The first book in a French historical fantasy series. Original title: Les lames du Cardinal. Finnish title: Kardinaalin miekat.

Publication year: 2007
Publication year in Finnish: 2010
Publisher in Finland: Gummer kustannus oy
Finnish translator: Taina Helkama
Page count: 383

The book is set in Paris in 1633 with Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu ruling the country, in their own ways. Paval has done meticulous research. Indeed, he sometimes interrupts the story to tell us details about Paris and the historical characters at the time. A couple of Dumas characters make cameos.

As a powerful man with many enemies, both personal and France’s enemies, Richelieu employs swordsmen. Some of the best were known as the Cardinal’s Blades but some five years ago the Cardinal had to disband them because of political reasons after a disaster at La Rochelle. Now, he has summoned them to serve him again.

Captain Étienne-Louis de la Fargue isn’t happy to serve and Richelieu has to resort to some blackmail to get the elderly captain back, and soon la Fargue is gathering his group together again. The womanizing, hard-drinking Nicolas Marciac who is also a doctor. The elderly Spanish master swordsman Anibal Antonio Almadès de Carlio. Young Baroness Agnés de Vaudreuil who is headstrong and independent. And a couple of others. All of them respect and love the captain and follow him willingly, even though most have reservations about the Cardinal.

On the other side are the forces of the Black Claw, a secretive Spanish group of people descendent from dragons. They use magic and small pet dragons as well as manipulation and assassinations to infiltrate France. And perhaps the Cardinal who is ruthless when it comes to keeping France safe.

In this world, dragons are real and there are different kinds of dragons. The smallest ones some people keep them as pets and a few can be trained as couriers. Some dragons are larger than horses and willing to carry people. A few people have dragons as ancestors so they are “half bloods”. They have lizardlike eyes and many people shun them. A few were described as lizard men. Apparently, the ancient, huge dragons were very intelligent and malevolent. Also, close contact with dragons can infect people with incurable disease.

And yet, all these dragons don’t seem to have affected the flow of history much. Also, dragon couriers are apparently not trustworthy because important messages are still sent in horseback. Indeed, one of our heroes is carrying such a message and is followed and attacked. I would have thought that following a flying courier would have been much harder.

Pevel has lots of action with daring escapes, duels, and swordfights. He also describes the Paris of the time wonderfully: it has both mansions were the rich and powerful live, the secret courts where the beggars and criminals meet, and filth-ridden streets. The Finnish translation includes a map of Paris in 1633.

The pace of the story is quick with short chapters that sometimes end in cliffhangers. There are a lot of POV characters: in addition to all the blades, there’s the Cardinal, two or three antagonists, and a surprising number of only once-seen characters. This made it sometimes a bit hard to remember who the characters were.

The characters are painted with broad strokes and are epic swordsmen who can handle a dozen enemies at once. In contrast, the plot has lots of twists and turns, keeping this reader guessing. There are also a couple of surprise revelations, one which I guessed beforehand and one which I didn’t see coming at all.

I didn’t like this as much as I wanted to but I might read the next in the series. Hopefully that one doesn’t end in a cliffhanger because the rest haven’t been translated to Finnish.

The first book in a planned steampunk series.

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 122

This short book starts the story of two young women in a country at war. Both women are interested in mechanics but don’t think they can really pursue it for real. But when men are called to war, women get chances they otherwise wouldn’t.

Alicia Reynard is a farm girl with a very active imagination and eye for mechanical work. Her father has always encouraged her and even bought some books for her, even though they’re very expensive. She loves to draw and read. When the war against a neighboring country heats up, their small earnings go down and her father has to find another employment. But then the University at the capital calls for female students. It’s very expensive but it might also be the only chance Alicia will have.

Lady Elena Singleton was born into a wealthy noble family but she has to keep up with appearances. This means getting married which is she doesn’t want to do. She studies mechanical engineering secretly and thinks that her life will end when she’s forced to marry some bore. However, her grandmother smuggles science books to her and encourages her to dream. When the university calls for female students, Elena’s mother forbids her to go.

This is quite a gentle story with little adversity to the women. Alicia is encouraged by everyone around her. Elena’s mother is against Elena’s scientific interest but her grandmother is supportive. I liked the main and the supporting characters. Alicia’s mother goes through a more significant change than Alicia herself. However, we saw Alicia a lot more than Elena. In fact, when we saw Elena in the latter part of the book, through the eyes of someone else, she didn’t seem the same character.

