October (Toby) Daye is a changeling — she’s half fae and half human. Half Daoine Sidhe to be exact. She has just enough fae features to not fit into the human world, but her magic is just weak enough to keep her from fitting into fae either. Toby was splitting the difference quite well, serving her fae liege as a private detective and living a semi-normal human life with her human husband. But when a bad fae turns her into a fish on a mission for her liege, and it takes fourteen years to be turned back, everything changes. Toby loses her family and her desires to have any ties to the fae world, but the fae world won’t let her be for long. A high-ranking fae who was also her friend turns up dead, killed by iron, and a curse means that Toby must investigate.
Interestingly enough, one of the later books in this series was recommended to me by an automatic readalike generator (whose name I know forget) as a readalike for Fudoki (review) a book set in historic Japan about a cat turned into a woman warrior. I was intrigued by the series, although I wasn’t certain of the connection to Fudoki, and so I put the first book on my wishlist. My future mother-in-law was kind enough to gift it to me during the height of my cabin fever during Boston’s historic winter this year. This book hits all the right tones for urban fantasy: a strong yet wounded heroine, a complex mystical world operating parallel to and sometimes overlapping with our own, a single book mystery for the heroine to figure out, and an overarching mystery that leaves the reader wanting to come back for more.
The book takes a little bit to get set up. There’s a flashback to before Toby was a fish then the book pops quickly forward to the (near) present when Toby escapes being a fish. It at first struck me as a bit of an odd beginning, but by the end of the book I was loving it. The fact that Toby has a 14 year gap means that there are elements about her world she has to learn or relearn, meaning when key parts of information need to be told to the reader, it comes across as natural that Toby will need to learn about it or remember it. She did have those 14 years away, after all. It’s a plot-telling device, but it’s smart. It also isn’t forgotten when it comes to Toby’s character. The fact that she lost her family and all those years deeply impact her psyche, and that’s as it should be. It helps automatically make her a more well-rounded character.
Halfings are common in urban fantasy, but the ones in this universe are particularly well-done, mostly because there’s just so many of them. Toby isn’t an anomaly, halflings are a constant, persistent problem for the fae to have to deal with. They don’t quite fit into fae, but they also can’t just banish them for the humans to deal with. The humans don’t even know they exist, in fact, most humans who do mate with fae never even know that they did. While some fae are open to and embrace the halflings, others are not. Similarly, some halflings will give anything to just fit into fae or into the human world, while others are comfortable living partly in each. The fact that there are so many halflings allows for a lot of diversity and keeps Toby from looking like a marked heroine. She is just one of many, dealing as she can. I appreciate the everywoman aspect this lends her.
Toby is also extremely likeable. She’s down-to-earth and matter-of-fact about everything. She has many quotes that sound like an average person talking but contain a kernel of wisdom. She’s a humble smart woman who maybe doesn’t realize just how much savvy she does have.
That’s the true value in wards; not keeping things out, but telling you if something’s managed to get in. (loc 537)
It can’t all be dreams because a broken dream will kill you as surely as a nightmare will, and with a lot less mercy. At least the nightmares don’t smile while they take you down. (loc 2428)
The fae world is incredibly complex and yet makes a lot of sense. There are many different types of fae, and they are smoothly introduced. My personal favorite are the Caid Sidhe. They are surely the reason this book was recommended due to my loving Fudoki. The Caid Sidhe are fae who shapeshift into cats, and even in bipedal form have some cat-like features and abilities. The king of the cats has a bit of a love/hate relationship with Toby that is fun to see. But also, fae cats. How is that not fun? Realistically, though, I wouldn’t have loved seeing the Caid Sidhe so much if there hadn’t been such a variety of fae. It’s a richly imagined world that is really fun to visit.
The mystery is good, with Toby investigating a murder. There were plenty of plot-twists, although I did guess the responsible party far in advance of the ending, which was a bit of a bummer. I also must say that I’m not really a fan of heroines getting wounded within an inch of their life only to be saved by magic repeatedly. It removes some of the sense of danger for me. I did appreciate that for once there was an urban fantasy heroine who was never threatened with rape. That was a nice change of pace. I’ll take forcibly changed into a fish over that any day.
