urban fantasy


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.

The first book in the urban fantasy DFZ series.

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Publication year: 2018

Format: Audio

Running time: 9 hours, 45 minutes
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

Opal Yong-ae has a Master’s in magical art history. She’s also a mage, even though not a very good one. She’s never understood the intricacies of spell casting; instead she just throws raw magic at problems and they usually explode. She lives in Detroit Free Zone that is ruled by a goddess who upholds very few laws (slavery and murder are still wrong), but otherwise, the inhabitants can do whatever they please. The goddess also sometimes moves the buildings and streets around which makes even driving… quite interesting.

Opal is a cleaner. She’s a freelance agent who clears out apartments and houses when the renter has been evicted. Usually, she finds enough good stuff that she’s been able to pay her debt. But for the last six months, she’s had horrible luck and she really needs a good score so that she can make her next payment. Unfortunately, in her latest apartment instead of valuable items, she finds a body that has been rotting for a month. After her initial shock, she calls the organizer who convinces her to just clean the apartment of anything valuable. Since the body has been there for a month, it’s unlikely that anyone will come to claim it and the property.

However, Opal’s bad luck continues: while she finds a magic formula that could make her rich, she has no idea where very valuable ingredients are. But then she gets wind of where the formula might be… except that to get them, she has to use almost her last penny. And she’s not the only one chasing the riches.

This was a fun and fast-paced urban fantasy story. It combines tech and magic. The world is technologically more advanced than ours: (almost) all cars drive themselves and Opal has a personal AI, Sibyl, who takes care of paying her bills and also supports her emotionally. I rather liked Sibyl. People can also graft cyborg parts into their bodies. The world also has magic and dragons.

Opal is quite a pragmatic character, so I was wondering how and why she has a huge debt. But this is, of course, modeled after the US system where both education and healthcare can literally bankrupt a person. Even though Opal does most things in her life purely for money, she has a clear moral compass and won’t cross it, no matter how desperate she is. She also has a very interesting backstory, but I won’t spoil it here.

She runs into fellow cleaner Nick Kos who saves her from a couple of goons. Nick has guessed that she’s after something good and he wants in. Essentially, he bullies himself into protecting Opal. He’s far more mercenary than she and starts not trusting him, in fact, she thinks that he’s creepy and he’s done pretty bad things. The more we know about him, the quirkier he becomes. They’re pretty adversarial, but I guess they will become romantically attached in later books.

This series seems to be a spin-off of Aaron’s Heartstrikers series, but I had no problem understanding the world and characters. I haven’t read Heartstrikers, but the main characters there are apparently dragons so I’m going to take a look.

A stand-alone urban fantasy book.

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Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours 21 minutes
Narrator: Kevin T. Collins

I’m a huge fan of Brust’s Vlad Taltos books so I guess I was expecting something similar. The Good Guys isn’t a Taltos book.

Donovan Longfellow, Marci, and Susan are a field team for the Foundation. The Foundation is dedicated to keeping the existence of magic a secret from the regular people. They also train magic users and hire them for minimum wage. The trio considers themselves the good guys.

Donovan is told about a new murder possibly done with magic because it was done in bright daylight in a restaurant and nobody saw a thing. When the trio gets to the site, Marci finds out that very powerful magic has been used to murder the victim. A time-stopping spell from an artifact. Donovan and the team must find out who the killer is and where do they get their magical artifacts. However, when the team realizes that the killer is after quite bad men, they start to wonder if they are, indeed, the good guys.

This was an entertaining read. The characters are quite distinct but for some reason, I just didn’t connect with any of them. Donovan has some FBI training so he’s very good at police work. He’s also black. Marci is a new sorceress but unlike the other two, she has a personal life. Susan is an experienced sorceress and quite formidable with both her magical talents and physical skills. I wanted to like them more.

However, I don’t think the format of the book was best for audio. The story has many, many POV characters. One of them is in the first person and the rest in the third person. The scenes are quick and the POV character changes often. It was a bit difficult to follow in the audiobook for me.

