Book Review: Hell Bent by Devon Monk

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Broken Magic
Publisher: Roc
Date of Publication: November 5, 2013
Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars – “Action-filled and suspenseful start to a new spinoff series set in the Allie Beckstrom universe. Looking forward to more!” 

While it’s true I’ve never read anything by Devon Monk before this, her name had been on my reading list ever since her Age of Steam books first caught my eye. I wasn’t aware that she was working on something else, which explained my surprise when I saw that she had a first book of a new Urban Fantasy series out this month. You know me, I can never pass up a chance to read new UF! The fact that I’ll also finally get to check out a book by Devon Monk was also very exciting.
Hell Bent is the book in question, starring the jaded Shamus “Shame” Flynn as the main protagonist and narrator. Being a special kind of magic user called a Breaker, Shame along with his Soul Complement Terric Conley have the ability to “break” magic, channeling it in its full force. Thing is, Shame’s magic is Death and Terric’s is Life, and both are constantly engaged in a struggle against their power, which can consume them if they’re not careful. In Shame’s case, he has to remain control of himself at all times, lest his Death magic harms others arround him.
In a world where the power of magic has become so diminished, the Breakers immediately become targets when secrets behind their abilities leak out and become known to the government. A group of Breakers, including Shame and Terric, choose to stay and fight on home ground. But then, people with magic in their pasts start disappearing and dying — people close to Shame and his friends. Then, beautiful and mysterious Dessa breezes into his life asking for help to find her brother’s killer, making Shame realize the extent of the threat if the Breakers’ secrets fall into the wrong hands.
Almost right away, I had to do a double-take of the blurb on the cover, to make sure I was indeed reading the first book of a new series. I had that strange feeling of being dropped into the middle of a a situation, much like walking into a theater fifteen minutes after the movie had already started. The world of the book had an “established” feel to it already, as well as a community of characters firmly set in place, described in a way that made me feel I should already know them. I did some research and that was how I ultimately came to discover Devon Monk’s other Urban Fantasy series, the Allie Beckstrom books. I don’t know how I managed to completely miss the boat on this series, because there are nine books all together and they were pretty popular, but I soon found out that Hell Bent is actually the first book of a spinoff. Which explains a lot!
With that mystery out of the way, I have to say that while those familiar with Allie Beckstrom will probably find a lot more to be excited about in this book, it was nevertheless a pretty fun ride for a newcomer like me too. Yes, I felt a little lost at first, but that was mostly due to my own compulsive desire to find out everything about the world and the relationships between all the members of this tightly-knit group of magic users (that is, nothing all that pertinent to understanding the story). The details that were important, on the other hand, were all there, so readers new to this world need not fear. If you’re anything like me, you might even feel the urge to pick up the Allie Beckstrom novels. Indeed, my curiosity led me to add Magic to the Bone to my reading list, because I was just too intrigued by all the mentions and references to people and events in this previous series.
One thing I wasn’t too sure of about this book was how I felt about the main character. I can tell Devon Monk is a talented writer from the way she has crafted this indepth and fully fleshed-out personality for Shamus Flynn. The problem is, that personality is a very caustic one. I’m used to reading Urban Fantasy starring snarky characters, but Shame’s brand of snark was tinged with a little too much hostility for my tastes. Right from the start, I could tell he has a massive chip on his shoulder. Not that he doesn’t have a good excuse, being Death Magic incarnate and all, but at times his angst would reach levels I could barely tolerate. It took me a while to warm up to him, when the story got going and the goodness in him eventually made itself known. He also has an unconventional way of showing that he cares, which actually won him points from me. Plus, I enjoyed his brutal and no-nonsense methods of payback. For a character I downright disliked at the beginning, he certainly has a way of turning things around and making me change my mind.
The final point I want to bring up involves the romance. Devon Monk did a fantastic job building it up and carrying it out, making it emotionally impactful for the reader. But for whatever reason, it just didn’t work for me. Shame and Dessa were great together, but the way their relationship was written and presented somehow gave me the feeling like it was shoehorned into the story to make a point. It’s definitely not a dealbreaker, but I do prefer it when a romance develops more realistically between two characters, especially in this case when things happen so quickly.
Despite being slightly disappointed at how the story was left wide open for the next book (not all the loose ends were tied up nicely), I did enjoy how this one ended. The climax was action-filled and suspenseful, leaving me excited to find out what will happen next. Hell Bent did its job as a good teaser and gave me a taste of what to expect, and I have a feeling I’ll probably like the second Broken Magic book even more. I can definitely see Stone Cold in my future, not to mention the Allie Beckstrom series as well!
3.5 of 5 stars
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: False Covenant by Ari Marmell

