Review: Driftwood by Marie Brennan

Review: Driftwood by Marie BrennanDriftwood by Marie Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 224
Published by Tachyon Publications on August 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Who is Last?
Fame is rare in Driftwood- it’s hard to get famous if you don’t stick around long enough for people to know you. But many know the guide, Last, a one-blooded survivor who has seen his world end many lifetimes ago. For Driftwood is a strange place of slow apocalypses, where continents eventually crumble into mere neighborhoods, pulled inexorably towards the center in the Crush. Cultures clash, countries fall, and everything eventually disintegrates.
Within the Shreds, a rumor goes around that Last has died. Drifters come together to commemorate him. But who really was Last?
About Driftwood
Driftwood is the invention of bestselling author Marie Brennan. Mirroring the world that many people are currently living in, the Driftwood stories chronicle the struggles of survivors and outcasts to keep their worlds alive until everything changes, diminishes, and is destroyed. Driftwood is the first full-length novel in this world.

My Review:

This is what happens after the world comes to an end. And it was nothing like I expected. But it was absolutely marvelous all the same.

This is also a story about the indomitability of the spirit. And it’s also a story about stories, as much of the narrative takes place on a single night when many of the inhabitants of the Shreds get together in a kind of no-person’s land to tell the story of one singular being who touched all their lives.

A seemingly immortal being who may, or may not, be gone. Some gather to mourn, while others are there to prove that the being they call Last can’t possibly be dead – because they believe he’s a god, and gods don’t die.

A lot of the denizens of the Shreds don’t think he’s a god, and I don’t think either. I do think that Last is a genius loci, the spirit of the place called Driftwood. The place where worlds go after they come to an end.

And Driftwood is a marvel. And a grave.

A remnant of worlds that have ended emerge in the Mist that surrounds Driftwood and attach themselves to its outer Edge. These remnants contain a large enough portion of their original world to have mountains, and cities, and spaces between those places. Big enough parts of their old world for the inhabitants, for a couple generations at least, to ignore the outside worlds that are not theirs.

But time is inexorable, and so is the pull of the Crush at the center of Driftwood. Worlds from the Edge are drawn inward, shrinking as they get closer to the Crush, while other worlds emerge from the Mist and become new Edge worlds. By the time worlds reach the middle of Driftwood, called the Shreds, their worlds are literally shreds of their former selves, and the people remaining are not just forced to acknowledge the existence of other worlds, but their people have become part of the blended population of the Driftwood, no longer one-bloods restricted to their own kind, whatever that kind might have been.

Last is the last of his own people. A one-blood from a world that went into the Crush long ago. He has lived long past the usual lifespan of his own people and makes his living as a guide to Driftwood, a translator of many of its varied languages, and a repository of a history that no one else remembers.

But he has disappeared, and it has been left to the many, many people that he has helped on their way through Driftwood to tell the small fragments of his story that they know.

And it’s utterly captivating.

Escape Rating A+: Some books are just WOW! And Driftwood is definitely one of those books.

The bare description makes you think that the book will be a downer. After all, it’s about worlds ENDING and it’s people telling stories about someone they believe is dead. But it’s so totally not. A downer, that is.

Because the worlds that have joined Driftwood may be ending, but their inhabitants clearly are not. Some of them do rage against the dying of the light. Sometimes it’s literally raging and sometimes it’s literally about the light dying. But some of them do. Both, or either.

Howsomever, the stories that this group has gathered together to tell are about, well, togetherness, in one way or another. They are all stories about working with Last, or about Last helping them or their Shred, or simply about Last standing with them when they do something incredibly brave, like the story “Into the Wind”, or something incredibly stupid and ill-advised, like “The Ascent of Unreason”, which manages to be stupid, brave, ill-advised and a whole lot of fun all at the same time.

Many of the stories in Driftwood have been previously and separately published, but together they make a surprisingly wonderful and cohesive whole. A whole that is entirely too short but begins, middles and ends exactly where it should. A beautiful puzzlement and a fantastic read.

Hello Autumn Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Hello Autumn Giveaway Hop, hosted by Review Wire Media and Chatty Patty’s Place!

Labor Day may not be until next week, but Fall is certainly on the horizon. The temperatures haven’t really dropped – at all – here in the Atlanta area but the endless summer days have given way to evenings that are shorter if not cooler.

Meteorologically, Autumn doesn’t start until September 22 this year, but that just marks the calendar day when day and night are of equal length. It happens in the Spring, too, but on the upside as the days start getting longer.

Climatologically, it won’t be Fall here until probably late in October at the earliest. On the other hand, when we lived in Anchorage, Fall was usually early September, with a nip already in the air and the possibility of snow before the end of the month. Summers in Anchorage were lovely, winters were interminable, Autumn was so quick that if you blinked you missed it and Spring was mud season.

