Review: Grimoire of the Lamb by Kevin Hearne

Review: Grimoire of the Lamb by Kevin HearneThe Grimoire of the Lamb (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #0.4) by Kevin Hearne
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Pages: 64
Published by Del Rey on May 7th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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There's nothing like an impromptu holiday to explore the birthplace of modern civilisation, but when Atticus and Oberon pursue a book-stealing Egyptian wizard - with a penchant for lamb - to the land of the pharaohs, they find themselves in hot, crocodile-infested water.
The trip takes an even nastier turn when they discover the true nature of the nefarious plot they've been drawn into. On the wrong side of the vengeful cat goddess Bast and chased by an unfathomable number of her yowling four-legged disciples, Atticus must find a way to appease or defeat Egypt's deadliest gods - before his grimoire-grabbing quarry uses them to turn him into mincemeat.

My Review:

With great power comes great responsibility, at least according to the Spiderman mythos. But there are plenty of people who want that great power, but want to completely sidestep that whole great responsibility price tag. While history and politics are both littered with the bodies of the victims of those “great” figures, in urban fantasy that shortcut to great power usually travels down the road to hell, often paved with no good intentions whatsoever. That shortcut is nearly always dark magic.

And so it proves in Grimoire of the Lamb.

The Druid now known as Atticus O’Sullivan is 21. That’s 21 centuries old, not 21 years. But his magic keeps him looking much closer to 21 years old, and if that’s what people want to assume, he’s happy to let them.

While Atticus isn’t old enough to have visited Egypt when the pyramids were built, he is more than old enough to have visited Egypt before the Library at Alexandria was burned to the ground. And that long ago bit of library looting is the root of this story.

In the 21st century, Atticus lives in Tempe, near Arizona State University, and owns a shop that sells a combination of new age trinkets, minor magical items for the knowledgeable practitioner, arcane-seeming (and sometimes really arcane) used books and very special herbal teas that help students study just before exams.

While Atticus does seem to sell a few safe or relatively safe used books, most of his collection belongs in the Restricted Section at Hogwarts, or the nearest local equivalent, which happens to be a magically locked case in his shop.

And that case contains at least two books that are on semi-permanent loan from the defunct Library of Alexandria. One is that Grimoire of the Lamb, which Atticus believes is an ancient cookbook. The other is a book he calls Nice Kitty, which he describes somewhat like an illustrated guide to tantric sex to be practiced in the worship of Bast.

Bast is not happy that Atticus has that book. She’s so unhappy, in fact, that Atticus has avoided going to Egypt for centuries. But now he’s stuck.

An evil wizard has just stolen the cookbook, but only after informing Atticus that it isn’t a cookbook. That poor lamb isn’t for dinner, it’s a blood sacrifice to one of the ancient Egyptian gods. And it’s a sacrifice that will let the sorcerer kill his (and his god’s) enemies and place himself in a position of power. Someone has seriously given in to the dark side of the Force, and not just because he discovered the book by conjuring up a demon.

So Atticus, along with his faithful Irish wolfhound Oberon, takes off for Egypt to track down that stolen (or is that re-stolen) book, before it’s too late.

Escape Rating B+: I was looking for something quick and fun, and this certainly filled the bill. I was tempted to say light and fun, but Atticus often isn’t light. There are always plenty of humorous moments, if only within the confines of Atticus’ own thoughts, but there’s also always something darker at work.

And even if Atticus doesn’t provide a lot of levity, Oberon always does. When Bast’s many, many, MANY minions chase Atticus and Oberon through the streets of Cairo, poor Oberon’s attempts to visualize just how many cats are following them nearly breaks the poor dog’s enhanced brain. Bast commands a lot of cats. All the cats. And they all chase Atticus and Oberon with a vengeance. Possibly literally.

Grimoire of the Lamb is a prequel story to the Iron Druid Chronicles. Although it takes place before the absolutely marvelous Hounded, it was written after it, so while it introduces the characters we are familiar with, it also already knows who they are and what they are supposed to be.

This story is more intimate than Hounded in that the only two characters that we are familiar with are Atticus and Oberon. His werewolf lawyer appears in a phone call, but doesn’t participate in the action. This one is all on the druid and his dog.

Especially on Atticus. Just as in Hounded, the story is written in first-person singular, so we are always inside Atticus’ head, even when he’s gibbering to himself in pain. Which is often. Atticus gets knocked around a lot.

Tangling with a crocodile, let alone a crocodile god, is always messy. Especially when, as so often happens with Atticus, he’s making it all up as he goes along.

One of the fun things about this series is the way that it mixes multiple ancient mythologies with contemporary sensibilities. Atticus has survived by adapting from century to century and country to country. He never forgets who he is, where he comes from, or what he remembers, but he doesn’t cling to the dead past. There’s probably a lesson in there someplace.

Most of the time when Atticus is forced to deal with myths, legends and deities, they are from his own Celtic pantheon. But he remembers the other old gods, and they certainly remember him. Bast certainly does. And will. He’s planning to steal Nice Kitty back, as soon as he heals up from dealing with Sobek the Crocodile God. Hopefully for the last time.

But this is certainly not my last time visiting Atticus and Oberon.

Review: The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox

Review: The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg CoxThe Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: media tie-in, urban fantasy
Series: The Librarians #2
Pages: 288
Published by Tor Books on April 25th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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For millennia, the Librarians have secretly protected the world by keeping watch over dangerous magical relics. Cataloging and safeguarding everything from Excalibur to Pandora’s Box, they stand between humanity and those who would use the relics for evil.
Stories can be powerful. In 1719, Elizabeth Goose of Boston Massachusetts published a collection of rhyming spells as a children's book, creating a spellbook of terrifying power. The Librarian of that age managed to dispose of all copies of the book except one, which remained in the possession of Elizabeth Goose and her family, temporarily averting any potential disaster.
However, strange things are happening, A window washer in San Diego who was blown off his elevated perch by a freak gust of wind, but miraculously survived by landing on a canopy over the building entrance. A woman in rural Pennsylvania who was attacked by mutant rodents without any eyes. And, a college professor in England who somehow found herself trapped inside a prize pumpkin at a local farmer’s market. Baird and her team of Librarians suspect that the magic of Mother Goose is again loose in the world, and with Fynn Carson AWOL once again, it is up to Cassandra, Ezekiel, and Stone to track down the missing spellbook before the true power of the rhymes can be unleashed.

