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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sylvia Day's RENEGADE ANGELS Series

Author: Sylvia Day
Series: RENEGADE ANGELS Series
Publisher and Titles: Signet Eclipse
    A Dark Kiss of Rapture (free prequel e-book) (Raze & Kimberly) 
    A Touch of Crimson (2011) (Adrian & Lindsay)
    A Hunger So Wild (7/2012) (Elijah & Vashti)
    A Taste of Seduction (4/2014) (Syre & Karin)

     This blog entry was revised and updated on 8/4/12 to include a review of the second book in the series, A Hunger So Wild. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1: 

        BOOK 2:  A Hunger So Wild        
     Book 2 begins just after the climactic ending of book 1, with the Lycans in full revolt against the Sentinels. As Elijah, the new Lycan alpha, gathers together his followers, he gradually learns that there are traitors in their ranks. Elijah had never been in favor of the revolt, but was pushed into it by his friend, Micah, who is now deadkilled by Vashti, second in command to Syre, the leader of the Fallen. In that incident, Micah was defending Elijah against Vashti, who was trying to kill Elijah because she mistakenly thought that Elijah had killed her best friend. (It's a long and complicated story.)

     When Syre learns of the Lycans' revolt, he decides to take advantage of the situation because he needs the Lycans to help him discover the cause of the Wraith Virus, which is what they are now calling the plague that is decimating the ranks of the Fallen. Syre's chief epidemiologist needs the virus to be tracked back to its first victims so that they can determine how and where it originated. Since the Lycans vastly outnumber the Fallen, Syre needs the Lycans to handle that task, so he sends Vashti to meet with Elijah. The problem is that Vashti hates Lycans because they killed her mate, and Elijah despises Vashti because she killed his BFF Micah. (Elijah doesn't yet know that Micah was a traitor who planted fake evidence that implicated Elijah in the death of Vashti's friend.) Even though Vashti and Elijah have every reason to hate each other, they are also sexually attracted to one another in a flaming hot manner. The story follows the couple as they overcome their differences, make passionate love every chance they get, and attempt to find the cause of the Wraith Virus. In addition, they strike a bargain to assist each other in solving two murder cases: Elijah will identify the Lycans who killed Vashti's mate, and Vashti will discover the identities of the Vampires who killed Lindsay's mother.

     This book continues the series story arc of the search for traitors among, not only the Lycans, but the Fallen and the Sentinels as well. We get hints as to their identities, but no solid clues, although I'm wondering if Phineas (Adrian's right-hand man) is really dead or if he is one of the bad guys. This is definitely not a stand-alone read because it relies heavily on plot points and characters from book 1. Although the author includes several summaries of past events, I'd still recommend that you read book 1 first. This continues to be a strong, if formulaic, paranormal romance series with a well-designed mythology and a consistently compelling story arc. Click HERE to read an excerpt.

        WORLD-BUILDING        
     In this inventive world, the creation story for Vampires and Lycans relies on the Book of Enoch as it goes back to the tale of the original fallen angels who were the Watchers. When the Watchers interfered with mortals, mated with them, and fathered their children (aka the nephalim—singular is naphil), they became Fallen. Their wings and their souls were stripped away and they became blood-sucking Vampires. An elite army of the Seraphim—the Sentinelswere sent to earth to keep the Vampires under control, but they needed assistance. The leader of the Sentinels (Adrian Mitchell), made a deal with some of the Fallen. He would spare them from vampirism if they agreed to indenture themselves to the Seraphim and help track down and kill errant Vampires. This group retained their souls but not their wings. They were transfused with the blood of werewolves (who are demons in this world), and the result was Lycans. As you read the series, just remember that the Fallen are Vampires, the Sentinels are angels, and the Lycans have demon blood.

     As the series opens, all Lycans are in servitude to the Sentinels, and all Vampires are enemies of both the Lycans and the Sentinels. One last group, the archangels, are also under the command of the Sentinels and are primarily in charge of keeping the demon population under control. At least, that's how its been for thousands of years.

     Now, however, several things are happening to rock this carefully constructed world. First, the Lycans are sick and tired of living their lives under the total control of the Sentinels. Second, a terrible plague is sweeping the Vampire race, causing Vampires to foam at the mouth and go absolutely crazy with violent bloodlust. Finally, some of the Seraphim are beginning to have feelings of emotion. This is highly unusual because when the Seraphim were created, they were forbidden to have emotions or to love anyone, especially a mortal. (Remember, that's what got the nephalim into so much trouble way back in the beginning.) Anyhow, the winds of change are blowing, and the characters in this series are being buffeted all over the place.

        BOOK 1:  A Touch of Crimson        
     As book 1 opens, the Sentinels' leader, Adrian, has just learned of the murder of his friend and second in command (Phineas). Then, his helicopter pilot is secretly replaced by a crazed Vampires who tries to kill him. Hours later in an airport, he has one of those stranger-across-a-crowded-room moments when he is drawn to a young woman (Lindsay Gibson) who appears to be carrying the soul of his lost love, Shadoe. It's a long story....Eons ago, Adrian fell in love with Shadoe, who was a naphil. Adrian tried to fight the attraction but eventually succumbed, even knowing that this would probably result in his becoming one of the Fallen. When Shadoe was mortally wounded in a battle, Adrian took her to her Vampire father (Syre) to be healed, but instead Syre tried to change her over to vampirism. Adrian refused to let that happen, so he killed her. Because Shadoe was a Naphal, her body died, but her soul didn't, and she has come back to him a number of times over the centuries in the bodies of human women. Each time she returns, Syre tries to find her and change her over so that he can take her away from Adrian and have her to himself. Talk about unfriendly in-laws! (See, I told you it was a long story.)

     So...the plot follows the romance between Adrian and Lindsey, the attempts by Syre to get his daughter back, the investigation of Phineas' murder, and the cause/effect of the Vampire plague. Oh, yes...and don't forget the rebellious Lycans. Lindsey has her own tragic reasons for hating Vampires, and Adrian soon learns that she has some warrior skills and superhuman capabilities that he never expected. The couple has a huge roadblock to their romance: If they remain together, Adrian is likely to become a Fallen and forfeit his soul. Several of the plot threads are tied up at the end, but the Lycans revolution and the Vampire plague are left to be dealt with in future books.

