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Yearly Archives: 2011

Hammered by Kevin Hearne

A Druid, a Werewolf, and a Vampire walk into a bar…

That is not exactly how the story goes- it is more of a meeting around a campfire, but the intent is the same. Men coming together with a purpose, sharing their tales, weaving ancient woe into camaraderie. There purpose is a little less traditional, for they are meeting with unsung heroes and ancient Powers with the sole purpose of killing the god Thor for past bloody indiscretions. That scene in Hammered, where Atticus, Leif, and Gunnar meet with a Russian thunder god, a Finnish magician and a Chinese immortal around a campfire, eating stew and telling their tales, is one of my favorites. It is the most elegant way I have ever been presented with back story and character motivation, and worked perfectly with both the characters and the flow and feel of the story.

Atticus is warned, on more than one occasion and by more than one Power, to cease his current course of action- that attempting to kill Thor will only end in disaster of horrific proportions. But Atticus has given his word to aid in the attempt on Thor’s life, and he will not be forsworn. Of course, the book starts with another trip up to Asgard as Atticus made another promise to collect Idunn’s apples for an ancient witch who helped him previously. Atticus has some powerful allies, but it seems his alliances often come with dangerous costs. He manages to retrieve an apple, and keep his word, but not without shedding blood in Asgard, and gaining the attention of the All Father. It is not a very comfortable position to be in- especially when your next visit is planned to involve killing one of Asgard’s major players.

Hearne continues his excellent work at pulling the sugar coating off of a good chunk of the pantheons the modern world is familiar with, and in the process makes everything more interesting. Atticus himself grows a bit in this one, moving beyond being just an ancient, powerful and rather flip druid. The reader can sit back and appreciate how much he values the things in live he loves now that he is very close to losing it all. Riddled with high stakes action, brilliant pop culture references, and pleasantly irreverent humor, Hammered is another great addition to the Iron Druid Chronicles.

Dragon Virus by Laura Anne Gilman

“They say the end is nigh. I think we’re living in the aftermath already (Dragon Virus, pg. 69).”

It looks like such a small book- unassuming, taking up so little shelf space. But it is a trick. As soon as you start to read it will spread through your brain, unavoidable as the spread of the virus the book tracks. It is a cascade in six parts, a staggering move through religion and science before settling firmly into a desperate dig at humanity itself.

There have been many looks at mutation, but there has been nothing ever written that hits like this. Ms. Gilman cuts through to the bare bones of what it is to be human, lays it there for all of us to examine and accept or reject as we see fit. No punches are pulled amidst her beautifully stark prose. Dragon Virus is a book that is saying something.

But the reader has to decide whether or not they are willing to listen.

It starts with the little uncomfortable things- visions of apocalypse, Raptures full of dragon wings. And then the dragons become all too real. It is an unexplained mutation, the Long gene, dragons come down to warp the basic recipe of humanity. Babies die, born with mutations that could not support life. No known cause. No treatment.

But then babies start to live, the mutations becoming viable, and the real problems start.

Dragon Virus is a stunning book, weaving words into image and emotion that will kick you in the gut and pull you through page after page- desperate to see just what sort of resolution will be reached. It is beautiful- the harsh beauty of everything grand and dangerous in nature. And just as enthralling.

Hexed by Kevin Hearne

You kill one god, and suddenly every pantheon wants a favor. Or, really, every pantheon wants one very specific favor- that Atticus O’Sullivan take a minute of his time to kill Thor. Granted, Thor is universally recognized as a bit of a dick, but that is not the sort of thing Atticus wants to tangle with. Kill one god, and the others want a favor. Kill two…and they may start to consider you a threat.

Apart from that little hitch, Atticus has to deal with the Morrigan, who’s attention has taken a turn for the rather intimate, and Brighid who has also decided it’s time to pay a more personal sort of attention to the last of the druids. Oh, and there is Coyote, who is always up to his paws in more than he is ever going to admit, and this time he hauls Atticus right along with him.

Add in an invading pack of Bacchants and some particularly nasty German witches and Atticus is going to be busy.

