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Regency England is divided into two worlds, that of the Ordinary that we are familiar with and the one of the Magi, filled with those who are graced with the gifts of the Gods. Persephone Fury is the youngest of a family graced with the gift of music, descendants of the man who originally pulled the Magi world from the Ordinary, to keep them safe. Apart from music that can twine through the soul, Persephone’s magic shifts and twists with shadows, something dark and unfamiliar, too strong and untamed for fine Magi society.
But in a time of unrest, when the old Magi king steps aside in favor of a regent and both lowborn rebels and court Magi frantically try to use the prophecies of Merlin to support their cause, perhaps something a bit dark, a bit wild, is exactly what is needed.
This Crumbling Pageant is an exhilarating blend of court politics, folklore, romance, and mystery- the threads all woven together into one expertly designed tapestry. Persephone is a balanced, intriguing, and honestly fun female protagonist. She is not the prettiest, she is not the tomboy stereotype, instead she is delightfully difficult to pin down and define. The whole Fury family breathes life into the setting, pulling the plot through its paces.
Burroughs has also given us an antagonist we can hate with abandon and a sense of evil that will have you keeping a light on in the evening.
This Crumbling Pageant has a bit of something for everyone. It is a brush of period fantasy with the trappings of a mystery/thriller, a bit of regency romance rolled in for a splash of color and a refreshing light flavor. It is a brilliantly unique and enthralling read. Highly recommended.
Alfred is a monk of St. Ruan’s Abbey- devoted to his Brothers and his God, a scholar of rare talent, and very much more than a man. A foundling, he was taken in and raised by the Abbey as one of their own, and while his colleagues have grown to old men, he remains no more than a youth.
The quiet Abbey life that Alfred clings to is pulled away from him as he is sent out to the world, carrying a message of violence to the Richard Coeur de Leon. Once out of the Abbey’s comforting walls, Alfred cannot help but acknowledge something other than human blood runs through his veins. His eerie beauty and otherworldly skills catch the eye of the Hounds of God, who swear to purge him and all others like him from the Church, as well as the world itself.
From the temperate north to the sweltering heat of the Crusades, the Hound and the Falcon trilogy is a magnificent journey. There is a beauty, an acknowledgement of the sublime, that swells through every page. Pausing and closing the book was like coming up for air, almost disorienting, definitely displeasing as I wanted nothing more than to keep reading. Rarely have I been touched so by a book, but there is something bare, brutal and honest to Alfred and his search for identity and meaning that I could not help but be moved.
All else, all grand crusading and conflict aside, it reaches down to the root of identity and poses questions there that inflict an almost sympathetic bout of introspection upon the reader. And it is perfect.
Ms. Tarr has woven a depth of history and cultural detail in her books that make the world breathe. The characters and settings are whole, believable, and obviously lovingly researched.
There is no way to decline a direct assignment from the Throne, so when Mal is ordered to be the bodyguard of the Skrayling Ambassador, the chief representative of a New World race he detests, he will have to work to get his feelings under control and learn to defend what he would rather avoid.
As he spends more time in Skrayling company, and grows oddly fond of the small, gentle Ambassador, Mal will have to work to juggle his duty to the crown, to the Skrayling, and to his own blood- and those interests are not always aligned.
It is no secret that alternate histories are a weakness of mine, and Alchemist of Souls preyed upon that weakness with gleeful aplomb. From seedy neighborhoods and seedier dungeons, to the back-stages and politics of the theater and into the lair of Walshingham himself, Alchemist of Souls slips between fascinating with an era long past, and condemning it.
Mal is a hero despite himself, and will appeal to readers fond of that sort of reluctant crossing from duty to conviction. He is by far the most developed of the book’s characters, some of the others fall a bit flat- more ideas than three dimensional individuals- but it is not hard to lose oneself in the story and gloss over the writing’s rougher edges. It is an enjoyable story and I look forward to reading more from the author.
Liam has a talent for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and in Ireland during the Troubles this can be a fatal affliction. Having done his time for crimes he did not commit, Liam is finally driven to taking a political stance by being unwilling to take anymore. He volunteers with the IRA to get a job to support his new wife and to gain some measure of control over his life.
But Liam has never met his birth father, and it seems the man left him more than anyone could have imagined. Something dark and violent lurks within Liam, something the IRA is happy to have, but something that no one, least of all Liam, is able to consistently control.
