Review: When Blood Lies by C.S. Harris

Review: When Blood Lies by C.S. HarrisWhen Blood Lies (Sebastian St. Cyr, #17) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #17
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on April 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has spent years unraveling his family’s tragic history. But the secrets of his past will come to light in this gripping new historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of What the Devil Knows.
March, 1815. The Bourbon King Louis XVIII has been restored to the throne of France, Napoleon is in exile on the isle of Elba, and Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife, Hero, have traveled to Paris in hopes of tracing his long-lost mother, Sophie, the errant Countess of Hendon. But his search ends in tragedy when he comes upon the dying Countess in the wasteland at the tip of the Île de la Cité. Stabbed—apparently with a stiletto—and thrown from the bastions of the island’s ancient stone bridge, Sophie dies without naming her murderer.
Sophie had been living in Paris under an assumed name as the mistress of Maréchal Alexandre McClellan, the scion of a noble Scottish Jacobite family that took refuge in France after the Forty-Five Rebellion. Once one of Napoleon’s most trusted and successful generals, McClellan has now sworn allegiance to the Bourbons and is serving in the delegation negotiating on behalf of France at the Congress of Vienna. It doesn’t take Sebastian long to realize that the French authorities have no interest in involving themselves in the murder of a notorious Englishwoman at such a delicate time. And so, grieving and shattered by his mother’s death, Sebastian takes it upon himself to hunt down her killer. But what he learns will not only shock him but could upend a hard-won world peace.

My Review:

“Able was I ere I saw Elba,” at least according to a palindrome attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte during his later captivity on the island of Saint Helena. But that’s later. This seventeenth book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series takes place during the spring of 1815 – with Napoleon’s escape from Elba forming the backdrop – and providing some of the motivations – for St. Cyr’s investigation.

Which is where that title comes in.

The St. Cyr series, from its very beginning in What Angels Fear, has revolved around Sebastian St. Cyr’s search for his own identity. As the series began in 1811, St. Cyr used the tools he learned as an agent of the crown, not just in France during the Napoleonic Wars but in other equally dangerous places, to catch a killer and prove his own innocence into the bargain.

Sebastian was operating from a position of relative privilege – even under an accusation of murder. He was the third son and last remaining heir of the Earl of Hendon, carried the courtesy title of Viscount Devlin, and believed that his mother had died 20 years earlier at sea, attempting to escape her marriage and her family. He thinks his father resents him for his mother’s betrayal and their relationship is strained.

Over the course of the series Sebastian has learned that pretty much none of what he believed at the beginning was true. He is not the offspring of the man he calls father – although they have reconciled. And his mother has been alive all these years. Now that the war between France and England is over, Sebastian is in Paris, along with his wife and two children, to meet his mother and ask all the questions that have been churning inside him since he learned the truth.

Only for his mother to die in his arms, stabbed in the back by an unknown assailant for an equally unknown reason. All his questions still unanswered, but swallowed up in the ones that have just presented themselves.

Who killed the wayward Countess of Hendon, better known in Paris as Dame Sophia Capello? And more importantly, not just for St. Cyr but also for the roiling political pot that is on the boil in both France and England, why was she killed? And why was she killed right then, just as Napoleon is about to sweep into Paris from Elba?

Did her death have something to do with her own recent visit to the exiled emperor? Was she a secret Bonapartist? Or was she a spy for one of the other factions hoping to rule a still fractured and bleeding France?

In his search for the answers to Sophie’s death, St. Cyr runs across a possible answer to a question he’s been asking for 20 years – an answer he’s still afraid to discover.

Was the man whose portrait hangs so prominently in Sophia’s house his real father?

Escape Rating A+: If you are looking for historical fiction that is steeped in its time period to the point where you feel the cobbles under your feet as you walk, then the St. Cyr series absolutely cannot be beat. The series doesn’t just wink and nod at its period, it immerses the reader and the story deeply into what is happening as the hero works his way both through his world and through the mystery that confronts him.

The history in When Blood Lies is about what it feels like to be in the eye of a storm. The storm being France for the past 20something years as the country has careened from absolute monarchy to revolution to near-anarchy to dictatorship and quite possibly back around again. Everyone knows Napoleon is coming back, it’s only a question of when. The restored monarchy seems to have made it their life goal to make the field as ripe as possible for Napoleon’s return by adopting the worst behaviors of their predecessors.

Which doesn’t mean that Napoleon’s return isn’t still going to be awful and bloody and bloody awful. Even if his return is what the French people want, there are too many powers-that-be around Europe who won’t allow him to retake his throne without a fight. (Waterloo, anyone?)

As St. Cyr conducts his investigation, conditions in Paris are breaking down around him. The regime is about to change forcibly – and everyone knows it. Lies and loyalties have suddenly become fluid – as if they’ve ever been solid in the recent decades. He’s desperate to find witnesses and perpetrators before they flee the coming storm or are consumed by it. He’s lost his last chance to question his mother, and his chance to find her killer is rapidly disintegrating.

At the same time, this is, as the series has always been, St. Cyr’s quest for identity. He’s made peace with his legally recognized father, the Earl of Hendon. He is Hendon’s acknowledged heir. The truth about his heritage, even if it comes out, might not change that fact, as his mother was married to the man when Sebastian was born, Hendon acknowledged him as his son, and there isn’t anyone else as Sebastian’s two older brothers deceased long before they had children of their own. His older sister knows his true origins and hates him for them, but she has only daughters and so far her daughters have only daughters so he’s it whether she likes it or not. (If one of her daughters manages to have a son things might get dicey in the legal sense but that hasn’t happened yet.)

But he still wants to know who fathered him. From whom he inherited his distinctive yellow wolf’s eyes and his preternaturally acute senses. On his mother’s wall, there’s a painting of a man who might as well be Sebastian himself in 20 or 30 years. A Scotsman who fought on the French side in the late wars. Who Sebastian might have faced on one or more battlefields.

He clearly needs to know the truth, but now isn’t sure he wants to know it. A truth that he’ll not soon have the chance to discover, as France and England are plunged into war again just as the book concludes.

I came into this series at the very beginning, because the original description of St. Cyr was so fascinating that I had to see what the whole thing was about. Over the course of the series, which consumes four years in book-time and seventeen in the real world, St. Cyr has changed and grown, but he has consistently been compelling and his investigations absolutely riveting, while the depth of the portrait of his life and world has increased in complexity every step of the way.

It’s clear from the way that When Blood Lies ends that there is more yet to come, as France and England are about to be plunged back into the war that still haunts St. Cyr’s nightmares. I can’t wait to find out what happens next, whether he fights or spies – or a bit of both – and how much of himself he discovers along the way.

