fantasy


The first novella in the Bulletproof Witch series which is a Fantasy Western.

Publication year: 2019
Format: ebook
Publisher: Lily & Rose Publishing LLC
Page count: 124
Artist: Jin A. Lee

The novella has six black and white interior drawings which reflect the mood very well.

Temperance Whiteoak is the granddaughter of a famous pistol warlock James ”Brimstone” Whiteoak. However, after her family was killed, she doesn’t advertise her connections. She’s a bounty hunter, hunting daemons. Now, she’s on the trail of Belial, a powerful daemon. She wants both information from him and the bounty. But when she hunts him down, she must fight him and gets very little info for her trouble. When she brings the daemon (in a magical tube) to the closest town, her troubles only start: the sheriff doesn’t have enough money to pay her. However, a Federation marshal is just bringing in a prisoner and needs a partner to transport the prisoner to the nearest big city, a week away. Temperance doesn’t want to go there but she has not choice. However, the sheriff didn’t tell her about the real difficulties: the prisoner is a warlock and his gang of criminals will try to rescue him and that Temperance must follow the rules for Federation marshals, which means no killing.

Temperance has nothing but scorn for the marshals and their rules. Luckily, her telepathic horse Astor is there to help her, along with the hexbullets she inherited from her family. Temperance and Astor are trying to get revenge on the people, or daemons, who killed Temperance’s family and Astor isn’t happy about the dangerous detour.

She knows how to make hexbullets which, combined with the right word or words, produce different magic effects. However, they’re not cheap to make and take a lot of time, too. To her disgust, the marshal doesn’t know much about hexbullets or magic. Most people seem to use ordinary bullets. Also, while pistol warlocks are legal, other forms of magic seem to be illegal.

The story is set in a fantasy world of Korvana. There’s a reference that the local inhabitant are descended from island or another continent called Galinor. Still, at least some of the current people seem think of those who came recently from Galinor as foreigners. People know about daemons which seem to be able to take over a human body. The Church pays a bounty on them.

Temperance is a very determined young woman who has only recently turned 17. However, she’s quite mature for her age because she’s had to face danger since she was quite young. She’s also been alone for several years, except for Astor. She has secrets and so avoids people who want to question her.

This was a quick and fun read. I haven’t read many weird western books but I liked this one quite a lot. I’m going to read the next novella in the series.

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The 12th book in the October “Toby” Daye urban fantasy series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours 29 minutes
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal

This are not well in Toby’s small found family. The two people who were kidnapped in the previous story are still trying to recover from their nightmarish experiences. One of them is Toby’s beloved Tybalt, who has closed himself off from Toby. He doesn’t talk to her and he doesn’t even visit her anymore. Toby desperately wants to help but she doesn’t know what to do.

Then her ex boyfriend Cliff and his wife Miranda come to Toby’s door, accusing her of kidnapping Gillian, Toby and Cliff’s daughter. Gillian goes to Berkley collage and she’s disappeared, leaving behind her car. When Toby’s recovered enough to spring into action, she promises to do everything she can to find her daughter. Even though Gillian is now a human, Toby suspects that someone is trying to hurt her through Gillian. Cliff and Miranda have come during the morning which is a bad time for the fae. Toby still wakes her squire Quentin and her twin/death omen May demands to come along, too.

At the collage, they find Gillian’s strange roommate who apparently is part-fae and hero worships Toby. Toby and her friends start to really dislike her but she brings them to Gillian’s abandoned car. Then things get a lot stranger and worse.

I love Toby’s extended family. This time, they’re somewhat scattered which makes things a bit harder for Toby. But she’s willing to do anything for her daughter, of course. And so will May who has all of Toby’s memories and so in a way, she’s also Gillian’s mother. May’s girlfriend Jazz was also kidnapped and she’s also suffering but we don’t see her much.

This book is more somber is tone. But we get to find out some very interesting things about people close to Toby and about how the current relations between the fae and the humans came to be. Toby’s life changes again. Also, things from previous books come back to haunt our heroes. However, the book also has lot of exposition which felt rather needless.

This is another good addition to the series, even if it’s not one of the best. Once again, I wanted to reread the series to both enjoy them close together and also to pick up any clues I missed.

The second book in the Tensorate fantasy series of novellas.

Publication year: 2017
Format: print
Publisher: TOR
Page count: 211

The first novella followed the childhoods of twins Mokoya and Akeha, and Akeha’s life afterward. This story begins four years after the tragic ending of The Black Tides of Heaven.

