Review: “Dark Legion,” Rob Cornell

Pros: Interesting storyline and characters
Cons: Damn that one stereotype; too many supernaturals
Rating: 3 out of 5

Rob Cornell’s Dark Legion: An Urban Fantasy Thriller (The Lockman Chronicles Book 2) isn’t as good as the previous book, Darker Things, but it isn’t bad. Craig Lockman, his old girlfriend Kate, and their daughter Jessie are now living in the middle of the woods, away from all of the supernaturals that might still want to harm them. Then Craig’s old colleague and lover, Teresa, shows up, looking for help against some vampires who took her sister. Craig doesn’t want to leave Jessie and Kate, but when Teresa is kidnapped he decides he has no choice. He sets off for New Orleans, leaving Jessie and Kate behind.

I’m not sure why everyone in these books thinks they need to manipulate Craig into everything rather than level with him. It would be nice if they’d at least try leveling with him now and then.

I wish Teresa had just been an old and close friend and colleague rather than a former lover. We’re back to that rivals stereotype where women must jealously compete over a man’s affections. On the plus side, when it really comes down to it Teresa doesn’t ultimately screw Kate over, so it could have been worse. Hopefully in future volumes there are women who don’t have a thing for Craig. Kate still could have been angry at Craig for leaving her without the jealousy over Teresa, and Craig still could have cared enough about Teresa to go after her even if they hadn’t been lovers. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of chemistry between Craig and Kate.

There are definitely too many supernaturals in this installment. One of the things that made the first book unusual among urban fantasies was the idea that most humans are still completely unaware of the presence of supernaturals, and there aren’t that many of them in our world. There are so many in this volume that it’s impossible to believe they’re in any way unnoticed. This made the book feel much less unusual or unique.

Trigger warning for some rape mentions (vampires are definitely awful creatures).

I’m still interested in this ongoing prophecy plot involving Jessie and Craig; we get to see a bit more of that here, but it certainly isn’t resolved in any way. Also, Jessie is left with some interesting things going on, so it’ll be good to see where that goes. Hopefully the next book will get back to what made the first book so strong. This one does have a really good raid on a hotel full of vampires, so it has that going for it!

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Review: “A Curse of Memories,” Lee French & Erik Kort

Pros: Riveting arc-plot!
Rating: 5 out of 5

In book one, Chavali the Seer was brought back to life after her clan was slaughtered, and she swore to aid the Fallen in their quest to reunite with their Creator. In book two, Chavali and her new companions had to investigate a murder and a mysterious prophecy. In book three, Chavali and her companions had to settle a murder mystery, find a missing boy, and help out a bunch of werewolves. In book four, they had to find out what happened to Harris, rescue a missing princess, and stop a plan to drug an entire city. Now, in A Curse of Memories (The Greatest Sin Book 5), there’s a traitor among the Fallen–someone had to reveal Harris’s courier task, since he was targeted specifically for the statue he was transporting. The thing is, due to the oath they’re bound by, it should be literally impossible for anyone to betray the order without visibly suffering from the Wasting. Princess Aislynn of Shappa comes along, takes over from Eldrack, and locks down the town and tower until the traitor can be found. One of the healers is murdered, and Chavali ends up charged with the task of finding the murderer.

Colby and Chavali’s interesting relationship gets delved into a bit more in this volume since, of course, they’re both trapped in town for the duration in a very stressful situation. The authors really give these two the right amount of antagonism vs. interest–it’s enough to string things out and build up a believable situation without being ridiculously overblown. Chavali is also starting to treat several people almost as though they’re clan even though the ceremony hasn’t been done yet; it’s a nicely subtle change.

The authors remain incredibly good at dropping little crumbs of info here and there and then coming back to them later. They build up a rather complex arc-plot over the course of the series, and in each book some small part of it becomes clearer, and some part of it grows and leaves more questions than it answers.

Another thing the authors excel at is creating dreams and visions. I find most dreams and visions in books are fairly random and not very useful, and could easily be skipped over without the reader losing anything. In here, the visions and dreams mean something and are important to Chavali’s growth and to the plot.

The characters are wonderful. Colby and Chavali and many of their friends feel like real people to me. They’re flawed but strong, and even bad guys have reasons for what they do. I love the fact that Robin, who started out as a mysterious madman, is shown to have the capacity to love.

I cannot wait for French and Kort to put out more books in this series. Even though each individual book’s main plot is wrapped up relatively well by the end, there’s still a strong arc-plot that I can’t wait to see more of.

