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Yearly Archives: 2011

Hounded by Kevin Hearne

I remember being skeptical when I picked up “Hounded”. I didn’t remain that way for too long. Hearne gets major kudos for doing something that most of the urban fantasy genre misses- he takes a powerful character, inserts reasonable limits to that power, and then throws something strong enough at the character to cause actual danger and a sense of tension. And then there is an Irish Wolfhound that would very much like to be Genghis Khan. Instead of being horrifyingly corny it was almost…endearing. Atticus, the owner of said Wolfhound also retains werewolves and an ancient vampire as his legal counsel. The usual urban fantasy tropes have been jiggled around a bit and the new arrangement keeps them interesting to an avid reader of the genre.

“Hounded” is rotten with gods. The Morrigan has a sketchy deal with our protagonist, who happens to have stolen a sword that Aenghus Og is determined to get back. Atticus, a very old druid with the Old World powers that station grant him, makes a fitting opponent for divine familial squabbling and territorial disputes. He is not as overpowered as the back of the book makes him sound- druids are limited to their contact with the earth so to use the bulk of his powers he needs to hunt down patches of earth in this modern world and press skin against it. Not as easy as it may sound when the bad guys rarely think to attack someplace convenient like the city park.

There is a wonderfully skewed bit of divine politicking that makes the whole book tick, and I found myself turning pages with delighted haste, determined to find out what happens next.

The Falling Machine by Andrew Mayer

Sarah Stanton is the daughter of the Industrialist, one of the founding members of the Society of Paragons- a group of gentlemen adventurers who police New York City. Having grown up surrounded by the exploits and inventions of the Paragons Sarah has the mind and motivation to be an adventurer herself, if it weren’t for her protective father. And the at times overwhelming obstacle of her gender. She is a strong, outgoing female without seeming out of place in her setting- an unconventional woman having grown up in a very unconventional household. Her mother died when she was very young, leaving her to be raised by her wealthy father (who was busy between running his business empire and moonlighting as the Industrialist). While Sarah and her father are often in conflict with each other, there are moments throughout the book where we see how much they love each other, and it keeps the relationship from settling into the designation of being just another plot device.

From the opening, it becomes apparent that there is a traitor within the Paragons. As the deaths and disasters start to pile up, Sarah joins forces with the fascinating mechanical man known as the Automaton in an attempt expose the conspiracy. The Automaton, once a Paragon himself, charged with murder and betrayal and considered nothing more than a rogue weapon to be destroyed, will be stretched thin as he tries to defend those who are intent on destroying him, and get revenge for the death of his creator.

The Falling Machine is set in a Victorian New York City, and between the Paragons and the villains that oppose them, is peopled with characters reminiscent of the Gold Age of Comics. It is a fast, fun read. I was very fond of the old themed style of villains and heroes, and the Automaton (or Tom, as his friends call him) is a fabulous character. I was also very fond of the Sleuth, one of the Paragons and ally to both Tom and Sarah, with his habit of endless inquiry and his ever-present notebook.

There are loose ends, and the book ends rather abruptly as it sets up for the second book in the series. I can understand why the book ended when it did, but there were enough questions still hanging in the air that I worry I will lose those threads by the time book two is released. That being said, I do look forward to reading more.

Wolf at the Door by J. Damask

Wolf at the Door opens with the return of Jan Xu’s sister, Marianne, who has been abroad studying law. There was conflict between the sisters when Marianne left, and that conflict has survived their years apart. Marianne brings with her a boyfriend who is more, and less, than he seems, and he settles into day to day life with alarming ease. Jan Xu will need to fight fiercely to protect her pack, her territory, and her friends…while trying to figure out exactly what she is protecting them against.

I had three main thoughts as I was reading Wolf at the Door.

One- This is some of the most elegant prose I have ever run across

Two- This has taken an urban fantasy element I was completely done with, the werewolf, and turned it into something feral and fierce and perfect.

