elaborate scams to part the rich from their money. The balance of power changes with the arrival of the Grey King and his powerful bondmage, a challenge to the Capa Barsavi and his stable rule of the underworld, and an even bigger challenge to Locke and his gang who, as it turns out, are still too clever for their own good.

This builds from Locke's success through setback upon setback. There are penalties and consequences for everyone, but a very satisfying conclusion kept me up reading way later than I should.

There are two more Gentleman Bastard books and I'll be seeking them out immediately to add to my 2014 to-read list. I'm hoping that some story droplets not mopped up in the first book will soak into the pages of the next two.
jacey: (blue eyes)
This is a collection of stories, all but one first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from the early 50s to the mid 70s. The People are aliens who escaped the destruction of their own planet and crash landed in the American southwest just before the turn of the century. There's a deep sense of place. The stories are largely concerned with the way the people (fully human in appearance though possessing powers) make an effort to blend in with humanity, mostly in their own little isolated town, without attracting the attention of fearful and ignorant neighbours.

The original short stories were tacked together with a framing narrative to produce two separate book length narratives, both are included here.

The People are supposed to be 'like us at our best' and there's little here in the way of flashbang adventure or even grim conflict. These are of their time, gentle stories of gentle people. Some of them contain great sadness (overcome) and there's a pervading aura of melancholy.

These were recommended to me by a friend and I can see why she likes them so much, but for me a little goes a long way.
jacey: (blue eyes)
An excellent clear guide to using Scrivener to write a novel. Scrivener is one of those programmes with so many possibilities that you could spend weeks learning it from top to toe, or you could just take a day or so to grasp its main features and wade in, learning as you go. Most fiction writers will never need the full range of Scrivener's facilities, so the learn-as-you-go method makes sense and this book is a tremendous help.

I've been working in Scrivener for a few months,now, ever since my friend Karen Traviss recommended it as a useful tool for writers. It doesn't help the creativity, but it does help you to organise what you write and to revise it and tease out separate threads for revision purposes.

I've grasped enough to use it, but Mr Hewson pointed out some of the features I'd missed and I've already put some of his ideas into use.

If at times this book seems a little Mac-centric, it's because there are features for the Mac version of Scrivener which have not made it as far as the PC platform yet.:
jacey: (blue eyes)
The Prince of Lies smNote, spoilers for the first two books lie ahead.

This is the concluding part of the Night's Masque trilogy, following on from The Alchemist of Souls and The Merchant of Dreams in which Mal Catlyn, impoverished sword for hire, became an Elizabethan spy, knighted for his efforts and now, at last, with his old home reinstated, his brother returned to sanity, a wife and an adopted son.

But this is not a straightforward historical story, so into the mix add a magical race of skraylings, beings discovered in the New World, and the threat of guisers, skrayling souls inhabiting human bodies and plotting to take over England. Indeed, one of them, Jathekkil, the main antagonist in the first book, died and has been reborn into the body of Queen Elizabeth's grandchild, and is now in line to inherit the throne – sooner rather than later once his father and older brother can be eliminated. (Yes in this version of history good Queen Bess married and had heirs.)

It's further complicated by the fact that Mal and his twin brother, Sandy, share a split skrayling soul between them. Sandy got the greater part and this is what led to him being considered mad for many years. So what's the difference between Mal and Sandy and the evil guisers? Simple, Mal and Sandy acquired the soul of the skrayling, Erishen, by accident and are not plotting against the crown, but trying to save it. There's also one further complication in that Mal's adopted son bears another skrayling soul, that of Kiiren, Erishen's long-time partner.

Got that? Good. That's the situation as this book opens.

The action starts quickly. Mal is quickly drawn into turmoil again as a bad decision he made in the second book, pops up to bite him on the bum when a powerful guiser from Venice appears at the Elizabethan court and becomes embroiled in young Jathekkil's plot to take the throne. Mal has to get rid of the guisers, but that involves killing what appears to be a small child, and that never looks good on your CV even if you're a spy.

At last Mal is learning to use skrayling magic and traverse the dreamlands, courtesy of Sandy's teaching and Erishen's soul. In this book he fights with magic as much as with steel.

Mal's son, Kit (Kiiren) becomes a pawn in the game as yet another player takes the field, this time with a mixture of skrayling and human magic that gives him a big advantage. Mal, Coby and Sandy, plus Mal's friends Gabriel and Ned, a gay couple who have been a major part of the team throughout the three books, take to the road in pursuit of Kit.

Ms Lyle handles the gay aspects of this book well, not only Gabriel and Ned but also the echoes of Mal's previous relationship with Ned.

There's a satisfactory conclusion and Mal retrieves the mistakes he made in the last book (by the skin of his teeth), though the victory is bittersweet. I feel sorry for Mal's wife, Coby, (though Coby's not the kind of character to feel sorry for herself) as she thought she married Mal and finds she got more in the package than she expected. She's the uncomplaining heroine of this piece.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I'm in the middle of writing at the moment, which generally means my own reading suffers as I can't comfortably read fiction when I'm writing different fiction, however a trip to London and back gave me eight hours as a pasenger in the car and I'm afraiud I was antisocial enough to seize on the opportunity to read The Merchant of Dreams.

The second installment of Mal Catlyn's adventures, beginning about a year after the events in Alchemist of Souls. Mal finds a party of skraylings in the Mediterranean, shipwrecked, captured by the locals and now dead by their own hand. When Kiiren is called away from the skrayling haven on Sark to replace the dead ambassador ona mission to Venice, Mal's brother, Sandy, sometimes all brother, sometimes all skrayling, is released into his care. Sandy is much improved, but he'll never be the brother Mal wants him to be.

Mal, in the meantime has been, at Walsingham's command, settling in to his new estates in France where he's an English ear at the French court. His 'manservant', Coby is more than she seems and there's a huge attraction between her and Mal, but she won't give up her male guise and he won't treat her as female until she does since the punishment for homosexual love is death. (Not that this seems to worry Mal's friend, Ned, and his lover Gabriel.)

When Mal is sent to Venice by Walsingham to spy on the Kiiren's trade mission,  he takes Ned and Coby is left to look after Sandy, but Sandy soon puts himself (and Coby and Gabriel) in desperate danger. Fleeing London, heading for Mal's estates in France they get kidnapped and the tangled knots begin to tighten.