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Review: “Illusive Echoes,” Erik Kort & Lee French

Pros: Still loving this series!
Rating: 5 out of 5

In book one, Chavali the Seer was brought back to life after her clan was slaughtered, and she swore to aid the Fallen in their quest to reunite with their Creator. In book two, Chavali and her new companions had to investigate a murder and a mysterious prophecy. In book three, Chavali and her companions had to settle a murder mystery, find a missing boy, and help out a bunch of werewolves. In Illusive Echoes (The Greatest Sin Book 4), Chavali and her friends are sent to find out who killed their friend Harris and regain the cat statue that he had been transporting. Of course when they get to the city where the statue ended up, they get caught in the thick of various schemes going on. A group called the Drowned Ones is distributing a drug called Blue Death that may connect with Chavali’s spirit powers. A gang called the Bloodflies is causing mayhem and destruction, and probably has the statue. Then Princess/Inspector Ambrye goes missing, and the queen agrees that our heroes can have their statue in return for their aid in finding Ambrye.

The Drowned Ones say that everyone must die and be reborn in order for the Reunion with the Creator to happen. I’d like to have seen the characters comment on the similarity between this and the Fallen’s own circumstances and goals, but it doesn’t get brought up. I honestly think that’s my only negative from this book.

The character building is still fantastic. Karias is becoming more and more involved, and he isn’t what I expect from some sort of intelligent horse/spirit/whatever. I look forward to finding out more. The leader of the Drowned Ones only shows up for a short amount of time, but there are already hints of an interesting and complex character there. We finally find out more of why Eldrack seems to know so much about the future and why he’s kept it from Chavali, and it makes things very interesting. Chavali still tends to be more pragmatic than sentimental, but I caught her once or twice convincing herself that she was doing something for a pragmatic reason when it was relatively clear it was more. I do love her gradual character growth. We also see a bit more of Robin this time than the madman we know and hate.

The plot is sufficiently complicated that it kept me guessing for quite a bit, which I loved, yet it does get untangled sufficiently I think. There are multiple gangs involved, multiple art thefts, a royal family full of suspects, a group of inspectors full of suspects, a group of zealots who seem to have an interest in Chavali… The spirits of Chavali’s clan are also restive, and I’m looking forward to finding out where things go with that. Up until now they’ve been little more than a power source, and now we find they may have interests and an agenda. We also still don’t know what the deal is with the mysterious cat statue.

I’m really enjoying the individual mysteries in these books as well as the overall arc-plot and wonderful characters.

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Review: “Moon Shades,” Erik Kort & Lee French

Pros: Still loving this series!
Rating: 5 out of 5

In book one, Chavali the Seer was brought back to life after her clan was slaughtered, and she swore to aid the Fallen in their quest to reunite with their Creator. In book two, Chavali and her new companions had to investigate a murder and a mysterious prophecy. Now, in Erik Kort and Lee French’s Moon Shades (The Greatest Sin Book 3), Chavali is sent on a ‘punishment’ mission because she’s feuding with another, very nosy and gossipy, Fallen named Sean. Poor Eliot is sent along to keep them from killing each other. When they reach Eagle Falls, they find the local lawman has been murdered. Apparently he turned into a werewolf and killed a local researcher–but Chavali is convinced that some of the townspeople are lying about what happened. When Chavali and her colleagues are attacked by an out-of-control werewolf and a child goes missing, it becomes clear that there’s a larger problem afoot.

The authors keep up their ability to create infuriating characters who yet have some depth to them. Sean is seriously nosy, and gossips like the stereotypical little old lady, but he also keeps trying to ship Chavali and Eliot, which is actually kind of adorable. Chavali’s tendency to be “difficult” is treated as something of an affectionate joke in here (the humor in these books is always affectionate toward the characters, which I love), but she also starts to realize that maybe the excuse is wearing thin a bit. The character growth is gentle yet sure. I like that while it aggravates people that Chavali is so close-mouthed regarding her clan, her nightmares, and so on, that reticence is also reflected in her ability to keep the secrets of the Fallen, both collectively and individually.

The authors are great at asking more questions than they answer, but always yielding enough information that I’m willing to wait to see what happens next. I feel confident that these aren’t just dropped plot threads, because Kort and French are so good at going back to explain things that don’t add up. I look forward to reading further books to find out what’s really going on in the larger machinations! That said, given that in the last book Chavali specifically noted that even her dreams lack colors, I wish she’d made more of the fact that she’s suddenly had a nightmare in vivid color. It felt slightly overlooked, at least for the moment.

I can’t wait to read more!

