Rosemary and Rue ~ Seanan McGuire

  • Title: Rosemary and Rue
  • Author: Seanan McGuire
  • Series: October Daye #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening’s killer.

Review:  Rosemary and Rue is the first book of the October Daye urban fantasy series. It is also the first time I’ve experienced any books by author, Seanan McGuire. For a first book, it holds a lot of promise.

The story follows reluctant fae investigator October “Toby” Daye. She is a changling, half fae, who has tried to distance herself from her heritage and hide away from her problems in the human world. Unfortunately, she is compelled to investigate the murder of a close friend and member of the fae royalty or risk her own life.

Toby’s character fits into the fragile strength mold. She is wounded and flawed, but her intelligence and resourcefulness carry her through. The author keeps her focused on the mystery at hand, although she does occasionally drift off into the land of woe is me. While she is not a stand-out character, she has enough potential for the reader to root for her.

In addition to Toby, we are introduced to entire of ensemble of vibrant characters, who I suspect will turn up in future books. Many of these characters are cast with ambiguity, leaving a lot of room for the world to grow and blossom. She also casts many of the fae in a very anthropomorphic fashion. Take for example Tybalt, Lord of the Cats, a character for which I have a particular fondness. His self-interest manifests itself in a fashion totally fitting feline fashion, as do his speech patterns and mannerisms. I sense this cat-like character has at least as many hidden layers as a cat has lives.

The world building uses the basic framework of fae mythology and then diverges into McGuire’s interpretation. She focuses a lot of attention on the challenges faced by the changlings who fit into neither the human nor the fae realm. Again, there is nothing particularly striking about this world, but it has potential.

There is enough adventure in this book to make it fun. Plus, McGuire does a good job of weaving in elements of future intrigue. It is enough to throw the reader off the trail to solve the mystery at hand, yet not so much that it leaves one frustrated by lack of closure at the end. There is clearly more story to be told, as you would expect with the start of a series.

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City of Ghosts ~ Stacia Kane

  • Title: City of Ghosts
  • Author: Stacia Kane
  • Series: Downside Ghosts #3
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating:  5 out of 5

Description:  IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN ALIVE AND UNDEAD.

Chess Putnam has a lot on her plate. Mangled human corpses have started to show up on the streets of Downside, and Chess’s bosses at the Church of Real Truth have ordered her to team up with the ultra-powerful Black Squad agency to crack the grisly case.

Chess is under a binding spell that threatens death if she talks about the investigation, but the city’s most notorious crime boss—and Chess’s drug dealer—gets wind of her new assignment and insists on being kept informed. If that isn’t bad enough, a sinister street vendor appears to have information Chess needs. Only he’s not telling what he knows, or what it all has to do with the vast underground City of Eternity.

Now Chess will have to navigate killer wraiths, First Elders, and a lot of seriously nasty magic—all while coping with some not-so-small issues of her own. And the only man Chess can trust to help her through it all has every reason to want her dead.

Review:  Stacia Kane has created a rich world full of interesting characters for her Downside Ghosts series. City of Ghosts, the third book in the series, gets started with a bang. From the very first scene, this book is filled with thrilling action that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

Chess Putnam, Church Witch and Debunker, has earned a reputation for solving tough cases. As a result, she has been loaned to the Black Squad to work on a case so sensitive that she must be bound to secrecy. Of course, this case is so far reaching that it impacts Downside, as well. Chess is forced to lay it all on the line to try or everything she may lose everything that she holds dear: her freedom in Downside, The Church itself, Terrible, and possibly her life.

Kane has set the stakes so much higher in this book. She has evolved the magic in her world-building by tapping into the Elder magic accessed by the binding spell. She does this brilliantly, creating more depth, while staying within the confines of the magic system that she has created. This magic also reveals even more about Chess, her pain is almost palpable as she struggles through the binding.

Chess burns bright in City of Ghosts, as we feel her isolated shell start to crack and fragment, revealing some of hidden depths of her character. She starts to let others in just a little bit, and yet her self-loathing makes every step agonizing, especially the conflict between Chess and Terrible. I felt that this was really well-written, because the core of this struggle was a unique trust and friendship at risk, rather than simply some mystical insta-love pull that so many authors rely upon these days.

