Review: Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Vision in Silver by Anne BishopVision in Silver on 2015-03-03
Pages: 416
Format: eARC
four-half-stars
The New York Times bestselling author of The Black Jewels Trilogy transports readers to a world of magic and political unrest—where the only chance at peace requires a deadly price…   The Others freed the cassandra sangue to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.   Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.   For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep…

This book is a lot of fun and is also deadly serious. Anne Bishop’s books are almost always layers of rainbow-colored confection hiding a sharp blade edge beneath.

Her Black Jewels Trilogy (which became much more than a trilogy, let’s be honest) was a magical coming of age tale filled with unicorns, dragons, and flying men. And if you looked closer, it was a cautionary tale of what a binary, divided notion of gender could do to a society**. It also had a lot to do with anger, fear of the different, and how the cycles of physical and sexual abuse can perpetuate themselves across generations.

Well, those same shades of fear, hatred, anger and their repercussions, are here in this series. This time it is about those things that make us human. What are the characteristics that make us what we are? At what point do our actions make us monsters instead of people?

These questions do, of course, stand out starkly when stood up against a dozen or more races of what we would consider real monsters. Vampires, werewolves, Elementals, and other shape-shifters — things that would eat us not only without problem, but who would enjoy the meal. Yet in this series, it is a small group of monsters, led by one wolf with a love which he refuses to admit for a human prophetess, who embody the most human of traits: kindness, courage, tenderness, and charity.

It is the Humans First group that become the monsters. They are willing to lie, steal, kill innocents, and even starve millions to get what they want. And what they want are the untapped resources in the natural wilds that the Others (the ‘monster’ races) control. They are willing to enslave generations (of which our protagonist is one) of prophetesses, rape them, breed them, chain and abuse them, to get what they want. {Note that, 3 books into the series, there has been no on-screen sexual assault, but we certainly feel and see the effects of it. And there is plenty of regular old violence besides.}

Now on to our protagonist.  Meg, our heroine, is one of the aforementioned women with the gift of prophecy. She is young, strong, and willful, which allowed her the strength to escape from her captors in the dead of winter and to enter a place where the rest of humanity feared to go — namely, the Courtyard, the single place in a human city where the Others live and humans survive on sufferance alone.

The place where I get squicky is that Meg’s gift of prophecy only appears when she cuts herself. Each prophetess is nameless while they are captive, known only by a serial number engraved on their own personal folding razor blade, which is used to cut their skin enough to scar. This triggers the prophecy. If they speak it aloud, they feel a euphoric orgasm of sensation. If they don’t – or can’t – speak, then all they feel is agony. Legend has it that each woman has only a thousand cuts — a thousand scars — and then she will go mad and die.

It’s not the blood that gets me, it’s that it almost feels like we are glorifying self-harm here. Bishop has enough of a track record with me that I’m so far willing to go along and see what the message is, but it’s honestly going to have to be a good one. Meg doesn’t want to die, so she tries to refrain from cutting, but she is addicted to the sensation, so we find her making excuses to justify her actions. It isn’t really until this book that Meg starts to understand that she doesn’t have to cut to get the warnings of the future she needs. It takes a lot of outside pressure from her new non-human friends to get to this point.

It was only in this 3rd book that I started to feel like maybe Bishop’s point wasn’t to glorify self harm after all. That is a long time to be unsure. It’s a lot of text devoted to the pleasant sensations for readers with a history of their own cutting to get through to see that message. I know I am getting older because I worry about this. Yes, young people mostly realize that media =/= real life. No, seeing something in fiction won’t lead to someone following in Meg’s footsteps. And yes, this is a subject that needs discussed. This is something that needs dragged out into the light so that we can all see. I still find the subject squicky and uncomfortable.

Some fiction is supposed to make us feel uncomfortable. I just hope Bishop is pointing our discomfort in the right direction. I hope so. I think she is. We’ll see.