The plot is satisfyingly convoluted with Mal, Coby, Sandy, Ned and Gabriel eventually coming together again in time for the major events to unfold, and there's a nicde payoff. Second books can be difficult, but this is handled deftly and the story expands beyond London to a well-researched late sixteenth century Venice. I like that Mal doesn't always make good decisions, but one decision here seems out of character. I'll wait to see how that resolves in the third book.

Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I like Tanya Huff's writing a lot. That I didn't quite engage with this book as much as I'd hoped is a puzzle because it has all the right ingredients. It's Tanya Huff. It's about the Gales, so beautifully launched with The Enchantment Emporium. Having said that I didn't engage with it, there's much to like about this book. Its main character is Charlie, one of the younger Gale girls, and a wild talent who can use her magic to walk 'between' places via the woods, and has a handy line in quick charms to solve (almost) all problems. Charlie's a guitarist and singer in a folk band and when she gets a call she steps into a band full of old friends who are doing the summer festival trail in Nova Scotia.

Hell, that should be one more reason for liking this book. I've played folk festivals in Nova Scotia.

Unlike, Charlie, however, I never come across a distraught selkie whose sealskin had been kidnapped . It's a blackmail thing. The selkies are protesting Carlson Oil's plans to drill offshore close to a protected island and Carlson has hired a witch to steal the selkie skins and hold them to ransom to halt the protest. Unfortunately for Charlie the witch for hire happens to be one of the fearsome Gale 'aunties', also a wild talent and scary as all hell.

Charlie drafts in reinforcements - in the shape of Cousin Jack, a dragon prince, raised in the Under-Realm, but most definitely a Gale Boy. Trouble with Gale boys is that you can never tell if they're going to go bad or not. Fifteen is the age where they are judged, and Jack is fourteen and confused. He knows how humans behave, but even when he's in human form he's really all dragon. Hungry dragon. And he's a sorcerer as well, which practically condemns him in the eyes of most of the aunties.

Since everyone's been keeping a close eye on him Jack's been wearing a mental straight-jacket, so Charlie figures a bit of freewheeling roadie-ing and some space to be who he really is, might help him to decide whether he's going to pass or fail the aunties' final test. Besides, it's always good to have a dragon on the team when you're going up against Auntie Catherine and a selkie-skin-stealing oil company.

This not only a story of Jack's growth towards Gale-hood, but also Charlie finally accepting responsibility for her wild powers.

So, the final verdict? Well worth reading if not quite as good as The Enchantment Emporium. I do, however, look forward to more stories of the Gale family.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Set in an alternate Elizabethan Britain where Elizabeth has married, produced heirs and is now widowed. Voyagers to the new world have found a race of non-human skraylings who have a strange kind of magic that humans have barely fathomed. One of these talents is the ability to be reborn. It's against Skrayling law to be reincarnated as a human, but renegade skraylings exist. known as guisers, and they are dangerous.

Skrayling-human politics are finely balanced. The crown appreciates Skrayling trade - even depends on it - while at the same time fearing the strangers. The Skraylings also have their own internal political struggles and factions.

When Mal Catelyn, well-born but now a down-on-his-luck soldier of fortune, is hired as bodyguard to the new skrayling ambassador to London, it's not by accident. He has to overcome his own prejudices against them and guilt for what his family once did. He's on an even steeper learning curve when he also gets hired by Walsingham, the queen's spymaster. A job he can't refuse. Mal's in a tricky position, a secret Catholic, he has to hide his faith, but he has other secrets, too. His twin brother Sandy, incarcerated in Bedlam, is just one of them, but what he learns from the Skrayling ambassador turns his world upside down and gives him an even bigger secret to guard.

Set in late Elizabethan London, this novel goes from the Tower itself to the backstreets of Southwark and the disreputable milieu of the theatre where there's young Coby, who also has a secret to hide. Coby, Mal's friend Ned, Ned's lover Gabriel and Mal himself are all on a collision course with the skraylings and the plots that surround them.

A hugely enjoyable read with well drawn, realistic characters, a setting that feels well-researched and a race of aliens who are inscrutably different. It made me want to go straight on to the second novel in the trilogy, Merchant of Dreams.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Any book which opens with the main protagonist swinging by his heels in Hell has got my attention from page one. This grabbed me and never let me go.

Det. Insp. Chen is the cop whose responsibilities include the underworld as it impinges upon his city - the franchise city of Singapore 3. He's a snake agent, one of the people who can travel between earth and Hell, so when a murdered young woman's soul fails to end up in the realm above where it was destined to go, Chen has to follow the clues to Hell and back uncovering corruption in the highest echelons. He's teamed with his Hellish counterpart the Seneschal Zhu Irzh, demon vice cop. Starsky and Hutch they are not, but there's an element of the buddy-cop story as each character gets the measure of the other. Chen also has to avoid his wife's relatives who are understandably miffed as she's a demon he rescued from Hell before the story begins with a guardian who is sometimes a badger and other times a teakettle.

This is the first of Liz William's Detective Inspector Chen books and introduces us to the strange and wonderful world of Singapore 3 where ordinary mortals, if they know what they're doing, can travel between earth, hell and heaven and return again. The background is richly drawn. The interweaving of myth, legend and imagination combines flawlessly.

Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I read Jim Hetley's debut novel when it first came out and again for review purposes and I have to say that I'm still in awe of his characterisation skills.

OK, briefly: Maureen Pierce works a dull job (the night shift in a convenience store), is paranoid (but not without reason), and talks to trees. She thinks she's mad, and her sister Jo agrees. And she does, indeed, have some serious mental health problems – most of them stemming from the fact that she doesn't fit into the world – or, at least, not in this world.

Her heritage (and nefarious magic) drags her from Maine to a mythical land, once full of warmth and sunlight, but now Dark and Dangerous (capital Ds intended), along with Brian Arthur Pendragon Albion, a Templar of a race of Ancient Ones, her sister, Jo and Jo's boyfriend, David. There are twisty plots afoot  as dark witch Fiona and her brother get to work.

The characters are darkly flawed but Hetley makes you care. The world is richly drawn. Yes it's violent and sometimes brutal, but Hetley draws on the darker side of Celtic myth for his inspiration and it works.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Spindlewood #2

Reviewed for Netgalley.
The Spindlewood is full of witches and strange creatures who could use children in the war against Hangman's Hollow, so children are banned. Jarvis's job is to catch strays, but he enjoys it too much. Hector Stubbs, the mayor, wants to find all the hidden children for his own reasons - to turn them into an army to fight the forest dwellers.

