Review: Dead Man’s Hand by James J. Butcher

Review: Dead Man’s Hand by James J. ButcherDead Man's Hand (The Unorthodox Chronicles, #1) by James J. Butcher
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Unorthodox Chronicles #1
Pages: 384
Published by Ace on October 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

In the tradition of his renowned father, James J. Butcher's debut novel is a brilliant urban fantasy about a young man who must throw out the magical rule book to solve the murder of his former mentor.
On the streets of Boston, the world is divided into the ordinary Usuals, and the paranormal Unorthodox. And in the Department of Unorthodox Affairs, the Auditors are the magical elite, government-sanctioned witches with spells at their command and all the power and prestige that comes with it. Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby is...not one of those witches.
After flunking out of the Auditor training program and being dismissed as "not Department material," Grimsby tried to resign himself to life as a mediocre witch. But he can't help hoping he'll somehow, someway, get another chance to prove his skill. That opportunity comes with a price when his former mentor, aka the most dangerous witch alive, is murdered down the street from where he works, and Grimsby is the Auditors' number one suspect.
Proving his innocence will require more than a little legwork, and after forming a strange alliance with the retired legend known as the Huntsman and a mysterious being from Elsewhere, Grimsby is abruptly thrown into a life of adventure, whether he wants it or not. Now all he has to do is find the real killer, avoid the Auditors on his trail, and most importantly, stay alive.

My Review:

Leslie Mayflower’s partner is dead. Well, his ex-partner, as Mayflower has retired from the Department of Unorthodox Affairs. But Mayflower, better known – and righteously feared – in that community as the Huntsman feels like he owes his former partner one last debt, so he lets himself be convinced to view the scene of her murder.

What he finds is a puzzle he can’t resist. His partner, Samantha Mansgraf, one of the baddest baddasses to ever work for the Department, left a message in her own blood to “Kill Grimsby” after obliterating everyone and everything at the scene except her own mangled corpse.

Mayflower is having a difficult enough time believing that anyone could have taken Mansgraf out, but he’s absolutely positive it couldn’t have been Grimsby. Because Grimsby is an utter failure at pretty much everything – including being a witch and applying to work for the Department – while Mansgraf was, well, Mansgraf. A name which literally translates to ‘man’s grave’ because she was just that powerful, paranoid, and deadly.

Mayflower wants to avenge his former partner. He knows he can’t trust the Department, that’s part of why he retired in the first place. He’s not sure that Grimsby is either trustworthy or even remotely capable of assisting him. After all, the man is currently working as a clown for children’s birthday parties at the worst and most inedible food franchise in the city if not the entire planet. And he’s failing at that.

But both men are broken and both need someone to help them stand up – or at least someone to stand up for. They may not be much, separately or even together – but they’re all they’ve got.

Which gives them each the one thing they need more than anything else. The chance to finally be enough.

Escape Rating B: Once upon a time, at the turn of the most recent century, there was a wizard listed in the Chicago phone book. The temptation to compare Boston’s Grimshaw Griswald Grimsby to Harry Dresden is not surprisingly a strong one, considering that Dresden’s creator and Grimsby’s are father and son, both playing in the same urban fantasy storybox.

But the 21st century world of Dead Man’s Hand isn’t Chicago in 2000, although it does take some of its inspiration from a different bit of intellectual property of the same era.

In 1997, a little movie called Men in Black began a franchise that is still stuttering along. (The reviews of the most recent entry in the series were not exactly stellar.) MiB is set in a near-future world where aliens walk among us in disguise. Naturally, there are agents that monitor those aliens, ensuring that the secret of Earth’s place in the wider galaxy is kept, at the cost of losing memories and/or exile or outright termination or all of the above. Those agents are the titular men in black, and the agency that employs them is huge, powerful and entirely too subject to that old saw about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely.

In urban fantasy, which Dead Man’s Hand most definitely is, the strange, weird, wonderful and sometimes deadly and dangerous things that walk among us aren’t from ‘out there’ so much as ‘over there’ or, all too frequently, ‘below’. Or, again, all of the above. In this world, those humans who can see and work in ‘Elsewhere’ are witches (whether male or female). There are, however, plenty of other beings from ‘Elsewhere’ that are capable of messing with humans, whether ‘Usual’ (garden-variety humanity) or ‘Unorthodox’, meaning witches and a few others.

And there’s an agency set up to monitor and control anyone or anything who can see ‘Elsewhere’, whether human or not. Just like the aforementioned Men in Black, that agency is huge, powerful and entirely too subject to that very same old saw about power and corruption.

That the offbeat pairing of experienced, emotionally stunted and permanently grizzled Mayflower with wide-eyed newbie Grimsby has more than a passing resemblance to the pair of agents in the first MiB movie feels like more than coincidence. Although I keep seeing Sam Elliott as Mayflower and let’s just say that STILL not a bad look. At all.

Ahem…

The story in Dead Man’s Hand begins with Mayflower’s search for revenge but quickly morphs into a search for a magical McGuffin that he hopes will lead to that revenge. But, as is true in most of urban fantasy, magical McGuffins are never exactly who, what or where everyone thinks they are, and that’s especially true here.