The ending is abrupt although I wouldn’t call it a cliff-hanger. There’s no clear ending and we don’t know when the story will continue.

The culture feels like a Victorian one where women stay at home and most of the time don’t take part in any business or other public venture. But when men are sent to war, women all over must take over for the men. And nobody objects. This is what I have some trouble with, being a student of history.

The whole culture seems to be very practical about it. Only one person in the book objects, and that’s Elena’s mother, and her reasons are “respectability” and “tradition”. But if most people are alright with women working and being able to work just as well as men, why don’t capable women already run their own business (even in Middle Ages, a widow could take over her deceased husband’s business) or work alongside men or demand to be let into university? Historically, women’s work has been discouraged because most people thought women were simply incapable of any intelligent work and/or it’s the natural order etc. Nobody here said anything like that, which seems strange.

But I’m curious to see where this story will go.

Government agents are trying to protect the US from fairy tales because fairy tales are true and trying to suck as many people as possible to unhappy endings.

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 5 minutes
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal

Apparently, this came out first in a serial format, one chapter at the time. I got it as a full audio book and the serialization shows a little, because McGuire recounts previous happenings. But I had too much fun with the book to get annoyed. However, this is a book where thinking about certain things later actually turned my initial enthusiasm down.

Henrietta Marchen (whose last name means fairy tale in German) leads a field squad of four people. They all work for the ATI Management Bureau. ATI is short for Aarne-Thompson Index, an index used to measure and keep track of real-life fairy tale manifestations. Fairy tales aren’t actually innocuous but instead they all want to make life terrible for everyone involved. Why? That was never explained. (I guess I have to admit that I’m not happy with a premise that stories are inherently evil. It just feels wrong.)

Anyway, three of the people in Henry’s team are connected to a specific fairy tale but they’ve managed to put their stories on hold (which is called being in abeyance) and that’s why they’re in the team. Henry herself is a Snow White, born to a Sleeping Beauty. Her mother was in a coma when she and her twin were born. Sloane Winters is an Evil Stepsister. While she manages to keep her murderous impulses at bay, she has a really foul temper and mouth, insulting everyone around her and especially Henry (whom she calls Snow-Bitch). She’s the main profiler and also does most of the violence. Jeffrey is an archivist and a fairy tale tailor. Andy Robinson is the only “normal” person in the squad, he’s the PR person who handles most contact with the “civilians”.

I like the pacing. Slone is really the best character in the book and she even has layers which we get to see eventually. Henry is the first-person narrator of most of the story. But there are several third-person POV narrators, as well. A couple of chapters start with the POV of the victim of the story. Each chapter deals with one major tale and in later chapters more than one tale. After a few chapters a longer storyline starts to develop.

The stories range from Sleeping Beauty, who has a contagious sleeping disorder, to Pied Piper, and Goldilocks and the three bears and beyond. The twists in them are enjoyable and McGuire clearly knows them inside and out. However, I had some problems with why all the tales are dark and horrible. I guess the only reason is that otherwise there wouldn’t be much a story to tell. I’m also not so sure if it’s would have been wise for some stories to be evil and others good… Most fairy tales do have darker sides, especially in the older versions. And once you start to think about what the “lessons” are.

The other major element in the book is a police procedural. The team works for a government agency, flashes their badges to normal cops, and even have a boss who doesn’t like or trust them.

Recommended to people who like police procedurals and fairy tales with twists.
There’s a second book and I intend to get it.

The first book in a YA science fiction/fantasy trilogy Feyland.

Publication year: 2012
Format: ebook
Page count: 319

I’ve enjoyed Anthea Sharp’s short fiction before so when I got a chance to try out one of her books (which seems to be still free on Kindle), I jumped up at it, even though the book is YA which I don’t usually read.

This is an interesting mix of science fiction and fantasy. The setting is near-future SF world where the people with money have all sorts of gadgets in everyday life, including homes with AI, and the poor people… barely survive. Jennet Carter is a game developer’s daughter. Her father gave her access to the latest fantasy full immersion simulation game, Feyland, which is still in development. But when she loses a game to the Dark Fairy Queen, she realizes that the Queen has actually taken her soul and she might die. Events in the game affect real world.

