the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘urban fantasy

Spells-of-Blood-and-KinSpells of Blood and Kin, by Claire Humphrey

published June 2016

where I got it: received review copy

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Spells of Blood and Kin was mentioned in my recent 5 Books, 50 pages blog post.  Of the books mentioned in that post, this was the only book that I had a tough time stopping reading at exactly 50 pages.   In fact,  by the time that blog post published, I was halfway through Spells of Blood and Kin,  and finished it 48 hours after picking it up.  I couldn’t put this book down, I didn’t want to put this book down,  I was late to work because all I wanted to do for 2 days was read this book.  If you’re a fan of dark fantasy, of stories that have weight and depth and sensuality and secrets and consequences, this is a book for you.

 

We all know those fantasy authors who write in a fashion to make their novels longer, because an epic story should have an epic number of pages, or something. Short story authors do the opposite – often self-editing their work towards making their prose more effective in fewer words. Claire Humphrey is a well published short story author, and you can see her short story composition skills on display in Spells of Blood and Kin.  What I mean by that is there is not a single unnecessary word or scene in this book.  Every scene, every conversation, and every paragraph is honed down to a sharp reflective edge, increasing the effect of the words, pushing the reader to engage with the story in a more intimate and imaginative fashion.  That was a lot of fancy talk to say Humphrey is a damn good writer. Spells of Blood and Kin opens with a surprising and unnerving sentence, dives right into the compelling intricacies of the plot, and runs from there. Like with most books, everyone is going to have a different reaction to this book, and much of my personal interaction with this book happened between the lines, in what Humphrey left unsaid.

 

So, what’s this story about?   Lissa’s grandmother Iadviga has just passed away.  In a stunned state of grief,  the funeral is planned, the church ladies bring piles of food to the house, and Lissa starts going through her grandmother’s things. Not only is Lissa inheriting the house and the debt, she is also inheriting her Baba’s responsibilities among the traditional Russian families in a community surrounded by the cosmopolitan  bustle of Toronto.  On the night of Iadviga’s death, the spell she had been weaving and reweaving for over 30 years collapsed.

 

For her Baba’s funeral, Lissa was allowed to enter the church building, but not allowed to be in the sanctuary. Because while the church will tolerate the community’s need for witchy women,  magic practitioners are not allowed on consecrated ground.  With one hand the community shuns Lissa and her family, while placing orders for magic eggs with the other hand.

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the flux steinmetzThe Flux by Ferrett Steinmetz

published in 2015

where I got it: purchased new

 

A few days after writing an emotionally fraught and migraine fueled review, I finished Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Flux, which although isn’t a heavy book, deals with a boatload of heavy shit.  I found myself laughing and smiling at all the videogame and pop culture references as huge lumps developed in my throat from #allthefeels. I kept running across things that transcended the page right to “this is super important to me on a very personal level” territory, and that list of things kept getting heavier and longer.  And all of that was all happening at the same time!  The closer I got to the end of the book, the slower I read. Because I didn’t want it to end. If you aren’t reading Ferrett Steinmetz, you really need to start.

 

You know how the middle book in a trilogy too often suffers from “middle book syndrome”, where that book is just a way to get to the 3rd book? The Flux is a middle book that reads like a first book. What I mean by that is the characters grow even more in this book than they did in the first, the stakes get higher, and the reader gets even more invested in what’s going on. Also? Steinmetz wisely includes just enough background so you can successfully enter the series here, and be hungry to go back and read Flex.

 

I really want to tell you all the everything in this book, but sorry peeps, I just don’t have the spoons to write the full on review that even comes close to doing this book justice.  Thus, the list.  The list of things in The Flux that were super important to me, the things that took this book from fun urban fantasy to self help book:

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king makerKing Maker, by Maurice Broaddus

published in 2010

where I got it: purchased

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I have a soft spot for mythology retellings, for folklore characters reimagined in modern times. How will the author handle changes in social mores and expectations?  How do you blend old myths and a new world, and make it work?  Maurice Broaddus’s debut novel King Maker is the story of King Arthur told in present day inner city Indianapolis. Blending the trappings of urban fiction and dark epic fantasy, Broaddus gives us characters and a world that I’ll bet most SF/F fans have rarely, if ever, come across.  The dialog includes a lot of urban street slang, and yet there is a Shakespearean flavor to the timber and rhythm of many of the conversations.