Here, Summer is hot, Spring and Fall are both lovely, and Winter just kisses us. The leaves do turn and fall, but the snow mostly doesn’t. And I like it that way.

What about you? What’s your favorite season, or your favorite thing about this season? Answer in the rafflecopter for a chance at the choice between a $10 Amazon Gift Card or books from the Book Depository in the same amount. This giveaway is open to all the many, many places that the Book Depository ships!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more great prizes be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


September to Remember Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the September to Remember Giveaway Hop, hosted by The Mommy Island & The Kids Did It!

This is definitely going to be a September to remember, isn’t it? 2020 has been a year that no one will ever forget. Although the individual months do blend into each other more than a bit.

Labor Day is next Monday, during the run of this hop. For those of us in the U.S., Labor Day has always marked the unofficial start of fall. I’m also just old enough to remember that there were, once upon a time, rules about not wearing white after Labor Day. With all of us staying home more often, I’m not exactly sure how much any of us are wearing white. Or being dressed up enough to even care about what color we are or are not wearing.

September also used to be the month when we went back to school – of course that was back in the days before schools were routinely air conditioned. Cincinnati is more than hot enough in the summer that being inside one of those buildings was generally torture in June and still hotter than Hades in September. I can’t imagine what school in July and August would have been like!

But whether you are staying indoors and keeping warm, or staying indoors and keeping cool until the weather turns into a time to stay in and keep war, I have a giveaway for you. Just fill out the rafflecopter for a chance at your choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or the equivalent amount of books from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open to everywhere the Book Depository ships!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

Review: All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

Review: All the Devils Are Here by Louise PennyAll the Devils Are Here (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #16) by Louise Penny
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #16
Pages: 448
Published by Minotaur Books on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The 16th novel by #1 bestselling author Louise Penny finds Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec investigating a sinister plot in the City of Light
On their first night in Paris, the Gamaches gather as a family for a bistro dinner with Armand’s godfather, the billionaire Stephen Horowitz. Walking home together after the meal, they watch in horror as Stephen is knocked down and critically injured in what Gamache knows is no accident, but a deliberate attempt on the elderly man’s life.
When a strange key is found in Stephen’s possession it sends Armand, his wife Reine-Marie, and his former second-in-command at the Sûreté, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, from the top of the Tour d’Eiffel, to the bowels of the Paris Archives, from luxury hotels to odd, coded, works of art.
It sends them deep into the secrets Armand’s godfather has kept for decades.
A gruesome discovery in Stephen’s Paris apartment makes it clear the secrets are more rancid, the danger far greater and more imminent, than they realized.
Soon the whole family is caught up in a web of lies and deceit. In order to find the truth, Gamache will have to decide whether he can trust his friends, his colleagues, his instincts, his own past. His own family.
For even the City of Light casts long shadows. And in that darkness devils hide.

My Review:

How the Light Gets In by Louise PennyI finished this Saturday – actually I started on Saturday and finished on Saturday, hours later – and I’m still all book hungover on Sunday. I think that’s partially because I’ve been following these people since that wonderful, long ago first book, Still Life. This is a group that I’ve come to care about, to know, and in some cases even to love, to the point where I almost have to turn my eyes away when things get dark. As they often do. As Gamache discovers the crack in everything that has come before, and that’s how the light gets in.

But it’s also, positively, definitely because the story has me on the edge of my seat, every single time, desperate to figure out the truth that seems to be concealed from even the protagonists every step of the way. A truth that always delves deeply into the dark hearts of entirely too many of the characters, and makes every single one both a suspect and a victim.

As Gamache frequently says over the course of the series, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

It’s part of the genius of Gamache, and this series, that the reader is made to think all kinds of things about who is guilty, who is innocent, who is redeemable and who is not, things that only turn out to be half true, while Gamache and his colleagues, friends, companions, all of the above, follow the chain of evidence from its very murky beginning to what turns out to be its inevitable end, doing their level best – and Gamache’s best is damn good – to keep themselves from being caught up in their own thoughts – and especially in their own assumptions.

This story begins, as so many of the stories in this series begin, rather quietly. This is not a mystery series where the body turns up on the first page.

Instead, this one begins at a family dinner in Paris, celebrating that the family is all together again in anticipation of the imminent birth of Armand and Reine-Marie’s granddaughter, their daughter Annie’s soon-to-be-born daughter with Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Gamache’s former second-in-command at the Sûreté du Québec – and unofficially adopted son.