Her father has also been relocated to a very different part of the country and Jennet follows him to Crestview because she has to play again in the experimental game and try to get her soul back. Unfortunately, the Queen declares that Jennet can’t return unless she has a champion with her. So, Jennet goes into the unfamiliar school which has kids from both rich and poor families, and tries to find anyone who is good enough simulator player that he could save her. Luckily for her, Tam Linn attend the same school. Reluctantly at first, Tam agrees to play the experimental game with her, but soon he, too, is enchanted by the Feyland.

Tam Linn comes from a poor broken home. His mother is a drug addict who can’t be relied on and he has a younger brother who needs to be watched constantly. His only refuge from his terrible life is playing simulation games and he’s very very good at it. At first, he resents Jennet’s status but soon he starts to care for her, as well. However, he’s reluctant to show or talk about his life to her which puzzles her.

Tam and Jennet come from very different backgrounds but they have a common love: gaming. Tam can’t rely on his mother and his father is long gone. However, Jennet’s father is around but she doesn’t talk to him because she thinks it’s too difficult. I found this a bit hard to swallow but this is a YA book and if the adults get involved, the youngsters get sidelined. Also, Jennet doesn’t even think about helping Tam with his home situation. Granted, Tam is pretty tight-lipped about it but once Jennet sees his “home” she doesn’t think about helping him, even once.

Oh yeah, Tam and Jennet are definitely forming feelings for each other. Despite Jennet being in trouble, she’s as helpful as she can be in the game and isn’t just a damsel in distress.

I really enjoyed the very dark and moody Feylands with the appearance of a couple of creatures from fairy myths. I also liked the side character Marne, a fat girl who is Tam’s only friend (until Jennet shows up). Tam’s problems with his family were believable, in fact I bought them far better than Jennet’s inability to talk to her father.

The book has a clear resolution. A good read and I enjoyed the mix of SF and fantasy.

The second book in the Gateways to Alissia series where a stage magician from our modern world travels to a world where magic actually works!

Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count: 317
Publisher: Harper Voyager

I got an eARC from the publisher. Thanks!

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, the Rogue Retrieval, and this sequel didn’t disappoint. However, you really need to read that first book before diving into this one.

Quinn Bradley is a stage magician who had dreamed his whole life of getting to perform on the big stages in Las Vegas. Now, he’s finally made it: a slot on Bellagio Casino. However, when an agent from CASE Global asks him to come back, Quinn doesn’t hesitate to agree.

CASE Global is one of the big international corporations and it has found a gateway to another world, called Alissia. It’s all top secret but the company has been sending people to spy on Alissia for 15 years. But then their top operative and Alissa expert, Dr. Richard Holt, defected. He disappeared into Alissia with a backpack full of modern technology. Now, he has reappeared – as the head of the most powerful country in that world. Of course, the company wants him taken out. But that’s not easy because Holt has friends all over the place and now even real wizards ensuring his safety.

Quinn and his friends from the first book return: anthropologist Veena Chaudri is as knowledgeable and enthusiastic as before and the tough soldiers, Lieutenant Kiara and Paul Logan, continue to kick ass when needed. They’re joined by another soldier Julio Mendez who instantly likes Chaudri and the feelings are mutual. Their mission is to locate and capture Holt and the advanced tech he has. But to do that, they need to gather information. Quinn’s specific mission is to get back to the Enclave, where the local magicians live and train, and set a beacon in it so that the company can find the place. Soon, they find information which forces the group to divide with Quinn, Chaudri, and Mendez going one way while Kiara and Logan go another. Also, when Quinn finds a way to maybe get into the magicians’ island, he has to go there alone.

The story has three point-of-view characters: Quinn, Logan, and Chaudri. They have communication devices so they can keep up with each other. They’re all also important to the plot and the pacing is pretty quick. They’re all likable and interesting.

Quinn is starting to get second thoughts about fulfilling his mission and he gets mixed up in the Enclave’s politics which could be very dangerous. He’s fascinated by real magic. Even though he has come up with interesting gadgets to mimic magic, now that he knows the real thing is possible, nothing else with do. As in the first book, he’s glib and charming, quick to smile and joke.

Near the start of the story, Kiara gives Mendez an order to kill one a spy from a rivaling company. This doesn’t sit well with Logan even though he doesn’t question his loyalty to CASE Global. Also, Chaudri has to struggle with her own conscience.