 

The characters from the Arthur story are all here, if changed and modernized: Luther White is Uther Pendragon; his son King James White (yes, King is his first name) is Arthur; King’s friend Lott Carey is Lancelot; the homeless and possibly crazy guy Merle is Merlin; Lady G is Guinevere; Dred is Mordred, and so on. You’ll even find the Green Knight, Percival, and some fae interference. Even the physical trappings are here:  Excalibur becomes a custom-made gun called the Caliburn, and the throne of Britain is reflected in the Breton Court neighborhood which serves as the epicenter of King’s domain. There is additional mythos blended in as well, including immortal spirits, and a set of unforgettable assassins.

 

Merle speaks in riddles and prophecies, and King puts up with him, because the old homeless guy is surely harmless. King doesn’t want to get sucked into the world of drug dealing, but with so few options to get out of the city, he may have no other choice. King knows he’s made some enemies, but he isn’t intimidated by the thugs on his street who try to hustle his neighbors. He protects the vulnerable people in his neighborhood, and generally tries to make his home a better place.  His fearlessness leads Merle to believe that the King has returned.

 

But instead of noble kings, knights in shining armor, princesses and magicians, the names you know from the King Arthur myth are transformed into poverty stricken inner city youths, drug dealers, teen mothers, prostitutes and homeless people. Broaddus doesn’t sugar coat or glorify anything, and neither do his characters. We’ve turned so many old stories into romantic tales of brotherly love and chivalry, but what parts of their stories never made it onto the parchment or into the songs and poems?  In King Maker, we’re given the idea of the noble and romantic Hero’s Journey right alongside destitution,  bleak street life, homelessness, drug deals gone wrong, and women who turn to prostitution because they have no other way to feed their family.  it’s brutal, it’s honest, it’s in your face at all times.

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icefall gillian philipIcefall, by Gillian Philip (Rebel Angels #4)

published March 24th

where I got: received ARC from the publisher (Thanks Tor!)

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Icefall is the fourth and final book in Gillian Philip’s Rebel Angels series, which means this review has unavoidable spoilers for the first three books.

 

the non-spoilery part of this review is: I absolutely love the characters in these books. Seth, Finn, Rory, Jed, Hannah, everyone, even the bad guys. Philip portrays them with such effortless ease that you yearn to fall deeper into their histories and futures, and her writing style offers an addicting and compelling reading experience. When it comes to satisfaction, this series delivers.  And let’s not forget the feels. Heartbreak, betrayal, deception, emotional torment, starcrossed lovers and families torn apart, Philip could teach your favorite epic fantasy authors a thing or two about kicking readers in the feels. And the way she does it? You’ll willingly take the punch to the feels. In fact, she’ll have you  begging for it.

 

The Sithe know the veil is dying. The elusive boundary between their world and ours, what will happen when the veil ceases to exist? Queen Kate NicNiven has paid a terrible price to guarantee the veil ends on her terms, but she’s missing a few pieces yet needed to seal the deal. Seth MacGregor and his clann have been been living in exile on our side of the veil. Not the worlds best father by a long shot, Seth is raising and protecting his half-mortal son Rory as best he can. No one really knows what exactly will happen when the veil fails. Well, a few people have an idea of what might happen, but they’re not talking.

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flex cover artFlex, by Ferrett Steinmetz

published March 3, 2015

where I got it: received eARC from the author (Thanks Ferrett!)

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I’m a tough customer with many Urban Fantasy titles. I tend to either really like the book, or be bored out of my mind by it, and I struggle with understanding why some UF books rock my world and why others don’t work for me. Luckily, Ferrett Steinmetz’s Flex falls firmly and undoubtedly in the first camp. He takes the “people learn how to do magic, will they use it for good or ill?” question and blows it right open, exposing the soft underbelly of a society that first resorts to fear and violence when faced with something they don’t understand.  And I fricken’ loved every word of it.  The magic is weird and soul-crushingly expensive, the characters are fantastic, the stakes are high, and the story is intimate. That my friends, is what I’m always looking for.