Hearne again weaves a story that is equal parts high stakes action and laugh out loud humor. Read in public at your own risk – those guffaws can sneak out at the most inopportune times- but do read. Hexed, and its prequel Hounded, are fantastic additions to the Urban fantasy genre and are a refreshing dodge from the usual fare.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Every now and then I run into an author who does such magnificent things with words, who twists wonder out of magic, that it gets me interested in the epic fantasy genre all over again. I read Mistborn by Sanderson a few years ago, and spent quite a bit of time hand selling it to folks interested in something different, a fantasy that didn’t just wander down that same old paths with the comfortable, familiar character builds. I loved the world he built and the characters he filled it with.

And he did it again with Way of Kings.

The story centers around a sprawling, treacherous land known as the Shattered Plains populated by wonderfully alien flora and horrifying fauna. Entities known as spren are drawn to wind, to fire, and to fear. Men wield powerful artifacts known as Shards, and will kill to possess more. Chasmfiends, both sought for the gemhearts they carry within their carapaces and feared for their lethality, are the center of the conflict between two warring races, with the betrayal and murder of a king almost a second thought in the ongoing fighting.

For stormlight, magic, is carried in gems, captured by leaving them out in the vicious storms that ravage the land. A man’s worth is measured in his ability to capture gemhearts for both king and personal glory. The battles move between the plateaus of the Shattered Plains, armies carried across chasms on the backs of bridge crews.

Kaladin, victim of a vicious betrayal, finds himself in one of those bridge crews, groups made up of the lowest of the low and destined for short, exhausting lives. He finds purpose on the edge of a chasm- protecting his bridge crew- and it will take spren, luck, and stormlight to beat the odds so obviously stacked against them.

Way of Kings contains a magnificent cast of point of view characters, and the story moves effortlessly from character to character, avoiding the jarring sense of being cut from one story to another that can plague this format. Characters flow together naturally as the plot reaches a crisis point, and the end was satisfying while leaving me anxious to have the next book in the series in hand.

A wonderful read. Highly recommended.

Uncertain Allies by Mark Del Franco

Flashes of blue light lead to people vanishing in the Weird, the Wild Hunt rides, tension is high between the Celtic and Teutonic Courts, and of course magically crippled Connor Grey is right in the middle of it all, attracting the attention of far too many people with far too much power.

My first thought on finishing this book was that the series could end here and I would be happy. All the little changes Connor has gone through as the series progressed came to a head in this book. This was the crisis point, and I was satisfied at its resolution.

This does not mean I would scoff at picking up and reading another Connor Grey novel. I enjoy the world build and the writing too much to turn them down. But I was content with the way things were. Not every end was tied off- but to me that makes for a much more believable resolution. Life is never so clean or polite as to settle everything neatly for us. There needs to be a bit of mess, and rarely have I had the pleasure of mucking around in a life as messy as that of Connor Grey. It is delightful that much of the mess is of his own making, and it was interesting to watch him actually start to own up to a lot of it in this book.

Uncertain Allies has a lot more meat, and less actual action than previous installments in the series, but for those who have been invested in the series it is the necessary fallout of previous events and works to pull things together and make sense of it all. It allows Connor to grow as a character and for the series to actually move forward as a result.

I think what I have liked most throughout reading this series is Connor’s distinct lack of Power. He has a bit of a wild card that is unreliable and usually devastating, but nothing like the usual genre tropes. He relies heavily on his companions and contacts, and considering Connor used to be a rather hot shot Druid, it is an interesting POV character to wander through an urban fantasy setting with.

Spellcast by Barbara Ashford

It is obviously a sign from above that Maggie needs a change of scene when she is not only fired, but the ceiling of her bathroom collapses on top of her while she tries to take a consolatory bath. She packs a bag and leaves New York City for Vermont, intent on finding a Bed and Breakfast. What she finds instead is the Crossroads Theater and its enigmatic director Rowan.

Spellcast is a fairy tale, and like all the best fairy tales it is dark and dangerous, and examines all of the things about ourselves we would rather not look at. It also glimmers with wide eyed wonder and rustles with restless energy. It is impossible to put down.

