ebook challenge

I still have one more review to do about the last audiobook I listened to on 2009, but instead I decided to take a look at the reading I did last year.

I managed to read and listen and review 83 books, and read 25 graphic novels (one not reviewed), so 108 in all. It’s around my average. I was a bit surprised to realize that I didn’t read much from my old favorite authors Lois McMaster Bujold (1), Anne Logston (0), Steven Brust (0), and Roger Zelazny (1 + 1 short story). On the other hand, in 2008 I found a new favorite author, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and read this year 6 books from her. Otherwise, I read a lot of new authors and books which were first in the series.

Monthly numbers:
First in a series: 5+6+4+1+1+2+1+3+1+1+3+3
Stand alones: 1+3+1+2+0+3+1+0+1+1+2+0
Later in a series: 5+2+2+2+3+2+2+4+3+4+1


I took part in five challenges: 1st in a series, 2nds challenge in 2009, ebook challenge, 9 books for 2009, and comic book challenge 2009. The only one I didn’t complete was the 9 books for 2009 -challenge. I admit that I took a wrong tactic with all of them. I should have started reading the challenge books right at the start of the year. I also made lists beforehand and tried to keep to them too doggedly instead of just growing the lists while reading. I’ve certainly learned my lesson and will take the latter tactic this year. 🙂

I mean to sign up again for a variety of challenges. Also, many of the challenges this year allow the same book to be read for many different challenges, which makes things easier. I’m thinking of joining at least five challenges this year, too. Many of them are the same ones.

Best lists:

The Booking through Thursday’s previous post went through the new reads but I just have to add these.

The Best Nostalgic Read: John Byrne’s Fantastic Four run. Without a doubt.

Best Short Story Collection: Datlow and Windling: Coyote Road. This was a hard choice between this and the fantasy pirate collection.

This is part of my 2nds challenge and the last in my ebook reading challenge!

The second book in the Trade Pact Universe series.

Sira du Sarc and Jason Morgan are back. Ties of Power starts about a year after the ending of the previous book, A Thousand Words for a Stranger. The organization of the chapters is similar: Sira’s chapters are in the first person and every other chapter is an interlude which has another point-of-view character.

For most of the year, Sira and Morgan have been living apart from each other. They are keeping in mental contact and Sira is doing her best to train Morgan in mental defenses because she fears that her family, or the whole Clan, will someday come after them and try to kill Morgan.

Sira’s cousin Barac sud Sarc has been refused Joining a couple of times and according to the Clan tradition it’s unlikely that he will be given another chance to complete his life. So, he leaves his family behind and seeks out Sira. Sira is owns a gambling den and she’s pretending to be a Ram’ad Witch. A group of aliens from a race called the Drapsk are trying to persuade Sira to leave with them but she refuses.

When Barac finds Sira, she’s afraid that the rest of the Clan will follow Barac to her and so she gives the den to Barac and flees. She runs away to the same planet where Morgan is, been hoping that the Clan aren’t clever enough to find them. However, she’s wrong; during a festival she’s attacked and left for dead. Morgan finds her and the friendly locals nurse her back to painful life. But to her horror she finds out that someone has cut her: her reproductive organs have been cut away. She’s terrified about what the Clan will do with her tissue and ovaries, and she’s also enraged. She is too weak to seek revenge for herself and so she puts all of her rage into Morgan’s head and tells him to get back what was stolen from her and kill the people who cut her. Morgan has no choice but to obey.

Meanwhile, a group of the Clan is plotting. Some of them are Sira’s relatives; her sister Rael and older women of her family. They are concerned with the future of the Clan. Sira is the first of the women of the Clan who has been able to give her Power-of-Choice to another. In Sira’s case to Morgan who is human and not Clan so Sira’s actions are even more significant and frightening to Clan people who are looking for a way to save their species. For years, the women who have the Power-of-Choice have been getting stronger and Sira was the first who has such a strong power that she killed every man she tried to Join with. Before Morgan. So, this group is interested in both Sira and in human telepaths. Sira’s sister Rael is given the task to contact Sira.

There’s also another group of Clans people; xenophobes who can, and will, do anything to preserve the purity of Clan. Sira’s powerful father is one of them.

