Crown & Key

Courtesy of goodreads.comSo I troll through Amazon Kindle books on the reg to see if I can find anything that catches my fancy, especially when I’m between novels on my favorite series (Dresden Files, any and all Simon R Green etc). I picked up this steampunk novel The Shadow Revolution: Crown & Key by Clay and Susan Griffith. I wasn’t really able to figure out in this book if magic and such was on the DL  or if it was well known but considered ‘suspect’ (i.e.-practitioners are thought of in the terms of gypsies and such were at that time, an unwanted peoples). It certain seemed that everyone that our main character, Simon Archer, met was aware of magic on some level. But this is a first novel, so I give a little leeway on the world building ambiguity.

So, Simon Archer is a mage. Not just any mage, but a scribe. Supposedly he is the last one. From what I’m able to gather, scribes work magic through writing down spells and then speaking an activating word. Simon has taken this a little further and tattooed useful spells on his body. Therefore, all he has to do is speak the activating word to do the spells. The problem with magic in this world though is that if you use too much, you get ‘aether drunk’ (seems like an uber high, giggly feeling as it’s described).

Simon is a playboy. The illegitimate son of a scribe in some sort of protective society that seems to have fallen apart, Simon has made himself a bit of a name in the social scene. It isn’t unusual to see him at a party, even if he isn’t invited. This sort of lifestyle is all well and good for him until an old friend gets murdered by a werewolf right in front of him. She’d been trying to ask him for help regarding said werewolf but she was just a bit too late.

To try and get a little revenge, he crashes a very high society party (Prime Minister high) to confront the werewolf, a Peer whose name I have forgotten. Simon confronts him, gets in a fight and is helped out by a Lady by the name of Kate Anstruther. A self professed Alchemist, Kate has no time for societal games. She is much too logical to be swayed by some idiot lord trying to get in her knickers. She’s only there because her younger sister Imogene is a society person and it isn’t proper for a young lady to go out alone.

This fight brings together Simon, Simon’s teacher Nick Barker, and Kate in a race to figure out not only what’s going on but to save Kate’s sister. Imogene falls for the wrong sort (natch, always the way these things go) and it leads to a host of trouble. Throw in a Scottish werewolf hunter, a tinkerer named Penny and an evil doctor and you have a nice little mix.

I quite enjoyed this book. I kept waiting for Kate to go all helpless damsel and it didn’t really happen. The only time she did get a little stereotypically weepy woman was when she was strapped down to a gurney and both she and her sister threatened with extreme bodily harm. I personally feel that is quite an acceptable circumstance for your strong female (or male) lead to have a bit of a breakdown. I’m still deciding if I want to move onto book 2 of this series but I think its definitely worth a read. Rating: B, solid but not outstanding. Also, they never really got to why it was subtitled “Crown & Key”…

Black Magic

Normally I am not one for the sword-and-horse type of fantasy novel. I prefer urban fantasy but I’ve been tearing through books recently and the urban fantasy series that I’m reading are all waiting for new releases later on this year. So I picked out Black Magic by Megan Derr.

Black Magic is a very interesting story but I feel I should warn that this is a homosexual romantic fantasy novel. There is explicit male on male sex but oddly enough, not as much sex as I’ve seen in some hetero-romantic fantasy novels (I’m looking at you Anita Blake. You can put plot in with your porn you know). I don’t feel that this detracts from the story at all but it is not everyone’s cup of tea so be warned.

In this book, there are several classes of magic users: Paladins, Necromancers, Priests, Alchemists and Demons. There are non magic users as well but this is a fantasy novel so the magic users are the focus. Each class has what one might call ‘regulars’ (that is, averagely powered members) and ‘high’ (above averagely powered members).  Each of these classes except Alchemists have some sort of connection with a figure they refer to as the Goddess. She is the string puller of the tale.

High Paladin Sorin has discovered his the body of his cousin, a priest, in his chambers. Upset but needing to investigate, he goes to consult with the High Priest Angelos. High Priests are the ones most likely to have steady and clearer communication with the Goddess. They’ll get words and directions from her and not just feelings. Sorin should expect the arrival of someone “dark” to aid him in his quest to find his cousin’s killer.

Enter Necromancer Koray. Necromancers are feared and mistreated by the rest of society. They are badly misunderstood. What they do is put the dead (that is ghosts) to rest after battles and such. It costs them dearly in personal energy and not to mention the possibility of death from their fellow humans and demons. Koray has no trust for anyone, let alone Paladins of any stature.

Sorin stumbles upon Koray in the middle of the woods outside of the royal castle and convinces the Necromancer to come back with him (read, forces him). The Goddess has made it painfully clear (quite literally) to Sorin that Koray is the person he needs to solve the crime. She also makes it clear to Sorin that she is less than pleased with the way that he has been treating Necromancers who are merely doing her bidding…just like him.

Sorin and Koray show the people that Necromancers can be trusted even if Koray himself finds it hard to trust Sorin in return. They find the killer eventually (no spoilers on who) but not before he kills the High Priest. In the midst of this, we learn that Sorin’s second in command Emel is in love with a Demon. Demon’s ‘eat’ the energy (and sometimes the bodies) of other magic users but this demon is not the typical brainless, vicious demon. This demon loves Emel, can restrain himself from eating people and wants to be with his lover in peace.

At this point, Derr cuts to an exiled prince’s story in the neighboring kingdom. This kingdom has no Priests, Necromancers or Paladins. They have Alchemists who trap energy in vessels (commonly jewels) and who are property. (A lot of social commentary in this book if you haven’t noticed). Cerant is the exiled prince of the kingdom that Sorin serves. For months he has been suffering debilitating headaches without a clue as to why.

His has a would be lover and Alchemist, Neikirk, in his employ. Technically, Neikirk is Cerant’s property even if Cerant himself doesn’t think of Neikirk that way. Cerant keeps his hands to himself for a decade (I love it. I love that he could take advantage of the situation but doesn’t). At the end of the contract time, Neikirk finally finagles himself into Cerant’s bed due to mutual love and so of course, bad news comes.

The Goddess and events have conspired to bring Cerant out of exile. He travels back with Neikirk and get attacked by a new and very odd brand of demon. These demons are pure white or gray, marking them as sickly but no less dangerous. Cerant makes it back to the royal castle and thereupon finds himself marked as high priest with a new mystery to solve. What is behind these odd white demons and how can they be stopped?

Black Magic is a good book even if it is a bit oddly named. No one seemed to have done anything that might be considered as really black magic until the end of the book. And even then, there wasn’t a scene showing people working black magic. I would actually love to see a follow up to this, or several. I found the characters compelling and I really loved the acerbic Koray. Rating: A. I am actually sorely tempted to go right back and re-read it tomorrow. 🙂