Guest Review: Autumn Bones by Jacqueline Carey

Guest Review: Autumn Bones by Jacqueline CareyAutumn Bones (Agent of Hel, #2) by Jacqueline Carey
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, suspense, urban fantasy
Series: Agent of Hel #2
Pages: 436
Published by Roc on October 1, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Carey returns to the curious Midwest tourist community where normal and paranormal worlds co-exist—however tenuously—under the watchful eye of a female hellspawn…...

Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism, and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel.

Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer, she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one.

He’s descended from Obeah sorcerers and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything…...

Ask in the editor’s note, and ye shall receive, oh mighty Editor-in-Chief Marlene Ma’am.

Guest Review by Amy: So, it looks like things are slowing down some for Daisy Johanssen, half-demon Agent of Hel, the Norse goddess of death who runs the eldritch community in Pemkowet, MI. Daisy has a new boyfriend, whom we met very briefly in the last installment (Dark Currents), and it’s Labor Day weekend, so most of the summer tourists are leaving.

But, of course, that would make a really short novel, so no slow-and-easy life for Daisy! When boyfriend Sinclair’s sister shows up with a threat, it’s back to the job for the Agent of Hel. Sinclair really is Jamaican, you see, and his powerful family wants him to come home. They’re not at all against threatening the whole town to get what they want, either.

Escape Rating A-: Remember how, in my review of Dark Currents, I expressed some dissatisfaction at Daisy’s choice of suitor? Yeah, from the get-go in this story, starting with the second paragraph, Sinclair is there, and I’m just…underwhelmed. She had two other much-more-interesting men chasing her in Dark Currents, but she ends up with this…person. She was, she says, somewhat fascinated with the idea of having a “normal” boyfriend.

Except, well, he isn’t, of course. I can’t say I was at all dissatisfied with how Daisy got a grip on herself over this lukewarm relationship, and managed to end it and still remain friends with him. She can do better than him. And despite the fact that it’s Sinclair’s mother and twin sister who are primary antagonists that drive the plot of this book, Sinclair’s role in the drama fades to a much lower level than I was expecting from reading the publisher’s blurb. Yes, yes, it’s good seeing him finally growing as a character, finding the allies he needs to stand up to his family, all that jazz – but as a character, Sinclair still feels rather flat and unimpressive to me, all the way through this tale, and it’s really the biggest downer in the book. He was somewhat one-dimensional to me in Dark Currents, and I’d hoped that Carey would, given the plot opportunity of lots of time with Daisy, make him jump off the page for me…but he never really did.

Of course I probably should give poor Sinclair a break; when your castmates are a whole bunch of supernaturals, well, it’s hard for any more-or-less normal human to look at all extraordinary. The gang of ghouls, led by the enthralling and handsome Stefan, a werewolf, assorted faerie folk, vampires, a thousand-year-old lamia, and even Hel herself continue to shine in this story. As I’ve said in my other reviews of paranormal stories, it’s because they’re “real people”, and here Carey’s genius shows; all of these supernaturals are just trying to get through their lives in peace, the same as you and I.

During the course of the story, as the deadline for Sinclair leaving town nears, our heroine and her friends must deal with an increasing number of restless dead folks haunting the town. This is good for late-season tourism, of course, but it keeps Daisy and her werewolf partner from the police (Cody.  Mmmmmm…) rather busy. When events reach their climax on Halloween night, we have a battle royal involving eldritch folk, some witches, and even a bunch of normal kids helping out with water balloons, all trying to put a zombie and the ghost that animates him (Sinclair’s grandfather) to rest. Things don’t go perfectly, of course, and dealing with the aftermath is how Carey brings this busy tale to a close. Most of the dangly loose ends in the book get wrapped up, sure, but I’m left feeling slightly…unfulfilled.

In the end, Daisy is left still wondering what to make of things with the two men remaining in her life as potential partners. With that juicy bit of bait out there, and with unanswered questions about a seemingly-unimportant side plot, Jacqueline Carey leaves me wanting to go find a copy of Poison Fruit, the third book in this series. So I will, and you’ll see a review here, when I do, I promise!

Guest Review: Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

Guest Review: Dark Currents by Jacqueline CareyDark Currents (Agent of Hel, #1) by Jacqueline Carey
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, suspense, urban fantasy
Series: Agent of Hel #1
Pages: 356
Published by Roc on October 2, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Jacqueline Carey, New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Kushiel’s Legacy novels, presents an all-new world featuring a woman caught between the normal and paranormal worlds, while enforcing order in both. Introducing Daisy Johanssen, reluctant hell-spawn…

The Midwestern resort town of Pemkowet boasts a diverse population: eccentric locals, wealthy summer people, and tourists by the busload; not to mention fairies, sprites, vampires, naiads, ogres and a whole host of eldritch folk, presided over by Hel, a reclusive Norse goddess.

To Daisy Johanssen, fathered by an incubus and raised by a single mother, it’s home. And as Hel’s enforcer and the designated liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, it’s up to her to ensure relations between the mundane and eldritch communities run smoothly.

But when a young man from a nearby college drowns—and signs point to eldritch involvement—the town’s booming paranormal tourism trade is at stake. Teamed up with her childhood crush, Officer Cody Fairfax, a sexy werewolf on the down-low, Daisy must solve the crime—and keep a tight rein on the darker side of her nature. For if she’s ever tempted to invoke her demonic birthright, it could accidentally unleash nothing less than Armageddon.  

Guest review by Amy:

What kind of a mom would name her demon-spawn child “Daisy?”  Really?  But here’s Daisy as a plucky young adult with…erm…anger-management issues. Oh, and a tail. She’s the daughter of a human woman, and…well, a demon. Literally making the case for never, ever getting around a Ouija board ever again. Her dad, if Daisy just calls on him, can, in fact, bring on the Apocalypse. It doesn’t make for a close daddy-daughter relationship.

