Book log 2015: 8) Doranna Durgin – Barrenlands

Prequel fantasy novel which works well as a standalone. The Barrenlands of the title are a magical wasteland that forms an almost impassable border territory between two countries. But where there is a border, there will be crossings, and people who make a living bringing things across that border, whether it is with or without the blessing of the governments concerned. Ehran, head of the King’s Guard, will end up tangling with it more than once in his quest first to find the murderers of his beloved king, and then to find and dispose of the family of the king’s brother. He’s been sent on the latter mission supposedly to prevent the exile trying to seize the throne from the king’s young son, a mission he rightly sees as a means of getting him out of the way of an unknown traitor within the court.

Some nice world-building here, with appealing characters and a worthwhile mystery. It’s obvious from the first who the villain is, because Ehren’s not stupid and already has his suspicions. But means and motive are another matter, and untangling those make for an entertaining story. A short novel offering an enjoyable way to pass a few hours.

http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/barrenlands/
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada
https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/barrenlands

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Book review: Diana Green – Bronze Fox

Posting well out of order since this is a review copy. I may or may not get earlier book log done…

Note: I received a copy of the book from the author through Reading Alley in exchange for an honest review.

Tobias is both a fox shapeshifter and a rifter – someone who crosses the rifts between worlds. He works as a field agent for a covert organisation that tries to control rift traffic, but he’s of an independent mind even if he’s loyal to the organisation. He needs a partner agent suited to him, not one chosen for him to suit others’ views.

Etty’s from the slums, barely earning a living by disguising herself as a boy and driving her dad’s hackney carriage after he was injured. She’s driving the nearest cab when Tobias needs a quick getaway one night, and her world will never be the same again.

Tobias may have stumbled upon the perfect sidekick, but first he’ll have to convince the people who pay his wages. And even if he does, there’s a baptism of fire waiting for the new partnership. There’s a whisper of new technology that could change the rift worlds forever — and it’s in the hands of a vicious criminal.

This is an excellent fantasy thriller with a strong romance subplot. The lead characters are engaging and well drawn, and I finished the book wanting to spend more time with them. There’s some good world-building, with the main setting being roughly Victorian with low key magic, but references and scenes that make it clear the rift links to worlds at different levels of social and technological development.

This is the first book in a series, and sets up the universe and series arc. It does an excellent job of wrapping up its own story without an annoying cliffhanger while still pointing the way to the next book. I’ve been annoyed of late by too many books that tried to force me to buy the next by not giving me the resolution to the story – this book does it the better way, by making me want to spend more time in this world.

I’ve only two minor criticisms; there’s a scene that’s flat out “beautiful blue-eyed blonde girl awes the primitive natives”, and there are some formatting glitches in my copy that made two chapters very difficult to read. It’s a measure of how much I was enjoying the book that I persisted through the section with scrambled formatting.

Overall a very enjoyable read, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

book log 2015: 7) Cecilia Tan — The Siren and the Sword

Hey, look – book log! Less than four months after reading the book! Posted only two months after writing the notes!

(Disclosure: I don’t know the author particularly well, but I’ve long admired her work as an editor, and have submitted material to her publishing house in the past. This hasn’t had any impact on my reaction to the book, other than I wouldn’t have known about a promo deal on the new edition and run off to buy it if I didn’t have her blog on my LiveJournal feed.)

Erotic fantasy novel which is quite openly inspired by Harry Potter. “Inspired by” means “loving homage”, not “rip-off”; this is a worthy novel in its own right, and could be enjoyed as such by someone who’s never read any of Rowling’s books (or indeed any of the other speculative fiction Tan pays homage to). But it’s most easily described as what would happen if Harry Potter was an American taking up a scholarship at Harvard University, and on arrival walking into the admin office of a faculty housed in buildings which aren’t findable by most people on the campus, to the confusion of himself and the faculty administrators. Since we’re dealing with undergraduates here, there’s sex. Lots of sex. Sex for actual plot purposes, no less, and all the better for it. For there is indeed a plot, concerning the covert presence on campus of a siren, what that is, and the dangers it poses to the students. It’s intertwined with various other plot threads, most of which are resolved satisfactorily while leaving openings for further stories about next year’s adventures. While I think there’s some room for improvement, it’s well written, by someone who understands her material. I liked it a lot, enough to want to read the next one in the series (a quartet of novels plus a collection of short stories). If that brief description sounds like something you’d be interested in reading, I’d recommend you try it out — the prologue and first chapter are available as free samples on Amazon and other online retailers.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
Kobo

book log 2015: 6) Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett — Good Omens

Usually I make a note when I happen to know the author (or in this case, one of the authors). It doesn’t normally affect my review much, but in this case — I last read this book before Terry went public about The Embuggerance. That’s coloured my recent re-read, putting an edge on the humour that wasn’t there last time round. Nevertheless…

This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and yes, that includes Terry’s other output. The Bible is true on a literal level, the Antichrist has just been born and Armageddon is coming, and a somewhat shopsoiled angel and demon would really rather it didn’t, thank you very much. Aziraphale and Crowley have spent the last six thousand years doing their jobs on Earth, after that unfortunate incident in the Garden of Eden, and in the manner of undercover agents everywhere, have discovered that they have more in common with each other than their masters. They like humans, and they like the human lifestyle. They don’t at all like the idea of returning whence they came. And so they decide to do something about it.

