Review: Dragon Justice by Laura Anne Gilman

Dragon Justice is the 4th and final book in the Paranormal Scene Investigations series. It was released by Luna on July 24, 2012.

The Blurb

In my time with PUPI, formally known as Private, Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations, I’ve seen a lot. Learned a lot. And not all of it’s been good. But what we do—make people accountable for crimes committed with magic—is important work.

Still. Even I need to take a break every now and again. Or so I’ve just been told (ordered).

So hey, vacation. Maybe I’ll finally figure out what’s going on with the “special bond” between me and the boss man, Benjamin Venec. Venec seems to like that idea—he’s invited me down to join him on a jaunt to Philly. But no sooner do I arrive in the City of Brotherly Love than we’re called in to look at a dead body.

And that’s when life gets really complicated….

The Review

Bonnie and the other PUPIs have grown on me throughout this series. I wasn’t sure I liked this outgoing, outspoken, free spirit of a woman at first, but I’ve come to like her. She’s faced danger with bravery. She’s faced ambiguous moral situations and held fast to her own code. I may not have always understood the choices she made, but they always felt true to her character. Moreover, she made me respect her: her strength and her tenacity. And the fact that I can write about her here as if she were a real person and not just words on a page is a testimony to Gilman’s skill as an author.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Gilman’s work. She does good stuff, and this book (and series) is certainly worth the read. However, I finished Dragon Justice not triumphantly but instead vaguely disappointed. This is an adequate ending to a great series, but only adequate. The plot is solid and action-filled, don’t get me wrong. I devoured this book in less than two days, after all. I greatly enjoyed the return of the Wren as well. (I’d say that was my favorite part.)

The problem lies in the fact that it is the end of the series. This poor reader doesn’t feel like the plot threads were resolved at all. Sure, not every book has to have all the ends tied up neatly in pretty little bows. I like the idea that the characters and their lives will keep going on once the pages have all been turned. However, though we’re told how the main romance will be resolved, we don’t actually get to see it. I was convinced during my reading that a certain plot element was just a ruse, but it doesn’t seem to be so with the ending we receive here.That most of all just leaves me sad and rather disappointed.

If there were more – or just one more – book(s) in the series, then I’d say that Dragon Justice performs at a solid 4 (out of 5) stars. As it is, I think it goes out on a bit of a downer, with the barest hint of hope that our battered PUPIs will recover and go on. In my opinion, this installment lacks a significant something that would bring it from a solid and exciting entry in a series to a climactic and appropriate ending.

[xrr rating=3/5 imageset=default]

Review: Child of Fire by Harry Connolly

The Blurb:

Ray Lilly is living on borrowed time. He’s the driver for Annalise Powliss, a high-ranking member of the Twenty Palace Society, a group of sorcerers devoted to hunting down and executing rogue magicians. But because Ray betrayed her once, Annalise is looking for an excuse to kill him–or let someone else do the job.

Unfortunately for both of them, Annalise’s next mission goes wrong, leaving her critically injured. With the little magic he controls, Ray must complete her assignment alone. Not only does he have to stop a sorcerer who’s sacrificing dozens of innocent lives in exchange for supernatural power, he must find–and destroy–the source of that inhuman magic.

My Review:

Damn, this is a depressing book. Ray is living with his own death hanging over his head, waiting for his boss to turn around and kill him instead of look at him. In the meantime, there are children bursting into flaming silver worms and when nothing but their ashes are left not even their parents remember they ever existed.

The mysterious Twenty Palace Society is intriguing but not explained. At all. Even their name remains an enigma – not to mention their membership, powers, goals, etc. Personally, despite their (somewhat) good intentions, they kind of sound like assholes. Ray would have done a much better job if someone had explained some stuff to him.

