Once Upon a Time VII

Once Upon a Time VII challenge ended a few days ago. Thanks to Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting the challenge!

I read ten books for the challenge and enjoyed all of them. I signed up for Quest the Second with five books so I completed the quest.

I managed to finally finish two fantasy series but started four others. I’ll certainly continue with Jim Hines’ Princess series. In fact, I already have the next two books. I also have Jemisin’s The Shadowed Sun.

Books read:
1, Yvonne Carroll: Leprechaun Tales
2, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: The White Mists of Power
3, Patrick Weeks: The Palace Job
4, Lisa Shearin: Con & Conjure
5, Lisa Shearin: All Spell Breaks Loose
6, Rachel Caine: Working Stiff
7, Jim C. Hines: The Stepsister Scheme
8, Jocelynn Drake: Burn the Night
9, Aliette de Bodard: Servant of the Underworld
10, N. K. Jemisin: The Killing Moon

The first in a fantasy duology based on ancient Egypt, The Dreamblood.

Publication year: 2012
Format: print
Page count: 415 including an extensive glossary plus an interview of the author and an excerpt from the next book
Publisher: Orbit

Gujareen is a small but wealthy country. It’s ruled the Prince who is the earthly consort of the Goddess Hananja. She’s the goddess of dreams, death, and the afterlife. She also has servants who must choose one of the four paths: Teacher, Sentinel, Sharer (healer), or Gatherer.

Ehiru is one of the four senior Gatherers. His job is to give peaceful death to the suffering, or the corrupt. In order to do that, he must enter his victim’s dream and make is a peaceful, blissful dream. He also gathers the victim’s dreamblood which is very addictive. So, he, and the other Gatherers, can’t go more than a few days without gathering dreamblood. The Superior of the order decides who they kill, or gather, and Ehiru trusts him unconditionally. However, when the story starts, Ehiru has been sent to gather a foreigner who is supposed to be corrupt. The foreigner doesn’t worship Hananja and he resists the gathering. He talks about how the Gatherers are corrupt and Ehiru is so disturbed that he makes a mistake and destroys the man’s soul. Ehiru is greatly disturbed and goes into seclusion. However, the Superior convinces him to take on another commission. The victim is another corrupt foreigner; she’s an ambassador from another country. Reluctantly, Ehiru agrees and take with him his apprentice.

Nijiri is sixteen years old and studying to be come a Gatherer. He has just ended his studentship. Even though Ehiru is in seclusion, Nijiri wants to be his apprentice. Reluctantly, Ehiru accepts him. Nijri was born into the servant class but since he was a young boy, he has lived a pretty secluded life among the priests. Ehiru’s mistake with the soul disturbs Nijiri, but the boy is very loyal to Ehiru and supports him no matter what.

Sunandi is Kisua’s ambassador to Gujaareh. She’s also a spy and on the trail of a huge plans. She meets the General who shows her some disturbing things. Sunandi and her young aid Lin makes plans to flee the city so that they can warn the Kisuati leaders but Ehiru is sent to kill her before she manages to leave. Sunandi is able to convince Ehiru that she has found evidence that even the Gatherers are corrupt. Ehiru and Nijiri are disturbed and agree to put Sunandi’s gathering in abeyance for now while they look into it.

Ehiru and Nijiri are both devoted to their goddess and have strong faiths. However, they are both tested sorely with the secrets they find out. They can be quite stoic and distant to the reader, too. Sunandi is an intelligent woman and an experienced spy. She’s used to talking her way out of bad situation.

Gujareen is based on ancient Egypt and Sudan. I adored the world building but otherwise the book is pretty bleak. The characters have secrets which can bring down countries, they are double-crossed, and should trust no-one. Unfortunately, there’s no humor to balance it.

The Gujareen use dream magic, nacromany. The Sharers can use the dreamblood harvested from the dying to use is to heal others. Through her followers, Hananja offers her people a peaceful life: healing during life and a peaceful death at the end. However, foreigners often don’t see that and they call the Gatherers assassins.