My Review:

I read The Librarians and the Lost Lamp a couple of weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it because it felt so much like an episode of the show, including all of the madcap adventure and especially all of the banter. I had a great time, just as I do when I watch The Librarians. It was fun!

But The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase felt like it was more of a strain. The Librarians, of course, are always a bit strained in the midst of yet another hair-raising case, but there was something about this one that made it feel like a strain for the reader, too. Or at least this reader.

Fair warning, I may get a bit meta here. It’s hard to review a media tie-in novel without some references to the media it ties into, and how it “feels” related to how the original feels, And works. I would say or doesn’t work but the fact is that a person for whom the original does not work is unlikely to read novels based on it. My 2 cents.

Part of what makes The Librarians work as a show is their marvelous team dynamic. The Librarians and their Guardian are a close knit team and also kind of a family. What they do is designed to be a bit outside the mundane world, and they of necessity have bonded together. Along with Jenkins, the combination archivist, caretaker and zookeeper of the Library and the Library Annex in Portland they work out of.

On the one hand, parts of this story provide a marvelous and much broader view of just how big, how strange, and how magical the Library’s collections truly are. Nobody wants the job of cleaning the pen that holds the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs, but it’s a dirty job and somebody has to do it. Usually Jenkins.

On that other hand, the Librarians spend a lot of this story on separate parts of the quest. This group is stronger when it’s together. It’s also funnier and occasionally more heartwarming when it’s together. So for this reader story lost some of its steam when it separated the group, Also the way they were split up felt a bit contrived. Their separate quests seem to rely on their weaknesses more than their strength, and the individuals they were paired up with instead felt like contrivances designed to teach them each something rather than get the job done. As usual, my 2 cents and your mileage may vary.

And the action got a bit bogged down as it split into four separate stories, which at times felt a bit repetitious.

The concept that Mother Goose was not only real but a powerful witch who encoded her spells into nursery rhymes fits right into the mythos of the Library. That her magic could get out of hand if left in the hands of the “wrong people” could make an episode or a great story.

But the way that this one wrapped up, which unfortunately I did see coming a mile away, fell flat. Again, at least for this reader.

So, as much as I love The Librarians, I didn’t have nearly as much fun with Mother Goose as I did with the Lost Lamp.

Escape Rating C+: The scenes where Eve and Jenkins are chasing several of the Library’s more colorful (and volatile) exhibits around the Library are hilarious. My personal favorite is when Jenkins throws Arthur’s Crown at the Sword Excalibur and tells it to play “Keep Away” with the King of Beasts and the Unicorn. Eve’s solution to the problem of the Dead Man’s Chest was also lot of fun. But the gang spends too much time not being a gang, and I missed the way they play off of each other much too much.

Review: Legend Has It by Elliott James

Review: Legend Has It by Elliott JamesLegend Has It (Pax Arcana, #5) by Elliott James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Pax Arcana #5
Pages: 448
Published by Orbit Books on April 18th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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For John Charming, living the dream just became a nightmare.
Someone, somewhere, is reading a magic book that is reading them right back. Real life is becoming a fairytale: high school students are turning, quite literally, into zombies, subway workers into dwarves, drug addicts into vampires.
John Charming and his motley band of monster hunters are racing to find the villain of this story, following the yellow brick road through a not so wonderful wonderland. And if they can’t find Reader Zero before the book is closed, there won’t be a happily ever after again.

My Review:

The snark is strong with this one. Very strong. And John Charming needs all the help that he can get.

At this point in the story of John Charming and his “Scooby-gang” of Sig, Molly and Choo, they, and the world, are in pretty deep foo-foo. Which is where they do best. And sometimes worst.

The story follows almost directly from last year’s In Shining Armor. At the end of that book, John says that he and Sig are going back to pick up the rest of the gang, and that’s pretty much where we are now. John and the gang heading to New York to meet up with John’s former and possibly future gang, the Knights Templar, along with his semi-present gang, the werewolves of the Round Table.

Those Knights Templar really are the descendants of the original Knights Templar. The werewolves of the Round Table, on the other hand, adopted that name because it was cool and because it fit into their frequently mesalliance with the Templars. And probably because it pisses the Templars off just a bit.

Not that werewolves in general don’t make the Templars very, very twitchy. The Templars aren’t merely charged with, but are actually geas bound to protect the Pax Arcana, the magic (ironic that) that makes it so that us mundanes don’t see or remember magic. And for a very long time, the Templars were taught to believe that the mere existence of werewolves (and vampires, and pretty much anything else that was magic but wasn’t Templar) were an automatic violation of the Pax.

Which they mostly aren’t. Most werewolves, and vampires, and cunning folk (witches) and other magical types just want to live their lives without bothering anyone. They don’t want to be outed any more than the Templars do. But negotiating that particular change in outlook makes the Templars very, very twitchy indeed.

And that’s where John Charming came in. John is a Templar. And he’s also a werewolf. The fact that he didn’t self-combust the minute he discovered those two supposedly contradictory identities has forced, often at swordpoint, the Templars to do a bit of re-thinking. Hence the very shaky alliance between the Templars and the werewolves.

What was discovered in In Shining Armor was that there is a group very much in opposition to the Templars, and that the opposition, the School of Night, had done an excellent job of infiltrating the Templars over the past 500 years. The mission of the School of Night is bring down the Pax Arcana, by any means necessary, to let magic loose in the world again.

And the Templars are bound to oppose the tearing down of the Pax by any means necessary, no matter how vile those means might be. Even to the point of nukes in New York City. They may not want to, but they may feel that they have to.

That’s what John Charming and his Scooby-gang are right smack in the middle of. Their job, and they’ve decided to accept it, is to bring down the School of Night before the Templars bring down Ragnarok. No matter what it takes. Or possibly who.

Escape Rating A-: If you’ve read the other books, this one is a humdinger, slam-dunk thrill-a-minute ride from the beginning to the end.

