1st in a series


The first book in the Daevabad fantasy trilogy inspired by Middle-Eastern folklore.

Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 19 hours 36 minute
Narrator: Soneela Nankani

Nahri is a young street hustler. She poses as a soothsayer and a healer who can summon and banish spirits. But it’s all just for show; she doesn’t believe it. She lives in 18th century Cairo which has been invaded by the Franks who fight Turks over the ownership of Egypt whose people they despise. She’s an orphan; her parents died when she was young, leaving nothing. She speaks many languages and dreams of being a real doctor.

But when she performs a mock-summoning, something very strange happens: she summons a real daeva, a powerful spirit. That act also brings strange and strong enemies who can even summon the dead. Nahri is forced to trust Dara, the daeva, who is furious at her and put her down all the time. But Dara also says that he knows what Nahri is, so she’s intrigued almost despite herself. However, Dara says that the only place were Nahri can be safe is Daevabad, the city of the daeva. Despite her protests, he essentially kidnaps her, and takes her to a wild flying carpet ride.

The other POV character is Prince Alizayd, or Ali. He’s the younger son of Daevabad’s king. He’s also a djinn, a magical being, like all his family and most of the people who live in the city and country. He’s lived and grown up in the military and so has lived quite a sheltered life. He’s aware, of course, of the injustices in the city and has tried to help in his own way. The shafits are people who are half-human and the djinn oppress them mercilessly: they can’t leave but they also can’t work. Ali is trying to help them but because of his family, he must conceal himself. But then things go terribly wrong and in the end, Ali is summoned to live in the palace.

This is a very ambitious work with very complex world-building. The history of this world is woven with history, especially Islamic history. The djinns are divided into lots of fractions and races, which complicated the reading. Apparently, the print book has a glossary but they audio doesn’t. The writer also uses occasional Arabic words for clothing. This isn’t a book you can just breeze through. However, this also means that much of the book is spent exploring these cultures and tensions.

Ali and Nahri are very distinct from each other; one might call them even opposites at the start. Ali is a very religious young man and a dutiful son to the king. He’s lived almost monastic life and scorns the pleasures his station would give him. Nahri has lived on the street almost all her life. She hasn’t had anything that Ali takes for granted. Yet, they’re both bright, curious people. They’re also loyal and want good for other people. Nahri is a very pragmatic person while Ali is an idealist.

Dara is a very interesting character. He’s very old and has spent centuries as a slave, so his outlook is quite different from the others.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book and the complexities of the djinns. However, I didn’t care for the start of a romance because I didn’t see at all (except that as a case of Stockholm syndrome). For me, there was also the disconnect between Islamic religion being younger than some of the characters who are supposedly following it. The stories about Djinn are also older than that religion. Devas are divine, other-worldly beings from Hinduism and Buddhism.

The ending leaves everything wide open. I already have the second book.

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The first book in an urban fantasy series.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Publisher: Roc
Page count: 341

Harper Blaine is a private investigator in Seattle. The book starts when her current client’s step-father attacks her and beats her very badly. She sees, hears, and smells things, people, and places which aren’t there. A doctor tells her that she had been dead for two minutes but brought back. He gives her the address of a couple of friends who might be able to help her. They are Ben and Mara Danziger.

When she’s released from the hospital, she tries to dive back to work, to pay the bills. She gets a missing person’s case through her lawyer contact and a strange sounding man contacts her on the phone, asking her to retrieve a missing heirloom, a parlor organ. But her office is also burgled.

But she still hears and sees strange things, so reluctantly she goes to meet the Danzigers. They tell her that because she died, she can now see, hear, and smell the Grey, as they call the misty, desperate place between life and death. The people she’s seen are mostly ghosts but can also be vampires or other paranormal creatures. Harper is called a Graywalker now. However, she refuses to believe it. But when people and stranger things attack her, she must at least know more to survive.

While this book came out in 2006, the tech level feels much older. Harper doesn’t have a cell phone, she uses a pager. Only one person in the book has a cell phone. Similarly, only one person uses a laptop others use desk top computers. I found this quite refreshing and it added to the overall atmosphere.

Harper is the book’s first-person narrator. In the first half of the book, Harper tries to reject the Grey and focuses on investigating her two cases. But in the second part, she dives into the vampire world of Seattle. She’s very down-to-earth woman and finding out that the paranormal is real is a shock to her so of course she resists at first. She owns a gun and must use it a couple of times but otherwise, she’s not great in battle. She’s also a loner; she doesn’t seem to have any friends or life outside her work. However, she has a pet ferret, Chaos. There are also two men who could be considered love interests but they don’t take over the book which was nice. Mostly, she actually does her job by investigating the cases she has.