The first book in a fantasy trilogy set in the Mexica (Aztec) Empire.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 431, including a glossary and author’s notes
Publisher: Angry Robot

Acatl-tzin is the High Priest of the Dead and his job is to make sure that the dead get the right rites. Sometimes, he also investigates suspicious deaths. However, this time he’s called to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a priestess of a fertility goddess. The Priestess’ quarters are full of blood and it’s possible that she isn’t alive anymore. Acatl tries to trace the magic coming out of the Priestess’ room and identifies it as a jaguar spirit, who can be summoned by anyone who was born on the day of the jaguar (every 20 days). However, the trail vanishes soon, so Acatl can’t trace it to the summoner.

One man is found in her quarters drenched in blood and looking for something. Unfortunately, that man is Neutemoc, Acatl’s elder brother. The brothers has drifted apart in recent years; Neutemoc despises Acatl because Acatl isn’t a warrior, but a cowardly priest, and Acatl knows that. Acatl is also burdened by their parents memory; they didn’t approve of Acatl’s choice of become a priest instead of a warrior.

Neutemoc is a Jaguar Knight, a member of an elite order of warriors, he’s rich and married with children. Acatl doesn’t own much and is forbidding from marrying and getting kids. Reluctantly, Neutemoc confesses that he knew the disappeared priestess. She was holy prostitute for the warriors when they were both younger and Acatl suspects the Neutemoc has either committed adultery with her or was going to. This would shame Neutemoc’s whole family, so he has a motive for kidnapping her. Neutemoc forbids Acatl from looking into the matter but Acatl investigates, anyway.

The plot involves Aztec politics and gods. The Emperor isn’t in good health and when he’s health declines so does the influence of his principal god, The Sun God Huitzlipohtli.

I really enjoyed the book. The Aztec customs aren’t too alien. Perhaps the most startling difference was the way the warriors openly looked down on the priests, especially Acatl. In European settings, the priests are usually respected. The Aztecs also use blood magic; they need blood from live animals or people. Human sacrifice is talked about but isn’t shown. Acatl usually uses his own blood for minor spells, he cuts his earlobes open, but he also sacrifices small animals, like birds.

The gods are very much alive and influencing things. Acalt even meets a few of them. Many people seem to be able to use magic but the gods demand constant sacrifices and rites.

Acatl seemed a bit colorless character, compared to some other amateur detectives I’ve read about. He has an inferiority complex towards his brother and feels guilty about his choice to become a priest and leave Neutemoc to gather glory to the family. He’s also somewhat jealous to his brother about his family. Neutemoc is an arrogant warrior who doesn’t always think things through and takes lot of things for granted. Acatl also gets a young Jaguar warrior sidekick who is eager to prove himself. The position of a High Priest is very political but Acatl isn’t a political man; in fact he goes out of his way to avoid politics which can case harm to his priesthood. He didn’t want the position of a high priest but was appointed against his will. His second in command thinks that he’s politically incompetent.

I was also fascinated by the author’s notes where she tells about her research and writing about the book.

The last book in the series.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 418
Publisher: Harper

Mira has to confront all of her enemies in this final book of the Dark Days. She has a lot of them including the naturi Queen Aurora, her father, who is an ancient god, and the man who made her a vampire and manipulated her through out her whole life. Happily, she’s also got friends and allies she can depend on. Also, Queen Aurora’s younger sister Cynnia is offering Mira and the rest of the nightwalkers an alliance. If Cynnia’s forces beat Aurora, the naturi will live quietly side by side with humans and vampires. But the catch is that Mira will have to work with her nemesis, Rowe, and she doesn’t know if she can do that.

Most of the book is written from Mira’s first person POV. The book has another point-of-view, too: Nyx, who is Aurora’s and Cynnia’s middle sister. She was born different and most of her people have shunned her. Her father, the king, trained her to be a protector of her people. But Aurora has forced Nyx to hunt her own people and now she’s hated and feared. However, Nyx believes that Aurora has lost her mind and is leading the naturi towards destruction. So, she has sided with Cynnia against the queen she has served all her life. Cynnia has sent Nyx out to recruit other naturi clans to her side. Nyx also needs to recruit Rowe. Most of his life Rowe has been Aurora’s champion and husband until Aurora banished him recently. Nyx thinks that Rowe resents Aurora because of that and will join Cynnia’s cause.