Let me say this upfront – the Pax Arcana series is one that is meant to be read from its beginning. Although the world starts out being very much like our own, as the series piles on, we see more and more of just how different it is – or rather just how much has been hidden from us by the Pax Arcana. The author makes a brave and hilarious attempt to get new readers into the action by opening with our hero John Charming in the midst of an imaginary interview with a very imaginary Barbara Walters. That intro does a good job of reminding series readers where last we left our heroes, but isn’t really a substitute for new readers actually reading at least most of the rest of the series.

So if you like really, really snarky urban fantasy, start with Charming.

As I’ve mentioned, John Charming definitely comes from the snarky end of urban fantasy. He reminds me a lot of Harry Dresden from the Dresden Files, but John’s attitude towards women in general is a bit more, I want to say enlightened but that isn’t quite right. John, unlike Harry or most heroes in urban fantasy, is managing to have a successful relationship with Sig the Valkyrie. And he’s less of a hound and more of a good man, if only because Sig can perforate him with her spear when he screws things up. He’s learning, and it makes him more sympathetic.

Like other urban fantasy heroes, including Harry Dresden, Atticus Finch of the Iron Druid Chronicles, and John Taylor from the Nightside, the book is literally his story. It’s told from the first-person, and we are inside John’s head. You do have to like his brand of snark to want to occupy that head for very long, but it’s generally a livable space. While he does use humor to lighten what are often grim situations, he is also funnier on the inside than even what comes out, and he says what he’s thinking, and often what we’re thinking too.

The thing in this story that causes all the fuss is an interesting one. It’s a book. An evil book. It’s one of those books from the Restricted Section in the library at Hogwarts (not literally, of course) that should be chained up because when you read it, it reads you. And it’s way more powerful than most people who read it. The School of Night is using it to let magical monsters loose in the world, test the responses of the Knights, and see if they can spread enough chaos to break the Pax. It’s a diabolical plan, from a very diabolical mind.

But the sheer amount of danger that John, his gang and the Templars are tipped into, while awesome and scary on so many levels, also brings out one of the inevitable twists of urban fantasy – that in order to keep the series interesting, the protagonist has to face and overcome more dangerous situations each outing, with bigger and badder villains, and hairier and scarier problems to solve. The hero becomes more powerful, and the villains get even more frightening and evil. The tone of the series gets darker the deeper you go. And so it proves with John Charming. Also Harry Dresden, John Taylor and every other urban fantasy series I’ve ever read.

I wonder where this one is going to end. But I certainly plan on hanging on to the ride. Possibly with my fingernails. And maybe my teeth.

Review: The Librarians and the Lost Lamp by Greg Cox

Review: The Librarians and the Lost Lamp by Greg CoxThe Librarians and The Lost Lamp (The Librarians #1) by Greg Cox
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: media tie-in, urban fantasy
Series: The Librarians #1
Pages: 286
Published by Tor Books on October 11th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Librarians is one of the biggest new hits on cable. Spinning off from a popular series of TV-movies, the TNT series begins its second season this Fall. The Librarians and the Lost Lamp is the first in a series of thrilling all-new adventures that will delight fans of the TV series and movies.
For thousands of years, the Librarians have secretly protected the world The Librarians from dangerous magical relics and knowledge, including everything from Pandora’s Box to King Arthur’s sword.
Ten years ago, Flynn Carson was the only living Librarian. When the ancient criminal organization known as the Forty steals the oldest known copy of The Arabian Nights by Scheherazade, Flynn is called in to investigate. Fearing that the Forty is after Aladdin's fabled Lamp, Flynn must race to find it before the Lamp's powerful and malevolent djinn is unleashed upon the world.
Today, a new team of inexperienced Librarians, along with Eve Baird, their tough-as-nails Guardian, is investigating an uncanny mystery in Las Vegas when the quest for the Lamp begins anew . . . and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

My Review:

Because this is the start of National Library Week, I was looking for at least one book this week with some kind of library theme. When the much more serious book I originally planned on turned out to be a little too serious, I went for the much more fun option.

The Librarians, the TV series, is always fun. And after having watched it, I’ll admit that it gives saying, “I’m the Librarian” just a bit more of kick whenever I introduce myself in certain work situations.

But being an ordinary librarian isn’t near as much of a thrill as being one of THE Librarians, and that’s probably a good thing.

Our more adventurous, and fictional, counterparts are having a much more dangerous time than we are. Not that most of us don’t secretly envy them in one way or another. The seemingly unlimited resources, if nothing else.

The Librarians in this series work for a presumably mythical Library whose mission is to keep the rest of us from finding out that magic really exists, and that all too many of the legends and fables that we believe are purely fiction are in fact based in fact – and fairly dangerous fact at that.

In this particular case, the legend that is being turned on its head is the legend of Aladdin’s lamp, and the genie contained therein, as well as the legend of Scheherazade and the 1,001 Arabian Nights, along with a very specific story among those 1,001 nights, that of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

In the world of the Librarians, nothing is ever quite as it seems. And no great magic ever comes without an equally great price. It’s the paying of that price that the Library attempts to prevent, usually by locking up the magical artifact involved.

The story in The Librarians and the Lost Lamp switches between two different occasions when the Library (and those Forty Thieves) went after the lamp and the djinn imprisoned within, with rather tumultuous results.

In 2006, when Flynn Carsen was the solo librarian, and before the catastrophic events of 2014 that caused the Library to recruit three additional Librarians and their Guardian, a researcher in Baghdad discovered the earliest known copy of the 1,001 Nights. Both the Library and the Forty Thieves criminal organization hoped that the manuscript contained clues to the location of Aladdin’s lost lamp and its djinn. The Library wanted the lamp locked up for everyone’s safety, and the Forty wanted the djinn to grant their wish for power and wealth. The djinn, of course, had a somewhat different agenda.

No one came out of that particular encounter with exactly what they wanted. So in 2016, when the lamp resurfaces, both the Library and the Forty chase after it again, with even messier results than the last time.

In 2006, the lamp was in the middle of an empty desert. In 2016, it turns up in Las Vegas. The chaos that ensues is absolutely epic, and a complete blast of fun and adventure from beginning to end.

Escape Rating B: For anyone who loves the series, The Librarians and the Lost Lamp reads like a terrific episode. And for fans, that’s a great thing. I’m not certain how it would read to anyone not familiar. So consider this one a book for those in the know.