Mokoya couldn’t continue her life after that tragedy. She ran from her husband and her life and she joined a ragged band of misfits who are struggling against the tyrannical rule of Mokoya’s mother, the Protector, and also hunting monsters called the naga. Mokoya took with her a large, flying raptor whom she calls Phoenix. She rides it. Mokoya used to be a prophet, working for her ruthless mother. But the tragedy took away her visions. Now, she’s a broken woman who can’t bear the company of her husband or live anywhere familiar.

The band Mokoya joined is led by Adi, an older and very plain spoken woman. They are told that a gigantic naga is approaching the near-by mining city. They also find out that the naga has been magically (or through the Slack as magic is called in this world) altered. Mokoya is hunting the naga alone, against Adi’s commands. When she encounters one naga, she thinks that’s their target and she sets the band against it. However, that naga has a human rider, mysterious and alluring Rider. Mokoya isn’t monogamous and when Rider tempts her, she goes to their bed. (Rider is a non-binary person, using the pronoun “they”.) However, the gigantic naga attacks the city, and soon Mokoya is told that Rider is the one controlling the huge naga. Mokoya isn’t sure what to think.

Mokoya is a broken woman. She’s faced the worse thing that can happen to a parent and it broke her on the inside and outside. She’s reckless and often goes out alone, especially to danger. She can’t accept the tragedy and did something which others don’t approve of. Her husband is patient with her, willing to wait but she can barely look at him.

I really enjoyed the characters in this novella. It has a lot of women which is still pretty rare in fantasy. Blunt-spoken Adi was my favorite. Rider is a mystery, almost an ethereal person, with their own past and goals. The story has also women as bad guys. The world-building is just as delightful as in the first book and we find out a bit more about the Slack and it’s use.

Mokoya’s twin Akeha from the previous book is a significant secondary character. He’s very angry with the world and with their mother. He lives in the mining town, as leader of the local raja’s security forces.

The story deals with grief and grieving, and also with trust. It’s very different from the first book, both structurally and thematically. Like the first novella, it’s also quite different from most other fantasy books that I’ve read.

The third and final book in the Blackthorn and Grim fantasy series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 16 hours 17 minutes
Narrators: Natalie Gold, Nick Sullivan, Scott Aiello, Susannah Jones

Blackthorn and Grim are former convicts who don’t trust anyone but each other. They’re both deeply wounded people. Slowly, they’ve come to realize that Prince Oran is an honorable man and to trust him a little. They’ve settled living on his lands. Blackthorn is the local wisewoman, a healer, and Grim is her confidant and reliable worker.

Cara is a 15-year old girl who lives with her dad and aunt in Wolf Den. Her dad, Tóla, is a rich and grumpy landowner who guards his privacy jealously. In recent years, Cara has become more insular, preferring the company of birds and nature to humans. She even has difficulty talking with people, even her dad and aunt. One day, her father unexpectedly decides that Cara must learn better behavior and sends her to Prince Oran’s household. Cara doesn’t want to go but she has no choice. The Prince’s wife is concerned about the girl and asks Blackthorn to spend time with her.

Tóla has decided to finish building a Heartwood House. The house was started years ago but was never completed because the main architect, then only one knows how to build it properly, vanished. Now that builder, Bardán, has returned as mysteriously as he vanished, with broken hands. He’s also confused in his mind. Tóla thinks that Bardán’s ambandonement of the project brought ill luck on Tóla’s family and is responsible for Tóla’s wife dying.

However, Bardán can’t build it himself so Tóla hires a man to help: Grim. Tóla demands that Grim can’t tell anyone anything about what he’s doing. Reluctantly, Grim agrees because he’s concerned how Tóla treats Bardán. But as months go by, Grim realizes that something really strange is going on.

Once again, Marillier has created a lush fantasy tale. It’s not fast-paced but lingers with people and places. Grim and Blackthorn are at the heart of the tale. They can’t trust anyone else and when Grim accepts the job and they must be separated every day for months on end, it tears them up inside, although neither wants to show it. Their shared experiences have made them very close and in this book they finally realize that they love each other. Personally, I was somewhat disappointed in such a convenient turn, but it’s understandable and pretty much inevitable.

