Review: “The Silvered,” Tanya Huff

Pros: Riveting tale of war, conquest, magic, and technology
Cons:
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Empire is spreading, conquering its neighbors; the emperor seems to have a particular interest in overthrowing Aydori. In Aydori the Hunt Pack (werewolves) rule together with the Mage Pack. They’re powerful, but the emperor has new weapons including silver bullets, rockets, and more. Within the borders of the empire werewolves have been declared abominations. Mirian–who tested as high in magic, but was never able to progress beyond first level magics–witnesses the kidnapping of the Mage Pack by Imperials, and sets off to free them. Joining her is Tomas, a young werewolf who has just lost most of his family. The mages have been neutralized using old magical artifacts, so while they certainly aren’t harmless, they’ve lost most of their tools for escape. The mages are being transported by carriage back to the heart of the empire, while Mirian and Tomas have only their feet. Mirian’s magic seems to be slipping past the bounds of what she should be capable of, but there are other dangers in losing herself to her magic.

 

Tanya Huff is one of my all-time favorite authors. I only really discovered her this year, so I’ve been devouring her past publications (luckily there are lots of them). Today I got to The Silvered; it’s a blend of fantasy, steam punk, and military fiction. Ms. Huff seems able to conquer any genre she sets her mind to, and I love this particular blend. I was riveted shortly after starting.

I love the characters. Tomas and Mirian and their gradually shifting relationship have so much depth and warmth to them. The members of the Mage Pack are wonderful–they have their strengths and weaknesses, their foibles and cares, and watching them trying to survive the situation they’ve been placed in is heartbreaking. There’s also plenty of depth given to most of their pursuers; it becomes quite easy to empathize and sympathize with characters on both sides.

The ‘country using steam-tech’ and ‘country using magic’ are not nearly as straightforward as they are in other novels. Aydori has electric lights and pocket watches despite their reliance on magic. The empire has its Soothsayers and old, barely-understood magical artifacts that they occasionally use to supplement their technologies. (As well as a few werewolves hidden away here and there.) It makes more sense, that the magic and tech would be on a continuum rather than a binary setting.

There’s plenty of tension, action, horror (there are some dark moments in here–appropriately so, not excessive). I had trouble putting the book down for lunch and kept reading snatches of it around everything else I had to get done. Thankfully, much like other Tanya Huff novels, The Silvered does not end on a cliffhanger, but does leave plenty of room for further stories. I certainly hope there will be more!

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , ,

Review: “Blind Alley,” Iris Johansen

Pros: Interesting mystery
Cons: Confusing and unnecessarily complex
Rating: 2 out of 5

 

From promotional material:

As the trail of faceless bodies leads to a chilling revelation, Eve finds herself trying to catch a master murderer whose grisly work is a testament to a mind warped by perversion and revenge. Now she must pit her skills against his in a showdown where the stakes are life itself—and where the unbearable cost of failure will make Eve’s own murder seem like a mercy killing.

Please note that although this is a book in Iris Johansen’s Eve Duncan series, the real star is Jane, Eve’s ward. The wording of that promotional material above is much more accurate if you substitute ‘Jane’ for every instance of ‘Eve’. As it turns out, there’s a serial killer who’s become convinced that Jane is the reincarnation of an enemy simply because of her facial appearance.

Blind Alley: An Eve Duncan Forensics Thriller is a book I found via the online public library, so I went into it not realizing it was part of a series. It made a lot of sense despite that, though; Ms. Johansen made this book stand alone fairly well.

Jane and Trevor are interesting characters. I did feel that Jane warmed up to Trevor a little easily, but when you remind yourself that the grown-up-seeming Jane is actually still a teenager, it makes enough sense. Jane displays a nice duality: she’s mature enough to sound older than her age, but she’s inexperienced enough that she’s still feeling her way through what is the right thing to do, how does she make that happen, and how far does she have to go? I can see why she and Trevor have a sort-of weird beginnings-of-a-crush going on. Trevor is just such an unrepentant pain, blithely lying his way into an investigation, spying on Jane; but he also rushes off to help Jane when it might not be in his best interest to do so.