The Gamaches’ own son, Daniel, and his wife Roslyn live in Paris, as Jean-Guy and Annie do now. Jean-Guy’s burnout from the last several cases he undertook with Gamache have led him to finally accept one of the many private sector jobs that have been offered to him over the years, bringing the family to Paris and Jean-Guy to a job he feels neither comfortable in nor exactly qualified for.

But he is. Just not for the job as it appears, rather for the “real” job that he’s been maneuvered into by Gamache’s godfather – and unofficial adoptive father – the billionaire Stephen Horowitz.

Because something is rotten at the core of GHS, the privately held multinational engineering firm GHS, even if Jean-Guy can’t quite put his finger on it. He thinks it’s his own second-in-command.

But Horowitz counted on Gamache getting involved. Because when it comes to Jean-Guy, or any of his children, Gamache can’t help but get himself involved. When Stephen is struck down in the middle of the street by what was expected to be taken as a hit and run driver, there’s a giant clue that no one can miss that something is rotten in Paris and that whatever Stephen was involved in is a part of it.

And if there’s one thing that Gamache is better at than anyone else in the world, it’s finding the rot that hides beneath a pristine facade. Even if that facade is covering a friend, or a loved one, or a trusted colleague. Or all of the above.

It’s only a question of whether he can figure out where that rot really leads in time to save them all.

Escape Rating A++: This is one of those reviews where I just want to squee all over the page. Which might adequately express that I LOVED THIS BOOK VERY MUCH, but isn’t exactly informative as to why you should love this series and this book too.

In the end – also at the beginning and in the middle – this is a mystery/suspense/thriller series that is all about the characters. Both in the sense that the continuing characters of the series are so very human, so fully-fleshed that they jump out of the page and into your heart, and in the way that human motivations drive the story and the tension.

There’s no “bwahaha” evil in this series. Not that plenty of evil things don’t happen, but the evil is always at the human scale – and is always pressed back if not defeated at the human scale.

The corruption that Gamache, Reine-Marie and Jean-Guy eventually unearth at the heart of this case is also human. It’s people believing what they want to believe. It’s people cutting corners out of expediency and then covering up out of guilt or greed. It’s a rotten system that has good people trapped in it but is designed to let bad people flourish.

And it thankfully doesn’t go quite as far as Gamache fears that it does, but we fear with him right up ‘til the end.

The characters are all flawed in ways that are, to belabor a word, human. Gamache does his best to figure out what is really going on, but he is, just as often, doing the best he can without any certainty of the truth or of his options. Sometimes he wings it and gets lucky. Sometimes he wings it and doesn’t. He’s good at piecing the puzzle together, but he’s never perfect and it’s never easy.

His godfather tries to outsmart the villains, but drastically underestimates their enemies and pays a high price for it. A price that nearly falls upon them all. Because he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. He needs Gamache to carry his plan the rest of the way – and he very nearly drops it.

In the end, this story, like so many in the series, is a story about people working together, playing to their individual strengths, towards their common goal of saving all their lives, sacrificing their fortunes if necessary, without losing their honor.

At each turn, we think we know. They think they know. But at the last we all discover that we really knew very little of what we thought we did. And that’s what kept me furiously turning pages until the very end.

If you like mysteries that will suck you into their story and their characters, keep you tied in knots for the entire length of a series, and spit you out at the end both emotionally wrung out and utterly captivated, pick up Still Life and be prepared to lose yourself for days.

Come to think of it, the idea of getting lost for days with Gamache and Company seems like an excellent way to escape this year for a good, long time.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 8-30-20

Sunday Post

George is normally a very serious little fellow – although he’s getting bigger every day. But he’s also a surprisingly hard start for cat. Like me, he wakes up slowly and a bit groggy. Which allowed me to catch him in a blep one afternoon, waking up from a nap.

I had some great books this past week, books I’d been looking forward to that really lived up to my anticipation, as well as one (Winter Counts) which has had a lot of buzz and definitely lived up to the hype. I always have mixed feelings about thrillers, but when they grab me, they really, really grab me. As this one did. And as one of this coming week’s books has already done. You’ll see.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Back to School Giveaway Hop (ends TOMORROW!)

Winner Announcements:

The winner of The London Restoration is Carl
The winner of the $20 Gift Card from Rhys Ford is Pamela

Blog Recap:

B+ Review: Cat Me if You Can by Miranda James
A Review: Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews
B Review: Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones
A+ Review: Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne
A Review: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
Stacking the Shelves (407)

Coming This Week:

All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny (review)
September to Remember Giveaway Hop
Hello Autumn Giveaway Hop
Driftwood by Marie Brennan (review)
The Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka Adler (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (407)

Stacking the Shelves

Today’s cat picture is Freddie instead of George. Freddie does not like to have his picture taken, and will run if he sees someone approaching him in “camera position”. But this time he was sleeping on my lap and looked up at me sleepily, too sleepily to get out of the way of my trusty iPad. This closeup shows just how much he resembles the Currier print of “The Favorite Cat” that the Metropolitan Museum of Art uses whenever they need a cat picture.

