Review: Shadow People by James Swain

Shadow People by James SwainFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover
Genre: Dark fantasy
Series: Peter Warlock, #2
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: June 11, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

In Shadow People, national bestselling author James Swain’s brilliant follow-up to Dark Magic, magician Peter Warlock has a dark secret. A psychic who peers into the future, he is able to use the information to alert the authorities to pending trouble.

During a séance Peter is confronted by a group of evil spirits called shadow people, beings who have the power to kidnap a person’s soul. Peter is taken to another plane, where he confronts a serial killer about to claim his next victim. It’s a harrowing encounter that Peter only barely manages to survive.

Peter soon realizes that the shadow people are connected to the serial killer, and that he is a member of the Order of Astrum, a group of evil psychics who murdered his parents years ago. He must find the serial killer in real time before he claims his next victim. To save many lives, Peter may have to tap into a legacy that he has always dreaded…and a power that may consume him.

My Review:

Peter Warlock is a magician, one like David Copperfield or Harry Houdini. He pulls rabbits out of hats and saws his assistant in half.

Except that Peter Warlock also has more than a bit in common with Harry Dresden, that other famous wizard (or warlock) of urban fantasy. Some of Peter Warlock’s stage tricks are all too real. Peter’s stage name, and stage persona, are a mask that he uses to hide some real magic.

Peter Warlock is a psychic. He reads minds. Sometimes he can see the future. Usually when something bad is barrelling down on New York City.

Dark magic by James SwainIn this second story about Peter Warlock and his friends, the Friday Night Psychics (see my review of Dark Magic for Peter’s first outing), a group of powerful and dangerous ghosts, called “shadow people” seem to be after Peter and his friends.

They keep kidnapping Peter and everyone close to him, just so they can drag their souls to the site of a future murder. Even worse it’s the latest in a long line of murders by a serial killer, and it seems that Peter and his friends are the killer’s next victims.

The killer is even more dangerous because he recognizes Peter’s power, even in his incorporeal state, AND knows how to harm him. The man isn’t just a murderer, he’s one of the many minions of Peter’s nemesis, the demonic Order of Astrum.

The only question is whether Peter can stop him before he kills again, all the while trying to fend off the misguided affections of a witch who is scrying (spying) on his every move and while he’s attempting to preserve his relationship with the only normal woman he has ever let into his life.

Dying might be easier, if only there literally wasn’t the devil to pay.

Escape Rating B: In my review of the first Peter Warlock book, Dark Magic, I did say that if there were further books in the series I would be a very happy reader. Color me happy.

The Peter Warlock series should probably be the dictionary definition for dark fantasy. It’s not quite urban fantasy, although it has a bit of that flavor. The setting is contemporary New York City, after all. But it’s a NYC in which magic works, albeit only for a select and secretive few. Very few people believe and it is all too easy for a practitioner to either end up in a psychiatric ward or become a government experiment. Neither outcome is desirable.

There are demons. It’s part of Peter’s past, and possibly future, that his parents were killed by a group that dedicated itself to evil, The Order of Astrum. A group that they once belonged to.

There is a dark side to the force, and its minions are everywhere. Part of the suspense in Shadow People is for Peter to determine exactly who serves whom. Who is truly evil, who is merely misguided, and who is trying to help him? Nothing is clear, everything is in shadow.

Peter is a fascinating character. I was utterly transfixed by his story in Dark Magic, but Shadow People spent too much time talking about his relationship issues and not enough time dealing with demons and magic. While I still felt compelled to finish the story as fast as I could turn the pages, it left too many of the larger issues unresolved.

In short, Shadow People has the feel of a middle book. It ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. There had better be a third book in this series!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Drowning Mermaids

If you’ve ever watched The Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel, then you have an inkling of just how dangerous crab fishing in Alaska can be. The crab fishing season out of the small town of Soldotna is just part of the setting of Drowning Mermaids by Nadia Scrieva.

