urban fantasy

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.

The third book in the Magic Ex Libris urban fantasy series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours and 41 minutes
Narrator: David DeVries

In Unbound Isaac is trying to correct things that went wrong in the previous book, Codex Born. He’s in a very bad place, emotionally and perhaps financially as well. The people around him fear that he’s becoming depressed which makes him reckless not only with his own life and wellbeing but with the people he cares about.

The Libriomancers have concealed the existence of magic from the ordinary people for centuries. Now, the secret is out and many people are scared. Each chapter has a short section taken from internet discussions, radio shows, newspaper articles and comments, etc. They all concern the presence of magic. Some people are scared, some supportive, some pleading for magical help. I really enjoyed them. Since the book is told in first person from Isaac’s point-of-view, they really helped show lots of people’s attitudes towards magic and what is happening in the wider world.

Meanwhile, the threat of a ghost army is still present and Isaac and his friends must try to find some way to stop them and also to get back a teenaged girl they’ve kidnapped. Without the backing of the Libriomancer organization this is not easy and Isaac has to rely on his personal contacts.

I enjoyed this book a lot and it’s a great addition to the series. Isaac’s still a huge SF and F nerd and I loved all the references to books. Their enemy has even managed to slip their letter (which starts the book) into one of G. R. R. Martin’s books which was a hoot.

The plot was mostly fast-paced but most of the book is spent on the run, hiding in hotel rooms. I also felt that the secondary characters were often more interesting than Isaac himself.

The second book in a humorous fantasy series.

Publication year: 2001
Format: print
Page count: 416
Publisher: DAW

The book starts a week after the first one ended. Claire Hansen is Keeper who has to close down portals to Hell. Dean McIsaak is a Bystander, a normal human. But they’re in love. However, Claire soon realizes that she doesn’t want to put Dean in danger and just tells him that she’s leaving. And once Claire has made up her mind, nobody can change it.

But apart, they’re both miserable. Claire is so distracted that she’s even a danger to herself. Luckily, her younger sister Diana, who is still a teenager, conspires to get them back together again.

However, the plot kicks in higher gear, when an angel manifests unexpectedly – to a teenaged girl’s bedroom, naked. Enraged father kicks him out and the confused angel realizes that he has now a fully functioning human body, genitals included. Usually, angels are biologically sexless. Additionally, the angel doesn’t have a mission, which is also unusual. Still, he tries to help people around him and doesn’t understand why they don’t like discussing their private lives with strangers. And then there are the… extra bits which seem to have a life all their own.

Meanwhile, a demon manifests as well. Demons are also usually sexless but this demon is the exact opposite of the angel. So, a teenaged girl who’s actually a demon is walking around Canada.

Claire is her stubborn, more-Keeper-than-thou self and Dean is just as polite and cleaning obsessed as in the previous book. Austin, the talking cat, is also a big part of the book. Diana is ten years younger than Claire and they don’t get along well, especially since both think that they’re always right. But in the end, they support each other.

Lots of sex jokes, lots of other humor and sibling rivalry. This was a fun and funny read. It’s set around Christmas. I recommend reading the first book first though.

I liked this book more than the first one because it has more coherent plot and because the unsatisfied sexual tension goes away pretty quickly. And because of the angel and the demon, who become increasingly human during the story. The angel particularly has problems with his unexpected maleness.

“The constant low levels of sharp-edged irritation would have poked multiple holes through the fabric of the universe had government officiousness not cancelled it out by denying that anything was possible outside their very narrow parameters. As a result, most border crossings between U.S, and Canada were so metaphysically stable, unnatural phenomenon had to cross them just like everyone else – although it wasn’t always easy for them to find a photo ID.
Later, they’d swap stories about how custom official had no sense of humor, how someone – or possibly something – had been strip searched for no good reason, and how they’d triumphantly smuggled through half a dozen toaster ovens, duty-free.”

The first in a humorous fantasy series.

Publication year: 1998
Format: print
Page count: 331
Publisher: DAW

Claire Hansen is a Keeper, a person who sorts out magical accidents. Usually, that means that she’s magically summoned to a place where a pit to Hell has opened and then she seals it and moves on to the next site. But this time, things aren’t as straight-forward. When she stumbles into the Elysian Fields Guest House in the middle of a thunder storm tired, drained and head aching, she doesn’t at first realize that she’s in the house where she was summoned to. In the morning, she finds out to her horror that she’s now the owner of the run down little place. The hotel has an opening to Hell in the basement but it has been closed temporarily. Apparently, two Keepers were needed to close it down, and in one of the rooms one Keeper is sleeping in suspended animation, as she has been for about 50 years. Claire needs to figure out just what she has to do here. Additionally, the hotel comes with a young and very nice handyman Dean who is distractingly gorgeous and the most trustworthy person in the world. The attic also has the ghost of a man who has died over a hundred years ago. The hotel attracts only a few customers but they’re quite strange. The nosey old woman next door doesn’t make things easier, either.