     This looks to be a good, solid paranormal romance series with plenty of action and angst. The lead characters are well developed, as are a few of the supporting characters. In book 1, the most complex supporting characters are the two who will be the lead couple in book 2: Elijah and Vashti. Elijah is the most fully developed and the most sympathetic character in A Touch of Crimson, so I'm really looking forward to reading his story. The best part of the series for me is that although the three groups are set against one another (Vampires, Lycan, and Seraphim), no group is either all good or all bad, although a given group may have a rotten apple or two (or ten). Day includes a glossary at the beginning of the book characterizing all of the major supernatural beings in this world.

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from A Touch of Crimson. The character of Adrian is first introduced in "Eve of Warfare" in The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Fiction 2 (2010). That story connects Day's MARKED world with her RENEGADE ANGELS world but is not essential to the new series.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Isabel Cooper: ENGLEFIELD SERIES

Author: Isabel Cooper
Series: ENGLEFIELD SERIES
Plot Type: Historical Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings: Violence--4; Sensuality--4; Humor--2
Publisher and Titles: Sourcebooks Casablanca
     No Proper Lady (9/2011)
     Lessons After Dark (4/2012) 

     This blog entry was updated and revised on 4/26/12 to include a review of the second book in the series: Lessons After Dark. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the excellent book 1.

       BOOK 2: Lessons After Dark            
     Book 1 in this series had everything going for it: inventive world-building, compelling action, quirky characters, and sympathetic leads. Unfortunately, the second book turns completely away from Joan's post-apocalyptic world and is, instead, a plain vanilla historical paranormal romance. It's supposed to take place in the late 1880s, but you'd never know it from either the language or the behavior of the characters. The two strong leads from book 1 are relegated to the background—so far back that they are not even referred to by their first names. In this book, they are referred to in passing as Mr. and Mrs. Grenville, the founders of Englefield, a school for young people with magical abilities. And  Mrs. Grenville (aka Joan) never even gets a chance to wield her fabulous flash gun. Such a disappointment!

     The story in Lessons After Dark can be summed up in one sentence: A former sideshow medium and a doctor with magical healing powers fall in love and successfully battle a demon. Period. The end. The lead couple—Olivia Brightmore and Dr. Gareth St. John could have fallen out of any paranormal romance currently on the market. Each has, of course, a somewhat tragic past, and a magical talent. As always in these stories, when they work together, their magic becomes stronger. Gareth has a Darcy-like disdain for Olivia's tawdry past through most of the book, only putting it aside in the scenes in which he is actively lusting after her. Why Olivia loves him is anyone's guess because he is barely civil to her and seems to enjoy humiliating her at every opportunity. Except for her lustful capitulations to Gareth, Olivia is a smart, talented, and independent woman who has made her way in the world as best she could. We get some suggestions that Gareth has gone through a serious PTSD-type breakdown after suffering through harrowing wartime experiences, but that is just sketched in with no precise details. There is one false note: The story focuses on mysterious goings-on in the woods adjacent to Englefield, but everyone—including Simon Grenville—professes to know nothing about the forest being magical. Since Simon first discovered Joan in a magic circle in the center of that forest, his purported lack of knowledge is not at all logical.

     Read this book only if you absolutely love historical paranormals. It's not a terrible book; it's just an average book. You don't need to read book 1 to understand book 2, but read book 1 anyway because it's such a terrific story—and so much better than book 2.

       WORLD-BUILDING       
    Based on the cover art, I thought that this would be a typical regency romance with a few witches tossed in, but I was wrong—and glad that I was. The series focuses on a group of magical mages/wizards/witches/warlocks/shamans in late Victorian England. Cooper doesn't label them, so choose your own term—I'm going to call the good guys mages and the bad guys sorcerers. Although the first book involves some time travel (both physical and astral), the main plot is set is 1888. The primary characters are all part of London society, where the exaltation of the occult is the current fashionable trend. This makes it easy for the true magicals to practice their spells and use their magic to protect mortals from dark supernatural forces.

       BOOK 1: No Proper Lady            
     If No Proper Lady were made into a movie, the heroine (Joan) could be played by Angelina Jolie in her Mrs. Smith assassin persona, but channeling the spirit of Eliza Doolittle. That heroine is Joan (named in honor of Joan of Arc), a skilled warrior from the future (2188) who is sent back in time 200 years so that she can stop the demonic sorcerer who dooms her post-apocalyptic world to domination by dark, demonic forces. Although we just see flashes of that world, we learn that the societal hierarchy is headed by demons, with the traitorous lords as their lackeys. Those lords breed humans like cattle to be fed to the demons. The free humans, of whom Joan was one, live a miserable existence in caves, where they are under constant battle by the monsters. In the opening scene, Joan's people perform a magical ritual that sends her back to 1888 so that she can save her world by destroying the villainous sorcerer, Alex Reynell, and his book of dark magic. The worst aspect of Joan's situation is that she will never be able to return to her home and family. If she succeeds in her mission, her world will develop in a totally different way, and no one will remember her. If she fails, her friends and family will be destroyed by the monsters.  

Here is how Joan describes it to Simon: 
     "There were rituals," Joan said. "I'm cut loose from time. That's how I could come back, and I guess it lets me survive any changes I make by being here. But that's just me. If I succeed...there'll be a different world two hundred years from now. Mine won't be there any more."
     "And if you fail?"
     "Then everyone I knew dies. Horribly." She shrugged, quickly and almost mechanically. "At the endjust before I camethe Dark Ones had broken in. My people might have fought them back that time, but...we were losing." (p. 127)     

     When a half-naked Joan pops into 1888 existence, she is inside a magical, glowing circle in the middle of a forest during a violent storm, faced by a handsome man named Simon Grenville. Simon is a practicing mage, so he has seen some magic in his time, but he's still shocked by Joan's appearance, especially by her nudity and by the flash gun that is plugged into a vein in her arm. (That gun draws in her powerful life force and expels it when she shoots it at the monsters.) Nevertheless, Simon pulls himself together enough to take her back to his country estate and listen to her story. As it turns out, Simon also wants to take down Alex Reynell. Alex and Simon were once the best of friends, but they became enemies when Simon wouldn't sanction Alex's use of the dark arts. In retaliation, Alex recently seduced Simon's younger sister (Eleanor) and possessed her with a demon. Simon was able to rescue Eleanor, but she has not yet recovered from her horrific experience. Now, Simon wants revenge, although he still believes that he can talk Alex into repudiating his demonic practices.

