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AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

UPDATE! Lara Adrian: MIDNIGHT BREED SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Lara Adrian with a review of Crave the Night, the 12th novel in her MIDNIGHT BREED SERIES.      

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Friday, August 29, 2014

UPDATE! Jaye Wells: PROSPERO'S WAR SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Jaye Wells with a review of Cursed Moon, the second novel in her PROSPERO'S WAR SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

UPDATE! Terry Spear: HEART OF THE WOLF SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Terry Spear with a review of Hero of a Highland Wolf, the 14th novel in her HEART OF THE WOLF SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Carol Berg: THE SANCTUARY DUET

Author:  Carol Berg
Series:  THE SANCTUARY DUET
Plot Type:  High Fantasy
Ratings:  Violence—3; Sensuality2; Humor—2 
Publisher:  ROC 
          Dust and Light (8/2014)
          Ash and Silver (12/2015)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 4/14/2016 to include a review of Ash and Silver, the second novel. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel.

                         NOVEL 2: Ash and Silver                         
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     Ever since the Order of the Equites Cineré stole his memory, his name, and his heart, thinking about the past makes Greenshank’s head ache. After two years of rigorous training, he is almost ready to embrace the mission of the Order—to use selfless magic to heal the troubles of Navronne. But on his first assignment alone, the past comes racing back, threatening to drown him in conspiracy, grief, and murder.

     He is Lucian de Remeni—a sorcerer whose magical bents for portraiture and history threaten the safety of the earth and the future of the war-riven kingdom of Navronne. He just can’t remember how or why.

     Fighting to unravel the mysteries of his power, Lucian must trace threads of corruption that reach from the Pureblood Registry into the Order itself, the truth hidden two centuries in the past and beyond the boundaries of the world... 

MY REVIEW: 
           FAIR WARNING: This review has spoilers for Dust and Light.           
     I am late in reviewing this novel; it's been nearly a year and a half since I read Dust and Light. That means that the details of the mythology and the events of that first book have receded in memory to the point that getting into Ash and Silver was very difficult at first. Then, I realized that I had to put myself in Greenshank's placea man with no memory of his life before he arrived at Fortress Evanide, the headquarters of the Equites Cineré, the Order of the Knights of the Ashes. Even though this approach eventually worked for me, I do recommend that you read these books back to back. The mythology is extremely dense, and the plots are complex, so it's best to keep the amount of time between books to the very minimum.

     As the book opens, Greenshank has been given only a few memories of his previous life, but not enough to know who he was or why he agreed to be sent to the Order. After a rough period of adjustment, "I had grown to relish Evanide's rigor, living and breathing the lessons of magical warfare, preparing to combat the evils of a world I could recall only in the abstract. Every day I reveled in the satisfaction of growing strength and agility. And the magic seared my soul with wonder and glory...Our masters had made us empty so we could learn without boundaries." The members of the Order greet each other with the phrase, Dalle Cineré, which means "from the ashes." This phrase relates metaphorically to the phoenix myththe great bird rising anew from its own ashes. Keep this in mind as you follow Greenshank through his adventures.

     As the plot unwinds, Greenshank has to decide which of his superiors to trust, which to distrust, and which to fear. In the beginning, Greenshank fully trusts only two: his guide/trainer, Knight Commander Inek, and Fix, the boat master. The three ruling Knights of the Order are as follows. Can any of them be trusted?
> The Knight Marshall, the leader of the Order.
> The Knight Archivist, the record-keeper and guardian of the relicts—the spelled stone fragments that hold the memories of the members of the Order until they are either restored or destroyed, depending on each person's position in the Order and the choices he makes.
> The Knight Defender, the Order's final bastion. He has more magical power than any other in the Order. 
    Like the first book, this one is divided into four sections:

>> Part I: Sea and Stone 
     After two hard years living a life tougher than the infamous U.S. Marine boot camp, Greenshank has hardened into a strong, skilled, masked warrior with powerful and ever-growing magic talent. One day, Greenshank is sent on a solo mission to an isolated estuary where a beautiful Danae woman named Morgan accosts him, demanding to know where he has been. She implies that they have been lovers in the past. At first, Greenshank believes that, "she could not possibly know me. Wherever the knights had recruited me, they would have ensured we were not followed, bringing the full power of the Order's memory magic to bear on anyone who tried. Anonymity was our lifeblood. Our safety. Our first and strongest weapon." When Greenshank finally convinces Morgan that his memories have been erased, she tells him that his real name is Lucian and claims that her people meed his counsel. Morgan appears and disappears frequently during Greenshank's missions throughout the remainder of the book, sometimes accompanied by her hostile father, Tuari.

     When Greenshank returns from his mission, he meets with the Marshall and with a Curator of the Registrar named Damon, who takes a particular interest in Greenshank's training and his missions. Why is the Marshall allowing a Registry member to interfere with Greenshank's training? What is Damon up to? Do Damon and Greenshank have a history? These are all questions that Greenshank must investigate. Then the Marshall meets with Greenshank alone, telling him the history of the Order and its connection to a mystical city named Xancheira, which disappeared centuries ago with all its inhabitants. At this point, Xancheira and its people become an important plot element.

>> Part II: The Teeth of Spring 
     In the meantime, Navronne's three princes (Perryn, Bayard, and Osriel) are battling one another for the throne of their recently deceased father. Damon sends Greenshank out to spy on Osriel, who turns out to be a dangerously powerful dark sorcerer. On the way to this mission, Morgan takes Greenshank on a side trip to meet up with the coroner, Bastien, Lucian's former employer/partner from book 1, and the two reunite as friends and allies. At this point, Morgan's father, Tuari, appears, ready to kill Greenshank for deeds he claims were done by Lucian. Greenshank makes an agreement with Tuari to keep him informed of any meetings he has with the Danai woman marked in silver who appeared to Lucian in a vision (in book 1). Bastien then takes Greenshank to the home of the Circerons and tells him that story (also from book 1). The section ends with Inek's being caught in a magical trap when he tries to access Greenshank's relict for information about his past, leaving Inek in a magical coma. At this point, Greenshank discovers some heart-breaking information about his relict, the stone fragment that holds his memories. Damon allows Greenshank to view a terrible scene from his past. The focus in this section is on giving Greenshank much more information about his former life.