I really enjoy being in this world. I love Tess and Simon and Meg’s struggle to find her own way. I love the Elementals and the ponies. I am as repulsed by the Humans First group as I am with a lot of real-life headlines these days. This series throws light into shadowy places of the human condition. A condition that is afflicting us all pretty badly right now. Do I know that I agree with Bishop’s message? Does she have one? (Note: Authors always have a message, even if they don’t know it.) I’ll be waiting in line to find out.

**The whole thing, to me, read as a cautionary tale of the divisiveness of binary anything (dark/light, male/female, good/evil). But that's a whole 'nother essay.

four-half-stars

Review: Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z Martin

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z MartinDeadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin
Published by Solaris on June 24th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban
Pages: 464
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-stars
Welcome to Trifles & Folly, a store with a dark secret. Proprietor Cassidy Kincaide continues a family tradition begun in 1670 ? acquiring and neutralizing dangerous supernatural items. It?s the perfect job for Cassidy, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history. Together with her business partner Sorren, a 500-year-old vampire and former jewel thief, Cassidy makes it her business to get infernal objects off the market.When a trip to a haunted hotel unearths a statue steeped in malevolent power, and a string of murders draws a trail to the abandoned old Navy yard, Cassidy and Sorren discover a diabolical plot to unleash a supernatural onslaught on their city.It?s time for Kincaide and her team to get rid of these Deadly Curiosities before the bodies start piling up.

Some of us have gotten more than tired of UF stories with extraordinary main characters. Super speed? Super strength? Y.A.W.N. The beasties are no fun when you can beat the hell out of them. Which is why, I think, I found Gail Z Martin’s new book so intriguing. Cassidy Kincaide has one unique ability: psychometry. She can read an object’s past by touching it. Usually this doesn’t amount to much except old memories… Unless the object has a particularly nasty history.

I also love the name of Cassidy’s shop: Trifles and Folly is just a hilarious name for an antique shop, especially considering the deviant nature of some of the objects she runs across. The “trifles” are sold to tourists as antiques and the “follies” are handed over to Cassidy’s centuries old vampire partner to be locked away before they do more damage. Vampires have been so generally overdone as to be boring, but at least Sorren is mostly a secondary character and not the focus of the story.

This book is why I had a strange dream about a malevolent, possessed kitchen table. Now, I’ve always had odd dreams and strange nightmares. I taught myself lucid dreaming as a pre-pubescent so I could realize when I was asleep and not wake myself and my little sister up by screaming. I can say, however, with 100% certainty that I had never before encountered sinister furniture before in any of my previous nighttime wanderings.

If you like your urban fantasy to lean less toward paranormal romance and more toward horror, Deadly Curiosities is a solid book with which to spend some time. The later half of the book is so drawn with tension that I was practically jumping at shadows. I also love a book where the setting is practically its own character, and Charleston certainly fits that bill. I’d give this a solid four of five stars.

four-stars

Review: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Review: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuireSparrow Hill Road on 2014-05-06
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
Goodreads
four-stars
Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea. It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running. They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her. You can’t kill what’s already dead.

Sparrow Hill Road has a unique format, in that it is more of a collection of shorts with most of the same characters and an overall theme than it is a linear book. This is mostly, I think, because the book started out as a series of shorts. However, I think the format is also a suggestion of the way a ghost might experience time. Namely, in strung together bursts of interaction with the living or their fellow dead. Sometimes convenience and storytelling work together, and it’s lovely when they do.

There is an over-arching plot, however. Rose Marshall died in 1952 due to a car crash on the way to her high school prom, a crash that was instigated by a man named Bobby Cross. Bobby sold his soul to live forever and must use the souls of the dying to fuel his existence. Rose is the soul that got away, and she’s been doing her best to thwart him ever since, sometimes directly and other times indirectly. These are her stories, and the stories of the souls she’s tried to save.

I’m pleased to see on Goodreads that this book is listed as Ghost Stories #1. I was originally a bit crestfallen at the book’s ending, but knowing there is supposed to be more makes me feel a lot better about things. (Please, DAW, don’t tease us! We need more Rose.) ((And readers, please buy this book! Sales = Life in the world of publishing, and I need Rose to live. Figuratively speaking.))

