Review: A Plunder of Souls by D.B. Jackson

Review: A Plunder of Souls by D.B. JacksonA Plunder of Souls (Thieftaker Chronicles, #3) by D.B. Jackson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Thieftaker #3
Pages: 336
Published by Tor Books on July 8th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Boston, 1769: Ethan Kaille, a Boston thieftaker who uses his conjuring to catch criminals, has snared villans and defeated magic that would have daunted a lesser man. What starts out as a mysterious phenomenon that has local ministers confused becomes something far more serious.

A ruthless, extremely powerful conjurer seeks to wake the souls of the dead to wreak a terrible revenge on all who oppose him. Kaille's minister friends have been helpless to stop crimes against their church. Graves have been desecrated in a bizarre, ritualistic way. Equally disturbing are reports of recently deceased citizens of Boston reappearing as grotesquely disfigured shades, seemingly having been disturbed from their eternal rest, and now frightening those who had been nearest to them in life. But most personally troubling to Kaille is a terrible waning of his ability to conjure. He knows all these are related…but how?

When Ethan discovers the source of this trouble, he realizes that his conjure powers and those of his friends will not be enough to stop a madman from becoming all-powerful. But somehow, using his wits, his powers, and every other resource he can muster, Ethan must thwart the monster's terrible plan and restore the restless souls of the dead to the peace of the grave. Let the battle for souls begin in A Plunder of Souls, the third, stand-alone novel in Jackson's acclaimed Thieftaker series.

My Review:

Today is Presidents Day, so I went searching through the towering TBR pile to find something set in the Revolutionary period. (Yes, I know that Presidents Day celebrates both Washington and Lincoln, but I’m still listening to the utterly marvelous Grant by Ron Chernow, and therefore have all the Civil War I can handle at the moment.)

Which brought me back to the Thieftaker Chronicles and A Plunder of Souls. I read Thieftaker last year for this holiday, and loved it so much I dove into the next book in the series, Thieves’ Quarry, perhaps a bit too soon.

So after most of a year, I’m back to this series. And A Plunder of Souls did not disappoint. Far from it.

The setting for the series is so well done that the reader feels as though they are walking the streets of pre-Revolutionary Boston with Ethan Kaille, complete with seeing the sights and even smelling the smells. If you like your historical fiction and mysteries to give you that “you are there” feeling, this series certainly does that well.

But the Thieftaker Chronicles are not merely historical fiction, and they aren’t quite historical mysteries, although there is usually a mysterious element to the story. The author bills this series as “historical fantasy” because he has taken pre-Revolutionary America and added two elements, one slightly ahistorical, and one definitely fantastic.

Although there were thieftakers in Boston in the colonial period, there were none recorded in Boston during the time the series takes place. What Ethan does for a living is fairly obvious from the name – people hire him to find something that has been stolen, and/or to find the person who stole it.

But the fantasy element comes very much into play in this entry in the series. Ethan is a “speller”, or conjurer. In Salem a century before, he’d have been labeled a “witch” and probably hung, burned, drowned or pressed for it. Ethan can cast spells, and he’s not the only one in Boston who can.

The case that Ethan is hired to investigate is a particularly grisly one. Someone is vandalizing graves of the recently deceased and violating the corpses. The head and right hand of each corpse has been removed, an article of clothing has been stolen, a strange symbol has been carved over the heart of each corpse, and, in a particularly nasty message to Ethan himself, three toes have been cut off of each corpse’s left foot – just as Ethan had those same toes removed years ago.

It’s not just the mutilated bodies that have the local churches and cemeteries in an uproar. The ghosts of the violated dead are returning to their homes, looking just as they currently do in their graves.

And whatever or whoever is bringing back the dead, they are also doing something that draws power away from all the spellers in town. Ethan’s powers are no longer reliable, nor are those of his friends and colleagues.

As the spirits multiply, Ethan finds himself banding together with old friends and even old enemies in order to bring down a mad spellcaster with a taste for power – and revenge.

Escape Rating A-: I read this in a single day. I started it thinking I’d finish it on the plane home from DC, but in the end I just couldn’t wait that long. I got sucked in and didn’t get spit out until the end.