And, I have books. I always have books. Some of which I’ve been waiting for for a while. As well as A Desolation Called Peace, which I’ve been looking for ever since I finished A Memory Called Empire, which was utterly, completely, totally awesome and deserved ALL THE AWARDS! I loved it so much that I got the new one in both eARC and audio. We’ll see which one I actually end up “reading”.

For Review:
20/20 by B. Shawn Clark
A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan #2) by Arkady Martine
Fearless by Allen Stroud
Good & Evil (Black Sun #2) by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne
The Last Watch (Divide #1) by J.S. Dewes
Monogamy by Sue Miller
Out Past the Stars (Farian War #3) by K.B. Wagers
Simmer Down by Sarah Smith
Sleep Well, My Lady by Kwei Quartey
Snapped (Playbook #4) by Alexa Martin
The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost #1) by C.L. Clark

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Bless Her Dead Little Heart (Southern Ladies #1) by Miranda James
Dead with the Wind (Southern Ladies #2) by Miranda James
A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan #2) by Arkady Martine (audio/preorder)
Digging Up the Dirt (Southern Ladies #3) by Miranda James
Down Among the Dead (Farian War #2) by K.B. Wagers
Fixing to Die (Southern Ladies #4) by Miranda James



Review: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Review: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli WeidenWinter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 336
Published by Ecco on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Winter Counts is a marvel. It’s a thriller with a beating heart and jagged teeth. This book is a brilliant meditation on power and violence, and a testament to just how much a crime novel can achieve. Weiden is a powerful new voice. I couldn’t put it down.”  —Tommy Orange, author of There There
A Recommended Read from:
Buzzfeed * Electric Literature * Lit Hub * Shondaland * Publishers Weekly

A groundbreaking thriller about a vigilante on a Native American reservation who embarks on a dangerous mission to track down the source of a heroin influx. 
Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that’s hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way into the reservation and finds Virgil’s nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop.
They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realizes that being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost.
Winter Counts is a tour-de-force of crime fiction, a bracingly honest look at a long-ignored part of American life, and a twisting, turning story that’s as deeply rendered as it is thrilling.

My Review:

Winter Counts sits on that uncomfortably sharp knife-edge between thriller and mystery. And when that knife edge cuts, the majority of the story feels like it falls on the thriller side of the equation. And what a thriller it is.

The reader, following in the footsteps of Virgil Wounded Horse, isn’t looking for merely whodunnit. For one thing, Virgil thinks that he already knows. But what he’s really in the middle of is more of a “something rotten in the state of Denmark” situation, with the Rosebud Indian Reservation standing in for Hamlet’s Denmark.

And the something that’s rotten? That lives up to another cliche, the one about the fish rotting from the head down. A head that is more than savvy enough to keep Virgil just distracted enough not to turn his eyes in its direction.

Virgil is the reservation’s enforcer, an unofficial position that exists in a yawning chasm, the howling abyss between the misdemeanor level of crimes that the Tribal Police are legally permitted to investigate and the felonies that the U.S. Federal Agencies are willing to take on. Serious crimes like rape, child abuse and assault all drown in that huge gap. Virgil’s position – and it really does exist on many reservations – arose so that people on the reservation could get some kind of justice. That the guilty would pay something for their crimes, even if the law never went after them.

Because it doesn’t. (That the rape of women on reservation land inevitably falls into this gap is one of the many, many, too many hills that the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has died on. A fact that is disgusting on so many different axes that I can’t even. Period.)

Back to the story.

Considering what Virgil does, it is not illogical for Tribal Councilman Ben Short Bear to contact Virgil about someone running heroin on tribal lands. But’s it’s not completely logical, either. Not just because Ben already knows who the drug dealer is, but because he paints this as a more than big enough crime to actually get the Feds off their asses to investigate. Major drug busts make both cops’ and prosecutors’ careers, and this one seems to be plenty big enough. Something about this one smells fishy, fishy enough that Virgil wants to think about it for a few days.

Then his nephew, Nathan, the teenage boy that Virgil is raising, barely survives a heroin overdose. Virgil is suddenly all in on a case he wasn’t sure about getting involved in – and isn’t that a huge coincidence? Nathan has had some issues, but up until this point drugs have not been one of them. A circumstance that should have seemed very fishy to Virgil, but he’s too emotionally compromised in this case to be thinking clearly.

