Review: Stormbringer by Alis Franklin + Giveaway

stormbringer by alis franklinFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: The Wyrd #2
Length: 374 pages
Publisher: Random House Hydra
Date Released: July 21, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Ragnarok—aka the end of the world—was supposed to doom the gods as well. Instead, it was a cosmic rebooting. Now low-level IT tech and comic-book geek Sigmund Sussman finds himself an avatar of a Norse goddess. His boyfriend, the wealthy entrepreneur Lain Laufeyjarson, is channeling none other than Loki, the trickster god. His best friends, Em and Wayne, harbor the spirits of slain Valkyries. Cool, right?

The problem is, the gods who survived the apocalypse are still around—and they don’t exactly make a great welcoming committee. The children of Thor are hellbent on reclaiming their scattered birthright: the gloves, belt, and hammer of the Thunder God. Meanwhile, the dwarves are scheming, the giants are pissed, and the goddess of the dead is demanding sanctuary for herself and her entire realm.

Caught in the coils of the Wyrd, the ancient force that governs gods and mortals alike, Sigmund and his crew are suddenly facing a second Ragnarok that threatens to finish what the first one started. And all that stands in the way are four nerds bound by courage, love, divine powers, and an encyclopedic knowledge of gaming lore.

My Review:

The road FROM Hel is also paved with good intentions. And every story needs a villain – but it doesn’t need to be the SAME villain. Not even when that villain is Loki.

One last important point, by way of the American humorist Will Rogers, “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.” There are all too many people (and beings) in Asgard that think they know all about Loki and his lies and betrayals, only to discover that what most of them know is wrong, and it’s that wrong that gets everyone in seriously big trouble.

liesmith by alis franklinStormbringer picks up right where Liesmith left off. And if you haven’t read the absolutely awesome Liesmith, Stormbringer is going to be more than a teensy bit confusing. On the other hand, Liesmith is utterly fantastic urban fantasy, so if you love UF, go get Liesmith.

A lot of the things that Asgard believed about Ragnarok come not quite true at the end of Liesmith. (It helps if you know a little about Norse mythology, but deep knowledge isn’t strictly necessary).

Way back in the day, over 1,000 years ago, Odin had plans to subvert Ragnarok by having his beloved son Baldr and his always sacrificed frenemy Loki body swap. Unfortunately for Odin, Loki’s wife Sigyn did a swap of her own, and attended Ragnarok in Loki’s place wearing Loki’s armor. So Baldr and Loki stayed swapped. For a millenia. It messed them both up something awful. Naturally.

Asgard has never recovered from what it perceived as Loki’s betrayal. He wasn’t guilty, but since the prevailing mythos that surrounds Loki is that he is always guilty, everyone acted on that belief, often to their detriment, nearly always to Loki’s.

The story in Stormbringer is all about a whole bunch of Asgardians believing that Loki is the root of all evil, and treating him so horribly that while it can definitely be argued that they are way more evil than anything Loki is even thought to have done, he feels forced to do some fairly bad stuff to fix the mess he has walked into.

Meanwhile, back at the Lokabrenna ranch, Loki’s daughter Hel enlists Sigmund and his friends Wayne and Em on a quest of her own. It turns out that Hel set up a whole chunk of the events in Liesmith for her own purposes. She wants to get her people, the supposedly dishonored dead into Valhalla. But Valhalla is only for those who died in battle, which Hel has finally done.

That not many people die in battle these days has caused a serious population explosion in Hel. Their goddess wants to remedy that by getting them all into Valhalla, and by the way reuniting the dead warriors in Valhalla with their not-illustrious but still beloved wives and small children, who generally did not die gloriously in battle.

So while Loki is being abused all over Asgard and the associated realms by one group, Hel, with Sigmund and Wayne and Em recreate Aragorn’s march from the Paths of the Dead from Return of the King by heading towards Valhalla. The difference is that Aragorn’s march was intended to end in a battle. Hel hopes for peace and reunification, and only ends up with a battle after someone cheats.

The story, like Liesmith, ends with a surprising bang, and goes nowhere that anyone involved, including the reader, ever imagined.

And it’s utterly cool.

Escape Rating A-: One of the things that always gets me about modern interpretations of Loki stories is that Loki is always evil and the big villain. Except he wasn’t. He was a trickster god, a chaos agent. Every mythology seems to have one.

Chaos is not necessarily evil per se, but it is always upsetting to those who benefit from the current status quo and don’t want anything to change.

