Review: Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys Ford

Review: Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys FordJacked Cat Jive (Kai Gracen #3) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, urban fantasy
Series: Kai Gracen #3
Pages: 352
Published by Dreamspinner Press on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Stalker Kai Gracen knew his human upbringing would eventually clash with his elfin heritage, but not so soon. Between Ryder, a pain-in-his-neck Sidhe Lord coaxing him to join San Diego’s Southern Rise Court, and picking up bounties for SoCalGov, he has more than enough to deal with. With his loyalties divided between the humans who raised him and the Sidhe Lord he’s befriended and sworn to protect, Kai finds himself standing at a crossroads.

When a friend begs Kai to rescue a small group of elfin refugees fleeing the Dusk Court, he’s pulled into a dangerous mission with Ryder through San Diego’s understreets and the wilderness beyond. Things go from bad to downright treacherous when Kerrick, Ryder’s cousin, insists on joining them, staking a claim on Southern Rise and Kai.

Burdened by his painful past, Kai must stand with Ryder against Kerrick while facing down the very Court he fears and loathes. Dying while on a run is expected for a Stalker, but Kai wonders if embracing his elfin blood also means losing his heart, soul, and humanity along the way.

My Review:

All the cats are jacked in one way or another on Kai Gracen’s latest stalker run.

That probably made no sense unless you’ve read the previous books in this terrific series. Start with Black Dog Blues and then dance on over to Mad Lizard Mambo. If you like gritty urban fantasy you’ll be glad you did.

I’ve also just made a bunch of puns based on the titles. They are all music-based in one way or another, from Blues to Mambo to Jive – another name for jazz. Cat is also part of the story, as the elfin, are often referred to as cats – usually in Kai’s case, cat-bastard.

Because he is. Both the sidhe and the unsidhe have some feline characteristics, and Kai is literally a bastard. As a combination of sidhe, unsidhe and who knows what else, mixed in a somewhat magical, semi-scientific blender, he’s a chimera – he fits in nowhere.

That part-magic, semi-scientific bit is also a metaphor for this post-apocalyptic version of our own world. The apocalypse is in the not too distant past, and it’s very specific. Suddenly the “underhill” of fairy stories, of the sidhe and unsidhe of Irish mythology, crashed up into the everyday world of humans – and changed everything for all sides.

The blend is the world that Kai lives in. It’s not a world where magic has always existed, but once the event happened, humans discovered that they had magic. The sidhe and the unsidhe, those perennial antagonistic elven courts, found themselves forced to deal with a world that includes humans.

Everyone thinks they’re the apex predators. That battle is still being fought. There are plenty on all sides who think that if they just kill enough of the others that things can go back to the “good old days”.

Those good old days were never very good for Kai. Not only is he a mix of sidhe and unsidhe, but he was raised human, so he has a foot in all camps but a place of his own in none.

Not that Ryder, the Lord of the Southern Rise Court of the sidhe based in San Diego, doesn’t want to make a place for Kai in his court. And not that he doesn’t keep trying.

But then Ryder is the one sidhe that we’ve met who has figured out that there is no going back, that the only way for his people to thrive is to learn to deal with the world as it is and not as they wish it would be – or that they pretend that it ever was.

This adventure begins when all of those worlds and wishes collide with their usual explosiveness.

Ryder has decreed that his court will accept all elven, sidhe and unsidhe alike. His grandmother has sent one of his more ruthless and less trustworthy cousins to attempt to wrest control of the court from Ryder by any means necessary, so that it can go back to her traditional, repressive ways.

Kai needs Ryder to come with him on a Stalker run out into the great wide desert spaces between the cities and the courts, in order to rescue a mixed group of sidhe and unsidhe who are trying to make the dangerous border crossing.

Everyone, Kai, Ryder, the reader and everyone aboard this crazy train all know that the run is going to go pear-shaped. The only question is how many ways and in which directions.

And it’s a wildly awesome ride every step of the way.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve loved Kai from the very beginning, all the way back to the original publication of Black Dog Blues in 2013. My only serious complaint about his series is that its too long between books. And I’m betting that’s a complaint that most authors would love to hear!

Kai Gracen’s world is post-apocalyptic urban fantasy, which sounds a bit like a contradiction in terms. Post-apocalypse is usually SF, while urban fantasy is obviously fantasy. But this world is our world if magic didn’t so much develop naturally as crash land into it, hence the apocalypse.

While I haven’t read anything else quite like this, the DFZ of Rachel Aaron’s Heartstrikers series as well as the Atlantis-influenced world of K. Edwards’ Tarot Sequence both have a similar feel. So if you liked Nice Dragons Finish Last and/or The Last Sun you’ll probably like Kai Gracen and vice-versa.

Kai makes an interesting hero (sometimes anti-hero) because he has a foot in all of the various camps but a true place in none. Just as his name implies, he is “neither fish nor fowl nor good read meat”, but some of each and comfortable with none. He has an equally jaundiced view of all of the contenders as groups, while still loving, liking or detesting individuals within them all.

And he’s all snark all the time, which makes him a whole lot of fun to follow!

The world of this series is getting built layer by layer. The deeper we get involved with Kai, the more bits of the world around him are unfolded. And so far, it’s been fascinating all the way down.

Many of Kai’s stories are also road stories, and Jacked Cat Jive is no exception. Kai is a Stalker, his job is to go out into the wild places and hunt down the monsters that plague everyone. But this particular run is supposed to be a rescue – and it kind of is.

At the same time, it’s an opportunity for Kai to temporarily flee some of his own demons, while bringing one of Ryder’s along for the ride. Kai knows, and we know, that there’s going to be a betrayal somewhere along the way. That Ryder spends the trip hoping it will be otherwise does not make it so.

While I expected the betrayal, and while Ryder’s cousin Kerrick was a nasty piece of work from the second he stepped on the page, his constant reiteration of what he was going to do to/with Kai once he became Lord of the Court was not merely nasty but grating in its repetition.

Kerrick is looking for a slave, just one of the many reasons why he should never be Lord of the Court and why he needs to be sent packing at the first opportunity. The idea of forcing Kai is clearly part of his kink, particularly as Kai is still so messed up emotionally that he can’t even let himself give in to what he feels for Ryder – at least not yet.

Kai has taken a lot of damage and still needs a lot of healing. Watching that happen is one of the fascinating parts of his journey, and I can’t wait to see where the music takes him next!

If you want to read more about Kai and Ryder’s (mis)adventures there’s a blog tour for this book right now that includes all the pieces of a short story starring these fascinating characters along with a giveaway. I’m not part of the tour but I’m always happy to give this series more buzz!

Review: Mission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Defense by Anna HackettMission: Her Defense (Team 52 #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, military romance
Series: Team 52 #4
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on February 12th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's Website
Goodreads

One former special forces Marine. One tall, handsome police detective who pushes all her buttons. One dangerous investigation that forces them to work together.

