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Book Review: Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz (Series, #1)

Book Review: Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz (Series, #1)Summary:
‘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.

Review:
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

Source: Netgalley

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Book Review: My Big Fat Demon Slayer Wedding by Angie Fox (Series, #5)

July 24, 2014 3 comments

Woman in short wedding dress and black boots holds a sword. A dog in a bow tie is nearby.Summary:
Lizzie Brown, once preschool teacher turned demon slayer, is extremely excited to be marrying her true love, Dimitri Kallinikos, who just so happens to also be a magical shape-changing griffin.  And she’s also fine with letting her adoptive mother run the whole show, even though her mother wants to make the wedding into a week-long event.  She’s not so ok with having to tell her mother about being a demon slayer, though. Or about integrating her mother’s posh southern lady lifestyle with her recently discovered blood-related grandmother’s biker witch gang.  She’s pleasantly surprised that her mother found a goth-style mansion to rent for the wedding.  Maybe the magical and the non-magical can integrate fairly well, after all.  But then it becomes evident that someone in the wedding is trying to kill her.  Plus, they find demonic images around the property…..

Review:
This remains one of my most enjoyed urban fantasy series.  The world Fox has created is bright, witty, imaginative, and a real pleasure to visit, even though sometimes the main character can rub me the wrong way (she’s a bit too straight-laced for me sometimes).  Urban fantasy books can either keep the main character perpetually single or have her get married.  If they choose to get married, the wedding book winds up with a lot on its plate.  It’s hard to integrate the world of urban fantasy with the wedding scene a lot of readers enjoy reading about.  Fox achieves this integration eloquently, presenting an intriguing urban fantasy mystery, the clash of urban fantasy magical folks and real world expectations, and manages to show the wedding is about the marriage, not the party.

My main gripe with the previous book was Dimitri and Lizzie’s relationship.  Primarily that they don’t appreciate what they have, and how annoying that is.  I think the events of the previous book really snapped them out of it, because here, Lizzie and Dimitri have taken their relationship to another level.  They have a trust in and intimacy with one another that manages to withstand some pretty tough tests, and is a pleasure to read about.  It’s easy to see that this is a couple that is ready for a marriage.  It’s a healthy relationship that’s rare to see in urban fantasy.  At this point in the series, I can appreciate that Dimitri and Lizzie aren’t perfect in the earlier books.  Relationships change and grow with time, and Fox demonstrates that beautifully.  Of course, it’s still more fun to read about a happy couple than one bickering with each other over minor things.  But those hiccups in the relationship in earlier books helps make it (and the marriage) seem more real.

Similarly, Lizzie has grown with the series.  Where at first she’s annoyingly straight-laced, now she is not just starting to break out of that but is enjoying breaking out of it.  Seeing her adoptive mother pushes this issue to the forefront.  Lizzie is finally coming into her own, and she, and her loving mother, have to confront that.

[Lizzie’s mother] paused, straightened her already squared shoulders. “Is this type of style…” she waved a hand over me, “appealing to you? You look like a hooligan.” I let out a sigh. “Try biker.” (page 16)

Whereas this confrontation between Lizzie and her mother could have led to the mother looking like a bad guy, Fox leaves room for Lizzie’s mom to be different from her but still a good person and a loving parent.  They butt heads over different opinions, just as real-life parents and adult children do, but they both strive to work through them and love each other for who they are.  It’s nice to see how eloquently Fox handles that relationship, particularly with so many other plot issues going on at the same time.

The plot is a combination of wedding events and demon problems.  Both ultimately intertwine in a scene that I’m sure is part of many bride’s nightmares.  Only it really happens because this is urban fantasy.  How Fox wrote the plots to get to that point is enjoyable, makes sense, and works splendidly.  The climax perfectly demonstrates how to integrate urban fantasy and real life situations.  Plus, I did not come even close to guessing the ending, which is a big deal to me as a reader.

The wit and sex scenes both stay at the highly enjoyable level that has been present throughout the series.  Dimitri and Lizzie are hot because they are so hot for and comfortable with each other.  The humor is a combination of slapstick and tongue-in-cheek dry humor that fits the world perfectly.  I actually laughed aloud quite a few times while reading the book.

