Katya and Starbride #2: For Want of a Fiend

Where have all the bad men gone, where are all the demons? Where’s the street-wise Mephistopheles to fight the rising odds? Isn’t there a black knight upon a fiery steed? Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need. I need a fiend! I’m holding out for a fiend, until the end of the night. …Hmm, no, doesn’t sound quite right. Let’s not forget the nail for the shoe for the horse for the kingdom with For Want of a Fiend, by Barbara Ann Wright


Princess Katya Nar Umbriel’s uncle Roland rose from the grave, kidnapped her cousin, and stripped her of her greatest weapon—her Fiendish power. Without her Fiend, Katya doubts her ability to weather the storm her uncle is brewing. When she lacks what even the children in her family possess, can she even call herself an Umbriel?

In only a short time, Starbride has become the princess consort, a pyradisté, and a member of a secret order in charge of protecting the crown. Even steeped in responsibility, she’s still an outsider. While wading through court intrigue and resisting schemes to break her bond with Katya, Starbride must prepare for a covert war. Roland is waiting, watching, ready for any chink in their armor, and he doesn’t care who knows their secrets.

Source: Goodreads


The story of Katya and Starbride continues. In the first book, it got off to a very strong start; but can it keep up the trend?

Well, sort of. For Want of a Fiend is mostly good: it keeps up the action and the intrigue, weaving an interesting and compelling story that keeps me wanting more, while avoiding painful pitfalls like the dreaded Dead Lesbian Penalty which has ruined so many other promising series for me. However, in the end, I don’t feel like it quite measures up to the first book in the series.

My main problem is that it feels like the story has lost an important element with Katya losing her fiend. Sure, she tries to keep up being a badass, but there’s no question that she’s just not as capable of a combatant as she was before. Plus, the story has lost that whole “enemy within” dynamic with her struggling against the internal darkness of the fiend. It just seems like a less interesting direction for the story to take.

I also thought that revelation of Pennynail’s true identity is abrupt and anticlimactic: turns out he’s just some guy named Freddie we’ve never seen or heard about before. It’s not until later in the book that we learn his connection to other characters and reason for keeping his identity a secret. For a mystery that began its build-up in the first book, I was expecting a little stronger of a payoff.

Still, less than perfect doesn’t mean bad – while it isn’t quite on par with the first book in the series, I still think it’s a great book on its own merits.

Just as an end note, I’d like to acknowledge that books like these always seems to have some minor, inconsequential character who I end up loving out of all proportion to their actual role in the plot. This time around, it’s Ursula, the no-nonsense town guard. Sure, Katya and Starbride are great and all, but Ursula is officially my new favorite character of this series. I can’t explain why. It’s just one of those things.

Final Rating: 4/5


Katya and Starbride #1: The Pyramid Waltz

I will feel the light on my skin, without being afraid on your bad sides. It’s the moon that leads the dance when the sun will set in your cold soul. Let’s perform The Pyramid Waltz, by Barbara Ann Wright.


To most, Princess Katya Nar Umbriel is a rogue and a layabout; she parties, she hunts and she breaks women’s hearts. But when the festival lights go down and the palace slumbers, Katya chases traitors to the crown and protects the kingdom’s greatest secret: the royal Umbriels are part Fiend. When Katya thwarts an attempt to expose the king’s monstrous side, she uncovers a plot to let the Fiends out to play.

Starbride has no interest in being a courtier. Ignoring her mother’s order to snare an influential spouse, she comes to court only to study law. But a flirtatious rake of a princess proves hard to resist, and Starbride is pulled into a world of secrets that leaves little room for honesty or love, a world neither woman may survive.

Source: Goodreads


If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’re aware that my last attempt to read a series with a lesbian protagonist – the Valhalla series by Ari Bach – did not end well. The terrible fate of the protagonists of those books made me quite angry, indeed. But I shall not give up, shall not let the awful works of other authors discourage me; I shall plunge headlong into another such series, and hope that this one turns out better.

