Review: Good Guys by Steven Brust

Review: Good Guys by Steven BrustGood Guys by Steven Brust
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Pages: 320
Published by Tor Books on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Donovan was shot by a cop. For jaywalking, supposedly. Actually, for arguing with a cop while black. Four of the nine shots were lethal--or would have been, if their target had been anybody else. The Foundation picked him up, brought him back, and trained him further. "Lethal" turns out to be a relative term when magic is involved.

When Marci was fifteen, she levitated a paperweight and threw it at a guy she didn't like. The Foundation scooped her up for training too.

"Hippie chick" Susan got well into her Foundation training before they told her about the magic, but she's as powerful as Donovan and Marci now.

They can teleport themselves thousands of miles, conjure shields that will stop bullets, and read information from the remnants of spells cast by others days before.

They all work for the secretive Foundation...for minimum wage.

Which is okay, because the Foundation are the good guys. Aren't they?

My Review:

If you take Magic Ex Libris by Jim C. Hines SPI Files by Lisa Shearin, Paranormal Scene Investigations by Laura Anne Gilman, and mix them with a bit of cold war spy fiction and a heaping helping of noir, you’ll get something like Good Guys.

Both SPI Files and Paranormal Scene Investigations involve organizations that investigate and clean up after crimes in magical versions of our own world. Libriomancer and its Magic Ex Libris series are part of the mix because in that version of our world, magic is hiding in plain sight, and part of the duty of the magical organization is to protect the world from the knowledge that magic exists. Add in that the libriomancers are fighting a conspiracy both from without and from within, and the magic side of Good Guys is pretty well covered.

Because the story in Good Guys follows one particular operations team for the mysterious and magical Foundation as they chase around the world making sure that a magical serial killer does not expose the existence of real magic in the world, even as they investigate the patterns to see if they can both figure out what his game is – and catch him before he reaches its end.

Or his. Or theirs.

The more they discover about the whys and wherefores of the crime spree, the more they have to ask themselves, are they really the good guys? Or are they just battling their own bureaucracy and running around the world on behalf of an organization that is no better than the one they fight against.

Escape Rating B+: It’s been a long time, possibly too long, since I read anything by Steven Brust. I’ll admit that I was expecting a bit more snark. (If you love snarky fantasy with an epic-ish/urban-ish feel, his Vlad Taltos series (start with Jhereg) is marvelous reading crack as long as you don’t try to swallow too many of them at once.)

The story in Good Guys is a fairly deft mixture of mystery/investigation with magic, and very much a part of the urban fantasy tradition of magical detectives solving mysteries in a contemporary world that is just a bit sideways from reality.

What keeps the reader glued to their chair is the way that the whole thing works. Because we’re both following this one rather eclectic, or possibly eccentric, team of investigators while also watching them plumb the depths of their own organization – and not liking what they find in those depths.

There’s a lot of murk, and the frequent changes in perspective between the team leader, the criminal, the new recruit and the bosses on all sides of this mess occasionally muddies waters that are already pretty clouded. While the reader gets invested with Donovan and his team, the perspective shifts sometimes make it difficult to retain that focus. Especially as the author attempts to keep the reader in the dark while showing the criminal’s own thoughts and feelings. It might have worked a bit better, or it would certainly have worked a bit better for this reader, if we’d stayed with Donovan.

Which does not mean that the story wasn’t absolutely fascinating, and a whole lot of fun – because it certainly was. The investigation was every bit as twisting and convoluted as the best mystery, while the magical additions gave the forensic side of the equation lots of new toys to play with. Of course, that magic also gave the criminals new toys to play with as well.

And Donovan’s constant fight with, and continued attempts to work around, the bureaucracy that is as big a problem as it is a game, will find resonance with anyone who has worked in an organization containing more than three people. Paper-pushing procedures and internal politics are enemies that we all face.

In the end, the question of whether Donovan and his mysterious Foundation are really the good guys remains an open one. But their search for the answer is a whole lot of fun.

Review: Lake Silence by Anne Bishop

Review: Lake Silence by Anne BishopLake Silence (The Others, #6) by Anne Bishop
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: The Others #6
Pages: 416
Published by Ace on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

In this thrilling and suspenseful fantasy, set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Others series, Vicki DeVine and her lodger, the shapeshifter Aggie Crowe, stumble onto a dead body . . . and find themselves enmeshed in danger and dark secrets.