In this second book in a trilogy three children, Frankie (whose parents are in jail for harbouring her), Pip (an orphan) and Toad (Sam's son) are hiding in Sam's inn, The Dead Man's Hand. They've had a short period of peace after escaping from the forest and the evil Jarvis, but now the winter snow has gone and the danger has returned.

The wooden toy soldier, Captain Dooley, is ready to spill all the secrets of hidden children and young Edgar McCreedy inadvertently delivers it (and himself) to the mysterious four-armed forest dweller, Mr. Roach and the dangerous toy is handed over to Jarvis.

Captain Dooley sets Jarvis on the trail of the children, but Pip Toad and Frankie escape and set out to rescue children imprisoned in the Spindlewood.

Creepily good line illustrations by Yorkshire author, Chris Mould, very reminiscent of Ronald Searle's style. Beautiful and economical prose, but there are few explanations, so it doesn't really stand alone without the preceding book, and since it also finishes without resolving (despite a small reveal) it's definitely a middle book in a trilogy. This is aimed at children from 8 - 12 though very much on the younger end of the middle-grade age range.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Karen Traviss: Star Wars: The Clone Wars - No Prisoners

This is one of Karen's later Star Wars books, but will please fans of her Republic Commando series as here she does what she does best – takes a bunch of unknown characters including Jedi knights, clone troopers, a battleship captain and a spy, and chronicles a very short span of their activity in the clone wars, where the good guys are supposed to be the Republic and the bad guys are the separatists. Yes, OK, we do have Annakin Skywalker, his Padawan Ahsoka and clone Captain Rex from the animated movie, but this isn't a formulaic adventure featuring characters we already know. Instead it's Karen asking hard questions again – about identity, human rights and the nature of love.

Spy, Halena, secret lover of Gil Pallaeon, captain of newly refitted assault ship, Leveler, is sent to the planet Athar to gather information about any proposed separatist activity and a potential threat to remove the current republic-friendly government by the downtrodden masses. Unfortunately she's not given enough information and the invasion is already underway. Rumbled almost immediately she requests extraction and Pellaeon and the Leveler happen to be the closest vessel. Unfortunately the refit hasn't been entirely successful and they're on a shakedown cruise with civilian engineers on board who are trying to fix a computer glitch which has taken their most effective weapons offline.

Added to that Annakin Skywalker has sent Captain Rex with Ahsoka and half a dozen fresh-out-of-training clones to familiarise themselves with Leveler's upgrades – that's the theory, but in fact he's just trying to get Ahsoka out of his hair and buy himself a bit of time with Padme – at this point in the Star Wars story arc they are secretly married and Annakin is suffering enormous guilt for forming an attachment. Add to this Master Altis' Jedi sect which allows marriage and children and you have an interesting mix of characters who are going to start questioning a) why Yoda is so keen that the Republic's Jedi knights be kept so strictly single and celibate, b) how and why the Republic knew that a clone army would be needed, c) whether the Republic has the right to treat clone troops like slave soldiers whose individual lives are not important and d) whether the Republic is actually the right side to be fighting on.

This is a simple get-me-out-of-here caper. What makes it interesting are the questions. Annakin and Ahsoka come up against Altis' Jedi sect and begin to question whether attachment will turn a Jedi to the Dark Side as Yoda insists. Halena questions her activities as a spy and whether she's on the right side. But it's the clones who raise the most questions. Karen always has great sympathy for the common soldier, portraying them as complex individuals, even the ones straight out of basic training. Grown to maturity in half the time it takes for an uncloned human, the clones are children in a world that values them only for their expendability and their camaraderie is as uplifting as it is heartbreaking.

An excellent novel, and not just for Star Wars fans.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Yay at last I've read beyond where the TV series left off, and what a read! I'm a big fan of this whole series and will make an effort to read the next one before Season 4 starts.

Another excellent outing for Starks, Lannisters, Targaryans and Baratheons with big chunks of story ark concentrating on Tyrion and Jaime for the Lannisters, and Sansa, Arya and Jon Snow for the Starks with a bit of Bran on the side. There's also a chunk following Dani – the last Targaryan – and her dragons plus extra viewpoint chapters from Davos Seaworth, not my favourite character, though he has his moments, but he's the one narrating Stannis Baratheon's arc. Sam Tarly also takes up the narrative – a delightful character.

So the whole book (parts one and two) covers everything from Jaime Lannister's journey back to King's Landing with Brienne of Tarth – and some new and interesting insights into the Kingslayer, Arya's continuing journey to find her mother, the much talked of Red Wedding, but I'll not include spoilers in case you're one of the three people left in the world who doesn't know what happens, and a great YES! (airpunch) moment when a hated character gets his comeuppance. But Winterfell, oh dear, what's to become of you?

We meet some new characters, the Queen of Thorns and the Red Viper of Dorne, and keep an eye on some old ones, such as the Hound. I do hope we've not seen the last of Gendry, but the book Gendry and the TV Gendry are now on different paths. There are some surprises, and people you didn't expect to see die do die and there's a big reveal right at the end which makes you want to reach for the next volume.

Highly recommended, but start at the beginning with Game of Thrones. This is not something to pick up part way through.
jacey: (blue eyes)
It's hardly fair to review this book as a stand-alone since it's really only the first half of A Storm of Swords. It makes no attempt to reach a conclusion and I immediately went on to read the second half.

Having watched the excellent Season Three of the HBO TV serries (much enjoyed) I'm now trying to read ahead before the next season. Obviously there are differences, notably Gendry's TV character having been substituted for Edric Storm and a change of queen for Robb Stark.

All I can say is that I'm enjoying it so far and look forward to reading the rest of it.

There's only one problem. Like Mr Abercrombie's books, Mr Martin's books take me so long to get through that I'm never going to reach my target of fifty books this year unless I count The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Postman Pat and Dear Zoo and all the rest that I read to my grandson. Yeah, OK, the numbers shouldn't count.
jacey: (blue eyes)
You could use this as a prescription for writing fight scenes, which would ba a mistake, but it also gives you the tools for working out the various stages a fight scene goes through. It gets specific about edged weapons and hand to hand fighting (not so much guns as that sets the protagonists apart from each other and is over very quickly). It outlines the psychological differences between female and male characters resulting in different energy arcs (men quick to anger and quick to cool down; women slower to build to a boiling fury but the anger dies away more slowly even after the fight is won). That leads to likely differences in dialogue before, during and after a fight.

