The Fantasy Reading Challenge

The second book in the Kate Daniels UF series which is set in alternate reality Atlanta.

At the end of the previous book Kate got a new, steady job at the Order of the Merciful Aid. They put security of humanity above the security of any one person.

Kate gets a new assignment from her old contact at the Mercenary Guild which should have been simple if not easy: they were to retrieve an arsonist with a salamander which tosses fireballs. However, a mysterious person kills the arsonist with a crossbow bolt. Then the shooter vanishes.

Then the Shapeshifter Pack contacts her. Someone has stolen their maps. Someone who uses a crossbow and disappears into thin air. The Pack wants Kate to get the maps back. She agrees and starts to investigate at the scene of the robbery. There she finds 13-years-old Julie whose mother is an amateur witch and her whole coven has disappeared. Kate takes in the young girl while she looks for her mother, too.

On top of everything else, the magic and technology flares are coming in alarming frequency. When the magic flare is up, most of technology doesn’t work and vice versa. The frequent shifts are very disturbing and can cause some weird things.

The stakes are really upped this time. I’d be willing to call this book epic urban fantasy.

This time, a lot of things were explained. The magic waves are explained here as humanity’s influence. Before humans were influential, magic reigned. During Bronze Age, technology gained the upper hand. For some reason, magic shifted into power again some thirty years ago.

There are also some more hints about Kate’s background. Apparently, her sire was someone very hated and powerful but she wasn’t raised by him.

Unfortunately, I don’t really care for Kate’s romantic interests. The leader of the Pack, Curran, is apparently one and yet he treats Kate like shit. I wouldn’t give him a second glance. The other is apparently Bran who threatens openly to kill Kate. Funny thing, but I don’t consider death threats to be aphrodisiacs nor sexual harassment to be funny. I pretty much thought Bran was insufferable anyway.

I did like most of the characters. The Order employs many women and it was great to see them interact. Most UF books have only one female character and the rest are males. Andrea was especially delightful: a competent knight who has a secret.

I did have a facepalm moment with the book. One of the shapeshifter pack is a Hyena pack. Apparently, hyenas have female alphas and in the pack females and pups eat before the males, so Andrews made the hyenas dress and look androgynously and be sexually kinky. I fail to see how these are associated with each other.

You can read the first chapter for free at the authors’ website:


First things first: the main character Chess Putnam is a drug addict and she has no intention of stopping. She had a horrible childhood: she doesn’t know who her parents are and she drifted from one bad foster family to another. She really wants to forget that time. She doesn’t trust anyone and pushes away anyone who tries to get close to her. Also, she has a very low opinion of herself. The Church saved her from that life and she serves it gladly.

Chess is a witch who works for the Church of Real Truth. When people claim that their house is haunted, Chess is one of the Debunkers who are sent to find out if the haunting is real or fake. If the ghost is real, Chess banishes it.

About a twenty years ago, ghosts rose and attacked living humans. The religions and authorities at the time couldn’t do anything. The Church of the Real Truth was the one who was able to banish the ghosts and protect the people. Now, the Church is the only authority and the only religion based on Facts and not Faith. The Church is pretty fascist; they want people to spy on their neighbors and even on their families for signs of crimes such as trying to contact the afterlife on their own. The Church also keeps a tight grip on what people can know about the past.

The book starts with Chess doing her job: banishing a ghost. However, because of her drug habit she almost blows it. Also, Debunkers are paid more when a possible haunting turns out to be fake so this time she didn’t earn a bonus which she really needs.

Then, her drug dealer Bump extorts her. She has to agree to banish some troublesome ghosts from an abandoned airport which Bump intents to open for his own business. He sends his enforcer, Terrible, to the airport with Chess. There Chess finds out that the ghosts are stronger than she thought so the job wouldn’t be simple after all. When she gets home, a sexy rival drug lord Lex kidnaps her. Lex doesn’t want the airport opened and tries to bribe Chess with free drugs to tell Bump that the ghosts are too strong for her. She doesn’t quite know what to do. To make matters worse, she is soon tangled into a plot against the Church itself.