Blair Mason is badass to the bone. She’s no stranger to loss and barely survived the mission that ended her military career. Now, as part of Team 52, she never shies away from a fight to ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, she’s often forced to “liaise” with the team’s contact at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. The tall, hard-bodied detective ignites her temper quicker than any man she’s ever known…and after a terrible massacre, she’s horrified to find that she and MacKade are being ordered to work together.

Detective Luke MacKade was born a protector. He takes care of his family, and as a dedicated homicide detective, he protects his city. He is less thrilled with his job of cleaning up after Team 52 after they tear through Vegas on a mission. Blair is a woman who sets him off just by breathing, but even he can’t deny the powerful attraction he feels to her strength and skill. When several cursed samurai swords are stolen in a bloody attack, it is up to Luke and Blair to get them back…before more blood is shed.

But others are after the swords and their hidden powers. As Luke and Blair’s dangerous investigation intensifies, they face danger at every turn. Luke battles his intense need to protect the woman he’s falling for, a woman who neither wants or needs his protection. But as their desire burns white-hot, Luke will learn that the toughest defenses are the ones around Blair’s heart.

My Review:

It’s Valentine’s Day, which makes it a particularly appropriate day to post this review. Because a) it’s a romance and b) it’s by an author I absolutely love.

It would be perfect if it were my favorite genre by this author, science fiction romance, but c’est la vie. Like the song says, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

The Team 52 series is a cross between action adventure romance and military romance. Because the members of Team 52 are nearly all ex-military, and the ones that aren’t are ex-CIA or something even more secretive. That’s certainly true in the case of our heroine, Blair Mason.

And like all of the other former military members of Team 52, Blair is ex-military not because she wanted to be, but because her last (and very nearly final) mission left her with injuries that made her ineligible to continue to serve.

But the high-tech advances kept under as many wraps as possible at Area 52 (yes, it’s next door to the place you’re thinking of) gave her back her eye, and her sight, even better than before. It’s just that if you learn the details of either her last mission, her current status, or just how it was done, she’d probably have to kill you.

Unless one of her teammates gets there first.

The Team 52 series contains some of the earthbound elements of Stargate SG-1. Occasionally, although it’s starting to feel like not-so-occasionally, someone or something unearths powerful and dangerous technology leftover from surprisingly highly developed pre-Ice Age civilizations.

And that’s where Team 52 comes in. Because when these extremely dangerous devices come to light, there’s usually one or more villainous organizations who want to do very dark deeds with those devices.

So Team 52 swoops in to clean up the resulting mess.

But someone has to clean up their mess in a way that provides plausible explanations for the press and the public. It’s hard to completely cover up an entire ballroom full of dead bodies in the middle of a major city. A city like Las Vegas.

That’s where Detective Luke MacKade of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department comes in. It’s his job to make Team 52’s mess appear less messy to the powers that be and the noses that snoop. It’s not his only job, and it’s certainly not his favorite part of his job. He’s in the LVMPD for the “serve and protect” parts of the job and he’s convinced that all Team 52 does in come in and make his job harder without regard for the civilians who get caught in the crossfire.

His favorite part of the job seems to be riling up Blair Mason – even if he’s not willing to admit it.

But when one of their dangerous artifacts cuts a literal swath through his city, he gets an up close and person look at exactly what Team 52 does and why somebody has to do it.

And he finally manages to get close enough to Blair Mason to get an up close and personal view of the woman hiding under the prickly, badass exterior. And he wants to see a whole lot more.

Escape Rating A-: As far as this reader is concerned, the Team 52 series is back in fine form with this entry – even though I still think the titles are slightly cheesy.

I loved the first book (Mission: Her Protection), liked the second (Mission: Her Rescue) and thought the third (Mission: Her Security) was ok. This one is back to “love” on my list. I think because the focus is on Blair more than it is Luke.

What can I say, I like it when the heroine is every bit as badass, if not a bit more, than the hero. I also felt for her perspective of feeling like she needed to be all badass all the time in order to be respected by her teammates. And that the hero isn’t merely ok with that, but loves her and respects her for the badass she is and doesn’t need or want her to be anything else.

While her teammates respect her as she is, that she was socialized that way because the rest of the world doesn’t makes perfect sense.

One of the things that I love about this author’s work is the way that it so often ties into one or more of my other geekish interests. As I keep saying, this series, and the Treasure Hunter Security series it spun off of, have elements of Stargate.

The macguffin in this particular book are antique Japanese swords crafted by Muramasa, the rival of the legendary swordmaker Gorō Nyūdō Masamune. There are surviving Masamune swords in museums and private collections, but Muramasa appears to be more legendary than historical. I found this element of the story particularly fascinating because it tied in to my longstanding love for all things Final Fantasy X, where there is a sword Masamune named after the legendary but historical swordsmith and carried by the game’s resident badass.

I digress, but that’s what Team 52 does to me. It makes me digress into other geekish loves. Which is part of its charm, at least for me.

It’s awesome action-adventure/military romance, so if either of those are your jam, spread open the pages of this series!

Review: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen + Giveaway

Review: The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen + GiveawayThe Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 305
Published by Lake Union Publishing on February 12, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of The Tuscan Child comes a beautiful and heart-rending novel of a woman’s love and sacrifice during the First World War.

As the Great War continues to take its toll, headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.

When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It’s here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden. The journals inspire Emily, and in the wake of devastating news, they are her saving grace. Emily’s lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified—and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.

As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny.

My Review:

Unlike this author’s previous standalone books, The Victory Garden is set in 1918 as World War I is drawing to its close.

However, just as In Farleigh Field, this is a book about the homefront of the war and not about the ugliness of the war itself. Not that there isn’t plenty of ugly at home.

As the story begins our heroine is immured at home in Devon. Her upper-middle-class parents are determined that the ugliness of the war will completely pass her by – whether that’s what she wants or not. And not that it has not already touched her life. Her brother Freddie was killed in action in the opening battles of the war, and her parents are determined to keep her under their eye and locked away so that nothing can possibly happen to her. Of course life is never like that – even Rapunzel found a way out of her tower, after all.

Emily is the bird in the gilded cage, but with her 21st birthday on the horizon, she will be able to unlock the door of her cage herself – if she is willing to deal with the consequences of her actions.

She falls in love with a young man that her ultra-conservative, ultra-conventional mother considers to be completely unsuitable. Ironically, there’s nothing wrong with Flight Lieutenant Robbie Kerr except for his Australian cheek. His family is probably as well off as hers. The problem with Robbie is that his Aussie upbringing has led him to think that all of the mannered conventions of the English upper crust are patently ridiculous – which of course they are.

