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”…

Rylee Adamson

Book one cover. Courtesy of goodreads.comWell work has been craaaaaaaaaazy lately so now I’m back, missing a week. Still, it gave me time to read a few books. And by few I mean five. Granted they’ve all been just about 300 pages, which is kind of short for my usual fare, but still. Five books. Well, five and a half. I picked up Shannon Mayer’s Rylee Adamson arc because the first four books were on sale for .99 cents each on Amazon recently. They may be short but they’re interesting.

Rylee Adamson is a Tracker. That is what she was born to do. She has not been and never will be human, though she didn’t know that when she was little and her abilities kicked in. She’s had a tough life, abandoned by her parents and her sister missing, presumed dead at a young age. That’s why Rylee does what she does. She uses her innate ability to track any creature (human or supernatural) to find missing children when the police can’t do anything. She doesn’t always get them back alive, but she will bring them back to their parents. She also happens to be Immune to pretty much any magic or poison. Not all, though. But it would have to be incredibly strong to get through her natural immunity.

With her in this world is werewolf Alex. Alex was a pretty meek and mild human when he received the bite. Unlike most fantasy books where once bitten, you become super aggressive simply by virtue of being a werewolf, the bite in this universe just enhances your natural characteristics. So Alex is strong, fast, heals quickly and has enhanced senses…but he’s incredibly submissive. And not in a sexual way. And because he’s so submissive, he doesn’t have the power to fully shift between human and wolf. He’s stuck in between.

There’s also Milly, an incredibly powerful witch. She and Rylee grew up together, adopted by a Reader named Giselle. Milly is a bad person all around. She’s a literal home wrecker, seducing the leader of a local coven and arranging the death of his wife. Betraying Rylee and Giselle. Trying to kill Alex, a harpy named Eve and Rylee’s love interest, a former FBI agent turned werewolf Liam O’Shea.

There are Shamans and Druids, cat shifters and ogres, trolls and giants, dragons and vampires. There are Readers, who can see glimpses of the future, which also tends to drive them mad. Unicorns travel in herds called crushes and are a lot more bad ass than most fantasy novels make them out to be. Also, they don’t really have a thing for virgins. Oaths are taken incredibly seriously and breaking them has repercussions, which is a common theme amongst most fantasy novels.

Rylee isn’t quite as naturally gullible as a lot of female fantasy novel leads tend to be, but she is easy to play. Because she’s an orphan who found herself a family, if you threaten them, you can get her to do what you want. She’ll also do her level best to kill you for it so you’ll really have to decide if that’s worth it.

If you’re looking for a quick, fun read, these books are for you. Like I said, I’ve made my way through five and a half in about a week. Then again, I’m a crazy fast reader. Rating: A-. There are some cliche bits but when isn’t there these days?

Kate Locke

So I decided to try this book God Save the Queen by Kate Locke on a whim. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read another steampunk-y type book since I’ve read a bunch of them lately but this one was really more of an alternate history modern fantasy book with a bit of steampunk in it. Instead of cell phones (or mobiles for you Brits out there), the have “rotaries” (and boy do I feel old for having used rotary phones). Instead of computers they have “logic engines”. A lot of the phrases have a steampunk type feel but it is most definitely set in the 20 century.

The basis behind this book is that the Black Plague transformed people into supernatural creatures (in this case, vampires and werewolves and goblins). “Full blooded” plagued people were considered aristocrats. Or I should say, full blood vampires were considered aristocrats. The werewolves in the UK were in one single gi-normous pack lead by The Alpha (Vexation ‘Vex’ MacLaughlin-such a silly great name).

It was accidentally discovered that full-blooded weres and vamps could have children with a certain segment of the human population. Human female courtesans are highly paid and respected by the plagued community for being able to produce half bloods (halvies).  Halvies are used for protection against humans seeing as halvies can go out in the day time while most full bloods cannot (I’m still not sure if full blooded weres can go out in the day).

Queen Victoria never died, she turned out to be a full blooded vamp. Prince Albert was killed in a human insurrection in the mid-1930s, rather than dying in the late 1800s. There was no World War I or World War II.

The main character is Alexandra (Xandy or Xandra) Vardan is a Royal Guard, whose job it is to protect Victoria. We are introduced to her trying to find a younger sister. That search turns into a somewhat convoluted investigation into faked deaths and sinister scientific/medical experiments on halvies which may include Xandra herself.

Who can she trust? Will she find out what happens to her sister? What are these experiments? We only get a few answers in this book but it is clear that this is going to be an arc, so I’m not too upset by some of the loose ends. It is a very interesting book. And the follow up Long Live the Queen was just as good. I really suggest reading it. Rating: A.

