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Monday, July 29, 2013


Author:  A. A. Aguirre (pseudonym for Ann & Andres Aguirre)
Plot Type:  Steampunk; Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence3-4; Sensuality2; Humor2  
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley
          Bronze Gods (4/2013)
          Silver Mirrors (4/2014)    

             NOVEL 2:  Silver Mirrors               

     At the climax to Bronze Gods, the hero and heroine of this series "thwarted an attempt to steal magic from young House scions and in the process, open a door for spirits that have faded, flooding this world with their energy." (p. 37) Unfortunately, the consequences of the interruption of a powerful ritual during this "thwarting" event are now being felt across the Summer and Winter Isles.

     In this world, elemental magic is used like electricity is used in our world. It fuels communication systems, transportation systems, and other conveniences of life. Access to this elemental energy is controlled by several of the wealthy families who own mines in the Northern mountains. They mine (i.e., capture) the elementals and then convert them into usable form (for example, by trapping air elementals in mirrors that are then used for long-distance communication). As this novel opens, it has been a month since the end of book one, and something has gone extremely wrong with the elementals. As Commander Gunwood of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) explains, "There's a freak thunderstorm hovering over the Mountain District. Just the Mountain District; the bloody cloud ends at the wall. Something's making the trains wail like damn'd souls between Temple and North stations. And every car, bus, and trolley that tries to make its way past Golden Way starts looping faster and faster around the park until they crash or break down." (p. 7) Additionally, the communication mirrors are no longer working and elemental-fueled machines all over the world have developed self-destructive minds of their own.  

     Based on their success in interrupting Lorne Nuall's ritual to summon all the lost Ferisher spirits, CID inspectors (and partners) Janus Mikani and Celeste Ritsuko, are assigned by the Council to travel to Northport, a town on the coast of the Winter Isle, to determine what is causing the elemental spirits to be so unsettled. Their instructions are to "travel there, find the root cause to all this, and deal with it as you see fit." (p. 26) The key phrase in these instructions is "as you see fit," which will come back to haunt both the Council and the investigators by the time this case is resolved. A secondary part of their assignment is to discover why the cragger pirates (named after the craggy coastline along which they hide) are boldly attacking ships traveling between the Summer and Winter Isles.

     Both the Council and the inspectors suspect that the elemental problems are somehow connected with Mikani and Ritsuko's interruption of an ancient ritual in the climax of Bronze Gods. Their assignment forms the core of the plot, but before the intrepid couple ever reaches Northport, they are attacked by pirates. As their investigation proceeds, Mikani and Ritsuko find themselves under constant attack by several other groups, including, golems, fiery salamanders, murderous mercenaries, and warships. Then, Ritsuko falls off a cliff; both are trapped deep within a fire-elemental mine; and both suffer a series of severe injuries.   

     What makes their trip even more exciting and dangerous is that they are traveling across the ocean on a ship piloted by Mikani's old girlfriend, Alexandra Braelan (aka Saskia). Saskia is a weather witch who can control the winds with the aid of her sylphs. Of course, the fact that Saskia and Mikani are former lovers complicates the relationship between the Mikani and Ritsuko, who had begun to have some slightly romantic feelings for one another by the end of book 1. The gradual  (and somewhat bumpy) development of the couple's budding romantic attachment is woven through the events of this novel, growing stronger each time one or the other is injured or in danger.  

     And here's one more element that adds spice to the plot: Ever since their adventure with Lorne, Ritsuko has been hearing odd sounds in her head that allow her to determine whether or not a person is telling the truth. She soon learns that she absorbed this ability from Aurelia Wright, the Architect's daughter, at the moment Ritsuko pulled Aurelia out of Lorne's diabolical machine just in time to save her life. (The Architect, as Ritsuko explains,  "was the closest thing to a king Dorstaad had ever known." [p. 11]) From this point on, Ritsuko's new ability will play an important role in all her investigative work.      

     A strong point of the series is its strong female heroine. Ritsuko is a formidable fighter in every sense of the word, and she and Mikani always have each other's backs. In Ann Aguirre's CORINE SOLOMON series, the title heroine is also courageous and intelligent. It's refreshing to find a heroine who is able to have a loyal and loving relationship with her partner/lover/friend without being dependent on him to fight her battles or pull her out of danger.  

     Once I got past the first few chapters, which rely heavily on events from book 1, the story really took off, but trying to remember all of the mythology plus the characters and events from Bronze Gods was mind-boggling because I read that book a year ago. Thank goodness I could review my "World-Building" section (below) to jog my memory. If you didn't read Bronze Gods, you will probably have trouble figuring out what's being discussed in the early chapters, but by the time the real adventures begin, the story will draw you into a series of all-new characters and situations.   

     The series mythology is based on the legends of the Sidhe—the fey (aka Ferishers, aka fairies). According to the Prologue, long ago ten princes lived in the land of Hy Breasil, where they ruled the wild fey folk. Hy Breasil was separated from the mortal earth by the Veil. Eventually, they divided in two Courts, the Summer and the Winter, and spent their time plotting against each other. Then came an unexpected invasion of barbarianshumans who were swept off sinking ships and washed up on the shores of Hy Breasil's islands. These accidental immigrants had weapons of iron, and they fought against the fey of both Courts. In order to bring an end to the long  and bitter Iron War, in which the iron-equipped humans fought against the magic-armed fey, the two sides agreed to begin intermarrying, thus creating a lasting peace and a new people. As a result of this treaty, the first ten great Houses were founded, although not all of them were strong enough to last until the present time. This mythology is introduced in the Prologue and then details are added as the series hero dreams of long-ago events. 

