Someone has kidnapped the sons of the Duchess Dianda Lorden, regent of the Undersea Duchy of Saltmist. To prevent a war between land and sea, Toby must not only find the missing boys, but also prove that the Queen of the Mists was not behind their abduction. She’ll need all her tricks and the help of her allies if she wants to make it through this in one piece.
I’ll keep this review short and sweet, because if you’ve made it to book 5 in this series, you already know if the writing style works for you or not. So specifically, how did this particular plot work out?
This is the Toby Daye book I’ve liked least so far in the series. Part of that is probably for personal reasons, but part of it is for repetitive plot reasons. Toby just….seems to have to save children an awful lot. Now, I’m not saying that an urban fantasy that basically involves someone solving crimes in a world where there’s a huge taboo on murder of immortals won’t repeat some crimes. I am saying that I think doing abducted children again right after a book that did that theme so incredibly well (Blind Michael is the ultimate in creepy) is just too repetitive. There are actually some sly nods to the reader that the author knows abducted children plots are happening a lot. Toby comments something along the lines of gee she’s sure sick of saving children. If your main character is sick of saving kids, maybe the readers are tired of reading it. Just saying. Beyond that, there were two other things that made me meh about this plot.
First, we’re clearly supposed to sympathize with Toby in the whole “whyyy does everyone think I’m a terrible mother” plot, but honestly I don’t sympathize with her, and I do think she’s a terrible mother. So. There’s that. But I fully admit to having some of my own mom issues, so it might be harder for me to see this with a neutral viewpoint. Other readers may have a different experience. But be prepared to possibly like Toby less.
Second, you know how most romances have various love interests and you’re on a certain team? Well, I am 100% #TeamTybalt, and I was not pleased by all the Connor scenes. I just find him dull and drab and I am massively creeped out by the webs between his fingers that never go away. Plus…male selkies….eh. This book could easily be called the #TeamConnor book so readers who like him….enjoy. For the rest of us, you might find yourself rolling your eyes a bit.
I know that sounds like a lot of negatives but it is the book I’ve liked least in the series so far, in spite of really enjoying the series, so it seemed apt to discuss at length why it didn’t work so well for me. All of that said, I read it quickly, and I fairly soon picked up the next book in the series, so I certainly didn’t hate it. A lot about the series works really well for me, there are just certain aspects of this book and plot that I think might make it less enjoyable for certain readers compared to the rest of the series.
‘Mancy (magic) is illegal in this parallel world where people find their obsessions turn into magical powers. Paul Tsabo has spent his life fighting to keep ‘mancers off the street and instead brainwashed into a military force. See, the universe hates magic, and if you use it too much, it will retaliate. By doing things like destroying Europe. So the brainwashing is safer. The only problem is that Paul has found himself obsessed with bureaucracy and has developed into a bureaucromancer. A series of unfortunate events leads him into agreeing to make Flex–magic distilled into crystal form for the non-magical to get high on. Paul has officially turned into what he once hunted.
This is a pretty cool concept. It sounds like it’ll be Breaking Bad: Urban Fantasy Style. Unfortunately, a lack of world building and a lack of focus in the plot made the book fall flat.
Let’s start with what I liked. The concept of how magic comes to be is pretty neat. I like the social commentary that magic is outlawed and the only magical people are the ones with an abnormal level of obsession with things. Using the urban fantasy magic element really highlights how different can be both beautiful and dangerous.
A key part of the plot revolves around Paul, who is recently divorced, and his wife trying to figure out how to co-parent. Paul is a majorly invested father. He doesn’t just walk away after the divorce. That’s nice to see. Also, it’s an inter-racial family. Paul is white, his ex-wife is black, and their daughter is obviously bi-racial.
Romance is really not a part of this plot. I thought at first it might be when a new character is introduced but it actually turns out that she’s introduced to develop a friendship with Paul. How often do we get to see genuine friendships between men and women in literature? Not often.
Unfortunately these positives were hurt by other aspects of the book. The worst is that the book reads like it’s one book for the first half then completely changes course halfway through. Essentially, the first half of the book is about drugs and is basically Breaking Bad. The second half of the book that plot is totally dropped and instead the characters are pursuing a Big Bad Buffy the Vampire Slayer style. It’s jarring and makes it feel like you’re reading a draft rather than a final version of the book. Plus, the book is heavily marketed as the drug book, when in fact the drugs are just dropped in the middle of the book, which is disappointing if that’s what you were reading the book for.