The world was interesting and I feel there could be more stories in it. Brust plays around with quite a few tropes. For example, Donovan knows that torture isn’t an effective way to get reliable information, so the team simply talks with people, even those who try to kill them. Also, Susan is the team’s muscle.

A prequel novella to the Kana Cold urban fantasy series.

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Publication year: 2018

Publisher: AOE Studios

Format: ebook
Page count in GoodReads: 148

Mark and Alice McNeil have a terrible problem: no doctor or psychologist can find out what’s the matter with their little girl. She has bruises all over her little body and screams so much she’s hoarse. One night in front of Mark’s eyes something invisible seems to attack the girl. She falls and breaks her arm. Desperate, Mark decides to contact a supernatural investigator.

Kana Cold is just starting her work investigating the supernatural. But all the cases she’s had so far have been hoaxes or misunderstandings. So, when Mark tries to hire her, in a seedy biker bar, she’s skeptical and not really interested. But a bit reluctantly she agrees.

This is a mystery story with a little bit of horror elements.

Kana is young but already a hard drinking tough girl, and she really wants to get concrete proof of the existence of the supernatural. We find out a bit about her reasons later in the story. However, a lot of her background is still left unexplored, as is usual for a prequel. She’s half Japanese. She’s pretty distant and cold towards the clients. Her partner AJ is a gadget man and also usually handles the clients, because Kana is too blunt. AJ approaches the supernatural from a science angle and he uses a couple of tech devices he’s built himself.

This was a good introduction to the characters and the setting. The biggest problem I had was with the framing story. Mark is telling the story to a reporter but the main POV character is Kana, and she certainly didn’t share her emotions with him. So it felt a bit strange. Otherwise, this was a quick, enjoyable read.

A collection of novellas and short stories set in these writers’ own worlds, except for Marr.

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Publication year: 2009
Page count: 358
Publisher: EOS

Originally, I bought this collection for Drake’s story because I love her Dark Days series. The only one I haven’t read before is Marr. All of these stories assume that the reader is familiar with the world and the characters.

Ley Line Drifter by Kim Harrison: The main character in this story is the pixie Jenks who is Rachel’s main sidekick in the Hollows series. A strange pixie enters his home but the pixie is there ask for help and not try to challenge him. After thinking it over, Jenks agrees to try to help him.

I love Jenks and this a great story about him. However, it’s further along the series than I’ve read and refers to things I don’t know about. Also, Harrison doesn’t open the world or the characters at all but assumes that the reader is familiar with the violent world of the pixies in the Hollows series. Also, the story is left unresolved.

Reckoning by Jeaniene Frost: the main character in this story is the vampire Bones. New Orleans’ vampire queen summons him. Her closest minion gives Bones the task of killing a pair of ghouls who eat their victims alive. Also, another vampire is hunting Bones.

Bones is a very powerful and charming vampire and uses his powers of seduction and intimidation to the max. He’s the main love interest in the Night Huntress series but carried this story alone well. Also, I think this story stood alone better.

Dark Matters by Vicki Pettersson: This is the story of the parents of Pettersson’s Signs of the Zodiac series. A superhero has an affair with a supervillain. They know from the start that their relationship is doomed because they can’t alter their behavior or destiny. But they’d drawn together anyway.

I really don’t care for the way that the characters are born to good or evil in Pettersson’s series, so the story didn’t work for me.

The Dead, the Damned, and the Forgotten by Jocelynn Drake: Fire Starter vampire Mira is the Keeper of her town of Savannah. Most supernatural people in her town know to keep their secrets from human eyes. When a vampire is killed and left for humans to find, Mira has a big problem in her hands, especially when another vampire comes to town, intending on dragging Mira to Venice for punishment if she can’t solve the murder quickly.

This was a great Mira story, set right before the series starts. It gives her and her second in command Knox relationship a little bit more depth. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed.