Sparrow Hill Road is a book that serves up ghost stories on a heaping slice of Americana. It is a testament to, and a warning of, the American highway system, and all the miles of road and the strangeness that has grown up around them. When I’m driving sometimes at night, I wonder if a dark road after dusk is what Purgatory is. I wonder if I would know if I can crossed over from the living into the world of the dead. Seanan McGuire has taken that spinal chill and extended it into a full body shiver of a ghost story. This book is an apt spiritual successor to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. (Spiritual. See what I did there?)

I wish McGuire’s writing got as many accolades as her work under the name Mira Grant does. It is justly deserved, regardless of which name is on the book. Sadly, I think it’s the genre that doesn’t get any respect. All I can say is — I pity the people who aren’t giving McGuire just as much attention as Grant*. The work is outstanding, regardless of subject matter or hot pink covers (as seen on Discount Armageddon, probably my favorite of the McGuire canon.)

*Full disclosure: I’ve only read part of one book from the Mira Grant list, and that book (Parasite) wigged me out to the point where I put it down and have yet to work up the courage to go back to it. 

four-stars

Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley ChuThe Lives of Tao on 2013-04-30
Pages: 204
Goodreads
three-half-stars
When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.He wasn’t.He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…File Under: Science Fiction [ The Tug of War | I Was Genghis | Diary of a Slob | Spy vs Spy ]

I’m going to call The Lives of Tao an “urban sci-fi story”. Firstly, because that’s honestly what it is. This isn’t near-future, far-future or even “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away”, but actually set right now in our world science fiction. So I’m going to call it urban sci-fi because 1) It’s got all the elements of an urban fantasy except replace the vampires and werewolves with aliens and technology, and 2) I know it will drive the no-girl-cooties parts of the science fiction fandom absolutely wild. You’re welcome.

Tao is an ancient, immortal, sentient, parasitic being from a race that crash-landed on Earth pretty much at the dawn of man. He’s part of an in-fighting group of aliens that are now stuck here until they can get human society to be advanced enough for long-flight space travel. The two groups of aliens have been fighting amongst themselves since they argued over a small matter of policy eons ago.

The small matter they argued over? Whether human civilization really *needs* to continue on after the aliens get what they want. One group, the Prophus, think that humans are pretty handy people to have around and that they can get what they want without killing millions of people in the meantime. War is the fastest way to advance technology. It’s also the fast lane toward extinction. The other group, whose designation eludes me at the moment, and my book is all the way across the room so you’ll have to live with it, [Editor’s note: They’re called the Genjix.] thinks humans are necessary eggs for their interstellar omelette. They don’t really care if humans live or die, so long as the Prophus die with them.

Caught in the middle of this is a depressed, out-of-shape, programmer from Chicago. Tao, wise and immortal ancient being, is forced to take up residence in this hopeless lump of a man if he wishes to survive. Sure, Roen — the useless lump — gets a brand new diet and exercise regimen courtesy of the Prophus and Sonya, the woman tasked with training him. He also gets some bad ass hand-to-hand and weapons training. He also gets his ass kicked several times by bad guys, his View Spoiler » gets [spoilered] and View Spoiler » [spoils] [the spoils].

I honestly don’t know if I liked this book. It was well-written, at times hilarious, and the alien bits were fascinating — but the plot was mostly taken up with turning a fat guy into James Bond. Hoo. Ray. Although I’m not really surprised that I’ve heard whisperings of Wesley Chu one day being a big name is SF/F. [Editor here again: Since I originally wrote this review, Chu was shortlisted for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award.  So, plot twist! I was right!] This book dragged me all the way through it even as I insisted that no, really, I was bored and wanted to do something else. I honestly don’t know how the author managed that.

I will be looking at the sequel, The Deaths of Tao, with great suspicion in the near future. Of course, I WILL be looking at it, which means the author has done his job. N’est-ce pas?

three-half-stars

Review: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke ColeShadow Ops: Breach Zone on 2014-01-28
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Goodreads
four-stars
The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began “coming up Latent,” developing terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Those who Manifest must choose: become a sheepdog who protects the flock or a wolf who devours it... In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign “Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’s ever known. In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind. When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil...