>> Part III: Shattered Stars  
     Inek remains in a coma, and Greenshank takes his place as guide/trainer to two of his comrades. He learns more about Damon's personal history, making him more and more distrustful of Damon's motives. He sneaks away for meetings with Morgan and Bastian. He learns the true identity of the Knight Defender and meets yet another Registry Curate, who begs him to leave the Order and gives him even more information about his past. By now, Greenshank mistrusts most of his superiors. He makes his first trip through a portal door and finds people to save and a mission that he must complete on his own. The story lines involving Sanctuary and Xancheira move into primary positions. Greenshank suspects that Damon, the Marshal, and the Archivist are secretly working together, but that they also have their own individual agendas. At times, he believes that he can trust one or more of them, but he's never quite sure. Bastian sums up Greenshank's dilemma: "Curator Damon's plot and the Danae mystery. Same as two years ago. You're further along the path but still without a map to either one." In this section, Greenshank is pulled further and further into the political machinations of his superiors and the Xancheira mission he has set for himself, which involves multiple trips back and forth through portals. 

>> Part IV: The Glory to Banish Grief  
     In this section, all questions are answered, all villains are unmasked, and all heroes are revealed. Greenshank arises from his own metaphorical ashes and embraces his destiny.

     Throughout this book, Greenshank/Lucian is on a journey that takes himand sometimes his alliesinto treacherous waters (both literally and figuratively) and eventually reveals the answers to dark secrets, both personal and historic. Trying to summarize the plot would be pointless because it twists and turns back upon itself time and time again as Greenshank tries to determine how to use his developing powers of magic for the greater good and who can be trusted to help him stay alive long enough to achieve his goals.

     This novel is equally as strong as the first, bringing Lucian/Greenshank's story to a satisfying close, but leaving room for more, perhaps another duet focusing on one or more of the secondary characters from the SANCTUARY DUET. I'm sure that Juli's story (Lucian's sister) would be quite interesting, as would that of Fallon (a character in both of the SANCTUARY books). Berg is a terrific story teller, and in Ash and Silver, she outdoes herself. She keeps the suspense at tense levels as her lead character tries to do the right thing even though he's out of his depth much of the time. The final sectionthe big finaleis masterfully constructed. Like Greenshank, I didn't know which characters were trustworthy until the big showdown scene when all of the their true agendas were revealed.

     Click HERE to go to go to the Amazon.com page for Ash and Silver where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt. 
  
                         WORLD-BUILDING                         
     Carol Berg is the author of more than a dozen fantasy novels, including her LIGHTHOUSE DUET (Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone), which is set in the same world as this series. Dust and Light is the first of Berg's books that I have readmostly because I am a fan of urban fantasy rather than high fantasybut the RT review was intriguing enough to draw me to it. 

     Like much fantasy fiction, this world has a Medieval feel to it, with its monarchical government, feudal social structure, primitive living conditions (especially for the poor), sword fighting, public whippings and hangings, and clothing styles that reflect that period. The series is set in the city of Palinur in the kingdom of Navronne, which is in the midst of a bloody war of succession between a pair of princely brothers: Perryn, presumptive heir to the throne, and Bayard, Perryn's contentious brother who hasn't yet given up the fight.


     In this mythology, a pureblood is basically a mage or a sorcerera magic user. "Pureblood sorcerers held the power of magic, the greatest gift of the gods to a troubled world, and they sacrificed a great deal to preserve, nurture, and share that gift. Not even Karish monks lived with more study, rules, and restrictions. Purebloods bound themselves and their grown children into strict service on the assurance that they would be provided the means to maintain the dignity of our calling and to withstand such travails as war and famine." (Dust and Lightp. 13) People with no magical talent are called ordinaries


     The series hero is Lucian de Remeni-Masson, eldest son of a noble family of purebloods. Lucian was born with the rare condition of dual bents, which means that he has two different magical talentsor bents: "Though I showed a deft hand at portraiture, inherited from my Masson mother, my preference had ever been for my Remeni father's bloodline magic…history....Unfortunately, experience warned that two strong bents led inevitably to madness, and the Registry had long insisted that the lesser one be excised. Yet my talents had both manifested as quite robust." (Dust and Lightp. 18) Unfortunately, after a youthful indiscretion involving a female ordinary, Lucian's grandfather punishes him by magically removing his history bent. As the series opens, Lucian is dealing with the grief of losing almost his entire family to a fire set by the Harrowers, a radical and violent religious sect that wants all purebloods dead. Now, Lucian's only living relative is his younger sister, Juli, and Lucian is now the the head of the family.


     Navronnian societyparticularly among the purebloodsruns according to a strict set of rules and traditions. For example, purebloods always wear a half-mask and a special type of cloak to make them instantly recognizable. Ordinaries are forbidden to speak to or touch a pureblood, except on command. When purebloods are out and about in the city, the law forbids anyone from robbing them or harming them in any way.


     All purebloods are under the control of the Registry, which contracts their services according to their particular bents and pays them a comfortable income and a secure social status. Unfortunately, as we soon learn, the Registry is corruptas is frequently the case with ruling bodies in paranormal fiction of all kinds.


     Two other cultural groups play a part in the series: the Danae and the Cicerons. The Danae appear to be similar to the Fae—otherworldly and beautiful, appearing and disappearing out of thin air. One of the Danae who appears to Lucian reminds him of his lost love, Morgan, but that story line is touched on only briefly and ambiguously in the first book. Here is Lucian's description of the Cicerons: "Skin as dusky as purebloods, bedecked with arm bracelets, earrings, and necklaces of false gold, they bred thieves, smugglers, fortune-tellers, and artists at picking pockets, knife juggling, and sleight of hand. Their knives found human targets, as well, especially any who crossed them." (Dust and Light, p. 22) The Cicerons live in the hirudo, a deep gully that borders the graveyard on the edge of the city.


     The cast of characters includes the following Curators of the Registry, each of whom plays a role in Lucian's troubles. Some want him killed; some want him imprisoned; and some want to force him to run away. And no one will tell him why they all seem to fear and hate him so much.



First Curator, Gramphier: The highest ranking official of the Registry and longtime friend of Lucian's grandfather.
First Register Damon: Known for his ruthlessness and loyalty to those who earn it.
Second Register, Pons-Laterus: She openly despises Lucian for breaking the rules and consorting with an ordinary.
> Overseer of Contracts, Guilian de Albin: A wealthy traditionalist who has always looked down upon Lucian.
Curator Scrutari-Consil: Petulant and annoying; condescending and arrogant.
Master of Archives, Pluvius: Lowest in rank, he has been Lucian's mentor ever since Lucian began working at the Registry.
   All of the curators treat Lucian badly, but some may have sympathetic reasons (in the long term) behind their actions. Lucian spends much of book 1 trying to figure out if he can trust any of them.

                         NOVEL 1:  Dust and Light                         
     As the story begins, Lucian is shocked when he loses his position as a Registry portrait painter and is contracted out to an ordinary for a pitiful sum of money. His new Master is Bastien de Caton, the city coroner, and his new job is to draw portraits of unidentified dead bodies so that the coroner can distribute the drawings and receive payment from relatives who recognize and claim their dead kin. Bastien is also authorized to hold inquests into suspicious deaths, and this part of his job becomes an important plot element. 

