The Fantasy Reading Challenge


It’s time to check how I’m doing with the challenges and I noticed that I managed to complete this one months ago.

I aimed for level 4: Obsessed – Read 20 Fantasy Fiction novels and now I’ve done it:

1, Naomi Novik: Victory of Eagles
2, Lori Devoti: Amazon Ink
3,Kate Elliott: Shadow Gate
4, Sharon Shinn: Dark Moon Defender
5, Lois McMaster Bujold: The Curse of Chalion
6, R. A. MacAvoy: Tea with the Black Dragon
7, Caleb Fox: Zadayi Red
8, Megan Whalen Turner: the Queen of Attolia
9, Ilona Andrews: Magic Bites
10, Kirsten Imani Kasai: Ice Song
11, Stacia Kane: Unholy Ghosts
12, Laura Anne Gilman: Staying Dead
13, Elizabeth Bear: Hell and Earth
14, Jim Butcher: Grave Peril
15, Jim Butcher: Fool Moon
16, Patricia McKillip: In the Forests of Serre
17, Carrie Vaughn: Kitty and the Midnight Hour
18, Steven Brust: Brokedown Palace
19, Lisa Shearin: Magic Lost, Trouble Found
20, Jocelynn Drake: Nightwalker

Done! Yay!

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The second in the Detective Inspector Chen series.

After the events in the first book, the demon Seneschal Zhu Irzh has been moved from Hell’s Vice section to Singapore Three’s police force. Detective Inspector Chen and his wife are on a well-deserved vacation in Hawaii. When an unidentified young woman’s body turns up, Zhu Irzh is assigned to the case. However, when the police finds out that the woman is the rich celebrity Deveth Sardai, the demon is taken off the case, unofficially. But Zhu Irzh is interested and continues his own investigation especially after he meets the seductive Jhai Tserai, the murdered woman friend, a canny business woman, and a suspect in the case.

Deveth’s girlfriend Robin Yuan works in a lab. Her job is to do tests on a demon who is a captive in the lab. Robin comes from a very poor family and is grateful for her good job. However, she’s starting to feel very sorry for the demon. Then she catches really bad cold and in her delirious state she sets the experiment free.

Dowser Paravang Roche is having a really bad week. A demon police officer cancels his Feng Shui license and his dead mother keeps calling from Hell asking why he isn’t married yet. Then the demon makes him work for free and during the job, the demon attacks Paravang! Naturally, the dowser wants to return the demon back to Hell.

Jhai Tserai owns a very big company. She has also lots of secrets. For one thing, she isn’t human and non-humans aren’t allowed to own property in Singapore Three. She has to take medication to keep her non-humans side in check. Unfortunately, that means that even though she can seduce practically anyone, she can’t enjoy sex. She also made a deal with Hell which includes doing experiments on certain non-human subjects to make a virus. Now, one of her formerly competent underlings has managed to let the experiment loose into the city.

The demon Zhu Irzh is the main character in the book and Chen doesn’t appear until around halfway. However, the demon is a very entertaining character. He isn’t “good”; he’s always looking for his own gain. He doesn’t have fixed loyalties, not even to Hell. In fact, he might be more loyal to Chen than Hell.

The other characters are also entertaining although I felt that Paravang was a bit detached from the overall story. However, his tragicomedic story brought more humor to the book. Robin struggles mightily with her conscience; she tries to convince herself that the experiment is evil and so she can continue to, in essence, torture him. But she doesn’t really buy it.

For me, the setting overshadows the characters. The Chinese mythology, the afterlives, demons, gods, and goddesses are so different from the other settings available in SF or fantasy that I pay a lot of attention to them. The Night Harbor, an afterlife between Hell and Heaven, is a chilling place, and some souls can be forgotten there. Heaven isn’t just or even kind place, and Hell seems to be very much same as Earth.

The chapters were very short, usually just two or three pages, and the point-of-views changed quickly. The plot moves along quickly and the stakes turn up to be very high.

The second book in the Raine Benares fantasy series.

Raine Benares is a seeker who finds lost objects and people. However, in the previous book she was bonded with the soul eating stone Saghred which gives her a lot of magical abilities and enemies to go with it. Some want Raine and the stone as their own weapons, and others want to protect people from Raine. Neither is really a good deal for Raine herself.

Raine wants to get rid of the stone and in hopes of doing that she traveled to the Isle of Mid which is home for a lot of powerful wizards. She’s given her own bodyguards and the leader of the Guardians has also taken a special interest in her. When spellsinger students are kidnapped, Raine wants to help, too.

