Review: Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore

dead things by stephen blackmooreFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Eric Carter #1
Length: 295 pages
Publisher: DAW
Date Released: February 5, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Necromancer is such an ugly word, but it’s a title Eric Carter is stuck with.

He sees ghosts, talks to the dead. He’s turned it into a lucrative career putting troublesome spirits to rest, sometimes taking on even more dangerous things. For a fee, of course.

When he left L.A. fifteen years ago he thought he’d never go back. Too many bad memories. Too many people trying to kill him.

But now his sister’s been brutally murdered and Carter wants to find out why.

Was it the gangster looking to settle a score? The ghost of a mage he killed the night he left town? Maybe it’s the patron saint of violent death herself, Santa Muerte, who’s taken an unusually keen interest in him.

Carter’s going to find out who did it and he’s going to make them pay.

As long as they don’t kill him first.

My Review:

If Harry Dresden were a necromancer instead of a wizard, he probably would have turned out to be someone like Eric Carter. Same breed of snark (slightly more gallows, of course) but different city. Where Dresden is the wizard of Chicago, at least in the beginning; Los Angeles is Eric Carter’s city.

And his power comes from death.

It’s not that he is dead or even that he intentionally causes death, but that he speaks to the dead, and very definitely vice-versa.

And of course, he unintentionally causes a lot of death. Not just because he’s a mercenary necromancer for hire, but also because there are entirely too many things that know the best way to get his attention is to cause a spectacular death.

Eric left LA 15 years ago in a cloud of destruction. He killed a big-time gangster and magic user, and was told to leave town or see his friends and remaining family on “the other side”. Since Eric can actually see things on that other side, it was a damn good threat. He went.

He stayed gone until an old friend finally tracked him down to tell him that his sister had been killed; spectacularly and with extreme malice. It suddenly looked like his old deal was dead along with his sister.

Returning to LA, he discovers that his former BFF and his former girlfriend are together, and that everyone except him has become a respectable citizen, more or less. And that his sister was killed in such a spectacular fashion to particularly leave him a message on that “other side”.

Eric investigates what went wrong. It’s what he does, especially when it looks like there’s a particularly nasty haunt or ghost or necromancer playing with bad things and dead things.

But making a deal with a death goddess in order to figure out who is trying to make everyone he knows dead turns out to be a really bad deal. And that big-time gangster he thought he killed, well, in Eric’s world, dead isn’t always dead.

Eric needs to make really sure this time, or he’s going to be the one on “the other side”. Permanently.

Escape Rating A-: I compared Eric to Harry at the beginning of this review, and I think it’s a good comparison. Also good company for Eric to be in; I really love the Dresden Files.

Unfortunately for Eric, his love life is every bit as screwed up as Harry’s. We have another poster boy for urban fantasy, and it’s lack of a happy ending for the protagonist. Which feels right for Eric. He doesn’t start out as a happy camper, and he’s not supposed to become one. As a powerful magic user, he’s a misfit. As one of the few practicing necromancers in the world, he’s a misfit among misfits.

No one likes to think about the inevitability of death.

Underneath the magical trappings, Eric is conducting an investigation, both into his sister’s death and into the original mess that got him evicted from LA. He’s also being confronted with the mess he left behind and the people who did their best to clean it up and recover from his sudden disappearance.

It’s not a pretty picture and Eric is forced to come to terms with a whole lot of crap he’s been running from for 15 years. He’s trying to make up for all his mistakes, and it blinds him to the crap that is going on in the here and now.

I want to say that Eric is likable, but that’s not strictly true. He made a mess, and ran from it, and he’s now cleaning it up. Some of his methods of clean up are morally ambiguous, but completely consistent with Eric’s world as it is.

Eric is certainly compellingly watchable.

There’s an irony to the idea that Eric cleans up other people’s messes for a living,but has spent his entire adult life running from his own. His guilt makes it very easy for people (and other things) to play him. And they do.

broken souls by stephen blackmooreThe ending of Dead Things is a humdinger of a reveal and kind of a cliffhanger. I was left gasping a bit at the end, as I dived for the next book in the series, Broken Souls, today’s review book at The Book Pushers.

One of the things I love about urban fantasy is it’s ability to create beautifully packaged nasty surprises. Dead Things delivers!