The tension in this book was literally breath-taking. I would often find myself holding my breath, waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t just mean the inter-character dynamics. The danger was so much greater and the intrigue so much deeper. So much of the story was balanced upon a knife’s edge; the result was a thrill to read.

City of Ghosts is what dark urban fantasy should be, an intense adventure starring a cast of charismatic personalities. Well done, Ms. Kane. Well done.

 

He Drank, and Saw the Spider ~ Alex Bledsoe

  • Title: He Drank, and Saw the Spider
  • Author: Alex Bledsoe
  • Series: Eddie LaCrosse #5
  • Genre: Fantasy, Mystery
  • Format: ARC, Kindle
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  After he fails to save a stranger from being mauled to death by a bear, a young mercenary is saddled with the baby girl the man died to protect. He leaves her with a kindly shepherd family and goes on with his violent life.

Now, sixteen years later, that young mercenary has grown up to become cynical sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse. When his vacation travels bring him back to that same part of the world, he can’t resist trying to discover what has become of the mysterious infant.

He finds that the child, now a lovely young teenager named Isadora, is at the center of complicated web of intrigue involving two feuding kings, a smitten prince, a powerful sorceress, an inhuman monster, and long-buried secrets too shocking to imagine. And once again she needs his help.

They say a spider in your cup will poison you, but only if you see it. Eddie, helped by his smart, resourceful girlfriend Liz, must look through the dregs of the past to find the truth about the present—and risk what might happen if he, too, sees the spider.

Review:  I received the uncorrected ARC copy from NetGalley as a Kindle file.

The protagonist of this novel, a sword jokey Eddie LaCrosse, stands out from the pages like a living man, with all his merits and faults. It’s the fifth book in the series about him, and by now, he feels like an old, grumpy friend, a guy I could entrust with my problems.

Of course, he is a bit cynical and a habitual drunk, but who wouldn’t be, doing what he does. He is PI in a fantasy world, and his investigations often take him into the middle of some dirty conspiracies. Despite repeatedly coming up against the worst in people, he still retains his compassion and tolerance for the human beings. For Eddie, almost everyone has something good, and even a monster deserves a second chance.

Like any good PI, Eddie can’t resist a mystery. Secrets fascinate him, but his compulsion to discover the truth frequently leads him into danger. He also has a penchant for saving people – from bandits or dragons or wild beasts. He does it in every book.

This book is no exception. It starts with a bang from the past – the young Eddie saves a baby girl from a bear (why am I not surprised?) – but then it slows down. Being a mercenary, he doesn’t have a place in his vagabond life for a child, so he finds her a home among sheep farmers and goes on his way with a clear conscience.

Sixteen years later, on a leisurely vacation with his girlfriend, Eddie stumbles upon the same community of sheep farmers and meets his foundling again, now a pretty young girl. His curiosity stirs. He feels compelled to solve her mystery, to find out who she is and why fate dropped her in his path all those years ago. To the readers’ delight, Eddie’s quest for answers sets off a chain of calamities, and only Eddie could prevent the looming disaster.    

Besides Eddie, the novel boasts several requisite character types of the fantasy genre, including an orphan, a shady sorceress, a king or two, and a scary monster, but the roles they play are frequently controversial. Is this monster evil or simply ignorant? Is that sorceress ruthless or has she just run out of choices? The unorthodox functionalities of the common types are among the best aspects of this novel.  

The tale, a blend of mystery and epic fantasy, like the rest of the series, follows Eddie’s probing mind from a shepherds’ village to a king’s palace, from the throne room to the dungeons. Quietly and unobtrusively, the author raises the stakes for his hero and winds the tension in his narrative, until it thrums like a tight string by the middle of the book. The reader avidly turns the pages and wonders: what next?

Unfortunately, in the second part of the novel, the story goes downhill, and the denouement is disappointing. As if to simplify the finale, the author arbitrary cuts off most of the subplots by killing a score of characters and sending others into obscurity, as if they’re not important for the main storyline. Maybe they are not. But then, why were they introduced in the first place?

The conclusion to the single plotline the author did choose to explore feels artificial and predictable, no match to the original and explosive beginning of the tale.     

