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Posts Tagged ‘Urban Fantasy’

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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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 freshly loosened and mounded tiny hillock of dirt and grass in the city memorial park makes me wonder whose body is buried rather unsurreptitiously therein.  

How moribund of me. 

Too many urban fantasy genre novels I suppose, though that would mean I should anticipate that blemished earth to spew up a ghoul or zombie, but I don’t see any ritualistic implements or blood.  Just recumbent grass surfers with their beach towels ninety miles from the ocean and parking bags full of checkered napkins and ant crumbs.

Waltzing by like I have music playing only for me – and at this stage of technology, who doesn’t? – I make note that an awkward semicircular zone of avoidance is circumscribed about this upraised bruise of earth.  No shovels nearby.  Someone’s frisbee with dog blemishes resides nearby, seemingly abandoned for fear of nearing the place.  The glorious sign of human progress (besides my traveling musical accompaniment): an iPhone box with strewn plastic packaging placidly resting near yesterday’s newspaper, at least the classified section.  Hasn’t that litterbug ever heard of Craigslist?  They can look it up on their new iPhone.  Wanted: litterbug to decorate city memorial park and tiny hillock of upraised dirt, must reply with shovel.

Oh spirits!  What dark energy has been asserted within this unassuming clump of earth?  A propitiation in exchange for the knowledge of the contents within!

Or maybe I’ll just dig around a bit.

So far, nothing.  Except for a mint Oreo cookie snack pack wrapper, a raven feather besmirched with ejecta or maybe mint cookie creme, a beer top of the lame plastic pop-off type, a Dorritos Nacho Cheesier bag (three Standard American Diet food groups discovered thus far), and a Q-tip.

Wait!  What’s this?!  A bone?!  A fractioned remnant of a grisly murder scene?!  An etiolated tree branch with decomposing leaves?!  Oh.

I suppose my rather frenetic digging does appear odd, at least, that would explain the sidelong and blatant looks being directed toward me by the languid grass surfers who seem even more prone that when I arrived.  Powerful grass-sun combination I gather. 

I did not find a mutilated corpse nor a slumbering zombie slave awaiting its necromantic demiurge’s goading.  I stick the blanched tree branch with stubbornly resilient if brown leaves straight into the slightly leveled pile of dirt.  A testament to opportunities explored and a reparation for disporting with the bucolic mound.  The other former contents become resident inside the painstakingly labeled dispensary for refuse not twenty feet distant. 

The grass surfers are still watching me as if they expect me to break out into random yoga poses atop my hill of inquiry.  I’m tragically sad to disappoint them.

The waltzing merriment sweeps past my eardrums and becomes a thudding bass pushing my feet beyond the city memorial park.  I’m tempted to offer asana instruction, but then I see a cloistering of bushes in a nearby vacant lot.  It is ripe for the concealment of wasting remains.

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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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Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia

by

Jacqueline Carey

rating: 5 of 5 stars
One thing that amazes me with this novel is Carey’s scope as a writer. With the Kushiel sextuplet she was graceful and highly engaging with her intelligent main characters, spinning sentences like colorful and erotic thread; with this book, her main character is more physical and so her writing takes on a greater physicality and brevity. Parsed phrases create intense moments, highlighting the fearless nature of her heroine, the simplicity that she brings to bear in her worldview.

Unlike the shadowy origins that much of urban fantasy uses as a suspenseful trope, Carey makes us witness to the events leading to the birth of the girl who will enliven the myth of Santa Olivia. Occurring in a slightly off future Texas where the threat of rampant disease in Mexico has caused the U.S. to seal the border claiming rebel Mexican forces are threatening to overrun the States, focusing in on the town once known as Santa Olivia but now converted into Outpost – disappearing from public awareness as the entire town becomes locked down – Carey introduces us to a genetic experiment of human scale: men who were bred to be stronger and faster and more resilient.

It is one such man, fleeing his U.S. captors, who succumbs to a tryst with a local girl, causing the improbable pregnancy that leads to the birth of Loup (pronounced Lou, French for wolf, told with a somber yet tongue-in-cheek werewolf reference and not the overripe gravitas crappy romance novels would give to the name).

Born gifted with the same genetic alterations engineered into her father, life is rather challenging for Lou. But then, life pretty much sucks for all the residents of Santa Olivia cum Outpost. Not allowed to leave by the U.S. Army, able only to serve as the working class servants of the soldiers, stuck between warring factions of Outpost gangs trying to scratch the crumbs the Army leaves, the scene becomes ripe for an avenging angel – Zorro style. Carey could have thrust her novel into the trenches of high action/adventure with swashbuckling and ass kicking, creating a comic book heroine in Loup. She does not. There is plenty of action, but Carey does not allow her action sequences to spin out of proportion to the story, despite Loup’s heightened abilities. In my opinion, this makes the story more realistic and rich, for the true heroic aspects arise in the only sport allowed the town of Outpost: boxing.

Loup’s older brother Thomas grows to be the heroic ideal of the town, training wholeheartedly and single-mindedly. Loup will get her turn in the spotlight, but the trajectory that Carey takes her on – growing and learning amongst orphans under the protection of the unorthodox Church, shadowing her older brother in the local boxing gym, performing “miracles” more akin to pranks as the original namesake child saint of the town, butting heads with the local bad boy tough who could easily be a stereotypical gang leader but in Carey’s hands becomes much more – plays alongside her brother’s development, benefiting from the comparison and example she finds, fleshing out the hopes and dreams of a small town forgotten and trapped.

Santa Olivia, as a novel of urban fantasy, pushes through many of the boundaries reinforced by previous novels of the genre. Carey continues to expand her craft and seduce her readers into her worlds just slightly askew of our own, spinning characters of coarse fabric and fine patterns, threading sexuality into her tales with skillful aplomb, and interweaving literary merit with the excitement of the genre and a subtle social commentary. Punches are not pulled, pelvic thrusts fully expressed. Santa Olivia packs the wallop of her main character.

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