Of Blood and Honey is historical fiction at its finest, taking into account the rich myth of Ireland and weaving in just enough of that magic to turn the book to please fantasy fans. It is a painful, loving tribute to those who struggled through the worst part of the Troubles. It is a book about family, in all of its permutations.
Liam struggles through conflicts with his stepfather, his wife, the priest who has all but raised him, the family he finds in the other Volunteers, and learning the truth of his birth father and the lineage that was kept secret from him. It is often a violent book, set during a violent time, and the wonder is the little joys and loves the characters find along the way.
And in the background of it all, a secret Order of the Church is engaging in a war with the Fallen, which followed them to Ireland. But their world view does not allow for the acceptance of Ireland’s Fey creatures as entities apart from the Fallen of their religion, and Liam has been in precarious position since the moment he was born, and has never been aware of it.
Holtzclaw is a respectable man, trying to conduct respectable business and purchase properties in the valley of Auraria for his employer Shadburn. He does not know what Shadburn want’s the land for, but he has seen the man’s magic touch when it comes to turning purchases into profit. Unfortunately, Auraria is not a laid back lady ready to give up her land and citizens easily. It is an unruly valley, filled with fish that can be fished out of thick mist instead of water, moon maidens, ghosts, an ethereal princess, and gold. The entire valley is haunted by gold, the potential for the next big strike. Holtzclaw will need every trick in his book to convince landowners to sell, all the while trying to decide whether to hold onto what he knows is real and sane or to fall into the wonder that is Auraria.
Auraria is a bit of historical whimsy, facts folded so neatly into folklore that it is impossible to pry one from the other. I loved the almost off hand manner in which elements of the fantastic were described to the reader- they were presented as a fact of life for Auraria, nothing remarkable. And as a reader, that air became infectious. Even as Holtzclaw became accepting of ghosts and moderately sentient fruit, the reader is drawn along with him into the brilliant madness that is Auraria. It is a wonderful meld of history with folk culture, ghost stories, and tales told grandparent to grandchild on cold nights before a warm fire.
The story itself is a thoughtful move through conflicts of mundane and mystical, of belief and what drives us to do the things we do on a daily basis. It is about loyalty and love and the roots we have to our hometowns. For the historically minded, it is an original look at the tourism industry that drove resorts to pop up across the country like weeds. I spent much of my childhood in the Adirondacks, where my family has it’s roots, so reading Auraria was almost like visiting old neighbors. We didn’t have the drive for gold, but we had some of the same quirky characters and were in an area obsessed with attracting tourists.
Whether your are a fantasy reader, a fan of historical fiction, or just looking for something new and brilliantly unique to read, give Auraria a shot.
Sophie is a young girl who can do nothing to fill the shoes her mother has set out for her. Not that the shoes are a particularly good fit, but Sophie bows her head and takes her mother’s sharp comments in silence. When her mother has to move for schooling and work, Sophie spends a summer with her aunt and grandmother on what is left of the familial plantation in Louisiana. There she meets a mysterious, magical entity that sends her back in time. But Sophie quickly learns that adventure isn’t as grand as books generally make it seem, and that family has as much to do with emotion and experience as blood.
The Freedom Maze is an absolutely stunning book. I was honestly unable to pull myself away, needing to know how Sophie would survive her unexpected change in circumstance. Ms. Sherman obviously put an immense amount of time and love into researching for her story- the setting is heavy with life, the characters all effortlessly settle into a seamless whole. Unlike many books that deal with the issue of slavery in the South, The Freedom Maze is less concerned with the slavery itself, focusing instead on the people slavery made- how each side of the equation reacted and acted within the circumstance of their birth and skin color. Sophie is a unique entity, a young girl who when thrown into the past is mistaken for a mixed blood accident of an influential white male and a slave woman, not entirely because of her skin but because of her demeanor. She is so used to deferring to her mother it is impossible for her to pass as a young lady of proper birth in the past she finds herself in.
The book is about watching Sophie grow aware of, and grow out of, her self-imposed slavery. It is a beautiful book, and one everyone would benefit from reading.
The clockwork plague hits rich and poor alike, turning some into zombies covered in sores that hide from the sun and others into geniuses called Clockworkers before burning them out in fits of destructive madness. The balance of power between nations rests in the Clockworkers and the improbable and often deadly inventions they create before the plague finally takes them. Alice lost her mother and brother to the clockwork plague. Her father survived, but is an invalid. The daughter of a Baron, her chance at redeeming her family reputation was to marry into a good family- but her fiancee succumbed to the plague as well, thus securing her family’s fall from social grace. The debtors come calling, and still her father tries to establish a future for his daughter.
