Serena’s Review: “Magic Binds”

17333174Book: “Magic Binds” by Illona Andrews

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Kate and the former Beast Lord Curran Lennart are finally making their relationship official. But there are some steep obstacles standing in the way of their walk to the altar…

Kate’s father, Roland, has kidnapped the demigod Saiman and is slowly bleeding him dry in his never-ending bid for power. A Witch Oracle has predicted that if Kate marries the man she loves, Atlanta will burn and she will lose him forever. And the only person Kate can ask for help is long dead.

The odds are impossible. The future is grim. But Kate Daniels has never been one to play by the rules…

Review: From all accounts, the Kate Daniels series is set to be a ten book run. And this, the 9th, definitely feels like it is the setup for a grand finale, hitting all the right notes by growing the conflict with Roland, raising the psychological stakes for our heroine, and setting up a clear end game for the story as a whole.

The last few books were a bit middling, if I’m honest. As I said in my last review of this series, with Roland on the scene any other “big bad” feels superficial and like a place-holder whose only purpose is to delay the big eventual show-down between Kate and her father. In this book, we’ve arrived at that show-down. Or, at least, to the initial skirmishes that lead up to it.

For a series that started out fairly firmly rooted in the urban fantasy/romance genre, I feel like the story has really come into its own as a family drama. And what a dysfunctional, all-powerful, ego-maniacal family it is! While Curran still plays his role, his and Kate’s relationship has felt steady and well-defined for some time now. And I really appreciate that after the one stumble with relationship shenanigans a few books ago, Andrews hasn’t felt the need to fiddle with this aspect much. Instead, the focus has shifted to Kate’s growing understanding and relationship (?) with her remaining family, in whatever form they may now be.

Kate’s aunt, the “City Eater,” who was killed off a few books ago makes a refreshing re-appearance. That character was brilliant the first time around, both as a legitimately threatening enemy for Kate, but almost more importantly as another bridge into Kate’s family history. Here, this secondary role is even more strongly focused in upon. Kate is feeling the repercussions of her claim on Atlanta, an action that has triggered a well of power and family ambition. Not only do we get Kate’s aunt back with all of her amazing snark, but we even get to meet whatever remains of Kate’s grandma, a powerful being whom Roland has trapped to serve as an energy source to power his massive prison. There’s a lot of focus on the extensive history of Kate’s family with some beautiful looks back to what their world had been like. These flashes, combined with some quiet moments between Roland and Kate, served to much better flesh out Roland’s character and motivations.

Roland himself was great as always. Here we really begin to see the pay-off of taking this long (several books worth of time) to fully flesh out a villain. Roland is so many things all at once: loving father, murdering sociopath, sympathetic hero, misguided maniac. The reader both despises him, but also understands him. With Kate herself struggling with the “Dark Side,” for lack of a better word, it is easy to see Roland’s own fall from hero to villain. His relationship with Kate is so tragic, and yet Andrews saves the book from melancholy with trademark wit. At one point Roland is both threatening to end Kate while also being offended on her behalf about the “shameful lack of feasting” that is planned for her wedding. It’s lovely.

There are few short mini-adventures in this story, and those were the weaker points for me. They were fun enough and we run into a few interesting new creatures (a spunky pegasus is a high point), but given the added depth that we were seeing in the other parts of the book, these adventures also felt a bit too simplistic.

My only other quibble was with the very end of the story, and it was an event that had been literally prophesied from the very beginning of the book, if not the book before even. And really, this quibble is only a personal choice as *spoiler warning* not typically being a fan of pregnancy storylines in fantasy is purely on me.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book. It actually might be one of my favorites in the series. The stakes are higher, the personal conflict is greater, the backstory is richer, and the characters have all come into their own.

Rating 8: A great penultimate story!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Magic Binds” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Vamp’s, Were’s, Sorcerer’s/Witches & Elves “  and “Girl with a Sword and an Animal Friend.”

Find “Magic Binds” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Kate Daniels Series” and  “Magic Shifts”

 

Serena’s Review: “Vassa in the Night”

28220892Review: “Vassa in the Night” by Sarah Porter

Publishing Info: Tor, September 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

Review: Another book that I had on my highlights post for Septmeber that finally showed up a week or so ago! I wasn’t familiar with the original Russian fairytale that inspired this book, so I came into it with very little idea of what it was going to be. Magic in Brooklyn and a Baba Yagga villain. Sounded awesome.