What makes that work is the way that Mayflower and Grimsby discover that they are each not quite what the other thought, either.

There’s a lot of running and chasing in pursuit of that McGuffin – or in retreat from the other forces in search of that same item. One of the locations that chase led through left a bad taste in at least this reader’s mouth. It’s possible that the bit chasing down body parts in the sex dungeon run by demons was intended to be funny, but if so the joke didn’t land. And probably shouldn’t have.

On my other hand – and I have plenty to choose from in this one as there’s one extra – the dig down through the layers of misdirection and the nearly archaeological level digging required to find either Mayflower’s or Grimsby’s remaining faith in themselves took us into some emotional dark places and gave readers plenty of dirty deeds to look forward to uncovering in future entries in the series.

I certainly am.

Review: Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty

Review: Station Eternity by Mur LaffertyStation Eternity (The Midsolar Murders, #1) by Mur Lafferty
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, science fiction
Series: Midsolar Murders #1
Pages: 336
Published by Ace on October 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

From idyllic small towns to claustrophobic urban landscapes, Mallory Viridian is constantly embroiled in murder cases that only she has the insight to solve. But outside of a classic mystery novel, being surrounded by death doesn’t make you a charming amateur detective, it makes you a suspect and a social pariah. So when Mallory gets the opportunity to take refuge on a sentient space station, she thinks she has the solution. Surely the murders will stop if her only company is alien beings. At first her new existence is peacefully quiet…and markedly devoid of homicide.
But when the station agrees to allow additional human guests, Mallory knows the break from her peculiar reality is over. After the first Earth shuttle arrives, and aliens and humans alike begin to die, the station is thrown into peril. Stuck smack-dab in the middle of an extraterrestrial whodunit, and wondering how in the world this keeps happening to her anyway, Mallory has to solve the crime—and fast—or the list of victims could grow to include everyone on board….

My Review:

Mallory Viridian is a murder magnet. Wherever she goes, whenever she is in a group long enough, big enough, or both, somebody ends up dead. She’s never been the intended victim, and she’s never been the perpetrator, either. No matter how many times any number of different law enforcement agencies have tried to pin the murder on her. Because she nearly always solves the case. In fact, she has a downright preternatural ability to solve crimes. She’d be perfect as a cop or a private investigator, but law enforcement is so perturbed by her ability to be in the room where it happens AND figure out whodunnit when they can’t that she’s been blackballed from any possibility of using her weird talent where it will do some good.

She’s also tired of being in the midst of all the carnage as well as the suspicion that goes along with it.

Which has led her to Station Eternity, one of only three humans permitted on the alien, self-aware, sentient station. In the hopes that, with only three humans aboard her gift – or curse – won’t kick in. As long as she doesn’t let herself get too close to either of her fellow exiles.

So when she learns that an entire shuttle full of humans is already on its way to the station, she starts to panic. A panic she manages to pass along to her fellow exiles; an AWOL US Army soldier with a whole lot of military secrets, along with the human ambassador who is sure the shuttle contains his replacement. The soldier is sure that someone is coming to get him, while Mallory is dead certain that when the shuttle arrives, somebody is going to end up dead.

They’re all equally correct. And equally screwed.

When the shuttle approaches the station, chaos erupts. Mallory expected a murder – but not on the scale she is forced to confront. Or the people she’s forced to confront along with it.

The station lashes out at the shuttle, killing half the humans aboard, along with all of the non-human crew. Why? Because someone attacked the station’s very own symbiotic partner, setting off a chain of catastrophes, evolutions, and revelations that no one aboard is prepared to deal with.

Especially Mallory.

Escape Rating A-: This delightfully bonkers story combines a locked-room – or at least locked station – mystery with a fascinating premise and a species-diverse post-First Contact setting to create a puzzle that will drive its readers every single bit as panic-stricken as its protagonists.

The world of Station Eternity isn’t all that hard to fathom – from a certain point of view. The concept that someday – possibly even someday soon as in this story – beings from the galaxy at large will visit Earth. And most likely decide that we aren’t nearly as impressive as we think we are.

We don’t impress the rest of the galaxy because we’re so…singular. Isolated. Unable to form symbiotic bonds with other species, which those other species believe are required for higher development.

While humans – at least those of certain mindsets – see threats to our existence in what are most likely just threats to their own sense of self-importance and manifest destiny.

So what begins as a seemingly simple crash turns into a life-threatening crisis that places Mallory and her uncanny talent for solving murders at its center. And very nearly out its airlock.

What holds the story together is the way that everyone involved, including the non-humans, is linked to Mallory. In spite of her fear of becoming linked to much of anyone. The station has permitted her sanctuary, one species of insect-type aliens is studying human biology through her, several of the rock-type aliens are her friends, the camouflage-type aliens respect her ability to help solve problems, and the officious administrative-type (both human and alien) want her off the station.

Even what seems like a grab-bag of assorted humans aboard the shuttle are all connected to her – or connected to the other human-granted-sanctuary aboard, that AWOL soldier Xan. Who is also connected to Mallory – not just because of their time on the station but as a result of all the times they interacted on Earth.