The plot moves along briskly and the narrative style is light and humorous. There’s also some politicking among the most powerful mages. We get to know more about the relations between the races, how the Saghred works, and how vulnerable pretty much everyone, who isn’t stinking rich, are in this world. Being a powerful mage seems to be an especially vulnerable position because the people with more money and political power will want to use him or her for their own benefit.

Most of the supporting cast from the first book returns. The young Piaras is auditioning for a place as a student. He also gets first hand experience of how the more politically powerful people treat a handsome and talented youngster. There’s some talk that training a mage costs a lot of money. Weirdly, nobody mentions money when Piaras’ training starts so he seems to be so talented that he’s an exception.

Raine’s cousin, the pirate captain Phaelan, is also on the island protecting Raine. Mychael is the leader of the Guardians so he’s on his home turf. He tries his best to protect Raine from all her enemies. He and Raine also flirt a lot. Tam is seen more briefly and he has as much secrets as before.

Unfortunately, the book contains one of my pet peeves: Raine is the only significant female character in the book and, even worse, she’s the only competent female character in the book. The few girls are all kidnap victims. No wonder all the eligible males are after Raine: she’s the only game in town.

I also couldn’t help but wonder why all the Guardians are male. Is there some specific duty that only male police officers can do? None of the other professions seem to be as sex segregated. There are human and elf Guardians so race is also not a limiting factor.

One of Raine’s previous enemies ended up in the Saghred but that doesn’t stop him from speaking directly into Raine’s mind and barging into her dreams. However, he is the only one of the imprisioned souls to make appearance. Specifically, I expected Raine’s father to show up, too, but he didn’t.

Overall, I did enjoy the book and will likely continue with the series.

This is the last book in the King Rolen’s Kin epic fantasy trilogy. The author kindly gave me a review copy.

The Usurper continues right after the Uncrowned King ended. The three point-of-view characters are far from each other.

Byren is struggling to find experienced warriors who could fight for him and win back Rolencia. Instead, he mostly gets women, children, and maimed men. The Merofyinas have started to cut off Rolencian mens’ right hands. Byren is also struggling to feed his growing group of people while fighting the invaders. He has no choice but to ask for help from one of the warlords who used to be loyal to Byren’s father. Unfortunately, the warlords respect power and Byren’s group doesn’t seem powerful.

Fyn Kingson is aboard the sea-hound ship Wyvern’s Whelp. The sea-hounds are the equivalent of privateers in this world and the ship’s captain, Nefysto, seems to have some allegiance to Ostron Isle which is a third big power in this world. Fyn’s trying desperately to find a way to help his brother against the invaders. However, he can hardly help them alone. So, he just might have to look for more allies. Also, the sea-hounds respect fighting ability. Fyn has been training as a warrior monk but he hates violence. Still, he has to defend himself when needed.

Piro Kingsdaughter is masquerading as a maid and she’s now a slave to a Merofynian Power-worker, Lord Dunstany. She has started to like and even trust the Power-worker a little. However, Overlord Palatyne claims her as his slave and then gives her to Merofynia’s Kingsdaughter Isolt. Lord Dunstany has no choice but to agree. However, Dunstany orders Piro to spy on Isolt. Piro decides to spy but on her own behalf and so that she might be able to avenge her family.

Some new characters are introduced in the book. The most prominent of them is Isolt who is only thirteen but already well versed in court intrigue because it’s all she has ever known. However, she turns out to be a bit more complex character.

Florin, the tradepost keeper’s daughter, is a major secondary character in this book. She’s apparently the only Rolencian woman who is willing to take up arms to defend her country and the men resent her for that. Expect that one of the warlords, who rules her own land next to Rolencia, is a woman and it’s apparently a well-known fact that among the people of the spars the women fight alongside the men. I would have thought that Rolencia was in such dire straits that any person, a man or a woman, willing to fight would have been welcome. Byren is attracted to her and so wants to protect her. She doesn’t want to be protected. Unfortunately, this makes her a poor soldier because she can’t be trusted to obey orders to stay out of anything dangerous. Byren also suspects that his (gay) best friend Orrade is in love with her which causes even more tension between the two friends.

This book has more sexism than the previous ones; the men want to protect any woman they know personally and unfortunately, that “protection” is exactly the kind that robs women of independence and any real choices in their lives. Fortunately, the women won’t have any of that. Also, there’s a weird sexual double standard; previously Byren has been only too happy to bed any willing woman (or so we are told, it wasn’t shown) without any strings attached, but now he thinks that when a man has sex with a woman, she’s now “claimed” by him and therefore his property. This doesn’t even have to really happen; it’s enough that he thinks that a man has “taken” a woman and therefore the woman is now out his reach.

