fantasy


The second book in the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club.

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Publication year: 2018

Format: Audio

Running time: 24 hours, 27 minutes
Narrator: Kate Reading

The members of the Athena Club are all young women who have suffered because of their fathers’ scientific experiments. Mary Jekyll and Diana Hyde are half-sisters, and their father is the infamous Dr. Jekyll/Mr.Hyde. Catherine Moreau was fashioned from a panther by Dr. Moreau. Justine Frankenstein was the female monster that the famous doctor created. Giacomo Rappaccini exposed his daughter Beatrice to poisons, so she can’t even touch other humans without poisoning them. Now, they all live together in the same house as best friends, who bicker a lot.

Their fathers (creators) were all members of the Alchemical Society. Now it seems that the Society is again experimenting on young girls. Mary’s former governess, Miss Mina Murray, sends a telegram to Mary that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped and Miss Murray asks for the Club’s help in finding her. Mary and the others agree, even though it means traveling to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, they all can’t afford to go, so Mary and Justine decide to take the trip. Of course, it’s difficult for women to travel alone and Justine is very tall for a woman so she poses as Mary’s brother. And before they can even cross the channel, they realize that 14-year-old Diana has disguised herself as a boy and followed them. They have no choice but to allow her to come with them. Meanwhile, Beatrice and Catherine have adventures of their own in England.

This book is mostly a road trip. Mary, Diana, and Justine travel all over Europe in carriages and trains, with Diana complaining about boredom and hunger. The writing style is similar to the first, meaning that the characters interrupt the story constantly with their complaints and opinions. This is fun at first, but adds a lot of pages to the book and robs all tension, just as happened in the first book.

This time, too, we meet famous literary characters (Sherlock Holmes and Watson make a brief appearance and Irene Norton (Adler) becomes the women’s ally) as well as more obscure characters. Since Van Helsing is involved, the reader can guess early on what sort of monsters and monstrous women the characters face. This was one of my frustrations with the book. Because I knew what they were facing, the characters felt very dense at times. The other frustration was with the constant interruptions and in an audiobook I can’t skip over them. Also, lots of unnecessary details. But if you can overlook these things, this is a delightful book.

I love the characters. Their personalities play off each other very well. I also love the idea of taking minor female characters and giving them their own voice and empowerment. The Alchemical Society is also a great idea and we get to know a lot more about it.

The main story is wrapped up, but the final chapter ends with a huge cliffhanger and there’s a continuing subplot about Holmes and Watson. So I dived right into the next book.

A Penric and Desdemona fantasy novella.

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Publication year: 2019

Publisher: Spectrum Literary Agency

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 127

The novella is set about a year after the events of “The Prisoner of Limnos”. Learned Penric and his demon Desdemona have been together for thirteen years, so they know each other very well. Now, they’re on a ship headed back home. But pirates attack the ship and take it. Penric strongly suspects that they are Quadrene, people who worship only four gods and consider the fifth one, the Bastard, a more powerful demon. Penric is a divine, a priest, of the Bastard. Also, if the Quadrenes know that Penric has a demon inside him, they would kill him. So, he pretends to be a humble scholar.

The pirates throw him into a filthy hold with two small children they’ve captured from a previous ship. The sisters are terrified. Penric realizes that he is the answer to their prayers and it’s his duty to protect them.

This was a fun, quick read, as the Pen and Des novellas tend to be. There’s no character development, though, so it’s lighter than the others. Also, it has darker undertones because the pirates in this story aren’t romanticized. They’re murderers, rapists, and slavers. The sisters’ fate would be awful without Pen. Otherwise, this was a fun adventure, even though the ending was quite convenient.

Penric is his kind, thoughtful self, and a delightful POV character. Desdemona is just as delightful, but their interaction is far more practiced here than in the first stories (of course). No surprises. This is a good, light read for fans of the series. But I recommend starting with the first, Penric’s Demon.

A fantasy short story based on the Pied Piper fairy tale.

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Publication year: 2019

Publisher: Fiddlehead Press

Format: ebook

The Strigosa Conservatory is next to the city of Hamlin. The Conservatory is a cold, joyless place. Some night the Pipers play a magical song, the Calling, that draws all sorts of vermin from the city, including rats. But the song also calls for unwanted children. The kids who come to the Conservatory are tested for musical ability. Those who pass are taken in as students. It’s hard work and the Pipers are relentless teachers who never compliment the kids. Some of the kids who don’t have musical ability return to the city as servants. Others are never seen again.

