2015 TBR

A stand-alone historical fantasy set in the Roman Republic.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 250
Publisher: Juno

Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Hispallus comes from a powerful and respected family (Scipio) and is a praetor peregrinus of Rome, yet he feels like he hasn’t accomplished much in his life, especially compared to his grandfather Africanus or his cousin who is the consul. He also has secrets which could ruin him. When a young architect Daedalus, his former slave, comes to him to ask for money, he doesn’t have it. But Daedalus threatens to expose Hispallus’ secrets if he doesn’t pay. Hispallus receives only a few days to get a great sum of money. When he hears that Domina Euryale is giving a similar sum of money to anyone who can answer her question, he tries to persuade her to give the money to him instead.

Domina Euryale is a mysterious and very rich foreign woman who has come to Rome to get an answer to her riddle: how can stone be brought to life. Euryale is always veiled, claiming infirmity or disfigurement. Every servant and slave in her household is either blind or has very poor eyesight.

Daedalus is a young man whose father, a slave, was part of Hispallus’ household and he is convinced that Hispallus is to blame for Daedalus’ father’s death. Daedalus had befriended Hispallus’ drunkard son and is looking for a way to avenge himself on Hispallus.

Sevisus is a young slave in Euryale’s household. He works hard and he’s very interested in books. His mistress’ old maidservant taught him how to read. He runs around Rome doing errands for his mistress, such as talking to an astrologer and an alchemist who are working to find an answer to Euryale.

As far as I can tell, this is an excellent portrayal of the Roman Republic, including festivals and the Roman mistrust of anyone or anything foreign. The characters are interesting and don’t have too modern mindsets. The plot doesn’t bring much surprises but it also avoids clichés.

I very much enjoyed this historical fantasy and I’m hoping that I can find Dalkey’s other books.


A historical fantasy set in 1876 USA.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 387
Publisher: Ballantine

Emily Edwards is a Witch in a remote village called the Lost Pine. Her mother died when she was still a very small child and she was raised by the local Warlock whom she calls Pap. Pap has gone blind and so Emily has taken over the family business of making charms and small spells as well as gathering herbs and making potions. However, most people are starting to buy from a big company Baugh’s Patent Magics and the winters are getting leaner so Emily decides that the best way to secure any kind of future for her and Pap, is for her to marry a wealthy man. Fortunately for her, she has grown up with Dag Hansen who is altogether a decent man. So, she casts a love spell on him. Unfortunately, it goes terribly wrong.

The next evening in the dance the local drunk soothsayer tells everyone that Emily has done some bad magic and that the Corpse Switch has failed. The Corpse Switch is a device which (sort of) controls the zombies which are working in the local mine. They’ve never failed before so nobody believes that it could fail now. However, Emily goes to check it and is joined by Dreadnought Stanton, an uppity Warlock from the East who has come to educate the local yokels about modern sorcery.

But the Switch has failed. Emily and Stanton have to defend themselves against zombies and in the fray Emily ends up grasping a strange, large stone. It sticks inside her hand. Stanton knows that it’s a very powerful magical item, called the Evening Star. It’s formed from a mineral which can store magic, so Emily can’t do any spells as long as the stone is imbedded into her hand. She’s desperate to get it out so Stanton offers to take her to San Francisco where is the closest branch office of Dr. Mirabilis’ Magical Institute. Stanton has the Jefferies Chair there, so he’s sure that the Institute will help Emily and also pay her handsomely for the stone. Emily doesn’t have a choice, so she agrees. But soon they’re running from powerful enemies.

The setting was great! The magic is detailed and convincing. Most people accept magic as part of society and use it just as cheerfully as scientific gadgets today. But there is one sect of religious people who abhor magic and are trying to turn the people against witches and warlocks. The magic users are split into three groups: animancers, who practice Emily’s type of “earthern, small” magic, credomancers who use belief, and sacrimangers who require human blood to do magic. The split is most prominent in the big cities and Emily doesn’t even know about the other two before Stanton tells her. Unfortunately, this being a historical story, all of the men in the story treat women condescendingly at best and with outright misogyny at worst. In addition the (male) warlocks all seem to think that (female) witches are pretty much whores.

Emily is a great heroine; she’s duty-bound to help poor Dag and that’s why she want get to Frisco as soon as possible. Stanton has two large horses so they ride there even though Emily doesn’t know how to ride. She’s smart and determined and she wants to learn. She also owns up to her mistakes and wants to correct them, when it’s possible. However, she looks down on all easterners and thinks that the Native Americans are all savages.

Stanton is pretty much the polar opposite: he knows everything and isn’t afraid to tell it, often. He scorns Emily’s lack of schooling and rubs her face in it with every opportunity. However, he also knows several languages and is friendly with the local Native Americans while Emily just fears them and doesn’t know anything about them. He also keeps a lot of secrets from her.

Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the romance because Stanton doesn’t respect Emily and he’s downright disrespectful to her all the time; he calls her uncivilized and stupid. Also, the romance was very low-key. I also thought that it was strange that Emily didn’t really think about the stone in her right hand. It must have made things like eating very difficult. It’s mentioned a couple of times that dressing and undressing was difficult, but that’s it.

The book doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but it’s clearly a first in the series. While the immediate problems are solved, there are larger difficulties still to come.

The first book in the Devices of War series.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook

This book is part of the steampunk bundle I bought last year. However, it doesn’t have much steampunk in it. There’s some technology and a couple of the characters are inventors but I don’t think they use steam tech much. Some of the tech is very interesting and innovative, though. It’s written in first person from Synn’s POV.

In this world, the House of Tarot and their four Queens rule most of the world and they want to conquer the rest of it by subjugating the Great Families who are still fighting back. The Queen of the House of Wands, Nix, is a beautiful and ruthless woman who uses her beauty as a weapon. She also doesn’t hesitate to execute even children if it furthers her goals. She also wants to control as many people with Marks as possible. Marks resemble tattoos but they give their bearers fantastic powers. The powers correspond to the Family or House of the bearer. The Marks appear on children or teens who go through ordeals so Nix’s tactic is to subject some people to terrible things in order for the Marks to appear.

17-year-old Synn El’Aurim is one of the children born to parents whose marriage joined two power-ful Great Families. The Mark of the El’Aurim gives them power of storms and the Mark of the Ino family controls fire. The El’Aurim family lives aboard airships and ride the currents. The Ino family lives on living ships, the letharan which swim in the oceans.

Synn is the only one of the children who doesn’t have a Mark. He feels like he has let down his family and his mother barely tolerates to look at him. But Synn is mostly in the company of his fa-ther and thinks of their airship as his home. He doesn’t even know much about his mother’s people.

Then Queen Nix’s minions, called the Hands, attack. They’ve already destroyed one Family’s leth-ara. The El’Aurim airships try to lure them away from the Ino family. But in the process the airship where Synn and his father are, is captured. Queen Nix is aboard the Hand ship. To Synn’s horror, Nix orders Synn’s father burned for attempted rebellion. Synn tries to help his father but instead, he’s also strapped to a pyre. But Synn doesn’t burn; instead his Mark manifests itself. Unfortunate-ly, a powerful Mark makes him also a powerful tool which Queen Nix wants for herself.

Synn is tortured for what feels like a very long time to him. The Queen uses all sorts of methods, starting with starving and beatings, and when they don’t work she also uses sexual torture. She takes Synn to the legendary Sky City which is a literal flying city. She wants Synn to want to be-long to her but he refuses. Synn is very interested in the sciences so Nix lets him attend the local university, called the Librarium, but only on the condition that he does exactly as she orders. There he manages to befriend a couple of people – and they might even help him escape. But even if they can escape, Nix has no intention of letting Synn go.

This was a pretty fast read and Synn grows a lot during the story; he’s quite immature at the start. It was also a lot darker than I expected; the torture is pretty gruesome even though it isn’t terribly graphic. After the torture, Nix has a mental link to Synn and he has to constantly struggle against it. We’re also introduced to Varik who was Nix’s previous victim. Varik is totally devoted to Nix and constantly reminds Synn that he will belong to her.

The world building is fascinating and very detailed. At the beginning there’s a short chapter detail-ing the history of the planet but after that, the author doesn’t explain much.

Synn has a circle of friends whom he can rely on: Joshua who is also a young inventor, Joshua’s gen-tle sister Keeley, and Synn’s old friend Haji. Sometimes they argue but most of the times they watch out for each other. Joshua and Keeley lost their families because Queen Nix burned them before the siblings’ eyes when they were just children. The only reason they are still alive is because they mani-fested Marks which Nix has a use for.

Queen Nix is a ruthless and conniving woman. She burns people alive and kidnaps children. She justifies it saying that she wants to keep her House safe but she clearly also enjoys torture.

The Marks reminded me very much of super powers. Synn is even taught to use his Mark in a way that very much brought to mind young superheroes training. At first each Mark seemed to have just one way to use it, but thankfully the characters started to use them in more versatile way. I very much enjoyed the Marks and Synn’s circle of friends.

There were a couple of time jumps where the author just glossed over what had happened during a couple of months. Also, the chapter headings give too much away IMHO.

The book ends in a cliffhanger.

The first book in the SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2010
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 440
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Gummerus
Finnish translator: Antti Autio

Jean de Flambeur is a master thief and a con man. However, something went wrong and now he’s in jail. He’s in a dilemma jail where he and his fellow inmates are forced to play games with their lives over and over again. It messes with their memories and tries to train them to become obedient citizens. Luckily, Mieli is there to break him out. However, Mieli and her unknown master want something from Jean in return.