Claire has a cat companion Austin. He can talk and does so quite a lot. Sometimes he’s helpful, sometimes snide but mostly he wants to be fed, and preferably not the geriatric kibble the vet has assigned to him. Austin is, after all, already 17 years old.

This was a fun and funny, light read. It’s not really an adventure story, though. More like a comedy with heavy romantic elements. Claire and Dean are dancing around each other the whole book. Dean comes from Newfoundland, and he’s very polite, loves to cook and clean. He’s also very decent fellow who is immediately attracted to Claire. Claire has been a Keeper all her life, meaning that she’s always got magical powers and she knows a lot of things which normal mortals don’t. She’s determined, or rather stubborn, and she’s used to doing things by herself and moving from place to place. When she’s faced with the very real possibility that she might have to stay in the guest house for years, she doesn’t take it well. She’s also never really considered a long-term relationship, so she quickly dismisses Dean as too young for her. Of course, the Hell pit in the basement is quick to send her all kinds of temptations so perhaps is smart no to start anything right next to it. I just though it was a very weak excuse.

This book also contains a love triangle, or at least a triangle of unsatisfied sexual tensions. But it might be the nicest love triangle I’ve ever read about. The ghost in the attic is Jacques, a French sailor, and he’s also immediately attracted to Claire. As a Keeper, she can give him a body and that’s what he asks her for, in between hitting on her. Dean, of course, doesn’t like it but is mostly really polite about it. Things never escalate to an obnoxious level.

The neighbor Mrs. Abrams is another quite funny character. She has orange hair, doesn’t remember Claire’s name, and has the tendency to barge in whenever she wants to. She also has a Doberman called Baby.

The different guests are also very funny. I also loved the pop culture references, especially to Star Trek: The Next Generation.

However, the book doesn’t have a coherent plot. Different things just happen. The characters don’t really change, either.

Yes! A new Toby Daye book!

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours and 28 minutes
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal

October, Toby, Daye is hosting a slumber party to the teenagers in her life so for once things are quiet. But not for long. Toby’s Queen Arden Windermere asks Toby’s help. In the previous book, the alchemist Walter revealed that he had found a cure for elf-shot. Elf-shot is what the fae nobles use to wage war on each other and threaten others while still keeping to the letter of Oberon’s law of not killing each other. When a full-blooded fae is shot with it, he or she will sleep for a hundred years but if a changeling is shot with it, he or she will die. Walter’s family was elf-shot and they were sleeping so he found a cure and woke them up. Queen Arden’s brother and best friend are still sleeping and she wants to wake them up. However, lots of fae are really concerned about the cure and the High King Aethlin Sollys has decided that nobody should be woken before he calls a conclave of all royalty. The High King is coming next week and Arden wants to wake up her brother and best friend before he arrives. Of course, he arrives early and catches Arden, Toby, and Walter red-handed.

Toby is ordered to attend the conclave. She loathes politics and now she must mind her manners among all the North American royalty. She takes her squire Quentin with her, of course. But there are, of course, complications. For one, the meeting takes place in one knowe and nobody can leave or enter until a decision has been made. For another, Toby’s fiancé Tybalt has to keep a distance from Toby. Tybalt is the king of the court of dreaming cats and he can’t be seen allied to anyone outside of it. For third, Toby’s liege Duke Sylvester Torquill will be there, too.

But soon after then conclave begins, one of the monarchs is murdered and it falls on Toby to find the murderer. Many of the full-blooded fae despise Toby because she’s a changeling which makes the investigation all the harder. Luckily, she has the backing of the Queen Arden and the High King and Queen. At the same time, the fae discuss the cure and surprisingly many are against it.

This is another excellent addition to the series. I adore these characters and the setting. Toby is her determined self and we get to see a lot of the Luideag the Sea Witch, Tybalt, and Quentin. I really enjoyed their interactions. I was rather looking forward to seeing Quentin with his parents but that didn’t happen. Arden is also seen more. She’s a new queen and new to the world of fae, as well, so she’s still unsure about herself. But this time she could host the gathered royalty without mentioning how much she wants to run away. So, she’s growing into her role. We also get hints that the young oneiromancer Karen isn’t what she seems.

The book has a lot of new characters. However, I thought the High King and Queen were a bit too easy to manipulate. Otherwise, the new monarchs were a nice mix: they weren’t all arrogant, racists jerks thinking that changelings were born to serve them.

This book didn’t bring as much heartbreak to Toby as some of the other books so it didn’t feel as intense to me as, say One Salt Sea. I wasn’t really happy with the ending, either. However, quite a few characters have been elf-shot during the series, so I’m very interested in finding out what happens to them. And I just have to wonder what is the Sea Witch up to? Hopefully, we’ll find out soon.

The second in the fantasy series Magic Ex Libris set in modern times. And with magic that needs books!