     Bastien's workspace is housed in the Necropolis, literally a city of the dead. Here is the moment that Lucian and Bastien first meet: "Winter daylight streamed through the arches to either side of the colonnade, illuminating a thickset man in a heavy wool shirt, leather tunic, and thigh-length boots. He stood square in our path, fists on hips and scowling at us from amid a tangle of sand-colored hair. Fog or steam or smoke, bearing a stench so foul as to leave me unwilling to take another breath, wreathed him as if he were some gatzi lord from Magrog's netherworld. 'You're late.' His voice rumbled the stones." (p. 28) Bastien is a pragmatic, rough Master who at first views Lucian as a "pompous pureblood twit who believes he's been ill-used because he's got to smell shite." (p. 77) Eventually, though, they learn to trust one another and become more like partners than Master and servant.

     On Lucian's first day of work, the body of a young girl is found on the edge of the Cicerons' hirudo. When Lucian draws her portrait, he blacks out momentarily, only to discover on awakening that he has drawn the child in royal garb. Apparently, Lucian has developed the ability to look deeply into a person's life and soul as he is drawing the portraitto see events and objects that he shouldn't be able to see. In other words, his bent for history (which manifests as psychometry) has revived and has combined with his bent for portraiturean unprecedented event that will surely get him put in prison if the Registry learns about it. Lucian surmises "that reaching for the life behind death's mask had roused some fading ember of my second bent." (p. 79) Another anomaly that occurs during his drawing of the child's portrait is described here by Bastien: "Youyour whole selffaded, blurred, and then sharpened up again, over and over, as if you were only partly here, partly elsewhere." (p. 54) Obviously, this phenomenon is related to Lucian's blackouts as he drew the portrait. Two of the novel's primary story lines, then, are Lucian's investigation into the murder of the little girl and his efforts to discover exactly why his second bent has returned and why he is having blackouts. 


     This second story line expands when Lucian begins finding himself in a strange land during the blackouts. When he meets a beautiful, otherworldly woman in that land, she tells him that she and her people are unsure whether to lead him astray or grant him sanctuary in the Everlasting. She goes on to explain that even if they decide to grant him sanctuary, he isn't ready yet because "Thou hast no knowledge of the world." (p. 231) Finally, she tells him that she will welcome him at the end of the Path of the White Hand, but Lucian has no idea what that meansnot yet, anyway.


     Meanwhile, life gets harder for Lucian. He is making very little money now, not enough to support his sister and the household staff. That problem soon goes away, though, when someone burns down his house, killing everyone inside. The Registry blames Lucian for the tragedy and locks him away after a sham of a trial. By this time, it is obvious to Lucian that someone is out to get him, but who? And why? Lucian spends most of this book trying to figure out the answers to those questions, soon learning that he can't trust anyonenot even those he thought were his friends and allies.


The book is divided into four sections:

>> Part I: The Blades of Winter, which takes Lucian from his Registry position to the Necropolis to imprisonment.
>>Part II: The Killing Season, which follows Lucian through his months in the prison until he is finally released.
>>Part III: The Waking Storm, which mostly involves the final parts of the investigation of the child's murder.
>>Part IV: Harsh Magic, which resolves the mystery of the child's murder and the mystery of which Registry members are trying to get Lucian killed and why. The cliff-hanger ending signals the beginning of an entirely new chapter in Lucian's life.
     This is a terrific book with a well-constructed plot that masterfully combines a fascinating mythology, intense drama, well-defined characters, and touches of low, dark humor. The humor comes mostly from the characters who keep the Necropolis running, particularly Bastien and Constance, the sexton's daughter. This is the first time that Lucian has ever come into close contact with ordinaries, and his perception of themand their perceptions of himmake for some entertaining scenes.

     Although Lucian is in his mid-twenties, this is really a coming of age story for him as he delves into his family history, investigates the truth of his memories, begins to test his magical powers, and learns to deal with a diverse group of people (i.e., ordinaries, the Danae, the Cicerons, priestesses, and Navronnian royalty). Although Lucian is heavily weighed down by bad luck and adversity in this novel, Berg always allows a ray of light to break through just when it seems that nothing will save him. She seamlessly weaves these moments into the complex and gripping plot, keeping this reader engrossed throughout. The book ends in a major cliffhanger, and I can hardly wait (a whole year!) to find out what happens next to Lucian, Juli, Bastien, and the rest of this quirky cast of characters.


     Click HERE to go to the Amazon.com page for Dust and Light where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

UPDATE! Deborah Harkness: ALL SOULS TRILOGY

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Deborah Harkness with a review of The Book of Life, the third and FINAL novel in her ALL SOULS TRILOGY.
  
Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

UPDATE! Erin Kellison: REVELER SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Erin Kellison with a review of "Bring Me a Dream," the fifth novella in her all-novella REVELER SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review. This review appears at the very end of that post, following the reviews of the first four novellas.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

UPDATE! Ilona Andrews: KATE DANIELS SERIES

UPDATE!


I have just updated a previous post for Ilona Andrews with a review of Magic Breaks, the seventh novel in the KATE DANIELS SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

UPDATE! Hannah Jayne: UNDERWORLD DETECTION AGENCY CHRONICLES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Hannah Jayne  with a review of Under the Final Moon, the sixth and FINAL novel in her UNDERWORLD DETECTION AGENCY CHRONICLES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

UPDATE! A.C. Arthur: SHADOW SHIFTERS SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for A. C. Arthur with a review of Shifter's Claim, the fourth novel in her SHADOW SHIFTERS SERIES.

Click on either the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

UPDATE! Rob Thurman: CAL LEANDROS SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Rob Thurman with a review of Downfall, the ninth novel in her CAL LEANDROS SERIES. 

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

UPDATE! Thea Harrison: ELDER RACES SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Thea Harrison with a review of "Peanut Goes to School," the eighth novella in her ELDER RACES SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

UPDATE! Mary Behre: TIDEWATER SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Mary Behre with a review of Guarded, the second novel in her TIDEWATER SERIES. 

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

UPDATE! Karina Cooper: ST. CROIX CHRONICLES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Karina Cooper with a review of Engraved, the fifth novel in her St. Croix Chronicles.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated reviews.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Authors Speak Up About the Amazon-Hachette Dispute

Image Source: http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/
"Amazon Tries to Woo Authors in Hachette Dispute"
By Bryan Chaffin
     Perhaps you have been reading about the ongoing dispute between Amazon and Hachette. Or maybe you've been wondering why you haven’t been able to pre-order some authors’ print books and e-books on Amazon or why the shipping time on some Amazon books is weeks instead of days. 