     After Joan explains her mission and describes her world, she and Simon come up with a plan that makes Joan the bait that draws Alex in. At first, Simon is fine with this plan, but then he starts to fall for Joan, and the situation heats up. The plot follows Joan and Simon as their plan unfolds. We also see some of the events from Alex's point of view. Since Joan comes from the future, she speaks with the idioms and, especially, the profanities of that time and has no concept of a 19th century lady's role in society, so Simon and Eleanor spend a great deal of time teaching her the necessary etiquette, dress, and mannerisms that she will need to pass as "a proper lady."

     This is an inventive world, with well-developed characters and a compelling story. Joan is a fascinating heroine, with her rough talk, expert knife skills, and passionate nature. Simon, too, is interesting. He accepts Joan as an equal in their mutual revenge plan and doesn't patronize her at all. If you've been disappointed with historical paranormal fiction before, I think that this book will change your mind. With its fresh approach and well-written story line, No Proper Lady is definitely worth your reading time.

    In a recent blog interview, Cooper said, "I really like post-apocalyptic weirdness, and I find both Victorian society and Victorian occultism fascinating. They’re both so intricate, with so many elaborate rules, that they become almost like games." In another blog interview, Cooper describes Isabel and Simon twitter-style, in 140 characters or less: "She’s an assassin from a future where demons rule Earth. He’s a Victorian occultist whose friend turned to a dark path. They fight crime!" Cooper says that each of the ENGLEFIELD books will share some characters, but they will basically be stand-alone novels.

Here, Simon and Joan discuss her literary preferences. Joan explains that she enjoyed James Joyce's Ulysses because one line had special meaning for her people:
     "Ulysses was great. I knew one of the lines already. I just never knew what it was from.....'Though much is taken, much abides.' They'd painted it above the main armory." She looked off into the distance. "I like it more now. There's such hope in that poem, in the face of everything." (p. 83)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Devon Monk's THE AGE OF STEAM SERIES

Author:  Devon Monk
Series:  THE AGE OF STEAM
Plot Type:  Steampunk Romantic Suspense 
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality1-3; Humor2-3
Publisher and Titles:  Roc
        Dead Iron (7/2011) 
       "Hang Fire" (e-story, 4/2013) 
       Tin Swift (7/2012)
        Cold Copper (7/2013)  

     This post was revised and updated on 2/13/14 to include a review of Cold Copper, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novels 1 and 2:  

             NOVEL 3:  Cold Copper             

    At the end of book 2, the core team of characters split up. Cedar, Wil, Mae, the Madder brothers, and Miss Sophie Dupuis (an acquaintance of the Madders) headed East on foot in search of more pieces of the Holder. (To review: the Holder is a magical weapon made of seven ancient metals and broken into pieces that are scattered across the country.) Captain Hink and Rose stayed on with the Coven to repair Hink's airship, the Swift. The story alternates between the two groups as they encounter various villains and eventually meet up in Des Moines, Iowa.

     Cedar and his group are forced to stop in Des Moines because a horrendous blizzard has made the roads impassable. When they arrive, they are met by a Native American Catholic priest to whom the Madder brothers owe a favor. They also meet the villainous mayor, who immediately jails the Madder brothers, charging them with various crimes, including murder. The favor that the priest asks from the Madders is to find hundreds of missing children, who have disappeared from their beds over a period of months and have never been seen since. With the Madders in jail, Cedar and Wil, with Mae's help, try to find the children. Wil and Cedar also search for the Holder, which they can sense is nearby. 


    Meanwhile, back in Kansas, Rose is fed up with Hink because he has been spending all of his free time in town at the local brothels. She confronts him in a saloon, but he shrugs her off, so she stalks away and literally runs into a handsome, cultured man named Thomas Wicks, who immediately takes an interest in her. Eventually all three find themselves on the same train, headed for Kansas City. None of them make it, though, because they find that the train is carrying a cargo of cold-copper gadgetry and, that discovery leads to further adventures—most of them dangerous. 


     The plot follows each group as its members interact with the mayor of Des Moines and his cronies, usually in a confrontational manner that includes various types of weaponry and threats of violence. Besides the missing children and the search for the Holder, the plot includes a diabolical plan involving cold copper, captive Strange, and a robotic humanoid. 


     The romances between Rose and Hink and between Mae and Cedar move along a few more notches, with kisses that become more and more passionate. The humor in the story comes mostly from the Rose/Hink part of the story, with Rose and Hink sparring verbally over Hink's scandalous behavior in the brothels and with Hink learning to his dismay that he has a supervisor—and that the supervisor expects to be obeyed. 


     This is another exciting adventure in a terrific series, with a plot that gallops along at a compelling pace and with well-developed characters we have learned to love over the course of the three novels. I recommend that you read novels 1 and 2 before reading this one because you'll need the characters' background information and a knowledge of past events to fully understand what is going on. That is particularly true at the very end, when an old enemy resurfaces. (Please don't peak at the ending—it will spoil the suspense.)


             WORLD-BUILDING            
    Devon Monk turns away from her ALLIE BECKSTROM urban fantasy series and tries her hand at steampunk in this fascinating series that begins in Oregon in the late 1800s. Future books will be set in different locations in the U.S. as the story follows the travels of the main characters. If you are not familiar with steampunk fiction, click on the word anywhere in this review to go to my "Definitions" page and then scroll down for a brief explanation. Click HERE if you want even more information about this sub-genre of science fiction/fantasy fiction.

