Review: Court of Conspiracy by April Taylor

court of conspiracy by april taylorFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Historical fantasy
Series: The Tudor Enigma, #1
Length: 254 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: May 26, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

England is the prize. The death of a young king is the price.

King Henry IX, son of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, holds the very balance of European power in his Protestant hands. His numerous Catholic enemies have cast greedy eyes upon his crown and will stop at nothing to usurp the throne.

An unassuming apothecary in the Outer Green of Hampton Court Palace is the Queen’s last hope.Luke Ballard treats the poor with balms and salves but is careful to protect his greater gifts. For Luke is also an elemancer, one of the blessed few able to harness elemental powers for good. His quiet life ends when Queen Anne commands him to hunt down the traitors, a mission he cannot refuse.

Beset on all sides, Luke mobilizes his arsenal of magic and ingenuity to conquer the enemy. But as the stakes are raised in the uneven battle of good vs. evil, he knows this is only the first skirmish of a lifelong war. The welfare of the Tudors—and England—depends on him alone.

My Review:

boleyn kingAre the Tudors a thing now? I’m only asking because this is the second series to use the conceit that Anne Boleyn did not miscarry her son, and that Henry IX is now on the throne. (For the other take, see Laura Andersen’s Boleyn King, which I absolutely have to read).

In Court of Conspiracy, we have a 17-year-old Henry IX on the throne of England, with his very much living mother Anne Boleyn as one of his advisers. (If she had provided Henry VIII with a son, her head probably would have stayed on, instead of making her part of the old rhyme, “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”)

The other difference between true history and April Taylor’s fascinating alternate version is that this particular alternative has magic. Or rather, there are people who practice elemental magic, both for good and for evil.

Historically, this was a time when people still burned witches, so anyone capable of practicing magic has to keep their talents hidden. Even Dowager Queen Anne Boleyn.

But just as occurred in our history, there are forces swirling around the throne who want to bring the young king down in order to gain or regain power, for themselves and for their particular religious beliefs.

Henry is Protestant, his older sister Mary is a staunch Catholic, and the younger Elizabeth follows the same teachings as her brother. There are plots and counter-plots boiling in every direction.

And into this mess the Queen coerces a young apothecary with elemental magic to investigate the plots against the King. She is all too afraid that the center of the plot is close to the Royal Household.

Luke Ballard is rightfully afraid that this investigation, not to mention merely meddling in the Royal Household, is going to get him killed. He’s very nearly right, on multiple occasions. There are too many people invested in murdering the King, and quite a few more simply greedy of their place and unwilling to let a relatively lowborn man move in their circles.

As his investigation continues, Luke discovers both allies and enemies in unlikely places; and that he is capable of much greater magic than his relative laziness has ever led him to contemplate.

He also uncovers an evil force that has been plotting against him for longer than he was aware, and that is willing to cut down his friends and companions in order to forward its evil intentions.

Escape Rating B+: I’ll say this up front, the Tudor period is one of my absolute favorites. In my teens, I read absolutely oodles of both historical fiction and history about this period. (Jean Plaidy of the many pseudonyms wrote awesome historical fiction in her day) So I was all for anything set in this time.

And this is the Tudors with magic! I’m all in.

Luke is a great point-of-view character. He’s young enough that he’s still making mistakes, but old enough to be an independent actor. And because he’s mostly on the outside of the Royal Court looking in, the author is able to give the reader lots of explanations.

Also, he’s just a likable human being who is stuck with a huge task.

The period details feel real, and well grounded in the history. It’s easy to get swept along the story, because you can almost smell the herbs as you follow Luke in his investigation and his daily tasks. The terrible realities of life as a small-time merchant, and how much the lower classes lived (and died) by the whim of the upper is not glossed over. In fact, it’s crucial to the plot.

It helps that the magic is mostly small and practical, not big and showy. It’s a matter of brain and will, but not so much firepower. Which makes this alternate 16th century easier to accept. It is possible that people had talent and concealed it.

This is also a good vs. evil story, for certain select values of good. (Evil is definitely evil). The evil powers want to upset the natural balance, and create chaos, by killing the King. This doesn’t mean that the King, the Queen or any of those currently in power are good by our definition, but they are the natural order.

While I’m glad that there was no romance between Luke and either of the women in the story, I’m not sure about the way that possible romance was used to introduce the all-too-obvious villain. The character of Luke’s would-be apprentice was too easily influenced.

Still, I enjoyed this conspiracy/investigation/magical history a lot. It reminded me of Candace Robb’s Apothecary Rose and Jeri Westerson’s Crispin Guest series, both favorites.

***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: The Quick by Lauren Owen + Giveaway

quick by lauren owenFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Historical fantasy
Length: 544 pages
Publisher: Random House
Date Released: June 17, 2014
Purchasing Info: Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Alarmed, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine London that greets her, she uncovers a hidden, supernatural city populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of the exclusive, secretive Aegolius Club, whose predatory members include the most ambitious, and most bloodthirsty, men in England.

My Review:

As implied by the title, The Quick is a story about those of us who are alive, as opposed to, or in opposition with, or being preyed upon by, the dead. Or in this particular case, the undead.