The plot is fast and intense and excellently paced. Most of the characters are interesting, if not likable. Chess herself is quite a contradiction: on the one hand, she loves the Church but on the other, she betrays the Church’s ideals by being a drug user and being only barely able to do her job. Most of what she does is motivated by her desire to get more drugs.

The alternative reality drugs seem to work differently than real world ones. Here, Chess is able to better do her job when she’s high, which is most of the time. When she isn’t high, she starts to shake and can only focus on getting her next fix.

Terrible is a significant secondary character. He’s a big and ugly man and know how to threaten people. He’s also an expert in violence but he seems to use violence only as a tool and not really enjoy it. He opens up slowly during the story and turns out to have a variety of interests. Even though Chess at first is somewhat repulsed by him, she later starts to be attracted to him.

Lex is the other romantic interest. He seems to be more violent but he’s quite tender and even caring towards Chess. He flirts shamelessly and calls her Tulip because of one of her tattoos.

While many people were apparently disturbed by Chess’ drug habit, I was more disturbed by her love interests. Lets face it, drug dealers and their enforcers aren’t the nicest people ;). Then again Chess aren’t exactly nice herself either, and her past and present experiences are likely to make it difficult for her to maintain any close relationships.

Chess lives in a poor area called the Downside close to Bump’s place. This gives the story a bleak atmosphere combined with the themes of drug abuse and a fascist rulership.

Each chapter starts with a short quotation. Often they are from the Book of Truth but some of them are from other books such as Careers in the Church: A Guide for Teens. They are a good way to illuminate the world without infodumps. I really liked them.

I found the world to be fascinating. Even though all of the magic is centered on ghosts, there are still a variety of things it can do such as possessions and banishings. The magic rituals are also well described.

The first chapter is available at the author’s website and you can also download the first five chapters from there, too.

My UF summer continues with Amazons.

Melanippe Saka is an unusual main character: she’s an Amazon, a tattoo artist, and also a single mother. She runs her own tattoo business with four employees.

The Amazons have a very strict culture away from the rest of the world. They move around often and they can’t talk about themselves to any one else. They use men only to get children and when a male child is born, he’s killed or given away.

Mel’s second child was a boy and she realized that she wanted to keep him. Unfortunately, according to Amazon traditions, that was not possible. He was a stillborn. However, the Amazon women are strong; the women and the infants don’t die in childbirth. Mel refused to believe that her son was the first exception. She believed that the high priestess had killed her son and so, she took her daughter Harmony and left. Mel’s warrior mother Cleo and priestess grandmother Bubbe joined her in her self-imposed exile.

These Amazons are a different race from humans: they live hundreds of years, are stronger than males, and all have one of the four gifts: a warrior, an artisan, a priestess with power over the four elements, or hearth-keeper. Mel is an artist and she does her best to try to blend into human society. She hasn’t even told Harmony about her heritage. Bubbe is some sort of scam artist/fortune teller but Cleo seems to stay away from humans.

When someone leaves a second dead Amazon girl on Mel’s doorstep, she’s near panic. She can’t take her body back to the Amazons because they would instantly draw the wrong conclusion and think that Mel’s the killer. At first, she just moves the body far away for the police to find it. However, she starts to think that Harmony could be in danger. Also, even though she doesn’t much care for the Amazons she wants to warn them that they might be in danger. So, she tries to warn them subtly. Instead, the local tribe turns up in her doorstep. Dozens of angry warrior women are determined to find out the killer, especially if the killer turns out to be Mel. They are lead by their queen Zery who used to be Mel’s best friend.

The police are also interested. A handsome detective Reynolds is asking difficult questions.

Even though Mel has left the Amazons, she still harbors a lot of prejudices toward males. So far, she’s only hired women but when a handsome and talented tattoo artist Peter Arpada applies for work, Mel decides to try to overcome her upbringing and hires him. When the Amazons camp in her home, she almost regrets her choice.

I found the Amazon culture interesting. They have a highly structured society where the warriors are the elite and the queen apparently always comes from the ranks of the warriors. The heart-keepers are the ones who cook, clean, mend, and do all the other boring chores, and just like in the patriarchal mainstream society, they get the least amount of respect. The women also don’t choose their class; they manifest their talents during puberty. They all have their power animals and belong to one of the twelve tribes. They are nomadic people by tradition but have some safe houses where they gather.

