Monthly Archives: March 2016

Firebug (Firebug #1)

Title: Firebug

Author: Lish McBride

Series: Firebug #1

Ava is a firebug, someone with the power to start fires with her mind. She tries to have a teenage life, but that’s hard when normal teen activities have to be restricted or redirected because of her ability. And it’s also hard because she’s bound to the Coterie, a group that governs the local supernaturals. Ava is an enforcer for the Coterie. Together with a half-dryad and a were-fox, she’s sent out to put down those Venus, the Coterie’s head, wants disposed. But when Ava gets in over her head, she’s got to hope she can escape the Coterie’s iron hold over her life . . .

This took a bit longer to get me really interested, but once it got going it was a great deal of fun. Ava has a bitter, hard edge to her personality, the result of a lifetime of trying to escape the Coterie only to fall within its grasp and become everything she feared. But once Lock and Ezra take a bigger role, the team dynamic the three of them have is the best thing in the book. Ezra, the were-fox, is unabashedly playful, while Lock, the half-dryad, is the almost over-serious adult. (And that makes the visit to Lock’s family even funnier… his relatives are amazing at asking awkward questions.)

I liked some of the deeper things that came out, too. Ava hates the Coterie with a passion and would be just as happy burning it all down, but for all that it’s being run like the mob, it still has a unique role to play for the various not-at-all to mostly-human supernatural entities in the area. I especially liked how Lock keeps challenging Ava’s desire to skip the “middle bits” and go right for the conclusion, pointing out that sometimes the process is equally important.

I also really like the worldbuilding. Ava’s firebug abilities aren’t free, though they appear so to onlookers. She has to try to gain weight to give her body fat to literally burn when she starts her fires, along with keeping her electrolytes and potassium levels high. Then there’s the sheer variety of creatures populating the pages (including some amusing weres).

My one disappointment is that there’s a bit of a nasty twist very close to the end, and the next book isn’t out yet so I can’t see how it will resolve. But if my only complaint is that the sequel isn’t here RIGHT NOW, that’s good enough for me. I rate this book Recommended.

The Hunting of the Last Dragon

Title: The Hunting of the Last Dragon

Author: Sherryl Jordan

Jude was the son of a swine herder, whose ambitions extended only as far as buying a new bow and perhaps finding a bit of excitement in his life. Then the dragon came and burned his village to ash. Sunk in grief, he falls in with a traveling group of entertainers, and gradually befriends the Chinese girl they have on exhibit. But destiny will pit him once again against the dragon that destroyed his home.

I made it over halfway before I just got too bored with this. The dragon is a faceless menace who is more known through the scorched villages it leaves in its wake. Jude spends a lot of the book in a funk of grief over losing his family, and even as he starts to get over it he’s still not that interesting of a character. Jing-wei is better, but even then I found her more interesting for the glimpses of what history was like than because I cared about her as a character.

I quit because I realized I was more interested in the mini-story unfolding through Jude’s quips to his scribe than the actual story proper, and even that wasn’t much.

This is set in the Middle Ages, somewhere in Europe. It has a higher level of diction than I expected for its age range, and some nice prose, but in the end I found what I did read generic and predictable and couldn’t motivate myself enough to finish.

I rate this book Neutral.

Watersmeet (Watersmeet #1)

Title: Watersmeet

Author: Ellen Jensen Abbott

Series: Watersmeet #1

Abisina is an Outcast in her village of Vranille, mostly for her dark skin and hair. Her mother is the town’s only healer, but it only buys her the right not to be thrown outside the walls entirely and left to the ruthless centaurs who prowl these lands. But when disaster strikes, and Abisina is left to fend for herself, she finds that not everything she has been told is the truth—not about herself, her family, or her world.

In a nutshell, this is a decent book about a young girl learning to overcome prejudice. Abisina may hate Vranille and its ways, but she’s picked up more of their mannerisms than she would care to admit, which makes dealing with nonhuman species such a challenge. Though it doesn’t help that many of those species would happily kill humans in a continuation of the atrocities both sides have been inflicting on each other.

I liked Rueshlan best. He’s an interesting man with some interesting gifts, and is one of the few with any level of magic. The explanation for power is completely missing, but it’s still fun to watch what he can do.

There also isn’t a lot done with history that isn’t relevant to the immediate story. The mines are a big part of Haret’s thoughts, but it all ends in a disappointing “I told you so.” And no clues are uncovered about the event (that had to be magic) that sealed them off. And then everyone just moves on because other things are happening. It still feels like there’s a lot beneath the surface, but the story stays tightly focused on its one main point which causes some potentially interesting sidequests to get ignored.