When Stormbringer begins, Loki and Baldr are both kinda sharing the body of Lain Laufeyjarson, who isn’t either of them exactly, but isn’t not, either. It’s as confusing for Lain and his boyfriend Sigmund as it may be for the audience. The entire confusion factor is much higher because Sigmund is the reincarnation (more or less) of Loki’s wife Sigyn, and his BFFs Wayne and Em, who are both female in spite of Wayne’s name, are reincarnations of Valkyries.

Hel needs Sigmund’s Valkyrie friends. Lain needs Sigmund to rescue him from the mess he has been dropped into, only partly of his own making, in Asgard. And Asgard and all of the other realms surrounding it need to seriously get themselves updated from the 10th century to the 21st.

A lot of what goes wrong on the Asgard side revolves around not paying attention and not keeping up. The Earth has moved on from the days that the Vikings went a-Viking, but Asgard never got the memo. And that’s in spite of warriors in the intervening centuries who have found themselves in Valhalla, WITH all their kit.

So there are two stories going on, Thor’s kids taking Lain on what they believe is a one-way trip to retrieve their father’s treasures by way of a past that never was, and Sigmund and his friends supporting Hel in what becomes a 20th century style protest movement against a tyrannical regime that has gone on way too long.

The story is crazy wild and utterly absorbing. I did find myself wishing I knew a bit more about Norse mythology, but that’s just me. There is enough explanation to get the reader through the mythical bits.

The Asgardians, who are all-too-appropriately called as, pronounced ass, have acted like asses to everyone around them. The reader wants them to get their comeuppance. Lain falls all too far into the trap of being Loki, and discovers that he really needs Sigmund to keep him making good decisions. Sigmund discovers that he can be a hero with a little help from his and Lain’s friends. It makes their relationship just a bit more equal.

But the thing I loved most about this story was the way that the eventual solutions to the mess all come from women’s ideas and women’s decisions. Not just Hel, but also Wayne and Em and Thor’s daughter Trud and especially Baldr’s wife Nonna. With a little bit of help from the Loki’s other daughters and the part of Sigyn that lives in Sigmund.

Even though the majority of this story is set in Asgard, I would have preferred that the author had stuck to the common English translations or transliterations of most of the names. It is possible to get a bit lost, especially attempting to search Wikipedia for what else is known about some of the characters.

On that infamous other hand, that Lain’s car turned out to be Sleipnir was just plain awesome.


As part of the tour, the giveaway is a $25 gift card to the eBook retailer of the winner’s choice + eBook copy of LIESMITH by Alis Franklin

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.

Review: Liesmith by Alis Franklin

liesmith by alis franklinFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Wyrd #1
Length: 308 pages
Publisher: Hydra
Date Released: October 7, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Working in low-level IT support for a company that’s the toast of the tech world, Sigmund Sussman finds himself content, if not particularly inspired. As compensation for telling people to restart their computer a few times a day, Sigmund earns enough disposable income to gorge on comics and has plenty of free time to devote to his gaming group.

Then in walks the new guy with the unpronounceable last name who immediately becomes IT’s most popular team member. Lain Laufeyjarson is charming and good-looking, with a story for any occasion; shy, awkward Sigmund is none of those things, which is why he finds it odd when Lain flirts with him. But Lain seems cool, even if he’s a little different—though Sigmund never suspects just how different he could be. After all, who would expect a Norse god to be doing server reboots?

As Sigmund gets to know his mysterious new boyfriend, fate—in the form of an ancient force known as the Wyrd—begins to reveal the threads that weave their lives together. Sigmund doesn’t have the first clue where this adventure will take him, but as Lain says, only fools mess with the Wyrd. Why? Because the Wyrd messes back.

My Review:

For the first third of the book, I was afraid it was going to turn out to be a two-man grift. And it almost was, but not exactly the same two men and definitely not the same grift.

The above could be considered a spoiler for Neil Gaiman’s awesome American Gods, but it doesn’t begin to explain the complexity of the story in Liesmith.

However, the Liesmith in this title, and Low-Key Lyesmith in American Gods are the same Loki, for qualified definitions of “same” and possibly even of Loki.

Like I said, it gets complicated. For one thing, gods have erratic memories because they are made out of our myths and legends. When there are multiple versions of the same legend, the deity in the stories often has as much difficulty remembering exactly what he or she did or didn’t do as we do. Which is certainly a factor in the events in this book.

