1st in a series


The prequel book to a steampunk fantasy series the Guild Chronicles.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: Claymore Ulfberht & Xiphos LLC
Page count: 292 at GoodReads

Frederick “Dolly” Williamson is a detective at Scotland Yard, in Victorian London. When sir Francis Chilton, one of the senior partners in a highly influential bank, is found dried to a husk in his own house, Dolly is sent to investigate. He calls in Rose Caldwell, a former nun who has lots of skills and knowledge of the occult. Unfortunately, she’s also considered a witch by the public as well as Dolly’s colleagues and boss. However, Rose’s alchemical devices and magical talent turn out to be invaluable in the occult mystery. Another man is found similarly murdered, and the Home office hoists upon Dolly two French occultists who claim to know who is responsible and want to help in her capture. However, they have their own goals.

This story is set in quite a complex world with both steampunk devices and alchemical/magical devices. The occultists have variety of powers, able to take over another person’s mind, project themselves to astral plane, and even use devices to prolong their lives, but with the expense of another’s life essence. Rose can also summon angels to help her. But mostly she constructs and uses various magical devices. Some can see what magical events have happened in the past, others protect against spells.

While most people don’t know that magic really works, Dolly has had previous experience with them and knows that magic and magical threats are real. He works as best he can in the ordinary world and in the magical world. However, he’s not keeping the magic a secret nor is anyone expecting him to do so. Most people just don’t believe it. Dolly is a diligent detective and questions, as best he can, the wealthy and influential people affected by this case.

While Rose is a former nun, she didn’t quit because she lost faith. Quite the contrary: she was excommunicated because she dared to learn about the magic and use it. She’s very much out of her luck in this story, barely making enough money to rent a small apartment and drinking everything else. She has some quite interesting friends.

The cast is quite large. In addition to the people connected directly to the case such as the French Necronist guild members, we meet Chinese gangsters, Haitian Voodoo practitioners, London’s own occultists, and workers’ rights activists. The story has many POV characters, as well, even though Dolly and Rose are the main characters. A few characters aren’t directly related to the case, so I presume they play a large role in the series and so are introduced to us already.

While the main mystery is solved, this is obviously the first in series book. The ending opens up a couple of plot threads for the series.

This was an interesting read and a very imaginative setting. Rose was definitely my favorite character and the most distinct one, except for the murderer. I also really enjoyed the idea of the French necronists guild and that was expanded well near the end.

However, the book had a lot of minor errors with spelling, dialog tags, and more.

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The first book in the Fatal duology. Part of the action/adventure bundle I bought from Storybundle in 2015.
It’s a modern-day thriller/mystery.

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook
Publisher: Reprobatio ltd.
Page count: 345 at Adobe Digital Editions

Another country, Myanmar in this case, is counterfeiting American hundred dollar bills. Unfortunately for them, someone on the inside decides to take their own cut and takes a million of the counterfeit dollars to US and buys some valuable antiques with them. The fakes are so good that they get through an airport currency exchange office. When the Myanmar finance minister realizes what has happened, he sends a pair of very efficient killers on the trail of the money to get it back.

Tess is a former computer programmer who didn’t like working with tight deadlines in a cubicle at all. So, now she’s a bike messenger for Red Caps, in New York. She loves the freedom at her work, has casual sex with musician Nick, and doesn’t worry about tomorrow. However, someone starts to murder female bike messengers in a very gruesome way and she becomes unwittingly embroiled in the counterfeiting scheme and becomes a target twice over.

Ron Stanford is a detective in the NYPD, specializing in serial killers. He starts to investigate the gruesome murders of the bike messengers and is immediately attracted to Tess. But he puts his feelings aside and concentrated on the murderer who kills more and more quickly. He also consults on other strange murders which seem to be the work of a professional or a pair of professionals.

Despite how different these two storylines are, they work together surprisingly well. However, since the plots are joined only but a couple of characters, that means that the cast of characters is quite large. There are many, many viewpoint characters, including the serial killer and the two Asian killers. However, I had no trouble following the stories or the characters. Only one other POV character besides Tess is a woman and she’s seen very briefly.

Tess is an interesting character for the most part, despite being drop-dead gorgeous, like very many female characters tend to be. She’s living day-to-day, enjoying her life and not worrying much about anything else. In contrast, Ron has been through a recent divorce and is a career cop. Their courtship was thankfully very understated.

The book has quite graphic torture scenes, enough so that I skipped over most of them. The thoughts of the killer are also quite disturbing, which they should be. Then ending was perhaps a bit too easy and while the romance was understated it still managed to get some jealousy scenes. Also, the reason why the serial killer killed is left quite vague.

The scenes are short and change quickly from character to character which keeps the pace quick.