After Morgan had left and Sira had managed to sleep, she realizes what she has done. Desperately, she looks for a way to reach him as soon as possible. The only thing she can think of is to ask for help from the Drapsk. They’ve always been respectful and helpful. So, she teleports to their ship. Unfortunately, the Drapsk have urgent plans of their own.

This is a fine continuation to the first book. The characters are given more depth and they grow. We finally get to hear Morgan’s back story. Morgan’s faithful alien sidekick Huido is also back and provides a lot of humor.

The Drapsk are an interesting alien species and definitely not human. They have their own priorities and even their own behavioral quirks. Their primary communication method is by smells even though they can speak when needed. Great!

I had a bit of difficulty with the formatting because in the ebook, at least, the telepathic speech wasn’t marked in any way. This was unfortunate because Sira, Morgan, and Sira’s family are all telepaths.

The plot isn’t really fast-paced but left time for the characters to think and plan and worry. Sira was remorseful and ashamed most of the time because she literally gave Morgan her own rage and worried about what Morgan might do. She was also trying to heal from the surgery that was done to her. Sira is clearly the main character. Morgan, Barac, Rael, and the other characters were featured in the Interlude-sections but had less screen time, so to say.

I’d definitely recommend reading the first book before this one. The politics can be quite twisted and on the other hand, it’s very nice to see most of the familiar cast again.

This is part of my ebook and 2nds challenge.

This book continues the tale of USS Titan from the previous book, “Taking Wing” so it contains spoilers for that book. Here Captain Riker and his crew has to again face enormous challenges. He might have an ally in the Romulan Commander Donatra but she can’t really be trusted. We also get a new (to me, at least) race Neyel which is apparently an off-shoot of humans who had to adapt to living in smaller gravity. The Neyel are a warrior race although not all of them agree anymore with the ideology that they have to conquer and enslave other species.

At the end of the previous book, the Titan, her crew, and a handful of Romulan vessels were unexpectedly thrown 200,000 light-years away from Federation. This is, to say the least, alarming to many people in the crew – most of all to Tuvok after his experiences aboard the Voyager. However, the crew must rely on each other in order to save themselves, the Romulans, and the crews of Neyel ships.

The Neyel are in a complicated situation. They are fleeing their own home world because the very space itself seems to be unraveling near the world. However, not all agree that they should even survive the cataclysm. Frane is the leader of a sect called Seekers After Penance who is convinced that the unraveling isn’t a natural phenomenon but a ancient god who has come to punish the Neyel for their crimes against other species. The sect is illegal among the Neyel and the fleet command has dispatched ships to take them into custody. Drech’tor Gherran is the man who was sent to capture them and he manages to imprison the Seekers aboard his ship. Gherran is also Frane’s father. Suddenly, a fleet of Romulan ships attacks them. The Neyel ships are badly damaged but the Titan manages to rescue most the crews. When Captain Riker learns of the Neyel’s plight, he decides to see if there is something he might do for them.

There are a lot of characters in the book and also many plot threads. There is an admiral onboard which aggravates Riker somewhat. Admiral Akaar has also an old conflict with Tuvok. The Neyel have many problems. Donatra is a shaky ally at best of times. There’s also the conflict among the Neyel between the religious sects who are already surrendering to the “god” and those who want to do something to survive. In the end, though, I felt that the problems had far too neat and tidy solutions. The book also felt a bit bogged down because of the many characters and plot threads. However, I did rather enjoy the many non-human species.

Overall: I felt that Taking Wing was a better book with more tension and more familiar characters. But I do like the continuing characters enough that I’ll keep an eye out on when the third ebook in the series becomes available to us non-USAians.

This is part of my ebook challenge and 2nds challenge.

This is the second in the Dante “Danny” Valentine series about a futuristic Necromance bounty hunter. This time she has to deal with the fallout from the previous book.

It’s been a bit less than a year since the end of Working for the Devil. Danny’s life is a mess. Her lover is dead and she’s having a hard time accepting that, her former lover is back and trying to make amends for walking out on her before, her whole body has been changed, her magickal power has increased, and her right hand is ruined. In order to keep herself from thinking things too much, she takes as many bounties as possible so that she can lose herself in the thrill of the chase and capture. Unfortunately, the thrill lasts for a short time.