By the time Trevor and Jane come up with an elaborate plan to attract and catch Aldo, the serial killer, Aldo has made it clear to Jane that now he knows who she is and he has all the time in the world to attack her. However, he’s shown himself to have absolutely no patience (such as killing a handful of additional women when he had difficulty getting to Jane), so I don’t buy that he really is going to take however long.

Because of that, the trap that Trevor and Jane set seems outlandishly and unnecessarily complex. It involves convincing (or hacking into) a handful of publications to plant false information. It requires flying to another country. It’s an intricate setup that could fall apart in any of a bunch of steps, and I totally fail to see how it’s a better plan than setting up a death trap back home would be. Because I couldn’t suspend disbelief in this it felt… hollow. It felt like seeing a page on which someone has been writing, but halfway through they switch to writing in a different script and using a green magic marker instead of a blue pen.

There are also some bald info-dumps. Some of the dialogue feels… stilted.

Ultimately I enjoyed some of the book, but it didn’t wow me.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , ,

Review: “Cast in Peril,” Michelle Sagara

Pros: Adds another layer of depth to the Barrani
Cons: Small things…
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

It has been a busy few weeks for Private Kaylin Neya. In between angling for a promotion, sharing her room with the last living female Dragon and dealing with more refugees than anyone knew what to do with, the unusual egg she’d been given began to hatch.

Kaylin is finally heading off to the West March as the result of an agreement with Lord Nightshade. Teela of course is coming with her, as is Severn. One unexpected companion is the Barrani Consort, who is still quite upset with Kaylin. Not only does Kaylin have to survive the often-deadly world of Barrani politics, but she has to figure out how and why people have gone missing in large numbers from the fiefs–and she has reason to believe a Barrani Lord was behind the disappearances. Add to that the contents of the egg, and things are about to get crazy.

Cast in Peril is book eight in the Chronicles of Elantra. Don’t even try to break into this series in the middle; there’s no real way for an ongoing story and world of this complexity to appear as standalone novels. That is a little awkward with a series this long, but I just don’t see a way to avoid it here. It also really helps if you’ve read the previous book recently.

Just a warning for anyone who hasn’t seen my reviews of previous installments: These are NOT action-oriented books. They focus on worldbuilding and oddly philosophical clashes. Much of the magic comes from pondering and learning to wield language, true names, ancient words. The conflict is very character-oriented. If you are looking for the kind of fantasy epic that has long sword battles, this is not it. I say this because this is entirely a reader-dependent taste issue, and it would be sad to have people dislike the books just because they didn’t get what they expected from them.

This isn’t the first book in the series to focus on the Barrani (elf-like immortals with a vicious taste for politics, back-stabbing, and anything that’ll stave off boredom); this one does go a layer or two deeper. We get to see that the Consort, who had behaved more warmly toward Kaylin than the other Barrani have, is in some ways more and in some ways even less like them than was obvious, and it really pokes at how immortals view mortals. Kaylin is also forced to look at some of Nightshade’s actions a little more baldly. I particularly like seeing how Barrani handle being in debt to someone. There are multiple ways to get rid of such a debt, obviously; you could pay it back… or you could just kill the person you’re in debt to.

Kaylin experiences some character growth in here. She’s learning when–occasionally–not to speak. Of course there are characters she encounters in this volume who can read her thoughts (much like Tara, the tower’s avatar, in Tiamaris) and thus respond to them as though she’d spoken them out loud–a situation that can be both amusing and frustrating to Kaylin and those around her. I also like that Teela described Kaylin’s younger self as being much like a puppy or kitten–it fits her personality very well.

