All the Paths of Shadow Review

“That’s the sound of history being made, lads. Something I hoped never to hear.”

A king’s orders don’t have to be reasonable, and mage Meralda Ovis is fuming at her latest ridiculous assignment of moving an ancient tower’s shadow for an upcoming speech. But she may have even more to worry about as sinister magic seems to hang over a historic meeting of delegates from throughout the Five Realms and beyond.

 

allthepathsofshadow

 

I’d previously read Frank Tuttle’s short story Saving the Sammi, and enjoyed the small glimpse into the world of Mage Ovis and her amusing assistant Mug, an “enchanted dandyleaf plant who sees the world through 29 bright eyes” (Best. Sidekick. Ever.). I found this longer adventure even more fascinating.

The world surrounding Meralda exists somewhere between steampunk and fantasy, and the combination works wonderfully. Tuttle provides an internally consistent “scientific” framework of magic at the center of his story that provides and interesting and logical foundation. From there he builds an engaging narrative off of good characterizations among a complimentary diverse cast and a reasonably paced, intriguing plot that’s well balanced among predictability and surprises. Tuttle has a great gift for making his creations understandable and relatable, as well as for properly conveying tension and other important emotional context.

If I have any criticism to offer it’s that All the Paths of Shadow would have benefitted from less contemporary shorthand for describing “unknown” cultures. Hinting at the inspiring culture’s influence via descriptions and connotations rather than flat out using real world terms would have done a lot to eliminate the awkward loss of immersion that often accompanied them.

All and all though this was a creative, enjoyable novel and I’d love to see more from Meralda and her unique reality.

An Artificial Night (October Daye Book 3) Review

“Heroes, Toby, heroes. You’re all idiots…”

 

Children, both human and fae, are disappearing, and October Daye is about to find out not all boogeymen are myths.

 

This is the third book in the October Daye series. There is probably enough context to follow without having read the previous books, but significant depth and nuance would be lost. Best to start with Rosemary and Rue (book 1).

 

6782468

 

 

An Artifical Night is fantastic. It revs up quick and hardly ever slows, keeping a constant sense of dread forefront. The skill with which the theme of children’s tales and the nebulous rules of farie are interwoven is masterful. McGuire drops new concepts on reader’s head constantly and abruptly, but she keeps it manageable somehow and does such wonderful things with them all is forgiven. Toby continues to be an excellent protagonist, being smart and largely self aware yet still susceptible to emotional responses and bad decisions.

In addition to compelling characters, interesting world, and strong plot, it’s the writing that shines and draws the reader in. The style is excellent, particularly in distinct, natural sounded dialogue and speech patterns rising from characters’ personalities and individual situations. I enjoyed the continued focus on a couple of my favorite supporting cast members, plus a PHENOMENAL new addition, and how they all interact with Toby.

The last third of the story loses just a touch of what made the first two-thirds so compelling somewhere, but it’s a minor criticism. There are getting to be a few too many building questions and ongoing story threads though, and while they’re all interesting at least a couple need to start being addressed next book.

Easily my favorite book in the series thus far. Highly recommended.

Grave Witch (Alex Craft Book 1) Review

Grave witch Alex Craft can speak to the dead, but that doesn’t mean she likes what they have to say.

 

7823038

 

The most interesting thing about Grave Witch is its underlying world, with an imaginative system of magic giving rise to interesting powers. Equally important (and perhaps more intriguing) are the limitations on those powers, and it’s Alex’s struggle balancing her strengths and weaknesses that provide the book’s highlights.

The plot is solid, with enough mystery, intrigue, and action to keep things moving at a nice clip and engage the reader.  Some developments did feel a little forced, while others grew naturally out of the narrative. This seemed a touch more “paranormal romance” than “urban fantasy” to me, and honestly the romance elements were the weakest parts of the book. Although a particular love interest of Alex’s was far and away the novel’s most compelling character.

Overall this was a fine introduction to the adventures of Alex Craft. Nothing particularly spectacular but nothing bad either, and there’s potential. I’m in no rush to continue but not opposed to it if/when the opportunity arises.

 

 

A Local Habitation (October Daye Book 2) Review

“Giants and witches, fairy-tale monsters… those are for heroes. For everything else, they have people like me.”

Changeling October Daye has been reluctantly pulled back into dealing with the fae world and all the headaches and dangers that go with it. When the Duke who granted her knighthood sends her to investigate an odd lack of communication with his niece with tense political implications Toby will have significantly more immediate concerns to worry beyond potential diplomatic incidents.

 

6782465

 

Rosemary and Rue was a great start to a fantasy series I definitely felt inclined to continue along with. A Local Habitation sees Toby dealing with different, more external threats in a book that’s honestly a step down from the first, but still a solid installment overall. The pace is just a little off and the central mystery, while decent enough, has a couple of weakness that are hard to overlook. In parts I felt Toby and others were just a little too slow on the uptake, which is a rough flaw to get by in a mystery. When the reader feels too far ahead of the protagonist, particularly one like Toby who’s usually sharp, some frustration starts to set in.