In myth, Loki was condemned for his part in the murder of the sun god Baldr to be chained to a rock with the entrails of one of his sons while a snake dripped poison into his eyes.. His wife Sigyn condemned herself to stand over him with a bowl to catch the poison. When he escapes, he is supposed to kill and be killed by other gods at Ragnarok, and then the world is supposed to end.

In this version, many people believe Loki cheated his fate, because, well, that’s what Loki does. In all of his manifestations, Loki is a trickster god. But Loki didn’t cheat, at least not then. Instead, the moment he escapes his loving wife conks him on the head and takes his place in the godly army, wearing his armor and pretending to be him.

Destiny is cheated, the world doesn’t end, and Loki wakes up to discover what his wife has done. That’s where things get interesting.

Because Loki sets up a huge in the middle of the Australian Outback, and sets himself up in his own exile. He’s had enough of gods and monsters and being both, and decides to just lay low and live out as many lifetimes as he can.

Then Sigmund walks into his life, and hell, also Hel, appear on earth, along with all the rest of the gods and monsters that Loki has spent the last several decades trying to avoid by submerging himself in the person of Travis Carter Hall, CEO of Lokabrenna Inc.

Baldr is back from the dead and out to get the god who connived at his death, and he doesn’t care how many civilians he has to destroy in order to make that happen. Geeky Sigmund discovers that he is the reincarnation of Loki’s lost wife Sigyn.

And Ragnarok is back on. The world is going to end after all, just so Baldr can punish his killer.

Except that nothing is as it seems. Or possibly ever was.

Escape Rating A-: A lot of Liesmith is urban fantasy of the horror school. If you’ve ever seen someone play Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, the horror has that pulpy feel to it. It’s creepy and mucky and invades the “real” world in a way that almost breaks the fourth wall and certainly makes the characters wonder whether they have finally lost their grip on sanity. It grabs the reader enough that you get scared for them.

One of the other major threads of this story is Fate, generally referred to as the Wyrd in the book. The Wyrd seems to be the place that births gods and monsters and legends out of human beliefs and human stories. It also tries very hard to force the people stuck in the story to go down the same path every single iteration, where the characters, when they are aware, desperately attempt to find a way to create a happy, or at least a less awful, ending this time than they did the last time.

References to how this works are rather similar to the Mercedes Lackey’s stories of the Five Hundred Kingdoms. If you are meant to be Cinderella, the very universe itself will do its level best to force you to live out her story, even if you have no desire to be rescued by a prince, thank you very much. Fate can be a very cruel bitch, especially when you attempt to thwart her.

In the middle of all of this myth making and myth-breaking is a sweet and geeky romance between a man who used to be a god and a man who carries the soul of the god’s dead wife. Sigmund Sussman is an adorkable geek who works in IT support at Lokabrenna Inc. Loki falls so hard for the guy that he creates an entire new persona, Lain Laufeyjarson, just for the chance to get to know Sigmund better. And not just because Sigmund used to be Sigyn, but because there is something in the sweet, shy genius that draws the person Loki has become, as well as the god he used to be.

This part shouldn’t work. It’s a fascinating twist on the fated mate trope, and there is a huge difference in the power dynamic. For one thing, while it isn’t difficult to see what Sigmund sees in Loki, no matter which persona is at the fore, it is difficult at first to figure out what Loki sees in Sigmund besides Sigyn.

And while Sigmund seems a bit too naive about love, sex and even sometimes adulthood, it is his genuine goodness, and also his genuine dorkiness, that finally save the day. And the gods. And possibly even the future as we think we know 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 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: Olde School by Selah Janel

olde school by selah janelFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: fantasy
Series: Kingdom City Chronicles #1
Length: 428 pages
Publisher: Seventh Star Press
Date Released: March 18, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Kingdom City has moved into the modern era. Run by a lord mayor and city council (though still under the influence of the High King of The Land), it proudly embraces a blend of progress and tradition. Trolls, ogres, and other Folk walk the streets with humans, but are more likely to be entrepreneurs than cause trouble. Princesses still want to be rescued, but they now frequent online dating services to encourage lords, royals, and politicians to win their favor. The old stories are around, but everyone knows they’re just fodder for the next movie franchise. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as magic. It’s all old superstition and harmless tradition.

Bookish, timid, and more likely to carry a laptop than a weapon, Paddlelump Stonemonger is quickly coming to wish he’d never put a toll bridge over Crescent Ravine. While his success has brought him lots of gold, it’s also brought him unwanted attention from the Lord Mayor. Adding to his frustration, Padd’s oldest friends give him a hard time when his new maid seems inept at best and conniving at worst. When a shepherd warns Paddlelump of strange noises coming from Thadd Forest, he doesn’t think much of it. Unfortunately for him, the history of his land goes back further than anyone can imagine. Before long he’ll realize that he should have paid attention to the old tales and carried a club.