     In this steampunk world, daily life is much as you would expect it to be in the Old West...except that gadgetry is everywhere, with gizmos called matics, or tickers, doing much of the busywork. These matics are made of brass and other metals, and they are run by gears, usually powered by steam. The people who create the matics—almost always men—are called devisers.

     Here are descriptions of two different clock matics: a small clock in the shape of a bird and the town's huge clock whistle:

     "The silver filigreed bird perched on the edge of the high window sang one sweet chirp. Its head was the size of a child's thimble. The gears and burner inside it were so tiny, it chirped once every hour and needed only a half dropper of water a day to power it."  (Dead Iron, p. 4)  

     "...the clock whistle atop a turret made of iron and wood and tin, sticking up like a backbone above the blacksmith's shop. A coil of copper tubes wrapped through the structure and supported a line of twelve glass jugs, round as pearls and big as butter churns. Water poured from the top of the tower downward, like sand in an hourglass, and filled the glass jugs one at a time, until they spilled over into the next and turned the gears inside the tower toward the next hour." (Dead Iron, p. 5)  

     The primary source of evil in this world is the Strange, which is made up of evil spirits who cause trouble in a multitude of ways. Here is one character's description of the Strange: "He had seen the Strangethe true Strangecreatures that hitched along from the Old World, tucked unknown in an immigrant's pocket, hidden away in a suitcase, or carried tightly in the darkest nightmare. He had seen what the Strange could do when set free in this new land." (Dead Iron, p. 12) 

Following is a list of the good guys and gals who have continuing roles in the series:
     > Cedar Hunt: a man cursed by a Pawnee god to be a werewolf destined forever to hunt down and destroy the Strange
     > Wiliam (Wil) Hunt: Cedar's brother, also a cursed werewolf, but with slightly different characteristics
     > Rose Small: an orphaned young woman and a budding feminist who can identify the Strange and may have some deviser magic in her
     > Mae Lindson: a witch who is widowed in Dead Iron and who is especially skilled with curses and oaths; a love interest for Cedar
     > the Madder brothers (Alun, Bryn, and Cadoc): mysterious and eccentric devisers who hunt the Strange as they seek to find the Holder, a magical artifact that could destroy the world  

     The series story arc focuses on the retrieval of the Holder, which is described here by Alan Madderjust one of the numerous good and bad guys who are desperate to own it: "The Holder is a device of seven pieces, made of the seven ancient metals. Each piece is a talisman, an artifact, a device to be used for good: healing the sick, blessing crops, bringing peace unto a land. When this New World was discovered, the Holder was brought here as a gift by likeminded men who wanted peace and prosperity for settlers and natives alike. But Shard LeFel caught rumor of it. He sent his Strange to sniff it out...Then they worked their dark devising. The Holder is now a weapon of pain, plague, war. Each piece broken and remade Strangewise, so that nothing but sickness, ruin, and chaos fall to any who find it. And if someone is clever enough to put those seven pieces back together again, then they'll be clever enough to understand the Holder can also be a weapon of a magnitude that has never been seen in these lands." (Dead Iron, p. 333)  

             NOVEL 1:  Dead Iron             
     The series opener is set in Hallelujah, Oregon, an isolated town that has pinned its hopes for prosperity on the new railroad that is inching its way toward them. The villain of the story is the seemingly human Shard LeFel, a wealthy railroad tycoon who is desperate to get back to his Strange homeland (from which he was banished by his brother) before the next waning moon. If he can't return by then, he will die. LeFel has set up his headquarters in three specially built railway cars. The story reminded me a lot of Sergio Leone's great classic film, Once upon a Time in the West. Both story lines involve a villainous railroad tycoon; soulless, murderous villains; and heroes who are society's castoffs. LeFel's right-hand man is Mr. Shunt, a powerful Strange who is ensconced in a matics body that appears to be human. In order to go through a portal and back into the Strange, LeFel needs a wolf, a witch, and the blood of a dreaming child. The plot follows his efforts to attain all three while the good guys try to stop him. One additional character also tries to stop LeFel: Mae's husband, Jeb. LeFel keeps trying to kill Jeb, but Jeb keeps rising from the grave—and his one and only goal is to kill LeFel so that he can save Mae's life.

     The story is filled with action, from murderous matics to bullying drunks to a witch-hating mob. The mythology of the Strange is lightly sketched, but if you just keep reading, you'll understand the concept. The story is told in the third person, and it moves from one person's perspective to another. In general, we see things from the standpoint of Cedar, Mae, Rose, Jeb and LeFel. After the climactic ending, the surviving characters head East for their next adventures.

     Although I'm not a huge steampunk fan, I did enjoy this book. The concept is fresh and inventive, and the characters are complex and well drawn. By the end, I found myself wanting to know what will come next for each one of them, so I plan to keep reading the series.

     Click HERE to read chapter 1 of Dead Iron.  Click HERE to go to my review of Devon Monk's ALLIE BECKSTROM Series.

     Here is a description of one of LeFel's matins, each of which is powered by a vial of glim, a rare, magical substance harvested from the air:
     "Beneath the shadow of a tree, a small matic clicked and whirred. Sensing the tremble of stones and dirt falling from the dead man's grave, it rose up upon spider legs, balancing its portly copper teapot body. The gyroscope and compass set within its belly pointed the ticker east. It skittered off on quick, spindly fee. East. To the rail. To the man who had left it spying here. To Mr. Shard LeFel" (Dead Iron, p. 38)      

            SHORT STORY 1: Hang Fire            
    This is a connector story between novels 1 and 2. The story follows Cedar and his group as they begin their trip to Kansas, and it introduces Captain Lee Hink and his airship, the Swift—all key elements in the plot of Tin Swift

     Monk first distributed the story piecemeal in June and July of 2013 as part of a 20-day blog tour for Tin Swiftone chapter per blog. 