But Toby’s second adventure does shine in several of the ways her first one did. The mythology continues to be revealed in a natural, engrossing manner and McGuire’s recurring characters are a delight to observe and attempt to decipher. I also liked this more the second read through, even though I’d forgotten enough about the plot in the intervening years that there shouldn’t have been much difference in the experience. The implications of how everything turns out should have interesting ripple effects going forward.

All in all A Local Habitation was a good read, although I expected just a little more from it based on Rosemary and Rue. Regardless the series is compelling and I’m excited to move on to book three, which will be new to me.

Rosemary and Rue (October Daye Book 1) Review

“It’s just that sometimes my cases were more Brothers Grimm than Magnum PI.”

 

Former knight October Daye, who prefers Toby, is half human / half fae changeling who has extremely good reasons for no longer wanting anything to due with the Faerie world. However it has no intention of giving her a choice…

 

6294549

 

I’m getting back into urban fantasy in earnest and decided to refresh my memory on the first couple of October Daye novels so I could continue with the series. I remember Rosemary and Rue being a great start, and reached the same conclusion with this reread. It establishes a deep intersecting world combining Fae kingdoms with the modern world as well as giving weighty, completely understandable reasons for protagonist Toby Daye’s role as a reluctant heroine. We feel the tragedy of her past, and thus are fully invested in the troubles she unwillingly has to deal with.

McGuire does a phenomenal job here providing enough context and answers to fully engage the reader while simultaneously really only scratching the surface of her world’s potential and mysteries she has in store. Particularly compelling are the variety of diverse and genuine feeling characters Toby has to deal with, each with a well formed personality and their own goals and agendas. I’ll hold off naming favorites to avoid spoilers, but the cast really shines overall and is one of the series’ greatest assets.

The plot and underlying mystery is appropriately tense, builds nicely, and unfolds logically. I’ve enjoyed revisiting Rosemary and Rue and am really looking forward to getting farther along in Toby’s adventures.

 

 

Blood Engines (Marla Mason Book 1) Review

Marla Mason has temporarily left the city she rules as guardian to seek help from another sorcerer in dealing with what should have been a minor problem that’s become much more. With little interest in anything except saving her own skin, arriving to find San Francisco in the middle of magical problems of its own is the last thing Marla needs.

 

1937288

 

Urban fantasy is a favorite genre of mine nowadays, and I’ve previously read short stories by T. A. Pratt that were great. As such I came into Blood Engines pretty excited, but while it’s decent I have to admit I left a touch disappointed. It’s one of those books where I wanted to like it more than I actually did.

Marla’s world contains a wide array of interesting magic systems with accompanying philosophies and practitioners. It was all creative, well designed, and explained in depth. However that last bit was part of the problem. Each magic specialty was presented info-dump style by an expert in it explaining why it was foolproof moments before it proved not to be.  The repetitious slog through technical explanations of how magic worked killed the pacing, particularly given how obvious it was that something was going to go horribly wrong whenever the speaker finished lecturing. It’s a weird feel. Pratt seems to try so hard to properly present his imaginative environments that they somehow get a little boring. Also, while pretty tastefully done, some of the subject matter is going to seem out of the blue and unnecessary to some readers. 

Marla herself was largely intentionally unlikable. She’s pretty much neutral to anything other than her own goals. I’m all for flawed protagonists and room for character growth, but it falls flat here. Rather than achieving shades of grey with her, the outlook and actions Pratt gave her just made her someone who’s hard to root for or care about.

The story was fine and there were definitely gripping and fun portions in the book, but honestly the hints dropped about Marla’s past and home town were more interesting than the side trip to San Francisco this entire book is about. Several twists walked the line of trying to be too clever and neat, including what I found to be an anticlimactic end. It was logical, but lacking in drama. Unfortunately the epilogue struck me the same way, meaning both storylines that built tension throughout the book kind of whimpered to a close.

Blood Engines is less than the sum of it’s parts. The characters and the world that surrounds them show significant potential and the writing style is solid enough, but the weaknesses I talked about above undermine it all. It’s ok overall, and I’m curious enough that I probably will give book 2 a try, but this should have been better given the quality of the underlying ideas.

 

 

Hellequin: Scorched Shadows Review

This is Nathan Garret’s seventh adventure, and the last book in the Hellequin series. Do not start here – go back to the beginning.

 

My reviews:

Crimes Against Magic (book 1)

Born of Hatred (book 2)

With Silent Screams (book 3)

Prison of Hope (book 4)

Lies Ripped Open (book 5)

Promise of Wrath (book 6)

 

This is going to be short, and free of any plot details. It will contain sentiments that in some sense qualify as general spoilers, so consider this a quasi-warning.

 

hellequin7

 

 

The good:

  • McHugh’s writing continues to be excellent.
  • Several major mysteries of the series are addressed.
  • The book was engaging and interesting.

 

The less so:

  • A couple of the reveals were what I least wanted.
  • I despise bait and switch.
  • I feel like I just read a seven book fucking prologue.

 

I still adore the series and highly recommend it, but I’m admittedly a bundle of mixed feelings on where things ended up right now. I found this book excellent and infuriating in equal measure.