There are a few romantic subplot is the books, as well. Unfortunately, they are of the kind which could have been resolved quickly if the characters just sat and talked for five minutes instead of going around moping and assuming things.

The pace is again fast and furious, and the book is quick and easy to read. There is a lot of fighting and courtly politics, although this time in the Merofynian court.

Unfortunately, there’s only one unexpected twist in the book (which I did rather enjoy) but Daniells handles the classic epic elements competently. However, most plots are left unresolved and everything is wide open for sequels.

This is a short story collection about fairies. It also has Windling’s introduction about fairies’ literary history and further reading lists of novels, short stories, collections, and reference books.

The fairies in these stories are the more classical ones; the mischievous and downright nasty beasties who have their own agendas which humans don’t know and, perhaps, can’t understand.

I liked all of the stories but these I liked the best:

Gregory Frost: Tengu Mountain: young and proud Ando travels to his aunt Sakura’s hut on the mountain. It takes him a while to notice the strange happenings around him.

Kelly Link: the Faery Handbag: Genevive’s grandmother Zofia brought her faery handbag with her when she came to America from Baldeziwurlekistan which doesn’t exist anymore. Zofie tells many tales about her countries and the handbag.

Holly Black: the Night Market: an elf has put a curse on Tomasa’s sister and she has become very ill. Unfortunately, the elf refuses to cure her and so Tomasa must go to the infamous faery Night Market to find the cure.

Hiromi Goto: Foxwife: Yumeko has been called unlucky all her life and the others in her village shun her and her family of her heartmother and cronemother. One day, she falls into the swamp while fishing and finds herself in another world.

The third in the Downside Ghosts series. The main character is Chess Putnam who works as a Debunker for the Church of the Real Truth. She’s also a drug addict.

The book starts a couple of weeks after the previous book. Chess takes part in Madame Lupita’s execution because she uncovered Lupita’s illegal operations in the previous book. This should have been a routine matter but things go horribly wrong. Too late, Chess realizes that a ghost inhabits Lupita and when she dies, the ghost is released. The hosted ghost rampages through the Church employees and manages to kill two of them before it is banished with the executioner’s spare psychopomp. However, that spirit escort turns out to be a wolf and not a dog which the Church employees use.

Then, Chess is offered a very lucrative new job. The down sides are that she’s going to have work under the watchful eye of Lauren Abrams, who is a member of the Black Squad who are the law enforcers for the Church, and she has to take a binding oath that she won’t talk about the case with anyone else outside the case. If she does, the oath markers will give her pain and draw blood.

Mangled human corpses have been found on the streets of Downside and the Church suspects that their fanatical enemies the Lameru have returned. This means that Chess and Lauren have to investigate sites in the Downside, and the drug dealer and pimp Bump becomes interested. He orders Chess to essentially spy for him and gives her protection, too: his enforcer Terrible. Terrible and Chess became friends and almost something more but Chess screwed that up and now Terrible doesn’t want anything to do with her. But when Bump orders, Terrible has to obey.

Chess is still in love with Terrible. She blames herself for the break-up and misses him a lot. Terrible does his best to minimize his contact with her and barely even talks to her.

Chess is used to working alone and she resents Lauren from the start. Lauren is the daughter of the Grand Elder of the Church, and she has a lot of power, money, and contacts. She has also no idea how she should behave in Downside or what the the local gangs can do to her. She turns out to be a bit trigger-happy, as well. Chess suspects that the weird psychopomp that the executioner had, has something to do with the Lameru but Lauren is only interested in investigating things that are directly involved with the case. Chess has to also do her own investigating with Terrible but she can’t tell that to Lauren. Also, Chess hasn’t yet broken up with her occasional lover Lex who supplies her with free drugs.

The third book in the series is just as fast-paced as the previous ones. The only thing that was jarring to me was how much different kinds of drugs Chess was taking and still being able to function. She took speed to pick her up when she was tired, another drug when she needed to sleep, and another to keep her emotions under control. Also, she was more paranoid that someone in the Church knew about her drug habit.

The book has a tight third person point-of-view. Just like the previous books, each chapter starts with a short quote from different sources such as the Book of Truth or Mrs. Increase’s “Advice for Ladies”. I really enjoyed these.