Human laws do not apply in the territory controlled by the Others–vampires, shapeshifters, and paranormal beings even more deadly. And this is a fact that humans should never, ever forget . . .

After her divorce, Vicki DeVine took over a rustic resort near Lake Silence, in a human town that is not human controlled. Towns like Vicki’s have no distance from the Others, the dominant predators that rule most of the land and all of the water throughout the world. And when a place has no boundaries, you never really know what’s out there watching you.

Vicki was hoping to find a new career and a new life. But when her lodger, Aggie Crowe–one of the shapeshifting Others–discovers a dead body, Vicki finds trouble instead. The detectives want to pin the man’s death on her, despite the evidence that nothing human could have killed the victim. As Vicki and her friends search for answers, things get dangerous–and it’ll take everything they have to stay alive.

My Review:

There’s a famous saying that “Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000.” And that’s true even if homo sapiens is no longer around to see her step up to the plate. But what if, instead of Mother Nature, or Gaia, or the workings of chemistry, biology and physics on the environment, instead of working, let’s call it, translucently, had an actual batter in the on deck circle all the time, one who regularly stepped up to the plate whenever homo sapiens screwed up.

Which we do. Frequently and often.

In some ways, that’s the premise of the world of The Others. In the earlier books of this series, starting with Written in Red, we see a world where nature is personified by beings known as “The Others”, where homo sapiens is not the dominant species. A fact that some members of the species keep trying to forget, and with predictable results.

Instead of doing whatever we want to the environment and the planet, the Others have very strict limits on what humans can do, where they can do it, and how much damage they can do. When those limits are exceeded, the Others slap humans down. Hard. Deadly hard.

At the end of Etched in Bone, the Others decide that humans need to be taught a lesson. Again. Lake Silence is the first story that takes place after those events, in a world where the human population has been deliberately decimated, and where the Others have become much more obvious about their true ownership of this world and everything in it.

Vicki DeVine has come to Lake Silence, one of the small Finger Lakes in what we call upstate New York, to try to make a go of the slightly run down rustic resort that she received in her divorce from Yorick Dane and his Vigorous Appendage.

Things are going reasonably well, in spite of the many restrictions that the Others have placed on what Vicki can and cannot do with the buildings on her resort, until Vicki’s one and only acknowledged tenant, Aggie Crow, brings home a “squooshy” eyeball. To eat. And that’s when Vicki discovers that she isn’t as finished with Yorick as she has hoped, and that the Others that most humans try to think of as “far away” and “out there” are, in fact, “in here”, or at least in Lake Silence. And that the Lake and all of its surroundings are, in fact, “out there” where the Others control everything.

Just because you don’t believe in Mother Nature, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t believe in you.

Escape Rating A: A friend wondered what there was to say about the world of the Others now that Meg, the heroine of the first part of the series, seemed to be well on her way to living a normal life including an eventual HEA.

It turns out there’s quite a lot to say, and quite a lot of very interesting characters to say it with. (I always thought that “reading crack” was somehow embedded in the pages of Meg’s story – and whatever it is, its still here).

The humans in this story are all too recognizably human, with the species’ ability to stick their heads in the sand and ignore anything that doesn’t conform to their desired reality, and with the all-too-frequent venality and willingness of some people to cheat whenever possible.

I did sometimes find myself wondering if the species might have developed somewhat differently in a world where humans were demonstrably not the apex predator, but that wouldn’t make for half so interesting a story or for characters who are so easily recognizable.

Vicki DeVine serves the same purpose in Lake Silence that Meg did in Written in Red, even though she comes from a completely different perspective. And unlike Meg, Vicki herself is not merely human, but garden-variety human. She has no special powers. She’s just a good person whose been repeatedly hurt, and she’s open minded and likeable. And the Others like her.

Vicki doesn’t know it but the resort she owns is meant to be a kind of “halfway house” for Others who want to learn to blend into the human world. Not because being human is considered better, because it’s not. But because the Others need to keep a closer eye on the humans in their human controlled enclaves, especially after the fiasco that culminated in Etched in Bone. And because humans, with their useful opposable thumbs, have invented some really cool stuff that some Others like to use, particularly those who live closer to humans, like the Sanguinati (read vampires) and the various animal shifters, like the Crowgard, Beargard and Panthergard who live near Lake Silence.

