Tag: magic

City of Iron and Dust by J.P. Oakes

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

City of Iron and Dust by [J.P. Oakes]

There is something about approaching a debut novel by an author that is very awe-inspiring to me. It may sound incredibly hokey, but I feel like it is akin to unwrapping a writer for the very first time, and seeing what their wonder and peculiarities are, and, by the time I make it partially through the book, see how this fledgling will fare.

To follow further into this horrible metaphor, when I approached Mr. Oakes’ “nest” of City of Iron and Dust, he shot out of the nest, circled me a few times and then promptly took a few dive-bombs at me in the first handful of pages.

Our intrepid journey begins with a prologue explaining how the world was all magic, happiness, and light amongst the fae folk until the goblins came streaming down from the North headed up by the terrible Mab. Using her horrible magic, Mab destroyed the fae forest cities, and, in their place, the goblins created great cities of iron, steel, and glass: subjugating the fae until they withered under the oppression.

For the years after, the goblins ruled, and the fae became the downtrodden grist for the mill. Five great Goblin Houses arose, and with each, a tower. The current-day portion of the story, however, kicks off with a mysterious penthouse/charnel house and an even more mysterious package of white powder.

From the prologue we begin to see how this story is going to unfold. Like all good adventures, this story kicks off in a bar. A working-class fae dive, to be exact. Three goblins enter the picture. These goblins should not be in this bar, let alone the entire neighborhood, but the ringleader, Jag, heir to House Red Cap, is trying to make a point to her half-goblin/half-sister, Sil, who also happens to be Jag’s bodyguard. Also accompanying is Bazzack, but he is hardly important.

Also in this bar are two other very important characters to this story, Knull and Edwyll, though neither knows the other is there (this becomes important later).

This all sets the scene, and when that scene blows up (and it blows up spectacularly), this wave of destruction fans out throughout the Iron City and fae society. Some of it is related, some of it pure coincidence. Either way, the story gets very spicy very quickly. Let’s just say that fae insurrection, a whole lot of magical drug, and even more Goblin House posturing and politicking makes for an incredibly interesting read.

What I love most about City of Iron and Dust is all of the big things it hits on that are so familiar in my years of consuming popular culture, literature and film. The entire setup — as well as most of the story — just reeks of a massive Shadowrun campaign (someone should seriously write one). I was also often reminded of Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, certain aspects of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, a dash of Manchurian Candidate, and you just can’t avoid the giant Akira’s Tetsuo moment near the end.

What held me in the story was the structure of how it was written, and the visceral meat of the political and class intrigue. The reader really does get to see all facets of this highly oppressive society, and where there is a lot of unexplained “mixing” and counter-ideologies that seem to sprout from no logical place. There is compassion where the nature of that character would not dictate it, and there is cruelty that seems to sprout from all the wrong reasons.

One thing I really loved about this novel, which, oddly, has annoyed me with others, is Mr. Oakes’ style of heading up each section with the name of the character from whom the point of view is presented. In many scenes, this allowed me to consider the change in perspective when several of the characters might be experiencing the same scene, and maybe even be in the same room.

The other thing I rather enjoyed is the pacing. City of Iron and Dust is very fast-paced, but it does not feel rushed. Mr. Oakes takes the time to fully develop each interaction, and, as such, the reader is able to develop a very well-defined view of what might be going on in the many scenes of total chaos. The incredibly puzzle-piece fit of the dialogue also helps immensely with this.

Don’t even get me started on the conflict choreography and styling. It’s an utter masterpiece.

City of Iron and Dust has so many themes that would appeal to a hugely wide variety of potential readers. If you like high magic/fantasy, that box is checked. If you like political intrigue, that box is also checked. If you like crime, drug, or class war stories, all of those boxes are checked. Finally, if you like stories of perseverance and truly believing in what you fight for (good or bad), that box has a big ol’ check.

Kudos to Mr. Oakes for putting this one out there. I really hope this is a world that we get to revisit in the future. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

In the Ravenous Dark by A.M. Strickland

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

It’s no secret that I have a severe love for YA Fantasy novels. I was already excited about taking on In the Ravenous Dark just from the synopsis, and, let me tell you, it is pure gold. Hell, this book brought me to actual tears a couple of times; I was that dialed into it.

The story opens up introducing young Rovan. Rovan and her father hold a very deep secret that could destroy their family if the knowledge slipped out: they can wield blood magic.

