Tag Archives: Urban Fantasy

Review: “Crown & Key: The Shadow Revolution” by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith

Title: The Shadow Revolution
Authors: Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith
Series: Crown & Key
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

You know me, always on the lookout for some good urban fantasy or steampunk. If said book happens to be set in the Victorian era, I’ll not complain. I’ve a growing taste for that sub-genre tentatively labeled “gaslamp fantasy.” My newest find? Clay and Susan Griffith. This is their first book that I’ve found, but I’m already on the hunt both for the remaining two novels in this trilogy and their previous endeavor, Vampire Empire.

Something stalks the gas-lit streets of London, hungry and hunting. Few would peg dashing playboy Simon Archer as a supernatural vigilante, but then there aren’t many aware that he’s possibly the last scribe in existence. Give him something to write with–pen and paper, clay and a stylus, blood and anything relatively flat–and you’ll never know what hit you. Simon is usually more interested in charming his way into high society’s boudoir than he is in chasing things that go bump in the night, his magical adventures more of a hobby than a serious pursuit. Until, that is, a slavering werewolf tears out the throat of an old friend. Now Simon is on the trail of a threat far bigger than he had ever imagined, and he’s going to need all the help he can get…Help like his mentor/sidekick Nick Barker, a magical jack of all trades who would rather kick back with a pint than endanger himself in thrilling heroics. Help like Malcolm MacFarlane, a strapping Scottish werewolf hunter whose father may or may not have killed Simon’s. Help like Kate Anstruther, beautiful-yet-brilliant daughter of the Empire’s foremost explorer and a talented Alchemist. Together, they just might manage to put an end to the impending onslaught. If they’re incredibly lucky, they might even survive….

The Shadow Revolution is a gaslamp fantasy rollercoaster of a thriller, a summer blockbuster in novel form, and this is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The action never lets up, delivering a truly thrilling tale. Unfortunately, this breakneck pace leaves little time to take some of the characters much past their Central Casting descriptions. There’s some character development, to be sure, especially Simon and Kate, but a number of the interesting side characters get shortchanged. I’d like to know how Kate’s manservant Hogarth became such a beast, and the steampunk engineer Penny Carter is definitely intriguing as well. So far as that goes, we never do find out just what the villains’ endgame was, just that it was nasty and necessitated the removal of our protagonists as an obstacle. That’s enough, though, and you never really notice the omission until things are wrapped up. At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a fun, by-the-numbers thriller, look no further. That’s what the authors set out to deliver, and they do a masterful job of it.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity, if you’re British. If you’re American, probably PG-13. Moderate sexual innuendo, not too explicit. Strong violence, occasionally gory and/or disturbing. Rampant magical content, from necromancy to alchemy.

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Review: “Libriomancer” by Jim C. Hines

Title: Libriomancer
Author: Jim C. Hines
Series: Magic Ex Libris #1
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: DAW, 2012

About a year ago, I was walking about in Barnes & Noble killing time and looking at books when the cover of Libriomancer caught my eye. Now, I’ve seen a good deal of criticism of the cover art on the internet, and I’ll admit that there are perhaps a couple issues with it on closer examination, but it served its purpose and got my attention. I snapped a picture of it with my phone, intending to check it out from the library (Hey! I was broke!) and promptly forgot about it. Months passed, and I found The Little Red Reviewer’s blog where she gave the book a glowing review (which you can find here). With it back on my radar, I tracked down a copy…which sat in my to-be-read stack for far too long. Oh well, I finally got around to picking it up, and I have to say that this was a truly incredible ride.

Most of us (at least if you’re reading this) know that books are magic. How else are you able to travel faraway lands and have exciting adventures without ever leaving your house? Books have a magic all their own. But for those with the gift, this magic goes even deeper. According to Mr. Hines, there are two factors when dealing with magic: access and form. Access is the innate gift–either you’ve got it or you don’t. Form, now that’s the hard part…you’ve got to have an incredible amount of willpower to form even the simplest object. Or you did, until Johannes Gutenberg hit on the idea of harnessing the collective belief of the masses. Get enough people reading the same book and so long as you have access you can form whatever you want from its pages. So long as it will fit through the book, at least. Then of course there are items deemed far too dangerous to be allowed to be accessed, their books “locked” to prevent Libriomancers from accessing them. No Rings of Power, no time turners, no zombie plagues. Gutenberg runs the Porters as a benevolent dictator, granted immortality by the Holy Grail before he locked it away, and the Porters try to protect the world from the effects of magic run amok, concealing the existence of vampires, werewolves, and any number of other creepy-crawlies. Gutenberg’s Automaton golems serve as his personal enforcers and cops, keeping anyone from causing too big an issue. It’s a system that’s worked for hundreds of years…but now it may be falling apart at the seams.

Isaac Vainio is a Porter, pulled from fieldwork after proving he lacked the control necessary to operate safely without endangering himself or others. These days he works as a librarian, cataloging new books and their magical potential for the Porters. It’s not what he’d like to be doing, but he can’t really complain. At least until a couple of “sparklers,” an upstart vampire race more properly known as Sanguinarius Meyerii, crash his library and start demanding to know why the Porters are hunting vampires. The legitimacy of your complaints aside, attacking a Libriomancer in a library? That’s a really bad idea, even if he’s a little rusty. Isaac never was one to leave well enough alone, and he soon discovers that he’s not the only Porter to be attacked. In fact, someone has it out for Porters and vampires alike, hoping to start a war between the two. To make matters worse, Gutenberg is nowhere to be found, and some of the destruction could only have been caused by an Automaton…. Isaac is out to discover just what’s going on, joined by Lena Greenwood, a nymph with her own scores to settle, but with the entire magical world in an uproar there may be little they can do–and few people they can call for backup….

