Review: The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Title: The Last Smile in Sunder City (The Fetch Phillips Archives #1}

Author: Luke Arnold

Published: January 28 2020, Orbit

Status: Read February 2020, courtesy Hachette Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Imaginative and entertaining, The Last Smile in Sunder City is the first book in an urban fantasy series from debut novelist Luke Arnold.

“The magic had vanished and the world that magic had built was tearing itself apart…”

Six years ago, a war between The Humanitarian Army (representing the humans) and The Opus (representing the world’s magic creatures) destroyed magic. Known as The Coda, the event resulted in catastrophe in Sunder City. Without magic to sustain them, Elves rapidly aged and died, Were’s were left as half-transformed freaks, Vampires withered as they starved, while other creatures shed scales, or fur, or skin, and to the disadvantage of all, machinery and technology, once infused or forged with magic, stopped working. Arnold has created a bleak, gritty and imaginative world, with ‘Man For Hire’ Fletch Phillips at its center.

Fletch Phillips embodies the traits of a traditional noir P.I. in that he is a morose, down-on-his-luck, functional alcoholic who sleeps on a fold down bed in his dingy office. An orphan who lost his parents in horrific circumstances, Fletch once lived in a caring but closed community which he fled at eighteen to explore the wider world he half-remembered. He is terribly flawed, but not quite yet irredeemably, and I found him quite likeable. His journey from curious runaway teen, to guilt-ridden Man For Hire sporting three significant tattoo’s on his arm, is the subject of several flashbacks through the novel, which also eventually explains his role in the death of magic.

It’s not (metaphorically speaking) a blonde bombshell that walks into Fletch’s office to launch the story, it’s the headmaster of a local school searching for his friend and colleague – a centuries old, and ailing vampire. Fletch’s search leads him through the seedy streets of Sunder City, occasionally getting in they way of the police, (whom mostly despise him), and generally making more enemies than friends. I thought the mystery was fairly well plotted, though not particularly complex, and I would have preferred Fletch investigate more actively than he seemed to. I was also perhaps a little disappointed with the lack of action in the plot overall, but am prepared to forgive that given the need for Arnold to create the foundation of both the setting and character.

The Last Smile In Sunder City is a robust beginning to what I believe has the potential to be a popular fantasy series. I found it to be an easy and engaging read.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: Chosen {Slayer #2} by Kiersten White

 


Title: Chosen {Slayer #2}

Author: Kiersten White

Published: January 7th 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Chosen begins a few weeks after the finale of Slayer, in which Nina successfully averted an apocalypse, but accidentally killed her (sort of) boyfriend/watcher, Leo, and was deserted by her twin sister, Artemis.

With the castle they call home being repurposed as a Sanctuary for Slayers and demons in need, Nina should be focused on their new mission, instead she’s distracted by grief, and the dark edge she feels to her newly restored powers. But with a new ‘big bad’ rising, Nina hasn’t got time to wallow if she’s going to save the world – again.

The storyline feels as if it would fit well within the Buffyverse. It’s nicely paced with a good dose of action and humour. I was delighted by the cameo’s from Clem and Oz, Buffy and Faith make an appearance in Nina’s dreams, and there are references to other characters such as Harmony, Angel and Spike, as well as events from Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. As a fan, I love these canonical moments.

Unfortunately Nina is no less whiny in Chosen than she was in Slayer, and while she has good reason to be upset, I found the angst a touch too repetitive. Meanwhile Artemis has completely lost the plot as she schemes with Honora, and Nina is about to be blindsided by another betrayal. Cillian, Rhys’s boyfriend, has a larger role in Chosen, as does Coldplay fan demon Doug. There are a handful of new characters introduced too, including a teleporting demon child named Tsip, and refugee Slayer, Maricruz.

I’m a little thrown by the Epilogue which could indicate White has decided not to continue the series, I hope that’s not the case though as I’m enjoying it. Chosen is a quick and an entertaining read.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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Also by Kiersten White reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: Slayer by Kiersten White

 

Title: Slayer {Slayer #1}

Author: Kiersten White

Published: February 1st 2019; Simon & Schuster Au

Status: Read October 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Into every generation a Slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a Chosen One. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer.”

When browsing for a book to serve as a nod to Halloween (which isn’t really a ‘thing’ here) I quickly zeroed in on Slayer by Kiersten White. I haven’t been interested in the graphic novels that picked up where the ‘original’ left off, but I am a huge fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, it’s the only box set I own, and I binge watch it at least once a year.