Review: The Wrong Victim by Allison Brennan

Review: The Wrong Victim by Allison BrennanThe Wrong Victim (Quinn & Costa, #3) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #3
Pages: 464
Published by Mira Books on April 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A bomb explodes on a sunset charter cruise out of Friday Harbor at the height of tourist season and kills everyone on board. Now this fishing and boating community is in shock and asking who would commit such a heinous crime—the largest act of mass murder in the history of the San Juan Islands.
Forensic profilers know there are two types of domestic terrorists: those who use violence to instill fear for political purposes but stop at murder because it detracts from the cause, and those who crave attention and are willing to maim and murder for their own agenda.
Accused of putting profits before people after leaking fuel that caused a massive fish kill, the West End Charter company may itself have been the target. But as special agent Matt Costa, detective Kara Quinn and the rest of the FBI team begin their investigation, they discover that plenty of people might have wanted someone dead on that yacht. Now they must track down who is responsible and stop them before they strike again.

My Review:

If this book went looking for a subtitle, let me suggest ‘Game of Queens’ as an alternative. Because that’s what this one is, the contention among three women who are used to taking control of whatever sphere in which they find themselves – no matter who or what stands in their way.

And it’s a contest that is only partly resolved when The Wrong Victim wraps up the case of its final – and ultimately correct in the end – victim.

The beginning of this one is literally explosive. A charter yacht explodes in the waters around San Juan Island leaving 9 people dead and a whole lot of unanswered questions. Big questions, like whodunnit, along with why and how. And the biggie – which of the 9 people on the boat was the real target?

San Juan Island is just barely part of the U.S., one of over 400 islands in an archipelago that sits between Bellingham Washington and Victoria, British Columbia. The island has a population of 7,000, most of whom live in the town of Friday Harbor. The small police department knows everyone in town, and everyone knows them. Most issues are property crimes or tourists getting rowdy. They are neither prepared for nor objective enough to deal with a crime of this magnitude.

The FBI sends Mathias Costa and his Mobile Response Team, including LAPD Detective Kara Quinn, seconded to the MRT at the end of the second book in the series, Tell No Lies. Not that that was the first time Costa and Quinn met – that would be the case of the ‘Triple Killer’ in The Third to Die (which I have yet to read and really, really WANT to. I didn’t need to in order to have gotten into Tell No Lies, but that was great and so is this and now I want to very much indeed.)

Kara isn’t sure exactly where she fits in Costa’s team. Being a cop is her core identity, and the mess in LA that has forced her to leave her city to outrun the people – and contracts – that are after her. Her tenuous situation has made her question a lot about herself and how well she’s doing her job. Along with what happens next depending on how everything works out.

In Tell No Lies, the one thing that Kara was sure about was that Matt Costa trusted her judgment and was in her corner, that he respected her skills and opinions as an experienced cop and undercover detective. But all of that confidence is shaken with the return of FBI profiler Catherine Jones, who has profiled Kara and believes that she is a loose cannon who is insubordinate, takes unnecessary risks, makes snap judgments and is sure to endanger both the case and the team.

Catherine and Matt are old and dear friends, he’s even the godfather of her daughter. Kara and Matt, at least in their off-duty hours, have become friends with benefits, although Matt wants more. The conflict between the two women, who are both important to his life but in totally different ways, is messing with his head and his heart, making him a less than effective leader of a team that must produce results and solve the explosion before anyone else gets killed.

Which leads back to the question of who the real target among the 9 victims was. There are plenty of possibilities. With environmentalists making trouble for the charter company, the bomb might not have been meant for anyone in particular, but to make trouble for the ship’s owners.

Too many victims, too many possible motives, and too many ways for Kara and Catherine to butt heads. But as much as Catherine believes that Kara’s lack of formal education makes her less capable and her skills less trustworthy, it’s Kara’s instinct for people’s behavior, rather than Catherine’s careful analysis, that ultimately leads to whodunnit.

And it’s Catherine’s lack of trust in Kara that nearly gets both of them killed.

Escape Rating A+: I made a terrible mistake with this book. I started reading it when I went to bed, and absolutely could not put it down until I finished at 3:30 in the morning. I cursed my alarm when it woke me in the morning, but it was SO worth it. I needed a book to suck me into its pages, and The Wrong Victim did a fantastic job of taking me to the San Juan Islands and spinning me all around this compelling story.

This book, and this series, seem to sit at the crossroads between mystery, thriller and romantic suspense. Although again, there’s more suspense than romance – and that’s probably a good thing. The relationship between Quinn and Costa is not really healthy for either of them or their careers – a fact that profiler Catherine weaponizes during this entry in the series. They can’t be openly together as long as Kara is part of Matt’s team, no matter how temporary that might be. And yet they can’t manage to stay away from each other no matter how much of a mess it might make in the long term. I expect the horns of this particular dilemma are going to be sharp and pointy for much of the series. We’ll see.

But what makes this story so compelling is the combination of the sheer number of possible motives and the determined way that the team works through them. Out of the 9 people on the boat, there’s a wealthy man whose much younger wife left the boat just before it left the dock, a retired FBI agent still investigating a cold case he can’t let go of, a man dating one of the owners of the charter company, a slimy businessman and his equally slimy wife and four tech geniuses. All that’s needed is a partridge in a pear tree to make a very bad song.

And it could have been none of them. It could be a strike against the charter company. It could even have been an accident, the result of negligence, or even pilot error, but those possibilities get nixed very early on. As does terrorism.

So it’s murder. The FBI team are outsiders that no one trusts, but the local P.D. are much too close to every single possible suspect to be remotely objective.

For this reader, it was the investigation that fascinated. Not just looking into each of the victims, but also the town, the environmentalists, the charter company, and then the intricate work of fitting all the puzzle pieces together.

Also that the story breaks one of the unwritten rules of mystery, in that this is a rare occasion where there is more than one perpetrator, and more than one set of linkages to the crimes committed.

The team hasn’t quite gelled yet, although the process is ongoing. The way that the team is working – and occasionally not – reminded me a lot of Andrea Kane’s Forensic Instincts series, which gets involved in the same types of crimes and had the same feel of being competence porn conducted as a high-wire act.

So in addition to throwing that first book in the Quinn & Costa series, The Third to Die, onto the upper and more accessible reaches of the towering TBR pile, I need to go pick up where I left off with Forensic Instincts. So many books, so little time.

In spite of just how tall that towering TBR pile is, I’ll be looking for the next Quinn & Costa book whenever it appears – hopefully this time next year if not sooner.

Review: The Jade Setter of Janloon by Fonda Lee

Review: The Jade Setter of Janloon by Fonda LeeThe Jade Setter of Janloon (Green Bone Saga #0.5) by Fonda Lee
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Green Bone Saga #0.5
Pages: 112
Published by Subterranean Press on April 30, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Fonda Lee returns to the world of the Green Bone Saga with a new standalone novella.