And large parts of it were! The general worldbuilding was very interesting. Your mileage with this will largely depend on how willing you are as a reader to “just go with it” as far as explanations and magic systems. There’s really no explanation for why and how magic exists in this area of the world. Further, the type of magic that is presented is much closer to the nonsense magic seen in “Alice in Wonderland” than to a more outlined and rule-bound magic like “Harry Potter.” That being the case, there is a lot of things popping up here and there with no rhyme or reason and then disappearing just as quickly. Some of these things I particularly enjoyed, like a group of swans that Vassa befriends, and a pair of sinister hands that operate as Babs’ henchmen, essentially.

Other parts felt a bit contrived, however, and as if Porter was simply trying too hard. Particularly some of her efforts to involve nonsense word-play (similar to the Fairyland books I had just read). And maybe having just come off those which were almost the perfect example of nailing this writing style, I was a bit biased against Porter’s attempts here. But I also feel that it was simply not executed well. While nonsense writing can be very insightful, this was clunky and actually confusing. At several points I had to re-read section to try and understand them and then, more often than not, came away with the conclusion that this was just another unexplained element. And while some of these unexplained magical oddities were enjoyable, it didn’t translate here. Dialogue and descriptions needs to be clear, regardless of how little you as an author are providing insights into other magical elements.

Vassa was a very strong protagonist. Her voice was unique and interesting, and I especially enjoyed her relationship with her sisters, especially her elder sister. As I’ve said, I always like sister stories! And, of course, Vassa’s primary partner in crime: Erg, the animated doll. I was both creeped out by and intrigued by Erg. I don’t think I was supposed to be as creeped out as I was, but there were certain elements of her and Vassa’s relationship that was confusing to me. Erg is definitely an intelligent individual with her own opinions, motives, and outlooks on life. So it was very strange switching from her and Vassa debating what do do about some problem or another to Vassa petting and nuzzling her the way you would a kitten. It was strange. But, as I’ve said, so was the whole book.

Ultimately, this book was stronger as a concept than it was as an actual story. There were almost too many weird things thrown in at every moment which prevented me from ever becoming fully invested in the story. I was too busy being confused by some of the writing choices and bouncing from one thing to another to really be able to draw a connecting line throughout the book or form real attachments to characters. There were random chapters inserted here or there attempting to provide some background information that only opened up more doors and left more dangling plot lines (Vassa’s father’s storyline was one of these). While this book is probably the closest thing I’ve seen to an actual dark fairytale set in an urban setting (vs. most urban fantasy which often is the usual, generic, vampires and witches and such in an in every other way normal city), it was too weighed down by its own concept to every really take off.

Rating 6: A unique concept and interesting worldbuilding places too much burden on a confusing plot.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Vassa in the Night” is a new book and isn’t included on many Goodreads lists. However, it should be on “Dark Fairy Tales.”

Find “Vassa in the Night” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Joint Review: “The Dream Thieves”

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This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we review the second in the series, “The Dream Thieves.”

Book: “The Dream Thieves” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, September 2013

Where Did We Get This Book: Both got the audiobook from the library!

Book Description: If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take?

Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.

One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.

And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.

Ronan is one of the raven boys—a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface—changing everything in its wake.

Of The Raven Boys, Entertainment Weekly wrote, “Maggie Stiefvater’s can’t-put-it-down paranormal adventure will leave you clamoring for book two.” Now the second book is here, with the same wild imagination, dark romance, and heart-stopping twists that only Maggie Stiefvater can conjure.

Kate’s Thoughts:

After reading “The Raven Boys” I wasn’t in the biggest rush to read “The Dream Thieves”. It wasn’t that I didn’t like “The Raven Boys”, because I did. But I wasn’t absolutely entranced by it, as while it was supernatural and supposed to be creepy, it didn’t quite live up to my probably unfair and impossible standards. But then I was looking at the audiobook selection from the library, and I saw that “The Dream Thieves” was available. And not only was “The Dream Thieves” available, my absolutely favorite audiobook author, Will Patton, was the one who was reading it. So that clinched it. It was on.

So I don’t know if it was the Patton factor or what, but I ended up enjoying “The Dream Thieves” more than I did “The Raven Boys”. Okay, no, I take that back. It wasn’t the Patton factor, as potent and aggressive as that may be. It was because this book focused on Ronan Lynch, my favorite Raven Boy. Ronan is angry and brooding and emotionally unstable, so of COURSE I can’t help but love him to bits. And in this book not only is he given the spotlight, his personality and back story is explored quite a bit, so we get to see why he is so volatile and angry. We find out more about Ronan’s abilities in this book specifically the fact that he can pull objects and beings out of his dreams. Now that Cabeswater’s ley lines have been fully awakened, this ability has become more powerful. He’s taking not only objects out of his dreams, but creatures as well, creatures that aren’t exactly friendly. Along with this he is still affected and traumatized by the murder of his father, a tragedy that has connections to the present day situation with Glendower and the ley line, and to the fact that his mother has been comatose since. So as far as I’m concerned, Ronan has earned any and all of the angst that he’s showing. Along with the angst we got to see a softer side of him as well, not only with his younger brother Matthew, but also with Adam Parrish. Because Ronan is secretly in love with Adam. Which, of course, made me squee like an idiot. Seeing Ronan struggle with his past, his feelings, and his abilities were wonderful explorations.