I really enjoyed the Danzigers. Ben is a part-time teacher at the local university and a magic theorist. His wife Mara is a witch. They try to help Harper but their own experiences with the Grey are limited and they aren’t right all the time. Ben has a tendency to lecture and they both are sources of info-dumps but I found them quite interesting. Mara is the more practical person. Apparently her Irish accent is not Irish at all.

The vampires aren’t alluring in this book. They’re inhuman monsters. They probably have some powers to enchant humans but Harper can see what they really are. That adds to the atmosphere which isn’t horror but leans toward that more than most UF.

I quite liked the story and the characters. Its world-building is interestingly different. However, some of things were left open at the end, such as why Harper was such a special case. Surely, she can’t be the only person who has been dead for a few minutes but brought back. Yet, that was the only explanation for her abilities and why some characters are interested in her.

The first book in romantic urban fantasy series, the Gale women.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Running time: 14 hours 1 minute
Narrator: Teri Clark Linden

Allie Gale was born to the Gale family and so to magic, as well. The numerous women in the Gale family are strong with magic and so are the few men. The Gales tend to have 4 or 5 girls for every male child. But Allie doesn’t have any sisters. Instead, she has just one older brother and the family is afraid that he’s so strong with magic that he’ll go rogue. Allie loves her brother David and doesn’t believe that her aunts and nieces are right.

But her more immediate problem is that she’s unemployed, had to move back in with her parents, and Michael, the man she thought would be spend the rest of her life with, has gone off his boyfriend. She’s depressed and aimless in her life. Then she receives a letter from her grandmother, who has a junk shop in Calgary. Apparently her grandmother has died and given Allie the shop. Allie is shocked but none of the older women believe that her Gran is really dead. Allie isn’t thrilled about it but she goes to Calgary to check the place out. Mysterious things are happening and one of them is a gorgeous but snoopy reporter who wants to know all about Allie’s grandmother.

Soon, she’s joined by her cousin Charlie who has wild magic and is a musician. She’s also joined by Michael who is still worried about her… and caught his boyfriend cheating on him.

This was mostly a fun book. It’s very much a romance: Allie and Graham’s relationship is the main thing. Also, it’s about dragons. It’s also about familial love, family sticking together, no matter what (well, mostly).

Yet on have mixed feeling about it because the Gale family’s seriously strange. Only people in the Gale family have magic and so they want to keep the talent in the family as much as possible. Males make the choice of their wife among cousins… and before they choose, they sleep around with everyone. The woman can make a male change their mind and do so. In fact, the aunts are unhappy with Allie because she didn’t change Michael’s mind. However, that would have changed him to a different person and Allie didn’t want to do that.

Women also get more powerful when they age. On the other hand, they need a male spouse to rise to the “second circle” (get more powerful). They’re also expected to have a lot of children. And yet, the family has at least one nuclear family where the women are the spouses (to each other) and share a man. So, not so heterocentric after all.

The actual magic is mostly done with low-key charms, except when, er, dragons are involved. Allie’s cousin Charlie has wild talent which allows her to travel through woods. However, some the magic isn’t really defined much.

I liked Allie and Charlie. I didn’t mind Allie and Graham’s romance. I loved the humor and the pop culture references made be giggle. Still, the Gale family dynamic makes me uncomfortable. But I guess I’ll continue with the series.

The first book in the alternate history Lady Astronaut series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: print
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 431 including historical note and bibliography

This is my first Kowal book. I love her work as the narrator of Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye audiobooks. Happily, I clicked with her writing style or Elma’s voice.

It’s fall 1952 and a huge meteorite strikes us destroying most of the Eastern coast. Elma and her husband Nathaniel are taking a small holiday and they’re in the mountains. That’s why they’re still alive. They manage to escape to the nearest surviving Air Force base because they have a small plane and Elma is a great pilot. Nathaniel is the lead engineer of International Aerospace Coalition and he goes to work – persuading the AF base commander that this was not a Soviet attack. Except for her brother who lives in California, Elma’s whole family is dead. She’s a pilot but the AF won’t give her a chance to rescue refugees. But she must work so she volunteers at the local hospital.