The world also isn’t built enough. For instance, we know Europe disappeared but we don’t know precisely how or when. This is a parallel universe to our own. You’d think that something like Europe disappearing would lead to some major changes in the world, but no. It reads like New York City is precisely like how it is in our world just with added ‘mancers. This is illogical. It can’t be both ways. It can’t both be a world with major changes like no more Europe but also simultaneously exactly like our own.
The book reads like the author has an agenda that comes through too clearly at times. How much that will bother the reader will depend upon if the reader agrees with the agenda or not, I’d imagine. I didn’t so it bugged me more than it might bother others. I also felt that some of the descriptive writing was weak or lazy, leading to a two-dimensionality that veers dangerously toward being offensive.
Overall, this is a good idea that was poorly executed. There are some individually cool scenes, particularly if you like seeing an interplay between our world, magic, and videogames. Recommended, then, to readers who seek out scenes like that and don’t mind the other weaknesses laid out in this review.
3 out of 5 stars
Supernatural bounty hunter Zyan Star jets down to Rio right before Carnival to meet a potential new client. She’s taken by surprise when that new client just so happens to be Raoul Cabrera, the half demon half faery supernatural overlord of Brazil. He routinely rubs elbows with Lucifer, and Zyan isn’t too keen to work with him. She’s even less inclined to when she finds out he brought in a second bounty hunter, Donovan McGregor. But Raoul persuades her…by threatening her friends. So Zyan finds herself working with Donovan against a herd of Nightmares–horse spirits that torment people with visions of their worst fears before devouring their flesh.
This was one of my accepted indie ARCs for 2016 (see complete list here). I accepted it for the combination of Rio and evil horse spirits, and I started with reading it first because I was in the mood for some light-hearted urban fantasy. What I found was a novella that set up a world I was quite interested in but left me wanting more.
Zyan is mostly a typical urban fantasy heroine, but her two friends who came with her to Rio intrigued me. I got a Buffy and her friends vibe from the group, and I appreciated an urban fantasy heroine who’s comfortable relying on other people and being open about her friendships right from the get-go. The setting was bright, colorful, and well-described, and Rio isn’t something I’ve personally seen before in an urban fantasy. The Nightmares were everything the description promised to me and more. I found them both adorable and deliciously frightening. The plot twists in a way I wasn’t expecting and brings in a new character I was happy to see.
But this novella did leave me wanting more. It is a fine line between wanting more in a good way and being left with not enough to ever fully get into the story. This fell into the latter end of that. A novella doesn’t have room to set up a ton of backstory but the reader still needs to feel as if the smaller plot within the novella is fully told. While some of the scenes felt fully fleshed-out, others read more like initial outlines for a larger story. For about half of the novella, I felt the author needed to come back through and add some things in, in order for the reader to be able to get fully into the mini-episode of Zayn’s life being told. I also must admit that I wasn’t too keen on the vibe between Zayn and Donovan. I hesitate to call it a romance, as it reads more like a simple sexual attraction. It’s not that I’m against that in an urban fantasy, but it read as a bit forced and took away time in the short novel from the main plot I was more interested in.
Overall, readers looking for a short dip into an urban fantasy world or who just want to see the Nightmares in action will enjoy this read. Readers who are familiar with Zayn from other stories will probably enjoy it most of all, but it’s also a good way to get a taste of Zayn and see if you would like to read more. I know I would certainly like to read a full length book featuring Zayn and her friends.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
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It’s September 1768 in Boston, Massachusetts, and the King’s navy has sailed into Boston Harbor to start an occupation in an attempt to restore order and stop the stewing rebellion. Conjurer and thieftaker Ethan Kaille isn’t sure how he feels about the occupation but he is sure how he feels about the large spells he’s started feeling in Boston–not good. He feels even worse he finds out that all the men on board one of the British ships have been killed by a conjuring. The British navy hires him to investigate, while the mayor of Boston threatens to have all conjurers hanged in mere days if he doesn’t find the culprit.