There’s plenty of tension as Kaylin tries to negotiate Barrani politics, figure out what her newly-hatched friend is, wants, and can do, and save a whole bunch of people she knows almost nothing about. There’s enough going on that the book ends much earlier in Kaylin’s journey than I expected.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , ,

Review: “Cast in Ruin,” Michelle Sagara

Pros: Rich worldbuilding
Cons: Not everyone’s cup of tea
Rating: 4 out of 5

Kaylin is called into the fief of Tiamaris to help solve a mystery: How is it that there are seven identical corpses, all of them the same woman, wearing the same dress. At least the case is delaying Kaylin’s etiquette classes at the palace, but there’s a deadline of sorts: the dragons believe there will ultimately be nine identical corpses, which means Kaylin will have to hurry if she wants to save numbers eight and nine.

 

Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Ruin (Chronicles of Elantra, Book 7) is an intense read. Again I’ll mention that these books are high on philosophy and are not action-packed. It’s a personal taste thing. In this case you really can’t start with a later book; the world and story are too complex. You need the background. On the plus side, this means you’ll know whether you like the style well before you get to book seven!

We’ve been seeing bits and pieces about the dragons throughout the first six novels, but this time we get a more intensive examination. The Arkon leaves his library again! We find out a few fascinating details on how they reproduce and grow. I also love the fact that Tiamaris, now that he has gone off to rule his own fief, is showing more individualism in how he’s acting and thinking. It’s a nice bit of character growth. On a related-but-not-dragons note, Severn is finally showing more individuality and personality, and Kaylin is learning to be a bit more adult (and restrained). Don’t worry, it isn’t a large enough change to make her anything other than her own unique self, but it’s good to see growth in a main character. Also, a new major female character is introduced, which helps to distance Kaylin from her constant danger of becoming a Mary Sue. (To be honest, it’s been borderline enough in some of the preceding books that I imagine some people would argue that she is, in fact, a Mary Sue. For me, her personality keeps that possibility at bay.)

I feel like I’m getting a better handle on the world’s language- and true name-based magic. I shed one or two tears at pivotal points in the story, which means the book provides an emotional connection with its events. The new major character introduces an interesting dynamic between Kaylin and the dragons; I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of that in the next book. Some of the refugees are also winding their way into the story. But mostly, I just want to know what’s going to happen with that damn egg!

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , ,

Review: “Tacolicious,” Sara Deseran

Pros: Yum!
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

 

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Tacolicious: Festive Recipes for Tacos, Snacks, Cocktails, and More, by Sara Deseran, is the companion cookbook to the restaurant by the same name. It’s a lovely book–hardcover, some pictures included, and a fairly clear recipe layout. Contents include a salsas, pickles, & more chapter, followed by snacks & sides. The salsas chapter includes a very nice corn salsa with tomatoes and basil (we liked it both as a salsa and as a veggie side–it has enough heft to it to work that way). It includes a cumin-lime crema that is out of this world–so perfect on pulled-pork tacos. Other recipes include smoky chipotle-tomatillo salsa, pickled red onions, chile con queso, shrimp cakes with corn-basil salsa, spicy tamarind-glazed pork ribs with jicama salad, and more.

Cumin-Lime Crema

Cumin-Lime Crema

Next is a ‘tacos, tacos, and tacos’ chapter. Our favorite so far is the potato and homemade chorizo taco. It has SO much flavor, was easy to make, and reheated beautifully. You’ll also find lamb adobo taco with spices and orange, shot-and-a-beer braised chicken taco, and a breakfast taco that was also quite delicious–and very filling!

Potato and homemade chorizo taco

Potato and homemade chorizo taco

There’s an extensive chapter of cocktails and other beverages (I can’t wait to make the horchata). Beverages include infused tequilas, cocktails (la siesta, sangrita, mucho gusto), agua frescas “and other G-rated drinks” (mango agua fresca, kiwi aqua fresca), and a “syrups, salts, and infusions” section (chile salt, pink peppercorn salt, chile vinegar, and more).