Dancing Deliliah

I read a couple of anthologies recently, Hex Appeal and Blood Lite III, and I came across a short story by Carole Nelson Douglas. I can’t remember the name of the story but it featured a woman by the name of Delilah Street and I had been intrigued by it. So I went off to Amazon and found the first story of Douglas’ that featured Delilah Street called Dancing with Werewolves.

This world starts out intriguingly. It starts out with young orphan Delilah (Why always orphans? Why don’t the main characters of these books ever have a happy childhood? That would be interesting to read), and her orphan peers waiting to see what happens at Y2k. Instead of nothing happening as it did in real life, there was some sort of great magical awakening. Douglas was somewhat vague as to what this was however. I wasn’t clear if the magic already existing in the world just swelled to the point where humans couldn’t ignore it any more or if the magical creatures in the world came out of the supernatural closet. However, I’m willing to pass this vagueness off as being the poor recollections of a child, which Delilah was at the time.

Delilah Street grew up into an investigative reporter. In Kansas. Having lived in a mid-western state, I can only imagine that being as thrilling as it sounds. Delilah tried and failed at dating the vampire anchor at her local news station and his new squeeze, the weather witch, promptly sent a tornado to destroy Delilah’s home. Ooookay then. No explanations as to why the vamp or the weather witch were suddenly so keen to get rid of her but its was a convenient plot device to get Delilah to move on to…Las Vegas!

Here she has a magical encounter with some random dude in a park that gives them both an orgasm of a life time….Really? Already? Trope-tastic magical encounter with sexy male supe, check! Let’s move on to the next cliche. The magical encounter is observed by some rich shut in from his conveniently next door home that is bristling with surveillance. He offers her a job investigating old Vegas crimes. Why? Because he’s a TV producer of course! And he runs the umpteenth version of CSI. Okay, that I found funny. 🙂

So she starts investigating the crime that induced her magical sex ride with the sexy supe (Ric). Which leads her to equally sexy but definitely a bad-guy, probably a vamp but will never admit it, Snow. An albino vampire, he owns the Inferno Hotel (as in Dante’s Inferno). And he has an immediate thing for Delilah. Of course. But the supernatural run ins don’t stop with him. She has a run in with the werewolf mafia, zombies with magical overlays to make them appear as old cinema stars, and weird faerie type creatures.

I almost felt like she was trying to squeeze every trope imaginable into a story that was about 300 pages. The short story was far more intriguing than this longer book. There are several more books in this series and I don’t think I’m going to read them. It was a promising premise but I feel like a writer such as Simon R. Green or Jim Butcher could have done so much more with it. Rating: D-D+. This is harsher than I usually am, but I feel you’d probably be better off skipping this one. Unless you like trope heavy stories, in which case have at it and to each their own. I love cheesy sci-fi movies after all, so who am I to judge? 😉

The Hollows, to present

I’ve been zooming through books recently and haven’t had much time to update my blog, so this one might be a long one.  I left off my review of Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series with A Fistful of Charms. Following on the heels of that book comes For a Few Demons More.

In this book, Rachel Morgan still has the 5,000 year old demon made Focus in her possession and someone has found out that it is in Cincinnati. Someone is killing off werewolves in Cincinnati trying to find it and take it away from them and a serial killer seems to be on the loose, going after human women with no discernible link.  Rachel gets pulled in by the FIB and Detective Glenn to help investigate and the trail leads to Rachel’s own Alpha, David Hue.  Add master vampire Piscary and Trent Kalamack into the loop and things get really complicated, real fast.

Of course, once Rachel does get things figured out…she gets stupid.  Kim Harrison hasn’t quite gotten passed putting her main character in situations that are created entirely from her own stupidity.  And the only way for Rachel’s stupidity to be fixed is by summoning a demon, a new one by the name of Minias.  Spoiler alert: The werewolf focus gets magically sealed into Alpha David Hue.  This allows him to create werewolves by biting a humans, which hasn’t been done in thousands of years.

Next up is The Outlaw Demon Wails. With (spoiler) Kisten dead at the hands of some unknown enemy, Rachel’s life is in the midst of falling apart. Not that it was every really together.  Now, however, she’s even more determined to not do stupid things. At least, not before determining that stupid is absolutely the only way out.  Which happens to be the case in this book.  With at least one demon after Rachel and she has to figure out who is setting him on her, why and how to stop them.  Her trip will lead her into the ever after with her hated enemy Trent Kalamack on a trip that will save both her and the Elves.  But she has to survive first and to survive, she has to embrace the fact that she can spin demon magic.

White Witch, Black Curse.  Rachel is determined to figure out who murdered her vampire lover Kisten two novels ago, but ends up getting side tracked by a banshee.  Rachel’s FIB friend Detective Glenn gets injured in the line of duty and Rachel and Ivy are called in to help.  Rachel figures out that one of those involved is a banshee, who sucks the aura/emotions out of people.  Here we find out what Ivy did with the leprechaun wish she received in the first novel and how it relates to the banshee problem.