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of Widdershins Adventures
Publisher: Pyr
Date of Publication: June 26, 2012
Author Information: Website | Twitter 

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars – “Series gets better the more I read; emotionally impactful and filled with suspense, this book kept me on my toes by raising the stakes and taking things to the next level”

First let me begin this review by stating how much I liked the first book of the Widdershins Adventures series, Thief’s Covenant. That, however, still left me quite unprepared for how much I enjoyed this book, its follow-up. To be honest, I’m still reeling from the ending, and feeling not just a little bit heartbroken, but only because of how the story impacted me so emphatically. A book that makes me feel like this, even if it’s like a punch in the gut, surely deserves my admiration and compliments! 
But more on that later, after I revel in how much fun it was to return to Davillon, catching up with Widdershins and her friends. The events of the last book have not left our protagonist in a very good place, however. The guilt over the deaths of two people close to her still weighs on her conscience, and she has taken to thieving again in order to support the beloved tavern she inherited. The minor god Olgun, whose worshipper-base consists of only Widdershins, is still a constant presence in her life, enhancing her abilities to sneak and steal.
Then, reports start coming in about a creature of nightmare stalking the streets. At first, no one is hurt, but soon the attacks turn deadly. The city guard are baffled and are in way over their heads. And as much as Widdershins would like to stay out of it, trouble always ends up finding her. Drawn into a battle against a supernatural terror, she must use all her wits to save her friends and Davillon against the greatest threat the city has ever faced. 
That I liked this book more than the first one is probably an accurate assessment. Don’t get me wrong, Thief’s Covenant was no slouch, but there were some slow parts I had to get through before I started warming up to it. I guess one advantage of subsequent books in a series is that the story can start right away, without having to go through all the motions of explaining background or character history. Unlike my experience with the first book, I was drawn in by False Covenant almost as soon as I started.
Also, I think I remember calling this a “cute” series. Time for me to re-evaluate that, perhaps. Not that there aren’t a lot of light moments in these books; I still find lots to laugh about, especially in Widdershin’s fiery and impulsive personality, not to mention her humorous banter with Olgun. Once again, Ari Marmell does a fantastic job pulling off their strange relationship as well as the their conversations that to all outward appearances seem one-sided. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of those scenes, which are an endless source of entertainment!
However, there’s a darkness to this series as well, which I’m just now starting to fully realize and appreciate. False Covenant strikes a good balance between that and the lightness, injecting mystery and even a bit of horror into the story. I found myself downright creeped out at times. This second book really raises the stakes, taking things to the next level and keeping you on your toes because you never know what might happen next. Ari Marmell doesn’t pull any punches here.
Speaking of which, the ending. Ugh. It’s hard merely thinking about it let alone having to write about it, which is just as well because I wouldn’t want to spoil anything. Definitely, the characterization has gotten a lot better, and I feel a connection to Widdershins, feeling as she does about the other characters around her whether they are friend, foe, or not-sure-which. The book keeps you guessing, while still developing those character relationships and even some romance. It was all very engaging, which is why I find myself now still feeling so stunned. Those final scenes were phenomenally well done and suspenseful, and the way things ended was totally unexpected.
This seems to be one of those series that gets better the more I read. I’m so glad I caught up in time for the third book coming out in December, because now I can’t wait to see what comes next.

 4.5 of 5 stars
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Guest Post: I am an indie author, and proud of it

A BiblioSanctum Guest Post by Ramsey Isler

I am an indie author, and proud of it.

I’ve been in the independent publishing game for a few years now, and I’ve watched the industry grow more respectable. In the past, when I’d meet people and tell them that I self-published, they just assumed my book was crap. Now, some of those same people assume I’m pulling in Amanda Hocking money.  But we indie scribes still have a bit of stigma attached to what we do; we’re still trying to garner as much street cred as indie musicians or film makers, but we’re making great strides.