The dangers of the sea are more than the usual in this first book of Ms. Scrieva’s new Sacred Breath series. Those dangers also include predatory and dangerous mer-people. In Ms. Scrieva’s paranormal version of events, the Bermuda Triangle disappearance are merely collateral damage of some age-old clan warfare under the sea.

The first person to drown in Drowning Mermaids isn’t a mermaid. The man was a crewmember on Captain Trevain Murphy’s Fishin’ Magician. But Leo was the first man that Trevain has lost in all his years as captain, and he doesn’t understand what went wrong. There was no storm, and Leo was a greenhorn, but not that green. The boy wasn’t drunk or over-tired. He just seems to have fallen overboard for no good reason.

The crew are drowning their sorrows, at the local strip joint when Trevain’s world takes a turn from the morose into the fantastic. A dancer steps onto the rickety stage, not to do the usual bump-and-grind, but to perform 14 minutes of mind-altering, heart stopping ballet. She does still strip at the end. It’s required. And she is unquestionably beautiful. And seems unbearably young to the fifty-plus Trevain. But her dancing is what speaks to his sorrow and confusion.

His brother, the ne’er-do-well Callder, notices that Trevain and the dancer, Aazuria, steal glances throughout the evening once her dance is over. He clumsily arranges for them to talk. Aazuria seems an old soul in a very young face. Trevain is the only person she wants to talk to.

Because Aazuria is not the girl she appears to be. Far from it. She is the Princess of Adlivun, one of the undersea kingdoms, and has lived most of her life in the waters under the Arctic. She is also over 600 years old. Trevain is the only person who talks to her as an intelligent person and not as just a beautiful body.

Not that he’s not interested in that too, but he’s gentleman enough to believe that since she can’t possibly be interested in him, he doesn’t want to look like an old fool chasing after a young girl. He’s happy with the intelligent conversation.

Trevain is generous and kind to Aazuria, expecting nothing in return except friendship. He has no idea who she is, or what she is.

What he doesn’t know is that her people are at war, and that she is on land for her safety. And that her war is about to crash into his coast, sweeping his life into the rocks. If he can manage to give up every single one of his preconceived notions about himself and the world, he can have his heart’s desire.

Or he can be alone and bitter for the rest of his life.

Escape Rating C+: I’m a sucker for stories set in Alaska, after living there for three years. Some parts of the setting were familiar. The whole thing about people coming to Alaska for the very high wages, and then getting stuck because the prices are equally high, that rings so true. And the place gets in your blood. If you can make the adjustment to the dark in the winter.

About the story. On the one hand, I kept turning pages, because I really wanted to see how the author made it all work out. There are not a lot of mermaid paranormal romance stories in general, and usually they use the siren theme. This one didn’t, and I was glad of that. It’s always good to see someone take a different road. Or sea lane, in this case.

I liked that Trevain and Aazuria did a twist on the older woman/younger man theme, since they are but aren’t.  But they also unfortunately hit the insta-love, or at least the insta-connection thing a bit too hard. Trevain invites someone he sees as a girl working in a strip joint to move in with him, along with all her sisters, during their first meeting. Even in small-town Alaska, that’s just not likely.

On that third invisible hand there’s a family sub-plot involving Trevain’s mother that is heart-breaking. And it’s a twist you don’t quite see coming.

Nadia will be awarding a “Drowning Mermaids” beer mug to one randomly drawn commenter on the tour as well as bookmarks to randomly drawn commenters at every stop. So please comment for you chance to win Mermaid bookmarks and maybe even a chance to drown your sorrows with a Mermaid beer mug!


Dark Magic

Dark Magic by James Swain is one of those books that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Take one part Batman, one part A Discovery of Witches, one part Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and one part The Prestige, mix well, and what you have is one hell of a story. I almost forgot, add in a touch of either the X-Files or Men in Black, just for flavor.

