fantasy


The second novella in the Dispatcher urban fantasy series.

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Publication year: 2020

Format: Audio

Running time: 2 hours, 18 minutes
Narrator: Zachary Quinto

Tony Valdez is a dispatcher: he kills people as humanely as possible. In this world, the vast majority of people who are intentionally killed, come back. The killed person disappears and so does any blood spatter. Clothes and all other items are left behind, though. The person reappears where ever they feel safest, usually at home.

Austerity politics has hit Tony personally and he has to take on private jobs. This one seems simple enough: a businessman needs to be on the other side of the world before a business opportunity goes sour. So, his lawyer contracts Tony to kill him. Tony hesitated but takes the job.

When he goes to deposit his payment to the bank, four robbers burst in. One of them knows Tony, calling him by name. Apparently, their exit plan is simple: one robber kills the others. Except that one robber stays dead. The remaining robber shoots the body several times and when he runs, the police are already outside and shoot him, too. Now, the police have a corpse as a lead. Also, Detective Nora Langdon thinks it’s a stupid strategy since the robbers couldn’t have taken their loot.

Turns out that Tony knew the dead robber, so he’s now a suspect. Also, people he knows start to die permanently and everything points to Tony.

This was a great continuation to the Dispatcher. It’s a neat little mystery and many of the characters from the first story return. It builds on the premise of the previous story.

The first novella in the Dispatcher series.

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Publication year: 2016

Format: Audio

Running time: 2 hours, 18 minutes
Narrator: Zachary Quinto

Tony Valdez is a dispatcher: he kills people legally and as humanely as possible. Because now 999 out of a thousand, anyone who is intentionally killed comes back. Nobody knows how or why, but that’s the new reality. Everyone Tony has dispatched has come back. Tony is in a hospital, covering for another dispatcher when Detective Nora Langdon comes to see him. Turns out that one of the other Dispatchers had disappeared. In fact, the Dispatcher Tony is covering for.

Tony wants to find out what happened to his acquaintance. We find out about the less-than-legal jobs that some dispatchers take, for money of course. Most of the jobs aren’t too bad but then there are gigs for the mob, for example. I wondered why the mob or the other violent types would need dispatchers. Anyone could shoot someone and that someone would most likely come back. Maybe it’s that most likely. There’s still a small chance they won’t come back and the shooter would become a murderer. Dispatchers are trained for that possibility.

Tony used to do private gigs but he assures the detective that he doesn’t do them anymore. In fact, he tells the detective a lot about the less legal jobs.

The setting is very well developed. The one change reaches everywhere from wars to surgery.

This was an interesting, short mystery and I enjoyed it. Quinto is a surprisingly good reader.

The first book in the Checquy files.

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Publication year: 2012

Format: Audio

Running time: 17 hours, 46 minutes
Narrator: Susan Duerden

A young woman wakes up in a London park surrounded by bodies. She has no idea who she is and what happened. In her pocket is a letter that begins: ”Dear you, the body you are wearing used to be mine.” The letter is from her former self who knew that she would be attacked and left without memories. The letter gives her directions to a hotel and she goes there.

She finds out that she, or her previous persona, is a member of the Chequy, a secret organization that battles supernatural beings and events in Britain. However, even though she has a high rank, she’s an organizer, not a front-line fighter, even though she has a powerful supernatural ability. Many other members have supernatural abilities, as well. Someone from the organization has betrayed and attacked her. Oh and her name is Myfanwy Thomas.

The new Myfanwy is of course rather disoriented. At first, she wants nothing to do with the organization. But after she’s attacked, she realizes she has no choice but to pretend to be her former self and find out who betrayed her.

At first, I really enjoyed this book, the secret organization and people with superpowers. Every other chapter is a letter from the old Myfanwy teaching something about the world to the new person. The letters tell about Myfanwy’s own past, the organization’s history and members, as well as supernatural beings. Someone might find them infodumps but I mostly enjoyed them. However, near the end, I got impatient for the actual plot to get moving.

Every other chapter is from the new Myfanwy’s POV when she tries to navigate Checquy so that nobody notices that she’s lost her memory. She must rely on the letters to know who is who and what she’s supposed to be doing.

