The Lady of the Rivers: The protagonist lacks the magic of her ancestors

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

The Lady of the Rivers (2011) begins with the capture of a young French maiden. She wears a man's cap and breeches, and tells her captors that she is following the voices of angels. When our narrator, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, calls her Joan, it quickly becomes apparent that Gregory has opened her novel with the capture of the legendary Joan of Arc. Moments in history don't come much more momentous than this one, and it marks the first trial Jacquetta must overcome, in era full of intrigue, alchemy and political suspense.

Dramatic as the opening is, therein lies its problem: Jacquetta merely plays witness to the greater moments of history, and her role of passive observer continues throughout the novel. Whilst Joan of Arc awaits trial in a fifteen-year-old Jacquetta's household, she reads Joan's cards. Jacquetta is descended from Melusina, the water goddess, and i... Read More

The Night Eternal: Disappointing conclusion to del Toro’s STRAIN TRILOGY

The Night Eternal by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

The Night Eternal is the finale to Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's THE STRAIN trilogy and I found it simply… inconsistent. I enjoyed the conclusion to the mythology which includes the genesis of the strain itself, but I was disappointed in the conclusions to the various plot threads. This review will contain some mild spoilers for the ending of The Fall.

The dark and serious mythology really drove the first two books, followed closely by development of the characters. While the myth drove my excitement to finish the trilogy, the flat characterizations in The Night Eternal made it more of a chore. Something was lost at the conclusion of The Fall following the death of a key character and the vampire-napping of Ephr... Read More

The Magician’s Land: A big and beautiful finish

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

The Magician's Land, by Lev Grossman, is a superb finish to what is one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. I read it elated, skin tingling and brain buzzing, savoring every word to make it last longer. When I finished, I wanted to read it again immediately. And yet, I also finished the book feeling a persistent ambivalence about the conclusion Grossman has created for his characters.

In The Magician's Land, Quentin Coldwater, the protagonist, has grown up; he's thirty now, twelve years older than when we first met him in The Magicians. Having been ejected from Fillory, the magical land of his childhood dreams, he is now a junior professor at his old school, Brakebills, and has found his specialty: mending small things. In all ways his life ... Read More

Hexes and Hemlines: Comfy cozy

Hexes and Hemlines by Juliet Blackwell

Lily Ivory has only been in San Francisco for a couple of months, but she’s starting to feel like it’s home. She’s made friends with some fellow shopkeepers on Haight Street, a few local journalists, a cute cop who respects her paranormal talents, and some other quirky folks. Lily’s vintage clothing business has taken off, too, because she’s got a knack for choosing just the right clothes for each of her customers.

At the beginning of Hexes and Hemlines, the third book in Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERY series, the cute cop asks for Lily’s expertise examining a murder scene. The leader of a skeptics society has been found dead in his home with all sorts of unlucky symbols — black cat, ladder, broken mirror, etc. It seems that the bad luck he didn’t believe in has caught up with him. Lily is dismayed to discover that one of the main suspects is her new friend... Read More

Infinity: Emotionally moving

Infinity by Rachel Ward

Infinity, by Rachel Ward, concludes the series that began with Numbers and peaked in The Chaos. It’s a few years after the apocalypse that devastated England in that second book. Adam and Sarah are living a nomadic lifestyle with Sarah’s two younger brothers and her daughter Mia. Adam isn’t comfortable around people because of his special ability and easily recognizable face, but Sarah is pregnant again and would really like to settle down.

As this conflict arises between the two, an external threat appears. Infinity takes a dystopian tone; men from the government want to use Adam’s power for the rebuilding effort, and they are not inclined to take no for an answer.

Infinity is a slim novel with only one major conflict, and feels kind of like a “bonus novella” rather than a full installment in the series, but it does give satisfactory cl... Read More

Kalimpura: Frustrating close to frustrating series

Kalimpura by Jay Lake

Kalimpura is the third and supposedly concluding book in Jay Lake’s series about Green, the young girl who becomes enmeshed in both worldly and godly politics, much to her dismay. I had lots of issues with the first book, Green, fewer but still some issues with the follow-up, Endurance, and I have to say that Kalimpura, while better than Green, didn’t wrap up the series in any way that would have me recommend readers pick up the trilogy.