In a slip-up, Rovan’s father ends up dying to protect her from the ruling class of Thanopolis and that is really where the story takes off.

Twelve-ish years later a very mischievous Rovan ends up slipping and using her magic in public to save a friend/lover, and she is dragged into the royal court to adhere to their rule of being paired with a spirit guardian. This is where it gets really wacky. It turns out her father did not perish, and was forced to marry into the royal family to protect and propagate his bloodline: the source of his magical history and power.

Because of her proclivity to the power, Rovan is plopped right into a society she doesn’t understand, and really doesn’t like. She does, however, pair up with a couple of the other royal bloodmages: Lydea and Japha. Rovan takes on the full power of her bloodline which results in her father’s death, and she stays at odds with her mysterious guardian: Ivrilos.

At this point, there is a massive plot twist that I would feel disingenuous sharing, so I’m just going to say pick up this book.

Ms. Strickland powerfully built a complex world with all manners of details that really warrant more exploration. Rovan is the perfect little pain in the ass hero, and her interactions with Ivrilos, Lydea and Japha are downright legendary. This book was an extremely fun read, and the attention to picturesque detail is downright stunning. I really really really hope this is a first book in a series, because I can’t stand the thought that the motley band of bloodmages is at the end of their tale.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

I learned from reading The Once and Future Witches that Ms. Harrow is an excellent storyteller; a writer capable of weaving delicate wisps of plot and story that intertwine innocently until they don’t.

I was hesitant, however to pick up The Ten Thousand Doors of January because it was her first novel, and I just enjoyed Witches so damn much.

Boy am I a moron.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is the story of January Scallar: the semi-ward of a wealthy Vermont businessman/collector/eccentric. January doesn’t really fit in this world. She is basically holed up in Mr. Locke’s Vermont mansion while her father travels the world building up Locke’s collections of interesting artifacts.

As the story progresses, we start to learn that there is quite a bit more going on surrounding Mr. Locke, January’s father, and January herself. There are a multitude of worlds hidden behind random doors all over this world.

As I do not like to spoil any novel I read, I’m going to leave the synopsis at that.

As I mentioned earlier, what strikes me in reading Ms. Harrow’s works is the rolling and organic way her storytelling develops. Both of the works I’ve read from her, and especially this one, showcase and absolute love of the storytelling tradition and her adroit way of pulling in the reader as if in conversation. I absolutely love this style and I wish there was more of it.

The sensory descriptions in this book absolutely lend to the style. All of the smells, sounds, tastes and textures come to life in a flowing language that gently cradles the reader like a warm hearth. Cheesy description, but apt.

I know that Ms. Harrow has stated a few times that she has no plans of revisiting the tales of January and the multitude of doors, but, with so many doors, who says that intentions have to be stated?

The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

The Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry

It’s very hard to start in on a review of something as magical as The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry because it just has so many facets and layers.

At first glance we get the feeling that one Miss Dellaria Wells is pretty much a hopeless case. An uneducated fire witch subsisting in the back alleys and barrooms of Leiscourt, just trying to find a way to keep a roof over her head and, sometimes, take care of her mam.

As this book really gets rolling, we find Delly stumbling her way into a very high paying job to watch over — with a passel of other more “high society” witches — a bride-to-be at a statuesque manor outside of Leiscourt.

Oh, but that’s just the start of it.

As the story ensues, we find our Delly embroiled in all manner of plot and chicanery. All of which I dare not share here as to keep the surprises to you, the reader.

In this book, Ms. Waggoner builds a robust semi-Victorian world full of class struggles, new love and some of the absolute best language I have come across in a very long time. Where else are you going to find a perfectly acceptable use for the word “enkittenated?”

I was very much reminded of Jen Williams’ The Copper Cat Series, and, especially the titular character of Wydrin. Delly and Wyd would probably be at each others’ throats a scant few pages in.

This is a book that you will not want to put down, nor want to finish. The characters all have amazing depth (even the dripper trash), and the personalities practically ooze off the page.

It would be a releftin’ shame if Ms. Waggoner did not continue to dabble in this world she has so lovingly built. I really cannot wait for more.

Oh, and then there’s Buttons… (bong)

Spellbreaker (Spellbreaker Duology #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg

This is the story of Elsie Camden, a young woman who was born with the ability to unmake spells much like unraveling a sweater.