Many people ask me why I decided to go this route. To answer that question, let me take you back to 2011 when I’d just finished my first novel, The Remortal. I did what most eager authors do; I pitched it to literary agents and editors. I sent off my carefully crafted queries and manuscripts, and waited. Days turned into weeks, then weeks turned into months. Then the rejections started filtering in.

It was disheartening at first, even though I had prepared myself for the inevitable flood of terse-but-polite “No thanks” messages. Then, something interesting happened. The rejections changed to more personal, customized messages. People were actually enjoying the book, but deciding that it “wasn’t right for the market right now”. The theme was no longer “No thanks”. It had changed to, “This is good but I don’t know if I can sell it.”  This continued for weeks, and then on one fateful day a New York editor sent me an email saying he really liked my book and felt it could potentially be a commercial hit if I just did two things: change my main character from a young man to a young woman, and introduce a love triangle.

I refused, of course. I had no interest in changing my work so dramatically, and I have a great personal distaste for the love triangle trend in young adult fiction these days. I was dejected once again. This respected editor and former agent liked my work, but he still wanted to tweak it to fit “the market”. It took me a few days to get over it, but then I realized something — he did actually really like the book. He had said it could potentially be a hit. The problem wasn’t the words I’d written, it was the “market” I was trying to break into.

So I decided to find my own market. I would go indie. Buck the trends. Self-publish.

How is it going so far? It’s the hardest, most educational, most depressing, most fulfilling thing I’ve done. There are days when I do wonder if there are better things I could be doing with my time. It’s an immense amount of work, and when the writing is finished that’s when the real effort begins. The process of marketing the work is the tough part. Creating something is only half the battle. The other half is finding people who care about it.

But that process of finding your audience, tough as it is, is also extremely rewarding. There’s something remarkable about reaching out to an ordinary reader, asking them to take a gamble on your book, and they come back and say they loved it. It’s personal, it’s powerful, and it’s priceless. And as an indie, you have to do it over and over and over, gaining a fanbase one reader at a time. Each sale is a tiny personal victory, and it’s made even sweeter by the fact that you do it all on your own. And many big artists started out this way; Jay-Z started off by selling CDs out of his car, one listener at a time.

Will I publish traditionally? Maybe one day, if “the market” ever wills it. But in the meantime I’m having a great time doing it my way, and being free to tell the stories I want to tell, how I want to tell them.

Ramsey Isler is an author, software developer, and designer who lives in Los Angeles. Isler writes urban fantasy that blends elements of science fiction and suspense. His stories feature young protagonists that are often unsure of themselves, but they find the strength to persevere when faced with extreme circumstances. Ramsey does not write traditional “evil” villains or black-and-white morality tales; he instead opts for antagonists and anti-heroes who have viewpoints and ideals that pose difficult moral challenges for the protagonists, and the worlds they inhabit.

Waiting on Wednesday 11/13/13

“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

A Star Wars book written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck — the writing team behind the pseudonym James S.A. Corey — who brought us The Expanse series, plus a story about Han Solo. What more could I ask for?
“When the Empire threatens the galaxy’s new hope, will Han, Luke, and Leia become its last chance?

When the mission is to extract a high-level rebel spy from the very heart of the Empire, Leia Organa knows the best man for the job is Han Solo—something the princess and the smuggler can finally agree on. After all, for a guy who broke into an Imperial cell block and helped destroy the Death Star, the assignment sounds simple enough.

But when Han locates the brash rebel agent, Scarlet Hark, she’s determined to stay behind enemy lines. A pirate plans to sell a cache of stolen secrets that the Empire would destroy entire worlds to protect—including the planet where Leia is currently meeting with rebel sympathizers. Scarlet wants to track down the thief and steal the bounty herself, and Han has no choice but to go along if he’s to keep everyone involved from getting themselves killed. From teeming city streets to a lethal jungle to a trap-filled alien temple, Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and their daring new comrade confront one ambush, double cross, and firestorm after another as they try to keep crucial intel out of Imperial hands.

But even with the crack support of Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing squadron, the Alliance heroes may be hopelessly outgunned in their final battle for the highest of stakes: the power to liberate the galaxy from tyranny or ensure the Empire’s reign of darkness forever.”

