Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator #2: Shadows & Dreams

Sweet dreams are made of this; who am I to disagree? I travel the world and the seven seas; everyone’s looking for something. Let’s look to get used and abused by Shadows & Dreams, by Alexis Hall.

Synopsis:

Second rule in this line of business: be careful who you kill.

My name’s Kate Kane. And right now, I don’t know which is more dangerous: my job, or my girlfriend. My job makes me the go-to girl for every supernatural mystery in London. My girlfriend’s an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince. Honestly, I think it’s probably a tie.

A few weeks ago, I was hired for a simple missing person case. Next thing I know, I’m being arrested for murder, a vampire army is tearing up London, and even my dreams are out to get me. Something ancient, evil, and scary as hell is on the loose and looking for payback. The vampires are in chaos, the werewolves are culling everything, and the Witch Queen can’t protect everyone.

Which means it’s down to me. And all I’ve got to hold back the shadows is a stiff drink, a quirky sidekick, my creepy ex-boyfriend, and the woman who left me for a tech startup. It’s going to be another interesting day.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Kate Kane is back in action and busier than ever. Tash the Teetotal Lesbian, a minor character from the first book, returns to hire Kate to search for her missing brother. This simple job is complicated when the vampire Court arrests Kate for accidentally killing Aeglica Thrice-Risen during the battle against the King of the Court of Love. Remember, folks: always check your target before swinging your sword and avoid “friendly stab”. Of course, at the same time she’s being put on trial for her life, an ancient evil vampire queen has risen again and is raising an army of undead. And, because it just wouldn’t be a completely clusterfuck without that special personal touch, two of her ex-girlfriends are re-entering her life: Eve, a tech entrepreneur who has recently decided she wants to be a cross between those Initiative guys from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Batman; and Corin, thief, murderer, and Maltese-Falcon-hunter, recently escaped from prison. Yep, it’s looking to be one of those weeks.

Needless to say, I loved it. It was great meeting more uniquely strange and interesting vampires; last book introduced the four Princes, of course, but they apparently have a whole convoluted Tarot Arcana-themed organization. And speaking of vampires, I loved the introduction of Patrick’s new girlfriend Sofia and her peripheral storyline which occasionally abutted Kate’s in places. The implication that she was just off-screen having her own personal Twilight paranormal romance adventure, with Kate misconstrued as the bitter former lover antagonist trying to break Sofia and Patrick up out of spite, was just perfect. Anyone can point a finger and say “ha ha, sparkling vampires are stupid”; seamlessly working in a thorough deconstruction as a sublot is the mark of a true master. Not to mention the fact that, despite the book having a myriad of seemingly-unconnected plotlines, everything turns out to be connected and ties together perfectly in the end.

I also liked seeing Eve and Corin in person, having only heard Kate’s bitterness-twinged secondhand reminiscences about them in the first book. Eve was absolutely perfect. Corin I thought was laying on the whole doe-eyed innocent shtick a little too thickly, particularly since we the audience are already fully aware of her true treacherous nature; but I guess that kind of overwrought hammy performance just comes with the territory of pretty much straight-out being Brigid O’Shaughnessy. The stuff that dreams are made of, indeed.

I love this series and wish I could read dozens of books from it. Unfortunately, there are no further volumes currently available. The end of the book promises that a third entry in the series is “coming soon”; but it’s been three years since this one was published and there’s still no sign of the next book, so obviously not that soon. I guess that’s the downside of picking up a series that’s still currently in-progress: if I only just today discovered The Dresden Files, there would be over a dozen volumes queued up and ready to read; but I have no idea when or even if the next volume if this will come out. This must be what it feels like to be A Song of Ice and Fire fan.

Final Rating: 5/5

Advertisements

Downside Ghosts #1: Unholy Ghosts

Something strange in the neighborhood; who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! If there’s something weird, and it don’t look good; who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! But the Debunkers are surely the runner-up. They probably rate ahead of Scooby Doo, at any rate. Let’s spook up some Unholy Ghosts, by Stacia Kane.

Synopsis:

THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED.

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

The Downside Ghosts series introduces a new and unique post-apocalyptic setting: a world where the innumerable legions of the dead rose against the living not as zombies, but as ghosts. Guess they heard that zombies are way overexposed nowadays. In any event, after the ghostpocalypse – or “Haunted Week”, as it is more boringly known in-universe – society was taken over by the highly authoritarian Church, which maintains a monopoly on the esoteric magic spells needed to provide protection against ghosts and to banish them to the City of Eternity deep beneath the Earth’s surface. Once a year, they let a bunch of ghosts out for a Festival, just to remind everyone why they’re in charge. The rest of the time, they employ Debunkers to handle ghost-related problems: to exorcize real ghosts, and to expose people who are faking hauntings for profit.