The entire Shadow Ops series is like looking through a spider’s eye. (I suppose this makes the author the dark carnivore at the center of the web… Sorry for that metaphor, Myke.) Every glimpse we get into this world shows us a slightly different facet. With every piece, we get another view of the same story, views that make us re-evaluate what we thought we were sure of before.

In Control Point, we had Oscar Britton’s story. A soldier who screwed up in his efforts to do right and was punished severely for it. In that book, Harlequin is the bad guy, along with the rest of the government.

In Fortress Frontier, we meet Bookbinder and see the whole situation from another perspective. The government is maybe a little corrupt, but it’s still made of people. More people screwing up what they were trying to do right. The goblins and Scylla are the bad guys here.

Then we get to Breach Zone, and we get to see that the Big Bad of the series (And can I just say what a thrill it is that the Big Bad is a *woman*?) is also just a person who messed up while trying to do the right thing. It’s noted in the text that even the goblins fighting are doing so because they want to make sure that they get LEFT ALONE in their own world.

The author said at one point that this book is, at its heart, a romance story. And to that, I say, “Ehhhh. Sorta.” Some people do, after all, consider Romeo and Juliet a romantic tale. I think those people are kind of nutballs, myself, but I do have to admit that there’s an element of romance there. I think both stories are, however, more about the consequences of backing people into a corner.

R & J would have loved each other for all of about two weeks and then gotten over it if they’d been allowed to get it out of their system. Harlequin wouldn’t have been forced to choose between his duty and his government. Scylla wouldn’t have needed to run or hide or murder an ass-load of people. They were all trying to make their best choices with the tools that they had — and they were all, without exception, both completely right and UTTERLY WRONG.

I think the moral of the story is that there are never any good choices. There are only the best choices we can make at the time. We never know all the consequences for our actions. That doesn’t mean we should never make any, just that we should weigh them carefully and be prepared to deal with any fallout.

I believe most of us think of our nation’s soldiers as Brave and Good. We also tend to think of our government (no matter which side you’re on) as Corrupt and Sometimes-Evil. So how is it possible for our soldiers to always be Brave and Good when being directed by a power that is Corrupt and Sometimes-Evil? The polarity of that, the struggle of it, is something I saw repeated again and again throughout this series. I don’t think Cole intended to give us an answer (and I don’t believe that he does) but I think that this series forces us to see that there are at least two sides (and probably more) to any story.

It makes me see that those Brave and Good soldiers and our Corrupt and Sometimes-Evil government can do both Good Things and Bad Things — sometimes both at the same time. Multi-faceted. Spider’s eyes. Seeing through them is both wonderful and disconcerting.

Thinking about this story through the context of the author’s biography is fascinating. Myke Cole has experience with the armed forces, is an officer of the Coast Guard, and is someone who does work with the NYPD… To take this story and filter it through that lens is part of what, for me, made this story fun. So yes, I think this book is definitely a love story. But I don’t think Harlequin and Scylla are it. I think this is a story of the love between a man, a soldier, and his country, his home city. And for that I think it’s just beautiful.

You guys, these books are so well written. Everything I know about the military I picked up watching NCIS, but even I didn’t get stuck on the soldier-speak (and O, the acronyms!) (There’s a glossary in the back if you get stuck.) Every time you think you have the line in the sand drawn and you know where the story is going, Cole turns it on its head. I was a little miffed at first when the story didn’t keep following Oscar after Control Point, but I have to admit that the author’s method was completely sound. The fact that Cole can write this well AND shoot a rifle just doesn’t seem fair.

four-stars

Blog Tour Review & Giveaway! Stone Cold by Devon Monk

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Blog Tour Review & Giveaway! Stone Cold by Devon MonkStone Cold on 2014-04-01
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Goodreads
five-stars
The latest Broken Magic novel from national bestselling author Devon Monk. Marked by Life and Death magic, Shame Flynn and Terric Conley are “breakers”—those who can use magic to its full extent. Most of the time, they can barely stand each other, but they know they have to work together to defeat a common enemy—rogue magic user Eli Collins. Backed by the government, Eli is trying to use magic as a weapon by carving spells into the flesh of innocents and turning them into brainless walking bombs. To stop him, Shame and Terric will need to call on their magic, even as it threatens to consume them—because the price they must pay to wield Life and Death could change the very fate of the world...and magic itself.