Overall, this is an excellent entry in this urban fantasy series.  It tackles the wedding of the main character with a joyful gusto that leaves the reader full of wedding happiness and perhaps breathing a sigh of relief that no matter what may go wrong at their wedding, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as what can go wrong at an urban fantasy wedding.  Highly recommended to fans of the series.  You won’t be disappointed in Lizzie’s wedding, and you’ll be left eager to see her marriage.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Previous Books in Series:
The Accidental Demon Slayer, review
The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, review
A Tale of Two Demon Slayers, review
The Last of the Demon Slayers, review

Book Review: Initiate by Tara Maya (Series, #1)

September 20, 2013 1 comment

A bunette wearing a white dress with blue embroidery gazes at a blue pixie.  The book's title and author's name are on the cover in blue and white lettering.Summary:
Dindi is about to undergo her people’s initiation test and ceremony that not only welcomes her to adulthood but also will determine whether or not she is a member of the Tavaedi.  The Tavaedi are a mix of religious leader, healer, and warrior who cast magic spells by dancing.  Since Dindi can see the pixies and other fae, she thinks she has a chance.  But no one in her clan has ever successfully become a Tavaedi.  Meanwhile, an exiled warrior, Kavio, is attempting to shed his old life and the haunting of his father’s wars and his mother’s powers.  But he slowly discovers a deadly plot that brings him directly to Dindi’s initiation ceremony.

Review:
It takes something special for me to pick up either a YA or a fantasy book, and this one is both.  But Jessica’s review over on The Bookworm Chronicles had me intrigued.  A fantasy series based on Polynesian tales and traditions is unique in fantasy.  Plus the idea of magic from dancing really appealed to the dancer in me (years of tap and jazz, also many lessons in ballroom, zumba, etc…).  When I found out the first book in the series is free on the Kindle, I had to try it out, and I’m glad I did!  I really enjoyed the book, and its presence highlights many of the strengths of indie publishing.

The world is richly imagined and well described.  The tribes and clans have clearly defined and described cultures that vary from stable farming to warrior to cannibal.  The structure of the societies make sense and are rich without being overly detailed.  I particularly appreciated that this is a tribal culture fantasy without ever claiming to be the real or imagined history of any known to exist (or to have existed) tribe.  It is inspired by Polynesian culture but it is still a fantasy, similar to how medieval fantasy is inspired by the real Middle Ages but never claims to be what happened.  This lends itself to rich world building without ever venturing off into ridiculous “historical” fiction.

The plot slowly builds Dindi’s story and Kavio’s story, gradually bringing them together.  This is good since Dindi is still young enough that she doesn’t see much of the intrigue going on around her.  Dindi’s perspective shows us the day-to-day existence of people in this world, whereas Kavio shows us the higher-ranking intrigue.  It didn’t bother me that Dindi starts out a bit innocent because it is clear she will grow in knowledge with time.  Meanwhile, bringing in Kavio’s perspective helps establish the world for the reader.  There were also enough smaller clashes and twists that I never felt that I knew precisely what was going to happen next.

Although the characters at first seem two-dimensional, they truly are not.  Everyone is more than what immediately meets the eye, and I liked that this lesson occurs repeatedly.  It’s a good thing to see in YA lit.  Dindi is strong, kind, and talented, but she still has her flaws.  She is good but she’s not perfect, which makes her a good main character.  I also appreciate that what will clearly be a romance eventually between Kavio and Dindi starts out so slowly with longing glances from afar.  It’s nice that Dindi and Kavio get a chance to be established as individuals prior to meeting each other, plus the slowly building romance is a nice change of pace for YA lit.