Mogsy’s Favorite Romance Book

While I’ve been known to enjoy an element of romance in my reading, I’m not sure if the actual Romance genre is my cup of tea. Harlequin novels or the type of books featuring their heroines’ steely-eyed, bare-chested and six-pack-bedecked love interests on their covers just aren’t generally my thing. But then, I stumbled upon Master of Crows

I read this one last year and I was surprised at how good it was, especially since it appears to be a self-published indie. Okay, so maybe indulging in a steamy Romance novel can be fun once in a while, but it’s still gotta be science fiction/fantasy-related or else I don’t know if it’ll hold my interest. Master of Crows sure fit the bill, taking place in a world of mages and magic and all that good stuff. Sure, it’s not without its cheesy parts (but then again, I’m also a firm believer that any good Romance must have its fair amount of cheese), with its rather standard master-apprentice love story and the archetypal tall, dark, handsome, sexy, broody, mysterious and misunderstood and privately tortured lone-wolf male protagonist. Still, I liked this one. Never once did we lose the fantasy element, even amidst the lusty passion…

Which I’ll admit was kind of hot. 

Audiobook Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Series: The Stormlight Archive #1

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: August 31, 2010

Author Info: 

Wendy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars – It is evident that Sanderson has this entire world perfectly detailed in his head, and he seems determined to make sure the reader sees it exactly as he does… 

With three hours left on the audiobook and constant interruptions at work where I usually listen to my audiobooks, this happened:

I got through the work day, running home to read the rest because the narrators just weren’t reading fast enough, dammit! I now am suffering from severe book hangover, knowing that I have to wait until March 4, 2014 to find out what happens next in Words of Radiance. You’d think with all this, that I’d throw all the stars at this book, but I had to deliberate on that a bit. My bookflail showed up in the last 200 pages of a massive book. But I’m just not sure I could have made it through the first 3/4 if I’d not opted to listen to the audiobook.

The world Sanderson has built is immense and his lore covers everything from fashion, to theology, to weather, to magic, to politics, and more. A lot more. A. LOT. MORE. It is incredibly impressive, but the interjection of lore building exposition and flashbacks became disruptive after a while. It is evident that Sanderson has this entire world perfectly detailed in his head, and he seems determined to make sure the reader sees it exactly as he does by including full descriptions of even the smallest element, rather than allowing the reader to use a bit more of their own imagination.

Considering the intended length of the series, weighing in at twenty books, I assume the information dumps will become less of an issue as it progresses (save it for the wiki, please). And fortunately the lore influx is also balanced by the depth of the characters, which is what helped me pull through. In other epic fantasies, you don’t really get to know the characters, and in some cases you can’t even tell them apart. Here, there is as much time spent with the development of the major characters and the supporting cast important to them. Perhaps more of Kaladin’s backstory is told than is necessary, but I can excuse this because of how vivid and interesting the character is, such that you actually come to care about him and the others, rather than merely liking him because he’s cool.

The audiobook was read by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading, the same people who narrated Robert Jordan’s unimpressive The Eye of the World, which inspired my post on epic storytelling for the sake of epicness. With this in mind, I should have been daunted by this book’s information overload and the twenty book series, but this is Brandon Sanderson. I’ve actually only read 2.1 books by him (though I own several) and completely subscribe to the well-earned hype. His world building *is* truly amazing. His unique and varied approach to the use of magic in each of his stories is fascinating (in the case of Warbreaker, it’s specifically what attracted me). And his characters are very real and very endearing. If Sanderson gets carried away sometimes with too much lore, I can forgive him because it feels like him eagerly inviting you into his head, rather than him just unnecessarily padding out a book and/or killing time till he figures out what the story is supposed to do next.

As for the story itself, it was really impressive. A pointless war for vengeance is at the heart of everything, with mysteries stemming from this core in all directions. The last 200 pages of the book are so intense because those vines of mystery, along with all of these intriguing characters, start to come together in the end, creating all new mysteries that demand that you continue the journey.

Book Review: Starhawk by Jack McDevitt

Starhawk by Jack McDevitt

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: The Academy

Publisher: Ace

Date of Publication: November 5, 2013

Author Information: Website

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars – “Loved the whole package; touched upon my deepest fears of being stranded in space and made me see interstellar space travel in science fiction in a whole different light.”