Two Lines by Melissa Marr: this is apparently her first adult supernatural thriller. Eavan was born to a family of monsters, the glaistig, who feat of sex and death. Eavan doesn’t want to be a monster like them, she wants to stay a human. So she has avoided both so far. But now she’s become obsessed with a very attractive drug dealer who is drugging young women senseless and selling them. Eavan wants to stop that but doesn’t want to kill him and is very attracted to him. The matriarch of her family, Nyx, wants to turn Eavan to a full glaistig and forces a very attractive bodyguard on her. The bodyguard, Cillian Owens works for Crypto Drug Administration and knows something about the supernatural world. However, he’s less than thrilled when Nyx bribes and threatens him to become Eavan’s bodyguard. But he takes his job very seriously. Eavan is also very attracted to Cillian and doesn’t want him to get to any danger because of her.

This was an entertaining story with a lot of sexual tension.

These were entertaining stories but I’m not sure how well the first four will open to readers who aren’t familiar with the series.

The third book in the Casino Witch humorous fantasy cozy mysteries.


Publication year: 2018
Format: ebook
Page count at Goodreads: 189

About a year ago, Ella’s dad was murdered and she found out that she’s a mage. Her father’s death is still a mystery but she doesn’t have any clues about who did it. She doesn’t have any memories of her mom. She also doesn’t know why her dad kept her a secret from everyone in the magical community or why he didn’t tell her that she’s a mage. Her dad’s old friends Badger and Bear agreed to train her. About six months ago, Ella declared herself a Monza, a follower of “old way” who must stay celibate. She did it to get out of the clutches of mage law. She had, and still has, feelings for handsome, if aloof and unfriendly, security consultant Vin.

For six months, Ella has been training or rather burying all her feelings in training. She’s also pushed her best friend Vanessa to train with her. But now Vanessa is putting her foot down. Her mother who is Ella’s teacher, is away for a week. Ella has pushed them to go through all the exercises in just couple of days and Vanessa wants to stop doing them.

Their friend Natasha comes to Ella’s loft. Natasha has her own comedy show in on the casinos. Two of the women working in her show have left and she needs help. Vanessa jumps at the chance but Ella hesitates. She wants to keep practicing.

After Vanessa and Natasha leave, Ella’s tutor Bear stops by. Apparently, the girls from Natasha’s show haven’t left: they’re dead from drug overdose. Bear wants Ella to investigate. Ella agrees and a job at the comedy show is a great way to go undercover. However, she decides to keep the investigation secret even from Vanessa.

This is a more serious entry in the series. While we still get wild antics from Patagonia, Ella’s huge black familiar cat, there aren’t many other jokes or humor, especially compared to the previous book which was set in a hilarious cheese convention. Ella investigates the overdose with a drug which seems to affect only mages. Also, a handsome new love interest appears. The mystery around Ella’s dad and childhood deepens, though.

While I didn’t enjoy the plot as much as in the previous book, I did enjoy the characters and quite a lot of other things, like the descriptions of Ella performing on the comedy show. She thought it would be just a small thing but it’s really not and panicked at first. Vin doesn’t appear much which is good because I can barely stand him. Natasha is a great character and I’d like to see more of her.

The first book in the urban fantasy series Santa Olivia. Can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours 51 minutes
Narrators: Susan Ericksen

I freely admit that I had pretty high expectations from this book. Based on reviews I expected it to be an unconventional superhero book. The ideas were good but unfortunately, it didn’t really work for me.

The main character, and the third person narrator, is Loup Garron who was born and raised in the small town of Santa Olivia. It’s set in a future (or alternate reality from ours) where there is a demilitarized zone between Mexico and Texas. Santa Olivia is in that zone and it’s inhabitants are prisoners in their own town: they can’t leave and their access to the outside world is limited. The US military controls the town. Apparently, the rest of the world don’t even know that town exist and the town’s name was even changed to Outpost number 12. The only entertainment they really have are boxing matches. Sometimes the town’s champion can box against the military champion and if the town’s man wins, he wins a ticket out of the town. Nobody has ever won. Oh, and US doesn’t have female soldiers anymore.

The story starts before Loup is born, with her mother Carmen as the POV character. She has flings with some guys, essentially living off them because her waitress job doesn’t really pay enough. She falls in love for the first time and the man dies, leaving her with a little boy, Tommy. Six years later she meets and falls in love with a deserter, Martin, who turns out to be a genetic experiment. He has really dense muscles and he doesn’t know fear. For a few months Carmen hides Martin and they have mind-blowing sex. Martin is supposed to be infertile but isn’t. In the end, a jealous local turns Martin in and he must flee. Carmen stays in town with Tommy.