The rapidly changing city of Janloon is ruled by jade, the rare and ancient substance that enhances the abilities and status of the trained Green Bone warriors who run the island’s powerful clans.

Pulo Oritono is not one of those warriors. He’s simply an apprentice jade setter with dreams of securing clan patronage and establishing a successful business. His hopes are dashed, however, when a priceless jade weapon is stolen from the shop where he works.

Now, Pulo has three days to hunt down the thief, find the jade, and return it to its rightful owner if he wants to save his future prospects, the people he cares about, and his very life. The desperate mission will lead Pulo to old vendettas, vast corruption, and questions about everything and everyone he thought he knew.

My Review:

When I finished Jade Legacy at the end of the year, as much as it felt like the appropriately bittersweet ending to the epic Green Bone Saga, I was far from ready to let Janloon go. Settling into the opening pages of this book felt like a return to a place well-loved, and I sunk beneath its pages without even a ripple of wondering where or how things were. I was just glad to be back.

Even better, this little story, which combines a bit of the “Portrait of the Pillar as a young man” with a bit of mystery and features not the doings of the high and mighty but rather gives the reader a glimpse into the life of an average person in Janloon just two years before the events that open the awesome Jade City and kick off that saga.

So for readers who loved the Green Bone Saga, this is a great way to visit those old friends and see what they were like before they became old. But for readers who have heard how terrific the series is, but aren’t quite ready to tackle all 2,000 pages of it, The Jade Setter of Janloon is a great way to dip a toe into these deep waters to see if you’ll enjoy the swim.

It begins simply enough, through the eyes of the apprentice to the most respected jade setter in Janloon. Pulo Oritono is in his mid-20s, full of both ideas and disappointments. He wanted to be a jade warrior, but didn’t have the required ability to wear and master the quantity of jade necessary for even the middling ranks of the discipline. But he has a paradoxically and usefully high tolerance for being around jade – even if he can’t control the use of it. It’s the perfect combination for someone to be a jade setter – which is emphatically NOT what Pulo wanted. But it’s turning out to be something he can be good at, and Isin Nakokun is an excellent master.

But Pulo is in his mid-20s, and still thinks he knows everything. He has all sorts of ideas for expanding the shop – among other things. This story is about Pulo learning just how much he REALLY doesn’t know.

The shop is emphatically neutral, belonging to neither the Mountain nor the No Peak clans. Which allows the shop to cater to discerning jade warriors on both sides of the clan divide that is already beginning to roil the city.

The trouble begins when the Mountain clan brings the ceremonial blade of its leader, Pillar Ayt Madashi, to Isin for repair. That sets off a chain reaction that tears the lives of Pulo, Isin, and Isin’s assistant Malla into pieces. The knife is stolen. Malla is accused and jailed for the crime during an investigation that seems to run into nothing but roadblocks. Isin disappears, and a desperate Pulo calls on the No Peak clan for help.

And uncovers a tragedy of blood and honor that can only be answered with blood.

Escape Rating A+: The Jade Setter of Janloon is an absolute chef’s kiss of a coda to the marvelous Green Bone Saga. One that paradoxically will give readers who already loved the epic a taste to start all over again in Jade City.

And if this is your first exposure to this rich, tasty reading treat, it’s more than meaty enough to serve as an appetizer to get new readers to devour the complete, three-course, utterly delicious meal. I meant series.

My metaphors are mixed because it feels like I’m still there, at a table at the Twice Lucky restaurant watching it all begin again. I just wish I didn’t have to leave.

 

Review: Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher + Giveaway

Review: Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher + GiveawayNettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Dark Fantasy, fantasy
Pages: 256
Published by Tor Books on April 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra—the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter—has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.
Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince—if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.
On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra's family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.

My Review:

“The world isn’t fair, Calvin.” “I know Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?” While the quote is from The Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, the sentiment is one that could easily be attributed to Marra, the central character in Nettle & Bone. Throughout this proto-fairytale, Marra frequently bemoans the unfairness of her world, even as she continually puts on her world’s equivalent of “big girl panties” and just keeps right on dealing with that unfairness.

I call this a “proto-fairytale” because it reads like just the kind of story that will be a fairytale someday, after the events have passed through the hands of this world’s versions of the Brothers Grimm AND Walt Disney in order to shape, knead and mold this “adventure” – in the sense that an adventure is something terrible that happens to someone else either long ago, fair away or both – into the kind of morality tale/object lesson that fairy tales end up being once they become “tales” rather than “history”.

This is also a tale that can be looked at as either “this is the house that jack built” or it’s opposite where “jack” goes on his journey of tasks and errands so damn mad at the situation that sent him that by the time he reaches his destination he tells everyone to stick it where the sun don’t shine.

In other words, Nettle & Bone is a tale of accretion, where Princess Marra starts out with a vague plan that takes on weight, depth and followers as she travels. And it needs all of those things and people because her task is large and she is small. She plans to save her second sister – the one who doesn’t even like her all that much – from certain death at the hands of the evil prince who already murdered their oldest sister AND threatens their parents’ kingdom.

Which is another way that this is a story about fairness, privilege, and the actual powerlessness that afflicts people in positions of seeming power – at least if those people are female.

So Marra is on a quest to save her sister. She thinks she needs to kill the evil prince, so that’s the task she sets herself. But she needs magic to counteract the prince’s magic, so she goes looking for a witch. The witch sets her three impossible tasks, not unlike many such stories. And not unlike those stories, Marra completes the tasks she has been set. She makes the cloak of nettle thread, and brings a dog made of bones back to the witch. The witch herself presents Marra with the third, the moon captured in a jar because she’s so astonished by Marra’s completion of the first two tasks that she decides to help her with her quest.

And they’re off! Along with the witch’s familiar, a hen with a demon inside her. Otherwise known as Strong Independent Chicken, a bird who really exists and to whom this book is dedicated.

But the plan is barely a sketch – and one not nearly as easy to fill in as Marra originally thought – or hoped. Along the way they add two more members to their already assorted party – a soldier they free from the Goblin Market, and Marra’s family godmother, who is both a bit more AND a bit less than she seems.

Off they go in search of, not adventure, but a way of bringing a little more fairness into their world. Marra thinks they’re going to kill the prince. The soldier is just happy to be free of the Goblin Market. The witch is coming to speak to the dead and the godmother is coming to magic the living. The chicken and her demon are along for the ride, in the hopes of causing whatever mayhem they can on the way. And there’s plenty of that every step of the way!

Escape Rating A+: I was looking for something by T. Kingfisher AKA Ursula Vernon to review as part of this Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week because so far I’ve loved everything of hers that I’ve read, especially A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking and her Saint of Steel series (Paladin’s Grace, Paladin’s Strength and Paladin’s Hope). And because I enjoyed every single presentation she did on the recent JoCo Cruise – especially her stories about, you guessed it, Strong Independent Chicken. So I was looking for a book to review as a gateway drug for the giveaway and Nettle & Bone will be out later this month. So here we are.