Danny is now half-demon although she’s not sure what that means exactly. The demon Japhrimel didn’t have the time to tell her much before he died. All Danny knows is that her body is now stronger and faster, and can take much more punishment than before. Her psionic or magickal abilities seem to be stronger as well. Now she has to keep her emotions in check or she will bleed power all around her and disrupt the lives of other people. Her body has also changed outwardly; she now has a golden, perfect skin and her face has also been sculpted into perfection. Because her body heals herself now very quickly, her old scars have also disappeared. Only callouses from sword practice remain.

In between bounties Danny seeks out old writings about demons in order to find out more about her new self. Unfortunately, most of them have been written by Magi who are constantly competing with each other so they are of little help. That, of course, frustrates Danny. She’s also feeling guilty about how she is treating her old lover Jason, Jace, Monroe who follows her loyally to bounty after bounty. At the same time she’s trying to protect him because he’s, after all, only human.

After another dangerous bounty hunt, Danny’s best friend and cop Gabe gets in touch with her. It turns out that someone, or something, is killing psions in Saint City. The newest corpse is an acquaintance of Danny’s; Christabel Moorcock who was also a Necromance like Danny and they went both to the same psion school: Rigger Hall. Rigger Hall was almost literally a hellhole. The sadistic Headmaster was able to run amok and do everything he wanted to the children there. Rigger Hall is also the last place on Earth Danny wants to go back to. However, two of the three corpses had been there. So, Danny has to confront the biggest nightmare in her past.

This time we see Danny’s sensei who is a mysterious old man who is probably not a human after all. I continue to enjoy the friendship and loyalty Gabriele and Danny have for each other. Often despite Danny’s attitude.

Still, it’s fairly obvious that the world here is a patchwork of cool things and a lot is left unexplained. For example, if there is a Christian Hell and demons why is the other side full of pagan gods? The demons are ruled by Lucifer so they are pretty clearly from Christian mythology. Many pagan religions have their own underworlds and demon-like beings that aren’t seen here. If demons are a lot of stronger, faster, and endurable than humans, why aren’t they running Earth? Although, maybe they are, just behind the scenes. I also found it ludicrous that Jace would be carrying around assassins’ weapons in full view. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of being an assassin?

This series is built on “what is cool” and unfortunately it shows from time to time. But if you like that, it’s fairly entertaining. Oh, and it contains a lot of swearing.

Overall: at the end of the book Danny is in a place where she starts to get interesting to me. I will most likely continue the series but after I’ve lowered my to-read-pile a bit more.

Grimspace is the first in the science fiction series called after its main character: Sirantha Jax. It can be read as a stand-alone. I’ve read so many good reviews about this book that I was interested to read it. Also, it has a fully clothed woman on the cover.

“The world opens up to me, an orchid unfurling at accelerated speed. I think of it as the primeval soup from whence all life originally came, a maelstrom of chaos and energy, sights the human mind isn’t supposed to be able to parse, let alone convert into coherent images that can be used to navigate.

Because of the J-gene I can sense the beacons, feel them pulsing like sentient life, and perhaps they are, for all I know. Perhaps if we could find their frequency, we could converse with them, and discover we’ve long been diving down the gullets of cosmic dragons and shooting out their cloacae to somewhere else, and guess what, they aren’t exactly happy about it. On second thought, some mysteries simply shouldn’t be delved.”

Sirantha Jax is a jumper; she has the J-gene which allows her and her ship to jump into a kind of hyper space which makes space travel easier. Apparently, she can’t jump on her own. Jumpers are rare and they tend to burn out quickly. Jax is therefore even more rare than usual: she’s over thirty and has survived many more jumps than any other jumper before her. Yet, something has gone catastrophically wrong.