***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 or borrowed from a public library 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.

Review: Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

Codex Born by Jim C. HinesFormat read: print book borrowed from the library
Formats available: ebook, paperback, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: Fantasy; Urban Fantasy
Series: Magic Ex Libris, #2
Length: 335 pages
Publisher: DAW
Date Released: August 6, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Five hundred years ago, Johannes Gutenberg discovered the art of libriomancy, allowing him to reach into books to create things from their pages. Gutenberg’s power brought him many enemies, and some of those enemies have waited centuries for revenge. Revenge which begins with the brutal slaughter of a wendigo in the northern Michigan town of Tamarack, a long-established werewolf territory. Libriomancer Isaac Vainio is part of Die Zwelf Portenære, better known as the Porters, the organization founded by Gutenberg to protect the world from magical threats. Isaac is called in to investigate the killing, along with Porter psychiatrist Nidhi Shah and their dryad bodyguard and lover, Lena Greenwood. Born decades ago from the pages of a pulp fantasy novel, Lena was created to be the ultimate fantasy woman, strong and deadly, but shaped by the needs and desires of her companions. Her powers are unique, and Gutenberg’s enemies hope to use those powers for themselves. But their plan could unleash a far darker evil…

My Review:

Born from a book. All the best ideas are born from the things we read. If you don’t think so, then Jim C. Hines Magic Ex Libris series probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re the kind of person who thinks that the best way to spend an idle afternoon (or an idle 5 minutes) is between the pages of a book, particularly fantasy or science fiction, then you’ll eat this series up with a spoon. Start with Libriomancer (reviewed here). Start now.

Codex Born is on the dark side of fun. On the one hand, we have your average geeky male librarian (which I realize is inherently not average, most librarians are female). But geeky Isaac is a particular kind of wizard, he draws magic out of books. Particularly magic things out of books.

He also ignores the rules a lot, and seems to have absorbed Jim Kirk’s lack of belief in the no-win scenario.

Libriomancer Isaac Vainio has the best of all geekily possible girlfriends. Lena Greenwood is a dryad. Somebody else got her acorn out of a book. So she’s someone’s fantasy version of a dryad. Think John Norman’s Gor and groan. Lena is meant to be a fantasy woman, her author’s vision forces her to make herself embody her lover’s fantasy.

But Isaac believes in freedom and personal responsibility. So Lena does too. Talk about a conundrum! A dilemma absolutely embodied by Lena’s other lover, the psychiatrist Nidhi Shah. Who also believes in women taking care of themselves, being independent and fighting for what they believe in. In order to embody what her lovers most desire, Lena must be an independent woman.

One whose existence is bound up with a tree.

Ever since Gutenberg created movable type, and the magic that is born by thousands of people reading the exact same immovable book, the Porters, the wizard society that he created, has controlled magic-use among humans.

But that’s not all the magic there is or has ever been. And Gutenberg has secrets upon secrets about all the other magic-users he has battled over the centuries.

Libriomancer by Jim C. HinesIn Libriomancer a dark power set up the Porters and the vampires to fight each other while it looked for a weakness it could exploit. In Codex Born it finds something better, a whole different branch of libriomancers that time forgot. A group that has been looking for centuries for a way to bring people preserved in books back to their bodies.

Lena Greenwood has proved that she can bring disembodied people back to life through her tree. She did it for Isaac, she can do it for them–if she’s motivated enough.

Dark forces, aided by a surprisingly monstrous array of earthly enemies, hunt down Isaac and Lena in an attempt to bring back the first libriomancers that Gutenberg ever faced.

The old man may have been wrong to kill them then, but it looks like he’s right now. The question is more about whether or not he’ll be able–and in time.

Escape Rating A-: Codex Born is very dark, and does not have a happy ending. Isaac finds himself questioning more and more of Gutenberg’s motives as this story goes on, and no wonder, the old man was well beyond “the best defense is a good offense”. He also seems to have lied by omission a lot, and he’s still doing it.

The best part of the story is Lena’s back story. We see where she came from, and her evolution from a simple dryad to the complex individual she finally became. It was a difficult journey with some surprising twists and turns. In her self-awareness, she doesn’t spare herself any pain.