Three years ago, Linnet and her younger sister walked past the gates, drawn to the magical Calling. Linnet was sure that they would both pass the test and be students together. So she worked hard to pass the test. But to her shock, her sister didn’t pass it and was sent away, as a servant.

The students of the Conservatory aren’t allowed to leave the grounds so Linnet hasn’t seen her sister in three years. She worked as hard as she could to learn to play the violin. She’s hoping that when she’s a Piper, she can leave and see her sister. Her Piper teacher finally says that Linnet is ready to start to learn the Calling, the magical song. Linnet is overjoyed but even playing the first sequence of the song physically hurts her.

Linnet is still young and very focused on seeing her sister again. The world is quite dark: the kids in the conservatory are beaten and are given barely enough to eat. There are also hints that some meet a darker fate. And yes, the story does have faeries.

Instead of just one Piper, the conservatory has many of them. They play violins, pipes, drums, and lutes. I loved the magical music theme. There aren’t enough stories with magical music in them.

The first book in the YA SF/fantasy series Pit Dragon Chronicles, but it can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publishing year: 1982

Format: Print

Publisher: Orbit

Page count: 243

Austar IV is a backward planet that has only one thing going for it: dragons. Specifically, dragons fighting each other. Some Austarians own, train, and breed such dragons.

The Austarians have been divided into two classes: those born free and those born into bond slavery. Also, some free people are forced to sell themselves, or their children into slavery to survive. A bondslave must always carry his or her bag of coins around their neck so everyone can see that they are a bonder, as they are called.

Jakkin is one of the latter. A feral dragon killed his father when Jakkin was very young and his mom sold herself and Jakkin to bond slavery. Now, Jakkin is 13 and working in a dragon Nursery. He cares for the male dragons, the studs. But he dreams of stealing a dragon egg and training it to fight. That way he could get a lot of money and buy his freedom. He has two friends among the other bonders, boys his age. However, the supervisor (also a bonder) hates Jakkin.

Jakkin is determined to steal an egg: he has even found a secret place where the dragon can grow and Jakkin can train it. However, an accident with one of the most temperamental male dragons leaves him in a bad shape. How can he now pursue his dream?

For a children’s or a YA book, this story has lots of very mature elements. Jakkin is a slave even though he’s called a bonder and not a slave. Granted, his master isn’t a harsh one and he’s allowed Bond Off days, essentially days free of work. He isn’t beaten or starved. It’s more a plot device: he wants to become the trainer and owner of a fighting dragon because he wants to be free. Also, because he likes dragons a lot. Also, the world has Baggeries where the bonders and free men go. They’re bordellos and it seems that a lot of free women work there. One of the significant secondary characters is a weed smoker. Also, some of the characters believe that some men are simply born into bondage and can’t survive free.

Children probably won’t even notice these things, though. (I hope.)

Otherwise, this was a fast-paced, exciting read. Jakkin is single-minded in his goal to get and train the dragon. Unfortunately, it can make him look stupid. But he is only 13.

The book has only two named female characters. One is an older woman, the cook. The other is Jakkin’s age and was clearly created to be a mysterious teenage girl for Jakkin to pursue. The world-building is, unfortunately, quite sexist.

The dragons themselves are interesting. They’re herbivores but still fight each other so much that before humans started to train them, they were nearly extinct. They live in stables, males and females in different buildings. The females are also referred to as hens. So, I got the impression that they’re horse-like. However, their blood is acidic and burns a human. A dragon can form a mental bond with a human. However, that’s not common.

We don’t actually see the dragons fighting until very near the end.

This was a fun, if somewhat peculiar read. Unfortunately, I can’t really recommend this for kids.

It’s time for the fifth Wyrd & Wonder month! May is again devoted to fantasy in all its forms: books, movies, comics, games…

We’ll be reading and reviewing books, talking about movies and tv shows, playing games and sharing our thoughts on anything vaguely fantasy-related through blog posts, bookstagrams, booktoks, booktubes, Litsy posts and tweets galore – all connected by the #wyrdandwonder hashtag.

Mostly? We’ll be having fun.

Expect reviews and memes, interviews and book bingo, live chats and at least two read-alongs. You can do as much or as little as you wish – reading a fantasy novel or swinging by the comments of other adventurers to share your opinions is all it takes.

Here’s my TBR for May:

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I might also do one or two boardgame reviews in addition to participating in some of the daily prompts.

A collection of 16 SF&F stories centering on derelict ships, either in space or at sea.