Set in a semi-Victorian England, Spellbreaker tells the story of young Elsie and her search for stability in her life. Orphaned by her family, Elsie is rescued from the work house by a mysterious group of magic wielding “Robin Hood-esque” types know as the Cowls. Throwing another monkey into the barrel: Elsie is an unregistered and unlicensed magic user (or un-user as it is), so she must hide her abilities and her mysterious jobs for the Cowls.

One one such mission, Elsie runs afoul of almost Master Spellcaster Bacchus Kelsey. Bacchus catches Elsie red-handed, and, rather than turn her over to the authorities, he “gives her the opportunity” to work off her “crimes” with him on the Duke’s estate where he is currently residing.

All along the way, and a recurring theme in this book, Elsie is frantically searching for some news as to the whereabouts of the family that up and left her so many years before.

Going too much further into the plot would reveal spoilers that I’d rather not divulge.

In Spellbreaker, Ms. Holmberg presents a very well-formed environment with oodles of the backstory I just love in a read. While I would have rather enjoyed some more practical displays of the wider variety of magic use, I can appreciate staying on task with the story because there is a lot to unpack.

The characters are all marvelously charismatic and there is a real feel of everyone’s individuality in their interactions (trust me, this is important).

Topping it all off is the cliffhanger that — if I’m being honest — I did not totally see coming.

My one whiny gripe about duologies (or trilogies, for that matter) is the waiting required to get to the conclusion. Luckily, Spellmaker is due out March 9, 2021, so I only have to wait a few months.

Spellbreaker is a fun little read. It has a nice airy mix of magic, mystery, the scandalous hint of romance and Victorian England. The language is light and quaint, and the whole production has all the fond reminiscences of MASTERPIECE Mystery!.

Battle Ground (Dresden Files #17) by Jim Butcher

Battle Ground (Dresden Files Book 17) by [Jim Butcher]

OK, first things first. If you have not read Peace Talks (Dresden Files #16), then stop reading right here and go read that. Slight spoilers are absolutely inevitable.

OK, on to Battle Ground.

I love this book, and I hate this book. On top of that, I love that I hate it, and hate that I love it. Additionally, I hate Mr. Butcher for writing this book, and I’m terrified where we go from here.

I actually finished the novel about a week ago, and I’ve been wrapping my head around how I wanted to approach a review. Not the easiest task.

Battle Ground is really the biggest pressure release valve that the series has seen, and it’s pretty much 418 pages of non-stop crazy action. With the entire grimoire of supernaturals jumping in to take on the Last Titan, and, incidentally, the Fomor, I would have subtitled this book “Harry Dresden and the Battle for Chicago.”

Shit got crazy, and it got crazy very fast. We’ve seen Harry deal with all manner of threat and challenge in all the previous novels, but this one seriously takes the cake. Throughout my read, I constantly wondered if this was the one where Mr. Butcher was throwing in the towel and wrapping up the Dresden Files for good. I can’t imagine he is, after all we learn towards the conclusion of the story, but it would not have surprised me.

One thing that sets this particular novel apart from many of the other ones in the series is the emotion. We see sides of a lot of core characters that we have never seen before, and some of it is downright frightening.

I’m super curious to hear what other fans of the series thought about this one.

Oh, the bonus “Christmas Eve” story tacked on to the end of this book was a delightful palette cleanser and a pretty darn good little tale. Do not skip it.

Peace Talks (Dresden Files #16) by Jim Butcher

Peace Talks (Dresden Files Book 16) by [Jim Butcher]

Almost twenty years ago I picked up a book on a whim because the blurb described the story of a wizard for hire in Chicago. That book was Mr. Butcher’s first Harry Dresden novel — Storm Front — and I’ve not looked back since.

To say that I devour Dresden content is an understatement. I supported the television show (even though it wasn’t the best, and really should have had James Marsters in the title role), and even read each comic book adaptation.

Adventures with Harry were like clockwork: every year there would be something new. Then, after book 15 — Skin Game — came the lull. Six whole years without a new book. And, boy howdy, Skin Game did not end cleanly. I’m not going to spoil anything, but that was an agonizing wait.

Suddenly, it’s 2020 and, lo and behold, there’s a new Dresden book dropping in July! So I subtly shuffle my ever-growing to-be-read list around and slide it in as quickly as possible.

Let me tell you, this is exactly the Dresden book I needed. Yes I whined that it had been six years with no new fix, but this one made great strides towards mending that wound. We get new characters, old characters with new-found talents, new alliances, and stunning new foes.