Mel’s grandmother Buppe is five hundred years old. Mel muses that it’s common for Amazon women to start having kids in their eighties. If so, it would seem that many of the Amazons would be in the 200-300 age range. Yet, at least the tribe that we see here is very quick to jump to conclusions and judge others based on prejudices and without any evidence. They’re also resistant to change and openly hostile to Mel for not sticking to the traditions. They also don’t seem to make any plans for future. This sound to me like young and inexperienced people.

The characters are entertaining but not very original. Most of them remain also quite distant. Despite the seeming closeness of Mel’s family, both Cleo and Harmony remain distant characters. Harmony, especially, almost functions as a plot device to spur Mel to action. Mel herself is quite stubborn even though she is occasionally open to new ideas, such as hiring a man into her business. Unfortunately, I don’t really like the whole “I don’t tell you anything for your own good”-thing. In fact, here it could have put Harmony in direct danger when she doesn’t know what is going on. Otherwise, Mel is a sympathetic character who is trying to escape a “cult” so to say and make her own way in the world. Although, for a small business owner, she did surprisingly little work. 😉 (I’m self-employed…)

Zery and her very hostile lieutenant where the most fleshed-out Amazons. Mel’s and Zery’s relationship was kind of touching; they had clearly been close but Mel had left ten years ago. Mel had been hurt that Zery hadn’t supported her when she left and Zery had been hurt by Mel leaving. It’s not easy for them to trust each other anymore. Later in the book, we are introduced to Dana who is a hearth-keeper and quite a contrast to the warriors. Unfortunately, her storyline isn’t resolved here.

Aside from Peter, the other employees were only seen at the start and then the sort of faded away.

There were some repetitive parts but all in all, I rather enjoyed the book. The pacing was good and I enjoyed the twist near the end.

This is the first book in a new fantasy trilogy. The next parts will be issued only a month apart which is a good thing because the King’s Bastard ends in a cliffhanger.

The author kindly offered me a review copy.

Rolencia and Merofyn are two kingdoms which are separated only by the Snow Mountains. Thirty years ago they finally made peace by marriage. Rolencia’s King Rolen married the then eight-year old Merofyn’s princess Myrelle. Rolencia has grown complacent and rich during the peace.

Now, their children are growing up and trouble stirs again in Rolencia. The twins Lence and Byren are respected warriors and their young brother Fyn is an acolyte who is about to become a monk. Their tomboy sister Piro is thirteen and already her parents are considering a political marriage for her.

Lence Kingheir is the first-born and the heir to the king. Byren Kingson is happy with this because he doesn’t want to become a ruler. When a renegade Affinity-user foretells that Byren’s going to kill his twin and become the king, he’s horrified and determines to undermine the prophecy. However, Byren’s best friend Orrade has been seriously hurt and the seer agrees to heal him. Unfortunately, when a person who has been tainted with Affinity, heals another, that other person might get Affinity as well. And in Rolencia the only fate that an Affinity tainted person has, is to go the monasteries and serve their country. Renegades are put to death or banished. To Byren’s horror, Orrade starts to show signs of having Affinity. Also, Orrade confesses that he is lover of men.

Byren is becoming very popular among the Rolencians and Lence starts to resent that. Also, it seems that they both are interested in the same young woman. A rift is growing between the twins. Sometimes Byren wishes that his life was as simple as Fyn’s or Piro’s.

The younger brother Fyn Kingson has Affinity and he was sent to the Halcyon monastery at the age of six. The monks are supposed be holy men dedicated to serving the summer goddess Halcyon who is the maiden, the mother, and the crone. However, inside the abbey the monks, acolytes, and even the masters vie for power in cruel ways. The current abbot is a just man but the faction against him is growing. Fyn is also bullied by four boys. His family wants him to become a weapons’ master so that he can lead the warrior monks on his brothers’ side. However, he’s gentle and detests violence, and would like to become a mystic but he knows that his Affinity isn’t strong enough.