Ashford’s love of theater is apparent and will touch everyone who has had the luck to walk across the stage, and everyone who has ever wanted to. She captures the camaraderie of the theater perfectly, with all of its dysfunctions and drama. Her descriptions of things I enjoyed so much when I was younger, my time spent engaged in summer theater, tickled a smile onto my face and marched goosebumps down my arms. It was perfect. And I didn’t realize I had enjoyed theater as much as I had, or that I missed it. It is an amazing author that can appeal to memories that are almost 20 years old and get me to recall them so vividly.

And it isn’t just theater. It is family, and friends, relationships and work and all those little and not so little things that fill our lives and make us who we are.

Spellcast can be a very personal read, if you let it. And I encourage you greatly to do so.

Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler

After reading Hunger, I waited so very anxiously for this book. The premise, teens expressing the (unfortunate) traits that relate to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are selected and fumble their way through accepting the job, is fascinating and Kessler’s writing is utterly enthralling.

In Rage we are introduced to Missy, a young woman who is driven to cutting herself to maintain control of her excessive emotions. She is afraid of losing control. High School is swamped with emotion, and much of it can be difficult for anyone to process with grace, much less someone who already has a tendency towards self harm. At a party Missy is humiliated past all hope of control by an ex boyfriend, she flees and cuts. When Death offers Missy the Sword of War in the aftermath, she accepts and then has to come to terms with the spirit of War who is not at all concerned with the control so precious to her.

Rage deals with the cutting issue without allowing that to take the readers’s focus away from the story. All of Missy’s actions feel true to the character Kessler is sharing with us and not like recitations of symptoms from a medical manual. Missy’s issues support the novel, but are not the singular driving force.

Rage is a sequel in theme to Hunger, but they are wonderfully unique from each other. I felt Rage to be the stronger novel. I could not put Hunger down, and it hurt in all the right ways, but it focused much more on the eating disorders and their fall out and the plot seemed to roll out in the background. Kessler is tackling some rough, important topics and weaving them into something accessible, something stealthily informative. It is a brilliant project and I highly recommend reading.

Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr

I love stories about the Fae. Dark, dangerous, decidedly inhuman Fae. Like vampires and werewolves, urban fantasy has a tendency to soften the edges of the Fae, to make them work within a mortal framework. Not Melissa Marr. I am in the middle of reading Fragile Eternity, the third book in the sequence, and her ability to keep the often poisonous bite to all things Fae makes me so very happy.

In Wicked Lovely we are introduced to Keenan, the Summer King who has been searching for his Queen, leaving a trail of mortals who didn’t fit the position in his wake. He is beautiful, charismatic, and Fae to the core. We see how manipulative he can be as he works to win over the one he is convinced is to be his queen, disrupting her mortal life without hesitation. The sheer depth of his lack of anything resembling human ethics or morals is more apparent in Ink Exchange, but it shines throughout Wicked Lovely in his single minded determination to get what he wants. And he wants Aislinn, who has lived her left trying to ignore the Fae she sees with her Second Sight. Who has a life and loves that will be turned upside-down under the full force of the Summer King’s attention.

In Ink Exchange, the focus shifts to Aislinn’s friend Leslie who is desperate for a change, for control. When she chooses to get a tattoo made up of dark wings and enthralling eyes, she catches the attention of Irial, the Dark King, who will use her to feed his starving court. As with Keenan, we see hints and echoes of what can almost be a human concern, but it is ultimately overwhelmed by the inhuman Other that they are. The struggle between Fae and mortal sensibilities comes to a head in Ink Exchange, and spills over magnificently into Fragile Eternity.

The books are written for anyone who ever dreamed of the Faeries coming to take them away, and were properly terrified by the idea. They are rich with a beautifully skewed romance and contain such a sharp edge of emotion that they appeal to audiences far beyond the young adults they are marketed towards.

Author Introduction- Barbara Ashford


I do so love talking with authors about what they do. Barbara Ashford’s first book, “Spellcast”, will be released May 3rd, and I managed to snag a few minutes of Barbara’s time so that she could introduce herself, as well as her upcoming book.