Meeting Robbie gives Emily a taste of life on the outside of her mother’s over-protective restrictions, and her 21st birthday gives her the opportunity to fly away. She wants to become a volunteer nurse, but in 1918 the need was for somebody, anybody, to harvest the crops of England with all the men gone.  So Emily joins the Women’s Land Army. She finds herself in the midst of a surprising sisterhood – a sisterhood that becomes her salvation when Robbie is killed in action and she finds herself unwed and pregnant.

The story in The Victory Garden is the story of that sisterhood. Emily can’t go home to her disapproving parents, and many of her fellow “Land Girls” have no homes left to go to. Instead they band together, returning to a small village they worked during their Land Army tenure. A place where the men have all gone to war, and the women are left keeping life together by any means they can.

And together, they find a way to move forward – even as the worst history of the village repeats itself with nearly disastrous consequences for Emily – and for them all.

Escape Rating A-: You may not be able to go home again, but that doesn’t stop you from making a new home someplace else, with people of your own choosing. You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you find that place and those people.

In the end (also in the beginning and the middle!) this is a story about sisterhood. In what amounts to a lovely bit of role reversal, the few men in this story exist to push the women’s story forward. It makes for a terrific story – and it also makes sense.

England lost an entire generation of young men in World War I. (It has been posited that this is the reason that so many of the Commonwealth countries did so much of the fighting for Britain in WW2 – either because Britain didn’t have that generation of men to lose, and/or because the powers that be were determined not to sacrifice a second generation so soon after the last one.)

Whatever the truth about WW2,by this point in WW1 there just weren’t any able-bodied young or even young-ish men left on the homefront. And it was clear by 1918 that society was going to have to change after the war was over because there was a resulting generation of young women that had no men to marry. So when some of the characters talk about the world being different after the war, and women filling many of the jobs that men used to do, it feels right.

Things were not going back to the pre-war “normal” because the conditions that allowed that situation to be “normal” no longer existed.

So what we see in this story is a whole generation of women stepping up to take care of each other, because no one is going to do it for them. Even the women whose husbands do come home face a life where they will be the primary breadwinners because their husbands are suffering from permanent, life-altering wounds, PTSD (known as ‘shell shock’) or both.

Emily is the focal point of the story because she is the one who makes the biggest changes. This story is her journey to self-sufficiency – with more than a little help from her friends. We like her because we understand her determination to stand on her own two feet – in spite of everything that life and war has thrown in her way.

And while she begins the story as a pampered little miss, it’s a role that she rejects the moment she is able – while still attempting to not cause her parents more worry than she possibly can. And we feel for that tightrope she is walking. She wants to live her own life. She needs to do her bit. And its the making of her. And the story.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Guest Review: Derik’s Bane by MaryJanice Davidson

Guest Review: Derik’s Bane by MaryJanice DavidsonDerik's Bane by MaryJanice Davidson
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, Erotica, fantasy
Series: Wyndham Werewolf #3
Pages: 298
Published by Penguin on January 1, 2005
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Derik's a werewolf with alpha issues--and a body to die for.

Sara is the personification of unspeakable evil--and smells like roses.

Now if they could just stop drooling over each other long enough to save the world.

Okay, okay. I said in my review of Davidson’s Sleeping With the Fishes a while back that I didn’t care much for paranormal romances with werewolves in them. I may have to rethink my position, at least in the case of this series.

Guest review by Amy:

Derik has a problem, you see – he’s an alpha, born to it, and now that he’s coming into his own, it makes it really hard to get along with his pack’s alpha, Michael. There can only be one, of course, so things are tense right from the get-go. The seer in the group, though, has seen a solution. Out on the west coast, there is a woman who is a reincarnation of an ancient evil. Taking care of her will prevent the destruction of the world. Aha! A quest!

The ancient evil, however, is reincarnated into a really ditzy, unbelievably lucky, stunningly gorgeous woman. And…she’s really not that evil. Derik tries to kill her, and fails, of course. Derik and Sara embark on a cross-country trip to find and prevent the end of the world, and along the way, they get a little bit crazy for each other.

Escape Rating: A-. I had such a good time reading Sleeping With the Fishes last year that when I saw this book at my used bookstore, I had to pick it up. Davidson gives us another really fun romp of a read, complete with Milk Bone jokes from the snarky Sara that had me laughing until I wheezed.

I’ve spotted a pattern with Davidson’s supernatural characters: they’re real people. In Derik’s case, he’s a real guy, who just-happens-to-be a werewolf, and has to deal with that. No big drama, no woo-woo mystical magic-ness in them; they’re just…people, of a different species, who must necessarily deal with who they are, living in a world full of homo sapiens. I’ve gotta say, I like that feature in both of these books. One of the things that’s been so off-putting to me about paranormal romance in the past is the near-fetish status of the supernatural character. People make a Big Deal about that lycanthrope in their life, or worse, the lycanthrope in their life fetishizes themself. Davidson’s “we’re all just people here” aesthetic really lets me fall into the story, suspend disbelief, and enjoy it, without the distraction of the otherworldliness of one or more characters.

Derik’s Bane gives us a comedy-of-errors, North by Northwest kind of frenzied trip from coast to coast, and, like many road-trip stories, the characters end up way closer to each other than they originally planned on. The quality of the story in that part of the book was so good that the ending, where our hero and heroine discover the awfulness that will end the world if they don’t stop it, comes as a tiny bit of a disappointment. I won’t spoil it for you, but imagine the Monty Python and the Holy Grail scene where the knights come to a cave, and the horrid guardian of the cave turns out to be a rabbit. The semi-heroic battle that followed picked things back up a bit, and what the clairvoyant tells our happy couple after the fact makes it clear that, of course, things were never quite as they seemed to Derik all along.

It’s official: MaryJanice Davidson is going on my list of read-for-fun authors. There’s no way to call this “serious” fiction, for any construction of that term, but Derik’s Bane gives us another rollicking read, with rich, entertaining characters. No deep thinking required, just enjoy!

Review: Forged in Blood II by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Forged in Blood II by Lindsay BurokerForged in Blood II (The Emperor's Edge, #7) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #7
Pages: 422
Published by Lindsay Buroker on July 17, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Amaranthe Lokdon survives her reckless plan to destroy the enemy’s weapon-filled super aircraft only to learn that thousands of people perished when it crash landed. Half of her team is missing...or dead. Meanwhile, the fighting in the capital has escalated, the Imperial Barracks have been taken by a pretender, and a deadly new danger threatens the populace. Amaranthe’s hopes of returning Emperor Sespian to the throne and bringing peace to the empire are dwindling by the hour.

To make matters worse, her strongest ally—and closest friend—has been captured and is under a powerful wizard’s control. If she can’t figure out a way to free Sicarius, he may kill them all when next they meet...

My Review:

Forged in Blood I ended at maximum cliffhanger, so I dove into Forged in Blood II the moment I finished it. It’s kind of impossible to stop at that point.