Our protagonist, Chess, is an impoverished and drug-addicted Debunker living in a real nasty part of town. In addition to getting assigned a seemingly-simple debunking assignment that turns out to be far more complicated than it appeared, she gets caught in an awkward spot between two drug dealers each hoping to use her to get an advantage over the other; not to mention accidentally stumbling over a black magic ritual and acquiring a cursed amulet with a taste for her blood and possibly her soul. So, she’s got her work cut out for her. Luckily, no matter how seemingly insurmountable the problems facing her are, she finds they don’t seem all that serious when she’s on a bunch of drugs, which is pretty much all the time. So, she’s pretty sure she’s got a handle on things.

Chess also manages to meet the obligatory orphan child street urchin. There’s always one, you know? Unfortunately, he’s a boy. For whatever reason, while this sort of girl can turn out to be an interesting supporting character, this sort of boy always turns out to be an unbearably obnoxious little shitstain. I don’t know why this should be the case, but my experience tells me it is so. Compare Savannah from Women of the Otherworld, Julie from Kate Daniels, and Mia from OSI to Flim-Flam from The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo, Kai from The Legend of Korra, and Anakin from the Star Wars prequels. So, I was really worried that Ellen Ripley Syndrome would kick in for Chess and the little brat would end up sticking around. Fortunately, he gets killed by the bad guys. So, dodged a bullet there.

Anyway, this is a real interesting setting which I think has the potential to tell some really good stories, so I’ll be sticking around to see where it goes.

Final Rating: 3/5

Blood Singer #7: All Your Wishes

You want three wishes: one to fly the heavens, one to swim like fishes; and then one you’re saving for a rainy day, if your lover ever takes their love away. Let’s rub the old lamp and grant All Your Wishes, by Cat Adams.

Synopsis:

An ifrit tries to take over Celia Graves’s body so he can free thousands of evil djinn to plague mankind!

A client begs Celia Graves—part human, part Siren, part vampire—to help return a genie to his bottle. The attempt makes Celia a target for the currently incorporeal ifrit. If she doesn’t give him her body, he’ll kill everyone she loves. If she does, he’ll use her physical form to free thousands of evil djinn.

Celia’s not going to hand over her body, but her client tries to trick her into it—so that he can kill the ifrit while it’s trapped in her flesh. That doesn’t end well for the client. Celia might not get paid for the gig, but she’s got to get the ifrit re-bottled before all hell breaks loose—possibly literally!

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

After a long gap between novels, Cat Adams has returned with the next book in the Blood Singer series… sort of. You see, “Cat Adams” was actually a pseudonym for a collaboration between C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp. Starting with this novel, however, C.T. is writing solo. I didn’t really notice any significant difference in style while reading it, unlike certain other series which have switched co-author or main author (does anything even need to be said about Eoin Colfer’s extremely ill-fated attempt to continue the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series after Douglas Adams’s tragic demise?). I only point it out now in case it becomes more prominent in subsequent books, or the author completely forgets about major previously established plot points because it was the other author who’d written those parts. Not that I expect anything like that to happen; I’m sure C.T. has a complete handle on all the many complicated character arcs and story threads that were still in the air when Cathy departed. Though, um, I gotta ask: what was up with that sorta-ghostly, possibly-angelic spirit thingy that saved Celia in exchange for a promised future favor but hasn’t been spoken of since? If you didn’t write that part yourself, C.T., you surely at least got the lowdown from Cathy as to what it is and how it is supposed to tie into the story… right? Just asking…

Anyway, on to the book itself. The plot is fairly simple: an evil genie has escaped its bottle, and its up to Celia to cork it back up. The real difficulty lies not in the genie’s immense magical power or in the assassins her human enemies have sent after her (bearing a grudge over her defeated them in the last novel), but in the fact that the mystical Guardian who is supposed to be aiding her in the task is a treacherous, back-stabbing little weasel. Of course, he’s the big special Chosen One with magical authority over all matters regarding genie imprisonment, so she has no choice but to suck it up and tolerate his constant sabotage. What a dick. I don’t think anyone will be surprised or disappointed to learn that he dies at the end of the novel. Whatever powers-that-be are in charge of selecting the Guardian should probably look into improving their criteria. Just a thought.

The book is basically decent. I didn’t really have many problems with it, but it wasn’t exactly exceptional, either. And the conclusion was kind of weak: the genie had apparently made a deal with a demon for some super-nefarious purpose, but we never find out what exactly the genie did for the demon or why. I guess it’s supposed to be a sequel hook, but it really kind of lacks the appropriate amount of… ominousness? Ominosity? Whatever – the point is, the epilogue takes place after a one-year timeskip, and the demon apparently hasn’t done anything at all for that whole time, and nobody seems overly concerned about it. It’s not even clear if the genie managed to fulfill its end of the bargain before Celia defeated it. So, the demon still being at large isn’t exactly an urgent cliffhanger.

And that’s it.

Oh? Were you perhaps expecting me to say something more? Possibly you thought I might comment on the fact that one corner of Celia’s long-running love-triangle subplot was abruptly and unceremoniously killed off? Please: I already stated in a previous review that I am so past the point of caring about any of Celia’s love-triangle bullshit. I stopped giving a shit about either of her love interests so long ago that my response to one of them dying in this book and the other not even appearing at all was a resounding “meh”. Okalani’s death made me angry; this one didn’t even warrant a shrug.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Decent book, but not exceptional. About average, I’d say.