One thing that immediately struck me about this book was the interesting characters. Katya is basically fantasy Batman: by day, she plays the rich, indolent, playgirl princess; by night, she uses the powers granted to her by the demonic taint which the royal bloodline must bear to keep the great fiend Yanchasa the Mighty imprisoned in order to lead a squad of secret agents against enemies of the crown. Starbride, her love interest, is of course much tamer and more reserved in order to act as a foil character; but she still has plenty of potential, what with showing an affinity for magic that went unrecognized until she came to the capital, as her own people do not search for and cultivate magical talent the way the kingdom does. Then there are the members of Katya’s secret service, each with their own interesting character quirks: the ones that most stood out to me were Brother Brutal and his combat-centric religious order, and the mysteriously mute and masked Pennynail.

The setting, too, is rich and vivid. It establishes a unique magic system based around the use of pyramids; a mysterious force of evil in the fiends, and even manages to create distinct cultural differences between the Allusian and the Farradain peoples through stylistic flourishes like their different naming conventions. The result is a deep and intriguing world which I am extremely eager to read more about.

This is an extremely promising first entry into the Katya and Starbride series. Here’s hoping that the rest of the books continue the trend and deliver the type of fantasy story I love without derailing into the realm of the dreaded Dead Lesbian Penalty. But while I can’t see what the future holds, I can give this volume my highest rating in recognition of its fascinating world, compelling story, and enticing romance. Five stars.

Final Rating: 5/5

Valhalla #3: Gudsriki

This is how the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper – the whimper of a reader forced to read this shit. Let’s get it over with Guðsríki, by Ari Bach.


The end of the world has come, leaving Vibeke the sole survivor, alone in the desolation. She perseveres with only one goal in mind: to reunite with Violet, even if it means the destruction of what remains of the planet Earth. But the consequences might be even more catastrophic than Vibeke expects.

A faint light still burns in the darkness, though—a last hope for love flickering amidst the atrocities mankind has wrought and the pain still waiting in the future. But it lies at the end of a long and deadly road.

Source: Goodreads


You know how the first two books of the Valhalla series were set in corporate, cyberpunk world? Did you by any chance find that interesting? Well, too bad: we’re doing post-apocalyptic zombie-world setting now. Because when you think zombies, stale, overdone, boring, and cliche are the last words that come to mind, right? Oh, and incidentally, how would you like to get a bunch of backstory explaining the history behind the setting: the rise of the corporations, the formation of the Geki, that sort of thing. You know, now that everything’s been blown up and none of it is relevant any more. Now that’s what I call good storytelling!

Yeah, not going to hold you in suspense over the final rating on this one: I hated this book probably more than any other book I’ve reviewed so far. Note that it’s only going to be a 1 because the ratings scale I use doesn’t employ any lower numbers; otherwise, the Dead Lesbian Penalties alone would be enough to take it to the negatives.

Because Violet and Vibeke? Main characters and teased romantic couple? Killed off. Because a new world might grow from the ashes of the old; but by God, it’s not going to have any lesbians in it. Oh, what, you thought that because the author chose to write a series with a lesbian main character and lesbian love interest that he might perhaps treat them differently than those authors who only introduce a minor lesbian character when they need someone to be the victim of a hate crime? Nope: just because they’re main characters having a romance in a series aimed at young adults doesn’t mean they get to live happily ever after. That’s only for straight couples, don’t you know?

On another topic, one thing that struck me as odd in the first book was the disappearance of Violet’s father’s body. I had the feeling it might eventually come back as a plot point; and sure enough, this one finally reveals that… no, sorry, I can’t bring myself to care. Do you expect me to give a fuck about a minor character from way back in the first book? Maybe I actually would, if it in any way tied in with the story of the main characters… oh, no, wait, it can’t, because you killed them! Well, forget it. It doesn’t matter what you do now, because I’ve lost interest. The characters, the story, the setting: I have no more fucks left to give.

You know what? I blame myself. I’ve gotten complacent. There was a time when as soon as I picked up a book with a lesbian main character, I’d immediately resign myself to it ending with her dying. That’s why I came up with the Dead Lesbian Penalty in the first place, after all: because I noticed that plenty of authors were happy to toss in a queer character for the appearance of diversity, but felt no need to extend their empty gesture to include a happy ending But lately I’ve been reading things like Kate Kane and Midnight Hunters and Wayfarers and the Mangoverse where LGBTQ+ characters are allowed to exist without having to suffer horribly and die tragically before the final pages, and it made me complacent. I picked up Valhalla, saw that it had a lesbian protagonist; and even though there were plenty of warning signs that this story wasn’t going to be so hot, I dared to think that it might head in a positive direction. Well, it sure taught me, didn’t it? Shows what I get for being nice, assuming the best, and giving this series a chance.