So when Vicki’s ex starts trying to dislodge her from her place on Lake Silence, the Others gather their forces, first to figure out what is really going on under the surface, and second to protect their friend and eliminate their enemies. By any means necessary.

There’s just enough humor to get the reader over the serious dark patches in the story, and there are plenty of both. That so many of the Sanguinati have become either lawyers or accountants, and just how good they are at professional bloodletting as well as the other kind provides no end of delight.

There’s something about the world of The Others that draws the reader in at the very beginning, and just doesn’t let go. Part of the appeal in this particular book is the character of Vicki DeVine, who has been wounded so badly and yet is still doing her best to get back on her feet and live her life. She is a character who starts out the story very small, but begins to grow into her place as the story progresses. It’s going to be fun watching her journey as the series continues.

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

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: Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Review: Dragon Bound by Thea HarrisonDragon Bound (Elder Races, #1) by Thea Harrison
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Elder Races #1
Pages: 312
Published by Berkley Sensation on May 3rd 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Half-human and half-Wyr, Pia Giovanni spent her life keeping a low profile among the Wyrkind and avoiding the continuing conflict between them and their Dark Fae enemies. But after being blackmailed into stealing a coin from the hoard of a dragon, Pia finds herself targeted by one of the most powerful—and passionate—of the Elder Races.

As the most feared and respected of the Wyrkind, Dragos Cuelebre cannot believe someone had the audacity to steal from him, much less succeed. And when he catches the thief, Dragos spares her life, claiming her as his own to further explore the desire they've ignited in each other.

Pia knows she must repay Dragos for her trespass, but refuses to become his slave—although she cannot deny wanting him, body and soul.

My Review:

Now I know what all the fuss is about. And everyone who said that the Elder Races series was absolutely awesomesauce were absolutely right. Dragon Bound is terrific.

I often have a love/hate relationship with things that “everyone” says I really ought to read – or perhaps that should be labeled approach avoidance. If everyone says I should, I’m often reluctant to jump on the bandwagon. So I’ve had Dragon Bound on my “wishlist” for an awfully long time.

It was worth the wait.

In addition to being a marvelous paranormal romance, the Elder Races series is also pretty damn good fantasy/urban fantasy. The worldbuilding is really solid.

The idea that the Wyr have lived among us for quite literally ever is not new. But the way that the author blends the magical with the mundane works well. This is a version of our world in which mythical creatures and the things that go bump in the night live among us – and it’s a world that has reached the point where the mundanes are aware of it as well.

In one of the early scenes there are a group of the equivalent of “flat earthers” – people who refuse to believe that the Wyr and magical kind exist in spite of scientific evidence – and they are picketing the business of a purely human witch using the same kind of tactics – and under the same restrictions – as those who protest at abortion clinics. It’s a surreal moment that firmly establishes that this world is different but humans are still all too human.

At the heart of this book is a romance. Of course there is. (This is my Valentine’s Day review, I went looking for a romance!)

Dragos Cuelebre is a dragon. He is also the “oldest old one” of the Wyr. He’s been alive just about forever and has seen the rise of the Elder Races and the proliferation of humans. He’s the most powerful being on Earth. And he’s bored out of his immortal skull, even if he doesn’t quite recognize it.

Pia Giovanni is a thief. She’s also part-Wyr and has no idea exactly what part. What she does have is a special talent and a party trick. She can break any lock – and she can glow in the dark. Doing both at once tends to give the game away, so she tries very hard not to.

But she’s stuck in the middle of a big bad caper she doesn’t want to be in. She’s been blackmailed to use her special talent to break into a dragon’s hoard and steal an item. Any item. The point of the exercise is to see if the breaking and entering can be done, not to actually loot the place.

The magical item that she is given to make this caper possible is so powerful that she knows she can’t run and hide. At the same time, stealing something from Dragos is probably a death sentence all by itself.

Instead, Pia finds herself caught between the proverbial rock and the big, flying hard place. Dragos can’t let anyone get away with stealing from him, and he can’t let Pia go. At the same time, the magic behind the theft is much bigger (and definitely badder) than Pia.