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Publication year: 2021

Publisher: Zombies Need Brains

Format: ebook

Page count from GoodReads: 312

Most of the stories are SF and many have horror elements. Two stories have AI point-of-view characters. One is historical fantasy and two are set in fantasy worlds.

“Symbiote” by Kristine Smith: Shelly Conn’s luck has been bad for the last few weeks. When she and her crew go onboard an old laboratory spaceship, she’s hoping to get good salvage out of it. She gets far more than she bargained for.


“The Wreck of the Sarah Mohr” by D.B. Jackson: Set in 1767, this is a historical fantasy story. Ethan Kaille is a conjurer; he finds stolen or missing goods through magic. A merchant asks him to dispel the ghosts that are haunting his ship. Ethan finds a grimmer secret in the wreck.


“The Tempest in Space” by Griffin Ayaz Tyree: Faizal has finally found his sister among the stars and he’s trying help her.


“Playing Possum” by Andrija Popovic: Darryll is a salvager. He and his trained, wired possum find a derelict ship. He sends his possum in to see if it has anything good. But it isn’t abandoned.

“Standing Orders” by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: The war is over and the humans won. However, in order to win, the human High Command had to build artificial intelligences to fight for them. The humans promised that after the war, the AIs would have a place in human society. The humans lied.

“Time, Yet” by Gerald Brandt: Senn Jal is a happy man: his lovely wife is pregnant with their first child. While that means more work for him at the farm, he couldn’t be happier. But then something falls from the sky and his world is shattered.


“Flight Plans Through the Dust of Dreams” by Kit Harding: Twenty years ago Rosie was a terrorist and her airship was shot down. Now, she’s trying to fix her old derelict ship. If only the curious and rebellious teenager doesn’t find out who Rosie really is…


“Saving Sallie Ruth” by Gini Koch writing as Anita Ensal: Sallie Ruth is a ghost spaceship, rumored to destroy all ships that encounter it. Now, Space Police’s prison ship sees the remains of an envoy and behind it the Sallie Ruth. The police have the duty to rescue anyone who might be inside.


“Methuselah” by Jacey Bedford: Renny is the captain of a small spaceship Staten Island. He and his crew need money badly. When they come across a derelict ship, they first think they have a great salvage in their hands.

“Celestial Object 143205” by Mark D. Jacobsen: After decades of serving in the US Space Force, Cooper commands his own ship. However, because of various construction delays, that ship won’t leave Earth’s orbit until after Cooper’s command is over. He’s more than a little resentful. But suddenly he has a chance for a deep-space rescue mission, with a barely-finished ship and just one crew member. Of course, Cooper agrees to it. But is he prepared for the isolation of long-time space travel?


“Mercy for the Lost” by Jana Paniccia: young Monkey is a captive crew member of the pirate ship the Outcast. When they find a derelict mage ship, Monkey almost hopes she will die with it. Instead, she gets a chance.


“When the Star Fell and the Levee Broke” by Alex Bledsoe: A big storm washes away Travis’ levee. A strange metal object is left in the mud. At first, Travis thinks it’s a satellite. But it’s far stranger.


“Derelict of Duty” by Chaz Brenchley: The point-of-view character of this story is an AI who was constructed as a weapon in a war. But they have escaped and are now on the run. When they hear about an old vessel, possibly an alien vessel, they can’t resist but investigate.


“Two Ruins Make a Beginning” by R.Z. Held: Alexandrine is a ghost, bound to a murderous ruin spirit. Alexandrine’s purpose is to prevent the spirit from hurting anyone. When Alexandrine and the spirit go to a beach, they see the wreck of a ship. The ship has also a ruin spirit which is holding four people hostage. Can Alexandrine help them without losing her soothing connection to ”her” spirit?


“Orpheus” by Jack Campbell: The Daedalus is the second crewed mission to Saturn. One of their tasks is to find the three crew members who were left behind during the first mission. The bodies, if there are any, are Saturn’s biggest moon, Titan. However, their lander malfunctions so they must use the previous mission’s lander, the Orpheus, to set down on Titan and see if there’s anything left of the three astronauts.


“Decay in Five Stages” by Julie E. Czerneda: A prequel story to her In the Company of others. Aaron Raner is an old engineer working on Thromberg station. When the humans realize that the seemingly innocuous alien Quill brings contamination, Aaron’s spacefaring friends are some of the first victims. Aaron is left with their baby and he needs to get the baby out of the station.