I don’t know what to tell you except I loved this book. Okay, so I’m still a little bit traumatized by That Thing that happened in the first book, which, if it could have been overcome or maybe not happened so that Shame could’ve had a happier ending, I would have loved. I know I’m being vague, but we’re talking Major Spoiler for the first book, so deal with it. I realize that it wouldn’t fit in with Shame’s character for him to have a *truly* happy ending, but oh, man… Did I want that for him. I really did.

As much as I love Shame, Zayvion is still my favorite character in this world. I don’t think that will ever change. I just needed to say that. I mean Shame is bitter & snarky (which I love) but Zayvion is tall, dark, Zen, and snarky which just pings all my buttons. (Hello, let me introduce you to my husband…)

I honestly don’t know what else to tell you about this book that’s not a super-powered spoiler. This is only a duology, but honestly it wouldn’t make sense for me to urge you to read these if you haven’t read the Allie Beckstrom series. (WHICH YOU SHOULD ALSO READ.)

Basically, this was one of those rare books that made me resent absolutely everything that interfered with reading it: work, sleep, eating, showering, using the bathroom. I finished it in two nights and even that took too long because I had to Know! I was unhappy with one of the elements in the ending, but even I have to admit that the book ended just where it should have. Just because I wanted it to happen doesn’t mean that it was a good idea for the story. I find it fascinating that Devon Monk can do that. That ending was absolutely perfect and yet completely agonizing and I hate it and I love it and… and…

If there is ever an opportunity to hear Devon Monk teach about writing I will figure out a way to fly cross-country to do it. And the people who know that my first and last plane flight gave me anxiety dreams for six solid months know what it means to me that I would say that. (Note for the curious: it’s not the flying that gets me, it’s the airports. ::shudder:: Seriously. I never worried about the plane having problems, but having my ticket? Getting through security? Oh, yes! Basically, flying alone is the worst thing that can happen to someone with anxiety, in my opinion.)

The writing here is tense and flawless and I’m both envious and deliriously thrilled by that. If you haven’t read Devon Monk, we might need to seriously reconsider our friendship. Think about that.

Seriously though… Do you like that “dropped into the middle of a strange world with weird magic rules that haven’t been explained yet” feeling that you get from Sanderson’s Way of Kings? Then you will feel right at home here. Fans of the series shouldn’t need me to tell them to read it. This is a fabulous, and fitting, end to Shame and Terric’s story.

For those of you who sat through all that, we now have something special for you. Enter to win one of two copies of Stone Cold for your very own.

What: One of two print copies of Devon Monk’s Stone Cold.

When: Beginning at 8a.m. EDT on March 31st and ending approximately midnight on Monday, April 7th (Sunday night/Monday morning). End time subject to change without notice.

Who: Anyone with a valid US or Canada mailing address.

Details: You must be willing to share your email address for the contest and your mailing address if you win. Your information will be used by me for those purposes only. As prizes will be mailed by the publisher, you also agree to share your mailing address with them. As such, Waiting for Fairies cannot be held responsible for the shipping or arrival of prizes.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

five-stars

Review: Known Devil by Justin Guistanis

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Known Devil by Justin GuistanisKnown Devil on 2014-01-28
Format: eARC
Goodreads
three-stars
My name’s Markowski. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets. A new supernatural gang is intent on invading Scranton – as if I didn’t have enough to contend with! Supernatural gang warfare? Not on my watch! File Under: Urban Fantasy [ Fang Warfare | Invading Forces | Uneasy Alliances | The Devil You Know ]

In which I talk, not about the book, but about the lessons it’s teaching us.