Ronan wasn’t the only character to be explored more in depth in this book. We also got to see more of Adam and his own connection to the Ley Line and Cabeswater. Adam has always felt inferior to his group of friends because of their wealth and privilege, a fact that has never really been made easier by Gansey, whose good intentions are received as condescending more than kind. Adam is convinced that Gansey pities him and will hold his generosity over his head, and their relationship is heavily strained because of this. And to heap on the baggage afforded to Adam this time around, Blue, realizing she doesn’t share his feelings, dumps him. Sad for Adam. But AWESOME for me! I was worried that we were going to be subjected to this tired and annoying trope for the entire series, but NOT SO!

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Words cannot express the joy. (source)

But Adam’s worth, perhaps unseen by him, becomes far more clear in this book. Noah is a ghost. Ronan is a Dream Weaver. And Adam seems to be a little bit psychic. Which super, super intrigued me going further into this series. That, and the feelings that Ronan has for him. Really for me, “The Dream Thieves” was all about Ronan and Adam.

AHHH, and the psychic women that live with Blue, but I feel like I’ve rambled enough. Just know that Maura, Calla, Persephone, and Orla also get stuff to do in this book, and that they also get depth. Noah gets depth too, and his relationship with Blue gets a very sweet aspect to it. Let’s just say that ghosts don’t need to worry about dying if a girl whose kiss is prophetically deadly kisses them. I loved it. I loved so much about this book.

“The Dream Thieves” was the book that got me fully invested in “The Raven Cycle.” It’s blend of fantasy, the supernatural, and teenage suds makes it a super fun book and really gave the series the oomph I was looking for.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I second everything that Kate said, so I will try and discuss different points than the ones that she has already covered.

First off, the fantasy element is given a big injection of adrenaline in this book. While bits were sprinkled around quite nicely in the first book, that initial groundwork pays off big in this book. Magic is suddenly more than just a mysterious forest that appeared in the countryside. It’s alive and walking around in both Ronan and Adam. Ronan’s dreamer-abilities are so astounding and seemingly limitless. While also completely terrifying, which saves it from feeling like a magical “get out of jail free” card for any future problems. And Adam’s connection with Cabeswater is more complicated than it had at first seemed.

I’ll discuss Adam mostly, since Kate covered Ronan for the both of us. Oh, poor sweet Adam. Nothing is easy for him in this book. His hasty deal with Cabeswater comes with more strings attached then he had expected. And I loved the parallels that were drawn between the darkness that was imposed on this connection because of a lack of understanding on Adam’s part of what exactly it was that he agreed to. Looking life in the eye, looking one’s own flaws in the eye, and finding that clear-eyed honesty, while terrifying, is important to growth. Adam’s personal history is tragic, and I appreciated the honesty with regards to the effects that this would have on Adam’s life and ability to form healthy relationships around himself. His friendship with Gansey is pushed right to the breaking point and made me want to cry for them both. They were both just TRYING SO HARD and still not able to truly communicate their feelings.

And, importantly, while it is noted that nothing that had happened in Adam’s family life was his own fault or deserved or in any way not awful, I appreciated the fact that Adam wasn’t let off the hook for his own bad behavior. It’s completely understandable why he is the way he is, but Blue’s reaction to him behaving very poorly was so appropriate and something that Adam needed to go through to really gain self acceptance (not that he’s there yet, but there were steps).

This tied into my concern from the first book about the love triangle. There is no love triangle! Thank heavens. Just a natural, teen romance where you can fall equally out of interest as you did in, and that’s all ok. Blue is sad that she doesn’t feel as Adam does, but she’s honest with herself and, eventually, with him as well. There’s no dramatics, other than usual heartbreak, and both determine that their short lived romance can be turned into friendship with a little work. And Blue doesn’t suddenly fall head over heels for Gansey either. It is clear that they are both becoming more aware of their own feelings, and, in Blue’s case at least, this comes with a lot of adjustment needing to be made to her original judgements.