Breakfast Taco

Breakfast Taco

We loved everything we tried out of this book, and definitely plan to make more. Some of the recipes are more complicated than others, but we found no mistakes in any of the recipes we tried. I would recommend it to any taco-lover!

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , ,

Review: “Archangel’s Legion,” Nalini Singh

Pros: Sexy, tense, fun
Cons:
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Guild hunter Elena Deveraux and the archangel Raphael must discover the source of the wave of death before it engulfs their city and their people, leaving New York a ruin and Raphael’s Tower under siege by enemy archangels.

The Cascade is bringing new powers to the fingertips of the Archangels, causing angels to fall from the sky and visiting a virulent disease upon the vampires who serve them. Raphael and Elena realize these are attacks upon their territory and they rush to shore up their defenses. Lijuan, the Archangel who styles herself a god, is believed to somehow be behind these attacks, but so far no one can find the connection. When the battle finally comes, Raphael and Elena will have to evacuate the entire city, and risk everything–their people’s lives, their own lives, and the not-yet-stable new power that seeks to find its home in Raphael.

Note that the events in this volume bring to a climax a number of ongoing plots in the series, so don’t try to start reading the series with Archangel’s Legion.

 

Nalini Singh’s Archangel’s Legion is book six of her excellent Guild Hunter series. I love the world-building in these books. Instead of the typical “world suddenly becomes aware of supernatural beings in their midst” plot, these angels have ruled mankind for as long as anyone can remember, carving an uneasy peace out of the territories belonging to the archangels. Also unlike many recent novels, Ms. Singh’s angels aren’t simply men with wings. They are notably inhuman; although Elena has brought out a certain humanity in Raphael, he sometimes sees little value in mortal lives.

Speaking of inhuman angels, I love the character-building in this series. Elena and Raphael have remained fascinating and enjoyable as both individual characters and a couple. There are several other unusual relationships that have built up over the books, all of which I’ve enjoyed, so it’s nice to see those characters crop up here and there in this novel. Raphael and Elena have every bit the scorching relationship they did before (not that they aren’t still growing and changing with each other, but in the sense that they still have a ton of chemistry and wild sex).

The pacing is tense and taut from the start and ratchets up as things go on. The author manages to draw out an impressive days-long battle for New York with plenty of well-considered tactics, surprises on both sides, and overwhelming odds to fight against. While the battle takes center stage later in the novel, there are plenty of other beats to vary the pacing during the buildup (family problems for Elena, protectiveness and love for children, personal development amongst Raphael’s people, and alliance-building with the other Archangels).

I was enraptured with Archangel’s Legion from start to finish, and can’t wait to read more of Nalini Singh’s writing.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Review: “Cast in Chaos,” Michelle Sagara

Pros: Fascinating blend of fantasy and philosophy
Cons: NOT a high-action book (totally dependent on personal preference)
Rating: 4 out of 5

It looks like the world might end–huge magical power surges, rains of blood–but stubborn Kaylin is determined to set things right. She’ll have plenty of help, from the terrifying dragons to the Keeper of the Elemental Garden. What she’s facing, however, is so utterly beyond everyone’s experiences that even that kind of backup might be outclassed.

Cast in Chaos (Chronicles of Elantra, Book 6), by Michelle Sagara, is unusual. Straight out, you should know that this is a low-action high-philosophy high-monologue/dialogue tome, even more so than some of the earlier installments. Whether you’d look forward to this or not is entirely dependent on personal taste. Need lots of tension and clear action? Don’t read this series. Do you enjoy intense world-building mixed with extended ruminations on magical philosophy? Then absolutely jump in. Normally I’m more of an action junkie, but I’ve found this series to be fascinating and delightful. (Whatever you do, however, don’t start the series with this book. You absolutely need the background.)