It’s amazing when you look back, how long it takes any of the characters to say the word “vampire” in the story. In keeping with the Victorian lack of willingness to call anything what it really is, although everyone knows that they are, or want to be, or are studying, or are being chased by vampires, all the characters are supremely reluctant to say the word.

The story always felt like it fit within our perceptions of the Victorian period. There’s a slow buildup, from the story of a young man who decides to live in London after he graduates, to his developing relationship with his roommate and best friend, to the sudden horrific break in his pattern, when he gets accidentally turned into a vampire.

Which leads us to the Aegolius Club. London is so famous for its secretive gentlemen’s clubs, that the concept that one club restricts its membership to vampires is not that far-fetched. Very eerie, but not too far out there. The commentary that the dreary London weather is tailor-made for creatures who shun sunlight is wryly on target.

Into this mix we have an intrepid explorer. James Norbury is the accidental vampire, and his creation, his “exchange” of life from quick to undead, undoes many of the Aegolius Club’s sacred traditions. They try to correct their mistake by either bringing him into their fold, or killing him. He escapes and begins to roam London, uncertain of who he is or what he can do.

His sister comes to London to find her missing brother. And it’s her story that we follow. Charlotte discovers not one, but three secret societies, all at cross-purposes to one another.

The Aegolius Club wants to use her as bait to capture her brother. The Alia are not quite the criminal underworld of vampires, although there are elements of that, but mostly they are the organized group of non-upper-crust vampires, banding together to fend off their enemies, the elite of the Aegolius, and to pool resources and run businesses.

(If you’re going to live forever, you need something to live on, not to mention, live in.)

Charlotte finds herself an accidental member of the Rag and Bone society. They gather knowledge of vampires, and fight them. They can help her find her brother, but there’s no saving him.

A lot of death and destruction is caused on all sides, because Charlotte cannot be convinced of that fact.

Escape Rating B: This book starts out slow, and then builds to a climax that grabs you with its consequences, sort of like the hand reaching out of the grave at the end of Carrie.

There’s a level of understatement in the way that the plot unfolds; no one believes in vampires and the Aegolius Club wants to keep it that way. Everything is muffled in “that’s not what we do” or “that’s not the done thing”. Although it seems totally appropriate that the members of the club are very stuck on tradition and do not like change; most of them are fixed in the era of their life (and death) and they can’t adapt. They are hiding in the club, not hiding from anything in particular, but hiding from the future. They lose their spark after their undeath, because they have nothing to work towards–except controlling the members of the club.

Tradition also shrouds investigation into the limits of their powers. Part of what sets events in motion is one new vampire who wants to study them scientifically, so he compels a scientist to conduct experiments. The legends that arise among the vampire population about “Doctor Knife” are all the more chilling because they are true.

The story rises or falls based on one’s ability to empathize with Charlotte. Even though it is her brother’s change that sets her in motion, the adventure, and the danger, are really hers. What we see is her determination to discover what happened, and her complete unwillingness to accept that there is no cure, no matter how many people sacrifice themselves or how much even James himself demonstrate that there is nothing she can do to save him. She intrepidly follows a course that is nearly guaranteed to lead to disaster, and certainly will not help the person she intends to help.

At the end, the reader is left wondering whether the story is completely over. In a fantastically chilling way.

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


Lauren is giving away a print copy of The Quick to one lucky (and maybe quick) U.S. winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

***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: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

golem and the jinni by helene weckerFormat read: paperback provided by the publisher
Formats available: Hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Length: 486 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date Released: April 15, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.

The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

My Review:

The Golem and the Jinni is so many different things, all at the same time. It’s been called magical realism, but that’s one of those terms that you have to define before you even begin.

It’s main characters are two beings that most people would say are creatures of myth and legend, but who find themselves in the midst of New York City in 1899.

I’m sure there’s an allegory, or any number of them, in that the story centers around the immigrant neighborhoods of the time, and that one creature is from Jewish legend, while the other was born out of stories of the Arabian Desert.

There is an opposites attract element, as Chava the golem was built out of clay, while Ahmad the Jinni is a fire spirit. Although I say “opposites attracting” this isn’t a romantic story, except in the broader definition of “Romance” as “Adventure”. Chava and Ahmad have adventures that inevitably lead them towards each other; because only they can understand what it feels like to be so completely different from everyone around them.

And that also reflects the immigrant experience.

What is felt strongly in this tale is both journeys of self-discovery. Chava starts out as a blank slate; she was created with certain characteristics, but has to learn how to be her own person. Even though she can’t change her essential nature, she still does change. The curiosity she was made with give her the ability to grow, even as she is forced to hide her essential nature.

Ahmad is let out of his bottle, just like the jinn of the stories. He has no memory of how he got to New York, the centuries he has spent imprisoned, or even how he was captured. But he knows who he is, or who he was. Even though he is out of the bottle, he is still forced to remain in human form by the original curse. So Ahmad also has to discover how to be what he is now, and let go at least some of his bitterness that he is no longer all he used to be.

Each of them has a mentor, a guide to the immigrant community they find themselves in, a person who also knows their secret.