I also can’t end this review without mentioning Kavinski. Want to talk about a complicated, heart breaking story? Ronan’s angst and inner struggles are so perfectly paired against this completely new character (can I just say how impressed I am by Stiefvater’s abilities to manage so many characters and give them all so much depth in so few pages??). Kavinski is what Ronan could so easily have been without his friends and it is heartbreaking. Even as Kavinski spirals out of control, you can’t help but feel a deep ache for him.

I was already enjoying this series with “The Raven Boys,” but this book really sealed the deal for me!

Kate’s Rating 8: All of the characters are back and better than ever, and Ronan gets some back story and some delicious brooding time and cool magic. A great fantasy read.

Serena’s Rating 8: Very strong second showing. The fantasy elements were great, and the increased focus on complicated character like Ronan and Adam was appreciated.

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “The Dream Thieves” at your local library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews: “The Raven Boys”

Joint Review: “The Raven Boys”

The Raven Boys

This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we start with the first book in the series, “The Raven Boys.”

Book: “The Raven Boys” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, September 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: Serena got the audio book from the library, and Kate got the print version from the library.

Book Description: Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I had heard a lot about this series before I started the first book. All three of the first books were already published and raved about. So, I was nervous. I’ve been burned by the YA hype machine in the past. Further, I had read “Shiver” a few years ago, and while I thought the writing was lovely, I wasn’t overly impressed by yet another werewolf love story, even if the fantasy elements were more creative than one typically finds in the tried and true genre of werewolf romance! But, color me surprised! “The Raven Boys” was a very enjoyable reading experience!

One assumption I made from reading the jacket description and from previous experience with young adult fantasy fiction was that this was going to be Blue’s story. Blue’s perspective. Blue’s thoughts and feelings. I was surprised and so pleased to find that it was more than that. The concept of the story felt like it was primed for a “special snowflake” character basking in the attention of a bunch of boys. But instead we have Blue as only one of several characters who have formed deep and complicated friendships with one another. Indeed, Blue is the most recent addition, so in this book the friendships between Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah were the deeper and more interesting relationships, with Blue’s “new comer” status serving as a portal into this world for the reader.

Adam and Gansey have a particularly trying relationship and there were several moments when I just wanted to bang their heads together. But this reflects Stiefvater’s success to not only depict a realistic male friendship, one that is challenged by the strong personalities and differing perspectives of each member, but also of the real and deep seeded effects of privilege and how formative unique life experiences are on the way that individuals approach life and decision making. Kate talks about this a bit more, but I was really impressed by the careful and very true handling of many hard subjects.

And, impressively, I wasn’t overly bothered by what seemed to be the set up for a love triangle. Maybe it was the absence of the hyperbolic language that usually accompanies this trope. The girl is always “torn” between “two great loves” and “oh my, what can she do she just can’t pick they’re both so hawttttt!” This is a much more honest approach to teen relationships. Boy meets girl. Maybe they’re interested. Maybe they’re not. They’re not quite sure. Let’s maybe see? Still, though, finishing the book, I wasn’t convinced that this element added to the book, necessarily. Sure, it didn’t detract from it in the way I typically expect, but it also wasn’t making headway in any direction that felt necessary. I was curious and a bit apprehensive for how this would be resolved going forward.

While the fantasy was light in this book, I enjoyed what we had of it. If anything, the light sprinkling of details made these fantastical elements feel as if they were knitted into a “real world” setting in a much more believable way than other examples I can think of where BAM magic arrives!

I also listened to this as an audio book and I can’t rave enough about the reader Will Patton. He is by far the best reader I’ve come across in my forays into audiobook. He commits so fully to the reading, varies is voice expertly for all the different characters ( to the point where I could tell from the first sentence of each chapter whose perspective it was from simply by the adjusted cadence to Patton’s voice), and slows/speeds/emotes/ in line with what is happening in the story. I honestly worry that I loved this book more than I would have reading it simply on the grounds that his narration was so amazing.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I picked up the print version of “The Raven Boys” a couple years ago as part of my stack for a vacation. I have fond memories of reading this book, about ghosts and the supernatural and other spooky themes, while staying in a supposedly haunted hotel room in America’s Most Haunted City (aka, Savannah, Georgia). Because how appropriate, right?! While reading this book, however, I remember not being as impressed by it as I had hoped I would be. I really liked the characters as they were presented to us, and I liked the idea of Blue’s psychic family and her ability to feed psychics as her power. I just didn’t find the central conflict in this one very intriguing. The main villain didn’t do much for me, and even though I liked the lay line storyline, I wasn’t totally sold. What sells me about this book is Blue, her household, and her Raven Boys. I’m someone who has always gravitated towards platonic male friendships ever since I was a small girl, and therefore seeing Blue’s friendships with Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah really resonated with me.