Final Rating: 3/5

Allie Beckstrom #7: Magic on the Line

Outside her window, he crept; watching her every step. Oh, oh, oh! He’s following Allie! Oh, oh, oh! He’s out of his tree. But, oh, oh, oh, she’s also off of her rocker! That’s right, Allie wants to marry her stalker. Let’s call the cops on Magic on the Line, by Devon Monk

Synopsis:

Allison Beckstrom has willingly paid the price of pain to use magic, and has obeyed the rules of the Authority, the clandestine organization that makes-and enforces-all magic policy. But when the Authority’s new boss, Bartholomew Wray, refuses to believe that the sudden rash of deaths in Portland might be caused by magic, Allie must choose to follow the Authority’s rules, or turn against the very people for whom she’s risked her life.

To stop the plague of dark magic spreading through the city, all that she values will be on the line: her magic, her memories, her life. Now, as dead magic users rise to feed upon the innocent and the people closest to her begin to fall, Allie is about to run out of options.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Zayvion Jones. Every new thing I learn about you somehow manages to make me like you less. And that is quite an accomplishment, considering I never much liked you to begin with. You started off withholding information from Allie resulting in her life being in danger; then you ordered her not to help endangered civilians during a natural disaster; then you ordered her to trust Jingo Jingo, the child-molesting and serial-killing traitor within the Authority, because you were sure your appraisal of him was so much better than hers; then you got all pissy when she saved your life because you only ever want to be the white knight riding to her rescue and can’t stand for it to be the other way around. So, what is it this time? Well, we previously thought that Zayvion had met Allie while being employed by her father to follow her; but it turns out that Zayvion had been stalking her for months beforehand entirely on his own initiative. And because Allie is apparently Bella fucking Swan, she finds this revelation to be the hottest thing ever and restates her love for him.

Stalking is not sexy. It’s scary. Get help!

And honestly, I could stop this review right here. Zayvion Jones has officially become god-damned Edward Cullen; do you really think there is any possible way the book could redeem itself at this point? Hell, I’m tempted to say that this kills the whole fucking series. Allie Beckstrom has gone full Twilight. You never go full Twilight. I now officially hate Zayvion, and I kind of hate Allie for loving him, so it’s not like I’m very invested in the future of this series. Still, having come so far, I’m not going to abandon these books in the final stretch. Just don’t expect any leniency in my ratings going forwards, because my reserves of goodwill are now officially exhausted.

So, anyway, the plot of this book. As usual for this series, the first part of the book is slow-paced and full of tangential plotlines completely unrelated to the main conflict, such as Chase’s funeral. Eventually, we get the actual story: the Veiled are spreading poisoned magic through the city, casing everyone they come into contact with to get sick, and the new asshole who’s taken charge of the Authority refuses to do anything about it as part of a nefarious scheme to consolidate power. It’s kind of a shame, actually, that this book included the Zayvion stalking bit that shredded the last bit of my patience, because there’s actually some pretty good stuff here: the newly introduced sort-of doctor Eli Collins is an interesting character, and there’s a really quite tense climactic showdown with a whole horde of Veiled at a magic cistern – the kind of things that might have persuaded me to overlook the book’s flaws, if the first half hadn’t just convinced me that I’d been too generous in overlooking the series’s flaws.

Just two more to go, people. I think it’s too late to hope for it to get better; at this point, all we can do is hope to get it over with.

Final Rating: 2/5

Mangoverse #1: The Second Mango

I wish I had a mango tree in my back yard, with you standing next to me. Unfortunately, the fruit tree in my back yard is apple. I do, however, have the next best thing: The Second Mango, by Shira Glassman.

Synopsis:

Queen Shulamit never expected to inherit the throne of the tropical land of Perach so young. At twenty, grief-stricken and fatherless, she’s also coping with being the only lesbian she knows after her sweetheart ran off for an unknown reason. Not to mention, she’s the victim of severe digestive problems that everybody thinks she’s faking. When she meets Rivka, an athletic and assertive warrior from the north who wears a mask and pretends to be a man, she finds the source of strength she needs so desperately.

Unfortunately for her, Rivka is straight, but that’s okay — Shulamit needs a surrogate big sister just as much as she needs a girlfriend. Especially if the warrior’s willing to take her around the kingdom on the back of her dragon in search of other women who might be open to same-sex romance. The real world outside the palace is full of adventure, however, and the search for a royal girlfriend quickly turns into a rescue mission when they discover a temple full of women turned to stone by an evil sorcerer.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Shulamit, a young lesbian queen, is looking for a lover. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know any other lesbians. However, during one embarrassing misadventure, she has a chance encounter with Rivka, a mercenary warrior woman who disguises herself as a man. Rivka isn’t interested in Shulamit that way, but does offer to escort her on a journey across the land to try and find a sweetheart. And so, along with Rivka’s magic horse that occasionally transforms into a dragon, they set off on their quest.