     If you don't want to purchase the story, you can click HERE and scroll down for a list of the 20 blog links. Reading it that way is a bit rough, because some of the blog links no longer take you directly to the chapters. In fact, the very first one is an inaccurate link that takes you to the blog, but not to the "Hang Fire" chapter. Instead, click HERE and scroll down for chapter 1. Although the link at the end of each chapter is supposed to take you to on the next chapter, that doesn't always work. Sometimes it's better just to go back to the 20-link list and click on the link for the chapter you want to read.  

             NOVEL 2:  Tin Swift             
    In book 1, the story focused on the railroad, but in book 2, we're up in the air—high above the Bitterroot Mountains on steam-driven airships to be exact. In Dead Iron, we learned that glim is a rare and valuable resource that is harvested from the sky. "Glim, more precious than diamonds or gold, used to power ships on air, water, or land. Used to heal the sick, cure the blights, turn the tide in wars, and make anything and everything stronger and longer lasting. Glim was even rumored to extend a man's life well beyond his years....But the only place glim was known to occur with any regularity was above high mountain ranges, and up higher still. Above the storm clouds, floating like nets of soft lightning, the glim fields were capricious and fleeting. Difficult to find. Deadly to harvest." (p. 19) In this book, we meet the glim harvesters, hard and violent men and women who live on the edge of danger and who don't mind turning their backs on the law.

     At the end of Dead Iron, Cedar Hunt and his team were headed east to Kansas to return Mae to her coven. All of the regular characters are back: Cedar, Wil (mostly in wolf form), Mae, Rose, and the Madder brothers. When Mae first joined her Coven as a teenager, she swore a blood oath to them and with the death of her husband, the voices of her sister witches are constantly in her head demanding that she return to them. This has the effect of driving her steadily towards insanity. When the ragtag group reaches the tiny town of Vicinity, they discover that the Strange has been there ahead of them. In fact, Cedar and Wil can detect the sulphurous odor of the dastardly Shunt, whom they thought they had destroyed back in Oregon. To their dismay, they learn even though they chopped his body up into little pieces, he was able to pull them all together and regenerate himself. During Shunt's brief time in Vicinity, he killed all of the people and collect various body parts from them for his own nefarious purposes. 

     When Cedar and his crew attempt to bury the dead, one body explodes and badly injures Rose and the rest rise up and attack them—with spirits of the Strange driving the human corpses. To their rescue comes Paisley Lee Cadwaller Hink Cage (aka Hink, aka Lee), captain of the Swift, a sleek, fast tin airship with a competent, if quirky, crew that is expert in harvesting glim and keeping it from being stolen by rogue airship crews. There's a reason for Hink's odd, lengthy name, but I won't spoil the pleasure of learning it for yourself. The two groups combine forces and the story follows them as they search for the Holder (to cure Rose's injury) and keep heading for Kansas (to restore Mae's sanity).

     Along with to Shunt, the villain in this book is Alabaster Saint, a disgraced Civil War general who was demoted and imprisoned for various acts of cowardice and insubordination based on Hink's testimony. Saint hates Hink with a passion, and he despises the U.S. President, who believed and followed through on Hink's testimony. Saint is building an army that will support and defend him as he creates his own kingdom, separate from the rest of the U.S. Shunt envisions himself the leader of the new western world—the one and only leader who reaps all of the profits from the glim harvested western mountains. Both Saint and Shunt want the Holder, each for his own reasons.

     This book has more romance than the previous one. Cedar has fallen for Mae, and when she is sane, she falls for him as well. Then, Captain Hink and Rose take one look at  one another and they're in love, too. No graphic love scenes, thoughjust some sweetly romantic scenes between each couple. By the end of the story, most of the good guys are still on the trail of the holder, although some will go in different directions than others.

     This is a solid addition to the series that carries the steampunk aspects into a different dimension. For all you steampunk fans, there are plenty of goggles, gadgets, gears, and guns. The descriptions of the airships are fascinating in their fantastic detail, and the air battles are full of action and danger. The entire concept of glim-harvesting in the stormy skies high above the mountains is beautifully depicted. In this passage, Hink describes glim harvesting to Rose: "We catch it with nets....Long-armed out-rigging that drags through the sky, gathering glim on the strands, like pollen on a bee's butt. Those strands draw the glim down to finer threads, where it collects like liquid in large glass globes. Can't box glim up in too small a spot. It's always looking for a way out, a way back to the sky, I reckon."  (p. 225).  

     Even better than the descriptive narrative, though, is the vivid delineation of the characters, especially the cursed brothers—Cedar and Wil, who have had their lives turned upside-down by outside forces but still maintain their close relationship and their honor and nobility. Cedar seems to have burst from a heroic myth. He's fearless, but vulnerable; strong, but tender. At the end of the book, Cedar is forced to make a huge decision about his life and his brother's—whether to continue in a fight for the greater good or to take a different path that might lead them to personal happiness. Others must also make life-changing decisions, all of which portend a great continuation of their story in book 3. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Tin Swift.

Monday, October 24, 2011

UPDATE! Sherrilyn Kenyon & Dianna Love's THE BELADOR Series

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Sherrilyn Kenyon and Dianna Love with a review of the second book in THE BELADOR Series: Alterant.

Click on either of the authors' names or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

"Supernatural" (four novellas by Larissa Ione, Alexandra Ivy, Jacquelyn Frank, & G.A. Aiken)


Title: Supernatural (Anthology)
Publisher: Zebra, 2011

“Vampire Fight Club,” by Larissa Ione, from her DEMONICA Series (Ratings: V4; S4; H2)
     In this novella, a flawed shape shifter finds her true love in the form of a jaded, guilt-ridden vampire. Vladlena (Lena) Paskelkov is a nurse at Underworld General Hospital (aka UG), operated by the five Seminus demon brothers who are at the center of the series. Lena just turned 24, and if she doesn't complete her first shift in the next month or so, she will go violently insane and will have to be put down. When Lena’s beloved brother dies from a beating, she is determined to track down his murderer. Nathan Sabine is an ancient vampire who originally began managing the Thirst supernatural night club for the dangerously evil demon, Fade, so that he could eventually get revenge for Fade’s murder of his wife. But now so much time has passed that Nathan’s feelings of vengeance have deteriorated into a morass of rage and apathy. When Lena applies for a job as a medic at Thirst, Nathan falls for her, and vice versa. Click HERE to go to my review of the DEMONICA Series.

