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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Night of the Wolf by Alice BorchardtNight of the Wolf

by
Alice Borchardt

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
While I recall the first of this series thrilling me with its Roman historicity and intrigue, I am left wondering if I enjoyed it so much because it was several years ago and my reading tastes were not nearly as refined, nor my sense of literary excellence so sharply honed. Borchardt really shares quite a lot with her sister Anne Rice in regards to style, meaning she tends toward the overwrought and over done. I wanted more from her characters, was rather bored with the usage of Caesar as a character and the plotting surrounding him, and felt like the historical detailing of food distracted from the flow of the novel – especially as I flipped through my unabridged Oxford dictionary to find out what piece of a pig’s lower intestine they were consuming.

The wolfish perspective provided by Maeniel, the dark gray eyes of innocence who transitions from wolf to man, was the most fascinating part of the novel, something I enjoyed because urban fantasy written now is almost entirely built upon humans becoming wolves and not the other way around, something I’ve always felt was lacking. The potential for using that perspective as a commentary on our world is vast, but unfortunately, Borchardt did so only shallowly.

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Summer Knight by Jim ButcherSummer Knight

by
Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Faeries and politicking. Who knew it could be so much fun to watch Harry Dresden squirm! Oh wait, that is one of the reasons I keep coming back to this wonderful series. In this fourth installment of how-will-Harry-be-royally(literally)-screwed, he has the White Council with the Sword of Damocles (or Morgan with his axe to grind) on one side, Queen Mab of the icy britches Winter Court on another, and a gang load of hired thugs and nasty types elsewhere trying to off him. Oh, and his dead flame who tried to kill him is back too. What choice a poor wizard to make for his demise? Even with this doom and gloom storm cloud brewing with a little Faerie magic on a big stone table, Harry battles the good battle, plays the heroic man with a big staff, wears his spiffy coat, and keeps a snarky head above the insanity, even while said head is spinning none too slowly over his unlucky fate. I sort of really wanted to hug Mr. Butcher after finishing this novel. View all my verbose reviews >>

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Fool Moon by Jim ButcherFool Moon

by
Jim Butcher

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
About four years ago, I was acquainted with a certain “Wizard for Hire” by the name of Harry Dresden. I recall being entertained but not compelled to continue the association. However, several trusted sources promised me Mr. Dresden is of pukka character, the real deal, not prone to charlatan-esque fripperies and obfuscations. Finally circumventing my innate resistance, the second meeting between Mr. Dresden and I was arranged, and an intriguing dynamic arose. I discovered that I actually like Mr. Dresden; his foibles and peccadillos make him less a figure of mystic adumbration and more of an associate with whom to take tea and discuss the recent spate of brummagem love potions flooding the magical marketplace. His expertise and interests are varied and vast, his moral certitude and chivalrous demeanor endearing, his honor and sense of duty admirable. But perhaps his best features: he carries a large staff and makes a leather duster look good.

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Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline CareyNaamah’s Kiss

by

Jacqueline Carey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After Santa Olivia, Carey’s stature as my favorite author was assured. Naamah’s Kiss carved that distinction into marble. Any successive contenders for favorite author will have tall plinths to ascend before their names can be carved near the zenith.

Departing chronologically but not spiritedly from my beloved characters in the Kushiel’s Legacy, this generational descendant retains the compassion and character and thrill and intelligence of its predecessors. Rather than merely reacquaint us solely with D’Angeline society as it has progressed over four generations, Carey starts us in the wilds of Alba with a descendant of Alais, now referred to as Alais the Wise, who is part of a family branch that followed the isolationist nature of the still mistrusted Maghuinn Donn: Moirin, great granddaughter to my beloved princess who matured to inspire Alba.

Alais’ great granddaughter has no less a grand destiny to fulfill; indeed, it is this destiny that fuels her outward exploration. Thematically central, the thread of destiny remains ever present to Moirin as she literally feels her destiny respond to the courses she ponders. It is this internal compass that propels or hinders her along the way, the impetus that sends her beyond one ocean to Terre d’Ange, and then beyond a greater ocean to distant and newly connected, yet forbidding Ch’in.

Magic is much more prevalent for Moirin and a greater factor in Naamah’s Kiss, taking on a larger presence than in the Kushiel’s Legacy sextuplet. Moirin lives with magic, having inherited through her ancestry from Alais and the Maghuinn Donn gifts that many thought lost. She hears the call of the bear goddess of the Maghuinn Donn, but also feels and is guided by the presence of the D’Angeline consorts Naamah and Anael. Weaving together with her demanding destiny, this exploration of magic and divinity compels a significant part of the story and positions Moirin in spheres of intrigue and power to which her naivete is quickly forced to adapt.

Despite her humble upbringing in the wilds of Alba, or perhaps due to it, Moirin has a lusty desire to learn, explore her nature, and follow the call of her destiny. This often manifests as a stubborn streak, which combines with her naive charm to engender a new character Carey has created that has stolen my heart. Methinks Naamah would be especially pleased by this.

