fantasy


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 short story in the historical (fantasy) Avon Calling serial.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: SpearPoint Press
Page count: 33 (at Amazon)

Avon Calling serial is set in the 1940s New York. At a first glance, Betty Jones has everything a middle-class woman could want: she’s a stay-at-home mom for two kids and has an adoring husband. Sometimes she sells Avon’s cosmetics products. Yet, she has a side that her family doesn’t know about. Betty can hear other people’s thoughts and has formidable combat skills. She also has a troubled past and has changed her name.

This was a great starting story: it introduced Betty and her world and yet left a lot of questions unanswered. We find out that Betty’s mother also had the same ability and that she was cruelly used.

In this story, Betty goes to sell the cosmetics to a woman she knows but finds another woman, who has been battered by her boyfriend. Betty smiles and pretends not to notice, but when the evening comes, she pays a visit to the boyfriend and his small band of drug dealers.

I found the combination of cosmetics and Betty’s secrets surprising but also appropriate. Cosmetics can be used as a mask, to change a woman to appear more appealing to men and also to other women. It can be an armor, to shield a woman from the outside world or a way to fit in. Seeling cosmetics is also a great way for her to meet women who need help. Betty definitely has two sides and she works hard to fit in as mom and wife while going out at night to kick the backsides of cruel men.

Season 1 collection has ten episodes.

A multigenre short story collection.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: WMG Publishing

This collection has even more genres than usual. There are stories with no SF/F elements at all, a couple of fantasy stories, an epic fantasy story, a post-apocalyptic story, some science fiction, and a tale of near future mixed with humor. The last story mixes humor and horror. As is appropriate for the theme, many are rather grim. The theme of “last stand” has been interpreted quite broadly, which is evident from the very first story. This time three stories didn’t work for me at all. But I enjoyed the others.

“The Great Ice Cream War of Grover’s Hollow” by Annie Reed: Pooter McKinnon and his friends love ice cream and they especially love Mr. Hurley’s ice cream truck. Mr. Hurley never smiles and the kids are a little afraid of them but they love the ice cream. Then one day, another ice cream truck shows on the same street. It belongs to a large chain.

“Slow Motion” by Eric Kent Edstrom: A baseball story.

“Do Not Resuscitate” by Dory Crowe: Rosemary used to be a teacher but after a stroke, she can’t talk and can’t even feed herself. One night, she sees something awful. Can she somehow communicate what she saw?

“Sunset, Fall, Home” by Dan C. Duval: Gary has a horse farm but the surrounding developments are squeezing it. His youngest son has returned home to ask him to sell the place and for once in his life, Gary is honest with his son.

“’Til Death Do Us Part” by Kerrie L. Hughes & John Helfers: In 1896, Jacob and Clara Troyers have moved to the wilds of America, to settle there. They live alone but near a fort. One night, Jacob is overdue from his hunting trip and a half-wolf, half-man attacks Clara biting her. She shoots it, but to her horror, it turns into Jacob. She must do whatever she can to protect their six-month-old son.

“Circle ’Round” by M. L. Buchman: Lola Mahoney is the new commander of a very tough US army squad. She and her team are sent to a very dangerous mission.

“Unto the Ether” by M. E. Owen: Aliens have come to Earth’s orbit and they’re not communicating, at least with the humans. Instead, they’re following their own protocol which disrupts all the nations on Earth. One scientist has dragged her teenage daughter to a safe bunker on Easter Island and she’s bored out of her mind. The story is told in aliens’ reports and the daughter’s letters to her best friend.

“Bury My Son at Home” by Angela Penrose: The Legion and the Confederation have brought their war to this planet. They recruited all men to their war and now the men are dead. Women are searching desperately for their loved ones’ bodies through the battlefields, to bring them home for decent burial. The battlefields are vast and then they find out that their time has ran out.

“The Flare” by Laura Ware: Ten days ago a huge solar flare hit Earth and everything electrical died. Sue and her husband Dan and their two children happen to live near a grouchy survivalist. Grudgingly, he helps them. But then a teenager staggers to Sue. He was short by a man insists that everyone follow him. And that man is coming for Sue’s small community.