Three- How hard is it going to be to beg more of this from the author?

For the first thought- Wolf at the Door reads like poetry, without running into the structure issues that plague some of the more experimental prose-aware writing out there. It always adds something to a book for me when I can enjoy the writing as much as the story itself. It didn’t feel forced- this was some innately talented word-smithing. Beyond the form itself, the writing style lends itself rather perfectly to the setting and story. It all just works. The rich setting, the regal characters, the elegant prose. It all weaves together into a wonderful whole.

For the second thought, and this is the very important one, I started reading expecting werewolves. Wow, was I wrong. Wolf at the Door takes the reader back to the stories of Animal People. The characters aren’t humans who happen to turn into wolves, or even wolves that turn into people. They are just wolves. Wolves adapting and adjusting to the modern age to ensure their survival. That having been understood, it makes all of the other myths and legends casually wandering through the book seem so much more fitting. This isn’t quite urban fantasy as we have all grown to understand it- this is something more primal. And it has made me interested again in the wolf aspect of the genre, no small feat in itself. If, like me, you have read far too many urban fantasies with werewolves thrown in, and have grown tired of the concept, please do pick up this book. It revitalizes the concept.

For the third thought, and this is the one that is hard for me to admit as I have a strong and vocal love of stand-alone novels in a genre riddled with endless epics, I want more. Granted, the book stands well as a novel. It works. But…I am enthralled by the characters, the setting, the idea itself, and I want to read more. I want to get caught up in the culture of the Lang, to spend more time with Jan Xu and her friends, and that is the greatest compliment I can pay the book.

For the little things- if you like your prose nice and linear, you may struggle a bit as Jan Xu moves through things that have happened previously in a way that alternates between daydream and night terror. Her past colors the events of the present, and every now and then the line between what is happening and what she is remembering is a bit hazy. The first time it happened, I was a bit thrown off as a reader, but it settles in and starts to make sense as you move through the book. It is also a short book. Short, but very satisfying.

All said, it is a beautifully crafted book that is so different from anything else I have run into in the urban fantasy genre I cannot recommend it highly enough. The world of the Lang is a fascinating and frightening place. I hope you choose to wander through!

Wolf at the Door will be released April 4th through Lyrical Press, and will be in eBook format.

Wolf at the Door by J. Damask

The wonderful thing about reviewing books is you often get to have fascinating conversations with authors. I am especially fond of getting in touch with newer authors to talk about their work and see what I can do to signal boost their releases. I was fortunate enough to run into Ms. Damask and merrily subjected her to a handful of questions.

Me– What has it been like, trying to publish an urban fantasy book in Singapore? What sorts of walls did you run into?
J. Damask- Brick wall. Singaporean publishers are more fixated on things that sell: recipe books, self-help books, poetry books and children’s books. Add in horror – Singaporeans seem to like local horror. As for SF/F, nadah. I ended up publishing out of Singapore. I would say that there are many walls. Cultural wall and wall of ignorance. Not sure how we are going to change that – there are small presses/publishers who dare to publish genre fiction… but they are catering to a niche market.

MeYou have produced a good number of short stories, and now a novel, since having your daughters. How hard is it to find some good ‘writing time’ with children?
J. Damask- Very hard, especially when my girls are still young, my youngest being just one plus. They want my attention all the time. But I write at night, when they are in bed. It’s do or do not, as Yoda would day. In this case, I do – I make the decision to write at night (or when I have some free time).
MeTell us about the World of the Lang
J. Damask- The Lang are Chinese wolves. They are Chinese and wolves. Their world is interwoven with Chinese traditions and traditions of the hunt. They celebrate all the lunar festivals as well as honoring their wolf nature. On the surface, they look like any ordinary Singaporean Chinese – but wolf hearts beat beneath their skin. The wolves co-exist with the humans, like two worlds intersecting. They are organized in family clans or packs. 
Me– Tell us a bit about Jan Xu. How does Marianne fit into the picture?
J. Damask- Jan Xu belongs to one of the major wolf packs in Singapore. She is a bit of an anomaly in urban fantasy – she is married with two kids, juggling the roles of wife, daughter and wolf.
Marianne is her younger sister. As we know, there are always problems between sisters.

