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: 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

Review: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

Review: The Blue Blazes by Chuck WendigThe Blue Blazes on May 28th 2013
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Goodreads
four-stars
Meet Mookie Pearl.
Criminal underworld? He runs it.
Supernatural underworld? He hunts in it.
Nothing stops Mookie when he’s on the job.
But when his daughter takes up arms and opposes him, something’s gotta give…

The Blue Blazes – the first in a new urban fantasy series in which lovable thug Mookie Pearl must contend with the criminal underworld, the supernatural underworld, a new drug that makes the invisible visible, and a rebellious teen daughter who opposes him at every turn.

Oh, Mookie Pearl. Just an average boy living in a mafia world. One populated by creatures of the Great Below: goblins, snake-faced men, demon gods and other things that would sooner eat you than look at you.

Mookie’s got problems. He’s addicted to a (supernatural) underworld drug, his boss is ill, his daughter hates him, and he hasn’t seen his ex-wife in years. To top it all off, his boss’ grandson, heir to the (criminal) underworld throne has asked him to complete an impossible task: find the potentially mythological supernatural cure for Mafia Grandpa’s sickness. But when Mookie starts searching through both underworlds for this magic elixir, he starts to become aware of — and opposed by — other factions with their own sinister goals. Now more than his boss’ life and his daughter’s love are on the line. Now, the entirety of New York City is in jeopardy.

Let’s be honest here: Mookie Pearl is not the kind of guy you’d really want to entrust with the fate of an entire city. Oh, he’s honorable enough in his own way. If Mookie says he’s going to do something, he damn well does it. But he’s also a mafia grunt, a bruiser, a guy who maybe doesn’t enjoy killing but it certainly doesn’t seem to keep him up at night either. He’s the guy we all have nightmares of becoming. He’s the guy who made all the wrong choices in his youth: wrong job, wrong priorities, wrong people in his life.

Now he’s woken up and realized that all the things he should have spent his life fighting for are the ones he’s neglected into dust. Mookie’s whole life is rotten. It’s as filled with holes and demons and monsters as the rest of New York City, and one wrong move forward could blow the whole thing to hell, collapsing it into a big pile of rubble and blood and bodies. Extend this metaphor farther, and on bad days you can wonder if this isn’t the problem with the whole damn world.

This book kicked a big face-full of sand into my teeth and here I am days later still spitting out grit. It’s not for the faint of heart (Wendig’s books never are). While you’re looking up at that one dazzling ray of hope at the end, you’re also getting a knife in the chest. I’m not even sure yet if I even *liked* this book, but that’s not really the point. What we have here is a new flavor of urban fantasy in a genre that was starting to get a bit bland. There are interesting, full-fleshed characters whose choices drive the narrative into believable consequences. We have some interesting new monsters for a change built into an intriguing world with it’s own complete mythology.

The Blue Blazes is an iceberg kind of book. There’s so much going on under the surface (in more ways than one) that you are quite dazzled by it. And Wendig takes advantage of that bedazzlement to give you several swift kicks in the gut.

(Ed Note: Edited from original because repetitive word choice is repetitive.)

four-stars

Review: Oz Reimagined Edited by John Joseph Adams

Review: Oz Reimagined Edited by John Joseph AdamsOz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond on February 26 2013
Pages: 365
Format: eBook
Goodreads
three-stars
When L. Frank Baum introduced Dorothy and friends to the American public in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz became an instant, bestselling hit. Today the whimsical tale remains a cultural phenomenon that continues to spawn wildly popular books, movies, and musicals. Now, editors John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen have brought together leading fantasy writers such as Orson Scott Card and Seanan McGuire to create the ultimate anthology for Oz fans—and, really, any reader with an appetite for richly imagined worlds.