Comparisons between Slayer and the ‘original’ are inevitable for fans, and honestly, my expectations here were quite low, so I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this.

Slayer is set after the end of the television series, and (so I’ve been lead to believe) fits with the canon developed in the graphic novels. If you are a fan, you may remember that the Watcher’s Council was all but eliminated during an explosion orchestrated by Caleb, the creepy Preacher. In Slayer, the few Watcher’s who remained have gone to ground in Ireland, and have essentially been in hiding ever since. Athena ‘Nina’ and her twin sister, Artemis, are the sixteen year old daughter’s of Council member Helen Jamison-Smythe, and the late Merrick Jamison-Smythe who was Buffy’s first watcher, and died protecting her.

The story unfolds from Nina’s perspective when, after a lifetime of being sidelined by her mother and overshadowed by her sister, she is imbued with the power of the Slayer. Nina is horrified given that she holds Buffy responsible for almost every wrong in her life, and is further devastated when both her mother and Artemis make it clear that they think it’s a power that Nina isn’t capable of wielding. Nina herself might have her doubts, but she’s determined to prove them wrong.

“Being chosen is easy. Making choices will break your heart.”

Though a touch angsty for my taste, Nina is a typical teen in that she is somewhat self centered, insecure, and short sighted. Her relationship with her mother is very complicated, and while she has a close relationship with Artemis, it’s not as equal as she likes to think. Denied the opportunity to apply for a position as a Watcher, Nina has carved out a niche for herself as a medic for what’s left of the Academy, but being Chosen changes everything.

I enjoyed the storyline which is fast paced with plenty of action that begins when Nina kills a hellhound on the trail of a runaway demon. Doug, the aforementioned horned demon who secrets a substance that gives humans a high, alerts Nina and her friends to the presence of a monster fight club in nearby Dublin, and inadvertently exposes a traitor, or three, in their midst.

“How evil can something wearing a Coldplay shirt be?”

One of the major elements of Buffy’s appeal is its humour, often sarcastic occasionally slapstick, there are very few episodes that don’t raise a snigger. There are lines in Slayer that raised a smile, and one or two that made me chuckle, but it didn’t quite have effortless wit or banter I was hoping for.

Of course I loved the references to familiar characters and events from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from a dig at Buffy’s relationships with Angel and Spike, to the betrayal by Gwendolyn Post, and even a cameo by Faith. Buffy even makes an appearance or two in Nina’s dreams.

For me, Slayer was a easy, fun read which pays appropriate homage to the Buffyverse while also forging a new direction for White to exploit further. I’m looking forward to reading more in Chosen, due to be published in Feb 2020.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Au

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Review: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

 

Title: Sorcery of Thorns

Author: Margaret Rogerson

Published: June 4th 2019, Margaret K. Elderly Books

Status: Read July 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Ink and parchment flowed through her veins. The magic of the Great Libraries lived in her very bones. They were a part of her, and she a part of them.”

Raised in the Great Library of Summershall, foundling Elisabeth Scrivener has grown up with no other desire than to become a Warden in service to the Collegium, to wield an iron sword, and protect the kingdom from the powerful grimoires that line the shelves of the six Great Library’s of Austemeer.

“For these were not ordinary books the libraries kept. They were knowledge, given life. Wisdom, given voice. They sang when starlight streamed through the library’s windows. They felt pain and suffered heartbreak. Sometimes they were sinister, grotesque—but so was the world outside. And that made the world no less worth fighting for, because wherever there was darkness, there was also so much light.”

But Elisabeth’s dream is shattered when she is accused of a deadly act of sabotage that results in the death of her mentor, the Summershall Director. Ordered to stand trial in the Capital, she is escorted by Nathaniel Thorn, a young Magister with a fearsome reputation, and his demon servant, Silas. Raised to believe the worst of sorcery, and those who wield it, Elisabeth doesn’t expect to even survive the journey, but she will face a far greater danger at her destination, where the real saboteur waits.

“She saw no way out of the trap he had built for her. Escape wasn’t an option. If she attempted to run, he would know that she suspected him, and the game would come to an end. She would lose any chance she had left to expose him, however small.”

Sorcery of Thorns is an enchanting young adult fantasy novel offering adventure, suspense, humour, and romance.

I thought Rogerson did a great job of character development.