I also really liked how well thought out the town of Henrietta was in this book. Stiefvater did a very good job of making a fictional small town community, with the ups and downs that a small town community has. The age old conflict between the privileged students of the local school and the townies is very present in this book, and the reader can understand both sides that these characters are coming from. I especially like how naively good Gansey is when it comes to Adam, who is a student at the school on scholarship but lives in a poverty stricken and abusive household. Gansey sees Adam as his best friend, but there will always be that conflict there because of the class divide. I also find it very realistic that while Blue and Gansey are very clearly drawn to each other in this book, that class thing is there for them as well, which in turn makes her feel more comfortable with Adam. Can you say ‘love triangle’?

That was another big problem I had with this book, outside of the weaker supernatural plot. I am totally sick of seeing love triangles in YA fiction. It is so overdone and it is a lazy way to add conflict. I was none too happy to see that this trope was being trotted out again in a book that otherwise had some really lovely platonic interactions between Blue and all of her Raven Boys.

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(source)

I actually think that “The Raven Boys” is, for me, the weakest in the series. Stiefvater did a lot with the characters since the beginning, and their growth is evident.

Serena’s Rating 7: Great start to a series, appropriately laying the ground work, though the romantic angle was questionable.

Kate’s Rating 7: Lovely characters and a great setting made for a good start, though the main conflict of the story did not interest me as much as I’d hoped it would.

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “The Raven Boys” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Marked in Flesh”

Marked in Flesh Book: “Marked in Flesh” by Anne Bishop

Publishing Info: Penquin/Roc, March 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: For centuries, the Others and humans have lived side by side in uneasy peace. But when humankind oversteps its bounds, the Others will have to decide how much humanity they’re willing to tolerate—both within themselves and within their community…

Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the delicate dynamic between humans and Others changed. Some, like Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn, see the new, closer companionship as beneficial—both personally and practically.

But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don’t realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land that belongs to the Others—and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect what is theirs…

Review: This is the fourth book in Anne Bishop’s “The Others” series. I absolutely loved her first book in this series, “Written in Red,” and have been diligently following along ever since. Mostly because of the slow burn relationship building between Simon and Meg, let’s be honest. But Bishop’s version of the world, the complicated and flipped history of a native people retaining their influence and power over their homeland against a colonizing force, has also been a compelling factor in my decision to keep reading. However, my motivation has been slowly waning with each new book, as Bishop seems either unclear of her direction or unwilling to get there in what I consider a timely manner. I was generally frustrated by “Marked in Flesh,” as similarly to previous books, it continues the slow decline since the high of “Written in Red.”

This book starts off pretty much exactly where the last left off. The “Humans First and Last” movement, an anti-Others, radical terrorist group, is going strong in their attempt to claim land that they believe they are entitled to. The problem with this narrative has been the same throughout the series. As the book is framed from the perspective of Meg and Simon, primarily, the reader has first hand knowledge of the strength of the Others and the futility of the HFL movement is clear from the beginning. It’s not a true conflict. It’s more, how badly with the HFL movement fail and how many humans will suffer for it.

But this aspect of the story has also been one of the key elements that has kept me interested in the series. The complete flip in power that Bishop sets up is intriguing. It’s impressive how easily she manages to set up the humans (by and large almost all of them) as the villains of this world. I have increasingly found myself becoming exasperated not by the fact that there is a conflict between the humans and the Others, but because I’m reading along thinking “Just smite them already and be done with it!” A very bizarre take to have, I realize, but one that Bishop pretty effectively imposes on the reader. The humans in this world seem to be either full blown terrorists bombing, poisoning, or simply mowing down innocent Others with machine guns, or ignorant fools, content with not only sitting back as these atrocities are committed, but ostracizing and victimizing other groups of humans who don’t join the cause. It’s hard to feel sympathy for many people other than the ones we are directly exposed to.

But because she sets up the groups in this conflict so unequally, both in sympathy and power, this book was largely a drag. It was clear from the beginning that things were headed south for human/Others relations, and about midway through the book, the HFL movement pounds the last nail in their own coffin by committing an even more egrgious  act of violence. But it still takes so, so long for the conflict to even happen! And when it does, it is largely off screen. Instead, 80% of the story is spend preparing for the new world that will come after this near apocalyptic event. There are pages and pages of people discussing ordering extra supplies (an annoying fixation on female toiletries is I think meant to be some type of “Others don’t understand human females” joke but becomes tired very quickly), details on communication and travel logistics, space planning, etc. It was incredibly tiresome. Bishop has given us all-powerful native people! And instead we’re listening to Simon fixate on Meg’s need for books to read when she’s hunkered down waiting out this oncoming “storm” of the Others’ retaliation. Firstly, I’m pretty sure this is a silly thing to be discussing between multiple people. If this is actually a disaster level event, Meg’s boredom is NOT something that needs to be included in the “to worry about” list. And secondly, I don’t care! Give me some action, already!