Kalimpura picks up soon after Green has given birth to twins, a son and daughter. Still unresolved from Endurance is the fate of the two girls stolen away and taken to Green’s homeland city of Kalimpura. After several attacks in Copper Downs, and attempts by Green to resolve her standing issues with the gods of that city, including Divine and Blackblood, Green takes ship with a small group of allies... Read More

Barry’s Tale: Gentle humor in a strong novella

Barry’s Tale by Lawrence M. Schoen

Barry’s Tale, a novella which has been nominated for this year's Nebula Award, appears in Buffalito Buffet, one of a number of collections written by Lawrence M. Schoen regarding The Amazing Conroy and his buffalito, Reggie. And that calls for an explanation, doesn’t it? “The Amazing Conroy” is man who formerly made his living as a stage hypnotist, but who, at the time of this story, has a nascent business marketing buffalitos, alien creatures that look like miniature buffaloes  but are as cuddly as puppies and will eat literally anything. (Ball bearings are a particularly favorite treat.)

As this novella opens, Conroy has traveled to Colson’s World, a watery planet with a single, relatively small landmass. It was discovered by Amadeus Colson, a famously rich man and recluse. Colson has lived on the planet for more... Read More

Grail of the Summer Stars: An inventive fantasy world that intersects with our own

Grail of the Summer Stars by Freda Warrington

Grail of the Summer Stars is the third in Freda Warrington’s AETHERIAL TALES series, following Elfland and Midsummer Night. Each novel can stand alone, though they have some overlapping plotlines and characters, such that each novel will be more meaningful and resonant if you’ve read the others. Grail of the Summer Stars has more overlapping elements than either of the two previous books and is connected more strongly to each of them than they are to each other.

Warrington introduces us to Stevie Silverwood, a metalworking artist and museum curator who has always been a little odd, seeing things no one else could see — and whose past before age 15 is a mystery even to herself. Her quiet life is disrupted when her old college sweetheart, Daniel, sends her a triptych of fantastic paintings along with a cryptic note, and goes missin... Read More

I Don’t Want to Kill You: Wells has created a fascinating character

I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells

I Don’t Want to Kill You is the final book in Dan Wells’s JOHN CLEAVER trilogy. It’s a powerful conclusion, sad, brutal, humorous and loving all at the same time. Wells has done a fine job of writing three books that can stand each stand on their own, but which together make a powerful coming-of-age story.

John Cleaver is 16 or 17, and in some ways a typical teenager; he eats huge bowls of cereal, goes to high school, argues with his mother. But John is a sociopath, and he wants very much to be a serial killer. It’s an urge he fights as hard as he can, and so far, at least, he’s not killed anyone human. But he has killed a few demons. At the end of the second book in the trilogy, Mr. Monster (reviewed here), John challenged a demon he called Nobody... Read More

The Daylight War: Breeeeeeeeeetttt!

The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

OK, here’s the thing about The Daylight War, Peter Brett’s third book of the DEMON CYCLE, following The Warded Man and The Desert Spear. I really, really want to say, Don’t Read This Book. Honestly. No sarcasm. No humor. That’s my first instinct. Because it’s bad? No. Because it disappoints in comparison to the first two, each of which I’ve given 4.5 stars to? No. No, the reason my first instinct is to say don’t read it is simple — because you’re going to want to read Book Four immediately. And at this point, there is no Book Four. The bastard. Now, if you happen to be reading this review a year or so after The Daylight War came out, and there is an existent Book Four, then ignore what I just said. But until that point, don’t read this book. At least, don’t read this book if you don’t want to read a really good book that continues... Read More

Aloha From Hell: Lucifer might be the best CEO ever

Aloha From Hell by Richard Kadrey
“I have to laugh. There isn’t much else to do. Go down into the deepest darkest parts of Hell, and you’ll see what I mean. They laugh all the time down there.”
Aloha From Hell is Richard Kadrey’s third SANDMAN SLIM novel. Jim Stark was betrayed by a fellow magician and dragged alive into Hell. Eleven years as an arena fighter for audiences of Hellions and fallen angels did not improve Stark’s attitude, and when he clawed his way out of Hell, he had some unfinished business with Mason, his betrayer.