The vast majority of the story is set in Alissia. Still, all the major characters are from our modern world, so we get a lot of contrast between the Renaissance like world and our world which I liked. The team has lots of modern tech with them, from binoculars disguised as opera glasses to tablets disguised as books. Logan drills Quinn and the others in combat but Quinn is much better with a bow than a sword because Quinn’s grandfather taught him how to use it.

The Alissian people aren’t depicted as being ignorant or backwards which was good. Some of them are good, some of them are pirates looking for loot. This time, the group uses bribes more than their weapons.

The story does end in a couple of cliffhangers so I’m hoping the third book will be out quickly.

The second book in the wonderful fantasy series Divine Cities.

Publication year: 2016
Format: print
Page count: 442
Publisher: Jo Fletcher books

The story starts about five years after the ending of the previous book, City of Stairs. Colonel Turyin Mulaghesh who was the polis governor of Bulikov has been promoted to general and joined the Saypuri Military Council. But recently she has retired to chase her dream of living beside the sea and enjoying life. Sadly, that dream hasn’t come true. She lives by the sea but in a hovel and has to chase local bandits off her property. She also has flashbacks to the Battle of Bulikov. When an old associate comes to her bearing a letter from the current Saypuri Prime Minister, Mulaghesh is at first annoyed. However, she agrees reluctantly to become the Prime Minister’s spy.

The PM’s previous investigator Choudhry has disappeared and it’s Mulaghesh’s job to go to the city where she vanished and find out what happens to her. Also, the Saypuri have discovered a metal in that same city that not only conducts electricity 100% but it also seems to augment the electricity. This shouldn’t be possible and the PM is concerned that something Divine is behind it. What really irritates Mulaghesh is where she’s going: Voortyashtan which is the “ass-end of the universe, armpit of the world” as she calls it. Voortyashtan was built by the sea but the port is currently extremely dangerous to use because of debris from the time when the Continent’s gods vanished (in the event called the Blink). The city was also the capital of Voortya, goddess of war, death, and destruction. She was the first divinity killed and none of her miracles work. But her followers, her sentinels, were hated by the Saypuri and they don’t treat the remaining people at all nicely. In fact, beside Voortyashtan is the Fort Thinadeshi which has guns trained on the city all the time. And the weather is miserable.

Mulaghesh is tortured by her past and she can’t escape it here because the fort’s commander is also her old commander. Mulaghesh finds out that the disappeared woman had started to act strangely and was considered insane by some. She comes into the middle of a politically hot situation: the invading Saypuris are constantly harassed by the locals whom the Saypuri’s hate. Also, northern Draylings have been hired to clear and rebuild the harbor. Both Saypuris and the locals cautiously trust them, as long as they don’t do anything weird.

City of Blades continues in the wonderful footsteps of the previous book: an investigation in a new city. Many of the elements which made the previous book great are here, too. I through enjoyed Mulaghesh as the main character and her journey in this book is more personal than Shara’s in the previous book. Mulaghesh is a career soldier and over fifty. She smokes cigarillos, drinks, and curses a lot. She has a tortured past and yet she has uncompromising principles.

However, this is a grimmer book than the first one; there’s little hope of complete victory, just keeping to your ideals while the world goes to hell. The theme of the book centers on war and soldiers. It also contains some gruesome violence. I’m also not sure if I agree with the ending for even though it was rather impressive.

We also get to know some more about the history of Saypur, how it rose after the gods were killed and about the horrible way the Continentals kept the Saypuri slaves before the gods were killed.

Great, wonderful continuation of the series!

The fourth and final book in the series Magic Ex Libris where magic comes from books.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 44 minutes
Narrator: David DeVries

About a year ago, Libriomancer Isaac Vainio told the world that magic exists. He was hoping for a future where he and the other Libriomancers can help and heal people openly but instead they face a lot of suspicions and fear. Still, Isaac was able to found New Millennium, a research facility for all things magical. But the US authorities want everything researched thoroughly which frustrates Isaac and sometimes the people he wants to help. Especially when the person he wants to help is his young niece.

But another group of supernatural people want a war with the normal people and they’re attacking politicians who are against magic. Soon, Isaac and his friends are also in the crosshairs.

I’ve really enjoyed this series and was somewhat saddened to see it end. But it ends on a high note which is always good. I loved the new, and old, gadgets and magics Isaac and his friends use. And I really like his endless optimism in seeing how much good magic can do.

The ending is also open enough that there’s a chance Mr. Hines will write more stories in this world.

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