And since Pia stole that penny from his hoard, and left him a penny in return, Dragos Cuelebre has been angry, aroused, infuriated, and an entire alphabet full of emotions.

The one thing he has not been, not for a single second – is bored.

Escape Rating A: As a paranormal romance, Dragon Bound has pretty much everything a reader could possibly want. There’s the ultimate uber-Alpha hero, the extremely plucky heroine, the big, bad enemy, and a fantastic world for them to play in.

In the initial stages of what becomes their romance, Dragos and Pia are equally clueless, but they are not initially equally powerful. As with many paranormal romances, at the outset it seems like Dragos holds all the cards, and Pia rightfully wonders what will happen if he gets bored. As their bond deepens, she worries about what will happen when her mortal lifespan starts to rear its ugly head.

But the power imbalance doesn’t stay so imbalanced. One of the things that makes their romance so much fun is that while Pia defies Dragos at every turn even when she doesn’t have the power to back it up, there are plausible reasons that give their relationship enough balance for it to work in the long term – after they struggle a bit both with external enemies and with figuring out that what they are in IS a relationship – even if neither of them realizes it at first.

The characters that surround Dragos and Pia are also marvelous. Especially “Tricks”, Dragos PR manager and the heir to the Dark Fae throne – which she doesn’t want but is going to have to take. The scene where Tricks and Pia bond over drinks and gossip is fantastic!

Dragos and Pia’s world is one that I’ll want to go back and visit over and over and over. As soon as possible. If you love paranormal romance and haven’t met Dragos and Pia yet, it’s time.

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

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

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: Black Box Inc by Jake Bible

Review: Black Box Inc by Jake BibleBlack Box Inc. by Jake Bible
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Black Box Inc #1
Pages: 216
Published by Bell Bridge Books on October 20th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository

Need to hide something from the fae?Got a tricky trans-dimensional delivery to make?Need a big ball of magic that can destroy the world?Call Black Box Inc.

The world as we know it is gone. Since the “extradimensional happening,” every creature, monster, and fairy tale goblin has turned Asheville, North Carolina, into their personal playground. An uneasy truce exists between the races, but Chase Lawter’s unique ability puts him squarely in the crosshairs of treachery, feuds, and monsters looking to make a buck on black market goods. Chase is the only known being who can pull material from between dimensions and shape it into whatever he likes—like boxes. Like boxes in which folks hide smoking guns and severed heads. Only Chase can hide the boxes, and only Chase can recover them from the Dim. All for a tidy sum, of course.

His crack team—a yeti, a zombie, and a fae-trained assassin—have his back. What could possibly go wrong?

My Review:

I picked Black Box Inc to read for Halloween both because it looked interesting (which turned out to be true), fun (which definitely turned out to be true) and because the author is best known for his horror stories – even though Black Box Inc didn’t look exactly like horror – which was a good thing for this reader.

In that sense, I got what I expected. Black Box Inc is more like horror-adjacent, and that’s about the way I like it. It’s urban fantasy, in a universe where the things that go bump in the night do come out to play, as well as many of the other standard character groups that populate urban fantasy as well as horror.

And it’s a road novel. The gang, quite literally has to take the road to Hell. The caper, as there often is in urban fantasy, in this case is to steal the soul of Lord Beelzebub. Who both is and isn’t who you are thinking of.

And Hell kind of looks like Detroit – in all of its Motor City heydays. And yes, I meant that as a plural.

The set up of the universe is, while not unique, certainly interesting. Like the break in the wards around New Orleans after Katrina in Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans series, or the mashing together of the fae and human dimensions in Kai Gracen’s world (by Rhys Ford), there was an extradimensional happening in the quite recent past of Chase Lawter’s version of our world.

All the dimensions have become connected through portals. Earth’s portals, not very surprisingly, are in places where the veil between dimensions has always been a bit thin. Places like New Orleans, and San Francisco, and, Asheville NC, where Chase and his gang at Black Box Inc operate their extradimensional business.

Chase was among the many humans who picked up interesting powers in that happening. But Chase is unique, not just among the humans, but seemingly among the many other species who have suddenly acquired connections to our world. Chase can manipulate the “Dim”, the stuff that exists between dimensions. He can create weapons from it. But mostly, Jake makes boxes – hence the name of the company, Black Box Inc.

