A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic, Book 2
Published by: Tor Books on February 23, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)
In the four months since the events of A Darker Shade of Magic, both Delilah Bard and Kell have tried to put those things in their past. While Lilah has found a place on a pirate ship by putting her skills to use in acquiring things for the captain, she’s still finding her place in a world that isn’t hers. She’s learning to use magic, and she knows she can’t avoid returning to Red London (and Kell) forever. For Kell, it’s been much harder to distance himself. In the aftermath, he finds himself kept in the palace more than ever before, with tensions between him and King Maxim seeming only to grow with each passing day. But Red London is preparing for a major tournament–the Elemental Games–which may provide just enough distraction for everyone and some much needed relief. But one must be careful of distractions, as they have a tendency to distract from other dangers lurking beneath the surface…
I’ve had a copy of this since it was released, but it has taken me some time to get it open and read. That’s not because I wasn’t excited for it–I really have been. A Darker Shade of Magic was one of the best books I read last year. And that’s exactly why I waited. I wanted to make sure I had the time and space to truly experience and enjoy the next installment in this series. And it didn’t take long to get into the rhythm of these characters, to remember the wonder that these worlds left me with the first time around, and to try to anticipate some of the twists that really did surprise me. If you like high fantasy that doesn’t get bogged down too much in the details at the expense of keeping the plot moving, this is honestly a series for you. And I am personally looking forward to the conclusion in the early part of 2017.
The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman Malik
Published by: Tor.com on April 22, 2015
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)
As a child, Sal was always fascinated by the stories his grandfather would tell of his life in Pakistan. And the story he loved more than any other was the one of the Mughal princess. Her family’s protector was a jinn who lived in a eucalyptus tree. And even though few people believed her, Sal’s grandfather wasn’t a big skeptic. And though Sal’s grandfather never said it, Sal always felt there was something more to the story.
When Sal’s grandfather dies, he feels compelled to go check out the source of the stories. Even his girlfriend, Sarah, can see that he seems distracted. Perhaps if he goes to Lahore, he can put the fantastic stories to rest. But instinct is a powerful force, and there may just be more waiting for Sal than he expected.
This is a novella, and I often find reviewing short fiction to be difficult. One of the biggest reasons is that it’s hard to give a synopsis without giving too much away. And because I tend to review based on my reaction, it’s harder to keep from spoiling key parts of the story.
What I did like about this particular story is the way it’s framed. There are so many themes that one can see here: family, travel, exploring your past, fantasy, etc. But it’s woven together in a seamless way. I feel like this is one of those that is likely to mean something a bit different to each reader. And those are some of the best stories to read and share.
The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn on Tor.com
Title: Witches of Lychford
Author: Paul Cornell
Published: September 8, 2015
Publisher’s Website: link
The people of Lychford are divided over something that could change their little town forever: a major supermarket chain wants to open up a storefront. Emotions run high on both sides–those who see it was a step forward for Lychford and those who feel like it goes against everything their town has become. But Judith Mawson, seen by many as the village crackpot, knows the truth: the threat is much bigger than anyone realizes. In order to do anything about it, however, she’s going to need to enlist others. Enter Lizzie, the new vicar, still in mourning over a lost love, and Autumn, Lizzie’s former friend, an agnostic-turned-mystic. Not only will Lizzie and Autumn learn the truth about Lychford, they will also learn the truth about why they lost touch years ago. By uniting with Judith to save Lychford, they may just find the healing they both need at the same time.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked this one up, but I was pleasantly surprised. This is a complex, engaging, and well-developed urban (can I really call it “urban,” though?) fantasy tale with some twists that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The backstory here is rich, and it’s revealed over the course of the story in an almost seamless way. I can safely say this is one of my Hugo nominations for this year.