But she’s got her mom, who’s quirky and adorable, and she’s got a job working for the police department as a part-time file clerk, her friends, even a crush (on a fellow cop, who also happens to be a werewolf).  Oh, and a second job as liaison to the local goddess, Hel, who kind of runs things in the local eldritch community. Certainly grounds for an interesting life, but early in our story, a frat boy from a nearby college dies under suspicious circumstances.

Escape Rating: A+. I’m a huge fan of Carey’s Kushiel universe, which are delicious epic fantasy reads. Jacqueline Carey shows us she’s not a one-trick pony with Dark Currents. This story moves along rather a lot faster than her Kushiel works (aside from Kushiel’s Dart, which was over much too soon for my tastes), and we’re shown a solid cast of characters, all of whom seem to have a pretty good grasp on who they are in the grand scheme of things.

One of the things I like about this book (as with my prior review of MaryJanice Davidson’s Derik’s Bane) was that our supernatural beings aren’t…inhuman. Even the ones most-divergent from humans (faeries, naiads, a mermaid, a frost giant) have concerns and cares and lives that – while necessarily different from ours because of their nature – aren’t so far different from us that we can’t understand their motives. They’re just trying to get along with the overwhelming force of humanity around them, that’s all. Even the ghouls and vampires, as creepy as they are, make sense, and become characters you can understand and even like, in a way.

Daisy is a snark-o-matic, and her nature adds to this, along with her occasional frustration with being who she is. I had lots of giggles reading this tale, thanks to a generous sprinkling of puns and silly one-liners.

I tagged this as a suspense novel, and it is The core story here is a whodunit that crosses between the mortal and immortal realms. Daisy must stand astride that line, and dispense the justice she is empowered to hand out by her boss Hel, while making sure that any involved mortals get the treatment they deserve from her other boss, the police chief. But this book is more than that.

There’s a taste of romance here, too. Daisy tells us right up front about her long-time crush (a werewolf, who ends up partnering with her to solve the case), and we meet two other men who express interest in her, one a very intelligent, very dapper ancient ghoul, and one a mortal, with a fake Jamaican accent. All three are fascinating men, and I spent quite a while wondering which one she’d center on–if any, since there was also that flirtation with the very feminine lamia who used to babysit her, back-when. She says she’s straight, but this one does something for her even with the millenia-sized age gap.

I enjoyed this book immensely, and can’t wait to read (and maybe review for you here – Marlene? Can I?) the other two books in this series. My only downer in the book came right at the end, when Daisy ended up dating a different one of her crushes than I would have, in her shoes. I can’t tell you which, now, that’d ruin the whole thing for you, wouldn’t it? Go read for yourself!

Marlene’s Note: The next book, for those following along at home, is Autumn Bones. And YES, you certainly may review it for me here. In fact, that’s pretty please would you review it for me here. With bells on. I also love the Kushiel series. And I cite her Banewreacker/Godslayer duology fairly often as a classic in the “history is written by the victors/good and evil depend on which side of the fence you’re on” fantasy.

Joint Review: Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop

Joint Review: Etched in Bone by Anne BishopEtched in Bone (The Others, #5) by Anne Bishop
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Series: The Others #5
Pages: 416
Published by Roc on March 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

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

Our Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

Review: The Burning Page by Genevieve CogmanThe Burning Page (The Invisible Library, #3) by Genevieve Cogman
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Series: Invisible Library #3
Pages: 336
Published by Roc on January 10th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Librarian spy Irene and her apprentice Kai return for another “tremendously fun, rip-roaring adventure,” (A Fantastical Librarian) third in the bibliophilic fantasy series from the author of The Masked City.
 
Never judge a book by its cover...  Due to her involvement in an unfortunate set of mishaps between the dragons and the Fae, Librarian spy Irene is stuck on probation, doing what should be simple fetch-and-retrieve projects for the mysterious Library. But trouble has a tendency of finding both Irene and her apprentice, Kai—a dragon prince—and, before they know it, they are entangled in more danger than they can handle...   Irene’s longtime nemesis, Alberich, has once again been making waves across multiple worlds, and, this time, his goals are much larger than obtaining a single book or wreaking vengeance upon a single Librarian. He aims to destroy the entire Library—and make sure Irene goes down with it.   With so much at stake, Irene will need every tool at her disposal to stay alive. But even as she draws her allies close around her, the greatest danger might be lurking from somewhere close—someone she never expected to betray her...

My Review:

invisible library by genevieve cogman us editionThe Burning Page isn’t coming out until tomorrow, but THIS was the book I wanted to read over the weekend. And I’m glad I did.

Irene is a representative of the Library. That Library, and her missions for it, are described in the first madcap book in the series, The Invisible Library. The Library binds all the worlds of the multiverse together in invisible chains, linking all of them to Library, to reality, and to each other in a powerful and symbiotic weave.

The various worlds exist on a loose continuum between total order and absolute chaos, and the Library exists to preserve the balance, attempting to make sure that neither faction ever gains complete ascendancy.

This isn’t purely altruistic, or purely in the pursuit of power. Living beings, particularly living humans, need a bit of both to survive and thrive. Humans do best in those worlds that are somewhere around the midpoint. Worlds that are too orderly fall into tyranny and stagnation, to the point where even the avatars of order, the dragons, cannot survive in them. Likewise, worlds of complete chaos, the realms of the fae, are also anathema to humans, who become mere puppets of the most powerful fae and have no wills, lives or identities of their own. They are all supernumeraries in other beings’ dramas. Even the fae need at least a tiny bit of order, even if it is only the framework provided by the stories they act out.

Neither is a good way to live. At least if you are human. And the Librarians, at least so far, are all human.

masked city by genevieve cogmanIrene, on probation after the events in The Masked City, is still the Librarian-in-Residence on the chaos-tinged world where Peregrine Vale exists as the local avatar of the “Great Detective” in a London shared with fae and werewolves, and where zeppelins navigate pea-soupers that never quite thin.