We’re also introduced to a new character, a witch by the name of Gordian Nathanial Pierce.  He starts out life as a ghost of a witch who is (conveniently) buried in the cemetery in Rachel’s backyard.  He was, in his day, one of the most powerful witches out there.  He and Rachel met when she accidentally gave him a body some dozen years ago or so. Rachel had thought him finally at rest, but such is not the case.  He ends up getting a new body by agreeing to become the demon Al’s familiar.  This also ties in with the banshee later on down the road.

Rachel causes a lot of destruction and gets a bit of bad press from the pursuit of the banshee, which probably helps lead up to the situation she finds herself in in Black Magic Sanction.  Rachel has been blacklisted by the coven of witches that guides the moral fiber of witch society. It’s something left over from when witches had to hide, but it’s still a very real thing for modern witches. While I can’t remember the term off the top of my head, it basically means that she can’t buy anything from a witch or a witch-run business in good standing.

To top it all off, this particular branch of witches want to use her as a lab rat to increase the power of witches.  They want to harvest her eggs and/or lobotomize her to get her ability to spin demon magic.  Ex-boyfriend Nick shows up again when the coven forces him to summon her.  Since she switched her summoning name with Al’s in the last adventure, the initial summoning might have been construed as a mistake.  And Nick does help summon Rachel back to Cincinnati a few hours later.

Adding to her troubles is Trent Kalamack, who is pissed by the fact that in the ever after (which he will most likely never set foot in again), he is consider Rachel’s familiar-a situation that is akin to being owned. He hates the thought of that and instead of simply asking Rachel to remove her mark on his body, he tries to force her into a contract that would legally bind her as his property in this realm.  Rachel, obviously, will have none of either and finds a way out of the situation in a suitably destructive and public manner.

Nick pits himself firmly in the asshole category in this book.  He sells out Rachel to Trent, unsuccessfully, but thanks to Ivy and Jenks’ well placed mistrust of him, Rachel hears all the details through a radio transmitter. It is highly unlikely that Nick will have Rachel’s help ever again. At least one would hope.  However, she might have reconciled with Trent Kalamack, who turns out to be a very old friend from when she was sick as a kid.

I keep flip-flopping on whether or not I like Kalamack.  There are times when I am truly repulsed by his behavior. But at the end of this book, I am almost rooting for Rachel and Trent to at least do the nasty if not get together. The story arc is obviously going somewhere that should be culminating in the next book (or two perhaps) and I can’t wait to see what lies in store in Pale Demon.

First Intro to Steampunk

Courtesy of gailcarriger.comSome time ago I stumbled upon information about steampunk. I’m not entirely certain now what it was that first brought that to my attention, but as a historian, I was intrigued.  The Victorian Era is also referred to the Industrial Age and the Golden Age, depending on who you talk to and what exactly you’re talking about.  Depending on your social status, the era could have been awesome in terms of the new technology and the ability to freely travel or it could royally suck with terrible work and health conditions. And forget about being a woman in that day and age.

At any rate, I was intrigued, but it took me a while to try out anything.  Because I’m sort of new to the steampunk genre, I’m not entirely sure if these books qualify as steampunk or just as historical fantasies.

First up: Soulless by Gail Carriger.  I was drawn to this because the main female character doesn’t quite fit into the typical urban fantasy female lead mold.  Sure she’s tough, self-sufficient and speaks her mind (much to her mother’s horror), but she’s described as dark, swarthy, large-nosed and plump.  She’s not lithe, fit, svelte, atheletic etc that most of the female leads I read about are described as.  It’s a nice change.

Soulless mixes steampunk, romance and fantasy by talking the soulless character of Alexia Tarabotti (an English lady of Italian descent) and crossing her path with the alpha werewolf of Lord Conall Maccon (and his pack) and vampire Lord Akeldama (a lovely unconventional vampire).  Alexia and Maccon have to solve the mystery of why some vampires are mysteriously disappearing before things get out of hand (terrible summary, I know but I read this one a while ago. Sue me).  Alexia is, as many of my favorite characters are, a wise ass. And she’s not afraid to use it. Or her silver and wood reinforced black parasol, her favorite accessory.

The follow up to Soulless is Changeless. Alexia and Maccon, (SPOILER ALERT) married after the end of the first novel, have to solve the mystery of why members of the London pack (Lord Maccon’s pack) have suddenly stopped being able to change into werewolves.  It leads them all the way to Scotland, to Lord Maccon’s original pack, who also cannot change.  Things don’t end too well for the married couple, sorry to say. Not that anyone important dies, but still, Gail Carriger leaves us hanging on that. I haven’t gotten the third book Blameless yet, but Christmas is coming in a couple months, so we’ll see.  I highly recommend both the fist two books, A.

Next post: The Iron Duke by Meljean Brooke