Naivete is not altruism

Long isle

Every so often, I tool around Kindle Unlimited (yes, I have a subscription to that. I read too much sometimes) and I stumble upon a book or a series that has some promise. The latest series I’ve stumbled on is called the Magic and Mixology Mystery series Gina LaManna. All the titles are plays off of cocktail names: Hex on the Beach, Witchy Sour, Jinx and Tonic, Long Isle Iced Tea, Amuletto Kiss, Spelldriver. The covers are fun.

These books follow around one Lily Locke. She starts life as a marketing executive in St. Paul and ends up the Mixologist for a place called the Isle. It’s a magical (literally) island in Lake Superior where magical folks of all types can live/hide away from the world of humans. Lily finds it initially hard to believe, but then her aunts find her and whisk her away to be the new Mixologist – a sort of apothecary. 

And she rolls with it. She puts her head down and studies her butt off and becomes good at it. But (there’s always a but) – she’s not that likable a character. Lily has insecurities out the ass. Like all of them. Every trope of how she’s “not good enough” to do this, that or the other thing is all wrapped up in Lily Locke. And it’s annoying as all get out.

She’s afraid to fail, so she doesn’t really get to live or take chances. Learning how to fail is one of the best things a person can be taught. Everyone go to Netflix and watch the Magic School Bus Returns episode on failing. It’s excellent and this character needs it. 

We also get the “I’m in love with you even though I’ve only seen you twice!” trope between her and the weirdly named Ranger X. Rangers are the peacekeepers/special ops of the island. They keep everyone safe from the Faction (the trope-ily named bad guys). Apparently once they become a ranger, they no longer get to use their name? I don’t know, it wasn’t explained.

I have a horrible habit of once I get through one mediocre book in a series, I keep reading the rest, hoping they’ll get better. These ones (I’m only up to the beginning of Amuletto Kiss) are all mediocre, but I’ve had to stop at the beginning of Amuletto Kiss because Ms. Lily has just ticked me right off.

They’re in the beginning stages of an all out war with the Faction (which is run by her father, NATCH) and she sells off her entire stock of Long Isle Iced Tea potion to an unknown witch who says it’s for a party. Now, this particular potion changes a person’s clothing into what they most want. It was made specially for a surprise costume party for one of Lily’s newly found cousins. 

The thing is…it doesn’t just delve into your subconscious and say This person has always wanted to be a pirate and suddenly you’re dressed like Captain Jack Sparrow. No, you can focus on what you want to be and you will be it because in Long Isle Iced Tea we see Lily and a few other Islanders use it to escape the Faction by concentrating very hard on being Faction guards. And we also find that it can give you another person’s face because at the party, another cousin of Lily’s accidentally turns herself into Ranger X.

So….Lily just sold her entire stock of a glamour potion to a woman she doesn’t know. All of it. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! There is a difference between altruism and naivete! The Mixologist is supposed to help people. To do good as we’re reminded constantly. That doesn’t mean she should just blindly trust everyone (which she does, constantly) during the middle of a frickin’ war!

I haven’t gotten to the end yet, but I’m betting that we’ll find out that this woman works for the Faction and she or a partner (or partners) have been using this potion to imitate Rangers (especially X) around the Isle at night and doing little pranky steals (snatching an old woman’s knickers off a clothes line, stealing every tomato at the general store etc) to sow discord between the people and their peacekeepers. Mark my words.

Nothing bothers me more than a female character that has such potential to be awesome, but instead gets caught in the naive, insecure web that writers think makes the “perfect heroine”. Maybe you can do that naive, insecure thing in the first book when she’s first introduced to a world she never knew before…but in 4 straight books (likely 5 if I ever get to the last one) just tells me that this person is incapable of learning. It makes them two dimensional and not fully fleshed out.

The male characters in the book like Ranger X are the same. Ranger X is caught in that emotionally closed off, never met a woman like you before trope. It’s one of those “to be a ranger, you need to not love anyone” crap. Oh, and naturally Lily and Ranger X “fall in love”. I put this in quotes because they’re both really terrible at relationships. Lily’s insecure and Ranger X can’t open up and trust her. It’s a recipe for disaster in real life that will probably lead to a happily ever after in this series. 

On the plus side, this series is kinda light hearted. I tend not to like the really emotionally heavy things that are just a slog to read through. There’s some nice shenanigans in these books and a large extended family (like mine) full of weirdos (like mine).  If you’re looking for a nice, light read, go ahead and pick up Hex on the Beach (or any of the others, I don’t really think you need to read them in order) and give it a go. If flat, tired and tropey characters are not your thing, skip it. Rating: C-. I’m betting once I return these to Kindle Unlimited, I won’t really remember them.

If you want some nice, well fleshed out female leads, try Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, her Finishing School Series or her Custard Protocol Series. Also worth reading: Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series and Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series, which I’ll get around to reviewing sometime. Oh, and though they aren’t the lead in the series, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. He has some seriously great female characters.

Regency and Zombies

Courtesy of www.tillywallace.com

Okay, so I’ve blown through a bunch of books lately and since I’m trying to at least get one post a week, I’m going to go with something a little earlier in history than Victorian Era. Not by much though. I just read a series of Regency era fiction (1811-1820ish).

Tilly Wallace has written a current triology, soon to be a quartet, of books she’s called Manners and Monsters. These books – Manners and Monsters, Galvanism and Ghouls and Gossip and Gorgons – all take place around the same time that Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein and Lord Byron was holding sway in clubs and parlors.

In this world, magic exists alongside all of the typical thinking of the era – women being “the weaker sex”, Scotland (among other places) was “barbaric” and let us not forget that no one was particularly fond of the French because of Napoleon. The books follow Hannah Miles, the daughter of England’s only female mage in history (Duchess Seraphina Miles) and noted surgeon Sir Hugh Miles. Lady Miles and Sir Hugh both fought the French and Napoleon not that long ago, as did the “romantic” lead for Hannah, Viscount Wycliff.

The books start out with Hannah and her father trying to find a cure for what they’re calling the French Affliction. No, that’s not an STD . A French mage somehow cursed a powder that would kill a person, but keep them mobile. Oh yeah, and hungry for braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains. Yup, this powder zombie-fies people.

There are a number of interesting twists on the zombies in this series. 1) The Afflicted, as they are known, keep their wits about them. That is, they are sentient and keep their personalities and powers (if any). They just have a desire for brains. 2) Because the French in these stories cursed a face powder and a bunch of high society ladies became Afflicted, then an effort was made to feed them brains but in a socially acceptable manner. People who at the time would rob graves to sell to medical schools turned their hands to making was is euphemistically called pickled cauliflower for the ton. There is also serious research (which Sir Hugh Miles, among others, does) on curing them. 3) If one of the Afflicted actually goes feral, so to speak, and eats brains directly from a person, that person will rise again to be the stereotypical zombie – so measures are taken in the case that happens and the afflicted is jailed in a zombie proof place called the Repository of Forgotten Things.

I’m not generally one for zombie books of any sort. I had to do the audio book of World War Z by Max Brooks because the thought of reading it just made me go ugh. And not a “ew that’s gross” but more like a “man, that sounds boring” way. Side note: Pick up the Complete Edition audio version of World War Z. The voice cast is amazing.

Miss Miles assists her father in his research and is thus no blushing society violet. In the first book, Manners and Monsters, she crosses paths with Viscount Wycliff when there appears to be a murder by one of the Afflicted at a society event that they both happen to be attending. They’re thrown into an investigation together, though Wycliff is rather of the opinion that women are worthless and tedious (sadly, not an uncommon opinion during the Regency era. Or even these days, by some).

Together, they track down the killers and save the day, so to speak. In the following book, Galvanism and Ghouls, they’re trying to track down a serial killer who may or may not be making Frankensteinian monsters. Though no one uses the name Frankenstein at all. Events in that book lead to Sir Hugh being arrested as a suspect (spoiler: He didn’t do it) and shed light on the fact that Hannah and her mother are in a very tenuous situation.

See, the Afflicted may be tolerated in society, but they are not considered actual people. They are not allowed to marry because they are dead and cannot provide heirs. They’re not allowed to inherit. They are considered non-entities. High society men who had been married to an afflicted were free to remarry without the stigma of divorce because, of course, their wives were considered dead.

We also learn that Hannah, sadly, is Afflicted herself. She, however, is a special case. Her mother, the most powerful mage in England, froze Hannah in time. She is stuck in a moment between heartbeats so long as her mother’s spell lasts. It is fine enough a spell that it fools quite a bit of folks, including Viscount Wycliff, whom we learn was bitten by and turned into a hellhound (a la Cerberus of Greek myth).

In Gossip and Gorgons, we find Hannah and Wycliff married – to protect both Hannah and her mother, should anything happen to Sir Hugh. This makes Wycliff Sir Hugh’s heir in the eyes of the law, which would keep the money and land with them rather than some distant relation that might not be so kind and understanding.

The newlyweds are invited to a week long house party by a distant noble who doesn’t get to London much. They know from the off that they are there as the entertainment, that the hostess wishes them to create scenes so that she gets her jollies off and people will flock to her in the future.

Naturally, murder occurs and the two newlyweds have to investigate. This is the book where Hannah finally figures out that her husband is a hellhound and Wycliff realizes that Hannah isn’t your ordinary woman. You can clearly see that what started as a marriage of convenience and protection is starting to move into something more.

The fourth book is upcoming and I will definitely reading. Author Tilly Wallace takes great pains to keep this as authentically Regency as possible, when you’re dealing with magic and zombies. There’s period costume, period thoughts and period tech. If you enjoy historical fantasy, then you’ll probably enjoy this. Rating: B+

Victorian Addams Family? Yes, please!

Okay, I was just looking for something new to read, when I saw these two book covers and had to take a look. These are the first two (for there does seem to be more on the way. Charlotte E. English appears to be very prodigious) of the House of Werth series. The best way I can describe them is Victorian Addams Family. Yes, really.

The series revolves around Augusta “Gussie” Werth, as we’re introduced to her in Wyrde and Wayward. I have mentally pronounced that first word “weird” and not “word”, but I could be wrong. The Wyrde, in this case, is some sort of supernatural happening that occurs to people in general in this world, but to the Werth family more than most. And they embrace it lovingly, very much like the Addams Family.

Gussie, as we are introduced, is the only Werth in living memory to not get a Wyrde on her third birthday, when Werths traditionally get Wyrded. Examples of Wyrdes are her aunt who can control ice (and occasionally turns into an ice statue), her cousin who is a vampire who eats only rabbits (It just wouldn’t be done to savage the lovely, pale neck of some delicate lady) and her great, great uncle Sylvester who haunts a cathedral grotesque.

The action starts off when Gussie gets kidnapped by an old friend of her aunt (and, as per some sort of tradition with steampunk/Victorian writers, both of her parents are quite dead and her sister married off already) and whisked away to the sumptuous and slightly sinister Starminster, home of Lord Maundevyle (yes, the unmarried Lord Maundevyle) and his weird ass family. Much to his chagrin, because he had no idea that they had kidnapped the poor girl. They, too, are very Addams like, only they haven’t been Wyrded in ages.

Which brings us to why they kidnapped Gussie. Unbeknownest to her, she is not un-Wyrded. Her Wyrde is the bring on the Wyrde in those who have only a dormant Wyrde. Think of it kind of like Magneto’s contraption in X-Men, only without the unfortunate watery collapse. That being said, in the middle of a ball, she accidentally turns poor Lord Maundevyle into a dragon.

Surprised and not the least bit put out, Lord Maundevyle escapes, carrying Gussie away with him and to…a cave. Yes, I know, dragons, virgins and caves. All very cliche, but I think deliberately so here.

When Gussie figures out it was she who triggered the change, she grows very upset with her Aunt Werth, whom apparently long suspected Gussie’s hidden Wyrde, but never spoke to her about it. It takes a long time and an old family ritual, but eventually Lord Maundevyle learns to control his bedragoned state and switch between that and his human.

Book the second, Wyrde and Wicked follows closely on the heels of the first and concerns Gussie and her family (and the occasionally dragoned Lord Maundevyle) tracking some very demonic books, one of which belongs to her family. Shenanigans are rife on the ground, including dragon sized créme anglaise, raising the occasional dead family member and talk of engagements.

I can’t impress upon you enough: If you like steampunk/Victorian novels and the Addams Family, you will probably love this series. I’m still trying to make up my mind on whether or not I actually like the character of Gussie though. I feel she’s a bit of an idiot. There’s something to be said for dashing off where angels fear to tread, but it feels like she learns nothing at all.

That said, I will be reading the rest of the books when they’re released. I did so enjoy them. They’re quick reads too, so if you need something a little on the lighter side given the current atmosphere, I’d pick these up. Rating: B+. Not quite up to Gail Carriger’s humorous steampunk writing, but enjoyable all the same.