Dealing with Mason is at the top of Stark’s to-do list, but in Sandman Slim and Kill the Dead, various things like world-destroying anti-angels and a zombie apocalypse distracted him. Stark did manage to send Mason to Hell. This might not have been a good choice, since Lucifer had gone ... Read More

WWW: Wonder: Ties up the story nicely

WWW: Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer

WWW: Wonder is the third and final book in Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW trilogy. It continues the story of visually challenged Caitlin Decter and the self aware web-based intelligence that she has named Webmind. Caitlin and Webmind struggle to deal with the sudden attention Webmind’s emergence has brought on them all. Caitlin believes that Webmind is a benevolent entity, but the government considers it a threat and wants to eradicate it. There are a couple of other subplots that come to together in WWW: Wonder, but the story mostly revolves around the few key characters.

Similar to the previous books, Wake and Watch, Wonder tackles the philosophical themes of self identity, personal responsibility, and the greater good. The message... Read More

Shadow City: Not as enjoyable as Crimson Wind

Shadow City by Diana Pharaoh Francis

At the end of Crimson Wind, Max gave herself up to the demigod Scooter to save Horngate. In Shadow City, the third HORNGATE WITCHES novel, we find out what Scooter needs Max for, and also what happens at Horngate while she’s gone. Diana Pharaoh Francis has split the narrative into two points of view from the beginning: Max’s and that of her maybe-lover, Alexander. This split enables her to show both storylines in alternating chapters. Unfortunately, one of these storylines is much more riveting than the other.

Alexander’s chapters deal with life at Horngate after Max’s disappearance. Alexander has some self-pity to overcome but is soon thrust into a leadership role when a Fury threatens the covenstead. This is a direct result of an atrocity that happened in Bitter ... Read More

Fate’s Edge: What more could you want?

Fate's Edge by Ilona Andrews

Fate's Edge is the third in the EDGE series by husband-and-wife duo Ilona Andrews. While the EDGE books feature recurring characters and plot threads and can all be categorized as paranormal romance, each book so far has a different "feel." On the Edge was a fairy tale; Bayou Moon, with the dark mad-science secrets at its heart, had something of the Gothic about it. Fate's Edge is a caper story. Sure, the protagonists have some personal demons to face, but for the most part the book is sheer rollicking fun.

The hero is Kaldar Mar, whom we met in Bayou Moon as Cerise's cousin, a gambler and something of a con artist. The heroine is Audrey Callahan, herself an accomplished thief and grifter. She's about to leave behind her lif... Read More

The Third Section: Weaker, works well as a bridge novel

The Third Section by Jasper Kent

PLOT SUMMARY: Russia, 1855.  After forty years of peace in Europe, war rages. In the Crimea, the city of Sevastopol is besieged. In the north, Saint Petersburg is blockaded. But in Moscow there is one who needs only to sit and wait — wait for the death of an aging tsar, and for the curse upon his blood to be passed to a new generation.

As their country grows weaker, a man and a woman — unaware of the hidden ties that bind them — must come to terms with their shared legacy. In Moscow, Tamara Valentinovna Komarova uncovers a brutal murder. It seems this is not the first killing of its kind, but the most recent in a sequence of similar murders that have been committed since 1812.