I loved the first book in this series. Urban fantasy set in a historical time period in the city I actually live in just appealed to me so much. (I really do wish there was more historical urban fantasy. It is awesome). This book failed to capture my attention the way the first in the series did, and I’m uncertain if it was due to the tone, the plot, or the audiobook narration.
Ethan comes across as a bit more insufferable in this entry than in the first. Perhaps as an American and a Bostonian I just simply struggle to understand Loyalist leanings, but Ethan siding with the Crown over and over again, in spite of a literal military occupation just rubbed me the wrong way. It takes him far too long to be irritated by this over-reaction from the Crown, in spite of being on good terms with some of the Patriot leaders. I suppose what it comes down to is that I could take his waffling in the first book when rebellion was just beginning to brew. I thought he was closer to being on the Patriots’ side by the time period of this book, and he wasn’t. This would bother some readers less than it bothered me, I am sure.
Similarly, I had a hard time caring about the plot. I cared about Ethan solving the mystery in time to save the conjurers, but I simply didn’t care who had killed the men on the occupation ship. Everyone in the book, even the Patriots leaders, seemed to think it was this huge evil thing, and I just didn’t care much one way or the other. Part of this could be because I don’t see the difference between casting a spell and murder in other ways, whereas the characters in the book do. Part of it is that the reader never gets a chance to get to know anyone on the ship in a way that would make them sympathize. It felt for a lot of the book like Ethan was investigating a calamity of war, rather than a crime, and that just made it a bit dull to me.
All of that said, this book is a poor fit for an audiobook. I am certain I would have enjoyed it better if I was reading it myself, in retrospect. The pacing just isn’t suited to an audiobook’s speed. I wanted it to go faster, and I did speed up the narration speed, but I couldn’t speed it up too much or I’d miss important things. It was a bit frustrating, in spite of the narrator’s talents at creating unique voices for each character, which is something I always appreciate.
The ending of the book does speed up its pace, and the solution to the mystery is fascinating. This saved the book for me, although I am uncertain if I will continue along in the series. I may need to poke around and see if Ethan goes fully Patriot in the next book before I venture to pick it up.
Overall, this entry in the series fails to live up to the first, although an interesting ending will still spur the reader on to the next entry in the series. Readers who will be turned off by Loyalist leanings in a Revolutionary War book may wish to look elsewhere. But those who simply enjoy seeing urban fantasy in a historic era will not be disappointed.
3 out of 5 stars
One of Toby’s oldest friends is in dire trouble. Lily of the Tea Gardens is slowly fading away, and no one knows what’s causing it. On top of that, one of Toby’s worst nemeses whose name is feared throughout Fae, Oleander, is back. Are the two related or is something else going on? And can Toby save the day without losing herself?
I picked this book up expecting it to be another mystery of the week entry in the series, but what I found was a surprising development in the overarching plot that kept my heart in my throat but also left me dubious about the possible directions the next book could take.
The plot starts out similarly to the previous entry in the series. Someone close to Toby is in danger. In this case, it’s Lily, and she’s sick, slowly fading out of existence. Over the course of the book, others close to Toby end up sick as well, as it soon becomes clear (this is really not a spoiler, it’s revealed early on) that someone is poisoning them. When Oleander showed up, I nearly groaned at how obvious it felt that she is the one to blame for all of this. But it’s not quite that straight-forward, and there’s also a sub-plot of Toby possibly going crazy….which changelings are known to do in this world. The book then isn’t just about Toby trying to solve the mystery, it’s also about her trying to determine if her blood has doomed her to sink into insanity. This gives the plot enough depth to keep it interesting.
Long-standing characters receive more depth of character development and new ones are added. Toby cotinues to have the wit that keeps the book upbeat even when things are grim. One quote in particular I think would work pretty well as a fitspo positive argument:
I promised myself that if I lived, I’d start working out. Better cranky and alive than cheerful and dead. (loc 1815)
As for the plot twist, I can’t talk about it much without spoilers. The spoiler free review would be that I am concerned the big overarching plot twist moves things a bit too far into one hero to save us land, which isn’t a fantasy plot I personally usually enjoy. For the spoiler version of this, see the next paragraph.