“Darkness Eternal,” by Alexandra Ivy, from her GUARDIANS OF ETERNITY Series (Ratings: V4; S4; H2)
     This novella carries on the story arc that began in Devoured by Darkness, where we followed the romance of Tane, the Charon (assassin) for his clan, and Laylah, a hybrid witch-Jinn, who has been rejected and emotionally battered by just about everybody. The evil villainess of both that book and this novella is Marika, Laylah’s power-hungry vampire aunt, who views Laylah as her key to world domination. This novella tells the love story of Kata, Laylah's gypsy witch mother, who has been imprisoned and tortured for centuries by Marika. Now, Marika is dead, but she placed a curse on Kata before she died. Kata's rescuer is Uriel, an ancient vampire warrior who is also cursed. Together, they survive a trip to Hell, a battle with the hard-to-kill Marika, and—ultimately—their HEA. If you've been reading the series, you won't want to miss this story. Click HERE to go to my review of the GUARDIANS OF ETERNITY Series. Ivy also writes as Debbie Raleigh.

“Kane,” by Jacquelyn Frank, from her NIGHTWALKERS Series (Ratings: V3; S4; H2)
     Kane is the younger brother of Jacob the Enforcer. (See Jacob, book 1 of the NIGHTWALKERS Series.) Kane is nearly 100 years old, but his control isn't quite good enough on the eve of Samhain to keep him from touching an attractive human woman (Corrine), which is a huge infraction of demon rules that gets him severely punished. As it turns out, Corrine is Kane's Imprinted mate (aka soul mate), and while he is off being punished for his daring deed, she begins to waste away (see the quotation below for the reason why). When the Elder demons figure out what is happening, they chain Kane to a bed next to the unconscious Corrine so that his presence will give her the strength to recover, but will not allow him to touch her. The novella tells the story of what happens when Corrine wakes up naked in a strange bed next to an out-of-control gorgeous man who is heavily chained and manacled. As if that's not enough of a shock, he tells her that they are meant to be together forever and there's no way to change the situation. What's a girl to do? Frank tells her story in her usual melodramatic manner, so if you love her night-walking demon series, you'll love this story. Read my review of the NIGHTWALKERS Series in my book, Fang-tastic Fiction, which is available in many libraries.

Here is a quotation from "Kane" that explains the earliest connection between the demons and the druids: 
     "A thousand years ago the Demon race had actually been comprised of two races. Demon and Druid. they had lived a symbiotic existence. Demons could not know the depth of true and meaningful love with a soul mate, without a genetically perfect Druid counterpart; Druids could never know their own power without that perfect Demon's touch to give birth to it. And...they could not survive apart from one another. The Druid would whither [sic] away and die within a couple of weeks for want of the energy of the Demon it fed from, and the Demon would pine for its love, suffer untold depression, and usually seek an end at its own hand or simply waste itself away into death....Yet, even knowing this, a millennia ago the Demons had taken an active hand in the destruction of the Druid race. Just because of a slight by one King to another King....The Demon King wiped out nearly half the Druid population in one cruel act...Demons...killed themselves in untold numbers once they were set free [of their Druid mages]....[Some] Druids...had escaped Demon persecution and hidden themselves deeply amongst the infantile human race." (pp. 250-251)

“Dragon on Top,” by G. A. Aiken , from her DRAGON KIN Series (Ratings: V5; S4; H4)

     I've read all of the books in the other three series, but DRAGON KIN is new to me. (Aiken also writes as Shelly Laurenston.) Aiken writes in a humorous manner, sometimes frentically so, but I did enjoy the story, which follows the romance between two dragons: a warrior and a peacemaker. Defying gender expectations, Aiken makes her hero, Bram, a royal diplomat who spends his time writing treaties and then finessing them through political channels. Ghleanna, his heroine, is a fierce dragon warrior, who leads her troops bravely into battle and spends her down time arguing and fighting with her many warrior brothers and sisters. This is kind of like a  hook-up between Zena the Warrior Princess and Giles from Buffy. Back to the story: Ghleanna and her ruffian warrior brothers are commanded to escort Bram to a neighboring country on a diplomatic mission when they are attacked by traitorous warriors. When Ghleanna and Bram seek refuge in an unfriendly underwater country run by a powerful female dragon, they both must use their special skills to escape, falling in love along the way. 

Here's a quotation from “Dragon on Top” to give you a flavor of the humor: 
     "Bram buried his nose against her neck, breathed in deep. "Gods, female.  You smell like blood and death." 
     Ghleanna smiled. Honestly, this dragon....
     "You've always known what you do to me, Ghleanna. Especially when you come back from battle with all your new scars and still covered in the blood and gore of our enemies. There's only so much a dragon can take!" (p. 469)
  
     In summary, the novellas in this anthology are important pieces of their respective series. They can be read as stand-alones, but you'll get a deeper meaning and more enjoyment if you read them in the context of the series. Because all of the expositional world building has been done in the novels that precede these novellas, the authors don't have to spend a lot of time in explanations and can jump right into the story—always an advantage in a short novella.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Maggie Shayne & Maureen Child: "Vacation with a Vampire...and Other Immortals"

Authors: Maggie Shayne & Maureen Child
Plot Type: SMR
Publisher: Harlequin Nocturne, 2011

     This book contains two typical paranormal romances. In each novella, an ancient, lonely immortal, having long since given up hope of ever finding his soul mate, suddenly finds himself instantly attracted to a smart and sassy 21st century woman. The vacation concept is the tenuous thread that connects the two novellas is.