The author brings this historical period alive in a way that makes the reader feel as if they are walking the streets with Ethan. Amazingly, it’s not done by introducing a host of real historical characters, although there are a few historical figures whose work intersects with Ethan’s. It’s more that the story is so steeped in historical details that the reader can’t help but be drawn in, while at the same time that wealth of detail never drags down the story.

As a character Ethan is certainly interesting to follow. He is very thoughtful about his life and his situation. Part of what makes him different is that he does not see himself particularly as a hero, more as someone who is often swept along by events who does the best he can. Ethan is also middle-aged for his time, in his early 40s. The years are catching up with him, and he’s not sure how much longer he can continue as a thieftaker – especially since the increasing presence of British troops (the Redcoats really are coming) has depressed business considerably. With so many soldiers on the streets, the small time crooks who are Ethan’s bread and butter are laying very, very low.

This particular entry in the series is steeped in magic. The crime, while not magical in itself, is done with magical purpose. Ethan finds himself at a crossroads, seeing that his spells are failing,realizing just how dependent he is on his ability to conjure, and uncertain of what to do if his talents fail him.

His enemy this time is thankfully not Sephira Pryce. Her character does not feel as real to me as others in the series, and every time she appears I feel myself gritting my teeth. On the other hand, the villain of A Plunder of Souls is just a bit over the top – and he’s barking mad into the bargain. Very powerful, but also completely nuckin’ futz. He’s very scary and also a bit unfocused.

And apparently the villain in the next and final book in the series, Dead Man’s Reach, as well. I’ll be glad to see the back of this particular character, but very, very sorry to see this series end.

Review: A Study in Sable by Mercedes Lackey

Review: A Study in Sable by Mercedes LackeyA Study in Sable (Elemental Masters #11) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #11
Pages: 313
Published by DAW on June 7th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Psychic Nan Killian and Medium Sarah Lyon-White—along with their clever birds, the raven Neville and the parrot Grey—have been agents of Lord Alderscroft, the Elemental Fire Master known as the Wizard of London, since leaving school. Now, Lord Alderscroft assigns them another commission: to work with the famous man living at 221 Baker Street—but not the one in flat B. They are to assist the man living in flat C. Dr. John Watson and his wife Mary, themselves Elemental Masters of Water and Air, take the occult cases John’s more famous friend disdains, and they will need every skill the girls and their birds can muster!

Nan and Sarah’s first task: to confront and eliminate the mysterious and deadly entity that nearly killed them as children: the infamous Haunt of Number 10 Berkeley Square. But the next task divides the girls for the first time since they were children. A German opera star begs Sarah for help, seeking a Medium’s aid against not just a single spirit, but a multitude. As Sarah becomes more deeply entwined with the Prima Donna, Nan continues to assist John and Mary Watson alone, only to discover that Sarah’s case is far more sinister than it seems. It threatens to destroy not only a lifelong friendship, but much, much more.

My Review:

I read A Study in Sable AFTER I finished A Scandal in Battersea. That’s definitely the wrong order. But A Scandal in Battersea served as a marvelous reintroduction for this reader to the Elemental Masters series. So marvelous, in fact, that when I closed that book I grabbed as much of the series as I could from various libraries and immediately started on A Study in Sable, order be damned.

I’m very glad I did.

With the exception of the villains, the cast of characters is the same between the two books. Our heroines are the psychic Nan Killian, Sarah Lyon-White the medium, their extremely intelligent and protective birds, and the famous Dr. John Watson and his wife Mary, elemental masters of water and air, respectively.

And as deeply involved as ever in the life and casework of that most rational of men, Sherlock Holmes.

Just as in A Scandal in Battersea, the focus here is on the magic that functions in this slightly alternative version of our own world. But as in Scandal, a case that at first seems to rest entirely in the magical realm that Holmes refuses to believe exists, turns out to have so many potential effects on his rational universe that he finds himself involved in spite of himself.

Such is the case of A Study in Sable. A celebrated German opera singer – definitely not Irene Adler – is under siege by hordes of ghosts while she performs in London. She hires Sarah for her mediumistic talents, but unlike most of the people who hire either Sarah or Nan, makes it clear that ONLY Sarah’s presence is welcome, and that Nan is something less than the mud she scrapes off her expensive boots.