It's very good for someone like me who has no martial arts experience, but needs to write fight scenes for historical and/or fantasy stories which include bladed weapons or hand-to-hand fights. Imagination can take you so far, but a little hard information provides good building blocks. Good for adding important little details and prompting the author to interrogate any fight scenes already written to see if anything can be added or needs to be subtracted.
jacey: (blue eyes)
The second half of the story begun in The Assassin's Curse, as this is basically one long book split into two. It's a light, fast read which comes to a satisfying conclusion despite a couple of places where the sexual tension gets stretched out purely because the main characters seem to wilfully misunderstand each other's intentions.

I was a little disappointed to find that this was not the start of a series because I enjoyed the first one so much, however this tied up all the loose ends, so I'm happy to leave it there.

Ananna has a strong voice and Naji, the scar-faced assassin, is suitably moody. The worldbuilding was mostly completed in the first book, but is maintained very well.

This nook picks up where the last one left off, with Ananna and Naji marooned on a magical island. I wish I hadn't left so long between reading the first and second volume because it took me a while to read myself back into it, but once I picked up the threads I was fine.

Ananna has unwittingly saved the life on Naji, her would-be assassin, set on her by a pirate family she mortally offended while trying to escape marriage to their son (in book one). In doing so she has triggered a curse and now Naji is forced to protect her or suffer dreadful consequences. Of course they fancy each other rotten, but neither will admit it, hence the wilful misunderstandings that almost-but-not-quite stretch reader credibility.

I'm probably not giving much away if I tell you that happy endings follow several plot twists. Thoroughly enjoyable.
jacey: (blue eyes)
The beginning of a series which sees Tess dumped into a Cossack-type horse-lord culture when she stows away on an alien spacecraft. Much of this novel is taken up with Tess' integration into that culture and her growing attraction for Illya, but though that part of it reads like fantasy, it's definitely science fiction with an alien plot thread running through the whole lot.

I swallowed this book whole. The writing is well-paced and crisp and the characters, not just Tess and Illya but the supporting characters as well, are thoroughly rounded. The world-building is superb.

Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Another weighty tome from George R R Martin and well worth reading. I'm having the rather strange experience of having seen Season Two and Season Three of Game of Thrones before reading the book, so my reading of it is coloured by the characters on TV. Some things have changed, some things have not. It's also confusing that the TV version takes events in a slightly different order to the book, so some things from the second book are in the third season and vice versa. I'm losing track of whether an event is book or telly. That doesn't spoil the enjoyment, though.

So this is the book in which Tyrion shows his mettle as Hand of the King (acting), saves Kings Landing and gets no credit for it. It's the book in which Sansa is tormented by Joffrey. It's the book in which Arya journeys with Gendry and Hot Pie, in which Jon Snow goes north of the wall, in which Danni wanders with dragons, in which Theon Greyjoy shows his true colours, in which Jaime Lannister spends a lot of time imprisoned by Rob Stark, The King of the North, and in which Joffrey Baratheon shows why it's a bad idea for brothers and sisters to have children together. New viewpoint characters are introduced, such as Davos, the Onion Knight. It's a book of kings and battles, of treachery, bravery and cowardice and the occasional good deed, which rarely goes unpunished.

I'm enjoying both book and telly immensely. GRRM picks you up by the scruff of the neck and doesn't let you go until the last page. Even then you want to move straight on to the next book. Which I have already... watch this space.

Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I'm trying to get round to a number of books that have been sitting on my bookshelf for years making me feel guilty. This is one such. I read one or two of Hill's Last Legionary Quartet many years ago and enjoyed them. This is a 1982 prequel collection of stories about the training of the legionary who was to become the last of his kind, published by Piccolo, a junior imprint of Gollancz..

There are four stories, each taking a snapshot of Keill Randor's life, one age 12 as he takes the dangerous right-of-passage test that shunts him into the Young Legionary Programme. The second is Keill at the age of 14 trapped with his fellow trainees in a dangerous desert situation with deadly spine-eels swarming. The third is Keill aged 16, assigned to give a trio of potentially hostile customers a tour of the Legion's mercenary facility, and dealing with things when the situation goes pear-shaped. And lastly there's Keill aged 18, facing his last test before being assigned to adult responsibilities as a full legionary.

The stories are slight and as a prequel you know that Keill is going to survive whatever the book throws at him (always the problem with prequels) and you know that all the other characters are eventually going to be  killed off between the end of this book and the beginning of Galactic Warlord, the first of the Last Legionary books, so it's difficult to get invested in characters such as Oni, Keill's longtime (girl) friend, though she's well written.

If anything Keill and Oni are a little too perfect and competent, but each story develops the characters a little further. I found this fairly bland by today's standards and probably for completists only, though as the intended audience is a young readership (and bearing in mind the time it was written) it stands up quite well to other SF children's books of the period.
jacey: (blue eyes)
In the last novel Sirantha Jax risked all to change the beacons in Grimspace so that the human-munching Morgut could not navigate to human populated worlds. She saved billions of lives... BUT... she did it on her own initiative ignoring the chain of command and leaving her lover and her commander, March, with egg on his face. And though she's saved humankind from being torn limb from limb and eaten, she's caused the death of 600 troops trapped on ships that entered Grimspace and never returned, lost forever.

So the powers that be decide Jax must pay for her crimes, or at least go on trial. March, unable to do anything except sit around and wait, departs to rescue his nephew and Jax is left with only a tough-cookie lawyer and the ever faithful giant-insectoid, Vel.

Jax has changed over the course of the novels. She's no longer the brash, drink-anyone-under-the-table, live-for-today-for-tomorrow-we-die type. This is Jax coping with loss, shouldering responsibility and trying to keep promises.

As ever Ann Aguirre's characterisation is deft and revealing. Though there was a big discovery, this dealt with more personal events for Jax. And there was very little March in it, which was the one disappointment. Jax and March seem to be growing apart - in more ways than one. I look forward to seeing where this leads in the next book, Endgame.

This is a Sirantha Jax book and well worth reading, but read the others first.
jacey: (blue eyes)
When Crazy Jack Staple, lately of Wellington's army returns to civilian life after the defeat of Napoleon, he finds that there's not much to satisfy the adrenaline junkie he's become, and no woman who really interests him. Then, while escaping from his boring cousin's boring houseparty he rides into Derbyshire to visit a friend and puts up for the night at a lonely toll gate cottage when he finds the gate-keeper has left his ten year old son, Ben, alone and petrified.

