the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘urban fantasy

california bonesCalifornia Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

Published 2014

where I got it: borrowed ARC from My Bookish Ways











Writing a magic system readers will resonate with is a tricky thing. Some readers like them to work like, well, magic, with hands twirling or fingers snapping, other readers need something a little more meaty. I’m a meaty girl, and I go crazy for a magic system that’s complicated, expensive*, and intimately connected to the physical body of the magician. I want there to be some chemistry, some science to the whole thing. For lack of a better term, I want the magic to feel plausible.  That said, it took less than one chapter for me to completely buy into and fall in love with the magic system in Greg Van Eekhout’s California Bones.


*And by expensive, I don’t mean money. I mean if you screw it up, you’re probably going to die. So don’t screw it up.


This is a magic system that is based on ingesting the bones, tissues, and fossils of the thing whose properties you want to use.  And where else to find the fossils of ancient magical creatures, like mammoths, griffins, mastodons, eocorns, krakens and basilisks but southern California’s La Brea Tar Pits? Ingest the ancient residues of these creatures, and take into yourself the powers of long life, fire, invisibility and other powers.


This is the magic of ancient bones. This is osteomancy.  And excuse my language, but it is fucking brilliant.

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Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time. If you’ve been paying attention, nothing on this list will be a surprise to you.  If you happened to stumble by because you like “year end” lists,  these are my top ten speculative fiction books I read this year.  Looking for a good read? go find one of these.

Some of them are old.

Some of them are new.

Some of them were borrowed.

None of them are blue.


I’ve linked the titles to my reviews.  In no particular order:

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker (1999) – the second in The Company series, this novel is told from Joseph’s point of view (and yes, Mendoza is still really, really pissed off at him). Joseph gets to do one of his favorite things – pretend to be a God. But this time, he’s got to get even the skeptics to believe his act.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (2013) – No surprise this one made it to my best of the year list, as this is one of my favorite fantasy series.  It’s true, I ranted a little about a character who really annoyed me, but holy shit, that ending??  holy shit!  Also, I do just happen to have a Cinnamon colored dress/jacket combo and a four cornered grey hat in the making.

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White (2013 )- Secret societies, multiple personalities, sublime prose, metaphysics, unexpected romance, characters that rip each other to shreds.  What more could you possibly want? I got meddled with, my switches got hit, and I never wanted it to end.  Just go read it already. Everything about this book was spot-on perfection for me.

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks (1990) – only the best Culture novel of the best space opera series in existence.  Not the easiest book in the world to read, but the subtlety, and the reveal at the end, and oh god I knew something was so horribly wrong as soon as he said he was going to cut his hair. . .

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Bloodstone (Rebel Angels, book 2) by Gillian Philip

published November 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Tor!)









Earlier this year the first book in the Rebel Angel series, Firebrand, really hit me hard. No, “hit me hard” isn’t quite right, “destroyed me where I stood” is closer to the mark.  Having survived that, I thought I had an idea of what to expect with Bloodstone, I knew to emotionally steel myself.

Seth’s MacGregor’s inner conflicts are tearing him apart, and one day it’s going to rip a hole in him so wide that another person could walk right through. What do you do when your family needs you to be someone you’re not? How do you tell someone a truth that might kill them?  How do you run from one, and face the other? Didn’t matter that I thought I was preparing myself. I was still completely floored from the first page to the last.

Seth  means to do the right thing. He wants to be as brave and mature as his older brother Conal, whom he idolizes. But Seth just isn’t that person, and he’s never going to be. He’s always going to prefer flirting to politics and fists to compromise.  Seth is no one’s hero, and he doesn’t want to be. Doesn’t matter, you’ll still love him.

The Rebel Angels series has everything I look for in a good story – compelling characters who act like real people, dialog that’s got some humor to it (when Jed finds out Seth is a fae, there is no end of Tinkerbell and other fairy jokes),  misunderstood promises and prophecies with unintentional and painful consequences. No “chosen ones” here, just people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, people who couldn’t fathom the consequences of their actions. There is a long conversation in here somewhere about free will.