 

Allow me to set the stage: Insurance agent Paul Tsabo is still in shock over his recent divorce, still trying to make his new apartment look fun and friendly to his six year old daughter Aliyah. An ex-police officer, he lost a foot in the event that brought his police career to a screeching halt. It’s okay though, Paul actually loves doing paperwork and investigating insurance fraud.  The stingy insurance company he works for loves him too – he saves them a fortune in paying out claims. After all, if the injury or damage was caused by ‘mancy, it’s not covered by insurance. Paul can sniff out ‘mancy like the best of them, because after all, he is a ‘mancer. He loves the idea that his forms and paperwork can track anything that happens, or anything that someone wants to happen.

 

No one really understands how magic works, but everyone knows three things: Your ‘mancy is directly connected to what you love; physics and magic do not get along and the side effects of ‘mancy are often fatal; and if caught doing ‘mancy you are arrested, mind-wiped, and given a life time membership to the military hive mind. Very few people understand how ‘mancy works, and since it’s illegal to learn about it or discuss it, finding what knowledge does exist is even harder.

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2014 has been a pretty good year for me.  Personally, I’m damn impressed with how many of these books were actually published in 2014. As a bonus, there’s even a few novellas and short stories in here. In no particular order, here are my favorite reads of 2014!

Favorite Novels:

city_of_stairs-cover1

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (2014) – that this book is on my list should surprise no one. And if you haven’t read it yet, seriously, get with the program. This is one of those amazing books that defies genre categorization, it just *is*.  To give you a big picture without spoiling anything, it’s about watching your worldview dissolve before your eyes, and understanding that games can be played with many sets of rules. Also? it’s simply fucking amazing.

gemsigns

Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter (2014) – This is probably the most important book I read in 2014. Remember when Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother took high school government classes by storm? I wish the same for this book.  Gemsigns touches on enforced marginalization, building (and breaking down) cultures of racism and classism and fear, and religiously and politically promoted hatred, and handles it in a blunt and emotional way. Also? fucking awesome. And for what it’s worth, I cried at the end.

vandermeer annihilation

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer  (2014) –  I’ve been a Vandermeer fan for a long, long time (yet somehow I can still eat mushrooms). Annihilation was strange, surreal, and seemed to be magnetically attuned to me. The words in the tunnel rang for me like a tuning fork. And there was just something about characters who don’t have names. I am a jerk, however, because I own but haven’t yet read the third book in the series.

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alis-franklin-1Remember Neil Gaiman’s American Gods?  Give it a different kind of edge and then smash it up with a very contemporary urban fantasy that takes place in a IT department, and you’re on the right track for the premise of Alis Franklin’s debut novel Liesmith.  I’ve a weakness for mythology retellings/mythology in the modern world,  so she had me at “Norse”.  click here to read an excerpt of Liesmith, and when you’re back, I’ve got a guest post below from Alis on how she fell in love with Norse mythology, and specifically, Sigyn.

You can learn more about Alis Franklin at her website, and follow her on twitter where she is @lokabrenna.

 

Wicked Loki and Loyal Sigyn, Terrible and Victorious

by Alis Franklin

 

Ever since I was a kid, curled up behind a well-thumbed copy of the Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend one of the old Viking gods always fascinated me more than the others.

It wasn’t Thor, god of thunder, or Odin, god of wisdom. It wasn’t Hel, goddess of death, or Frigg, the prophetess who spoke no secrets. It wasn’t even Loki, thief and trickster, and my second favorite god, as far as these things went.

Instead, it was Sigyn.

Who? you might ask. I wouldn’t blame you.

Here’s the funny thing about Norse mythology; the Vikings didn’t write it down. They weren’t a particularly literate society so, bar a few inscriptions on rocks and swords, we really don’t know much about what they thought of their own culture. Instead, most of what we know about them—in particular their myths and legends—was recorded several hundred years after the official end of the Viking era.

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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.