Overall, this book sets up the incredibly complex fae world of the series, as well as establishes the heroine’s character and background quite well. Readers will easily fall into the incredibly imaginative world that Toby partially lives in that runs parallel to and sometimes hand-in-hand with our own. Some readers may find the mystery a bit predictable, but this is an excellent first entry in an urban fantasy series that will leave the reader eager to pick up the next and go back to this rich world as soon as possible.
4 out of 5 stars
Eugenia Markham is a shaman who spends her time sending the fae back to their own world. She hates the fae both for trespassing into our world and for kidnapping women into their own. When fae start referring to her by her given name, rather than her working name, she becomes concerned something is awry. What she discovers is a prophecy that will change everything.
I picked this up because I love Richelle Mead’s Georgina Kincaid series (review) so much. I wish any of the summaries I read of the book had even hinted at one of the big plot points, as I think how a reader responds to that plot point will dictate how much they enjoy the series overall.
Without revealing too much, early on in the book, fae start showing up and attempting to rape Eugenie. She finds out that there is a prophecy that her child will be the one to bring about large changes in the land of the fae. (This is not particularly a spoiler, it is revealed early on and there are even more plot twists later on to complicate this). What this means for the reader is that our main character must repeatedly physically fight off would-be rapists. If I had realized this was such a key plot point, I would not have personally picked up this book, and I think there are probably quite a few other readers who would be similarly bothered by this repeated scene of our heroine trying to fight off rapists. To be clear, this is not one single solitary incident. It is one of the main repeated problems for this character. Fae keep trying to rape her.
Another plot line is that the fae are known for kidnapping and raping young (this is specified, young, as in early to mid teens) human women. Because the fae have fertility problems. In fact, the case that Eugenie takes on early in the book is trying to save a teenaged girl who has been kidnapped by the fae. Eugenie normally doesn’t go into the land of the fae in a corporeal form (she does send her spirit via astral projection), but she agrees to in this case because she is so bothered by the knowledge that this teenage girl is facing a lifetime of rape.
These are just two non-spoiler examples of the rape plots, and there is at least one more that I won’t reveal as it’s a big spoiler. Readers who for whatever reason do not want to read either about rapes occurring off-screen or about the threat of rape or about a woman repeatedly having to physically fight off rapists should not pick this book up. These are key and frequent plot points in this book.
Having said this, I do not judge the book for including these plot points. Rape is a part of some fae mythology, and the author has every right to include it in an urban fantasy book based in fae mythology. I also think the author handles the inclusion of the rape and threatened rape well. Rape is never excused, rapists are denounced, and there are some fae characters who state they would never have sex with a human female who hasn’t consented. The author has a valid reason for including the rape plots, and she handles them well. I simply wish that it was clearer from the official book blurb what a large role rape plays in this book, and thus, in my review, I am being certain to be clear for potential readers the extent of rape plot points in this book.
So what about the rest of the book? Eugenie is mostly what one expects from an urban fantasy heroine. She is strong, talented, wears her hair short and hates dresses. She has a questionable roommate and a cover story of being some sort of private investigator. What makes Eugenie unique in urban fantasy is that she is a shaman trained by her step-father, and the only really supernatural humanoids in her world are the fae and some mythological shapeshifters from other cultures (think of Japanese myth’s shifters). Don’t come to this series looking for vampires and werewolves. You won’t find them. The fantastical world of this book is simply that there is another world of fae, and sometimes they cross over into ours.
The prophecy at the center of the book has more to it than it originally seems, and the plot twists are surprising and exciting. Yes, many urban fantasy books revolve around a prophecy that has our heroine at the center, but this is the first one I’ve seen in a while that’s more about the heroine’s child than the heroine herself.