     In the Sunday New York Times (NYT) (8/10/14), more than 900 authors published an open letter to readers detailing their opposition to Amazon’s tactics and calling on Amazon to stop punishing Hachette authors by delaying shipment of their books, among other things. Amazon appears to view its actions against the authors as merely collateral damage, while the authors see them as personal attacks that threaten their livelihood.

     In closing, the authors ask Amazon to resolve its dispute with Hachette without further hurting authors and without blocking or otherwise delaying the sale of books to its customers.” They also ask all readers to email Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, at jeff@amazon.com, and tell him what you think.”


     Click HERE to read the full text of the authors’ letter and the names of the signers. Among the paranormal/fantasy/science fiction authors who signed this letter are the following: Kelley Armstrong, Lauren Beukes, Holly Black, Marie Brennan, Jacqueline Carey, Suzanne Collins, P.N. Elrod, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Heather Graham, Jane Lindskold, Melissa Marr, Christopher Moore, Nora Roberts, Elisabeth Waters, and Barbara Wright.

     To make the situation even more interesting, another groupmostly authors who self-publish through Amazonhas taken the opposite point of view, supporting Amazon and blaming Hachette (and all of the major publishers) for the ongoing dispute. Click HERE to read an article explaining their position. Click HERE to read their petition on change.org in which they claim that "Amazon is not the one to blame. The players that deserve your derision in this standoff are Hachette in particular, and the New York "Big Five" in general." Unfortunately, we don't know which authors have signed this petition because the actual names of the signers are not readily available. It ends with just this phrase: "Signed, concerned readers and writers." Most sources identify the author of this petition as Hugh Howey, the author of the SILO series, which is published entirely through Amazon's self-publishing resources.   

     In analyzing the Amazon vs. publishers situation, I can see pros and cons on both sides of the table. However, Amazon has taken a new and disturbing step by punishing authors to gain leverage in its fight with Hachette. The authors are powerless to fight back and are at the mercy of both Amazon and their publishers. Although Amazon has done a great job of supporting new authors through their on-line publishing services, the actions they are taking against the Hachette writers are a below-the-belt punch at a vulnerable group. Yes, there are some big-name authors among the Hachette group (and among the signers of the NYT letter). But most of the Hachette authors are not millionaires like Stephen King and James Patterson; they are simply writers who are trying to earn a living in a tough profession. In my opinion, they deserve the right to sell their books without restriction or retaliation. 


     Click HERE to read another NYT article about this situation. Click HERE to read about Amazon’s recent blockade of Disney movies. Click HERE for yet another article detailing the behind-the-scenes intrigue.


     After considering the issue from all sides, what do you think? Be a proactive reader and put your opinion out there, either by sending an email to Bezos or by signing the change.org petition or by doing both. Even if you agree with the change.org opinion piece, though, do you believe that Amazon is being fair to the Hachette authors?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

UPDATE! M.D. Waters: ARCHETYPE SERIES

UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for M. D. Waters with a review of Prototype, the second and FINAL novel in her ARCHETYPE SERIES.     

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Peter David: "Artful"

Author:  Peter David
Title:  Artful
Plot Type:  Historical Urban Fantasy (UF)     
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality1; Humor—3 
Publisher:  47North (7/14)     
   
            WORLD-BUILDING            
     If you love Dickensian characters or enjoyed watching the Oliver movie  or stage production (and are still humming "Where Is Love," or "Consider Yourself," or "As Long as He Needs Me,") you might just be curious about what happened next. The Artful Dodger is one of the most colorful and memorable of Fagin's boys. In this book, Peter David takes several characters from Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist and shows us their true natures and their future endeavors by providing a continuation of their stories. The book is set in London during the 1830s, just a day or two after the original novel ends. If you have read and enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, or any of the other (literally) revamped classics, you'll probably want to give this book a try.  

     The valiant hero is Jack Dawkins (aka the Artful Dodger, or just Dodger), and the villains are Mr. Fang and Fagin. Oliver Twist and his benefactor, Mr. Brownlow, also make brief appearances. Stepping over from 
Bram Stoker's Dracula are Dr. Isaac Van Helsing and his son, Abraham (Bram). Dodger's feisty heroine is Britain's soon-to-be queen, Victoria Alexandrina (aka Drina). 

     The author imagines that Mr. Fang and Fagin are vampyres, basing his conclusion on subtle clues found in Dickens's original novel. After all, the Magistrate's name is Mr. Fangwhat else could he be but a vampyre. As for Fagin: He hides in the shadows; rarely eats or drinks; dresses all in black; has long, black, claw-like fingernails; and "such fangs as should have been a dog's or rat's." (Author's Preface)    


     From the very beginning, the author makes it clear that he much prefers Dodger to Oliver Twist: "Why did the adventures of such a memorably described, thoroughly engaging, and far more captivatingly visualized young manalways pictured with a cocky smile and upraised, mocking eyebrow rather than tears of pathos trickling down his faceplay second fiddle in the great orchestra of fiction to the perpetually sobbing Master Twist?" (Author's Preface) David posits that Dickens did not tell Dodger's full story because he didn't want to frighten the citizenry of London with the knowledge of Dodger's involvement with vampyres.  

            THE STORY                   

Twitter Summary: Street-smart but gentlemanly young man rescues a lovely, run-away princess from fearsome fangers on the mean streets of 19th century London.  

     At the end of Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodgera homeless orphan with the soul and manners of a gentleman—is sentenced to be deported to the penal colonies of Australia. The villainous Fagincruel enslaver of homeless boysis tried, sentenced, and hanged for his crimes. But things are never what they seem. In reality, Dodger escapes from his prison cell by stealing a guard's keys, and Faginbeing a vampyrecannot be killed by hanging and is rescued from his ride to the graveyard by a fellow vamp. 

     The novel is constructed with alternating chapters that swing back and forth among the main characters as the actions taken by each lead inevitably to a climactic life-or-death clash. Peter David is a skilled and witty writer, perfectly channeling the florid Dickensian style with its strong comic touch. Although the early chaptersin which the expositional information is necessarily providedtend to drag a bit, Dodger's adventures soon pick up to warp speed as two friends join his team and several enemies begin to congregate. 


     The two friends are Drina and Bram. Dodger rescues Drina from the streets after she runs away from her boring, stuffy life in Buckingham Palace. Drina keeps her true identity a secret from Dodger, pretending to be just an average young girl on the run. Dodger gives her a place to stay in his burned-out boyhood home and even serves up a plate of sausages and a cup of tea, promising her that the water is "not from a horse trough or some such." (Chapter 6) Bram joins the group after he escapes from a pair of vampyres and is rescued by Dodger and Drina. From this point on, the story follows a fight-flight pattern as Dodger and Drina learn the hard way that vampyres really exist and that Mr. Fang's vampyres are after Drina.