Overall, this was a good read, delivering excitement, mystery, and some interesting characters.

The first book in an alternate reality noir mystery series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Publisher: Red Dog Press
Page count: 243 at GoodReads

In an alternate USA, four big families rule the city of Bridges. The city has been divided into four quadrants, each ruled by one family, and it’s very difficult to move from one quadrant to the other. The families are Spadros, Clubb, Hart, and Diamond.

Jacqueline was born in a whore house to the madam. She was also a member of a kid gang. When she was twelve her best friend, Air, was shot and she still has nightmares about it. She grew up not knowing who her father was, until one day he appeared. He had made a deal with the Spadros. Jacq was to be the bride of the Spadros heir. Despite being a “Pot rag”, as the very poorest are called, she was trained to be a lady and married Tony Spadros. Except that Jacq loved someone else and never saw him again after she was promised to Spadros. Roy Spadros, the head of the family, is a ruthless, cruel man who delights in torture and beating his wife. But Tony is different. He’s still a man who has spent his whole life in luxury, wanting for nothing. But he’s usually not cruel, only when it serves a purpose. He orders men killed when that’s required but not tortured. And he loves Jacq. Jacq has learned to pretend love but has never forgotten her only love, Joe. She also knows that if something would happen to Tony, she would be thrown back to the streets. So, in secret from Tony she has her own business as an investigator. It doesn’t make much money but she saves what she can.

The story starts when a woman calls Jacq for help. The woman is Air’s mother. Her youngest son is missing and nearby is the mark of the Red Dog Gang. Jacq refuses to help at first but the case won’t leave her alone: she can’t allow the little boy to just vanish. When the little boy’s older brother is found strangled in another quadrant, Jacq knows that she must investigate. But she has troubles of her own: she must support Tony or someone could murder him. She must keep her investigations a secret from him because it would ruin their delicate relationship. She must also keep her investigations a secret from everyone else who could ruin her life.

Jacq has a lot of contacts around the Spadros area, some of whom know who she is and others don’t. She uses a lot of disguises and lies. The story has a lot of characters, as well. Jacq herself is a tough and determined woman but she’s in a very vulnerable position and she also has hard time letting of the past, her childhood friend’s death and her first love. So, she’s also a vulnerable character.

The story is told from Jacq’s first person POV. Since she was born poor and then rose to the elite (although unwillingly) she has a different perspective than many of the other wealthy people. The story touches on the disenfranchisement of the poor, class struggles, and women’s rights, which are, sadly, still ongoing issues today.

The start of the story dropped us readers right in the middle of the story. Explanations came later mostly through Jacq’s thoughts. For the most part, this worked well and I enjoyed the story. Jacq is a very interesting character and her dilemma drew me in. The book is labeled as steampunk but there are very few steampunk elements in the story.

At the end, the current case is resolved (kind of) but the larger mysteries remain. We also get a timeline of this alternate history and a list of characters at the end.

The first book in the Blackthorn and Grim fantasy series. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 17 hours and 44 minutes
Narrators: Scott Aiello, Natalie Gold, Nick Sullivan

This story has three POV characters and so it has three narrators. Each reads the chapter which is written in the POV of his or her character. I really liked this technique.

The story starts with Blackthorn, although she’s a nameless prisoner in a terrible prison. She tells us that she rose against the local ruler, who was raping women and then discarding them, and so she was locked up. However, she’s endured and is waiting for her one chance to talk in front of the council and tell everyone what happened. But one of the jailers tells her that she’s going to be murdered before that can happen. However, she’s brought in front of a strange, a fey calling himself Conmael. She’s suspicious and sullen. When Conmael offers her a chance to freedom but at a cost, she’s hesitant. Conmael demands seven years of service from her. During that time, she will stay in another country, Dalriada, and help everyone who asks for help, and those who need it but won’t, or can’t, ask. She will be a healer and a wisewoman. She will also put aside her need for revenge during the seven years. That need has sustained her through her terrible year in prison, so it’s not easy. Finally, she accepts.

Grim is another inmate, a huge and strong man. He’s latched on to Blackthorn who is his life line even though they don’t really know each other. Nor are they friends. But when chance comes, in the form of a prison break, he tries to help other inmates and follows Blackthorn. They travel together to Dalriada and there Grim works for the local people and lives with Blackthorn (but not romantically).

Dalriada’s Crown Prince Oran needs to make a political marriage. He’s known that all his life but still dreams about a love match. When he starts to exchange letters with Lady Flidais he becomes convinced that she can be the girl of his dreams: gentle, compassionate, and intelligent. She also shows that she, too, has been brought up to serve the people instead of using power for her own benefit. But when the lady’s group arrives, she’s not at all as Oran imagined her to be: she snaps at even her own people, seduces Oran, and even her own dog seems to hate her. Oran can’t help but to feel that something is terribly wrong. Maybe the new local wisewoman Blackthorn can help?