Oh, look, it seems I have one last fuck to give after all: Fuck this book. There, done. I’m out.

Final Rating: 1/5

Mangoverse #5: Tales From Perach

The Mangoverse has been a delightful series which I’ve greatly enjoyed; but all good things must eventually come to an end. Let’s finish up the series with the short story collection Tales From Perach, by Shira Glassman.


Seven queer fantasy shorts set in the tropical Jewish world of the Mangoverse novels.

“Your Name is Love”
An energetic royal guard takes her artist wife on a scavenger hunt around the city so she can stop having artist’s block about the lesbian graphic novel she’s supposed to make for the queen.

“No Whining”
Trans woman Chef Yael dithers over whether to switch wine sellers, at the urging of her husband Aaron, when her regular vendor is incompetent but the delivery girl is a trusted ally.

“Every Us”
A prince with anxiety is comforted in the arms of his partner when he wakes up from a nightmare.

“Take Time to Stop and Eat the Roses”
A trans teenager and his girlfriend go on a midnight quest for flowers for her sister’s wedding.

“The Generous Princess”
A royal family with two moms and two dads puts their own special twist on celebrating Purim.

And now, bundled with Tales from Outer Lands, two contrasting stories of heroic Jewish womanhood:

“Rivka in Port Saltspray”
Trapped in a seedy port town because an innkeeper is holding her shapeshifting dragon-horse hostage until she can pay all the charges he invented, nomadic warrior Rivka finally has a chance at some decent money when a wealthy but weak man hires her to rescue his fiancée. But she has to think on her feet when she learns there may be more at stake.

“Aviva and the Aliens”
On the night before the royal Passover seder, Aviva has to outsmart the aliens who abducted her to cook for them because they had grown sick of their spaceship’s food replicators. Will she get home before Queen Shulamit wakes up and panics from her absence?

Source: Goodreads


This time, the Mangoverse returns not with a novel, but a collection of short stories. The result? The weakest book in the series. Now, look, I know that Mangoverse stories have often been light and not that serious; but they’ve usually had at least have some conflict. Most of these don’t even have that! “Kaveh has a bad dream” is not a significant conflict. “Yael changes her wine supplier” is not a significant conflict. “A child makes a silly misunderstanding” is not a significant conflict. If I’m going to read, I want to read about something significant actually happening.

For that reason, “Rivka in Port Saltspray” is the best in the collection, simply because it features Rivka struggling to overcome actual obstacles. Set before Rivka met Shulamit, back when she was working as a mercenary with nothing to her name save a sword and a magic horse that sometimes turned into a dragon, Rivka has to deal with greedy and corrupt authority in a port town, fight in a tournament to save a captive woman, and duel a notorious outlaw. That’s a story. Good.

The next best, I guess, would be “Your Name Is Love”. It doesn’t feature much conflict, but the main characters are Hadar and Halleli, who I really liked in The Olive Conspiracy and was hoping to see more of. It’s sweet and cute and so I can forgive it for not featuring much drama or suspense or any kind of action at all, really.

After that, the ratings get tough. “Every Us” is so short and substanceless that it’s almost insulting for it to be called a story, but “No Whining” shows that longer doesn’t necessarily mean better: it takes something completely mundane and trivial and stretches it out for page after page. “The Generous Princess” has the positive of showing Shulamit and Aviva’s full family dynamic, which was nice to see; but the negative of centering around child characters, who I think I’ve mentioned before I often find intolerable. “Take Time to Stop and Eat the Roses”… I guess fairies exist in this setting? It seems really kind of random. Not so random and out of nowhere, however, as the final and certainly worst story in the collection.

“Aviva and the Aliens”. All I can say, is: what. Just what. Not even what with a question mark afterwards, because I cannot even begin to formulate a question; nothing but a plain flat what. This… this is meant to be a joke, right? I can’t even. Just… no. That’s it, review over, shut it all down.