It was fascinating how different the two Myfanwys are. The older one (Thomas, as the new Myfanwy thinks of her) was a shy, timid woman, happy to work late nights and have no social life. Her talent is in administration. The new Myfanwy is more assertive and curious. She explores her supernatural abilities in a way that Thomas never did.

Overall, I enjoyed the book but the second half dragged a bit when the letters described events that had nothing to do with the current Myfanwy.

A collection of fantasy and SF short stories. Originally published as a hardcover, this is the third softcover.

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Format: print

Publisher: TOR

Page count: 370

Publishing year: 2014

Bombshells by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files): Harry Dresden’s apprentice Molly has had a hard time after Harry died. She’s trying to take over for Harry as a wizard but thinks that she’s not good enough. Then one of her friends asks for help searching for a missing boyfriend, who is a vampire.

I enjoyed this story, although the three dangerous women used their looks and breasts a bit too much to be taken seriously.


City Lazarus by Diana Rowland: Danny is a corrupt cop in New Orleans. Ever since the river left, the city has become a cesspool for criminals, the desperate, and a few very rich men. Danny works for one of the rich men. But then he meets a woman, a stripper, and starts to have feelings for her.

This one didn’t really have a dangerous woman, except as a manipulator.


Hell Hath No Fury by Sherrilyn Kenyon: Four friends are looking for ghosts, real ones. They arrive at an abandoned town with their equipment. However, one of the four has actual psychic powers and makes contact with the ghost who is very angry.

This has a very familiar storyline, but I enjoyed the ghost and her story.


Some Desperado by Joe Abercrombie (Red Country): Shy’s have a really bad day. Her horse just fell and died. Her band of desperados has turned on her and is hunting her. She runs to a town, hoping to get help, but it’s abandoned. She has only a knife and her wits to defend herself.

The most action-packed story in the collection with a great Western setting.

The Hands That Are Not There by Melinda Snodgrass (Imperials): The only SF story in the collection. The main character is depressed about his chances of getting a promotion because of his low birth. But an older man in the bar tells his story of how things could be much worse.

Another one where the woman is a manipulator, using her looks and sex. The SF setting seems rather dated with women as stay-at-home moms or whores and advancement at least in the military is based on family connections.

Caretakers by Pat Cadigan: Val is in her mid-fifties and lives with her sister Gloria who is 15 years younger. Their mother has dementia and lives in an assisted living home. Gloria has always been pretty aimless. Val is relieved with Gloria starts to volunteer at their mom’s home. But then Gloria becomes convinced that something strange is going on at the home and Val doesn’t believe her.

This was strange. Once again, the dangerous woman was a minor secondary character. The main tension was between Val and her sister.


Novella: Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson (The Cosmere): Silence runs a waystop in the Forests of Hell where the shades of dead people hunt the living. Secretly, she’s also a bounty hunter. When a ruthless criminal with a huge bounty on his head steps into her station, Silence is determined to get him. She also has a far more personal reason to take him down. It’s going to be a hard battle.

This was the best story in the collection. The setting is great. The Forests have shades who can kill and maim if you don’t obey the three rules: don’t kindle flame, don’t shed the blood of another, and don’t run at night. Silence is also a great character.

The stories were different than what I was expecting. I guess after watching Xena and Buffy I’m just not that interested in female characters whose only option is to use their looks and sex to get what they want. Still, it has a couple of good stories, too.

The first volume in an eccentric manga series.

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Denji is a poor young man who has never gone to school or even eaten jam. When his father killed himself, Denji inherited his father’s enormous debt to the yakuza, the Japanese organized crime. So now, Denji will do anything for money and food. He has sold off one of his eyes and a kidney. He has a pet devil dog Pochita who has a chainsaw on his head. So naturally, they hunt devils.

The comic is set in 1997, except for the existence of devils that attack humans and kill them. Devils can also possess dead humans. Most devils are evil and violent, but a few are more friendly, such as Pochita.

However, Denji and Pochita are ambushed. Earlier, Denji promised Pochita that if he died, Pochita could take over his body. Now, when Denji is near death, Pochita makes a pact with him. Pochita would merge with Denji if Denji showed the devil his dreams. Denji agrees and becomes a devil/human hybrid who can manifest chainsaws from his hands and head. The chainsaws come out when he pulls at a cord on his chest.