One of the sadly fun bits was the whodunnit part. The protagonists discover, much too late, that they have been chasing Saruman and missed the clues to Sauron. Which doesn’t mean that Saruman was any less evil in his own right, just that he distracted everyone from the main evil. As he did.

This has the feel of a middle book. Not just because the ending is dark, but because it presages more to come. Evil is not defeated; it is not even temporarily vanquished, no matter what the good guys think. What we have is a minor pause for breath. Something horrible is coming, you can feel it. The question is whether Isaac can snatch victory from somewhere and defeat it. And whether Gutenberg intends him to.

***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 or borrowed from a public library 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.

Review: Libriomancer by Jim C Hines

Libriomancer by Jim C. HinesFormat read: print book borrowed from the Library
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Magic Ex Libris, #1
Length: 321 pages
Publisher: DAW
Date Released: August 7, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.

With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic. . . .

My Review:

All books are full of magic. Of course they are. If you don’t believe that, then what the hell are you doing here?

Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, just like it says on the title. He is someone who has the kind of magic that lets him pull objects out of books. And he’s a librarian. If that’s not the coolest job ever, I don’t know what is.

There’s just this one teeny, tiny problem. Isaac screwed up on his last job, and he’s been retired from the active magic-using thing. Now he just catalogs books that someone else might use to pull something out of of.

In other words, he can look, but he can’t touch. Bummer.

Until the vampires come to kill him. He IS allowed to use magic in self-defense. And all of a sudden, Isaac needs a LOT of defense. Especially when he finds out that the vamps are targeting all of the magic users like Isaac, because they think that the Porters (magic users) are targeting them.

The vamps seem to have picked up that idea about the best defense being a good offense, so they’ve started offending. All over the map.

Isaac needs to start pulling big guns out of every book he can lay his hands on. Because if he doesn’t get to the bottom of things, there’s going to be an all out vampire-mage war so big that no one is going to be able to hide it from the mundanes.

And then all hell is going to break loose. Assuming that it hasn’t already.

Escape Rating A: Books are magic. This book is especially magical if you love science fiction and fantasy. There is a ton of fanservice packed between these pages. And the story is just oodles of fun.

Of course Gutenberg was a wizard. It makes so much sense when you think about it. Printing press = magic! Hundreds of people, or even better, thousands, reading the exact same thing equals shared belief equals even better magic. This is the sort of belief system that whole cults get based on, why not fantasy worldbuilding?

But the idea that whole species of creatures could pop into being just because a book or series about them became popular was sheer genius. I dare you to think about Sanguinarius Meyerii and not laugh your ass off.

Back to the story, it’s a classic, it’s excellently done, and that’s what makes it so good. Isaac is the washed-up hero who gets a second chance. He’s all of us who want that one last shot at glory. He’s been beaten and broken and disappointed at himself and the universe, but he still has what it takes. Then it nearly takes him.

He never expects a happy ending. Just an ending. But like the song says, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”

***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 or borrowed from a public library 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.

Interview with Author John Marco + Giveaway

The Forever Knight by John MarcoToday I’d like to welcome author John Marco, who recently published the latest book in his Bronze Knight series, The Forever Knight. John also has the best online ID ever, “happynerdjohn” and he’s probably pretty happy right now, since Kirkus Reviews chose The Forever Knight as a TOP PICK for April. I’d have to agree (read my review here).

Marlene: John, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

John: Marlene, I’d like to start by thanking you for doing this interview with me and for agreeing to take part in my blog tour. I say this all the time, but I’ve met so many helpful book bloggers over the years who’ve been willing to take a chance and review my books even though they’ve never heard of me. The book blogging community has been wonderful, and I appreciate it.

It always feels a bit strange to talk about myself, but I’ll start by saying that I’m a writer, a husband, and a proud father of a great nine year-old boy. I pretty much always wanted to be a writer, and a fantasy writer in particular, because that’s what I grew up reading and loving. I spent more than enough time as a technical writer in various jobs, and now I am writing fiction full time again. Overall I think of myself as a very average guy who just happens to write stories.

Marlene: Who influenced your decision to become a writer?