(Fair warning, this review will contain spoilers for Forged in Blood I. It would be equally impossible to talk at all about this book without talking about that book. They are pretty much one story, and everything that happens here is dependent on what happened there. Also, Captain Obvious being very obvious, don’t start the series here!)

Forged in Blood I ended at two parallel points with opposite results. Amaranthe has just crashed the Behemoth and wrecked untold destruction pretty much everywhere. She feels guilty beyond measure at the deaths she feels she is responsible for. And she might share in that responsibility but she certainly isn’t solely responsible – particularly considering that she never had any personal ability to control the airship/spacecraft in the first place.

But she walks away from the wreckage, believing all of her team are dead, only to shortly discover that so far, everyone she truly cares for managed to be someplace else.

On that other hand, Sicarius enters the ruins of the ship and finds what he believes are the remains of Amaranthe’s charred corpse. He believes that everyone he cares about, including Amaranthe and his son Sespian, are all dead in or under the crash. He tries to commit suicide-by-enemy in a grand fashion, only to be captured and mind-slaved by one of the many, many forces that is attempting to take control of the capital.

He doesn’t care – at least not too much. If his would-have-been-lover and his son are both dead, he is not unwilling to kill as many of those responsible for the situation as possible (he is an assassin, after all) before he finds a way to at least get himself killed if not take out the wizard controlling him in the process.

As Forged in Blood II opens, Amaranthe is working on multiple plans – as she always is – to eliminate the alien spaceship before even more nefarious things can be done with it, find a way to get some of their enemies to eliminate each other, and find out what happened to Sicarius and rescue him if necessary.

Sicarius has been given a list of people to kill, and he’s working his way down the list.

I would say that things go pear-shaped at this point, but they have been pear-shaped so long that the pear is starting to rot. This is a series where saying that our heroes jump out of the frying pan and into the fire doesn’t go nearly far enough. The entire series is pretty much fires and frying pans all the way down.

But this book is the end of the main story arc of the ENTIRE Emperor’s Edge series. They have to find the bottom in order for things to come to an appropriate close, and for all of the many, many threads to get tied up in a relatively neat bow.

Not nearly as neat a bow as Amaranthe the cleanliness obsessed would have liked. And the butcher’s bill needs to get paid. But in the midst of absolutely epic chaos, our heroes have to find a resolution that gets all of the many, many opposing forces out of the capitol.

And lets them midwife the birth of the republic that they having been aiming towards for much longer than any of them imagined.

Escape Rating A-: This is so obviously labeled book 2 of 2 that anyone who starts here needs to have their head examined. Just don’t. A part of me is wondering why Forged in Blood wasn’t simply published as one extremely long book – but there’s nothing stopping anyone from reading it that way now that both parts are available.

By this point in this long-running series a reader either loves the characters and the world enough to want to see how it all ends, or they don’t. Obviously, I did.

What made this series work for me was its play on the “five-man band” trope, even as Amaranthe’s little band of outlaws/rebels/revolutionaries grew past the original five. To the point where some of the roles are occupied by two or more members of her band of misfits.

Part of the fun in Forged in Blood II is that Amaranthe runs into someone who is even better at being the “leader” of such a group than she is. It’s both relaxing and unnerving for her to find herself again following someone else’s orders.

That the person whose orders she ends up following is someone who someone in his 60s and clearly still extremely badass is icing on the cake for any readers of a certain age, like moi. It’s always good to see evidence that heroes don’t need to be young to be extremely effective. Age and skill beats youth and stupidity all the damn time, and it’s fun to watch.

I also loved the way that the romance was handled in this series finale. It’s taken a year for Amaranthe to “humanize” the assassin Sicarius to the point where he might be able to have a relationship with anyone, Amaranthe included. At the same time, it was necessary for the events of that year for Amaranthe to have her bright, shiny, law-abiding edges tarnished a bit for her to be able to accept not just the person that Sicarius has become, but also the elements of the weapon that he was made to be that remain. Their romance has been excruciatingly slow-building throughout the series, but it needed to be. And the series couldn’t end without that thread being tied up – even if that tying literally included tying one or both of them to a bed. (Actually I’d pay money for that scene!)

Realistically, it would not be possible for a series that had this much adventure – including misadventure, in it without a butcher’s bill to be paid by the company. That price that they paid felt right, proper and necessary – and provided a much needed bit of poignancy to the ending.

This was a book where as I got nearer to the end I found myself slowing down. I wanted to find out how it ended, but I didn’t want to leave this world or these people. Lucky for me, the author didn’t either. There are two (so far) books set in this world after the end of Forged in Blood II. I’ll be picking up Republic the next time I have a long flight to read through. It’s 572 pages long – and I’m betting they’re all fantastic!

Review: Forged in Blood I by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Forged in Blood I by Lindsay BurokerForged in Blood I (The Emperor's Edge, #6) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, steampunk
Series: Emperor's Edge #6
Pages: 378
Published by Lindsay Buroker on May 27, 2013
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The emperor has been ousted from the throne, his bloodline in question, and war is descending on the capital. Forge, the nefarious business coalition that has been manipulating the political situation from the beginning, has the ultimate weapon at its disposal.

If it was difficult for a small team of outlaws--or, as Amaranthe has decided they should now be called, rebels--to make a difference before, it's a monumental task now. If she's to return idealistic young Sespian to the throne, earn the exoneration she's sought for so long, and help her closest ally win the respect of the son who detests him, she'll have to employ an unprecedented new scheme...preferably without destroying the city--or herself--in the process.

My Review:

And now I remember why I stopped reading this series back in 2013. Not for any bad reasons, I assure you!

But back then, I raced through the first four books in the series (The Emperor’s Edge, Dark Currents, Deadly Games and Conspiracy), loving every one. I think I was about to pick up book 5, Blood and Betrayal, when I noticed that this book, book 6, was titled Forged in Blood I with the obvious implication that there would be a Forged in Blood II – as there turned out to be. But the titles strongly implied that this book wasn’t exactly complete in and of itself, and I decided that I didn’t want to read this until its second part came out.

Then I ran headlong into the “so many books, so little time” conundrum, and didn’t get the round ‘tuit for several years. I picked up Blood and Betrayal a few weeks ago, got right back into everything, loved it, and decided to read Forged in Blood on the long flight back home from Seattle.

It turns out that I assumed correctly. While Forged in Blood I does come to a logical conclusion, that conclusion is a screaming cliffhanger. I was still in mid-flight (Seattle to Atlanta is a LONG flight) and started in on Forged in Blood II with barely a pause for breath.

What we have here is what looks like the beginning of the end of this terrific saga. The story at this point is careening towards the conclusion of its original quest. Way, way back in The Emperor’s Edge, Corporal Amaranthe Lokdon of the Imperial law enforcers was given the assignment to hunt down the Empire’s most dangerous assassin, Sicarius.

It was intended to be a suicide mission. It certainly turned out to be a suicide mission for her career on the “right” side of the law.

