Tag: Urban Fantasy Fiction

The Atlas Six (The Atlas, #1) by Olivie Blake

The Atlas Six (The Atlas Series Book 1) by [Olivie Blake, Little Chmura]

Holy crap, I really didn’t expect a read like this one. The premise was very intriguing and right up my alley, so I decided to take the dive.

The Alexandrian Society, a secretive group tasked with maintaining the lost/forgotten knowledge of previous civilizations, and library to the most powerful magicians in the world, have an annual initiation where they bring in six of the most talented magicians from all over the planet to act as custodians for the library while they learn and grow.

At the end of the period of time of this caretaking, one initiate will be eliminated and five will go on to be full members of the Society.

Magic, competition, ego, intrigue? I’m all in.

Then it gets really damn interesting. The first candidates we meet are Elizabeth “Libby” Rhodes and Nicolàs “Nico” de Varona. This unique pair attends New York University of Magical Arts together, and are the fiercest of rivals. To say that they snipe at each other constantly is and understatement. When both are selected by Atlas Blakely to take part in the initiation, that kicks things up another notch. At this point, I knew I was in for a serious ride.

Next, Atlas selects Reina Mori, Parissa Kamali, Tristan Caine, and Callum Nova. Much like Libby and Nico, each is a magician of extreme talent. Unlike Libby and Nico, this three have been away from academia and are very secretive about their skills and abilities.

As the story unfolds we learn a hell of a lot more about each of the characters, the mission of The Society, its enemies and shortcomings. Each of the initiates gets more and more wrapped up in what their time at The Society means to them and to their group as a whole.

Let’s just say things get incredibly mental.

I honestly can’t go more into it without giving away anything. I will say that I read the last two chapters three times to fully wrap my head around what happened. Yeah, it’s one of those books.

To call Ms. Blake an artist is understating things. The Atlas Six draws you in and wraps you up in such a web of personality and intrigue. It is a true gem of world-building without even really having to build a world. The setting is very uniform, but the landscape and setting for this novel is really the characters themselves, and, boy howdy, there is such a rich variety of terrain. This is definitely one of those stories where I basically got knocked on my ass and had to sit there for a while re-assessing how I think about literary characters.

It’s just so hard to describe how this book affects its readers, but it will definitely affect you. I’ve read some amazing things this Summer, but I think I’m definitely going to have to crown The Atlas Six as my “don’t miss it” for Summer 2021.

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.

The Mask Falling (The Bone Season #4) by Samantha Shannon

Eight years ago I picked up this book with book with one of the most interesting premises I’d run across: a criminal who steals thoughts and information from peoples’ minds, and operates under an oppressive regime where people with her sorts of gifts are imprisoned and executed.

Little did I know that this was just the tip of the iceberg for young Paige Mahoney. Over the next few years, books 2 and 3 were released with the tale of Paige’s exploits growing exponentially. After book 2, I was really convinced that Ms. Shannon didn’t like Paige very much, and book 3 pretty much cemented that.

Then came the gap. Paige Mahoney had just gotten out of an absolute horror of a situation, and book 4 was just “coming soon.”

Boy was the wait worth it. The Mask Falling opens with Paige and Arcturus (Warden), escaping England and ending up in a safe house in the Scion Citadel of Paris. Paige is in really rough shape, but has been taken in by the mysterious Domino Program; who want to use her abilities and skills to help subvert Scion control. While she has been told to stay put and heal, Paige also wants to leverage her position of Underqueen to gain audience with the Court of Miracles — the voyant syndicate of France — to continue her own flavor of assault on Scion, and, hopefully, learn the fates of many of her friends.

This one is a real rollercoaster, but I often found myself giving Paige the ol’ “What the hell are you doing?!?!?!?”

Paige’s stubbornness is definitely her biggest weakness. Sure, her bond with Arcturus definitely affects her judgement sometimes, but it is Paige’s unwillingness to accept compromise that really seems to put her in all the pickles in The Mask Falling. Especially when things get wacky, and, boy howdy, they get wacky.

One thing about this series that I greatly appreciate is Ms. Shannon’s boldness in worldbuilding. The Scion Citadel of Paris is absolutely nothing like the Scion Citadel of London, yet she could have used the uniformity of Scion to make them far similar. Details like this, and her amazing obsession with tweaking language (definitely read the afterword about how she tweaked Scion French) show a masterful attention to what makes each location, and subsequently culture, unique.

I dearly hope we don’t have to wait too long for book 5.

The Last Shimmer by Sage Hyatt (Ryan Hyatt, ed.)

Short fiction, like a well-executed amuse-bouche, is very hard to pull off satisfyingly. Due to the nature of the back-lying mechanics of it, there is just so much opportunity to lean on one pillar of the story structure while not paying enough attention to one of the others.

Miss Hyatt understands this. The Last Shimmer balances a very well-developed storyline along with fully formed characters and a richly described setting in a way that is downright envious.

Without giving too much of it away, The Last Shimmer is the story of Tiger Lily Dander, her friend Stacy and the fanciful supposition of:

What if our shadows turned on us?

It works, it really really does, and, like I said before, Miss Hyatt develops a situation and a group of characters that work incredibly well for this piece.

This is twenty-seven pages of wonderful middle-grade horror with an absolute bow on top. Sure, it is not my normal fare, but I’m very much reconsidering the role of short fiction as a sort of palate cleanser between bigger works. I definitely needed this, and I really think all of you will enjoy it as well.