I respect the techniques that Connolly has used in this book. You can read the author’s explanation for some of his choices here. I feel, however, that some of them – especially not explaining more about the Twenty Palaces – serves more to isolate the reader than to engage them. Instead of wanting to know more about these people, I ended up deciding that they were a bunch of jerks that I really didn’t want to know at all. Honestly, despite Ray being a (mostly) sympathetic character, it was the lure of needing to know who, what, and why someone was preying on the children that kept me reading.

I get that having the new guy take a grand tour of the supposed-secret society is really stupid. Yet the reader has to have SOME sort of sense of who these people are and what they stand for (besides, apparently, “they’re the good guys even though they’re assholes”) or it’s hard to care which side wins.

Anyway, my biggest problem was a lack of engagement with the supposed “good guys”. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the book. The language was great, with good imagery, and the pace was rocket-fast. I’d be picking up the next two in the series right now, except… Except if you read the rest of that link to the author’s post, you’ll know that the series has been canceled by the publisher, uncompleted.

Boo. Just when I’d picked up the series after hearing so much about it (and I was literally in the middle of the first book when that announcement was posted), it was coming to a sad, unfulfilled end. Just because there were some problems in execution, that doesn’t mean the book has no value. In fact, my bottom-line opinion is that this is an excellent author who made a couple of bad choices, has learned from them, and will do better next time. Read his post and decide for yourself.

Here’s what I will say right now:

  • I don’t have the time to invest in a series that doesn’t have an ending, but
  • The very second Harry Connolly releases another book, I’m going to be all over it, and
  • I’m going to promote the shit out of it.
I can’t wait.

Writer's Resources for June 9th through June 29th

These are writers’ resource links I’ve found helpful and/or interesting for June 9th through July 18th:

Writer’s Resources for June 9th through June 29th

These are writers’ resource links I’ve found helpful and/or interesting for June 9th through July 18th:

Review: Demon Bound by Caitlin Kittredge

Demon Bound is the second book in the Black London series by Caitlin Kittredge. You can visit the author here.

The Blurb

Thirteen years ago, Jack Winter lay dying in a graveyard.  Jack called upon a demon and traded his soul for his life… and now the demon is back to collect its due.  But Jack has finally found something to live for.  Her name is Pete Caldecott, and because of her, Jack’s not going to Hell without a fight.

Pete doesn’t know about Jack’s bargain, but she does know that something bigger and far more dangerous than Jack’s demon is growing in the Black.  Old gods are stirring and spirits are rising–and Jack doesn’t stand a chance of stopping them without Pete’s help.

Rapid-Fire Review

Kittredge does dark like a young, hip Poe – with an edge of macabre humor that doesn’t cover up the jaded side.

I can’t help myself: I’m in love with Jack Winter. But isn’t everybody? This book isn’t afraid to be gritty, fight dirty, or talk nasty. It also has maybe the best sex scene I’ve seen in urban fantasy lately… And this is coming from the girl who’d rather do the deed than read about it. Honestly, I usually skim those parts, but not this time. It felt real, instead of contrived. Unlike most I’ve read – er, skimmed.

The stakes feel real and immediate, and you know life’s a bitch when even your patron goddess is out to get you. Recommended.

[xrr rating=4/5 imageset=default]

Review: Frank Beddor's Arch Enemy

I’ve been looking forward to writing  my review of this book for quite some time now. Some overtime at Ye Olde Daye Jobe, mixed with some health problems, has prevented that for quite some time. However, the long-awaited review has arrived!

Firstly, Arch Enemy being the concluding novel in Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars trilogy, there may be some spoilers in this review for the first two volumes. Read with caution.

Arch Enemy - cover

Here is a synopsis (taken from the LGW website):

The war for Wonderland has become a war for Imagination!

King Arch has declared himself King of Wonderland as Alyss searches wildly for the solution to the metaphysical disaster that has engulfed her Queendom. The power of Imagination has been lost!

Alyss’s search for answers takes her to London where Arch’s assassins threaten Alice Liddell and her family. But after coming to her adopted family’s assistance, Alyss discovers herself trapped in a conundrum of evaporating puddles. The shimmering portals that exist to transport her home through the Pool of Tears are disappearing! What is happening in Wonderland? Deep within the Valley of Mushrooms the Caterpillar Oracles issue this prophecy: “Action shall be taken to ensure the safety of the Heart Crystal. For Everqueen.” But who is Everqueen?