At first, Sarah is happy for the money, and feels duty bound to help the spirits “cross over”, but looks forward to the end of her task. But as the horde of ghosts seems to be nowhere near diminishing, Nan and Sarah’s bird Grey discern that Sarah seems to be falling under the sway of the opera singer, in a way that is not natural.

As Sarah’s natural enjoyment of the luxurious setting morphs into a kind of desperate, personality-altering hero-worship, Nan moved from being mildly jealous to seriously alarmed – and that is the point where the Watsons, and eventually Holmes, are drawn in.

The question is whether even their combined powers will be enough to draw Sarah out from under the spell before it is too late.

Escape Rating A-: I had every bit as much fun with this one as with A Scandal in Battersea. However, if you are coming to these fresh, start with Sable. The two stories flow together extremely well when read in the correct order.

Although there are no steampunk elements in these books, the way that this alternate Victorian and early 20th century England seems to function, along with its blend of magic and “normal” life, reminds me even more strongly of Cindy Spencer Pape’s excellent – but seemingly complete – Gaslight Chronicles.

But the story in A Study in Sable rests very much on the strength of its characters – particularly in this case the character of Nan Killian. She and Sarah are independent young women, who are partners in their independence but not romantic partners. At the same time, romance seems to be far from either of their current horizons. And I like that – that these young women are making identities for themselves and neither expecting nor even thinking that romance will solve things for them.

This book is particularly Nan’s show, as Sarah is increasingly not herself as the story progresses. We feel for Nan as she watches in horror as the friendship that has sustained both her and Sarah unravels under the influence of the supernaturally charismatic opera singer.

It is also fun to see a version of Dr. John Watson where he is definitely Holmes’ equal. Their spheres of talent and influence are different, but Watson in this series is a master in his own right, and never kowtows to the sometimes imperious and always self-absorbed Holmes.

The case in Sable is one where Holmes’ seemingly mundane missing persons’ case draws inevitably towards Watson’s case of malign psychic influence and Sarah’s never-ending ghostly horde. When the separate strands merge, the whole story makes wonderfully blinding sense.

I’m very glad I decided to delve into the world of the Elemental Masters. I’ll be back!

Review: A Scandal in Battersea by Mercedes Lackey

Review: A Scandal in Battersea by Mercedes LackeyA Scandal in Battersea (Elemental Masters, #12) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #12
Pages: 310
Published by DAW Books on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The twelfth novel in Mercedes Lackey's magical Elemental Masters series reimagines Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate 20th-century England

Christmas is a very special time of year. It is special for Psychic Nan Killian and Medium Sarah Lyon-White and their ward Suki, who are determined to celebrate it properly. It is special for their friends, Doctor John Watson, and his wife Mary, both Elemental Masters, who have found great delight in the season seeing it through young Suki’s eyes.

It is also special to others...for very different reasons.

For Christmas Eve is also hallowed to dark forces, powers older than mankind, powers that come awake on this, the Longest Night. Powers best left alone. Powers that could shake the foundations of London and beyond.

It begins slowly. Women disappearing in the dark of night, women only missed by those of their own kind. The whispers only begin when they start to reappear—because when they do, they are no longer sane. And when Nan and Sarah and the Watsons are called on to examine these victims, they discover that it was no ordinary horror of the streets that drove them mad.

But then, the shadows reach for other victims—girls of good, even exalted families, who vanish from concerts, lectures, and evening balls. And it will take the combined forces of Magic, Psychic Powers, and the worlds greatest detective to stop the darkness before it can conquer all.

My Review:

A Scandal in Battersea is the 12th book in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series. I read the earliest books in the series long ago, probably when they were published in the mid-1990s. It doesn’t seem as if one needs to have read the whole series to get into this particular entry in it, although now that I’m diving back into the whole thing, it looks like A Study in Sable is more of a direct prequel to A Scandal in Battersea than any of the other books.

The original premise of the Elemental Masters series was to re-tell well-known fairy tales in a late Victorian/early-20th century alternate universe where magic works and is divided into at least four main branches representing the classic “elements” of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. But other forms of “magic” were introduced in later stories, notably telepathy and other ESPer powers, and the mediumistic power to communicate with spirits.