That being said, not all media tie-in books do justice by their source material, either because they mess with the canonical timeline or by just not sounding or feeling like part of their original. Or by not being true to the characters. That’s not the case here. The characters are all very true to their TV counterparts, and this feels like a slightly-longer-than-an-hour episode of the series, complete with the series’ hallmarks of adventure, teamwork and madcap humor.

Again, if you love it, that’s good.

The series itself is out of the urban fantasy tradition, mixed with a whole lot of myths and legends. The place where it plays off of urban fantasy is in that concept that magic is real, and that for some reason most of us don’t see it, no matter how much we want to. In this version of the world, it’s the Library, and the many Librarians who have served it (and usually died) who have kept magic from leaking out everywhere.

The way that the Librarians, in this particular case Cassandra, resolve the dilemma of the djinn who plans to break out of his lamp and burn the world (no pressure!) fits well with the way the Librarians generally work, and with Cassie’s personality and methods in particular. However, it will also feel familiar to anyone who remembers the I of Newton episode of the 1985 revival of The Twilight Zone, or the Joe Haldeman story the episode was based on. Clearly, methods of dealing with the Devil on your doorstep apply equally well to angry djinn.

I had a lot of fun reading this, enough so that I’m looking forward to the author’s next contribution to the series, in The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase. And to going back a rewatching the show!

p.s. I read most of this on a flight from Cincinnati to Atlanta. Wait, what was that? Is that a gremlin on the wing?

Review: In Shining Armor by Elliott James

Review: In Shining Armor by Elliott JamesIn Shining Armor (Pax Arcana, #4) by Elliott James
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Pax Arcana #4
Pages: 464
Published by Orbit on April 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This fairy godmother's got claws.
When someone kidnaps the last surviving descendant of the Grandmaster of the Knights Templar, it's bad news. When the baby is the key to the tenuous alliance between a large werewolf pack and the knights, it's even worse news. They're at each other's throats before they've even begun to look for baby Constance.
But whoever kidnapped Constance didn't count on one thing: she's also the goddaughter of John Charming. Modern-day descendant of a long line of famous dragon slayers, witch finders, and wrong righters. John may not have any experience being a parent, but someone is about to find out that he can be one mean mother...
IN SHINING ARMOR is the fourth novel in a series which gives a new twist to the Prince Charming tale. The first three novels are Charming, Daring, & Fearless.

My Review:

Actually, John Charming is a knight in rather tarnished and bloodstained armor. It also seems to be covered in slime and shit all-too-frequently. But he’s still a knight, even if he is also a werewolf. And based on his adventures in his first three books, Charming, Daring and Fearless, that contradiction he embodies seems to be getting both more and less contradictory at the same time.

But the moral of this particular fairy tale (because the fae are always in the background in this series, somewhere, even if it’s fairly deep background) revolves around that tried and true old saw, “ Assume makes an ASS out of U and ME. Because everything that goes wrong in this story begins with John (and everyone else) making a very big assumption that turns out to be far from true.

Even professional paranoids, like the Knights Templar in general and John Charming in particular, occasionally can’t manage to be paranoid enough. And in this case it very nearly bites all of them, along with the werewolves, in their collective (and extremely well-muscled) asses.

At the end of Fearless, a very, very tenuous peace has finally broken out between the Knights Templar and the werewolves. It’s so tenuous because until very, very recently, the Knights’ first response to a werewolf was to kill it on sight as an automatic violation of the Pax Arcana that prevents us normals from finding out that there really is a whole lot of magic out there.

But most werewolves (and vampires, and even naga and gorgons) are just like everyone else, they want to live in peace, hold down a job, raise their kids and participate in the American dream. Or whatever the dream is wherever they happen to live. They have even less desire to reveal the magic in the world than the Knights do, because they know they’ll probably be first on the firing line when the mundanes bring out the contemporary equivalent of torches and pitchforks.

And the Knights have just realized (a very few of them, all at the top) that they are really only geas-bound to enforce the Pax, and that as long as any magical creatures don’t violate the Pax, there is no obligation whatsoever to hunt them down and kill them. And, of course, a lot of them don’t want to give up the status quo.

Human beings are still human, extra power, extra knowledge, extra whatever, or not. And some humans are still arseholes.

The literal embodiment of this tenuous peace is little baby Constance. She’s the last descendant of the Grandmaster of the Knights Templar. And she’s going to be a werewolf when she grows up. Just like John Charming, little Constance has a tiny foot in both worlds. And both the Knights and the werewolves have been pledged to protect her. She’s the hidden little darling of both camps.

Until someone nefarious and unknown decides to disrupt that detente for reasons that, while obviously nefarious, remain nebulous and hidden for most of the story. The (very bad) idea was to kidnap little Constance and make the werewolves look guilty and responsible. Detente instantly explodes, werewolves hide far away from the Knights and whatever the evildoer wants hidden.

But evil never seems to reckon on John Charming. And he intends to wreck a reckoning on them. Just as soon as he figures out who they are, what they want, and what’s the best way to kill them very, very dead.

If they don’t kill him first.

Escape Rating B+: I liked this, but saying I enjoyed it doesn’t feel quite right. There are a lot of points in the story where things are very, very dark, to that point where it feels like things are getting darker just before they turn completely black. Which doesn’t quite happen, but gets really, really close. And occasionally feels like it’s dragging its feet just a bit.

For anyone wondering about the baby being in danger through the book, it doesn’t work that way. Constance is the catalyst but not the point, and John rescues her fairly early on. It’s never really about the baby. It’s always about breaking up the tentative peace between the Knights and the werewolves, even if John can’t put his finger on why for nearly the entire book.

And the reader can’t either. The hidden motives remain hidden until the very end. The plot in this plot turns out to be incredibly convoluted, and unlike a mystery, in spite of the first person singular perspective the reader is not privy to everything that John Charming knows or does. In fact, he makes a habit of reaching his resolution and only then revealing all of the secret things he did to make it all work out in his favor. After they work. Sort of.

If he wasn’t one of the good guys, he’d be downright annoying. A fact which his partner reminds him of on frequent occasions. One of the great things about this book, and the series, is John’s relationship with his partner and lover, Sig. Who is a valkyrie, and therefore even more badass than John is, with powers (and problems) of her own. They balance each other out, support each other, protect each other, and sometimes drive each other crazy. It’s terrific to see an urban fantasy where the protagonist both manages to have a fairly successful and monogamous relationship, and where the woman is every bit the equal of the man. That mix still feels rare, and is always welcome.