Before Martin left, he told Carmen and Tommy that they must keep Loup safe. She can’t do it herself because she won’t know fear. She will also be faster than humans and stronger. Throughout her childhood, Loup must always be on guard to hide her abilities.

Carmen raises the two kids but she dies when Loup is fourteen. Tommy is old enough to get a job and also practices boxing so that he could take Loup out of Santa Olivia. Loup goes to the local orphanage where she has a hard time keeping her secret.

This is essentially a coming-of-age story and focuses on the people around Loup, on overcoming hardship more than actual fights. It only has a few fight scenes. A couple of times Loup and her friends act like vigilantes against men who have wronged the townspeople. But mostly it deals with her growing up: getting friends, dealing with her mom’s death, her awakening sexuality. Through it all, Loup must keep her secret or the military will drag her away. It has romance, especially near the end but the romance isn’t the focus of the story.

To me, Loup felt a very composed character. She rarely has strong emotions. Her main motivation is to keep the people around her safe and herself out of trouble. Of course she makes mistakes, she’s a teenager. She knows that she’s different from everyone else and dreams of escaping the town and finding her father.

The book has an interesting cast of characters. Loup’s big brother Tommy is very protective of her but he’s also single-mindedly focused on winning the boxing championship. I quite liked him but didn’t like what happened to him, but I guess it was inevitable. Another strong secondary character is the boxing teacher who is an older man and apparently knows the military commander quite well.

A larger cast develops when Loup goes to the orphanage. I found them to be an interesting mix and enjoyed them a lot.

The first book in the Templar Chronicle urban fantasy series.

Publication year: 2005
Format: ebook
Page count on GoodReads: 306
Publisher: Harbringer Books

Cade Williams in the Knight Commander of his own elite team of Knight Templar. The Echo team has a reputation for getting things done, but Cade himself is called the Heretic and many of the deeply religious knights fear him and think he’s damned.

One of those knights is Knight Lieutenant Sean Duncan. He’s the head of the protetive detail for one of the leaders of the order. One of the knights’ stronghold is attacked bytsupernatural forces and every knight is killed and the graveyard is desecrated. Duncan’s superior calls in the Echo Team. The team is missing one member and Cade chooses Duncan to replace the dead man. Reluctantly, Duncan agrees but he’s very suspicions of Cade from the start.

Cade has suspicions on just what has attacked the stronghold and he starts an investigation which unearths a plot against the whole order.

There are a lot of legends around the Poor Knight of Christ of the Temple of Solomon or Knight Templar or Templars. In this story, they are the good guys, protecting humanity from supernatural dangers. The bad guys are sorcerers who are bringing demons and undead spirits to the world.

It has two major point-of-view characters, Cade and Duncan. While they have quite a few similarities, they have differences, too. Both were inspired to join the order because their wives where murderd. They both have magic powers which they’re keeping a secret from everyone. Cade has the Sight with which he can see to a world beyond ours and also past events of object he touches. He can also travel to the Beyond through mirrors. Duncan can heal with his touch.

However, Duncan is devoutly religious while Cade lost his faith when his wife was murdered before his eyes. Duncan is also very faithful to his superior while Cade pretty much does as he pleases. Cade is hunting for the Adversary who ordered his wife killed.

This was an exciting read with lots of fight scenes and a fast-paced plot. It didn’t end in a cliffhanger but it left major plot poins open at the end.

The second book in the fantasy series Craft Sequence. It’s a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 347
Publisher: Tor

This is a very different book from the first one. It’s set in a different city with different characters.

Caleb Altemoc is a risk analyst to the Red King Consolidated. His father Temoc is a famous terrorist and Caleb doesn’t want anything to do with him. The Red King Consolidated is responsible for distributing clean water to the city of Dresediel Lex which is in the middle of a desert. It has 16 million people.