Irene’s apprentice Kai, the dragon who would be a Librarian, is there with her. But who is mentoring whom, and who is protecting whom, is always a point of negotiation.

Meanwhile, Irene is being hunted by the rogue Librarian-turned-chaos-agent Alberich, who hopes to recruit Irene and replace the Library with a chaotic institution of his own invention. Alberich wants power, and Irene wants stability. Or so she thinks.

What she has discovered is a taste for adventure – and it might be the death of her and all she holds dear – if she can’t manage to be adventurous enough.

Escape Rating A-: The wild ride begun in The Invisible Library continues with death-defying adventures that span from a too-orderly Imperial Russia to a werewolf den under Irene’s own London. She is kidnapped, drugged, jailed and very nearly seduced, always jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

If you like your adventure as a series of disaster-defying feats of derring-do (with occasional forays into politics and idiocy) this series is an absolute winner from beginning to end. But start at the beginning, not just for the setup, but because the roots of the story here in The Burning Page were planted in the first two books, and are just coming into bloom in this one.

There’s a lot going on in this story, as there is in all of the books in this series so far. The action pauses only briefly, and then just to lay down potential plots for the next books. Not to mention potential plotting in this one.

While The Burning Page is a story where all the chickens from the previous books in the series come home to roost, it also further the develops the strange and often strained relationship between Irene, Kai and Vale. No, we’re not at a threesome. We’re also, thank goodness, not in a love triangle. Kai, as a dragon, wants to protect Irene. As much as he cares for her, he is still having a difficult time recognizing that while protecting her would make him feel better, it would make her either run far and fast or become something and someone she has no desire to be. It would be a negation of her essential self. On that other hand, Irene took her nom-de-guerre because she has an understandable fascination with Sherlock Holmes analogs. How much of what she feels for Vale has to do with him, and how much with who is resembles is not something that she is able to resolve.

She is also a person who has generally preferred the company of books to people, and while her people skills are rusty, she is making her way along as her worldview markedly changes. She is supposed to care for the Library above all, and is discovering that perspective altered.

lost plot by genevieve cogmanPersonally, I think she’s finally figured out that a good job won’t love you back, but we’ll see how that turns out in future books.

But the bloom is definitely not off this rose. While chaos has not, and never can be, defeated, its current schemes have been temporarily put into abeyance by the end of The Burning Page. I was very happy to discover that there will be more to come in future books, even if we have to wait a bit. The next chronicle of Irene’s adventures, The Lost Plot, can’t be found soon enough!

Review: Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes

Review: Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. HughesShadowed Souls by Kerrie L. Hughes, Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, Kevin J. Anderson, Rob Thurman, Tanya Huff, Kat Richardson, Anton Strout, Lucy A. Snyder, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Erik Scott de Bie
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 352
Published by Roc on November 1st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this dark and gritty collection—featuring short stories from Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, Kevin J. Anderson, and Rob Thurman—nothing is as simple as black and white, light and dark, good and evil..
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what makes it so easy to cross the line.

In #1 New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher’s Cold Case, Molly Carpenter—Harry Dresden’s apprentice-turned-Winter Lady—must collect a tribute from a remote Fae colony and discovers that even if you’re a good girl, sometimes you have to be bad...
New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire’s Sleepover finds half-succubus Elsie Harrington kidnapped by a group of desperate teenage boys. Not for anything “weird.” They just need her to rescue a little girl from the boogeyman. No biggie.
In New York Times bestselling Kevin J. Anderson’s Eye of Newt, Zombie P.I. Dan Shamble’s latest client is a panicky lizard missing an eye who thinks someone wants him dead. But the truth is that someone only wants him for a very special dinner...
And New York Times bestselling author Rob Thurman’s infernally heroic Caliban Leandros takes a trip down memory lane as he deals wih some overdue—and nightmarish—vengeance involving some quite nasty
Impossible Monsters
.
ALSO INCLUDES STORIES BYTanya Huff * Kat Richardson * Jim C. Hines * Anton Strout * Lucy A. Snyder * Kristine Kathryn Rusch * Erik Scott de Bie *
From the Trade Paperback edition.

My Review:

Shadowed Souls seemed like an absolutely perfect book to review for Halloween. This is a collection of slightly creepy, slightly spooky urban fantasy stories where all the heroes are anti- and all of the action is conducted in the darker shades of gray. And by gray I mean cases where the heroes commit acts that may seem villainous, or at least questionable, in order to prevent an even greater evil.

These are stories where the ends actually do justify the means, as long as you like your means on the dark and grim side of the equation.

Most story collections have hits and misses. It’s the nature of the beast. That’s not true in this case. All of the stories in Shadowed Souls are at least very good, and many rise to excellent, sometimes hauntingly so.

While I liked every story in this collection, there are a few that stood out from the ghostly crowd.

Tanya Huff’s If Wishes Were is a return to the world of her Vicki Nelson series, 20 years after the end of Blood Debt. Victoria Nelson has been a vampire for 20 years, and looks permanently in her mid-30s. But the man who keeps Vicki tied to her humanity, Mike Cellucci, is now pushing 60. Vicki is forced to face the inevitable future, that the man she loves will die, possibly of his current injuries, but certainly in what will, to her, seem like a short and painful 20 or 30 years. Even if Mike were willing to become a vampire, it is no solution. If he changes, they will be forced to part. If he dies, they will be forced to part. When a villain tempts Vicki with a third choice, she has to decide just how much she is willing to sacrifice to retain what’s left of her humanity – along with what’s left of her heart.

This story is haunting and bittersweet, and resonates both with Vicki’s particular situation, and for anyone who has faced the inevitable loss of a loved one.

