Review: River Marked by Patricia Briggs

Review: River Marked by Patricia BriggsRiver Marked by Patricia Briggs
Series: Mercy Thompson #6
Published by Ace/Roc, Orbit
Pages: 326
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Moon Called, Blood Bound

Being a different breed of shapeshifter - a walker - Mercy Thompson can see ghosts, but the spirit of her long-gone father has never visited her. Until now, on her honeymoon with the Alpha werewolf Adam. An evil is stirring in the depths of the Columbia River-and innocent people are dying. As other walkers make their presence known to Mercy, she must reconnect with her heritage to exorcise the world of the legend known as the river devil...

Thoughts: This book has confirmed what I long thought to be true: Patricia Briggs is incapable of writing books I don’t like.

I was in a real reading slump when I picked up River Marked. Almost every book I picked up left me with a desire to send letter bombs in the mail – and there seemed to be no cure in sight. I thought: “If Briggs can’t get me out of this funk, no one can.” And sure enough, she did.

River Marked was absolutely stellar. It was really different to the previous Mercy books, as Mercy and Adam spent 90% of the time away from home with strangers. I adored this for two reasons: 1) it was a chance for us to see how Mercy and Adam’s relationship would work outside of their comfort zone. 2) it was a completely natural, realistic thing for a couple to do. Too often authors will stick to a particular group of characters or a certain location, because that’s what people want to read. Not Briggs. She’ll take two of your favourite characters, toss them somewhere brand new, and make you love her for it.

That said, though most of the book was spent on the road, Briggs did sneak in a few fan favourites: Bran, Stefan and Jesse all put in some rather solid appearances. Thank God, as I really needed to check in on them after Silver Borne.

So, along with the fantastic exploration of Mercy and Adam’s relationship, River Marked also introduced a bunch of Native American mythology… which I loved. I read stories about Coyote and Raven when I was a girl, so seeing their stories incorporated into River Marked was a dream. Without giving away too many details… I also really liked how Briggs dealt with Mercy’s family history. Maybe other readers will find it a bit iffy, but I thought she handled it all very well.

You can also see the beginnings of a bunch of new plot lines in River Marked; I am positively twitching with impatience with the need to find out what Briggs has planned! I was starting to worry that she was wrapping up the Mercy series, but I can picture at least 5 more books worth of content she can cover after this.

Bottom line? A stellar – albeit, very different – installment in the Mercy series. If you are looking for a UF series that can hold up six books in, look no further.

Cover Note: I’ve used the US cover for this post as I absolutely loathe the new UK covers. The covers are actually what kept me from reading this book for so long – I just couldn’t stand the idea of buying the UK version! Only reason I bought it in the end was because I spotted it at Oxfam. Will need to get the US cover on bookdepository one of these days…

Review: Magic in the Blood by Devon Monk

Review: Magic in the Blood by Devon MonkMagic in the Blood by Devon Monk
Series: Allie Beckstrom #2
Published by Ace/Roc, Berkley UK
Pages: 358
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Magic to the Bone

Working as a Hound-tracing illegal spells back to their casters-has taken its toll on Allison Beckstrom. But even though magic has given her migraines and stolen her recent memory, Allie isn't about to quit. Then the police's magic enforcement division asks her to consult on a missing persons case. But what seems to be a straightforward job turns out to be anything but, as Allie finds herself drawn into the underworld of criminals, ghosts, and blood magic.

Thoughts: My memory of the first Allie Beckstorm novel is the following: Allie takes a lot of cabs, forgets things, and is in love with some guy who I wouldn’t know from Adam. The book left me with a shrug and a vague feeling of disappointment. It wasn’t bad – it was actually pretty well written – but it didn’t make me want to run out and get the sequel. So when I received the sequel for review, I waited until my memory of the first book was well-aged so that I could give the series a fresh start. Alas, Magic in the Blood was more of the same.

The Allie Beckstorm series seems to be rather episodic: there’s a crime, someone is called in, it must be sorted out. On top of that, there are a bunch of series arcs that play out: namely, Allie dealing with the aftermath of her father’s death, and her “boyfriend”‘s bizarre magical powers. You’d think that this developed backstory would give depth to the episodic story… but it just made it worse. Because it is hard to care about characters you find illogical, frustrating and underdeveloped.

My primary issues were with Allie’s inability to look after herself and her “boyfriend” Zayvion. Let’s start with Allie: the girl doesn’t have a car and lives in a city without decent public transport. So, she takes cabs. That would be fine if she were living in New York City where there is a cab on every corner, but she’s not. OK, so she can always call a cab, right? Wrong. Apparently cell phones break when she carries them due to… I dunno… magical interference or some such nonsense. Fine. (Except, no, really not fine – I’ve never seen such an obvious plot device in my life.) What all this boils down to is her taking cabs out to meet extremely dangerous people in isolated places without an escape route in place. Which just… NO! How on earth are we supposed to find this believable?