But as straightforward as John’s and Sig’s relationship is, the plot (and counterplot, and counter-counterplot) in this one seems almost overly twisted. In the end, the reader is just along for the wild ride, without much ability to see the twists and turns or even process all the changes. There’s a LOT going on in this story. But once John and Sig and the Knights get to the final battle, it’s a race to see if the reader can turn the pages fast enough.

As someone who has read the entire series, I have to say that I really missed the gang that John and Sig created (or that grew around them) in the first three books. And I missed those people, and the feeling of family and friends that they developed. But even though In Shining Armor pulls them completely out of their trusted sphere, it is still very grounded in the world that has been created, to the point where I don’t think In Shining Armor is the best place for someone to start this series. The operation of the Knights Templar is very complicated, and seems to get more so all the time. So start with Charming.

But speaking of that group of familiar faces, I’m really looking forward to the next book, Legend Has It, so John and Sig can get back to their extremely motley band of monster hunters and do what they do best all together – try to out-snark each other while racing to eliminate the most (and worst) monsters they can find.

Review: Hounded by Kevin Hearne

Review: Hounded by Kevin HearneHounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #1) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Iron Druid #1
Pages: 292
Published by Brilliance Audio on October 28th 2014
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Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.
Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

My Review:

Because I love urban fantasy, friends have been recommending the Iron Druid series to me for years, and because I get perverse when people push too hard, I haven’t gotten around to it. Until now. And one of these days maybe I’ll learn to ignore that particular quirk of mine, because just like other books that friends have frequently and heartily recommended (I’m thinking of Legion and Thieftaker here), the Iron Druid series, at least on first introduction, is absolutely awesome.

Hounded is just full of the kind of irreverent snark that I expect from the best urban fantasy, while telling a great story that is anchored in the real world. And as the first book in the series, it introduced me to a fantastic character (in multiple senses of fantastic) in Atticus O’Sullivan, the last remaining druid.

Atticus claims to be 21, and looks the part, as the cover pictures indicate fairly well. But Atticus isn’t 21 years old, as he lets people assume. He’s 21 centuries old, and was born in Celtic Ireland a millennium before the Common Era began.

And all the gods are real. Not just the Celtic pantheon to which Atticus still owes some allegiance, and to some of whom he still bears some grudges. But ALL the gods of all the pantheons either existed or have existed. (If this reminds you a bit of American Gods, it does me, too).

But speaking of those grudges, one of those Celtic gods is still harassing Atticus, centuries after losing a famous sword to the Druid in an epic battle. It turns out that the Celtic god of love is actually a selfish, self-centered and manipulative arsehole. And I just insulted arseholes, but in a way that Atticus would probably have approved.

So the short version of this story is that it is all about Angus Og manipulating people and events in order to finally get the great sword Fragarach back from Atticus. The long version of the story is much, much more interesting, as it introduces us to Atticus and all the people in his world, from his werewolf and vampire lawyers (all Vikings) to his slightly dotty old neighbor, to his absolutely marvelous Irish wolfhound, Oberon, who always has his eye on his next sausage breakfast and dreams of harems of French poodles.

Along the way, we meet witches and demons, and get introduced to the gods of the Fae who still deign to mess with the lives of mortals, or at least with the life of Atticus O’Sullivan. Whether that’s for his good or his ill, or even a bit of both, is just part of the wonder of this story.

Escape Rating A: I loved this. And I can’t wait to go back. But this was such a marvelous treat, that I know I need to space them out a bit. Like Halloween candy. But even better, because no calories.

The story is told from the Atticus’ first-person perspective, something that worked particularly well in the audiobook. We hear what he hears, and we also hear what he thinks inside his own head, which is usually much snarkier than what comes out of his mouth – but not always. Listening to the book is like listening to Atticus’ own voice inside his head. It works.

One of the things that works really well is that Atticus is able to communicate with his dog Oberon. And Oberon, while slightly more intelligent than the average, is still very “doggy”. Oberon mostly lives in the now, and that’s a perspective that the 2100 year old Atticus needs to be reminded of every so often, and he recognizes it.

Also, Oberon’s comments on the events are frequently laugh out loud funny, and it’s impossible to resist smirking along with him. This can be a bit problematic if one is listening in public. Or at work.

As much as I enjoyed Atticus’ interesting blend of snark and sweet (his relationship with his elderly neighbor is precious – at least when they aren’t hiding dead bodies together) it is the action and adventure of the story that kept me on the edge of my seat, or sitting in my car waiting for Atticus to find his way out of whatever mess he’d just been dropped into. He’s been hiding in Tempe Arizona for years, and is none too happy when the Morrigan comes to tell him that Angus Og is after him yet again. But this time he decides to stand and defend the life he’s made, and it’s a marvelous tale from beginning to end.

Hexed is up next. Atticus doesn’t trust witches. And there’s a good reason. Again. Fantastic!

Joint Review: Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop

Joint Review: Etched in Bone by Anne BishopEtched in Bone (The Others, #5) by Anne Bishop
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: The Others #5
Pages: 416
Published by Roc on March 7th 2017
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New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop returns to her world of the Others, as humans struggle to survive in the shadow of shapeshifters and vampires far more powerful than themselves…
After a human uprising was brutally put down by the Elders—a primitive and lethal form of the Others—the few cities left under human control are far-flung. And the people within them now know to fear the no-man’s-land beyond their borders—and the darkness…
As some communities struggle to rebuild, Lakeside Courtyard has emerged relatively unscathed, though Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery’s shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings.
With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave

Our Review:

Marlene: As I write this, it’s early October. I got the eARC from Netgalley five months pre-publication, and simply couldn’t wait until I read it. Whatever else is in this series, it’s definitely reading crack. I can’t resist them, and once I start, I can’t put them down until I’ve finished. Something about this world and these people drags me in every single time.

Cass: I’m stunned an ARC was available so early. Is that normal? Either way, I agree there must be some kind of digitally transferable narcotic in the font, because I cannot stop reading these books….and yet I can never come up with a reason to like them. Other than Hope Wolfsong. LONG LIVE HOPE WOLFSONG!