Sales. Force. by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is definitely a story from the dark side of the house. Like If Wishes Were, this is also a story about love and loss. And not just the loss of love but also the loss of humanity. The revenge in this story is served icy cold. Even as the reader shivers with that cold, one is left with the feeling that it wasn’t enough. That as dark as this ending is, nothing would be enough. Read it and weep.

In all of the deep and dark and serious in this collection, there is one ray of light. Definitely call it gallows humor. Eye of Newt by Kevin J. Anderson is a short story set in his Dan Shamble series, and it is laugh out loud, read out loud to your partner, funny. In this definitely urban fantasy series, where the private investigator is a zombie, his girlfriend is a ghost, and nearly every name is a pun, the author manages to set up both a mystery and a riotous send up of TV cooking shows at the same time. You will laugh until your sides ache. And want more of the series.

Escape Rating A: I don’t DO this for collections. There are always at least a couple of stories that fail for me. But not this time. The stories are all different. Except for Eye of Newt, they all reside creepily in the neighborhood of dark urban fantasy. And they are all at the least compelling, if not absolutely enthralling.

Read this one with the lights on, and have a scary good time.

Happy Halloween!

Review: The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

Review: The Masked City by Genevieve CogmanThe Masked City (The Invisible Library, #2) by Genevieve Cogman
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Invisible Library #2
Pages: 336
Published by Roc on September 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Librarian-spy Irene and her apprentice Kai are back in the second in this “dazzling”* book-filled fantasy series from the author of The Invisible Library.
 
The written word is mightier than the sword—most of the time...  Working in an alternate version of Victorian London, Librarian-spy Irene has settled into a routine, collecting important fiction for the mysterious Library and blending in nicely with the local culture. But when her apprentice, Kai—a dragon of royal descent—is kidnapped by the Fae, her carefully crafted undercover operation begins to crumble.   Kai’s abduction could incite a conflict between the forces of chaos and order that would devastate all worlds and all dimensions. To keep humanity from getting caught in the crossfire, Irene will have to team up with a local Fae leader to travel deep into a version of Venice filled with dark magic, strange coincidences, and a perpetual celebration of Carnival—and save her friend before he becomes the first casualty of a catastrophic war.   But navigating the tumultuous landscape of Fae politics will take more than Irene’s book-smarts and fast-talking—to ward off Armageddon, she might have to sacrifice everything she holds dear....

My Review:

invisible library by genevieve cogman us editionAs a great storyteller once said, “There’s power in stories, though. That’s all history is: The best tales. The ones that last. Might as well be mine.” This could either be a quote from any of the fae in The Masked City, or it could be the raison d’etre for the entire race.

The Masked City is just one front in the war between order and chaos in the multiverse that surrounds The Invisible Library.

Order is represented by the dragons, and chaos belongs to the fae. The Library does its best to maintain the balance.

These concepts of order and chaos do not represent good and evil in their absolutes. Just as in the Babylon 5 universe, both the forces of order as represented by the Vorlons and the forces of chaos known as the Shadows are interested in absolutes. Neither absolute is good for humanity as a whole.

The absolute of order is tyranny. But the absolute of chaos is neverending lawlessness, where might always makes right and the ends always justify any means at all. Neither is a particularly good place for me and thee.

In the multiverse of the Library, worlds exist somewhere on the spectrum between absolute order and total chaos. The Library is aligned with neither faction, and instead seems to confine its actions to the swath in the middle, where chaos and order exist uneasily side-by-side, and both dragons and fae occasionally bring their eternal conflict to places that are in contention.

The alternate where Librarian Irene Winters has taken the post of Librarian-in-Residence is one such world. The fae in this world have taken over the country of Liechtenstein, and the dragons seem to be mostly represented by Irene’s apprentice Kai.

But the fae, as chaos avatars, also love to sow chaos within their own ranks. And as near-immortals, they have eons to nurse their grudges and plot their revenge. Irene and Kai get caught up in one very sticky stratagem, forcing Irene to break the Library’s rules to rescue Kai from a nefarious kidnapping plot.

And prevent a war between the dragons and the fae that will wreck uncounted worlds and kill millions of unsuspecting humans.

Save the dragon, save the universe. All in a day’s work for an agent of The Invisible Library.

Escape Rating A-: Just like The Invisible Library, this is a story that always exists on the knife-edge of falling into its own chaos, but keeps leaping, dancing, and often careening out of the frying pan and into the fire. Irene is always within a whisper of failing and falling, but still manages to somehow move past the current obstacle to…the next obstacle. The story is like a platform-game, where the protagonist is always leaping to the next ledge and holding on by her fingernails.

The madcap nature of the adventure always reminds me of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate, without, so far, the romance.

One of the subthemes in this story, and one that Irene is both caught by and sometimes manages to catch, is the concept of the power of stories. One of the interesting things about the fae is that they derive much of their power from either driving or becoming an integral part of a story. The most powerful create the story, and everyone around them finds themselves playing specific roles in that story. Those roles are often dictated by archetype. The story here is one fae’s attempt to become kingmaker, warleader and shadow puppeteer by driving the dragons into a war with the fae. Irene is constantly looking out for herself, to prevent herself from being cast as the “spy-assassin-enemy” or even worse, the “too stupid to live” ingenue.

This is a concept that was explored much more fully in Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series, starting with The Fairy Godmother. In that series, the agency was the universe rather than an individual person or people, but the idea was the same at its heart. People were fated to live out roles in the collective fairy tale unconscious. Subverting those roles, or pushing them into a path more desired by the protagonist, was an uphill battle.

burning page by genevieve cogmanAs it is here for Irene. She finds herself being challenged at every turn, as each faction tries to sweep her into their narrative and out of her own. Only her bond with the Library keeps her from sinking. But in the end, she is forced to create stories that will sweep others into her wake, in order to prevent the upcoming Armageddon. I can’t wait to see what kind of trouble finds Irene (and Kai) next in The Burning Page.

Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve CogmanThe Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1) by Genevieve Cogman
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Invisible Library #1
Pages: 352
Published by Roc on June 14th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Collecting books can be a dangerous prospect in this fun, time-traveling, fantasy adventure from a spectacular debut author. One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction...   Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen.   London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.   Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself...
FEATURING BONUS MATERIAL: including an interview with the author, a legend from the Library, and more!

My Review:

The Librarian (Discworld)
The Librarian (Discworld)

If Thursday Next (from The Eyre Affair) and Flynn Carsen, or if you prefer Jake Stone, Ezekiel Jones or even Jenkins (from the TV show The Librarians) had a love child, with Alexia Tarabotti (Parasol Protectorate), The Librarian from the Discworld (Ook!), Isaac Vainio (Libriomancer) and Dr. Skye Chadwick (Displaced Detective) serving as godparents, you’d get something like The Invisible Library.

Yes, I’ll explain this. Sort of.

This isn’t exactly a story about a magical library, even though the magical library is at the heart of the story. It’s more of a quest story, and a finding yourself story, with a bit of a coming of age story thrown in. There’s also an aspect of a Sherlock Holmes pastiche just to make things really, really interesting, as if the above wasn’t enough.

Our intrepid Librarian is Irene. (All Librarians take nicknames when they are inducted) That Irene named herself for “the Woman” in the Sherlock Holmes stories, Irene Adler, is no accident. Irene, like so many of us, has a penchant for Sherlock Holmes stories. She also seems to have a thing for Sherlock Holmes’ analogs in the alternate universes she visits on behalf of the Library.

The Library sends its Librarians out on missions to recover unique books from all the alternate worlds. As we and Irene discover in this tale, the reason for recovering said book is not always made apparent to the agent. For that matter, most of the things that the agent really, really needs to know to survive the mess they are about to be thrown into are often not revealed to the agent beforehand.

So Irene is sent to a chaos-infested alternate of Victorian London. The chaos infestation manifests with the presence of things that shouldn’t really be but do obey logical, if occasional farcical, rules. So there are vampires and werewolves in this London, along with all the dirigibles that any steampunk heart could desire. And it seems as if the Fair Folk, the fae, are controlling both scientific development and adding to the chaos.

Irene is tasked with begging, borrowing or if necessary stealing this world’s own particular copy of a collection of the Brothers Grimm. There is a story in there that the Library wants very badly. And so, seemingly, does everyone in that world, including the Library’s great arch-enemy and traitor, Alberich.

All that Irene has to aid her in her quest are her considerable wits, her apprentice Kai, who is definitely much more than he appears, and the aid of the local Sherlock, the Earl of Leeds. The very forces of chaos themselves are arrayed against her.

She’s not quite sure whether she’s been thrown out as mere cannon-fodder, or if there is a traitor behind it all. And if chaos consumes her mind and soul, she may not even care about the resulting destruction of worlds.

Escape Rating A-: The Invisible Library is the wildest of wild rides. Just like the chaos forces that Irene battles, the story often feels like it is in danger of careening off its tracks, only to right itself and race to the next potentially deadly crisis..

At the same time, a reader of fantasy will be able to see some of the bones behind this story. Because most of those bones are pretty damn awesome in their own rights, that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all.

Just like “The Library” in The Librarians, the Invisible Library is a place that has access to anywhere it needs at any time. Its doors open anywhere and anywhen in all of the multiverses. Speaking of multiverse libraries, the Librarian in the Discworld has access to “L-space” the vast network of books where all great libraries are ultimately connected. It does feel a LOT like that, especially since Irene can use ANY library on the world she is visiting to connect to the Invisible Library as a temporary branch.

In the Displaced Detective series by Stephanie Osborn, her heroine creates a device that can explore those very same multiverses, and she also has a penchant for Sherlock Holmes. Skye Chadwick finds an alternate universe where Holmes was always a real person, and drags him to our 21st century to keep him from falling to his death at Reichenbach. Vale, the Earl of Leeds, is a living Holmes with his same methods, but just a bit more charm.

In Thursday Next’s world, books have power, and changing the words in those books can change the world. Irene’s mission is to find a book that either links the Library to this world, or has the power to change the nature of the world, the Library, or both. The world of the Parasol Protectorate is also a steampunk Victorian London filled with incredible adventures that includes dirigibles, vampires and werewolves. Alexia would be right at home on Irene’s mission. They’d probably get along like a house on fire – and might possibly set one on fire to aid in their escape from one disaster or another. And let’s just say that Isaac Vainio and Irene have pretty much the same job, and leave it at that.

But in all of those worlds, as well as the world of The Invisible Library, the story plunges from one desperate escape to another, always on the knife-edge of falling into chaos. And all along its madcap journey, it shimmers, shines and sparkles.

Hopefully, I’ve told you everything you need to know about why you should read this book, without actually spoiling a thing. But if you love books about the power of words and the power of books, The Invisible Library is well-worth checking out.

Reviewer’s Note: I have seen some places where The Invisible Library is categorized as a Young Adult Book. After having read it, I have zero clue as to why. Because it isn’t. Not that young adults who love any of the cited fantasy works won’t love this book, but this book is no more a YA book than they are.

Review: Admiral by Sean Danker + Giveaway

Review: Admiral by Sean Danker + GiveawayAdmiral (Evagardian, #1) by Sean Danker
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Series: Evagardian #1
Pages: 320
Published by Roc on May 3rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

FIRST IN A NEW MILITARY SCIENCE FICTION SERIES
“I was on a dead ship on an unknown planet with three trainees freshly graduated into the Imperial Service. I tried to look on the bright side.”   He is the last to wake. The label on his sleeper pad identifies him as an admiral of the Evagardian Empire—a surprise as much to him as to the three recent recruits now under his command. He wears no uniform, and he is ignorant of military protocol, but the ship’s records confirm he is their superior officer.   Whether he is an Evagardian admiral or a spy will be of little consequence if the crew members all end up dead. They are marooned on a strange world, their ship’s systems are failing one by one—and they are not alone.