This is an enjoyable collection, even if many of the stories have horror elements and some are otherwise depressing. It was very interesting to see just how many different kinds of stories the writers got from salvage operations on derelict spaceships.

A stand-alone fantasy book.

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Publication year: 2015

Format: Audio

Running time: 6 hours, 47 minutes
Narrator: Kaylin Heath

Rhea is the local miller’s 15-year-old daughter. It was a great surprise to her and her family when Lord Crevan announced that he will marry her. Commoners don’t turn down lords and Rhea knows that if she doesn’t agree, her parents will probably lose the mill. Rhea has no choice but to agree. The Lord says that he’s a sorcerer which scares Rhea but otherwise, she doesn’t know what to think.

The Lord wants Rhea to visit his manor house, which is near enough that she can walk there, but Rhea doesn’t remember seeing a manor nearby. Despite a growing unease, she packs her best dress and starts to walk. The road is very different from what she remembers and more dangerous. On the road, she befriends a hedgehog. It doesn’t talk but otherwise seems far more intelligent than usual. When Rhea finally arrives at the manor, she finds out that the lord has been lying about a lot of things. Such as the fact that he already has six wives, most of them alive.

This was another delightful Kingfisher fantasy. It has a fairy tale feel and is a reimagining of Bluebeard. This also means that the magic isn’t explained at all.

Rhea is a smart, intelligent, and determined girl. She’s used to working hard and has no illusions about her future or place in society. Practical, as is usual for Kingfisher. However, Rhea does rely on the hedgehog a lot. She’s the only POV character. I also liked most of the rest of the cast. A bit surprisingly, Crevan is left more an archetype than a real character.

There’s no rape threat against Rhea which was very nice. Rhea thinks a couple of times if the lord will want a child, but he wants something else from her. There’s also no romance element.

However, the tone shifted quite a lot from the start where Rhea is fighting an evil swan that wants to take her lunch, to a more horror style when she arrives at the manor. Also, some quirky Kingfisher humor is thrown in from time to time.

I enjoyed this story a lot. It has some horror elements, but not too much for my taste. Although the birds which had stones for eyes gave them creeps as well as one scene later in the book.

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A stand-alone weird fantasy novel that is also a homage to Sherlock Holmes.

Publication year: 2019

Format: Audio

Running time: 9 hours, 13 minutes
Narrator: Nicholas Boulton

Captain John Wyndham writers a serialized story in the Strait magazine about how he first met Ms. Shaharazad Hass, the infamous consulting sorceress who has a dark and ruthless temperament. Wyndham writes the story years after it happened, indeed after Ms. Haas has (seemingly at least) died.

Wyndham had been fighting in a war in another dimension for five years. When he returns to the city of Khelathra-Ven, he needs a place to stay and ends up at 221b Martyrs Walk. Ms. Haas is his new housemate and she seems a very quirky character indeed. But Wyndham has no choice. Soon enough, Miss Eirene Viola comes to Ms. Haas to ask her to find out who is blackmailing Miss Viola to break out her engagement with Cora Beck.

Wyndham is an entertaining first-person narrator. Of course, since this is a first-person POV, a lot depends on if the reader likes the voice. He’s from Ii which is a Puritan society so it has much more rigid sexual and social mores than Khelathra-Ven in general and Ms. Haas specifically. So, he’s forced to downplay cursing that the other characters constantly do. He’s also easily shocked by the behavior of Ms. Haas and the other characters. He also throws in meta-commentary since he’s telling the story a couple decades later. He’s loyal and too truthful for his own good. Haas takes a little bit of personality from Holmes but she’s far more morally gray character, being drug-addled most of the time, not just when she’s bored. She insults everyone and is very sure of her own power and skills. She’s also bisexual. Miss Viola is her former lover and so are quite a few other characters we meet.

The world is wildly imaginative and the blackmail plot is just an excuse to take a tour in and around the city and even to the lost Carcosa. The characters are very entertaining, such as the long-suffering Augur Lawson who is trying to rein in his too enthusiastic collages while trying to uphold the laws of the city, which forbid the use of magic. And Eirene who was a thief and an adventurer before she fell in love with Cora.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The only thing I didn’t really care for was the horror aspect which came quite late in the story.

“Co-tenant required. Rent reasonable to the point of arousing suspicion. Tolerance for blasphemies against nature an advantage. No laundry service. Enquire S. Haas, 221b Martyrs Walk.”