Publication year: 2013
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 59 minutes
Narrator: David DeVries
Publisher: DAW

Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer: a mage who can pull items out of books. This ability works for all printed books (which are well-known enough to have inspired large amount of belief) but he uses mostly science fiction and fantasy books. Firstly, because he likes them the best and secondly because those genres have the most useful toys: Excalibur, healing waters, scrying mirrors… Yep, they’re very useful indeed. After the previous book, Isaac was reconstituted as a field agent and he’s also doing magical research. He’s part of Die Zwelf Portenære, the Porters, who protect the world from magical threats and also from the very knowledge that magic exists. The leader of the group is Gutenberg himself who is still alive (and not a nice man). Isaac is also in a relationship with Lena Greenwood who is a dryad and kicks serious ass with her bokken.

The story starts with Isaac and Jeneta, a young woman who has apparently stumbled into a way to use e-readers for magic, which is something that was thought to be impossible. She’s trying to teach it to Isaac. However, Isaac is called away to investigate the murder of a wendigo. Apparently, the wendigo was killed by a human which is very rare. But after using a mirror that can see into the past, Isaac and his team gets clues about the murderer. But before they can do much about it, Lena’s tree is attacked and everyone (that is Isaac, Lena, and Dr. Nidhi Shah) return to Isaac’s home. Lena’s tree is behind it and strange small things which turn out to be magical metallic insects are attacking it. Of course, they have to investigate.

Each chapter starts with a vignette from Lena’s point-of-view. Lena a kick-ass dryad whose life has been quite unusual because she’s a character from the book “Dryads of Neptune”. She’s also bisexual and polyamorous. It’s great to see things from her perspective; the vignettes which follow her life give her a lot of depth which I don’t think could have been given any other way. I loved these parts! Although they don’t tie into the chapter or rest of the story until near the end.

This time we find out a little about the history of writing and magic outside the Western world and we get a non-Western magical society. But things don’t go smoothly, to say the least.

The plot is actually pretty close to the first book’s plot. Still, I greatly enjoyed this one, too. I like the characters a lot, especially Lena. I recommend reading the first book first, though. The ending isn’t (quite) a cliffhanger but things are likely to change a lot in the next book.

The first in the fantasy series Magic Ex Libris set in modern times. And with magic that needs books!

Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 33 minutes
Narrator: David DeVries
Publisher: DAW

Isaac Vainio is a libriomancer; he can pull out objects out of books. And that means fantasy and SF books, too! Johannes Gutenberg founded their organization which has been secretly protecting humans from vampires and other baddies for centuries. Gutenberg is still alive and running them.

Isaac was a field agent once but two years ago he was forbidden to use magic and demoted to a “mere” librarian. However, when three vampires attack him in his library, he’s forced to use magic again. Thanks to the timely arrival of his butt-kicking friend Lena Greenwood, Isaac survives the attack and finds out that Gutenberg himself has disappeared and that the libriomancers and the vampires are apparently at war with each other, each side blaming the other for starting it all. Worse, Lena’s lover has been kidnapped and she asks Isaac for help. Of course he has to help.

I enjoyed Hines’ Princess series a lot and so the siren call of this book, too, lured me in. I loved the idea of libriomancy and it was used fully in the first chapter. Isaac is huge fan of SF and fantasy so he uses items from those books. One of the first items used is Lois McMaster Bujold’s truth drug, fast-penta! He also uses disruptors from Star Trek and other various items. However, there are limits. For example, the item must be small enough to physically fit through the covers, so no Enterprise or Millennium Falcon. (Well, ok, Paramount’s and Disney’s copyright lawyers are also scary.) Also, intelligent creatures shouldn’t be brought through, either. They tend to go insane. Also, Libriomancers themselves can’t just write books with all the cool toys they want to. Books also need enough enthusiastic readers until they’re magical enough to function.

Isaac is an earnest young man who wants to help the people he likes. He loves SF and fantasy and even dresses in a long brown coat, because of Captain Mal! On the other hand, he can be ruthless towards other people.

Lena has a… very interesting backstory and I was a bit concerned at first at how Hines would handle it, but I shouldn’t had been. He handled it tastefully. She uses two bokken, wooden swords, and since she’s a dryad, a tree spirit, she can do interesting things with them. She’s an awesome fighter, going toe-to-toe with vampires. And she’s bisexual. We find out early on that Isaac has a huge crush on her and this made me cringe, too, but for the most part, Hines dealt nicely with that, too. Oh, and she’s not thin.

Smudge is Isaac’s pet fire spider. It did come through from a book but since it’s an animal, it was able to adapt. It’s very loyal to Isaac and functions as an early warning system, too.

One of Isaac’s friends is Ponce deLeon who knows quite a lot about magic, since he’s several hundred years ago, like Gutenberg.

On the minus side, the world required a lot of explaining so there are numerous info dumps.

This was fun ride. And the ending had a twist which makes me eager for the next book.

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