Once again, the story has very dark elements, such as abuse. Grim and Blackthorn must make difficult decisions. Once again, I quickly thought I knew what was going on and the story takes it’s leisurely time until it unravels the mystery. And once again I liked the characters and the story so much that I didn’t mind. In fact, I was as a little sorry when it ended.

This was a wonderful ending to the lovely series.

The first novella is the Tensorate fantasy series. It has a companion novella The Red Threads of Fortune.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Publisher: TOR

The novella follows 35 years in the life of Akeha, one of twin children born to the Protector, who is the tyrant ruler of the Protectorate. They’re the youngest of her children. The story begins when Sung, the High Abbott of the Grand Monastery, comes to the Protector to collect a reward he was promised: one of the Protector’s children as a novice. Sung has his eye on the youngest of the Protector’s children, but instead he’s confronted by twin newborns. While the Protector is merciless, she always keeps her word. So, Sung gets two new novices instead of just one. However, the monastery can accept children only when they’re six years old.

Six years later, the twins Akeha and Mokoya arrive to the monastery. Both are upset because they’re taken away from their home. Even then, Akeha is the serious one and Mokoya expresses feelings far more freely. They are both too young to have chosen a gender or sex, so they’re both called “they”.

When the twins are nine, it’s become clear that Mokoya has the gift (or curse, depending) of seeing into the future. When their mother Protector hears about it, she wants Mokoya sent back to her. However, Akeha overhears this and the twins run away. One of them almost dies. After that, the Abbott sends both of them back.

I quite enjoyed the twins, but the world-building was particularly great. It has a magic system based on most of the traditional elements (fire, water, earth) with the addition of forest and metal. They’re used quite creatively; earth for example controls gravity and water motion. Magic is called the Slack and using it is slackcraft. We don’t actually see much of the society at large, because the twins grow up in the monastery and then later Akeha moves around quite a lot. But what we saw was fascinating. The most striking is perhaps that children are born without gender or biological sex. When they decide if they want to be male or female, doctors apparently change them biologically. We don’t hear more than that about it. Akeha and Mokoya make a pact that they won’t choose, but they were five when they did that and eventually Mokoya chooses a gender. Akeha is shocked because they haven’t even thought about it, despite being in the court since they were nine years old. Apparently, the Protector (their mother) didn’t consider Akeha a pawn in the marriage market.

Akeha is the main character of the novella. They are a serious and contemplative person. But when they are determined to do something, nothing stands in their way. They can also be jealous and perhaps a little too quick to kill when violence is needed.

At the beginning, Mokoya is a significant character, too, but then their lives go in different directions, Mokoya is left behind. Their relationship as children is shown in much more detail than any other relationship. Perhaps that’s why the latter part of the story felt a little rushed to me. The people important to Akeha then were not given enough time to really matter to me. Otherwise, I loved this novella and I was happy to see that the Finnish library system has the companion story.

The first book in a Robin Hood retelling (or rather a reinterpretation) with a gay Robin.

Publication year: 2014
Format: Audio
Running time: 17 hours 22 minutes
Narrators: Ross Pendleton

This retelling is set during the time of king Richard the Lionheart (1185 to be exact), as usual, but otherwise it’s somewhat different from the others I’ve read because we don’t really see any of the Merry Men because this story begins when Robin is quite young, before he was an outlaw. His parents and sister Marion are significant characters.

The Normans have established themselves as the lords of England and have brought their Christianity, as well. The local Saxons have their own customs and their religion of the Horned God (also called Hunter, Cernunnos) and the Lady (also called the Maiden). The Church is trying to, of course, stamp out the old religion.

Adam of Loxley is the local lord’s gamekeeper and he’s also the Horned Lord’s representative in the mortal world while his wife is the representative of the Lady. His wife, Elunet, is a wise woman and a healer. However, the Horned Lord has already chosen his next representative: Adam’s teenaged son Rob who is also called Hob-Robyn by his mother.

Rob has quite a temper and he makes no secret that he’s attracted to other men. He’s proud and it’s sometimes difficult for him to act as a humble Saxon. He’s also disdainful of the new religion. His elder sister Marion is somewhat less stubborn and calmer.

The local lord is the Earl of Huntingdon. He has three sons but loves the youngest the best. Gamelyn is more of a scholar than a fighter but has learned to use the sword as well. His eldest brother is a brutal teacher. Gamelyn wants to become a scholar and the only way to do that is to become a monk. However, when his horse throws him and Rob finds him, his destiny becomes something quite different.