Me– What books or authors have influenced you the most? Are there any books you have utterly worn out from reading?
J. Damask- Anne McCaffrey, Robert Heinlein, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Octavia Butler, Charles de Lint … to name a few. Books I find myself going to back and back again are The Mists of Avalon and Forests of the Heart.
Me– Who is your favorite lycanthrope/shifter?
J. Damask- I would guess Lady Hawk. Oz from Buffy is a geeky werewolf. The black werewolf in Van Helsing. 😉

Wolf At the Door will be released Monday, April 4th, through Lyrical Press in digital format (.epub, .pdf, .lit, .prc)

The official book blurb-

“Being an ex-teen vigilante comes with its own set of problems.

Housewife, ex-teen vigilante…and shape-shifting wolf…Jan Xu has enough problems without adding her sister’s to the mix. Marianne is returning to Singapore and she’s filled with strange ideas. She’s also not alone. She’s coming home with a new boyfriend who has a dark agenda of his own.

With sibling rivalry threatening the inevitable: a battle-to-the-death with fang and claw, Jan and Marianne must overcome their issues if they’re ever going to find peace within their troubled relationship.”

Be sure to check out J. Damask’s blog for more updates and information about the book and her other writings!

Erekos by A.M. Tuomala

I can happily say I have never read a book quite like this. It unfolds as each page is turned, pulling you further in with every new paragraph. You aren’t introduced to people and places, you are immersed in them.

This is a fantasy for those who like their books with a more literary feel. This is not the classic epic story style, and part of the book’s elegance comes from this deviation. What first appears as meandering between people and places weaves together a  fascinating, horrifying world peopled with flawed, wonderful individuals. Gods walk amidst mortals, swamp witches raise the dead, and a war is pulling at the seams of civilization.

Achane has always taken care of her sister, and even after her sister’s death, is determined to make things right. She raises her sister from the dead, but the results were not as anticipated. And her actions catch the eye of a worn king who thinks he may have discovered the way to turn the tide of war in his favor…

This is an author who has a definite way with weaving lush, beautiful pictures with deceptively unhurried prose. I am looking forward to reading more in the future! If you are looking for something  wonderfully different to read, give Erekos a try.

CryoBurn by Lois McMaster Bujold

Every now and then I somehow forget how much I love the character of Miles Vorkosigan. The wonderful thing is this never lasts for long.

Cryoburn was an unexpected present. I knew it was out, and I knew I was going to enjoy it just as much as the rest of the series, but seeing as I picked up The Warrior’s Apprentice back when I was just starting high school it was more like getting back in touch with an old friend then reading another book in a series. I grew up, in all the important adult decisions sort of way, on this fellow. I may not have accidentally ended up owning a mercenary fleet, but there were experience parallels.

I didn’t know what to expect from Cryoburn. So much has happened and changed throughout the series. What I read was perfect. It is quintessential Miles- manic and brilliant. There are kidnappings, misplaced bodies, dirty politics and sketchy economics. The whole of the book may have taken place planet-side, but as with everything that involves Miles, it feels so much bigger. And the ending was executed flawlessly. I am ever fascinated with a series that manages to come to a natural end. Cryoburn settles everything- not neat and tied with a bow- but there is enough resolution that when I finished the last page I was utterly content with how things were.

Now, I need to go grab my copy of Shards of Honor and merrily start the annual reread.