     Currently, the two most powerful houses are House Magnus, which controls earth elementals, and House Skarsgard, which control the fire elementals. "For…two centuries, House thaumaturges had bound elemental spirits into physical objects: silver mirrors allowed communication, amber spheres powered steam engines in ships and carriages. Hulking stone golems with the strength of twenty men built roads and bridges….Elementals had always been just another facet of life, like cattle or horses: intangible, but mere beasts nonetheless." (Silver Mirrors, p. 193) 

     Naturally enough, some of the Ferishers were opposed to the treaty, believing that it diluted and weakened their bloodlines. "The two Courts fell into disarray, and eventually, eons later, only a handful could claim more than a flicker of fey blood." (Bronze Gods, p. 2) Here, a character discusses the old magic with the series hero, who has some Ferisher blood in his veins, "What magic remains to us today is a shadow of the old ways. We must work with rituals and patterns to call and shape the power. It's more like riding the need to have a feel for it, or it will drown you....Ferishers didn't ride the waves, they made them. Even after centuries of mingling with ours, their blood runs strong....You should know that better than most." (Bronze Gods, p. 240)

     That series hero is Janus Mikani, who struggles daily with his magical empathic powers, evidence of his fey bloodline. He can "read" people and objects, but suffers from migraines, bloody noses, and exhaustion whenever he uses his talent. Mikani is a charming ladies' man as well as being an alcoholic and a substance abuserhis way of dealing with the after effects of using his powers.

     This world has the feeling of an alternate, late 19th century London, although it takes place in the island country of Hy Breasil in the city of Dorstaad, which is part of the Summer Isle. Summer Isle and Winter Isle are the two largest islands. Although the series has been labeled "steampunk," there are actually few steampunkish details, primarily the steam-driven carriages. So far, there are no dirigibles, no gear-driven gadgets, and no weird weapons.

    The series heroine is Celeste Ritsuko, Mikani's partner, who is the first female inspector in the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). She earned that position through a decade of hard work, moving up the ladder from her original position as a file clerk. Along the way, she has had to take a lot of chauvinistic guff and verbal abuse from most of her male colleagues—but not from Mikani, who admires and respects her. The two have been partners for three years, and they've worked out an effective system. Ritsuko, who is purely human, handles the interviews and uses her logical mind to tend to the details, and Mikani reads the suspects, witnesses, and crime scenes, and signals his conclusions to Ritsuko. So far, their partnership has been so successful that they have the best case-closing record in the CID.
Emma Peel &
John Steed
     As I viewed the cover art of book 1 and read the story, I was reminded of the original Avengers TV show, where the hero and heroine have many of the same characteristics as Ritsuko and Mikani. Mikani even wears a bowler and carries a walking stick, just like Steed, and Ritsuko has mad fighting skills and a wicked sense of humor, just like Emma Peel. Check out the similarities between this Avengers publicity photo and the cover art for book 1.    

     Ann Aguirre is the author the five-book CORINE SOLOMON urban fantasy series, which was finalized in March 2013. Click HERE to read my reviews of that series.     

             NOVEL 1:  Bronze Gods             
     As the first book opens, Mikani and Ritsuko are assigned a potentially volatile missing persons case that turns into multiple homicides. The initial case involves the disappearance of the young female scion of the powerful Aevar House. Much of the story reads like a police procedural as the partners gather clues and follow various leads, only to discover that they are dealing with a psychopathic killer who is using magic to achieve his lethal goals. As young women are kidnapped and murdered in magically horrific ways, the partners are under great pressure to solve the case.

     Another key character is Aurelia Wright (aka Aurelia Olrik), who is the scion of the Olrik House. Aurelia has turned her back on her family connections and has become a choreographer in the human world. As the story opens, she is working on a new musical theater production, and in a nod to The Phantom of the Opera, her partner is Leonides (Leo), who wears a mask to cover the horrible scars on his badly burned face and who lives in the tunnels under the theater. When Aurelia develops a new relationship with a mysterious and dangerous man who has seemingly impossible magical talents, she fears for her life and goes to Mikani and Ritsuko for help.

     Eventually all of the story threads come together into the requisite climactic showdown between the major characters and the serial killer. The ending is mostly unpredictable, primarily because crucial details do not appear until the end is near. The book ends with a soft cliff hanger that leads into book 2.

     Now to the relationship between the lead characters: Mikani and Ritsuko are trained police detectives who have built a strong partnership that, until now, has been completely platonic. Currently, though, both are free of their former lovers, and a mutual attraction is beginning to bloom. No physical contact yet, but you can be fairly sure that it is coming.

     This is not a slam-bang, profanity-filled urban fantasy tale. Instead, it's more like Jim Butcher's DRESDEN FILES in its gritty but civilized tone and in its well-bred and well-educated lead characters. I don't want to give the impression that the story is boring—because it's not. The pace is moderate, but steady, and the character development is handled very well, with details creeping into conversations and thoughts all the way through the book. This looks to be a solid series with an inventive mythology and a fresh approach to urban fantasy. I'm looking forward to book 2. 
Click HERE to read chapter 1 of Bronze Gods.

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