Book Review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Magic BitesMagic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Kate Daniels

Publisher: Ace (April 1, 2007)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hooray! From now on, whenever someone asks me if I have read any Ilona Andrews, no longer do I have to look down shame-facedly at my shoes and admit, “No, but I’ve been meaning to for the longest time, I swear!”

Of course, when it comes to the authors’ books and the question of where to start, for me it had to be the quintessential Kate Daniels series. In a world where technology has progressed too much and too fast, the volatile forces of magic have struck back with a vengeance. While magic feeds on technology, everything is unpredictable – machinery, vehicles or electrically powered objects can fail at any time, making it a pretty screwed up world of ruined streets lined with shells of crumbling skyscrapers.

And that’s not all. The way it works, magic rises and falls with no warning, and when the precarious balance between the magical and the technological is thrown out of whack, weird things happen – peculiar magical effects and paranormal monsters wreaking havoc on the world, and what have you. In the middle of it all, a tenacious and headstrong mercenary makes her living attempting to clean up all the resulting messes of this magical apocalypse. Kate’s just another human with a bit of magic blood in her, trying to make ends meet in this crazy messed up milieu, while dodging vampires, shapeshifters, and other nasties. But when her guardian is brutally murdered, Kate’s making it her personal mission to hunt down the one responsible.

So, wow, great setting and premise for an urban fantasy, amirite? But I do have a confession to make. I honestly couldn’t make heads or tails of this world from the explanation provided by the book as I was reading. Afterwards, I had to cheat and had to look up on wikis and other reviews to understand how the whole magic vs. technology process actually worked because what I was given didn’t feel like it was enough at all. Did that take away from my enjoyment of the story? Not really. Technically, you don’t need to understand how and why everything in this world is the way it is, but in some ways, I felt like I was thrown into the middle of a movie that had already started. I got by okay, but if you don’t like feeling like that, then this first book might be a struggle.

As for the main character herself, I liked her. Kate Daniels is smart, resourceful, a bit of a wisecracker and comes in at a hundred percent on the kickass meter – admittedly, much like a lot of other female protagonists in the urban fantasy genre. There’s really not much else I can say, but that’s not really a negative. While I can’t pin down anything that would make her stand out in particular from the rest, archetypal UF characters like Kate are what make this genre great and so fun to read.

I think I approach urban fantasy as a whole with a similar attitude. Arguably, there are a handful of requisite tropes in this genre that will probably never go out of style, and you know what? I wouldn’t want it any other way. These days, I’m happy enough diving into a good UF, and if it happens to do something wildly different and amazing, that’s just gravy. Magic Bites probably isn’t exceptional when it comes to characters and its light-on-plot story, but it does have a pretty cool setting (if only it was explained better).

Regardless, I love tackling books like this especially after a string of heavier reads, because sometimes you just want to sit back and relax with a light, entertaining read, and I have to say it filled that need perfectly. To be honest, you really can’t screw up with me when it comes to this genre, unless you’re doing something terribly, terribly wrong – and I didn’t doubt for second that a series like Kate Daniels, which has been going strong for so many years, would have garnered so many fans if it hadn’t been delivering the right stuff.

So yep, you’ll see me continuing on with this series for sure.

4 stars

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Waiting on Wednesday 09/17/14

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that lets us feature upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!

Mogsy’s Pick:

Cherry Bomb by Kathleen Tierney/Caitlín R. Kiernan: Feb 3, 2015 (Roc)

This is the third installment of Caitlín R. Kiernan’s (writing as Kathleen Tierney) Siobhan Quinn series, continuing the eponymous heroine’s adventures as a half-werewolf-half-vampire (werepire!) through a side of the urban fantasy world you don’t usually see!

Cherry Bomb“Three years have passed since Quinn turned her back on Providence, Rhode Island’s seedy supernatural underbelly, walking out on Mr. B. and taking a bus headed anywhere. She hoped her escape would give her some peace from the endless parade of horrors. But a dead girl who quarrels with the moon can’t catch a break, and, on the streets of Manhattan, Quinn finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place. Again.