Peter Warlock is the leader of the Friday Night Psychics. Who are the Friday Night Psychics? Just what they sound like, a group of psychics who get together every Friday night. Except that these aren’t charlatans, these are the real deal. Peter and his friends all have power, real power, of one kind or another.

They get together every Friday night to connect with the spirit world, to find out if there is anything bad going to happen. Well, anything big and bad. They live in New York City, after all. Something small and bad is always happening. The Friday Night Psychics are trying to prevent major catastrophes.

So when Peter foresees some kind of epic catastrophe radiating out from Times Square only four days in the future, they all start working on how to alert the police. They’ve always sent in anonymous tips before, but this is too big and too imminent for an anonymous phone call.

And they all know what will happen if they reveal themselves. They’ve already lost a friend that way. They’re not afraid that no one will believe them. The government will believe them. The CIA took their friend Nemo somewhere they could pump him for predictions–indefinitely.

But before they can figure out a way to alert the police, the evil forces send an assassin after Peter. Live, on stage, in the middle of his magic act.

Peter Warlock covers his real psychic powers by making his living as a stage magician. He pretends to read minds by really reading minds. He’s hidden his talents in plain sight his entire life.

The attack alerts the police and the FBI. It also blows the covers off Peter’s tortured past. The FBI agent who comes to interview Peter in the wake of the attack is the same agent who interviewed him when he was a child, after his parents were thrown into a car in front of his eyes and driven to their deaths.

Peter’s attacker and his parent’s murderers are members of the same society of dark magic mercenaries, the Order of Astrum. And now the Order is after Peter and his friends.

The police were already hunting for Peter’s would-be assassin. Every city that Jeremy Wolfe has visited has suffered from a series of murders of well-respected psychics, followed by an act of terrorism. Peter knows that his friends and his city are next. What he does not understand is how the deaths of his parents might be linked to this Order of Astrum.

The discovery of his parents’ true history threatens his identity, and his life. Peter finds that his friends have been keeping terrible secrets, secrets that he must unravel in order to find the truth about himself and his destiny. But once he learns all, he then must answer the eternal questions about the nature of good and evil. Will his ends justify his means? And will he always be able to choose good when there is evil in his soul?

Escape Rating A: Dark Magic is the kind of story for which the term “dark fantasy” was invented. Peter Warlock is such an intense character. He does remind me a lot of Batman, I mean Bruce Wayne. He watched his parents die, and he grows up tortured by their deaths. He creates this image of them as being so good, only to discover that they weren’t the people he thought they were.

The suspense factor was also very well done. There’s the part of trying to get one step ahead of the assassin, as he targets the psychics and then there’s the second part, just trying to find out what the heck the real target is.  Very techno-thrillerish and very cool.

If there turn out to be more books in this universe I will be a very happy reader.




Ebook Review Central, Carina Press, March 2012

Carina Press published a very interesting line-up of titles in March of 2012, and Ebook Review Central is here to take a look at the hits for the month.

Every four weeks, as the Carina Press issue rolls around, I continue to be amazed at the range of fiction that Carina publishes, and at how quickly the blogosophere produces reviews for their fiction. When ERC first began, October 24, 2011, with the Carina Press September 2011 titles, the one-month delay was built in to allow for titles published at the end of the month to get read and reviewed.

Even the titles Carina published March 26, barely two weeks ago, Alien Velocity by Robert Appleton, Gate to Kandrith by Nicole Luiken, Her Dark Protector by Carol Stephenson and A Kiss in the Wind by Jennifer Bray-Weber, all have reviews.  (I’m in the middle of Alien Velocity right now!)

Carina Press does an amazing job, month after month, of making sure their books get in the hands of reviewers. They also publish just plain good stories. Clearly a lot of readers think so.

About those stories…what were the highlights this month?