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Review: “Harbinger,” Erik Kort & Lee French

Pros: Can’t get enough of this series!
Rating: 5 out of 5

In book one of “The Greatest Sin,” The Fallen, nomadic Seer Chavali killed herself to keep herself and her gift of prophecy from falling into the hands of a madman. She was brought back to the Fallen, a group of people who have been raised from the dead and who are united in their quest to reunite the people of the world with their Creator. She agreed to join them, and they helped her to rescue the remaining three children from her clan who survived a massacre. Now, in Harbinger (The Greatest Sin Book 2), she’s settling in, learning to defend herself, and starting to go on missions. She’s even learning how to use her illusions for more than just storytelling. She and three others get sent to a town to find out what happened to an agent of the Fallen who hasn’t sent in a report in several months. From there, the machinations get quite complex! They end up investigating the agent’s death, trying to puzzle out the politics of the place, and working to rescue a kidnapped young lady.

“You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
“Do not be stupid. We have no honey here. We are the vinegar.”

I think my favorite part of this entire book has to be the four spies–working for four different politicians/nobles–who try to follow our heroes around. Being that there are four of them, and maybe they aren’t the best spies ever, of course they get noticed. And Chavali and her friends end up gradually pulling the spies into the thick of things. As for the politicians themselves, it seems like almost all of them are up to something. Then there’s a mysterious island, and an old prophecy, and an equally mysterious assailant who can mess with people’s minds.

I think the only semi-sorta negatives I can think of are that Chavali smirks and sneers too much, and once she notes a color in one of her dreams (blood red stones) followed shortly thereafter by noting that even in her dreams she doesn’t see colors.

I still love the worldbuilding in this series. All people are born with a memory in their minds of the Creator banishing them due to a great sin. However, absolutely everyone seems to disagree about what this sin is. It makes for some fascinating arguments, especially between Chavali (her clan believed the greatest sin was stagnation) and Colby (who believes that the greatest sin is lying). I’m looking forward to learning more about the various Orders, such as the Order of Spilled Blood, the Order of the Strong Mind, and so forth. I’m particularly looking forward to learning more about Chavali’s enemy, the one who caused her entire clan to be murdered.

As usual the characters are wonderful. Portia is another strong female character, in different ways than Chavali. Harris is entertaining and useful, starting out as an enemy and allowing himself to become an ally. Colby is a little simpler than the other characters, but I think we’ll continue to see more of him in future books.

I enjoyed this volume every bit as much as the first, and look forward to reading more!

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Review: “The Fallen,” Erik Kort & Lee French

Pros: Fabulous characters and worldbuilding; engaging
Rating: 5 out of 5

I love Erik Kort and Lee French’s The Fallen (The Greatest Sin Book 1) so much that I desperately want to turn it into roleplaying game fodder. Failing that, I’ll at least have to read the whole series! I found this book thanks to a StoryBundle that happened to contain the first two volumes, and these alone were worth the cost of the entire bundle.

Chavali is the Seer of a nomadic clan of people. She can truly speak prophecy once in a long while, but she does most of her “fortune-telling” via a finely-honed skill at reading people combined with her ability to read people’s thoughts when she touches them skin-to-skin. She’s 25 years old. She can create illusions, she can’t see colors, and she has a bodyguard, Keino, who is too intent on having her as his own. She likes him, but doesn’t want to be with someone who views her as a possession to be won. Her clan would say she’s “difficult,” and she acknowledges this is the case, but she does care about those around her. She just has a very blunt and rather self-centered way of handling the world. When a man comes to Chavali seeking to use her prophetic gifts to his own end, her entire life is turned upside-down, and she finds she must rely on the aid of Outsiders.

Chavali liked this man, in the same way she liked a rabbit who jumped into the snare on purpose so she could have dinner.

I was actually surprised to go back to my notes and realize just how much of this book was taken up by worldbuilding and character building, because it’s so ‘alive’ that it never felt in any way motionless or dull. I was engaged from the very first page. In particular I love both the building up of Chavali’s clan and of her personality. She is super confident, somewhat self-centered, and very sure of her place in things, all of which make total sense for her upbringing, background, and gifts. She also happily occupies the children with folk tales, shares a good relationship with her family, and doesn’t ask for more than her due. She’s smart, talented, and delightfully imperfect. In short, she’s one of the better strong female characters I’ve seen in a while.

By the way, the authors do a great job of avoiding the stereotype of drifters-as-grifters. While the clan entertains and sells things to make money wherever they go, they don’t engage in thievery. They have a rich folklore and many generations of traditions by which they live. Also, when Chavali is forced to go to Outsiders for help, the worldbuilding doesn’t stop. Everything going on beyond the clan has had just as much thought put into it.

I’ll leave the rest of the tale for you to find out on your own, because it’s gripping, enchanting, and well worth your time. I gather there are currently five books in this series, and I plan to read them all!