As the criminal intended.

Virgil has to juggle this case he didn’t want, an on-again, off-again romance that he isn’t sure needs to be on again, and his care for a boy who is suddenly up to his neck in more trouble than either of them can handle.

Even the Feds are involved, with Virgil and Nathan playing “piggy-in-the-middle” in a tug of war between feuding drug gangs, rival jurisdictions and that rotten fish at the top of the food chain, playing all the ends against Virgil and Nathan in the middle.

Escape Rating A: It felt like Winter Counts was a thriller because of the way that the story works. The reader, and Virgil, both believe that they know what the crime is at the very beginning. It’s only as Virgil investigates that the picture begins to shift and the reader realizes just how badly he – and everyone around him – have been deceived.

I knew who the real villain was from the very beginning. I just didn’t know exactly what his villainy consisted of – or how or if Virgil was going to expose that villainy. And it was the two-steps forward, one-step back nature of that search and that exposure that kept me going through the story.

I felt compelled to know – even as the picture kept getting darker and murkier. As much as I had figured out the who, I was nowhere near sure about all the tendrils of the how and the why was still stunning in the depths to which it reached, as well as the amount of collateral damage it piled up.

Virgil begins this story as a man who may be doing a job, but is mostly looking for a bit of his own brand of justice against the men who, once upon a time, were the biggest bullies in a high school that looked down upon him as not being fully Lakota. He only gets fully invested when Nathan gets swept into the case, as intended by the crook he doesn’t even realize he’s pursuing.

In order to both solve the case and save his nephew – and himself – he has to move forward. He has to look for healing for his old resentments and reconcile himself to the wounds that can neither be healed nor avenged.

Considering that Virgil is the adult and Nathan the teenager, there’s a big part of this story that is about both of them growing up and facing the future. In order to be prepared for the next time that evil turns its gaze upon them. As Winter Counts is purported to be the opening book in a new series, I expect that will be sooner than Virgil would like, but not nearly fast enough for readers, like this one, who want more.

Review: Ink and Sigil by Kevin Hearne

Review: Ink and Sigil by Kevin HearneInk & Sigil (Ink & Sigil, #1) by Kevin Hearne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Ink & Sigil #1
Pages: 336
Published by Del Rey Books on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.
But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.
But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.

My Review:

I’ve read – actually mostly listened to – enough of the Iron Druid Chronicles to know that I love the series. Since I’m 2/3rds of the way through I figured I knew enough about the world created in the series to be able to get into Ink & Sigil. Al Mac Bharrais’ adventures take place in the same version of our world as Atticus O’Sullivan, but from a much different perspective.

Ink & Sigil is a sequel that isn’t a sequel, it’s more like a consequence. Which is an interesting way of launching a series. Also an effective way for new readers to get aboard this marvelous train. So you don’t have to have read the Iron Druid Chronicles to get into Ink & Sigil, but a taste for one will probably result in a yen for the other.

Al is a fascinating protagonist for an urban fantasy series. Most urban fantasy series are headed by either the young and the energetic, or the extremely old, seriously immortal, and fascinatingly unaging.

Al is none of the above. He’s 63, he’s getting creaky, and he’s all too mortal. (I would love to see Al meet Marley Jacob from A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark. They’d have a lot to talk about when it comes to kicking paranormal ass when you’re 60-something.)

Al isn’t exactly a wizard, and he’s certainly not a druid like Atticus. He is actually a kind of paper-pusher for the paranormal. His power is literally in paper – and especially in ink. He draws symbols of power with special ink on special paper, and that power affects whoever sees the symbols he has drawn.

Among many other useful things, he’s created his own version of the “psychic paper” that Doctor Who uses. The one that seems to be a universal high-ranking ID for wherever the Doctor wants to get into that he shouldn’t. In Al’s case, the paper just opens the mind of the person who sees it so that Al can plant the suggestion that he belongs wherever it is that he has just entered that he isn’t supposed to.

Like the apartment of his just-deceased apprentice. Gordie seems to have died of natural causes – depending on how one feels about raisins in one’s scones. Al has arrived in the middle of the police investigation into Gordie’s death to clean house of all of the fascinating, esoteric and sometimes illegal substances that sigil agents like Al and Gordie use to do their work.

Al expects to leave with a bag of inks and ingredients. What he finds in Gordie’s secret workroom changes his focus – as well as his opinion of the late and now entirely unlamented Gordie. Because Gordie was practicing things he hadn’t learned yet, and seems to have been breaking all the rules while doing so. And he had imprisoned a hobgoblin in a cage – a hobgoblin from one of the fae planes that he intended to sell to someone nefarious in this plane.