Sometimes the chapter transitions were a bit abrupt or left me a bit lost.  With changing perspectives like this, it would be helpful if the chapter titles were a bit less artistic and gave a bit more setting.  It’s nice that when perspective changes the cue of the character’s name is given, no matter where it happens, but a bit more than that would be nice at the chapter beginnings.  Similarly in scene changes, the break is three pound signs.  I think using a bunch of centered tildes or even a customized drawing, such as of pixies, would be nicer.  At first when I saw these I thought there was some coding error in the ebook.  There also are a few editing mistakes that should not have made it through the final edit, such as saying “suffercate” for suffocate (page 144).  As an indie author myself, I know it is incredibly difficult to edit your own book, so I give a pass to minor typos and things like that.  However, the entirely wrong word for what the author is trying to say should be fixed.  There were few enough that I still enjoyed the book, but I hope that there are less in the future installments of the series.

Overall, this is a unique piece of YA fantasy set in a tribal world inspired by Polynesia.  The romance is light and slow-building, and the focus is primarily on growing up and becoming an adult.  A few minor formatting and editing issues detract from it being a perfect escape read, but it is still highly enjoyable.  I intend to read more of the series, and I recommend it to fantasy and YA fans alike.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Note: the Kindle edition is free

Book Review: Soul Hunt by Margaret Ronald (Series, #3)

Blue-looking woman smelling the air.Summary:
Native Bostonian Evie Scolan is an adept bicycle courier and has her first real relationship in a while.  Of course, her life isn’t quite that simple.  First, she’s The Hound with an uncannily adept sense of smell that helps her find things.  Plus her boyfriend is a werewolf.  Then there’s the whole try to keep the magical Undercurrent in Boston under control so her beloved city doesn’t fall apart thing.  Not to mention the death sentence given to her by yet another sector of the Undercurrent giving her only until Midwinter to pull everything together.  Plus the Sox are sucking this season.

Review:
Yet again, I accidentally picked up a book that is partway through a series.  I’ve noticed this is a lot easier to do when it’s an ebook than a print book, because the print book tends to have a giant “3” or something on the binding, whereas the ebook gives you zero clue that this is part of a series.  Work on that, publishers.  Due to this fact, I spent the solid first half of the book trying to figure out what the heck was going on in Evie’s world.  Unlike paranormal romance that tends to offer up a quick recap of the important details, it would appear that urban fantasy isn’t so keen on that.  Well, that and Ronald’s world she has created is incredibly complex and hard to understand fully part-way into a series.

That aside, however, how is it for an urban fantasy novel?  Well, the fantasy element is strong and intensely connected to elements of urban living from good and bad neighborhoods to trolley tracks to old, abandoned buildings, to secret tunnels and ghosts.  This has it all if you’re after some seriously steeped fantasy.

Further, as a Bostonian myself, I can tell you that Ronald gets the local slang and layout of the neighborhoods right.  Personally, I think she’s a bit heavy-handed with the Red Sox love demonstrated by Evie.  I don’t really think Evie would be thinking about the Sox season sucking when she’s currently facing death, but maybe I’m just not enough of a fanatic myself.  Hah.

I think, perhaps, that why I couldn’t get into this partway through the way I could other series I started in the middle is that I don’t like Evie, and the mythos of the Undercurrent is way more confusing than it should be.  I can’t think of very much that’s appealing or redeeming about Evie as a character, which is problematic when she’s the heroine.  Similarly, she’s not beautifully broken or anything.  She reads as just…..average.  The fact that this is the case when she also has this weird supernatural nose is saying something.  Make Evie evil! Make Evie kick-ass! Just don’t make her so dull that I have zero doubt that I wouldn’t give her a second glance if I happened to see her on the streets of Boston.

Similarly, the mythos of the Undercurrent seems to change to suit the author’s needs.  Maybe I was missing plot twists from missing the earlier books, but it all just seems so much more complex than it needs to be.  Plus, what exactly makes Evie repeatedly go up against demigods when her only supernatural talent is the nose thing?  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  That and the whole part dog thing is just….ew.

I came into this wanting to love it, as I do with any book set in my home of Boston.  The fact is though, too much turned me off from it.  It is a fairly well-written urban fantasy, though, and a nice change from the typical southern setting we see.  I’d recommend it to urban fantasy fans looking for a change of scenery who don’t mind a rather ordinary heroine who’s basically part dog.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Spiral Hunt
Wild Hunt