Also, the cast of characters only adds to this problem. Simon and Meg are interesting. All of the extra human characters are not. The police men who have been present in the other book make a showing here, and while familiarity lends them a bit of interest, there is very little for them to do in this story. There is no preventing this, so again, it’s largely discussing reacting to an inevitable event. Discussions, discussions. And a few extra human characters show up as well. Guess what they’re doing? That is right. Discussing preparations in yet another town. The more interesting Other characters from previous books are also very underutilized in this book, only adding to the frustration of reading chapters from new human perspectives.

And I can’t finish this review without touching on Meg and Simon. Meg, for one, has sadly gone the route that I have been worrying about for the last several books. She has become increasingly inactive as the books have went along. In the first book, she was new to this world and actively participates in its going ons. Now, however, she is treated as a valuable commodity, to be worried over, but very rarely having anything to actually do. And for a powerful seer, that is incredibly disappointing. Even worse, in the first few books she was verging on becoming a bit of a “special snowflake” character where everyone and their mother loved her right off the bat with very little actual reason. Sadly, this becomes even worse in this book, to the point of being ridiculous.

Simon has now become my favorite character. The few action scenes in this book directly relate to how he sees the world and his position in it. His arc as a character has been steady, realistic, and interesting. And unlike other characters, his relationship with Meg feels earned and is thus much more intriguing. But come on, it’s been four books!

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I haven’t written off the series entirely, but “Marked in Flesh” continues a slow downward trend in my enjoyment of these books. I’ll give it one more go, but if I have to read about the “human female pack” creating lists of toiletries again, I’m out.

Rating 5: I’m very sad that it has come to this. But the primary emotion this book inspired was frustration, unfortunately.

Reader’s Advisory:

As “Marked in Flesh” is new, I’m going to mention Goodreads lists that include the first book in the series, “Written in Red:” “Monster Is Only in the Eye of the Beholder: Paranormal Xenofiction” and “Best Lesser-Known Books.”

Find “Marked in Flesh” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Fire Touched”

Fire Touched Book: “Fire Touched” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace, March 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Tensions between the fae and humans are coming to a head. And when coyote shapeshifter Mercy and her Alpha werewolf mate, Adam, are called upon to stop a rampaging troll, they find themselves with something that could be used to make the fae back down and forestall out-and-out war: a human child stolen long ago by the fae.

Defying the most powerful werewolf in the country, the humans, and the fae, Mercy, Adam, and their pack choose to protect the boy no matter what the cost. But who will protect them from a boy who is fire touched?

Review: Another quality cover for urban fantasy! Seriously though, covers like this explain why people hide their books on ereaders when they’re on the bus. But I will not obsess over this again! “Fire Touched” is the latest addition to Patricia Briggs’s “Mercy Thompson” series. I think I’m going to struggle reviewing this book, however. I mean, things happen, but…not much really happens.

First off, there was an attempt to rectify one of the problems I had highlighted from earlier books: the lack of positive female characters other than Mercy. The tension within the pack with regards to Mercy is faced head on in such a way that I doubt we will see much having to do with that anymore. This leaves the door open for Mercy to form closer relationships with the women pack members, like Honey and Mary Jo. There was also an attempt add a new Fae woman as a friend for Mercy. They had some good girl talk in a car that one time. It’s still not perfect. Adam’s ex-wife was shoed in unnecessarily, albeit briefly, in the beginning. But I feel like we might be moving in a better direction, all said.

Many things I had liked from previous books are still here. Mercy and Adam are still great. And I enjoyed the time that was given to Adam’s daughter Julie. She’s a fun character who I always wish to see more from. Mercy’s old boss (and powerful fae) Zee, and his son Tad, re-entered the story, and they were also favorites from past books. And the two new additions to the cast of characters were interesting.