My Review:

This is a story where the reader gets dropped into the middle of a situation – but so do all the characters. So it very definitely works.

It’s not a good situation, either. One person’s sleeper cell malfunctions, and three others open normally, but for very relative definitions of normal. The dysfunctional sleeper cell belongs to an unnamed admiral, and the other three belong to recent graduates of the military academy, destined for service on the flagship of the Evagardian fleet.

A war has just ended. The Evagardian Empire won, not by force of arms, but because the flagship of the Ganraen star empire crashed into their capitol building, decapitating and decimating their government in a single stroke. This isn’t peace, it’s a surprise cease fire.

But the ship that they have awoken on isn’t military. It isn’t even Evagardian. And it is echoingly empty. The ship has no power, and the four stranded travelers are sitting ducks for whatever knocked out the ship and its admittedly small crew.

If they are to have even the remotest chance of surviving this mess, they have to band together. Even though none of them believe that their nameless “Admiral” could possibly really be an actual admiral, or that he is even on their side.

But he’s the only one of them with the remotest idea of a plan. So it’s follow him or die. Or for all they know, follow him and die. There’s only the slimmest chance at all that every outcome doesn’t end in “die”, but they have to take it. Together. Or certainly die.

Escape Rating A-: For a science fiction story, this one has a very large mystery element. Where are they? How did they get there? What happened to the crew of the ship? And who the hell is this “Admiral” anyway?

The question about the admiral lingers until the very end, with relatively few hints for a long stretch of the story. This is both fascinating and frustrating, because the story is told entirely from the first person perspective of that admiral. And like most of us, he does not tell himself his own name or circumstances within the privacy of his own head. This frustrates the reader no end, but also makes sense – in real life, we don’t think about our own names all that much. We respond to them, but since no one knows his, there’s nothing for him to respond to.

The only hints readers get at his identity are his flashbacks. He has PTSD, not a surprise in the aftermath of an interstellar war, and in those PTSD episodes we start to get a glimmer of who he might be – a glimmer that only makes sense as we learn more about the war and its sudden ending.

The immediate story is a survival journey. This intrepid band of unwilling explorers has a very narrow window to possible survival. Each time they make two steps forward in their journey, they are forced to take at least one step back, as every attempt at a solution also (and sometimes only) brings on more and more challenges.

They are in a place where everything is literally out to get them, and may very well succeed.

As a group, they remind this reader of parties in a video game. (This story would probably make a good video game) There are four and only four people, and they have exactly the skills necessary to make it through, if that is possible at all. Nils is the engineer, he can fix or hack pretty much everything. The entire journey is mostly a series of hacks. Salmagard is their negotiator, in the sense that negotiating usually involves a big knife and a lot of heavy firepower. She’s their tank. Deilani is the doctor and scientist, she analyzes things. She’s also the resident skeptic, never believing that the Admiral is anything at all he says he is.

It also reminded me of a video game in the way that the story compelled me to read “just one more page, just one more chapter” to see what happened next. And next. And after that. I got completely absorbed and just couldn’t stop.

The Admiral himself serves as both leader and trickster. He’s the man with the plan. And even though he is much too young to actually be an admiral, he is clearly a decade or so older than the newbies. And he’s also clearly used to thinking and planning on his feet. What we don’t know is why or how he got that way.

The story in Admiral follows the pattern set in Winston Churchill’s famous quote (about Russia!), “ It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key.” The parts about how did they get to be where the story finds them, what happened to the ship and its crew, and how they get themselves out of this mess supply the riddle and the mystery. The Admiral is an enigma until the very end. And even after.

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

The publisher is giving away one copy of  Admiral to a lucky U.S. commenter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop

Review: Vision in Silver by Anne BishopVision in Silver (The Others, #3) by Anne Bishop
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: The Others #3
Pages: 400
Published by Penguin Publishing Group on March 3rd 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Others freed the  cassandra sangue  to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.
Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.
For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep…

My Review:

I read this in one night. I also read Marked in Flesh all in one night, two nights later. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. (Cass and I will be posting a joint review of Marked in Flesh next week)

I will say that I was a bit surprised comparing the book to the blurb, at least in one sense. The blurb gives the impression that Meg cuts a lot more often than she does. Not that it doesn’t happen, and that one of the times it happens isn’t traumatic, but she doesn’t cut nearly as often as it sounds, and Simon doesn’t ask her to do it anywhere near as often as it sounds.

It’s not that he doesn’t need her help, because he certainly does. But a part of the help that he needs is for Meg to figure out other ways that the cassandra sangue can let out their prophecies without having to cut. While that solution won’t work for everyone, and it won’t work all the time, and it won’t deal with the built in addiction to the euphoria that comes after cutting and prophesying, it is a start. And a big, big help.

written in red by anne bishopWritten in Red was all about Meg adapting to the wider world. Murder of Crows felt like it was about the world, especially the world of the Others and the Courtyards, adapting to Meg. Vision in Silver takes things a step further. Now that we know that the terra indigine that we see are not the only ones that there are, or even the most powerful Others that there are, the story in Vision in Silver seems to be about the humans lack of adaptation to the Others.

The tone of the book reminded me of Katherine Kurtz’ Deryni series again, in that sense of “the humans kill what they do not understand.” In the case of the Others, a better description would be that the humans attempt to kill what they do not understand. And because their understanding is so delusional, and so far off the mark from the reality of what the Others are capable of, it is clear in Vision in Silver that we are heading towards a situation where what the humans don’t understand is going to kill an awful lot of them.