These stories, other than “Rivka in Port Saltspray”, weren’t really up to the standard of the other books in the Mangoverse. Still, the Mangoverse has built up a lot of goodwill with me, so I’m going to be generous in my rating.

Final Rating: 3/5

Mangoverse #4: The Olive Conspiracy

I spent ten whole days in Jerusalem. Mmm, Jerusalem. Sweet Jerusalem. And all I ate was olives. Nothing but olives. Mountains of olives. It was a good ten days. I like olives. …Wow, Welcome to Night Vale sometimes has the weirdest Weather. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today; no, we’re here to investigate The Olive Conspiracy, by Shira Glassman.


A love story between women, between queen and country, and between farmers and their crops.

When Ezra tries to blackmail Chef Yael about her being trans, she throws him out of her restaurant and immediately reports him to the queen. But when police find Ezra stabbed to death, Queen Shulamit realizes he may have also tried to extort someone more dangerous than a feisty old lady.

The royal investigation leads straight to an international terrorist plot to destroy her country’s economy—and worse, her first love, Crown Princess Carolina of Imbrio, may be involved. Since she’s got a dragon-shifting wizard at her disposal, contacts with friendly foreign witches, and the support of her partner Aviva, Shulamit has hope. What she doesn’t have is time.

Source: Goodreads


We now return to Perach, the land of the flower. While investigating the murder of an attempted blackmailer, Queen Shulamit and her allies discover that the recent blight which has been afflicting their nation’s crops might not be a natural disaster but rather an act of biological warfare by a neighboring counter. The monarch under suspicion, Queen Carolina, was Queen Shulamit’s first crush back when she was a young girl. Is Carolina truly responsible for this plot, or has corruption sprouted elsewhere within her royal court? Shulamit, Isaac, and Rivka must discover the answer in order to save their nation’s crops before it’s too late.

The Mangoverse books are really quite light and fluffy, as these things go, but doesn’t mean the books don’t pack the occasional emotional punch. In this one, the scene where Queen Shulamit asks Hadar and Halleli to burn their form in order to slow the spread of the blight really got to me. I thought it was a very powerful, well-written scene. It was also nice to learn more about Queen Shulamit’s childhood, to see her interacting with young Carolina and discovering her sexuality. And finally, I thought the mystery aspect of the story was well-handled.

This has been kind of a short review; but since I don’t have any complaints, there’s really nothing more to say. So, you can just chalk this one up as another win for the Mangoverse.

Final Rating: 4/5

Wayfarers #2: A Closed and Common Orbit

Stones and flowers on the ground. We are lost and found. But love is gonna save us. Let’s set course for A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers.


Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for – and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

Source: Goodreads


The second book in the Wayfarers series doesn’t actually focus on the crew of the starship Wayfarer. Instead, it follows the adventures of Pepper and Sidra, formerly known as Jane 23 and Lovelace.

In stylistic terms, A Closed and Common Orbit is very similar to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet; yet I wound up enjoying this book a lot more than its predecessor. In the end, I think that comes down to two things: character focus and plot direction.

In The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, there wasn’t a single main character – we were introduced to the entire crew of the Wayfarer, and each of them was explored in turn: their past, their relationship with the rest of the crew, their present conflict… There was no central character to focus on, and my attention ended up getting spread kind of thin because I wasn’t certain who was an important main character and who was a minor secondary character. A Closed and Common Orbit, by contrast, very clearly focuses on two major characters who are the protagonists of their respective stories: Pepper and Sidra. As a result, the narrative is clearer and easier to follow.

Then there’s plot direction. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet established an apparent destination and conflict – the Wayfarer is going to travel to a planet in the middle of a war zone – but then took forever to get there, didn’t stay there long, and ultimately wasn’t really about that; each of the crew members instead had their own small separate plot arc with their own personal conflict unrelated to the greater story. A Closed and Common Orbit, on the other hand, follows through on the major plotlines it sets up: in the past, Pepper trying to repair a shuttle and escape the planet she’s trapped on; and in the present, Sidra trying to adjust to life as a humanoid.