Aiden is a boy who has spent the last several centuries trapped in the fae homeland of Underhill. While there, he has gained abilities with fire and a unique understanding and relationship with Underhill, a connection that is highly envied by the Fae who have been having a rocky time getting Underhill to cooperate. Of course, Aiden only looks like a child. He hasn’t aged, but centuries of being disconnected from the world and trapped in a land (a personified place/being?) that both loves him and toys with him like a pet has left a mark. His interactions with Julie, who takes it upon herself to update him with the ways of the modern world, are particularly fun. The summary of the book is rather misleading, as his fire abilities had very little impact on the story as a whole. His understanding of the Fae and capricious Underhill was much more interesting.

Baba Yaga also makes up a larger part of this story. She was briefly introduced in a previous book, but she plays a more integral role here. She’s a fun character, but she also highlights some of the problems I’m beginning to see with the series. She’s yet another super powerful character who rather arbitrarily decides to be Mercy’s friend. My biggest problem with this story was the lack of stakes. The team of characters that Mercy has built up around her over the past 9 books really limits the story’s ability to create situations that feel threatening anymore. There were several fights in this book, and yet I found myself largely bored by them. Mercy now has Zee (super powerful Fae), the Walking Stick, (personified powerful Fae artifact that follows her around), Adam (werewolf Alpha), Bran (werewolf Super Alpha), Stephan (powerful vampire), Thomas Hao (super powerful vampire), and on and on. Who’s going to compete against all of that? The answer is no one.

So, too, with all of these characters, the cast is just feeling bloated. There’s not enough time to focus on many of them, and I was having to constantly remind myself who people were and how they fit into the bigger picture. I miss the early days of the book where it was just Adam and Mercy against the world, with a nice sprinkling of fun personalities like Ben, Warren, and Stephen.

Between too many characters, a lack of stakes, and a plot that felt like it was actually moving backwards a bit (undoing previous books’ work at setting up the Fae as an ongoing threat against humanity), I was underwhelmed by this book. Sure, a few new fun characters showed up, but as the large cast is part of the problem, even this isn’t a huge point of favor for the story. I liked it for the carried over pieces from other books, but mostly it just felt bloated and unnecessary.

Rating 6: I still enjoyed it, but I’m concerned about whether the legs are running out on this series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Fire Touched” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Books with Action Heroines” and “Native American Paranormal.”

Find “Fire Touched” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews of “Mercy Thompson” series: “Mercy Thompson series review”

 

Serena’s Series Review – “Mercy Thompson” Series

Mercy Thompson series

Books: “Moon Called,” “Blood Bound,” “Iron Kissed,” “Bone Crossed,” “Silver Borne,” “River Marked,” “Frost Burned,”and “Night Broken” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace, 2006, 2007, 2008,  2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: Bought the first few, the rest from the library

Spoiler warning: I will try to avoid large spoilers, but some minor spoilers are inevitable to cover the progression of the story throughout the series. 

Review: The “Mercy Thompson” series holds the perhaps ignoble position of being the first urban fantasy series I picked up. As an avid reader of fantasy and sci-fi, I’m not sure what has held me back from urban fantasy overall, though I can’t say the cover choices are helping anything! I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but when I’m browsing the shelves in the library, covers featuring scantily clad women are probably not going to be the first to jump out at me. Which is unfortunate, because overall, these books are pretty darn fun. I am currently reading the most recent (the 9th!) book in the series, and prior to posting my thoughts on that, we’re going to jump into yet another series review!

Mercy Thompson is a coyote shape-shifter who lives in central Washington state and works as a mechanic. (Fun aside: I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest and get unreasonably excited when I’m reading a book that’s set in, believe it or not, Pasco, Washington. Surprising, central Washington is not a go-to setting for most authors!) Mercy was raised by a pack of werewolves after her mother discovered that her baby had turned into a coyote cub in her crib and being understandably perturbed by this decided that werewolves would be the best option as caretakers. Now an adult, Mercy has broken ties with the werewolves and is determined to make her own way through the world. Unfortunately for her, she just happens to share a backyard/field with the Alpha werewolf of the Columbia Basin Pack, Adam Hauptman.

Starting with the worldbuilding: Briggs calls on several of the traditional characters found in fantasy and urban fantasy. The series begins in a world that has just learned that the fae exist about 20 years ago. But the fae have been sneaky and carefully ensured that humans only know of their more “kindly” folk, hiding their power players in fairy reservations that the humans have set up for them. In an interesting take on the history of reservations stifling the people they are meant to protect, the fae make great use of their allocated land, much to the humans’ dismay as the series progresses.

Unbeknownst to humans, however, are the werewolves and vampires. They, understandably, have larger “image issues” when thinking of coming out to people. The vampires, specifically, just aren’t nice guys. Though Mercy does have an awesome vampire friend, Stephan.