Like the other books of hers that I have read, there’s a lot going on in Nettle & Bone and the story feels much bigger underneath than it is on the surface. On the surface, there’s the adventure of it all, which is marvelous and a perfectly good way of getting into this story and the rest of her work.

But underneath that there’s all this other stuff going on. There’s a lot in this story about the contrast between power and powerlessness, and the way that the perception of privilege depends on where you are in the neverending pecking order of the universe. It’s something that Marra comes to have a wider and more expansive view of on this journey. That’s partly because she’s a princess who is almost but not exactly a nun. While she thinks her mother the queen is powerful and can fix everything, she’s also aware that it is easier to travel as a nun than either a princess or a woman. Princesses are hedged ‘round with restrictions, while women in general are always subject to the whims and physical size and power of men.

Her whole quest is about reconciling the fact that those rules apply in the end to princes and princesses and even kingdoms. Someone is always more powerful and someone is always abusing that power.

At the same time, this is a women’s quest from start to finish. Although they have a soldier with them, and Fenris is certainly useful – as well as easy on the eyes – everything that happens in this story is driven by its female characters. The plan and the solutions they come to are not about men and arms and armies – it’s about women and soft power and seeing the truth of things. With the result that soft power turns out not to be soft at all, because power is a hard thing to seize no matter who is doing it.

In the end this is a story about feeling the fear and doing it anyway, even when you don’t know what you’re doing and aren’t in the least bit sure you’re going about the right way of doing it. Marra’s quest is to save her sister, and she does. At the same time, her sister also saves herself. And both the kingdoms. It’s never easy and it’s always on the knife edge of failing – but it gets done.

And it’s utterly marvelous along every single step of its impossible way.

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

As part of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week I’m giving away one copy of ANY one of T. Kingfisher’s books, in any format, up to $30 (US) in value. That should be enough to get the winner any book of hers they want, including the new and coming titles like Nettle & Bone and What Moves the Dead. If you don’t know where to begin I highly recommend A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, Paladin’s Grace or the subject of today’s review, Nettle & Bone as excellent places to start!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong

Review: The Circus Infinite by Khan WongThe Circus Infinite by Khan Wong
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Pages: 400
Published by Angry Robot Books on March 8, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Hunted by those who want to study his gravity powers, Jes makes his way to the best place for a mixed-species fugitive to blend in: the pleasure moon. Here, everyone just wants to be lost in the party. It doesn’t take long for him to catch the attention of the crime boss who owns the resort-casino where he lands a circus job. When the boss gets wind of the bounty on Jes’ head, he makes an offer: do anything and everything asked of him, or face vivisection.
With no other options, Jes fulfills the requests: espionage, torture, demolition. But when the boss sets the circus up to take the fall for his about-to-get-busted narcotics operation, Jes and his friends decide to bring the mobster down together. And if Jes can also avoid going back to being the prize subject of a scientist who can’t wait to dissect him? Even better.

My Review:

The Circus Infinite gets off to a running start and goes at a compelling pace from that tension-filled beginning to its surprising, and very satisfying, end.

Jes Tiqualo – whose last name we don’t even know when we first meet him – is on the run while trying not to actually run through the spaceport terminal of his home planet. Not that Rijala has ever been much of a home to mixed-race Jes.

Jes is running from, well, pretty much everyone. His parents sold him to the mysterious and very shady Paragenetic Institute of the 9-Stars as a lab rat. Jes has escaped from their imprisoning Institute and is looking for a place to hide.

He picks the pleasure moon of Persephone-9, because it’s pretty much the last place he figures that anyone will think he would go. One of Jes’ paragenetic talents is empathy, he susses out the emotional state of everyone around him. That’s not his most dangerous talent, but it’s the one that will give him the most trouble in a place where every being’s desires will be on overt display. Jes is asexual, and being essentially forced to experience other people’s sexual desires upsets his emotional equilibrium to the point of nausea and panic.

But as a half-human, half Rijalan, Jes is a highly unusual and easily recognizable figure among the rigid and xenophobic Rijalans. Among the mixed, mingling and mind-bogglingly attired vacationers and pleasure seekers on Persephone-9, Jes hopes to blend in as one of the glittering crowd. Howsomever, he’s broke and has only the clothes on his back. Jes needs a safe place to hide and a circumspect way to make enough money to support himself and save a little towards the next time he has to flee.

So he joins the circus and hides in plain sight among the performers. Compared to the burly four-armed Hydraxians and the insectoid Mantodeans, Jes isn’t all that exotic. But his talents, not just his empathy but his potentially destructive ability to manipulate gravity fields have the potential to make him stand out in a crowd.

Enough potential to save several of the circus performers from catastrophe during his interview. And enough to make him a useful and potentially lucrative asset for the sadistic criminal boss of the pleasure moon. A man who likes playing with his toys even more than the doctor at the Institute that Jes ran away from.

Jes is the mouse in a deadly cat and mouse game. Niko Dax, that sadistic criminal mastermind, knows Jes’ secret and is holding it over his head in return for Jes’ assistance with more soul destroying crimes at every turn. Jes finds himself getting in deeper in order to protect himself, his friends, and his new home. Until he reaches the point where he can’t continue along the path he’s tightrope walking – and his best friend pays the price of his defiance.

And Jes doesn’t merely get by, he gets downright even with more than a little help from ALL his friends – including the ones he doesn’t actually know he has.

Escape Rating A+: The story of The Circus Infinite is Jes’ journey from beginning to end – and what a journey it is!

The foundation of the story feels like it’s Jes’ coming of age story. He’s an adult – although just barely – when we first meet him. He’s on the run from the Institute and certainly has a grasp on what he doesn’t want. He doesn’t want to be a lab rat anymore. And no matter what he had to do to get out – which we don’t even know at this point – the reader is with him every step of the way in his desire to be free.

We’re able to feel his fear right along with him. That we later experience bits and pieces of Jes’ life in the Institute during the course of the story only adds to the reader’s empathy. It may also remind anyone who remembers Firefly more than a bit of River Tam’s story. The Institute that Jes escaped from and the Academy that Simon Tam rescued his sister from in the opening episode of the series may not be the exact same place, but let’s say that comparisons could certainly be drawn.

In addition to that nod to Firefly, Jes’ integration into and adaptation to the Circus Kozmiqa reads similarly to the way that Lady Everleigh in Jennifer Estep’s Kill the Queen manages to both hide and train herself among a circus-like gladiator troop.

But the heart of The Circus Infinite follows Jes as he becomes an integral part of the Circus Kozmiqa as it becomes his first real home and the circus performers his first real family, found or otherwise. As he gets to know them, and as he explores the world of the pleasure moon and the wider world that he’s never been allowed to be a part of before, we see Jes bloom and grow.