But when she failed to capture Sicarius, she found herself a wanted criminal, at the core of a band of criminals, all of whom have bounties on their heads for crimes they either didn’t commit or acts of self-defense. Not that there isn’t a bit of criminality mixed in there, but for the most part, they aren’t guilty – or at least not guilty of much until they all end up on the run.

With both the assassin and the Emperor in their midst. But then, the Emperor hired them to kidnap him to save his from the so-called advisers who planned to have him assassinate. As a result, the people who wanted him dead are now after the entire gang – as well as the Empire itself.

So Forged in Blood I is the beginning of the end. Start with The Emperor’s Edge and get to know this amazingly awesome – just ask some of them – band of big damn heroes. And end this part of the story on pins and needles, not merely wondering but actively worrying whether all of them will get out of this caper alive.

Escape Rating A-: This is not the end. The, well, let’s call it an interim ending, is a hella cliffie. What makes it so gut-wrenching is that by this point in the series we know and love all of these people, and the way this book ends we fear for all of them in one way or another. It’s terrible, and wonderful, and you won’t be able to keep from diving into part 2 immediately.

At the beginning of the series, we had a band of petty criminals and wrongly accused political victims desperately trying to find a way to survive the many and various attempts on their lives and, most importantly, figure out a way to get pardoned by the Emperor.

Well, most of them want to get pardoned. Sicarius is guilty of every single thing he’s been accused of, and a few hundred more. He was, after all, the previous Emperor’s pet assassin – and he was damn good at his job.

He’s also, unbeknownst to everyone at the beginning, but an open secret by this point, the biological father of the current Emperor. The young and idealistic Emperor is having a difficult time processing it all – but his enemies plan to use the information to keep him from ever taking back his throne.

Because they want to install a puppet emperor and wring the kingdom dry.

There’s a lot of story to unpack by this point. Amaranthe, in particular, still wants a pardon but also wonders if there’s any way back from where this journey has taken her. As a law enforcer, she never believed the excuses of the ends justifying the means, but has discovered that when the ends are her own survival, discussions of means get left by the wayside until afterwards – when the guilt descends.

The young Emperor, Sespian, has been forced to grow up in a hurry while dodging bullets, bombs and even exploding airships. With him, and his idealism, among their party, the purpose of their journey has changed from pardons to revolution. Getting a close up view of just how screwed up the empire is for anyone not in power has inspired them all to invent a new form of government – a Republic. All they have to do is get enough power to push their reforms through – and then be willing to let that power go when they’re done.

Not an easy job. It’s what made the American experiment such a chancy thing at the time. That we have, at least so far, had regularly scheduled and orderly changes of power built into the system. (We’ll see how that goes in the future.)

What makes this series so much fun is the way that the band of misfits manages to work together, both because and in spite of their differences. This is a series where the snark, of which there is a lovely lot, is based on our knowledge of the characters and their knowledge of each other – not on jokes per se. A lot of that humor is gallows humor, because even at the best of time they are only one step out of the frying pan and one jump away from the fire.

This is a series where the worldbuilding has gotten deeper as it goes, as have the chasms that our heroes must leap across in order to stay alive and one step ahead of their many, many pursuers. The pace never lets up – leaving the reader breathless with anxiety and anticipation at the end.

I couldn’t wait to start Forged in Blood II, and so far it’s every bit as good as the rest of the series. We’ll see for certain in next week’s review!

Review: Cast in Oblivion by Michelle Sagara

Review: Cast in Oblivion by Michelle SagaraCast in Oblivion (The Chronicles of Elantra, #14) by Michelle Sagara
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Chronicles of Elantra #14
Pages: 544
Published by Mira on January 29, 2019
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POLITICS ARE HELL

Kaylin wasn't sent to the West March to start a war. Her mission to bring back nine Barrani might do just that, though. She traveled with a Dragon, and her presence is perceived as an act of aggression in the extremely hostile world of Barrani-Dragon politics. Internal Barrani politics are no less deadly, and Kaylin has managed--barely--to help the rescued Barrani evade both death and captivity at the hands of the Consort.Before the unplanned "visit" to the West March, Kaylin invited the Consort to dinner. For obvious reasons, Kaylin wants to cancel dinner--forever. But the Consort is going to show up at the front door at the agreed upon time. The fact that she tried to imprison Kaylin's guests doesn't matter at all...to her.A private Barrani Hell, built of Shadow and malice, exists beneath the High Halls. It is the High Court's duty to jail the creature at its heart--even if it means that Barrani victims are locked in the cage with it. The Consort is willing to do almost anything to free the trapped and end their eternal torment. And she needs the help of Kaylin's houseguests--and Kaylin herself. Failure won't be death--it's Hell. And that's where Kaylin is going.

My Review:

Things are like other things. The stories we’ve read in the past affect how we view the stories we read in the present. There was a point in Cast in Oblivion where one of the characters describes Ravellon as the spike that is holding all of the parallel worlds together and I had an OMG moment and realized that Ravellon might be Amber. In Roger Zelazny’s incredible epic/urban fantasy series, beginning with Nine Princes in Amber, Amber is the one true world and all the other worlds, including ours, are mere shadows of it.

Ironically, in Elantra, Shadow seems to come out of Ravellon. But the analogy might still hold. Or hold enough to serve as metaphor. Which is an often raised topic in Cast in Oblivion, as so much of what Kaylin experiences is described as being a metaphor. She doesn’t see the world the way the others in her life – and even in her house  – even the house itself – see it. And while her metaphors are frequently frustrating to her companions, and often not strictly true, they usually turn out to be right.

For select values of right. Generally right enough to fix whatever has recently gone wrong – even if, or occasionally especially because, Kaylin is at the heart of what went wrong in the first place. At least she often feels like it is. And that idea, like Kaylin’s metaphorical view of her circumstances, may not be strictly true, they are also usually right – or at least point her in the right direction.

Sometimes like a knife.

The Chronicles of Elantra by this point, 14 books in, is a densely packed epic fantasy. Packed to the point where no reader could possibly start here and have any of it make sense. Because this book in particular feels very insular – in the sense that the events and issues that are at the forefront in Cast in Oblivion have been bubbling along since book 8, Cast in Peril – if not before. In fact, much of the action in every book since Cast in Peril has its roots in the journey that begins in that book.

In other words, don’t start here. If any of the above or below sound interesting, start with either the prequel novella, Cast in Moonlight, or the first book in the series, Cast in Shadow.

At the beginning of the series, it felt like urban fantasy, albeit urban fantasy set in a high fantasy world. As the series, and Kaylin, have evolved, it has become an epic fantasy, with Kaylin Nera, human, mortal, flawed, young and “Chosen” as the point of view into a world that is run by “people” much more powerful than she. Kaylin is always operating way above her weight class and suffering through impostor syndrome at every turn.

