Category Archives: Adult

The Applicant (Conservation of Magic #0.5)

Title: The Applicant

Author: Michael W. Layne

Series: Conservation of Magic #0.5 (Prequel)

Chris is fresh out of college and hoping for a job at the prestigious—and mysterious—Rune Corporation. He’s one of three candidates for a single position, but he’s confident he can make the right impression. Unfortunately, the application starts going weird quickly . . .

This is a bit rough, but the overall world is interesting. Given that this is basically a novella about a single day’s experience, it makes sense that the applicants themselves don’t have a whole lot of background, apart from Chris, but it does mean it was harder to get a feel for their characters. However, with most of the focus remaining on Chris and the woman interviewing them all, this still worked okay.

It does do the job of getting me at least somewhat interested in the larger world. I had a lot of questions about how exactly humans were supposed to help with the language process (although the job in question being for an interface designer does make that particular part easier to understand). The mystery portion is weaker because there isn’t a lot of opportunity to set up who might be the culprit before everything comes out.

Overall, since this was a free read, I think it’s worth checking out. It’s an easy way to see if the magic or the characters grabs you. The preview for the next book at the back does imply the actual series doesn’t follow Chris, though, for what that’s worth. I rate this book Recommended.

The Last Wizard (Wizard #8)

Title: The Last Wizard

Author: Simon Hawke

Series: Wizard #8

Talon may be the youngest of the Dark Ones, but he’s been scheming for centuries. And with all his opposition whittled away—by the Council, and their human Avatars—the time has come at last to strike. The Avatars have no idea the full extent of his plans. Even the human government, with all its resources, can’t provide more than a speed bump. It will be a battle of power Talon fully intends to win . . .

This was probably the worst place to start the series, but I didn’t realize HOW many books came before it until after I finished. And this was the only one I had on hand anyway, so, take my thoughts with that in mind.

If it sounds like I’m seeing the plot more through Talon than anyone else, that’s because he was not only the easiest character to latch on to, but the most consistent one. The actual Avatars themselves got a boatload of backstory but not much present-day action, so they weren’t all that interesting. The old professor was amusing, but he also doesn’t contribute a whole lot until the end. So Talon drove most of the story, as we get to see his schemes unfold.

Actually Rafe was my favorite character. Rafe understands well enough how the world works, and he can suss out Talon’s agenda enough to refuse to have any part of it. He’s maniacally single-minded about that, and it’s his will against Talon. And I love how the end of that plays out (although I don’t buy Rafe’s ultimate decision about what he’ll do . . . he seems wasted on something that won’t let him do more with what he already has).

I liked how tight the writing was, too. The descriptions are vivid and succinct, and the game of cat and mouse didn’t often falter. Most of the slower spots were the backstories of the various good guys, which series readers probably already know and I found more confusing than relevant. So this person has that person’s memories. Did it matter? No. So I don’t really care about the whole sequence unless that’s actually going to be important to THIS plot.

Overall, I found the world to be interesting, though I probably would’ve followed along a lot better if I’d found one of the earlier volumes and started there. If you’ve been reading the series, Recommended. But if this is the first book you’re looking at, I’d try to start somewhere else, and rate it Neutral.

Dragon Born: Chronicles of Dragon Aerie (Plague Born #1)

Title: Dragon Born: Chronicles of Dragon Aerie

Author: Travis Simmons

Series: Plague Born #1

On the night a slit-eyed baby was born, the dragons returned. Ravaging towns with their breath and their claws, slaughtering the people—and cursing many of the survivors with a disease that, if not fatal, might grant some the abilities of dragons themselves.

Wylan knows the events that surrounded her birth, but she’s still curious about dragons. She and her adoptive parents make a living scavenging, a life grown harder because the dragons are driving everything to ruin. But when she finally sees a dragon up close, it isn’t the encounter she imagined having . . .

This would have worked a lot better as a part 1 to some longer book, although even then there were pieces that would puzzle me.

The story opens—not with Wylan, who the summary would have you believe is the main character—but with the midwife who births her. Millie Bixby is as much a main character as Wylan is in this short piece, and the initial return of the dragons (along with their wreckage) gets a lot of detail. I thought the story went a little far here trying to humiliate Millie, mostly with the description of her pissing herself. I have no problem with the reaction, but the way it was described felt off, like the text was delighting in the fact rather than sympathizing with her. And Millie returns later on, to give a view of what’s been going on in the last remaining human towns while Wylan grows up.

I don’t really buy the way the wyverns have integrated into the town’s defense system. Unless I misread something and they are the majority of the town, in which case the setup makes a lot more sense. Millie’s drastic timeskip means the story loses a lot of interesting things, like how she determined she could shapeshift/had powers/was connected more to dragons, and how she reacted to that. Or how ordinary humans reacted to this. And are there other countries beyond the desert that people could run to, or is there some reason they’re stuck where they are? The story didn’t have time to introduce enough of the world, but even what’s here left me puzzled about certain bits.

Wylan’s story is fine until we get to the pivotal event, which goes by too quickly. I could write off her reactions as shock but her story basically ends right there, so there’s no sense of actually dealing with the event. Boom, it happens, and the next instant she’s vowing revenge, and then we swap back to Millie until the story finishes.

Speaking of, there isn’t much of a sense of cohesion to this. We have Millie’s story, which is basically entirely different from Wylan’s story, and there isn’t any kind of thread tying them together beyond the overall world and the fact that Millie happened to be there for Wylan’s birth. The end just stops—it doesn’t feel like an ending, just a chapter break. We don’t really get rising action, or any kind of payoff for reading just this segment. Again, this wouldn’t be an issue if this was just the first part of something else, but the fact that it’s treated like its own book makes me want something that feels like a cohesive story.