“What’s Left of Me” by Bonnie Elizabeth: a woman battling multiple cases of cancer.

“The Counter” by Rob Vagle: Lane lives in a world where his worth is measured in coins inside him. Today, the Counter is coming to count and weight them, to see if Lane will live or die. Lane knows that he will fall short but he has a plan.

“The Toymaker of Kelsium Rye” by Chuck Heintzelman: Alger Dolling is the only toymaker in Kelsium Rye. By law, he can’t sell the toys; he must give them away. When one toymaker is becoming too old, he vanishes mysteriously. Now, it’s Alger’s turn to face the Destroyer.

“Magic and Sacrifice” by Felicia Fredlund: Tribald has been at war with Soar for three generations. Once again the spring has come and with it a brutal assault through the pass at Fire Mountain. Brave men and woman have died on both sides. Maora and her husband are determined to stop that.

“Lady Elizabeth’s Betrothal Ball” by Anthea Sharp: Most young women are thrilled at their betrothal ball. But princess Elizabeth isn’t like most young women. She already has a lover but because her lover is a poor commoner and a woman, they can’t be together. However, Elizabeth can’t just run away because the British Empire has spread even to the furthers star systems. So, she must do something far more drastic.

“Suppose They Gave a Ragnarok and Nobody Came?” by Lee Allred: Tyr, god of war has been asleep for a long time. When he senses that Ragnarok is near and finds Thor Thorsson, Thor isn’t what he expected. For one, this Thor was adopted so he’s black and for another, he’s a computer programmer, not a warrior. But Tyr must try to carry out Odin’s plan: to find Balder and stop Loki from killing him. However, that plan doesn’t succeed so Tyr and Thor must find some allies to fight the Ragnarok.

“Death Bunnies of Toxic Island” by Travis Heermann: Bunny Boo-Boo was the only thing Haley cared about. Since a hawk killed it, Haley has been inconsolable. But when she hears about a whole island full of rabbits in Japan, she knows she must go there. Of course, nobody tells the tourists that a dangerous opening has been found on the Rabbit Island.

Some of these stories have very interesting premise and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the world, such as Heintzelman’s and Vagle’s stories. Owen’s story which is told from the aliens’ reports to their superiors and a scientist’s daughter’s letters worked surprisingly well. Over all, this was a good collection.

It’s a funny cozy mystery story in an urban fantasy setting. The murder takes place during a paranormal cheese convention! It’s the second in the Casino Witch mysteries series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: ebook
Page count: 160 (in GoodReads)

About six months have gone by since Ella found out that she’s a mage in the first book, “Of Murders and Mages”. She’s been training both with her official mentor figures and with her father’s friends. This hasn’t left her much time for anything else. Even though her official mentor is Olivia, she’s too busy running the casino to train her. So, Olivia’s aunt Ann, who trains witches for a living, has taken over the training. Ann’s daughter Vanessa is training with Ella and they’ve become close friends. But currently, they’re helping at the Paranormal Cheese Convention.

Vanessa thinks that she can invent a spell that will stuff the goodie bags quicker but has only managed to make the process a lot slower – and then cause an explosion. Vanessa’s mom and brother Vin aren’t impressed and somehow Ella is the one to blame. However, a man has passed away, supposedly from natural causes and Vin takes Ella to confirm that. Ella does that with her magical powers but during her vision she finds out that another man has been murdered.

The former president of the Paranormal Cheese Council has been flattened to death by the world’s largest wedge of cheese (it’s the size of a queen bed). It seems that the man was hated by many people so there’s no shortage of suspects. However, the cheese wedge is owned by Vanessa and Vin’s great-great-grand-mother Granner who’s not happy about her business being interrupted. Vanessa is eager to investigate and drags Ella to the investigation, too.