Marlene: FYI five months is a bit early. Three is more common, and sometimes it’s less than one. Occasionally the eARC comes out just slightly post-publication, which just seems back-asswards. I digress.

This series always strikes me as dark and fluffy, which really ought to be an oxymoron, and somehow isn’t. The Black Jewels series was dark and erotic (although Cass disagrees strenuously about the erotic quotient). Certainly the sexuality in that series was often front and center, even if wrapped in a choke collar. The “Eros” quotient of The Others is almost non-existent. And it’s also where some of the fluff comes in. Eventually, if this series continues, there will be a romantic relationship between Simon Wolfgard and Meg Corbyn. But right now that part is all confused emotion and virtually no action at all. And that’s actually a good thing, because even 5 books in, Meg is nowhere near ready for the level of intimacy and confusion that comes with being in a romantic relationship. That she’s getting there at all is part of what makes this series her journey.

Cass: The sex stuff confused the shit out of me this time around. My understanding from previous books was that the Others will totally plow humans while in their human forms – mostly as an experiment or kink. However, this time around, Simon tells Meg that the Wolves only mate “once a year.” No recreational sex? If they only want to have sex one time a year, would they really waste it on a human – someone they would be totally open to consuming for a post-coital snack?

I really struggled with continuity in this book. Not just with sex but with masturbation – I mean cutting. Wasn’t Meg addicted to cutting last time? Weren’t there pages and pages of debate about how she just can’t stop touching herself and how all those self-inflicted orgasms were going to kill her? And yet….suddenly no cutting. Instead of playing with herself she has a deck of cards. Wow that was easy. So easy that you wonder why the hell ALL the rescued prophets haven’t been given a sketch book and a deck of cards.

Marlene: I read the sex issues about mating vs. recreational sex as coming from the animal side of their natures. Also as part of the physiological differences between males and females on the animal side. Comparing to cats, with which I’m all too familiar, an intact female will go into heat every six months or less. The rest of the time she has no interest in mating. However, whenever a local female does go into heat, all the intact male cats for miles around are ready and eager to sire her kittens. Human females may not be fertile all the time (thank goodness) but are receptive a lot more often than once a year.

What I found interesting about this aspect was the way that the Others referred to Meg as Simon’s future mate – implying that they would, or at least could, form that long-term bond. Nothing like that has ever happened before. The Others may have recreational sex with humans, but they don’t form mating bonds with them. Except Simon and Meg, if they both survive the trouble they constantly find themselves in.

As far as cutting vs. the deck of cards, I did see Meg struggle with her desire to cut. To me, she seemed like an addict in a 12 step program, trying to resist the urge to cut “today”, and attempting to put together a string of “todays”. I also didn’t see that it was/would be the orgasms resulting from the cut that would eventually kill her. The orgasms are the built-in reward, the high, for the cutting. What would kill her would either be going mad, as the results of the uncontrolled cuts that sounded like a Dali painting mixed with some of Picasso’s cubism on steroids, or simply bleeding out, if she cut herself and no one was around for after care. Or if she just plain screwed up and hit an artery.

In other words, to me it made sense within this world’s context.

Cass : One thing I have enjoyed so far in the series has been the world-building……but that all went to shit with this installment. We spent so much time really looking into how the infrastructure of a society changes when the land cities are built on is leased, when every road and train track is an easement, when you have absolutely no water rights and pollution is prohibited. Etched in Bone stepped back from the larger society-based stories to really focus on Lakeside and the human pack, and introduction of “bad humans.”

The Others had their own reasons for reacting the way they did to the “bad humans,” which was addressed. Everyone else? Suddenly developed a case of shit-for-brains. Oh, you have proof that children are not being fed because an abuser is stealing their food? That they are living in absolute filth? That a child is being groomed for sex work? Do humans not have child protective services here?! The main characters all discuss how the bad human (trying to avoid spoilers) is going to fuck everything up, and possibly get them all killed…..but does anyone take any action? You don’t need Simon to handle an abusive drug-dealing thief. Instead, everyone sits back and frets about how bad it could be, and what a huge danger this person will be if they learn about Meg, and how scared we are for the poor defenseless kids…..but nothing happens. At all. Until it all gets so bad that The Others are forced to intervene. If this is how the so-called “good humans” behave, maybe it’s a good thing The Others so tightly control everything in Thaisia. I wouldn’t trust these morons with any kind of governing responsibility.

Did we know that humans are all super-sexist before this book? That there is rampant totally legal gender discrimination in employment? The only solution to which is, you guessed it, Others making the hiring decisions.

Marlene: The way that the bad shit went down drove me batty too. Howsomever, I think I let the way things unfolded go because it felt like it matched the current popular perception of how child protective services does and doesn’t work. (As a popular perception, it may not match reality). But it seemed like we as the audience knew for certain exactly how bad things were, because the story is told in third-person omniscient perspective. The characters in the story, while they had very, very solid guesses that were right, didn’t “know” in a legal sense, except for Sierra who was just as abused as the children. To bring child services in, someone would have to be willing to stand up and say what they witnessed and experienced. And the ones who actually knew, the children and Sierra, were up the river Denial for most of the story.

(I’m seeing a comment that popular perception is wrong, which doesn’t surprise me. But also doesn’t change what popular perception is. There are too many stories in the media where the local equivalent of CPS is overworked and understaffed and misses obvious signs or doesn’t investigate at all.)

Also, based on the rampant sexism we see from the human side of this story, we don’t actually know whether the kind of child services that we think of today even exists. That women were still restricted from some jobs even at what seems like an analog to our present is something that I don’t remember having seen before in the story, but also didn’t completely surprise me. The way that civilization keeps getting knocked back by The Others would mean that some reforms might not get reached. The ability of women to serve in all jobs everywhere is a hard-won right that has only occurred within my lifetime, and only in certain places on this planet. And is frequently a right that exists on paper but is next to impossible to enforce in practice.