The Second Mango is a fairly light and fluffy story. The encounters which Shulamit and Rivka run into tend to be simple and quickly resolved without much conflict. The only really major battle happens in a flashback. And, in the end, every problem gets resolved with remarkable convenience and there are happy endings all around. But you know what? That’s fine. Sure, I enjoy some ultra-grimdark fantasy like A Land Fit For Heroes, but that doesn’t mean I can’t occasionally enjoy a palate-cleanser on the lighter side of the spectrum. Sometimes, I’m in the mood for lighter fare, and want to enjoy a story without wondering every chapter whether I’m going to have to hand out a Dead Lesbian Penalty. I want to enjoy the escapades of some characters who are light and quirky and not deadly serious all the time.

And The Second Mango does, I think, excel with its characters. It shows both their developing friendship in the present as well as flashbacks explaining the past experiences which led them up to this point. Both are sympathetic, interesting, and often humorous, and are just generally a real pleasure to read about. The setting was quite interesting as well, with its unusual (for high fantasy, in my experience anyway) Jewish cultural background.

One more thing of note: the book features sex scenes. I normally wouldn’t feel the need to bring this up, but it stood out to me because the book is classified as Young Adult. It’s often been my experience that Young Adult books endlessly dance around the subject – the protagonists are free to engage in as much violence as they please, of course, but must never so much as mention sex; think of the children! So, it always pleases me when I come across one with the courage to address the issue frankly and acknowledge that two characters who fall in love will generally end up having sex at some point.

All in all, a very enjoyable reading experience.

Final Rating: 4/5

The Hardy Boys Mystery Stories #160: A Game Called Chaos

Do you want to play a game? Let’s boot up A Game Called Chaos, by Franklin W. Dixon

Synopsis:

A stalking wolf! Monster spiders and snakes! This game is real – and deadly!

Legendary computer game designer Steven Royal has disappeared – with the only complete new game in the Chaos series. With just two weeks to go before the game goes into production, Viking Software, where Frank and Joe’s friend Chelsea works, is in big trouble. The boys must find the master disk – now!

Strange e-mails lead the boys into a dark steam tunnel and then to a remote state park, where weird creatures attack them. After barely escaping with their lives, they end up in a creepy New England ghost town. Time is running out, and danger lurks around every corner. But the most awesome monster of all is ready to download real chaos!

Source: Back of the book (courtesy Goodreads link)

SPOILERS BELOW

A while ago, I decided on a whim to review an old Hardy Boys book I had sitting on my bookshelf. Well, I happened to have another one lying around, so I figured why not review it as well?

Now, I stated in the previous review that I read two distinct series of Hardy Boys novels: the Casefiles and the Mystery Stories. In my recollections, the Casefiles tended to be shorter and slicker, more focused on action beats than on laying out a proper mystery, while the Mystery Stories were slower paced and put more effort into the clues and characters. Now, I stand by that assessment: the Casefiles definitely had more blood and death and violence in its first volume than you’d find in any dozen randomly selected Mystery Stories. However, that’s only a general rule, and doesn’t apply to every single volume. The Mysteries Stories could go some pretty weird places themselves, on occasion. Case in point: in A Game Called Chaos, investigating a kidnaped video game developer leads to the Hardy Boys fighting robots.

Yep.

Robots, shaped like snakes and spiders and a giant gorilla.

No, there’s no actual reason for it. The villain is just kinda crazy and really likes robots.

It’s ironic, because the villain’s motivation is wanting more money, and the Hardy Boys note that she must have spent a ton of money building these pointless robot things.

They aren’t even that dangerous – aside from the giant gorilla, none succeed in hurting anyone.

Alright, leaving aside the villain’s insane robot fetish, how is the plot? Well… it kind of has some holes in it. See, she had up to now been living off of royalty money from Steven Royal’s games. But Royal changed his contract for the latest game, planning to keep all the money for himself, and she couldn’t contest it in court because she had faked her death and was living under a false identity. So, instead, she kidnaps Royal. Okay, I’m with her up to this point. But then, for some reason, she decides to leave a trail of riddles and hints as to the location of her secret lair where she’s keeping Royal prisoner. Why? Why would you do that? It is the most utterly stupid and counterproductive thing she could possibly do. For instance…

“As we suspected, Sakai did have her own program within the university computer. When we went poking around, the program activated, sending us the clue. That’s how she knew when to go to Kendall State Park with Scavenger and roll the rocks away from the cave entrance.”

– Frank Hardy, Chapter 16, “The Final Blow”

Why move the rocks away from the cave entrance, when you’re trying to hide Royal? Why send the clue in the first place? You make no sense, crazy lady! The Hardys say she was playing “a game of revenge”, but she wanted revenge against Royal – who she already had tied up in her lair. Who exactly did she expect would be following the clues? What kind of person commits a perfect crime but then feels compelled to leave behind a trail of cryptic clues and deadly traps for the detective who wouldn’t even be on the case if not for those very riddles and… and… and…

RiddlerAndEnigma

It all makes sense now. Obviously she laid these elaborate traps out for the Batman, only for the Hardy Brother to unwittingly fall into them instead. I get it now! It all makes sense!