And we’re right there with him as he’s forced to work for the strange, evil, acquisitive sadist Niko Dax. Niko attempts to turn Jes to his own personal Dark Side, while Jes precariously does his best to keep Dax off his back while defending both the circus and himself. Dax is creepy in ways that Jes can see but not completely articulate – but we still feel them and it’s even creepier for not being completely explained.

In the end, in addition to all the fun, all the danger, and all the joy and trepidation of following along with Jes, there’s an extremely satisfying conclusion that still manages to ask some fascinating questions about fate, luck, prophecy and karma. Are the courses of our lives predetermined by fate, or do our choices create our chances?

Jes’ story leaves the reader with more questions than answers, and yet still leaves all the loose ends of Jes’ journey tied up with a beautiful bow of hope and fulfillment.

Speaking of hope, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this world, and certainly hope to see more work from this author!

Review: Sword and Shadow by Michelle Sagara

Review: Sword and Shadow by Michelle SagaraSword and Shadow by Michelle Sagara
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Wolves of Elantra #2,
Pages: 512
Published by Mira on February 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads


Beyond the Emperor's law
In the city of Elantra, the law is upheld by a few groups, and the most feared are the Wolves—the Emperor’s executioners. The newest member of this elite force is Severn Handred.
Granted a leave of absence to pursue information about his unknown past, Severn joins a mission to an enclave well outside the boundaries of the Empire. And he will be in danger the entire time. Still, the instincts that led him to the Wolves and the sense of duty that keeps him there can’t be discarded as easily as the tabard he wears.
While he's in the heart of the West March, enmeshed in a tangled web of mysteries that have been held for centuries, Severn's belief in justice is going to be tested. It's one mortal man and his single ally against a community of immortals who will kill to keep their secrets. But they don't know who they're up against.
“This world feels so complex and so complete.” —ReadingReality.net on The Emperor's Wolves
The Wolves of Elantra
Book 1: The Emperor's WolvesBook 2: Sword and Shadow

My Review:

cast in shadow by michelle sagaraOnce upon a time, there was a book. I remember reading the first book in the Chronicles of Elantra series, Cast in Shadow, at night, in a place we lived for just one year – among a string of such places. It was late in 2011, and I’d had the book, in fact the first half dozen books in the series, on my shelves since it was published in 2005.

I’d put off starting it, but once I was in, I was hooked. But those first ten or so were the best. Not because they are objectively better, but because the world of Elantra is complex and convoluted and densely packed and highly political. There are a LOT of threads to this multi-pronged story, and more with every single book. I read those first ten close enough together that I still remembered all the plot threads each time a new one came out. By the point of the latest, Cast in Conflict, I couldn’t get myself into that same mindset or bring back enough of everything to get deeply embedded again. I had to put it down for a later read.

And now I want to pick it back up again. Very much so. Because the Wolves of Elantra series, The Emperor’s Wolves and especially this latest book, Sword and Shadow, have brought me back to the beginning – actually before the beginning – of the series that I so loved. And instead of finding myself neck deep in complexities that I don’t remember, I’m back at the very beginning of things, where what I learned in the Chronicles gives some events future weight – but doesn’t depend on that knowledge to be immersive all over again.

Because this prequel series, especially this entry, Sword and Shadow, is the origin story for Severn Handred, the person who haunts Kaylin Nera’s past, protects her present and dimly hopes for some kind of future with her, even if that future is just to keep watch over her and the trouble she inevitably gets into for the rest of her life.

Up until now, all we’ve known of Severn is what Kaylin knows, that he, like her, was a child of the lawless fiefs. That he entered her life when they were children. That he was older and better equipped to survive and to keep her alive in a place where life was short and precarious. And that he killed the children she thought were her friends in order to save her from a magic that neither of them understood then and still don’t.

But we know nothing of Severn before he met Kaylin at the age of 10 or thereabouts. This is the story of what he was before, and how those origins shaped and influenced who he has become after. And still.

Escape Rating A+: I know, I haven’t said much about this story yet. And there are reasons for that, all of them tied up in the events here and the things that happened after. There’s always been an impression that whoever and whatever Severn was, he was definitely more than he seemed.

That’s an impression that turns into an exploration and eventually a reality in Sword and Shadow. It is certainly Severn’s origin story, as well as how he obtained the legendary magic-breaking weapon that he carries in the Chronicles.

But it’s also a very complex political story that dives deeply into the endless maneuverings of the Barrani who serve as the elves of this fantasy world. The Barrani are immortal, as are the Dragons who rule Elantra. The Dragons and the Barrani are eternal enemies who have made uneasy peace in order to maintain vigilance on the Shadows who want to destroy them both.

The Barrani approach to immortality is political and petty, where the Dragon approach is protective. Not that both races aren’t equally selfish and self-absorbed in their own ways, but the way that manifests in the Barrani is particularly destructive, both to themselves and others.

Their politics wrap around their immortality in that they spend it making themselves invulnerable, and the only way to do that is to cut themselves from anyone and anything who might become either a weakness, a rival or a weapon.

The story here is of Severn finding himself in the midst of a Barrani power struggle out of his own desire to find out where he came from, even if that knowledge will not affect who he is. The Barrani think they are using him for their own ends, and that he has little choice and less power.

Only to discover that little and less are not none, and that the force at the heart of the Barrani stronghold has a mind and heart of its own.

Readers who have loved the Chronicles of Elantra will fall in love with the series all over again with Sword and Shadow. Readers who enjoyed the game of politics played for high-stakes and to the death in Modesitt’s Isolate and his Imager Portfolio series will thrill to the kind of maneuvering that takes place in Sword and Shadow. Readers who like their fantasy full-to-the-brim of political shenanigans and endless power struggles will adore this world and the deftness with which its story has been woven.

While a part of me hopes that the author continues with Severn’s story, it also feels like his pre-Kaylin adventures might be done. But whichever way that question gets answered, I need to dive back into Cast in Conflict – not that all of Kaylin’s and Severn’s adventures aren’t cast in one sort of conflict or another. I can’t wait to see how things slot back into place now that I know so much more!