This was a funny cozy mystery with a lot of things going on. Ella still has a lot to learn about the magical world and about her own powers. Also, the local magical law-enforcement seems to be more than a little threatening and too interested in Ella. Her father was murdered and she don’t know who did it and why, so she tries to avoid any undue attention. Also, she’s strongly attracted to Vin who has now broken up with his former girlfriend. But Vin’s dour nature doesn’t invite Ella to tell him about her emotions.

Vanessa is Ella’s faithful friend and co-investigator. Even though she has trained far longer in magic, her spells makes things explode rather than do what they’re supposed to. Patagonia is Ella’s familiar. She’s a huge black cat who seems to enjoy making Ella trip and stumble. All the mages have cats as familiars.

Granner is a funny new character. She’s around 180 years old and doesn’t allow anyone to get in the way of what she wants. She’s a shrewd businesswoman who has been running her own cheese business for a long time.

I enjoyed the zany cheeses and the mage community. Unfortunately, I don’t really care for Vin and so I don’t really care for the romance, either. Otherwise, I enjoyed this fast-paced short book.

The fifth book in the Invisible Library fantasy series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: print
Publisher: Pan books
Page count: 418

After stealing a book from world where she was first imprisoned for witchcraft and then escaping the dungeons, Irene is expecting a quiet evening with her former apprentice Kai and Peregrine Vale, the greatest detective in this pseudo-Victorian alternate world. But another Librarian has disturbing news and needs Vale’s skills. A very high-ranking dragon has been murdered and it happened at the worst possible place and time. The fundamental forces of this series’ universe, the dragons of order and the Fae of chaos, are trying to get together a peace treaty. Or at least some of them are. There are factions on both sides who would prefer that not to happen or possibly even a full scale war between them. So, the murder investigation is going to be a very delicate matter, involving high-born Fae and dragons who both have very clear ideas about their own importance. Luckily, neither side has any problems with working with a woman. That prejudice is limited to the place, which is 1890s Paris in as neutral a world as could be found. A world which is in balance between chaos and order.

The Library is an intermediary between the two sides and Irene is drafted into the investigation as the “neutral party”. Joining her will be Vale as the investigator and one dragon and one Fae. Naturally, neither wants their own side to be the culprit. To Irene’s horror, she finds a clue which could mean a Librarian is the murderer. A lot of Librarians are on the spot, working with the dragons and the Fae. But can Irene trust even her own superiors?

Like all of the other books in this series, Mortal Word is highly entertaining. However, the focus is on the investigation rather than action, so it feels a bit different from the previous books in the series. Irene has been dreaming of investigating a murder mystery with the world’s greatest detective and at first she’s thrilled but as problems pile up, she finds out that it’s not as fun as she expected it to be.

In the previous book, the Lost Plot, we got to know a bit more about the dragon society and that knowledge is used here. We also get to know more about both the Fae and the dragon society, especially about the people and customs at the very top. Irene and Kai’s relationship changed at the end of the last book and so Kai isn’t here to smooth things out between Irene and the dragons. In fact, Kai isn’t seen much in the book.

Instead, we get Vale and the two representatives. The dragon representative in the investigative team is Mu Dan, a judge-investigator whose position is quite rare in the dragon society because she’s independent rather than serving her family and liege lord. Unfortunately, it also means that she doesn’t have any powerful patrons and so she’s, well, expendable if need be. She’s sensible and practical, for the most part. The Fae representative was a hoot but I won’t spoil it here.

So, the team is very entertaining. Because of the peace talks, the book has a lot of characters but most of them are distinctive enough that I had no trouble telling them apart. Also, the dragons all have Chinese names, and so do their human servants. I also really enjoyed the most powerful Fae who are each a archetype or a stereotype and can compel people to respond to them as if they’re part of the same story.

Irene is put into a very dangerous position and this time she needs to be politically savvy. She also doesn’t know whom she can trust. Keeping Kai away reinforce her sense of being alone.

I think the Mortal Word can be read without reading the series first, but you get the most out of it by starting with the Invisible Library.