Jack McDevitt has been writing books for a long time, but it wasn’t until Starhawk that I finally got a taste of his work. I was initially uncertain about jumping on board with this one, seeing how the book’s main character as well as the setting have been established for a while in McDevitt’s The Academy series. However, after discovering that Starhawk is actually a prequel of sorts, I took the opportunity to use it as a starting point. How happy I am that I did! Starhawk is amazing, introducing me to a whole new world of space exploration and adventure.

The book takes readers back to the earlier days of Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins, to a time when faster-than-light travel is still relatively new, and earth politicians rage over the future of human expansion into space. People are also unhappy at the methods used to prepare alien worlds for colonization, which involves terraforming, a process that essentially strips a planet of all life. 
Supervised by her mentor Jake, Priscilla has just achieved her life long dream of becoming an interstellar space pilot, passing her qualifications flight with flying colors. But due to the uncertainty of the times as well as her own tenacity, she is soon finding out the hard way that the right piloting job is hard to come by. Priscilla, however, is not one to be discouraged and soon she finds herself involved with all sorts of conflicts, including dealing with bomb threats, sabotage, rescue missions, and even the possibility of making first contact with extraterrestrial life forms. All of it will test her new-found knowledge of piloting as well as her own courage and force of will.
My friends who are fans of The Academy series love Priscilla, or “Hutch” to her friends, and I can see why. Even at this early point in her life, she is showing signs of the strength in her character, though at times I feel she is written somewhat awkwardly. For example, the book’s description makes her out to be the main focus, but I don’t always get the sense she is coming through as the “hero” of the story. At the same time, I realize this is supposed to be a prequel novel showing how she is still learning the ropes and coming into her own. In that sense, I can understand why she might be portrayed in more of a support role as the inexperienced new pilot. Regardless, I was completely unfamiliar with her character before this, so Starhawk was my first introduction to Priscilla and I liked enough of what I read.
The storyline in this book, however, is nothing short of incredible. Personally, the idea of being stranded in space scares the bejeezus out of me and is quite possibly one of the worst fates I can imagine. As such, I’ve never had the desire to go to space…but I do so love reading about it, for the thrills and tension! A lot of the situations in this book involve such dangers, and so a high level of suspense is constant during those scenes, and of course my own fears made reading this one even more intense. At times, the story even crosses the line into unsettling and downright spooky territory. Like I said, it makes my skin crawl and my heart clench just thinking about being lost in space, all alone in that big wide emptiness, thus making space disaster plot lines like the ones in this book very effective on me.
The fact that events take place in this amazing time of change is another reason why I liked this book so much. Jack McDevitt paints an interesting future, which despite having all this fascinating tech and being around a couple centuries ahead doesn’t actually feel too distant. He really puts you there, including made-up pop culture references and the fictional names and accomplishments of famous figures which adds a realistic touch. The highlight for me was also the epistolary content at the end of each chapter, whether they are excerpts from Priscilla’s journal, ship logs, news feeds and even internet chatter. It left me almost charmed and a little amused to read about how, even this far into the future, society still has the same concerns like politics, environmental change, education of our children, sports, etc. Oh, and that there will also always be internet trolls.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the novel though, is a theme alluded to in the prologue, where Priscilla ponders all those old science fiction stories featuring aliens that show up to take over earth and kill us all. That humans may be the terrifying invading aliens in this case, destroying all living creatures and ecosystems on entire worlds using terraforming to suit their own needs, is a central conflict in this novel. The story takes place in that awkward “in-between” stage where space exploration is still such a young discipline, and the human race becoming a species capable of long-ranged space travel is a process requiring lots of growing pains. The bulk of my recent science fiction novels have been space operas where humans have had the means for space travel for a long time, so long that it has become a given. So it’s pretty fascinating to be reading a book where going into space is still considered a new idea, with so few safety precautions set in place that heading into space is considered dangerous and a topic of much controversy. I just really enjoyed how this book looked at a lot of things in a different light. 
I had so much fun with Starhawk, I finished all 400 pages of it in less than a day. It wasn’t just the plot that engaged me, it was the character and the setting and the whole package. I’m definitely going to look into picking up The Academy series, to see how things turn out for Priscilla/Hutch.