As is to be expected, Eugenie has two potential love interests, a half kitsune (shape shifting fox) half human man and a fae. Personally, I didn’t like either of her love interests. One is too bourgeois/royal, and the other is too macho for my taste. But I can see how other readers would enjoy one or the other or both of them and appreciate Eugenie’s difficulty in deciding who has her heart.
The audiobook narration by Jennifer Van Dyck starts out a bit awkward and gets better with time. For the first half or so of the book, her narration can sometimes be a bit stilted. She almost sounds like she’s reading lists. She pauses at odd times. Also, her voice sometimes comes across as elderly, which doesn’t suit the tone of the book. For the most part, though, the narration doesn’t detract too much from the book, it simply doesn’t elevate it either.
Overall, this is an entry in the urban fantasy genre that sticks closely to the well-loved trope of a strong, non-girly woman battling supernatural forces while also adding on some unique elements, such as a prophecy about her future child and sticking to the fae of mythology. Readers should be aware that attempted rape and rapes occurring off-screen feature frequently in the book. The plot itself is twisting and exciting, with enough unique elements to keep regular readers of urban fantasy engaged. Recommended to urban fantasy fans looking for a universe that sticks more closely to the traditional mythical depiction of the fae world and who don’t mind the inclusion of rape and attempted rape in the plot of the book.
3 out of 5 stars
Maui wedding planner Pali Moon wouldn’t normally accept a last-minute request to plan a wedding when the groom is lost at sea, but the client wants to pay cash, and she is in debt up to her ears. Plus, the bride assures Pali that the groom’s best friend will stand in as his proxy if the groom hasn’t been found by the wedding date. What could possibly go wrong? Well, when a body washes up on shore….it turns out, a lot.
This would be a cozy mystery if it offered any type of recipes or patterns in the back, as it is, think of it as a light-hearted mystery with very little blood and some steamy kissing scenes. The story transports the reader to Hawaii with lovely described settings and keeps the reader there with an intriguing plot.
A wedding planner in Hawaii is just an interesting job to begin with. Plus, Pali has a bit of mystery to her. She admits from the very beginning that Pali isn’t her name, but the reader never finds out (in this entry in the series anyway) what her real name is. Why is she keeping it a secret? Plus, Pali’s friends (and enemies) are an interesting bunch. Her Native best friend who also runs the general store and officiates weddings is a breath of fresh air to the story. Her gay roommate may feel a bit expected at this point, but the author keeps him from verging too far into stereotype and gives of a hint of the three dimensions he could have in future installments. The bad guys may veer a bit toward caricature sometimes, but that lends the book part of its humor and lack of tension that is key to this type of mystery.
The mystery and plot consist of two main points of conflict. First, Pali is at risk of losing her business. Second, the missing groom and the bride’s family may not be precisely what they appear. This lends some realness to the character. She has more going on than this mystery that fell in her lap. It also gives her a reason for accepting a client who has a clear iffy feeling about them. That said, the will she or won’t she hold onto her business lacks some real tension, as it’s fairly clear that Pali will figure a way out of losing her business. With the missing groom conflict, while we know Pali will probably be safe, since she’s the main character, the rest of the characters are basically up for grabs for danger. This gives it just enough tension to stay interesting but not be stressful. Similarly, this plot was more well-written, with some unexpected yet believable twists. It also takes into consideration the local laws of Hawaii, so events stayed grounded in the real world.
The romance consists of two potential love interests. I am always a bit turned off when a main character has two people interested in them. It will never not feel a bit fake to me. However, the two potential love interests are handled in a balanced and modern way. Neither is the clear “right choice,” and readers could easily prefer one over the other while still liking the main character with either.
I also would like to mention that there is a good minor plot involving characters revealing that they are alcoholics who have been in recovery for a while. It’s good to see people with a mental illness that they have worked on and are actively managing in a positive way. I appreciate this diversity being included in this book.