Stories include: Seanan McGuire’s “Emeralds to Emeralds, Dst to Dust” finds Dorothy grown up, bitter, and still living in Oz. And she has a murder to solve—assuming Ozma will stop interfering with her life long enough to let her do her job. In “Blown Away,” Jane Yolen asks: What if Toto was dead and stuffed, Ozma was a circus freak, and everything you thought you knew as Oz was really right here in Kansas? “The Cobbler of Oz” by Jonathan Maberry explores a Winged Monkey with wings too small to let her fly. Her only chance to change that rests with the Silver Slippers. In Tad Williams’s futuristic “The Boy Detective of Oz,” Orlando investigates the corrupt Oz simulation of the Otherland network. Frank Baum’s son has the real experiences that his father later fictionalized in Orson Scott Card’s “Off to See the Emperor.”

Some stories are dystopian... Some are dreamlike... All are undeniably Oz.

I think I burned myself out on Oz with this. I was reading these short stories interchanged with the actual 1st Oz book by Frank Baum. I got about halfway through this collection before I had to put it down for something else. Not because I didn’t like it, but just because I was on Oz Overload (or O², if you wish).

I particularly liked Seanen McGuire’s story in this, which was the whole reason I picked up the collection. Tad William’s futuristic, cyberpunk version of Oz was also enjoyable. I’m afraid I don’t have much to say about this right now… I do plan to pick up and read the rest of the stories at some point, but since this is a NetGalley read, I need to do a review sooner rather than later.

I’ve enjoyed anthologies edited by John Joseph Adams far more than a lot of others I’ve picked up, so if you’re an Oz fan, you really can’t go wrong picking this up and giving it a try. There’s plenty here to catch your fancy: from dystopian, cyberpunk, or gritty urban fantasy types to the more traditional whimsy of the original Oz.

three-stars

Review: The World Of Tomorrow Is Sadly Outdated by Leanna Renee Hieber

Review: The World Of Tomorrow Is Sadly Outdated by Leanna Renee HieberThe World of Tomorrow is Sadly Outdated on February 9, 2013
Pages: 52
Format: eBook
Goodreads
four-half-stars
New York City: The Year is 1889. 
New York City: The year is 2089. 
In 1889 a group of bold pseudo-scientists discover the "temporal current" and begin to view the distant futures that await the Empire City. In the future, all life as we know it has crumbled, leaving New York City a ghost town with a populous scrabbling to survive underground. 
In the past it's up to an unlikely group of Victorian heroines and heroes to preserve something of their world to save their future generations. In the future it's up to an unlikely group of survivors to take a leap of faith; discovering what their ancestors left for them with no more guarantees than love and hope.

A new Leanna Renee Hieber book is a delicacy to be sipped. It took me so long to finish this relatively short novella. You have no idea. The time I spent reading this is in direct proportion to how much I loved it. I would read a couple of pages, usually only one of the rather short alternating points-of-view. Then I would put the book down (figuratively, as this is a digital release). Then I would chew over the scene thoughtfully, ruminating, absorbing the beautiful (as always) word choice. I would go off and read something else for a day or two, until the brass gears in my head had revolved sufficiently toward the soft ping that pulled me back into this world. Or worlds, I suppose. Even though both timelines in this novella are really one, even though this world is our world — our past and our future — they are so starkly different from each other that they may as well be completely different worlds.

And yet. (And yet.) One thread remains the same throughout. It is a bright, shining cord of striking strength and femininity. Two very different and far separate generations of daring, willful women (and yes, a few men, too) determined to save the world. Maybe not their own world, not exactly, but some semblance of a world. I finished this novella at exactly the correct time, because I needed this. I needed to grasp that silver thread and hold it fiercely in my hand, to cup it gently in my palm and whisper, “See? This is our future. Our present. Our past. These are the kinds of heroines who really lived, who are living, who will rise in days to come. These are the women we need so desperately. These are the women WE ARE.”

