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!

Serena’s Reviews: “Magic Shifts”

"Magic Shifts"Book: “Magic Shifts” by Ilona Andrews

Publishing Info: Ace, August 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: After breaking from life with the Pack, mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate—former Beast Lord Curran Lennart—are adjusting to a very different pace. While they’re thrilled to escape all the infighting, Curran misses the constant challenges of leading the shapeshifters.

So when the Pack offers him its stake in the Mercenary Guild, Curran seizes the opportunity—too bad the Guild wants nothing to do with him and Kate. Luckily, as a veteran merc, Kate can take over any of the Guild’s unfinished jobs in order to bring in money and build their reputation. But what Kate and Curran don’t realize is that the odd jobs they’ve been working are all connected.

An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece…

Review: So, now that we’re all caught up with the “Kate Daniels” series, let’s jump right in to her next challenge! Life in the suburbs! I feel ya, Kate. Shockingly, Kate and Curran are not exactly ideal neighbors now that they’ve chosen to abandon living at the Pack fortress and have bought a home and property in suburbia. Curran’s habit of turning furry and huge and Kate’s late night excursions are most unwelcome.

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Ew. Shapeshifters.

Curran seems to have been helping Kate with her usual tasks of cleaning up the city. Even more of a chore, now that she has “claimed” Atlanta as her own territory in an attempt to save it from her power-mad father, Roland. But, of course, something must go wrong and their friend, werebison Eduardo (I told you every creature that was ever imagined is in this series!) has gone missing and some new big bad is in town with a score to settle.

After having taken a break from this series for about a year and now jumping back in, I kind of forgot what a madhouse this world is! I mean, this book is comprised of not only a werebison, but the family drama of a werebison/werebear relationship, evil unicorns, a pegasus, and, count them, three giants! What is this book?! Fun, that’s what it is.

Kate is her usual snarky, badass self which is always the primary joy for me with this series. It was also fun seeing Curran outside of his role as the Beast Lord. In a lot of ways he was the Robin to Kate’s Batman in this book, which was a fun change from the usual Pack politics drama that he had been tied up within from the last few books. At the same time, it seems like he will now be running the Mercenary Guild, so he might fall back into the same type of position, just with another group. This probably makes sense for a character like this. Too much Robin is no one’s favorite thing. One book of it was probably enough!

Several of my favorite characters were noticeably light in this book, which was too bad. Saimen and Derek barely showed up. But we did get to meet Martha, a werebear who is the alpha of Clan Heavy. She was only there for moments, but I love her already. There was also a delightfully awkward family dinner with Kate, Curran, Julie, and Roland.

Roland’s all: “Family bonding time!”

Kate’s all:

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As far as the villain goes…meh? It was another new creature, and all in all it was an interesting concept. But at the same time, now that Roland’s on the scene, stories like these feel more and more like filler. And, not only did we not get a real showdown there or much progress beyond an info-dump at Applebee’s (Roland’s restaurant of choice??), Kate didn’t seem to even enhance her abilities in any way that could be read as progress towards that inevitable clash. So that was too bad.

That said, I still enjoyed this book for what it was: a quick foray into a messed up Atlanta that I’m sure as heck pleased NOT to live in. Though, I’d take the pegasus.

Rating 7: On par with my rating of the series over all

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Magic Shifts” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Badass Female Leads” and “It’s All About The Swords!”

Find “Magic Shifts” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Series Review – “Kate Daniels” Series

Kate Daniels SeriesA couple of years ago, I went on an urban fantasy binge. Urban fantasy, as a genre, has been very hit and miss for me. On paper it looks like something I would love. In reality? Most of what I’ve read has been fairly “meh.” There are a couple of series, however, that have caught hold and Ilona Andrews’ “Kate Daniels” series was one of them. Her newest book, “Magic Shifts” was published last August with the next in the series is coming out this September. I’ll be reviewing “Magic Shifts” soon and definitely have her newest on my mental list of books to look forward to this fall. But there are like 7 books in this series before this point! In lieu of an exhausting, and frankly, likely boring, review of each and every one of these books, I’m going to combine them all into a mega series review! We’ll see how this goes!

Books: “Magic Bites,” Magic Burns,” “Magic Strikes,” “Magic Bleeds,” Magic Slays,” “Magic Rises,” and “Magic Breaks” by Ilona Andrews*

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

Where Did I Get this Book: all from the library!