Cass: That is not how CPS works! GAH! Lawyer brain is exploding. You don’t have to know for sure what is going on in the home. If you see signs that something may be going on, you report it. Specially trained investigators separate the children from their abuser and ask all kinds of general questions. They send the kids to counselors. They do medical tests. They survey the home. They can drop in unexpectedly. They pull school records. They interview neighbors and family…..you don’t need to see a kid being starved and beaten to report that you suspect a child is being starved and beaten. It’s not perfect, and they don’t catch everything, but they would have here. Pretty clear the kids were very chatty and open to admitting anything – when asked.

If CPS in Thaisia does not exist or is not like this….pretty easy to address. People commenting about the abuse could throw off a line: “And with food shortages, child protective services is refusing to take in anyone who is not an orphan…” something that addresses existing world building and tells you that some of the human services agencies we take for granted don’t exist in this form. Instead there is the implication that there is a CPS, but the bloody COPS AND ATTORNEYS of all people can’t be bothered to involve them. [end rant]

Marlene: It does seem to be a piece of worldbuilding that is missing. I think there was also an element of the human authorities deferring to The Courtyard on what was their turf, even when The Elders were wrong, wrong, wrong. Pissing off The Elders results in annihilation, and sometimes the needs of the many end up outweighing the needs of the few, whether anyone involved likes it or not.

And your rants never end, but they are generally fascinating.

Cass: I’m only ending that particular rant. I have a whole separate rant. WHERE IS MY HOPE WOLFSONG?! I could have skipped all the Meg/Simon stuff in favor of more Hope. Hope! Hope! Hope! Who cares what Meg or Simon are wearing at any particular time? You know what I care about? HOPE WOLFSONG TEACHING A WOLF TO DRAW. That is wonderful story I want to hear about. The new renaissance in Earth Native Art. While the Elders are deciding what to keep, they could develop an appreciation for artistry. They already like books and music….

Marlene: And COOKIES! (Cass insert: Yesssss, save the bakers)

But seriously, after several stories where we’ve seen more and more of the world of Thaisia, both its successes and very definitely its failures, the story in Etched in Bone is so insular it almost seems claustrophobic. And also a bit anti-climactic.

So many of the earlier books started with Meg and Lakeside and expanded outwards into the world, seeing the ways that the ripple effects of Meg’s adoption into the Lakeside Courtyard kept having effects in the wider universe. It felt like nearly every interaction, not just between Others and humans, but also between different species of Others, caught some of the ripples of Meg’s integration into Lakeside.

This story takes place on a very small scale, with the introduction of one sociopath into the Lakeside Courtyard, and then the way that the poison spreads throughout the community, and everyone’s reaction to it. It reminded me a bit of more than one TV episode where the hero or heroine has to find a righteous way to eliminate an abuser. This story felt small.

Cass: Yeah, I really could have seen it as short story or novella told from Twyla/Monty/ Sissy’s perspectives. (I loved Twyla’s irritation that all her kids refuse to use the names she gave them in favor of nicknames). The main series follows the main plot, and we can see how these things are impacting individual lives in other outings. This book felt so ancillary that – if there is another book coming – I would say you could skip this one and miss absolutely nothing.

Marlene: As far as the main plot goes, yes, this book feels skippable. Except for one thing that I wonder whether it will have later consequences. The Elders – the really, really, really powerful Others, the ones that even the “lesser” Others are pee in their pants (when they wear pants) scared of, totally, utterly and completely fucked up. And they fucked up in a way that none of The Others will forget. They also fucked up so badly that the ones they consider lesser banded together to tell them to fix the mess they made and made that stick. That’s a potential shift in the balance of power, as Father Erebus if no one else will certainly realize that The Elders are no longer all powerful if enough of them can get together and stick together.

And while the story as a whole felt anti-climactic, I still enjoyed being immersed in this world for a few hours. I like most of these people, even the ones for whom the definition of people is a bit loose. I like watching them interact, and it is always fun to see the way that these very different groups are building a community that respects their differences and searches for the best way they can all work together.

And unlike my friend Cass, I am interested in watching the progress of Meg and Simon’s relationship.

Cass: I’m already prepared for this series to end when Meg gives birth to the first blood prophet wolf.

My review can be summarized in one line: Not enough Hope Wolfsong. -500 points.

Escape rating F for completely fails to believably address abusive families.

Marlene: I’m also prepared to see this series end, either with the birth of Meg and Simon’s first child, or more likely with their wedding/mating ceremony. I had a terrible thought about just the normal amount of bleeding that occurs in childbirth and wondered if the author would or even should go there. It might be fascinating if Meg sees visions of the child’s future as she is giving birth to it, or the scene could be more gruesome and gory than many readers will want to see in what should be a happy ending. But we’re not nearly there yet. So I really hope that this series isn’t done.

On my other hand, I enjoyed this while I read it, but found it infinitely forgettable after I finished. And it’s only been a couple of days. So I have very mixed feelings.

Escape Rating B for being absorbed in it while I was in it, but being forgettable immediately after.

Review: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson

Review: Skin Deep by Brandon SandersonSkin Deep (Legion #2) by Brandon Sanderson, Oliver Wyman
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Legion #2
Pages: 208
Published by Audible Studios on November 24th 2014
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Stephen Leeds, AKA “Legion,” is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialized skills. As the new story begins, Leeds and his “aspects” are hired by I3 (Innovative Information Incorporated) to recover a corpse stolen from the local morgue. But there’s a catch. The corpse is that of a pioneer in the field of experimental biotechnology, a man whose work concerned the use of the human body as a massive storage device. He may have embedded something in the cells of his now dead body. And that something might be dangerous…

What follows is a visionary thriller about the potential uses of technology, the mysteries of the human personality, and the ancient human need to believe that death is not the end. Legion: Skin Deep is speculative fiction at it most highly developed. It reaffirms Sanderson’s place as one of contemporary fiction’s most intelligent—and unpredictable—voices.

My Review:

Skin Deep is the sequel to Legion, and is set in the same universe with most of the same characters. Of course, most of those characters are Stephen Leeds’ aspects – the parts of his genius (and his psychoses) that he envisions as separate people that only he sees.

Like its predecessor, Skin Deep is also science fiction as mystery, and again, the science fictional element is in the case and not the setting. While the method that Stephen uses for dealing with his mental issues is unusual if not unique, there’s nothing particularly science fictional (or fantastic) about it. His aspects are, after all, all in his head.

Even if he does provide separate rooms in his mansion for each of them.