What do you do when you’re stuck in the middle of a three-million-year-old grudge match between the ghouls and the djinn, accidentally in possession of a hellish artifact that could turn the tide of the war, all the while being hunted by depraved half-ghoul twins intent on taking the object and ushering in a terrifying Dark Age?

Especially when you’ve fallen in love with the woman who got you into this mess—and you ain’t nobody’s hero…”

Book Review: Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs

Shifting ShadowsShifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Anthology

Series: Mercy Thompson

Publisher: Ace (September 2, 2014)

Author Information: Website

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I want to start by saying I’m not a big reader of short fiction, and on the whole I tend not to bother with any novellas, short stories or anthologies that are companion to an existing series. Part of this is due to my preference for full-length novels, but I’ve also not had the best experiences when it comes to the short format. Characters are world building are important for me, and with only a few exceptions, most short stories don’t go as in-depth into these aspects as I would like. Also, I always end up forming attachments to only a small handful of characters whenever I read a series, and I don’t often find myself as interested in companion novellas/shorts that feature the perspectives of other minor characters and people in a series’ “universe”.

That said, I had a really good time with Shifting Shadows. I’ve really fallen in love with the Mercy Thompson series in the last couple of years, which sparked my interest in this book despite it being an anthology. Aside from four new additions, most of the stories in here have previously been published, though I never felt the need to read them due to the reasons stated above, so I am reading everything with fresh eyes. Sure, as with any short story collection there are ups and downs, but overall I was very impressed with this book, and it probably ranks as up there as one of the best urban fantasy anthologies I’ve ever read.

Here’s a more detailed look at the contents:

SILVER

According to the description, this is one of the new stories, written as an “origin” tale of sorts for the werewolves of Mercy Thompson’s world. We’ve always been told Bran and Samuel are old, but now we realize just how old. We’re talking possibly around the time Christianity first came to Wales. This story also has a bit of romance and sadness, detailing how Samuel and his beloved Ariana first met, but to me its true importance in the fact that it fills in a lot of history to help readers better understand the werewolf mythos as well as Bran and Samuel’s familial ties. A great starter to this anthology, and highly apt.

FAIRY GIFTS

Unfortunately, after this comes a few stories that I just wasn’t as fond of. Thomas Hao was a vampire character I barely remember from his appearance in Frost Burned, though he may have been in any of Patricia Briggs’ other books/spin-off series, but since I haven’t read anything other than Mercy Thompson I really wouldn’t know. I like the “western” feel of this story, but other than that I have to say it was pretty forgettable. I was scarcely able to follow along with the story with its confusing back-and-forth time jumps, and I felt like I was dumped into the middle of a situation without knowing what was going on or who everyone was and why they mattered. Going back to my opening paragraph, this story is a pretty good example of my issues with series companion short stories.

GRAY

The stories in here are arranged in chronological order based on the timeline of the Mercy Thompson series, and at this point we’re still in pre-Moon Called territory. Which is probably why I still found myself asking “Who are you and why do you matter again?” I feel a little guilty that I don’t remember who Elyna is, or even if I have encountered her before in any of the Mercy books. This is another one about vampires, but it’s also a ghost story at its heart. The story itself isn’t half bad, but again I would rather be reading about characters I’m more familiar with. This is definitely not one of my favorites either.

SEEING EYE

This story features Tom and Moira, two characters from Hunting Ground, book two of Briggs’ other series Alpha & Omega – which I have not read. But despite not being familiar with these characters, the author did a good job of really fleshing them out and I actually found myself curious to find out more about them beyond the events of this story. We have a perspective character here who is a witch, which was a treat. The plot also had a clear beginning and end, with the build-up and climax and everything good in between, so I didn’t feel lost at all. I loved how this story had a bit of mystery and sleuthing by the characters, and a sweet romance that ends up blossoming between them.