John: I’ve had friends along the way who have been very encouraging. Once you actually make the decision to become a writer and get published (or try to get published), it’s good to have people who believe in what you’re doing and support you. There’s always negative people around as well, but you have to ignore them. Those are usually the people who’ve never really accomplished anything in life anyway, so why listen to them? Once you decide to be a writer, you’ll have enough of your own doubts anyway.

Marlene: What is your favorite thing about the writing experience and why?

John: This is a difficult question to answer. I think most writers would say they have a number of “favorite” things about writing, and find it tough to select just one. I love creating worlds and characters, and I’ve always had a need to tell stories. I’m not sure why that is. It just feels like something I was born to do.

Besides that, I love the intimacy of writing. I’m a real introvert, which means that I like to be alone with my own thoughts and I’m comfortable in my own head. Writing gives me the chance to embrace that part of me, to be by myself and be in control. I like being my own boss, in a sense.

Marlene: In The Forever Knight, you changed from third-person narrative to first-person. In general, do you try to experiment with writing style intentionally, or do you find that it just evolves over time?

John: Both. Yes, definitely both. I have always wanted to do different things, to grow and stretch and test myself as a writer. For one thing, I’m very easily bored. I find it surprising that so many writers are able to write in the same world with the same characters over and over and not try something different in between books. That’s never been for me. So trying to write a first person story was always in the cards for me.

On the other hand, there are changes in writing style that come without warning and aren’t by design. I have definitely felt myself “evolving” over the years. For one thing, I’m not as descriptive as I used to be. I used to write really long passages describing things like architecture and culture and dress, and now I do less of that. I just figure that a little goes a long way when it comes to that stuff, but when in my earlier books I really piled it on.

Marlene: Do your characters ever want to take over the story?

John: They do, yes. Sometimes it’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s frustrating. I make a fairly detailed outlined each time I start a book, so I have a pretty good idea of what’s supposed to happen. But very often characters come to the forefront of the story in a way that’s unexpected. Sometimes they’re just stronger characters, and instead of taking a minor role they wind up with a much larger one. And sometimes there are characters in the books that aren’t even in the outline at all. That’s happened to me twice so far with fairly major characters.

Marlene: Will there be more books in this series? What is next on your schedule?

John: Yes, there will definitely be more books in the Bronze Knight series. I am contracted for two more at the moment, and have some ideas for the next one. Before I get to that, however, I will finish up the book I am writing right now. It’s called The Bloody Chorus, and it’s an epic fantasy novel, the first in a new series. I’m also slated to contribute a short story to an upcoming anthology of military fantasy stories. I’m particularly excited about that, because I love writing short stories and don’t get the chance to write them as often as I’d like.

Marlene: What have you learned about writing and publishing since you first started?

John: Oh, so much. Publishing has changed a lot since I first started, and I’ve changed too. The first thing I learned was that publishing a book is only the beginning. I had thought that once I got my foot in the door it would be easy, but that’s really not the case at all. Some books do well, others not so well, and you have got to be ready and willing to weather the storms, because they always come eventually. And then there’s the technical aspects of writing that I’ve gotten better at over time. Again, when I first started I used to say that I was always willing to learn, but it was mostly lip service. I suppose I meant it, but I hadn’t really internalized that idea. It was just something that I would say, kind of like a cliché. Now, however, I’m eager to learn and grow as a writer. I see things that other writers do, and they don’t scare me anymore. I want to be as good as I can be, but I realize that the whole thing involves constant striving.

Marlene: What book would you most want to read again for the first time?

Demon by John VarleyJohn: That’s a real book lovers question! A tough one to answer to be sure. I’ll say Demon by John Varley. It’s one of the first serious science fiction novels that I ever read, and it filled me with an almost indescribable sense of wonder. Not a lot of books do that for me any more. Maybe it’s because I’m so much older now, and wonder is such a rare thing when you’re older. I’d love to experience that feeling again.

Marlene: Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know to ask.

John: I wish I knew how to draw or paint. I wish I was an artist. If there was any other “art” form that I could participate in besides writing, that would be it. It was fantasy art that first drew me into the genre in the first place.

Marlene: Coffee or Tea?

John: I’ll have to say tea, because I don’t drink coffee at all and never have. It’s just one of those things that I never grew into. And to be honest I’m not nuts for tea either, unless it’s iced tea. I don’t even drink alchohol. Really, I drink like a big kid—soda, fruit drinks, Snapple, that sort of stuff.