      The dastardly Mr. Fang wants to get his hands on Bram and Drina as part of a master plan to take control of London and the British Empire. Bram's father is a well-connected vampyre hunter, so the kidnapping of Bram is designed to force Dr. Van Helsing to stop hunting vampyres. The kidnapping of Drina has to do with Mr. Fang's plans for a vampyre takeover of the British monarchy. 


     But what is Fagin's role in this rollicking adventure? Oddly, Fagin is a nuanced villain. He has lived for centuries as a vampyre but has never found his true place in human or vampire society. Fagin actually acts both as a villain and an anti-hero in this story, embracing his inner vampyre after he has a major epiphany halfway through the book.   

     All in all, this is a darkly humorous romp through the streets of pre-Victorian London, wittily narratedwith tongue firmly in cheekby a skilled writer who has a great deal of fun with the story. Here's one of my favorite lines, as Dodger first lays eyes on Drina: "He quickened his step, and when he rounded the corner, he came to a halt, his eyes simultaneously widening in surprise and narrowing in suspicion, which was certainly something of an accomplishment that no one save the Artful Dodger could likely have carried out." (Chapter 4) In another hilarious scene, Dodger spits on two attacking vamps and is shocked when his saliva burns through their skin. Bram asks Dodger if by any chance he had been drinking holy water. This dialogue between Drina and Dodger follows:
     "Holy water?" said Drina before Dodger could answer. "That's ridiculous! Why would he be drinking holy water?" Then her voice trailed off and she looked at him with suspicion. "Wait. The…the tea…"
     The water was just sitting there in the stoup," he said defensively.
     "You stole water from a church? To make tea?"
     "It's not like I was impersonatin' a choker [priest] and goin' 'round and usin' it to baptize babies and chargin' a quid for it!

     The author leaves plenty of room for further developments in the life of the Artful Dodger, so this may turn into a series. If so, I'm looking forward to chuckling my way through each adventure.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A. M. Dellamonica: HIDDEN SEA TALES TRILOGY

Author:  A.M. (Alyx) Dellamonica 
Series:  HIDDEN SEA TALES 
Plot Type: Alternate World Fantasy 
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality3; Humor—3 
Publisher:  Tor 
     Novel 1: Child of a Hidden Sea (6/2014)
     Novel 2: A Daughter of No Nation (12/2015)
     Novel 3: The Nature of a Pirate (12/2016)

Dellamonica has also published three prequel stories set much earlier in this world in a series she calls THE GALES. The protagonist of those stories is Gale Feliachild, aunt of the heroine of HIDDEN SEA TALES:
    "Among the Silvering Herd" (free on-line or e-story)
    "The Ugly woman of Castello di Putti" (free on-line or e-story)
    "The Glass Galago" (e-story)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 1/7/2017 to include my review of The Nature of a Pirate, the third novel in this trilogy. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels.

                       NOVEL 3:  The Nature of a Pirate                    
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     Marine videographer and biologist Sophie Hansa has spent the past few months putting her knowledge of science to use on the strange world of Stormwrack, solving seemingly impossible cases where no solution had been found before.

     When a series of ships within the Fleet of Nations, the main governing body that rules a loose alliance of island nation states, are sunk by magical sabotage, Sophie is called on to find out why. While surveying the damage of the most recent wreck, she discovers a strange-looking creature―a fright, a wooden oddity born from a banished spell―causing chaos within the ship. The question is who would put this creature aboard and why?

     The quest for answers finds Sophie magically bound to an abolitionist from Sylvanna, her father’s homeland. Now Sophie and the crew of the Nightjar must discover what makes this man so unique while outrunning magical assassins and villainous pirates, and stopping the people responsible for the attacks on the Fleet before they strike again

MY REVIEW:
      As the story opens, Sophie has received official approval to set up her Forensic Institute, so now she needs to begin assembling the necessary equipment, personnel, and―most important―scientific knowledge that she will need to make the Institute a success. She is excited about this new project because her new job is the perfect cover for her habit of constantly asking questions―a character trait that is frowned on in Stormwrack culture. At one point a government official scolds Sophie about her most grievous cultural flaw―curiosity: "As far as I can tell, you can find a reason to want access to every piece of information, true or false, ever recorded."

     The novel's plot has several prongs, all involving Sophie in some type of danger, both physical and emotional. Here are the primary story lines:
> Can Sophie and her brother Bram prove to Stormwrack officials that her new Forensic Institute has value and should be fully funded? This entails the transport of specialized scientific equipment and huge quantities of textbook information from Earth to Stormwrack so that Sophie can train her new Forensic assistants in the science of fingerprinting and crime scene analysis.
> Can Sophie and Bram figure out a way to prove exactly what Stormwrack's relationship is to Earth? Is Stormwrack a parallel realm? Or is Stormwrack the result of some type of cataclysmic occurrence on Earth that stripped it of its technological and scientific advances (as well as most of its land masses)?
> Can Sophie make peace with the fact that her biological mother (Beatrice) loaded her up with magical intents before she gave her up for adoption? At her lowest point, Sophie complains to Bram, "I'm barely a real person. I'm a made thing. A windup doll... I'm the image of what Beatrice wanted. A designer baby." (Mostly, she's afraid that Garland wouldn't have fallen for her if she didn't have the beauty, intelligence, and luck that come from Beatrice's intents.) But have faith in our intrepid heroine, who has a history of overcoming challenges and coming out on top.
> Who was the Stormwracker who traveled to Earth (Erstwhile) back in book one and brought back the weapons that killed Sophie's aunt, Gale Feliachild? Who was behind the planning of that murder, and why?
> Who is trying to destroy the Fleet of Nations by using forbidden magic to sink one ship after another? And why?
> How can Sophie extricate herself from a situation into which her father, Cly, has maneuvered her: namely, that she now owns a slave and doesn't know how to free him without exposing him to future harm, or even death? In a related story thread, is there any truth to the Stormwrack myth about a distant island that is populated by escaped slaves?
> What is going to happen next in Sophie's complicated relationship with her (apparent) soul mate, Captain Garland Parrish?
    Each plot line twists and turns its way through the book, occasionally brushing up against one another and sometimes weaving together. Dellamonica once again has created a tightly knit plot that careens along at a dizzying pace, carrying us deeper and deeper into the many-layered political intrigues of Stormwrack. Each story line has its own cast of characters, and you really can't trust any of them based on what they say and how they behave. Dellamonica keeps you guessing all the way to the end as to the identities of the bad guys and gals. Even though I found some to be more obvious than others, I wasn't able to figure out why some of them had turned to the dark side.