Then a Renegade Power-worker prophesy that he will have to flee for his life and that worship of the goddess Halcyon will cease. Sometimes Fyn wishes his life was as simple as his brothers’.

Piro Kingdaughter is a tomboy but the Queen Myrella is determined to make a proper lady out of her. This means knowing the laws of the land, speaking three languages, and knowing the court etiquette all of which Piro resents. She’d love to go hunting or fighting like her brothers. She also has a huge secret; last autumn she discovered that she has Affinity. The female Power-workers are sent to the abbey of Sylion who is the cruel god of winter and snow. Piro loves summer and life, and she doesn’t want to be carted off to the abbey.

Then, she’s betrothed to a warlord whom she dislikes at first sight. Boy, does she wish her life was as uncomplicated as her brothers’!

To complicate matters more, Illien, Lord of the Cobalt House, comes to the court of Rolencia. Illien is Byren’s cousin and his father had been a royal bastard, but he’s now welcomed. He brings a tale of woe with him but soon, the royal siblings start to suspect that he’s scheming against them.

There are many familiar elements in the book: magic, which is illegal except when it’s tightly controlled, royal heir and his siblings, a tomboy who is supposed to act like a lady. And of course, the prophecy. Yet, Daniells tells a entertaining story at a fast pace.

The pacing was very good and really sucked me into the story. Pretty much the only time it didn’t work for me was near the end where Byren goes out on skates to deliver an urgent message to the Halcyon abbey. Except that in the very next chapter there’s a cut to the abbey where a rider has already brought the message. Then we return to Byren who is still trying to deliver it.

There’s a clear bond of love between the siblings and their mother. King Rolen is unfortunately a more remote figure. Yet, Fyn, Piro, and Byren are ready to sacrifice their careers or even their lives to protect their siblings and it shows in their interactions. They can also be angry with each other. Because of the tight bond between then, it’s painfully clear that Lence has been left out or he has distanced himself from the others. Unfortunately, I found it a bit unbelievable how far he was willing to go in the end.

All three are perhaps a little too do-gooders for real-life. Piro with her fears and naive selfishness is perhaps the most convincing character.

The world-building is very good. In Rolencia people with Affinity are feared and put to abbeys but apparently in other countries they aren’t treated that way. King Rolen’s father and brother were killed by a renegade Power-worker so he made harsh laws for them. There are also Affinity beasts such as manticores and unistags which were a nice touch.

Rolencia and Merofyn apparently have the most fertile lands while the warlords of the other places have more barren lands. There are also the Utlanders who live on barren islands and raid Rolencia every now and then.

The whole story happens in the middle of winter and the characters are almost always moving in deep snow or skating across frozen lakes.

This was a highly entertaining book and I’m looking forward to continuing the series.

Author’s website:

The second in the duology. The first one was Hunter’s Oath.

This book is more epic in scope than the previous one. The cast is also much larger.

The protagonists from the previous book, Hunter Lord Gilliam of Elseth and his huntbrother Stephen, are on their way to Averalaan which is the capital city of an mighty and old empire, ruled by the God-born Twin Kings. Gillam and Stephen are looking for a cure for the wild girl Espere who is mute and dog-like in her behavior. The seer Evayne is their occasional companion and another mage has joined in. They have to cross the dangerous mountains and their enemies, the demons, are near. In order to escape their clutches, Evayne has to draw on dangerous magics.

However, the book starts with a protagonist in the city of Averalaan. Jewel Markess, Jay, is the young leader of a small group of thieving street urchins. Her group has been using the maze under the city but now it seems that someone else in the maze as well, someone who doesn’t like them. However, Jewel doesn’t have much time to dwell on that; she has a talent for sensing when danger is near and that sense is almost screaming. She decides to turn to her mentor, Old Rath, but to her horror, she discovers that someone has killed Old Rath and taken on his appearance. However, Old Rath has left her instructions. Unfortunately, they send her to the head of the most powerful noble house of the city and the ragtag ruffians are going have a hard time getting her to believe them.

The Terafin is the leader of most powerful noble house of Averalaan. However, House Terafin has ascended to that lofty position only lately and has powerful enemies among the other houses. When the street urchin brings a warning to the Terafin about a threat to the whole city, she knows that she can only count on herself and her Chosen.