Imagine a world where not only *can* women save the world, but that they MUST. Buy this. Get it. Read it. Absorb it. And then go out and create that world. That is what Leanna is giving us here: a gentle pride of the past, a small hope for the future. It’s a precious gift. Don’t waste it.

four-half-stars

Review: The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination Edited by John Joseph Adams

Review: The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination Edited by John Joseph AdamsThe Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination on February 19, 2013
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
four-stars
From Victor Frankenstein to Lex Luthor, from Dr. Moreau to Dr. Doom, readers have long been fascinated by insane plans for world domination and the madmen who devise them. Typically, we see these villains through the eyes of good guys. This anthology, however, explores the world of mad scientists and evil geniuses—from their own wonderfully twisted point of view.

An all-star roster of bestselling authors—including Diana Gabaldon, Daniel Wilson, Austin Grossman, Naomi Novik, and Seanan McGuire…twenty-two great storytellers all told—have produced a fabulous assortment of stories guaranteed to provide readers with hour after hour of high-octane entertainment born of the most megalomaniacal mayhem imaginable.

Everybody loves villains. They’re bad; they always stir the pot; they’re much more fun than the good guys, even if we want to see the good guys win. Their fiendish schemes, maniacal laughter, and limitless ambition are legendary, but what lies behind those crazy eyes and wicked grins? How—and why—do they commit these nefarious deeds? And why are they so set on taking over the world?

If you've ever asked yourself any of these questions, you’re in luck: It’s finally time for the madmen’s side of the story.

Everyone knows that superheroes are boring. Villains are more interesting: more complex in their madness, more brilliant in their darkness. When the villains are also genius scientists… Well, then you have something remarkable. The authors writing for this collection go in all sorts of different directions. Some of their villains are well intentioned, others are narcissistic, some are spurred on by achievement, others by revenge. And some of them are truly, genuinely mad.

I’ve been trying to decide on a favorite story, but I don’t think that I can. They are all wonderful and unique in their own way.

  • Professor Incognito Apologizes: An Itemized List (Austin Grossman),  in which a mad scientist/villain apologizes to his girlfriend for deceiving her, is a perfect opener.
  • Father of the Groom (Harry Turtledove) seems to be the weakest in the set, telling the story of what happens when the Bridezilla’s new father in law is a mad scientist.
  • Seanan McGuire’s Laughter at the Academy is the mind-bender of the bunch.
  • Letter to the Editor (David D. Levine) is an unexpected twist.
  • Instead of a Loving Heart (Jeremiah Tolbert) is the kind of story I wish The Mad Scientist’s Daughter (see my last review) would have been.
  • The Executor (Daniel H. Wilson) is one of the best in the book, and probably the most touching.
  • The Angel of Death Has a Business Plan (Heather Lindsley) reminds us why evil geniuses should work alone. This one made me smile, and is one of my favorites.
  • Homo Perfectus (David Farland) was the most disturbing of the bunch, featuring a power-hungry, rapist CEO.
  • The narrator of Ancient Equations (LA Banks) had me rolling my eyes.
  • Alan Dean Foster’s Rural Singularity could be the best in the book and certainly has the most unique mad scientist.
  • Captain Justice Saves the Day (Genevieve Valentine) takes a refreshing approach.
  • I’d love it if The Mad Scientist’s Daughter (Theodora Goss) became a series. How cool would it be to have more stories of popular fiction’s most mad scientists’ daughters?
  • The anthology’s headliner Diana Gabaldon has the longest story in The Space Between. It’s well-written but ill-explained and wasn’t in the running for favorite.
  • Carrie Vaughn’s Harry and Marlowe Meet the Founder of the Aetherian Revolution is another story I hope we might see more of eventually.
  • Blood & Stardust (Laird Barron) was entertaining, but hard to follow at times.
  • I’d say L.E. Modesitt, Jr. has the creepiest villain — a political mad scientist — in A More Perfect Union.
  • Naomi Novik’s Rocks Fall is brief but particularly special. I found it intriguing.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal’s We Interrupt This Broadcast reminds us that she can do much more than her long form fantastical Victorian romance and do it very, very well.
  • Marjorie M. Liu gives us the interesting tale of a man dealing with the legacy of his name: Lex Luthor in The Last Dignity of Man. Disturbing, thought-provoking, and will make a tug or two on the heartstrings.
  • The Pittsburgh Technology (Jeffrey Ford) is the only one who doesn’t show us the face of the mad scientist behind the sinister plot. Not the strongest story in the bunch, but worth a read if you have the time.
  • Mofongo Knows by Grady Hendrix takes us back to pulp novels, stories of simian villains, and their inevitable conclusion. If you liked Chuck Wendig’s Dinocalypse Now, you’ll like this story.
  • I found The Food Taster’s Boy by Ben H. Winters the most thought-provoking and a good final note. It reminded me somehow of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series.