ALPHA AND OMEGA

I’ve always wanted to check out Alpha & Omega, though to be honest, I don’t know if I feel more or less enthusiastic about picking it up now, after reading this story. I was happy to meet up with Charles (yay, finally a character I recognize again) but I don’t know if I like the way he was portrayed here, or how Anna was portrayed either. Which is a bit ironic, I know, given how this technically gave rise to the series of the same name. It’s always grated on me a little, how the werewolf characters in the world of Mercy Thompson frequently let their wolf side take over all common sense and turn the human into chauvinistic testosterone-fueled meatheads. In this story, we are repeatedly told that Anna still has fire in her, despite being beaten and broken by her abusive pack, but it feels like whatever strength in her that’s fighting to get out is constantly being smothered by Charles’ overbearing need to own her and protect her. I realize this all fits in the context of Briggs’ “pack magic”, but it just always rankles whenever I see an over-possessive male and a helpless female that needs him to do the rescuing.

THE STAR OF DAVID

Hooray, we’re finally into Moon Called-territory and familiar ground for me. This is a great story about Adam’s fellow army ranger, David, whose tragic history illustrates the awful things that can happen when a werewolf isn’t in control of their wolf side. He reconnects with his estranged daughter in this heartwarming tale. My only problem with this story involves some of the implausible and unconvincing aspects of the situation, but given the limitations of the short story format, I didn’t let it bother me too much.

ROSES IN WINTER

This is one of the new stories, and it’s hands down my favorite out of this entire anthology. In my opinion, it’s worth picking up Shifting Shadows for this one alone. Again, I barely remember Kara since she was such a minor character (mentioned in Blood Bound, but never even appeared in any of the books) but I do recall Asil. Though I believe he’s a character in Alpha & Omega, he did make a very strong impression on me from his appearance in Frost Burned. But wow. I never imagined I would grow to love his character so much, and it was all thanks to this story. I had tears in my eyes at the end of this one, that’s how amazing it is.

IN RED, WITH PEARLS

This was a nice detective story, starring Warren. Someone sent a zombie to kill his boyfriend Kyle, and Warren’s not going to rest until he finds out who. Patricia Briggs did a fantastic job making him sound like the cowboy that he is, and I can tell she probably had a lot of fun writing this. We also get to see a few moments of tenderness between Warren and Kyle, but the best part of getting a story from Warren’s perspective is being able to experience his anxieties and doubts from inside his head. In the regular series, through Mercy’s eyes we see Warren as a happy-go-lucky, fiercely loyal friend. But as this story shows, there’s so much more to him beneath the surface.

REDEMPTION

Probably my second favorite story in the anthology, this one features Ben. It’s hard to get a bead on his character in the regular series. On the one hand, it’s been implied that Ben has a rather distasteful past, and his attitude towards women leaves a lot to be desired. On the other, Adam and Mercy seem to trust him implicitly, and Ben has gone out of his way for both of them on more than one occasion. This story gives the reader a better sense of who he is, and how he got this way. But it’s also downright hilarious. You gotta love Ben; he can be a real gentleman when he wants to be, and he takes crap from no one, not even when he’s not allowed to swear.

HOLLOW

I was beginning to think we weren’t going to get a Mercy story at all, which despite some of the other great offerings in here, would have been disappointing. But fear not, this one’s all about Mercy, told from her point of view. And as Mercy stories go, I have to say it’s pretty standard – it reads like it could have been a story from one of the novels, but of course it’s much more condensed in this form. This meant I enjoyed it, but I admit, it does feel like Briggs crammed this one in just for the sake of having a story told in Mercy’s perspective. Just a little.

OUTTAKE FROM SILVER BORNE

Sorry to say, but…there’s probably a good reason why this was an outtake and never made it to the final book. Yeah, it gives a bit of closure to Samuel and Ariana’s story, but I wouldn’t say it’s needed in the least to enjoy the story of their relationship. I could take it or leave it. I think it was the right call to leave it out.