The book starts with Jax in custody and waiting further psychological questioning and conditioning by the Farwan Corporation which employs all of the legal jumpers. She was the navigator on a ship which crashed and killed everyone else on board, including Jax’s pilot and long-time lover Kai. Everyone blames Jax for the crash. So, she’s rather surprised when a strange man comes to her locked cabin to rescue her. After a brief hesitation, she leaves with him to the rescue ship. Unfortunately, their jumper died during the voyage and their pilot died when the Corps start shooting at the ship. So, Jax and the mystery man called March have to step in. The pilot and the navigator are mind-linked during the grimspace jump and Jax is not ready to open her mind to anyone else let alone March who seems to loath her. But they have no choice.

During the jump, Jax finds out some things about March but that doesn’t really stop their mutual dislike. However, March and some other people have a proposition to Jax which might change not just her life but maybe the face of the galaxy as well. Or at least the face of the interstellar trade and voyages.

Grimspace is a fast-paced space adventure written in quite a humorous way. It has short chapters and there’s rarely time for the characters, or the reader, to take a breather. It’s written in first person and present tense which makes the action even more immediate.

Jax is a complex and flawed character; she has the habit of shutting off any emotional pain and just continuing like nothing happened. Even so, she mourns for Kai and blames herself for the crash. She’s afraid of the day when she can’t jump anymore and at the same time she can’t imagine herself staying in one place. She’s also a survivor who can and does put her own needs above the needs of others. This quirk makes her almost unique among the heroes and heroines I’ve read about because Jax isn’t an antihero or a coward.

There is a small cast of other characters who make an interesting and entertaining mix: March is the leader of the group. He’s very secretive and reserved but at the same time tender towards the people he can let himself care about. He argues constantly with Jax. Dina is the engineer of the ship. She mourns for her partner who was the ship’s jumper and blames Jax because the jumper died so that the small group could come and rescue Jax. Dina is very emotionally tough and also argues a lot with both Jax and March. She’s also a lesbian. The doctor of the ship is the gentlest one of the crew. There’s also one alien aboard: Loras. He looks like a human but has somewhat different way of thinking.

The plot turns rather sharply near the end and the book has a rather surprising ending in some ways. There’s also a romance but it doesn’t take over the story. I didn’t much care for the pairing but it wasn’t such a big deal that it would have ruined the book for me.

Overall: It’s a good, light-hearted read and I’m likely to get the next one in the series, too.

“But I couldn’t worry about Edwards’s morality. The only person I had to face in the mirror was me. The only moral dilemma I could solve was my own.”

Guilty Pleasures is part of the 2nds challenge and the ebook challenge. This is also the first in the Anita Blake –series.

This is the book that apparently started the urban fantasy –genre in the form that we see it today. I’m a longtime Buffy fan and there are some similarities here. However, there are also significant differences. For example, Buffy has an ensemble cast and has a lot of humor. Anita Blake is pretty much a lone wolf and the book has very little humor and the humor is quite dry and very black. The worlds are also very different. The supernatural is very much in the closet in the Buffy –series while here it’s out in the open and even legal. Also, Buffy in very much a teen series where the main characters are trying to find their own places in the world. Anita is an adult and the tone of the series resembles noir detective stories. The story is told in Blake’s first person voice.

Good: vampires as horror elements, the Church of Eternal Life
Bad: –

Anita Blake raises the dead for a living for Animators Inc. Here necromancers are called animators. Because the raising has to be done during the night, she usually works nights. She’s also known as the Executioner among the vampires because she has a license to kill them. However, in order to legally kill a vampire you need to have a kill warrant from the police.

At the start of the story, a newly turned vampire, Willie McCoy, tries to hire Blake but she refuses because she doesn’t work for vampires. Her boss isn’t happy about it. Neither is Willie’s boss.

Shortly, Blake and her friend Catharine go out to celebrate her bachelorette party. Catharine’s friend Monica has chosen the place which turns out to be a vampire strip club called “Guilty Pleasures”. There, Blake sees a very disturbing vampire show. It also seems the she is somewhat immune to the vampires’ hypnotizing powers because she’s an animator. However, Catharine falls under the spell in a very dangerous way. In return to keeping her friend alive, Blake has to agree to play a detective for the master vampire of the city: Nikolaos.

A number of very powerful vampires have been killed and Nikolaos wants Blake to find the culprit. Blake herself is not a detective but luckily her best friend Veronica Sims, Ronnie, is and Blake recruits her to do some investigating as well.