Jack not only finds a mystery, but he finds romance in the shape of Nell, granddaughter of the ailing squire, competent and capable, and somewhat too tall for polite society and the 'ton.' It's love at first sight for Jack, but since he's masquerading as the gatekeeper's cousin Nell takes a bit of convincing, however her retainers (faithful groom and nurse/companion) have no qualms about Jack and quickly decide that he's Nell's likely saviour as she'll soon be ousted from her home when her grandfather dies (as he has left it to her the obvious male heir, her unsympathetic cousin).

At its heart this is as much mystery as romance. The keeper, Ben's father, only stepped out for an hour, but now he's missing. Nell's odious cousin and his even more odious friend have installed themselves in the manor which the cousin hopes soon to inherit, but they don't seem to have a very good reason for doing so. There's a good-hearted highwayman and a Bow Street Runner sniffing around.

Jack latches on to the mystery, determined to solve it and so the romance almost takes a back seat until romance and mystery collide. There's much more derring-do than in Heyer's usual Regency Romances and it fairly bounds along to a pistols and fisticuffs conclusion.

The characters are well-drawn from Jack and Nell, to Nell's grandfather, once a sportsman and now laid low by a stroke, but far from unaware that something is amiss. The low characters nearly all speak thieves cant, which is probably unrealistic as they aren't all thieves. Jack manages passable cant-speak, too and I suspect Ms Heyer had access to Captain Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) on her desk as she comes out with words like 'jobbernoll' and 'slumguzzle' and phrases like 'dicked in the head.'

I enjoyed this.
jacey: (blue eyes)
A popular history book that accompanied a BBC series (which I did not see) It makes no pretence of exploring any subject in depth, however Jones manages to debunk a lot of common ideas about the medieval period, including the very definition itself.  He argues that the Middle Ages are a construct of later historians and show as much change from beginning to end as can be found in the years between the two Queens Elizabeth.

He takes various professions: minstrel, monk, damsel, knight, king and teases out some interesting, though maybe random, facts about specific personages as well as general facts about the profession. There wasn't much here I didn't know, but it was great as a memory stirrer.

Light, light-hearted and informative this is a history that can be dipped into casually or read from cover to cover.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I missed this one first time round and managed to read Book 4 before Book 3, so this filled in a lot of gaps for me. It takes yet another member of the Mar family, Kaldar Mar, conman, thief, trickster and spy and pits him against Audrey Callahan, daughter of a grifter family, magical lock-opener and safecracker without equal. It's a partnership made in heaven, or maybe hell, since they are not on the same side, to begin with, at least.

Mix in some characters from the first and second Edge books and you get Gaston, only ¾ human and after going up against the evil Hand in Book 2, not quite right in the head. George the teenage necromancer and Jack his shapechanging younger brother. It's a hell of a combination for a spy caper as these five try to retrieve something Audrey should never have let her grifter father steal in the first place. Barely one step ahead of the ruthless, bio-engineered agents of the Hand and desperately trying to keep stowaways Jack and George from getting into any more trouble until he can get them back to their sister, Rose, (from Book 1) Kaldar finds himself hopelessly attracted to Auidrey, which puts his mind in his pants instead of in the very dangerous game.

There's a lot of wisecracking backchat between Kaldar and Audrey and ramped up sibling rivalry between George and Jack while the action tears from the Weird (the magical world), the Broken (our world where magic doesn't work) and the Edge, the hard-scrabble, lawless buffer between the two.

Kaldar and Audrey are excellent characters, each with flaws, but both competent and compelling heroes of their own story. Seeing all the other characters who've been lead characters in previous books is a bonus, Rose and Declan from Book 1, and Cerise and William from Book 2. This is a lot of fun. Recommended, but read them in the right order if you can.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Set a few hundred years after the beautifully written 'Living with Ghosts' and in the same world, but a different part of it, Kari Sperring's second novel is a delight. Aude is from a wealthy family in the Silver City, rich on the proceeds of the sweat of the workers in the Brass City which has a very steampunky feel to it and is almost on the brink of revolution. She meets Jehan, a guard in the city torn between his duty and the just cause of the oppressed workers. He sets her straight on a few of the social aspects of how the city and wealth works. When Aude decides to escape an arranged marriage and go on a quest to discover the source of her family's wealth it's Jehan who accompanies her, now more than just a guard. The action goes from the grease and sweat of the Brass City to the arid Steppes, dying to dust for lack of water because Something is Broken in the WorldAbove.

In WorldBelow the Grass King reigns with his terrifying Cadre of elementals, each with their own hidden agenda. Something  is out of balance and both worlds are suffering for it. Aude and Jehan are parted and both swept into the WorldBelow separately with echoes of the Persephone legend coming to the fore

There are two different timelines, one with added shapeshifting ferret-women, who are absolutely charming characters, searching for their lover Marcellan, in WorldBelow.

The world building in this book is superb, with grimy cities and sweeping vistas above and the creepiness and danger of below. The plot unfurls at a leisurely pace and the writing is elegant.

I read some of this in manuscript form while it was still being written as I've done a few weeks at various Milford Writers Conferences (www.milfordSF.co.uk) with the author and it's lovely to see it at last in printed form. I do happen to know that there is a sequel to look forward to.
jacey: (blue eyes)
A new Mercy Thompson book is always an event to look forward to. Patricia Briggs writes this character so well and as this is book seven on an ongoing series. We've come to know Mercy pretty well over the course of the previous books, She's a VW mechanic and coyote shapeshifter, possibly even the daughter of Coyote himself, the trickster of legend. There's the usual assorted cast of werewolves, vampires and fae.

Mercy married Adam, the alpha of the Tri-cities werewolf pack, a couple of books ago which makes her second to the boss, despite the fact that she's not a werewolf herself. Protect the pack is always the imperative, so when the pack, Adam included, is mysteriously snatched, drugged and held captive by some government agency Mercy, along with one foul-mouthed, escaped, injured werewolf and Jesse, Adam's daughter, are the only ones who can do anything about it. But the pack has friends and Mercy sets about recruiting a few more people to help including recurring characters Steafan the vampire, Zee, the fae ironsmith, with his son, Tad, and Azil, the Moor, a very old, powerful, but somewhat unstable werewolf sent by Bran, Mercy's foster-father and the head of all the werewolves in North America. It was nice to see Azil again, as we've previously met him in the crossover 'Alpha and Omega' series and he's an intriguing character.

Patricia Briggs is one of my favourite authors. This urban fantasy series is well-grounded in the real world and you can almost taste the grease on the engine and smell the burnt rubber on the road. If characters make mistakes there are consequences and no one is infallible, even Adam, though he tries hard to be.