This series puzzles me a lot. I have read a lot of this author’s work and enjoyed almost all of it, so I’ve given this series a very large dose of benefit of the doubt. It’s not that the plot or characterization is confusing — they’re not. It just seems that the deep, moral lesson of the series can be a bit heavy-handed.

As the main character of our series, we have an ordinary human detective whose cultural heritage would find him the butt of many a joke. We know this, because it’s mentioned in every book. This man himself, at the start of the series, has a deep-seated hatred himself of a cultural group — namely, vampires; and he’s not too fond of the other types of supernaturals living in his city either.

Soon, Markowski has to face his own prejudice: both his daughter and his partner become blood-suckers. Crazily, we find out that Markowski had his daughter turned *at his own request* because she had a fatal medical condition. The choice was either undeath or true death. This complicates his feelings even more, as he hates the undead but loves his daughter. He despises what she became, even while admitting that it’s better than having her dead. He can’t hate his daughter when she was turned, not by her choice, but by his. He can’t hate all vampires when she is one of them.

So essentially we have this bigoted man whose job and home life have both forced him to confront the fact that he hates by default a class of people that includes the person he loves most AND the people that, as a police detective, he is supposed to be trying to protect. Couple this with an outside conflict with a man whose goal is complete obliteration of all the supernatural species — a goal that, perhaps at least at the beginning, Markowski may not have been too antagonistic towards.

However, the law he prizes is now on the side of the creatures he hates. He is slowly exposed to the very real, thinking, feeling beings at the source of his hatred. It’s his duty to protect with his life the thing he hates most… And eventually, he starts to see the supernatural community not as a group of monsters but as distinct people with their own individual wants and desires. Just like humans.

I wish prejudice was so easy to handle in real life. Pick a marginalized group and their story could echo the obstacles found in this series. Hatred on the street just for being different? Check. Blamed for their own disadvantages? Check. Even while hatred and politics keeps them disadvantaged? Yep. The cops who are supposed to be protecting them being a source of the problem? Oh, hell yes.

Feminists. POC. LGBTQ. The poor. Pick a group and they could be dropped into this book without much trouble. Does the author intend to speak about one of these groups? Or maybe all of them? Or perhaps it’s none at all and my own experiences with trying to be a champion and ally are coloring my reading. (Possible, but I think unlikely. I did say the moral lesson seems to be pretty thickly laid down here.)

The point of the thing, I think, is that we shouldn’t let ignorance and fear (and especially our politicians) convince us that people different from us are automatically the enemy. As humans, our brains like to classify things, but it’s all a lie. There is no such thing as “the vampires” or “the goblins”. “The gays”, “the blacks”, “the feminazis”, “the welfare moms”… Those labels are all a lie. Lies completely fabricated at times by people who want to point our hatred in a specific direction for their own benefit.

There are just people. People who are trying to do the best that they can with the life that they were given. Even people who make the wrong choices should be given enough of our respect to be seen as PEOPLE and not as a stereotype. And when I say this, I’m thinking of the series’ recurring antagonist: a rich, white man who was willing to wipe out entire groups of people for his own gain. Even he is just a man: an evil, misguided, ignorant and greedy man who made his own choices and now — after this latest book — has to deal with the consequences of them.

If only real life worked out so well.

three-stars

Review: Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck WendigUnder the Empyrean Sky on July 30, 2013
Pages: 354
Format: eBook
Goodreads
four-stars
Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow ? and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie ? his first mate and the love of his life ? forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry ? angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. Cael's ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

This book foretells the near-future dystopian conclusion to our recent political history: Occupy Wallstreet and the 1%, GMO food scandals, domestic government spying campaigns, and the health detriments of high fructose corn syrup. In this somewhere-in-the-future world, the richest 1% literally float high above the rest. Below, spouses are chosen by government dictate and everyone gets hitched and is expected to procreate whether they’re reproductive or heterosexually inclined or not.