Wyrd and Wonder is a month-long celebration of all things fantasy hosted by Lisa, Imyril, and Jorie. The list of daily prompts can be found here.

These sorts of characters are very common in fantasy (and other genres as well) because it’s easier for the reader to follow along when the main character discovers things, such as the wider world around the character, magic (and how it works) no matter if the character already knows that magic exists or not, the supernatural world (and how it works), or a group of people and their relationship. It also brings in elements of mystery.

Urban fantasy has many, many of these types of characters. They start in the “real world” and know how it works and we readers also know how it works. However, then something happens and the characters gets information about the supernatural world around her or him. As the characters get to know more about that hidden world and the people in it, so do we readers. It’s very common for the main character to be a teenager (or even younger) and so she or he is also looking for their place in the world while they find out about the supernatural world. However, sometimes the main character is an adult. For example, in Kat Richardson’s Greywalker the main character is already a private investigator.

Another example would be Marvel’s Doctor Strange movie where Strange is already a famous surgeon when his hands are injured and he must seek supernatural aid.

An extreme example of fish-out-water story is the portal fantasy where people from the “real” world travel to a fantasy world. Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures is Wonderland and Lewis’ Narnia books are the classic examples in children’s books. However, there are a few books where adults travel to a fantasy land, such as Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar tapestry and Alis S. Rasmussen’s Labyrinth Gate.

However, my current favorite fish out of water -situation comes from Lois McMaster Bujold’s novella Penric’s Demon. Penric is young man who doesn’t know much about the supernatural side of his world. (In fact, those of us who have read the Chalion books know more about it than he does. But the novella can be read very well without reading any of Bujold’s other work first.) He’s technically a nobleman but the youngest and his family is not terribly wealthy one. In fact, at the start of the story he’s about to marry a cheese merchant’s daughter who he doesn’t love but he knows that the girl would bring needed wealthy to his family.

But instead, he meets with a dying old woman and his life is changed forever when the woman’s demon jumps into Penric. In this world, demons are bodyless creatures. They start out almost animal-like but grow in intelligence when they move from one creature’s body to another. This demon, whom Penric names Desdemona and who considers herself female, has had many human hosts and so she’s very intelligent and knowledgeable. Although “she” has as many personalities as she has had hosts because each of them has left a strong impression the demon. She also serves one of the five deities of this world. When she jumped into Penric, that means the Penric, as well, must abandon his previous plans and join the religious order.

Penric is a charming protagonist; kind, generous, and studious. He wants to study but the family couldn’t afford it. Luckily for him, he’s now pretty much obligated to become a scholar. He also has lots to learn. Throughout the novellas, he forms a very interesting relationship with his demon. And of course since Desdemona is always present, she can’t help but to influence his other relationships, as well.

I very much enjoy these novellas. They focus on characters and their interaction and don’t really have much violence

Wyrd and Wonder is a month-long celebration of all things fantasy hosted by Lisa, Imyril, and Jorie. The list of daily prompts can be found here.

One of the main reasons of why I love fantasy are the wonderful unreal locations, the more different from my life, the better. I do also read books set in generic Medieval settings or modern urban cities but I always prefer more exotic locations. Oh, and except for Cogman’s series, all of them are complete.

Amber by Roger Zelazny
First seen in “Nine Princes in Amber”. In this universe, there a just two contrasting real worlds: Amber and Chaos. All other worlds are just reflections of them. So, the people of Amber, more specifically the royal family, can walk anywhere in those other worlds, called the Shadows. The Shadows can be, and are, anything: one world is our modern world, the next a Star Wars type science fiction world. Quite a few are far less developed agrarian worlds. And the characters travel to many of these in just one book. First book: “Nine Princes in Amber”

Discworld by Terry Pratchett
Being a whole world (on the back of a turtle) Discworld, too, has many locations. Perhaps my favorite is the city of Ankh-Morpork which is suspiciously similar to London.
It’s a walled city with the river Ankh running through it. And Pratchett says it so much better:
“A city like Ankh-Morpork was only two meals away from chaos at the best of times.”
“It wasn’t that the city was lawless. It had plenty of laws. It just didn’t offer many opportunities not to break them.”
“Throat took a deep breath of the thick city air. Real air. You would have to go a long way to find air that was realer than Ankh-Morpork air. You could tell just by breathing it that other people had been doing the same thing for thousands of years “
Most Discworld books are stand-alones and they can be read in any order. I love the city watch books (first one: “Guards! Guards!”) and the witches books (first one: “Equal Rites”).