Over time, the series morphed into a single world, with some semi-continuing characters, including many of the protagonists in A Scandal in Bohemia – notably our main characters. John Watson (yes, that John Watson) is a Water Master, his wife Mary is an Air Master, while Nan Killian is a Psychic and Sarah Lyon-White is a medium.

It takes all of their combined powers, plus the rational mind of Sherlock Holmes, to solve this case. It all begins with a young woman having visions of a ruined London where a tentacled monster sucks people into itself, never to be seen again. While traditional medicine believes that the poor girl is mad, Dr. John Watson is all too aware that she might be sane – and psychic, warning of evil on the horizon.

And so it proves. Someone, some idiot, is calling up a power that he does not understand, in the belief that it will give him earthly power and vast wealth. And power. Lots and lots of power. All he has to do is sacrifice a few virgins to its ever-growing hunger.

Of course it all goes wrong. Bargains with demons, devils and otherworldly creatures of shadow never go well, at least not for the human bargainer. Plus, (or minus, depending on on your perspective) sometimes the monster gets out.

In order to keep this monster from getting out, every person and creature that our heroes can find on the side of the light, or even just on the side of keeping our world for us, wades into the fray.

And it might not be enough.

Escape Rating A-: For a book with Sherlock Holmes on the cover, where the title is a direct reference to one of the canonical stories, there just isn’t enough Holmes in this book. In the end, I had an absolutely marvelous time with this book and with this world, to the point where I ran out and picked up as many of the previous entries in the series as I could borrow from libraries, but there’s not enough Holmes to justify its description as, or to satisfy my yen for, yet another version of the logical, rational Holmes finding his way in a magic-working world.

But if you are looking for a version of Victorian London where magic works and where the cast of characters is both diverse and endlessly fascinating, you’ll love A Scandal in Battersea. That the main characters are a pair of independent young women and their intelligent birds just adds to the fun.

If you like this concept of a magical, or at least slightly alternate, Victorian London, the setting of A Scandal in Battersea reminded me quite favorably of Cindy Spencer Pape’s Gaslight Chronicles. And since I loved that series and it seems to have ended, it is very nice to find something that reminds me of it quite so strongly.

And if the monster in A Scandal in Battersea gives you the shivers as much as it did me, take a look at A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman (included in his collection Fragile Things, which is a pastiche where Sherlock Holmes’ London intersects with the Cthulhu Mythos, with predictably creepy results. I include this reference because the descriptions of the monster that they have to fight struck me as Cthulhu’s cousin. A reference that left me appropriately creeped out.

As much as I missed Holmes until his appearance at the ¾ mark, I had a great time with this book and could not put it down. I enjoyed this world so much that I immediately picked up an earlier book in the series, A Study in Sable, which introduces readers to Holmes, Watson and Mary Watson in what looks to be a kind of prequel to A Scandal in Battersea.

I’m charmed and enchanted all over again.

 

Review: Thieves Quarry by D.B. Jackson

Review: Thieves Quarry by D.B. JacksonThieves' Quarry (Thieftaker Chronicles, #2) by D.B. Jackson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical mystery, urban fantasy
Series: Thieftaker #2
Pages: 317
Published by Tor Books on July 2nd 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay, September 28, 1768
Autumn has come to New England, and with it a new threat to the city of Boston. British naval ships have sailed into Boston Harbor bearing over a thousand of His Majesty King George III’s soldiers. After a summer of rioting and political unrest, the city is to be occupied.
Ethan Kaille, thieftaker and conjurer, is awakened early in the morning by a staggeringly powerful spell, a dark conjuring of unknown origin. Before long, he is approached by representatives of the Crown. It seems that every man aboard the HMS Graystone has died, though no one knows how or why. They know only that there is no sign of violence or illness. Ethan soon discovers that one soldier -- a man who is known to have worked with Ethan’s beautiful and dangerous rival, Sephira Pryce -- has escaped the fate of his comrades and is not among the Graystone’s dead. Is he the killer, or is there another conjurer loose in the city, possessed of power sufficient to kill so many with a single dark casting?
Ethan, the missing soldier, and Sephira Pryce and her henchmen all scour the city in search of a stolen treasure which seems to lie at the root of all that is happening. At the same time, though, Boston’s conjurers are under assault from the royal government as well as from the mysterious conjurer. Men are dying. Ethan is beaten, imprisoned, and attacked with dark spells.
And if he fails to unravel the mystery of what befell the Graystone, every conjurer in Boston will be hanged as a witch. Including him.