In this installment Kaylin learns more about interacting with dragons, but that isn’t the thrust of the plot. The Oracles are all predicting doom in their own unique, chaotic way, and Kaylin has caught the attention of something called the Devourer that exists between worlds. The Devourer could destroy the entire world, unmaking it, but Kaylin realizes that preventing that destruction requires something more and different than strength of arms.

I really enjoy Kaylin as a character. She’s like a small bull in a very large china shop, constantly threatening to knock things over, break things, and blunder into every corner. I do wish that her friend, Severn, existed independently; he’s interesting, and I think would grow into his own if we didn’t always see him through Kaylin’s eyes. Tiamaris has come into his own as a separate character now that he’s a fief lord; I enjoy seeing the various aspects of his personality.

The magic surge in Elantra is growing by leaps and bounds; its effects neatly balance both humor and horror. There were a couple of plot threads that got a little tattered. While I expect they’ll resurface in the next volume, it was still a little jarring. Lord Nightshade puts in a pivotal appearance early on, then has no part in the rest of the book. Kaylin also took possession of… something… from the Midwives’ Guild, and then it’s set entirely aside. Again, I’m sure they’ll be addressed in the next book, but it’s still a little odd within the context of this novel.

Cast in Chaos is a good addition to the series, and I’m looking forward to book 7.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , ,

Review: “The Abyss Beyond Dreams,” Peter F. Hamilton

Pros: Builds up into a fascinating tale of revolution
Cons: Awkward start & some confusion
Rating: 4 out of 5

Advance copy provided free by Random House Publishing Group – Del Rey Spectra via NetGalley.

 

The Abyss Beyond Dreams: Chronicle of the Fallers by Peter F. Hamilton is a reasonably lengthy, complex science fiction novel. In it, humans have reached the stars and a fleet has gone out in order to start a new colony. That fleet is sucked into a mysterious region of space called the Void. In the Void, technological things degrade and fail. The laws of the universe work differently there, enabling use of mental abilities such as telepathy and telekinesis. The colonists limp along to a habitable planet, guided there by a mysterious entity called a Sky Lord, and set up shop. Time moves much faster in the Void, so by the time anyone comes looking for them they’ve had time to develop a whole new civilization. A wealthy, powerful man named Nigel gets talked into helping the colonies escape the Void, using his vast resources to find a crack in the Void’s armor. In order to do what he needs to do, however, he’s going to have to manipulate his way to the heart of the colony–and back out again.

 

I had a little trouble getting into The Abyss Beyond Dreams at first. We’re tossed into the deep end with respect to all the oddities of future life, only to get tossed into a whole other layer of ‘new normal’ when the fleet immediately enters the Void. It’s a lot to learn at once. Sometimes I found the narrative’s shifts in time & space to be a little confusing. Most of them make sense eventually, but some seem oddly out of place for a while. There were also a couple of small spots in the beginning where I couldn’t understand why the characters didn’t use their telepathy or telekinesis in certain circumstances.

Each new section of the book made more sense and became more engrossing as it delved deeper into the world and finally started following a handful of characters for an extended period of time. That made it easier for me to start identifying with people and caring about what happened to them. The characters have some nice depth to them; there are no perfect people. Everyone makes their own tradeoffs between their morals and their notion of the greater good, and things are most definitely not black and white.

One of the characters we follow long-term ends up at the heart of a revolution; the look at what it takes to carry off a revolution is amazingly well-detailed and fascinating to read along with. Throw a whole lot of psychic abilities into the mix–as well as some nifty future technologies–and you get some great twists and turns.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , , , ,

Review: “Cast in Silence,” Michelle Sagara

Pros: Fascinating story and excellent characters
Cons: Climax is not high-action; some bits of confusion
Rating: 4 out of 5

Cast in Silence (Chronicles of Elantra, Book 5) follows Cast in Shadow, Cast in Courtlight, Cast in Secret, and Cast in Fury. The series as a whole is fantastic and unusual, and well worth reading in its entirety.

