May 2010

This is the first book in Shearin’s fantasy series. It’s set in a city which is set in a secondary world with elves and goblins.

Raine Benares is a Seeker who finds lost items. She’s not especially powerful but she has connections and friends. While she’s an orphan and doesn’t even know who her father is, she’s very much a part of her mother’s family who are mostly pirates and thieves. She’s also in very good terms with her sorceress landlady and the landlady’s grandson is almost like a little brother to her.

Quentin Rand is a supposedly retired thief who Raine employs sometimes. He has a habit of getting into trouble and so Raine feels protective towards him. When she notices that Quentin is about to break into a necromancer’s home, Raine decides to follow him and make sure he doesn’t kill himself. Raine’s cousin, the handsome pirate captain Phaelan, comes along as her trusty sidekick.

Things go wrong, of course, and Raine finds herself in possession of a mysterious amulet. A lot of people want the amulet. Among them is the notorious goblin grand shaman and his crack troops who will murder and torture to get what they want. The supposed good guys are also after the amulet. The head of the order of Guardians (who is quite powerful, not to mention handsome, too) turns up with his men.

The plot is quite fast-paced and has a lot of people. Most of the time Raine has a sidekick with her; either Phaelan or her landlady’s grandson Piaras. This was quite amusing to me because I’m used to male characters who have female sidekicks (or less powerful male sidekicks) to protect and it worked well.

The world has at least three intelligent races, humans, goblins, and elves, which can apparently interbreed with each other and get along well enough to live in the same cities, although each in their own part of the city. They use rapiers instead of heavier swords and their ships have cannons. There was no mention of pistols or muskets, and if they exist, the Guardians would have probably used them. I was a bit uncomfortable with such modern concepts as diplomatic immunity and ordinary city watchmen giving tickets to nobles in a fantasy book. Oh, and goblins aren’t green skinned little uglies but look like humans except for a light gray skin. Some of them are even very handsome to elven eyes.

I also had a minor problem with the English names: a feared necromancer named Nigel? Really? Mychael is also not fantasy enough for me.

There’s some romance in the book as well and I’m afraid I didn’t much care for it. Now, Mychael is someone new and I can see why Raine would be attracted to him. But Tam? Tam is handsome, charming, and rich. He flirts with Raine every chance he gets. Raine’s knees go weak every time she sees him. Apparently they’ve known each for years. My question is: why haven’t they gotten together long time ago? The only reason I can come up with is that the writer wants unsatisfied sexual tension. Not good enough.

The city of Mermeia was interesting. It seems very cosmopolitan, especially for a technology-hampered fantasy land, and when the gondolas were mentioned, I realized that it felt like Venice. I adore Venice. The book also had a event which I love and don’t see enough: a masked ball. Alas, the ball wasn’t milked for everything possible but was fun nevertheless.

The book is lighthearted fun but it does have a lot of characters, factions, and politicking. I enjoyed that but it might get confusing to some.

Booking Through Thursday

What books do you have next to your bed right now? How about other places in the house? What are you reading?

About twenty; the ones I intend to read next. I have over 200 books in my apartment on various bookshelves.

I’m currently reading Brokedown Palace by Steven Brust and relistening Black Powder War by Naomi Novik.

This is the first book in the Retrievers UF series.
I was inspired to get this book because of SciFiGuy’s recommendation.

Genevieve “Wren” Valere is a witch. Her specialty is tracking things and staying unremarkable. Her business partner is Sergei Didier who seems to be a mild-mannered, if eccentric, gallery owner. Together they are Retrievers. They find things that have gone missing and bring them back without asking any questions from their clients. Wren traces the things, magically or not, and retrieves them while Sergei gets them clients and handles the money. They have been in business together for ten years.

This time, they’ve been hired to find a magical cornerstone which was stolen right out a building in the middle of New York. Wren scouts the place but can’t directly trace the thief. So, she and Sergei have to do it the old fashioned way. But the more they know about the case, the more difficult it gets.

When I ordered this book, I had no idea it was a Luna imprint which is a Romance SF line. I noticed the logo only when I had book in my hands. I don’t mind romance as a sub-plot but I don’t really care for it as the main plot and so I was a bit worried. However, the romance between Wren and Sergei is really low-key. They’ve recently started to be attracted to each other and they angst about it a bit, but don’t manage to do anything about it.

Both Wren and Sergei are loners and have trouble trusting other people. They both hold secrets from the other. Wren is happy to befriend non-humans while Sergei don’t like them at all. Also, Wren is a magic user and Sergei is not. They complement each other nicely.

The world is full of non-humans called the fatae. However, they seem to be created by magic-using humans rather than being natural creatures. They have clans such as piskies, demons, and angels. The ones that are shown in the book don’t look like humans. For example, P.B. is a demon who looks like a polar bear complete with fangs and claws.

The humans who can use magic are a tiny minority but have still managed to fracture into squabbling factions (ah, humanity!). The most mages are ruled by the Council who is made up of three men and one woman who have both magical power and mundane power. Freejacks are mages who don’t want to be ruled by the Council’s iron fist. Often enough, they have to still obey the Council’s demands. Wren is a Freejack. Then there are the wizzards who have gone insane from using magic and are a danger to everyone else.

The fatae and the Freejacks have a social network called the Cosa Nostradamus where they exchange information and gossip.

Unfortunately, the world-building had some inconsistencies. This is world where magic is supposed to be a secret and most people don’t believe in magic. Unfortunately, that’s a very difficult conspiracy to maintain when 1, magic is showy (people levitating, teleporting, moving objects without touching them, attacking with energy balls coming from their hands etc.), 2, non-humans are part of the society (P.B. is a messenger walking around on the streets of New York, the girl with hoofs instead of feet works in an ice cream shop), and 3, magic-users offer their services to ordinary humans. If the humans don’t know that they’re good at their magical jobs, why would they hire them?