Mieli has never met Jean and already hates him, but she’s been ordered to break him out and so she’s spent significant time to get herself into that jail and search for him there. She’s an Oortian soldier and has a sentient starship, Perhonen. She needs something from Jean’s past but it’s something he has forgotten so he needs to return to his past. Literally. They go to Mars and to the moving city of Oubliette. There, Jean will have to confront his past and the person he used to be – or try to escape. However, escape is hard because Jean’s body has been constructed by Perhonen and Mieli has complete control over it.

Mieli dislikes this mission but she has no choice but to complete it. She’s determined to keep the thief on a short leash and get what she needs. She longs to return home, to the customs she grow up with instead of dealing with foreigners all the time. Luckily, her ship is a great comfort to her and a close friend, too.

In Oubliette, a young man is gaining fame as a detective. It’s actually very unusual occupation, or hobby, in the advanced society but Isidor Beautrelet enjoys it thoroughly and has the support of the local law enforcers, the tzaddiks. Also, he’s in trouble with his girlfriend who’s from another society, the zokus who spend their whole life playing various games.

This was quite a ride! The book is set in technologically very advanced societies where minds are saved on computer memory and bodies are built. And it’s not explained. You just have to pick them all up as you go along.

The book has three POVs: Jean, Mieli, and Isidore. Jean’s part is in 1st person and the others 3rd.

Oubliette is a city focused on the mind; people are able to share memories but only when all concerned allow it. The city has an external memory (exomemory) which everyone can access and it records everything happening in public places. People have private memories which they can share with others, or not. Death is also not permanent when people can be downloaded to other bodies. Oubliette’s society is constructed around time: people have a limited amount of time which they can spend in human bodies (called nobles). When someone’s time is up, he or she “dies” for a short time and is transferred to another body, which is designed for some sort of work: construction, guarding, serving etc. They are called the Quiet because they often can’t talk in those bodies. And the city’s police force wears masks, fly, do amazing things with technology, and have secret identities. One of them is called the Gentleman another the Futurist, for example.

The book has a lot of fascinating concepts and at times they overshadow the characters. Also, even though humans have learned to upload their consciousness to memory and they download it to created/cloned/built bodies (some of them aren’t humans, but tools), the way they interact with each other haven’t changed. They still talk about the ugly/pretty divide, play games, are sexually jealous etc. Also, how can children look like their parents or siblings look like each other when they’re all in constructed bodies? They can look like anything, right? The world building is fascinating but it doesn’t seem to impact the people much, especially considering that everyone seems to be pretty much immortal.

Still, an enjoyable read, if somewhat confusing at first. It seems that the next books aren’t set in Mars so I’m looking forward to what other worlds are like.

The first part in a fantasy duology.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 485
Publisher: Bantam Spectra

A young girl has been abandoned to live alone in the palace gardens. People, including her parents, believe that she’s a demon because she has a strange birth mark: the flesh around her eyes and her eyelids are deep indigo-black. Then one of the Sultan’s small sons meets her in the garden and she tells him that the dark birth mark is actually very dense writing and she starts to tell the boy the stories.

The book is split into the book of the Steppe and the book of the Sea. Each one has a different framing story and in each one, there are stories within the stories. In the book of the Steppe, a young Prince has left the Palace in search of adventure. He stumbles upon a cottage and since he’s hungry, he kills one of the geese. That’s, of course, a terrible mistake. The old woman who lives in the cottage turns out to be… not what you’d expect. Each person the prince meets has a story to tell and often that storyteller also tells the tale of another person, or other five people. In the second book, a young orphan girl has to weave nets for a living. It’s cold work and to keep her company an older woman, also a net-waver tells Snow her story and another stories, as well. Those are the starting points of the books. The stories are interconnected.

The book has talking bears, griffins, and pirates. It has horse gods and living stars. Lovely tales and horrifying tales. Many myths and archetypal characters are turned inside out.

The book is illustrated by Michael Kaluta and the pictures are a great complement to the stories.

Absolutely wonderful read.

A humorous fantasy book.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 246
Publisher: Ace

The book is part of my TBR challenge and for once I got a book with the monthly theme. This month it’s books which were published over 10 years ago. I’ve already read 12 books from my TBR this year!

Kevin is the Prince of Rassendas and like many unmarried Princes of the Twenty Kingdoms, he’s come to woo Princess Rebecca of Deserae. The Princess is blond, beautiful, and buxom but also nicknamed the Ice Princess. To Kevin’s dismay, the Prince most likely to marry Rebecca is Lord Logan, a military hero. While Kevin has also served in the military, he was a supply officer. He also has a great disadvantage to begin with: his father in known as Eric the Cool and Kevin is desperately trying to earn a better nickname. Still, Kevin knows Rebecca because he’s been to Deserae before and they’re already in love. But the princess has to marry according to her father’s wishes and the king of Deserae is hugely influenced by his Council of mostly businessmen. So, Kevin and Rebecca are trying to make Kevin the best choice for the council.