From the back of the book:

Kaylin’s moved on with her life—and is keeping silent about the shameful things she’s done to stay alive. But when the city’s oracles warn of brewing unrest in the outer fiefdoms, a mysterious visitor from Kaylin’s past casts her under a cloud of suspicion. Thankfully, if she’s anything, she’s a survivor…

This time around Michelle Sagara is exploring Kaylin’s past and the things that brought her out of the fiefs. She’s also delving into the relationship between a fief and its lord, and how these things are necessary to protect the city from a deeper shadow. There’s more than enough going on in these two topics to keep things lively and interesting.

Sagara’s characters are my favorite part of the Chronicles of Elantra. Kaylin is a pain in the ass, but an enjoyable pain in the ass:

“She is not,” he said to Tiamaris, “well informed or well trained.”
“No. We have chosen to find it endearing.” He raised a hand before Kaylin could speak.
“Ah. That might present some problem.”
“It often does. But it occasionally presents solutions, as well, if unorthodox.”

Sagara nicely balances the need for Kaylin to grow and improve with the fact that such changes come slowly and reluctantly. There’s enough improvement that I don’t become frustrated with the character, but like anyone else she occasionally backslides or has trouble moving forward. I would like to see the author do more with Severn; he’s still a bit much of an enigma. I really love what she’s doing with the dragons, however. Each one has such a strong personality, and the dragon concept of a hoard comes with interesting connotations. Kaylin seems to be drawing ever closer to an inevitable meeting with the Emperor; it’ll be interesting to see how that goes in later books. I’d always wondered how Kaylin ended up becoming a Hawk at a particularly young age, and we finally get to explore that here. We also get just a peek at a younger Lord Nightshade, and I loved it.

The plot is a good one: the fief of Barren (it shares a boundary with Nightshade) is starting to be invaded by shadows and evil creatures from the sort-of fief that lies in the center of all the others. This means there isn’t a proper relationship between the fief lord and the “tower” that protects the domain. Kaylin, Severn, and Tiamaris have to fight the shadows in order to save lives, but they also must figure out what’s gone wrong with the tower and why it isn’t keeping the nightmares contained. The answer to the mystery is clever and challenging.

The climax of the book primarily involves internal rather than external challenges and revelations. Kaylin has to puzzle out what exactly is going on and how to fix it while her friends buy her some time. This does mean that the climax doesn’t involve a whole lot of flat-out action. The pacing remains a little slow. Whether this will appeal to you or frustrate you depends entirely on you, the reader, and the sort of books you enjoy. If you’re reading through the entire series and have gotten this far then I doubt you’ll mind it; all of the books have some aspect of internal struggle and revelation rather than external.

I do love the world-building in the Elantra books. The city rides a precarious balance between carefully arrayed forces, and Kaylin is smack dab in the middle of that mess. The details of the city present so much opportunity for action, reaction, revelation, and conflict. It’s easy to see how this story will require more books in order to tell its tale, and I very much look forward to reading those other books.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: , ,

Short Take: Review of “Dead Drop” by Jesse Miles

Pros: Interesting characters and nice plot/tension
Cons: Not terribly memorable.
Rating: 3 out of 5

Review e-book provided by author.
 

Jack Salvo is a private investigator, and he just got brought in on an embezzlement case. His investigations contain plenty of entertaining quips and cleverness. There’s an interesting sexual relationship; the PI happens to also be a part-time philosophy professor. Toward the end there’s plenty of tension, some surprises, and a fun ending.

There’s just one problem that I can’t really get past. Jesse Miles’s Dead Drop didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I remember bits and pieces like some of the entertaining philosophical bits, the rather slick way some explanations were woven into the plot, and so on. However, every time I put the book down and then came back to it, I had to backtrack several pages to remind myself of what was happening. I’m trying to find enough to say to fill out a longer review, but all I keep coming back to is a shrug.

Posted in Reviews Tagged with: ,

Stuff for Gamers

Take a look at the shirts-n-things in our stuff for gamers store.

Archives