It’s the connections to Mallory, those things she has avoided much of her life, that glue both the reader and Mallory into the story. Some of that holding together peeks back at how they all got there, and occasionally that peering into the past puts a bit of a hitch in the narrative – but that always manages to stutter back around.

So it’s bonkers. And weird. And fascinating. And a bit too on the nose at some points. It’s also perfect that in the end Mallory finally has the three things she’s been looking for. A purpose she can really sink her teeth into. A place where she can have friends and a real life for herself. Best of all, she finally has answers to all the puzzles of her life – and a way to move forward. With hope.

It’s not surprising that Station Eternity is the first book in a series. The premise of the uncanny detective on the alien station just seems perfect for continuing. And it will be, sometime next year.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to tide you over, I can recommend two recent books that are also wrapped around solving mysteries on spaceships or colonies which have put different but still fascinating spins of their own onto their SFnal mystery. So if you like the sound of Station Eternity, or are looking for more after you finish it, check out The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal and the upcoming To Each This World by Julie Czerneda. They are both excellent and will make the wait for the (so far untitled) next book in The Midsolar Murders series go just a little bit faster.

Review: Crowbones by Anne Bishop

Review: Crowbones by Anne BishopCrowbones (The World of the Others #3; The Others #8) by Anne Bishop
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: The World of the Others #3, The Others #8
Pages: 384
Published by Ace on March 8, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

In this engrossing and gripping fantasy set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Others series, an inn owner and her friends must find a killer-before it's too late....
Crowbones will gitcha if you don't watch out!
Deep in the territory controlled by the Others-shape-shifters, vampires, and even deadlier paranormal beings-Vicki DeVine has made a new life for herself running The Jumble, a rustic resort. When she decides to host a gathering of friends and guests for Trickster Night, at first everything is going well between the humans and the Others.
But then someone arrives dressed as Crowbones, the Crowgard bogeyman. When the impostor is killed along with a shape-shifting Crow, and the deaths are clearly connected, everyone fears that the real Crowbones may have come to The Jumble-and that could mean serious trouble.
To "encourage" humans to help them find some answers, the Elders and Elementals close all the roads, locking in suspects and victims alike. Now Vicki, human police chief Grimshaw, vampire lawyer Ilya Sanguinati, and the rest of their friends have to figure out who is manipulating events designed to pit humans against Others-and who may have put Vicki DeVine in the crosshairs of a powerful hunter--

My Review:

In this third book in the World of The Others series – after Lake Silence and Wild Country, the remote, mostly human town of Bennett seems to be putting down roots. The Sanguinati – the vampires of this particular not-quite-our-history-alternate-Earth have learned to work with the human somewhat-authority and the humans who are staying for good in Bennett have generally figured out the boundaries of what they can and can’t do in a town that is surrounded by the Elders.

That whole paragraph has so many caveats and so much explanation because this series has established a version of Earth that may physically resemble this one BUT has had a totally different evolution and history.

This is a version of our world where humans are not and have never been the apex predators. A fact that is well-established and periodically reinforced. But a fact that short-lived humans with even shorter memories keep forgetting – with catastrophic results.

For the humans, that is.

In this World of the Others, which began in the Courtyards of The Others in Written in Red, humans are very much as we are now – which is one of those things that honestly makes no sense in a world where we did not evolve as the apex predators. But it does make the shenanigans of the humans in this “Otherworld” a whole lot more relatable.

What makes this particular story even more relatable is that it is set around this world’s version of Halloween, which they call Trickster Night.

Because Bennett is an experiment for the Elders, part of that experiment is seeing if humans other than those who have self-selected for life in Bennett can manage to obey the unwritten rules, provide some much-needed income for the town and give the local “Other” residents more opportunities to interact with more, different humans.

After all, the Elders don’t need us at all, for anything, but some of the “lesser” Others – the vampires and the shapeshifters in particular – have discovered that some of the things we make are useful. Being able to trade peacefully and live side by side is desirable if WE can manage to follow the rules.

But Trickster Night, just like Halloween, is a time when rules get bent if not outright broken. Strangers in masks can get up to all kinds of mischief once the sun goes down. But the myths and legends are real in the World of the Others, so when someone pretends to be the legendary “Crowbones” with the intent to stir up trouble, that same Crowbones might just see fit to come out to get them.

Escape Rating A-: Somehow, in spite of the fact that I read ebooks and not print, there’s reading crack embedded in the pages of this series and it’s still working on me in spite of the technological impossibility. I can’t resist this series AT ALL, I always start the book as soon as I get it, and can’t put it down until I’m done.

No matter how much that whole issue about humans behaving just as badly and in the same ways in the series as we do in real life, when the possibility of that happening in these circumstances is unlikely as hell. My “willing suspension of disbelief” seems to be operated remotely the minute I pick the book up, I’m all in while I’m reading it, and then the thing shuts off as soon as I’m done and I’m all WTF about the evolution of humanity thing again.

That being said, the setup of this version of our world is fascinating and complex and this is not the place to start. Start either at the very beginning with Written in Red, or pick the series up when it moves to Bennett in Lake Silence. We’re way too deep in Crowbones to start here.