That said, it’s still a very simple story at heart, even though Abisina grants more complexity than I usually see when writers are dealing with this topic. If you like stories about prejudice, this one is well done. For myself, I’d rather have more action-adventure. I rate this book Neutral.

Necromancing the Stone (Necromancer #2)

Title: Necromancing the Stone

Author: Lish McBride

Series: Necromancer #2

Sam is—well, not settling, more like resigned—to his new role as Council member, keeper of Douglas’s house, and necromancer. Basically, surviving Douglas means taking his place. Which Sam is not overly keen about. But he’s going to give it his best shot, even if his life has gotten exceptionally weird. Then someone dies, and he realizes that his hard times are only just beginning . . .

This takes place six weeks after Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. Sam hasn’t really settled into his powers yet, but he’s mostly healed up from the beating he took in the previous book. He’s still working out the aftermath, though. Having all of Douglas’s things around him all the time doesn’t exactly help: he now lives in the house where he was once held prisoner. And he inherited James, a shapeshifting pukis who takes care of the house, as well as the army of gnomes, statues, and hedges Douglas had in his yard. That would be hard enough even without the guilt he feels over his best friend Ramon having turned into a were-bear during his rescue, or Brooke being outright murdered (she now hangs around as a spiritual mentor, though). Or struggling with the fact that he killed Douglas himself.

There are still plenty of hijinks, but this book is more internally focused as Sam works out all of the above, and what it is for him to grow up. What kind of a man is he going to become? What kind of a necromancer? And by the end he’s still only a bit farther on that path, but he’s laid a few things to rest (one, literally).

I really liked the focus on James, too. The shapeshifter is, as Sam puts it, passive-aggressive when he isn’t aggressive-aggressive, but Sam continues to try to build bridges and make this more of a friendship and less of a servant relationship. At the end, it’s James who takes center stage, and his fate is the one hanging in the balance most of all.

I felt like the villain was less strong this time around. In the first book, Douglas was both an immediate and impending threat. In this book, the villain spends more time remembering, dreaming, planning, which gives good insight into his backstory and character, but less of a sense of immediate threat, or even future threat. And the pieces for the end are put in play fairly early, so the reader can make an educated guess about where it’s all going not very far in (unlike the first book, where Brooke demonstrates rather graphically that you have no idea what’s going to happen next).

But even with that, I really liked the book. I like how Sam’s main character trait is compassion, and how he brings people together into friendships and families. I like how he turns around the stereotypes Douglas tends to embody about necromancers, and how even if he can be something of a whiner, he steps up to what he knows has to be done.

This appears to be the last book (for now) in the series, but I hope there will be many more to come. I’d love to see Sam exercise more of his potential, how Brid works things out with the pack, how various friends old and new change and grow. I rate this book Recommended.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (Necromancer #1)

Title: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Author: Lish McBride

Sam is a college dropout with a job at a fast food joint in Seattle. Then he runs into Douglas Montgomery, a rich and utterly ruthless man who seems convinced Sam is, like himself, a necromancer. Sam has one week to agree to be Douglas’s apprentice or Sam and everyone he loves will become targets.

I suppose I thought this was going to be a romance-focused paranormal, which is why I initially overlooked it. Big mistake.

Sam is wry, funny, and interacts with friends just as zany as he is. From the opening scene at work, where he and the other longer-term employees are trying to dispirit the new guy to the final lines of the book I hardly stopped laughing. The constant humor highlights the grim situation Sam finds himself in, but even the worst situations stillĀ  turn out funny, or have a lot of laughs along the way. As he puts it, “I guess life-threatening situations bring out my inner smart-ass.”

The narrative switches between first-person for Sam and third-person to follow other characters. This works well, and allows for a much deeper look into Douglas’s thoughts or Brid’s situation before Sam runs into her. And the chapter titles are drawn from song lyrics, which gives an amusing soundtrack to the events of the book (at least for those songs I could identify, which was most of them).

I also liked the way the world is set up. The powers of a necromancer include the obvious, of course, but they aren’t only so narrowly defined. And Sam is just scratching the surface of what he’s able to do now. Nor is Sam the only unusual person in Seattle. We have the expected vampires and werewolves and witches, but also satyrs and bits of Faerie. None of which tend to like necromancers very much.