Review: Obsidian by Sarah J. Daley

Review: Obsidian by Sarah J. DaleyObsidian by Sarah J. Daley
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Pages: 400
Published by Angry Robot on January 25, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Shade Nox is a fiend, a rogue, and a wanted murderer, though her only true crime is that she chooses to dress like a man. Proud and defiant, she wears her tattoos openly as any bloodwizard would, and carries obsidian blades at her hips. Those who laughingly call her a witch to her face soon learn an unfortunate lesson: Shade Nox might be an abomination, but she wields her blades with devastating precision, gleefully shedding blood for elemental magic that matches any man’s.
Shade scratches out a dangerous living in the broken Wastes, but now that they are growing more unstable and dangerous, Shade and her people need their own Veil to protect them. She vows to raise one—a feat not accomplished in over a hundred years. But the Veils are controlled by the Brotherhood, who consider them sacred creations. They would sooner see all the Veils collapse into dust than allow a witch to raise one.
With the help of her friends and allies, and her own indomitable will, Shade stays one step ahead of her enemies. Her zeal is only tempered when she learns the true sacrifice required to raise a Veil—a secret even the centuries-old Brotherhood has forgotten. It is too high a price to pay. Nevertheless, she must pay it, or she will lose everything and everyone she loves…

My Review:

Obsidian is just WOW! There, I’ve said it. Now I have to attempt to be articulate – and it’s not going to be easy.

Think of this as a post-apocalyptic story, but this is NOT our world, so this wasn’t our apocalypse. Just that there’s a point in the past that’s distant enough that civilization has regrouped while still present enough that effects are still being felt.

Or felt again.

While the story opens with a somewhat disgraced former Captain of an Imperial Army, Raiden Mad is not our main character. That position is reserved for Shade Nox, who cuts her way into this story with her obsidian knives and holds onto the center of the narrative with hands dripping with blood – not all of it her own.

But some of it is, because the magic of this world is blood magic – blood magic that Shade, as a woman is not supposed to have or be able to wield. And doesn’t that sound all too familiar?

Especially since Shade seems to be much better at it than the blood wizards of either the corrupt church known as ‘The Brotherhood’ or the criminal ‘Capomaji’ who read like a protection racket run by Mafiosi – with magical enforcers along with the usual legbreakers.

Those traditional mages are losing their power – and, as the powerful often do – refusing to admit that loss while covering it up with even more repression of anyone of whom they do not approve.

Shade Nox is number one on all those lists.

But Shade has a secret. Of course, she has several, but one is big. HUGE. The size of an entire city. Or at least it will be IF she can manage to pull it off. And that’s where Raiden Mad and his Emperor come in – and why the Brotherhood is so desperate to take them all out.

Because at the same time the magic seems to be dying, the reason for that magic is becoming that much more of a threat.

Whatever the apocalypse was – it killed the ecology of the planet. The Brotherhood gained their power and their near-monopoly on so much more because their bloodmagic was the only thing that could carve out a safe bit of territory where life could thrive.

But power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Brotherhood has been so invested in maintaining their power that they’ve corrupted the way it is used for their own ends. Now it’s destroying them, the cities their power made possible, and the land that surrounds them.

Mother Nature bats last, and in this world she has a very big bat studded with thorns. So to speak.

Shade Nox has the power, most of the knowledge and all of the will to create a new, safe territory that won’t owe a damn thing to the Brotherhood. Who are bound and determined to stop her at all costs.

But not nearly so determined as Shade Nox is to beat them.

Escape Rating A+: If you’ve ever wondered what Dune would have looked like if someone took that climate catastrophe combined with precious resource planet and re-wrote the thing so that planet-native Chani was the protagonist instead of “white” imperial savior Paul you’d get something like Obsidian – although it probably wouldn’t be nearly as good. (I’m saying this and I loved Dune – at least the book versions.)

I think this is also going to remind readers more than a bit of the “Sapphic Saffron Trifecta” of 2021, The Jasmine Throne, She Who Became the Sun and The Unbroken, with their female-centered epic stories although Obsidian does not include much romance at all, queer or otherwise, until the very end.

There’s actually a bit of the Mage Winds of Valdemar series, in that the chaos magic that has wrecked most of this world seems to sweep in and alter everything it touches – people, plants and animals alike, with dangerous and deadly results. And it’s getting worse.

There’s also a bit of the blood magic of the Dragon Age series, although sideways a bit. Shade, and the magic she controls with her obsidian knives, is powered by her own blood willingly sacrificed. It does sound a bit bonzo when you read it, but it is self-limiting and those limits are dealt with. She can’t go too far or she’ll lose control, consciousness and die. She’s also not sacrificing anyone else to achieve her ends – which is one of the places where that Brotherhood has gone off the rails more than a bit.

The story here is about power, as epic fantasy so often is. The Brotherhood wants to keep the power they have. The Empire that Raiden Mad represents isn’t really a threat to local power, although they could be in the future. They just want to deal with some reasonable people – which the Brotherhood most certainly is not.

The empire could be a threat to local power later, but at this point, they’re at “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” stage of things. The Brotherhood has made itself the empire’s enemy. The Brotherhood is most definitely Shade’s enemy. So they are friends of expediency. The future may be different, but first they have to get there.

The heart of this story is Shade’s quest for the hidden knowledge that she needs to raise a protected territory of her own, and then making the sacrifices necessary to raise it. It’s a journey that takes her through a lot of dark places and even darker hearts – including her own.

And it’s not over when Obsidian ends. This feels like the start of a truly epic saga. I certainly hope so and am looking forward VERY MUCH to where the author takes us next!

Review: Under Color of Law by Aaron Philip Clark

Review: Under Color of Law by Aaron Philip ClarkUnder Color of Law by Aaron Philip Clark
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Trevor Finnegan #1
Pages: 304
Published by Thomas & Mercer on October 1, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

The murder of a police recruit pins a black LAPD detective in a deadly web where race, corruption, violence, and cover-ups intersect in this relevant, razor-sharp novel of suspense.

Black rookie cop Trevor “Finn” Finnegan aspires to become a top-ranking officer in the Los Angeles Police Department and fix a broken department. A fast-track promotion to detective in the coveted Robbery-Homicide Division puts him closer to achieving his goal.

Four years later, calls for police accountability rule the headlines. The city is teeming with protests for racial justice. When the body of a murdered black academy recruit is found in the Angeles National Forest, Finn is tasked to investigate.

As pressure mounts to solve the crime and avoid a PR nightmare, Finn scours the underbelly of a volatile city where power, violence, and race intersect. But it’s Finn’s past experience as a beat cop that may hold the key to solving the recruit’s murder. The price? The end of Finn’s career…or his life.

My Review:

Depending on how you look at it, Under Color of Law is either a mystery thriller about a young LAPD officer who finds himself a witness to a terrible act of police brutality and decides to go along with the coverup in trade for being fast tracked from uniform to detective. Only for karma to come back and bite him in the ass in a way that may be nothing less than he deserves, but endangers not just his career but his life.

Alternatively, this story is a searing indictment of the “thin blue line” and the culture that not merely allows but actually encourages bad cops to stay bad and get worse – because they know that their brothers and sisters in uniform – and even the brass that gives the orders – are more interested in covering up misconduct than investigating it. Because investigations lead to exposure, and exposure leads to questions, and questions cause the people that pay the taxes and support the police to lose even more faith and confidence in the ones who are supposed to serve and protect them than they already have.