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Review: “Children of the Bloodlands,” S.M. Beiko

Pros: Stunning characters, relationships, and plot
Rating: 5 out of 5

At the end of S.M. Beiko’s Scion of the Fox, a darkling was sent back to the Bloodlands and it was revealed that this was all a part of her larger plan. In Children of the Bloodlands (The Realms of Ancient Book 2), that plan comes to fruition. Seela, the spawn of the three celestial darklings, comes into the world and begins spreading the Cinder Plague across the world as it collects children to its evil “family”. Roan, Natti, Phae, Barton, and Eli will once again have to play a part in this–although not quite like last time. Roan’s in Edinburgh trying to learn more about her grandmother Cecelia, Eli gets called to visit the Owls, Barton goes overseas to the Rabbits, and Phae accompanies Natti North to meet the Empress of the Seals. Seela’s trying to collect the Calamity Stones, and the good guys need to get to them first. Unfortunately Seela has a surprise for Roan that may pull her in a very dark direction, and Eli swiftly becomes trapped in a Hope Tree. The group seems to be failing before they’ve even begun!

I love that the plot goes in unexpected directions. I’ll just say that contrary to the obvious direction for things to go in, the five children do not all become the Paramounts of their families. Things are much more interesting and varied than that. There are also great things at stake, and I never felt like the outcome was assured or the trials too easy. In fact, I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what ultimately happened. Having read some rather predictable books recently, it was a lot of fun to be surprised repeatedly (even though the plot doesn’t rely on surprises).

The characters in this world are fabulous, as are the relationships between them. In particular, Roan, Eli, and the “frenemy” relationship they have going on is one of the best parts of the book. Neither of them particularly likes the other, but they’re having to start learning to rely on each other. Even the seemingly straight-out evil characters have more going on than just that. Everyone and everything has a depth and history to them that’s delightful.

There are plenty of nifty events going on. Roan meets her other grandmother. Natti rescues polar bears from a zoo. Phae confronts a very bitter god. We find out about a group called the Stonebreakers that wants to destroy all of the Calamity Stones, and humans are inevitably becoming aware of the Denizens. The Gardener from the Bloodlands has come to the mortal plane. All in all it’s an engrossing ride, and I look forward to reading more books by Beiko!

My bones are a haunted house.

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Review: “Scion of the Fox,” S.M. Beiko

Pros: Delightfully original and creative
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

S.M. Beiko’s Scion of the Fox: The Realms of Ancient, Book 1 (Realms of Ancient, The) is a delightful young adult urban fantasy novel. 17-year-old Roan Harken was orphaned at three years old. She lives with her Aunt Deedee and eccentric Uncle Arnas, and her comatose grandmother Cecelia lives on the third floor of their house. One day Roan nearly dies, only to be saved by a fiery fox-woman named Sil. Sil teaches her that she’s a Denizen, one of the Five Families that live alongside humans (the Five are Foxes, Deer, Owls, Seals, and Rabbits). She had been marked for sacrifice to appease Zabor, a malign river spirit, and keep her from flooding Winnipeg. Now that she’s survived, the other Denizens will try to kill her to complete the sacrifice–in fact, girls who look like her are being killed around the city. She needs to find a way to bind and banish Zabor forever, something that her parents tried (and failed) to accomplish. But first, she’ll need an ally from each of the other Families to help her.

The characters have a fair amount of depth to them. There are no one-dimensional evil people (unless you count Zabor, who’s more of a force of nature); everybody has reasons for the things they do and some people can even be redeemed. Each friend Roan picks up has their own unique personality. Even the creepy stalkers Zabor sends after Roan develop some interest to them. I enjoyed the fact that the main female character did not become part of a romantic coupling–it’s nice now and then to see a young woman who doesn’t have to be paired off.

The worldbuilding is wonderful. The particular animals Ms. Beiko chose to use were not a stereotypical spread, and she put a great deal of originality into how she used them. I did find myself wondering, since the number of Denizens living among humans was dropping (particularly among the Deer), how it was that they had enough children available to sacrifice one from each Family each year.

The plot seems simple, if daunting: unite the power of the Five Families, collect a magical artifact from another realm, defeat Zabor before spring, and survive. Of course it’s a lot harder than it seems. The agreement that’s kept Zabor at bay for all of these years is fiercely enforced by the Owls, and no one wants to upset the apple cart and be responsible for the entire city flooding. So there are few potential allies among the Families. The artifact Roan needs is in a bloody realm that claimed her mother’s life, and she needs access to a very well-guarded gate to get there. Then she’ll still have to defeat Zabor with the help of her friends–and Zabor is not exactly a small or low-powered creature. So many things can (and do) go wrong, and there are plenty of surprises awaiting our heroes.