I stayed up too late reading this, because I couldn’t put it down. And I was laughing too hard to want to stop. I hope there are many, many more adventures in this world, because the ending implies it’s only getting crazier from here on out. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Seeker (Seeker #1)

Title: Seeker

Author: Arwen Elys Dayton

Series: Seeker #1

Quin has been training to be a Seeker her whole life. She dreams of the good she’ll be able to do when she finally claims that designation for her own. But the night she’s sworn in, she learns the truth. And what was once a treasured dream is now a nightmare. Now she has to decide what to do, whom to trust—and how she’ll live with herself.

Aside from a confusing setting that’s probably a short ways into the future (never specified, but given that there are aircars, it’s certainly not here), this starts strong and keeps going. Quin is idealistic and weak-willed (a product of her overly-controlling father), but she’s got her heart in the right place. It just takes her a long time to summon the strength to act out of that and not habit or fear.

I didn’t like how Shinobu failed, and fell, but I was glad that by the end he’s realized what’s important and gets back on his feet. He, like Quin, suffers from a lack of determination, and like Quin tries to run away any way he can from the reality he doesn’t want to confront.

Although I felt like those were plausible responses, they were also annoying coming from two warriors. Theoretically all three kids have trained for much of their lives, but Quin and Shinobu don’t act like it for a good chunk of the book. They both break with discipline.

John, though, was a lot more fun. He’s the failure, but his focus never wavers. His inching down a slippery slope is obvious even to himself, but he’s too caught up in what he wants and has planned to try to find a different way. And really, when Briac (Quin’s father and a total monster) has the ability to come after him and kill him just about whenever he wants, John’s course makes a lot of sense.

I liked the Dreads the most, though, especially Maud. The bits of her backstory are intriguing. She’s unpredictable and very powerful, and can be mistaken as mentally deficient because she has a much different way of thinking.

The powers were less impressive than I had initially hoped (except for the Dreads). Having some great place of potential like There and only using it as a travel shortcut feels like it ought to be selling the place short. So I hope future volumes expand on this. (And props to the Brian Greene quote at the beginning!)

Overall I can see where people wouldn’t care for this, due to such a large part of the plot being Quin and Shinobu deliberately trying to erase themselves, but personally I enjoyed it. I rate this book Recommended.

The Book of Wonders

Title: The Book of Wonders

Author: Jasmine Richards

Zardi is a dreamer, dreaming of adventure and magic in a kingdom that does its best to stifle both. The sultan of Arribitha hates magic, and his subjects live in fear of his cruelty. But when Zardi’s sister is taken to be the sultan’s prisoner (which always ends in execution for the maiden in question), Zardi is determined to save her. Together with Rhidan, a strange orphan who has grown up with her family, she sets off to find something or someone strong enough to topple the sultan and save her sister.

I’m on the fence about this one. The parts I liked I tended to like a lot, but the rest of the book left me feeling rather meh. Rhidan’s arc interested me more than Zardi’s. He’s always looked extremely different from everyone around him (white hair and purple eyes being your first clue he’s not going to be normal), and he’s desperate to find out where he came from and what it means that he was abandoned with nothing more than an amulet and his name. And as the mystery unfolds, he’s still got more questions than answers. He appears to be a sorcerer, but in the end he’s got to rely more on his own wits and his friendship with Zardi to get anything important done.

Zardi’s side is more straightforward: her sister has been taken to be the sultan’s prisoner, and will be executed after she has fulfilled her 90-day term. She sets off to find something that can help her free her sister (and depose the sultan too, if she can manage it). Despite her name being Scheherazade, this isn’t a retelling of the storyteller. This is actually a retelling of one of the voyages of Sinbad, although in a somewhat condensed and altered form. Zardi’s interruptions at the beginning put me off her character for a long ways into the book, but by the end I liked her better.

The story reads like an odd blend of Arabic and Greek mythos mashed together. Perhaps because Sinbad borrows a lot from some Greek tales anyway. The Cyclops, as best I can tell, seems to be a Greek addition. I do like the Rocs. More gigantic intelligent birds, please (and there are hints Zardi hasn’t seen the last of them). But some things were just far too obvious, even if they were likely part of the original (eg, the password to open the door). And the jinni near the end made everything rather cheap, because despite her warning that her magic has limits, she grants an awful lot of wishes for not much reason. I would have preferred her to set a hard limit on what she was willing to do, in exchange for setting her free (three wishes, one wish apiece, something like that).

This leaves off resolving a few things (mostly for Zardi) and opening up for the next adventure. It took me a while to get into things, but once I did I enjoyed the ride. I rate this book Recommended.