It’s about controlling public perception much more than it is about the public good. And if both of the above interpretations don’t sound familiar, you haven’t read much crime fiction – and you haven’t been paying much attention to the news, how it’s delivered, and who nearly always ends up getting the short end of the stick.

Escape Rating A+: Under Cover of Law is compelling as hell. That’s it in a nutshell. This is an absolute breakneck page-turner of a book. I could not put it down and I could not stop reading until the bittersweet, heartbreaking but surprisingly hopeful end.

Although I have to admit that I can’t quite figure out how this could be a series starter. On the other hand, I don’t care. This was beautifully and thrillingly complete in and of itself. If there are more, I’d be thrilled. If there are not, this was marvelously enough.

(The second book in the series has been announced with the title Blue Like Me and will be published in November. I can’t wait to see how this story continues, because it felt like it ended and ended well. We’ll see.)

The, I want to call it the frame but that isn’t quite right, let’s say the opening mystery and its aftermath in the life of Detective Trevor Finnegan is one that has been used plenty of times in police-based mysteries. The story of the young cop who gets caught up in something beyond his control and chooses to go along to get along instead of risking the career he’s just begun has been used before. Sometimes the young cop goes bad. Sometimes he or she tries to blot out the memory and things go wrong that way. Sometimes they just hide it and karma comes around to be her bitchy self by the end.

The most recent series I’ve read that uses this plot device is TA Moore’s Night Shift series that starts with Shift Work. Even in that series’ paranormal setting, the plot device still works. And I’m sure there are others that just aren’t coming to the top of my mind at the moment.

What sets Under Color Of Law apart from other mystery/thrillers that use that same setup to get themselves set up is the way that it uses Finnegan’s experience as a rookie cop and his bargain with the brass to shine a light on the way that entrenched corruption rots even those who start out with the intent of reforming the system from the inside. Then it takes THAT story and contrasts it with a second story that begins with the same intentions, and interweaves it into a contemporary setting where we have all too much knowledge of how bad things really are because we’ve seen it splashed across the news following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner – among entirely too many others – in police custody under suspicious circumstances that would result in murder convictions for anyone not a cop.

We see that story unfold through the experience of Trevor Finnegan, a black police detective in LA, the son of a black police officer, as he is forced to reckon with the crimes that he committed, he allowed to be committed, and their impact on the life he’s dragging himself through instead of living.

And as we read and watch, we can’t turn our eyes away. And we shouldn’t.

Review: Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen Spotswood

Review: Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen SpotswoodMurder Under Her Skin (Pentecost and Parker, #2) by Stephen Spotswood
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Pentecost and Parker #2
Pages: 368
Published by Doubleday Books on December 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Someone's put a blade in the back of the Amazing Tattooed Woman, and Willowjean "Will" Parker's former knife-throwing mentor has been stitched up for the crime. To uncover the truth, Will and her boss, world-famous detective Lillian Pentecost, travel south into a snakepit of old grudges, small-town crime, and secrets worth killing for.

New York, 1946: The last time Will Parker let a case get personal, she walked away with a broken face, a bruised ego, and the solemn promise never again to let her heart get in the way of her job. But she called Hart and Halloway's Travelling Circus and Sideshow home for five years, and Ruby Donner, the circus's tattooed ingenue, was her friend. To make matters worse the prime suspect is Valentin Kalishenko, the man who taught Will everything she knows about putting a knife where it needs to go. To uncover the real killer and keep Kalishenko from a date with the electric chair, Will and Ms. Pentecost join the circus in sleepy Stoppard, Virginia, where the locals like their cocktails mild, the past buried, and big-city detectives not at all. The two swiftly find themselves lost in a funhouse of lies as Will begins to realize that her former circus compatriots aren't playing it straight, and that her murdered friend might have been hiding a lot of secrets beneath all that ink. Dodging fistfights, firebombs, and flying lead, Will puts a lot more than her heart on the line in the search of the truth. Can she find it before someone stops her ticker for good? Step right up! Murder Under Her Skin is a delightfully hardboiled high-wire act starring two daring heroines dead set on justice.

My Review:

The first book in this series, Fortune Favors the Dead, opened the partnership between private investigator Lillian Pentecost and former ‘cirky girl’ Willowjean Parker with Parker throwing a knife into the back of the man attempting to assault Pentecost.

The story in Murder Under Her Skin takes Will Parker, along with Lillian Pentecost, back to the place where Will learned how to throw that knife with intent, aim and a whole lot of nerve.

Will’s former mentor, the knife thrower Valentin Kalishenko, has been accused of murdering one of Hart and Halloway’s Travelling Circus and Sideshow’s sideshow attractions. Ruby Donner, the circus’ “Amazing Tattooed Woman”, is dead. With one of Kalishenko’s knives in her back.

The evidence is all circumstantial, but the local townspeople would much rather that someone in the circus killed one of their own rather than one of the townspeople being accused. The circus performers, one and all, are just as certain that whatever happened, Kalishenko didn’t do it.

The man left his knives everywhere. Anyone could have picked one up to strike the fatal blow. But Kalishenko has no alibi. He doesn’t even remember where he spent the night – only that he spent it in an alcoholic blackout.

A not uncommon event – but an exceedingly inconvenient one. At least for Kalishenko.

The circus’ owner asks for Lillian Pentecost’s help in figuring out who really done it. A help that Pentecost feels duty-bound to provide after the events in the previous book. Will wants to help her former mentor, and needs to help get her friends, her former found family, out of the jam they are in. And just wants justice for Ruby.

Along the way, Will discovers that her home in the circus was the kind of home that you can’t go back to again. She can and does help, even though the discovery that she’s no longer a member of the family breaks her heart.

Escape Rating A+: The Pentecost and Parker series, or at least this particular entry in it, is one of the most satisfying but also most unexpected book babies ever. If Rex Stout’s classic Fer-de-Lance (the first Nero Wolfe book) had a book baby with Phryne Fisher, particularly Blood and Circuses, the resulting book would be Murder Under Her Skin.

The comparison with Fer-de-Lance struck me in the first book because the setup of the partnership is so similar. Will becomes the legwoman and principal “active” investigator for Lillian Pentecost in much the same way that Archie Goodwin does for Nero Wolfe. The difference is that one could claim that Wolfe’s desire not to stir from his New York brownstone feels voluntary, while Lillian Pentecost’s continuing battle against the onset of multiple sclerosis is a cup she would gladly pass if only she could.

Wolfe won’t go out and Pentecost shouldn’t go out but the result is the same. Being a private detective requires that someone go out and tail suspects, occasionally fight with evildoers, and have clandestine meetings whose location can’t be dictated or controlled. Will Parker takes care of all those things for Lillian Pentecost and whatever else her boss needs to can’t quite manage for herself no matter how much she wishes she could.

