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Friday, November 5, 2010


Author:  Kalayna Price
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF) with Romance
Ratings:  Violence4, Sensuality3-4, Humor2
Publisher and Titles:  Roc
       1      Grave Witch (2010)
       2      Grave Dance (2011)
       2.5  "Ruby Red" in Kicking It (novella set in ALEX CRAFT world)
       3      Grave Memory (2012)
       4      Grave Visions (2016)
       5      Grave Ransom (7/2017)

This ongoing review post was revised and updated on 9/20/2017 to include a review of Grave Ransom, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the novella and the first four novels.

                         NOVEL 5: Grave Ransom                         
     In the thrilling new novel from Kalayna Price, Alex Craft comes face-to-face with the walking dead…

     Grave witch Alex Craft is no stranger to the dead talking. She raises shades, works with ghosts, and is dating Death himself. But the dead walking? That’s not supposed to happen. And yet reanimated corpses are committing crimes across Nekros City.

     Alex’s investigation leads her deep into a web of sinister magic. When Briar Darque of the Magical Crimes Investigation Bureau gets involved, Alex finds herself with an unexpected ally of sorts. But as the dead continue to rise and wreak havoc on the living, can she get to the soul of the matter in time?

     The story begins in a café where Alex and her best friend, Tamara, are having lunch. All of a sudden, Alex feels strong grave essence emanating from a man crossing the street nearby. So why is grave essence coming from a man who appears to be fully alive? That’s what Alex wants to know, so she follows him into the Museum of the Magic and the Arcane, entering just in time to collide with the man as he tries to escape with a stolen artifact. His escape attempt sets off an anti-theft ward that paralyzes both himself and Alex (because her shoulder is touching his when the ward kicks in). Using her grave witch magic, Alex can see that this man is both dead and alive. To everyone but Alex, he looks perfectly normal, but she can see that he is actually a copse with sagging skin and bloated body.

     Unfortunately, the guards decide to wait for the police to come before they deactivate the paralytic ward, so Alex and the dead man remain pressed together, unable to move. Being so close to a corpse activates Alex’s magic, which begins a strong push to get inside the man and expel his soul. When Alex can no longer hold back her magic, it enters the corpse and ejects the soul, but—wonder of wonders—it is not the man’s soul at all. It is the soul of a young woman. As soon as the soul pops free of the corpse, the man’s body dies its true death, and a soul collector pops in to collect the soul. Now remember, no one but Alex can see what has happened. All they see is Alex and the thief caught in the antitheft ward with the stolen artifact. To make matters even worse, as soon as the ward comes down, the man’s body drops to the floor and begins to rapidly decay.

     All of this means that, once again, Alex finds herself in a police interrogation room. This time, she has to convince the cops that the thief was dead long before he stole the artifact, that his body contained a woman’s soul, and that she had nothing to do with any of this craziness. The person who eventually comes to Alex’s rescue is her old nemesis, Briar Darque of the Magical Crimes Investigation Bureau.

    When Alex finally convinces the police that she is innocent of any involvement in this case, she goes back to her office to meet with a new client, Taylor, a high school student whose handsome college-age boyfriend, Remy, has gone missing. At first, Alex is not inclined to get involved, but the girl is so heartbroken and emotional that Alex accepts the case and asks her partner, Rianna, to make a tracking charm to find him. When Alex follows the tracker, it leads her out of town into the wilds, where it splits in two—seemingly an impossibly. One part goes further into the wilds, while the other, stronger signal heads back into the city. Alex follows the stronger trail to a bank, where she walks in on a robbery in progress. And who is holding a gun on her? None other than Remy, the young man she is searching for. Immediately, Alex senses that—just like the thief at the Museum—Remy is both dead and alive, and the entire wrong-soul scene replays itself in the same way as before. Of course, this adventure lands Alex back in the police interrogation room.

     At this point, Briar decides that she needs Alex’s assistance because there has been a series of similar bank robberies and thefts, and Briar wants to stop the crimes by catching the necromancer who is creating the dead/live, wrong-soul corpses. For the rest of the book, Alex and Briar gather clues, search for suspects, and eventually find themselves in a very weird battle out in the wilds. As Alex and Briar work the case, Alex develops some additional magical powers as she stretches her magic to fit this new situation.

