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.

 

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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.

 

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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…

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

Hellequin Series Finale Predictions

“The pen might be mightier than the sword, but it’s probably not going to end well for you if you bring one to a gunfight.”

 

I have thoroughly enjoyed the Hellequin series, and the release of the final book chronicling Nathan Garrett’s adventure is imminent. There’s a ton left to address in the last installment, and I’d like to ramble a bit to get my thoughts in order and share some speculation.

Obviously there are going to be all kinds of spoilers for the previous six books here. Go read them first!

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)

 

 

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Edit 10/18/17: well, this blog was based off of several false premises. All of this would have been much different if the advertising hadn’t been so misleading.

None the less, it was still an interesting bit of brainstorming and I’m leaving it up.

My review of the final book can be found here.

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The four biggest plot points that need to be addressed in the final volume seem to be Arthur’s return, Nate’s past and the true nature of his magic, the mysterious villain known so far only as “My Liege,” and the Fates’ prediction for Nate.  There are several related underlying story threads tied to each, and of course.

 

“Arthur’s not the man everyone thinks he is.”

 

Arthur’s return will likely be a framework for the answers to everything else. Avalon’s rule and the benefits and problems with it provide the backbone for several conflicts and ongoing story threads. I don’t think Nate will be entirely happy with the new status quo and will have words with Arthur and Merlin at some point, but he’ll defend Avalon all the same when push comes to shove.

 

“Eventually you’ll discover the truth, eventually you’ll learn exactly who you are. But there’s going to be an awful lot of pain and death between now and then.”

 

Likewise Nate’s final dealings with his nightmare Erebus, Nate’s missing pieces of his past, and the true nature of magic will be important points but largely wrapped up in other happenings. I of course expect the remaining blood curse marks to fade, releasing Erebus, restoring all of Nate’s memories, and giving Nate his full range of abilities. There’s also the possibility of a second form of Omega magic for Nate looming (matter or mind, my bet’s on the latter), which could be key in how everything plays out. I’m expecting power on the level of Merlin, but with Nate unable to fully control it at first due to whatever traumatic events lead to its release.

The biggest mysteries around Nate’s memories are why everything before age eight was sealed and who his father is, and I expect both to be addressed. Arthur or Zeus seem prime candidates for his father, but it could be a yet unnamed mythological figure too. I feel like it will end up being “My Liege” (more on that to come), explaining that Nate’s mother sealed his memories to protect him from his own father.

 

“They might have been insane, but they didn’t appear to be stupid.”

 

Here’s where things get really interesting. Someone who definitely needs to have been previously identified in some way is the true identity of the nebulous villain referred to as “My Liege” that’s been casting a shadow over half the series. His/her plans will come to fruition with Hera now in control of London, and Nate will find himself in the center of a civil war intent on overthrowing Arthur and Avalon.

Arthur or Merlin would be anticlimactic as well as a bit nonsensical (although I have enough faith in McHugh’s writing at this point that I’m sure he’ll find a logical way to explain whatever the reveal is). A long shot is Galahad (which would also tie into the final major mystery), but the way he and Nate were estranged for years make this unlikely. Modred would be so groan inducing and counter to the intriguing developments in Promise of Wrath I don’t even want to entertain that possibility. Zeus, presumed dead and mentioned in a noble context throughout the series, would make nice twist as the ultimate villain. That’s the one I’m hoping for, but I think “My Liege” may be tied to missing Norse Gods and/or the identity of Nate’s father. So Odin’s my guess for both, although I don’t really know. There is a bit in the latest book about Odin being extremely upset about the identity of Nate’s father, which I think is a misdirect. If not, someone like Zeus or Loki could still fit my theory of “My Liege” being Nate’s father.

The fact that there’s enough to form theories on but several legitimate ways for this all to play out is a testament to the great job McHugh’s done layering all his stories together.

 

“We need to have a good long talk, you and I. And frankly I can think of no better time than when you’re helpless and about to be crushed by a falling building.”

 

The resolution of the Fates’ prediction for Nate’s future, one way or the other, definitely needs to be resolved. Which means someone close to Nate is going to betray him in spectacular fashion. Modred, Merlin, Arthur, etc aren’t close enough to him anymore to send him into “end of the world” type rage. Galahad and Serene are possibilities, but it’d be a bit of a retread as he had issues with each previously. Somewhat minor supporting characters that he trusts such as Elaine, Diana, Lucy, etc are possible, but unlikely I think.

Which really leaves only two possibilities as far as I can see, and either will rip readers’ hearts out. Tommy or Hades (and/or his family, Persephone and Sky) betraying Nate would certainly shove him in the direction of “dangerous to the continued existence of the world.” Tommy actually seems more likely to me from a plot perspective, as it would explain a lot about what happened with Gilgamesh. Character-wise it doesn’t seem like any of them would take the actions or work with the people “My Liege” has, but I CAN see one of them being disillusioned enough with Avalon to take drastic measures and/or doing something they think is for the best for the world at large that betrays Nate as a side consequence. Mordred’s role of needing to stop Nate actually seems pretty likely to me of coming true, but in an unexpected way such as at Nate’s own request and/or by doing something that only metaphorically kills Nate (helping him merge consciousnesses permanently with Erebus, perhaps…).

 

“You’ll wish you finished the job.”

 

There are several significant, subtle things hanging about that might or might not get mention/development, such as Ares’ grudge against Nate for what happened to his son, Hope’s desire for vengeance on anyone involved with Pandora’s creation, Lucie’s pronouncement that “we” will ask Nate to do something in the future that he will not refuse, etc. I expect a handful to tie in and a few to be left unresolved.

In addition to all the major players from previous books that should be included in the finale, I’m also hoping for a lot of cameos of near-forgotten characters from early in the series, and I trust McHugh to work them in seamlessly.

 

“You don’t scare me.”
“Then clearly you haven’t been paying attention.”

 

I’m sure I’ve missed some details and musings bouncing around in the back of my mind but this is a decent summary of the mile-a-minute anticipation I going though as I wait to read the ultimate installment of McHugh’s urban fantasy epic. Needless to say, I’m quite looking forward to it. 🙂

Ghost Detective Review

“Everybody dies. Nobody leaves.”

Private detective of sorts Myron Vale has good reason to be reclusive. Ghosts remain on Earth after someone dies. ALL of them. Myron is twice cursed by a lingering injury, as not only can he see and interact with the multitude of ghosts everyone else is unaware of, he can’t tell them from the living…

 

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Ghost Detective surrounds a strong hard boiled detective core with a fascinating supernatural concept. The blending of the two genres really works and the premise is well used. Little details, like Myron being a recluse, arise naturally and make things feel authentic within the extraordinary setup.

The story is a little heavy on plot convenient coincidence and a few things fit too neatly, but it’s still compelling overall, with logical progression and reasonably interesting characters and developments. This is a good opening book, and Myron’s adventures have the potential to be even better going forward.