Monthly Archives: June 2018

The Emperor’s Mask (Magebreakers #2)

Title: The Emperor’s Mask

Author: Ben S. Dobson

Series: Magebreakers #2

Tane and Kadka haven’t been in business long, but life has been interesting. A little too interesting for the city, actually. So when a string of murders at the highest level of society starts containing clues that may link them with the Magebreakers, they’re finding it difficult to investigate for multiple reasons. After all, the only suspects are other nobles . . .

This is another excellent story, with the only flaw that it was immediately obvious to me how the murders were committed once the symbols were explained, and by whom as soon as that person showed up. So there was less tension in the mystery because I was just waiting for Tane or Kadka to clue in to what had been sitting in front of them.

I like how Tane and Kadka are starting to see problems developing in their relationship, and it’s a natural extension of their differences. But at the same time, they’re still a team, and even though it does take some things longer to resolve, they do still risk their lives for each other.

Overall this has been a fun series so far, and I can’t wait for future installments. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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The Flaw in All Magic (Magebreakers #1)

Title: The Flaw in All Magic

Author: Ben S. Dobson

Series: Magebreakers #1

Tane Carver is infamous. The only non-mage to have attended (and nearly graduated) from the university for mages, he’s convinced his own life proves you don’t need to be a mage to understand magic. But that was before his grand reveal got him expelled. Now he’s lucky to find enough work to afford rent for his office. When a murdered girl leads to an invitation back, he’s finally got a chance to do what he does best: find the problems in the spells that should have made the crime impossible.

This is an excellent fantasy/mystery. Tane recognizes the biggest problem with magic is the mage. Since magic will do exactly what you tell it to do, no more, no less, any vagaries in phrasing will have undesired outcomes. And he’s good at looking for those hidden assumptions, those unintentional gaps.

I was very amused by his partner, the half-orc Kadka. He gets her fired, and she retaliates by forcing him to hire her. Tane is just as guilty as many of the mages he despises of arrogance and not being able to see what’s under his own nose, and Kadka’s there to bail him out, time and again.

Sometimes talking worked, or knowledge, or clever tricks, but sometimes there was only Kadka’s way: charge at the problem with your teeth bared and punch it in the throat.

And Kadka’s just so much fun. She may be unused to cities or magic, but she’s got plenty of experience fighting. I like how well she understands Tane, as well as her childlike wonder at seeing magic. At one point, she tells Tane that she came here to see magic, and she’s seen more with him in one day than in all her previous travels—and it doesn’t seem to bother her that most of that magic was trying to kill her.

I’m also happy that Kadka’s relationship with Tane is simply partnership. Tane’s got his own love interest, and Kadka isn’t trying to make this a love triangle. They’re just solid friends, which is amazingly hard to find.

Indree is another interesting character. She and Tane used to be a couple, back in his university days. Then he was expelled, vanished, and any chemistry between them soured. Now she’s a cop, working the case—and not at ALL happy to have to deal with Tane again.

Overall this is a very good read and I can’t wait to jump into the sequel. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1)

Title: All Systems Red

Author: Martha Wells

Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1

A team of researchers are conducting tests on a newly discovered planet’s surface, accompanied by one company-provided SecUnit that privately calls itself Murderbot. Although Murderbot behaves like the equipment it’s supposed to be, it actually overrode some of its own programming so it can function more autonomously. And that becomes critical when unexpected dangers arise . . .

I liked this well enough, but it’s far too short. Murderbot is the only character with significant development—the team is fleshed out enough to see why Murderbot appreciates their low-stress interactions, but ultimately it means most of the team was interchangeable for me, except for the enhanced human (because he was the only one Murderbot felt cautious about, and not unreasonably, given his suspicions towards it in return).

It was funny to find that someone who calls itself “Murderbot” is a huge introvert who doesn’t actually like people at all. Murderbot would rather watch entertainment than deal with actual humanity.

Most of the fight scenes felt poorly described, as well. Murderbot narrates several gunfights with little more than “and here’s where each bullet hit” kind of description, which made it hard to feel much of a flow to the fighting or much of a sense of danger. I was very annoyed where one fight described all the damage to the opposing forces first, and only then cataloged Murderbot’s injuries. My initial impression had been that Murderbot somehow hadn’t been hit, since segregating things that way feels like it drains all the tension out of a fight.

Overall this was interesting enough that I will probably read the next book, but between the short length and the lack of anything that really grabbed me, it’s not on my buy list. (Besides, the ebook price is insane. The book is only 140 pages long.) I rate this book Recommended.

Shatterglass (The Circle Opens #4)

Title: Shatterglass

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: The Circle Opens #4

Tris simply wanted to get some shopping done when she spotted a man trying to blow glass and summoning lightning into it. But the man is an unrecognized and untrained mage—which means Tris now has to teach someone much older than herself. Someone who’s afraid of lightning. And if that weren’t bad enough, someone is killing female entertainers and leaving their bodies in public places . . .