     Meanwhile, in the romance department, Alex and her soul collector lover, Death, are still together, although she only sees him every week or so. She has no way to contact him directly, but he has marked her so that he always shows up if her life is in danger. And then there is are Falin Andrews, the Fae knight the Winter Queen has assigned to watch over her. They have been lovers in the past, and a spark still exists between them. The romance part of the story becomes more important and moves towards a resolution of sorts near the end of the book (but I won’t provide any spoilers as to what happens).

     You’ll probably be able (like me) to figure out the identity of two of the villains shortly before their names appear on the printed page, but in order to do so, you’ll need to pay attention to events that occur much earlier in the book. You may also recognize Price’s use of the Chekhov’s gun trope in a twist that involves one of Alex’s friends in a dangerous aspect of Alex and Briar's necromancer case.

     I enjoyed this book tremendously and found it to be much more entertaining than any of the previous novels, mostly because Alex wasn’t quite so helpless. Part of the reason for that is that she and Briar are off on their own for much of the story, with no men in sight to come to Alex’s rescue every time she stumbles. That forces her to rely on her own intelligence and resources, and she manages quite well on her own. She does have several periods of blindness (due to the drain of her magic), but since sight loss is part of the grave witch mythology, that cannot be avoided.

     In between her walking dead adventures, Alex learns more about her magical castle, including the fact that she can will the castle to do things. She even meets the mysterious gardener and plans a new garden—a winter garden for one of her guests. This part of the mythology is interesting and inventive—always a plus in a genre in which I sometimes feel that everything has already been done.

     Click HERE to go to this novel’s page where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

     Alex Craft is a grave witch, which means that she has the power to raise the shades of the deadnot ghosts (the disembodied spirits of the dead) but shades (the truth-telling memories of the dead). She operates her own business, called Tongues for the Dead, meaning that she helps the dead to speak. In the usual manner for urban fantasy heroines, Alex's magical powers grow stronger and more complex as the series progresses. Eventually, she learns that she is a planeweaver with the power to bring the mortal plane and the Aetheric plane together.

    The series is set in the Nekros City in a territory that unfolded between Georgia and Alabama after the Magical Awakening occurred 70 years ago. Supernaturals (primarily witches and fae) in this world came out to the world at that time and have been living openly (if uneasily) with mortals ever since. After the Magical Awakening, "the veil between the Aetheric and mortal reality thinned. Magic was accessible, and a good third of the population proved capable of reaching it, of shaping it. When space unfolded, opening new areas, both the witches seeking a place where they could practice in peace and the norms who didn't want to associate with the magically inclined moved into the new territory." (Grave Dance, pp. 60-61) There were clashes among the groups at first, but witches and norms eventually settled safely in the city "because strange, long-forgotten legends were waking in the wilds." (p. 61) The human population is divided amongst norms (people without magical abilities), nulls (people who are unaffected by magic) and witches (people who can channel magic).

     The city has several levels of law enforcement to maintain the peace: 

     Nekros City Police Department (NCPD): human crimes
     Anti-Black Magic Unit (ABMU): NCPD department with forensic specialists who unravel spells
     Fae Investigation Bureau (FIB), crimes involving the fae
     Magical Crimes Investigation Bureau (MCIB): crimes involving magic of any kind
     Organization for Magically Inclined Humans (OMIH): crimes involving witches
     Ambassador of Fae and Human Relations (AFHR): heavier on public relations organization than law enforcement

     Alex's two love interests are Falin Andrews, who is introduced as a police detective but turns out to be much more, and the man she calls Deatha soul collector who seems to have quite a crush on our Alex.

                         NOVEL 1:  Grave Witch                         

     In the series opener, Alex is asked to investigate the apparent murder of the governor, but this "murder" is not what it seems, and eventually Alex gets involved in solving the serial murders of several young women. Her life becomes even more complicated when people (or are they really "people") start trying to kill her.

     One twist to Alex's life is her estrangement from her high-society family. They distanced themselves from Alex when her magical powers became apparent, and she has even changed her surname to make the separation complete. (This is reminiscent of Merit and her family in Chloe Neill’s CHICAGOLAND VAMPIRES SERIES.) The facts behind Alex's family situation, of course, turn out to be especially meaningful to her adventures in Grave Witch. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Grave Witch.