But the MacGuffin he has to find in this case is definitely SFnal. Or at least, I think it still is.

Stephen has been hired (read as slightly coerced by an unscrupulous friend) to find a corpse. But not just any corpse. In this case, it’s the corpse of a scientist who was experimenting with ways to use the human body as a computer. And like so many scientists, mad or otherwise, this one used his own body as his test subject.

Now that he’s dead, everyone wants to make sure that the code he embedded into his cells does not get into the wrong hands. Of course, there are several factions involved in the chase, each of whom believes that all the other parties constitute those “wrong hands”.

The body has disappeared. And it’s up to Stephen to locate it and make sure its secrets can’t be misused. Secrets that range anywhere from industrial espionage to a virus that causes cancer – and makes it a communicable disease into the bargain.

Everyone has an agenda. Including the assassin who has been hired to keep Stephen from finding that body – at all costs.

Escape Rating A-: In the end, I found a work task that I could do without much thinking, just so that I could finish this book. I couldn’t wait any longer to see how it all played out.

One question for readers is just what you think of Stephen Leeds’ aspects. How do they relate to both his genius and his coping skills? And just how crazy is the man, anyway? He sees his knowledge, both of technical and scientific topics and just plain people-skills, as being embodied in one or more of these hallucinations. Which means that he also believes that if a particular aspect is not with him, he doesn’t have access to the skills and abilities they represent. Even more telling, or confusing, when one of them ‘dies’ he loses all access to whatever knowledge they possessed. Or that he believed they possessed.

It sounds confusing, but it is a fascinating way of dealing with the world. Many introverts probably will wish they had an ‘Ivy’ who is a psychologist but also seems to represent what few social skills Leeds possesses.

He’s actually a really nice guy, but his ability to interact with people is more than a bit geekishly ‘off’. We all have days when we could use an ‘Ivy’ to help us interact.

One of the more fascinating bits of the story was the point where Stephen and all of his aspects retreated to the ‘white room’ to work on the case. It is easy to fall into Stephen’s way of thinking, that all of the aspects are separate individuals, when we see all of them seeming to work independently. They aren’t real. Stephen knows they aren’t real. But some of them have difficulty believing that fact. And when they are investigating things he isn’t actively looking at, or interacting with each other to the point of having romantic relationships, it’s difficult for the reader not to fall into the trap of believing that they are real.

That way lies madness.

But the fun of this story, along with the suspense and the marvelous plot twist at the end, revolve around Stephen’s search for the corpse. A search in which, of course, nothing is as it seems.

It is the first time I’ve ever read of an assassination plot foiled by a hostile takeover. But the real solution to the mystery eluded me until the very end. As it should. Skin Deep was absorbing and a tremendous amount of fun. I sincerely hope that the author returns to these characters, because I really want to see what happens next!

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
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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: Legion by Brandon Sanderson

Review: Legion by Brandon SandersonLegion (Legion, #1) by Brandon Sanderson
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Legion #1
Pages: 88
Published by Audible Audio on October 2nd 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"Stephen Leeds, AKA 'Legion,' is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialized skills. As the story begins, Leeds and his 'aspects' are drawn into the search for the missing Balubal Razon, inventor of a camera whose astonishing properties could alter our understanding of human history and change the very structure of society"--From publisher's description

My Review:

I was looking for another relatively short audiobook, and a friend recommended this one to me. I’ve never read anything by Brandon Sanderson before, but always meant to. And after Legion, I certainly will again.

Legion is partially SFF as mystery, and partially a fascinating character study. Or perhaps I should say “characters study”. Because one of the central questions of the story is just how real each of Stephen Leeds ‘aspects’ is. Or isn’t. He treats them as real, but he is also aware that they are hallucinations.

At the same time, he insists that he’s not really a genius. That all of his supposed insights are due to the intelligence and efforts of those ‘aspects’. He just provides the synthesis. And the body that gets them around.

But he insists that most of them believe that they are real, and he doesn’t like to upset them. That he has managed to hire and actually KEEP a butler who is willing to go along with all of this is a testament to the essential sweetness of Stephen’s nature, as well as the depth of his pocketbook.

Stephen Leeds is rich. Seemingly, as they say, beyond the dreams of avarice. Whether the genius is his or belongs to his aspects, the use of that genius has brought him a lot of money in consultant fees. Also an endless stream of annoying psychology students who regularly attempt to breach his privacy by obvious trickery. The aspects catch the fakers every time.

But his new client is no faker. She presents him with a series of black and white photographs that appear to have been taken with a time machine. A photograph of Shakespeare. Another of George Washington, shaving. And the real draw for Stephen – a photograph of the woman who taught him how to manage his crazy genius and then left without a trace.

His aspects insist that the photos are real and not faked, even though the historical ones were taken long before the invention of photography. And his client, Monica, insists that her company has discovered the secret of taking photographs of historic events as they happen – but that they’ve lost both the photographer and his magic camera.

From there, it’s off to the races, as they attempt to track down the missing photographer before someone steals his invention, and before someone uses him and it to unbalance the world.

Escape Rating A-: This was incredibly fun. I found myself driving around a bit more than usual, just so I could finish it. The premise was unique and interesting, and the mystery that it wraps around was quirky and absorbing.

There’s so much to unpack in this short novella. It does lie on that cusp between science fiction and fantasy. The time-traveling camera is technology, so science fiction. But the way that Leeds ‘aspects’ act and react feels a bit more like fantasy. How do they do what they do, especially when he is not present?

But the science fiction and fantasy bits, while not window dressing, feel more like the way the author gets to the heart of the story than the actual story. At heart, this feels like a mystery. Leeds has a missing persons case to solve, he just uses a slightly more ‘out there’ cast of irregulars than is normal.

legion skin deep by brandon sandersonWhich he insists that he is. Normal, that is. Stephen Leeds believes that he is sane and that his aspects are the various forms of crazy. But whatever they are, they do have personalities and specialties of their own, and without the correct specialist Stephen doesn’t think he has access to parts of his genius.

How much the reader falls into his way of thinking is part of what makes this story work so well.

I’m very glad that I picked up Legion, and I’m looking forward to listening to the second book in the series, Skin Deep. I hope the author returns to this world to bring us more of Stephen Leeds’ adventures.