Burn the Night is a good ending to the series. Mira has to face a lot of enemies and the plot lines are concluded. I was surprised when I realized that a new POV character was introduced. Nyx hasn’t had a significant presence in the series so far and she’s somewhat similar to Mira: a formidable fighter who wants to protect the people close to her. Yet, she brings an insider’s POV to the people who have been the major enemy throughout the series; we get to see the division inside the naturi lines and that some of them just want to live in peace. So, I think the new POV was needed.

Overall, I was satisfied with the ending.

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.

The last book in the fantasy series.

Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Eileen Stevens
Running Time: 9 hrs and 19 minutes

The previous book ended in a big cliffhanger when a goblin thief stole the soul sucking magical rock called the Saghred. The goblin king and his insane, powerful sorcerer Sarad Nukpana are going to use the rock to invade the elven lands and kill lots and lots of people. But before that happens, Nukpana has to feed souls to the rock. And because our heroine Raine Benares is bonded to the rock, she is going to feel excruciating pain every time a soul is fed to the Saghred. Eventually she’s going to go insane from the pain. Nukpana, the rock, and the goblin king are in the goblin kingdom capital, Regor, which is several days’ travel from Mid, where Raine is.

Fortunately, Raine has powerful friends who are going to help her. She also has the one magical artifact which is capable of destroying the Saghred. However, destroying the rock is going to release the souls already trapped in the rock which is going to lure in Reapers who guide the dead souls forward. Unfortunately, the Reapers are likely to take Raine’s soul, too. Fortunately, there’s one old mage in Regor who can control Reapers and help Raine. Also, even though Regor is far away from Mid, there’s a way to get there in time to stop the invasion: mirror magic. And the most powerful mirror mage in Mid is Raine’s other arch enemy Carnades Silvanus. Silvanus was caught in the previous book and in exchange for some mercy, he agrees to help Raine. Of course, Silvanus will be waiting for an opportunity to stab Raine in the back.

Raine, the exiled goblin king Chigaru, his spy master Imala Kalis, the leader of the most elite fighting force of Mid Mychael, a (former?) dark mage Tam, Carnades Silvanus, and a couple of other people are going to Mid where they will be the most hunted group of people in the whole kingdom. Oh, and Raine doesn’t have any magic.

This was a great ending to the series and stays true to the light spirit of the previous books. We get to meet Tam’s family and his former teacher and see more of the goblin country. One of my favorite literary troupes is enemies forced to work together so I enjoyed seeing Carnades with the group.

For a last book in the series, we’re introduced to a lot of new characters, including Tam’s brother and parents. My favorite was the crusty old mage who eats stinky cheeses.

I’ve really enjoyed the characters in the series and most of them are brought together here. The villains are villainous and the heroes have to overcome their own fears to save the day.

Some might find the ending a bit too convenient but considering the length of the series, I think that was appropriate.

Fifth book in the series.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 322
Publisher: Ace

Raine Benares is an elf seeker and a member of a very notorious criminal family. She got accidentally bonded to a very powerful magical rock, the Saghred, and since then pretty much everyone has wanted to use or manipulate her to their own ends. Now, she’s on the island of Mid for her own protection as well as others’ protection. The head of the Seat of Twelve, who rule Mid, wants to imprison Raine and use Saghred through her. But because the king of the goblins and a very powerful goblin sorcerer also want Raine, she’s marginally more safe on Mid.

Now, the goblin king’s exiled brother is coming to Mid and bringing his enemies with him. Unfortunately, those enemies don’t care how many other people their kill to get to Prince Chigaru. In addition to the goblin king’s assassins, someone has hired the best assassin in this world to kill the prince: Rache Kai, who just happens to be Raine’s former boyfriend. Raine fears that Rache will come after her or her current boyfriend.