                         NOVEL 2:  Grave Dance                         

     As the second book opens, it's been a month since the violent events that climaxed book 1, and Falin seems to have dropped out of sightat least out of Alex's sight, so she's concentrating on her clients and trying not to think about him. In the opening scene, Alex gets called out to help the police investigate a series of body parts that have been showing up near the riverno bodies, just left feet. When Alex finds some more disembodied feetthis time glamouredthe police assume that the Fae are involved, so the FIB appears on the scene. Alex is still trying to hide her Fae heritage, but it's soon apparent that the FIB agent in charge recognizes Alex's Fae abilities.

    As Alex investigates the crime, she is attacked by increasingly powerful monstersmagical constructs that bespell anyone they scratch or bite, which unfortunately is what happens to two of Alex's friends. The plot is fairly complex, with a huge cast of characters: human police officers, fae friends and enemies, past acquaintances, soul collectors, witches, and a friendly ghost or two. Some were introduced in book 1, but some are new in this book. The story follows Alex as she collects clues, helps out friends, battles the monsters, and has strong feelings of attraction for both her old buddy Death and her new fae knight Falin (who finally shows up about a third of the way into the story).

    When Alex uses her grave sight, the world is a gray and rotting place, and if she accidentally touches something or someone while in this state, that thing or person also becomes gray and rotting. At one point, she attempts to walk down some wooden steps while using grave sight and the step rots under her feet, causing her to put her foot right through the wood. The narrative overflows with lengthy descriptions of what Alex sees while using her special sight, and unfortunately, much of it is repetitive. She sees sinuous bands of color when she opens her sight on the Aetheric plane, dead and rotting things when she uses her grave sight, pastel souls and auras when she drops her mental shields, etc., etc.but each experience pretty much the same.

    By the time the characters reach the big climax, Alex has learned even more about her familythis time her mother, and she has learned to think on her feet and use her powers more skillfully. She also learns just exactly what her powers are supposed to do and why they are so valuable that several fae courts are determined to convince her to join themeither by persuasion or force, if necessary. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Grave Dance.

                         NOVELLA 2.5: "Ruby Red"                         

First Line: "I shucked my singed jacket and dropped it on the cheap hotel carpet."

Introduction to this anthology: 
     Each story in the Kicking It anthology centers around footwear: boots in most of the stories, but shoes in two. Naturally, because this is paranormal fiction some of the boots and shoes have magical qualities. In other cases, the boots' owners have supernatural powers. On the whole, this is a strong anthology with well-told stories that can stand alone, even though some are set within the worlds of ongoing series. Click HERE to read my reviews of all of the novellas in Kicking It.

Review of the novella: 
    For the second time in this anthology, the footwear is not boots, but shoes. This pair is worn by a waitress in the local diner: "They were bright red with four-inch, pencil-thin heels, and they didn't match her uniform."

     This is a world in which witches live openly among humans. Partners Briar Darque and Derrick Knight are investigators for the Magical Crimes Investigation Bureau (MCIB). Briar is a talented witch, while Derrick's skills are premonition and clairvoyance. When reports come in about mysterious shadowy creatures that leave their victims comatose, Briar heads out to see what she can do to identify the shadow beings and get rid of them. When the partners discover that witchcraft is involved, they work together to solve the case.  

     "Ruby Red"  is DARQUE FILES story set in the ALEX CRAFT world. The action takes place between Grave Dance and Grave MemoryI'm not sure if DARQUE FILES will ever be a series or if this is just a single, stand-alone novella, but I'm hoping for a series. In any case, this is a great story, with the same inventive mythology and interesting characters that work so well in the ALEX CRAFT series. 

                         NOVEL 3:   Grave Memory                         
     Nekros City has been hit by a series of bizarre suicides in which each victim disappears for three days and then kills himself publicly in a violent manner (e.g., setting himself afire, jumping in front of a bus). One suicide occurs near Alex's new office just as she approaches. Although the man appears to have jumped from the roof of a building, his ghost tells Alex that he didn't commit suicide and that he doesn't know what happened to him. The man's wife hires Alex to find out the truth, and the investigation is on. When the man's shade has a three-day gap in his memorywhich is highly unusualAlex must figure out what kind of magic could be used to wipe out a person's memory and force him to kill himself. She is sure that the man was murdered, but at first the police department won't listen to her pleas to review the case. Alex's investigation takes her into dangerous territory, and both of her would-be boyfriends—the soul collector, Death, and the fae knight, Falin—warn her to drop the case. Of course, that just makes Alex work even harder.

