Tag Archives: genre: fantasy

Nocturne by Irene Preston and Liv Rancourt

Nocturne

Nocturne by Irene Preston & Liv Rancourt

Series: Hours of the Night, Book 2
Published by:
 Prescourt Books on October 12, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

When a prominent society lady (and, as it turns out, essentially the head of a powerful coven) mysteriously dies at her own party, the only thing anyone knows for certain is that foul play is more than suspected. So it’s also no surprise that Thaddeus and Sarasija find themselves working to track down the murderer. And if it’s not enough to be on the trail of someone (or something) nefarious, they still need to track down the missing grimoire (a.k.a. guide to demon summoning) while Thaddeus is struggling to keep himself in control and Sara is having strange dreams that he is keeping to himself. Recipe for disaster? Probably. But these two just might be up to the challenge.

I was excited to see another installment in this series. There was something about Thaddeus and Sara that drew me in when I read Vespers, and that something is definitely still here. These two have experiences that are so different–they’re even from different eras, really–and through those differences they have managed to find something that works for them. Now, sometimes it doesn’t work as well as others, but I think it’s safe to say that is true of nearly any relationship. There are some unexpected twists to rush down in reading this story, and–I’ll just put it out there now–there are some unanswered questions that remain at the end. But that’s what book three is for, right?

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy provided by the authors.]

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

Published by: Redhook on September 5, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

When Ursule, matriarch of the family, dies, it seems as though her power goes with her. While her daughters keep the old ways and traditions alive, it seems none of them possesses the same skill and strength with magic that she always did. But the power burns anew when Ursule’s unsuspecting granddaughter is brought into the circle. What follows is a story of a family history that spans generations and raises questions about how far one will go to protect their secrets, their power, their family, and their future. Sometimes by doing what we think is necessary to protect that which we hold dear, we may be doing more damage than we realize…

An interesting story, for sure. What I think is most interesting about this book is the way the story threads across the generations, focusing on each new daughter as it works its way forward. The mother-daughter dynamic plays out here in various ways, but it all comes back to some of the same themes of how power and secrets can impact a family dynamic. As much as we may think that life would be so much easier if we just possessed the power to do something just outside the range of what is humanly possible, the reality is that the more ability we have may also mean more complication–especially if we need to keep that ability a secret in order to survive.

Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins

Fool's Gold

Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins

Series: The Dragon Lords, Book 1
Published by:
 Orbit on July 19, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

The Dragon Consortium does not represent what anyone might call benevolent rulers. Much the opposite, they demand outrageous taxes, oppress the people, and seem like they will only get worse as time goes on. But as long as one finds a way to pay the taxes and stay out of their way, they don’t have too much to worry about, right? That’s what Will Fallows thought until the dragon lord Mattrax’s soldiers appear on his doorstep demanding taxes he has already paid (and certainly cannot pay a second time). Threatened with the loss of his farm, a time in debtors’ prison, and the complete destruction of his future, Will manages to escape with his life, knowing he probably will not be able to outrun them for long. But Will happens upon two strapping adventurers in search of a fortune (Lette and Balur), a scholar with an interest in dragons (Quirk), and the old village drunk (Firkin), a plan unfolds to rob Mattrax and use the gold for everyone to find themselves a new life away from the Dragon Consortium. But plans do not always go to, well, plan, and the group quickly finds that they have taken on something that is more than any of them bargained for…

I will start off by saying that this is an entertaining and engaging read. It has all the elements of an epic fantasy, and I do know the story continues with another installment currently available. It’s definitely more of a party-as-protagonist type of story, though, as I would not identify any of the group as the main hero–they are all very much in it together for different reasons and with different challenges in front of them. There are little twists where things go wrong, and there are little twists where things go right in unexpected ways. And I found myself wondering as the book reached the end if everyone would actually make it out alive. You will just have to read to find out…

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Published by: Thomas Crowell on October 21, 1977
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Jess Aarons lives a simple life for a teenager, helping his parents with the chores, doing his schoolwork, and trying his best to become the fastest runner in school. When a new girl, Leslie Burke, moves in as his new neighbor, all of that changes. For one, Leslie turns out to be a rather fast runner herself. And together they invent Terabithia, an enchanted land that only they can get to or see in the woods near their homes. But fantasies can only last for so long, and a tragic accident shatters their world in a way that leaves Jess wondering if he can ever truly pick up the pieces.

I saw this movie a few years back, and it was one that I certainly enjoyed right away. The book provided an interesting comparison. The movie follows the book pretty well, though I think the book provides a little bit better sense of how Jess feels about his life and the people around him. It’s subtle, which I think is a testament to the way the author has developed the world and the characters, but it’s there. And, overall, I think it adds both to understanding Jess’s motivation and his reactions as we move through the book.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Published by: Tor on January 26, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead were close friends in childhood, but a series of incidents in high school led them to part ways. For Patricia, the development of magical powers was not expected, but it opened a whole new realm of possibilities. And Laurence’s tinkering led to a breakthrough–if you consider a time machine a breakthrough, and you probably should consider a time machine a breakthrough–that was similarly unanticipated. So when the two cross paths again years later, it should be no surprise that Patricia has graduated from a magical academy and is putting her powers to use to protect the world from catastrophe while Laurence is working with a group of genius engineers to develop similarly world-altering technology. Of course, it should also be no surprise that there are forces at play that neither of them expected that they will need to confront together if they are to avert the biggest catastrophe of them all…

I hesitate to praise this as “wildly original” (as I have seen elsewhere) because this is by far not the first time we have seen magical realism and it certainly not the last time we will ever see it. But there is something about the way the writer has developed the characters that certainly made me feel like I was being plunged into a world that is fresh and new. It’s an engaging and entertaining story, which I think many will find difficult to put down. There’s a hint of fantasy, a hint of science fiction, a dash of dystopia, and even a bit of real science all wrapped up here with a tattered bow.

Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar

Seasons of Glass and Iron

Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar

Published by: Saga Press on October 18, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

This is the tale of two women who must bear their burdens for the betterment of those around them. Because men cannot help themselves around her beauty, Amira must imprison herself high on a glass hill to keep all of her potential suitors at bay. Tabitha must wear out seven pairs of iron shoes to break her husband’s curse. Neither questions their situation on their own, but when they cross paths and tell each other their stories, they learn not only about the value of perspective but also about assumptions and misconceptions as well as the power they both have to control their own destinies.

There is something about a well-written adaptation of a fairy tale that I always enjoy. Reimagining and reinventing a classic story invokes considerations of perspective and innovation, and it is not easy to retell an existing story in an original way. But here readers get the gift of not only one excellent retelling but two intertwined tales that gain additional layers of meaning through the juxtaposition of each woman’s story.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

A Taste of Honey

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Published by: Tor on October 25, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Aqib bgm Sadiqi finds that his association to the royal family (fourth cousin) can be a blessing and a curse. Sure, relative fame and fortune have their privileges. But there are expectations that come with a role that he never asked to take on. And those expectations may stand in the way of Aqib’s rapidly-blossoming affection (and lust) for Lucrio, a Daluçan soldier who would be well below his station even without the expectation that Aqib take for himself a blushing bride. Some things in life are worth fighting for, however, especially when one gets a small taste of what life could be and the path of least resistance means leaving that feeling and that life behind. But if society is good at anything, it’s telling people how to live…and can Aqib and Lucrio stand up against that and make it through with that feeling and their life together still intact?

Reading this novella, for me, was like falling down a hole into this world, a world in which I have never been, to the point where I could feel the longing, the desire, the loss, the frustration, etc. that Aqib experiences. Wilson has created a rich fantasy world with enough backstory and the right connections to our own society that readers should have no trouble connecting with and understanding the characters, even though they are not our contemporaries. At the same time, the pacing of the story and the sequence of events allows readers to get lost in this world, with no desire to come out until the story is finished. And being novella-length, this is one that you need not feel bad at all for devouring in one sitting.

The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde

The Jewel and her Lapidary

The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde

Published by: Tor on May 3, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Lin is a young princess, never destined to rule over the kingdom. Sima, her lapidary, was never trained on how to use the powerful gems and their magic for anything beyond what a princess may need. So when a massacre of the royal family leaves Lin as the only hope for her kingdom, both find themselves running into new territory with high-stakes consequences–not just for the two of them, but for an entire people.

There is a lot to the concept and the world that Fran Wilde has created here. The traditions, the history, the people–it hearkens to an epic fantasy story, though this is delivered in a single, novella-length installment. The story is fast-moving, with little time to stop for intentional character development and backstory, with everything coming through via the characters’ actions. And that can be a good thing at times, though there are moments in this story where things move so quickly that I felt a few things may have been lost. The story is well-written, and I would say my only complaint is that I would have like to see this developed over the course of more pages (or even multiple books) to really immerse myself as a reader.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Series: Wayward Children, Book 1
Published by:
 Tor on April 5, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

We have all read and enjoyed the epic adventures of children who manage to stumble into fantastic, strange new worlds. But what comes of them when they return back to the mundane world of their origin. No one believes them. And they cannot find their way back. But their lives will never be the same. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children can provide a place where these children are understood, but Miss West knows they may have to find a way to learn to live with a longing that will never be fulfilled. But can the Home truly provide protection for the resident children…

A creative and original take on the notion of what comes after. McGuire manages, in a novella-length story, to develop and present a rich world that draws readers in quickly and hooks them into the fate of Nancy and her fellow residents. And at the same time, issues of how we perceive and treat each other–but also how we treat ourselves–are tackled head on in a way that may leave readers coming out of the book seeing things differently than they did before, much like the children in the story.

The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon

The Tomato Thief

“The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon

Series: Jackalope Wives, #2
Published by:
 Apex Magazine on January 5, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Grandma Harken lives out on the edge of town, away from most everyone else. Many speculate on why that is: Is it for privacy? Is she a witch? Does she just not like people? But maybe the real question is: Does it even matter? One thing Grandma Harken does like are her prized tomatoes. When they start disappearing from her garden, however, she finds herself with her own set of questions about the thief. And what follows is a double lesson on why one should never make assumptions or judge people based on the little information we can get from just a glance or two.

There was no question for me that this was destined to win the Hugo Award in the novelette category once I had a chance to read all the finalists. In a relatively short space, Ursula Vernon packs in a well-paced fantasy story with a touch of mystery and some action to go along with it. The storytelling is gripping, and while the overall message seems like a serious one, I felt a lightness to it all that kept it from becoming too heavy. I do find reviewing shorter fiction to be difficult because sometimes I worry about having enough to talk about without spoiling the plot. There is so much here, though, that I know I have not even come close. The story is available to read for free on the Apex Magazine website, so I suggest checking it out when you get a chance.