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Codex Born, by Jim Hines (Magic ex Libris #2)

published in 2013

where I got it: purchased new











Picking up shortly after the end of Libriomancer (review here), Isaac Vainio is back up at the Copper River library. As time allows,he’s been working with Jeneta, a poetry loving teenager who has learned to pull poetic metaphors out of e-readers, and together, they are trying to figure out why her kind of Libriomancy even works. Lena’s oak tree stands tall in Isaac’s backyard, and he’s working hard to get used to the fact that his girlfriend has another girlfriend (it’s complicated).  When you are a libriomancer doing research for the Porters, there’s no such thing as a normal summer.

Did you get a kick out of Libriomancer? Codex Born is better.

The plot gets started very quickly, when dead wendigos are found, the local werewolf clan can’t agree on who has jurisdiction,  and strange metal bugs are attacking Lena’s tree. The marks left on her tree match the marks left on the wendigo corpses, and there’s only one person who could have made these metal creatures: Victor Harrison. IT Guy for The Porters, tinkerer extraordinaire, also dead. With the help of a very creepy vampire, Isaac, Lena, and a few other Libriomancers put on the case learn that Victor’s father, August, has used his late son’s inventions to hack into the Porter’s databases and awoken an old and nearly forgotten type of Libriomancy. Not even Gutenberg’s soul-powered automatons have a chance in this fight.

sounds pretty awesome, right?

What if I told you the kick ass plot is the least kick-ass part of this book?

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It’s been a pretty awesome weekend so far.

Friday evening I got to be all loquacious as victim number one in Larry’s “interview other bloggers” series at the OF Blog. He asked some interesting questions, beyond the usual “what books do you like?” easies.  We talked about the Hugo Awards, William Shatner, geeky suddenly being cool, and beating dead horses while in a room crammed with white elephants. I can’t believe he let prattle on that long, I swear I never talk that much! It was a good time, and I hope Larry has many more bloggers lined up for this project.

and then on Saturday? On Saturday I got to see Jim Hines at a booksigning for his newest novel, Codex Born! Squeeee!   He talked a bit about the series, where it’s going, that due to some other projects he’s got going on we’ll have to wait at least a year and a half for the 3rd book, and that he promises not to kill off Smudge, everyone’s favorite pyro-spider.  There was talk of autistic cats, and the proper care and feeding of scowling preteens, and snowstorms. it was wonderfully casual.

SAM_3445 2

blurry photo is blurry.

Instead of reading from Codex Born, he read a short story instead, one he wrote for the upcoming Unidentified Funny Objects 2 anthology. I wish I could remember the name of the short story, titled Stranger vs. the Malevolent Malignancy (thanks Jim!) it was fucking brilliant.  Inspired by the real-time writings of author friend Jay Lake as he fights stage four cancer, Hines wrote a story story about exactly that: A superhero who has cancer.  It wasn’t an easy story to listen to.  No one knew what to say afterwards.  Cancer is a total fucking buzzkill.  but the story?  damnit, but it was funny. like, laugh out loud oh-god-I-shouldn’t-be-laughing-but-it’s-so-funny Funny.   so we laughed. and then we clapped.  and then many books were autographed and photos were taken.

Isn't that cover art gorgeous? shhhh!  don't tell anyone I grabbed extra bookmarks.

Isn’t that cover art gorgeous? shhhh! don’t tell anyone I grabbed extra bookmarks.

And I psyched myself up to ask Jim Hines if I could do a special littly bloggy project with Libriomancer, and he said it sounded cool, So now i gotta psych myself up to actually do it.

So when I have more details, I’ll let ya know!

Along with a signed copy of Codex Born, I bought The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne M. Valente and Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis. You know I loves me some Valente short fiction, and the Tregillis has been on my radar for ages.


And then Saturday night i went on a dinner date with the hubby.  the food was just so-so, but my date was adorable.

Seanan McGuire has been all over Hugo nominations these last few years. I admit I’ve read very little of her work, so these two novelettes served as a good introduction to her urban fantasy. Both novelettes take place in the same universe as the October Daye series, but these aren’t stories about Toby Daye, but rather the supernatural fae and luidaeg creatures who also inhabit the world. It’s my personal opinion that Hugo nominated work should stand on its own, so don’t worry if you go into these having not read anything in the October Daye series, or anything else of McGuire’s.