My Review:

I plucked the first book in this series, Thieftaker, from the midst of the towering TBR pile back in February. At the time, a book about pre-Revolutionary America seemed like a good read for Presidents Day. After the Fourth of July, earlier this week, it seemed like an appropriate time to dig out the second book in the series.

And I’m glad I did. This was definitely the right book for the right time. Again.

Thieves’ Quarry takes place three years after the events in Thieftaker. Which makes the year 1768, the year that the British, in their infinite wisdom, decided to teach those fractious colonists in Boston a lesson by occupying the city with British regulars. Those muttering “revolution” mutter a whole lot louder as armed Redcoats stand on every street corner to watch the citizens. Even Ethan, who began the series as a British loyalist, feels uneasy at the occupation – and he’s not alone.

But in the case that forms the central mystery of Thieves’ Quarry, Ethan is working for the British Crown. Not precisely as a thieftaker, although as he puts it, all the men were certainly robbed of their lives, but as a conjurer. Someone killed every man aboard one of the British transport ships bringing troops to the colonies, and did it with an extremely powerful spell.

It’s up to Ethan to figure out who that powerful speller is, before the frustrated colonial Lieutenant Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, has Ethan and every conjurer in Boston hanged as a witch. Which won’t resolve ANY of the outstanding problems, nor will it trap the killer, but will give the restless populace something to focus on other than the occupation, and will have the added benefit of getting the Crown off of Hutchinson’s back, as he will have done SOMETHING to resolve the issue. Even if it doesn’t solve anything at all.

So Ethan finds himself in a race against time, trying desperately to figure out who committed this terrible crime, while the Sheriff, the Lieutenant Governor and his arch-rival Sephira Pryce dog his every step – when they are not out in front of him throwing roadblocks in his path.

And in the end, he discovers that the answer is one that he should have known all along.

Escape Rating B+: The author does an absolutely fantastic job of bringing pre-Revolutionary Boston to life. As we follow Ethan, it almost feels like the reader can not just see what he sees, but sometimes even smell what he smells. Even when it smells really, really rank.

So much of this story, in spite of the fantastical elements, rings true. As do most of the characters. While real historical figures play small parts in this story, notably Samuel Adams and the aforementioned Lieutenant Governor, all the characters feel like real people living in a real time and real place. Except for one.

For this reader, every time Sephira Pryce appears I have to grit my teeth and wait for her to step off the page again. She does not feel like a real person, instead, she reads like a caricature of a female criminal mastermind – ruthless, capricious, petulant, self-indulgent and gorgeous. Ethan’s lingering descriptions of her looks each time she enters the scene get old. I’m only grateful that there’s no “will they, won’t they” chemistry between them, because frankly that would make me drop the series. But there’s just something about her that doesn’t ring true, and it always bothers me.

But the mystery in Thieves’ Quarry kept me turning pages until the very end. And no, I didn’t figure it out. When Ethan finally unravels the whole mess, it’s easy to see how he (and we) should have figured things out much, much sooner. But didn’t. And that’s marvelous.

I enjoyed Thieves’ Quarry and its mystery as well as its gritty portrait of pre-Revolutionary Boston. Enough so that I may not manage to wait until the next appropriate holiday to pick up A Plunder of Souls. Next Presidents Day is awfully far away.

Review: Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

Review: Thieftaker by D.B. JacksonThieftaker (Thieftaker Chronicles, #1) by D.B. Jackson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical mystery, urban fantasy
Series: Thieftaker #1
Pages: 327
Published by Tor Books on July 3rd 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay, August 26, 1765
A warm evening in colonial North America's leading city. Smoke drifts across the city, and with it the sound of voices raised in anger, of shattering glass and splintering wood. A mob is rioting in the streets, enraged by the newest outrage from Parliament: a Stamp Tax . Houses are destroyed, royal officials are burned in effigy. And on a deserted lane, a young girl is murdered.
Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker of some notoriety, and a conjurer of some skill, is hired by the girl's father to find her killer. Soon he is swept up in a storm of intrigue and magic, politics and treachery. The murder has drawn the notice of the lovely and deadly Sephira Pryce, a rival thieftaker in Boston; of powerful men in the royal government; of leaders of the American rebels, including Samuel Adams; and of a mysterious sorcerer who wields magic the likes of which Ethan has never encountered before.
To learn the truth of what happened that fateful night, Ethan must recover a stolen gem and sound the depths of conjurings he barely understands, all while evading Sephira and her henchmen, holding the royals and rebels at bay, and defending himself and those he loves from the shadowy conjurer.
No problem. Provided he doesn't get himself killed in the process.