But speaking of being in too deep, the story about this particular Trickster Night focuses on a bit of human rot that has burrowed deep into the fabric of this remote village. That rot is a manipulative beast that has plans to see just what it takes to make the Others who share Bennett with humans act out in ways that will get the attention of the Elders. Someone who has been entirely too successful “breaking” humans and wants to move on to bigger and more dangerous prey.

The leadership of the town, which has not yet completely gelled and isn’t fully vested in trusting each other yet, has a limited amount of time – because the Elders have an extremely limited amount of patience where humans are concerned – to figure out what’s gone wrong and FIX IT – before the Elders decide that the Bennett experiment was a failure.

A decision that will be fatal for both the humans and the lesser “Others” who want to call Bennett home.

The Elders may not have much patience, but I’ll be patiently waiting to see if there are more stories in this series. It may drive me bonkers – but I can’t resist this place or it’s people one little bit.

Review: The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman

Review: The Untold Story by Genevieve CogmanThe Untold Story (The Invisible Library #8) by Genevieve Cogman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, gaslamp, historical fantasy, steampunk, urban fantasy
Series: Invisible Library #8
Pages: 352
Published by Ace on December 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this thrilling historical fantasy, time-traveling Librarian spy Irene will need to delve deep into a tangled web of loyalty and power to keep her friends safe.
Irene is trying to learn the truth about Alberich-and the possibility that he's her father. But when the Library orders her to kill him, and then Alberich himself offers to sign a truce, she has to discover why he originally betrayed the Library.
With her allies endangered and her strongest loyalties under threat, she'll have to trace his past across multiple worlds and into the depths of mythology and folklore, to find the truth at the heart of the Library, and why the Library was first created.

My Review:

Heist and caper stories often open at the close, meaning that the reader – or viewer in the case of TV and movies – comes into the story as the caper either appears to be succeeding or failing. Then the story jumps back to the beginning and we get to see how the situation and characters got into the rather large pickle that they were in when we joined the action.

This final book in the Invisible Library series closes at the open. When we first met Irene Winters all the way back in the first book, also titled The Invisible Library, as far as the existence of the Library and Irene’s place in it were concerned, the story is in medias res, the middle of the matter.

As the story has progressed, many of Irene’s adventures have been heists or capers or both, as she generally finds herself and her friends and companions not just jumping from the frying pan into the fire, but in messes where it’s frying pans and fires all the way down.

But part of the reason for all the perils that Irene finds herself facing is that the situation between the worlds is deteriorating. The Library and its librarians guard the balance between the absolute order of the Dragons and the utter chaos of the fae.

Because the worlds in the center, the worlds that have enough chaos to prevent tyranny and allow for growth, but that also have enough order for laws and organizations and society in general to manage to function, are the only worlds on which humans thrive.

And all the librarians, except for Irene’s former apprentice, the Dragon Prince Kai, and her current apprentice, the fae bibliophile Catherine, have been human.

Someone is eliminating worlds at the far ends of the spectrum, both worlds of extreme order and worlds of absolute chaos. Someone wants to destabilize the Library and the fragile peace it brokers between the Dragons and the Fae.

In order to figure out who or what is leading their entire system into destruction, Irene will have to go all the way to the beginning of things. To the lost myths of the foundation of the Library itself. And to the truth of her own origins.

Escape Rating A: The madcap misadventures of librarian Irene Winters come to a rollicking conclusion in this final book in the epic Invisible Library series.

While this series has been very much one caper after another, the lighthearted tone of the series has slipped towards a more serious turn as it has continued. After Irene’s discovery at the end of the previous book, The Dark Archive, that she’s not the biological daughter of the two librarians who raised her, the foundations of Irene’s world have taken more than a bit of a beating.

It’s not just that her adoptive parents lied to her – along with the collusion of the Library itself, but that while Irene may not exactly be the Library’s equivalent of Luke Skywalker, her sperm donor is very definitely the Library’s version of Darth Vader – and he is her father, a revelation that lands with the same “THUD” that it does for Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.

Vader is, at least at that point in the series, exactly the villain that everyone thinks he is. Alberich’s status is a bit less clear. Not that he hasn’t committed a lot of terrible acts, but that the reason behind those terrible acts is not nearly so simple – or so black and white – as Vader’s turn to the Dark Side.

Just as Irene’s discovery of her parentage – and the Library’s role in covering it up – lead to questions that no one wants to answer, so too do her questions about the true origin of the Library itself. A truth that is shrouded in myths and legends that no one really wants to examine.

But that’s what Irene does, because that’s who she is. Librarians don’t know everything. What librarians know, in real life as well as in fantastic stories like this one, is how to find things out. Even things that no one wants found. Even things that will shake the foundations of the world.

The Untold Story has been untold for centuries because too many beings have a vested interest in NOT exposing the truth at the heart of their world. But Librarian Irene Winters tells that story anyway. And it’s the wildest ride she’s ever taken us on.

This is an intensely compelling ending to a fascinating saga. If you haven’t yet visited the Invisible Library, start at the beginning and settle in for a wild, woolly and wonderful ride.

