Jim C. Hines

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 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 fourth book in the series where Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty are the main characters.

Publication year: 2011
Format: Audio
Narrator: Carol Monda
Running Time: 11 hrs

The story starts with a humorous episode, where Snow and Talia are hunting a couple of witch hunters who are in Lorendar’s capital. One of the with hunters is Hansel and the other is his sister. However, after that the tone of the book becomes far more serious because Queen Beatrice dies. The characters have know for a while that she’s dying but it still hits them hard. Snow has been preparing a spell which should keep the queen’s soul in this world. Unfortunately, the spell fails. Instead the magical mirror Snow has inherited from her cruel mother, breaks. Now Snow sees the world as it “truly” is: cruel and ugly, and everyone is really alone. She goes around the palace wounding others with the shards from the mirror and they begin to see the “true” world, too. Danielle’s husband Armand succumbs to this evil spell but their young son Jacob is able to resist it. Snow is intrigued by the boy and when she leaves for her home country Alessandria, she takes the three-year-old boy with her. But she leaves someone behind: a young woman who looks very much like Snow. She calls herself Gerta and claims that she used to be Snow’s imaginary sister but now Snow has made her real.

Danielle and Talia insist that they should go after Jacob and Snow, and they commandeer one of the Queen’s ships. Even though they don’t trust Gerta, she is their only link to Snow, and so they take her along.

Years ago, Snow’s mother Rose Curtana ruled Alessandria which is renowned for the number and quality of the magic-users it has. However, she was a cruel woman who wanted to kill even her own daughter. Snow fled and eventually she defeated her mother. But afterward Alessandria’s nobles found Snow guilty of murder and banished her. Now, Snow returns to her homeland and wants revenge.

I think Snow Queen’s Shadow is a worthy end to the series. Danielle and Talia are forced to fight against their dear friend and comrade in arms. They will also have to make hard decisions. Gerta is a new and mysterious character, and Danielle and Talia don’t know what to make of her. Gerta muses about her origin, and if she even is a real person. She seems to have a lot of Snow’s memories and so she knows Talia and Danielle but they don’t know her. That’s more than a little awkward.

Alessandria’s current king wants to defend his country but Danielle and Talia want to save their friend, no matter how powerful Snow’s enemies are.

The third book in the series.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Narrator: Carol Monda
Running Time: 11 hrs

The book starts with Danielle (Cinderella), Talia (Sleeping Beauty), and Snow (Snow White) apparently making a deal with a poor miller Lang whose daughter can spin straw into gold, even promising to marry the girl to Danielle’s infant son when the boy is old enough. However, this turns out to be a ruse to lure out the fairy Rumpelstiltskin. The gnome has stolen children for years and erased their memories but the three princesses end all that.

Lang and the gnome are sent to another country for their punishment but their carriage is attacked and everyone killed. The attacker sends Danielle a message and her stepsister’s toe. The attacker is Roudette, the Lady of the Red Hood, a master assassin. Even though Danielle’s stepsister tried to kill her in the first book, Stepsister Scheme, Danielle insists that they will try to rescue her. Talia, Snow, and their fairy friend Trittebar set out to kill Roudette and rescue the stepsister, if possible.

I really enjoy many of the aspects of this series. Characters grow and change during the series and bad consequences aren’t just made to disappear. Danielle’s mother-in-law Queen Beatrice was stabbed in the previous book. Even though Snow was able to heal her so that she didn’t die immediately, she is dying more slowly and everyone knows it. Also, Snow was wounded in the previous book and the wound has made it more difficult for her to use her magic. There’s also positive growth: Danielle is now a mother and she must think about her family first.

I also really enjoy the friendship between the three women and between them and Beatrice who is beloved mother figure to them.

This story focuses on Talia, who has so far been the most mysterious figure. Now we get to really know her past. Her home country, Arathea, is in a desert and based on Muslim culture. As far as I can tell, the writer is sensitive to the Muslim culture. Arathea is ruled by fairies and according to Arathea’s religion, fairies are essentially angels and doing what the fairies say will save a mortal’s soul. Talia violently disagrees with all that because she slept during the time when the fairies took over Arathea. Essentially, they took over Talia’s land. The Wild Hunt also makes an appearance. We also get to know a lot about Roudette, the Little Red Riding Hood. Her past is just as dark as the other princesses’.

The second book in the fantasy series.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Carol Monda
Running Time: 11 hrs and 50 minutes

The kingdom of Lorindar and the merfolk have had friendly relationship for a long time. Lorindar’s Queen Beatrice takes her new daughter-in-law, Princess Danielle, also known as Cinderella, to the annual meeting with the merfolk, called undine. They are accompanied by masterful swordswoman Talia (also known as the Sleeping Beauty) and Snow (Snow White) who is a sorceress and uses mirror magic.