Given all of these positives, why is it only an average read for me? There was nothing unexpected for this type of mystery. It is very similar to others I have read in the genre. Additionally, the main character can kind of rub me the wrong way sometimes. How she handles her love interests is not as up-front as it should be. It is also unclear as to how she managed to get herself into so much debt. It seems she might just be bad at balancing books but all for taking favors from friends. Similarly, she’s a white woman, albeit raised in Hawaii, but she goes by a Native name and never explains why, beyond the fact that she doesn’t like her own name. Add to this the fact that the romance didn’t really work for me, and this is why I consider this a rather average read. It may be more than average for you, if these factors I have named are not an issue for you.
Overall, this is a light-hearted mystery that transports the reader to the tropical island of Maui. Some readers may be a bit turned off by the main character or the romance secondary plot. Those who enjoy a non-tense mystery set in a tropical locale will most likely enjoy the read, however.
3 out of 5 stars
When the world is devastated by GMO plants over-running the land and destroying cropland, humanity splits into multiple factions. There’s the people who firmly believe in transforming people so that they can photosynthesize food from the sun–and have green skin. There’s the cannibals, who have returned to a hunter/gatherer way and eat humans when necessary. Unbeknownst to the green folk, there’s a holdout of Old Order Amish. They’ve changed from how they were in the past but still hold onto many of their ways. In particular, they have decided that taking green skin is the Mark of the Beast, and will not go for it.
Tula is a scientist among the green folk who is tasked with assisting cannibal children who are kidnapped and converted. Levi is an Amish who leaves the compound against orders, seeking yet another group of scientists who are supposed to live in a mountain and may have the cure to his dying son’s Cystic Fibrosis. When Levi is swept up in a green raid of cannibal land, his and Tula’s worlds collide with unimaginable consequences.
I picked this up because the cover of a green-skinned woman in a desert appealed to me, and then the description seemed like an interesting post-apocalyptic future. This is certainly and interesting and unique read for any fans of post-apocalyptic or dystopian literature.
The future is imaginative with many different groups and reactions to the botanicaust (the destruction of plant matter that is considered this world’s apocalypse). As someone who has studied the Amish, I appreciated how the author imagined how the Old Order would handle such a crisis and address it for the future. Allowing people into the compound if they are willing to convert seems logical, and showing that the Old Order did accept some technological innovation also makes sense. Similarly, the green scientists who seek to photosynthesize everyone and don’t seem to care too much if the cannibals want to be photosynthesized or not make logical sense. The scientists believe this is the solution in a world without enough food, and hey haven’t bothered to do any cross-cultural studying to see if there is any rhyme or reason or value to the cannibal lifestyle. This again is a logical position for a group of scientists to hold. The other group of scientists who live in the mountain and have managed to find the solution to not aging are a great contrast to the groups of greens. Whereas the greens do sometimes do evil but don’t intend to, they only intend to be helping (with the exception of one bad guy character), the mountain dwellers have been turned inhumane by their abnormally long lives. These three groups set up a nice contrast of pros and cons of scientific solutions and advancement. At what point do we stop being human and at what point are we being too stubborn in resisting scientific advancement? How do we maintain ethics among all of this? The exploration of these groups and these questions was my favorite part of the book.
The plot is complex and fast-paced, visiting many areas of the land and groups of people. I wasn’t particularly a fan of the romance, but I can see where others would find that it adds to the book. I just wasn’t particularly a fan of the pairing that was established, but for no reason other than it seemed a bit illogical to me. Then again, romance is not always logical.