Soon, he is recruited to the Public Safety Division which protects humans from devils. Really, Denji’s choices are to join or be killed, so of course he joins. The Division has some devils working for it, as well as humans.

As you might expect, the comic is quite violent, centering on fights against devils. However, it also has dark humor and jokes. Denji’s goal is to have a normal life, including living inside, eating good food, and touching breasts. Joining the Division he gets to eat good food and live indoors, together with a crouchy male agent who doesn’t like Denji. His obsession with women’s breasts is a bit annoying. The Division has a couple of interesting characters, a brooding devil hunter who takes everything seriously and his opposite, a devil inside a girl’s body who doesn’t seem to be stable at all.

This seems like a good start to the series, introducing the world and the characters but leaving a lot of questions unanswered. Ends with a cliffhanger.

A stand-alone fantasy book.

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Publication year: 2018

Format: Audio

Running time: 17 hours, 56 minutes
Narrator: Lisa Flanagan

Miryem is the only child of a Jewish couple. They live in a small country town. Her father is a moneylender but he’s very bad at it. He lends money but doesn’t have any luck getting the money back. The people he has lent money to grow wealthier but claim that they can’t pay back. Meanwhile, Miryem and her parents are cold and hungry. When Miryem’s mother falls ill, Miryem has had enough. She starts to collect the money and won’t take no for an answer but threatens to call in the authorities. Finally, they get some money back. In time, Miryem’s business starts to flourish. When one farmer can’t bay back, Miryem orders his daughter to come and work for her.

Wanda’s father is a violent drunkard. To her horror, her father starts to plan how to marry her off for couple of jug of booze. Working for the moneylender and his daughter is a way to avoid that. Also, she slowly starts to see that some families actually love each other. She’s smart and her biggest motive is to avoid a beating from her father. She has two brothers.

Irina is the only child of a Duke. The Duke married her mother because he thought she had magic and would give their child magic, too. Unfortunately, the Duke got an ordinary daughter without any special looks. For most of her life, Irina has been shut away dreading her wedding day.

The whole country is threatened by the Staryk, creatures of snow and ice. Winters are getting longer and harvests poorer. The Staryk claim the animals in the forest and hunt anyone who kills them. Whenever someone gets gold, the Staryk will come to his house and steal it.

One day when Miryam is coming back from her grandfather’s place in the city, she boasts that she can turn silver into gold. The Strayk hear her.

The first part of this story really drew me in. Miryam is a compelling main character struggling with her family and with the townspeople. The encroaching winter is making everything harder.

Miryam is the first-person POV character. She works hard for her family and makes herself cold and hard because she knows that if she allows one person to not pay, the rest won’t pay either. That happened with her father. Her parents are concerned about how cold she has become. She meets occationally her mother’s parents who live in a big city. Her grandfather is a rich moneylender who despises her father because of her father’s softness. But now Miryam has made her grandfather proud.

I was surprised when Novik switched to another first-person POV with Wanda without any warning. Wanda is a more tragic figure with her abusive father, five dead siblings, and dead mother. At first, she isn’t close with her two brothers but they grow closer during the story.

Irina is also a first-person POV. She knows that the only worth she has is with a marriage alliance but her plain looks don’t give her much hope in that regard.

The POV characters changed without warning and they were all in first-person. However, each of the first three contributes to the story. Unfortunately, three other first-person POVs are added later and I didn’t care for them. They were distinctive enough that I didn’t confuse them but I’m not sure if they were needed.

Still, this was an entertaining story. The first half worked very well for me but the second half dragged with the added POVs. The magic feels like a fairy tale rather than logical, modern fantasy magic. For me, it worked very well. The Staryk are terrifying creatures but in the end, they were somewhat humanized.

As I understand it, the original hardcover edition was split into three paperbacks.

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Publishing year: 2014

Format: Print

Publisher: Tor

Page count: 403

About half of the stories are set in the writer’s larger universe and one is a shared world. I had no trouble understanding the stories but unfortunately, I didn’t feel that they were very compelling, either. Most of the women are politically or socially dangerous.