And in Sevastopol, Dmitry Alekseevich Danilov faces not only the guns of the combined armies of Britain and France, but must also make a stand against creatures that his father had thought buried beneath... Read More

Naamah’s Blessing: As always, Carey sweeps us away

Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel and Naamah books have become comfort reads for me. When I open up one of these novels, I always know I’ll find beautiful writing and a world I enjoy returning to again and again. A world where love in all its forms — not just romantic or sexual — can defeat evil and change the course of history. Naamah’s Blessing, the final installment of the trilogy about Moirin mac Fainche, is no exception.

After their adventures in Bhodistan, Moirin and Bao are returning to Terre d’Ange as a married couple. There they find King Daniel a shell of his former self and the little princess Desirée lonely and neglected. Moirin devotes herself to turning Desirée’s life around. Then the companions of Prince Thierry re... Read More

Goliath: The thrilling conclusion to the trilogy

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

Goliath is the concluding third book in Scott Westerfeld’s LEVIATHAN trilogy (imagine that — a trilogy with only three books) and it brings a wonderfully entertaining YA steampunk/alternate WWI series to a suitably strong close. I won’t bother recapping the world or background since you really need to read books one and two first, so read my review of Leviathan (above) to catch up on the backstory if you’d like.

Goliath picks up shortly after the events of Behemoth, with the British airship Leviathan cruising over the frozen waste of Siberia, having been diverted there on a top-secret rescue mission. Our two heroes — airman Dylan/Deryn Sharp (recall she’s masquerading as a boy) and heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Al... Read More

Twice Bitten: Can’t wait to start the next book

Twice Bitten by Chloe Neill

Vampire troubles have been all over the news in the last few months. Now the shapeshifters, still in the closet, are debating whether to stay where they currently are and help defend the vamps against possible persecution, or retreat to their lands in Alaska. Gabriel, their leader, doesn’t expect this to be a battle of words alone, and so Merit and Ethan are working as his bodyguards.

Violence does erupt, and Merit learns of a planned hit on Gabriel. Now she must ferret out who is plotting against him and stop the assassination. Along the way, she has to deal with shifters’ prejudice against vamps and vice versa.

Meanwhile, Merit’s relationship with Ethan takes a few steps forward… and a few steps backward. The “downs” are made extra poignant by the fact that Merit is so normal. Her heartache is something almost all of us can relate to, and I love the way she held her... Read More

Gods & Monsters: Another strong entry

Gods & Monsters by Lyn Benedict

A subplot in Ghosts & Echoes involved Sylvie and a werewolf, Tatya, looking into the disappearance of a young woman in the Everglades. Lyn Benedict picks that thread back up at the beginning of Gods & Monsters. The woman has been found dead in the swamps, along with four others. Sylvie doesn’t want to get personally involved in this case, so she calls the police — but when the police move the bodies, one explodes into flame and the other four shift into animals. Three policemen are killed and some injured, including Adelio Suarez, a cop with whom Sylvie has an uneasy alliance. Now she’s involved whether she wants to be or not.

A many-layered plot unfolds, featuring a sorcerer with a diabolical scheme and a god trying to re-awaken. Sylvie has to piece together what’s going on and how the women are involved, all t... Read More

The Neon Court: All the things I love about the Swift books

The Neon Court by Kate Griffin

The Neon Court, Kate Griffin’s third Matthew Swift novel, starts out with high drama as Matthew, urban sorcerer and Midnight Mayor of London, abruptly materializes on the top floor of a burning building. Oda, a member of the fundamentalist, magic-hating Order, has used a summoning spell to bring him there. This is enough, in her belief system, to damn her soul. Oda is dying, or at least, she should be, since she has been stabbed through the heart and is weeping tears of blood, but she is still surprisingly animated, and she needs Matthew’s help, although he doesn’t understand what she is asking.