     Sophie spends some time (separately) with her parents, Beatrice and Cly, and she gets to know both of them better, thus enriching the story of her birth and her familial history. Watching Sophie and Cly play a cat-and-mouse game of one-upmanship throughout the novel is one of the high points. Sophie also comes to an understanding with her adoptive parents in San Franciscoa sad scene because she knows that her destiny now lies in Stormwrack, not on Earth. And now to the romance: Sophie and Garland are together throughout much of the novel, mostly on board his ship, and their relationship swerves all over the place. Garland consistently maintains his polite, conservative, monosyllabic demeanor, while Sophie seethes with sexual desire for his manly charms. Will Garland ever break down and make a move, or will Sophie have to take the first step?

     Since this series has been marketed as a trilogy, this must be the final novel, but Dellamonica does not completely resolve all of the issues, thus leaving a lot of room for further adventures for Sophie and her friends. I have enjoyed reading all three novels and immersing myself in the Stormwrack world. Dellamonica is a terrific story teller, and she has created a fresh and exciting mythology with wonderfully well-developed characters who are all originalsnot stereotypes. Even the villains are complexdefinitely not the one-note bad guys that seem to be the norm in fantasy fiction these days. The best thing about the series is Sophiea confident, courageous, intelligent heroine who is not afraid to stand up and face the dangers and disappointments in her life. I'm not saying that she never asks for help on her many and varied projects and problems, but I am saying that she doesn't allow any big, well-muscled men to fight her battles for her. Sophie is a woman with a mind of her own, and she's not shy about letting everyone know where she stands on any (every) issue, even when she is forced to suffer some negative consequences. On of the funniest examples of Sophie's outspokenness comes when she interrupts a class on "the basics of physical intimacy" being held for soon-to-be-wed citizens of Sylvanna, her father's country. After explaining to the instructor that "I don't need a bunch of half-baked information on sex. I've had sex," the instructor accuses her of lewdness and kicks her out of the class.

     If you are looking for an engaging fantasy series that breaks new ground, you can't do any better than HIDDEN SEA TALESClick HERE to go to the novel's Amazon.com page where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt. 

                        WORLD-BUILDING                        
     The series is set in Stormwrack, an alternate realm that is parallel to Earth. The two realms share many of the same physical characteristics e.g., moon and stars, geological structure, salty seas) but also have many differences (e.g., languages, time measurement, plant and animal species, absence of large land masses). Entry to the Stormwrack portal involves the use of a special time piece and a ritual completed at a specific time of day. 

     Stormwrack is a world of island nations, each with its own dialectal take on the main Stormwrack language. Although each island nation has its own governing body, the primary government for the entirety of Stormwrack is the Convene, which comprises representatives from each nation. The inhabitants of Stormwrack are human, but magic can be used to mutate the human form, so we do see a few monstrous creations.


    Law enforcement and defense are handled mostly by the Fleet, a huge flotilla of ships representing all of the island nations. The captain of the Fleet's lead shipTemperancehas access to a powerful magical object that allows him to sink another ship just by speaking its name. Names have great power in Stormwrack. 


     Stormwrack has been without war for 109 years, ever since the signing of the Cessation agreement, which settled a war between the Isle of Golda pirate nationand the rest of Stormwrack. Because the Cessation ended all warfare, the only way to settle disputes in Stormwrack is through litigation or dueling. When the series heroine complains, "Loopholes and paperwork…You guys seem to have an excess of legal maneuvering and a shortage of common sense," a Stormwracker responds, "It's…the price of the peace…Bureaucratic warfare. Less bloody than the real thing." If someone does something to you that you object to, you can either sue him or her, or you can elect to settle the dispute through a duel. The duels are handled by the Duelist-Adjudicator, who sails around on a ship fitted with fighting decks and manned by lawyers who excel at dueling sports like wrestling and swordplay.


     Magic is an everyday occurrence in Stormwrack and is called "intent." On a large scale, for example, a huge active volcano is completely safe because of a magical inscription with the intent that it be dormant. On a smaller scale, people with enough money can pay for a beautification intent that works like plastic surgery without the slice-and-dice. One character's sea-captain father "had his teeth scripped to shine as the sun. The intention survived his death," so his daughter uses his skull as a lantern. On the dark side, if someone knows your complete name (first, middle, last), they can kill you from afar. As the series heroine says, "You sink a ship by saying its name, and you ensorcel someone by writing their name. Names mean a lot here."


    Stormwrack has no modern technologyno electricity, engines, or computersso it feels as if it exists in the 17th or 18th century during the Age of Sail. The shipboard scenes are terrific, with much attention paid to sensory details: the creak of the boards, the smells from the galley, the sting of the salt spray, the rush of the wind, the rolling and slapping of the waves, and the cries of the seabirds.


                      NOVEL 1:  Child of a Hidden Sea                      
     Don't be put off by the cover art; this is not a YA novel. Sophie Opal Hansa is 24 years oldthe adopted daughter in a family that values intelligence, curiosity, and excellence. She is a marine videographer and has traveled the world, often living and working in harsh environments. Her gay brother, Bramwell (Bram), is a technological genius who can master just about any intellectual task in record time. Sophie has always felt like the black sheep of the family. She has the curiosity, but she lacks the follow through. Here, she succumbs to her usual jitters: "The old sense that her idea would fall apart when she explained it, that they'd poke holes in her theory and tell her she'd been silly, guilty of shallow thinking, of not really examining her hypothesis." Another time she babbles: "Don't you think it's possibleI mean, maybe I'm wrong, oh, I guess perhaps this is stupid." She flusters like this again and againshowing absolutely no confidence in her own intelligence. Sophie is most happy when she is investigating and least happy when she is called upon to present the findings of her investigations. 

     As the story opens, Sophie and Bram's parents are away on a lengthy trip, so Sophie searches their office and finds the identity of her biological mother, Beatrice, who happens to live just a few miles away. When Sophie knocks on Beatrice's door and reveals her identity, Beatrice reacts violently, calling Sophie a viper and demanding that she go away and not come back. Shortly after this bitter encounter, Sophie watches Gale Feliachild, her mother's sister, leave Beatrice's house and follows her, hoping that she will provide more information. Almost immediately, two men attack Gale, and Sophie jumps into the fray, slamming her camera bag into one man's face and grabbing hold of Gale. 


     All of a sudden Sophie finds herself flying through the air and landing in the middle of the sea, still holding on to Gale, who is unconscious with a knife in her chest. Soon, they are rescued by people who seem to be living in Medieval times in spindly wooden huts with very little food, clothing made from homespun fabrics, and no access to technology. Even more confusing is the fact that all of the plants and animals (mostly fish) that Sophie sees are completely unfamiliar to her (and she has a vast knowledge of wildlife). One of the most bewildering aspects of this place is that the sea and the beaches contain no trash and garbage; they are completely clean and free of litter. Each time Sophie sees something unfamiliar, she pulls out her camera and takes a photograph, but she is bewildered by almost everything she sees. The people speak a language that Sophie doesn't understand until one mana spell-scripterasks her to write her full name on a slate and then painstakingly carves it into a conch shell. As soon as he completes a brief ritual with the shell, Sophie can magically understand their language. 