OUTTAKE FROM NIGHT BROKEN

On the other hand, I wish Briggs could have worked this one in somehow. I loved this scene from Adam’s point of view, at the end of Night Broken in the wake of all the craziness that happened. It endeared me to Adam, and my heart melts for his deep love for Mercy. It might just be me, but this scene would have also made the ending to that book a lot less confusing.

Concluding thoughts: there’s definitely a reason why this book is described as “Stories from the world of Mercy Thompson”, because as you can see, most of what you see in here isn’t about Mercy or even the people close to her. But with the exception of a couple of stories, that didn’t really put a damper on my experience reading Shifting Shadows. In fact, on the whole I think this book gave me a deeper understanding of the Mercy Thompson universe and made me appreciate it more. I’ve read similar anthologies and regretted it deeply afterwards, but this is not one of those cases. I highly recommended this for fans of the series, because if someone like me loved it, you probably will too.

4 stars

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Ace Books!

Book Review: Gleam by Tom Fletcher

GleamGleam by Tom Fletcher

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Factory Trilogy

Publisher: Jo Fletcher (September 4, 2014)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had no idea what to expect before heading into Gleam. I was only perhaps vaguely aware of its dystopian nature, and coupled with that striking image of the pyramid on the cover and the “Gormenghastian” description in the blurb, I was fully prepared for a wild ride through a world rooted in bizarre and unfathomable traditions.

The book ended up being all that and a lot more. But what I didn’t anticipate was the highly engaging quest narrative, following a group of ragtag adventurers on a journey to discover the dark secrets of their strange and wildly imaginative world. But boiling the story down like that somehow also feels woefully inadequate, because nothing is at all simple in the universe of Gleam.

The story starts off by introducing us to our protagonist Alan, who lives with his family at the center of the gargantuan factory of Gleam in the fully inhabited and operational Pyramid. However, we get the sense that Alan is somewhat of an outsider, which is hinted at by his mistrust for the other Pyramiders and his penchant for making trouble for the authorities. We don’t know what kind of trouble he’s been stirring up at this point, but it was enough to provoke the Arbitrators, who threaten Alan with attacks on his wife and young son. To protect his family, Alan is forced to exile himself into the Discard, the barren and lawless wasteland that surrounds the central district.

I admit, I wasn’t sure what to make of the book for the first 50 pages or so. Time skips ahead about four years, and I experienced many moments of confusion. It appears “Wild” Alan has done lot during that time, but it’s not clear exactly what he’s been up to. It’s gradually revealed that he has been surviving as a traveling musician, earning room and board singing songs that are mostly about the corruption of the Pyramiders. He’s also apparently run afoul of a Discard drug lord of sorts, for stealing from her supply of rare psychedelic mushrooms. It turns out Alan has a good reason for his pilfering, but all that doesn’t become clear until a good handful of chapters. Plus, we also discover that Alan did not always live in the Pyramid before his exile. In fact, his parents and his whole village was massacred by Pyramiders, but as an act of mercy a soldier brought him back to the Pyramid and he was raised there. Finally, his bitterness and dissension started to make sense. All the pieces of the puzzle ultimately did come together, but it just seemed to take a while which made this beginning section of the book a rocky experience for me.

To be sure though, after everything eventually fell into place, that’s when the story started taking off for real. With his supply of mushrooms cut off, Alan must find a way to get some more and get it fast – or it would mean dire consequences for his family still confined in the Pyramid. With the quest item established, our protagonist starts gathering himself a party to go forth into the unknown, braving the wilderness beyond. But like I said earlier, this is not your ordinary adventure.