But soon enough, her husband needs her particular skills. Elma has a PhD in Mathematics. But because this is 1952, she works as a computer – one of the very best at calculating anything. She finds out the chilling truth: the meteorite has changed world’s climate catastrophically and if humanity is going to survive, it must happen in space.

But only white men are approved to train as astronauts.

Kowal shows the pervasive, casual, and smug sexism against Elma and all the other women who are just casually dismissed all the time. Just as chilling is the casual racism and undervaluing of black people; how the white men don’t even see either, until it’s pointed out and yet the targets must constantly live with it. Elma doesn’t initially realize her own racism but slowly her awareness grows. Sadly, both attitudes still exist, if not so blatantly.

The book is written from Elma’s first-person POV. I loved her voice. But she constantly undervalues herself and what she’s capable of. Also, she hears her mother’s voice telling her to mind “what will others think”. She has an anxiety disorder and when she almost accidentally becomes the famous “Lady Astronaut” and people want her to speak in front of large crowds, it’s almost impossible for her. But only almost.

She and Nathaniel are happily married and Nathaniel is a wonderful, supportive husband. They both love their work and work long hours but they also find time to support each other. Neither of them talks about starting a family, though. I guess they’re too focused on their work, especially knowing that the end of the world is literally approaching.

There was also no talk about what happens to the billions of people who are on Earth. Are the colonies going to take all of them? It seems that just a select few are going to get off Earth and continue the species in colonies. Of course, a lot of people don’t believe that the Earth is going become unhabitable.

The changes in the timeline are pretty subtle at first and also the change in climate isn’t sudden but gradual. That’s why so many powerful white men have difficulty in believing that the change will come. They’d much rather pour money into their own agendas than the space program. However, we don’t see much of the world outside IAC except through newspaper clippings at the beginning of each chapter. IAC has international staff but they don’t talk much beside work (and sexism).

This isn’t an adventure book: Elma isn’t kidnapped or fighting for her own survival. Also, this is just the beginning of the road off Earth.

It’s the first book in a duology so the ending is wide open.

The first book in the Pandora Project trilogy. It’s also the fourth Vigilantes book, a historical superhero series set in 1960s US.

Publication year: 2019
Format: ebook
Publisher: Beautiful Fire
Page count: 329

Colleen Knight’s mother Tina leads a mob family. Colleen’s grandfather tried to make Colleen into a mobster as well; he even threatened to hurt Colleen’s lover unless she did was he wanted. That’s why Colleen left Karen without a word six years ago. However, now her grandfather is dead and she’s trying to distance herself from her mother’s job. Colleen is also afraid of her fire powers; she’s killed people before and now she’s trying to avoid it.

But when Tina asks a favor from Colleen, she can’t say no, especially when she’s asked to save another powered person. To do that, she goes undercover on a river boat, assuming the role of a mistress of a known playboy.

Karen Gray is a spy for a government agency, the Bulwark. She believes that she’s doing good work when she hunts down powered people, sometimes killing them. However, she’s been deep undercover for some years now, as the fiancee of David James, the son of a rich man and powerful man. Karen is given the mission to retrieved yet another powered person from a river boat.

When Karen and Colleen meet unexpectedly, they can’t trust each other and their history together, especially the abrupt break-up, comes between them. But when they find out that the powered person they both need to retrieve is a black child, the mission taken another turn. Colleen and Karen must band together, for a while at least.

Colleen is a black woman and Karen is white. Through Colleen, we see the bigotry of 1960s USA, especially because the river boat is in southern US. But Colleen doesn’t let other people’s attitudes stop her even if sometimes she must bow her head and hide herself. She’s fierce and fights for what she believes in. Karen has also had to fight hard to be accepted as an agent and when she must face the growing evidence that her job might not be what she thought it is, she must decide what’s more important to her: her career or conscience.

Regular people know about powered people and some are afraid of them. Some people, especially the rich and the powerful, want to use powered people as weapons, no matter what that powered person thinks of that.

This is a fast-paced story with twists and turns. The characters are believable and they struggle with both personal feelings and with larger moral issues. The fight scenes are detailed and great. However, the story (as Heinrich’s other books, too) are more bloody than comics; both main characters kill people, sometimes in rather grisly way, while fighting for their lives.

There are some references to DC/Marvel comics, in addition to the names of main characters. I personally got a kick out of Liefeld.

I’m not a romance reader but this time I didn’t mind how old feelings rekindled in Colleen and Karen. Neither has forgotten the other and both were deeply wounded by their break-up. Of course, in 1962 their romance must be a secret.