But we’re not quite there yet. In Vision in Silver we see the gathering storm. The humans, misled by the Humans First and Last neo-Nazi organization, believe that they can push the terra indigine back as far into the wild places as the humans want, and that the humans can take over whatever and wherever they please.

And, of course, in typical race-baiting idiocy, Humans First and Last encourages its followers to start by wiping out the non-believers at home, inciting rioting and murder of anyone in the human community who is willing to work with the Others instead of against them.

Everyone in Lakeside who has been cooperating with the Courtyard is targeted. Not only are they pushed out of their homes and jobs, but they are attacked in broad daylight with police looking on and doing nothing.

Obviously not those police officers working with Captain Burke and Lieutenant Montgomery. They understand the consequences of breaking the agreements with the Others, and are actively working with Simon Wolfgard and the Lakeside Courtyard to find another, better way. When life on the outside becomes too hot for them, their families are relocated to the Courtyard for protection. Most Courtyards have a kind of “hands off” attitude to the human population that surrounds them – in Lakeside they are not just letting them inside, they are making them part of the pack.

Meanwhile, Meg and a few of the released cassandra sangue are having visions of the war that is brewing. And because Simon Wolfgard is the only Courtyard leader to form a working relationship with humans, the Elders of the Others come to ask him a question, “How much human should we keep?”

In the midst of increasing tensions and rising death counts, Simon is forced to face the consequence of his actions, the action that brought Meg Corbyn into the Courtyard and seems to be re-shaping the world.

When the Elders strike back at the humans who have gone so horribly wrong, how much human adaptation should survive among the terra indigine? How many humans should survive? How many of his human pack can Simon protect? And how many should he?

marked in flesh by anne bishopEscape Rating A: I want to say that this is the “things are always darkest just before they turn completely black” book in this series, and that might be about right. Things certainly do get blacker in Marked in Flesh.

If you love urban fantasy or alternate history, this series is a winner from beginning to its current stopping point. But it would be impossible to make sense of it by starting in the middle. This is a series where you have to start from the beginning, with Written in Red, so that you can adapt to the world with Meg.

A big part of what makes this series so compelling for readers is the interrelationships. All of the Others are predators, and most of them are apex predators. And yet, all of the Others who have chosen to live in a Courtyard have learned to adapt. Even in those Courtyards where they have not adapted much to the humans around them (and that’s most of them) they have adapted to work with each other. Vlad Sanguinati and Simon Wolfgard would normally range far from each other. Instead, the vampire and the wolf-shifter are friends, and it’s a relationship that surprises them both.

As Meg “grows up” we see more of her vulnerabilities. She’s less perfect than she was. The more she learns, the more doubts she has. And at the same time, she is still very much loved and protected. But the universal love that surrounds her seems less Mary-Sue-ish now that her gifts are being explored. Especially as we learn that all of the Others have an extreme reverence for her gift, as well as a healthy fear of it. While the too-frequent references to Meg and the cassandra sangue’s status as “Namid’s gift, wondrous and terrible” get repetitious, they do reinforce the point that part of the reason Meg is treated the way she is is out of both respect for her gift and fear of it – her blood is too easily shed, and poisonous to the terra indigine.

Another reviewer described Simon and Meg as adorkable, and that’s about right. They are moving very, very tentatively towards being more than friends, but neither of them has the remotest clue what that might mean. Nor do either of them seem emotionally prepared for the possibility. But like so many relationships in real life, it’s happening anyway. And it’s lovely and silly and cute to watch. Even though some of the overtones that Cass and I will discuss in our review of Marked in Flesh do give me pause.

I would say that one of the things that keeps surprising me is just how damn stupid the general human population is in this series. Then I read the morning news and am forced to remember that humans are just that stupid and easily (mis)led in real life, too.

Review: Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

Review: Murder of Crows by Anne BishopMurder of Crows (The Others, #2) by Anne Bishop
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Series: The Others #2
Pages: 354
Published by Roc on March 4th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Return to New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop’s "phenomenal" (Urban Fantasy Investigations)  world of the Others — where supernatural entities and humans struggle to co-exist, and one woman has begun to change all the rules…
After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.
The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard — Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader — wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat.
As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

My Review:

written in red by anne bishopFor a terrific laugh, read Cass’ absolutely scathing review of Written in Red, the first book in this series. Which she ends by saying that Anne Bishop remains inexplicably entertaining. Which she is. Then Cass turned around and reviewed Murder of Crows the following year, and while she loved hating Written in Red, she actually liked Murder of Crows. And so do I. (For those who remember the old Life cereal commercials, Cass is Mikey, she hates everything)

I finally got around to reading Written in Red as a tangent to some work I did for Novelist, and got absolutely hooked – to the point where I bought Murder of Crows and Vision in Silver just so I could keep going with the series. I was able to get Marked in Flesh from NetGalley, and I’ll be part of a gang-bang review of that next week at The Book Pushers. It turns out we’re ALL hooked on this series.

I’ve been putting off reading Murder of Crows, not because I didn’t want to read it, but because I knew I’d get sucked in and not emerge for hours, which is exactly what happened. I read it on Sunday. All of it. In one swell foop. So if you want to know what I did this weekend, the answer is mostly “read Murder of Crows and desperately resisted the impulse to read the rest of the series all night.”

Murder of Crows is the second entry in Bishop’s The Others series, and it provides a lot more information on this alternate history of the world, where all the wild things that came before humans are intelligent, powerful and in control of the world. The Others are sanguinati (vampires), animal shifters of all types, and elementals, at least so far. There’s one other who may be close kin to Death in the Discworld, or possibly all four of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse all rolled into one badass witch.

But this story isn’t about her. Instead, it’s about one very fragile human, Meg Corbyn, and her interactions with one of the Others urban outposts – the Courtyard in Lakeside. (I just realize that Lakeside might be Chicago, but I digress. And I might also be totally wrong.)