Review: The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman

Review: The Dark Archive by Genevieve CogmanThe Dark Archive (The Invisible Library, #7) by Genevieve Cogman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, steampunk, urban fantasy
Series: Invisible Library #7
Pages: 336
Published by Ace on November 26, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A professional spy for a mysterious Library which harvests fiction from different realities, Irene faces a series of assassination attempts that threaten to destroy her and everything she has worked for.
Irene is teaching her new assistant the fundamentals of a Librarian's job, and finding that training a young Fae is more difficult than she expected. But when they both narrowly avoid getting killed in an assassination attempt, she decides that learning by doing is the only option they have left - especially when the assassins keep coming for them, and for Irene's other friends as well...
In order to protect themselves, Irene and her friends must do what they do best: search for information to defeat the overwhelming threat they face and identify their unseen enemy. To do that, Irene will have to delve deeper into her own history than she ever has before, face an ancient foe, and uncover secrets that will change her life and the course of the Library forever.

My Review:

The Invisible Library series could also be titled, “The Perils of Irene” – without any sort of a stretch at all. Irene’s adventures aren’t just “out of the frying pan into the fire” but frying pans and fires all the way down. Until the last jump lands Irene (and company) straight into a pit where it’s always darkest just before things turn completely black. Then a light shines at the end of the tunnel and it’s always an oncoming train.

Which Irene and her friends manage to board and escape – only to have both the train and the station it crashes into transform into another frying pan and another fire. Each and every one bigger and hotter than the last.

And so it goes with this seventh book in the series, as Irene and her friends are still dealing with the fallout from the previous adventure in The Secret Chapter, only to discover that the mess that they thought they’d wrapped up hasn’t really begun. It’s just moved itself to a new home. Theirs.

Irene’s adventures tend to be caper stories. Well, they at least begin as caper stories. The opening scenes are of Irene sent somewhere questionable and doing something slightly dodgy, in order to “acquire” a book that the Library needs and that Irene has been ordered to get.

Sometimes (rarely) Irene’s methods of acquisition are on the relatively up and up – either an exchange of money or an exchange of more-or-less above board favors. When this story begins, Irene is in Guernsey in her analog of Victorian London intending to buy a copy – or possibly THE copy, of Le Morte de Merlin by Thomas Malory. (If the title sounds familiar, that’s because it’s this particular world’s foundational book of the Arthurian legends – except they’re based around Merlin instead. As if Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave were both rare and historical canon.)

Howsomever, as so often happens in the parts of Irene’s life that we are privileged to witness, the slightly clandestine but otherwise above board goes pear-shaped. The meeting place is attacked, the sellers are assassinated and Irene and her new apprentice escape the clutches of evil by the skin of their teeth – WITH the book firmly in hand.

While the beginning of this story is far from atypical for the series – and very much part of the reason that I love it so much – the farrago of death, danger and derring-do that Irene and her friends find themselves in this time turns out to be a walk through some very dark places.

Because it’s not just a book or even the future of the Library that’s at stake this time. What opens as just another one of Irene’s “little” adventures turns out to be the opening act in a fight for her very soul.

Escape Rating B: This turned out to be more of a mixed-feelings read than I was expecting. Because I absolutely adore this series and have been waiting all year for this book, so I expected to fall into instantly and love every minute of reading it.

But, but, but, it took me a while to get stuck back into Irene’s world, longer than usual. That may partly be ‘tis the season as well as ‘tis the year 2020 and everything is weird. I think it was also that the opening of this story reads like so many of the other books with tiny variations, that it felt like it started a bit in the middle – as in the opening is very dependent on events in the previous book – and that this book represents a change in direction for the series – or at least an expansion in scope as well as a contraction in focus – and it took a bit to switch from just another caper to “the end of the world as we know it” to “the end of Irene’s world as she knows it”. Which is not the same thing at all.

Also, Irene spends a lot of this story not just being reactive instead of proactive – because that’s normal – but because she’s reacting in confusion and obfuscation to the point where I as the reader felt more confused and obfuscated than I either liked or expected. Irene has a reputation for “getting shit done” but spent the beginning and middle of this book flailing around and worrying about her new apprentice instead of just dealing with shit.

At least it felt that way.

Then all of the various enemies’ schemes collapsed into (finally) one big ball of wrong instead of a whole lot of bouncing little balls of wrong and the whole story took flight even as Irene’s life crashed and burned.

The ending pushes the whole story off the original “light” rail and onto a much deeper and darker track. It’s going to be marvelous and probably heartbreaking and I can’t wait until this time next year when we’ll probably (hopefully) get book 8 in the series.

One final note, when I saw the title of this entry in the series, it sounded familiar – only because the title is oh-so-similar to another book that came out this fall, written by a real-world librarian and archivist. That similarly titled but not similar in subject book is Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin by Megan Rosenbloom. You’d think it wouldn’t be remotely relevant. But it sorta/kinda is in a much creepier way than I could ever have expected.

Read this series, starting with The Invisible Library, and you’ll see.

