Review: Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews

Review: Magic Burns by Ilona AndrewsMagic Burns by Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels #2
Published by Penguin on April 1st 2008
Pages: 272
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Magic Bites

As a mercenary who cleans up after magic gone wrong, Kate Daniels knows how waves of paranormal energy ebb and flow across Atlanta like a tide. But once every seven years, a flare comes, a time when magic runs rampant. When Kate sets out to retrieve a set of stolen maps for the Pack, Atlanta's paramilitary clan of shape shifters, she quickly realizes much more is at stake. The stolen maps are only the opening gambit in an epic tug of war between two gods hoping for rebirth, and if Kate can't stop the cataclysmic showdown, the city may not survive.

Thoughts: The Kate Daniels series has so many fans, it’s ridiculous. It’s one of the top-selling, most anticipated Urban Fantasy series out there. But, after reading Magic Burns, all I can think is: the books must get a hell of a lot better than this if they’re still so popular.

Don’t get me wrong, Magic Burns is a good book. It’s solidly written, with interesting world building and high-stakes action. There were some elements here that, even as a relatively seasoned UF fan, really stood out: namely, I loved the idea of the central city park over growing to become a hub of witchcraft, complete with a giant turtle into whose belly you crawled. I have such a clear mental image of it – and it’s really stuck with me.

I also really enjoyed a number of the secondary characters: I’d read a series starring Kate’s were-shadow, Derek. He’s a sweetie in that silent-but-observant-and-may-also-kill-you sort of way. I also thought it was pretty awesome how quickly Kate latched onto Julie – the orphan introduced in this book. I was expecting her to be written out by the end of the novel, but colour me surprised.

That being said, there was a lot in this book that just made me roll my eyes: Kate is a special flower, but no one can know – except, of course, until she really needs to use that power. What even. Then there was the senseless dog death – how does having the main character kill a dog help endear her to me? Oh, and Curran? I’m sorry, but he was really creepy in this book. Some of his “famed” “seductive” lines just came off very assault-y. If Adam (from the Mercy books) had said this crap, Mercy would have had his butt kicked. And I would have helped.

Bottom line? Technically a good book, but there were things in it I just found abhorrent. I’ll be reading on, as it can only go up from here… right?

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Review: Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted by Naomi Novik
Published by Pan Macmillan on 2015-05-21
Pages: 310
Genres: High Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood's powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia - all the things Agnieszka isn't - and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him. From the author of the Temeraire series comes this hugely imaginative, engrossing and vivid fantasy novel, inspired by folk and fairy tales. It is perfect reading for fans of Robin Hobb and Trudi Canavan.

Thoughts: I was ecstatic to find Uprooted in my mailbox. I am a massive, massive fan of Novik’s Temeraire (read my glowing review here) and was very excited to see what she would produce outside of that universe.

Which is appropriate, considering what dominated Uprooted was the universe Novik created. It was dark, twisted and disconcerting in a way I’ve yet to experience. Instead of a single villain, Agnieszka and the Dragon faced off against a… feeling. The Wood was the literal representation of decay and infection, while still appearing as a lush, beautiful life-form. It was a bit difficult for me to wrap my brain around, because it was so foreign… and in a way, that’s what also made it so scary.

The Wood drove this story, more so than the principal characters. And because of that, Uprooted refused to be one “type” of story. It wasn’t just a semi-Stockholm Syndrome romance, or a girl-discovers-her-powers YA novel, or a high fantasy fight-against-evil… it was all of those things distorted by the overbearing threat of the Wood. So expect twists and turns, and don’t ever, ever get too comfortable.

Character-wise, while I can’t say I was overly emotionally invested in Agnieszka, Kasia or the Dragon, I really appreciated how they were handled. The Dragon was an angry, mean man – but one who was trying to do the right thing. Kasia and Agnieszka, meanwhile, had one of the most genuine female friendships I’ve ever read. They loved each other, but they also had their own problems. When jealously and hurt reared their heads, instead of breaking apart, they acknowledged the issues and didn’t let them get in the way. It was masterfully done.

Bottom line? Uprooted is a supremely unique novel, set in a universe I can guarantee you’ve never been to. If you’re suffering from genre fatigue, Uprooted will leave you uplifted.

Review: This Shattered World by Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman

Review: This Shattered World by Meagan Spooner and Amie KaufmanThis Shattered World by Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner
Series: Starbound #2
Published by Disney Publishing on 2014-12-23
Pages: 400
Genres: Science Fiction, Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: These Broken Stars

The second installment in the epic Starbound trilogy introduces a new pair of star-crossed lovers on two sides of a bloody war.

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

This Shattered World was a glorious read. It was one of those books I devoted an entire weekend to – not wanting to put it down, but never wanting it to end. It had everything I love in a good novel, and now I expect even more perfection from the final book in the trilogy.

In my review of These Broken Stars, I waxed on and on about how many wonderful social and political plot threads the novel wove together. This is still the case in This Shattered World, and it is still the high point of the novel. With that point out of the way, let me tell you about the characters.

You know that line about how the bravest thing you can do in war is not kill? That was the first thing I thought of when I met Flynn. He’s a pacifist in a war zone – which is the very definition of brave. I often have issues with characters being too indecisive or, well, weak – but while Flynn may not want to kill, he is by no means weak. I adored watching him struggle to keep true to his beliefs when it would have been easier to pick up a gun. Meanwhile, picking up a gun was exactly what Jubilee did best. She’s seen the chaos caused without the military and – to her – the word “revolution” means nothing but death. She may be on the “wrong” side as this book starts out, but she has all the right motivation.