I really enjoyed this book, in case you couldn’t tell. It’s a little pulpy at times, but with more quality than you can reasonably expect from a genre experiencing such a population boom as Urban Fantasy is having at the moment. There were echoes of The Dresden Files in there, but not in a ripped-off sense. Inside this book you’ll find well-written characters, a convoluted plot, heroes, villains, moral ambiguity, mild philosophizing, snarky dialogue, and a narrator who is as big a Sci-Fi geek as I am. And that’s saying something!

I see a lot of reviewers on the internet, Goodreads in particular, who have a mistaken understanding of what Mr. Hines was doing with the character of Lena Greenwood. Lena is a dryad, born out of a cheap Gor knockoff. Are you unfamiliar with Gor and its reputation? Count yourself lucky. Short version, it’s a long-running sci-fi/fantasy series by John Norman in which he reveals his fantasies, writing about (and if Wikipedia is accurate, actually advocating for) a society where women are all subservient to men, especially sexually. Lena was pulled from one of the many knockoffs of this series, and being a fictional race is subject to the rules set forth in her novel. Essentially, she’s hardwired to be submissive to the desires and preferences of her lover. Her likes, dislikes, personality, and even to some degree her physical appearance will shift to align with what her lover wants her to be. Bad enough under normal circumstances, but her current lover has been captured by the vampires…. Now, I see a lot of reviewers expressing outrage over how Lena is written, but they’re all missing the point. Unlike with John Norman’s fantasy-fulfillment exhibitionism, which I get the impression was never meant to be anything but, you’re not supposed to be okay with how Lena was written. You’re supposed to be horrified for her, to sympathize, to see what that kind of writing would entail if pushed to its logical extreme. Mr. Hines isn’t being sexist, he’s exposing and protesting against sexism. Don’t believe me? Look up his Wikipedia article, especially the section linked here, and then tell me that I’m reading him wrong.

CONTENT: Violence, sometimes a bit disturbing. R-rated language. Sexual content and themes that, while not explicit, are most certainly not meant for younger audiences (See above).

UPDATE: Here’s a short story detailing Isaac’s first encounter with Smudge the fire spider, in which Mr. Hines refers to himself as a “midlevel hack.”

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Review: “Cold Days” by Jim Butcher

Title: Cold Days
Author: Jim Butcher
Series: The Dresden Files #14
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Penguin, 2012

SPOILER ALERT! This review contains spoilers, not for Cold Days  but for the two previous books, Changes and Ghost Story.

Harry Dresden was the only professional wizard in the Chicago phonebook. But a lot can happen over the course of three books….First, the Red Court vampires kidnapped his daughter (whom he didn’t know existed) and tried to sacrifice her in a spell that would wipe out her entire lineage–including Harry and a number of the senior wizards of the White Council. Which was about when Harry fell and broke his back, paralyzing himself at least for the short term. In order to gain the power to save his daughter, Harry sold his soul and accepted the position of Winter Knight for the Winter Court of the Fae. Power corrupts, and the power of the Winter Knight is about as corrupting an influence as you can find–and Harry is well aware of the monster he would make if he allowed it to happen. No sooner is his daughter safe and sound than Harry finds himself on the receiving end of a high-powered sniper rifle….awakening months later to find himself a disembodied spirit. He doesn’t really have time to get used to it though, because something is stalking Chicago’s spooks. To make matters worse, Chicago has become a very scary place without its resident wizard to deter the baddies and Harry’s friends are all in very real danger. Even as a ghost, Harry can’t resist putting himself between his friends and danger….but at the end of the day, crisis averted for now, Harry awakens once more in his own body. He’s been comatose for months on his island, being tended by the island’s conciousness Demonreach and the Winter Queen, Mab. Turns out, she won’t let her new knight go that easily….

Harry lives! He’s been nursed back to health in the depths of Arctis Tor, stronghold of the Winter Court and his new boss, Mab, the Winter Queen. He is hers to command, at least so far as she can convince him is necessary. And her first job for him? Killing Maeve, her daughter the Winter Lady. This doesn’t make sense on multiple levels, as a mortal simply does not have the power to kill an immortal except in very rare and specific situations, none of which are scheduled any time soon. To make matters worse, there’s something wrong with Demonreach, the island Harry has a complicated connection with. If he doesn’t find a way to prevent it, half the Midwest is going to become a crater. To make matters worse, Harry is only now becoming aware of the true face and purpose of what he has been referring to as the Black Council. It is not at all what he has thought it is, and anyone could be compromised. All of the allies he trusts think he is dead. He can call on the power of the Winter Knight, but even if he is able to avoid becoming a monster that may not be enough to tip the scales in his favor this time….

The crazy thing about the Dresden files is how the author, Jim Butcher, manages to make each book more epic than the last. I finished this book less than two days ago and I’m already jonesing for the next installment. May it come quickly….I am very anxious to see how events play out following that ending.

Content: This is rated R. The language is occasionally harsh, but not gratuitous. The violence can be brutal, but fits the tone of the book. Harry Dresden inhabits a very dark world, and it gets darker with every book. He tries to be a force for the light, but sometimes he has to settle for lessening the darkness. There is a fair amount of sexual content, again, not gratuitous, but present nonetheless. Obviously, this book contains magic. I am very impressed by how respectfull of Christianity Butcher is, however, and I encourage you not to dismiss this out of hand.

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