Because Jake makes “dim boxes” big and small, that allow him to hide things that people don’t want found, or lost, or stolen, in the dim, where only he can retrieve them.

It’s a living. Sometimes a very good living. Sometimes a very dangerous living. But it’s a living that keeps Jake and his colleagues busy and pays the bills.

About that gang…Jake’s friends and colleagues are an assortment of beings and personalities that could only have existed after the happening. His transportation manager is a Yeti, his business manager is a zombie, and his bodyguard is definitely human – but a human who learned to be an assassin while she was a fae changeling. Oh yeah, his lawyer is a banshee. It seems like ALL the lawyers are now banshees.

And Jake needs every hand on deck – even the ones that he doesn’t know he has – when he and his friends find themselves caught in the middle of a manipulative game between Daphne, the Queen of the Fae, and Lord Beelzebub, the ruler of a dimension that Jake calls hell.

Daphne wants Beelzebub’s soul so that she can get past his defenses and conquer his dimension. Beelzebub wants to use his soul, which he doesn’t really need anyway, in order to trap Daphne and as many of her warriors as he can so that she will stop trying to take over his dimension.

And everyone seems to think that threatening Chase and using Chase and manipulating Chase is the best way to get what they want.

They might even be right. But when both sides are playing you, you kind of get to choose which one you’re playing with, and which one you’re playing against. And it feels really weird that the Lord of Lies is on the right side of anything.

After all, all is fair in love and war, and this is definitely war.

Escape Rating B+: Black Box Inc is a hoot and a half from beginning to end. Sometimes complete with actual hoots – because the snarkitude exhibited by all the characters, but especially Chase, is often laugh out loud funny.

But Black Box Inc basically is urban fantasy of the snarky anti-hero school. While we don’t see nearly as many of those as we used to (Harry Dresden has gotten pretty damn serious over his last few books), it is a familiar trope. Black Box Inc is a damn good example of that trope, but it is familiar territory.

Part of what makes this particular book so much fun is the way that the author pokes at some of the craziness in the real world by holding up the post-happening changes as pointers to how things really are anyway, no matter how they are dressed up in real life. That all the law firms on Earth have been taken over by banshees is clever and feels right – but in some ways it doesn’t feel different from popular perceptions of real-world lawyers.

The best part, however, as with all urban fantasy when it works, is the gang. It’s not just that everyone is smart and everyone is interesting and everyone cracks wise at the drop of a hat, but that they are all different and likeable (even when they aren’t supposed to be) and that the author shows both how smart they are and how much they care about each other.

And just enough things get stood on their heads to make it seem fresh.

The worldbuilding also holds up quite well. While this is not a version of Earth I’d actually want to live in, as a construct, it makes sense and hangs together. Well done.

In a week where real life was going completely insane, Black Box Inc was marvelously diverting. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next book in the series. I definitely hope there are lots more!

Review: Wildfire by Ilona Andrews + Giveaway

Review: Wildfire by Ilona Andrews + GiveawayWildfire (Hidden Legacy, #3) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, eboook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on July 25th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Just when Nevada Baylor has finally come to accept the depths of her magical powers, she also realizes she’s fallen in love. Connor “Mad” Rogan is in many ways her equal when it comes to magic, but she’s completely out of her elements when it comes to her feelings for him. To make matters more complicated, an old flame comes back into Rogan’s life…
Rogan knows there’s nothing between him and his ex-fiance, Rynda Sherwood. But as Nevada begins to learn more about her past, her power, and her potential future, he knows she will be faced with choices she never dreamed of and the promise of a life spent without him.
As Nevada and Rogan race to discover the whereabouts of Rynda’s kidnapped husband and are forced to confront Nevada’s grandmother, who may or may not have evil motives, these two people must decide if they can trust in each other or allow everything to go up in smoke.

My Review:

This was absolutely awesomesauce. And I’m also glad that now I know what the series title means. I won’t spoil it for you, but that is one of those things that just didn’t make a whole of sense, until now. And now, well, sister, does it ever!

Wildfire is the third book in Ilona Andrews’ marvelous Hidden Legacy series, after Burn for Me and White Hot. This is a series where the action, the suspense and the romance built on each other, and the worldbuilding gets deeper and more layered, the more you get into the series. Read from the beginning. You’ll thank me later.