It takes Matthew’s magic to deliver them from the flaming tower, and then things really get bad. The Neon Court, the urban incarnation of the Realm of Faerie, has come to town to declar... Read More

The King of Plagues: Back to the original Joe Ledger forumula

The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry

PLOT SUMMARY: Saturday 09:11 Hours: A blast rocks a London hospital and thousands are dead or injured… 10:09 Hours: Joe Ledger arrives on scene to investigate. The horror is unlike anything he has ever seen. Compelled by grief and rage, Joe rejoins the DMS and within hours is attacked by a hit-team of assassins and sent on a suicide mission into a viral hot zone during an Ebola outbreak.

Soon Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences begin tearing down the veils of deception to uncover a vast and powerful secret society using weaponized versions of the Ten Plagues of Egypt to destabilize world economies and profit from the resulting chaos. Millions will die unless Joe Ledger meets this powerful new enemy on its own terms as he fights terror with terror...

CLASSIFICATION: If Patient Zero was like James Rollins’ Sigma Force Read More

Hidden Cities: Final volume lacks closure

Hidden Cities by Daniel Fox

PLOT SUMMARY: Whatever they thought, this was always where they were going: to the belly of the dragon, or the belly of the sea.

More by chance than good judgment, the young emperor has won his first battle. The rebels have retreated from the coastal city of Santung — but they’ll be back. Distracted by his pregnant concubine, the emperor sends a distrusted aide, Ping Wen, to govern Santung in his place. There, the treacherous general will discover the healer Tien, who is obsessed with a library of sacred mage texts and the secrets concealed within — secrets upon which, Ping Wen quickly realizes, the fate of the whole war may turn.

As all sides of this seething conflict prepare for more butchery, a miner of magical jade, himself invulnerable, desperately tries to save his beautiful and yet brutally scarred clan cousin; a priestess loses her children, who are taken as pawns i... Read More

Serpent’s Storm: This series is getting more serious

Serpent’s Storm by Amber Benson

Calliope Reaper-Jones’s life takes a turn for the grim in Serpent’s Storm, the third book in Amber Benson’s series about the daughter of Death. These books have always featured some serious content, and Serpent’s Storm still contains some humor, but overall this is the most serious Calliope book so far.

The beginning is a little annoying, with Callie in full-on flippant mode, bored with her boyfriend Daniel for a rather obnoxious reason. It isn’t long, though, before Callie’s life is irrevocably shaken up. Benson yanks most of Callie’s “security blankets” away in a cascade of tragedies and betrayals. Callie now has to take on great responsibilities while trying to figure out who is on her side and who is a secret enemy.

The character... Read More

Mercy Blade: I’m a little disappointed

Mercy Blade by Faith Hunter

Jane Yellowrock and her new boyfriend, Rick, are enjoying a brief respite from supernatural mayhem, staying at Jane’s residence in the Appalachians as they pack her belongings for a more long-term stay in New Orleans. Their peace is disrupted by an early morning news report that reveals the existence of werecats. As the story travels around the world, werewolves come out of the closet too, and one alpha werewolf appears on national television to accuse Jane’s boss, Leo Pellissier, of a long-ago murder.

Naturally, this means Jane is called back to New Orleans to help Leo with damage control. Rick’s work is back in full swing, too. He’s on an undercover mission that keeps him from communicating with Jane much at all during the book.

There are a ton of things going on here. At times I was confused by all the plotlines that were hitting the fan. It’s not just that I couldn’t guess... Read More

The Wolf Age: Loyalty in a harsh world

The Wolf Age by James Enge

One of the challenges of having read a fair amount of fantasy is that I find myself comparing the novels I’ve read. I look for similarities between books, characters and storylines. James Enge's The Wolf Age is built around the anti-hero who rebels against the existing order, a well used archetype. Fortunately, Enge still manages to put his story together in such a way that makes for a compelling read.

Morlock Ambrosius is a stranger traveling through lands that are being raided and pillaged by a nation of werewolves. Morlock’s combination of martial prowess and magical skills allow for accomplishments that would be otherwise impossible, and he serves as a catalyst for change. Morlock tries to stay out of trouble, but is swept up by a band of raiding werewolves that throw him in prison. They plan to either have him killed by other prisoners or to use him to ... Read More