Which is illegal, immoral, and constitutes trafficking of the nasty kind that either leads to slavery or lab experimentation of the mad scientist variety.

Putting Al on the hunt for a mad scientist and at least one corrupt fae deity selling out her own kind for either fun or profit. That she’s selling them to the CIA adds a whole ‘nother level of crazy complexity to a case that is almost but not quite too much for Al and his friends to handle.

Making it a fantastic start to this series!

Escape Rating A+: I fell straight into this book and just didn’t want to leave. Possibly ever. This is one of those books that I just want to shove at everyone I know and hold them down until they read it.

In that vein, I really, truly don’t think you have to have read ANY of the Iron Druid Chronicles to get into Ink & Sigil. Not that you shouldn’t read them, they’re awesome. Howsomever, while these are set in the same world, Atticus is not a character in this series – so far – except for the scene where those of us who have read the Iron Druid Chronicles discover how Al ran into Atticus that one time and they had a nice dinner together. It doesn’t affect the plot of Ink & Sigil, it’s just a lovely scene IF you’ve met Atticus before and it’s still a lovely scene if you haven’t.

What one does need to buy into in order to get into Ink & Sigil is the concept that lies behind, or underneath, both the Iron Druid Chronicles and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The idea that the old cliche about humanity creating gods in their own image is the actual, literal truth. That belief creates the god rather than the god’s deeds creating the belief.

One of the things that I found marvelous was the character of Al MacBharrais, and just how much he and his companions play with just how many classic tropes from urban fantasy and even from the mystery detective genre from which it partially sprang.

Al is so different from the standard run of urban fantasy protagonists. I have a hard time saying Al is old because he’s the same age that I am, but he’s certainly no spring chicken. He’s led an already long and fairly hard-knock life. He can no longer serve as his own muscle – except in what is inevitably a very painful pinch – but he still needs an enforcer. Like Nero Wolfe needed Archie Goodwin. Or any other case where the “real” detective is no longer quite spry for one reason or another and needs someone to occasionally punch the bad beings where it hurts.

That Al’s version of Archie is a female battle-seer who does double duty as his printing firm’s manager and accountant sets all sorts of tropes on their tiny little heads. She’s great at both cooking the books and conking out their enemies. Also, Nadia’s wizard van is absolutely to die for. She’s also more than able and willing to help a few people – or things, or beings – die when they really, really need to.

The other really fun character in this one is Buck Foi the hobgoblin. The one that Al found in a cage in his dead apprentice’s apartment. When Al opens that cage he also opens up the whole case, and it’s Buck who tags along to help him close it. Because Buck needs the fae trafficking ring shut down in order to remove the price on his head. Buck is the comic relief, but it’s comic relief with one hell of an edge. (Buck reminds me a bit of P.B. from Laura Anne Gilman’s Retrievers series, which was also an awesome urban fantasy. I digress.)

But underneath the paranormal scene-setting, and Buck’s constant scene-stealing, the story is ripped from the headlines. Al’s case is to uncover a fae-trafficking ring, and it’s every bit as nasty as human-trafficking. It also seems to work in a surprisingly similar fashion. And it has to be stopped – and not just because the CIA (really, the actual CIA) is chasing after Al and his friends to silence them.

That Al manages to use some of his not-so-otherworldly connections to help the police shut down a couple of human-trafficking rings adds some real-world drama to this otherworldly story without being heavy-handed about the message. This stuff is evil and needs to be stopped. Period.

Shutting down this one, particular operation still leaves Al with plenty to do in subsequent books in the series. He still has to find out who dropped two seriously awful curses into his life, before those curses wipe out this cohort of his friends and colleagues. So he can keep Nadia and Buck around. So that he can finally manage to train an apprentice to mastery. So that he can talk to the librarian he’s been in love with for years and not have the curse make her hate him and the sound of his voice. As it did with his son.

So there is plenty for Al to be going on with in future books in this series. Hopefully soon!