…No, wait, it’s still stupid. Nevermind.

Now’s the point where I’d bring Dlanor back to comment about how well the mystery follows the rules of fair play like she did for the last one, but she refused as soon as she heard about the robots. Said that meant it no longer qualified as a mystery, but was some kind of action-adventure story instead. Sorry about that.

So, yeah… in hindsight, this one doesn’t hold up too well either. Still, I remember enjoying it as a kid, and it’s one from the series that I apparently liked enough to actually buy and keep on my shelf all these years, so I’ll give it a +1 Nostalgia Bonus.

Final Rating: 3/5

Dreg City #1: Three Days to Dead

I’m looking for a new urban fantasy series to read, and it seems I’ve been reduced to sifting through the dregs. Let’s start a countdown for Three Days to Dead, by Kelly Meding.

Synopsis:

They’ll never see her coming. . . .

When Evangeline Stone wakes up naked and bruised on a cold slab at the morgue—in a stranger’s body, with no memory of who she is and how she got there—her troubles are only just beginning. Before that night she and the two other members of her Triad were the city’s star bounty hunters, mercilessly cleansing the city of the murderous creatures living in the shadows, from vampires to shape-shifters to trolls. Then something terrible happened that not only cost all three of them their lives but also convinced the city’s other Hunters that Evy was a traitor—and she can’t even remember what it was.

Now she’s a fugitive, piecing together her memory, trying to deal some serious justice—and discovering that she has only three days to solve her own murder before the reincarnation spell wears off. Because in three days Evy will die again—but this time there’s no second chance. . . .

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Evy was murdered, but now she’s back. A friend of hers performed a resurrection spell, placing her soul into the body of a stranger, but she lost the memories of the last few days before her death in the process. Now, she only has three days before the spell wears off and she dies again… three days to solve her own murder.

It’s a really interesting concept, which is why I picked up the book in the first place. But the execution… I just wasn’t feeling it. Look, take this passage:

Wyatt: “You know, you’re showing amazing restraint.”
Evy: “With what? The cheesecake?”
Wyatt: “No, with not asking me about the night you died. And who else was in the room.”
Evy: “You’ll tell me when I need to know something.”
Wyatt: “Fair enough.”

Three Days to Dead, Chapter 10

No, not “fair enough”. Wyatt has told you that you discovered some terrible truth relating to the rumors of a budding alliance between goblins and vampires – an alliance which, if it comes to fruition, could result in the devastation of the world and the enslavement of humanity beneath the heels of their new goblin and vampire overlords. You tried, literally with your dying breath, to convey this vital information, but were unable to because of someone who was in the room at the time – someone who is thus, presumably, a traitor involved in the plot. Possibly involved in the events leading to your death. Maybe even involved in that big genocide of Owlkins you feel oh-so-guilty about being indirectly responsible for. You have only three days – closer to two at this point in the story – to investigate each of the people who were in that room, determine their guilt or innocence, and put a stop to their evil plan. And you don’t even care enough to ask for the suspects’ names?

Well, there goes all the suspense and drama you might have gotten from your mystery with a ticking clock deadline, deflating like a punctured balloon making a humorously flatulent sound as it shrivels up. Because if Evy doesn’t even care enough about her own murder to ask the most basic of questions to begin investigating it, how can I?

Of course, once Evy does regain her memory of her death, the big surprise twist is that Wyatt was lying to her: she never actually discovered any vital information, there was no-one else present at her death, and Wyatt made the deal to resurrect her not to gain any vital clue to save humanity but because he was in love with her and wanted to spend a few more days with her. So, it doesn’t matter that Evy didn’t even try to solve the mystery, because there was never any mystery to be solved. And actually, given that Evy was murdered by the goblins specifically to motivate Wyatt into making the deal with Tovin into bringing her back, not because of anything relating to Evy but because Tovin needed a way to get Wyatt in his debt for part of his evil plan, Evy pretty much fits the bill of a woman getting stuffed into the fridge. This is probably the first story I’ve read where the fridged woman is the main character; so congratulations on that, I guess?

By the way, Wyatt: good job making Evy relive all her traumatic memories of being tortured and raped to death in an attempt to learn the non-existent truth behind a made-up mystery you invented because you didn’t want to admit you had her resurrected for purely selfish reasons. You ass. I never at any point in the book got anywhere close to liking Wyatt’s character; which spells a big problem for this series, if he’s going to be the main love interest. Frankly, I would have been more satisfied if he’d died at the end. It was established that Wyatt’s death could remove the 3 day time limit and allow Evy to continue to live on in her new body indefinitely – which, you know, pretty much has to happen, given that there are at least five sequels – so he could have had a big redemptive death scene where he gives his life in order to foil Tovin’s plan, give Evy additional life, and atone for lying to her about her death and resurrection. But no, instead he gets his own bullshit deus ex machina resurrection scene. Can anyone say, diminished impact of character mortality? Though, of course, only main characters are apparently worthy of cheating death in such a manner; even though they seem to have discovered this huge loophole that allows permanent resurrection, nobody’s going to offer to bring any of those poor dead Owlkins back to life.