Barbara writes-

“I basically cannibalized my life to create Spellcast. Like my protagonist Maggie Graham, I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, began performing at an early age, continued acting in college, and – after a series of jobs in educational administration – ran away to the theatre.

I performed on the stages of opera houses and elementary school auditoriums, in theatres that had once been barns, churches, and used car showrooms. My days in summer stock inspired the world of the Crossroads Theatre, from the hectic schedule of rehearsing one show during the day and performing in another at night to details like the roadside grill – affectionately known as the Ptomaine Stand – where the actors grab lunch.

Like Maggie, I held down a series of jobs to pay the bills: retail store clerk, accounts receivable manager, merchandising director, and office temp. Like Maggie, I eventually landed at a not-for-profit organization that ran a telephone helpline. And like Maggie, I made enduring friendships during my summer stock days – and found love.

The fantastic elements in Spellcast are purely the product of my imagination, as is Maggie’s family life. But the rest of the novel comes as close to autobiography as I’m ever likely to write.”

Barbara can be visited at her website  www.Barbara-Ashford.com

Spellcast will be released May 3rd, and sounds like an absolutely beautiful blend of urban fantasy and a bit of romance (right up my alley!). I have dabbled enough in theater to know I am awful at it, but I adore reading books that take place with the stage or theater as the setting. There has always been something magical about theater for me- what better backdrop for a fantasy novel could there be?
“Maggie Graham is having a very bad day. First, she loses her job. Then her bathroom ceilingcollapses. Hoping a weekend getaway will restore her spirits, she drives to Vermont – and windsup auditioning for the Crossroads Theatre.

Director Rowan Mackenzie is even odder than the misfits who comprise the company. Whatkind of director casts people in the roles they need? And never leaves the grounds of the theatre?And possesses the power to transform a train wreck of a show into something…magical?

There’s a secret at the Crossroads, and Maggie is determined to uncover it. She never imaginesshe’ll discover secrets about her past that will change her life – and Rowan’s – forever.

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

She watched the husbands fall out of the tree and come for her sisters. Handsome birds that became humans as they hit the ground and came to the door to knock. She waited for a bird of her own, but as the years went by and no bird fell into a husband for her, Marya despaired of being bird-less forever. She sees the magic in the little things, the way her house, groaning and stretching to accommodate twelve families under the fiercely cooperative reign of Stalin, starts to grow under the careful hands of the house spirits. She sees the domoviye, attends one of their meetings, and learns that Papa Koschei is coming for her.

Koschei the Deathless, Tsar of Life, has chosen Marya to be his. He carries her off across the land in a car that runs with no driver, to a land where everything is living. Houses are made of skin that gathers gooseflesh in chill breezes and the fountains bubble up living blood instead of water. She enters a world of Life that is constantly at war with Death and changes ever so slowly and subtly from the bookish, odd girl who had watched birds fall to be husbands to a fierce woman who hunts firebirds for sport and keeps company with rifle imps and woodland spirits. And yet, Koschei does not marry her. Marya wants for nothing, her life is filled with every imaginable opulent pleasure, but that one thing. And that one thing is impossible without the permission of Koschei’s sister.

Baba Yaga, Koschei’s sister, gives Marya three impossible tasks. Should Marya complete them, Baba Yaga will give her blessing on the marriage. With the help of her closest companions, Marya struggles through the tasks, learning more about herself and her desired husband, and eventually gaining Koschei’s marriage vows.

But the Tsar of Death wriggles into their world and everything changes. There is a war going on, and the war is going badly.

Deathless tells two stories, one about revolutionary, communist Russia. The other the mystical world of the Tsar of Life and his endless war against the Tsar of Death. Both conflicts weave in and out of each other, coming to a collective crisis point that will leave a reader breathless in a mix of horror and anticipation. There were points where the reader is hard-pressed to decide which is the nightmare and which reality.

It is a brutal, bloody, and passionate book, filled with the oldest and best pieces of romance in all their stark beauty. Here is devotion that goes beyond death. Here is death that is inexorable and greedy and frighteningly patient.

Deathless is a beautiful book. It is historical, mythological, and one of the most wonderful romances I have ever read. Highly recommended.