Darkness threatens to overwhelm not only Paddlelump, but the entire realm. With a little luck, a strange bird, a feisty waitress, and some sturdy friends, maybe, just maybe, Padd will survive to eat another meal at Trip Trap’s diner. It’s enough to make the troll want to crawl under his bridge, if he can manage to keep it out of the clutches of greedy politicians

My Review:

It’s not just that the hero of Olde School is a troll, but that he’s a troll caught on the cusp between traditional and modern that makes this story such an absolute hoot.

There’s a lot of marvelous commentary on the problems and perils of modernization, as well as a few digs at racism, sexism, luddite-ism and everything else under the sun.

The story as a whole is about the dangers of believing that you can get something for nothing. That magic is what we make it, and that wishing for the mythical “good old days” without knowing exactly what you are wishing for is a fast way to get dead. Or worse.

The snarky commentary about various fairy-tale princess cults was a hoot and a half all by itself.

But the story itself is a modern take on classic fairy tales. What makes it different is that all the characters are themselves fairy-tale creatures who have either stopped believing in magic or believe in it a little (a whole lot) much too much.

Paddlelump Stonemonger is a forward-thinking businesstroll in Kingdom City. His bridge over the Crescent Ravine has brought him a lot of well-earned gold, and the attention of the Mayor of Kingdom City. Mayor Addlelump is a conniving pixie who is running the city like it’s his own private business, lining the pockets of his highborn friends and taking away land and businesses from anyone who seems to be making lots of money.

Paddlelump is in the Mayor’s sights, but he seems to be everyone’s target.

His troll friends just tease him for not standing up and firing his new housemaid. Which he should, because she’s stealing from him and she’s set him up for murder. She wants his money, and she thinks she can get some prince from a tiny kingdom to kill him in order to free her from his supposed evil clutches. Which Padd doesn’t even have.

Flora,the barmaid at Padd’s favorite diner, wishes he did.

But there is much more clutching at Padd than just his lying, sneaky maidservant. There is old evil awake in the Thadd Forest, and Padd is the only one who can stop it. If someone can find a clue-by-four big enough to knock some sense into him before it is too late for him, for the kingdom, and possibly for the entire world.

The “Olde School” magic that has awakened in the forest wants flesh and blood sacrifices. And the princess cult members are totally programmed to believe that magic works. It just doesn’t work the way that they think it does, and certainly not for their benefit.

The moral of the story seems to be; “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it. Or someone might make you think you’ve gotten it, when they’ve really gotten you.”

Escape Rating B-: The world that the author has built is a marvelous work of invention. It’s not just that this is a fantasy confection, but everything hangs together really well.

On the other hand, the story takes about half the book to pull itself together and launch into the real action of the plot. The earlier build-up pays off in the second half, but the story takes a while to really get going.

The injected commentaries on our own modern world are funny but not overbearing. And it is an absolute scream when the pro-technology and pro-traditional voices both come from trolls. (Also that internet trolls are actually, well, trolls).

Unionized barmaids and maidservants just feels like an idea that needs to come to more fairy tale worlds.

At the same time, Olde School is very firmly in the tradition of contemporary fantasy, where everyone believes that the magic has gone out of the world, when in fact it hasn’t. So people have read all the wrong stories to have any knowledge of how to fight the evil that has reappeared out of the mythic past.

In some ways, Padd makes a great point-of-view character because he has so much self-doubt that he second-guesses everything, which means he mulls over a lot of stuff and we get introduced to the world through his mulling.

On the other hand, there are times when Padd seems thick as a brick, even for a troll, and we want to hit him with the proverbial clue-by-four. Hard, multiple times and with extreme prejudice.

His less modern troll friends are sometimes more on the ball than his supposedly forward-thinking self. But the way that they continually rib him about all his short-comings, yet stand with him with the chips are down is wonderful. Also snarky and funny.

As a fairy tale story that owes way more to the grimmer original versions of the Brothers Grimm than anything ever created through Disneyfication, Olde School is a lot of fun.

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.

Review: Black Ice by Susan Krinard

black ice by susan krinardFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, paperback, mass market paperback
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Midgard, #2
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: August 12, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Centuries ago, all was lost in the Last Battle when the Norse gods and goddesses went to war. The elves, the giants, and the gods and goddesses themselves were all destroyed, leaving the Valkyrie known as Mist one of the only survivors.