At a social gathering, her last hope, she catches the eye of a rich, unlanded man, and her title tempts him into courtship. Here, at last is all Alice could hope for.
At least in the mind of her failing father. But Alice is eccentric, having a brilliant mind for mechanics that she is trying to reconcile with the idea of being a traditional wife.
Gavin ruins it all- a young man from Boston with a daunting talent for music. He has survived air pirates and the streets of London only to be taken captive by a mysterious Lady in Red Velvet. Circumstance continues to throw Alice and Gavin together, and throw Alice’s attempt at a well ordered, traditional life into turmoil.
A fast paced mix of Victorian era romance and steampunk high adventure, The Doomsday Vault is a riot of zombies, secret organizations, sketchy politics, and mad scientists. I was utterly fascinated with the Clockwork Plague, even with my usual disdain for zombies. The zombies themselves were just different enough to keep them from being a tired rehash of old ideas, and were genuinely tragic entities. The Clockworkers though were the selling point of the book and the world. Mad scientists by disease, not natural inclination, creating things that were so improbable they were fascinating and enjoyable. They were forces of nature, more than anything else, and so wonderfully essential to the world build.
Alice was a fun take on the plucky urban fantasy heroine, and will appeal to fans of Gail Carriger’s Heartless books. I enjoy strong female characters so much more in the Victorian sort of setting- they come off as less abrasive, they tend to be avoid being written like they have something to prove. It is more of a sense that they are just trying to breathe around that damn corset, or to manage walking amidst all that cloth, and that is trouble enough, thank you.
All in all, a very enjoyable book and I look forward to the continuation of the series!
Led by prophecy, the directions of the witches that dwell beyond the Troll Wall, viking King Authun raids a monastery not for riches but for a boy child, a child stolen from the gods. Instead Authun find twins. He takes both, leaving one with the witches, taking the other to claim as his heir.
Vali is fostered away from Anthun, promised to wed another Viking King’s daughter, but has eyes only for a farmers’s daughter named Adisla. Feileg is raised in the wilds, more wolf than man, a far cry from his brother’s royal upbringing, and is shown a rare bit of sympathy and affection by Adisla when he is captured. Adisla is the thread that ties them together and drives them towards their fate. For they are pawns in the scheming of the gods, and the gods fight for keeps.
Wolfangel is thick with old world magic- shamans and witches, runes and drums and terrifying ritual. It’s fantasy elements seem perfectly rooted into the historical and are more mythological than fantastical. It keeps the book believable. Even as gods and witches are fighting it out in the background, the main story is one of love as both brothers work to save Adisla. It is a love story set against the backdrop of an ancient Norse society- harsh, often beautiful, and utterly enthralling in its ferocity. Eerie and atmospheric, albeit violent, it is not a book for the faint of heart. It takes the Norse warrior spirit into account and may characters are sent to feast in Valhalla.
Eff is a Thirteenth Child, and while she has more or less overcome the assumption she is an avatar of misfortune as a result, she is still working at smoothing out her magical talents. As she finishes up her schooling as a child her brother Lan, a fortuitous seventh son of a seventh son, urges her to consider higher schooling in the east. But Eff’s attention turns ever westward, to the wild lands beyond the barrier. She takes on a position as assistant to the menagerie attached to the school she just graduated from, and from there, is brought along on a survey expedition through the lands unprotected by the barrier. As the survey stumbles upon magical animals in places they should not be as well as a puzzling collection of what look to be petrified animals, Lan’s schooling comes to a stop in a horrifying tragedy.
Across the Great Barrier is the second book in the Frontier Magic series, and is a fascinating mix of Little House on the Prairie and Harry Potter. I am particularly fond of magic being used for mundane things, so the way Wrede has written magic being utilized by folks trying to make their way on the frontier pulled in my attention, and the edge of danger that life style and the world Wrede has built with its steam dragons, mirror bugs, and Columbian Sphinxes kept me frantically turning pages long past when I should have been sleeping. Beyond that, everything I can ever remember enjoying about being a child is represented, in some way, in these books. The little experiences and triumphs, even the flat failures and disappointments- things I can, as an adult look back at with a crooked grin. These are books shelved in the children’s section, but are by no means books just for kids.
Enjoyable, fun, highly recommended.
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.