I read this book when I was sick one weekend, so all the stories have a certain surreal quality in my memory now. (This is the sick weekend that ended with me washing my face with shampoo accidentally because I was that exhausted and disoriented from being awake for what seemed like 473 hours in a row.) I received a digital ARC from Netgalley but ended up buying it anyway. Overall, I’m pretty glad I did. 

four-stars

Review: Trapped by Kevin Hearne

This is the fifth book in the Iron Druid series from Kevin Hearne. It will be released November 27th, 2012 from Del Rey.

The Blurb

After twelve years of secret training, Atticus O’Sullivan is finally ready to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth and double the number of Druids in the world. But on the eve of the ritual, the world that thought he was dead abruptly discovers that he’s still alive, and they would much rather he return to the grave.
 
Having no other choice, Atticus, his trusted Irish wolfhound, Oberon, and Granuaile travel to the base of Mount Olympus, where the Roman god Bacchus is anxious to take his sworn revenge—but he’ll have to get in line behind an ancient vampire, a band of dark elves, and an old god of mischief, who all seem to have KILL THE DRUID at the top of their to-do lists. [Goodreads]

The Review

The leap past twelve years of training is understandable. I’d wondered how Hearne was going to work around that. On the other hand, as a fan of the series, I find myself gnashing my teeth at twelve years worth of stories that have just been skipped past.  I’m holding out hope that we’ll get to see more of them later. Maybe in some more short stories? (Yeah, why don’t you get on that, Mr. Hearne?) 😉

I honestly can’t believe that we’re already five books into this series. I’ve devoured everything so quickly that the story doesn’t seem long enough to have taken five books. (I think Atticus, our poor abused hero, would disagree with this.) Part of that is also the fact that the volumes themselves have been released fairly rapidly. The story seems quick because I haven’t had to wait and wait (and wait) for subsequent tales to be released. (This is a good thing.)

I won’t go into the plot on this one, since it is the fifth installment. However, I will tell you that the pacing is frenzied and the writing keeps getting tighter. I love it when a writer seems to find their rhythm and things really start booking along. Atticus’ story manages to fit the genre mold while still remaining unexpected and fun. So many books have gotten formulaic and tired, but the world-building here is fresh and charming without being bizarre.

If you’re a fan of Hearne, I’m sure you’ll be picking up this volume. If you’re not already, but you’re a fan of Jim Butcher or urban fantasy in general, you should give this series a shot. Click here for my review of the first book.

Review: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

This book is the first in a series from debut author Jay Kristoff called The Lotus War. It will be released on September 18, 2012 from St. Martin’s Press in hard cover and digital. Buy it here.

The Blurb

A DYING LAND 
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever. 

AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST
The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger—a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

A SIXTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL
Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her. 

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire. [Goodreads]

The Review

Do I really need to tell you anything besides “Psychic teenager and her freaking griffin  fighting Japanese steampunk empire”? No? I didn’t think so, but here’s the rest of my review anyway.