However, Raine and her family are also trying to solve some of Raine’s problems. They know that the head of the Twelve, Carnades Silvanus, and his cronies are corrupt; they just don’t have any proof. So, Raine’s banker cousin is coming to cut off Silvanus’ and his cronies money supply. Raine has also a part to play because she’s very good at glamoring herself and so she can pretend to be another banker.

Unfortunately, things rarely go according to plan and soon Raine is again on the run, as an outlaw.

If you’ve read the previous books in the series, I think you will like this one, too. Raine is again dodging enemies left and right. The love triangle was solved in the previous book, just in time for Raine’s ex-fiancé to pop up and make Raine really uncomfortable.

The plot puts Raine’s glamoring ability to good use and that’s always fun: Raine disguises herself as a male banker and talks to one of Silvanus’ top cronies about their future plans. Unfortunately, Raine also makes a point to talk about how, er, badly endowed the poor banker is and that he might have turned to crime because of that.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed the book. The main plot is in full gear and going forward. The next book is the last in the series and so Con & Conjure ends with multiple cliffhangers.

As always I enjoyed the cast and the witty, if somewhat repetitive, writing style.

A stand-alone fantasy book.

Publication year: 2012
Format: ebook
Page count: 229 in .pdf
Publisher: Tyche Books Ltd.

Loch and Kail are soldiers of the Imperium but they’ve been caught and are in the Republic’s maximum security prison. The prisoners work on the underside of the floating city of Heaven’s Spire where they have to keep the magical lapiscaela in working order. The place is almost impossible to escape from except by falling into you death. However, Loch and Kail have a plan and Loch has to get away from the prison because she has bigger things to do. The pair escape but of course they become the most wanted villains in the Republic and the prison warden, Orris, becomes their implacable enemy. Justiciar Pyvic is sent after them, too.

While Loch has been in prison, a high-ranking Imperial officer has taken her family’s property and Loch wants them back. In order to do so, she has to break into the most heavily guarded areas of Heaven’s Spire. They are guarded by magic as well as people.

The Place Job is a heist story with an engaging cast. Loch herself is a very moral soldier; she repeats ”Fight the enemy, not their people” and expects others to follow that saying, too. She’s confident and very intelligent and at least one step ahead of her enemies. Oh, and she’s a black woman. Kail is her most trusted friend who will go through fire for her. He’s also more a rogue than a fighter and his favorite tactic is to insult the enemy’s mother until the enemy looses their cool and attacks him. Together Kail and Loch gather a group of people to help them. Loch knows some of them already.

Ululenia is a shapeshifting nature spirit. She’s in it for the money because with the money she can buy land away from greedy humans. She’s very attracted to virgins and her natural form is a unicorn. She’s not really a combatant and instead uses mind control.

Icy Fist is an acrobat and a martial arts expert. He’s sworn an oath not to hurt living beings. He’s an Imperial by birth and is very courteous towards the local, Republic’s, people. He usually works with Tern who is an expert lockpicker and tinker. She’s also an actor and skilled in con jobs.

Loch is looking for an old and reliable magic user she knows. Unfortunately, he has died so instead Loch has to settle for Hessler who has just been thrown out of the university. Then he was accused of cheating at cards and promptly thrown into jail. A young and naive man tried to defend Hessler and ended up in chains next to him. Hessler doesn’t want to leave the boy so Loch agrees to take in Dairy as well. That’s the boy’s nickname. Hessler’s expertise are illusions and magical objects.

Last but possible the most interesting person in the group is Desidora, a death priestess who has an interesting history. She’s working on magic defenses along with Hessler. She also has a talking, ancient warhammer Ghylspwr which can do a lot of damage. Ghylspwer talks in a made-up language.

On the other side of the legal fence is the hard-working ex-solder Pyvic who is doing is best to get the prisoners so that he can get on with the important work. However, politics gets into his way. The former warden Orris is assigned to Pyvic because Orris needs a chance to clear his name. Unfortunately for Pyvic, Orris doesn’t know anything at all about catching criminals. Of course, the story has also a mystery villain who is behind it all and has lots of political power.

All of these people have personalities and they all have their moment to shine, so the book doesn’t feel too crowded.