    In the meantime, the Winter Queen has ordered Falin to make life miserable for Alex and her friends, so he raids their home every few days on various trumped up charges. Although Alex sees love and sorrow in Falin's eyes, he treats her coldly and professionally each time they meet. Death, on the other hand, has been staying away from Alex for the past month. When he finally does appear (to give Alex the aforementioned warning to get off the case), he sticks around for a while and eventually gets really up close and personal with Alex when he saves her life by using his magical powers on her in an extremely intimate manner.

    One other thing that is making life difficult for Alex is her continuing vision problem. Each time she uses her grave magic to raise a shade, she goes temporarily blind and her vision degrades a bit more. She's at the point that she can't trust herself to drive very much, so she's becoming more and more dependent on her friendsan uncomfortable situation for an independent woman like Alex.

    As Falin's home raids keep coming, Alex's fae landlord, Caleb, begs her to choose a fae court to align with so that the Winter Queen will back off. When Alex gives in and attends a major fae festival, she is tricked into eating fae food. Who tricks her? What is the result? You'll have to read the story to find out.

    This book mainly carries the love story arc along to its next level, with many scenes involving either Alex and Falin or Alex and Death. Her relationship with Death definitely grows strongerin many waysin this book, but it also changes in some sad ways, too. This is a middle-of-the-road seriesnot very inventive, but with some interesting characters. Alex is a step up from the usual urban fantasy heroine in that she doesn't have too many TSTL moments and she's not as guilt-ridden as most. Unfortunately, Alex does have some of the usual stereotypical characteristics, like her overwhelming passion for morning coffee, her weird pet (in this case a Chinese hairless dog), her helpful gargoyle (right out of Kim Harrison's HOLLOWS), and her dueling love interests (found in too many other urban fantasy series). Click HERE to read an excerpt from Grave Memory.

                          NOVEL 4:   Grave Visions                           
     If you want to hear voices from the dead in Nekros City, you call Alex Craft. She’s a grave witch with reasonable rates and extraordinary powers who specializes in revealing the secrets of the dead. But she has her own secrets. She’s not human—and her newly discovered heritage is causing havoc for her both in the human realm and in Faerie. 

     Fae can’t survive without a tie to Faerie, and now that Alex’s true nature has awoken, she’s no exception. She must align herself to a court and soon. To retain as much freedom as possible, she makes a deal to track the source of a new glamour-infused street drug that causes hallucinations that kill—and not just the user. Her investigation entangles Alex in a conflict brewing in Faerie, and she must find answers before she’s dragged so deep that she loses not only her freedom, but also her life.


     O.K….Let’s admit that it’s hard to get back into a series after a four-year gap between books, but to give Price credit, she does a fine job of inserting necessary information about the world-building, primary characters, and important events of the first three novels into the narrative. Still, I was glad to be able to reread my summaries and reviews of the earlier novels (in this ongoing post) to remind myself of the relationships between the heroine and the people (mostly men) in her life and to get up to speed on critical events that have put her in the position in which finds herself at the onset of Grave Visions

     To review: Alex is a grave witch (similar to a necromancer) who can raise shades from dead bodies and ask them questions. (Shades are the spiritual, truth-telling memories of the dead.) In a previous book, Alex learned that she is much more than a human grave witch. “Ever since I’d learned I was fae and I’d gained the attention of the Faerie courts, life had gotten a lot more complicated. I was currently unaligned, something that just didn’t happen in Faerie, and the courts didn’t like it. I was also a planeweaver, which meant I could not only see and interact with multiple planes of existence, but I could tie those planes together. I was the first since the age of legends, and every court wanted to add me to their numbers.” 