As the metamorphosis of Wonderland unfolds, enemies become allies, bitter rivals face-off, and Queen Alyss and Redd Heart must confront their pasts in this thrilling, no-holds-barred conclusion to the New York Times best-selling series.

I discovered the first volume of this engaging trilogy a year or so ago. Aptly titled The Looking Glass Wars, it caught my attention both because of the unique steampunk-y robots on the cover, and because I’ve always loved the story of Alice In Wonderland. Who wouldn’t want to fall down the rabbit hole – if only for a little while?

The idea that Alice – or Alyss, as is the “correct” spelling of the name in the series – was originally from Wonderland and only arrived in London to meet Lewis Carroll in the first place because of a palace coup… That is such a unique twist on an old story (and I’m a sucker for those) that I couldn’t help but pick up the book.

The premise is that Alyss’ Aunt Redd, who had been banished years before for dealing in “Black” Imagination (magic, essentially), has sent her ultimate henchman – the Cat – to begin a masterful first stroke in a civil war. Redd succeeds in killing the current King and Queen of Hearts, but not before the family’s most trusted advisor, Hatter Madigan, escapes with the young Princess Alyss to Earth. In their traveling, they are separated and Alyss ends up being taken for a street orphan in Victorian London. She is taken in by a loving family who raises her, during the course of which she meets young Mr. Carroll whom she trusts (wrongly, as it turns out) with her story.

The first volume is about getting Alyss back to Wonderland and back on the throne. The second, called Seeing Redd, is a tale of Alyss’ life as a young ruler, beleaguered by not only  the usual trials of running a kingdom but also by the resurrected foot soldier’s of Redd’s army – not to mention a brand new enemy. The last volume is Arch Enemy.

So let’s talk about that last volume. Arch Enemy is ultimately a satisfying conclusion to the story. It wraps up all of the loose plot threads into a nice neat package and hands it to you like a holiday gift. The ending is like the predictable, but still satisfying, gift of fuzzy socks and warm pajamas that you receive every year from your dear Aunt Edna. You knew you were going to get it, you just had to wait until the right time for it.

That’s how I feel about this book. The caterpillar’s prophecies were suitably cryptic, but there’s no hiding what their scheming is aiming toward. The same is true of the resolution of the problems with Imagination in Wonderland and the final battle for control of the kingdom. That struggle isn’t quite as much fun when you already know who’s going to win. (But just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I won’t tell you here.)

All in all, Arch Enemy is an absorbing read and a great ending to the trilogy. There are real emotional struggles going on – especially those of Hatter Madigan and Homburg Molly. I was moved most especially by Molly’s point of view in the last two books. There is also a really interesting look at prejudice and equality happening in this last volume – in regards to those talented with Imagination versus those who are not. And throughout all three, there was the unifying theory that through imagination and determination, anything is possible.

Things I loved: Hatter Madigan’s hat-of-a-thousand-weapons. The Pool of Tears. Homburg Molly’s earnest, gangly attempts at becoming her own person. The Cat. The caterpillar’s hookahs. The Chessboard Desert. When Redd’s old hideout is made into a museum. Redd’s reaction to her home being made into a tourist attraction. The art. My goodness! The awesomeness of the art! This series is worth picking up for the art alone.

The only thing that disappointed me about Arch Enemy is that I found myself nodding along with the concluding events instead of being surprised by them. This is marketed as a young adult novel, so perhaps the Disney ending shouldn’t be too big of a surprise; but I feel as if Mr. Beddor wasn’t giving the kids enough credit. Not everything needs to be a tied up with a big pink bow.