The young men are at odds as first, especially because Rob despised Normans and the casual brutality they inflict on the peasants, like him. However, he can’t deny that he’s attracted to the red-headed young lord. Gamelyn, for his part, is a devout Catholic and that means that love between men is an abomination to him.

Rob and Gamelyn make quite a cute pair but the moment Gamelyn is away from Rob, he’s overcome with shame and remorse. I’m also not quite sure why Rob is attracted to him in the first place. Gamelyn wants to be a dutiful son to his elderly father and wants to be a scholar. When he’s attracted to Rob, his whole identity is called to question.

This retelling is heavily bound in myths and the struggle between religions as well as the romance between Rob and Gamelyn. Sometimes Rob’s Horned Lord speaks to him in his mind. The Lady also speaks to Marion. There’s also an old druid who apparently sees the future. The Christians don’t seem to have any magic but the only Christian whose POV we get is Gamelyn.

The cultures are described well, through the characters. Both sides are convinced that they’re right and they demonize the other. The Christians revile the pagans as amoral like animals and the Saxons think that the Christian god is a hypocrite talking of love and yet it’s alright to hurt the Saxons and deny same-sex love.

The book ends in a very dark cliffhanger.

The first book in a romantic urban fantasy series Golgotham.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Publisher: Roc
Page count: 289

Tate was born into filthy rich family, but she loathes her parents and their lifestyle. She’s trying to make a career as a metal sculptor and her parents think that’s just a phase. So, she wants to show them and make a living with it. However, her current neighbors are complaining about the noise she makes while sculpting (with hammers and a blowtorch) so, she needs to move. Also, she caught her boyfriend/fiancé cheating on her in her apartment which is another reason to move.

Tate sees an ad about a cheap apartment but it’s in the Golgotham area of New York City. In this world, there are magical creatures living openly but they’re often live in the same area and in NYC that’s Golgotham. Tate goes to see the apartment and it’s bigger than her previous one. She also meets the landlord, a young man whom she’s instantly attracted to even though he’s a Kymeran, a six-fingered man who was born with magical powers. Hexe is a sorcerer but he only uses right hand magic, which means healing magic. Of course, he could make a lot more money by doing curses, like most other Kymerans. That’s why he needs renters. He also has a demon familiar which looks like a cat and can talk (disdainfully).

Tate decides to move but finds out quickly that normal humans don’t want to deal with Golgothamites at all, to the point where taxis and moving vans simply don’t go in to that area of the city. Fortunately, Hexe knows a lot of people in Golgotham who can help her.

Then Tate thinks the sees a cat or a puppy in distress, but when she goes out to help it, it turns out that the animal is much larger: a werecreature. Through him Tate and Hexe find about a despicable way that the local mafia boss is using magical people and creatures.

The story is set in New York so it’s definitely urban fantasy. In addition to the Kymerans, the world has plenty of fantasy creatures such as centaurs, who draw taxies, leprechauns, dryads, and dwarfs. Humans consider them exotically curious creatures, at least when they don’t have to deal with the magical races daily. Many humans are racist against them, though, and some magic creatures are similarly racist against humans.

The story is focused on exploring Golgotham and some of the people who live there. Hexe also has some secrets of his own, although I guessed most of them pretty early on. Tate and Hexe are immediately attracted to each other but Tate has trouble trusting a boyfriend candidate and some people can’t accept a human and Kymeran as a couple. An action plot doesn’t kick in until late in the novel; mostly it’s about Tate and Hexe getting to know each other.

I enjoyed this book because of the characters. Hexe is great: he has principles and isn’t afraid to stand by them. He’s also a healer who refuses to deal with curses. However, that refusal doesn’t really affect his finances; it would have definitely been far more impressive if it did. Tate is an artist and not the delicate little flower type. She’s impulsive and sometimes blurts out things when she shouldn’t. She’s also loyal and wants to protect animals. She also doesn’t know much about the Kymerans or the other magical races, but she’s not prejudiced against them and is willing to learn.

On the other hand, she’s not a martial artist nor does she have any magical powers. While it was somewhat refreshing it also unfortunately makes her a sideliner (or a hostage) in fights. I also really enjoyed Hexe’s familiar Scratch and his disdainful attitude towards, well, everyone.

The story has a more relaxed pace and far less battle than most UF. It can be read as a stand-alone.

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