I really like it that here vampires are threatening monsters. Some of the characters obviously find them alluring, as is seen very early in the striptease scene, but Blake can see through it. I’m also fascinated and repulsed by the concept of the Church of Eternal Life where vampires recruit new ones in exchange for, well, eternal life. I can see how people would be tempted to join, especially non-religious people. On the other hand, there are groups such as Humans Against Vampires so not everyone is as fond of them.

I would like to see Blake and Ronnie together more because they have those rare friendships between women. Blake’s vampire-hunting friend, Death, was quite an entertaining and over-the-top-character. It would be interesting to see Blake and Death really on different sides sometimes.

Apparently the vampire Jean-Claude, who owns the strip club, will become a major romantic prospect later. That’s too bad. He seemed very much an Alpha male character. In other words, arrogant ass who thinks he’s gods’ gift to women and can’t take no for an answer. I don’t find these kinds of men appealing even in fiction. Also, he imposes his will on Blake and makes her his servant. I can’t really see any way for Blake to be attracted to him willingly.

To me Anita Blake is pretty clearly horror fantasy. The scene with the wererats early on and the way that Jean-Claude changed Blake without her knowledge or consent make that clear to me.

Oh, and at least this book doesn’t contain romance or sex.

Characters: 7, plot: 7, setting: 7
Overall: a solid 7

“Running is an act of cowardice. Not that cowardice is necessarily bad. As my aunt used to say, “Moderation in all things.””

Part of the 1st in a series challenge.

I was recommended to try out Briggs’ Moon Called urban fantasy. Instead I decided to try out one of her fantasy series. This is a first in a duology which is already quite different. Also, this can be read as a stand alone. The characters are also somewhat unusual even though the setting itself is fairly average.

Wardwick is the heir of Hurog, the keep and the lands around it. Hurog has a proud history but has impoverished in the recent times. When dragons and dwarfs were roaming the countryside, Hurog was a major trading place between humans and dwarfs. But today both dwarfs and dragons have left. However, the people of Hurog are still proud and fierce folk and very loyal to their lord.

Hurog is also a part of a larger alliance called the Five Kingdoms which is ruled by a High King. The current High King is rather a self-serving bastard. Many of the people seem to have magical talent and being a mage or a wizard is a legimate profession no matter is the mage is a king’s advisor or a mercenary. However, the powers of the mages vary wildly.

Good: quirky secondary characters, a twist with dwarfs
Not-so-good: quite generic setting

The main character is Wardwick who is a big and strong young man. When he was young, his vicious father beat him often and one time he beat the boy so much that Ward couldn’t speak well after that. The beating also diminished Ward’s magical talents so that now he can only use a little bit of finding magic. Ward was terrified of his father and decided to pretend that he was mentally slow. This worked very well, because now everyone thinks that Ward is mentally challenged. Ward is very protective of his siblings: his sister Ciarra (whom Ward calls Brat) is mute and looks very young for her age and Ward’s younger brother Tosten who ran away a few years ago. However, Ward knew about Tosten’s plans and helped him so that Tosten could be safe. Ward has also gotten a very good education in arms courtesy of Hurog’s excellent arms master Stala who is also Ward’s aunt.

At the start of the book, Ciarra has run to the caves underneath Hurog Keep and Ward follows her. They meet in a huge cave where they find the bones of a dragon and the chains that the dragon has been kept in. This is a huge revelation to Ward because Hurog was supposed to be on a very good terms with dragons. Also, a boy appears and tells Ward that Ward’s father is dying. The boy is Oreg, a former mortal boy who was bound into Hurog to be the lord’s slave. Oreg is sort of the manifestation of the Keep and knows everything that is going on there and can teleport instantly inside it. Most of the former lords have not treated Oreg well but Ward’s sadistic father has been very bad.

Because Ward is yet too young to rule his uncle, Duraugh, is named the keeper of the keep. So even though Ward is nominally the lord, or Hurogmeten, his uncle is the real ruler for a few years. Ward knows that he could have a fight in his hands against Duraugh for the rulership of Hurog which is made worse by that fact that everyone thinks Ward is an idiot.