Highly recommended, but don't start here. You need to read the rest of the series.
jacey: (blue eyes)
October (Toby) Daye is a half-fae private investigator in San Francisco - at least until an enemy turns her into a carp and leaves her swimming in a fish pond for 14 years. By the time she gets out her wholly human husband and (by now teenage) daughter don't want to know her and with her life in ruins she takes a normal job and tries to leave the magic world behind. Tries. Unfortunately when an old friend, Countess Evening Winterrose, is murdered she's forced into finding the killer or suffering the fatal consequences of Winterrose's dying curse which binds her to the task.

The investigation leads Toby into finding out who her friends really are - unfortunately that also means finding that friends an enemies alike are not all what they seem.

I enjoyed this. It's urban fantasy crossed with noir detective fiction. Toby has an engaging voice and the whodunnit angle keeps you guessing.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Joe Abercrombie never fails to disappoint. After thoroughly exhausting myself reading his First Law trilogy towards the back end of 2011 it's taken me a while to come to Best Served Cold. I anticipated reading it last year but knew I didn't have the time to do it justice. Now, at last I've managed it. And I was right. It took time to read, but every page was a gruesome delight.

Abercrombie's writing is dense and gritty. He's not afraid to explore the darker side of his characters – indeed sometimes you feel as though they are all darkness – but twisted through the darkness is even blacker humour. Don't get me wrong, Best Served Cold is anything but a comedy, but it's saved from unrelenting grimness by the reality of the emotions.

Visceral and brutal, described as 'splatterpunk sword and sorcery' by George RR Martin, I shouldn't love these books as much as I do, but yet it's the very moral ambiguity of the characters that draws me in – characters who do wicked deeds for good reasons and good deeds for bad reasons.

Set in the same world as the First Law Trilogy and employing some of the peripheral characters from those books, this moves to Styria, outside the Union. Monza, is the Snake of Talins, the Butcher of Caprile. For Duke Orso she and her brother Benna have slaughtered their way across the land at the head of the Thousand Swords. Monza with a sword in her hand, Benna backing her up with sly guile and ruthless ambition. It's all going as well as death and destruction can go until Orso, frightened that she and Benna are getting too popular, arranges for their death.

Benna is killed, but Monza survives, broken and scarred, and begins her quest for revenge on the perpetrators, Orso, his two sons, the mercenary from the Thousand Swords who betrayed her to take her place, the banker who helped finance it, Orso's foremost general and his personal bodyguard. Seven men she has sworn to kill. And to help her do this she engages a northern barbarian, an ex-con, a pair of poisoners, and the man she betrayed when she took charge of the thousand swords herself, plus assorted other turncoats and crooks.

It's hard to tell who are the good guys and who are the bad, but to paraphrase from the book: this is war, there is no right side. The action rolls from one bloody revenge killing to the next, with plenty of collateral damage, but Monza doesn't care about that as long as she gets her men in the end. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but it doesn't always taste sweet. Monza's single-mindedness doesn't only destroy her enemies.

But at the end of the sprawling, brawling 600+ dense blood-filled pages there's a glimmer of... is it redemption? Maybe. It's enough.

Very highly recommended if you've got the stomach and the time.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Oh, wow. I only picked this because I was attending Eastercon this year and Freda Warrington was one of the guests of honour, but I'm so pleased that I did. It was a thoroughly engrossing read and it certainly won't be the last Freda Warrington book I read.

Semi-immortal Aetherials are what humans may once have called elves. They live amongst us, indistinguishable from you or me. The Foxes and the Wilders are two neighbouring Aetherial families with more than a few issues. Auberon Fox is the solid heart of the local Aetherial community while Lawrence Wilder is the tormented and unstable gatekeeper to the other world, in which lies the Spiral. One midsummer he refuses to open the gates, cutting off the earthbound Aetherials from their spiritual home, citing some dark danger that no one else can sense.

The Fox children, Rosie and her brothers and the two Wilder boys have crossed paths as children, and not in a good way. As a teen, Rosie falls for Jon, the mild mannered, pretty-boy, younger brother and detests the older brother, Sam, a real scrapper who's always in trouble, but time passes and relationships change. When Sam goes too far and kills an intruder in the Wilder family home, soft hearted Rosie is the only one who will visit him in prison and there's a subtle shift. Meanwhile Jon is leading Rosie's baby brother Luke astray, bigtime, trying to find a way into the spiral.

Rosie is caught between a life in the real world and her Aetherial heritage and it takes tragedy and danger before she comes to terms with who she is and who she loves.

This book flips back and forth between the mundane and the magical, always carrying you along with it. Freda writes charaters you can care about. Actions have consequences and there are real world solutions to magical problems and the other way round. Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I almost surprised myself by how quickly I succumbed to the urge to get the second Alex Verus book after reading the first, 'Fated'. I have to say that I enjoyed this just as much.

Alex is a London-based mage who runs a magic shop and despite being apprenticed to a dark mage in his youth reckons that he's left that behind him. Well, he may not class himself as a dark mage, but as one of the characters points out, he's been the object of several assassination attempts and not many of the assassins are still standing. This is a high body-count book.

For a mage who doesn't class himself as particularly powerful, Alex's talents are unique and definitely give him an edge. He can see the future; not a single future as it will happen, but all the many strands of futures showing what might happen. It means he knows just when to duck, an especially useful talent when someone is pointing a high velocity rifle at his head and about to squeeze the trigger.

After nearly getting killed four times in twenty four hours Alex might be forgiven for thinking someone is out to get him, but he's not the real target. Someone has figured out how to suck the power out of magical creatures and when two of those magical creatures are counted amongst Alex's very small circle of trusted friends, this understandably pisses him off.

Also Luna, who Alex has been teaching to control her curse (a curse that kills anyone she comes into close contact with) is endangered by a developing new relationship.

This book brings back some characters we met in the first one: Arachne the giant spider fashionista, Sonder the young time-mage; Talisin a council member Alex almost trusts, and Cinder and Deleo, antagonists last time, but it's more complicated than that, now. There's a new bad guy in town, though it's just possible that Alex's old enemy is still lurking in the background. It's a fast-paced, gripping read that doesn't let go.