Menzoberranzan by R. A. Salvatore
The vast underground city of the drow, or the dark elves, is led by the Matriarchs of the most powerful families who are also high priestesses of the spider goddess Lolth. They are an evil and cruel race whose city is full of schemers and terrible places.
Not all Drizzt books are set in Menzoberranzan but the Dark Elf trilogy is. It follows Drizzt’s childhood and struggle to escape the city: “Homeland”, “Exile”, and “Sojourn”.

Divine Cities series by Robert Jackson Bennett
In Bennett’s series, divine beings literally lived on the Continent. They influence pretty much everything in the lives of their people. They also enslaved the city without a god to defend it, Saypur. However, 75 years go the people of Saypur rebelled and found a way to killed the divinities. They conquered what was left of the Continent after the divinities died. Now, strange this are happening on the continent again. The series focuses on two cities Bulikov in the first and third book and Voortyashtan in the second book. These are cities where natural laws didn’t apply when their patron gods were alive and when they left, things changed dramatically.
The trilogy is “City of Stairs”, “City of Blades”, and “City of Miracles”.

Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman
Somewhat reminiscent of Amber, this universe has many, many alternate worlds. They have different levels of technology and they’re also on different scales in the chaos/order spectrum. In chaotic worlds, magic is possible and might even be more prominent than science. Chaos is personified by the Fae and order by dragons. They’re powerful and hostile to each other and the Librarians try to stay neutral between them. The Librarians can travel from world to world using their Library which seems to exist in the middle of the worlds.
The first book is “Invisible Library”.

Temeraire series by Naomi Novik
In this world, dragons are huge and used for aerial combat instead of any sorts of airplanes. The Napoleonic wars are still going strong with lots of dragons on both sides. In England, the Dragon Corps are scorned not just by the other military branches but especially by civilians. Most people thing that dragons are just animals to be used, even though they can talk and are clearly intelligent. The dragon characters are great! Also, different cultures view dragons very differently. For example, in China dragons are hugely respected and they’re part of society, unlike in England.
The first book is “His Majesty’s Dragon” (or “Temeraire” in UK).

Seattle in the Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest
In this world, Seattle is a walled off-city where only the most desperate people live. The city has been tainted by gas which kills people and animates their bodies. The world around it has also changed, but I really enjoyed the claustrophobic Seattle when our heroine Briar Wilks must descent there, to look for her teenaged son. And added bonus is that Briar is a middle-aged heroine, who are still quite rare in fantasy.
The first book is “Boneshaker”.

Chief inspector Chen series by Liz Williams
While this series is set in the future, it has plenty of fantasy elements. Chen is a police officer in Singapore Three and he gets all the cases which have any supernatural elements. Soon enough, he gets a new partner Zhu Irsh, who is a demon from Chinese Hell. The case takes Chen to Hell. Even though most people don’t seem to really believe it, human souls (or at least the souls which lived and died in the Chinese culture because there are hints that European afterlife is somewhat different) go the Heaven or Hell according to how well the surviving members of the family have dealt with the Celestial and the Hellish bureaucracy. If the right permits are signed and offerings made, a soul should go to Heaven. However, it’s also possible to get special visas for a living human to visit Hell. Chen has one so that he can investigate cases.
The first book is “Snake Agent”.

Of course I must end this piece with one of the most weirdly wonderful fantasy worlds ever:
Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Full whimsy and delight, with a dash of more darker tones, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is deservedly a classic.

Oh dear, reminiscing about all this wonderful series, I now want to reread all of them. And I have such a huge stack of TBR books waiting.

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