Soon things take a turn to the worse. The High King’s favorite, Garranon, and his brother come to look for a run away slave from the caves beneath the Keep. However, Hurog has traditionally been a sanctuary for slaves because by old laws, there are no slaves in Hurog. Of course, many of the old lords had only held up that tradition when is suited them. However, Ward is stubborn and refuses to hand over the slave.

Garranon and his brother have another goal in mind, though. They are in Hurog to convince uncle Duraugh to sign Ward into a mental institution and to become the permanent lord of Hurog. Duraugh agrees reluctantly to take over the impoverished keep. However, with the help of Oreg’s magical power, Ward flees together with his sister, the run-away slave and a few men loyal to Ward. Quickly, Ward puts together an ambitious plan: in order to get Hurog back he must become a war hero. So, the small group heads into south where it is rumored that a war will start.

Even though the majority of the chapters focus on Ward (in first person) there are a few chapters that deal with court intrigue and have several third person point-of-view characters. I felt that this worked well. It was necessary for the plot but also showed a larger world around Ward and gave depth to other characters, too

Ward himself is a somewhat quirky character: he has pretended to be stupid so long that doing so is his default mode even when he wants to appear smart. Otherwise he’s pretty average: strong, good swordsman, has a quiet sense of humor, loyal, brave etc. Although he also confesses that he likes killing people in battle and that scares him.

The secondary characters are even more quirky. Ciarra is a quick witted, mute girl who uses a simple sign language that only a few can read. Axiel was taken prisoner in a war and became Ward’s father’s body servant. When he’s drunk, he claims that he’s the son of a dwarven king. And tortured Oreg. He was born a bastard and the only use his sire had for him was to bind him to the keep. The former slave turns out to be a mage.

I rather liked the cast of characters. The plot wasn’t a typical epic fantasy although it did have a lot of fight scenes. The setting was pretty average. Human characters and a Middle Age –feel. However, this time it’s the dwarfs who have disappeared instead of the elves. There also a nice twist near the end.

Characters: 7, 5 (the secondary characters are more quirky than Ward), Setting: 6, Plot: 7
Overall: 7

“He was pale, of course; hey, he was dead, if you believed the old tales. The politically correct theory, the one the vamps themselves publicly backed, had it that this guy was the victim of a virus that left him apparently dead for a couple of days and thereafter allergic to sunlight, silver, and garlic. The details depended on which newspaper you read. They were all full of vampire stuff these days.”

I added this also to my ebook challenge read. This is the first in the Sookie Stackhouse -series which I’ve heard called alternatively urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, horror, and paranormal mystery. I would actually call this one a paranormal romance because the plot in the first book is the relationship between Sookie and her vampire. So, I was again the wrong reader for this one.

Good: –
Not-so-good: not really original but very much average
Bad: vampires as romantic

Sookie Stackhouse is a young waitress who lives in a small town with her grandmother. She also the ability to hear other people’s thoughts. Because she can’t be open about it, she calls the ability her disability and other people just call her weird or mad. Vampires interest her but she hasn’t met any until the start of the book where her first vampire steps into the bar she works in.

Sookie finds out that she can’t hear the vampire’s thoughts which she finds soothing because around people she has to always concentrate to keep the thoughts of other people out of her mind. However, she also finds out that in the bar there is couple, Denise and Mack Rattray, who drain vampires’ blood and sell it. Of course, Sookie becomes worried. When the Rattrays and the vampire, who is called Bill, leave Sookie follows them.

The Rattrays have subdued Bill and are draining his blood so Sookie attacks the couple and drives them away. Soon enough, Sookie is seeing Bill often and even her grandmother is interested in hearing about Bill’s experiences during the civil war. But then one of the local young women is killed. She was known to frequent a vampire bar in a bigger town.

Sookie is very much a girl-next-door protagonist; she’s curious and friendly, loyal and cares deeply about the people in her life. The only thing she isn’t open about is her mind-reading ability but most people know about that, too.

The setting is the modern day US south where the vampires have just come out in the open and have been accepted as citizens although not everyone are thrilled about it. There are vampire bars where some mortals go to get bitten by vampires. On the other hand, other people seem to have no problem killing vampires. This is quite similar to Hamilton’s Anita Blake -series’ setting (I’ve just started the first book) and I was a bit disappointed by the similarity.