Review: The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman

Review: The Secret Chapter by Genevieve CogmanThe Secret Chapter (The Invisible Library #6) by Genevieve Cogman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, fantasy, historical fantasy, mystery, urban fantasy
Series: Invisible Library #6
Pages: 336
Published by Ace on January 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the latest novel in Genevieve Cogman’s historical fantasy series, Irene and Kai have to team up with an unlikely band of misfits to pull off an amazing art heist—or risk the wrath of the dangerous villain with a secret island lair.

A Librarian’s work is never done, and once Irene has a quick rest after their latest adventure, she is summoned to the Library. The world where she grew up is in danger of veering deep into chaos, and she needs to obtain a particular book to stop this from happening. No copies of the book are available in the Library, so her only choice is to contact a mysterious Fae information broker and trader of rare objects: Mr. Nemo.

Irene and Kai make their way to Mr. Nemo’s remote Caribbean island and are invited to dinner, which includes unlikely company. Mr. Nemo has an offer for everyone there: he wants them to steal a specific painting from a specific world. He swears that he will give each of them an item from his collection if they bring him the painting within the week.

Everyone takes the deal. But to get their reward, they will have to form a team, including a dragon techie, a Fae thief, a gambler, a driver, and the muscle. Their goal? The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, in a early twenty-first century world, where their toughest challenge might be each other.

My Review:

This series is pretty much frying pans and fires all the way down, but this entry has an added fillip of archetypal James Bond movie villains to put a bit of extra zing into this increasingly wild ride of a story.

And there are dragons. There are definitely dragons. In this particular entry in the series, there are dragons on all sides. Irene is, of course, accompanied by her own personal dragon, her apprentice-turned-lover Kai.

While dragons in this universe are creatures of order, and Kai is an actual prince among his kind, the side that Kai is generally on – as well as nearly always at – is Irene’s.

But he’s not the only dragon in this one. And not all of them are exactly on the side of the angels. Or even all on the same side. In fact, it could be said that one of the dragons is more than a bit chaotic – at least insofar as anarchy generally equates to chaos – even if the dragon in question doesn’t see it that way.

The Secret Chapter is both a caper story and a followup to the previous entry in the series, The Mortal Word, without being directly dependent on its predecessor. Well, Irene’s and Kai’s actions are influenced by those previous events, but the caper they find themselves in the middle of doesn’t directly relate to the treaty between Dragons and Fae squabbled over during that story and finally signed at the end.

Instead, this one at first hearkens back to earlier books in the series – and earlier escapades in Irene’s past. Irene is sent to the lair of an archetypal fae collector and information broker – cue the James Bond music – to negotiate the acquisition of a book from Mr. Nemo’s collection that will stabilize the world where Irene went to school.

And that’s where the caper comes in. Mr. Nemo collects lots of interesting things – and people. As a powerful fae, it’s both who he is and what he does. He gets and keeps his power from embodying that archetype.

In return for the book that Irene and the Library desperately want, Mr. Nemo requires that they, along with a motley crew that he has previously assembled, steal a particular painting from a specified world and bring it back to his lair.

The caper, the theft, and the way it works – and doesn’t – may remind readers a bit of the TV series Leverage. It’s the old story of taking a thief to catch a thief, but with multiple twists – not always expected.

This is one of those stories where things are far from what they seem. The thug isn’t a thug, the prisoner isn’t a prisoner, the painting isn’t just a painting. It’s also the “secret chapter” of the book’s title. It’s a secret chapter in the history of the dragons – a secret that no dragon should ever want to let out.

But then there’s that anarchist…

Escape Rating A-: If the pattern for the previous book in this series was that of a murder mystery, the pattern for The Secret Chapter is the caper movie crossed with James Bond-type villainy. It’s the motley crew carrying off the heist for the best of all possible reasons, like Leverage. With a villain like Blofeld or Goldfinger pulling the strings behind the scenes. (I’m pretty sure I remember a Bond movie or two that included that scene with the sharks…)

But underneath that set up, there are more interesting games afoot. Or a-wing in the case of the dragon members of the barely together party.

There is more than one “secret chapter” in this story. Come to think of it, both Irene and Kai are dealing with secret chapters of their lives and histories that have all the impact of a bomb in this entry in the series.

(Take that as a hint, don’t start the series here. Begin your journey at The Invisible Library and be prepared to get lost in the stacks.)

The secrets that Irene exposes – or feels exposed by – are all personal. She and her parents have to resolve Irene’s discovery that she was adopted – and that they never told her. Her sense of herself is still reeling a bit. That the book she needs to retrieve will prevent the world where she went to school, one of the few stable places in her chaotic history, from falling into absolute chaos gives the story a personal stake for her.

At the same time, one of the many, many things in this caper that are not what they seem is the painting that they have to steal. It IS a painting – but it isn’t the painting that they think it is. Or not just that painting. Hidden underneath the masterpiece is something else altogether – a half-finished painting that is intended to undermine every so-called history that the eternal, immortal dragon rulers have ever told about themselves. Whether the revisionist history of the painting is a truth that they’ve been covering for millennia or propaganda created for the purpose of destabilizing the dragons is anyone’s guess.