The setting for this series is at the intersection where urban fantasy and paranormal romance meet. And have surprisingly wild and wonderfully weird offspring.

Like much of urban fantasy, this is a near-future or same-time-as-ours-but different version of our world. Like most of urban fantasy, this is a version of our world where magic works. Unlike the usual run of the genre, however, the magic in this world works because of science. Think of it as the mad scientist division of magic. Once upon a time, about a century or so ago, some mad scientist cooked up a formula that bestowed magic powers on those who took it. Exactly how it worked and exactly why different powers manifested in different families is still anyone’s guess.

That those powers are passed down genetically is not a guess. Generations of carefully documented breeding can mostly predict what powers will manifest in children of which parents – and what powers won’t. But just like the 50/50 chance that each baby will be male or female, without reference to previous outcomes, an 80% chance that a child will manifest particular magical abilities also means there’s a 20% chance that it won’t manifest the so-called “correct” magic – or any at all.

However, unlike most urban fantasy, there is also a romance at the heart of all this politicking and power-mongering. And it’s mostly a successful romance, admittedly between two extremely stubborn and hard-headed people who push all of each other’s buttons – both the sexual kind and the seriously-needing-anger-management kind.

Connor Rogan is an extremely powerful telekinetic. He’s also a Prime, which means that he is head of his house, House Rogan, and that many of the laws that apply to us lesser mortals don’t apply to him – not just because they are unenforceable but because the collateral damage of making the attempt is just too high.

Nevada Baylor has just learned that her grandmother, the powerful truthseeker Victoria Tremaine, will do anything, no matter how unethical, to capture Nevada and her sisters. Victoria is the Prime of House Tremaine, and her House is dying. Nevada is her best hope of keeping her House intact. Why? Because Nevada is her granddaughter, and has inherited her truthseeking powers in full measure. A fact that Nevada only became aware of at the end of White Hot.

But the reason that Victoria needs Nevada is also the reason that Nevada has options – admittedly options that she was hoping not to have to exercise. House politics and inter-house rivalries make the bloodshed on Game of Thrones look like the proverbial Sunday school picnic. Nevada has never wanted any part of any of it – but now she has no choice. Filing to become a new house, House Baylor, should protect her from her grandmother long enough for the fledgling house to get itself on a stable footing. If they pass the trials for house creation. If they even manage to get to those trials.

Because there’s a conspiracy afoot, as uncovered in White Hot, to remove even the few restrictions that currently impede the houses from doing whatever they want to whomever they want whenever they want. There are those among them who believe that their absolute power gives them the right to rule absolutely everyone and everything.

It’s up to Rogan and Nevada to stop them yet again. Even as the conspiracy threatens to split them apart and kill everything they hold most dear. By any horrific means available.

Cat 7 hurricane, anyone?

Escape Rating A+: I inhaled this book in a day, finishing at about 2 in the morning with one hell of a book hangover. The story was marvelous, and the world it is set in is absolutely fascinating. I want to go back.

One of the things that makes it all so absorbing is the amount of depth in the characterizations and their backstories. The romance, while marvelous, is far from all there is to either Rogan or Nevada. A very big part of Nevada’s story is just how much she cares, not just about Rogan, but about her family, her family’s business, and anyone she decides is part of her team. At the same time, this is also a story where the child is forced to become, if not exactly the parent, certainly the head of household. It’s not so much about the torch being passed as the dropped torch being picked up and run with. The scene where Nevada has to call her mother on a whole bunch of shit is awesome. Not because Nevada’s mother is in any way a bitch or even that she was wrong in the past, just that some of her decisions have had rather unfortunate consequences, and Nevada is the one who is forced to deal with all the crap and pick up all the pieces. Because while her mother’s solutions may have worked in that past, the world has changed, and they won’t work any longer. A fact that Nevada is all too cognizant of but her mother is extremely reluctant to acknowledge.

I also loved that the solution for Rogan’s ex wasn’t for her to find her own man, dammit, but for her to find her own power and finally own it. It’s a much more empowering solution both for her and for the reader than for Rynda to continue to be such a damned princess. It’s always better to rescue your own self.

This series just keeps getting better and better. And I really, really hope it continues, because the ending left plenty of possibilities for future stories in this world, and I want to read them all.