The one thing that really bothered me in the book was the representation of Down Syndrome and the language used to refer to it and those who have it. The mountain scientists have children, but as a result of tampering with their own genetics, all of their children have Down Syndrome. First, I don’t like that this makes it appear as if Down Syndrome is a punishment to the evil scientists who went too far with science. Down Syndrome is a condition some people are born with. It is not a condition as the result of anything a parent did, such as fetal alcohol syndrome. Second, all of the characters with Down Syndrome are presented as large, bumbling oafs with hearts of gold. There is just as much variety to the personalities and abilities of those with Down Syndrome as there are in those of us without Down Syndrome. Finally, the author persists in referring to these characters as:
a Down’s Syndrome woman (loc 2794)
or of course, “a Down’s Syndrome man.” First, the preferred term for Down Syndrome is Down Syndrome, not Down’s Syndrome. This is a mistake that is easy to make, though (I have made it myself), and I am willing to give the author a pass for that. The more upsetting element in the way she refers to these characters though is that she always lists the condition first and then the person, not the other way around. It is always preferred, in any illness or condition, to list the person first and the illness or condition second. For instance, a woman with cancer, not a cancerous woman. A man with PTSD, not a PTSD man. A child with Down Syndrome, not a Down Syndrome child. I cringed every single time this happened, and it happens a lot in the section of the book that takes place in the mountain. Given that this is an indie book, and it is thus quite easy to make editing changes and fixes, I would hope that the author would go through and fix this simple aspect of language. It would be a show of good faith to the entire community of people who have Down Syndrome, as well as their families. For more on the preferred language when referring to Down Syndrome and people who have Down Syndrome, please check out this excellent guide, written by the National Down Syndrome Society.
It’s a real bummer to me that the language about Down Syndrome and presentation of these characters isn’t better, because if it was, this would have been a five star read for me.
Overall, this is an interesting and unique post-apocalyptic future with an action-packed plot. Those who are sensitive to the language used to refer to Down Syndrome and representation of people with Down Syndrome may wish to avoid it, due to an unfortunate section where characters with Down Syndrome are referred to improperly and written a bit two-dimensionally.
4 out of 5 stars
The author has written a thoughtful and kind comment on this post. You may view it by going below. To sum up, she cannot make edits to those book, due to it also having an audiobook version. However, she has promised to edit for these issues in future books containing characters with Down Syndrome. This genuine and thoughtful response is much more than the community of those with Down Syndrome and their families and loved ones often get, and it is very much appreciated.
Drumila, four-armed king of the daityas, seeks to take them above ground to escape their enemy the naagas, giant flame-breathing serpents. Meanwhile, Krishna (the highest-ranking god) sends his daughter, Nandini, to Earth in human form to weaken Drumila and keep him from crossing the barrier from Earth into the higher plains. Unfortunately, Nandini ends up liking Drumila a bit more than they bargained for.
I was excited to have a fantasy based in a non-European mythology submitted to me, and wow is this different from the typical European-based fantasy. In a good way. This is a dense, different fantasy with a strong learning curve unless the reader is already very familiar with Hinduism.
The basic story reads just like mythology. This has pros and cons. On the plus side, it feels quite fantastical. On the minus side, some of the plot points can be cringe-worthy (such as an unwanted kiss that could have turned into a rape if the female character hadn’t suddenly 180ed from zero interest to desire) and the characters can be a bit two-dimensional. This will bother some readers, but those who enjoy mythology, in spite of its shortcomings, will appreciate this read. Personally, I generally prefer if authors update and modernize their mythological rewritings a bit more, but not all readers feel that way.
The author is well-aware that Hindu mythology won’t be familiar to many Western readers, so he offers an extensive footnotes that are well hyperlinked in the ebook that explain both definitions of words and various aspects of Hindu mythology. This means that the reader learns a lot but it does also slow down the reading of the book and breaks up the immersion in the world. The footnotes are a good idea but perhaps if some of the words and concepts were better incorporated and explained within the writing itself then there could be fewer footnotes that offered greater explanations of more value.
The ending is a bit abrupt. It’s clear this is intended to be the first book in a series, but an extremely abrupt ending like this one makes it difficult to feel like the reader got a full book out of the deal. It feels more like the pilot of a tv show than the first book in a series.
I would give this book a more full review, but it has been pulled from publication since the review copy was sent to me. I really wish when authors and/or publishers choose to do this that they would notify those of us with review copies. While I enjoyed the read enough to not regret reading it, it feels rather silly for me to bother reviewing a book no one else can get their hands on anymore.
Overall, this is a fantasy book set firmly in the tradition of Hindu mythology that will best appeal to readers who enjoy the traditional features of mythology and don’t mind an abrupt ending.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
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