After Hours: Tales From the Ur-Bar edited by Josh Palmatier and Patricia Bray

Imagine an eternal bar managed by Gilgamesh himself. It has existed everywhere and when, and always has exactly what its patrons need on tap (which sometimes differs from what they think they want). What started as an idea a group of authors came up with while in their cups translated magnificently into a collection that is the perfect combination of humorous and haunting. Each story has something new to offer- a bit of insight, a cunning use of Gil and his bar- and they all come together to build a beautiful look at humanity as a whole, the good and the bad. Snatches of life from a barkeeps eyes, without all of the cliché. It was a fun, often surprising, read from a very talented group of authors.

Benjamin Tate sets the scene in his “An Alewife in Kish”. Here we meet Gilgamesh, and find out how exactly he came into possession of the bar. Immortality always come with a price and bargains seldom are without a catch.

S.C. Butler lays out just “Why the Vikings Had No Bars”. Odin sees an opportunity to gather a good handful of warriors in Gil’s bar. Drinking and hailing and berserking ensues.

Jennifer Dunne reminds the reader of the dangers in dealing with Gods in “The Emperor’s New God”. Mars is not a deity to be trifled with.

“The Tale that Wagged the Dog”, by Barbara Ashford, is a brilliant look at Tam Lin and his selkie lover. I would suggest not drinking while reading this one. The biting humor will most likely lead to choking.

Maria V. Snyder writes a darker tale about a woman’s place in Japanese society in “Sake and Other Spirits”.

In “The Fortune-teller Makes Her Will” Kari Sperring moves us to 17th Century Paris and weaves a haunting story involving an innocent young girl who speaks with the voices of angels and the Poisons Affair.

“The Tavern Fire”, by D.B. Jackson gives us a possible explanation for the fire that started at Boston’s Brazen Head tavern in 1760, and its lack of casualties.

Patricia Bray reflects on the dangers of unicorn vomit as well as how rough a life of hunting the supernatural actually is in her story “Last Call”.

In Seanan McGuire’s “Alchemy of Alcohol” we meet the King of Summer and his Lady and their very unique problem.

“The Grand Tour” by Juliet E. McKenna walks the reader through the tensions of pre-World War Europe, through the eyes of two youths who experience the worst and the best strangers have to offer.

Dreams of glory are not all that they seem in “Paris 24” by Laura Anne Gilman.

“Steady Hands and a Heart of Oak” by Ian Tregillis looks at a talented sapper in WWII London and his drive for recognition (and penchant for womanizing).

“Forbidden” by Avery Shade is an eerie look at the 1980’s from a far future point of view.

In “Where We Are Is Hell”  Jackie Kessler somehow managed to roll a story about loss and redemption into a couple thousand words without leaving anything out. (And managing a very ‘Lady or the Tiger’- style ending.)

Anton Strout winds up the anthology with “Izdu-Bar”- a cunning combination of alcohol and zombies.

Ventriloquism by Catherynne M. Valente

“But I am telling this story, and the honor of refracting the angle of the reader’s vision is mine and mine alone.” –Secret History of Mirrors, from Ventriloquism by Catherynne M. Valente.

It is Valente’s unique perspective that makes this book stand out. Each story sings with startling individuality and makes the reader take notice and really read.

Ventriloquism is an eerie and beautiful read, an effortless melding of the familiar and the strange into something that is alluring and horrifying and impossible to put down. It is an exultation of words and images- weaving stories with sensation and emotion, raising goosebumps and heart rates.

It would be impossible to pick out favorites, but the strongest pieces were the ones that crept up on the reader, revealing something familiar from the core of something strange and catching the reader breathless and surprised. Valente has a way of taking rather worn out fairy tales and images and coaxing from them something so new that the original is made stronger as a result. There are beautiful and horrifying relatives to Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White… Valente touches upon some of the most beautiful and quiet mythologies and breathes life into them.

If you find yourself reveling in the way a story sounds, tastes, and feels as you read, this is most definitely the book for you. The words aren’t just written to form the stories, they are the integral pieces of the puzzle and every one of them is carefully chosen and important.

PS Publishing

Subterranean Press