The farming heartland has become filled from horizon to horizon with one crop only: a strain of corn that has carnivorous tendencies. Other crops are forbidden, and whole towns have been completely depopulated over the merest whisper of a fresh vegetable, with no trace left of where the residents may have been taken — if they were ‘taken’ anywhere at all. Cancer runs rampant through the population and a deadlier, more virulent strain of plant-like growths pop up to devastating effects.

In the midst of all this bleakness, we have a group of teenagers coming of age. Their government-chosen spouses are about to be announced and they’ll be expected to abandon any pretense they had of hope for their future in favor of factory or farm work that will without doubt one day kill them.

Our main character — for he isn’t at all a hero — is Cael. Seventeen and about to arbitrarily be declared a man, he resents his lot in life and is angry with just about everyone. Most teenagers are, but Cael has more reason than most. He’s ashamed of his father for not standing up to their bully of a mayor. He’s lost his ship and his hopes for a different livelihood to the mayor’s arrogant son. His mother is bed-ridden with tumors and cancer. His lover is most likely about to be pledged to wed another against both of their wills.

All of this is completely understandable. All of this also turns Cael into a little asshole. He is arrogant, head-strong, selfish, and focused only on the usual and generally misplaced dreams of glory and triumph of the young. He treats just about everyone, including his friends and girlfriend, badly.

But there is hope at the end of this book, even if only a glimmer. There is clear indication that there is still story left to tell, at least. To be completely honest with you, I found this story terrifying. Not because there is anything particularly horror-genre-like to be had. There is suspense, surely, and moments of tension but nothing that can be pointed to and named as the Big Bad Monster. Except, of course, when you take into account all of those things that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Maybe I am just old and embittered, but I find this world Wendig has created not so very far fetched at all, and that scares the daylights out of me. My own fear and feelings of helplessness at the circumstances of right now, today, in the real world make this story sound more like science than science fiction. With that said, I want young people to read this. I want lots of young people to read this. I want them to read this with hope in their hearts rather than the despair I have in mine, and I want them to make better choices than we have been making.

I haven’t felt this petrified that a story might actually happen since Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother. And since we actually did get NSA spying after all, I’m hoping we as a society can nip this particular narrative in the bud before we end up growing some killer corn.

Note: If you’re interested in reading this book, there’s a giveaway over on Goodreads

four-stars

Review: Hot Blooded by Amanda Carlson

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Hot Blooded by Amanda CarlsonHot Blooded on April 23, 2013
Pages: 320
Format: eBook
Goodreads
three-stars
It hasn't been the best week for Jessica McClain.

Her mate has been kidnapped by a Goddess hell-bent on revenge --- but Jessica is playing for keeps.

Because she's the only female werewolf in town...it comes with its own set of rules...and powers.

Aided by two vamps, two loyal Pack members, and one very reluctant human, Jessica must rescue her man while coming to terms with what being a wolf really means.

All in a day's work for a girl.

The second novel in the Jessica McClain series is a full on action adventure featuring one angry Goddess and plenty of monsters, demons, and a few newly risen beasties...

This book kept me company a few weeks ago during a very long (2.5 hour) wait to have a flat tire repaired. The tire was fixed just fine, in case you’re wondering. I chose to read and review this book because I’d been hearing the name Amanda Carlson in my twitter feed quite frequently. Praise was coming from quarters that I generally pay attention to, and so when I came across this on NetGalley I of course requested it.

I’m not sure why I expected this to be more of a paranormal romance, since it’s marketed as an urban fantasy and has the words “action adventure” right in the blurb. I think I just see the word “mate” in a description and my brain shuts down in a sigh of cliche exhaustion. I’m so tired by books with a “fated” couple who were “meant to be together” by some otherworldly force. Ugh. Can’t people date just because they like each other? Or how about a couple who dates for awhile and then breaks up and their worlds actually don’t shatter and they go on to be perfectly happy people?

This… isn’t one of those books, but if you can overlook the cliche of “meant to be”, it’s not a bad story. Honestly, since it’s the second in a series and I haven’t read the first, I probably don’t have room to complain about the main couple. It’s possible that this aspect was addressed when Jessica and Rourke first got together. At least, for now I can hold out for that hope.