When Tzimoth demons are infesting a water reservoir Caleb is sent to check it out in the middle of the night. It’s very unlikely that the demons have come there naturally. One woman flees the scene. She seems to be a cliff runner, just there for the thrill of it. Caleb chases her but can’t catch her. He falls instantly in love/lust; he doesn’t tell his employers about her and instead tries to find her himself.

However, he suspects that his father Temoc is behind the attack. When Caleb returns home, Temoc is waiting for him.

Twenty years ago, the city was supported by human sacrifices to the gods who hunger blood. But then the Craftmen and Craftwomen rose in revolt in God Wars. One of them was a man whose (male) lover was killed as a sacrifice. Now, that man is the King in Red. Craft (magic) has eaten away his flesh and he is essentially a walking skeleton. He has made many, many contracts to support his company and in practice he rules the city. Not only does his company rule water but his Wardens are the police (who ride on flying lizards).

Caleb’s father is the last priest of the old gods. Temoc and the King in Red battled fiercely during the war. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Red King has taken an interest in Caleb. Temoc is hunted and has learned how to keep hiding. He still wants the old ways to return and to him the Craftsmen and -women who rose and killed gods are blasphemers. Still, he loves his son and is interested in what’s going on in his life.

Caleb’s main hobby is gambling. He’s good at it, too. He’s very loyal to the King in Red and loathes his father and the blood-soaked system he represents. I found the gambling fascinating because one of the few deities who are left is the goddess of gambling. When she’s present, the players bet a part of their soul, usually very small part. The winner gets the soulstuff of the others.

The city’s whole economy is based on soulstuff. The people are paid in soulstuff and they pay everything with the pieces of their souls. Indeed, some people are enslaved after death. The company has zombies working for it and I think it was said at some time that the workers had sold his body before they died so this isn’t a case of necromancers robbing the bodies. But otherwise the city feels quite modern: modern professions and corporations with office workers. They even go to ullamal games and support various teams.

While this was an entertaining enough read, I didn’t like it as much as the first book. The magical parts of the city were fascinating and I quite liked the side characters. Teo is Caleb’s best friend. She’s from a wealthy family but loathes her family and wants to get by on her own. She works for the RKC, as well. She’s in her forties. Her girlfriend is an artist. I also found the relationship between the King in Red and Temoc very interesting. The theme of revolution interesting and it’s not used very often in fantasy.

The budding romance between Caleb and the mysterious cliff runner Mal is one of the main features in the story. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for it.

I thought RKC is supposed to be criticism against modern corporations and reading about how they “employ” dead, it does sound rather chilling. And of course some other things we find later on are really troubling. But the King in Red is an immortal so he has far longer view than any corporation where the people in charge think in only four month segments, if that.

An entertaining read but to me not as appealing as the first book.

A Buffy the Vampire Slayer book set late in the third season.

Publication year: 1999
Format: Print
Page count: 289
Publisher: Pocket Books

Buffy’s world is falling apart. Her mother Joyce has met a very nice man and is dating him.

Also, Giles seems more absentminded than before. He promised to look after Oz’s wolf form but delegated it to Angel instead. When Buffy storms off to his apartment, she finds out that he’s with a new, beautiful teacher.

At the same time, Buffy’s old friend Pike from Hemery High (from the movie) comes to Sunnydale. He’s evasive at first but confesses that a stone demon is hunting him. The demon can change any living flesh to stone. While Pike knows about vampires and demons, he fights them only when hasn’t got another choice. He’s asking Buffy for help.

Buffy’s friends try to convince her that her mom dating is completely normal, at least when the man in question seems to be completely normal. Still, it’s hard for Buffy. Of course, Buffy has her own love life to worry about when Pike comes to make trouble for her and Angel.

Giles’ absentmindedness continues so much that Buffy and the others really start to worry about him. They keep a close eye on him and, indeed, something sinister is happening to him.

This was a pretty enjoyable book otherwise but I really didn’t care for the Pike/Buffy/Angel triangle. We know that Buffy can’t choose Pike because he’s not in the show, so it’s really pointless. The stone demon was a pretty average monster of the week. The Giles story line also had something I thought couldn’t be canon at all but it was resolved at the end.

The characters are well done, of course. Golden is usually one of the best Buffy writers.

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