Or so she thought.

The trickster god Loki has reappeared in San Francisco, and he has big plans for modern-day Earth. With few allies and fewer resources—but the eyes of the gods and goddesses of an old world upon her—it’s up to Mist to stop him before history repeats itself.

My Review:

Mist by Susan KrinardBlack Ice is the followup to the first book in this series, Mist (reviewed here). I can definitely say that the title of this latest entry is appropriate, not just because there is literal “black ice” in San Francisco (in June!) but also in the sense of “things are always darkest just before they turn completely black”.

This story is not an upper. The situation starts out grim and keeps getting grimmer. Also Grimm-er, in the sense of myths and fairy tales coming entirely too true.

Mist, the titular heroine from the first book, spends this story fighting off Loki and other enemies while continuing to both gather and lose followers.

Some die, some betray her. Whichever is the worst outcome on any given occasion. There is a lot of nonstop action, but also a sense that little to nothing is going Mist’s way.

Black Ice feels a lot like a “middle book” in a trilogy, in that the plot is on a downstroke.

Mist gains new allies; she finds a couple of her sister valkyries and one of Odin’s ravens (either Huginn or Muninn, we don’t know which) arrives on the scene with its person.

Meanwhile Loki turns out to have a dangerous new ally of his own, and gets his hooks firmly embedded into some of Mist’s own allies. Things are not looking up.

Oh, and her mother comes back. Mist has no idea that her mother Freya is planning to the biggest betrayal of all, because she’s too wrapped up in the more immediate grief at the loss of her would-be lover, Dainn, back to Loki.

It’s too bad that Dainn is not the first (and probably not the last) from her inner circle to turn their coat towards the god who is trying to bring on the end of the world. The contest isn’t even serious to Loki, he’s just playing a very big game.

Mist wants to save the place that she’s come to love, and all the people who follow her. Some will die. Some have already died. All Mist can do is soldier on and hope that their sacrifices will be worth it.

She has no idea that she is in more danger than anyone else.

Escape Rating C+: The story setup is that Loki is the embodiment of evil, but I’m not sure that anyone is playing the good side of the eternal equation unless it’s Mist herself. Freya is not “good” by any human definition, even though she puts on a very good show of being benevolent. It’s pretty obvious that the agenda she is hiding is every bit as (possibly more) self-serving than Loki’s.

And while Freya’s agenda seems obvious to everyone but Mist, I’m less convinced about Loki’s. He’s still (and always) a trickster, but he’s quite capable of doing evil in the name of not so bad. Or at least survival.

Mist spends the whole story being run off her feet from battle to battle. She never catches a break. Also she gets betrayed so many times, and most of the betrayals are obvious up front. I wish she’d get a bigger clue.

The really interesting character this time out is Anna Strangland, accompanied by her raven-disguised-as-a-parrot, Orn. While Orn is obviously more than he appears, we don’t get a clear picture of what he is. (Bets on Huginn or Muninn). But Anna gets dragged out of her everyday life into Ragnarok, and manages not to be overwhelmed and to make a place for herself.

I hope that book 3 moves the story into an upswing. There really needs to be a bright side to look on, and where Black Ice ends, it isn’t even on the horizon.

***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.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-18-14

Sunday Post

I heard a terrible joke this week: “In Seattle, what do you get after two days of rain and gloom?” Answer: “Monday”. And it can be so damn true. But not this week. It was supposed to rain, and instead we got the gray but not the wet.

mellie suitcaseMellie has taken to sleeping on a suitcase in the office. (Why we’ve left a suitcase in the office is a whole other question). But now it’s HER suitcase. Maybe she thinks it will keep us from traveling?

Current Giveaways:

Dialogues of a Crime by John K. Manos (paperback)
Echoes of Empire series by Mark T. Barnes (5 ebook copies of any title in the series)
$10 Amazon or B&N Gift Card in the Wicked Nights Blog Hop
$40 Amazon or B&N Gift Card and 3 ebook copies of Brightarrow Burning by Isabo Kelly

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Mothers’ Day Ebook Bundle is Shelley S.
The winner of The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini is Missy B.

pillars of sand by mark t barnesBlog Recap:

B+ Review: Dialogues of a Crime by John K. Manos + Giveaway
A+ Review: The Pillars of Sand by Mark T. Barnes
Guest Post by Mark T. Barnes on Creating Myths + Giveaway
Wicked Nights Blog Hop
Guest Post by Author Isabo Kelly on What Having Kids Taught Me about Writing + Giveaway
C Review: The Queen of the Dark Things by C. Robert Cargill
Stacking the Shelves (89)

lovers at the chameleon club paris 1932 by francine proseComing Next Week:

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose (blog tour review)
The Quick by Lauren Owen (blog tour review)
Little Island by Katharine Britton (blog tour review
B.O.Q. by N.P. Simpson (review)
Otherwise Engaged by Amanda Quick (review)

Review: The Queen of the Dark Things by C. Robert Cargill

queen of the dark things by c robert cargillFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genre: Fantasy, Contemporary fantasy
Length: 448 pages
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Date Released: May 13, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Screenwriter and noted film critic C. Robert Cargill continues the story begun in his acclaimed debut Dreams and Shadows in this bold and brilliantly crafted tale involving fairies and humans, magic and monsters—a vivid phantasmagoria that combines the imaginative wonders of Neil Gaiman, the visual inventiveness of Guillermo Del Toro, and the shocking miasma of William S. Burroughs.

Six months have passed since the wizard Colby lost his best friend to an army of fairies from the Limestone Kingdom, a realm of mystery and darkness beyond our own. But in vanquishing these creatures and banning them from Austin, Colby sacrificed the anonymity that protected him. Now, word of his deeds has spread, and powerful enemies from the past—including one Colby considered a friend—have resurfaced to exact their revenge.

As darkness gathers around the city, Colby sifts through his memories desperate to find answers that might save him. With time running out, and few of his old allies and enemies willing to help, he is forced to turn for aid to forces even darker than those he once battled.

Following such masters as Lev Grossman, Erin Morgenstern, Richard Kadrey, and Kim Harrison, C. Robert Cargill takes us deeper into an extraordinary universe of darkness and wonder, despair and hope to reveal the magic and monsters around us . . . and inside us.

My Review:

The Queen of the Dark Things is a very direct sequel to Dreams and Shadows. And I can’t exactly say that I liked Dreams and Shadows. I found it interesting, but it also reminded me quite a bit of Neil Gaiman’s early work, particularly Neverwhere, with a slice of American Gods thrown in to give it body. Or several bodies.

dreams and shadows by c robert cargillBoth Dreams and Shadows and The Queen of the Dark Things are contemporary fantasy, of that particular flavor where myth still lives alongside of our technological world, and where our lack of belief in magic and the old ways is squeezing out a great deal of what was once wondrous in the world. Which doesn’t mean that the nasty stuff in the shadows isn’t still there, just that most of us can’t see it. The dark things are still plenty capable of screwing us over.

The Queen of the Dark Things is about living with the consequences of our actions. Just because much of the setting takes place in a slightly fantastic version of Austin, Texas and among the myths of the Australian dreamtime doesn’t change the essential truth. This is a story about consequences.

It’s also about a very “Clever Man” playing a very long game, in the hopes and not the certainty of getting the right people into the right places at the right time to achieve what he hopes will be the best outcome. A case of the needs of the future outweighing the needs of the present.

He maneuvers two children into positions of power, one to become the wizard Colby Stevens, who we first met in Dreams and Shadows; and the other to become The Queen of the Dark Things. He does it to prevent seventy two demons from being free to wreck havoc on the world, and he hopes that he is not setting up a future that will be worse.

The demons have been planning this particular game for five hundred years, and they don’t care how much damage they do. They just want to win.

But the demons have misjudged Colby. He wants what he has always wanted. And it has never been any of the things that they want. Which might just be enough to save him.

Escape Rating C: The story in The Queen of the Dark Things takes a long time to set up, and that’s on top of having read Dreams and Shadows last year. It veers into literary science fiction, so if you like your explanations long and lyrical, this might be for you. I would have preferred that the story get to the action quicker.

The plot is incredibly convoluted. The demons made a bet 500 years ago, and in order to tally it up, they’ve been messing about with shadow puppets ever since. While Colby was still a child learning magic, his mentor left him with an Aborigine shaman for a while, the “Clever Man” Mandu, and Mandu set up this particular future in the Dreamtime.

It’s a long, sad, crazy story, but Colby and Kaycee, the girl who becomes the Queen, have been set up by the demons and Mandu to take the demons down several pegs.

The issue I have with The Queen of the Dark Things was that I didn’t feel enough for the characters to be invested in their story or what happened to them. Although Colby is the central character, so much of the story is based on something that happened when he was a child, and he’s remembering rather than feeling–his story is stripped of the emotions. We don’t see Kaycee’s feelings or thoughts in the now; what there is of the real her is stuck in the past. Even Mandu is a ghost.

The character whom I cared about the most was the dog, Gossamer. He’s an awesome dog.

The story told in The Queen of the Dark Things had the potential to be a fascinating re-imagining of old mythology into modern storytelling. But it just didn’t catch me by the heart.

***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.

Guest Post by Mark T Barnes on Creating Myths + Giveaway

pillars of sand by mark t barnesThis time, I’m just going to gush. I get some good books from Library Journal, and some not so good books from Library Journal. And every once in a while, I get one that absolutely blows me away. That was The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes. I adore epic fantasy, and Garden was one of the best I’ve read in a long time.

I begged 47North for a review copy of book 2, The Obsidian Heart, because I couldn’t bear not knowing where the story went after the towering cliffhanger I was left with. It was every bit as awesome as Garden, and now we have The Pillars of Sand. Read today’s review to see just how much I loved it.

Making Your Own Mythology, by Mark T. Barnes.

Myths are ancient stories shared through generations, both within and across cultures. While history relates the facts of the past, myths reveal the truths of personalities, beliefs, hopes, and fears of times gone by. Myths help us understand why we are who we are, in the context of our journey through history and cultural transformation.

Fantasy worlds in particular benefit from a strong and original mythology as part of the world building process. Not only do they add depth and texture to a story, they provide a framework for the reader to know why things are the way they are. It’s important for our characters to reflect in some way the thinking of their age, which has been formed from cultural mores and social interactions over hundreds of preceding generations.

It’s important to find the obvious in our mythologies and do something different with them. Readers may know the content of many myths, morality tales and fairy tales already, so reward them with something new. Find the anchor points a reader will care about, and identify with, and build a mythology around them. Look at the important concepts of our own culture: how we view birth, life, and death. Love and hatred, romance and vengeance. What do we fear? What do we despise, and why do these things have such a visceral effect on us? Look at topical issues that are important to us today, and weave those into a mythology to make it meaningful and impactful.

Mythology in fantasy literature can also have us think about our own origins as well as the stories we’re leaving behind for generations to come. The myths we make will inform others what we valued, what we feared, and helps them learn the truths of who we were and the mark we left a changing world.

The world of Īa in the Echoes of Empire series has a layered history. All the great world events lend to myths, and how those myths are remembered and used. In the EoE series I tried a few new things:

  • No orthodox religion or deities of any kind. The native inhabitants of Īa practice a form of natural reverence. With the introduction of humans who came from a technologically advanced society with less of a focus on religion, there came the concept of Ancestor worship. As people we have strong feelings towards the people in our lives, and time and new circumstances altered how the dead are perceived.
  • No heaven or hell. There’s no great reward for being ‘good’, nor damnation for being ‘bad’. Such reference points are meaningless when a person is capable of thought, free will, and change. The dead go to a place called The Well of Souls where they continue to be the people they were in life, sans a body. Knowledge of the Well of Souls and the ability to communicate with the dead has taken some of the fear from death.
  • The world is alive and conscious. There have been many empires and civilisations resting one atop the other like sediment. In the distant past the high water mark of a dead civilisation managed to communicate with the mind of the world, changing forever their view of their place and status. Technological industrialisation was bypassed in favour of arcane industrialisation, where energy sources were renewable gifts from the world itself. Humans changed this paradigm, and their defeat in the old wars became a parable for how civilisation should work with a world that knows what’s being done to it.
  • Power perceived is power achieved. The Insurrection and The Scholar Wars showed the world that the arcane sciences are devastating and that not all who hold power, should. Centuries after The Scholar Wars there are still prejudices and laws in place against some uses for the arcane.
  • Tales of ethics and morality. The wars of the past and the blood that was shed has led to the Avān, one of the world’s predominant cultures, forming a rigorous code of conduct and caste system in order to protect themselves, from themselves. Other cultures have beliefs based on great acts of invention, or heroism, or generosity. The greatest heroes in the EoE world are scholars, philosophers, courtesans, etc. Generally people who have tried to make the world better through less destructive means than war.
  • The lessons of war and envy. Though the humans were defeated in the old wars, the Elemental Masters of the time took notice. Indeed it was the introduction of advanced technology that inspired some of the Elemental Masters to try new things with the arcane, and to start truly bridging the gap between arcane science and technical science. This also introduced the concept of Wars of the Long Knife (Wars of Assassins), trial by single combat or arcane power to resolve disputes, government sanctioned and arbitrated House wars, etc.