In the third and final section of the book, the two plotlines intersect: Pepper discovers the location of Owl, the AI who assisted her so long ago and who she was tragically separated from, and Sidra comes up with a plan to rescue Owl and reunite her with Pepper. I found it really powerful and emotionally moving in a way that The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet never was.

With this book, it seems the Wayfarers series has finally found its way.

Final Rating: 4/5

The Twenty-Sided Sorceress #5-7: Boss Fight

Noli manere, manere in memoria. Noli manere, manere in memoria. Sephiroth! Sephiroth! Saevam iram, iram et dolorem. Saevam iram, iram et dolorem. Sephiroth! Sephiroth! That’s right, it’s time for the big final Boss Fight, by Annie Bellet.


Level up. Or die.

Jade Crow and her friends faced their worst enemy, her ex-boyfriend Samir, the most powerful sorcerer in the world, and they now lie defeated, and flung across the wilderness.

Samir had trained Jade to be a sorceress, to mold her in his image, until she rejected him and escaped here to Wylde. Jade must stop fighting on Samir’s terms or else her next battle will be her last.

Leveled up and wiser, Jade stands a chance this time, if she follows the true calling of her power, and changes the playing field. Everything has been leading up to this…Roll for initiative!

Source: Goodreads


Confession: I actually wanted to use “Otherworld” from Final Fantasy X as the opening lyrics for this one, but ultimately decided to go with the more recognizable “One Winged Angel” from Final Fantasy VII instead because more people would get it. And then I actually ended up using the lyrics from the Advent Children version, because I like it more. I feel like I’ve sold out.

Anyway, The Twenty-Sided Sorceress has returned with three more novellas, making up the second compilation volume of the series. While the first four stories all dealt with different situations and villains, the ones in this book are all part of a tight story arc: Samir, Jade’s heart-eating ex, is coming to town.

Heartache is the darkest hour of the arc, when Samir arrives and starts kicking ass and there’s nothing anybody can do to stop him. It’s the story in this collection which I enjoyed the least. Oh, I understand that it’s necessary, from a storytelling point of view: need to raise the stakes, show how big a threat Samir is, establish Jade as the underdog, create dramatic tension as to how she could possibly win against such an overwhelmingly powerful enemy, et cetera. It’s just, from a pure enjoyment point of view, it simply wasn’t fun reading about Jade watching helplessly as Samir murdered his way through her friends and neighbors, unable to do anything to save them. It’s the kind of unpleasant slaughterfest that would have me muttering darkly about women in refrigerators, if not for the fact that the most significant victims were actually male, thus making it slightly less cliche. All in all, it just felt really tonally ajar for a series that is usually making geeky jokes and pop-culture references.

The second story, Thicker than Blood, is a big improvement, tone-wise. It deals with Jade recovering from the trauma of the previous story, teaming up with a band of new allies, and just generally getting her mojo back. It was a much more enjoyable read than the first part, that’s for sure. It also answers a lot of lingering questions from the first volume by finally explaining the details of Jade’s draconic heritage.

Finally, the collection concludes with Magic to the Bone – not to be confused with the Allie Beckstrom novel of the same name. After training with her father in the hyperbolic time chamber and getting a magic +5 vorpal sword of slaying, Jade returns for a final showdown with Samir. It’s actually all over surprisingly quickly – I guess it’s hard to have a drawn-out fight sequence when you’re armed with a magic weapon that instantly kills with a single hit.


(Oh, don’t mind him. He’s just mad that someone’s magic weapon that instantly kills with a single hit actually managed to instantly kill with a single hit. For some reason, it never works properly when he tries it.)

In any case, the ending seemed pretty solid and definitive, so it surprised me to learn that there is at least one more story in the series that has come out since. I’m not sure if it’s just a quick epilogue or if the series is now going to continue in a new direction with a new villain; but if any more of these compilation books come out, I’m up for reading them.

Final Rating: 4/5

Wayfarers #1: The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet

Listen, I’ve traveled every road in this here land. I’ve been everywhere, man. Crossed the deserts bare, man. Breathed the mountain air, man. Of travel I’ve had my share, man. I’ve been everywhere. So let’s set off down another road and follow The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers.


Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.

Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.

Source: Goodreads


This book felt like an extremely long prologue.