Hunter’s Death has many point-of-view characters and most of them are only seen briefly. Most of the story is seen from the POV of Jewel, the Terafin, and Stephen. Kallandras the assassin/bard is also seen briefly. The new characters include one of the most powerful mages in the Empire, an old healer who has to continue his work, a nobleman who serves both the Terafin and a secret society, and a Chosen one in the house of Terafin. All of them end up being surprisingly well developed considering the small page count given to each character. However, Jewel’s small group of followers are mostly seen in the beginning and not much after that.

While the first book was Stephen’s and Gilliam’s coming-of-age story, this one is Jewel’s coming-of-age story. I would have loved to see more of Evayne and Kallandras. The mage Melaronne was also interesting and I think not all of his secrets were revealed.

I was somewhat intrigued by the Essalieyan empire. It’s led by two kings: one of them is the son of the god of Justice and the other the son of god of Wisdom. They seem to rule jointly. Also, their Queens seem to play a large part at least in politics. The three biggest religions (Justice, Wisdom, and the Mother) are also led by God-born leaders. Yet, it’s apparently both Wise and Just that part of the city’s population is born, live, and die in utter poverty simply because of accident of birth. Social injustice brings conflict, of course, but I still feel it’s most Unjust.

On the other hand, The Ten, which are the ten most powerful noble houses of the city, are apparently not a house where anyone is born to. The leader of the house, who is called by the name of the house and not by his or her given name, chooses who can join the house. The Chosen seem to be mostly utterly loyal soldiers but they probably have to also have political connections, wealth, magical power, or something else that the leader of the house wants. Of course, only the wealthy are likely be able to have those.

The plot felt quite slow at time. Mostly, I blame the multiple POVs. The start of the book was quick especially because of the introduction of the new characters and setting. The ending was also quicker although the multiple POV again slowed it somewhat. Several months passed during the middle part.

I liked West’s writing style enough that I looked up her other books. The Sun Sword looks like it’s too depressing and gloomy for my tastes but I might try the Cast-series at some point.

Her website has some free first chapters and short stories:

The first book in Liu’s UF series which doesn’t have witches, werewolves or vampires but demons.

Maxine Kiss is the last protector of humankind. Demons have been expelled from Earth into a supernatural prison but some of them still roam the Earth.

Maxine’s mother was a Warden and she taught the profession to Maxine. The Wardenship and the tattoos that go with it are hereditary so Maxine didn’t have a way to decline them. The women of her line have always been Wardens.

Except for her face, Maxine is covered in tattoos which make her pretty much invulnerable. However, the tattoos are really manifestations of the five demons she carries with her. By day, the demons are the tattoos and protect her. By night, the demons separate themselves from her and she becomes vulnerable again. Of course, the demons are expected to defend her during the night. By the way, this isn’t a 12 hour cycle; when the sun goes down, the demons separate from her.

The five demons are with Maxine because of an ancient pact. According to it, Maxine has to get a child and when her child is old enough, Maxine will die and give the demons to her. This happened with Maxine’s mother who died five years ago. Maxine never knew her father or any other family than the demons which she calls “the boys”.

She lives with her boyfriend Grant who is a former priest. He can play his flute and sooth zombies, which are humans that demons have taken over. Grant and Maxine live in the building where his homeless shelter is. Maxine seems to know Grant pretty well and yet there are rather broad hints that Grant might not who she thinks he is.

The police come to the shelter looking for Maxine because they found a dead private investigator who was looking for her. She doesn’t know anything about it but doesn’t like it, and she starts to investigate the death herself.

The plot is full of twists and turns. Even though Maxine starts as a confident woman who knows her place in the world and how the world works, during the story she starts to doubt her information and finds out that there are things that have been deliberately kept from her. To make things worse, it seems that the line between the Earth and the demons’ prison, called the Veil, is starting to weaken and the apocalypse may be near.

Lui really throws the reader in the deep end and doesn’t explain much. This can be quite frustrating at first.

I really liked her writing style. Her sentences are often short and she doesn’t do much descriptions.