Ahmad has to learn that his actions have consequences. Chava was born afraid of the consequences if she ever loses control of her actions.

They both believe that their meeting is chance. They’re wrong. Fate is directing both of them toward the fulfillment of an ancient curse.

Escape Rating B+: The evocation of New York City at the height of the melting pot is a big part of what makes this story special. You can feel the rhythm of the city, and the way that Chava and Ahmad fit into their respective ethnic enclaves conveys both the universality of their experience, and the seemingly subtle but often impossible to traverse cultural divides between the various immigrant communities.

They are each avatars of their people’s respective mythologies, and yet they have more in common with each other than with the groups that created them.

Chava tries her best to fit in, Ahmad barely gives lip service to the idea that he should. She is restrained, he is self-indulgent. Their respective stories of learning and adaptation bring the city alive.

But we needed a villain in order to bring the story to crisis and close. The insinuation of that villain, and the way his quest tied up all the loose ends, stole a bit of the magic. While Chava and Ahmad seem meant for each other because of their mutual otherness, discovering that it was literally true subtracted rather than added to the tale. But so much of the story is just fantastic, that I was glad to see these two reach beyond their mythical and mystical past to find a future together.

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

Series Shakedown: InCryptid Short Stories by Seanan McGuire

Aeslin Mice

I am a huge fan of Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series, which, for the uninitiated is amazing.

Cryptid, noun:

1. Any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proven scientifically. Term officially coined by cryptozoologist John E. Wall in 1983.

2. That thing that’s getting ready to eat your head.

3. See also: “monster.”

The Covenant of St. George was founded to uphold one simple ideal: anything that was not present on the Ark—anything they deemed “unnatural”—needed to be destroyed. Monsters. Creatures of myth and legend. All of them would be wiped from the Earth in the name of Man’s dominion. Unfortunately for them, not all the monsters agreed with this plan…and neither did all the human beings.

After their rather abrupt departure from the Covenant, Alexander and Enid Healy found themselves alone in the world, but with a simple mission of their own: to protect the cryptids of the world from those who would harm them without just cause. It was a cause that would eventually claim both their lives, leaving their children, and their childrens’ children, to take up the fight. Now in the modern day, their descendants struggle to stay beneath the Covenant’s radar, while defending the cryptids from humanity—and humanity from the cryptids.

Flower of ArizonaThe main books are all set in the modern day, following the lives, deaths, and loves of the Healy’s great-great-grandchildren. Luckily for us, Seanan is a kind and benevolent ruler, gifting us with little bits of the InCryptid past between novels.

These (free!) short stories feature the adventures of the first generation of Healy cryptozoologists after their dramatic defection from The Covenant.

To date, Seanan has published 8 trips into the life and times of Fran and Jonathan Healy, with more on the way. But how do they stack up against the main series?


The Flower of Arizon – In which Jonathan Healy meets his future wife and immediately learns that women in the Wild West can and will kick your skinny city ass.  The Aeslin Mice feature prominently. They understand that Jonathan Healy is a bit slow on the uptake. (+)

One Hell of a RideOne Hell of a Ride – Alternate Title: One Helluva First Date. Trains have never been so exciting. (+)

No Place Like Home – At this point we’re all beginning to suspect that Jonathan Healy is a bit austic or otherwise neurologically atypical. First time you ever brought a girl home and you’re trying to pass it off as not bringing a girl home? Hah! Good luck with that. This story is awkward for poor Fran, but a must-read for all fans of the Aeslin Mice. (+)

Married in Green – Years later and these two crazy kids are finally getting married! This fun romp is filled with foreshadowing, but becomes very sad after you read The First Fall. (+)

Sweet Poison Wine – What kind of honeymoon do cryptozoologists go on during the height of the depression? A kick-ass one! Sadly lacking in mice, but it’s probably for the best. I don’t think I’d lay odds on the Mice in a hotel run by Medusas. (+)

The First FallThe First Fall – Anyone who has read the main books was probably confused before this story. The family tree at the beginning of Midnight Blue-Light Special didn’t match up with what Fran and Jonathan were showing us. Warning: these 29 pages will make you cry. (+)

Loch & Key – Family camping trips are boring. Swimming with Nessie’s American cousins is not nearly as interesting as you’d think. (-)

We Both Go Down Together – I call bullshit! Frances Brown-Healy almost slit her future husband’s throat within minutes of meeting him because he pulled a gun on her (and had a plan to get away with it). There is no goddamn way she’d just let some asshole get away with kidnapping her child. Chop him up and feed him to the fishes? Yes. Let go? No. (-)


The InCryptid Short Stories simultaneously work as an introduction to the world of the InCryptids, and extras to keep diehard fans entertained between books. You don’t need to know anything about Verity Price to follow Frances Brown – but if you do know Verity, you’ll enjoy the connections between the past and future.

Go read these stories now! Then thank Seanan for her generosity by buying Discount Armageddon, Midnight Blue Light Special, and all the books of her alter-ego, Mira Grant.

(Observant Seanan fans will note I made no reference to the Toby series. I don’t care about Toby. Toby is simply taking up precious time Seanan could be spending on InCryptids, Newsflesh, and Parisitology.)