You can read the first three chapters for free at the author’s web site

The first in the UF series Dark Days. I’m tempted to call this book “the nice vampires vs. bloodthirsty elves”. The ending isn’t a cliffhanger but it’s left very much open so it seems to be a long story over several books.

Mira is a 600-year-old vampire. She’s called Fire Starter because she has the “natural” (I’m tempted to say mutant) power to create and control fire. She had this power before she was made into a vampire and it’s only grown through out the years. Many other vampires fear her.

She’s one of the oldest vampires in the US and the Keeper of the city of Savannah. A Keeper’s responsibility is to keep the secrets of vampires and other supernatural races from humans. Traditionally, vampires and werewolves are hostile to each other but Mira has managed to settle cordial relations between them in Savannah.

The Butcher is a very effective vampire hunter and he’s come to Savannah. Mira decides to confront him and learns something surprising: the Butcher is looking for her because they have a common enemy. The naturi were defeated five hundred years ago but not before they had killed countless humans and tortured Mira for two weeks. And now they’re back. Mira agrees to work with the hunter, at least until she knows everything he does.

Three Ancient and powerful vampires defeated the naturi five hundred years ago at Machu Picchu. One of them is dead now but the others live and Mira, and the vampire hunter whose real name is Danaus, set out to find them and tell them that the naturi are back. Then she hopes to return to her life in Savannah. One of them lives in Egypt and another in London. One of them is Mira’s ex-lover and protector and the other is her maker. She doesn’t look forward to meeting either of them again.

Unlike the vast majority of the other UF books I’ve read, this story doesn’t happen just in US. In fact, the characters travel quite a lot; from Savannah to Aswan in Egypt and on to London. I really liked that. Also, there are twelve important sites mentioned in the book and the characters are likely to travel to them in the future books. Only two of them are in US. The next book is likely to start in Venice, one of my favorite cities.

The naturi are an interesting case. They are the real truth (in this fictional world) behind the legends of elves and fairies. Apparently, they harvest human organs in order to do magic so they are very intent on killing humans. They have five clans: light, animal, water, earth, and wind, and have powers according to their clans. Animal clan naturi can control animals and light clan naturi control fire so they can neutralize Mira’s powers. Their blood is also poisonous to vampires. For a while I thought Mira might be a half-breed naturi of light clan but there’s no evidence that naturi and humans can interbreed, and the naturi consider humans, and vampires, as vermin so it’s unlikely. Oh, and animal naturi can control werewolves. That’s the main reason vampires distrust the lycantropes.

The vampires in this book are more along the lines of classic vampires: they are unconscious during the day. I also assume that they can feed only on human blood. Even though they don’t have to kill a human when they feed, there was no suggestion that vampires could feed from animals. Also, they know spells and usually use them to mask their presence from humans. They have also telepathic powers. Mira uses them usually to search for humans and other vampires. However, the naturi are immune to the telepathic powers.

Mira is a very independent character. She doesn’t much care for lesser vampires. Instead she cares about keeping the peace and the secret in her own area. She has two human bodyguards, Michael and Gabriel, whom she calls her angels. Michael is also her occasional lover although she’s trying to keep him at a distance so that the human can have his own life. Often enough Mira comes across as a cold. She mostly cares about her own survival and manipulates everyone around her.

Danaus is another interesting case. He believes that all vampires are evil and he’s very efficient in his job as a hunter. However, he has quite a few secrets himself. He’s a member of an organization of humans who try their best to keep an eye out for the supernatural. However, they aren’t well informed. Danaus is very confident and the strong, silent type. Once he made up his mind that Mira is useful to keep around, he does his best to protect her. He’s very much a paladin-type who has now had to team up with the evil vampire for the good of world. I’m very much a sucker for this type of uncomfortable team-up and enjoyed it hugely. Mira does try to tell Danaus that vampires aren’t quite as evil as he thinks they are, after all, humans kill each other, too.

There isn’t a romance in the book. Mira is physically attracted to Danaus a few times but it’s understood that when the world is saved, it’s very likely they are going to try to kill each other.

The bad things: there was some repetitive writing. Mira’s mannerism of running her hands through her hair and threatening Danaus with death. Also, there was a lot of talk about how vampires enjoy torturing other, lesser vampires but that wasn’t really shown much.

Also, I’m afraid that the naturi didn’t really live up to their dangerous reputation. They were very effective at the start of the story but less so as the story progressed. Perhaps this was to be expected because there were quite a few fight scenes and not many expendable secondary characters on Mira’s side.

All in all, I enjoyed this. I do like immortal characters and there were quite a few of those here. They even behaved like they were old.

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