All of which was predicted by Agnes Nutter, Witch, who left a set of prophecies for her descendents. Very, very accurate prophecies written by someone who saw things but didn’t necessarily understand what she was seeing. Her present day descendent knows that Armageddon is coming, and sets out to do something about the Antichrist.

Who just happens to be a perfectly normal English boy with a gang, and a dog. The dog is from hell, but the gang isn’t, in spite of the collective opinion of the adults of the village. One too many swaps in the nursing home left the Antichrist as a cuckoo in the nest of a completely normal middle class family instead of the American diplomat’s, and completely untended by satanic nursemaids to guide him in the wrong path. And thus the stage is set for a satire that mercilessly dissects all manner of things about modern life, and has enormous fun along the way.

Very much recommended.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
Kobo

Book View Cafe Christmas sale

And just as I was thinking that I hadn’t seen anything about Book View Cafe having a sale, guess what drops into my inbox…. 50% off a selection of books from Dec 26 through to Jan1. :-) Obviously I have some conflict of interest here, since several of my friends are members of the Book View Cafe, but I’ve been very impressed over the years with the Cafe’s output. The discount is automatically applied at the checkout.

http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/category/bvc-sale/

Stuff I’ve already read and enjoyed:

The Wisteria Tearoom romantic mysteries
http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/a-fatal-twist-of-lemon/
http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/a-sprig-of-blossomed-thorn/
plus the new one which I haven’t read but has just gone in my shopping basket
http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/an-aria-of-omens/

Misc historical romance
http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/althea/
http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/danse-de-la-folie/
http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/my-dear-jenny/

Fantasy
http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/lhind-the-thief/

Just go and buy this if you like urban fantasy, okay? Chaz Brenchley’s Northern Lights duology is stunning.
http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/dead-of-light/
http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/light-errant/

Steampunk Jeeves and Wooster pastiche
http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/what-ho-automaton/
http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/reggiecide/
And another “latest in a series I already read”
http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/the-aunt-paradox/

I know I’ve missed some while skimming.

60) Linda Nagata — Hepen The Watcher

Note: I received a review copy through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

The demon Dismay/Smoke is in what turns out to be essentially self-imposed exile from his native country. He’s viewed as evil by those in power in the land of his exile. That’s because he answers the prayers of abused women desperate to escape misogynistic violence. There’s no shortage of such women in Lutawa, a land where oppression of women is such a bedrock of the culture and law that it’s a capital offence to teach a woman to read. That could be the basis of a dull political tract, but fear not — it’s a highly entertaining “overthrow the evil ruler” quest fantasy. It’s also the sequel to an earlier book, but I found that it worked well enough as a standalone. Occasionally I was left wondering about some detail of the world that must have been given in the first book, but in general Nagata feeds in enough backstory over the course of the book that all is clear by the end.

The book’s theme is fairly dark, and the text can be dark to the point of disturbing in places, but there’s nothing gratuitous about the nastier bits. And it’s well leavened by humour and character development. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, and the pacing does suffer slightly from it being a sequel, but I liked this one a lot.

http://www.librarything.com/work/12340912

book log: 56) Chaz Brenchley — Light Errant

Re-read of the sequel to the stunning dark urban fantasy Dead of Light. Ben Macallan fled abroad at the end of the first book, away from his gangster family and away from any temptation to use his supernatural abilities. But even so he finds himself in a situation where he has to intervene or watch a friend suffer. His promise to himself broken, he gets on his motorbike and heads for home.

But home isn’t what it was. The city has finally found a way to defy the Macallans and their uncanny powers of life and death. Only the Macallan men have power, and their women are now hostages. Ben is sick of death and destruction, but a rescue, never mind a peace deal, may be beyond even his extraordinary talent.

It can be read as a standalone if need be, but I think is much better read in sequence with Dead of Light. That way you get a full appreciation of the growth in Ben, as he not only learns to deal with his own newly discovered talent, but convinces key members of his generation of the family to find another way to use theirs. It doesn’t have quite the same impact as the first novel, because you don’t have the suspense of wondering just how the Macallan clan control the city, but it’s still an intense ride with a book that’s well out of the usual run of urban fantasy.

Light Errant is out of print in its original paper editions from NEL, but has been re-released in ebook format by Book View Cafe, along with Dead of Light. You can find samples of both books at the BVC website. And maybe if enough of us buy them, Chaz will write a third…

http://www.librarything.com/work/659570