Overall, although I really like the idea of wyvern shapeshifters in a world with dragons, I’m not sure what to do with this. There’s a lot of solid writing on the bits that do work, but this feels more like bonus material than a story by itself. Wylan didn’t grab me with her personality, her story, or her decision, so that leaves reading a sequel solely based on enjoying her abilities . . .  and I’m not sure I want to do that. I rate this book Neutral.

The Edge of Worlds (The Books of the Raksura #4)

Title: The Edge of Worlds

Author: Martha Wells

Series: The Books of the Raksura #4

A shared dream has left the court of Indigo Cloud uneasy. But with no way to tell what it means, they have nothing but speculations. When a delegate comes to ask for their help with a mysterious city that might be related to the forebearers, no one can tell if this will be the fulfillment of the dream or its prevention. So Jade and Moon set out hoping to find some answers.

Something to know going in is that this is basically part one. The ending leaves off on a rather nasty cliffhanger, so you might want to have the sequel in hand before you start reading.

Here we get to see Moon as a flustered new father, wanting to protect his children but uncertain if that means haring off on another adventure or remaining home to defend them against possible invasion. To a lesser extent, that uncertainty extends to Jade, who desperately wants to make the right decision but can’t get enough information to know what that is.

Overall this is another solid chapter in the series, although many of the elements will feel familiar (more strange ruins to explore, some weird creatures and powers, etc). I rate this book Recommended.

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)

Title: Hounded

Author: Kevin Hearne

Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles #1

Atticus O’Sullivan is a 21-centuries-old Druid who would prefer to be left alone. But a sword he happened to acquire in his younger days is still being sought by its original owner: the Celtic love god Aenghus Og. Atticus has been on the run for centuries, but this time, when the fight comes to his doorstep, he might be ready to try to end this for good.

This urban fantasy contains a lot of the usual suspects: vampires, werewolves, witches, gods and goddesses. And a few of the not-so-usual in the form of the main character, a Druid (who conveniently avoids most of the less savory things historical Druids have been known to practice in favor of a more earth-worshipping religion). It was also a nice change of pace that most of the gods showing up were Celtic.

The story moves quickly, as Atticus finds himself at the center of a storm of attacks designed to either steal the sword or kill him (or both). I did like his lawyers, and how all of them are deadly in their own ways. And the dog is a lot of fun.

Mostly I wasn’t too swayed one way or the other by this. It’s a decent urban fantasy, but nothing particularly grabbed me and made me want to keep going with the next book. The worldbuilding is probably the best part, but the “everything goes” mindset was annoying because it fails to provide any context for how wildly disparate belief systems can all be equally true. I would have preferred some kind of baseline that could then show how various things worked within it. I rate this book Neutral.

Beast Master’s Ark (Beast Master)

Title: Beast Master’s Ark

Author: Andre Norton and Lyn McConchie

Series: Beast Master

Storm has better things to do than cater to the egos of the scientists on the Ark. Some unknown thing is stripping living things down to the bone overnight, and if it isn’t stopped soon, the humans and the natives of Arzor might end up warring each other. Tani, a scientist, dislikes the Beast Masters because she thinks they kill their teams. But her help is vital if they hope to stop disaster.

A number of things broke the story, for me. Punctuation was one of my more minor quibbles, but cropped up often enough to be aggravating. Characters would ask each other questions, that are clearly questions, and not use question marks. Some of the dialog felt stilted. The story awkwardly sets up Storm and Tani for a couple well before either of them want anything to do with the other, with even the animals asking if they’re going to mate right after she arrives.

And I found Tani extremely unlikable. She’s supposed to be 19 but her behavior is really childish. Giving her a tragic backstory is almost an excuse not to think. She’s lived through a war: she ought to understand, at the very least, there are two sides, and sometimes choosing not to fight means getting run over. (I have no problem with extreme pacifists who are willing to stake their own lives on that philosophy. It starts becoming a problem when they want to stake everyone else’s lives on it too.) This is a big problem with the potential romance angle, because now I’m actively rooting against them getting together.

For something so intrinsic to her character and her upbringing, she changes her mind remarkably easily. The character just never felt right to me. The tragedy felt rather tacked on since once the decision is made that’s it.

Other than that, this is a decent enough read. I just couldn’t get over how much I hated Tani, which spoiled everything. I rate this book Neutral.

Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate

Title: Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate

Author: Richard Parks

Series: Yamada Monogatari (technically there are more about the same character but I was unable to track down what order they are supposed to go)

Yamada no Goji is a minor nobleman with a keen mind and a tolerable blade, but he has little influence at court. So when the conspiracies of the nobility reach out to ensnare him again, he’s reluctant to get involved. But for the sake of an old friend, he agrees—and finds himself confronted by a silent killer who is leaving dead bodies around the city. If he can’t solve the mystery fast enough, he’s bound to lose more of the few people dear to him.

I’m reading these incredibly out of order, I suppose, but it didn’t make much difference as far as I could tell. The story is good about introducing characters, places, customs and so on as needed, without assuming too much knowledge beforehand. I liked the historical Japanese setting, and how naturally the supernatural intersects everyone’s lives. Yamada is smart but not impossible to follow, and the layers of mystery generally work well.

I wasn’t as fond of the alcoholism, or the way the story breaks between its first segment and everything that comes after (largely because Yamada spends four months drinking his life away). It’s a little harder to sympathize with his poverty when he’s wasting multiple opportunities to stay farther out of it.

All in all, though, it worked far more than it didn’t, and I would be interested to read more in this series. This story is fairly self-contained, so it doesn’t hurt to read out of order or as a standalone. I rate this book Recommended.