Elisabeth quickly sheds the innocence of her sheltered background, but not her idealism. She proves to be intelligent, resourceful and courageous, and is determined to end the threat to Austemeer, no matter the cost to herself.

Nathaniel is a bit of a tortured hero, with a tragic backstory. I particularly enjoyed his sense of humour.

The romance between Elisabeth and Nathaniel is not too rushed, and I found it sweet.

Silas, with his impeccable manners and yellow eyes, almost steals the show.

I loved the world building, the settings are easily imagined, from the home of Nathaniel to the halls, and secret passages, of the Great Library. And what reader can resist the idea of a library where books grumble, and sigh, and sing, and whisper? A book provoked, becomes a Malefict, a terrifying monster that has the potential to maim and kill. Iron and salt are weapons that keep them bound.

“Knowledge always has the potential to be dangerous. It is a more powerful weapon than any sword or spell.”

I was enthralled by the Sorcery of Thorns, though near 500 pages long, I found it a quick read. Charming, exciting and entertaining, the novel is written as a stand alone, but I’d love to return to this world.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU

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Review: Fire Touched {Mercy Thompson #9} by Patricia Briggs

 

Title: Fire Touched {Mercy Thompson #9}

Author: Patricia Briggs

Published: March 8th 2016, Ace Books

Status: Read February 2016 courtesy Berkley/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

Fire Touched, the ninth instalment of Patricia Briggs urban fantasy series featuring Mercy Thompson, begins with a naked troll released by the Fae Gray Lords, creating havoc on a Tri-Cities bridge. Leaping to the defence of the city, Mercy, Adam and the pack engage in a fierce battle to end the rampage, and wind up indebted to a boy seeking refuge from the fae.

Providing sanctuary to Aiden, a once human boy who is now something Other after having spent years in Underhill, puts the pack in direct conflict with not only the Gray Lords who want him back, but also the humans who fear a supernatural war, and the most powerful werewolf pack in the country.

In addition Adam and Mercy must finally take a stand against the members of the pack who have been unhappy about the influence Mercy wields as Adam’s mate. It’s imperative the pack is united if they are going to survive.

Action packed and fast paced, Fire Touched is another entertaining and creative story. Though some fans have expressed discontent with the focus on the fae of late, It seems as if the author is bringing this thread to a close. As always, I’m already impatient for the next adventure for Mercy, and her friends.

++++++

 

Available to purchase via PenguinRandomHouse or your preferred retailer via Indiebound

Available to purchase from Hachette AU or your preferred retailer via Booko

 

Click the image to view the Mercy Thompson series on Goodreads

Review: Devil’s Due {Red Letter Days #2} by Rachel Caine

Title: Devil’s Due {Red Letter Days #2}

Author: Rachel Caine

Published: February 1st 2013, MIRA

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Having raced through Devil’s Bargain, the first book in Rachel Caine’s Red Letter Days series (or more properly duology), I was eager to read Devil’s Due.

Devil’s Bargain introduced Jazz Callender, and Lucía Garcia, once strangers, whose new private detective agency was funded by an anonymous organisation, with a few strings attached. By the end of the novel, Jazz and Lucia had identified The Cross Society as their mysterious benefactor and learnt of its counterpoint, the Eidolon Corporation. Unraveling the motives of both organisations reveals a dangerous game is being played, and Jazz and Lucia are trapped in the middle of it all.

While Jazz is the focus of Devil’s Bargain, Lucia takes the lead in Devil’s Due. Caine barely gives Lucia time to breathe as she is confronted by a series of crisis, including being exposed to Anthrax, stalked by a corrupt cop, abducted, and shot. I like Lucia, she is the calmer and more calculating member of the partnership, drawing on her extensive experience as an operative with a number of shadow organisations, but her vulnerabilities are also explored when she loses a friend, and falls in love with Ben McCarthy.

Devil’s Due is a frantic thrill ride, with several shocking twists, as Lucia and Jazz race to free themselves, their friends, and the world, from the interventions of The Cross Society and Eidolon Corporation. I was very happy that the story arc was satisfyingly finalised offering an appropriately explosive ending to the duology.

The Red Letter Days is an entertaining duology, and I enjoyed it’s fast paced combination of mystery, thriller, paranormal and romance.

++++++

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Review: Devil’s Bargain {Red Letter Days #1} by Rachel Caine

 

Title: Devil’s Bargain {Red Letter Days #1}

Author: Rachel Caine

Published: October 5th 2012, MIRA

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

I really should know better than to pick up a book by Rachel Caine with the intention to read just one chapter before bed because the next thing I know the sun is coming up, and I’m trying to decide between getting a few hours sleep or starting the next book in the series.