5 of 5 stars

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: Letters From A Murderer by John Matthews

Letters From A Murderer by John Matthews

Genre: Historical Mystery

Series: Book 1 of Finley Jameson and Joseph Argenti

Publisher: Exhibit A

Date of Publication: September 24, 2013

Author Information: Website

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars – “Some surprises to be found amidst an exciting mix of mystery and suspense, in this novel reminiscent of classics like Sherlock Homes”  

Angry Robot may be one of my favorite speculative fiction publishers, but when it comes to their Mystery/Crime imprint Exhibit A, I have to say I’m pretty much clueless. Naturally, I was curious about their books, and Letters From a Murderer immediately caught my eye. After all, historical fiction is one of my favorite genres after science fiction and fantasy, and Jack the Ripper is the subject of another great book I read recently, and for that reason my interest in Ripper stories was still very much piqued.

However, there is one notable aspect about this Ripper story  — it takes place in New York, 1891. This was around the time when the string of brutal murders in Whitechapel and east London seemed to have stopped, leading authorities to speculate that the killer must have died, gotten arrested, or moved on. So when the book opens with a prostitute in New York found murdered in a similar way, uncomfortable questions are raised about whether or not the Ripper might have crossed the Atlantic.

While I know it’s not exactly new, this idea is something I’ve personally never encountered before in a Jack the Ripper related novel. There are whole new dynamics at work here, admidst the complexities of the city’s criminal underworld as well as dark secrets in the main character Finley Jameson’s past.  As one of the original English pathologists on the Ripper case, Jameson is teamed up with New York detective Joseph Argenti, and together they try to catch the murderer before he can claim more victims. The “Letters” in the book’s title have a two meanings, referring to the messages the killer sends to the press taunting the police, as well as the symbols found carved onto the victims’ bodies.

I enjoyed this, even though I’ll admit I didn’t fully appreciate the cleverness of the story until well into the book, when the major “twist” was revealed to shake things up. Before this, the book held my interest but did not exceed my expectations; the plot held a lot of the usual elements I would expect from a novel of this genre and type. In this historical mystery, the “history” takes more of a backseat as this is a mystery-thriller first and foremost, complete with gang violence and corruption, conspiracies and lies. Some of the characters fell into familiar archetypes, like the mob boss Tierney (evil and insane) or Jameson’s assistant Lawrence (the troubled but brilliant intellectual). On the other hand, this can be seen as a postive if you prefer books that are reminiscent of classics like Sherlock Homes, as this one definitely has that vibe.

The best part, however, is something I can’t really talk about much in my review for fear of spoilers, but the aforementioned dark secrets in Jameson’s past have a lot to do with it. Suddenly, everything that came before in the novel held more significance and meaning, including the details I thought were just par for the course in Jameson and Argenti’s investigation. For a book that I didn’t think was going to surprise me, it sure threw me for a loop there, keeping me guessing and wondering and beating myself up for not realizing before that this was where the author was going.

Alas, that little side plot in the story was over all too quickly, but the remainder of the book set a much more rigorous pace, with an exciting mix of suspense and mystery as our investigators have to try and solve the puzzle and deal with Tierney’s men at the same time. I thought everything unfolded naturally and came together very well at the end, and fans of crime fiction or historical mysteries will probably find lots to like about this one, especially if you have an interest in Sherlock-Holmes-style books or Jack the Ripper stories.

 3.5 of 5 stars

YA Weekend: The City’s Son by Tom Pollock

The City’s Son by Tom Pollock

Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Skyscraper Throne

Publisher: Jo Fletcher

Date of Publication: August 2, 2012

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars – “And original, unique and wildly imaginative Young Adult novel that made me see things in a whole different light”

So, on my ongoing quest to read more original and offbeat Young Adult titles, my journey has led me to The City’s Son by Tom Pollock. I’d heard great things about this book, along with some descriptions of it that are just way in the realm of the bizarre and uncanny. In other words, it sounded right up my alley. 