The Kowalskis pull the hat-trick for first place! Shannon Stacey’s Yours to Keep, the third book in her Kowalski Family series was the number one title this month. The completes the series, and makes the third month in a row Ms. Stacey’s Kowalski family member of the month has had the most and best reviews. This is the one I read first, and I enjoyed both the story and the family so much I had to read the first two books. It’s the story of a young woman who pretends she has a fake fiancé to keep her grandmother from worrying about her. But when her grandmother plans a visit, she needs a real-pretend fiancé to keep up that pretense. Then the fake turns real, and suddenly Emma Shaw and Sean Kowalski are playing for keeps.

Beauty in the Beast by Christine Danse is described as a dark fairy tale, or as a collection of dark fairy tales. The description reads like a cross between Beauty and the Beast and 1,001 Arabian Nights, with a little bit of steampunk and the alchemy of the Brothers Grimm thrown in for good measure. Because this version of the Beauty and the Beast story involves a group of travelling players who are lost at the “Beast’s” castle, and not just the titular “Beauty”, the reader gets several stories told by the players in addition to the romance. More than enough reviewers found this mix of shape-shifting with fairytale haunting enough to push this book into the number two slot.

Carina dedicated the week of March 19 to publishing male/male romance titles. All of the books published that week caught the attention of reviewers. and readers. Brook Street: Thief by Ava March is the start of a historical romance trilogy that did well with reviewers. But not quite as well as Moving in Rhythm by new author Dev Bentham. Lucky 13 reviews and all of them really terrific! Everyone loved this book. There was something about the idea of a gorgeously handsome but painfully shy hero that grabbed all the readers and wouldn’t let go of their heartstrings.

Moving in Rhythm may be a book about dancing lessons, but from the sound of it, the love story sings to every reader.

That’s our three hits for this week from Carina. Ebook Review Central will be back next week to feature the March titles from Dreamspinner Press.



On My Wishlist #2


On My Wishlist is a fun weekly event hosted by Book Chick City and runs every Saturday. It’s where I list all the books I desperately want but haven’t actually bought yet. They can be old, new or forthcoming. If you want to know more click here.

So what’s on my wishlist this week?

Sherlock Holmes is back, and he’s being chased by two assassins. Surely I’m not serious.

I try very hard not to be serious too often, and Shirley is my mother.

Sherlock Holmes and the Swedish Enigma
Barry Grant
April 1, 2012
Severn House
Before the BBC brought us a 21st Sherlock Holmes in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch, Barry Grant tried a totally different approach in The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes. He postulated that Holmes fast-froze when he fell over Reichenbach Falls, only to be medically thawed in the 21st century, and brought back to rather astonished and astonishing life in the present day. Strange Return, and the second book in the series, Sherlock Holmes and the Shakespeare Letter, were actually quite good. The latest in the series, Sherlock Holmes and the Swedish Enigma, comes out in April. I’m curious to see if the author can keep this thing going.

I’ve just realized something. This Holmes has a Watson, of course. His name is James Wilson. Just like in the TV series House. And Gregory House is a modern-day Holmes, brilliance, irascibility, addictions and all. The homage is homaged.

The Outcast Blade
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
March 26, 2012
Little, Brown
Alternate History, Fantasy

Last year I read (and recommended) a brilliant sad, mysterious alternate history version of Venice with assassins, vampires, witches and werewolves controlling courtly politics and performing deadly deeds in the dark of night. Serenissima, the city of Venice, was every bit as much of a character in The Fallen Blade as any of the human or supernatural characters who walked her streets. The second act of The Assassini has finally appeared. I want to sink my teeth into The Outcast Blade and savor every page.

Broken Blade
Kelly McCullough
November 1, 2011
Dark Fantasy

Speaking of blades, I just read a terrific review of Kelly McCullough’s Broken Blade over at Flames Rising. I loved her WebMage series, but this is her first fantasy noir. Let me say again, I really loved her WebMage series, which mixes cyberpunk with urban fantasy with more than a touch of mythology. If any of that appeals, WebMage is the first book. But Broken Blade with its assassin-hero looks much more like dark fantasy or sword and sorcery. Both of which I like to begin with. And I like McCullough’s style. Sounds like a winning combination to me.