Despite the fact that the conclusion doesn’t quite match up to the surprises in the rest of the series, I still believe this trilogy is worth the read. If you like the tale of Alice in Wonderland, coming of age stories, steampunk, the Victorian era, or really (really) kick-ass hats, then I’d recommend The Looking Glass Wars for you.

[xrr rating=4/5 imageset=tiny_star]

FTC Disclaimer: While I picked up the first two books of this series on my own, the publisher did send me a review copy of the last volume, Arch Enemy I was delighted, but I would have bought my own copy if they hadn’t. They also sent some really, really awesome art. Be jealous.

Review: Frank Beddor’s Arch Enemy

I’ve been looking forward to writing  my review of this book for quite some time now. Some overtime at Ye Olde Daye Jobe, mixed with some health problems, has prevented that for quite some time. However, the long-awaited review has arrived!

Firstly, Arch Enemy being the concluding novel in Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars trilogy, there may be some spoilers in this review for the first two volumes. Read with caution.

Arch Enemy - cover

Here is a synopsis (taken from the LGW website):

The war for Wonderland has become a war for Imagination!

King Arch has declared himself King of Wonderland as Alyss searches wildly for the solution to the metaphysical disaster that has engulfed her Queendom. The power of Imagination has been lost!

Alyss’s search for answers takes her to London where Arch’s assassins threaten Alice Liddell and her family. But after coming to her adopted family’s assistance, Alyss discovers herself trapped in a conundrum of evaporating puddles. The shimmering portals that exist to transport her home through the Pool of Tears are disappearing! What is happening in Wonderland? Deep within the Valley of Mushrooms the Caterpillar Oracles issue this prophecy: “Action shall be taken to ensure the safety of the Heart Crystal. For Everqueen.” But who is Everqueen?

As the metamorphosis of Wonderland unfolds, enemies become allies, bitter rivals face-off, and Queen Alyss and Redd Heart must confront their pasts in this thrilling, no-holds-barred conclusion to the New York Times best-selling series.

I discovered the first volume of this engaging trilogy a year or so ago. Aptly titled The Looking Glass Wars, it caught my attention both because of the unique steampunk-y robots on the cover, and because I’ve always loved the story of Alice In Wonderland. Who wouldn’t want to fall down the rabbit hole – if only for a little while?

The idea that Alice – or Alyss, as is the “correct” spelling of the name in the series – was originally from Wonderland and only arrived in London to meet Lewis Carroll in the first place because of a palace coup… That is such a unique twist on an old story (and I’m a sucker for those) that I couldn’t help but pick up the book.

The premise is that Alyss’ Aunt Redd, who had been banished years before for dealing in “Black” Imagination (magic, essentially), has sent her ultimate henchman – the Cat – to begin a masterful first stroke in a civil war. Redd succeeds in killing the current King and Queen of Hearts, but not before the family’s most trusted advisor, Hatter Madigan, escapes with the young Princess Alyss to Earth. In their traveling, they are separated and Alyss ends up being taken for a street orphan in Victorian London. She is taken in by a loving family who raises her, during the course of which she meets young Mr. Carroll whom she trusts (wrongly, as it turns out) with her story.

The first volume is about getting Alyss back to Wonderland and back on the throne. The second, called Seeing Redd, is a tale of Alyss’ life as a young ruler, beleaguered by not only  the usual trials of running a kingdom but also by the resurrected foot soldier’s of Redd’s army – not to mention a brand new enemy. The last volume is Arch Enemy.

So let’s talk about that last volume. Arch Enemy is ultimately a satisfying conclusion to the story. It wraps up all of the loose plot threads into a nice neat package and hands it to you like a holiday gift. The ending is like the predictable, but still satisfying, gift of fuzzy socks and warm pajamas that you receive every year from your dear Aunt Edna. You knew you were going to get it, you just had to wait until the right time for it.

That’s how I feel about this book. The caterpillar’s prophecies were suitably cryptic, but there’s no hiding what their scheming is aiming toward. The same is true of the resolution of the problems with Imagination in Wonderland and the final battle for control of the kingdom. That struggle isn’t quite as much fun when you already know who’s going to win. (But just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I won’t tell you here.)