This is my favorite of the four. Tris is grumpy, sharp, and fusty, so she gets a student who’s not only older than she is, but equally bullheaded. I love how Tris has braided her stored powers into her hair, and how she’s managed a form of air-conditioning by taming winds to always blow around her. The little glass dragon is the best pet, too.

It’s interesting, too, how Tris, despite being the most powerful, is also having the hardest time actually finding employment. Her powers to disrupt and channel weather would be excellent in a war but are rather harder to use in day-to-day life, as she’s not eager to throw nature out of balance.

I liked Keth. He’s got his own history with both glassblowing and lightning, and he’s not at all impressed by Tris. He just wants to get on with his life as a glass crafter, but magic got in the way. And he’s got personal reasons to want the murderer caught, so he drives himself past his limits again and again in pursuit of answers.

Overall this is a good read, and while it doesn’t exactly close doors for the future of these four unique mages, it’s been a fun journey to see how life is going to look as they become adults. I rate this book Recommended.

Cold Fire (The Circle Opens #3)

Title: Cold Fire

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: The Circle Opens #3

Daja and Frostpine are in the snowy north. Daja’s just hoping to learn more smithcraft and work on her own projects, but soon she’s in over her head. A firebug has been setting fires—and Daja wants to use her living brass to make a fireproof suit to help combat them. And the two girls she discovers with magic need to be taught, which means Daja is responsible for finding them teachers and helping them get grounded in the basics. At least she’s found a kindred soul in Ben, the man with a passion for fighting fires.

I’m not exactly sure why this is my least favorite of this quartet. Maybe it’s all the snow and cold, or the fact that the firebug is revealed relatively early and the rest of the book is just waiting on Daja to pick up on the clues. Or the really annoying old lady. I appreciate that the story tried to show she had more to her than just her cruelty, but that still doesn’t make me sorry for her getting what she so richly deserved.

Despite that, though, it’s still a solid book. Daja has always been one of the more mature, and her challenges here stretch her in a different way. It’s a little about dreams and what happens when they break, whether that’s simply the expectation that someone is a good person, or the dream of a normal life that suddenly went up in smoke.

I rate this book Recommended.

Street Magic (The Circle Opens #2)

Title: Street Magic

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: The Circle Opens #2

Briar is traveling with Rosethorn through the market when he spots a girl polishing magic into a stone. But his inadvertent discovery puts both himself and Evie in the middle of a gang war. Everyone wants a good stone mage, in this city within ancient cliffs, and some of them are willing to go to any lengths to get one . . .

It’s fun seeing the contrast between who Briar was and who he’s become. He’s still much less polished than his friends Sandry, Tris, and Daja, but as he interacts with the gang members here he’s realizing he cleaned up a lot more than he expected. And his defenses of his way of life—even in the face of evidence and Evie’s skepticism—show that he’s still got a number of cherished illusions about the good of who he used to be.

Evie is amusing, too. She’s not really interested in being anyone’s pawn. Briar is required to either train her or provide a teacher for her, though, and he’s got to work around her distrust. I like that both of them are street-smart, but it means different things.

Rosethorn has much less of a role in this book, sadly, but she also doesn’t really fit into the gang war type of story this becomes. Still, when she does show up she’s as ornery as ever.

Overall this is a quick read. I rate this book Recommended.

Magic Steps (The Circle Opens #1)

Title: Magic Steps

Author: Tamora Pierce

Series: The Circle Opens #1

Sandry is alone again. This time the circumstances are a little different—Briar, Tris, and Daja have all gone on long journeys with their teachers to various countries. But Sandry remains at home, caring for her uncle, who recently had a heart attack. Then Sandry spots a boy dancing magic, and because she discovered him, she has to teach him. Life complicates even more when a trade war turns deadly, and the killers are using a form of magic no one can detect . . .

This book opens a new quartet about Sandry, Daja, Tris, and Briar, but unlike before each book has a chance to showcase each one individually, as the other three are in different countries.

It’s nice to see how much Sandry has grown. She (and the rest) are now accredited mages at 14, which is such an accomplishment that Sandry doesn’t usually tell anyone. It does mean, though, that when she spots magic in Pasco’s dancing, she ends up as his teacher.

This gives a lot of depth to the story. Sandry is both trying to solve a string of murders as well as manage an apprentice mage who is easily as stubborn as she is. Just convincing him he HAS magic is a job and a half. She’s now stepping out as an adult into a new world of responsibilities, and finding her own place in the world.

I like that the magical abilities are continuing to branch out. From the dance-magic to a weird unmagic, the powers continue to surprise. And the characters are also solid.

Overall this quartet improves on the strong points of the previous. Unlike those, however, it is less required to read all the books in order, as each one more or less stands alone. I rate this book Recommended.