The undine tribe’s king has died and his daughter Lirea attacks the ship demanding that Queen Bea should return her sister. The crew and the three princess leap to the Queen’s defense. But in the middle of fighting, Lirea stabs the Queen and steals her soul with the magical knife. Lirea and her tribe flees and the princesses try to save the Queen’s life. Back in Lorindar, the royal healer says that the Queen will last only a couple of weeks without her soul. It turns out that the Queen does have Lirea’s sister, Lannadae, but only because the Queen wanted to protect Lannadea from her sister.

In order to heal the Queen, the magic users need Lirea’s knife. The best bet to finding Lirea is her sister. Lannadea is eager to help the Queen, but she’s somewhat timid after being shut into an underground cave for a year. However, Lannadea knows where her grandmother Morvean is. Morvean has made the knife so she could be really helpful. The three princesses and Lannadea sail on a quest to find Lirea. Lorindar’s other ships are defending the country against undine attacks and Danielle’s husband Armand leads the fleet.

I enjoyed this book as much as the previous one even though this book darker in tone. All of the three princesses have been abused in the past and carry the scars. Danielle was forced to work by her stepmother and step sisters, and she still feels like a maid, not a princess. She cleans when she’s nervous. Snow was abused by her mother who wanted to make Snow a great sorceress and a vessel for her spirit when her own body started to age. Snow always compares her skills to her mother’s skills and flirts with any handsome man to cover her real feelings. Poor Talia hates fairies and has a very hard time trusting anyone. This time we got a point-of-view from all of the three women and also from Lirea. She is the Little Mermaid familiar from fairy tales but her tale is also a very dark one.

I really enjoyed Hephyra. She’s the captain of the ship where our trio spends most of their time. She’s a dryad and when the elven queen cut down her tree, it was made into a ship, Philippa. She’s very sexual and has a bit different sexual mores than humans. She also wants to be independent but that’s not possible. The ship has been enchanted so that Hephyra has to obey Queen Bea and Hefira resents that. Hephyra is the unquestioned captain of her ship and not shy about telling her opinions.

The plot feels perhaps a bit slow at time but frankly I enjoyed the characters so much that I didn’t care.

The undine have a different culture than any of the humans because of their physiology. They hibernate during the winter and also have a separate mating season. The royals emit a scent in the water and control their underling with that scent. Many of the undine also believe that they don’t have souls and are jealous of humans because of that. Some humans also think of the undine as animals.

The first book in a fantasy series about reimagined fairy tale princesses.

Publication year: 2009
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Narrator: Carol Monda
Running Time: 11 hrs and 29 minutes

Princess Danielle is Cinderella. She married her prince with the help of her dead mother and despite the obstacles created by her cruel stepmother and her two daughters. She’s had a wonderful couple of months with her prince Armand and now she’s expected to learn everything a proper princess does. However, one of her stepsisters, Charlotte, tries to kill her and even gloats that she and her sister have kidnapped Armand.

One of Danielle’s maids helps her against Charlotte who escapes with the help of magic. The maid Talia turns out to be Sleeping Beauty. She and her fellow princess Snow White are secret agents for Armand’s mother, Queen Beatrice. Danielle wants to rescue Armand and reluctantly Beatrice sends her with Snow and Talia to track down the prince. The trail will take them to Danielle’s former house and then to fairy lands.

I liked the book a lot but for some reason, I didn’t really click with the writing. I also didn’t really care for the second half of the book where our heroine is rendered helpless. However, she does essentially get herself out of the trouble so that’s a big plus. The book has lot of humor, too, but unfortunately, some of it wasn’t to my taste.

Each of the princesses have a personality and specialty of her own. They back stories aren’t the Disney versions but the darker, older versions. Danielle is sweet, trusting, and caring. She loves animals and has a way to communicate with them, but she doesn’t command them. She’s also been a servant for a long time and she’s still struggling to get out of a servant’s way of thinking. Talia has a grim history which we don’t find out until later in the book. She doesn’t trust others easily and she loathes faeries. She also constantly challenges Danielle because of Danielle’s inexperience. Talia is an expert swords woman partly because one of her gifts from the fairies is perfect grace. Snow is a balance between the two, she’s mostly friendly to Danielle and the others. She’s also more sexual and often flirts with men. She likes to draw attention to herself. She’s also a sorceress and used mirror magic.

I really enjoyed the fairy land. Hines used a lot of material from different fairy tales and made them work together beautifully. For example, you shouldn’t accept deals or favors because fairies always ask something awful in return, usually your first born child. Fairies also stick to the wording of a agreement and not to the spirit. And the glass sword was awesome!

The next book in the series is the Mermaid’s Madness and I will listen to that, too, at some point.

The first chapter is available for free on Hines’ site.