About halfway through the book I get a notification that book seventeen of the Dresden Files is dropping on September 29. Two Dresden books in less than four months?!?!?!? So this is what Mr. Butcher has been doing for the last six years (I’m still waiting for another Cinder Spires book, too). Battle Ground will get its own review after I am done devouring it, and, while Peace Talks and Battle Ground could have been one giant epic of Harry Dresden greatness, I totally understand the split, and why it was very important to have an oh so brief pause between the two.

Peace Talks is the perfect stage-setter for what is to come while also building up an interesting semi-reboot of the the series. Harry, interestingly enough, has become less impulsive, more introspective, and is beginning to realize the responsibilities he has to himself, his family and loved ones, and the obligations he has gotten himself into. Hell, I think I counted less than ten FUEGO! mentions in the entire book!

Ultimately, it’s good to have Harry back, and it’s even better to have something other than short story case files in hand from Mr. Butcher.

I am still waiting for Cinder Spires book two, though…

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

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Every so often I come across a book that is both incredibly enjoyable, and masterfully constructed. The Starless Sea is definitely one of those books.

I really enjoyed Ms. Morgenstern’s first book, The Night Circus, so I figured I’d give this one a go after it sat in my “to be read” pile for a good chunk of the year. I am both happy and sad that I sat on this one. Happy that it did not get to overshadow a lot of what I have read in 2020, and sad that I did not have the characters within in my life sooner.

The Starless Sea is the story of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, the son of a fortune teller and lover of books. Without giving too much away, the story really starts to progress when Zachary stumbles across a very particular and mysterious book with no apparent author or origin.

What ensues is a grand adventure involving deception, intrigue, secret societies, and, of course the Starless Sea.

To me, this story really captures a perfected world of fantastic fables and storytelling. Hold your hands together like you are packing a snowball. What lies within that sphere of space in your empty hands is how I imagine the world within The Starless Sea: it is compact, mysterious, yet perfectly contained.

I cannot wait to read what Ms. Morgenstern has in store for us next.

Four Tombstones (Josie Jameson #1) by Jennifer L. Hotes

This book was provided to me by NetGalley in return for a fair review

Four Tombstones: a Josie Jameson mystery by [Jennifer Hotes]

I’m a huge fan of magic/mystery books, an even greater fan of YA; and Four Tombstones hits all the right buttons in what I look for in a book.

The story of Josie Jameson, a Seattle-area teenager who lost her mother to cancer six years ago, Four Tombstones is a story of love, loss, hope and mystery.

Everything opens with Josie desperately wanting to connect with her mother through dragging her four friends — the Baby Group — to the cemetery where her mother is buried in the guise of having some Halloween night fun to make some grave rubbings. As a result of that fateful night, new connections are made, Josie and her friends each end up getting set on tasks that will both bring them all closer, and, at some points, threaten to break them all apart.

The genuineness in Ms. Hotes’ writing really sells each of the journeys. Each member of the Baby Group faces some sort of harsh reality, and each have to grow a bit more out of childhood to reckon with their dilemmas: both individual and collective.

An air of the mystical permeates most of Josie’s story, and she tackles the unknown with both vigor and trepidation. It was not until I got to the end of this book that I was made aware that there are two others in the series. I very much look forward to reading more about Josie and her friends’ adventures.

The Conductors by Nicole Glover

The Conductors (A Murder & Magic Novel) by [Nicole Glover]

This book was provided to me by NetGalley in return for a fair review

It’s only been recently that I have started reading more in the realm of historical fiction, but I’m finding I am enjoying it more and more. In The Conductors, Ms. Glover — in her debut offering, by the way — weaves an intriguing tale of a very closely knit community in Philadelphia; loosely tied together by their traditions, a heritage of stellar magic, and two former conductors on the underground railroad who now spend time solving some of the mysteries of this community.

Interspersed with looks back to pre-freedom times, and how a fair number of the primary characters came into the orbit of Hetty and Benjy (our crafty protagonists), one cannot help but see the comparisons to Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

This novel, however, very much stands on its own two feet. With the introduction of a mysterious murder of someone close in their circle, the two main characters — Hetty and Benjy Rhodes — begin an investigation that uncovers intrigue, shame, lies to one another, and lies to oneself.

Above all, though, I find The Conductors a story of love and self-discovery. Even without the wonderful booster of magic, sorcery, and the acceptance and acceptable use thereof; this novel would still reach its intended point. The magic, though, makes it all that much more interesting.