It is revealed that Toby is not the type of Fae she thought, she is rather a very rare type of Fae. This type of Fae is capable of changing the make-up of their own blood. She can thus morph into more Fae, changeling, or human as she desires. It also turns out her mother is from the first born, which makes her kind of Fae royalty. My issue with this is one of the things I like so much about the series is that Toby lacks the magical powers to the extent the Fae have. She also doesn’t fit into the human world. But she fights for her right to be in the world she chooses to live in, and her value in the Fae world is due to how hard she tries and her brains, not her blood. This plot development feels like it’s making it all about her blood. Her power is due to whose daughter she is, not who she herself is. That’s just not a message I’m as fond of.
Overall, this is an action-packed entry in the series that visits another mystery with enough different sub-plots and twists to keep it interesting. Fans of the series will be surprised by the big overarching plot development toward the end of the book and will be eager to pick up the next one to see where this plot development goes.
4 out of 5 stars
When two of Toby’s good friends’ children go missing from their own bedroom and another won’t wake up from being asleep, they call Toby in immediately to look for them. Soon the King of Cats reports that some of his kingdom’s children are missing too, and Quentin’s human girlfriend disappears as well. It quickly becomes clear that it’s time for the 100 year cycle of Blind Michael’s Hunt. Blind Michael, the Luidaeg’s brother, is incredibly powerful, and only three roads lead to his realm. Toby can only take each road once. That means she has only three chances to save the children and stop the Hunt.
I picked this book up immediately after finishing the second in the series and, oh man, it did not disappoint. This book presents an old school Brothers Grimm style blood-curdling, toes-curling fairy tale, peppered with characters we’ve already come to know and love.
Blind Michael is scary. What he does to the children is really scary. He turns the fae children into “Riders” monstrous twists on real fae features. He turns the human children into their horses for them to ride. Everything about Blind Michael and his twisted land scared the crap out of me, and I don’t scare easily. It was exactly the sort of scare I used to seek out as a child from the original Grimm Fairy Tales (the ones that are not cleaned up). This book goes a lot darker than the first two, which were already dark, and it went there in such a different way from the first two plots. The first two plots were entirely about murder, here we have someone stealing children from their beds. It’s a completely different type of scare and different sort of mystery for Toby to have to figure out.
The plot tells more than just this one mystery, though, it also brings out some information that is key to the overarching plot of the series. I really enjoyed how smoothly this was worked together, and I also must say I didn’t predict at all where it was going.
There are basically two themes in the book, one I appreciated and the other I didn’t particularly agree with. Let’s start with the one I didn’t agree with.
There’s a theme in the book that children on some level must deal with and be held responsible for the choices of their parents. Toby tries to pretend otherwise, but that doesn’t work out so well for her.
Blood will tell. I tried to pretend it wouldn’t that we could change, but blood always tells. We carry the burdens of our parents. (loc 312)
It basically reads as the idea that you can’t run away from your family or from your blood, your nature. Personally, I don’t like that frame of thought. You can leave your family of birth and not have to be held responsible for them. You are not your parents. You are your own person. You are not responsible for what your parents do after you leave home. So this theme didn’t sit well with me. Other readers who agree with this theme will obviously enjoy it more.
The other theme was one I was quite happy to see so directly addressed in an urban fantasy and that is of suicidal ideation. There are many different ways that suicidal ideation can manifest, but with Toby her symptoms are that she firmly believes her death is imminent and is planning for it, and she repeatedly throws herself into risk situations because she doesn’t care if she dies. Suicidal ideation essentially means that a person is lacking self-preservation instincts and is ok with dying. They won’t actually commit suicide but they will put themselves into dangerous situations because part of them does want to die. So they might run across a street without looking, go walking alone at 2am in a dangerous neighborhood, etc… Toby’s depression from the first two books has grown so much that she is now at this point, and people have started calling her out on it. Seeing her realize that she’s, in layman’s terms, got a death wish, is interesting and well-done. What I appreciate most about it is how directly it is addressed.
Because, dear October, you’re the most passively suicidal person I’ve ever met, and that’s saying something. You’ll never open your wrists, but you’ll run head-first into hell. You’ll have good reasons. You’ll have great reasons, even. And part of you will be praying that you won’t come out again. (loc 3876)
Overall, this entry in the series brings back the characters readers have come to love and puts them into a new mystery much more terrifying than the first two. Two strong themes in the book include nature/nurture/ties to parents and dealing with suicidal ideation. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed. This is a roller coaster ride of emotions and peril.