My Review:

Today is Presidents Day in the U.S. It seemed an appropriate occasion to go diving into the depths of the TBR pile and search for either something relevant, or at least something set in the Revolutionary period. Several friends have recommended the Thieftaker series to me, and this seemed like the perfect time to finally start it.

And all my friends were right. This thing is fantastic.

The series begins in 1767, during the period when Samuel Adams and his friends were just beginning to whisper of the colonies separating from England. But those whispers were still very, very quiet. However, the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767 changed those whispers into a slightly louder muttering. Adams and his cronies fostered boycotts and fomented riots. No one saw it at the time, except possibly Sam Adams himself, but it was the beginning of the end for the British in the still disunited thirteen colonies.

Our hero, and occasional anti-hero, is Ethan Kaille, a man with a very checkered past, and a frequently none-too-pristine present. He may have begun his life in England among the wealthier if not titled class, but time and circumstance have pressed him into scraping his living as a ‘thieftaker’ in the colonies.

Thieftaking is not even the least respectable of Ethan’s activities. He is also a conjurer, what some in that time and place call a witch, although he perceives a difference between those two words. And certainly the Salem Witch Trials, and similar “events’ that took place all over New England less than a century before, punished mostly women who were not actually conjurers. But the laws that convicted them are still very much on the books, and Ethan rightfully worries about just how many people in Boston are aware of his “gift”.

So when a wealthy merchant hires Ethan to find the thief who took his daughter’s necklace just before he killed her, Ethan knows all too well that he is not being hired for his skill at finding thieves. Whoever took that necklace, the girl died by conjuring. And it is up to Ethan to track down the villain before he kills again.

If he can. And if he can survive the powerful and deadly forces raised against him, both magical and mundane.

Escape Rating A-: Now I understand completely why my friends raved so much about this book. It is awesome. It both immerses the reader in its time and place and tells a powerful story.

The blend here is fascinating. The author bills this series as historical fantasy, rather than historical fiction. The fantastic element is, of course, Ethan’s conjuring. He does cast spells and they do work. Nor is he alone in his talent. In this world, while conjurers are rare, they do exist. And like all humans, some are more-or-less good and some are definitely less than good. People are people.

The story also blends historical personages and events with entirely fictional ones. The situation in Colonial America at this point in time was as the book portrays it. This was the beginning of the cry of “No Taxation Without Representation”. The course for Revolution had already begun, even if no one but the visionary Samuel Adams saw the path.

Readers who like this mixture of historical persons and events with “private detection” by brain rather than forensics will probably also enjoy Jeri Westerson’s Crispin Guest series. Crispin’s series is set earlier, and in England, and without the conjuring. But Crispin and Ethan would recognize each other as “brothers” and have much to share.

Ethan’s story, while not in the first-person, is very much his singular perspective. We see, hear and know only what he does. There’s no omniscient narrator describing events elsewhere. But Ethan’s journey of discovery is an interesting one. The only equivalent of all of our forensic tests that he has are his spells, and they are limited by his power and his knowledge. He has to know both how to ask and what to ask, and his inspiration sometimes fails him. He’s fallible and very human.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I did have one frustration with it. There’s something about the character of Ethan’s chief rival, the beautiful thieftaker Sephira Pryce, that felt a bit “off” to me. Not that a woman couldn’t be the rival or the villain. Nor that she would be perfectly capable of running what appears to be the Colonial equivalent of an organized crime ring. But in her personal actions she comes off as petulant and childish. And the person with those characteristics so pronounced doesn’t seem like the same person who could be running her gang with such ruthless aplomb.

However my discomfort with Sephira’s character was not enough to keep me from wanting to dive eagerly into book two of this series, Thieves’ Quarry, as soon as I can possibly manage!