Hey, speaking of the Owlkins: what exactly was the deal with that whole incident? So, a big deal was made about how Evy was framed for murdering her partners, and how the Hunters came down on her with totally excessive force for it. The speculation was that they had been pressured by the big Brass in the police, and that the Brass had been pressured by the Fey Council. And when we thought that there was a highly-placed traitor whose identity Evy had discovered, that made sense; someone within the system using it to bring her down. But evil mastermind, as we discover, is Tovin. And Tovin isn’t one of the Fey:

Among the oldest and wisest of the nonhumans in the city, Tovin is rumored to be an elf prince banished from Upside by his people for choosing a bride outside of his race. He’s also rumored to live in a mushroom, eat cats for breakfast, and fly during full moons. No human I’ve met prior to Wyatt had ever seen him, or any other elf. Neither Fey nor Dreg, elves have six-hundred-year life spans. Tovin has supposedly spent the last four centuries among humans.

Three Days to Dead, Chapter 8

I’m not seeing how Tovin was in a position to get the Council to go all overboard in hunting down Evy. I mean, he was obviously responsible for the initial set-up, since the other members of her team were killed by half-vampires and Tovin has an alliance with the Halfies. But after that, if the Council jumped right over “Bring her in for questioning” to “Nuke the site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure”, that’s kind of on them. I guess the alleged good guys just really callously decided it was worth committing genocide on the peaceful Owlkins in order to catch one measly fugitive. She was accused of killing two of them, so they decided the rational and proportionate response was to murder 300 innocent civilians? Not really feeling any sympathy for these people.

Ah, well. I liked at least one character: Isleen, the vampire princess. At least that’s something, right? I mean, sure, she’s some kind of blood-sucking abomination, but she probably commits the fewest objectionable acts out of any of the characters in the book. Even Evy manages to shoot an innocent bystander while engaging in a public running gun battle. Say, I don’t suppose it would be too much to ask for to read a series with Isleen as protagonist instead?

Now, I like to be lenient when reviewing book series. Even if the first book isn’t the greatest, I tend to at least begin reading the next one to see if it doesn’t improve itself. Hell, I gave the Felix Gomez series like half a dozen second chances, and I’d consider a number of those books to be worse than this one. The thing is, though, that my local library had a copy of every Felix Gomez book except the last one; and by then, I was pretty much committed to seeing how the series ended. With Dreg City, though, the first book is the only one my library has. And I really, really can’t bring myself to justify buying however the hell many books are left in this series based on the level of quality I’ve seen in this first installment.

Maybe, someday, if either I acquire a significantly larger disposable income or my library acquires a larger selection of the books, I’ll return to the Dreg City series. But I wouldn’t advise holding your breath for the next review.

Final Rating: 2/5

Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator #1: Iron & Velvet

Baby take a seat, eyes on me, this is my show. Your one and only pleasure, all decked in lace and leather. …Or iron and velvet, as the case may be. Let’s investigate Iron & Velvet, by Alexis Hall

Synopsis:

First rule in this line of business: don’t sleep with the client.

My name’s Kate Kane, and when an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince came to me with a case, I should have told her no. But I’ve always been a sucker for a femme fatale.

It always goes the same way. You move too fast, you get in too deep, and before you know it, someone winds up dead. Last time it was my partner. This time it could be me. Yesterday a werewolf was murdered outside the Velvet, the night-time playground of one of the most powerful vampires in England. Now half the monsters in London are at each other’s throats, and the other half are trying to get in my pants. The Witch Queen will protect her own, the wolves are out for vengeance, and the vampires are out for, y’know, blood.

I’ve got a killer on the loose, a war on the horizon, and a scotch on the rocks. It’s going to be an interesting day.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Supernatural crimes are always a real bugger. None of the suspects officially exist, there’s never any physical evidence because magic, and everybody’s motivated by thousand-year-old blood feuds, ancient debts of honour, or perverse occult master plans. And most of the time everyone blames the mages anyway.

Iron & Velvet, Chapter Four, “Biscuits & Memories”

There is a certain narration style characteristic of noir detective fiction, a mixture of cynical wit and dark snarkiness. I can’t precisely define it, but I know it when I see it; and Iron & Velvet manages to perfectly nail the mark. From the very first page, I could tell that I was going to love Kate Kane.

Now, I’m not saying that the book’s perfect in every single respect. For one thing, Kate’s detecting style leaves something to be desired: it seems to consist not so much of investigating as approaching the suspects one at a time, asking “Did you do it?”, and believing them when they answer no. But what the hell, a book doesn’t have to be perfect in every single respect for me to absolutely love it. In this case, I think that any plot awkwardness is more than overshadowed by the incredible cast of fascinating characters.