     Even though Sophie sees the familiar moon and stars in the sky, she realizes that she is in a different world, and she sets about investigating it with the full force of her scientific curiosity. Within a few days, the Stormwrackers send Sophie back through the portal, where she tries to explain her adventure to Bram. Almost immediately, Sophie's teen-age half-sister, Verena, pounds on her door, furious that Sophie has stolen her heritage. Apparently, Beatrice was supposed to inherit the position and authority of being a courier between Stormwrack and Earth (which the Stormwrackers call "Erstwhile"), but due to mysterious circumstances, she vested her courier post over to Gale. During the rescue, Sophie took possession of Gale's courier pouch, a purse whose zipper opens if Sophie just brushes her finger across it. Inside the purse is Gale's badge of office. Verena claims that Gale meant for her to be the heir to her badge and position and insists that Sophie come back to Stormwrack to straighten out the whole messy situation. Sophie doesn't want to go alone, so she insists that Bram accompany her. 


     From this point on (about a third of the way into the book), Sophie and Bram get dragged into a major political firestorm in Stormwrack, one that finds them right in the middle of the uproar and the danger. In the midst of this main plot, there are also a few more story threads: Sophie's search for her biological father, her attempts to restore Verena's inheritance, and her burgeoning love for Stormwrack (and for a certain shy and handsome sea captain). The adventures play out mostly at seaboth on board and under the water. The twisty plot is complex, but fast paced, particularly the second half, where it accelerates at super-page-turning speeds. By the end, the plot elements include a secret political alliance, a kidnapping, spider web technology, and the theft of a powerful relic. Although the villains' identities are obvious early on, not all of them are one-note evil-doers. 


Besides Sophie, Bram, Beatrice, Gale, and Verena, the cast of supporting characters includes the following:
> Garland Parrish: captain of Gale's ship, the Nightjar, and a possible love interest for Sophie (although Verena has had a major crush on him for years)
> Lais Dariach: a tall, blond, promiscuous, bisexual scientist and inventor (think Fabio with a big brain) who lives in the nation of Tiladene; he and Sophie have a brief fling early in the book and remain friends through the end
> John Coine: one of the villains; a citizen of the pirate nation, Isle of Gold
> Tonio: Parrish's gay first mate, who comes to Sophie's aid more than once 
     Dellamonica does a great job of interweaving her gay and straight characters into the story without overemphasizing their sexual preferences. For the most part, sexual predilection in this world is a private and personal matter that holds little interest for anyone but the citizens of Ualtar, an ultra-conservative religious island whose philosophy bears a strong resemblance to some far-right conservative religions in our own world.

     As in most opening novels, many of the early chapters include expositional material that introduces the mythology of the series. The world-building is terrific. Sophie soon learns that she can't make sweeping generalizations about Stormwrack because in this world there is just as much diversity in religious beliefs, cultural idiosyncrasies, languages, and political philosophies as there is back on Earth. Dellamonica handles the world-building well because she makes her main character a smart and curious young woman and then almost immediately pops her into this strange new worlda world so different that Sophie spends a lot of time just asking questions. And don't forget the magica system in which a spell-scripter inscribes "intents"magical wordson items, or even on people, to imbue them with various magical qualities.

     The author also does a great job with Sophie's first-person narration, always a plus, because writing in the first-person voice can sometimes be awkward. Sophie is such an honest and delightfully inquisitive young woman that her constant investigating comes across as perfectly normal. I must admit, though, that I enjoyed Bram's character more than Sophie's. Bram has a dry sense of humor that livens up every scene in which he appears, always using his genius-level abilities to work out problems in a geeky kind of way and never losing his cool. When things go wrong, he doesn't get hysterical, he merely understates the situation as "sub-optimal." Although I can empathize with Sophie's insecurities, she gets a bit too dithery for my taste, reacting more like an adolescent than a mid-twenties woman. I had to agree with Bram when he told her, "…you like gathering information more than you do presenting results...You can climb a rock face with your fingertips, but you've never been able to deal with having your conclusions questioned…You're afraid of coming up short. Of being told you did it wrong, or you don't belong, or it doesn't count…Try to can the stage fright. Just give them the facts." Many times I wanted to reach in to give Sophie a little shake and tell her to pull herself together and show some backbone. The aspect of Sophie's personality that I did like is her natural curiosity. In fact, her investigations of the unfamiliar flora and fauna of Stormwrack are, at times, more important to Sophie and more interesting to the reader than her inquiry into her aunt's death. The otter scene near the end is particularly engaging.

     I enjoyed this novel very much and am looking forward to its sequel. Dellamonica has plenty of room for story development in this rich world. Sophie isn't finished with her friends and family in Stormwrack, and I'm sure that she's not finished with her enemies there either. Since she has at least two ways that she can get through the portal, I'm sure that we'll see more seaworthy adventures in the next bookand probably some romance. Yes, I'm talking about you, Parrish. 

                      NOVEL 2:  A Daughter of No Nation                      

PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
    As Child of a Hidden Sea drew to a close, Sophie Hansa found herself effectively deported from Stormwrack, the magical world where her birth parents met and, disastrously, married. Sworn to secrecy, she has been biding her time, studying the few relics she was able to bring back to San Francisco from the Fleet of Nations, and preparing in case a chance arises for her to return and investigate the link between our world–which the Wrackers call Erstwhile–and Stormwrack. 

  When Captain Garland Parrish of the sailing vessel Nightjar turns up on her doorstep, it is with a straightforward proposition. Her mother, Beatrice, is caught up in a legal tangle related to Sophie’s birth, and if she returns to Stormwrack and goes on a short sail with her father, the notorious Duelist-Advocate of the Fleet, he will see to it that the red tape is conveniently cleared away. Sophie wants to return, of course, and she wants to know both of her birth parents better. She agrees immediately. 

     But what does Clydon (Cly) Banning really want with his new-found daughter? Is he truly interested in a relationship with his only child, or is there a darker agenda at work? On Stormwrack, even simple issues of marriage, divorce and paternity are bound up in bureaucracy, and the divorce between Cly and Beatrice, citizens of two very different nations, is more an international incident than a domestic matter between two consenting adults. 