However, when Deserae’s Ancient Artifact Model Seven is stolen by the local Evil Overlord, the king declares that whomever returns the Artifact, will marry Rebecca. Everyone thinks it will be Lord Logan who, after all, leads the Black Guards. But Kevin grabs “the Handbook of Practical Heroics” (not to be confused with the “Handbook of Practical Fly-Fishing” by the same author) and heads towards the Fortress of Doom. Meanwhile, Rebecca, or Becky as she’s referred to most of the book, thinks that if she can return the Artifact, she can marry whomever she wants.

The book pokes fun at many fantasy clichés. There’s discussion on if the Comic Sidekick has to actually be funny and how many dogs one has to kick to be declared evil. The Fortress of Doom has guided tours for tourists and the gift shop is almost inescapable. The book also pokes fun at clichés about male and female characters: a man will always (try to) sleep with other women no matter how in love he is and a woman will always lie to her man, even (especially?) when she’s furious about his lies to her.

Still, I think that best jokes center on the Evil Overlord, Lord Voltmeter (He Who Must Be Named). He muses about heredity governing systems vs (male) democracy:

That was not such a bad thing. When power went to the eldest heir, there was a pretty good chance that the man who inherited it would not be a complete lunatic. Whereas when men competed for positions of power, it was generally acknowledged that the ones who got it were invariably the ones who could least be trusted with it.
Men like Voltmeter.

and about his evil stance:

He stood in the center of the room, his head thrown back in silent laughter, his arms raised above his head, his fists clenched in that famous, overtly dramatic gesture known to theatre students everywhere as “milking the giant cow”. Yes, it was hokey and clichéd, and Voltmeter knew it, but he loved doing that gesture anyway, the quintessential stance of a man mad with power. He practiced it several times a week.

This gesture is actually more familiar to me from comics than fantasy; it immediately brought to my mind Dr. Doom, Ultron, and Kang.

Lord Voltmeter has the Evil Assistant and lots of minions, not to mention the Diabolical Plan to take over the world. While Kevin is somewhat unusual protagonist (a diplomat, not a fighter) and Becky is a plucky heroine, I think that Lord Voltmeter steals the show.

The second book in the Alex Craft urban fantasy series.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 371
Publisher: Roc

After the events in the previous book, Alex’s life has changed only a little, at first. She’s still a grave witch, able to sense and channel grave essence from the land of the dead and able to raise shades (memories) of dead bodies. She still helps the local cops in murder cases and even though she’s not as struggling for money as before, she’s not rolling in it, either. And both of her romantic interests have vanished from her life.

The Nekros City police have just a foot from a dead body and they want Alex to find the rest of it. A bit reluctantly, she agrees to wade in a swamp looking for a body. Instead, she finds more left feet, hidden by glamour and full of magic. After that, one local independent fae threatens her.

When Alex is out enjoying coffee with her best friends, Tamara and Holly, they attacked by a huge monster which turns out to be mostly glamour – with a soul bound into it. Alex manages to stop it but in the process she tears a hole in reality.

Then things Alex did in the previous book come back to haunt her and this time, they will change her life.

“Grave Dance” is even more focused on the triangle romance than the previous book which was somewhat frustrating to me. There were a lot of unanswered questions about both her suitors: fae Falin and a soul collector Alex calls Death. A lot of things about Falin are answered, somewhat, but Death is still a mystery. I’m not a fan of that and I’m starting to think that Alex is stupid for trusting either of them, let alone both. Another thing I didn’t care for was that Alex hadn’t learned anything; she still didn’t ask questions she should have. She didn’t even bother to research her own heritage which was really disappointing, considering that one of her roommates is a fae: all she had to do was ask him!

The plot was fast paced; she didn’t have the time to do research during the story, but she had a whole month before the story started. I liked the way her heritage made her life harder, though.

What I did like a lot were the fae courts. We got a glimpse of three of them and I’d love to see more of them. The Winter court is ruled by the Winter Queen and she’s a pretty stereotypical manipulative bitch, although quite well done. The other two were different but seen only briefly. I also like the quirky new characters, the brownies. In fact, I’d love to get a book just about the fae.

A detail that I really liked was the bloody hands: a fae who has killed has literally blood on his or her hands which shows when she/he is in Faerie.

Well, it seems that my review is awfully negative but I (mostly) enjoyed reading Grave Dance; only in retrospect I find it somewhat frustrating. Also, it leaves a lot of questions unanswered and the ending is almost a cliffhanger.

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