Review: Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

Review: Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham JonesNight of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: horror
Pages: 144
Published by Tor.com on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Stephen Graham Jones returns with Night of the Mannequins, a contemporary horror story where a teen prank goes very wrong and all hell breaks loose: is there a supernatural cause, a psychopath on the loose, or both?
Praise for Night of the Mannequins
“Reading Stephen Graham Jones is like sitting in the corner of a bar with an old friend, and everyone quiets down the moment they start telling a story. Night of the Mannequins is dark and twisted, funny, a little crazy, and unsettling as hell. The opening setup gets way under your skin, and then Jones takes the story somewhere much darker than you imagined. If there’s an heir apparent to the kind of no-rules, wild imagination, down home storytelling perfected by Joe R. Lansdale, it’s this guy right here. Read him.”—Christopher Golden
"Sly, surprising psychic sleight-of-hand, in a tale of teenage madness where the next plastic face might be your own."—John Skipp
"Wicked and wry, this is a terrific story by one of my favorite writers, Stephen Graham Jones. Tip-top with a twist of dead. The narrator's first person delivery is the most notable aspect of this surprising and creepy tale that nods to popular stalker-killer films of the past, but is so much better than the bulk of those films, and what an ending. You definitely need this."—Joe R. Lansdale
"Stephen Graham Jones' has one of the most gripping, stream-of-consciousness voices in horror fiction. Night of the Mannequins is propulsive and poignant, capturing the mundane terror of adolescence, and adding that ever-so-essential dab of killer mannequin. You won't put it down." —Sarah Langan

My Review:

I’m here for the Autons. No, seriously, I picked this one up because the “monsters” sounded a lot like the Autons, the monsters in the first episode of the new Doctor Who in 2005. The store mannequins all came to life and the Ninth Doctor uttered a line to Rose Tyler that was emblematic of the entire series – “Run!.” She did, and the rest is history.

Actually, the advice to “Run” works pretty well for this story, too. (Hey, I got to Tomb of Gods, which I LOVED, by way of Pyramids of Mars, so this is not as big a reach – at least for me – as it seems.)

It starts with plastic people. Really, just one plastic person. And a whole lot of imagination.

At first, it’s the imagination of a circle of friends. When they were kids they found a mannequin in a swamp, named him Manny and used him to play all sorts of just-slightly-mean-spirited but mostly funny pranks around their neighborhood.

For one halcyon summer, Manny was their best friend. Then school started in the fall, and they all kind of forgot about him, sitting in Sawyer Grimes garage on the back of his dad’s slightly wrecked motorcycle – that neither Sawyer nor his dad are allowed to ride.

When this story begins, that same circle of friends is closing in on high school graduation. The college questions are coming thick and fast from the parents, the grandparents, the extended family and pretty much every other adult who comes anywhere near them – and maybe they just aren’t ready for that, at least not yet.

They’re growing up, whether they want to or not, and they all know, in that way of knowing what you don’t really want to know, that the last vestiges of their childhoods are coming to an end and that they are doomed or destined to leave their tight friendship behind as they move into adulthood.

So they decide to pull one last prank. With Manny along for the ride. They think they’re taking him to the movies for one, last fling at irresponsible not-quite-adulthood.

As much as they think they’re taking Manny, Sawyer Grimes believes that Manny is taking them. All of them. On one last prank-to-end-all-pranks.

Or is he?

Escape Rating B: That question, “Or is he?” can be read two different ways, depending on whether you put the emphasis on the second or the third word in the question. Which means that there’s also more than one answer.

I came to Night of the Mannequins expecting plastic people. Actually, I kind of got that, but more in the sense that people are still plastic, still able to make a whole lot of changes almost without meaning to, at the age of the protagonists of the story.

But instead of the science fictional version of plastic people – which I admit was more what I was hoping for – I got the plasticity of people in their late teens, as a prank that goes mildly wrong turns into more of a take-off of teenage slasher movies.

The situation they’re in is also plastic in an entirely different way, as events reshape themselves – or reshape the people in them – from something simple and slightly stupid to something complex and extremely deadly, just by passing through the mind of one teenager who has seen way too many movies and leaps to way too many coincidences.

This story kind of begins with a plastic body in a swamp, and it kind of ends with a plastic body in a swamp. But they’re not the same body, they’re not the same kind of plastic, and the second body had real agency in a way that only imagination can give the first. Even if he thinks he didn’t have any at all.

It’s creepy, bloody, scary and riveting every step of the way – and not to be read in the dark.

Review: Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews

Review: Emerald Blaze by Ilona AndrewsEmerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy, #5) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, science fiction romance, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #5
Pages: 391
Published by Avon on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As Prime magic users, Catalina Baylor and her sisters have extraordinary powers—powers their ruthless grandmother would love to control. Catalina can earn her family some protection working as deputy to the Warden of Texas, overseeing breaches of magic law in the state, but that has risks as well. When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart. 
The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won't rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that's tearing their world apart. 

My Review:

If the Big, Bad Wolf went hunting for Catalina Baylor’s grandmother, he’d be the one eaten – because she is definitely the bigger, badder predator. Catalina wouldn’t have to marvel at what big teeth her grandmother had, because she already knows and is appropriately wary every single time she even thinks in Victoria Tremaine’s general direction. Someday she will need to test herself against her completely amoral and totally formidable grandmother, but that day is not yet. But it’s definitely coming by the end of this entry in the series.