I was a bit surprised by how much I liked this book. I love Ocean’s eleven and the TV series Hustle but I haven’t read many heist stories so I was a bit skeptical about how well it could work. This one worked really well and I enjoyed it throughly. In fact, I wouldn’t mind reading more about Loch and her friends. (The other heist story I remember reading was Sanderson’s Mistborn which I also loved. Hmm. Any recommendations of other heist books?)

The world is a bit different from usual fantasy worlds. For one thing, the Republic is really a republic with people voted into office. It requires some way to tell people about what’s happening and here they use a puppet show! I loved that! The Republic has a two-party system, the Skilled and the Learned, who are constantly at odds with each other. The magic system isn’t really explained but I didn’t mind that. It felt more like technology than magic, to me.

The narration doesn’t tone down the danger but it’s not really gory or gritty (thankfully). In fact, the book has a lot of humor.

A stand-alone fantasy book.

Publication year: 1991
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Gildart Jackson
Running Time: 9 hrs and 38 minutes

I’m a fan of Rusch’s SF books but this is the first fantasy I’ve read from her. It’s also her first published book.

Alaric is the King’s eldest son and heir. Even though he’s still very young, ten, he’s already trying to know how to do his future job properly. At the start of the book, he’s gone to see a mysterious Enos who can see his future. The Enos prophesies that Alaric will wise and feared but that he will be threatened with death.

Alaric is constantly asking his father about the ways to rule. However, his questions annoy the King and alarm the high nobles. Alaric wants to go the nearby big city Anda and Lord Boton promises to take him there. However, it’s Lord Ewehl who shows up to escort the young prince to the city. The Lord gives the boy some money and sends him off to explore Anda on his own. Unfortunately, Alaric is soon beaten and robbed. To his shock he finds out that Lord Ewehl hasn’t waited for him and nobody believes that he’s actually the prince.

Seymour is a son of a famous magician. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have his father’s talents and so he wasn’t properly trained. He lives on the lands of lord Dakin who has a dark reputation for hunting his enemies with dogs and Seymour is one of the few who has escaped such a hunt alive. When he hears that another man is being hunted, he helps the man. The man turns out to be Byron, a bard. Byron is rumored to have killed a lady and that’s why he’s in trouble. He’s, of course, innocent. He needs a powerful protector and to get that he heads to the King’s court. But getting to the King isn’t easy and lord Dakin is still after them.

The world has a few unique features even though the social system is a common feudal system. The Enos seem to be some sort of earth spirits but in physical bodies. They are attuned to the land and can sense if the land is in turmoil or “wants blood”. The Enos make prophesies and are forbidden to help humans.

Magic is real and magicians are accepted as another profession. Herbal healers help people and powerful wizards are in the Lords’ employ. Byron ends up leading a bardic troupe so we get to know more about them.

Alaric is an idealistic ten year old but he feels older to me. However, he has to quickly learn to live in his new life. Luckily, he makes friends who will prevent him from dying of hunger on the streets. He learns harsh lessons.

Seymour is in his mid-thirties and he’s lost his idealism long ago. He’s bitter at his father and unsure about his own abilities. He develops a quick attachment to Byron and the two travel together. Byron has ideas about how to get into the King’s palace and how to leave their pursuers behind.

The book has many other point-of-view character. Some of them are seen only briefly and some of them are the story’s bad guys. One of them is a starving street urchin.

I enjoyed the book but I don’t think it’s quite as good as Rusch’s later books. Still, it’s nice to read a stand-alone fantasy for a change.

Illustrated by Jacqueline East

A retelling of six Irish folktales about the Little People.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 64
Publisher: Gill & Macmillan

This is a charming little book for kids. Each page has illustrations which match the story on that page. The book has six stories where people encounter Leprechauns in various ways. In a couple of them, greedy humans are trying to get the Leprechaun’s gold but there are other classic tales, too. The stories are pretty short.

The stories: The Crock of Gold, Niamh, The Sidhe, The Fairy Lios, The Magic Cloak, and The New House.

To me the illustrations look similar to children’s book illustrations and they fit the stories well.

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