      "Vampires in Paradise," by Maggie Shayne, is part of her venerable TWILIGHT VAMPIRES/WINGS IN THE NIGHT series. It tells the love story of Anna Seville, a woman dying from the effects of the Belladonna antigen, and Diego, an ancient and reclusive vampire who decides to give her a choice between death and immortality. When Anna is told by her doctor that she has only a few months to live, she buys a boat, heads out to sea, and winds up on Diego's private island. You'll understand the whole Belladonna situation better if you've read some of the earlier books in the series, but the story can be read as a stand-alone. Click HERE to go to my review of the TWILIGHT VAMPIRES/WINGS IN THE NIGHT series. (Ratings: V1; S4; H2)

     "Immortal," by Maureen Child, tells the love story of Emma Campbell Madison, a young American woman who comes to Scotland for a summer college course, and Bain Sinclair, the ancient Scottish Guardian who saves her from a demontwice. When Emma goes to the campus library for an evening study session, she never expects to be attacked by a demon and then imprisoned by an immortal warrior to whom she is immediately, and mutually, attracted. Unfortunately for Emma, the demon has tasted her blood and swears that he will return for her...and he keeps his promise. (Ratings: V4; S4; H2)

     This is a light book (in both tone and length) that can be read in one sitting. Both novellas are soul-mate romances that follow the usual pattern. Shayne's story is nonviolent, while Child's contribution has two demon battles with the usual bloody injuries. Both include a few graphic bedroom scenes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Linda Poitevin: THE GRIGORI LEGACY

Series: THE GRIGORI LEGACY
Plot Type: 
    Book 1: Horror/Suspense Police Procedural with Soul Mates
     Book 2: UF 
Ratings: V5; S2; H0
Publisher and Titles: Ace:
        Sins of the Angels (9/2011)
        Sins of the Son (3/2012)


     This blog entry was revised and updated on 4/28/12 to include a review of the second book in the series: Sins of the Son. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1:

       BOOK 2: Sins of the Son      
     Although book 1 is a horror-filled police procedural, book 2 ventures into authentic urban fantasy, albeit with lots of angelic characters and settings. As Sins of the Son opens, Aramael has been punished severely for killing one of the Fallen—his brother Caim—in the climax to the previous book. Now, Aramael is condemned to live on mortal earth with no communication with Heaven. Without his wings and his angelic powers, he is at the mercy of Fallen angels who mercilessly beat him up night after night. In the meantime, Alex has been assigned desk duty in the aftermath of her severe injuries in that same climactic scene. Seth has returned to his angelic home, where he is scheduled to be the focus of a pact between his parents: the One and Lucifer. Here, Aramael explains to Alex: “When he was born, Lucifer and the One reached an agreement under which, when the time was right, Seth would be reborn in to the mortal realm. He was to live among you until he reached adulthood and then, through his own choices, make the final decision regarding humanity’s fate. A path of good would have required Lucifer to finally step aside and leave the mortal world alone. Permanently. Any war that might occur then would be between Heaven and the Fallen and would not involve mortals….If he makes the wrong choice…humanity will be lost.” (pp. 190-191) The plan is for Seth to be transformed into a mortal infant and then make his decision when he has had a chance to grow to adulthood on earth.

     The plot follows Aramael, Alex, and Seth as each plays a part in decimating that pact. Seth goes first, bargaining with Mittron to be placed on mortal earth in his adult form so that he can find Alex, to whom he is mightily attracted. Unfortunately, that transfer goes horribly wrong, and Seth winds up naked and unconscious in Vancouver with total amnesia—so severe that he has lost all of his language abilities. When a photograph of Seth turns up on a police poster in Toronto, Alex immediately recognizes him and heads for Vancouver to rescue him. The situation becomes more and more complicated as various angels and Fallen try to intercede with Seth. Eventually, the One calls the Archangel Michael back from exile and puts him in charge on the angels’ side. Acting on his own, Michael immediately restores some of Aramael’s powers and sends him off to kill Seth because he fears that in his primitive state, Seth is likely to make the wrong choice. So, here’s the situation: Alex is protecting Seth and is attracted to both him and Aramael. Seth is crazy about Alex and hates Aramael because Aramael is still officially Alex’s soul mate. Aramael is trying to kill Seth, both because of his assignment and because he is insanely jealous of the attraction between Alex and Seth. In the meantime, both Lucifer and Michael are doing as much as they can to interfere in the whole process. As you can imagine, this does not end well for anyone.

     The story line gets somewhat convoluted as the actions of various characters—both good and bad—force changes in the terms of the pact that is the center of the plot. Two mortals, both connected to the Vancouver police department, get involved in the situation. Dr. Elizabeth Riley is the psychiatrist who finds the naked Seth on her doorstep. Hugh Henderson is a police detective who eventually assists Alex in her protection of Seth. Towards the end of the story, Lucifer makes a discovery about Alex’s family, and that affects both the action in this book and the next
The romantic triangle loses one of its points by the end of the story, but who knows what will happen in future books.

     The first book spent a lot of time on the mythology and character introductions, so it is a relief that this book is able to put that behind and delve deeper into the characters, particularly the One and Lucifer. This is a strong follow-up that maintains and strengthens the world-building and creates a clear series arc in which the war between Heaven and Hell is at the forefront.

       WORLD-BUILDING      
     Ace is marketing this series as urban fantasy, but the first book is much more of a horror/suspense police procedural than an urban fantasy. The plot is dominated by one bloody crime scene after another, each centered around one or more graphically described, mutilated corpses (too many to count), all murdered by a crazed serial killer who is slashing his way across Toronto
.

     In this world, Heaven is headed by the god-like figure of "the One" (aka the Creator), a silver-haired woman who has become weary after endless centuries of heavenly and mortal strife. She is inscrutable in her words and actions and requires abiding faith from her followers. The series mythology follows the usual Heaven-Hell story. Here is a quotation from the book that summarizes that story: "[Alex] learned of the One's creation of a human race, nurtured throughout its evolution, and of Lucifer's intense envy of the One's attachment to those humans. Of the splitting of Heaven and the formation of Hell. Of the downfall of those angels who chose to follow Lucifer. The resulting noninterference pact. The appointment of a handful of those who remained loyal to the One as Powers when not all of the Fallen would abide by the agreement." (Sins of the Angels, p. 247)

     Although Poitevin tweaks the hierarchy slightly, the angelic structure generally follows the traditional Christian format, with nine choirs of angels: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Archangels, Principalities, and Guardians. (Click HERE to go to the descriptions of the nine choirs as found on Catholic Online. Click HERE to go to Poitevin's version.) In this book, the primary heavenly characters come from the Seraphim, Dominions, and Powers.