From Irene’s perspective the truth doesn’t matter. Destabilizing the dragons will cause chaos throughout the multiverse that the Library protects. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, of the one – or of the truth.

I can’t wait for further truths to be revealed – or concealed – in future books in this series. Book 7 is already in the works!

Review: The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman + Giveaway

Review: The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman + GiveawayThe Mortal Word (The Invisible Library, #5) by Genevieve Cogman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, mystery
Series: Invisible Library #5
Pages: 368
Published by Ace on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the latest novel in Genevieve Cogman's historical fantasy series, the fate of worlds lies in the balance. When a dragon is murdered at a peace conference, time-travelling Librarian spy Irene must solve the case to keep the balance between order, chaos . . . and the Library.

When Irene returns to London after a relatively straightforward book theft in Vienna, Bradamant informs her that there is a top secret dragon-Fae peace conference in progress that the Library is mediating, but that the second-in-command dragon has been stabbed to death. Tasked with solving the case, Vale and Irene immediately go to 1890s Paris.

Once they arrive, it seems that the murder victim had uncovered evidence suggesting that he may have found proof of treachery by one or more Librarians. But to ensure the peace of the conference, some Librarians are already hostages in the dragon and Fae courts. To save the captives, including her parents, Irene must get to the bottom of this murder—but was it dragon, Fae, or even a Librarian who committed the crime?

My Review:

In this version of the multiverse the Library serves to provide the balance between the fae worlds of chaos and the dragon worlds of order. Humans don’t do well at either extreme, and it’s the Library’s function to guard and preserve the middle ground where human beings thrive.

Just because the Library serves as a point of balance does not mean that the lives of any of the Librarians that serve it are remotely balanced in any way. It could be said that the Librarians are like that metaphorical duck, “calm on the surface but always paddling like the dickens underneath.”

Librarian Irene Winters’ life feels more like the old adage about jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire – except that for Irene, it’s frying pans and fires all the way down.

When I first started this series, all the way back with The Invisible Library, it felt a lot like the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, because both stories are all about the power of words, especially the power of words in books.

But now that we’re five books in, that resemblance has faded. As much as I loved The Eyre Affair,  the first Thursday Next book, the series as a whole felt like a one-trick-pony, or a story that was only “funny once” and not “funny always”. It seemed as if the story was more interested in being incessantly clever than in telling a story – or that there wasn’t nearly enough worldbuilding underneath the gimmick to sustain a series.

What makes The Invisible Library different – and better as a series – is that there is plenty of worldbuilding below the madcap adventure. And you really, really need to start with the first book for the world to make sense – because the scaffolding of that worldbuilding becomes more solid with each story.

And they are absolutely oodles of fun – every single one. That there will be at least THREE MORE after this one is excellent news.

Because while this book does have a story that wraps up within the volume, as does every entry in the series so far, it is equally clear that the author is not done with either the world of the Library or the life and adventures of this particular Librarian.

And neither are the readers.

Escape Rating A: This is a complex story in a complicated world. I can’t imagine it making much sense without having read the previous volumes first. And possibly recently. Certainly this is a series that rewards readers who have knowledge of how our heroine got into the fix she’s currently in, and how much her previous fixes – and the fixes for those fixes – have contributed (or conspired) to put her in the awkward, uncomfortable and dangerous place she now finds herself.

I also have the distinct impression that one of these days Irene is going to stop being expendable to the Library and become a power within it, but that day is not yet. And first she has to survive her expendability. That’s never an easy task, as Irene has a tendency to be the fool that rushes in where the angels quaver to tread.

One of the things that I have found fascinating about this series is its treatment of good vs. evil, because there really isn’t one. Individuals commit terrible acts in the service of their particular perspective on the eternal argument, but the eternal argument in this world is between order and chaos, and explicitly not between good and evil.

The plot in The Mortal Word is essentially that of a murder mystery with political overtones. The dragons and the fae are meeting on a neutral world in order to forge a peace treaty. Or at least a non-aggression pact. The Library will take whatever it can get, and it is the Library that is brokering this attempt at detente.

In the middle of the negotiations, someone is murdered. As much high tension as is in the air, it’s not actually surprising that someone ends up dead. However, the victim was the most trusted lieutenant of the dragon monarch who represents that side of this equation. While said monarch wants to blame his arch-enemies the fae for the murder, he also claims that the victim implicated the Library in a possible plot to sabotage the negotiations.

Events are at a standstill until the perpetrator is discovered, and that’s when Irene is brought in. Yes, because she’s expendable. She’s always aware that she will take the blame if anything goes wrong – or if the solution is not satisfactory to all the parties involved. Which is far from the same thing.

She is both shadowed and assisted by agents from both of the courts, and there is treachery at every turn, as well as an entire city full of red herrings – some of them still bloody.

But Irene’s adventures, as she doggedly – and very, very dangerously – follows the clues to their unpopular but necessary conclusion, are always worth following. Every twisty step of the way.