At the beginning of the book, the wormhole-drilling spaceship Wayfarer embarks on a journey to the titular small, angry planet: the territory of a violent species engaged in constant civil war, which the galactic alliance of civilized species is bending its principles to ally with because they have access to valuable natural resources. I therefore assumed that the turmoil surrounding this world would form the main conflict of the plot, with the journey serving as an introduction to the characters’ backstories before they get thrust into this hostile situation. But the book wasn’t kidding about the “long” part of its title: the introduction to the characters just kept on going, and going, and going; and by the time they actually got to the planet, the book was nearly over, so I knew there would only be time for a single incident at most before everything had to be tied up. It was an extremely long build-up to an extremely small pay-off. I guess you can make the argument that the journey is more important than the destination and I’m supposed to get invested in these characters and their interpersonal conflicts – but when the book begins by telling me that the main characters have been contracted to do work in a war zone, that tends to dominate my thoughts. Once I’ve heard about the alien war, it’s a bit of an uphill climb to try and get me invested in Sissix and Corbin’s daily petty arguments over the thermostat settings.

I was glad to learn that this book is the first in a series. It would have been so wasteful to spend so much time building up these characters and establishing the relationships between them only for their universe to end before they actually got to do anything. At least this way, I can just view this book as an overly long introduction to the series and cling to the hope that, now that the main characters have been extremely thoroughly established, the next book won’t have to spend much time laying groundwork and will be able to just throw them into an exciting situation right off the bat. Thus: an extremely long prologue.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like the characters. Just… give them something a little more interesting to do next time, okay?

Final Rating: 3/5

Hoodoo #2: Black Heart Loa

Confutatis maledictis, she has a demon heart… or a black loa heart, as the case may be. Let’s take the pulse of Black Heart Loa, by Adrian Phoenix.


“An eye for an eye is never enough.”

Kallie Riviere, a Cajun hoodoo apprentice with a bent for trouble, learned the meaning of those ominous words when hoodoo bogeyman Doctor Heron targeted her family for revenge. Now, while searching for her still-missing bayou pirate cousin, Kallie finds out the hard way that someone is undoing powerful gris gris, which means that working magic has become as unpredictable as rolling a handful of dice.

The wards woven to protect the Gulf coast are unraveling, leaving New Orleans and the surrounding bayous vulnerable just as a storm–the deadliest in a century–is born.

As the hurricane powers toward the heart of all she loves, Kallie desperately searches for the cause of the disturbing randomness, only to learn a deeply unsettling truth: the culprit may be herself.

To protect her family and friends, including the sexy nomad Layne Valin, Kallie steps into the jaws of danger . . . and finds a loup-garou designed to steal her heart–literally.

Source: Goodreads


Black Heart Loa is the sequel to Black Dust Mambo. Or maybe it might be better to call it a continuation, since it doesn’t so much tell a new story as finish telling the parts of the previous book’s story which there wasn’t quite room for. However, despite being so directly tied to the first book, it doesn’t seem quite sure that the reader is familiar with it, featuring copious flashbacks in the form of passages lifted directly from the previous story being plonked haphazardly all throughout the text in this one – in itallics, so you know they’re flashbacks, see, except for the occasions when itallics don’t actually indicate a flashback but rather a dream sequence instead, because why make things simple for the reader? In any case, as someone who did in fact read the first book, and rather recently at that, it all struck me as somewhat redundant; not to mention seriously disrupting the flow of the story. If you’re really worried about readers who might for whatever reason decide they want to begin a series with book 2, why not just put a “previously on” recap at the beginning to catch them up on what they need to know? That’s what the Second Apocalypse books do, just to give one example.

Now, with regards to the plot: you may recall from my review of the first book that I was befuddled by the disappearance from the plot of the ghost of Doctor Heron’s ex-wife, Babette, who seemed to have been built up as an antagonist alongside her husband but who the heroes never quite got around to dealing with. I noted that the series could be planning to bring her back as an antagonist in the sequel, but that doing so would feel very odd, pacing-wise: the end of Black Dust Mambo revealed this huge secret about Kallie’s past, and that one would expect the series to move forwards towards addressing the issues raised by those new revelations rather than to hold the heroes back mopping up the last vestiges of a starter villain they’d pretty much already taken down.