Lev Grossman: The Girl in the Mirror: set in his Magicians world, the story follows Plum. She’s the leader of a secret society of students, the League, in a magical university. One student has stepped over the line and the League must discipline him with an elaborate prank.

Sharon Kay Penman: A Queen in Exile: 1189 Germany. Constance de Hauteville hears that her nephew has died. That means that Constance will be Queen of Sicily and her cold and ruthless husband the Holy Roman Emperor will also be King of Sicily. But a bitter battle for the crown must be won first.

S. M. Sterling: Pronouncing Doom: Machines don’t work anymore and society has fragmented. In this town, Wiccans rule. It’s the heavy duty of Juniper Mackenzie to sentence an evildoer.

Caroline Spector: Lies My Mother Told Me: Set in the Wild Cards universe, the main character Michelle Pond is a major superhero called Bubbles. She and her adoptive daughter Adesina are in a Mardi Gras parade when zombies attack. Michelle knows that her friend Joey, the Hoodoo Mama, is the one who controls zombies but why would Joey attack the parade and her? Turns out someone stole Joey’s power. And that’s just the beginning.

Sam Sykes: Name the Beast: Kalindris’ people are silent, watchful. They hear the Howling. But her daughter is nothing like that. Kalindris has grown to resent the man who sired the child and she also resents her daughter. When it’s time for the child to kill a beast and blood her hands, Kalindris goes with her because she’s sure that the child isn’t up to the task. The other POV is Senny. Senny’s Mother and Father are arguing. A beast killed Senny’s older sibling and the family is on the run.

Nancy Kress: Second Arabesque, Very Slowly: In a world, where a virus made 99% of women infertile, civilization has fallen. In Northern USA, people are either hunter-gatherer packs or farmer communities. The first-person POV main character Nurse is in a hunter-gatherer pack. She’s already past 60 and knows that when she can’t keep up anymore, she will be shot. But for now, she does her best to nurse the women and men of the pack. The women are valued for their fertility or if they have special skills.

Diana Gabaldon: Virgins: A novella set in her Oulander setting but before the books. Jamie Fraiser has just fled Scotland and joins a mercenary group where his best friend Ian is a member. Because Jamie and Ian understand Hebrew, they are entrusted with a mission to bring a Jewish girl, her maid, and a priceless dowry to Paris for her wedding. Of course, things go wrong.

A stand-alone fantasy heist book with potential for a series.

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Publication year: 2022

Publisher: Angry Robot

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 408

Darin, Evie, and Tom are doing a heist that should make them rich: they’ve infiltrated a gala full of the cream of the queendom. They are going to rob the wealthy crowd blind. Unfortunately, things go badly wrong. While Evie and Tom manage to get away, Darin is captured and loses everything. After a diversion, Darin manages to escape, too, but empty-handed.

A few days later the trio meets again in the Red Rooster Tavern in the middle of nowhere. The Queendom’s master criminal, the Dame, sponsored the heist and expects her cut. The fact that the thieves didn’t get anything doesn’t matter; they now owe her. The Dame gives them a month to get together a huge amount of money.

Also, Darin met Kat during his escape from the gala and invited her to the Rooster. Evie and Tom are suspicious at first but Kat quickly becomes an integral part of the group.

The group is an interesting mix. Darin is the leader. He’s an actor with a painful past and hides it behind quips and sarcasm. Evie is a beautiful seducer of the group. She was born into nobility and wants to return to wealth. Big Tom is a huge man and a fighter. He has a soft spot for horses. Kat lives in her wagon and rescues orphans. She brews ale that has a peculiar taste. She has traveled a lot and knows a lot of people. We get to know a bit more about their backstories during the book. They’re all POV characters.

The magic in the story is based on metallurgy, specifically silver. Darin has that talent but considers it a curse because whenever he uses magic, it drains him. He also doesn’t want to learn to control it better, even though one character offers to teach him.

The book has three major heists. The second heist involves domestic abuse. The story is fast-paced and the writing style is light and humorous. It has many prominent female characters, to my delight.

This was a fun read and I enjoyed it a lot.