Devil’s Bargain introduces Jazz Callender, a disgraced ex cop who receives a too-good-to-be-true offer from an elite New York law firm acting on behalf of an unnamed client. In exchange for funding her own private detective agency, Jazz must partner with a stranger, ex spook Lucia Garza, and carry out the occasional task for them, no questions asked.

Devil’s Bargain is a fast paced, action packed thriller with a paranormal twist.

Caine gives us two kick@ss heroines who complement each other both personally and professionally. Jazz is impulsive and rebellious, while Lucía is analytical and decisive. They each have their own reasons for accepting the offer from Gabriel, Pike, and Laskins, though neither are willing to let their employer’s secrets stand indefinitely.

Supporting characters include Manny Glickman, an ex cop and tech genius with his own demons, and James Borden, Gabriel, Pike, and Laskins representative, who serves as a love interest for Jazz. Jazz’s former partner Ben McCarthy also has a passive role as the catalyst for Jazz agreeing to the deal, and her emotional state.

The mystery surrounding the firm, and their client, begins to unravel about halfway through the book, introducing the paranormal element. It’s an interesting idea that Jazz and Lucía struggle to accept, even as it grows increasingly more difficult to dismiss. I think it’s quite an original concept, I understand the characters disbelief but also find the idea somewhat plausible.

Even though it’s one of Rachel Caine’s earliest published books, Devil’s Bargain is almost as polished as her later work, much of which I also love. I really enjoyed the combination of mystery, thriller, paranormal and romance in this book, and I’m eager to start the next, though as there is just the one, I’m hoping Devil’s Due won’t leave me hanging.

++++++

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Review: Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

Title: Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Author: Paul Krueger

Published: June 17th 2016, Quirk Books

Status: Read April 2019- courtesy Quirk Books/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

“The knowledge contained herein has two applications. The first is to arm humanity against the forces of darkness, which manifest in the shadows and conspire to undo all that we have built and cherish. If the few brave souls who learn the mixological arts stand like a wall between the happy whole of humanity and its complete ruination, the wisdom of these pages is the mortar that holds its bricks together.

The second application is to provide humanity with some rather tasty inebriates to make the whole thing more enjoyable.” (From the Devils Water Dictionary}”

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge is a fun urban fantasy novel, with a unique take on the more traditional magic system.

Having finished her Ivy League education and returned to her home town, Bailey Chen is is ready to launch into, what she is certain will be, a successful future. But while she is waiting for her real life to start, she needs a job, any job, and Zane, her high school friend, is willing to give her a chance as a barback at the Nightshade Lounge. It’s not exactly challenging work, that is, until she learns the bartenders secrets.

In Krueger’s Chicago, monsters, called Tremens, lurk in the shadows waiting to prey on drunken souls. It is the task of the Bartenders of Chicago to protect their patrons from a grisly death, and they do so with magic. Mixing, and imbibing, the perfect cocktail, gives the bartenders supernatural powers, such as super strength, telekinesis or the ability to manipulate fire, for as long as the alcohol lasts in their system, that they can use to kill the Tremens.

The plot has its flaws but, fast paced, with plenty of action, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge offers some exciting battles between the Bartenders and Tremens, and builds to an explosive climax as Bailey uncovers a nefarious plan by one Bartender to concoct the mythical Long Island Ice Tea, said to bestow immortality. There is also wit and humour, and touch of slightly awkward romance to be found in the story.

Perhaps somewhat cynically, Kruger’s characters cover the spectrum of political correctness. Bailey is Chinese American, Vincent is blind and in a gay relationship, Bucket is transsexual, and Mona is is a black woman. As the main character, Bailey is likeable but portrayed inconsistently, which was occasionally frustrating.

As a final touch, chapters are Interspersed with the ‘magical’ cocktail history of, and recipes for fourteen ‘magical’ cocktails, such as Screwdriver’s (super strength), Martini’s (invisibility) and the Gold Rush (telepathy).

I enjoyed Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, it was a quick and entertaining read, with an creative premise, though possibly it would have been more impressive if I had a cocktail in hand.

“Booze is universal, it brings people together, and a lot of times it results in the creation of more people. What could be more magical than something that does all that?”