Firstly, Alan is not your traditional hero. He’s not intrinsically a bad person, though he is entirely self-serving and makes it clear he’s on the quest for no other reason than his own purposes. His fellow adventures are a group of vagrants much like Alan, a quirky mix of eccentric and just plain weird characters. Hands down, my favorite member of the party had to be Bloody Nora, the woman who belongs to a mysterious group called the Mapmakers, a faction dedicated to exploration and recording of the features and changes to Gleam. They are also deadly fighters, as evidenced by Nora’s brutal efficiency at killing their enemies.

But the story and the brilliant characters are just icing on the cake. What really blew me away was the setting and the world building. While great world building is something I remark upon frequently in my reviews of fantasy novels, I have to say very few have actually come near to the caliber in Gleam. I don’t even know where to start. The large, mystifying concrete structures infused with “bubble” hollows in which Discarders make their home? The giant snails that can serve as mounts for vertical traveling? Freaky and disturbing descriptions of unusual ailments that afflict unfortunate locals? There’s just so much to talk about.

Even a wasteland like the Discard is so vivid and evocative in all its strange and wonderful details. The best part is the mystery – how did this place come about? Who built these crazy structures that litter the landscape? No one knows for sure, and it is part of the reason why the Mapmakers seek to explore and document everything. The world is disgusting yet beautiful, an all-around unpleasant place to be filled with monsters and mutants, but I couldn’t help but be drawn in by all the pure insanity of the surroundings. It’s amazing in all its slimy, swampy, icky glory.

Gleam is simply beyond fascinating. There are certainly dystopian undertones, but unlike a lot of dystopian novels, the focus here isn’t so much on the social or the culture, but on the environmental. It’s the physical world that really comes to the forefront, which really helped me get immersed in the story. The plot itself is also relatively simple, but not once did I feel the quest narrative flounder once it got going, because something was always happening, or my attention was held captive by yet another mind-boggling aspect of the world. After a briefly dicey start, I quickly fell in love with this book.

4 stars

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Jo Fletcher Books!

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YA Weekend: World After by Susan Ee

c836a-worldafterWorld After by Susan Ee

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Young Adult

Series: Penryn & the End of Days #2

Publisher: Skyscape (November 2013)

Author Info: www.SusanEe.com

Wendy’s Rating ~ 3.5 of 5 stars

It turns out that the angels descending upon the earth and ruining everything wasn’t actually the apocalypse. At least, that wasn’t the apocalypse the angels themselves are expecting.

In Angelfall, we got a taste of the political machinations, led by the angel, Uriel, and supported by the demon, Beliel, who is currently sporting Raffe’s wings. Raffe, who believes Penryn to be dead after the attack on the angel’s aerie, is on a hunt to retrieve those wings. Meanwhile, Penryn and her mother and sister and doing their best to fit in with the resistance movement. Not an easy feat when Penryn has seemingly returned from the dead, her mother is schizophrenic, and her little sister, Paige, has been turned into a grotesquery by the angel surgeons. And to make matters worse, the scorpion-like monster aliens that Penryn destroyed at the aerie weren’t the only collection of these hideous creatures.

As this is a post-apocalyptic invasion story, it’s unsurprising that we get a lot more of the inner workings of the angels’ macabre plans. It’s a more clinical book because of this, but, as Penryn remains in focus, there is still a lot of heart and soul, especially when she starts to develop a relationship with Pooky Bear, Raffe’s sentient angel sword. The swords memories and imagery, which it shares with Penryn at critical moments, helps to alleviate the fact that Raffe does not appear much in the book until the end. This is a disappointment for ‘shippers, I’m sure, and a brave choice for the author within a genre where romances can be a big pay off. Of course, absence makes the heart grow fonder, so…

The emotional impact is, perhaps, slightly less strong in this because of the lack of interaction Penryn has with others, including Raffe, and with the greater focus being on Uriel’s plotting. The latter is somewhat lack lustre. I find that Ee is very good with the little details and more intimate character interactions and plotting, but with something as big as Uriel’s schemes, it falls a little flat. Still, this book paves the way for a lot of speculation and I am definitely interested to see where things go in the series.
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