This is developing into an excellent series. I seem to have been reading a cluster of male-magician-urban-fantasy books this year, all of which I've enjoyed, but it's particularly nice to have a British-based story as a contrast to Harry Dresden, Atticus O'Sullivan and Isaac Vainio.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Without a doubt this is Hornblower in space, with all the self-doubt and stiffness that characterised CS Forester's somewhat wooden hero. Stuffed full of Victorian Values which seem to lean towards spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child, and focuses heavily on 'hazing' – apparently an American tradition of tormenting cadets in various nasty and pointless ways to toughen them up – all of which I found actively distasteful. It's not that I object to an author putting a character through hell, I don't, but usually it's for a plot-related reason and caused by the bad guys. Not so here. Oh, yeah, and in the future there's still capital punishment in the space navy. Hanging, would you believe?

Feintuch also makes a big thing about Christianity having had a renaissance in the future with all disparate branches now being united. That's always bound go down like a lead balloon with me, though I admit to not being unbiased in this. Even so it doesn't strike me as being realistic as many Christians move towards secularism

Anyhow, the plot fairly rattles along (with pauses for introspection). Nicholas Seafort is 17 and this is his first space assignment. In this book we see him trying to live up to what he thinks he should be as he's thrown unexpectedly into a position of responsibility, trying to lead men more experienced than himself. As I said, Hornblower in space, specifically Midshipman Hornblower in space. For me it blows its believability completely with a series of unfortunate and unlikely events which not only kills off the captain and his two senior lieutenants, but then also removes the 4th in command via a very quick-acting cancer. As if that wasn't enough – upon reaching Hope Nation – guess what? Yes, that's right, the bigwigs have been killed off and Seafort is actually senior to the officer left in charge and therefore in charge of the whole sector. I'm all for the occasional coincidence, but that's a lot to swallow

To be fair I know a lot of people appreciate Feintuch a lot more than I do, but this is not for me and I won't be reading more Seafort books.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, and has the ability to magically reach into books and acquire objects. His speciality is SF. He's currently working as a small-town librarian and part time cataloguer for the secret magical society, the Porters, for which he used to be a field agent until he broke some serious rules. Unfortunately when you reach into books, they sometimes reach back. Forbidden to use magic, all he has left of his former life is a magical and somewhat neurotic fire-spider called Smudge who has a tendency to burst into flames at the first sign of danger.

When Isaac is attacked by a bunch of vampires he's saved by Lena, a tough, sexy, magically created dryad who brings bad news with her, her lover, Vainio's former shrink, has been taken by vampires and Lena needs Isaac's help in a rather strange way.

But this attack is just the tip of a very nasty iceberg. There have been other attacks on Porters. Isaac's own former friend and mentor has been killed and Gutenberg (yes, that one) the founder of the Porters and the only controller of unstoppable automatons, is missing. Isaac and Lena have to trace the dark power behind the vampire attacks before there's an all-out, bloody war between the vamps and the Porters which will expose the magical world once and for all, and not in a good way.

This is fast paced, extremely readable and Isaac is a complex character, sympathetic despite his failings. The magic system is neat. Anything that's been written about can be brought into reality (one of the vamp species is instantly recognisable because they sparkle!), though generally Libriomancers are limited by the physical size of the page of the book, so Isaac can grab a laser pistol from a space opera or a syringe of truth serum (from Barrayar as it turns out), but he can't draw through a tank. But there are limits and it's not as if each book is an unlimited cornucopia. There's always a price to pay and fir Isaac, who has transgressed before, that price is his sanity, presuming the bad guys don't kill him first.

Maybe this was not the book to read immediately following the first Alex Verus novel and shortly after reading the first Iron Druid novel. Comparisons are inevitable - and also with Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden novels - but despite the urban-fantasy, lone wizard-on-the-edge trope, each stands up in its own right and I'd be happy to read on in every series.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Enjoyable urban fantasy romp set in London and featuring Alex Verus, a mage whose main magical talent is that of a diviner, someone who sees all possible futures and can therefore (usually) figure out what to do next. His actual magical talent – other than that – is fairly low-key, but don't underestimate him. He keeps a magic shop, the Arcana Emporium in Camden Town, where canal meets railway line, meets leyline and generally tries to stay under the radar of more powerful magicians, particularly the dark ones, having had a nasty experience in his past.

Unfortunately a bunch of powerful magicians, opposing factions of the dark and the light, have decided Alex's talents can help them to unlock the secrets of a powerful artefact and both he and his friend Luna, herself under a longstanding family curse, are drawn into danger. If the artefact doesn't kill them the magicians trying to get at what's inside it will. Alex has to face up to his dark past if he's going to have any future.

Alex is an engaging protagonist, a genuine nice guy with decent values. Comparisons with Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden novels are inevitable, and also with Kevin Hearne's Atticus O'Sullivan (Iron Druid) books, but it stands up well. This is the first in what looks to be an ongoing series and I'd be happy to read on.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Pazel Pethkendle's mother gifted him with the magical ability to instantly learn languages, but after his country was invaded and his mother and sister disappeared, he ends up as a 'tar boy', the lowest of the low, on a sailing ship, living life from day to day. Abandoned in a strange port he ends up as tar boy aboard the Chathrand, the massive, seven deck leviathan sailing ship heading out on a diplomatic mission with an ambassador and his daughter, Thasha, a treaty bride.

But the mission isn't all that it seems. There's more than one nefarious plan about to disrupt the voyage and plenty of people who are not what they seem to be, including 'woken' (sentient) animals, ixchels (tiny humanoid creatures trying to stay out of sight) and at least two sorcerers, one from another dimension who comes and goes via a clock and one who's supposed to be dead.

The world-building is detailed and thoughtful with many imaginative touches that work really well. This first part of a trilogy is a sprawling complex book focusing mainly on Pazel and his talent for languages and Thasha who does not go to her wedding willingly. If it were just those two viewpoints I think I'd get on well with this book, but one person's 'luxuriant detail' is another person's 'bloat' and I find that there are too many side trips into viewpoints that don't really drive the story forward (though they may add the occasional significant detail).

While I enjoyed reading this on one level I chafed at the time taken for (for instance) letters from the sadistic Chathrand captain, Nilus Rose, to his parents (who turn out to be dead anyway), or the arrival of the ixchel on to the Chathrand, or the several adventures of the 'woken' rat who, granted, helps to unravel part of the conspiracy, but in a very long-winded way. I'd have liked to read a more pared down version of the story concentrating on the two main characters.