She’s awesome, not because she’s powerful, but because she never stops trying – no matter how scared she is or how many of those powerful people either underestimate or overprotect her at every turn.

In the end, this is a story about friendship, and the heights and depths that people can and will reach in its name. It’s also a story about family-of-choice and the ties that one chooses to bind oneself with.

And it’s about the power of truth and honesty. And especially about the dangerous nature, and painful truth, of the power of choice.

Escape Rating A-: I love this series, but you can’t get into it here. And I’ll confess that it takes a while each year to get back into it. The story is like a spider’s web, sticky and interlocked at every turn.

It’s also difficult to review. I can say that I love this series, and I do, but that’s not informative. Trying to say why I love this series is awkward. But I’ll try.

I do love a highly convoluted political fantasy, and this series has certainly become that. The Barrani, who are this series equivalent of elves (sorta/kinda) are immortal. They hold grudges for millennia. As do their ancestral enemies, the dragons. Who are also immortal. And currently ruling the empire the Barrani are part of.

The part of the story that we are in revolves around family politics and a sibling rivalry that has literally gone on for centuries. But even though the Barrani are immortal, it has not made them wise – not in any way.

Kaylin is in the position that she is in because one Barrani hoped against all hope that she might be able to save his brother. The brother that he became outcaste for – and that word means exactly what you think it means. And this in a society where people are much more likely to kill their siblings than either love or trust them.

This series also has its roots in urban fantasy, complete with the requisite snark – although that snarkitude has become oddly similar to that in both J.D. Robb’s In Death series and Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series. It’s the kind of smirky and sometimes gallows humor that draws its rueful chuckles from how much we have come to know, and care for, these characters. They aren’t telling jokes, they are telling on each other – with honest love, honest regard and occasionally an honest desire to put one over on their friends and frenemies.

But in the end what draws me back to this series is the character at its heart, Kaylin Nera. She began the series in Cast in Moonlight attempting to commit a really grand suicide by cop, only to find herself adopted instead of imprisoned.

She is a character who has broken far, far out of her original setting in the crime and shadow riddled fiefs – where she learned to keep her head down and became one of the criminals. At first, she seemed as if she was just plain grateful to have become a very young and very immature Hawk, one of the law enforcers of this world. But her circumstances keep forcing her to become more, and her internal voice is the scared, uncertain yet determined voice of anyone who has ever come so far and so fast from where they began that they are just certain that it all not merely can be taken away, but should.

And she tries anyway.

One final note, one of the interesting themes in this particular entry is about the power, and the responsibility of choice, and just how different that perspective of choice is depending on where the chooser stands on any scale of wealthy, poverty, power and responsibility. Kaylin knows that in her early life, even her terrible decisions were her choice. Her alternative choice to committing the crimes of her early years was death, but it was still her choice. The Adversary of this story is not, strictly speaking, evil. Instead, it offers choices to people who choose to take a path that seems evil in pursuit of power. But the choice, and the offering of that choice, is not evil in and of itself – only the result.

I’m still thinking about that, and probably will be when the untitled 15th book in this series comes out, hopefully this time next year. And not nearly soon enough.

Review: Target of One’s Own by M.L. Buchman

Review: Target of One’s Own by M.L. BuchmanTarget of One's Own (The Night Stalkers 5E) Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: military romance, romantic comedy
Series: Night Stalkers 5E #4
Pages: 366
Published by Buchman Bookworks on January 29th 2019
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-a Night Stalkers 5E romance-
MISSION: Special Operations Forces barely miss capturing Pakistan’s #1 arms dealer. They know only one thing: he’s a champion driver in the most challenging car race in the world, The Dakar Rally. The Night Stalkers and SEAL Team 6 must join up again to face the race of their lives.

TEAM:
Drone pilot Zoe DeMille
— Her career never prepared her for going into the field rather than sending her drone. Driving dune buggies at Pismo Beach throughout her teen years, oddly did.
SEAL Team 6 Lieutenant Commander Luke Altman
— Trusts no one but his team. Ever!

Zoe convinces Luke that they must go undercover to target their prey in the wildest 5E mission yet. They enter the two-week, 10,000 kilometer race across the dunes, deserts, and mountains of South America to track him down.

But when Zoe’s viral fashion blog—The Soldier of Style—sparks a media frenzy, it threatens the very nature of this Black Op. She can’t outrace the madness. And she hasn’t a clue how to navigate Luke.

My Review:

I’m tempted to review this book merely by paraphrasing the scrawls that one sees on bathroom walls by saying, “for a good time, read M.L. Buchman” and call it a wrap. But that’s a bit short on details. Still correct, though.

Also appropriate to the story, as once upon a time in Pismo Beach, it would have been Zoe DeMille’s name and number on that bathroom wall. But she’s reinvented herself since those dark days.

Twice.

Her public persona is that of “The Soldier of Style: Living in the Cutey-Edgy Budget Battlespace.” It’s Zoe’s public vlog (and associated twitter feed) as a budget-minded fashionista blogger with a definite cute airhead vibe.

And it’s a cover for her real job as a drone pilot – they prefer the term RPA for remote piloted aircraft – for the Night Stalkers 5E. A job that is anything but cute, and at which she is anything but airheaded. The Night Stalkers only take, and only employ, the best of the best of the best. And she is.

But Lieutenant Commander Luke Altman of SEAL Team 6 only sees the cute little airhead persona and doesn’t really register the warrior behind the mask. Only the way she needles him at every turn through the headset that links his team in the field to Zoe’s “coffin” back on base where she controls the eyes in the sky that provide him with mission-critical intel.

At least, not until he’s on the ground in Pakistan, staring at the empty former headquarters of an arms dealing kingpin who clearly got word that ST6 was coming to get him.

Luke looks at the empty garage and sees a dry hole and blown operation. Zoe, looking through his headset, sees a golden opportunity to take down a major player among arms dealers working the shady side.

So she runs with that golden opportunity, and with Luke, straight to Senegal and one of her biggest fans. A man who races in international road rally races. Including the annual Dakar Rally. Luke thinks she’s gone off the deep end – especially as it feels like she’s the one running the op and he’s just her “personal assistant”.

But Zoe has connected the dots and spun one glance at a top flight auto mechanics shop in a remote base with the date of the Dakar Rally circled on a calendar to a strong working hypothesis that their mystery arms dealer is a regular participant in that grueling rally – and that her fan in Senegal is their ticket to the inside track of a lifetime.

It takes Luke a little while to catch up to Zoe’s flash of brilliance – and to figure out that the dots he really wants to connect are the ones that lead to her heart.

Escape Rating A-: I had a great time with this book. I had such a great time that it made me reflect on why this author’s romances always work for me – even while I’ve become aware that I’m reading less romance in general.

The answer seems to be in the characters. Not just the way that the author draws them, because lots of romance authors do a good job of creating interesting characters. But it’s the way that his characters find each other and make a relationship.