The werewolves are the central group of this series, and as the books progresses it was fun watching the evolution of how the werewolves viewed and interacted with the world. Starting from a very isolationist perspective, they must adjust their perspective as they grow to have closer relationships with humans and as the fae begin making power moves against the human world.

Mercy, of course, plays a large role in this. There are no other coyote shape-shifters, so while not human, she is also not a werewolf and quickly becomes a bridge between these many different groups. Mercy is a great narrator for the series as a whole. Perhaps one of the things I appreciate most about her, as compared to other urban fantasy leads, is her acknowledgement of her limitations. Of course, she’s still heroic and always ends up in the middle of situations above her pay scale. But she is honest about her abilities, both the advantages they give her but also the weaknesses that restrict her.

And, per usual, there is the inevitable love interest. Love interests plural, actually. Sadly, the first few books of the series commit one of my larger “book trope sins” by setting up a love triangle between Mercy, Adam, and a werewolf from the pack she grew up with, Samuel. Mild spoilers for this: I didn’t mind the love triangle that much as it seemed very clear to me from the very beginning that Adam and Mercy were the eventual goal, and Samuel was more a stumbling block than a legitimate second option. That said, I feel like I could have lived without this aspect of the story all together. I have yet to find a love triangle that I feel truly adds value to the story. The best I can say is that this one doesn’t derail the story, and I was able to largely ignore it. High praise, as far as I’m concerned.

Briggs’s world is very creative, especially her version of the beings within it. The fae are set up in a way that allows for endless imagination, and Briggs takes full advantage of this. So, too, she expands the mythology of the vampires in her world in a way that also allows for creative new stories. This creativity most fully hit its stride later in the series when Mercy begins exploring her family history and the origins of her shape-shifting ability. Briggs’s unique take on the creatures in this world is what has allowed this series to remain engaging through 8 book.

However, there are also some weaknesses to the series that I must point out. While Mercy has a lot of admirable qualities, she also tends to fall into the trap of blaming herself for everything that happens. At a certain point, I just found myself rolling my eyes at this. There’s a fine line between accepting responsibility for things that happen that are truly a result of your own actions, and adopting a sort of “world revolves around my decisions” perspective that begins to come off as self-centered and denying the fact that other people have their own agency. This is especially a problem towards the last few books in the series, a point at which Mercy is surrounded by friends and family who care for her and make their own decisions to protect her or follow her lead.

Another flaw is the lack of other positive female characters in the series. In the beginning, this flaw isn’t as apparent as the cast of characters is significantly lower. But as the story continues, it becomes more and more apparent and uncomfortable. It’s not that female characters aren’t there. It’s that they are there, but then are set up in a way that makes them a negative contrast to Mercy’s awesomeness. Female members of the werewolf pack continually have issues with her. And then in the last book, Adam’s ex-wife is brought into the story in a way that is doing none of the characters any favors. I don’t appreciate stories that sabotage other women characters as a way to promote the female lead. The last book does make some cursory attempts with other women characters, but the unfortunate, and frankly unnecessary, use of the jealous ex-wife largely wiped out these small steps. This is an area that I will be on high alert for improvement in future books.

One of the books also includes a very violent scene with Mercy that was hard to read. I’m still not convinced that this was necessary to the story overall, which is perhaps the most unfortunate part. I don’t believe these types of scenes should be included lightly. The aftermath was also very challenging to read. I appreciate that Briggs made an honest attempt to deal with the lasting effects of this situation, and in a lot of ways she was very successful. But it’s a difficult situation to write, and there were a few stumbling points that were cringe worthy as well.

Overall, I have enjoyed the “Mercy Thompson” series. As with most long-running stories, some of the books are stronger than others. There have been points that I have enjoyed throughout them all (creative world building, fun characters, snappy dialogue) and also points of annoyance throughout them all (misuse of female friends for Mercy, love triangles, confusing plot points). However, if you like urban fantasy, this series is a staple in the genre and definitely one worth checking out. Stay tuned for my review of the newest “Mercy Thompson” novel: “Fire Touched.”

Rating 6: Reliable urban fantasy series. You know what you’re going to get, with the pros remaining solid, but unfortunately some of the cons are persistent as well.

Reader’s Advisory:  As a series, it’s not on any Goodreads lists as a whole. However, Patricia Briggs has also written a companion series called “Alpha and Omega.” This series features a new protagonist but has several cross-over characters. The main characters from each series never interact directly, but there are references in later “Mercy Thompson” books to the happenings from this series, so it’s worth checking out if you want more of this world.

Find the first book in this series, “Moon Called,” at your library using WorldCat!