I think “action adventure” is probably the most apt term for this book. It’s Indiana Jones with an ensemble cast of vampires and werewolves and instead of Nazis we get flesh-eating bats, trolls, river nymphs, demons, and evil… goats. It’s a spun-sugar page-turner. There’s not much substance, but it’s delicious. Just beware of being left slightly sticky by the time you’re finished. …Okay, that metaphor really broke down there at the end, didn’t it?

Anyway. This book was a great way to spend a couple of hours when I didn’t have anything better to do. I doubt I’ll become a fan of the series, as I prefer to wait for those stories with the truly unique twists. This is simply a way for me to manage my own time, however, and if you need a good summer read, you won’t be wasting yours with this one.

three-stars

Review: The Red Plague Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

Review: The Red Plague Affair by Lilith SaintcrowThe Red Plague Affair on May 21, 2013
Format: eBook
Goodreads
three-stars
The service of Britannia is not for the faint of heart--or conscience...

Emma Bannon, Sorceress Prime in service to Queen Victrix, has a mission: to find the doctor who has created a powerful new weapon. Her friend, the mentath Archibald Clare, is only too happy to help. It will distract him from pursuing his nemesis, and besides, Clare is not as young as he used to be. A spot of Miss Bannon's excellent hospitality and her diverting company may be just what he needs.

Unfortunately, their quarry is a fanatic, and his poisonous discovery is just as dangerous to Britannia as to Her enemies. Now a single man has set Londinium ablaze, and Clare finds himself in the middle of distressing excitement, racing against time and theory to find a cure. Miss Bannon, of course, has troubles of her own, for the Queen's Consort Alberich is ill, and Her Majesty unhappy with Bannon's loyal service. And there is still no reliable way to find a hansom when one needs it most...

The game is afoot. And the Red Plague rises.

I almost feel bad reviewing this book, because I didn’t love it nearly as much as I wanted to. I adore Bannon and Clare. I love that their relationship is a platonic love and not romantic. The parallels with all the various modern interpretations of Sherlock Holmes make me very happy. The fact that Bannon is a kick-ass damsel who is very rarely in distress (and when she is, she is most likely to get herself out of it rather than being in need of rescue) is one of my favorite things about this series.

Saintcrow’s worlds are like dream-scapes, almost familiar but not quite: Londinium, Britannia, Queen Victrix. These things are almost history, but instead serve to disorient the reader and further immerse them in a world of ephemera. The reader is set adrift in this world with only the occasional touchstone of familiarity to acclimatize themselves. This isn’t a problem for your typical fantasy reader. I’ve had plenty of practice forging ahead with a story despite not knowing what the hell is going on in all the deeper layers of the world. (I’m looking at you, Mr. Sanderson.)

Plenty of mysteries still remain: why was View Spoiler » ? What is the secret of Mikal’s past that Emma is so determined not to know? What about Ludo’s past? Or, for that matter, what exactly has led to Emma’s current dissatisfaction with her service to the Empire? I think the problem with this story in particular was that most of the mystery either happened in the past, or has yet to surface, which makes for a frustrating read.

I love the characters. I love the steampunk-fantasy amalgam of the world. It’s only that something about this particular plot was pedestrian. It feels like a stepping through of routine that we must endure to get somewhere significant but that doesn’t make much impact itself. Since a  highly viral plague gets released into the middle of Londinium in this novel, it’s rather stunning to me that this book felt so… well… boring.

I kept waiting for the emotional impact to hit but it never did. I don’t even know if I can say why it didn’t. I felt absolutely no connection to a couple of characters that I love in a world that I find fascinating with a plot involving a race against time to keep thousands of people from dying horribly.

I honestly can’t say if the problem with this book even IS a problem or if I just wasn’t in a good place to appreciate it when I read it. I am completely bewildered that I didn’t love this. That said, I won’t be abandoning this series because of said adorable characters and alluring world. I look forward to the next installment getting back on the usual exciting track.

three-stars