     The Guardians are assigned to help point mortals in the right direction, away from sin, but since all mortals have free will, the Guardians' efforts aren't always enough to keep their charges on the straight and narrow path of morality and goodness. Mortals who are descendants of the Grigori (aka Nephilim, Naphils) don't get to have a Guardian; they must rely on their own moral compasses to guide them to the right decisions in their lives. Poitevin weaves the angelic mythology and the story of the Fall into the plot in mostly easy-to-swallow portions. In this quotation from the book, a character explains why angels have neither emotions nor free will: "When Lucifer left and took the others with him, we went to war. The agony of having to fight our loved ones nearly tore us apart and, to make it easier on us, the One took away our free will and the capacity to feel love for those near to us." (Sins of the Angels, pp. 235-236).

Here is a list of the recurring characters in the series:

The Mortals
     > Alexandra (Alex) Jarvis: a 30-something Naphil (who doesn't know it) with a tragic past; she is a Toronto homicide detective.
     > Staff Inspector Doug Roberts (aka Staff): Alex's boss, head of the Toronto Homicide Squad; he knows about Alex's childhood tragedy and is generally sympathetic toward her.

The Angels
     > Aramael (mortal name Jacob Trent): a Power who is sent to mortal earth to protect Alex and hunt down his twin brother, Caim.
     > Seth (mortal name Seth Benjamin): the Appointed, son of the One and Lucifer, who agrees to help Alex and Aramael, but finds himself drawn to Alex; he is above Mittron in the angelic hierarchy.
     > Mittron (aka The Highest): the top Seraphim, currently the One's right-hand man, who has private and personal issues that appear to be overriding his loyalty to his leader.
     > Verchiel: a Dominion, Mittron's former soul mate but now his subordinate, who suspects Mittron of dastardly deeds but doesn't have enough free will to fully pursue her suspicions.
     > Mika'el (aka Michael): powerful archangel who left Heaven after a disagreement with the One thousands of years ago.

The Fallen
     > Lucifer: Former consort of the One, he is a Fallen archangel and now leads the Fallen. Click HERE to read the author's bio of Lucifer.
     > Samael: Lucifer's second in command, he is a Fallen archangel.

       BOOK 1: Sins of the Angels            
     As the series opens, Alex and her fellow detectives are desperately trying to catch the brutal serial killer who is slashing apart innocent people and leaving them posed in a position that resembles a crucifix. Meanwhile in Heaven, Mittron knows that Caim (a Fallen angel) is the murderer, and he orders Verchiel to send Aramael (Caim's brother) to capture Caim and to protect Alex, since Caim will target her and because she doesn't have a Guardian of her own to help her. Caim believes that if he can inhabit the body of a Naphil at the moment of her death, he will have one last chance to return to Heaven. Caim also wants revenge on his brother for sending him to Limbo and separating him from his soul mate. When Aramael learns that he must protect a naphil, he is, understandably, quite upset. Here is a quotation from the book that explains why: "Nephilim. Seed of the original Fallen Angels, the Grigori, who were cast from heaven for interference with the mortals they were to watch over. Reminder of all that had been lost in the ensuing exodus from Heaven, and of the enduring, irreconcilable split that remained between angel-kind." (Sins of the Angels, p. 21)

     The plot follows Alex as she works on the case and tries to deal with the fact that sometimes Aramael appears to have angelic wings that no one can see but her. Alex's mother was a schizophrenic who saw angelic visions and eventually killed herself and Alex's father, so Alex is afraid that she, too, may be succumbing to madness. As the police search for clues in earthly Toronto, the angels are up to their wing tips in secretive missions and a few dirty tricks in Heaven. You won't be surprised to discover that Heaven has power-hungry megalomaniacs, reluctant whistle blowers, and emotionally unstable soldiers—just as we do on mortal earth. As Caim tries to force Aramael into action, he increases his murderous attacks. The police are at their wit's end, and Alex and Aramael must solve the case. The climactic ending leaves many loose plot threads to be gathered up in the next book.

     As far as the romantic situation goes, it is obvious from their first meeting that Alex and Aramael have a deep physical and emotional connection, but since they rarely have a personal conversation and because they keep so many secrets from one another, the romance just didn't work for me. The couple spends most of the book disliking and distrusting one another, even though they feel a kind of lusty attraction that neither one of them really wants. I'm sure that their relationship will develop in the next book(s), so I'll keep reading the series. There is a romantic ringer in the form of Seth, who is also attracted to Alex, and vice versa (to some extent), so we'll have to see where that leads.

     Poitevin has built an inventive world that is well structured and consistent, for the most part. There is one point, late in the book, when Alex and Aramael allow Alex's sister to overhear some carefully kept secrets. That didn't make much sense to me because Aramael had been doing his best up to that point to keep Alex totally in the dark about the entire Heavenly connection. Why would he knowingly let her sister listen in when he just met her moments ago? Sometimes the narration can get to be a bit melodramatic, but, in general, the story-telling is compelling and fast paced. Alex makes a great, if slightly stereotypical, heroine, with her tragic past, spunky manner, and innate intelligence. Aramael's character is not as nuanced as Alex. He is a ferocious hunter who has led an emotion-free life (except for rage and guilt), so he maintains a stoic manner much of the time (kind of like Christine Feehan's Carpathians before they meet their lifemates).

     Click HERE to read an entry on the author's blog entitled "Playing with Hellfire: The Christian Mythology Behind the Grigori Legacy." Click HERE to read "Archangel's Defiance," a prequel short story about the incident that caused the exile of the Archangel Mika’el (aka Michael).