This is a lush fantasy book. The world-building is intricate. It’s not an epic fantasy; it’s not based on fighting at all. Instead, people are the center of this novel. Both Blackthorn and Grim are wounded and flawed characters. They can barely tolerate the company of other people. But they’re also used to working for their bread. Oran has been reared to serve justice as best he can and he’s a very down-to-earth royalty. He doesn’t enjoy the noble pastimes of hunting or gaming. He much rather reads old tales.

Grim and Blackthorn are suspicious of other people, especially of people in power.

This was another long book and it took quite a while until Oran approaches Blackthorn. I knew (or thought I knew) what had happened to the lady, but I didn’t grow impatient with the story. Marillier builds the characters meticulously and also revealed the world, bit by bit. We didn’t much see the fey but I like what I saw. In this world, they’re tricksters with a lot of magical power and humans don’t trust them.

The book has quite obvious themes: corrupt people using their powers over others, most of them are men but women are just as capable of using power, if usually differently. The way that people will close their eyes and not see obvious bad things around them, when they don’t like the people to whom these bad things happen.

While I liked most of the book, it does have some rather questionable stuff about (female) sexuality.

The book doesn’t end in a cliffhanger and can be read as stand-alone.

A mystery book which has two intertwined timelines. One starts at 1972 and the other 1790.

Translator: Seppo Loponen
Publication year: 1988
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2010
Format: print
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Bazar
Page count: 667

This book has multiple POV characters and two distinct timelines. While it’s advertised as a thriller, I think it’s too slow to really call it that. The two timelines especially slow it down.

It has one first person POV who is Catherine Velis, a young computer expert who is working for a very influential company. But when she’s ordered to do something against her ethics and she refuses, she’s put into the company’s shit list. She isn’t fired but instead is sent to Alger which isn’t a welcoming place to a working woman in 1970s. But she has no choice. The book starts in the New Year and her friends want her to hear a prophecy from an old seeress. But the prophecy turns out to be strange and disturbing, a warning of danger. Some months later, Cat is getting ready to move to Alger for a year, but first she goes to a chess game between international masters. Strange things start to happen.

In 1790, two girls are novices in a nunnery where they’ve lived almost their whole lives. Valentine is an impulsive, passionate girl who finds it hard to stay in the confined life. Her cousin Mireille is a more calm and thoughtful girl. But the French revolution is sweeping across the country, even to the remote nunnery of Mountglane and the abbess is sending her nuns away before the state can confiscate the nunnery’s possessions. The nunnery holds a great secret: for hundreds of years the abbesses’ have guarded the pieces and board of a magical chess game. Now, the abbess knows that her enemies want the pieces and the only way to safeguard them is to give some of the nuns a piece and send them away.

The abbess chooses Valentine and Mireille as lynchpins who can help the others when needed. So, the cousins are sent to Paris for a distant relative Jacques-Louis David, a famous painter. The girls are introduced to various people and the Parisian lifestyle. However, they don’t know whom they should trust. The abbess herself goes to Russia, to see her childhood friend who is now known as Catharine the Great.

The book has a lot of parallel storylines and in the historical section we’re introduced to a lot of famous people from the times of the French revolution. I liked that most of all.

Cat is a confident woman and it takes quite a while for her to even start believing in the magical chess board and its powers. The person who tags along to her journey is a rich chess master who is eager to solve the puzzles. She also has a small dog whom Cat doesn’t like. Both Cat and her friend are quite impulsive and do a couple of things which could have easily killed them. Mireille is a more thoughtful character but she, too, must make quick decisions because of events. She and Valentine are caught up in people and events in the French revolution and its aftermath.

Unfortunately, I felt that the book was too long. While the historical sections were actually more interesting to me than the present-day parts, I’m not sure if they really added much to the book. The story has some puzzles but not many.

Perhaps I had too high expectations. A blogger said that it was “the book DaVinci Code wants to be”. Yet, the only similarity is that there’s a historical mystery at the root of both books. It did have elements I quite enjoyed, like the evolving relationship between Cat and her friend, and pretty much all of the historical stuff.

The first book in a superhero series set in the 1950s US.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 487

The story starts in 1947 when Alice Seymour is 10. She lives with her mom and her abusive father. He’s a former soldier and apparently had traumatic experiences in a war and that’s why he beats his wife. Alice is afraid of him and spends as little time at home as possible. She hangs out with her best friends, Lionel and Marco. They all three also run away from the local bullies. One day, all changes. Alice’s mom is killed in a shoot-out at the diner where she works. Alice’s afraid to go home and instead spends the day with Marco’s family. When her father finally gets her home, he’s furious and starts to beat her. But suddenly, there are voices from nowhere. Then two people, young boys, burst in. One of them has shadows around him. They are able to beat Alice’s father and scare him so much that her father runs away.