It’s possible to read the story as a stand-alone but I’d recommend reading from the start. Colleen was introduced in “Shadow Dreams”.

The book starts with a short story “Mizuchi” where Alice as Serpent and Marco as Shadow Master confront a girl who can control water. She’s killing people and the local police are overwhelmed. However, things become more complicated when Alice and Marco realized that she’s barely a teenager who is only killing men who belong to the local Chinese mob.

The book doesn’t quite end in a cliffhanger but the story isn’t finished.

The first book in a comedy cozy mystery fantasy series Unhuman.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours 28 minutes
Narrator: Tim Campbell

Andy Caplet is a reporter who’s only done stories about the minor stuff, like dog shows and whist drives. Then he gets assigned to follow around Inspector Hobbs, the oddest cop in Cotswold. Hobbs is very large, strong, hairy man who drives inordinately fast for a small town. Hobbs also solves crimes more than anyone else. Andy is horrified at first but has no choice but to do as he’s told. Hobbs is trying to solve the death of Mr. Roman, but it has been ruled a suicide. Soon enough the duo is in the middle of a grave robberies, break-ins, and murders. When Andy is fired from his work, he has no other place to stay than with Hobbs.

This is a fun, fast-paced comedic mystery. Andy doesn’t know that supernatural creatures, such as ghouls and dwarf are real. When Hobbs casually mentions them and meets with them, Andy has a hard time believing what he sees. Andy himself has a tendency to evoke hilarious disaster whereever he goes, either through clumsiness, jumping to wrong conclusions, not understanding the situation, or sheer ill luck. He’s allergic to danger and runs away from it (like any sensible person). On the other hand, his incompetence and selfishness can grate on the reader since he’s the first person narrator. Also, he resents another reporter who is making moves on his dream girl Ingrid.

Hobbs is pretty much the opposite of Andy, very competent, observant, and good at his job. I also really enjoyed his live-in housekeeper and friend, Mrs. Goodfellow. She’s the only significant female character in the book. She’s a divine cook, has no teeth, has an obsession with other people’s teeth, and the tendency to lock up men in the cellar. She has secrets of her own.

I mostly enjoyed this although Andy got sometimes on my nerves, especially with his attitude towards Ingrid. But most of the time, I had too much fun with the puns and humor. However, I don’t think I want a second helping of Andy, no matter how much I enjoyed Hobbs and Mrs. Goodfellow.

The first book in a cozy mystery fantasy series, the Casino Witch Mysteries.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 166

Some time back I wanted to read fantasy books which are cozy mysteries. Turns out that these actually exist!

Ella Ramono is an accountant. When her father died, she inherited his building in Rambler, Nevada and moveed there. However, on her first day at a new job as an accountant to a casino, a big black cat bites her. The bite awakens her magical talents but Ella doesn’t know anything about magic or mages so she has a lot to learn. Just like her father, she has a talent for reading people’s emotions but the magic also burns a lot of calories. She also now has the cat, Patagonia, as a familiar. And her new co-worker Vin is handsome but also rude, stubborn, and pushy.

Olivia, who owns the casino, agrees to tell her what’s going on but not until Ella finds out who murdered people in the casino. Five people have died in the casino in previous weeks but all, except the newest one, have been ruled as suicides, until now. One of the victims is Olivia’s own father who owned the casino. Also, Ella’s dad has left her a mysterious note about people she doesn’t know. Her dad was also a mage but didn’t tell her anything. Ella agrees: she doesn’t really have a choice. Olivia, her aunt Ann, and cousins Vanessa and Vin will do what they can to help Ella.

This was mostly a fun and quick read, however both Ella and Olivia have recently lost their dads, so Ella does miss him quite a lot. She knows literally nothing about what’s happening to her and the people around who do know are very tight-lipped, sometimes frustratingly so. Ella does manage to pry out some info out of them about magic during the investigation. Of course, hilarity ensues when Ella doesn’t know things that the other mages take for granted. Also, apparently most mages are trained when they’re teenagers so Ella is old to start her training. Another source of humor is Patagonia and her continued habit of twining herself around Ella’s legs so that she falls.

I instantly disliked Vin and I’m hoping that he’s there just as someone to spar with Ella rather than an actual romantic interest. However, I enjoyed most of the other cast: Auntie Ann and Olivia are more pragmatic than Vin and Patagonia is quirky but fun.

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