And yet, that is what this book is about: the heroes cleaning up the mess left behind by Doctor Heron, who had some schemes already in motion when they killed him. Babette doesn’t even play much of a role in the plot: she barely appears in two chapters, and is swiftly dispatched. The rest of the plot deals with problems caused by magic backfiring, which… well, it’s kind of an interesting premise, but it’s more of a background phenomenon rather than an actual active antagonist the way Doctor Heron was. A woman named Helena Diamond was introduced, who seemed like she might become the main antagonist because she has links to Kallie’s childhood; but nope, she was only in one chapter, apparently just there to be teased as the antagonist for the sequel.

Well, at least by the end of this book all the lingering issues with Doctor Heron and Babette have finally been resolved. Now, the next book in the series can move on from this muddle – remember, it all started from a case of mistaken identity, nothing actually to do with Kallie herself – and get on to dealing with the mystery of the loa Kallie’s mother placed within her.

…If it ever comes out. Because, you see, it’s been six years since Black Heart Loa came out, and there’s still no sign of the sequel materializing. It’s possible that this series has been abandoned; that we’ll never learn the circumstances which led to a loa being placed in Kallie at birth, the loa’s true identity and nature, the location of Kallie’s missing soul, the final resolution to everything that’s been built up. Which would certainly be a massive disappointment. But I won’t hold that against this book, which on its own is an entertaining read.

Final Rating: 3/5

Downside Ghosts #4: Sacrificial Magic

I will sacrifice, I will sacrifice, all I have in life, to clear my conscience. Let’s prepare the altar for some Sacrificial Magic, by Stacia Kane.



When Chess Putnam is ordered by an infamous crime boss—who also happens to be her drug dealer—to use her powers as a witch to solve a grisly murder involving dark magic, she knows she must rise to the challenge. Adding to the intensity: Chess’s boyfriend, Terrible, doesn’t trust her, and Lex, the son of a rival crime lord, is trying to reignite the sparks between him and Chess.

Plus there’s the little matter of Chess’s real job as a ghost hunter for the Church of Real Truth, investigating reports of a haunting at a school in the heart of Downside. Someone seems to be taking a crash course in summoning the dead—and if Chess doesn’t watch her back, she may soon be joining their ranks.

As Chess is drawn into a shadowy world of twisted secrets and dark violence, it soon becomes clear that she’s not going to emerge from its depths without making the ultimate sacrifice.

Source: Goodreads


Chess has gotten her latest job from the Church: investigating a reported haunting at a school. It’s a routine job that poses just one tiny problem: the school is deep in territory of Slobag, one of the two drug dealers she’s indebted to. And she was dating his son and top enforcer, Lex, but recently dumped him in favor of Terrible, top enforcer for rival drug dealer Bump. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time; no hard feelings, right?

What I fond most interesting about this book was not the main plot, which struck me as a bit overcrowded with so many conspirators that it was hard to keep track of how they were all involved, but that it signals a major shakeup of the Downside Ghosts status quo. A series that goes on long enough will inevitably end up becoming a bit formulaic, a bit stale; and so, eventually, the moment comes for it to upend the applecart and change things up a bit. This book has two such changes. First is the promotion of Elder Griffin, Chess’s kind and compassionate superior, who I’ve kept expecting to be revealed as secretly evil and corrupt because that’s the way these things always turn out but who seems to have miraculously broken the cliche; with him moving on to another position, Chess may end up having to deal with a new boss less sympathetic to her little extralegal adventures. Secondly, Slobag finally bites it, ending the tenuous balance between Downside’s two drug kingpins that Chess has been locked into since the beginning of the series and promoting Lex up from enforcer and second-string love interest to new boss and potential major antagonist.

It’s too early to tell where the story is going to go from here, but I think these developments are interesting and have a lot of potential. I was also interested to note the existence of in-universe rumors that the Church actually caused Haunted Week in order to seize power – which of course is what I immediately assumed by default when I read the premise of the series, as it’s a twist that’s been done so often that it’s now practically the default rather than a twist. But hey, Elder Griffin turned out to be far from the kind of character I initially assumed, so the setting might not follow the traditional route either.

Final Rating: 3/5