Alice’s mother’s sister, Aunt Diana, and her husband Logan take Alice to their home. Alice’s mother didn’t approve of Diana’s lifestyle as a business woman and so Alice doesn’t know Diana. However, aunt Diana and uncle Logan love her and give her a real home where she can read as much as she wants and she’s even able to go to college.

When Alice is 21, in 1959, she’s just graduated with a business degree. Diana owns Atlas bookstore and she also runs various charities. When Aunt Diana is brutally murdered, Alice wants to get to bottom of why and who. She finds out more than she thought possible.

This is the origin story of the Serpent, a costumed vigilante who doesn’t have powers. However, Alice is a trained martial artist and has very durable costume and tranquillizer darts which she calls Serpent’s Bite. She started to train as a martial artist almost as soon as she moved to her aunt’s place because her aunt was a martial arts instructor and Alice never wants to be helpless again. But she gets the costume and advice from another person who used to be a superhero and is now advising Alice.

Alice is a very determined and passionate person. When she comes to live with Diana, she’s determined never to be as helpless as she was in front of her father, and so she starts to train. She’s fierce and wants to protect people. She’s also frustrated by the limits that the society around her put on (wealthy) women. Most girls want to get married and become housewives, and Alice scorns them.

She quickly gets a team around herself. American Steel is stronger and more durable than humans. His partner Shadow Master is able to hear people’s feelings and affect them. They are working as local vigilantes before Alice becomes a hero but later agree to work with her. Also, non-vigilante people help them.

The three of them take down local thugs but also the local drug trade which turns out to be a lot more dangerous than they thought at first. In classic comics style, super powers are given a pseudo-scientific explanation, but of course they’re not really possible.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It a lot of superhero elements and they’re used wonderfully. Because it’s set in the past, it also explores elements of racism and sexism; one of Alice’s friends, Rose, is a black woman and despite the fact that she’s brilliant, she’s not allowed to go to college. Also, Alice’s past isn’t just backstory; it comes to haunt her.

The book had pretty much only one element which I didn’t care for: the love/attraction triangle between Alice and the two male heroes. She’s oblivious to their attraction to her and encourages both of them. The men are best friends but are jealous about Alice. They start out as quite protective of her but end up more or less accepting her into the team.

The book ends in a cliffhanger.

The first book in the Hidden Alchemy urban fantasy series

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: Chaos Fox
Page count: 182 in GoodReads

Kaitlyn Felis is a treasure hunter and an alchemist. When the story starts, she’s in London but an apartment isn’t a great place to do alchemy. When her uncle contacts her, saying a mysterious elf Fein Thyrin wants to hire her, Kaitlyn jumps at the chance. So, she travels to Prague and Fein puts her instantly to work, making powders and items from him. Kaitlyn also gets an assistant Erin. Erin isn’t a powerful magic user, nor is she an alchemist but she’s smart, willing to learn, and extremely beautiful.

Kit is immediately attracted to her and soon they fall into bed. However, Erin’s feelings are confused and she keeps Kit at an arm’s length. But they’re still able to work together. That’s good because when Kit hears that Fein is after the Seers Stone, Kit demands that Fein hire her to find it. He promptly does so but demands that Kit take with her two companions: Erin and Fein’s Cait Sidhe (a feline fae) called Tyn. The trio heads to Reykjavik where the stone is supposed to be. However, things aren’t that easy.

This was a fun short book set in a world with a variety of magic and magical creatures, including various elementals (who look like humans), elves and faeries, nymphs, werewolves, and others. Kit doesn’t seem to have magic herself but as an alchemist she’s extremely interested in all sorts of magic and magical beings. However, she can sense magic, especially when she’s touching it. She uses a few items and powders. She’s also curious about pretty much everything. She’s bisexual and usually has one-night stands with people of both genders. However, she does have one long-time friend and lover, Logan Sionnah. She flirts with almost everyone and is very friendly by nature. She also likes to touch people and things. She has a will-of-the-wisp as a pet, Wispy. It eats leaves. It’s quite small and is usually kept in a cage, even though it stays with Kit willingly. It can’t speak.

Tyn is also an interesting character. He has a very troubled past and doesn’t let anyone near him emotionally. Except Fein whom Tyn seems to trust completely. At first, Erin seemed quite a friendly and warm character. However, after sleeping with Kit she became closed off and distant for a time.

The set-up for the series took up quite a lot of the book, when Kit travels to Prague and settles in her new lab and flat, but I found that enjoyable, as well. The real adventure was fast-paced and I enjoyed Kit’s sunny disposition to life.

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