John MarcoAbout John MarcoJohn Marco is the author of several novels of epic fantasy, many of which have been translated into various languages throughout the world. His first book, The Jackal of Nar, was published in 1999 and won the Barnes and Noble Maiden Voyage Award for best first fantasy novel. John writes full time from his home in Kings Park, NY, a north shore Long Island suburb, where he lives with his wife Deborah and his young son Jack. Though most of his days are consumed with writing, John enjoys spending free time biking, visiting the beach, flying, and of course, reading good books.

To learn more about John, check out his blog or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.


John is kindly giving away a signed hardcover edition of The Forever Knight to one lucky winner! To enter, please use the Rafflecopter below (shipment to U.S. or Canadian addresses only).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.

Review: The Forever Knight by John Marco

The Forever Knight by John MarcoFormat read: paperback ARC provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, hardcover
Genre: Fantasy
Series: A Novel of The Bronze Knight, #4
Length: 287 pages
Publisher: DAW
Date Released: April 2, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Lukien is the Bronze Knight, beloved by his kingdom and renowned in battle throughout his world. After betraying his king and losing his beloved, he wishes only for death, but rather than die, Lukien is given a chance for redemption: to be the protector of the Inhumans—those fragile mortals who live deep in the desert, far from the prying eyes of their world. These remarkable individuals have been granted magical powers in exchange for the hardships and handicaps life has handed them. And Lukien, now immortal himself, must be their champion. But how can one man, even an immortal warrior, protect hundreds from a world of potential enemies?

My Review:

Reboot and redemption, keywords for The Forever Knight.

Don’t let the fact that this is book 4 in the Bronze Knight series deter you from reading this book! Lukien, the Bronze Knight of the series, drops just enough hints about the past that he’s trying leave behind that unfamiliar readers seldom feel lost in the sands of time.

Not that what Lukien does reveal about his past doesn’t sound plenty interesting, because it does. I’d like to go back sometime and learn more. But he does tell readers enough so that I felt teased but not befuddled.

Most excellent.

Lukien has fought someone or something (or lots of both) for all of his life. He brought peace to the kingdom of Jador, but at a high price. Cassandra, the love of his life, died along the way. He hopes that someday, he’ll join her in the land of the dead. But not for a long, long time. Lukien is virtually immortal, his life sustained by the spirit in his sword, the Sword of Angels.

Jador is at peace, but it is an immutable law that warriors with nothing to fight tend to get restless. So the ruler of Jador sends Lukien out as a knight-errant. And Lukien, stubbornly refusing to listen to reason, takes the young girl Cricket as his squire on a dangerous journey to a place known as the Bitter Kingdoms.

Malator, the spirit of Lukien’s sword, knows that Lukien’s mission is a test. The mission is one that will teach Lukien about the being that he has become, but it leads through death. Kingdoms of death, monsters of death and battles with death and that lead to even more death.

Places generally are not given names like “Bitter Kingdoms” without reason.

Lukien is not ready to face who he has become. He is a leader who will change the face of the world. No one, and nothing can be allowed to stand in his way.

But he is also doomed to walk alone. A lesson he will have to learn over and over again.

Escape Rating A-: The Forever Knight is Lukien’s journey. We see all the action from inside Lukien’s head, and it’s a pretty bleak place to be. Lukien is not, as the phrase goes, a “happy camper”. I don’t think that state of being exists in his world view.

Lukien is a man looking for a mission. He’s immortal and he needs something to fill his time. Lots of time. The spirit of the sword, Malator, has a mission for him, but Malator seems to be the king of “I’ve got the secrets”. Malator only speaks in riddles. Lukien wants everything clearly laid out. They argue. A lot.

The person who gets caught in the middle is Cricket. She’s restless in Jador because she can’t remember her life before she became a refugee. She’s attached herself to Lukien and doesn’t relate well to others. They are both outsiders. He brings her along on his knight-errantry as an act of kindness, but also so he won’t be lonely on the trip. She’s his light in the darkness. Of course, that light gets snuffed out.

This is a transformation story. Lukien has to change to be ready for the next phase of his journey. Poor Cricket is part of the price of that change. Damn it.

***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.