“To be reprimanded by one’s landlady is never pleasant, but when the censure in question is delivered in an atonal buzzing from within a partially skeletonised cadaver, within which a teeming mass of insects swarms and moves with ungodly purpose, it can be quite disheartening.”

The seventh book in the fantasy series the Invisible Library.

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Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Publishing year: 2020

Format: Print

Page count: 318

Another delightful addition to the series! Assassins are after Irene, her former apprentice Kai, and their friend the detecive Peregrine Vale. The assassination attempts are most likely related to the new peace treaty between the chaotic Fae and the orderly Dragons, because Kai is the Dragons’ representative and Irene is the neutral party in that treaty.

Irene is also dealing with a new Fae apprentice Catherine who is resenting the attention that Kai gets from Irene, so Catherine wants to prove herself and her value to Irene. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean following orders to the letter, but instead coming up with her own ideas and following them.

The book is set in Vale’s world, which has magic, werewolves, and steampunk gadgets. However, the steampunk elements aren’t prominent. Indeed, one plotline revolves around artificial intelligence.

The plot is fast-paced, but it still has time for quieter moments between the characters. Most of the cast is familiar, but we also get new characters. Most prominent of them is Kai’s elder brother Shan Yuan who has his own interests and schemes to protect. Shan Yuan is a lot more rigid dragon than Kai and very aware of his status as the son of a dragon king. We also get some revelations which I’ve suspected for a while now.

The next book is the last one in the series. On the one hand, I’m sad to see the series end, but it’s great that Cogman is finishing while the series is still good. A lot of plot threads are left dangling so I’m very interested to see how it will end. Of course, given the vast number of alternate worlds and characters, it’s very possible that we’ll see a book or three focusing on another character. I’d love to see that, either from the Dragons side or Fae or someone else.

The first book in the Heartstrikers urban fantasy series where the main character is a dragon.

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Publication year: 2014

Format: Audio

Running time: 13 hours, 31 minutes
Narrator: Vikas Adam

Julius is the smallest dragon in the ambitious Heartstriker clan. He’s also very undragon like. True dragons are cold schemers who use anyone and anything to further their own aims and the aims of their clan. But Julius just wants to get along with everyone and has no interest in using anyone. So, he keeps his head down and doesn’t interfere with the affairs of the more powerful dragons.

Finally, his mother has had enough. So, she seals Julius in his human form and sends him to Detroit Free Zone to either succeed gloriously, and bring honor to his clan, or fail miserably – and then his mother with eath him. DMZ is the only city on Earth where dragons aren’t welcome. The powerful spirit that rules the DMZ will destroy them if she sees any. While Julius is sealed in his human form, he can’t shift to this dragon form so he can’t fly or breathe fire. He’s also broke. Luckily, one of his brothers has a job for him: to track down and capture a dragon from another clan. That dragon’s family wants her back. Julius has his doubts, but he doesn’t really have a choice. Luckily, while in the club, where he met his brother, he meets a mage Marcia who is also down on her luck. Julius hires her to find the other dragon.

Not so luckily, Julius’ eldest brother, Bob (yeah, that a nickname) the family seer has taken an interest in him. And there are mobsters after Marcia.

This is a fun mix of magic, technology, dystopia, and myth. DMZ is a capitalistic dystopia where the only thing that matters is if you have money. The underside of the city is a hive of scum and villainy while the rich live in the upper levels in security and comfort.

Julius’ family is also quite chilling: they use humans as tools and anyone else, too. Julius is the opposite of them. He’s one of the kindest and most considerate characters I’ve read lately which was nice. He also has a geeky side to him, as well. He starts to like Marcia and helps her simply because Marcia is kind to him.

We get to meet quite a few of Julius’ family. Beside his ruthless, power-hungry mom, there is Ian the suave businessman who is courting a dragon from another clan, Bob the insane seer (or is he? His antics made me laugh, though), Justin the dragon with more brawn than brains, and Chelsie the family assassin. And Jessica who is a snob. Of course, we meet dragons from another clan, as well.

I really enjoyed the writing style. With a cast full of ruthless dragons, it could have been dour or black, but instead it’s light and fun. Bob has hilarious antics and Julius has a nice sense of humor.

I also enjoyed Marcia. She’s in a tight spot and making the best of it. She has a mercenary side to her which balanced out Julius well. It seems that they’re fated to have a romance, which is too bad. I would have loved for them to be friends.

I listened to the audiobook version and it was very good.

Since this is the first book in a series, some things are left open at the end.

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