Review: This series takes place in post-Shift Atlanta sometime in the near future. The Shift, a near apocalyptic event where magic suddenly re-entered the world, occurred years before and humanity is still adjusting to what this means for the world order. Suddenly there are shapeshifters, vampires, ghouls, and who knows what else running around the world wreaking havoc on the ordinary folk. The government has adjusted accordingly and attempted to set up systems to maintain order. One piece of this system is the Mercenary Guild. Its name is self-explanatory. Some creepy critter shows up, people can hire a mercenary to take care of it. Kate Daniels is one of the best, and this series is her story.

Throughout the series, Kate explores the mysteries of her past, while saving the day and forming close relationships with a ragtag group of other mercenaries, shapeshifters, vampire controllers, mages, etc, etc. Basically, she knows everyone in Atlanta. And, per typical urban fantasy requirements, there is a strong romantic element in her growing relationship with the Beast Lord, Curran, who is a werelion and the alpha of the Atlanta shapeshifter pack. Steaminess ensues.

What makes this series stick for me in ways that other urban fantasy series did not is our heroine, Kate. The spunky, snarky, warrior woman in these kinds of books is a well-trodden trope. However, Kate stands out not only in her consistency and general ability to avoid making ridiculous, self-sacrificial, dramatic decisions (per other frustrating heroines in series-that-shall-not-be-named), but also in the genuine evolution of her character throughout the books. While there are weaker books in the series than others, and there are moments where she falls into these stereotypes, overall, Kate learns from her mistakes, accepts who she is, and doesn’t devalue those around her, their feelings, or what they can contribute to her cause.

Curran, also, works well as the romantic lead. There are times, especially in the early books, where he plays a bit too much into the classic “alpha male” role which didn’t rub me the right way. But over the course of the series, he, too, evolves as a character and becomes a strong partner for Kate. And, even at his worst, he still acknowledges Kate’s independence and does not interfere in her adventuring ways.

There does come a point towards the last two thirds of the series where I call relationship shenanigans. Up to this point there had been the usual relationship set-up drama, but at this stage in the story, Kate and Curran were firmly an item and had worked through many of their issues. And then. And then!

Enough, I'm tired of your shenanigans

The wedge that was used to insert drama into their relationship felt very contrived. Both Kate and Curran behaved out-of-character, in my opinion, and it was all highly disappointing for a series that had handled its core relationship so competently up until this point. Luckily, this gaffe only lasted through the one book and things have returned to normal since. During this section in the series, it felt like Andrews was coming up against a sort of wall, having gotten her couple together and fleshed out many of Kate’s familial mysteries. She did recover, however, and I am happy to report that the next few books were on par once again.

When I said earlier that Kate knows everyone in Atlanta? Yeah, I meant everyone. There are so many characters in this series! And most of them are tons of fun. A few of my favorites are Aunt B, a werehyena, Andrea, a sharpshooter merc, Julie, a street kid with magical flare, and Saiman, a….who knows what really? But he snarks at Kate and makes her uncomfortable and is fun all around. And there are many, many more! This is both a plus and a minus. As the series continues, it becomes impossible to spend enough time with all of these great characters in each book. One book will spend extra time with one or two and only have brief appearances from the others, and vice versa. So, depending on which characters you like, and how much page time they get in each book, there can be a dramatic difference in your enjoyment of one book in the series as compared to another. Luckily, if you’re just there mostly for Kate, like I am, you’re good to go the whole time.

Each book also seems to live and die by its villain. Some are stronger than others. There are some genuinely creepy magical beings in these books. But, in general, the creativity of the world and how civilization has adapted to all of the craziness is what makes this series so fun. I burned through the first 3-4 books in this series in a matter of weeks. I’m not sure I would recommend this approach, as aspects of the stories became a bit too familiar from one book to the next. But it can’t say anything too bad that I was invested enough to fall into that trap in the first place. If you like urban fantasy, definitely check out this series, and look out for my upcoming review of “Magic Shifts” where Kate beats up on some giants!

*Can we take a moment to ask why urban fantasy novels have such terrible names and covers? I mean, look at those things! Sigh.

Rating 7: Fun urban fantasy lark. You know what you’re getting, but it’s the good kind.

Reader’s Advisory: Since this is a series, it’s not really on a list, per se. If you liked this series, however, I would recommend the “Mercy Thompson” series by Patricia Briggs and “October Daye” series by Seanan McGuire.

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