4 out of 5 stars
Toby Daye, changeling, private detective, and knight to the knowe of the powerful Sylvester, feels like she has her feet back under her after returning to human form after 14 years as a fish and also solving the murder of a powerful fae. When her liege requests she go investigate why he hasn’t heard from his niece in a while, she expects it to be a quick visit, although possibly a bit irritating since she has to bring along young Quentin, a teenaged full-blooded Daoine Sidhe fae. Sylvester’s niece just so happens to own the only fae tech company, and she claims that she has indeed been calling her uncle. But when an employee turns up dead and Toby finds out there have been two mysterious deaths previously, she realizes there’s more here than immediately meets the eye, particularly since she can’t read anything from the blood of the dead.
I enjoyed the first book in this urban fantasy series about a changeling investigator so much that I immediately checked out the second ebook from the Boston Public Library on my kindle. (If you have an ereader, definitely check out if your local public library will let you do this. It saves me so much money!) This book brought me right back into the wonderfully built world of Toby and offered up a new murder mystery even more mysterious than the first.
Readers of the first book know that Toby’s special fae power is the ability to read a person’s memories from tasting their blood. I found it startling and intriguing that McGuire immediately took this power away from Toby in the second book. There’s nothing to read in the victims’ blood. Why is that? It’s a plot I may have expected in the fourth or fifth book, but not so soon. From a writing perspective, it’s bold to take away your hero’s superpower in only the second book in the series. And it works. There’s ultimately a logical explanation for why the blood is telling Toby nothing (and no, it’s not Toby’s fault), so it never feels like a gimmick. I think that is what I like most about this series. The author utilizes techniques that could easily turn into a gimmick but she always keeps it from actually being a gimmick so it instead is utterly engaging and enthralling.
The fae world is also clearly much larger than we originally saw in the first book. The fae have a tech company so that they can rework modern technology to work in the fae knowes. On top of that, we also meet many more races of fae, as well as ways for the races we already know to exist and appear. For instance, Sylvester’s niece, January, has a daughter. But her daughter is in fact a tree fairy. Tree fairies are normally tied to a tree or a forest, so how is she in this tech building? January tied her branch to the computer server after her forest was destroyed, and she was able to keep living after adapting into the server and treating the server as a forest. Very cool idea, and it works beautifully in the story.
Even though I was basically able to predict whodunnit, I couldn’t figure out why or how, so the plot still satisfied me as I waited for Toby to figure all of that out.
One thing that kind of disappointed me in the book is that Toby meets a type of fae who can emit a magical scent that makes the person smelling it think they are massively attracted to him and thus sleep with him. They then become obsessed with this type of fairy, and the fae feeds off of the obsession. I was glad to see the book treat this as rape (basically drugging someone into sleeping with you) but I was also disappointed to see our heroine have to face off against an attempted rape. As I said in my review of the previous book, I get really tired of urban fantasy heroines being threatened constantly by rape. My hope is that this was a one-off type thing to introduce the concept of this type of fae rather than the new normal for the series.
Toby herself and the worldbuilding continue to be my two favorite aspects of the series. The plots are good, but I’d read almost anything plot-wise to visit Toby and her world again.
The essence of Toby and why I love her is evident in this quote:
Long dresses weren’t designed for walking in the woods. My mother could’ve made the walk without stumbling; she fits into the world that well, even insane. That’s what it means to be a pureblood. I stumble and fall, and I always get up and keep going. That’s what it means to be a changeling. (page 371)
Picking a quote to show why I love the worldbuilding so much is a bit harder, but here’s a particular favorite that really punched a visual of what this world is like home for me. In this passage, Toby is explaining that she and her mother are Daoine Sidhe and can see memories through blood:
My mother was so strong she could taste the death of plants. She could never stomach maple syrup; she said it tasted like trees screaming. (page 91)
As a born and raised Vermonter who grew up harvesting maple syrup, that line was a bit of a gut punch. An eloquent one.
Overall, readers of the first entry in the series will be pleased with this second outing. Toby continues to be a strong character set in a fascinating world. The mystery plot is another murder, but it is a series of murders and has a very different solving pattern and outcome than the first. Recommended to fans of the first book to continue on to the second as soon as they can.
4 out of 5 stars