I definitely recommend this adventure story, and I look forward to reading the sequel!

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Sci-Fi StoryBundle!

Between and Kindle Unlimited I’m never going to run out of reading material! There’s a Sci-Fi StoryBundle up for the next three weeks, and it even includes a Valor novel by Tanya Huff!

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Review: “The Shredded Veil Mysteries,” Leah R. Cutter

Pros: Fascinating take on ghosts; creative and original
Cons: Needs more worldbuilding; one unsatisfying story
Rating: 4 out of 5

Leah R. Cutter’s The Shredded Veil Mysteries is a collection of six ghostly tales. In 2012, the Great Unraveling happened, shredding the veils between the living and the dead. Ghosts and humans have had to learn to live side-by-side. Ghostly private investigator (former police officer) Andrew Collin and his trusty, rather special camera Betsy, end up seeing quite a bit of this strange new world as Andy takes on unusual cases. He’s also helped in this by Antonia “Toni” Hermino, who would probably be his girlfriend if the two could ever touch each other.

The worldbuilding feels somewhat incomplete. It’s clear that magic exists in this world. “Fixers” are people who can create artifacts that are usable by both the living and the dead. There are people who can cast charms that affect the dead in one way or another–keeping them trapped, keeping them out of a place, and so on. However, apart from what I’ve just said, magic is left almost entirely unexplained. Are there mages? Were there mages before the veils shredded? If so, what did they do then? If not, how did they figure out how to cast all these various charms in the last few years? Do they need to be trained, or can anyone cast charms? There are a lot of unanswered questions. As an odd quirk, some of the names in here change. Is it Andy Collin or Cullen? Tony or Toni? Toni Hermino or Hermano? A quick extra round of editing would have been nice.

In Hell By Any Other Name, we’re introduced to a living man named Harry Potter (“My parents were–whimsical”). He wants Andy to find an item that’s been stolen from him by Toni, who was working for another living man. Unfortunately, he has an extra agenda.

In To Hell And Back, Toni asks Andy to check in on her ghostly brother Beppe, with whom she’s lost contact. Andy goes to check on him, and finds that he seems to be drugged in some manner that’s causing him to fade away. Andy ends up forced to try the drugs, and has to work hard not to get hooked while he tries to free Beppe from their influence.

Hell For The Holidays sees Andy’s living niece Susan come offering to help him–she believes she can help him get into Heaven. (Deaths create portals, and those portals can take a soul to Hell or Heaven depending on where they’re due to go; Andy, of course, sees his own personal Hell through those portals.) She has created a man-made portal that is supposedly programmable, and can even allow Andy to see into other people’s Heavens and Hells. The ending of this tale is the creepiest in the book.

Susan wasn’t a snake oil salesman. No, she was something much worse: a true believer.

High Stakes Hell sees Andy getting involved in a semi-monthly poker game hosted by one Simon Beaker. Unfortunately, Beaker wants to use Betsy to foul ends, and he’s up to something dark and nasty. This story ends pretty much on a bluff, and it’s very unsatisfying. I thought that at least the trail might get picked up again in one of the other stories, but it didn’t. It felt like the author just didn’t know how to end this story.

In Postcards From Hell, the ghostly Mrs. Lorenzo wants her husband’s bones recovered from “ferrymen” so that she and he can be together again. This tale definitely hints at the wider world of magic, and even perhaps some creatures beyond just the ghostly. It also gives us a deeper look into the trading of favors that the ghostly community relies upon. One of the interesting details that gets explored a little more in here is the role of sound in the world of ghosts. Ghostly voices, for example, can give off vibrations of sound that drive mortals into terror.

Of Heaven And Hell is told from Toni’s point of view. This was briefly confusing because it wasn’t labeled or announced in any way, but the author is so good at conveying the change in voice and tone that this isn’t really a problem. An old acquaintance comes looking for Toni’s help in retrieving a family painting, saying it was stolen by Nazis. Andy and Tony find that the truth is a lot more creepy. One of the really neat details that crops up in this story is that there’s a faction of cabbies who have developed a superstition that they can “use up” their bad luck by plowing through ghosts, and thus have fewer “real” accidents. So while many cabbies won’t take ghosts, some will, in exchange for letting the cabbies run through them (something that’s very uncomfortable for the ghost). It’s very creative worldbuilding.

I think this book is well worth the read. It’s original, creative, and creepy. I just wish it had delved into magic even a little bit more, and that it had had a different ending to that one story.

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