But this case takes Pentecost out of her familiar Boston home and haunts while pulling Parker back to hers. It’s not just that the circus is currently stopped in the tiny town of Stoppard, Virginia, but that the circus was Parker’s home and refuge for years. She knows these people and they know her, both for good and for bad.

The case has more facets than it first appears – which is what made it so marvelously convoluted to follow.

Ruby was murdered, Kalishenko was stitched up. It’s up to Pentecost and Parker to prove it. Then the case gets bigger and wider as it’s revealed that the failing circus was in Stoppard because it’s the place where Ruby grew up. Meaning that she knew everyone in town and everyone knew her. And that she might have left both friendships and grudges behind her.

Even that isn’t complicated enough, as the more Will digs into Ruby’s past and the circus they both once called home, the more threads and tendrils reach out to faraway places and very dangerous people.

In the end the case is considerably larger than anyone ever expected. And that’s what made the unravelling of it so much hard-boiled noir-ish fun to follow.

Lillian Pentecost and Willowjean Parker have turned out to be a fascinating and delightful pair of hard-boiled investigators. Fortune Favors the Dead was utterly marvelous and Murder Under Her Skin continues that streak. I hope they have plenty more mysteries to solve in the future!

Review: The Last Daughter of York by Nicola Cornick

Review: The Last Daughter of York by Nicola CornickThe Last Daughter of York by Nicola Cornick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical fiction, historical mystery, timeslip fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on November 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“An engaging, fast-paced read for fans of Philippa Gregory and of dual-timeline historical fiction." —Library Journal
In the winter of 1483, Francis Lovell is Richard III’s Lord Chamberlain and confidant, but the threat of Henry Tudor’s rebels has the king entrusting to Francis and his wife, Anne, his most crucial mission: protecting the young Richard of York, his brother’s surviving son and a threat to Henry’s claims to the throne.
Two years later, Richard III is dead, and Anne hides the young prince of York while Francis is hunted by agents of the new king, Henry VII. Running out of options to keep her husband and the boy safe, Anne uses the power of an ancient family relic to send them away, knowing that in doing so she will never see Francis again.
In the present day, Serena Warren has been haunted by her past ever since her twin sister, Caitlin, disappeared. But when Caitlin’s bones are discovered interred in a church vault that hasn’t been opened since the eighteenth century, the police are baffled. Piecing together local folklore that speaks of a magical relic with her own hazy memories of the day Caitlin vanished, Serena begins to uncover an impossible secret that her grandfather has kept hidden, one that connects her to Anne, Francis and the young Duke of York.
Inspired by the enduring mystery of the Princes in the Tower, Nicola Cornick cleverly interprets the events into a dazzling novel set between a present-day mystery and a country on the brink of Tudor rule.  

My Review:

Once upon a time (in 1951) there was a mystery titled The Daughter of Time written by Josephine Tey (which was named as the greatest crime novel of all time by the Crime Writers’ Association). In at least some versions of causality, that book is most likely responsible for this book, either directly or indirectly. It’s certainly directly responsible for my personal interest in Richard III and the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, every bit as much as it was for the 21st century protagonist of the story.

And thereby hangs this tale – which actually does reference that earlier book.

The mystery of the “Princes in the Tower” has never been solved. What is known is that, as is related in the 15th century sections of this book, the two young sons of Edward IV were taken to the Tower of London – which at that time was still a royal residence in addition to being a prison – for “safekeeping”. Their father was dead and the older boy should have become Edward V. Instead their uncle Richard of Gloucester became Richard III and eventually one of Shakespeare’s more memorable villains.

It’s Richard III’s body that was discovered under a car park in Leicester in 2012.

The two boys disappeared from the Tower during Richard’s brief and tumultuous reign. Shakespeare’s account portrays Richard as a tyrant and the murderer of his nephews. Tey’s book, with its armchair investigation of the historical mystery, rather convincingly gives a different accounting of the events.

Including a persuasive reminder that history is written by the victors, and that Shakespeare’s play was based on accounts written by those victors and under the rule of a monarch who was the direct inheritor of those victors. He was hardly an authoritative historical source even if he was a memorable one.

The mystery has never been solved, and unlike that of their infamous uncle, the bodies of the two missing princes have not been verifiably found. The bodies of two boys who were purported to have been the princes were discovered in the Tower in the 17th century. But, unlike the more recent discovery of Richard III’s body, no DNA tests have ever been conducted and the identity of the bodies is in dispute.

The reason why all of this long ago history matters in this time slip story is that the slip in time takes the reader back to the last years of Edward IV’s reign and the events that followed. In that past, we follow Anne Fitzhugh and her husband Francis Lovell, a staunch supporter of Richard of Gloucester. While her life is fictionalized, the key events of her part of the story match recorded history – particularly the version of that history that Tey popularized in her novel.

Except for one singular part – the link between Anne and Francis Lovell’s past and Serena Warren and Jack Lovell’s present. A link that may remind readers a tiny bit of Outlander.

Just a tiny bit.

What was utterly fascinating about this story was the way that the historical events lead to the mystery in the present. That Serena’s twin sister Caitlin disappeared without a trace 11 years before, and that her body has just turned up in an archeological dig on the grounds of Lovell Minster.

In a tomb that has not been disturbed since 1708.

The police are baffled. Serena’s parents are not holding up at all well, but that’s neither new nor unexpected. Serena is the stalwart one in the family. But she’s had dissociative amnesia since her twin disappeared. Now she needs to remember what she forgot, in the hopes that those lost memories hold the key to her sister’s murder.

Escape Rating A+: Obviously, I loved this one for the history. Reading The Last Daughter of York made me want to go back and re-read The Daughter of Time yet again. When I read it the first time, I was convinced that Richard III was not the villain that Shakespeare painted him to be, and I remain convinced.

What fascinated me about the historical aspects of this story is the way that the author made the fiction fit the known facts while still managing to add more than a touch of magic and mystery.

While there is a bit of paranormal “woo-woo” in the way that Caitlin’s body ended up in that tomb, the 21st century part of this story, the mystery of her disappearance, was also resolved more than satisfactorily. Serena’s entire family needs closure and the story does an excellent job of making that happen while adding just a bit of something extra into the mix.

I’m far from an unbiased reviewer this time around. If the history hadn’t worked for me, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the rest. Studying this particular era was a big part of my intellectual life for a very long time. Because this did work, and beautifully so, I was all in.

One final note. In the case of The Daughter of Time, the title was a bit of a pun. As Leonardo da Vinci said in his notebooks,, “Truth alone is the daughter of time.” The title of this book is both a play on that title and, I think, a prophecy – or a legacy. The story, in the end, is literally the story of the last daughter of the House of York.

I’ll leave it to you to discover just how that happens, and I wish you joy of this excellent read.