Admittedly I'm curious to see were the story goes from here, because, this being the first book in a trilogy it reaches an ending but sadly not a satisfactory conclusion. On balance, however, I'm not sure I want to read on if the next two books are more of the same. I've got them on the Kindle. I may change my mind if this stays in my mind beyond the next book or two that I read.
jacey: (blue eyes)
This third book in the Edge series brings earlier stories together and resolves one of the story arcs begun in the second book, bringing back supporting characters in the first two books to be support characters in this one as well, in particular, Rose's Grandma and her brothers George and Jack from the first book, and Sophie from the second one, plus the antagonist, The Spider.

But the main characters are Richard, the Hunter, related to the Mar family of the second book, and Charlotte, a powerful healer elevated to Blue Blood status and brought up in The Weird.

To reacap: The Broken is our magic-free world, the Weird is where magic is an everyday occurrence, and the Edge is the buffer zone between the two where magic is reduced and life is hard.

Charlotte, having been dumped by her Blue Blood husband, gets away from the Weird and settles to life as a healer in the Edge (with Rose's grandmother from the first Edge book). He life is disrupted when Richard, fatally injured after a clash with a slaver gang, is dumped on her. Charlotte saves Richard, but the slavers wreak havoc and so she swears to put a stop to their activities. Teaming up with Richard she goes against all her training to use her healing magic to kill, knowing that she risks turning into an abomination - a plague-bringer and believing herself beyond redemption.

The slaver gangs are working for someone powerful and after striking against the heart the operation Richard and Charlotte are determined to go after the head, but corruption runs at the highest level and they have to return to Blue Blood society to carry out their plans.

There's a strong romantic element as Richard and Charlotte are drawn to each other despite their differences in background, but there's also magic, action and intrigue making this an excellent page-turner. Richard and Charlotte are sympathetic, if flawed, characters and it's good to see George and Jack now in command of their skills. They get to resolve their missing father problems. Hopefully they'll get a book of their own some day. Sophie, the damaged youngster from the second book, gets to finish her business with The Spider, the evil villain who killed her mother, though to be honest this section of the plot feels a bit like an optional extra as it's not foreshadowed in the early part of the book.

There's a price to pay for Charlotte using her magic to kill and this is a constant threat - finally mitigated, but not completely averted, by the power of love.

This can be read as a standalone, but I do recommend reading these Edge books in order for the full benefit of meeting some of the recurring characters.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Miranda is a firestarter whose accidental spawning of a warehouse fire in her childhood ruined her merchant father's finances and he has forced her into a life of thievery to deflect creditors. She comes to the notice of Lord Archer, London's most nefarious nobleman who covers a mysterious disfigurement behind a full-face mask. When her father's fortunes are at their lowest ebb Archer makes an offer no one can refuse and Miranda is 'sold' to him in marriage, though she quickly finds this much to her liking.

Frightened of rejection Miranda hides her fire-starting talents from her new husband even though she's often in danger of causing a conflagration, but he's equally secretive which leads to inevitable misunderstandings - a Regency Romance type trope. The two main characters could have solved a lot of problems before things got dire between them if only they'd trusted each other and talked.

There's not much consummation at first, though there's plenty of passion and mystery. Archer's past is coming back to haunt him. Someone is murdering his former associates and Archer himself is under suspicion. Miranda doesn't believe him guilty and sets out to prove it, getting into various scrapes and finally putting herself in danger from his magical ancient enemy.

Though the setting is late Victorian it often feels much earlier. In fact one of its flaws is that it doesn't quite seem to pin down the period. Though we have plenty of stinky back alleys, it doesn't feel quite modern enough for late Victorian London. It's much more Georgette Heyer with supernatural elements than it is Conan Doyle. For instance it talks about 'the ton' in Regency terms. Although I believe the term persisted into the late 19th century we're so used to hearing it in a Regency context that it felt wrong here. But despite my historical misgivings the mystery is handled well. The pacing feels spot-on. Elements are teased out organically and we only find out about Archer's condition, and what caused it, as Miranda does.

This is fast-paced and brimming with sexual tension. It's a quick read and a real page-turner even though you want to bang Archer and Miranda's heads together a couple of times. There's a very real threat-level and Callihan makes you care about the characters. Worth a read.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Atticus O'Sullivan is the last (real) druid. he's been on the run from Aenghus Óg: Celtic god of love, who has been pursuing Atticus for over two thousand years to retrieve the Fragarach, a sword of unearthly power that Atticus acquired on the battlefield. Currently Atticus, a permanent twenty-something in appearance, is the proprietor of the Third Eye bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, about as far away from any portals available to malevolent Irish gods as he can get, but Atticus is getting fed up of running, so when he gets several warnings that Aenghus Óg is getting close he decides to stand his ground.

There are some good characters including Oberon: Atticus' Irish Wolfhound who communicates telepathically with Atticus and has some snappy dialogue (and for a talking dog is quite an engaging character and very dog oriented). Atticus himself narrates the story in first person and since he's got two millennia worth of knowledge and experience, nothing much comes as a surprise to him, so it's not a question of figuring out what next but more about Atticus figuring out how to deal with what's next.

In addition to Irish gods from the Tuatha Dé Danann, some friendly, some not and all forming factions, Atticus' attourney is a werewolf and the boss of the law firm is a vampire (cue the occasional joke). There's also Granuaile: barmaid at the local Irish theme pub, who is currently possessed by an Indian witch and interested in taking up the magic trade.

Yes, this is first in a series, much recommended by various avid readers on the r.a.sf.w newsgroup I frequent. As a first outing it lives up to expectations as a fast paced, engaging urban fantasy with mythic overtones, so I shall be looking or the next one.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Published in 1982 this won the Carnegie Medal – deservedly. It's the story of Barney, aged 8, who is being haunted, initially by a boy in a blue velvet suit and then, as ghostly footsteps close in, by a dead great-uncle. The youngest of three children, Barney's mother died giving birth to him, and after seven years of being motherless with a somewhat distant father he now has a stepmother, Claire, whom he adores and who adores him. But Claire is pregnant and Barney knows how dangerous that can be. So as not to worry her he tries to deal with the ghost with only the help of his older sisters, Tabitha who is nosey and noisy and determined to be a great novelist, and the silent, withdrawn Troy. Revelations abound when Barney's dead mother's family enter the equation and there's a satisfying conclusion after family secrets are revealed.

The characters, child and adult, are well drawn from warm and generous Claire to Great Granny Scholar, a shrivelled soul with a deep secret. This is a psychological thriller, creepy and mysterious, with an increasing threat and a tense climax. Highly recommended.

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