The other characters in the book are significantly less defined than Eddie, perhaps a bit cartoonish, with single traits of their personalities exaggerated for the sake of an archetype. Most of them, with rare exceptions, could be described with one modifier. A mad king. A scheming rogue. A no-nonsense girlfriend. A loyal guard. A cruel killer.

There are some extremely extraneous details in the story – like Eddie going to pee in the bushes. I don’t need to know that. Nobody does.   

The novel is uneven, but on the whole, I enjoyed reading it. Definitely recommended for the fans of the series.

Wolf by the Ears ~ Lexi Revellian

  • Title: Wolf by the Ears
  • Author: Lexi Revellian
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  When Tyger Rebel Thomson starts working for a Russian oligarch, she could be on her way to the life of her dreams – assuming, that is, she lives long enough to get there.

Grisha Markovic is a man with enemies. He’s loathed by the Kremlin, under observation by MI6, involved in acrimonious litigation over a Siberian gold mine, and rumoured to possess an explosive dossier containing details of a massive Russian tax fraud.

Grisha is impressed with Tyger’s intelligence; he takes a fatherly interest in her and makes her his personal assistant. This could be the break she has been hoping for. But after a mysterious driver tries to run her down, she begins to suspect that the death of his last PA may not have been an accident.

Review: 
This book was surprisingly quiet and low key for a story about the Russian Mafia and MI6. But was it really about that? Or was it about a young woman finding her place in the world?

The protagonist Tyger works as a cleaner for the Russian oligarch Grisha. All she wants is to get education, save for a small flat of her own, and get a good job. But then the job of Grisha’s assistant falls in her lap, and with it all the attendant perils and perks.

When six weeks later, Grisha dies, purportedly from a heart attack, Tyger doesn’t believe it. She knows he was targeted by the Russian government. It must be an assassination. When no one wants to bother investigating his death, Tyger is the only one who persists. While for everyone else he was a super-rich and ruthless businessman, for her he was a nice old man and a good employer. He was kind to her, and in return, she mourns him, seemingly the only one who does. She wouldn’t let his death go unpunished, even if it means risking her own life.

The story flowed easily, always maintaining the right balance between tension and faint humor. It was a light read, undemanding and quick, and I enjoyed it, even though occasionally I rolled my eyes in disbelief and thought “yeah, right!”

Not a bad addition to the ‘amateur PI’ book collection.

I’d also like to point out that for a self-published book, the writing was amazingly clean and terse, free of mistakes, utterly professional. One of the best self-pubs I’ve read.

Annabel Scheme ~ Robin Sloan

  • Title: Annabel Scheme
  • Author: Robin Sloan
  • Genre: Mystery, Fantasy
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga Godim
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  Annabel Scheme is a detective story set in an alternate San Francisco where the digital and the occult live side-by-side. It’s a short, snappy read — about 128 pages/128,000 Kindle locations — and perfect for people who like Sherlock Holmes, Douglas Adams, ghosts and/or the internet. Finally, it makes a great Kindle gift. In Scheme’s San Francisco, an indie rocker’s new tracks are climbing the charts, even though the rocker herself is long dead. A devout gamer has gone missing, and the only trace of him that remains is inside his favorite game, the blockbuster MMORPG called World of Jesus. And the richest man in the city, the inventor of the search engine called Grail, might just have made a deal with a devil. Meanwhile, Annabel Scheme has just hired herself a Watson, an A.I. assistant who’s now learning the ropes on a case that will quickly transform into Scheme’s biggest — and possibly her last.

Come on. Fog City is waiting.

Review:  I’m not sure what I think of this Kindle novella. It’s too weird. It starts as a PI comedy. It proceeds as an odd kind of mystery, on the intersection between the internet and demons. It ends in a tragedy, with an assortment of loose ends still dangling. And in between, there are too many unanswered questions. But all the same, it was an absorbing read, very much 21st century. Although I’m not sure I liked it, never once did I want to abandon the book, so I can’t give it less than 3 stars.

The protagonist Annabel Scheme is a PI in an alternative version of San Francisco. She has an assistant – a computer server named Hu. His video and audio interface is located in Annabel’s earrings, so he can see what she sees and hear what she hears. He can also process information at the server speed and he has an unlimited extension capabilities. The story is told from his POV.