A stand-alone fantasy book.

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Publication year: 2006

Format: Audio

Running time: 11 hours, 33 minutes
Narrator: Gabrielle de Cuir

Brenden Vetch is a young man who was born with the magical talent of hearing plants. He’s also good at healing people. Unfortunately, he couldn’t heal his parents who died of illness. Then his brother leaves. He’s all alone, feeling disconnected from everyone. Soon, he meets a woman but can’t stay with her and she also leaves.

One day he meets a giant woman who invites him to come to her magic school in the city of Kelior where only magic that is taught in the school is permitted. Brenden comes to the school as a gardener, not as a magic student. Soon, the king’s wizard becomes suspicious of Brenden. He has strange magic so he must be a threat.

However, this book is mostly the story of other people. Yar Ayrwood is a wizard and professor in the magic school. He’s becoming increasingly tired of the way the king controls everything about magic. He feels that the wizards are missing out on actually finding out things rather than being spoonfed the old facts that the king wants them to learn.

A wandering illusionist Tyramin comes to Kelior and the king’s closest advisor, wizard Valoren, thinks that Tyramin could be a threat if he uses real magic. Valoran is a suspicious, cold man.

Arneth is the son of the City Warden. The Warden is proud of his position and has promoted Arneth to a position that Arneth doesn’t want. He would much rather patrol the bad parts of the city, the Twilight Quarters. When he’s ordered to question Tyramin to see if Tyramin has actual, aberrant magic, he’s initially thrilled to return to the streets. But the task is more difficult than he realizes. Mistral is Tyramil’s daughter and the glue that keeps the wandering troupe together. But she has a couple of secrets.

Princess Sylus loves to wander alone in the Twilight Quarter. She also has natural magic and hasn’t told her father the king. The king hardly even notices her. When she’s told that she’s going to marry Valoran she hardly knows, she realizes that the life she knows is over. Her only ally is her great-grandmother who taught her how to use her natural magic.

The writing style reminds me of fairy tales, as is usual for McKillip. Her writing is lush and beautiful, like painting with words. The book has several magic styles or systems but unfortunately, it deals more with politics and power. It’s also about control: how powerful people need to control things they fear, how good intentions can be twisted in the service of fear and control.

The many POVs meld together into a coherent story. Brendan’s POV felt more disconnected from the whole until near the end. I also felt that the ending was a bit too easy. The reader has a breathless, “young” voice and it didn’t feel like it belonged to Valoran or Yar.

It’s been years since I last read a McKillip book and Od Magic reminded me that I want to read more from her.

The third book in the Heartstrikers fantasy series.

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Publication year: 2016

Format: Audio

Running time: 18 hours, 51 minutes
Narrator: Vikas Adam

The ending of the previous book in the series, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, changed the status quo of our hero Julius and the Heartstrikers dragon clan. However many of the dragons themselves are against that change, and Julius didn’t expect to be right in the middle of it.

Namely, that the clan would be ruled by a council instead of a tyrant, in this case, the mother of all Heartstrikers, Bethesda. But no other clan is ruled by democracy. Also, Julius didn’t expect to be on the council. Worse, one seat is open for any Heartstriker who gets enough votes, so now the dragons will have cut-throat elections. Julius’ sister Chelsie is still under Bethesda’s control and Chelsea is stretched very thin trying to keep the peace between her younger siblings.

Also, Algonquin, the powerful spirit of the lakes who rules Detroit, declares war on dragons. She proves it by killing three ancient dragons.

Also, the UN notices when the biggest dragon clan in the world is in turmoil, so they send representatives to talk with the council. However, they also have a keen interest in Marci and her familiar. Marci is apparently going to become the most powerful mage in the world and, of course, the humans don’t want her staying near dragons.

This was a change of pace from the previous book because most of the story was Julius trying to talk others from using violence. However, the story has violent scenes as well, including a duel between dragons. But the book focuses on dragon politics and relationships. Chelsie has a big part and we get to know a lot more about her past. We get to know a lot more about the other Heartstrikers, as well.

I enjoyed the book just as much as the previous ones, but I was a bit disappointed that one character won’t be appearing anymore, though. The ending is a huge cliffhanger.

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