Title: Lock In (Lock In, Book 1)
Author: John Scalzi
Published: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Tor Books
Publisher’s Website: link
In the not too distant future, a new virus hits humanity. For most, the symptoms are nothing more than the inconvenience of the flu. But for approximately one percent of the population, the virus has devastating effects. It results in what is dubbed “Lock In”. Those with the condition are fully aware of their surroundings but are unable to move or respond in any way to what’s going on around them. Solutions are found, ranging from robotic vessels that those with “Haden’s syndrome” can control and maneuver to “Integrators” who can actually allow someone who is locked in to borrow their body and control them for a period of time. While the latter may help people feel like they get a more life-like experience, it creates a situation where it may be difficult to tell who is the actor in any situation–the Haden or the Integrator. When FBI agents Chris Shane and Leslie Vann are assigned a case with an Integrator for a suspect, they’re faced with just this question. But when more connections to others in the Haden movement are discovered, they quickly learn there is far more to their case than they ever could have imagined.
This is the first John Scalzi novel I’ve read, and I am certainly quite pleased with what I’ve found. The amount of effort and creativity that he’s put into constructing this future shows in the characters, their surroundings, and the story itself. While this is science fiction, there was no moment where I really found myself saying “this could never happen.” And when your goal is to present would could be a future on Earth, that’s a very important quality. The mystery here is filled with twists and turns, and sometimes just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you will learn you were wrong.
Definitely looking forward to the sequel for this one…
Title: A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic, Book 1)
Author: V.E. Schwab
Published: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Tor Books
Author Website: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
In a world of parallel universes, there is one constant: London. Though every world is very different, they all have a city named London in the same place and it serves as the loose thread that holds them all together. And the thread is loose because there are only a few who can travel between them. Kell is one such Traveler, and has become the ambassador (and an adoptee) of the royalty of Red London to carry correspondence back and forth with Grey London and White London. But on his visits, Kell engages in a hobby of smuggling artifacts back and forth, despite the objections and warnings of his adopted brother. But neither of them know the true extent of the trouble Kell might wade into without even thinking…
I have to start by saying I LOVED THIS. A high fantasy filled with magic, intrigue, royalty, and betrayal? Sign me up over and over again. But more than that, Schwab has created a world that is well-developed and has that ring of truth that is so important when writing speculative fiction of any kind. The complexity of the characters and the relationship dynamics are just as important to the story as the world serving as the backdrop, and there are no disappointments there, either.
I highly, highly recommend this to anyone who has even the slightest interest in fantasy. I think it’s a fair bet you will not be disappointed.
Title: The Goblin Emperor
Author: Katherine Addison
Published: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Tor Books
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Maia, fourth son of the Emperor of the Elven lands, was exiled from the Imperial Court and relegated to an outlying estate as a child following the death of his mother. After all, with three sons before him (and the fact that he was half-goblin), there was really no need to have him present. And because of these facts, he never expected he would see the Court again. But when the Emperor and everyone in the line of succession before Maia is killed when their airship crashes, Maia finds himself suddenly returning to the Imperial Court for a purpose no one–including Maia–ever would have expected: to take his now rightful place on the throne. But becoming Emperor certainly isn’t easy. There are those who certainly oppose Maia’s ascendance to the crown. And his absence from Court means he missed out on much of the necessary education to fully understand all of the requirements, expectations, and duties of his new role. Add to that the revelation that the death of his father was not an accident, and Maia certainly has his work cut out for him if he’s going to keep his realm prospering and his people inspired.
Talk about some well-written fantasy here. Katherine Addison has created a wonderful world with a rich history and a very complex set of relationships between these characters. While not poised as a mystery per se, it also contains a whodunnit plot line that certainly kept me guessing until the end, too. It’s very easy to become invested in these characters, to see all of their dimensions (including their flaws), and really understand what motivates them. The players here are certainly not stock characters by any means and the storytelling is masterful.
It can be easy to feel intimidated by the 12-page list of names at the end of the book: but I say don’t be. While there are a lot of names (some of which are a bit similar due to family relationships), I found it is always very easy to understand who is who by relationships. In pretty much every scene, it is apparent the role each person plays either in relation to the Imperial Court or to Maia and thus it’s easy to track the major players that way.