Also, because people don’t supposedly believe in magic, government doesn’t either and there’s no secret government branch putting their noses into the magic community. Unfortunately, that’s the opposite of how people in power operate.

Thirdly, Wren make an off-hand comment that people aren’t interested in ghosts and by extension the possibility of an afterlife. That just doesn’t sound like the human race I know.

Some reviewers said that the book is slow. Yes, the pace is leisurely most of the time but it fits the writing style. This is a book where the main characters have the time to eat, shower, and sleep.

The book is written in the third person. The main point-of-view character is Wren and the major secondary POV is Sergei. There are also short chapters from the POV of the bad guys.

Entertaining and readable.

Larissa at Larissa’s Bookish Life has a post and a giveaway about Kick-Ass Heroes:

It’s amazing that there so many powerful and kick-ass women in the literary world, but sometimes, I just can’t help getting a kick of reading about these heroes that care so much that they’d move hell and earth to save and defend the people they love. What is not to like about that?
What about you guys?
Who is your favorite Kick-Ass Hero?
What makes a man a Kick-Ass hero, in your opinion?

Well, my standards for Kick-ass Heroes are pretty much the same as for the heroines: must be able to win most of his fights and defend the helpless and the innocent. And be male.

My favorite Kick-Ass Hero is, of course, Batman from classic comics. For some reason, none of the movie Batmans have managed to come close.

There are quite a few superheroes who fit this category, of course: Captain America, Thor, Superman etc. Wolverine is a bit of a fringe case because sometimes he goes on a killing spree.

In literature, there are quite a few violent heroes. I tend to like heroes from somewhat older books than Larissa who is asking about urban fantasy heroes. Quite frankly, I haven’t yet met any of these newer heroes who can hold candle to the older cadre:
John Carter of Barsoom, the best swordsman in two (or possibly three) planets. Aragorn and Legolas from both books and movies. Both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo kick ass as well. Personally I’d put in Indiana Jones in this category as well even though he does lose fights quite often, too. King Arthur and his knights are more classic example.

Robin Hood is maybe the epitome of defending the innocent but in the older stories he tends to lose fights – at least against men who will become his companions.

So, do you know any urban fantasy heroes who could take on Batman or John Carter? I’d love to know!

Booking Through Thursday

What’s the most useful book you’ve ever read? And, why?

Well, the most obvious answers are text books and non-fiction in general because they’ve helped me graduate from various schools.

But sometimes fiction can be useful, too. For example, last year was quite stressful for me and reading through the classic Fantastic Four graphic novels helped me unwind.

I’m afraid I can’t pick just one useful book, though.

It’s the middle of May so it’s time to look at how I’ve done so far with the to-be-read pile challenge.

I decided to read 24 books or 2 books a month from my looming pile of books. The number is so low because of review books (which can’t be in my to-read-pile and so far haven’t been in my to-be-read- lists, either) and audio books which I tend to buy from Audible. So far, I’ve read:

1, Elizabeth Peters: The Hippopotamus Pool
2, Kristine Smith: Rules of Conflict
3, R. A. MacAvoy: Tea with the Black Dragon
4, Ilona Andrews: Magic Bites
5, Amanda Cross: In the Last Analysis
6, Ian Rankin: Knots and Crosses
7, Julie Czerneda: To Trade the Stars
8, Jim Butcher: Fool Moon
9, Kate Elliott: Shadow Gate
10, Elizabeth Bear: Hell and Earth
11, Martha Grimes: The Man with the Load of Mischief

11 books so I’m slightly ahead of schedule!

On the other hand, I’ve bought 5 books:
Star Trek: Titan books 3 and 4
Jocelynn Drake: Nightwalker
Laura Anne Gilman: Staying Dead
Lori Devoti: Amazon Ink

So the pile has been brought down by 6 books in total! Yay!

Incidentally, buying just 5 books in 5 months is very little for me. It’s probably the lowest amount I’ve bought for years.

This is the second book in the historical fantasy duology Stratford Man dealing with Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe, and their careers as magicians and spies for the Queen.

Hell and Earth starts where Ink and Steel ended; Will back on Earth and Kit back in the Seelie Court. They continue to protect both Queen Elizabeth and the Faerie Queen the Mebd from conspiracies. Will has learned that his poetry has magic which can influence people or even the fate of England. He and his compatriots, among them Ben Jonson and Thomas Walsingham, decide to do a new translation of the Bible. Which is, of course, heresy.

After his brief stay in Hell, Kit has been changed; other people’s touch brings him pain. He can still be in his lovers’ company but can’t really touch them anymore. He longs for Will and stays on Earth with him as long as he can. However, the dark Prometheans who tortured him before, have still more plans for him. And so has Lucifer.

The chapters alternate with either Will or Kit as the point-of-view character. Each chapter starts with a short quote from either Shakespeare, when the POV character is Will, or Marlowe, when the POV character is Kit. A few times the POV changes in the middle of a chapter and then a quote also shows the change. I thought this was very elegant.

Again, both Kit and Will go through emotional wringer and physical torture as well. The plot is mostly political intrigue although this time in London. The Faerie Court is seen only briefly.

My only complaint is the lack of female characters which is, of course, totally appropriate for the setting. Both Queens are only seen briefly and they are more the motive for other character than actors themselves. Annie Shakespeare does appear, though.

I love these books to bits! They are full of history and mythology and literature. I really should read Faustus again.

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