Their client is a young musician complaining of illegal distribution of his recordings that don’t exist – with his former partner who is deceased. From here, it’s a helter-skelter gallop by Annabel and Hu, involving a super-powerful digital search engine Grail (note: not Google), an online game World of Jesus, dead people, quantum computers, falafel, and a sinister website where body parts are for sale.

The writing is good though, the descriptions vivid and often scary, and the writer’s imagination and sense of humor seem boundless if slightly warped. One of the locations he describes is a coffee shop that doubles as an incubator of internet start-ups. The barista asks Annabel:

“What can I get you? Espresso? Drip coffee? Articles of incorporation?”
The baristas here all have law degrees.

Later, in conversation with Hu, Annabel states that some of her conclusions are just a hunch. Hu thinks:

Just a hunch. Note to self: find software for that.       

Grail’s quantum computers offer an advance variation of a search engine, one that doesn’t need a search box, just a button.

You pressed it, and it simply gave you what you were looking for. It worked even if you didn’t know what you were looking for. It worked even if you couldn’t admit, not even to yourself, what you were looking for.

This reads like a horror version of a search engine. Perhaps this book belongs to the horror genre.

Lillian Holmes and the Leaping Man ~ Ciar Cullen

  • Title: Lillian Holmes and the Leaping Man
  • Author: Ciar Cullen
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy/Romance
  • Format: e-book
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  At the cusp of the twentieth century, an heiress turned detective enters a world of deception and danger and must learn to trust her nemesis with both her life and her love.

Tormented by a tragic past, Miss Lillian Holmes nonetheless found the strength to go on, to become the greatest female detective of her time. To make her uncle proud. Except…he was not truly her uncle. Sherlock was a fictional character, and Lil was less a true detective than a sheltered twenty-six year old heiress with taste for mystery…and morphine. But then she saw him. Leaping from her neighbor’s second-story window, a beautiful stranger. With the recent murders plaguing Baltimore, here was a chance to
reveal the truth.

Except, the Leaping Man was far more than he seemed. A wanton creature of darkness, an entry point to a realm of deception and evil, and to a Truth she had waited countless years to uncover, he would threaten far more than Lillian’s life. He would take both her heart and soul. And she would rejoice in it.

Review: I have a confession to make: I don’t like vampire novels. I believe that the Twilight craze has unleashed a barrage of vampire-driven tripe by authors jumping on the vampire bandwagon. As such I am rather puzzled at myself for getting and reading this book, since it is a vampire novel, and anything else I say in this review should be seen in the light of me severely disliking vampire novels. I also owe the author an apology for reading this when I knew in advance that I might not like it.

Have I made it absolutely clear that I do not like vampire novels? Good, then on to the review.

Lillian Holmes is a wealthy, twenty-six-year-old heiress who is being looked after by her governess, Addie, and Addie’s brother. Lillian’s parents died when she was sixteen, and since then she has been a little unstable. She is addicted to morphine and slightly delusional, believing herself to be the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, despite knowing that he is a fictional character. This is one of the things I liked about this book – you don’t often get a drug-addicted protagonist, and it makes for a refreshing change.

One night when Lillian can’t sleep she looks out the window and notices a man leaping down from the second floor balcony of one of her neighbours. The next morning it is discovered that one of the inhabitants of that house has committed suicide, but Lillian realises that it was murder, and that the Leaping Man must be the perpetrator. It is her chance to prove that she is as great a detective as her ‘uncle’, and she is determined to solve this case.

We soon discover that the Leaping Man is George Orleans, a jaded vampire who is tired of vampire politics and who is trying not to interfere in the life of his brother Philip. Philip is also a vampire, but he is a bit of a romantic who only kills and drains rogues and criminals to appease his fiancée Kitty, who is not a vampire.

What I liked about George is that he is a ‘proper’ vampire. He doesn’t sparkle, he weakens in daylight (okay, it’s not quite dying, but it’s getting there) and he feels little to no remorse for feeding on random people. None of it is watered down – there is no real attempt to justify what he does, and that too is refreshing.

The plot of the book kept me hooked enough that I read it without effort. It has a dash of different styles, ranging from romance through mystery to urban fantasy with a smidgen of steampunk thrown in. The dialogue didn’t entirely convince me at times, but on the whole there was enough to keep me entertained, though not bowled over. In summary, this is a solid read, and anyone who does like vampires should probably add at least one star to this rating.