Meg Corbyn is a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet. When she bleeds, she spouts true prophecy and experiences extreme ecstasy. She’s also an escapee from a prison where she and others like herself are exploited, abused and ultimately die. If they aren’t ground up for parts first.

While Written in Red was the story of Meg’s adoption by the Lakeside Courtyard and her effects on its various residents, in Murder of Crows we see Meg more as the agent of her own life, and the impetus for a grand rescue of all of her fellow blood prophets. You could say that Written in Red was about Meg’s adaptation to the world, and that Murder of Crows is about the world’s adaptation to her.

We see this story play out from multiple perspectives. First there is Meg, learning to live on her own as a full person. While the Others in the Courtyard protect her for various reasons of their own, this is still the first time where Meg is living her own life and able to do what she wants. And also able to make her own mistakes.

By effectively adopting Meg as a mascot and pet, the Others in Lakeside have proclaimed her as one of their own, someone they will kill to protect. And when the Others protect, it isn’t just one on one – they have the power to level continents.

The Others in Lakeside find themselves changing to adapt to Meg’s presence in their midst. While the changes are most obvious in Simon Wolfgard – or at least obvious to everyone except Simon and Meg – everyone adapts somewhat.

One of the biggest adaptations is learning by necessity to see some humans not just as “not prey” but as actual kin. Meg is now one of their own, and as a human, Meg has gathered around herself a pack of her own humans, who are teaching her all the things about being human and female that her imprisoned life intentionally did not.

Just as Meg is “not prey”, her pack is also “not prey”. Even further, they are now beings whose thoughts, feelings and wishes must be considered carefully, if only because of the effect that they, in turn, will have upon Meg.

So it’s a calculated dance, to become human enough to relate to these humans in their midst, without losing their power of being terra indigene, or Other. That Simon, specifically, is becoming both a bit more human and a bit more wolf as he tries and mostly fails to figure out how he feels about Meg is fun to watch.

We also see a lot more of the organization and power of the Others in general. There is trouble brewing (being deliberately brewed) between the humans on this continent and the Others who own and control it. Humans, being human, think the continent belongs to them. Every time they overstep their very controlled bounds, the Others remind them of who is really in charge. The push and pull of this contest is often deadly, as the humans seem to have fatally short memories about the realities of their existence.

And we see the human side of this equation through the eyes of the Lakeside police, specifically Lieutenant Montgomery and Captain Burke. They are trying to forge a cooperative relationship with the Lakeside Courtyard, in the hopes that it will help Lakeside survive the storm that they know is coming.

So, while the operation in this particular story is the hunt for the imprisoned blood prophets and the punishment of those who have kept them captive and profited from their anguish, it is also a gathering of allies and a drawing of lines for the war to come.

Escape Rating A-: A “murder of crows” is a colorful collective noun for a group of crows, and yes, the murder of a group of crows in one of the opening events in this story. But because of Meg’s prophecies, it is a murder of crows and not a murder of Crows. The animals are killed in an attempt to reach the intelligent members of the Crowgard. And it is an opening salvo in someone’s misguided attempt to pit the humans against the Others, and to recapture Meg.

While the murder and the recapture fail, the attempts to pit the humans against the Others are all too successful, and escalating. Because I’m reading this in 2016 instead of 2013 when it was published, I’m seeing all too many parallels between the way that hatred is ginned up against the Others and the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim attacks that are currently all too prevalent.

The difference in the story world is that what the humans keep forgetting is that the Others control everything – they own the land and all the natural resources upon it. They can disperse an entire town by not renewing its lease on the land it lives on. And anyone who has to travel from one town to another has to travel through woods the Others control and on roads they maintain.

And vampires can turn into smoke. And everyone who is still breathing needs air. Air is one of the Others. So is Thunder, and Fog, and Earthquake.

You get the picture, but so many of the humans in this story seem to forget, encouraged by race-baiting politicians.

But this is Meg’s story. Meg is, essentially, growing up. While she appears to be in her early-to-mid 20s, her life before the Courtyard was carefully protected and controlled. As she discovers more about herself, she is made aware that some of what she experienced was actually for her own protection, even as it also made her “gift” easier to exploit. The cassandra sangue have been bred to be so overly sensitive to outside stimuli that they need a controlled environment. They have also been bred to be both the strongest prophets possibly as well as increasingly susceptible to becoming addicted to the pleasure brought by cutting and prophesying.

Now that Meg is out in the world, she has to control her own environment, and find a way to control her biological need to cut and foretell. At the same time, the more that she learns, the more she is aware that her gift can save people. And while she fights the compulsion to cut too much, too often and too deep, she is also all too aware that her gift can save the lives of those she loves, even as it shortens her own.

She is trapped in a dilemma that she did not make but must navigate, not just for herself but for all the other cassandra sangue who will be released into the world if the Others’ quest to take down her former “owner” is successful.

I will also say that Cass was right. Meg is certainly, if not an actual Mary Sue, more than a bit too good to be believed outside the pages of fiction. Everyone she comes into contact with loves her, except of course, for those who just want to use her. While some of that insta-love is explained by the status granted to her by her gift, she is also just plain nice to everyone, and everyone loves her back. Even, seemingly, that lone horsewoman of the apocalypse I mentioned earlier.

Learning more about the world of the Others and the way that they operate was fascinating. There be worldbuilding here, and it helps ground the story. One of the fascinating bits, not completely in a good way, was the sudden outburst of the Humans First and Last neo-Nazi movement. History is completely against any attempt by humans to oust the Others from control. And that includes extremely recent history. Is the vast majority of the human population complete morons?

vision in silver by anne bishopThe more I learn about this world, the deeper I want to dive. This weekend, I’ll get my wish and read both Vision in Silver and Marked in Flesh. And I can hardly wait!