I love all the characters in this book. I already mentioned, of course, that Kate herself hits that perfect sweet spot for the hard-boiled detective first-person narration noir pulp protagonist; but the secondary and even minor characters also struck me as immediately interesting and got me invested in their tales. Aeglica Thrice-Risen, the vampire Prince of Swords, an ancient and weary Geat warrior who serves as executioner for the vampire court. Ashriel, the celibate incubus fighting to deny his infernal nature. Elise, the discarded golem given new purpose, a perfect foil for deadpan humor. Julian, vampire prince of sex and pudding nun. Nimue, witch queen and watery tart who throws mystic swords at people. Hell, if I try to list them all, I’ll be here writing this review all day. Even the King of the Court of Love was an extremely creative concept for a villain – a fae lord who was formerly a vain and cruel predator of women, but who was killed and has arisen from death horribly changed and twisted. The description of the mentality of the creatures of fae was great: how they are the ultimate narcissists, how they create their own little world with themself as the sole center and regard everyone else as props and scenery in their tale.

Another example of great writing in the book? The references of varying subtlety it makes to certain other literary works. For instance, Kate’s deceased former partner Archer is clearly Miles Archer from The Maltese Falcon, killed by a femme fatale over a statue he never did manage to find. Likewise, her ex-boyfriend Patrick is Edward Cullen from Twilight: a vampire who met her while undercover in biology class and who has a creepy habit of sneaking into her room to watch her sleep. The first time he was mentioned, I actually wrote him off as a throw-away joke, since taking a perfunctory swipe at Twilight is practically mandatory in vampire fiction nowadays; but to the book’s credit, it actually goes the distance with Patrick’s character, showing just how unhealthy and destructive such a relationship between an immature teen girl and a creepily obsessed immortal stalker would be, and how nightmarish it could ultimately turn if no “happily ever after” was forthcoming.

Overall, this was an extremely enjoyable book to read, and I’m looking forwards to the rest of the series with eager anticipation.

Final Rating: 5/5

Blood Singer #6: To Dance With The Devil

I won’t stay long in this world so wrong. Say goodbye, as we dance with the devil tonight. Don’t you dare look him in the eye, as we dance with the devil tonight. Let’s tango with To Dance With The Devil, by Cat Adams.

Synopsis:

Celia Graves’s newest client is one of the last surviving members of a magical family that is trapped in a generations-old feud with other magic-workers. She’s supposed to die at the next full moon unless Celia can broker peace between the clans or break the curse before it can take effect.

For the first time in a long while, Celia’s personal life is looking up. Her vampire abilities seem to be under control, her Siren abilities have gotten more reliable, and even though her office was blown up, her services are more in demand than ever now that she’s fought off terrorists and been part of the royal wedding of the year. Her friends all seem to be finding love and her grandmother has—finally—agreed to go to family therapy. The only trouble spot is Celia’s love life. Not long ago, she had two boyfriends.

Now she barely has one and she isn’t sure she wants him. But Bruno DeLuca is a powerful mage and Celia needs his help . . . especially after she’s attacked and her client is kidnapped.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

I love it when the order I write these book reviews serendipitously lines up to allow me to make a point about storytelling. In my previous review, of Magic on the Hunt, I pointed out that the plot didn’t start until literally halfway through the book and stated – not for the first time regarding the Allie Beckstrom series – that a really good story which begins halfway through a book is a story which begins half a book too late. Now, the plot of To Dance With The Devil is also a bit slow to get rolling, since Celia first turns down the bodyguarding job and only decides she’s going to do it later on after she’s been threatened by goons and the woman who first contacted her is murdered. But, whereas Magic on the Hunt spent the time waiting for the plot to get rolling by having all the characters talk to each other about things we in the audience already knew, To Dance With The Devil decides to use those pages productively: by focusing on Celia’s emotional growth. She has finally reached the point where the ghost of her little sister Ivy, who has been hanging around with her for longer than Ivy was even alive, is comfortable leaving her and departing to the afterlife. It is an extremely bittersweet moment – even though it’s a good thing for Ivy that she’s finally managed to settle her lingering regrets and move on to her eternal reward, it still feels to Celia like she’s losing her sister all over again – and very effective emotionally. It’s the kind of big emotional scene which you would normally expect to be saved for the climax or denouement of a novel, but which works here as an opening because the circumstances are quiet rather than dramatic: not a huge culminating moment, but something born of calm reflection on how much Celia’s grown and changed over the series.

The point is, it had a slow non-action opening that wasn’t really connected to the main conflict of the novel, yet it didn’t make me hold up the book and yell, “Boring! When’s the actual plot going to begin?” So, you know, maybe the Allie Beckstrom series could take a hint from that.

Anyway, the actual plot involves Celia trying to protect a woman being targeted for assassination; apparently due to a blood feud between two families, but actually as part of a complicated magical prison-break scheme. It’s a decent enough plot, with plenty of fight scenes and moments of tense drama. The narrative does contain some storytelling decisions that I’d consider iffy; for instance, suddenly throwing in a “Somebody has to die!” bit regarding a magic ritual being performed by four of Celia’s friends, but then walking it back so that no, nobody has to die after all. Also, a big deal was made about Dawna’s cousin applying to work for Celia’s company and Dawna not being sure if she would be a good fit, but nothing ever really came of it. But, you know, whatever. The story overall was pretty good; and in particular, the resolution to Ivy’s storyline was the highlight of the novel and bought a lot of leniency for any following missteps.