One of the things that all too often occurs in romance – in real life too – is that two people come together and meet kind of in their middle. There are always compromises on both sides. But in romance fiction, all too often the compromise results in the woman giving up more of who she is and what she wants to make the relationship work for the man.

It feels like, all too often, she becomes less and he becomes more. In historical romances it can be worse. There are too many time periods where, even if she does maintain her separate identity and career after marriage, it only happens because he allows it to happen. Because society, public opinion, and even the law say that his voice is the only one that counts.

None of that ever happens in one of M.L. Buchman’s romances. The characters begin and end as equals – even as they find a way to both work together and make a romantic partnership. Sometimes they are both equal in the same sphere, as was true in his first Night Stalkers romance, The Night is Mine. Both the hero and the heroine are military officers. Both are warriors. And both remain so even when they marry. Eventually Emily Beale gets pregnant and the situation necessarily changes somewhat, but she remains every bit the kickass heroine she was at the beginning, just in a different venue.

Zoe and Luke are also both warriors, just not in the same way. But they are both at the top of their respective fields – and they remain so at the end. One of the things that makes Luke such a great hero is that he not only eventually accepts Zoe exactly as she is, but that he is able to recognize when it is better that she lead and that he cheers her on as she does. That doesn’t happen nearly often enough, either in romance fiction or in real life.

The story here is also a whole lot of fun. It’s one of those experiences that most people won’t have, but is tremendously fascinating to experience vicariously. The Dakar Rally is a real event, and the story and characters here follow the real course – or at least as much of a course as there ever is. After all, the Dakar is an off-road endurance event. A big part of this story is the way that Zoe and Luke bond, endure and find their target in the midst of this once in a lifetime event.

(If you want to read a romance set while the protagonists are running a completely different but equally dangerous and fascinating race, take a look at Sue Henry’s Murder on the Iditarod Trail.)

Part of the tension in this particular romance is that both Zoe and Luke are damaged and neither of them thinks they are worthy – not of love in general, not of the other in particular. It’s a possible interpretation that Zoe heals Luke’s inability to love, but Luke is not the healer of Zoe, because Zoe has already, for the most part, healed herself. He’s there to hold her as the last of the hard pain finally fades, but she’s already done most of the work.

He’s her reward for doing that work. And for once, we have a hero that’s worth it.

“I received a free copy of this title from the publisher for an honest review.”

Review: Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy + Giveaway

Review: Warrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy + GiveawayWarrior of the World by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, fantasy romance
Series: Chronicles of Dasnaria #3
Pages: 166
Published by Rebel Base Books on January 8, 2019
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Just beyond the reach of the Twelve Kingdoms, avarice, violence, strategy, and revenge clash around a survivor who could upset the balance of power all across the map . . .  Once Ivariel thought elephants were fairy tales to amuse children. But her ice-encased childhood in Dasnaria’s imperial seraglio was lacking in freedom and justice.. With a new name and an assumed identity as a warrior priestess of Danu, the woman once called Princess Jenna is now a fraud and a fugitive. But as she learns the ways of the beasts and hones new uses for her dancer’s strength, she moves one day further from the memory of her brutal husband. Safe in hot, healing Nyambura, Ivariel holds a good man at arm’s length and trains for the day she’ll be hunted again.   She knows it’s coming. She’s not truly safe, not when her mind clouds with killing rage at unpredictable moments. Not when patient Ochieng’s dreams of a family frighten her to her bones. But it still comes as a shock to Ivariel when long-peaceful Nyambura comes under attack. Until her new people look to their warrior priestess and her elephants to lead them . . .  

My Review:

Early in the Chronicles of Dasnaria series, and recalled at the beginning of Warrior of the World, Ivariel/Jenna has a vision of three lionesses. Those lionesses are clearly the princesses of the Twelve, now Thirteen, Kingdoms, Ursula, Andi and Ami, Their stories are told at the very beginning of this awesome, interlinked epic fantasy series. If you love strong heroines and enjoy epic fantasy with a touch (or more) of romance, begin with The Mark of the Tala and just enjoy the marvelous ride.

Based on events in the most recent book on that side of the continent – and the series – Jenna’s story will eventually link up to the Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series. After all, her younger brother Harlan is now the consort of High Queen Ursula. I’ll confess that I was hoping to see that link here, but it hasn’t happened by the end of Warrior of the World. But the story finally reaches the beginning of that end.

While I’m a bit disappointed not to see the ENTIRE gang finally get together, on the other hand I’m very happy to know that there are further adventures yet to follow in this world and this series. Not merely happy, make that downright ecstatic.

But while I’m waiting for the happy conclusion to the interconnected series, I still have Warrior of the World.

This book, and the Chronicles of Dasnaria subseries of which it is a part, needs to come with trigger warnings. Lots of trigger warnings. ALL the trigger warnings. And you do need to read at least the Chronicles of Dasnaria series from its beginning in Prisoner of the Crown in order to get the full significance of the conclusion of Ivariel/Jenna’s journey here in Warrior of the World.

Because the story of the series is about a young woman who is groomed to be a subservient sexual slave, who is forced to submit to repeated rapes, degradation, physical and sexual abuse by her husband/master, and who eventually breaks free with the help of her younger brother, who loses his rank and status for helping her to get away from the man and the society that brutalized her at every turn.

By this point in Ivariel/Jenna’s story, she is still healing from her trauma. That she murdered her “husband” in a fit of berserker rage is both part of her healing and part of her current trauma. She’s afraid that there’s a monster inside her that will eventually break free and kill those she has come to love while she is in the depths of her unthinking rage.

The story in Warrior of the World is the story of Ivariel learning to embrace ALL that she, both the light and the dark, and finding her path to coming into her own at last.

And learning to share that path with others who will be needed for the final push to victory – and redemption.

Escape Rating A-: As I said, ALL the trigger warnings. Ivariel/Jenna’s life at the Dasnarian Imperial court is simply horrendously awful. Reading about her deliberate grooming for the role her society forces her to play makes for very hard reading – but worth it in order to truly appreciate just how far she has come by the time we get to Warrior of the World.

This story is interesting both as the culmination of the Chronicles of Dasnaria subseries and because of its premise. This is a story about beginning as you mean to go on, about doing the things that signify who you are and not who your enemies – or even your friends – intend for you to be or think you ought to be. At the same time, it isn’t as action-packed as other entries in the combined series. It goes just a tinge slow at some points because healing is a slow process, so Ivariel needs time and process to, well, process.

Ivariel’s life before she found herself among the elephant herders of D’tiembo was a life of reaction. She didn’t act, she wasn’t in control. Even her liberation was a product of someone else’s actions and not her own. She begins the story not knowing how to hope her own hopes or dream her own dreams, and she has to learn those skills. She also has to learn to ask for what she wants and then live with the consequences of that “ask”.