Read an Excerpt

++++++

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Review: Kindling the Moon by Jenn Bennett

Title: Kindling the Moon {Arcadia Bell #1}

Author: Jenn Bennett

Published: Pocket Books, June 2011

Status: Read July 2018

 

My Thoughts:

The Arcadia Bell series is another urban fantasy series that languished on my TBR list for far too long. I read the four books, Kindling the Moon, Summoning the Night, Binding the Shadows and Banishing the Dark, over a period of about a week.

Kindling the Moon introduces part owner of the demon-friendly Tambuku Tiki Lounge., and magician, Arcadia ‘Cady’ Bell. For the last seven years Cady has kept a low profile, avoiding the notoriety of her parents, two runaway renegade occultists accused of heinous crimes, but when they resurface her peaceful life is shot to hell. Ordered to prove her family’s innocence, or suffer punishment in their place, Cady has a near impossible task in front of her, one that may cost her everything.

The plot in Kindling the Moon is fast paced and offers plenty of action. Cady is not only challenged by the need to track down an elusive Æthyric demon, but also navigate complicated politics within the occult society, evade a ruthless bounty hunter, and master newly emerging abilities, all with a time frame of just two weeks. The main storyline is resolved with Kindling the Moon, though there are threads loosened which are picked up in later books. I did think the ending was somewhat anticlimactic but it was satisfying nevertheless.

Cady is an appealing heroine, with strengths and flaws which are well balanced. She is unique within her world, for her ability to kindle Heka from the moon, and her ability to see halo’s which identify Earthbounds. I enjoyed her wit, and her talent for kicking butt. She is strong and independent, but willing to accept help when she needs it. As her power develops, she also finds new reserves of fortitude and potency.

In Kindling the Moon, Cady reaches out for help to demonologist, Earthbound, photographer and single father, Lon Butler. It’s no surprise that Lon plays a role of ongoing significance in the series. He and Cady develop a mutual respect that soon turns into a romantic affection. I liked the relationship between the two of them, it’s a little different than the usual trope, particularly in that it involves Lon’s preteen son, Jupe, a fantastic character in his own right.

As a whole I thought the world Bennett created for her series to be imaginative and interesting. Set on the northern coast of California in a mid sized city, the population includes non magical humans, magicians and Earthbounds, Magicians, like Cady, use Heka (found in fluids such as saliva and blood) to power spells, and limited access to the Æthyric plane, while Earthbounds have knacks – a special skill or talent of varying strength.

In all, Kindling the Moon, and the rest of the series featuring Arcadia Bell, was an enjoyable read, that urban fantasy readers should enjoy.

Jenn Bennett is now making her name in YA fiction with titles like Night Owls and Serious Moonlight.

Review: Wickedly Dangerous by Deborah Blake

Title: Wickedly Dangerous {Baba Yaga #1}

Author: Deborah Blake

Published: Berkley, September 2014

Status: Read on May 26, 2018

 

My Thoughts:

Wickedly Dangerous is the first book in Deborah Blake’s urban fantasy romance trilogy drawing on the legend of Baba Yaga, with a unique contemporary twist.

Barbara Yager is only one of several Baba Yaga’s, whose role it is to keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world. Instead of a cabin on chicken legs,as in legend, Barbara travels her territory in an Airstream with a mind of its own, accompanied by a dragon-turned-dog, Chudo-Yudo. When she needs backup she calls on the Riders, a trio of men/dragons who serve her bidding.

In Wickedly Dangerous, Barbara is summoned when a child goes missing in a small community in Upstate New York. Using her guise as a researcher, herbalist and healer, Barbara investigates, tangling with handsome local Sheriff Liam McClellan, soon divining the disappearance has a mystical cause.

To be honest, the mystery plot is a little uneven, the cause of the disappearance is solved fairly quickly, but it takes some time for Barbara to resolve things. While this gives Blake time to introduce her world, the main plot suffers somewhat for it.

I liked the character growth, which mainly stemmed from Barbara’s relationship with Liam. No longer really human, Barbara has closed herself off to the possibilities of normal friendship and love, but the Sheriff finds a way through her defences. I liked the way in which the romance developed between the two.

I enjoyed Wickedly Dangerous enough, that I followed up with Wickedly Wonderful and Wickedly Powerful, both of which have similar themes, featuring two other North American Baba Yaga’s.

Light and fun, the Baba Yaga series was a pleasant read, combining romance with fantasy, for me over a rainy weekend.

 

 

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