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Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith

Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams

by

Alexander McCall Smith

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Flitting in amongst the lives and dreams of modern day Irish folk, Angus, deliverer of dreams and igniter of passions and love, takes on the persona of a therapist, a tow-headed and simple-minded youth, or the ancient regalia as the son of the Dagda, the highest of the Irish deities. McCall Smith crafts a series of delightful short stories, rife with the connections between people and the failings therein. Whether describing the beautiful beginnings of a newlywed couple or the wrenching betrayal of a damaged marriage, he tells an engaging story.

Yet unlike precursors in the Canongate Myth series, the connections to the myth that beget this novel seems to hold a tenuous thread to the modernity of mythic experience that Smith never truly expounds upon. The mythic story arc, encasing the modern short stories, of the Dream Angus could be excised and leave a fine collection of short stories. I felt disappointed that the first Celtic exploration did not delve as deeply nor as soundly as the Greek tales. The myth was relegated to the hastily surmised binding offering a tenative connective tissue to the short stories, rather than the wellspring from whence they sprung.

The prose is lovely and the characters have feeling to them, but I engaged this novel hoping for the resonance of mythos to carry me to the ineffable realms of imagination and creativity, but alas the flight stopped lightly at a pleasurable yarn to wile away an afternoon, leaving me grasping at a loose thread yet to be woven into cloth.

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Skin Trade by Laurell K. Hamilton

Skin Trade

by

Laurell K. Hamilton

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I wanted to rate this seventeenth Anita Blake higher, I really did. It served its purpose – it gave me an escapist retreat from reality, plunging me into the abnormal psychosis and encounters of the protagonist. Plus the sex. I’ve traveled a long way with Anita, delved into some pretty dark and gruesome and twisted shit with her, but the sameness, not only of action, but also of writing and the bromidic characterization is starting to wear on me.

The one element of novelty that kept me reading coincides oddly with my own sensation of languidness: that of Anita’s weariness of the violence and destruction. This theme recurs throughout the novel as Anita is mailed a decapitated head accompanied by an invite to track the killer down, vilification by law enforcement peers for her personal connections, close proximity to a sociopathic federal marshall from her past, and not to mention the looming need to feed the ardeur. Anita’s main response to all this seems to be a half-hearted attempt to pull herself up by her bootstraps and continue slogging through the body parts and blood. I get the feeling that the next logical phase Anita should enter would be a severe depression.

Wondering if this element of depression would ever be introduced is useless speculation and rather moot because the tone is pervasive regardless of whether Anita is flexing her metaphysical muscles to prove her worth to a paranormal troop of Vegas SWAT or facing the prospective sexual awakening of a multiplicity of weretigers’ powers. She evinces a languor in this novel that infected my own reading of it.

A lot of the criticism I have seen leveled at this novel revolves around the rather hurried ending. I do not really find this surprising since this has always been Hamilton’s writing style; the endings have always been abrupt and quickly encapsulated within a brief epilogue. Skin Trade does disabuse us of a potential Big Bad or two, though I think the finality of at least one of these is up for debate; however, I do not feel that this novel merits the vitriol that Danse Macabre deserves for establishing an intriguing plot and utterly failing to deliver. Yes, she could have elaborated more thoroughly without detracting from succinctness, but I did not feel completely cheated at the end.

I continue to return to St. Louis to visit Anita and her harem because I still see the potential that begat this series, and the glimmerings that shine forth amid the sex and violence and sex intrigue and fascinate me. Her world is highly developed yet still offers so much exploratory space. It helps that the boys are all really pretty too.

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A Flash of Hex

A Flash of Hex

by

Jes Battis

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I love a spunky redhead. I love a spunky redhead who ties into the earth magically. I love a spunky redhead with a gay best friend who reads minds. I love a spunky redhead who falls for a man who elicits drool in a black tight t-shirt and just so happens to channel necromantic energy.

Battis contributes all the fun and readability of the urban fantasy genre, but isn’t afraid to let a verbose vocabulary add to the writing. This academic bent shines forth in the diversity rainbow of characters that parade through the novel; Battis manages to cultivate this diversity just shy of the line of too much, celebrating within the variety the many differences that do not see written attention frequently. While occasionally slipping into a digressive queer theorist mode, it is never long enough to turn attention away from the character building.

As an added plus, the OSI (Occult Special Investigation) novels blend elements of forensic mystery solidly with urban fantasy – think Kathy Reichs researching magical crime, further helping elide the distinctions between genre novels.

A Flash of Hex manages that difficult step in being an even better novel than its predecessor, establishing continuity and developing its worldview. Our spunky redhead Tess has some growth to pursue, and I for one cannot wait to read more about her love interest fleshing out his tight black t-shirts.

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