I liked most of the characters. Grant is a do-gooder who is trying to redeem demons. Maxine doubts that he can succeed but lets one zombie hang around. While I can sort of understand Grant’s desire to redeem demons, the fact still remains that the demons on Earth need host bodies – humans. Isn’t Grant at all worried that the host humans can loose a big chunk of their lives?

The boys have also personalities even tough only one of them can speak. They are usually protective of Maxine but now they have secrets they have been keeping even from her. We meet both Maxine’s mother and grandmother in flashbacks and her grandmother is a very formidable woman.

There are also several mysterious characters. They seemed interesting but were also source of my biggest frustration. They seem to know more than Maxine and yet they refused to tell her anything.

However, the mysteries were intriguing enough and I like the writing style so I’m likely to continue with the series

This is an adaptation of the Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser in modern English. It’s one of the books I chose from Audible during their sale.

The book has six sections and everyone has different characters but the main characters are always elf men who want to prove themselves worthy of becoming the Queens’ Knights. There are six knightly virtues and a knightly tale for each virtue: holiness, moderation, friendship, love, justice, and courtesy.

Their nemesis is Archimago, a sorcerer who hates everything good and pure. The stories were clearly inspired by the King Arthur stories.

The book starts with the narrator telling about the Court of the Faerie Queen and especially about her Knights. The listeners want to become knights themselves and the narrator is telling them stories about the previous knights’ adventures.

The first book is about George Redcross. At the start of the story George comes to the Queen Gloriana’s court and asks for a quest. The courtiers laugh but soon Princess Una comes to the court to beg for help. A dragon has imprisoned her parents. George demands the quest for himself. The Queen agrees and gives him serviceable equipment. She send him out as her knight looking for holiness.

When George and Una first saw each other, they fell in love. However, the long journey to Una’s country has many dangers not only to their lives but to their trust on each other as well.

The second book is about a young, brash Sir Gunion and his quest to destroy an evil witch. She has created a magical island which lures in innocent passersby and turns them into wild beasts. The Queen on her honeysuckle throne gives him a companion, a pilgrim called Palmer whom Gunion scorns at first. Palmer is older than Gunion and tries to give him fatherly advice.

The third book starts with Sir Campbell, one of the Queen’s favorites. He has a magical healing ring. He has also a sister called Cannasie who is so beautiful that she is causing trouble in the kingdom. So, Campbell says that anyone who can defeat him in combat can marry his sister (she, apparently, has no say at all). Only three brothers, triplets, have the courage to fight him: Diamond, Trimond, and Primond. The brothers’ mother is a sorcerer who wants to protect them.

The fourth book is about Britomart who is looking for pure love. This was weirdly shortened because it seemed to skip the middle part. There was the beginning where the girl Britta looked into Merlin’s mirror and became ill. Then it skipped to a wedding feast at the story’s end. Umm… what???

The fifth book is about young Artigol who quests for justice. He’s accompanied by a mechanical man called Talos. This is the book that really shows the times it was written in. To Artigol, it’s justice to stop a man who wanted to divide earth equally between all men and women. He also thinks that it’s natural for women not to fight at all and to just do laundry and washing while the same chores are unnatural for men to do.

The sixth book is about Timian, King Arthur’s squire, and Sir Callidor who is questing after a beast which preys on people who feel ashamed. They encounter the murderous beast, a courteous wildman, and a very uncourteous knight. Sir Callidor even falls in love with a shepherdess.

Of course, these old stories aren’t without their own problems. One of them is beautiful=good and ugly=evil. Princess Una is so beautiful and good that even a lion becomes her companion rather than having her as a dinner. The characters aren’t really people. They are archetypes; the knights are perhaps the most human but the others are plot devices who are there to teach a lesson or challenge the knight or serve as a prize.

I found it a bit weird that the faeries apparently worship the Christian God because in many other tales the Christian imaginary repels them. King Arthur himself makes an appearance and even he serves the Faerie Queen.

These stories are apparently meant for children and they have lessons about how you should behave. On the other hand, they also have problems with old behavior models. The fifth book is especially bad for this. The Amazons in the story are evil because they are “unnatural”.

On the whole, I regret a little wasting a good credit for this.

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