Watching these two dramatically different people come together when, let’s be honest, they should have shot each other on sight? So, so, so satisfying. Spooner and Kaufman do not choose easy people to tell their tales – and that’s what makes their work so rewarding to read.

But don’t be fooled by all the guns-and-love stuff. While this is a tale of love between people from warring factions, This Shattered World is by no means a Romeo and Juliet story. Jubilee and Flynn aren’t interested in saving themselves at the expense of everyone else – rather, they want to save a whole world, risking themselves in the process.

Bottom line? This Shattered World is pure science fiction with a well-incorporated romantic plot, that just happens to be aimed at young adults. But its smart, thoughtful exploration of corporate capitalism is something fans of any age will appreciate. Highly recommended.

Review: Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

Review: Magic Bites by Ilona AndrewsMagic Bites by Ilona Andrews
Series: Kate Daniels #1
Published by Penguin on 2012-12-31
Pages: 384
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Magic Burns

When the magic is up, rogue mages cast their spells and monsters appear, while guns refuse to fire and cars fail to start. But then technology returns, and the magic recedes as unpredictably as it arose, leaving all kinds of paranormal problems in its wake.

Kate Daniels is a down-on-her-luck mercenary who makes her living cleaning up these magical problems. But when Kate's guardian is murdered, her quest for justice draws her into a power struggle between two strong factions within Atlanta's magic circles.

The Masters of the Dead, necromancers who can control vampires, and the Pack, a paramilitary clan of shapechangers, blame each other for a series of bizarre killings—and the death of Kate's guardian may be part of the same mystery. Pressured by both sides to find the killer, Kate realizes she's way out of her league—but she wouldn't have it any other way…

Thoughts: People have been nagging me to read the Kate Daniels series for years. I distinctly remember a friend sneaking the first book into my basket at Forbidden Planet way back in 2010. “You love Patricia Briggs,” they said, “so you’ll love Ilona Andrews.” I am glad to say they were right! As Magic Bites was this month’s pick on the VF Goodreads group, I finally had a great excuse to start reading it. Now I am thrilled to have found a new series to love!

Let me start off with the “negative”: Magic Bites could be called stereotypical urban fantasy. It features a badass-yet-vulnerable!female heroine, a murder mystery and a whole lot of scary-hot!shapeshifters. If you aren’t a fan of those things – or if you are fed up with seeing them over and over in your books – you might be put off by Magic Bites. I for one don’t mind a stereotype if it is well executed – which is exactly what Magic Bites succeeds in.

On to the good: the world building in this verse is fantastic. Set in a world where technology no longer dominates and magic has resurfaced after a 4000 year break, the book merges familiar elements of our world with some old-fashioned elements. What if you could no longer rely on your car because “magic” kicks in at noon? Well, it makes sense to go out and get a steed. Rich men ride Mustangs, but not the type with an engine. I just… love that!

Magic Bites throws you straight into this universe with little explanation. This technique can sometimes backfire, but for me, it made uncovering the details and politics all the more exciting. To be honest, that was the most interesting part of the whole book, as the murder mystery was somewhat lackluster. It wasn’t that it wasn’t interesting, rather I was not yet invested in the characters enough to really care whether they succeeded.

But the great potential here for me to fall in love with the characters. Kate Daniels is snarky in that charming way – sending a saucer of milk instead of a cocktail to the local pack’s head were-lion. While Curran, the aforementioned cat, seems to have a lovely sense of humour underneath all his macho-alphaness. I can easily see how – with a bit more exposure – they could become favourites.

Bottom line? Magic Bites sets up a fantastically complex and original universe that I am eager to explore. While I don’t quite have that emotional pull towards the characters, I can see the potential and cannot wait to start the next book.

Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine HarrisMidnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
Series: Midnight Texas #1
Published by Gollancz on 2014-05-08
Pages: 320
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
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From Charlaine Harris, the bestselling author who created Sookie Stackhouse and her world of Bon Temps, Louisiana, comes a darker locale—populated by more strangers than friends. But then, that’s how the locals prefer it…

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It’s a pretty standard dried-up western town.

There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own).

Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth...

Thoughts: Midnight Crossroad is a hard book to review. I can’t say I enjoyed it – I admit I was glad to finally turn the last page – but I cannot say it is a bad book. It isn’t. It’s a good book written by a skilled author… but it isn’t her best work by a long shot.

Charlaine’s writing has always been rather laid back. She takes a while to get to things, but you enjoy the ride so much that you forget nothing substantial has happened for 30 pages. Midnight Crossroad fits that same trend, it’s just that we don’t know the characters well enough to enjoy the ride. Perhaps that’s because this series stars characters from her Harper Connelly series, Lily Bard series and Aurora Teagarden series? (I haven’t read these books, nor really plan to although, yes, I own most of them.)

But Midnight Crossroad is the start of a new separate series, they said! No need to keep up with her other books to enjoy, they said! Hmph… I don’t know about that. I, for one, did not enjoy 120 pages of watch-this-character-move-into-house. Maybe if I knew the guy… and then, only maybe. But as introductions go, lifting boxes and meeting the new neighbors do not make for a meet-cute.

That being said, once past the first third of the book, Midnight Crossroad does at last start to take off. There was mystery, intrigue, murder – all that good stuff. But it took an inexcusable amount of time to get to the substance of the novel and – to be frank – the mystery was not so intriguing as to overwrite the blandness that had preceded it.

Bottom line: I can’t recommend this book to a new Charlaine Harris reader – but if you are already a fan, you will probably enjoy it. New readers? Start with the Sookie series like the rest of us!

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