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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

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: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish

Review: Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi CharishOwl and the Japanese Circus (The Adventures of Owl, #1) by Kristi Charish
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Adventures of Owl #1
Pages: 432
Published by Pocket Star on January 13th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix—better known now as Owl—has one rule. No supernatural jobs. Ever. Until she crosses paths with Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon who owns and runs the Japanese Circus Casino in Las Vegas. He insists Owl retrieve an artifact stolen three thousand years ago, and makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll get rid of a pack of vampires that want her dead. A dragon is about the only entity on the planet that can deliver on Owl’s vampire problem – and let’s face it, dragons are known to eat the odd thief.
Owl retraces the steps of Mr. Kurosawa’s ancient thief from Japan to Bali with the help of her best friend, Nadya, and an attractive mercenary. As it turns out though, finding the scroll is the least of her worries. When she figures out one of Mr. Kurosawa’s trusted advisors is orchestrating a plan to use a weapon powerful enough to wipe out a city, things go to hell in a hand basket fast…and Owl has to pick sides.

My Review:

In this story, the Japanese Circus is a glitzy Las Vegas casino – owned by a Japanese Red Dragon. And Owl is almost as good as she thinks she is – and as all the hype said her story is.

This is urban fantasy, so a contemporary 21st century setting in a world not that much different from our own – except that the things that go bump in the night not only exist, but also go bump in the daytime, too.

Owl, a disgraced archaeology student formerly known as Alix, seems to have the worst radar in the world for telling the supes from the mundanes. And that’s what got her in so much trouble. Because in a world where supernatural creatures have been apex predators for centuries, it’s only logical that all too many archaeological digs would find powerful artifacts and dangerous creatures.

Alix’s disgrace was that once she stumbled into it, she wasn’t willing to cover it up.

As Owl, her luck continues to plummet. When we meet her, she and her trusty companion, her Egyptian Mau cat Captain, are on the run from a vampire gang after she accidentally exposed one of their ancient leaders to a fatal dose of sunshine. Owl’s method of running is to stay off the grid in a patched up Winnebago, stopping at out of the way places for supplies, cat treats and internet connections to her favorite MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game) where she plays, of course, a thief. And to check her contacts for more illicit archaeology gigs.

That’s how Owl makes her living now, when she can manage it. She steals treasures from archaeological digs. And she’s good at it. A little too good.

So when Mr. Kurosawa makes Owl and offer she quite literally can’t refuse, she finds herself up to her neck in bloodthirsty supernaturals. Only to discover that she’s been there all along.

Escape Rating B+: If fools rush in where angels fear to tread, then Owl jumps in where even fools would back away slowly. Part of Owl’s appeal, and the engine that drives the story out of the frying pan into the fire (and then straight into oven and on down) is the manic way that Owl barrels into every situation without ever pausing for either breath or thought. No matter how much trouble she is in at the beginning, she seems to have an absolute genius for making it worse.

And while at first the breakneck pace of Owl’s disasterrific nature was a whole lot of fun, by the end it feels like it’s walked its tightrope just a bit too long or a bit too high. She should be dead six times over. But more importantly, she doesn’t seem to learn. A tendency that I hope changes for the better over the next books in the series. She’s going to have to grow to remain interesting – not to mention, to plausibly survive the messes she keeps throwing herself into.

However, the characters that she surrounds herself with have hidden depths that just keep getting deeper and more fascinating as the story progresses. Owl seems to have the worst supe-radar in her universe, because all of her friends, acquaintances and enemies are all supernatural, except for her best friend and business partner Nadya. Even Captain has hidden talents. That cat is much, much too smart to be merely a cat and a vampire detector. That his scratches and bites are also highly poisonous to vamps is a big plus, but still doesn’t explain why his IQ occasionally seems higher than Owl’s. I bet there’s a story there, and I can’t wait to read it.

When Owl and the Japanese Circus came out a couple of years ago, there was an absolute outpouring of great reviews. Urban fantasy is not as popular as it used to be, and it’s not often these days that a new world gets created with the depth of worldbuilding that anchors Owl and her story. There’s a fantastic amount to explore here, and I have high hopes for that exploration.

And now I understand completely why this is the one book in my Netgalley queue that has never expired. The publishers know it’s a gateway drug. And they were right.