This post finishes off my reviews of the Hugo nominated novelettes. Click back a couple of days to read my reviews of The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi by Pat Catigan, Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente and The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt.

sea salt tears

In Sea Salt Tears
(available to read for free, here)

I always like me a Selkie story, but the conceit that not all Selkies receive a skin is a refreshing twist. In a skinning ceremony, a young Selkie receives their skin because an elderly relative has finally decided to pass it on. Each family has a limited number of skins, and children know their chances at inheriting a skin are directly proportional to their status in their families. Put bluntly, black sheep don’t swim.

Liz and her friends are “celebrating” that their friend Daisy finally received her skin. And by celebrating I mean they all smile and hug Daisy and say how happy they are for her, and then retreat to the beach to drink and feel sorry for themselves. Liz is only sixteen, too young to be cynical, but too old to be as naive as the children who are still playing at the beach house. She’ll get her skin any year now, right?

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Today it’s my pleasure to be able to interview M. L. Brennan , the author of Generation V, a new urban fantasy that’s been all over the interwebs these last few weeks. M.L. took the time to answer my gauntlet of questions, and responded with some downright brilliant answers. Also, will you be at WorldCon later this year?

Scroll to the bottom for info on how to enter into a giveaway for this brand new book. note: Giveaway is open to residents of the United States only. Sorry, international shipping is killer, and not in that fun vampire way.

generation V

LRR: Did you always want to be a writer?

ML Brennan: Writing is always something that I’ve really enjoyed, going all the way back to a very young age, but I didn’t think about it seriously as a career path until late high school, and even at that point I came at it sideways. Thanks in a very big way to The West Wing, I decided that I wanted to be a political speechwriter, and I headed to college with the intention of going into writing and political science. I lost interest in going into politics around my second year, but at that point I was majoring in writing, so I decided that a better career option would be to become a lawyer. I pursued that all the way into my first year at law school, which was the point when I finally just gave in to the inevitable and realized that what I really wanted to do was write fiction. So I left law school and headed into an MFA program.

So I guess the short answer is that while writing has always been a big part of my life, the idea of actually being just a writer was something that I really struggled with and against – largely because I grew up in a household where money was very tight, so I’ve never had a very romantic view of the life of a struggling artist. I envisioned having a secure career and writing in my off-hours. That ended up not happening – my day job that pays the bills is pretty unreliable and the pay fluctuates hugely, but it does give me the time I need to write.

LRR: Who are some of your favorite writers?

ML Brennan: Gosh, that would be a very long list! Emma Bull, Brandon Sanderson, Anne Bishop, Sharon Shinn, Sheri S. Tepper, and Orson Scott Card are all longtime favorites. Lately I’ve really been enjoying Cassie Alexander’s Edie Spence series, and I got a sneak peek at debut author Django Wexler’s incredible military fantasy The Thousand Names, and I can tell you that I’m already dying for the sequel!

LRR: Give us the quick rundown on Generation V.

ML Brennan: Sure! The elevator pitch of my book is that Fortitude Scott has a useless degree, a minimum-wage job, a cheating girlfriend, and a roommate who stiffs him on the rent. And he’s a vampire… mostly. But when a little girl is kidnapped, suddenly he’s the only one who is willing to try and do something about it, so he teams up with a wise-cracking shapeshifter and heads off for a rescue mission that will very likely kill him.

A lot of what I was trying to do in this book was explore the ideas of heritage and responsibility – Fort is a vampire who doesn’t fit in with the rest of his family because of the empathy he has toward humans. He’s afraid of whether growing up will involve losing that empathy, but at the same time it will mean becoming stronger and faster, which right now are traits that he very much lacks and needs!

LRR: How can someone be “mostly” a vampire? Isn’t that something that’s fairly cut and dry?

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2014 Hugo Awards

I reviewed some Hugo nominated stuff. Click here for the list.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.