The novel follows Beth Bradley, a young graffiti artist seeking escape after being sold out by her best friend in an incident that suspends her from school. Her father hasn’t been the same ever since Beth’s mother died, and hardly even notices what goes on in her life anymore. But just when you think this will be yet another story about an angsty teenager running away from her troubles, this book turns everything on its head.
The fun begins when Beth meets up with the mysterious “Urchin”, the cocky pavement-slate-skinned boy who introduces himself as Filius Viae, prince of London’s streets and the city’s son — for he claims that the goddess of the city is his mother. What follows next is pure wildness as a whole new world is opened to Beth, one filled with living statues, voice-stealing spiders that crawl along telephone wires, runaway railwraith trains, and beings that live inside streetlamps. As rumors surrounding the goddess’ impending return continue to mount, Beth helps Filius rally the troops against Reach, the urban god of decay who is preparing his own return to the city in order to see her new friend dead.
The result of this is a novel that’s gritty yet sometimes beautiful, with ideas in here ranging from pure whimsical to just downright terrifying. It’s also, to put it mildly, all very strange. At the end of the book, Tom Pollock acknowledges authors like Neil Gaiman and China Mieville as influences, and I can absolutely see that here. Consider Gutterglass, Filius’ caretaker who has raised him in his goddess mother’s absensce, who sometimes manifests as a pile of city garbage, with egg shells for eyes or discarded pens for fingers, all held together by dirt, bugs and worms. Like I said, whimsical and terrifying.
In the past year, I’ve read several books that feature the setting so strongly that they may as well have been love letters to their respective cities. But still, there’s bringing your city to life and then there’s bringing your city to life. Sometimes the world-building is done so well and described so richly that the setting ends up becoming like a character in and of itself, but this book takes personification of urban features to a whole new level. Tom Pollock presents London in a way that will completely blow your mind. I read things in this book I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams. Just the sheer amount of creativity at work here is astounding; I have never read a book like The City’s Son.
If anything, the world was so fantastically well done that it ended up taking center stage in my mind, making the characters pale in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, both Beth and Fil were great, but they almost felt like the supporting cast in light of my love for this incredible re-imagined version of London. I enjoyed the characters immensely but still didn’t feel much for their relationship whenever they were together despite their witty dialogue and banter, because ultimately it was the city along with its many strange denizens that made this book so great in my eyes.  
The City’s Son was exactly the kind of book I was looking for — a unique and unconventional YA novel that made me see things in a whole different light. Interestingly, this was also my first experience with a Young Adult title from Jo Fletcher books, and based on their penchant for publishing novels with innovative and just plain cool ideas, I’m honestly not surprised that I enjoyed this as much as I did.

 4 of 5 stars

Book Review: Ghosts of ARCADIA by Ramsey Isler

Ghosts of ARCADIA by Ramsey Isler

Genre: Science Fiction, Gaming
Publisher: Self Published
Publication Date: October 2013
Author Info:

Wendy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars – My pixel people have come to mean a lot to me and many of them do reflect me in many ways. Imagine if you could truly create a character within a game system that *was* you!

ARCADIA is the most advanced video game ever created, going well above and beyond the concept of virtual reality by reading the users neural signals to create an impossibly real world. Millions donned the system’s technologically advanced headsets and stepped into ARCADIA, some even creating proxies to handle game play and interactions during their absence. But when ARCADIA is hacked, resulting in the slow leak of roughly twenty million dollars, the system becomes anathema.

The drama has died down since the hacks, but Unwired tech journalist Miguel Naciamento is certain there is a deeper story that others have overlooked. Determined to earn himself another Pulizter, Miguel pursues a few leads, including his former professor, now an FBI consultant on the case, Ivy Yuen, the game’s brilliant creator, and a gray hat hacker still devoted to the game.

As a gamer, ARCADIA’s concept appealed to me, though I would have loved to experience, through Miguel, some of the more involved games the story implied existed (… okay maybe it didn’t imply it… I just want to go virtual reality questing, okay?). The concept initially made me think of Ready Player One, where a similar system exists (though more easily accessible to the 99%). While I was initially disappointed that the ARCADIA system didn’t seem to involve more elaborate games, I came to appreciate the more Facebook/app like games that it employed. Considering how popular these games and apps are in our current reality, Isler’s implementation of them within such an innovative system makes sense as the focus.

Another major concept in ARCADIA that I liked were the proxies. My pixel people have come to mean a lot to me and many of them do reflect me in many ways. Imagine if you could truly create a character within a game system that *was* you! With this in mind, Isler’s prologue immediately grabbed me, beginning at the end of Miguel’s memoir as he says good bye to his proxy.

I think there were certain aspects of the proxies that could have been explored more, but everything still worked well within the story. My preconceived notions about this book continued to be derailed as Miguel explored more and more of ARCADIA and got to know the personalities involved in its creation and continued existence. This ended up being a very sweet, very human story that I really enjoyed.