I can’t wait for her next adventure!

~~~~~~ PUBLISHER GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

In celebration of the publication of the Ace Books, the publisher of The Invisible Library series is offering a giveaway of the ENTIRE series. If you like madcap adventures, traveling through the multiverse, stories about the power of words, and DRAGONS this series is a real treat.

Click HERE for the giveaway or go to https://sweeps.penguinrandomhouse.com/enter/invisible-library-sweeps

Review: Lake Silence by Anne Bishop

Review: Lake Silence by Anne BishopLake Silence (The Others, #6) by Anne Bishop
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: The Others #6, World of the Others #1
Pages: 416
Published by Ace on March 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

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: The Blockade by Jean Johnson + Giveaway

Review: The Blockade by Jean Johnson + GiveawayThe Blockade (First Salik War, #3) by Jean Johnson
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: First Salik War #3
Pages: 416
Published by Ace on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The national bestselling author of The V’Dan returns to her gripping military sci-fi series set in the same world as Theirs Not to Reason Why. The First Salik War is underway, and the Alliance is losing—their newest allies must find a way to win, or everyone will be slaughtered.  Though committed to helping their V’Dan cousins, the Terrans resent how their allies treat them. The V’Dan in turn feel the Terrans are too unseasoned to act independently. And the other nations fear that ending the Salik War means starting a Human Civil War.   Even as Imperial Prince Li’eth and Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie struggle to get their peoples to cooperate, they still face an ethical dilemma: How do you stop a ruthless, advanced nation from attacking again and again without slaughtering them in turn?

My Review:

terrans by jean johnsonI started reading The Blockade almost as soon as I received the eARC. I absolutely adored the first book in the series, The Terrans, and mostly liked the second book, The V’Dan. The V’Dan ended on a terrible cliffhanger, and I just couldn’t wait to find out how the story ended. Especially as this entire series is a prequel to one of my all -time favorite series, Theirs Not to Reason Why.

So I had a lot invested coming into this book. And I inhaled it in about a day. Weekends are wonderful for spending LOTS of time curled up with a good book.

However, while I got very, very caught up in my visit to the First Salik War, I found the book just a bit anti-climactic. And I’m feeling a bit sad about that.

The story begins with that horrid cliffie from the end of The V’Dan. Li’eth and Jackie have been separated through an act of supreme skullduggery (not to mention overwhelming idiocy) on the part of his sister, the Crown Princess Vi’alla. This separation isn’t just a romantic problem, it’s a separation that is going to kill them both if it goes on too long. The elasticity of that “too long” hasn’t been researched much, because the problems are just too great.

If any of the above makes you think that you should read this series in order, you are correct. This universe is a marvelous creation, but there are only two starting points. Either start with The Terrans, or start with A Soldier’s Duty, the first book in Theirs Not to Reason Why. There are valid arguments for starting in either place. The First Salik War takes place a century or so before the events in A Soldier’s Duty, but Duty was written first.

vdan by jean johnsonAs established in The Terrans and The V’Dan, our heroes are a gestalt pair – they are bonded at the psychic level. While this was not intentional, more like an act of whatever gods one cares to blame, it is a fact in this universe. Gestalt pairs who are separated die.

So Li’eth’s sister has sentenced both her brother and the Terran ambassador to death at the end of The V’Dan. Fortunately for all concerned, her mother the Empress turns out to be not as wounded as Vi’alla wanted to believe at the end of that book, and takes control back over in relatively short order at the beginning of this story, which does not begin to undo the damage that Vi’alla has done to Terran-V’Dan relations or to her own family.

The resolution of that particular thread of the story is explosive – but it felt like it occurred much too early in the book to maintain needed dramatic tension. To this reader, it felt like everything after that point was mop-up. Very important mop-up, but mop-up nevertheless.

Escape Rating B+: I did swallow The Blockade pretty much whole, which is what gets me to that B+ rating. I like these people, especially Ambassador Jackie MacKenzie, and was rooting for them every step of the way.

In my review of The V’Dan over at The Book Pushers, I said that I would finish this series just to read more of Jackie’s adventures, and that is pretty much what happened. I had to see how things turned out for her, and I definitely wanted her to find a way to her own happy ever after. She earned it.

This story has a moral dilemma at its center. The Salik have to be stopped. They don’t just want to conquer the V’Dan and the Terrans, they want to eat them. For dinner. Or any other meal. The truly nasty thing about the Salik is that they prefer intelligent prey, and want that prey to be alive, kicking and watching as long as possible as their parts are eaten. There’s no way not to reflexively shiver at the very thought.

But there has to be an answer. They can’t be left to roam the galaxy searching for lunch – because their lunch has the same right to exist as they do. At the same time, the Salik are an intelligent race themselves. They might evolve past their current predatory pattern if they have enough time to learn the error of their ways. Genocide is not the right answer, although it often feels like it might be the expedient answer. The core dilemma that drives the end of the book is how to contain the Salik without destroying them.

soldiers duty mediumNot just because genocide is wrong, but because we have already seen the future, and the damned frogtopi are going to be needed. And if that statement intrigues you, and you haven’t yet read A Soldier’s Duty, start now!

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

The publisher is letting me give away a copy of The Blockade to one lucky US/CAN commenter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway