Heart of Venom

Courtesy of jenniferestep.comBook nine of the Elemental Assassin series is Heart of Venom. This one is a little different than the ones before it, because it hits a little closer to home for Gin and the others. With Owen Grayson back in the fold but Gin not fully on board with taking him back, the ladies decide that a spa day is in order.

Luckily for them, the know the best beautician in all of Ashland, Jo-Jo Devereaux. Jo-Jo closes her salon for the day, Gin whips up some goodies and the girls of the group (Gin, Jo-Jo, Bria, Roslyn and Sophia) are all set for a day of relaxation.

The day is unfortunately ruined by the return of an old, old enemy of the Devereaux’s. Harley Grimes is a half-giant, half-dwarf with fire elemental powers and a real nasty streak to him. His sister (half-sister maybe?) is even worse. And Harley wants Sophia back.

Years ago, when Fletcher Lane was still active, he rescued Sophia from the Grimes’ mountain retreat outside of Ashland. Sophia had been tortured by both Grimes’, leading to her mangled voice and job getting rid of bodies for Fletcher. Grimes never came after her while Fletcher lived because he was scared of Fletcher, but now he knows Fletcher is dead and he wants what’s his. And can I just say screw guys who think of women as property? Ugh!

Grimes kidnaps Sophia from Jo-Jo’s spa, shooting Jo-Jo and hurting the others. Gin tried and failed to get Sophia back before they lit out but she needed to save Jo-Jo too. She and the others haul everyone up to Cooper’s place. He doesn’t have much experience using his air magic for healing, but he tries, saving Jo-Jo for the time being.

While that’s happening, Gin decides to head for Grimes. No one messes with her family and lives. The others are varying levels of unhappy and supportive. They all want Sophia back, but they don’t want her to go off half-cocked, which is a very un-Gin-like thing to do. Eventually, she caves and takes Owen up to Warren Fox’s joint for information.

Warren doesn’t live too far from Grimes and apparently he’d been the one to take Fletcher up there in the first place. With his expertise, Gin gets close. Close enough to rescue Sophia but at the expense of her own freedom. This isn’t the first time Gin has been captured and tortured. It isn’t even the first time she’s been on the receiving end of fire elemental magic. It feels a little different though because Grimes and his sister are severely unhinged, where as the others Gin has faced were more methodical and collected in their psychosis.

It’s almost lucky for Gin that Grimes likes to play cat and mouse games with his captives because no one is better at playing than the Spider. Not that they believe she’s the Spider at first, but they do eventually as she takes out man after man in an effort to get back down the mountain.

At one point, Grimes’ men think they’ve killed her. It’s only fair as she jumps off a freaking cliff to get away from them. But Owen finds her, using his metal elemental magic to track down the silverstone embedded in her hands. He never left the mountain, just getting the injured Sophia and Warren down to the car and on their way. He just couldn’t leave Gin alone up on the mountain.

Together, they make it down off the mountain and back to Cooper’s place where Jo-Jo and Sophia are recovering and surrounded by their friends/family. Once Gin and Owen are healed, everyone plans out how to finally kill Harley and Hazel Grimes, because those two (or at least Harley) will never stop until Sophia is theirs.

I felt this book was a bit more on the emotional side for Gin. She’s up in the air about Owen and then her family is kidnapped and hurt right in front of her. She feels helpless and angry, which she isn’t used to. I think it sort of rounds her out, makes her a bit more relatable. It’s also hella tough to read at points, especially some of the bits about Grimes and what he likes to do to women. Still, it’s well worth the read. Rating: A but be warned, this is a tough read.

Tangled Threads

Courtesy of amazon.comYes, I’m still on my Elemental Assassin books kick. So we’re doing book 4 this week, Tangled Threads. This book starts out with Gin taking out small fry guys in Mab’s organization. Naturally, Mab doesn’t just stand by and let this happen. She hires a top notch assassin to take out the Spider, a woman by the name Elektra LaFleur.

Now, kinda lame name aside, it does actually mean something in this assassin bound world, Elektra has the rare elemental ability of lightning which is apparently an offshoot of air magic. And Elektra always leaves an orchid at the site of her kills. She’s not subtle but she’s also never missed. Never. Which makes her a good choice to try and take on Gin.

Gin sees Elektra in action after sensing a pretty obvious trap and taking no action. Elektra takes out one of Mab’s own people in a fit of pique. Doesn’t sound like the most stable of people to me but then again…assassin, so I’m sure that really goes without saying.

So on top of dealing with a very good assassin, Gin also has to deal with Detective Bria Coolidge of the Ashland PD, her long lost sister. At the beginning of the book, Bria still doesn’t know it and Gin is reluctant to tell her after a bad experience with the last Ashland detective she told. She’s worried that Bria won’t accept her as who and what she is, that she’ll be a disappointment.

I find Gin to be a wonderfully complex character, able to kill a bad guy without remorse (and to be patient with it so that she doesn’t get noticed herself) but still be worried about things like whether her sister will like her, whether Owen Grayson really accepts her for who she is.

This book falls around Christmas in Ashland, which apparently can get quite cold. I don’t know much about North Carolina but I guess this can happen? At any rate, after not falling into the obvious trap set by Elektra LaFleur, Gin tracks down who set her up (a bartender at Roslyn’s club) and sets out to make the guy pay for it…only to end up rescuing him after overhearing one of Mab’s people threatening to rape his daughter. Gin doesn’t do kids. Ever.

Gin needs to rescue the kid, kill the assassin and figure out whether or not to tell her sister who she really is. Can she do it? Please! She’s the Spider. She can do anything! This might be my favorite of the series so far. It was a really, really good read. And Gin still hasn’t gone all save me sweet prince with Owen. If anything, she’s usually trying to protect him. I love it. Rating: A+

Brakebills: Hogwarts Lite for America

Courtesy of goodreads.comSo SyFy has this fun new show called the Magicians that is based on a trilogy of the same name by Lev Grossman. The first book in the trilogy is also called The Magicians and it features a late teen boy (17-18) named Quentin Coldwater who lives in Brooklyn and is insanely smart. Like in a school of smart people where he and his friends are all Hermione Grangers. And yes, these sorts of schools do exist and the kids that come out of them are crazy, crazy smart…though not very well versed in social interactions.

I’ve really been enjoying the TV show and I have to admit…I was a little disappointed in the book. This first book is Quentin taking a test and getting into a school for magic. No, not Hogwarts but Brakebills. Brakebills is on the Hudson River in upstate New York and is, essentially, Hogwarts lite.

You enter a campus that no none magic person can find. Magic interferes with technology. You’re not allowed to tell anyone about magic (statute of secrecy!) and you get sorted into a house…I mean, specialty. Seriously, there’s a sorting process, but it’s a not until second or third year so it isn’t exactly like Hogwarts.

Oh, and there’s also an incomprehensible but internationally adored wizard game! Luckily this is some weird form of chess called welters and not something involving broomsticks. There’s also a Hermione Granger (Alice…something) and a Ron Weasley (Eliot…something) and a number of other brave but insignificant character that may play a larger role later on. We’ll have to wait and see.

I think the second book will be more interesting, or at least I’m hoping. There was no real conflict in this book. It was just Quentin being insecure and learning magic. Even HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone had Voldemort show up at the end. Imagine of in that book, Voldemort had never shown up and Harry just had a regular school year. Yeah, not that interesting.

But, seeing as I plunked down 30 bucks for the trilogy (the sample was interesting enough that I thought the first book would have just a little more oomph), I’m really hoping that it’ll get better.  I’m guessing that this is Grossman’s first book. It has potential but he didn’t really need that much character building. Rating: C

Gooseberry Bluff

Courtesy of Amazon.comI stumbled upon Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic by David J. Schwartz through one of those Amazon Daily deals. I think. I can’t quite remember but it was uber cheap and I was intrigued. I believe that before that, it was one of Amazon’s new book serials, like Indexing. Oh, there’s a follow up to Indexing too, which I’m waiting to get all chapters before reading. I find that though I’ve found two (hopefully three) good books through the serials, it can get confusing reading it one chapter at a time.

At any rate, Gooseberry Bluff was complete when I read it. This is an alternate earth type place where magic is known. The point of turning from our earth and this earth seems to be legendary nutjob, Aleister Crowley. In this world, Crowley brought magic and magical beings into the world view by using demons to end WWII. Interesting take on that, I felt.

Our protagonist is a young agent for the Federal Bureau of Magical Affairs, Joy Wilkins. Joy has a very interesting condition called prosopagnosia. If you don’t want to click the link (just wikipedia, y’all), then let me sum up by saying that she has facial blindness. She can’t recognize herself in the mirror, let alone anyone else. The one plus side she does have is that she can read people’s auras, so she can remember people by that. If she couldn’t, people would probably think that she was rude, forgetful or even faking.

Joy is sent to Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic in Wisconsin to look into demon trafficking, which they think is connected to events called Heartstoppers. Heartstoppers is the massive, unexplained deaths of everyone in a certain mile radius, which varies from attack to attack. The bureau thinks that demons are involved, but they don’t know how. They also think that the trafficking is happening through the community college and may be linked to a missing teacher.

Joy goes in undercover as a teacher taking over for the one who is missing. Its her first real assignment and right from the off, everything goes wrong. Her mentor and supervisor is found dead, her new supervisor is clearly a misogynist who doesn’t trust her (never got a good reason for that other than she’s a woman, which…ugh) and she’s drawn into some screwball local secret society that may or may not be involved with the attacks.

Joy has to save herself, save the town and possibly save the planet while trying to figure out who killed her mentor and who is behind the demon attacks. And while this is clearly a first book, because it’s a little choppy, I thought it was fun enough that I keep hoping for a sequel. The characters are interesting and not what you’d expect. Joy is a young African-American woman with the aforementioned (and rare) disability. There’s a teacher who is cursed, a powerful girl who doesn’t know she’s powerful, a drunken magical duelist and someone/thing who may or may not be a god.

It was a good mix and I enjoyed reading it quite a bit. I’d recommend picking it up if you’re looking for a bit of light reading, which I would recommend to break up the chewiness of the Mistborn trilogy. Rating: A. I also highly recommend checking out the Amazon serials. You subscribe to a book for about $3 and you get a new chapter every couple weeks. You’ll end up with a full length novel for about half the price of most of their books if you just have a little patience.

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”…

By Special Request

The Scriptlings by Sorin SuciuSo for the first time ever, I was recently contacted to review a book. That’s exciting. After a day or so thought I decide why not? Getting asked to review a book is awesome and not something that happens every day, though I did make it clear that no good review was guaranteed. I’ll give it a shot and speak my mind.

That being said…Did you like Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett? You did? Well good! Not only is Good Omens a personal favorite of mine, but the book I was asked to review is quite a bit in that vein.

So I present you with The Scriptlings by Sorin Suciu. This is an urban fantasy novel set in Toronto, Canada. Now, to give a bit of a fair warning there is some toilet-y humor to this book. The Magicians in this book all take new names when they begin their study, all of them happen to be…well unconventional is probably the best term. The lead characters are: Master Loo (British slang for toilet), Master Sewer, Merkin (If you don’t know what this is, I’m not telling you but be real careful if you Google) and Buggeroff (the first thing the poor lad said following an evening of getting spectacularly drunk).

When I read the blurb about this book on Smashwords, I started grinning. I knew immediately that I would enjoy this book and I was right. Hint: Take advantage of the footnotes. They add to the humor.

So, our story starts out with ‘heroine’ Merkin being grounded (magic stifled) by her Master (Master Dung) due to her insubordination. Now partly this is due to Merkin being not a very good person (seriously, I wouldn’t have minded if she’d been grievously injured or worse) and part of it is Master Dung being a complete and total asshole. So, Merkin being tired of Dung (and really who isn’t?), she figures out a way to get her magic back and ends up killing Master Dung.

What she doesn’t realize is that killing Master Dung notifies one of his former Scriptlings (this world’s term for a novice or learning magician) and knocks her out for about two days. When she comes to, she gets talked into a corner by Master Sewer. In exchange for him not turning her into the authorities for murder, she will become his Scriptling. And by the laws of magicians, he gets to keep Master Dung’s estate since Sewer is Dung’s eldest Scriptling.

Elsewhere in Toronto, young Simon is working a dead end job despite his degree in computer science when one day he gets an interesting email about a job offer. It seems tailored just for him (it is but he doesn’t know this yet) so he decides to check it out after just a teeny bit of deliberation. For his trouble, he gets killed. :-O And then he wakes up. You see, Simon was 100% non-magical which made him the perfect tabula rasa for Master Loo’s most ongoing experiment: giving Magic to those who have none. Unfortunately, this requires killing the subject.

Except this time (this time, meaning he’s killed quite a few people) it works! Simon comes back to life and ends up with the self-chosen Magician name of Buggeroff. Simon was a good choice of subject because apparently magic is quite a bit like software coding, only using Latin, Russian and Sumerian. I think this is quite the unique take on magic in fantasy novels. A very nice touch.

The stories of Buggeroff and Merkin start out separate and twine together nicely over the course of the novel. It was a refreshingly new take on urban fantasy and the potentially apocalyptic story line.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I think that if you like Good Omens or even some Douglas Adams, then you will like this book. Rating: B+ 

The Palace Job

The Palace Job by Patrick WeekesSo I rarely go for straight up fantasy novels. I really prefer urban fantasy as my addiction of choice. I like to see how writers like Jim Butcher, Richard Kadrey and Simon R. Green mix the fantastical with the ‘real’ world. That being said, I really enjoyed this book The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes. It is pretty straight up fantasy but I did question whether it was some really far future, post-apocalypse thing as French was at one point referred to as an ‘old language’. To be fair, French is a fairly old language by even our standards but the way it was referred to in the book made me the old as in a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away rather than Middle Ages sort of old.

At any rate, we start off the book with our main characters Loch and her trusty sidekick Kail (I think that was how it was spelled, though it would be funny if it were spelled like the veggie) locked up in the most impossible to escape prison of the time. Its Alcatraz, you could say. This prison is located directly beneath the floating city of Heaven’s Spire and it is, in fact, the job of the prisoners to clean the crystals that keep the city afloat.

Loch and Kail ended up there for illegally attempting to enter Heaven’s Spire (for a sort of reference, Heaven’s Spire is a bit like Elysium, only the wealthiest get to live there and visiting is damn near impossible). They were set up to get arrested and Loch is only trying to regain something that rightfully belongs to her, an Elven scroll that will allow her and Kail to live comfortably. They had fought in a war (for the winning side) and had been declared killed in action. Rather hard to hold down a job when you’re dead.

Loch plans a brilliant escape with the help of Kail and another inmate. Once that is done, Loch continues to plot the heist she had originally planned on, with new people that she could trust. Of course, being escaped convicts, they do get the law coming down after them. Justicar Pyvic is considered a very neutral and trustworthy Justicar (my take on Justicars is that they’re rather like Judge Dredd, sort of a police/judge rolled into one but I could be wrong). Unfortunately. he has the bungling warden of the prison along for the ride and the man just keeps letting their quarry escape.

There is quite a bit of Simon R. Green-esque dry humor in this book, which I love but there is also just some upfront ‘blue’ language. Kail, in particular, is a fan of the your mom jokes. He knows at least one in every language and absolutely must taunt his opponent with one before engaging. There’s a ‘unicorn’ who continually tries to hook up with virgins (once she’s had them and they’re no longer virgins, she’s no longer interested).  This is like Ocean’s 11 meets fairy tales. It is quite entertaining and there’s another book coming out in a month or two. 🙂 I think this wouldn’t be for everyone, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. Rating: solid B.

Kate Daniels

Kate Daniels seriesA while ago I read this anthology called Dark and Stormy Knights. In it was this short story featuring a mercenary named Kate Daniels. The story was called A Questionable Client and Kate was hired to protect a very wealthy person from some Russian magic users. I really enjoyed this story but I didn’t know if this was a one off short like a lot of what ends up in these urban fantasy anthologies or if it was part of a series.

It turns out that it was sort of a prequel short story for the Kate Daniels series by husband and wife writers Ilona Andrews. I’d never checked this series out before and I’m rather glad I did. Kate Daniels et al exist in a world where magic and technology exist in waves. When magic is up, no technology works. This means anything from an automatic gun (why, I don’t know) to electric lights and vehicles (phones occasionally work though no one knows why). When technology is up, nothing magic works (cars that run on magic, fey lanterns, wards, spells). Because of the unpredictability of these switch offs, things like planes and tall buildings are no-nos. Magic eats tall buildings apparently.

This is a sort of post-magical-apocalypse world where magic users, shifters and other magical creatures exist. In this world, vampires are blank puppets run by so called Masters of the Dead (which I take to mean necromancers).  There are more types of shifters than just werewolves. Take for example one of the main characters, the Beast Lord. He is a were-lion which is apparently quite rare. The Beast Lord (Curran) controls all the shifters in the Atlanta area (anywhere from 3-1200 at any given time) to keep them from going ‘loupe’ (feral) so that humans don’t kill them.

The main character of the series is, obviously, Kate Daniels, who starts out as a mercenary and ends up as a liaison between the Mercenary Guild and the Order of Merciful Aid (they’ll help anyone but they could end up killing the client if they deem him/her/it a danger to humanity). She was raised to be a killer and she’s good at it. She’s got a goal she’s working toward and she will do it eventually.

Kate is one of those bad ass chicks that stays bad ass the whole time, even when she eventually decides that yes she does have a thing for Beast Lord Curran. She doesn’t just roll over and play the damsel in distress, which I love. A lot of these so called strong female characters out there will be strong…until a man gets in the picture. Then all of a sudden she can’t figure out when end of the sword to use (hint: its the pointy end). To be fair, she does have to get rescued by Curran from time to time BUT more often than not its because she saved his bacon first and is so near death that she can’t save herself.

I really enjoyed this series and plan on doing a more in depth review of each book. There is action, there is snark and there is just enough romance to make things interesting without it being all about the sex (which doesn’t happen until book 3-4 by the way). I highly, highly recommend these books as I burned though all of them in about a week. I’m hoping I can pick up the other short stories without buying the anthologies that they’re a part of, but we’ll see. Rating: A+

Hazardous Goods

I am a big reader. I love Clive Cussler’s action/adventure stuff and I love urban fantasy and steampunk. The trouble is, I read very quickly and I often find that I have to wait months or a year to read the next novel in a series I’m reading (Dresden Files, the Hollows etc). Or a series has just ended (Sookie Stackhouse). So I have to troll through Amazon to find new stuff and often times have to go on very short preview chapters or just the descriptions of other people.

Sometimes I strike out. And sometimes I find a hidden gem like Hazardous Goods (Arcane Transport) by John Mackie. This book takes place in Toronto, Canada, which isn’t a place many if any of my urban fantasy books have taken place. It centers on a business called (*gasp*) Arcane Transport. They transport goods and items for businesses in the Toronto area. This can be a great many items from small to large.

Donnie Elder has just lost his job is the normal world. Coming to his aid is an old family friend who runs a transport service a la FedEx or UPS but smaller. This man is getting up there in years and is looking for a junior partner who is eventually going to take over the business. Enter Donnie.

Donnie is very much a skeptic. He doesn’t believe in magic or the things they transport. His business partner takes him on his first rounds in the business and unluckily enough, they get robbed. It puts the elder man in the hospital and puts Donnie in charge.

So now there are shenanigans of the new-to-the-job-and-finding-magic-is-real types. Add to that the fact that Donnie is bound and determined to get the stolen item back, then you have a sort of detective without the detective training thing going on.

It was an interesting first book and it has potential. It was, unfortunately, short so I blew threw it in a manner of hours. 🙂 So I’d rate it a solid B. There’s another book coming eventually but not soon enough.

Drynn

Drynn is a book I stumbled across on Amazon while looking for something new to read. Written by Steve Vera, it throws small town Montana sheriff Skip Walkins into a world he is not at all prepared for. See, entombed in this small town cemetery is a nasty, extra-dimensional bad guy/demon type named Asmodeus the Pale. This bad guy was entombed by a number of mage warriors from his dimension (called Theia) called Shardyn knights.

These Shardyn were trapped on Earth after defeating Asmodeus because Earth has no magic. Thinking that, they made lives for themselves among humans and hoped to find a way back. Except something happened. A killer by the name of Donovan (not sure why that seems strange to me but it does) makes his way to this small town in Montana for some reason he doesn’t fully comprehend. See, Donovan was legally dead for some time and when he came back, he came back changed.

Something about Asmodeus called Donovan to Montana, where he inadvertently released the demon. So Skip has to chase both demon and Donovan across the country. Asmodeus wants revenge on the the Shardyn knights and he’ll stop at nothing.

All in all, I was really surprised by this book. Some of the characterizations were a little ham-fisted I thought. Skip not only gave up a life as a good detective with Philly PD, he also happened to be a crack sniper for the Marines! Of course! But I was pleased to see that while there was a bit of sexual tension there was no actual sex! An urban fantasy book with no sex! Holy shit, I’m hallucinating. Now, I have nothing against sex but it is nice to see that an author can go without it.

Vera left the end of the book in a way that clearly says he is looking to continue in at least one more story.  And I am actually looking forward to it. So it was a good read and cheap on Amazon Kindle but Vera could use a little polishing as a writer. Rating: B.