Her healing in this story is about her learning to act and not react. Part of that “acting” is the way that she takes up the mantle of her Priestess of Danu persona in order to wage, not war, but peace. The enemies of the D’tiembo try to bring war to the peaceful tribe, and many want to react with war and vengeance. It’s Ivariel, learning to live with her rage, who points the way towards “waging peace” through bribery, subversion, and absorbing and utilizing the lessons taught to her by the necessary cruelty of her mother. It’s a hard lesson, but it buys time to set up the eventual peace and prosperity of the D’tiembo, so that when the magic finally returns, both Ivariel/Jenna and the D’tiembo are ready to go out and meet the wider world and the fates that await them.

If you don’t finish this story wanting your own elephant-friend, you haven’t been paying attention. The elephants, especially Violet, Capo and Efe, provide some of the most uplifting and heartwarming parts of the entire story.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Jeffe and Silver Dagger Tours are giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!

 

 

Review: Touch of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Touch of Eon by Anna HackettTouch of Eon (Eon Warriors #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Eon Warriors #2
Pages: 216
Published by Anna Hackett on January 6th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’ll do anything to free her sister and save the Earth from invasion, even if she’s blackmailed into stealing sacred alien artifacts…and becomes the prey of the dark, deadly warrior sent to hunt her down.

Special Forces Space Marine Lara Traynor wants to save her sister and her planet from annihilation by the deadly insectoid Kantos. Earth’s Space Corps give her one option: steal three gems sacred to the Eon Warriors. Lara has never failed a mission and she doesn’t plan to start now. What she doesn’t expect is the big, hard-bodied warrior the Eon sent to stop her.

Security Commander Caze Vann-Jad was born and raised to be the best Eon warrior in the empire. Honed by the military academy, his years as a stealth agent, and by his hard warrior father, he has never failed. He knows one weak, inferior Terran is no match for him. But when he finds himself face to face with the tough, skilled Lara, he realizes he’s underestimated the female warrior.

When they are attacked by a Kantos kill squad, it soon becomes clear that the Kantos are planning something far darker and dangerous. Caze and Lara are forced to change their dangerous battle of wits and skill into a fierce battle for survival. Neither of these fighters believe in love, but on the trail of a stolen gem, they will ignite an unstoppable desire, and discover that not only are their lives at stake, but their hearts as well.

My Review:

I love this series so far. That’s not surprising, as I love nearly everything Anna Hackett writes. Even the things I don’t love I usually like quite a lot.

That being said, there’s been something about the blurbs for the books in this series so far that has really bothered me. It’s the use of the word “blackmail” to describe how the Traynor sisters have gotten into the fix they are in. (It tasks me. It just tasks me!)

In the first book, Edge of Eon, Eve Traynor begins the story in the brig for a crime that everyone knows she did not commit. Her incarceration is part of a Space Force coverup. The true “villain” using the word loosely in this case, was her incompetent captain who just so happens to be the son of a high-ranking admiral. Eve was framed to protect both her idiot captain and his overindulgent mother.

Space Force convinces her to take the suicide mission they’ve lined by by offering her her freedom if she manages to complete her mission, and by threatening the lives of her sisters Lara (heroine of Touch of Eon) and Wren (heroine of the forthcoming not-nearly-soon-enough Heart of Eon).

Lara and Wren are conned into their respective no-win scenarios by threats both to Eve’s life and threats to each other’s lives.

While the entire mess definitely makes the Space Force brass into a whole bunch of slime, none of it is the “blackmail” that is stated in the blurbs and in the stories. Blackmail involves a threat to release incriminating secrets, and there are no incriminating secrets here. Eve’s incarceration, while not deserved, is also not secret. Neither Lara nor Wren seem to be guilty of anything except making a stink about their sister’s undeserved incarceration.

So none of this is blackmail. It is, however, definitely coercion. (All blackmail is coercion but not all coercion is blackmail.) They are all manipulated, and they are all lied to. They are individually coerced into separate no-win scenarios by threats to not their own lives but to the lives of the sisters that they love.

One also has the distinct impression that Space Force is playing its own win-win game. If the mission or missions fail, they have gotten rid of one or more thorns in their side. Any missions that succeed, well they’ll have managed to get the attention of the Eons and help for Earth against the deadly and despicable Kantos.

And Space Force is probably lying about any rewards that the sisters have been promised, particularly the reward that Eve will be pardoned and released. I doubt they ever believed that she would survive in the first place.

One thing that Space Force has not lied about or even exaggerated is the threat that the Kantos pose to Earth. The Kantos are bugs. Big bugs. Evil bugs. Highly evolved and specialized bugs. Nasty bugs all the way around.

They also feel like a cross between the Gizzida (from this author’s Hell Squad series) and the Borg, with a bit of Wraith from Stargate Atlantis thrown in for their use of humans as food. And for their hive ships.

In other words, the Kantos are seriously mean and nasty and have no redeeming characteristics from the perspective of either the humans or the Eons. The Kantos want to conquer Earth (and Eon) so they can strip their worlds bare and eat the inhabitants.

That the Kantos are in the form of giant bugs just makes them extra creepy. And icky. And did I mention creepy?

The story in Touch of Eon is not dissimilar to that of the first book in the series, Edge of Eon. Lara knows that her sister Eve was sent on a suicide mission, and has been told that if she completes her own mission her sister will be saved and freed. And that if she is successful in getting the Eons’ attention, they will help Earth against the Kantos.

All of the Traynor sisters so far have wondered at the wisdom of stealing from the Eons as a way of obtaining their help. It shouldn’t work. That it actually seems to be working is due more to a fluke of Eon biology than any planning on the part of Space Force – an organization which honestly couldn’t plan its way out of a paper bag.

In Touch of Eon, Lara’s mission was to steal the relics of the Eons’ greatest warriors. The relics, jewels containing primitive versions of the symbionts that provide the Eon warriors with their armor and weapons, are highly symbolic. They are also sought by the Kantos, for reasons that are not known at the beginning of this entry in the series.

But Lara is chasing – and successfully stealing, the gems. Eon warrior Caze Vann-Jad is enjoying himself just a little too much chasing – but not catching, Lara. Until they are forced by the pursuing Kantos to join forces against this latest threat.

And in the process discover that the reason they were having so much fun sparring with each other has to do with that thin line between hate and love. They are perfect for each other – if they can manage to live long enough to figure out what’s at the heart of their constant bickering.

And what’s hidden in each other’s heart.

Escape Rating A-: As you can tell, I loved this story. And it’s given me even more to think about than the first book in the series. At the same time, a lot of the story beats and even the way that the romance progresses is also very similar to Edge of Eon – which makes Touch of Eon an A- instead of an A.

I can’t wait for the next book in the series, Heart of Eon. Not just because I want to see the romance between the geeky Wren and her own warrior, but also because I’m really curious about where the worldbuilding goes from here. And I want to see some people at Space Force get what’s coming to them!