Some vampires don’t pretend to be human but act as they please. However, they are cast in the villain role here. Bill is seen as the romantic, old fashioned hero although even he reveals his inhuman side when provoked.

The story flows well and there’s nothing really to disruptive in it. If you like romance, you’ll probably like this one. The characters have some depth but they don’t really have quirks to separate them from all the other characters around. The plot seemed very light-weight to me, because I’d like something more in the plot than just a romance.

My biggest problem is that I consider vampires to be soulless, blood sucking murderers who might appear charming and suave but to whom humans are always just one thing: food. So, I really have a hard time picturing them as romantic anything.

Characters: 5, Setting: 5, Plot 4.
Overall: 4

“Real life,” he said, “is always more interesting. You just never know what will happen.”

Since my ebook challenge is still two books short, I’m adding this one.

This is the first in the urban fantasy series Weather Warden. It’s written in first person and the main character is Joanne Baldwin, who can control weather. She is part of the Wardens Association which is in charge of keep Earth habitable to humans by keeping storms, fires, and earthquakes down to a bearable level. It seems, though, that the Wardens are a secret from ordinary humans and human organizations. On the other hand, some teenagers manifest quite flashy powers before they are taught to control them and at least Joanne didn’t have to keep her powers a secret from her mother. Also, Wardens are taught in otherwise ordinary collage where they just seem to have their own classes. So, I get a bit mixed signals here.

Unlike most urban fantasy, Ill Wind doesn’t have vampires or werewolves in it. Instead it has Djinns who work as the magical assistants for the more experienced Wardens. Djinns are uncommon, very powerful, and therefore valued. Well, as long as they are the good little slaves they are supposed to be. Jo had still six months of work ahead of her before she could get her own Djinn.

Good: the Djinn, the different powers and their usage, the short weather reports at the start of every chapter, and romance is really a subplot and doesn’t drag too much.
No-so-good: too little settings info, human characters are pretty average.
Bad: –

Joanne is on the run. She has acquired the Demon Mark which Djinns can see but the Wardens can’t. The mark targets her as an out of control witch who has had dealings with demons. Except that she hasn’t dealt with demons. So, she’s trying to get help the best way she knows how. First she tries to go to the house of Lewis Orwell who is the most powerful Warden in the world and also Joanne’s old friend. Unfortunately, Lewis himself is currently on the fun from the Association. He also has three Djinns to himself. One of the Djinn meet Joanne at Lewis’s house and later gives her directions to drive to Oklahoma City. So, she doesn’t have another choice but to get in her midnight blue ’71 Mustang called Delilah and start driving.

Joanne decides to call and later visit her best friend and a former Fire Warden Esterella Almondovar alias Star. Star is worried about Joanna and after some friendly bantering she invites Jo to visit. Joanne is also worried about a dark storm front which is chasing her menacingly. Even though she could have the power to disperse it, that takes concentration and time which she doesn’t have. Also, dispersing a storm from one location could create serious weather trouble in another location so Wardens are very careful or they could easily hurt others.

On the way, Jo takes up a traveler, David, to whom she is instantly attracted. She can’t tell much to him about her situation but David is okay with that. He would much rather read a book from his back bag, anyway.

Interspersed with the current-day story are Jo’s previous experiences: how she found out about her powers, how she met Lewis, how she met Star… This is a very good pacing since it gives just enough current plot to keep interested and enough background no to get confused.

Joanne is very much a girl next door type: interested in cars, shoes, expensive clothing, handsome men and keeping in good standing with her bosses. She wants to have fun but not at the expense of her job. She’s also very loyal and responsible. In fact, she’s very much a standard fantasy hero and so doesn’t stand out of the crowd too much. Unless, of course, you’ve been mostly reading about extraordinary heroes. Then again, I’m not really interested in shoes or cars.

The pacing is good and the characters are good enough for one read. I was rather enjoying the friendship between Joanne and Star. Sadly, most books tend to have only one strong female character or at most two who hate each other.