Emerald Blaze is the second book in the second trilogy in the Hidden Legacy series. So don’t start here. Start with Burn for Me in order to get fully up to speed with this world and totally invested in these characters.

Because the world that has been created in this series is utterly fascinating.

The world of Hidden Legacy is a not too distant future of this world, but a future in which science run amuck has led to magic running even amucker – which really needs to be a word. In the search for a super-soldier, science created the Osiris serum. The serum granted superpowers, its distribution was not regulated, and absolute power always corrupts absolutely. The super-beings that survived the serum’s 50% mortality rate fought for control of what was left of the world after their superpower-fueled rampages.

The story in Hidden Legacy wraps around their descendants. The effects of that serum altered their DNA, and the alterations bred true. A century later, the Houses led by Prime talents quite literally rule the world.

The “hidden legacy” that the series title refers to also loops back to Victoria Tremaine, the baddest grandmother to ever rule a house – not that Frida, Catalina’s other grandmother isn’t fairly badass on her own. Frida’s just badass on a somewhat more human scale.

In the first trilogy, the Baylor sisters, Nevada, Catalina and Arabella, discover that the grandmother they never knew about is the most hated and feared mind talent to ever walk the face of the earth and make it tremble in fear. And that Victoria Tremaine’s legacy requires them to form a fledgling House to prevent her machinations from either dragging them under or chain them to her side forever.

The first trilogy focused on Nevada, the oldest sister, and her romance with head of one of the other powerful houses, her formation of House Baylor and, in the end, her handing the reins of her own house over to her sister Catalina to marry Connor Rogan.

The second trilogy is Catalina’s story. In Sapphire Flames we saw Catalina forced to take the reins of a House about to come out from under the protection that follows formation. Catalina was 21 and just not ready for the series of crises that barrels towards her at breakneck speed.

She’s also not ready to fall in love with the playboy assassin Alessandro Sagredo. But she saves her House, falls in love, and gets her heart thoroughly broken by a man who can’t make himself give up revenge in order to have a real life.

In Emerald Blaze, trouble comes for Catalina and House Baylor yet again. And so does her assassin. But this time she might get to keep him.

The odds on that are about as good as their odds on surviving. In other words, terrible but worth striving towards – no matter what it takes. Or what it takes out of them.

Escape Rating A: This was a “read in a day” book. I started at lunch and while I’d like to say I finished at dinner, the fact is that I was so engrossed in the story that I skipped dinner and just kept reading. It was THAT good.

The world in this series is a tasty stew of urban fantasy, science fiction and paranormal romance. Because magic, and super-soldiers. But science created the magic AND the super-soldiers. While the traditional monsters of urban fantasy and paranormal romance don’t seem to have been accidentally created in this world – no vampires or werewolves – there are certainly PLENTY of monsters.

Some of them even walk on two legs and make a pretense of being human. And some of those make real monster-y monsters. Like the weird hybrid plant/animal/human/super-soldier Abyss that has taken over the Pit that has taken over Jersey Village Texas. (Jersey Village really exists. I have friends who live in Houston who might even recognize it under the slime the monster has coated the place with!)

As is usual with this series, there are three threads to the plot that braid into something utterly absorbing from beginning to end.

The first thread is the mess. Actually so are the second and third threads – just different types of messes.

Catalina first has to solve the problem in the Jersey Village Pit. Five Houses got together to reclaim the swamp, and now one of the representatives is dead and his father wants revenge. It’s Catalina’s job – literally – to figure out which of the four survivors is responsible for the murder. It’s Alessandro Sagredo’s job to end whichever of those survivors is the guilty party. Which means that Catalina has to find a way to work with Alessandro without killing him and without letting her heart take anymore of a beating than it already has. If she can.

And then there’s Alessandro’s own side of this mess. He’s involved because his hunt for the man who murdered his father has led him back to Houston, to Catalina, and to this case.

Underneath all of that, like the Abyss monster hiding below the swamp, is a case of stolen Osiris serum, Alessandro’s really screwed up family, and Victoria Tremaine. Not necessarily together – at least not as far as we yet know – but not exactly separate, either.

Because power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there is something rotten and corrupt at the heart of the world that the Houses have created. Something that Catalina, Alessandro, House Baylor and House Rogan are stuck in the center of.

This series is not over – thank goodness! There will be one more book from Catalina’s point of view, and I’m terribly curious to see where it goes. As Catalina has more or less figured out where her heart has already bestowed itself by the end of this one, the next book will probably feature a threat to that relationship and further exposure of the rot at the heart of the world. Most likely with grandmother Tremaine spinning her spider webs at the center of it all.

Whatever it will be, I can’t wait to read it!