     Sophie just wants to study Stormwrack, to learn whether it is a future version of her own world. If it is, she needs to find clues about what destroyed most of Erstwhile’s land mass and raised the level of the oceans, and how magic came to exist in Earth’s far future. But on the sail to her father’s homeland an encounter with bandits, followed by a disturbing revelation about Cly’s home nation, Sylvanna, threatens to alienate father and daughter completely. This complicates Cly’s divorce…and triggers a scandal that could possibly set the port and starboard sides of the Fleet at each other’s throats.

MY REVIEW:
     At this point, having made it through an extended visit to Stormwrack (in book 1), Sophie is torn between her love for her adoptive parents on Earth (aka Erstwhile) and her scientific and cultural curiosity about Stormwrack. She and her brother, Bram, want to know how and when Stormwrack began its existence and why it has such a highly developed system of magic. They are also creating a map that compares the global location of the islands of Stormwrack to the geological features of Earth. Of course, there is another force that pulls Sophie toward Stormwrack: her biological family, especially her half-sister, Verena. And let’s not forget the handsome sea captain, Garland Parrish, to whom Sophie is quite attracted (and vice versa). 

     As the story opens, it has been six months since Sophie’s return home to San Francisco, and she can’t wait to go back to Stormwrack. Her bags are packed and ready when Parrish turns up one day with an offer that will help her biological mother, Beatrice, get out of jail. To review: When Sophie made her first visit to Stormwrack, she caused a lot of trouble for Beatrice, who had kept Sophie’s birth a secret from her estranged husband, Clydon Banning. After giving Sophie away to her adoptive parents on Earth, Beatrice left Cly, married another man, and gave birth to another daughter, Verena. When Cly found out about Sophie, he sued Beatrice for bigamy and other damages, resulting in Beatrice’s imprisonment. Now, Cly has agreed to allow Beatrice to be released on bail if Sophie promises to come with him for a visit to his homeland, Sylvanna. Sophie has been curious about her father, so she agrees to his terms, boards his ship, and sails away to Sylvanna. Sophie’s dreadful Sylvanna relatives (Cly’s cousin and her family) complicate Sophie’s introduction to Sylvanna. They are a greedy lot who want Cly to go back to sea and Sophie to get out of Stormwrack for good. Unfortunately, there is one part of Sylvanna culture that everyone has kept secret from Sophie, and when she learns about it, she is devastated. Based on all of the negative information about Cly that she has gotten from Beatrice’s relatives, Sophie was already wary and distrustful of Clay’s motives, and those feelings escalate when she gets a dose of life in Sylvanna. 

     As Cly and Sophie get to know one another, Cly suggests that Sophie should develop a new branch of study for Stormwrack: forensics. He explains that if she writes a proper handbook, forensics could become “a sanctioned branch of knowledge within the Judiciary.” Not only would this boost Cly’s reputation, but also it would allow Sophie to bypass the restrictions that have been placed on her scientific information gathering by her cousin Annela—a highly positioned bureaucrat. As part of Sophie’s forensics work, Cly wants her to take a look at three cold cases related to Sylvanna and try to solve them using her outlander science techniques. Sophie’s investigations of these cases make up one of the story lines. 

     All the way through the book, Sophie’s scenes with Cly are quite poignant as he tries his best to be a father while Sophie walks a tightrope between her desire to trust him and her fear that he has some dark purpose for wanting her to be a part of his life. In fact, through much of the book, she fears that Cly might be a sociopath, based on his behavior when they capture a pirate ship. Dellamonica does a fine job portraying this shaky father-daughter relationship through the characters’ walking-on-eggs actions and cautious dialogue. 

     I thought that Dellamonica had pretty much completed her world-building in book 1, but in this book she polishes it up and adds a few more bells and whistles. For example, Cly assigns Sophia a memorician, who “was essentially a searchable text archive.” He constantly reads and memorizes and is able to call up any fact that he has read. As Sophie requests more and more scientific information from her memorician, she discovers the unfortunate state of science on Stormwrack—a mishmash of superstition, magical thinking, religious beliefs, common sense, and a smattering of true scientific observations. 

     In a subplot that weaves through the Sophie/Cly/Beatrice plot line, Parrish’s ship, Nightjar, comes across a deserted, wrecked ship soon after Sophie arrives in Stormwrack. They find two survivors: a wily young girl and a gray cat, both of whom play roles in the resolution of the conflicts that surface regarding how the ship was wrecked, who the girl really is, and why she keeps lying to them. In another new bit of Stormwrack mythology, Sophie learns that cats who leave the protection of their homeland must forever after live aboard a ship“No cat who leaves the protection of a seacraft may live.” Citizens of one Stormwrack isle actually worship cats. 

     Once again, Dellamonica creates a fast-paced, well-constructed plot that allows us to look even deeper into the souls of the main characters. By the end of the book, Sophie has become the titular daughter of no nation, having cut her connections with the countries of all of her parents, both biological and adoptive. At one point she muses about Stormwrack: “Neither here nor there, she thought. I don’t belong here, but I can’t just live in the real world now.” 

     As the plot plays out, Sophie feels more and more drawn to Stormwrack and begins to find a place for herself, not on the land, but on Parrish’s Nightjar. This means that she and Verena have to deal with the friction between them regarding Parrish. Verena has been crushing on Parrish for years, and she views Sophie as an interloper who has usurped her position with him. The scenes between Sophie and Verena are entertaining—if tense—as Verena tries to succeed in her new duties as Gale’s replacement, all the while dealing with her jealousy of Sophie’s burgeoning relationship with Parrish. Adding to the drama are some prophecies regarding Gale’s death (in book 1) that involve Parrish and Sophie. Verena’s words and behavior are completely natural at all times. She is a heart-broken teenager trying to succeed at a job in which she is over her head, and Dellamonica beautifully conveys her angst, her fears, and—eventually—her pride at a job well done. 

     The best parts of this book are the scenes in which Sophie manages to gather scientific information and biological samples from Stormwrack’s lands and seas even though everyone is under orders to keep her from doing so. Verena and Parrish are constantly shocked as Sophie keeps succeeding in her Holmesian analyses of situations—keenly observing and analyzing everything she sees and hears and deriving conclusions that she shouldn’t have been able to discern. It’s great to have such an intelligent, likable, and curious heroine who manages to avoid TSTL moments almost entirely. Sophie is much more calm and collected in this book, with none of the dithery moments that she had in the first book. 

     Dellamonica continues to excel in presenting a fresh and inventive mythology with well-developed characters, engrossing story lines, and a fascinating examination of human nature, which doesn’t seem to change, no matter what kind of a world we live in. This book is even better than the first one, and I am definitely looking forward to the next episode in Sophie’s Stormwrack life. 

     Click HERE to go to the novel's Amazon.com page where you can click on the cover art to read all of chapter 1 and part of chapter 2. Click HERE to go to the publisher's web site where you can scroll down a bit to read chapter 3