I was really hooked by the ending, though, which turned Jo’s situation completely around. I can’t wait to see what Caine will do to her next.

Characters: 6,5, setting: 6 (very little info again), plot: 7
Overall: 7

Good: Characters, tight writing, Kirin’s abilities, pacing
Not-so good: I want more setting, some modern assumptions put into a pre-industrial setting, too short!
Bad: –

Despite the name and the cover, this is a fantasy book. I would call it dark fantasy with elements of horror in it. This is part of my 2nds challenge and the ebook challenge.

I really liked the first book in this series, Blood Magic, which was just intense. This is somewhat less fast paced but that suits the story. Also, you don’t have to read the first book in order to make sense of this one which is always good.

Kirin is a scout in the Imperial Army which is increasingly desperately fighting the Mor. The Mor are alien beings who live below ground. Every once in a while they come to the surface in large masses and try to wipe out humankind. Kirin has lost her lover and many friends to the Mor.

She also has a secret which could get her killed: she’s a necromancer who can create undead things out of dead bodies. She calls them her sweetlings and before she considered them sort of her children. However, after she had a child, she swore that she would never use her powers again. She can also see the souls of the newly dead which uses the souls to create her undead. She also has the soul of her dead twin sister inside her. The sister makes comments with a voice only Kirin can hear.

Kirin and her friend Lia, who is a lighting mage, are on their way to the Imperial City where Lia’s father lives and where the war effort is being coordinated. Lia’s father is a high noble and also the leader of the elemental mages. During the journey through bitter winter, Kirin and Lia become lovers.

On the way, Kirin and Lia encounter a troop of soldiers fighting Mor. Lia and Kirin help them but afterwards Kirin gets a shock: she can see the souls of the dead Mor! The souls seem to hate and fear the humans – or maybe just Kirin. But she gets no answers from the mute souls.

Together the couple and the soldiers continue to the Imperial City which is under siege by the Mor. They manage to get inside. The city is quite a wonder to country-born Kirin. However, she has to constantly be on her guard against all others. Lia introduces her at court to scheming nobles which makes Kirin even more uncomfortable. At least, Kirin has her job as one of the City’s archers. However, then Kirin sees something on the streets of the city which reminds her of her sweetlings. Maybe she isn’t as unique as she thought she was?

Nights of Sin is mostly very quick paced and at the same time it’s very much a character centered tale. Kirin tries to adjust to life at court, has to reevaluate everything she knows about herself, and fight the deadly Mor at the same time. Kirin is a very strong character but she also has obvious vulnerabilities. In contrast, Lia has never had to hide her abilities as a lighting mage. She is used to a softer existence than Kirin. They make a very cute couple.

I mentioned in the no-so-good section that Cook puts some modern assumptions into his setting. One of them is that thin=rich and good. However, this can only happen when the poor have abundance to eat, when the food they eat is fattening (=lots of meat, cream, sugar…), and when they have desk jobs (=no manual labor). This is actually very rare in pre-industrial societies. Abundant food production just isn’t possible when whole towns starve after a poor harvest. In these societies, fat is the sign of wealth. (See! I told you I’m a settings freak!) However, this isn’t told in so many words but rather implied.

Another is that Kirin is the only female soldier we see and yet she doesn’t have to really prove herself. I find it a bit hard to believe that a society which is in the middle of a desperate war, has the luxury of turning down half of their potential fighting force. Sure, the vast majority of women are probably untrained but so are the majority of males. In fact, we even see some young men at the start of their training. The exclusion of women is even more galling when the Mor are known for killing everyone, including women and children. Then again there are women among the mages but I suspect that all of the mages are nobles or at least rich and the vast majority of women don’t have that luxury. Or the talent, for that matter. But these are really nitpicks.

This time we get a bit more information about the Mor which is welcome. Because Kirin is a necromancer, the book has some horror elements. Usually, I don’t care for horror but once again I was so engrossed with the story that they didn’t bother me (or maybe I’ve played so much table top role playing games that I don’t think of undead as horror). Fast-paced, engrossing, excellent!

Characters: 9, setting: 6 (on rather sparse info), plot 7, fun & excitement 9,5
Overall: 9,5

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