In this book, Alex has three major problems to solve: 

>1. Alex learns that her rapidly weakening physical condition isn’t caused by a virus—it’s caused by the fact that she is fading because she has not yet allied herself to one of the Faerie courts. To solve this problem, she must either join one of the courts (which she does NOT want to do) or convince one of the Faerie rulers to permit her to be an Independent.  
>2. Alex needs to solve a series of Faerie-related human deaths—seemingly straightforward murders, but perhaps something much more sinister. These are mostly “locked room” crimes, meaning that there is no evidence that anyone but the victims ever entered the rooms in which the deaths occurred. The murder investigation soon turns into a narcotics case involving a hallucinogenic street drug called Glitter.  
>3. The Winter Queen of Faerie commands Alex to find the person who left a bloody skeleton lying on her throne—a skeleton that is wearing the Queen’s crown. If Alex brings the perpetrator to justice, the Winter Queen promises to grant Alex temporary independence. 
     In addition to completing these tasks (all of which are connected), Alex must deal with the many men in her life, each of whom calls her by a name of his own choosing:
 > Falin Andrews, the Winter Knight, an assassin who has kissed Alex and told her that he loves her and then in the next breath warned her never to trust him while he is under the control of the Winter Queen. As this book opens, the Queen has commanded Falin to stay close to Alex, so Falin is living in her small apartment. Falin calls her Alex. 
 > Ryese, the Winter Queen’s nephew and heir to her throne. The Winter Queen wants Alex to marry him so that the Winter Court will have full access to Alex’s planeweaver powers. Ryese and the Queen call her Lexi. 
 > Death, the soul collector Alex considers to be her boyfriend—her lover. She has considered him her best friend for many years, and she loves him, but she still doesn’t know his name or anything about him. If the leader of the soul collectors discovers their relationship, he might assign Death to a different area, but there’s a good chance that he might strip away Death’s powers, causing him “to move on like any other soul.” Death calls her Al or Alex.
 > Alex’s father, the hated governor of Nekros, who has glamoured himself to hide his Faerie features. Dad wants Alex to join the Shadow Court and, without her knowledge or consent, has betrothed her to Dugan, the Shadow Prince who is heir to the Shadow throne. Alex’s father calls her Alexis. Dugan calls her Lady Craft or My Lady. 
 > John, the human police detective who has been Alex’s long-time mentor but who has turned against her because of her continual involvement in dangerous and violent Faerie issues. He does not yet know of Alex’s Faerie genetics. John calls her Alex. 
 > Kyran, the nightmare kingling, who sometimes appears in her dreams to offer ambiguous advice. Kyran calls her Planeweaver.
    The plot follows Alex as she investigates the various deaths, all the while getting sicker as the fading weakens her more and more. The fading is particularly severe when it comes to her vision, so she spends a lot of time in a state of near blindness. (This is one character element that I don’t like because it makes the heroine dependent on others and because her recovery time—the amount of time it takes for her vision to return after she raises a shade—varies tremendously for no apparent reason. This is the most “squishy” part of the world-building.) 

     This series is based on an inventive mythology, interesting plots, and complex characters—except for the heroine, who comes from that tired trope in which the heroine is an ultra-tomboy figure who can’t deal with anything remotely girly. For example, in this book, Alex is a maid of honor in her best friend’s wedding. Because she despises wearing and shopping for feminine clothing, she doesn’t bother to shop for her wedding shoes until just hours before the wedding, and then she buys shoes that don’t match the dress. Another problem: Although Alex is intelligent, her physical weaknesses frequently overshadow her moments of intellectual prowess. In this book, she keeps fainting, having dizzy spells, going blind, and huffing and puffing when she has to run. Each time she succumbs to these physical weaknesses, she relies on one of her men to rescue her. Price gives us a lot of sentences like this one: “A wave of dizziness crashed over me. I’d have fallen if _______ (insert male name) hadn’t caught me.” At this point in the series, Alex is definitely not my kind of urban fantasy heroine. So…although it may seem impossible, I like the series, but not the heroine. 

     At the end of Grave Visions (mass paperback version), the publisher includes an excerpt from the yet-to-be-named fifth novel. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Grave Visions.


  1. If you like Kalayna's Grave series, check out her Novels of Haven series, about shifter Kita Nekai and her vampire master, Nathanial. Book One is ONCE BITTEN and two is TWICE DEAD. Coming winter 2011, THIRD BLOOD. Bell Bridge Books. Contact editor Deb Smith for review copies at

  2. If you haven’t tried this series, please try it. The twists and turns that this book churns out keeps my eyes plastered on the pages. The well written characters keep me coming back.