All in all, Arch Enemy is an absorbing read and a great ending to the trilogy. There are real emotional struggles going on – especially those of Hatter Madigan and Homburg Molly. I was moved most especially by Molly’s point of view in the last two books. There is also a really interesting look at prejudice and equality happening in this last volume – in regards to those talented with Imagination versus those who are not. And throughout all three, there was the unifying theory that through imagination and determination, anything is possible.

Things I loved: Hatter Madigan’s hat-of-a-thousand-weapons. The Pool of Tears. Homburg Molly’s earnest, gangly attempts at becoming her own person. The Cat. The caterpillar’s hookahs. The Chessboard Desert. When Redd’s old hideout is made into a museum. Redd’s reaction to her home being made into a tourist attraction. The art. My goodness! The awesomeness of the art! This series is worth picking up for the art alone.

The only thing that disappointed me about Arch Enemy is that I found myself nodding along with the concluding events instead of being surprised by them. This is marketed as a young adult novel, so perhaps the Disney ending shouldn’t be too big of a surprise; but I feel as if Mr. Beddor wasn’t giving the kids enough credit. Not everything needs to be a tied up with a big pink bow.

Despite the fact that the conclusion doesn’t quite match up to the surprises in the rest of the series, I still believe this trilogy is worth the read. If you like the tale of Alice in Wonderland, coming of age stories, steampunk, the Victorian era, or really (really) kick-ass hats, then I’d recommend The Looking Glass Wars for you.

[xrr rating=4/5 imageset=tiny_star]

FTC Disclaimer: While I picked up the first two books of this series on my own, the publisher did send me a review copy of the last volume, Arch Enemy I was delighted, but I would have bought my own copy if they hadn’t. They also sent some really, really awesome art. Be jealous.

Authors I Admire: Robert Jordan

I’m introducing a new series here at MG, one that I’ve been thinking about for awhile. These posts will focus on authors I admire and why. It could be something related to their writing or something they’ve said or done outside of their books.  This series of posts will tell you, in detail, which authors I believe are worth the admiration.

The first author would, of course, have to be Robert Jordan. No other author has done more to change my life.

Robert Jordan was the author of The Wheel of Time series. He passed away from illness in September of 2007. The epic fantasy Mr. Jordan left incomplete will be finished by Brandon Sanderson, an author I’m sure we’ll see later on in this series. To read about his life and his passing, in both his own words and those of his fans and family, please go here.

As I said, Mr. Jordan has done more for me than any other author out there. It was his writing that hooked me first. I was going through a bad time in my personal life and I went out and found the longest series with the thickest books that I could find. I don’t believe anyone can deny that The Wheel of Time fits this requirement.

Not only did the story absorb and distract me in difficult moments, but something possessed me to go out into the digital world and try to find a community of people I could talk to about Jordan’s work. I needed, at that moment, to find people of like mind. To be blunt, it was a desperate time for me and I needed friends.

The Wheel of Time community at Dragonmount became that and much more to me. At the forums there, and on the WoT (as fans lovingly call the series) mailing list, I founded friendships that I know will last a lifetime. I adopted two sisters, a circle of friends… And it was there that I met my husband. I would say “love of my life” but that phrase is so cliché as to be embarrassing. (It does not make it less true, however.)

These people helped and supported me while I was busy dragging myself out of the mire of a terrible time in my life. And I owe it all to the words and wisdom of Mr. Robert Jordan.

Of course, maybe your life right now is fine and dandy. So why should you go out and pick up what is probably the most anticipated series in the world – one that’s still not quite finished? The answer is this: because inside the fantasy trope  of a young farmer who is trying his best to save the world from evil there is love and laughter, strife and pain, longing and disaster. Mr. Jordan wrote about life in a way that tells you unequivocally that he lived it.

May the Mother’s embrace have carried you home on wings of gold, Mr. Jordan. We still miss you.