Final Rating: 3/5

Allie Beckstrom #6: Magic on the Hunt

People ask me how I do it, and I say, “There’s nothing to it: You just stand there looking cute; and when something moves, you shoot!” Well, that quality of hunting skill is pretty representative of the level of competence on display in this book. Let’s go shoot ourselves a pure-bred Guernsey cow with Magic on the Hunt, by Devon Monk.

Synopsis:

In the secret lockup of the Authority, the council that decides what can and can’t be done with magic, an undead magic user has possessed one of the prisoners. He wants his freedom-and then some. Now Allie Beckstrom and her lover, Zayvion, are the first line of defense against the chaos he’s about to unleash on the city of Portland…

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Welcome back to the wonderful world of Allie Beckstrom. This novel begins with one of the villains, Dane Lanister, bursting into Allie’s apartment, knocking out Zayvion, and shooting Allie twice – in non-lethal locations, of course. Even though he has her dead to rights, could totally put a bullet through her head at any time, and indeed states that it is his desire and intention to do so, the conventions of the genre dictate that he bluster and posture and exposit about his evil plan until Allie’s ghost dad is able to come up with a way to turn the situation around. Seriously, he practically reaches Dr. Evil levels of supervillain self-parody, monologuing to Allie about how the smart thing to would be to kill her rather than stand around monologuing at her:

“You are a problem. And the easiest way to get rid of a problem is to kill it. Simple, efficient, gone. A gun to the back of the head, a knife through the spine, magic to boil your blood, crush your skull, stop your heart. The kind of death we gave your father, Greyson and I. The kind of death I will give you.”
– Dane Lanister, Chapter One

Now, I know what you’re going to say: it’s not Dane’s fault. Even though he wanted to kill Allie as quickly as possible, he couldn’t do it immediately; he needed to question her as to where Sedra was being imprisoned. Oh, dear kind-hearted reader, you give the book too much credit. For you see, Allie doesn’t end up telling him anything about where Sedra is imprisoned. And yet, Dane later manages to find the location all on his own, proving he never needed to question Allie in the first place. He could have just shot her in the head and been done with it. The real reason he didn’t is because Allie is the protagonist and this is still the first chapter of the book, meaning she is cocooned within impenetrable plot armor.

Well, after that shocking, action-packed first chapter where the villains broke into Allie’s own home, you’re no doubt thinking that this book is going to be an extremely fast-paced roller-coaster ride of one intense high-stakes fight scene after another. Lol, nope. First chapter aside, the first half of the book is dedicated to characters finding out thing which we, the reader, already know. For instance, Nola discovers Stone, Allie’s Gargoyle companion. A shock for Nola, to be sure, but we’ve already known about Stone for the past couple of novels. As another example: the Authority learns that Jingo Jingo is a serial killer who murders children and enslaves their ghosts to add to his magical power. And while they are all disturbed by this revelation, we the readers already knew it: it was pretty clear what Jingo Jingo was doing back when Allie saw him surrounded by the souls of dead children bound to him by chains. The characters also spend a lot of time discussing how a ton of weird magical stuff seems to have been going down in the St. Johns area, despite it not being connected to the magical grid; so we lucky readers, who remember from the first book that there is a secret reserve of natural magic beneath the area, get to watch them bumble around in the dark about this. They still haven’t figured it out by the end, so we can look forward to their ignorance continuing to be a plot point in future books – oh joy. And then there’s Stotts; since he recently had his memories of the Authority Closed, Allie has to re-explain everything to him – “everything” also being the amount of this stuff that we, the readers, already know.

Which is to say: BOOOOOORING! Get to the interesting stuff already!

It’s only halfway through the book, when the shade of Leander starts trying to steal a human body and sets off a prison break at the Authority’s super-special-double-secret prison, that the action actually starts to pick back up again. Say it with me, everyone: if the plot gets good halfway through the book, that’s half a book too late. The revelations which follow are fairly predictable: it looked like Sedra was the good guy and Mikhail was the bad guy; but Sedra is possessed by Isabelle, meaning Mikhail was actually the good guy all along! Except, you know, serial child-murderer Jingo Jingo was working for Mikhail, so clearly he’s not all that good. Big fight scene, Leander and Isabelle retreat but vow that they’ll be back, roll credits.

Let’s see, anything else to say about this book? Well, Cody Hand, nee Miller, returns as a character; but not as a POV character this time. It was his POV sections in the first book which made his character interesting to me; without that, just seeing him from Allie’s POV isn’t nearly as interesting. So, his return for this novel just isn’t recapturing any of the special qualities that made me like him so much in his first appearance. Sorry, kid; nice try, but not even you can save this mess.

Final Rating: 2/5