Airships. Griffins. Crazy hallucinogenic drugs made from lotus flowers. Evil dictator. Endless war. Vast expanses of wilderness. And one small girl just trying to stay alive. All of this plays out under the ominous blood-red sky — a sign of man’s destruction of his own world.

It’s really much too soon to be naming anyone as Brandon Sanderson’s successor, but if we needed to appoint one then Jay Kristoff would have my nomination. Stormdancer has some of the same mind-boggling world-building that one would expect from one of Sanderson’s door-stoppers (but in a much more bite-size format at only 366 pages for the hardcover).

I adore Yukiko. Everything from her stubborn refusal to forgive her father for her mother’s disappearance, to her defiance of emperor and rebels alike, to her teenage pining over a boy, to her brutal reprisals for betrayal: I love everything about her. Have you heard people talking lately about what a role model Katniss Everdeen (from The Hunger Games) is for teenage girls? Well, as much as I agree with them, I have to say – move over, Katniss, because Yukiko is going to kick your ass. The Girl on Fire is a sputtering candle flame next to the inferno that is this Girl with the Thunder Tiger.

Does it sound like I’m gushing? I think it sounds like I’m gushing… I seriously didn’t realize how much I loved this book until I sat down to write this review. But – I love it. Not to mention the cover is gorgeous. My bet is that Kristoff is going to be a guy to watch in the next few years, and I look forward to being proven right. (No, I have no doubt that I will be proven 100% correct in this and many other things.)

If I hadn’t also read Libriomancer, then Stormdancer would be my favorite book of the year. Please note, however, that though I compare this book to a YA novel, and while it has appeared on many a YA list over on Goodreads: this book is being published as an adult title. It does contain lots of violence and at least one instance of “sexeh time”. I doubt a teenager would have many issues reading this, but your mileage may vary.

I’m giving this 4 & 3/4 out of 5 stars, only because I want the sequel to have some room to grow.

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Review: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

This is the second book in Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series. It was released from Angry Robot on August 28th. Continuing the tradition of the first in the series, Blackbirds, this one also has a kick ass cover.

The Blurb

Miriam is trying. Really, she is.

But this whole “settling down thing” that Louis has going for her just isn’t working out. She lives on Long Beach Island all year around. Her home is a run-down double-wide trailer. She works at a grocery store as a check-out girl. And her relationship with Louis–who’s on the road half the time in his truck–is subject to the piss and vinegar Miriam brings to everything she does.

It just isn’t going well. Still, she’s keeping her psychic ability–to see when and how someone is going to die just by touching them–in check. But even that feels wrong somehow. Like she’s keeping a tornado stoppered up in a tiny bottle.

Then comes one bad day that turns it all on her ear.

The Review

If I had a literary id, I think Miriam Black would be the personification of it. She’s a broken, vulgar-mouthed, anti-social, unapologetically selfish woman who seems to be developing this nasty habit of risking her life for the sake of other people’s. If we met in real life we’d either be instant friends or enemies for life. Maybe both. What is a certainty is that neither one of us should ever work retail again. I love Miriam because she’s just so damned fascinating. It’s like she can’t help herself but to make bad choices, and reading her is like watching a slow-motion train wreck made of blood and broken steel and sarcasm.

If you’ve read Blackbirds (and why haven’t you?) and you thought that story was a twisty mind-fuck of a tale, then you’re in for a real treat with Mockingbird. Just the title, that seemingly deceptive single word, contains layers of meaning that echo through the whole book. That’s some damned talent. So much talent, in fact, that it just makes the writer in me sick with jealousy. Sick, I tell you.

I was waxing poetic here about broken stained-glass and how this book’s complete picture is both unknowable and cutting. But you know what? Fuck that noise. This is a good damned book that’ll scare the daylights out of you, and if you like that kind of thing you should read it. Chuck Wendig is the only author I know of who can manage to be subtle with his message while beating you bloody in the face with the violent action of his story. Like I said: that’s some damned talent.

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