There are other examples I can give – namely, her insistance on using magic for mundane tasks even though she knows she’ll get a horrendous magical “hangover”. It defies logic and frustrates my belief in, well, humanity.

As for Zayvion… well, I’d say “the less time spent on him the better” but that seems to be the attitude the author has taken. It’s been two books and I feel like we know nothing about him. As such, it makes any emotional relationship between him and Allie implausible. Add to that the fact that the few things we did learn about him in the first book Allie has forgotten and suddenly we’re moving into the “that can’t possibly be real” arena.

Now, let me repeat: this series is not bad. Nor is it terribly written (although I did spot some grammatical errors and a few typos in the UK edition, and an overabundance of “Holy Shit”s). But it is episodic and stars characters I either actively dislike or find peskily illogical/stupid. Had the writing not been as solid as it was, this book would have gotten a much lower rating.

Bottom line? This is the NCIS of the Urban Fantasy world. Not bad, but not a series I’ll be continuing.

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Review: Cinder by Marissa MeyerCinder by Marissa Meyer
Series: Lunar Chronicles #1
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Pages: 400
Genres: Fairytale Re-tellings, Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Also in this series: Scarlet, Cress

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Things I liked about Cinder:
  • It was only loosely based on Cinderella. Cinder wasn’t a “sit back and wait for my fairy godmother” character and actively rebelled against her family.
  • The universe had fantastic potential. It was very futuristic – complete with cyborgs, flying vehicles, and aliens on the moon – and yet it also seemed quite historic – with a royal family, a hideous plague, and terrible human rights.
  • Prince Kai. I have never been one to swoon over a prince, but this prince? He was everything you could possibly want from a monarch: reluctant to rule but feels obligated to do the best job he can, genuinely cares about his subjects, and has no real prejudices towards people of lower classes. I wholeheartedly approve.

Things that made me roll my eyes:

  • The big “mystery”. Mystery… hah! Within about 10 pages I had worked out the book’s big secret – so I spent the rest of the book hoping that someone would wise up and just say it out loud before I killed them all for their stupidity. Unfortunately, is wasn’t revealed until the end of the book – and revealed with dramatic flair it did not deserve.
  • Cinder. While she did have quite a bit of gumption, I found her self-loathing for her cyborg nature to be extremely tiresome. I wanted to just slap her and say “I get it, you’ve had a hard knock life, but just accept the fact that you don’t deserve it and DO something about it!” In a way, it was rather like a slave believing that they are property… something I cannot possibly accept in a protagonist, although I am sure it is possible in real life.
  • The lunar queen. If one-dimensional were a country, she would be its queen. And, hell, I think she’d enjoy it. Queen Levana was a simple “Big Bad” and absolutely nothing else. Instead of finding her scary, I found her rather cartoonish.
  • And, again, the “mystery”. Seriously, this really bugged me. I mean, I get that this book was aimed at teenagers but it wasn’t aimed at oblivious idiots. I mean, c’mon…

In short, Cinder is good. Quite good indeed. But it isn’t the miraculous novel that some reviews have made it out to be. It has significant flaws and is clearly a debut novel. I just hope that Meyer does a better job with the sequel…

Bottom line? Cinder is an enjoyable sci-fi novel with a well-incorporated fairy-tale at its heart. But is it the best thing since sliced bread? No, it is not.

Review: Killbox by Ann Aguirre

Review: Killbox by Ann AguirreKillbox by Ann Aguirre
Series: Sirantha Jax #4
Published by Ace/Roc
Pages: 353
Genres: Science Fiction
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Also in this series: Grimspace, Wanderlust, Doubleblind

Sirantha Jax is a “Jumper,” a woman who possesses the unique genetic makeup needed to navigate faster than light ships through grimspace. With no tolerance for political diplomacy, she quits her ambassador post so she can get back to saving the universe the way she does best—by mouthing off and kicking butt.

And her tactics are needed more than ever. Flesh-eating aliens are attacking stations on the outskirts of space, and for many people, the Conglomerate’s forces are arriving too late to serve and protect them.

Now, Jax must take matters into her own hands by recruiting a militia to defend the frontiers—out of the worst criminals, mercenaries, and raiders that ever traveled through grimspace…

Thoughts: Killbox was… different. More than any of the previous books, Killbox was a war book. March, Jax, Vel, Dina, Constance, Doc – hell, everyone – is at war and there is no time for them to sit about thinking about what they want out of life. There’s a galactic threat on the horizon and selfishness is not the word of the day.