Review: The Tengu’s Game of Go by Lian Hearn

Review: The Tengu’s Game of Go by Lian HearnThe Tengu's Game of Go (Tale of the Shikanoko, #4) by Lian Hearn
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy
Series: Tale of Shikanoko #4
Pages: 256
Published by FSG Originals on September 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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An epic four-volume adventure in mythical medieval Japan: a world of warriors and assassins, demons and spirits
In The Tengu’s Game of Go, the final book of Lian Hearn's epic Tale of Shikanoko--all of which will be published in 2016--the rightful emperor is lost; illness and murder give rise to suspicions and make enemies of allies. Unrest rules the country. Only Shika can end the madness by returning the Lotus Throne to its rightful ruler.
As destiny weaves its rich tapestry, a compelling drama plays out against a background of wild forests, elegant castles, hidden temples, and savage battlefields. This is the medieval Japan of Lian Hearn's imagination, where animal spirits clash with warriors and children navigate a landscape as serene as it is deadly.
The Tale of Shikanoko, Book 1: Emperor of the Eight Islands (April 2016)The Tale of Shikanoko, Book 2: Autumn Princess, Dragon Child (June 2016)The Tale of Shikanoko, Book 3: Lord of the Darkwood (August 2016)The Tale of Shikanoko, Book 4: The Tengu's Game of Go (September 2016)

My Review:

In a way, I’m sorry that this series had to end. The story is utterly marvelous, and the world it creates is fascinating, deadly and beautiful, often all at the same time. But all good things must come to an end, and I’m very glad to see how it all turned out.

In my mind, there are multiple interpretations of this story. One is about the lengths that fate will go through to bring about what is meant to be after it is knocked out of its intended path by chaos. Another is about paying back and paying forward; one tengu upsets the balance, and another moves the heavens to restore the balance. And then there’s a third possibility; that our mortal lives are merely counters on a vast game of Go played by higher, or at least more powerful, beings. In other words, that we are all nothing more than pawns on something else’s chessboard.

None of these are comfortable thoughts, but they certainly make for an enthralling story.

emperor of the eight islands by lian hearnAt the beginning, all the way back in Emperor of the Eight Islands, Shikanoko’s father loses a game of Go to a tengu, and forfeits his life. It’s not what should have happened, but because it did, Shika is exiled and supplanted as his father’s heir, and his father’s enemies stage a coup and overthrow the rightful emperor. After that all seems to descend into chaos. While the new, rightful child emperor is lost, the kingdom founders as heaven withdraws its blessings. The natural order has been overturned, and with it the seasons and finally the kingdom.

But the years pass. Shika becomes a man and in some ways, a sorcerer. The child emperor grows up and becomes a monkey-boy acrobat. And the kingdom descends further into despair, as the land rots and the crops fail.

In The Tengu’s Game of Go, that long ago game is set right. The tengu cheated, and won unfairly. So another tengu sets himself to thwart his rival, moving his chess pieces to bring Shika out of exile, to provide the hidden emperor with powerful allies, and to force fate back into its intended course.

But the emperor would rather be a monkey-boy.

Escape Rating A: If you have not yet read The Tale of Shikanoko, I envy you the journey. Especially since you will have the opportunity to read it all in one fell swoop, and not have to wait for each volume to appear from the mists of time and myth.

Although The Tale of Shikanoko seems to be classified as either fantasy or historical fantasy, I’m not quite sure that’s right. While there is magic and mysterious beings, it feels more like a myth. As though this is a story that never quite was, to illustrate problems that reflect in reality. So it is a story about time, fate, chance and the balance between order and chaos. The characters in the story represent forces as much as they do individual character arcs. Which does not for one moment lessen the reader’s happiness at seeing them triumph and find their rightful endings, whether good or evil.

I do wish that this had been published as a single volume. These don’t feel like separate stories at all, more like chapters in a single book. Also, this is a very densely packed story, there are a lot of moving parts, a lot happens, and there is a large cast. It took me a couple of chapters each time to get back into this world. It is definitely worth the effort, but I would have preferred the longer, deeper dive.

across the nightingale floor by lian hearnThe end of The Tengu’s Game of Go teases at a link between Shikanoko and the author’s first book, Across the Nightingale Floor. It has me looking forward to another marvelous journey in this mythic world.