Seeding the histories of our fantasy worlds with pivotal moments and people, and having those nexus points reflected throughout the years to follow, gives our worlds depth and texture. Whenever I pick up a fantasy novel I look forward to seeing where the writer is taking me, and how well their characters and story are in touch with their myths, legends, and origins.

mark t barnesMark Barnes lives in Sydney, Australia. He is the author of the epic fantasy Echoes of Empire series, published by 47North. The series includes The Garden of Stones (released May 2013), and The Obsidian Heart (released October 2013). The Pillars of Sand is the third of the series, due for release in May 2014. In April 2014, The Garden of Stones was selected as one of five finalists in the 2013/2014 David Gemmell MORNINGSTAR Award for Best Newcomer/Debut, with the winner to be announced in London in June 2014.
You can find out more at, his Facebook page at, or follow Mark on Twitter @MarkTBarnes.


Mark and his publisher, 47North, are generously giving away 5 NetGalley copies of each book in The Echoes of Empire trilogy! If you love epic fantasy, this is your chance to start (or complete) the series.
Because the copies are NetGalley downloads, winners will need to join or be members of NetGalley (which is free).
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Stacking the Shelves (78)

Stacking the Shelves

Someone blogged a couple of weeks ago about the temptation to get ARCs, resisting the temptation, and feeling overwhelmed by the number of review copies in one’s TBR stack versus the number of books one actually wanted to read, but wasn’t committed to. (And now I can’t find it!)

I know I get more books than I can reasonably read in a week, month, or possibly year. But I only get eARCs unless I have a firm commitment to review a particular title. (Library Journal sends print ARCs, but they also send a deadline)

It’s about having LOTS to choose from. Which seems contradictory, because I usually end up reading books based on what tours I have scheduled. But I only pick tours or eARCs that I think I will like (we all get disappointed occasionally!)

So how do you feel about the size of your TBR? Does it weigh you down, or is it just a fact of life? Or perhaps you revel in it, just a bit?

For Review:
Always On My Mind (Sullivans #8) by Bella Andre
At Star’s End (Phoenix Adventures #1) by Anna Hackett
Dead Americans and Other Stories by Ben Peek
The Fan Fiction Studies Reader edited by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse
The Forever Watch by David Ramirez
Good Together (Carrigans of the Circle C #1) by CJ Carmichael
It’s Always Been You (Coming Home #5) by Jessica Scott
Love Game (Matchmaker #3) by Elise Sax
A Plunder of Souls (Thieftaker Chronicles #3) by D.B. Jackson
The Retribution by Anderson Harp
Taken with You (Kowalski Family #8) by Shannon Stacey
The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend by Annabelle Costa
Trinity Stones (Angelorum Twelve Chronicles #1) by L.G. O’Connor
Wicked Temptation (Nemesis Unlimited #3) by Zoe Archer

Borrowed from the Library:
Fables: Snow White (Fables #19) by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham

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.

Stacking the Shelves (69)

Stacking the Shelves

There’s an irony in this post being called “Stacking the Shelves” as we are very much trying to unstack the physical shelves at our apartment. Thankfully the titles listed below don’t add any weight to our actual shelves, as the only print title on the list is the one that belongs the public library.

But we’re moving in EEK two weeks, and we’re downsizing. So the book collection has to be reduced from 20ish Billy bookcases to about 5. If there’s anyone in Seattle who wants to talk about buying some older romance, fantasy or SF, or some used IKEA bookcases…this opportunity will be disappearing fast!

For Review:
The Arnifour Affair (Colin Pendragon #1) by Gregory Harris
The Chance (Thunder Point #4) by Robyn Carr
Christmas at Copper Mountain (Copper Mountain Christmas) by Jane Porter
Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews
Come a Little Bit Closer (Sullivans #7) by Bella Andre
The Cottage on Juniper Ridge (Life in Icicle Falls #4) by Sheila Roberts
Dark Moon (Spirit Wild #2) by Kate Douglas
Known Devil (Occult Crimes Unit Investigation #3) by Justin Gustainis
Master of Crows by Grace Draven
Scarlet Devices (Steam and Seduction #2) by Delphine Dryden
Soul Sucker (Soul Justice #1) by Kate Pearce
The Sweetest Seduction (Kelly Brothers #1) by Crista McHugh

Payoff (Mindspace Investigation #1.5) by Alex Hughes

Borrowed from the Library:
Fables Encyclopedia by Bill Willingham, Jess Nevins and Mark Buckingham