In other words, there was a lot of killing, training and marching in uniforms. Great stuff, in the plotty sense, but I felt as though it was a bit rushed. Months would pass in a couple of sentences and, as a result, it seemed as though Jax wasn’t interacting with certain characters. *cough* Vel. *cough* I know it was necessary in order to cover the various plotlines Aguirre had set out, but that didn’t make it all that enjoyable.

Also, I had issue with the Morgot. For the first 3 books, I considered them rather like Reevers (from Firefly) – pure, unadultered evil with no redeemable qualities. But there is one scene in the book that made me pause and consider think: hey, maybe these guys are open to parlay? And then suddenly the scene was over and my idea was never followed up on. Will it be covered in other books? I doubt it… but I hope so. I can handle pure evil, but I am not OK with simple assumptions about a species!

But on to my real issue with Killbox: March. March. God, I remember the days when he and Jax had me in tears – when just the word “March” made me whimper. Now, when I try to access those feelings… I find I have nothing to give. To be honest, I have grown sick of his man-angst. I am sick of his constant, “Oh Jax, I love you! But now I have to leave you as the fate of the world is in my hands (or so I think).” I get that he is a good guy. I get that he is a good soldier. I still care about him, but I really just want to hit him over the head and tell him to get over himself. Because this misery he insists on putting himself through? It is not good for Jax anymore. He isn’t good for Jax anymore.

Vel, on the other hand? He hasn’t wavered. He stayed true to himself and developed as a character – just as March did – and yet he has never abandoned Jax. Aguirre acknowledges this and, yes, she is clearly a fan of the Vel/Jax relationship… and yet there was a terrible lack of Vel in Killbox. Why, Aguirre, why? *sobs silently*

Bottom line? Killbox is the weakest book in the Jax series – although maybe if all the Jax/March misery had been written out of it, I may have enjoyed it more.

Review: Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre

Review: Doubleblind by Ann AguirreDoubleblind by Ann Aguirre
Series: Sirantha Jax #3
Published by Ace/Roc
Pages: 310
Genres: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Grimspace, Wanderlust, Killbox

Sirantha Jax isn’t known for diplomatic finesse. As a “Jumper” who navigates ships through grimspace, she’s used to kicking ass first and taking names later—much later. Not exactly the obvious choice to sell the Conglomerate to the Ithtorians, a people whose opinions of humans are as hard as their exoskeletons.

And Ithiss-Tor council meetings aren’t the only place where Ambassador Jax needs to maneuver carefully. Her lover, March, is frozen in permanent “kill” mode, and his hair-trigger threatens to sabotage the talks—not to mention their relationship.

But Jax won’t give up on the man or the mission. With the Outskirts beleaguered by raiders, pirates, and the flesh-eating Morgut, an alliance with Ithiss-Tor may be humanity’s only hope. Which has Jax wondering why a notorious troublemaker like her was given the job…

Thoughts: There were so many things I loved about Doubleblind, I hardly know where to start. While this was an unmistakably Jax book, it was extremely different Aguirre’s previous books. There was less action and a lot more talking. And while that may sound anticlimactic, it was, if anything, even more nerve-wracking than guns-blazing action. Why, you ask? Because it was all politics – old-school, world-saving negotiations with assassination attempts and violent demonstrations. It was The West Wing on crack in space. It was glorious.

And to top it all off, all this glorious political action took place on Ithiss-Tor. When I first read Grimspace, I was rather floored by the entire book… but Vel just knocked my socks off. He only appears in the last, say, 50(?) pages of the book and in that time became one of my very favourite characters. So getting to visit the home-world he left behind? Well, nothing could have made me happier.

In Doubleblind, Aguirre reveals a lot about the Ithiss-Tor, Ithorian culture, and – best of all – Vel’s past. If I hadn’t loved Vel before, Doubleblind would have sealed the deal. He is such a noble, loyal, brilliant individual – and his relationship with Jax is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. He cares about her so deeply, in a way that completely defies traditional values. He’s an alien – an insect-like, long-living, practically Vulcan alien. And yet, I adore him. You will too.

Doubleblind also includes an extremely traumatised March. This is not at all the man we met in Grimspace: he’s senselessly violent and pretty much soulless. Aguirre handled his changed interaction with Jax spectacularly – although, I admit, my attachment to the two of them together began to wane in this book… I’ll just leave it at that.

Bottom line? Best book since Grimspace. Pick up this series if you love 3D characters and complex plots.

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